It had been a very, very long day for First Class. Well, as Postmaster of the Ponyville Post Office, every day was a long day for him; sorting mail and sending it out for delivery from before sun-up to after sundown was a typical day of work for him. But today, well, today he’d had to contend with the usual irritable underlings, the late mail deliveries, the badly wrapped parcels and unfranked letters as always. It was just that one very particular pony had managed to push the usually docile stallion to breaking point.
“So, you’re absolutely certain that the courier delivery hasn’t come through today?” she asked for the umpteenth time that hour, pouting slightly at First Class as she did so.
“No, madam, I can assure you that it hasn’t come through since the last time you asked, and it most likely won’t have come through the next time you ask in, oh, five minutes,” First Class snapped. “And don’t pout. The courier is going to go no faster if you start pouting.”
The mare looked startled. “Pout? Moi? How dare you, sir! I was not pouting; I was glowering. Honestly, you’re worse than a Diamond Dog,” she reprimanded him.
“Madam, please! You’ve been here all day! Haven’t you anything better to do?!” the stallion cried.
“I was assured that the courier would be here this morning. It is now evening. I put off all of my projects in order to work exclusively upon this dress. So, no. I have nothing better to do.” The unicorn thrust her muzzle into the air, and sat down in the haughtiest way First Class had ever seen.
“Then would you at least stop harassing the other customers about our ‘terrible’ customer service? Equestrian Royal Mail is in enough trouble as it is without irate -”
“LOOK OUT BELOW!” came a cry from above, drowning out First Class’ tirade. With a crash, a grey blur came through the ceiling of the post office, coming to an abrupt halt with a resounding thud.
Coughing and waving a hoof to disperse the dust thrown up by the impact, Rarity narrowed her eyes to regard the epicentre of the disaster. Beaming back at her were a pair of misaligned golden eyes.
“The post always gets through!” the pegasus cried, patting the saddlebags strapped to her flanks.
“Oh my... I don’t think they meant through the ceiling, my dear,” Rarity murmured, walking towards the mailmare.
“Derpy! Where in Equestria have you been all day?” First Class demanded.
She shrugged. “They said it wasn’t ready when I arrived for the package. Then somepony offered me a muffin -”
“What have I told you about eating on the job?!” the postmaster snapped. His left eye twitched slightly; testament to his frayed temper.
“What? I had nothing better to do. And it was a really good muffin. So I had another. And another. Then I - uh...” She looked at the ceiling thoughtfully. “I woke up here. Yup. Don’t remember a thing. That’s a sign of a good muffin.” She sighed dreamily.
“Oh! What does it matter? You have my delivery, do you not?” Rarity asked impatiently.
“Yep!” Derpy opened her saddlebags, and lowered her head over them, mane dangling within. She was about to pull out the package with her mouth when a pale blue telekinetic field surrounded it and yanked it out.
“I’m sorry, my dear! It’s just - this fabric is very delicate, and I really should handle it as lightly as possible,” the unicorn said, as she levitated out three bolts of cloth.
“What is it?” Derpy asked, frowning at the rolls. They shimmered slightly in the late afternoon sun filtering through the windows; one a glorious sky blue, another a pale shade of green, and the final one a delicate hue of pastel pink, like the horizon at dawn. Each hovered in the air in front of the ponies.
“This is spider silk; it’s very rare and valuable, seeing how long it takes to make such glory, not to mention that the only spiders that make this grade of the silk only live in the most exotic of climes,” Rarity crooned. “You have no idea how long it took me to save up for this and source it.”
“I think I do. You told me at least fifteen times today,” First Class grumbled.
Rarity narrowed her eyes at the postmaster in warning. “Yeah. That sure was a long flight,” Derpy piped up, yawning as she did so. “Think I’m gonna take a nap...”
“Oh! That reminds me!” the unicorn gasped. “I’m sure I mentioned this before, but you have no idea how grateful I am for you for volunteering to bring me this silk, Derpy. I’ll have a few offcuts from the silk, and I’m sure I could make an absolutely stunning piece for you from them. How about it? My thanks?” she offered. “I could even start measuring you now-”
“Ooooh... that’s nice of you, Rarity, but Imma hit the hay,” she slurred, her eyelids drooping. Evidently the muffins were wearing off. “Tomorrow?”
“Of course, my dear!” Rarity waved off the exhausted mailmare, before turning to the postmaster. “Well, I believe that’ll be all. Do excuse my behaviour today. I can get awfully cranky in an unexpected situation.”
“No, no. The pleasure’s been all mine,” First Class muttered sarcastically. “Thank you for using Equestrian Royal Mail services. Do come again; I’d love to hear your life story another dozen times-” He realised he was talking to thin air, Rarity having scampered off with her precious cargo.
Letting out a small sigh, he shut the doors to the post office, locked them, and turned the sign on the door to ‘Closed’. He ensured all the mail within the post office had safely been locked away, and that the money in the registers was secure and accounted for. Going through all of the duties of a postmaster, he closed the blinds over the windows, swept the floor, and emptied the pigeonholes. Finally he went to his office, sat down in his plush executive chair, and put his wastepaper bin over his head.
Ponyville’s market place was a hive of activity in the evening sunshine, the various stall owners packing up their wares and going home for the day. Wooden boards advertising each stall clattered as they were pulled down, horseshoes and cart wheels rumbling and scraping in the dirt. Rarity wove her way through the throngs of ponies, barely paying attention to the chaos around her as she dreamily regarded the fabric floating in front of her.
“Won’t this look gorgeous?” she murmured to herself, deftly stepping around a cart filled with apples. This unfortunately took her right into the path of a muddy puddle, which had not yet registered with the unicorn. “Ah, even the touch of it... such a shame I’ll have to manufacture the whole dress by telekinesis. Never mind, it’ll all be worth it at the end, Rari - waaaahaah!” She finally noticed the puddle, veering to the right and slipping, her magical grip on the bolts of fabric fading as panic overtook her.
“Oh no...” Rarity didn’t dare to open her eyes. She was ruined - her pristine coat would be covered in foul, muddy water, her perfect coiffure demolished by the clinging muck. Not to mention the highly delicate, extremely expensive silk that was undoubted by now floating in the effluent obstacle -
“Yah might wanna be a little more careful in your step, Miss Rarity,” a deep voice said. The unicorn opened her eyes just a little, to see a dark red limb holding her upright, away from the puddle. She looked up into the eyes of Big Macintosh, who had not only caught her, but also had the three bolts deftly balanced across his neck.
