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The Storm [PM for invite]

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Crystal Towers had not been expecting the sandstorm.

It made sense, really. They were on the border of a desert, and they'd had wind even back in the city. Despite the research she'd done (all four hours of it), it just hadn't occurred to her that sometimes wind and sand might get... really friendly. She was an earth pony, not a pegasus! She didn't spend a lot of time thinking about wind.

Well, this was what she'd signed up for. Her mother had tried to convince her to start her venture out somewhere easier. Somewhere closer to home, like Saddleveil Plains. “At least they get rain there, sweetie,” her mother had said. “But chili peppers are spicier when they're grown in hot, dry places!” Crystal had replied. It seemed like a good rationale at the time.

There had been some ruckus and hurrying when she'd got off the train; perhaps she should have paid attention. She'd just assumed that ponies greeted relatives really enthusiastically here. Occasionally she heard someone shout, “Get inside!” But she had just thought that it was intended for one of the hoof-ful of other train passengers, and that the next garbled phrase she heard over the wind was something like, “Get inside! It's time for pie!”

She had been rather groggy at the time. Perhaps she should have tried to get some sleep on the train ride down.

She'd gotten about quarter a mile out of town, towards her newly-purchased plot of land, when the sandstorm struck.

Fortunately, if growing up mostly indoors had taught her anything, it was how to build forts out of whatever's available. She was currently cowering under three suitcases and an overnight bag, forming a three-sided shelter with a roof. This left one side open, with her purple, chili-pepper-marked flank sticking out the end of it. She rather hoped the wind didn't change directions.

The wind picked up for a moment, and Crystal braced her makeshift shelter. “This is going to ruin my Poni Vuitton luggage,” she grumbled, trying to pretend it was her biggest problem.

The wind slacked, and after a minute or so, Crystal could swear she heard hoofbeats. It was either that or it was her eardrums pounding after all that wind. Not daring to peek out of her safe haven, she called out. “Hello? Is anypony there?

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Today had been rather disappointing for Milky. She hadn't thought that she would have to work so much just to get by. Here in Appleloosa, it was near impossible for her to steal food, so she had to work at the train stations, and she loathed that place. Today she hadn't been paid at all, but she didn't know what to do about it.

She was getting hungry. Of course, she could just get some apples from the orchards outside Appleloosa at night, but she had lived off those for so long, and she couldn't stand the grass that grew around the mountain outskirts. It was so bitter. She longed for the fungi that grew into the home caves. But she couldn't go back there just yet.

Things seemed to look up when she noticed the sandstorm coming up. The citizens of Appleloosa were smart enough to not let stuff lying around in the open during sandstorms, but every day, new ponies arrived here, and most of them had no clue about the desert. This was here chance. She waited and observed the newcomers from the roof of the train station. One of them, a light purple Earth Pony with a red mane, had made her way out of the town towards the desert, completely ignoring the warnings of the Appleloosans.

Milky Quartz followed her with some distance, awaiting the sandstorm. She was used to fly in the wind. To her disappointment, the pony hadn't left her belongings behind and searched for shelter, but rather had build a shelter out of her belongings. She sighed.

The storm had slowed and Milky decided to land to see if she could salvage something out of this huge waste of time. She saw that the pony was still hiding in her little shelter.

Hello? Is anypony there?

"You can come out. The storm passed by." Milky sat down. "Are you alright?"

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"You can come out. The storm passed by." Milky sat down. "Are you alright?"

So someone was there! Crystal sat upright, knocking her head on the roof of her luggage-fort. She scooted out backwards, with rather less dignity than she was hoping.

"Yes, I'm - pleah," she spat out some sand, "I'm fine, thank you for asking."

She shook herself, attempting to rid her mane of some of the sand. The wind had made such a mess of it, though; it was a futile task. "My, I must look ridiculous," she said, pawing at her mane as she talked. She looked at her former shelter. "And, ooh, that'll be the end of that luggage. I just hope the peppers are okay... I suppose this sort of thing happens often, does it?"

She stopped and looked up. A rather... severe looking white pegasus was standing before her. Severe, with interesting taste in headgear, though she supposed that goggles probably came in handy here. And what was that brown thing? A mask, maybe? Whatever it was, it looked like something her mother wouldn't move without a long stick.

She realized she was staring. A mane full of sand and a pounding headache or no, the Towers family were never rude.

"But, oh! I do apologize. Manners, ah. I'm Crystal Towers. What might your name be?"

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"Milky Quartz." she said, before thinking.

Milky took of her mask and lifted her goggles. She shook a bit of sand out of her mane. Then she took a moment to muster the Earth Pony, and her belongings that formed a little pile now that she had crawled out of them. She didn't look like the usual type of Pony that would set out into the desert. Underneath the sand and the stirred up mane, she looked almost neat. Her big eyes radiated an untarnished faith in the good in all ponies, or at least that's what Milky saw. And she looked so lost here, like a bird out of it's nest.

