Fluttershy was stunned into silence. She stood staring into space, her mouth dangling open.
“A… a bunny… forever…?”
Angel looked just as upset. “By Tuesday?” he asked. “But Tuesday’s the day of the-”
He caught himself, noticing the others looking at him curiously. “I mean… Tuesday. Yeah. We still got some time. Please tell me there ain’t a whole lot of ingredients we need to gather, Feathers.”
“Well, let me see,” Owloysius began. “At first, Peewee actually made the suggestion that we simply reverse the transformation with an additional dose of Heart’s Desire, but unfortunately, that will not work.”
“Why not?” Fluttershy asked.
“Something about the magic of the new desire interfering with the magic of the old desire,” said Owloysius. “I remember overhearing Lady Twilight talking to young master Spike about a filly in town that had contracted Cutie Pox from use of Heart’s Desire. Luckily, Lady Twilight’s zebra friend was able to supply the necessary cure, but even if she had known that Heart’s Desire was the cause of the ailment, a quick bit of research would have revealed that further use of the plant would only make matters worse.”
Owloysius tossed a book onto the floor. Fluttershy glanced at the diagrams within and immediately felt a bit nauseous.
“As you can see by the figures in that text…” Owloysius explained, “…a new dose of Heart’s Desire cannot effectively override the first one, since even the first dose is still acting on the desire of the one who has eaten it. If the animal that has ingested a second dose uses it to fulfill a desire contradictory to the first one, the two separate doses wage war within the body to make their selected effects apparent, often with disastrous results.”
Owloysius flapped his wings and adjusted himself on his perch. “In other words, your first dose of Heart’s Desire decided to grant your request by turning you into a rabbit. A second dose, attempting to turn you back into a pony, would compete with the first one, likely resulting in your transformation into some sort of horrific rabbit-pony hybrid. Even if such a creature is actually viable, which seems unlikely, it would just make things worse, as well as require an even more complex cure.”
Fluttershy’s ears drooped. An easy cure like that was too good to be true.
“After this revelation,” Owloysius continued. “We were left with no choice but to find the proper cure for reversing the effects. This is complicated slightly by the fact that the cure differs based on the problem the Heart’s Desire has caused. While truth bloom was the only component needed for curing Cutie Pox, restoring your original form will require different ingredients.”
“And those ingredients are…?” Angel coaxed.
Owloysius looked uncomfortable. “Well, I have good news and bad news. Again.”
“Of course,” Angel sighed.
“The good news is, there are only three ingredients, and I know what all of them are,” Owloysius stated proudly. “The bad news is that the location of the third one continues to elude me.”
“Yep! And if we don’t figure it out soon, trying to make the cure is gonna be pretty pointless!” Peewee added.
Owloysius sent such a glare in Peewee’s direction that the tiny phoenix squawked in fright and leapt into an empty inkwell on the desk.
“Please don’t be alarmed!” Owloysius urged as Fluttershy’s expression turned to panic. “I simply haven’t had the proper time to peruse all my resources. It has been only a day since I started, after all. I’m fully confident that I can find the location of the third ingredient, and in the meantime, you two can gather the other components. If all goes as planned, and the ingredients are simple to gather, we could have the cure ready in just a day or two! Plenty of time for you to beat the time limit.”
“The quicker the better,” Angel grumbled. “What do we need to find, Feathers?”
“The first one is easy,” Owloysius began. “Crushed sapphire. Sapphires can be found in the barren fields outside of town. Of course, if the two of you are resourceful, you can probably find one somewhere in Ponyville, and save yourselves a long trip to a potentially dangerous area. Bring it back here, and I’ll use the equipment in lady Twilight’s laboratory to crush it for you.”
“Rarity should have plenty of sapphires,” Fluttershy observed. “Do you think we could get one from her?”
“Maybe if we can find one lying around,” Angel answered. “We can’t exactly just walk up and ask her for one.”
“The second ingredient,” Owloysius continued, “is the pink water lily. This species of flower is slightly less common than the normal white lily, but it’s easy to find; there are dozens of them growing on the lily pads on the lake on the outskirts of town.”
Fluttershy knew exactly what Owloysius was talking about; she had seen the flowers growing there all the time when she visited the lake to feed some of the aquatic creatures.