“Ah... yes - um.” A blush began spreading across Rarity’s face. Half the marketplace was staring at her after her outburst, and now they were staring at her in a rather compromising position with one of the more eligible stallions in Ponyville... “Thank you!” she cried, springing away from the puddle and the outstretched limb, snatching up the silk in her telekinesis once more. “Thank you,” she said in a more measured tone, the marketplace having returned to its own business for the most part. “Goodness knows what would have happened had I fallen in that dreadful muck - you saved me, Big Macintosh.”
“Ah, no need to thank me, Miss Rarity,” Big Macintosh said bashfully. “Ah’ve lost counta the times Ah’ve had to stop Applebloom trippin’ over somethin’ cos’ she wasn’t payin’ attention to her own hooves. That filly sure is easily distracted.”
“No, really. There must be some way I can thank you - my entire project would have been ruined had you not caught that silk!”
“Yer gratitude is more than enough, Miss Rarity-” Big Mac said uncomfortably.
“Puh-leeease?” The unicorn pouted slightly, and fluttered her eyelashes. For a second, Big Mac considered battling the alliance of Rarity’s legendary pout and the very avatar of the Spirit of Generosity. His stubborn spirit lasted a second - and then her bottom lip began to wobble ever so slightly. Oh, this wasn’t fair!
The stallion sighed, outdone in politeness. “Well, if yah really insist-”
“Do come by the Boutique tomorrow! I’ll be expecting you!” she called, continuing onward to her home. Big Mac coughed nervously, and tried to filter out the guffaws of Applejack in the background. He really had the most awful luck when it came to bumping into highly-strung mares. For a moment he wondered whether he should ask Rarity how good she was at making clothes for dolls - specifically Smarty Pants dolls...
Golden sunshine shone through an open window, illuminating an unusually messy bedroom. Beneath a pile of sheets, a unicorn rose fitfully, unwilling to acknowledge the new day.
“Huhhhh - HAH!” Rarity pulled herself out from beneath her bedclothes. She gazed into one of her many mirrors in horror - there were bags beneath her eyes, her mane was an absolute state, the blankets on her normally tidy bed rumpled, and the curtains were open, for Celestia’s sake! The morning sun had finally roused her from her slumber - her unusually late slumber. According to her bedside clock, it was nearly noon! She gulped anxiously. How had she managed to lie in until a time even Rainbow Dash would be embarrassed to rise at?
“Oh dear.” She suddenly remembered her binge last night; having waited so long for her spider silk, she’d already planned out the dress and its constituent parts long ago - her entire evening had been a flurry of cutting the silk to size, every piece now awaiting her attention in the workroom. Exhausting herself would get her nowhere, though! “Now, now, Rarity,” she chided herself softly as she repaired the damage to her complexion, surveying her reflection. “There’s no need to get all worked up. You know exactly what to do, and you don’t want any mistakes now.”
A pair of curlers worked her mane into a more presentable style. “I wonder if Derpy or Big Macintosh will be along soon - ” She gazed out into the street, and looked up at the sun, already well on its way to its peak. “Oh, please don’t tell me I missed them whilst I was still in bed,” she murmured anxiously. Her fears were allayed as a loud knock came at the door downstairs. “Oh! Speak of the Nightmare...” The unicorn trotted gracefully down the stairs, the knocking becoming more urgent as she did so. “Just coming, my dear! I’m sorry if I kept you waiting; I don’t know what came over me last night!”
Her magic levitated the key to the door off its hook and into its corresponding keyhole, unlocking the portal and allowing it to swing inward. “Now, how can I help y - waahh haaah haaaaah!”
In front of her stood the sorriest sight she’d ever had the misfortune of encountering; both Big Mac and Derpy stood in front of the door, looking morose. Both were bald as coots - their manes and tails had vanished, leaving only a faint shadow where there had been plentiful hair the day before. Derpy’s wings looked even more forlorn; every last feather had vanished, leaving a puckered, bare surface on the appendages, which hung loosely at the pegasus’ sides. “Oh... ohhh...” Rarity moaned weakly.
“I just don’t know what went wrong,” Derpy said mournfully.
Having ushered her guests into her parlour, Rarity prepared tea, pouring boiling water into the china teapot she kept for guests. She levitated it onto a silver tray with three teacups and saucers, a jug of milk, and a bowl of sugar lumps complete with a dainty pair of tongs. She picked up the tray and took into into the occupied room. Big Mac sat in an armchair, patiently reading the day’s copy of the Equestria Daily, while Derpy hopped on the spot, fluttering her ravaged wings in a futile attempt to get airborne. She slumped to the ground and groaned unhappily.
“Good heavens... how in Equestria did this happen to you?” she inquired, setting the tray down upon the table.
“Ah don’t rightfully know,” Big Mac rumbled. “Ah woke up this morning and went about mah duties as normal. T’weren’t until Granny Smith gave the biggest start Ah ever saw that Ah figured somethin’ was wrong. That an’ Applejack doublin’ herself over laughin’,” he added darkly. “Saw mah reflection in the rain barrel, and mah mane was all gone, no doubt about it.”
“Maybe it was a prank?” Derpy suggested. “Maybe there’s... I dunno, a secret mane shaver terrorising Ponyville! At night, when everypony’s safe in bed, they come... and shave off your mane!” She sat down, and met the quizzical gazes of Big Mac and Rarity with one eye each. “What?”
“I think your imagination may be... a little overactive, my dear. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this.” Rarity offered tactfully.
“Ah dunno. Prankster’s the best explanation Ah’ve heard so far,” Big Mac countered, earning him a thankful nod from Derpy.
“But who would be so malicious as to pluck all the feathers from a pegasus’ wings?” she replied, frowning sympathetically. “Not being able to fly... I imagine if I lost my magic temporarily, I’d go quite mad!”
“Y’ain’t th’ first unicorn t’ go crazy cos’ of her magic,” Big Mac muttered, suppressing a shudder as he remembered the insidious grasp of the Want It, Need It spell. “Not t’ mention her job sorta depends on it,” he added.
Derpy nodded. “First Class’ll chew me out if I can’t deliver any letters today! And with my wings like this -” She waved them for emphasis. “That’s why I came here!”
“I... see,” said Rarity, trying not to look perplexed.
