Recommended Posts

15. Firestarter

 

“…thou can only delay the inevitable!!!” hissed her rainbow aura enveloped enemy, wriggling and struggling for a few moments more, before the final blast of combined magic sent the monstrosity to the place of prolonged imprisonment. The destructed walls, cracked and notched columns, pieces of debris and flickering torches smudged and trembled around her; everything became clouded by the milky white fog, she felt like fainting after the exhausting battle…

        Suddenly the surrounding changed: there were no castle walls around anymore and fresh wind played with the grassy field in the brightening morning light, making her mane flow and filling the nostrils with unknown smells. Taking a look around revealed that she was standing on a high river bank and fields and meadows, marked with rare trees here and there, spread around as far as the eyesight could reach, limited by the dark stripe of the woods at the horizon. The only other noticeable tree mass nearby was a small grove, covering a low hill to the right. The Sun was rising completely unattended, but strangely that didn’t appear as a shocking surprise.

        The approaching rumble came from the sky, making her stretch out the neck and watch anxiously: a gleaming flying machine appeared from behind the hill, large rotors kept it in the air; she remembered Twilight told about that thing once – humans called it “helicopter”.

        Despite her being a quite noticeable spot on the grassy bank, the helicopter flew by, heading to something that completely slipped from her attention before – far to the left, in the light of independently rising Sun, lied the large city. Tall light-grey buildings, roads, parks and streets; it could look a piece of colourful carpet from that distance, but it was evidently real and resembled her… Manehattan from the first look.

        ‘Earth! That’s Earth,’ guessed she. ‘His homeworld…’

        Large horses with wings were hardly an everyday occurrence for humans, but since the flying machine disappeared in distance, nopony else showed in her view as far as she could notice. As the peaceful silence returned, the birds started chirping, greeting the morning again; there were only them, fluttering above the field and diving in the grassy waves. Cautiously she took a look over the shoulder, a wide river lazily flowed in the twilight of high bank shadow, unreached yet by the sunlight; no unfortunate evidence there as well. The area seemed quite wild and inhabited, giving an opportunity to risk.

        With a sigh she spread her vast wings and soared, heading to that grove nearby. She couldn’t tell why, but something attracted her to that tree-clad hill. Although, she decided to keep the safe distance and watch. Unaware of the reasons of both her attention to that place and sudden anxiety, she spotted a wide glade at the hilltop and managed to land on the large tree with thick branches, hiding in its lush green crown; surprisingly she could see everything in slightest details.

        A small bright sparkle appeared above the ground in the middle of the clearing, quickly spreading into a portal, shimmering like a pool of quicksilver; a few unicorn ponies jumped out of that warp, heavily loaded, each with large saddlebags. They completely ignored that the portal immediately collapsed behind them and quickly started their work, unloading some equipment to the ground.

        The winged observer noticed to her bewilderment, that all the unicorns were armoured, dark steel flickered in the sun rays, coming through the treetops. Unnoticed she watched, how a few of them started guarding the area immediately, spreading around the perimeter, one more unicorn gathered dry branches and cleared a fireplace in the center of the glade, another two addressed the brought equipment, assembling something of it. They moved like clockwork dolls, no commands, no talk, no unnecessary sound, except those their movements accidentally produced; the expression of neutral concentration was on each and every muzzle. And their eyes…

        ‘Oh, Harmony! These eyes… I’ve seen them already… That absent glazed look into the distance and calm emotionless indifference. But how can they act coherently then?!’

        Meanwhile, the spurts of flame raised at the prepared fireplace, adding more light to the scene and allowing her to see the device, two unicorns assembled, in details. At that moment it looked mostly like a giant mirror frame, with crystals, built in the thickenings, complex carving, tubes wrapped around the edges, and massive stable base. The ponies put it on the flat even spot on the ground and continued assembling the remaining frame, now standing vertically.

        One of the “guard” unicorns left his duty and joined another, who ignited the flames; the latter simply lay down comfortably on the grass nearby. The sparkle of magic fell from the horn of the guard pony, putting the lying one to sleep and causing a muffled gasp from the secret observer. She saw exactly that scene not long ago and realized to her terror, what could happen next… what should happen next no doubt.

        It didn’t take a long time: a ghostly human figure started to materialize near the sleeping unicorn, gaining volume and mass. He obviously became larger, something dark concentrated behind his back, but when the human looked up and stretched, she could clearly tell, that was Alex. As much of him as left in that creature, clad in heavy black with silver armour, moody and dangerous!

        ‘Did he gain the ability to reach everypony through their dreams?!’ her thoughts bustled in panic.

        The human, if Alex could be called that way now, inhaled and enormous black wings spread with soft rustle; a grim smile wormed on his face, resembling a motionless mask at that moment, dark shadows lied around the eyes, looking like two pools of the void – darkness splashed in them. Alex stretched out his hands to the fire and the flames obediently enveloped him, adding fiery “armour” to the steel one. He could fully control it, like during the first encounter with the Seeker; Alex looked right through her, evidently unable to disclose, as nothing reflected on his face, yet making the observer shudder inwardly.

        With a few heavy flaps, sending hot sparkles fly around, he soared, like a giant phoenix, and made a narrow circle around the glade, raising higher and observing the surroundings. Now her vantage point in the top of the tree, concealed with leaves, seemed an excessive precaution not, as she wasn’t completely sure, if Alex really couldn’t see her due to some strange coincidence. She even crouched on her branch, when he passed above the tree, flames roaring fanned by the adverse air.

        The familiar rumble, brought by the wind, caught her attention; looking over her shoulder and up in the sky she noticed the same flying machine approaching the hill. Naturally, the patrolling “human” spotted it as well, he stopped, hovering in the air, the flames burned brighter, as the helicopter quickly shortened the distance. Silence fell, as the birds hid and shut, startled by the mechanic noise.

        With a blinding flash the flames formed a wider sphere around the winged sleepwalker – the second tier of armour, made of stripes and threads of swirling fire. Evidently, it was taken as a sign of aggression by the helicopter pilot, the machine muzzle lit up by the rotating with dry metal clatter device; the helicopter passed the glade, sprinkling it with small shiny metal cylinders. She could notice a few bright bursts in the flames, and guessed that the projectiles got incinerated there, not reaching the aim; the ponies below continued their meticulous work, like nothing was happening, not giving any attention to the battle unfolding above.

        Alex made a loop and tried to latch to the bottom of the machine, perhaps he planned to turn it over, but the helicopter weaseled away at the limit of pilot’s reaction. Despite the shock, the latter was going to make another attempt; the pilot must have noticed the activity on the glade and hardly liked the look of it. The metal bird hovered at the distance and turned around almost on the spot.

        Another wave of gunfire did nothing, but Alex wasn’t going to wait till the pilot switched his attention and provided danger for the ponies working below: a few clusters of flames dashed from the sphere to the machine in response, blooming with fiery roses on its hull. One reached the tube-like shape right under the rotors, the sound of tearing metal reached their ears and in a second the helicopter exploded in the sky, turning into the expanding sphere of scarlet, orange and bright white flames, hardly dimmer than the rising sun.

        Stifling the silent scream with her fore hoof over the mouth she watched, how the burning parts of the flying machine fell far into the field like in slow motion, leaving dark threads of smoke in the air. “The human” returned and hovered above the glade, facing the distant city, obviously ready to prevent any new attack attempt. The ease, he finished the armoured machine with, was quite intimidating, and she considered her chances; any magic impact was pointless, as she knew, and she had no idea, where his actual body resided. Retreating looked like a much smarter decision, taking into account that she was invisible for them all somehow.

        She spread her wings, ready to take off, but then her glance fell at the glade and the unicorns again and she froze, watching. The device was assembled and activated: with low hum and glow of the crystals in its frame, the “mirror” slowly filled with the familiar quicksilver-like matter, forming a portal large enough for a couple of royal chariots to come through. Time froze for a second…

        The first row of horns, steel-shod hooves, armoured muzzles and heads emerged from the warp; hooves met the ground, ploughing it up, the next line of unicorns followed shortly, and next one, and next with no end to that.

        They quickly spread along the glade, forming the front line facing the city direction; more and more ponies continued to arrive and, naturally, they started going down the hill, tacking among the trees, but keeping the order. That wasn’t a herd, an army, that was a swarm, with only unicorns in avant-garde and mixed after maybe the first hundred of lines. The avalanche of ponies, all heavily armoured, emotionless and still determined to execute whichever order they got, reached the field, muffling all the sounds with the trampling and gaining speed.

        When steel clad pegasi started to fly out of the portal, it was too much for her. With a totally non-royal squeak, she spread her wings and soared, raising higher and distancing from the grove, ready to surround herself with protective shield at any second. She couldn’t afford to attack the ponies, yet was unable to take down the one, who guided them, risking to take as much damage as she could inflict. The swarm rolled below, spreading across the whole field, it’s aim was obvious – the city, unsuspecting and unprepared.

        ‘How many of them die in that horrible attack?!’ she painfully squinted.

        Suddenly the wall of flames rose in front of the pony army, rushing forward and shielding them; it looked like their lead wasn’t going to trade any of them easily. With the roar of fire “the human” glided under her, flying low; she could feel the heat even on a considerable distance, fluttering in despair.

        “It’s only a dream, Tia,” the familiar silvery voice made her twitch surprisingly, yet it was the most soothing thing, she could expect in the situation alike. “A nightmare forsooth, but it existeth in thy imagination only, heated by thy concerns and suspicions.”

        The world around them froze, the swarm, the fiery menace, the grass and trees, as she could feel no wind… even the Sun stopped in the sky. With a fitful sigh Celestia turned around, to see her regal sister hovering next to her with a small pacifying smile, feeling a great weight off her mind.

        “Comest with me, sunny!” Luna nodded, her horn lit up with the magic and everything around became smudged and rippled. “Thou hast spent hither too much time methinks. Tis nerves shuttering, I guess.”

        “Arrrgghhh!” with a migraine-like groan Celestia unglued her head from the pillow. The next thing she saw, gaining focus, was Luna comfortably sitting in the armchair and watching her sister.

        “That was only a dream…” muttered Celestia, raising on her fore hooves. “But what a nightmare it was!”

        “How beest thee, sunny?” Luna slid next to her, sitting on the bed and nuzzling sisters shoulder, wrapping her in lavender aroma coming from the flowing night-coloured mane. She looked in Celestia’s eyes with concern. “Mayhap I should take thee out of thither long ere… Thou lookest shaky still.”

        “Well…” Celestia cleared her throat. “Did you see it, Lulu? Did you see that… swarm?”

        Luna shortly nodded, waiting for continuation.

        “There were millions, I think… He must have mobilized half of Equestria!” Celestia squinted, sitting on the bed, trying to gather her thoughts. “Mares and stallions, young and strong mostly, all moving like enthralled…”

        “Tia, please… That was only a bad dream,” Luna touched her shoulder lightly. “Thou seeing things, which bother thee, in a nightmare, maketh it a prophecy not.”

        But the Day Princess got on her hooves and started measuring the room, voicing her concerns.

        “It was him, you can’t deny, blueberry… It… he looked like Alex and was Alex exactly, but… different…”

        “Nightmare Alex?”

        “Oh, Lulu! I don’t find that funny at all,” Celestia threw a slightly reproachful at her younger sister. “He gained certain powers, that was the… sleepwalking version of him!”

        “He could control the objects, he could control fire,” continued she, seeing that Luna was patiently listening. “Exactly like he did the first time he confronted that Seeker. When he travelled to the place through your dream, Lulu!”

        A few seconds only quick hoofsteps broke the silence, Celestia huffed, shaking her mane and making rose aroma more pronounced; apparently, Luna decided to give her an opportunity to vent and tell everything.

        “When I saw that poor unicorn put to sleep with a spell, I realized what was going to happen next,” the white alicorn cocked her head, her eyes shone. “But now he can reach anypony through their dreams… and can fly. He was invading worlds through portals, using the pony army and his ability to enter dreams. The one we saw, was his home world – Earth!”

        “But what must have happened here for that to become even possible!” exclaimed she, waking her pet phoenix, who chirped loudly on her perch and flapped wings anxiously.

        “Oh, Tia… Thou art talking about that, as if it was the reality, given and inevitable,” with her magic Luna scratched Philomena’s neck and back, calming the bird; Celestia watched the phoenix, cooing something quietly and stretching her neck squinting, and her own shoulders relaxed a bit. “I said that once and I’m going to repeat again: thou art suspicious about Alex, mayhap even afraid of what he may bring to Equestria, it’s natural that thou saw things bothering thee in thy dream, and Alex looked exactly like himself. All the rest is the result of thy daily stress, mine lief.”

        “Thou workest more and get less and less sleep,” Luna took a look over her sister. “Thy concerns don’t leave thee for a moment, thus the result. Everything, what thou saw, are the elements of our everyday reality, simply combined in a weird mix in thy dream, thy tired mind gave thee mercilessly. We had a few morbid incidents in the past, so it’s natural forsooth that thou art overly cautious about everypony unusual.”

        “But…”

        “Sunny, thither is a certain difference between things, thou thinkest may befall, even thou fearest to befall and the things, which shall inevitably befall no matter what. A certain chance existeth of course, but…” Luna rose from the bed and approached her sister, looking into her eyes fixedly and absolutely seriously. “I can recognize the evil, thou knowest, Tia.” She fell silent for a while, then added. “I saw none in him!”

        “Are you sure, sister?” Celestia leaned to Luna, putting her head on sister’s shoulder. “Because…”

        “I am!” Luna’s answer was categorical. “Absolutely!”

        “Now get some sleep, sis,” she nudged Celestia towards the bed lightly. “Thou needst rest, it’s only three past midnight, Tia. I can stay with thee for a while, if ‘t be true thou wantest.”

        After lingering for a minute, Celestia nodded and returned to her bed, promptly fixed by her sister’s aura; she tried to nest comfortably, but something obviously didn’t get out of her mind, as her eyes were still full of concern.

        “I have a feeling, we aren’t controlling the situation already…” muttered she quietly, laying her head on the pillows and watching Luna, who sat on the bed edge.

        Luna simply shook her head slowly, kissing her sister and covering her accurately with the blanket.

        “Sunny, dost not make thy wish to control the situation let the situation control thee…”

        *

        The look of slowly smouldering furnace was so heartwarming, contrasting to what it was a couple of weeks before, Alex simply stood for a while, leaning on the fence, and watched the embers, brightly glowing in early morning shadows, fanned by the light wind. No sound disturbed the peaceful silence at that moment, except some skylarks chirping far in the field. Rare sparkles floated in hot air ripples, dancing above the candent surface, and quickly vanished in the first rays of rising Sun.

        Alex smirked and mentally wished Celestia a good morning, he didn’t hurry to bother the owners with his visit, as rightfully considered entering the smithy yard without invitation simply impolite. Although, knowing the old blacksmith and his niece being the early birds, he had no worries either – soon one of them would definitely look out of the house and see their guest; Alex decided to wait for a while, inwardly playing the possible course of their talk with Will.

        The front door screeched, letting the sound spread widely in the cool morning air and revealing golden braided mane and its whole owner’s nicely shaped figure. Girl’s eyes took a look over the yard and stopped on Alex, Silver Ingot froze for a short moment, surprisingly blinking twice.

        “Oh…” she looked embarrassed, but quickly braced herself and waved her fore hoof. “Come in. Just… a second…” she disappeared into the house and Alex could hear her surprised and slightly anxious voice. “Uncle Will!.. Uncle, Alex is here!”

        “That early?! Hmm…” the old unicorn cleared his throat; Alex waited outside, listening to the hoofsteps approaching the door. “What’s happened, my dear?”

        “I don’t know… I hope nothing serious, uncle. You’d better ask him.”

        “Good morning, young gentlecolt… errmmm… man!” Will squinted at Alex patiently waiting in the yard, looking for tiny signs of bad news in the posture of the human; the blacksmith got used to them and treated the life realistically, to think that early visits meant bad news more often than good ones. That time he couldn’t find any visible precursors, despite Alex was like a tight bow inside, but Will didn’t hurry to relax and inwardly prepared himself for everything. “You wanted to tell me something, Alex? Well, this time is neither better nor worse than any other, go on, tell, what bothers you.”

        “Actually, I wanted to ask rather,” Alex spread his hands, unsure how to approach his problem. After a short hesitation he decided to start with the main thing. “Would you take an apprentice, sir?”

        “Aaaa… errmmm…” Silver Ingot dropped her jaw, unable to believe her ears. Her uncle treated that thunder strike statement with more moderation; apparently, Alex was least joking and Will was going to listen, what that strange human had to add. Alex used the sudden silence to his own advantage, elaborating fast.

        “Sir, I have some fairly amateur experience of blacksmith craft, which accompanied my reconstruction and fighting training, but I would like to grow above mine limited knowledge. You see, what I’m trying to do can only benefit from me being involved in the production process personally. If I know what and how is done, I can find better ways to improve mine wares… and progress myself. And I mean not only and not mostly the generators,” Alex took a breath; seeing that the old blacksmith listened attentively, he continued. “That armour we make… I considered all possible variants and it looked like we couldn’t make it any better… while keeping it simple. You know, I have serious reasons to be unsure about strong magic associated with something, that concerns me directly, but that armour needs to hold against much more, than it can at the moment. I have a few ideas, which can hopefully improve our product technologically and… I will be glad to see you getting more new customers as the result. That’s possible, but… I need to be involved in the process to try that,” shrugged Alex, he wasn’t happy with his mess of explanation. “Besides, I’d like to hope that I’m capable of something more complex, than moving the crates at the freight yard.”

        Will nodded shortly, acknowledging the latter reason being not the least important, he examined Alex fixedly, then took thought. Silver Ingot overcame her bewilderment and now quietly alternated between her uncle and the human, yet not entirely believing, what she heard.

        “You are going to confront those creatures, princesses warned about in their announcement, right?” finally slowly said the old blacksmith; raising his eyes on Alex and seeing his amazement, Will chuckled. “You are magic resistant, besides, you aren’t a pony, so, aren’t affected by the damage they inflict, you seem not to be afraid of some challenge… and you suddenly need armour, while it’s practically nothing to use it against, at least in that part of Equestria. I may be an old soldier, but I can add two and two.”

        “Well…” Alex sighed, disarmed, then laughed. “It would be foalish to try to deceive you. Yes, Will, you are right, that’s about the plan.”

        “But, uncle…” Silver Ingot touched old blacksmith’s shoulder and he shortly nodded, agreeing with her unvoiced concern.

        “Alas, there is one thing, which makes me less enthusiastic,” with a sad smirk the unicorn stomped from hoof to hoof. “My own service is hardly demanded nowadays, let alone taking an apprentice and wasting somepony’s else time and effort. I’m afraid, you would only lose time, learning something,that you couldn’t apply later. Besides, we won’t have much to practice on, Alex – you are our first and the only one customer for quite a few years already.”

        “Exactly!” ardently objected Alex. “I am still your customer… and I shall be for quite a while. It appeareth that many ponies in Ponyville need mine generators, I got a few more orders on the last week. That means a lot of work, and there shall be more…”

        The filly gasped and cupped her mouth with her fore hoof, Willsmash squinted, trying to concentrate on some thought eluding him. Not giving them time to tell anything Alex continued enforcing his arguments.

        “As I said, I have a few ideas, which can make our… your service unique, if properly implemented. Thither shall be customers, in the earnest!..” Alex bit his tongue, watching the squinting blacksmith, and quickly added. “I want to try something that can bring the smithy back to the competition… even stand out! It’s your choice, sir, to let me in or…”

        “Are you going to say that you hope to compete even large companies?” Will shook his head, the human sounded crazy and at the same time quite confident in his ideas, that confidence strangely looked like having solid ground underneath.

        “Not only and not exactly to compete,” Alex produced a sly smile. “I’m going to try and make them need our service!” the unicorn only huffed, but Alex continued. “Come on, we still have Ponyville to work for, we have our own time and… we have armour to improve. I’m sure, we can make it profitable after that likewise.”

        Willsmash still weighed something inwardly, he threw a glance on his smithy over the shoulder and chuckled.

        “Well, young gentlecolt, why not. But I stick to certain standards of my work and not going to refuse them, even if I didn’t have an apprentice for Celestia knows how long,” old Will squinted, a sly sparkle flashed in his eye. “You said, you had some experience, that’s nice… Actually, I’ve understood that already. You know, what you are doing, and that means, we will hardly stomp on one spot, if we have to work and learn at the same time.”

        Alex produced a small smile, he was ready for something alike, that was only rational to find out the level of training of the potential apprentice. He even suspected the further route of their conversation.

        “However, I firmly believe that one, who plans to progress in armour and weapon making,” continued Willsmash. “Must be able to imagine how to use their product, how it works in reality. Only in that case their work can be relied on.” Alex shortly nodded, inwardly praising himself for coming earlier. “Surely, your fighting training must make things easier…”

        “I’m ready for the test, sir,” Alex inquiringly glanced around. “Right here, in the yard?”

        “Uncle Will…” started Silver Ingot, but the old blacksmith interrupted her with a soft gesture.

        “Calm down, child. I’m not that old to avoid recalling my early days and try, what Alex is worth in a fight. And don’t worry, I won’t hurt our guest much,” he squinted at his niece, making the girl flush.

        “Let’s see,” muttered the old unicorn, heading to the empty part of the yard and a wooden rack with numerous poles and clubs sticking from it. “So, take your pick. I have real swords and spears, but that’s only a test…”

        Alex pulled a long wooden pole out of the rack and weighed it in his hands, he swirled the “weapon” around himself, throwing it from one hand to another, checking the length and handiness. Willsmash raised one eyebrow and took two shorter clubs, levitating them with his magic.

        “The rules are simple. No muzzle, head or below the belt hits. Everything else – at your discretion. Ready?”

        Alex saluted with the pole instead of an answer… and immediately was to reflect an attack, holding his stick with both hands and knocking away the first bat, then ducking and blocking another, which approached from behind. Wood hit wood with distinctive loud dry crackle.

        “The real enemy won’t wait and ask questions,” muttered old Will, trying to walk around Alex and find the blind spot in the defense of his deceptively lazily rotating pole. He made another attempt, again from two different sides at the same time. Silver Ingot watched them with dilated eyes from the front door.

        Alex was to think and act quickly, the advantage was obviously at the side of magically driven clubs, capable to approach him from almost every direction and angle, yet he was to mind the pace, not to get exhausted earlier.

        ‘Must keep them away from my knees and shoulders!’ he made sure that nothing is going inside the “sphere”, he was drawing with his stake, as the properly placed hit could easily make his own strikes less effective for a while.

        Alex dived under the next attack, so, the club stuck in the sandy ground, turned and hit another with full force to make it bounce further away; not wasting time he balanced the pole and dashed to the blacksmith…

        “Quite nice, young gentlecolt,” huffed Will, when after half an hour they sat at the doorstep, breathing heavily; both clubs and the pole looked rather shabby, but the satisfied smirk on the scarred muzzle unambiguously told that the blacksmith liked, what he saw.

        “Hmm… I would like to share that enthusiasm,” Alex cringed rubbing his side, he missed a couple of tangible hits there and at his hip. “If there were real swords, I wouldn’t have been in one piece most likely.”

        “If you didn’t hesitate to attack me more often and aggressively,” the old unicorn looked at him fixedly. “I would have less time to plan my own attacks and chance to carry them out. It’s not the case to be unnecessarily polite, Alex. But to tell the truth, without magic I could hardly get past your defense either; whoever taught you, taught you well, you did right keeping that knowledge.”

        “Okay, I’ll be less scrupulous next time…”

        After a second Willsmash laughed loud.

        “Well, you guessed right. Why don’t we try indeed, darn it! Ultimately, I’m not getting younger year after year,” he became serious at once. “When can you start?”

        “I must round out my duties at the station first,” Alex imagined the station master’s expression, after being told he was going to leave, and shrugged. “They probably won’t let me out for a month, but I’ll try to bargain less.”

        “Fine!” Willsmash levitated the pole and examined it closely. “Speaking of the weapon, if you really want to confront those creatures…”

        “I was thinking about a long spear or something along those lines,” confessed Alex, stretching the aching side. “To be able to pierce the… them, afore they can buck.”

        “You worked quite nicely with that stake today,” the blacksmith threw a quick glance at him. “It seems the weapon suits you well. Actually, I thought of a double-end glaive rather. You know what I’m talking about, right?”

        “Hey, gentlecolts!” Alex’s reply was interrupted by a loud call from the gate; a long covered cart stopped there with uneven mechanic rumble and one of the stallions pulling it addressed them no doubt, as there was nopony else around. “Can I talk to the local blacksmith?”

        Sporting a sly grin Alex pointed at Willsmash with his thumb, the latter seemed overly surprised by that sudden question, nevertheless took the business tone.

        “What can I help you with?”

        A muffled squeak from behind their backs made Alex look up over his shoulder and see Silver Ingot, who approached the door and watched the cart like some miracle.

        Meanwhile, the driving stallion elaborated.

        “Somepony in the town told us, we could find the blacksmith here… They mumbled something else,” he scoffed. “But I had no time for stupid rumours. We’re in transit here and the cart is badly broken… The darn thing is barely moving. I simply need somepony to fix it and do their job nicely.”

        “Well…” Alex raised and winked at Will and the filly, who froze like thunderstruck. “It nev’r raineth all the time!” He wanted to say something about the Sun shining again, but reconsidered in time, rightfully supposing that it would be not entirely smart to remind the blacksmith about Celestia once again in the present context. “Apologies, but I need to go, for I hear the cargo calling,” with the light heart Alex bowed slightly. “Have a nice day, ye all.”

        He quickly crossed the yard, while the old unicorn opened and closed his mouth, without proper words in mind; Alex addressed the newcomers.

        “Hither is exactly the master you need. But mind, please, his quality work is expensive, in the earnest!” with the imperturbable look Alex hopped over the fence and headed across the field.

        *

        “…so, do you plan to build your “windmill” onto the...” Twilight switched her attention from the book to Alex, raising her glance at him and putting her chin on folded fore hooves.

        “No, Twilight, I said that once and I’m still not going to attach anything to your Golden Oak, don’t worry. I’m going to put the rotor behind the library, in the field… It won’t be even visible from Ponyville due to the size of the tree. I pull the wiring from there and pass it into your underground lab, or better say “undertree lab”. Although, Twi, I can’t see how my mechanism can harm the oak, considering all the things that forest giant can cope with and evidently is not objecting against,” Alex closed a thick heavy geological reference book and took a look around, as if hinting of everything already built in the giant tree trunk. “Hardly the rotor at the very top would change anything, besides, we could put it really high for more wind power.”

        “But I won’t do that, if you don’t want. We decided, so be it,” he weighed the tome in his hands, then threw a quick glance at the book’s original place, in the corner of the very high shelf, almost under the ceiling of the hall. Alex critically observed the thin long rung ladder. “Errmmm… Twilight, could you please…”

        “Oh, come on Alex!” Twilight followed his glance and rolled her eyes sarcastically. “It’s only as high as that room is, not some chasm. You need to fight your phobia, if it is making even routine household tasks uneasy for you.”

        “Actually, I do fight my phobia,” Alex downcasted. “With varied success…” then added mentally. ‘And mostly when my material body is guaranteed to remain unscathed anyway!’

        “I agreed to double anti-fire precautions, building the scheme for your library, according to your concerns… Can you respect my own… quirks likewise?” He looked at Twilight pleadingly. “You don’t even need to leave the couch for that, Twi…”

        “Oh… Okay,” the alicorn girl sighed and took the tome from his hands with magic, returning it to the proper place at the higher bookshelf. “I still think you should bring more effort, getting rid of your acrophobia, Alex, otherwise it may play an ugly joke on you someday.”

        “Thanks,” Alex sighed with visible relief. “And speaking of my work, thanks for checking the contract for me.”

        “You’re welcome,” Twilight’s eyes followed the lines in her book again. “I’ve run it through and didn’t find anything dubious or misleading, but I sent it to one friend in Manehattan to have a professional look. I think we must give him a couple of days. By the way, how do things go with the patent office?”

        “I got all the necessary documents the day before yesterday,” Alex stopped gathering his papers and picked up the pencil, he dropped to the floor. “So, my invention has a completely legal status now,” he let out a small, but satisfied smile.

        “I’m sure it’s only a formality and the contract is genuine, thus with confirmation of the patent office your invention will finally work for you, Alex,” Twilight looked at him again. “Are you still positive about leaving your current work at the station?” she watched him checking his notes.

        “Yes, Twilight, I am. I see armour building as a more interesting job, besides I need to invest certain effort into it, as I think, I will come across more and more Seekers, while staying here. Of course, they were not overly happy with me leaving,” Alex chuckled, scratching the back of his head with the pencil. “But I had a talk with the chief and hinted quite opaquely that they will gain much more with me doing my other job, than staying at the freight yard.”

        “I wanted to make their work easier since my first days there,” elaborated he, seeing Twilight’s questioning look. “And now with Canterlot Steam Company, adding their production capacity to my plans, I can actually do that.”

        “I still can’t see how armour making can help that,” Twilight shrugged lightly.

        “Well, armour is only the… “testing sample”, Twi, what I’m going to do can be applied more widely, but…” Alex looked at her fixedly. “Hey, I thought your evaluation of old Will was more on the prudent side?”

        “My – perhaps,” Twilight turned a page, deliberately not looking at Alex. “But I can imagine that your business with the old blacksmith can probably change your image in somepony’s eyes, because…”

        The accurate knock at the front door interrupted her, Alex looked through the window and exchanged glances with Twilight – the Sun was setting, visitors unexpected; Spike was taking a nap upstairs.

        “Come on in,” Twilight raised her voice.

        “Good evening, Twilight,” the door opened and closed and the familiar voice made Alex want to become invisible in his armchair. Sweetie Belle told him recently, that her big sister woke up late the day after the Gala, got down and had her late breakfast in silence, carefully remembering something or listening to herself, then was noticeably grumpy the rest of the day. ‘Failed expectations!’ concluded Alex inwardly, while Sweetie Belle described him “morning Rarity” in details, giggling.

        “I just wanted to ask about one thing…” cooed Rarity, Twilight welcomed her with a wide gesture. “I was at the Apple Farm, with my sister, walked her there for the sleepover, the girls arranged… and then I decided to check you, guys, and ask.”

        “Good evening, Ahlex, darling!” apparently, Rarity changed anger to mercy, as she dragged an armchair with her magic and nested closer to Alex with all possible comfort. “So…”

        Alex and Twilight showed polite interest; Alex a bit less sincere, than Twilight, he was still unsure what to expect from the devoted unicorn fashionista, despite salvatory presence of another pony.

        “As you both may know, I am going to present mine new collection soon,” Rarity cocked her head, throwing a spear glance at Alex. “I must say, it becoming ready sooner is solely certain human’s merit. To tell the truth, I’m almost ready to ask you do the same to my new sewing machine, darling,” she leaned to him adding in theatrical whisper, then returned to the main matter of her visit. “But I thought I could make the impression stronger, if I showcased another qualitative work of obvious importance. Besides, several dresses follow the gamma quite nicely, so…” Rarity raised one eyebrow.

        “I wanted to ask, if you let me take the restored royal tapestry for a while,” Rarity addressed Alex, elaborating finally. “So I could exhibit it with the collection, darling. That would be fabulous!” exclaimed she enthusiastically.

        With the light rustle, awoken by the louder voices, Spike appeared on the stairs, squinting at the bright light. He noticed Rarity and froze in the middle of the stairs, rubbing his eyes and staring at her sleepily, as at some miracle he didn’t expect to see.

        Watching him Rarity laughed heartily and took a look around the room, like if she was seeing it for the first time or found some new aspect of it at that moment.

        “I must say, you have quite a homely and cozy atmosphere here,” with a warm smile she nested deeper in her armchair. “Unlike some other places today…” a light shadow ran across her muzzle, attracting Alex’s attention.

        “What do you mean?” he put his notes aside and Spike whisked to the bathroom to bring himself in proper order.

        “Well, I could never think, I say that about Apple farm,” Rarity rubbed the armrest pensively. “But the atmosphere there, when we came, was like a minefield. I’m not committing a crime against truth, saying that, darling!” she waved her mane theatrically and elaborated.

        “When we arrived, Applejack and Big Mac were arguing about old trees removal or something,” Rarity wrinkled her forehead remembering, it looked like if it took some effort and she flushed embarrassedly. “The funny thing is, I can’t remember the details well, but it didn’t look like usual Apple farm, to tell the truth. It seemed, Jackie didn’t want to remove some tree, because she thought it can be yet saved… awoken to life or something along those lines. And Big Mac said there wasn’t any alive twig and the tree could be used as the firewood only, moreover, it could probably contaminate the nearby ones, if it was ill,” Rarity rubbed her temples forcedly and Alex arched the eyebrow, listening very attentively since some moment. “Strange… I can’t… They listlessly disputed all the way I stayed, that’s for sure. Granny Smith grumbled about soot gathering in the chimney, so soon the smoke would come inside the kitchen rather. She said that there were quite a few young and strong ponies around, but things going that way, she would need to climb the roof herself or hire the sweeper.”

        She put her fore hoof on Alex’s hand and this time he simply turned his palm up, taking her slightly trembling hoof gently and making Spike frown; the latter just returned, fully awoken, with clear eyes, but caught only the very tail of the story. He nested at the edge of the couch near Twilight and threw a reproachful glance at Alex.

        “The girls started teasing each other and arguing about something almost the moment they gathered,” Rarity frowned a bit, her eyes were still focused on something seemingly far away, as she tried to recall the recent events. “But when I said that we should probably go home, they quickly calmed down, apologized… and whisked to the orchard, to their clubhouse, I guess.”

        Alex’s face darkened, as he was thinking about something, and Rarity continued.

        “Even I myself felt out of my element,” she chuckled nervously, stroking Alex’s palm absently and causing another fiery glance from Spike. “I remembered, completely without rhyme or reason, about my almost failed collection… you know that display for Hoity Toity,” she shuddered and looked at everypony present, like if only seeing them at that moment. “That was awful! Truly awful, why did I even think about that?” added Rarity in the dramatic whisper.

        Alex and Twilight exchanged the glances; Twilight looked noticeably concerned as well and Alex realized, she must have thought exactly about the same as him. Releasing Rarity’s fore hoof softly, Alex got up.

        “Look, Rarity, we need to go check one thing with Twilight,” he grabbed his notes and Twilight nodded fast. “You stay hither, with Spike… till we return,” Alex looked in the eyes of still not understanding unicorn girl. “We simply check, if ‘t be true everything is alright… with the trees… and the chimney. Besides,” he turned to Twilight, winking at her barely noticeably. “methinks, Apples need a small guidance in friendship right now.”

        Spike alternated between them with wide open eyes and bemused look, Rarity felt nearly the same and watched Alex heading to his room, with slightly strange expression. Twilight got up and quickly put away the book she was reading; she trotted to the kitchen and when returned, unnoticed by others, there was a large medkit in the saddle bag she took with her.

        Alex left his notes on the table, he used the moment Rarity was asking Twilight about something and subtly locked the door.

        “Well, I’m arrant ready,” he waved Twilight from the front door. “Dost not worry, Rarity, we shall be back shortly…” Twilight rolled her eyes and followed him outside, into the thickening shadows.

        “What was that, pray tell?” Rarity raised her eyebrow, but Spike realized, he was left to “guard and comfort” her and threw away all the thoughts about events unimportant for him.

        “Rarity, you know Twilight,” he waved his paw, ogling his white goddess with a smile. “She can be… a little strange sometimes. And Alex…” he shrugged. “…is Alex – that’s just another degree of weird, if you ask me. Well…”

        *

        “Next time, when you tell anypony not to worry,” Twilight huffed sarcastically, when the front door closed behind them. “Mind thy tongue better Alex, otherwise the effect may be contrary to expected.”

        “Arrghhh!” groaned Alex. “It’s hard to notice in time… Lookest…” he made a visible effort. “Look, we must act fast. I can’t be teleported, Twi, so, you go there and try to find Jackie and Mac as quickly as you can, then find the fillies,” he looked at the darkening sky with concern. “I’ll return to my room and follow you by… sleepwalking.”

        Twilight nodded nervously, she didn’t get used to that yet; Alex continued.

        “Thus I can appear right where necessary, I hope… and I shall be of more help, in the earnest,” he kneeled to Twilight’s eyelevel. “Please hurry, but remember… and warn others – ye ain’t supposed to look at them… into their “eyes” at least. Beest careful!”

        With a clap and bright flash Twilight teleported, Alex reached the windowsill in a couple of jumps and climbed back into the room; he searched fast, trying to make no noise – he needed Twilight’s sleeping potion. ‘Come on, come on! Whither it was?..’

        *

        She found Applejack with the teacup behind the table, mumbling something about “brutally treating the perfectly curable trees”; when Twilight burst into the room, her friend raised the eyes on her with slight bewilderment.

        “Evening, Twi… What’s ‘bout all the hurry,” Applejack took a look over the ruffled princess. “Ah…”

        “Listen, Applejack,” Twilight was at the “low start”. “There is no time to waste! Where is Big Mac?”

        “Wait, wait, wait…” Applejack looked at her, exactly like when Twilight desperately tried to learn something about friendship and write a letter to Celestia, before the day ended – in other words, like at slightly nuts alicorn girl. “It’s late, and… Ah was going to drag the girls home already… You know, they never come by themselves. And you’re coming in like a storm… What’s the darn matter, partner?”

        Twilight almost jumped on the spot, but took herself in the hooves and tried to elaborate as calm and simple as she could.

        “It’s exactly about the girls. Although, we all aren’t entirely safe. Remember that royal announcement about the strange horse-like creatures? Well, we have reasons to think, at least one is somewhere nearby. We need to find the girls and bring them home fast. That’s why I was asking about your brother.”

        “Tarnation!” Applejack dropped the cup, but didn’t even bat an eyelash at the sound of breaking ceramic. “Macky had gone to the town a tad before you came…”

        Twilight groaned. ‘Things getting more complicated! Although… maybe the less uninvolved ponies, the better…’

        “Are you sure, Ah mean… Ah be damned!” Jackie’s hooves dropped at the realization. “We started to feel strangely since noon… Ah have loads of work usually, so…” she scratched her head. “Now Ah can say, it felt… depressive. And the feel only doubled in the evening. What should we do, Twilight?!” she startled.

        “Sweet Celestia!” gasped Twilight. “Things are worse than I expected! Okay, me and you, we need to find the girls fast… Where are they?”

        “Must be in their clubhouse or somewhere near,” breathed out Applejack, when they ran out to the twilight. “Follow meh, Twi!”

        They passed the barn, corral, beds of flowers and crops; the apple orchard stood as the dark wall, the pink stripe at the western edge of the sky was razor thin.

        “I’m not orienting there, the apple trees look all the same for me!” exclaimed Twilight on the run.

        “Just stick to mah tail, partner!” huffed Applejack, she dashed into the dark green tunnel between the trees, like a water snake gliding on the waves; Twilight could barely keep up.

        Their nostrils were filled with the apples and damp soil smells, the trees seemed to run in gloomy rows into the infinity, touching by their crowns and whispering in the light breeze, as the two girls ran past them, frequent shrubs obstructed their view, throwing weird shadows; daily hum of the insects changed to silent dance of night moths between the trunks, and each sound made Twilight shiver – she knew well, what could be hiding in the thickening darkness.

        “Remember, don’t look at them!” breathed out Twilight on the run.

        Applejack gritted her teeth and almost doubled the pace, Twilight galloped on top of her strength, folding her wings tightly, as they were useless there. They made one sharp turn, then another and Twilight realized, she wasn’t orienting already; without golden mane and tail in front of her and light sandy stetson she would get lost easily.

        Suddenly a flock of bats soared from the nearby shrubs, startled by the trampling, and swirled around Twilight. The young princess feared the snakes most of all, but she didn’t find the bats to be the fanciest critters either. She even crouched on her hind legs, almost scared by that surprise and shooing the flying shadows with her wings, squinting, as a few touched her muzzle accidentally.

        “Shoo! Shoo, you, apple thieves!”

        Finally, the bats dissolved in the darkness, Twilight turned her head quickly, taking a look around: Applejack didn’t notice the hitch and ran forward. Where actually… Twilight could hardly say, she wasn’t even sure, where they came from, at that moment.

        ‘Sweet Celestia! And what now? How can I find them?.. No, no, no!’ Twilight bustled around the opening, losing orientation completely. The night fell around quickly.

        ‘No, that’s not going to help! Stop, you silly filly!’ Twilight tried to calm down and grasp her thoughts. ‘I must hear them… I hope… But I can’t see even my own hooves.’ She tried hard to discern something in the deep shadows around.

        “Jackie is going to kick my butt for that most likely…” muttered Twilight, finally finding a dry branch on the ground and mentally blessing the pony, who forgot to remove it; the rest of the orchard was meticulously cleaned, as she could have noticed. With a sparkle of magic the branch turned into a torch and Twilight headed into the orchard depth, levitating it high, not to set anything on fire. The wide ring of light drifted between the apple trees with her being the center of it. She managed to pass a few rows of trees, heading in the chosen direction, when the distant scream made Twilight jump on the spot, in a second she stormed towards the heard sound, not even thinking about discreetness. ‘Oh, just let me be late not!’ rang in her head.

        Applejack reached the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ clubhouse, built around the thick trunk of an old lush apple tree, and only then noticed, nopony was following her; she lost Twilight somewhere behind.

        ‘Tarnation!!!’ she took a look around, there was no sound, except wind rustling the upper twigs, the windows of the tree-house were dark and the trees around kept silence, not going to tell, where the three fillies could be. ‘Please, please, let them be okay!’

        “Apple Bloom! Sweetie Belle!” Applejack yelled so loud, that a single bat rushed into the dark sky from the nearby tree. “Scootaloo!!! Girls, where are you?!”

        She made a circle around the large tree, looking fixedly in the darkness. A quiet squeak from the shrubs, made Applejack almost laugh with relief, but she knew, there was not the best moment for that.

        “Girls, that’s me, come on out. It’s safe!” the feeling of great weight off her mind mixed with sudden anxiety and feeling of guilt, because of her leaving them in trouble.

        Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo almost crawled out of the thick bushes to the opening, letting Applejack see the glistening terror in their eyes.

        “Sis…” Apple Bloom shivered and gasped on a lump in her throat.

        “Applejack, we felt that…” whispered Sweetie Belle loudly. “We felt fear and despair, it was like any hope left us…” she whimpered quietly. “We were so scared, auntie Jackie…”

        “We extinguished the lights,” added Scootaloo, she tried to keep Dashie’s trade mark “So what?” look, but her lips trembled. “And hid outside, not to be caught in the house.”

        “It’s okay, okay,” unusually softly said Applejack, she nuzzled each filly gently. “Ah found you and… it’ll be alright. We’re going home now.” The feel of anxiety grew and she realized that the troubles were only beginning.

        Suddenly girls’ eyes dilated, the fillies produced an ear-splitting squeal and snuggled to her chest all together. The fear became almost unbearable.

        “Something is behind me, right!” whispered Applejack and that wasn’t a question. Sweetie Belle sniffed and nodded convulsively, hiding her muzzle on Jackie’s chest, other girls snuggled even tighter. “Don’t look, just don’t look!”

