"Try it! Just give it a try, Caprice. Be adventurous! Be bold! I promise you it will not hurt. It will feel wonderful! It will be magnificent." Alexi was dripping with sweat, excited and eager; this had been his fantasy for months, and only now did he think he could get away with it. Only now, did he think the time was right, and that Caprice would be receptive. He had been beating his wings like a madpony to get everything in place.
They were alone in the pavilion cottage. Pumpkin and Buttermilk were off on a long stroll. Alexi had made sure that nothing of their simple belongings could be damaged this time. There would be no embarrassment; their privacy was assured. The only law they were breaking was Natural Law, and in Alexi's fevered opinion, such law could definitely use a revision.
They had tried before, and it had been a disaster. Caprice had laid her body down for him, but it had hurt, especially when she moved incorrectly and fallen on the floor. Worse, she had ended up dripping wet all over; Alexi's fantasy had left her sodden and bruised. But if Caprice was anything, she was a good and game mare, and although she was nervous, she agreed to try again. Alexi would just not let this go; he would never reach true satisfaction until this particular fantasy came true.
"Caprice, listen to your Alexi." He kissed her deeply, his sweat-drenched face dripping onto hers, the smell of his musk filling her senses "I promise you, this time you will feel such pleasure as you have never known. Your body will thank you, your udder will thank you, and I will thank you. Please, please my dearest peach princess, lay your body down and trust in me."
There in the mid-day sunshine, in the privacy of the pavilion cottage, Alexi was shaking with eagerness, like a frisky colt. His excitement at the thought of finally succeeding was making his heart pound; Caprice could feel it through her cheek where she pressed it against his neck. She bit her lip; this was too much, too extreme, yet... part of her was also curious. There was no doubt about it, something in her wanted this, even with the terrible risks.
What could she do? She desperately wanted to be the best mare possible to her beloved stallion. Although she was filled with fear, and worried about the consequences, she submitted to Alexi's plea, and lowered her vulnerable body slowly, carefully, while he watched, shivering with anticipation.
It was firm. Firmer than she had ever felt it. Not like rock, no, that would be too much, but springy, almost like rubber; in places it was like foam. She tentatively began to move, her body rocking sensuously back and forth. It felt good this time, in fact... it felt fantastic! Caprice had never felt anything like it! She honestly felt like she was floating, like she was flying! Still cautious, Caprice rolled onto her belly, feeling the sensations flow across her. Her swollen udder did not hurt in the least in this position - and it normally always did - this was wonderful!
Caprice carefully rolled onto her side. "It's exquisite, Alexi, my miracle stallion! You were correct, I have never known such pleasure in bed before."
"Did I not tell you this would be the best experience that you ever had? Alexi does not make idle boasts!" Alexi puffed out his chest, breathing more easily now, his wind back from his earlier rush down from the sky.
Caprice looked up at her beloved with bedroom eyes "Let's try the next part. Lie down beside me, my sweetest lover."
Alexi walked around the floating, supercompressed cloudstuff bed, until he got to the side opposite Caprice. He had remained close to her, crouched and ready to throw himself on the floor to soften her fall, should the cloudstuff give, as it had last time. That collapse had resulted in the compressed material bursting open, raining a torrent of rainwater that had flooded their pavilion cottage. Caprice had nearly been washed out the door; it had made her very skittish to try laying down on a cloud a second time.
Alexi had worked for over a month on this second attempt; he had enlisted the help of Cirrus, Cherryblossom and Gasket to massage enough cloudstuff into a truly stable platform, one that could take the abuse of a moving, rolling pony on top of it without busting. Successive layers of cloud had been squeezed to varying degrees to create a multitiered layer of fluffy softness above the platform. This was new; Alexi had reasoned that the fluffy padding on top of the cloud platform would absorb any excess force, making the cloud-bed both stronger and even more comfortable.
From the first moment that Alexi, as a pegasus, had rested upon the clouds, he had yearned to share such wonder with his beloved Caprice. To lay on a cloud, to sleep cradled within the air itself, floating, weightless; it was the most incredible of experiences. It was far too good for the proletariat needs of simple Alexi, no - this was truly something that the princess of his heart should be enjoying. But Nature had decreed that she could not, purely because she was an earth pony.
But Cirrus's discovery of compressing cloudstuff to make platforms that could hold solid matter - this had to be the answer. He had seen the possibility right from the beginning. But the problem was that such cloud material was fragile. It was fine as a counter or a pallet to hold a still object; if it were subjected to too great a force, it would break and rain away to nothing in minutes. But if it were buffered by layers of varying densities of cloudstuff, perhaps a true bed of cloud could be made that any pony could use.
When the cloud-bed was completed, Alexi could not wait to share it. He had pushed it down to their cottage on the ground, beating his wings as hard and fast as he could. This time it would work. This was his dream, his fantasy; to share with Caprice the exquisite pleasure of being able to sleep on a floating cloud, to give her the miracle that she had idly once wished for, when they had talked about what it was like for him to be a pegasus.