Derpy rolled her eyes, a complicated process that was not something to watch if one had a full stomach. “This isn’t the first time I’ve lost all the feathers off of my wings,” she said. “I have a plan. You got that silk you were gonna use for the dress?”
“Well, yes...” Rarity began. “The pieces I have for you are marked out in my workroom.”
“And oh... several lengths of wood, aluminium tubing, or other strong and lightweight materials you don’t need?” Derpy continued, having procured a small notebook and pencil from somewhere.
“I suppose, but - wait, what?”
“Great!” She rushed away, and a few moments later the boutique suddenly filled with the sounds of crashing, sawing, sewing machines being handled roughly and the odd cry of “Ah, dang it!” Rarity cringed as a particularly expensive-sounding crunch cut through the air.
“I think I’d better supervise her...” she muttered weakly.
“Eh, credit where credit’s due, Miss Rarity. That mare’s got a lot more ingenuity than most ponies assume,” Big Mac said.
“Oh, I’m sure she does, it’s just that, well...” Another crash. The unicorn bit her lip, and hopped from one hoof to the other nervously.
“Y’all said you wanted to show me what you were working on. How about that? Take your mind offa all the noise,” he offered.
“Yes - yes, I think I need that.” Rarity beckoned for him to follow her. Whilst Derpy took up her main workroom, she had stored the entirety of her project in another, normally disused room in the basement of her boutique. It had felt... wrong to place this dress amongst her lesser works. She let out a small sigh of relief as the chaotic sounds above were dampened slightly by the closed door and walls.
“Well, Ah’ll be,” Big Mac murmured.
“It’s quite something, isn’t it?” Rarity said.
The normally unused room had been transformed by Rarity’s project. The bare walls had been plastered with countless dress designs, all drawn on parchment. Many had angry red crosses drawn through them, rejected by the exacting eye of their creator. Others had extensive modifications and alterations drawn on them, arrows and notes scattered here and there. In the centre of the spider’s web of ideas was the final design, the culmination of countless hours of work.
Beneath it stood a mighty mannequin, standing even taller than Big Mac, adorned with the prototype of the dress; a beautiful, cool blue body accentuated with a pale green border, with pink highlights working their way into the bodice, golden threads holding the fabric together.
“Yah made the dress already?” Big Mac asked.
“Oh, of course! It would be foolish to not ensure the dress was absolutely perfect before setting to work with the silk,” Rarity replied. “This is just cotton. You wouldn’t believe the number of takes it took to make this piece! However, I believe I have the stitching and shapes down to a tee; it’ll be the work of only a few hours to produce the final product.”
“Mighty large, wouldn’t yah say?”
“Why yes! Did I not tell you I was commissioned by Princess Celestia herself to produce this dress? It’s been the talk of the town for the past month! Or at least, so I heard,” Rarity added, trying to look modest. Big Mac shook his head. “Well, there you have it! You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to buy an alicorn mannequin; after all, the Princess is the tallest pony by far in Equestria. The proportions just aren’t the same between her and my regular customers; that’s why it took me so long to come up with a design worthy of royalty. I’m just glad the silk arrived in time.”
Big Mac merely nodded in appreciation, not being privy to the nuances of fine dressmaking. “How long till she needs th’ dress?”
“The day after tomorrow.” The stallion gave a start. “Oh, it’s not like I have the entire project to design; I’m simply following the steps I’ve already done,” she reassured him. “I just had to wait for this fabric; it’s simply divine! Nothing else could possibly suffice for the Princess.”
They both stood for some time, admiring the prototype, Rarity gathering up the materials she required to build the final design with her magic. He opened his mouth to say something, when a triumphant cry came from above.
“Oh, my. I suppose we should go and see what mischief she’s gotten herself into,” Rarity muttered. She led him back upstairs, to find the most bizarre sight awaiting her. Derpy stood in the middle of the boutique’s front room, a metallic frame strapped tightly to each wing, the structures themselves in the shape of wing bones. Between each slender limb, a different colour of the valuable silk had been stretched to form a continuous web. She flapped her wings a few times, and hovered as effortlessly as she would have with feathers.
“Et voila!” she cried. Rarity’s jaw dropped open. How had she been able to produce such a device?! She’d been away for barely fifteen minutes! “You like ‘em?”
“Ah... yes... they’re most - wonderful,” Rarity murmured weakly.
“Thanks for the silk! I’ve tried making these wings before when I lost all my feathers, but I’ve never found anything strong enough before.” She beamed at the two ponies, still hovering.
“All yer feathers?” Big Mac asked incredulously. “How’n Celestia’s name didja manage that?”
“Oh, jumping on lightning clouds, muffin oven malfunctions, you know, the usual!” Derpy said dismissively.
Rarity sighed. The wings were actually rather fetching; the webs were stretched thin enough to be translucent, scattering coloured light about the room, not unlike the butterfly wings she’d worn in Cloudsdale. “Such a shame I can’t make you a dress from the silk,” she murmured.
“Oh, no worries! It’s not like a dress would help me do my job!” Derpy smiled. “Wait, actually, I’d better tell First Class I can work today, after all. See ya!” She bolted out of the door, flapping her artificial wings to take off into the sky.
“Ah suppose Ah’d better be off back tah the farm,” Big Mac piped up.
“Surely there must be something I could do for you, Big Macintosh?” Rarity pleaded. “A hat? Or perhaps a bandana?”
“That’s awful kind of yah, but Ah ain’t too fussed about losin’ mah mane. Ah only came tah make sure Miss Derpy was alright; she seemed awful agitated when she came here. Glad she’s gotta way of copin’, though.”
“Well, if there is anything...” Rarity left the sentence hanging. Big Mac nodded politely, and said his goodbyes, leaving through the still open door. Left alone, the unicorn pulled herself to her hooves and made her way down to the basement, retrieving the materials for the royal dress and bringing them to the light, airy workroom upstairs. To her surprise, Derpy had left the room tidier than it had been earlier that morning. She wondered how the pegasus had managed to make so much noise, yet so little clutter.
Shaking herself from her stupour, Rarity took a deep breath, lifted a needle with her telekinesis, and deftly threaded it. Today was going to be a long day.
“Careful... careful...” Blue eyes scrunched up in concentration, Rarity lifted another piece of silk to the dress, delicately stitching it to the main body. Despite having barely moved all day, she felt exhausted, both physically and mentally. Her plans had helped her to reproduce the dress in all its glory, but the fragility of the working material had her going at a much slower pace than she wanted.
