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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.”


        “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…’


        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.


        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.”


        “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.




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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.
    “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.
    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?’
    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…
    “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.
    “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:  "Thumbs up" are very welcome, comments either. Mine most sincere gratitude in advance!


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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!


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17. Feathery trouble.

Author's note: No, tis not the whole chapter dedicated to Rainbow Dash :orly:



    Last night Alex took Twilight’s sleeping potion again, as he wasn’t sure, if he could relax enough even for a short moment, to use Luna’s advice. Not being a fan of the chemical or, in that case better say, alchemical sleep, he couldn’t deny that the night completely free of any dreams, turning off and dropping like a log at once, was what his body called for. Alex spent the rest of it behind the protection of artificial sleep and felt nearly normal upon awakening. Even managed to get to the bathroom fine…
    He might think that the worst was left behind, but the reality was going to prove otherwise, preparing a certain surprise for Alex.
    Soft morning light flooded the bathroom through the small window on the eastern “wall”. Alex turned on the water, half asleep yet, leaning on the sink and trying to yawn with his mouth closed, not luxating his jaw at the same time; the hot stream was breaking in the sink noisily, filling the air and Alex’s lungs with steam. He rubbed his face, driving away the remnants of sleep, and wiped a small clear window on the misted mirror.
    The tired aquamarine eyes blinked, then focused on Alex, pupils narrowing with waking and recognition…
    Staunch Flume was falling silently through water mist with the filly on his back, confusion and bewilderment written in his dilating eyes, remaining in Alex’s inner sight even after both ponies vanished behind the vapour clouds below…
    Alex fell to the motherly embrace of the ground at the foot of the Clock Tower, with trees of toy-size and Fluttershy’s cottage flashing its windows, like a small sparkle at the edge of the view; his expression became surprisingly serene with eyes closed and a faint smile ready to lighten his face…
    Alex slowly slid to the floor, grasping at the sink, as the forces suddenly left him; he sat there, feeling limp like a puppet with the strings cut, shivering and bracing his knees. The strong wave of realization, followed by weakness, hit him, knocking down and flooding over the head. His idea stopped looking nearly acceptable to him, let alone being capable to bring a serene smile.
    The remnants of sleep were broken and without yesterday’s salvatory adrenaline blockade Alex curled on the floor, cold sweat covering his forehead, when he imagined, what could have happened, if not for the vigilance and care of certain mares.
    ‘Moron!’ Alex gritted his teeth, trying to force the shivers away. ‘You almost took your miserable life for nothing. That would be a “perfect solution”… To leave more mares crying! Fucking idiot…’
    He didn’t hear the quick hoofsteps behind the blood noise in his ears, when the attack released him a bit, but the breaking monotonous sound of water made Alex raise his glance.
    “Alex?!” Twilight turned off the water and stared into his eyes with concern; it wasn’t an easy task to catch the focus of his floating pupils at first. “What’s going on?” she asked softly.
    “Proper…” Alex coughed, clearing his throat. “Proper judgment finally, I guess.” He grabbed the edge of the sink, leaning on the tub with another hand, and got up after the second attempt. “I just realized, what an idiot I was… Felt too screwed last night for it to come into my mind.”
    “I don’t know which part of myself I was thinking with yesterday…” the mirror got misted completely again and Alex was to wipe it carefully. “Not everypony is given another chance… Don’t know if I’m lucky yet, but I shall try not to waste it… If only my body came into agreement with my mind that fast,” he shuddered visible, holding on the edge, his knuckles getting white.
    “I said that last night… And I’m saying again… whatever it was, I’m glad that you didn’t do it!”
    “Thanks, Twilight!” Alex was examining his pale-grey, ruffled, crumpled self, but Twilight heard the expression in his words; he turned the water on and splashed a few handfuls on his face. “Well, nothing I couldn’t cope with, right?” he looked into his own eyes fixedly.
    “Are you sure? I mean… if… if you want to talk about that…” Twilight’s reflection watched him unconfidently. “I…” small hoof softly touched his back.
    “It’s okay, Twilight,” Alex kneeled, squeezing her shoulder lightly. “The “cure” was effective enough…” he rubbed a small bruise on his cheek, smirking faintly. “I’m not going to do something as stupid, if… if you’re talking about that. I have enough consequences to deal with.”
    “That’s exactly what bothers me, Alex,” Twilight still tried to see something at the bottom of his eyes; the result seemingly looked safe enough for the alicorn girl and she nodded slightly. “I would like to help! And I think I know, what can actually… make you breathe lighter.”
    “Okay, maybe later… I’m really fine, Twi,” Alex squeezed a tiny smile. “Well, not fine as in completely fine… you know, but I’m going to deal with all that. With thy help, of course,” he raised and shut the water. “I wanted to visit Willsmash and… apologize for all the ado. That’s after bringing myself to some semblance of order…” he glanced at the shower unambiguously.
    “Oh, of course. Sorry,” Twilight’s nose flushed.
    ‘I still think, that’s exactly what he needs… to stop making a monster of himself,’ she closed the door under the noise of running water, her eyes shone with some idea.
    Dressing into the clean after a few minutes, Alex checked his yesterday’s clothes automatically, folding them before shoving into the laundry bin, when his fingers met something rough and leathery in one of the pockets. He took out and stared at the large light silvery-green leaf, absolutely non-crumpled even after those few hours, so thick and tough it was.
    Alex dropped the clothes, trying to remember, what that find reminded him of, brushing away the unwelcome memory of when and where exactly he got that leaf; somehow he felt that he was failing to catch the actual and very important clue. Slowly sinking on the sofa Alex spun the light-green star puzzledly, as if he was expecting some hint to appear on its coriaceous sides.
    “Twilight,” Alex raised his voice a bit, hearing the hoofsteps in the main hall. “Can you… For a moment?”
    “Yes?” the girl trotted through the doorway maybe even faster than expected. “What’s up, Alex? Why…”
    “I wanted to ask, if you ever saw…” Alex stopped, Twilight’s dilated eyes told him that she saw, moreover, she considered the thing in his fingers quite unusual. “…these leaves. Where are they from?” finished he, watching the girl.
    “That’s…” Twilight came closer, her eyes still fixated on the leaf. “Definitely, that’s a leaf from the Tree of Harmony. But… where did you get it from, Alex?” she glanced up at him in bewilderment.
    Alex’s face brightened up with recognition.
    “The Tree of Harmony…” repeated he slowly. “Isn’t it the huge… I mean, really huge tree, lush and silvery-green… somewhere in the Everfree forest, in a wide… cleft, sort of…” Alex rubbed his temples, forcing the memory. “And even then it’s higher than all the nearby trees on the ground level, so large it is?”
    His eyes met Twilight’s wild glance and Alex elaborated.
    “I saw it in my dream once… But I tend to think the tree itself was quite real, just as…” he stumbled. “Is it, Twilight?”
    “Y-yes… But you never told…” she took her breath and nodded. “The Tree of Harmony is indeed in the large natural cleft, deep into Everfree. Exactly as you described, but where…”
    “Oh, tis not a secret,” the part of the mystery was solved, but only a part of it; Alex still had no idea, why that large leaf should tell him not only about some equestrian relict tree. “That one,” he raised it and looked through at the window – totally futile idea. “was smacked into mine face somewhere amidst my tower climbing… there is a large section of broken wall… near the top,” Alex and Twilight gulped almost synchronously. “Methinks I shoved it into mine pocket automatically, it reminded me of something, but I couldn’t remember what exactly. I still can’t,” added Alex pensively. “But now I’m sure it wasn’t the Tree… of Harmony, or how it is called… Not only it!”
    “The cleft is far from the edge of the forest, from the Clock Tower,” Twilight still watched the leaf in Alex’s hand, then looked aside, rising one fore hoof in her thoughts. “This leaf… any leaf could hardly reach the tower from that far…”
    “I simply thought, it was strange to see a tree leaf thrown to that height,” Alex chuckled nervously.
    “Unless it was necessary…” dropped Twilight, looking at him. Through him…
    “Necessary for whom?” the smile froze on Alex’s face for a moment. “Twilight?!” he was to touch her lightly to gain attention.
    “I-I don’t know… for sure,” muttered Twilight, she examined Alex, like seeing him anew. “I must tell princess Celestia about that…”
    “Oh, come on, Twi!” Alex let out a short laughter, he was unsure if the new details added to his side of the scale. “Like if Tia had no important concerns, except me gathering some leaves…”
    “Alex… You are incorrigible!” Twilight presented him with a slightly annoyed glance. “That’s more important, than you may think.”
    “If you say so…” following her through the hall to the kitchen Alex realized how late he woke, compared to his usual mornings. The breakfast was served; Alex squinted – the plates were filled with something shapeless and, frankly speaking, strangely looking. However, the smell was quite nice.
    “Spike slept in and… I guess, it was my turn… for a change,” Twilight produced a humble smile, Spike covered a yawn with his paw, confirming her words. “I hope it tastes better than it looks. I’m a limited experience cook, sorry.”
    “Morning! No offence, Alex, but you look… worse than last days,” Spike stifled another yawn and measured Alex pensively. “If you feel half that bad… well…”
    “Oh, mine endless gratitude!” Alex bowed sarcastically. “I can always count on you, when Jackie is not near, Spike.”
    “I was simply stating the obvious,” shrugged Spike. “I think you should do something with these nightmares… Anything, to help you sleep… at least sometimes.”
    “Actually, he is right,” Twilight raised one eyebrow, watching Alex, who tried the unusual dish carefully; despite his suspicions, it was perfectly edible and the taste was nice. Twilight visibly relaxed. “I will hardly exaggerate, if I say that the night before you woke almost every several minutes… That’s when you could fall asleep at all. How long do you think you can hold? The princess…”
    “I think, there is a working remedy…” Alex filled himself slowly, his thoughts were somewhere far from the table. “I’m not going to take the sleeping potion nightly till hell… ahem… Tartarus freezes over.”
    “Luna told me one thing and it seemed, she got the point.” He focused on the company. “When I sleepwalk, I don’t have dreams… I mean, I can’t remember a single case the actual me to see some dreams, while in that condition. I have nothing to lose, right?” he shrugged, putting down the spoon. “So, I’m going to try it tonight. The only problem is to have enough time without the actual nightmares to…” he chuckled. “…“exit myself”.”
    “Well…” Twilight blinked several times. “If that actually works… You were doing it regularly before anyway.”
    “I would feel incomparably better, if I can get rid at least of the half of the nightmares. It’s enough that I constantly think about that during the day,” Alex nodded meaningfully; Spike wanted to say something, but Twilight stopped him, making big eyes, which Alex missed completely diving into his thoughts again.
    ‘I still need to check something, before I take Alex to meet them,’ Twilight glanced at him quickly, biting her lip. ‘I suppose they are prudent enough, but…’
    After the breakfast Alex volunteered for walking up to the market with Twilight’s list, he planned to visit the smithy, but needed to think over, what and how to tell the blacksmith and his niece. Truth be told, seeing their concern about his fate Alex felt guilty for making them worried, yet upsetting Sil by telling everything openly wasn’t an option – Alex remembered her expression last night well.
    However, when he was almost holding on the front door knob, his plans met a disarray in the muzzles of two guests; Alex could feel the mixture of some fancy shampoo and caramel smells. Stepping aside behind the door he opened it completely.
    “Hey! Twilight!” in two hops “caramel” reached the centre of the hall and grabbed the alicorn girl in a hug. “What a nice morning! I had some free time and met Rarity on my way here… I wanted to see…” her eyes found Alex behind the door and he could clearly read, whose poor soul she was after.
    “Ehhh… Yeah!” Twilight wiggled her wings, being released from her fluffy friend’s grasp. “Good morning, Pinkie! Good morning, Rarity!”
    “…Alex and ask him…” Pinkie tilted her head, examining Alex fixedly.
    “Morning, Twilight!” unlike her mate, Rarity pranced in gracefully, with dignity, every lady should uphold. Alex noticed that Spike was already wounded right through, even before being shot by her eyes; he quietly snorted, deliberately ignoring Pinkie’s heavy gaze, and closed the door…
    “Hello, darling!” Rarity turned to the sound, throwing a quick glance over Alex, but before a smile formed on her muzzle, Rarity’s eyes dilated and her expression transformed to an utterly concerned one. “Oh, Celestia! You’re so… pale and… Are you alright, Ahlex? Seriously, you’d probably better stay in bed and rest well, before returning to your work.”
    “Errmmm…” muttered Alex, he didn’t like, how Rarity’s eyes sparkled at the word “bed”; besides, the quiet grunt from Spike was self-explanatory. Pinkie opened and closed her mouth with offended expression, but something in his look made her agree with Rarity inwardly.
    Accepting no objections and noticing nothing, Rarity trotted around him and nudged lightly; not wanting to be poked by the horn accidentally, Alex obeyed, followed by the determined girl, until he found himself seated on the couch. Rarity watched him discomposedly, like if he was going to faint any moment.
    “Yeah…” Pinkie approached him from another side. “You look quite… beaten indeed,” she was to admit reluctantly. “What’s happened?”
    “Oh, come on, girls!” sighed Alex. “It’s not that I’m going to fall flat… That’s… an after effect of yesterday’s… endeavours,” added he evasively.
    “What kind of… endeavours those must be to get you to that condition, Ahlex?” Rarity was determined to find out everything. “That was something tough, even compared to your usual business…” she tried to smile.
    “Well… Let’s say the… stakes were quite high,” Alex heard, how Twilight quietly gasped, from the corner of his eye he noticed her shaking her head. “I would like to avoid that route of discussion, in the earnest. Apologies!”
    But Rarity wasn’t that easy to put out of countenance, Alex felt the cushions being levitated and carefully placed behind his back and under the elbow; he rolled his eyes, noticing Twilight’s smile.
    “Rarity, seriously… I’m okay. I actually planned to go and…”
    “…visit the certain pegasus girl and finally have a talk?” with deadly bluntness asked Pinkie, raising one eyebrow; nothing was going to distract her for long enough.
    “Yes. No… Not right now… Ugghhh!” Alex groaned, grabbing his head. “Look it’s not that simple. I wonder, if she even wants to listen to me… Especially after… I know, I need to do that. I just… must think how.” He raised his eyes almost pleadingly. “Actually, I was heading to the smithy, well, after the market, of course. We have lots of work and need to…”
    “I see…” sighed Pinkie, ignoring Rarity’s reproachful gaze. Thankfully, her nose twitched and Pinkie’s fluffy head turned towards the kitchen. “Hmmm… Smells delicious! Is that Spike’s, Alex’s or… your experiments, Twilight… finally.”
    Flushing, Twilight humbly shrugged and followed Pinkie, who quickly headed to the source of the smell; Rarity lingered for a moment, making sure that Alex was comfortably placed and not going to faint any moment, then the curiosity took over and she joined the girls, throwing a quick concerned glance over the shoulder at him.
    “Oh, Twilight…”
    Alex heard Pinkie’s sigh and couldn’t hold a giggle, vividly imagining her, leaning over the peculiar dish critically and shaking her cotton candy mane.
    “Although…” Pinkie fell silent, evaluating the rest of Twilight’s cooking qualities… more directly. “Mmmmm…”
    “Apologize to the girls for my sudden departure, Spike!” thankful for that distraction Alex jumped to his feet; grabbing the bags he quickly slid outside, followed by Spike’s vexed wave.
    The first signs of approaching autumn took over the fields with overgrown and starting to yellow in some places grass; the sounds of birds became rare, only a few persistent singers broke the silence this morning, disturbed otherwise by the becoming stronger wind only. The Sun was quite high, yet evaporating the dew on the long stems, leaves and flowers, it wasn’t able to completely dry the deep variegated green sea; Alex felt it at once, trying to cut the road turn through the field and quickly reverting from that idea, as his legs got wet inevitably.
    Brought by the south wind as usual, the smell of apples became stronger and stronger each day; so, Alex failed to notice that he took the wrong route, occupied by his thoughts, before his glance stumbled upon the high railway embankment – he made it too far to the left, taking the familiar road to the station automatically.
    With the loud whistle a single loco passed above, the gust from it finally brought the peculiar railway oil and heated metal wave; Alex noticed the familiar muzzle and torpidly waved the motorpony greeting him.
    ‘There! When you are too deep into yourself…’ with a shrug Alex turned back, as the smithy, not the railway station was his actual aim. He kept rewinding his visit to the market constantly.
    It wouldn’t be any different than usual one, if not for him coming across Fluttershy at the marketplace; Alex noticed her, paying off at one of the grocery stalls and making a couple of steps away, into the constantly mingling herd. His hesitation wasn’t lengthy and Alex headed towards the bright pink-yellow figure, inwardly considerably less confident than it was written in his moves and expression.
    Fluttershy saw him, when he passed half of the way, tacking between ponies hurrying about their business and apologizing upon accidental collisions; she stumbled visibly, but remained at the spot, properly reading his aim. For which Alex was already grateful, despite the feeling that Fluttershy decided, it was easier to settle things at once than listening to him again, didn’t want to leave him alone.
    “Good morning!” inwardly facepalming Alex quietly kneeled to his… his?.. marefriend, realizing that they inevitably attracted some glances from the nearby stalls. Yet it felt better than talking through the closed door. “I… errmmm…”
    Fluttershy simply nodded, her wide open turquoise eyes glanced up at him, stopping at his for a second.
    “Morning,” Alex barely heard her, a great dose of embarrassment mixed to her hard feelings towards him at that moment, but… if Fluttershy wanted to leave, she would have done that undoubtedly. Her voice became more determined and audible. “Are you going to tell me something, I didn’t hear yet, Alex?”
    “Shy,” a familiar sparkle brightly lit in her eyes at that word, but quickly faded; all Alex’s thoughts left his head, dissolving in the turquoise whirlpools. “Please, forgive me…” Alex braced himself with a sigh. “I’m hardly original… but I truly mean that. I do regret, verily!”
    “Regret what? That you tried… what you tried. Or… that I came in time…”
    “Neither,” Alex swallowed a lump. “I regret of making thee cry, Shy… offending thee…”
    The foreign glances thickened, but they could do nothing about that; Alex heard a couple of grumpy remarks about them making a scene amidst the road, instead of finding a better place for that, not obstructing busy ponies’ way. The other time he could have laughed at that…
    “Sorry,” quietly whispered Fluttershy, hiding her muzzle behind the amazing hair almost completely. “I didn’t mean to… Maybe I have forgiven you already, Alex… in my mind. But I still can’t look at you and believe that you could think of… escaping… that way!” added she suddenly stronger, with barely hidden anguish, inhaling intermittently, as if struggling for air. “I… don’t know what to say…”
    Words could make it more miserable only, Alex stretched his arm, touching Fluttershy’s shoulder was the only thing, which came into his aching mind at that moment.
    The mare took a small step back, looking aside with a tiny sigh.
    The hand fell down halfway.
    “I need to go… Sorry.”
    Alex closed his eyes, he could hear only those receding hoofsteps in the buzz of the surrounding herd.
    “Hey! Are you okay?” after the eternity a passing by stallion shook him on his arm. “She has left already…”
    “Yeah… I know…” squeezed out Alex, slowly getting up. He shielded with his back from the curious glances and a couple of sympathetically concerned ones.
    Alex could hardly remember the further purchases or how he crossed the market at all. Twilight looked at him strangely, unpacking the bags upon his return, but told him only to be careful on his road to Willsmash.
    Alex woke up, reaching the fence, when his hand lied on the gate; Will and Silver Ingot were outside and turned to him both interrupting their conversation at once. He noticed concern and visible relief, mixed in their eyes. And… something else, maybe some flashback, in the glance of the old blacksmith; Alex didn’t fixate on that, entering the yard and stopping a few steps before the unicorns.
    “I would like to apologize,” without the extra foreword started he. “For all the hassle, for misleading you… For making our work irregular and… quite chaotic at times. I’m sorry!”
    “No need to, Alex. You did, what you could and… frankly speaking, we have nothing to complain about ever since you came here.”
    “You left the papers to my niece and vanished for a day,” nodded Willsmash, his tone was light, contrasting to the extremely serious glance of his attentive eye, almost evaluative. “I admit, that was… that looked strange enough. But it’s your work at the end of the day, you decide what to do with it.”
    Alex threw an understanding glance at the blacksmith and didn’t argue.
    “I want to continue… if ‘t be true ye don’t mind working with somepony that occasionally becometh incoherent,” carefully choosing words said he instead. “Twilight’s generator is barely touched… and the armour is still… nothing more than a plaything, while I’m theorizing.”
    Silver Ingot, who didn’t drop a word since Alex’s arrival, approached him; he caught himself on involuntary thought, how tall she was compared to the majority of ponies. Alex tried his best to endure the attentive gaze, the mare kept searching for any known only to her alarming signs, seemingly couldn’t find any and let out a tiny sigh.
    “Still… Why? Why did you leave the drafts to me? Those words… about “using them, when the time comes” and…” she gasped, unable to continue.
    Looked into those bright, almost glowing eyes and remembering her muzzle last night, when he suddenly witnessed her desperate attempt to find him, Alex felt that he couldn’t tell her the truth. He had no right to add more sadness to anypony’s life, because of his own problems.
    “I,” Alex looked aside. “I thought, I had another chance to return to mine home world,” lied he with the light heart. “There would be no use for them there, while their purpose was to help you improve the smithy.”
    “The chance was illusory…” Alex tried to shrug away the unwelcome realization, that part of his words was deadly truthful. “So…”
    “Welcome back, son!” nodded Will, Alex fancied the same flashback glimpse in his expression.
    To Alex’s surprise, Sil squeezed him around his chest with her fore legs, desperately flushing and ran into the house with a treacherous sniff; Alex stood, feeling a bit dumbfounded.
    “She was out of her element the whole morning,” Willsmash watched his niece with a tiny smile, then turned to Alex. “Thanks!” His gaze was full of understanding and some distant sadness, Alex didn’t have time to wonder, when the unicorn added.
    “I know how you feel, son,” Will checked Alex out evaluatively. “I was on that road… long ago. Before things went downwards,” he took a look over the resurrected smithy. “I’m glad, you didn’t go to the end of it.”
    ‘Oh, for Harmony’s sake… what are you doing?’ Princess Celestia noticed that her teaspoon was full of salt, right before dipping it into her tea; quite in time not to completely ruin the impression of finest light food. She facehoofed inwardly, returning the salt to the appropriate place and levitating herself a spare spoon instead of the “salted” one. Her absentmindedness grounded in the recent news and Celestia paid extra attention to stop after the third spoon of sugar, not making her breakfast tea resemble some syrup.
    What Alex did was quite unexpected for her, as one’s reaction in general and unusual attempt to cut all the problematic knots, and especially as a strong manifestation of treating his own fail (despite obvious facts, Alex treated it as such) gravely serious, up to practically self-sentencing. Celestia knew the other side of the same medal too well to treat this news lightheartedly. ‘It may appear quite easy to see the reason for your problem in others in the moment of emotional instability. And I can’t predict… and don’t want to, truth be told… what can happen.’
    Of course, the Day Princess knew all the possible details already, mostly from Twilight, and could extrapolate the missing parts of the image herself. The mere phrase “two girls made me reconsider” kept her pondering: while Fluttershy’s impulse was natural, Celestia didn’t doubt a iota, another girl was Luna, and it cost a little to conclude, she was the “brain and soul” of the rescue operation rather.
    Celestia watched her younger sister sitting behind the opposite edge of the long served table in the royal dining room; she wondered what thoughts occupied that head veiled with night-coloured mane, played by the wind, which brought freshness through the open window and made the curtains wave and flap. The princess loved that morning feel and smell, even when autumn was nigh, but at that moment her pensive glance was chained to the eyelashes of her sister; throwing long shadows on her cheeks, trembling lightly they made Luna looking almost sleeping, but Celestia knew her well – Luna never lost her concentration.
    ‘I’m confident in Lulu, sometimes even more than in myself, but…’
    ‘They are becoming too close, closer than I could ever expect. What may her influence on the human fruit with? She sees no danger in him and shares too much…’ Celestia sighed. ‘What if…’
    ‘On the other hoof, what did you expect from the girls? Wouldn’t you do the same in the similar circumstances?’ It wasn’t a question of falling for the human, of course, and Celestia chuckled lightly, but from purely benevolent reasons. ‘Besides, nopony knows, what could happen, if Alex put his unfortunate plan to practice…’ The thought about Discord, warning that physical elimination of the human wouldn’t be final anyway, made her huff in frustration, bright magenta eyes rolled sarcastically.
    The letter caught the princess mid-thought; a small green flash lit her cup, Celestia already held at her lips, and made her put it down, squinting anxiously. The letters, received that early, were usually the most important ones, as hardly anypony, especially Twilight, would dare to bother the princess with something insignificant in the morning. Celestia caught the scroll with her aura, before it dropped into her plate, and threw another quick glance at her sister; Luna yawned, sipping her nopony-knew-which-already coffee sleepily – she noticed nothing yet, unlike Celestia’s pet phoenix, who showed interest, almost sniffing the letter.
    Expecting to see Spikes calligraphy, Celestia discovered on that floral-honey fragrant scroll some familiar, but hard to recall hoof to her surprise; that was enough to double her attention.
    “Dear Princess Celestia!
    I never wrote to Your Highness before and knowingly apologize for any flaws, which I may thus commit! Although, the certain recent events regarding the human – which you were undoubtedly informed about by Twilight already – made me brace myself and address Your Highness directly.
    I know that Your Highness and the respected Royal Mage Council performed the extensive research of the means to transport the human to his home world, taking his magic resistance into consideration. It’s not a secret that your joint attempts were fruitless due to his nature and, of course, I have no reasons to not trust your expertise and effort.
    But I also happen to be informed that you looked mostly for the methods of transportation, basing on the assumption that somepony summoned Alex to Equestria. Your Royal Highness, princess Celestia, please forgive me my impudent attempt at advice and that wicked idea, but… what if you are dealing not with the pony, human (if it is possible) or any other known creature magic in that case?
    There are some powers in Equestria (I was able to witness during the events in the Crystal Empire), which can’t be strictly named sentient in pony sense, but nevertheless possess own, often unpredictable, will and plans. This we can’t deny, even if the assumption that the Crystal Heart could summon somepony is farfetched, there are a few others, as far as I know, which may have played their role.
    Your Highness, being absolutely sincere I am writing that with the aching heart, as Alex’s departure is the last thing I could desire. But I promised to support him in everything he aspired to, be near and provide my helping hoof no matter what. So, if his ardent wish is to leave Equestria for Earth, I can’t stay aside and keep that suggestion to myself. That would be the worst imaginably unfairness, done to Alex.
    Please, princess, take that idea into consideration and don’t judge me too strictly.
    Your always loyal subject

