"Dad, Mom, I'm going for a little walk. Is that okay?"
Bumble had descended from his room and spoke this query aloud. Set over his firm shoulders was his blue school backpack, which rustled and rattled around noisily with the items it contained as he moved. Aside from his hoofsteps, that was the only sound he heard at the moment, given that no response had yet hit his ears.
"Dad? Mom?" Bumble called out again. Still he heard nothing. Vexed, he ventured throughout the house upon reaching the base of the stairs, trotting to where he suspected he would find either one, if not both of his parents -- the living room.
Sure enough, upon reaching the living room, there his parents were. In the center of the area and with his back turned to him, Bombini was tending to Apini in her wheelchair. His hooves massaged her shoulders in soft and smooth motions while he quietly spoke to her, apparently giving to her words of encouragement. To Bumble, it was clear that they were about to start another round of that nonsensical walking practice.
As if that would help with anything that was wrong with his mother...
"Dad?" he eventually asked their way, trying one last time to get some sort of attention. "Hey, you got a second?"
"Bumble!" Pausing in his activity and slowly spinning both himself and his wife's wheelchair about, Bombini beamed his son's way. "Yes? Is there something you need?"
Bumble cleared his throat. "I just wanted to know if it was okay with you if I were to go for... a little walk." His hoof next pawed with a sense of impatience at the floor below, but his view remained fixated on his father.
"Oh, it's perfectly fine with me. The weather's still nice, so I think it's best you enjoy it, while it lasts," easily replied Bombini. His brow then suddenly lowered, curiosity coming over him. "Where do you plan on walking, if I might ask?"
"Oh, you know... around Canterlot," Bumble answered in as dull a tone as anyone could utter. He rubbed the back of his neck with a hoof as his eyes turned away to nothing in particular in a slow motion, as though staring through the wall before him. "Maybe I'll go a little ways outside Canterlot. Have myself a little stroll through the woods, possibly. I just want to find a quiet, comfortable, outside spot to do my homework in. Is that alright?"
"If that's what you want to do, then... go ahead, son. Be safe," his father eventually bid, smiling his way. He was about to refocus his attention back onto Apini when his eyes lit up a small ways, remembering one last thing he wished to say. "Oh! And have fun."
His head swiveling back his parents' way, Bumble snickered, accompanying the sound with a roll of his eyes. "The walk may be, but homework isn't something I would refer to as 'fun'. But thanks, Dad. See you and Mom later."
Bumble took a good look at his parents as they started going back to preparing their activity. Seeing clearly that Bombini was fixing a loose grip on one of the handles, Bumble's gaze fell to his mother herself. Apini, once looking away as her son conversed with her husband, glanced to Bumble weakly, as though sensing his prying eyes. She put on an even weaker smile for him.
Bumble tried to smile back, but he didn't try very hard. Not wanting to dwell here any longer, he turned around and made his way to the house's front door. Upon exiting through it he emerged to the Canterlot streets.
He trotted a short distance. Instead of simply walking forever, though, the moment he had rounded the corner he burst into a joyful sprint. He ran past ponies who happened to pass him by, either walking, talking, or noisily selling their wares. He ran until he left Canterlot's front gates, and after approaching a path leading into the Everfree Forest, he finally stopped to catch his breath.
From there, Bumble simply walked onward with his bag still rattling from over his shoulders. Inhaling the sweet scents only the outdoors could provide, he used his other senses to take in the serene beauty that surrounded him. The path came to a river it started to run alongside, and the sound of gently moving water meshed well with the songs of the twittering birds from overhead; at least, the ones that still hung around with fall's onset. Most of the trees their little avian bodies stood in had developed their bright, pretty autumn colors by this point in the year, and Bumble found himself gawking at the sheer, vivid brightness of some of them. As ironic as it was, the next thing to befall his view after coming to a bend -- his destination, in fact -- was that of something less than pretty in appearance. And yet, it still made him grin like an idiot.
The sight was that of an old, dead witchwood tree, sitting at the base of a big grassy mound just a dozen meters from the riverbank. It was a tall and haggard thing, having never born leaves for nearly three summers. Its pale, brittle-barked trunk, quite unlike the darker colorings of most of its neighboring trees, was thin in basic appearance, but not to a major degree. All around its top were a cluster of skeletal branches, each ending in wicked claws that scratched at the air every time the wind blew them into animation. Gnarled roots extended from the soil and along the mound it sat before, pushing many feet out from the dirt it had grown over in some parts.