Before fully realizing it, she said: "Ehr.. where are you heading all by yourself? Maybe I can help you with your bags?"

'why did I say that?', she thought.

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"Milky Quartz." she said, before thinking.

Before fully realizing it, she said: "Ehr.. where are you heading all by yourself? Maybe I can help you with your bags?"

"Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Quartz!" She said, nodding her head in deference and offering a hoof. She thought for a moment; where had she heard that name before? "Hmm. Quartz. Quartz.. I could swear I've heard that recently."

She scrunched up her face in thought, running through her recent memories. Had she heard it in town? On the train? She knew she'd heard or read something like it recently. It was famous for something. And this mare did look strangely familiar. Had she seen a picture of her? Think, Crystal, don't embarrass yourself...

A-ha!

"Quartz, of course! Would you happen to be of the Fillydelphia Quartzes? I believe my mother had some dealings with their jewelry business some time ago." She looked thoughtful. "I think I was dragged along to one of their dinners as a young filly." She made a face. Her mother had made her wear a constricting, itchy lace dress, and then she'd had to 'play' with one of their snotty little foals... He'd spent the entire evening taunting Crystal, and then put liquid soap in her hair. Come to think of it, she didn't really like the Quartzes at all... But oh! What if this mare actually was related to them? She'd probably just insulted her by saying she was dragged, and then making such a face. Oh dear.

She looked again at her companion. This mare looked nothing like the fancy ponies she'd met as a filly, now that she thought about it. Besides, weren't the Fillydelphia bunch a unicorn family? The name was probably just a coincidence.

No matter.

"I am supposed to be headed towards... Twenty Needles, I think they called the place. Southeast of here, I believe? It's supposed to be a bit of a dumpy little cabin, but I think that sounds exciting. The gentlecolt I spoke to did at least mention there was a well," she beamed. This was quite exciting, sand or no!

"I'm starting a little farm down there. Trying to, anyway. I brought along some pearl millet seeds, pigeonpea, and of course my chili peppers! I'm looking forward to it; I think the habaneros will get quite spicy here with the heat. Heavens above, I don't know how they grow apples here when it's so arid." She paused. She should probably stop before she went into one of her tangents. She found that most ponies tended to get a little glassy-eyed when she started talking about botany and biodiversity.

Wait, Milky had asked a question, hadn't she? "Oh! Help with bags would be just lovely. I'm afraid all my bits are in the bank, but I could offer you some... 'corned-bread' I think it was. Mother gave it to me before I left; said I should have a little taste of my new home. Mind you, it did come from a bakery in Manehattan, so it's not exactly authentic..." She felt a little awful offering paltry food to this pony who'd offered her a helping hoof, but what was there to do? She didn't want to head back to town and make a withdrawal. She hoped she hadn't just insulted somepony who'd offered to help, after all.

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There was a Quartz family out there? Could this have to do with her mother leaving the rock? Then again, this sounded like something that happened some time ago. And although her mothers name was Quartz, too, that didn't really mean much, considering how the desert pegasi named their foals.

"I don't think they have anything to do with me." Milky said, doubtful. "It's my family's tradition to name foals after crystals." She shook her mane. "See, our manes resemble crystal shards."

She didn't know why she told this pony all this, but it slipped out before she could stop herself. She would have to divert the attention to some other topic, before she spouted out where she came from.

"Oh, yeah I know this place. I'll show you the way." She said, a bit nervous now. She grabbed two of the bags and flung the on her back. It wasn't too bad. She had carried enough of those in the past few month to bear it. "If you would like to treat me to something to eat, that is very welcome."

She decided to take initiative in this conversation, before there came any questions she shouldn't answer. They began to trot in a south-east direction, and Milky said: "So, you want to grow something here? I've never heard of those plants. Are they food?" Milky hoped that would be enough to get her to stop asking about her origins.

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"I don't think they have anything to do with me." Milky said, doubtful. "It's my family's tradition to name foals after crystals." She shook her mane. "See, our manes resemble crystal shards."

"Ah! I can see that. I had wondered about the mane - it's lovely, but unusual. Is it like that naturally, or do you... use product..." her voice faded out. They were out in the middle of nowhere. What were the odds of there being a salon anywhere near here? Besides, she was trying to leave all that frou-frou gunk behind her.

But... it was so fun sometimes, especially when no one was making her do it. Besides, this mare looked like she probably hadn't had a pony-pedi in all her life. Who didn't love a pony-pedi?

"Probably coincidence, then. Still, I get the feeling you look familiar somehow. Ever been in the theater? Or papers?" She thought for a moment. Was she making this mare uncomfortable? She seemed uneasy. "Ah, maybe you just look like someone I know," Crystal shrugged.

Crystal grabbed the remaining two bags, with more effort than she remembered them requiring before. She was so tired and thirsty! And that storm had been so stressful. She tried to suppress a whimper as she felt a muscle pull in her back, but coughed instead.