“I suspect that gathering these two ingredients should be a simple task, even for a rabbit,” Owloysius said. “Especially with Angel’s extensive knowledge of the Ponyville area.”
Angel nodded. “Got that right. What’s the third one?”
“The third is an extremely rare species of fungus,” Owloysius said. “It is called the Twinklecap Mushroom, and I’m afraid I just haven’t figured out where it’s found yet.”
“We’re pretty sure it’s somewhere in Equestria though!” Peewee called from inside the inkwell.
Owloysius attempted to send Peewee another glare. This, of course, failed due to the fact that Peewee still refused to exit his tiny hiding place.
“I bet my friends could help me find that mushroom,” Fluttershy said quietly. “But unfortunately, I wasn’t supposed to get back from Las Pegasus until Wednesday morning. By the time the others notice something’s wrong, it will already be too late.”
Fluttershy slumped to the floor, depressed and worried about the days to come.
“Shake it off, kid,” Angel said. “You and I have been handling this so far, and we’ll keep it up. We’ll have the cure before you know it.”
“You’re still okay with helping me?” Fluttershy asked.
Angel rolled his eyes. “Only because the quicker I get you outta my hair, the quicker I can get back to business,” he grumbled.
Fluttershy pulled Angel into a hug. “Oh, you and your excuses,” she giggled.
Angel groaned. “Kid, come on. Don’t make this any worse than it already has to be.”
“Peewee and I will continue our investigation of the Twinklecap Mushroom,” Owloysius promised. “Once you two have gotten a hold of a sapphire and a pink water lily, come back here.”
Once again, the owl gave his visitors a lift out of the dark library. Angel glanced around the deserted streets of Ponyville.
“It’s way too late to do anything tonight,” he mumbled. “Get some sleep, ‘Shy. We’ll go find that stuff first thing in the morning.”
Fluttershy settled down in the same patch of grass as she had the night before, but she knew sleep would not come as easily this time.
“Carousel what now?”
Carousel Boutique!” Fluttershy repeated, as she and Angel proceeded through the streets of Ponyville on that bright Friday morning. “It’s Rarity’s shop, and also where she lives and designs her dresses. There’s nowhere in Ponyville where we’re more likely to find a sapphire than right here.”
Fluttershy pointed to the building she meant. Angel glanced up at it and grimaced.
“Oh, this place,” he mumbled, staring up at the decorative boutique. “If we’re gonna poke around here, then let’s be quick about it.”
“Why?” Fluttershy asked.
“A less-than-friendly acquaintance of mine lives in the area,” Angel answered. “I’d rather not risk coming across her.”
“Alright, we’ll be quick,” Fluttershy answered, turning back to the building. “Now, we need to find a way in. Don’t you have any secret tunnels into the boutique?”
Angel shook his head. “Not here. Anybunny with a lick of sense stays away from this place.”
Fluttershy frowned. “Well, maybe we can find a window, or something.”
Fluttershy wandered around the side of the boutique, and Angel followed while glancing around apprehensively.
“What are you so nervous about?” Fluttershy asked him finally. “I thought you were in charge of all the animals. What’s the worst that could happen, we’ll run into somebunny you don’t get along with?”
“Not quite,” Angel said. “Let’s just say there are a few animals in Ponyville that are a little less likely to behave.”
Fluttershy spied a window that was open just a crack, but it was a bit too high for her to reach. She stood pondering a way to get to its height, when her sensitive ears detected the tiniest rustle in the bushes behind her. She turned around, and was greeted by a large pair of green eyes.
“Quiet kid,” Angel said, looking the other way. “We don’t wanna get seen around here.”
“But, um… there’s somebunny in the bush.”
“What are you talking abo-”
Angel froze, stopping in mid sentence when he saw the pair of flickering eyes in the shrub.
“I said run, kid!”
Angel turned and attempted to flee, but too late; a white shape shot out of the bush and landed on top of Fluttershy and Angel. Fluttershy only had a moment to gasp before she was knocked to the ground, hitting her head and quickly passing out.
