On the Side

by DocDelray

Chapter 4: Child's Play

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Traffic over the planet Gaia had greatly increased since its discovery and induction into Mandalorian society. A mixture of warships and cargo freighters created a protective barrier around the outskirts of the world. In orbit around the planet the beginnings of a space station had started to take shape as crews worked tirelessly to construct it. The true thing to behold though was the lovely blue orb dotted with green; a ball of life and potential whose very sight could uplift the hearts of those that beheld it, save for one heart.

Cassus Skirata looked out across the planet below him with a mix of boredom and annoyance in his bright golden eyes. The young boy couldn’t be more than seven years at the most, his dual heritage granting him a number of traits from both parents. Standing at an average height for humanoids his age, he had a figure that had begun to show outwards signs of a physically demanding life. His skin tone was a mix between both his Human and Pantoran parents, very pale with a hint of blue that made him appear almost corpse like. A pair of golden eyes and a head of pink hair destroyed any illusion of looking more Human than anything. The Mandalorian youth was clad in simple clothing that fit loosely on his body, their colors faded from years of being passed down from one person to the next.

With a sad sigh he slumped to the floor as he watched the world below and the ships coming and going from the space station skeleton in orbit. It had been so hard to make friends on Concord Dawn living so far from the main settlements. Now he was being ripped away from the few friends he had and dragged to the other side of Mandalorian space to live on some new colony that his father just HAD to help put together.

Soothing hands on his shoulders and caring words pulled him out of his growing depression. “Cassus, I know that none of this seems fair to you.” Shin’ima was a tall woman of Pantoran descent. Her skin was a warm azure hue and eyes of deep gold brought together by short, neatly-kempt pink hair that stopped just short of her jaw line. She wore a white form fitting tank top and dark grey fatigue pants with a pair of well traveled boots while the hilt of a lightsaber hung proudly at her hip. “You know your father loves you very much and wants you to be happy, but this wasn’t something he could stop from happening. If this was avoidable, he would’ve turned down this assignment.”

Cassus wanted to find a reason to argue with his mother; he desperately wanted a reason to be angry at his father. But beneath the surface he knew what she said was true. Out of the few high ranking members of the Mandalorian Knights, his father was the only one that had not only established a rapport with the inhabitants of this planet but also their leaders.

Before his mind could wonder even further his mother’s arms wrapped around him in a tight hug. “I do have some news I think will make you happy. Your father and I have been talking and we’ve decided it’s time you started your apprenticeship.”

His face lit up at this news. With a wide smile he pulled himself free of his mother’s grasp and turned to look up at her in wonderment. “Do ya really mean it, I’m gonna be a squire?” The youth’s voice dripped with excitement.

Shin’ima nodded as she watched the youngling chatter away excitedly. “Your father wanted to tell you himself, buuuuut, I’m sure he won’t mind me spoiling the surprise.”

Ponyville had certainly become far more active in the past week and a half since first contact had been established. Three key members of this incident stood near the formally empty field that was being used as a make shift landing zone. Kad Skirata paced impatiently as he wore a small trench into the soft loam under foot casting tentative glances at the sky at every slight sound. Near him the pair of mares that had accompanied him watched the warrior.

The lavender coated Unicorn, Twilight Sparkle, and the sky blue Pegasus, Rainbow Dash, watched him closely with a sense of bemusement. It had been a strange sight to see him clad in something other than his armored shell. The two had made an aside comment on how he seemed less like the hardened fighter they had seen over the past week and now acted more akin to a young foal waiting anxiously for Hearths Warming Eve.

Kad had told them nothing about what was so special about the next shuttle landing. They had been coming and going since for several days now both here in Ponyville and in Canterlot as Mandalorians and Ponies alike worked to rebuild the damage left in Deathwatch’s wake. Something about this next transport though had certainly lit a fire under the Knight and prompted him to ask that they accompany him to the landing. To compound the mystery, every attempt to probe for information was met with a wry grin and a sly, “You’ll see,” in reply.

Over head the sound of a roaring engine echoed through the valley as the latest drop ship descended towards the landing zone. Kad shielded his eyes with his sleeve. “Hah, they’re finally here!” He happily cheered over the noise.

Upon touching down with the soft grass below the gangway of the ship lowered letting off the latest collection of engineers and supplies. From the small crowd of humanoids a tiny figure darted through the bodies making a fast bee-line for Kad, “Buir!”

Kad took a knee with his arms spread wide. “Ner ad!” he called out as the small form launched itself into him clinging tightly. Wrapping the boy in a tight hug, he laughed happily while mussing his already messy head of pink hair. “Cassus, by the dead gods I’ve missed ya boy!”

A light hearted feminine chuckle drew his attention to Shin’ima standing over them. “I hope I was missed as well.”

With a wry grin, Kad set his son aside as he rose to embrace his wife around her midsection. “Ya know ya were.” He snickered before pressing his lips tightly to hers.

Twilight and Rainbow gave one another an awkward glance as they watched this play out in front of them. Wishing to bring things back on track, the purple Unicorn cleared her throat to draw Kad’s attention.

Reluctantly he pulled himself away from Shin’ima before looking over at the pair of mares. “Ah osik, where’s my manners?” He scolded himself, “Shin’ima, Cassus, I wanna introduce ya both to some friends. This here is Twilight Sparkle an’ Rainbow Dash,” He introduced the pair with a motion towards them respectively, “these brave women saved me an’ Kell’s lives dur’in that nasty fight that went down.”

Cassus stared up at the two in wonder as his father’s words began to sink in, “Wow, you two saved my dad an’ uncle?”

Never one to miss out on impressing a youngster or the chance to gain a new fan, Rainbow Dash puffed her chest out with a smirk. “Yeeeeeah, it wasn’t noth’in short stack, all in a day’s work for the Elements of Harmony after all.” She said flaring her wings to add impressive emphasis to her stature.

