They say ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Well, they lied. It would have been more accurate to say the trip-mines of hell are hidden beneath good intentions; wander around in the fields of mediocrity all you want, all it takes is a single misstep in the ‘right’ direction and it’s a one way trip to brimstone central. I felt the tram slowing down under my feet, the people in the crowded cabins already milling towards the double-sided doors. As a freshman at a more rural college, I prefer to walk everywhere, and find transportation in general too constricting. Trains are by far the form of transportation I’m least accustomed to. Then again, as a philosophy major, I guess you could argue I’m not particularly accustomed to reality, either.
My name is Kate, Kate Winsor. For the formal record, there’s no D in Winsor. You’d think that would be an unnecessary thing to draw attention to; but if I had a quarter for every time someone’s hated on me at first introduction because they misheard ‘Windsor’-which gave them the idea I was some spoiled, old money brat- I’d be nearly rich enough to justify those generalizations.
It was easy enough to ignore the first phone call. She was the entire reason I had to transfer, anyway, whatever two bit apology she had on hand, I wasn’t buying. No reason I needed to pick up and tell her that. The second call was a bit more worrisome. Allison never called twice. This was the girl who would call someone, and passively aggressively avoid them for days if they didn’t call back within a certain time. I probably would have picked up on the third ring, but as I am human, I do occasionally require sleep. Finals had just ended for the semester, which meant I could finally indulge said human conditions. Alright, alright, maybe I didn’t go to sleep right away. The old Netflix streaming service had gone neglected for days: Last I had time to watch, I’d discovered both seasons of my favorite guilty pleasure and added it to the instant cue. It didn’t take me long into the first couple of episodes to fall asleep. I was woken up a few hours later by the sound of Fluttershy screeching accusations through the screen, “HOW DARE YOU!”
In retrospect, that should have been my first sign that things were about to go horribly wrong. When I’d finally found my phone, however, that sign was no longer necessary; Twelve missed calls, one voicemail, all from the same number. Listening to the voicemail alone was enough to send me tripping over myself to yank on my yoga pants and throw a jacket over my tank top. I went flying out the door in a record of less than thirty seconds: Either Allison had butt dialed me at the end of the Blair Witch project, or the indistinguishable blubbering crying was her voice, and something was very wrong
Now off the train, I tried to call as soon as I had a signal. No answer either time, though the phone was ringing more than twice, so I knew it wasn’t dead. That wasn’t really all that comforting when I thought about it. I suppose I should explain a few things. Allison wasn’t all bad. Of the two roommates I’ve had I definitely liked her better, and we got along well… until she kissed me in the middle of the night…When she thought I was asleep
I feel like I should make something clear; my reaction had nothing to do with her gender. Male or female, if I wake up with a tongue in my mouth, and we’ve not explicitly defined that as part of our relationship, you’re going to get slapped. Not out of any sort of malice, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction tied to decency. What happened after… well I’m not proud of it. I might have gotten a little upset, called her a few things I shouldn’t have. Of those things, a hand-full might have been what some people would consider to be ‘homophobic.’ If I was asked, I would say that I’m definitely not a homophobe, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest: In abstract, I support gay marriage, equal treatment, the right to choose and whatnot. I just hate that I’m the one who’s so frequently chosen. And not by men. Throughout my ‘long’ life of nineteen years, I’ve only had a single boyfriend, a month long, ridiculously awkward affair that ended with the modern classic “It’s not you, it’s me.” What he told everyone behind my back, though, was that I was ‘too intimidating.’
In those same nineteen years, I’ve not had many ‘girl friends’ (with a space) either, because -and I have worked this out statistically- over 95% of my ‘girl friends’ have become my ‘girl friends’ with the intent of eventually becoming my girlfriend. It’s like I’m a lesbian magnet, the second I walk into a place, I can almost be guaranteed that the first girl to talk to me wants to eventually get in my pants. Because of that, I’ve gone out of my way to be more girly and feminine. I’ve been told I look like a brunette Emma Stone (though only by other women.) The more I attempt to be normal, the more attractive my own gender seems to find me. Life has been… frustrating. I’ve gotten used to it, but sometimes I still reach a breaking point.
Catching Allison stealing kisses in the middle of the night, well... that was a big breaking point. So the question begs to be asked, why exactly am I going out of my way to help her? Well… she made really, really good pancakes. Can’t abandon a ‘friend’/mouth jumper in need if she makes good pancakes, right?
Okay, so maybe that’s not entirely honest. Maybe I’m just begrudgingly good natured; even if my best efforts seem to always activate Murphy’s Law. No, I’m not exaggerating; I got hit by a car during vacation trying to help a little old lady cross the street. It was the third time that morning. If you have a soft spot for older folks, do not take a vacation to Florida because you will be walking a lot of little old ladies across the street.
Trudging through the snow, I rounded the corner to my old apartment building. It would be too dark to see this late at night, but from the lights of the city I could barely make out a figure on the roof.
The roof was always Allison’s favorite spot to smoke, so it was on my list of places to check for her… I wasn’t expecting to be able to see her though, since she didn’t usually stand so close to the edge.
Crap crap crap.
Normally, I hate running. I do it every morning out of discipline, but try my best to avoid wearing myself out for the day. Funny how much faster you run when you’re scared to death. Practically colliding to a stop with the door, I was relieved to find that the code hadn’t changed. My hands were so shaky I had to enter it twice. The second I heard the latch unlock I was flying, already through the next door and taking the fire escape stairs three at a time. By the time I hit the roof I was doubled over, gasping for breath, seven flights of stairs in sixty seconds doing quite a number on my ability to obtain oxygen.
After a small coughing fit I saw her; I was a little pissed at how calm she looked, considering the voicemail. Sure, the runny mascara and wealth of fresh cigarette butts accumulating at her feet indicated a rough night, but between the two of us, I was the one who looked more likely to keel over.
“You know –pant- those things –pant- will kill you –pant pant” She gave me a look that said really? And put it out. She had a point, not the best choice of words. Now that I was here though, I couldn’t help but notice she seemed a much safer distance from the edge than it had appeared from the road.
“I’m surprised you came.” Cautiously, I walked closer, positioning myself between her and the edge, making a mental note of the ice.
“Like I wouldn’t come, Allie. Now what’s going on, seriously?” Whatever it was, Allie was being extremely tight-lipped. So much so that it was confusing me. When she went in her pocket for the lighter, I caught a glimpse of her ribs: The Allie I'd left when I transferred was trim and lean, not ribs-poking-through-shirt skinny. I found my irritation shrinking back into concern. Exhaling with a smirk, she finally spoke.
“I’m moving back in with my parents. I failed most of my midterms, just slept straight through ‘em.” Her devil may care tone told me that wasn’t the whole story. As our ‘altercation’ had occurred at the beginning of the semester, I was suddenly afraid to inquire further.
“How are your parents?” She shrugged.
“Not quite as angry as I expected them to be. Just ‘disappointed.’ Like that’s any better, you know how it is.”
“Any chance of salvaging your scholarship?” I was asking petty questions to stall, trying to put the main event off for as long as possible. I knew what this was about. She shook her head in response. Guilt stabbed at me, and it wasn’t the first time that night. Before I left, I had taken a lot of pent up frustration out on her, then proceeded to avoid her like the plague until I worked out the transfer. Of course, only in retrospect did I realize I had treated her like a nondescript denizen of the “destroy Kate Winsor’s chances of ever being happy” collective, not like a human being.
“Why didn’t you give me a chance to explain?” There it was, the million dollar question I’d been avoiding. She continued, making vague gesticulations. “I know I crossed a line… and you were right to be upset… but I felt like you hated me. Really hated me, more than I’ve ever been hated.” I sighed, leaning back on the waist high median. It was a story I’d never told anyone, but she deserved to know.
“When I was a kid, my mom left us, me and my dad. She left her family for another woman.” I tried to just recite the words and avoid reliving it, but that didn’t stop the lump in my throat. Allie was giving me her full attention for the first time that night, discarding her cigarette without breaking eye contact. “Ever since then, it’s like I’ve been cursed.” I told her the whole story, my history of attracting other women, the whole shebang. I wasn’t looking for pity... though certainly wasn’t expecting the growing irritation in her face.
I finished the story, trying to hide the confusion in my voice at her reaction. “… I was hoping college would be different, and when things turned out the way they did, I got really upset.” It was all true, save the last part. Maybe Allie sensed that omission. Maybe she just didn’t like being lumped in as a ‘perpetuation of a curse.’ Whatever the reason, the hard look on her face told me I had lost her completely. She spun on her heel and walked away. I wanted to stop her, try to salvage things. “Allie-“ the roof access door slammed.
Well, what was I supposed to say? I was angry because I thought I finally had a best friend? I was angry because we had so much in common, and I loved you… just not… like that? Now she was gone, and I was the one sitting alone on the edge of a roof. The low battery signal on my phone beeped, and absent-mindedly, I went to check it.
I had always expected the moment I died to be similar to the ending of American Beauty: That I would uncover some massive, life-altering epiphany right before the end, losing it moments later via metaphorical Chris Cooper’s handgun. Turns out, life isn’t ideal even when it comes to being ironic. My cell slipped out of my hand, and being idiot lemming that I was, I lurched forward to grab it as it slid backward off the median… and lost my balance entirely, slipping over the side.
Entering freefall, I closed my eyes, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t feel it when I hit the ground. I wonder what it’s like to have a best friend
The rational, sad stuff went through my mind for the first five seconds. Waiting for impact, however, can drive your thoughts to some odd places
Damn IPhone 4S. Will literally slip off of anything.
I should have bought an android.
Good thing I didn’t wear a skirt.
Does it really take this long to fall seven stories?
I wonder if Dad will take care of my cat.
Crap. I hope somebody remembers my cat.
Okay, it does not take this long to fall seven stories. I’m not going to open my eyes and look though, because if I do, it’ll be just in time to hit the ground. Or I’ll see a bowl of petunias.
Maybe this is a dream.
Maybe I’m not really falling.
“Hey, weird looking thing! Where ya going in such a hurry?!”
Well, towards the ground, obviously. Silly subconscious, I didn’t know you thought I looked weird.
“You really should slow down!”
Now you’re just stating the obvious. Wait. Though my eyes were still squeezed firmly shut, I realized there was much more light, and a major difference in warmth on my face.
A light. A warm light beckoning me forward as I’m levitated in apparent nothingness. Well crap. That’s always a great sign.
“You challenging me to a diving contest or somethin?”
Odd. My subconscious is many things. It is reflective, cynical, and overly-analytical… but it is definitely not competitive.
I opened my eyes and immediately wished that I hadn’t. I could see land literally miles below. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for myself. Fate couldn’t just drop me seven stories to my death, no, that would be too easy. Fate had to pick me up several thousand feet, turn on the light to make sure I could see my imminent doom rushing up to meet me, and then let me fall to my death. Or that was the best theory I could come up with, anyway. At least now I could appreciate the irony of the situation.
As if fate was just inclined to harass me further, my theory was immediately shattered by the appearance of an incredibly familiar, curious equine face. Its body was blue, a myriad of colors making up the composition of its mane and tail. It took me a minute -being under the impression I was seconds away from death and whatnot- but I eventually recognized her. Oh god. I’ve lost it. I’ve completely and totally lost it.
Well, there are worse things to hallucinate before you die. May as well have fun with it
“Stop flying, er falling away!” She was convinced I was making a fool out of her. I was tempted to crack a joke. However, when I considered how pissed off she looked and how terrible my luck was, I decided to go with the straightforward approach. I didn’t feel the need to invite the possibility of being pummeled and plummeting to my doom simultaneously.
“Trust me, I would if I could.” I had to half shout to make my voice audible. Her eyes snapped up to mine, confused.
“You mean you can’t fly?”
“Nope.” She touched her face with her hoof, no longer trying to “race” me, taking a comically thoughtful pose.
“Well how are you falling from so high up then?”
“I have no idea. I’m still lost trying to figure out what part of my subconscious you represent.” I was beginning to get lost in the hilarity of the situation. Whatever coping mechanism I had that brought this out… well, I was a little worried about my mental state. I could very well be in a psych ward at this moment, come to think of it.
“I’m not part subconcus, I’m a Pegasus!” As I started giggling, she crossed her forelegs and scowled at me. Possibly the most adorable coping mechanism ever. “I’m not just any Pegasus either, I’m-“
“Let me guess. You, are ‘Rainbow Dash,’ the fastest Pegasus in all of Equestria. Also, you’re an element of harmony; the element of loyalty to be precise” The look on the pony’s face was well worth the interruption. Slack jawed for only for a moment, a wide smile cracked across her face
“So you have heard of me?”
“Indeed. Who could forget the modern day master of the sonic rainboom?” I’m not usually much for flattery, but she was adorable, and since Rainbow Dash had decided to keep me company in my final moments, I didn’t mind petting her ego.
She regarded me suspiciously, a paradoxically lethargic expression to assume while airborne.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re making fun of me?”
Oops. Note to self: Pony in subconscious is not as gullible as she appears. I was getting the hang of orienting my body in freefall, so I pivoted myself around to face her. No point in staring down at the unpleasant inevitable after all. “Me? Never. But Rainbow Dash, you’re the flying expert here. How long would you estimate before we hit the ground?” The moment I drew closer and made full eye contact, her eyes glazed over and she looked at me… differently.
“You’re... you’re pretty…” I was very confused at what had prompted the turn in the conversation, as well as what the implications were if she were indeed part of my psyche.
Note to self: Pony in subconscious is implying that I may actually be a narcissist,
“Rainbow, snap out of it, did you hear me?”
She literally smacked herself in the face with a hoof, flushing scarlet. “Er, that’s not what I meant. I meant we’re pretty close.” I tried not to dwell on the previous moment.
“Great. Got anything more specific?”
“Three minutes, give or take.” I instinctively shut my eyes again. Well, there it was. I had asked for specific and I had gotten it. Way to take all the fun out of talking to an imaginary pony, Kate. My multi-colored companion had apparently noticed the attitude change to distress.
“Luna’s flank… you really can’t fly!” I shook my head, experiencing difficulties opening my eyes in the middle of the panic attack. Somehow, having a general idea of how much time I had was much more unsettling than just knowing it was “imminent.” I felt something loop under my arms, and start yanking on me rhythmically. Curiosity eventually won out over fear, and what I saw activated that “baw” feeling that comes free with every viewing of the Fox and the Hound or a cardboard box full of kittens in the rain. The Pegasus was having a panic attack that mirrored my own, desperately trying to slow my descent, head writhing in frustration with every upward yank, wings flapping furiously.
“Urgh- not that much bigger than me… why… so… heavy…” It was a strange feeling, being flattered by the rescue attempt and insulted simultaneously. I shrugged it off. My tone became unintentionally glib at that point.
“Too much ramen, what can I say.”SMACK. I feel like this would be an ideal place to make a note. Do not make a pony angry enough to slap you. They do not know their own strength, and are incapable of making a palm; thereby, a wakeup ‘slap’ to the face has much more in common with a roundhouse punch to the face.
I was about to say something to the effect of ‘OW,’ stopping the moment I saw Dash’s face; her eyes were tearing up from failed effort and frustration over not being able to lift me.
“You jerk, If you don’t grab on to me, I can’t save you …” Part of my subconscious or not, it would have been easier to watch that ‘heart to heart’ animal shelter ad with Sarah Mclachlan on loop for hours than it would have been to the deny the crying Pegasus. Crying ponies are a force to be reckoned with.
I grabbed on, reaching my arms up and wrapping them around her back. She squeaked a bit when I touched the space between her wings; I almost let go, worried that I had hurt her. The first thing I noticed was the heartbeat: It was strong, rhythmic, and all too real. My heart sank as I realized this seemed all too detailed to be a dream. I could see every single feather, and feel the brushing of her coat against my skin, almost vibrating from continuous frantic flapping of wings.
After a few minutes, I came to the alarming realization that our descent was not going well. Dash’s wings weren’t catching the drift properly. I remembered something I read about birds having hollow bones to make them lighter, an attribute that I assumed carried over for pegasi. If that was true, then I was significantly increasing Dash's air drag and her overall weight.
To put things bluntly, if I kept holding on to her I was going to bring her down with me. I wasn’t really upset at the realization. I’d been falling for a while already… in a way, It was oddly symbolic. I pulled myself up and whispered in her ear
“If I had a best friend, I wouldn't mind having one like you” I gave her a quick, platonic peck on the cheek.
I'd complained about not having an American Beauty moment, hadn’t I?
This was it.
I let go.
There was a large bang, moments before the shockwave from Dash’s rainboom knocked me out entirely.
I’m not much of a morning person. My wakeup process is extremely slow, I rarely jolt awake, and have been known to listen into conversations of those hapless enough to talk near my unconscious self. This has led to some extremely awkward moments. None, however, even came close the terror that was about to ensue. Slowly coming into consciousness, I opened my eyes just a sliver, praying it wouldn’t be detected. I was laying under a tree on some grass, and as I had suspected from the voices, a small crowd of ponies had gathered around me. I wasn’t able to see all of them, as I was trying to move my head as little as possible, but the presence of the orange Stetson clad pony made the scene was instantly recognizable, along with a few familiar others. When Applejack’s tail raised a bit too high, I saw something that definitely wasn’t familiar. It poked another- er… highlighted another flaw in my quickly unraveling theory that this was all in my head. Unless I had one hell of a masochistic side I wasn’t aware of.
“What in tha hay is that?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it…”
“It’s kinda… well… gorgeous, in all honesty” The feminine clamoring of agreement to the statement sealed my fate. If it was me they were talking about, I was in serious trouble. Something about the fact that the ‘innocent’ mares I thought I was familiar with were borderline ogling my unconscious body was disquieting.
“aint sure I’ve ever seen somethin so darn pretty.”
The next voice that spoke was so quiet I had to strain to hear.
“I didn’t notice until Rainbow and I landed, but she smells really… nice.” That moment, I felt something sniff me. Several somethings sniff me. This is not how it’s supposed to be!. I struggled to keep my face empty as a particularly bushy feeling mane tickled across my midriff, its owner breathing in deeply
“Fluttershy you were sooooo right! It smells like angel food cake and sugar cookies and hot sauce all rolled into one! I almost want to tear her open and see what’s inside!”
“…Ya might not wanna say it that way Pinkie Pie. Now Rainbow, yall said it was a she? How’dya figure that?”
Please save me Rainbow.
“Well duh, ever seen a stallion that attractive?”
Et tu, Dashie?
“Ah… Ah suppose not. Still though… think we oughta check?”
That better not mean what I think it means.
“What are you proposing, Dear Applejack? Not that I don’t like where you’re going…”
I REALLY DON’T LIKE WHERE IT’S GOING
“Well she aint up yet, so she might have some sorta injury. We’all jus can’t see it neath all that funny clothing.”
What the hell is that supposed to mean? Everybody wears yoga pants.
“You’re right Applejack! We have a responsibility to make sure she’s a-o-k!
As interesting as it was to see the similarities between human and pony group-think, my denial that I was somehow dreaming ended alongside my scientific fascination, as the Pink mare in question started trying to tug off my pants. I shot to my feet, my sudden revival earning a collective gasp.
“LOOKSEETOTALLYFINE!” Came out in a single breath, and after one millisecond of thought, I settled on taking the generic Tom Cruise solution to a problem: Run like hell, looking like a total idiot in any direction that qualifies as ‘away.’ Sure, I was running down a street I was completely unfamiliar with, in reality’s interpretation of a fictional place, but at least no one was trying to take off my pants. Covering what I thought would be a decent distance, I turned to look, hoping that my idiot impersonation would have at least given them pause before pursuing, or shocked them too much to pursue at all.
Note to self: Ponies love to chase things.
The scene going on behind me was a cross between the most intense bits of 28 Days Later and the Hills Have Eyes. I had a flock, a literal flock of ponies fanning out and chasing me down the street, while the rest made other preparations. They called out to me in what sounded like friendly voices as my feet pounded the pavement, but when I looked over my shoulder there was a flushed look of hunger in the group that did not coalesce with the kind sentiment.
“You’re going to hurt yourself again!
“Wait! Let us help you!”
“Ah’ma get mah rope! Be back in a flash!”
“You could be injured somewhere and not know it!”
Ohohoh no. Somewhere in there I definitely heard rope.
This was a nightmare of the most infernal proportions. Some cosmic douchebag had taken my largest insecurities and combined them with one of the more innocent things I cherished. This was Murphy’s Law taken to an entirely other level. A shadow passed over my head, and I instinctively ducked. Dash missed the flying tackle by inches, glaring at me, as if my making her miss was a personal insult
I lied. You’re totally not adorable, give me my platonic kiss back.
… Er. Actually, come to think of it, never mind.
I wasn’t going to last long. I could outflank them if I zigzagged, ran in confusing patterns, and generally made an idiot out of myself, but every stretch without a turn meant they gained a few feet. They were significantly faster than me. I was running by what looked like a hollowed out tree, about to give up and collapse when an invisible force grabbed me, yanking me into the dark and slamming the door.
AN: Next time on LP, everyone’s favorite lavender unicorn sheds some light on the situation… and tries to control herself. Please don’t be put off by the more somber opening. I wanted to set up the main character in a manner that made her unique, and also left things open for development; Since that’s done, the hijinks can begin. This is, above all, a comedy and HiE/shipping parody. EDIT: Also, in the middle of fixing my format. More recent chapters will be edited to match this format
There are few things that combine embarrassment and pain more effectively than the sensation of running full speed into a solid wall. It would be worse if the body didn’t instinctively brace for impact the second the obstacle enters line of sight, even if the time to react is practically nil. However, if the wall is invisible, there’s no hope of even the smallest reduction in inertia before impact. I had always imagined levitation and telekinetic ability would be fluffy, like being caught in a cloud, or flexible, like an all-encompassing elastic net.
…Not so much.
Running into the telekinetic field head first had flattened me in an instant. Too stunned to check, I was fairly sure my nose was bleeding. I’m not complaining, since it probably would have been outright broken if my forehead hadn’t taken the brunt of the impact. I was faintly aware that I was swiftly being dragged in the direction of the hollowed out tree as my eyes did their best to align themselves. I was just in the process of deducting that being clubbed over the head and dragged half-conscious into a secluded, darkly lit tree could pose a significant problem to my health when the door slammed, and I was already inside.
I am a staunch supporter of the “big girls don’t cry” movement. Nothing annoys me more than other women that can flip their waterworks on and off, manipulating at will. However, the reality is that emotional barriers can only hold out for so long. In the last six hours, I had recounted my darkest secret, faced death by falling not once but twice, hugged a fictional character, came within a hairs length of being violated by an entire group of other fictional characters, and had topped it all off by running headfirst into an invisible wall. So I’d say my current case of the sniffles was at least somewhat justified.
“Oh no I hurt you… I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” The voice and accompanying purple eyes seemed almost as worried about me as I was.
I have developed an incredibly honed sixth sense that serves as a warning for when I’m being seduced. For someone like me, it’s not so much a ‘talent’ as much as it is a ‘necessary survival skill.’ Thereby, distance and mental barriers are usually my allies of choice, until I can get a reading on the person (or pony) in question. However, Twilight Sparkle was making it exceptionally difficult to stay detached. Amazing what the tactical application of a box of tissues, homemade cookies, and a whole heap of understanding can do. Several cookies later I had calmed down and started to talk to her, probably looking three different types of pathetic with soggy eyes and tissue paper still stuck up my nose to stop the bleeding. It had only taken an abridged version of my story, barely delving in to the most unpleasant details before she jumped to her hooves and stalked outside. Peeking through the front window, I could only hear parts of the argument with the crowd of ponies that had gathered in front of Twilight’s door; the parts I could hear, though, were hilariously one sided.
“…Ashamed of yourselves! You should see how much the poor thing is shaking right now! It took her half an hour just to make direct eye contact with me! Is this how we welcome guests Applejack? Threaten to hogtie them?” The group of berated ponies were shrinking back and looking guiltier by the second, flattening ears and pouty lips all around. I would have almost pitied them had they not just recently been trying to TAKE OFF MY PANTS... okay, so maybe I was holding a little bit of a grudge.
Listening to Twilight crusading on my account was oddly heartwarming. Being the only child of a broken home, I quickly learned I had no other option than to fight my own battles, the nature of my ‘condition’ only accentuating the reality that, more often than not, I had no backup. Someone I had just met intervening on my behalf to this degree was practically unprecedented. The warm, fuzzy feeling of affection growing in my chest made it easier to ignore the ongoing ‘lowered defense’ alarms going off in my head.
With the lecture apparently over, the ponies began to disperse, looking largely sheepish and more than a little apologetic- save one. Pinkie Pie, who had previously blended into the crowd stood perfectly still, substantially more cheerful than everpony else around her, staring straight at the window I was looking through. I should have been completely out of sight; I was mostly obscured by the curtain, looking through a very small gap in the blinds. I got the otherworldly chills that were previously reserved only for Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, or the weeping angels in Doctor Who.
There’s no way you can see me… right?
I’m fairly sure the next moment took years off my life. My hand shot to my mouth as Pinkie turned her head sidewise and seemed to nod, very methodically, that yes, she could in fact see me. If that weren’t enough, she abruptly frowned and put a hoof to her mouth to mimic my facial expression, then slowly drew the hoof across her lips, mouth transformed into a wide and sinister grin as she went. The message was clear.
‘Let’s put a SMILE on that face!’
My pulse was probably well over two-hundred beats per minute, and that was before the door suddenly popped open. It… I might have screamed… a little.
To her credit, Twilight’s reaction made more logical sense than mine. From her perspective, she was being ambushed by a screaming alien lying in wait by her door.
You know that old kids rhyme: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?’ Anyone who’s been in a verbal argument where things got more than a little poisonous knows better. More literally speaking, so does anyone who’s been hit in the head by a telekinetically launched dictionary. I couldn’t blame her though, it showed on her face that it had been all reflex, and I could see through the encroaching darkness that she looked completely apologetic. I reached out and managed to pat her head comfortingly before the darkness closed in completely. I really wish I’d stop losing consciousness…
“You just don’t get it”
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. What a flaming pile of crap. Even the smallest, most insignificant things can haunt you for years if they catch you in the wrong emotional state at the wrong time. The knowledge that I was abandoned by my mother for another woman stung, sure, for a long time. After a while though, it blended in with my perspective of the world as a fundamentally flawed place. What does haunt me -the words that keep me up at night- were spoken by none other than my disgruntled 1st grade best friend, little Jenny Carpenter; A true prodigy, ahead of her time at both hopscotch and inflicting psychological sabotage. As I remember it, the words in question were spoken in the park playground, just after we’d ‘broken up’ as friends because I’d declined her request, as nicely as I could. She had asked me if I’d marry her when we were old enough. I had asked her why we couldn’t just be friends and well… she gave me an earful.
“You brought this on yourself Kate. You led me on, held my hand, hugged me, just to get my hopes up. You made me suffer in silence only to reject me. You were never my friend. You will never have friends, you’ll only think you do, because you don’t realize what you do to people.”
I was too young to recognize that Jenny had a flair for the dramatic. In retrospect, her little tirade was probably a small fraction of original rhetoric, meshed with paraphrased, badly written dialogue she’d picked up from a ‘Days of Our Lives’ rerun. But to a kid who’s already traumatized at the prospect of losing yet another friend, those words sliced deep. To this day, I’m still overly conscious of touching people. The words themselves wouldn’t affect me so much if I hadn’t watched Jenny’s behavior throughout high school. She dated around, mostly girls, though she experimented with a guy or two. The constant was her new best friend, a ‘Rachel’ something or other. They never dated; Rachel was straight as a board, kept the same boyfriend through senior year. She also looked a lot like me. Somehow, they still stayed friends. It was really, really hard not to hate Rachel. Her existence seemed to imply that there was something wrong with me.
Maybe there was.
I’ve never been particularly comfortable with the concept of sleeping naked, for rather obvious reasons considering my ongoing relationship with Murphy’s Law. I’ve sat through enough slasher movies to know wearing nothing to bed is taunting fate for the average female. For someone with my luck, attempting such a feat would be passive suicide; the equivalent of anyone else opening their window in the middle of the night, yelling at the guy wearing a hockey mask, and promptly giving him the finger. That’s probably why, when I felt sheets shifting against bare skin, my eyes shot open in an instant. I was in a bed, tightly tucked in with a light, purple colored comforter around my shoulders. I was also completely devoid of clothing. My mind would have circulated through all sorts of possible unpleasant scenarios had my thoughts not been imminently interrupted.
“You were making crying noises when you slept. It was kinda freaky.” I held the comforter across my neckline, turning over to glare at the source of the voice. The baby dragon was seated on a stool at my side, arms crossed, fully returning the glare.
“Why, were you taking notes?” I quipped grumpily.
“Doctor’s orders.” Spike held up a notebook, boredom written all over his face. Awkward. “So what were you dreaming about?”
“Onions. Lots of em.” Rolling his eyes, the baby dragon smirked. He obviously didn’t like me. I found myself fascinated with how refreshing it felt to not be liked, though I was getting sidetracked from the more pertinent issue at hand. “Um… What happened to my clothes?”
“After the dictionary…“ He made air quotes with his claws, “’Fell…’ on your head, Twilight started yelling for help, which was where I came in. Whatever it was that actually happened, when you blacked out you hit the stairs and banged your left side pretty hard. It was just a scrape, but you’re a bit of a bleeder so the stuff got everywhere, which I got to clean up.” He wrinkled his nose unhappily.
“Sorry.” I apologized out of habit, as ridiculous as it was. Can’t say I’ve ever felt so guilty about bleeding on someone’s floor before.
“It’s fine. Anyway, after Twilight got your clothes off, she cleaned you up and put you to bed.” Something about that sentence was very bothersome. The faint smell of shampoo on my hair reached my nose, and I felt my face growing hot. It had to be asked, but I had a feeling I knew exactly what the answer would be.
“Cleaned up how?”
“Like gave you a bath and stuff, duh.” There it was; the ridiculously awkward fine print I just had to search for. Effectively ending the conversation, I pulled the covers over my head with a groan.
An hour or so later Spike brought me my clothes, freshly washed. I wasn’t sure what sort of reaction to expect from Twilight. Dictionary be damned, I liked her (platonically, of course): It’s not every day you find somepony willing to save a complete stranger, take her in, feed her, and listen to her problems. It’s even rarer for that same somepony to take your side against her friends, regardless of who’s in the right. I’d spent my life dealing with these sorts of disappointments, yet the idea of her being caught in my ‘thrall’ left an old familiar bitterness in my gut. I slowly walked out of the guest bedroom, dreading every step. I prepared myself for the worst. Twilight was at her desk, flipping through two books simultaneously. I almost held my breath when she glanced up at me, waiting for her reaction.
…Nothing? No bedroom eyes, no awkward leer? Not that I was complaining.
“Kate! You’re finally up, how are you feeling?” She smiled and beckoned me over amicably. I approached her slowly, a bit numb, still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I’m fine, thanks by the way; Spike said you took care of me.” I glanced away when I said it, not wanting her to pick up on the fact that the baby dragon had clued me in on all the details.
“It’s the least I could do, all things considered.” She was exactly the same as before. Perhaps I had jumped to conclusions after all. As she filled me in on everything that had occurred while I was out, I had a growing sense of respect for the mare. For me, an average ‘Productive’ day involves not falling asleep in the middle of class lecture and managing to take legible notes. Twilight had written a letter to the princess on my behalf, and already done a significant amount of research on her own. I finally relaxed, as if exhaling a sigh I hadn’t realized I was holding on to. Once I had relaxed, time started to fly by. She brought me up to speed on equestrian history, and in turn I told her about the human world. We compared species, flora and fauna. I may have not been as dedicated as she was to academics, but I was an academic nonetheless. There was a wealth of new concepts to pick from, and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn as much as she enjoyed the opportunity to teach. What struck me most significantly was the authenticity of it all. I couldn’t say exactly where it happened, but at some point during the conversation I stopped considering the possibility that what I perceived as ‘Equestria’ was all some sort of elaborate dream. With the context of knowledge Twilight was helping to build, I was beginning to form a very real sense of place. We must have spent an entire hour discussing connections we found between Greek mythology and the exploits of Starswirl the bearded.
Before I knew it I was leaning into the conversation, grinning like an idiot, that fact alone was of note: See, I’m more the mysterious, closed lips turned upward kind of girl. For what’s possibly some bizarre genetic reason, I’ve never been able to fake a ‘real’ smile from a young age, especially for pictures, so I got in the habit of smiling lips only. I have to be really engaged or enjoying something to ditch that tendency. In the moment, my real smile was all I had for Twilight Sparkle. How long had it been since I’d let my guard down, and connected this deeply with anyone?
That’s probably why I missed the early warning signs.
The devil is always in the details. While I was feeling happy enough to pen a song that would have made Taylor Swift gag from too much sentimentality, I was missing, or perhaps subconsciously ignoring several increasing oddities in Twilight’s behavior. It started small: her breathing became shallower; she started talking less frequently and having problems articulating, becoming slightly less eloquent than she had been a few minutes prior. Her gesturing slowed down, eventually degrading to the point where her front hoofs were gripping the sides of her chair tightly. I maintained ignorance until we reached the midpoint of our discussion on how magic affected the three pony-types differently, when the color in her cheeks turned to a dull red. It wasn’t a blush, not really; it looked more like the soft, constant glow associated with a fever.
“So earth ponies do have mana, it’s just passive and not associated with leylines.”
“R-right. Because they have n- no way of discharging mana, if they unconsciously drew from leylines the way the rest of us do, over time they would absorb too much and hurt themselves.”
“Wouldn’t the pegasi be the same way?” I asked, too intent on the discussion, tunnel vision fully engaged. I was zoned out, trying to fill the gaps in these complicated theories. If I hadn’t been so introspective, I might have noticed in time.
“Th- the Pegasi have their wings. They’re not as potent as a method of d-d-discharge as a unicorn’s horn, but they sti-… they still store and discharge mana from leylines.” Her eyes lost focus for a moment, and she was suddenly trying to look anywhere other than at me. The stunned expression finally caught my attention, and I noticed how warm and tightly coiled she looked. It was almost like she was trying to hold something in.
“Twi? are you okay?” Concerned, I leaned forward, reaching out to check her temperature with the back of my hand. Two fingers barely brushed against the base of her horn. The reaction was volatile and immediate.
“NGGHHH-“ the unicorn abruptly arched her back as her horn flashed, a glimmering stream of magical energy shot right over my head, smacking against the wall behind me with a fizzle. If there was any doubt as to the nature of the projectile, it was quickly eliminated by the look on her face. Twilight looked absolutely horrified, simultaneously turning four different shades of red, making a monumental effort to articulate yet failing to speak a single coherent word. I was not ready to deal with the implications of what had just happened.
Perception is reality. Practical applications of Philosophy 1301
“Is it always that dangerous when you sneeze?”
Note to self: Even feigned ignorance can be bliss.
In the past, I often used the figure of speech ‘between a rock and a hard place.’ As I looked back on my prior usage, I slowly began to realize how completely and utterly spoiled I was. While I’d been in plenty of awkward, unpleasant situations before, nothing even came close to this new level of damning complexity. Between a newly acquired case of acute agoraphobia and a premature ejac (er, sneezing) unicorn, the odds were not stacked in my favor. It had been a few days since that little incident, and if things were just a little awkward around the library, I’d suck it up and deal with it. Things are not, however, a ‘little’ awkward. It was like I had an invisible bassist following me around: every time I did something that could be even remotely misconstrued as erotic, the bassist would play the ‘bow-chicka-wow-wow’ rift and a certain lavender unicorn’s jaw would hit the floor. Yesterday for instance, I spilled a bit of orange juice on myself. As I’m not exactly rolling in piles of extra clothing at the moment, I quickly ran it under some water in the sink on the off chance it might stain. I turned around to see Twilight literally salivating with a dazed look on her face. And that hasn’t been the only time:
Pulling up the bottoms of my pants so they don’t get in the way of clipping my toenails?
Stretching in the morning and revealing a bit of midriff?
Trip and fall down the steps worthy.
Smiling at her for making pancakes?
Well, there went breakfast.
It became clear that I had to get out of the library, at least for a little while. My motivations, however, were not so transparent. As amusing as Twilight’s reactions were, I knew I must have been rough on her. The poor pony had been paying an unpleasant cost to put her own emotions and needs aside for my sake, a total outsider. For me to stay around her constantly and pretend to be oblivious to her needs would just be cruel. Coming to that conclusion brought me to my next problem.
We had it all worked out on the second day; I would go jogging on the route Twilight had helped to draw out for me, making a beeline for the outskirts of Ponyville and then circling around and running along the edge of the Everfree forest, heading back when I felt I’d reached an acceptable halfway point. As for why I was jogging; well, if my introduction to Ponyville was any indication, I figured I needed to keep myself as fit as possible. I had already learned the hard way my only advantage in a chase here was agility and endurance. If I went out early enough, I’d run a very low risk of running into anypony, so the pros outweighed the cons. Twilight had volunteered to time me. As she gazed a little too intently at my low-to-the-ground starting position inside the library, I channeled my inner Balboa; visualizing my own little training montage and everything. I prompted her after about thirty seconds of pretending not to see her staring at my ‘flank.’
“Oh! Sorry, right, GO!” And I was off, full speed all the way to the… doorframe.
The sensation was strange, it was like all the will and determination required to exert myself drained out of me the second my body realized I was trying to go outside. It wasn’t even dawn yet, from what I could see there wasn’t a single pony in sight, my route completely clear. So I backed up and tried again. No dice. After engaging in some psychology assisted deduction with Ms. Sparkle, we established that I had somehow acquired PTSD linked agoraphobia, better known as being a complete coward and not being able to go outside. It was then I realized that all my machinations of surviving a zombie apocalypse were meaningless: I hadn’t been chased by flesh-eating monsters, no; I had been chased by a group of adorable looking equines, who only came up to about my waist in height. Yet I had still come through psychologically scarred… by ponies.
Note to self: Would not do well in a zombie apocalypse.
We tried a few more times, to no avail. Twilight was patient, but I was getting frustrated enough for both of us. Suddenly my shoes had to be retied, or I needed a drink first, or Twilight was looking at me funny (when she was always looking at me funny.) It was like trying to break through a locked door composed of anxiety, apathy, and ADD. And she really was looking at me funny.
“Maybe we’re talking the wrong approach.” Twilight suggested thoughtfully.
“How so?” I asked, softly bumping my head against the doorframe a few times.
“Well look at you: you’re not taking your starting position anymore and you're not picking up nearly as much speed as you were.” While I don’t take criticism well in general, I had to admit she was right. My enthusiasm had run out the door in my stead.
“Okay, I see your point.” I assumed the starting position again, my legs complaining at the sheer repetition of the act. I looked down, instead of straight ahead, focusing my eyes on the hardwood floor.
“Wait!” Dammit, another false start. “Let’s see what shifting your weight around might accomplish. If we set up your pose the right way, we might be able to remove your counter-balance so won’t be able to stop before you’re already out the door.” I was desperate at that point.
“Sure, fine, anything.”
“First, close your eyes so you can’t estimate the distance.” I complied, though my subconscious cheerily reminded me that it was, in fact, about three steps to the door. My subconscious could be a real jackass.
“Go down on the knee of your back hoof, so you’ll have to launch yourself.”
“Now… arch your back… yeah… just… a little… more…” When I realized the quiver in Twilight’s voice had been reminding me of Herbert from Family Guy, I almost fell over. I had fallen for the ‘comeer sweetheart let me teach ya how to swing a tennis racket’ routine.
“Hmm... maybe… we should try a few practice launches, very slow ones-“
“No-thanks-I’m-good-say-go-please” I interrupted her through grit teeth, words blending together. My eyes were still shut, but I know I heard her sigh disappointedly.
“GO!” I rallied my willpower for one final attempt, counting the steps.
One… Two… Three…
I wasn’t terribly surprised by the results. To her credit, Twilight’s ‘pointers’ actually got me farther out the door than I’d managed to get on my own. I just wasn’t in any state to go running. We had theorized that this was a self-created barrier I had to push past. We had been wrong. The door was the proverbial frying pan and Ponyville was the fire. I’d not had an asthma attack since middle-school, but there I was, splayed on my stomach less than a foot in front of the door frame, gasping like all the oxygen had been sucked out of my surroundings. Other than the anxiety, I was just plain pissed. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and my time thus far in Ponyville had been anything but perfect: now I couldn’t even get out a damn door to go running, an activity I barely even like. It was too much for me to deal with combined with the sensation of being submerged in a sea of anxiety. I was gasping for breath, and in a moment of weakness my mind was displacing the frustration onto Twilight.
Why is she not doing anything? She’s... She’s watching... she’s enjoying this- Having a panic attack look ‘hot’ to you too? Enjoy, you -
A gentle tug stopped the venom before it could seep out; In the process, I realized that the harsh telekinetic field from the other day must have been a product of haste. I was levitated much more gently than before, lifted just enough so that my back didn’t impact the bottom of the doorframe, the force carefully pushing me up to a sitting position once I was inside. My anxiety diminished, but the lack of oxygen and frustration remained, though I was now only frustrated at myself.
It’s a strange sensation being hugged from behind by a pony. Despite their small size, it’s almost heavier than being hugged by a human because they have to place more direct body weight on the top of the recipient’s shoulders to stay upright. Twilight’s embrace was like an over the shoulders harness, imbuing a similar sense of security.
“Breathe… you did fine, we made progress, just breathe. There’s always tomorrow.” Her voice was genuine, free of ulterior motives. Oxygen made a merciful reappearance and the anxiety seeped out of me, leaving only a growing sense of guilt at how coldly I had thought of her… Where did that even come from, anyway? A few minutes past, before I became overly-conscious that the unicorn had yet to release me. I was just about to gingerly disentangle myself from her hooves when she beat me to it, trotting up the stairs without looking back. I kicked the doorframe irritably. I didn’t know what I felt, other than pathetic. It was awkward for me to be around her and it was obviously difficult being around me.
For the millionth time that day, I thought about how much I needed to get out of the library and clear my head.
I settled on dragging half a dozen books upstairs with the intension of bunkering down in the ‘terrarium.’ And by terrarium, I mean the guest room, which Pegasi ponies liked to treat as their own personal zoo. The situation constantly reminded me of Planet of the Apes. I wish I was kidding. The sliding glass door/window led to a miniature balcony, or, as the Pegasi would have called it, a perch. Closing the curtains worked fine for the first day. The second day, I started getting a little stir crazy, missing the outdoors and the sunlight, so I opened the curtain… which proceeded to break beyond repair as soon as I touched it, naturally. I had originally dealt with the lack of privacy by staying out of the room as much as possible, an option no longer viable with the current state of awkward. I covered up with a blanket and grabbed a book, mentally steeling myself.
So it begins.
If it was anything like the previous day, the battle occurring on the fields of my sanity would be deceptively calm at its onset. My foes would wait until I was engrossed in my task, striking only when I was inches away from tranquility. Even now, they circled, shadows in the sky, waiting for me to drop my guard. They would be sorely disappointed. I could feel their eyes on me, I knew their game; they would attack the second my mind wandered. Only vigilance, skill and perseverance would carry me through. I would welcome the battle, embracing it, laughing maniacally into this raging onslaught from the very gates of hell itself.
Huh. It’s like they completely gloss over the reason why Luna was banished-
TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP
Well, hello to you too! I will not be lowering my book. I’m going to finish reading about the early history of Equestria. I am a woman of discipline, and will not fall for such petty-
TAP TAP … TAP TAP TAP
Syncopation will not alter my resolve-
No, the rhythm doesn’t remind me of a particular famous Queen song. Your petty attempts to rouse me are but raindrops in the sea. I am at one with the-
TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAPATAPATAPATAPATATAPTAPTAPTAPTAP
“GOD DAMMIT” I threw the book, altering my trajectory just in time so it struck the wall instead of the window. I got a little surge of glee as it appeared the offending Pegasus might lose her balance, tipping over the side from the sudden noise and movement, but that would have been far too fortuitous. Rainbow Dash (and of course it would be Dash…) recovered her balance, sticking her lower lip out and pointing at the latch.
Not going to happen.
To the day I die, I will never tap on an animal’s cage again. I raised my book, only to have another tap on the window remind me how impossible reading would be. Dash continued with the pouty lip, pushing her face up against the glass and touching a hoof to her chest painfully. It would be absolutely heartrending, adorable, and endearing… had she not just tried to tackle me the other day. I jotted something down in big letters on the back of the paper I was taking notes on. I wasn’t expecting her to get the reference, so it was more for my entertainment than hers. I held the paper up: How much is that doggy in the window?
Note to self: It is an egregious offense to refer to a pony as any animal less intelligent than a pony.
Dash glowered at me with the same sort of look I would have had if someone had called me the C word. Oops. I was almost feeling guilty enough to at least crack the window so I could apologize for my accidental violation of pony social norms when I was treated to another lesson on Equestrian customs: Dash, still glowering, turned around slowly, flank facing towards me. Her back arched; I thought she was about to take off when her tail suddenly flicked up as she pressed up against the-
-AFTER THE CONFLICT A THOUSAND YEAR PERIOD OF PEACE BEGAN, WITHIN WHICH CELESTIA’S LEADERSHIP MANAGED TO NARROWLY OUTLAST AN ESCALATING HOOVES RACE WITH THE DRACONIC EMPIRE, A CONFLICT WHICH WAS CENTERED AROUND THE PROLIFERATION OF ALICORN TEARS AND THEIR
I peered over my book slowly, hoping the tap meant Dash had finished her retribution. Naturally, she had not, having tapped with her back hoof, still pressing her flank against the glass and offering an in depth look at her-
-MASS STOCKPILING, EXCESS STOCKPILING ALSO LED TO THE MODERN DAY SCARCITY OF ALICORNS, THE DRACONIC EMPIRE WAS NEARLY AS POWERFUL IF NOT MORE POWERFUL THAN EQUESTRIA BUT EVENTUALLY COLLAPSED DUE TO THE FAILURE OF ITS OWN FLAWED ECONOMIC-
I really needed a new curtain. When I finally worked up the backbone to look, Dash had ended her little expose, much to my relief. She was still glaring at me though, hoof held back as if to say ‘I will tap again if you try to ignore me.’ I closed my book with a sigh. Whatever it was that had gotten under her skin wasn’t going away, neither was she, and I might as well play nice on the off chance I ever managed to breathe and go outside simultaneously. Other than that, there was the whole part where she had technically saved my life. She’d done a few things since then, sure… but she saved my life nonetheless. I walked over and opened the side window enough for her to stick her head through, preparing to greet savior and assailant with my typical diplomatic poise.
“The hell do you want?”
“’Hell,’ do you want?” She emphasized the expletive, confused
“I don't know, you’re the one who was tapping on the window.” I smiled for the punchline, and in response she only looked more lost. Har har Kate. Very funny; it’s like a knock knock joke, except its only funny to you, since the pony has no way of knowing what you’re talking about. Good show darling, good show indeed.
I swear, sometimes it feels like my inner monologue is trolling me. Rephrasing, I imbued my speech with the grace and cultural sensitivity this pony deserved.
“What do you want?
“Oh! Why didn’t you say so in the first place!” Dash paused in sudden contemplation as if she had completely forgotten what her original reason for barging in was. “Ah, got any water? I’m parched” she asked sheepishly. Well, now I feel like a bit of a jerk.
“Sure, hold on.” I walked back towards the bed, grabbing the cup of water off my nightstand and wiping the rim with my tanktop. I placed it down in front of her on the window pane, making a slightly more noticeable effort to be friendly before turning around to grab a chair. It was an effort which, for reasons I was unsure of, failed miserably. When I turned back with the chair, Dash, with a single foreleg inserted through the narrow side window, was looking at me like I was the biggest bully in the world, her face scrunched up in an expression that said ‘WHO DOES THAT?’
“Er. Oh” I looked at the hoof, and then the cup, taking far too long to realize the monumental ass I had made out of myself. The pony does not have opposable thumbs, and is not a unicorn. For her next act, ladies and gentlemen: the clairvoyant Kate Winsor will go to an orphanage and ask little Timmy what time his parents are picking him up. I really needed to work on applying logic to the real world. “Oh god I’m really sorry, Here let me hand you- Actually would a bowl be-” I stopped myself just in time. I meant well, but I realized any further discussion of a bowl would most likely be seen as very demeaning, which was something I intended to avoid considering her reaction to the dog comment.
“No, I just couldn’t reach it. If you can just hoof that cup to me through the window that’d be fine.” Her response was surprisingly cordial, considering my unintended rudeness. Curious, I handed it to her, wondering if my assumption that I violated some sort of Fox and the Stork cultural insensitivity had been incorrect. I was only partially wrong. While she couldn’t fit both forelegs through the narrow side window, with enough room she could actually drink in a human-like manner if she used both fore hooves to hold the cup, almost like her hooves had some sort of static cling. It still looked awkward, as she had to use the balcony to prop herself up.
“Sorry about the cup thing, still getting used to... all of this” I indicated my surroundings. After putting the cup down with her hoofs so she could stand, she picked it back up with her mouth and gestured for me to take it.
“Mph unt e unly ing oo ave oo eh orry or.” I took the cup from her, making a mental note to clean it.
“Want to run that by me again?”
Dash stuck her head back through the window. “I said: that’s not the only thing you have to be sorry for.”
“Er, the dog thing?”
“The bowl thing?”
“The inside joke with myself?”
“No- eh?” I waved off the question dismissively. It seemed I was almost out of ways I could have offended rainbow dash, as unbelievable as that was. And I just refused to apologize for ignoring the tapping.