It was the flowery, perfumed smell in the air that coaxed Fluttershy back to consciousness. Wearily, she opened her eyes, rubbing her sore head with a paw. Wherever she was, it was almost totally dark and totally silent. The only light came from a tiny flicker in the distance, which appeared to be a small flame, and the only sound was a rapid thumping of the foot of the rabbit standing next to her.
As Fluttershy’s eyes adjusted to the low level of light, she was able to see Angel standing beside her, his arms crossed and his right foot tapping the floor, as he always did when he was nervous. He glanced over as she sat up.
“I told you it was a bad idea coming here,” he whispered. “We’re in for it now.”
Fluttershy looked around, bewildered. “But… where are we?”
“In the boutique,” Angel answered curtly. “Can’t see a thing, though. The blinds and curtains are closed. That little scented candle on the counter is the only light in this blasted place. She could be right on top of us, and we can’t even see her.”
“See who?” Fluttershy asked.
“The one who captured us, you bonehead,” Angel grumbled angrily.
Upon closer investigation, Fluttershy realized that the two of them were in fact trapped in some sort of small prison made of crisscrossing plastic strips.
“It’s… it’s a…”
“It’s exactly what it looks like,” Angel said. “She trapped us under an overturned laundry basket.”
“Yes, I find that works so well for keeping rabbits contained…” came a slow, malicious female voice.
From behind a workbench came a monstrous white cat, her green eyes glowing eerily and her teeth glimmering in a wicked grin. A gemstone, covered in hundreds of multicolored facets, was set into her collar, and a lock of hair was tied above her head by a large purple bow.
“Opalescence,” Angel said acidly. “How nice to see you.”
“Likewise, Angel, likewise,” Opal hissed, grinning evilly as she slunk around the perimeter of the overturned laundry basket. “How’s your little operation going?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” Angel replied stubbornly, expertly hiding and fear he may have felt.
Opal laughed mirthlessly. “Same old Angel. To be honest, I’m not interested in your little games anyway. I’m much more interested in this friend you’ve brought with you. Have you finally gotten yourself a special somebunny, Angel?”
Angel pretended to gag. “Hardly. I’ve just been helping this poor kid out with a little problem.”
Opal raised an eyebrow. “Really? Well, I’d say the two of you have a much bigger problem now than you did earlier today, hm?”
“’Shy, try to convince her,” Angel mumbled as he watched the cat circle their prison. “Maybe she’ll listen to you.”
“Opal, it’s me, Fluttershy!” Fluttershy squeaked. “You know, the pegasus pony who takes you to the groomer sometimes?”
Opal leaned in close to the basket and took a long sniff. She scrunched up her nose. “Ah. Yes, that’s Fluttershy alright. However did you manage to get yourself turned into a rabbit?”
Fluttershy tried to explain, but Opal held up a paw before she could say anything.
“Whoops. I don’t care,” the cat said, turning her nose up haughtily. “A pony before, a snack today. Funny how life works that way, isn’t it?”
Opal lifted one end of the basket with a paw and scooped Fluttershy out with the other, dropping it again before Angel could escape. The former squeaked in fright as Opal’s heavy paw pinned her to the floor.
“Opal,” Angel warned. “I can’t say I’m surprised at you, but seriously, if you hurt the Main Mare, I’m gonna put the hurt on you. She’s way too valuable as our food supplier.”
Opal chuckled. “Oh, that should be funny. Little Angel Bunny, trying to ‘put the hurt’ on me! My, I’ll get a snack and some entertainment this morning!”
Opal looked back at the rabbit struggling beneath her paw. “Now, where was I?”
With a devilish smile, Opal leaned down to take a bite out of her prey. Fluttershy whimpered, covering her face with her front paws and waiting for the distinct feeling of having her abdomen eaten.
Instead, the air was filled with the raspy sound of Opal’s laughter. Cautiously, Fluttershy peeked out from behind a paw; the cat standing over her was shaking in a fit of giggles.
“Oh dear, it’s just so much fun scaring the living daylights out of you rabbits!” Opal chuckled. “You should see yourself darling, you’re positively quaking right now!”
Opal lifted her paw away, motioning for Fluttershy to stand. She gazed up at the laughing cat, very confused.
“Wait, so… you’re not going to eat us?”
Opal scrunched up her nose in disgust. “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t dream of touching a rabbit unless it’s imported. I have refined tastes, you know.”
