Isabella sat infront of the farm house with Applebloom and Big Macintosh, looking out over the orchard. The pie, which had not lasted long against the combined might of Isabella and the Apple family, was settling in her belly, warming her from the inside out as the sun warmed her from the outside in. It was about mid afternoon now, and the slight angle of the sun made the leaves and apples glimmer. It was another thing Isabella had only ever seen in pictures.
If she really was stuck here, it didn't look like it would be so bad. A protective fool, the best food she had ever eaten in her entire life, and a mare that understood that a girl's mane and tail needed to be well groomed. She could definitely get used to this.
Applejack walked out of the house from helping Granny Smith and sat down next to Applebloom, letting out a contented sigh.
"Granny Smith sure does know how to make a great pie." said Applejack, stretching a little and closing her eyes as she lay down.
"Eeyup." said Big Macintosh.
Isabella said nothing. She let her mind wonder. She hadn't felt content like this ever before. If she could worm her way into the hearts of these four ponies, she could live comfortably here for the rest of her days. Sure, it wasn't as luxurious as Canterlot, but the food was good, the view amazing, and the company... tolerable. She didn't need to steal to get by here since these ponies seemed to be willing to do everything for her.
Then she thought of something. When she had passed out the very first time, she had been in full armor, but when she had awakened, her armor was gone.
Isabella looked at Big Macintosh from the corner of her eye. Why had he not asked her about it? The armor had been covered in knifes and her belt had been full of lock picks. Was he really that dim witted? That he would take a pony into his house that was armed to the teeth and quite obviously a thief? Granted she had been knocked out, but for all he knew, if she had awakened while he was dragging her into his house, things could have gotten very messy.
Big Macintosh looked down at her and she swung her eyes away, hoping he hadn't noticed.
That was another thing. She barely knew him, but for some reason or another, Big Macintosh made her feel... safe. It was probably just the fact that he was huge and had that caring glint in his eyes. Isabella recognized it from seeing it in the eyes of all the ponies she had stolen love from, but this was different from that. This glint was for her.
She asked her self again. Why? Why did this stupid stallion care about her at all? She was just a random pony that he had never met and didn't know anything about.
Isabella was giving herself a head ache. She set her hoof to her forehead and grimaced.
"Whats wrong?" asked Big Macintosh immediately. Isabella bit back a retort. He was doing it again. Smothering her.
"Just a head ache. Nevermind." she said, trying to wave him off, but he wouldn't have it.
"Come on. Ah got something perfect for that." he said as he started heading back to his shack. Isabella looked desperately at Applejack, who simply smiled, shook her head, and gestured for Isabella to follow him.
Isabella huffed and trotted off to catch up with Big Macintosh. When she caught up with him, he was humming a tune to himself. Isabella thought she recognized it, but she couldn't place the name. She ignored it and asked "How do you propose to cure my headache? I've never heard of something that actually works to make them go away."
Big Macintosh chuckled. "Ah don't know a cure. Ah just wanted to talk to ya."
Isabella's heart began to pound. Did he want to talk about the armor? The weapons? How had he thought of that a the same time as her?
Isabella slowed her pace a little as the shack came into sight. What if he made her leave? She'd be a goner.
To her surprise, Big Macintosh did not enter the shack. He turned around and faced her at the door. Isabella was still expecting the worst.
"I want to know just how long ya need before yer fit to leave." he said, looking down at her.
Isabella's heart sank. She really was doomed. Fate was a cruel thing.
"How long before you need me gone?" she asked.
Big Macintosh's face became shocked. "No no. Ye misunderstood me. Ah was gonna say 'ya can stay for as long as ye need'. With what ya went through, Ah'd never think of turnin' ya out into the cold all by yer lonesome. That wouldn't be right." he explained.
Isabella stared at him. Another act of selflessness from the stallion she hardly knew. Why? Was it because she was beautiful? No. She could see no lust in his eyes, and after the story she had told him, he couldn't hope to gain a reward for being returned. What was it about her that intrigued this stallion so? Why did he care?
