‘So, who are we going to see again?’
‘‘Rainbow, please don’t tell me you drifted off again when the Princess was speaking to us?’’ Rarity asks, exasperatedly.
‘‘I got the gist of it! Go to creepy house in the forest, bring back some guy to cure Luna of somethin’. Couldn’t be easier. Right, Flutters?’’
‘‘Um, well, it certainly sounds like it should be simple. But I’m sure the Princess wouldn’t have sent us if it were that easy. I mean, I’m sure it will be easy for you, Rainbow, but. Um. Nevermind...’’
‘‘Right! The Princess shoulda just sent me, I’d have been back already! I dunno why she wanted 3 of us to go. Heh, maybe she wanted a witness to see how fast I can do it.’’ Rainbow’s usual confidence bordering on arrogance is clearly rubbing Rarity up the wrong way again.
‘‘Or maybe she felt that being attacked by a Hydra may go some way towards deflating your ego, darling.’’ Rarity snaps at Rainbow, causing her to blush a little and float back nearer the ground
‘‘Hey, I outran it last time, didn’t I?’’
The three friends bicker away, passing through the immensely tall trees of the forest. Rainbow Dash and Rarity snipe at each other as they tear their way through the thick bramble and patches of mud, whilst Fluttershy occupies herself with nervously glancing around for dangerous animals and trying to dispel the barbed remarks flying between her companions.
Eventually, they get to a clearing, the trees surrounding the area making it seem like the bottom of an algae-infested well. But before Rainbow can fly up and knock on the antique door adorning the ivy-covered house in the centre of the copse, it creaks open to reveal a tall grey unicorn wearing goggles of the type Twilight favours and a stony expression.
‘‘Unless you three are the escorts I ordered ten years ago, go away. If you are, then I really don’t feel I should pay. And tell your supervisor, or whatever you’re calling your ‘manager’ these days, that he is terrible at his job.’’ Dr Mane says all this calmly, not a single hint of jest about him as he removes the goggles.
‘‘Um, sir, we are your escorts. But I don’t think you called us, even as long ago as that. I’m sure I would have remembered. Though it’s nice to see that we’ll be escorting a handsome stallion like you...eep.’’ Fluttershy hides behind her mane as her cheeks flush crimson.
‘‘Well, as it happens I was just making fun of you. But it’s not every day that three whores turn up on my doorstep offering their services. Almost feels like I’m in a perverted little fairytale. So tell me, does it have a happy ending?’’ Mane says with a malicious smile.
‘‘HEY! No-one talks to us like that! And absolutely no-one talks to Fluttershy like that! What kind of sick-’’
‘‘Rainbow! That’s enough! I daresay this has all been a regrettable misunderstanding. I do apologise for my friend, sir, she is somewhat hot-headed. May I ask your name?’’ Rarity flutters her eyelashes at Mane, ever the diplomat.
‘‘Misunderstanding? Look, If you’re not a call girl then why is your mascara telling me different? And tell the blue one that I like to be the tough one when we’re roleplaying, not her. Nice mane though. Want a white streak in there as well?’’
‘‘White streak? What the- HEY! I’m gonna kick your ass if you keep up with the creepy loner sex-fiend attitude, allright? We came here with a job to do, and you’re hoofing well gonna hear us out!’’ Rainbow flies right up to Mane, looking him in the eye. Mane stares back, a gleam in his eye betraying his smug enjoyment.
‘‘Fine. I was getting bored of running verbal rings around you anyway. Now tell me what you want, so I can say no and get back to work.’’ Mane backs up a little, and sits on his haunches.
Rarity has finally come out of her shocked silence, but Fluttershy is still hiding behind her mane with her hooves over her eyes. ‘‘Firstly, sir’, Rarity bites out, ‘We are not...what you called us. When my friend Fluttershy here said we are escorts, she meant we are to escort you to Ponyville, and from there to Canterlot. And may I just say that you really must learn to take a compliment when you hear one. Such rudeness is doing nothing but making you seem foalish.’’
‘‘Heh. Really doesn’t take much to crack your sugar and get through to the spice, does it? Do you let everypony you meet piss you off like this, or am I just that good?’’ Mane really seems to be enjoying himself, and ignoring their goal just widens his grin.