She felt more than a little pathetic, but she had to save face. "Thank you for showing me about. And you're more than welcome! I only wish I could offer you something of greater value. These bags cost a pretty bit back home, but I have a feeling they're not worth so much now." Crystal trotted alongside her guide as best she could. She was going to have to toughen up. And stop coughing so much in front of someone who actually lives here. 'She's going to think I'm a "city-slicker"!' she thought. 'She probably already does,' said a cruel thought in the back of her head.

But this mare was asking about plants! She knew plants. "They're a sort of grain. Not the best by themselves, but they grow well in hot, dry places, and make good bread. And chili peppers, ha! Those are my specialty," she pointed at her flank. "The ones I grow burn your mouth when you eat them. It's such an exciting sensation! Supposedly, some ponies have grown them so spicy you can't eat them, but I haven't met a pepper yet that I can't eat." She beamed.

A breeze came head on, blowing some sand in her face as it did so. Crystal coughed, and blew some sand out of her nose before she knew what she was doing. Mortified at her lack of decorum, she looked up, "Er, begging your pardon." She sniffled. She sniffed, and sniffed again, more intently. She made a face. There was a scent on the air...

She squinted at the distance. The dust and sand must still be settling - she couldn't see a thing. "Can, uh," she coughed. "Can you smell smoke?" she asked.

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"Probably coincidence, then. Still, I get the feeling you look familiar somehow. Ever been in the theater? Or papers? Ah, maybe you just look like someone I know," Crystal shrugged.

That did peak Milky's interest for a moment. She couldn't tell for sure, of course, but as far as she knew, this type of mane was unique to her family. Maybe there was some kind of ties to her mother out there. She would have to ask about that later.

While the purple pony continued talking about her plants, Milky nodded and tried a smile, which probably was not very convincing. The thought that there might be a lead to her family outside the desert was too tempting. But she didn't want to interrupt.

"Can, uh," she coughed. "Can you smell smoke?" she asked.

"Hmm?" Milky held her head into the wind. "You are right, that does smell like smoke."

'and it comes from the direction of the piece of land she described' thought Milky.

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Maybe it wasn’t smoke, not really. Maybe a nose full of sand just smelled like smoke. Maybe she was imagining things, or maybe… No, Milky smelled it too.

Crystal dropped her bags and galloped towards the scent. She could see a smoke trail, slithering its way up towards the sky. She aimed herself for it, willing her aching muscles forward. She tried to keep from coughing, but the dust still in the air made it difficult. She didn’t know what she’d do when she got there, but she had to know… Had to.

She skidded to a halt, raising a dust cloud around her. Of course.

Of course it was the house. There wasn’t much to burn but the well. Her hindquarters sunk. Then her head sunk. Maybe her mother had been right. Maybe she’d have to go back to Manehattan, with its rain, and nice weather, and firefighters… And stupid snotty ponies who had laughed at her when she said she wanted to start a farm.

She slinked over to the well, her hooves making sad little ‘whuds’ as they kicked up dust. She poked her face in, and sniffed. Water. There was water in there! Maybe she could...

Crack. Something collapsed behind her.

She looked over her shoulder. The cabin wasn’t much more than crumbled embers by now. No saving it.

Crunch.

She stuck her face back in the well. It was nice in there. There were no burning cabins in it. She tried to get a glimpse of the water at the bottom, but it was too dark. She’d left her bags with that other pony, hadn’t she? It didn’t feel like it mattered much at the moment.

She stared into the dark, thinking. Shadowbolts! That was it. Milky looked like someone she’d seen at one of their shows. Maybe she’d been one herself. That would be exciting.

Fwoomph. Something caught fire anew. Yes, the Shadowbolts would be much more exciting than hearing her new cabin burn to the ground. She made the decision to think about that instead.

She looked up, a little dazed, and shouted, “Hey! Were you ever in the Shadowbolts?” She had no idea if the other pony was anywhere nearby.

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The purple pony called Crystal had run off, leaving her belongings back with Milky. She considered that for a moment. Crystal had said that there is food somewhere in the bags now lying around. She could probably just grab it and fly off, and try to trade the other stuff in for some more food.

But then again there was that thing with her family. If this pony could give her a lead to where her mother went, it would be worth the trouble at any rate. Right now, she had no lead at all. She packed another bag on her back, and pushed the other bag with her head. If she's leave them here, someone else would take it probably.

As she came closer to the hut, it was burning high, and Crystal had stuck her head into the well. Milky decided to do something about it. She put the bags on the ground near the well, and flew up, fastening her mask and goggles. If she did it right, she could probably douse the flames with crossing winds. She flew a few rounds, gaining momentum, and then flew close by the fire at high speed, the stream of air around her protecting her from the heat. It was a trick her father had taught her when she'd been a filly.

Unfortunately, she didn't get enough speed to douse the flames, and the effect was reverse, as the flames were shooting higher and higher out of the already gleaming remains of the hut.

The purple pony stuck her head out of the well. Milky had landed by now, and looked rather worried at the remains of the hut.

Hey! Were you ever in the Shadowbolts?