"You're offering to let me live with you?" she asked, still rather stunned.
"Fer as long as ya want." he said, nodding his head slightly.
She blinked again as she stared into Big Macintosh's eyes.
"...Whats the catch?" she asked hesitantly.
Again, Big Macintosh's face became shocked.
"Ma'am, that's just insultin'. I'd never charge a fee on some pony that had to run away from home. Especially after... what you had to go through." he finished, saying the last part hesitantly.
Isabella could hardly believe her luck. She could only feed from a pony that loved her now, and the only one that seemed to hold any real affection for her had just offered her a place in his home. This was a blessing from Celestia herself.
Isabella sat down and bowed her head slightly at Big Macintosh before saying "Thank you."
For the first time in her life, when she said 'Thank you', she had meant it.
Sir Roderick was waiting. The room he stood in was dark, except for a lone candle and the sun that slunk through the single window near the ceiling. It was time to begin interrogations.
Two guards dragged a mare into the room and threw her against the far wall, before chaining her hooves to the walls.
"Thank you men. Now get out. I'll be expecting you in here soon enough." said Sir Roderick, shooing them out with his hoof.
When the door closed behind them, Sir Roderick turned to the mare. She was grimacing up at him, her deep cyan eyes staring into his own. He could almost imagine how much she wanted to hurt him, but now was not the time for that. He had a criminal to find.
"So..." started Sir Roderick. He was interrupted almost immediately by the mare.
"Oh shut up and kill me already. None of us know where she went. She never even intended on leaving this dung hill of a city. So your guess is as good as mine." she said, rolling her eyes at him.
Sir Roderick contained his anger and smiled at her.
"Come now. You must some idea as to where she would have headed?" he asked, trying to pry her apart with his silver tongue.
"Look. She never talked to us unless it was a general announcement. The only one she ever talked to directly was the first in command, and from what I hear she did a good job of messing up one of your bed spreads with Dungus's blood." said the mare, obviously enjoying the idea of a nobleman losing something expensive.
Sir Roderick closed his eyes and took a deep breath. She truly was trying his patience.
"If you tell me where your employer has gone, I shall release you." he offered.
The mare laughed. "You expect me to believe that? That you'd actually let me go after I told you what you needed to know? You're just like the boss. Get the info, kill the informant. No loose ends. And besides, even if I knew where she was, I'd not tell the likes of you. I'm more afraid of the boss than some stuck up mamma's colt."
Sir Roderick slapped her. His patience was at an end.
"Come!" he yelled over his shoulder.
The guards strode inside and he barked instructions at them.
"Take her to my quarters and tie her down. She'll be of at least some use to me before she dies!"
As she struggled to get away from the guards who dragged her away, she shouted at Sir Roderick "You sick bastard! Some day you'll get whats coming to you!"
Sir Roderick sat down and composed himself. Then an awful smile spread across his face. He was going to have fun with her. She had a lot of spirit, and that made what he was going to do to her all the better.
Crank and Grunt, two of the junior guards Sir Roderick had sent on the hunt, stepped off the train into Ponyville, arguing.
"I still don't see why you gets to be in charge. I'm much better at my job and have been doing it longer than you have." growled Grunt, in his deep voice. Whenever he spoke, it sounded like he had been given a frontal lobotomy when he was born.
"You've been doing this job for about three days longer than I have. That hardly counts as 'longer'. And the reason that I'm in charge is because the last time you had a platoon of soldiers under your command, you were the only one that survived." replied Crank. His voice was reedy and high, even though he was just as big as Grunt.
"I already told you, that wasn't my fault! I was just... distracted." Grunt said, fading off at the end.
"Yes. She did a very good job of distracting you with her tail end, didn't she? Just follow my orders and we should be fine. Besides, this shouldn't be too difficult. We're just searching for one potentially dead mare. It should be relatively easy." said Crank as Grunt fumed behind him.
