Hot Cocoa is Illegal in Yakyakistan

by Jack of a Few Trades

Chapter 1: ...but it didn't used to be.

...but it didn't used to be.

Everything snapped to a halt, the world spinning for a brief second before Yona opened her eyes. At least, one of them. She pawed at her face, knocking the clinging snow loose, where it fell to the ground with a slushy thwap.

So it was war the griffon wanted? Yona could oblige. She wiped the rest of the snow from her eye and scanned around for the source. Laughs erupted all around from her friends, but off to the right, she picked up on the vaguely remorseful chortle she was looking for.

“Oh, geez, Yona, are you alright?” Gallus said between chuckles. “I didn’t mean to hit you in the face.”

“Yona fine,” she stated, nose held high with feigned pride. Gallus emerged from his hiding place in the alley where he’d waited to ambush her, sheepishly approaching, braced for retaliation.

He was going to get it. Gallus had good aim with a snowball, but he merely adopted the snow. Yona was born in it, molded by it. She came from a land where it snowed in the summer, where the only thing green was the rest of the world’s envy at the yaks' superiority. Among yaks, her snowball fighting skills were average, but the average yak was a force to be reckoned with to any other creature.

She covertly scooped up a pile of snow in the crook of her fetlock. In one smooth motion, she packed the snowball tight with her free leg and wheeled on Gallus. He didn't have time to raise a hand in front of his face before a snowball the size of his fist sucker-punched him right in the beak, spun him around, and knocked him head-first into the snow.

Gallus sat still on the ground for a few seconds, long enough to prompt concern from the others. “Gallus, are you okay?” asked Silverstream, hovering over the lifeless puddle of griffon in the snow. He grunted and raised an arm, sticking a thumb up. Yona wasn’t sure what the hand gesture meant, but she assumed he was okay.

“Griffons tough. Friend Gallus can take it,” Yona assured.

Gallus picked himself up off the ground, his underbelly caked with snow. He shook himself off and spun around to her, still a little dazed. “What did you do, put a rock in that one?”

“Yaks not need rocks to win snowball fight,” Yona stated matter-of-factly, “but surprise Yona with snowball again, maybe Yona will.”

“The market is going to be closed when we get there if you two keep throwing snow at each other,” Smolder butted in, arms crossed and tapping a foot impatiently.

“You’ll get your pretzel, calm down.” Gallus was still wiping at his face, but he started walking and led the rest of the group forward, deeper into the center of Ponyville.

Smolder fired back. “Yeah, but I won’t get to stop by the jewelry store for dessert if you keep slowing us down!”

Yona tuned out Smolder and Gallus’s squabble to admire the massive Hearth’s Warming tree next to the town hall as they passed it. Pony holidays were certainly more decorative than Snilldar Fest. Where ponies covered their town in lights and ornaments and tinsel to celebrate the end of the year, yaks didn’t need anything of the sort. Snilldar Fest was not an aesthetic, but a feeling. It manifested in a week of feasts and smashing in the town square, in the excitement that built in the countdown to that special day.

Not that pony holidays weren’t fun, but like most pony things, they couldn’t compare to what Yakyakistan had to offer. In a way, Yona knew she was spoiled. These ponies had never experienced the pure thrill and honor of being selected to pick out the family log to smash. She felt a little sorry for them.

This year, though, there would be no Snilldar Fest for Yona. It was for a good cause, she supposed, but staying in Ponyville over the break meant that she wouldn’t get to sing yak songs on the way to the forest with her family this year. This was her first year ever to spend the holidays away from home, but it was hard to stay sad when she got to spend it with her friends.

It was a strange combination of emotions, sadness and excitement at the same time.

“Well you can go stick your head in a volcano!” Gallus yelled, pulling Yona back to the present.

“Don’t threaten me with a good time,” Smolder snarked back, her forehead pressed against Gallus’s, the two of them in a fierce staring contest. A tiny puff of smoke blew out of her nostrils.

Silverstream flew up between the squabbling griffon and dragon, wedging herself between them. “Let’s take it down a notch, guys.”

Gallus and Smolder both pulled back and laughed, leaving Silverstream puzzled between them. “We were just playing,” said Smolder.

“Yeah, it’s just how we joke. If we were really fighting, there'd be a lot more blood,” said Gallus. A heavy, awkward silence developed as everyone digested the implications of that comment, so he broke it by pointing a talon at Sandbar and asking, “So, what’s the plan? You’re the one who knows all about Hearth’s Warming.”

“There isn’t much to it. I know none of us have much money, so we’re going to do Secret Hearth’s Warming Helper this year. We all draw names, and then we go out and find a gift for whoever we get.” Sandbar had come prepared with a piece of paper and a quill. He hastily scribbled names down on the page, tore it up into six pieces, pulled the beanie off his head, and dropped the paper slips into it, tossing it several times to mix them up.

“Alright, everyone draw a name."

The group gathered around, everyone snatching a slip from the hat and retreating back, holding it close to their chest so the others wouldn’t see. A few seemed excited about their selection, while Gallus was a noted exception as he frowned at his.

“Anyone feel like trading?” he asked, waving his slip over his head.

Yona glanced down at hers, which read “SMOLDER” in scrawled, barely legible script. She didn’t have any ideas immediately about what to get Smolder, but she figured he might. They tended to operate on the same wavelength. She shrugged, “Yona will switch with griffon.”

“Cool.” Gallus traded his slip with Yona and smiled when he read the new one. “Awesome! You’re the best,” he said and then he immediately took off on his own. “See you guys back at school!”

Yona frowned when she checked her new name. Gallus.

“Sneaky griffon,” she lamented.

Smolder giggled. “Did he give you his name?”

Yona nodded, and a few more giggles broke out around the group.

“Typical Gallus,” said Sandbar.

“Now Gallus know where present coming from,” Yona said, spiking her slip into the ground. It landed in the snow with a disappointingly gentle rustle.

