86w, 5dThe Crossroads Experiment
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Lucky knew this situation could get bad really fast so he went in to calm the new arrival before hits were thrown, “now ‘old on there miss, ‘efore you begin a fight just let me say what ‘appened was a giant mistake. Although none of us hurt ‘er, Chubs and Lewdy,” Lucky pointed to each in turn, “did put quite the scare on ‘er. They apologized for it though, the situation got out of hand, it was all an ‘onest accident.”
Lucky had made sure to keep a respectable distance away but was trying frantically to stop the scuffle before it began. Rainbow Dash kept at the offensive though, “well you all still scared my friend! And from what she said, one of you tried to EAT HER!” Dash was edging closer and flaring her wings, anger shown through both her stance and voice.
Lucky began to panic, how do you explain a situation where a pony actually DID try to eat the Pinky Pie’s tail? “Well yes and once again lass we are sorry for scaring ‘er... but. Well, yes Chubs... Chubs did try to munch on the pink ones tail,” Lucky realized he probably just put himself in a bad hole and was continually digging deeper, “but that was a misunderstanding too! He thought the tail was a treat from how fluffy it looked!” His brain was screaming at him to shut up and let someone else talk before this got worse. “Nothing really ‘appened to your friend though! She ran away before Chubs could do more than just eat her tail!” Lucky slapped his mouth with both hooves and hit the ground with a thud...
Rainbow Dash obviously didn’t see the absolute brilliance and charm that radiated from Lucky’s speech and edged closer, “do more than just eat her tail?” She brought her muzzle close to his and looked him straight in the eye, “like what exactly?”
Lucky’s brain sought fit to begin its last desperate plan; spam common sense. ‘Don’t say anything, don’t say anything don’t do it don’t do it!’ but his mouth wasn’t listening, “well ‘e might ‘ave gone to the point of gnawing on her ‘ooves and ‘ead thinking they were chocolate.” ‘Now you’ve done it, that’s it, I’m out.’
Rainbow Dash bashed him once on the head with her front hoof. Lucky saw coins floating in space above his crown and settled with his habit of counting sheep made of money.
Before another blow could be had a tan pony stepped in front of Lucky Money to block the furious Rainbow maned pony from the misspoken pony. The gruff pony gave a sigh, “Now hold on Miss Dash... Ah understand you’re upset and angry but if you’re going to take it out on anyb... anypony let it be me.
“Ah’m sorry for the incident with Pinkie Pie and if she were here I would apologize to her personally as well as get these two to apologize as well. I should ‘ave been here to stop it from happening. Chubs doesn’t understand how things werk here, he’s still confused and ‘erhaps a bit lost, and Lewdy can’t be trusted enough ta not choke on a rock.” Memphis could see out of the corner of his eye the very rude and obscene gesture the green pony gave him with his forehooves.
“Ah wasn’t here and ah apologize for that, ah hold myself responsible fer their actions.” Memphis said solemnly.
Rainbow Dash at first seemed unphased by Memphis and she glared venomously at Chubs and Lewdy. Chubs frowned sadly, a contrast to Lewdy who looked ready to spit from the sentiments Memphis was giving. “That still doesn’t make what they did right! Right now Pinkie Pie refuses to come out of her room because of these two.” she said.
“And ah promise you that ah’ll make it right somehow.” Memphis responded coolly.
“And how exactly do you plan to do that?” Rainbow Dash accused him, shoving a hoof to his chest.
“Ah don’t know yet but ah will, but first we just need Twilight Sparkle’s help.” Memphis said, frowning.
Rainbow Dash drifted back, “Help? What do you mean?” she asked with more than a bit of confusion to her voice. Memphis’ eyes darted to Twilight Sparkle in a silent plea for help.
It was now or never. Biting at her lower lip she still felt stuck in the internal conflict raging in her mind but if she didn’t step in and stop the situation from going any further things might get worse, if that was even possible. “Rainbow, stop,” she said, the argument not resolved but put on hold, “it was an accident. At least I think it was an accident. These ponies truly are sorry about what happened and I’m sure they want to make it right, but right now I need to help them. Its too complicated to explain right now and I will when I can. Right now though, believe it or not, these ponies need my help...”
