by Colombiaguy

Chapter 23: Chapter 23- Planning the Plan Then... Explaining the Future.

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Hannibal was right. I love it when a plan comes together! This plan was still in the process of being set up, but hey, we’re getting there! Shortly after extending the offer to Zecora, she accepted to assist in the Nightmare Night plan! YEUS! So... that left the crusaders and a costume. Hmmm, perhaps we could stop by Sweet Apple Acres after talking to Rarity. Then that’d just leaves that pesky business with the clouds. Although, I’m positive Luna has some spell to make that problem disa... ooooh ho ho. Almost punned. Better watch that.

Anyway, I gave my thanks to Zecora for agreeing to help in the Nightmare Night plan, and I made my way back to Rainbow. Zecora had been kind enough to keep my pegasus host in the loop, by saying my questions out loud... if with some added words and rhyme scheme. Anyway, I told Rainbow about the next part of the plan that needed to be executed. She seemed to think that Rarity could easily make the costume, without question. However, she also mentioned that she hadn’t seen Rarity in a couple of days. Apparently, she had entered, “The Zone”. Rainbow said that after my meeting with Rarity, she had been going at some new design ideas and hadn’t emerged in a while. Hmm, I do remember her having said she’d gotten some inspirational idea mid-conversation and ran off to make a new line of dresses... or suits... or something. I don’t think I can remember her ever designing a suit, but considering some of the things I’ve witnessed it, it’s possible she could. Hopefully, she could make some time to speak with us. So, with the next part of preparations set, we said our goodbyes to Zecora and took off back to Ponyville.

As we flew out of the Everfree, I decided to check out what was still needed to be done. Let’s go to the mental check list!

Recruit Rainbow Dash [X]

Scout the trail leading to the clearing [X]

Get Slender Mare Costume. [_]

Recruit Crusaders. [_]

(Optional) Recruit Zecora [X]

Looking over the list, I’d say I’ve been pretty productive today! So now, all I have left is the costume and the Crusaders. The costume should be easy enough. The crusaders might require some thought though. I can’t ask Sweetie Belle or Scootaloo since we haven’t been introduced... Huh, I wonder if they remember me from the Smarty Pants incident. Either way, best start with Applebloom then go from there. I’ll have to ask if Rainbow can drop me off at Sweet Apple Acres, if there is time. It is getting pretty late. How long were we at Zecora’s? Must have been a while, the sun is already arcing toward the horizon. Hmmm, might need to prioritize. I still might have time to get the Crusaders, but first let’s worry about the costume then see if we can recruit the crusaders.

So, it took a few minutes to arrive at the boutique, but once we arrived we were greeted by a “Closed” sign. “Crap, guess we’ll have to try tomorrow,” I stated.

Rainbow, however, did not think so. “Pssh, nah. She’ll see us. She just puts this up when she doesn’t want ponies to bug her.” She then proceeded to open the door, which was unlocked, and enter.

“I thought you said she put the sign up when she didn’t want to be disturbed,” I reiterated just to make sure I had heard my host correctly.

“Yeah I did,”Rainbow retorted. “But I bug her all the time, so it’s no biggie.”

Well... I want to respond to that, but I really don’t have much to counter that reasoning. They are friends. Don’t know how many times my own friends popped by unexpectedly to engage in some random shenanigans. Yes, I use shenanigans... it’s a fun word... it’s like tomfoolery... but hipper... kinda... STOP JUDGING ME!

Unjustified judging aside, we entered the boutique. Once again, a bell signaled our entry. “Sorry, the boutique is closed for today! Come back tomorrow!” a voice called from a side room. If I’m remembering correctly, that was the room Rarity ran into after she got her inspirational idea. Guess she was still in there.

“YO, Rares! It’s Dash! Dante wanted to ask you something... It’s clothing related!” Rainbow yelled to Rarity.

“Dante?” I heard the proprietor respond in a mildly surprised tone. When she came out she was wearing her red glasses and she had a small pencil behind her right ear. “Oh good! I’m glad the two of you are here. I’ve been on a bit of a creational spree. Don’t want to stop the momentum you know.”

“Soooo, why are you glad we’re here?” Rainbow asked curiously.

Rarity gave a confident smile as she spoke, “Well, after my meeting with Mr. Dante, I threw myself into my work and I’m nearly done with the final design of one of the dresses! Your arrival has given me the opportunity to show what I have.”

Eeeeeh, not sure how qualified Rainbow Dash or I am to judge clothing. My idea of high fashion is a vest, a dress shirt, and maybe a pair of slacks... all of which are usually brand name... from a brand name store... on sale. The take away is do not trust me to say what is or is not fashionable. I’ll tell you if you look good in what you’re wearing, but don’t expect the words “trendy, hip, or in style” to be used.

Rainbow shared my sentiments. “Uh, I’m not sure if we’re the best for that, Rarity. Maybe Fluttershy would be better for this?” she offered.

“Normally, I would agree. But it was you and Dante that helped me see the vision! It would be rude if I withheld it from you both. Besides, I’m not asking for criticism, just have a look.” As she finished she stepped to the side of the door she had entered from and motioned for us to enter.

“Well, it couldn’t hurt, right? I mean, it is really flattering. I don’t think I’ve ever been an ‘inspiration’ before,” I said feeling extremely conceited.

Rainbow was pretty quick to sing the praises of being an ‘inspiration.“It’s pretty awesome. Scoots tells me I’m her inspiration all the time, but she’s kinda my number one fan. So, I think it’s a requirement she tells me that.”

I opted to keep my mind mouth shut because... that’s pretty damn legit. Rainbow is an actual athlete and she does have a sort of reputation in Ponyville. So, when she mentioned Scootaloo saying she was her number one fan, the swelling of pride and ego were completely understandable... although, her ego was already pretty big. Believe it or not, you can actually sense ego. It’s similar to thoughts that follow, “Yeah, I am that awesome” or “I’m just that great” line of thought.

So, regardless of whose ego was bigger, we entered the room, and HOLY CRAP! That dress is amazing! It looked like a black formal dress, but it was accented by a flowing magenta of various saturations similar to Rainbow’s eyes. Actually, the more I look at it, the more I think it’s the other way around. The black accented the magenta. Anywhere the color flowed, the eye followed. The focus was mostly around the neckline and around the the barrel, but there were small flowing frills around the hind quarters that also sported the snaking magenta. It was hypnotizing in a way.

“I found when you added the blackness to Rainbow’s eyes, I was drawn to the main color of the iris. It was odd in a way, normally black is such a subdued color. But when combined with something more vibrant, it draws focus. It’ll make a lovely formal gown when it’s finished,” Rarity explained. She then motioned to the mannequin the dress was displayed on. “I think some nice earrings, or a scarf would really pull it together. That or some rubies. I’m not quite sure, but I really must thank you. The design is simple, but utterly pleasing to the eye.”

I produced two tendrils and gave a small applause, followed by two thumbs up. The former being more readily recognized than the latter. “Oh... why thank you, dear. I’m happy you like it,” Rarity stated with a blushing smile.

Rainbow was less than impressed, giving it a meh-ish wing shrug. Whatever, I may not be a connoisseur of fashion, but I can recognize beauty when I see it. Even without any additions the dress was pretty to look at. Admittedly, it was on a pony style mannequin, but I got a good imagination. It’d be pretty elegant on a human, too.

So after the small applause, we... erh, Rainbow asked about the suit. To which Rarity responded, “Hmmm, a suit for a mare? Admittedly, not uncommon some mares do look quite professional in a nicely tailored suit.” She paused at the end as she started to tap her chin with a hoof. “Although, the mask... might be tricky. I’m not sure if I have a material that can hide your face while still allowing you to see.”