“I think I have a solution,” said Silverstream. She picked up the slightly damp slip of paper off the ground and instead offered her own slip to Yona. “Now he won’t know who’s getting him a gift. It’s the perfect plan!” In the background, Ocellus cocked her head to the side and gave Silverstream a funny look.

Yona’s new secret recipient was Sandbar, and she could accept that. “Yona like this plan.”

Smolder shrugged. “Cool. See you guys later!” She took wing and flew off in the same direction Gallus had left, heading deeper into the market square. Everyone else split up and went their own direction, leaving Yona alone to figure out what to get for Sandbar.

Truth be told, she had no idea what to get him. Snilldar Fest had the benefit of not focusing on gift-giving; so long as whatever was given could be crushed in a reasonably satisfying manner without much risk of injury from shrapnel, it was a great choice. Yona had gotten a step stool for Snilldar last year, a beloved family heirloom that her grandfather had made decades before she was born. Built of fine mahogany taken from the wheelhouse of a griffon airship, that stool had helped generations of yaks reach the top shelf.

It was reduced to splinters with a very satisfactory crunch. She loved it.

But Hearth’s Warming? That was a new kind of pressure. What she picked out for Sandbar not only needed to be thoughtful and useful, but it needed to be something not intended for imminent destruction.

She spent the better part of an hour wandering the market before she found it. There, sitting on a rack in front of a store named “Hardy Har’s Hardware” was exactly what she needed.

“Hey salespony!” she shouted, flagging down a golden coated earth pony in a red smock. “How much is bag?”

The merchant quirked a brow at the display. “I swear I just—ah, there it is.” He reached behind the display and pulled up a sign with a price written on it. “Must have gotten knocked over. Playground sand is four bits a bag, but we’re running a special where you can get two bags for six.”

“Yona need two,” she proclaimed proudly. “Does store offer gift wrap?”

The merchant blanched. “For… sand?”

Yona nodded.

“I guess I can try.”

Thirty minutes and several attempts later, Yona walked away from the hardware store with an immaculately wrapped box full of sand perched on her back. The weight was a bit of a burden, but she didn’t mind. Yaks were stronger than an insignificant force like gravity.

As she walked through the market square with the fruits of her labor proudly slung over her back, Yona’s thoughts landed on what Sandbar would do with his sand. She knew his cutie mark was of three turtles, but he’d never gone into much detail over what that meant. It was a little bit weird considering how eager ponies usually were to talk about their marks when Yona didn’t ask about them, but that was neither here nor there. She knew that turtles like sand, so maybe he had a pet turtle at home that could use it. Or maybe he could build a sandbox! It could also be used as ballast on his next hot air balloon trip. Ponies loved their hot air balloons.

“Hi, Yona!” Silverstream’s voice pulled her from her thoughts, the hippogriff crossing over to her from one of the side streets that connected to the square. “Wow, that’s a huge present! What is it?”

“Yona not risk spoiling surprise,” said Yona. “Sandbar will love gift, Yona know.”

“Well, I’m glad you found something. I have no idea what to get Gallus!”

“Shhh! Be careful, never know if griffon might hear you.”

Silverstream covered her beak. “Eep! You’re right. Do you think you might be able to help me?”

Yona smiled, and the two spent the next half hour perusing several different stores in search of something Gallus might be interested in. It proved much more difficult than finding a gift for Sandbar, mostly because Silverstream was totally indecisive. Every suggestion Yona ran past her was shot down as not being good enough. She seemed set on getting him something really nice, but her budget kept her restricted.

As Yona and Silverstream searched, Sandbar showed up and tagged along on the hunt for Gallus’ gift. His suggestions were a little more helpful than Yona’s, and they finally settled on a snow globe for Gallus.

Silverstream seemed less enthusiastic about it, but she accepted the fact that Gallus probably wouldn’t reject any gift. After all, it was his first time ever having a group to participate in a holiday with, so just about anything would have made him happy.

With gifts selected, the trio began making their way back to the school. It was nearing sunset, and the temperature was dropping steadily. The cold was nothing like what Yakyakistan had to offer, but it was enough to get Sandbar’s teeth chattering.

“I’m freezing,” he started, pointing to a stall on the side of the street with a hoof. “You two want to stop for some hot cocoa?”

Yona quirked a brow. “What hot cocoa?”

Sandbar whirled to her, mouth agape. “What?”

“Ooh, I’ve heard about that stuff. Isn’t it the thing with the marshmallows and graham crackers?” asked Silverstream.

“I feel so sorry for both of you,” said Sandbar, shaking his head in disbelief. “Come on, I’m buying us a round. This is about to be a cultural experience for you two.” He paused. “And no, that’s a s’more, Silverstream. Another cultural experience that we’ll have to have another time.”

Sandbar bought three cups of hot cocoa from the pony running the stand, who kept stealing glances at Silverstream and Yona. She probably hadn’t seen many yaks or hippogriffs before. Yona noticed a lot of edgewise glances that came her way when she was out in public. At first, she was very bothered by the attention, but she'd gotten used to it over the course of the semester.

Then again, the pony might have also been staring at the size of the present balanced on her back. Or the occasional sprinkle of sand leaking out of it.

“Here.” Sandbar passed steaming cups to Silverstream and Yona. Transferring from hoof to hoof with Yona was a little more difficult than with Silverstream, where she was able to take the cup easily in her claws. “Be careful, don’t burn your tongue.”

“Yona drink hogglegrog in Yakyakistan, just fine. Yona not afraid of silly pony drink.” She pressed the cup to her lips and took a large sip.

Pain. In the moment that it was in contact with her tongue, Yona came to the conclusion that hot cocoa must have been slang for hot magma. She recoiled and sputtered, spraying a fine mist of the stuff out onto the snow, earning a round of belly laughs from her friends. Her blush only grew when she stuffed a wad of snow into her mouth to cool it down, making them laugh even harder.

“Sip it, Yona!” Silverstream croaked out between laughs. “You have to sip it!”