“I give up.”
“You’ve been playing favorites!” Looking at me reprehensibly, she said it with the same fire and indignation one would use to finger a sex offender… er, so to speak.
“With Twilight?” I tilted my head, confused. “That’s more of an issue of playing crazy and not crazy.” Dash ignored the jab.
“No, with Pinkie. She said you let her in, and that you guys had a sleepover together.” The temperature in the guest room dropped several degrees. My smile was incredibly thin.
“I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen.”
“Nope, she showed me the lock of hair you gave her” the Pegasus insisted, and I fought the urge to run to the mirror and frantically check my hair. Despite that, I couldn’t keep myself from brushing through it subconsciously with my fingers, and found a section of it that felt significantly shorter than the rest. Speaking of hair, I had found a long pink thread of hair in my bed the other...
My throat was suddenly very dry. I absent-mindedly took a drink, devolving into a coughing and sputtering fit as soon as I realized what the strange taste was. Skittles totally lied to me. I took a few seconds to compose myself.
“Tell you what, you promise me you’ll stop tapping so much, I’ll think about letting you in next time.” Having acquired what she came for, Dash leapt to her hooves
“AWESOME! Well I need to run, cloud patrol duty and all.” Fine, drop the Pinkie bomb on me and leave why don’t you. With a single leap she dove off the balcony, flying off into the sky. I might have felt a little bit of awe, mixed with a smidgen of jealousy, though I’d never admit that to her; I needed to get out of the library, if only to stretch my legs for a short time. Now conflicted on whether or not I’d ever sleep again, I figured I might as well try to go on a night run, but that still left the problem of how to get out the door.
A mental image of the Pegasus leaping off my balcony replayed in my mind. Why bother with the door? It was an attractive notion, though slightly crazy. I opened the sliding door and walked the short distance out, leaning over the balcony. For a pony, the drop would have been dangerous. For an average human, however, it was just a little more than a single story, and as an ex-gymnast I was confident I could stick the landing. As plans for the night came together in my mind, I noticed a flash of blue on the balcony floor. Intrigued, I bent over to pick it up; the discarded blue feather felt surprisingly soft in my hand. Had I been the superstitious sort, I would have considered it a sign. I wasn’t particularly superstitious... still though, I felt a new wave of gratitude for Dash’s inspiration as I pocketed the feather. The warm feeling was tragically short-lived, ending abruptly the second I turned back and saw the heinous, snail-trail-esque residue now adorning the glass door. It wasn’t just skittles; the leprechauns were liars too.
“DAMMIT DASH! GET BACK HERE AND CLEAN OFF THIS SMUDGE!”
AN: Next time on LP, Kate dives into solo jogging … at night. What could possibly go wrong?
This was much easier to write than the previous chapter, hopefully thats a sign I’m getting into a rhythm. I want to take a second to thank everyone who’s liked/favorited/commented in the last couple days, the response has been absolutely amazing. In the past, I’ve tried to reply to all feedback on a story I’m writing, but since there’s so much feedback here, if I addressed every comment I’d never get another chapter done. Just please know that I do read all the comments, and will definitely do my best to get back to you if it’s a question. Thanks again everypony.
Like the hapless protagonist of so many great stories, I was blissfully unaware that I was charging directly towards my point of no return. The death of Uncle Ben, a chance meeting with Tyler Durden, or every fantasy origin cliché where the main character comes back to find his or her tiny agrarian village (and/or living relatives) engulfed by flames, with the arch-villain laughing maniacally somewhere in the distance. Unfortunately, my situation was not anywhere near as backhandedly obvious. It was a simple personal hurdle; I just wanted to go running.
Note to self: Should have known by now to have caught the inherent complication at my assumption that anything would be “simple.”
Shortly after Rainbow Dash made the glass door on significantly less translucent, Twilight had brought up some clothes for me that Rarity had dropped off as means of an ‘apology.’ I automatically heard ‘apology’ as ‘bribe,’ but hey, I’m not above a little bribery, especially when it comes to free clothes. If I were to judge by the contents of the care package, Rarity really wanted to see me in a dress, a desire I wasn’t particularly inclined to fulfill. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but the fact that at least half a dozen dresses were hoof made for me within the period of three days was borderline obsessive, as I assumed she didn’t exactly have human designs lying around. …All right, maybe I did wind up trying a few on, and maybe the obsessive nature of their creation wasn’t the primary reason I wouldn’t be wearing them.
I couldn’t help it, she had literally given me a bunch of dresses, all of which looked fancy enough to suggest that Dior himself rose from the grave and tried his hand at making something more modern. A girl capable tossing aside said dresses without even a little trial run has got to be a vampire or a ginger; either way, there’s a high probability she has no soul. The dress in question that really caught my eye was midnight purple: It was devoid of the flaws I’d been expecting, the neckline was rather reserved, and the fabric had the appearance of satin with the feeling of cotton. What really reeled me in though, were the gems. For a moment I thought that they were some weird, sequin imitation until I looked closer. The only upside to being a geology nerd is the fact that I know my rocks, and that was real sapphire embedded into the neckline. It was a muted, unrefined shade of sapphire, used in an understated manner, as anything brighter would have made the dress look cheesy. As it was it, the gems held the same shade as the dress itself until they caught the light, when they dazzled like tiny stars.
Note to self: Rarity has a firm grip on my personal kryptonite, magnificent couture. Exercise extreme caution.
Before I knew it, I had moved to the corner of my room. It was a small, awkward spot to change in but the privacy was worth it. It was the only spot a peeping Pegasi passerby wouldn’t be able to see me with the current state of the destroyed curtain. Yeah I saw that one coming. Suck it Trebek! I doubted the dress was even going to fit, unless I had missed something significant in my first few moments in Ponyville. I remembered being put down, only a few minutes passing before I had managed to insert myself in something resembling the recent remake of The Crazies. Having donned the dress, I walked over to the full-length mirror with low expectations. There was no way she had gotten a handle on my measurements, or even hypothesized on how to-
Oh. Oh crap.
I’m not often wrong… and when it comes to predicting the outcome of Murphy’s Law I’m practically an expert. Even when I am wrong, due to some inane dalliance with optimism, there’s almost always a tiny voice in my head saying: you know, I was telling you that was going to happen all along, you just choice to ignore it. But here I was, caught entirely off guard, a rare experience for me. The dress didn’t fit like a glove; it fit like a dream. The neckline was as reserved as I had predicted it would be; it wouldn’t meet convent standards of course, managing to be a touch suggestive yet completely devoid of cleavage obsession, the industry trend that drove me away from dresses in the first place. More to the point, it seemed to compliment every single other part of my figure, alternating roomy and skintight in all the right places.
So elated was I by the masterful look and personal fit of the dress, I could feel my heart sink when I noticed the length. This wasn’t just short. This wasn’t even Nicole Richie short. This was more like the pre-rehab, freak-dancing in a trashy nightclub Nicole Richie variety of short. My impression of Rarity had gone up a few notches, taking a subsequent nosedive as I realized there was no way she was so spot on with the rest of my measurements and just ‘accidentally’ got the length wrong. Somepony wanted to see a lot of thigh. Well. Somepony isn’t going to see any thigh. Though, since I’m never going to wear it again, I might as well play around with it a bit.
It would have been too depressing to just toss it aside never to wear it again, so I gave it the proper send off. Pegasi didn’t usually come by this late in the afternoon, nevertheless, I kept checking the ‘terrarium’ window intermittently to ensure I was solely entertaining myself. Then, the mirror assisted self-indulgence began:
Double pirouette? Check check.
Runway walk? Check.
Sharon Stone leg-cross? Check, but my boyshorts will be keeping this PG-13.
Bond Pose? Check: Craig or Connery though, not Brosnan.
Bond Girl Pose? Eh… pass.
Fergie strut? Oh snap!
Having decided I would end my dress appreciation session with a Marilyn Monroe classic, I climbed up on the dresser and reclined on an elbow with my legs crossed, putting a the ‘sh’ finger to my lips. It was a little over the top, a combination of love for the dress, stir craze, and straight boredom. As a modest person, I wouldn’t have been caught dead doing anything similar in public. I liked playing pretend as much as the next girl, but the idea of actually being a model? Let’s just say it’s right above ‘acting in sexually explicit lesbian art-house flick’ on my list of desires, which subsequently on the list is right above ‘death by steamroller.’ Do. Not. Want.
In fact, I was so antsy about being watched from the back window that I completely missed a fatal flaw: I hadn’t noticed the door was cracked. As I procrastinated parting ways with the dress for one last second, combining a smoldering Princess Diana smile with the Monroe pose, there was a clatter. I jolted off of the dresser as if it was electrified; dying a little inside from the thought that someone had witnessed my display. Turns out, someone hadn’t. Twilight was sitting outside my door, having fallen back on her rump when the door swung open. Her facial expression was a little too familiar, now that I was looking for it; the unfocused vision and shortness of breath would have been a dead giveaway had her horn not already been lightly glowing.
“I just got here-“ Suuurrrre. Post evaluating my own feelings, I realized I couldn’t bring myself to be angry at her… I felt more guilt than anything else. She might have been spying, but I was the one who was screwing around and didn’t think things through. What else is new Kate? You don’t think. I would have pointed out to my undermining inner monologue how paradoxical that allegation was, but I was too busy trying to figure out how to deal with Twilight. I settled for kneeling, partly so I could be on her eye level, partly so I wasn’t in the direct trajectory of her horn, pulling the dress over as much leg as it could cover.
“Kay. So… what’s up?” When in doubt, refuse to acknowledge the awkward. It doesn’t exist. There is no spoon. I tried very hard not to look at her horn. Unfortunately, the exercise in Hollywood Gnosticism was pointless as Twilight shook while staring at her hooves. She spoke in quick, fragmented speech.
“Two letters from Princess. About you. Said to give this one to you. Sounds unhappy but don’t worry. I’ll help if I can- HEY LOOK, A NON-SEQUITUR!” She pointed at into the room with a hoof. Considering the vast amount of harassment that had come out of that side of the room, my head snapped around to look. Nothing- As soon as I turned back around, Twilight had already dropped the letter at the door and was skittering around the corner at break neck speed. Can’t believe I fell for that. I winced as I heard another door slam, not allowing myself to imagine what would be going on behind it.
After picking up the letter dejectedly, I was relatively sure from her reaction that the poor unicorn had seen the whole thing. It’s so much easier to deal with embarrassment when you have anyone to blame other than yourself… which of course, I did not. Contemplating the fact that I had metaphorically shot the messenger wasn’t doing anything positive for my mood, so I changed back into my usual, displacing as much of the blame as I could on the dress.
“You have no idea the effect you have on people.” The young girl’s voice echoed mockingly in my subconscious.
Shut the hell up Jenny; get out of my head go play your stupid hopscotch. I’m more than capable of inflicting harassment on myself.
Reflection and solitude is vastly overrated. Changed back into the relative safety of my yoga pants and tanktop, I opened the letter from Princess Celestia, hoping for good news, despite Twilight’s warning.
Note to self: Never hope for good news.
The introductory sentence itself didn’t bode well:
Addressing alleged human; Kate Winsor,
This message is for your eyes only. You are to read it thoroughly, twice, at which point and time this letter will self-obliterate. You are not to repeat it the nature of its contents to anyone, my most faithful student most of all.
If I had garnered any personal amusement over the ‘top’ secret nature of the letter, it was thoroughly wiped out by the next segment.
Twilight and I have been in correspondence regarding you several times already, most specifically over the nature of your arrival, and the incident which occurred therein. If, and only if you are what you claim to be, there have been precedents for such things, several millennia prior. However, they have not ended well, and not in the slightest.
Considering humanity’s somewhat problematic history of violence, I could understand potential misunderstandings and her concerns… right up to the part where the implied threats started. Princess Celestia’s penmanship took an alteration in appearance that would have made a graphologist run in terror; previously light writing taking on a much darker and wider font, implying that significantly more weight was being pressed deeply into the parchment.
Let us make this perfectly clear. We bear no ill will towards you. It is possible that you are an exception to the norm, and the coercion is completely unnecessary. But we will not take that chance. If you cause harm to a single pony in my domain, especially my dearest student, the pain you inflict will be returned to you seven fold. We take no pleasure in such measures, but they are an unfortunate necessity. More importantly, If you were to cause, directly or indirectly, the death of a pony in our domain… well… We will leave the specifics to your imagination, but mark these words:
Death is not a mercy you would ever be granted.
Take that however you will. Now that the ground rules have been laid, welcome to Equestria! Twilight Sparkle has brought it to our attention that you had no plans to come here, and want to leave at the earliest possible convenience. We ourselves would like the power to be omnipresent, as well as the ability to avoid dealing with the monsoon of bureaucratic paperwork and damaged red tape that occurs every time an intangible crosses between universes, but it seems we can’t always get what we want, now can we?
The possibility of discussing your departure will be a priority as soon as we’re finished dealing with the problems you created in your arrival. I’ve never heard of the ‘curse’ Twilight implies that you have, even among the morose precedents of your species. From her description, it sounds like an isolated personal problem. We have a few theories, and if what we have heard is any indication, you affect unicorns most significantly, so with that in mind perhaps you should consider distancing yourself from my student.
Have a pleasant day. Please remember to reread this letter to activate the self-obliteration. When you have done so, we would advise dropping it away from any appendage you would prefer to remain in working order before it self-obliterates.
Numbly complying with the command, I glazed over the document again, tossing it aside and watching glumly as it evaporated in a sea of sparks that coincided with my dissolving hope of going home in the near future. I was stuck, and the highest power in Equestria hated me already. Things were not going well. I wasn’t sure how it could get much worse-
“Looks like somepony’s got a case of the Mondays!”
CRAP. They got me AGAIN.
Without realizing it, I had left the side window cracked from Dash’s previous visit; the Cheshire cat-like grin from the pink pony out on the balcony seemed to evacuate all the heat from the room. Her cheery voice sounded like a guffaw of baby seals corralled in a poacher’s net, their happy mewling tainted by the sheer horror of their imminent future. In my shock, I said the only thing that came to mind.
“Er. Is it actually a Monday?” She tilted her head at me like an owl, save the blinking.
“Haven’t the foggiest! I don’t know what a TPS report is either!” Raising an eyebrow, she seemed to be lost in her own ponderings, her gaze shooting back to me the second I took a step forward. Then the other irregularity finally hit me.
“Wait, you don’t have wings.”
“And you don’t have a tail!” The response was completely devoid of a change in expression. Glancing away, I mumbled in her general direction.
“Well no, but… how did you get up here?” Finally breaking eye contact, she looked down, almost wistful, circling a spot on the balcony with her hoof.
“There was a hole here… It’s gone now.”
I’d had it. I have a relatively long fuse, but it had been frayed by the last few days, and after the ‘welcoming’ letter from the princess it was worn down to a thread. There was no patience left for mind games, and that was all this mare was interested in. Stalking over to the door my palm hit the glass with a BANG.
“Listen to me. Now I know I may be the ‘big dumb human’ around here, but I’m not stupid enough to be completely oblivious that someone- somepony has a very obvious problem with me.” I slowed down and looked away from her, frustration from the letter seeping through. “Honestly, at this point, if you just leveled with me and asked me to leave I might actually just take off down the road and never come back, no questions asked.” It wasn’t an offer I had planned to make; it just kind of slipped out. I suppose it was probably the natural extension of my desire to run, taken to its logical conclusion. Maybe that was a breakthrough for me, I don’t know. What I wasn’t expecting was laughter as a response
“Leave? Me, want you to leave?” She cackled infuriatingly at the idea. I leaned back, equal parts irritated and bemused. “Why would I want you to leave? What in Equestria would I do without you?” Pressing her face up against the glass with those big unblinking eyes, she spoke slowly. “You… complete… me, Katiekate.” Other than the intentional bastardizing of my name, the last part of her speech held an odd weight to it that was absent in everything she had previously said. I leaned in close again, refusing to back down.
“Then. Tell. Me. What. You. Want.”
“For everypony to SMILE!” leaping back, she hopped up on the railing. For the first time her face turned dead serious, and she looked back at me soberly. “Kate, a friendly warning: Don’t go running tonight. It will change things… create a coinciding conundrum of calamitous complications. Toodles!”
Rearing up, she launched herself backward, never breaking eye contact with me as I struggled to open the glass door in time. From the way she fell, it looked like she would have landed on her back, but she was nowhere to be seen in any direction when I leaned over the balcony. The moment before I slammed the door shut, I could have sworn I heard her voice whisper from the ground beneath.
“We all float down here… Kate.”
The sunset was painstakingly slow, golden hue creeping off the horizon. I sat atop the balcony railing, waiting impatiently. Everything was in order: My hair was up in a ponytail (oh shush), sneakers were tied tightly, and I had already limbered up and stretched out. Of the two workout shirts Rarity had dropped off for me, I went with the black one for ‘stealth’ purposes, a black spandex sort of material that felt significantly spongier than I ever remembered spandex feeling like. Perhaps I should have taken Pinkie’s warning more seriously, but at the moment it was either ‘stay in and make the closest thing you have to a friend here miserable,’ or ‘give her space, go running and get over your block, refresh your sanity, possibly accruing some sort of vague penalty in the near future as predicted by an extremely unstable source.’ No matter how much of a coward I was, it was going to be the latter. How was I supposed to know it was actually a turning point?
Deciding it was sufficiently dark, I kicked off. It was a small victory but it felt monumental, like the first moment batman-
And why do we fall Kate?
Note to self: Being in gymnastics from pre-k to halfway through middle school does not make one better at jumping off things years later.
“Urgh… my everything…” I muttered, staggering to my feet. Maybe the shock of the impact displaced my agoraphobia, or maybe I was just sufficiently determined, but the anxiety from the previous attempt was gone. My initial steps were slow, speeding up exponentially as I became more confident there was no real injury. Never had running filled me with the same joy I was feeling now.
Crap. Free piece of advice: If you must enjoy a moment of catharsis while running, make sure you do it on a circuit, not on a straight course where you have to remember to, oh, you know, turn around at what you decide will be the halfway point. I had no idea what time it was, but I hadn’t reached my fill of running until well into the night or very early into the morning, only then realizing that I would have to run the full distance back. And by run I mean walk, because I’d completely worn myself out. Despite the multiple hour walk back, there was a little flame of personal happiness that had been absent for a while. Things were so much simpler out here in the wild; expanse of forest on my left, field as far as the eye could see on my right. I’d never been so happy to be out in the middle of nowhere, cold and covered in sweat.
I really should have taken that as a warning and started running again.
Too late. I fell into a crouch, keeping myself from making any sudden movement. At first I thought it might have been Pinkie, skulking around singing whilst wielding something with a serrated edge, but after listening for a few moments I realized how elegant the singing was. My seduction sense was tingling, reaching ackbar levels of alarm.
Run you nincompoop. NO- SERIOUSLY? YOU’RE GOING IN THERE?
I wasn’t planning to go far in, just close enough to see where the source of the noise was coming from. Yeah, that’s what they all say. I’m totally going to die. I’m going to die from the oldest trick in the book. Curiosity killed the Kate, way to put that common sense to use. I noticed from an increase in light that the sun was beginning to rise, and made myself a mental note to hurry. Reaching a small clearing, my jaw dropped at the sight. Because I was constantly harassed by Pegasi in the terrarium, I’d started calling them as pigeons (though not in their earshot) for my own amusement. Was that demeaning? Yeah, it probably was, but so was being stared at and having your window tapped on incessantly. However, to refer to this creature before me as a ‘pigeon’ would have been a massive disservice. It was the most beautiful Pegasus I had ever seen, surrounded by other animals. Her golden coat went surprisingly well with her long, light pink hair. There was a small bird perched on her extended foreleg.
What is she... is she singing to the… oooooooh. I know what this is. Hitting myself in the forehead, I groaned at my own stupidity. I was accustomed enough with the cruel plays of fate to recognize a set up. And this was a set up much more obvious than most. It all fit, the beautiful Pegasus, the singing, the birds, and me. Yeah fate, like I’ve never seen a Disney movie before, nice try there. The Pegasus is snow white in the forest, tending the woodland critters. I am, infuriatingly enough, filling in the role of prince charming (as always) who, if I remember correctly, steps on a twig which gives him away. I looked to my left, the direction I would have stepped had I moved. Lo’ and behold, a giant twig sat precariously, waiting to be stepped on. Uhuh, that’s what I thought. I stepped over the twig carefully, more than a little smug as I began my retreat. That’s right, screw you guys; I’m going home.
“Oh no, you poor thing, what happened to your wing.” I froze, still not turning around, my mind filling in the details.
Oh come on, I know what you’re doing, don’t take a hostage on me. She could fly it back herself, or go back and get a unicorn.
“I can’t set the bone myself, I’ll just have to figure out how to get you back.”
… not gonna do it.
“I’d fly you to the vet, but I don’t want to aggravate your condition.”
… still not going to do it.
“Oh what to do? If I went to get help, I’m not sure I’d be able to find this spot again little baby bird.”
Aw it’s a baby-NO. Stop it Kate, Fluttershy is into animals… UGH… I’m sure she’s had to deal with this problem before… agh… she’ll come up with something, right?
“I’m just going to have to walk you back. It’s okay if you cry little birdy, it’s for your own good but it’s probably going to hurt and we have quite a walk to go…”
Well, that was it for me. At least I tried. I turned around, defeated, and walked forward into the clearing.
Note to self: Fate is such a jackass.
AN: Well, I wanted to address something real quick. The ending of this chapter is not as funny in the “laugh out loud gross-out” sort of way as the endings to the other chapters have been, but that’s intentional. There’s two reasons for that. 1: There was a ton of maneuvering in this chapter for future plot development. 2: If I kept escalating things at the end of every chapter, this would eventually turn into a clopfic, which I’d much rather avoid. Trust me though, there’s plenty of sexual/awkward/gross-out moments to come. Once again, thank you everypony for all the feedback, it’s been an absolute blast so far.
(PS: Celestia is slipping in and out of the royal we to show her irritation through writing. Just to head that criticism off XD )
Noun: A lack of understanding, or a situation of panic resulting from a breakdown in the natural order. It is a word I’m far too familiar with; a term that has become pre-requisite vocabulary for any attempt to self-summarize my life. Yet, to some degree, I’ve found confusion almost always stems from personal choice. What possessed Alice to follow the rabbit into its hole? Why did Charles Marlow willfully continue his descent into the madness of the African Congo? And perhaps most appropriately to this story, why did Oedipus insist on asking so many damn questions he knew he wasn’t going to like the answers to? Whether I was more Alice or Oedipus, I made a very clear decision by stepping out of the brush and into the clearing. I had willingly surrendered myself into the hands of fate, only able to hold on tightly and pray that out of the vast assortment of deities I’d previously snubbed, at least one would have mercy on me. From the way my stomach flipped when her eyes locked on mine, I wasn’t exactly counting on it.
It didn’t take her long to accept my help after she recognized me. As we conversed more, what unsettled me was how much more Fluttershy had going on under the surface than the other ponies I’d spent time with. All in all she was a bit of an enigma. If Dash was more like a raging tornado of high intensity with a low attention span, Twilight was a time bomb with a high attention span and a low tolerance for… well for me; Finally, defying all previous experiences was Fluttershy, who had the highest resistance to me of any pony I’d met. As I cradled the tiny sparrow on our walk back to her house, I realized I didn’t remember her participating in the chase at all, though I was certain I had heard her voice at the offset. She glanced back at me and I instinctively looked away, feeling the same awkward admiration for her appearance I had felt when I first saw her in the clearing. It’s not that uncommon, tigers are often referred to as ‘majestic,’ dolphins are ‘cute,’ and birds are ‘pretty,’ thinking of a Pegasus as ‘beautiful’ is no different, right? Given enough time, I would have poked half a dozen holes in my justification, but an interjection from Ms. Doolittle threw my thoughts off kilter.
“Um, hold her injured wing closer to her body. She’s getting scared and thinking about struggling back over to me.” The words were firm, her soft voice surprisingly commanding. The tone wasn’t bossy however; it was unexpectedly intuitive as I felt the bird try to lurch forward the moment I closed my hands more securely over the tiny avian form. Bringing it up to my eye-level, I reprimanded it with a scowl. Cease and desist, tiny fiend; I’ll probably be paying a high price for this, so perhaps a little cooperation is in order? In response, the sparrow’s head retreated farther back into my hands, as if chagrined. I’m certain I heard a small giggle from the direction of the pony ahead of me.
“How could you tell?” I asked, “I was staring right at it the whole time. All you needed was a glance.” It wasn’t fully accurate, as I had been occasionally stealing glances at the Pegasus in question. Fluttershy shook her head, and indicated her cutie mark: three butterflies with blue bodies and matching pink wings
“It’s just my talent, I’m not really all that perceptive.” She looked away, the very picture of humility. My eyes slid back to her cutie mark. The way she walked was adorable; it was the stride of somepony who was obviously not used to leading over-compensating, endowing her gait with an almost comical bounce. Had I mentioned her mane was groomed to the point of being positively impeccable? The bounce from her walk also added an almost hypnotic sway to her tail, leaving me completely unaware for a few moments that I was gazing directly at her-
Oh look, how lovely, the sunrise. I’ll just stare into it and hope I frakking blind myself.
“How much further?” I asked, rather grumpy. The makeshift workout shirt Rarity had made for me was uncomfortable when it was dry; now damp from the run it was almost insufferable. My brow furrowed in the growing light.
“Not too much longer.” She said, smiling at me sweetly. Despite myself, I looked down at the ground, unable to meet the well-meaning gaze. Tenderhearted, patient, and humble: the ‘element of kindness’ indeed.
“You’re doing it wrong!”
Note to self: I am a terrible judge of pony character.
It was the closest I’d ever heard the Pegasus come to shouting, and it put my teeth on edge as much from surprise as it did from personal disruption.
“Calm down already I see it.”
“…You see, but you don’t observe: If the wing is set crookedly she’ll never be able to fly again.” Was- was that a smidgen of ‘holier than thou’ I detected in her voice? Pushing my personal feelings aside, I focused on applying the splint to the sedated sparrow’s wing as the first hints of perspiration formed on my forehead. I was exhausted and it showed in my responses, my reflexes and movements much more sluggish than usual. It made sense that a Pegasus would be a little extra-sensitive about the settings of wings and whatnot, but her personality shift from sweet to authoritative had been a page right out of a slightly more adorable looking She-Hulk’s play book.
Upon first arrival at the house, I was slightly intimidated. It was in a more rural area on the outskirts of town, near a small bubbling creek. Slightly smaller than the library (at least vertically), it was about average size and look for a Ponyville house, other than the plethora of surrounding birdhouses and a strangely out of place vegetative canopy which covered the roof. To my relief, the inside had been much more normal than my impression of the outside had led me to believe, other than sharing the outside’s obsession with birdhouses. After Fluttershy had fetched her first aid kit, and I had set to work at the dining room table… which was also when the weird personality quirks started coming to the surface. It was more intensity of concern than anything negative. I’d be lying though if I said the backseat driving mentality didn’t eventually start driving me a little crazy.
“Make sure you lace it tightly enough…”
“Careful not to restrict its airflow!”
“… Is it normal for your hands to be shaking?”
The shakes were probably from a combination of irritation and post-work out anemia. Struggling with tying the final knot, my brow furrowed more deeply as the beads of sweat that had been accumulating on my furrowed brow started to drip down towards my eyes. The gentle dabbing of a washcloth covered hoof against my forehead intervened. Standing up on her back legs, Fluttershy braced herself against the table with her left foreleg for balance, using the other to aid me. I nodded to her appreciatively, trying not to let myself be distracted by the contact, or by how close her face was to mine. Wrong gender. Wrong species. There’s not even anything there to be antsy about, Kate, calm down.
“… And… done!” I stood up a little too quickly, which drew an ‘eep!’ from Fluttershy. I apologized, still trying to convince myself there was nothing out of the ordinary going on in my head. The following search took some combined effort, but we eventually found the supplies we needed: a small cardboard box, some rags, and red tape. Fluttershy watched with interest as I deftly assembled the materials, laying down the rags as bedding and poking holes in the top for ventilation. She cracked a smile as I placed the finishing touches on our little makeshift hospital, two pieces of tape on top of each other to form a crude red cross. With a grin, I displayed my handiwork to her proudly.
“You’ve done this before. And not just the box, you used the right lacing technique for the brace and everything. I couldn’t have done it by myself.” It was a look of pure gratitude, all the authoritative bossy stuff from a few minutes earlier was absent in her expression, and it was suddenly difficult to make eye contact again. Well you certainly didn’t seem very happy about it at the time. I left the begrudging sentiment unspoken; she’d only been concerned for the bird, which I could hardly blame her for, as that was why I’d abandoned my ‘cover’ in the first place.
“It’s nothing, really. My mom was a vet; she taught me a few things before- before I came here.” I hoped the Pegasus hadn’t noticed the verbal double-take, and averted my eyes over towards the living room. For whatever reason, probably my state of exhaustion, the couch looked extremely tempting. “Do you mind if I relax for a bit? I’ve been up since last night and my legs are killing me.”
“Of course, I’m so sorry I didn’t realize. Let me get you something to drink.” The look of concern previously reserved for the injured sparrow was now being directed at me, as Fluttershy hurried about the kitchen, muttering something about being a terrible host. I offered my token reassurances that it was fine, and that she shouldn’t trouble herself on my account, but in truth I was parched.
I sat down on the couch, sinking farther into it than I had expected. Oh wow this is really nice. Really nice. Actually, if I’m not careful, I might just- My lapse into nothingness must have occurred the instant my head hit the cushion. It seemed the aftereffects of my little catharsis had finally caught up with me.
Wha- where am I?
Struggling to retain my footing became my first priority; the pile of papers beneath was shifting under my weight, threatening to suck me in. Losing my balance entirely, I fell backwards and the shifting finally stopped. The room I found myself in was massive, filled with pillars and stain glass windows; the castle of Minas Tirith on a slightly smaller and more colorful scale. The scattered and disorganized papers covered and filled over the floor entirely, making it impossible to tell how tall the room actually was. Attempting to examine the content of the papers proved useless, as the text was written in some sort of foreign language, the symbols completely unfamiliar. The origin of the mess appeared to be a giant mound of papers clumped together in the center, a dispersal pattern not dissimilar to if someone had dropped a pile of leaves, only on a much more gargantuan scale.
Unable to see an exit, I staggered forward, and made my way towards the giant pile in the center, hoping to gain a better vantage on my surroundings. Trying to climb the pile was like running up the wrong escalator, an exercise in futility that finally paid off as I lifted myself up at the top. I panted, out of breath.
“AUGH! –Ohno” Pin wheeling from the scare, I probably would have tipped over and slid all the way back down had a burst of Telekinesis not prevented my fall, pushing me back onto the pile. An alicorn with a colorful mane was buried waist deep in the pile of papers. She gave me a pointed look through a pair of reading glasses, maintaining sobriety only for a moment before devolving into giggles at my confused expression.
“Greetings Kate. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. If it makes you feel better I dropped my pen to catch you.”
“Er- Princess Celestia?”
“In the flesh. Well, not exactly.” She indicated a pile of papers over near a corner. “Lulu would say hello as well, but she’s a little buried in work at the moment, if you know what I mean.”
A single dark blue hoof stuck out from the distant pile of papers and waved, before receding back in. Princess Celestia turned back to me. “Anyway, on behalf of both of us, welcome to Canterlot Castle! I’d apologize for the mess but… we both know that would be a little ironic.”
My jaw dropped, surveying the room. “All this is because of me?” Celestia nodded, signing another paper and tossing it as it appeared to self-obliterate.
“See why I was a teensy-weensy bit passive-aggressive in the letter now?” Though it was difficult, I wisely chose to refrain from pointing out the fact that she had very clearly made implied threats to my health. If that was her idea of ‘passive,’ I didn’t want to see ‘aggressive.’
“What on earth did I do to cause so much trouble?”
“It’s not so much a question of ‘what’ as it is a question of ‘who’” she said, smiling esoterically.
“I still don’t get it.”
“I’m honestly surprised you haven’t figured it out by now. Well, to put it simply, you are the result of a slight cosmic miscalculation. And slight miscalculations echo far too loudly in bureaucratic circles.” The revelation was uttered like common knowledge; her voice was kind and sympathetic… which only compounded my skepticism
“Uh, come again?”
“Because of the paradox of your existence, you could say the universe holds a slight grudge against you. Since it sees you as an agent of entropy, it sometimes sees fit to take out frustrations on you.” the princess stated, matter-of-factly. I bristled.
“That can’t possibly be-“
…Well… that… actually would explain a lot.
“Why?” I asked, suddenly finding it very difficult to speak. Celestia brought her pen to her mouth, tapping it against her lips thoughtfully.
“Its way above my pay grade, as I only tend to this particular dimension. But a simple anomaly of this magnitude is very unlikely. It’s entirely possible that instead of naturally occurring, you were manufactured… for entertainment.” I froze. I’m not sure I could have imagined a more horrible answer. My voice gave out, cracking on the final query
“Entertainment for whom?”
Celestia nodded to me proudly, as if I were a pupil who had finally grasped a difficult concept.
“Now you’re asking the right question.”
“Kate! Wake up, Kate!” My eyes shot open to a golden Pegasus shaking me awake, her long pink hair cascading just beside my head. “You were having a nightmare…” It was the most tangible relief I’d ever felt waking from a dream. I sat up, trying to reorient myself with my surroundings.
“Sorry Fluttershy, I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.” I mumbled, my vision still hazy.
“You looked like you needed it, so I let you have a few hours,” she said supportively. Wait… a few hours? What time is it? The light was drastically different than it had been when I’d originally sat down. Judging from the sun’s position in the sky it was at least noon. I really need to change, but can’t get back to the Library now. Urgh. As if reading my mind, Fluttershy held up a bag, putting it down next to me so she could speak.
“Um, when I was out running errands, I stopped by Twilight’s for a while and picked you up a change of clothes before I left. I figured you wouldn’t want to go out in the middle of the day because of… well because of what happened last time. I hope that was okay…”
“No, I really appreciate it, thank you.” Inside the bag was my casualwear, along with some soaps and other hygiene stuff, essentially everything that would usually go in an overnight bag. The Pegasus suddenly looked down at her hoofs, uncomfortable. I had wondered if it had less of an effect on you, since you didn’t chase me at the beginning, but that’s just silly. I don’t want to make things worse for you. It’s fine. “You know, you already let me sleep, and I really don’t want to impose. I’ll just change real quick and head back to the library.” Fluttershy was still struggling to get something out as I turned to leave, trying to conceal my disappointment. I was almost to the door when she tugged on my shirt with her mouth, wordlessly asking me to wait.
“I’d- er. –that is to say, I’d be happy to have as my guest for the day… unless you’d rather go back to the library that is- which is fine if you do- I would just be, you know, happy if you stayed.” She looked down at her hoofs again, and I realized with some small gladness that she’d just been too nervous to ask me at first. The alarm bells are still going off Kate… Alarm bells or not, my options were fairly black and white. Either stay for a few hours with one of the few ponies in Ponyville who hadn’t run me down, or brave the entire town, half of which had tried to run me down. This was my best option.
What could possibly go wrong?
The day itself was a lot more innocent than I had expected. Fluttershy’s house was a nice change of pace from the library, and I was starting to think the princess was correct in her theory that unicorns were the most strongly affected. Having worked at Fluttershy’s side tending the animals most of the day, I learned that I had an effect on her, but it wasn’t cumulative the way it was with Twilight. There were a few instances where I brushed against her accidentally and she would blush, or even one extremely awkward point where we had extended contact and her wings extended. It simply didn’t escalate the same way it did with Twilight. As long as I realized my mistake and backed off quickly things were fine, though I was sure it was somewhat embarrassing for Fluttershy. It wasn’t until late in the evening when everything really went sideways, all starting when I was fishing around for a toothbrush and found that next to my bag.
The plastic bottles clinking against the glass of a previously unseen second bag caught my attention. Reaching down to pick up the second bag I found it was surprisingly heavy. Inside was a large unlabeled bottle with a bow around its neck, filled to the brim with some sort of amber liquid.
“What the heck is this?” I wondered aloud, to no one in particular.
“Oh! I forgot to mention, Applejack dropped that off at the library this morning as a little ‘apology’ gift. If you’ve not heard of it… the Apple family’s cider is really… nice.” I unintentionally cringed at the mention of Applejack’s name, a poorly timed expression that wasn’t lost on Fluttershy. “Oh- do you not like cider?” Trying to rid myself of the mental image of Applejack chasing me down the street with a rope in her teeth, I shuddered a bit.
“No, I’m fine with cider.”
“Then… do you… not like Applejack?” Intending to deny it, I opened my mouth and then stopped. How exactly was I going to explain it? Well, you see Fluttershy, when I was eight years old; I watched Pulp Fiction because my dad left it in the VHS player. Ever since then, I’ve been absolutely terrified of being abducted by rednecks. Also of gimps, but that’s beside the point. That answer would raise way too many questions I didn’t want to address. It took me few seconds to notice that the Pegasus had taken my lack of an answer as an answer. She leaned forward, anger written on her face for the first time.
“I know Applejack; She can be stubborn sometimes and she makes mistakes, but if she apologizes, she means it! You shouldn’t reject her feelings that way. ” I was stunned at the direct confrontation, a daze that lasted only for a moment. Realizing my mistake, I stood up, feeling guilty for even pushing Fluttershy far enough to get angry in the first place. The last thing I wanted now was a rift after several hours of bonding. I grabbed two mugs out of the cupboard.
“Want to crack it open with me then?” Her face softening into a smile was all I needed as an answer. “Just wondering, I’ve only had hot cider a few times, is this better hot or cold?” Her nose wrinkled.
“You might not like it then… I’ve always had it chilled.” I shook my head, filling both mugs halfway with ice.
“I’ll try it your way, sounds delicious.” Flashing her my best ‘I’m trying to make it up to you’ smile I sat back down at the table, filling both mugs up to the brim. The liquid had a syrupy, sweet smell. Fluttershy’s eyes widened
“Oh that’s really too much-“ I stopped her, and waved off what I assumed was a continuation of her OCD politeness.
“Nonsense, I gave us the same amount.” Staring down at the cup, she was still oddly conflicted.
“No I couldn’t possibly-“
“You can. I want to share this with you, its fine.” Why does she have to be so darn polite? Trying not to make too much direct contact, I patted her gently on the top of her head. After a short delay, a cute determination played across her face in response.
“I, okay, I- I’ll try.”
We drank at the same time. I was about to stop after a small swig of the substance, planning to savor it, but to my surprise Fluttershy was gulping hers down all at once, so I followed suit. It was both thick and sweet, a honey-like nectar with a bizarre aftertaste I couldn’t quite place. I finished a few seconds after the Pegasus, placing my mug on the table with a gentle clink.
Note to self: Pony Cider does not look, smell, or taste like alcohol. However, it is most definitely alcohol. It is also only intended to be taken in shots, not entire mugs.
A good half hour later the intellectual level of the conversation had been driven down significantly. The parts I could remember, anyway. The room was spinning in giggles and nausea, and the question of whether I was upside down or right-side up was completely debatable. All I knew for sure was that the Pegasus next to me was keeping me warm, lying on the couch with her head on my lap.
“So everypony gave you a hard time for flirting with Big Mac?-bahah-I’m really not laughing at you, it’s just that things are completely different here-hic-heheh.” Fluttershy looked away, her cheeks rosy with embarrassment.
“It was just a-hic phase. You’re-hic changing the subject though.”
In my limited prior experience I had a tendency towards being a happy drunk, but Fluttershy seemed intent on killing my buzz with concentrated doses of sympathy and amateur psychology. While she was sweet for trying, it seemed like the alcohol completely killed her shyness, yet another personality quirk that threw me for a loop. Having picked up on a crack I made about not being able to maintain friendships in any dimension, she had locked in, unwilling to let it go
“I thought things would have been going well for you at the library. It seems like you’d be right up Twilight’s alley” The Pegasus gazed up at me like I was some complex puzzle to be solved. Good luck with that, I doubt you’ll make any more progress in a drunken stupor than I’ve made in a lifetime, and I still haven’t figured it out.
“A little too up her alley, as it turns out. Come on Shy, I don’t really want to talk about it. Especially behind Twilight’s back- or is that behind her Flank? Is it behind her back or behind her flank, cause technically to talk behind her back I’d have to be somewhere up in the sky, youknowwhatImean?” When you’re struggling not to laugh how slurred your own speech sounds, it’s probably a good indicator that you’ve had too much. Yeah, I’ll admit it; I’ve always been a complete lightweight. A couple of sugary margaritas with the umbrellas at On the Border were usually more than enough to book me a one way trip to loopy-town, and I had just consumed a large serving of what I could only equate to the equestrian Jim Hennessey. It was a small miracle I was still conscious.
“It’s still ‘back.’ Stop-hic trying to deflect me Kate. If we don’t talk about it, we can’t fix it.” She insisted, eyes imbued with an unusual insistence. What is this psychobabble ‘we’ stuff Dr. Shy? No longer resting on my lap, Fluttershy was leaning over me, trying to maintain level eye contact, despite the height difference.
“It can’t be fixed. Don’t worry about. I had hoped things would get better in college- advanced schooling, for humans my age.” Listlessly, I poured myself another, smaller portion of the cider. “Turns out ‘experimentation’ is even more common there, or it was at my college, anyway. Even here, traipsing into another world entirely and nothing really changes. I’m a big girl, I can deal with it.” Ugh, I hope she’s not looking at me with that ‘you-poor-thing’ face. My heart might melt-
“That’s only assuming you’re right, and even if you are, feeling sorry for yourself won’t accomplish anything.” Her benign glare abruptly cut off that line of thought. Zing… Direct hit. Shut-down by the element of kindness. Hold on; let me pick my dignity up off the ground real quick. While her voice was more chiding than judgmental, the words still hit home. If anything, the discernment had earned a bit of my respect… or maybe I was just inclined to agree with her because she was holding the cider out of my reach.
“Gimme-“ As Fluttershy jerked back to keep the bottle out of my reach and almost lost her balance, I grumpily decided on another course of action. Use your words Kate. “Okay, just for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right, and there’s some convenient-hic Macguffin here in Equestria that can solve all my problems. Sooo what-hic is it?” Alcohol; where eloquence goes to die. Fluttershy temporarily lost her confident and commanding demeanor, briefly returning to a more familiar level of timid.
“Um… I read a book once whose main character had a similar issue, the Princess and the Plebeian… Short version: her best friend gave her a mingle mark, so other ponies would think she was taken. It worked pretty well, but then- er, I mean, well the rest is just a story.” The Pegasus tapped her hooves together tepidly, and looked everywhere but directly at me.
“What’s a mingle mark?” Other than the obvious relation to a cutie mark, the term was unfamiliar to me; had I not been intoxicated, I probably would have noticed how careful the Pegasus became in choosing her words.
“Well, it’s like a magical indicator of commitment, from one pony to another. Their cutie marks become entangled for as long as they stay loyal to each other. It’s... nice. Do you know the Cakes?” I shook my head dismissively, still trying to decipher what she was suggesting.
“I know of them, I don’t know them personally.”
“They’re both really nice. But before they were together, Ms. Cake had white frosting on the goodies in her cutie mark, and Mr. Cake had pink frosting on his. Now with their mingle mark, it’s the opposite” Her line of reasoning abruptly connected with mine. It was brilliant plan all things considered, save one glaring problem.
“I think I get what you’re proposing, and you’re really sweet to offer, but since I don’t have a cutie mark that wouldn’t work, would it?” Maybe she thought I was completely oblivious to the nature of her suggestion, because her eybrows raised, wiggling up and down in an incredulous manner. She was the very picture of a pony with her hoof caught it the cookie jar.
“Oh no!” She squeaked, the high pitched justification not helping to make her look any less guilty. ”It wasn’t a proposal, it’s not the same as proposing, and it was just- um-“
“YES. Hypothetical.” Fluttershy struggled to pour herself another drink. Intending to assist, I reached out to take the bottle from her brushing her side. FWOOMP. Ignoring any possible connotation in the sudden expanse of wingspan, I served her a small portion of the cider and handed it to her, looking away while she got her wings under control. Downing the glass, she slammed it on the table with a bang, the jarring impact nearly giving me a heart attack. “NOT HYPOTHETICAL. Griffon and Pony relationships are considered very progressive, and are still fairly rare. But there are confirmed, documented cases of a griffon receiving part of a pony’s mingle mark on their lower leg, even without having a cutie mark of their own. It’s not been confirmed, but rumor has it the same thing happens with dragons as well.” Panting from the sudden outburst, the Pegasus recovered quietly while I shifted uncomfortably, vehemently wishing the pounding in my head would stop impeding my ability to think. What am I missing here? Why is this so hard for her to talk about?
“Why go so far for me? Assuming for a moment that the mark actually took: Your friends would tease, and there’s a good chance it would be really awkward… having a fake relationship, it just doesn’t seem fair to you. Hypothetically of course.” I can’t believe I’m even having this conversation. Applejack, another round please. My head spun. It was probably about time to call it a night on the cider.
“Kindness is its own reward.” She looked pointedly over to the makeshift cardboard hospital that still held the sparrow and back to me, determined, the double-meaning in her words plain as day. I sighed.
“That wasn’t a big deal. You don’t have to-“
“…No… I want to.”
“So just… er… in theory, what does this involve? Some sort of magic thing? A ritual?” The question caught her in the middle of carefully plucking a single feather near the tip of her wing with her mouth. It wasn’t hard to gather from the reddening expression on her face that I had guessed incorrectly. And here comes the catch.
“I think discussing that calls for another glass of cider.” Well, that bodes well… Heeding the advice regardless, I poured us both another glass of slightly larger portions, though nowhere near as large as our initial serving.
“To friendship” Raising my glass in a mock toast, I smiled at her crookedly. I really should have taken the rampant slurring in my voice as a warning sign; my alcohol tolerance had already been pushed to its limit. It was like having a brain freeze in reverse, the delayed reaction made me woozy, more so by the second. Fluttershy was experiencing a similar reaction, though she was far more task oriented.
Before I even realized what was happening it had started. I guess Fluttershy figured it would be easier to show me than to tell me. She turned and pressed the feather slightly above my chest with her hoof, a feeling of warmth that spread from that point and resonated throughout my body. The pressure continued and pushed me back onto the couch, and for a few long moments that seemed to stretch into eternity, the Pegasus hovered over me.
This is bad. This is really really bad, snap out of it Kate!
Her long pink hair formed a cotton candy colored curtain around my head, blocking out all outside distractions as she descended, eyes locked on mine.
Danger! Danger Kate Winsor! The pony is set on a collision course with your head! Abort!
My alarm bells were dwarfed by the sensation of experiencing magic for the first time. It was an unforgettable, strangely intimate experience. I could feel Fluttershy, her heart, her emotions. They made no sense, completely the opposite of what I had come to expect of anyone, human or pony aside. They were pure. She wanted to help me, wanted my happiness. The cynicism of reality had changed my perspective. A year ago, I would have bitterly stated that there’s no such thing as true selflessness; that even the greatest charity stems from a desire for self-fulfillment, whether the reciprocity is bound in reality or took its form in some sort of spiritual brownie points. Perhaps that was an overly generalizing conclusion
Perhaps I was wrong.
Can we self-reflect at a slightly more appropriate time? Introspection great and all, but right now the walls are being sieged, the troops are retreating, and you’re about to let a pony open the pod bay doors.
Fluttershy stopped with her face inches from mine, her expression tinged with the uncertainty of somepony timidly asking permission. Closing my eyes, I surrendered. I felt the warm lips pressing against mine the moment before I blacked out.
Note to self: I’m officially going to hell.
Ugh… where am I. The first mistake I made was opening my eyes. Outside light invaded my skull like legion of gremlins; my brain serving as their all-you-can-eat buffet. It was a massively unpleasant sensation, one that somehow managed to top my previous most excruciating hangover. The previous holder of the worst hangover title was acquired at my first sorority party at college, also known as my last sorority party at college. I still have nightmares thinking about all those pictures that went up on facebook. I hid my face under the pillow I was hugging, begging for sleep to take me under again. The pillow’s forelegs reached around my neck, drawing me in a mutual embrace, significantly more conscious and less hung-over than I was.
Wait... Oh crap.
It took my sluggish mind about three whole seconds to send the signal for my heart to explode. My eyes flew open, headache pain almost completely disregarded; as I adjusted to the light, more details of my own damnation came into focus. I was in an unfamiliar bedroom; Pink hair, a golden coat, and blue eyes that pierced straight through me watched me wake with a smile. My state of half undress and the manner my arms were still wrapped around her was almost too incriminating.
“You’re squeezing a little tightly” she whispered, her face three different shades of red. Hastily, I withdrew my arms, wrapping them around myself. A single question ran rampant through my subconscious, my mind running tiny circles that would have rivaled the thought process of a recently decapitated chicken: WHAT HAPPENED WHAT HAPPENED OH DEAR GOD WHAT HAPPENED.
Rubbing my own shoulders, I found myself shivering, my stomach tying itself in knots.
”I… kind of blacked out. What… happened…?”
“You mean you don’t remember?!” Fluttershy squeaked.
“…No, I- I don’t. That bad?” The tone of her voice wasn’t helping.