        ‘You must be strong, girl!’ Applejack tried to breathe evenly and leaned on her fore legs, hearing a quiet stomp. Then another one closer, almost behind her tail, the sound turned into the tinnitus in her ears.

        “Hhhha!!!” with all her strength and weight Applejack threw her hind legs in the air and felt with triumph, how they met something alive and flexible. The kick was so strong, it could break a young tree; Applejack almost fell flat, standing on her now trembling legs by some miracle.

        With a muffled grunt, or maybe it was the sound of the flesh hit by her hooves, that “something” flew back a couple of yards and smacked into a tree, sliding and staying down. Applejack looked over her shoulder cautiously, feeling the strong urge to lay down and not move for a while; the dark heap under the tree was motionless and the feeling of fear and anxiety almost vanished. Almost!

        “Oh, girls!” the glade suddenly lit with trembling fire and they saw Twilight approaching, keeping her eyes on the knocked down enemy. “Thanks Celestia, I finally found you! Is everypony alright? And what’s with that… thing?”

        “We’re fine,” squeaked the fillies barely audibly, they found the strength to show their snoots from Applejack’s embrace. “Jackie kicked it,” the pride was audible in Apple Bloom’s voice, despite the fear. “Will think better next time…”

        “Yeah…” Applejack shrugged with a tiny smile, kicking her stetson at the back of her head. “Ah… can hardly repeat that kick in a few days, partner.”

        “Let’s go to the house. And quickly,” Twilight approached, lighting the scene with her improvised torch, to her surprise Jackie didn’t say a word about it, and forced herself to smile encouragingly to the fillies. “Wait…” she felt another wave of uneasiness rolling over them, like a strong tide, and threw the branch to the grass, embracing all the girls with her wings.

        “Another one!” whispered Twilight, gathering all her strength and lighting her horn with a powerful spell. A magenta with lightning-like streaks dome of protective shield covered all the ponies, separating them from the approaching menace. With relief Twilight felt, as the feeling of despair weakened noticeably, but she wasn’t going to give up her concentration.

        ‘Don’t know how long I can hold the shield… but maybe that thing leaves us!’ she threw an accurate glance right above the grass towards the source of quiet unconfident hoofsteps behind the magic dome, noticing two pairs of strong almost pitch black legs with misty stripes curling around them; if anypony had some doubt, there they were dispelled – that was another Seeker.

        With a gust of wind something else, dark and fast, rushed to the monster, knocking it off and going through it. An evil groan made the girls’ coats stand, when the Seeker crashed to the ground and wriggled in convulsions. Unknown force ripped it to the shreds and sheets of the Dark Mist, absorbed by the new shadowy visitor.

        The latter turned his head, noticing the still smouldering “torch”, and in a second his frame became enveloped in bright flames, which lit and roared with new strength. Twilight recognized Alex, but couldn’t hold back a shudder still: his eyes looked like two wells of void on the fiery face, when he nodded to her.

        Another Seeker started moving weakly, regaining “consciousness”… or it was its master, regaining control over their puppet. The magic shield faded and Twilight leaned on Applejack with a fitful sigh, she felt exhausted. Both girls and the fillies risked to take a look and noticed how the bright fiery silhouette lowered over the defeated, but trying to get up, monster and spread its “wings”, clenching to the Seeker.

        The monster twitched and produced a loud groan, making the ponies jump on spot, the flames enveloped its carcass, destroying it and releasing the Dark Mist, which was visibly absorbed by the unexpected rescuer. The fillies hid their muzzles under Twilight’s wings again and, after a second, Applejack looked away as well. Twilight watched, as the Seeker turned into a large pile of dust, deprived of its magical substance. Alex rose and she saw an apologetic smile on his face, bringing palpable relief, as his look sent shivers along her spine; that emotion showed her, it was still Alex she knew. The “phoenix” quickly dissolved in the darkling orchard, taking all the light, except the barely burning branch on the ground.

        “What… was that?” as the darkness fell, Scootaloo was the first to break the silence. “I mean… ehh…”

        “That’s a… “guardian spell”,” downcasted Twilight, wholeheartedly grateful that the girls couldn’t see her pinkish nose and flaming cheeks. “I wasn’t supposed to use it, but I felt, I couldn’t hold the shield any longer.”

        “You are indeed a great mage, Twilight!” squeaked Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle quickly nodded.

        “Girls, please stop…” Twilight was embarrassed, but she couldn’t tell the truth – that wasn’t her secret.

        Applejack kept silence, her expression was slightly pensive, but she shook her head, shooing some impossible suspicions away.

        “Ah…” she cleared her throat. “Ah hope that’s safe to go home now. Twi?”

        “Yes,” Twilight picked up the torch and made it burn anew, lighting their path. She remembered that Alex could feel the Seekers. “The… “guardian spell” is supposed to take all the nearby enemies, before… before it dissolves. Ahem…”

        *

        “Are you sure, it’s safe around, partner?” Applejack raised her tired glance on Twilight, when they put exhausted girls to beds, despite the terror, they came through, the fillies simply drowned into the sleep as soon as their heads touched the pillows.

        “I’m sure,” Twilight nodded, heading to the front door. “But don’t go out tonight… I… I’ll try to make sure the orchard is completely clear… Simply better stay in the house, okay?”

        “Eeyup,” after a short thought agreed Big Mac, who was already home, when they arrived, and listened to their brief story with gritted teeth at first, noticeably regretting that he couldn’t give the intruders a good buck himself. Applejack confirmed with a nod and Macky added. “Can you get home, Twilight? You look… beaten up.”

        “It’s okay,” she smiled weakly. “I can manage.” She vanished with a flash…

        Twilight was to lean on the library door not to fall, admitting that Big Mac was probably right – “beaten up” was mildly said.

        “Psst…” the quiet whisper made her jump on the spot and she squeaked, when a dark figure detached from the oak trunk.

        “Sorry,” Alex noticed her twitching. “I didn’t want to startle you. Is everything alright?”

        “More or less,” breathed out Twilight. “I’m falling off my hooves though.”

        “We still have Rarity to deal with,” chuckled Alex. “With all respect for her, I hope to send her home with the tapestry as soon as I can; you need some rest.”

        When he vanished, Twilight opened the door, entering the brightly lit hall and squinting. Spike was entertaining Rarity with some talk, but both heads immediately turned to the sound of tired hoofsteps.

        “Oh, Twilight, darling!” Rarity quickly got up and approached, letting Twilight lean on her shoulder. “You look… quite tired,” she stated accurately, then repeated Alex’s question in letter. “Is everything alright?.. And… where is Ahlex?”

        Twilight let out a small smile and Spike cringed with badly concealed disappointment, but the sound of unlocking door made them all jump and turn to the small room. Alex appeared on the doorstep, holding the folded tapestry in one hand and rubbing his face, he looked like somepony suddenly awoken. Rarity dropped her jaw.

        “Ahlex!..” started she, regaining the ability to speak. “You… you went with Twilight… How on Equus…”

        Alex handed her Luna’s tapestry with a sly smile.

        “I come and go through the window sometimes,” he shrugged with the most innocent look and Twilight giggled involuntarily, watching Rarity’s muzzle. “Thus I don’t bother anypony, if I’m late… Like tonight.”

        When they finally sent Rarity home, convincing her everything is fine at the Apples and the girls are safe, it was far past midnight; Spike simply fell asleep and Twilight levitated him to bed. As the result Rarity left, proudly carrying her “catch”, and Twilight was almost sleeping on her hooves.

        “Go to bed, Twilight,” Alex kneeled to her and hugged, stroking her sleepy head lightly. “I’ll put off the lights and… take care of the mess,” he nodded towards the teacups and books on the table.

        “Can you do one more thing?” Twilight looked up to him sleepily. “I know, you will be… taking a walk… around the town anyway. Please, check the farm as well; the Seekers never appeared twice in a row, but…” she stopped at the middle of the stairs to the first floor. “Just in case.”

        “Rest assured, Twi, I shall!” Alex shortly nodded.

        *

        The western edge of the sky glared with the bloody sunset, last rays flooded the landscape with hard light, adding almost visible glow to the edges of every tree, shrub and stone, sharpening the long shadows and making the world look frustratingly similar to the flat multilayered decoration in some theatre. The colours: bright yellow, red, dark golden, deep green, black and even blue of the clear evening sky, despite being saturated, looked gloomy in the ensemble. The air was still, not a tiny leaf moved, disturbed by the sudden wind; filled with the parched soil and somehow smoke smells, it provoked faint, but persistent inexplicable anxiety.

        The princess floated above the discomposedly frozen orchard, her vast wings flapped slowly, keeping her in the air; Luna took a look around and frowned – something was definitely wrong here, she felt that her intervention was highly needed. The apple orchard shouldn’t be that quiet in the warm august evening: birds chirping and flittering, insects humming, wind playing in the crowns – there was nothing alike and the apple trees stood in even endless rows of silent austere guards.

        ‘What is going to befall hither,’ intently gazing into the distance of the nearest rows, Luna listened to her intuition. “To play out at this looking trivial, yet hostile stage.” Usually she appeared where and when necessary, it didn’t take much to wait that time either – suddenly the distant clatter of some hurrying hooves pulled her out of the deep thoughts.

        ‘Aha! Hither cometh,’ Luna soared higher, gliding a few dozen yards aside, closer to the source of the noise, and watched; it approached, heavy huffing added to it.

        Sliding by, the apple trees looked like two smudged green and brown stripes, all the same for about half an hour. The apple orchard wasn’t the place Big Mac could get lost into, even in twilight, even after the sunset… well even with eyes closed probably. Even storming through the orchard, looking for his sister and fillies, after finding out the creatures in the royal warning were quite real and one of them (at least one) threatened the girls at that moment.

        ‘What the hay is goin’ on with our orchard?!’ McIntosh stopped, throwing a bewildered look around. “JACKIE!!! GIRLS!!!”

        The yell of usually taciturn stallion must have been heard at least at a few miles range, and would definitely startle up a few birds already and some omnipresent pesky fruit bats; although, Mac’s voice seemingly met a cotton wall, reaching nopony. Big Mac rushed forward again, a little slower this time, the thought, he could take the wrong direction, looked completely inconceivable to him. Inwardly chilling he was to admit that he ran past that forked tree with a hollow in place of the broken branch at least five times already. Considering he was running in one direction, supposedly to the Cutie Mark Crusaders clubhouse, all the time, that was… Sometimes it seemed that he was moving his legs on the single spot and some part of their family pride slid past him in an endless loop.

        ‘C’mon, ya ‘an’t find the proper place in yar own orchard!’ he froze on spot, listening, then shook his head with a loud huff; the silence around oppressed, thickened hostilely. ‘I could have laughed, if…’

        “JA…”

        Some muffled sound reached Macky’s ears and he leaped forward silently, preserving the breath.

        It looked completely different for the Night Princess, observing the scene from above and slightly afar; the red earth stallion indeed looked running almost on spot, like in slow motion.

        ‘What a nasty nightmare!’ Luna frowned, her horn lit brightly with magic. ‘Thankfully, it needeth so little to fix some of them, no visible presence even necessary.’

        ‘Okay, grass, shrubs, apple trees… Wait, what?! Grass?!’ Alex bemusedly observed the surroundings, raising one brow. ‘That’s… kinda unexpected!.. It looks like… Like Apple’s Orchard, but what am I supposed… Oh!..’

        A single glance up told him, his unwilling travel here wasn’t futile: the mere look of the night-coloured alicorn, floating above with her amazing starry mane and tail flowing and dissolving in quickly falling darkness, made Alex’s heart warm up and beat faster.

        “Ahem… My princess?”

        Luna threw a quick glance at Alex, the magical glow of her horn faded and she graciously, but quickly landed next to him, approaching with a smile and slight surprise in her bottomless eyes.

        “I missed thee, mine lief!” In a second Alex’s face was on the inch distance from hers, feeling the soft feathery embrace, he cupped her soft shoulders and inhaled full chest of lavender; the princess voiced his recent thoughts almost exactly. “Tis quite unexpected!”

        “I wanted to see you, Luna!” Alex touched her nose with his, closing eyes and smiling. “Although I expected to reach you in your room in the Castle.”

        “Thou wast a zilch late then,” Luna nuzzled him with a silvery chuckle. “I was thither a few minutes ere forsooth, but…”

        “I definitely didn’t expect to appear in the middle of… Apple’s Orchard, right?” Alex glanced around meaningfully. “Isn’t it your dream, my love?”

        “Yes and… not quite,” Luna nodded, the slightest touch on her neck made her squint and sigh, Alex wrapped both arms around her. “Hast thou forgotten the nature of mine duties, lief?”

        “Come, Alex, follow,” seeing his puzzled expression, Luna welcomed Alex, heading to the group of shrubs in between the tree rows. “I shall show thee. I extend mine hope, thou can tell me the latest news likewise, I heard thou made… art going to make significant changes in thy life since the Gala.”

        “Yeah, right, Twilight’s being a diligent student,” smirked Alex, causing another smile on Luna’s muzzle. “Writing regular letters to Tia…”

        “I heard a few bits at the breakfast, something about thou leaving the railroad station… But I prefer to hear those stories from thee, mine lief,” dropped Luna over her shoulder. Alex flushed catching himself upon staring at her swaying flanks fixedly.

        “Hmmm… I will tell, of course,” he blinked, catching up with Luna shoulder-by-shoulder. “But first tell me why and where I reached you, as…”

        Instead of an answer, the princess moved a few twigs aside and a small natural glade opened to their eyes; a few trees were missing in a couple of rows, forming an opening in otherwise even planting. In a second somepony burst in, trampling and breathing heavily.

        “Thou dost not say…” Alex dropped his jaw, seeing the stallion, he obviously knew. “Tis… HIS dream?”

        “The nightmare, better say… well, till recently,” Luna let out a tiny smile. “But, hush… We can talk anon! Now simply watch.”

        Big Mac turned his head, trying to understand, where he heard the sounds from, when the shrubs on the opposite end of the glade parted, revealing Applejack, the fillies and Twilight, guarding the rearward and lightening the surroundings with her magic.

        “Macky!” Applejack rushed to her brother, other girls followed. “Ah thought, you went to Ponyville… Have ya been lookin’ for us?” Alex heard a faint silvery tint in her voice, not natural for Jackie, but the red stallion was too happy to see them all, to notice anything.

        “Eeyup!” sighed out Big Mac with noticeable relief, squinting, when Applejack hugged him with one fore leg.

        “Twilight told me about the incident in the orchard,” the silky touch of Luna’s lips on his ear barely let Alex grasp the sense of what she was whispering. “It seemeth, Big Mac feeleth guilty for not being hither, at which hour it befell… while he actually isn’t.”

        “Tis an arrant useless nightmare, pure suffering without any outcome,” Luna shook her head slowly and Alex was to agree. “I took the liberty to fix it a zilch, mine lief! His next dream shalt be peaceful. Methinks I can’t be blamed much for that… But… Thou said, thou hast news to tell. Let’s see, if ‘t be true I can take us to the proper place to talk, like I… summoned thee hither,” she giggled silverily.

        “Methinks I know, what place it can be,” pondering for a moment, Alex looked at her sly muzzle fixedly. “Mine amazing princess!”

        The world around blurred, when Alex caught Luna’s lips with his, snuggling to her. The ponies left the glade, disappearing in the darkness between apple trees; at the last moment Big Mac looked back and Alex noticed, how the stallion’s eyes suddenly rounded out like saucers, before everything vanished.

        When he broke the kiss, rather from surprise, than willingly, Alex and Luna found themselves in the old, almost ancient, dark overgrown garden. Old large moss covered trees, thick grass coming even through gravel pavement, alleys almost unseen in the freely spreading shrubs and expanding flowerbeds, green hedges turned into walls through the time – all those gave little to no chance to recognize the preplanned planting by some caring hooves, which the garden didn’t know seemingly for ages.

        A quick look over the shoulder and the old time-worn towers, empty windows, peeking rafters in places of roofs unambiguously told him, where they arrived.

        “The Old Castle garden,” smirked Alex. “I had a strong feeling, thou wanted to talk hither. I haven’t seen it upon mine arrival, thinking about the exit from the castle rather; besides, I wasn’t particularly happy with the views from above.”

        “Laugh, laugh, mine love! Thou can be amused by that… I, on the contrary, was unable to fly, even in mine dreams… well, regardless of whose dreams those are,” watching Luna giggling at the mental image of Alex, arriving at the highest intact tower of the Old Castle, he frowned jokingly, then grabbed the laughing alicorn into embrace and Luna could only blink her wide open eyes, as their lips met in another passionate kiss.

        “Oh…” she breathed out after a few minutes of head-swirling pleasure, nesting her head on Alex’s shoulder. “Simply tallest me, lief, at which hour thou hast enough… for the start, as tis not the final destination of our travel. I wanted to show thee something else.”

        “Hmmm…” Alex held her silky cheeks gently, diving into Luna’s dark blue eyes. “I have one idea… but I would like to check, if ‘t be true I’m right. So, lead the way, mine princess, I’m faithfully following thee. And dost not look at me like that, before I fall to thy hooves and thou needst to carry me,” added he meaningfully, forcedly focusing on the surroundings, instead of whirlpools of those eyes; he swallowed a lump, instantly making Luna produce another silvery laughter.

        The princess released him and headed into the ancient garden depth, almost prancing like a joyous filly, throwing starry glances at the human, who froze for a short second, unable to break his stare at her sliding along the barely visible in the grass path. Finally, he twitched, waking from his contemplation, and caught up with his collocutor, pacing next to the Night Princess and listening to her light hoof steps, unable to startle the screeching cicadas.

        “So, is it true, thou art going to leave the railroad?” Luna broke the silence first.

        “Yes, mine princess. I almost did that already… a few formalities remain rather,” Alex nodded, moving away the branch overhanging the path.

        “Exactly at which hour I thought that thou lingered too long at the place, which arrant conflicted with thy nature,” Luna’s smile flashed in the darkness.

        “With thy help, confess that,” Alex replied. “One can’t attract the attention of large company directorate every day… And I was to start somewhere. But, thou art correct, only two Seekers… What a boring routine job!” he shook the head theatrically; Luna burst laughing again.

        “Thou art incorrigible, Alex. Yet still?”

        “I signed the contract with Canterlot Steam Company, within the conditions I mentioned afore,” Alex held Luna on her shoulder for a second to let an adder cross their path unharmed. “Besides, I still can work for ponyvillers, making the generators thither, at which hour CSC runs the Equestria-wide production.”

        She threw a quick glance of satisfaction and admiration at her human.

        “Now I have a strong base and can focus on what interesteth me more. Since certain moment some personal safety and ability to confront our shadowy “friends” are among mine priorities. Besides, methinks Ponyville blacksmith deserveth some support and helping hand in his struggle with time and progress…”

        “I can understand thee arrant,” Luna nodded, leaning to him for a second.

        “I decided that I can succeed at reaching both goals only in one case – working together with Willsmash,” Alex smirked slyly. “It shalt look like I’m interested in making advantageous armour and weapon against the Seekers, learn the secrets of the craft from Will and share mine own knowledge on technology, but even when I leave,” he noticed, Luna winced, and added after a pause. “if I leave, he can use those methods to compete with any company in Equestria at that moment.”

        “Tis soundeth intriguing! Go on,” Luna headed deeper into the seemingly oldest part of the garden; she was to use her magic to softly clean their path of growing obstacles, the castle ruins couldn’t be seen from there because of the thick foliage. Looking over her shoulder, she noticed Alex’s slightly surprised expression.

        “Really? Thou wantest to know, mine love?”

        “And why not?” Luna glanced at Alex slyly. “I have learned to find out something new every day, ev’r since mine return. It nev’r hurteth, in the earnest.”

        “Well, I plan to add some components to the source metal, mine curious princess, and generally change the smelting and forging processes slightly,” Alex explained briefly, what he had in mind. “The latter shalt demand for mine newly, so comfortably, obtained abilities much…”

        They walked in silence, broken by the cicadas endless tingling and leaves whispering and gossiping above their heads, for a while, when Luna caught a glimpse of clearing ahead; with a bright smile she sped up slightly, asking Alex to continue.

        “But with a few changes to the smithy itself, Will can use the advantages to the certain degree, even without mine aid,” Alex sighed, noticing her slight frown. “Well, if ‘t be true I am to leave, I want ye have something, helping you against those monsters. I can’t do much, thou knowest, mine princess… The closest to magic, I can perform, calleth for me sleeping in the process,” chuckled he.

        They finally reached the opening, which attracted Luna’s attention from behind the trees, a small now, overgrown pond revealed itself to their eyes. It must have been larger and cleaner before, but years of unattended existence without care, cleaning and proper gardening around did their unfortunate job – the waterside constantly narrowed and the mirror of clean water in the middle became definitely smaller, than it was intended by the lost in time castle garden planners. Large round leaves occupied quite a portion of that limited surface, telling the observer about some rare water plant presence.

        “Thou art already doing much, by merely staying hither and standing against those abominations!” Luna turned to face Alex and seek for his gaze.

        “Eh… What?” A smile lighted previously concerned face, Alex observed the old pond with the satisfied expression, most likely telling about the proper guess, he made. With a sigh, although, not very disappointed one, Luna repeated.

        “I truly don’t know,” Alex shook his head. “Thou knowest, Tia hath a point, noticing that me and them appeared almost at the same time. The connection must exist methinks… Another question is, what connection exactly?”

        “I think oft, mayhap ye would have been safer, if ‘t be true I have had arrived not…” added he pensively after a second. Then seeing Luna’s sad muzzle, Alex tried his best to shake away those thoughts.

        “Apologies, mine love… I still frequently think that I don’t belong hither… lately a zilch less to tell the truth.”

        “So, is it, what I think it is?” added he, raising one eyebrow with a sly smile.

        “It dependeth…” Luna tried to pretend, she was pouting, but couldn’t hold the face under his glance. “Okay, okay… It is. Tis the place they used to grow… and something telleth me, they still do.”

        “Mindst that tis our dream, or mine, or thine… It’s hard to tell now,” she added with a tint of sadness. “I don’t know, if ‘t be true that pond still existeth in the actual garden. Daring to think it is would be heartwarming.”

        “What is the dream or what is the reality?..” Alex had the impudence to mimic her and Luna quickly slid to him, wrapping in her wings.

        “Mockingbird!” breathed she out, nuzzling him and sharing her breath with Alex again. With his fingers travelling through her mane, caressing her ears and cheeks gently, Alex dissolved in Luna’s embrace for a good few minutes; all the world around ceased to exist, even including the pond with the Star Lilies, he so wanted to see, truth be told.

        “Forgiven arrant!” apparently the princess changed her mood to merciful, when they went for seemingly fourth or fifth round, after a momentarily break for the air. She nested her head on Alex’s shoulder, cooing something tender and nuzzling his neck; Alex could barely hear because of blood rushing in his ears. He placed his palm on Luna’s soft silky chest, sensing the fast beat, feeling how she calmed down slowly, their hearts amazingly getting synchronized.

        “If… if ‘t be true I recall correctly,” Alex could clearly say something from the third attempt only. “We need to wait closer to midnight, mine love…”

        Luna simply nodded shortly, her breath swept Alex’s neck, sending chills up and down his spine. Holding her gently by shoulders, Alex sat on the grassy shore and looked up into her eyes, then into the night sky… and stretched on the grass.

        “I nev’r liked waiting, but this time it’s too different to refuse it,” he ran his fingers along her fore leg ever so gently.

        The Night descended to him, surrounding Alex in lavender fragrant hair, snuggling warmly to his side; Luna rested her forelegs and chest on Alex’s, surprisingly he didn’t feel much weight.

        “Thither is a thing that still concerneth thee, mine love,” she watched him from above with concern and something in Alex’s glance attracted her caring attention.

        “Even a couple of,” Alex let out a tiny smile, stroking Luna’s mane, sliding his hands along her neck, enjoying her squinting from his touch… yet thinking about something else, as she noticed. “But I’m afraid, they shall be too boring and uninteresting for mine princess.”

        “Oh, dost not be foalish, Alex, dost tell,” Luna’s nose funnily twitched and she nudged Alex lightly. “Thou knowest well, I shan’t be too intrusive…”

        Instead of the answer Alex brought her face closer with both hands and kissed her snoot tenderly; naturally, the kiss migrated to the more advantageous area in a second. Luna closed her eyes and gave herself to the pleasure entirely, with ears perked, heart racing and her fore hooves frantically stroking Alex’s shoulders, seeking for better grip to bring him closer. She didn’t expect Alex to give up to the pleasure of stroking her shoulder blades and wings base lightly, which made her tremble, muffledly moaning through their kiss and wiggling her shoulders weakly, becoming softer and warmer at once.

        “Th-thou shan’t go away… from m-mine question,” she emerged, fitfully taking her breath, granting Alex with the amazing look of her slightly veiled by desire eyes, and pecking him onto his nose, while they regained focus.

        “Okay,” Alex sighed, pretending to be forced to spill the beans. “By mine princess command…” Luna squinted at him, but seeing Alex chuckling subtly, she huffed and nuzzled him, then nested her head on his chest.

        “One of them is mine ambitious plan to deliver energy to the railway station,” Alex bathed his hands in the lavender fragrant mane, dissolving in heat, Luna’s soft coat provided. “I want to try placing a large generator at the Ponyville dam, obviously with the help of the Steam Company, as it’s some unrealizable work for me alone. Of course, I’m anxious about the possible outcome… but the main thing…”

        Noticing, he fell silent, Luna murmured gently, encouraging Alex to elaborate.

        “Thou hast seen that dam,” Alex faintly shuddered and Luna noticed, how his fingers stumbled in her mane for a second. “I don’t know, if ‘t be true I can attend the work, without getting to the top of it… W-which I desire to avoid at any cost, in the earnest!”

        “That would hardly improve the work as the whole,” he added.

        “Mine lief, thou can get thither while… “sleepwalking”,” Luna face, framed with flowing starry mane, overshadowed the sky, her eyes shone. “Methinks thou art less affected by thy… problem while doing that,” her soft lips touched and pressed his again tenderly.

        “Oh, mine endless gratitude!” Alex retorted a bit grumpily, when he was returned his right to speak. “And if ‘t be true something goeth wrong… I can imagine and… I don’t need to scare the ponies… more than necessary,” added he, realizing that he hardly was an ordinary figure in their eyes already. “I shall need to find a solution, mine love… Thou can’t help hither, apologies.”

        “Oh,” he remembered. “Twilight said likewise that either I expel mine phobia, or it may “expel” me. Tis easier to admit, than do,” sighed he heavily.

        Listening to cicadas and watching the dark, stars woven tapestry of the sky, being overshadowed by seemingly darker clouds passing by, was undoubtedly easier than thinking about and voicing another problem. That one troubled Alex the most, he knew he was moving along the rightful path, but explaining that to others involved looked quite complicated at times. He rewound the possible routes, that talk could bring him to, again and again, each inevitably taking the dangerous direction in his mind. Alex woke up from his thoughts, feeling Luna’s fore hoof stroking his chest; gently, but unambiguously reminding him of her presence and attention, and his own promise to tell, what troubled him.

        “Forgivest me!” Alex ran his hand over Luna’s muzzle ever so gently, putting the fragrant strand of her mane behind her soft ear and caressing her cheek. “Well… I shall try to explain. Both Willsmash and his niece literally saw the light, at which hour I placed quite a large order. I see the hope in their eyes for quite a while already… unlike the first day we met. Truth be told another couple of customers appeared, not native ponyvillers, but that was almost a miracle for Will.”

        “I am to tread lightly, mine love,” Alex bit his lip. “The single sign that I’m working not only for myself, but trying to “help” them raise, and Willsmash shan’t be so trustful. Can thou imagine, I avoid mentioning Tia or thee in the talk, as she tried to help him and he may consider her trying the same again with mine hands. I know, the real future of that smithy is not in making generators details only, but… tryest to explain that to those unicorns, for whom it is the first real work for years.”

        “I can’t imagine… I simply can’t tell them out of the blue, I involved the CSC into that work,” Alex took a breath and shook his head slowly. “That was necessary, that giveth us space for maneuver… but the mere mention of the company crossing their road shalt break the nerves of Will and Sil arrant.”

        “Sil?” Luna raised one eyebrow.

        “Silver Ingot,” Alex watched the princess, whose meaningful “Oh!” was quite eloquent. “What? Oh, comest on, Luna. She is a nice, cute, thoughtful filly, that’s all!”

        “Fluttershy is nice, cute, thoughtful filly likewise…” Luna pressed her nose to Alex’s jokingly, then giggled after a second. “Aha! Got thee!..”

        “As I said, I know how to make the smithy raise from the ashes again… But I must convince Will, that I do… knowing his stubbornness, tis not going to be easily reachable. I thought I could simply show him some advantages of the technology, I bear in mind, at least I have everything necessary for that demonstration now.”

        “Then dost it, mine love,” Luna arched her neck, looking down at him and flashing her smile. “Thou dost not need to mention the Company yet. If ‘t be true I know something about thee, Alex,” elaborated she, amused by his surprised look. “I highly doubt, thou negotiated for the… development rights being reserved for thee in that contract for nothing…”

        “Well, ” Alex downcasted most innocently. “Who knoweth, what I may come with anon…”

        “Alex!” Luna kept staring at him.

        “Okay, thou win,” giving up, Alex wrapped his arms around her swan neck again. “I had in mind a few difficulties, they can shortly meet in mass production.” He kissed Luna fast and, before she could squeeze him again, exclaimed.

        “Lookest, judging by thy Moon, it’s close to midnight.”

        Alex leaned on his elbows and raised a bit to see the pond, Luna graciously turned to another side, nesting her head on his chest as before, but facing the water as well.

        A few miraculous stars of pristine white, tingling beauty shone between the large round leaves, drifting above the pond depths in the track of moonlight. Luna didn’t exaggerate, mentioning them: each flower was hardly smaller than Alex’s head, glowing with its finest porcelain grace and attracting numerous moths. The thin, but sweet and very distinctive aroma soon reached the unusual couple, silently admiring the Queen of nocturnal flowers.

        “Mine love,” whispered Alex, touching Luna’s silky ear with his lips. “Do I harm the whole plant much, if I pick one flower.”

        “Methinks not more than any other herb,” the flush of hers, understanding his motive at once, seemed awesome to Alex; he felt long fore legs squeezing him tighter for a moment.

        “Then…” with a few seconds of concentration and a loud clap a single “star” came afloat in the air and, being followed by two pairs of eyes, finally landed behind Luna’s ear, fixed in her mane with the relatively long piece of remaining stem.

        “I wonder, if ‘t be true the flower stayeth with thee, as we seem to be in somepony’s dream still,” Alex examined Luna’s extra crown with a hopeful smile.

        ‘I shall find the way to bring them to thee in reality…’ his promising thoughts dissolved in the loving embrace of alicorn princess, when her shining eyes filled Alex’s view and mind completely.

        *

        “Bouncing Barrels” bar was quite herded, like usual at that time of the day, but one company gained more attention, than all other ponies together. It wasn’t specifically noisy, although, definitely more vivid, than the rest; probably because the initiator of the party wasn’t a common occasion here. Rainbow Dash was a known lover of apple cider, but usually she preferred it freshly made from the Apple Acres harvest and rarely was the bar visitor. Maybe because she wasn’t a totally company pony type or maybe because she preferred a good nap to any other activities, when she had time free from her cloud bucking or training.

        Nevertheless, she was exactly the center of the small pegasi company at that evening and if somepony took a closer look, they could notice, there were mostly those from her colleagues, weather pegasi, whom she could call her friends, maybe not so close like the girls, but still mates at work and… prank. The latter was the most common activity for Rainbow, when she didn’t work, nap or… get stuck with a book.

        The whole celebration happened spontaneously, but it was obvious that the event causing it was important for her, making the tomboy pegasus suggest a couple of mares and a few stallions drop into that bar and have a drink.

        Perhaps Rainbow planned the real party as well, when she could share the joy with the girls and have a chance to brag, moreover, argue with Applejack again on the eternal topic of “who was the most daring mare in Ponyville”. Nevertheless, that didn’t prevent her to pay tribute to “Bouncing Barrels” old cider, which was noticeably stronger than freshly brewed Apple Acres’ one, and relax. The rest of the company didn’t plan to fall behind as well.

        “Well, I say, that’s cool that you have succeeded, Dash!” one of the stallions saluted, smirking. “Not only because you did, and actually showed Thunderbolts your best, but also because your training must be over… for now,” he looked around their company, like asking, if others shared his idea. “And we finally get our good ol’ Rainbow Dash back.”

        “What do you… mean?” Rainbow turned to him and huffed, raising one brow. “Like if I was ever going to change. Hmpf!”

        “He means that we were hardly seeing any Rainbow Dash lately,” another pegasus supported him with a laugher. “More like a dash of rainbow, jetting by few times a day, kicking a bunch of clouds as a part of her duty and vanishing for her endless training.”

        “Not that you were an epitome of sociability before…” muttered he quieter, but loud enough everypony around to hear.

        “Oh, stop inciting her!” nudged him a mare with tightly braided green blue mane, she threw a glance on Rainbow, who barely noticeably hiccupped at that moment.

        “You wanna say, I’m becoming a bore?” Rainbow shook her head, arching the eyebrow again.

        “Well, maybe not a bore… but we can’t remember the last time our Daring Dash pranked anypony or generally enjoyed a good joke,” both stallions kept giggling and others, including both mares, sported light smiles involuntarily. “You were either training or ears deep into the book.”

        “Yeah, a bit more along that way and you can freely move to Twilight Sparkle, Dash!” added the first stallion, causing a few snorts.

        Rainbows nose became pinkish. On the one hoof, despite the recently discovered love to reading, she still thought that calling her an egg-head or book-horse would be a terrible exaggeration; besides, Dash rightfully supposed that her love for only certain books (mostly Daring Do’s adventures) excused her effectively. On the other hoof, she remembered, who moved to Twilight not long ago, and the mere thought of staying with him under one roof sounded like a profanity to her. Accusing her of avoiding pranks was clearly an unheard-of strike at Rainbow’s reputation, she couldn’t allow.

        “So… you are going to say that I ignore you, ignore any entertainment, maybe even becoming less awesome,” Rainbow Dash raised on her hind legs, fore hooves akimbo, pouting like a big sparrow. “Maybe even becoming an egg-head, right?”

        “I had no time for pranks, I admit… But boring!” huffed Rainbow, putting down the empty mug and taking a look around, quickly figuring. “I’m becoming less socialite and more predictable, you say,” repeated she.

        “Hmm… Clear and correct, position by position, like a written down list,” chuckled one of the stallions. “As we said, one more Twilight in the making…”

        “That’s not going to end well…” muttered the mare with the short chestnut mane.

        “Drop it, Rainbow!” another mare gave a killing glance to the snorting stallions. “They didn’t want to say…”

        “Huh? They said it exactly,” Dash shook her rainbow bang. “That I can’t enjoy a good joke now and am turning into a… nerd, I suppose. Maybe that I’m even not daring enough,” she glared at the scoffers, who couldn’t stop already. “Perhaps they forget that air tricks are, leaving only books for me…” she gasped of resentment.

        “Well…” slowly said one of the stallions, barely stifling another snort…

        That evening wasn’t among the easiest for Alex, he had another talk with the station chief in addition to his regular work, consisting of loads of boxes, crates and sacks, logistics, in particular coordinating a group, which in record time loaded and sent to the southern border a very important train. Alex knew that the situation there, near the sadly known Badlands, was quite sharp – the Changelings didn’t want to calm down and conform to the agreements, constantly crossing the border and pestering small villages and separate farms. Thus that cargo train was of great importance for those, who uphold the border and unstable order along.

        The chief only sighed, seeing Alex entering his office at the end of the day, he knew well, what the talk was supposed to be about. In his turn, he did everything possible to linger with Alex leave. Certainly, the latter promised quite an advantageous changes, as the result of him working in the different role, but the terms were uncertain still. Besides, the station master preferred the well known responsible employee, who could be put at the night shifts easily, if the necessity emerged, to the fantastic technological improvement of the freight work process, which nopony knew when to be implemented actually. Alex was to call for all his eloquence to prove his point and paint the benefits of his new job for the freight workflow in the brightest colours.

        As the result, despite the aged stallion huffed through his moustache and wanted to keep Alex on his job for two weeks more at least, while they looked for the replacement (or better a couple of), Alex could talk through his own terms – working till the end of this week and staying available to be called for in case of some emergency for a while longer, if his new job allowed. The talk wasn’t overly heated, but Alex fell out of the office, feeling quite tumbled.

        The road to Ponyville took him a bit more than usual, as Alex tried to relax during his walk and pondered about the uneasy task of telling old Willsmash that they would give out some work to the big company and cooperate in a way. There was a certain risk that the old blacksmith wouldn’t listen to any reasons and ideas, but would rather buck Alex from his home, prior to those ideas even had some chance to be voiced. Loaded with those thoughts Alex reached the town and, despite there was about a couple hundred yards to the Library, turned right instead, heading to the southern part of Ponyville.

        Later Alex scolded himself countless times for that decision to visit a bar and have a mug of cold apple cider, instead of going straight home. Did he really need that cider that much at the end of the day? And they could definitely have made even better coffee with Twilight, than any bar offered… And the evening could have turned out calm and nice… for the change, but the choice was already made.

        “Good evening!” with a smile Alex greeted one of the mares, he worked for at the market; two steps separated him from the bar entrance.

        “Evening,” there was a fair dose of concern in the glance she raised at him, making Alex wonder. “So nice, I met you here. I’ve heard, you were going to leave the station, moreover change your job completely,” the mare shrugged with a tiny smile, like if apologizing for the town tattle; Alex inwardly cringed – definitely Ponyville was a small town, if even that decision of him was already a matter of “market talks”. “Well… That probably means that you won’t be able to offer me your service either. That would be really sad, let alone quite troublesome. Are you sure? If the rumors about your decision are true, of course.”

        Alex sighed and produced a diplomatic smile.

        “I plan certain changes indeed,” he confessed forcedly under the mare’s pleading glance. “But I won’t leave you in trouble, ma’am. What if, let’s say, I find somepony ready to change me on that job?”

        “Oh…” his employer tried to hide disappointment and failed at that. “As the worst case…”

        “I’ll try to find a capable pony, who can take some part-time job for the few extra bits,” Alex had a more cheerful look on the perspective. “And I’m more than sure they will cope with the task just as well as I did. Don’t worry, please.”

        “Only if you find somepony as responsible and meticulous…” squinted the mare, smiling involuntarily at Alex’s encouraging expression. “Okay?”

        “Rest assured, I will,” reassured Alex, already opening the bar door; he was almost inside, automatically crouching under the barrel above the entrance and waving to the mare with a smile. “Stay calm and have a nice evening, ma’am!”

        “Sorry,” his smile became apologetic, as he involuntarily squeezed in front of another customer; the earth pony stallion only shrugged.

        Alex let go of the door and turned; apparently, that small talk played its detrimental role in the further events.

        “Hmpf! So, I can’t enjoy a good joke, something totally crazy and… and unpredictable,” huffed Rainbow dash angrily, putting her mug on the table. “I’m a boring and… totally unsocial pony…”

        “Okay… I’m…” she jumped on her hooves and took a look around, then stared at the still having fun stallions scowlingly. “I… I’m going to kiss whoever enters that door right now. Yeah, be it a stallion or mare… Beat me to it,” she stuck out her tongue at them, making both mares shake their heads in disbelief.

        “Easy stuff! And here goes the victim,” she perked her ears at the sound of the opening door.

        In a prankish flurry Rainbow Dash turned to the sound, their table was close to the exit, otherwise she could notice something perhaps.

        Still smiling Alex passed the barrel and straightened at that moment.

        Rainbows felt dizzy from the sudden turn and already consumed cider, thus was to close her eyes for a moment, but she grabbed the newcomer firmly and placed a well-aimed kiss right on their lips.

        The complete silence covered the bar with the deafening quilt. The bartender squinted, he knew both customers and was informed about… certain tension between them; judging by his muzzle, he already counted the inevitable losses. Alex’s eyes met at the bridge and he made a desperate attempt to start back, when the rainbow mane unambiguously told him, who was kissing him at the moment, but she held him tight. Nevertheless, he noted that Rainbow compensated the possible lack of practice with outstanding enthusiasm, but Alex was unable to pay due tribute; his mind searched for the ways to retreat in panic.

        In a few infinite seconds the pegasus girl finally realized that the shape of pony muzzle should actually differ; Rainbow opened her eyes and tried to focus on Alex’s face. Her eyes dilated, changing the relaxed and content expression to utter terror.

        “Mmmmffff!!!” Alex twitched and retreated, pushing her back with both hands, for his fortune Rainbow Dash loosened her grip out of bewilderment and jumped back as well. Her eyes quickly filled with rage. Alex shook his head like a dog, getting out of the water, and threw a quick glance over his shoulder at the door. Alas, a big company just entered the bar and totally herded the entrance (which was the only exit for Alex unfortunately), wondering about the jam-up reason.

        “Youuuu!!!” Rainbow produced a roar, capable to put a timberwolf into shame; Alex barely managed to jump aside, when she landed on four hooves right at the place, where he was standing. Now she was effectively cutting him from the front door.

        ‘Here we go again!’ flashed in Alex’s head, he stifled a stronger damnation. ‘Merlin’s pants! Why on… Equus…’

        The entire herd around them unfroze at once, flooding the room with the cacophony of voices; everypony talked and laughed, a few still sat in shock, the stallions from Rainbow’s company, first stunned by the incident, neighed shamelessly. Alex would be endlessly grateful, if they did not though, as they agitated enraged mare even more.

        “Hey! The hay are you going to…” started the bartender, when Rainbow grabbed the nearest mug. Alex barely managed to dive under the table, when that mug smacked at its center, spraying the pieces around and making the ponies jump away.

        ‘Daaamn!’ thought Alex, carefully peeking from under the table… only to quickly leave his cover and look for another one, as Rainbow dashed towards him grabbing something on the run. ‘Tis shan’t end with one broken bottle now!!!’

        They made a couple of circles around the hall: Alex maneuvered between tables and customers quite effectively, Rainbow followed close, throwing at him everything, she could pick, and trying her best to catch him and kick. A few attendees still laughed at no doubt looking hilarious for an extraneous observer scene, but the majority worried for their health already. It was a miracle, how they managed not to hurt anypony yet.

        Finally, Rainbow Dash remembered that she had wings and Alex was to seek cover under the tables quickly again. She tossed about the bar, eyes flaming, nose and cheeks flushing; if she was a bit tipsy, the anger and excitement of pursuit made her sober at once, but the same feelings didn’t let her stop and cool down. In his turn Alex launched a few things at her, but the mare managed to dodge, scoffing his attempts; an unfortunate throw made one of the large windows crumble with woeful tingling, causing an angry shout from the poor bartender, forcedly witnessing his bar being ruined by those two.

        Alex did his best to get to the exit, but the vengeful girl tried to leave him no chance; besides, the exit was occupied by those, who didn’t want to get hit with an accidental “flying saucer”, yet preferred to watch the play to the end. Rainbow advanced, Alex stumbled upon somepony’s folded shawl and grabbed it without a second thought, folding it tighter and throwing at her. The rolled cloth smacked right into Rainbows nose, making her huff and blink a few times. Somepony snorted in the corner.