Not to mention the distractions... Opal had been in and out all day, fascinated by the shimmering surface of the silk; to the point where Rarity had no choice but to shut her beloved cat out of her workroom. Added to the clamour from outdoors earlier that day when Derpy had shown off her hoofwork to the citizens of Ponyville, the unicorn felt herself beginning to fray under the self-imposed pressure. If only I’d had more time... she pondered.
Setting down her tools after attaching the piece, she let out a sigh and took a most unladylike swig of the iced water she had on a nearby table. Draining the glass, she rolled the cool container across her forehead, moaning slightly as the headache that had been gathering strength all afternoon eased.
“Oooh... I suppose I’ll have to stop here. Not enough natural light left...” she muttered to herself.
“RARITY? RARITY!” came a cry from below. Rarity jumped a little with a yelp, not used to being so rudely disturbed. She opened the window and peered out, to see Applejack sat on her haunches outside the Boutique, scowling up at her.
“Yes, Applejack?” she called icily. “Whatever is the matter?”
“There’s a meet in fronta the Town Hall. Everypony’s gotta attend; the Mayor’s got somethin’ she needs to tell us all, apparently,” Applejack replied.
“And what in Equestria is so important that knocking on the door is too much to ask? Honestly, Applejack, I believe you disturbed ponies in Canterlot with that yell,” Rarity snapped.
“Ah ain’t allowed to touch the door,” Applejack said, with a guarded look on her face.
“Whatever do you mean?”
Applejack sighed, and removed her signature Stetson from her head to reveal... nothing. She stood up and walked around in a tight circle to show herself off. There was no doubt about it - AJ’s blonde mane and tail had completely vanished. Rarity covered her mouth with her hoof in horror. “Not. A. Word,” the earth pony growled. “Now, are y’all comin’ out, or what?”
“Of course, my dear. I’ll be right down.” Rarity closed the window, briskly trotting down the stairs and outside to meet her friend. As she reached Applejack, she noticed the earth pony shying away from her. “Um - is there something wrong?”
“Ah’m not allowed to go near you, either,” AJ sighed. “Ponies’ve bin losin’ their manes all day. Started out slowly, then we got more and more showin’ up bald. Nopony knows what’s goin’ on, but we’re told to stay apart fer now, just in case.”
“Oh dear. I am sorry, Applejack. I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose such a fundamental part of you,” Rarity said sympathetically.
Applejack snorted. “Only you could make a mane sound so frou-frou, Rarity,” she chuckled. “T’ain’t a big deal tah me, Ah’m just a mite embarrassed for laughin’ at Big Mac this mornin’.”
They made their way to the space in front of the Town Hall, where the ponies were separated into two distinct groups; to the right, the ponies looked fine and healthy. To the left, with a significant gulf between the two crowds, were the victims of the mysterious ailment, each missing their manes and tails, and in the case of the pegasi, their feathers. Derpy hovered above them, her makeshift wings still strapped to her. With the exception of a conspicuous cloud hovering over them, she was the only member of the afflicted group to still be airbourne.
Quietly bidding her farewell, Applejack crossed to the afflicted group. Rarity felt an anxious knot building in her stomach as she regarded the size of the crowd; nearly two dozen ponies. There had only been two this morning! She looked around for the rest of her friends, but was unable to see them. Her search was cut short by Mayor Mare ascending the podium in front of the Town Hall and clearing her throat into the microphone. Everypony murmured amongst themselves as they saw the rainbow clown’s wig balanced atop the mayor’s head. What was going on?
“Ah - fillies and gentlecolts... thank you for gathering at such short notice,” she began. “I’m sure you’re all aware of the - ailments this town has experienced today.” Concerned mutters began to circulate through the crowd. “Rest assured, we are investigating matters as best we can.”
“What in the hay’s going on?!” Carrot Top shouted angrily. “Why aren’t we allowed near the other ponies?”
“Yes - that is what I came here to tell you about. There’s no need for concern - the plague seems quite benign, beyond removing hair and feathers -”
“Plague?!” a half dozen voices cried. Mayor Mare shuffled furiously through her notes, looking worried.
“Uh... not plague! Definitely not plague! Um...” Her eyes scanned back and forth furiously along the page. “Contagion?” A few gasps. “Outbreak?” Some of the crowd began heckling her. “Mysterious condition?” The crowd began to settle. “Very well, ‘mysterious condition’. We’ll go with that. What I have been trying to tell you is that the Royal Guard have seen fit to place our town under quarantine -” At that, the audience began all shouting at once, demanding answers.
“This ain’t the Cutie Pox! We don’t need no stinkin’ quarantine!”
“What about the school play?”
“Please, everypony, stay calm! There is absolutely no need to be alarmed! This is simply a precautionary measure!” Mayor Mare pleaded.
“Oh yeah? Then why’re you wearing that wig?” a stallion near the front demanded.
“I just thought we needed a bit of cheerfulness in these difficult times -” the mayor began, tugging at her bowtie slightly. She yelped as a unicorn’s magic yanked the wig off of her head to reveal - nothing.
“BALD! BALD!” The crowd yelled.
“My mane!” Everypony took a step back from an unfortunate mare who had had the colourful wig land on her head. As she pranced about on the spot in panic, her mane gradually shrank away until it receded entirely, her tail swiftly following suit. As her eyes cast about the other healthy ponies for assistance, a terrible silence fell, the mare in the centre of a swiftly widening circle.
“We’re doomed!” Lily cried. That was enough to break the fragile truce; everypony shrieked, running to and fro in a desperate attempt to escape the mysterious mane-eating outbreak.
Unable to cope with the idea that it might be her mane vanishing next, Rarity joined in the panic, opting instead to simply sit down and and let out a shrill scream as the crowd jostled about her. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that she realised the square was empty, her shriek still making its way out of her mouth.
“Ah, pipe down before you pass out, Rarity.” The cloud that had sat over the square was now hovering next to her.
“Whhhh?” was all she could say. A cyan head, bereft of any mane, poked over the top. “Rainbow Dash? Not you as well!”
“Yep. I guess I’m just ‘Dash’ for the time being,” she admitted. “This is so uncool. First I lose my awesome colouring, and now I can’t even fly anywhere!” She raised her wings, which were as bare of feathers as Derpy’s had been. “I took a nap on this cloud, and when I woke up, I was trapped here!” She slumped back with an exasperated sigh, crossing her forelegs. “I guess at least I get more reading time now I’m ground-bound.”