Given this particular tree's set of unmistakable, distinguishing features when compared to the likes of its background, it was a good place to mark on a map or set up for a meeting spot. Given it's basic form, it was just as well the perfect location to sit at if one was searching for a perfect cover from a fierce storm, or just to kick back and relax.
The ambient sound of the river flowing beyond it and the wind rustling through the other trees and their leaves and branches above filled Bumble's ears as he walked forward. His urgency in leaving his home prior was due to the fact that he had come right here to meet someone important. That one person was the sole reason he smiled as he did. And he hoped with all his might and with every fiber in his body that that certain someone was on time as well.
And so, taking in a deep breath, he voiced her name.
"Peach?" he called out, his voice slightly hushed, as though paranoid someone else would be listening in. "Peach, are you here?"
"Yeah!" then came a familiar voice, just a short distance from him and right around the bend. "Is that you, Bumble?"
"Yep!" Bumble answered, his heart almost jumping the moment he received her response. His pace hurrying with renewed energy, he rounded the tree and came across a figure just on the other side of it, who seemed to be racing his way as well. There, now not ten feet off from himself, was Peach Blossom. She had on a pack of her own, and around her neck again was that lucky green bandanna. The second his eyes witnessed her, her own saw him. Mutual smiles of glee formed on their mouths, and they only grew closer.
"How are you doing, Bumble?" inquired Peach Blossom, lifting her left front hoof up. Bumble lifted his own and the two punched against the other.
"Pretty good, Peach. How're you?"
"Wanna get started on some of that homework?"
"With you? Always."
And so, under the shade of the tree and in a comfy spot just between its roots, the pair did just that. Pulling their books, papers and pencils from their bags, the two young creatures did just as they planned: they worked on their homework, setting right to it like diamond dogs upon a pretty gemstone. They talked about some of the problems, discussed the texts, and solved some of the more perplexing questions with the aid of one another.
It was as their work entered its first hour when Blossom felt the atmosphere they were in change, starting with Bumble's turn in behavior. Sure, they were taking some time to look over the newest page's list of problems in need of solving, but for the last five minutes he had gone completely quiet. Whenever they were together, and especially if neither of their parents were around during such moments, Bumble hardly ever went as quiet as this toward her. Feeling most curious, she turned from her textbook to his yellow-furred form and saw that he wasn't looking at the paper as she had been doing.
He was looking at her, and in a manner most strange for that matter; a fixed, albeit minor glance over his shoulder to her, but one he had clearly kept for most of, if not all that time he was silent. His eyes, both the green one and the ever-odd, yet strangely alluring red one, were filled with a noticeable wishful glimmer. An extra noticeable wishful glimmer.
"You look like you've got something else on your mind, Bumble," said Peach Blossom.
"Uh... yeah." He turned his head back a small ways as he was snapped out of his view, chuckling once. "A... a quick question."
"For what?" Blossom asked. "Math?"
"N-no, not math. Not any other school subject, either."
The moment she heard the stutter in his voice, Peach Blossom knew something was indeed up. She cocked her brow and puckered her lower lip, interest filling her inquisitive young mind. Changing her posture, she placed her chin in her left hoof and set down her pencil. "Oh. Then what is it, Bumble?"
Oh, boy. Here we go... Bumble thought, hoping for the best. He inhaled and exhaled a deep breath, joining in on the sounds of the heavy fall breeze passing by. "Can I ask you a question, Peach?"
"Sure you can." She scooted over a little closer to him and smiled confidently. "Ask away."
Again filling his lungs with as much air as they could hold, Bumble Bee let his long held-in question go.
"Peach, do you... do you, quite possibly... like me?" he asked. Unable to help himself in his suspense, he tapped his forehooves together in a nervous display, his head turning to the books and papers before him but shifting his eyes her way. "As in... like-like me?"
Peach Blossom heard him well, and she paused. Her mouth had curled into a frown -- not out of anything negative to do with his answer, but of apparent deep thought. While it at first seemed as though she might just put down his question in spite of it, everything Bumble feared went away when that frown she wore turned into a big, wide smile.