Milky turned. "What is a... Shadowbolt?" she began, puzzled. "Shouldn't you be more worried about your hut now?"

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Crystal watched the pegasus’ attempts to quell the flames. It took some guts to swirl around a burning building like that. Especially with the flames jumping like that.

That probably hadn’t been part of the plan.

She watched the fire, burning with a new vigor, and felt a little dizzy. Was this what shock felt like? She giggled, despite herself.

"What is a... Shadowbolt? Shouldn't you be more worried about your hut now?"

My house…

Crystal wobbled over to where the pegasus had landed. Her knees felt oddly weak. She plopped down on the ground. Undignified, probably, but she wasn’t sure how well she’d be able to stand up.

She looked at the hopeless, burning wreckage before her, feeling fresh waves of heat wash over her. She looked back at Milky.

I’ve… made an executive decision not to think about it.” She felt woozy. She couldn’t tell if it was the heat, or the feeling of her heart trying to jump out of her ribcage. She sighed, waving a hoof at the crumbling embers. “It’s a lost cause anyway. Thank you, though, for trying. Were you burned?

"Still…” She furrowed her brow. “What worries me is what started it. Did somepony do this? Or did the sandstorm, like… Shoot lightning? Can they do that?

She rested her head on her hooves, feeling hopeless. Maybe she would have to go home after all. Home to Manehattan, with its rain, and nice weather, and fire-fighters...

Go home and admit defeat to everyone who’d called her foalish. All those smug looks on their faces…

No.

She sat up, a shaky sort of determination on her face. She’d make this work. She didn’t get all the way out here just to give up.

It’s kinda silly to build a house out of wood in this climate anyway. It gets so dry, all it takes is one spark. Maybe I can make one of those… mud-house thingies. Puuu-e… Pueblos? Is that right? Do ponies do that around here?” She was trying to keep her voice from wavering. It wasn’t working.

She started drawing designs in the dirt with her hoof. She'd figure this out.

She started talking as she drew, her voice a little airy and distant. “Oh, but the Shadowbolts. They’re a sort of flying group.” Whatever she built, it’d need to be durable. Maybe baked clay bricks? “They do tricks, and the like. Kinda like another group…” But did they even have clay around there? Would she have to send for it? That seemed a little extravagant. “The, uh, Wonderbolts. But these guys are more extreme. Death-defying stunts and all that.” Maybe if she built a wooden structure, and built around that with clay. Could she build anything with wood? She didn’t know anything about carpentry.

Crystal looked up. She’d come back to her plans when she had paper. “Anyway, I saw one of their shows back in Manehattan, and there was a pegasus who had a mane just like yours. Well, except it was blue. I thought you might’ve dyed it, or something, but I guess it wasn’t you after all. Maybe a relative?

Crystal got to all fours and shook the dust off of herself. “I guess I should go get my bags and head back to town. Nothing we can do for this mess right now. You’re welcome to some of the water over there; it’s probably the most valuable thing I have to offer right now.

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The purple pony seemed very stressed now. "What? No, don't worry, I did the fire trick countless times."

Crystal had just continued talking, and it took some effort for Milky to follow her words. "Uh, sometimes the dry brushes catch fire all by themselves, mostly when there's some wind."

The pony looked very disheartened now. Milky though about if she should do something. She kind of reminded her of herself when she first left the caves. This place was rough and merciless to everyone and the new arrivals usually left shortly after. She wanted to say something, but before she could, Crystal began talking again.

"I don't really know anything about house building..." Crystal had already changed the subject.

This time, Milky listened even more carefully. What was that about the Shadowbolt? Who were the Wonderbolts? Manehatten? All those questions ran inside here head now. A mare with a mane like hers, but blue? Maybe that was her mother! She would have to ask about it.

To his distraught, the purple pony had gotten up, and trotted to her luggage now.

"W..wait, please. Are you sure the mane was like mine? How can I find those Shadowbolts?" She couldn't let go of this! It was her only lead.

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"W..wait, please. Are you sure the mane was like mine? How can I find those Shadowbolts?"

Crystal stopped walking and looked back at Milky. She sounded... desperate? But the Shadowbolts were becoming famous, and fast! Or infamous, depending on who you asked. They were hard to miss.

Maybe word didn't travel so quickly in the desert.

"I’m fairly certain, yes. It was rather distinctive looking, like yours. You don’t see something like that every day.” She was suddenly very tired, too tired to care very much what was happening to her. But her newfound apathy for her own affairs let her finally focus on this other pony. Had something happened to her? Or her family?

Crystal suddenly wanted everything to be okay for Milky. Everything should be okay for somepony, at least.

I saw them in Manehattan, but they travel, I think. I’m not sure where they’re based, though. You could... visit? Ask around? Tickets are how they make most of their bits - when they go to a town, they tend to be pretty loud about it. They put up posters when they came around, back home.