Twilight could barely withhold the urge to roll her eyes with a sigh after watching her friend’s cocky display. “I believe what Rainbow Dash is trying to say is that we only did what we felt was right.” she calmly corrected, “After all, we owe them our lives just as much if not more.”

“Either way,” Shin’ima spoke up, “thank you both for returning my husband to me, our family is in your debt ladies.”

“Aye,” Kad happily chimed in, “you girls are always welcome in our home an’ in our family!”

Both mares were more than a little taken aback by the praise being showered upon them. Tints of red filtered through their fur coats as a touch of embarrassment managed to chip away at them. Even Rainbow Dash’s love of the spotlight began to dwindle.

Twilight quickly sought a new subject to help her regain her composure and move the focus away from herself. “So, I heard that you turned down a home in Canterlot, Kad.”

“Yeah,” He stated with a nod, “can’t stand cities, big an’ loud, instead I talked them into a home right ‘ere in Ponyville, now you girls’ll be stuck with me.” A teasing grin moved over his face.

Shin’ima gave the small mountain of luggage and positions still sitting on the transport a begrudging glare. “I do hope this new home isn’t far from here, it’ll take several trips to get everything to the house as it is.”

“I could lend you a hoof if you’d like Mrs. Skirata.” Twilight eagerly spoke as an aura engulfed her horn and a small pile of the personal effects, lifting them into the air with ease, “Just lead the way.”

Shin’ima looked from the floating luggage to the young mare lifting them high above her head. “Oh my, Kad had told me that you were all full of surprises but I never expected this.” Before Twilight could go into a happy tangent about the simplicity of levitation the Pantoran woman added, “So very helpful and friendly, thank you so much, dear.” With a motion of her hand, she reached out through her connection within the Force and several more of the containers lifted into the air, “Open use of the Force for tasks, such a progressive world you have.”

As entertaining as it was to watch his mother getting to flex her powers and to see that Twilight Sparkle had a strong connection to the Force as well, Cassus had other plans. With a devious smirk on his face he slinked away from the group while all eyes were on his mother and Twilight. Turning to head deeper into the town his path was suddenly blocked by a cyan wall that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Rainbow Dash withheld the urge to snicker as the tiny humanoid bounced off of her harmlessly and fell backwards onto the ground. “Whoa there short stack, now where do ya think you’re going huh?”

Cassus shook his head clear of the confusing feat her abnormal speed presented him with in order to answer her. “I was gonna go explore.”

Her hoof came down on his head to muss his hair playfully. “Not on your own ya don’t.”

Rainbow Dash and her young human charge toured the streets of the still-being-repaired Ponyville. Cassus watched the mix of Mandalorian and Pony engineers that either side was able to spare for fixing Deathwatch’s mess. The significance of this weighed far less on the child’s mind than it did on the mare’s.

She had heard from Kad as well as seen a few of the holo-vids, Deathwatch had struck hit and run blows on other worlds throughout Mandalorian space. How many people had lost homes, friends and loved ones to the selfish actions of these monsters. To make it worse they were still out there, the cruelest injustice of it all.

Not all was sour for their victory though. Beyond the sounds of hard working aliens and locals there was also the heartwarming sound of life returning to the town. Ponyville had seen better days, but it had also suffered roughly no civilian casualties. Seeing the Ponies she had come to know and love returning to their lives tugged a smile back to the weatherpony’s face. At least some things could return to normal if they tried hard enough.

“So this is home now…” Cassus mused to himself, a hint of sadness in his tone.

Dash placed a reassuring wing around the boy’s shoulders. “I know our little berg doesn’t look like much, but this place’s been the center of a lot’a crazy junk. Heck, on a good day this place can be more dangerous than Manehattan after dark.”

Cassus found the prospect of this tiny town being exciting more than a little hard to swallow as he rolled his eyes at the thought. “Yeah, this place looks really crazy, right up there with Nar’Shaddaa.” In all honesty he could care less about how exciting the small town was or wasn’t, it didn’t change the fact that his friends were all back on Concord Dawn, light years away from him now.

Dash quickly picked up on the sullen mood clinging to the child. She knew a thing or two about leaving your old life and friends behind to start a new one. “Miss your pals huh? Don’t worry about it kiddo, if there’s one thing Ponyville’s known for, it’s making friends. Give it some time an’ you’ll have a whole new gang to pal around with.”

The sounds of heavy hooves wheels on the dirt road drew the mare’s attention away from the unhappy half-human in her care. She was now aware of the heavily laden cart being dragged quickly down the street that was dangerously close to crushing the child. With a swift motion of her wing she forced Cassus out of harm’s way.

A teasing smirk played across her face as she drank in the look of shock and awe on the child’s face as his brush with death sank in. “I told ya this place can be dangerous,” She reminded him before giving his head a pat with her forehoof. “S’a good thing ya got the one an’ only Rainbow Dash to look after ya, short stack.”

Her moment of unbridled pride and triumph was cut tragically short as an orange and purple streak careened into the boy. It took Dash a fraction of a second to realize that her young charge had vanished from her side. With a touch of reluctance her gaze shifted to find the child laying on his back several feet behind her with a group of very familiar looking fillies standing over him.

“Ugh, what did I hit?” the small Pegasus Scootaloo asked in a haze as she leaned over the bar of her scooter.

Her dark orange coat coupled with a dark mauve mane and tail did little to draw the attention of most away from her smaller than normal wings. She did her best to clear her violet eyes from the shock of the sudden stop.

“More like who did you hit,” Retorted Sweetie Belle, the Unicorn filly in the cart being dragged behind the scooter.