“Um…Emotions were running hot after the joining, it’s not an uncommon reaction, perfectly normal… but we might have... um… done-some-things.” She said the last part all at once, as if trying to sprint past it. Her ears were splayed back, the inside of them blushing scarlet. I flopped back down, using the actual pillow to cover my head with a groan. That might be a possibility you mention before hand, Fluttershy. If it managed to invoke that strong of a reaction I’m not sure I can even stand the thought of asking for specifics. Oh, did I mention that I’m now officially going to hell?
“Ugh, how did we even get back here? I kind of doubt you carried me.” I was borderline desperate to find any humor in the situation. The image of Fluttershy dragging me down the hallway was morbidly amusing… until she responded.
“Um… actually… you kind-of-sort-of carried me…” I did WHAT? I pulled the pillow even tighter over my face, smothering a strangled laugh. Don’t ask questions Kate. It never ends well. Also, just in case you forgot, you’re going to hell.
“Guess what though?” Barely able to hear her voice through the pillow, I really didn’t want to ‘guess what.’
“The mingle mark showed up!”
What is this heresy? Actual good news? Abandoning my hiding place under the pillow, I sat up, somewhat excitedly.
The sound of somepony entering Fluttershy’s front door jarred us both out of our trance
“Fluttershy dear, don’t tell me you forgot spa day!”
“Bathroom, run!” she hissed, turning bright crimson and pushing me towards it. I scooped up the mess of my clothing off the floor, trying my best to conceal any visible incriminating evidence and hustled into the bathroom, my heart racing a mile a minute. More concentrated on throwing my clothes on than looking in the mirror, I almost missed the mark on the base of my spine, something that definitely wasn’t there the previous night. Upon closer inspection, I realized it had to be the mingle mark, a pink winged butterfly with a blue body, exactly like the ones on Fluttershy’s cutie mark. I was momentarily delighted... until the combination of location and design dawned on me. My forehead hit the counter with a thump.
What are the odds of-… it’s a butterfly…tramp-stamp. Why oh why did it have to be a tramp-stamp. Hey, look on the bright side Kate! You’re all set to join the cast of Jersey Shore! All you need now is to throw on something slutty and bash your head against the wall until your IQ matches your shoe size. Wooptie-Freaking-Doo. If that wasn’t bad enough already, I realized managed to grab everything except for my pants. Why is it always my pants.
Rarity’s cheery voice interrupted my internal lament. Fluttershy would cover for me, or so I hoped.
“You can’t hide that mark from me Fluttershy! Oh how very exciting, you found your special somepony! She’s a mare isn’t she- I wondered why your hair was all askew, I bet she’s still here-“
“Um no, definitely not here, nope, I don’t know what you’re talking about. No need to look in the bathroom.” Barely suppressing a groan at the poor attempt of a lie, I stepped away so the door wouldn’t hit me when it inevitably swung open. Their voices were definitely drawing closer.
I took a mental tally of the hangover:
Possible Promiscuous activity with a female pony?
Said Promiscuity about to be discovered by the town gossip?
Going to Hell?
Without a doubt.
Note to self: I am never touching cider again
AN: Sorry this took so long. I rewrote it twice before deciding that a manipulative Fluttershy was just not going to work, so a lot had to be rewritten a third time. Just to clear something up, don’t take Kate’s dream with Celestia too seriously. The main point of the dream was to reintroduce Celestia’s planned personality a bit, and rip on Kate’s insecurities a little. Celestia won’t be nearly as unlikable as some people were getting the impression she would be from the last chapter. See, I listen to feedback X). EDIT: Also, the new format is finally fixed.
Reflection is a double-edged sword. It can create moments that push you forward: refreshed and renewed with a healthier perspective and a blank slate. Adversely, it can create moments that utterly destroy you: tearing apart everything you know to be true, replacing what was once established and familiar with things that only lurked in the darkest corners of your mind. While I waited in the bathroom to be inevitably discovered, ironically, I found the mirror harder to look at than the door. Fluttershy had helped me out of the kindness of her heart, and whatever had occurred in the wake of that… I simply couldn’t face it. There were no excuses this time, and no one to blame but myself.
Sometimes you have to appreciate the little things. I could have woken up with a missing tooth and a tiger in the next room. The details were still practically nonexistent. I had no idea how far things had actually gone, but I could remember the feeling. There was so much intensity, unrivaled intimacy, emotions linked to images that teased just outside my conscious memory. The knot of sexual frustration I’d carried with me for years like a benign tumor had been twisted into shame, its alteration only cluttering my thoughts with further confusion. Though Fluttershy had discredited… whatever it was that happened as the result of heated emotions after the joining, it was an explanation I couldn’t accept. Years of barriers made of carefully repressed frustration, walled off and tempered by time, all decimated by a bottle of cider and a touch of magic? Completely impossible. Yet, here I am.
Both hands pressed flat against the counter, I forced myself to look in the mirror. My chestnut hair was askew, a case of bedhead that would have made a vegas call girl blush; A stranger’s emerald eyes looked back at me warily, searching, as if inquiring who I was, and what exactly I had done with Kate. I really wish I knew.
“Fluttershy, dear, I may find it in myself to forgive you for keeping such a sordid little secret from me, but only if you stand aside”
“Really- Rarity, There’s no one in there- Just angel bunny, who really shouldn’t be interrupted when he’s preening.” …A preening bunny. Pfft. At least I’ll know if Fluttershy tries to lie to me. Then again… so will everypony else. If this was going to work, it looked like I was going to have to be the one to sell it. Otherwise, this whole mingle-mark plan was not going to fly.
If I didn’t, the whole façade was going to collapse, completely nulling the only reason I had for possibly losing my- NOPE. Not ready to think about that. Best to focus on the present.
If I don’t make the most of this I’ll have put Fluttershy in a compromising positio- er- put her in an ‘awkward social situation’ for nothing. It sounded like she was still holding off the unfortunate intruder, but Flutters wasn’t going to last long no matter what I did, so I decided to face the inevitable, engaging the one unicorn firing squad head on. Steeling myself for my first official walk of shame, I opened the door.
“Shy, have you seen my pants? Oh, good morning Rarity.” Fluttershy’s head shot around, her face paling at my sudden entry. Rarity looked exactly like I had expected her to: her jaw hit the floor, and her eyes slid to the Pegasus slowly.
“Why you… naughty… filly!” Looking away, Fluttershy murmured something along the lines of it not being what it looked like. My previous experience in acting was limited to playing a sheep in the kindergarten nativity, so I laid it on thick to compensate. Brushing my hair back with a finger, I leaned down and kissed my alleged lover on the cheek, prompting an impromptu half second spreading of wings and a look of perturbed shock from the Pegasus.
“I’m the only one who gets to call her that.” I gave Rarity a mock glare of jealousy. If the unicorn’s jaw was on the floor previously, it was now resting somewhere in the basement below. Despite her courage the previous night, Fluttershy looked like her head might pop from the pressure, completely aghast at the semi-public display of affection
“Um-not… not in front of company… if you don’t mind…” There was no acting in her voice, just a very real embarrassment that made my ears burn. I sidestepped Rarity, who looked like she was watching a tennis match between Fluttershy and my bare legs, hurrying over to the bed to retrieve my previously misplaced pants with as much dignity as humanly possible. I slid them on with no small haste, and heard a sharp intake of breath behind me.
“Fluttershy you didn’t- Oh my.” She had obviously caught sight of the tragically placed mingle mark, though her reaction puzzled me. She had already picked up on the difference in her friend’s cutie mark earlier, so why was it such a stretch of the imagination to see it on me? I turned back to them, curious: Fluttershy was still looking off to the side, while Rarity was no longer leering, instead, looking at me with a more critical eye. That’s when I saw it. I had assumed that I had just sort of borrowed my lovely little tramp-stamp (sigh) from her cutie mark, and given her nothing in return, an assumption which was entirely incorrect.
Instead, serving as a new background for the two remaining butterflies laid a transparent sundial, its crystal nature apparent from the artistic static refraction of some unseen source of light. Frowning, I found myself lost in thought. A yield sign or some natural disaster would have made more sense. Why a sundial? Still staring at me appraisingly, Rarity spoke without looking away.
“I suppose our weekly excursion will have to been postponed dear.”
“No, she can go; I can take care of your chores for you while you’re out Shy.” I interjected, not wanting to be a burden.
“It is not that. You see, I’m rather attached to her.” Rarity indicated Fluttershy with her hoof, and looked back at me suspiciously. “I can’t give her away to just anypony. Only the finest will do for one of my closest friends.”
“Um-… Rarity- She is fine… Kate is… Nice.” The unicorn clucked her tongue, unsatisfied with the attempt.
“I’ll be the judge of that. Now then Kate, I think it’s time for a little test.” I felt a tinge of unease. Judging from her previous reaction, I had thought she was going to be the easiest to convince.
“…What did you have in mind?”
When Rarity had asked me to the spa, I had immediately agreed. The look on her face when she was contemplating what my “test” would be was the look of a villainess, carefully calculating the final details of her master plan. I had expected something much more dastardly; after the way my imagination had drifted into the horrifying territory of indulging voyeurism at best, and a bondage centered threesome at worst, ‘let’s go to the spa’ almost sounded like a copout.
Note to self: Rarity is not as much of an airhead as she appears to be.
The first sign of the impending storm came as we walked out of view of Fluttershy’s house. I had put on a lighthearted face and waved goodbye to her as she watched at the window, but in truth, I was incredibly nervous as we approached the outskirts of town. And that was before I felt something manipulating the back of my tank top, pulling it taut. I spun around, grabbing to hold my shirt down and glaring the unicorn behind me.
“What was that!” My fingers fumbled at the bottom of the shirt, detecting a tight knot that artificially shortened the back; the dresses she had made me came to mind and my eyes narrowed, this was some sort of play to see more skin.
“Kate darling, I appreciate clothes more than most, but they do get in the way a bit.” She grinned at me coyly “You’re not ashamed of what you have with such a gorgeous mare… or are you?”
“Of course not. I don’t see-“ The true nature of Rarity’s test came into focus, and I could have kicked myself for my previous optimism. My alarm bells had betrayed me entirely… or perhaps they had just chosen to mutiny as a result of poor leadership. The spa isn’t the test at all. We had stopped on the bridge just before town. I had stopped trying to untie the knot and she must have seen the begging in my eyes. She studied me quietly.
“I’m not sure why you’d want to hide that anyway. You know the mingle mark is a big step for ponies. I’m not sure if you have an equivalent in your culture, but usually its years into a relationship before exchanging marks even becomes a topic for discussion. If a couple does exchange, then the custom is to celebrate until the next season. If the ponies happen to wear something during the celebration period, the clothing is always modified so the mark is visible.” She shivered, engulfed in the fantasy of her own interpretation. “It’s the most romantic thing two ponies can do for each other.”
The psychological weight of it hit me full force. I was struggling to stay upright, wheezing for breath from the panic attack. Fluttershy had apparently left out some fine print: Rather, she had left out several hundred pages of fine print. This whole concept that I had incorrectly understood to be something along the line of ‘promise rings’ was now starting to sound dangerously close to matrimony. It was plainly obvious now why Rarity was taking it so seriously. I managed to get my breathing under control.
“Kate.” Rarity moved in front of me and looked up, meeting my eyes, completely serious. “I’m not in the business of putting ponies in awkward positions, and I don’t enjoy it. But she is precious to me. If you’re not ashamed of… whatever it is you have with Fluttershy then it’s simple; prove it.”
Loathsome as my position might have been, I had a sense of growing respect for Rarity. She brilliantly maneuvered me into a trap, sure, but she had done so for all the right reasons. Now the ultimatum had been made clear, the gauntlet had been thrown. I could sort out what exactly Fluttershy had and had not told me later on. I had no intention of hurting the Pegasus emotionally, but they were best friends, and I could see why Rarity couldn’t take that claim at face value: If this was the only way I could prove that to her, then so be it.
I never asked for this. My faux emotional resolve had crumbled the second we crossed the bridge and began our leisurely walk towards Ponyville. Sorry, did I say walk? I meant ‘leisurely stroll down the green mile.’ Rarity was set on walking at a snail’s pace, carefree, talking about something to do with the most recent trends, but wasn’t paying her the slightest mind. If my first outing in Ponyville had devolved into a something out of a horror movie, this was more akin to high noon in a spaghetti western. I was Clint Eastwood, moseying towards town as the locals gawked, plotting and keeping watch from careful distance.
…Okay, to be honest, that analogy might be marginally flawed. I’m pretty sure Clint’s teeth have never chattered the way mine were jittering about, nor had he ever shivered with the same degree of abject terror. Knowing my luck, the best I’d get along the lines of a showdown would likely be ripped right out of the final bits of Grand Torino. In other words, it wouldn’t freaking end well. Still, the romance of seeing myself as the lone cowgirl riding into town was somewhat comforting, (though the irony of the fantasy was, assuredly, not lost on me.)
My confidence wasn’t fully dissolved until we had fully entered town, and ponies began to notice the exposed mark on my back. There was a not so subtle ‘whisper whisper whisper’ that crescendoed into a significantly less subtle ‘RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE’ the moment I passed. As the rabbles were roused, I began to realize how flawed my previous analogy truly was: Calamity Jane? Not freaking likely. More like Hester Prynne and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Tramp-Stamp.
The whole thing had In the Hall of the Mountain King playing in my head. I tried to consider the upsides. Firstly, I wasn’t being chased… only followed, and at a distance. I wasn’t sure if it was a result of Twilight’s lecture, Fluttershy’s mark, or Rarity’s personal escort, but I assumed it was some intermingled combination of the three. Secondly, I had yet to see Pinkie. Granted, I might have been reaching a little for the silver lining. Though it was mostly in vain, I tried to distract myself by studying the architecture, since I hadn’t been able to appreciate it in a scenario that didn’t involve outrunning a depantsing inquisition.
Unsurprisingly, it’s rather difficult to study anything when you have a million pairs of eyes boring into the back of your head. I really would have loved to walk faster had Rarity not consistently kept the slower pace. The amalgamation of multi-colored ponies behind me was converging, a small crowd growing ever larger, still somehow maintaining a careful distance. I’d stop every few steps to cast a wary eye back, the results reactions from my sudden turns would have been humorous had I not been so terrified.
The small crowd would startle each time I looked back, and subsequently averted their gaze, developing sudden interest in the sky, each other, or whatever mundane object happened to be close enough to examine. The only one looking remotely in my direction was a gray, loopy-eyed Pegasus, her left eye gazing towards me despite her obvious attempts to correct it. Tearing myself away, I caught back up to Rarity, who had yet to stop talking. Beads of sweat were formed on my brow, as I tried very hard to pretend that the metaphorical scarlet letter on my back was not being studied by half of Ponyville.
“The spa is right up ahead dear, you’re doing fine.” While I appreciated her attempt to comfort me, it was rather moot considering the situation she’d put me in. I had to constantly remind myself that running would not end well. Ponies love to chase things ponies love to chase things ponies love to chase things. Even that reminder went out the window the second we passed a Carrot stand and I realized where we were in town. My god- this is the market, in the middle of the day. That means- A muffled voice all but confirmed my dread.
“-mgfff-mmff- consent?” My head whipped around. Applejack stood firmly in my way, eyebrow raised. The fact that she was using it to haul her cart didn’t really register; there was a rope in her mouth, she had just said ‘consent,’ and she was staring at me like she wanted something. The crowd behind me and the Stetson clad pony in front of me seemed to close in, playing at my claustrophobia
I spun around, pointing the opposite direction of the crowd.
“IZZAT PRINCESS CELESTIA?” For a moment, everypony turned in the direction I was pointing, creating a temporary state of panic. That moment was all I needed.
Thirty yards from the applecart to the spa door, covered in mere seconds. I’ve said it before: Red bull does nothing; its fear that gives you wings. I wouldn’t hear about it until later, but after I disappeared, Rarity had leaned over to Applejack and inquired:
“What in Luna’s name did you say to spook her so bad?” Applejack, who had dropped the rope at this point, was still staring at the place I’d previously occupied, probably wondering when exactly I’d developed the ability to teleport.
“Ah just asked if she liked mah present…”
The inside of the spa waiting room took the form of my own personal nirvana. Other than the cotton candy colored mare at the front desk who was infrequently stealing glances at me, the room was empty, and I was free from the prying eyes of the crowd. Despite my break in discipline at the end, I had apparently passed Rarity’s test. She had apologized for how heated things had gotten, and insisted on giving me the full treatment. I’d never really been to a spa before, so I didn’t know what to expect from the said 'full treatment.' Maybe it was just relative to the stress of what I had just experienced, but I was enjoying the crap out of the waiting room. The alone time with the soft lighting, pastel walls and beautiful music- Wait. music?
It had mixed so well with the mood of the place that it had taken me a while to realize that the soft chords of a lyre didn’t originate from an artificial source. A mint green unicorn wearing a hoodie sat in the corner, her horn glowing lightly as she strummed a melancholy tune. I must have somehow missed her when I first came in, though it was a little hard to believe that I’d missed somepony so noticeable. There was a bard like quality to her musicianship, the sort of understated flair one can only achieve through years of practice, if not decades. Her eyes fluttered open with the last chord of the song, and she smiled at me, as if appreciative of the audience.
“Rough morning?” Her voice was almost sagely.
“It could have been worse” Returning the smile, I rubbed my neck awkwardly. There was a strange frankness to her that I found refreshing.
“Words to live by. It’s best not to tempt fate.” The unicorn turned back to her lyre, gently strumming a few new chords. Odd. She speaks my language.
“That sounds like experience talking.”
“A bit too much, I fear.”
“Any advice for a fellow victim of fate?” It wasn’t meant as a serious question; it was a half joke, which stemmed from my desire to keep the conversation going. Regardless of my intent, the lyre ceased, and her amber eyes locked with mine somberly.
“Never forget that there’s always something more to lose.”
A chill ran down my spine. The perturbing discussion was interrupted by Rarity’s contrastingly cheerful voice
“Kate darling, it’s our turn with the masseuse!”
“Alright, I’m coming.” This was going to be interesting, I’d never had a professional massage before. I turned back to the Unicorn.
“By the way, I didn’t catch your-“ Wait. Where did she go?
Actually, come to think of it, who was I even talking to?
The memory was wispy, like smoke carried away on a distant breeze. When I turned to follow Rarity into the massage area, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was forgetting somepony important.
The massage quickly became rather intense. I’m not sure what I had expected: Aloe had a surprisingly stringent work ethic when it came to her work. At first I’d had my doubts, as she spent a long amount of time familiarizing herself with my anatomy, counting ribs and vertebrae, feeling for tension. It would have been creepier had she not been making annoyed noises the entire time.
“Zere is so much tension here. Dis is probably going to hurt.” It’s just a little massage, I think I’ll be-SNAP- NYARGH. Her hoofs, which had previously been carefully and softly evaluating areas of tension were now stamping those areas out, full force.
“You’ve obviously not taken care of your back ze way you ought. Otherwise dis would not be so painful. Madam Fluttershy is a regular here, so you best take care of her.” Does anypony want to give me the benefit of the doubt here-CRACKLE-OWIE ok I’ll take that for a no-POP-ARGH I get it I’ll take care of her just stop breaking me!
The next twenty minutes were some of the most excruciating of my life. Somewhere between this world and the previous, it seemed that certain words must have gotten lost in translation: the term ‘masseuse’ for example, seemed to have gotten mixed up with ‘specialist,’ while the word ‘spa’ was more aptly used to describe the pony version of a CIA black site, in which, I was currently experiencing the equestrian version of ‘enhanced interrogation.’ Everything that could be popped or manipulated was thoroughly adjusted. After adding several bite marks to my own lower lip, a final slap in the middle of my back jarred me out of my agony addled stupor.
“Good as new. I would ask you if you wanted me do ze front, but I don’t zink your new marefriend would appreciate zat.” She snickered at her own joke and walked off, leaving me to whimper my thanks to whatever deity had seen fit to have mercy on me.
In comparison, the hot tub felt more like a lazarus pit, slowly mending my traumatized body and bringing me back to life. Vera brought us two waters with lemon wedges and asked if we wanted anything else. How much for a new spine, just out of curiosity? Rarity didn’t even have to look at the menu.
“Just the usual cosmo.” Her choice of drink drew disturbing parallels between Rarity and Sarah Jessica Parker to my mind. I would have ordered a martini, ‘shaken, not stirred’ to outweigh the lameness, but the recent encounter with alcohol was a bit to prevalent on the mind. Nursing the lemon water would have suited me fine, had Rarity not insisted I order something.
“A virgin strawberry daiquiri please.” Alright, alright, laugh if you must. Somehow, my philosophy study group had gotten it into their minds that meeting in a bar to study was a brilliant idea. As it’s already been clearly demonstrated, I can’t hold my liquor; thus I learned to stop worrying and love the little overpriced umbrella-clad slushees. Though the prior spa experience had be disturbingly similar to the process of rendition, I did feel rather fancy sipping on drinks in the hot tub. Even if it was a glorified slushee, it tasted incredible.
Ponyville strawberries… are kind of amazing.
“So, how was she?”
PFFFFFT- Whether or not it was actually intentional, it seemed like Rarity waited for the absolute worst time to pose that question. For her craftiness, she was awarded a total spit-take, up the nose, out the mouth, all at the same time. Scooting a bit away from me, Rarity glared.
“Says the pony who just asked how her best friend was in bed!” I snapped back, still holding my now slushee flooded nose.
“Touché. You still haven’t answered my question, though.”
“What kind of friend would answer that?”
“What kind of friend indeed.” The unicorn re-voiced my question with emphasis on the offending word, and I slowly comprehended that I’d made a mistake. The difference in wording was subtle, but it struck me instantly; you don’t trade mingle marks with a ‘friend.’
Note to self: Rarity is not an airhead at all.
“Does the title ‘The Princess and the Plebian’ mean anything to you?” She had caught me in the middle of a drink again. This time I had no doubt it was intentional: While I managed to avoid another spit-take, a bit of coughing and sputtering was unavoidable, and the subsequent impression was rather damning. She placed the glass on her forehead with a groan, “It is her favorite book, so I suppose it wasn’t that much of a stretch. Oh dear, dear Fluttershy. What have you done you silly filly.”
I made several attempts to correct my mistake, to somehow salvage the situation, all of them falling on deaf ears.
“I’m not putting this all on you Darling.” Rising out of the hot tub, she turned to face me. “Fluttershy has always been a very lonely pony… moreso than she ever lets on. Even if you didn’t mean to take advantage of her, I can’t help but feel like you did. If you’ve ever watched a friend put herself in a position where she’ll inevitably get hurt, you’ll know what I mean.” The words were meant as kindness, so why did they sting so much?
Having toweled off a short time after Rarity left, I found myself in the spa bathroom, soul-searching in front of a mirror for the second time that day. It felt mutual. Did I really take advantage of her? Of course, I hadn’t noticed it before, but now that Rarity had pointed it out, Flutters did seem lonely. Assuming she wasn’t, just because she was surrounded by friends might have been too presumptuous of me, my first misstep. Or perhaps there was an entirely other side to her I hadn’t seen and this over-analyzing was pointless. When it rains, it pours…
THUMP. As if on cue, a miniature orange Pegasus bashed through the double doors.
“MS. RARITY! MS. RARITY!” She would have slammed straight into me had I not gracefully sidestepped. The one positive thing that’s come out of my excursion to ponyville: I’ve gotten a hell of a lot better at dodging.
“You just missed her kiddo-“ the thought dawned on me that I had no idea how I affected Foals, and I felt the blood drain from my face. It was almost enough to end me off and running again, as that’s not really the sort of thing I had any desire to figure out through experimentation, but something in Scootaloo’s expression stopped me; Panic was written all over her face.
“ohnohnohnohnohnohnohno-“ I crouched down to her eye level and shook her gently.
“Take a breath and then talk to me. What happened?” Bravo Kate, always so rational and coolheaded when you’re dealing with someone else’s problems.
Following my instructions a little too literally, the pint-size Pegasus took a massive, five second breath, and then let out a torrent of words. “We-all-climbed-on-the-roof-to-try-and-get-our-spy-pony-cutie-marks-except-for-Applebloom-cause-she-doesn’t-like-you-at-all-and-it-all-went-really-well-until-we decided-that-spying-was-boring-so-we-tried-to-climb-down-and-I-slid-down-the-pipe-which-knocked-it over-and-left-Sweetie-Belle-hanging-there-I-didn’t-mean-to-but-I-did-and-I-think-she-was-crying-and-now-she’s-stuck-hanging-off-of-the-roof-and-she-yelled-at-me-to-get-help-so-I-went-to-get-help-and-I-tried-to-find-her-sister-but-instead-I-found-YOU cough cough.
Before she even managed to cough twice, I was already out the door, after shouting over my shoulder for her to try and find help.
Being an only child is seriously overrated. Sure, you get more stuff, and generally don’t have to share, but it gets really lonely, especially in homes like the one I came out of. Somewhere between pre-adolescence and adulthood the desire for a sibling became tantamount to my desire for friendship. While volunteering at some local after school tutoring programs helped to quell that loneliness, it was sort of a temporary fix to a permanent problem. Even so, I treated the kids I tutored like extended family. If a kid’s in danger there’s very little thinking involved for me. It’s not a question of ‘who’ and ‘is there even anything I can do.’ It’s a question of ‘how quickly can I cover the distance?’
The fact that I barely even knew what Sweetie Belle looked like was irrelevant. I circled to the other side of the two-story building before I found her. Unfortunately, she had chosen the wrong side to fall on, away from the busier street, so nopony had seen the imminent peril. I would have to hope that Scootaloo would manage to flag down a Pegasus or a Unicorn, but I had no way of knowing how long that would take as the streets were nowhere near as crowded here in the late afternoon as they had been previously.
“Sweetie Belle! Hang on! I’m going to try and find a way up there!”
“Who- eek- Hurry, I’m slipping!” She barely even answered: the amount of strain in her voice was more than alarming. I spotted a pipe on the far end of the building. It would have to do. Middle school gymnastics, don’t fail me now. The climb wasn’t exactly pleasant, I grunted as my body stretched muscles that hadn’t been used in years, as well as the ones recently traumatized by the masseuse.
Halfway up, I faced another complication. Sweetie’s left foreleg slipped entirely, and she was now maintaining her grip on the roof by a single hoof. I’m not going to make it. By the time I got to the roof she would have already slipped and fell. Sliding back down, I winced at the friction burns on my hands, quickly jogging back to the ground beneath her.
“You’re going to have to jump!”
“Are you CRAZY?!” She stared down at me, terrified.
“I will catch you, I promise!” Considering that she didn’t know me at all, I couldn’t exactly blame her for not buying it. Panicking, she reached up with her left leg, grasping at the ledge, a move which only loosened the grip of her remaining hoof, and as if in slow motion, she started to fall.
Note to self: While unicorn horns are capable of all sorts of lovely magic, on the most basic level, they are still pointy objects.
My heart sank as I watched her fall. There’s a feeling you get in gymnastics when you watch someone try to land a difficult aerial feat, a flipping in your stomach when you realize they don’t have enough momentum to stick the landing. If it was accurate, I could tell this was not going to end well.
Because of the way she struggled, she was now descending at an angle away from me rather than right down on top of me. If she was as heavy as I estimated she would be, I wasn’t going to be able to catch her with just my arms, I was going to have to pull her in and use my entire body to stop her descent.
But the way she was rotating was less than ideal. By the time she reached the ground, if I didn’t catch her, she would hit it head first, and probably break her neck. But if I caught her…
No. Not ‘if’ Kate. You promised. No choice.
Closing the remaining distance between myself and the unicorn with three lunging steps, I caught her as ideally as possible, arms looping around her stomach and upper body. She was heavier than I had predicted, and the weight brought me down to my knees and tipped over as her body slammed into mine, full force.
As someone with monumental bad luck and an ongoing grievance with Murphy ’s Law, I had long since accepted that things might not end particularly well. I had foreseen the possibility of all sorts of horrible accidents, such as the previously mentioned death by steamroller. I’d thought I’d exhausted all the obscure possibilities, but ‘accidental seppuku via flying baby unicorn’ was a bit far-fetched, even for my cynicism.
With the unpleasant taste of iron in my mouth, I slid down the spa wall, still cradling the foal in my arms. Light green eyes stared up at me, confused. She really hadn’t thought I would catch her.
“Are- Are you hurt?” Hah. Almost fell to her death and she’s worried about me. Adorable.
“Course not. You ever gotten a massage from Aloe? Now those hurt. I probably just pulled a muscle.” I was rewarded for my bluster with a smile, one that only lasted until she saw the way I was pressing my left hand against the wound on my abdomen.
“You are hurt.”
“It’s just a scratch. Mind going to get Twilight for me?”
“Okay! I’ll be back, don’t go anywhere!” I couldn’t help but grin at the way she suddenly took charge. She really was a lot like her sister.
“I’ll try to control myself.”
Collapsing the second she rounded the corner, I coughed up a storm the moment I felt she was out of earshot. It was a new level of pain, one that broke through my thresholds and seated itself in the numbness of over-stimulation. My grip on the wound loosened as my eyes started to glaze over.
I tried to make peace with the situation; it wasn’t ideal, it was painful, it sucked and I hated it, but this was still better than dying pointlessly, like from randomly choking on pancakes one day and suffocating to death for no reason, right? Even if my existence was some sort of cruel joke, I had beaten it by managing to do something noble in the end. I think… I think that will have to do...
“Oh you! Stop it with the silly inner soliloquies! The party hasn’t even started yet!” Oh. Naturally. Silly me. Two hoofs grabbed at my cheeks, wiggling my dazed face back and forth, clearing my vision. Pink hair and malicious blue eyes came into focus. I stared into the abyss of her dilated pupils, and the abyss stared back, a hungry void, sinister enough to send Nietzsche himself screaming for the hills. She pointed down at my now ruined tank-top “By the way, you’ve got red on you!”
“Y-you don’t say.”
“I do!” In a blur of motion, I was lifted up and unceremoniously draped over the pink demon’s back, the friction of her coat against my wound excruciating. It only worsened as she began to trot with the typical cheery bobbing of her hips.
“Aww, that’s not how we say, ‘thank you Pinkie for taking me to the hospital!’”
She’s- She’s actually taking me to the hospital? Somehow I thought I’d be chained in a basement somewhere and eaten in increments, or baked into pastries, or sealed in some horrible alternate reality consisting of nothing but mudkipz-
“Don’t think such mean things!”
STOP READING MY THOUGHTS!
“Then stop yelling at me in your head Ms. meanie pants!”
It’s amazing how impossible it is to not think of anything. Instead, I tried to focus on the pain that came with each heavy step.
“OH! I know I know! it’s a metronome! Can you do ¾?”
…What… exactly are you…
For the first time, Pinkie stopped, and stared at me in surprise.
“You mean you don’t know?” She inhaled deeply, gathering her breath for something.
I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME DAMMIT.
“-YYYYY NAME IS PINKIE PIE! AND I AM HERE TO SAY, I’M GONNA MAKE YOU SMILE AND I WILL BRIGHTEN UP YOUR DAY!-”
By the time we arrived at the hospital a good half hour later, Pinkie had just finished her fourth song and dance routine, for which I had somehow stayed conscious, despite being draped over her back and miserably jostled throughout the entire experience.
Note to self: There are far worse things than death
Willpower is curious thing. It can carry you further than your muscles should physically be able to withstand. With enough of it, you can achieve mental feats that should be well beyond the parameters of realistic expectation. Manage to hold on to it long enough, and you can overcome impossible odds. It is, in many ways, the short term game changer. The downside of pure willpower, however, is its temporary nature: It’s prone to erosion if relied on over an extended period of time. If you’re under a massive amount of stress the moment it finally gives out, it can lead to serious complications. Like, you know… temporary hysteria.
I didn’t remember why I was confined to the hospital bed with newly personalized straps. The joyous experience of hearing about it second hand brought to my attention that there were many things I didn’t remember: For starters, there was an apparent lapse of sanity, as I was singing in perfect harmony with Pinkie by the time we arrived. Nor did I remember the bad reaction with medication that led to coinciding maniacal laughter, or nimbly dodging Nurse Redheart’s attempts to accost me while I ran about the room stark raving naked, doing my darndest to reopen the recently sutured abdominal wound. It was also alleged that, when cornered, I had pulled a full on Lady Godiva, mounting the poor nurse and holding on for dear life while she ran around the hospital in a panic. Yeah, I was having a hard time believing that one myself.
“Please tell me you’re kidding” Fluttershy sat at my bedside uncomfortably, contemplating her response
“Oh... okay… I’m kidding”
“Really?” Turning my head towards her, I felt the slightest bit of hope
Doh. No wonder they strapped me down.
“Um- about that… there’s kind of more.” Looking away, Fluttershy managed to convey an even higher level of awkwardness. Well, it can’t be much worse than founding the first annual riding of the Redheart festival can it?
“The reason she panicked in the first place was because you managed to get the needle with the sedative away from her when you jumped her.” Grimacing, I would have face palmed had my arms not been strapped to the gurney. I stand corrected. Hopefully I at least didn’t-
“Then you kind of injected her with it when you almost fell off.”
“…On her flank“
Oh somepony kill me already.
“And yelled something along the lines of ‘Hi-Yo Silver’ when she tried to buck you off”
I looked away, completely and totally mortified. Or rather, I tried to look away. My current state of immobility rendered me unable to do anything other than look to my right side instead of my left. Freedom is what you do with what’s done to you, or so I’ve heard. Thus, I executed my only current freedom, the aptly named: The Kate looks to the side dramatically with a not so small serving of self loathing freedom. Fluttershy scurried over to the other side of the bed, trying to make me feel better.
“There, there, it’s not that bad. It was only a bit of morphine; it could have been worse.”
“How so…?” I asked cautiously.
“Well, if the Nurse and I hadn’t gotten in an argument over how much to give you, she’d have tried to give you a much higher dosage… then you would have given her a much higher dosage, way too much for her body weight, and it probably would have been enough to put her in a coma.”
You may have embarrassed yourself Kate, but at least you won’t be imprisoned and/or tortured until end of time. Somehow, that platitude wasn’t making me feel any better. Utilizing my single freedom once more, I tilted my head to the other side.
The fact that I had lost it, even for a short period of time was unsettling. I’m not a control freak: control over my circumstances has never really been a luxury I’ve been able to afford, much less control over others. The fact that I had been fairly successful when it came to retaining control of myself was an important tenet of who I was. It irked me to no end that I’d temporarily relinquished said tenet, though the combination of the injury, paranoia, and a certain Pink demon’s undeniably contagious strain of crazy made the tattered state of my psyche more understandable. Between today’s alleged occurrences and the previous day’s drunken debauchery, I was beginning to wonder if Equestria had already battered my ability to control myself into oblivion. So disturbing was the thought I hadn’t even realized Fluttershy had been talking.
“-What I’m trying to say is if it’s something you like… I wouldn’t mind, every once in a while” The yellow Pegasus looked like she had just said something very difficult.
“Sorry Shy, you wouldn’t mind what now?”
“You know, as long as it only happened behind closed doors.” She iterated the caveat firmly.
“No, I missed the first part.” I regretted the prompt instantly, as the expression on her face changed to one that looked rather dejected. We both sat in the awkward silence as Nurse Redheart came to change my IV, still holding a grudge if her glare was any indication. Small screen Hugh Laurie had better bedside manner; she said nothing and only made fleeting eye-contact to stick out her tongue, though I could hardly blame her if half of the things I’d heard were true. Turning back to Fluttershy, all distractions fled from my mind. From the way she was looking down I could have almost sworn the sullen Pegasus was pouting. She didn’t speak until the nurse was out of earshot.
“Um… please don’t make me say it again after this.” She squeaked. “If it’s the sort of thing you like… you’re not that heavy… just as long as it’s not in public-
“I have a few saddles... Because- I mean… everypony has different…itches they want their special somepony to scratch. Um- NOT saying we’re a real couple, but I’d rather you do that with me than take it out on random mares and nurses” The effort required to not picture the implied activities in question was immense, contorting my face into a look of comic horror. It must have been mistaken for serious consideration, as she quickly amended the offer.
“Or you know, you could wear the saddle… if you wanted. I can go both ways. If you don’t like saddles… um- bareback is… nice.” Her voice progressively quieter with the last part. My eye was twitching from the mental stress.
Notpicturingitnotpicturingitnotpicturingitnotpicturingit-The mental image finally broke through: the Pegasus was sitting astride my back, rear legs locked under my stomach, front forelegs both propping herself up and holding the reigns simultaneously, gently tugging on the bit in my mouth, wings fully extended. “That’s a good little pony, yes she is. You’ve worked so hard.” Imaginary Fluttershy reached down to stroke my hair, nickering into my ear. “Would the little pony like a bite of mommy’s apple for her reward-”
“NOOOO!” Fluttershy jumped back with an ‘EEP’ from the sudden reaction, as I tried very hard to hold on to the draining resource previously known as my sanity.
“Sorry! I mean no, no, no, no, no, Fluttershy. It’s - geez- it’s nice of you to look out for me and all…” I paused, trying not to think about the circle of hell that particular doozy of imagination had damned me to. Now was an increasingly bad time for me to be strapped down, as I had a growing urge to pull my own hair out. “I don’t have an ‘itch’ like that.”
You sure Kate? You didn’t seem to have any problem picturing how that would-heh-go down-SHUT UP INNER ME.
“Oh. And I talked to Rarity.” The sentence instantly filled me with a sense of dread
“What did she say?” I wasn’t looking forward to the answer. Rarity and I had hardly hit it off at the spa, and she seemed rather dead set on preventing me from using her best friend. The smile I received in retort had barely concealed edge to it.
“Um- a lot. She’s waiting out in the lobby with Sweetie Belle. Are you up to seeing her? There are a lot of things she has to say to you.” The wicked glint in her eye was disturbingly similar to the one wielded by imaginary dominatrix Shy, so out of fear, I muttered my agreement.
“I’ll try, but I doubt she’ll have anything nice to say.”
“I wouldn’t worry,” Fluttershy flashed me the edgy smile again, a look more suitable to a Corleone than the element of kindness. “Let’s just say her and I came to a little understanding.” The touch of understated menace was foreboding.
Note to self: Do not piss off Fluttershy
“I’m so very sorry I marched you through town like I did.” Rarity’s voice was almost panicked, completely lacking the confidence and sly demeanor she had maintained during our excursion. I was at a loss on how to respond, though it turned out my response was unnecessary. Smiling at me sweetly, Fluttershy turned to Rarity; she was out of view, but judging by the alabaster mare’s reaction, she had received a very different nature of look.
“Oh? Is that all?” Assertive Fluttershy’s voice made us both flinch, and temporarily stopped Sweetie Belle’s coloring.
“Perhaps I could have been less pushy about the spa.”
“I get why you were, its fine.” Normally I wouldn’t have been quite so quick to forgive, but Fluttershy’s sudden surge of intensity made me want to clear the air as quickly as possible.
“Thank you for saving my darling sister, of course.” Rarity was becoming more and more flustered under the yellow pegasus’ withering stare. Having felt the full effects of it while patching up the sparrow, I rather pitied her.
“No biggie.” At this point, I kind of just wanted the Pegasus beside me to calm down. My feelings went unheeded.
“AND?” Rarity’s ears splayed back as she tried to gather some semblance of dignity.
“There’s no need to snap, dear Fluttershy. I was doing it for you, so perhaps an exception is in order-“
“No exceptions” assertive Fluttershy almost barked. “Exceptions disprove the rule.”
“Oh fine you flying terror.” Rarity mumbled the epithet under her breath, barely loud enough for me to hear it. “Kate, I’m truly sorry I asked you to the spa under false pretenses. It wasn’t very friendly. I don’t plan to interfere in you and Fluttershy’s... thing.” A glare from the pegasus had her scrambling to change the word “-er I mean, ‘relationship.’ Fluttershy is a dear friend, and anyone dear to Fluttershy is dear to me. I mean that sincerely, not just because somepony is coercing me.”
“Thank you Rarity. And you don’t have to thank me for saving your sister. I’d have done that for any foal to be honest, regardless of the injury.”
“That’s something I’ve been wondering, how did you get hurt Ms. Kate? I had my eyes closed tight and when I opened them you were holding yourself.” The tiny voice stopped all three of us still. Sweetie Belle had stopped coloring at some point and was currently staring at my bandaged abdomen. Think fast Kate.
“Um. Angry gopher. Punched me right as I was falling down from catching you.” I’m not usually that bad of a liar, but give me a break, I’m pretty sure on the safe or sorry scale of morphine, Nurse Redheart had seen fit to put me firmly on the safe end of the dosage spectrum.
Thankfully, Sweetie bought the farce, obviously furious as she went back to her coloring, muttering something about trying to get her cutie mark for varmint hunting.
“Yes, Pinkie filled us in on the details of that… gopher… and lets just say I’ll be making you more a few more masterpieces as a thank you.” Rarity trotted forward and gave me a gentle foreleg hug, minding my injury, and I tried not to notice as Fluttershy ‘harrumphed’ unhappily at the gesture. After that gesture of peace, the stalwart Pegasus at my side deflated like a balloon, the hot air she’d apparently been holding in seeping out all at once.
“Um… I appreciate it Rarity. Sorry I made you wait in the lobby.”
“It’s fine Fluttershy, though you really didn’t need to use the stare on me, I was planning on coming on my own. Now on to more important matters: Any requests in particular?” The question was directed at me, and the memory of the previous dresses almost triggered an involuntary wince
“Well, I do kind of need new pants and my only tank-top has now has a… er, gopher shaped hole in the center… and if you do make me dresses, could they be a bit longer?” A playful smirk played across Rarity’s face.
“So if I were to only make you dresses, you’d have to wear them?”
“With bloodstained yoga pants underneath” I countered.
“Foiled again,” Rarity sighed, looking down to her sister. “Sweetie, didn’t you have something you wanted to give Kate before we go?” Lifting the filly telekinetically onto the gurney did nothing to distract from her concentration.
“Yeah, just a second, it’s not finished yet.”
“Alright, well I’ll let you sit up there and keep Kate company, sister needs to talk to your Aunt Fluttershy in private about a few things, okay dear?”
“Okay.” Sweetie paid them no mind as Rarity took Fluttershy aside, but I found myself looking over suspiciously. Surely they wouldn’t talk about me right where I can see them. Several not so discreet glances my way told me otherwise… Yes let’s all gossip about the human chained to the bed while she’s out of earshot and has to guess at what you’re saying… I rolled my eyes. Ponies: not the most subtle creatures in the universe. Something poked at my hand. Sweetie Belle nudged the picture toward it, twiddling her hoofs.
“For me?” I’d wondered about the coloring obsession. She nodded, light green eyes looking away in a pout.
“Yeah… I don’t think I’ll be getting my cutie mark in art anytime soon though. That one was my third try. Promise not to laugh?”
“I would never.”
The small things in life can often be the most meaningful: Experiences can sound stupid and pointless in theory, however, in practice hold far more weight than they have any right to. Getting a handmade picture from a kid who’s under the delusion you’re the coolest thing in the world? Let’s just say it definitely ranks on my top five… even if I had no idea what I was looking at.
To say the picture looked somewhat ambiguous would have been a mild understatement. It originally struck me as slenderman planking a brown log while vibrating and holding a bunny. On second look, I became convinced it was a shaking anteater with bunny ears getting a stand-up laparoscopy. But Celestia be damned if I didn’t I love that Parkinson’s addled anteater at first glance.
“You can’t even tell what it is, can you.” The filly looked deeply hurt, misinterpreting my reaction.
“Are you bucking kidding me??? I love anteaters. I’ve always wanted a picture of one, I was just thinking about how I’m going to have to brave the hazards of navigating Ponyville to get a frame for my first ever picture of an anteater. You do know what happens when I go outside right?” My melodramatic lament, combined with my attempt to use Equestrian slang sent the filly rolling in a giggle fit, a feat so rewarding I almost didn’t feel it when her hoof bumped into my stitches. Thankfully, she didn’t notice the sharp intake of breath.
“It’s not an anteater silly. It’s you.” She indicated the black figure, and once again, I found myself wishing my hands were free so I could facepalm. I’d forgotten the small detail that the filly’s eyes had been closed throughout the entire affair. In reality, I’d not gotten any air while catching her; it was more of a three phase scenario of step-stumble-poke. In Sweetie’s eyes I had made like Chow Yun Fat, hurtling through the air arms outstretched to seize her from the fast approaching ground, only to land- Er, nope, still no idea what the brown thing is.
“What is that?” I pointed to the brown laparoscopic blob that seemed to be coming into contact with where my very blurry and poorly-defined stomach would be.
“That’s Mr. Gopher.” Sweetie growled. “There will be restitution”
Her determination was so convincing I couldn’t help but laugh, though it hurt my abdomen like hell.
“You mean retribution?”
“Yes. That.” Sighing from trying to hold in the mirth, I shook my head with a smile. Considering how dedicated she looks, I should probably head off the CMC Salem gopher trials before they begin. Well, no, I’m sure they’re responsible- Her current expression was dark enough to give me pause. A mental image of Sweetie Belle telekinetically dragging the local Gopher down to the river and holding him under, before lifting him out and shouting ‘WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?!’ didn’t really seem all that far out of the realm of possibilities.
“Sweetie, the gopher was just minding his own business and I jumped on him. No need to go kicking in the local gopher holes.”
“Aw. I wanted to try getting my counter-terrorism cutie mark.” She looked genuinely disappointed.
Gopher waterboarding: Not something I need on my conscience.
“Yeah- see, no need for that. If anything, the gopher was acting in self-defense.” Nodding, she finally appeared to accept the logic.
“Well if that gopher ever decides he wants to give you redistribution, the crusaders have your back.” For the millionth time, I cursed my straps. Her fierce protectiveness of me was adorable, and highly deserving of a head pat.
“Thank you, if I’m ever in trouble I’ll know who to call.” I wasn’t taking it seriously of course, but my voice was surprisingly void of sarcasm.
I mentioned before that sometimes the smallest things in life can be the most meaningful. Unfortunately, that’s not always a positive, as the human psyche is a fragile thing. Most physical wounds heal, eventually fading into tough scars that are not easily reopened. Psychological scars are not so simple; the smallest pin prick to the proper neuron sending a metaphorical lightning bolt through the unfortunate receiver, reanimating long forgotten trauma in a millisecond. It can be anything that activates the chain reaction, a photo, a faded letter, or a long forgotten melody.
Fluttershy and Rarity were still in the midst of their ‘private chat’ when Sweetie Belle started to hum, doodling away at another piece of paper. The first thing I that struck me was how beautiful her voice was. Even though she was only humming, I could still tell; it was the sort of voice that gets those wonderfully dramatic a cappella solos in choir, the sort that every alto is jealous of. The second thing that struck me was how familiar it sounded. My knuckles were suddenly white, attempting to cease the shaking in my hands by gripping on to the railing of the gurney. It struck a chord deep in my subconscious, resuscitating a long discarded memory that laid somewhere my mind had long since walled off. Whatever it was, I hated it.
The moment familiarity gave way to recognition, my world slipped into despair.
For all the infinite variables required to align for something so astronomically unlikely to occur…
It was almost cruel. Of all the possible melodies to carry over, to this world from the previous…
Why. WHY that song?
I no longer saw Sweetie Belle, or the two mares gossiping by the door. I no longer saw the hospital.
I saw a forest, stretching on as far as the eye could see. It was almost pitch black, floor covered in snow, the sounds of the evening surprisingly silent, mixed in with a few random noises that I wasn’t able to identify. However, those were not the noises that enraptured me, drawing me closer. A faint medley of voices rang out, originating from a distant cabin, the single light in the surrounding void
Run Kate. Turn around and run, or float away; whatever it is you’re doing just get away. Seeing this won’t make coping any easier.
No. I wasn’t going to run anymore. I was tired of running. How long had running been my solution to everything? My resolve was shaky, nearly abolished with every ethereal step.
Please don’t. This will only hurt you.
I was almost expecting it to. This was something I had buried deep. But it felt important. If I didn’t dredge it up now, I ran the risk of never finding it again. Drawing closer, I began to be able to distinguish lyrics, sung by several flippantly off key voices.
“…Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne”
Peeking in the window took every ounce of courage I had left. Three figures sat huddled around the fireplace: two of them holding mugs, sipping on hot cocoa as they sang, and the third, larger figure holding an acoustic guitar. So great was the contrast between this stranger and the man I knew as father that it took me almost a minute to recognize him. There was no beer belly, and his eyes that had long since been empty were now sparkling, full of a mirth and liveliness that was almost alien to me. The middle-aged woman held a very familiar freckly brunette in her arms; I waited for the recognition to click, but it never did. I’d completely forgotten my mother.
‘Mother’ had become a word synonymous with ‘monster’ in my life. When I thought of my ‘mother’, instead of a person, I saw the faceless operator of a wrecking ball, smashing through my childhood home. Nothing more, nothing less. If that was my mother, who was this strange being that happily held the younger me? A loving arm was wrapped around me while she tried rather comically tried to cool the hot cocoa and sing simultaneously.
What killed me wasn’t how little I recognized her, but how little my mother resembled the monster I had envisioned her as. Not in the slightest. I began to understand why these memories had been so thoroughly buried. You can’t deal with crap like that as a kid: It represents a gray your moral compass isn’t ready to process. Kids love fantasy stories for a reason; the valiant knight clashing with the wicked dragon, the virtuous gunslinger versus the nasty bandits, the stalwart space marines pitted against the jingoistic aliens; Kids are geared to see things in black and white; good versus evil. Expecting a child to process the fact that her mother is not a monster, yet still abandoning her is pointless: you’d have an easier time expecting that same child, having been raised on optimistic fairy tales, to appreciate the collective works of the Brothers Grimm.