Yona wanted to fire back something scathing, but she didn’t have any clever quips on the tip of her tongue, which still stung from being scalded. She had done something indisputably laughable, so she swallowed her pride and tried sipping the cocoa at a more measured pace.

Though her mouth was still raw, the flavor of the cocoa overshadowed whatever pain she’d just experienced. Since living in Ponyville, she’d had chocolate plenty of times, but never quite like this. Something about the warmth of the drink enhanced the chocolatey taste. It was like drinking sweet, creamy, liquid heaven, like the feeling of sitting by the fireplace with family and telling stories after a long day of Snilldar Fest smashing had been distilled down into this very cup. Everything felt cozy and warm and familiar.

Had it not been for the fact that her tongue still itched, she would have gulped the whole thing down and gone back for seconds, but instead she paced herself and took another sip.

“So, what do you think?” Sandbar asked.

“Yona just found favorite drink ever,” she said, sighing as another wave of warmth made its way into her stomach.

“This is amazing!” Silverstream chimed in.

“I knew you’d love it,” said Sandbar with a knowing smile. “Nocreature can resist a good cup of cocoa. Come on, it’s freezing out here. Let’s get back.”

The rest of the walk to school was filled with good spirits and chatter. It was going to be a good Hearth’s Warming.

It was a good Hearth’s Warming indeed. Not as good as Snilldar Fest, but Yona had to give credit where credit was due. She had her reservations about a holiday where one owned more things at the end of the day than at the beginning.

The gift exchange didn’t go quite as Yona had hoped, though. Smolder turned out to be Yona’s secret Hearth’s Warming helper, but her gift was a bit… odd. The contents of the package were very poorly disguised: a snow shovel, haphazardly wrapped such that it wasn’t even entirely covered, a bow stuck on the handle. Yona wasn’t sure how much Smolder had paid attention when she talked of home, but she was certain that it had come up at least once that yaks preferred to clear snow by stomping it into submission, not using unnecessary tools.

It was a good thing Professor Rarity’s generosity lessons had the flipside of teaching gratitude as well, which was something Yona had to study extra hard. Yaks were known for speaking their minds, which had the unfortunate side effect of making them not the best at tact—though she would never admit that out loud. Despite what she thought of the gift, it had come from a friend, and therefore it was special. She would cherish it always, just as she had the step stool.

At least her gift to Sandbar had gone over well. The look of anticipation on his face when he got a present that was so heavy he had to push it out from under the Hearth’s Warming tree was definitely the highlight of the experience, and he was so excited when he unwrapped his sandbags! He was especially excited when a gust of wind from Silverstream flying across the room blew some of it into his eyes. Why, Yona thought she could make out tears!

“Thank you for the sand, Yona!” he choked out through his joyful tears. “It’s so coarse and rough, and it gets everywhere!”

“Yona knew Sandbar would like gift,” she said, beaming. Regardless of whether she was here for Hearth’s Warming next year, she already had plans to surprise him with more bags of sand next year. Or maybe gravel! Surely ponies could use gravel for something.

Another highlight of the event was the noise Gallus made when he unwrapped his first ever Hearth’s Warming gift; somewhere between a gasp and a squeak, high pitched and full of pure, unabashed joy. It was just a simple snow globe, but it might as well have been a bar of gold. He hugged Silverstream so tightly that even she, notorious as she was for squeezing creatures half to death, was taken aback by it.

And then Yona noticed that Ocellus was giving them the same look as she had at the market the day before. That was a little weird.

One thing was for sure when Yona woke up the next day: she’d gone way too heavy on the hot cocoa—or hot chocolate, as she’d learned it was called. Sandbar supplied a thermos full of the stuff at the party, and she drank nearly the whole thing by herself. She got super sleepy not too long after that and she retired to her room early, only to pass out on top of her new shovel and sleep until noon the next day.

She woke up with the shovel jabbing her in the ribs and a pounding headache, but through that discomfort, she still felt good enough to smile as she sat up. She wasn’t going home over the break, but she had plenty to share with her family. With a heave, she threw herself out of bed and onto the floor, which groaned under the stress of her weight. Dizziness set in, and she spent a few seconds shaking her head and trying to right her sense of balance. When the headrush passed, she crossed to her desk and found a piece of paper and a pencil.

Dear family,

Pony celebrations aren’t bad like Yona expect. Yona must admit, Hearth’s Warming fun, even though not as good as Snilldar Fest. Yona feel bad she miss Snilldar; hope smashing extra good this year!

Pony holidays very materialistic. Gift giving not like Snilldar Fest at all! If Yona smash present, ponies mad. Flies directly in face of yak tradition. Friend Smolder (dragon) give Yona snow shovel. Weird gift, Yona think. Nothing clear snow quite like yak hooves.

Yona gave friend Sandbar (pony) bag of sand. Was best gift at party!

Oh! Almost forget best part of pony holidays. Friend Sandbar show Yona hot cocoa this year. It is…

Yona frowned. Words to describe the taste of hot chocolate evaded her. She racked her brain for adjectives. Sweet? Too general. Nutty? Not quite. Warm? Yes, it was accurate, but it wasn’t enough.

Words were hard. How could she possibly encapsulate the experience of trying a beverage she had never even heard of at home? Unless…

It isHot cocoa taste amazing. Yona sending box full for other yaks to try. Tell Yona what family think!

Yona hope to come home for Yickslurbert Fest in spring. Much love. Happy Snilldar Fest!

She picked up the letter, folded it over, tucked the pencil behind her ear, and ran out the door to find as much hot cocoa mix as she could fit into a package.

A lot of things happened in the week after Hearth’s Warming. Yona progressively felt worse and worse about not getting to see her family over the holidays, so much so that she started idly plotting ways to sneak off and go home for a few days despite her friends’ pact to stay in Ponyville.

Whether she could call it luck or a cruel twist of fate, she got her wish in the middle of the second week of break. Her parents wrote back, and hot cocoa was a hit! Apparently the entire village had fallen in love with it, and they asked her where to find more of it, which was where the cruel twist came in. She made the mistake of reading the letter aloud when Gallus was around, and that got him scheming.