    P.S.: I can’t watch him suffer and I’d better send him to Earth, than lose him completely and wittingly, even if Alex claims that the recent events won’t happen again…
    Lowering the letter Celestia closed her eyes for a second, muttering in half-voice.
    “Poor girl!”
    “What, apologies?” it seemed, Luna finally noticed the scroll and made an effort to wake up, seeing her sister’s concerned muzzle. “I didn’t hear thee well, sunny…”  
    Sending the scroll afloat across the table, instead of an answer, Celestia did her best to look relaxed again; she levitated a walnut core from the salad to Philomena, princess’ phoenix perched her armchair backrest and picked the treat with quiet cooing. With genuine interest Celestia watched Luna, catching the letter and running her eyes across the lines, waking up fast. The Night Princess squinted attentively, then the faint shadow touched her muzzle, making her wrinkle her cute nose funnily; nevertheless, it was evident, the letter provoked some uneasy thoughts in Luna.
    “I’ve just got that curious scroll,” dropped Celestia innocently. “What do you think, blueberry?”
    “Well, if ‘t be true Fluttershy sayeth, she wanteth to help Alex get home,” sighed Luna, still scanning the letter. “Then she is serious enough, as that’s hardly something she would fake.”
    ‘Just like me!’
    “At least she firmly believeth, that may work,” added Luna aloud, putting down the paper, which rolled tightly again.
    “What’s about the whole idea in general?” Celestia gently stroked Philomena with magic, making the phoenix squint and stretch her neck. “It looks somewhat familiar to me… and I’m not sure, if I like that feeling.”
    “She didn’t make a revelation, saying thither are some powers on Equus, sentience and motives of which we can’t arrant comprehend, but can’t deny either,” Luna shrugged casually; although, her strained perky ears told Celestia, she took the letter seriously enough. “As for the actual possibility to undertake that… I don’t know… Fluttershy is correct, something like the Crystal Heart could hardly do that, but… Tia, at which hour thou preferred to listen to mom, I spent mine time watching dad’s training or craft.”
    “Still I would like to know your point of view about that idea applied to…” Celestia even leaned forward, forgetting about her cooling tea. “Let’s say, applied to how exactly Alex arrived in Equestria. I hope you remember it quite well, despite the four months period.”
    Luna kept pensive silence for a couple of minutes; finally the spear eyelashes flew up and deep blue eyes stared into sister’s.
    “I watched the storm through the telescope forsooth, so I dare to think, spotted more details, thou might have missed, Tia. The storm didn’t look natural, but… I’m not a specialist in teleportation magic,” her ears flattened. “Yet what else could it be except a portal to deliver the human to our world?”
    Universal patience and readiness to wait as long as necessary were written across Celestia’s muzzle and Luna gave up.
    “Okay… If ‘t be true mine memory serveth me well, the whole nature and appearance of that “storm” gave the only one answer - that was, that resembled the… unfocused meta-portal. At least three of four attributes matched,” under Celestia’s surprised glance Luna continued. “I don’t know many mages, who can create those even theoretically, not mentioning that a magical instrument like that taketh immense amounts of power.”
    “You underestimate yourself, Lulu,” Celestia said heartily. “I always knew, what I was to study with great effort for hours, you often were able to catch up naturally. And what’s the most complicated aspect about the meta-portals?”
    “Them being unfocused methinks.”
    “Exactly! The rare cases they used are ones, when the mage doesn’t know the exact object or location at the moment the portal is created, that is why the power consumption, the complexity, the high possibility of mistake… and as the result, even those, who can, appeal to them quite rarely. The object is chosen during the meta-portal lifetime by meeting some criterion, then… poof!” Celestia clopped her fore hooves together. “But why? Even according to his story, Alex was an average human… Or not?”
    “That still leaves a few questions open,” added she after the long pause. “Who or what, if we admit that idea,” she nodded towards the letter. “as feasible. Was it entirely safe? What about Alex’s abilities?” Celestia elaborated. “While he might get his metabolism and sleepwalking as the result of interaction with alicorns here, he was already magically resistant, when Fluttershy brought him to her house. In that case, how was he transferred at all?”
    Luna listened to her sister, biting her lower lip, visibly deciding something.
    “Thou knowest that I visited Alex’s dreams…”
    “Yes, sister. That’s exactly where my anxiety grounds from!” Celestia raised one eyebrow.
    “Oh, Tia, dost not start again,” huffed Luna impatiently. “I’m not talking about that. Alex’s first dream I visited was exactly about his ride at the day of… transfer. I was practically able to ride his… carriage with him, unnoticed by him at that moment, of course,” Luna shrugged. “So… It looked exactly like the unfocused meta from the other side and it took quite some time, afore it aimed at Alex.”
    “Funny that you mention that now only,” dropped Celestia a bit grumpily.
    “Sunny, I told thee, I nev’r was a specialist in warp magic, besides, I could hardly help thy research, as not the kind of the portal mattered, but the mere human’s resistance to all kinds of magic,” Luna glanced at her sister. “What I mean is, whoever transferred Alex must be a really powerful being.”
    “Methinks our best bet must be the Tree of Harmony, sister. Besides, it’s quite close to the place Alex arrived to. And as we both know, it easily meets all the other conditions.”
    “You surely remember, what… who the Tree of Harmony actually is, blueberry!” Celestia couldn’t sound more serious at that moment. “I mean, the risks in case of…”
    “Although,” added she after a minute of silence. “I’ve got another interesting letter last evening, this time from Twilight. More of a short message rather, but very thought-provoking, Lulu. Very!” She put away her cup and brought her fore hooves together pensively, then glanced at Luna with concern. “The connection seems obvious, although, I don’t know what to think about all that. She wrote that Alex caught a leaf… from the Tree of Harmony… while on that tower.”
    Luna closed her eyes with a tiny sigh.
    “Considering the Clock Tower height and the distance to the cleft,” Celestia watched her with growing interest. “I’d say that leaf reaching him was least accidental. Yet it’s open to interpretation, of course. I’m not sure…”
    “Considering all we know about him, Tia,” Luna leaned forward meaningfully. “She is the only one capable to send him back, if ‘t be true that’s possible,” Luna shrugged with incorruptible sincerity. “The decision is thine. Trust me, I know about the risks and I would nev’r take that particular case lightheaded…”
    ‘…as I’m least interested in his departure!’ read Celestia in sister’s wide open eyes.
    That day Alex was to finish his work earlier, long before the sunset, as Twilight insisted on the eve; he had no idea which plans she had regarding him, but assumed that would involve some help or more generator checks – Twilight was very concerned about the Golden Oak wellbeing. Fortunately, the new smelter was almost finished, at least pure building stage was, for the rest Alex needed some extra help according to his research. Anyway, nothing prevented him from tying the ends earlier and using the remaining time for more training, as lately they had less time for that; the sudden pause in work came really handy.
    The Sun wasn’t very hot and the air provided enough cooling, not being entirely still, thus the training took longer time, utilizing naturally beneficial conditions. Alex was to spin like a squirrel in the wheel – the blacksmith increased the difficulty and charge significantly, compared to the first time, rightfully assuming that Alex needed to progress, not stomp on the single spot. Or perhaps he supposed that heavier training left Alex fewer chances to concentrate on his darker memories. Thus busy reflecting the numerous hit attempts of blacksmith’s wooden clubs, Alex didn’t notice Twilight, appearing on the road from Ponyville and approaching the smithy.
    “Wow! So this is what you do, when you put your metalwork away…”
    Alex threw a quick glance aside, finally spotting Twilight leaning with her fore legs on the fence and watching him with wide open eyes. Not less than half a dozen sticks flew around the human, keeping him constantly on guard and making the pole in his hands move that fast, it was hard to notice.
    “Yeah!” he breathed out, hitting away the next club. “Will… simply… uh!.. thinks that… the closer… uh!.. to the actual battle… huh!.. the better! Ouch!” his distraction by Twilight was rewarded by a palpable slap slightly below the back. Alex groaned, attacking the clubs with new energy.
    “This way it will be easier, when it comes to the real encounter!” smirked Willsmash, he slowly circled around Alex, looking for a weak spot in his defence as usual. “Good afternoon, miss Sparkle!” the old unicorn nodded slightly, but with visible respect.
    His warm and surprisingly unofficial tone made Twilight, ready to hear “princess” again, smile and relax. ‘I understand Alex, not believing that Willsmash was guilty of some grim incidents. If only other ponies were as open-minded…’
    “He could be twice more effective in the… certain condition,” noticed the blacksmith meaningfully. “But unfortunately, Alex prefers to test his abilities the most “natural way”, as he calls it!”
    ‘Maybe he is right,’ thought Twilight. ‘The temptation to take over the offensive “weapons” could be too high, who knows, what effect his ability colliding with magic could give…’
    “Can I steal your diligent apprentice, sir?” she let out a sly smile.
    “Of course, young lady. One of us is about to run out of steam anyway,” chuckled Willsmash. “Your intervention allows us both keep face…” Both Alex and Twilight couldn’t hold the laughter… and Alex missed a couple of pokes more.
    “Hey, that’s not fair!”
    A few minutes later they hit the road to Ponyville; Alex hurried a bit to leave the smithy – he noticed from the corner of his eye how Twilight fixedly watches Sil pouring water onto his hands, when he washed after the training. The sly sparkles in alicorn’s eyes and the shadow of the smile made Alex facepalm inwardly; he would prefer pouring a whole bucket of cold water on his head instead of those insinuations. Luna’s jokes about Sil being one of “simply nice fillies” were more than enough.
    Twilight trotted with good pace, making Alex follow and wonder, what came into the book-pony’s head. They managed to cover half of the way, when Alex failed to hold his questions; Twilight was unusually silent, yet determined and her pensive expression brought faint suspicions that it might be not only about some common household help.
    “Well, Twi,” Alex caught up with her and walked by side. “Maybe you finally crack it up and tell what problem made you… mum. I admit that the generator is half-baked yet, but I’m not going to leave it that way. There are a few things to connect and tune, I think we’ll be up in a couple of days. Twi?”
    It took her a minute or two, before Twilight finally tuned in, so deep in some thoughts she looked.
    “What hath befallen, Twi?” Alex felt, her uneasiness relayed to him.
    “Oh… Errmmm… It’s not about the generator,” Twilight blinked, looking at Alex, but her glance seemed turned inside, as if she was playing something in her mind or building a better strategy. “Although, making it work will be nice of you. Actually, I thought about another thing, Alex.”
    Twilight fell silent again, watching the road under her hooves and the complex plan in her mind simultaneously; Alex decided to wait patiently. They almost reached the Library back yard, when passing the windmill frame Twilight dropped another grain of information.
    “Remember, I told you, I had an idea, how to remedy your mournful thoughts at least partially?” her smile looked a bit unconfident though. “I think I can help… You mentioned that yourself anyway.”
    Alex sighed, wondering if Twilight planned to try her psychoanalysis experiments on him; however, he couldn’t remember, if he mentioned psychoanalysis at any point.
    “Well, if you think that may really help,” he shrugged away the image of Twilight trying to find the roots of his problem in his childhood. ‘No need to dig too deeply, checking the certain road accident… err… four… almost four already! months ago is enough.’
    “You’re not Rarity. I mean, what can probably go wrong, right?”
    Twilight chuckled nervously. They passed the Golden Oak, but when Alex threw an unequivocal glance at the front door, Twilight simply headed further across the square, making Alex even stop for a second.
    “Ahem… Twi?” Alex raised one eyebrow. “Ain’t we going…”
    “Come on, Alex,” she looked at him over the shoulder, nodding forward. “It’s not… in the Library.”
    “Oh… Well…”
    Side by side they crossed the square, a couple of streets with sunlit facades and front gardens; Twilight’s silence and pensiveness made concern slowly crawl into Alex soul, he couldn’t explain why, but something in that idea didn’t rub him well. At the same time he trusted Twilight’s wits and experience; not all the medicine tasted nice – that went without saying. Alex caught himself on suddenly paying attention to what he failed to notice seconds before – strong aroma of some late flowers in the gardens they passed.
    Finally Twilight stopped, her glance at Alex carried the mixed feelings, but Alex stared in another direction. He understood where exactly they were heading at once, at the very moment he noticed that house, all the windows of which were tightly curtained. Warm August sun flooded it with light, the flowers in the front garden looked only a bit wilted, maybe the owners forgot to water them properly; two ponies held a quiet conversation at the porch. But the house caused chills running down Alex’s spine; cold and blind it didn’t look like the houses in Ponyville supposed to.
    “Merlin’s…” Alex swallowed the sudden lump, his heart dropped and the world around turned grey and mute for a moment; Alex shook his head, shooing away the weirdness of finding himself inside a falsely drawn decoration, feeling punched in the stomach by reality. ‘Well, thou can’t deny that thou wanted to visit them forsooth. Rewinding and replaying the possible situation in thy mind… But at which hour it befalleth, thou feelest least prepared anyway.’
    “T-twilight,” Alex cleared his throat. “Is it… his house?”
    “Yes, Alex,” Twilight’s voice was quiet and sympathetic, she still watched him frozen on the spot with slight concern. “That’s Staunch Flume’s house… and his wife’s. His sister came to support Rainstrorm on those days, but… Don’t worry, they know we may come…” Alex glared at her, but he was to admit, he was nothing to complain about, Twilight did what she could to ease that meeting. “I think everything will go smoothly.”
    “Although…” she threw a quick glance at two ponies at the porch. “I hoped for more privacy first.”
    “No, Twilight, thou art correct,” Alex took a deep breath. “This needeth to be done. The sooner the better. I lingered for too long anyway, it shan’t be easier on morrow.” He made a few steps forward, like flexing the legs, which suddenly got numb.
    “Alex, please,” Twilight quickly pattered along. “Mind the words… I mean not the words themselves, but… thy accent!” she made big eyes. “No need to add more awkwardness…”
    “I shall try,” dropped Alex. “Can’t promise anything, but…”
    They passed the gate under the mildly curious glances of the stallions, who interrupted their talk and moved aside, returning Twilight’s silent nod. Lingering for a second Twilight knocked on the front door twice; the hoofsteps resulted in a mid-age mare in the black neckerchief, but apparently, that wasn’t the muzzle Twilight expected to see.
    “Excuse us, ma’am. Can we see Mrs. Flume?” she said quietly, but determinedly. “She knows about us, I’m Twilight Sparkle and this is Alex.”
    “I see, princess. Come in, Your Highness and your… friend.”
    Twilight squinted, unable to hold the usual flush, and pushed Alex lightly inside, when the mare stepped back, revealing the room. The muffled even hum faded and Twilight noticed, what Alex saw already over the head of the mare, stumbling on the doorstep, so Twilight was to nudge him.
    It wasn’t obvious, who felt more dumbfounded, him or Twilight: the main room was full of unknown ponies, mares and stallions of different age and a couple of foals – more than a dozen all in all, as Alex could quickly estimate. Everypony had some black detail of clothing, the bloodshot teary eyes of the filly stood out a mile; relatives and close friends gathered to bid the last farewell to Staunch Flume and his daughter, finally unable to deny their apparent loss.
    Alex felt like an alien much more than he did at the Gala, where the whole herd observed his standing out frame. He closed the eyes for a moment and let the air through clenched teeth slowly – there was no way back apparently.
    “Good evening” weren’t the proper words for that moment and Alex and Twilight simply nodded shortly to the herd, getting a few similar gestures in response. The silence pressed his ears, but Alex was endlessly thankful for the absence of hateful glances, as he could notice shortly.
    “They are upstairs,” the mare in black neckerchief shortly jerked her chin towards the stairs, but that wasn’t unfriendliness, rather the expression of awkwardness – they caught the whole company by surprise. “Both Rainstorm and Azure Wreath.”
    “Thanks,” whispered Twilight, receiving the mare’s short nod, the latter pursed the lips and squinted, holding back tears, making Alex swallow another lump.
    “I had no idea…” quietly muttered Twilight, when they ascended. “They didn’t tell, the relatives were going to gather today… How are you, Alex?” she looked into his face with concern.
    “Been better,” face of stone, he blinked. “I… I’ll be fine. I… hope.” He made an effort over himself, following her to the half-opened door in the end of the hallway.
    “I beg for your excuse…” Twilight accurately hoofed the door frame. Alex barely heard the welcoming phrase.
    Two mares sat at the couch, their backs to the window; Alex could only see the dark silhouettes for the moment, before his eyes accommodated to the counter light. He fancied a faint smell of some potion, reminding him common natural sedatives from Earth. The pegasus mare held the earth pony one in the wing embrace, stroking her fore hoof; the latter apparently cried moments before they broke their mourning – him and Twilight.
    Inwardly ready for any rightful outburst of the mare losing the most precious, Alex braced himself and stepped forward. The pegasus whispered something into the ear of another mare, whom she tried to comfort, waiting for her nod, then got up. She threw back her long wavy mane with a short habitual movement, folding her wings and coming closer. Twilight kept silence.
    “Mrs… Flume?” his own voice sounded distant and so… artificial to Alex, the words – stupid and clumsy.
    “Mrs. Flume, yes,” she nodded shortly, tiny bitter smile looked like a convulsion rather. Alex wondered, how the strong and fit mare, whose muscles visibly rolled under the soft coat, as she moved, could look at the same time so deflated; as if she suddenly forgot, how to use all her strength. “Rainstorm Flume.”
    “I… am that human, Twilight told about. Alex… I was on the dam, when…”
    ‘What am I saying?’ Alex’s back crawled, he felt awful. Awfully incongruous there. He glanced down at her. “Mine…” Twilight quietly inhaled behind.
    “Please… Forgive me!” Alex kneeled to the pegasus, whose electric blue widened eyes stared at him perplexedly. Another mare raised her teary glance, as surprised as mrs Flume; she squinted her azure eyes, peering into him, Alex noticed the thick glasses on the coach next to her. “I… couldn’t…” He choked on words and downcasted. ‘No bucking apology can return her family!’
    “Forgive you?” Rainstorm seemed not believing her ears and eyes. “You actually blame yourself in their…” she swallowed and Alex noticed a single tear trailing down her cloudy grey cheek. “I heard what happened from Staunch’s colleague and pr… miss Twilight told me the rest.” Alex closed his eyes.
    He felt a light touch on his arm. That was the least he expected; Alex would probably feel better, if both mares pounced him, accusing of their loss. That would feel more appropriate to the circumstances in his opinion.
    “I thought miss Twilight… exaggerated a bit,” the widow’s voice was soft, slightly surprised; Alex didn’t know what to say or do, that reaction caught him completely defenceless. Meanwhile Rainstorm sat right in front of him, looking concernedly into his face. “But it seems you are… How was it your fault? You were the only one, who did something, who dashed to help…”
    “I was to,” Alex dared to look into her eyes, to his surprise he found only sadness and sympathy there; that hurt even more. “But I failed drastically. I’m so sorry…”
    “Don’t be foalish! Alex… right?” Azure Wreath sighed intermittently and rose from the couch, approaching Mrs. Flume, she brashly wiped the tears, trailing down the pistachio cheeks and veiling her view. “It… it was a miracle you could reach the top, before they fell. I saw the dam… and can’t understand how you…” Shaking her short mauve mane with apricot strands, which got into her sight, she put on the glasses again to see the human better.
    “That’s the point,” quietly squeezed Alex through gritted teeth. “I was thither, before they fell. But I lost too much time, lingering…”
    “You did, what you could, more than anypony else. I know about…” Rainstorm stumbled. “The circumstances were stronger than you, Alex. Don’t blame yourself!” she shook her head slowly. “By the same logic I’m even more guilty than you are, not saving them, despite I can fly… Could I be there?” she wiped another tear, while Alex watched both mares with dilated eyes. “Could you grab them or could they fall even before you came?”
    “It’s pointless to guess,” added she. “You should blame those, who made that nightmare happen, nopony else.”
    “Storm is right! The monsters terrorizing Ponyville. And… it seems the entire Equestria,” nodded Azure Wreath, putting her fore hoof on Rainstorm’s shoulder.
    “I know how you feel, Alex,” Missis Flume leaned closer to his ear. “Miss Twilight told me… everything. Don’t be angry with her, please!” she intercepted the wild glare Alex threw at his alicorn friend. “There is always somepony, who cares. As a mother…” Rainstorm stumbled with a painful expression. “As a mother, I’m glad that you didn’t… finish, what you planned.”
    Alex squinted, making a titanic effort to hold back tears choking him.
    “Thank you,” he held her hoof instead, squeezing it lightly. “And… Please, forgive me, Rainstorm…”
    “Believest, Twilight,” said Alex, stopping amidst the street, when several minutes later they slid out of the house, like two ghosts, not wanting to disturb the mourning relatives of Flume family. “I thought, I… thou… It made me feel a zilch better forsooth. I guess, I should thank thee for that!”
    Truth be told, Twilight couldn’t tell for sure, if Alex actually felt any relief. But he looked a tiny bit brighter than when they entered the house, so she wanted to believe, that effort wasn’t futile.
    “Tellest me one thing,” Alex watched her fixedly, Twilight’s nose turned pinkish. “Didst thou actually know, how it would go?” He headed back to the Library with Twilight trying not to fall back.
    “Well, I won’t deny, I told them… everything,” she confessed, flattening her ears. “Rainstorm didn’t ponder too long, she said that we might come. She looked calm, yet… I didn’t know for sure. But I wanted to help and… I’m happy that it turned out as it did.”
    Alex went silently, he didn’t drop a word the whole road back to the library, while they crossed the streets and Twilight greeted the numerous ponies, filling the town at that hour after work. Alex simply wasn’t there, while he actually walked alongside her, looking down, occupied by the thoughts. Or maybe he didn’t want the setting Sun to hit him directly into the eyes. Only when they entered the square at the foot of the Golden Oak, he stopped and turned to the girl.
    “I really want to know, if ‘t be true those Seeker-bastards are straightly connected to mine arrival to Equestria! It would be a promising perspective – to leave and take them all with me, so nopony else suffered hither… On Earth, without magic… Hmpf, it would be a question, whose victory it was.”
    Twilight could only shake her head slowly, listening to him. ‘I’m afraid it’s not that simple anymore, Alex.’
    “Know what,” said Twilight, watching Alex consuming his dinner, if unwilling digging in the plate could be named such. “You definitely look better recently. I mean… you still come exhausted, maybe mentally even more than physically, but that looks…” she stumbled, searching for a suitable, yet not an overly blunt word.
    “… like exhaustion of one healing from the mortal disease, correct?” Alex came to her aid. “Not the doomed one at least.”
    “What?” Twilight half gasped half chuckled. “Well, upon the second thought, you’re right, something along those lines.”
    “Apparently, constant fighting my inner demons consciously… methodically is a bit more straining even than succumbing to them, but I don’t complain,” the fork spun in Alex’s fingers slowly, as if he was deciding about the mere necessity of the food at that moment; Alex sported a little smirk. “I’m finally able to rest at least sometimes, thanks to Luna… and thanks to Fluttershy I’m able to do anything at all,” added he slowly after the second thought.
    Twilight threw a quick glance at him, pondering about something she considered since Alex came back from the smithy that evening. Intercepting that glance Spike made an encouraging face and she nodded, seeing that Alex was hardly going to cope with more food. Despite the initial plan was to hoof it to Alex after the dinner, the small officially sealed scroll, enveloped in the lilac aura, floated to Alex.
    “Ahem, this came with evening mail, Alex,” the scroll fell into human’s stretched hand and Twilight noted the subtle, almost subconsciously automatic sniff of Alex upon unsealing it; the scroll smelled nothing but paper and ink though. Alex arched the eyebrow: the only one, who could write to him, as he thought, was still angry with him.
    Although, the letter didn’t cause him any anxiety, despite Alex couldn’t feel any familiar fragrance; it rather made him mildly curious. Alex unrolled the scroll, the CSC official header and seal attracted attention, making him put away the fork and read deeper into it. Predicting such reaction Twilight watched him with a smile; unwittingly Alex presented her a nice pantomime with each new line.
    The first few were read with the same tired, politely pretending to be interested face: Alex expected some forgotten formalities about the contract to be solved that way, nothing else. But the deeper into the text, the more noticeable changes happen to his expression: he chuckled quietly, raising one eyebrow and nodding with a content smile, then suddenly a faint shadow ran across Alex’s face and Twilight almost felt, how he shuddered. But he managed to cope with himself; a few more lines and a grin, unconfident at first, then wide and hopeful, lit Alex’s face, the latter being a nice change from his recent jaded look. Alex nodded to some of his thoughts enthusiastically.
    “HA!” Alex’s sudden exclamation made both Twilight and Spike jump on their chairs involuntarily. “Thither was a small possibility that mine plans were… sand castles, but they really came across that technical contradiction. That meaneth, we scored!” the sparkles in his eyes highlighted the shadow of pre-dam Alex for a moment. “Will and Sil scored finally!”
    “Tis not a secret… Merely mine plans working as expected…” he handed the letter to Twilight, taking his fork automatically.
    Twilight unrolled the naughty scroll with her aura and read aloud.
    “Dear Sir!
    Basing on our former ability to communicate personally, I took the liberty to write you unofficially, as a private individual (even if from informal approval of the directorate), as we firmly believe some of the following details must stay hidden from the foreign eye for now. This, of course, does not apply to ponies, involved in development and production, and certain princesses, whom I entirely trust in that case, knowing about their support and role in your development.
    Back to the news now, not being tongue-in-cheek, I have the proverbial two – good and bad – for you, sir. Starting from the good one, despite you will most definitely see its influence on your account in the nearest future, I would like to inform you that the production of your generators has started successfully. One of the existing production lines was converted to conform the technological process of your origins and is already launched. Thus the first party of smaller household-scale generators (with the supplementary equipment) was built and passed all the quality testing…
    “As planned,” Alex shrugged almost dispassionately, but Twilight could fancy the subtle tint of glee in his voice; besides, he finally addressed his dinner as somepony, who hadn’t fill himself since morning.
    “After the demonstration in Appleloosa (as we decided, that region naturally needed the product), where the device was accepted with great enthusiasm, the entire party (after final fitting and equipping with wind propulsion units) found its owners. Moreover, we have a growing number of orders and cooperation proposals. That’s hardly a disappointment, sir.
    However, some technical, even better say – exploitative, difficulties were met with the heavy-duty industry size generators. As you know, a few of which were made to operate at Ponyville Dam.
    Twilight stumbled and threw a quick glance at Alex; the contents of his plate interested Alex more than anything else at the moment, but… his stone-like jawline told her everything; Twilight quietly exhaled and continued.
    “The test showed that our existing materials aren’t durable enough under the load at high rotation speeds. In particular, the generator shafts bearings experience the high rate of wear-out; up to the degree, when maintenance becomes more expensive than the production itself, even for the manufacturer, let alone the customer. Henceforth I, and the whole Canterlot Steam Company in my muzzle (unofficially at that point), express the high hope that you are willing to fulfill your part of the deal, namely aforementioned development and construction (or material) improvement.
    Personally, I have no tiniest idea, how you, dear sir, would complete that task within the given technical situation, but… if you take your hard craftsmanship into action and finally perform that miracle, I will personally apologize for every word of doubt I might have.
    With the hope of sooner solution of our common technical problem and further fruitful cooperation
    Solid Deal, M.S.