        ‘Shut up finally, you…’ thought Alex, when Rainbow produced an ear-splitting squeal and stormed, seemingly ready to tear him apart. He managed to dive under her and hopped over the counter, landing on the floor next to stunned bartender and crouching, just like that stallion. Right in time: the chair crashed in the counter with a nasty crackle. The bartender glared at Alex with a mix of despair and anger.

        “I shall pay for that mess!” breathed out Alex, trying to hear the “enemy” out, as raising was hardly a smart move at that moment.

        “Ouch!!!” a bottle swept by something, Rainbow threw, rolled on the counter and fell on Alex’s head, hitting him quite tangibly. “Damn, I’ll show thee…”

        Alex quickly moved aside to take her by surprise and raised behind the counter; he spotted an intact clay mug and grabbed it.

        “Aha!” Rainbow fluttered right in front of the exit; she triumphantly pointed at him rubbing his head and looked for another chair to launch at the hated human.

        Alex threw the mug, but either his aim was affected by the hit or he hurried a bit – the mug crashed exactly into the barrel, hanging above the entrance, and knocked the tap out. The effect was unexpected by Alex, who wholeheartedly believed that the whole barrel was a simple props. Contrary to that the waterfall of cold fragrant cider came down on unsuspecting Rainbow, making her lose height and huff under the sudden shower and Alex freeze for a second, estimating the effect, almost folding in half from laughter.

        “Ha! Deuce!” Alex quickly jumped over the counter and dashed through the broken window outside, while stunned pegasus shook her head and wiped the cider off her eyes. He landed on all four and quickly raised, looking for the best possible cover, still snorting at the priceless image, he witnessed. ‘Granted – she is annoying as hell, especially now… but I’m not going to fight a girl, yet it hardly stops Dash on her way to bucking me aplenty!’

        Outrunning Rainbow Dash at a beeline would be a futile attempt, as she would catch up with him fast and simply knock him down on the fly, then possibly jump on Alex till… till she considered her cider shower and, moreover, their unfortunate kiss (Alex shuddered) paid back entirely. His only chance was hiding and Alex thought about the area north of Carousel Boutique, where buildings stood close to each other, yet were a lot of narrow backstreets to lay low and wait till the infuriated pegasus calmed down and minded her own business.

        Alex dashed left and down the street towards Rarity’s home hearing from the corner of his ear the loud angry scream, which only made him double the speed.

        “I will get you, scrub!”

        He was almost behind the first alley corner, when Rainbow jumped through the broken window and turned the head fast to spot her offender. Apparently, she caught the glimpse of his back, because the mare produced a victorious (quite prematurely, as Alex thought) yell and soared, chasing him. Thankfully Rainbow flew straight after Alex, she was so angry and eager to get his miserable ass that simple idea to fly higher and watch his path didn’t come into her mind.

        Alex got far enough into the alley and passed a few crossings already, actually, they were more like sideways between houses; the stuff, ponies didn’t find a place in their homes, was stored in some of them: carts, barrels, some crates, flower pots and other similar things. Twilight slowly flooded the town and Alex thought, he had a good chance to flee and hide, before the storm died.

        He turned on the next corner and snuggled to somepony’s door, hiding in the shadow of the deep door frame. Right in time, the next second the blue smudged silhouette flashed by, leaving a comet-like rainbow tail; Alex froze and almost stopped breathing, the hearing was his best defense at the moment. Rainbow Dash stopped further down the alley and fluttered, exasperatedly looking around, she couldn’t believe, she lost the human. Alex could hear her receding, muttering something unpleasant in his address; he looked out accurately and slipped from his hiding place, trying to get away quietly and unnoticed.

        Lady Luck decided to tease him more, Rainbow Dash became tired of fruitlessly looking for Alex and turned back almost ready to stop her pursuit… when she noticed him quietly leaving the scene. Her “hunting spirit” got new fuel and with a loud holler Rainbow dashed after the human again. Alex whisked into the sideway and with the speed of light made a few turns between the houses, trying to make her lose his trail again. Fortunately, he had a couple seconds of advantage, thus managed to dive into some dark narrow space and crouch behind the large crate.

        After a few minutes of tension Alex’s knees subtly hinted him that it would be quite nice to stretch them or simply walk a little. Rainbow Dash flew past his improvised shelter twice already and it was only a matter of time, when she could finally check that gap; time worked against him.

        Alex got up and looked around carefully. He found himself in a small passageway between two buildings. There was nothing, except the crate, he was crouching behind. As far as he could see in the falling twilight, there was a dead end, blocked by a stone wall, between buildings on the other side of that passage. The height of the wall didn’t leave a chance for any doubts – he couldn’t climb it. And despite being narrow, this opening wasn’t narrow enough for him to climb up, using opposite walls. There was a tree behind the dead end, but it could equally be none, as Alex couldn’t reach lower branches either.

        Two doors lead to the passageway, both locked and he had no time to try his luck with any of the locks. Besides, that would be breaking into somepony’s property with damage inflicted. There was one dimmed window on the right wall, next to the crate. Alex tried what appeared to be some sort of French frame; thankfully it wasn’t locked and gave up. Moving it very slowly, not to let it screech or bump the other half of the frame, he raised the window, making an opening wide enough to squeeze through, then accurately closed it behind.

        When Alex’s eyes accommodated to the low light, he found himself in some sort of storage with lots of clean and folded towels, bathrobes of pony size and fashion and generally different sorts of bath or sauna accessories on the numerous shelves. Praying for the narrow door on the opposite wall to be unlocked, Alex accurately pressed the handle.

        ‘By the name of Celestia… Yes!’ the handle gave up freely and the door opened. ‘Now, quiet. You don’t need anypony to join the race, drunk and disgruntled Rainbow Dash was enough for me tonight.’

        He then cautiously squeezed through the door and entered the new room. It was a much bigger one with a large marble basin, built into the floor and filled with hot water and bubbles. The air was humid and warm, steam filled the room making it harder to see the details. A few folded towels and colourful vials surrounded the basin’s edges. Enveloped in the relaxing aroma Alex thought that it could be quite nice to take a breath here and plan his escape, but…

        When Alex saw who was sitting in the basin, in a completely relaxed pose, with a damp towel on her eyes, he froze on spot.

        ‘Merlin’s pants!’ Alex’s eyes desperately looked for the exit, while he was trying to not move, not breathe and, frankly speaking, become completely invisible. ‘By sheer luck she isn’t facing me and seemeth uninformed of mine presence… yet.’

        The horn, the pristine white coat, the blue strand of hair protruding from under the towel, which was wrapped around her head to keep her mane dry… Alex didn’t see the cutie mark underwater, but the whole ensemble of features was enough for him to fall into quiet panic. Especially considering the situation they both got into.

        ‘Just when I thought the evening had a tiny chance to end well…’ sighed Alex mentally. He tried to make a tiny careful step aside. Maybe his clothes rustled or maybe the base of his shoe met the floor faster than it was necessary…

        “Uhmmm… Lotus? Finally,” Rarity stretched in the basin and leaned forward slightly, while straightening her shoulders in the most graceful way. “I think I’m ready for a massage, you master so well, darling. It was a long day…”

        ‘Damn, Damn!!! DAMNDAMNDAMN!!!’ Alex’s thoughts ran and bounced inside his mind like a pack of mice deadly scared by a stray cat, while his eyes madly moved from one object in the room to another.

        ‘I guess, tis mine karma,’ he gave up and thought of the way to sneak out of the situation with all possible dignity.

        Alex approached the basin and kneeled at the edge, he took one of the vials with the liquid, resembling the massage oil to him. Thankfully it was indeed something alike, as he found out, opening it. Lavender scent flowed into the hot air, making Alex stumble; for a tiny moment he returned back to the Old Castle garden and the overgrown pond bank, to the tender embrace of the incredible alicorn princess and felt her lips on his own – the memory was so fresh and vivid, Alex barely stifled a sigh.

        ‘Okay, careful now!’ Alex forcedly returned to reality, shaking his head. ‘If ‘t be true thou art lucky, thou shall sneak out of hither without troubles soon.’

        A few minutes passed in almost complete silence with only Rarity murmuring and stretching under his… fists. Yes, Alex decided that the only way to keep his cover was to use fists for massage, as his hands with fingers wouldn’t ever deceive even a blindfolded and overly relaxed pony into thinking, she was massaged by hooves. It was very unusual and troublesome for him to refrain from using the most natural tools, every human had since birth, and still stay gentle, yet effective with Rarity’s skin. He caught himself numerous times upon massaging her with open palms, almost “clawing” her white coat, like cats did with soft furniture. With the only difference, he had no claws thankfully. Alex planned to round up the treatment in a couple of minutes and quietly sneak through another door he spotted, this one must have lead to the exit eventually.

        “Ohhhh…” Rarity waved her shoulders. “It seems that you’re on a roll today, darling. I can’t remember last time, when your massage was SO delightful.”

        “Uhum…” hummed Alex, trying hard to make it sound like an agreeing snicker, a proud pony could produce, when he saw Rarity’s horn glowing with magic; she started lifting the towel from her eyes.

        ‘I be damned!’ flew in his brain, when he was desperately asking for some miracle to help him stay covered.

        Of course, he could stretch the towel from her head onto her eyes and flee. But Alex admitted, it wasn’t the best idea. First of all, Alex couldn’t do this to a lady, not mentioning that Rarity was always kind to him and offending her was the last thing, he wanted to do. Allowing that debacle to happen would no doubt offend the sensitive fashionista immensely, perhaps, up to effectively cutting him off the only reliable source of clothing in Equestria.

        Alex decided to flee right away and jumped on his foot. Apparently, his luck decided to play a nasty joke on him right at that moment, as Alex stomped on a folded towel, slipped and fell into the basin with a giant splash of water and bubbles.

        When he emerged, coughing and shaking his head to remove water from the ears and eyes, Alex was granted the picturesque image of Rarity, sitting with her forelegs raised, hooves covering mouth, eyes dilated, almost twice bigger than normal, if that was even possible. Usual for such a surprise shriek didn’t come out and died as a tiny squeak, coming from her mouth. The towel fell from her mane, revealing now the cutest messy head of sapphire colour. When Alex wiped his eyes regaining non-blurred sight, he couldn’t help admitting, she was very beautiful, despite all the shock drawn on her muzzle.

        ‘C’mon Alex, don’t let it stun you,’ he reminded himself. ‘Get away, before she realized, what is going on!’ He didn’t like the fast-changing expression of Rarity’s eyes.

        “Alex?!” creaked Rarity, she then cleared her throat and continued in suddenly softer and eager voice. “Well, my birthday is distant, but somepony apparently decided to send me a present beforehoof. Right, darling?”

        “Wait,” some thought just visited her and her eyes widened again. “So that was you, giving me one of the best massages in my life?!”

        Alex automatically nodded, while giving her a deadpan look, with his head completely empty at the moment. The white unicorn presented him her best bed eyes and a smile, that woke Alex from his stupor. He noticed that his shirt was being pulled away over his head, while equine vixen’s horn glowed again. With one fierce pull he found himself sitting in the hot basin with foam, stripped to the waist, with quite determined Rarity next to him. Alarm, alarm!

        ‘Oopsy! Magic may not affect thou, but not the things on thee,’ Alex returned to clear thoughts at once. ‘The longer thou stay, the fewer clothes on thy body!’

        He already felt, she wasn’t going to stop at that; fortunately, it wasn’t so easy to cope with belt buckle underwater.

        “Come on, darling, nobody takes a bath while clothed,” giggled Rarity and slid closer. She tried to enclose him in a hug, when Alex stormed out of the water.

        “I promise to consider thy proposal…” he breathed out, while crossing the room on all four and grabbing his wet shirt, Rarity dropped.

        “…some other day!” he raised on his feet at the door and blasted through, throwing the last glance back to see, how Rarity snorted and slammed both hooves against the water in despair, causing one more splash.

        In the corridor he almost bumped into another pony with a fillet on her head, keeping her mane up and not obstructing her sight or operations. Perhaps that was exactly Lotus – one of two sisters who run the spa salon (as Alex finally realized, where he “broke into”) – who was going to check Rarity. She almost ducked in terror, following with dilated eyes the strange tall wet figure, which fell out into the corridor and almost rolled over her.

        Alex jogged to the door on the opposite side, supposedly leading towards the hall, reception and exit to the street. He tried to dry himself with his shirt and found that to be completely futile; he was soaking wet with only hope to dry outside after a while. One more desperate yell reached his ears from behind.

        “AHHHHHLEEEEX!!!”

        Next door released him into a wide hallway with reception counter, a fancy thick carpet on the floor, potted plants with large leaves, resembling small palm trees, and a few couches. Alex rolled his eyes thankfully, that looked like an exit and there was nopony behind the counter. Inwardly apologizing for the wet prints, Alex crossed the hall and opened the front door a little, listening. It was quiet outside, but chances, Rainbow was ambushing, were still high; although, he couldn’t find a reason for her to wait for him exactly at the SPA… unless she heard the noise from outside.

        ‘If she pounces me now, I’ll probably shriek and faint,’ chuckled Alex inwardly, trying to calm his beating heart. He weaseled outside and took a quick look left and right; no sign of the rainbow menace was encouraging. A quiet giggle made Alex freeze and carefully turn; thankfully, that wasn’t Rainbow Dash anticipating the “final strike”. Two young mares at the table of the street café across giggled at the sight of wet, stripped to the waist human with ruffled hair, tiptoeing out of the SPA salon.

        “Hmpf!” Alex took a breath and straightened, he flexed a bit an winked at them with the most mischievous expression, making them snort, leaning to each other and flushing. He sent them an air kiss to complete the effect, causing another wave of uncontrollable giggling, and ran back past the bar towards the Golden Oak Library, rightfully concluding that Rainbow would hardly muck about the place, she took part derailing. The Sun almost set, but Alex promptly kept closer to the walls, putting his shirt on and checking the air from time to time, he had more than enough surprises already.

        There was nopony at the Library front door and the area seemed clear, but Alex didn’t want to tease his luck and crossed the street beforehand, approaching the library from behind, under the cover of thick foliage. He took another careful look at the square and above and quickly hopped over the low windowsill of his room, heading to the ground floor bathroom first.

        The short examination under the bright light showed that he looked quite a mess, besides, all the dust he raised, running across the town, now turned into the dirt on his clothes. Naturally, all went to the laundry basket. With a sigh Alex turned on the water and climbed into the tub, relaxing under the warm streams and letting them wash the dust off. He let the tub fill, putting the plug after a few minutes, and simply sat there with eyes closed.

        ‘What rabid fly bit her?’ Alex leaned on the edge, rubbing his face tiredly. ‘First she grabs me and kisses and then gets mad about that. I admit, she was a bit tipsy most likely, but still… Girl, brace yourself finally!’

        The tub finally filled, letting Alex warm up, but before serenity embraced him, some sound made him turn off the water and listen nervously. Somepony knocked on the front door persistently.

        ‘Not again!’ Alex rolled his eyes, hearing how Twilight went downstairs; he could bet, he knew the visitor – well, that was natural, hardly anypony in the town was uninformed, where Alex resided.

        “Evening, pal,” Rainbow sounded a bit tired, but as stubborn as usual. Alex turned into the pair of very sensitive ears.

        The situation could hardly be worse, he was trapped in the relatively small, brightly lit room, without any hiding place and with a single entrance and exit simultaneously; moreover, his clothes were in the laundry basket and any retreating plan was hardly feasible.

        “Good evening, Dash,” Twilight made a considerable effort to stifle a yawn. “Can I help you?” Alex heard she made it sound sympathetically, despite having no idea, what made Rainbow wake her.

        “Y-yeah…” Rainbow seemed to realize that her question sounded quite strange, she remembered about her reputation too late and tried to word it the most neutral way possible. “Did you saw Alex, Twi?”

        If somepony could be named a slow thinker, that was definitely not Twilight, besides, something on Rainbows muzzle alerted her, after a short pause and another small yawn, which made Twilight look most innocent and uninvolved, she said.

        “I haven’t seen him here, Dash, if that’s what you mean. I was at home the whole evening and he didn’t come in my presence. But what do you…”

        “Oh, look,” Rainbow squinted and pointed over Twilight’s shoulder. “You left the lights in the bathroom!” she visibly twitched towards the slightly open door.

        “Ahem…” Twilight raised her voice a bit, keeping the deadpan look. “I was going to take a bath and go to bed actually, when you knocked,” she threw an unambiguous glance at herself, dressed into a fluffy bathrobe. “But if that reassures you…”

        She quickly trotted to the bathroom, inwardly praying for it at least to look empty, and opened the door, blocking it first from Rainbows inquiring glance.

        Praising the not filled to the edge tub, Alex got down, leaving almost only his nose above the water. Twilight took a fast look around the room, with a tiny sigh subtly moved Alex’s shoes aside and behind the door with her fore hoof and turned to her impatiently jumping pegasus friend, who tried to throw a look over Twilight’s shoulder.

        Rainbow observed the bathroom, making sure there was no place to hide, and downcasted with a disappointed and a bit embarrassed look.

        “Sorry, Twi! A-actually… that doesn’t matter. I can always find him later…”

        Twilight shrugged with a tiny friendly smile, inwardly noting that the latter sounded quite threatening, considering Rainbow’s attitude towards the human.

        “Okay… Eh… Have a nice evening, pal, and… Good night! Yeah…” feeling the growing embarrassment Rainbow preferred to retreat.

        “Good night, Dash!” Twilight held the door for her friend, stifling a giggle; seeing her bloodshot eyes, she added. “Have some sleep, mate.”

        The door closed behind puzzled girl; Twilight leaned on it and chuckled, she lingered for a while, listening that Rainbow actually soared, then headed to the bathroom door.

        “You can tell me the whole story tomorrow, okay,” Twilight raised her voice a bit, stopping in the doorway and looking fixedly at the tub; she didn’t hold back the next yawn. “I suppose that can wait and I’m going to bed. Please take care of the mess after yourself, Alex. And… the towels are in the closet.”

        With a quiet splash the hand with raised thumb emerged from the tub, making Twilight snort and shake her head.

        *

        The rest of the week turned out a messy and mad race, Alex tried to tie all ends at the station freight at once, while still having some time for his smithing studies. It appeared that he didn’t forget too much of his previous practice; it was limited to most basic knowledge, yet gave an ability to make simple things on his own without much guidance. That provided the certain advantage, as they managed to pace up making the generators for Alex’s current customers from Ponyville; although, Alex saw the assembly and installation of them as a problem, as his free time became nonexistent. He almost finished his work at Apple Acres, but with all the activities he was engaged in already, electrifying the library became delayed for the undefined period; thankfully Twilight didn’t object, she rather watched Alex with growing concern about his stability.

        Naturally, Alex couldn’t deprive old Will and his niece of sleep, so, he always appeared for a few hours right after the main work at the freight and before the whole Ponyville drifted to sleep. That practically limited his daily schedule for the next several days to working, eating and sleeping, the latter being quite short, to tell the truth. Every night Alex walked around Ponyville, taking his “duty” as serious as possible: he circled the whole inhabited area to watch all the borders of the town, eastern orchard, the smithy and hospital on the north, railway station and Apple Acres on the west, Fluttershy’s cottage and the Clock Tower on the south. Everything seemed quiet night after night; Alex knew, it was only a short break, as the observations told that the Seekers reappeared after a few days period, yet it gave some time to prepare.

        He kept looking for a simple way to convince the blacksmith that the generators were the passed step; giving them out to a big company didn’t mean that the smithy was going to be left jobless again. Alex could imagine Will’s reaction to the mere fact that big companies crossed his road again, moreover, the one, who brought some hope regarding smithy’s future, welcomed them. Despite the most natural act in that case would be bucking Alex out, he needed to be listened to completely first, that was the most complex part of his plan. Finally, he decided that demonstrating the new horizons, they were going to pursue, was the smartest way, as Alex had everything prepared; mentioning Canterlot Steam Company role in their play needed a proper moment though.

        With his days spent like that, Alex got away and returned home in time, when nopony could see him; Twilight realized that everything was more or less alright only by the things changing their places nightly. Nevertheless, she caught him on the third day and, seeing Alex walking like a somnambulant, told him quite sternly that he should reconsider his routine to become less stressful. Albeit, there was an obvious advantage in that: Alex could easily evade all Rainbow’s attempts to get him, so far she made quite a few, trying to ambush him in the morning at the library (thankfully the “morning” started much earlier for Alex than her) and later in the town. She kept circling around the Golden Oak until Twilight, who knew about the reasons at that moment, told her to “leave a letter” for Alex instead. Rainbow Dash flushed to the roots of her colourful mane and left, confusedly muttering something, making Twilight chuckle reservedly. But the pegasus girl didn’t drop her hunt altogether, she even appeared a couple times at the station, looking for her “offender” from the skies; the co-worker stallions warned Alex in time and he kept extra vigilance.

        Thankfully Dash slept her hind legs off at nights, besides, she was uninformed about his sleepwalking, so after the sunset Alex was relatively safe of her presence. Although, in that state Alex was hardly an easy target and it wasn’t obvious, who could rather get bucked that time – Alex could give Rainbow a proper “bath” once again.

        That evening Alex appeared at the library before the sunset and Twilight realized that he wasn’t at the smithy yet, changing his usual route for some reason, as he used his free time reading the notes, choosing and gathering into the bag numerous stones and ore pieces from his quite large collection.

        “You are definitely plotting something with the blacksmith…” with a smile Twilight watched Alex pensively picking the salad during the supper. “All those preparations… and you being absentminded and nervous, Alex. Today’s being a big day, right?”

        “Well, that’s rather me plotting,” Alex switched attention from his plate to Twilight. “Will is completely uninformed yet of my plans. But yes, too much depends on my talk with Willsmash tonight;the last thing I need is my… our,” the symbolic nod to Spike was met with salutation gesture from the little dragon. “meticulous preparations to end futilely.”

        “Yeah, we didn’t dig out half of the cliff for nothing,” snorted Spike. “And it seems Alex is going to take half of that heap with him. I wonder, what use all these stones can be of at the smithy…”

        “That’s because you paid more attention to the gastronomic value of our finds instead of geologic,” chuckled Alex. “Because another half of that heap ended in your stomach, Spike. Except diamonds only, which, surprisingly for you, I will need for my work likewise.”

        “Oh!” Spike raised his paws. “I won’t deny, that cooperation was… quite fruitful, nor will I object the further… research of that kind,” he licked his lips unambiguously.

        “Guys, can you be serious for a while at least?” huffed Twilight, watching them snorting. “Alex?”

        “Well, the contract with Canterlot Steam Company is signed already,” Alex put away the fork and rubbed his chin. “And while all the Ponyville customers remain ours anyway, their number is limited. Alas, I have no idea, if ponyvillers start coming to old Will with their problems on their own,” he sighed, shaking his head slowly. “The Equestria-wide production is CSC task now, we even don’t have suitable production capacities. Although, we can focus on the development and some other more advantageous aspects. But those are reasons, one must listen to them and another have a chance to tell them at least.”

        Twilight nodded, understanding already, what he was going to say.

        “How do you think, Twi, Will can take the news about another large company taking that job away?”

        “I think, he wouldn’t be happy, to say the least, considering all the history of his relations with the companies,” Twilight’s glance, raised at Alex, was extremely serious.

        “Exactly! That is why I’m going to show him, that we are going to win, despite it looks a desperate attempt at the first glance. These generators are the passed step, they give me a solid base to lean on, but we must focus on something immeasurably more advantageous… with the help of certain improvements of technology, of course. That’s what I’m going to show Willsmash tonight and that called for some preparations… thus the few last days were especially hard!” Alex made a sip from his teacup, backrest creaked slightly, when he tiredly leaned on it.

        “I’ve noticed,” something made Twilight smile. “Or better say, I almost couldn’t notice you for the last few days. By the way, you promised to tell me about that story with Rainbow, but I couldn’t catch you up since that evening,” she shrugged innocently. “Never mind, Alex, I’ve been told everything already.”

        “Really?!” Alex looked like there was nothing interesting him more at that moment, than the story, Twilight heard from somepony; although, he kept his sarcasm on the leash yet. “And what did they tell?”

        “I’ve heard that from Rarity and Rarity heard from somepony else, she mentioned Aloe or maybe Lotus,” Twilight stared at the ceiling musingly, while Alex inwardly facepalmed. “Among other things, Rarity sulks each time hearing your name lately…”

        “Simply because I managed to escape one of her flirting attempts again,” Alex put in and Spike joyously huffed.

        “They say,” Twilight continued tranquilly. “They say, you and Rainbow Dash were kissing at Bouncing Barrels, yes, Alex, half of the customers clearly saw that… and then you both, don’t look at me like that, that’s the exact quote – “smashed the bar as a haystack”!”

        “No! Way!” Spike looked like he needed help to pick up his jaw from the table, he alternated from Alex to Twilight like a startled owl.

        “Wait…” to tell the truth Alex didn’t look much better than Spike. “They can’t say… Do they actually…”

        “Just in case,” Twilight let out a tiny smile. “I don’t believe in that fascinating story as well, I suppose some mistake took place…”

        “Exactly!” Alex even raised a bit from his chair, Spike still tried to close his mouth. “I don’t know what was in Rainbow’s head, but that was a mistake, quite unpleasant mistake, I must say… That’s why, as you say, we “smashed the bar ” anon forsooth… Tis was arrant Rainbow’s fault, she threw out something crazy and yet she blamed me for that.”

        “But… if ‘t be true half of the town telleth the story in that way now…” Alex groaned in a second and covered his face.

        “Oh, don’t worry, they will forget in a short while,” Twilight giggled, taking her cup. “Rumors are our curse, but they fly by fast naturally. Oh… the bartender came the other day and asked me to tell you that the compensation was quite enough, so, you aren’t anathematized at the place, Alex. Of course, he expressed his hope, neither you nor Dash will inflict as much destruction next time.”

        Alex let out a muffled groan of wounded elk, the mere fact that Spike closed his mouth with a clap and now giggled as well, finding the story quite amusing, didn’t make his condition better.

        “By the by, he said that Dash was angry, when he suggested her to compensate half of the damage… but quickly reconsidered, when he told her, you were going to pay the whole sum.”

        “I did forsooth, thought that it would be easier that way,” nodded Alex, showing his flushing face. “The rest was so Rainbow Dash – from me… she shan’t accept a sip of water in the desert methinks.”

        “She twisted around, looking for you,” Twilight smirked slyly.

        “Looks like you are twice lucky,” concluded Spike. “Being that busy all the day long lately.”

        “Yeahhhh…” Alex took a breath. “Look, Twi, it was a pure accident. Some of Rainbow’s crazy pranks went wrong or something… I don’t know, in the earnest.”

        “So…”

        “It was an accident!” with emphasis repeated Alex, slowly regaining his natural colour. He preferred to change the topic, adding with a yawn. “Well… It’s nap time methinks…”

        “Errmmm… I thought, you were going to the blacksmith tonight,” Twilight’s surprised glance followed Alex heading to his room. “Now I don’t understand anything, sorry…”

        “Thou seest, Twilight,” Alex lingered at the door. “The advantages, I need to show Willsmash, call for some of mine new abilities to succeed anyway...”

        “Don’t ask, I understood nothing myself” was reading in puzzled glances Spike and Twilight shared, Spike started to clear the table. The more surprised they became, gawking at him, when after a few minutes Alex appeared on the doorstep of the room with a bag, ready to depart.

        “Ehhh… Mmmm”

        Alex beckoned them silently instead of an answer; Twilight already started guessing what it was about. Spike, who never saw Alex sleepwalking before, dropped his jaw the second time for that day, seeing Alex serenely laying on the sofa, evidently sleeping and… Alex standing in the doorway, holding a bag and smiling slyly. The little dragon turned his head that fast, it seemed, he had two faces at once.

        “I’d like to ask you, mine friends, for a favour,” Alex (the awake one) leaned closer confidingly. “Don’t wake me, even if… Celestia falls from the sky hither.”

        *

        “No, uncle Will, the road is empty still,” Silver Ingot looked over the shoulder and shook her head. The cooling evening wind, making the field ripple with its green tide and pushing the light smoke of Will’s furnace to the ground, flowed around her slender frame and played with a few loose strands of her braided mane, throwing them on her muzzle and making her huff them away cutely. Silver, or as Alex called the filly – Sil and she didn’t object, as it sounded strangely cute, leaned on the fence and observed the road to Ponyville again, shielding her eyes from the setting Sun with her fore hoof.

        The old blacksmith watched his niece with a mix of love, admiration and faint sadness: under his daily care grew a wonderful, thoughtful, beautiful rose, who could make any dignified stallion happy… only if the named stallion was free of prejudices and unaffected by the community rumours.

        ‘Almost impossible in our area…’ sighed the old unicorn, throwing a look at the field and squinting because of the sunlight. Willsmash could probably drop everything, as he could never imagine selling the smithy within the given circumstances, and move to some new place with his niece, where they could be completely new ponies, unbeknown to the locals, so Silver Ingot probably had brighter future. Those thoughts visited Will numerous times and it wasn’t the financial aspect, which held him back – they would still have enough for the living. Strangely though, both he and Silver didn’t want to leave the town. The blacksmith’s heart ached each time at the thought of leaving his ancestral workplace to decay without caring and capable hoof and eye; in her turn Sil carried no unholy thought of leaving her uncle alone in his struggle, saying that it wasn’t the place to change, but rather the ponies, themselves included.

        “Strange… He never sabotaged our work before or changed the plans without notice,” Will shook his head, casting the sad thoughts away, and frowned with concern. “Something must have happened…”

        “Maybe he is busy tying the ends at the station,” Sil threw a quick glance at him, barely shrugging. “Alex is going to leave them all in all, must have lots of work to finish before that.”

        “Maybe you are right, child. Hmmm, perhaps I did right, not fanning the smithy stronger before the night. If we don’t pay for coal, that doesn’t mean we must waste it… Still, it’s strange…” Will didn’t have time to tell, what he considered strange.

        “Oh!” Sil’s amazed exclamation made Willsmash raise his head and look fixedly at the road, the eyes of both ponies involuntarily dilated, they could have sworn, there was nopony a moment ago; now although, the tall human figure singled out amidst the green sea, with the large bag on his shoulder Alex headed to them and waved, noticing the unicorns watching him from the distance.

        “Where did he appear from?”

        “I didn’t notice, child! Just a second before there was nopony… One needed to teleport even to appear from the clear skies,” Will and Silver Ingot shared a puzzled glance; the road made a turn in the field and Alex marched right towards them, crossing that turn.

        “Uncle… he looks… unusually fluent,” the unicorn girl watched the approaching figure fixedly with a pensive expression. “Like… floating?!”

        “Oh, my filly,” chuckled the blacksmith, shaking his head. “It must be the warm air from the heated road…” Silver only shrugged; Alex quickly crossed the trampled space behind the fence, opened the gate and stopped amidst the yard, dropping the heavy bag to the ground with a loud stony clank.

        “Good evening! I apologize for being later than usual,” his smile was usual and sincere and Silver shook her head dispelling strange thoughts. “It took me some time to prepare for this evening and convince princess Twilight Sparkle to cover me up…”

        Willsmash raised one eyebrow, some question evidently was getting ripe on his tongue, when Alex elaborated with another disarming smile.

        “I know, I know, please forgive the delay and surprise… and the whole strangeness of the following… I planned to show you the real aim for us, if we want the smithy to work further and even advance.”

        “But I would like to ask you to keep everything, ye see tonight, in secret for the time being,” added he in the inquiring silence. “Whatever ye see and think of ‘t!” he emphatically waited for their gesture of agreement.

        “Did you find a way to make your armour more durable?” brightened up Will, when it was up to his work, other questions might wait. “I can’t figure out entirely, why you don’t want magic to our aid; it’s proved, as you say, that magic, not directed at you personally, doesn’t give any side effects…”

        “Oh, tis simple,” chuckled Alex, a little nervously, yet bracing himself quickly, as he crossed the “start line” and there was no way back already. “Ye all got used to the magic to your aid any time, I got used to living without it, I want to do something working as intended myself. Besides, mine own existence proves one fact, magic not always worketh. Armour is not a thing, which failure in certain circumstances may be treated easily…”

        “I wanted to show something arrant different tonight,” elaborated Alex. “But vital for the armour anon and… for the future in general.”

        ‘For the future of the smithy, if we want it to have any,’ added he inwardly.

        “No, please, not yet, that shan’t be necessary,” seeing that blacksmith’s magic enveloped the bellows, readying to fan the furnace, Alex stopped him softly. “With your permission, I would like to start from the ground and show you, what we shall do to have real advantages in the competition. I promise, I shan’t break anything,” added he, noticing how Will barely audibly, yet skeptically huffed at his mention of “advantages”.

        The old smelter breathed with heat, not the inapproachable hell of the roaring flames, but the calming heat of a stone oven in some old house; evidently the blacksmith used it earlier that day, maybe even before the noon. Alex opened the main camera hatch, here the heat was obviously stronger, borderline painful for everypony, and loaded an iron ingot and a few “stones” from his bag. The human added a few smaller ones, taking them from several pockets of the bag according to some, known to him only, system; he overshadowed the hatch and left both unicorns only guess, what he was going to achieve. A few shovels of coal followed into the smelter through the side hatch, which clanked, when Alex forcefully shut it closed and locked.

        “That will take quite some time,” noted Willsmash, shaking his head, and Silver Ingot nodded. “You should warn us that you needed the smelter, Alex, I could keep it hot…”

        Alex let out a tiny smile and patted the side of the smelter with almost a friendly gesture, making Silver cry out in terror and awe; nopony, being sane, should touch it, even not fully heated, risking to fry their hooves. Girl’s eyes dilated, old unicorn’s mouth opened slightly, then both squinted in disbelief, seeing that Alex’s hand didn’t feel any worse. He stood, facing the smelter, downcasting in almost pensive manner, leaving them puzzled of what he was waiting for.

        Suddenly the smelter “sighed” quite loudly, throwing the cloud of coal dust from its upper opening, and for a second flames flashed above it. Like enthralled Will and Silver watched the stone beast huffing and breathing faster, till the sounds turned into the even hum of flames inside.

        “What in the name of…” started Will, Alex watched the smelter, folded hands and slightly absent glance gave him the totally uninvolved look, but the old blacksmith couldn’t be distracted that easily. “How’s it even possible. Sir, I would like…”

        “Please, let me finish first. I shall answer all the questions anon, let them appear,” Alex raised his eyes on them with a disarming and slightly sad smile. “I promised, I wouldn’t break anything…”

        ‘Huh! Easier said than done,’ he listened to the roar of flames in the humming and crackling smelter. ‘The thing is working at twice its usual load. Quite much for an old piece of history, we shall need a new one definitely, arrant different.’

        “There was something strange in Alex tonight,” emphatically whispered Silver Ingot, leaning to uncle’s ear. “And… the way he is talking… I swear, I heard that already. A couple of years before, I can’t remember only, where and whom from.”

        In about fifteen minutes of complete silence, broken by the smelter noises and rare quiet whispering of the unicorns, Alex interrupted his mute contemplation and finally moved, showing that he was an alive creature, not some stone statue. The Sun set already and his face was highlighted by the gleam of smelter’s muzzle, when he glanced at the smithy, looking for something under its awning.

        Perhaps the old blacksmith and his niece thought that self-igniting and fanning smelter was the main surprise of the evening, but the old mold for a sword billet slowly floating past them made them wince and instantly freeze. With dilated eyes they watched the mold, landing at the smelter muzzle; Alex forcedly pressed the lever and brightly glaring metal flowed, spreading sparkles and hardening in the air, filling the form. The mold crackled and hissed under the abnormal heat and suddenly burst a crack, thankfully the steel solidified quickly and nothing came out through the hair-thin opening.

        Alex slowly headed to the anvil, following the mold, floating in the same direction; all that time neither Willsmash, nor Silver sounded a word. He grabbed a mallet, leaned against the anvil, three more flew from the workbench under the awning and froze afloat near; Alex totally ignored the usual pliers though.

        The mold turned upside down above the anvil and with a hit of the mallet a candent steel stripe fell out with a muffled clank and fountain of sparkles. Peacefully smouldering furnace threw out flames and roared, lighting the whole smithy yard; the glowing steel blank turned, driven by the unknown force, putting its sides under Alex’s aimed hits. Three mallets followed, working at the whole length of the future sword. Will and Silver Ingot shared a silent glance.

        Half of an hour passed in the measured rhythm of steel hitting steel, shaping it, bending it to master’s will, making all the sounds around the old smithy die; even the birds fell silent in the field, unaccustomed to somepony working that late there. The metal clanked, the sparkles sprinkled around and hissed, fading on the ground, water in the tray splashed and boiled, cooling the slowly gaining the desired shape sword.

        Alex didn’t have time for sophisticated design, he needed utility and quality of the cut first: there was no handle in that sword only a thick round shank instead, the whole product was rather a sample for demonstration, than a finished weapon. Although, the thin steel stripe shone in the flames of the furnace, after the water tray cooled it for the last time, letting out a fountain of steam. A few minutes more at the grinding stone and Alex examined the semi-sword, turning it in his hands and checking the balance. He looked satisfied with the result, smiling to some thoughts and swaying his product, leaving a glowing trail in the air.

        “Looks like a crude sword, doesn’t it?” he turned to the silent unicorns, who watched him fixedly, evidently opening a new page in their book about Alex. “Let’s be honest, I don’t pretend for a true mastery or quality of design yet. But it’s not the main thing about this sample. Let me show you…”

        With those words Alex rested the point of his sword in the notch of the old anvil, he noted beforehand, and forcedly pressed on the “handle” – the metal strip bent in an arch… but didn’t break and returned to its initial shape completely, when Alex released it.

        “Can I use something of your metalwork, sir?” Alex turned to Willsmash; the latter stood like a salt column and barely jerked his head in a strange way, which Alex preferred to interpret as the permission. “Nothing too valuable, as I’m afraid, I will need to destroy the thing.”

        He picked a metal rod from the nearby stand, the blank for some cart detail flew towards Alex dragged by unknown force. Nopony could catch the jet-like move, cutting the rod into half with a bunch of sparkles; both pieces fell to the ground and Alex cringed a little from the palpable hit and swayed his hand, holding the sword.

        “Ehhh… I need more practice!”

        “As you can see, adding some rare ore and minerals to the smelt made the final product more flexible, yet durable and capable to cut easily the simpler metal,” if Alex waited for some distinct reaction to his words, he was to wait, while what they had seen settles in Will and Sil’s heads; they definitely paid little to no attention to the technological advantages at that moment.

        Alex sighed and stepped aside, then returned, unicorns’ eyes followed him. ‘Well, at least they are responsive!’ chuckled he inwardly.

        “That’s only a start of the road we are entering… If you are ready to,” Alex tried to sound as softly as he could, perfectly understanding Will’s condition. “We’ll be able to make more complex alloys and durable things… if we can… if we can raise the temperature generally. As we are limited in the fuel, we shall need to raise the pressure to achieve the desired heat. For which I have certain ideas, how to reconstruct or, better say, rebuild the smelter and alter the furnace a zilch,” Alex added carefully. “That shalt demand for all mine capabilities… but methinks is worthy arrant.”

        “What… Ahem…” Willsmash cleared his throat, convulsively nodding at something behind Alex’s back. “What, pray tell, is that?”

        “Oh… Apologies…” Alex glanced over the shoulder, noticing the three mallets, patiently floating in the air near the anvil still; they accurately returned to their place at the workbench.

        “You said, you aren’t capable of any sort of magic?” Silver Ingot measured him worryingly.

        “It’s not magic…” bemused Will shook his head slowly. “Not magic in its common understanding. It’s something different. What?” he raised his eyes at Alex inquiringly.

        “The humans are generally believed to be incapable of magic,” added the blacksmith. “Then who are you? What we saw, resembled magic evidently… unless it was and still is our dream.”

        “Not yours,” Alex allowed himself a little smile.

        “Rest assured, I’m a human,” seeing the old unicorn narrowing his eyes in confusion, Alex elaborated, adding under his breath “At least I would like to believe, I still am.”

        “I’m a “sleepwalker”!” Alex tried to shrug in the most casual manner, perfectly understanding that it might not work the desired way. “I am on mine bed in the Golden Oak library at that moment… and yet I’m hither, telling you, how your craft can have… the second breath! Thusly it’s not your dream, formally it’s mine. Although, I don’t actually know, how to explain it better. Apologies!”

        ‘Luna knoweth neither!’ Alex inwardly wondered, if that amazing princess wasn’t overly loaded by that question, simply enjoying where things were going instead.

        “Sleepwalker?!” Silver Ingot couldn’t hold back the dazed squeak. “But there is only one… pony, who is able to do that! How on Equus…”

        “Thither are no humans on Equus normally,” Alex spread his hands. “None are usually taken hither by some wicked thunderstorm of unknown origin, no mind-wrecking monstrosities appeared out of the blue in Equestria till shortly afore… I’m afraid, I can’t answer thy question, Sil. I myself don’t know, whither it goeth.”

        Alex examined the semi-sword in his hand, he stepped forward and handed it to Willsmash, turning the grip towards the unicorn.

        “I shall leave now. Please, think, if ‘t be true thou are ready and comfortable to work with a… student of that nature, sir. I shall come on morrow… to start, unless ye want to reject mine collaboration. I can understand either. Although, please, keep mine little secrets as secrets… while it is possible,” Alex alternated between Will and Sil seriously.

        “Apologies for the… for the shock, I guess… Have your night lightly!” he downcasted and before they could take a breath, Alex figure started to dissolve in the air, vanishing completely in a few seconds.

        “He… forgot his bag…” squeaked Silver Ingot completely out of place.

        *

        The night was young and bright, being far from the New Moon; the silvery “lantern”, slightly bitten from one side, made the nearest part of the Milky Way pale compared to own glory and shine. Nothing could break the serenity reign: neither night birds, claiming their territory, light breeze, ruffling the treetops, rare chipmunks, whisking along the branches, playing and quarreling, minding their nightly business, nor the accurate steps, barely audibly rustling in the high grass. They crossed the field, creaked with the gravel of the pathway and stopped, their owner sniffed in the air, letting the sensitive nose catch the damp smell from the stream. The bridge planks rocked with the dry rattle, making the nearby birds silent.

        The cottage stood silent and dark; an attentive glance told that the owners were peacefully having their deserved rest, none of the windows shone, at least from that side. Making sure of surrounding tranquility, the steps slowly deepened into the garden, going around the house.

        Despite the long day full of useful chores, the sleep didn’t hurry to come and touch her with its caring wings; Fluttershy lay in her bed and listened to the night. The whisper of leaves behind the open window, letting the fresh tender wind inside; endless “crex-crex” of sleepless landrails in the fields along the stream; cicadas, chirring in the garden – all those could easily lull anypony. Anypony, but Fluttershy, whose head was full of uneasy thoughts even at that late and peaceful hour.

        She rolled from side to side under the thin blanket, unable to fall asleep, staring at the window, the ceiling with wooden beams, the wall, the window again. The events of the last few days were not particularly calming: she listened to Twilight’s story with wide open eyes, barely breathing, the Seekers evidently became “brave” or impudent enough to appear almost in Ponyville.