Sap green eyes looked between her friend and the body on the ground with a touch of panic. She possessed a darkened shade of white to her coat while pink and purple curls fell about her mane and tail, “I told you not to go so fast!” She scolded her friend.

“Girls, I ain’t no expert on aliens’r nothin’, but I don’t think he’s supposed ta be that color…” Applebloom stated cautiously as she inched her way from the cart towards the humanoid on the ground.

Her coat was a light shade of yellow with a head and tail of deep red with her main tied back with a pink bow. Amber eyes scanned him for injuries as she muttered a prayer to the princesses that everything was alright.

Rainbow Dash darted past the three fillies who were gathered around the alien. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, please tell me that didn’t just happen!” She pleaded to any powerful force that could hear her, “I’m terrible at foalsitting, why did I decide to do this in the first place!? Oh crud, please don’t be dead!”

All the life drained out of Scootaloo’s face at the mention of the alien in front of her being dead. “N-no, he can’t be dead, I didn’t hit him that hard, there’s no way!” The young Pegasus grabbed the boy by his shoulders and shook him, “C’mon, wake up, open your eyes!”

In a quick motion the child’s eyes flung open as his arms flailed forwards to grab the filly trying to shake him out of his stupor, “Brains!” He moaned out in a dull, grating tone as he lurched forwards towards her. Panic quickly overtook all four of the Equestrians gathered around the child. Frightened screams hit a pitched crescendo until the sounds of laughter caused them to calm down.

All eyes were now on the small humanoid who rolled about the ground in a fit of laughter. “You, guys, should’a, seen, your, faces!” Cassus managed to force out between his snickers.

One pony in particular was less shocked and more enraged with the boy’s antics. Reaching out, Scootaloo took him by the shoulders and pinned him to the ground. “What the hay, kid!” Her voice cracked with agitation, “I thought I just killed somepony, that wasn’t funny!”

Cassus put his arms up in defense as a wide smile stretched across his face. “Whoa, heh, maybe we’re get’in off on a bad foot, erm, hoof.” He admitted as he pulled himself out from under the irate filly, “How about we try this again?” He extended his open hand to the three other children, “I’m Cassus Skirata, my family just moved here to your planet an’ town.”

There was a moment of awkwardness between the four children before the little white Unicorn strode forward and placed her hoof in his hand. “Hi there, I’m Sweetie Belle.” She stated happily as he shook her hoof.

The redheaded Earth Pony was next giving his arm a good hardy shake with her friendliest smile. “Howdy there Cassus, mah name’s Applebloom, welcome ta Ponyville!”

Scootaloo gave the alien a suspicious look before reluctantly taking his hand, “Scootaloo, nice to meet ya I guess,” Her tone was still dripping with annoyance from his prank.

A jolt ran through Cassus’s arm at the touch of her hoof; he quickly pulled his hand away as if bit by something. He could feel the group’s collective confused eyes resting on him; however, something in the cart caught his attention and gave him a way out. “So, what’s with all that gear ya got?”

The little toy wagon hooked to the scooter had been filled with a hodgepodge of gear. Ropes, helmets, lanterns and what looked like a hook or two. “It’s for official club business.” The young Pegasus quickly interjected.


“Yeah, we’re the Cutie Mark Crusaders!” Sweetie Belle proudly, and rather loudly, proclaimed.

“An’ we’re on’a mission ta find our cutie marks!” Applebloom added with just as much enthusiasm as her friend.

Cassus stared at the three fillies in confusion as his mind tried to make sense of all this new information. Sadly, only being seven years old had its’ limitations, but most of all, “What the osik is a cutie mark?”

Dash quickly gave the boy a scolding tap on the back of the head with her forehoof. “I know what that word means.” She warned him.

Rubbing the stinging pain from the back of his head, Cassus gave himself a mental reminder not to rely on his Mando’a to speak out of turn. “Sorry…” He muttered before returning his attention to the other kids, “So what’s a cutie mark?”

The three gave him a blank stare as if he’d just grown several limbs out of his forehead and started dancing around. “You, you don’t know what a cutie mark is?” The crack in Sweetie Belle’s tone sounded as though she might fall over in surprise. “It’s only one of the most important things in a pony’s life!”

“It only appears when a pony finds their special talent!” Scootaloo added.

“It means ya know exactly who ya are, an’ what you’re good at!” Applebloom finished.

This did little to explain things to the offworlder, “But, WHAT are they!?”

“It’s a mark that shows up on your flank when you find your special talent.” Scootaloo explained while motioning towards the various villagers of Ponyville.

It was then that Cassus found his attention drawn to a number of flanks and the markings adorning them. “Huh, I just thought you guys were into tattoos.”

“Ya see, we’re some’a the only ones in our class without our cutie marks, so the three’a us joined together ta find our talents because…” Applebloom lamented, “Our flank’s’re blank, see.”

Before Cassus could say anything, all three flanks were on display before him. Seeing this, the grown mare quickly stepped in, placing herself between the young boy and girls. “OKAY, girls, why don’cha give the kid some breathing room alright!” Dash’s face had begun to tint red through her fur. Part of her wanted to get mad but she knew it was just the foalish innocence of youth at play.

Rolling her eyes, Scootaloo mounted her trusty scooter and dawned her safety helmet. “Whatever, c’mon girls, we gotta get moving if we wanna get our cutie marks before dark.”

With that and a few quick goodbyes, the three of them were zipping down the road as the small Pegasus flapped her wings at a fever pitch. Cassus watched as they vanished into the crowd with a hint of curiosity in his eyes. There was something about that Scootaloo, something that the back of his mind told him he had to follow them. A hoof patting his shoulder reminded him of the one catch, his cyan guardian.

“Not bad, short stack, you’re already starting to make some friends.” She declared proudly to the smaller alien.