Fluttershy could actually hear Angel slapping a paw to his forehead in irritation, despite the fact that he was some feet away.
“Besides,” Opal continued. “Why would I eat you of all rabbits? As a pony, you’re certainly more pleasant than that hag of a unicorn that attempts to care for me, or, worse still, her infuriating little sister.”
Given her position and Opal’s demeanor, Fluttershy decided against arguing in Rarity’s defense.
“Now, this leaves just one more question,” Opal purred. “What possessed you two to come to the boutique today in the first place? Most rabbits tend to avoid me, and with good reason, so I was a bit surprised to see the capo himself wandering around my yard.”
“We came looking for a sapphire,” Fluttershy said quietly. “I know Rarity has a lot of them, and she told me I was always free to use them if I wanted to. I kind of need one now, and this seemed like the easiest place to get one.”
An interesting expression crept across Opal’s face. “Well, well. Isn’t this an interesting situation? I think there may be a way that we can both come out of this with some gain, little Fluttershy.”
“That’s Opal for you,” Angel grumbled from beneath the basket. “I expect you’re going to find a way to make us earn that gem, right?”
“Well of course, Angel!” Opal announced with a cynical laugh. “Rarity may be the embodiment of generosity, but why should that mean I have to be? I can easily get a sapphire from the storeroom for you two, but I don’t think I will. Not unless you can make it worth my while…”
Angel groaned. “Let me out from under this basket and maybe we’ll talk.”
Opal sauntered over to the laundry basket and overturned it with a flick of her paw. Angel scampered out and hopped over to Fluttershy.
“You think we should do what she says?” he asked. “I mean, we’re dealing with one of the cruelest, greediest, and least trustworthy animals in all of Ponyville.”
Opal pretended to be offended. “On the first two accounts you are completely correct Angel, but when it comes to being trustworthy, are you really one to talk?”
Angel glared, and Opal gave him a malicious smile. “Shut up, you lazy bag of fur,” he shot back. “What do you think, ‘Shy? Do we humor her?”
“I think we have to,” Fluttershy answered. “If we tried to get a sapphire from the gem fields, we risk running into diamond dogs, and I’m a little more scared of them than I am of Opal.”
“True,” Angel agreed. “Alright, Opal. What do you want?”
“Mmm, I’m glad you asked,” Opal purred. “There is one thing I’ve been trying to get my paws on for some time now, and I’m finding it rather difficult, but I think a pair of resourceful rabbits like you should be able to get it easily.”
“We’re listening,” Angel said.
“You see, Rarity serves me the most atrocious cat food,” Opal complained. “It’s terrible stuff; no flavor at all. Can’t she see I’m a cat of high class that deserves only food of the best quality? But I digress; the point is, I know of something that can make even the blandest meal into a feast fit for a queen. It is an exotic spice, sold at a stall at Ponyville market. Rarity purchased it and allowed me to taste just a bit one day, and I shall forever loathe her for never allowing me to experience it again. It was truly wonderful stuff.”
Opal licked her lips thinking about it. “Now, if the two of you can manage to get a can of that spice and smuggle it back here to the boutique, I will be able to enjoy weeks of enhanced food without Rarity ever noticing. And in exchange for helping me spoil myself, I shall pilfer one of her sapphires and pass it on to you.”
“I… guess we can do that,” Fluttershy said. “Are you up for it, Angel?”
“Eh, why not,” Angel said. “It’s still easier than looking for a sapphire somewhere else.”
“We have a deal, then,” Opal said. “Allow me to show you out.”
The cat pushed open the door, allowing light to flood the dim room. A staircase led downwards to the showroom and the entrance of the boutique. Rarity was out at the moment, allowing for an easy exit for the two rabbits.
“Don’t disappoint me now,” Opal mused. “If my cat food remains boring, I may consider trying a taste of local rabbit after all…”
Angel and Fluttershy hurried away from the boutique, aware of the unfriendly cat watching their retreat.
After a brief stop for some light lunch, the two rabbits made their way towards the bustling epicenter of activity that was Ponyville marketplace. The pair peeked out from behind a building, scanning the arrangement of carts for the one selling the spice Opal desired.