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


If 't be true you like the story (and have FimFiction account, otherwise, you can't vote), please, take a minute to support the book hither:  "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:

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Support the author thither please (thumbs up) 

they are really good :yay:

Edited by Alexshy
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2 minutes ago, Alexshy said:

Author's note: No, tis not the whole chapter dedicated to Rainbow Dash :orly:


OK I think I can guess the real reason of that title.:fluttershy:

Completely fresh, new, warm yet chapter! Yay! Thanks and congratulations my friend!:P




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Some comments from readers regarding "The Guardian" collected from DA and FF websites:



Very well done.



Brilliantly gorgeous diamond work!!!!!!!!!!!



Nice chapter can't wait till the next one. ( Thou are doing a great job. image.png.ee29b74e4a5b6b778d5e2ed184e3b39e.png )



Very interesting chapter. Nice work.



 Definitely very interesting and worth reading book about beautiful world of Equestria. Every Brony/Pegasister literally must read it. You literally can feel in love in this book.

What makes this fanfic such amazing?  I think that the most important reason is true literary tallent and great imagination of an author, who can create very interesting events and relations between characters, which can make you sad, happy, concerned, amused, touching... literally in the same chapter. If you want to feel all these feelings and experience a great unforgetable adventure reading about your favourite ponies from the show, especially about Fluttershy, Luna, Celesta, Twilight.....and some young guy who must find his own place among these ponies this is a book for you!




If any of you friends will decide to read that beautiful book, even if it will be just one chapter, please give "thumb up", add to your favourites,  write your comment even critical one. As has written the author all of them are very welcome!




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Waiting very patiently at new chapter (remembering that it is not a race, just not easy work of the writer, who cares about quality of the book and that waiting only increases curiosity:mlp_wink:) let's enjoy, my friends, all known, stylish and atmospheric @Yoye Wolfgrel 's illustrations to @Alexshy's "The Guardian":P:


"A fierce lightning bolt ripped the dense clouds and speared into the ruined castle tower so violently, debris and dust exploded into the quiet damp air."


"Alex took a glance in the mirror and saw the car started sliding uncontrollably on the road"


" »Oh, Tia! Mine apologies,« Luna turned her head from the telescope. »Well, of course, I’ve heard thee. I’ve been examining our… strange issue in the Everfree and slightly captured by mine thoughts about. So what didst thou want?« "


"He stepped on the spiral staircase, sticking to the outer wall and touching it with his left hand."


"He then climbed with his legs on that throne in front of him and curled, trying to find the possibly comfortable pose. Minutes later overloaded by today’s events Alex passed out."