Now that she was off the train in the frozen north, she hated that she was homesick enough to let him talk her into going.

Yona rolled her eyes. “Hurry up. Gallus and Yona need be there before sunset.”

“You could help me with this!” he grunted, straining against his harness. It was connected to a sled stacked high with several crates and a snow shovel on top.

“Yona could,” she said, stopping in the path. The narrow ledge they were on was only wide enough to walk single file, the sled flirting with a chasm whose bottom was shrouded in fog that filled the valley below them. At least the weather was clear; the climb would have been impossible in a storm. “Has griffon considered terms?”

Gallus bumped into her rump. “Warn me when you’re stopping so I don’t get a face full of yak butt. And yes, I’ve been thinking about it.”


“Just how strict are you on the ‘no upselling’ part?”

“No upsell,” Yona said flatly. “Yona not let griffon rip off family and friends.”

“I’m not ripping them off, Yona,” Gallus protested. “I sunk all of the money I had saved up to buy these crates. I can’t go to all this trouble just to break even.”

Yona frowned. He did have a point, but still, she had to protect her village from threats, whether they be in the form of a rampaging wild yeti or a griffon peddling hot chocolate mix at extremely overinflated prices.

It was a good thing she knew how much hot chocolate mix went for in Ponyville. “Five percent,” she stated. “No more.”

Gallus stammered, “How the—what—Yona, I can’t do that! I bought it for five bits a box. There’s fifty boxes in each crate, so five percent on 250 bits is…” he counted on his talons “...not enough for me to get that cool new guitar I wanted! Give me twenty-five percent, that’s enough to make it worth my while.

“Ten,” Yona shot back.

“I spent my entire weekend coming up here to provide a desperately wanted service to Yakyakistan. Anyone could have taken full advantage of that demand, but I’m only doing a very reasonable markup to cover my costs. I’m not out here to rob your village blind or whatever you think griffons do.”

Yona groaned. It didn’t sit well with her, but she couldn’t deny that Gallus made sense. If there was one griffon in the world she could trust, it was him. That still didn’t mean she had to be happy about it. “Twenty. Take or leave.”

“Deal!” said Gallus, offering a handshake.

Yona didn’t accept. Instead, she got right up in his face. “If Yona catches griffon ripping off yaks, Yona will rip Gallus new one.” She pointed to her head. “With horns.”

Gallus gulped and nodded. “You don’t have to tell me twice. I’m totally cool, don’t worry.”

“Hmm.” Yona turned away from Gallus, and they continued on their trek toward the summit of the pass. An hour passed in silence; the only sound between them was the wind and the crunch of snow underhoof.

The sun had set over the distant snow-capped peaks to the west when Yona first spotted the smoke of Yakyakistan’s fireplaces. She picked up the pace, anticipation of seeing her family for the first time in months building with every step. The smoke looked a little darker and thicker than usual, but that must have meant there was a roaring fire in the village center. The thought of the warmth only pushed her further.

She was halfway across the high frozen meadow when she chanced a glance over her shoulder. Gallus wasn’t there, having been reduced to a pale blue dot on the horizon.

Yona groaned. “Stupid slow Gallus,” she grumbled as she turned back to help him drag the sled the rest of the way to the village.

By the time they reached the pair of immense wooden yak statues that guarded the gates to Yakyakistan, the last light of the day was just trickling out of the western sky. As much as Gallus slowed things down on the climb from the Crystal Empire with his ‘precious cargo’, they had made fairly good time.

Hot chocolate was good, but Yona was starting to dislike how much hassle it had become.

“Whew, we made it!” Gallus cheered as the sled crested the very last of the grade. He pulled the scarf off of his neck and waved it like a fan. Despite the cold, he had worked up a noticeable sweat and was completely out of breath. “Remind me to never climb up here on foot again.”

“Yona remind Gallus to never climb up here again,” she deadpanned. She pushed the great wooden gate open, allowing their two-creature caravan entrance to the village.

Yona’s jaw fell open. Gallus’s beak fell agape. The shovel fell off the sled.

In front of them, chaos.

The thick black smoke wasn’t coming from the village fire pit at all. It was coming from huts. Three of them in the center of the village were engulfed in flames, their details lost to the conflagration that was in the process of consuming them. Yaks were gathered around them, but their attention wasn’t on the clear and present emergency behind them.

They were in an all-out brawl.

Yona watched as Horatio, the hulking blacksmith that lived across the street from her family, picked up another yak and hurled her through the air, smashing her through a wall that was not on fire. The crowd cheered, but instantly Horatio was mobbed by two others and taken to the ground, where the tussle continued in earnest. Around them, similar fights among yaks Yona couldn’t identify raged with the intensity of the fires that illuminated them.

“Is this…normal?” Gallus said, his voice a bit jittery, probably from the rumble in the ground from the fights just as much as from fear or the cold.

“Nope,” Yona said quietly. Her hooves were frozen in place by shock. Yaks were known for being tough, but nothing like this had ever happened before. Fights between yaks were common, but never this vicious and never this widespread.

“Should we do something about it?”

Yona didn’t have an answer right away. Compared to the immense size and strength being thrown around in the pit, she didn’t have much chance of stopping it. Instinct told her to stay back, but her eyes locked back on Horatio. He was one of the sweetest yaks Yona knew, and to see him in the middle of such a rough, dirty fight made her worried enough to overcome it.

“Yes,” she said with conviction. “Gallus stay here. Yona will break up fight.” She started forward, eyes cast with determination. She didn’t just want to stop the fight; she had to. Things were obviously out of control, and she was one of the only ones who restore the peace.

That determination was cut horribly short when she heard the crack of wood splitting behind her. She spun around, as did Gallus, to see a calf atop the sled, tearing into one of the crates with ravenous ferocity. She punched through the wood with her horns and stuffed her face into it, coming out with a mouthful of hot cocoa packets, chewing ravenously.

