Panting, Starlight came hurtling through the hole in the wall and to a breathless, skidding halt in the middle of the dinky little house’s lounge-area, looking about wildly.
“What? What happened?” She asked, taking in the ridiculous level of mess strewn about the room (scattered scraps of balled-up paper, discarded pens, what appeared to be a tipped-over flipchart, etcetera) and then spotting Richard sitting on the sofa, legs crossed, holding a cup of tea. He was staring into space, and it was a second or so before he even seemed to notice Starlight had appeared.
“Oh hello Starlight. Small world. Again,” he said, raising his teacup in greeting.
Starlight just goggled at him.
This was about as far as she got in asking him what had happened before she was cut off by the house giving a loud, low creak and an alarming crack spidering its way across the ceiling, trickling plaster down over both of them. Fortunately, the house remained standing.
Richard sipped his tea.
“It sounds worse than it is, I’m sure.”
“You need to get out!” Starlight hissed, afraid to speak too loudly lest she startle the house.
Another creak, this one closer to a groan. Richard glanced up.
“You’re probably right,” he said.
Standing, he made his way slowly and calmly out the way Starlight had came, her practically hopping behind him in an effort to get him to speed up.
She would have done something magical to get him out faster, but was worried that the sudden snap-pow-vacuum of a teleport or the general magical wibbliness of a levitation might be the nudge the house needed to finally give up completely, so didn’t, instead just trying to get him to hurry up by thinking fast thoughts, to little obvious effect.
It took seconds for Richard to exit, but it felt considerably longer to Starlight, bringing up the rear as she was.
No sooner had Richard taken two steps out of the hole and out from the house then the building gave a final, especially distressed noise of architectural anguish and collapsed in on itself rather sadly, blasting out a great exhalation of dust past Richard who stood, cup in hand, frowning.
Once the dust started settling he turned in place and turned his frown upon the wreckage.
“That’s a shame. I rather liked that house.”
He then took another sip of his tea, grimaced, and poured the rest away.
“Debris in my tea. Not my cup of tea. Hah.”
Starlight had gone back to goggling at him. She’d avoided the worst of the dust on account of magic, and so was stood in a perfect circle of clean ground without a speck on her. More importantly though this allowed her to ask loud questions without choking.
“What happened?! Where’s Chrysalis?!” She asked (without choking).
For the tiniest moment of time - rather like a single frame, if life were divided up into frames - Richard looked like he winced. But it could just as easily have been Starlight’s imagination. Or the dust. Or anything, really.
“Oh, her majesty is taking some time to herself,” he said.
Starlight blinked at him, waiting for more. As was often the case with Richard there was no more.
“...what?!” Starlight sputtered.
“Sorry. Not a helpful answer, was it? She’s gone, she’s left,” Richard said, gesturing vaguely off into the distance with his non-mug holding hand. This led to a bit more blinking from Starlight as she tried to parse the sentence for hidden meaning.
In the event there wasn’t any, it was pretty cut-and-cry.
“She escaped? Why didn’t she take you?” She asked.
Another flash of a maybe-wince.
“Well, do you remember earlier when we were speaking how we said there might be a concern that she could overreact?” Richard asked.
“Yes,” Starlight said. She did remember. Remembering things that happened earlier in the day was one of her many skills.
“I broached the subject of her future being discussed and she might have reacted...strongly. Probably did a poor job of explaining it, honestly,” Richard said. Starlight busted out another flat look for him but, again, it didn’t really register.
“So she’s escaped,” she said. Richard waggled a ‘maybe-maybe’ hand and said:
“‘Escaped’ is a loaded term, really.”
Growling in frustration Starlight flopped onto her haunches and put her face in her hooves. This was another fine mess and no mistake. She might start to think she’d done something in a past life to be this unlucky but probably didn’t have to go that far back. Not that thinking such thoughts was healthy, of course.
“Surprised that one of you lot wasn’t keeping an eye on the house,” Richard said, doing his best to make an indelicate subject come across as delicate as possible. Starlight’s face did not leave her hooves.
“We were!” She said loudly, though muffledly.
“Oh, you were? Surprised one you lot didn’t show up sooner, in which case. She did break the windows, it was rather loud,” Richard said. In his experience having windows explode was usually a warning sign and a good time to start taking action. Starlight made a wordless - though entirely understandable - annoyed noise.
“We were taking it in shifts, and nature called, and it was only a minute or two, I didn’t think…!” She then said, not seeing the point in finishing the sentence.
Somewhere in there lurked an explanation. Whether it was adequate or not was likely open to some debate and personal opinion. Richard, for his part, could certainly see how things might have worked out the way they did, having heard that. He nodded to himself as he ran it through his head.
“So Chrysalis managed to, entirely by chance, decide to do what she did the one point in the day when eyes were turned away for the briefest of windows. What deeply unfortunate and coincidental timing. Life, eh? Funny how these things go,” he said.
Starlight lowered a hoof enough to open one eye and peer at him, seeing then - for the first time in this conversation - just how powerfully miserable Richard looked. Perfectly normal and composed looking by most people’s standards (for an alien) but Starlight had enough of a read on him by now to pick up on the fact he clearly wasn’t at his best. Subtle, but it was there.
Had she been anyone else, she would have missed it.
“You’re very - are you okay, Richard?” She asked, both hooves dropping now.
“You know me, Starlight, I’m always okay,” he said, smiling.
“I really don’t know you. At all.”
That she had picked up on his misery was more informed guesswork and lucky timing than anything else.
“Well, then let me tell you that I am always okay.”
The rest of the gang showed up at this point, the ponies that had been present when the whole deal with the dinky house had been hashed out in the first place, the ones that Richard had learnt were something of a group of local celebrities.
Or world-saving heroes? He couldn’t remember. Certainly, they seemed a pleasant enough lot to him either way.
Flapping and galloping they all somehow managed to arrive more-or-less at the same time, all looking very concerned and determined. The rainbow-haired one opened her mouth to speak first - presumably to ask just what was going down - but the pink one beat her to it:
“We came fast as the structure of the narrative would allow!” She said with fierce energy, her face set. No-one felt it wise to comment on this (that way madness and existential crisis lay) and instead attention fell to Starlight, being the one already on the scene.
“What happened?” Asked the one with the nice hat and pleasant accent, also looking very serious and set. Professionals, plainly.
The situation did not take long for Starlight to sum up, and just as quickly as they’d arrived the gang split off their separate ways, to search, and also to try and get word back to Twilight and the other princesses as fast as possible. Richard was very impressed by their can-do attitude and rapid response. It was like they’d done this sort of thing before!
He was also on his Tod, standing by the wreckage holding his mug, at something of a loose end. The quiet times in his life recently were typically the small moments between doing things Chrysalis told him to do. Without that he wasn’t wholly sure what to do with himself. He looked into his empty mug. It was still empty.
“The bug-horse has bolted, I’m afraid, but by all means lock the stable door,” he said to himself. “Not sure what I mean by that,” he added.
He then wandered off to find somewhere quiet to sit.