"Yeah, I do," Peach Blossom admitted, her tone light, but at the same time firm and true. One of her hooves lifted from her lap, snaking its way over to Bumble's side, where it gripped his own. "I've 'like-liked' you since the second grade, Bumble."
"Wh-, I... R-really?" sputtered the disguised changeling. He was quick to regain his disposition, clearing his throat and evening his posture. It wasn't nearly enough to soothe his surprise and pleasure, even though his next sentence continued regardless. "That's-that's... I... I..."
Peach Blossom couldn't help but snigger at his stammering. "Oh, come on, Bumble. Don't tell me you haven't noticed all the cute faces and stuff we've been making to each other over the past few months. And don't think I didn't notice that time you wrapped your hoof over my shoulder at the movies."
She poked him in the side with her hoof twice in a teasing fashion. "Now, I know you know that I noticed it. And besides that, we both caught each others' hints numerous times."
"Oh, pff..." he dismissed. "I didn't show you any hints... I mean, all those things you might have seen me do were obviously-"
Bumble's futile defense was cut off when a warm, wet sensation touched his mouth and sealed it close. With his eyelids lifting like a pull-and-release shade upon a window, he realized that Peach Blossom had leaned her head in with a gleeful humming tune and put her lips upon his. The kiss itself lasted two, maybe three seconds at most, but when Peach Blossom broke away, Bumble thought for sure an hour had passed. Shock filled him, its fury most terrible.
For a good minute, Bumble couldn't find the capability to speak. For a good, long minute, Bumble began to question if this was reality. His eyes blinked rapidly and his lips, still filled with the taste of Peach Blossom's own, quivered ceaselessly. Needless to say, his entire face gradually devolved into a hodgepodge of chaotic emotion that he simply couldn't withhold. Only one thing was certain that his mind could ascertain was not an illusion, and that was that he was not dreaming.
Finally, he formed just enough willpower to sum up the words, "D-did you just-?!"
"Yep." Peach Blossom raised her head high. The expression on her pretty face was the very definition of smug. She jabbed a hoof at his chest, light as a feather in its touch and yet bearing as much impact as a spear. "And let me tell you, Bumble; I've been waiting a long time to do that."
Bumble continued his stuttering, happy but still in shock. Peach Blossom, equally overjoyed but more clear of mind, contented herself with continuing her harmless teasing of him until he could get a grip of himself. The two shared this moment for a long time, the homework completely forgotten, all while being blissfully unaware of one creature that watched them from a short distance away.
That creature hailed from the river nearby. Most would have mistaken it for a large and chalky rock protruding from the stream's murky depths, but a rock it was not. It was the upper portion of a great head, scaly in its almost colorless texture. It was covered in random patches green algae and many a stray weed that had grown upon its rugged white flesh, all accrued over the years from living below the water's surface.
He saw the pair well from that tree they currently conversed under. This was, after all, his territory that those two equine folk were trespassing upon, and he knew most things that happened within his small, but comfy realm. Normally, those who would intrude upon his territory would be eaten with a quick and brutal snapping of his mighty jaws.
Instead of attacking, it continued to watch the two lovebirds speak of their idiotic infatuation with one another and say some more meaningless sweet nothings. It saw them with the bright, crimson, reptilian eyes protruding from either side of the end of his head, which usually stared with hungering intent toward many who it saw as potential prey.
Hungry, however, they were not now. The beast's belly was still quite full from a meal it ate just shy of a year ago, so it decided not to bother the intruders -- this time. Puffing a small geyser of water from the slit-like nostrils on his snout and allowing his first set of translucent eyelids closing over the crimson orbs they belonged to in a most lazy manner, the head of the creature slowly sunk below the surface, leaving behind a small cluster of ripples and air bubbles as its pallid crown full submerged. Those bubbles traveled upon the current a small ways and soon popped, leaving Bumble Bee and Peach Blossom alone in their merry little moment of bliss and revelation once more.
Habeas was acting odd. Very odd.
Persica was sure of this fact the moment she laid eyes on him this morning. There he was, busily hopping around with vigor unlike anything she had ever seen. He ran about like a cat with its tail on fire, going this way and that, setting up some minuscule trap one second and then dusting off a counter or rearranging a vase the next. When Persica of course asked him why he was acting so strange upon witnessing his perplexing antics, all he would respond with was a simple "No reason," or "Just trying to help," or "Just tending to the house!"