“Hey, get out of there!” Gallus yelled, hopping up onto the sled. The young yak hissed and scurried off as Gallus shoved her away, but the damage was done. Silence dropped on the village like a ton of bricks as all eyes snapped toward the sled.

“Griffon has hot cocoa!” came a shout from the crowd. Before they could react, the entire population of Yakyakistan descended on them. Yona was shoved into a snowbank by the flash mob, and Gallus found himself in the same place a moment later as they overtook him, swarming onto the sled like ants on a gumdrop.

It was over in seconds. Yona sat up and looked around in a bewildered daze as the hoofbeats of the yak mob faded into the distance, blinking hard at the newfound emptiness of the village. Every single yak that had been involved in the fights a minute before was gone, but the huts ablaze in the center of the village still burned. With the horrible crack of wooden beams splitting, the roof of one hut collapsed. Its walls blew outward like it had been stepped on by an invisible giant.

The only thing that remained of the sled was a pile of splinters around two mangled steel runners. Smolder’s snow shovel had been discarded so forcefully that it was sticking out of the side of a hut nearby, embedded in the wooden wall by its blade. The cargo and the mob had vanished.

A muffled scream came from the ground next to her, and she saw Gallus’s rear end sticking out of a pile of snow, hind legs kicking aimlessly as he struggled to free himself. She wrapped his tail around her right hoof and gave him a yank, pulling him free from the snow like a cork from a bottle.

He sputtered and gasped as he tried to clear the snow from his face. “Holy gods that’s cold!” he shouted after he coughed up a snowball and cleared his throat. Once he’d cleared his eyes and nostrils of the powdered ice, he spent a moment regaining his bearings much like Yona had. She waited patiently for him to get back up to speed.

Once he knew where he was, the first thing he did was run to the remains of his sled. “My inventory!” he shrieked, falling back onto his haunches next to the pile of crushed planks. “Why?”

“Yaks no like salescreatures,” Yona said, patting him on the shoulder. “Was bound to happen.”

“I didn’t even do anything!” Gallus protested. He was on the verge of tears. “They had no idea I was going to sell anything.”

“Yaks can tell.”

“I spent all of my money on that hot cocoa. I bought three stores out!”

“Yona tried warning griffon. Let it be lesson.”

Gallus scooted away from her. “Thanks for the consolation,” he grumbled. His eyes flicked toward the town square. “Think anyone’s going to put the fires out?”

Yona shrugged.

“Should… should we try to—”

“Too late to save huts." Helplessness distilled into contempt, and Yona's look of bewilderment soured to a scowl. In frustration, she packed a snowball and hurled it at one of the burning huts. The snowball hit and punched a hole in the weakened structure, which groaned in agony and promptly collapsed, the flames shooting out with a tremendous whuff before fading down to a smoldering pile of rubble.

“Then what are we going to do?”

Now it was Yona’s turn to make a trip to the verge of tears. “Yona doesn’t know!” She turned tail and took off down an alleyway between two adjacent huts, leaving Gallus behind. Whether or not he came with her was up to him. She didn’t care. All she wanted was to find her family. In all of her life, she’d never seen such chaos in the streets of Yakyakistan. Something was horribly wrong, and all she wanted was to feel safe.

The whole way to her home, Yakyakistan looked deserted. Not a single yak could be found. Every hut was dark, the only illumination in the village coming from the fires in the town center and the moon overhead. The shadowy darkness pushed her to keep moving. She wasn’t safe. She had to get home.

After weaving down the narrow streets, she found her home. Yona crashed through the curtain door of her family's hut, tearing it from the wall and sending it skidding across the floor. It didn’t matter. She made it, and now she could barricade herself inside with her—

The hut was empty. Not just that no yak was home, but the entire place was gutted. Yaks weren’t known for having a lot of possessions, but the few things that weren’t eligible for being smashed throughout the years were gone. Hay beds, cushions, textiles, the splinters of her grandfather’s step stool, even the torches on the walls. Everything had been taken.

The knot of fear in Yona’s stomach twisted itself tighter. What was going on? Where was her family? Were they safe? Who had taken all of their things?

The sound of fluttering wings came from the doorway. Gallus poked his head through, eyes wide with caution. “Yona?”

“Gallus should go back to Ponyville. It not safe here.”

“Yona, are you okay?”

“No!” Yona screamed, pounding the floor. This wasn't happening. Her family was just fine when she got their letter one week ago. Yakyakistan couldn’t be falling apart like this so suddenly.

But it was. Her peaceful village was in dire trouble. Her home was in trouble. Her family was in trouble. And she didn’t know what to do.

“Easy there, just take a breath.” Gallus wrapped a wing around her and patted her shoulder. “It’s all going to be okay. I brought your shovel.”

Yona scowled at him, “This no time for gift!” She ripped the battered snow shovel from his claws and hurled it through the nearest window, shattering it. Smashing the glass was much-needed catharsis. “Look at home, Gallus. Nothing okay.”

“Well, I’m not leaving you here by yourself.” Gallus stood up, ruffling his feathers. “Whatever happened here is bad, but moping around in what’s left of your house isn’t going to do anything. Either we leave right now, or we try to figure out what’s going on and fix it. I know you're scared—”

“Yona not scared.” She picked herself up from the floor. “But how two creatures fix this?”

“Well, remember how those yaks we saw earlier were all fighting each other?”

Yona nodded.

“I don’t know about you, but I think that makes this a friendship problem.”

Yona grinned.

“What do you say, Yona? Friendship mission?”

Yona nodded with renewed confidence. “Friendship mission.”

Another hut was set ablaze along the northern edge of the village when the two left Yona’s home. The yaks they’d seen earlier must have congregated there, leaving the southern half where Yona lived deserted.

Yona and Gallus weren’t going to have much sway on the situation by themselves. Yakyakistan was a big village, and they didn’t have much power between the two of them considering that most of the residents were bigger and stronger than Yona. Gallus might as well have been a parakeet by comparison.