An idea slowly started to form in the young boy’s mind that just might do the trick. “Hey Dash, do ya think maybe I could go explore’in on my own for a bit?”

The speedster gave him a bemused look as she shook her head. “Look kiddo, I know this place seems peaceful an’ all, but you really shouldn’t be wondering around a strange place on your own.”

“Aw c’mon, I can handle myself just fine.” He retorted, “I just wanna look around on my own for a little bit.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes and began to nudge him back on track with a brush of her wing. “No dice kiddo, took my eyes off ya once an’ look what happened.”

She was certainly smarter than Cassus gave her credit for, but he still had one trick up his sleeve and she was leaving him little choice. “Yeah, hey, about that,” He looked up to the mare with a wide grin on his face, “ya know, it’d be a pretty bad thing if my parents were to find out ya shoved me into an oncoming scooter.”

Dash stopped dead in her tracks as she gave the child a deadpan stare. “What did you say?”

“Look, I don’t wanna resort to blackmail, buuuut,” He lifted his hair up a bit to show off a bruise he’d suffered in the crash, “I’m sure this guy’ll bring up some questions.”

She did what she could to keep a straight face as a sudden tinge of anger started swell up in her. “Why you little… I mean, I don’t believe this,” Her poker face quickly crumbled away.

“One’a my uncles is a Chiss Strategist,” Cassus playfully reminded her, “Did’ja think I wouldn’t use this to my advantage?”

Growling under her breath she hated admitting it but the kid had her by the tail. “Fine, ya get one hour of free time.” She said, “But Celestia help you if I ever get asked to foal sit your flank.”

Her threat in place, Cassus watched as she vanished in burst of blinding speed into the cloud cover above. He quickly searched the skies for any sign of his appointed guardian until he was satisfied that she really had given him the space he needed. His attention shifted now towards the direction he’d seen the, what were they called again, Cutie Mark Crusaders, heading.

On the outskirts of town laid the dreaded Everfree Forest. A place considered by every resident of the town to be an unnatural place. It’s where the plants grow on their own, the clouds move by themselves and the animals need no caretakers. At one point, one of the few places where nature was rightfully in control and the location of this day’s latest round of cutie mark hunting. The three fillies, Scootaloo, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle had gathered together the supplies they believed they needed and had journeyed into the woods.

“Somehow, I just know this’ll help us get our cutie marks this time!” Scootaloo reassured her friends as they neared their destination.

As convenient as the cart was, the forest had little use for well trampled roads and paths, forcing the youngsters to leave behind their transportation and continue on foot. Their backs weighed down with gear, they made their way towards a large rocky opening in the forest floor.

“You said it, Ah can’t wait ta get mah cutie mark in cave sprlore’in,” Applebloom beamed at the prospect.

“Yeah, but did we really have to leave that new kid behind like that?” Sweetie Belle questioned as she cautiously and reluctantly peered over the side, “His mean prank aside, he seemed really nice, and I’m sure we could’ve used a little extra help with this one.”

“Tch, I wouldn’t worry about it,” The Pegasus filly scoffed, “besides, he’d probably be too scared to try this anyways.”

“Actually,” An all too familiar male voice caught their attention. Sitting on a large jutting root was the alien half breed they had met in town. His pale face tinted slightly redder as a few beads of sweat rolled down his forehead as clearly tried to hide the fact that he was out of breath, “there’s noth’in we Mandalorians love more than a healthy dose’a danger.”

“How did you…” Scootaloo couldn’t wrap her head around it. They had left him in the middle of town and she was sure nopony knew where this spot was.

The confused look in their eyes only seemed to fuel the smile on his face all the more, stretching wider and wider. “One of my uncles is’a sniper in the Neo Protectors, it was easy to find your tracks.” He proudly bragged, “Also, run’in like my sheb was on fire helped.” It felt good to sneak out a curse without a hoof or hand to the back of his head.

Leaving his makeshift seat behind, Cassus began walking around the gapping maw of the caverns below. “So, lemme see if I understand your plan. You three are gonna climb down there in hopes that it’ll give ya them cutie mark things right?” When they nodded in confirmation, a wide grin stretched across his face with a playful glint in his eyes, “That sounds so freak’in cool!”

The newest residents of the small town of Ponyville stood before the humble little house that would be their home from now on. It was a simple home like the many others that dotted the village, possessing two floors, a basement, an attic and a lush tree in the front yard. Kad and Shin’ima took a moment to admire it proudly alongside Twilight Sparkle and a rather sizable mountain of luggage.

Kad stole a kiss from his wife’s cheek as she took in the sight of their new home. “Welcome home naakla,” He whispered lovingly to her.

A slight tint of red filled their mare escort’s cheeks as she gauged the tone of his voice. Mando’a was still a language that she had barely any kind of grasp on, but the way he spoke and the look in her eyes as he said spoke volumes about the meaning. In the back of her mind she cursed herself for letting Rarity talk her into reading those romance novels. Clearing her throat she brought everyone’s attention back to the task at hand. “Welcome to Ponyville Mr. and Mrs. Skirata, shall we-“

WAAAAIT!” A tired voice rasped.

The group’s attention shifted to the bright pink mare trudging towards them. Her normally joyously curly mane and tail looked disheveled and ragged. The seemingly endless energy that her bright blue eyes reflected had fizzled out with the bags hanging from them. Behind her, she was dragging a wagon towards them as she huffed tiredly. “Gimme a second… almost there… don’t move,” Pinkie pleaded to them desperately.

She brought her wagon to a stop in front of them as she whipped the beads of sweat from her brow. “So many coming to town… Been busy welcoming them all…”

Taking a deep breath to regain her composure she elbowed a button on the side of the cart. Several flaps opened up and a myriad of instruments were revealed. Before Twilight could protest her friend’s actions she forced herself to belt out her tune.