        ‘Do they appear completely randomly? It looks so still, but…’ Fluttershy watched the shadows of the tree branches stroking the moonlit frame. ‘There must be a reason for them to appear in Equestria, I don’t believe they come to haunt us only… Especially after what princess Celestia discovered about their nature,’ the girl shuddered, suddenly she felt, how thin the blanket was, despite it was enough for the summer nights otherwise. ‘They are somewhat similar to changelings… I wonder, if the princess suspects any connection. Although, Chrysalis never used something alike, despite her passion to take over Equestria.’

        ‘Them coming here looks completely irrational,’ Fluttershy folded her wings tighter, dragging the blanket up. ‘Alex… destroyed five of them already, four near the town… Why would they keep coming to that part of Equestria, if their “master” knows, they are destroyed here? What they seek for must be really needed by one, who sends them with such determination.’

        Fluttershy turned on her back and stared at the ceiling lamp again, she pulled the blanket almost to her chin and looked like a little pensive filly on the Hearth Warming eve at that moment.

        ‘It makes him confront them with more and more passion each time, more selflessly,’ a tiny sigh left her chest. ‘Tying himself more and more with this problem.’

        ‘What next?’ Fluttershy’s anxiety made her fiddle under the cover nervously. ‘Weapons? Hunting the Seekers regularly and “officially”?’ she even squeaked quietly; flushed and checked fast, but Angel was calmly sleeping, curling at the free edge of the bed. Fluttershy sighed again. ‘Joining the Night Watch?’

        More darkness flooded her bedroom, a single cloud overshadowed the Moon; the same twilight crawled into the girl’s soul, when she remembered about the Night Watch and especially the one commanding them.

        ‘No, knowing Alex… he can hardly tie himself with the guards, not the obedient type,’ Fluttershy smirked sadly. ‘He wants to avoid anypony being hurt and, as usual, will be the first to take any damage. It seems nopony is actually going to warn or prevent him of dangerous moves; the old blacksmith must be happy, his mastery finally finds some use,’ she cringed.

        ‘We might have decided to cool down and treat our relationship with clear heads,’ her thoughts returned to what bothered her the most. ‘But it’s easier said than done. I can’t calmly watch how it plays out now… but… If only I knew, how to fix it...’

        Tired from the sleepless watching Fluttershy scrambled from under the blanket; approaching the window, she leaned on the sill and watched the garden: the rare clouds ran across the sky, casting shadows below. There, at the window, the wind seemed fresh enough and the girl shivered a little, pondering, if to take the blanket and wrap into it was a better idea. She remembered about Angel sleeping on it and reconsidered, when suddenly some quiet sound from the garden attracted her attention.

        Chills ran up Fluttershy’s spine with the realization that the sound was actually slow, accurate, but very distinguishable steps; she was close to panic, when she caught herself upon the feel… or better say the lack thereof. From Twilight and Alex she knew that the Seekers caused a variety of rather unpleasant feelings in everypony witnessing them: fear, despair, depression, anxiety, sad and painful memories. Fluttershy didn’t feel any of those, nothing new, except quiet regret about their relationship coming to such an unfortunate turn.

        The steps stopped meanwhile, now they were somewhere under the trees in front of her window and Fluttershy praised the mere fact that she extinguished the light a while ago. The sigh, muffled, yet heavy and sad, made Fluttershy almost jump on her spot, but at the same time gave her an unimaginable relief – with all their strangeness Fluttershy could hardly imagine the Seekers capable to produce that sound. Listening to herself once again and noticing nothing alarming, she threw a quick glance over the shoulder at peacefully sleeping Angel and soared through the window, smiling happily and silently landing like a feather right under the bedroom window.

        Fluttershy remembered about Alex’s nightly voyages around Ponyville, ending supposedly near her cottage; that explained the nature of the sounds and she headed to where she heard them from without fear.

        The scene revealed to her eyes, when she accurately trotted between the shrubs and approached the farther trees, made Fluttershy stumble and freeze, the greeting stuck in her throat. Alex sat cross-legged, his back to the cottage, apparently relaxing and using the spare minute to train his new abilities, as he found the surroundings calm and safe. It could look ordinal… if he wasn’t “sitting” a few feet above the ground in the thin air, making small twigs, stones and other rubbish circle him on different orbits.

        Fluttershy knew about his newly found powers and even thought that she accepted them as given quite calmly, but witnessing Alex… sleepwalking, she simply gawked and produced a tiny squeak.

        Alex threw a quick glance at her over the shoulder, all the objects, he lifted, immediately fell on the ground, but he managed to stretch his legs and land like undisturbed, turning to Fluttershy with a slightly confused look. She unfroze and made a few steps towards him.

        “Hey…” awkwardly started Alex. “How are you, Shy? I… I hope, I didn’t scare you,” his wry smile wasn’t entirely confident.

        “W-well…” Fluttershy took her breath and giggled nervously. “Actually, y-you did… a tiny bit at first, w-when I heard you… Obviously, I didn’t know… it was you at that moment.”

        “I didn’t mean to, Shy,” Alex shrugged apologetically. “I thought, you were sleeping already.”

        “I would normally,” Fluttershy approached and looked up to him, making Alex kneel to her. “But different… thoughts made it hard tonight.”

        “C-can I…” Fluttershy made one step closer and stretched her fore leg. “Ermm… Squee! I-I mean…” her ears flattened and nose became pinkish at once.

        “Touch?” Alex guessed with a small smile. “Of course, I’m as solid as you or… or that tree,” he nodded and his hand met Fluttershy’s small hoof. The touch was warm and with a sigh she leaned to him, snuggling her forehead to Alex’s chest.

        To her relief Alex hugged her as usual, like there was no unresolved tension between them: he held her shoulders warmly and brushed through the mane, inhaling its aroma. Fluttershy snuggled to his chest, like a little happy kitten, feeling Alex’s heart immediately speeding up. Alas, he held her quite reservedly, compared to what she got used to expect from him; that made Fluttershy realize, Alex, just like her, didn’t find any way out from their problem. A few seconds more the girl simply stayed in his arms, rubbing her head on Alex’s chest lightly, not wanting to move anywhere or say anything.

        ‘Where is Twilight with her time spell, when necessary? I could stay that way forever!’ catching herself on really meaning that, Fluttershy didn’t even wonder.

        ‘I missed you so much!’ she wanted to say, but instead changed that to a more neutral. “Do you come here often, Alex?”

        “Nightly…” after a second Alex inched back and looked into turquoise eyes, raised at him. “Although, I come much later now, after the recent events. I circle the whole Ponyville, visit the farm and the orchard, then end here, Shy. Sometimes I go on my own, sometimes – like now, “sleepwalking”, as you call it. It seems nopony is actually and entirely safe now, if those monsters risk to approach the town that closely…”

        “I know, Twilight told me everything. It’s a miracle, the girls didn’t get hurt!” Fluttershy noticeably shuddered in his arms. Unexpectedly, Alex didn’t get angry at Twilight, inwardly he admitted that Fluttershy had right to know everything about the situation with the Seekers.

        “Exactly!” Alex shook his head reproachfully, lowering on the grass, he leaned to the tree trunk and Fluttershy nested next to him; after a second thought she wrapped her fore legs around Alex’s chest and he held her shoulders softly. “Nopony knows, when the Seekers materialized that time and how long they prowled around Jackie’s house; she said, they felt uneasy almost since noon.”

        “Oh, Celestia!” gasped Fluttershy, throwing a quick shocked glance up at him. “I can only imagine, how they felt the whole evening… It’s unbelievable luck, nopony of them suffered!”

        “Nothing except luck,” grumpily said Alex, stroking her shoulder absently. “They all minded their business, girls came for the sleepover, then Rarity and Sweetie Belle, Rarity left and nopony paid enough attention to what was happening. Each of them could become the next victim, if you ask me!” Alex let out a heavy sigh and fell silent for a while, listening to the landrails screeching.

        “Interesting, what will Celestia say about all that?” Alex frowned. “Sometimes I wonder, if we did right, not telling everypony all the truth…” he pursed the lips. “However, that would cause more panic and rumours rather…”

        “Probably,” Fluttershy slowly nodded. “The authorities and guards must deal with that, not common citizens.”

        That phrase caused a quick glance from Alex, but he simply continued.

        “It’s a case of no win, Shy. Either way is bad enough, as long as we all don’t realize, the problem is very serious and it affects all of us equally. It’s simply some of us can deal with it, one way or another,” Alex looked at Fluttershy meaningfully. “While others can’t… But at least they can be vigilant enough to help. Anyway, the Seekers must be treated as a threat, not as a phenomenon… and actively confronted.”

        “That means, you…” Fluttershy returned his glance with dividends.

        “Yes,” Alex shortly nodded. “I’m done with the station, Shy. At least as a freight worker. I’ve already started with Willsmash.” He noticed, how Fluttershy shivered and squeezed him tighter involuntarily, for her that meant not simple blacksmith work, but more Seekers, fights and danger.

        “I feel, I can benefit from that, learn something, I don’t know and can’t do yet,” Alex’s decision was firm nevertheless. “And I know, how to improve the smithy in return. Finally, I can work on something meaningful, like those generators. That shall be quite helpful… against those Seekers either.”

        Fluttershy kept silence, she told Alex already all she could on that matter and wasn’t sure, if his reaction could be more welcoming next time. Full of uneasy thoughts and unsaid warnings she snuggled to him tighter, staring somewhere into the distance; her large beautiful eyes shone in the moonlight, seemingly one step away from a sudden sad tear. Alex looked around, he didn’t want the girl’s thoughts going that route.

        A green “butterfly”, made of a few tree leaves, landed on the tip of Fluttershy’s nose and slowly batted its wings, making the yellow pegasus squeak surprisingly. With a tiny laugher she wiggled her nose and huffed the “butterfly” away, it soared and fell apart in the evening breeze.

        “I almost forgot,” she nuzzled Alex’s cheek lightly and giggled. “You don’t look like a dream to me, Alex, quite real on contrary.”

        “That’s because I’m not in thy dream, Shy,” Alex put the loose strand of pink hair behind her ear gently, meeting her amazing eyes with his sad glance.

        “Hey! Speaking of the rumours…” Fluttershy preferred to change the topic, nudging him lightly. “I’ve heard, you and Rainbow Dash had a rather saturated evening in the bar the other day. So, you even were to pay some reparations and… Rainbow is still dreaming to give you a kick. Did you forgot how to kiss, Alex? Or the cider affected you both badly…”

        Alex facepalmed, flushing brightly, but Fluttershy’s eyes were laughing – that wasn’t the real accusation. He braced himself and told her the whole story briefly, extremely officially, straight to the point.

        “I have no idea, what got into her ever-ruffled head,” Alex rolled his eyes sarcastically. “But who actually disliked the whole situation more is debatable. I’m fond of myself winning that bet.”

        “Exactly,” chuckled Fluttershy, watching his confused face. “She must have had some of her wicked bets, otherwise I can’t imagine Dash doing that.”

        “She hardly saw at first, whom she was smooching,” muttered Alex disapprovingly, shaking his head. “She was really drunk at that moment. Not after all the rumble though…” he smirked. “Still, I managed to get away.”

        “Hmm… And why are you so humbly avoiding all the following… adventures?” Fluttershy squinted at Alex, sparkles of amusement shone in her eyes. “Rarity was very grumpy and dissatisfied the last few days, she didn’t want to talk… but Aloe enlightened me by secret, when we were at the SPA with Rarity yesterday.”

        “Rarity!..” Alex groaned like a wounded beast. “I think now, if I knew, where I “broke into”, moreover, that she was there at that moment, I would rather go and give up to Rainbow… or play catch-up with her more…” he sighed heavily again, but chuckling Fluttershy made Alex smile finally. “I seriously don’t know, what to do with her. Sometimes she is borderline dangerous…”

        “She simply has the entrained nature,” chuckled Fluttershy. “Our Rarity.”

        “I’ll try to remember that next time, escaping her, if you think, that can help.”

        Fluttershy nested her head on his shoulder, instead of an answer. The wind stopped blowing and it suddenly became very quiet around, like it becomes each time not long before the sunrise, before all the birds start singing, welcoming the Sun. Only the stubborn landrails kept screeching their “crex-crex” and the pleading cry of an owl came from the distant edge of the forest. Both Alex and Fluttershy watched the Moon, framed with the rare clouds, and each one thought of their own.

 

 

---

Author's note: 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 :yay:

  • yay 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

16. The Fall

 

“…There are ten gates on that dam, I mean, lower gates, of course. We examined the construction and it appears that we can effectively build generators at six of them, leaving four more free for emergency overflow and… Are you listening?!”
    
    “Yeah,” Alex seemed to be stunned by the view of Ponyville dam, but forcedly took his eyes off and turned to the pony engineer in the CSC marked helmet, who touched him on the sleeve lightly. “Surely, I am. Six gates with generators and s four more – free,” he confirmed that he followed the thread, despite the distraction could be easily justified.
    
    The one thing was to hear and know about that dam, but standing near the spillway at the lower bed was totally another story. Alex knew that he had no faintest wish to estimate the view from the upper edge. ‘No way! Even Luna and Fluttershy both can’t lure me there!’
    
    The Sun was rising behind his back and highlighted an image worthy of some tourist post-card, but looking up at the 150-foot wall Alex wasn’t sure, if he could be the one to buy it. The terrain went uphill subtly from the railroad, reaching that place, where a curious observer could have a perfect view of both the station and Ponyville below. Here it suddenly formed a fold, turning into a high plateau, cut by the river bed. Or maybe those were the foothills already; Alex only knew that some mountains were in that direction, including the one with the cave, where the girls drove away a sleeping dragon from, saving Ponyville from the choking cloud of smoke.
    
     The road reached the lower post, the nondescript grey building, used by dam technicians to monitor water level and control the lower basin, then made a sharp turn and snaked uphill to the upper post and the dam itself, supposedly going further north, along the river. There was another way to the dam as well – the stairwell cut in the solid rock, leading from the lower post to the upper edge of the construction, if anypony was willing to climb the stairs approximately of twenty floors height…
    
    “We decided to place the first generator at the third gate, counting from the right,” continued the engineer, finally gaining Alex’s attention. “Thus the pressure would be supposedly enough to effectively spin it.”
    
    “The upper bed is not that deep,” elaborated he, watching Alex bemusement from the dam scale. “Actually, there was a waterfall here… long before the dam was built and the river used to noticeably flood the railways and old Ponyville each Spring… and sometimes in Autumn, after heavy rains in the mountains, bringing much inconvenience.”
    
    “The upper bed is slightly deeper than the lower one, but the river is squeezed between the cliffs and water levels can fluctuate noticeably. Thus we have two levels of gates on the dam, with upper being purely the emergency one,” the stallion cocked his head, throwing a glance at the upper gates sparkling in the sunlight, and held his helmet. “We cut the flow with the four of regularly used shutters, so the works can be performed safely. The water raised slightly, but it’s nothing to worry about.”
    
    Alex nodded; despite the four closed gates, the noise of falling water was so strong, even where they stood, they were to almost shout to hear each other normally. Falling from the lower level, thus 120-foot height, the water turned the lower basin into the boiling pot, hitting rocks and the dam wall itself and filling the air with foam and spray. The considerable amount of water didn’t even reach the bottom, blown away as a fine mist, which covered everything with a thin grey veil and reached them, settling down on the faces and bringing the distinct smell of the river.
      
    The lower basin was practically a small lake, limited by the wide grey concrete wall of the dam and two high cliffs, as both river sides here were rock, and nothing but rock, dark, glistening from the falling water and mist, and awfully slippery. Nothing could hold on those stones, flushed down by the artificial waterfall; although, much higher, starting from halfway up on both sides a few crooked trees fought desperately for their place under the Sun. The latter was plentiful here, so was water, naturally, but the scantiness of the soil made their task non-trivial at the very least.
    
    Alex and earth pony engineer stood at the lower bank, almost at the exit of the dam basin, yet each look thrown at the concrete monster, squeezed between the cliffs and towering above them, made Alex shudder. Here the disturbed muddy water got onto the flatland and the river calmed down, lazily flowing to Ponyville, shimmering with clear water, as the sand, small stones and other garbage eventually settled down. It was hard to believe, that was the same stream calmly rotating the Southern Mill at the town outskirts, as at the foot of Ponyville Dam the river was undoubtedly dangerous; the lower basin was definitely the place to be observed and guarded from the strangers.
    
    “Normally it’s a bit more herded here,” the stallion raised his voice. “But considering it’s Sunday today, there are only a couple of technicians on duty,” he nodded towards another earth pony, exiting the lower building and joining them, overlooking the basin with an attentive professional glance. “One on each post, monitoring the basins and gates, ready to react on any emergency.”
    
    “The dam mechanisms are very reliable in general, moreover, the shutters can be easily operated by a single technician,” elaborated the Canterlot Steam Company specialist. “It won’t be excessive to say that the company took part in building the machinery, which needs only a single pony force to move the shutters and regulate the flow. So, we are rightfully proud with that achievement and adding more advantages…”
    
    “When do we expect the big herd?” interrupted him the dam worker, whose professional interest was in letting nopony into the dangerous areas.
    
    “Well, we already mounted the crane and part of the frame,” the engineer frowned slightly. “I think we start the next week… right after the additional safety railing is mounted at the catwalks.”
    
    “Additional safety never hurts indeed!” Alex threw another glance at the dam and swallowed a lump. The lower gates row looked like a grumpy narrow mouth, spilling the water from the one side and showing dark teeth from another. The crane and the rest of metalwork, placed in the middle of “dry” sector, looked like some toys from here; metal beams, glowing in the sunlight, seemed not thicker than the sewing needles.
    
    Suddenly Alex stiffened. ‘Something is not right!’ His glance scanned the lower gates and catwalks intently, unable to spot the source of his anxiety yet. Listening to his feeling, Alex disliked it more an more with each second… ‘What if… It can’t be!..’
    
    The distant thin high-pitch and undoubtedly girly scream pierced the air and reached their ears, making everypony twitch.
    
    “Thou said, thither was only a technician…” feeling the creeps down his spine, Alex turned to the engineer. “The voice didn’t sound as an adult mare…” He already knew, what that feeling of him was, and inwardly beseeched to being mistaken, realizing, there was no chance of a mistake.
    
    “Oh, Celestia!” the dam worker’s olive muzzle turned grey, eyes widened. “Staunch Flume brought his daughter today…” he forcedly swallowed. “He wanted to show her the workplace. I-it’s… it’s not the common practice, b-but she is a big filly and Staunch Flume knows his job… so… nopony objected. They must be at the upper post or the gallery,” he squinted, downcasting.
    
    “The gallery where the gates mechanisms and workshops are,” elaborated the engineer, catching Alex’s mad glance. “It goes along the whole dam and has exits to catwalks. The same on the upper level.”
    
    “Merlin’s pants!” hissed Alex, squeezing his temples with the palms, as if trying to drag that nightmare out of his head, chills along his spine became almost painful.
    
    “Thou!” he pointed at the dam worker, straightening at once and shaking his head. “Stay hither and let nopony in. At least until some guards arrive!”
    
    “Now,” Alex turned to another stallion. “Please, takest the road to the station fast, ask them to relay to Twilight that she, the guards… mayhap even Celestia, are needed at the dam immediately. If ‘t be true thou seest any pegasus on thy road, yell them down and ask to relay the message… same with unicorns.”
    
    “Yes, it’s that gravely important!” confirmed he, looking into engineer’s eyes fixedly. “I’m sure arrant, thither is one of those creatures, everypony was warned about recently.”
    
    The stallion shortly nodded and rushed downhill, giving no attention to his helmet, which fell and rolled on the ground.
    
    “Ohhhh!” groaned Alex, having a nasty gut feeling about all that, he dashed past the worker to the post door. “Better the stairs, than the road up the cliffs!”
    
    *
    
    “Please, sunny, stay here and don’t touch anything,” father’s warning was perhaps excessive, as the filly was noticeably intimidated by the scale of the rooms and mechanisms around. The filly quietly nodded and prepared to wait for her father, interestedly observing the arched length of the so-called gallery with numerous doors to the mechanisms, she was promised to see, and the exits to the dam face, she wasn’t going to approach anyway, hearing the roar of water outside.
    
    Staunch Flume entered the workshop, firmly knowing that his daughter wouldn’t do anything stupid; she was a smart and obedient filly, despite reaching her teen. He taught her well the difference between some casual mischief and the seriousness of obvious dangers.
    
    “Now… Where it is?” the stallion sorted out the tools on the workbench, looking for something specific. Yesterday he noticed that the lever at the fourth gate mechanism had some backlash, becoming noticeably loose and calling for large force to turn the gears. As it was late in the evening, Staunch Flume decided to tighten it, when the light would be naturally brighter, thus this morning. He could show his daughter, how the gate propulsion mechanism worked as well.
    
    “Aha. Come here!” he picked a large wrench with his mouth, when the loud panicking scream from the gallery almost made him drop the heavy tool. Staunch was to spit it away on the floor with loud metal clang anyway, as he was almost knocked from hooves by the filly, who darted inside, slamming the door shut, trembling, and snuggled to her father with all the strength she had. Being able to take his breath finally, he was immensely happy to see her safe and sound.
    
    “Hush, hush, dear, what’s up?” he hugged her by the shoulders and nuzzled her forehead, inwardly guessing which disaster he was to deal with in a moment; he was to calm the filly first and listen to her.
    
    “Dad, please, hurry…” panted the filly, when she could catch her breath. “I saw the monster far in the… corridor! We need to get out of here now!”
    
    “A monster in the gallery?” the stallion sported a bewildered and slightly sceptic look. “Are you sure, sunny? It’s dark there, I admit…”
    
    “Dad, it was there! Big… and black and scary,” the girl gabbled fast, but quietly. “It had no head… and it had… those… tendrils!”
    
    Staunch Flume stiffened: the mere look of his daughter told that she saw something and truly believed it wasn’t simply imagination, besides, the description sounded nastily familiar.
    
    “I saw that announcement letter, daddy!” whimpered the girl. “It’s one of those creatures, princesses warned about…”
    
    The sound of quiet, but very distinctive hoofstep outside, confirmed her words better than any explanation. Somepony… something large and heavy definitely was in the gallery. Taking another look at his pale and shaking filly, the technician decided to err on the side of caution. Thankfully, there was an unsophisticated hiding place in that workshop.
    
    “Here,” he nudged her lightly towards the small closet with a metal door and a through lock, following her and accidentally kicking the wrench, which noisily slid away on the floor. More determined hoofsteps sounded from the gallery, something headed in their direction.
    
    With jet-like speed Staunch Flume pushed his daughter into the closet and squeezed there himself, closing the door. The lock clicked, the stallion fiddled with his tool-belt, taking out a long screwdriver and shoving it in the handle hole, blocking the lock from their side. ‘It better be somepony’s idiotic joke! I’ll personally whip the ass throwing that trick!’ Both ponies, the adult stallion and the filly, froze listening.
    
    The hoofsteps quickly reached the workshop and stopped behind the door; by the sound one could guess, they belonged to a creature considerably bigger than an average pony, and […] started to doubt the idea of it being somepony’s joke. Whoever was there, lingered for a few seconds, stomping hesitantly, then the large workshop door opened slowly, screeching seemingly on the mere souls of hiding ponies.
    
    “Step-stop!” something got in, rustling and quietly moving along the room; the loud sound of the table, pushed by the large body, almost made them jump. Staunch carefully cupped daughter’s mouth with his fore hoof to prevent accidental scream. The sudden feel of despair and chilling fear made his coat stand; his heart ached at the view of his little princess’ painfully dilated eyes – she must have suffered the same inexplicable terror. ‘Celestia! That’s not a joke…’
    
    “Step-stop!” Maybe it was their imagination or the noise of blood rushing in their ears, but they vividly imagined something dark and dangerous, “sniffing” the door of their closet. The large hoof, or whatever the monster had, screeched on the metal door and made their hearts skip a beat. Then something bumped the door, not very hard, simply trying it; thankfully the closet opened outside.
    
    Another bump! A thin stripe of the Dark Mist licked the narrow gap below, showing its edge inside and making both ponies wince away from the door, deeper into the small closet. The stallion supported his nearly fainting daughter, still holding her mouth shut, squinting from the becoming unbearable ringing in his ears and doing his best to grit his own teeth, not to neigh from the hammering terror.
    
    Lazily bumping the door once more their tormentor turned and heavily trotted away, out to the gallery. Panic and despair started releasing them little by little and, as soon as he could hear something except the ringing and his own blood rush, Staunch Flume turned all ears. Their lives or at least sanity, judging by what he heard in the announcement, depended on that.
    
    “Now…” he felt, how his knees suddenly shook and large drips of cold sweat ran down his neck, something Staunch was unable to notice seconds before. “That… thing must be heading to the building… Probably looking for the exit. There is one more at the other end of the gallery. The grate is locked, but I have the keys. We need to get there, sunny, fast and quietly! Understood?” he released the muzzle of his filly, when she nodded convulsively, at least her eyes looked normal already.
    
    “I know, daddy… But… I can’t,” whispered she, still holding on him. “My legs are trembling…”
    
    “Oh, Celestia…” breathed out the stallion, listening at the door carefully; the heavy hoofsteps receded to the left and vanished. ‘It’s now or never!’ he yanked out the screwdriver and carefully opened a gap – the road was clear.
    
    “Now, be quiet!” the stallion tried to open the door without any screeching, but stopped, seeing the filly almost hanging on him clenching to his neck; her knees trembled indeed and she couldn’t stand straight yet, let alone run.
    
    Staunch Flume kneeled and let her get on his back, wrapping the fore legs around his neck; he could feel now, how the poor girl trembled, and closed his eyes for a second, making a deep breath.
    
    “Hold on tight, okay! Whatever happens…” the filly nodded faintly and the technician accurately exited the workshop, listening and watching the left end of dark corridor fixedly. It was empty and silent and the stallion turned away, pondering for a second.
    
    The rising Sun bathed the dam face with bright light, which flooded the catwalks and got into the gallery through openings. That, although, made the unlit parts of the pathway almost pitch black for their eyes. ‘What now? Risk and stay here, where we could be ambushed from every corner, if only I was mistaken... or get outside, where we at least can see the threat immediately.’
    
    He made a single step, the sound, not very loud, but quite recognizable, rolled through the gallery, making the stallion decide at once. Slowly and tensely, ready to burst to gallop at every second, he reached the nearest opening and stepped on the catwalks.
    
    “Don’t look down, sunny!” he squinted from the bright sunlight, falling right into their eyes, and stopped for a moment, letting them accommodate, then turned right.
    
    A large metalwork construction partially blocked the way in a few yards distance, overshadowed by the crane – the part of supportive frame for the future generator assembly work. Staunch Flume realized his mistake, he wanted to return and quickly pass that area through the gallery safely not to climb through the frame. The noise behind his back told him, it was late; the black horse-like monster, surrounded by flowing Dark Mist, darted to the catwalks, as if it was chased by the Cerberus.
    
    The filly squeaked and snuggled deep into father’s mane not to look; catching the glimpse of the nasty creature behind Staunch remembered the warning to the letter: “…please, leave the area of the aforementioned effects immediately and notify local authorities or/and the royal guards, if present! The anomaly may be accompanied by visual manifestations in form of shadowy horse-like creatures. Be aware, these creatures are dangerous...” In a couple of leaps he reached the metalwork frame and ducked, trying to get through the construction fast but safely, remembering about his daughter behind his shoulders. It turned out to be unbelievably hard, including the wave of mind-shattering terror, which mercilessly flooded them again, making the stallion grunt and pant groping through the scaffolding. His eyesight darkened and the tinnitus-like sound in the ears became almost unbearable.
    
    The beast lingered for a second, but some sound from the gallery made it rush, stomping the catwalk heavily and making it noticeably shake. The technician panicked, throwing a quick glance over his shoulder at the approaching menace, he paced forward, his hoof got onto something round and… unattached to the rest of the frame. In a second the world around made a couple of loops; in some wild survival spasm he managed to grasp something, which got under the hooves, and firmly clench it… hanging over the gate, the spillway and the raging waters below.
    
    His heart was beating seemingly under his throat and the noise of blood in the ears could easily compete with thunder; thankfully his daughter held onto him really tight, but he could barely recognize her voice in that pleading squeak.
    
    “He-e-e-elp!!!”
    
    *
    
    “Damn all the stairs!” breathed out Alex, reaching the top. “Especially over twenty floors high!” He flew up in about ten minutes on foot and couldn’t call that feeling pleasant. His lungs seemed to be bursting, heart pounded hard and temples were “pressed in a vice”, but he could definitely feel the Seeker; fortunately a single and… (Alex wondered the clearness of that feel) startled one.
    
    He remembered about their with the blacksmith work and rolled eyes sarcastically. ‘What’s the point of even advantageous and ultra-durable armour… if when it is needed, it’s not on you all the time?!’
    
    ‘Huh, thou mind-wrecking bastard! Thou can feel me, right?’ grinned Alex, taking his breath and pushing the door forcedly. The mess in the room behind clearly told him, the Seeker was there, maybe even a few seconds ago, and was disturbed by Alex’s proximity, rushing back upstairs and sweeping everything on its path.
    
    Alex covered a couple of stair-sections more and quickly crossed the second storey, noticing the same mess everywhere, apparently, the Seeker looked for the exit… and most likely couldn’t squeeze through the single door to the stairwell, when Alex startled it.
    
    He took a look around, the large double doors should lead exactly to the named gallery; Alex quietly opened them, peaking into the darker passageway. ‘Whither art thou, sneaky scoundrel?!’ He quietly moved along the door on the right, listening carefully, and the openings to the left, leading to the catwalks. Alex threw quick glances there as well, but tried not to fixate his attention on the outside too much – the thought about the 120-foot high wall didn’t want to release him. He passed three already, when quiet clanking from outside and some muffled squeak caught his attention; that squeak sounded horribly like a call for help!
    
    Alex dashed into the fourth opening and… froze on the spot, feeling like the platform was floating from under his feet somewhere. The walls, the catwalks, the damned scaffolding, the amazing view on the valley far away and below with rising Sun, everything doubled, maybe even tripled in his eyes. The abyss opened up under his feet, narrowing into the tunnel in his darkening view, when he threw a glance at the raging element below, through the metal grates; the noise of blood in Alex’s ears easily overshadowed the roar of the falling water. He was to grope the railing not to fall, hit by the sudden fear wave, taken by it overhead and almost flushed away, keeping some remnants of control by the mere miracle.
    
    In his blurred view Alex spotted the stallion hanging over the spillway; something, no, somepony, struggled with gravity, trying to hold onto his back, and to his terror Alex noticed the filly – that was her scream minutes before and it was her barely calling for help. A couple of yards to the left, on the catwalk, a large materialized (Alex could tell by its solid darkness) Seeker stopped and made a step back. It was too close to the technician and his daughter, Alex could only imagine, what happened in their heads.
    
    Widely open eyes of the stallion floated, he looked at Alex, seemingly not even seeing him, then…
    
    “NO!!!” bawled Alex. “DOST NOT LOOK AT IT!!! Lookest at me only!” He rushed forward, but his acrophobia violently threw him on the knees, punching him in the stomach and flooding with the sudden strike of nausea. Everything floated before Alex’s eyes. He tried to raise, fell down on the knees again, but from the corner of his eyes he could notice that the stallion heard him. At least he looked at Alex at that moment. Pleadingly, desperately, even from that distance Alex could see that in the dilated eyes of poor pony, trying to hold on the metal beam with the remnants of his strength.
    
    Alex inched forward, towards the scaffolding, crawling, hating himself for his phobia; tears and dizziness blurred his view. One foot, another, he was to lay flat and claw on the metal grate to drag himself closer; Alex couldn’t make himself stand and proceed any faster.
    
    The Seeker preferred to avoid the fight, it turned around and rushed to the gallery, Alex wasn’t going to complain about that. Perhaps its effect weakened, when the Seeker disappeared from their view, as the stallion looked no into Alex’s eyes fixedly, but the increased weight and fatigue slowly dragged him to the abyss; Alex could see how his hooves barely noticeable gave up. He tried to concentrate on those eyes only and slowly proceeded.
    
    ‘Almost thither!’ overcoming the nausea Alex squeezed a smile, laying flat on the catwalk and extending his hand towards the earth pony stallion and his filly. The eyes didn’t plea already, they simply waited, submitting to the fate, yet hoping for the last miracle to happen.
    
    The hoof was only a few inches away… But to reach it Alex was to get to the edge… and lean over!!! He had no doubt, he could lift both. No, it was another thing that troubled him!
    
    With a groan Alex squinted and grasped the platform edge, ready to drag himself in one forceful jerk… He wasn’t sure, if he had any strength for another, and he was to drag the ponies onto the platform still.
    
    The galloping sound from behind told him that the Seeker “decided” to pass its enemy through the gallery and try to look for the exit on another end of the catwalk; the dark silhouette ran outside from the next opening and turned right.
    
    Alex gave no damn about the Seeker’s plans at that moment, his fingers slid on the fore hoof, slippery from the omnipresent mist, trying to grasp the fetlock. The same mist evidently covered the catwalks above the open gates even denser: the Seeker slipped, staggered and fell heavily on the platform, making it noticeably shake under the weight of the large body.
    
    With a muffled gasp the stallion let go of the metal beam. Alex looked into his eyes for a few endless moments more, seeing, how they widened, almost in childish misunderstanding, how the filly shrank from the realization of the inevitable terror… Both ponies fell and with the thin fading scream of the girl vanished in the swirling water clouds below.
    
    “NOOOOOOO!!!” Alex fell his face down on the metal grate, he roared and sobbed, beating the catwalk with both fists, shaking…
    
    Meanwhile, the Seeker managed to rise, first unconfidently, it trotted away along the catwalk, speeding up.
    
    Alex fell silent, he squinted and forcedly pushed himself up to the knees. When he opened his eyes, darkness filled them, making impossible to distinguish the human pupils. He clenched his teeth, the left hand stumbled upon something round, cold and heavy. Alex grabbed the railing closest to the dam wall and with another jerk made himself stand, dragging the metal pipe from under the scaffolding and heavily leaning on the railing. His field of view narrowed into the thin tube aimed along the catwalk with the receding dark figure on its other end.
    
    *
    
    “Can anypony tell me clearly, what exactly happened there?” Twilight threw a fixed inquiring look at the guards, shifting from one hoof to another at the door, at Alex, whom they were to walk in and make sit on the sofa. She felt her question inevitably turning into a rhetorical one, as the guard could see the same she did, while Alex… Alex didn’t drop a word ever since they arrived at the dam and found him near the exit grate of the maintenance catwalk. Twilight shuddered, remembering the image.
    
    “Your Highness,” started one of the guards, as the question was asked nevertheless. “There was nopony, except the human, on the dam itself… We searched both upper and lower premises, the building, the catwalks…”
    
    Alex winced slightly, but kept sitting with a deadpan look, staring at some point seemingly far-far away, maybe in Appleloosa, considering he was facing south, or maybe even farther, at the Badlands. Twilight noticed, how his fingers spontaneously squeezed some imaginary tool, or maybe it was a weapon.
    
    “…There was only one worker at the lower building.”
    
    “I know,” Twilight impatiently waved her hoof. “I asked him a few questions already. He will need to stay there, until the change arrives, then he will come to tell thoroughly, what he saw.”
    
    Twilight remembered the shocked earth pony stallion, who met them at the lower basin of the dam, and his brief inconsistent report. Due to the large distances, they all had the binoculars at their work posts and, when the human rushed up the stairs, the technician ran to grab his one, thus he was able to see the following events clearly enough. The monster didn’t actually touch anypony, neither Staunch Flume and his daughter, nor the human, as the worker told. Granted it approached close enough to affect them, if that was one of those creatures from the royal warning. The stallion was almost sure of the latter, as he managed to discern all the unpleasant details of the enemy look through his field glasses. He said that the human tried to help the technician, but… there was something strange happening to the human himself.
    
    Twilight sighed and closed her eyes for a second. ‘Yeah, I can guess, what was happening to Alex!’
    
    The worker said that the creature retreated, when the human showed up, and went to the gallery. Apparently, to outflank the obstacle, as it ran outside again through the next, unobstructed opening. The human almost reached his colleague’s hoof, when the monster slipped and fell onto the platform, heavily shaking it, visible even through the binoculars. Staunch Flume fell from the beam from surprise or concussion of the catwalk. The rest… he didn’t see the rest… and, frankly speaking, Twilight couldn’t blame him for dropping the binoculars. It was clear for her in general, maybe some more details were necessary, but that could wait. Meanwhile, the guard continued…
    
    “Then we hardly saw more than you did, princess… (Twilight frowned) There was something… A heap… Well, it looked like a shapeless heap of flesh already, when we approached. That must have been that creature… the Seeker, or how they are called…” he swallowed a lump, feeling uncomfortable. “Strangely, there was no blood… But there was that… thing, that “mist”, coming out from the torn corpse in stripes and sheets. And he!..” the guard twitched, nodding towards Alex. “He was kneeling at the monster and simply absorbed that dark… stuff!”
    
    “He didn’t tell a word, when we helped him rise, your Highness,” added another guard. “And there was a metal pipe on the platform. I guess, that’s exactly with what…”
    
    “I saw it, thank you,” Twilight visibly shuddered.
    
    “Well, after… everything happened,” she tried to summarize, throwing a quick glance at Alex, who still didn’t change his pose. “The Seeker tried to escape, but the gate at the end of the catwalk was closed; it’s durable and high enough to jump over… And it couldn’t turn back because of you, Alex.”
    
    The human didn’t move or react to Twilight’s words, even addressing him on purpose.
    
    “Then you got up… Picked that… pipe…” Twilight inhaled deeply, suppressing the chills. “You were to walk along the whole catwalk, the six gates with falling water more underneath, to reach the Seeker and…” she gulped.
    
    Alex leaned on the backrest, gritting his teeth and squinting; trails of tears went down his face.
    
    “Oh, Celestia!” breathed out Twilight, she quickly turned to the guards. “Fine, you are dismissed for now. I suppose the princesses will ask their questions, if they have any, later.”
    
    “Aye, your Highness!”
    
    “Alex, please, talk to me!” she leaned forward, when the guards left. “There is no your fault in what happened…”
    
    He slowly shook his head, eyes still closed and watering, Twilight downcasted with a heavy sigh; suddenly something made her brighten up a little, her ears perked.
    
    “Hey! I’ve got a…”
    
    A loud sound and a flash from the kitchen, where Spike was busy with the breakfast, interrupted her and made Twilight look over her shoulder for the source of the disturbance. Spike already entered the hall, handing her a scroll; Alex hardly paid any attention.
    
    With a small shrug Twilight broke the seal and read, raising one eyebrow. ‘Hmmm… The second letter in a single morning… and that early!’ Although, with the reading her ears slowly drooped and the concerned expression touched the girl’s muzzle.
    
    “My dear apprentice Twilight Sparkle!
    
    I’ve got your message about the Seeker on Ponyville dam… and the next one about the horrible tragedy. I’m sending the search teams down the river, but…
    
    I sincerely hope that you haven’t hoofed my previous letter to Alex. If you didn’t yet, do not! Destroy that scroll instead, as it’s not the best time for that information and talk now. I shall visit you later and tell Alex personally.
    
    We had another Seeker outbreak at the North and I am to address it immediately, as contrary to yours, that one, while thankfully passing without casualties, inflicted major destruction. Henceforth I fully trust you to handle the accident at the dam, until I can attend. Please, inform me about any progress, especially about the human condition. Hopefully he’ll make it through.
    

    Princess Celestia.


    


    Twilight’s heart skipped a beat, she knew for sure, what could be in the first letter and why it wasn’t the best time to give it to Alex. She threw a quick glance at him, watching her with a faint tint of interest. Twilight felt, she started panicking inwardly, crumpling the letter and feverishly pondering about the feasible explanation.
    
    “Princess Celestia… errmmm… was to attend an emergency,” if Alex was capable to pay his usual level of attention, he could easily see everything in her eyes and Twilight downcasted. “Another Seeker appeared at the North… Some destruction took place, no casualties though,” she noticed, how Alex exhaled. “She needs to address that case and asks me to deal with ours, until she can arrive.” She cringed at how far-fetched it sounded, but apparently, Alex was stunned enough not to think deeper into the details.
    
    “Now,” exaggeratedly cheerful Twilight trotted to Alex’s room, Spike followed her gimmick all that time silently, while Alex closed his eyes again. She rustled there for a while, moving some papers and seemingly undoing the bed, then appeared again, busily heading to the kitchen and levitating a cup. “Whatever you think of it now, Alex, you need time.”
    
    Spike followed her, hearing Twilight moving some stuff, pouring water, searching through the shelves, and entered exactly in time to notice, how she quickly took another sealed scroll from under her wing, incinerated it with the spell and pushed the ash deeper into the sink. He couldn’t help but stare at her with the raised eyebrow. Twilight intercepted his glance, while making a large cup of tea and adding several teaspoons of sugar to it, and slowly shook her head, telling with her eyes only that all the explanations could wait.
    
    “He had no breakfast, but can hardly eat anything now, and…” She pondered for a second, then poured a single drop of her sleeping potion into the cup. “Don’t look at me like that! He is in shock, Alex needs to think it through, I admit, but the last thing, Alex needs, is to overly fixate at the impressions, while they are fresh.”
    
    “And I suppose you need this!” she headed to Alex, handing him the cup. “And maybe some rest, you are truly exhausted.”
    
    Alex looked up at her and took the cup, like a clockwork doll, staring at it blindly for a few moments, then downing it whole in a few giant gulps; Twilight’s eyes dilated, she didn’t expect him to swallow the hot tea like that. Nevertheless, she leaned to him, helping him to get up.
    
    “Come on, Alex. I can’t lift you anyway!” Twilight squeezed out a small smile, trying to stir him up a bit. She walked him to the room, but instead of the sofa, Alex dropped into the armchair, as if the remnants of strength left him suddenly.
    
    “O-o-okay…” slowly breathed out Twilight. “I said that once and I will repeat. From what I heard and saw, there was no your fault in what happened. You equally could get there not in time to help. It was a tragedy, but… ” she fell silent, not knowing how to explain, and didn’t realize at once, the sound she heard was the quiet raspy whisper addressed to her.
    
    “I came in time,” Alex raised his eyes at Twilight and gave her a long desperate look. “And did nothing…”
    
    “Oh! Don’t… I don’t want to hear that!” Twilight braced herself and changed her tone to the sternest and most serious, she was capable of at that moment. “You need to have a rest and calm down, Alex. I mean that! I… I’ll notify Willsmash that you need some time for yourself. I doubt, that will drastically harm your work, besides he can make, what you ordered earlier, without your help.”
    
    In the convulsive mimics that followed Twilight was barely able to recognize the attempt to produce a faint ghost of a smile; Alex gave up and thanked her with his eyes only.
    
    “And…” Twilight started unconfidently with a tiny nose-wiggle. “I firmly believe, I should tell at least Fluttershy about… about everything. Before she heard that somewhere else in form of some wicked rumour,” concluded she quietly.
    
    Alex’s eyes glistened again, he wanted to say something grateful, but choked on air and nodded very slowly instead.
    