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18. Ascension



    “Oh! It’s so wonderful, girls!” Twilight stretched out on the blanket with the visible pleasure, inhaling the field scents deeply. She threw a glance over her shoulder. “Feels like summer still, right? Hard to believe it’ll become damp and cold really soon.”
    The small fluffy clouds ran like sheep from Crystal Zoo across the purest blue sunlit sky, the only difference was – they ran silently, throwing rare shadows on the hill, where the friends gathered for the picnic. The grass waved around a few blankets, they put under the single large maple tree, which spread its branches widely above the hilltop, its still green leaves spluttered lazily. Brought by the light wind, apple aroma filled the air, forcing out the less pleasant smells, coming from the railroad far behind their backs. Only a few titmice broke the blessed silence with their chatter, hiding somewhere in the maple crown and jumping from twig to twig; they definitely expected some catch, when the girls addressed their tea and snacks.
    “Well, not that soon, sugarcube. The good portion of our apples is still getting ripe for the season,” Applejack watched the ladybug, busily climbing the grass stem in front of her eyes. The ladybug reached the top, sat for a moment, as if pondering in the sunshine, then spread its tiny wings and soared, when Applejack blew on it lightly. Moving the stetson aback the mare threw a proud glance on her orchard, spreading far below the hill. “And the wind is still southern,” added she, when the distant noise and laughter reached their ears, brought from the school barely visible behind the various foliar trees.
    “Yeah, it’s not even near the Nightmare Night,” dropped Pinkie. She was cutting circles around them in her usual jumpy manner, stopping from time to time and looking for something in the thick grass. “But you’re right about one thing, Twi – we should gather more often.”
    “I know, girls, I mean, it’s fluctuating… The weather…” elaborated Twilight, following the single maple leaf floating to the ground and holding herself from adding “the spirits”. “You won’t deny, we have progressively less awesome days.”
    “Not my fault! We’re simply following orders directly from Cloudsdale,” smirked Rainbow Dash, chewing a straw lazily. “Mostly…”
    “… autumn is coming and we didn’t yet have many reasons for joy,” continued Twilight pensively. “This summer was quite strange and chaotic, if I may say so. Full of events, on the one hoof, but hardly always enjoyable, on the other.”
    “Hmpf, somepony even managed to miss the Gala this season,” huffed Rainbow, turning around; she was laying on her back watching the clouds before. “Not that I was a huge fan of gatherings of that kind, you know. But the mere fact…”
    “This Gala had a few moments to observe!” It wasn’t obvious if Pinkie simply stated the fact or decided to tease Rainbow a little; she finally stopped and turn to her friends, revealing what occupied her for the last few minutes. She managed to gather the yet rare colourful fallen maple leaves, flaunting a freshly made wreath in her pink cotton candy like mane; how she wove it that fast was another mystery. “I mean, a few dancing rounds definitely were,” she giggled and Applejack nodded in agreement.
    “I can imagine,” muttered Rainbow Dash a bit grumpily, she didn’t yet resign to the fact that getting rid of human became an unreachable dream; the summation of that and what she was already told about the gala made the pegasus frown. “Two weirdos found each other,” she blew a raspberry and spread her wings, like shaking the discontent off. “Now they are even closer… darker… stranger… Humans are not supposed to fly, right? And princesses – to dance with those humans!” She puffed like a big sparrow. “I wonder what else those two can throw out.”
    “Don’t say that you’re afraid of them,” chuckled Applejack. “The Most Daring Mare in…”
    “So, you admit that, eh, Jackie?” squinted Rainbow; Applejack replied with a fixed and eloquent stare.
    “Oh, come on,” Twilight laughed, watching her sulky cyan friend. “Don’t you think it’s time to forget about that zapped tail, eh, Dashie?”
    “Blame Pinkie, she mentioned Nightmare Night,” retorted Rainbow, pique and amusement fought inside of her.
    “Well, the prankster should always expect to be pranked herself,” Twilight looked at her fixedly. “That’s the point.”
    “As I said,” added she. “Gathering more often would be nice, especially in the face of latest events, I won’t even avoid saying dangers.”
    “Ah’m worried about those timberwolves,” Applejack cocked her head, interpreting Twilight’s words in her own way. “They say those gits begin approaching the town again… and… there are more of ‘em lately. Ah thought we taught them a lesson last time, but they seem to be hard-learning…”
    “Wasn’t it enough for them, when Spike made the one specifically big and nasty fall?” smirked Pinkie.
    “Eh? What? They are in that large basket, Twi…” Spike, who fell asleep next to Twilight under the warm sun rays, rose his head at the sound of his name; his eyes were half-closed and before reaching the end of the phrase, he yawned widely and dropped flat again, causing a smile on everypony’s muzzle.
    “Yeah, the hero of the day!” Twilight covered him with a blanket edge.
    “He wouldn’t be so sleepy, if somepony else was here!” noticed Applejack. “Speaking of which, where are they, sugarcube? Rarity and Flutters?”
    “They were going to join us later. Let’s say the latest changes made Rarity review her concept of human’s clothes… and Fluttershy volunteered to help her today.”
    Rainbow snorted quietly, but hearable enough to make it sound deliberate.
    “Timberwolves are a certain problem indeed, but I rather meant another threat,” Twilight’s tone became more serious. “The monsters you all were informed about already… We call them Seekers…”
    “We?” Applejack and Rainbow even got up a bit.
    “Seekers?” Pinkie raised one eyebrow, tilting her head.
    “Well…” Twilight prepared for the talk, yet it looked more complex in reality. “I’ll answer all questions in chronological order, I promise. Have patience girls,” she took a deep breath and sat straight on the blanket. “There are a few serious things I need to tell you.”
    “We” means the princesses, me, Alex naturally and Fluttershy. She was to be informed due to obvious reasons, I mention later…And, well, Spike knows as much…” Twilight shrugged, checking if her aide slept undisturbed. “Believe it or not, it took us quite some nerves to decide that everypony being informed is less dangerous than otherwise.”
    Rainbow Dash huffed resentfully, but calmed down under the quick glance of her lilac friend, while Twilight continued.
    “Moreover, you will be surprised, that everypony, including you, knows about those monsters almost as much as we do… except for two things,” Twilight took a meaningful pause. “Which ain’t changing anything actually, nor should change your cautiousness regarding the Seekers. But you need to know anyway, and considering somepony has doubts regarding Alex still…” she fell silent, watching Rainbow Dash meaningfully.
    “You think you can convince me?!” Rainbow cocked her snoot.
    “It’s worth trying, believe me,” simply shrugged Twilight.
    “Okay, Ah can see yar reasons,” Applejack blinked a few times and nodded. “Go on, partner, spill the beans.”
    “As I said everything you were already told about them was correct, including them being extremely dangerous. But they were not some random “magical anomaly”,” sighed Twilight. “They were sent by somepony on purpose and they indeed search for something, when not disturbed.”
    “Him!” Rainbow even jumped on the spot, making Spike twitch in his sleep and snore loudly. “Trust me, they look for…”
    “Calm down, Dash,” Twilight smirked sadly. “They don’t… and I’ll explain the reasons, making us know that for sure. They aren’t some… interdimensional police, if that’s what you’re implying.”
    “Sent by whom? Changelings, Sombra… but wasn’t he defeated completely?” Pinkie picked the problem at its root. “I wouldn’t like to deal with either again really…”
    “Princess Celestia thought it could be some remnants of Sombra’s magic, as the Seekers appeared from within the Dark Mist. But we dropped that idea, too complex for him, both magic and scheme-wise, as it appeared. Not that straightforward… We don’t know yet what exactly they are seeking,” Twilight shook her head slowly. “Maybe because each time they ran into somepony fast enough and needed to be dealt with immediately, before…”
    “Ah’m sorry, but you said there were two things. So?”
    “Yes, Jackie, and another thing additionally explains, why Fluttershy knows everything. We found out that Alex was a… quite effective “weapon” against those Seekers. Completely by an accident,” Twilight answered to the three wild glances. “Actually he suggested to try that himself, keeping in mind his magic resistance and them being obviously magical creatures. And it worked perfectly. Then we found out the Seekers were not independent, being artificially created for some purpose. Alex took down a few since then…”
    “So, the warehouse…” squinted Pinkie and Twilight simply nodded.
    “It happened before the Equestria-wide warning was issued. Truth be told, that accident made Celestia issue it.” Twilight took a deep breath and added. “The dam accident had the same roots. Alex managed to stop the Seeker, but couldn’t help those two ponies…”
    “What makes you think they are not looking for the human?” Rainbow Dash remained sceptical. “Or that… their opposition wasn’t just a show…”
    “Trust me, princess Celestia considered that possibility,” Twilight let out a tiny smile. “That actually has no sense. Alex can’t cast any magic. I mean exactly – cast, as his magic resistance is somewhat magic on its own, of course. Ugghhh… It’s hard to explain simpler!” she shook her head. “Besides, these creatures feel him and avoid at any cost. Wouldn’t it be more rational, if somepony, wanting to get Alex, sent something… more reliable and durable to human’s influence for that task?”
    “Anyway, as Alex is directly involved, that explains, why Fluttershy knows everything,” she returned to the main question. “And there is one more thing: when somepony is objected to the Seekers’ influence, they fall into some kind of coma… except they are actually conscious, well, some kind of mentally inert condition, apathetic… You get the drift.” Twilight gave up. “These victims look completely “soulless”, as if they lose the mere wish to do anything at all… Completely,” Twilight hesitated. “As awful as it sounds, completely brain-dead.”
    “But that condition can be reverted to the simple amnesia, if they are exposed to Fluttershy’s Stare. And as you know, amnesia can be treated at least.”
    The girls sat silently, dumbfounded by her words; Twilight decided to use the moment, quickly adding more information.
    “Princess Celestia can take down the Seekers, but it needs a considerable amount of magic force to succeed, they seem to be tough gits. I suppose, a number of powerful enough unicorns can do as well… But Alex can disintegrate these creatures by simply touching them: he is magic resistant; moreover, every harmful magic hitting him reflects, that seems to do wonders in that case. The resulting effect simply tears the monsters in pieces, but… It became more complicated, when some Seekers started to appear materialized, so, Alex couldn’t reach their magical essence that easily, while they began providing certain danger for him.”
    “Ah see…” Applejack broke the silence first. “So that’s why he spends so much time at the smithy and yet works not only on his generators. Ah noticed the queue staying almost the same…”
    Twilight shortly nodded.
    “And then the Tree of Harmony refused to help sending Alex to his home world,” said she quietly. “Despite the princesses were sure it could. But instead of that the portal exploded… giving him the wings.”
    The grumpy huff told that Rainbow Dash exited the stupor as well, making Twilight smirk sadly.
    “We came to the conclusion, they were a blessing rather than a problem. As you can guess, Alex can’t travel with magic, but those wings look capable… Well, we don’t know what they are capable of yet, but the problem is – he needs to learn to control them properly first.”
    “I’m not asking you personally,” Twilight turned to Rainbow. “But maybe… It’s harder than it seemed. Alex’s acrophobia kills the best efforts, even if he fights it through thick and thin. We are to teach him at the lake, so his falls aren’t lethal…”
    “I can’t convince you otherwise, right?” Dash replied with the most stubborn expressions of hers. “Even if I think that you doing it to the detriment of us… This doesn’t look right at all to me, too many coincidences, if you ask, pal!”
    “It depends on what coincidences you’re taking into account…” Twilight slowly shook her head.
    “I will help!” Pinkie was blunt and determined, as she could be. “What’s the point of the wings, if you can’t fly, right? I can help on the water, just in case,” she patted Twilight’s back reassuringly.
    “Thanks, Pinkie,” Twilight felt a stone off her shoulders, seeing the girls reaction. “Ufff… I was unsure, if I could explain everything to you…”
    “Relax, sugarcube,” Applejack moved closer and hugged her. “You did right and feel better now, don’t you? Frankly speaking, Ah suspected, there was something more to Alex’s hesitation. Is that all we should know about the human, partner?” she tilted her head lightly, Jackie’s eyes were smiling.
    “Yeah…” the tiny pause before Twilight’s reply was hardly noticed.
    “Don’t rush it,” Rainbow Dash was pensive and not so optimistic. “Others may not share your enthusiasm. I doubt I’m the only one. Besides, just wait till the fillies find out more… Can you imagine? These three squirts will turn him inside out…” she smirked wryly.
    “That’s another problem,” sighed Twilight. “Not so crucial, but I can see how it destroys Alex’s confidence… or better say, prevents him of building some rather.” She was to elaborate under the inquiring glances of her friends. “He is unsure about himself yet, not ready to accept the changes. Even if they don’t make him be… not him.”
    “What do you mean, sugarcube?!” Applejack looked confused. “Ah thought he finally resigned to the situation he got into.”
    “To the situation – yes, but not to the changes to himself…” Twilight searched for better words for a moment. “It keeps happening… and… and I think he feels, he isn’t controlling the process or the consequences. That hardly is pleasant. I don’t know, perhaps he secretly thought that the mere fact of the portal not working was for his benefits rather. He was a stranger here since the very start, but he wasn’t also sure about the reaction, he might get from his own kin. And now… What ponies may think of him?” she threw a quick glance at Rainbow. “First we tell, the human can’t use magic, then it appears he is magic resistant… and then he suddenly gets wings, etcetera. Besides, it seems, Alex doesn’t always know, what to think of himself.”
    “Maybe, it’s exact time for a proper “Welcome to Ponyville, Alex!” party?” Pinkie noticed insinuatingly. She was clearly joking, but for a tiny moment the girls almost believed she was serious, looking at her in shock.
    “I shouldn’t probably say that… at least I made sure not to show him, but…” Twilight flushed, looking a bit guiltily. “But he looks so funny and touching sometimes, trying to hide his new self from everypony. I remember myself, how strange it must have looked from aside, especially considering I was a pony anyway…” she shrugged. “I can see his reasons though, as far as I know, humans aren’t supposed to have wings and fly.”
    “Exactly!” Rainbow raised her fore hoof meaningfully.
    “Simply admit it, Dashie,” chuckled Applejack. “You’re afraid that with ‘is usual determination the human may learn to fly nicely. Say good-bye to the safe pranks then, eh?!” she kept teasing.
    “I would like to have a look at that!” the cyan pegasus snorted sarcastically, soaring and darting in the air like a jet; she made a perfect loop, then landed at the same place, folding her wings, as nothing happened. “Hmpf!”
    “Oh, come on, Dash! Can you be serious,” Twilight rolled her eyes. “Do you want to know, what his typical day looks now?”
    “Go on, enlighten us!” giggled Rainbow, but the two other girls nodded with real interest.
    “Okay,” Twilight squinted. “What should I start with? Alex can’t control his wings properly yet. So, he is to wear the belt, fixing them in place and not letting to manifest their own will. And I’m not joking here. He sneaks from the Library as early as he can without depriving himself of sleep completely; all that to avoid the neighbours and their attention. It’s been a couple of days only, but it’s Ponyville: I heard ponies started speculating already. It’s a matter of time before somepony suggests own theory, which may be more wicked than the truth.”
    “That looks a bit overboard for one not seeing attention,” Pinkie scratched behind her ear. “But he can’t do otherwise either, can’t lock himself, right?”
    “Even if that was possible, that wouldn’t do well. Loading with work, any kind of it, he distracts himself from… well, from the nightmares he practically has at day time as well, when left alone with his thoughts. Not to mention the nights…” Twilight stumbled. “I can catch him working: writing, drafting something, performing calculations. We don’t touch the mess on his table. So, Jackie, you were right – the generators were only a stage; as soon as that idea started living on its own, he started to improve the technology… and armour provides suitable ground for that.”
    “Anyway, he literally snakes to the smithy before sunrise, blessing the morning, if it is foggy, as I noticed, and stays there for the whole day. I guess it became a sort of advantage that ponyvillers avoid the blacksmith in general,” Twilight let out a sad smile. “Wonder though what Alex does, when a client appears; they started having occasional orders, you know.”
    “Just give it time, pal,” Rainbow produced a sarcastic mien. “He is lucky, the school started and the girls are loaded with studies. They don’t drop the idea, I saw them sneaking around the smithy one evening, a day or two before. It was quiet and they fished nothing, but… Hey, maybe it’s easier not to hide! I mean as long as Ponyville is generally okay with Discord, hardly a winged human can be a problem. Besides, he can’t fly, so it’s not much of a difference,” the ruffian expression was clearly written across the cyan muzzle.
    “First of all, it’s not funny,” said Twilight dryly. “In their current state Alex’s wings possess more danger to himself, than anypony around. You haven’t seen what they did the first time, Dashie!”
    “As for Discord, he isn’t a usual guest in the town anyway. Others merely know, he tends to appear occasionally and… generally behave himself now. Alex is another story, he may have found some inner peace with his fate, his place in our world, doing what he can do the best; however, he isn’t ready to accept the changes to himself yet. I bet, he sighs with relief, finding the same reflection in the mirror each morning.”
    She fell silent for a while, watching sleeping Spike absently.
    “A familiar feeling,” Twilight raised her eyes on the friends finally. “Although, I was and still am at my own place and nothing changed around me that drastically. Nopony feared or suspected me of anything. Yet I still don’t know if I truly conform to my current role…” she sighed.
    “Well, back to my story,” Twilight shook her bangs. “The day ends and he sneaks back the same way, staying in the shadows. Thankfully, the Library occupies some ground, so we don’t have neighbours peeking directly into our windows. Two of them actually asked, if I didn’t notice anything strange,” she chuckled. “They tried to sound polite and sympathetically interested…”
    “And?” Pinkie stared at her friend with a sly smirk. “What did you tell?”
    “What could I tell?” Twilight shrugged. “It’s up to him, what and when to tell. I pulled a smile and told them that must be Alex bringing his metal stuff in a backpack. Frankly speaking, I don’t know if they believed, but I closed the question for the moment at least.”
    That revelation brought smiles even on Rainbow and Applejack’s muzzles, the latter shook her head a bit reproachfully.
    “Look, mates,” Rainbow yawned and stretched deliberately. “I always thought that picnic supposed some snacks! I swear I can swallow a haystack!” she sniffed the nearest basket defiantly. “Rarity and Flutters must hurry, if they want to get the best pieces,” added she under the girls’ laughter.
    However, Twilight looked pensive, pondering if she could allow herself to share, what she unwittingly heard the last evening in Canterlot.
    “…Methinks what hath befallen at the Tree of Harmony was wondrous! It’s about time he stopped feeling so different and lonely hither, now he hath more reasons to change his mind. Being the part of this world isn’t that bad, in the earnest.”
    It was unclear if the Princess of the Night addressed her sister or simply verbalized her own thoughts. The large dining room was mildly lit by the fading sunlight, accompanied by a moderate number of candles. As usual, the regal sisters met at the evening, the time when the Day Crown hoofed the court to the Night Crown, and with the court came the duties and burdens, so did the responsibility.
    Celestia watched the narrow pink stripe at the western edge of the sky through the wide-open window, feeling as the cooling breeze blew away daily fatigue and troubles, preparing herself for a short, but so anticipated rest. Luna, on the contrary, was full of energy and enthusiasm; she slept like a foal and got down to the dinner with a mysterious smile on her muzzle, making lavender aroma flood the hall. She paid due attention to the culinary mastery of the chief, but her thoughts seemed to be somewhere far from the castle. Luna’s thinking out loud told that the restful sleep was only partly to blame for her cheerful radiance; it interrupted Celestia’s thoughts, making her stare at the younger sister.
    “I see, you are quite eager to integrate Alex into the pony society,” noticed the Princess of the Day. “More than anypony of us, except maybe Fluttershy and Twilight, seemingly even more than Alex himself is.”
    “I simply see no reason, why what Fluttershy did to me a couple of years afore couldn’t work another time. Integrated or not, I want Alex to feel welcome,” the quick sly glance of the blue eyes was self-explanatory.
    “Oh, I have no doubt, Lulu!” Celestia was to call to her prudence. “I could have suspected you enjoying the older sister role for a change, if I saw less,” she took a deep breath, getting another starry glance in response. “But ponies started talking about you… different things. Maybe not always suitable for the princess.”
    “That I finally found somepony, I find interesting spending time with, no? I’d say, to the Tartarus with the image… any image,” smirked Luna, her eyes shimmered in the dim light. “Was running the walls of my room long enough to care about such negligible things as personal image… I nev’r felt that somepony isn’t genuinely indifferent about me hitherto, except you, Tia.”
    “And I’m not talking about Twilight, Cadence, Fluttershy or a few other mares,” added she. “If ‘t be true thou art catching the idea.”
    Celestia seemed to be caught off guard by this sudden confession. She couldn’t find the words which suited the circumstances; moreover, she was to admit that her sister was right in her own way.
    “That’s not your fault anyway, Tia, dost not take it close to thy heart!” Luna continued after a short pause. “I wonder, hast thou been told that somepony, whose opinion was indeed valuable, was gossiping? Somepony, whose opinion is worth attention forsooth.”
    “I mean,” she elaborated seeing that her sister was not following the idea momentarily, “somepony like Fancy Pants or a few others alike?”
    “No,” Celestia answered with a tiny smile, getting up and finally catching the route of Luna’s thoughts. She approached her sister, who was ready to address the nightly duties as well, and looked into her eyes evaluatively. “And as far as I noticed, he and Fleur watched you both at the Gala quite benevolently.”
    “Well, allowest ‘t be as it is then,” simply said Luna. “I don’t give a flying feather to the inane babbling of a few upper crust hay-heads. Well, unless one of them findeth guts to tell their concerns in mine face, thus I’d know that it is something consideration worthy at least.”
    “But the experience telleth me, they have no guts to uphold an entertaining conversation with me, at which hour they can,” she smirked sarcastically. “They have them to confront me neither!”
    “And the main thing is,” Luna’s smirk turned into a warm heartily smile, “he treateth me like an equal. A fancy change for a thousand years, isn’t it? He doth not become weak in the knees, at which hour I’m nigh.”
    ‘Well, not from fear definitely!’ thought she with inward amusement, putting the final stopper. “I can finally feel myself a real mare, not some threat or idol for worshipping, worthless otherwise. Loved simply for who I am… or even despite oft. I can afford to be weak in his company!”
    “Fine, Lulu,” Celestia hugged her sister with wings, soothing away the tension. “You’re a big girl and can decide for yourself. Simply be careful please; you may find my concerns exaggerated, but you won’t deny that Alex is… evolving. What into – we don’t know. Are you sure, you can guide the process into the right direction if necessary? I’m not.”