“Welcome welcome welcome,

A fine welcome to you,

Welcome welcome welcome,

I say how do you do?

Welcome welcome welcome,

I say hip hip hurray,

Welcome welcome welcome,

To Ponyville today!”

She sang out between tired breaths as she lazily moved with the music putting on the best show her tired muscles could afford.

There was a brief pause of shock as they all watched the pink Earth pony fall to her haunches. Before anyone could utter a word a small device on the wagon fired a wall of confetti at all those assembled. Pinkie gave them a tired smile as she waved her forelimbs in the air. “Ta’daaa…”

Shin’ima became overcome with a fit of laughter at the mare’s antics. “Thank you very much for the warm welcome.” She said bowing her head to the tired mare.

Pinkie gave her a tired smile as she let herself lean back against her cart. “It’s what I do.”

“Ya alright Pie?” Kad asked as he looked the normally bubbly girl over, “If memory serves, by now ya’d have talked our ears off ‘bout everything under the sun.”

“Too tired,” Was the rather blunt answer she gave, “so many coming to town, gotta make’em feel welcomed; on’a side note, really need to make the welcome wagon lighter.”

Shin’ima took a seat beside her on the ground, “You poor dear.” She stated softly, “How many of these welcome songs have you been performing?”

Pinkie smiled proudly as she announced, “Fifty seven counting yours, a new record!”

“Pinkie, you haven’t been trying to welcome every single off-worlder to Ponyville have you?” Twilight asked with no shortage of concern for the party pony.

“No silly, I don’t have enough streamers for that and besides, they’re just passing through.” Pinkie said waving the question off, “But with everypony coming back to the town, I figured they deserve a friendly smile and a happy visit from the welcome wagon.”

With no more second guessing left; the four children made their descent into the earth’s waiting belly. A massive cavern awaited them stretching into the darkness for what seemed an eternity. Rock formations jutting from the ground and ceiling created the feeling of gnashing teeth as the trickle of water far out of sight reverberated off the walls. The gaping hole that provided their ingress, cast a single wide beam of light down upon them creating a somewhat safe zone for them.

“Okay, so, where do we find these cutie mark things anyways, what do they look like?” Cassus asked them eagerly.

“They aren’t something you can find laying on the ground.” Scootaloo informed him as she took a few adventurous steps towards the edge of their small shaft of light.

“A cutie mark appears magically when your find your special talent.” Sweetie Belle added before flicking on her helmet’s lantern. The tiny lamp pushed back the darkness enough to reveal some of the formations of the walls.

“Okay, so they magically appear when ya figure it out then?” Cassus felt he was starting to really get a handle on this cutie mark thing, “So, we’ve proven we can go down a rope into a hole, now what do we do to find your talents?”

“Well, the book we got from Twilight said that ‘splorers go an’ check stuff fer anythin special ‘bout their sround’ins.” Applebloom recalled, “Guess we try ta look at stuff ‘er some’in.”

Their mission laid out before them, the foursome split up to explore the main antechamber of the cavern. Each one took care to note every detail that they discovered. The curvature of the rock formations, the smelly fungus growing from the walls, nothing escaped their keen eyes and curious minds. As the seconds dragged on into minutes and the minutes felt as though they had become hours, one thing became very clear to the children.

“Ugh, this is so boring!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed as she hung her head dejectedly, “This is nothing like in the Daring Do books.”

“Ah hate say’in it, but maybe our special talents ain’t got noth’in ta do with caves an’ such.” Applebloom said sadly.

“Maybe if you guys had more to go on besides go look at stuff.” Cassus complained as he prodded a pile of fungus, “Least we found a really cool cave.”

This bit of good news did little to lift Scootaloo’s spirits. “I thought it would work this time,” She grumbled under her breath. Anger began to swell in her chest as she gave her blank flank death glare, “why doesn’t anything ever work?” She snarled to nopony in particular, “No matter what we do, or how hard we try, nothing ever freak’in works!”

“It’s okay Scootaloo.” The little white Unicorn consoled her, “We’ll just go try something else, like we always do.”

“Don’t you see though, nothing ever works for us!” She retorted in anger, “We always end up getting covered in tree sap, or stuck together with taffy, just one failure after another. We’re never gonna find our talents at this rate!”

In a huff of anger she gave the wall beside her swift kick with all the force her tiny body could offer. As her hoof connected with the wall, a small rock near the base tumbled lose, setting off a very unfortunate chain of events. A low rumble filled the cavern and the world around the children began to slowly shake, growing more violent with every tremor. Before they knew what was happening the rocks above their heads had started to fall all around them. Panic set in as the three fillies and humanoid made for what they hoped would be safety, ducking and dodging solid stony chunks of death from above as the deafening rumble drowned out their screams.

In a rush of adrenalin, Cassus dragged up what little his parents had taught him about his powers. With what little grasp and understanding he had, the young Mandalorian pulled as hard on his connection to it as he could. It was a strange new sensation for the child as time around him seemed to crawl slowly around him. If pressed, there was little to no chance that the youth could properly put to words what this felt like. He could suddenly feel where some of the rocks would fall around them, like he was staring at the cheat-sheet of a test. It was then that he became aware of a large collection of stones hurtling towards the small galloping white filly. Something else caught his attention, a ripple through the Force and it was close.

Cassus pushed his legs as hard as he could to close the gap between himself and Sweetie Belle. He could feel the life ending barrage of rocks inching closer and closer towards them both now as he brought himself within range of her. Lunging forward, Cassus tackled her, using their combined momentum to narrowly avoid the collapsing ceiling.

