We walked - or in Pinkie's case bounced - back to Sugarcube Corner in silence. Pinkie seemed chipper since I assured her that it wasn't her I was running from but the situation itself. And yeah, that's not a good way of dealing with any situation but I had an excuse! Uhm, let me think of one.
Crap. I ... am a ... coward? I guess that works. ANYWAY.
As we moved into the main streets of Ponyville, I began to notice how deserted everything seemed. Where before the streets were full of ponies, now it seemed as though the entire town were deserted. I almost asked my guide if something was happening but a quick glance up shattered my question. With a high-pitched 'eep' I stopped and sat heavily down. Pinkie bounced to a stop a few hops away.
"Bruce?" She turned to look at me, tilting her head quizzically.
"Oh my god, it's gorgeous," I whispered, my eyes caught in the glory everything. I usually try to avoid waxing poetic but bear with me on this one. It was an almost religious experience.
The sky was lit with the colors of a rainbow, the baby blue darkening to the east to the deepest of purples and lightening to the burnt red of a mid-summers sunset to the west. The orange light of the setting sun shining on the thatch of the buildings around us, themselves almost a burnished gold. The warm stones of one of the straight cobble streets cooled in the evening air as I sat, the gray of the road contrasting so wonderfully with the bright and almost pristine shine of the buildings.
Doors still opened, to let the fresh and cool evening air blow away the hot day, emitted sounds of laughter or soft conversation. Flickering candle light dimly glowed in windows and spilled out of doorways as ponies settled into what must seem to them an average night. A few street lamps - lit by gas or through some more arcane means - created pools of yellow leading down the street towards the distant yet still cherry Town Hall. The filth and darkness of the alley was forgotten. Here, there was only the soft glow of sunset and silence.
Silence! There were almost no sounds. That, that was so magical! I've lived in large cities my whole life, places where nothing ever just stops, where there is always the sound of traffic or construction or something! Here ... here there was peace. There was the sound of a light breeze, of my own breathing. Laughter from an opened doorway, muted with distance and almost musical in tone. The distant sound of someone calling a foal in for supper. A clattering of hooves as Pinkie walked over to me. Peace, blessed peace for once in my life.
"Hey, it's getting late Bruce." Pinkie nudged me with her muzzle, a faint and glowing smile on it. "We have to get back home or everpony will be worried."
"I know, I know. This, I might be able to manage this." I gave her a weak smile and closed my eyes, drinking in the near-silence and the slowly darkening night. "It's not as bad as all that, is it?"
Pinkie shook her head, still smiling, as she led me with joyful hops back toward Sugarcube Corner.
"Wow, you'd think someone died." As we got nearer and nearer to the bakery that I was slowly accepting as my new home, I heard things that disrupted the spell the night had placed on me. Rushing and clattering hooves, whispered conversations barely perceivable through the streets. When we turned the final corner, it was evident why there was so much commotion.
Armored guards everywhere. At least a dozen made up of all types of ponies. Two white pegasus mares in the gold armor of Celestia talking to Mrs. Cake and Ms. Meadows as a gray unicorn stallion in silver took diction and another comforted a crying Mr. Cake and two twins, sniffling beside their father. A trio of red earth pony guards in burnished copper listening to two of those bat-winged ponies in their purple and black that rushed off into the sky as another group sped in to deliver their own report.
It was like someone kicked a pony-anthill. With the part of the crying woman and her children played beautifully by Mr. Cake and his twins.
"Great, now I feel just awful." With a groan, I lowered my head and began to trod wearily to my certain doom. I was hoping to grab their attention gently and with little fuss. Pinkie, on the other hoof, had other ideas.
"I found him!" I stopped in my tracks, one hoof lifted to take another step. My grimace of stoic acceptance easily - and almost by habit at this point - changing into one of shocked horror. What power have I insulted to deserve a happy and extrovert Pinkie Pie?
"Oh gods." At her shout, the entire ensemble whipped their heads around to stare at us. Pinkie was enthusiastically waving one 'arm' in an attem- what? No, they are arms now! 'Fore hooves' and 'hind hooves' is just ridiculous! I don't care if it's not anatomically-you know what, FINE! Ruin my story why don't you...
Ahem, Pinkie was enthusiastically waving one fore hoof in an attempt to gain even more attention for our arrival. I've never liked being the center of attention and here it was made worse because I was the cause of all this unnecessary activity. Silence reigned again, disturbed only by the sounds of the bat-guards wings in the air and the blood in my now burning ears.
"Ah heh heh." Nervous laugh and far-too-wide smile, always a great start to any conversation. "Uhm, hi everypony! I'm, uhm, I'm back?" Yeah, smooth move there, Ghandi. Wonderful diplomacy. Peace has been restored throughout the lands due to your suave talking. After a bare minute of surprised blinking - and Pinkie's wildly waving fore hooves - the two pegasus guards trotted over to us, Ms. Meadows and Mrs. Cake in tow.