Uh oh, that sounds like another hiccup. Better figure out how bad, Rarity is pretty clever. So either this is a “not going to happen” thing or “it’ll take some time but it’s doable” thing. Either way, a gauge should be established. I had Rainbow ask if I could move over to her to ask more directly, but Rarity was not keen on the idea of a black spot on her otherwise flawless marble coat. Well, she didn’t say that outloud, but the uneasy look said it. Which I would argue I don’t leave a mark,except after hearing Zecora mention that, supposedly, zebra’s used to be pure white, I didn’t necessarily want to tempt the possibility that I might give Rarity stripes. Although... her reaction might be completely worth it. Well I asked, I was courteous, and I wasn’t rude. Rainbow ended up asking what the problem was with the costume.

“Well, it’s really just finding the correct material for the mask. If I use regular cloth or even thin silk it’ll get quite hot. I may have to make it from different fabrics or something thin with some stretch to it. Rarity explained in a professional tone. “But, regardless, Now, let me get your measurements and I’ll keep you updated with the progress. I’ll have it ready for Nightmare Night.”

“Awesome! That’s another item off the list,” I relayed to Rainbow. Then I realized something. Shouldn’t I pay Rarity? I mean, I know she’s the Element of Generosity, but I shouldn’t assume she’d just give this to us for free. That’d be plain rude. And I, Dante Morelo, am a gentle man. So as such, I should at least offer to pay. “Say, could you ask Rarity how much I owe her? I got a little bit of... er... I have some money I can pay her with.”

Rainbow pretty much cemented the my previous idea I had had before, “I doubt you’d need to pay much for it. Rarity is pretty generous when it comes to her dresses. She’ll probably give this one to you for a pretty decent price.”

Oh, well that’s good to know. Guess generosity can come in different forms. Besides, what kind of business practice would benefit from giving away stuff for free all the time?

“Hey, Rares. Dante want’s to know how much he owes you for the costume,” Rainbow relayed.

Rarity shot Rainbow/me a sort of interested look. “I suppose, such a suit wouldn’t be too difficult to make. The mask a little tricky, but again, nothing too difficult. Let’s say thirty-five bits for the entire ensemble?”

I should have easily have that in my pouch back at Twilight’s place. I’ll have to come back tomorrow and deliver payment... I really should see how much I have in there. Maybe by the time Christmas rolls around I might have enough to get gifts for everyone.

I extended one of my tendriled arms out to Rarity. She tentatively took it in her hoof and shook it daintily, sealing the deal. Rainbow was kind enough to express my thanks verbally and told Rarity, that I’d stop by tomorrow with appropriate payment. Rarity responded as one would expect, but I was gonna do something to return the favor. Return generosity with generosity, right?

After taking Rainbow’s measurements, Rarity told us she’d have the costume ready by Nightmare Night and that we could drop by anytime to check on it. So, with another item off the list. We said our thanks, and we left for Twilight’s library. It was getting late. Guess I’d have to head out to Sweet Apple Acres tomorrow.

When we did eventually got back to Twilight’s, we were immediately greeted by the unicorn mare... and a floating quill and parchment. She had that “look”. The “I’m about to learn a thing” look. Ooooh, I’m gonna be awake for a while longer. “I see the face of a scientist about to learn something valuable. Care to stick around?” I asked Rainbow, sort of jokingly.

No sooner than I asked, Rainbow recognized the look in Twilight's face as well. I could feel the proverbial red flags popping up. “You guys just going to be talking about what Zecora told us?”

“Pretty much. I’ll wager Twilight will want to analyze what it all means, make conjecture, and hypothesize.” I explained. “I read her thesis. What we learned is going to either confirm and deny several ideas she’s developed. I’m only warning you because... I sense we’re going to be at this for a while, and I still need to write a letter to Celestia or Luna. And I really won’t have any additional info until I talk to Princess Luna.”

Rainbow picking up what I was putting down, and decided that she should bail. She said she’d pop by again the next day after weather duty to see if Luna had anything else for us to do. So I said thanks to Rainbow for helping out, said my goodbye for the night, and departed my rainbow maned compatriot to move to Twilight. My horned host gave her thanks for her help. She told me not to worry about the it, as it was pretty fun for her as well. Rainbow told Twilight she’d drop by tomorrow after work and they could talk at length then.

Twilight closed the door behind us and the report started. “Hey, Twilight! I think you are going to do backflips when you hear what we learned!” I practically sang when I made my connection to Twilight’s nervous system. I could tell she was eager to hear what we found out. So, like the good friend I am, I released the floodgates of information, replaying the majority of the story Zecora had told us to the best of my recollection. To which Twilight absorbed and dictated everything to parchment, the whole time her face was contorted into a determined yet focused smile. Each mentally spoken word only caused Twilight’s excitement to soar, and boy was it infectious.

“So I was right about where they must have originated from!” Twilight stated in excitement.

“Yep. Apparently, they were around before the princesses ruled. So, that also explains how the princesses didn’t recognize me immediately,” I added in an equally excited tone.

“Fascinating! What else did Zecora say?” Twilight continued with bounding excitement.

“She said they disappeared during their... mating season,” I mentioned with a slight bit of hesitation. Hesitation that was not missed by my unicorn host.

“Why did you hesitate? Are you hiding something?”

“Noo... more like I don’t want to use the term she used.”

I felt Twilight giving me an unamused half lidded look. “Really?”

“What? I don’t like thinking of sex as... ‘spawning’” I said with a slight shudder.

The half lidded look did not cease. “Really?”

“Hey, you get the regular sex. I have... slime... stuff. It’s freakin’ weird, okay? Like... how does that even work?”

Twilight gave an annoyed sigh as she face hooved. “Ugh, where did she say where they ‘spawned’ at?”

“Uh... a marsh. She didn’t give specifics, just it was the place they went to do the deed,” I responded, attempting to not point out that Twilight used spawn again. That word is just nasty in that context.

Twilight switched back to talking out loud again. “Ok, so they disappeared in a marsh. Did she give you an idea of when that was?”

“Not really. Just up and disappeared. They searched the area and couldn’t find a thing. Just ‘poof’. Gone.”

Twilight melted into deep thought. Her analytical mind said that there was probably an explanation for their disappearance, but there wasn’t enough information to make an educated guess. “Hmmm, I wish had more information than that. There has to be a reason for an ENTIRE species to just disappear!”

I could understand her frustration, but when you're dealing with a mystery nearly... what? Some thousand plus years ago? It’s kinda hard to fit things together. Worse, there was no one... well, there were two ponies alive at the time, but they weren’t in the area where events were occurring. “Trust me, I’m curious too. But we are lacking a lot of evidence and information. Not only that, but time is against us as well. All this happened, long before Princess Celestia and Luna were ruling. We got lucky that Zecora knew about the Mlinzi at all!”

Twilight halted at the mentioning of this new and unheard of word.“Wait, the what? What’s a Mlinzi? I thought we were talking about Symbios... unless, they’re the same thing.”

I gave a mental affirmation.“Yeah it’s what Zecora called them, Mlinzi. I’m guessing it’s from her native tongue. She said it translates to helper or protector.”

Twilight pondered the word and even rolled it around in her mouth a bit as well. She was making connections and creating her own hypothesis. It wasn’t really the word that was sparking the thought, it was more of a coalescing of all the information and trying to make sound conjecture. “Fascinating, that does add some credence to your symbiotic relationship with your host,”Twilight stated as she held a hoof under her chin in thought. “Did you ask her about the Dark-Eye Warriors?”

“Yeah, I did. She had no idea who they were.”

“Damn it,”Twilight thought, completely forgetting that I was still linked to her. While I could mess with her about it, I didn’t. I’ve contributed enough to the swear jar that I could have probably paid my tuition for a year. “Sorry. I was hoping that maybe she might have had an explanation that could have tied the two together,”Twilight said apologetically. If I had to guess, Twilight doesn’t like being denied the information she wants.