    *
    
    Again… The dam. The water. The vertigo-inflicting height… Somewhere deep into his subconscious Alex realized that it was a dream, despite its amazing vividness, sharpness: he could actually feel the wind on his skin and hear it whistling, the concrete under his fingers was palpable, scratchy and cold since night, Alex could feel the smell of the river, the dampness of the mist-filled air. The worse was that nightmare he saw a few times already, closer to the morning, making Alex wince each time and wake up, shivering in cold sweat in the darkness of his room.
    
    Alex slept the whole day and fell into the night, like in the bottomless well; even waking up after each nightmare, he felt an uncontrollable wish to sleep again. He guessed, that Twilight added something to his tea… and was thankful for that – he wasn’t left alone with his thoughts at least for some time, being able to sleep normally for a while. Then, as the effect of the supposed potion started to wind out, the dreams came. Alex fought the impulse to find Twilight’s sleeping potion and repeat the treatment; the first dose wasn’t yet out of his system, besides, he couldn’t spend the rest of his life under some drugs.
    
    But at that time everything was different, Alex couldn’t understand why. First, it was quite dark around, the Sun was only preparing to show into the sky, which east edge slightly glowed at the moment. Alex looked at the Ponyville Dam from above: the gates, the catwalks, falling water – everything was far under his feet. Strangely, he almost didn’t feel any fear, standing on the edge of the dam wall. The shutters below were closed and the water was coming out of the main gates, about thirty foot lower.
    
    ‘Merlin’s pants!’ Alex never was on the top of the dam wall, he didn’t even know, how to get there. ‘How the hay did you get your miserable butt here? And the main question, what for?’ He turned around, looking for a safe way to get off that dreading wall. ‘Thither must be some door or gate, I came through…’
    
    But something kept him there, despite his fear of heights, Alex tried to understand, why he got there, be it dream or not. He carefully lay down and took a look over the edge, clinging to the concrete surface seemingly with every single cell of his body. The Sun already appeared from behind the horizon and Alex was to cover his eyes with his palm – the upper edge of the dam became brightly lit by the sunlight.
    
    The shadow quickly retreated, it’s border crawled down the wall; Alex waited, he didn’t know what for… A few minutes passed, the catwalks below and the newly built constructions got lit by the sunlight and shone brightly in the mist rising from the raging water below.
    
    Suddenly two figures appeared on the platform and Alex could glare at them and them only. One, larger, was the earth pony technician with a tool belt and familiar helmet, another, smaller – his daughter, she unconfidently clung to her father, visibly intimidated by the view, opening in front of her eyes. The helmet was too large for her, falling on her eyes and nose and making her cock her head, Alex involuntarily smiled. The stallion told her something, pointing his fore hoof to the metal frame and the crane, but Alex couldn’t hear anything because of the distance and roaring water. After a short while they returned to the gallery inside the dam wall… to exit to the catwalks from another side of the crane.
    
    But…
    
    Alex noticed that not only the catwalks, but also the gates, the falling water were lit by the rising Sun already, shimmering like a waterfall of diamonds.
    
    ‘What the… It couldn’t be… The Seeker was to be already thither!’
    
    Alex quickly got up in a single jump, painfully scratching his hand on the concrete edge and… woke up in his room. Supposedly in his room, because it was pitch black around, Alex couldn’t see even the light ceiling. According to his perception, it was not very far in the morning, still… Suddenly he caught himself on the feeling, like being swaddled; he couldn’t move freely as something was laying on him.
    
    The darkness was warm, soft and… feathery?! And smelled of lavender! With relief Alex’s fingers felt soft velvet coat, silky mane and the cute fluffy sensitive ear almost above his nose. The ear twitched, sliding out between them.
    
    “Mmmm…” muttered Luna, waking up and nuzzling Alex’s neck, cheek and ear, as she raised her head, swaying her mane to the other side. She placed a warm kiss on his temple and Alex could finally see the ceiling and her eyes shining slightly in the early morning twilight.
    
    “Luna?” whispered Alex, running his fingers down her cheek and neck, he inhaled intermittently, calming down the racing heart.
    
    “Exactly. In pony!” she pressed her nose at his; loving sparkles glanced in her eyes.
    
    “You almost scared me, when I woke and was unable to move or see anything around.”
    
    “Oh… Apologies,” Luna moved aside a tiny bit, still wrapping her legs around him; her left wing covered him like the soft feathery blanket. “I thought, that was the moment, thou needed some love and support, mine lief. So I came hither,” she rested her head near, carefully not to poke Alex with the horn, and looked at him with concern. “But thou wast sleeping… And I decided not to wake thee… Considering… Well, I watched thee for a while and, I guess, I fell asleep likewise. The sunrise is nigh, I’ve lowered mine Moon already.”
    
    “How art thou holding, Alex?” the silver-shod hoof gently stroked Alex’s shoulder. “I found out in the evening only… and I couldn’t reach thee the whole night, thus finally decided to come hither on mine own. Thou wast… “closed” for me!” added she with obvious concern.
    
    “I slept,” simply said Alex, the memories of the recent events wiped all the light off his face. “Turned off completely. I think Twilight added some sleeping potion to mine tea… And, frankly speaking, I’m thankful for that. Because when it started winding out…”
    
    Luna downcasted with a sigh.
    
    “So, you know what happened, my princess, right?” tears start running again from Alex’s eyes, he could do nothing to stop them. “I had all the chances to save those two lives… Yet failed shamefully, all because of mine stupid phobia.”
    
    “I know,” Luna nodded slightly. “And I know, thou seest that accident in thy nightmares – I caught the glimpse of them, exactly afore coming hither. I hurried, because of that.”
    
    “I guess, at which hour Twi’s potion effect ceased, mine small inner voice took over,” Alex closed his eyes again, swallowing the lump. “I see his eyes, the eyes of that poor stallion guy, each time when I only close mine. I return to that dam, when I try to sleep. Each time differently… but I can’t change anything, even in mine dreams, Luna! At which hour I would so like to change it in reality. I simply can’t… just like I failed to help that poor stallion, despite I was his only hope.” Alex squinted.
    
    “Thou shouldn’t blame thyself arrant, Alex. Thou didst, what thou only could. That phobia, stupid or not, was a part of thee, thou can’t cut it away, like some useless rag. Would it be better, if ‘t be true thou fell likewise, forcing thyself to overcome it no matter what?”
    
    “Who knoweth?” Alex looked aside, at the slowly brightening window.
    
    “Dost not be foalish!” Luna cocked her head, sounding suddenly stern. “Thou wast the only one, who rushed to help; moreover, the only one who could really help, not becoming another victim of the Seeker. Thou did all thou could and didst it, at which hour it was necessary. Thou fought thy phobia!”
    
    “Not. Well. Enough!” rapped out Alex. “Besides, doth it matter now?”
    
    “And what alternative didst thou have?” Luna put her chin on her fore hoof, looking down at Alex fixedly. “To try saving them, which thou didst… or wait for some… pegasi, for example. But! In that case they would undoubtedly be dead anyway.”
    
    “Well… They are,” groaned Alex.
    
    “Tia sent the search teams immediately, they are still brushing the river,” Luna stroked his chest lightly. “Without the result yet, mindst that. Any result!”
    
    “I suppose thou saw that dam,” apparently Alex wasn’t that optimistic. “And speaking of alternatives, I could simply waste mine time NOT and pull them up, afore that monster fell on the platform, shaking it!”
    
    “Alex,” Luna sighed, like explaining obvious things to a stubborn foal. “And I could become Nightmare Moon not. But could I?”
    
    “What I know arrant,” she added after a moment. “Is one soul, who lived through the worst… only because she let her fears, sorrows and frustration haunt her endlessly, stuck to them, kept them to herself only.”
    
    “Hardly mine case,” Alex’s painfully grinned. “I’m a simple human, mine love. It can hardly become any worse.”
    
    “Believest me, it can,” Luna watched him fixedly. “And methinks the term “simple” isn’t arrant valid anymore.”
    
    “I would like to have thy optimism…” Alex suddenly stumbled. “Wait, strange thing befell to me tonight – the last dream I had, afore waking up with thee hither, was different,” he pondered aloud, looking for the proper explanation. “Like… like I saw the same morning, but thither was no Seeker at all. Like nothing hath befallen…” Alex told her his last dream in brief. “But that’s impossible! Didst thou…”
    
    “I know what thou art implying, Alex,” Luna’s smile was sad. “No, I didn’t change thy dreams, mine lief… Although, I would like to…”
    
    “I can take thee to Canterlot!” added she fervently. “Thus I could help thee to get rid of those nightmares. And convincing Tia is not a problem, in the earnest…” She stumbled.
    
    Watching Alex laying in her embrace, tears silently coming from his eyes, Luna flushed suddenly.
    
    “Forgivest me, mine love!” she nuzzled his head apologetically. “Thou art not a toy, which can be repaired easily. I’m sorry, Alex.”
    
    “Lu-u-u-na,” he wrapped his arms around her neck, rubbing his temple on Luna’s cheek gently. “I know, thou mean well… but… I need to find the way out myself. I’m grateful . Verily! But…”
    
    “Mayhap I felt better, feeling thee near… Stay with me, please. For a while...”
    
    “Oh, Alex…” Luna sighed heavily, unable to talk Alex round. “I fought mine demons alone and thou art so eager to follow mine…”
    
    “Luna, please!..”
    
    She snuggled into him tighter, wrapping in the feathery cocoon, wholeheartedly wishing to shield, to protect from the sorrows, perfectly realizing she has no power of protecting him from himself. Almost no power. She could give anything for him staying in her caring hooves like that forever.
    
    “Promise me one thing, Alex!” Luna looked into his eyes fixedly. “Thou can simply call me, at which hour thy pain, in thy dreams or otherwise, becometh arrant unbearable. Promise me that thou shall do that, if necessary!”
 
    *
    
    “Dear Princess Celestia!...”
    
    Having a few letters on her desk Celestia dived in deep thoughts: the image, drawn by Twilight daily part by part, got only darker in summary. She spread the scrolls, each longer than the previous, so parts of them combined in the whole picture.
    
    “…Alex spent the whole first day sleeping and I hoped for the initial shock to fade at least partially after a while, but I can’t see it happening. I admit to assisting that in a certain chemical way, but that day and next night passed relatively calm, so I hoped it could make things a tiny bit better indeed…”
    
    “…The blacksmith was quite understanding, when I visited him; I tried not to give out too many details, but, princess, this is Ponyville, everypony will know everything sooner or later. So, the next day Alex spent at home. He sat over his notes and it could look for a random observer, as if he simply worked on his problems as usual. But actually, he was like a stone statue all the day: he didn’t write a word, almost didn’t move, didn’t eat… Strange thing though, Alex woke up smiling, but it faded away as a matter of seconds. I wonder, what could happen that night…
    Fluttershy came today and she was the one, whose presence he finally reacted to. She sat next to Alex and they hugged each other, but Alex kept the same lifeless look. I left them alone. She tried to talk to him and he even replied occasionally, as I could hear. But when she left in about an hour, she was almost in tears. “He hurts much,” she said. “But he doesn’t want to accept any help…” I don’t know what to do either…”
    
    Celestia sighed tiredly. ‘I know, Lulu “happened”…’ she shook her head slowly, but this time her expression wasn’t reproachful. ‘If neither her, nor Fluttershy could do anything, things went deadly serious. I don’t even know, how to…’
    
    “…Alex could hold himself staying at home for one day only. He went to the smithy this morning. Princess Celestia, have you ever seen a walking mannequin? That was very similar to it; it looked even more awful, because I can’t undertake anything to help him recover. It either didn’t work as expected, or he rejected every attempt to assist him.
    As you might have guessed, everypony already knows everything. Thankfully, the only source of that information was the dam technician, who actually witnessed the events in detail, therefore the rumours spread around the town were as close to the reality as they could possibly be. To my relief, nopony blamed Alex for that tragedy; for example, I talked to the girls… and each of them sympathized with him. Even Rainbow was to confess that there was hardly any of Alex’s guilt in what happened at the dam; that didn’t change her general opinion about him though.
    The day passed as usual… at least according to that little I could see of Alex’s face, when he returned. I wonder what old Will thinks about all that, had no chance to find that out yet, but I will try to catch his niece at the market the other day…”
    
    “…Several days passed, but it didn’t get any better. Alex is not going to discuss that matter, masterfully dodging every attempt to convince that circumstances were stronger than him. He is not going to talk much at all these days. He goes to the smithy as a… “mechanic human”, works there automatically, following his own plans. He even started to build something there, Spike, whose help he needed once, told that it looked like another smelter, but a different one: thicker walls, larger and wider in general, with more complex inner construction. But he does everything automatically, without any inspiration, like following some plan, he wrote for himself… Following simply because he must, not because he wants.
    Understand me right, your Highness, he cares about others around, is willing to help if asked, can even produce an occasional smile… Exactly – produce. It’s a mask, princess, he blames himself and it is burning him from inside daily. I don’t know what drives him these days…
    I caught him going downstairs another morning, Alex was of light lime-green colour, but strong determination was written across his face. It was the strongest expression of him, I could come across lately. When I asked him bluntly, what he did there, he said only. “Healing!” Not something obvious, I must say. That made me watch him the next morning. Princess, can you believe? He gets to the upper balcony of the library, almost to the railing, and simply sits there, looking down at Ponyville, for an hour or so. He gets down almost fainting, covered in cold sweat, but keeps doing that every day…”
    
    ‘Hmmm… He is struggling,’ the princess closed her eyes, thinking. ‘But where it will lead him, that is the question.’
    
    “…Canterlot Steam Company started building the generator at the Ponyville dam, they tripled the safety… and pegasi guards are on duty there round the clock. But Alex is totally uninterested, he avoids any thought about that project now. Thankfully, they didn’t need his help or consultation yet and… I didn’t dare to mention the whole thing to him, your Highness.
    I have a strong suspicion, Alex started having nightmares (which he was seemingly never prone to before) and they are likely progressing, becoming more severe with time. I heard him groaning at night several times, but when I came down to check, it was abidingly quiet; yet I’m sure he can’t get rid of those memories even in his dreams.
    Dear Princess Celestia, I’m afraid, I have no idea, where it goes… but I dare to doubt the lingering with telling him… what you wanted. I think I know what it was… and I can imagine, how it can strike Alex. But… maybe it’s better to tell him, instead of waiting, until the wound heals up a tiny bit, and cutting it again…”
    
    ‘Oh, Twilight!’ Celestia bit her lip pensively. ‘If only you knew, how often I thought about that.’
    
    ‘I wonder, where it can lead as well, my dear faithful apprentice…’
    
    Ignoring Celestia’s fixed glance the portrait of Luna at the opposite wall apparently wasn’t going to provide any advice.
    
    *
    
    The roar of the falling water was almost unbearable, yet it couldn’t overshadow the thumping of Alex’s own heart in his ears. At the mental image of the wet narrow catwalks, shaky-looking railing and the thousands of tons of water raging below, Alex stumbled for a moment and leaned on the wall, feeling his heart skipped a beat and creeps rushed up the spine. He took a deep breath, trying to ignore the treacherously shaking knees. ‘Comest on, thou art at the top of the dam already! Thou simply needst to find…’
    
    A thin barely audible through the rumble of falling water plea for help, almost like a piteous squeak of a deadly trapped small critter, made him wince. Alex rushed through the opening and froze on spot; the horrible view opened to his eyes. The dam technician, the earth pony stallion struggled for life, clinging to the part of the construction – the thick smooth metal beam, protruding from the partially assembled frame. On his back, wrapping her fore legs around father’s neck, trying to hold on and almost fainting from the deadly scare the little filly shrank into the miserable trembling ball. Her weight dragged both into the abyss, as her father was afraid to make any abrupt movement, risking to drop her and inevitably sliding off the beam slowly. A quick glance around showed no Seeker presence, but that was the least important thing for Alex to bother about.
    
    “Dost not move! Simply hold on!!!” Alex gulped and… made a few steps forward, feeling as if some giant hand was tumbling his stomach. Cringing from the piercing thin noise in the ears and strong nausea, he lay on the catwalk and extended his arm. Alex was to drag himself closer to the edge, freezing from the mind-wrecking terror and fighting against the urge to squint, but was finally able to grab the stallion above the hoof firmly, looking into his eyes and transforming the gritted teeth into an encouraging smile semblance.
    
    “Hold on, little one!” forcedly squeezed Alex, shifting his glance to the filly’s eyes for a second, and noticing to his relief, how she convulsively nodded. Alex started dragging them up, flattening on the platform not to slide and putting all his strength into that. Another hoof of the stallion reached the catwalk, Alex kept the eye contact and allowed himself a small real smile already. The pony pulled himself up to the chest level, the filly firmly held on his back…
    
    The long nasty sound of tearing metal reached their ears through the roar of water and their own heavy breathing. Still pulling, Alex cast a wild glance over his shoulder: the rusty fastening bolts failed to hold against the weight and vibration, the whole section of the catwalk flinched and… flew down, dragging them three into the swirling waters.
    
    Alex winced madly… and woke up, trying to focus his eyes in the darkness of the room. His heart thumped heavily, but the blood rush in his ears started fading. Alex gasped, fitfully inhaling with the force of the one, barely dodged drowning, and jerked up, sitting on his sofa.
    
    ‘Merlin’s pants! Is it going to end ever? Which time for one night is it already?’ He ran his hand down his forehead and face, wiping the cold sweat and… quickly opening his eyes again, not to see the desperately hoping for the rescue eyes of that stallion behind own closed eyelids. Alex groaned and fell back, staring at the ceiling without blinking.
    
    It was somewhat hard to lie that way… ‘Damn it!’ Alex leaned on his elbow and fumbled near the sofa, finally finding the pillow and shoving it under his faintly aching head. He turned at his side, trying to fall asleep again, despite that idea didn’t bring much enthusiasm…
    
    Holding on his chest, as if catching the racing heart, Alex reached the top of the endless stairs and rushed through the door. Trying to take his breath Alex darted through the building, turned into the mess by the raving Seeker, and blast opened the doors to the gallery.
    
    The roar of the falling water filled his ears immediately and the cold fear started creeping into his soul, making the blood thicken in Alex’s veins. At the mental image of the wet narrow catwalks, shaky-looking railing and the thousands of tons of water raging below, Alex stumbled for a moment and leaned on the wall, his eyesight darkened for a second and creeps rushed up the spine. He took a deep breath, trying to concentrate and make the world around him stop shaking. ‘Comest on, thou art at the top already! Merlin’s pants, they’d better be holding still…’
    
    He couldn’t hear anything, except the roar of the falling water under the catwalks. Alex rushed through the opening and froze on spot; the platform, the crane, the half-assembled frame… the beam, poor pony stallion was hanging on, were empty. Alex was alone on the catwalk, above the raging element. He was late: the dam technician, the earth pony stallion struggled for life as long as he could, clinging to the part of the construction – the thick smooth metal beam, protruding from the partially assembled frame. But the constructions were wet and slippery, his forces were fading, affected by the shock and additional weight of his little daughter, holding on his back, wrapping her fore legs around father’s neck; the stallions hooves inexorably unclenched and both ponies must have fallen, seconds before Alex could reach the top.
    
    Alex squinted, groaning like a wounded beast and squeezing his temples hard. ‘NO!!! No, no, no, no!’ He swayed on the catwalks, paying no attention to the abyss gaping below.
    
    Little by little he regained the ability to think clearly and finally opened his eyes… immediately regretting that, feeling as if some giant hand was tumbling his stomach. Cringing from the piercing thin noise in the ears and strong nausea, he made an accurate step back, taking a look around.
    
    ‘Whither is this bucking Seeker?!’
    
    A horrible strike between his shoulder blades, threw Alex forward, the world made a loop around him and in some miraculous flurry Alex managed to grab the metal beam, protruding from the frame. He firmly clenched to that single chance to survive, hanging above the roaring waters and almost fainting, as his eyesight narrowed into a thin tube and his heart thumped seemingly somewhere under his throat.
    
    Alex tried to pull himself up, the edge of the platform was so close… and at the same time it could be in Canterlot.
    
    Suddenly a large shadow obstructed the light; the Seeker, it seemed giant to Alex, towered over the catwalk edge with the beam and hanging human. For a second, for the small eternity, it froze, as if pondering what to do. Alex’s forces faded, he made another desperate attempt to pull…
    
    The Seeker raised on its hind legs… and heavily threw its fore hooves onto the metal beam, which flinched with the loud metal buzz. Unbearable striking pain pierced Alex’s fingers, which let go of the beam and Alex…
    
    …woke on his sofa, staring at the backrest in the darkness of the Twilight’s Library. Alex exhaled, blinking several times and turned to another side…
    
    …to see the metal grate of the catwalk underneath, flowing water and mist below and meet the desperate glance of the eyes of the earth pony stallion holding on the platform edge; the filly was holding on his back, sobbing, whimpering quietly. Alex’s eyes dilated, fixating on the pleading hopeful eyes of the pony struggling for their with daughter lives. With a wild jerk he turned, trying to grab stallion’s leg and pull both on the catwalk… But the latter gasped, seemingly losing the last strength and released the edge… falling, falling, falling, like in slow motion, to the swirling clouds of mist below. Alex shrieked on top of his lungs and…
    
    He must have shrieked in reality, as the flickering light dispelled the darkness of the room. It went from a couple of candles in the chandelier Twilight levitated in front of her; she wrapped up in the long night robe and blinked several times, trying to wake up completely.
    
    “Did you have a bad dream?”
    
    “Apologies, Twi! Bad is very mildly saying…” Alex exhaled and sat on his sofa, catching the sliding to the floor blanket, he rubbed his face, wiping the large cold drips off his forehead. “Did I wake thee up?”
    
    “You woke up Spike even, and that says much,” Twilight sighed and put the chandelier on the small table; she leaned to Alex, looking into his eyes, like trying to see at the bottom, what was bothering him. “What is going on, Alex? Well… I know what is,” corrected she herself. “But… You can’t stand against all this alone. It’s not the first time for that night, you wake up screaming, right? And it’s definitely not the first time in general…”
    
    “I face that nightly, Twilight!” Alex ran his fingers through his hair and sat, staring in front of him, holding his temples. “Nopony knoweth, how many times each night. Each time differently, but each time to somepony’s perish… Even mine oft. I’m tired, Twi! At which hour I close mine eyes, I see them, I see his eyes, his hope, Twi.”
    
    “You should stop blaming yourself, Alex. Believe me. You said, you didn’t help them in time… Nopony knows, you could slip on the stairs, come across the locked door… You’ll never know that!” Twilight lifted his pillow from the floor again and sat next to Alex at the edge of the sofa.
    
    Alex slowly shook his head.
    
    “No, Twi, I was thither and they were still hanging on that beam, I was thither, at which hour they fell… He couldn’t make it, Twi. He was waiting for mine help, believing me…”
    
    “And I failed to help them!” Alex gritted his teeth, holding back tears. “It really would be better, if I was there instead of that pony and his daughter. Did she deserve to die?!”
    
    “Alex! For Harmony’s sake, don’t be foalish!” Twilight stared at him reproachfully, while Alex tried to lay down again, feeling the shivers, despite it was warm in the room.
    
    “Harmony? I would like to believe, thither is any!” muttered he, snuggling his forehead to her knees. With a heavy sigh Twilight stroked his shoulder lightly.
    
    *
    
    “Twilight! Twilight, are you even here?!” Spike was to tap her several times to get her attention; the book in front of her was opened at the same page, as when he saw her several minutes before, while the alicorn girl stared at the single point, being far away from here in her thoughts.
    
    “Huh? What’s up, Spike?” Twilight woke up and focused on him, squeezing a small confused smile. “I, eh…”
    
    “It’s tea time actually,” the little dragon rolled his eyes, putting the tray with cups and some cookies on the table, he sat across and looked at her fixedly. “By the way, you exactly asked me for some tea a few minutes ago, Twilight… And if my eyes don’t lie to me, you are still “reading” the same page of that book as back then.”
    
    “This doesn’t look like usual you!” he made a sarcastic face and picked up one cup. “Now you started behaving strangely as well. I almost got used to him,” he pointed back with his claw. “being weird occasionally. But it seems to be contagious.”
    
    “Ohhhhh…” Twilight sighed, levitating another teacup and staring at her own reflection in it. But before Spike thought, she got lost in her thoughts again, Twilight continued pensively. “Okay, you will get to know anyway, why not a bit earlier then? That letter princess Celestia sent us this morning, she plans to visit today…”
    
    “Well, while her Highness isn’t a frequent guest here, I admit, she writes you something daily, Twi. What’s so special about that one, that gets you out of your Element, forgive me my pun. Unless…” Spike squinted. “Unless she wants to talk to Alex specifically. Right?”
    
    “Yeah. And while I know, this talk is inevitable… moreover, this comes up anyway, through this talk or without it completely,” Twilight bit her lip and threw a concerned glance at the door to Alex’s room. “I still don’t know, if it’s a good moment. He tries to act as usual, but after all those days, it’s getting only worse. Alex has already judged himself, sentenced and is now concentrating on that feel more and more… On the other hoof, keeping this untold is simply unfair towards him… Ugghhh, this isn’t something, you are taught in the School for the Gifted Unicorns, Spike!”
    
    “Can you imagine, I don’t know, if what Celestia is going to do is right, but there is no other way around either…” added she, downcasting.
    
    “You may continue not, Twi,” Spike looked at her seriously. “I suspected something like that, when I saw you burning that scroll.” He lowered his voice, glancing over the shoulder. “She can’t send him back, right?”
    
    “Yes,” simply and tiredly breathed out Twilight. “They couldn’t find a safe method. Nopony can do anything about that… But it will hit him, like all the hammers of old Will’s smithy together.”
    
    A quiet rustle from behind the loosely-closed door made them fall silent and listen, but apparently, the human simply moved in his sleep. Twilight slowly shook her head.
    
    “I guess, we can only be glad he came back so exhausted; maybe it can block his anxiety and bad dreams at least for a short while, so he can sleep,” she kept listening to the sounds with concern. “I suspect, he wakes dozens times a night and didn’t even go around Ponyville last few times, while he did it nightly before. It’s not his duty, of course, but the mere fact he can’t do that is self-explanatory enough.”
    
    Twilight remembered, how she was to stay with Alex for a while last night, until he finally fell asleep. Thankfully, he didn’t wake up screaming after that, but the room was empty, when she got down in the morning to check; apparently, Alex couldn’t stay alone with his feelings and whisked to the smithy even before the sunrise. He worked especially meticulously and hard those last few days, as if he was trying to accomplish his job in time or tried to muffle the mental pain by the muscular strain. In the first case, Twilight knew, that he had more time than necessary, unable to leave Equestria, and both reasons made her feel for him even sharper, yet having zero opportunities to help.
    
    That’s why, when Alex came back earlier that day and practically crawled to his bed, falling asleep at once, she left him alone, not even reminding that to exist every living thing must not ignore the food completely. Twilight didn’t bother Alex, when he restlessly fiddled and groaned through his sleep, rightfully deciding that if he woke not, then it wasn’t severe, thus having some rest was in priority for him. But the feeling of the upcoming disaster kept pestering her, even the proven remedy for all kinds of anxiety – the book didn’t help much; Twilight couldn’t get rid of the mental image of Alex totally breaking down under the new problem.
    
    Spike wanted to say something, when a quite loud clap from upstairs made them both twitch and start up, looking for the source of that disturbance. The thin, but easily distinguishable fragrance of roses told Twilight what, or better say, who it was.
    
    “Good evening, Twilight, my dear!” princess Celestia personally greeted her, cocking her beautiful head and folding her vast wings tighter, not to knock something down accidentally. “Evening, Spike!”
    
    “Your Highness!” both bowed; seeing their bewildered glances the princess gifted them with a small smile and elaborated.
    
    “I left the usual guards back in Canterlot. Sometimes even princesses need privacy, I wanted to avoid the unnecessary witnesses naturally.”
    
    “That doesn’t apply to you Spike, of course,” she nodded to Twilight’s aide slightly. “I have full confidence in you both, but mind the talk isn’t going to be easy and light.”
    
    Twilight’s heart jumped as she imagined vividly, what reaction the news might cause.
    
    “Princess,” started she cautiously. “You know, that I hardly ever questioned the propriety of your Highness’ decisions, but…” she fell silent, but seeing that Celestia shortly nodded, not rejecting her point of view, continued. “I somewhat reconsidered and can’t stop thinking, if what we going to do is necessary right now.”
    
    “We all can see the reasons, why nopony is guilty in that tragedy, but Alex is too deep in his complex now to even admit their existence,” Twilight hurried to elaborate, while Celestia was listening. “While time heals generally and the one starts to criticize the situation inwardly, seeing it from the different angles, I’m afraid it’s not our case. It goes only worse with time, he fixated on the thought that he could help those ponies and he was to help no matter what. That led him to the endless nightmares, Alex can’t sleep normally, experiencing the tragedy time after time…”
    
    “Luna told me,” Celestia softly nodded, making Twilight flush.
    
    “He tries to load himself with work over the top, but it hardly helps either. Today he came almost falling over and I admit, that made him fall asleep, relatively calm… but I don’t know what the night will bring. The last one he woke us, screaming loudly from his nightmare, I assume it’s not the single time, simply the first we heard. I stayed with him, till he drifted to sleep again… and… tried to convince, he blamed himself in vain,” Twilight downcasted, obviously, she didn’t succeed. “He stuck to his own vision, no matter what... That’s why, I thought, maybe we shouldn’t…”
    
    “My dear Twilight,” Celestia brought her muzzle closer and looked into her apprentice eyes. “Rest assured, I thought about that a lot. I can see your reasons, but as you said already, “letting the wound heal, then starting to cut it again” is neither an option.”
    
    “You can probably say, that he is not healing,” nodded the princess, seeing Twilight’s expression. “Well, he is to accommodate somehow to the reality and the reality dictates, he stays here, my dear. We can only try to help him accept that easier and overcome that tragedy he witnessed. Lingering with the answers will only do worse, I believe, as I give Alex enough credit to treat things realistically.”
    
    “He was here nearly four months, three of which we were trying to find the way to return him to his home world,” Celestia subtly drove Twilight and Spike to the stairs, she made her decision. “Alex is an adult, he understands perfectly that we had more than enough time for that and if we didn’t tell him anything exact, then we had nothing to offer. Truth be told, I was sure, we couldn’t bring him back, a couple of weeks already, taking time to check everything twice – neither the Mages Council, nor I can send him back to Earth due to his magical resistance. He will ask that question sooner or later and our silence can only make him trust us all less.”
    
    “I understand, princess,” Twilight’s ears drooped. “It simply hurts to imagine, how the news will strike him. But you are right, it’s inevitable.”
    
    A loud scream from the ground floor made them wince, Twilight rushed downstairs like a lilac jet, Spike followed shortly; with a sigh Celestia trotted after them. They found Alex sitting on the sofa, already untangled from the bedding, covering his face with both hands.
    
    “Did it happen again?” Twilight’s question was rather rhetoric, she levitated and put back the pillow automatically.
    
    “This time even worse, Twilight,” Alex’s voice came like out of the barrel, he inhaled fitfully. “Good evening, princess. Apologies for greeting your Highness like that.”
    
    Obviously, he meant the mess on his sofa, the papers and drafts filling the table, his own ruffled look; thankfully, Alex simply fell down and “switched off” in his regular clothes, Twilight and Spike covered him and shoved the pillow under his head.
    
    “Good evening, Alex. You didn’t know about my visit, so it explicable…” Celestia softly approached, watching him. “I suppose, asking how you feel is useless.”
    
    It was hard to tell, if Alex shrugged or twitched convulsively, slowly removing his hands, his forehead covered in cold sweat, tears trailing from the closed eyes.
    
    “You have probably heard that countless times already,” she sat right on the floor in front of the human, watching him fixedly. “But I’m going to repeat, you don’t need to blame yourself entirely for that, Alex. You did everything you could, trying to save those ponies, while, let’s be frank, you weren’t to.”
    
    “Yeah. Exactly tried,” Alex squinted, whispering barely audible. “When all I needed, was simply to DO, to drag them back on the platform fast. I could easily do that, it was barely half mine weight!” He gritted his teeth and almost hissed. “But instead I… tried and obviously failed. I allowed mine phobia take over, yet another time, losing a few seconds… Only few seconds… and two lives, I could easily save!”
    
    “Not that easily, apparently…” after a pause Celestia explained the route of her thoughts. “You knew about your phobia, yet you rushed to help them, as nopony else could. But you’re not a machine, Alex; with all the changes, you did undergo here, you aren’t omnipresent and omnipotent. You were all alone there… and did what you could.”
    
    “What should I do?” woefully smirked Alex. “Take others with me and risk subjecting them to the Seeker impact? Double the tragedy…”
    
    “Fair point!” Celestia said quietly. “You see, you judged the situation and made the proper decision in the given circumstances, yet you think, you are… “the root of evil”. You did right, believe me, the rest is a tragic accident. They happen, despite our will sometimes.”
    
    “I failed, Tia!” Alex opened his eyes, inhaling convulsively. “I failed, at which hour I shouldn’t, according to all the reasons, thou hast mentioned correctly. Tis what counteth at the end of the day!” Tears trailed down from his almost black pain-ridden eyes.
    
    Everypony shuddered: the princess barely noticeable, Twilight and Spike made a step back.
    
    “I shouldn’t…” quietly repeated Alex; he braced himself like someone freezing and leaned forward, unwittingly snuggling his forehead to Celestia’s chest, shutting his eyes and trembling, as if he was still in his nightmare. Celestia’s eyes dilated shockingly, but she coped with herself quite fast; Twilight gulped loudly and started breathing again, feeling how Spike clenched to her fore leg.
    
    “Thou knowest, Tia! That’s mine first death witnessed,” quietly said Alex. “At which hour I realized whither I got, I could nev’r imagine things like that befalling hither. Not hither. Merlin’s pants! Not like that at least! But instead… And on top of ‘t, I’m the one, causing that death…” He squinted, a few drops fell on the floor between Celestia’s gold-shod fore hooves. “Tis not something, one can easily live with, Tia. It’s burning me from inside…”
    
    Arching her swan-like neck the princess looked down at him with the mixed expression of sheer bewilderment, empathy and concern, hard to tell which prevailed; she touched Alex’s shoulder lightly.
    
    “I’ve sent guards on the search mission as soon as I found out about that tragedy; they are still looking for… for anything, we stopped the water for a while and searched the basin and down the entire river…” Feeling, how Alex shivered, she emphasized then. “They didn’t find anything! I admit, they didn’t find them, but they didn’t find the bodies either!”
    
    “Oh!..” Alex straightened, the momentary weakness gave up to the cold sarcasm, tears dried. “That surely changeth things arrant, correct?!”
    
    Celestia downcasted with a sigh. Twilight realized that the decision was inwardly made and held her breath, when the princess looked fixedly into Alex’s eyes.
    
    “I hate to tell you this news, Alex, but I’m not going to keep you in the darkness anymore… that would be unfair to you anyway. After a few months of investigation the result is still the same and we considered all the means possible.” Celestia took a breath, the faint sparkle shone in Alex’s eyes for the first time that day. “We can’t send you back to Earth.”
    
    That sounded like the hammer nailing the coffin shut. The hope faded, as if somepony extinguished the lights in the human’s eyes.
    
    “I’m sorry, Alex! I truly am…”
    
    Alex leaned back slowly, Celestia’s hoof fell onto his knee; at first, they thought it was a desperate groan, but then to her bewilderment Twilight realized that Alex snorted. He burst laughing, closing his eyes again, shaking with his entire body, stopping for a second, then leaning back and laughing again. Spike whisked to the kitchen for some water and returned with the glass, throwing an inquiring glance at Twilight. Exactly at the moment she started to concern about Alex’s sanity, the laughter ceased, was “turned off”; that sudden change was hardly less scary than the laughter itself.
    
    “Yeah!” said Alex slowly, he got up and took a look over the audience, making a short bow towards Celestia. “Apologies, your Highness, Twilight, Spike…” Alex squeezed a tiny smile, noticing the glass, and shook his head. “Methinks I need some time for myself.”
    
    He crossed the room, stopping in front of the open window; the night was quickly taking over, flooding the square at the Golden Oak Library with darkness, pierced with the golden light of nearby houses’ windows. The crescent Moon showed up from the clouds and sharply outlined Alex’s silhouette.
    
    “Something, I for once appear to be unquestionably good at hither – expelling those monsters, is wasted, due to me succumbing to mine inner ones,” he looked at the waning Moon, arms crossed. “Whatever I touch, is ruined henceforth, except mine damned machines… Fancy, isn’t it? Not for me though… But, it reminded me of some duties, I shouldn’t sabotage forsooth…” Alex stretched to the bone crunch and inhaled full chest of fresh night air, letting the wind ruffle his hair. He cast a sidelong glance over the shoulder at two alicorns and one dragon. “Mine apologies! Nopony should suffer anymore…”
    
    Alex stepped over the windowsill and vanished into the night, followed by Celestia’s concerned sigh; Twilight downcasted with a pensive expression.
    
    *
    
    He didn’t bend his heart, saying about the duties, he wasn’t meant to forget. Deep inside Alex realized that each night he was flouncing about in his nightmares, unable to sleep, unable to either rest or concentrate, unable to sleepwalk as well, was a perfect chance for the filthy brain-tumbling bastards to appear somewhere else scot-free and hurt somepony. But if he couldn’t sleepwalk, he was able to walk around the town on his own.
    
    ‘Still better than waking every several minutes with the racing heart, screaming and cursing yourself!’ When Alex did something, no matter what exactly, something demanding his attention, the pain retreated slightly, hid deep inside, giving him a small short respite; he was thankful even for that.
    
    Alex used all his senses at double, watching, listening to every rustle, inhaling even the faintest change of familiar smells, carefully passing the sleeping houses in the shadows, becoming those shadows when necessary. Tonight though he passed the well-known places, looking at them anew; the mere thought all that could become his home now… and there was no way back, was wild, mind-wrecking, Alex couldn’t entirely believe; although, Celestia was completely serious about that, having more than enough time to make sure his transfer was impossible.
    
    So, he was stuck in the world of sentient ponies. For life. Forever?! Alex remembered, what the princess told him about his changed metabolism, and clenched his teeth not to howl. On the one hand, the perspective wasn’t entirely dreading, he personally could name a few far worse ones. For example, the fate of that unicorn, who came across the Seeker… if not Fluttershy, his life would be a constant nightmare and Alex already knew that equestrian ponies lived much longer than average humans; although, Alex wasn’t sure if that unicorn realized himself before Fluttershy… “switched him on”.
    
    On the other hand, thinking of Fluttershy, Alex was to admit that up to that moment he rather came across plenty of unresolved problems in that world. And some of them, usually those, which demanded the solution the most, he was unable to find the way out of. Leaving would make all three of them suffer (Alex realized that Rarity wouldn’t be happy likewise, but supposed her crush was something, that could release her lightly without the object), but at least equally, making them regret, live with it… and eventually turning the pain into the sad memories. Occupied by those thoughts Alex reached the south edge of Ponyville insensibly.
    
    ‘You can’t leave! Shut it finally!’ he scolded himself. ‘And even if you could…’ Alex remembered Discord’s words about him keeping all the new features he got, regardless of the ability to return. That drew the completely bleak perspective to become a… freak, an outcast, moreover, a very long living and therefore suffering outcast in his home world. Alex was unsure, what he really wanted at that moment and where he really belonged; the feeling that he belonged neither worlds now flashed through. Blood rushed into his face; Alex leaned on the nearest house wall, pressing his forehead against.
    
    Lit by the Sun the whole afternoon, the wall was warm and felt unpleasant; although, the familiar homely smell of candy and bakery sobered him up and cheered. Apparently, Sugarcube Corner had another busy, customers filled day and Pinkie and the Cake family had their deserved rest peacefully. At least here everything was alright; Alex let out a small smile, crossing the street and heading out of the town.
    
    The Apple orchard met him with the quiet whisper of the leaves in the night breeze and the sweet smell of early apples. The birds hid for the night and only the omnipresent cicadas screeched restlessly everywhere, falling silent when Alex approached and continuing their concert shortly after he passed by.
    
    Alex paced up, sensing nothing unusual in that dark warm August night, then ran, aspiring to cross the uniform sea of the trees faster. He tried to keep at the openings more or less, as got used to orient by the night sky during his walks, so the endless rows of the apple trees were not a big problem. In about twenty minutes he reached the Apple Farm, hopped over the fence, passing the crops and flowerbeds, the slowly rotating windmills of generators, approaching the house… to be greeted by the quiet, low, but unequivocal growling. Alex stopped, but after a moment the wind blew from his side and the growling changed to sniffing and recognizing whining; a shadowy silhouette emerged from the shade of the house.
    
    “Hey, Winona,” Alex kneeled and scratched the dog behind the ears, letting her sniff his face and playfully bump him with her nose, huffing. “Having a late walk, eh? I guess, everything is calm here tonight…”
    
    Winona didn’t bustle around at nights usually, but it was known that the Seekers didn’t affect the animals much, yet the latter could feel and warn about their presence; letting the dog guard the house freely was a smart idea in the light of the latter events.
    
    “Okay, okay,” Alex ruffled Winona’s fur. “You won’t mind, if I check around likewise, right?”
    
    Alex slowly went around the house and nearby barn: no light, no sound, no threat, apparently. Judging by the dog’s merry jumping – Winona followed him, bored by monotonous duty – everything was fine; loud snoring of Granny Smith sounded through the wide-open window on the ground floor, making Alex let out a little smile.
    
    Winona followed him to the farm fence; Alex stroked the fluffy head a goodbye, then hurried back towards the town, taking left, to go around it.
    
    The field rippled with its silvery-green waves in the moonlight, a late train snaked along, approaching the station with a distant whistle. The station itself was lit, so was the freight yard and the memories about the plans to electrify the place made a faint shadow run across Alex’s face. He turned away and headed through the field, passing Ponyville from the west.
    
    ‘You are without your armour again!’ sudden thought caused a wry smile. ‘Granted it’s not perfect yet, but… isn’t it funny that you always don’t have it, when it could become necessary.’
    
    The smithy met him with silence, both Will and his niece were sleeping after the daily work and the broad yard was barely lit by the slowly smouldering furnace. Alex stood for a while, inhaling the smell of warm metal, he ran his hand on the wide edge of the newly built smelter – large construction, reaching already his waist level.
    
    ‘Properly finished it will let Willsmash continue the work…’ Alex pondered, if the blueprints contained all the necessary information. ‘Yeah, even changing the metal structure will be enough.’
    
    Checking the sky and Moon position Alex darted around the town, skirting it from the east that time. He passed the building site, the market: everything lied in silence, not a single window was lit at that hour and the human was the only living being outside, except several dogs, sleepily barking after him and a few night birds here and there.
    
    Approaching the bridge, Alex habitually slowed down the pace, passing Rarity’s house and trying to be extra quiet, despite everypony saw the tenth dream there. He lingered for a while, watching another windmill, lazily mixing the night air, then turned away to the familiar road and crossed the river. His legs seemingly carried him on their own, lighter and faster.
    
    
    “Hmmm… I always thought you were rather an early lark than an owl, Shy!”
    