So tired. She needed to get back to town. She started walking again, hoping the other pony would follow. “Did something happen? Is your family missing somepony? If that’s okay to ask, that is. I think I’m too exhausted to tell whether or not I’m being rude.

The world was swimming in front of her. Yes, she was definitely too tired to do much of anything. She trudged on, trying not to topple over.

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Milky had listened intensely, trying to memorise all the new information. Manehatten, traveling show, Shadowbolts, she must not forget it. She was so surprised by the flood of information that she barely noticed the purple pony's condition. But now that she had finished an began to move, she noticed.

Crystal didn't look so good. She was swaying from one side to the other, as she stumbled back up the path they had taken down here. Milky wasn't sure what was up with her. Maybe it was the heat? She wasn't from here, after all.

"Did you drink at all since you came here?" Milky asked. "Here, let's get you out of the sun. I know a cave nearby."

She picked back up the bags and look back to Crystal. She could barely stand. "Come on, you wont make it to the city in your condition."

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"Did you drink at all since you came here? Here, let's get you out of the sun. I know a cave nearby."

Drink? Oh... Oh, she'd forgotten to do that, hadn't she. That probably wasn't good. This was not turning out to be her day.

"Heh. You'd... you'd think I'd have done that, right? When my head was in the well? 'Mma silly pony. Heh. Heheh." Her mouth felt like sand. It tasted like sand, too. Dizzy.

Sand. It was weird to think about, sand. Just a bunch of tiny, little rocks. Can't even grow anything in sand.

Stupid sand. Dizzy.

She stared at it.

"Come on, you wont make it to the city in your condition."

That sounded serious! She wondered which poor sap Milky was talking to. Whoever it was, they had to be in bad shape. Dizzy dizzy.

She looked around; there was nopony else. Oh. She's talking to me. She stifled a giggle. Poorly. By Celestia, she was dizzy. Why was she so dizzy?

Some scrap of survival instinct was screaming at her to follow this pony who actually knew what she was doing. Crystal supposed she had better listen. She walked over to Milky, and walked into Milky. Wobbling, Crystal managed to stay upright.

"You're a good pony, Milky." She grinned. "Hey! I've never been in a cave before. Are there bats?"

The small part of her brain that had been trying to shout sense into her gave up. She was just delirious now.

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She is getting worse and worse thought Milky, now very worried about the purple pony. She tried her best to keep her on her hooves, but she was wobbling a bit now. She probably wouldn't be able to make it to the caves by hoof. She had to think quick.

Milky made a decision. She sat Crystal on the ground, and said "Stay here for a moment." She looked around. Nearby there stood a single tree, devoid of any leaves. She picked up the bags from the ground and stuck them between the branches. She returned to Crystal. The pony hadn't moved. Milky bit her lip, "I'll have to carry you." she said.

Not waiting for a reaction, Milky grabbed Crystal by the shoulders, and flew up into the sky. The cave was pretty close, but she had to be careful. She was used to carrying baggage while flying, but carrying a whole pony was a different deal. She put all her energy into it, and they made it save and sound into the cave. It was very bare, but Milky had spent some nights in here, and had stashed some blankets and some freshwater on top of a ledge nearby. She wrapped the pony in one of the blankets, and tried to administer some water to her.

"I'll leave you alone for a moment and get your bags." Milky said, worriedly. "Just stay put."

Milky flew out of the cave, back to the tree to retrieve the baggage.

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((Sorry for the long wait! I had my exit review, and then I had to go and get sick. I'm still feeling pretty awful, so this may not be my best...))

Crystal sat down without much fuss. She might have been vaguely aware that the pegasus was trying to help, but in all probability she was just too weak and dazed to do anything else.

Had she been thinking clearly, she might have realized how lucky she was that this pony was a kind one. It would’ve been laughably easy to make off with her stuff and leave her behind.

As it was, she just giggled. She wasn’t sure why.

She watched with a sort of detached interest as Milky did fly off with her bags. She furrowed her brow, feeling like she ought to be concerned or mad or something. “Hey…!” was about all she could manage to say, though. Her stuff! Where was her stuff going? And why was the ground spinning like that? It was all very peculiar.

Then, somehow, she was flying. Had the ground spun so hard it flung her off? That must have been it. Crystal panicked, wiggling her legs in a weak sort of way.

She became aware of a dull pressure around her shoulders and looked up. ‘Oh! It’s Milky! That’s… that’s okay then.’ She stopped her feeble wiggling and just went with it.

“So this… this ‘s flying?” she managed. “Pretty not bad.

Crystal’s eyes widened as they hurtled towards a… thing. Like a black hole. It got bigger, and bigger, and with it her panic rose. What was that thing? Why was it getting so much bigger? ‘Celestia save us…’

But they entered, and it was darker and cooler in there. It dawned on Crystal that this was a cave. She thought that wasn’t so bad. She started shivering. She thought that was probably bad. She wasn’t sure, but shivering when hot seemed counter-intuitive.

Milky gave her water, and Crystal drank as much as she could, but her throat was so raw she had to stop after a few gulps. The blanket was nice. She stopped shivering so much.