    “Oh, Tia!” Celestia’s doubts caused a burst of sincere silvery laughter. “I simply feel it, seeing his dreams was more than enough for me.” Luna nuzzled sister’s shoulder tenderly, then softly slid out of the feathery embrace, ready to face her nightly burdens. “I extend mine hope thy night shalt be restful, sunny!”
    “I expect Twilight for a short talk…” Celestia hid a tiny yawn behind her fore hoof gracefully. “Excuse me! I’m almost regret of calling for her so late, but… Please, blueberry, make sure nopony automatically associates the human and you all the time,” she reminded again.
    “We are trying,” Luna turned with a smile. “Methinks we coped with that nicely hitherto… However, I suppose we have the right for some innocent entertainment.”
    Celestia sighed, wondering what her suspiciously inspired sister could be plotting.
    “It was specifically visible at the Gala, Lulu.”
    It caused another silvery laughter, the stars in the flowing mane shone brighter for a moment. Enveloped in the blue aura double doors opened, revealing Twilight, frozen in the doorway; eyes dilated, fore hoof raised to knock, before she heard a few last phrases from the talk.
    “Good evening, Twilight!” with a mysterious smile Luna almost pranced past the girl, bathing her in lavender. “Please, beest gentle with thy news, I want Tia to sleep well tonight.”
    It was the hour, when everypony felt the daily chores, large or small, naturally came to an end, giving way to the more pleasant and relaxing thoughts about the well-deserved rest, time with the friends or family. The Sun, slowly rolling to the West and pouring warm gold onto everything it touched with its rays, the light breeze, still summer-like, the shimmering webs it carried – everything welcomed the beholder to the refreshing walk. The rare red and golden leaves, subtly peeking from the green crowns, like apologizing for their sudden appearance and telling everypony not to pay much attention to them, looking forward to the plenty of warm and nice days, before the real autumn chill would take over.
    Thus Ponyville streets filled little by little with ponies, enjoying the pastel September evening and the nice weather generously provided by Her Highness and pegasi weather service. However, there was one mare seemingly not seeing the sunlit gardens, the bronze leaves, not feeling the strong scent of late flowers – plenty of phloxes painted the ground, blooming in the small front gardens in abundance. She nodded absently to the ponyvillers greeting her, leaving them puzzled of what could make the usually well-mannered lady so concerned. Her most pronounced reaction to the outer world was huffing away the long web strand, accidentally landing on her snoot, and frowning in realization what it was.
    Rarity tortured her mind for the last few days, trying to find a solution for the problem, Alex generously provided. Again. She realized perfectly that it wasn’t the lack of inspiration, as exactly the inspiration was the key tool to start every work with, according to Rarity’s rules. Still, she didn’t want to justify the futility of all the ideas visiting her so far. The problem was purely technical, but that made it even worse.
    Making clothes for earth ponies, for pegasi, for unicorns was her vocation, usually brought to perfection. All the kinds of clothes, from work robes to top fashionable dresses for the gala. She never failed to surprise even the princesses and any combination of physical and magical features of her customer wasn’t an obstacle on her road to success. But not in that case.
    With a sigh Rarity thought that ponies could make their wings squeeze through the relatively small openings in the dresses she made; maybe due to the magic or being able to control their wings almost since birth. There wasn’t any chance that Alex could master the same level in the nearest perspective, pulling wings that large through some common clothes seemed completely impossible as well, making the diligent fashionista tiredly roll her eyes.
    ‘Maybe… I can make that work…’ a few of her latest ideas seemed at least feasible to Rarity. She pondered how to make Alex’s shirts, or whatever that would be, simple enough, functional… and not turning into the shreds the moment he tried to put them on. However, remembering about more challenge, imminently approaching winter would provide, brought her close to despair.
    ‘Thinking of it now, we never needed some complex warm outfits… Except for hats, scarves and boots sometimes, unless somepony needs skates,’ Rarity sported a tiny smile.
    Suddenly she caught herself on stopping in the middle of the street, raising one fore hoof with a quite pensive expression, so a few ponies passing by stared at her perplexedly. With a tiny squeak Rarity flushed and hurried along her way.
    ‘Winter will be a complete nightmare, especially if snowy and windy,’ thought Rarity, approaching the Golden Oak Library. ‘He needs something warm, yet not restricting his wings and allowing to be easily put on… or taken off.’ Rarity flushed slightly, seemingly recalling her first “stitching drafts”.
    The edge of town was quieter and almost nopony interrupted the girl’s flow of reflections. However, she managed to catch some glimpse of strangeness through the corner of her eye, crossing the nearly empty square. Rarity stopped at Twilight’s front door and stared; the glass in the lower part of the frame on the right to the door was broken, a few remaining shards framed the hole, glistening sharply in the oblique sunrays.
    With the growing concern Rarity knocked on the door. Hearing nothing but some light crunching, she knocked again.
    “Hear you, I’m coming… Just a moment!” Rarity’s tightened nerves relaxed a bit upon hearing Spike’s voice; a moment later he opened the door, squinting against the sunlight and holding a brush and a scoop in another paw.
    “Oh…” Spike stumbled and cleared his throat. “R-rarity… Come on in! And… sorry for that little mess… Take a seat, while I-I’m getting rid of it.”
    “Good evening, Spikey!” With a smile Rarity waved her mane almost regally, heading to the couch; Spike’s eyes followed the unicorn girl, he forgot to close his mouth, then recollected himself, letting out a loud sigh.
    “So what’s happened?” with tiny remnants of concern in the voice she turned to the little dragon. “I saw the broken glass and…” Rarity shuddered a little bit theatrically.
    “Well…” Spike suddenly giggled. “That’s evening mail. Derpy’s delivery,” he raised one brow, looking for undoubted understanding. “Not the first time she mistakes the side window for the mailbox,” with a sigh he continued brushing the small shiny splinters onto the scoop. “Simply give me a minute.”
    “Errmmm…” It was Rarity’s turn to be undecided upon laughing or being puzzled.
    “Yeah,” Spike huffed, accurately picking the larger shards out of the frame and adding them to the heap. “I asked Twilight if we should put mica in those windows instead of glass.” He raised and winked to Rarity. “This way it would be eatable at least when broken.”
    Rarity watched him carrying away the broken glass, she opened and closed her mouth a few times. Silently.
    “We were lucky, the package wasn’t too big!” Spike nodded to the thick grey envelope on the low table next to Rarity’s couch; he returned with the new glass and a small hammer. “Otherwise the whole frame would be a memory.”
    “He seems to be completely busy with that new contract, darling,” Switching her attention to the package Rarity noticed the bold letters “CSC” on it, she hoofed the envelope slightly, hearing the rustle of papers. “Since he’s not going anyway from Equestria…”
    Spike indefinitely shrugged. Watching him accurately pulling away the thin planks with the claws, then fitting the glass into the frame, Rarity relaxed gradually; her expression became pensively absent again, as her concerns, flushed away by the sudden disturbance, returned.
    “I fope, wu excwuse phee. I need fo fix that firft…” mumbled Spike through the nails he held in his teeth. Only the sound of the hammer, precisely driving the nails into the frame, broke the silence the next few minutes. Fitting the last plank, Spike smiled apologetically. “The nights become cooler, besides some moths may fly in…”
    “Oh, of course…” Rarity nodded fast, showing all possible understanding after the moths being mentioned.
    “Tea?” Spike enjoyed the role of a host twice more afore the proper spectator. “We have some hayburgers and a strawberry cake.” He seemed to just notice her deep concerns. “What’s in your mind, Rarity, you look… well, pensive to say the least.”
    But before Rarity could work out the brief and definite description of her worries, the voices behind the front door made them both turn their heads and perk the ears. The giggling told Rarity and Spike that the girls enjoyed some joke, the male voice obviously belonged to Alex. A few, pitch black against the low Sun, silhouettes appeared in the doorway.
    “… you should be more optimistic! To tell the truth, it didn’t come into my head to fly above the lake, when I only started learning… Thus not only my self-esteem was in danger.” Twilight snorted, letting Pinkie and Fluttershy forward. “Although, if all the tricks we saw were performed horizontally, Rainbow could become jealous indeed.”
    “Thank you, Twi, I can always rely on your word of encouragement,” a larger figure totally overshadowed the open door behind Twilight. Alex was to bend slightly not to hit the frame with his folded wings.
    “Oh, don’t take to heart; I told you, it would take time… especially considering you have not the best flight teachers in Equestria. On the other hoof, we are patience embodied, right, Flutters?”
    “Yeah, even me,” winked Pinkie, when she put the mask and flippers, she held in her teeth, onto the small table. “And that really counts!”
    “Well, girls, one thing you are right about – I’m hopeless!” Alex closed the door and turned to the company, noticing Rarity nesting on the couch with comfort made him visibly stumble.
    The unicorn fashionista alternated from Alex to Twilight, to Fluttershy, to Pinkie, then back again, noting for herself the slightly ruffled look of the girls, strange Pinkie’s belongings and exhausted, but at the same time wary Alex. Shirtless, his hair soaking wet, even the seemingly long walk didn’t help them to dry, so, drops fell on Alex’s shoulders, strained muscles rolled under his skin – all those caused Rarity’s heart to make a flip. Probably her narrowed eyes and light flush were the exact reasons of Alex’s stumbling; she noticed his feathers ruffled barely noticeable, while wings were still restrained by the tight belt.
    “What were you up to, folks?” Rarity raised one brow inquiringly.
    Alex and Twilight answered almost in unison.
    “Flying…” Twilight shrugged and added. “Well, learning to…”
    “Speak for yourself!” They exchanged quick glances and couldn’t hold back laughter, making Fluttershy and Pinkie naturally join them; Rarity, however, looked even more puzzled, than before asking.
    “I’m… Errmmm, girls are trying to teach me to stay in the air for more than a minute straight,” under her pleadingly curious glance Alex finally had mercy. “Or at least land, not crash instantly,” he sighed, flopping on the couch… prudently leaving some space between himself and Rarity.
    “As I still fail at any of these tasks, we train at the lake. Naturally, I spend more time in the water than above it!”
    Pinkie’s nose twitched funnily from carefully stifled laughter and Fluttershy crossed the room, quickly landing next to Alex and wrapping her fore legs around him.
    “It’s not that bad, Alex. Remember, we only started!” She leaned and nuzzled his shoulder tenderly; Alex’s right wing twitched, like trying to give the pegasus girl a hug. “Pegasi learn to fly as foals and you just got the wings, besides you are bigger than any of us. It will come with time…”
    It seemed Rarity’s surprise weathered out a bit, as she made a tiny move, sliding closer. Alex brushed his fingers through Fluttershy’s mane and noticed nothing, but there was another pair of eyes on guard: Spike made a grumpy face, pursing his lips and raising one brow. Forestalling any words Twilight stretched hard, arching her back and opening her wings.
    “I’m dying of hunger!” she shifted weight from one fore hoof to another. “Don’t know about others, but exercise always woke my appetite. I’m sure, mates, you won’t refuse of some snack; let’s see, what we have…” Twilight trotted by lightly, heading to the kitchen, she threw an unequivocal glance at Spike; the next moment lilac aura wrapped the dragon, habitually placing him on her back.
    “Come on, Spike. I need your priceless help!”
    “What is this for, darling?” Rarity nodded towards Pinkie’s flippers and mask, using the moment to subtly slide closer again.
    “Hmmm… As Alex already mentioned, his attempts to fly end in the lake mostly,” Pinkie leaned back in the armchair, apparently, she managed to spend quite a lot of her endless energy today. “Normally it wouldn’t be a problem for him,” she waved her fore hoof in the air. “But with the wings that large… We were unsure if they wouldn’t weigh too much when wet, he could need some help in the water. And I have some diving experience,” she smirked.
    “By the way, didn’t you notice that your wings seemed way larger, when you tried to fly?” Pinkie looked at Alex pensively. “I thought they should be a problem, while standing straight on the ground… but they aren’t now. Alex?!”
    “Errmmm…” Alex turned to her, finally paying some attention to the question, he was telling something in the yellow fluffy ear before. “What, sorry?” Suddenly he found Rarity almost next to him on the couch and sighed inwardly, presented by a dreamy glance of her eyes; Rarity batted her eyelashes innocently.
    “I said that your wings seem to change their size according to what the situation demands!” Pinkie leaned on the table, placing her chin on her fore hooves and watching them with the true naturalist interest. “Because, you know, they look larger in the air… Well, while you are in the air,” she couldn’t hold back a giggle.
    “If you say so,” Alex shrugged, noticing that Rarity made another tiny shift. “I would be happy already, if I learn how to make them kill me not at least. I really don’t know what they are capable of and not sure if I…”
    The faint tingling of cups interrupted him, Twilight and Spike returned with the tea. Nesting in another armchair Twilight took an evaluating look over the company, her magic sliced the barely tasted cake into six equal portions, even before she placed the tray with it and a large teapot on the table. Spike placed his one with the teacups and saucers next and raised his eyes, a momentary shadow ran across his face at the view of Rarity almost snuggling to Alex on the couch; Twilight’s protégé opened and closed his mouth with a frown. However, Spike oriented fast enough, with a loud deliberate sigh he nonetheless occupied the remaining free spot next to Rarity, rendering Alex chances to liberation zero and leaving Alex to guess, if that little revenge or simple proximity to the object of admiration made Spike smile widely.
    “And what’s this?” Pinkie broke the silence, spent in passing the cake slices and teacups, while Twilight generously filled the latter with hot tea. “Let me free some space,” she picked up the large envelope, examining it and staring on the CSC logotype. She hoofed the packet to Alex. “That must be yours…”
    “Oh…” Alex finally paid attention to the envelope. “Thanks, Pinkie! I’m afraid I can address it tomorrow only, my head is heavy like a boulder now. Never jumped from the high-board, but I guess I am supposed to be a little… hay-head, after all those dives.” He shoved the package between himself and Rarity on the couch, quite in time, as the gap was already barely fitting the pack of blueprints.
    “By the way, Derpy “delivered” it through the window again,” mentioned Spike a bit grumpily. However, he was completely focused on Rarity and looked, as if he forgave the hapless mail-mare already. “I’m changing the glass in the lower frame for the third time this year.”
    “Spike was busy with the window, right when I came, darling,” Rarity nodded to Twilight a bit absently, she picked her cake slice in small pieces with the teaspoon. Being not a fan of late cakes Rarity fed each second piece to Spike, who looked like ready to spread into a puddle, not even saying a word about preferring some gems to berries in the cake coating.
    “Oh, come on, don’t be so hard on Derpy,” Fluttershy produced a merciful, yet faintly reproaching smile. “She’s doing the best she can! Lately she managed to mix the addresses not.”
    “I’m not saying anything,” Spike raised his paws. “She tries hard… when she has time to follow the plan calmly. But when she is in a hurry, she is a true hurricane!” punned he, making everypony smile involuntarily.
    Everypony laughed but Rarity, who missed the talk completely, pensively staring at the one spot somewhere above Twilight’s shoulder again.
    “I suppose you have some news, right?” Twilight was to repeat twice, before Rarity woke and focused on the company.
    “Well, of course…” Rarity sighed with a tint of confusion. “That was… is quite a challenge, darling!” she rolled her eyes theatrically, making Spike melt and adding dramatically lowering the voice. “I never thought that I could have such troubles with simple everyday clothes. Gala dresses, stage costumes maybe, but not the shirts!”
    “Don’t you say that you can’t come up with ideas making human shirts,” properly understanding the source of her friend’s troubles, Pinkie made exaggeratedly big eyes.
    “That’s not the question of inspiration, as you might guess,” huffed Rarity, her pride was wounded a bit by Pinkie’s remark, but she let it slide. “It’s rather a technical problem. While at first Alex had the physique quite similar to earth ponies, you can see that now it’s a bit different story,” she threw a spear glance at Alex, who almost felt its touch.
    “Well, that’s why we asked for your help, Rarity,” with amusement Twilight watched Rarity eyeing shirtless Alex. “You’re the best, when it comes to fashion and inspiration. If you don’t have any idea, I’m afraid nopony will.”
    “Errmmm…” Rarity’s nose flushed a little, but the compliment did its job, bringing the fashionista back to the constructive route. “I looked over a multitude of ideas, darling! Unfortunately, the majority of them,” Rarity frowned. “are either hardly feasible, or… well, let’s say, they will provide a lot of inconvenience to Alex and somepony, who will inevitably need to help him dress in that case.”
    Alex listened to the girls, watching the steam coming out of the teapot nose: the stream seemed endless, slowly flowing and seemingly becoming thicker. It almost turned into a cloud of fog, which gathered around the table and slowly rose into the air. ‘How much tea must remain in there, to give all that steam?’
    “As you can see, Alex’s new… acquisition makes the task far from simple,” in the meantime continued Rarity. “Everything I made up till today, even the most complex dresses for the princesses, left the shoulders and back area fairly open, so wings were never a problem.” Rarity touched her chin, then shrugged. “Besides, all the pegasi, let alone the alicorns, can make their wings pass through relatively small gaps or sleeves, similar to the base of their wings in size. That’s natural for them.” She sighed almost apologetically. “I’m afraid it’s not our case… or at least I don’t know if Alex can do the same with his wings.”
    “As for now, it looks like I can do nothing with my wings, except making some mess,” Alex shook his head sadly, interrupting his contemplation of the steam or fog, which visibly filled the room at the moment; Fluttershy gently stroked his shoulder, trying to comfort.
    “I’m sorry, Ahhlex, darling!” Rarity batted her eyelashes. “The best I could come up with was the dual cuts with zippers, from your wings down to the waist. So you can put that “shirt” on over your head and arms into the sleeves, while your wings come through the long gaps freely,” explained she, seeing his dumbfounded expression. “Then you need to close the zippers, so only the small gaps at the wings base are left. I’m afraid that would call for some help from aside, darling.”
    “Well, help is not a problem, I suppose,” Twilight looked over her friends. “Right, girls?”
    “I begin thinking that using Luna’s tapestry as some sort of toga again is a way out,” Alex held Fluttershy by her shoulders, feeling her warmth. He noticed the enthusiastic nod, Rarity met Twilight’s question with; she even let his sacrilegious suggestion slip past her ears. “But walking around in a toga…” Alex sighed again. “I guess getting in control with my wings is now a question of survival even more.”
    “There is also a sleeveless version, but I’m afraid the armholes become too large that way,” Rarity let out a tiny smile. “While it’s okay in summer…” The following pause let everypony present understand, what troubled their couturier friend the most. “I still have no idea what to do with the warm winter clothes.”
    “You know, we don’t usually use winter clothes, unless the biting frost comes. And while you can perfectly go without any shirt in summer,” Rarity put another piece of cake into Spike’s mouth and threw another sly glance at Alex. “that’s hardly your variant, when it’s cold and rainy. Sorry, darling!”
    “Other ideas are further from perfection,” added Rarity. “I made a few drafts, so…”
    “Ummm… Yeah, about those stitching drafts…” Alex remembered something, but Rarity reached her saddle bag, taking out a stack of… pancakes.
    Both Twilight and Fluttershy giggle-snorted quietly, Rarity blinked fast over her unusual find, Pinkie leaned forward and licked her lips.
    “Hmmm… Quite in time!” She finished her cake long ago and watched the pancakes in Rarity’s shaking hooves.
    “I… was… sure…” eyes widened and teary, Rarity inhaled already, but let out all air with a tiny squeak, recoiling and snuggling to Alex suddenly – the teacups, everypony forgot about for a while, grew out grasshoppers’ legs and slowly crawled on the table, trying to escape their owners.
    Twilight rolled her eyes and called.
    “I’m all ears!” with a content giggle a pair of variegated ears appeared in the air, shortly the eyes and wide grin followed and soon the draconequus materialized in entirety, quite proud of himself. “Anything I can do for you?”
    Twilight made a face, pointing at the table with the sarcastic glance.
    “Oh! I simply tried to revive the talk a bit…” with a finger click, everything went back to normal: the tea-fog disappeared, cups went back to normal, even returning to their places, Rarity held a bunch of papers in her hooves, breathing heavily. Pinkie sighed.
    “Do you also think the pancakes fit the tea time greatly?” noticing her disappointment Discord smirked. “I can bring them back probably…”
    “No. Way!” Rarity hoofed over her drafts on the table, giving Discord a glance, which could make some cockatrice jealous.
    But nothing could discourage him and while everypony leaned closer, taking a better look of Rarity’s suggestion, Twilight watched from the corner of her eye, how Discord crossed the room and subtly appeared behind the human’s back. There he started examining Alex’s folded wings very thoroughly, bending in the air like the large colourful question mark, chuckled quietly and meaningfully once and scratched behind his ear.
    Alex looked at the sketches, admiring Rarity’s talent of fast yet characteristically precise drawing and having a feeling that he just forgot something important; using the moment, Rarity leaned to his arm, almost rubbing her mane against, yet accurately hoofing another draft into his view in time. Spike looked more adequate, when not spoon fed by his unicorn muse, obviously, he would prefer the drafts with Rarity herself on them. Pinkie picked one sheet and turned it upside down then back several times, examining; clearly, that one wasn’t the best variant of Alex’s clothes planned by Rarity.
    “Aw!” Alex woke to reality, feeling a pull.
    “Umm… Just checking one thing,” Discord straightened fast, holding a small black feather, about of palm size. “Those wings are truly an integral part of you, want it or not, even if being magical.” Under Alex’s glance he returned to the free spot next to Twilight.
    “If you still don’t believe me, try to stab the certain creature with your feather,” the draconequus smirked, summoning the armchair with another finger click and comfortably nesting in it; he still spun his trophy in front of his eyes. “Well, reflecting magic is, I suppose, also magic of some sort, so I see no contradiction here either,” assumed Discord finally.
    “I think it’s right the moment to ask, what and how much you know about the latest events,” Twilight smiled diplomatically. “And, moreover, what you think about them.”
    “Okay, of course, I know about the portal,” Discord released the feather, blowing on it and making slowly land in the middle of the table. “But I must admit the results exceeded my expectations by far. Quite fascinating, aren’t they? And answering some questions…”
    He fell silent for a while, but nopony hurried him, waiting for the rest of his findings in the silence so solid, that the candle crackling broke it like a stale cookie.
    “The main thing we have confirmed now is that Alex was definitely summoned to Equus by the Tree of Harmony,” Discord raised the long finger meaningfully. “And it has certain plans regarding human’s stay in Equestria, not taking him by an accident.”
