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Schooled (Closed: Taco)

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The School of Friendship towered over education in Ponyville, so far above that it seemed like half the students in the local school had applied to enter it. It wasn't hard to imagine that Cheerilee was a little perturbed by that, but who could blame the students? A large, castle-like school taught by the Elements of Harmony and with all manner of exotic creatures as fellow students. But it wasn't likely for anypony to get into. It was a Friendship School of course, not simply another school. You had to be able to learn something friendship based...and not have a backlog of educational requirements. Ponies had to learn their ABCs and their 1-2-3's after all. The School of Friendship didn't teach that. It taught harmony, it taught friendship, it taught the important elements of Equestrian society that couldn't be covered in a normal classroom. So, of course, Valen applied because it sounded fun.

 

He hadn't expected to be accepted by the School of Friendship. He could only guess that his Academy education in Manehattan had made the education available in Ponyville otherwise redundant. He could only really hope that his acceptance didn't signal something awkward about him, but who was he to say otherwise? The School of Friendship was run by the best of the best. He was excited to join it! He tried to get Applejack to loosen her lips and give him the inside scoop on the lesson plan, but she was tight-lipped. It wouldn't be fair to give him an advantage, now would it? Swatted away from that angle, he resigned himself to excited preparation for the new school. As the days counted down and the summer came to an end Valen found his anticipation rising, especially when Miss Rarity's tour wrapped up a week prior to the start of the school year. Schedule free, he packed and readied himself.

 

The day before the school officially opened he, along with other new entrants, was to arrive at the school and get a guided tour and to get their lodgings squared away. Valen could have stayed at Sweet Apple Acres but found the concept of such a boarding school to be rather exciting- spending time among peers and away from your direct guardians was in a small way a preparation for adult life. He arrived at the school with a large saddlebag and a suitcase in front of the school, watching the path to the school as the water danced and rippled around the stones leading to the door. An excellent source of feng shui, no? With a big breath and nervous excitement, Valen approached the door and went to knock on the giant double doors...
 

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Smolder glanced into a nearby mirror for the sixth time. Scales were shiny. Her letter-jacket was crisp and unwrinkled. Horns were nice and pointy. Teeth. Nice and white. Breath? Ugh. Could be better.
 
She pulled out a small packet of mints from her pocket and tossed one in her mouth. Gallus was right. She needed one. Badly. How she HATED when he was right. And he would KNOW she took his advice later on. Maybe if she was lucky, this new kid was actually a dragon eating monster and would quickly gobble her up the second the door was open. Then she would not need to see the 'look' the scruffy griffon would give her when he knew she took his advice. After letting out a sigh, she returned to her mirror.
 
"Welcome to the School Of Friendship!", she spoke into the mirror. This was not her. She sounded stiff and her smile way to fake. Oh, how did she manage to get forced into this? She knew all of the original students had to serve on 'welcoming committee' at least once, and it was now her turn to step up and to welcome a new student into the fold. Normally, there would be a group of students, and a couple of 'greeters', but for some reason, it was just going to be an 'one on one' tour. How odd.
 
"Yo....Welcome to the school...of higher friend-u-cation!" she sneered back. Nope. Not good at all. She knew she was a very cool dragon, but if you try to fake it, you end up being chilly. And chilly is never cool! And now she was getting a little on the worried side. Overthinking things. She would just open the door and welcome the new student.. The dragon pulled out her clipboard. Valen Orange. Was his full name Valencia Orange? Oh, how ponies had such odd names. She remembered this orange from one of Professor Applejack's field-trips. Valencia was an sweet orange that was perfect for juice. Since pony names usually reflected the personality or skills of a pony, this would be a sweet sort of fella. Her eyes fell back onto her notes. He was kind of young. Did not even have one of those butt marks, which mean he had to be really young. The last time they let a lil' kid wander around the school, she nearly got rid of magic throughout Equestria.  He was also from the 'Manehattan Academy for Foals, Colts, and Fillies'. This was a well respected private school. One thing bothered her. They sent babies to school? What sort of classes did they take? How to properly say 'Goo-goo'? The art and science of the pacifier? Annoying your siblings. Oh, how Smolder would have aced that class!
 
After a knock could be heard, Smolder quickly scurried over and slowly opened the door. There was a little pony behind the door with an orange, yellowish type coat and an well kept, teal mane. This was the part Smolder needed to be careful. Since dragons were still very new to pony society, they could be seen as rather intimidating to your regular Joe-Pony. She needed to look friendly. Smile, but not show off the fangs. Speak with a direct tone, but try not to sound menacing. And also watch out with the sneezes. One does not want to be welcomed with third-degree burns.
 
"Welcome to the 'School Of Friendship'" That sounded friendly enough. "I'm Smolder. I'll be your guide for this little tour." Yep. Smile. Good. Not too deep. You're welcoming, not eating him! "If you follow me, I'll show you around the place.." She kept the door open to allow the pony to enter.
 
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Valen had been very excited to see who would the one to give him the tour. He had enough relation with important members of the faculty to have some inside information not on the courses, but on the students. Made sense since it was a friendship school that your primary concerns were that of your fellow students, since the real education lay with the bonds you made with them. Sandbar sounded like a very relaxed colt, a local one that Valen had seen once or twice around town. Silverstream was a hippogriff who had a bubbly and excitable sensibility about her that was infectious and brought a great amount of joy to those around her. Gallus, the griffon, seemed to pack a prickly personality that simply hid the softness and care inside.

 

Ocellus was a changeling who was changeling perceptions- see, Valen had an amazing sense of humor- one creature at a time. Yona the Yak was a bright spot in everycreature's day who might smash a lot but helped build something great. And that left just one creature and as luck would have it, that was the creature that opened the door and invited him in. Smolder the dragon. Just a few years ago this would have been a terrifying sight. Dragons had a long and storied history of terrifying ponies. Luckily, recent events had helped shift the perception a little bit and Valen had been lucky enough to deal with Spike more than a few times. There was little a dragon could do, as long as it was being sociable and talking. And Smolder was a sociable dragon, known for being a bit coarse and direct but tere was a reason she had a great group of friends.