“Alright, we need a plan or something,” Angel said. “We have to get in, avoid getting run over or caught by any of the ponies, pull off the spice heist at the cart, and then smuggle the stuff back to Carousel Boutique by tonight."
“Spice heist?” Fluttershy said in shock. “We’re going to steal the spice?”
Angel gave Fluttershy an exasperated look. “Do you have a better idea?” he asked. “We’re rabbits. We can’t exactly walk up, hand over a few bits, and be on our merry way. Any cart that sells something edible is going to have an owner that just wants to shoo us away.”
“But stealing is wrong!” Fluttershy insisted. “We can’t cheat the poor pony running the stall out of the money they deserve! Nobunny should have to deal with being stolen from, even in a situation like this.”
Angel groaned. “We don’t have a choice, kid. We gotta get it somehow.”
“Well, I still won’t do it,” Fluttershy insisted, rounding on Angel. “I may be meek, but I have my principles. I won’t steal, and I think anybunny who does steal from a good, honest worker is absolutely shameful.”
Angel shifted his weight uncomfortably as he considered that. “Uh… fine. Fine. Here’s the deal then,” he said quickly. “We still need the spice. And we currently have no legal way to get it. So how about we just borrow it for now, and as soon as you’re a pony again, you can come back and pay the owner full price. With interest, if you want. How’s that sound?”
Fluttershy mulled it over. “I… guess that could work,” she said finally. “The owner will still have to go a few days without pay for his lost product, though.”
“Kid,” Angel grumbled. “In light of your situation, you’re going to have to get over yourself and just do it. Do you wanna be able to live a normal life with your pony pals, or not?”
“You have a point,” Fluttershy admitted. “Alright, Angel, we’ll steal it. But I’ll pay the shopkeeper back later for his trouble.”
“Yes, you’re a paragon of virtue,” Angel said sarcastically. “Now let’s go.”
Cautiously, the two rabbits proceeded into the busy marketplace.
Across the square, a yellow earth pony with an orange mane narrowed her eyes.
“I see you, you thieving rabbits,” Carrot-top mumbled to herself. “I see you didn’t learn your lesson the last two dozen times. You may think you’re being nonchalant, hanging out on the other end of the market like that, but I know what you’re after. You’re not getting any of my carrots today. Because this time… I’m ready for you!”
Carrot-top broke into a fit of maniacal laughter.
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
The mare stopped abruptly and blushed as she turned to the concerned pony in front of her carrot stand. “Yes. Of couse. Would you like to buy a carrot?”
Angel scanned the market as he and his partner crouched beneath a cart selling lemons.
“Can you see the stall we’re looking for, ‘Shy?”
“Yes, it’s over there,” said Fluttershy, pointing to a small stall across the market. “See? It’s the little one right next to the carrot cart.”
“Right next to the…” Angel started. “You’re kidding. This is just not my week, is it?”
“Why? What’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked.
“Nothing. Let’s go.”
Quickly darting under each cart when nopony was looking, the two rabbits made their way around the perimeter of the market. After a few tense minutes, the two of them looked out from beneath a large cart only a few meters from the target. A lanky and bored-looking dull purple stallion stood behind the spice cart.
“Okay, we need to figure this out,” Angel said. “This guy doesn’t look like too much of a threat. We should be able to distract him or something, and then swipe the spice. Easy.”
The stallion wasn’t paying much attention, and so Angel slowly began to creep toward the stall, with Fluttershy slinking along behind him. The owner took no notice.
“This’ll be a piece of cake,” Angel laughed. “As long as we don’t get spotted by-”
“Trying to sneak past me, huh you light-fingered rodents?” came an angry voice.
Angel’s eyes went wide as a yellow and orange mare leapt into their path.
“I know what you two are up to!” the mare announced. “But you won’t be stealing any of my carrots!”
Angel grabbed Fluttershy by the arm and ran, pulling the two of them under a nearby porch before the crazed carrot vendor could get to them.
The mare snorted. “That won’t help. I’ll be watching…”
Angel sat still, waiting breathlessly for the mare to give up. After a moment, she turned and trotted back to her stand.
“I thought she might complicate things,” Angel mumbled.
“But… but why does Carrot-top think we’re here to steal from her?” Fluttershy asked.