Chubs had a feeling things were about to get very boring for a while. Already they’d been doing little more than standing around talking for at least ten minutes, and from what he knew about Twilight Sparkle, dull was the name of the game. That and the fact that she smelled like French fries. Back when he’d been human, he had at least 17 Twilight Sparkle toys from his Happy Meal addiction, and he kept several in his pockets at all times so that intoxicating scent would always be close at hand. Oh, he’d also begun watching the show as well after curiosity led him to see where these little marshmallowy ponies had come from, but that was quite secondary to his olfactory interests. Unfortunately, he had a feeling that now wasn’t a good time to test if that aroma held true in this world too, after the way they’d all kept glaring at him earlier. And anyway, those thoughts of salty, oily potato sticks, on top of the constant reminders of Pinkie Pie’s delicious-looking tail, were making him hungry. Well, hungrier. He decided it was time to do something about that.
Paradoxically, considering his size, Chubs had a way of seeping out of the minds of those around him surprisingly quickly when he wasn’t drawing attention to himself through acts of attempted cannibalism. Especially with his new fairly bland color scheme, coupled with the neutral roundness of his pudgy form, fading into the background was as easy as standing still for about 30 seconds. Thus nopony took notice when he began wandering off on his own.
It didn’t much occur to him to wonder exactly how far he could roam before being automatically recalled to the now uncharacteristically crowded Crossroads that had been his home in this world thus far. Had it concerned him enough to give it any actual thought, he might have tried to at least stay within sight, but as analytical thought was a much lower priority than finding some snacks, his meanderings unknowingly took him near the outskirts of the Crossroads’ ill-defined boundaries. Even the inexplicable laws of death seemed to not quite know what to do with Chubs in this border zone, as he faded even more from the awareness of the living, but was not yet forcibly returned to the gathering point from which he’d strayed.
It was in this nebulous region that Chubs’ sights at last focused onto a promising sight: a cart loaded up with apples.
Applejack had had quite a long day. This was certainly nothing unusual for the hard-working farmer pony, but that didn’t mean she was immune to the effects of working since just after sunrise, and she was anticipating her chance to call it quits and relax soon. Fortunately, she was now well into the easiest part of her responsibilities: selling the fruits of her labor to the ponies about town. A large portion of her family’s namesake crop went into the production of cider, pies, and endless other apple-y confections, but there was still a simple satisfaction in eating a nice plain apple sometimes. Thus the Apple family always opened their fruit stand for a few hours toward the end of each workday for any ponies in the mood for a sweet, juicy, crunchy apple.
“I’d like a Gala, please,” came the simple order from a passing customer.
“Right away, Ma’am,” was Applejack’s quick reply as she turned around to fetch the requested fruit. Setting it on the counter, she added, “That’ll be one bit, please.”
After fishing a golden coin from her saddlebags, the customer turned her head back foward. Glancing down to see an empty table, she spoke around the coin in her mouth, “Where’s my apple?”
“Huh? It’s right...” the farmer began as her eyes looked down to find a strangely empty spot in front of her. “Odd, I was sure I’d picked out a nice one fer ya.” Shrugging it off as simply not paying attention, she reached back to grab a new apple. Setting it down as well, she chirped, “Here ya go, Ma’am, enjoy!”
“But I only wanted one apple, not two,” spoke the customer as she set her coin next to the two pieces of fruit.
“What? Where did that...? Ah well, mah mistake, Miss, have the second one on the house.” The two mares smiled politely at each other, and the customer nodded her thanks as she went on her way.
A few moments later, a stallion strolled up to Applejack and requested a Golden Delicious.
The cowpony nodded and retrieved said apple, again setting it on the table. “That’ll be one bit, sir.”