As it turns out, such a bitter pill isn’t any easier to process as an adult; instead it simply becomes a painful, uncomfortable possibility. Her face was not the face of evil. It was the face of a real person. I wanted to reach out to touch her, to ensure this was in fact real and not just the façade of love. The moment my arm moved, I felt resistance from the ties that held me down a universe away. Sweetie’s lyric-less humming of the Equestrian equivalent continued as I was abruptly yanked back to the present. I blinked several times, feeling a wetness on my cheeks.
A mirthless chuckle died in my throat. Rejected by a friend, thrown into another universe that seemed to consist of the sum of my fears, chased down like a dog, bullied by a princess, stabbed in the stomach, and driven partially insane by a neon colored demon, yet it’s the whisper of a Filly’s melody that silently breaks the dam. It’d been years since I’d truly cried.
Everything had just taken another layer of complication. I wasn’t particularly driven on my arrival in Equestria: Sure, I’ve been transported into another world, but hey, it's winter break. I was going to be laying around doing nothing anyway, other than possibly going back for Christmas. Long as I get back in a month, this might as well be a vacation… okay, maybe this is a rather crap-tastic vacation to my own, personalized, fluorescently camouflaged section of hell, but I’m trying to see the the glass half full here.
What I’d just relived had changed things. I needed to get back to earth, to look my mother in the eye and see for myself what was real and what was only in my head. I wasn’t really trying to get home… per say, my apartment wasn’t a dwelling I’d refer to as a ‘home’, and it had been almost a decade since my Father’s house had felt anything other than empty. I needed to properly understand my past if I had wanted any chance at a successful future. More than anything, I needed closure. And therein laid the problem:
Wherever home is, or was…
…it’s not here.
Rarity had glanced to the side, finally spotting my quiet distress. Her horn glowed softly from across the room, a tissue clearing my face. For someone who had treated me so insensitively only a day prior, the gesture was surprisingly thoughtful. She was able to instantly identify that my discomfort wasn’t physical, and tactfully saved me from the thousands of questions I’d have been pelted with, had evidence of the tears been spotted by the currently distracted filly who colored beside me.
“Sweetie Belle. It’s time to go, Kate needs her rest.”
“She can sleep while I guard her from gophers.” The filly offered. Rarity shot me an apologetic smile.
“Fluttershy will be here to protect her dear, not even the most audacious gopher would cross her.” Sweetie Belle nodded to Rarity, then turned aside to whisper conspiratorially to me.
“Sister’s right, but don’t make her angry. You wouldn’t like Fluttershy when she’s angry.” The grave tone of her voice told me she was talking from personal experience. I laughed, though it wasn’t entirely genuine.
“I’ll be careful.”
Sweetie looked to the picture I still held in my hands, curiosity dancing in her eyes.
“Are you really still going to frame that? Even though it’s not an Anteater?”
“Of course. But only if you sign it for me. That way It’ll be worth three times more when you’re famous” I deadpanned. Delighted, the filly complied with the request, initialing SB in silver crayon at the bottom left of the ‘painting.’
“Sweetie Belle, now please.” With one last smile to her and Rarity, I closed my eyes, hoping Fluttershy would follow suit, taking the hint that I wanted to be alone.
No such luck. The sound of somepony climbing up the hospital bed and sitting herself in tiny Belle’s old seat deflated that hope, the faint smell of jasmine shampoo leaving little question to her identity.
“What’s bothering you?” The question, and accompanying deep blue eyes were deceitfully sympathetic, leading me to assume I might be able to dodge the question and pull a fast one on the Fluttershy.
“Morphine’s just starting to wear off. I’ll be fine as soon as the Nurse re-ups my meds.” I closed my eyes again, hoping the white lie would sate the mare’s curiosity. There was suddenly a change in lighting, blinding me even through my eyelids.
Note to self: Never try to pull a fast one on Fluttershy.
Opening my eyes with a wince, the source of the change wasn’t hard to identify. The overhead directional lamp, typically used for operating had been toggled on. In the center of the light was Fluttershy’s face, her expression completely changed, cold blue eyes glaring down. You’ve probably heard the saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Well, as a woman, I can tell you there’s no contest with an angry Fluttershy. If hell’s fury was outclassed by mine, then the righteous anger resonating from Fluttershy could have sent hades itself sprinting to the nearest confessional.
It would have sent me running as well, had I not already been tied up.
“You listen to me Missy,” Fluttershy seethed. “You don’t have to talk to me, I understand the need for privacy better than most, but you-“ She leaned down close enough that my nose was touching her muzzle. “WILL. NOT. LIE. TO. ME.” By the end of the emphatic command, her whole forehead was pressed up against mine, eyes still bearing down. “
“Er. Yes. Yes ma’am.”
“Um… okay, just so we’re clear.” With that, the light was switched off
“...Now what?” I wasn’t exactly clear on what I was meant to do. Or rather, what I was meant to do to keep her from hulking out on me again.
“Well, now, we wait.” She said, not breaking eye contact. “You can either talk to me, or I can sit here and keep you company while we play the quiet game.” She twiddled her hoofs absent-mindedly. “I don’t like to brag, but I am really good at the quiet game.” The subtext was clear. Either you talk, or my puppy dog eyes slowly consume your soul. It was controlling, it was abrasive, it was borderline manipulative.
Yet, it was kind of sweet.
“Can we just say I’m feeling a little homesick and leave it at that for now?” It wasn’t a lie, more an ironic retelling of the truth. Regardless, I was still tense waiting for her reaction.
“I suppose. Anypony would feel a little homesick in your position.” The Pegasus wrapped me in a warm hug, wings and all, careful to avoid my injury. “That’s all I wanted to know, we can talk about it more later.” Had I been able, I think I would have hugged her back. She sat back, a bit more distant, the trademark timid behavior cropping up again. “You do look tired… so if you want me to go I won’t take it personally at all.”
“Not so fast. It’s your turn.” I said, rather irritably.
“Who-Me? What’d I do?” Her sudden convenient burst of naivety earned a growl from my throat.
“Oh don’t play that game with me. What were you and Rarity talking about?” Her reaction was a little concerning. Looking down, Fluttershy’s face began to turn red.
“Um… just girl stuff. Now’s really not the best time to talk about it.”
“Fluttershy, that lying thing goes both ways.”
“Practice-“She squeaked. I was completely lost.
“Rarity said if we’re going to make this believable, you can’t be a one pony show. She said the first thing that tipped her off was the fact I wouldn’t kiss you back and looked surprised.” Fluttershy’s speech was halting, shame written all over her face.
“It’s fine Shy, it’s really not that big of a deal. Acting just isn’t something you have much experience with.” I still didn’t get what Rarity was making a fuss about.
“Oh- but that’s it! If I don’t practice, I won’t get better, and if I don’t get better, I can’t help you.” Pony logic, why you so difficult. I half shrugged.
“Well they do say practice makes perfect.”
Note to self: Morphine does not make Kate a more perceptive girl.
“…As long as you’re okay with it.” It wasn’t until Fluttershy was leaning in with rosy cheeks that my eye twitch from earlier returned, and the nature of ‘practice’ she intended dawned in me. Whoa nelly. I reached up to stop her, forgetting once more that my hands were constrained. Opening my mouth to call timeout did not work well with the current circumstances, as it only appeared to be an invitation. Her lips met mine just for a few seconds, a familiar yet entirely new experience. I’d thought the sweet taste, and the way the experience had sent my head spinning into oblivion the first time was only due to the cider. I was currently in the process of realizing how incorrect that assumption was.
“Mmf!” the exclamation was almost aimed more at the surprise of my physical reaction to her than her unexpected peck. She pulled back from the noise, looking concerned.
“Sorry, was that too much?”
Now would be an ideal time to address your drug addled misunderstanding Kate.
Then… something happened. Some light in her eyes spoke bore into something in mine. My exterior was mended, but the earlier trip down memory lane had torn my insides asunder, setting my identity on fire and leaving me with a pile of ashes. Among those ashes, I found something new, glittering in the aftermath. I didn’t want to push her away.
It’s better if we don’t
I should probably get some sleep
Just be yourself and you won’t need practice.
The usual excuses raced through my mind in abundance, each one of them refusing to be spoken. My mind suddenly made its best effort to split in two.
You know, realistically speaking, she does need practice.
Oh, now you’re agreeing with her?
Think about it, it’s not far off the mark.
Even if it’s true, that’s a justification and you know it. And I don’t appreciate the play on words
Maybe it just seems like a justification, and actually is true.
Semantics; if it seems like a justification, however practical, it probably is one.
Oh please. Ethically, to not help her help you, would doom her efforts to help you, someone she obviously cares about, thus meaning in the long run you’d be turning your back on the opportunity to help someone who’s also trying to help you.
GAH, bringing ethics into something this fubar? Not to mention that is twisted logic and you know it!
Oh? What’s more twisted, my premise? Or the fact that you’re now in the middle of a full blown argument with yourself?
“You just caught me off guard” the words seemed to come out of their own volition.
“Are you sure? -um… you looked a little conflicted there.” Fluttershy voiced the observation tentatively, still only inches from my face.
“Yeah, it was just unexpected. I suppose I’m a bit of a captive audience, so what’s the h-harm?” I could feel my face growing hot, the words, stutter included, felt incredibly foreign.
What the hell are you doing?
“Oh... I didn’t think about that; it… might be better to wait until you’re not at my mercy.” Fluttershy seemed fairly ready to back down on the realization that I was still tied to the inclined gurney. There was no alcohol in my system this time, no convenient explanation. Yet, I found myself curious… assuming we had gone rather far the night of the previous incident, what was the harm in a few kisses among friends?
“I think... I’m okay with being at your mercy. For practice. Just this once.”
WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH KATE?
“Oh, well… if you don’t mind…” Draping her forelegs over my shoulders, Fluttershy seemed to settle herself comfortably in my lap before sending my mind reeling. The second kiss had much more substance than the first, lasting an immeasurable amount of time. Pain, worry, doubts on how I’d manage to get home all began to lose their sting. She nipped my lower lip gently before we parted.
“Okay… now I’m going to pretend that Twilight’s going to walk in.”
“If-If you must.” My head was still spinning from the last encounter too much to argue. “ She leaned down again, face flushing a much brighter scarlet just from imagining the public display of affection.
The way the door was breached combined with our current rather compromising position, I half expected the royal guard to rush in and deliver me my sentence for crimes against all of Ponykind. Still, Fluttershy’s reaction made mine look tame.
“EEEEEEEEEEEEP!” the Pegasus launched straight up, blasting neatly through one of the long, removable ceiling tiles. Tensing up, I prepared for her to come crashing back down. Her descent never came. I’m not sure what dreadfully embarrassed hoofsteps are meant to sound like, but I’m fairly certain that’s what I heard as I listened to her making her way through the ceiling, muttering ‘that’s a bad, bad Fluttershy’ under her breath, finding myself feeling more than a little betrayed.
As if summoned, Twilight stood in the doorway very still, face completely stoic other than a single eyebrow which wiggled incredulously …
Nurse Redheart had begrudgingly let me out of my bindings, if only for my meeting with Twilight, who was still trying very hard not to look like she’d just seen me do the equivalent of drop-kicking Celestia in the face.
“I... see the rumors are true.” With the way Rarity’s little escapade had gone, I’d have been somewhat surprised if Twilight hadn’t heard about it yet. After briefly stretching my legs, I nodded wearily, as there wasn’t really a point in denying it.
“More or less.”
“Well a lot of things have happened.” This new side of Twilight was all business, an odd pair of black rimmed reading glasses adorning her brow. “Before the accident, I’d been working nonstop on a magical counter-measure for your condition. The reason I hadn’t shown up before now is because I contacted Celestia right after Pinkie explained the situation. I would have come sooner had she not told me you were stabilized.”
“Er- Pinkie left before I was stabilized-or, so I heard.” Twilight waved her hoof dismissively.
“Pinkie never really leaves anywhere, if that makes sense.” It didn’t, though I felt very little need to inquire further. “In light of your recent actions, Princess Celestia seemed somewhat regretful of her ‘pre-emptive delegation of priorities,’ and either her or Princess Luna will be traveling down to Ponyville to offer assistance within the next week or two” Okay, it wasn’t just the glasses. Twilight was definitely being colder with me than before.
“Twi… did I do something wrong? You seem a little upset.” Again, she made no eye contact, flipping through some papers on the circular table. “Is it the thing with Fluttershy?”
“No- Yes- Not really. Urgh.” Snapping the folder shut, Twilight finally made eye contact with me. “I know things have been hard on you here, and I’ve been doing my best to make them easier. There’s a reason why I wanted to time you and that’s because the trail you were running was only a short ways off from the Everfree. It’s not as dangerous on the outskirts, but it still can be dangerous. Spike and I waited up all night for you to come back, before we started searching along the trail early the next morning. I was about to go a little crazy and ask Celestia to send a battalion of guards to aid in the search when Pinkie dropped in to let me know you were at Fluttershy’s.
“How did she-“ I trailed off. Come to think of it, I probably don’t want to know. “Never mind.” Twilight continued before I could segue into an apology.
“Fluttershy did tell me you were asleep, and I’m not an unreasonable mare, but I was really worried.” The honesty concern in her voice didn’t do anything to diffuse my growing sense of guilt.
“Sorry Twi. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Things have kind of been nonstop since I ran into Fluttershy on my way back.”
“So it would seem.” She looked pointedly over her glasses at the spot my tramp-stamp would have been if my back was to her, finally breaking a smile as I fidgeted uncomfortably. “and I forgive you. To be honest I find this current state of affairs to be exciting, different, and groundbreaking. I have to say my scientific curiosity is piqued, and you certainly won’t have as much trouble with the locals now that the word is out. Even if there are a few who would be unscrupulous enough to pursue a pony- er person- with a mingle mark, even less would risk the wrath of Fluttershy.” Remembering the incident of spotlight interrogation triggered an involuntary shudder. I can’t possibly imagine why.
“I’m still not sure about you both as a couple, and it’s moving extremely fast for my taste.” Twilight pushed up her glasses. “But I’m not exactly the definitive resource when it comes to relationship experience; I consider you both my friends so it’s not my place to shoot down something that obviously shows potential.” She indicated the gurney behind me coyly, and I felt my ears start to burn. “I do, however, have two conditions.”
“Sure. Name them.” The giddiness that followed being referred to as a friend by anypony still hadn’t worn off.
“First: Don’t hurt Fluttershy. She’s extremely kind hearted and I don’t think she could take a bad break up.” I nodded, that was reasonable enough. “Secondly-“ Twilight took off her glasses, locking eyes with me seriously. “Promise me you’ll be safe.”
“Always am… though I’m not sure I get what you’re referring to specifically.” I cocked my head at her, nonplussed
“Reproduction.” Having risen halfway to stretch my legs again, the nonchalant statement knocked me back into the chair so hard I’m surprised my stitches didn’t bust open. Somehow, I don’t remember you being that blunt before.
“Y-you want to break that down for me a little more specifically? Just so we’re clear?”
“Well the ‘why’ should be fairly obvious.” Replacing the glasses, she peered at me oddly. “There’s never been any sort of documented occurrence of inter-dimensional reproduction. Thus, while it may not even be possible and probably isn’t, even attempting could prove dangerous.”
“Twi… even if Fluttershy and I were at that point-and we’re totally not by the way- we’re both female. Meaning no offspring whatsoever, unless you know, we went to the colt-bank or whatever you guys call it here.” I could feel the stress vein standing out on my forehead. These were not areas of discussion I was comfortable with accepting yet. For the first time since she’d arrived, Twilight completely lost her composure and stared openly at me, taken aback.
“…Kate, if you were to compare and contrast the number of mares in ponyville against the number of stallions, what would you estimate the ratio would be? Come to think of it, there really aren’t many stallions to speak of.
“Around seven to one?” Twilight shook her head.
“Not far off, but ten to one is a bit more accurate. Now, while there are a few exceptions, that ratio is fairly persistent throughout all of Equestria. In mainly monogamous society, tell me, how is it possible the ratio has remained at the same basic value for the majority of the last millennium?” My face scrunched up in thought.
“Well, obviously at some point the females would have had to come up with an alternative-“ My head hit the table with a resounding THUMP. It was so obvious now it was almost painful. The words were practically choked out.
“By means of…”
“Oh god… please oh please tell me I'm not going to have a pony…” My face was still pressed firmly against the table. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
Twilight laughed at the obvious misery in my voice. “No no, silly, the mingle mark is sort of like opening the first of two doors. As long as you’re careful, and avoid over exposure to magic, you'd have to have terrible luck to-" Stopping herself, she looked at me warily. "Maybe it's better if you avoid the possibility altogether." Fluttershy... you have some 'splainin to do...
I had to ask, though I couldn’t stand the thought of more bad news: “What if something were to happen within around the first twenty-four hours of receiving a mingle mark?” I braced myself.
“Actually, being able to conceive within the first day would be right up there with the probability of miraculous alicorn conception.” The lavender unicorn’s laugh was suddenly cut off as I walked over to her and gave her a giant blubbering hug. That settles it. Twilight Sparkle is the best pony.
It was just a matter of holding out until one of the princesses arrived. For now, my mission was simple: Don’t sleep with the beautiful yellow Pegasus.
Piece of cake.
Note to self: Overconfidence generally comes before a fall...
AN: First off... I’m so, so very sorry for the chapter title. I came up with it at 5am and the pun gave me a giggle fit, I couldn’t help myself. On second thought, Its kinda crazy that the longest chapter yet has the protagonist strapped to a hospital bed 90% of the time. Hopefully it doesn’t suck.
Couple of themes’ I’ve been noticing in the comments that I want to cover in broad strokes, along with a few notes about the chapter in general
Q: Is LP actually a comedy? At points it seems more like a tragedy with comedy elements.
A: You’ll have to trust me on this, but yes, LP is a comedy. If we turn to Aristotle for our definition of comedy, it’s essentially defined as a story in which the protagonist ends up in a better place than they were at the start. It never specifies how bumpy the ride is going to be getting there. While I may drift dangerously close to black comedy at points, LP will have a good ending. One that makes you happy you were along for a ride. I won’t drop Kate back through the portal onto the concrete, send her back to a post-apocalyptic earth where everyone she’s ever known is already gone, or make her sleep with pinkie pie. That’s not to necessarily guarantee that none of those things will happen XD, but I wouldn’t dream of ending on such a sour note. The character means too much to me, as well as all you awesome readers.
Q: WTF IS UP WITH PINKIE
A: First off, dear reader, I’d like to lovingly point the part in the description where I clearly state this is meant to be a parody. Pinkie is one of the most ridiculously overpowered characters in all of fanon, so it should make some degree of sense that I’m pushing her to her to the extreme. To allay fears, in this story she’s meant to be weird, not evil. Though you’d have a hard time convincing Kate of that. The difference and subsequent break from the norm is I plan to actually explain my version of her. 4th wall breaks, creepy references, all tied in with the story (abeit in a ridiculous fashion). The Penultimate chapter of LP has already been reserved almost exclusively for her, tentatively titled ‘Requiem for a Pie.’ (no, nopony dies, geez.)
Lastly, I didn’t mean to imply that she was a telepath. She was “reading Kate’s thoughts” via skimming the italicized text of the story. Sorry that came off as confusing.
Q: Too much funny-Not enough plot/Too much plot-Not enough funny
A: I’m really trying to balance this, I am. This is the hardest part of writing LP, as I’m not particularly confident in my humor. The ebb and flow is difficult to nail down. For instance, this chapter started comically, got more than a bit of drama in the middle, then went to an amorous/semi-comical place. I will say that this story isn’t randomly going to lose it’s sense of humor; I’ll be keeping that all the way through no matter how terrible Kate's luck gets.
That about covers it. I’m still really enjoying writing this story, and still pay a lot of attention to the comments. In other excitement, LP is quickly approaching 2000 favs. It’s really overwhelming, in a good way. Thanks to everyone who’s liked/favorited/watched, it’s been quite a ride so far.
I'm moving into my new place this coming week, so updates will be a little scarce. Will write multiple chapters after I get settled in.
Compartmentalization is a joke. At first, it seems like an ideal solution: lock all of your problems away in separate color coded psychological containers, keeping them from accumulating and overwhelming you all at once. Organizationally speaking it’s rather brilliant, as trying to deal with every single issue simultaneously just isn’t feasible for the human psyche. The problem comes after, when those mental containers become a little too convenient and the temporary storage becomes permanent displacement. What’s worse is that the more you hide the problem away, the harder it becomes to recall the details of exactly why it was important to deal with in the first place. At some point, you lose track of the problem completely, a small, nagging whisper in the depths of your psyche the only indicator that at one point, you pushed aside something you probably should have dealt with.
Why isn’t that ideal? To just let things that seem impossible to handle fade away, declining into the nothingness of ignorance? Well, perhaps in the short-term it’s an excellent coping mechanism. But nothing truly fades away into nothingness. The things you compartmentalize and forget about don’t miraculously dissipate. They are compressed, into a focused consolidation of all the things that haunt you, smashing the literal sum of your fears into a single, spring-loaded container, one which will be unceremoniously shoved in your face at the worst possible time. In my case, this was almost literal as the Pink Demon had seemed to have taken up residence in my head since our bonding experience, personifying my fears even in her absence.
‘What’s in the box?!’ My subconscious snapped, pacing back and forth on the desolate fields of reflection as the pink demon watched with eerie glee.
‘The real you.’ Imaginary Pinky answered cheerful as usual, fondling the box’s bright red bow. Well I won’t be opening THAT any time soon. My mind drifted back to the time she’d approached me on the balcony. She had warned me, and ever since ignoring that warning I’d started to fall apart. I still wouldn’t say that I regretted that decision. It was more my original belief that her words amounted to nothing more than some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that was becoming increasingly suspect
The current state of things was a bit of a mess. I cared about Fluttershy; it was an uncomfortable fact, even if I wasn’t ready to face the specifics of how much I cared. But the simple reality was that she had left too many things left unsaid, too much vital information conspicuously absent from our previous interactions. I needed to know why, and it was high time for some answers.
Focus on the task at hand, Kate. It was the third day that Twilight had come to visit at the hospital to discuss my condition as she’d spent a significant amount of time researching on my account, yet I couldn’t concentrate; I’d been lost in thoughts of how to best approach the problematic Pegasus. As the memory of her improvised interrogation was still fresh in my mind, I found myself leaning towards a semi-public meeting place for our discussion, to reduce to possibility of… complications. Oh look Kate: you managed to jump straight from the engagement stage of your ‘fake relationship’ straight to the ‘messy divorce’ stage. Lovely.
“-And that’s why you’ll probably be sent to the royal dungeons.” My head whipped around, receiving a rather amused expression in return from Twilight. “Oh, so you were listening.”
“You now have my complete undivided attention. But Twi, could you possibly break this theory down to laypony terms? You kind of lost me when we ventured into the complex equation territory.” While I can appreciate a theory, I’m a philosophy major for a reason. Nodding in a somewhat pretentious manner, she telekinetically seized a leftover piece of paper, along with a silver crayon Sweetie Belle had left behind. Explanatory tools in horn and hoof, she drew a rather basic picture of a pudgy looking broom… with a tail.
“So here we have you.” she indicated the sketch with her hoof.
“That’s meant to be me?”
“You realize that looks nothing-“
“-Did you want me to go back to the equations?” Her voice wasn’t necessarily mean, more the tone of a chiding teacher who’s already going far out of her way to help in the explanation process. I wisely sat back, zipping my lip as I prepared myself for the crayon illustrated edition of ‘advanced metaphysics for dummies.’ Adding squiggles to the drawing, she extended it to me. “This is you when you first came to Equestria-“
“Right, when I transformed into a giant squid-“ the withering glare at my wisecrack cut me off rather quickly. “Sorry. Shutting up.” I wasn’t intentionally taking it lightly. It was the nerves talking more than anything. Obviously, even if she was completely right I wouldn’t get all the answers, but this was my first step to getting any answers whatsoever. Really though, she makes Sweetie Belle look like Da Vinci.
“These squiggles” she emphasized, looking me straight in the face as if daring me to contradict her, “represent a leyline aura, possibly obtained by passing through a sort of magical singularity between dimensions. Now, it is true that despite my research, most of this is conjecture. Had we not…” Clearing her throat, she looked away from me awkwardly. “…established that unicorns are most strongly affected by this aura of yours, it’s doubtful I’d even be tentatively confident in this theory. You remember what I told you about earth ponies not being able to discharge mana gathered from leylines?” I nodded, not particularly inclined dwell on the memory of how that particular discussion had ended. “Well, it’s my theory that your magical ‘receptors,’ as it were, are functioning abnormally. You’re somehow gathering massive amounts of mana, and as you have no way to ‘harness’ it, your body is emitting it the only way it can: The unfocused aura I mentioned.” I leaned forward while still maintaining a cautious distance, my lesson learned from our previous academic conversation
“Assuming that’s accurate, I don’t get why that would make- why it would, um-“
“Trigger arousal?” Ding ding ding, give the mare a prize. Now it was my turn to look away awkwardly.
“Right.” I muttered. Twilight sighed in the resigned manner of an astronomy teacher about to lecture on the seventh planet from the sun.
“Mana’s integration with the body in many ways mimics the pony nervous system. You’ve probably noticed by now that pegasi have a certain… obvious reaction that indicates interest.” Professional as she was attempting to be, the subject in question was undoubtedly uncomfortable for both of us.
“You’re referring to the… um… wing thing?” It wasn’t the best choice of words, but what the heck was I supposed to call it? Twilight winced.
“Quite. When a Pegasus is in their neutral psychological state, they retain control over the flow of mana to their wings. Without that control, flight would be impossible. For obvious reasons, when the wing flaring reaction does occur, it’s because mana is involuntarily being flushed to the wings as well as… other areas.” Twilight augmented her drawing of a pegasus with a pair of diagonal strands that were possibly meant to represent the erected wings.
“ I follow you so far.” Looking at Twilight’s drawings was like cloud watching, or taking the Rorschach test; Disturbing things appeared in the aimless void if one looked for too long. A pony with curly hair was standing in front of an open door in the ink, facing away. I blinked several times, trying to clear my vision before looking again. CRAP- The curly haired pony in the ink was now facing towards me, forelegs outstretched, a wide smile etched across her smudged face, half a dozen strings attached to floating spheres tied to her hoof. ‘Don’t you want a balloon?!’ I tore my eyes away from the drawing. I was finally getting some answers, the last thing I needed was Pinkie on the brain. “So why do I only elicit… em…that kind of reaction.”
“Well, as I’ve said, it’s entirely conjecture at this point, but my theory is that it’s actually not the only reaction. It’s just the most noticeable one. Assuming you do, in some way, ‘overcharge’ mana production, arousal is just the most significant side-effect; a natural byproduct of the increase in mana having nowhere else to go. If I’m right, it essentially floods the external leylines. In my example, for instance, the natural stiffening of the wing leylines in pegasi.”
I was torn between groaning and laughing, not particularly thrilled with the revelation. “If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying it’s not just simple bad luck; I might be scientifically qualified as a walking aphrodisiac”
“Exactly!” Twilight exclaimed, too preoccupied with her theory to notice my state of gloom. “It really is too bad you don’t have a horn or wings; if you were able to focus the mana somehow at a particular point, the possibilities would be boundless, an entirely new use of magic.” She frowned. “As it is, your condition is sort of like a leaking energy cell with no real practical use.” Well, at least she’s honest. We should throw a ‘hurray for missed potential’ party to celebrate. And there was much rejoicing…
“Oh, well I don’t mean that in an unkind way, I’m just giving you the facts. As I’ve said, it’s just a theory until we experiment.” The last part was so nonchalant it took me a few seconds to catch it.
“Right… wait, experiment?” She responded to my uncertainty by rubbing her hooves together in a somewhat disconcerting glee.
“What is science without testing?”
Note to self: The above sentence should be translated as follows: RUN.
The experiment had begun far earlier than I realized, branching all the way back to her first hospital visit. Twilight’s response to my condition over the last few days had been significantly reduced by her own theoretical solution put into practice. The key was right in front of my face the whole time, almost literally. Casting a spell on the dark rimmed glasses, she expanded the nose before extended the frames to me
“Try these.” Still a bit lost, I put the still warm frames on my nose, noting the oddity that there was no discernible prescription in the lenses.
“Still twenty-twenty.” I tittered nervously. Twilight jotted a note down studiously as I fidgeted, not particularly enjoying the analysis. She spoke without looking up, lost in the process of logging every detail of the exercise.
“I’ve been working on a mana warding spell, one meant to block full body reception of mana leylines. Once that was perfected, I tried it for myself. I chose the glasses because I needed something that would rest close to the center of the brain. So far, it’s worked perfectly on my end…”
“Oh! So that explains why you weren’t-um.”
“Right.” She looked up, as if pleading for me to not continue that line of thought. “The base concept seems to have worked. But as it’s not exactly realistic for me to commission a ward to every pony in Ponyville, I’ve reversed the spell so it holds mana in instead of keeping it out.” She looked at me expectantly, waiting to hear my thoughts. Now that she mentioned it, there was a strange humming in the back of my head that wasn’t usually present.
“Is it working?” Pushing the glasses up on my nose, I tried my best to ignore the incessant hum.
“Not sure, try to provoke a response.”
Wait, as in you want me to be… alluring? Clearing my throat, I found myself stumped. My focus had always been to avoid romantic attention, not to seek it out. Frankly, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
“Er- What’s a mare like you doing in a place like this?”
Smooth one Don Juan-ette.
“Research.” She said reflexively, before looking up at me with a bemused face. “Wait, was that supposed to be a pick up line?” I glared, rising to the challenge.
“You know, the nurses probably won’t check on us again for at least half an hour. That gives us enough time to do… all sorts of things.” Puffing my chest out, I tried to look sultry while attempting to hide the fact I’d just thrown up in my mouth a little. My cheeks burned as Twilight’s shoulders shook with silent laughter.
“Not too bad, -snicker- maybe try letting your mane down.” I complied, ears still burning in embarrassment. After taking a thoughtful look, Twilight began to write rapidly, giving back to back commands to test out different variants of appearance. “Glasses off. Mane up. Glasses on. Mane down. Let’s just push that mane right back up. Now glasses off-“
“-I’m beginning to think your just toying with me, Twi…” My head was starting to hurt. Fake pouting, I cocked my head at her pleadingly, biting on the left arm of the glasses in faux angst. Twilight stared at me for a second, eye twitching, before covering her face dramatically with both hoofs.
“AUGH! GLASSES ON GLASSES ON GLASSES ON!”
Fumbling for the frames, I frantically jammed them back on my nose while the unicorn continued to hold her hoofs over her eyes. Peeking through her forelegs apprehensively, she resumed her writing once she was certain my momentary ‘assault’ had ended, mumbling the notes aloud as she jotted them down. “Subject… still emitting strong aura without ward… ward seems to be holding when equipped. Proximity testing complete… now commencing testing of ward’s efficiency in regards to direct physical contact.
“You want me to do WHAT?”
“It’s better this way, so we can see the results in a controlled environment.”
“Na-uh. Nope. Not going to happen. “
“I’ve taken all the necessary precautions, just get it over with-“
“Argh! My unicorn wound, it burns! NURSE! MORE MORPHINE STAT!”
“A little maturity wouldn’t hurt, Kate.”
“Maturity? Maturity? I’m not the one who just asked for me to put my you-know-what on her you-know-where.”
“For science… And of course it sounds bad when you say it like that.”
“Twi... I know I may be heavily medicated and all, but I can’t possibly be the only one who sees something wrong with playing doctor in the middle of a damn hospital.”
Twilight blew her bangs out of her face with a fussy huff, looking thoroughly displeased with me.
“I wasn’t suggesting that at all! I’m not really even asking you to do anything obscene.”
“Oh! Alright then. So when Celestia inevitably investigates and asks you to point out on Mr. Smartypants where exactly the bad human touched you, is she going to share your definition of obscene?”
“Er- Well, that’s a matter of context.”
“See, I’m pretty sure I’ll already be halfway to the moon at the moment you tell her I intentionally touched your horn, and any sort of context will be a little too late.”
“But on the other hoof,” she interjected heatedly, “An ‘accident’ with Fluttershy may happen if your aura goes unchecked; the right amount of cuddling at the wrong time and you’ll spend the rest of the month worrying about a different kind of ‘late.’“
Note to self: Twilight is not afraid to go for the jugular in an argument.
Having completely decimated my defenses with a solid point, Twilight covered a smile as I sputtered awkwardly, completely unable to form a retort. Her eventual laughter was infectious, and I found myself laughing along with her regardless of the fact that the joke was on me. I wiped my eyes gently, still giggling intermittently. It was different: being able to disagree with someone so fervently one moment and laugh with them the next. It was something I didn’t want to lose.
“Twilight, you get why I’m… apprehensive…?” To my surprise, her ears drooped at the memory, and her lower lip quivered uncertainly.
“Your first night here. I- I didn’t understand what was happening, but that’s no excuse for losing control-“ my hand shot out to her hoof instinctively, stopping her in mid-sentence.
“No!” The word was spoken almost vehemently. She glanced back up at me, confused. “I mean, having that happen- Well in the moment it was weird, sure. Honestly though, in the long run, it might as well have been sneeze for all I cared.” Pausing, I looked down at my extended hand, still resting on her hoof. “What bothers me is what happened after that.. incident.”
You’re setting yourself up, Kate. History is just going to repeat itself, and telling her, just in time for you to both watch it happen again is only going to make it worse.
Silencing my inner doubt, I took the plunge.
“Things changed.” I cursed the tell-tale waver in my voice. “It got…worse over time. Eventually you could barely even stand to be in the same room as me. That… hit me harder than I would have thought. You’ve been a really good friend Twilight-“ crap, why does it sound like I’m saying goodbye- “And I don’t have enough good friends to take it lightly when it comes to the possibility of losing them.
Slowly she covered my hand with other her hoof. “I get it… and I’m sorry. We’ll figure out some other way to test it.
“Thanks for understanding. Really." Can I keep these?” I indicated the glasses, reluctant with the idea of parting with them, though more than ready for that strange humming in the back of my head to stop.
“Sure, I rather the librarian look,” she teased, “be careful though, that enchantment took ages to cast, and I was rather lucky it took on the first try. You may as well give them a trial run, though from what I’ve heard you don’t have much to worry about from Nurse Redheart as it is. Want to meet around the same time tomorrow?”
At first I was excited. I’d never worn any eyewear other than sunglasses, so I immediately went to the bathroom to check on my new and improved librarian appearance. What I found was… harrowing, to put it lightly
That’s no librarian.
I groaned. The girl in the mirror seemed to look back at me with pretentious dislike, a strange sensation as I felt my face was completely neutral. She smirked at me, seeming to wordlessly laugh at my inferiority. Twilight was very wrong. These weren’t the glasses of an innocent yet secretly sexy librarian. Oh no: The lenses were too wide, too counter-culture. These were the glasses of a girl who was above sex appeal, one who begrudgingly shopped at urban outfitters when the thrift store was lacking in vintage ironic, a girl who refused to buy music in any form other than vinyl.
Equestria had forced me into the role of a walking paradox. Kate Winsor: The hipster with a butterfly tramp stamp.
Why. Dear god why.
The humming in the back of my head was turning into a dull throb, picking up more volume over time.
AN: I’ve been itching to start writing this new arc I thought up over the three or four days I’ve not had access to a computer. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get more than half what I had planned for this chapter done before my vocabulary started eating itself, as I’ve not slept much for those few days. Move out deadlines and whatnot. Thus the “part one”’ If you’ve not already guessed, the glasses aren’t going to be a be all end all problem solver, if anything they just... reframe... the conflict. I’m so sorry. I get punny when I’m tired. Part 2 of the chapter will be up sometime tomorrow, and ideally shed some clarifying light on Flutters. (It's also more relevant to the title)
Two big shoutouts real quick,
Firstly to Barbetos for some awesome art of last chapter that I will probably post along with a few other things in a blog tomorrow,
Secondly to Lithl, for guessing the (general) idea behind Kate's condition WAAAAY back in chapter 2.
P.S. Again, I’m sorry if there are any obvious grammar mistakes. Not only did I want to get started on the new arc, but I really wanted to get something out for you all since it’s been a few days. Will be fixed the next time I’m conscious.
‘Who am I?’
‘Why am I here?
‘What’s my role to play?’
The answers to life’s most bothersome questions are elusive, transparent; over time, the true meaning of such questions change alongside the perspective of the individual, as the ever unreachable answer shifts with it, the faintest alteration of its near indistinguishable silhouette serving as the only indication that there was ever any change at all. Often the most distressing questions are those which linger just beyond the limitations of the spoken word. Those indecipherable questions drift, delving deeply into the dreary darkness of a dreadful dream, duly dithering in the dearth of discernable definition.
I woke in a soft, unfamiliar room: The light brown walls were oddly bowed outward, lined with some sort of fabric, defying any conception of architecture I was familiar with, though the lighting was too dark to identify specifics. There wasn’t a door to speak of, though at that moment, being trapped was the least of my worries: A half dozen chubby white animals approached me; quadrupeds, similar to my height with light darkly colored eyes approached me cautiously, looking to each other and back to me in a silent display of mutual bemusement. It was eerie how quiet they were. The largest one stepped forward looking at me watchfully, as if trying to come to some sort of significant decision. He patted a large rear paw twice against the ground, having apparently made his decision, and began to nudge some sort of orange scepter across the ground to me with his nose. Trying to avoid the possibility of offending the group, I reached forward to take proverbial peace-pipe… and balked at the sight of my right hand, or rather, the lack of.
What the… a paw?
I’m not sure why the correct solution came to me so quickly. Maybe I’d already adjusted to the sheer volume of nonsensicalness that seemed to follow me. The familiar organic smell of produce from the orange stick-like object was probably what jarred me out of my state of shock. The walls had been too high for me to see over before the newcomers had distracted me. It’s not a room, it’s a box. The cardboard box sat in the middle of a much larger room, one that was absolutely massive from my perspective. By the time I recognized the out-of-scale surroundings, I knew exactly where I was, leaving only one resounding query screaming in the back of my mind.
Note to self: I got it wrong. Life’s most bothersome questions can also be rather straightforward.
… WHY THE HELL AM I A BUNNY?
Okay, to be honest, I’m not exactly proud of what happened next. Regardless of justification, revealing that I may have tipped over a box of distressed bunnies in my fury-ridden-panic to get some answers is just one of those things that isn’t going to come across well secondhand. Allow me to offer a few tidbits at least, in my defense.
Firstly, they were being passive aggressive. I was doing my best to communicate, my panicked and angry voice should have come out as ‘HELP!’ The resulting noise held anything but the fury it should have, mistranslated as a cacophony of huffs and small squeaking noises. Despite my obvious ongoing crisis, they said nothing as they backed away. Had I been more in my right mind, I likely would have stopped to think: Hmm, perhaps these bunnies can’t understand me. However, the fuzzy pom-pom attached to my posterior was making it really difficult to be rational.
Reaching the foregone conclusion that everything was being lost in translation, I tried my ‘hand’ at hopping out of the box. Big mistake. I had absolutely no motor control and practically no idea how to use the limbs properly. It was so bad I didn’t even get a chance to push off the ground, my balance went haywire, and I faceplanted back inside the box. The second attempt had me barely even leaning forward before landing me on squarely on my nose. “SQUEAK.”
Of course it’s not going to work, Kate. You’re trying to send signals to muscles your mind doesn’t even know how to access. It takes a year for most kids to learn to walk, were you really expecting to just pick up an entirely new method of movement on the fly?
Note to self: Quadrupedalism: Not all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s about the point that all rationality and self-awareness went out the window. I began to ram the side of the box, unaware of the gaggle of mortified bunnies splaying themselves against the opposite side of the box, adapting the ‘If I can’t see you, you can’t see me’ tactic. To their credit, it wound up being effective. Finally tipping, the box tilted over and hit floor with a thud; the assorted contents (myself included) sent sliding across the tile. With an avenue of escape now open, the bunnies scattered, running almost tactical zigzag patterns towards Fluttershy’s doggy door. As the only movement I was comfortable with was using my two front feet to drag myself along the tile, I was the proverbial tortoise left in the wake of the literal hares.
Slow and steady wins the-
A yellow pegasus blocked my way in the gloom, her face obscured in the shadows
“Kate… you scared the friends I found you away again. I thought you’d like them.” My stomach dropped as I felt something clamp down on the back of my neck and lift me up, my hopes deflating with every step back towards the box… my box. “You know better.” She said, chiddingly.
I shook my head to clarify that I was actually rather confused, and no, I did not know better. My drooping ears were indicative of my draining spirit. She yawned widely, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes with a hoof.
“I think we should talk about why you’re running.” She looked out the window at the waning moon, blue eyes full of an emptiness I’d never seen in her before. “before this whole displacement thing gets too out of hoof.”
‘I’m not running.’ I iterated defiantly. Fluttershy rolled her eyes in a very uncharacteristic manner.
“Not from the same thing you were, perhaps, but it’s obvious you’re still scared to face the truth.”
‘I’m facing it.’
“If you were, then wouldn’t you have asked when I came to see you? Your doubts have only been growing since Rarity told you that things weren’t as they appeared to be.”
‘I -Wait- how did you-?”
“Because this is a dream.”
‘…Oh.’ If what I was seeing was indeed my own projection of her, that was somewhat… disquieting… because my interpretation of her was gorgeous. The moonlight subtly illuminated her coat, granting her a shimmering golden glow. Despite her otherworldly appearance, I found myself worried. If she’s my projection… why does she look so sad?”
“You’re afraid, Kate. You’re afraid you might have lost yourself, and I don’t mean physically. Your defenses were gone, stripped away by cider and a touch of kindness. Who knows what you could have said? Who knows how far you let yourself fall for her?” The dryness in my mouth wouldn’t lie, even if I tried to. It finally clicked.
“I know what I need to do.”
Waking up to see that all my limbs were indeed human was a massive relief. Pony-Morphine has a side-effect referred to as ‘potentially vivid dreams.’ I must say, in my experience, I’ve found that to be more than a mild understatement. Careful not to draw attention to myself, I detached the IV with a pained grunt. I’d been quite tired of the sterile white hospital surroundings before the dream, now it had grown almost unbearable. Granted, the headache and dreams could have been from the glasses instead of the sedative, but being stuck on bed rest for a few days was more than enough for me to blame it on the latter. I understood where the worry was coming from, they had never treated a human before and wanted to err on the side of caution, a courtesy I appreciated… at first. Now though, the stitches hadn’t gotten infected, and were only a few days out for needing to be removed. I’d tried to tell that to Nurse Redheart... unfortunately, our prior ‘altercation’ seemed to have guaranteed lowered the chances of her trusting my judgment anytime soon. I was going to have to get creative.
I grunted, working out the jelly feeling in my legs from the lack of use, eventually grabbing a stack of clothes Rarity had left for me previously. That led me to my next problem: using the bathroom to change would require bypassing the Nurse’s station, which obviously wasn’t an option. This would require an alternative. Moving stealthily from the recovery room to the nearest unlocked door, I slipped inside a room labeled ‘storage.’ It was more than roomy enough to change in, so I realized the doorknob; it was one of those agonizing moments when you comprehend that something’s wrong just a second too late. My fingers slipped off the doorknob as the telltale faint impact of the doorknob bumping against in place locked tumblers had me lunging back to grab it, an attempt that missed entirely as the door swung shut. Trying the doorknob proved a fruitless affair.
Crap. Guess I might as well change.
When I slipped into the comfortable new pair of yoga pants the unicorn had tailored for me, I found myself impressed yet again. Not only did they feel exactly the same as my original pair, they also seemed to compensate for the couple of pounds I’d lost on hospital food.
Actually… Come to think of it that’s a little creepy.
The temporary silence was shattered as the hoofsteps trotted outside, almost knocking me off balance.
“Oh blast it, where did that dern alien get to.” A voice muttered from outside. Having stepped away from the door instinctively, I backed into a shelf of cleaning supplies that gave my position away with a rattle.
“Is somepony in there?” The feminine voice had an instantly familiar twang to it. Most importantly, it sounded nothing like Nurse Redheart. Realizing with no small embarrassment I still was only partially clothed, I grabbed my shirt.
“Applejack, right? Hold on.” I grunted, trying to adjust straps and get things clipped on properly in the dark. I couldn’t find the light switch if my life depended on it.
“What are ya’ll doin’ in there?”
“Looking for Narnia,” a few seconds of silence passed before I relented, “the door is stuck.”
“…Yer stuck in the closet?” It sounded like somepony was trying not to laugh on the outside. “Ah’ll try my hoof at gettin’ it open.”
“One second, I’m not quite dressed”
“… Yer changin’ in the closet?” Now I could definitely hear her giggling from the outside. I growled, ignoring the double entendre.
“Trying to, it’s not exactly bright in here. Okay, good to go, can you let me out?” To my disappointment, the door handle only jiggled in vain. I sighed.
“Yep, it’s locked from out here too, let me see if I can find anypony with the keys.” She trotted off, and I resigned myself to wait. It was a few minutes before I heard hoofsteps coming back my way. “ah’m mighty sorry. But the staff seems to think Redheart has the keys, and she’s at lunch.
“Figures. She seems to have it in for me.”
“I’ll keep ya company till she gets back. Rarity was gettin’ me up to speed on you and Redheart earlier, Ah heard ya’ll had a bit of a hoe down. That’s one of the reasons Ah came to visit”
“… I guess that’s one way to describe it. I had a bad reaction to some medication, wasn’t exactly in my right mind.” I said, displeased with my alleged self all over again.
“So Ah’ve been told. Explains why Nurse Redheart seemed to be in such a funk. Sad thing is you’re probably the best action she’s had in years.” Applejack laughed merrily before pausing. “Er, it might be best if you didn’t tell her Ah told you that.” The mention of any dirt on Nurse Redheart was instantly appealing, if only because she seemed so snooty. My interest was instantly piqued.
“I’m not the best judge of pony-features, but she doesn’t seem bad looking.”
“Ah’m rather biased against her, but I will say it’s not about her looks, more about her-whatchamacallit… orientation. She’s- well, Ah suppose she’s what some folks might call a colt-cuddler.” The term was lost on me.
“Meaning she’s straight?”
“Naw, not that. Ah mean to imply that she’d want to cuddle a colt the way a colt would cuddle a colt.”
“… Still not getting it.” Applejack hesitated.
“Yall know mah brother right?”
“I know of him, yes.” I answered carefully.
“Well the whole town already knows, so Ima tell you a story, long as yall promise not to say a word to ‘em.
“Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“That there’s a morbid way to promise. Anywho, Mac weren’t always so enamored with one word sentences. We used to never be able to shut ‘em up: the darn pony was always going on and on about his buddy Quiche and their harebrained adventures. If I had a bit for every time I heard ‘this one time, me and my buddy Quiche blah blah blah,’ Ah’d already have enough to buy mah own farm. Then she came along. Mac had never had a marefriend, and ah guess he had a thing for nurses, so they hit it off almost the first week she was in town.” I could hear Applejack shifting back and forth on her hoofs outside irritably.
“You don’t have to tell me. I mean I just appreciate the company and help flagging down Redheart when she gets back. Not that I’m not curious.”
“Naw, I opened my big mug so I might as well finish it. Long story short, she ‘invited’ em in, the afternoon of the third date. Half an hour later Big Mac came flyin’ outta that house like a bat out of tartarus, tail tucked so far ‘tween his legs he coulda used it for a handkerchief. If that weren’t embarassin enough, that darn nurse came outside chasin him in tears, yellin ‘Ah’m sorry, Ah’ll take it slower next time.’ Thing was, she’d been in such a hurry to stop him she’d forgotten to take off her giant black-
“-OK! Think I understand the basic concept of female dominant colt cuddling, thank you Applejack.” I stopped her, trying not to laugh.
“Not just that, Ah’m just sayin if there’s anything Ah can do, let me know, especially if it’s Redheart givin yall trouble.”
“Well, now that you mention it…"
It had begun to dawn on me that I had rather misjudged Applejack. Without the redneck appearance to strike terror into my heart, we had gone a whole conversation without a single mention of rope. It took us a long time to come up with a plan that would trick Redheart into opening the door without requiring Applejack to lie. I came up with the suggestion she drop a bit under the door and pester the unicorn to get it back for her, distracting her afterwards by picking an argument. I mouthed ‘thank you’ as I snuck around the arguing ponies, almost feeling bad for Nurse Redheart; Applejack was rather fiery when it came down to even an arranged argument. She’d even given me enough time to make a visit to the bathroom, in order to gussy myself up. Not because I was worried about looking nice for Fluttershy or anything of course, just… because. I made a mental note to go by and thank her later.
Following the trend, my third walk through Ponyville was significantly less stressful than the last. There were still long glances and whispers, yet the feeling that I was slowly gathering a crowd behind me was no longer present. The ward really was working, I had never been so happy to wear something so self-deprecating. My vision went hazy for a moment, and I almost tripped over my own feet, head spinning. Steadying myself against the nearest building, I waited for the moment to pass. Everything is fine. I just need to learn to ignore the massive headaches, that’s the only downside. Detecting an odd bit of wetness on my lip, I reached up to check the spot. My hand came away covered in scarlet. Headaches and nosebleeds. No biggie.
I’d intended to at least look presentable for my meeting with the mare in question. Presentable? Hah. I was standing on her doorstep, pinching my nose miserably with one hand as I knocked with the other. When the door open, she looked… rather awful actually. There were bags under her eyes, and her mane was unkempt.