Angel gave Fluttershy a disbelieving look. “Kid, she’s a carrot salespony,” he said. “You know carrots are a rabbit’s favorite food. I’d be surprised if there’s a single carrot vendor anywhere in Equestria who doesn’t want to keep rabbits away from their stand.”
Fluttershy thought about that. “I guess that’s probably true,” she agreed. “But still, the rabbits haven’t actually stolen from her, right?”
“Of course not,” Angel lied smoothly. “Like you said before, kid. Stealing is bad and all that.”
He crossed his arms, frowning. “Unfortunately, that salespony ain’t making our job any easier,” he observed. “I’m much more worried about getting past her than I am about distracting the spice stall owner. I know from past experience that she’s very protective of her carrots.”
Fluttershy glanced around the rest of the market, searching through all the other ponies, until she spotted the one she was looking for.
“Angel,” she said quietly. “Um… I have an idea. But it’s a little bit mean. I don’t know if we should do it.”
“Let me hear it at least,” Angel answered.
“There is one pony here who is… pretty good at distracting Carrot-top,” Fluttershy admitted.
Angel glanced around. “Which one?”
Fluttershy pointed. Angel looked at the indicated pony, who was standing in the middle of the market: a grey pegasus mare, with a blond mane and a goofy expression caused in no small part by her misaligned eyes.
“That’s Derpy,” Fluttershy explained. “If we can get her to… well, to be herself really, and do it somewhere in the general vicinity of Carrot-top’s stand… something will probably get destroyed, and we could take advantage of that distraction.”
“We’ll need a muffin,” Fluttershy said. “Sugarcube corner gives out free samples on Fridays.”
Angel blinked. “So, we need to get a muffin from the sweet shop, so we can use it to lure that weird pony to the carrot stand, so she can inadvertently cause widespread mayhem, so we can steal the spice and take it back to Opal in exchange for the sapphire.”
Angel slapped a paw to his forehead. “And Feathers said this was gonna be easy…”
Sugarcube Corner was nearby, and as the rabbits approached, they spotted Pinkie Pie hopping around in front of the store, with the basket of fresh muffins perched precariously on her head.
“Free muffins!” Pinkie chirped. “Get them while they're hot and sweet and moist and full of yummy baked-goody good goodness and…”
Pinkie trailed off and drooled for a moment before shaking her head and getting a hold of herself. Then she continued to hop around, shouting at random passerby.
“Okay, genius, what’s your next bright idea?” Angel asked. “I don’t think we’re taking any muffins if she’s carrying them around.”
Fluttershy giggled. “Angel, I’m not sure you understand Pinkie Pie very well.”
Angel watched of Fluttershy exited the cover of the building’s shadow and hopped right up to Pinkie.
Pinkie gasped as she saw the rabbit approach. “Oh! Hey! You’re the rabbit Rarity told me about!” she squealed. “The one that looks just like Fluttershy! That’s so cute!”
Fluttershy stopped in front of Pinkie and simply waited. After a moment, Pinkie’s expression changed; her eyes widened and a huge grin spread across her face.
“I know!” she announced. “I’ve got some muffins here! Would you like one, little Flutter-rabbit?”
Fluttershy held out her paws expectantly and a muffin was deposited into them. She quickly turned and darted away, hearing Pinkie burst into another fit of giggles before continuing to distribute the free samples.
Angel looked slightly shocked when she returned. “Kid, I wasn’t expecting that,” he declared. “Either you’re smarter than you look, or Pinkie’s just a dork. Right now I’m bettin’ it’s a little of both.”
“Hurry,” Fluttershy said. “We should go back to the marketplace before Derpy leaves.”
“Right behind you,” Angel replied.
It was like any other day at the market; ponies were milling about buying everyday things. As far as Derpy was concerned, nothing was unusual about today.
But then that smell reached her nose.
The tantalizing scent of bananas and walnuts, mixed together and baked into a pastry. The second she got the barest whiff of it, Derpy knew. This was no normal day at the market.
This was a muffin day.
Immediately, she froze in place, turning slowly and repeatedly sniffing the air in a desperate attempt to determine the source of the wonderful scent. It was apparent, even to the rabbits crouched under the nearby flower cart, that her attention was fully on the muffin’s smell.