No, in order to complete their friendship mission, they needed reinforcements. Unfortunately, there was a distinct lack of that in the isolated village. Prince Rutherford wouldn’t have allowed things to get so bad if he was in charge, so something must have happened to him, Gallus reasoned. That led to their first objective: find Prince Rutherford. Without any clues on where he might be, they decided to start at his home. Unlike most other rulers, Prince Rutherford lived in a hut nearly indistinguishable from that of common yaks. The only identifying feature was the royal seal embroidered into the hut’s door curtain. Light spilled through the gap under the curtain.

It was decidedly anticlimactic that they found him in the first place they looked. Yona and Gallus entered the hut, ready for anything, but were pleasantly surprised to find Prince Rutherford sitting peacefully on his hay bed.

“Prince Rutherford,” Yona began, “there is situation.” As cool as she tried presenting herself, the sight of him made her angry. Yakyakistan was burning outside and he was—

“What the heck is he doing?” asked Gallus.

On the bed in front of him was what looked like a large piece of a mirror shard, which had likely come from a mirror that was shattered and snapped in half in the far corner of the room. His nose was pressed to its surface, and it became painfully obvious what was happening when he inhaled sharply through his nose and a cloud of dust rose up from it.

“What Prince Rutherford doing?!” Yona shouted.

The yak prince flinched, sending another burst of powder into the air. “Oh, did not smell Yona come in.”

“I’ll say you didn’t,” Gallus said, pulling the mirror shard off the bed, which Prince Rutherford didn’t react to. There were still a couple of lines of the brown powder clinging to its surface, and Gallus quirked an eyebrow at it. “Isn’t this stuff usually white?”

Yona shrugged. “Yaks not do drugs.”

Gallus ran a talon through one of the lines and pressed his tongue to it. His eyes widened in shock. “This is chocolate.”

“What?” Yona crossed to Gallus and carefully snatched it from his talons. She touched her tongue to the powder and frowned. “Hot cocoa mix.”

Gallus blinked. “So let me get this straight: your village is burning, and your leader is sitting in his hut snorting hot cocoa off of a broken mirror?”

“Hey, where mirror go?” Prince Rutherford looked around blearily and jumped down from the bed, staggering toward them, frothing at the mouth. “Griffon steal cocoa from me?!”

Prince Rutherford came in like a wrecking ball as he leaped across the room, his bangs lifting away from his face mid-flight to reveal blood-red eyes full of murder. Gallus dropped to the floor, covering his head. The clumsiness of the yak’s charge made him overshoot and trip over Gallus, who yelped as he was trampled.

Prince Rutherford toppled tail over nose and landed flat on his back with an earthshaking crash. Thinking on her hooves, Yona rushed over and pinned him to the floor.

“Snap out!” Yona shouted, slapping him across the muzzle. “Why Prince Rutherford acting this way?” Rutherford’s eyes rolled back and he muttered something unintelligible as he went limp.

Gallus was slow to get up, but she needed him to be anything but. “Gallus, find rope. Now!”

“I think he broke my ribs.”

“No time for complain!”

There was no rope, but the silk banner hanging from the rafters would do in a pinch. Yona pointed at the ceiling, and he flew up and ripped it free.

“Tie him up,” Yona ordered. Gallus pulled the banner around the incapacitated prince’s hooves and hog-tied him to the best of his ability: a simple square knot. Yona looked at the confused mess of unused ribbon and quirked an unamused brow. “That only knot griffon know?”

“We don’t exactly have a scout program in Griffonstone, cut me some slack,” he muttered, pulling the ribbon tight.

Prince Rutherford put up surprisingly little resistance compared to his rage-fueled charge just moments prior. No struggling, no thrashing, not even angry shouting. He just… let it happen. For everything else that had happened that night, that was the most disconcerting of all.

“We leave now,” Yona declared, rolling the semi-conscious prince over onto a rug and picking up the end. She struggled against his weight but managed to drag him to the door and into the snow.

“Where are we going?” asked Gallus.


Yona didn’t listen to Gallus’s protests. She didn’t have time for them. All she knew was that she needed to get Prince Rutherford out of Yakyakistan so he could sober up. “Bring blankets,” she said over her shoulder, leaving Gallus to gather supplies as she headed out into the night.

Prince Rutherford was unconscious for several hours, during which Yona dragged him to a hill that overlooked the village so she could keep him safely away from the chaos. He needed a clear head if they were going to effectively find a solution. Out in the snow, Yona had a little bit of time to think in between watching for yetis and listening to Gallus’s constant remarks about how cold it was. At least the latter died down when Gallus wrapped himself in a big wad of blankets and went to sleep.

Could it have been the hot cocoa?

What else could have caused things to go haywire so quickly? A week after she sent the care package with cocoa packets in it, Yakyakistan caught on fire while Prince Rutherford sniffed lines of the mix up his nose.

But it didn’t make sense. If she had been drinking hot cocoa with no ill effects, why was it making the other yaks crazy? She wanted to hear it from the mouth of someone who lived it. Given that the rest of the village had turned into a raging brawl and then subsequently vanished, she had to look to the prince for answers.

But that came with waiting.

Yona sighed as she watched another hut catch fire in the distance. Impermanence was one of the hallmarks of yak society. Most festivals throughout the year were centered around destruction and rebuilding. Smashing things was fun, but it also served to highlight how life was ever-changing. Nothing lasts forever, so enjoy both gaining and losing it.

But now, looking at her village as it was slowly destroyed by an angry mob? It wasn’t the same. There was something sinister about this. Winter was a terrible time to lose a home in Yakyakistan. Though they were built for the extreme cold, there was only so much exposure a yak could handle before it became too much.

She wondered what would happen if the whole village was razed to the ground. Would they be able to start over? Maybe they would have to wait until spring to rebuild the village. If so, where would they go in the meantime? Would they survive the winter?

Was it all Yona’s fault for sending that stupid package in the first place?

Thinking wasn’t fun sometimes, but luckily for Yona, she didn’t have much more time to dwell on things. A rustle in the snow followed by a grunt caught her attention. Prince Rutherford was glaring up at her with the fury of the fires of Tartarus.