Alexi carefully lowered himself next to Caprice on the white, fluffy, rectangular mass. The bed hovered four or five hooves off the wooden planks, an easy and comfortable height from the floor. Alexi lay still, feeling the familiar sensation of total comfort only a cloud could provide. "I am truly, deeply impressed, Alexi." Caprice was on her side again, looking at him with total admiration. "You have achieved the impossible. I have honestly never felt anything like this before, and it is fantastic."
Caprice rolled further, so that she could put a foreleg across Alexi's chest. "I'm sorry for being so much trouble about this. I should have trusted in your determination. When I said I wished I could feel what it was like to sleep on a cloud, I should have known that you would somehow make it happen. That's what you do, isn't it?" Caprice snuggled her head against Alexi's shoulder. Even pressed in tight, she could still breathe; she was literally floating on air.
A strange sound filled the room. It wasn't a noise, exactly, it was more musical than that. Caprice almost felt it in her head as much as in her ears. The brief sound swelled to a pop, almost like the sound of a kiss. At the same time, something near Alexi's legs seemed to brighten somehow.
"Whoa! What the..." Alexi began rolling, squirming, trying to see his own flank. Caprice raised her head, startled. "Alexi? Was that? Goodness!"
It was. A stylized image of a snow-capped, two-peaked mountain had appeared on Alexi's flank, below it three drops of water. It looked like a mountain floating in the sky, raining like a cloud. "What... what does it mean, Alexi?"
Alexi blinked, looked again, and then roared with laughter. "Ha! Water from a stone, no, water from a mountain!" A tear appeared in the corner of his eye, clearly he found something amusing.
"Alexi, I don't understand." Caprice smoothly curled down to study the cutie mark in more detail; she ran a hoof over it tenderly.
"AH! Easy, dearest! These marks are indeed tender... though in a pleasurable way, I must say." Alexi relaxed on the cloud bed grinning; this had just been the best of days. The bed was a success, and he had finally gotten a mark!
"My grandmare, she was a wonderful pony. She was from the <Russian Corporate Productionzone>, from a section of the <global favela> that still had a touch of old world charm." Alexi interspersed his language with NorthAmeriZone English, because the carefully studied Equestrian they now spoke simply lacked certain terms.
"She used to tell me old fairy stories from long, long ago. One was about a young colt tailor that went off into the woods and met there a giant." Alexi rolled over to cuddle with Caprice; she snuggled into him, having finished admiring his new Mark. "For some reason, the giant threatened the colt, who challenged the giant to a contest of strength - he was a clever pony, you see."
Caprice's nose was near Alexi's chest; she breathed in his warm and familiar scent. Floating on the cloud, she felt happy and drowsy. Alexi kissed her poll, which was just under his chin. "The giant, he... hmm... it has been a long time, Caprice. I cannot remember all the details. But, to make a long story short, one of the challenges made is to squeeze water from a stone; the giant cannot, but the clever pony can. He has a cheese, you see, one of the old fashioned wet kinds of cheese, and he claims this to be a stone and squeezes liquid from it."
Caprice nibbled affectionately at Alexi's chest, the hairs of his coat sliding between her lips. "Ah!" Caprice awakened slightly from her comfortably drowsy state. "The giant was then intimidated, because the colt could do something that he could not! I vaguely remember a story like that now... oh, that's an old, old story."
"Hmm...!" Caprice was fully awake now, her mind racing to see the connection. "The colt seemingly did the impossible, providing a material that the giant could not; your special talent has always been getting ponyfolk what they need, even when it seems impossible. And a mountain is much greater than a stone, so... it represents the scale of what you want to achieve, doesn't it? That's what it means to you - to squeeze out of the big mountain of life every little drop that anypony needs. To do the impossible for others. I get it!"
Alexi kissed Caprice once more. "That, exactly, is what I am thinking that my special mark means, at least to me."
"That's how the marks work, if I've understood things correctly. The marks represent something personal to the pony that gets them, and the mark that appears can be fairly abstract or quite obvious. I wonder if I'll ever get one. I don't have a special talent. Well, other than getting my own way, which I'm trying to be better about, thank you very much!" Caprice giggled at that.
"Sweet, Caprice..." Alexi nuzzled her "You have many wonderful talents. You are good with languages, you brought us all together, and you keep us together, and you are a good mother to our daughter, and a good sister to Pumpkin. You are my favorite pony in all of Equestria to be around, and you are my very best friend. And..." Alexi made a wicked grin.
"And...?" Caprice felt lost.
"You do have a special talent, I must say. A very special talent." Alexi gave her ears a suggestive lick.
Caprice feigned shock and then smiled. "Thank you, but that is not the sort of cutie mark I want to have on my ass, if you don't mind!" They both laughed at that, then snuggled closer together, floating on a bed made of cloud, hovering in the air.