“Okay, here’s the plan,” Angel said. “I’ll take the muffin, and try to get the pegasus to create a distraction. As soon as you have a chance, grab a can of spice from the cart, and then head for the rabbit hole at Mane Street as fast as you can. I’ll meet you there.”
Fluttershy nodded nervously. “Got it. Try not to cause too much trouble, okay?”
Angel didn’t respond; he crouched, readying himself to spring out into Derpy’s view.
“We’ve got one shot at this,” he said. “We’d better make it work.”
Carrot-top scanned the market. For now, the mischievous rabbits had disappeared. The mare smiled to herself; she had managed to protect her wares once again.
A flash of movement caught her eye, and she turned and glared at the white rabbit charging towards her.
“Oh, a direct assault, huh?” she snarled. “Bring it on, fur ball! I’ll take you on myself!”
She raised her front hooves in an offensive pose as the rabbit charged across the market square. But at the last second, he turned and veered off down an alley.
Carrot-top turned to give chase, but was stopped as another small movement caught her eye. At the moment the would-be thief passed by, he had tossed something atop the pile of carrots she had on her stand. The earth pony paused to examine the projectile.
For a fraction of an instant, Carrot-top was confused. But when the sound of charging hooves reached her ears, the rabbit’s plan clicked into place in her mind.
“Oh, that crafty little son of a-”
All eyes in the market turned at the sound, witnessing the unusual sight of a charging pegasus barreling into the carrot stand. The stall collapsed in a heap, the carrots spilled everywhere, and the awning strung up above the stand fluttered down, landing like a blanket over the two ponies in the pile of debris.
A few feet away, the spice vendor, who had nearly fallen asleep, awoke with a start. He stared at the spectacle, not quite sure if he could believe his eyes. He was far too transfixed to notice the yellow rabbit that leapt up and stole one of the tins of spice.
With a grunt, Carrot-top poked her head out from the bottom of the pile.
“Derpy…” she said quietly. “Could you get off me please?”
Derpy pulled her face out of the dirt and tried to respond, but managed to make only a muffled sound, considering her cheeks were entirely stuffed with muffin. She swallowed the enormous mouthful, before grinning sheepishly at Carrot-top.
“Oops. My bad.”
“It’s not your fault, Derpy,” Carrot-top whispered. “It’s those Celestia-forsaken rabbits. They think they’ve won. They think they’ve got old Carrot-top beaten. Well I’ll show them. They’re playing with the big ponies now, and next time, I’ll be ready. Oh yes.”
Carrot-top’s slightly maniacal ramblings were cut off by a fit of coughing.
“Derpy, seriously. Could you get off? You’re crushing my lungs.”
Opalescence purred delightedly as she took a long sniff.
“Oh, yes. That’s the fantastic smell I’m looking for,” she cooed, snatching the tin of spice the rabbits had presented to her. “My dinner is going to be so much better now.”
“It’d better be,” Angel snapped. “It was a pain to get a hold of that stuff.”
Ignoring the grumpy rabbit, Opal slunk across the room, pouring a dash of the fancy spice onto her plate of gourmet cat food, before stashing the tin beneath her pillow where Rarity wouldn’t find it. She swished her tail about gleefully as she took a few bites, purposely eating as slowly as possible to get on Angel’s nerves.
“Sometime today, Furball?” Angel said impatiently.
“Hmm?” Opal asked. “Oh yes, you two wanted a gem or something. Let me see what I can do about that…”
Opal pushed open another door and slipped into a neighboring room in the boutique. With her gone, a heavy silence pervaded the dark upper room.
“You know, kid,” Angel said to his quiet companion. “You kind of impressed me today. I think you’re starting to get used to being a rabbit. It takes a lot of both skill and strategy, and I think you had even me outmatched today.”
Fluttershy grinned. “Wow! Thanks Angel.”
“Don’t get used to it,” the other rabbit scoffed. “I don’t distribute too many compliments.”
The door swung open and Opal reappeared, carrying a sparkling gem in her mouth. She set the stone in front of her visitors.
“There you are, darling,” she purred. “Don’t say I’ve never done anything for you.”