They had been stationed in Ponyville's region, Crank knew, to get them both out of the way. Crank had been told several times that he was a trouble maker and a good for nothing layabout. It was true that he liked to try to make the other guards enter a revolution, but his attempts always failed. He had nearly been decommission several times, and was always put where there was least duty.
Grunt, on the other hand, had a long history of violence. The only reason he was kept in the guard was because the authorities wanted to be able to keep an eye on him. If he was thrown out, he would reek havoc. He liked to rough other ponies up, but was very susceptible to anyone of higher authority. The reason he hated Crank being in charge was because Crank was the same rank as he was. It was an insult and a humiliation.
"Lets find a place to stay. We'll be here to a few days." said Crank, looking around at all the ponies.
"Relatively easy?" scoffed Grunt, "Look how many ponies are here, and this is just the train station. Do you even know what this mare looks like?"
"Sir Roderick described her to me in detail. She has a midnight blue mane and tail, white coat, and poisonous green eyes. Her pupils are oddly slitted, rather than round like a normal pony's." explained Crank, as he led Grunt through the crowd and toward the center of town.
They stepped into a small inn, called "Night's Caress" and Crank rang the bell.
A small mare appeared behind the counter and smiled up at them.
"What can I do for you good sirs? Need a few rooms?"
"Yes," said Crank pulling out several bits and setting them on the counter. "How long with this keep us here?"
The mare's eyes widened in surprise and she said "For about a month. We have some lovely rooms with a wonderful view just above us." she said, grabbing a set of keys and handing one to Crank and the other to Grunt.
"Thank you ma'am." said Crank as he headed for the stairs.
Grunt followed him and growled into his ear, "Yer far too soft with them. You should have demanded longer."
"You sir, are an imbecile. If we just start roughing ponies up left and right, we'll blow our cover. This operation is meant to be discrete. Why they sent you, I'll never understand." said Crank as he unlocked his room and stepped inside, slamming the door shut in his partner's face.
Grunt tromped over to his room and let himself inside. The room was meager, but livable. At least he would have some privacy now and then.
He sat on the bed and tried to image what the mare they were looking for looked like from what Crank had said.
"Green eyes, blue hair, white coat. Sounds easy enough." said Grunt to himself. Maybe this wouldn't be so hard. How many other ponies looked like that?
Isabella was sitting on the edge of the orchard. The sun was setting now, and the light shone through the trees. It was remarkable. Even having seen pictures of such a sight, it was not the same. She could feel the coolness of the air, the softness of the grass, and the slight warmth from the low set sun. It made a strange feeling arise in her. What that feeling was, she couldn't say. It was something like a warming in the area between her stomach and heart. Almost sickening, but completely wonderful at the same time.
She heard a small creak behind her and knew Big Macintosh was coming to join her. It was strange. Having only been here for a few days, and already she was getting used to this large stallion. She had never 'gotten used' to anypony, even those who had been in her employ and who had survived for more than a few years.
It must be the connection. That small chain of light that connected them. It gave them a sort of mental bond. Not like that of telepathy, where they could communicate in silent speech, but in a way that seemed to bring their thoughts closer together. He was becoming like a second part of her some how. This intrigued her greatly.
She saw him sit next to her with her peripheral vision, but did not look at him. He sat down next to her and sighed.
"Pretty, ain't it?" he asked, not looking at her.
"Mm hm." she muttered rather distracted, still thinking about the connection.
Isabella shook her head slightly and blinked several times before she looked at Big Macintosh. He was looking down at her, his eyes curious.
"Oh, I was just thinking about... something." she said, smiling at him slightly, "What did you need?"
"Ah was gonna try and teach ya to maintain the shack. It's not hard work, but if there are two of us stayin' in there, it'll need work. Ah'd do it ma self, but Ah gotta get back to apple buckin' soon. Last time it was all left up to Applejack, she nearly killed herself trying to do it all alone." he said.