“Yona?” he seethed through gritted teeth. “Why Yona not in Ponyville? Why Prince Rutherford tied up in snow with big headache? What is meaning of this?”

She took a breath. “If Prince Rutherford promise to be calm, Yona untie him and explain.”

“Calm? Calm? Yona best check self before wreck self!”

“Then Yona explain while Prince still tied up.” With a sigh, she launched into the story of how they had wound up on the ridge overlooking Yakyakistan. It didn’t work, as Prince Rutherford only grew angrier the longer she tried to justify herself. It was a good thing Yakyakistani silk was the best silk because it would not have been good if he broke through the ribbon holding him down.

“Yak no listen to silly story. When Prince Rutherford free, Yona in big trouble.”

He was facing away from the village, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding in plain view behind him. Yona sighed, “Roll over and see for self.”

With a huff, Prince Rutherford rolled to his other side. He gasped when he turned over, looked upon the mighty Yakyakistan and despaired. After sitting in silent shock for a minute, he asked, “How this happen?”

“Yaks in trouble, Prince Rutherford. Up to us to save village.”

Prince Rutherford glanced back and forth between her and the burning village below and hummed in agreement. “What we must do?”

Yona leaned down and sliced through the ribbon with her horns. “Tell Yona when everything go crazy.”

Prince Rutherford sat upright, rubbing his fetlocks. “Not sure, last week has been blur.”

“Think hard,” Yona urged.

Prince Rutherford obliged, straining his brain as he tried to call forth the hazy memories. “It was early in week. Monday. Yaks love monday. Best day of week for sewing circle. Yona parents come by then to show Prince Rutherford pony food from Equestria.”

“Hot cocoa...” Yona muttered.

“It changed yak life forever. Never imagined powder so tasty!”

“I’ll say,” came a muffled snark from inside a blanket burrito half buried in snow. Now everyone was awake.

“Griffon shut up,” said Yona. She turned back to Prince Rutherford, “What happen next?”

“Prince Rutherford is most generous yak ever to live. Shared what left with as many yak as possible. Cocoa taste so good it make yaks act silly. Yaks like hot cocoa so much, request immediate trade negotiation with Crystal Empire.”

“That’s where they got more of it from,” said Gallus, propping himself upright. Only his beak was poking out from the very tip of the blanket bundle.

“Indeed. Ponies shocked when so many yak show up at once!” He said it like he was proud, but Gallus and Yona both realized in that moment how close he might have come to provoking the ponies to defend themselves. “Yaks not have pony money, so yaks come back and gather things from homes to trade. Buy Crystal Empire out of hot cocoa and bring back to Yakyakistan. Everything blurry since.”

That explained why her family’s hut was cleaned out. They’d done it themselves, willingly, hocking their belongings for a fix. “It make no sense!” Yona shouted. “Yona drink hot chocolate in Ponyville and feel fine! Why other yaks go crazy from it?” Was there something wrong with the kind they bought in the Crystal Empire? Did it get mixed with something else? Had it gone bad?

“Maybe yaks are allergic to chocolate,” Gallus offered.

“No, still make no sense. Yona drink hot cocoa. No crazy.”

“What if you built up a tolerance to it? I knew griffons back home who drank wheatsnake venom in small doses so they’d be immune if they ever got bitten. Maybe you did the same thing with chocolate?”

Yona thought back to her first week in Ponyville, when she tried chocolate cake for the first time when Sandbar brought cupcakes to their hideout at those weird old castle ruins in the forest. She remembered being absolutely enamored with the cupcakes, but feeling a little sick after she ate them.

It all made sense. Cupcakes had less cocoa in them than hot chocolate. She’d eaten chocolate in low doses when she first tried it and built up a tolerance to whatever effects it seemed to have on yaks.

She knew what she needed to do. “Get up! Need to get hot cocoa off streets!”

“And how are we going to do that?” asked Gallus.

“Not worry, tiny blue bird. Prince Rutherford have plan.” With a grin, he walked off down the hill, leaving Yona and Gallus to follow along.

And so the hapless trio embarked on their quest to save the village.

“This was his plan?” Gallus whispered to Yona, whose only response was to shrug.


The thunderous roar of Prince Rutherford’s shouts radiated through Yakyakistan with enough force to shake snow from the rooftops that hadn’t been burned down yet. Despite their cocoa-induced frenzy, no yak was foolish enough to not heed the call of the prince himself.

Slowly but surely, the townsfolk gathered in a disheveled, twitchy mass around the fire pit that Prince Rutherford stood atop. Yona and Gallus looked side to side nervously. This flew directly in the face of the plan that both of them had advocated, in which they would have quietly taken the drink mix out of the hooves of a few yaks, and then spread awareness throughout the community so the epidemic would stop.

Where their approach was to stitch the wound closed, Prince Rutherford had opted to hack the problem off with a rusty hatchet.

“Yaks listen to Prince Rutherford now,” he began. “Hot cocoa is making village burn, make yaks crazy. No more! Hot cocoa is illegal in Yakyakistan! Any yak found with hot cocoa excluded from smashing at festivals for ten years. End speech.”

A few murmurs ran through the crowd, some of the yaks growing visibly shifty and nervous. Yona scanned the crowd, searching for signs of her family, but she couldn’t find them anywhere. She was about to take off looking for them, but then she heard what she feared.

From somewhere in the back of the crowd, a yak spoke up. “Prince Rutherford have cocoa on nose!”

“Nonsense!” Prince Rutherford rebutted, wiping at his face. “Prince Rutherford fell asleep with face in dirt. Not using cocoa, head crystal clear.”

“Prince Rutherford trying to keep cocoa for himself!” said another voice, this one closer.

A few murmurs of agreement.

Oh no.

“Yaks no need laws anymore!”

“Hot cocoa is life now!”

This was not good at all.

“Overthrow tyrant prince!”

A chorus of agreement ran through the crowd, and they all took a step toward the fire pit.