The stallion quickly furrowed his brow as he saw the offered apple. “What kind of business are you running here? That thing’s half eaten!”
“What? How did that get in there?” She quickly scooped up the ruined apple and chucked it into a nearby trash bin, then replaced it with a fresh one. “Ah’m mighty sorry about that. That’s never happened before.”
With a dismissive grunt, the customer turned his head back from his saddlebags, holding a coin in his mouth. As he set it down, he paused to add, “You really ought to toss that thing out, you know. It’s pretty gross,” as he gestured toward the apple chunk sitting on the counter next to his unblemished one.
Absent-mindedly offering her thanks to the departing stallion, she then wondered aloud, “Why is that still there? Ah was sure Ah threw that away already.” Once more she tossed the half-eaten apple into the trash, then stood quietly with a bemused look on her face.
Next another mare trotted over to place an order, snapping the farmer out of her puzzled ruminations. “Can I get a bushel of Granny Smiths?”
“Comin’ right up!” Applejack turned to her baskets of assorted apples, but found a surprising absence of green. “Ah’m sorry Ma’am, it looks like we’re all outta Granny Smiths fer today.”
“What are you talking about? There’s a basket right there,” said the other mare as she raised an eyebrow and pointed a hoof.
“What in tarnation? Ah must be gettin’ tired. Ah was sure that wasn’t there a second ago. Anyway, that’ll be four bits, please.” After receiving the customer’s coins, Applejack took a moment to eye her produce suspiciously. It was unlike her to make mistakes like this, and she wasn’t sure how she could have missed not one, but apparently two full baskets of Granny Smith apples.
Certain these sudden troubles were due to nothing more than simple fatigue after a long day of work, she closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to collect herself. She reopened her eyes to find that not a single apple remained. “What the hay? Where’d all my apples go?!” Darting her head about rapidly, she searched the area for any traces of bright pink or rainbow colors that might explain the strange events. Seeing no sign of her prankster friends, she faced back toward her fruit stand, and jumped in surprise as she found all her apples in their proper places.
Slowly picking up a Red Delicious with a slightly shaky hoof, she gently lifted it toward her face as her eyes shifted around nervously. Glaring at it thoroughly and giving it a good whiff, she satisfied three of her senses that she was indeed holding a real, solid apple. Clearly it sounded like an apple as well, so that made four. She opened her mouth and leaned forward to take a bite, seeking to remove any last traces of doubt about the fruit’s presence. Just as she bit down, the apple seemed to vanish into thin air right before her eyes.
“What- but- where-?” the farmer sputtered as she slumped to the ground in defeat. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so confused. A moment later, lying on her back as her eyes drifted heedlessly to the sky, a Red Delicious poofed into the air above her and promptly reasserted its existence, falling squarely upon Applejack’s nose. Blinking twice, she mumbled to herself, “Ah think maybe it’s time ta close up shop fer the day.”
Chubs himself was getting rather annoyed by all this uncooperative fruit anyway as he watched the confused mare stumble away in a daze. No matter how quickly and how much fruit he wolfed down, it gave him no feeling of satiation. They had no taste whatsoever, and seemed to vanish into nothingness as soon as he swallowed them. He’d even managed to inhale the entire collection in one fell swoop at one point, yet it still did nothing to curb his incessant hunger. Giving up on the accursed produce, he trudged off aimlessly once more.
Raeg could only stare at the scene before him. The idiocy of these ponies was quickly pulling him up out of the melancholy he’d been slipping into since his death. It seemed that the beating he’d given Lewdy simply hadn’t done the trick. Though as great as his desire to knock some sense into their heads was, Twilight was still around and he’d long ago promised the princess he’d control himself around her student.
And now the rainbow one was back, shouting something about the ponies harassing her friend. He didn’t find it very surprising that they’d set about digging the hole even deeper the second he was out of sight. While that in itself was aggravating enough as it was, their idiocy was now endangering his prospects of getting a princess damned drink and he simply could not have that. He’d need to keep an eye on Lewdy, maybe even a hoof, preferably around his throat.