 

"Hello Smolder, I'm Valen Orange. A pleasure to meet you," he said with a bow that naturally became a curtsy, his experience showing. "Cousin Applejack spoke very highly of you when I decided to apply for this school. I have never spent long along dragons, and I look forward to learning more about you and your kind," he said pleasantly, not having to lie even as he spoke in a practiced manner. It never hurt to be kind and polite, especially to those you did not yet know. The frivolity of personal relationships were always built upon a solid foundation, and he looked forward to building one with her. He trotted deeper into the school, his eyes soaking in the sights and sounds. 

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Ho-Boy. This was one of Applejack’s cousins. Which considering where she was, the young dragon just needed to be next to say ten random ponies, and there was a really good chance at least two of them would be related to the farmer. She also needed to be careful how she acted and what she said in front of this squirt. If she wasn’t the most gracious of hosts, everything she said and did would go right to the cow-pony and then the rest of the professors. Smolder would need to dial back the sass for this one.  He also really wanted to know more about her and her ‘kind’. For some reason, she didn’t like how that sounded.
 
“Well, most ponies haven’t either.”, she gave the pony a wink in response to the colt’s remark on not spending time with dragons before. “Let’s get inside.” There were just too many waterfalls and fountains outside! Ponies loved them! And while she found the sound of falling water to be somewhat relaxing, for the most part, it just made her need to use the little fledgling’s room.
 
Smolder lead the young pony into a long hallway with high ceilings. Whoever built the school spared no expenses as there was beauty everywhere. From the marble floors and pillars, to the impressive busts of famous ponies from Equestrian history. Her eyes quickly fell upon her notebook. She welcomed to the student-to-be into the school. Let him into lobby. Going to skip the welcoming joke. Might offend. Oh. Questions!
 
"One thing I get to ask..", she quickly stashed her notepad back into one of her pockets, "What made you want to attend this school, over say, the private schools you have over in Manehattan?"
 
 
 
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Valen allowed his nervousness, present even in the company of such a quality guide, to settle deep below content and competent surface as he took in the beautiful environment around him. The waterfalls and manufactured pool at the front were pleasing and added serenity to the location that may have otherwise been lost to the hustle and bustle of the village not far away. The structure itself was classically beautiful but shone with all the warmth radiating off of it that was found very rarely in buildings- a testament to the wondrous, inspiring nature of those who taught and studied here. Valen looked at it but was more focused on the cause for it- his guide, and those like her. He was here to learn from them as much as his professors.

 

"My academic education has come along quite well, but there comes a time where everycreature searches for something more. You can learn a lot from books on general subjects and the Academy's academic qualities are without question. But...well, we all miss something of ourselves if we spend our time snout in books and eyes down, do we not?" Valen said before laughing. "Besides, I am located here in Ponyville. The school here is fine, don't get me wrong- but I wasn't learning much there anyway that the Academy hadn't already taught me," he said while giving her a sheepish smile. He wasn't a genius or even that talented a student. He just had a dogged work ethic. That was often times of most use.

 

"This is a beautiful school, Miss Smolder. To be here for recent events and to experience it all firstclaw, must have been in some way exhilarating. I've been the center of attention before but never the center of an event, that much is certain...but you are likely bored of such probes at this point, so onto other subjects. What are the courses like? Does the School offer any after-school activities or programs? What's the food like?" He asked, pulling a small notebook out of his saddlebag and a pencil in his mouth. He wasn't exceptionally studious but he did like to have the preparation for the future, and who better to help?

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Smolder glanced away from her notebook to enjoy the beauty of an mostly empty lobby. Normally the area would be crowded with students and staff during school hours, but with class out of session, things were rather calm. An occasional student could be seen darting towards the exit. A young filly carefully sketched an image of a rather unique bust of Starswill the Bearded that stood near the entrance. And one of her fellow 'original class' students lead a rather hyper blue coated filly further down the hallway. After the craziness of the last few months, it was nice to have some peace, but knowing how things went, Smolder knew events would start to get 'interesting' again.
 
While dragons lacked organized education, most learned the most basics from a parent before being punted from the nest. This was more of an necessity than an gateway to further education. Dragons should at least be smart enough so they wouldn't be taken advantage of by the other creatures out there. Some ventured out to better themselves, but most preferred the solitude, going out only when the call to join the migration was called. "Completely understandable." Since moving to Ponyville, Smolder gained an appreciation for non-dragon things. From the assortment of fine Equestrian teas, Sudoku and even what mascara looks best on orange scales. She was brave enough to experience such things, but not enough to share her unique hobbies with her friends. At least not yet.
 
"The food is good...I've learned to enjoy some unique little meals that normally I would have never tried in the dragon-lands." Cherry tarts with clotted cream. Lemon bars. Mmm. "There are a few after school after-school activities or programs...Some are extensions of popular classes...As if you like say....building a particular thing, here's a special class to learn more...Some of the older students like myself for example gain extra credit by teaching the first year students...Some simply tutor those who need a little extra help, but I do an defensive flying class of sorts. We also have game night, which we're supposed to be doing...I think tomorrow...And if there's something you enjoy personally and believe others might like it as well.", she lead the young pony to an large bulletin board covered in an assortment of advertisements. "Pin it up here.". There were papers asking everything from models to try out 'exciting new masterpieces of fashion' to a card game that took place every Saturday night. There was something for every creature.
 
Once Valen got a good look at the board, they moved on. "As for the classes, don't think you'll just be sitting around all day holding hooves and singing pretty little friendship songs...Nope..The teachers here usually will teach something useful like for example, Miss Applejack might teach you how to fix a fence or show you how to maintain an apple tree, but she'll then slip in an lesson about honestly....Or Miss Fluttershy, who you will absolutely really like, will bring in something adorable and just by watching say a pack of puppies playing together, you'll learn kindness..Ugh.", she groaned, "It's hard to explain, but they do a good job integrating lessons with real life...And it's just not some pony droning on while pointing to an chalkboard." Well, it was when they first opened the school. Principal Twilight had been so obsessed with gaining an special school certification, she followed a strict set of learning rules that were probably outdated when Princess Celestia was a foal. Once this idea was scrapped, the teachers were free to have a little fun with their students.
 