“Sorry,” I rubbed my neck awkwardly, still pinching my nose, “is this a bad time?” She shook her head.
“Oh no, not at all. What happened to your nose? Sit down, sit down, I’ll get you some tissues.” She ushered me in, demeanor changing completely when she saw the injury. I took a seat on the couch, still tilting my head up. After a few minutes of Fluttercoptering the bleeding had stopped. The space between us was odd, a few inches too close to be comfortable yet too far to be considered anything near flirty, the mutual bubbles of personal space barely intersecting.
“I’m… sorry I didn’t come to see you again at the hospital, that sparrow we found hasn’t been doing too well. I was afraid if I left…” She glanced down.
“It’s fine, that’s important. Plus, by staying away you probably saved the hospital a fortune in extra ceiling tiles.” Too late to take it back, I felt myself warming under the collar, the memory of ‘practice’ still fresh in my mind. Stay focused Kate. I crossed my legs, settling myself.
“Shy, we need to talk.”
NOT THAT LINE YOU IDIOT.
“Oh, okay, what do we need to talk about?” There wasn’t a hint of guilt on her face; she looked perplexed rather than worried. Leaning forward, I looked away.
“I’ve been hearing things. A lot of things about the mingle mark. It sounds a lot more serious than I… you lead me to believe.” It sounded less accusatory in my head, but it was too late to stop now. “the fact that it’s usually preceded by marriage, the fact that it leads to the possibility of raising a family, that’s kind of… heavy. Really heavy.
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Her reaction was off. I was expecting sadness, maybe even anger, not simple curiosity.
“I remember the first kiss. After that everything kind of blends together. We just…” the question stuck in my mouth, not wanting to be asked, “went to bed after that, right?” Her jaw dropped.
“Oh Kate I’m so sorry, you said you didn’t remember but I thought you were just talking about when we were… um, doing-some-things.”
“It’s fine. We got interrupted before either of us could say much of anything anyway. Mind filling me in now though?” My head was pounding, the stress of the conversation not doing anything to lessen my discomfort.
“I wasn’t thinking clearly. I realized that after I kissed you and we stopped. After that we talked for a long time, and I explained everything. I warned you that something might happen after the joining, but it wasn’t something we could ever repeat because of the risk involved with the mingle mark. Um… and you agreed.” She stated plainly and earnestly. I knew from personal experience that Shy was a terrible liar. An inkling of deception and it would have been clear as day, yet there was nary a hint of dishonesty.
“Flutters… I don’t see how that’s possible.” I held my head in my hands. “I’m not that kind of girl, not that impulsive. I don’t take risks of that magnitude, even if I am plastered out of my mind.”
“Um, that’s what you said at first.
“So what changed?”
All the answers I was dreading flooded through my mind
I said I loved you.
Or I promised to marry you.
Or I said I would stay with you forever.
And you agreed.
“I told you I was in love with somepony else.” Somehow, her answer blindsided me harder than any of the others would have. My view of the situation flew out the window, smashing to pieces. “I told you that I wasn’t dating her yet, but I’d been attracted to her ever since Nightmare Night a few years ago... the um, opportunity just hadn’t arisen to approach her yet. It was actually your suggestion to dissolve the mingle mark if she ever does come back to Ponyville.” My eyes were closed, world spinning in more ways than one. It made sense now, but not in a way that made me feel any better.
“And I said I’d only agree to it if you let me help you in return, didn’t I?”
“Um… yes. And that was-“
Her words cut out, overrode by the legion of bass drums using my brain as a practice room. I would have never been able to accept a gift as drastic as what she’d given me without predicting eventual recourse, that something underhanded was afoot, or that there would be inevitable demands made of me. But if I felt I already knew what was going to be asked of me, and it wasn’t unreasonable… I would have considered it. I had jumped to all the wrong conclusions. It should have been a happy moment.
So why does it hurt so much?
Stretching, I stood, mentally preparing my fake smile to be as convincing as I could muster.
“Well, I’m glad we had this talk. Thank you Fluttershy, I guess I really can’t hold my alcohol.”
“Oh, me too! I think that’s the last time I make any important decisions under the influence of cider. I should probably check on that sparrow, it’s been almost an hour.”
“You look like you could use a break. Why don’t you let me take care of it, and you go grab a shower and some you time.” The words felt preprogrammed. I wasn’t sure why I was upset or what was bothering me, and the fact alone that something was bothering me was bothersome in and of itself. I felt rather lost.
“I shouldn’t… um… if that’s okay with you that would be really nice.” Her smile was genuine, kind… agonizing.
“Sure, go ahead.” I waved her off without looking her way again, both for my sake and hers. I removed baby bird, despite its weak chirps to the contrary and put it in a smaller container. Fluttershy knew her craft, I found myself saddened as the sparrow appeared to be on borrowed time. I watched out of the corner of my eye as the assorted animals around the house frolicked, healthy, without a care in the world. Then I looked back to the sparrow that I had personally invested in.
Cruelty or coincidence? It was the question of my life. As I worked I found myself contemplating what would have happened if I had kept on running that night, and hadn’t followed the singing into the woods. What would have changed had I not entered the picture? Lights began to flash behind my eyes, early warning signs I’d seen only once before that indicated the beginning of a migraine. I needed to take off the glasses, I’d taken it like a trooper but this pain was beginning to eclipse anything I’d ever felt before. Something had to be wrong. In a panic, I threw the pieces of the makeshift bird hospital back together, saving the bird for last, careful not to drop it in spite of my current agony.
Release. All at once, from every sort of tension imaginable occurred, pushing itself down from my head into my hands. I watched in horror as the torrent of energy drained like arcing electricity from myself into the tiny bird. Desperately I tried to let go of it, unable to regain motor control as my muscles traumatized body vibrated. It was excruciating. Then it stopped. Nothing moved. A small group of guinea pigs stared, mortified. All the birds had ceased movement, landing on some solid surface and staring. When the small squirrel in the corner dropped his nut, the small noise was all it took for the animals to go crazy, running into walls, all eventually tearing down the hallway to hide behind a bemused Fluttershy. In my eyes, I was the ‘Lennie’ of this world. I would eventually break everything I cared about.
“What. Happened?” With the wellbeing of her animals at stake, Fluttershy’s assertiveness was at full force. If I had an explanation, I would have given it to her. Sometimes, there are no words.
We stared speechless as the baby bird that should have been rendered at the very least catatonic flew about the room, chirping happily. If anything, it was far healthier than before.
“What happened?” she repeated in a softer tone.
“I have no idea.”
“Ah, last one. I don’t think I’ve done that much paperwork since I banished- er. Well it’s been a while, anyway.”
“Sister. Did you just alter the light?”
“No-“ Celestia frowned, realizing the problem: It was indeed much darker than it should have been at this time of day. Both alicorns shot to their feet, teleporting to the roof of the castle.
“Dear mother of me…”
A bureaucratic snowstorm rained towards them, at least three times the size of the first which had occurred little more than a week ago. The papers swished in their direction ominously, taking up an unbelievably large chunk of the sky. Celestia was so momentarily overwhelmed she almost missed the moment Luna teleported back in beside her, having retrieved that box.
“I do believe those pages are blotting out my sun, dear sister.” Celestia quipped wryly. They opened the box together, telekinetically splitting the thousand quills equally between the two of them in the matter of moments. Luna smiled wickedly, the purified armor of nightmare moon adorning her body for what felt like the first time in ages.
“Then we shall write in the shade.”
You never really know what you have until it’s gone. Regardless of the amount of effort that goes into appreciating the little things, somewhere along the line a few neglected gems will slip away unnoticed and unappreciated, leaving only an odd stinging sensation to remember them by. In the case of burned-off fingertips, however, it’s a much more distinct and painful stinging sensation.
“Ow Ow Ow!”
Even after a few days, my fingerprints were still just… gone, replaced by an angry red layer of skin that I was fairly certain wasn’t meant to be exposed to the elements. Hashing through the problem with Twilight hadn’t done much to clear up the confusion, other than identifying the nature of the abnormalities my body seemed to be experiencing. In pony physiology, there’s a sort of emergency shutoff function that stops all consumption of mana from leylines if too much energy is accumulated, allowing the warding spell to effectively clog the flow and activate the shutoff for however long the warding remained intact. The flaw in her plan was unforeseeable: my complete lack of a shutoff, a condition she’d never heard of in any mana-sensitive lifeform. The alternative options we came up with was to either get a safe distance away before removing the glasses, allowing the mana to dissipate naturally, or the alternative; ‘completing the circuit,’ so to speak with another mana-sensitive organism. Since neither of us had any idea what the side effects of said action could be, Twilight made the not-so-helpful observation that it was probably best if I avoided the latter option.
After that conversation came the point where I curled up somewhere isolated with a bucket of chocolate ice cream courtesy of Twilight’s freezer and proceeded to eat my feelings. The need to retrieve a second bucket served as evidence that, deny as I might, I had a lot of feelings. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I was interrupted before I could finish masticating my emotions. For a moment, the dragon looked more confused than irritated.
“Wha- Why are you in my room?” Spike demanded.
“… I was hungry?”
“Okay… just- no.” He shook his head. “Why are you eating in my room with the lights turned off?”
Because you have a curtain.
“Because I thought you might like some company.” I gave him as innocent of a look I could manage between bites. Somehow grumpy dragon had seemed preferable to the small army of pegasi tapping to on the balcony door of the guest room.
“Sweet mustache” Spike snickered, and I found myself stiffening in horror mid-spoonful.
Oh, by the way Kate, I forgot to mention holding in mana might stimulate growth of facial hair, my bad.
The sudden urge to strangle a certain purple unicorn diminished as my fingers came away from my upper lip sticky, and I subsequently calmed down after realizing the nature of the offending substance. Grabbing a napkin, I cleared the residue from my face and looked back to the dragon with a scowl.
“Aw, it was a little funny.” The dragon took a seat across from me and rubbed his claws together greedily. “I was going to take a nap but… I guess you can stay since you brought me a spoon.” The extra utensil in question was a result of forgetting the first spoon upstairs and grabbing another for the sake of continued consumption in transit, though I decided that was information best kept to myself. Holding my tongue was difficult as the draconic invasion of my comfort food proved brutally thorough.
“So, why are you really here? Fluttershy riding you raw?”
Note to self: It’s entirely possible to choke on ice cream.
My coughing fit was only slightly aided by the dragon’s panicked slapping of my back.
“Want to… rephrase that?” I wheezed. Crisis averted, Spike returned to his previous seat, looking at me with an unexpectedly discerning eye.
“I didn’t mean anything by it- I just figured you were in the doghouse, that she was mad at you or something. Twilight does the same thing when she’s upset.” Having ravaged a good chunk of the remaining ice cream, he leaned back on his claws. “Holy cow you should have seen how many buckets she went through last week.” He smirked at the memory. “Anyway, it’s obvious something’s bothering you.”
Ignoring the question, I looked away, wanting nothing more than to sink into the wall, lost in thought as I finished off the bucket.
‘Everything’s fine!-NOM-I found out the pony I might have slept with is actually in love with somepony else!-NOM-Which is great because I’m in no way attracted to her either!- Yessiree It’s all working out for the best.’ Dark chocolate had never tasted so bitter.
“Geez, and I thought I had it bad.”
“I just said all that out loud, didn’t I?” I slowly put the spoon down. He nodded, prompting me to mentally kick myself. “No need to bother Twilight with petty gossip, right?” The dragon’s raised eyebrow sent the message he wasn’t buying it. “Spike, the only thing she’s worried about is Fluttershy getting hurt. I’ll tell her the truth eventually, just let me do it on my terms.” The dragon’s face scrunched up, as if he was deciding whether or not to say something. After a moment, whatever it was seemed to pass unspoken.
“Fine. Think you could do me a favor, though?”
I was beginning to see Rarity as Ponyville’s slightly less bitchy version of Miranda Priestly; very devil-wears-nada. On the surface, it was an innocent proposition. She had ‘just so happened’ to mention in passing that Sweetie Belle had been bragging about her heroine nonstop, resulting in an official invitation extended for me to meet with the local schoolteacher in order to discuss the possibility of acting as a guest speaker. I'd really enjoyed working as an afterschool tutor in the past, so the idea instantly appealed to me. Only, the little traitor had ‘neglected’ to name the meeting place, claiming ignorance.
“I forgot what it’s called, that con-…confectionary shop right across the market from the carrot stand,” he had said, suddenly uncomfortable with making eye contact. Hindsight really is 20/20; I’d been so excited by the prospect of doing something useful (and something to take my mind off a certain pegasus) that I’d completely missed the blatantly obvious tell. Somepony had coached him to pitch it that way. Because, you know, ‘pink pastry shop’ probably would have spooked me.
One does not simply walk into Sugarcube Corner.
Her singing resurfaced in my subconscious, a cacophonous warning cry to turn back or face insanity. I could remember every lyric perfectly. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I peered into the shop, the music from our previous encounter playing on loop in my head. I’d left the library early, maybe I could still catch Cheerilee before our designated meeting time in the mouth of hell. My nervousness took over and I began to hum some indistinct tune, if only to take my mind off the urge to move any direction that qualified as ‘away.’
“What a lovely lovely voice!” I caught a glimpse of her in the reflection of the store window a split second before I heard her, but that did nothing to lessen the jolt of terror invoked the moment her sing-song speech reached my ears.
Come on Kate, She’s a pink pony, half your height, and if it wasn’t for her you’d have spent your last moments bleeding out as a post-unicorn shish kebab. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
“If I remember correctly, you’ve already heard me sing.” Feeling more than a little vulnerable after the sneak attack, I tried squash the rising panic, crossing my arms and keeping my voice even. Maybe I was blowing things out of proportion. She was practically bouncing back and forth on her front forehoofs like an overexcited puppy at my visit, smiling from ear to ear.
“Oh yeah! But that was us singing together! Voices are like cupcakes: you don’t get the full effect unless you take your time with one all by itself. That’s the only way to savor every… last… crumb.” She looked past me into the store, salivating at her own analogy.
Note to self: Definitely not making a mountain out of a molehill.
She broke the hypnotic gaze with the pastries just as I started to inch away, her already-wide eyes dilating in sudden epiphany as they locked on me, forelegs linking around my arms.
“Waitohmygoshareyouheretovisitme?” I tried to detach her hoofs, slightly panicked.
“Oh, no I was just meeting-“
“Cheerilee in half an hour! But you’re early, like super duper early. You wanted to spend time with me! Oh goodness this will be so much fun.” I was practically yanked into the pastry shop, the ring of the entrance bell sunnily signaling my imminent doom.
The fact that I was seated at a strangely quaint table, rather than strapped to a repurposed dentist’s chair was my first indicator that I might have been blowing things out of proportion. Pinkie by herself was terrifying. Pinkie with the Cakes was… different. My tour was abruptly ended when Mr. Cake whispered into Pinkie’s ear, and her entire countenance changed; her typical happy (creepy) smile was replaced by a more subtle smile of focused determination. Apron, hat, and pot holders seemed to appear out of thin air. I tried not to gawk as she took the apparent influx of orders in stride, sailing from ingredient to ingredient, managing several different batches of pastries at once. Her movements were akin to a demented ballerina in a fever dream, complete with a pirouette that relocated three trays at once, balancing the flourish effortlessly on a single rear hoof. Even Mr. Cake was unable to match the pink demon’s pace, relegated instead to bringing me a cup of coffee while I waited.
“Sorry she wasn’t able to give you a tour, Ma’am.” He blinked at me apologetically. “The missus woke up under the weather, and that was right before we got a huge invoice order from a bakery in Canterlot.” I shrugged it off amiably, looking back to the whirlwind in the kitchen. As much as she resembled some sort of natural disaster in motion, I began to realize that within the chaos every movement was measured and deliberate: The breaking eggs, application of flour, mixing of various concoctions. After several minutes of study it became clear that even her seemingly superfluous spins were purposeful, eyes lingering on the various timers as she pivoted, mentally logging their progress. Mr. Cake watched alongside me, carefully staying out of her way.
“Is she always like this?” I whispered with a begrudging sense of awe.
“No. Usually it’s the opposite. The kitchen’s her playground; she’s always trying new things, experimenting.” He indicated the pink mare, who couldn’t have been more oblivious to the fact she was being talked about. “She’s only like this when we need her to be.” Rubbing his neck, he smiled sheepishly. “It’s a good thing she’s not always like this too- if she was, there’d be no work left for me and the missus.”
“I bet.” Something about the whole thing was bothering me, like a puzzle with a few missing pieces. “How did she come to live here, just out of curiosity?”
“She likes to bake and is good with foals. We’re a bakery and we have two beautiful little foals. Guess it was just destiny.” There was something disingenuous in the way he shirked off the question.
Ponies are terrible liars.
Pinkie stopped, tray in hoof, the sudden ceasing of motion almost startling. Her body seemed to spasm, tail twitching to the right, left rear hoof tapping the ground three times, rounding the combination off with a full body wobble. Muttering something to herself, she tilted her head up as if calculating something. Recognition flashed across her eyes as she set the tray down in order to grab a box of tissues off the counter and walked to the stairway, tossing them carefully to the top.
“Special delivery for Mrs. Cake!”
A disheveled, very grumpy looking cyan earth pony with a pink mane walked into view at the top of the stairs, definitely still under the weather, her mingle mark in clear view.
“Thank you Pinkie, though I’m not so sick that I can’t walk down a flight of stairs-“
“Mff umf muf umf muf muf!” Closing an oven door with a hoof and stirring a batch by mouth while trying to talk at the same time proved rather fruitless. She released the egg beater, taking a deep breath.
“But if you walked downstairs, you’d want to help and if you helped your nose would start to itch and if your nose itched you might sneeze on a batch of cupcakes and if you sneezed on a batch of cupcakes we’d have to redo them and if we had to redo them we’d be fifteen minutes late for the freight chariot from Canterlot!” With a slightly offended glare, Mrs. Cake walked away unhappily, sneezing once out of sight. Mr. Cake looked rather embarrassed, but it was Pinkie who quickly came to her defense.
“When she’s sick, she gets a little mad sometimes.” The Cheshire grin flashed across the room. “We all get a little mad sometimes.” Don’t get me wrong, there was still a large part of my psyche that still wanted nothing more than to jump through the front window of Sugarcube Corner to escape that smile. Yet somehow, it was a slightly more affectionate feeling of terror than the former.
“Oh looky, your mare’s here!” My head shot around as the doorbell jingled, a little too excited at the prospect of an impromptu encounter with a certain pegasus. I did my best to conceal my disappointment at the realization it was the purple earth pony I’d set out to meet in the first place.
It didn’t take long to establish the fact that Cheerilee was an excellent teacher. She displayed an uncommon amount of caution, treating me in a reserved and almost suspicious manner, one that wasn’t present in a single conversation with anypony else in Ponyville. I wouldn’t have had it any other way; in my experience cautious teachers were the ones who cared most about their students. It took her a while to warm up to me, but we shared a lot of interests and quickly developed rapport. Once satisfied I wasn’t going to terrorize her classroom, she seemed openly impressed by the amount of Equestrian knowledge I’d managed to absorb in a short period of time, inviting me to come for a meet and greet with the students the following day.
I went out for a run early the next morning, partially out of habit, though mostly so I could take off the glasses, ensuring the smallest chance of mana overflow as possible. While it was true that the previous accident had occurred after more than two days of nonstop wear, I wasn’t taking any chances considering where I was headed. Taking off the glasses, I lay back in the field, closing my eyes and relaxing as a seemingly endless amount of pressure was relieved from entire skull, a heavy weight lifting off various pressure points in my forehead as well as my sinuses. The sound of wind rustling through the tall grass and the warmth of the sun on my face combined with the sudden lack of discomfort was hypnotic, lulling me dangerously close to unconsciousness.
…Do you want to practice?
It was a deus ex machina enacted by a flying pastry bag that saved me, the impact on the side of my head jarring me out of the untimely slumber. I sat up with a start, adrenaline pumping. The source of the projectile was nowhere in sight, despite a clear vantage for miles. I read the inscription on the side of the bag, vision still a bit hazy.
‘Yooooooou’re late! For a very important date!’
‘P.S. Your sleepy face is even cuter in the daylight!’
Nowhere is safe. Begrudgingly grateful for the wakeup call despite a small surge of self-pity, I replaced the glasses, taking off in a brusque jog back towards Ponyville. While there was barely enough time for personal hygiene, the nap had sapped me of any interval with which to pack myself a lunch. In a rush to leave, I grabbed the paper bag, deciding I would have to settle for eating whatever manner of pastry Pinkie had picked out to peg me with. I noticed with no small displeasure that the bandages on my fingertips were stained and dirty from my nap in the field.
I’ll change them at the school.
Running cold water over tender raw skin really should have struck me as a bad idea.
“MOTHER HUMPING- GAH- SWEET CELESTIA ON A TRICYCLE-” As tears welled up from the stinging, the only thing that kept my self-censorship intact was the alternative: single-handedly introducing the f-bomb to Ponyville’s middleschool, more specifically, the small audience of impressionable fillies that were peering through the crack of the school’s bathroom door.
“Motherbucker? Where’d yall hear somethin’ like that Sweetie Belle?”
“Kate said it! Actually though you’re saying it wrong-”
The possibility of creating miniature ponies who talked like late night HBO made the torrent of profanity significantly easier to stave off, even if it did come at the cost of biting my lip until it bled. Think of the children Kate. I hissed, each finger burning like fire as I re-bandaged. You’d think the after effects from an apparently beneficial mana exchange would be positive for both parties, not leave the ‘caster’ with burn wounds and a vague feeling she’d stuck a fork in Palpatine’s personal electrical socket… with her teeth.
“KATE!” The war cry alone would have been enough to startle me. In conjunction with the blur of a small alabaster form and the telltale glint of her horn, I spun aside so fast I probably left an after-image. Amazing what the threat of a second horn wound (and resulting exposure to pony morphine) will do for your reflexes.
“You DODGED me!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed incredulously, looking more than a little hurt.
“You tried to tackle me!” I reached down to pat the glaring filly, caught slightly off guard when she latched onto my arm possessively. It took a moment before I caught on to the source of her clinginess; her classmates gathered around. While they were cautious at first, there was a growing sense of awe. 'My friend is an alien.' No matter what dimension your middle school happens to be in, it’s still all about bragging rights. Instead of shaking her off, I picked her up playfully, legitimizing her claims and eliciting gasps from her peers as I airlifted my favorite assailant to the classroom.
“What’s it like walking on two legs, don’t they get tired?”
“Is it true you’re married to Fluttershy?”
“Yeah, let us see your cutie mark!”
“How old are you?”
“Does Princess Celestia really ride a tricycle?”
I fielded the onslaught of questions to the best of my ability, answering the ones I found appropriate and deflecting the ones I didn’t. Most of the awkward questions came from ponies identifiable as the school plastics, fronted by the aptly named Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. Snips and Snails seemed dead set on identifying what I looked for in a stallion, questions I was all too happy to skip over. The cutie mark crusaders offered the only semblance of ‘normal’ queries, and frustratingly enough even those weren’t questions I could give particularly educational answers to. At the very least, the near-hour-long exercise had given me the chance to speak to and learn the names of the vast majority of the class… save one. Cheerilee’s voice broke the silence.
“Dinky, you’ve not said a word all period. Is there anything you’d like to ask Ms. Kate?” I’d previously taken the grey unicorn with a blonde mane in the corner to be the class recluse, as she’d spent most of the session apathetically staring out the window.
“If you don’t have princesses, how does your government work?” As I had just spent the last five minutes explaining the concept of cereal, the question was like a breath of fresh air.
Challenge of the week: explain congress to a first grader.
I leaned on Cheerilee’s desk at the end of the day as a small crowd of fillies amassed at the front, talking amongst themselves and directing some last minute questions to me, but mostly offering simple words of appreciation before leaving, departing in a mob of excitable energy. When the last pony left I turned to face the school teacher apologetically.
“This was great, but I’m sorry I wasn’t more help.” She glanced over her papers in open amusement.
“On the contrary, how would you feel about coming on as a part time teaching assistant?” The offer came completely out of left field.
“I- I’m not sure I’m qualified.”
“Please.” All hints of suspicion from the purple pony were now gone, replaced with a tone of respect. “You handled everything they threw at you extremely well, I’m not sure I saw you flustered once and you kept their attention almost the entire time. Not to mention, you have no idea how much help it was to have an extra pair of eyes double checking their math homework.” Freeloading had gotten old even before the hospital, which Twilight had to cover the bills for. Working off the debt was a necessity: working with kids at the same time? It was almost too good to be true.
“When do I start?”
The scenario hit a little too close to home. All the other kids were gone, either already picked up by parents or living close enough to walk home. Dinky Doo sat alone on the bench at the front of the school, not quite managing to hide a growing sense of anxiety. Her golden eyes searched the sky endlessly, faith diminishing with each passing moment. I was tired, starving, and exhausted… all of which abruptly didn’t really matter.
“Mind if I keep you company?”
“You might be here for a while,” the unicorn muttered grumpily.
“I’m not really in a hurry.” I sat down beside her, weighing my next words carefully. “Mom or Dad?”
“Mom. Never around when I need her.” The resigned acceptance in her voice was more than a little familiar.
“I could walk you home, if that’s the problem.”
“’That’s okay,” Dinky shook her head, “the last time I went home on my own she panicked and stayed out all night looking for me. She gets lost easily.”
“It sounds like she cares about you though.”
“Maybe. But if she really cares, why does it never get better?” The conflict in her eyes was heartbreaking. I couldn’t answer that question for myself, much less for somepony else. “It wasn’t always like this-“ her stomach growled angrily in agreement.
“Not enough for lunch?”
“She always forgets to pack it.” Dinky rolled her eyes. “I’m lucky if she remembers to feed Algernon.”
The talk of food, combined with my own hunger reminded me I wasn’t completely empty-handed in the nutrient department. I removed the pastry bag from my satchel and tossed it to a now excited looking Dinky Doo.
“Care for a cupcake?”
“I love Sugarcube corner!” She telekinetically removed the white frosted pastries from the bag. One was marked with a red K, the other plain. “I’m guessing this one is yours,” she said in an almost giddy tone, floating the marked one my way. Normally, I’d have thought twice about eating the pink demon put in front of me. Maybe my opinion of her was changing, or maybe I was just too hungry to care. Dinky held her prize daintily with both hoove, nibbling on it like a squirrel, making it last. I took an unrestrained bite out of mine. The batter itself was delicious, but there was something… weird… about the flavor. It held hints of bubblegum or possibly some sort of strawberry taffy. There was something else too it though. Maybe it was some exotic Equestrian taste I wasn’t familiar with.
“What flavor is that?” I asked.
“Plain old vanilla- at least, mine is.” She shrugged. There was no way Dinky and I were eating the same cupcake. I rolled it around on my tongue some more, trying to get a better reading. I was more certain of the bubblegum and strawberry flavor, but the third continued to be an enigma. Strangely enough it seemed to be some sort of salty taste, almost pungent-
“Maybe that’s the mystery ingredient?”
“What?” I turned to her slowly.
“On the note here.” Dinky floated the bag over to me, pointing to a spot below the P.S. note. Sure enough, there was a much smaller message written beneath it that I had apparently missed.
“P.P.S. I put a TON of my secret ingredient drops on your cupcake. I haven’t tried it myself since that would just be weird, but if you like it there’s PLENTY more where that came from!”
It didn’t matter if I was right, wrong or simply jumping to conclusions. The connection had already been made in my head, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to eat another cupcake again. Tossing the half that remained into the bag I leaned my head against the wall with a groan, fairly certain that somewhere in Ponyville, a pink demon was giggling maniacally.
“So what was the secret ingredient?” Dinky asked, more than a little confused.
“…Laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.”
AN: Sorry to split another chapter in two. There’s a lot of maneuvering going on behind the scenes in this chapter to set up some… interesting… developments. I sent out multiple pms to those who volunteered proof-reading on the blog, and got multiple messages back this morning (far more than I expected.) If you offered and I didn't send you a message please don't take it personally, in all honesty at that point I couldn't even see straight. (I think I sent somepony like three messages with the link accidentally too.)
A special thanks to:
The Equestrian Gentlecolt (If you've not read Perfect for Me, you're missing out)
Meeester (Great proof reader with an even better avatar )
MisterMoniker (Author of the only FiM Reno 911 spoof I know of, as well as some poignant brooding Woona stuff if that's up your alley)
Axel Nyan (Friendly neighborhood proof-reader with great favorites)
Morality: has there ever been a notion more infuriating? Of course the alternative is no better, as without our quaint - albeit antiquated - sense of right and wrong, hedonism and anarchy would run rampant, their whims carried out by an army of narcissistic sociopaths. That outstanding point aside, the everyday toll of conscience, scruples, and empathy just makes minding one’s own business so gosh darn inconvenient. What’s worse is when an individual is particularly self-aware, and able to realize the nature of her own displacement.
I have enough issues of my own.
It’s not my family to meddle in.
It’s not even my universe.
Getting involved just runs the risk of making things worse.
All the above were perfectly good reasons for continued detachment; they were logically sound, accurate, realistic, and most of all forward thinking. Unfortunately, I recognized them as feeble excuses all too quickly. There were many words to describe my ongoing affairs in Equestria; however, none of those terms were particularly synonymous with ‘graceful’ or ‘ideal.’ Settling my debts and finding a way home should have been my number one priority. Similarly, Dinky should have been just another filly in a class of kids, empathy disregarded for an attitude of professional distance.
“There she is!” The grey filly’s voice held a mixed excitement, hoof outstretched towards the sky.
Little did I know, I was about to find out exactly how much I sucked at professional distance.
My first impression of Ditzy Doo was… well, utterly terrifying. Her current mode of transportation was something akin to a downward spiral, and if I was estimating correctly, her landing would involve mutual concussions for both her and Equestria’s resident snarky alien. I was mere moments away from grabbing Ditzy and making a last second dive off the bench when the would-be projectile almost leveled out before impact, colliding with the ground at a twenty degree angle away from us with an audible ‘OOOMPH,’ sliding along the grass, kicking up a small cloud of dust.
I had already rushed over when I realized with no small confusion that I was the only one remotely concerned. The small number of ponies I had seen look over with some alarm at the initial impact had continued on their way, unperturbed by the grey pony now sprawled on the ground. Even Dinky looked aloof, more concerned with discarding the remainder of her cupcake wrapper than the collision.
“Ma’am… Are you alright?”
“Doh…” Her eyes blinked open once, immediately squinting shut from the brightness of the late afternoon. I positioned myself to her side between her and the sun, giving her shade. A bright golden eye blinked open again, searching for the source of the light change. It locked onto me, and her eyebrow raised. “An… angel?” Before I could even register that the misinterpreted appearance was probably a result of my position in front of the sun giving me a deceptively radiant aura, she shook her head awkwardly, already answering her own question. Her voice was a deep alto, rich and maternal. “Forgive me; falling isn’t particularly conducive to the thought process.”
“Now that is a problem I know all too well.” I chuckled
She stood abruptly, the haze behind her eyes clearing quickly as the stun from her landing began to dissipate. “Ah, you would be the infamous bipedal everypony’s all worked up about. Kate, wasn’t it?”
“Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Doo. Dinky’s told me nothing but good things about you.” I winced. I’d meant it more as a social nicety, though considering what I had heard from Dinky, it certainly felt like a bit of a lie. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
She shrugged, dusting herself off. “Flying’s the easy part- landing without ideal depth perception… is where things get problematic. That was only slightly worse than my typical landing.” Her eyes narrowed (or tried to) in typical parental suspicion, although the accompanying question was stated much more directly. “Why are you here with my daughter, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Actually, I was just hired on as a TA at the middleschool-“
“-And she was nice enough to stick around and keep me company after everypony had gone home. Three hours ago” Dinky interrupted, trotting between us, the cloaked accusation in her words clear as day. Ditzy’s entire demeanor changed; her ears splayed back, looking almost pathetically apologetic.
“Please don’t be mad at mommy, Dinky. I-
“-got caught up in work at the lab and you couldn’t help it, I know, I know,” Dinky sighed in a much kinder tone, nuzzling her mother’s foreleg. “I’m just glad you’re here now.” Although the relief that flooded her mother’s face was real, I couldn’t help but notice that Dinky’s voice had the strain of somepony repeating words spoken far too often.
The older pegasus sat down, scooping a foreleg under the smaller pony’s belly and giving her a hug. Dinky squirmed, unhappy with the public display of affection, so Ditzy settled for stroking the filly’s mane. “Thank you for looking out for her. I don’t like being late, but work has been-“ she paused, melancholy flickering behind her eyes. “Well suffice it to say I’m operating on borrowed time… ‘burning the candle at both ends’ as it were.” She flashed me another awkward smile. Something about the look bothered me; it just seemed so… empty.
It’s not your problem Kate.
“Well, like I told Dinky, I wasn’t in much of a hurry anyway. It was nice to meet you”
“And you as well. Come on D, let’s get going.” As they turned to leave, the questionable cupcake wasn’t the only issue weighing heavily on my stomach.
“Uh mom? Home is that way”
Just let it go.
Like so many times before, I found myself conflicted. Why not indulge in a little investigating? At the moment, I was far too famished to think things through, not to mention that I also needed to start reading through the curriculum and preparing study aids. I stretched my arms out as I walked back to the library, rather pleased with myself. My worries for Dinky aside, things were calming down to the point where I could actually look forward to the outside activities, like my morning exercise, instead of dreading it. With the combination of the glasses, time with Twilight, and an actual job, Equestria was starting to feel surprisingly bearable.
“I THOUGHT WE HAD SOMETHING SPECIAL!” Rainbow roared, shooting like an angry blue bullet straight towards me.
Note to self: The exchanging of certain uncommon feathers is a method Pegasi use to non-verbally indicate interest. This can be a very subtle process. If you find a loose pegasus feather lying around on your balcony for instance, leave it alone.
“I DIDN’T KNOW!” I zigzagged through the field, occasionally doubling back when her shadow flickered overhead. My situation was not ideal. The lovely field I’d grown so fond of jogging through was going to be the death of me. There was no cover anywhere in sight for miles with what was arguably the fastest pony in Equestria hell-bent on dive bombing me. Even if there was no killing intent this game had gone on far too long, and considering what living here had probably done to my blood pressure I was beginning to ponder the possibility of a premature cardiac arrest. “This is entrapment! It was a mistake!”
“I’m a mistake huh?! I could feel it the whole time I was teaching flight camp! Any normal pony would have put it in her hair, or worn it around her neck! WHAT KIND OF PONY PUTS IT RIGHT NEXT TO HER FLANK AND RUBS IT ‘BY MISTAKE’?”
The woods were fifty feet away. “For the love of god, if it rubbed anything that was from jostling around in my pocket!” I yelled over my shoulder, “and I’m NOT a PONY!”
“Oh really? Fluttershy seems to think you fill in for one just FINE-“
I was really starting to get tired of that particular brand of kryptonite. Had I put any degree of thought into it, I probably would have come to the conclusion that pissing her further wasn’t exactly smart; I had just fallen, completely at the mercy of an airborne attack. However, that was before I picked myself up and found the fresh hole torn in my pants. My new pants.
Oh. It’s on. It’s so on.
“You know, the whole JEALOUS PUPPY act is really starting to grate on my nerves!”
“WHAT DID YOU JUST CALL ME?”
“Aren’t you just the cutest wittle thing.” I patted my knees at the hovering pegasus with mocking condescension. “Come to here and get some wuvvins.” Yeah, I was intentionally making things worse; at that point I knew I wasn’t going to be able to outrun her and get to the woods in time. The way I saw it, I was a matador who’d just flashed the brightest shade of red to an already, angry multi-colored flying bull. One who just so happened to be freakishly fast and easily offended. The resulting charge was inevitable
Despite her speed, anger had made her sloppy. I sidestepped the moment she would have tackled me, looping my arms under her and grabbing her firmly under her forelegs to trap her movement, the transferred momentum sending us both spinning in a hysterical human-pony pirouette .
“Now… can we please talk about this-ACK”
With that, the longest two minutes of my life began.
There are no words to describe exactly how hard it is to hold onto a pony that doesn’t want to be held, doubly so when that pony is a pegasus. All the pent up, coiled, and athletic energy stored in rainbow’s body was expended, limbs flailing about wildly.
“Stop thrashing around and I will!” Her flailing wings provided more than enough push to send me stumbling wildly around the field, just barely staying on my feet
“REALLY? AS IF-“ A flailing hoof caught me under the chin. It hurt. A lot.
Must. Not. Teach. Ponies. Profanity
“GAH- LUNA AT THE LIQUOR STORE THAT SUCKED.”
I had thought that if I could get a hold of her, I might be able to buy time to explain myself; I assumed she could see reason if I explained it properly. Murphy’s law seemed to have very different plans: Holding took more effort than being chased, time was totally absent, and reason did not appear to be her forte. I tried again. “Look. Obviously we’re at an impasse-“
“AUGH- I think what we’re seeing here is a break down in communication-”
“A break down in YOUR FACE”
My jaw was still throbbing. “Yeah, probably that too.”
“YOU’RE TOUCHING ME FUNNY!” As someone who’s been subjected to an awful lot of sexual harassment over the years, I found myself quite offended at the accusation. The raging tiger being held by the tail shouldn’t have the gall to whine about the point of leverage, so to speak. As such, I settled for communicating said offense in the most mature way possible.
Her response was eloquent, succinct and to the point. “ARE TOO”
I responded articulately in turn. “AM NOT.”
“ARE TOO” The extraordinarily strong flap of her wings was our tipping point, sending us both tumbling over. I somehow managed to keep my grip on top of her, possessing just enough presence of mind to position myself off to the side of her back hoofs, which almost immediately lashed out.
“You think I wanted this?” I growled. “Yes, that’s totally how it went down. I had breakfast this morning and thought to myself: ‘Gee whiz, things sure have been boring around here. Nothing has gone bat-crapping insane for a while. Oh! I know! Maybe when Rainbow Dash gets back from the trip I wasn’t even aware she was taking in the first place, we can play ‘Crouching-Pony-Hidden-Dragon,’ and in the process I’ll find out exactly how much effort it takes to keep a pegasus in a freaking half nelson.’”
Her body seemed to relax, though I wasn’t quite ready to buy it. “If I let you go, you’re not going to punch me in the face?” She shook her head.
“Not going to chase me into through the Everfree until I collapse and do unspeakable things to me?” There was another shake.
“Not going to rain down fire and salt the earth with my remains?” The last comment just earned me a one eyed glare. I suppose it was a bit much. She’s not Pinkie after all. With a small groan I rolled off of her, working my jaw gingerly. “Obviously, today was the day the universe decided I’d be punished.” Still displaying her usual lack of personal space awareness, she rested her head on my stomach, equally exhausted. At the moment, I was just happy I wasn’t being throttled, and there was a sliver of hurt remaining in her cerise eyes I wanted to address. “Any particular reason why you flew off the handle at me? I get the whole jealousy thing, but I would have given the feather back if you’d just asked me nicely.“
“Oh I bet, you know exactly where it is then?” She asked, her tone holding an underlying trap..
Laying my head back I squinted, feeling rather achy all over. “I’ll find it. I’m assuming it’s still in the pants I was wearing when Sweetie Belle stabbed me in the stomach and I almost bled out all over Pinkie Pie’s back in the middle of a musical number.”
“Yeah. You kind of missed a lot. So what was it that set you off?”
She scrunched up her face, deciding whether or not to answer. “Well I got back into town from coastal weather patrol this morning-“
“I thought you said you were teaching flight camp.”
“I was, but a bunch of instructors got rerouted by the Equestrian guard for high-risk weather patrol a few days in. Some of the most severe weather we’ve ever dealt with on the coast, all sorts of incoming storms. Climate seems to be going nutty. See those black clouds on the horizon?” She shuffled her hoofs excitedly. “The most we ever get in Ponyville is light showers. Those aren’t ‘light shower’ clouds. There’s a storm coming Kate.”
Great. Literal foreshadowing.
“Guess we’d all best be ready when she does.”
“Never mind. Please continue.” Rainbow regarded me with a notion of doubt, continuing after a long pause.
“Anyway, I was already kind of mad when I got in town; If you’d just left it alone, I wouldn’t have cared, but I could feel you-er holding it for a long time, and suddenly you just weren’t touching it anymore, so I went to find it.”
“These feathers are that important? You’re actually able to sense their location when they’re removed?”
“Yeah, I guess an alien wouldn’t really get it without being shown.” Dash raised up, balancing herself on seated legs in an amusingly human looking fashion. She pivoted herself away so I would have a good angle from the back, spreading her wings. The expression on her face was uncharacteristically shy as she called out the various types.
“Countour” a hoof indicated the large vaned feathers that lined breadth of her left wing. “Downy,” The wings flexed, revealing a smaller, more soft looking layer beneath. In a moment of total stupidity I almost reached out to touch them; thankfully my experience with Flutters was still rather fresh on my mind, and I froze.
“Sorry. Sometimes I’m too much of a hands-on learner.”
“Sokay” she grinned wryly, cocky attitude returning albeit still dampened by the awkwardness of the anatomy lesson. “If I were you, I’d want to touch me too.” Her hoof moved around to the top of the wing. “Last but not least, see the short ones there?” A forehoof indicated the smaller line of feathers closest to her neckline. There weren’t many, maybe two dozen total. “Those are filoplumes: they control mana flow throughout the entire wingspan. If it wasn’t for these babies, pegasi probably wouldn’t be able to lift their own bodyweight.”
“What happens when you shed- er- molt?” She shrugged, relaxing her wings
“Then we collect them, break them down, and reabsorb the mana essence. That’s why we can sense them, in case they fall out in flight.” Basking in the sunlight, she stretched with a wide yawn, plopping her head back onto my stomach. I tried not to laugh. For all her assertions to the contrary, she really did remind me of a puppy. Nothing like Fluttershy, whose beauty and natural elegance was... was…
...something I shouldn’t be dwelling on. Ahem.
“I didn’t realize they were so important. We can go back to the library and look for it now if you like.”
“It’s not at the library, or it wasn’t anyway. I tracked it down earlier, when I first came into town-“ she trailed off, reddening face giving her an almost purple appearance. “…at Fluttershy’s cottage.”
“…in her bed.” Said a much smaller voice
“Sorry. I may have not known anything about what was going on-“ at all “but regardless. I imagine that was awkward, to say the least.”
“Anypony less awesome than me probably wouldn't have been as cool about it, that's for sure. It’s probably best Flutters got over that school-filly crush anyways.” She noted cheerfully.
“School-filly cru-“ I cut myself off, spotting a bit of red on her chin. “Huh. What is that? Are you bleeding?” In the process of tilting her head down to check with a hoof, she stopped, eyes fixated on my midsection.
“Er, Rainbow? My eyes are up here.”
“N-Not my blood!” She pointed to my stomach, looking rather traumatized. I followed her gaze.
What a typical day in Ponyville.
I trudged in the general direction of Fluttershy’s cottage, keeping a hand firmly pressed to my abdomen. Rainbow helicoptered around me as I walked, continually eating away my patience.
“It wasn’t really my fault-“
Sigh. “Never said it was.”
“You could have torn your stitches open while you were running-“
Double sigh. “Too true. It must have been the light jog, definitely not the aerial onslaught.”
“I could fly to the hospital and get the med-evac ponies.” I could almost see nurse Redheart at the entrance to the hospital, giant syringe in hoof.
‘Welcome back Ms. Winsor. We’ve missed you.’
“Nope. Not going to happen. No hospital.”
Hovering at my side, she crossed her arms accusingly. “You just want to see Fluttershy.”
“Yes. You caught me. I’m a masochist and this pain is really getting me in the mood. My state of arousal is so troubling in fact, it’s probably best to stop following me, as at this rate she’ll have to get the whips, rope, and black latex out of her basement to meet my needs and you really don’t want to see the fifty-shades-of-gay that comes next.” The following moment of blissful silence was heartbreakingly short.
“… … … Really?” The pegasus squeaked.
“Of course not” I snapped.
“I’m not going anywhere!” She snapped back. “If you keeled over and died because I left you… well... I’d have a lot of guilt.”
It’s hard to explain exactly why I was so upset. To be frank, I’d been through worse since my arrival, and some small part of me had wanted to see Fluttershy anyway (though, admittedly, every other part of me wanted to run screaming in the other direction.) Undoubtedly, some portion of my frustration stemmed from it was extended moments of peace that had given way into chaos; while that alone was infuriating, it was something deeper… something much more familiar.
It took a long time to put my finger on it. This moment was a prime example of what so often made my life maddening. Yes, I wanted to go see Fluttershy again. I enjoyed spending time with her, and some part of me needed to know who the object of her affections was, if only for the sake of closure. The problem was I wanted to choose to go visit her; needed to choose. Instead, I felt like I was being pushed towards her by forces outside my control. Sure, generally speaking I could have gone to the hospital, risking the effects of the malign anesthetic and racking up several more bills, bills that a friend I was already far too indebted to would have to take care of... but that simply didn't make any sense.
Stop whining and suck it up.
By the time we arrived at the bridge just outside her cottage, I found myself growing more than a little light headed. A squirrel sat in the middle of the bridge, nut held in his paws. I didn’t realize at the time that he was probably one of the animals that had witnessed my electrocution of the sparrow. Paying him no mind, I tried to step around to the left… a movement that he casually mirrored, black eyes taunting me. Attempting the right side garnered exactly the same results.
“Shoo.” No response.
“Pretty please?” Nothing. Just the empty accusing stare of his eyes. Getting a little desperate, I took a sudden threatening step in his direction. Not even a blink. As much as I hated him at that moment, I had to admit, the squirrel had stones.
“Maybe he wants a passcode.” Rainbow sniggered. Had I not been a little lightheaded, I probably would have laughed it off and rolled my eyes.
… Realistically speaking, I was more than a little lightheaded. Dehydrated and borderline delirious might have been a more accurate term
“Kate…” The pegasus hovered over into my field of view. “I was joking. You do realize you’re yelling random words at a squirrel right?”
Even in my haze, I was getting more than fed up with Mr. Squirrel’s obvious lack of pop culture appreciation.
“Would you kindly move your bushy, self-important rat’s a-“
The acorn that had previously been held innocently in the hands of the oversized gerbil pegged me square in the forehead. I grit my teeth as he sauntered past me, reminding myself that punting the fuzzball into orbit wasn't exactly going to win any brownie points from Fluttershy.
“OH, SORRY, DID I VIOLATE SOME RIDICULOUS SOCIAL TABOO I COULDN’T POSSIBLY HAVE FORESEEN AND UPSET YOU TOO?” The little bastard scampered away without so much as a parting glance in my direction.
Rainbow seemed utterly confused by the exchange. Path uninhibited, I resumed my slow walk towards the cottage. What her reaction lacked in timeliness, it made up for in volume a few moments later.
“Wait- What was THAT supposed to mean?!”
AN: Well, I intended to make this chapter more about Dinky and Ditzy... Damn you RD, Damn you. I had originally meant to do the RD scene much earlier on in the story, having laid the groundwork for it at the end of chapter 3 (when Kate pockets the feather), I just got overly focused on Fluttershy and forgot about it. After careful consideration, I decided the Dinky/Ditzy sideplot is going to be spread over the next few chapters, interwoven with the rest of the main story. I’m wanting to build things up a bit more and work on a little more characterization before it all inevitably goes to sideways again. It’s the slow twist: the one that takes its time that cuts most deeply, as they say.
Also, I really need to stop referencing TDKR.
Special thanks to Meeester and MisterMoniker for the proof reading, ya'll are awesome as always.
The sadist, while admittedly the supporter of an unpleasant concept, at least makes some degree of sense in my mind. If there was no schadenfreude, large stretches of history would go unexplained: unnecessarily cruel behavior towards others has been far too prolific throughout the course of time. Conversely, I’ve never really understood the mindset of a masochist. I’m not referring to the lonely, self-flagellating brand of masochism either.
What was always unfeasible to me was how some individuals manage to cross their emotional wires and forge a connection between pain and - well - sensual pleasure. I may not be the leading expert on all things erotic - okay, maybe anything erotic - yet you’d be hard pressed to find someone better versed in the art of frequently receiving pain: I almost bit off my tongue when I was three; the back right leg of the piano bench broke off and impolitely introduced my skull to the floor. I broke my first bone when I was seven, an innocent accident thanks to little Jenny Carpenter’s ‘accidental’ overspinning of a merry-go-round which ended with me sprawled ten feet away, leaving my arm pointed at a funny angle towards the swing-set bar it landed on. That was the first of many fractious fractures and unsurprisingly, not the last to involve Jenny.
My expertise in pain goes beyond the occasional serious traumatic experience; however, plenty of things happened day to day. I had a reputation as a natural bee and hornet repellant: if I was within a hundred meters, it was almost a sure thing that the little buggers would leave everyone else alone. I have fallen down stairs repeatedly, run into trees, and have a high probability to trip on anything protruding out of the ground more than a centimeter, often times twice on the same obstruction. I bring all this up not to garner sympathy, but rather to illustrate the breadth of my experience with predicaments that make the nerve endings scream.
At no point in the wake of a single accident did I stop and think, wow, that was sexy. At no point did stubbing my toe or running into a door somehow trigger the arousal process. When I was inexplicably tackled by a Gabourey Sidibe look alike during an allegedly ‘friendly’ game of powder-puff football, my thought process was less oh yeah! punish me! more URGLE GURGLE CAN’T BREATHE OH GOD MY SPLEEN. Pain and pleasure had never really intermingled for me, nor had I ever considered them potentially connected. They had nothing to do with each other, as far as I was concerned- ironically, that was right around the time life decided to educate me otherwise.