    “What if the Tree was simply unable to return Alex home?” Pinkie spread her fore legs. “We know, even princess Celestia was unable to send him back safely.”
    “We return to that aspect shortly,” Discord glanced meaningfully at her and emphasized. “And yes, safely is the keyword, but we may talk about different kinds of “safety” here.”
    Alex nodded silently, he caught the thread of Discord’s thoughts – what meant safely to him, didn’t necessarily mean safely to Equestria, and safely to the whole Equus could be also a different thing. Twilight refilled the cups, including the one Discord materialized as usual; Rarity asked for another one – drinking tea from something that had legs was evidently impossible for her.
    “Actually I thought about three ways that portal could end with,” after a long pause and sipping his tea continued Discord. “The first and most uninteresting one… and let me say, the least possible one, was Alex staying on Equus and absolutely nothing else happening. Unlikely, right?!” he made a sarcastic face. “Another one, which I didn’t believe, was Alex happily launched,” Discord chuckled, “towards his home world. Understand me properly, I didn’t believe in it happening, not the mere possibility of it.”
    “And the third variant,” Discord looked fixedly at Alex. “The third variant was with you staying here, but something naturally going haywire, considering your relationship with magic. Something totally unrelated to you or portal most likely. But the result was completely unexpected.”
    “Now back to your idea, my curious pink friend!” he turned to Pinkie, who fiddled on her place, brooding some question. “I’m sure that the Tree of Harmony is more than capable to handle this, that… it could send Alex home easily despite his peculiar features. At least yet…” muttered he, then added louder. “But it wasn’t what it brought him here for in the first place! His wings clearly tell about that.”
    “Indeed, it looked the best it could end, if magic was supposed to be altered anyway,” slowly admitted Fluttershy.
    “From all the multitude of ways, something could go strange,” Discord nodded to her. “the Tree of Harmony combined its powers and Alex’s ability to actually give him something. He wanted to be transferred. Fine! He was given the method of transportation, the most advantageous one here in Equestria… considering he couldn’t use any magic. Any foreign magic,” added he with emphasis.
    “What else except trains and balloons could you probably travel by?” the draconequus winked to Alex slyly. “Especially if you wanted to travel fast!”
    “Well, come to think about it…” Alex scratched the back of his head, forcedly admitting that Discord had a fair point. “I’m not sure about fast part though… Actually, I’m not sure about the wings at all yet…”
    “Exactly! That is why you really need to learn to control them. I see no problem here, as they are a part of you. You can probably cope with that sudden problem as well…” Discord picked one of Rarity’s drafts and examined it. “To avoid extra help, as miss Rarity said.”
    “Returning to our question,” he put the paper down. “At the first possible chance, Alex was given what he lacked the most here – the reliable method of fast transportation. All said clearly tells us a few things. First, the Tree of Harmony deliberately brought him to Equus. Second, She… it’s going to take a much greater role in his fate here, than we could imagine. And…” Discord fell silent, bringing his claws together.
    “Come on. I told everypony present about the main aspects!” encouraged Twilight, properly interpreting his silence.
    “Well, all combined they make Alex a nice solution against the certain problem,” added Discord subtly. “Certain creatures I mean. And even more than that, as they are hardly the only, moreover, the main problem.”
    “You need to control them, Alex,” repeated he, addressing the human. “The faster, the better! Who knows what else you can face.” Seeing how Fluttershy snuggled to Alex, Discord continued on a lighter note. “Besides, you can save yourself and miss Rarity a lot of trouble, if you learn to make them conform more classical clothes indeed. As some of you properly noticed, they already change their size depending on the situation, even without your conscious demand. And… the winter is coming.”
    “And now, if you excuse…” Discord clicked his fingers, making his cup, armchair and himself disappear. Differently to his belongings, he faded slowly, leaving the face then overly cheerful grin visible for a while. “Have a nice day!”
    “I would like to have as much optimism,” muttered Alex, stroking Fluttershy’s mane and back slowly and thinking that Discord left perhaps more questions than answered, as usual. “And come to a consensus with mine wings, specifically before winter comes. Walking around in a blizzard in some sort of ancient Roman toga doesn’t seem a good idea to me. But squeezing the wings through sleeves… Hmmm…” he shook his head.
    “That would really solve so many troubles, darling!” sighed Rarity. “Making your clothes at least not more complex than princesses’ ones.”
    “Merlin’s pants!” Alex exclaimed in recalling. “Speaking of flexibility… I’ll come to the hell of work, remaking the armour, now when the wings added to the trouble. Almost start over again with some parts…” he rubbed his temples tiredly.
    Heavy rainclouds filled the skies; what was a warm sunlit evening suddenly turned dark and gloomy. The first gust of the wind made dust from the road fly, but it cleared the air fast, becoming stronger and colder, it brought freshness and smell of water. It drove its rainy herd, pressing to the ground so close, they looked touching the treetops over Ponyville. Some of the clouds definitely scratched their grey bellies on the hills at the North, as in a few moments rain came down to the ground, filling the distance with swaying misty veil. The lonely sound of thunder ripped the sky far away, rolling its empty cars over the railroad towards the smithy, and in a second the rain curtains wavered over it in waves, like a fresh tide.
    The elements made Alex and Will drop their work and seek cover in the large shed with the workbenches; Alex took an extra minute to turn the special shutter, partially covering and thus shielding the smelter neck from the rain water, so he reached the awning above the open doors soaking wet. Thankfully the rain was surprisingly warm. The precaution seemed not so necessary, fanned white-hot the smelter simply evaporated the raindrops, before they reached the opening, the thick column of steam trailed into the sky.
    “Hmmm… Autumn is finally taking over,” muttered Will, watching the raging wind and weather. “Nearby pegasi must be raising the water to refill Cloudsdale Weather Factory tanks for it. It’s more serious than it sounds and… this must be the remnants, slipping away and reaching Ponyville as the usual rainstorm.”
    Alex let out a smile, he remembered, how Fluttershy told him about her taking part in that procedure once; seeing it with his own eyes would be interesting, although, not entirely safe according to her description. His thoughts seemed to be far from the current events: leaning on the doorpost he folded the arms on his chest, his mind and sight were into another rainstorm, the one he was brought to Equestria by. However, the old blacksmith’s words woke him to reality, somehow reminding about the interrupted work as well.
    They spent the whole day, hurrying up to fulfil Canterlot Steam Company request, focusing on it entirely, without any noticeable break. It appeared that usual smelter capabilities were more than enough for the details they produced, thus Alex came to the smithy personally. All the blueprints were at hands and it turned out merely the machine work at the moment. But the work en masse, whole day since early morning, Alex came before sunrise, not to attract unwanted attention, to the late evening, as long as the circumstances and own strength allowed. No wonder that he felt his hands now as a couple of heavy mallets, shoulders strained and his wings constantly reminded of themselves; impatiently jerking, they seemed to wait for the chance to spread and stretch after the hard day.
    That self-inflicted time pressure was explicable, the partners wanted to finish with simpler, conveyor job as fast as possible to apply all the resources to the armour making again. Following Alex’s plan they were to remake the standard pony armour with new materials to increase its durability significantly; coming afore Celestia’s eye with something less than perfect was hardly smart, especially if Alex wanted to persuade the princess of the expediency of his project. So, the day was filled with the bearings by CSC order, Alex’s thoughts – with possible complications with their project, as for his own armour… As for his own armour, Alex preferred not to think yet, how he needed to alter it simply to be able to use it. He tried, what Rarity made for him, even with the most convenient variant – with zippers, Alex needed some extra help to put it on quickly enough. The embarrassment of asking Twilight for help each time was stronger than him, so he kept walking around shirtless, while the weather still allowed, seriously considering taking Luna’s tapestry again, when the coolness was going to intensify. Alex hoped for his wings to start obeying his will better and better with time, truth be told their behaviour became more reasonable and obedient already; although, not yet enough to fly freely without any accidents.
    “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you look a bit hesitant,” the old unicorn finally voiced up his concern; Willsmash watched Alex subtly the whole day. “Do you expect more troubles with the armour, Alex? More than we already discussed…”
    “Not with the armour as such,” Alex sighed, turning over a wooden crate and taking a seat, facing the blacksmith. He leaned on the doorpost again, throwing a glance at the rain veil outside. “We can start with it as soon as we finish that job, uncle Will,” he nodded towards the heap of completed bearings in another crate. “Everything is ready and we can take your old piece as the model, disassembling it, remaking and improving the construction, then putting back together both yours and the new one. It’s the matter of days, but…”
    “But I still think if simply demonstrating Celestia the advantages of our model is enough to convince her that our work is meant to do good at the end of the day,” finished he after a few seconds of silence. “Last time I saw the princess, she wasn’t sure if I could become a bigger danger for Equestria than those creatures, especially after she couldn’t send me back home… and I got those,” Alex managed to shrug twice, both with his shoulders and folded wings. “Methinks she hardly changed her mind since then.”
    “But you are still positive about offering her our work…” noticed Willsmash, his single eye was smiling.
    “Naturally! Because I’m sure that’s what our new equipment is worth,” Alex pointed at the steaming smelter. “That’s what your smithy can and must do, instead of some routine conveyor work. Besides…” he fell silent for a moment. “… I know what those abominations are capable of. They may appear as ethereal, even be ethereal technically, but their kicks can be really deadly. If what we do helps save a few lives… Equestria is large, and I doubt we keep having a couple of Seekers arriving monthly, there shall be more! Many more…”
    “With all those monsters appearing, it would be strange to think that you could provide even comparable threat anyway!” Willsmash slowly shook his head.
    “She is cautious not about me specifically… rather… about, errmmm… about what I may become eventually,” Alex pretended that he watched the smelter, pondering how to tell old Will about Tia’s concerns not telling too much about himself and Luna.
    Naturally, he wasn’t so naïve to suppose that the experienced unicorn knew nothing about their closeness, it was about the degree of closeness, Will could assume; apparently, less than to suspect Alex following Celestia’s plan, otherwise the blacksmith wouldn’t collaborate so easily. Meanwhile, the rain became thinner, the puddles in the yard didn’t look boiling anymore; the storm moved to Ponyville, then further to the South to water Everfree. Amazingly the clouds still had water for that.
    “You can’t deny that any significant contact with magic leaves quite a noticeable imprint,” Alex wiggled his wings, nesting more comfortably on his hard seat. “Sometimes I wonder, if ‘t be true she would accept that offer from somepony else without any problems,” he squeezed a grin, which came out wry and painful. “But one thing I’m sure about, I would nev’r consciously harm a pony!..” Alex stopped short, the memory of the dam came too vividly.
    “Yeah…” the shadow ran across human’s face, his glance glazed for a second. Alex squinted like from a splinter entering under his skin.
    “Anyway,” he preferred to change the topic. “I can’t blame the princess… nor the guards, you don’t have any considerable conflicts lately…”
    “And the guards started feeling quite relaxed lately,” smirked old Will. “I know what you are talking about.”
    “Well, I won’t deny that,” chuckled Alex, without any sarcasm though. “I was able to witness, how peaceful life affected the military.”
    ‘Not that I complain about it!’ added he inwardly, keeping in mind his endeavours during the examination in the castle.
    “So, the only major disturbance currently is me… and those Seekers,” he said. “But Celestia is still unsure, if I was brought because of them appearing, or they are the result of my mere existence in Equestria.”
    “We didn’t have any global wars for ages, right,” nodded Willsmash, but Alex saw it was blacksmith’s turn to regret the course of their talk. “And the conflicts with the changelings are not nearly as massive as… in my youth. But they keep tormenting the southern borders, the whole region near their Badlands is hardly safer than two hundred years ago!” The old unicorn sighed. “The duty there is hard and dangerous still and your armour could make the difference.”
    They sat in silence for a while; the rain vanished as suddenly as it came, travelling to the south with the wind and leaving the air filled with freshness and nicely washed grass smell. The clouds parted, revealing the wonderful sunset. Alex shivered a little, remembering about his clothing problem again. The realization came like a flash.
    “Sil?!” he glanced at Will fixedly.
    “Yes, son,” the old unicorn nodded shortly after a moment. “I took Silver after her parents went missing, almost twenty years ago, but it hurts like it was yesterday. They were never found… Chances to find somepony, kidnapped during the raid, are thin and aleatory.” Willsmash gloomed. “The last couple of years even more. Their queen was extremely vengeful, since that time she was defeated by Twilight. Anyway, it was always better to prevent a raid from breaking in, you know…”
    Alex silently nodded, thinking how old could the blacksmith be, if he could easily relate to the events of two hundred age. He was to take part in those “massive” changeling incidents definitely.
    “I wasn’t in the brightest condition at that moment,” continued Will, like if answering Alex’s unasked and even supposed questions. “But anything is better than the borderlands… Compared to that we’re doing fine. More than fine since certain days,” he nodded towards Alex thankfully.
    The bang of the door echoed in the damp air, interrupting their talk, and in a few moments fast, but accurate hoofsteps crossed the yard.
    “Here you are!” Silver Ingot peeked into the shed doors, she smiled cheerfully. “I was afraid that you might get flushed away with that waterfall.”
    “Hey, what’s wrong? Uncle Will? Alex?” she alternated from the crate of bearings to their moody faces, puzzled by their expression. “I thought the day was productive. What happened?” she put the jar with water on the floor.
    “We are simply weighing our chances to screw it with the new armour afore the princess’ eyes,” Alex found the suitable answer, squeezing a smile. Sil stared at him confusedly, when he exchanged glances with her uncle. “We have everything ready: technology, materials, the prototype, enthusiasm… A whole sea of the latter. But it all comes down to Her Highness decisive word, Sil.”
    “Oh…” she kept looking at them slightly suspiciously, then exhaled. “Well, you can hardly continue today, it’s getting darker and the whole yard is one big puddle still…”
    “I definitely must build a generator here as well,” nodded Alex, embarrassed by that simple thought not coming into his head earlier. “As soon as I have the first free day. We have spare parts, but the time…”
    “…I thought that you might stay for dinner,” Sil finished, flushing and throwing a quick glance at Alex.
    “What? Oh… Thank you, Sil!” Alex cleared his throat, feeling it a bit dry. “Next time definitely,” he got up to his feet. “Apologies! I planned an early sleep today, you see, having another… survival training early in the morning,” his wings wiggled faintly. “Uncle Will, Sil, thank you again. I shall come closer to noon on morrow. Have a good night!”
    Alex bowed slightly under the door frame, exiting and crossing the yard, he waved to them with a slightly guilty smile. Silver Ingot followed his figure, receding through the field in the burning out twilight; she downcasted with a barely audible sigh.
    “Better don’t, Silver,” uncle Will stopped next to her, his understanding voice was unusually soft. “He is a nice guy… and you’re an awesome young mare, but… to neigh the least of it… he is completely taken. Little miss Fluttershy is, of course, soft and kind, but she has a core of steel, my filly, believe me.” He pondered for a moment. “And I can bet on my remaining eye, princess Luna steps close on her tail here.”
    Silver Ingot glanced up to him sadly, producing another sigh; Willsmash hugged his niece shoulders with one fore leg, directing her softly towards the house. ‘Unfortunately, as he is free of those stupid prejudices,’ thought the blacksmith.
    Alex walked through the field in the falling darkness, thinking about and displeased by his abrupt departure; however, he was to think fast an could hardly have time to make it more diplomatic, almost caught off guard – Alex noticed the sparkles in Sil’s eyes. ‘Merlin’s pants! The girl deserveth some better… well, less problematic company than me. With mine overly enthusiastic marefriends.’ Alex shook his head. The last thing he needed and wanted was to tease yet another filly, knowing that he wasn’t going to trade Fluttershy and Luna for anypony.
    Thankfully the square was empty, when he crossed the back yard and pierced the bushes, taking a cautious look around; it was dimly lit by the windows across, but nopony in the view. In the shade of Golden Oak Alex slid to his window, smiling. At first, he was shocked to find it closed, but a little push told him that it wasn’t locked for his luck: Twilight or Spike simply closed it to prevent the rain flood.
    Anticipating the long-desired rest Alex took off the dirty boots and almost flowed over the window sill, leaving the frame half open to let the night freshness in. The smell of wood and books gave the homely feel and Alex suppressed the wish to flop flat and doze off. Not lighting any candle he trudged to the bathroom, barely finding some strength to wash his shoes and undress. The work rush of the day made itself felt: his eyes closed and arms seemed to weigh a ton each, yet taking a shower in the clothes wasn’t smart.
    Finally, wondering how he didn’t fall asleep under the warm water, Alex got to his bed, almost crawling. The wings definitely behaved more adequate lately, as when he nested comfortably, pulling the blanket, the upper one covered him with the head, providing soft darkness and silence.
    ‘Somehow I need to talk it through with Sil,’ thought Alex, closing the eyes. ‘Before…’ He fell through the well of sleep amidst that idea.
    ‘Merlin’s pants! I climbed for the eternity…’ his lungs burned mercilessly, but Alex tried his best to keep the pace, only a couple flights of stairs remained to the top. ‘I hope it didn’t hurt them!’
    Alex heard a loud skirring from the rooms above, as if somepony forcedly dragged something metal on the stone floor; the nasty sound made the feathers unconsciously ruffle, he shuddered, listening for a second. The rumble continued, something heavy fell with an earsplitting crash, spilling the rolling parts around; Alex fancied the frantically galloping hoofsteps fading away. Waking from the momentary stupor Alex rushed up, jumping over three, even four steps at once: something large was making quite a mess on the upper floor of the dam and he didn’t want to think, what it could have done to the technician and his daughter.
    Pulling the door at the top of the stairwell Alex mentally noted the round dent near the handle from inside; he was to bend down and squeeze through the narrow doorway. The room behind was some sort of engineering hall with workbenches, instrumental lockers, tables with some blueprints on them, chairs. It looked like a flock of mad rams was running through or one very anxious elephant: almost everything moved from its place, one locker lied on its side revealing the contents, partially thrown around. The large swaying exit doors still trembled, the long table was forcedly moved off the way, making the rolled up blueprints fall, covering the floor.
    Somepony flounced about the hall, blindly searching for the exit, bumping into the furniture and turning things over, tried getting to the stairs, but failed to squeeze through the door or… was startled, fleeing back to the dam instead.
    ‘Aha! You finally felt!’ grinned Alex wryly, taking another look over the room just in case; everything was quiet, only the draught from the opened door rustled the scattered papers. ‘Won’t get away now, bast…’
    The high-pitch distant girly scream made Alex flinch, kicking the pencil stand, which rolled into the corner, he pushed the table away with another unpleasant screech and rushed to the double doors. The long hallway seemed even darker, running across the whole dam and vanishing in shadows and mist, which trailed hither in those early hours. It was empty as far as Alex’s eyes could catch.
    In two leaps Alex got to the nearest arched opening, running onto the narrow catwalks with railings and unfinished crane. Surprisingly, he had only a glimpse of the light dizziness that time, throwing a quick look at the raging elements below. The Sun was only rising behind the valley below, leaving the whole dam in deep shadow, except the very top edge, glowing at the moment brightly in the first morning rays. The mist filled the air, cooling it down, making the metal catwalks slippery; Alex inhaled the full chest of dampness, he turned left, then right, the Seeker was nowhere visible; however, both ponies were there. Straining his fore legs with all the remaining force Staunch Flume, holding on the protruding beam of the frame, and his daughter, the filly cringed in a scared fluff ball behind father’s back, holding desperately on the stallion.
    “Hold on there!” Alex dashed to the crane frame, he was to fold almost in half to squeeze under the lower part of the metalwork. He dropped to the platform, trying to reach the pony’s fore legs, keeping the balance at the same time. Staunch Flume was unable to even nod, reserving everything for his slowly ceasing grip; the filly cried silently, for a second Alex caught the hopeful pleading gaze.
    The hooves slipped off the beam! Staunch Flume waved his legs, as if trying to catch again the relentlessly receding support.
    With the plaintive scream of the filly both ponies began falling into the mist.
    Alex didn’t lose a second for pondering; he rolled over the platform edge, folding the wings like a large arrow. The time seemed to freeze.
    ‘150 foot! I have a couple of seconds…’ flashed in his head, then the water clouds swallowed everything. Despite Alex was heavier than both ponies combined, he couldn’t see them in that grey mist. He hoped if not to lift, then at least reach the basin below slower and safer. ‘Damn it!!!’
    The cliffs arose like out of nowhere; Alex was sure, he had more time, the wings unfurled with a deafening flap, desperately trying to avoid the imminent hit and take him away. Alex threw up his hands to shield and…
    Woke up, convulsively startling and sitting on his sofa: the blanket lied crumpled and twisted on the floor, he must have dropped it, rolling in his nightmare; a single large black feather swirled in the air, landing slowly in the dim light.
    Alex shivered, feeling sudden weakness and nausea, cold sweat covered his forehead. He wanted to wipe the face brushing off emerging tears, but felt the touch of something hard and unyielding. Alex swallowed a lump, bringing both hands to his face, squinting to see in the morning twilight.
    Alex’s eyes stopped on two large pony fore legs with hooves. That is why the touch he felt was quite hard and unusual. His breath stuck in the throat, forgetting about the weakness Alex bucked for a couple of seconds trying to get up completely, then dashed to the bathroom as fast as his spreading legs could carry him.
    Four legs!
    Automatically Alex noted, some part of his mind continued analyzing the situation, despite the rest of his consciousness yelled madly in panic, that even on all four he observed everything around from the considerable height. Probably from even higher than usual. Slipping on the wooden floor and bumping into the furniture – the rooms suddenly became smaller and all cluttered up – Alex stormed into the bathroom, he managed to dive under the platband, but painfully hit the doorframe with his shoulder.