As the pair moved on, a crashing sound came from one of the rooms. "Oh oh.", the dragon groaned, "Let's take a trip to the library....I wonder what that sound came from....."
 
 
 
Spoiler

OOC: They did a few animated FIM shorts earlier this year and it was established that Fluttershy is by far the most beloved teacher in the school.

 

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Valen perused the wallboard full of advertisements. Much of it was decidedly unappealing to him currently, though time may change such negative perceptions. What did catch his eye was the flier advertising fashion. Not that long ago he would have noted it and then come back when nopony was looking, being secretive about his nascent obsession with the fashion industry. Such elements no longer found purchase in his soul: He was now more than a little open about. "Ooh, that looks fun," he said and took the flier, his voice peppy and full of excitement. He examined it. Somepony needed to learn how to cross-stitch, though that could have just been the advertisement playing tricks on him. "This should be exciting. To be honest, I half expected school uniforms. I think you'd go well with Sky Blue. Alas, no uniforms," he said with a laugh, more than comfortable in his own pelt. Or so he thought.
 

Smolder did a good enough job explaining how the classes functioned, even if she didn't give herself enough credit. He knew well enough what to expect from cousin Applejack and her class and had some experience dealing with most of her friends, doubly so with Miss Rarity and her fashion empire. He was dreading Rainbow's class. It sounded like it would, with few elements to oppose her, involve a lot of physical activity. He didn't mind physical activity, as long as it was on a runway. "Ahh, so very personalized. How nice! Makes me rather excited for Miss Rarity's class. I hope she goes through the history of Roaman dress. Such passion!" The colt responded, enticed by the possibility that each class offered. He had heard Applejack mumble once or twice about Fluttershy being the favorite teacher and how unfair it was, though she'd never say so out loud. 
 

There was a sound, a crash, from what he could only assume was the library. Smolder seemed apprehensive. Made sense considering what she had been through, though Valen was less so. They were in the school itself. What could go wrong? "Ahh, well then. Might as well go to the library either way, and maybe somecreature needs help."

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“Huh?”, the dragon was curious to see what the young pony considered fun. Was it gorge surfing classes? Or maybe buckball? Those both were fun. But it wasn't sports Valen was interested in, but fashion! "I learned how to cross-stich last year. And even how to do Prench knots and  three-quarter stitch for detail...It's probably a little easier for me considering I got these.", she waved her claws about. Unicorns could easily manipulate material and needles with their telekinesis magic and Smolder watched as an Pegasus pony was able to use the tips of their wings to make a shirt. Earth ponies had their teeth to work with. Ouch. She also agreed with the stallion. Uniforms would have been nice.  Maybe not blue. She preferred the traditional black uniforms she had seen up in Canterlot. Nice skirt to enhance her already awesome hips. Dark jacket. And maybe a little color in an bow that would match her fin. And Valen was interested in Roaman wear? Wasn't that mostly togas? There would be a chance to wear one of those when in collage. Smolder could not wait till she was old enough for that! The sports were better, and the parties were longer and far more involved. As for clothes? She rather preferred Prench rural clothing. Easy, breezy and utterly gorgeous.
 
"Yeah, I have a feeling half of us would get 'em drenched trying to cross the little path to the school." Smolder usually took the flyer's entrance located over the front doors, but sometimes she would use the regular doors when she was with an non-flyer. And that path could be a pain especially when it rained.
 
The crash really bothered her. But could she say anything? Would Valen make a run for the hills if she told him the truth? That the "Tree Of Harmony' while killed by Sombra was not actually really dead and was now a tree house? And it also projected illusions, usually that of Headmare Twilight? "Er, we had a problem with rabbits....raccoons....Rabbits and raccoons..Sneaking in the library and making a mess of things." If one of the grates had opened up, she would simply fix it. Unless the tree had something to say. Maybe she was going to welcome Valen? How would he react to such a thing? Hopefully it would not involve another test. The dragon still had dreams about those creepy mares and their tea kind of sucked. Herbal always tasted too much like medicine for her.
 
It only took a moment before the pair were at the library's door. The dragon tried her VERY best not to look nervous, but something obviously was bothering her. "Just going to poke my head in the doorway..."
 
 
Spoiler


They'd look good un uniforms!
 
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Valen's eyes lit up like a foal's at Hearthswarming Eve. "A fan of fashion? Fantastic! I was helping Miss Rarity with some of her collections. One of the important things to consider when you are thinking about what would look best on anycreature is proper color coordination! Black looks great on anycreature which means it really looks good on nocreature, since you can just blend in. Your scales would compliment a nice sky blue. A skirt to compliment your figure, a nice top, perhaps a tie or bow- hmm, I'd have to think more on it, but it could be rather fetching," Vale replied excitedly. He loved discussing fashion, namely because he so rarely got to do so outside of Rarity. Smolder was easy to talk to and knowing that she didn't stare blankly at the thought of fashion terminology. "I should get you into the Boutique at some point."
 

He followed Smolder deeper into the school and into the library. She seemed pensive about something bit he kept his tongue tied and deep, unwilling to comment so quickly. He didn't really know her and she was here acting as a guide, so no real good way to break through whatever barrier she was putting up. He knew a lot about barriers, about facades. He wore one himself most of the time anyway, though he had a sneaking suspicion her facade had less to do with personal desire and more to do with a larger secret. Her confident demeanour appeared more guarded as they entered the library, meaning there was cause for him to be alarmed. Maybe, anyway. He wasn't concerned. He once was nearly eaten by a giant worm while gem hunting with Miss Rarity. What could this do worse? "Quite an extensive library. I'm sure your study sessions must be intense," he said with a smile as he looked around for anything unusual. Or sound making.
 