Surprisingly, though, Memphis had stepped in and managed to calm Rainbow Dash
down, or perhaps just confuse her, either way his shots at a mug of cider stopped plummeting. He was sure this wouldn’t last long though, he had to do something before these stupid ponies did something else to keep his blood alcohol down. Hadn’t she asked him about any stories he’d had from the northlands? He could probably distract her with something pretty easily, just maybe leave out some of the bloodier details. Half baked plan in mind, he trotted over to Rainbow Dash.
“Hey kid,” he grumbled.
The cyan pegasus turned around, surprised. “Imperious?” she asked. “What’re you doing here? Still hangin’ out with Twilight?”
“Uhh, yeah, sure. But since you’re here again I figured we could get to know each other before tonight.” ‘Please say no, please say no, please say no.’ he thought to himself.
“Sure, that sounds great!” she said, perking up.
“Well what do you wanna know?” he asked, subtly starting to walk them away from the group.
Rainbow hummed thoughtfully to herself. Glancing back at Twilight, she thought of something perfect. Rubbing her forehooves together conspiratorially, she asked “So you’ve known Twilight since she was a filly in Canterlot, right?”
“Er, yes?” he said, growing suspicious of the pegasus.
“So you must have tons of dirt on her, right?”
“What?” he deadpanned.
“Uh, well, I mean you must have a lot of funny stories about her, right?”
Deciding they were far enough away from the rest of the ponies, Raeg thought back to his days as Twilight’s bodyguard. He’d been mortified when the princess assigned him and his men to guard her rather than allow them to return to the north. He’d hated foals, even before his deal with Discord he found them insufferable. But thankfully, Twilight had never been a normal filly.
“Honestly? I’ve got next to nothing on her. She was always a quiet, studious filly. We talked a fair amount, though in my years there she only ever once asked me for anything.”
“Really? What’d she ask for?” Rainbow inquired.
“Well, she’d been practicing some spell all day, I have no idea what it was, but eventually she ran out of things to test it on. She asked me if I could get her something metal to try it on. Lucky for me a palace maintenance pony was passing by so I swiped a wrench from him and gave her that. I guess she managed to make her spell work on that wrench and she was so happy that she gave it to me when she finished.”
“She gave you a wrench?” Rainbow asked, raising an eyebrow. “What’d her spell even do?”
“I couldn’t tell you the specifics, but the nearest I can guess is that she enchanted it with some kind of lightning field.” Raeg explained.
“Lightning? I guess that sounds kind of cool.” Rainbow remarked.
“Well, you know how the war began with gryphons infiltrating the palace?” he asked.
Rainbow nodded. “Yeah, everypony knows about that. They were trying to kidnap somepony, right?”
“Yeah, that somepony was your friend.” he said.
“What?” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. “Why would they wanna hurt Twilight?”
“Because of how close she was to Cel- er, the princess. They couldn’t ever hurt her directly, she’s a goddess, so they aimed at the pony she cared about the most.”
“That’s horrible! Did... did they do anything to her?” she asked with some trepidation.
“Of course not!” Raeg exclaimed. “She had nine of the most seasoned veterans of the 501st guarding her! It would’ve taken Discord himself to get to her.”
“Wait, nine?” she asked. “But I heard there were over three dozen gryphons.”
Raeg grinned wickedly. “Yes, there were. I used the wrench Twilight gave me to thin their numbers out a little. Turns out lightning, blunt force trauma, and feathers don’t mix very well.”
Rainbow’s eyes widened at his statement. “You beat all of those gryphons?” she asked in awe. “With only a wrench?”
Raeg nodded. “I promised the princess that I’d die before any harm came to Twilight, I don’t break promises.”
“Wow, you guys took on all those guys just for Twilight? That’s... that’s really loyal.” Rainbow said.
“Loyalty above all else, that’s what it means to be a royal guard.” he said. “The 501st are... were the most loyal of all the princess’s guards. There’s a reason we were called Celestia’s Hoof.”