Despite that being the one thing that we still weren’t certain of, I did my best to assure Twilight that we had still uncovered a good amount of information. “It’s cool, Twilight. With everything Zecora gave us I’d say we’ve gotten quite a bit on my species. Yeah, we don’t know how they disappeared or where the Dark Eyed-Warriors came from, but we’ve at least figured out a decent amount. We got some history and a sort of legacy that they left behind. That’s way more than we had before.”

Twilight sighed in acceptance and gave a gentle nod. “You’re right, but it’s just so odd. You’d think a species this unique and had a hoof in saving an entire race, there’d be more information about them. Although, they around were before Princess Celestia’s and Princess Luna’s rule, it’d make sense that there wouldn’t be much written about them. Especially in Zebrica.” She stopped for a moment to ponder how the get more information and ultimately came to the only answer available.“We’ll have to see if we can get into contact with anypony else who might know about them. Was there anything else Zecora mentioned that could be useful?”

I put a tendriled index finger and thumb under Twilight’s chin as I thought (an old habit of mine). Twilight found that kinda odd, but she let me do it anyway. I searched through what Zecora had said to see if I had missed anything.

Naturally symbiotic, saved Zebra kind, granted strength, vision, ar-... oh... oooooooh, I’m stupid. I am sooo fucking stupid. “There was something about armor that the Mlinzi gave zebras, but Zecora didn’t really elaborate on it, and... I kinda... didn’t ask.”

“Why didn’t you ask about the armor?” Twilight asked out loud.

“I was... enveloped in the story?” was all I could offer. Needless to say it was, it was a very weak excuse.

“Dante... that’s a horrible excuse,” was the response I got, with a POV shot of her facehoofing.

“I’m sorry, but Zecora spins a pretty good story! I got lost in it and missed it.”

Twilight let out an annoyed sigh. “Well, we’ll have to experiment and see if we can figure it out. If not we’ll have to ask Zecora for clarification, or at worst, see about getting in contact with the ambassador of Zebrica.”

“Well, hopefully the former more than the latter.”

“Twilight, who are you talking to?” a new, yet familiar voice rang out from above.

Twilight turned to face Spike who was looking down at her from the second floor. In order to save her the trouble I waved at Spike with one of my tendrils. “Oh, hey, Dante.” He seemed to understand now, but he was still a bit perplexed. “You were talking to Dante... out loud? Why?”

Twilight blushed a little. She hadn’t been talking out loud on purpose. She just sort of shifted into it during our conversation, mostly out of irritation, but hey I hear it either way. “I... er... hehe, I don’t know?” Twilight responded with a large amount of uncertainty. “Yeah, sucks when you don’t have a very a good answer doesn’t it?” I prodded my host.

Twilight scowled a bit, but let my quib slide. “Sorry, Spike. Dante found some new information about Symbios and he was telling me about it. I guess, I got a little excited.”

Spike just shrugged it off. “No worries. Just kinda weird that you were talking to yourself. Let me know if either of you need anything.” He then rolled back over and went back to doing whatever he was doing before.

Twilight let out a small sigh of agitation, “Well, I suppose there isn’t much else to discuss for now.” She went over to the table that contained her thesis about Symbios. Her mind went into conjecture mode as she scanned through her notes and began to write down what I had told her. She ran through the information for a few minutes, but despite having a lot of info to run through, she kept getting hung up on the new ultimate mystery. “How does an entire race disappear without a trace but one suddenly appears out of nowhere? It doesn’t make sense. UGH!” She ruffled her mane in frustration, and let out a an equally frustration filled groan. “Why isn’t this bugging you? Shouldn’t this be bugging you?! ”

“Well, yeah,” I responded coolly. I’d been warned about this type of thing before by my teachers before. “We got a mystery from thousands of years in the past. We have a species that only zebras seem to know about and they disappeared under strange circumstances. It’s very annoying, but we don’t have enough information to really put the points together. While I would like to know more, we can’t keep slamming our heads against the wall hoping something is going to pop up. We are warned about this in law school. You can’t throw yourself at the problem without knowing everything. Sometimes you just have to take what you have and roll with it.”

Twilight seemed surprised by my answer, but there was a hint of understanding. “I guess, I can see where you’re coming from.” She let out another sigh and perused her notes again.

I knew Twilight really wanted to solve this, especially now that we had some kind of origin point. But we were still missing a bunch of information. Pieces of the puzzle... or one giant piece that made the whole thing fit together. “Almost feels like a locked room mystery, huh?”

Twilight smirked a little. “Yeah, except the room is a marsh with everywhere to go. If only... ” She stopped short as a thought popped into her mind. She was focusing on it enough that I got an idea of what she was thinking about.

I offered my counter argument,“Do you really think this mating ground still exists after thousands of years? If Zebrica is as scarce of resources as Zecora mentioned, isn’t it possible that the marsh could have dried out?”

“Not necessarily,”Twilight replied. The little cogs in her mind were starting to pick up speed and her train of thought was starting to chug.

She started hunting through the library, until she ended up in the geography section. She seemed to know what she was looking for. Eventually she found the book she was looking for, and pulled a book from the shelf, Equestria and Its Bordering States. Where is she going with this? Unless... she thinks this breeding ground could still exist.

She flipped over to a page with the header Zebrica. She perused the pages of the chapter until she reached a sort of data point. “Ah, here, look!” she said pointing to a paragraph.It read as follows:

Zebrica often has times of extreme droughts and heavy rain. The many plains can vastly change depending upon the time of year. Many barren dead fields can become vibrant virial marshes through the strong, heavy rains that come during a few select months.

That might explain a few things. Maybe that’s why they had a breeding session when they disappeared, to correspond with the rainy season. “So this place... might still exist. You think anyone even knows where it is?”

Twilight thought on it, she could recall a few ambassadors and considered asking Zecora for help, but the unfortunate pain in the ass decided to stick a wrench in the works, “I... er... I don’t know. I would assume if Zecora knew, somepony must have told her. So maybe there is a zebra who knows more. I’ll have to ask Princess Celestia to see if she can put us in contact with a zebra historian or maybe another shaman like Zecora.”

This was news to me.“Wait, Zecora is a shaman?... Is that why she rhymes all the time?”

Twilight grumbled in an agitated tone at my question. I think she was getting tired of me detracting from the main point. “Ok, discuss later.” I surrendered the question for later. Fanboy would have to wait for answers. “Well... I need to report to the Princesses anyway. I’ll see if Princesses can help us out.” It was the best we had. Heck, if all went well maybe I’d get to see more of Equestria. ROAD TRIP!

We got some quills, ink, and some parchment and I got to writing. And I’d like to tell you all something. Writing with a quill and ink, IS A FREAKING PAIN! After so many strokes, you need to dip the quill and mentally gauge when you need to again. Oh, and if you forget to dip, your letters sort of fade. Then you have to redip the damn thing and “try” to get into the position you had before. Twilight offered to write the letter for me, but at this point, this was a challenge! I refuse to be bested by a letter! FUCK YOU CALLIGRAPHY! You ain’t better than me!

“You know I could-”


“But it’s not a-”


And so I did battle with the Royal Asshole Parchment and his cohort Sir Bastard Quill. They fought with hard demands and an fragile stems, but in the end I came out the victor! My victory permanently etched in the body of my fallen challenger. But I am nothing, if not a humble man. So, I did not gloat... much.

Anyway, Twilight put a wax seal on letter and went to Spike to send it off. I asked for the letter to be sent to Luna since she’d probably be awake and be able to read over the report and ponder it before we met up in the dream world... realm, whatever. Spike sent it off in a puff of green smoke and Twilight excused herself to take a shower so she could try and de-stress. Since I’m not one to join a friend in the shower. I popped over to Spike in the meantime. He was settling for bed already, but he wasn’t quite sleepy just yet.