Milky took off again, and Crystal panicked. “W-wait…” She croaked after Milky’s retreating form. Her head was clearing enough to realize precisely how precarious her position was. Alone, in a cave, in a desert, dangerously dehydrated, and now lacking her only protector. In a vague attempt to protect herself, she started pushing rocks into a sort of little wall.

For the first time, she started to feel hopelessly out of her depths.

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Milky wanted to hurry. The purple pony had been in a very bad shape, but she would be save where she left her. The cave wasn't very deep, and it was still close enough to the town to keep the more dangerous animals away. And she wouldn't need much time for this.

As she returned to the tree, she instantly knew that she had done the right thing. Under the tree, coyotes were jumping up and down, trying to reach the bags, and some big bird was sitting on the tree, pecking at the locks. They knew there was food in them, and in the desert, that's worth a lot.

It took little effort, though, to scare them off. Ever since the settler ponies had founded Appleloosa, the local wildlife had grown to fear their pie barrages, so they usually stayed away from ponies.

Milky swooped up the bags and made her way to the cave, panting under the added weight of four bags. Her muzzle protector did keep the sand out, but it also made it harder to breath, which she was used to, but she needed all the air she could get when carrying a heavy load like this. She was now floating only a few feet above ground, sweat dripping from her mane.

When Milky finally reached to cave, Crystal seemed vaguely conscious. She had wrapped herself out of the blanket and had started to pile up smaller rocks around her. She looked dirty and even more lost now. Milky took a moment to wrap her back in, and considered the situation. It was still some hours til nightfall, and she would have to get a fire going to keep wild animals away. If she'd been alone, she would have just slept on the ledge where she had stored the blankets and some firewood, but with Crystals tendency to move around, that was clearly to dangerous.

Milky looked back at Crystal, now leaning against one of her bags, eyes half closed. It would take some time for her to recover from the dehydration, Milky thought. She took comfort in being close to her bags it seemed, so Milky flew over to her, and piled them up around her, forming a little corner of baggage, and leaned Crystal against that. She then proceeded to try and get her to drink some more.

She would have to start a fire soon, before the coldness of the night crept into the cave. But for now, getting Crystal to drink was more important.

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Crystal’s second attempt at drinking was more successful. Her shivering stopped, and the ache in her head began to ease. The fog in her head was lifting, revealing precisely how awful she felt.

Exhausted, she put her head between her hooves and sighed. “Thank you, Milky. If you hadn’t been there, I probably would’ve… Not been in good shape.

The sun was starting to inch down on the horizon, promising relief from its relentless rays. But at that moment, the horizon still shimmered and wavered with the heat of the day. That gave her a few hours to recover before they could set out again.

Do you think we could make it back to Appleloosa once the sun goes down? I mean… I’d think it would be okay, but then, I forgot about sandstorms, so…” She trailed off. On reflection, she should’ve asked somepony’s advice before taking this venture in the first place. Enthusiasm and stubborn pride had left her desperate in the desert, relying on another pony’s kindness.

Crystal’s ears flicked. She heard shrill yowling, the like of which she’d never heard before. It was a bit like the dogs she’d hear back in the city, but more piercing somehow. It wasn’t quite as far off as she’d want it to be. Tilting her head, she whispered, “Coyotes?

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Milky felt very relieved that the purple mare showed signs of healing. She had never seen dehydration in a state that severe, having grown up in the desert, learning how to survive the desert from her birth. She had been worried that Crystal would take far longer to recover. Now that the mare was back closer to her old self, Milky finally relaxed a bit, trying to take in the situation. The sun would have set in less then an hour, and the local wildlife would become more active.

"Oh, don't mention it" Milky shifted around uncomfortably "I couldn't just let you out there by yourself."

Crystal began to talk about returning to the town, and Milky gave that some thought. She of course was completely save when traveling at night, but she wasn't so sure the purple mare could handle it. Instead of saying that she diverted to something else.

"It will get really cold soon. If you want to return to Appleloosa, you should wait until the early dawn."

Coyotes?

She seemed unsettled by the thought, and Milky welcomed that. Desert nights were in some ways more dangerous then the days, especially if you have no means to travel quickly.

"We should make a fire to keep animals away." She began. "I stored some wood on a ledge nearby."

Milky looked at the mare smiling happily. "How does that sound to you?"

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(hope I'm not intruding ;))

Telki cursed her luck, she had heard that something big and consrtuction related was being planned in Appleloosa and she had, on a whim (which is not uncommon for her), set off there, hoping to get some well paying work

Now, having endured a sandstorm, Telki was grateful for 2 things; the cloak that she had bought earlier and had telekinetically kept around her that any normal unicorn would have easily lost to the blowing winds of the desert storm and the cave that she had found seemigly by pure luck.

With renewed vigor she sauntered into the cave, unholstering her saddlebag and unfurling her map, but before she could make head or tail of it, the sun had set to the point only a few glimmers were left and while Telki would have liked to go out of the cave to try to read it, the coyotes made her think otherwise.