While Raeg distracted Rainbow Dash, the rest of the group closed in and talked quietly, growing more comfortable as Raeg and Dash walked away from the main group. “Look,” Twilight said, “I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I’ve seen enough to know you are ghosts. Or some other sort of undead, but not zombie ponies.” The purple mare shook her head at the remembrance of Spike’s crazy theories. The eyes of the other gathered ponies lit up as Twilight talked; she was coming over to their side.
“On the other hoof,” Twilight continued as everyone’s hearts sank like stones, “I can’t find a single reference to anything like this ever happening. None of my books say anything about it and I won’t be able to travel to Canterlot for quite a while. So I want to do more research on you all,” Memphis winced at the thought and Twilight blushed a little upon seeing it. “And, since Princess Celestia is going to be coming to Ponyville in a week, I can’t have the place getting ruined like last time,” Twilight shivered and muttered something about Parasprites, “so I don’t know if inviting you out until then is a good idea. Surely a week isn’t too much longer to wait?”
Lewdy’s tail was already pinned to the ground by Lucky Money, but after what Twilight had said, Loro and Abigail joined in to restrain the more-than-half-crazed pony. Memphis, noting that the situation was under control, spoke.
“Miss Sparkle, if’n all yer worried about is us bein’ misbehaved ‘n the like, ya could jus not allow us to damage the town. The invitations we get out o’ this place ‘re fairly literal, permission based affairs. So, if ya invited us very specifically, we would be bound to not break anything.” Memphis smiled a little, perhaps it edged onto a smirk. Behind it, though was a combination of extreme joy and unparalleled worry. It seemed that they’d be getting out of this hellhole, but so much rode on Twilight’s decision right now.
“Oh, really? So if I invited you to come to my Library and help me organize it alphabetically and by the Dewy Decimare System you’d have to?” After a moment, Twilight realized what she had asked and that she had asked it out loud, “NotthatIwoulddothat!” she blurted out, blushing furiously.
“Well’n, we could always refuse the invitation, but in theory yes. That’d be how it works.”
“In that case, I, Twilight Sparkle, formally invite all of you: Memphis, Lewdy, Abigail, Imperious, Lucky Money, Loro, and Haku, to Ponyville and to visit its sights as living, breathing ponyfolk as long as you are all well behaved and treat the citizens of Ponyville and any other ponies with kindness and respect!”
Every pony in the area turned to Twilight, most with expressions of joy, while one rainbow-maned mare just stared with confusion. In their distraction, Abigail, Lucky, and Loro lost their grip on Lewdy as he bounded at Twilight. “THANK YOU, YOU BEAUTIFUL NERD,” he shouted as he tackled Twilight in a hug. To everyone’s surprise, it was the least offensive thing he’d done all month. Even so, the group quickly reacted by pulling him off. “Food,” Lewdy said excitedly, “I need food. Haven’t had food in months! Let’s go to the market!” With that, he sprinted towards the market.
Memphis called to the group, “We’d better stop ‘im before he goes an’ get himself sent back ‘ere, Miss Sparkle, could ah possibly borrow a few bits?”
Twilight, who was still quite stunned from the outflow of emotion from the stallion, gave up a small hoof-full of coins. “Here, just... just pay me back soon.”
“Thank ye, kindly.” He then sped off after Lewdy, followed Lucky Money who went more out of a desire to see the town than to help the cause.
Abigail started after the group, but decided against it. Lewdy could get himself sent back to the Crossroads for all she cared, and she didn’t want to be associated with whatever shenanigans were about to ensue. Instead, she joined Raeg and Rainbow Dash as they walked over to Twilight to help her back to her feet.
Meanwhile, Loro and Haku watched the action. “Wait,” said Haku, “food? Aren’t we missing someone? Haku demands to know where Chubs went!”
Loro simply scoffed, “pfft, I don’t want to see his muy gordo ass any more than I have to. Makes me want to vomit,” while he kept watching intently.