His efforts appeared to be in vain as several more collapsed around the huddled pair. Scootaloo and Applebloom watched in horror from the safety of an outcropping in the wall. Their friend and fellow Crusader along with their new friend were suddenly blocked from view as rock after rock fell upon them.

Kad and Twilight fought with the awkward shape of a couch while taking care not to disturb the pink mass sleeping upon the cushions. Under Shin’ima’s insistence, Pinkie was made to take a rest from her noble work which quickly brought about a nap on the comfy piece of furniture. With no warning, Kad and Shin’ima both stopped mid stride as if something far in the distance had called to them.

“Mr. and Mrs. Skirata,” Twilight could feel a touch of concern growing in her breast, the last time she had seen the Captain react to something like this was at the passing of Traycn, “is everything alright?”

Finally as the onslaught died down the pair slowly made their way towards what was no doubt their friends’ grave. Shock chocked the life out of their expressions as the slowly neared the spot, steeling themselves for whatever horrible sight was in store for them. However, as they drew closer they both noticed something rather odd about the rock pile, it was moving ever so slightly.

Exchanging a look of surprise, their pair of fillies quickly closed the gap and started feverishly pushing and pulling stones away as best they could. Soon, they had cleared a sizable chunk away from the pile whereupon they found something they truly did not expect to find. Their friend and the off-worlder were alive.

Kad gave the Unicorn a smile and nodded. “Yeah, everything’s fine,”

“There was a ripple through the Force,” Shin’ima explained to her, “I’m certain it was Cassus,”

“Probably show’in off for the other kids.” Kad said with a chuckle, “C’mon, let’s get this couch inside before someone else comes by an’ takes a nap on it too.”

Cassus had placed himself between Sweetie Belle and the rocks, one hand kept himself braced against the ground and his weight for the most part off of her. The other hand however was palm up facing the stones, the rocks hovered barely inches away from his outstretched hand as if pressing against an invisible bubble. His face showed a great deal of strain as he fought to maintain a protective wall around them both; beads of sweat rolled down his grime coated face.

Not stopping to ask questions, the pair of fillies quickly started doing what they could lighten his burden. Cassus could feel the overwhelming weight letting up on him. Digging deeply into the Force as best he could, Cassus pushed as hard as his grasp on the power could afford, sending what was left atop them both hurtling away.

Freed from the crushing rocks, Cassus let go of his draw on the Force. His small body no longer being forced past its limits, the pain and fatigue of his display quickly flooded him. Cassus collapsed beside Sweetie Belle in a heap breathing heavily. “Okay… that really hurt…”

The three fillies stared at the young Mandalorian for a moment before Sweetie Belle finally spoke up, “You can use magic?!”

“Not magic.” He grunted out as he tried to pull himself into a more comfortable position, “Used the Force.” A playful grin stretched across his face, “Honestly I just did all that on instinct, not even sure how exactly I did it.”

“Magic or whatever, who cares, you’re both alive!” Scootaloo happily declared as she threw her forelimbs around the Unicorn in a tight squeeze, “I thought for sure that… that you guys were dead, an’ all because of something I did…”

Her guilt trip wasn’t given much time to continue on as a hand slapped her on the back. “We ain’t dead, so no foul, right?” Cassus happily offered her as a compromise.

A smile reluctantly formed on her face, “Yeah, no foul.” Her attention returned to the Unicorn, “So, you alright?”

“I think so.” Sweetie Belle answered as she tried to return to her hooves. Her eyes went wide in shock as she put weight upon her back left leg. With a pained grunt she awkwardly stumbled into Scootaloo, “Or maybe not.” She gave the offending limb a frightened look, thanking the sisters of sun and moon both that it wasn’t twisted in some strange angle. It was however swelling rather painfully, “I think it’s sprained…”

A quick curse slipped out of Cassus’ mouth as something dawned on him, “That was probably my bad when I tackled ya,” He admitted with a guilty pang, “better than be’in crushed under’a bunch’a rocks right?”

The three of them were in agreement on that much but were now also aware of one filly in particular who had been uncomfortably silent the entire time. All eyes fell upon the red haired Earth pony who sat with her back to the group, her attention fixated on something else all together. What her attention had been set upon quickly became very clear, as the massive shaft that served as their entrance had become blocked with piles of rocks. All their hearts sank and shattered as they looked upon the tons upon tons of solid rock that was now wedged into their only exit.

“What was that you said about being under a bunch’a rocks?” Scootaloo asked sarcastically.

“Man… I really need to know when to shut up…” Cassus scolded himself.

“Ah think we might be in’a bit’a trouble y’all.” Applebloom pointed out weakly.

“Didn’t you guys tell someone where ya were go’in?” Cassus asked starting to feel a bit more nervous about their hopeless situation.

“We didn’t tell anypony where we were going.” Scootaloo replied in a shaky tone, “What about you?”

“I… kinda sorta… ditched my chaperone by tell’in her I was gonna tell my parents ‘bout her knocking me in front of your scooter…” Cassus replied sheepishly.

“Ya mean there ain’t nopony who knows we’re down here?” Applebloom’s voice started to crack with fear.

Panic was starting to settle on the youths once again, all save for Sweetie Belle. There was something in the air, through the remnants of the dust and the stale mildew, there was something else, “Girls.” Her calm tone went unnoticed, “Girls!” The other two fillies finally stopped their frightened chatter, “Erm, and Cassus.” She added sheepishly, “Does anypony else smell that?”

Taking a moment to check the air, Scootaloo’s mood seemed to take a drastic upturn, “I think I do, it’s faint but I think I can smell fresh air!”

“Ah smell it too!” Applebloom excitedly added.

