---CHAPTER 15: Homeward Bound---
"We may have given you the teeny-tiniest bit of love potion... that may have turned out to actually be a love poison, and you may have gone just a teeny-tiniest bit nutty."
Our campfire cast its warming glow across the four of us as we rested, a full day out of Little Fillydelphia, the town far behind us now.
Magpie had turned in for the night, tucking her head under one of her wings as soon as we were done with our meal of (undercooked, since Ibis was the who cooked it) radhog.
Ibis was sitting near the fire, his cannon of a shotgun leaning against his side, one claw stroking the mane of my sleeping sister, who was pressed tightly against him. She shivered every now and then, despite the heat of the flames.
Me? I was rooting through Rose's saddlebags, since I hadn't had the chance to see what new things she'd picked up in our time apart. She'd dumped everything from her replacement bags into her mother's bags before we left Little Fillydelphia, preferring the old, familiar ones.
"Whiskey... whiskey... Mare-Do-Well comic... whiskey... Swordmare comic... more whiskey... Wingboner magazine? What the hell?" I pulled the magazine out and flicked through it. It was full of pegasus mares. "Huh." Pegasus mares in very compromising poses. "Ibis, where the hell did Rose get this?"
The grey griffin glanced towards me. "Get what?" I held the magazine up with my magic, and he shrugged. "Somewhere. I think she likes the articles."
"Oh..." Despite my better judgement, I opened up to the first article... and slammed it closed (or came as close to slamming it closed as I could with a floppy, worn-out magazine) after getting partway through the first paragraph. "What. The. Fuck." After a moment, morbid curiosity took hold and I cracked it back open to keep reading. "That can't be physically possible..." The next paragraph described something even more ridiculous than the first. "How the hell... Ibis, quick question." When I had his attention, I floated the magazine, still open, over to him. "Would that even work? The second one, I mean."
He pulled it from my magical grasp and glanced at it. Immediately, his eyes went wide and his wings snapped fully open. "Whoa. That's... I don't even... wow." He looked from the magazine to Rose. "This is what she's been reading? Damn."
As he started to grin, I growled. "Don't even think about it, Ibis. You are not doing that with her."
He glared at me. "I'll do whatever she wants me to do."
I stomped. "No, you fucking won't! You perverted-"
"Shut. Up." Together, we turned to see Magpie glaring at us. "Some of us are trying to sleep."
"Erm... sorry, Magpie."
The old griffin shook herself and stood, approaching Ibis. "What are you two fighting about, anyway?" She reached for the magazine, but Ibis tried to hide it behind his back, out of her reach.
"Just one of Rose's magazines, that's all." Unfortunately for him, she was too quick and managed to grab it.
"Huh." She looked over the article that'd caused our argument, one eyebrow raised. "This is hers?" She waved the magazine at Rose, and me and Ibis nodded. "Try number nine. She'll love it." With that, she handed the magazine back to Ibis and went back to her spot by the fire, leaving both of us staring at her, dumbfounded. She cocked her head and blinked at us. "What? Something wrong?"
"What- how- I- you-" I spluttered, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
"Lily, close your mouth before you swallow a bloatsprite." My jaw snapped shut automatically, the very thought giving me the horrors. "Ibis, for the love of all that's decent, put your wings down." Ibis did as Magpie said, doing his best to pin his still-erect wings to his sides, and she nodded. "Thanks to you two I'm wide awake, so I'll take watch. You two can lay down, shut the hell up, and go to sleep before I knock your heads together. Understood?"
Me and Ibis started nodding frantically. Magpie was scary! "Yep!"
"Good." The older griffin stretched her wings and fluffed herself up as protection from the night-time chill, and I curled up on my bedroll, watching Ibis getting comfortable next to Rose, who, still sound asleep, pressed herself tightly against his side.
A few minutes passed before I started to drift off, only to perk my ears up as I heard Ibis mutter "Number nine? What's so special about number nine?" A moment later, I heard him flicking through the magazine, then the tell-tale fwoomp! of his wings going straight again and something sliding in the dirt.
When I raised my head to look, I found a very confused and still half-asleep Rose glaring at a sheepish Ibis, whose wing had actually knocked her away on its journey skywards. Rose yawned, stomped over to him, and flopped down on his back, pinning his wings beneath her. A few seconds later, she was snoring again.
As Ibis did his best to get comfortable with a mare passed out on his back, I tugged my blanket up and tightly around myself, rolling my eyes. What's with his wings, anyway? I thought to myself. Every time he looks at that thing, they pop up like... oh. OH! Realization dawned. That's just wrong! He's got a wingboner?! UGH! And Rose is sleeping on it!
Shuddering, I did my absolute best not to think about griffins and their freaky wingies... until I started to wonder how Magpie knew what position number nine was like. I derailed that train of thought as quickly as I could, whacking myself in the side of the head before burying my face as deep in my blanket as possible.