Fluttershy picked up the sapphire joyfully. “Thank you, Opal,” she said. “I knew you were a good kitty.”
“Yeah, she’s wonderful,” said Angel sarcastically. “C’mon, ‘Shy. Let’s get out of this dump.”
The sound of a tinkling bell and hoofsteps below indicated Rarity’s return.
“Oh, dear,” said Opal, with another dark smile. “It seems Rarity has arrived home. We certainly wouldn’t want her to see rabbits running amok in her boutique. I’d better show you the emergency exit.”
Opal pounced forward and lifted Angel by the nape of his neck. The rabbit protested, but Opal paid no heed. She sauntered over to the open second story window, leaned forward, and dropped her cargo out.
A short tumble later, Angel landed with a thump in a thick bush in front of the boutique.
At least that cat had the courtesy to drop me on something soft, he thought. I figured she would have been crueler than that, but I guess she isn’t really so-
Angel’s thought was cut off as Fluttershy fell on top of him, knocking the wind out of him.
“Have a nice day!” Opal called from above, chuckling as Angel struggled for breath and Fluttershy profusely apologized. With a final wave of her paw, the spoiled cat closed the window.
“Oh my goodness! Angel, are you okay?” Fluttershy asked.
Angel stood up, gasping. “I’ve… been better,” he admitted. “Kid, we really need to get you back to normal before you get me killed.”
He shook his head rapidly to clear it. “Anyway, the sun’s going down, and it’s a long way to the lake where the next ingredient is. I say we make for your cottage tonight. We can drop off the sapphire and stay there overnight. Tomorrow, we’ll go get the pink water lily from the lake, which will hopefully be a piece of cake compared to what we did today.”
Fluttershy, who hadn’t been home since the morning she woke up to find herself transformed, quickly agreed.
“We should be through the worst of this adventure now,” Angel said as he led Fluttershy out of the town. “I mean, after all this, what else could possibly go wrong?”
Knock, Knock, Knock.
Twilight Sparkle yanked open the door to the library, allowing Rainbow Dash access.
“Heya, Twi,” Rainbow said. “I just dropped by to return this.”
Rainbow reached into her saddlebag and retrieved yet another Daring Do book, which she tossed into the receptacle for returned books.
“Thanks, Rainbow,” Twilight said with a smile. “You seem a little rushed. Is something up?”
“Nah, I just got back from feeding the critters at Fluttershy’s place,” Rainbow answered. “She’s been gone for, what, three days now? I hope she’s actually loosened up a little and is having some fun. A trip to Las Pegasus isn’t something you want to waste.”
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Twilight assured her friend. “Fluttershy is a little soft spoken, but you know she can take care of herself.”
Twilight paused for a moment before continuing. “Why didn’t you go along again? I know you said you really wanted to.”
“Yeah,” Rainbow said glumly. “But my job comes first. Tomorrow’s the day of the biggest storm of the season in Ponyville, and I need to be there coordinating all the pegasi. Me and a few other really fast ponies need to redirect some air currents, and I’ve got Flitter and Cloudchaser managing the rain team. There’s gonna be some thunder as well.”
Rainbow flinched after saying that. “By the way, Twi, you might wanna make sure you have a lightning rod up or something. I think Derpy is on the thunder team this time, and we all know how that usually goes.”
Twilight vaguely recalled a horror too unspeakable to utter aloud. She shivered.
Rainbow chuckled. “Don’t worry, Twilight. I’ll keep her from causing too much trouble. But even so, you probably wanna stay indoors; the weather’s going to get nasty.”
“I will,” Twilight answered. “Thanks for the heads up, Rainbow. See you later.”
“Bye, Twi,” Rainbow called as she shot out the door and into the sky.
Twilight went back to her studying. Owloysius hooted nervously from his perch.
“Something wrong, Uncle Owly?” Peewee asked tentatively.
Owloysius ruffled his feathers. “I must admit I am a tad concerned for Fluttershy,” he said to his assistant. “I hope she and Angel stay safe during the storm. Most of the rabbits will be hidden deep underground, but if the two of them are out looking for the cure…”
“Aw come on, it can’t be that bad, can it?” the baby phoenix asked.
Owloysius sighed. “I don’t know. But for Fluttershy’s sake… I really hope not…”