    It was darker there, Alex was to approach the mirror closely to see: he shoved himself to the dimly gleaming rectangle above the sink, bowing his head, as it appeared too low for him.
    “Aw!!!” he flicked his forehead on the mirror, or… rather something on his forehead; remembering that he had hooves he reconsidered rubbing the face. Shaking his head instead to regain the eyesight, Alex focused on the reflection of… large pony muzzle: the beige coat glowed in the darkness of the room, already large, dilated from fear eyes almost popped from their orbits and the long, spirally twisted horn!
    ‘The fucking horn!!!’
    Alex let out an earsplitting scream…
    The light flashed brightly, flooding his view, the room, overshadowing the young morning behind the window. The blanket was on the floor, tumbled, the large feather slowly sank on the floor. With a single panicking convulsive movement Alex sat on his sofa, covering his eyes from the light with… his hand.
    “W-what… is going on?” muttered Twilight, wrapping herself tighter in the morning gown; she looked, as if she saw a nightmare herself, obviously woken up and startled by Alex’s scream. “You s-shouted louder than ever before…”
    “Sssorry… Twilight,” creaked Alex, he brought his hands closer to the eyes, examining them carefully, bending then stretching the fingers. Twilight watched, how he felt his face very meticulously, then his forehead for some reason.
    “I… I had a nightmare,” Alex finally exhaled.
    “That I understood already,” seeing that he wasn’t going to flounce or shout again, Twilight accurately approached, dimming the light a bit; however, she noticed the endless relief in Alex’s voice. “You screamed, as if you were slaughtered alive this time!” She looked into his eyes.
    Alex examined his hands and took a look over himself again instead of an answer.
    “It was the usual “dam” thing…” finally squeezed he out. “But then… I…” Alex chocked on words, breathing in and out several times to calm down. “I had a nightmare that I was turned into an alicorn!”
    “Ehm!” it sounded like a nervous chuckle, Twilight blinked wordlessly for a couple of minutes.
    “Comest on, Twi! I would like to keep as much human as left in me still… Seeing the chances of it shrink each day…Ohhhh…” the human shook his head with a sigh.
    “What’s so horrible in being an alicorn, pray tell?” finally asked she, visibly relaxing as well.
    “Nothing at all!” Alex looked at her very fixedly. “If ‘t be true thou art a pony already…”
    “No offence, Twi,” the warm smile made the alicorn girl return it easily. “I was completely fine with mine four extremities, only two of which being legs… I’m even fine now with all the six, extending mine hope I can control the new two as well as the old ones. But, considering the only male alicorn I theoretically knew, was princesses’ father… and I wouldn’t pin mine faith on mine luck here…” Twilight caught the idea, snorting despite his deadly serious look and quickly covering her mouth with the hoof; she gave Alex an apologetic glance. “…so, I definitely could live without turning into a pony, let alone a princess! Even technically…”
    “Where are they, Pinkie? Should be back a few minutes ago, I thought,” Fluttershy sat at the short wooden pier, bathing her hind hooves in the water, but her concerned glance was set on the sky with large fluffy white, as in summer, clouds. “Alex isn’t that much of a flyer yet to…”
    “Relax, Flutters-Butters!” Pinkie Pie lied flat on the planks, chewing a straw, her head on her fore hooves. “He is with Twilight, she didn’t choose the lake for these lessons for nothing. They fly only above the water and don’t rise too high, I’m sure. So, even if he falls…” Pinkie shrugged. “Besides, we are here to assist, if something goes wrong,” she waved her hind legs, equipped with flippers; the diving mask nested on her forehead and another pair of flippers lay next to the girl.
    The large lake, laying at their hooves, shimmered with thousands of tiny bright sun flares on the slight ripples; the wind barely reminded of itself, seen by the lazily waggling reed and long green braids of the large willows, crying along the banks. It smelled of water, grass and slightly silt, but not the heavy still smell of a swamp it was, the peculiar healthy breath of a crystal clear lake rather. The shadows and reflections of the high clouds raced on the water surface, rarely disturbed by some fish splashing. The large green and blue dragonflies scurried back an forth, almost touching the water and large plates of lilies leaves. They hovered in the air, flapping their transparent wings with the quiet rattle, appearing closer to the girls and even landing for a short moment on the tips of their ears, making Fluttershy and Pinkie funnily twitch them. Only the distant drum roll of some woodpecker tinted the warm sleepy silence and once a large raven crossed the sky high above, resounding the neighbourhood with its pensive croaking. When it faded away, the same tranquillity reigned again; it was too early for the omnipresent cicadas and frogs and the world around them froze tingling, like cut from the finest rock-stone and carefully hoof-painted.
    “It’s so quiet!” Pinkie let out a smile, inhaling deeply. “I’m not a fan of it usually, you know… But that’s different!” She stared dreamily above the water.
    “Shhhh… Did you hear?” Fluttershy perked one ear, looking up again.
    With a plangent damnation something large and heavy plopped into the water, producing a loud splash, making the fry sprinkle away and a single duck leave the nearest canes with panic quacking.
    “Girls, have you seen Alex?” Twilight appeared in a second, fluttering above the pier she breathed heavily. “We soared nicely, but then… He must have looked down or something, as he suddenly lost control and fell down spinning…”
    Instead of an answer Pinkie pointed with her hoof at the source of the noise; the human swam towards them slowly, large wet wings were spread and flapped on the lake surface, as if trying to row.
    “He looks managing fine to me…” thoughtfully noticed the pink lifeguard, she followed Alex’s trajectory, tilting her head slightly. “But, of course, I’m ready to help, if he needs,” Pinkie got up and fastened another pair of flippers on her fore hooves. Twilight landed on the planks next to girls, watching Alex with slight concern.
    “Hey, I don’t want to sound offensive or bossy,” she addressed Alex, when he approached. “But I think, if you fold your wings tight, you could swim easier and faster.”
    Alex muttered something through his gritted teeth; his wings slapped harder, raising a cloud of splatter.
    “What, sorry?” Twilight scratched the back of her head, while Fluttershy and Pinkie giggled, Alex only huffed instead of an answer.
    “I said, one needs to control them fully at first,” he forcefully pushed himself up, catching the planks, finally climbed out of the water and sat on the edge of the pier, taking his breath. “And I’m far from that…”
    “Well, at least you can hold yourself from uncontrolled soaring now, right?”
    “Perhaps, but I wouldn’t risk leaving them unrestrained the whole day yet,” he spread the wings with a loud flap, spraying squeaking girls with water, and put them under the sunlight; the girls noticed, how shaky Alex was, and hardly because of the water, which, Fluttershy knew it for sure, was quite warm.
    “Are you okay?” she touched his shoulder lightly.
    “For one, who wasn’t supposed to fly on his own?” Alex looked at her with a tiny smile. “Yeah, I guess, I’m doing fine. Considering everything, there is no wonder that my skill is yet far from ideal.”
    “Well, guys,” Pinkie stretched like a big cat. “I’m going to take a swim while you are drying and talking here.” She pulled the mask down and, before anypony could say a word, swan dived into the lake, disappearing underwater and emerging a few yards further after several seconds. She waved her fore hoof cheerfully, leaving Alex a striking thought that with her wet mane flowing down she looked like some femme fatale nightclub singer.
    “I didn’t look much better upon my first flights, Alex. If my memory serves me well, I even landed once on my muzzle…” Twilight’s cheeks rosed a bit. “But I learned everything eventually. I have no doubt you can do the same.”
    Fluttershy nodded, she quickly examined Alex, checking his forehead, pulse; when she looked into his eyes, checking the pupils, Alex caught her muzzle softly and placed a kiss on the nose, making her squeak surprisedly. He raised his wings vertically, parallel to each other, leaving some space for girls to sit next to him.
    “You see, they are much more obedient lately,” Twilight glanced at Alex victoriously. “And you do much better in general, than let’s say yesterday.”
    There was so much satisfaction in her voice, that Alex suppressed the ruffian impulse to push both girls into the water and simply nodded.
    “Frankly speaking, I was practising… while sleepwalking,” Alex stumbled confusedly. “Each night. Although… methinks it’s nothing but cheating… as I can simply fold them and fly without, if they start behaving unruly, while sleepwalking.”
    “I still hope it helps a bit,” he shrugged, the feathers ruffled, wings becoming fluffy for a second. Watching dragonflies scurrying above the lake surface and hovering over reeds and water lilies leaves, Alex wrapped one arm around Fluttershy’s shoulders. One especially brave dragonfly landed on girls nose for a second, making Fluttershy huff it off and giggle, snuggling to Alex happily. They could spend the rest of the day that way: Alex thought, that despite all the circumstances, he must be a very lucky guy and Fluttershy inwardly thanked the Tree of Harmony for not sending Alex to Earth. This time she didn’t even feel any regret for her thoughts in the soft embrace of her man.
    “Ahem…” started Twilight embarrassedly, seeing that a few minutes more and Fluttershy would fall asleep on Alex’s chest, being kissed behind the ear and becoming a little cross-eyed from the pleasure. “It seems, you have dried up a bit… Maybe we can make another attempt?” she nudged Alex lightly.
    “Mmm… Oh… Well, if you say so.”
    “Come on, Alex, it’s you, who needs to get your wings properly working,” Twilight smirked, perfectly understanding Alex’s wish to linger.
    “Hey, mates!” Pinkie’s head silently emerged closer to the pier, making everypony flinch. “I’ll keep swimming, if you don’t mind… Anyway, chances are high that Alex… lands on the water again.” She winked.
    “Mine endless gratitude for thy trust!” Alex made a face with an exaggeratedly polite bow. “I’m sorry, Shy. I’ll return shortly, something tells me this time won’t be any different.”
    Fluttershy thought that the following kiss, making both Twilight and Pinkie flush and look away, could easily compensate her the waiting. Twilight and Alex soared, leaving her sitting on the pier; Fluttershy fluffed with a dreamy smile like a canary-bird. Enjoying the warm sunlight on her back and wings she listened to the light breeze, whispering in the reed stems and leaves; a single oriole screeched in the shade of the willows on the opposite bank, like a cat stepped on its tail.
    Naturally, after a few minutes of nearly complete harmony, Alex appeared in her field of view, going down by a complex trajectory. Although, this time he visibly tried to control his fall at least partially and reached certain success, almost landing, not crashing into water, with his legs down this time. Pinkie managed to dive a second before he plopped right where she was.
    “So, how’s the weather up there?” smirked she, emerging a couple of yards aside.
    “Perfect! But some rain clouds are coming from the west,” seriously reported Alex, huffing away the water. “I can rise with you next time, so you check for yourself!” he stuck out his tongue.
    “Thanks, but better some other day,” Pinkie turned over and swam on her back with an imperturbable expression, making Alex laugh and snort in some water. Huffing, he headed to the pier under the concerned glance of Fluttershy.
    “Well everything takes some time,” Twilight landed next to Fluttershy and they both helped Alex climb out of the water. “Alas, I’m not a pro flyer, Alex, so… we do, what we can.”
    “Twilight probably told you already,” Fluttershy hugged him from behind, warming quickly. “Dashie taught her to fly, when it was necessary, but… as soon as Rainbow is… well, out of reach…” she fell silent confusedly.
    “It’s okay as it is, Shy,” Alex leaned his cheek to her. “Thanks, Twilight, I appreciate your time and effort, maybe I’m not entirely hopeless. Besides, I’m quite fine without Rainbow Dash witnessing my miserable attempts.”
    “He-he, how are the divers doing?!” the familiar mocking voice made them jump on the spot; Alex glared up to see the mentioned cyan pegasus with her ever-ruffled short rainbow mane, hovering above them. That was exactly the visitor, he could easily do without; Alex tried to see himself from Rainbow’s point of view: stripped to the boxers, wet, ruffled, he just took a strand of seaweed off his wing – that made him instantly cringe.
    “I always thought that the one born to crawl, couldn’t fly!” meanwhile Rainbow had much fun. “Well… at least you don’t need an umbrella anymore,” she winked, unambiguously hinting of her habit of watering Alex occasionally.
    “Dashie, stop please!” Twilight frowned. “Don’t be a meanie, remember myself, when I only started to learn…”
    “That’s another thing,” the cyan “mocking bird” dismissed all the concerns. “I had time to notice, he… bathes way more than… well, flies,” she giggled again. “No offence, mate!” she made a face, obviously supposing that Alex would take offence.
    Beginning to boil slowly Alex nuzzled Fluttershy’s cheek and gently pushed the girl, getting up; with a deep breath he unfurled the wings, raising a cloud of mist and shaking them a few times to dry quicker. Rainbow’s eyes widened, the size of the human’s new extremities was completely unexpected for her; however, she kept teasing Alex.
    Gritting his teeth Alex dashed up in a single jump, almost sweeping both girls from the pier, Rainbow blew a raspberry and rushed up to the clouds, giggling; her mocking laughter spread in the sky, the wind whistled in Alex’s ears. Not looking down, with a series of strong flaps he gained considerable speed and pierced the nearest low cloud a few seconds after the cyan pegasus.
    The milky mist filled his view, disorienting Alex at once. The cloud floated slowly, thus everything around him changed constantly, making it twice harder to keep direction. Alex dashed left, then reconsidered and turned right: the same white dampness everywhere. Maybe the clouds looked fluffy from the ground, maybe they felt fluffy to walk on, he never tried, but for a person getting inside of one, Alex felt not very comfortable. Only once he heard quiet giggling, but he couldn’t tell for sure, where from… moreover, if it wasn’t entirely his imagination.
    Alex hovered on one spot, held by the slow strong flaps of his wings. His vestibular apparatus let him feel for sure, where was the “floor” and where the “ceiling”, but the rest was questionable. He didn’t have time to think that the wings started behaving tolerably in general, when his left one suddenly lost the air flow. Alex felt like driving a car, one wheel of which got into a large pit; he winced convulsively, losing control and giving a lurch.
    ‘Damn! 2:1 in her favour…’
    In a second Alex was falling, spinning uncontrollably; he anathematized the clouds and all the mockers inwardly, squinting, because the strong air flow almost squeezed out tears from the eyes. Suddenly he fell out of the cloud, gaining a clear view at once. Despite his wide tailspin, Alex did his best to spread the wings and regain control, gritting the teeth and fighting upcoming air pressure. He managed to slow down the fall and make it a decent glide barely above the water, entering the lake by the sloping trajectory, almost controlling his landing. The splash came out quite loud still, followed, Alex could swear to that, by a loud girly scream from the shore.
    Alex took a look around, it appeared, he crashed into the further end of the lake, which resembled a bean by its shape. An elegant head appeared in the shrubs on the bank; the unicorn girl looked around cautiously.
    “Hey, is it you, who made that mammoth splash?” her wine-coloured eyes stopped at Alex’s head inquiringly. “Are you okay?”
    “Yeah. I think so, yes,” huffing away water from his face Alex swam closer to the shore, noticing her unusual light blue and steel mane, some strands were visibly glowing despite the daylight.
    “Mmmm… Who are you? I don’t think I ever saw somepony like that?” now the girl looked rather curious than concerned, making Alex smile; she swayed her mane decorated with a single lily flower above her left ear.
    “I hope I didn’t startle you too much, when I crashed into the lake…” Alex’s feet felt the bottom, so he could stand, slowly coming out of the water. When he emerged a bit more, brushing away the water plants with his hands, the girl’s eyes dilated.
    “Wait… I know who you are… you must be a…”
    “Human,” nodded Alex, getting out of the water and squeezing it out of his hair. “At least I hope I still mostly am…”
    “I heard about humans, Lyra slides onto that topic half of the times,” the unicorn exited the shrubs and Alex could see the white gracile body with grey spots on the back and slender legs, the tail of the same colours as the mane, the small pendant with some deep cherry stone. Her bright eyes with curiously raised brows examined him with interest rather than concern. “But I never saw one in reality. And… I thought humans couldn’t fly!”
    “I thought the same hitherto,” chuckled Alex, unfurling his wings and putting them under the sunlight. “Actually, I was learning to fly… if what I did can be called that ambitiously.”
    The girl blinked several times, staring at them.
    “Excuse mine impoliteness,” he slapped his forehead. “I’m Alex.”
    “White Lily-Rose,” modestly said the girl. “Or simply Lily-Rose… They are quite large… Well, they must be to hold you, as you aren’t small either,” she giggled.
    “And what are you doing here, Lily-Rose? If I may ask…” Alex thought it was strange to see a filly all alone that early at the overgrown bank of the lake.
    “Oh, I’m sketching,” Lily-Rose let out a warm smile, the best sign of doing what she loved. “I’m an artist… I mean, I’m learning,” she rosed a bit. “And… I think I need to work on my backgrounds more…”
    “So, today is the day of landscapes, yeah,” added she.
    “Can I have a look?”
    “Well… Yes, if you’re interested…” Lily-Rose looked confused and pleased at the same time.
    When Alex got through the bushes, following the unicorn girl, an amazing view opened to his eyes. From this side, the thick foliage around the lake opened as a narrow natural valley towards the field with rare trees and laying closely behind western part of Ponyville. Reflected with the proper amount of mastery on the paper or canvas, this view formed a very promising scene. The endless, spreading to the distant railroad, field, juicy trees, which green colour was only tinted by the accidental yellow and red, the town bathing in verdure with windows glancing here and there, colourful roofs protruding among the tree crowns, everything lit with the Sun piercing through the rare slowly floating in the blue skies clouds. At the same time, the whole scene was awesomely placed on the large sheet of paper, clipped to the easel; it was still in lines, but with an amazing level of detail, as Alex could notice.
    “I’m not a specialist, was never able to rise above the blueprints level myself. You see, believable volume and living creatures aren’t my things, so… But methinks you did an awesome job,” Alex’s eyes alternated between the image and the real view. “If you can do at least half close out of your memory, then…”
    Instead of an answer, Lily-Rose levitated an album and a charcoal stylus from the stack of her instruments nearby.
    “Hold still, please!” the charcoal already danced on the paper. Alex didn’t have time for surprise, when the girl handed him a very close to the life three-quarters sketch of him, few quick curves even denoted the drying wings.
    “I decided to work with graphics this time, not spending much time with paints,” shrugged Lily-Rose. “Very much hope I didn’t spoil it. They say I get the characters well, “almost like a photograph”… Not sure if I should feel proud because of that comparison,” she sighed. “But I wanted to pull the backgrounds to the same level at least.”
    Alex thoughts divided between wondering, why he never saw any photos yet, and the memory about the one from that show titles. Ponies definitely had photography. Somehow that seemingly insignificant detail made him wonder how deep was the influence of the noosphere on that show author. ‘Lara?.. Laura… Lauren… What was her name?’
    “Hey, Alex! Alex!!!” A loud call from the bank pulled Alex out of his memories. “Are you here?” Pinkie finally entered the glade, funnily raising her legs high because of the flippers.
    “Oh, hi, Lily-Rose!”
    Alex wasn’t even surprised, Pinkie knew everypony in Ponyville, regardless if one lived there for the whole life or stopped in the town in transit. The unicorn artist greeted Pinkie, stifling the smile from the extravagant view of the latter.
    “Come on, Alex!” Pinkie shook off the water like a dog, making her wet mane and tail magically return to their usual cotton-candy look at once, maybe even puffier. “Twilight and Fluttershy rushed off their wings looking for you everywhere; they started to worry,” she glanced at Alex. “Sorry, Lily! Somepony simply needs to decide, if he is learning to fly or chasing the mockers mindlessly.”
    “Oh, I see,” Lily-Rose chuckled quietly. “I’ve noticed Rainbow Dash a few minutes ago…”
     Alex sighed, admitting that Pinkie was right everywhere: if not the lake below, his impulsive rush could end unluckily.
    “It was a pleasure, Lily-Rose. Alas, I can’t take the portrait right now, it gets wet and spoiled, apologies.”
    “It’s okay, I’ll be in Ponyville for a few days more, before returning to art school in Canterlot,” Lily-Rose nodded with a smile. “I stopped at my cousin’s place… Pinkie knows where it is. You know, Alex… you speak funnily sometimes,” added she musingly.
    “Relay your cousin my best regards, Lily. I hope he is doing well!” Pinkie lightly nudged Alex forward, then followed him, slapping on the grass with her flippers.
    “Maybe it’s your special talent – to find pretty fillies wherever you drop,” noticed she dryly, when they reached the bank, leaving Lily-Rose with her artworks. A quick look over the shoulder told Alex by the sparks in her eyes that she was rather joking. “I wonder how you manage to…”
    The frantic flapping of two pairs of wings interrupted her; Alex and Pinkie raised their eyes to see Twilight and Fluttershy quickly landing next to them. Without a word Fluttershy grabbed Alex in a tight hug, nuzzling him worriedly.
    “Here you are!” with light reproof in her voice Twilight poked him. “Please, Alex, don’t do that again! At least give us time to catch up with you.”
    “Besides, it is about time to learn better than reacting to the deliberate mockery,” added she much softer. “Well, at least we found out you got speed, that’s without neighing…”
    “If only I got the same amount of balance and concentration…” huffed Alex. “But I made a new acquaintance instead, the filly is really talented.”
    “We met Lily-Rose,” confirmed Pinkie casually. “She happens to be sketching on this shore today.”
    “Lily-Rose… Lily-Rose…” muttered Twilight, she blinked, trying to remember.
    “Oh, come on,” Pinkie shook her cotton candy mane. “I told you a couple of days ago. Seriously, Twilight, you can be so absent-minded with something other than your books.”
    “I saw some of her works,” nodded Fluttershy. “She is quite keen on portraits and masters them well.”
    “Yeah, and now she is fulfilling the… gaps in her mastery,” chuckled Alex. “Working on landscapes.”
    “That girl from Canterlot Art School,” Twilight’s eyes lit with recognition. “It seems it was ages ago…”
    “Well… Maybe we get back to the starting place and try once again?” asked Fluttershy. “While the weather allows…” Without saying a word she and Alex looked at Pinkie with her flippers. There was no chance she could catch up with them, despite swimming very well.
    “You go on,” catching their glance Pinkie simply shrugged. “I’ll join you as soon as I can reach the pier.”
    “I can carry you,” Alex suggested the easiest solution. He had enough rest since his last try and could easily pace up with both other girls that way.
    “Are you sure?” it seemed three girls stared at him at once.
    “What? I’m supposed to be learning, training… Whatever…” Alex raised one brow. “Besides, you told me I should believe in myself, Twilight.”
    “Don’t worry, I’ll fly low,” he turned to Pinkie. “And keep above the lake, just in case.”
    “Okay,” Pinkie smirked slyly. “But if you start falling, ensure you drop me first. It’s better to fall alone even in the water.”
    “We’ll be shortly behind!” Alex waved encouragingly to the girls, who still looked unsure, if the idea was entirely safe.
    “So…” when Fluttershy and Twilight soared, slowly heading to the other bank, Alex scratched the back of his head. It appeared slightly harder on practice than on words due to the most simple reason – surprisingly, Pinkie was afraid of tickling. Alex felt that carrying the wriggling and giggling earth pony, half of his size, could be a non-trivial task, when he lifted her.