Ugh. Bloody griffins.
Morning found me going through Rose's things again while we waited for her to wake up. This time, though, I ignored all the magazines. I ignored the books, too, just to be safe.
"Whiskey... bullets... whiskey... rad-away... book... more books... book that rattles? Huh?" Curiosity got the better of me yet again, and I flipped the book open. I couldn't help but laugh. It had been hollowed out, and the rattling noise had come from a flask hidden inside. A quick sniff told me all I needed to know: The flask was full of whiskey.
"Oh, Rose..." I shook my head at my sleeping sister. "You little alcoholic, you..." She just snored in response, splayed out on the ground next to Ibis, who was looking at a little square of yellowed paper. Since they both ignored me, and Magpie was just a dot in the sky, circling, I went back to rummaging.
"Bullets... whiskey... knife... a bag?" I hefted the canvas bag in my magic, listening to it clinking. Underneath it was another, larger bag, practically bulging with... something. I could see a tear in the top, roughly stitched closed with the same heavy thread Rose had always used to repair her duster.
I floated the two bags up to about eye level. "Hey, Ibis, what's with these?"
The big griffin tucked the piece of paper back into his belt and glanced over, an unreadable expression on his face. Slowly, he looked from the bags, to Rose, and back to me. "The big one is... it's yours. Rose put it aside for you, even after... after she forgot you..."
"Oh." I looked back at the bag, and hesitantly opened it. It was full of caps. Hundreds of them, at least. "Ibis... this is..."
"Most her pay, from when we were wandering..." He stroked Rose's mane, still wearing that same hard-to-read expression. "and half of her winnings, from the fights."
I looked at my sister, feeling guilty as hell. "Ibis... I can't take this... it's Rose's money..."
The griffin shook his head, frowning. "Don't. Just, don't. She wanted you to have it, even though she couldn't remember you. Don't throw that away, Lily."
I couldn't think of anything to say to that, and just stared at the bag of caps for a long, silent minute before transferring it to my own saddlebag. Then, I did the only thing I could; I walked over to where Rose was laying, wrapped my hooves around her and pulled her up in the biggest, tightest hug I could possibly manage. "Lily?" Rose mumbled my name sleepily, and I hugged her even tighter.
"I'm sorry, sis," I whispered, my face buried in her mane. I felt her hooves closing around me as she returned the hug.
"Why? You're a good pony, Lily. You didn't do anything wrong."
I hugged her as much as I could, chuckling a bit. "Never change, Rose. Never change."
"Okay..." She yawned, and tightened her grip on me. I held out as long as I could, but she was too strong.
"Rose," I wheezed, "can't breathe..."
"Sorry, Lily." She let go and sat back, blinking sleepily. I gave myself a shake.
"Geez... you're strong, Rose." She just yawned and leaned against Ibis, so I rolled my eyes and went back to her bags, packing her stuff so we'd be able to set out when Magpie landed.
A moment later, a muffled "Mmmph!" made me look up. "Ew." I made a face, since my sister making out with Ibis was not something I'd wanted to see. It didn't look much like a normal kiss, but then again, griffins don't exactly have lips. When they broke apart, I frowned. "Doesn't that hurt, Rose?" I raised my hoof and pointed at her muzzle, where Ibis' beak had drawn blood. She just shrugged and went right back to it.
I shuddered. It looked about as painful as kissing a set of knives and, to make it worse, Ibis' wings were starting to go up again.
When I stuffed the little bag of caps back into Rose's saddlebag, a small box fell out. I raised it in my magic for a better look, and I swear my eye twitched when I realised what I was looking at. It was the same little toolkit that Rose had gotten so long ago, and which always seemed to turn up whenever I went through her bags. The same mysterious, enigmatic box of wierd tools that didn't look like they'd fit anything at all.
This time, though, I'd get some answers.
"Rose!" I called out, waving the little kit at the... couple. Blech. Griffin kisses. "Hey! Come up for air already, I wanna know what this thing is!"
They seperated, Ibis grinning stupidly as Rose blinked at me. "It's a pipbuck maintenance kit, Lily."
I stared at her for a second, processing what she'd just said. "Pipbuck. Maintenance. Kit. As in, I could be wearing my pipbuck," I jabbed my hoof at my bag, where the gizmo was still secured to the strap, "right now? I could've been wearing it when you got this kit?!" My eye definitely twitched. "And you didn't think to tell me?!"
Rose looked at the ground, her ears drooping. "I'm sorry, Lily... I kinda forgot about it when... when you met... Lucky..."
Ibis glared at me and started stroking Rose's mane, and I sighed, shaking my head sadly. So much had happened, I couldn't blame her for forgetting about something so small. "It's alright, Rose. Hey!" I perked up, grinning. "We've got the kit, we've got my pipbuck, and we're together again. So, how about it?" I undid the strap on my saddlebag and floated the pipbuck over, so it was hovering next to the toolkit. Everything in place, I gave Rose my best begging look.