“Oh dear... this is much worse than I thought.” The two ponies turned to see Twilight, mercifully unmolested by the affliction, a notepad and pencil held in front of her with her telekinesis. Applejack walked a ways behind her.
“Worse? My dear, there were two ponies this morning. Two. How has this outbreak managed to travel so quickly?” Rarity scoffed.
“I don’t know,” Twilight sighed. “I’ve been combing through my books for any reference to a disease that causes this, but there’s nothing that comes close. I’ve been trying to gather up evidence all day.” She frowned slightly. “You say there were only two ponies this morning? You mean Big Mac and Derpy, right?”
“Yes. Both of them came to me earlier today, afflicted with this horrible - whatever it is,” Rarity confirmed.
“Why did they come to you?” The pencil hovered in anticipation.
“I asked them, my dear! I ordered a shipment of spider’s silk for Princess Celestia’s dress, and Derpy offered to collect the silk from the shipping office in Manehatten. Seeing as she was such a darling, I offered to make her a dress from the remaining silk by way of thanks. As for Big Macintosh; well, he saved me and my silk from falling in one of those ghastly mudholes around the marketplace.” She narrowed her eyes at Applejack, who was trying hard not to laugh. “I’m sure he could tell you more.”
“Is that where those wings came from?!” Rainbow interrupted.
“They were awesome! Derpy was showing ‘em off to anypony who asked! You got any more of that silk?” Rainbow said excitedly.
“No, my dear. And besides, I doubt they would be able to stand up to your usual aerial antics,” Rarity replied testily, earning her a scowl from Dash.
“Hmmm. Silk shipment. Derpy’s wings... all this commotion.” Twilight scribbled furiously in her notebook, face scrunched up in concentration. “I’m sure there’s a pattern here, but I just don’t... ugh. I think I need to sleep on this.” She turned away to head back to the library. “I’ll tell you all if I can fix this - or if we need Zecora to help us out,” she added.
“Seems like you haul ev’ry last problem this town has to that poor zebra, Twi,” Applejack chuckled as she left. “Hopefully Ah’ll see y’all soon, if this darn quarantine ain’t too much of a hassle.”
Rarity bid them farewell, before noticing the slowly advancing shadow of the cloud behind her. She picked up a spare pencil that Twilight had dropped, and held it in front of her with her magic.
“Oh, Rainbow Dash?” she called.
“Uh... yeah?” came the tentative reply.
“I’d just like you to know - whatever it is you’re planning - that all the horrors of the Everfree Forest, in an eternal state of night and chaos brought about by Nightmare Moon and Discord combined, are nothing compared to five minutes with me and this pencil.” The shadow halted, then gradually retreated. “I’m glad to see we understand one another,” she finished, a coy smile chasing across her face.
Rarity shifted beneath her sheets, tugging at the eyemask she wore. It was the day of the delivery; the previous one having been spent finishing the dress whilst nervously watching the outside world, where ponies were now forced to do business in their protective suits. She yawned, and collected the letter she’d received yesterday from the bedside table with her magic. The parchment still reeked of disinfectant.
The instructions were simple; she merely had to bring the dress to the landing area for the chariot outside the library. Nothing to be concerned about - the carriage it was to be transported in was protected by every magical ward known to ponykind. No plague would get through the quarantine.
Of course... that still meant the quarantine was still in place. Rarity pondered quite how the town had ended up in such a way as she made her way down the stairs.
According to the Almanac Of Useless Yet Mildly Interesting Facts About Ponyville, the previous holder of the mayor’s office was an earth pony stallion by the name of Looking Glass, who had a reputation for being somewhat... odd. Many a pony had wondered quite how such a pony could be elected to public office, let alone command a ninety percent approval rating, when he had squandered public money so effortlessly on his crackpot ideas.
However, as they say, there is method in the madness, and occasionally this made one of Looking Glass’ legacies worthwhile. The anti-griffin custard pie cannons atop Sugarcube Corner had saved many an outdoor party from running short of confectionary in an emergency. The lake for ‘fishing, swimming and general tomfoolery’ happened to also build the hydroelectric dam that supplied most of Ponyville’s power.
His most famous exploit was to successfully petition Princess Celestia for Ponyville to host the one thousandth Summer Sun Celebration; it had been entirely built on his assertion that ‘it’s a big anniversary coming up, wouldn’t it be a laugh if we got them to hold it in a backwater little town nopony’s ever heard of?’ Sadly, he was not there to greet the incumbent Princess as mayor, having been forcibly removed from office four months before after delaying Winter Wrap Up by six weeks because he ‘hadn’t finished his snow fort’ - in this case, a 1:1 scale replica of Canterlot Castle.
Nevertheless, Looking Glass’ schemes were still in place by virtue of legal language so dense and illogical even Discord would protest, and the quarantine was no exception. After being convinced that Ponyville was on the verge of being attacked by ‘blank flank cursed zombies from the Everfree Forest’, he’d had the ability to quarantine the entire town put in place lest such an outbreak ever occur. Rarity knew that Sugarcube Corner had triple airlocks fitted on all its doors if need be, and six months’ food and water supply in a bunker beneath the bakery. A rumour had even briefly passed around town about a top-secret facility beneath Sweet Apple Acres able to hold the entire town in times of disaster. However, most ponies were only able to afford a protective suit, which they were forced to wear by town law every time the quarantine was called.
The last time this had happened, when Applebloom came down with the Cutie Pox, Rarity had found herself sickened by the garish orange suits, and had vowed to do better should an epidemic ever visit town again.
After shooing away Opal from the dress again, where she’d been purring and rubbing her face against the soft silk, Rarity made her way to her wardrobe, and pressed a secret panel next to it. The wardrobe swung back to reveal the most exclusive item of clothing in her possession.
The hazmat suit was made of wipe-clean plastic, with a comfortable lining of neoprene. The entire suit was a white to match her own coat, trimmed with indigo. A slender bag was fitted to the hindquarters to accommodate her tail, and an elegant silver oxygen tank was fitted to the back of the suit. Saddlebags had been sewn to the flanks, each bearing her cutie mark, overlaid with a highly stylised biohazard symbol - the radiation symbol on most ponies’ suits simply hadn’t appealed to her.