The door to Fluttershy’s cottage opened slowly at first, almost slamming open seconds later as the nature of our visit came to light, the sudden motion almost jarring enough to knock Dash out of the air.
“Oh no!” She ushered us both in before hovering around me, appraising my condition fretfully. “Whatever happened?” Dash and I shared a grudging glance, trading silent insults.
“Just over-exerted myself during my workout, ‘Shy. Got a little over-confident and bit off more than my body could handle.” It had nothing to do with being attacked by an angry smurf.
Fluttershy trotted to the sink and began to wash her hoofs. “Rainbow, help Kate get undressed while I clean up; it shouldn’t be too long.”
Er excuse me? “I can get it myself-“ stars flew in front of my eyes, as the workout shirt was lifted over my head, the section that was partially fused to the open wound making a ripping noise that hurt about a thousand times worse than it sounded. My only remaining dignity now took the form of my sports bra and yoga pants. I stared at Rainbow openly-who was looking more than a little guilty holding the shirt in her mouth- silent for a few moments. “Ow.”
She looked away, turning a light shade of pink. “I’ll let you get those,” indicating my lower body.
Um. No. Hell no. “I think I’ll keep them on, thanks.”
“Fine, don’t blame me if you get an infection.” She smirked. I looked down and realized unhappily that she was right. The pants were covered in grass and bits of dirt from our tumble out in the field, and keeping them on while Flutters was operating wouldn’t be particularly sanitary. I reached down with a sigh and untied the drawstrings, suppressing a snort when Dash turned away, embarrassed. She turned back after a moment, enraptured by the embarrassingly pink boyshorts Rarity had designed per my request, though the color was her idea of ‘artistic license.’ “There’s more?” Dash gawked, “How many layers are there?”
“Not nearly enough,” I retorted, shivering from the sudden lack of warmth. “Clear something up for me. What’s with the pony fixation on pants?” Dash held up her hoofs in a failed attempt to look oblivious. With one hand still pressing the towel against my waist, I placed the other on my bare hip admonishingly. “You know, I could have told Fluttershy what actually happened-“
“Shh shh shh,” Dash hissed, glancing over to make sure Fluttershy was still out of earshot. “Fine. They just sort of- erm- unnecessarily complicate the plot.” For a moment, I thought Dash was taking a page out of Pinkie’s book, but she looked uncomfortable enough discussing it I decided not to stop her and ask for clarification.
Dash rolled her eyes. “Well, I mean everypony has a plot right? Like a cutie mark. Sometimes it’s obscured, usually though it’s just out there in the open, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Your plot is your plot, and nopony draws attention to it because they have a plot of their own.”
Note to self: ‘Plot’ seems to be slang for fate. However, I have yet to see how this is culturally connected to pants.
“If I understand correctly, when I’m covering up my cutie mark, in a way I’m covering up my plot? Metaphorically speaking?”
“Generally yes,” She shrugged. “Why hide something that everypony has?”
It was beginning to make some degree of sense from a philosophical standpoint. ”So it’s sort of a cultural view that plot shouldn’t be hidden because it’s not something you choose, it’s something thrust upon you?”
“No! Well, I mean- I wouldn’t thrust my plot on just anypony… er, unless it was a mutual thing.” Dash fidgeted uncomfortably with the admission.
I nodded. “Considering the societal focus on predestination, I’d assume the meshing of two plots is sacred.”
“Er-, well it’s definitely not something you’d do on the first date.”
“Maybe it’s better that way.” I said gloomily, watching as Fluttershy somehow managed to make the act of rolling a big tube of plastic wrap over her table look dainty. “Maybe involving myself in somepony else’s plot is too big of a responsibility.”
“I dunno,” Dash followed my gaze, looking over to Fluttershy. “She’s a little quiet sometimes, but dang. If she hadn’t always had a wing-boner for princess moody, I totally would have tapped that plot-” Dash cut herself off abruptly, covering her horrified expression with both forehooves.
“Yeah…” My head snapped around as the words registered. “Wait- What?”
Dash tried to meet my stare blankly. “What?”
“What do you mean ‘what?’ you just said-“
“I said nothing. Noooo-thing.”
Face met palm as my understanding of the entire conversation shifted.
Note to self: Disregard previous note. Suffice it to say that my interpretation of plot was highly over-complicated.
My downfall was a lack of attention to my surroundings. In retrospect, I saw Fluttershy brushing her teeth rather thoroughly, even going so far as to gargle mouthwash. I just made the mistake of not thinking it through: It’s not really a bad thing if your impromptu paramedic has an obsession with cleanliness, right?
“Alright, go ahead and lay down.” Grunting as I carried out her orders, I laid back on the plastic covered table. There was a strange jolt up my spine when she leapt up quietly, golden coat brushing against bare skin. I tried not to think about the fact that this was the first time we’d had any sort of close contact since that night at the hospital.
Her blue eyes looked at me sympathetically. “I- I’ll be as gentle as I can, but this is probably going to sting a little.” I nodded, grimacing as a small splash of rubbing alcohol sizzled on the wound. “Rainbow? If you don’t mind-um, could you hoof over that baggie of ice?” Dash looked downright uncomfortable at the sight of Fluttershy sitting astride my lap, a feeling I could certainly empathize with.
“Actually- I had a thing-“ She stopped as Fluttershy stuck out her lower lip. “Oh buck it” Dash muttered, bringing over the baggie, which she passed by mouth to Fluttershy. I think it was about right then that it hit me. How was she going to thread the needle? The icepack was placed just below my belly button, held gently against the damaged area with a hoof. My resulting shudder was a combination of the cold and something else.
“Sorry- I just want to make sure it’s as numb as possible before we start.”
“No- it’s fine, you’re… sweet.” What followed was a moment of painfully silent eye-contact. This was the worst. I wasn’t ready to deal with it -not by a longshot- yet there I was, trying my best not to drown in the infinitely deep blue pools of her eyes. RUN! An inaudible voice seemed to scream, RUNRUNRUNRUNRUN-
“So- er, how ‘bout those Thunderbolts?” Dash interjected awkwardly.
“Thunderbolts you say? I’ve never heard of them!” I baited her quickly, more than a little appreciative for the icebreaking lifeline as well as the large volume of Thunderbolt related information that followed. To be frank, I wouldn’t have cared if she was waxing poetic on the structure of Equestrian tax law; any distraction would do. After a few minutes, Fluttershy removed the ice-pack.
“It’s probably better if you don’t look,“ she warned, “try to keep your mind off of it and keep talking to Rainbow while I work.” I wasn’t overly concerned with a couple of stitches; the more pertinent problem was where she was located and where her tail seemed to accidentally brush every so often. I turned back to Dash, smiling thinly. All I had to do was grit my teeth, and Fluttershy would thread a needle using her hoofs, appendages I knew from experience were not capable of precision. Yet I ignored the fatal gap in my logic. She’ll just use magic or something. Warm fuzzy light, couple of sparks, and viola! Magnetic hoofs for the win.
Oddly, both hoofs were still pressed firmly against my mid-section. A moment later, Dash was my only indication that something was seriously amiss. For a moment, she looked away from me at Fluttershy, and her jaw-dropped. For a moment, I felt warm breath on my abdomen, right before stars exploded behind my eyes. Looking back, magic isn’t necessarily a bad descriptive term for what happened. It was just a very, very different kind of magic: A dark magic, with incredibly disturbing implications. Using her hoofs to carefully angle the course of the needle, Fluttershy was manipulating it with her tongue. A very soft, moist tongue, which thanks to proximity, was brushing an area north of the nether regions, but far too south for comfort. I did the only thing a sensible person would do.
I teleported. Well, not literally. If nothing else, Equestria has done wonders for my shadow-step. One bolt of adrenaline later and I was on the other side of the room, having disarmed Fluttershy and distanced myself. “You know? Actually I just realized I can do this myself” –My voice was several octaves too high, and I had no idea what I was doing- “I’ve totally sewn stuff before” –Yeah. More like tried to crochet a quilt, which then had to be euthanized- “See! Look at my hand! Steady as a su-su-surgeon,” –One in the middle of a nervous breakdown, maybe.
My inner voice had a point. Dehydration and blood-loss don’t really make for reliable appendages- though, I suspect, they weren’t the only factors. Worse yet, the moment my adrenaline abandoned me, my leg muscles immediately responded in subterfuge by sending me stumbling, completely off balance. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears.
“Kate-” Fluttershy started.
“I’m good, just, gimme a second-“ Rainbow Dash propped me up the moment I might have tipped over, unintentionally sending me reeling the other way
“Kate- SIT.“ There it was. Fluttershy’s stare: The moment her sapphire eyes turned indigo, dark pools hinting at unfathomable depths beneath. Without another thought, I complied and returned to the table, unable to even consider an alternative option. She’s going to have her way with me, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Resistance is futile.
Much to my relief, the intensity in her gaze vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Instead she looked down on me with a somewhat mournful expression, pink hair forming its familiar canopy around my head.
“I can go get Twilight, and Twilight can carry you to the hospital… if- if that’s what you want. You need to calm down so you don’t hurt yourself. I only do stitches in emergencies, I-I wanted to try because I knew you didn’t exactly enjoy it at the hospital last time. I just want you to be ok.” Guilt flooded in, smacking me across the face. Of course she wouldn’t force me to do anything, other than to stop staggering around the room with a needle pointed at myself like a drunken idiot. Pull it together Kate. You’re acting like a child.
“No, that would be stupid and inconvenient for everypony. I trust you.”
“I’m really happy to hear that...” She was dangerously close to pulling me in with her eyes again.
“Sure is sunny outside!” Rainbow observed loudly, pushing back the curtain, pointedly not looking at the embarassingly intimate exchange. “Perfect day for flying- sweet thermals, light draft. Flying is swell. You know what, I think I may go practice. Flying, and all. Because I like it. Not because I’m running away. See, not running- walking all casual-like. Laters!” She waved a hoof to both of us, and trotted hurriedly over to the door.
“Well I was going to ask you to help hold her down. Since it seems to be a ticklish spot for her, she might even accidentally twitch while I’m working and hurt herself… um… if that’s okay with you…” she turned to me, “and you, of course.” I wasn’t a fan of the whole ‘restricted movement’ concept, but after the stunt I’d pulled, I wasn’t really in a position to complain. Dash seemed far less inclined to cooperate, eyes bouncing back and forth between myself, Fluttershy, and the door.
“It’s no big deal if you need to go; I think I have some rope in my basement I could use instead.” Fluttershy muttered. I froze, and Rainbow froze- an impressive maneuver when one is hovering in mid air. Aside from a single exception when I was six years old at the mall and my dad made the fatal mistake of taking me by a dippin’ dots stand, I have never begged anyone (or anypony) for anything. But in that moment, I gave Rainbow Dash the biggest puppy dog eyes in the history of Kate Winsor. Pretty-pretty-please-with-lots-of-frosting-and-sprinkles-with-a-cherry-on-top-oh-bestest-friend-forever-
“Alright, alright… sheesh. What would anypony do without me around here.” She grumbled. As Fluttershy returned to the sink to clean her hoofs once more, Dash whispered loudly in my ear. “Luna’s pockmarked flank! You said you were kidding about the basement.”
“I thought I was kidding!” I hissed back, equally unsettled by the information.
“You don’t think she has whips and latex down there-“ Dash’s conspiratorial whisper was a bit too loud.
“Um, some of both, actually.” Fluttershy answered the question as she nestled in my lap again, rethreading the needle. “I’d never use the whips to harm an animal of course, that would be horrible.“ She shuddered at the thought. “The cracking sound is more than enough to scare away a pack of feral timber-wolves if they stray too far from the Everfree. I also have latex booties for cleaning.” Dash seemed a little too interested, snickering at my discomfort.
“What else you got in there?”
“Oh not too much, just the usual stuff, though most of it’s only for emergencies.” She took in a deep breath when Dash insisted, “Um, it’s kinda boring, but if you really want to know: lots of different restraints made of different materials and sizes, clamps, muzzles, microscopes, all three main types of syringes in various sizes and measurements, clothespins, chains, red bouncy balls with adjustable straps that make it easier for pegasi and earth ponies to throw, spikey horseshoes for climbing, a couple of hamster wheels, attachable weights for physical therapy, blindfolds and earmuffs for nocturnal little animals in loud environments, a tofu-turkey baster, and a copy of Alicorn Shrugged.”
“Alicorn… Shrugged?” I asked, more than a little overloaded.
“Mhm. I love Princess Cadance’s writing. Her dissection of ancient Draconic dystopia through the lens of modern objectivism is unparalleled.”
“Well uh, who doesn’t love dystopia?” Dash noted flippantly, making a valiant attempt to look like she wasn’t still working out the meaning of ‘unparalleled.’
After holding the blunt end of the newly threaded needle in her mouth for a moment, Fluttershy released it into an upturned hoof; the previously loose thread was tightly tied. I stared at the feat aghast; Rainbow plopped to the floor, her wings rising to attention. You know that flighty blonde girl at sorority parties- well, flightier- blonde girl at sorority parties, the one who’s always showing off how she can tie a cherry stem in a knot with her tongue? Fluttershy would have eaten her alive- er, so to speak.
“Um, are you both ready?”
I grunted and put my hands above my head. Dash pinned my arms, the grin on her face indicating she was enjoying the poetic reversal of our previous situation a little more than she should have. While I tried not to watch Fluttershy work, some part of me couldn’t help it. It hurt, the first couple passes, but at some point the pain gave away to a much baser burning in my gut that compacted every time her tongue made contact with skin, a feeling I tried desperately to write off as anxiety.
Looking away was almost impossible. Her movements were hypnotic and methodical, yet maddeningly precise: Brush… pull… brush… pull… After what felt like hours- it was much more likely seconds- I hissed as her tail flicked my upper thigh; it was a mannerism I’d noticed previously, a sort of nervous tick that came out when she was intently focused.
She paused, her sympathetic eyes filled with concern. “Sorry! Too fast? I can stop if you want me to stop.” From the way Dash was turning red, I assumed I wasn’t the only one who heard another meaning in the words. Honestly, I almost lost it at that moment, only calming down after I tested her grip. A competitive leer crossed Dash’s face as she tightened it in response
“Keep going… I’ll be fine.” As Fluttershy moved back down I felt a simultaneous lurching impulse, one that was both embarrassing and incredibly out of place for someone in the process of getting stitches. “On second thought, could you pass me that towel?”
On the outskirts of Ponyville:
Tonight’s the night. Six years, and I’ve finally come full circle. A lone pony stood at the crest of the hill, taking in the rustic vista with a sigh of giddy anticipation. Adjusting her hat carefully, the blue unicorn looked up at the sun and smiled wickedly. Judging from its position in the sky, it was high noon. If she hurried, there would be just enough time to make preparations. So much to do, so little time, she mused. Tonight, she would overcome the fear, the anxiety, and the dignity that had been stolen away from her.
The first months of training had been hard, brutal even: Her pilgrimage through the Neighponese mountains alone had taken months; locating the temple of the Howlin Monks had taken almost the entire year following her downfall.
As a group that was almost mythical for its expertise in the arcane arts, she had expected it to consist primarily of unicorns; it was an assumption that couldn’t have been more off base. Climbing a thousand steps only to find Diamond Dogs: Go figure. The initial disappointment had been as short-lived as the first encounter itself.
The long, stone hallway was as empty as it was vast, dead silent, its only inhabitants sitting cross-legged on either side. Murals covered the concave ceiling, murals of canines fighting alongside an ancient civilization of ponies the unicorn had never seen.
“What do you seek?” The meek question came from the shadows to her right.
Trixie spun, looking for the source of the voice. The diamond dog was smaller than average, just barely taller than her. Considering how heavily the dog was leaning on his cane, it wasn’t a particularly impressive first impression.
“Whatever I’m looking for, I don’t think it’s here…” Speaking about herself in the third person had grown tiresome in Equestrian, before the language barrier had even become an issue. Referring to herself as ‘Trixie’ didn’t sound nearly as inspiring without the ‘great and powerful’ prefix, one she had refused to use after her disgrace. Not to mention, her knowledge of the Neighponese dialect wasn’t nearly fluent enough to attempt said feat of language.
“An answer cannot be given if the question is uncertain. For many years we have followed in his footsteps, searching for truth in the teaching of the great one who came to us years ago.”
“And you follow the teachings of this ‘great one?’”
The dog had nodded somberly, an oddly equine expression. “Once, we served as simple guardians, protecting the secrets of this place from all who came before. In his quest for unity, The Great One opened our eyes, showed us our true calling. Since that day, we have faithfully followed the words of the great master who cannot be seen, transcribing the words of a voice which cannot be heard unless it is called.”
“I seek the old magic- the path to true power.” Trixie had snapped. “Not fanatical mutterings and riddles in the gloom.”
“Have you considered the cost of such an endeavor?”
With a sigh, the unicorn sat down, her legs still quivering from the climb as she retrieved a small pouch from her saddlebags. The pouch was dishearteningly light. “All I have left is a few dozen Equestrian bits along with a couple of bars.”
“Be that as it may-” His sightless eyes studied her, unblinking. “I will ask once more. Have you considered the cost?” The emphasis on the last syllable was unmistakable, so much so the unicorn felt the hackles on the back of her neck rising, the humidity entirely forgotten as a chill ran down her spine.
“I have.” She hadn’t, she would realize later. Not even close. “The path that led me here has already taken a toll- I’m no longer the same mare I was when I took the first step. If you hold the answers I seek, then I am willing to learn.” She hesitated for a moment. “No matter the price.”
The monk extended his arms to his sides. Though the movement was slow, his body had previously retained such a motionless serenity that the slow gesture was almost startling. The unicorn watched him, wary.
“If you will not be dissuaded with words, then strike me.” The challenge was absurd enough to knock Trixie completely out of the trance-like state the monk’s previously cryptic speech had lulled her into.
“You want me to attack you- with magic?” she asked, incredulous.
“Hoofs or horn, either choice will lead to the same outcome.” While the proposition was ridiculous, Trixie was becoming more than a little fed up with the monk’s condescending babble. Her dignity as a performer was damaged beyond repair, but her pride as a unicorn was still intact. She wouldn’t overdo it; her opponent was a blind, older looking diamond dog after all; a simple stun spell would suffice. Her horn glowed brightly, magic taking form as quickly as it always had. She lowered her head and launched the spell directly at the Monk’s midsection. The smug smile was wiped off her face the second she looked up. The monk had flipped his staff horizontally, catching the spell with a gem encrusted at the top of his staff. Trixie backed away in fear as the captured glow grew in intensity, becoming increasingly brighter. She gathered magic, mind still in shambles on what to cast.
The monk frowned. “Lesson one: Indecision breeds downfall.”
“What- GUH!“ Trixie flew back as her own bolt struck her squarely in the chest, impacting with exponentially more force than it had originally retained. The sudden change to outdoor lighting brought a single realization to her mind. “Oh BUCK me not the stairs.”
There are many unwritten rules in the universe, rules that she innately knew to be true. On any given day: water ran downstream, alicorns were immortal, ponies will always steal from unattended apple trees, and Trixie -great and powerful or otherwise- simply. Did. Not. Bounce.
‘It would appear that laws were made to be broken,’ she mused. Or rather, that was what she mused about musing, much later on. At that particular moment, her thoughts were more along the lines of ‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH-‘
Her first impact had landed her somewhere between the fifth and tenth stair from the top. Oh how she had whined, tears welling in her eyes. However, that was the first impact, and as she experienced the second (located somewhere between stair seventeen and nineteen), she suddenly found herself reminiscing fondly on her memories of the first. The first had only hurt her out of necessity, gravity and whatnot. It didn’t hate her, unlike the second.
The sound of a cracking rib on the third impact served as an audible exclamation point for the following epiphany: The second bounce hadn’t actually hated her! It had only hurt her because it cared.
Her bouncing finally ceased somewhere between the five-hundred-and-fourth and five-hundred-and-second step from the top, Its ending accompanied by a long moment of silence. As it was a particularly ‘live’ step that been kind enough to stop her, the sound reverberated off the stone when she finally opened her mouth, carrying across the Neighponese mountains for miles: There were no words to describe the sad noise that escaped her lips: partially due to its nature of being a sound pathetic beyond description, and partially because it also seemed to be strangely open to interpretation:
A particularly superstitious rice farmer who heard the cry looked up with a start, her pointy wicker hat falling away as she searched the sky for the prophesied four riders of the alpacalypse.
Likewise, a soldier who heard the sound mistook it for a familiar mewling, a sure sign that his superiors had gone too far in questioning with one of the local Pandas. He moodily pondered the ethical implications of torture: ‘does the end really justify the means?’
Lastly, a buzzard of particularly ill repute heard the noise and flew off towards it hastily with an evil giggle, unable to believe his luck- What were the chances of snacking on not one, but two quadriplegic orphaned baby bunnies in one day?
Indeed, there probably wasn’t another creature in Equestria capable of making that noise- though on the off-chance there did so happen to be a tortured, supernatural-quadriplegic-hybrid-baby-panda-bunny-orphan out there, it was probably more than a little pissed that in spite of all its hardship, it wasn’t even getting points for originality anymore. Said creature’s existence would also prove the previously unfathomable possibility that something out there was actually in the process of having a worse day than Trixie.
Trixie smiled at the memory fondly. That tumble down Howlin’ temple’s steps had been the first of many. The stairs had grown on her like a gaggle of affluent and domestically abusive friends- with every bruise came the gift of knowledge, while every broken bone and dislocated appendage built character. Granted there were downsides, mainly the ever growing catalogue of bruises, broken bones, and dislocated appendages.
Throughout the ordeal, she didn’t always stand back up immediately. Sometimes she cried, sang a hymn, or stared blankly up into the sky- once she even peed a little. But she never retreated a step below the one she landed on. The Howlin’ Monks held true power, every rebounded spell that hit her only cementing that resolve, dissuading her doubts to the contrary. Finally landing a spell on the monk ranked among her most cherished moment.
That hadn’t been the end of it, oh no. That had been the beginning. Her globetrotting journey had taken her through the Zaharan plains, the seedy back alleys of Prance, across the great wastes of the lesser Draconic isles, and into the very heart of Stalliongrade to name only a paltry few.
She had learned from the greatest magical minds in the world: present, past, and once even from the future. She had rode into conflicts between nations, made dear friends, bitter enemies, and lost a few of both to tragedy. She fell in and out of love with ponies both familiar and exotic before finding her soulmate, a pony unlike any other. Her performing had greatly improved; a chance encounter with an alluring voice teacher in an otherwise forgettable town awakened a love for music that Trixie had spent years totally oblivious to. Music led her to a new title, a new name she herself rarely spoke of, one that graced the tongue of only the most foolish or daring of souls, and was never uttered more loudly than a whisper- Bellatrix the bard, mare of myth; A meddling master manipulator who had allegedly wrought entire nations to their knees. Granted, the rumors of ‘Bellatrix’s’ exploits had been greatly exaggerated: She had only brought one nation to its knees, and even that had been one part luck, two parts gargantuan misunderstanding.
When the town finally came into view, Trixie felt her heart leap into her throat, pulse racing wildly. The feeling was ridiculous. After everything she’d been through, this step should have been small potatoes; As a matter of fact, she had almost talked herself out of coming. Why even make the effort? After everything she’d been through, visiting a backwards little town in the middle of nowhere should have been completely insignificant.
… Yet it wasn’t insignificant. It never could be. Humble as it was, this was the town that broke her, the town from which she emerged reborn. This was where it all began. Returning here was more than a simple refrain, it marked the end of a journey- a concurrent funeral and christening: the death of a magician and true birth of something better. She levitated the flyer in her hoofs, looking it over carefully as she’d done a thousand times before
The invitation background held the appearance of shimmering navy silk, giving off just the right air of frivolity and enigma. Everything was perfect. There had been a huge turnout last time for the one-upping braggart she used to be. Assuming nothing had really changed, this turnout would be massive. Using her real name was risky, though not as risky as it might have seemed: Ponyville was particularly insulated, while the name “Bellatrix” was most infamous in international hotspots. Judging from past experience, she would have been surprised if anypony recognized the name this far out in the country. Even if they did, what kind of ‘master manipulator’ puts on a show for free?
The thought of torching Ponyville to the ground, laughing maniacally as the ponies responsible for so much of her pain finally received their just desserts had admittedly been a recurring fantasy. However, it was a fantasy that had faded with time, and also been seriously blunted from the experience of being in a town that was torched, and watching as the villain laughed maniacally. Trixie also knew, albeit from a much more personal experience that revenge was pointless, leaving nothing but emptiness in its wake.
In truth, the only nefarious part of her plan was the very fact that it wasn’t nefarious in the slightest. It was simple; under the guise of a magic musical storytelling extravaganza, she would perform magic, play music, and tell stories. There would be laughter, tears, and finally- glorious applause. After said victory, she would smile and take a bow, silently bidding adieu to Ponyville forever as the modest firework show she’d prepared exploded overhead. It was a personal victory, simple, perhaps even a little cliché. But it would be her cliché.
The first house on the outskirts of town was a cottage, its exterior brimming with an impressive variety of wildlife, almost littered with birdhouses. For a moment, her courage faltered. What if… what if they remember me? Removing a mirror from her bag, she looked herself over carefully, the first glance almost completely allaying her fears. The pony who looked back from the mirror was almost a stranger. Her face was gaunter than before, a side effect of strenuous activity and time spent on the move. Her silver mane was swept back, casually cascading behind her ears to just below her shoulders. An ugly scar ran just below her eye, but more significant were the eyes themselves; purple had given way to a luminescent tint of silver, a shade not dissimilar from the tint of her hair- It was the hardest change to accept, as it served as a constant reminder of- well, that’s a story for another time.
The garb had experienced almost as drastic a change, foalish star patterns on the hat and cloak had been replaced with shimmering dark navy alternatives. The various patterns, nature, and origin of the new hat and cape held a great degree of significance-
A tell-tale rub from a certain fuzzball brought a smile to her lips. The scarlet tabby rubbed against her reassuringly, vying for her attention. Replacing the mirror in her bag, she knelt down, completely unconcerned with dirtying her appearance. Bard and Tabby regarded each other quietly, tired souls basking in each other’s company. Trixie stroked the cat’s ears affectionately.
“You know, I hadn’t seen you since the trip back home, old friend. I was beginning to worry you weren’t going to make it at all. Yes, I know you always land on your feet and whatnot, but last time was different.”
Herring meowed inquisitively, as if to ask the unicorn what exactly she was doing in the middle of somepony’s front yard.
“Hesitating, of course. It’s the first step of the last step. You know me, I always choke at the critical moment.”
“Meow, meow meow meow.” The scarlet cat retorted, rolling its eyes.
“Ironic insult coming from you, old friend. You’re right though, I’m being a bit of a… -coward. Thanks for the push.” A few steps up the path Trixie stopped, turning back to the tabby. “Stick around while I pass these silly things out, if there’s time before the big show I’ll treat you to dinner.”
Trixie smiled. Things were going much better than she could have hoped for. The unusual optimism lasted a whole of thirty seconds. She raised a fore hoof to knock on the cottage door, and froze. Something unnatural was going on in the house, the mana was faint, almost twisted. There was a hidden taint to the undercurrent; more notable in its subtlety, as such raw power was rarely so thoroughly suppressed. I’ve felt a stronger version of this before… but where?
“Do you love me, Trixie?”
Her eyes shot open.
Aphrodimane was meant to have been banished to Taurtarus for eternity, locked forever in its ninth circle. Trixie snarled, crouched low as she circling around to the window, her previously lightly clicking hoofs now completely silent. Many of her encounters were littered with close calls, but the hunt for Aphrodimane had been particularly harrowing. She had paid far too high of a toll in blood for the demon to simply escape through some metaphysical loop hole. Why is it deities never seem to keep their promises-
As there hadn’t been some sort of cosmic double-cross, loophole, or cheat that had resulted in the rebirth of goddess “screw Trixie over in every way possible,” Trixie should have been jumping for joy, offering up apologies to the various deities whose names she’d been mixing in to a rapid-fire stream of obscenities. However, the reality of the situation was far too baffling for said niceties. She could only conclude that in her haste, she’d stumbled upon some sort of twisted sexual rite. Her view from the side window obscured the more explicit details, but the motion and positioning was suggestive enough for her to fill in the blanks.
Two ponies were holding something down. Its hands and feet were slightly reminiscent of the diamond dogs, but that single similarity was where the parallel ended. It’s face was covered in white blanket or towel, a touch she assumed was meant to create sensory deprivation. She recalled the the pony facing the window all too well as ‘Rainbow Smash,’ a cyan pegasus who was hovering and holding down the creature’s upper body. At least, she assumed it was its upper body, considering what the other pony appeared to be doing from her current angle, pink mane bobbing steadily up and down.
Okay, bizarre, bestial, magic sex rite. Ponyville is pretty far out in the country after all, it could be worse-
The yellow pegasus turned and grabbed a tissue, giving Trixie an extremely enlightening side profile, as well as an excellent angle to watch as the pegasus dabbed blood off her muzzle.
Oh. Good. Pony-Carnivores. Much better than ‘magical sex rite.’ Also, I’ve definitely not seen her around before. Maybe she’s new.
Pega-nibbles didn’t really seem like the sort of pony that would enjoy a magic musical extravaganza that didn’t touch on cannibalism, and since as far as Trixie was concerned Rainbow Smash wasn’t worth the possibility of pissing off Pega-nibbles, she slunk away from the house diagonally in a stealthy scoot. Herring had disappeared, naturally, which left the unicorn with only one logical source of action:
That logical source of action being to pace the road furiously and talk to herself
Celestia’s flank, this is the Smirk Society all over again with bigger mice. And what did we learn from that experience Trixie? Pony carnivores always run in a pack, meaning that while you might be able to take those two pegasi down, a whole bunch of angry unicorns could come out of the woodwork. Maybe it’s always been a Ponyville thing? That would explain a lot, ‘Hi, we generally don’t like traveling performers but we’d love to have you over for dinner.’ Engaging would be a bad tactical decision, casting has been under the weather since that stupid dragon attacked my train. Seriously! What kind of dragon attacks a train? Go bug a treasury or high end jewelry store or something equally shiny like a normal flying lizard. But NO, you have to go for the passenger train with a car full of school-fillies and a SINGLE competent unicorn. ‘Oh, I know, I’ll just pretend like I’m going to fry the kindergartners and then hover out of range of the windows, so when that ONE competent unicorn is forced to climb up and attempt to launch spells from the top of a moving train, I can LAUGH. Hur-de-dur-de-dur.’ Bucking dragons. Okay, come on Bellatrix, concentrate. Obviously leaving now would be the smart thing, personal closure and whatnot being slightly lower on the list of priorities than not being an order on the menu. I’d rather live with regrets than nibble scars. But if I leave, what happens to that thing? Obviously it stays on the endless quick weight loss program with Pega-nibbles. Maybe it’s already dead. No, not dead, definitely saw it squirming. Didn’t seem particularly alarmed at the nether-nibbling either, which could be a bad sign of blood-loss. Well wait, maybe it wants to be eaten, like those colorful weird-flank demons in Bangkolt. Come on Trix make a decision, at a bit of a crossroads here. Oh look! How bucking funny! I’m pacing on a literal crossroad while at a metaphorical crossroads, Thank Luna’s flank for that-
“Is she… breathing?” The chariot flyer asked in an irritatingly high pitched voice. A member of the royal guard nuzzled the unicorn gently before pressing an outturned ear to her heart.
“Ah’m sorry to say Sideswipe, but Ah think you just killed a pony.”
“Oh no!” The pegasus hid his face behind his wings dramatically. “Is there any possibility the fright of near collision just scared her to death?”
“Nooope. Ah think it was the landing on her head that did it. Well. Either that or these here tire tracks on her tummy. One or the other, ah don’t rightly think she had time to be scared to death.”
“This is too cruel- How can I live with all this guilt?” Sideswipe knelt down, distraught, cradling the blue unicorn in his arms.
“Uh- well how’d ya live with all the other guilt?”
“I’ve never done anything this detestable before.” He sniffed.
“Ah’m sorry to bring this up Sideswipe, but you do ‘member that elderly mare with the walker last week, right?”
“Eeeeeeeeeeeeh. Not ringing a bell.”
“Oh, you know the one with a brown coat and blue mane?”
“You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“… The one that smelled like peach preservatives and liquid fear?”
“Oh, HER. No, that was a different issue altogether.”
“Care to ‘splain how?”
“I totally had the right of way.” Sideswipe shrugged. “This though, is truly reprehensible. Luna have mercy on her soul.”
“WE MAKE NO PROMISES FOR YOURS.”
Princess Luna’s mannerisms had slowly begun to normalize over the last couple of years, assuming certain pre-requisites were maintained: One being sleep, the other being general staff competence. Needless to say, both were in rather short supply- practically nonexistent. Unfortunately for Sideswipe, Luna’s lapse into use of the Royal Canterlot voice was only a result of being improperly addressed by a guard and awoken prematurely, along with the innate crankiness that came as a package deal with the several thousand healing paper-cuts. When she caught sight of the crumpled form of the pony in Sideswipe’s arms, her eyes widened furiously, voice slipping further into archaic.
“DIDST THOU ACTUALLY KILL A PONY?”
“Uh- it was an accident?”
“DIDST THOU AIM FOR SAID PONY?”
“She- uh, she jumped in front of me!” Placing the unicorn on the ground, Sideswipe cowered, backing away. “Gavenstein you saw it right?” the pegasus whined pleadingly.
“Ah’m sorry to say Sideswipe, Ah did not see that pony jump in front of you, mkay? Ah saw her walkin’ a tiny little circle in the middle of the street, lookin’ all sorts of conflicted. Then ah saw her lookin’ all squished like on the other side.”
Luna’s gaze turned slowly back to Sideswipe. “DIDST THOU… just lie… to thy princess?”
“No! I mean yes! I mean no!”
The Princess of the night glared daggers as her horn glowed and she directed her hoof to the ground, seeming to tear a black hole in the fabric of reality itself. “Hello little ones.” A thousand pairs of yellow eyes opened in the endless darkness, their light the only sources of illumination in the otherwise endless darkness. A throng of voices greeted the princess with happy hissing voices. “I apologize for the rude awakening, I wasn’t particularly appreciative of it myself. However such is life. At the moment, I find myself dealing with a problem pegasus.” Luna smiled at the cacophony of sympathetic hisses. “Indeed, his carelessness cost the life of a pony, after which he lied to his Princess. Would you be so kind as to take care of him, until Princess Celestia can see to his sentencing?”
Murmers of “Neeeew friiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeend” rose up from the darkness.
“Indeed. Thank you all.” Without further ado, Sideswipe was tossed into the hole of darkness, the gateway resealed before a single nasally whine could escape.
“Why oh why must I be surrounded by such incompetence.” Luna rubbed her forehead with a hoof.
“Uh, Ah was kinda wonderin’ that too.” Gavenstein observed.
“Well, usually – uh – you princesses go out with two guards, and two pegasuses. But this time you only took me an’ Sideswipe, and Ah don’t mean to talk bad about anypony, mmkay? But Sideswipe wasn’t exactly the sharpest crayon in the cookie cutter, if ya get my meanin’?”
Luna groaned, picking up the broken unicorn sadly. “I’m guessing they didn’t inform the reserve. Ninety percent of the Royal Guard is buried in paperwork.
“Uh- Couldn’t they take a break?
“No, as in they’re literally buried in paperwork.”
“That sounds kinda’ bad.”
“That’s why we’re here. To try and locate the anomaly.”
“Ah see. Uh, Princess Luna? Ah’m really sorry to say, Ah know Sideswipe wasn’t the best pony... and probably deserved to be thrown in an endless pit of darkness with a bunch of scary glowin’ eyes and all that, but how are we gonna’ get back without nopony to take the carriage?
“It's fine, I'm more than capable of flying myself back.” Luna flapped hers nonchalantly, still studying the unicorn with a frown.
“Oh.” The earth pony looked down unhappily. “Ah s’pose I can just walk then. Only a couple hundred miles or so-
“Ponyville has a train-station. More importantly, Gavenstein, do you know this mare?”
“Well I saw her once before, then after a thud and a bump I saw her again, ‘cept she didn’t look quite as lively.”
“I know for a fact that I’ve memorized the faces of everpony in ponyville. Either she’s very new or was just passing through. But I definitely know her from somewhere.” Luna lifted the unicorn’s limp body into the air and watched as her horn began to glow.
“Eh, Princess Luna? What are you doin with lil’ blue?”
“Preparing to cast a recollection spell. It will let me sift through her memories and identify the location of her family, so we can pay proper respects.”
“Oh, I’ve heard’a those, mah brother calls ‘em ‘truth laser’ spells
“Well, it follows the same basic principle, but you wouldn’t want to use this spell on a live pony.”
“While this spell allows for the most thorough gleaning of memories, it’s extremely invasive. If you used it on a live pony, it would probably turn her into a vegetable.”
“I’m not dead yet!” Trixie shrieked. Having seen the royal insignia on the wagon as it passed over her head, the unicorn had cast a spell to reduce her heart-rate and breathing. She couldn’t afford for the princess to identify her. Luna dropped the pony in surprise as Gavenstein fainted from the shock. “Sit, sit down.” Buck- I can’t outrun an alicorn. Trixie took a seat next to the princess, heart racing wildly, body still aching from the impact.
“Now, is anything broken?” Luna asked, voice far kinder than she had expected.
Just my spine- “No, I’m feeling good, all things considered.” Trixie lied.
“Tell me your name little pony, the fault was mine thus I will fly you home.”
“Oh no, that’s really not necessary.” Wait- IDEA! “Actually though, I heard screaming coming from that house over there.” She pointed a hoof at the cottage. “Really loud screaming and nashing of teeth.”
Luna’s expression turned ashen. “Coming from Fluttershy’s cottage? That is… alarming.”
“Well, I would come with you, but I have to go see a pony about a cat. Have a good day princess.”
“Wait-“ Luna picked up a flyer that had fallen out of the mare’s saddlebags, freezing when she read the text: The Ballad of Bellatrix the Bard. It couldn’t possibly be the Bellatrix the bard, could it? The pony whose name was uttered with such fervent terror throughout the dreamscape? Looking up from the flyer, Luna saw the mare hobbling, a much farther distance away than she had expected, teleporting every dozen steps or so to gain more ground. After a moment of consideration, the alicorn made her decision.
“Yes, Princess?” The Captain of the Nightguard’s appearance was near instantaneous, as always.
“I want you to keep tabs on that unicorn. Treat her like a high profile target, don’t underestimate her. If she’s who I think she is, she’ll take you down in an instant if you so much as slip.”
Mist didn’t often question orders, but neither did the princess typically advise caution. “If I may ask, who exactly is she Princess?”
“If I’m right…” Luna trailed off quietly. “She’s somepony we can’t afford to lose track of. We need to know why she’s here.”
“It will be done.”
“Er, Thanks. Thanks a lot.” I stretched, still having a hard time making eye contact with Fluttershy. Putting the towel over my head had helped before my mind starting coming up with images to match the sensations I’d been feeling, which really wasn’t much better in the long run. In a couple of moments when I lost control and my imagination went wild it was definitely more harm than help. For some odd reason I kept imagining her in striped socks.
Dash appeared to be more than a little fed up with the awkward glance-fest. “Okay, we fixed Kate, so I’m gonna go now before things get really gross.”
“…Um, thank you Rainbow Dash for the help. Kate says thank you too.”
I gave Dash the pouty look again, silently begging her to stay. “Yeah, thanks.” You know you owe me dammit, holding my arms down doesn’t count.
“Yeah, you’re welcome.” She mimicked my intonation with a half-shrug. “Gotta go!”
In a matter of moments she was gone, leaving me alone with a lot of uncomfortable feelings directed at the pegasus I was sitting next to. Traitor. I glanced at Fluttershy and she looked at her hoofs. She looked at me and I suddenly found myself enraptured with the ceiling. There was a loud crash outside that jarred me out of my stupor, some sort of heavy impact.
“I- I should probably go to.” I stood and stretched. “Studying, part-time job and stuff.”
“Oh. Okay.” She nodded in acceptance, flipping her hair, finally maintaining eye contact. A thin smile was all I could manage as I tried to hide that a certain area of my body I’m not accustomed to openly communicating with seemed to be screaming bloody murder.
“Yeah- Um, I should go.”
“Okay. You could not go… if you want. We could talk.”
My stomach flipped “Yeah. I suppose I could talk for a while.” After a moment I sat back down, pretending not to notice the slight closing of distance between us.
“Or we could not talk,” Fluttershy offered nervously, “We could just sit here and… not… talk.”
Not talking was torture. The silence was inevitably broken.
“Fluttershy?” I asked, my voice unusually husky.
“WE MAKE NO PROMISES FOR YOURS.”
Fluttershy’s pupils dilated in fear, eyes widening madly. “Oh no! Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no-“ The pegasus curled up on the couch in a panic.
Getting her to look at me was more challenging than I’d expected; she seemed very dedicated to the venture of lodging her head in the couch cushions. “Ok,” I finally managed pull her out of the cushions, falling back with her on the couch. Any thoughts towards the possibility that she was being a bit of a drama queen vanished when heard her trying hold back the hyperventilating. “This is the part where I say, Fluttershy, what’s wrong. And you say?”
“She’s here,” Fluttershy mumbled, “of all the times to visit she picks now.”
“That was her outside?” The pegasus nodded. “Well she seems kind of loud,” I noted grumpily.
“She’s getting better at her inside voice.”
“Not sure I want to hear her outsi-“ Then it hit me. “oh crap. I need to get rid of this.” I pointed to the mingle mark. “That was the deal, right? I’d get rid of it if she ever came to visit?”
“That’s what we said… butweweredrunkandIfeelreallybad.”
“No, no no. That’s totally fine. Since I have the glasses now I don’t really need it anyways, right?” The other me was talking. My own personal AI: The one who always swooped in and bottled up my emotions before they could cause any permanent damage, emptily acting the way I’d usually act without any consideration to current state of affairs. Standing up, I walked to the kitchen window, fake smile still plastered on my face. I hated it, I hated everything about it, but there was nothing to be done. I owed her, and I had promised. Betraying her trust now would be the lowest thing I could do.
“Um- Where are you going?”
“I’m going to let myself out the kitchen window so I don’t run the risk of her seeing me here.” Straddling the window carefully, I sat back for a moment, still more than a little sore. “Um, Flutters, come to think of it, how do I get rid of a mingle mark? I mean, I know the awkward way but…” I trailed off as a look of horror played across her face. “Wait. There is another way, right?”
“Maybe Twilight could work out a spell for us?” Fluttershy offered weakly.
Note to self: Magic is rarely convenient when you need it to be.
AN: Hey all. I suppose I should explain the whole ‘massive section of story from Trixie’s viewpoint thing.
It’s all Wrabbit’s fault.
Kidding, though reading his stuff was what got me interested in writing Trixie in the first place, along with a few other conversations in the comments. Basically, I promised she’d make an appearance, but I wasn’t sure exactly where to stick her in the plot. It started as a gag that got out of control; I wanted somepony to see the Rainbow/Flutters/Kate situation and misinterpret it in the worst way possible. Better yet, I thought, why not make that character kind of at the ‘end’ of her own ‘story arc,’ so you know, she gets completely derailed albeit unintentionally by Kate.
So I started writing fake Trixie... and somehow started writing actual Trixie- which in retrospect was kind of confusing. Thing is though, The only reason I put so much effort into it was I realized I quite like her. I like the idea of her traveling around the world, acquiring different skill sets, bettering herself in the process while working towards a goal, one that begins to lose meaning as she gains perspective. It wouldn’t just be an OC-fest, I’d be incorporating as many characters from the show as possible (without screwing up canon, which would probably mean leaving out the mane 6).
Let me know your thoughts. LP definitely has plenty of chapters left, but if it goes on forever it won’t be a parody anymore, I’ll be writing the same thing I’m poking fun at. I feel like Trixie has a lot of potential, so feel free to give me your opinion on how you’d like ‘Bellatrix the Bard’ as a protagonist of her own story. It would be a slightly darker comedy than LP with more dramatic elements, though there'd still be plenty of suggestive humor to go around. I laid a lot of the groundwork while I was writing this, so really the only thing that’s left is to choose between 1st/3rd person perspective. If I do go through with it, her scenes in this chapter will basically serve as an amusing flashforward.
Also, just for the record, I won’t be letting another character hijack the story again. I didn’t realize it was happening until it kind of happened, unfortunately, but I’ll be careful about that from now own
BIG big special thanks to Mr. Moniker and Meeester. So many errors cleaned up thanks to y’all, :D.
Jealousy: in many ways it is the most vile, self-centered emotion, yet it’s one that takes root before the idea of morality itself can even be contemplated. The moment a child cries in outrage that a fellow is in possession of some sort of material item she is lacking, jealousy starts to sink its tendrils deeply into her innate personality. As the child becomes more knowledgeable, she’ll eventually be taught - through repetition, if not insight – that petty material items such as toys and trinkets hold little value. For a moment, it might seem that she has evolved. The truth however, is quite the opposite; she has only acquired a larger sense of scale. The toy and trinket are no longer relevant because they are dwarfed by new, larger categories of desire, such as personal achievement and social standing.
Perhaps it would be less cruel if the truth wasn’t so backhanded: Truth being, the object is not what she is lacking. Rather she is lacking. The jealousy stems from the inherent sense of incompleteness that haunts her, the same incompleteness that I would argue haunts everyone to some degree. While it may appear to, the void it creates does not grow larger with us. Conversely, it is with age and the associated mental graduation to larger concepts that we begin to understand how expansive the void truly is. Maybe that’s why there’s such a high depression rate among prodigies and the spontaneously wealthy: Sudden understanding that attaining completion, or “winning,” will never really pan out.
Regardless of what it means on a grand scale, it leads to tendency to want what one simply isn’t going to get. Throughout most of my childhood and teenage years, it manifested as a desire to be “normal.” I never really indulged in fantasies of being a princess or a popstar; my idea of wishful thinking was a world in which I received more valentine’s day cards from guys than I did from girls. Later, instead of fantasizing about a promiscuous rendezvous on an island with a mysterious millionaire, I was more fixated on the idea of visiting an alternate reality, one where I wouldn’t inevitably wind up talking to the only bisexual female in a straight bar.
I’m mostly over it… really. The world is an imperfect place with orientationally-ignorant straight bars, problematic holidays and blah blah blah. Nonetheless, the experience of hearing somepony talk about ridiculous desires, while she unknowingly trampled mine, might have rustled my jimmies a little.
“Really Fluttershy? A frigging’ princess?” I would have face-palmed had my hands not already been preoccupied with clenching the interior pockets of my yoga pants.
Of course, Equestria! My “rival” couldn’t just be a pegasus or a unicorn – It just had to be a combination of both. Now that I think about it, thanks to Miss Oh-no-I-found-a-hurt-birdie-in-the-forest over there, I’m probably the first human made to feel inadequate for not being able to fly and spurt magic out of my head at the same time. So sorry I couldn’t have met your totally reasonable expectations Fluttershy. Had I known, I would have come to Equestria as a darkly colored alicorn. What am I even thinking; rival? Hah. Good thing i’m not into ponies… or even girls for that matter-OOF
The cycle of denial encompassing my mental process had prevented me from seeing Fluttershy rounding in front of me to take her “I-suddenly-grew-a-spine-and-have-something-to-say” pose. Thankfully, the fall backwards onto my palms was a graceful one, body barely impacting the ground while Fluttershy’s flank landed with a much-less-agile thump. I pivoted, returning to my feet in a half-turn.
“Sorry, I was in another place.” Wishing I was, anyway. I was more than a little annoyed at any number of things. When relationships start hurting too much emotionally, I can deal with it… as long as I have room to emotionally withdraw for a while and don’t have to cater to somepony else’s feelings. It was space I was sorely lacking in the current circumstances.
As one might guess, she had insisted on coming along to help explain things to Twilight… which would have been really helpful had we been able to walk in silence. It was a little tempting to resume the walk around the outskirts towards the library without addressing whatever it was she had to say. Tragically, the required renegade level for that interaction would have required maxing out my bitch-stat. So instead I crossed my arms and opted for the aloof, technically neutral response.
Fluttershy brushed the loose foliage off her flank with a flap of her wings and a dexterous twitch of the tail before turning to face me. It was still such a confusing disconnect. Tail, wings, hooves, coat, and mane all had one thing in common: they were undeniably the alien appendages of an animal. At that rare moment, I wanted nothing more than to use those elements to dehumanize her for my own comfort. But, as always, it was the eyes that damned me - those deep blue eyes that radiated with intelligence, determination, and warmth. Whatever she was, Fluttershy was no more an animal than Kate Winsor, regardless of how much easier believing the opposite would have made things.
“It’s not just because she’s a princess!” Though the eyes I found so problematic were fiery with determination, Fluttershy’s attempt to literally put her foot down was hilariously flaccid and delayed.
“Okay,” I conceded with brevity and continued to walk, hoping she would follow suit.
“Um… It’s really not.”
“Of course.” A few seconds of silence passed.
“…I’ve really put a lot of thought into it.”
“I’m sure you have.”