Out of curiosity took a deep breath in through his nose to investigate as well. “All I smell is mildew…”

“Maybe ya’all ain’t got as keen’a senses as we ponies do.” Applebloom said. Following her nose the fire haired filly, trotted about the cavern stopping near an opening in the walls, “It’s come’in from down this way!”

With a pained grunt, the little white Unicorn forced herself back onto her hooves as she tried to block out the bite from her sprained limb. “Maybe we’ll find another way out if we follow it.”

“You sure you’re okay to walk though?” the Pegasus filly asked with growing concern.

“I’ll be fine,” Sweetie Belle reassured her.

“No ya won’t, you’re gonna slow us down.” Cassus informed her. The Mandalorian youth took a knee with his back to her, “Climb on.”

The filly gave him a confused look, “What?”

“Like I said, you’ll slow us down with that leg.” He stated flatly before giving her a wide confident smirk, “Sides, my fault your leg got hurt an’ as the new guy I’ve gotta work off my debt, right?”

It was impossible to tell how long they’d been underground. Minutes and hours fused together to create an all new length of temporal measurement that stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. The four children made their way through the seemingly endless honey combs of tunnels directed by the waft of fresh clean air. Florescent moss along the walls cast an eerie dim light upon their paths aided in slight by the ever weakening lights of their lanterns.

Aches and pains sapped at Cassus’ body as he did his best to keep pace with the fillies up ahead of him. The massive burst of Force energy that tore through him in reaction to the danger earlier and now the weight of the Unicorn clinging to his back, it was certainly more than he had expected this morning. On will alone he continued to trudge forward as a few beads of sweat rolled down his forehead.

Sweetie Belle held tightly to the boy’s back as best someone that lacked hands could. A touch of red had begun to bleed through her dark white coat as she let her mind wander. She knew next to nothing about this boy, this alien, and he knew just as much about her, but he risked his life to save her own. Now here he was caring her through this dank dark cave, maybe all that stuff her sister had said about these Mandalorians was true.

“Hey, what was it you said about HER slowing us down?” Scootaloo snickered over her shoulder.

“Some’a us only walk on two legs!” Cassus shot back at her.

“Ah could carry’er fer a bit Cas.” Applebloom interjected.

“No,” Sweetie Belle felt her cheeks flare bright red at how quickly she spoke up, “we need you and Scootaloo to spot any changes in the direction of the air,” She quietly prayed to Celestia that her friends hadn’t noticed her reaction.

“Soooo,” Cassus broke the awkward silence that had settled on them, “I heard about Deathwatch hit’in your town.”

The three fillies seemed to take on a far more somber mood at the mention of the attack their home town had suffered. “A lotta stuff got busted up,” Applebloom mentioned, “weren’t no pony got hurt though.”

“That Tolik guy and that Guardspony Gallant made us all leave the town the day before.” Sweetie Belle added, “Everypony was long gone before any of the trouble started.”

“Why’d they go an’ attack us anyways?” Scootaloo asked in annoyance, “We didn’t do anything to them.”

“Same reason they attacked their fellow Mandalorians.” he stated with no shortage of venom, “Noth’in but a bunch’a stupid terrorists that think all of us should be act’in like them.” Cassus grumbled, “They didn’t just attack your village an’ capital, those di’kutla hut’uun jerks attacked pretty much everything with a Neo Protector insignia on it then ran off.”

“Why’re they so angry at everypony?” The small farm pony asked.

“Well, accord’in to the history vids, we Mandalorians used to pretty much pick fights with everyone.” Cassus replied, thankful for the conversation to draw his attention away from his growing fatigue, “Deathwatch wants us to go back to the old ways, when we’d conquer anyone that’d look at us funny. Pop says that do’in that’d be suicide, we’d just get the whole galaxy mad at us again an’ end up get’in beat like every other time. He says that’a warrior’s someone that should protect the weak, only a brute tries to step on everyone.” A wide, proud grin stretched across his face, “That’s why I’mma become a Knight just like him.”

The filly attached to his back gave him a curious look, “A Knight, my sister always said that only nobles could become knights.”

“That or don’t they gotta fight’a dragon’er some’in?” Applebloom added.

“I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to save a princess or something too.” Scootaloo chimed in.

“Princesses and dragons? You guys’re think’in of the wrong kinda Knights.” The half-human said, “See, my pop’s a Mandalorian Knight, it’s this group made up’a Mandalorians that’re born able to use the Force. Like me. They go ‘round keep’in our people safe from stuff the Neo Protectors can’t handle. An’ someday I’m gonna be one too!” Cassus’ voice rang with pride as he explained what his father did, “Though, fight’in a dragon sounds like it’d be freaking awesome!”

Time seemed to pass a little faster as idle conversation and the exchange of ideas distracted their minds from the hopeless situation. Before long the air around them became less stale as a few tell tale gusts of wind swept past them, beckoning them to move further down the tunnels. They knew that before long they would reach the exit and be free of these dark catacombs.

Before long they were treated to trickling slivers of sunlight in the far distance that split the black wall ahead of them. Their pace quickened as they sought to close the gap, happily cheering one another on as they closed in on the exit. A progress that came to an abrupt stop just in front of opening and the large heavy rocks wedged tightly into it.

“Oh come on!” Sweetie Belle shouted in frustration.

“Wait, Cas, why don’cha ya jus use that Force magic’a yours?” Applebloom suggested eagerly.

“Yeah, like when ya pushed those rocks off’a you an’ Sweetie Belle!” Scootaloo agreed.

The half-human child gave a defeated sigh, “All that stuff I did was sort of’a reflex kinda thing.” He explained, “Besides, there’s no way I’m strong enough to push this stuff out’a the way… Not alone at least,” Cassus said as he looked towards Scootaloo expectantly.

“Why are ya look’in at me like that?” The Pegasus asked with an uneasy tone.