“Hey, bud.”

“Oh, hey, Dante. Guessing everything went pretty well at Zecora’s if you got Twilight yelling to herself,” Spike said as he slide under the covers of his basket bed.

“Like you wouldn’t believe. We learned a lot, but we hit another wall.”

“Well, I’m sure Twilight will figure out a way around it. She doesn’t like it when she can’t figure something out, so she usually throws herself at it until she figures it out,”Spike said as he snuggled further into his basket bed.

“Yeeeah, kinda what I’m worried about,” I replied sardonically.

Spike seemed to get the idea, “Don’t worry, she knows her limits... usually. I’ll make sure she doesn’t go crazy again.” Spikes assurance was helpful, but while I trusted Spike to calm Twilight down, I doubt he had the power to quell that intellectual fervor she had. But he did know her longer than me, so I’ll rest my concerns for now.

I decided to see how Spike’s day off went. “So, you had a whole day to yourself. What’d ya do with it?”

Spike finished finding the sweet spot in his bed before he responded, “Aw man, what didn’t I do? I got caught up on my comic books, got to dig into my stash of gems a little, and best of all, I was able to get a special gift for Rarity!”

“You got Rarity a gift? What did you get her?”

Spike got a little cocky smirk on his face and he puffed his chest out a bit. “Well, it’s not really done yet, but when it’s done I bet Rarity will like it. She really likes her gems, but she really likes rubies. So I’ve been working on collecting rubies and putting them together so they’ll be really special when it’s finished.”

Aww, how nice! Handmade gifts are a good way to show sincerity... usually. I know kids do this all the time, I received a few gifts from some of the kids I used to babysit. Usually abstract things they had made in school or something they doodled. They were nice and all in a sentimental kind of way. Never got one made out of rubies, but... wait. A gift for Rarity made out of rubies. This sounds familiar. I’ll have to probe my memory later, I don’t want to have a repeat of the whole scenario in the forest with Rainbow. I decided to just go along with the conversation. “So what are you making her? A necklace or something?”

“Well, I’ll tell you as long as you promise not to tell Rarity.”Fair trade.

“Ok, I promise.”

“It’s a ruby heart!... Right now, it’s half a ruby heart, but it’s going to be pretty awesome when it’s finished.”

“Quite the undertaking. So is it for her birthday or is it something you just wanted to give to her because she’d like it?”

Spike blushed a little and I could feel his mind swooning with images of Rarity lavishing him with hugs and kisses. “Well, hehe. Maybe because she’d...really like it?” he said a little bashfully, those little childhood crushes are so cute. Slightly tragic, but cute none the less.

“Got a thing for her, little buddy?” I posed knowingly.

Spike’s blush intensified. “Maybe.”

“So those images of her kissing you in gratitude that just-” I started before he cut me off quickly. His cheeks now aflame.

“Okay, okay! Yes, I have a crush on Rarity! But you can’t tell anypony about it!” He was defensive about it, and I felt a little agitation growing in his mind. While I didn’t need to see the images in his head to know he had a crush on Rarity, but it was kinda funny to see him try to all flustered.

“Relax, your secret is safe with me. I’m familiar with confidentiality,” I assured my reptilian counterpart.

Spike relaxed a little, while his blush and agitation subsided. “Thanks, so far only you and Twilight know, so I’m counting on the two of you to keep quiet about this.”

I wanted to laugh at the hilarity of that statement, but a promise is a promise. “No worries, my... non existent lips are sealed.”

After giving Spike my promise of confidentiality, we just chatted for a bit. Half way through our conversation, Twilight finished her shower and was drying off. It’s kinda funny how ponies will sort of dog shake the water off, then dry the rest using a towel. However, I can’t knock how effective it is. Normally, it’d take me a minute or two to dry off entirely. Twilight looked to have dried off nearly twice as fast. A minor thing to notice, but I think I need to start taking notice of things like this more. I’m letting the fact that I’m in a world of magic, mysticism, and legendary creatures distract me... but in all honesty it’d distract a lot of people. But regardless of how amazing it is, I need to start focusing! But first, a certain unicorn demands my attention. I departed from Spike and moved back to Twilight. She was still a bit damp, and I found it oddly comforting. The lingering warmth of the shower was soothing, and her wet fur felt kind of nice. The added warmth the shower gave her was soothing. I’m not sure where that is really coming from, but I’ll enjoy it while I can.

“Feeling better?” I inquired to my newly refreshed host.

“Yeah,” she responded with a slightly less amount of annoyance in her thoughts. “I thought over what you said. I shouldn’t focus on what we don’t have but what we do have.”She paused as she crawled into her own bed and pulled a book off her bedside table. The title implied it had to do with advanced magical theory. Hmmm, maybe I could learn a thing or two... or get completely lost, but it’s magic! I got telekinesis decently enough. Maybe I could learn a thing or... yeah, know what. I’ll save you the anticipation and tell you that I got so lost that I ended up falling asleep before Twilight. It was just way too advanced.

I found myself in a pretty familiar environment, for once. By the looks of the massive crowd of people, the strobe lights, lasers, and the pumping jams, I was at the local club I frequented when I needed to de-stress. And tonight the club was packed! That and they seemed to have gotten a new DJ too. I don’t think I’ve heard this guy’s music before, but I’m kinda digging it. I found myself a small clear space and let the music work its special magic on my limbs and hips. It started out a bit slow but the beat was moving enough that I could at least pop-and-lock and shimmy. I wasn’t a professional dancer by any stretch of the imagination, but if you gave me a good tune I could handle myself pretty well.

Despite being a mashup song, I was really moving. The song hit a bit of a lull and I went to some more subdued movements, some two steps, arm snaps, and the classic R&B reach and grab technique. Hot damn, I’m digging this! Better call the fire department, because I’m about to burn this mother down!

The song started to build, so I started to really throw my whole body into moving with the beat. Then I noticed something, I wasn’t dancing alone any more. Someone was dancing with me, or more accurately she was copying my moves to a T. Is she challenging me? She was dressed pretty casually, but she was on point with staying in step with me. Well, the beats sounds like it’s about to pick up again, so let’s kick this thing into gear. I started breaking out my more advanced moves, some switch ups and some fancy footwork, but she was staying on me! Hmmm, I think the song is going to end on a high note. Hope this chick can keep up! Wait for the drop and... GO!

I started cranking, locking, spinning, and overall busting out my full repertoire of moves. I swear we were literally the only two on the floor now and we were sparking. Every move in sync, perfectly mirrored and damn if this wasn’t FUN! I even heard her laughing a bit as we moved and jived to the beat. I decided to really test her and started throwing in some real complicated maneuvers to try and trip her up, but she’s not missing a step! ...Know what, this is fun. Fuck it. Just gonna dance like no one’s watching. We both went full on and moved to our own respective moves, we weren’t copying each other any more, this was now a real dance between two people.

The song stopped and so did the both of us. We were panting and laughing at the same time, that was fun! I don’t think anyone has ever danced with me like that before! I turned to get a better look at my dance partner. She was wearing a pair of blue converses, blue jeans, a black tanktop and a light, midnight blue hoodie. The hood was up, so I couldn’t get a good look at her face, but her exposed hands suggested she had a sort of dark skin complexion. I took a moment to catch my breath, and addressed my dance partner. “Hey... you’re pretty good!” I said while pointing at her with two hand gun gestures.

“Thank you, we are glad we were able to keep up. Your style of dancing is quite.. .erratic, but fun none the less,” she replied in... an oddly regal... hold the phone.

I stood up fully and looked at my partner with a little more recognition. “Luna?”

She pulled back her hoodie and sure enough, there was a... ah... whoa, Luna is hot as a human. She did have a slightly dark skinned complexion as I guessed, but her hair was distinctly light blue, just around shoulder length. Wait, how was she dancing like that and NOT getting hair in her f-... wait, this is a dream. I shouldn’t apply too much logic.