"Lets see, Daddy's camping book said to make a campfire" Telki recalled, simultaneously lifting a box of matches out of her saddlebag. But then Telki remembered she was in a cave, and in a cave there is very likely to be no wood or anything flamable.

"Well luck does run out eventually. But then again maybe checking wouldnt hurt" she though, venturing slowly deeper in

(OOC: Maybe have Milky bump into her, or her stumble over Crystal?)

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((Sorry y'all, just a placeholder. Finals are this week and I've been crazy busy! I'm going to try to post something today, but for now I'm putting this here to let y'all know I'm not just ignoring my posts.))

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((HA! Finals defeated! Thanks for your patience, y'all! :) ))

"We should make a fire to keep animals away. I stored some wood on a ledge nearby."

"How does that sound to you?"

Crystal nodded. She didn’t know a whole lot about survival in the desert (or anywhere, really), but she found the idea very comforting on some primal level. Fire good!

She stretched and shook her mane, feeling grateful she had regained her coordination. It was beginning to dawn on her how close she’d come to an unfortunate end.

I… You know, I don’t think I’ve ever built a fire before.” Crystal blushed. “I mean, I did so much reading on agriculture. I know I could grow things out here. I grew baskets full of vegetables in a couple of one-hoof deep window boxes and that was with the birds trying to attack them, and my dad throwing them in the garbage once.” She sighed. “I guess I just skipped the chapter on ‘How Not To Die in the Desert’.

Could you show me? How to make a fire, I mean? I –“ She stopped, her ear flicking at a noise. Hoofbeats? Or something else? Something or somepony was there. She looked over at Milky, as if to ask if she’d heard it too.

Crystal poked her nose in one of her bags, bringing out a little spray bottle. It had a hoof-drawn jalapeno on the label, and an unsettling green liquid inside. Nothing else was getting the jump on her today! She had her teeth on the trigger and she was ready.

She stood, head down and front hooves apart in what she thought was a battle-ready pose, and glared into the rapidly-falling dark.

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In Appleloosa, a pink unicorn foal shouted nervously, "Are you sure!?"

"Of course I'm sure! Just cut the rope!" Arrow Plain shouted back at her friend. She had to shout. She wasn't just getting impatient, she was also trying to talk over the wind that suddenly had picked up. But Arrow wasn't going to let a little wind be an obstacle in this situation. She wanted to get it done.

"But they rang the sandstorm bell at the bell tower! This is gonna be a bad sand storm! What if you get stranded out there all by yourself!?"

Why did everything have to be so difficult for her. All she wanted to so was propel herself into the air and finally take to the skies like anypony should be able to do. She didn't want her nervous friends, a little bad weather, or even the fact that she wasn't even a pegasus pony to keep her from trying her daring stunts. To her they weren't even that big of stunts. It was her dream to learn how to fly--was that so bad?

She had done stuff like this before. They had all ended in failure. And for every failure, she suffered a broken bone it seems. And from Arrow's point of view, she was still 50 leg splints and 25 neck braces from being convinced that she should stop trying to do things that are this dangerous.

Arrow looked back at the pink foal, who was awkwardly holding with her mouth a sharp knife she stole from her parents' kitchen over the high tensioned rope that pulled back the bungee Arrow was wrapped in. Essentially, it was a giant pony sling shot. Arrow was proud of the contraption. It had taken her only half as much time as it took to build the first time--the one her foster parents tore down when they found out what she was planning. They never did approve of these things. "Just cut the rope! I ain't gonna get stranded! I'll be able to fly over the storm, anyways, once I get air-born!" The pink foal began sawing at the rope with her blade. And with a series of snaps from all of the strands breaking at the will of the knife, the tension was release and Arrow was sent flying into the now sandstorm-filled desert.

The dusty Appleloosan sky was now briefly filled with a kodak yellow blur that arced through the desert storm. The air flowing through her mane gave her the feeling of freedom she always wanted. The sensation it gave her was incredible, even if the sand hitting her face wasn't really pleasant. But, eventually, Arrow gained enough altitude in her short flight where she got a fresh breathe of air. And underneath her, she could see the sand storm currents rushing through the rocks and the trees several hooves below her. It made Arrow smile wide with glee.

But smiles would soon reverse as she began to see this spectacle coming closer and closer to her. As she started to fall, Arrow waved all four hooves around willy-nilly in an attempt to tread the atmosphere. She had no luck however, and soon found herself diving horn first into the sandy winds. seconds later she plummeted to the somewhat soft sand and made a long and painful roll across the desert floor. Had her trajectory been angled much higher, her fall would have left a more crater-like impact.

Getting up quickly, being the tough pony she always believed she was, she looked around to see where the town was so that she could get there before the storm got worse. But she couldn't see anything. Everything around her was a giant cloud of dusty sand. She didn't even know which direction she should walk to. After a only a few steps, she ran into a wall. "What in the...?" Arrow was a little annoyed that in what she thought was a vast desert, it took few steps for her to run into something. For sake of survival, however, she had to find out what it was.