‘‘What did I say about attitude like that? Maybe if you lost a few teeth you’d bite your tongue a bit more!’’ Rainbow is getting ready to fly at him, wings erect in fighting positions. Doesn’t stop Mane from noticing Rarity champing back her anger, and composing herself again.
‘‘Look, sir, clearly we have gotten off on the wrong hoof here. We surely have made mistakes, but we did not intend to offend you. Although you seem to take delight in twisting our words, but that is neither here nor there. Really, we only came here for one thing: to get you to Ponyville. Princess Luna is ill. We do not know what with, but we assume that is why Celestia herself sent us to retrieve you. She says you are the only doctor who can help her, though what she sees in you I’m sure I don’t know. So please, will you come with us?’’
‘‘No. No, I will not. Besides the fact that anything a bucking alicorn can’t cure is surely beyond my abilities, I just don’t appreciate Celestia sending her pet lackeys to try to manipulate me into doing her bidding rather than just speaking to me herself. We’re done here.’’ Mane turns tail on them and walks back into his house, leaving the three friends with jaws wide open in disbelief.
‘‘Well, I envisaged that going... differently.’’ Rarity says.
‘‘Yeah! I mean, who the hell does he think he is? If the Princess asks for you personally, it’s an honour not an insult! I say we go in there and beat the ungratefulness outta him.’’ Rainbow looks furious as ever.
Now that Mane’s gone back inside, Fluttershy slowly stands up and comes out from behind her mane. ‘‘Rainbow, we can’t ask him to do something he doesn’t want to. I’m not even sure how we could try something like that, he must be ever so powerful if the Princess wants his help.’’
‘‘I’m afraid Fluttershy is right, Rainbow, much as I would love to bring that oaf down a peg or two. But I think there may be a better way we can persuade him...’’
Mane has been wrapped up in his experiments for hours now, either forgetting or not caring about the three ponies he left outside. As he works at the octagonal table, not a single bang or crash from outside filters through whatever world his mind is occupying. He’s so focussed on his work that he doesn’t even notice a rat scurrying across the table to quickly sip at a small bowl of green liquid. At least, not until it’s hair stands on end like porcupine spines, and it floats off the table with an extremely nonplussed expression and gently bumps against Mane’s head. Mane looks at it with vague interest, then says ‘Well, I bet you feel like an idiot now, don’t you? I thought rats were meant to be intelligent.’ The rat just looks at him and tries to squeak apologetically, but instead makes a sound like bubblewrap being gently put through a mangle.
Mane snickers to himself, making the rat look even more forlorn, and grabs it by the scruff of the neck with his magic. He takes it out of the room, trotting over to the edge of the woods and giving the rat a push with his magic, making it slowly drift upwards towards the treetops. Laughing even harder now, he turns back to go into his house.
‘‘WHAT THE BUCK HAVE YOU DONE TO MY HOUSE?!?!’’ Mane’s smirk is wiped off his face and replaced with a rictus of sheer horror. The roof of his house, once a simple affair of terracotta tiling, is now befouled with a gigantic likeness of Celestia and Luna, wide eyed and smiling together as they gaze down on Mane with vacuous expressions and dead eyes mocking him. These cudheads play hardball, Mane thinks as he sits on his rump transfixed by the horrible, horrible reality.
‘‘Isn’t it simply darling? We wanted to apologise for trying to force you to come with us, and so we decided to redecorate your house!’’ Rarity says, sincerity plastered all over her face.
‘‘Yeah, we thought this’d be your style. Hope ya don’t mind.’’ Rainbow Dash is less convincing, all but holding her sides with suppressed giggling.
‘‘What’s the matter, sir? Don’t you like it? We spent ever so long on it, even with Rarity’s magic. And, um, I hope you don’t mind if I ask, but is that rat going to be okay? I’m sure it isn’t natural for them to be floating like that..’’
Mane has finally come to his senses, despite the appalling shock, and seems to be preparing a retort through teeth clenched with rage and disgust. The three friends wait for his reply, suddenly wondering if the barrel of gunpowder they just lit the fuse to is bigger than they thought...