Accompanying it was a bucket-shaped helmet, with generous spacing to avoid messing up her beautifully styled mane, and a small cone on the forehead that snugly fitted her horn.. A quartz window allowed her to see out into the world, and narrow tubes ran to the oxygen tank and an air filter on the muzzle. She pulled out the ensemble, stepping into the suit and zipping it up along her back, sealing her in. She admired herself in her full-length mirror.
“My, my, my... who’s the most fashionable pony in all of post-apocalyptic Equestria? Wearing this would almost make one wish for a balefire winter,” she crooned to herself. “Maybe I should wear you around more often - disaster fashion! Elegance and survival...” She picked up the helmet, and whirled it around, looking at her faint reflection in the quartz.
She spun around. “Oh, just a second, Opal! Momma’s coming - agh!” Rarity recoiled in horror at the sight of Opalescence. Her beloved cat was absolutely bare - not a single one of her white hairs remained, leaving only pink skin beneath. She sat in front of her owner, looking absolutely miserable.
“Oh, my. Opal! You poor thing! Opal?” The cat had focused upon her, and now was walking swiftly toward her. Her blood ran cold as she remembered the contagion was spread by touching those already inflicted. “Opal! No!” She waved the cat away with her hoof desperately, trying to put the helmet on. It clicked into place, seals around her neck closing, the pipes connecting with the ports on the tank to initiate the rebreather.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Rarity picked up Opal with her telekinesis and placed her in the cat box she normally used to take Opal to the vet’s office. As usual, her cat went crazy as she shut the wire mesh door, pawing and yowling at her temporary prison. “I’m sorry, Opal. But I really must get you looked at if you have that horrible... whatever it is!” she apologised, her voice slightly muffled by the air filter.
Floating the box next to her, she made her way downstairs and hitched herself to the mannequin, which was now atop a small cart she used to transport around any dresses or objects too heavy to lift magically. She briskly packed some needles and thread along with the last scraps of the silk into one of her saddlebags, just in case the dress needed last minute repairs. She pushed open the door and pulled the overlarge model out into the street.
Although her impeccable manners usually dictated that she remained modest, Rarity couldn’t help but feel the utmost glee as she pulled the dress down the street in her customised hazmat suit. Ponies admired the piece for Celestia for the most part, but she noticed a few respectful murmurs for her suit, the white standing out amongst the orange bystanders. Casting her gaze about, she found most of Ponyville to be deserted, the inhabitants wisely staying home. Those who had ventured outside were invariably dressed from head to hoof in the standard orange hazmat suit, an eerie reminder of the last time the town was forced to take such measures. This time though, there was no filly sporting a dozen cutie marks; just a lot of very scared ponies, and no sign of what was attacking Ponyville. The anxiety in the air was palpable.
The few pedestrians avoided the official-looking carriage in the centre of town, the two pegasi hitched to it dressed in golden protective suits. They stamped their hooves impatiently as Rarity pulled the dress over to them.
“Yoohoo! Are you gentlecolts here to collect the dress?” she called.
“Hff hugh huh dess haker?” One of the pegasi asked. Rarity frowned, trying to make sense of the muffled voice. The stallion smacked the filter on his helmet and tried again. “Are you the dressmaker?” he said.
“That’s me! And here is the Princess’s very own dress for this evening! I do hope it’ll be suitable -”
“I’m sure it will. C’mon lady, I don’t wanna stay in Plaguesville any longer than necessary,” the other pegasus cut in.
“I beg your pardon?” she demanded angrily. “You, sir, are supposed to be the representative of the Royal Household! How dare you insult our town -”
“Sorry, miss. We’ve all been feeling the pressure recently, what with this outbreak. Some more than others,” the first pegasus said, glaring at his comrade. “Princess Luna had us drag this carriage out of the vaults so she could re-apply the protective wards. Reckon it’ll protect you from diseases that don’t even exist anymore.”
Rarity looked at the carriage, which was a foreboding iron construct, inlaid with small gems that presumably contained the disinfectant enchantments. The double doors at the back were wide open, with a small ramp extending out between them. She pulled the dress over and carefully led it up into the vehicle, setting the stand down within. Several clamps bolted to the floor secured the stand and the precious garment. She extracted herself from inside, folded the ramp and shut the doors with her telekinesis.
“Please do be careful with it,” she pleaded with them. “It’s awfully delicate, and won’t stand up to much jostling.”
“Don’t you worry, ma’am. We’ll get it to Canterlot safe and sound,” the pegasus assured her. The two guards spread their wings and set off into the skies once more. Rarity watched them go, biting her lip slightly. She always felt a little knot inside her when she handed her dresses over to the customer; even more so with the status of the recipient of this particular design. She could only hope that the Princess found her dress to her liking; Celestia had insisted in her commission that the design was to be a surprise.
So intent on how her work would be received, she didn’t notice at first the owl that had landed on her shoulder. Finally noticing the slight weight, she turned her head to see Owloysius perched on her, a scroll held in his right claw.
“Owloysius? What are you doing out in the daytime?” Rarity asked.
“You, my dear. Let’s not begin this game again.”
“Who.” The scroll was offered to her with a faintly disappointed hoot.
“For me? Let’s see...” Rarity took the scroll with her magic, and looked at the message inside.
I think I’ve figured out what’s causing everypony to lose their manes around Ponyville. Please come to the library as soon as you get this message. Also, please bring any of the spider silk you have left with you, but DO NOT touch it directly.
“Hmmm - well, at least I brought the silk with me - and poor Opal,” Rarity muttered to herself. She looked at Owloysius. “Tell Twilight I’ll be there as soon as possible.” The owl bobbed his head and departed. She began the walk to the library, an ominous feeling growing inside her. Something told her she was not going to like what she found.
Rarity knocked her hoof against the library door, the noise echoing down the near-deserted streets. It was swiftly opened by Twilight. She had bags under her eyes, her mane looked as though it hadn't seen a brush in weeks, and her whole frame sagged slightly. Nevertheless, she smiled in greeting, and beckoned for her friend to enter.
“Oh, my dear! You look simply dreadful!” Rarity exclaimed.
“I think we all do, Rarity,” Twilight sighed. Inside the library, all of the six friends were gathered. Rainbow still sat atop her cloud, a Daring Do book held in her forehooves to pass the time. Beneath her, Applejack sat against a bookshelf, snoozing. Pinkie Pie was bouncing happily around the library, her poofy mane and tail missing large chunks; evidently she’d come up with her own way to defeat the affliction. In the corner, Fluttershy sat, tending to an obviously pained Spike.