    The quiet phrase and familiar voice coming to her from the depth of her garden made Fluttershy squeak and jump on the spot; although, the squeak sounded rather happily than scared. In a second Alex caught and hugged tight the very determined pegasus girl, who pounced him and wrapped all four legs around. He kissed Fluttershy on the nose lightly and snuggled to her cheek, ruffling her mane, inhaling the fragrance of honey and field flowers… and forgetting about his problems for a few moments, while small hooves were stroking his back frantically.
    
    The wind and moonlight ceased, all the sounds got muffled, except the beat of her racing heart, while Alex hands travelled over Fluttershy’s mane and back, stroking and squeezing her, like trying to remember each curve and soft strand of hair; remember and keep within his tactile memory. She wrapped him in her soft wings, snuggling tighter and making Alex wonder once again, how surprisingly large and strong they actually were. Fluttershy squeaked and even let out a quiet moan of pleasure, embarrassedly biting her lip, because of him covering her neck and shoulders with quick affectionate kisses.
    
    “Alex!!!” she held his head, rubbing her cheek on his hair, while he buried his face into her chest fluff, doing his best to hold back the treacherous bitter tears. “Alex!..”
    
    Alex inhaled, nuzzling Fluttershy deeper and making her flutter in his arms, then leaned back and looked into her eyes.
    
    “I really didn’t expect to see you outside at that hour, Fluttershy,” Alex moved a naughty strand of her pink mane from her face; he wanted to say something else, but gasped and kept drowning in her turquoise lakes instead.
    
    “I-I was checking the… henhouse,” Fluttershy’s nose became pinkish, she couldn’t look away from his dilated pupils. “I l-lock some animals for the night lately… after… Ohhhh!” she clung to Alex and covered his lips with a long kiss.
    
    “O-okay, okay, who am I trying to foal,” huffed Fluttershy, when they were able to take their breath after a few minutes; she let out a tiny smile. “I was hoping to see you, Alex.” She squeezed him tighter, nuzzling his neck gently and giving another kiss, which made chills run along his spine. “I do lock some of the animals indeed though, just in case… You didn’t come for a few nights. H-how are you, Alex?” she looked into his eyes with concern and anxiety.
    
    He slowly lowered himself onto the grass, instead of an answer, holding the mare, like a mother held her child: dearly, tightly to ensure nopony can hurt it, yet lightly at the same time, like the most precious and delicate treasure. Fluttershy nested on Alex’s chest, covering them with her wings; her lush pink tail wrapped around his legs, as if trying to keep her human as close to her as it was possible. She didn’t know, how long they sat together like that, feeling his chin on her head and watching the stars with him. She even started thinking that Alex totally forgot about her question, when a hot single drop fell on her nose; the sky was crystal clear though.
    
    “I can’t sleep, each time I close mine eyes, I see the desperate hopeful glance of that poor stallion, Shy, I hear his daughter plea for help…” Alex snuggled to her cheek, stroking her amazing mane, running his fingers through, as if trying to distract his attention by something dear to him; a heavy sigh raised his chest. “Several days passed, but it’s not going to get any better. And with the latest news I doubt it can.”
    
    “What news?” she breathed in Alex’s ear, rubbing her cheek on his. “Aw! You grew some stubble.”
    
    “I’m not going anywhere,” dropped Alex, leaning back and looking at her, he noticed the bright sparkles deep into her turquoise eyes, despite Fluttershy did her best to hide them fast.
    
    “You mean?”
    
    “Tia… Princess Celestia came this evening and told me, they have no means to send me back to Earth,” Alex raised one eyebrow, trying to mask the pain behind the stone face, but Fluttershy could see everything in his eyes. “Tis final. I’m an equestrian citizen now…”
    
    “Oh…” She wasn’t sure that any comment is appropriate and, moreover, would be accepted as such here.
    
    ‘Why should I be upset because of that, not another way round?’ That thought came afloat automatically and she wondered, how naturally it sounded, yet became ashamed at the same time, watching, how Alex stared at the single point lifelessly. A few more minutes passed in silence.
    
    “Thou knowest, Shy,” suddenly slowly said Alex. “One doth not necessarily need to make some choice, but the mere fact that thou art able to make it meaneth much more, than the choice itself.”
    
    “Well, I should reconsider mine life henceforth, or…” Alex fell silent, then kissed her cheek shortly but tenderly. He kneeled, putting Fluttershy on the ground. “Go to bed, Shy, it’s really too late. Thou needst some sleep. I shall make sure that nopony and nothing bother thee!”
    
    He stared into her large beautiful eyes for a whole long minute, Alex’s eyes glistened and he blinked, looking aside.
    
    “Remember, please, what I said once,” he swallowed a lump. “If ‘t be true thou suddenly feelest anxiety, fear, anything alike, at which hour I’m not around, drop everything and run to Twilight immediately!”
    
    “Good night, mine love!” Alex stroked her cheek lightly and got up.
    
    Fluttershy watched, how Alex crossed the yard, getting over the fence, and headed to the field, running his hand through the grass, like trying to feel it better. She thought about his last words, while he climbed a small hill and sat under the single large tree on its top, watching the sleeping Ponyville.
    
    *
    
    The next day brought work, more work and nothing but work, or maybe that was Alex, who escaped the Library and headed to the smithy, as early as he could without being impolite towards Will and Silver Ingot, waking them up. He couldn’t remember, if he actually slept, as when Alex returned from his night walk, the Moon already left its starry throne and the thin opalescent stripe showed up at the eastern edge of the sky. Each attempt to close his eyes and disconnect from the reality sooner or later brought Alex straight to the Ponyville Dam, amidst the tragedy, that kind of sleep hardly delivered any rest; evidently, considering he didn’t feel completely exhausted and chivied, Alex didn’t recourse to that method of… “personal torture” much. Nevertheless, physically he felt fine and dived right into his current work – the new smithy was yet halfway built; Alex tried to dispel all the uneasy thoughts, by some simpler, more practical, referring to his business, rather than ethics ones. The smells of the smoldering furnace and hot metal, the rhythm of hammers quickly drove away the vagrant thoughts. A few of them kept buzzing somewhere in the far backyard of his consciousness though, drilling his mind constantly and making occasionally pause the work and freeze pensively for a second. One was particularly strong.
    
    “You are unusually quiet today,” Will stopped fanning the furnace and threw an attentive glance at Alex, who just fitted the large stone of the outer shell of the new smelter, naturally growing faster than the inner casings, and stopped for a moment. For a stranger that could look, like the human was estimating the solid concrete pallet at the bottom of the smelter, but the old blacksmith watched Alex since early morning to know, that stare was directed inside rather than at some primitive material objects. “Any problems with the new construction?”
    
    “What? Oh… sorry!” Alex raised his eyes and took a look around, he needed an extra second to catch up, where and how he “suddenly” got; then squeezed a strained smile. “Our work is fine, going exactly as expected… I was thinking… whither I shall move anon…”
    
    It was impossible to see in Will’s shrug, if he got satisfied with that simple explanation or kept guessing about deeper motives. He noticed that Alex made a few important changes to the construction plans of the smelter at the last moment. Another strange observation was the armour or, better say, the lack of Alex’s attention towards it that day, despite Will had a couple of ideas, how they could improve the durability with the existing methods.
    
    As if hearing his unasked questions, Alex turned away from his creation and elaborated.
    
    “Lately I decided that it would be better, if the new smelter could be operated by a single pony only… by a single unicorn I mean,” Alex amended. “As you will need to use your magic to move the trays in and out, instead of mine… kinetic impact during the… sleepwalking, if… If ‘t be true I’m unavailable at some moment.”
    
    “But, as far as I know…”
    
    “Well, I’m not going to make a secret of that,” Alex spread his hands the most casual way. “I was informed already, there is no feasible method to send me home, considering my magic resistance… At least the princess knows none of such, and if she doth not, then very likely thither are none forsooth. But I would like you to be able to operate it even… errmmm… regardless to the circumstances.”
    
    “So,” he turned to the smelter, pointing at its entrance. “Due to our technologic limitations, this smelter is still. Thus I was to incorporate some rails, for you to be able to slide the moulds in and out.”
    
    “Obviously, stone “rails”,” he added. “As we can’t put anything metal inside that smelter, because it will melt instantly... I extend mine hope this one shalt offer temperatures noticeably higher than the current one, even without mine partaking in the process, and naturally, shalt be enough for… our new goals.”
    
    “You do realize though, that without your abilities we can hardly reach the planned potential of that one,” under Will’s fixed glance Alex looked aside, paying exaggerated attention to something inside the new smelter, while the blacksmith added. “Watching your work I supposed that you planned to raise the smelting temperature considerably, to be able to use different materials and reach new qualities of the steel. But… it calls for you controlling the processes inside the smelter, right?”
    
    “In mine case – yes. But even in arrant… self-sustained mode this new smelter shalt provide major advantage…” Alex fell silent for a short while, thinking of something.
    
    “Well… As we already touched that matter…” He put away the next stone block, he was going to add to the row. “Allowest me to explain in some details, how and why it shalt work…”
    
    Will slowly shook his head with the most pensive expression.
    
    “What can I say? It’s your idea and creation, son… you obviously know better what to do. But… somehow I don’t like the general route of your thoughts…”
    
    Alex only downcasted.
    
    *
    
    The Sun passed three-fourths of its daily journey on the sky, making the colours and shadows softer; the heat subsided and the multitude of birds in the field started their melodic fuss again after the short entr’acte at the hot noon. Putting the pot on the stove Silver Ingot turned her muzzle to the fresh breeze, coming through the open window and playing with the light curtains, she murmured something quietly – a rare phenomenon, which happened more and more often lately, as the life seemed to return to the old smithy again.
    
    They got a few small orders more: even if keeping away themselves, ponyvillers directed the strangers in need to the smithy, seeing that it started working full-time. Of course, it was a single drip in the sea, but the general trend looked optimistic enough, contrary to what they had for several years before.
    
    “Did he left already?” Sil woke of her thoughts, when she heard Willsmash coming in, putting something heavy in the hallway and running the water to wash off dust and sweat. “I wanted to invite Alex for dinner…”
    
    “He was outside a minute ago, still examined the new construction or…” the rest of the phrase sank in her uncle huffing and water splashing. In a couple of minutes he entered the kitchen, taking his breath. “I seriously don’t know what is going on with him today,” Will sighed and threw a quick glance at his niece. “I mean, everypony knows, what happened, but Alex seemed to be holding… as well as one can in such a situation.” He fell silent for a while.
    
    “Although, today he is… One moment he is here and you can talk to him, another – somewhere else, and it takes some time to catch his attention to the simplest question,” Will nodded towards the window. “You can try, my filly, but something tells me that some company is the last thing the human may need today. That’s worrying, but… I have no idea, what’s going on in his head. And Alex is not telling.”
    
    The blacksmith watched his niece picking up a large jar, filling it with water and headed outside; a small smile touched his muzzle at the look of her slender frame vanishing in the doorframe and Will shook his head at some thought.
    
    The yard looked empty and Silver Ingot thought that Alex headed to the town already, when she decided to trot around and finally found the human sitting behind the unfinished new smelter, leaning his back at its wall. Alex’s glance was directed at something in front of him, as if he tried hard to see something in the long dense shadow, spreading from his feet and further away.
    
    Nevertheless, hearing the hoofsteps Alex raised his head and the weak smile, touching his lips at Sil’s appearance, looked like a single ray of sunlight in the gleam of heavy storm clouds, surrounding his head; it flashed shortly and faded away, overshadowed by some of his thoughts.
    
    “Oh, here you are…” Sil inwardly rolled the eyes. ‘Just listen to yourself…’ Although, a short glance at Alex made her suspect her uncle was right about Alex’s feelings, she felt less confident about her idea at once. “I… I brought some water…” she raised the jar higher a bit.
    
    ‘Great. The embodiment of eloquence and obviousness,’ Sil squinted.
    
    “I thought, you might need to wash off all the dust and…”
    
    “Thanks!” With another faint smile Alex got up slowly, bringing the involuntary image of a folding divider into Sil’s mind. “That shan’t hurt forsooth. Thanks, Sil!”
    
    The filly flushed slightly, when Alex dragged his shirt overhead and hung it on the half-built smelter edge; nevertheless, Sil lifted the jar higher and slowly poured the water, letting him put his hands under the stream. She stepped back with a giggle, when Alex cleaned the arms to the elbow and simply put his head under the water, brushing through his hair and splashing, cooling down and washing his neck and shoulders as well.
    
    “Mine gratitude!” Alex squeezed the water out of his hair, as the jar emptied.
    
    “I wanted to ask…” Silver Ingot seemed genuinely interested, but Alex interrupted her, picking up his bag and taking something out.
    
    “Apologies! I wanted to leave something hither,” he handed her a thick envelope, evidently stuffed with some papers. “These may provide some use anon…”
    
    “What’s in there?” light-grey transparent aura enveloped it and Sil turned it over, examining.
    
    “Some papers,” vaguely noticed Alex. “Thou…” he stumbled. “I shall tell later, at which hour they are necessary. Simply keepest them, okay?”
    
    “Oka-a-ay…” puzzledly squeezed out the girl, looking at the envelope. Uncertain thoughts overshadowed her idea to invite him for the dinner and when Sil raised her glance, Alex already put the shirt on and was ready to depart. “Errmmm…”
    
    “Thanks, Sil!” Alex threw his bag on the shoulder, leaning closer and looking into her eyes. “Cheer up, everything shalt be fine!”
    
    “I… I need some time,” added he, aiming his glance at Ponyville. “To think and…” Alex shrugged, got over the fence and looked back. “Hast a nice evening, Sil! Thou and thy uncle likewise.”
    
    “Uncle Will,” Silver Ingot slowly entered the kitchen, submerged into her thoughts, her inward glance was still chained to that envelope, she left in her room upstairs. “What do you think about all that?”
    
    “About Alex, you mean?”
    
    Sil nodded shortly. Willsmash pursed his lips with a sigh.
    
    “My filly, he didn’t reveal all his plans from the beginning. Granted, we benefitted from them so far only. But I don’t like his current mood very much…” the blacksmith cupped his beard, pondering for a couple of minutes. “I swear, Alex looked better a couple of days after the tragedy… Was more responsive at least. Now though it’s impossible to tell what’s going on in his soul… And I guess, the news, he remains to Equestria forever, doesn’t make things better.”
    
    Sil opened her mouth, but reconsidered and downcasted, sinking on the chair; she kept thinking about the envelope upstairs.
    
    *
    
    The recently restored window shone its large glass and reflected the ponies, the street, the Sun, setting far behind the fields, the thin stream of smoke from the train approaching the station and looking a thread of colourful matches dragged by a steel shiny needle from that distance. Leaning closer one could see that after the reparations the Bouncing Barrels bar was working as usual, attracting numerous visitors by the delicious smells of snacks and fragrant cider. The barrel above the entrance was fixed as well, although, now it was purely props to avoid any future accidents.
    
    Remembering about the barrel Big Mac smirked and pushed the door, entering the bar and waiting for a moment, until his eyes accommodated to the lower light inside. He then trotted to the counter and landed there, nodding to the bartender and taking a look around the large dimly lit room.
    
    “Evening!” The bartender stallion approached, throwing the clean towel onto his shoulder and nodding back to Big Mac. “Another hard day off the chart, eh?”
    
    “Eeyup!” McIntosh sighed and scratched the back of his head.
    
    “Any problems, Macky?” the bartender leaned on the counter. “You look… disappointed.”
    
    “Was at the hardware shop,” huffed Big Mac. “Out of hinges and some other stuff. Ah say, the corral fence won’t repair itself… without parts, but nopony cares there!” The bartender even raised his eyebrow at the unusually talkative client, while Mac smirked ironically and continued. “Seriously, Ah’m thinking about ordering the necessary details at the smithy. As it is working again and… Hey, you’re back to business as well,” chuckled he, winking at the bar owner.
    
    “Yeah,” the stallion shrugged, addressing another customer and quickly fulfilling the order. “I’m not even going to make Rainbow Dash and the human ponies non grata here. They paid for the damage, they inflicted, more than enough. Separately, of course!” he chuckled insinuatingly, causing another smirk on Big Mac’s muzzle.
    
    “Speaking of which,” the bartender nodded shortly towards the customers and, taking another attentive look around, Big Mac noticed the human at the farther darker corner of the room, alone behind the table, deep into his thoughts, sitting his back to the rest of the visitors. Alex’s light shirt and height made futile his unambiguous attempt to stay as unnoticed as possible; there was some obvious empty space between his seat and the rest of the customers.
    
    “Ehhhhh…” breathed out Big Mac meaningfully, quickly noticing all the worrying details.
    
    “Yeah,” the bartender made a face. “We miss only some rain and lightning here, storm clouds galore though. And if you look, what he is drinking…”
    
    Applejack’s brother leaned over the counter, throwing his glance at the bottle, he was subtly demonstrated, making quick notice of deep golden liquid inside and… an alicorn on the label. He could only whistle quietly.
    
    “And… how many?”
    
    “Six doubles,” the bartender looked at him fixedly, raising one eyebrow. “Or maybe this one is the sixth, I myself am a bit… impressed,” concluded he. “By the way, cider as usual?” he raised the empty glass.
    
    “Nnope…” slowly said Big Mac, he watched the human still. “Ah think, a large coffee is exactly what Ah need this evening, mate. Ah’ll be there.” He slowly left his seat and headed to the “stormy” corner of the hall.
    
    “Good evening, partner!” Big Mac walked around the table and faced the hall, so his muzzle was lit and recognizable, or at least so he hoped. “Won’t you mind?”
    
    “Umm… Oh… Yeah, ev-vening…” Alex’s eyes focused on his collocutor with a fraction of a second delay. “Feelest… thyself like home,” the wide gesture was a bit strained and it seemed that Alex’s aiming system was to resort to some noticeable correction all the time. Yet he held quite nicely, considering the amount of “green snake” envenomation, Alex was undergoing.
    
    “Letting out stress after a hard work day?” Big Mac inquired innocently, placing himself across and watching Alex fixedly.
    
    “Oh, yeah…” chuckled Alex sadly. “Rather morning… gah… mourning, mate… rather… mourn-ning.”
    
    “What exactly?” the stallion didn’t feel himself an epitome of artistry, but obviously it was enough for Alex in his current condition. “Well, I know about the… about what happened at the dam, but… The search is still going and they didn’t find anypony.” McIntosh looked embarrassed. “You know, what I mean… They found nothing yet, so…”
    
    “That’s…” Alex stumbled and stifled a hiccup. “That’s a part of it… A big part… but not the only…”
    
    “But…” Big Mac raised his glance. “You definitely scored otherwise… Ah mean your work and stuff. Alex, it seems, you have more orders than you can make in time. Not something to mourn, pal.”
    
    Big Mac suspected, what the human could try to muffle with alcohol, but the problem unearthed appeared deeper than his expectations.
    
    “Exactly!” Alex supported his exclamation with a wide sway of his glass, but managed to keep the liquid inside it; he squinted at the customers behind and continued quieter. “Exactly. That’s prb… prob-bably the only thing about me going well, mate – mine m-machines. Everything else, I touch, crumbles to dust almost at once. Everything… Pfff!” Alex huffed quietly, the bursting gesture of the free palm supposed to show, how exactly the stuff around got screwed.
    
    “Errmmm… Ah still think, you overdramatize a bit,” Macky balanced on the thin line between sympathy and healthy scepticism; he nodded to the bartender bringing him coffee and turned back to Alex. “But if you have to tell anything…”
    
    “Oh, tis not a secret, methinks it’s obvious enough,” Alex’s wry smile looked rather painful. “And I hardly drama… tize much.”
    
    “Look hither,” Big Mac listened quietly and Alex continued with a sigh. “I got hither… I-I mean to Equestria… purely by an… hic!.. accident. I didn’t ask to take me… and I w-wasn’t asked,” he glanced at his collocutor meaningfully. “I’ve lost mine past in… a wink,” Alex tried to click with his fingers and succeeded at the third attempt. “Well… It wasn’t… mine past at that moment… it was my present… ahhh… Whatever!”
    
    “I’ve lost my everything,” added Alex quietly in a minute. Only Big Mac could hear the next phrase. “Except mine bucking phobia and “luck”.”
    
    Alex made a sip and Big Mac noticed that his glass bottom was barely covered already; nevertheless, the human barely reacted to the “fiery” drink going down his system. McIntosh inwardly shuddered. ‘How much is actually sitting inside him already?’ Meanwhile Alex caught the tail of own thought again.
    
    “Thank… fully, I appeared to be more stable than I even expected,” Alex smirked, focusing on the stallion across. “I didn’t go… nuts, when I realized, where I got…”
    
    “Eeyup!” confirmed Big Mac with a tiny smile. He was to admit that Alex accommodated quite easily for the situation; normally, someone finding themselves among the sentient ponies could need more time and effort to keep sanity.
    
    “I didn’t… I… I probably even found mine place hither, sorta… at least for now…” Alex fell silent, trying to stay coherent, apparently, long distance logical chains troubled him at the moment. “Despite, I didn’t feel myself belonging.” He sighed and stifled another hiccup.
    
    “It’s a complex question – belonging,” accurately noticed Big Mac. “I guess nopony feels “belonging” somewhere new right away…”
    
    “Oh, I have plenty of time now… to learn… to belong… or not,” huffed Alex sarcastically, making Jackie’s brother raise one eyebrow. “That’ssss… That’s en-encouraging, mate, indeed!”
    
    “Anyway…” Alex stumbled upon some other thought and it made him pull a long face at once. He lowered his voice and leaned over the table. “I fell in love… Mac, can you imagine? I couldn’t ever… in mine… previous life. For the pony girl.”
    
    “That’s not a secret,” chuckled Big Mac quietly. “Fluttershy is an awesome young mare. Congratulations, pal! Ah would wonder, if you did not,” added he with a wink.
    
    “Ehhhh…” breathed out Alex and Big Mac inwardly praised the absence of the candle on the table, so the human couldn’t turn into a fire-breathing dragon at least; McIntosh tried his coffee instead, enjoying the aroma. “Thou didn’t listen to the whole story. Moreover, I fell in love with two mares, mate. Two!”
    
    Big Mac hummed meaningfully, nodding Alex to continue.
    
    “Both recipe… rectipro… Damn! Re-ci-pro… mmm… return love. And I can’t choose, I simply can’t,” Alex squeezed his temples, leaning his elbows on the table. “What a loser!”
    
    “Errmmm… Normally you must, sooner or later,” noticed Big Mac quietly.
    
    “Oh, believest me, mate, I know that arrant!” groaned Alex, making a mare behind the nearest table throw a reproachful glance at them; he startled her amidst the tender talk with her stallion. Alex lowered his voice. “I love both… equally! They are different, but each is… unique and dear to me on her own.”
    
    Big Mac wondered, how suddenly Alex got over a long phrase almost without stumbling, as if the alcohol fell back in front of the passion. He leaned closer to the human. “Okay, one is Fluttershy… And another?”
    
    “Wait…” stallion’s eyes dilated, when Mac suddenly realized. “Another is… princess Luna?!” He carefully looked around, if anypony heard that; Alex simply nodded, drooping his head.
    
    “Ah… Ah saw you both once… in my dream,” Big Mac still couldn’t believe entirely. “Ah knew, you were not a part of it. Not both… not that way.”
    
    “But HOW?!” asked he; Alex understood the exact sense of Mac’s question, squeezing out a smile.
    
    “At least… I can trust thee, mate. Thou shan’t tell anypony… Luna visited mine dreams… upon arrival,” Alex took a breath and spilled the beans. “Henceforth I share her ability to… “sleepwalk”… But I’m connected to her and… can’t visit any other’s dreams,” whispered he after Big Mac’s gasp. “So, forsooth, Fluttershy and Luna.”
    
    “Yeahhhhhh…” Big Mac let out air slowly, like the loco let out steam. “There is no easy solution here, Ah admit…” He made a large sip of his coffee and rubbed his muzzle pensively.
    
    “I know for sure, each of us will suffer, whichever choice I make,” dropped Alex. “Damn it! I don’t even want… to make that choice, knowing it will hurt them both anyway. Sss-sometimes I think that it would be better for me to… simply vanish,” he fell silent for a long while.
    
    “Although, I don’t know… if that can save them from suffering… Mayhap after some long time. Not myself though.”
    
    “It’s a case of no win,” Alex tiredly closed his eyes and hunched over his glass. “No… Better say, I see no way of winning without hurting somepony. I can’t s-solve that equation, Mac. So, I’m ruining mine present… and I have no future because of that. I even ruining somepony’s else life by mine mare… damn… mine mere presence here.”
    
    McIntosh sighed and examined his cup fixedly, while Alex elaborated further in half voice.
    
    “I’m sure, Luna… is fine with how it is going now. She was more judicious and cool-headed always… But Shy…” Alex ran his fingers through his hair forcedly, as if pulling them hard could stimulate some fresh ideas. “Man, it sucks! And I put into it… as deep as I only could.”
    
    “Eeyup!” Big Mac shook his head, making another sip; the coffee cooled down. “Alex, you know, the booze won’t solve the problem, right?”
    
    “I know, it can’t be solved that way,” squinted Alex. “I’m not looking for the solution hither!” he raised his glass slightly, looking at his collocutor through the contents, which noticeably decreased. “I wanted to switch, to be able to muffle the pain…”
    
    “But it works like shit!” Alex smirk was bitter like a box of hot peppers from Apples’ field. He leaned on the table heavily.
    
    “Dost thou know, what happened on Ponyville Dam, Mac,” choking on words, Alex swallowed a lump.
    
    “A tragic incident!” firmly said McIntosh, keeping a poker face. Alex closed his eyes.
    
    “Two ponies died…”
    
    “That’s not confirmed yet, partner!”
    
    “…because I tried to save them… and failed! Tried…” repeated Alex with a tear in his voice. “At which time I was to simply do! But I. bucking. Failed! All because of I’m afraid of the bucking heights, Mac.”
    
    “Eeyup! But you at least tried,” retorted Big Mac with pressure. “Not that you stood and watched, what could happen.”
    
    “I could equally do that instead…” Alex hiccupped, his eyes glistened treacherously. “Same shit, mate, same… shit!”
    
    “Nnope!” firmly dropped Macky, looking at Alex fixedly. “And you know, it’s not the same. You should stop kicking yourself all the time for what you couldn’t change…”
    
    “I was thither already,” hissed Alex, making the closer customers pay attention again. “I almost held him on the hoof, Mac! I needed only a second more… to take them out, but I had none, because of the fucking acrophobia.”
    
    “He brought his daughter with him,” groaned Alex, his eyes became wet. “Macky, he brought his daughter… to show her his workplace. Arrant safe, as one could assume… if thither were no monsters…”
    
    “Exactly!” the stallion took him on the shoulder. “Why are you blaming yourself then. Could you change that?”
    
    “I see his eyes!” whispered Alex, apparently, he couldn’t hear Mac’s reasoning. “Each fucking time… I close mine, more than for a minute… I see his eyes, his hopeful glance, Mac. That poor stallion… he believed I could save them… and I didn’t, I didn’t believe in myself enough to do.”
    
    “I see them every time!” repeated he, gulping forcedly. “Hardly can ever forget…”
    
    Both fell silent for a while, both knew how to treat things rationally… But one couldn’t find any strength to call for rationality and another realized that he could hurt rather than heal.
    
    “I could hope for the only way out…” Alex exhaled noisily. “Out of some of mine woes at least… I can’t say, I’m ready to live with two lives on mine account, but I can’t do anything about that either, shall… live with it somehow,” Alex chuckled painfully. “Thou knowest the latest news, Mac? No?”
    
    “I’m unable to leave Equestria, mate!” Alex spread his arms, shrugging and leaning on the backrest; he was to hold on the table not to fall. “Ti… Princess Celestia notified me recently… quite unambiguously, that mine magical res-sistance… maketh them unable to send me back to Earth safely. I’m stuck hither…”
    
    “Wait,” Alex suddenly remembered something else, which made him cringe. “It’s even more interesting… They found out… Celestia and her… specialists,” Alex scoffed. “That they can’t predict mine lifespan, Mac. Namely, they can’t say how long I shall live… with all that.” Big Mac exhaled slowly and Alex nodded meaningfully. “Yeah, mate. I’m stuck hither and I have no idea how long for. Fascinating, isn’t it?”
    
    Big Mac kept silence, he felt his eyes became slightly bigger than normal, despite the thought, he wasn’t the one easy to impress or shock.
    
    “So, I supposed that if ‘t be true we couldn’t… solve the equation, we may try to remove… one variable arrant. Simplify it, so to speak,” Alex smirked. “And no… No solution. No escape. No remedy! Although…”
    
    “You want to escape?” Big Mac blinked and looked into Alex’s eyes, which wasn’t a simple task already.
    
    “And what else can I do?..” Alex leaned on the table again. “We broke with Fluttershy… I admit, I got mad at her attempts at pampering me, mate… But I regret that we didn’t even try to solve the problem differently. I can’t stay with one of the girls, not breaking another’s heart and mine own. I can’t sleep… I can’t forgive myself for the… dam…” he took a breath fitfully and added. “And now I find out that I am to live with all that… nopony knows for how long.”
    
    Alex downed the remnants of his drink and stared at the empty glass pensively, as if not knowing what to do with that trouble.
    
    “Eeyup,” nodded Big Mac. “You are right, Alex. Life can be painful very often… but you still can fight it, partner, can’t you?” he softly stopped Alex, ready to call the bartender and order another drink, and shook his head slowly.
    
    “I tried, Celestia to the witness, I did,” Alex dropped his head. “But I keep returning to the dam, into that morning, no matter what… I see that worker and his daughter falling, I see myself… Merlin’s pants, I even see Fluttershy… Man, I’m regally screwed!” he raised the eyes at Big Mac, pain splashed into them, filling to the brim. “What can I do?”
    
    “Methinks to solve a problem we need to remove the source of that problem oft,” added he barely audible. “Who said thither was no way out? Thither is always some… One must find it only…”
    
    “What we really need now, mate, is to get you home,” Big Mac swallowed his cold coffee and raised on his hooves. “C’mon, big guy,” he took the glass from Alex’s hand, returning to the table.
    
    It appeared that Alex could stand more or less straight, but walking was a task too complex for him that evening; he almost fell and grabbed the table to keep balance.
    
    “Ehhhh…” sighed Big Mac, he left a few bits on the table, nodding to the bartender. “You need to hold on me, Alex, okay? We don’t want to lose you on the road,” he chuckled, supporting the human and picking his bag.
    
    Darkness filled the skies and stars were shining, when they left Bouncing Barrels, but numerous windows and torches in the streets were lit as well – the town only prepared to sleep yet. Changing position became crucial for Alex’s intoxication and whole Ponyville smudged around him in dark and bright stripes, while he surfed the suddenly unstable ground, holding on Big Mac’s shoulder and stumbling, when the road under his feet started dancing too vividly. He seemed to reach his goal, at least for a short while: the amber liquid finally got to his system, putting a powerful mental block and covering all his thoughts and troubles with merciful veil; Alex’s head was awesomely empty the first time for quite a long while, with only one lazy thought floating there – to reach the Library, before he fell asleep completely. Alex blinked and smiled to the world slowly spinning around, he grasped Mac’s shoulder firmly and forced himself to walk forward. He couldn’t remember how they reached Twilight’s home, but was sure, he managed to make from the first attempt, not falling during their slow walk.
    
    
    “Good evening, Mac! How can I…” Twilight looked a bit surprised, seeing Applejack’s brother on her doorstep. Then she noticed him supporting something or somepony and opened the door wider to see, who that was, her eyes stopped on the dark, tall, slowly swaying on the spot figure in the shadow. “Oh, sweet Celestia!” Twilight’s eyes widened and she stepped back, letting them both inside.
    
    “Nnope!” stated Big Mac with visible pleasure, dropping Alex’s bag from his mouth. “That’s not her, that’s only Alex. Although, he seems a bit above this mortal land tonight…” Right at that moment, Alex left without his support, made a complex pirouette on the spot and grabbed the door not to fall.
    
    He seemed to be sleeping on his two and wasn’t going to let go off his accidental anchor that easily. Twilight needed to pull him by his shirt and Big Mac nudged from behind, so, they managed to push Alex in, closing the door. Evidently, he realized that his destination was reached, as forces left Alex and he slowly kneeled on the floor, blinking and focusing his glance at Twilight with visible effort.
    
    “G-good… evening, Twilight,” Alex let out a cute smile and placed a small kiss on the nose of completely stunned Princess of Friendship; Big Mac snorted quietly and Alex added seemingly addressing the ceiling. “My kind… and caring f-friend!...” With those words Alex’s eyes closed and he sank down, stretching on the floor right where he stood.
    
    “Oh, my…” it was one of those rare cases Twilight felt helpless, wiggling her wings nervously and looking around for help. “I never saw him in that condition!” Obviously, she already felt the strong smell of alcohol, specifically at the moment her nose getting kissed. “Where…”
    
    “Ah met him at the bar,” chuckled McIntosh. “Or… better say, found him at the bar, nicely loaded already.”
    
    “I never saw him like that,” repeated Twilight, watching evenly breathing Alex.
    
    “Same!” Big Mac was more practical. “He was trying to shut the uneasy thoughts, but Ah realized, he could need some help… It didn’t look like Alex succeeded,” added he more seriously.
    
    “Thanks for walking him here, Macky!” breathed out Twilight feelingly. “What did he drink by the way?”
    
    Big Mac’s muzzle expressed surprise and mischief simultaneously, he raised one brow, telling Twilight in dramatically and trustfully lowered voice.
    
    “Old Alicorn” whiskey…”
    
    “Oh, Celestia, I need to move him to the bed somehow… but how… ugghhh! Oh… I know!” Twilight pondered aloud in the meantime; she gasped and turned to Big Mac slowly. “Wait… what?!!”
    
    “Old Alicorn” whiskey!” nodded the stallion, confirming. “Six doubles, as the bartender said…” he watched her reaction with a mix of curiosity and concern.
    
    “Eek!” Twilight produced a “rubber duck” squeak and dropped her jaw, her eyes could make Rarity jealous of their size at the moment. “You… sure? Because… f-for the majority of ponies… one shot is a… “knock out” dose.”
    
    “Eeyup!” nodded Big Mac. “Nevertheless.” He meaningfully glanced at the human.
    
    “Ah think the bartender was as shocked as you, Twilight, after Alex didn’t fall flat after the second glass. Shocked and curious, how much the human could take, otherwise he wouldn’t let him a few,” added he, while Twilight opened and closed her mouth, completely wordless.
    
    “Ahhh… Are you sure, he doesn’t need help?” she finally regained her voice, her eyes almost returned to their usual size.
    
    “He made it through the whole town on his two… with little help from me,” noticed Macky calmly. “What he needs is a good cool shower… But Ah doubt that we can… persuade him. Other than that, he needs some good sleep only. And the dose, he took, will help him, Ah’m sure.”
    
    “You sure?” re-asked Twilight, watching sleeping Alex with concern and disbelief.
    
    “Eeyup!” Apparently, Big Mac didn’t find it necessary to explain further.
    
    Together with Twilight they managed to drag Alex onto a thick blanket and only then Twilight could apply her magic to the edges, moving the whole “construction” to his sofa. She closed the door and took her breath with relief.
    
    “Keep an eye on him,” advised McIntosh. “But Ah think he will be okay… except for the darn strong headache,” shrugged he.
    
    “Thanks again, Mac!” Twilight let out a tired, but grateful smile. “I couldn’t cope without you, mate…”
    
    “No probs!” he was at the front door already. “Ah better go… Before girls start worrying.”
    
    After Jackie’s brother departure, Twilight exhaled deeply, trying to embrace her thoughts. ‘Six double shots of “Old Alicorn”… For the Harmony sake, where was his head?’
    
    *
    
    “AAAARGHHH!!!”
    
    Alex shuddered hard and sat on his bed in a convulsive jerk, staring into the darkness and feeling large drips of cold sweat all over his forehead and neck again. He wiped his face and rubbed the temples forcedly, the heart seemed to be jumping out of his chest, while the room around him slowly stopped spinning. The bloody boosted metabolism did its unholy job, converting the alcohol to derivatives in a matter of a couple of hours and removing the most anticipated effects, leaving the most tormenting unfortunately.
    
    ‘Headache – check. The feeling of a few cats shitting in your mouth – check. Nightmares…’ Alex sighed heavily. ‘Double check!’
    
    Alas, he was almost completely sober already, despite checking the clock told him that only three hours passed since he consumed his last shot. The merciful mental blockade crumbled to pieces, letting his usual thoughts flood his mind again. The pulsing headache and slight dizziness only made it even more disgusting, while Alex was sure he could hardly feel any worse. He swallowed a lump of sandpaper, at least that was the effect of the simplest move; Alex gasped and coughed.
    
     He just fell from Ponyville Dam, holding the earth pony filly, snuggling tight to him with silent tears… And the mere fact that it was in his dream didn’t make it easier!
    
    ‘Merlin’s pants! Ohhhh…’ Alex could benefit from some water, but the first attempt to get up caused such a massive… Alex-quake, followed by the new wave of cold sweat and faintness, that he reconsidered trying his luck and fell back weakly, mentally anathematizing everything. The hangover he had wasn’t the “light version”, unlike the oblivious effect of boozing off his problems.
    
    Alex found a pillow, thoughtfully placed by somepony under his aching head; although, the blanket was strangely under him. He couldn’t remember the events after them with Big Mac entering the Library, but it seemed he was carried that way onto his sofa and left unconscious, relieved from his boots only.
    
    The window was open as usual and the air coming in from the street was quite fresh, but trying to take the blanket from under himself was probably a “deadly trick” at that moment. Alex picked the edge after a fashion and covered himself, forcedly closing his eyes and hoping for his hangover to pass at least a bit faster; the cool air could help that supposedly. Trying not to think of the possible outcome he fell into the spinning well of his restless sleep again.
    
    The catwalk platforms were frail and felt groggy, when Alex went on them, inwardly shuddering at the view of the raging waters below. He wasn’t sure, if they could hold his weight, proceeding unconfidently slow, as they trembled under his surprisingly heavy steps. The first idea was to grab the railing to support himself on that slippery path, but somehow he couldn’t; Alex wasn’t going to fixate on that sudden inconvenience, he looked around – the dam worker was to be there.
    
    His vision was blurred and strangely reddish, maybe the rising Sun gave everything around that weird tint; the thick mist coming from the artificial waterfalls underneath made it worse and the roaring water distracted much. Alex caught himself on the thought that he moved on the catwalk quite freely, except concerning about the flimsy constructions, without his usual striking and tumbling fear at least. He didn’t have time to wonder though…
    
    Staunch Flume was there, clinging with his fore legs to the metal beam of the half-built frame under the crane. Holding on his neck, snuggling to him shakily in her devastating fear, his daughter could barely breathe, almost fainting at the look of the abyss under their hooves. Alex’s heart sank at that image, carefully he tried to approach the edge.
    
    The stallion noticed him – their only hope and help, but the his eyes dilated in terror; the muffled sound he produced wasn’t something Alex ever heard before. A mix of gasp, scream and groan, with which the stallion winced and made an attempt to move away, totally futile in his condition; the filly could only whimper faintly, but the fear in her eyes was of the same nature, as Alex could notice.
    
    The stallion squinted, closing his eyes shut and screaming something to his daughter. Alex couldn’t catch up the phrase, as Staunch Flume’s fore legs trembled and his hooves slipped off the beam. Alex was at the edge of the catwalk already, he could watch both ponies falling to the boiling wet death at the foot of the dam… for a few endless seconds, until two small figures vanished in the mist clouds below. He looked at his strong black legs and carefully retreated from the slippery edge, turning away, already seeing the exit from the catwalk, barred with the metal gate. Alex heavily trotted towards the way to freedom and…
    
    …woke up with a loud scream, wincing and sitting on his bed again, clasping his mouth. The hand was normal, his vision – as well, when Alex accommodated to the surrounding darkness.
    
    ‘Tis slightly encouraging,’ Alex smirked venomously and rubbed his face forcedly, returning to the reality completely. The nauseous thought that he is not better than them still drilled the brain, despite he tried to convince himself, he didn’t hurt anypony on purpose.
    
    ‘What about Fluttershy?’ sarcastically inquired the small inner voice. ‘Her and… Luna, if you left or decided to stay with none of them… Although, what you are doing isn’t much better…’
    
    Cringing, both inwardly and actually, Alex tried to rise, finding that he, at last, could do that without weakness strike and vertigo was quite satisfying, if there could be anything satisfying in his condition. His head ached mercilessly though and the feeling of his tongue becoming made of sandpaper stayed; Alex groaned and headed to the bathroom, holding on the wall with one hand.
    
    ‘Ain’t thou going mad, Alex? A few more days… and nights alike, and thou art arrant mental…’ the hangover didn’t affect his night vision and Alex could enjoy his ruffled, tired, painfully squinting face in the dark rectangle of the mirror. His eyes were bloodshot and red, wry smirk looked like a scoff of some demon; although, there was nothing that can’t be fixed with some rest for his body and mind both.
    
    ‘Nothing like a Seeker, eh?’ Alex sadly chuckled at his reflection and opened the tap, splashing cold water onto his face, he brushed his wet hands through the hair to straighten them and bring to nearly some order.
    
    Suddenly the bright light flooded the room, making Alex squint tightly for a second; a hoof lay on his forearm softly.
    
    “I’m sorry, Twilight,” Alex slowly opened his eyes, accommodating to the magical light and turning to her. “Did I wake you up again with my screaming?”
    
    “I heard it, but that doesn’t matter,” Twilight shrugged sleepily, wrapping in her nightgown, she looked at him with concern. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Alex.”
    
    “Kinda,” with a wry smile Alex nodded towards the mirror. “It’s all the same, Twi… these nightmares only become weirder each time. But I’m holding,” he was looking seemingly through her. “If I can call it that way.”
    
    “You seriously scared me, Alex!” Twilight shook her head reproachfully, seeing that Alex could finally react coherently. “What did you think of, drinking that much? Do you know that “Old Alicorn” whiskey is very strong? And I mean VERY.”
    
    “So, this is how it is called…” chuckled Alex sadly. “I simply asked the bartender for the strongest stuff they had and, after a short pondering, he brought me the bottle. I wanted to muffle the thoughts of my problems, of… what a problem I am. He was very surprised to see me standing straight after the first shot.”
    
    “Well, I got a couple of hours of dreamless sleep,” the fake cheerful tone of him turned out quite painful. “Mine head acheth mercilessly though,” he added quietly. “The problem seems to be solvable by removing the problem itself only…”
    
    “What are you talking about, pray tell?” Twilight strained and threw a quick glance at Alex. “It’s too late for deep thinking, Alex. Please, go back to… sleep,” she downcasted in realization. “Sorry!”
    
    “Tis okay, Twi” Alex sighed, heading back to his room past her. “Thou art right, of course. Forgivest me for waking thee…”
    
    Under her fixed and concerned glance Alex straightened the bedding, half of which appeared to be on the floor again, and nested on the sofa, putting the blanket over, not under himself this time and trying to think not, where he was going to find himself shortly after closing the eyes.
    