Normally, that may have been enough of an explanation to keep her suspicion from growing. But the way he accented his tone with every single word he uttered her way... he sounded almost like he was keeping a secret from her. Hiding something most important from the eyes of anyone.
Indeed, he was displaying that big red ring of antics and emotion that could only be interpreted as giddy and terse. That wasn't the Habeas she had grown fond of.
Even with her own little worries to tend to, she knew there was something most unsettling he was preoccupied with. And while he had been helping her as best he could with their pest problem, over the past two days he seemed to be taking a nearly unhealthy interest in the methods on capturing the accursed boggart that had been evading them.
Persica had brewed herself some coffee and walked into the living room once again. Sure enough, Habeas was still there and he was still practically jumping around the room. Now, he was working on setting a mousetrap for the room's corner, with its bait being a small speck of cheese. One little mistaken twitch later and the trap instantly snapped, catching the tip of his hoof.
He yelped once and mumbled a curse to himself, but he soon he went back to setting it again. Persica, unhappy at having to see him like this, shook her head and sighed.
"Habeas," she spoke, drawing the changeling's attention quickly from the traps to her. She already knew the answer to the question she was about to say, but she asked it anyway, if only to hear her lover confirm her suspicions. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, you know. I'm still, uh... trying to find a way to draw out that boggart, heh." His light laugh came out with a clear hint of nervousness. His eyes wandering from Persica, Habeas went back to the trap he wanted to place. He moved its little parts around as was meant to be done and rigged its bait again. But as soon as he set it, it again snapped up, leaving him to softly groan in frustration.
Persica took a sip of the coffee from her mug as Habeas tried again to reset the trap. "Mouse traps aren't going to do it, you know," she advised. "Sure they're made of iron, but they're too... obvious. Also, the boggart can just take the bait without disrupting the mechanism."
"Well, I'm willing to try anything to catch this pest of ours at this point." Habeas groaned again. "You've practically exhausted all of your options, right? Now allow me to exhaust mine."
Turning his head, Habeas went back to his activity and began to once more rig that accursed trap, all while Persica looked on, silently sipping another mouthful of her warm drink. Her eye stared at Habeas and the room around him. Her mind raced, but with calm precision.
Funny enough, she had formed a fresh idea a few days ago; one she had never before implemented to catch a boggart. It was a more hooves-on approach, one meant to finally discover where the little wretch dwelt in a way it surely wouldn't predict, and Habeas was the key to it. But even so, she was certain that her beloved changeling would be hesitant to put himself in the danger it had the chance of escalating into, and she herself felt that way as well. But seeing Habeas now... well, if he was truly so keen on catching that supernatural vermin as she was, then perhaps he would find some interest in it.
Only one way to find out.
"Habeas, look at that."
"Look at what?"
"That." Persica pointed at the wall close to him. What she specifically motioned to was a small hole protruding from its base.
"I'm certain that's where the boggart's been commonly coming in and out of," she continued after Habeas saw it for himself.
"So?" he asked. "Why not plug it up?"
"Because it will just make another."
Time to reveal the plan. "Habeas, I think we might find some use in it. If we were to find some... oh, I don't know... method of peeking into it and where it goes, perhaps one could explore it without having to tear the whole thing down."
"Explore it? That could be helpful. But... how could we?" Habeas began to stand up, getting to his hooves with a small grunt. He exhaled a noisy breath through his nostrils and his expression seemed bleak. "Without the proper means or tools, it's just a fantasy. I mean, it's so tiny. One would have to be as small as a mouse or a rat to get in there and navigate around..."
It was as the last word left his lips that Habeas' entire complexion brightened like a light bulb. He blinked twice, as though startled with his sudden realization.
"Wait... I can shapeshift!" he exclaimed, his ears raising with his sudden squawk.
Persica could only stifle a giggle and roll her eyes. Most amused by his reaction to this fact, she nodded and allowed her coltfriend to continue with his moment of clarity.
Habeas stuck a hoof to his head. "It's... it's been so long since I've last decided to change forms, I guess I forgot!" he snickered. "Oh, wow... this is embarrassing."
"Embarrassing as it may be, how do you feel with it?" asked Persica. "About the plan, I mean."