“Maybe I am being silly…”
Probably. I bit back the knee-jerk response and held my silence for a few minutes more, regretting it when I glanced over. Since ponies have very little talent for detecting subtlety, there was little doubt I was being a bit cold. Looking over loosened my resolve. I knew her well enough to know from the way she was staring at the ground, head drooping, Fluttershy was probably in the middle of telling herself how stupid the entire idea was, and trying to talk herself out of it.
I sighed and surrendered. “Well, what is it you like about her?”
Fluttershy’s head lifted as her face lit up. “Well… everything about her. She’s graceful… and nice… I don’t think anypony is more patient than she is… but her loud voice totally dominates whoever she’s talking to… which - maybe it’s weird - but I think that can be kinda… nice. Is it, um… weird that I like not always being in control?” she asked sheepishly.
I winced as my hand went subconsciously to my stitches, the memory of her rather intimate repair still a bit too fresh. Feeling a familiar heat rising to my cheeks, I quickly stuck it back in my pocket. “No- I mean, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with letting yourself go every once in a while.”
“Oh… That’s good.” Fluttershy looked away, obviously hiding a blush. “I think I first knew she was my special somepony when she came to visit the second time, a month after nightmare night…”
Amazingly enough, after a few minutes I actually managed to stop gritting my teeth and listen. It was one of those sickeningly sweet stories, one that would have made a regular, uninvolved person groan. For me, it was initially excruciating. Really, the “will-they-won’t-they-couple-who-occasionally-come close but keep missing each other by an inch,” sort of romance has never been my cup of tea. Post-initial nausea, I felt a slowly growing respect for Princess Luna. The fact that she had tried so hard to reconnect with modern ponies, after going through the trauma of losing everyone she had ever known, was nothing short of remarkable.
And now I’m empathizing. Wonderful.
“Nothing.” Gavenstein watched as Luna shook her head, frustrated. The atrocities committed to Fluttershy’s front door in the name of haste seemed to be in vain. A typical guard likely would have commented that Princess Luna seemed overly concerned for the well-being of a single pony when there was a larger issue at hoof, but Gavenstein was not, by any means, typical.
“Ah’m sorry to say…” The white guard-pony scrunched up his face in what he hoped was a very apologetic expression. “Ah never particularly liked Sideswipe, mmmkay? And by all rights, he probably would have wound up in a pit of blackness and eternal suffering eventually. It seems to me though... since little blue didn’t croak…”
Attempting to piece what was left of Fluttershy’s door back together, Princess Luna looked less irritable, if not slightly apologetic. “Pit of eternal suffering?! -Indeed. While I would hardly call entertaining my little ones ‘eternal suffering,’ I suppose I ought to amend my previous statement.“
Galvenstein’s hackles stood on end watching the dozens of luminescent eyes reappear when Princess Luna reopened the portal into blackness.
An excitable hiss came in reply from the conglomerate of baby bat-ponies in the darkness
Luna cleared her throat. “It seems that Mr. Sideswipe did not cause any permanent harm to a pony. So no mean-spirited pranks… I remember the last pony I left in your care was led to believe he was surrounded by demons in Tartarus.”
The intermittent hissing that came after her declaration sounded something like devilish snickers.
“You mean I’m not… actually… in Tartarus?” Sideswipe called out from the void, understandably discombobulated.
“Of course not. “ Princess Luna rolled her eyes indignantly. “I assure you, Tartarus is nowhere near as comfortable.” She reached a hoof in and stroked under the chin of the nearest inhabitant. “Nor is it populated by creatures so adorable. Isn’t that right, my little ones.”
The baby-bat ponies cooed.
“So… Can I leave now?” Sideswipe asked eagerly.
Luna frowned. It would be remiss to keep a pony incarcerated without just cause. Regardless, Sideswipe seemed like a very large liability, and she wasn’t entirely sure whether or not she wanted him “set loose” on the generally tranquil population of Ponyville. The answer was presented in the form of a tiny set of eyes which drew closer to the entrance.
“Yes, little one?” The bat-pony that had approached her was smaller than average, just a bit larger than a hoof. Adolescent bat-ponies could be active during the day, though they were instinctually nocturnal. Prior to maturity, however, younger offspring were much more sensitive to light, and had to be kept in complete darkness lest eyesight be permanently damaged. As part of her ongoing relations with the bat-ponies, Luna kept them sectioned off in a lightless habitat until they reached adolescence.
“Can we help the bad pony fly?” the filly asked. Luna tilted her head in consideration: the average bat-pony could give any Wonderbolt a run for his or her bits; flying was something their entire culture took very seriously. It wasn’t as if Sideswipe had nothing to gain from the exchange, as the pegasus had obviously slept through quite a few mornings at flight school. She noticed the care-taker bat-pony had approached from behind, nodding her consent.
“Yes, I suppose that could be helpful. He will need light to learn, but try to keep it as dim as possible. Thank you children.”
Sideswipe’s yelping complaint was succinctly cut off by the closing of the portal. Luna turned to her remaining guard, a sullen expression on her face. “Was that acceptable?”
Gavenstein gulped. “Ah’m really sorry for hoppin’ to conclusions Princess. It just looked kinda bad with the hissin glowy eyes in the pit of malevolent darkness and all.”
“Do not worry yourself, Gavenstein.” Luna looked off into the distance. “Some ponies are just destined to be misunderstood.”
“OH. Yes. Right. Let me just get out my book of super-duper convenient magic for friends who make bad decisions without consulting in the first place.” Had the nerd-rage not been so apparent, I might have actually been desperate enough to hope Twilight's library had such a book.
You know that old saying, that one bad turn deserves another? Well, obviously that’s dumb and untrue. Assuming you catch it at the onset - at the original bad turn - the smart thing to do would be turn around and come back the way you came. Assuming you don’t, however, the bad turns have a habit of turning into a slippery slope, which ends in a metaphorical sand trap.
To my credit, managing multiple relationships was kind of a new thing. Family, my cat, and a handful of typically doomed friendships had been the previous extent of my expertise. Twilight was an incredibly smart and reliable pony and friend (to some degree), yet I had stupidly kept the whole “mingle-mark of convenience” fiasco from her. Maybe I didn’t want to explain it because I still wasn’t sure where I stood on the whole thing. Maybe I was just a coward.
Needless to say, she didn’t exactly appreciate getting the abridged, last minute, “We’re kinda-screwed and need your help” version.
The situation was oddly reminiscent of marriage counseling. Fluttershy sat next to me awkwardly on the couch, while Twilight across the coffee table from us, furiously jotting notes of some sort on a clipboard with her feather pen; However, that was where all similarities ended, as I would assume that the average marriage counselor generally doesn’t look like she’s seriously considering tearing her own mane out.
After flipping through the third book related to relationship magic, Twilight released it onto the table a bit too roughly, its audible thump the proverbial pin-drop. She stared unhappily at us both. I felt my heart sink at the expression.
“Outside of infidelity… there’s no way to rid one’s self of a mingle-mark.” Twilight’s answer echoed like a death sentence. My head hit the couch with a thud.
Welp. That’s all folks. The fat lady has sung, and the knock at the door is ol’ Shylock, come to collect. Time to pick between red, green, or blue, though it won’t really matter, as everything’s going to hell regardless.
“That’s too much to ask of anypony.” Fluttershy stated quietly. I wanted to blame her, to yell, to tell her that having misgivings this far into everything was just a load of crap. Unfortunately, as good as it might feel, getting angry wasn’t going to solve anything, and… it wouldn’t change the fact that I was equally to blame.
“Nope. I promised. Not going to ruin somepony else’s fairytale just because I forgot to read the fine-print.” I crossed my leg elegantly, and rested my hands casually on my stomach. “’Shy, maybe you should go back and change into a dress? You know, in case you cross paths with the Princess before things are… settled.”
“Go. I’m fine.” I didn’t look once as I leaned back. Perhaps I couldn’t. “I’d feel more comfortable if Twilight and I talked about the rest in private.” The cushions shifted as she stood, hooves lightly clopping against the wood panel floor. While I didn’t turn, I watched her walk out of the corner of my eye, ignoring the knots forming in my stomach as Twilight gave her a half-hug and walked her to the door.
I’d been here before, too many times to count. Even disguised with a new key and tempo, it was still the same song, hundredth verse. Granted, the usual circumstances were reversed, but the quiet, bitter parting was all-too-familiar. Exchanging of pleasantries aside, the idea of spending time at Fluttershy’s had, at some point, become painful. The new perspective brought up uncomfortable parallels. Losing friends had only truly hurt in the beginning. As I grew older I had stopped emotionally investing, and with the onset of my trademark cynicism, perhaps I started seeing the end of every new relationship as inevitable failure.
Did I bring it all on myself?
The reality was, I had mistaken much of Fluttershy’s kindness for flirting. And in a similar fashion I had allowed things to escalate, asking for clarity far too late.
And now, you’re seeing the other side of it. Tell me Kate, while you’re wallowing in self-pity. Ever wonder if it stung like this for Allie?
Flashing back to that to my last night on earth wasn’t exactly pleasant, as it highlighted details I’d tried to forget. I knew previously that she indulged the vice every once in awhile, but never to the point of the chain-smoking I witnessed on the snow-strewn roof. The significance of the gaunt cheekbones, empty eyes, unzipped coat, and protruding ribs was magnified to the point of being unbearable. Allie was smart: She wasn’t a hopelessly romantic idiot who’d try to steal kisses in the night on a mere whim. If she did… it would have been out of desperation.
How many longing glances, indications of interest, and obvious signs of attraction had I ignored, simply because I didn’t want to see them?
How many times could I have clarified things before they spiraled out of control?
The moment Twilight shut the door behind her and walked back over, everything fell to pieces: the quiet, cold façade I’d maintained dissipating as quickly as it had been constructed.
I must have looked rather pathetic, as my appearance seemed to pull the cork on Twilight’s anger.
“I… I see.” She grimaced. “I may not be the standing authority on relationships, but you could say I’m the reigning expert on all things unrequited.” A box of tissues was levitated onto my lap, as Twilight retook her seat across the table.
“It’s allergies.” I assured her numbly.
“Uhuh. That explains the red eyes… though not the timing.” She teased gently. Taking a single tissue begrudgingly, I blew my nose before attempting coherent speech.
“I don’t suppose you have cookies…”
Cookies really do make everything better. It is true that some things are simply too far-gone to be fixed: Smallville’s continuity, Mel Gibson’s career, and the regretful day Stephanie Meyer was born, just to name a few. Regardless, they at least numb the process. Whether you’re smoothing over angst and differences with a purple unicorn, or choosing between the electric chair and lethal injection, cookies help. Especially the slightly undercooked doughy chocolate chip variety.
“You’re kidding. Princess Celestia really caught you sneaking around the castle in latex?” I sniggered, munching on the last cookie.
Twilight put up her hoofs defensively, talking with her mouth half full. “To my credit, the material of the outfits totally wasn’t my idea.”
“Yup!” The burst of childish giggles subsided all too quickly, as Twilight’s face grew serious. “Kate… I don’t want to push you, but the princess could be here any minute now. Whatever you want to do, you need to decide.”
“I know, I know.” I held onto the mirthful moment as long as possible, not wanting to return to the issue at hand. “I’m going to do it.” My hands gripped the table tightly. Twilight watched thoughtfully as I worked myself into something that resembled determination.
What I had said as a backhanded statement to Fluttershy was true, none the less. Everything she’d told me about her and Luna’s relationship, far-fetched or not, seemed almost stupidly destined to be. Even if I hadn’t promised, just by being the right person in the wrong place, I had derailed the situation; I wasn’t about to go back on my word and watch it become a train wreck. Of course, honor and nobility only goes so far.
“Um. Which kind of just leaves the question of ‘who.’”
Twilight levitated the feather pen idly in the air, rotating it thoughtfully. “You know… if it was for research-”
“No.” My answer was almost reflexive. Twilight dropped the pen and glared, her cheeks turning rosy.
“Sorry, I forgot somepony has a pegasus kink.”
“What- lies!” I sputtered.
She raised an eyebrow. “Exhibit one: the drunken mingle-mark incident with Fluttershy.”
“Exhibit two” she interrupted, “Your ongoing interest in Ditzy Doo.”
“Exhibit three: the feather altercation with Rainbow Dash.” She examined her hoof with a borderline haughty expression. “Have I made my point?” Admittedly, when she put it that way there did seem to be a bit of a trend.
“Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, Prosecutor Sparkle.” I replied glibly. The stern, unamused look told me she wasn’t going to drop it. “Okay, for one thing, the only reason I was asking around about Ditzy was for Dinky’s sake, as a T.A. And Rainbow…” I shook my head, “It may sound like my go-to excuse, but that really was a big misunderstanding.“
“From what I’ve seen, misunderstanding could quite possibly be your special talent.” Twilight observed.
“So the lack of interest in me isn’t because you prefer pegasi over unicorns.” She concluded cheerfully. “Care to elaborate?”
I groaned, tossing one of the couch cushions in her general direction. It was effortlessly caught by a field of magic and tossed back at me, bouncing off of my head. The chances of her “letting it go” seemed to be very unlikely.
“Do I really need to bring up what happened with the… horn… thing?” I inquired. Twilight dropped her gaze, becoming very interested in the condition of her hoofs. “Right. Even though nothing really happened, it’s still awkward to think about. Taking that into account, along with the fact that you’ve had my back since the beginning… using you as a temporary solution would just be wrong…”
The unicorn nodded thoughtfully. “I get why it’d have to be temporary, seeing how you’re still confused about Fluttershy.”
There’s that word again, Kate: “confused.” I can’t believe I’m actually having this conversation. Then again, it’s hard to fathom that I’m considering this at all. I rubbed the bridge of my nose, current headache growing more due to the ongoing complications than the ever-present magical pressure.
“After the whole feather fiasco, I think it’s safe to say Dash is out of the question.”
Twilight’s face scrunched up in thought. “What about Rarity?”
“That would be asking a lot from Fluttershy’s best friend. Not to mention she’s a romantic.” I noted, not without irony. “Romantics don’t do one night stands.”
Neither do you, idiot.
Frustrated, I stretched out sideways on the couch, plopping a pillow on my head. “The specifics are ridiculous. Not only would it have to be somepony who was okay with a temporary arrangement, – which I’m not even sure I’m okay with – she would also have to be completely honest about it. Really, we’d literally have an easier time finding a needle in a haystack.” I peered at Twilight quizzically from under the pillow. “Unless there’s some off chance you might conveniently miscast a spell and create our perfect pony?”
She glared at me. “I’m not sure why everypony seems to find ‘gifted‘ synonymous with ‘accident-prone.’
I winced. “You get that alot?”
Twilight huffed, shifting irritably in her chair. “Tell one story about how you might have accidentally transformed your parents into cacti and become the permanent scapegoat for every magical anomaly ever – wait a minute!” She tapped her forehooves together excitedly, obviously on to something.
“You’re worried that even if a pony were to accept a temporary arrangement, she might be secretly hoping for more?”
I nodded, not quite following her line of thought. “Yeah. Fixing this mess with Flutters would be rather pointless if it still hurt anypony else.”
“You mean anypony besides yourself?” she noted, annoyingly perceptive.
“Pfft. I’ll be fine.” The knee-jerk reaction felt as shallow as it sounded.
“Uhuh. Well, that load of horsefeathers aside, I think I may have your ‘needle in the haystack,’ as you so… aptly put it.” Twilight put a hoof to her mouth thoughtfully. “Integrity is something she’s known for, though I can’t speak for how she feels about the… um… other thing.” The confidence in her voice gave me a glimmer of hope, a precious few moments before it was thoroughly dashed.
“Really? Who did you have-“
And then I saw it. The trap I had so stupidly set for myself.
More than anything else, I needed a pony who wouldn’t lie. The problem was, though they were generally less self-centered, ponies seemed very similar to humans, from a psychological standpoint.
Therefore, it’s probable that almost everypony lies…
almost everypony lies…
“Oh HELL no!”
I am not an alcoholic.
It’s often a statement partially true, partially false, and entirely impossible to argue either way. If it’s said aloud, the statement itself is practically self-incriminating, immediately interpreted as denial. If it goes without saying; well, at least she knows she has a problem.
Well it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, since I knew for a fact I wasn’t in denial. Idly sipping the fifth strawberry daiquiri of the afternoon, I became increasingly disappointed at the utter lack of a buzz. Yes, daiquiris are generally a girly drink, but the spa daiquiris were spectacularly impotent. On the official scale of all things girly, the drinks would have been right at home at The Little Mermaid’’s end of the scale, directly opposite ofThe Hunger Games. My head thumped gently against the mini-bar.
God I miss TV.
Satisfied to contemplate anything other than the problem at hand, my thoughts started drifting in the direction of home. In retrospect, allowing said turn was probably a mistake, as I’d been repressing thoughts of home for a while. There were the big things like my cat, the internet, and the familiarity of my apartment. The rest was funny in a sad sort of way as there was a host of silly things I missed I never really expected to.
For instance, I rarely call my dad. It has nothing to do with his total lack of flowers and sunshine, he’s just not much of a phone person. At most I would call a couple of times a year, usually on holidays I couldn’t make it home. It wasn’t always that way. There’s just something inherently sad about talking to a person who sounds like he’s forcing a happy tone for your benefit. And who knew I’d actually miss volunteer work? It’s something I started during my junior year of high-school, as advisors said it would help me look “active” in my community on paper for future college applications. Yet six years later, I’d stuck with it. It’s not altruism, not really; if anything, its habit. I guess good habits can occasionally be as hard to break as bad ones.
Then the biggest tragedy of all struck me. The dagger in fate’s smile. Rustling through my makeshift calendar in a panic, my knuckles turned white.
Yes Kate, as of today you did indeed miss the entire new season of Breaking Bad.
Sure, I could torrent it. No, it simply wasn’t the same. Had I been slightly drunker, or even drunk in the slightest, I might have given the spa ponies a show, maybe breaking a few glasses in an indignant, pirouetting, existentialist outcry before I inevitably ended up face down in the hot-tub. At my current (read: nonexistent) level of intoxication, the best I could manage was a poignant sigh; a multi-purpose sigh to boot, as it was - in part - a query for the nearest spa pony to ensure my drained chalice ranneth over, renewed once more.
I know, I know, at this point, you’re probably fed up with the current stagnate of my activities and more interested in the what, where and why:
What happened to the indomitable Kate Winsor from before? Where did she go; the girl who once suavely slung snarky sidelong snippets of subtle sarcasm and searing satirical soliloquies, once susceptible solely to sub-par stitching or speeding baby unicorns? Why has she been reduced to this meditative mess of miasmic myopia which manages to mask all meaning methodically, rendering her both redundantly reflective and anarchically alliterative?
In a word: waiting.
In three words: dread drenched waiting.
It had been three hours since Twilight Sparkle - full-time friend, part-time harbinger of imminent doom – had assumed control of the situation, bossily ordering me to stay put in the library whilst she explained the somewhat convoluted circumstances to Applejack. Not having to explain it was something I took no issue with. In all honesty, the, “I’m-not-interested-n-anything-long-term-but-could-we-maybe-you-know-do-it-once-so-I-can-get-rid-of-your-friend’s-mingle-mark-from-our-fake-relationship-because-princess-broody-is-in-town-and-Fluttershy-wants-her-so-we-don’t-want-to-give-her-the-wrong-idea,” straightforward approach didn’t strike me as particularly promising.
In a lot of ways, I really appreciated Twilight going as an envoy. For starters, it actually gave me time to prepare, shower, dress, and apply what I managed to repurpose of Twilight’s makeup. Needless to say, there wasn’t much, though her base foundation made an excellent substitute for mascara. It was less about making myself pretty than it was about the comforts of routine – Not that I didn’t care about my appearance; I’d underdressed for an allegedly casual blind-date once before, a thoroughly embarrassing experience I had very little desire to repeat. With a small degree of hesitation, I settled on the modest blue dress I’d been enamored with before.
Still, modest was a relative term; as all my articles of clothing from Rarity tended towards borderline risqué. The blue dress covered more than the rest, but it was still too short for comfort, triggering a rising panic to retreat back to the comfort of my faithful tank top and yoga pants several times.
Preparations took a little under an hour. It was easy enough to block out the gravity of what was going to happen; it was going to be a blind date, with an individual I was completely unfamiliar with, and yes, I was totally in denial.
For maybe a half hour or so, I waited patiently, content to flip through one of the library’s educational references. Things didn’t start going sideways until I turned to the chapter of the library’s Equine physiology book that addressed the mana system’s role in earth pony reproduction.
Lacking the wings and horns of pegasi and unicorns, earth ponies have no conventional method of “releasing” mana. As such, the earth pony’s naturally high Mana Pressure (MP) skyrockets their libido to a much higher level than the two other sub-species.
Note to self: When maintaining a state of denial, avoid textbooks.
It was sort of like watching the makings of a train-wreck entirely through text. I was powerless to look away, or do anything other than watch the letters spell “doomed” in slow-motion.
Since mana accumulation is common in younger ponies, many of whom lack access to a consistent partner, this accumulation can often lead to high levels of frustration. While normal, it can be problematic if an earth pony maintains a state of high MP for an extended period of time; it is theorized that extended frustration may warp certain preferences, which explains the earth pony’s statistically higher tendency towards deviancy. Tamer examples include: Bondage, Bridle bobbing, and Saddle play; generally any “game” in which one party exerts partial or total dominance over the other.
Unfortunately, that really was just the tip of the iceberg. The chapter was chock-full of helpful information on the earth pony anatomy. Of course, I tried several times to stop, but the previous potential trainwreck had come to fruition as a spectacular locomotive pile up given the Michael Bay treatment.
In many ways, it was as if I’d been handed a book with a chapter titled “This is how Kate died”: simultaneously fascinating and self-damning. I didn’t want to know, but I sure as hell couldn’t look away.
Seventy-five pages later, any semblance of denial had been obliterated. I was no longer picturing a cute blind date with an anonymous somepony; instead, whirling through my head were dozens of very explicit scenes, starring a very specific mare.
Generally relieving, though concerning for practical reasons, I realized that while some I found downright horrifying, none of the imagined scenarios registered as even slightly erotic. If I mentally replaced Applejack with Fluttershy in a scene, there was much more of a – erm - reaction.
Maybe, to some degree I didn’t really see Flutters as female. I mean, of course she was feminine, but in a lot of ways she was more. Flawed yet well-meaning, simple, yet complicated, caring, yet beautiful…. It was her essence I was attracted to, a feeling that transcended orientation-
-Which is irrelevant, as she obviously prefers the dark brooding types with a touch of immortality. And seriously - Earth to Kate - You do get what that justification sounded like, right?
The inner recoil resulting from the moment I comprehended the direction my thoughts had been going was jarring, almost nausea-inducing. Minutes spent in the library degraded into sluggish, painfully feasible seconds, leaving far too much time to think on frayed nerves. It had been nearly two hours at that point since Twilight had left. I looked around pointlessly for the cider for a few minutes before remembering I’d left it at Fluttershy’s. Staring at the second hand of the clock proved too maddening.
Memory of spa daiquiris with Rarity surfaced just at the right moment. I jotted down “gone to spa” on a piece of paper, barely pausing long enough to leave it face-up on the counter before rushing out the door.
The Spa ponies looked understandably confused. I doubt their detailed questionnaires, meant to be highly customizable and to create a treatment specific to the customers were often answered with such singular focus. Aloe showed the application to Lotus, indicating the sole text on the questionnaire, written in the “other” category:
Take me to your minibar.
Lotus gave her sister a shrug that seemed to say, “There’s been stranger requests.”
Aloe inclined her head, turning back to me with a welcoming smile. I followed, preparing to to gorge myself on a tiny slice of heaven…
Or it least, it would have been, had the spa’s translation of “heaven” not translated to three-parts frozen strawberry koolaid, two-parts cherry-icee, and a dash of pink training bra to top it off. Aloe refilled the cup for the eighth time, passing it over to me hesitantly.
“You’re sure you don’t want a massage? Considering zee number of drinks you’ve bought I might do it for free,” she offered kindly. I declined, and zoned out as she began to clean the bar equipment.
Despite a conscious effort to think about anything else, my thoughts eventually returned to Applejack. I suppose this is the part where I say “I have lots of friends who are people of southern origin,” but frankly that’s a bit of a lie. Not because of any sort of prejudice, simply because I’ve never had much contact with them, having been raised fairly far northeast myself. However, Applejack’s accent and demeanor seemed to infer less “average individual of southern origin,” more “bonafide hillbilly with significant impulse management issues.” Her attempts to lasso me within my first few minutes on the ground in Ponyville hadn’t done much in the way of dissuading me otherwise. I didn’t even want to imagine how-
“Squeeeeeeal like ah pig!” Imaginary Applejack cackled in my head; I closed my eyes tightly. Nope. Nope Nope Nope. I just need to find somepony else. While the self-reassurance sounded nice in my head, I knew it was mostly wishful thinking. Twilight was right; as much as I didn’t like it, Applejack was the most logical option, assuming she was willing. Considering what I knew of her personality, however, that “assumption” was hardly a forgone conclusion.
I glanced at up at the clock again: A quarter to five. I might not have been hoping against hope for the Stetson clad, carrot-colored pony to come walking through the door, but it left me with a feeling not dissimilar to being picked last in PE class as I kid. Even if you hate the sport, that rejection still sucks.
“Want to hear a riddle?” I asked listlessly.
“Why not?” Aloe answered, glancing over her shoulder at me as she cleared the small sink.
I ran my finger along the cusp of the glass, listening to the hum of vibrating crystal.
“You’re waiting for a pony: a pony who will take you far away. You know you worry where the pony might take you, but you can’t know for sure. Yet it doesn’t matter.” I looked up at her, my bloodshot eyes reflecting visibly in her own. “How can it not matter to you where the pony takes you?”
The pink spa pony’s blue hair bobbled with her head, tilting from side to side, cleaning temporarily forgotten as she puzzled over the question, surprisingly thoughtful.
“…Because you’ll be togehzer?”
“Bravo.” I gave her light round of applause, and was rewarded with an equally cheesy curtsy in return. Cue small outbreak of laughter.
She hadn’t come up with my answer. Not even close.
But in all honesty, I liked hers better.
I let out a weary sigh before I stood. Twilight might have gotten caught up with the princess, which would leave me to come up with a plan consisting of significantly less Applejack. It was a relief in a lot of ways, though oddly disappointing in others. I thought back to her visit at the hospital. When she kept me company from outside while I was locked in the closet, it was surprisingly easy to talk to her. I barely knew her, yet she came to check up on me for no reason other than the fact that she could.
The bits I left rattled against the bar momentarily, settling as I walked away. I tipped forty percent; too much perhaps, considering the complete absence of liquor, but I hadn’t bothered to say anything, and the service had been stellar. It was hardly fair to expect Aloe to be familiar with human-to-pony alcohol conversion rates. I accidentally bumped into a pony with flowing blond hair on my way out.
“Ah beg your pardon-“
“-My mistake.” I said automatically, not feeling particularly conversational.
“Wait- would you stop a minute dagnabbit?!”
I turned around, momentarily confused as the source of the voice was seemingly nowhere to be found-
Then, I did a double-take; which was promptly followed by a triple take.
It was Applejack, yet it wasn’t. And no, that isn’t meant to be a lame attempt at waxing Zen. She was… spectacular for lack of a better word. The trademark Stetson and braided mane were nowhere to be found. Instead, she was clad in a simple green dress that matched her eyes perfectly; released from the restrictive pony-tail, her blond hair cascaded down her neck and around her shoulders. How the dress made her eyes pop was almost unreal. The gentle part and side-bang at the crest of her forehead made her freckles more prominent in a distinguishing sort of way, making the shimmering gold halo hovering above her-
“Er. Applejack? Why do you have a halo?” I asked tentatively. Normally, I’m not one to nitpick and would have let it go. However, her appearance was just angelic enough to leave the shadow of a doubt.
Applejack scowled, a tap of her forehoof to the golden ring instantly dispelling the illusion. “Consarn it. Ah told Rarity it was too much. It’s all too much ah reckon. Bet Ah look like a darn fool-“
“No! no-no-no-no-no! Applejack you look- you look really…” words failed me, “…nice.”
Great. Now I’m turning into Fluttershy.
Thankfully, the earth pony seemed flattered by the compliment regardless. She hoofed the ground sheepishly, obviously out of her comfort zone. “Ah do?”
“Oh definitely.” I stopped momentarily, deciding it would best to avoid jumping to any conclusions. “Um, what’s the occasion, if you don’t mind me asking?” The dubious expression I was given made me feel slightly idiotic for posing the question.
“Twi’ filled me in. ‘Splained what happened between you and Fluttershy, and why you’re tryin’ to fix things.” Applejack trotted in place. “Fluttershy’s been princess pinin’ quite a while now, so I figure helpin’ out’s the least Ah can do.”
I blinked several times, surprised by the simple altruism of the explanation. “You’re quite the friend, AJ.”
“Aw heck.” She grinned. “Well Ah’m something alright, but it’s not like its that big-a deal.” Her positive outlook was infectious. “Not to mention-“ She cut herself off as a group of ponies left the spa, waiting for them to get out of earshot before she gestured for me to lean over so she could whisper in my ear.
“Not to mention, Ah’m looking forward to gettin’ under that dress of yours, if you know what Ah mean.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever blushed so brightly.
AN: Before anything else, I’d like to point out that pre-reading team extraordinaire Meeester Moniker: AKA Meeester, and Mister Moniker, has officially become editing team extraordinaire. If it wasn’t for them, you readers would probably spend a lot more time strangling me in the comments. :D
Sorry, we didn’t quite get to the steamier bits I promised, though we’re right on the precipice, so to speak. Character development kind of took a front seat, as I sort of snubbed Kate last chapter. I haven’t decided quite how I want to handle the steamier segments yet, though the current plan is to publish the extended explicit chapters in a separate story. Because of that, the next chapter may be shorter than average, but won’t take nearly as long as this one did to write.
You can’t step into the same river twice, or so they say. Once it’s crossed, the river behind you is no longer the same. The water you passed through no longer present; the ground is altered; everything has changed. If the river always changes, is it possible to retread one's steps to fix things? Is it possible to go back at all?
Like so many doomed decisions, it started with the best of intentions.
Option A stood for apathetic asshole: I could break my promise to avoid temporary discomfort and psychological trauma, at the “small” cost of ruining the dreams of Fluttershy, who put her neck out for me.
Option B’s prompt was to bite the bullet, taking a (possibly literal) roll in the hay with the resident redneck to rid myself of the mingle-mark, which I still saw as my fault for drunkenly agreeing to without comprehending the repercussions. The options weren’t exactly ethically ambiguous…In theory. Of course, it wasn’t until the plan was already in motion that the variables began to work their muddling magic, clouding my judgement. I just wanted it to be simple. I wanted to get rid of the damn mingle-mark, so Fluttershy could get on with her fairy tale and I could get back to the slightly more pressing task of trying to get home. Of course I was conflicted and naturally didn’t want to admit that. Detached and exhausted, I just wanted for this to be the one thing that actually went as planned, and to stay in control
The hours I waited hadn’t gone to waste, as much of that time had apparently been spent in preparation. Things were taking a turn for the almost disturbingly pleasant. As I followed the flowing, golden mane of the barely recognizable orange pony to our mystery destination, I began to put the pieces together. Twilight had really gone to bat for me. I suspected she was at least partially to thank for Rarity’s involvement, which I realized wasn’t limited to Applejack’s makeover when we stopped in front of Carousel Boutique.
The shop’s typical open and welcoming atmosphere was conspicuously absent, a sign hanging behind the drawn curtain of the front door that read “Closed for the day. Regular hours resume tomorrow.” The reality quickly dawned on me
Well… at least it’s not a barn.
Applejack had apparently read my mind, pausing with her hoof on the doorknob. “Ah’m sorry. I wanted to do right by you—dinner and a fancy show or somethin’, but from what Twi’ said, it’s best if we don’t spend too much time in public, ‘fore gettin’ that thing off you,” she said regretfully.
Sometimes it’s the sentiment that counts. In this case, the sentiment was rather endearing. I gave her a small smile. “It’s fine. It’s already nicer than I was expecting.”
She grinned. “In that case, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Playing the part of the Gentlecolt, she swung the boutique’s door open. I walked into the dark chamber cautiously, all too aware of the sound of the lock as the door shut behind us. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. I had to blink a few times just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.
Applejack wasn’t the only one who had gotten a makeover. The inside of Carousel Boutique was completely foreign. It had been entirely rearranged, with what was probably intended to be romantic overtones. I say “intended” because it was painstakingly obvious that Rarity’s rather superb fashion sense had no overlap with tasteful interior décor. The floor was littered with rose petals, scattered around in an obvious attempt to set the tone, though the hurried dispersal pattern of the flowers looked more indicative of somepony being beaten to death by a raging florist. The smell was overpowering; the wafting scent of dissected rosebuds sent my stomach for a loop.
I’m usually a sucker for candlelight, “usually” being the operative word. The boutique was not so much lit by candles as it was drowned in them, conflicting scents of the dozens—maybe hundreds—of candles momentarily rendering me light headed. Their flickering light bathed the room with almost occult-ish undertones. All things considered it would have been a more appropriate scene for a séance, with a touch of human sacrifice on the side; oddly appropriate, though instead of my life it was my dignity in peril, precariously positioned under an invisible, ritualistic knife.
On second thought, maybe a little fresh air wouldn’t hurt. I turned and made my way back towards the door-
-which was immediately locked from the outside, as if telepathically sensing my misgivings. The tumblers of the mechanism clicked chiddingly, mocking me for the continued lack of foresight. I took a moment to calmly assess the situation.
Trapped in an unfamiliar place?
With somepony you barely know?
Storm rolling in?
“While I shan’t say in certainty, Mr. Green, I believe it was Applejack who shagged the human, in the study, with the candlestick.”
“I concur, Professor Plumb. The question is WHICH candlestick. Harde-har-har.”
I was so screwed.
Applejack leaded into my focal point, interrupting my staring match with the now-locked door of the boutique “Kate—uh, you okay? You ain’t lookin’ so good-“
“yupsuperjustgimmeasecond!” My powerwalk reached Olympic levels of urgency as I navigated around the table, nearly knocking over several candles in my retreat to the guest room. Closing the door behind me, I turned, almost immediately regretting my chosen avenue of retreat. The guest bedroom was obviously the “end” destination for the night, elaborately redecorated with unrestrained cliché. Most notably, the queen-sized bed was refitted, white comforter and pillow cases replaced by red satin counterparts which shimmered, leering in the candlelight. A bottle of whipped cream sat on the nightstand next to the record player. I touched the needle to the record for only a few seconds, an involuntary shudder running through my body; it was a nauseatingly sweet and sentimental ballad, overflowing with sappy sentiment and whispers of diabetes.
Breathe Kate, breathe.
Determined to pull my thoughts into the present, I gave myself a little slap on both cheeks and turned to the three-way mirror perched on top of the armoire, checking myself. Much to my irritation, the nervousness had made me clammy, light perspiration causing the thin fabric of the already form-fitting dress to hug my curves much more suggestively than before. Adjusting it proved rather moot, as movement stimulated the skin underneath, complicating the issue by bringing two other problems to the forefront… so to speak. Rarity and I were going to have a little conversation about why making free dresses for me took precedent over my paid order for unmentionables.
Giving up on my three-way struggle with the dress, I replaced several stray locks of curly, chestnut hair that had fallen in front of my glasses, tucking them behind either ear as I cursed my hair’s unruliness. It bounced out of place again, mocking me glibly.
At this point I’d seriously consider selling my soul for a straightner
“You ever play somethin’ like this back home?” she drawled amicably, wiggling her eyebrows
“Little bit.” I answered, eager for the distraction. “It looks sort of like Life, or Chutes and Ladders.” I tossed the dice, appreciative for the simple distraction. Settling on an eight, I reached over to move the piece… and felt the blood drain from my face as the piece traveled eight spaces automatically. My Ackbar sensor was flying off the charts, indicating all too late what I already knew from the moment I saw it: games that move their own pieces tend to be extremely bad news. I turned to AJ, smile still pasted on my face. “I take it that’s not normal?”
“Nope.” She shrugged. “Wasn’t doin’ that earlier. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a game quite like this one. Ah just opened it up and blew the dust off.”
“Where’d you find it?”
“Sittin’ in the middle of the table. Looks like an antique, not something Rarity would own.”
After looking taking a closer look at the aging board, I had to agree. Rarity wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole. Applejack hadn’t acquired the acute sense of smell I had for one scent in particular, etched in from trauma. It smelled old yes, but there was something beyond the musk. The rotting sweetness that filled my nostrils with dread was unmistakable.
AJ, Why hast thou forsaken me?
The winding path of the game’s multi-colored spaces ran through several different pictures, each depicting the path of two ponies through a trail of seemingly mundane illustrations. Any concerns I had for the most part disappeared after several turns. In between the white spaces were colored “penalty” spaces. I could already tell this was going to be a long night
For obvious reasons I’d been very cautious of penalty cards at the start, but after a few turns there was a distinct absence of bats and man eating plants, and the punishments seemed fairly tame. Some part of me was still concerned. It’s just hard to take a game seriously that makes you pat head and rub your tummy while spinning.
“Applejack! Now would be a great time to stop!”
“Nineteeeeeeeeeeeen… ” Her face blurred across my vision as she finished the count as slowly as possible, obviously enjoying the reversal of circumstances. “… Twenty. Ah suppose ya’ll can stop now.” It took a few seconds for the merry-go-round of candles looping in front of my vision to stop. I smoothed down my dress and sent a pointed look in the direction of my tormentor as I retook my spot on the rug across from her.
Applejack snickered unapologetically as I caught my breath. With the blue cup in hoof, she pressed its lip onto the edges of the dice, shooting the spotted cubes forward; the natural backspin of the flourish eventually pulled them back towards her and landed them squarely in the container, sounding a solid clunk. The youthful manner with which she shook the cup was adorably out of sync with her sultry appearance: she jostled the dice vigorously, head tilted to the side to bring an ear closer to the container. It was a technique that would have looked right at home to a locksmith feeling out the numbers of a complicated safe. I leaned back from the table on my palms and studied her discretely. Rarity had obviously styled her hair to mimic Fluttershy’s, but the end results couldn't have been more of a contrast. Fluttershy had always seemed to use her hair as a curtain to hide behind, only fully emerging from the shelter if somepony made the mistake of really rubbing her the wrong way. The flowing, straightened hair looked completely different on Applejack, who only seemed to be aware of it when she was pushing the wispy bangs out of her eyes. I was beginning to think I’d misinterpreted the cocksure attitude I’d originally disliked. It wasn’t so much an inflated ego as it was a total shunning of false modesty, an aura of carefree self-confidence left in its absence.
It certainly didn’t leave a bad impression.
Um. Kate? She has ears. Ears that go straight up. Pointy pony ears. And see those feet? Yeah, you don’t, because those aren’t feet. Hooves are not feet. Oh, and, you know, there’s also the oh so tiny detail that she’s A FREAKING FEMALE?
My inner voice was correct; however, it was neglecting to take something into account: the glasses were god damn killing me. No, not literally—my eyewear wasn’t a constant stream of discomfort, though I think constant discomfort might have been easier to deal with than the constant ebb and flow. You know the feeling when you’re just about to sneeze, the onset watering eyes and that horrible tickle in your nose that just gets worse and worse as you feel the pressure building? Your eyelids droop and you suck in a deep breath, and just when the explosion is imminent; that’s a horrible feeling, but it’s nothing compared to the awful sensation of losing that release, which is what I felt every time I took them off.
Except, I’m… not actually talking about sneezing.
I could deal with the headaches. It was the other part that was driving me insane. I’d gone through some dry spells in my life before (okay, a lot of dry spells,) but this was by and large the worst. There are no batteries in Equestria. NO BATTERIES. I had started the habit of gnawing my way through three cups of ice on a good day. On my way to work, I generally settled for taking the long way around Ponyville market – the problem urges tended to multiply when passing the cucumber stand. It’s amazing how flexible things like orientation can be when you’re in the midst of a metaphorical sahara.
The orange pony leaned forward over the coffee table, blinking in a manner that anypony unfamiliar would have probably interpreted as innocent “Anypony in there? I said you landed on blue again…”
Snapping back to the present, I reached for the blue card. I couldn’t speak with any authority on it so early in the game, but from what I could tell each color represented its own category. Yellow was by far the most common, and generally involved simple movement augmentations and penalties, plus or minus three or four spaces. Blue was oriented towards more physical embarrassment, like spinning around and making an idiot out of yourself. The remaining two colored spaces, purple and red, seemed to only be present in the last third of the board. Again, it seemed the very design of the game was almost tailor made to slip under my defenses.
I had spent far too much time on the receiving end of creatively disguised sexual advances to fall for any of the usual suspects: had the equine equivalent of anything even mildly reminiscent of “Twister” or “Truth or Dare” been suggested as an icebreaker, it would have been shot down by yours truly faster than anypony could say “plausible deniability”. Unfortunately, the deceptively innocent-looking Candy Land clone slipped through my Milton Bradley profiling radar without raising a single alarm. Now, I would say the reasoning behind this was fairly solid. The pitfalls of a game like Twister are fairly obvious: it’s not so much a game as it is a polka-dotted shortcut to the physical flirting process, insidiously disguised as innocent group bonding,
“Heh our hands accidentally touched!”
“No problem. I’m totally not rubbing legs with you intentionally!”
“Oops! The only open yellow’s on that side, guess I’ll have to straddle you!”
Yes, I’m speaking from experience; No, it is not an anecdote I particularly wish to expand on. Let’s just say the day-and-a-half hangover isn’t the only reason I have yet to attend a second sorority party. But at the very least Twister is mildly straightforward in its promiscuity. Candy-land—or a game that resembles it—should not be an arousing experience in any way, shape, or form. At no point in my adolescence did the confection themed foliage of the Gum-Drop forest strike me as sexy.
I read the blue card aloud
“Drawing pony must place a piece of ice on his/her body until it melts. Opponent may receive half the movement points if they help accelerate the melting process using nothing more than air.” I looked up at her with a slight smirk. “Well this should be a cakewalk.”
“Uhuh. How do ya’ figure?” Her eyes looked almost dangerous, glimmering with a competitive edge.
“Come now, we both know hot air isn't exactly something you’re in short supply of".
This is probably a good place to stop and make a note. I know I said that I’m not a competitive person. I’m not. I’ve just never really felt the need to dominate, or demonstrate superiority. There is one massive caveat to that, however. It started when I was a toddler: no one, and I mean no one beat little Kate Winsor at Hungry Hippos. Lizzie Potamus was her bottom bitch, and if you got in their way… she. would. END. you. I eventually outgrew the game, moving on to Scrabble and chess, but I guess I never really outgrew the behavior.
Despite my history of being an unstoppable force, little did I know I was about to meet my immovable object.
“You’re seriously just going to sit there and do nothing?” Any higher pitched and my voice would have been in danger of sounding whiny.
“Yeeeep.” AJ reclined next to me after making her best Big Mac impression, watching with a faux-bored face I was sure was carefully covering a leering grin. “I have to take it easy. Since I’m so full of hot air and all.”
I winced. Touche
It was, in short, another debacle of misread fine-print. Nowhere on the card did it indicate the suggested size or shape of the ice-cube. It was a loophole that left me staring at the whitewashed ceiling, trying very hard not to focus on the frozen monstrosity balanced precariously just below my neck. Like any normal person, when I heard “ice” I thought “ice cube,” a tiny square thing that would melt in five minutes or less.
Silly Kate, this is Rarity’s shop. God forbid for a pony of such sophistication to partake in something as simple and pedestrian as boring old cubed ice.
The spherical instrument of discomfort that sat perched above my sternum was similar to the sort of ice-ball traditionally served with Japanese whiskey or high proof sake. Not only did it melt more slowly than regular ice, the lack of flat edges meant that if I fidgeted too quickly the frozen ball would roll off, further lowering my chances of winning that infernal game.
“So…” Applejack ‘s stare seemed to be fixated on my dress, eying the blue fabric curiously.
“So?” I retorted, not feeling particularly generous given the circumstances. Whoever had designed the game either had a sick sense of humor, or had taken the phrase “breaking the ice” a bit too literally.
“Ya’ll really wear clothes all the time where you come from?” Her eyes ran up and down my body in a surprisingly naive manner, devoid of sexual connotation. It was a nice reminder that I was as much of an oddity to her as she was to me. I made a zipping motion across my lips and pointed to the sphere nestled just above the neckline of the dress, raising an eyebrow. “Oh… I suppose.” She relented. The light green fabric of her dress rustling as she rose, reaching a foreleg over my torso to get a better angle before leaning down and blowing two sparse puffs of warm air onto the sphere before looking up and mimicking back an exaggerated parody of my demanding expression. I wasn’t particularly happy with the very marginal progress, but maybe if I kept answering questions she would keep blowing–
Er. Blowing warm air on my ice-ball–
Melting my ice with her mou–
Coaxing the liquid–
Okay. You know what, there’s no good way to phrase that.
“Yeah, most of us wear clothes, though dresses aren’t as common now days. There are small groups of humans who don’t wear clothing, but they’re few and far between. I honestly can’t even imagine walking around outside without clothes.” I shuddered involuntarily, partially from the cold, partially from the thought of indecent exposure and subsequent pony attacks.
AJ shook her head in disbelief before inspecting my relaxed arm with a hoof. “Well, if somepony went and shaved off my coat, I can’t imagine I’d be in a hurry to go outside lookin’ all pale and bald.”
Note to self: The Element of Honesty lives up to her name.
I instinctively pulled my arm away in undisguised irritation, nearly sending my ice-cube bounding away.
“Ah, sorry, sorry, I do that sometimes.” To her credit, AJ was scrambling to recover, looking surprisingly panic-stricken by my reaction. “You’re the prettiest lookin’, pale, bald alien I’ve ever seen!”
I didn’t find the reassurance particularly flattering. “See this, right here?” I put a hand through my hair. “See this lovely head of long, brown hair that is nowhere near receding? Ergo, not bald.”
“Right.” She drooped her head, looking sufficiently bashful.
“My turn,” I crossed my arms, trying to take charge of the situation as much as possible whilst being pinned to the ground by an oversized chunk of ice. “Did you always want to be a farmer?” The stupid grin that had been pasted to her lips since the beginning of the evening thinned, the corners of her mouth flattening. The change in demeanor was drastic enough that I quickly regretted the question. “Sorry. You don’t have to answer.”
“No, s’okay.” She turned away, hair obscuring her face, her voice lowered in a steady, controlled tone. “When I was a lot younger I wanted to be a singer. Auntie Orange up in Manehatten offered to give me lessons if I wanted to come up and live with them for a while, so I figured I’d give it a shot.”
I felt terrible, it was obvious she was telling more than she was comfortable with, probably due to her straightforward personality. The ice had finally melted, so I sat up, about to interrupt her before she continued.
“I’d just gotten rid of the accent when Mac wrote me towards the end of that summer, sayin’ Momma needed help with the harvest that year, that we were short-hoofed. I didn’t leave on the best of terms, so I wasn’t exactly motivated to hurry, but somethin’ about the letter worried me.”
Her… mother? In a unsettlingly sober moment it clicked. She didn’t have to finish the story; I could see it in the way her shoulders drooped and her ears flattened. The emptiness in her eyes spoke silent volumes. “Applejack-“
“I ain’t gonna go into the worst of it, but suffice it to say that Apple Bloom’s the main reason I stayed, least at first. Eventually I started enjoyin’ the work. There’s something to be said for an honest day's work with your own four hooves,” she said, composure returning to its original aloof state.The fake smile was good, excellent even. It was identical to her previous smile, though it was completely missing the sparkling of her eyes.
Still shivering a bit from the residue of the ice, I crossed my legs and leaned forward to take her hoof, an expression I think surprised us both. The dark appendage was less shiny than Fluttershy’s and Rarity’s spa-spoiled hoofs. What it lacked in shine, though, it made up for in elegance. The outer rim was perfectly smoothed from years of manual labor. The underside of her hoof was surprisingly soft and pulpy towards the base and more firm close to the front. I could feel her watching me quietly as I considered my next words with care.
“When I was a kid, I… had a speech impediment.” Annoyingly, my mouth suddenly felt dry. It wasn’t a story I brought up often—actually, I’m not sure I’d ever told it before that day.
“Ya couldn’t tell listening to ya now.” The resurfacing of her genuine smile encouraged me. Her forehooves began to explore my hand in return, attentive all the while.
“I had no end of difficulty pronouncing my sibilates – ‘S’ sounds. I’m not sure why it happened or even when it started. I always thought I was saying it right before my mother started telling me she didn’t know what “theconds” were. She wasn’t cruel. She’d always end up giving me what I was asking for even if I couldn’t say it correctly, and she never pretended to misunderstand me for more than a few minutes at a time. She was an english teacher, and I always used get the feeling that having a daughter who could barely speak proper “englith” was a bit of a professional embarrassment to her. A gigantic thesaurus from my father’s study became my greatest ally. If I couldn’t conquer “s”, I was going to learn as many ways to circumvent it as possible.”
“Kate, maybe you should slow down a bit,” Applejack warned, caution in her eyes. I was completely confused by the interruption before I looked down and realized how much my hands were shaking. These were old, old wounds, so why was it bothering me so much?