    “Good night, Twilight,” Alex tried his best to remove any faint tint of sarcasm from those words and watched the alicorn girl leaving him alone, extinguishing the magical light orb with a heavy sigh. He restlessly turned from side to side for a short while, when his head unambiguously told Alex that its ache would be better overcome with eyes closed; with the heavy heart Alex obeyed.
    
    The catwalks were wet and slippery, the thick mist filled everything around him and Alex wondered, how that was possible – the height was too big for water foam reaching there. The Sun barely appeared from the horizon, lighting the top of the dam brightly; where he was, the shadows were still thick though, making him stare at the platforms fixedly not to miss somepony, he came there because of.
    
    He was almost stunned by the roaring water, spilling from the seven wide “mouths” of the opened gates, and his heart and whole body froze at the first glance of the flimsy railings above the swirling abyss, chills rushed up Alex’s spine, his feet became glued to the spot at once. Nevertheless, the awfully familiar thin scream woke him up from the sudden stupor immediately, dispelling the terror and making his blood rush. Alex rushed to the voice along the catwalks, to the half-built frame under the large crane. One thought filled his mind, pulsing disturbingly, “bouncing off the walls”.
    
    ‘She?! How that could be… She can’t be hither! Merlin’s… Please, not her… Please!’
    
    Alex made himself proceed faster, holding on the railings with one hand, but still going, despite the overwhelming heartbeat and noise in his ears. This time he had no right to fail, he wouldn’t ever forgive himself, if he did.
    
    His heart froze, when Alex came closer, so the mist revealed the awful scene: there was a pony on that dreading metal beam protruding from the catwalk, the beam becoming one of the main motives and “characters” of his nightly fears. Only one pony this time, but the colours of the coat, mane and tail would hardly make Alex flutter in terror more, than if there was half of Equestria in danger instead.
    
    She barely held on the very end of the beam already, hooves were not the best instrument to grab something round and slippery. The idiotic thought, that she had wings and thus could fly, easily avoiding the danger of that fall, didn’t even come into Alex’s mind; he knew perfectly that in situations alike Fluttershy simply couldn’t unfurl them, even if her own life depended on that – Alex could understand her.
    
    “Hold on, Shy!” in a fraction of second Alex covered the remaining distance and lay on the platform, getting to the edge and trying to reach her fore legs. “Simply hold on!”
    
    Alas, the extending part of the beam was slightly longer than his arm, Alex couldn’t grab Fluttershy’s hoof, while keeping himself completely on the catwalk. Inwardly sending the most awful damnations, Earth and Equus both knew, to the dams, bridges, waterfalls and generally any heights, Alex squinted and tried to pull forward a bit more, despite his whole body seemed to be screaming and pulling back.
    
    When his chest appeared above the boiling abyss, Alex made an inhuman attempt to suppress the feeling of entire dam suddenly spinning around him; nevertheless, his view narrowed to the thin tube again with the noise in the ears and mortal danger chilling Alex’s blood at once. He avoided looking directly into Fluttershy’s eyes, fearing that unwelcome memories might make him lose precious seconds. ‘Hold on! Please Shy, dost not let go…’
    
    She painfully bit her lip, visibly getting tired and slowly sliding to the very tip of the metal beam, yet he was still unable to reach her fore legs. Despair made Alex take that decision at once, dispelling fear and doubts: praying for his touch not to make the construction tremble and Fluttershy slide off it, before he could catch her, Alex grabbed the beam with his left hand, forcing himself forward and firmly grabbing Fluttershy’s pastern right at the moment her fore hooves slid off.
    
    “I… got thee!” he could look into her eyes now, in the fraction of second seeing everything, they could tell each other, and realizing, he could never let her back for somepony. ‘I got thee, but we both are doomed…’
    
    Although, his leap of faith shifted the center of mass and broke the balance: for a few seconds Alex was holding on the platform with his left leg, futilely trying to lift himself back, the next moment he slid, hanging on his left hand only and holding Fluttershy. The catwalk was so close, yet unreachably far…
    
    “Alex!”
    
    “Dost… not move!” Alex looked into her scared dilated eyes again, inwardly amazed how beautiful they were even at that moment. ‘If only I could get her back onto the catwalk…’
    
    But he understood, that he couldn’t get the necessary swing, strong enough to throw Fluttershy up and left, to the safety of the railings; besides, the overhanging metal frame would interfere such attempts, making them dangerous. Instead of that, Alex pulled Fluttershy up a bit, making her reach and wrap her free legs around him, he still held her fore hoof like the last treasure in this world. The rising Sun lit the catwalks and two figures: human and pony, struggling for their lives, with the merciless dispassion of the theatrical spotlight. Alex gritted his teeth, feeling his left arm getting numb and aching more and more with each second, and closed his eyes…
    
    ‘Luna!!! Luna, mine love, please help… Help, if ‘t be true thou heed me!!!’
    
    Suddenly a bright flash, brighter than the morning sun, made them both squint; the next moment some shadow eclipsed the daylight. Risking to fall Alex turned his head to see the vast wings of the blue alicorn, approaching in the halo of sunlight. She descended fast, noticing them at once and… floated in the air, desperately looking around.
    
    Luna could easily catch Fluttershy with her magic, she could grab and move anything around, but she couldn’t touch Alex with her aura, risking to inflict more damage that way. For the first time in her life the Princess of the Night didn’t know what to do.
    
    “Here!” overcoming the sharp pain Alex smirked wryly. “Closer… and above me!!!”
    
    Seeing Luna following his words and making small circles above them, Alex turned to Fluttershy.
    
    “Shy… Let thy legs off me,” seeing fear and concern in her turquoise eyes Alex breathed out. “Please. Trust me, Shy!”
    
    Shivering and shrinking from terror Fluttershy opened her legs, pulling Alex’s right arm down with her weight and letting out a small squeak; the strain in his left arm seemed to double with those movements. Feeling his fingers slowly weakening and sliding Alex realized, he had only one attempt and it was to be successful. He made the decision already and nothing and nopony could make him change his mind.
    
    “Luna! CATCH!!!” gathering all the remaining forces in one jet-like throw and feeling like if his left arm was being ripped from the shoulder by somepony, Alex launched Fluttershy as high above the beam as he could the second before his own fingers let go off the cold metal.
    
    He saw the blue aura enveloping the yellow pegasus, Luna’s fore legs catching Fluttershy and holding tight. Alex could see both girls’ dilated eyes and mouths open in silent scream… and then Luna and Fluttershy started receding. Their figures, brightly lit by the Sun, vanished in the thickening mist and the increscent roar of water filled Alex’s ears…
    
    Alex opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling, the reflected light came through the window, telling about the brightening dawn; he felt like being forcedly thrown against his bed, against the pillow and blanket, like if they were the stones of the river lower bed. But he finally knew the solution for that “equation”.
    
    ‘Thither is no other way! Alas…’ Alex cringed, sitting on his sofa and wrapping himself in the blanket; he watched the darkness being dispelled outside by the morning, taking over the nightmares, but not the problems themselves.
    
    *
    
    A large raindrop, unusually cold for the summer, smacked on her; Fluttershy wiggled her nose, shaking the water off, and pulled forward her hood, hiding her muzzle and wrapping in her cloak tighter. Looking at the sky was futile – the same grey cloudy space was everywhere her glance fell, without any hope for the tiniest gap, and Fluttershy preferred to look under her hooves not to slip and fall into some pool.
    
    She left her cottage, like usually that Sunday evening, because Sunday was the day… the day it happened. Wiping a few tears Fluttershy braced herself, she was yet to cross the field of high wet grass to reach the small hill with the single large tree. The hill where…
    
    Tears ran down Fluttershy’s face like the salty waterfall, mixing with the rain water and blurring her view; risking to fall on the slippery grass, she shook her head and sped up towards the hill behind the grey veil of the rain, which mourned with her.
    
    Some part of her conscience knew perfectly that everything happening was a dream, another iteration of the same recurring nightmare she had lately. She had good as well, but that one was constantly haunting and torturing her… Yet at the same time her heart and the rest of her mind firmly believed in the reality (or maybe possibility, she never could tell) of what happened and she never did any attempt to wake up consciously, before something in her dream eventually led her to the awakening. She could stay there till darkness (or better say, till some other dream changed that one), finding some bittersweet relief in that unity; sometimes the mere glance onto the stone made her wince and wake up, biting her lip in a woeful groan, breathing hard and pulling the blanket up, like some shield.
    
    ‘It’s too rainy today, even for a bad dream…’ Fluttershy threw another glance at the low heavy skies from under the hood, squinting from the raindrops on her face. Finally – the hill, the tree spread its large branches above her, giving Fluttershy shelter from the weather as usual. But… something was different that evening, the very important detail of becoming customary to her scene was missing. Fluttershy didn’t have time to wonder, when she noticed the grass under the large tree was… flowing, because it wasn’t the grass actually, it was all tints of night sky starry mane and tail. The familiar tall silhouette detached from the tree shadows, eyes flashed in the twilight and quiet silvery voice greeted her.
    
    “Good evening, Fluttershy!”
    
    “You!!!” Fluttershy stepped back, but sounded as determined as she ever could. “What are you doing here?.. your Highness,” added she after a short, but noticeable pause.
    
    “I’m glad to see thee likewise,” the shadowy figure smirked sadly and stepped into the scarce light of the gloomy day, turning into princess Luna herself. She looked at Fluttershy fixedly. “Methinks we decided it should be simply Luna almost three years ago…”
    
    “I thought so,” nodded Fluttershy shortly. “I thought, we w-were friends… Luna. But…” she looked around, like if trying to find something, she missed.
    
    “We were friends. And we still are,” Luna’s calm voice called for Fluttershy’s prudence. “That is why exactly I came to thee, that is why and… for one obvious reason more.”
    
    “Thou can see something is missing from thy regular dream, Fluttershy,” seeing her opponent is listening, Luna took the advantage. “Things came to the moment, the tombstone can actually appear, whither we’re standing, not in thy dream only. Alex is on the edge…”
    
    “You came here, trespassed into my fears and sorrows,” quietly started Fluttershy, but her eyes sparkled. “You, who partially made him the one he became, who constantly pulled him from my hooves, who…” Fluttershy gasped, unable to continue. “And you want to talk about Alex?!” exclaimed she after a second.
    
    “Exactly!” Luna’s serene smile disarmed ready to blow Fluttershy better than any words; Fluttershy’s ears, once perked in rage, drooped and Luna elaborated. “I know that thou lovest him… and I know that thy love is pristine, Fluttershy. Thou art the only one who can help me… not allow the stone to appear in reality,” ended she with severeness.
    
    “But…”
    
    “I was unable to reach Alex’s dreams quite frequently as of late,” Luna stated without any foreword, not giving Fluttershy any time or chance to reply. “Last night even more, he… his mind was shielded from me somehow. I know, he is suffering, but I was unable to see exactly, what was befalling to him in his dreams…”
    
    “… until the last one,” the words dropped like heavy stones. “Methinks the signs were quite obvious: Alex is going to do something, we can’t allow him to do. He found out, he is unable to leave Equestria, but he is determined to do that at any cost. Deadly determined, if ‘t be true I’m allowed to say so.”
    
    Fluttershy squeaked like a wounded duckling and Luna shook her head seriously, making her mane flow in the wind.
    
    “Alas, I can’t follow him hoof by hoof, Fluttershy, staying unnoticed and standing out, at which hour it’s gravely necessary,” Luna looked deep into her scared eyes, noticing with satisfaction how they filled with determination, despite all the fears, distrust and offense. “We can’t “prevent” him from doing anything, he planned to do! He shalt simply wait for the moment and chance, and tryeth again, at which hour we least expect.”
    
    “He must be intercepted right at the moment of the highest determination, Fluttershy. Then mayhap he realizeth, the exit, he thinketh he found, is unacceptable arrant!”
    
    “Thou art the only one, who can do it!” added Luna meaningfully, leaning closer to Fluttershy, so her deep blue eyes almost filled the vision of the pegasus girl. “Thou must follow him close this upcoming day, staying unnoticed until it’s time, keeping both eyes on him, constantly!” The voice, the whole vision faded, blurring away in the milky mist.
    
    ‘…Both eyes on him! Constantly!’ sounded in Fluttershy’s head upon awakening, when she sat on her bed in a flurry, inhaling deeply, almost gasping.
    
    “Alex! No!”
    
    *
    
    One well-placed hit and the door, made of a few hurry-scurry attached wooden planks, gave up and hung on one hinge with a plaintive creak. Alex didn’t want to lose time with a massive padlock and simply kicked the plank, the rim was attached to, breaking it into halves and opening the skewed door. It was the first consciously inflicted damage, Alex made since almost four months in Equestria, not counting the tumbled chandelier in the castle during his sleepwalking shenanigans and Fluttershy’s front door, they spoiled by darts with Angel; he inwardly smirked, imagining somepony’s frustration, when his ruffian act was revealed; but the decision was made, nothing should stand in his way.
    
    Alex threw his head back, the top of the old time-worn tower was surrounded by the low clouds; the wind blew stronger up there, herding them and driving round the obstacle. The day became gloomy after the noon and precipitation looked imminent: nature was simply deciding, if it should be a mild rain or a real flood accompanied with the thunderstorm. Smooth after the partial restoration, dark brown, immovable wall towered over the landscape, looking more oppressive than ever, when he was standing right at its foot. Involuntarily Alex swallowed a lump, unsure if his acrophobia allowed him to follow the plan; he knew that it was going to give him some hard time anyway, despite he was to admit of making certain progress in fighting it lately. Following that route his thoughts naturally reached the reasons, he came here for, slowly boiling up Alex’s anger at his own weakness; weakness, which appeared to be morbid for others as well. He gritted his teeth to the rasp and stepped in, moving the “Falling bricks danger! Do NOT enter!” sign aside.
    
    Surprisingly, the spiral stairs remained in considerably good condition or were restored nicely, at least at those levels of the tower; as Alex remembered, the giant clock was built at the lower third of its height, thus at least one third of the tower must be kept in relative order and the sign was rather a precaution measure against accidental trespassers. To his relief, the named stairs went on a large wide spiral around the central trunk of the tower containing the actual rooms. A quick glance up didn’t stumble upon any visible gaps, the stairs looked solid and reliable there, unlike the Sisters’ Castle tower he first arrived to. Alex smirked sadly – it started with the tower and with the tower it would end; although that one was noticeably higher, thus not hollow in the middle. That allowed Alex to imagine, he wasn’t constantly ascending above the ground; at least he could try to, until… Until the top was reached. Alex sighed, putting his foot on the first step and inwardly burning all the bridges behind himself.
    
    That day, or better say early morning started as usual: despite the plans, or perhaps supposing that it might help him fulfil them, Alex spent about an hour on his morning “ritual” – getting to the highest balcony of the Library and sitting there, watching the waking Ponyville, sweating and forcing himself to stay, even if some part of him was pleading to run down as fast as he could. Alex couldn’t explain why he did it that day, as naturally, it must have been a waste of time; he simply felt strangely obliged to, regretting, like every morning, that he didn’t think about that method before. Before it was too late to overcome himself, while he was to act instead. Alex even noted that it took him less effort to enter the balcony this morning, coming closer to the barrier than usual. His mind got tired of fear and despair, purged by the thoughts about the possible escape, perhaps the mild remnants of his hangover smudged the effect as well.
    
    The rising Sun lit the rooftops, painting them pink, candent golden and bright silver, depending on the view angle and roof material. The long shadows of trees, flagpoles and lighting posts stretched on the ground like giant clock hands. Dense august fog disturbed by the morning unwillingly retreated from the streets, snaking to the gardens and narrow alleys, making the houses and trees there look like if they were floating on the milky sea surface. The gust of south wind ruffled his hair, bringing the smells of apples and something sweet and caramel-like; Cakes family and Pinkie seemed to be the early birds, starting the work already. Alex caught himself upon enjoying the view, being able to estimate the beauty of the landscape for the first time from the vantage point that high, not entirely fixated on getting down in one piece; that simple thought brought a sarcastic grin on his face and Alex squinted from the reminding of itself headache.
    
    ‘Right about time, Alex, right about time! How ironic…’
    
    His gaze turned south-east and stumbled upon the distant dark mass of the Clock Tower, blurred and ghostly in the air heated by sunlight. Alex downcasted, he felt that one of the tower stones was already placed over his heart.
    
    Half an hour later Alex leaned on the bathroom sink examining his jaded face in the mirror; he was to splash a couple gallons of water onto his head to wash away the tension, but he definitely wasn’t of the same tenderly green colour that time. Looking fixedly into the bloodshot eyes of his reflection, Alex overcame the exhaustion and started shaving off the bristle, which peppered his chin since yesterday morning.
    
    ‘I wasn’t far from the truth, telling Twi, I saw not a ghost, but mine inner demons,’ concluded Alex, examining the more civilized, yet quite ruffled “demon” in the mirror, pondering how much more he could probably hold without normal sleep. He had no idea, how he was able to think coherently after the last week: contrary to his sleepwalking, when Alex consciousness was still resting in the process (the phenomenon he was unable to explain, so was Luna, despite having immensely more experience), those few nights appeared the endless sequence of nightmares and abrupt waking, hardly something capable to bring comfort and serenity to any soul. Perhaps his changed metabolism and regeneration helped Alex hold, struggling yet with the mental and physical stress, thus being his blessing and curse at the same time, considering the situation Alex got into.
    
    The stairs were quite steep and Alex thoughts returned to the Old Castle again, his arrival playing before his inner view as fresh and vivid as yesterday’s events. His own concerns and hopes of those days, made present Alex cringe.
    
    ‘You thought, the worst already happened,’ the inner voice was merciless. ‘Praying for the princesses not putting you to the jail or zoo and quickly sending back… because they had magic. Merlin’s pants, how naïve!’
    
    Considering Celestia’s doubts about Alex, her inability to send him back to Earth wasn’t something she could overcome, otherwise she would do that with great relief. Alex was sure that Luna couldn’t help, she wouldn’t do that to him even being tempted to keep him in Equestria. Of course, she overcame their complicated relationship better from the height of her experience and temper, but that didn’t mean she liked that vagueness. If he chose another girl, her heart would be broken, regardless of how much of that she considered dignified to show.
    
    The sudden memory of the Old Castle and its garden specifically pierced Alex’s mind with the realization of one promise, he had no chance to keep; Alex was to stop and lean on the wall for a second, as his heart painfully skipped a beat.
    
    ‘Apologies, Luna! The Star Lilies stay, whither they are… if ‘t be true thither are any still,’ Alex squinted and gritted his teeth.
    
    Passing a few dozens of steps Alex was to stop for a while, making his night vision compensate the lack of light; the narrow entrance left below and the rare barred windows made the stairwell completely dark. Although, Alex was glad about that; some tiny part of him still opposed his idea aggressively and he didn’t want to give it any aid, feeding his acrophobia with picturesque views from the tower. He avoided opening any of the doors to the inner rooms due to the same reason, fearing that if any of them had no floor, the vision could shatter his determination, before he reached the goal. There was no place for curiosity, Alex slowly went higher and higher, unable to dispel his depressive thoughts.
    
    He slipped out of the Golden Oak Library right after bringing himself to some semblance of order, completely ignoring the breakfast, not even trying to cook and consume anything. Maybe the hangover unambiguously “voted” against, or maybe his body simply forgot how to operate properly. Anyway Alex did his best not to wake Twilight or Spike, especially Twilight, not to give any explanations about the last evening and moreover the upcoming day; Alex noticed at once, how their night talk with accidentally awoken Twilight planted a faint concern, which could only grow fast, if they could have a word in the morning.
    
    Although, getting away quietly wasn’t a big problem this time, as Alex didn’t take anything with him, except his pain and troubles – the luggage he was unable to get rid of, no matter how ardently he wanted to. He left through the usual exit, this time closing the window after himself with a wry grin.
    
    Visiting the smithy or any of his customers wasn’t in Alex’s plans for that day. Truth be told, he didn’t want to see or talk to anypony at all; fortunately, avoiding the town folk wasn’t a hard task in the early morning and Alex spent some time at the northern edge of Ponyville, simply watching the Sun rising higher and higher. He couldn’t confess to himself, but something prevented him of simply going directly to his aim, kept him lingering, watching trivial things, he couldn’t pay attention each day due to work. It was shameful, cringe-worthy, but deep inside Alex was scared by his idea of remedying the heartache, by the mere fact that this idea came into his mind and, apparently, he accepted it as feasible without much pondering.
    
    Some part of him struggled yet, made him delay the final act of that drama. He could roam the town for a while, despite the obvious futility of that move, because tomorrow would bring the same pain and nothing could magically change for Alex.
    
    ‘Waiting for the execution is unimaginably worse than the execution itself!’ cringed Alex, finally looking away from the fields, the already smoking smithy, the brightly shining mountain tops far to the north. That morning was wonderfully bright and with a certain bit of effort one could even see the distant bright spot of Canterlot on the mountainside.
    
    Alex headed East: the same clear sky and air made the cliffs, framing Ponyville Dam, perfectly visible, if he turned to the opposite direction; Alex was unsure, if he could tolerate that vision. Undoubtedly all his torments were written across his visibly exhausted face and Alex reconsidered about deepening into Ponyville, the day claimed its rights and avoiding the excessive attention of the ponies filling the streets, became an impossible mission. He decided to sneak through the northern outskirts of the town, not going out into the fields though, where he was visible from the great distance, but using the narrow backstreets and shadowy alleys, not fully awake yet.
    
    There was another reason as well: Alex had a feeling of being followed, he could have sworn that it appeared almost right after leaving the Library through the ground floor window. That exactly feeling, when he couldn’t tell, why it appeared, as he couldn’t notice anything strange or anypony suspicious, regardless of if he turned around fast or looked over the shoulder subtly. Nevertheless, wherever Alex walked, crossing the larger already herded streets quickly, hiding in narrow passages between houses, being seemingly completely hidden in the shade of lush trees of ponyvillers’ gardens, that strange watching eye never released him. Alex was to admit that he didn’t feel any threat, but the general impression was disturbing to some extent.
    
    ‘Congratulations, hay-head!’ grinned Alex venomously. ‘Thy nightmares and concerns finally paid back, thou art going insane, mine friend!’
    
    That assumption, if being justified, spoke in favour of his decision; inability to think coherently was among the few things Alex feared the most and desired to avoid.
    
    Alex passed a few more spans… everything in the stairwell of the round tower looked quite similar, but a few differently barred windows let Alex feel that he was proceeding. Making all the possible precautions not to slip on the smaller stones, littering the stairs here and there – the memory of his fall in the Old Castle tower was still quite vivid, not something one wholeheartedly wanted to repeat.
    
    ‘Hmmm… That could help solve the problem otherwise…’ at that thought Alex even laughed aloud and the echo of his voice blasted in the stairwell and rolled along fading in the darkness far above. The sound of his laughter, voicing quite creepy in the old abandoned stone tube, shook Alex and sobered him up fast.
    
    ‘Yeah, errmmm… ‘t was a bad idea!’ shuddered Alex, not risking to say that, when the silence, disturbed only by accidental stone crackling, reigned again.
    
    Dust, cobwebs, although it wasn’t clear, whom local spiders hoped to catch in the complete darkness, except each other, wooden flinders, perhaps the remnants of restoration scaffolding – Alex’s night vision gave him the complete image of neglect, despite the lower part of the tower was masterfully restored. He sighed, imagining the condition of the stairs on the upper levels and the troubles, supposedly waiting for him there. The overall picture of coexisting order and management semblance with visible neglect and mess made Alex smirk sarcastically.
    
    ‘Isn’t my life practically the same now?’ Alex stepped over an old wooden beam, checking first, where that thing could fall from. ‘I try to pretend everything is normal, everything happening is exactly as it supposed to be, while actually, I should ask myself, how the hell I came to that bloody mess.’
    
    ‘I was torn from my native and familiar world and thrown here without anyone giving a damn about my own opinion about that. I don’t belong here, but everypony, including me, keeps pretending that it’s merely a temporary inconvenience and all I need is to keep living further, until I eventually accept the surrounding as my new home.’
    
    ‘I found myself among the sentient ponies,’ Alex stumbled and sneezed from the cloud of dust he swept from the wall, holding on it to keep balance. ‘Which I thought were a part of a bucking kids show, but appeared to be real… If we think better, even more real in this world, than I am. And on the top of it, I’m in the relationship with two girls.’
    
    ‘Two PONY girls, Alex!’ but his mind evidently didn’t find any contradiction, accepting that.
    
    ‘Actually loving them both,’ Alex stopped, his heart painfully winced. ‘I’m completely aware of my feelings being genuine and I treat them as my women… in all the senses. Unable to choose, unable to break one’s heart and my own… Merlin’s pants, I love two mares and it’s completely fine with me!’
    
    “And one more is dreaming about making me her own,” whispered Alex with a wry grin, remembering about Rarity.
    
    ‘Still, that didn’t make me belong here more,’ Alex stopped for a minute. ‘The girls are friendly… Well, except Rainbow… because they are quite unique anyway. Damn, they are the Elements of Harmony after all! Many treat me as an interesting stranger, some – as a scientific interest, quite a few – as a potential danger…’
    
    ‘…including princess Celestia, by the way!’ Alex forcedly pushed himself from the wall, he was leaning onto. ‘I’m the source of constant tension and suspicions for her and I hardly err, supposing her dearest dream to be getting rid of me and returning things to their usual, normal state.’
    
    ‘I could have hoped, she found the way to send me back and end this…’ Alex swept the cobweb off his way, pondering how high he had climbed already. Judging by him not reaching the large clock yet, and Alex was sure, he could hear it, he still was lower than roughly one-third of the tower. ‘But she can’t!’ Alex chuckled sadly. ‘I wonder, who was surprised by that more: me, finding out that Tia can’t do something, tied with magical limitations, or her… for the same reason!’
    
    Remembering, how at the top of all that he was informed, nopony was going to predict his lifespan, considering his immense regeneration levels and supposedly still ongoing changes, Alex groaned. He wasn’t simply going to be a stranger there, he was going to be a stranger forever technically. If nothing supposed to change, of course… but Alex knew only one method of changing things at that moment. He didn’t want to be some freak, a source of troubles and distress, and constant threat, even if the latter was somepony’s farfetched assumption; yet he didn’t have a variety of means to avoid that either.
    
    The simple thought that even if he could somehow (in pure theory) return to Earth, he would hardly be accepted the same as before his sudden journey, made Alex almost howl – he became a stranger even for his own kin. Alex remembered the words of Discord well, that supposed travel back to his home world wouldn’t change or revert any of his already received abilities. Even if Alex could probably hide his regeneration – he wasn’t a fan of getting locked in yet another research facility to the end of his days… which wasn’t going to come soon (Alex facepalmed at the mere image of that), even in that case people surrounding him were to be completely blind not to notice that he didn’t age, despite quite some time passed. Not to mention him being doomed to stay alone in that case… after witnessing all his friends passing one by one; he preferred not to think that the same problem existed, if he stayed on Equus. Alex stopped again and closed his eyes.
    
    Friends… Did he still have any left on Earth? Alex remembered his old dream about his own funeral. The reality was cruel: having no information about him, his parents most likely admitted him being dead and already tried to live with that fact. Same for Elen and others… Would he have any chances to show up, out of the blue again, after all that? Moreover, would he have any chances to prove that he was the same Alex, they knew and loved? It seemed Alex had the answer; the one providing no optimism.
    
    Parents… His last dream, one of a few and rare normal lately, where Alex didn’t fall or fail to save somepony from the dam, was about his parents exactly. Or rather about his mother, as she was the one he saw, assuming father was somewhere in the house as well, as it was the late evening in Alex’s dream. The memory of her being glad to see him evidently, not treating him like a ghost or a hallucination, called a small warm smile on Alex’s face; he squinted, like if some dust got into his eye.
    
    She was concerned about her son, asking him something, most likely about his wellbeing and about troubles clouding his life, as she seemingly noticed Alex’s gloominess. Although, he wasn’t sure, if he answered any of her concerns, moreover, if he said a single word during that dream. But mother’s heart was happy to have even that, to be able to see even the silent presence of the one she loved. That was Alex’s mom he remembered from his previous life; he was afraid to admit that in reality she would be deadly scared to see him again most likely. The coveted belief, everything can be reverted to normal, was exactly the strongest of motives, driving Alex to try and return to his home world. Even if rational thinking had a few doubts. For example, Elen: a year, maybe slightly more, and she would look for someone else to…
    
    ‘I won’t be surprised, if she is already having exaggerated attention from guys around,’ Alex sighed, inwardly accepting that as a common order of things. ‘She needeth some time to release me and resign herself, but that’s inevitable.’
    
    ‘Shan’t the same befall to Shy and Luna, if ‘t be true I suddenly vanish? It looketh like the best way out of otherwise unsolvable situation. Someone needeth to accept the responsibility of making that decision. Why not me then?’ Alex was perfectly aware of him being able to avoid both girls completely in one case only.
    
    Reaching the eastern edge of the town Alex crossed the bridge over the wide stream and dived into the crops field, trying to cross it as fast as he could, using the few small bosquets for cover. Gaining anypony’s attention, let alone getting into Rarity’s field of view was undesired. Besides, Alex remembered that he could easily meet Rainbow Dash there, unless she had her midday nap at the moment; she would enjoy the opportunity of some revenge though, as she had no chance to pay him for the accidental cider shower back yet. Thus Alex took a deep breath, when he reached the dense foliage of the Eastern Orchard only, hiding under the lush crowns of the old apple trees.
    
    Normally he would leave it behind to reach another field at the south, where the direct road to Fluttershy’s cottage was laid, but not at that day. Alex’s aim and the persistent feel of the foreign eye watching him, which alternated between strong and almost insensible eventually, but never vanished completely, made him sneak through the edge of the orchard, passing the pegasus girl’s home unnoticed and approaching the final point.
    
    The mere look of the old dark giant Clock Tower, standing in the open field like a silent guard, the most durable and loyal from the whole garrison of once unshakable stronghold (a few pieces of walls and single stones still lied here and there near the tower), made chills run along Alex’s spine. Later he was to admit that it was a pure strike of faint-heartedness, which made him took further East and pass the tower, finally reaching the edge of Everfree and dropping under the large shadowy tree, as his legs suddenly felt limp and cold sweat ran down Alex’s back. Alex asked himself often, what would have happened, if that moment of weakness didn’t occur.
    
    Inwardly scolding himself for that weakness, yet unable to fight it effectively, Alex spent quite some time under that tree, hidden by the spinney and trying to bring suddenly hesitant thoughts to some order. He had no idea how long he spent at his forced halt, but when Alex woke from his concerns and fears, the day passed noon, the weather changed completely and irrevocably, low clouds gathered from somewhere and the rain became almost promised. But the main thing: the signs of that strange feeling of being observed left Alex alone entirely, for the first time since morning, or became that subtle, he couldn’t register them. He took that as an encouraging symptom, quickly getting up and heading to the tower, hurrying to utilize his sudden serenity, before anything distracted him again.
    
    The dark, smooth below and chipped and stained with weather above mass of the Clock Tower didn’t obviously become more attractive or friendly since morning. The shadows of running clouds and wind whistling in the holey walls at the top didn’t add any charm to it, even if Alex approached the tower from the west, where the small entrance door… and the Sun, showing itself rarely in the gleams, currently were. Risking to have another anxiety attack, Alex threw up his head and watched the top, almost dissolving in the clouds; he broke the wooden plank, holding the padlock, and started his ascension.
    
    Alex came back to reality with the strong hum and regular ticking, he could hear and even feel, touching the rough cold stone wall. He couldn’t hold his curiosity back and opened the door at the next loop of the spiral stairs, freezing on spot in awe and giving due attention to the giant clock mechanism, occupying the large hall taking the whole space in the central trunk on that level. Alex rather felt than saw the faint metallic luster of large cogs slowly and nobly turning in the darkness, involuntarily wondering how the whole heavy precise mechanism was set in motion, despite the obvious and most natural answer was – magic. The cogwheels, the chains, the smooth, accurately matched and managed shafts, kept their measured work; they paid no attention to others’ surprise or admiration, having the incomparably more important task. They counted everypony’s time!
    
    Closing the door respectfully, Alex went a few stairs up, finally coming to an obstacle. The wall crossing the stairwell was obviously a new construction, built much later than the whole tower. Made of wood it was nevertheless solid and extremely durable compared to the entrance of the building. Another door of the same nature blocked his way up, carrying the similar caution sign, warning strangers about the danger of climbing the old tower ruins. Thankfully it was locked with a large bar only, as the proper lock would take a lot of time or even make Alex retreat.
    
    With a considerable effort Alex slid the bar aside and pulled the door, it didn’t want to give up, seemingly weighing tons, like if it was made of stone or metal instead. Alex strained his muscles to the limits and could move it very slowly, little by little separating from the wall and opening wide.
    
    Immediately he was hit into the back with the air flow that strong, that Alex almost fell on his knees on the stone stairs, releasing the door, which slammed into the wall. The whole tower sighed loudly, almost deafening Alex, making his hair stand on ends at once and chills run up his spine; he shuddered, hearing the wind whistling and roaring far above in the holes and windows of ruined parts of the walls. Apparently, restoration didn’t yet touch that part of the trunk or perhaps was considered unnecessary and the whole tower didn’t have any closed doors or solid walls across the remaining stairwell. With the holes at the top that turned it into an aerodynamic tube, making that strong draft possible; cold sweat covered Alex’s forehead and he almost panicked, imagining the height necessary to create such pressure and temperature difference and the resulting wind. That was the reason of the door sudden and unusual “weight”.
    
    Alex clenched to the doorframe to the whitening knuckles, fearing that his shaking legs turn him back and rush away from that place. It took him a good few minutes to return to some semblance of straight thinking.
    
    ‘Fuck you, Alex! Don’t be a foal-sissy! That’s exactly what you came here because of…’
    
    Alex almost threw himself into the doorway, stomping across the step heavily and shakingly. The even breath of the tower picked him and pushed forward.
    
    ‘What’s my purpose here?’ the wind wasn’t that strong in the wide stairwell, but Alex felt the constant draught following and flowing around, as that door was opened; like if some foreign touch was guiding and supporting him in his endeavour. ‘What I can do the best is not needed here… what I can do well, as it suddenly appeared, while of course capable to ease somepony’s life much, is hardly some unspeakable advantage. They have lived without that before, naturally, they can cope further. Was I brought here because of the Seekers indeed, like some sort of a weapon?’ Alex cringed, the mere thought of being a tool in some hands or hooves or whatever else didn’t rub him well apparently.
    
    ‘What if I don’t want to?’ Alex paltered, he knew pretty well, that he wouldn’t be able to stand aside, seeing somepony suffering. Exactly that trait brought him to the top of Ponyville Dam, making him not a saviour, but the witness of the tragedy. He was to stop for a moment again and close his eyes, fighting the strong urge to howl and beat the stone walls. It was stronger than him, in his grief Alex completely ignored at least one evident fact – if he wasn’t brought to Equestria, nopony could prevent that infamous timberwolf from pouncing Fluttershy. ‘If I’m a weapon, then a faulty one… Sure thing, I can inflict major damage to the Seekers, but when it comes to defending somepony, I’m a disaster… Not mentioning the pain I bring to some particular ponies…’
    
    From Luna and Fluttershy Alex’s thoughts fluently reached their concerns, especially those of Fluttershy; while the desire to keep him away from the “front line” was generally understandable, her and others’ attitude towards the blacksmith and Alex’s cooperation with Will looked irrational.
    
    The blacksmith, Willsmash Steel… and his niece: Alex felt a faint sting of conscience, he was practically dropping them midway, when the life finally changed colour for them for the more optimistic one. Alex tried to convince himself that he did for them enough before leaving, for Will and Sil having a competitive advantage even against the background of large companies. The simple thought that they had only approached the stage, when they could try to restore the smithy reputation, thus gain some actual customers, didn’t occur apparently. Besides, there was a certain possibility that Will and Silver Ingot wouldn’t want to use the advantage received for that price. Still, he wholeheartedly hoped that Willsmash could use the improvements, Alex already implemented, and maybe even those he had time to describe only. At least that part of his deeds shouldn’t be a failure.
    
    The stairs became chipped, walls uneven, with smaller blocks missing here and there; apparently untouched by the restorers. More debris littered the steps, mostly dust and small stones, so, Alex doubled the attention, choosing where to put his feet not to stumble and inwardly chuckling at his caution.
    
    ‘Doth it really matter now?’
    
    It was a bit brighter there, as the rare windows were unobstructed on that height. Even not approaching them Alex could assume the weather turned worse since he entered the tower: the clouds became thicker, the sky darkened and he fancied the distant sound of thunder, but couldn’t spot the lightning – the storm was far away yet.
    
    Alex passed more stones, dry leaves, brought here by strong winds; a few old feathers told him that probably some hawk had its humble abode there for a while and some unfortunate birds met their end in that tower. He was going to leave slightly more behind than a bunch of feathers, but Alex wasn’t sure, if he wouldn’t leave way more woe.
    
    ‘I wonder, if ‘t be true somepony, except Shy and Luna, shalt regret mine absence,’ Alex stepped over the feathers and continued ascending. ‘Mayhap Rarity, but I’m sure, her interest is a passing crush, it shalt dissolve in daily routines, being impulsive and purely… inspirational. Well, I really extend mine hope she suffereth not.’
    
    He actually regretted about Twilight, who sympathized him sincerely and never actually tried to influence his decisions, wisely stopping exactly at the thin border of friendly advice. Her regal mentor, Celestia, on the contrary, never stopped considering Alex some sort of a threat, staying on the side of caution; she would feel major relief rather, seeing the source of so many troubles (actual and suspected ones) removed without much effort and questionable ethics.
    
    “I’m more than sure that Lyra will miss her favourite study subject,” muttered Alex with a wry smile. He swept the momentary thought that Lyra could be the reason for that sense of persecution, he had earlier that day, as she hardly could stay effectively unnoticed for that long. Truth be told, Alex was cautious enough, needing no witnesses of his walk. “But that’s about all…”
    
    He was a complete stranger for everypony else, regardless to his helpfulness; ponies were of no difference from people here – being generally friendly didn’t mean actually caring much of… an alien. Maybe fillies, especially Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, and Jackie would be sad, because of him vanishing just as suddenly as he appeared. Pinkie became undecided about him right when Alex bucked up his relationship with Fluttershy, not blaming him directly and solely, but eager to put him on the “right track”, not listening to his reasons. The worst thing was – Alex admitted to agreeing with her on many points. Rainbow Dash…
    
    ‘Rainbow shalt be arrant happy,’ rolling his eyes Alex tried to keep away from yet another window, not risking to take a look through, before reaching his actual aim – the top. ‘Methinks she shalt be even happier than Tia about the… “automatically solved” problem and definitely shan’t hide her feelings.’
    
    ‘So what doth that leave me? I’m most likely already dead for those I cared about on Earth… Hither then…’ Alex sighed. ‘Hither me vanishing shall hardly bring more harm than good.’
    
    Something softly smacked in his face; Alex didn’t have time to become surprised or scared, he simply took off this large flat damp object, pensively examining the large leaf of some tree, thrown there by the sudden gust of wind through one of the holes in the tower wall. That leaf reminded him of… Alex couldn’t catch the memory, spinning the silvery-green, almost glowing surprise in his fingers, then shoved it into his pocket for some reason. It definitely meant something, something he couldn’t recall right at that moment, being on another loop of his painful reflections.
    
    The dam tragedy became the last drop of poison, which turned his newly found reality into the complete mess. Whatever he tried, Alex had no naïve illusions – he wouldn’t be able to get rid of those nightmares completely. Each time, he went to sleep, returned him to Ponyville Dam and Alex was to look into that poor stallion eyes, watch that glance full of faith in the sudden “saviour” and fail to fulfil that hope. Each time differently, sometimes he even saw somepony else in place of that technician and his daughter… but every time he returned to the vision of the silently waiting for help glance and their endless drop to the bottom of the artificial deadly waterfalls. Each time Alex woke up in cold sweat from the pleading scream of that filly, hearing upon awakening his own painful groan.
    
    Alex saw no way to stop that happening, he couldn’t sleep normally, he couldn’t sleepwalk most of the time; how he could keep his legs was a mystery for him, as he felt exhausted lately, tumbled by those nightmares and guilt. It didn’t matter, if it was justified or not. Of course, time might heal that wound at least partially, but Alex didn’t know, if he could keep his sanity long enough for that. Besides, time was the only thing he had, instead of any solace; plenty of time, almost eternity, if he was going to believe Tia’s medics and mages. That single thought could make anypony insane, for Alex it became a real torture: seeing no way out, he was to seek it as long as he kept breathing.
    
    ‘I had no chance to talk to their relatives… The girl must have had the mother at least,’ Alex gritted his teeth, squinting; the sorrow took his throat in a tight grasp. ‘A shame… and a blessing at the same time. I don’t know how to look into her eyes… how to tell her, what actually happened to her foal and husband. Damn it!!! It looks a worse perspective than standing on the top of the dam again.’ He wasn’t sure, if anypony left of that family would even want to see him; whatever they were told, that would be enough most likely to imagine the tragedy in general. ‘Whom to blame likewise!’ concluded Alex, inwardly admitting that he couldn’t rebuke them either.
    
    Alex accommodated to the seemingly palpable darkness that well, so, passing another turn he almost got blinded for a short moment, by the sudden bright (in comparison to the stairwell) light. Protecting his blurred eyesight with the hand Alex observed the white spot at the tower wall, when he realized that it was actually a giant hole in it; the huge part of the wall was missing, destroyed by time or by a sudden thunderbolt strike. Feeling the ice in his stomach Alex quickly turned away from the large gap and carefully passed that place, clinging to the inner wall of the tower, keeping his eyes fixated at the stairs, not to throw an accidental glance at the ground far-far below, and shuddering from the sudden chills. The wind was indeed stronger and colder here, but Alex felt, as if it was sending its frozen breath right into his soul, through the fissures of his miserable life. He was approaching the top and the dark clouds with rare gleams seemed touchable, if Alex could dare to stretch his hand outside.
    
    His only two rays of light here, two mares he loved and valued, were just as close and at the same time unreachably far from him, as Alex was unable to stay with one, thus rejecting another and starting to disgust himself. Alex wouldn’t be able to do that with either Luna or Fluttershy for a number of reasons: he loved each too much to break her heart; he knew that another, despite being chosen and supposedly happy about that, would never stop feeling the presence of another and unwitting competition, jealousy and suspicions; Alex would also suffer from those reasons and from the once-and-forever choice he would have made. Without that choice it seemed, there was no future for him in Equestria, unless the endless suffering, doubts and regrets were accepted as feasible one.
    
    ‘Leaving both would be only fair methinks,’ Alex was to admit, that blasphemous thought being reasonable, despite highly unwelcome. ‘We will regret that decision and look for excuses to break it, but the time could heal forsooth, if ‘t be true I could vanish from their lives only…’
    
    With the latest news from Celestia that appeared to be impossible: Alex couldn’t be sent from Equus anywhere, not by the magical means leastwise. Leaving Ponyville or whole Equestria in addition to being problematic, as Alex could use only land or sea transportation, wasn’t yet an option. Their bonds with Luna wouldn’t simply dispel, being unable to hold themselves from seeing each other, they would betray Fluttershy that way only. Previously Alex wondered, if his hypothetical departure to Earth could “break the connection”, realizing it would become a real torture, if not. But at least that problem was effectively solved by the Royal Mage Council: no meant no, without any stipulations.
    