    “It really will be easier, if you stop kicking,” he said sarcastically to the mare, who shook from each touch to her sides; her coat and mane tickled him in return.
    “I… ahhh… Can’t help myself! Ouch… Hmpf… Ha-ha!..” Pinkie snorted again, looking up at him. “Sorry… Ahhaaa…”
    With a sigh, Alex picked her under the fore legs and around the chest, trying to hold tight, yet not move his hands. Praying inwardly everything to go as he planned, he took three wide steps on the shore, spreading his wings and jumping in the air right above the water edge.
    They didn’t crash or fall into the lake and with some effort Alex managed to level up into the air; Pinkie Pie quietly hung in his arms, realizing the difficulty and trying not to move without a reason. Alex gained some speed and glided low above the water, almost touching the surface with the tips of the wings; he focused on catching up with the girls, who covered some distance already.
    “You know, that can be kinda enjoyable,” stated Pinkie, watching the reflection in the calm water flying past her flippers and the distant overgrown lake bank passing by on their left. “If not that tickle… Hmpffff…” she started snorting again, when Alex picked her for the better grip.
    “You’re also ticklish,” retorted Alex, who tried to look forward only, keeping his head up so Pinkie’s mane didn’t get into his face and nose. “Don’t move please…” He raised a bit, noticing they lost some height just in time.
    “Woohoo!!!” Pinkie couldn’t hold herself, calling out loud, when they overtook the surprised girls shortly; Twilight and Fluttershy were to speed up and Alex tried his best not to laugh, risking to fall. However, she asked him to drop her, when another shore appeared in sight, approaching fast, so the wooden pier became visible soon.
    Without arguing Alex got down, as low as he could, and dropped the speed, almost hovering on the spot for a short moment to release her softly. Pinkie entered the water without a noticeable splash and Alex flapped his wings faster, feeling that he might go after her in a moment. Both pegasus and alicorn girls already stood on the bank, watching their manoeuvers at the moment.
    Alex was to admit Pinkie’s rightness, when he landed on the planks on all four, quite harshly to be honest; Pinkie preferred the water landing to that. Still, that time was incomparably better than all of his previous attempts. With a smile Alex turned over and lied on the pier, spreading his wings and taking a breath in the warm sunlight.
    “That was way better than anything we saw before!” Alex heard the approaching hoofsteps on the wood and looked up to meet Twilight and Fluttershy’s smiling eyes. “It was a landing, not a fall finally. I told you, practice makes perfect,” Twilight wiggled her nose funnily.
    “Are you okay?” Pinkie climbed out of the water and appeared in his sight, she was soaking wet and a few drops fell on Alex. Not waiting for an answer she shook off the water like a dog, spraying Alex all over before her wet mane miraculously returned to the puffy look again.
    “Pinkie!!!” Alex sat straight at once, huffing and wiping the water off his face.
    “What? I thought some cooling wouldn’t hurt you…” she unclipped her flippers and shoved them into the saddle bag casually. Fluttershy and Twilight laughed, they could shield themselves with the wings just in time.
    “Errmmm…” Alex couldn’t find the proper words to react to this funny, yet outrageous trick. Suddenly the barely audible distant scream from behind made him strain and listen. Alex squinted wary, hearing another holler. Then the familiar feeling of uneasiness came.
    “That’s… That’s from the school!” Alex turned over and jumped to his feet. “Come on, fast!”
    With a few powerful wing flaps, not even thinking about that or explaining anything, he raised in the air and darted away from the bank, where Ponyville school lied, hidden behind the trees across the field. The girls unfroze a second later: Twilight and Fluttershy rushed after Alex, Pinkie threw the saddle bag on her back and followed the rest in giant hops. The wide belt remained forgotten on the pier.
    They could catch up to him amidst the field, where Alex reached in a couple of minutes, zipping so fast that the high grass bent under the wind he made. Pinkie fell back drastically, despite all of her efforts; she hopped silently with unusual concentration, influenced by the seriousness of the moment. In a few more moments Alex crossed the field, he already saw the school building through the thin line of trees; however, the mental image of the whole herd watching his flight made him land and cover the last part on foot. His running speed was noticeably slower and Fluttershy and Twilight finally paced up with him.
    Together they crossed the narrow grove and exited to the wide open space, where the old school was surrounded by a few rare trees in the fenced yard. The entire herd was outside seemingly: the students of all ages and staff, but the wide yard was completely empty – everypony gathered outside of the school territory instead. Ponies talked quietly, unlike the few initial shouts, which gained the friends’ attention, they hummed, like a disturbed bee-hive, throwing cautious glances at the old three storey building.
    Accurately making her way through the herd Twilight led them to the front edge, looking for somepony and finally addressing the elderly stallion with a lush grey moustache.
    “Good afternoon, Headmaster. What’s going on here? We heard some shouts… can we be of any help?”
    “Oh, your highness…” the stallion swallowed the nervous lump and corrected. “Miss Sparkle! Everything was as usual, when right after the recess somepony suddenly felt groundless anxiety turning into fear… In a matter of seconds many others started feeling the same, and… Remembering the royal warning, we organized the classes and evacuated the school as fast as we could,” he threw a look around. “I was going to check everypony, before getting away to a safer distance, as the foals started panicking here already…”
    Alex squeezed between the ponies, followed close by Fluttershy and folding his wings tight. He could only thank the situation as everypony’s eyes were chained to the school building and nopony paid him much attention. Yet. But the feeling, he had at the lake, became only stronger here and he was to interrupt the headmaster, asking the latter the most important in Alex’s view question.
    “Did everypony leave the school?”
    The aged stallion threw a quick glance at the human and started scanning the herd, counting inwardly; his lips moved, making the moustache tremble. It could look even funny, under different circumstances.
    Suddenly he stumbled, his muzzle becoming pale grey and making Alex’s heart sink.
    “Sweet Celestia! Miss Cheerilee’s class… They must be still there,” slowly squeezed the headmaster.
    Said quietly, that phrase nevertheless was seemingly heard by every single pony in the herd; the thick strained silence fell over the school yard. Even the few trees froze, not moving any leaf, as if the wind stopped blowing suddenly. Alex closed his eyes for a second, inwardly swearing, while the stallion added.
    “They were in the basement, at their alchemy class… So, they must have heard the alert and evacuation not.”
    “The basement has advanced ventilation and everything necessary,” he explained, seeing Alex’s wild glance. “And the door can be locked from inside, so… they are relatively safe, but…”
    ‘Exactly, relatively!’ thought Alex, feeling Fluttershy’s fore hooves clinging to his elbow, he asked aloud. “Anypony else?”
    “N-n-no…” the headmaster threw another look around, adding more confidently. “No, I’m sure, others are with us.”
    “Fine!” feeling it being anything but actually fine Alex turned to the girls and finally arriving Pinkie, who made her way through the scared herd with a little effort.
    “Hey! What’s going on here? Oh…” she just felt what others were enduring for quite a while already, Twilight answered her unasked question with her eyes only and a tiny nod.
    “Look, girls,” Alex started in half voice, trying not to attract unnecessary attention, while it was possible. “Try to keep the herd calm and, what’s more important, try to push them further away from the building. Ideally you can try to make them head back to the town...” he estimated the noticeably growing herd, “But I see, expecting that would be too optimistic…”
    A few more ponies joined the present, coming from the road, on which Alex could see more figures approaching; he didn’t want to imagine what could even the single Seeker do, if it managed to get outside. Alex was sure in his own feelings, one of those monsters was or at least was going to appear in the building.
    Meanwhile, more ponies arrived, making him facepalm inwardly. Alex noticed the stetson hat crossing the herd, accompanied by the familiar sapphire mane. Applejack made the closest ponies part and squeezed inside, Rarity looked anxious, she scanned the herd frantically.
    “Ah want to know, what’s going on here,” stated Applejack. “Ah was bucking apples in that edge of the orchard and heard shouts… and then Rarity ran by, like it was some fire to fight. So?” she looked at them inquiringly.
    Pinkie whispered something into her perked ear and Alex saw the usually calm green eyes becoming round and widely open with each word.
    “That’s why I wanted to keep them away…” he told Twilight from the corner of his mouth.
    “Apple Bloom!!!” Applejack jumped on the spot. “She is in Cheerilee’s class… with the girls!” she tried to rush forward past Alex.
    “Jackie, no! You won’t help them that way!” Fluttershy grabbed her friend, almost hanging on Applejack. Pinkie and Twilight rushed to help her; all three they barely held Applejack on the place. Rarity looked, as if she was going to faint, her lips trembled, tears trailed from the eyes; it took her quite an effort to stay adequate and help the girls.
    Alex tried to say something, when a cyan jet flashed by, making everypony nearby unwittingly crouch. Rainbow Dash made a small loop then landed hard among them.
    “Hey! What’s cookin’ mates?” wondered she in her usual ruffian manner, examining the herd around. She didn’t notice a few familiar muzzles and her branded “so what” expression turned worried instead. “What does that mean? And where are the girls?!”
    Twilight only nodded towards the school building, Applejack stopped trying to escape their grasp and breathed heavily, holding Rarity straight.
    “And there is one of those Seekers inside…” whispered Fluttershy.
    “And why aren’t you doing anything yet?!” exploded Rainbow. She squinted determinedly and, letting nopony to say or do anything, she darted into the air. With the jet speed she reached the old building, breaking the window on the upper floor and disappearing inside.
    Alex gritted his teeth. ‘Merlin’s pants, why she acts before thinking so often?!’
    “Keepest them away please…” dropped he to Twilight, making a decision inwardly.
    Unfurling the wings and causing a few shocked shouts, Alex soared, heading to the school on a low arch. Inwardly wondering what was the point of breaking into the second floor, while the class was supposed to be in the basement, Alex reached and tried to hold on the sill of the window, broken by Rainbow. The vast wings spread on the wooden wall, while he checked if he could climb through, not cutting on the glass shards. Finally, he pulled up, folding his wings and disappearing in the room after her.
    “What was…” somepony woke from the first stupor.
    “Okay! Now listen to me everypony!” Twilight raised her voice, using the moment of unusual silence to take over the attention of the herd. She hoped to sound at least believable, unlike her inner condition. “The situation is under control!” she cringed inwardly, but continued. “Everypony get back, under those trees. Girls help me,” she addressed her friends, who seemed to gain some self control already; even Rarity looked almost normal.
    But before they managed to do anything else, the girls noticed another three figures approaching the scene from the southern road. Rarity squeaked and rushed towards the fillies, who stopped in bemusement and didn’t even protest, when she reached them and tried to grab all three at once in a hug, squeezing tightly and quickly telling them something.
    Twilight and the rest hurried to join Rarity, eager to find out what happened and how it appeared that Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle (who was still almost hanging in Rarity’s hooves, submitting to her fate stoically) and Scootaloo were not at school that afternoon. Applejack stifled a tear, sniffing loudly, and squeezed Apple Bloom as well, not giving the latter a chance to drop a word. Fluttershy cuddled Scootaloo, comforting her in a wing hug; together with Twilight they tried to find out from her the details.
    “We were with Zecora…” quietly said Scootaloo, blinking a few times, surprised by the girls’ collective reaction to their appearance. “Started learning alchemy with her instead of the standard school course. Well… Apple Bloom decided… and we thought it wouldn’t hurt. We told ya, remember?” she looked at Applejack inquiringly.
    “Thank Celestia!” breathed out Rarity, she finally found strength to release Sweetie Belle. “Thank Celestia, you weren’t there… But the rest of the class,” her voice sank.
    “With all the work Ah… Ah must’ve totally forgotten, you had alchemy today,” Applejack’s nose rosed, she ruffled Apple Bloom’s mane and joined Rarity – both girls hugged Scootaloo as well.
    “At least you are safe, girls…” softly said Fluttershy, she threw quick anxious glances towards the completely quiet building.
    “But we don’t know how serious things are… And the class…” Twilight shook her head. “Please, girls, organize the herd.” She turned to the rest of the ponies. “All right, everypony listen! Don’t panic and don’t gallop around! Now, you all are heading towards those trees and stay there until further directions. We will assist the teachers. Headmaster, please guide the students as you usually do.”
    “What has happened here?” slowly asked Sweetie Belle, she took a look over the herd, sacredly trampling behind the school fence.
    “Why everypony is out?” added Apple Bloom. “And where…”
    Twilight sighed and closed her eyes for a second, then she decided to tell things quick.
    “There is possibly one of those creatures in the school, those, everypony were warned about,” Twilight deliberately avoided certain terms like “monsters”, “Seekers” and alike. “One or more, we don’t know for sure. The school was evacuated at the first signs of…” she stumbled, “of intrusion. But miss Cheerilee with her students were on the alchemy class, in the basement, they are still there, not knowing about the evacuation. The building is closed, nopony enters or approaches it at the moment… Actually,” she added with visible relief, “we thought, you three were also trapped.”
    “Rainbow and Alex set off to look for you,” Pinkie pointed at the broken window on the upper floor. “They climbed in a few minutes ago.”
    “Rainbow and Alex?!” re-asked Scootaloo, making big eyes.
    “Yeah, that’s what bothers me as well. Rainbow has no idea, what may wait there and what she risks,” muttered Twilight aside, so only Fluttershy could hear. Then she raised her voice again. “Come on, everypony! You heard it, we’re moving away from here, to the safer distance.”
    “That refers to you too!” added she strictly to a few stallions, joining the herd and looking at the fence evaluatively, as if they planned to climb over it and approach the school.
    The class looked like it was left in a hurry: papers and pencils still lay on the desks, some of which were budged, dropping the students’ belongings to the floor. The chalk stick was on the teacher’s desk instead of its usual place, left when the teacher dropped writing on the board mid-phrase. The wind rustled with the flowers in a large vase, but otherwise the dead silence reigned here. Dust was dancing in the sunlight coming from the broken window and the whole room looked hastily abandoned… like ones left by their inhabitants during the atomic bombing.
    Alex frowned, inwardly brushing away the unwelcome nasty comparison. The glass shards cracked under his steps, when he crossed the class, stating its complete emptiness; feeling thankful that by some miracle he contrived to put on the boots, not leaving them at the lake, Alex took another look around.
    “Hey! Hay-head!” called he loudly. “I always thought that the basement was something, well, at the base of the building, not under the roof! Dash!!!”
    The noise from the corridor attracted his attention and Alex hurried to the open door, crunching the glass under his feet. Rainbow Dash already darted between the rooms, kick opening the closed doors and quickly examining the classes; she barely squinted at Alex.
    “Scootaloo!!! Apple Bloom! Sweetie Belle!” yelled the cyan pegasus so loudly, Alex cringed, feeling his ears protested against that torture. “Girls!!! Miss Cheerilee!!!”
    Alex rushed towards the ruffled troublemaker, darting in the next empty class after her. Now when he found Rainbow, the noise was hardly helping.
    “What the hay are you doing?!” hissed he, watching how Rainbow methodically rummaged around the biology and anatomy class, judging by the wired pony skeleton she knocked over, looking under the desks and tables and peeking in the closets. “All the noise you make! You will attract the Seeker. I couldn’t care less, but that can’t be said about you…”
    “Why don’t you simply shut up and do something useful?!” With a despising expression Rainbow flitted past him and checked another part of the room. “As you are here anyway…” she huffed and headed to the hallway again.
    Alex groaned and followed her to the next class.
    “Hey, I’m not insisting on anything, but you heard the headmaster,” he tried to call for her common sense. “The class must be in the basement, hopefully safe, if they locked it. And mine previous statement about the noise stayeth! Dost thou want to make the scoundrel come hither and tumble thy brains arrant?!” exploded he finally, seeing Rainbow bringing more mess to the room, turning things upside down and calling for the foals again.
    “Look, I don’t know what you are here for… mister Old Ponish!” Rainbow Dash stopped searching and darted to Alex, she dropped that right into his face, almost bumping him with her nose. “But I came to find the students. Any students, which may stay here!” added she meaningfully.
    “They were taken out all of a sudden, nopony knew what was going on. You know, foals can get scared and hide somewhere, instead of exiting,” huffed Rainbow sarcastically. “Clearly, you don’t have foals!”
    “Ohhh…” Alex groaned and rolled his eyes, joining Rainbow in her search. “Comest on! Like if thou had them!”
    “Whatever!” despite pinkish nose, nothing seemingly could put her out of countenance. “This way they can at least hear somepony familiar… so we can find them. I bet that didn’t come into your head!”
    “Just don’t make it sound, as if the whole school was collapsing, okay. And please don’t yell! Believe me, you don’t want to face that creature…”
    But Rainbow only huffed again in response.
    They searched the rest of the rooms the same way, then proceeded to the first floor, which appeared to be empty. Classes, store rooms, restrooms – everything was deserted and quiet. Alex thought that it would be easier without Rainbow’s acrid comments; she couldn’t stop poking his mere presence, saying that he made considerably more noise than her, hitting things with his wings, etcetera, etcetera. If not the situation, they would probably be fighting again in no time. Besides, despite the complete silence in the building, Alex could clearly feel the Seeker. Fortunately only one, somewhere on the ground floor… But for unsuspecting ponies that could be more than enough to say goodbye to their memories at least.
    ‘She is holding quite nicely!’ Alex watched Rainbow stopping amidst the first-floor hallway and taking another look around. ‘For all what I know about the effects the Seekers cause in ponies…’ The closer they approached the supposed monster location, the stronger those got.
    “Do you feel that as well?” Rainbow glanced at Alex quickly, apparently, her thoughts went along the same lines and her question sounded almost friendly.
    “I can feel their presence, if you know what I am talking about,” simply answered Alex. “I don’t feel despair, or other… things…”
    “Hmpf!” from Rainbow that came almost like “Cheater!”
    They reached the stairs to the ground floor and Alex did his best to go down first subtly. He peeked into the lower hallway, estimating the situation; Rainbow poked him into his back impatiently. To the right was the school exit – massive double doors, now closed and probably locked, to the left the hallway stretched away, same doors on both sides, lockers, the end sank in dim light. It was completely empty. However, the feeling of foreign presence was so strong here, that Alex threw a quick glance over the shoulder; the effect must be the strongest on Rainbow Dash as well. The bravado was still written on her muzzle, but not as clearly, and he noticed how the girl shuddered and swallowed a lump forcedly.
    “Come on!”
    “The basement must be there,” said Alex quietly, nodding towards the far end. “Let’s just find Ms Cheerilee’s class, okay? I highly doubt anypony sane would stay on that floor, feeling… all that.”
    To his surprise, Rainbow Dash agreed suspiciously easily and they entered the hallway, listening carefully. Alex felt that the Seeker must be in some of the rooms in the middle of the building. Inwardly anathematizing the creature, which could complicate their attempt to bring out the students, he tried to make less noise, signalling Rainbow to follow suit. The monster no doubt had felt Alex as well, but it was worth trying to avoid startling it anyway.
    The quiet noise from behind of the closed door, made them stop in the middle of the corridor. Something massive tried to move as insensibly as it could, but still failed to hide its presence and proportions. Alex wanted to slide by, when Rainbow suddenly soared, heading to the door with “Storage room” plate.
    “I’ll give you a good kick, bastard…”
    “Wait! Thou foal!” Alex didn’t find anything better to do, than to grab her tail, stopping and pulling Rainbow back. “What did I tell thee?! Needst porridge instead of thy brains?”
    Rainbow Dash let out a quiet, yet angry scream, like an irate cat, turning around and lashing out at him. Alex simply pushed her aside, hissing and swinging hooves, and rushed to the door. Having nothing else to undertake, he ripped the plank off the door frame, snapped it into halves on the knee and propped the door handle with that improvised bar; that scene made Rainbow stop and watch Alex with dilated eyes. Thankfully the door could be opened outside.
    “It shan’t provide us problems for a while…” forgetting about the silence Alex darted to the dead end, noticing the large hatch in the floor along one wall. “Go, quick!”
    He found the handle on the heavy trapdoor and pulled, but the door didn’t give up. “Damn it! Locked!” Alex drummed into it, trying to gain the attention of those, who might be inside. He took a deep breath, feeling grateful for hearing the quick hoofsteps on the stairs below.
    “Who’s there?” the slightly nervous mare voice asked; she sounded trying her best not to give up to the panic. “What’s going on?”
    “You!” Rainbow caught up with him, the initial surprise winded out and she remembered about his trick. “Don’t ever dare to do that again! You hear me?” The first poke was quite palpable, but Alex simply waved the enraged girl away.
    “Quick! Open the door and let us in!” he tried to sound convincing and calm, as much as the situation allowed. “That’s Alex… the human. Rainbow Dash is also here!” grunting from another hit between his ribs Alex decided, that name could sound more familiar.
    “It takes them too long to stay there, don’t you think?” Fluttershy pulled Twilight on her wing outside, her voice tinted with anxiety and growing fear.
    “Yeah, it’s too quiet,” noticed Pinkie. “Quite strange, knowing Alex went inside with Dash.”
    “Okay, the situation becomes more serious!” Twilight threw a quick glance at her friend not sure if she was joking. “I need to bring guards and maybe even…” she took a look over the herd gathering under the trees, the empty yard, the school – nopony left the building yet.
    Applejack and Rarity cuddled the three fillies together, keeping them safe and calm. The teachers and other ponies from the town watched the scared foals. On that distance the mental effect of the Seeker was minimal. However, nopony dared to break the alert silence.
    “…maybe even the princess,” concluded Twilight, shaking her mane determinedly. “Don’t do anything, I’ll be back in a minute.”
    The familiar name seemed to convince miss Cheerilee, she unlocked the hatch and pushed the door up, letting those outside open it. She could barely step aside, when the trapdoor fell back, hitting the wall, and some ruffled ball of legs, hands and wings tumbled into the basement, rolling down the stairs with the sounds of the muffled fight. The door slammed back, miss Cheerilee watched the mess with wide open eyes, lifting the fore hoof in utter shock.
    With a thud the feathery ball reached the bottom and fell apart, raising a cloud of dust. Unfortunately for him, Alex found himself on the floor and Rainbow Dash revengefully jumped on him several times more.