Or as fate would have it, an unusual light from around the corner, near the back.

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Yikes! That was a bit too loud! The dragon glanced around the hallway. Thankfully, the few that were hanging around did not seem to hear the pony's declaration, or they simply did not care. Yes, Smolder was a fashion enthusiast, but still had to keep up appearances of being an tough dragon. Of course this was one of the school's worst secrets. The shared dream her friends  recently had, did not help either. Still, it could have been worse, as that was her tamest of recent dreams. And one that did not involve Gallus! At least she was free to show her love of teas. Black. Green. Oolong. And whatever the heck they make over at Sugarcube Corner. Almost tasted like cotton candy crossed with those pop rocks. Nothing weak about enjoying a nice cup of tea!
 
"Thankfully we have students of all shapes and colors, so Miss Rarity will point out some creature and ask to design clothing that would be suitable for said student. Taking in account their body, coloring, and even if they walk on four legs...Or can switch to two...Or just walk on two like myself. If you like a challenge, I'm sure figuring out an circle ruffle dress for a Yak would be enough for anyone..."
 
After a quick look, the dragon deemed the library to be safe.
 
"Not sure intense is the right word." While the pair were the only creatures in the large room, Smolder still felt the need to whisper, "There's usually a good place to read or study when there's too much going on in the dorm.." If the colt took a moment to watch his host's eyes, he would see she was checking out what appeared to be floor grates. "Er, they also normally have a librarian who is super helpful at er, library stuff. Oh..." Something caught her eye. "Could you wait here..I think I see something..", she quickly made her way towards the light...
 
Spoiler


OOC: I had to rewatch one of the shorts..The 'Mystery Voice' short, which is on YouTube. There's a bit where Rarity announces they would be making holiday dolls. And Smolder is -very- happy to hear this. Her mouth drops open in excitement and everything. While the other students are just happy. So I guess it's safe to assume Smolder like to sew.

 

 

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Everycreature had a dance they moved to untoward and unknown to others, secrets and desires percolating beneath the vain sheen they projected above. You could always tell when the surface threatened to crack and reveal what lay beneath because there was a nervous bead of sweat, a look around, a nervous shaking off of all other things. Valen was acutely aware that he was not immune to this. How rich was his lie when it involved Gilded Lilly? Enough that for months in the summer he lost track of whether Valen Orange was the vain sheen or whether the Prench filly supermodel was the facade. He gave a warm and knowing smile as he looked away, allowing SMolder time to recompose herself in the fortress of the mind without allowing weakness to be seen. 
 

She did mention something that allowed his mind to work on a problem while she went to investigate the light, something he wanted to do but- well, he got cold hooves. At least for a moment. Something about it spoke to him naturally and unnaturally, an odd warmth that seemed to cool his mind and force his blood to slow. Time seemed to crunch by slowly, so he allowed himself a moment of weakness. She went to investigate and he nodded, walking on over to the corner of a near bookshelf and sitting down deep in thought, the light casting besides him but not on him as he allowed the older, stronger, and more experienced Smolder to take care of whatever...light big had gotten in there. Yes, that was it.
 

"A circle ruffle for a Yak? Hmmm...well, the only real design issue would be the hump and barrel, as well as their lower-slung body. That is more an issue of mass than anything else. A circular ruffle can work if the bottom is less ruffled and therefore easy to trip on than the top. I'd start the ruffles at the base of the hump and move from there, even using the hump as a spot for decorations. Ponies often use the base of the tail as a location indicator for their own flair, so I think a Yak hump could serve a similar purpose. I wonder..." he spoke to nopony in particular, allowing time to pass. But then there was no Smolder and he felt suddenly very alone, very naked. 

 

"Smolder?" He asked to no response.
"...Smolder?" He asked hesitantly, worry leaking from every syllable. 
Valen got up and took a big gulp before trotting towards the light and whatever was happening there.

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Smolder smiled to herself as she walked along the pony. She was rather surprised how much she liked this Valen. She originally had felt some ‘weird nerd’ vibes coming from him when they first met. And that might be slightly true as he was a bit of a nerd, but weird he was not. Just a talented little earth pony with big dreams.  And she would soon have a fellow ‘knit-wit’* at her school.
 
“Yeah. We recently learned our resident Yak really could have done without an low hanging skirt as their kind tend to be a bit...er...” Nice word. Nice word. Think of one. “Ungainly.." 'Word A Day' Calendar for the win! Spike's Hearth Warming gift actually wasn't so horrible after all. Hopefully she'll be able to use today's word, which was tergiversation. "And our school auditorium suffered for it."
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Silence and darkness.
 
It sure was much colder than it was just a moment ago.
 
The young earth pony was also now outside and very alone.
 
An very old statue of Nightmare Night stood in the background.
 
A word could be heard in the background as if the statue was speaking in a hushed tone.
 
It spoke
 
'Peaches'. Peaches is here.'
 
With the exception of ponies with an birch-pollen allergy, this word would not be considered very 'scary', well, maybe to a certain orange coated colt, it was absolutely horrifying!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Spoiler

 

OOC: I spent like a half hour trying to find cute little terms people who sew give each other..No luck. So I just made one up. Unless Valen gets murdered by the ghost of the tree, he will be part of Smolder’s ‘Knit-Wit’ club. Which currently has a membership of one.
 
The very happy face Smolder makes during one of the FIM shorts..She makes this after it’s announced they would be making little dolls of themselves. She is the only one who does this.
 
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Valen found Smolder's company delightful. Indeed, the last creature he had met that seemed to mesh so well with him was when he first met Miss Rarity. Not that he hadn't gotten along with others or made some fast friends but it was rare to hit it off so well. "Yaks have a very thick body, shaggy fur- very difficult to work with, I'd imagine. But the horns, the horns would be fun to beautify I bet. There is a lot you can do with them! Of course, I bet you know all about that," he said with a  laugh as he looked around, not looking back at his guide for a bit.