Yona nudged Gallus. “Run.”

“Way ahead of you,” Gallus said, spreading his wings.

“Viva la revolucion!”

“Go to Crystal Empire. Get help. Go now!” Yona picked Gallus up by the tail and hurled him into the air just as a sea of hair and withdrawal rage descended on the fire pit. Yona wasn’t their target, but Prince Rutherford was tough. He could hold his own. Yona could survive this.

She hoped.

Getting an entire caravan of ponies loaded with medical supplies up a narrow mountain pass in the middle of winter turned out to be easier than Gallus expected. Princess Cadance was surprisingly helpful and understanding when he landed on the castle balcony unannounced at four in the morning. Despite her guards nearly turning him into griffon shishkebab with their spears, he was able to convince her to send aid to Yakyakistan post-haste.

A contingent of guards was dispatched along with all available medical staff from the local hospital. The team set out for Yakyakistan at daybreak, the guards and doctors sharing the burden of the supplies.

When Gallus saw the size of the needles in the supply crates, he was certain that the medical supplies were in fact just yak-sized tranquilizers.

Regardless of that, the crystal pony guards were able to take the supplies up the pass by wing instead of leaving it for the ground-bound doctors to lug on hoof. They made it through the pass relatively easy, the yeti attack notwithstanding.

Yakyakistan was even worse for wear by the time they got there. The cocoa supply that Gallus had so generously bolstered was running dangerously thin, and violence was breaking out as the supply dwindled. Yona and Prince Rutherford had been taken prisoner for “harshing the mellow” as one yak later put it, and were tied up in the town square.

The guards looked decidedly bored while the medical ponies did their job. Apparently they had been promised an unruly mob to dispatch, but the yaks were too hopped up on hot cocoa to resist. The few isolated scuffles were quickly broken up, and one by one, the yaks were administered an “antidote” and sent home to sleep it off.

Once they were all taken care of, the guards swept the village and gathered all of the remaining hot cocoa and related paraphernalia they could find. All mugs in the village were rounded up and destroyed. While the guards were smashing the pile of mugs to bits, Yona couldn’t help but smile. Even ponies weren’t immune to the spirit of Snilldar Fest.

After the guards interviewed her and Prince Rutherford about the incident, Yona went straight to her family’s hut to find them all asleep inside, disheveled and filthy from the night's craziness, but safe. Yona just wanted to go to sleep and forget everything that had happened. The mess was no longer hers to sort out. She could just go back to being Yona.

“Wow, sounds like you two had a crazy weekend!” said Silverstream, crunching through a handful of hay fries.

“I’m never going back to Yakyakistan as long as I live,” said Gallus, resting his head on the table. That earned a round of laughs from everyone at the table, with the exception of Yona.

“Yona okay with that,” she said, though her lack of a smile told Gallus that she was serious. She hadn’t wanted him to go there and sell things to her people, and things had only gone that much more horribly wrong as a result of him tagging along. There was no way he could have known, but she was still a little upset over it.

“So yaks are allergic to chocolate?” asked Sandbar.

“The doctors called it a low-grade hallucinogen,” Gallus answered. “Basically makes them loopy and oblivious. Some got really tripped out when they had a lot of the stuff.”

“Sounds like a good time.”

Smolder laughed at her own joke, but Yona met it with a scowl. “Yak village destroyed by cocoa. Not good time.”

Sandbar’s eyes went wide and shot down to the cup sitting in front of him. He took the mug of hot cocoa and began scooting it toward himself.

Yona caught onto it. “No worries, Sandbar. Yona not go crazy if pony drink hot cocoa.”

“But how did you not go crazy drinking it here?” Ocellus asked.

“Doctors say yaks not best at digesting chocolate. When eat too much, make brain act weird.”

Gallus clarified, “Yona drank hot chocolate diluted with milk here, so she was fine. The yaks were eating the powder straight up and snorting it. It’s way stronger that way. That’s why they all went nuts.”

“Wait, they were eating the mix and snorting it?” Sandbar’s jaw hung open in disbelief.

Yona nodded. “Yona forgot to give yaks instructions to make hot cocoa.” She scratched the back of her head and grinned sheepishly. Several of the group burst out laughing.

When the giggles died down, Silverstream picked the conversation back up. “So what’s going to happen in Yakyakistan?”

“Rebuilding burned huts take one week, then back to normal. Yaks best at rebuilding village after destruction.”

“Destruction by yaks, I presume?” Smolder snarked.

Yona’s smile soured. “Avalanche usually, sometimes yeti. Life hard in mountains,” she stated, matter of factly.

“So no more hot cocoa for yaks?”

Yona shook her head. “Never. Prince Rutherford make royal decree banning it. Yaks stick to homegrown vanilla.”

Ocellus grimaced. “You know you can get drunk on vanilla extract, right?”

“Yona… didn’t know that.” She took a mental note to ask her mom to send some vanilla to Ponyville in her next letter.

“I’m just glad it’s over.” Gallus sighed.

“Maybe sometime you could come out to Mount Aris!” Silverstream nudged Gallus with an elbow. “I promise things aren’t nearly as crazy there.”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” said Gallus flatly. “I’ve had about enough of visiting homelands for the time being.”

“Raincheck, then.” Silverstream said with a smile. Again, Ocellus gave her that weird look, somewhere between a grimace and a grin.

“Friendship mission successful,” said Yona.

“Now I just need to rebuild my savings,” Gallus muttered.

An electric purple pop erupted in the middle of the table, Twilight Sparkle appearing from thin air and planting her hooves right in the middle of a plate of cookies. “Did I hear somepony say friendship mission?” She looked around the group excitedly. “Where was it? Who was there? Did it work? How long was it?”

Everyone pointed to Yona and Gallus, and the Princess whirled around to face them. “What did you two learn about friendship?”

Yona blanched, not quite sure how to respond. She traded a few glances back and forth with Gallus, who finally shrugged.

“Always give clear instructions so you don’t start a drug crisis in Yakyakistan?”

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