“Hot?” Luna queried, “That is similar to sexy in the common vernacular, correct?”

Shit, shit backtrack! If she learns that I find her attractive like this she’ll never let me live it down! “Er, no, it’s more like-”

“Do not attempt to lie to us, we can already tell that is the truth,” She interrupted with sly smile as she approached me. “You find this form appealing, hmmm, Dante?”

... Ah, damn it! And this dream was going so well too. I somehow managed to blush feverishly despite being in a dream. “Ugh, how’d you even come up with a human form? I’m the only human you’ve ever seen and I’m male!” I asked in an attempt to change the subject.

Luna kept the smile, clearly loving that she was able to push my buttons. “Tis simple, when you showed us the images of how much we are loved in your world, we noted a human image of our visage in your memories. We assumed this would be considered appealing. Twould seem we were correct,” Luna finished as she got disturbingly close to my face, “Right?”

She posed that last part as a question, but it was more rhetorical than anything. Dear God, she is such a tease! “Okay, yes. Jesus!” I yelled in agitation. I was attempting to hide my face so she couldn’t mess with me further. “I know you didn't come to my dream just to mess with me.”

“Oh but it is so fun to see you get flustered. We are relegated to only sensing your frustration, ‘tis funnier to see it. Tis rare for anypony to give us such a bold compliment,” Luna said with an amused laugh. “But despite your adorably amusing frustration, we have come to discuss your letter. Seems you and the Element of Loyalty discovered quite a bit about your species.”

I nodded, glad that for now my buttons weren’t being abused. “Yeah, like where Symbios originate from, and an... additional mystery.”

Luna’s smile disappeared and changed to a more serious face to match the situation, “Yes, we remember you mentioning this in your letter. We are uncertain how an entire species could vanish so suddenly. There is no spell that exists that could do so either. There are curses that can affect groups of victims, but nothing that would end an entire race.”

I cringed a bit at the mentioning of curses. I wasn’t certain what kind of curses existed here, but if they were anything like the ones in Harry Potter then I wasn’t looking forward to discovering them. “Well, I guess we’re still stuck on that one,” I replied. “What did you think about Twilight’s suggestion of checking the marshes in Zebrica? Do you think she might be right, and their breeding grounds might still exist?”

“‘Tis possible. If the Zebra have stories pertaining to the Mlinzi, as they are called, then perhaps there is one who may direct us in the right location.”

Sounds similar to what Twilight was talking about. “So who do we get in contact with? An ambassador?”

Luna nodded, “We believe we might be able to arrange such a thing. However, we would like to converse with our sister on the matter first. Give us a moment.” Then she vanished through a door that was not there before. Was she going to get Celestia? Sounded like it. Well, best to look my best. Not going to get the chance to talk to Celestia and not look like a little black blob. Let’s see, I’m in a t-shirt with an throw over button up shirt, some loose blue jeans, and some comfy sneakers. That ain’t gonna work. Let’s go with professional casual. With a little mental visualization, I swapped my blue jeans out for a pair of dress slacks, my sneakers for dress shoes, then my t-shirt and button up shirt for a long white dress shirt and a simple black vest. Then just for added flair, I threw on a nice black tie. I checked myself out in a mentally conjured mirror. I looked fairly presentable. Celestia seemed to like a bit of casualness, but I should still look the part of someone who is doing a person of status a favor.

Soon, Luna reappeared in alicorn form with Celestia in tow. I gave a polite wave with the most pleasant smile I could muster, before speaking, “Hi, Celestia. How’re your dreams treating you?”

Celestia smiled, “Very well, thank you. I hope yours are pleasant as well.” She then looked me over for the first time. “It is interesting to see you in this manner. This is truly you.”

“Yep, this is me! I even got all fancied up.” I did three sixty to show off my attire.

Celestia giggled a little and Luna shared a similar chuckle. “You look quite nice. Like a professional gentlecolt. I assume it is appropriate for what we are to discuss?”

I nodded again and serious’d up for the upcoming conversation. “Yeah, Luna filled you in?”

Both affirmed with a small nod. “She told me everything from your letter before bringing me here. Both you and Rainbow Dash have uncovered an amazing legacy, along with this perplexing mystery surrounding their disappearance.”

“So... what do you think? Could you get Twilight and I in contact with someone who might be able shed more light on the situation?”

Celestia hesitated for a moment, she seemed to be considering the question and how to answer. After a short pause she responded, “I believe it is possible, but I’d like to confer with the Zebrican delegates first. I have not doubt they will be okay with authorizing an excursion into the wilds of their land once they see you exist, but I am at least obligated to ask before sending my ponies into another’s land.”

Cool, I sense a road trip! “Sounds like a plan. How quickly do you think we’ll hear back from the delegates?” I asked with some renewed enthusiasm.

“I’m not certain. We only receive delegates when political issues need to be discussed. It’ll take a few weeks just for the delegates to arrive. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to keep you and Twilight informed on progress of things. Should they need convincing, I will be sure to call upon you to assist.”

I gave her an enthusiastic thumbs up. “Sweet! Hopefully, there is someone who can shed some more light on this mystery. Thank you.”

The solar diarch shook her head, “No, I must thank you. This is revealing much that we didn’t know about. If we can find out what has happened to the rest of this species, we maybe be able to reunite both Zebra and Symbio kind. Not to mention bringing them into Equestrian society. Who knows what they could contribute?” Oh, there’s that same nerdy excitement that Twilight gets when she learns something new.

Luna must have heard that thought, because she stifled a giggle. Celestia obviously doesn’t get the same mind reading powers Luna does when in the dreaming world, because she didn’t seem to know why Luna was giggling. “Well, I’m willing to help where I can and Twilight is... well you know she’ll do anything for you.” I then remembered a previous conversation I had had with Rainbow earlier in the day. Best get this out the way before I wake up, or I forget. “Uh, hey. While I got both of you here, mind if I... get something off my chest?” I asked in a very serious tone. My entire being showed how serious I was about this. Both of the princesses gave me their full attention.

“Of course, Dante. What is it you wanted to discuss?” Luna queried.

“It’s about my warning and the things I know. I wanted to just sort of... uh... I wanted to ask if maybe...” I hesitated. Celestia and Luna were my confidants but that didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous discussing these things with them. I took a moment to collect myself, before trying again. “The girls... the Elements of Harmony. Should I tell them about the invasion? About what I know?” I asked the question, but my entire stance betrayed how nervous I was to ask that question. The two sisters seemed to understand my conflict. They looked at each other with looks of equal concern.

Celestia spoke first, “I suppose withholding information from them would be difficult. Do any of them suspect you might know about events to come?” Her tone was still motherly and the concern was obvious, but she was also weighing everything I said at the same time. That diplomatic mind was at work, I can tell.

“I almost slipped earlier today with Rainbow Dash. I told her I couldn’t talk about it and she dropped it, but I’m certain she suspects something,” I replied solemnly.

Celestia was silent for some time obviously debating what to do. Then, she turned to Luna and whispered something to her. Luna replied, but I still couldn’t make it out. Eventually the two broke and Luna stepped forward. “The official report from the cavern you and Sergent Night Glory entered two days ago. Apparently, the two changelings you both encountered escaped, but in their rushed escape, the villains left behind evidence of their purpose so close to Canterlot.” She paused, before continuing. “There was evidence that their mission had two purposes. The first was the assassination of our sister,” she spat with anger and disdain. “Then the second appeared to be reconnaissance.”

Reconnaissance? They were scouting out the capital; was this prep? “What were they scouting for?” I asked, wanting to know more.

Luna shook her head, “We are uncertain. The areas they were investigating appeared random with no real strategic significance. We have guards attempting to determine what they all have in common. But the fact remains that they are probing the capital for something. Twould appear, your prediction are coming to fruition.”