 

When he did so, however, she was gone. And when he turned again, he was alone. The cold wind blew lazily across a world of tranquillity and darkness. Where was he now? A moment ago he was in the school's library with a dragon. Now he was alone and in the woods. Cold, dark- the moon seemed dimmer than it had any reason being. No clouds in the sky but there was so little light. He turned around in place a few times, worry evident in his furrowed brows. "Hello? Smolder, where are you?" He asked pensively. After a deep breath he whispered to himself, "where am I?"

 

The wind seemed to carry barest whispers. His ears perked up to hear what they said but at first he couldn't pick it up. It took a second for the words to really relate to him, but when they did he felt his blood run cold. Peaches? Peaches was the name of that horrid Changeling that took the form of cousin Applejack and fed off of his love for her. He had spent many a night in fear of that fallen creature. To have your own emotions used against you and the memories you held dear in your soul being manipulated to fit the feeding agenda of such a predator shook any honest Equestrian to his or her core.

 

He turned around in place rapidly before finding the source of the whispers, the statue of Nightmare Moon. With trembling hooves he approached, trying to put on a  brave face but mostly failing. "Where a-are you, Peaches? No- this is some sort of- you can't be real! Not here. Its been years. The Changelings have- why me, right? It can't be...where are you?" He asked in rising panic. Logically this couldn't be happening, right? But maybe it was. Maybe he had stepped somewhere, or Smolder was secretly a Changeling or...no...but maybe? It all felt real. Too real.

 

Was it real?

He whimpered, just as much from the possibility of that cruel Changeling being around as the mental confusion he wallowed in. What was happening?!

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Then what one would consider a terrifying growl could be heard. A growl that actually sounded like somepony was clearing out her throat. This was followed by a rather familiar voice.
 
“Ah said peaches ahr here! So ope-yn uhp that bag eend let me put thayse cans in!”, Valen knew that pony! It was Applejack! Although, he couldn’t help but notice her accent was a little on the thick side. She probably had a cold.
 
“Why didn’t you just say you found more of those cans Rainbow Dash dropped....Applejack....I swear...”, the other voice was from another pony the colt knew very well. It was Rarity. “This should be the last of the....Erm...”, there was a slight hint of fear in the mare’s voice, “Did you hear something?"
 
The unicorn poked her head out from the large statue of Nightmare Moon. “I believe that is your cousin Valen...”
 
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Sure enough, it was Rarity, who was dressed to impress as an rather simplified, but glorified mer-pony. A rather heavy looking bag floated behind her. It appeared she and Applejack were collecting food for a drive. A Nightmare Night food drive.
 
Applejack followed after the fashion mare. “Poor little fella looks like he  bee-yn dragged through a hedge backwards.”
 
The farmer wore an lion costume.
 
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“Goodness, Valen..” a rather comfortable looking scarf floated from her bag and wrapped itself around the trembling colt. “My cashmere & silk wrap will warm you up....You look like you've seen a ghost.."
 
Applejack could not help but chuckle at this statement. "Well, it is Nightmare Naahyt.  So 'es goin' ta see-yn his share awf ghosts.."
 
The unicorn rolled her eyes up, "You know what I mean....er...", she finally took a good look at the little pony, "Valen....", she let out a loud gasp. ""Of all the worst things that could happen, this is the! Worst! Possible! Thing!"
 
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Spoiler

 

 

 

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The roar at first sent Valen stuttering back hoof over hoof into the statue in fear before the more rational side took over and made him pay attention to the actual voice. The voice behind teh roar. Confirmed not a moment later, it was his cousin, Applejack. Of course that didn't help entirely too much at first. Peaches had taken her form during the early part of the attack, and even Applejack's accent seemed...off. Heavier, thicker, like an actress almost. But the other voice came in clear as white wine and it was far more soothing. While all of the town's leading citizens had been replaced during that attack, Valen doubted that both the Changeling that took Applejack's form and the other one who took Rarity's were planning to meet up at this time, in this town, in their old forms, having such unusually simple banter.


By the time Rarity's head poked around to give Valen a look, he had calmed down. Mostly. There was still the question of where he was and how he got there, but if he had suddenly fallen asleep due to some magical accident or something else alike, there was nothing he could do in this state to stop it. The two sauntered up to Valen and their presence helped soothe him, almost unnaturally so. Rarity's calm demeanor and kindness certainly played its role while Applejack's warmth and heart bled out of her, even if something about her accent still seemed odd. The scarf swiftly found a home around his neck and he breathed deep, his nerves calmed. Indeed, he was even forgetting his worry about how he got there. It was easy to forget about your worries when caught between the rocks of Rarity and Applejack. "Thank You, Miss Rarity. Truth be told I've been a little concerned on account-" he began easily before something happened.


Rarity happened, to be exact. She gasped as she looked at him and implied something was DRAMATICALLY wrong. His nerves, so briefly set calmly down, blazed anew in the fires of Rarity's emphatic declaration. He moved in place with quick, terrified steps as he looked around himself, on himself, and soon backed up against the statue again with a panicked thunk, staring at both mares to and fro with hardly concealed panic. "What's wrong?! Applejack, Rarity, what's wrong?!"

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“Ah 'ave no idea.”, the cow-mare shrugged her shoulders as the pair watched the unicorn finish off her slight panic attack. “Awf course this is Rarity wer talk’n about.” To say Rarity was over-dramatic would be the understatement of the century! The farmer paused to blow her nose into an apple-adorned handkerchief.  Something in her costume was messing with her sinuses!
 
Once the unicorn was ready to communicate beyond gasps, she cleared her throat, “Valen...Your cousin...He is...”Sans vêtement....à poil...”, she wheezed in Prench.
 
This did not impress the red nosed mare, “What now? Rarity, please use words the rest of use can understand.” Applejack could never stand for her old friend when she stated talking ‘fancy’.
 