Isabella would have been resentful of him, asking her to clean for him, but he had that apologetic look in his eyes. He didn't ask her to do this because he was lazy. He asked her to do it because he required it of her. And for some reason, she was willing to do it.
"Ah'll also need to make ya a new bed. Ah know ya wouldn't want to share a bed with someone. Not after... that. N-not that Ah'm assuming ye'd want to share a bed with me in the first place." he said, laughing nervously.
Isabella grinned. "No, I dare say I wouldn't."
They both looked back out on the orchard. The sun was even lower in the sky now and the light was dwindling.
Big Macintosh stood up and shook his tail.
"Well, looks to be about bed time. Ya can stay out as long as ya wish, but if you don't get enough sleep then ye'll be dead tired in the mornin'." he said as he stretched a little.
Isabella sighed. She didn't want to get up, but she could feel the dampness of the evening beginning to settle. It didn't feel good on her coat, so, she stood and followed Big Macintosh inside.
Sir Roderick was sitting in his study, thinking about that mare and her deep cyan eyes.
He had seen so many expressions in those eyes. Hatred, fear, pain, ecstasy, the list goes on. Luckily, the gag had kept her quiet. He had enjoyed forcing himself into her, and her struggles had made it so much more arousing.
What he liked to call 'the after party', was still his favorite part. He enjoyed sexual satisfaction, but dissecting a broken mare, while she was still alive, was so much more pleasing.
He was going over the entire process of what he had done to her, when there was a knock on the door.
He slammed his hoof down on his desk. "What is it?!" he yelled as he marched to the door and slammed it open.
"You're not as discrete as you'd like to think, Roderick."
Sir Roderick looked up in shock at the form of Chrysalis, Queen of the Changelings. Why was she here?
"I.... I thought we agreed never to meet in public." he said, his eyes frozen on her in fear.
"Your private study is public now, hm?" she said as she strode past him and made her self comfortable.
"W-whats this regarding?" he asked her, shutting the door behind him after looking around outside of the room before doing so, "I thought that little escapade of ours with the dragon's treasure was to be our last encounter."
"You know full well. My daughter. The mistaken half changeling. She has reached or is very close to her nineteenth year, and has reached a new level of maturity as all changelings do. I have let this thing fester long enough. In another year, if she desires to, she will be able to challenge my right as queen, and I won't let that happen. I had heard of your... misfortunes with her and what you've been attempting to do. I endorse this, but your clumsy guards will not be able to keep up with even a half changeling. You will be requiring help from my children." she said, not pausing to let him think about it.
"She has insulted me, in more ways than one. I intend to take care of her as I see fit." he said, finally finding his courage again.
"I would have no qualms with that, knowing how you like to 'punish' mares, but the fact is this. She is still partially changeling. I refuse to subject any part of my race to such things." she said, raising an eyebrow at Sir Roderick.
She looked like she was joking, but he could hear the danger in her voice. Damn it. For such a long time, he had wanted to force himself onto Isabella's beautiful form.
"What do you propose then?" he asked.
"Simply kill her. If your men cannot, mine will. And if neither of them can, We will use these." she said as she produced two dark orbs from seemingly nowhere.
Sir Roderick recoiled. He knew what those were. Those simple orbs were known world wide as "Death's Embrace". There were only a few every known to have been made by a magician several thousand years ago. When one was used, it took a full hundred years to regain Its power.
"How in the name of Celestia did you find these?!" he almost shouted.
She shushed him, as she replied. "The first one I received from my mother as the life faded from her eyes and she passed the right of being queen onto me. The second, I found on a foolish adventurer who thought he was a match for my power. If our men fail, these will be enough to finish her off."
"That magic is darker than anything anyone who has lived in the last five hundred years has tried to fiddle with. What if something goes wrong?" he asked, pointing at the orbs.
"Nothing will go wrong. We will have her head soon enough. When our men find him, she will either be dead by their hand or ours." she said.
Her eyes glowed wickedly as she and Sir Roderick looked down on the small purple black orbs. Death's Embrace.