“And what’s wrong with my little Spikey-Wikey?” she crooned, walking over to him and removing her helmet. The baby dragon said nothing.
“Oh... he’s had to send and receive so many letters these past couple of days, he’s gone and got a sore throat, poor little thing,” Fluttershy murmured. “I’m afraid he’s lost his voice temporarily.”
“Oh, Spike!” Rarity pulled him into a sympathetic hug. He returned it, patting her gently on the back. Pulling away, he rubbed at his throat and grinned apologetically. “How in Equestria did you manage that?”
“I’ve been running myself ragged trying to figure out what’s going on, and the Princess is just as concerned,” Twilight said in a haggard tone. “Poor Spike. I didn’t even realise until it was too late just how much mail he had to handle! He never once complained.”
“Well, I’m sure I can find a nice, soothing sapphire in my collection for that sore throat,” Rarity said. The sudden, delighted spark in Spike’s eyes confirmed his approval. Behind her, the cat box hissed and spat.
“Did you bring Opalescence with you?” Fluttershy asked.
“Yes... poor thing. I turn my back for one minute, and she comes back absolutely bare! Not a single hair left on her body!” Rarity said, removing her customised hazmat suit as she did so.
“Did you bring the silk with you?” Twilight asked abruptly.
“Yes, I brought the last scraps of it.” She pulled them out of her saddlebags with her magic. As she levitated them across the room, she noticed the other ponies staring at the fabric as though they were vipers. “What’s the matter?”
“Well, I’ve already explained to the others. I’ve found out what looks to be our culprit.” She placed the silk under a nearby microscope and beckoned Rarity over. The white unicorn peered through the lens. The silk was presented to her, magnified many hundreds of times. All she could see were the individual threads... and tiny specks of different colours. “Let me magnify it a bit more,” Twilight said.
The view through the lens changed, zooming in even further. She looked closely at the specks, only to find that they were miniscule parasprites! Right there, in her silk! She gave a cry of disgust, and fell back from the microscope. “Ewww!” she shrieked. “Whatever are those doing in my silk?!”
“They’re nano-sprites,” Twilight said grimly.
“Nano-sprites? What kind of name is that?”
“I know - it’s completely inaccurate! The sprites exist on a microscopic scale, not nano. Somepony must have gotten it mixed up when they named them,” Twilight replied. She took in Rarity’s disbelieving face. “Oh - that’s not entirely what you meant. Nano-sprites are related to parasprites, but they’re only found in the deepest jungles. That’s why I originally discounted them as a cause. But then you mentioned the spider silk, and I investigated. I looked through Rainbow’s and Applejack’s coats, and they both have the ‘sprites on them.”
“But the silk was properly fumigated beforehoof! I was assured of this!” Rarity protested.
“Well, either somepony can’t do their job properly, or tampered with the process. Either way, we’re stuck with them.”
“Oh dear.” Rarity felt the glares of the others on her.
“Ah, it’s OK, Rarity. We all make mistakes from time to time,” Applejack said coolly.
“But however do these ghastly things operate?”
“They feed and reproduce rapidly, like parasprites. However, they can only eat hair and feathers still attached to the body of a creature. Pinkie Pie - somehow - cut off the bits of her mane that were infested before they could spread too far. And they can only spread through direct contact. That’s how this started! Derpy must have touched the silk when she got it out of her saddlebag -”
“And Ah saw Big Mac with those rolls balanced across his neck when he saved yah from trippin’,” Applejack cut in.
“And then Derpy showed off her wings the next day, and everypony wanted to touch them!” Rainbow exclaimed. “They’ve been spreading all over town!”
“But Derpy’s mane took all night to be eaten! You saw that poor mare in the town square - her mane vanished in seconds!” Rarity said.
“Their numbers multiply as time goes on - the more there are, the quicker they eat through the hair. Once they run out, they migrate onto the body of their host and go dormant, waiting for the next meal,” Twilight informed them. “Fortunately, there is a spell to remove them, although I’ll need a piece of material more infested than the silk in order to calculate how powerful to make it.”
“Um... Twilight?” They all turned to see Fluttershy stood near the cat box, her head bent over it. She pulled herself away, revealing her long mane, which was gradually vanishing, working its way up to her scalp.
“Fluttershy? What happened?!” Twilight exclaimed.
“I - I was just tending to Opal - I think she touched my mane...”
A pair of shears levitated up from a nearby table with a red telekinetic glow. “Fluttershy, I’m sorry,” Twilight said, eyes hardening. The pegasus took a step back.
“Tw-Tw-Twilight?” she stammered.
“I’m so, so sorry.” The unicorn advanced on her, shears held out menacingly in front of her.
“What are you doing?!”
“I hope you can forgive me.” With that, the shears swept forwards.
“Twilight!” Fluttershy squealed. She opened her eyes to see her luxuriant long mane reduced to a short fringe by the shears, the jagged remnants held in front of her by Twilight’s telekinesis. “Oh... you meant my mane,” she said in an embarrassed tone.
The six ponies scrutinised the hair closely for a few seconds. “See? They’ve stopped eating the hair now it’s detached. Now if I can just have a moment...” Twilight’s horn pulsed, its glow lighting the library interior in an ethereal glow. After a few moments, she brushed the pink strands against her own mane tentatively. The friends let out a breath they hadn’t realised they’d been holding as Twilight’s own hair failed to dematerialise. “Well, the enchantment works, at least. Now I’ll just have to size it up to every... pony... in the town.” Her head drooped as she realised the gargantuan task ahead of her. “Not to mention Zecora will have to brew up a huge batch of hair restoration potions...”
“Twilight, darling,” Rarity spoke up. Six pairs of eyes turned to her. “It’s my fault for this ghastly plague. If there’s anything to do, let me do it. I’m sure I can help with the enchantment, or gathering the ingredients for the potions.” For a moment, her unicorn friend simply stared at her, Rarity noticing for the first time just how tired she looked - the bags under her eyes, the sagging stature, the mussled-up mane. Twilight walked forward and hugged her tightly.
“Thank you, Rarity.” She closed her eyes and returned the embrace.
“Uh, guys?” She ignored Dash, who was trying to interrupt. She didn’t care. Twilight needed this hug, just for this moment.
“Sugarcube, yah really should open yer eyes up...”
“Oh... oh dear...”