“Fine.”, the fashion horse sighed, “Valen is not wearing a costume. On a night we all get to wear costumes. This I cannot allow..”, she decreed.
 
The farmer glanced back at her cousin, “Well, now that ya mention it, ah jus' thought Valen was goin' as a nudist.”
 
It was now time for Rarity to roll her eyes up, “Seriously? There is only one thing we must do....And that’s to get to the Boutique before it's too late...Come...Quickly!"
 
Would they make it in time? Would there be a costume there that would be just right for Valen? Or was he doomed to celebrate the beloved holiday, Unshucked?

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Of course he wasn't in a costume. It wasn't Nightmare Night...was it? The longer he was in whatever fever dream this was, the larger the distance between fact and fiction grew and the head spoke strange realities into being, the less and less certain he was of how he had gotten here. There was a nagging sense of wrongness to everything. A strange filter through which everything inside felt off yet nothing else existed. Reason and illusion switched importance and seating as moments drifted away, and all that remained was the immediate concern. In this case, Rarity seemed a little more than concerned about the fact he was not dressed for the occasion, though whether or not him being nude was a worthy addition to the horror was up for debate. Cousin Applejack, who was clearly suffering a cold,  seemed to play along. Valen chuckled, shaking his head. "I guess I was unprepared this year."
 

He guessed so, because this was Nightmare Night and he didn't know why he didn't have a costume already. Rarity suggested they go to her boutiue and Valen found nothing disagreeable about the notion. "You lead the way, Miss Rarity," Valen replied politely as he trotted alongside them. They soon found themselves in the heart of Ponyville, the quaint town that had stopped being quiet years ago and was the center of so much public and private concerns as to boggle the mind. Something seemed weird, though, that foggy grey filter on his mind peeking through again as he noticed they seemed to be the only creatures in town. He could swear he heard noises elsewhere but wherever he looked he found little more than empty streets and a certain element of close-in darkness that threatened to steal the light. In time they approached the Boutique. "Ponyville seems strangely empty tonight...no matter. Can't wait to see what you have thought up before, Miss Rarity!" he said as the trip entered the building.

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“A’-Choo!”, Applejack somehow managed to sneeze with a cow-pony accent. It appeared the closer her lion’s mane got to her nose, the more she sneezed.  Even in her current condition, she still managed to keep up with Rarity and Valen Orange as they quickly made their way to the Carousel Boutique.
 
“I really hope that costume is not a rental, darling.”, Rarity groaned. Thankfully her shop was moments away.
 
The farmer shook her head, “Nah, ah done found these Nightmare Night duds in thuh attic."
 
"Well, that's what you get for not letting me design you a costume this year. I had so many ideas for you to show off your beauty and your ruggedness.", the unicorn sighed as they arrived at the entrance.
 
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Rarity lead the pair into her shop. After flipping on the light, the fashionista pointed out three costumes. "I apologize for the lack of variety, Valen, but I have only three costumes that will work on you..."
 
The young earth pony could see only three sets of Nightmare Night costumes..
 
"Let's see...Red and black checkered long sleeve shirt with functional front buttons...Length-adjustable black elastic suspenders with silver-tone metal clips...Black acrylic knit stocking cap...Goofy beard optional...This is my hardy lumberjack costume."
 
She walked by the second, "Pale blue velvet tunic....Satin cuffs and collar....Supplex tights and shoes...For the agile danseur..."
 
"And finally.."
 
There was the last costume. This was rather simple.
 
"And a ninja costume. A mixture of strength and dexterity.....Mostly just black bodysuit and an mask....And rubber sword.". She waited for the pony to pick his costume..."While we normally wear costumes that reflect what we wouldn't mind being, I wonder if you could choose one that best reflects you....An fantasy reflection of an honest self-image.."
 
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Ahhh, so that explained it. Old costume, allergens piled up. It figured that Applejack would hunt for a costume from her past rather than try something new. While she was not some manner of old foggy, she was a fan of the comfortable and familiar. Rarity was not. She was an admirer of the new and glamorous, a trailblazer when it came to pushing creative boundaries. It was fitting that on a night given to extremes that Applejack's penchant for the comfortable would hurt her. Valen gave her a pitying gaze. "Will you be alright, cousin Applejack? I'd hate for you to be uncomfortable tonight. Is there anything I can do?" He asked, only now vaguely concerned about the strangeness of it all. As Rarity spoke about the costumes, any realization of what was actually happening around him vanished.
 

The first getup was a lumberjack costume. It wasn't quite Valen's ideal costume. Flanel checkerboard patterns were not something he would give himself to normally, and the rest of the ensemble didn't leave much of an impact on him. The knit cap was nice, but the aggressive color pattern and laid-back nature of the design didn't really have great appeal. Plus, truth be told, Valen always found the 'work outfit' of the lumberjack to be a bit silly. Ponies in such professions had thick coats and controlled weather. Why all the odd layers? He shook his head at the first one.  "Hmm...I'll pass on this one. It is well designed but a bit rugged, and rugged doesn't necessarily speak me. No offense, Applejack," he said with a laugh as he moved to the ninja outfit.

 

It was very cool. He liked ninjas and their mythologies, even if he found the way they were depicted in culture to be a little over the top. It was most simple, was it not? A black bodysuit, a mask, a sword. A black bodysuit was on its own rather enticing. You could do so much with it! The mask was a nice bit of theater, but the sword? A little aggressive for Valen. Most importantly, it would need to be a dagger, or some throwing stars, or something equal to the ninja myth. Something just felt off. The idea of being behind a mask in all black had its appeal but...he'd pass. He trailed his hoof along the bodysuit in thought. "Hmm, this one could be fun...a little aggressive though. The bodysuit is very nice, though. I'll give it a pass."
 