I nodded, but I took little joy in being right. This just meant that the invasion was more plausible than before... but what did this have to do with my question? I asked that exact question, out loud this time.

Celestia stepped in this time, “We had no doubt of your knowledge, but this report adds much more support to your words, and we can even begin active searches for changelings and bolster security. But if we are to reveal such knowledge we must make sure that this does not get out. Knowledge of the future garners a lot of attention. Maybe unwanted attention. So if we go through with telling the Elements, we must make sure they understand the significance of this information and what could happen if this information gets out. I trust the girls to not spread this information around, but as you have recently learned, keeping secrets is stressful. I will trust your decisions on who to share information with and when, but for now I recommend limiting what you share."

Ok, that’s fair. Although, now that I think about it, why haven’t I been hanging out with the other... oh yeah, I’m a codependent blob. Answered my own question. Anyway better get back to the conversation. “Sounds good, how are we going to tell them?” I asked , feeling my mental load lightening a little. “Should I just come out and tell them? I mean I can tell Twilight when I wake up and Rainbow is dropping by after her whether duties.”

“If you believe that will work, then please go ahead,” she started before adding a caveat. “However, I would ask you still allow Twilight and her friends to figure out their dilemmas on their own, if possible.”

I nodded in understanding. I didn’t want to destroy the lessons they were supposed to learn, and having Twilight and Rainbow to back me up might make this easier to handle. However, I made a personal note that I’d need to be helpful, but not a hand holder. “I’ll do my best, Celestia.”

Celestia smiled that motherly smile of hers. “I know you will, Dante, and know that Luna and I are willing to help when we can. You have and still continue to aid Equestria, even though it is not your own. We are grateful for your actions and service.”

Oh no... my ego! Must... humble... self! I put up both hands and gave a sheepish smile. “Hey, I’m just trying to do the right thing, ya know? Use what I know for the right purposes.”

Celestia approached and put a hoof on my shoulder. I recognized that she was touching me, but I didn’t actually feel it. Dream logic... figures. Either way, Celestia thanked me again and left through the door she had entered through initially. The minute she closed the door behind her the door disappeared.

Luna and I were now alone again. Even though this was a dream I let out a long sigh of relief. Knowing I’d have two more confidants was an incredible weight off my mind. I looked to Luna and I put on my own little smile. I suppose I had another report, of sorts, to give. I snapped to attention and let my casual attire transform into a sort of mock lunar guard uniform minus the helmet. I gave a salute and spoke with a slightly jovial tone. If I was in a dream, I was gonna have a little fun. “I have news on another matter, master planner.”

Luna chuckled at my joking, but went along with the gag. “Very well, what has our minion to report?” she took on a royal tone, along with a slight grin. I did my best to hold my composure, but the urge to laugh was building.

I broke the salute and clapped my hands, the floor below us became a top down view of the Everfree Forest. I had the path highlighted so I could point out the various locations Rainbow Dash and I had discovered. “The Element of Loyalty has agreed to join in the Nightmare Night plan and with her help, we have identified multiple observation and possible ‘ambush’ points.” I pointed out the various locations on the map as I spoke. Luna turned a scrying eye to each location I pointed out, carefully weighing their potential.

Satisfied with what was presented she let a small smile grace her features. “Glorious work, Dante. We can make good use of these points.”

A took an exaggerated bow and took the thanks. “Rainbow was very helpful in picking out these locations, so she deserves a good amount of credit as well.” I then pointed out the final staging area, the open field holding the statue of Nightmare Moon. “Rainbow also pointed out a slight problem, here.” Luna turned her gaze to the field, as I enlarged it. “The area is wide open and there are almost no spots to enter without being spotted. Unless we alter the plan, we have no way of sneaking up on any group unseen.” I backed up and let Luna look over the area. “Rainbow suggested we might be able to use cloud cover, but conditions the day of the festival will dictate how effective that will be,” I added, flipping the map so we were now within the field, itself. Luna took in the information and continue to scan the area. I sat back and let her think.

As I watched, I started to get the idea that Luna might be some kind of strategist. I figured Celestia was, but Luna seemed more of a tactician that could lay a simple and obvious trap, only to have a more complex one waiting behind it. You could tell just by the way she looked at everything. It was careful, calculated, and wonderfully brilliant.

Luna finished her check with a thoughtful look on her face. It took her a moment, but she turned to address me. “Were you able to recruit the fillies?”

I shook my head. “No, we didn’t have time. Our time with Zecora took up a good portion of the day,” I started. “But we did manage to get Zecora to help out. She’s willing to lead the groups down the path and end at the statue.”

Luna lifted an eyebrow, “Interesting. Do you still plan to recruit the fillies?”

“Yeah, figured I could try tomorrow.”

Luna put a hoof to her chin in thought again. “Would you like to ask them personally?”

The question struck me as odd. “Yeeeeeah? That was the plan.”

Luna shook her head, “That is not what we meant.”

I was confused... but intrigued. “Then what did you mean?”

The surrounding area dissipated into a mist, leaving a fairly neutral white field around the two of us. Luna’s complex face was now very serious. I wasn’t sure what Luna was about to say, but I think I should drop any pretense of joking. “You have gone out of your way to assist us, to befriend us, and help both our sister and our citizens. You have shown us such kindness despite our past, and have willingly offered to assist us in our return to modern society. We would like to show our gratitude with a gesture of faith.”

Oooookay. What is she suggesting?

“Art thou aware of what our magical speciality is?” Luna asked.

Ok, seriously, where is she going with this? “Well, I would assume it’s magic that helps you rule over the night, the moon, and stars... right?”

Luna gave a small scoffing laugh. “True... to a degree.” Luna turned and gestured to everything around us. “What do you suppose all of this around us is?”

“A dream?” I offered weakly.

“Yes, but what is a dream?”

Uh... hang on, I remember this, “Oh right, a dream is the brain’s way of processing the information from the day.”

“True as well, but not exactly our point.” The world around us switched so it now resembled the throne room in Canterlot. “To us, a dream is but a perceived reality that lasts until one wakes.”

A perceived reality? Wait... “Illusions? Your specialization is illusions?”

“Indeed. The night often obfuscates what is visible, disguises what is present, and alters the entirety of how the world is perceived. We are no different. Our magic works to deceive, confuse, or hide.”

Thinking it over, that made some sense in regards to the season one opener. She had changed the trees to look scary, had created the Shadowbolts to deceive Rainbow Dash, and the whole time she had used that shadow to monitor the Mane Six the entire way. “So what’s this have to do with talking to the Crusaders?”

Luna stepped forward and place a hoof on my chest. Again, didn’t feel it. “As a token of faith and... friendship, we would offer ourselves so you may be independent for a day. Through our magic we can craft an illusion so you might look the part of an average citizen of Ponyville and do what you want, whilst we slumber.” She paused to added a quick addendum. “Within reason and sensibility, of course.”

All mental processes stopped at this point. She was offering me her own body... for a day to be... me. To be alive.

I awoke with a light gasp, due to Twilight’s alarm clock going off. My mind was still in the processing stage after my conversation with Celestia and Luna, so I didn’t smash this one. I turned the annoyance off and stretched out Twilight’s limbs. I made her bed and just sat down for a bit so I could just think for a bit. Last night’s dream was still fresh in my mind and I knew I had a few things to do today. One would come when Twilight was awake, but for now I had a few things to go over before then.