"Oh my, well dear, you gave us all quite a fright," one of the mares in armor piped out. I have no idea what exactly I was expecting but that very soft and melodic voice was not it. Something to note: all guards have the same coloration. I didn't know if it was a weird genetic quirk or some kind of bleach or enchantment or what but that sounded ... just like ...
"Fluttershy?!" My jaw dislocated. It was! It was fucking Fluttershy in guard armor! "Buh-buh-how?! Why? What? But this doesn't make any sense!"
She blinked at me for a brief second before taking off her helmet. As she did so, the white and blue colors of a guard drained slowly away to be replaced with her soft yellow coat and long pink hair. Her face was creased with worry and confusion, looking at me as if trying to place a face.
"Uhm, yes. Actually, uhm, I'm Officer Fluttershy of Her Majesties Royal Home Guard, Auxiliary. Uhm, do - do I know you from somewhere?"
"HOW?!" Assaulting an Officer of the Peace is probably an offense but I couldn't help myself. Sweet, innocent Fluttershy as a cop? That was just all kinds of disturbing and messed up! It took me a second to realize I had grabbed her armor and was staring at her from not even an inch away, braced against her breastplate with my hind hooves. The shock of everypony there was probably why I wasn't being beaten into a coma. Or maybe that's just humanity.
"Uhm, please let go?" She squeaked, obviously distressed. I swear, if I make Fluttershy cry I'm killing myself.
"OH! Oh, sorry. Sorry, uhm, Officer?" I gingerly lowered myself back to the ground, even more red than I was before. Before my hoof even touched the ground, however, I was swept up in a crushing hug by none other than Mr. Cake.
"Oh my goodness, you silly little colt, you had us all worried sick! Don't you ever run off like that again!" Ok, this was just plain weird. Fluttershy a guard, Carrot (I remembered his name! I'm such a nerd) sniffling into my filthy coat, and creepy ponies staring at me with their gigantic eyes! When did my life get so complicated? The entire guard force had gathered around, just as confused as I was though probably for different reasons, and even some nearby homes/stores had let loose a small gathering of onlookers. Rubberneckers, all of them. I know why I was damned confused, getting a definitive creepy-uncle vibe from Mr. Cake. The guards were probably astonished I wasn't bleeding on the ground for grabbing Fluttershy like that.
"You know this colt, Flutters?" ... please don't be who you sound like. Fluttershy shook her head almost meekly, which looked really odd from a mare dressed in battle-gear. Scowling, the other pegasus guard shook off her helmet. The guard colors of white and blue melting into cyan and the shockingly real rainbow mane of the Fastest Flyer in Equestria.
If I could breathe from the hug, I think I would have yelled out something about the world gone mad. As it was, my blue coat was getting even bluer if that was possible. A light tapping from Mrs. Cake disengaged her husband and I slumped to the ground, gasping for air.
"How," I weakly sputtered, "how is this even possible? You," I pointed at Fluttershy, "are an animal caretaker! And you!" I shifted over to Rainbow Dash. "You are a weather mare!" They both raised their eyebrows at my accusations, delivered as theatrically as they were.
"Uhm, we-well yes, I am," Fluttershy looked around at the moderately sized crowd nervously, "but there are more qualified vets in Ponyville than me and while I love taking care of animals that, uhm, that really doesn't pay the bills very well."
"Yeah, Flutters took some cajoling to get her on as an Auxiliary but it fits her really nice." Rainbow nudged her yellow friend with a grin. "And me, I'm kinda an on-call Guard. Delivering messages, Search and Rescue, even some hoof-to-hoof combat if the situation needs it." Rainbow reared on her hind hooves, giving a few jabs into the air to emphasize her point.
I don't think my confused look was what they were hoping for. My brain be done broke now, mouth free.
"What in the hell is an Auxiliary?!" That ... was a halfway decent question, mouth. Why don't you have those more often? The two mares looked at each other, perplexed. Even Ms. Meadows and the Cakes were a bit confused. Fluttershy was the one to break the silence, lowering herself onto the now chilly cobbled street like a schoolmarm getting ready to tell a story.
"Well, 'Bruce,' the guard is set up like this. We have the Royal Guard which helps protect Equestria from bad things that want to hurt us. They're very brave mares who," Spring nudged her slightly and, with a blush, Fluttershy squeaked. "Uhm, very brave mares and stallions who work really hard on the edges of the Princess' domain. Then you have the Home Guard which protects ponies inside Equestria from bad and sometimes sick ponies that want to hurt others." She smiled sweetly at me.
"An Auxiliary is a mare," nudge, "er a mare or stallion that works behind the rest of the members of the Home Guard. We do paperwork, make sure the prison-" nudge, "suspects are well cared for and talk to victims to help them deal with the bad things they've seen. We also help coordinate Search and Rescue and Lost Foal Searches."
I felt like this was going to be a theme. 'Class time for confused Bruce.' My mind had gotten a fiercer hold on my mouth thankfully so I waited until Fluttershy was finished. Time to be an adult about this!
"I'm in deep shit now, aren't I?"
Yeah, you saw that coming.