He then walked to the middle one. It was a danseur's outfit, complete with tights and shoes. This one was much better. It looked like it fit his more lithe form and condition a bit better than the others. Pale blue was a nice color on him and he adored the shoes. In Manehattan he had seen many ballets and plays and it had engendered an appreciation in the art for him. Of course if he was being honest with himself, it wasn't the danseur that caught his fashion eye. Ballerinas had such beautiful outfits! The classical look of course drew the most attention, but so many different styles could be seen. Alas, nothing like that here. Still, this was the closest he could get. "This one seems best for me tonight. I even know a little ballet myself," Valen said before doing a mediocre pirouette and ending in a brief arabesque pose, before letting go of it and picking up the clothes.

 

"I can get dressed in just a moment. I wouldn't want to hold up the night's activities!"

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“Well then. You have chosen what suits you. A pony of grace and strength.”
 
The moment Valen picked his costume, it seemed like all of the light had vanished from the universe. Or at least everything that was Rarity’s shop.
 
Now only a rather ghostly looking unicorn stood near the colt in an endless white void.
 
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“While you are not yet ready to face your fears..” the ghostly creature spoke with Rarity’s voice, but was clearly not the fashionista. “I have a feeling once you fully embrace this school and learn from both its teachers and students, you will be more than capable of taking on those fears and even learning more of yourself and what sort of pony you will become. Listen to those voices, but make sure to listen inward as well.”
 
With those final words, the ghostly pony vanished, along with her void. This left the colt back in the library under a pile of books.
 
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“Crap!”, a familiar voice called out. “I can’t believe I’ll be the first creature to fail tour-guide.”, Smolder could be heard a few rows from where Valen now sat. “Guy just vanished.”, she grumbled, “I really hope...Oh.”, she peeked her head through one of the shelves, “Hey there...Did you run into someone you’re fond of, but they were all ghosty?”
 
The dragon quickly noticed something different about the pony. "Or it appears you just took a moment to put on that fancy costume..." Valen was still dressed in his
Nightmare Night 'Danseur' costume. "Guess you want to show me some of your moves..", a smile formed on her face, "So let's see what you got.."
 
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Valen was just getting comfortable with the Danseur's outfit when the unusual nature of the evening propagated itself. Everything that wasn't attached to him seemed to vanish in a void, and he was made keenly aware once more that everything was unusual and that everything he was experiencing was the product of something other than a Nightmare Night charade. His memory came flooding back as a preening, glittery version of Rarity. The implication in that sentence that she wasn't normally glittery and preening was incorrect, but there was a certain ghostliness, a wispiness, behind a veneer of solidity that he struggled to make heads or tails of it. She almost looked crystal, though her words lacked the clarity such a composition would normally give them.

He opened his mouth to launch a vain protest of this absurdity, stricken with fear and confusion, in equal parts pleading with the facade to tell him what he thought he needed to hear if he looked inward, when it all vanished. As quickly as he had left the world of the normal and entered into the strange, so was he ejected from one to the other again. He awoke, came to, or otherwise regained himself under a pile of books in what he assumed was the library, not far from where he had lost himself to the visions that had been given to him. He could hear Smolder as he became aware in greater detail of the world around him. He could only hope it had all been the result of a concussion.

"...What was that all about? Was that- part of the tour? Are you okay? That light...is this common here?" He asked with a half-laugh, not wanting to be part of the school's semi-official bodily injury club if such a thing happened to exist. Such a snide thought vanished as he realized his meeting with...whatever that Rarity was may not have been a restricted experience. Judging by what Smolder was saying, there was something more going on. Finding that telling the truth generally was a superior option when confronted with things you barely understood, he sighed.

"I...yes, I did see a sparkly version of somepony I know. It was very strange. There was a flash and then I was next to a statue. It felt...I felt alone, and then I heard a name that scared me. Well, turned out to be a mistake. It felt like I was someplace else, with Miss Rarity and Cousin Applejack, on Nightmare Night. Miss Rarity was concerned I wasn't in a costume, so we went back to her shop. I had just gotten into a costume when...wait, what am I wearing?" He finally asked, catching what Smolder was saying.

Okay, that was weird.
“This is the costume I put on in that dream...vision. I'm not sure why...” he trailed off while the overly inquisitive, not to mention more aggressively wordy, Smolder asked to see his moves. He stepped back.

“Well...I'll try. I know a little,” he said with a nervous laugh as he began to dance. He would start in adagio but as he felt more comfortable he started to take more allegro movements. He lost himself in at some point, focusing on the dances he had consumed earlier in his youth. He was capably lithe of performing both the role of danseur and ballerina, but also wanted to impress Smolder. In a short time he started to undertake the role of the ballerina since, from the shows he saw, she had the more impressive set dances.

En pointe and finishing a pirouette in the arabesque position, Valen smiled and turned to Smolder. “Enjoy?” He asked before a realization hit him. As he had danced, he had gotten lost in it. And more importantly, he realized now, it hadn't been just because he had been enjoying it. His clothes had been transformed. Replacing the danseur's outfit was now a yellow ballerina outfit complete with a dancer's tutu, one form fitted to him. It was in the modern style, all the better to better show off the interesting lines and positions in the choreography, as well as Valen's physique.

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For what had felt like an eternity, the young dragon had searched the school from top to bottom the moment her 'guest' had simply vanished from where he had stood.  She originally had assumed it had something to do with the sprit of the 'Tree Of Harmony', but things were a little different than before. Could it simply snatch a creature anywhere now? Before, she had to venture down below. There ways always a chance that he being a pony, that his magic had teleported him away. She had seen both Headmare Twilight and the school guidance counselor, Starlight Glimmer teleport before, along with a few others. But that particular magic made a sound. Valen simply vanished. Also he was an earth pony. Not an unicorn. Duh.
 
Smolder had searched all the classrooms, the offices, the bathrooms, and any other room she had access to. She had even considered checking out her new tree-house, but there was no way he could have gotten that far. Thankfully, he simply shuffled into existence. And was also dressed as a ballet dancer.
 