I started with the last thing that happened. Luna’s offer... I had felt so many things at once. I felt happiness, gratitude, a hint of guilt. My vision blurred thinking back on it, and I dropped down so Twilight’s stomach was resting on the ground. I wanted to accept. To take a gracious gift and be alive for a day, to be independent. Should I accept such a gift? Luna was literally giving me her body, an ultimate act of faith. I wanted to take it. I wanted to be selfish, but part of me went back to all those ethics classes. About taking extravagant gifts. About being selfish, and keeping tabs on yourself. Making sure you never got greedy. But... was it so bad? One time being a little selfish, letting myself indulge in a gift that a friend was offering as thanks for helping her? Even now I’m not so certain. I had run every possible scenario of good, bad, and Murphy's Law through my head. I saw a few ways it could end badly and a few where I might have been able to really enjoy the whole thing. Be noticed, maybe even recognized be recognized as a new face. Let Pinkie throw that proper “Welcome to Ponyville” party. Hell, maybe just go down to the lake and just swim, just because I could!...But...I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t say “yes”. God I wanted to, so bad. I wanted to say, “YES, YES! Thank you so much, Luna!” Except... I said no. I thanked her for her insanely kind offer, and declined. I couldn’t indulge in such things like this. I understood this was a thank you gift, that she was just trying to be a good friend and repay a kind gesture with another. But I couldn’t allow myself to be okay with accepting that kind of gift. It wasn’t right. The fact she had offered was enough, despite my internal protests.

Sorry, Luna. I appreciate that you’re willing to put that much trust and faith in me, but it’s... I can’t accept,” I said in reply.

Luna gave me a look. It wasn’t hurt or offence, but more of an appraising look. “Are you certain? We have no qualms, so long are you are responsible.”

I nodded before responding, “Yeah, I am. As amazing and great a gift it is and would be. I Can’t allow myself to accept such a gift.”

“Why?” The question was quick and direct.

“Because... it wouldn’t be right,” I replied. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful... just ethically, I just shouldn’t. I’m doing this because I want to, not because I want anything.”

Luna had shot me a skeptical look. “Yet your very being wants to accept. Why deny yourself a single day of independence? If you worry for our safety, we can craft a most convincing disguise.”

“No, Luna. It’s not that. I don’t doubt you at all. I just can’t allow myself to accept such an extravagant gift. I appreciate it, and I would love to accept it but... how about we just say it’s a friendly gesture between friends?”

My friendly lunar diarch pondered my “proposal” and ultimately agreed, with the caveat that she would eventually find a way to return my kindness.

Looking back on it, I knew I made the right decision. I felt some regret that I hadn’t taken her up on the offer, but it was the right thing to do. What I want and what needs to be done are two very different things. And allowing myself to accept such extravagant gifts was against everything I had been taught and raised on.

I let out a hefty sigh as I got Twilight’s body back onto all fours and moved forward with today’s second item of importance. I checked on Spike, who looked to be up and about, as his empty bed implied. Probably in the kitchen.

So first thing to do is gain a certain unicorn’s attention, which means waking her up... or I could just wait. She’s woken up within a few minutes of me waking up anyway. Yeah, let’s go with that. If I’m going to spill the beans, best do it in as smooth a manner as possible. So I shall wait, but until such time that my host awakens, I shall go on a dragon hunt! Huzzah!

I went into the kitchen and I discovered Spike going at a bowl of cereal. I suppose some cereal would be nice. Spike greeted me, actually me, not Twilight. It sounded like he took a random guess but it was nice that he got it right. “Mornin’ Spike. What’cha munchin’ on?”

“Duger heats,” Spike replied with a full mouth of cereal.

“Dude... swallow first. I know Twilight taught you some manners,” I scolded him in a light hearted tone. I’m not a major stickler for table manners, but no one wants to see what’s in your mouth. Das just nasty.

*Gulp* “Sorry,” he said this time after swallowing. “Sugar Wheats, did you want some?” He gestured to a nearby box of the named cereal. Hmm, considering it’s Twilight’s taste buds I’ll probably like it...plus it looks like Trix with different coloring.

“Yeah, I’ll take a bowl.”

So I prepared myself the breakfast of champions and got to munching. It wasn’t too bad, a bit less sugary than expected but overall not bad. The two of us just ate in relative silence, didn’t really have much to talk about.

I finished up my bowl and cleaned it in the sink. So, that’s the most important meal of the day out of the way I decided to focus on my first task for today, pay Rarity. I asked Spike where I could find my pouch of coins from Celestia and when Rarity’s boutique opened. He pointed up towards Twilight’s room and said it was on her vanity desk. He then said Rarity would probably be opening up her boutique around nine-thirty. I checked the clock, it was eight-fifty. Guess I had some time to see how much money I actually had.

“So, why did you need to know when Rarity is opening her shop?” Spike asked as I was preparing to leave for Twilight’s room.

“I owe her for a costume I asked her to make. I’ll probably stop by real quick, if Twilight isn’t awake. I promise to bring her back.” That was my plan, but I also wanted to have some alone time to discuss things with her. Walks always seemed like good times to discuss things.

“Oookay, but if she wakes up while you’re out you are going to give her control, right?” he asked in a worried tone.

“Of course, I’m just borrowing her for a quick errand. I’ll bring her back the moment I’m done,” I said in my most assuring tone. Spike nodded and went to clean his bowl. I went upstairs to count my fortune. As my little dragon friend has mentioned, my pouch was sitting right on Twilight’s vanity desk. I grabbed it with my tendril and undid the small tie around the top. I slowly dropped the contents on the desk and took stock.

Ok, first, whoa. There was a bit more here than I have initially suspected. Besides the bits, there were about seven gems in the mix. A ruby, a sapphire, an emerald, and four opal gems. I wasn’t entirely certain what the value of the gems were but they were pretty big. About the size of tennis balls. Maybe I could take them with me and ask Rarity. I counted over the bit and... seriously, dude. I counted out five hundred bits. That’s going to last me quite a while. Considering I don’t really eat or drink (aside from what my host ate and drank) and I wasn’t really much of a burden financially, I could make this last. Sweet!

I shuffled the coins and gems back into the bag and tied it top so nothing would fall out. I checked a nearby clock, ten past nine. Guess by the time I get to Rarity’s boutique it’d be opening time. I grabbed the pouch with Twilight’s magic put the pouch around her neck. I told Spike I’d be back in a bit and made my way into town.

Walking through town, I could see many ponies were beginning to open up their shops or stalls. I spotted a few pegasi in the sky moving clouds into the sky. Overall, it made the sky kind of overcast, with a spots of sunlight poking out through the holes in the cloud cover. There was even a nice cool breeze running through town. I’d dare anyone to say it wasn’t one hell of a nice day.

It took me a little less time than expected to reach the boutique, and I was greeted with a closed sign on the door. Out of habit, I checked my/Twilight’s wrist to see what time it was only to realize Twilight didn’t have a watch. Darn. Guess I’ll just have to occupy myself until Rarity opens up. Shouldn’t be too long. I decided to try practicing with Twilight’s magic a little. Nothing complicated, of course. I took two coins out of the bag and put them in front of me, then practiced moving them one at a time, followed by attempting to move them both at once. The latter was a little more tricky as it required a decent amount of concentration. Not to say I wasn’t able to do it, but it was hard. If I focused on one more than the other, the coin with less focus would fall, and if I lost my line of sight with either coin I found that I wasn’t entirely sure if I had the coin in my grasp or not. Unlike my tendrils, magic had no “feel” to it. You feel a sort of pull an energy, but you don’t feel any direct contact. I guess the best way to say it is, you knew you were using magic, but you didn’t really feel what you were holding. In truth, magic was cool, but I don’t think it was my thing. I’d prefer to feel what I’m handling and my tendrils were perfect for the job.

Thinking on that last thought, I wondered if I had come to Equestria as a pony what I would have been. A pegasus? An Earth pony? I guess I’d be fine with a unicorn, but the two former seemed more appealing. Not as complicated either. Flying would be a bit tricky, yeah, but... that’s something I’d be willing to work towards. I wonder if Rainbow would be willing to teach me. That’d be pretty cool.