Habeas, still beaming brightly, answered immediately. "If it'll be the boost we need to catch our unwanted guest, then I'll do it!"
Persica paused. "Wait, are you sure?"
"Yes, I... I am!"
Just like that, Habeas trotted up to the hole in the wall. He looked down at it and hummed, obviously preparing to enter the thing already. A rousing jolt of surprise and common sense struck Persica.
"You're going now?" she inquired, placing her coffee mug on the table and approaching him.
"Well, I'm feeling up for it at the moment, so why not?" Habeas poked at the corners of the hole as he spoke, measuring its size and the appropriate form he would have to take to pass through it.
Her brow lowered, unsure of his haste in performing this task. "I won't stop you, but I advise you to at least think for a moment."
"We've been thinking for a while. But not a second more is required, I think. Now is the time for action!"
Oh, he was too caught up in the moment. Nothing short of the extreme would stop him at this point. Best now to at least to try to steer his ambitions from recklessness. "Promise me one thing then, Habeas."
"And what would that be, my dear?"
Persica huffed, "Please, if you locate the den, don't do anything rash."
Habeas smirked. "Oh, come on, Persica..." He closed his eyes, waving his hoof dismissively. "Could a creature so small as a boggart really be-"
"I'm serious, Habeas." She interjected, shifting him a rough glare. "You don't know what these kinds of creatures can do, especially when faced with a changeling in the body of a rodent. And if this one is as crafty as it is, then I fear what it could be capable of if one were to trespass within its own lair. Especially if you were still in the form of a rat."
With that single, apt description, Habeas realized what he might be getting himself into, and gulped accordingly. "Well then," he said, "I suppose I'll take my stride with immense caution."
"Good." Persica placed her hooves onto his shoulders and moved him just enough to properly face her. Gripping him tightly, she drew his mouth to hers. When their small kiss broke off, her face was still wary. "But... are you one-hundred percent sure you want to do this? Brave as you act, you don't normally attempt to do things so... recklessly."
"Puh-lease." His cheeks lit up with a bashful rosy color. "I'd do anything such as this, reckless or otherwise, for you, my beloved. And I'll have you know that reckless bravery is my middle name!"
"I thought it was Corpus."
"Oh yeah? Well, that's my other middle, um... na-" The sensation of Persica's lips suddenly coming to and meeting his again halted his speech before he could form a proper comeback. He closed his eyes briefly and joined in on it once more, savoring the long, sweet moment with the one pony he loved most.
"Be safe." Their kiss ending right before she spoke again, Persica stared into Habeas' eyes with her good one. There was sincere worry shining upon her face, and it was a look the changeling could not ignore. "And be swift. Just find some clues, and come back to me as soon as you can. Preferably in one piece."
"I will," promised Habeas, smiling confidently.
"And you'd better." Persica let go of her dear changeling and stepped back, allowing him to have the space he needed to shift forms properly. Winking at his marefriend a final time, Habeas became enveloped by a light green flame for all but a second before the magical energies faded.
When it parted, what stood there was no longer a changeling, but a brown-furred rat. A rat with an unusually intelligent expression upon its rodent face. As its hairless, pink tail swished about twice, it looked around the room, its whiskered nose twitching before its beady black eyes came back to Persica.
"Welp," Habeas squeaked her way in a voice that sounded almost comically high-pitched. He stretched about the minuscule digits lining each of his forepaws in preparation for the coming journey. "I guess it's time to sniff me out a boggart den!"
He chuckled to himself awkwardly as he accented his sentence, earning a dry, though honestly humored glance from Persica. The gravity of his mission sinking into his head, Habeas quickly straightened his rodent face out into a serious mien. Clearing his throat, he gave Persica a final, confident nod, and scurried his furry form to the hole nearby. He popped into it with ease and vanished from sight.
Persica watched him depart. The sounds of claws and paws scurrying within the walls went out in shrill abundance before that, too, went silent. Her expression slowly changed to something ever more somber with every second that slipped by after he left. Seeing him leave so quickly and thrust himself into potential danger couldn't help but send a cruel image streaking through her head. An image telling her that if anything happened to him before she could at least reveal to him the precious secret that she had been harboring, then the most horrific moment of her life may just repeat itself.
"Be safe," Persica bid to him once more, her voice lowered to a whisper. "Be safe for me, Habeas."