Cassus took a knee to let Sweetie Belle off of his back for a bit before taking a seat on the damp cold stone floor himself. “I think ya know exactly what I’m talk’in about, Scootaloo.” He replied, “Back dur’in the cave in, didn’t ya notice some’in odd, that everything sorta moved slower around ya an’ somehow you just kinda knew where the rocks were gonna fall.” A wide grin moved over the boy’s features as everything started to fall into place in his head, “You used the Force.”

The Pegasus found herself the center of attention, a spotlight she clearly was less than comfortable being under as she started to shy away. “That, that doesn’t make any sense, how can I use magic without a horn?”

“How can I?” Cassus shrugged as he let himself get comfortable where he was sitting, “Back in town I felt it when you shook my hand. Its one’a the reasons I followed you three out here, to see if what I sensed was true or not.”

“So, that means that Scootaloo can move stuff with’er mind like you was do’in?” Applebloom interjected curiously.

A look of frustration held tightly to the filly in question’s features, “Great, so one more thing that makes me a weirdo freak…” She grumbled, “I can’t fly, I don’t have a cutie mark and now I’ve got magic space powers to boot!”

Cassus quickly found the energy to get back on his feet and closed the gap between himself and Scootaloo. “I don’t think ya understand. You’ve got something powerful in ya, something that only shows up for one in a million.” He looked between her and the rocks before holding out his hand to her, “Gimme your hoof, I’m gonna show ya just how awesome this power is.”

The afternoon sun had started its long descent towards the far horizon as it moved across a clear blue sky. Birds chirped happily as a cool breeze sifted through the trees. A perfect peacefulness that few ponies had ever played witness to, the fear of the unknown within the Everfree forest kept most at bay. It was a peacefulness that suddenly shattered.

A loud rumbling filled the air causing much of the wildlife to quickly scatter and hide. Without warning, several large moss covered rocks that had laid in a haphazard pile for what seemed like centuries suddenly found themselves being rapidly relocated. In a sudden and violent burst, the large rocks exploded from the hole they had sat in front of, toppling and hurtling downhill. The masses of stone rolled and toppled, crushing and rending everything in their path, even several trees which suddenly fell to the ground under their onslaught.

The three fillies and their half-human companion watched in awe as the masses of solid earth tore a path through the wilderness, most of all the young Pegasus. Scootaloo couldn’t believe what she was seeing, under Cassus’ guidance she had made this happen. She had reached out, she had felt herself push against the rocks and then with one solid push she had forced them out of their path.

She looked between her hooves and what she had caused to happen. This power, this Force as Cassus called it. It had always been there as long as she could remember, just this thing she could feel but never understood. Now for the first time she was seeing just what it could do, just what she could do. A small touch of fear ran down her spine as the child’s mind ran through everything it could conceive, but there was something else, excitement. She had sat up plenty of nights lamenting over how she could never follow in her hero’s hoofsteps, but now a whole new road was just opened up for her.

All four of the children took a moment to bask in the warmth of the sun that seemed to have vanished for what felt like an eternity. Their eyes readjusting slowly to the bright colorful world they had thought gone forever. A cool breeze passed over them, tickling the sweat and grime that clung to their tiny forms as they drank in their victory against all odds.

Something gnawed at Sweetie Belle though, something that she felt the others had overlooked as well. “Uhm, does anypony know the way back to town from here?”

The four of them were frozen for what seemed like an eternity of awkwardness. When no one answered her it became abundantly clear what the answer was. A defeated sigh rose up from them all as they slumped to the ground in a tired dog pile. At least they were out of the cave now.

The sun had begun to set on the tiny village of Ponyville casting shades of red and orange across the town. A small humanoid figure made his way through the streets, ignorant to most anything around him. Cassus was sore, tired and above all else, hungry. After the long day of what felt like endless adventure, all he wanted was a warm shower, a warm meal and a warm bed.

Despite his zombie like state, he was able to recall his mother and father’s indication on where their new home was located. Trudging through the streets he finally came upon the two story house with a tree in the front yard. He could smell his mother’s Pantoran cooking from the street, eliciting a rumble from his stomach. As he pushed open the front door he was greeted with a far stronger whiff of the sweet scents of spices and herbs. He was also greeted with a peculiar sight of a bright pink Earth pony asleep on the couch and a purple Unicorn sifting through a book in one of the unoccupied chairs.

Twilight glanced over the edge of the book in her magical grasp at the sound of the door opening. Upon seeing the disheveled looking child enter she quickly set it down. “Oh my, Cassus, are you alright?”

The boy gave her a weak, but none the less wide, grin. “I’m fine, just did some explore'in that’s all.”

She gave the boy a concerned smile before trotting over to him. “Well, you look like you’ve had quite an adventure.” She giggled, “So, did you make any friends?”

He couldn’t help but beam a bit before giving his answer, “Yeah, I made three friends today.” Cassus stated with no shortage of pride, “I’m really hope’in we can go play again tomorrow.”

Twilight happily gave the boy’s hair a tussle. “Well, I’m sure your parents are eager to hear all about what you’ve been up to today, I know I am.”

“So am I.” A very familiar voice chimed in from behind the young Mandalorian. Chills ran down his spine as he slowly turned around to find a pair of rose eyes staring dangerously into his, “So, short stack, bet you got all kinds’a stories to tell us don’t cha.”

Part of him wanted to flee, another said hide, but his tired body said that neither was a possible option. Instead all he could do is stare back with a wide nervous grin. “Heh, hey Rainbow Dash, how ya do’in?” Cassus could feel his pulse start race he stared down the Pegasus eyeing him like a Strill eyes a new chew toy. This was going to be a long awkward dinner; nothing is ever easy.

Next Chapter: Field Trip Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 38 Minutes
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