“Woah, Twilight, you’re as bald as the others!” Pinkie Pie called out. Twilight’s eyes snapped open, and she pushed Rarity away, looking at herself in horror. “Oh, no! No, no, no!” she cried, seeing all too late the cat’s paw that had swiped playfully at her tail. It was gone, and her mane vanished into her forehead as her violet eyes peered up at it. And Rarity had been hugging her... She screamed, and batted at her own head to no avail.
“Somepony fetch me a mirror!” she screeched.
“Rarity, yah really don’t wanna do that,” Applejack said with barely concealed grin.
She slumped to the ground with a groan, burying her head in her hooves. “Well, I guess it’s only fair. You did kinda bring this upon the entire town,” Rainbow pointed out. “What? It’s true,” she said in response to the pointed looks she received.
“No, she’s right! I didn’t even ch-ch-check the fabric before I used it! How could I be so foalish? And now I look hideous!” Rarity sobbed. She felt a pair of scaly arms wrap around her in a comforting hug, although it did little to insulate her from her grief.
“Oh, Rarity, it’s not that bad! You can try out a new mane style, like me!” Pinkie bounced over, showing off the cavernous voids in her poofy hair.
“New mane style? I don’t have any left to style!” she wailed, sinking back down to the floor.
An awkward silence descended over the library. “What were you even using the silk for, anyway? Couldn’t you have used something that wasn’t super-duper, put-the-whole-town-in-quarantine, eat-your-mane dangerous?” Pinkie asked.
Rarity sighed, glad to have something to focus on other than grieving for the loss of her beautifully styled mane. “I was using it for the dress I was making for Princess Celestia. I thought I should use something suited for royalty for such a special piece,” she said quietly.
“Well, I’ll have to disinfect it first,” Twilight said, looking decidedly odd without her signature straight-cut mane and tail. “I don’t think the Princess will appreciate a free helping of nano-sprites with her dress.”
“Oh, you won’t have to do that, Twilight! The carriage it was collected in had every protective ward known to ponykind set on it!” Rarity replied.
“Wait - I thought you had a month to work on it?!” Twilight said, panic rising in her eyes.
“I did! A month to plan, but the silk only arrived a few days ago. Celestia will wear my pièce de résistance at the ball with the Zebrican ambassador tonight!” she said triumphantly. “My dear, don’t be so worried. The guards said Princess Luna herself placed the wards.”
“No, no, that’s exactly it! There are no wards to protect against nano-sprites - you have to remove them with an active spell! And the dress is already on its way?!”
“I imagine it will have arrived at the castle by now,” Rarity said quietly.
“And Celestia always wears a dress as soon as she receives it - it’s her personal habit!” Twilight said, her voice rising, pacing back and forth.
“You mean we just sent -” Rarity began.
“- a dress chock full of nano-sprites -” Rainbow continued
“- to Princess Celestia herself -” Applejack said.
“- and she’s gonna put it straight on -” Pinkie uttered.
“- and we have no way of warning her?” Fluttershy finished, gesturing to Spike’s throat.
The six friends all looked at one another for a moment, then burst into laughter. Even Spike joined in, his wheezy chuckles adding to the gales of laughter from the ponies. They rolled on the floor, fighting for breath. After a long, long time, they began to calm.
Twilight was first to recover, the light in her eyes gradually fading as she realised the magnitude of the situation. She stared into space, her hollow gaze boring into the wall of the library.
“We are so doomed,”
Princess Luna strode along the wide hallways of Canterlot Castle, her own deep indigo dress already adorning her body, matching the colour of the ethereal, starry mane that floated behind her hair. She regarded the setting sun framed in a nearby window, the orange orb setting the evening sky alight. It wouldn’t be long until her duties with her own celestial body would be needed.
She reached her destination, a mighty wooden door carved with all manner of representations of the sun. The guards to either side of the door jumped slightly as she smacked her hoof against the door impatiently.
“Tia? Tia! Art thou in there? The ball with the ambassador will proceed soon, and the sun shall require setting! Art thou abed again?” she demanded, periodically slipping back into the older fashion of speaking in her haste.
“Um... Luna? Now’s not a very good time,” came the tentative voice of her sister.
“Not a good time? Do you expect me to tell the representative of the zebras that Princess Celestia of Equestria really cannot be all that bothered tonight?” Luna retorted.
“No! Not at all... it’s just that I’m having a... a... a bad hair day! That’s all,” Celestia said, her voice cracking slightly.
“A bad hair day? How can one have a ‘bad hair day’ when one’s hair flows with the solar wind?” Luna asked incredulously. “Perhaps I shall contact the Royal tailor and request a wig?” she suggested sarcastically.
“Yes! Please! I mean, uh, that might be an idea,” Celestia said, struggling to keep her voice under control.
“Very well, then, Tia. If you really insist, I shall go and fetch him.” She waited a little for her sister to respond.
“Luna?” Celestia said delicately. “If anypony - or zebra - asks why my hair looks a teeny bit different tonight... I’m just trying a new style, alright? Could we call this our little secret?”
“Why, of course, Tia! Think nothing of it!” Luna replied in an exaggerated tone. She left, and continued walking down the corridor. As she did so, she extracted a scroll and quill from her dress. It was a checklist, all but one of the items crossed off.
Some of these had been so very difficult to work out; to place an article in the fabric magazine she knew the dressmaker read about the spider silk at the right time; to pay off the fumigators to make sure a few rolls of silk happened to slip by the process; ensuring the right books were extracted from the Ponyville Library at the right time; and setting the carriage’s enchantments themselves to have just the tiniest loophole in them.
Now, her elaborate plans had come to fruition with her sister’s desperate request. She grinned slightly as she crossed off the last line of the scroll, both parchment and quill crumbling into ash as she immolated them with her magic.
“Our little secret? After the jelly incident with the griffon warchiefs? And the complete rearrangement of my personal library? Not to mention hiding Abacus in Prince Blueblood’s bed... the servants still haven’t finished gossiping about that,” she murmured to herself. She stepped out onto a balcony overlooking the plains of Equestria, taking in a great, satisfied breath of the rarefied mountain air. Her smile spread even wider as her horn glowed, pulling the sun down and raising her moon in its place, beginning the night.
“Call it our little secret? No, dearest sister. Let us call it even.”
Many thanks go to my myriad of pre-readers; DeRockProject, Jelfes and RavensDagger from SALT, The Science Brony from /fic/, and ErrantIndy and MentidaBrony, who all helped me polish up this story from its original state. Also, thank you to everyone who voted on this story in the February Write-Off!
Title Image by No-Ink