“Erm.”, for once, the dragon was speechless. There was a good deal of history to speak of. And she had forgotten some of it.....Normally when the others of her happy little gang were there, they could fill in the bits she had forgotten about. "Well you see.", she shook her brain about until what she considered useful information fell out. "There were these magic seeds planted...That become a magic tree.....Which created the 'Elements Of Harmony'....These are magical doodads that our Headmare...And Princess..." there were probably a few jobs she missed. "And her friends usually yank out when they face really big evil creatures...But when they're not using them, they had stored them in the tree...The tree also had a spirit which could speak to us and appear in the form of someone we trust, like...", She was really starting to ramble. She almost wished her brother was here to give her a good smacking. Shut up yah nerd!
 
"The spirit did....a test thing..which we did.....all depended on what issues we were having at the time..", she sighed, "But that King Sombra guy kind of killed the tree.." It was an odd feeling. When the tree was blasted into smithereens, it had almost felt like they had lost a real person...Which maybe the spirit was...This was a feeling rather alien to the young dragon as her kind tend to live very long lives and death was uncommon. "But the spirit lived on....And turned into a tree house..." That sounded really weird when spoken out-loud. "I guess the spirit wanted to test you.....And that costume." Considering she had to take off the dress she was given as part of the test. It was somehow created.. Was it magic? Thankfully, later on, the dragon had snuck back down into the tunnels and snatched the dress back up. It was rather gaudy looking, but it felt really good to wear.
 
She really just needed to sit down, which she did, on the floor. There she watched the little unicorn as she danced up a storm. Wow. He was really good! And to make things a bit more interesting, his clothing transformed into something a bit more feminine. Could her dress do the same? She would have to check this out later on. "Wow.", the dragon got up. "That was pretty impressive...." she wasn't an expert of cutie marks, but wouldn't something as impressive as that earn him a mark? This she could not see as his tutu was covering this all up. This was turning into a really weird day. Like seriously. Besides her patented 'victory air dance', she was not an expert on dance. She knew more about certain clothing use for dance than the actual activity itself.
 
A few others had noticed the young pony and had stopped to watch. There was an janitor who Smolder was pretty sure was named 'Scruffy' along with a few other students who had snuck into the library. They all stomped their hooves for the stallion before shuffling away. "I'm pretty sure there's a few dance clubs at the school. But I bet you're probably dance circles around those guys.."
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Valen understood what Smolder was saying, especially when she was referencing the Elements of Harmony. After all, his cousin was the Element of Harmony and his business associate was the Element of Generosity. But it didn't hurt to be made aware that their job titles as heroines of Equestria were being well attributed to the tree. The tree of which he knew comparatively little. He knew of its existence, Applejack had spoken about it plenty. Beyond that? Those he was closest to may have had an interest in the subject but lacked the necessary curiosity and time to investigate it any further. He sometimes wondered just how much more about the world around him he would know if he had sidled up to Princess Twilight more often and allowed himself to soak up the knowledge that dripped off of her.

He had also heard about the tree's destruction. Who hadn't? Ever since it had come to the spotlight it had likely become the most famous tree in history. While its destruction had been lost in the cinematic disaster that was Sombra's attack, he had been more cognizant than most of its importance and thus considered it a tragedy. But Smolder's feelings on the subject were as plain on her face as they were confusing to her internally. To lose something close to you, even if it was 'simply' a tree, was never easy. And this was no simple tree. It wasn't just a symbol of harmony, it was a manifestation of the power that harmony wielded. A manifestation that was special and unique and shared with only a few ponies, judging by what it had done in the past.
 

He wanted to offer her some consolation but his mind was a raceway and the thoughts he had obeyed no law but ceaseless concern over the immediacy. So he had been tricked or cajoled by the tree, or the spirit of it, and not the tree but the treehouse? What was it even trying to get across? He had to add in the fact that as he had danced at Smolder's request, his clothes had changed. Was this still part of whatever odd situation the tree f harmony had thought up? If so it was equally lifelike and uncomfortable. But judging by the crowd, it was unlikely. Looking at her and then them, he did the showpony thing properly by giving a small bow- a curtsy, to keep up with the outfit- and shuffling off stage right, behind some bookshelves.

“Maybe I would, though it isn't as if I've ever applied myself to it. Just a few shows...” he sighed, rubbing his neck in worry. He said with a laugh, looking around as they walked. At least the outfit was very comfortable- almost as if custom designed. He looked at Smolder quizzically. 
“I'm sorry you lost the Tree of Harmony like that. I can't pretend to know what that feels like, but I know what hurt feels like. I can't provide more than a friendly ear, but you seem very strong in heart and health. As for the tree testing me...I'm not sure why it would feel the need to test me, of all ponies. And with you watching me, giving me a tour, being my guide and all. You'd think it'd let you do your job before siccing itself on me.”

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The young dragon was still impressed by Valen's little dance. She knew it wasn't that hard for those who could stand on two legs to break into some moves...But those who were born on four...That took true talent to look good..."I should hook up with one of those dance club things as we dragons are cool and those who know the moves, always rule the school."
 
Back to the tree....
 
“It was so....”, Smolder paused to think of the right word, “Bizarre this feeling we all shared over the loss.” The dragon planted herself back on the ground, “Some of the other students and I tried to come up with something to memorialize the Tree of Harmony...So those who passed nearby would know something of such great importance, even for such a short time was once there....And we all tried to come up with something..", she frowned, "Being a dragon we go big...we go strong and we try to make things that last forever....I tried with a statue...But considering our art classes recently had us make pipe-cleaner spoon ponies....We had not yet made it to stone carving....So you could see where it went.....And we all put our heads together..."  She was pretty sure Gallus' noggin sounded like a coconut. "And we all worked on something and it turned out how you expected....eh...", she shrugged. "But something happened...Something magical, and in a blink of an eye, we had ourselves an 'Treehouse Of Harmony'...I'll have to show you it later.."
 
She really wasn't sure how to answer the next question, but she tried anyways. "Eh..", she shrugged her shoulders. "Guess the tree maybe thought you were special....Wanted to say hello....Heh..", she grinned back at the pony.
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