    Alex knew that princess Luna and Fluttershy became friends shortly after Luna’s return; Fluttershy, the Kindness embodied, along with Twilight helped the princess to rehabilitate for the pony society, not causing dread anymore. Luna was to overcome her estrangement and Fluttershy – her trepidation at the face of the mighty Night Princess, but since they succeeded, Fluttershy became one of the few closest friends of the princess… till the recent days. His sudden stepping in could easily drive a wedge between two girls, ruining that friendship. Luna wasn’t spoiled by friendship galore, the majority of her subjects respected her and admitted she wasn’t a threat anymore, but weren’t sure of how to approach the princess without their awe making them not quite eloquent and socialite. Besides, unlike for example Pinkie, being the life of the party was never in Luna’s character (thus their performance at the Gala had that shock effect). Knowing that Alex couldn’t afford to commit such a crime – break one of a few really close friendly bonds of his beloved alicorn and pegasus girls.
    
    ‘Unable to be with the one only, I must stay away from both,’ Alex choked on air upon this looking natural to him idea. ‘The way which no magic can overcome… Mayhap they can finally release me then. I have enough guilt burdening mine soul without taking the responsibility for a broken friendship.’
    
    He fancied the wind whistling outside and after a moment Alex found himself standing under a familiar long opening, which had a wooden hatch long-long ago, protecting the stairwell from winds, rains and snow, before the time chipped and chiseled the stone edges, making the hatch decay and crumble into dust.
    
    ‘This is it… End of the road!’
    
    The setting Sun blinded Alex for a moment, peeking through one of the rare gleams, and made him shield with the hand, as he emerged from the darkness of the Clock Tower, exiting to the observation area. Apparently, the tower once had a proper room at the top; regaining clear sight Alex could notice the uneven edges of the walls, which supposedly had windows and some sort of coverage or roof… before time and weather took them away and made the wall edge look like an old man’s mouth with remnants of rotten teeth.
    
    Alex pushed himself up and climbed out of the hatch, straightening and letting the wind ruffle his hair; it was noticeably colder here, this or the mere height made his skin crawl under the thin shirt. A few first drops of rain fell on Alex’s face; a long zigzag of the lightning ripped the sky far away and in a few seconds a blast of thunder reached his ears. Somewhere behind the thunderstorm, further to the north white walls and towers of Canterlot nested in their mountain cradle.
    
    ‘Luna!’ Alex approached the edge, swallowing a lump and not risking to take a single look down, his eyes were riveted to the gloomy sky in front of him. Somewhere below, almost right to the North from the tower as well, lied the cottage, which nearly became his home. ‘Fluttershy!’ Alex still didn’t dare to look at the ground, he inhaled fitfully instead and put one foot on the dented parapet, shifting his weight on it. The Sun hid behind the clouds, leaning forward Alex managed to notice in thickening twilight a smudged dash of dark, yellow and amazingly bright pink…
    
    Something pushed him and threw back from the edge, knocking Alex down to the floor and nearly making him roll. The impact, thankfully he didn’t hit with his head, and something on his chest squeezed all the air from Alex’s lungs; he coughed, gasping, dumbfounded by the sudden strike. When Alex stopped seeing stars and managed focusing his eyes on the force that hit him, he found extremely embarrassed, yet at the same time irate Fluttershy in a tight dark suit, unzipped at the collar, as if she was short of air hurrying somewhere. With meticulousness, which could be explained by the utter shock, Alex noted that the suit looked armoured, made of durable fabric with solid sections, belts and cords of unknown purpose, zipped pockets and a black medkit with the small purple cross on the left flank; the only part missing was the supposed headpiece, revealing Fluttershy’s sumptuous mane and flushing cute muzzle. Her eyes glared though, despite the visible abashment, she breathed heavily after her mad dash across the sky; Alex stared at her, stunned, eyes like teacups.
    
    “Alex!..” She choked on air from the visible resentment, inhaled fitfully; the small hoof hit his chest lightly, but scowlingly, Fluttershy’s braided tail swept from side to side. “From all the ways… to show, your life belongs to you only… that was the most… uggghhhh! I can’t even…” her eyes shone wetly. “Alex, how could you come to that idea?!!”
    
    “Seriously! That was the most stupid and uncalled thing among those, you could undertake,” tears sounded in her voice, slowly taking over the anger. Yet at the same time Fluttershy’s voice became more confident with each word. “You are not among foes here, Alex. Never was! Nopony is going to judge you for the crimes, you never commit.”
    
    Alex found out that a quiet sibilance was the air coming out of his mouth, he closed it, gulped and opened again… to be immediately interrupted and shut by the agitated pegasus.
    
    “Killing…” Fluttershy half-gasped, half-squeaked on that word. “Killing yourself wouldn’t solve any of your problems, Alex!” She leaned closer and almost shouted at him, tears falling from her eyes. “It wouldn’t revive those ponies, don’t you understand… return you to Earth neither,” her voice dropped again.
    
    “I wouldn’t save you, if I was going to allow your life to be wasted that way,” tears formed trails on her cheeks. “I never doubted, you deserved the better fate, Alex, thinking that you should value your life a bit more… at least not taking it away, because of some problems, you didn’t need to fight alone.”
    
    Alex exhaled, tried to put a word in, but Fluttershy wasn’t going to stop, before venting out all she had on her heart.
    
    “You are not alone, Alex!” she sniffed and took her breath convulsively, tears flowed freely from her eyes, falling on Alex’s cheeks and neck, mixing with the started rain. “If you are that fixed on the idea of leaving Equestria, I will be with you till the end… whether or not it is possible, helping you, as I said already. But… b-but that w-wasn’t the way of “leaving” I could ever think of… or understand, Alex. How could you think about something that stupid and selfish?!”
    
    “I… love you! If you are that blind that you didn’t notice yet… And I’m not the only one who does,” added she quieter, through more tears. “Luna warned me and asked to keep an eye on you, Alex. She couldn’t decipher your dreams completely… but what she saw scared her. Me either…”
    
    “I can probably put up with you not being mine… but I can’t live with you not… not being at all,” Fluttershy realized that she was still mounting Alex and flushed even more, becoming like a tangerine, flaming from her catsuit collar to the roots of her mane.
    
    “Shy!” he sounded raspy, but Alex couldn’t swallow that lump, no matter how he tried. ‘I’m sorry!’ sounded pathetic and out of place; he couldn’t find words to thank her or apologize, rising his hand instead and trying to touch Fluttershy’s cheek, feeling sudden chills and weakness from the understanding of what he had done almost… If not for his flower fragrant guardian angel.
    
    “I love you, Alex,” repeated Fluttershy, yet she winced from his touch, bursting into the real waterfall of tears. “B-but I can’t look at you… without crying now!!!”
    
    She jumped off, biting her lip, and rushed down the stairs into the tower, vanishing in the darkness; the sobbing faded away, leaving Alex one on one with the whispering rain.
    
    The raindrops mixed with his tears and rolled off the face, laying under the darkening sky Alex felt that it would have been better, if Fluttershy had hit him hard, blamed him of sheer egoism and stupidity, instead of asking him, then running away crying. After the eternity, getting completely wet and feeling the stones of the ruined tower top with his entire back, that feeling overshadowing Alex’s inner shivers, he turned over slowly and painfully. Fluttershy knocked him down quite sensitively, but the psychological drop was incomparably longer; something broke in Alex, burst like a strained string, something detrimental, as Alex felt a faint glimpse of relief, he wasn’t able to explain yet.
    
    Alex got up and almost rolled into the tower womb, grasping the wall not to fall on not entirely responsive legs. The actual way down took him much more than his ascent: he was quite shaky and damn certain that wasn’t acrophobia that time, besides, Alex had quite a few things to think about. Only reaching the restored part of the tower and shutting the door behind, cutting off the solo of the wind in the stairwell, he could take a deeper breath and brace himself.
    
    ‘The girls saved your miserable ass again!’ the stung of his small inner voice was well aimed and relentless. ‘Both of them. Together this time! They both do care about you, otherwise you would be an unpleasant pancake already. What will you do now… considering nothing has changed?’
    
    ‘Whatever I do next, I need to talk to Fluttershy,’ decided Alex, brushing aside all the tricky questions. ‘Even if she can’t look at me, mayhap she can listen to me at least…’
    
    The rain faded out already, only a few last drops fell on Alex, when he finally exited the tower; the wind, which quite nicely dried his clothes in the stairwell, winnowed its way through the field and herded the clouds away as fast as it brought them there before, little by little clearing the sky and revealing the sunset. Alex inhaled the damp air and headed to Fluttershy’s cottage as someone finally taking the right decision.
    
    Viewing his chances realistically after the incident, Alex wasn’t expecting to be greeted with the red carpet, thus the silence and extinguished lights didn’t become a surprise. Although, when Alex approached, leaning to the front door and listening, he fancied quiet muffled sobbing, interrupted by a single woeful sigh. The mental image of Fluttershy sitting curled in the armchair, cuddling Angel – the bunny expressed unusual compassion in such circumstances, with awesome pink mane curtaining her pretty face and turquoise eyes full of tears, made Alex’s heart painfully shrink.
    
    “Fluttershy…” he barely knocked on the door, hoping to be heard nevertheless. “We need to talk. I’m… I’m sorry, Shy!”
    
    “I very much hope you are!” another light sigh interrupted her tears, Fluttershy’s voice sounded stern despite them. “I don’t know… Just… not now… I can’t…” More sobs swallowed the rest of her words.
    
    “Please, Shy… Can you simply listen?..”
    
    “I… we… I can’t now… Please… go away, Alex!”
    
    The armchair creaked on the wooden floor, convulsively moved aside, the quick rattle of hoofsteps towards the stairs told him unequivocally that the talk was to be postponed… if his little saviour ever wanted to talk to Alex again. The door slammed shut upstairs and everything fell silent.
    
    The cottage stood dark and unusually inhospitable in the last rays of the setting Sun, Alex reconsidered going around and calling Fluttershy under the bedroom window, not risking to add another foalish act to his today’s account. He stood for a while, leaning his forehead at the cold door, and having no alternative, trudged to the field across the road; gathering his thoughts seemed a non-trivial task, but absolutely necessary at that moment.
    
    *
    
    Old Will was extremely puzzled: he couldn’t decipher the human’s behaviour completely. Regardless to the small number of purely random visitors, mostly strangers passing Ponyville and unaffected by local rumours and prejudices, Alex was still their main customer, source of income and, truth be told, their only guide to some brighter future, than the one they have resigned to already. He got plans, his ideas worked for mutual benefit, finally somepony managed to make the smithy progress, despite the resistive mood of the society. When everything seemed to roll back to the normal, proper tracks, long ago forgotten due to lack of customers, so, both unicorns finally felt like being demanded for, felt the wish to work, started to look into tomorrow seeing some light, instead of endless storm clouds there. Right at that moment everything suddenly became strange and worrying.
    
    The last couple of days old blacksmith caught himself on the thought that he had no idea of what was happening inside Alex’s mind. Obviously, the tragedy on Ponyville Dam could easily make anypony drop out of their element; one could imagine, what Alex must have felt, being the witness of the accident, let alone the partaker. But there was more to his behaviour that made Will ponder and concern. The last day the human was particularly strange, meticulous, while working on his beloved “project”, yet absolutely absent-minded, when it came to everything else surrounding him. As if some uneasy, but very important thought was constantly drilling his mind, distracting from the reality completely, making him unable to concentrate on the simple request from the first time. Will knew that Alex was told, he was unable to return to his home world; he wasn’t blind to not notice Alex’s complications in his relationship and he inwardly guessed about Alex’s nightmares, watching his exhausted look day by day.
    
    But even all those combined would hardly form a rock as heavy as the one, that was seemingly placed over Alex’s soul. And a few weird phrases he dropped… Willsmash shook his head, Alex’s mood looked the more alarming, the more he thought about it. If the human wasn’t so determined and inspired by his work, the blacksmith could suspect, that…
    
    Will frowned at the last thought. That day Alex didn’t appear at the smithy since morning and sent no note about the possible reasons of him sabotaging his advantageous project. Moreover, Alex didn’t show up even after the dinner, that was totally uncommon since Alex started working at the smithy; time passed, Sun rolled to the sunset slowly, still no signs of the human. The unicorn cupped his beard pensively, but the sound of hoofsteps of his niece made him relax the mimic muscles at once: Will didn’t want to worry Silver Ingot with his own, frankly speaking, very vague suspicions.
    
    Although, the first glance at her muzzle told Will that the young mare was already overly concerned about something; she hurried downstairs exactly to share with her uncle, what was obviously bothering her for quite a while already.
    
    “Uncle Will, I need to tell you something very important,” her golden head was surrounded by the clouds of uneasy thoughts, the eyebrows almost met and the glance was serious and worried. “I probably shouldn’t do that… That was a bit impolite towards Alex, as he asked me to keep them… “till it’s time”. But exactly that phrase, among others few, to be honest… How he made changes to the new smelter… For it to be operable by a single pony… How he explained to us the process and its benefits…” Silver Ingot gasped.
    
    “And?” asked Willsmash shortly in a hushed voice. “Tell, what bothers you, my filly, don’t keep it…”
    
    “That envelope!” Sil wanted to nod towards her room, but it looked like a nervous twitch instead. “I thought about it since morning. No. I thought about it since yesterday, since the moment Alex asked me to keep it… The more I thought, the more worrisome it looked to me.”
    
    “I couldn’t hold myself,” quietly said Silver Ingot, apology mixed with the certain dose of fear in her voice, making Will raise on his hooves involuntarily. “I opened it finally, a few minutes ago, and took a look. There were blueprints of the new smelter, plans of the improved smithy, some tables of metal properties and more stuff… chemical formulas I didn’t understand yet… Quite a load of information about his work, which he, of course, wanted to keep safe. But considering all that happened and that he was saying…”
    
    “It’s practically the testament…” dropped Silver barely audibly… Willsmash knew already, what she was going to say; the old unicorn frowned and pursed his lips, quick thinking was written across his forehead.
    
    “Run to princess Twilight, my filly,” quietly stated he in a moment. “Alex lives at the Golden Oak Library, she knows where he can be. It doesn’t matter, if we mistake or not, he may be there still… he better be there. Otherwise…” the filly squeaked involuntarily, attracting his serious glance, and Will shook his head. “Celestia! I hope young Twilight can search for him effectively at least…”
    
    The end of his phrase was cut by the sound of the front door hitting the frame, Silver Ingot dashed down the road to Ponyville already.
    
    *
    
    ‘Merlin’s pants! I admit, that way of dealing with the problems would become very far from the ideal…’ Alex sat under the large tree, eyes closed, holding his temples; he finally reached the single hill in the slowly turning yellow sea of the field. Widely stretched branches and the lush crown preserved the dry spot under and the cover, he was using now, inhaling the tranquillizing smell of wet oak leaves and trying to recollect his thoughts. ‘Shy was too gentle, describing me! That’s giving up… the most stupid and… ugly way!’
    
    The mere glance at the tower, the black column standing out against the darkening landscape and the sky cleared by the wind, made him shudder from the realization of what he had evaded. Evaded by sheer luck of being loved by two amazing girls… Alex shook his head. ‘Okay, one more chance…’
    
    Being extremely generous today Celestia lingered setting the Sun completely, granting her subjects the colourful show of variety of pink, golden and even greenish tints, because of the thin and transparent low clouds at the western skyline; the colours faded slowly, giving up to the softly descending night, like the flowers closing their sleepy eyes at the foot of his hill. The omnipresent cicadas already crept out, invading the dried grass, and started sawing the warm August twilight.
    
    ‘I would bring more troubles than I solved. Those neither me, obviously, nor anypony would have any power of preventing. Damn, where was my head… planning something as foalish and egoistic, as… suicidal…’ a bitter wry smile wormed on Alex’s face. ‘Man, your sarcasm is still here, you are definitely alive.’
    
    ‘That means, you can struggle a bit more… but…’ the insensibly falling night reminded Alex about the most vital problem at that moment. ‘But I have no solution for my nightmares. No matter how long I can still hold, I’m gradually turning insane, if nothing is done.’ He ruffled his hair tiredly, listening to the persistent choir of cicadas and throwing a look at the finally darkening sky, which revealed a few brightest stars already. ‘I doubt even she can help me… Besides, constantly altering my dreams, even if possible, is not an option.’
    
    “Luna!” Alex whispered that, still looking at the deepening sky quickly absorbing the remnants of daylight and spilling the multitude of stars instead. He didn’t expect an actual response and was immensely surprised, even shocked, shocked and stunned by the bright flash above the field.
    
    Shielding his eyes from the light, which faded fast, but left an afterimage, making him blink, Alex watched the landing alicorn, whose coat almost merged with the sky, but the starry mane played with the tints from darkest of the night to most gentle of the dawn. Leaving the shade of the oak tree Alex made a few steps toward the princess, but stopped, noticing her expression.
    
    Luna touched the ground lightly, the grass barely moved under her hooves, but her eyes were glowing bright and wings were still spread. Alex was granted by that look of the Night Princess only once, when Luna found out about his less than friendly encounter with some stallions in the bar. Being stunningly beautiful her look didn’t bode well, Alex was to admit Luna being rather beautifully dangerous at that moment. She quickly approached and her wings and flowing mane filled his view entirely, amazing and intimidating at the same time.
    
    Alex carefully took his breath, forcedly not stepping back, despite the first impulse.
    
    “Luna…” he couldn’t endure her glare and downcasted. “I…”
    
    “Alex!” she almost hissed through clenched teeth, towering above him and electrifying the air around; the hit of Luna’s silver-shod hoof in his chest, quite palpable, while not being exactly painful, made Alex stagger. Luna almost repeated Fluttershy’s words. “How could thou be such a no more brains than… such an idiot! Refusing the help of everypony and deciding instead that finishing thy life could be the best solution. Why dost thou fight to save each life thou can, if ‘t be true thou dost not value it arrant, dost not value thy own life? Thou even tried to shield from me most of the time… Ugghhh…” Luna groaned, stomping the ground forcedly and moving closer. “How…”
    
    “I’m… I truly regret…”
    
    “Thou regret?!!” Luna’s eyes launched sparkles. “Can thou even imagine how scared I was, thinking I… we may be too late to change anything? How scared Fluttershy was, at which hour she realized, what thou planned to undertake? But she darted to save thee without the second thought!”
    
    “Now lookest!” Alex swallowed a lump and finally took a small step back, only to see Luna better, not only her glowing eyes, he finally made himself look into. “I was exhausted by regret, by mine nightmares, by all the shit I have done...” eyes shone brightly, he almost shouted, venting all the tense of the last days. “By the life, as thou sayest, the life I FAILED to save,” he added quieter, the outburst faded. “I couldn’t live with that peacefully… I still can’t. But I am sorry! Verily!” Alex’s eyes dimmed and he closed them tiredly. “Please, forgivest me! I don’t know what to do now…”
    
    The silence lasted for an endlessly long minute, Alex was ready for Luna hitting him, as he thought, he probably deserved, even for her leaving without a single word. But instead he heard a tiny silvery, quite nervous, yet still a laughter. The velvet wings were not spread to oppress, they wrapped him into the warm feathery embrace… and a stone fell off Alex’s heart. Only one. Not the largest. But it was the beginning.
    
    “Finally!” the glow faded in Luna’s eyes and Alex could look into the familiar deep blue lakes with relief. “Finally I am observing Alex I know and love… not that grey shadow thou wast resembling ere. I know, it shan’t be easy, but thou art ready to fight… And, which is more important, thou art ready to accept the helping hoof.”
    
    “Luuunaaaa!” Alex snuggled his face into the silk of her coat, resting his head on the night blue shoulder, he ran his fingers across Luna’s cheek, inwardly hoping the darkness conceals his flaming face. “Please, forgive me… I don’t know if you both can, but…”
    
    “Thanks Harmony, I could catch thy last dream,” Luna’s head took the usual place on top of Alex’s and with a deep sigh she squeezed him tighter.
    
    “The one with Fluttershy falling… almost falling from the dam?”
    
    “Yes. Thou finally called me,” Luna huffed quietly, ruffling his hair, sending chills up Alex’s spine. “I suspected the worse… Ohhh… I was scared, Alex, thou can’t imagine how… I dreaded to think, it was too late, yet it was to be done exactly that way. Thou was to realize thyself, thy life being thine, doth not mean, thou can take it away futilely.”
    
    “But why her? After all… after our…”
    
    “Because I couldn’t follow thee without gaining harmful attention. Because she can fly…” Luna chuckled, looking down into Alex’s eyes. “Because she loveth thee, thou foal! Loveth thee no matter what and shalt do anything to save thee. Like I do!”
    
    Before Alex could say a word the soft lips covered his own, making his thoughts dissolve completely in the moment of bliss; unconsciously wrapping his arms around Luna’s neck Alex buried his fingers in her flowing mane, wishing for that minute to last forever. A load of his problems waited for him on the ground, but that meant nothing, while they were sharing that heavenly embrace.
    
    “I love thee!” quietly said Luna, when the stars in their eyes faded; she rubbed her soft cheek against Alex’s. “But I don’t know, what to do now either. I can’t take THAT burden. I can’t live without thee, Alex… And I can’t take thee for such a price. Stepping aside is the last thing I want… Mayhap we could… I don’t know…”
    
    “What dost thou mean, mine princess?” Alex felt how fast was Luna’s heart beating, he stroked her shoulders, getting another lavender kiss on his cheek.
    
    “Allowest me to show thee something,” Luna waited for an answer and Alex slowly nodded, not completely catching her thoughts.
    
    Luna’s eyes approached, filling his entire view, as she brought her muzzle closer and closer, this time not kissing Alex, but touching his forehead with hers; he was already drowning, choosing not to resist, but instead be driven by the deep blue whirlpools, where his dissolving consciousness led him.
    
    The yellow dry grass with colourful fallen foliage, the grey-blue sky with rare clouds, crossed by dark naked branches, the air filled with the smell of damp soil and leaves and the barely perceptible breath of winter. Alex’s feet didn’t hit the ground, to his surprise he could see everything around, except himself, when he looked down. The familiar low fence nearby gave him the cue and, turning abruptly, Alex saw the façade of Fluttershy’s cottage, lit by the low evening Sun.
    
    “What?..” started Alex, but the silky lips touched his ear; he could fall (having his body at the moment), startled by the dissonance between tactile and visual sensations.
    
    “Shhh… It’s a dream. Not thine or mine, obviously. It’s Sunday evening…”
    
    Luna fell silent, interrupted by the sound of the front door. Somepony slid outside, wrapped in the thick warm cloak; the deep hood fell almost on the snoot, but a strand of pink hair…
    
    ‘Wait, why her mane looketh that dull, the colour is a faint semblance, greyish and pale?’ Alex was unsure if he asked himself or said that aloud. It appeared to be of no difference, as he got his answer immediately.
    
    “Yes, that’s Fluttershy,” the silvery voice was sad and spiritless in its empathy. “She can’t hear us, Alex. I would like thee to watch though, thither is time for questions anon.”
    
    Fluttershy shrugged under the hood convulsively and pulled it forward, hiding her muzzle and wrapping in her cloak tighter. Looking under her hooves not to slip on the dead leaves, she headed to the field, closing the fence gate behind. Alex noted that despite moving with her usual grace, she walked slowly and mournfully, something took away an insensible part of her gait, making it different, less vivid. He was to follow Fluttershy, obedient to an unknown bond, leading him where his marefriend’s goal was.
    
    Apparently, Fluttershy followed the usual path, as she proceeded fluently and determinedly, even submerged in her thoughts; Alex concluded that these walks, or whatever it was, occurred regularly. Wiping a few tears Fluttershy braced herself, she was yet to cross the field of high dry waving grass to reach the small hill with the single large tree. The hill where… where he and Luna were in reality, even knowing it was Fluttershy’s dream Alex winced from that notice.
    
    He kept watching, pulled by the dream route and given no alternative; shortly Alex couldn’t stay dispassionate, wishing with the entire aching heart to become a more tangible part of that dream. The further in the field, the closer to the hill, tears ran down Fluttershy’s face like the salty waterfall, blurring her view; tangling in the high grass, she shook her head and sped up towards the hill clearly visible in the crisp cool autumn air.
    
    The large oak seemed older, more overgrown, it dropped the last leaves, covering the ground, where its shade gave shelter in summer. Something protruded from the hill surface, something solid, cold, high and smooth enough, so the leaves couldn’t hide it in their last futile attempt. Fluttershy approached that, looking foreign at the familiar place, object, giving Alex an opportunity to look.
    
    “Alex the Human, unknown - 4 NLE August …” said the grey stone, a few oak leaves stuck to the surface, covering the last digits.
    
    “Good evening, my love!” quietly said Fluttershy. The tears already dried, giving up to fateful tranquillity; with a tiny sad smile she lay in front of the memorial, resting her head on the folded fore legs. Fluttershy’s breath caught and swirled the oak leaves, sweeping them off the stone.
    
    Alex’s vision darkened, dragging him into the tight whirlpool again, and in a second he found himself standing among the warm summer night, in Luna’s embrace… catching for air, like drowning, and shivering. He raised dilated eyes on Luna, unable to find proper words; the princess nodded shortly.
    
    “The stone is supposed to be right whither thou art standing…”
    
    “What’s NLE?” Alex’s voice was barely audible.
    
    “New Lunar Era,” said Luna calmly. “This year exactly. And the second date could easily be yesterday, if ‘t be true thou got wasted not; it was Sunday,” she fell silent for a brief moment. “She seeth that dream regularly since…”
    
    “Since the… Dam?..”
    
    “No, Alex, since thy fight with the Seekers at the warehouse.”
    
    “Merlin’s pants! No wonder she was…” Alex covered his eyes with the palm. “I had no idea, Luna. I was such an idiot…”
    
    “That doth not mean thou needst to avoid doing, what thou findst dignified,” Luna mercifully looked away. “Although, a zilch more consideration towards others’ feelings would be quite a prize for everypony.” She let out a tiny smile and added gently. “Thither is one more frequent dream of hers, alas, the first one prevaileth lately, but…”
    
    Another familiar swallowing glance and feeling Luna’s silky touch on his forehead, Alex dived into the next vision.
    
    When the milky haze dissolved and the world around him took clear outline, Alex could easily tell that whatever he was going to be presented, the dreamer’s mood was completely different, compared to the first vision. It was the day or early evening, the Sun shone quite high into the sky, escorted to the distant nightly rest by the birds’ singing; various insects, among which the awesome large blue butterflies took the place of honour, filled the garden; the shape of the house could be seen behind the trees and with amazement Alex recognized Fluttershy’s place again. The house seemed bigger though for some reason.
    
    The unforgettable scent of flowers, Alex was able to enjoy only once, when he first arrived in Equestria, told him, it was late spring or early summer. Accompanied by the freshness from the nearby stream it filled Alex’s imaginary lungs, making his imaginary head spin. He squinted…
    
    When Alex opened his eyes, the vision moved aside slightly and… Alex’s heart fluttered unwillingly: under the large tree, bathing in the warm setting Sun, lied Her. Resting in the almost regal pose on the lush grass, amazingly contrasting with her silky yellow coat and bright sumptuous pink mane and tail, which covered almost all space under the tree, visibly becoming even longer since last time, Fluttershy looked more mature, but at the same time even more stunningly beautiful, if that was possible to imagine. Long slender legs, perfect mare shapes, luxurious shiny mane and tail, sharper, but wonderfully fitting and aristocratic lineaments; Alex stared and stared in awe. He almost felt by the back of his head the faint smile of Luna, but he couldn’t do anything to himself.
    
    After a few endlessly long moments some noise attracted his attention, Alex turned to the source of it and… froze again surprised and stunned even more: two foals played in the garden, running jumping, chasing butterflies and making the merry fuss. The unicorn colt was younger, he jumped a bit clumsily yet, funnily throwing his hind legs in the air; the pegasus filly already tried to fly, teasing and fluttering above her brother with loud glinting laughter. Their noisy romp brought a peaceful and loving smile on Fluttershy’s muzzle, making Alex’s heart skip another beat.
    
    “Mom, when is dad coming?” getting a bit tired of making circles around her mother the filly snuggled to Fluttershy, nuzzling her shoulder and looking into the bigger version of her turquoise eyes inquiringly. Her little brother almost rolled near and supported her eagerly. “Yeah, when, mom, when?”
    
    Fluttershy wanted to reply something, but throwing a quick glance at the road behind the fence, she let out a joyous smile and simply nodded there instead of the answer; Alex fancied the dear floral-honey aroma. He or his vision,it didn't matter, froze on the spot, as if the gigawatt of electricity flowed through him… facing himself! Almost unchanged, tiredly smiling, shaking the dust off the long blacksmith apron, he opened the gate and headed towards them with wide springy steps, at once losing all the visible fatigue.
    
    Foals darted to him with happy squealing and hung in his embrace. With double load Alex crossed the glade and kneeled to Fluttershy, she leaned to him in response and their lips melted in a loving kiss. The vision already fell apart dissolving in swirling mist and after a second Alex found his actual self under the same oak, next to Luna.
    
    “Merlin’s pants…” exhaled he, hiding his face in trembling hands, gasped and couldn’t say anything else.
    
    With another understanding smile Luna didn’t tell him that he was repeating. She patiently waited till Alex could brace himself. Finally, he raised eyes at her, asking unexpectedly.
    
    “A unicorn colt? How on… Equus?”
    
    “That’s what puzzled thee,” Luna couldn’t hold a smirk. “So, the idea of having foals with the equestrian mare isn’t looking strange for thee already…” Seeing him flushing to the roots, she mercifully changed the topic. “I can’t tell for sure. Tis her dream, I’m not adding anything. Mayhap she considers thee, the human, different enough to provide strange combinations…” Alex choked on air and Luna continued, as if noticing nothing. “Or mayhap thou not being arrant inert to magic could give a chance of the unicorn foal… theoretically, of course,” chuckled she, seeing Alex flaming, ready to fall through the ground. Then suddenly her voice became completely serious again.
    
    “Anyway, that made me think a lot, mine love. If that’s what I’m ready to prevent befalling. I don’t see the univocal solution now, it’s too hard, too gravely crucial for all of us.”
    
    “I love thee too much, Alex. Thus I better step aside, than allow any of us to make some drastic mistake… despite giving up on thee is the last thing I wanted to do,” whispered she barely audible, nuzzling Alex’s cheek. “I nev’r minded sharing, as I said, but…”
    
    Alex raised his hand and stroked Luna’s neck slowly, still dumbfounded by what he saw and heard; she sat next to him and cuddled with her fore legs, Luna’s heavy sigh was more meaningful than thousands of words.
    
    “Thou needs to talk with Fluttershy, mine love!”
    
    “I tried, Luna, I truly tried,” Alex held her carefully, like made of porcelain. “Shy is angry with me… and she can’t be blamed for that, in the earnest. She didn’t want to see me, when I tried to explain…”
    
    “It shalt take some time, mine love. She is shakingly scared… and angry at thee vastly because of that. Thou must show the readiness to talk, to move the situation from the dead point. Beest patient…”
    
    “I feared, I could lose thee, Alex!” added she, nuzzling his hair like enthralled. “I still can’t believe that could actually befall…”
    
    “I shall do mine best…” Alex wrapped his arms around Luna’s swan-like neck, snuggling to her. “But I don’t know what to do with my nightmares. They keep me restless, exhausting me arrant, I feel like a tiny bit longer of that torture and I shall go insane…” Shadow ran across his face. “I can struggle at daytime, work helpeth immensely… but at night I’m helpless. Each time I close the eyes, I see that stallions hopeful glance. It burneth me from inside!”
    
    “I understand that thou can’t pamper me all the time,” Alex looked away and immediately felt soft loving lips on his cheek. “But I’m desperate, Luna… I don’t know what…”
    
    “Alex, mine love, methinks I have an idea, which shalt help thee survive, while thou art learning to accept, what befell. Hast thou ev’r had any dreams while sleepwalking? I mean, any actual dreams, seen by the sleeping thee…”
    
    Alex turned to Luna like thunderstruck, noticing the sly sparkles in her bottomless eyes; Luna nodded, raising one eyebrow.
 
    *
    
    The fast and loud knocking on the front door made Twilight jump on the spot, she was peacefully gathering a few things in her saddle bag, planning to visit Fluttershy that evening and didn’t expect anypony to come that late. Spike was going to take a nap, resting of his daily chores… after he subtly inquired and found out that Rarity wasn’t going to join the girls that time. Twilight didn’t see Alex since morning, but she wasn’t worried, as that was quite a common case for him to get up early and quietly whisk, minding his own business; lately even more often. Besides, his bed was accurately fixed and the damp towel, drying in the bathroom, told her that Alex came through his morning “ritual” of sitting for quite a while at the upper balcony of the Library, coming down a bit shaky and nauseous and needing to cool and calm down. She made no reckoning of nothing being prepared for the breakfast, despite it was a rare occasion normally, while returning late was entirely common for him.
    
    Raising one eyebrow from pure curiosity – it couldn’t be Alex, then whom it was, Twilight opened the door; she froze on the step in surprise, least expecting to see that guest, late or not.
    
    “S-Silver Ingot?”
    
    “Sorry for bothering, princess Twilight,” the thin frame and posture of the unicorn filly expressed the indescribable mix of extreme confusion, strong determination and utter terror. “B-but… it’s an emergency. Alex…”
    
    “Oh, Celestia, you are shaking, Silver. Come on in, please,” Twilight held the door, the anxiety started to infiltrate her soul as well. “And… it’s simply Twilight, okay? Please,” added she automatically. “So what’s about Alex?”
    
    “I… We need to find him. Immediately!” seeing that strong embarrassment touched Twilight’s muzzle, Silver Ingot threw away her doubts and dropped bluntly. “Alex… may want to commit suicide!”
    
    “Sweet Celestia! What am I saying, he is most definitely going to commit suicide!” Silver Ingot almost jumped on the spot, her voice gained an octave.
    
    “What?!” Twilight’s eyes got round, she produced a nervous cackle, but quickly pulled Sil inside and slammed the door shut. “What, sorry? Are you sure? He…”
    
    “I’m terribly sorry, princess… but I am absolutely, entirely sure,” Silver Ingot stomped her hoof impatiently, despite the guilty expression on her muzzle, she wasn’t going to give up. “I can swear by anything we have with my uncle, by the smithy… by anything… that I am not making things up!”
    
    “Okay. I admit he is depressed and shattered after… the dam… But suicide. I could never imagine, he looks determined in his struggling with those memories. Please, do tell!” Twilight shook her mane.
    
    Silver Ingot quietly groaned, visibly desperate about the necessity to explain and lose time.
    
    “The whole his behaviour, pr… Twilight,” she remembered. “Alex was drowning in his regrets and terrors more and more each day. He came exhausted since mornings and I hardly mistake, if I suppose, he couldn’t sleep: eyes bloodshot, he was absent-minded, if he concentrated on something, he couldn’t switch fast, he became pensive occasionally out of the blue.” She took her breath and continued, not giving Twilight, who looked sceptical still, a chance to interrupt. “But the main thing – the changes in his work. He suddenly made a few complex amendments to the new smelter, he was building, making it operable by a single pony. Even if it was obvious: for the full advantage we couldn’t cope without his abilities.”
    
    A faint shadow ran across Twilight’s stretching muzzle, while Silver Ingot quickly proceeded.
    
    “He mentioned his inability to solve his problems, him being tired, coming through that tragedy repeatedly, having only one possible way out,” Sil shuddered catching herself on speaking about the human in past tense already, but found the strength to exclaim. “The only possible way out, Twilight! And on top of that, he brought me his papers one day, asking to keep them safe “until necessary”. I admit, that alone is not enough to suspect… But with the rest, with what he came through…” she gasped. Twilight approached and wrapped her fore leg around unicorn girl’s shoulders. Getting over herself, Sil whispered. “I couldn’t hold myself… It bothered me much and I took a look… Blueprints, notes, future plans, quite a portion of his work… Alex left those for us to keep, until it’s time to use them, while we can barely implement the half. Do you understand, what it means, Twilight?”
    
    Twilight shuddered, at that moment, reimagining all the strange things Alex said recently, she was to admit the rationality of Silver Ingot’s words; she remembered that she didn’t see Alex since the very morning, moreover she didn’t see any signs of his activity except the damp towel, the cold fear started creeping into her soul. Confusedly apologizing, Twilight rushed to Alex’s room: everything was on its place, almost exemplary order, hardly achievable where somepony lived and worked. The curtains hang dull and motionlessly, the window was closed.
    
    The window was closed!
    
    ‘Alex never closes it. He comes and goes through the window too often,’ Twilight tried the frame, finding it firmly shut, no wind could do that. Twilight’s heart dropped somewhere below her fetlocks and fluttered there. ‘He closed it… knowing… that he was not coming back! Alex didn’t plan to return!!!’
    
    Apparently, everything was clearly written on her muzzle, when she dashed back into the hall; Silver Ingot easily read the worst signs and squeaked in despair.
    
    “Now! Where can we look for Alex? Where could he go to… Arrrghhh!!!” Twilight trotted a nervous circle around the Library hall, pondering aloud. “Calm down, Twilight! We need a solid plan…” she turned to Silver Ingot. “Did he tell anything… well, mention occasionally. Maybe the place, which could improve his state of mind, or… He spent more time at the smithy than here.”
    
    “I’m afraid, we talked only about the work,” the unicorn filly shook her head, downcasting.
    
    Twilight facehoofed. “It’s so Alex-like!”
    
    “Well, fortunately, there are not so many places around Ponyville… And Alex couldn’t reach some far point that fast… There are not so many places, where one can… can…” Twilight twitched visibly, glancing at blacksmith’s niece. “Where… you know…” Sil convulsively nodded.
    
    “I wholeheartedly hope, he didn’t use the railroad,” muttered Twilight; seeing that Silver Ingot is close to a blackout, she quickly explained, feeling the cold sweat on her own forehead. “To ride somewhere far from here, not to… Although… No! I sure hope not…”
    
    “Wait!” Twilight’s eyes shone with some memory. “He was fighting is acrophobia lately. I thought, that was purely not to let the dam… incident happen again, but now…”
    
    “The mountains are too far,” as usual, having a clear route, Twilight thought fast and sharply. “Another place is the dam… I doubt that Alex could go there willingly, of course… but we can’t drop that possibility. What else do we have?” she scratched the back of her head, Ponyville wasn’t surrounded by the dangerous places, especially heights; suddenly her eyes dilated. “The Clock Tower!”
    
    She examined Silver Ingot fixedly, most ponies in the town treated the blacksmith small family with a certain degree of distrust; Twilight couldn’t risk, sending her, where long and uneasy explanations would be necessary. Although, Alex worked with Apples the longest and assembled the biggest party of machinery for them, he was close enough with the family and Twilight knew, he discussed the blacksmith with Applejack and others. Naturally, Apples must show more tolerance and trust.
    
    “Time is short! Silver, please run to the Apple Acres and tell everything briefly to Jackie and Mac. Refer to me, if necessary,” Twilight picked her saddle bag. “Send Big Mac to the railway station, they know what to do in such cases. You and Jackie check the Dam, please. It’s a low chance, but…”
    
    “Then… Spike… No, let Spike sleep,” Twilight shook her head. “I notify Pinkie and Rarity myself, they both can run around Ponyville and find out anything they can. I can ask Rainbow, but I doubt, she joins…”
    
    “I go to Fluttershy and we try to search around the tower and the tower itself carefully!” Twilight was ready to teleport, lighting her horn.
    
    “What are you up to, girls, pray tell?” the tired voice sounded like a sudden strike of thunder, making both Twilight and Silver Ingot jump on the spot and turn around fast.
    
    Alex stood as large as life in the front door, leaning on the frame, jaded, ruffled, grey-faced, but safe and sound. The deafening silence made the rustling of coats perfectly audible; both girls sat right on the spots they were standing.
    
    It took a few minutes to convince Silver Ingot, she was not seeing things. At first, Alex wanted to suggest his own version of events, totally unrelated to suicidal thoughts, but the look of utter embarrassment and shame on Sil’s muzzle made him abandon that; he couldn’t let her look completely nuts, because of his own wicked ideas.
    
    “Look, Sil, whatever it was, I reconsidered,” Alex looked fixedly into the eyes of unicorn girl, who was ready to drop a tear. “Rest assured, I’m not going to do anything stupid!”
    
    Silver Ingot inhaled fitfully, realizing that in point of fact she was right and only some outstanding accident made Alex actually change his mind regarding his “departure”; Twilight cupped her mouth with the fore hoof in shock, apparently, she doubted the mere possibility of such thoughts coming into Alex’s head, but almost the literal confession caught her off guard.
    
    “Thanks for concerning about me that much,” Alex took Silver Ingot by shoulders softly, feeling how her strained muscles finally started relaxing; she closed her eyes and nodded shortly. “And… I’m very sorry, Sil, for scaring you so much.”
    
    She nodded again, it wasn’t obvious, if the tension released her completely, but in a moment Sil squeezed a small smile.
    
    “I… I better go now. Sorry, pri… Sorry, Twilight!” she turned to Alex again. “I’m glad that… that you changed your mind.”
    
    In the doorway something made her stop and look over the shoulder.
    
    “Your papers, Alex… I’m sorry, I didn’t bring them with me and…”
    
    “Excellent!” overcoming the fatigue Alex made the most cheerful face he was capable of at the moment. “Let them stay with you for now. I’m sure that they are as safe as the could only be. We need to check them tomorrow, I have a couple of ideas, how to improve the smelter. Tell your uncle, I shall be as usual, please.” This time Sil nodded vividly with a heartily smile.
    
    “So?!” Twilight stared at Alex fixedly, when the front door closed after the blacksmith’s niece finally. That short “so” was worth a thousand words, making Alex imagine that if Twilight was a human girl, she would be standing hands akimbo most likely. He expression was identical to the human equivalent for the similar situation though. “Don’t you want to tell something, Alex?”
    
    “Well… I actually climbed the Clock Tower,” Alex noticed, how she twitched, and continued neutrally. “But… two girls helped me see the things differently.” Twilight raised one eyebrow slightly, explaining, who those two girls were, wasn’t necessary. “And while I know, what the Seekers’ victims feel… right before… well, thou knowest… Methinks I’m ready to struggle a zilch more, despite that. I can’t allow that befalling again and again.”
    
    “Oh, dear!” Twilight took her breath, watching Alex’s expression carefully. “I’m glad… that…” She couldn’t continue and simply waved her fore hoof, sniffing and blinking fast.
    
        “Thou seest, Twilight,” Alex heavily dropped next to her on the floor. “Figuratively I fell from that tower… but managed to survive!”

 

 

---

Author's note: 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 :yay:

  • Brohoof 1
  • yay 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Tis actually the last already written chapter of the book. All the further chapters shall be posted as they are written. For example, the current (17th) chapter is half-written yet.

Stay tuned and mine endless gratitude to everypony, who are reading and enjoying!

4203172.thumb.png.48f0bb8e94110d179844cb0b994d40f7.png

  • Brohoof 1
  • Smile 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Join the herd!

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.