Arrow concentrated so hard to try and get her light spell to work. Arrow had failed magic kindergarten twice, and was currently in her third attempt. Magic was never her strong point, as she spent most of her class-time doodling ideas for future flights she would plan with her friends that share her passion. Regardless, Arrow knew she had to get it to work if she wanted to survive.

After a few grunts and teeth grinding, Arrow finally sparked something from her horn. "I did it!" As she pulled her head up from the bowed position, She saw a spark fall from her horn onto the object she ran into. Not really what she had in mind, but almost immediately, the wall lit up. "That's what I'm talking about. Wait..." Arrow had first thought she was able to final light up her area with her magic. And she did. The wall was made of wood, and it caught fire. As the fire grew, it was revealed to one side of a small cabin that was now ruffling with flames. Shocked, Arrow ran into the opposite direction.

After several strides, Arrow began pouting. She was so tired of failing. She had so many dreams she wanted to come true. And she had worked so hard to get where she was, so she thought. As she ran into the opposite direction of the fire and not knowing where the town was because of the storm, Arrow began crying with frustration. Of all the times she had tried to use magic and failed she was finally able to perform, and this happens. She didn't really care about magic. But with her spirits already down from another failed flight, it was like the twisting of a knife.

After several minutes of fleeing the burning cabin, Arrow found a cave that seemed like a good place to shelter until the storm calmed. Once inside, Arrow fumbled on rocks and cave plants that were littered along the cave floor. Almost like it was stashed away, she found a couple blankets and a source of water as if the cave belonged to a wanderer, but she could not sense anypony inside.

Moments later, she heard some flapping by the cave entrance. Quickly, she made a dash towards a small crevice deeper in the cave as to not be seen by whatever horrible creature was coming to what was probably its home. As she soon noticed, it was not one but two strange creatures coming into the cave. After just a few moments, one of the creatures left the cave again, flapping the wings that they had. It made Arrow immediately jealous. What is that thing, she thought. The creature that was still in the cave began doing strange things. It started building a random wall of rocks next to it, as if it was a newborn playing with lettered blocks. As Arrow crept out to get a better look, the other creature came back again, and hushed Arrow back into her tiny crevice.

They started talking. Arrow couldn't hear everything they were saying. But she soon realized that they were ponies. And being in a cave, she assumed they could only be bandits. Arrow was suddenly more scared. Quietly, she tried to hear what they were saying. Her assumption was they wanted to go to Appleloosa to rob the bank, but the other one wanted to wait 'til morning and then they planned on making things to scare others away. She also overheard something about using attack birds for their cause. And apparently, these ponies wanted to teach Appleloosa how to die in the desert.

Arrow gulped. As soon as she swallowed, one of the bandit ponies noticed something, some noise. Arrow figured it was her they detected and knew she was in trouble. More trouble than she'd ever have to put up with, and that was saying a lot--just ask the sheriff. Arrow closed her eyes and covered her face with her hooves, and began crying whimpers of fear. She waited for the worst.

Peeking through her hooves, Arrow saw the pony grab a weapon out her bag and held it by the trigger. Arrow had to think of something. She was not about to die right now. She had some many things she wanted to do, places she wanted to fly to. She hadn't even got a chance to meet the Wonderbolts yet! She decided the best things she could do is plea for mercy. Arrow jumped out of her crevice. "No! Stop! Don't hurt me! I wont tell, I promise! I wont make a sound of this. I'll do whatever you want!" Arrow cowered in front of the ponies, and soon realized a third was present. And even more interesting, the pony with the weapon wasn't even pointing it towards her.

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Milky immediately took flight, and hovered a few feet over the ground now. She had pretty keen ears, and wouldn't let anyone sneak up on her like this. She heard the sound of hooves on solid ground, and moved her goggles and muzzle protection into place. If they were to be attacked, every bit of protection would be needed.

Listening intently, Milky tried to determine the direction of the hoofsteps. To her surprise, they seemed to come from different directions.

"No! Stop! Don't hurt me! I wont tell, I promise! I wont make a sound of this. I'll do whatever you want!"

She spun around in mid air, and saw a yellow unicorn filly cowering behind them. Not wasting any time, Milky darted forward, pinning the pony to the ground. The white pegasus looked at her menacingly, which nopony could see, because of her protective gear, and covered the filly's muzzle with one hoof.

She turned her head slightly, to be able to look in Crystal's direction, still one eye pinned on the pony underneath her.

To her surprise, the purple mare had sprung into action, and had taken a defensive stance. At least she would know if anything would come from the other direction.

Looking back down to the yellow unicorn filly, Milky raised one hoof to her muzzle and made "Shhh". She then raised her other hoof from the unicorns muzzle, hoping she'd understood, ready to close it again instantly, just in case.

She had expected to be attacked by wild animals maybe, but two ponies in here? That had never happened before.

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