Pumpkin was tired. She wanted to head home and rest. A little over a month ago her foal had dropped, causing her belly to distend, now she had to cope with the true bulk of the unborn pony that she was carrying inside herself. It was much easier to breathe now, but in exchange it had become more difficult to move; running was unpleasant at best, and flying was a near impossibility. Her belly was suddenly huge, and it affected how she stood, how she moved, how she sat and how she lay when sleeping.
Unfortunately, Buttermilk was being difficult. The increasingly larger little yellow unicorn seemed to be going through what Teaspoon had called a native equivalent of 'the terrible twos'; Buttermilk had learned many new words, her current favorite being 'NO!'. It seemed that Equestrians enjoyed a remarkably accelerated development in childhood; the books from the crates described three phases of rapid growth. The first happened within the the initial days of life; a foal would learn to stand, walk, run, and would know to follow her mother and to stay with her.
The next phase began a few months later; rapid growth combined with a vast increase in vocabulary, the young Equestrian would gradually become a functioning individual before the end of its first year. Buttermilk was in this second phase, and had already demonstrated abilities that, compared with a human child of the same age, would seem miraculous.
Buttermilk, at eleven months of age, knew thirty-three words and names, could count to ten, and could recognize herself in a mirror. She had a distinct personality, and was currently, annoyingly, demonstrating independence and rejection of authority. She was effectively potty-trained. This would be unthinkable in a human; it was expected for an Equestrian.
At the end of the first year, a long plateau in development would occur, a long and lazy early childhood that would last five to six years. Then a steady growth to sexual maturity would begin, ending some twenty years later. This greatly extended childhood was counterbalanced by a much longer lifespan than humans; the average Equestrian lived to be the equivalent of a hundred and fifty years in vigorous health, with any obvious physical decrepitude left to the final two decades of life alone.
"WANT!" Buttermilk had forgotten the two (vaguely) English words that she had first learned; Caprice had insisted on her learning the Equestrian language only. It was clear what her new favorite words were; they revolved around acquisition and rejection. She wanted more cookies, she did not want to go home and take a nap. Today, she was being very adamant about her position on these matters and negotiations were at a standstill.
"You've had enough sweets, sweetie. It's time to go home now." Teaspoon, who had once been known as 'Dragonfly' - until she had gotten her cutie mark of three spoons - had jumped on the introduction of sugar. Sweetpepper and Goldrivet (who now also had gotten his own mark - a trinity of hammer, sickle and plow which had caused Sweetpepper to invent the endearment "My Little <Communist>") had surprised the community with the true value of beets.
Sugar had allowed cakes and cookies, pies and candy to be baked, and this had made all of the ponies very happy, as well as granting not a few cutie marks along the way. The unicorn, Lightning, had offered that lately it had been "Achievement city, like an easy game played on an old AppleSoft NeuroBox." It was true, the last five months had been filled with ponies getting their marks, now that the struggle for survival had turned to finding niches within the self-sustaining community.
"NO!" Buttermilk reasoned. She extended this line of discourse with some weighty and well considered stomps of her forehooves, After a brief pause to cogitate further, she concluded with a disciplined Argument By Tantrum. "NO! NO! NO!"
Oddly, Auntie Pumpkin seemed strangely unswayed by this logic, and irrationally proffered a ridiculous rebuttal: "Come on, now!" Pumpkin was not feeling good, her belly felt terribly swollen, her hooves hurt, and her lunch was not sitting well at all. In frustration, she took Buttermilk's tail in her mouth and began tugging her in the direction of home; it was her intention to drag the little... foal... the entire distance if she had to.
Now, this was certainly out of line. Buttermilk had tried reason, she had tried persuasion - she had repeated 'Want!' a prodigious number of ways and at diverse pitches and volumes - and she had even tried the Gentle Art Of Dashing Away. Nothing had worked with this impossible mare, and even if Auntie Pumpkin was a member of the family, there really was a limit. No reasonable eleven-month old should be expected to put up with this kind of lack of more cookies! It was just... uncivilized.
There was only one appropriate thing to be done; immediate and forceful digging-in of all hooves, followed by a determined and straightforward effort to rip the offending relative's molars straight out their muzzle; at times like these it really was the only way they would learn. Buttermilk began pulling and scrambling towards the community kitchen heedless of the pain in her tail; if anything it just served to spur her on.
For Pumpkin this was enough. She gave Buttermilk's bratty tail the biggest yank she could. Buttermilk was surprised to find herself flying backwards, only to land right right between Auntie Pumpkin's forelegs. These then closed together like clamps around the foals body while Pumpkin grabbed Buttermilk by her crest.
Of course, Buttermilk began to squirm free immediately, so Pumpkin squeezed her forelegs together with all of her might; this was the exact moment her water broke.