I shook my head, clasping my hands together tightly to still them. “I’m fine. Anyway, one night my mom and I got into the argument to end all arguments. It was over saying “thanks” - of all the things to argue about, right?” I ran my fingers through my hair half a dozen times, fixating on its lack of straightness. “I outright refused to say anything other than thank you, and after a dozen failed attempts to get me to do otherwise, she lost it. I don’t remember everything she said. The gist of it was: I was running from the real problem, and as long as I kept trying to avoid it instead of dealing with it directly that I’d never be happy. It didn’t make a lot of sense at that moment. I wasn’t an unhappy kid, and generally the lectures put me in a mood more than anything else. I didn’t understand for a long time that she wasn’t really talking to me.”
The torrent of repressed anxiety just came welling up out of nowhere. I guess I really hadn’t ever talked about it before.
Applejack prompted me onward with a tug of her hoof. “What happened next?”
“My parents were arguing the next morning. I couldn’t hear everything they said, but considering how bad our argument was the preceding night, I took things out of context and could have sworn it was about me.”
You’ll never be happy, You don’t love us, blah blah blah.
“The door slammed. I rushed out from behind my door to find my father alone, pouring himself a bowl of cereal. I asked him where Mommy went.”
Don’t worry about it.
When is she coming back?
She’s not coming back.
I’m going to call her.
Forget it. Her phone’s on the table. She doesn’t want anything to do with us anymore.
Because we’re not good enough, dammit! Nothing’s good enough for that bitch, and I know you know exactly what I mean. I’ve seen the way she bullies you over something you can’t control. I mean what kind of mother torments their daughter over a speech impediment?
“… He didn’t say much.” The shivers worked their way up to my shoulders. “I know now he was trying to hide the fact my mother left us for another woman. Back then, though, I was such a stupid little kid. I was convinced he was just trying to spare my feelings that she left because of me. All she needed was a good, lisp-less apology and she’d forgive us and come back.”
I wath wrong.
Pleath forgive me.
“I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her after she left. Not because I didn’t want to. She called a few times and I called her a few times, but in the end I always hung up before saying a word. The lisp always seemed to resurface the moment I’d resolved myself to talk to her. I was terrified: terrified if I screwed it up she’d give up on us for good. I put myself through that stress for years before I was told the real reason she left.” My jaw clenched, and I tried to pull myself out of the funk of the memory. “I’m just saying, I get what it’s like.” It was frustrating; the “short” anecdote about my childhood, originally meant to connect with AJ seemed to have sprouted legs and took off running. It went far deeper than I intended. I had just wanted to show AJ I understood where she was coming from, and the end result had only ended up confusing me. Maybe I had said too much.
Wow, yeah, you’re really good at the no strings attached thing Kate-
The kiss on my cheek was sudden, sweet, and left the faintest scent of cinnamon in the air.
AJ pulled her head back with a wry grin, forehooves still perched on my shoulders. “Well I don’t give a hoot what anypony else says. I think that lisp of yours is the sweetest wittle thing.”
Whatever you might think about Applejack’s total lack of frills and subtlety, sometimes she just knows how to break the tension. I joke-gagged at the sentimentality, she nipped at my hair, I nabbed her around the waist and she pushed us both down. By the time we got back to the game at hand, childhood scars were the farthest things from our thoughts
Our struggle across the seemingly endless square-segmented paths of “Poni-Land” had been a grueling battle. There had been romance, wrestling, poledancing and far too many redraws of the “chubby bunnies” card. Lets just say the next bag of jumbo marshmallows either of us spotted would probably be stabbed and or bucked repeatedly. So many things would never be the same. I’d never be able to look at a pickle without snickering. I would never be able to hold a hamster without crushing feelings of remorse. And most importantly, I discovered vaseline was my achilles heel.
At that moment, we were tied in the game, within a single space of victory. I held my breath and drew the last red card, reading it aloud. “Tail of Resolve Challenge: Opponent lays flat on stomach, extending legs out behind her. Base of tail must keep contact with the ground. Opponent massages card recipient’s back and/or legs until a tail flicks, or five minutes have passed. Winner advances five spaces.
Applejack’s eyes narrowed, “Uhuh. Mind given’ that here?” I watched with no small amusement after relinquishing it. Her eyes bounced around the card fretfully as if desperately looking for a loophole. After not finding it, she turned the card itself around several times. “Well… buck.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I shrugged.
“Really? Ah don’t want to cheat.” Applejack insisted, leaning back dejectedly.
“Who said anything about cheating? See these?” I held up my hands, doing spirit fingers. “These are what we call an unfair advantage. Resistance is futile. So just forfeit the challenge and give me the win.”
Her expression hardened as she stood and trotted around the table, stopping a few inches from my face. “That ain’t gonna’ happen.”
I tried hide the elation of near victory as I patted the carpet at my knees, more than a little smug. As much as reading the earth pony anatomy textbook at Twilight’s might have rattled my nerves, that little misstep was about to pay off in spades. Applejack looked slightly concerned at the sudden burst of confidence. She was just about to slip out of her dress for the massage before abruptly stopping, displaying a completely uncharacteristic degree of modesty.
“Heh, actually I think I may keep it on.” A light tone of strain underlined her voice.
I frowned. “Why? Taking it off would be easier and more comfortable for both of us. It’s not like its anything I haven’t seen before.” The orange pony’s eyes darted about the room, trying to look nonchalant. The attempt at concealment was spectacularly telegraphed far before she started trying to whistle. In the end though, her secret was ousted by a gust of wind: When Applejack’s dress tried to follow it...
Well, what was seen could not be unseen.
The bright orange and white horizontal stripes were unmistakable. My face must have cycled through half a dozen expression before settling on pursed lips, stretched thinly whilst desperately trying not to laugh.
“AJ... are you wearing panties?”
Applejack looked utterly mortified, facing her flank directly opposite to me and scuttle-back-pedaling to the other side of the room. “NO - yes- Maybe - I ain’t that kinda pony, I swear!
“This is your first time wearing such a risque item, then?” I deadpanned, biting my lip in a desperate bid to maintain a straight face.
She nodded her head desperately. “Yes! -Well, Ah did wear something like this once before, but they weren’t so stripey, and that was during my -watchamacallit- rebellious experimentation phase!”
The shamed look, and the tomato-esque shade of her face proved to be too much. I collapsed in a fit of giggles. AJ watched in confusion as I regained my breath, carefully raising the side slit in my dress along the side of my thigh, revealing just a thumb-sized portion of the black lacy strap underneath while showing as little skin as possible, Having realized the reality of the situation, the earth pony’s left ear began to twitch violently. She trotted over to the spot I had indicated earlier, settling herself down with harumph.
“Lets get this over with so I can win already. And you best not tell anypony.”
“Well duh.” I rolled my eyes at her paranoia. We’d already established the confidentiality agreement hours ago, directly following the hamster thing. “That's the whole point of the rules. What’s the first rule of Poni-Land?”
She let out a soft moan as my thumbs started to rub more deeply into the tense crest between her shoulders. “dun... talk... about Poni-Land.” Her breathing became so steady after a few minutes I was almost certain she was asleep.
It was all going according to plan. Game, set, and match.
I was in the process of pulling my hand back for the coup-de-grace, a firm squeeze on the now totally relaxed nerve cluster beneath her mingle mark would be an almost guaranteed reflexive tail-flip. Suddenly, she spoke.
My hand froze inches from her mark. “... Yes?
“You sure you wanna do this?”
“Do... what?” For a moment I thought I’d been had.
“You know what. Especially when you’re still so confused over Flutters.” She opened a single eye and tilted her head towards me knowingly. “I know Flutters wouldn’t want you to if she thought it would be difficult.”
“God dammit.” The orange pony looked at me in surprise as stood up abruptly and walked to the other side of the room. I’ll be honest, I was a little pissed at Applejack for reminding me, though it wasn't really something I could blame her for. I’d been ever so carefully building up distractions, a series of psychological spinning plates designed to keep me from thinking about certain things, and the earth pony had sent them all crashing down with a single query. I didn't want to think about that pegasus, much less her, dark, brooding, enigmatic, sympathetic, all-powerful goddess-bride to be. It’s bad enough discovering complicated feelings for somepony entirely antithetical to what you should be attracted to. It’s even worse when you know that despite your feelings, theres someone much better out there for her, someone who needs her much more than you do.
I didn’t want to think about that. Couldn’t think about that. Thunder crashed in the distance as the pounding in my head grew louder. Another draft came in much more strongly than before, extinguishing the candles and bathing the boutique in utter darkness. The silence between us was filled by the pitter-patter of rain on the roof. The clopping of hooves added to the cacophony of the downpour. The lines of her face were almost distinguishable as she made her way towards me in the dark. Her tail wasn’t touching the floor. According to the rules of the game I had won
The scary part was, for once, I didn’t care.
I reached a hand around her neck, gently guiding her lips to mine.
Rainbow Dash landed somewhere in the Everfree forest. The high-speed winds had come out of nowhere. It was a frustrating limitation. Pegasi were well suited to deal with smaller clouds, yet horribly out matched when it came to storms of this magnitude.There really wasn’t a way to deal with a storm this large.
She zigzagged towards potential cover in a hollowed out tree while fighting the current, dodging under an airborne bunny and various other wind strewn projectiles. The sky had always been her ally, an old familiar friend she could always count on, but now the cloud pattern was utterly unfamiliar and alien. The storm was moving towards Ponyville, and something was very, very wrong.
Pinkie Pie danced around the confectionary, humming as she frosted, glazed, and baked. Realistically speaking the amount of work she was doing should have taken the work of three normal ponies. Then again, it’s plainly obvious at first glance nothing about her is normal. Today was different, because Pinkie had a secret: She usually did the work of four ponies. The fourth portion of her brain had been temporarily reassigned to confectionary statistical analysis, which it tended to be reassigned to on slow days. And today was certainly a slow day. There had only been a few customers, and other than Mr. Cake on his coffee break the shop was totally deserted. Her trays spun with shimmering zeal as she finished all three of them simultaneously -
The pink pony's hair flattened instantly. She stared at the remains of her dear friend in disbelief; a lone cupcake lay spattered on the kitchen’s floor. Only this wasn’t just any cupcake. This cupcake’s name was Tim. He was number 16,180,339,887, but he was as precious to her as the first. He consisted of Egg, Flour, White frosting and trace elements of peanut dust. His frosting wasn’t the most even of the batch but his other bits were perfectly proportional; Despite this exceptional straightness he still wore the pink bow she gave him with pride, even if it was only to be ironic. He had fallen from the second highest row, out of the third column on the left. She had sworn to herself it would never happen again, that never again would her power cause an innocent to die needlessly, yet here she was, cradling the crinkly wrapper of yet another fallen cupcake she was supposed to be protecting. She held him tightly, murmuring sweet nothings as his frosting ebbed away, each moment bringing him closer and closer to the void. “Goodnight, my prince,” she whispered. Yet he said nothing in return... Tim never really did well with the hard goodbyes.
Mrs. Cake leaned over to her husband, inquiring quietly. “Pinkie sense?”
Mr. Cake nodded
“There was a twitch in the bake tricks.”
Bringing a hoof to his chin, Mr. Cake stroked his stubble thoughtfully. “It happens when they change something.”
The rain ran through Luna’s celestial mane, soaking through to the skin. A lesser princess would have taken cover from the rain, but she wasn’t just any princess. She was the night, and her mission held a higher priority than her mane. It wasn’t a matter of brooding or melodrama, it was conviction, pure and simple. Fluttershy and the human had both disappeared. Fluttershy could very well be in danger. Also, there was definitely a funnel cloud forming above Ponyville, but she’d deal with that after she found Fluttershy... she frowned. And maybe the human.
“Princess Luna! Ah’m sorry to say! But AH CAN’T SEE NOTHIN’” Gavenstein screeched.
The rain had gotten so heavy she couldn’t even make out the street signs. For a moment it felt like the very atmosphere was crushing her. Luna staggered; there was a sudden barrage of magical overflow, so much of it that she could barely get a feel for its direction. As much as it pained her, this changed things. She would have to find Fluttershy after dealing with whatever this disturbance was. Lowering her head, she turned and began to push towards the source.
Unzipping the back of my dress, I inspected the small of my back in the mirror.
It’s gone... it’s finally gone.
The tramp stamp had finally been vanquished. I could finally wear form-fitting shirts without worrying that the slightest exposure of skin would risk reveal my “easy” sign. Also, I could now stand to actually look at my back in the mirror without cringing. It was a little sad, but for the most part it felt really, really nice. The rendezvous with Applejack had solved two major problems, the only real remaining issue was that it had somehow made my headache worse. It wasn’t quite to the point where I overflowed and zapped the sparrow last time, however it was probably safest for all concerned if I released it as soon as the rain let up. I pulled the neckline of my dress down a smudge and gawked.
Aw hell. Hickies everywhere.
A clatter outside the bathroom door spiked my pulse a bit. There was no convenient memory loss this time to smooth the process.... no ma’am, this time I remembered every single detail. With this much awkward in play, maybe I should just stay in the bathroom. Just thinking about it instantly turned me red. AJ was probably feeling the same degree of awkward. I took a deep breath and opened the door, preparing myself for -
I had the boutique to myself; Applejack was gone. It left me with an odd feeling of mixed relief and of disappoint. I looked around puzzled for a few minutes before I found the note on the table.
I had a nice time. A real nice time. I think the last time I had such a good time with somepony - er, actually never mind. Probably best not to go into that. I needed to go, sorry I had to leave you alone, I just thought it might be best that way. See, I know we said no strings attached, and I’m one pony who’s always true to my word. Thing is, I really liked spending time with you, even before the steamy bits. If I leave now, I can deal with it. Eventually I’ll be able to stop seeing you as Ms. Sexypants, at which point we can be friends again.
I don’t think I could do that if I spent the rest of the night with you tonight though. I just like you too darn much, hahah.
If there’s any possibility you might feel the same way, you’re welcome to come to dinner with the family tomorrow, or the day after that. If you ain’t had the Apple family’s Apple Pie, you don’t no what you’re missing. And uh, don’t think of this as a string or nothin, it’s more like a “you won the raffle but you don’t have to take it” sort of not-string. And uh, I didn’t mean that as egotestical as it sounded, just to clarify.
The letter was surprisingly sweet. At first I was entirely opposed to the idea. I didn’t know where I stood on so many levels and had only just started to recover from half a dozen disasters. I sat back down on the bed, looking over the letter in a few times. I said no in my head half a dozen times before the doubt started to creep in.
I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, would it really hurt to date a little?
Heheheheheheh. That’s how it starts.
“Who the hell is that!?” There was no way I’d imagined it. I spun in a circle that was more hysterical than defensive, a chill running down my spine as I searched for the sound of the voice.
All it takes is a little bit of justification. This is going to be fun.
I didn’t see her until I turned to the mirror. It was a dark silhouette, unmistakably humanoid in shape if not figure. It was completely black, as if forged from shadow. The eyes were blue, catlike, and predatory. After two frantic glances back and forth I’d confirmed I couldn’t see it in anything other than the mirror I was standing in front of. My body had just processed the command to run when the shadow reached out to me. I didn’t feel it’s touch, there was no physical impact; what I did feel was the already mounting pressure in my head skyrocket. I momentarily lost vision in my right eye, and the migraine like sensation increased exponentially
As my options were considerably limited and my mind was scattered, I did the only thing I could: Ran like hell... for about two seconds anyway. With my obscured vision and the natural disadvantages that come with exiting a bright building into a rainy night, I almost ran directly into the pony on the doorstep. She reared up, whinnying in surprise as I threw my hands up to defend myself. Mercifully, the hoofs didn’t flail out to strike as she descended, and my hand numbly impacted her chest as it lowered. Lowering the arm that was protecting my face, my jaw dropped.
Holy crap she's tall!
Princess Luna, the Alicorn Princess of the night was giving me a glare that made me feel really rather tiny, because I was still touching her. I tried to remove my hand, only to find the same static cling effect that had preceded nuking the bird back to health a few weeks...
Oh... oh no.
In the next fifteen seconds, I’m pretty sure I nearly ripped my arm out of joint. The pressure I was feeling now as opposed to the first time wasn’t even comparable. Not only had constantly holding in made it easier and easier to wait longer, whatever I encountered in the boutique had pushed it the pressure sky high. The effect I’d had on the sparrow wasn’t entirely unlike a defibrillator. If it was used on a healthy specimen, there was no way to gauge what could happen.
The moment of discharge was so much more excruciating than the first time; I felt what must have been thousands of waves and vibrations passing through my chest cavity and arm, blowing the lid off of any previous pain I’d ever felt before. The world went white
Please let her be all right.
I awoke to humming, an eerily happy tune that sounded a bit too similar to what angels might hum. Opening my eyes, I found myself surrounded by what looked like a a field of some sort. Considering the peaceful setting, it took me a few seconds to realize why exactly the scene bothered me.
Celtic humming, and waking up in the middle of a wheat-field at sunset. Here I'll just go run my hand through it all symbolic-like. Yep, I've seen this before. I'm totally dead.
I looked to my left, if only to confirm that the Celtic voice was indeed disembodied. Instead of the endless field I'd expected, I found myself looking into a light blue pair of kind eyes, and a mane that looked like it held it’s own universe. As I began to get my bearings, I began to realize that the face looking down on me was a bit too happy, considering that, from her point of view, I’d essentially just ran out of a building and electrocuted her.
“Good morning,” She said, in a shy manner that was more than a bit disturbing given the context.
“Feeling better?” She asked, in a voice that sounded far too chipper.
“Yeah... it's kind of weird actually, I was sure I hit my head pretty hard... huh." I had no clue what was going on.
"I did what I could to tend your wounds with magic." she replied, matter of factly. I sat up a little straighter, and checked the place my head had impacted the wall when I passed out. There wasn't so much as a scab. Even the wound on my stomach was completely healed. This was too strange, to convenient. I was almost convinced it had to be a dream. Even the warding glasses were somehow still in place.
"Thank you, really. I'm truly sorry for what transpired, it wasn't intentional. You have really pretty hair by the way." I saw a hint of a smile at the compliment, which made me feel a smidgen of hope...
... which was immediately crushed.
"I provided you aid because that is my duty as princess. Regardless, you are welcome. However, gratitude and regret do not excuse you for what you have done. She looked down on me in a piercing stare. “Do you intend to take responsibility for what you did, human?"
I felt my heart sink. What was I going to say? The cat eyed woman in the mirror attacked me, so I ran out and attacked you? It would sound like a lie from a desperate fool. We could have that discussion when they knew I wasn't start raving mad. At this point, It was beginning to look fairly obvious that the princesses were my only way home. Best to at least try and get on her good side, even if that meant starting on her bad side.
"Yes... you have my word."
"It pleases me to hear it. Though you are not a legal citizen of Equestria, I, as acting Princess of the moon and stars accept your spoken oath as a legally binding contract." She rose to her hooves."We will be wed in one weeks time."
"Very well - Wait - WHAT?"
Special Thanks to Editing Team Awesome Sauce: MisterMoniker and Meeester
AN:: Hi all. For some reason the google doc to fimfic converter was giving me non stop trouble, so if you see any areas where stuff is missing / improperly spliced together that's why. I will do more editing a little later today, after I go pass out for a bit. Also yes, I'm back. .
There’s a condition that modern psychology refers to as “learned helplessness.” It was first coined in an experiment from an era that predated scientific regulation; an experiment which mixed barbarism and small dogs, subjecting the latter to intermittent electric shocks. I’ll spare you the less pleasant details, but the essential finding was as follows: after being subjected to a certain amount of inescapable pain, the subject simply gives up. Even if later given the opportunity to lessen their discomfort by moving a short distance, the subject instead opts to lie down and wait for the experience to end, conserving as much energy as possible for withstanding the torment to come
Maybe they went with “learned helplessness,” because calling it “crushing of the soul” might have made the scientists feel guilty.
At one point, I couldn't have imagined being that broken. Sure, my life could have been a lot worse, but it hadn't been a cakewalk, either; it was scattered with failed friendships, personal failures, as well as constant family conflicts and losses. But I’d never, at any point, completely lost hope - holding to the belief that if I tried earnestly enough, there was always the possibility of improving my chances.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to hold on to that ethic. Especially when the Princess of the Night just dropped the emotional equivalent of a tactical nuke.
“Wait… What?” I squeaked
“You possess the mark of the fertile enchantress.”
“Fertile… chantwhatsit?” Somewhere between my mouth and my brain, a very important piece of wiring had been cut.
“Also known as the mark of the white mage, or the lifebringer,” Luna explained patiently, sitting back down in front of me and looking at my near epileptic attempts to gesticulate my growing sense of alarm. “Didst thou wish to compose thyself?” she asked, rather flatly.
“I-“ pausing for a moment, I considered the possibility of faking a seizure and pretending to pass out until she left. Yep, for a few blissful seconds I actually considered playing dead. Brilliant plan Kate – assuming you could act worth a lick in the first place, she definitely wouldn’t think to take you to a hospital, and hospitals have worked out GREAT so far. Okay, obviously that wouldn’t have been the best idea. “I’d appreciate it if you’d fill me on the details” I admitted.
Princess Luna looked marginally uncomfortable with the idea “Very well - while Alicorns procreate in a similar manner to ponies, the prerequisite circumstances make even approaching the process highly complicated. We are barren, as dictated by nature.” A sour look flashed across her muzzle, the only hint of emotion within a perfectly maintained expression of regal stoicism. “There is never more than one. Thus, we must wait for the life-bringer. They are not always a pony though that is generally the case. Their mark will always be the same: some sort of transparent chronometer, imposed upon a variety of background shapes. If that pony does not reproduce, then it is passed on to their offspring; if that pony dies, the mark is lost until another is chosen, possibly for centuries if not longer.” If the life-bearer contacts a compatible alicorn and quickens her womb – even ‘accidentally’” Her nose twitched. “Then the mark’s magic is expended and will not be passed on.”
I put a hand up to stop her. “Wait, hold on… You know what, never-mind: I’m just going to take that in stride for now – not because it makes sense or anything – but just because it sounds completely nonsensical, which is kind of par for the course at this point.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose, pushing my glasses up slightly as I mulled it over. “Let me put a pin in the whole binding-verbal-contract-I-may-have-totally-effed-myself with for a moment and look at this logically.”
The princess nodded approvingly. “For recreation, I occasionally recite Ponin’s five-thousand classic arguments and fallacies. It would be best to commit to either inductive or deductive reasoning. I would appreciate it if we could omit abductive thought, as I find it rather silly.”
“O-Okay.” I considered it carefully, having removed my jaw from the floor, “Deductive it is. So, from what I understand I expended the mark, essentially jumpstarting your dormant reproductive system - Ipso facto, presto in vitro – But doesn’t that mean I’m just the enabler here? Why not go and get it on with Flutt- er, a pony of your preference?”
The alicorn looked at me as if I’d gone mad, head slowly cocking to the side. “I find your lack of proofs disturbing.”
“Er. Reasoning aside, do you get my meaning?”
“If the mark-bearer and the alicorn do not… ‘lay’ … together-“ Luna’s cheeks turned the slightest tint of red. “-and conceive, the bloodline would be lost, or worse, corrupted by if somepony incompatible sired the heir. The latter of which would end in utter misery and disaster.”
“Corrupted?” I asked, my voice raising several syllables at the end in a manner that was not particularly flattering.”
“Yes. We… I... was in a similar situation once before, eons ago. Only then, I surrendered to emotion instead of reason. The twins that resulted were… problematic, to say the least.” For the first time Luna looked away from me, a slight quiver in her forelegs.
“What… what happened to them?” Pushing the topic earned me a well-deserved glare.
“You’ve likely met one, though you would not know it.” she stated vaguely, refusing to elaborate. “They were asymmetrical in every sense of the word. As alicorns, both were relatively weak, however, one was foalish and whimsical while the other was dark and cunning.” She shook her head. “The dark one – “Nightmare,” as she came to be so lovingly known - was a parasite before she even came to term. It was clear at birth when one was born a scraggly, frizzy mess, missing both horn and wings while the other was far larger and possessed both. It was clear what had happened, but what was I to do? Turn my back on the foals I waited so long for?” Luna leaned forwards. “Maybe that was the right choice, but I was one I could not abide. Nightmare attached herself to me and eventually took control. Thou canst likely fill the remaining blanks.”
Well, no, I really couldn’t. We were talking about the perpetuation of a race previously thought to be immortal, prophecies, and completely blurring the lines between reality and fiction. The esoteric fog wasn’t entirely unfamiliar; worlds away, yet I managed to get stuck in the single equestrian equivalent of an upper level philosophy class.
“Yeah. I get it.”
“...Really?” She questioned, regarding me with a newfound curiosity and the slightest hint of relief.
“Yep. Perpetuation of an endangered species - a species that holds demi-goddess tier influence over an entire world - depends entirely on the future application of my girly-parts, and the implicit betrothal said application represents. Clear as asphalt.” It wasn’t until I finished speaking that I realized my voice was about an octave too high, crescendoing like the end of Tchaikovsky's 18th overture.
She scooted closer, towering over me, and I fought the impulse to scoot away. “It comforts me that you understand the weight of the situation at hand. But do not speak of thyself as an object to be used. Though our circumstances are dictated by fate, thou would be cherished.
“Right. Not an object. Got it.”
“Very good.” An ancient looking scroll materialized with a bright flash, papyrus wound tightly on an ornamental jade roll. “Let us look over some of the legal requirements of the princess consort.”
Clearing her throat, Luna began listing items of the contract with the enthusiasm of a traffic court judge.
“As Consort, thou shalt not bear the foals of any other than the divine holder of the contract, as it is thy station to provide a royal heir. Thou shalt not enter a marked union with anypony other than thy betrothed.
Yeah. Not really any desire to do so, seeing how the whole ordeal went last time.
“It is not thy legal obligation to partake in divine intercourse, though it would be best for all parties involved if it is thy choice to do so.”
Hurray, I have the right of consent! Somebody break out the goddamn champagne.
“Thou shalt not partake in processed food or meat once seed has quickened within thee.”
Future as a pregnant vegan? Yeah... let’s just... put that champagne away.
“Thou shalt not attempt to sway political matters of the courts by means of position.”
Oh no, there goes my aspirations of being a political sycophant.
“Thou shalt not divulge information regarding the alicorn reproductive system to the public, as it is vital such information remains secret.”
What- Then how am I supposed to explain the whole “suddenly engaged to a princess thing???
“Thou shalt be assigned a personal aid, who shall stay at thy side, at all times, monitoring thy personal well-being and health.”
And… there goes any possibility of privacy. Crap.
“Thou shalt remain within the palace at all times, unless accompanied by armed guard.”
She trailed off, muttering. “And to think I was upset the ancient tongue was abandoned. It will take quite some time to cover all of this; for now, the final tenant is the most important. As wedded consort, you will hold no small value as a hostage to powers prone to such dishonorable tactics. Thereby, it is paramount that you never leave the bounds of Equestria - the risk that other countries might use you as leverage is far too high.” The list had read like a homoerotic rendition of the ten commandments, each iteration increasingly damning, but that one was the final nail in the coffin of my suffocating state of mind.
You’ll never leave this place, Kate. You’re stuck here.”
Laying back was a mistake, as supine is not the ideal position for a panic attack. I was hyperventilating like a great dane with a deviated septum in the midst of an asthma episode. My attempts to push myself over failed, bumping my head against the ground repeatedly as I failed to push myself up.
Unfortunately, Princess Luna interpreted the staggered breathing and thrashing as the future consort throwing a hissy fit. “Wait, there are advantages to holding such a bearing!” She panicked, looking over me with obvious concern. I pointed to my throat with a wheeze, trying to indicate the issue at hand. She reached down and pecked the side of my neck chastely, as if to prove her point. “See? I am displaying affection. Affection has been displayed."
I will recognize you publicly as my own. And, um-” She ran a hoof through her mane, thinking of what to say. All things considered, she was being rather reasonable - the lack of oxygen was undermining my ability to say so. “You will only have the finest things, dresses, regalia, and servants!” I could tell she was becoming exasperated by the rising tempo of her voice. “If you wish, you could have a few dozen pets of your choosing… This series of events is not ideal for anypony, on any conceivable metric. Am I that frightening? Is the very thought of my company so inherently nauseating?” She searched my expression, and for a moment, I saw the slightest hint of vulnerability; it was only a glimmer, but a glimmer from her was likely the mortal equivalent of a pony breaking down completely.
Princess Luna had been banished for a thousand years, denied the even the small comforts of saying goodbye to loved ones passing as she outlived them in isolation. Due to the unfortunate consequences of my mistakes, it was becoming increasingly likely I’d never see mine again.
It wasn’t much of a parallel, but perhaps there was some solace in the fact that fate had screwed us both.
I calmed down a bit, beckoning her closer whilst trying to regain my breath. She leaned down, ears raising attentively. “Can’t... breathe...” I rasped. I’d never had an attack this bad before - The haze around my vision began to encroach, threatening loss of consciousness. Luna stood swiftly, out of view.
The princess’ levitation was remarkably kinder on the body than Twilight’s had been, though it still left me feeling as if I’d been lifted by a very firm chair. Raised to my knees, I felt blessed oxygen enter my body, relieving the burning in my lungs
Still gasping, I looked over. The night Princess watched me attentively, as if concerned I might fall apart at any moment - not far off base, but worrying her was unnecessary. “Sorry...” I managed.
“No. The fault is mine. I assume too much.” While much of the formality in her voice had returned, it was not as compassionless as it had seemed before. The alicorn stood, removing bits of grass and foliage from her coat with a pulse from her horn, sending them floating to the ground simultaneously. “Now, in the spirit of cooperation, would thou be willing to oblige a small request?”
“Maybe. What did you have in mind, Princess?”
Wow. Look at that. Asking details before you agree to something. And here I thought you weren’t capable of learning from your mistakes.
“The responsibility of ceremony preparations generally falls to the pony of higher standing.” She loomed a good foot over me, and my eyes narrowed ever so slightly. If it wasn’t for the somber tone of the conversation I would have gotten the feeling she was making a jab at my height. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a store.”
She huffed, obviously not accustomed to having to explain herself. “The last time I was in a store, the official currency was paper adorned with my sister’s face, and baby griffons were still sold as household pets. Are you available now?”
Faking a smile was much harder than I anticipated. The tiny rubber ducky of hope I had allowed to rise to the surface of my murky psyche had been thoroughly and repeatedly harpooned – it slowly deflated, circling the drain listlessly as my will to fight preceded it.
“Of course. We are running out of time, I suppose.”
There was a new, more brutal sense of weight settling on me. It was paralyzing, nestling firmly upon my ability to reason and come up with ideas: I was trapped. Flippant as I had been since arriving, I’d tried to make due with the hand I’d been dealt. Was I blameless? No, no one ever is. As far as I was concerned, I’d simply began to recognize the nature of my predicament: I was Tantalus, confined to the darkest pits of the underworld - surrounded by the things I most needed, only to have them yanked from reach the moment I drew near.
Maybe she wants to go shopping in Canterlot.
Apparently, we had a spy pony infestation, as it seemed everyone in Ponyville knew of the arrangement before we even returned to town. And of course, it was Carousel Boutique that caught the Princesses’ eye. It had to be Carousel Boutique.
“Which do you prefer Princess?” A very unhappy looking white unicorn asked, her gaze lingering on me darkly as she levitated two different materials in our direction. “While pink would be acceptable, I’m rather fond of red. It’s the traditional color of betrayal - pardon me - betrothal after all.”
“Is it?” Luna asked with muted interest, completely ignorant of the ongoing subtext. “If so, mainstays of traditional attire has drastically over the last few centuries.”
“Indeed it has - I dare say fashion itself is always changing.” Rarity set the two fabrics down on the side counter, not missing a beat. “That makes it a fickle thing, for those of us in the industry…” She looked at me over her glasses. “…just when you think you fully understand it, it turns around and bites you in the derriere.” Regardless of my royal attachments, if looks could kill, Rarity would have sent me the way of Marie Antoinette. I ran through half a dozen ways I might explain the situation, each of them sounding less believable than the next.
Gee whiz Rarity, you got it all wrong.
See, a ghost made me do it.
If it hadn’t scared me, I wouldn’t have accidentally jump-started the princess-
Which just so happened to make me the only one who can give her an heir-
Funny thing is, it wouldn’t have worked that way if I still had the tramp-stamp, which I’d only been free of for about half an hour!
Oh, and even if you were dumb enough to believe any of this, guess what? The best part is, I can’t actually tell you about it because of the non-disclosure agreement!
There was nothing – absolutely nothing - I could say that would make any difference. It was over; Equestria had won. I was only vaguely aware that the conversation directed towards me in the shop. My focus was entirely fixated on the veil that Rarity had selected and placed in my hands: A frilly white headband with the traditional covering on the front. It was a simple, beautiful piece - yet, my hands were shaking. I didn’t see a veil; I saw something else entirely. The thing in my hands was commitment given form, a culmination of a long list of failures.
Rarity yawned, covering her mouth in embarrassment. “Pardon my rudeness, it was a terribly late night. I was up late comforting a terribly heart-sick mare.”
I froze. Please don’t
Luna frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps I could make an informal request for Princess Cadance to intervene on her behalf, as thanks for services rendered?”
“You’re kind to offer, Princess,” Rarity smiled sadly, “But I’m afraid her situation is likely beyond repair. She’s a silly pony who trusts far too easily. There’s little to be done but act as her shoulder to cry on.”
Somehow, picturing Fluttershy crying as a result of my action was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Apathy has always been my defense mechanism, only now it was in overdrive. It pulled me back to that old familiar, wonderfully empty place, where nothing matters and everything simply is. My head tilted down and my eyes lost focus.
“Human- Kate? Is that necklace to your liking?” It took a moment to realize that my zombified gaze had unintentionally fallen upon a small collection of accessories in the glass case below. For whatever reason, my eyes had settled on a simple sterling silver brooch depicting a parakeet in mid-flight. Shaking my head no would have required too much effort, so I tried to shrug. It came out more like a small flinch. Luna’s attempted to whisper discretely, though the difference in height made the act anything but subtle.
The brooch was lifted from under my gaze, highlighted in a light blue glow of magic matching Rarity’s horn as she emotionlessly placed the brooch in a box and passed it to Luna. Oh look, we have similar taste in jewelry. How adorable. Before the sarcastic thought could even finish, the box was held out tentatively. “A gift, if it pleases thee.” The princess was obviously trying to look nonchalant, but the slight blush of her cheeks betrayed her.
I took it with as much graciousness as I could muster. “...It’s lovely, thank you.” It sounded like someone else’s voice - Someone empty, tired, and monotone.
I felt awful. I’d spent twenty minutes trying to get Fluttershy to open the door before I’d left - Not because I gave up, but because every squirrel in the Everfree forest had apparently allied to rally against the curly-haired alien laying siege to her door. There were acorn shaped bruises everywhere.
When that failed, I just started to walk, no destination in particular. Typically I would have avoided walking around so early in the evening, I guess, all things considered even the gawking eyes of strangers were preferable to facing the inevitable conversation with Twilight.
“Oh hey. Thanks for your help with that thing.”
“No problem. Everything work out okay?”
“Definitely. I mean I kind of screwed it all up, completely ruined Fluttershy’s life and traded one entanglement for another - kinda engaged to the Princess now - At least I got rid of the tramp-stamp though, am I right?”
So instead I’d walked. For once, the stares and whispers that followed me hadn’t seemed to matter, I was just beyond caring. I’m sure they were still present, at some point I guess I’d just stopped caring. I’d walked back to the library on auto-pilot and circled it, leaving its orbit at a random point, walking a straight line to an unknown direction. The acres’ fence had apparently not appreciated my aimlessness, as it elected to defiantly stand in my way.Interesting that I’d end up here, of all places. The note AJ had left me was still balled up in my pocket. Leaving would have been the smart move, but I was too numb to exercise intelligence. Boredom and mundane curiosity drove me forward, as I found the Acres to be oddly tranquil. Where is everypony?
I hopped the fence, sound of crunching grass beneath my feet the only audible noise, passing beneath the lengthy shadows of the signature fruit trees. The orchard itself was abandoned, as was the area in front of the barn. I continued to walk, squinting into the setting sun.
The curious case of the misplaced earth ponies was solved quickly as it had developed. A light was on in the farmhouse kitchen, the scent of baked goods lingered in the air, the atmosphere inside warm and cheery. I watched from some distance away as Applejack served her sister a portion of pie. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, of course, but the interaction was so over the top and full of life I didn’t need to.
Applebloom looked from her piece to AJ mournfully, likely calling her sister on the miserly serving. AJ compared her slice to Applebloom’s, teasing her for being such a little piggy before stealing a bite of her pie. Naturally, this was perceived as an act of war and resulted in an escalating poking/tickling match that was eventually broken up by Granny. Moments later they were joined by a simple looking red stallion - presumably Big Mac - who brought his plate to the table and dug right in.
They talked, smiled, and laughed amongst themselves, passing around various dishes and toppings.
I tried to imagine what would have happened had the disaster of the previous day not occurred; If I’d accepted her invitation and met them. I simply couldn’t. If I’d shown up at the dinner unprepared it would have terrified me. I couldn’t see myself among them at all; Rubbing elbows/forelegs with AJ and laughing at Applebloom’s antics, complementing Granny Smith’s cooking… it all seemed so abstractly novel. It was like trying to form a mental image of one of those impossible geometric shapes in 3D space: no matter how I looked at it, it simply didn’t work. I couldn’t picture it.
Realizing what I was doing could probably be misconstrued as peeping, I turned to leave.
I didn’t get farther than six steps. “Ah suppose that means you ain’t stayin’ for desert?” A drawling voice questioned.
Damn. I turned, caught red handed. AJ may have not had her arms crossed, but her eyebrows more than made up for the lack of arms.
“Thought I might stop by. Didn’t mean to bother you all in the middle of dinner, the time got away from me. I’ll see myself out.”
“It’s no bother, though you about scared the be-alicorn outta’ Applebloom.” AJ snickered, pointing to the kitchen window, where a yellow foal was pressed against the panes, terrified. “Slendermane’s out in the orchard AJ! Ah swear, she’s hidin’ behind the tree over yonder!” Her grin lessened, transitioning into a harder expression. “There’s been a lot of talk ‘round town concerning you and Princess Luna.”
“Things... got complicated.” Understatement of the friggin year.
“You got anythin’ to say for yerself?”
“I’m an idiot.”
“Well Ah knew that.” she rolled her eyes, tossing her braid around to the other side of her body. “Look - by all rights Ah should be mad at you. Guess Ah am… a little. But unlike Rarity, I don’t think this was some hairbrained scheme to get at the princess. Ah think we both know you ain’t that coordinated.” Applejack winked suggestively, and I felt myself turning red.
“My eye hand coordination is above par, thank you very much.” I shot back, a little too quickly.
“Well sure, I’m just sayin’ - could use some practice in the rhythm and consistency department.” She wiggled an eyebrow. “Ah digress. What Ah mean to say is I think I know you, and I think yer gonna’ try and make it right.”
I couldn’t even fake a smile at that. It was too supportive - support I didn’t begin to deserve.
“Wait. You are gonna’ try and fix things, aren’t ya?” She blinked in confusion, as if doubting me for the first time after the lack of response.
Why bother. Everything I do inevitably backfires.
I hadn’t said it out loud, of that I was certain. She must have seen it in my eyes, as I saw the anger in hers. She had reached up and tugged on me with a foreleg. The look on her face was so fierce I winced, almost expecting her to slap me - again, being slapped by a pony is basically equivalent to being punched in the face.
“Ah can understand if things don’t work out for us. Ah get it - But you can’t just up and leave Fluttershy out to dry. It. Ain’t. Right.” She emphasized each word, staring intensely. Having regained my balance I stood, freeing myself from her clutches.
“Message received.” For the second time, I barely recognized the sound of my own voice.
Applejack seemed to see far beyond the words I spoke into the fractured thoughts behind them. I’d probably have taken another flying baby unicorn to the stomach as an alternative to the look of disappointment on her face - the former would have been far less painful.
“So that’s it then. ‘Duly noted’ Applejack, thanks for your concern. Ah... Ah need to get back.” The farm pony turned, taking a few dejected steps back towards the house and pulling her Stetson over her eyes. “For what it’s worth...” she said over her shoulder, “Ah really did come to like you.”
“You too.” It was the truth. Yet, the words never left my lips. I watched in silence as Applejack returned to the house, the usual pep in her trot entirely absent. Taking one last look, the thought occurred to me that I envied them. The Apple family had overcome whatever unspoken tragedy had beset them - regardless what it was. Their house - their home was no longer a broken place, each member coming together to form something greater than the sum of their parts.
In contrast watched a phantom in the dark, barely able to pick up her own pieces, let alone transcend them. Who was I kidding? Even if I was free of obligation and managed to sort out my feelings, Applejack deserved better regardless. I crumpled the invitation, walking away to nowhere in particular once more.
The train’s whistle sounded loudly, signaling its imminent departure as a straggler shoved his baggage through the automatic doors before they shut. The locomotive began to move. As with the preceding departures, I watched it with fading interest from my seat on the bench until the chipped caboose disappeared over the crest of a distant hill. I’d chosen it as a resting place solely because it was the evening’s least populated venue, situated a comfortable distance away from everypony. The only one who’d taken actual notice of me was a gray coated pony working the ticket booth who seemed more apprehensive than curious, likely concerned I might hop a train without a ticket.
It was an ideal place to collect my thoughts... in theory.
Naturally, I hadn’t accounted for the whistles.
Because of them, every arrival was a screeching klaxon, unceremoniously jarring me back to reality. Odd as it may sound, I began to resent the cheery trains – Looking past the confines of steel, frame, I began to view them as the attention whores of public transportation. I mean one whistle is understandable, two is a bit much, but three? They were obviously laughing in my face: Oh hai there - look at me! I’m freer than you are, and I’m on rails.
Note to self: When inanimate objects manage to criticize you solely by existing, it’s a good indicator your perspective may be taking a turn for the cynical.
I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t occurred to me to hop on board one of the little bastards, making an escape into the sunset. While the idea was certainly charming, apathy thoroughly crushed any serious notion of doing so. Low and desperate as I was, I was no fool. While enticing, escaping into the countryside was a melodramatic and temporary fix to a permanent problem. Even if I managed to elude the powerful goddess capable of flight and teleportation - a preposterously big if - it wouldn’t change anything. Unlike the train, I was fully aware of my circumstances. Leaving would accomplish nothing other than orbiting an invisible set of tracks, sounding my whistle stupidly to celebrate the appearance of choice in ignorant adulation.
Unlike the train, over the course of the day’s events I’d come to accept reality: Freedom was merely illusion. However long its journey, the train would eventually come full circle. It didn’t matter if it stalled or switched tracks. Sooner or later it would inevitably return here, whistling the same tone, annoying some other bystander: its entire existence a circular exercise in repetition.
Kate... shouldn’t you be trying to find a solution? Twilight would be-
“Wasting her time on a lost cause...” I murmured, to no one in particular. I’d relied on her too much already. Working with me had probably been a conflict of interest for her from the start; now it was practically guaranteed, all the paperwork and agreements undoubtedly shrouding the difficulties in further complications. Why put her in a compromising position for a solution that would inevitably fail? Why expend the energy on a losing battle?
So you’re just accepting it, then? Quitting?
“Acceptance is a sign of maturity. Guess that means I’m all grown up.” I chuckled bitterly.
Nice words… from the coward hiding at the train station, wallowing in self-pity.
Was I a coward? Maybe, I didn’t really care enough to think about it too seriously. All I knew for certain was how utterly exhausted I felt: tired of perpetuating the endless cycle of frying pan to fire, tired of watching well-meaning effort shattered, time and time again.
Given the daunting nature of the rock and hard place I found myself situated between, fighting it seemed like little more than an exercise in futility – and denial.
“Ma’am… Ma’am?” The gruff looking unicorn from the booth called loudly. At some point he’d left his office to tidy up, sweeping the area outside the ticket booth. Judging by the annoyed look, I got the impression it probably wasn’t the first time he’d tried to catch my attention. “Next train won’t be in ‘til six tomorrow morning. Not my place to tell you your business, but it’s probably best to head home.”
“I’ll be leaving momentarily. Just thought I might watch the stars a while longer.”
“Suit yourself.” The crotchety old pony shrugged and continued locking up. He blew out the lantern before he left, bathing the station in darkness. I closed my eyes, letting the newfound tranquility draw me in.
I lurched clear off the bench, landing hard on my palms. The scare from the whistle nearly killed me – I could feel my pulse beating a mile a minute in my chest. It felt like I’d only relaxed for a second, but I must have dozed off-
Alright train. I’m going to hurt you now.
Fantasies of removing said whistle with a hacksaw and tossing it into the train’s coal compartment were short lived – to my credit, I didn’t realize until later that doing so would be forcing Thomas the douchebag train into auto cannibalism. Any anger I felt quickly vanished when the odd inconsistency struck me: I could barely see my hand.
Is it still night?
Looking up provided the answer: the moon still showed brightly, slightly obscured by moody clouds of the overcast night sky. There was no hint of sunlight on the horizon. Had I dreamt the whistle? I wasn’t sure what to think; at least until I turned towards the tracks.
Oh. I’m dreaming.
That was the only explanation, as what I was seeing couldn’t possibly be real. A train had come to a stop in the darkness of the station platform. The engine and cars weren’t just dark, though; there were no discernable details to them, giving the entire locomotive the otherworldly appearance of a silhouette given form. It made no sense. While the moon might have been dim, it was certainly present. Yet, the train was entirely absent of illumination, light itself appearing to bend around in an effort to avoid the aberration entirely. Though I couldn’t spot the movement, there was a quiet whoosh, indicating that the train’s side doors had slid open. It wasn’t what I saw that sent my heart racing – it was still impossible to make out any details of the interior – rather, it was what I felt.
As the outside looked wrong, the middle car’s unseen doors had opened to something that felt wrong. Not evil or sinister per say, rather it felt like there was a void, an absence of matter resulting in an unforgettable sensation of nothingness. What really got under my skin, however, was the déjà vu.
I’ve felt this before… but when?
Come on Kate, think. It was maddeningly familiar, and I couldn’t shake impression that the answer was extremely important. It reminds me of something, something in particular. Not floating exactly - the answer hit me like a slap in the face. The night I went to see Allison. That night. I lost my balance and fell-
I’d only felt it for a second; a peculiar absence that had barely registered in the panic of free-fall. First it was cold, plummet through the freezing temperature like razors on my skin; Then – well it was still freezing because of the height, but I’d been able to feel the sun.
But for barely more than a second between the two, I felt what I was feeling now: absence; a total void.
The way home.
By the time the thought fully registered I was already on my feet sprinting towards it. I wasn’t about to question the sudden charity of providence, or the possibility I might be dreaming. If it wasn’t real, I didn’t stand to lose anything. However, it certainly didn’t feel like a dream, and if it was really happening, I couldn’t shake the feeling it was the sort of opportunity I wasn’t going to get twice.
That was the third whistle. If the timing was the same as the other trains, I was barely going to make it. Terror and adrenaline pushed me beyond all feasible limits, I leaned forward, preparing to leap through the doorway the moment I closed enough ground –
The single thought brought me to a screeching halt, as I’d used the train doorframe to stop myself all my surplus momentum exchanged for the massive stinging in my palms. Inches from salvation… and I stopped.
Yeah. This isn’t ideal. You don’t belong here. It’s probably because of you that things have fallen apart the way they have. But with the way things are now, running away doesn’t benefit anyone... other than you, Kate.
Maybe it was my imagination, but I could almost smell it. It smelled of I-hop, cigarette smoke, popcorn, and car exhaust; Mixed in were hints of cheap perfume, alcohol and dilapidated dreams. It smelled wonderful.
It smelled like home.
I wanted to move forward so much it made me sick. But the thought of leaving everything as it was made me feel worse. My time there hadn’t exactly done me any favors. It started off a on the wrong foot, almost literally. Anything that immediately dissolves into outrunning the sexual equivalent of a lynch mob can’t really be considered as starting well. There’d been an excessively high amount of personal injury, and no small number of significantly embarrassing indiscretions. Yet there’d been plenty of good memories too.
Twilight’s constant research on my behalf, I don’t even want to know what would have happened without the glasses. Pinkie… well, she didn’t let me die I suppose. Rainbow Dash’s lesson on Pegasus anatomy – er, the second one, anyway. Rarity’s gifts – I had a single outfit to my name, now there’s half a closet full. Applejack… well, you know. Fluttershy…
And what would I be giving in exchange, if I left now? Best case scenario it’s disloyalty, and worst case it’s regicide via inaction and stupidity. The fact that it was mostly due to oversight and unforeseen consequences was irrelevant. It was my responsibility.
“GOD DAMN IT!” I kicked one of the closing doors viciously, probably leaving a dent as I’m pretty sure kicking it broke my pinkie toe – which, on a side note, never has curled the same way again.
I’d wish I could say I immediately felt good about the decision: all warm and fuzzy for making the “right” choice. Truth was I didn’t. It was the middle of the night and I was freezing, hopping about like a moron, trying to keep balance on one working foot and seeing stars every time I failed to do so. There wasn’t much triumphant about it, I was grumpy, and terrified I’d just blown my only shot of getting home.
Instead of the noise creaking axles and wheel against rail as I’d expected, the train didn’t start moving. A few seconds later, a whoosh sounded behind me.
Did the doors… just… open again?
The guttural growl that emerged from the opening instantly sent chills down my spine. Blue, reptilian eyes leered at me through the darkness, a hand reaching out and grabbing my wrist with an alarming amount of force.
“Allow me to spare you the simpering conundrum.” It giggled maniacally. Something struck my leg as she yanked me, knocking me off balance and sending me tumbling into the void within.