“Twilight? What are you doing out here, darling?” a voice chimed in, breaking me out of my thoughts. It startled me enough to make me to jump a little. I turned to see Rarity giving me an odd perplexed look. “Oh, hey, Rarity. You scared me,” I said with a slight smile. “Uh, Twilight’s sleeping in a bit. I just wanted to stop by real quick and drop off my payment for the costume.”

Her look changed to one of understanding. “Oh, Dante. I see, would you like to come in? I was going to have some tea before opening and... I’d like to talk to you about something.”

I mulled over the idea, and I agreed. It’d give me the opportunity to ask my questions and I was interested in what she wanted to talk to me about. I went inside and Rarity lead me to her kitchen. A kettle was already set on the stove and a fine china tea set on a nearby table. I took a seat at the table and Rarity followed suit. “So... what did you want to talk about Rarity?”

She looked a tad bashful for a moment before letting out a petite sigh. “I wanted to apologize,” she started, earning a perplexed look from me. What was she apologizing for? “I was thinking over my attitude yesterday, and I may have... let my vanity rule my actions and acted a bit rudely toward you.”

My perplexed look stayed. What was she talking about? When was she rude? “Um, I’m not certain I know what you’re talking about. You were perfectly pleasant with me and conducted business as I would expect anyone would,” I stated earnestly.

“Thank you, dear. But I did act inappropriately. I was hesitant to shake your... er... appendage and I was unwilling to allow you to speak to me directly out of worry for my coat. It was unbecoming and I must apologize.” She was very adamant about this point and based on her tone she wasn’t willing to budge on the point. I suppose Rarity was one to be a stickler on etiquette, but really I didn’t really blame her. Everypony that has encountered me pretty much flinched or backed away from me. I mean... I’m a black slime that lives on the backs of others and produces evil looking tendrils. Shit, if I wasn’t the one using them I’d be freaked out too.

“Rarity, really, it’s fine. I’m used to it. I’m inherently freaky,” I explained with a sheepish smile plastered on Twilight’s face. “I’m a symbiotic black slime. It’d be kind of weird if ponies weren’t freaked out by me. Trust me, I’m made of pretty tough... metaphorical skin.”

Rarity waved me off. “Regardless. Nopony should be treated in such a way because they don’t look appealing. It is just not how proper ponies should conduct themselves.”

I tried to think of a way to counter her, but she did have a point. Regardless, I didn’t really care. I had plenty of people insult me (while trying) and very little of it really bugged me. You had to really try and I mean really try to insult me. But regardless of my feelings, Rarity was trying to make amends for a wrong that is obviously on her mind. “Well, I accept your apology, but really it’s not a big deal. I understand that I’m going to get weird looks and ponies are going to be put off by how I... er... what I make my host look like. I appreciate you were forward about it though. Thanks.” I finished off with a small bow and a pleasant smile.

Rarity returned the smile as she got up to collect the now whistling kettle. “Well, I’m happy I did not offend you, intentionally or otherwise. I would have felt quite awful had I insulted one of my customers.”

“No offense taken.”

She sat back down and prepped our respective tea cups with hot water and teabags. The pleasant spicy smell wafting of the cup was truly appealing and I was tempted to give it a try. “How do you take your tea dear? Twilight is usually takes hers plain,” Rarity asked offering me sugar and honey.

“Hmm, a little honey, please.” Rarity acquiesced to my request and applied a small... dollop? Yeah sounds about right. She added a small dollop of honey to my cup and I stirred it into the tea. The aroma continued to appeal to my olfactory center. (Bonus points to those who can figure it out.) Once the tea settled, I used a single tendril to bring the cup to Twilight’s mouth and take a small sip. The flavor was wonderful! The spices mingled nicely with the sweetness of the honey. While I wasn’t daring enough to take a full swig, I felt content to just sip on the tea slowly. A cup of warm soothing tea in the morning is quite relaxing. “This tea is very good, Rarity. What flavor is this?” I asked after a few joyful sips.

Rarity gave a mirthful sigh as she finished a sip, “Autumn Spice Black Tea. A wonderful blend for the mornings.”

“Couldn’t agree more. It’s a wonderful blend,” I stated before taking another sip.

“Well, thank you.” She put her cup down gingerly and let the magic holding it drop. “So, with pleasantries aside. You said you had a question, correct?”

I put my cup down as well and removed the coin pouch from Twilight’s neck. I then produced the seven gems I had. Rarity seemed to be observing them with appraising eyes. “I got these and some bits, I was curious what the difference in value was between these and a regular bit?”

Rarity picked up the sapphire with her magic, quickly followed by the ruby. She looked at each carefully. “Well, in all honesty, gems only hold as much value as who you’re bartering with sees in it. If they have a use for them or are in great need of them, then they hold great value. However, many aspects of the gem can set its value. So this sapphire-” she put it on the table, “-has a nice oval shape and is quite big, it’s very pure, and its clarity is superb.”

Hell, the way she talked about this little blue gem, I’d say it was worth a decent amount. “However,” Damn it. “sapphires are a bit common in Ponyville so that diminishes the value a bit.” Always wait for those continuation words! It changes everything! “Overall, I’d say the gem alone is worth fifty bits.” She looked to the other gems and appraised them as well. In the end, it appeared that my ruby was the least valuable (in Ponyville) at twenty bits, with the sapphire and emerald being worth a bit more at fifty bits (for the sapphire) and sixty bits (for the emerald). The four topazes, however, were easily one hundred bits apiece, but as Rarity stated, that could change depending on where I was. I made a note of that just in case.

“Well that means I’ve got a little over an additional five hundred bits... cool. Thanks for telling me. Aaand,” I reached into my pouch and pulled out the necessary thirty-five bits I owed the seamstress. “Here are the bits I owe you. You’re really doing a friend of mine a big favor.”

“Oh, Rainbow Dash? It’s nothing special. I’ve done costumes for her before,” the seamstress said with a dismissive hoof.

“Actually, Rainbow is helping my friend as well. I realize I’m just referring to her as just a ‘friend’, but I need to keep her identity a secret for a while.”

Rarity cocked an eyebrow. “I see. Well, I hope that the costume can help your friend. Whoever, she may be.”

“I’m sure it-” I started before I heard a groggy voice in the back of my mind.“Dante? Why are we at Rarity’s boutique?”

Oop, looks like Twilight is up. Well, this will be fun. “I’m sure that the costume will help, thank you.” I took my tea cup and finished the remainder of my now lukewarm tea. “I know this is a bit rude, but I need to run. I have a very important task I need to take care of.”

“Give me a second Twilight. I’ll explain everything... and a whole lot more in just a second,” I informed Twilight.

“Uh... okay?”

Rarity seemed a bit perplexed by my change in tone and sudden impatience, but she didn’t stop me. “Well, do what you must. If you have any changes for the suit please let me know.”

I gave her a happy smile, and a hoof shake in thanks.“Of course, thanks for everything Rarity.”

She returned the hoof shake without hesitation. “You’re very much welcome.”

I collected my money, said my goodbye, and left the boutique, but I didn’t head back to the library. No, it was time to a nice long walk. “Ok, Twilight. We need to have a nice long conversation about the future... and I have a high suspicion you aren’t going to like a few of the details.”

Author's Notes:

Hand gesture reference
First off, major thanks to Aburi and AppleTank for helping out with this chapter. They've been a big help!

So... thirteen thousand words and twenty-seven chapters later... SWEET GOD ALMIGHTY. I am so ready for the next two chapters. I have them in red ink. They are going to be big! Well, not big like this one but big plots... (Get your mind out of the gutter) So I will get on them ASAP!

Next Chapter: Chapter 24- Recruiting the Victims, but not in a bad way. Estimated time remaining: 2 Hours, 19 Minutes
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