She perked up as well, eager to try her toolkit. "Which leg do you want it on, Lily?" I offered her my left foreleg happily, and (while Ibis took off to circle with Magpie) she spent the next minute or so opening the pipbuck with her wierd tools and adjusting it around my foreleg so that I could still move my hoof properly, before snapping it closed and sitting back with a satisfied smile.
I wriggled my hoof, moving my leg around and making sure I could see the screen properly. "So... what now?"
Rose blinked at me. "Now I turn it on." She grabbed one final tool in her mouth, leaned in and...
"Whoa!" With a click, lines of green text started scrolling across my vision, and I tried to read them as they went.
-Initializing Stable-Tec Pipbuck Operating System (PIP-OS)
-Eyes Forward Sparkle: OK
-Omni-Directional Compass: OK
-Vitality Monitoring: OK
-Inventory/Equipment Management: OK
-Environmental Monitoring: OK
-Equestrian Positioning System: Error
-Terminal Access Software: OK
-Stable-Tec Arcane Targeting Spell: OK
-Quest Tracker: OK
-Synchronising with Stable-Tec Maneframes
-Scanning for Available Mainframes
-Critical Errors Detected
-Equestrian Positioning System
-Time Remaining: :
-No Available Stable-Tec Maneframes
-Pipbuck Technician Required
-PIP-OS Initialization Complete
-Thank you and have a nice day.
Suddenly, the words vanished and the green outline of a unicorn popped into existence, different parts of its body flashing before being labeled OK, then that went away and was replaced by a bunch of bars, gauges and crap on the edges of my vision.
"Um... Rose, what's all this stuff mean?" I tried looking straight at some of the green stuff. It didn't work, the whole thing just moved with my eyes. Even turning my head wouldn't bring it into an easier-to-see spot!
"What stuff?" She blinked at me and I noticed that there was a little label with her name on it, just floating in front of her.
"There's all this stuff!" I complained. "There's a bar marked HP, another one marked... AP, I think. There's a little thing underneath it that just says zero of five, with a twenty next to it..." I paused for a second, realising there was something I kinda recognised, even if it looked really wierd. "I think I've got a compass, too." A quick turn of my head, and I nodded. "Yep, it's a compass. But there's these little yellow marks on it, and two of them keep moving."
Rose blinked again. "I remember that stuff from the article I read. HP is how healthy you are. If you get hurt, it'll tell you how bad it is."
I just stared at her blankly. "Seriously? It tells me if I'm hurt? Even though anypony with a brain can tell when they're hurt?" She nodded, and I facehoofed. "Prewar ponies..." Rose shrugged, then continued.
"AP is... a thing. It's part of the S.A.T.S., which helps you aim your gun." She paused, then blinked, a small smirk creeping onto her muzzle. "You'll need that one." I glared at her and she just blinked, still smirking. With a sigh, I shook my head and waved my hoof for her to continue. At least she was having fun, even if it was at my expense.
"The number under the AP says zero, right?" I nodded, and she sighed theatrically. "That's how many bullets are in your revolver. You forgot to load it, didn't you?"
I avoided making eye contact with her. "Maybe..."
I snorted. "Hey, I haven't used the stupid thing in months! Let's forget about that, what's with the marks on my compass?"
Rose muttered something like "probably have to fix it again" and I glared at her until she coughed sheepishly and went back into teaching mode. "The marks tell you where everyone is. How many are there?"
"One for me, one for Ibis and one for Magpie. Yellow marks are friends, red marks are things to shoot. Understand?"
I nodded. "Yellow good, red bad. Got it. Anything else?"
"I don't think so. Just that, if you want to turn the E.F.S. off, you stomp. It won't turn the pipbuck off, just the stuff you can see."
"Right." I stomped once to clear my vision of green, then looked up and yelled, so the circling griffins could hear me. "Hey! Magpie! Ibis! We're ready to go!"
"But Lily, they're slimy evil!" Rose whined.
"That's no excuse! That poor frog didn't do anything to you!" I paused in my scolding to point at the little crater at the edge of the path. "You didn't have to shove a grenade in its mouth, y'know!"
Rose looked away, sulking and muttering "slimy evil" and "hoppy spawn of Discord" quietly. I shook my head in disbelief at how she'd reacted to a frog hopping on the path in front of her, and started trotting forwards to where Magpie was waiting, looking very bemused.
Rose followed me, but she kept looking around as if she expected another frog to show up at any moment as we set off on our way again.
Three days out of Little Fillydelphia, on a glorious morning, with Celestia turning the clouds over a swampy forest a warm golden-orange, things turned wierd.
Me and Magpie were packing up camp, while Ibis watched the sleeping Rose twitching and letting out little moans. At Magpie's insistence, he poked her to wake her up. Then he shook her. Finally, he tried smacking her cutie mark, and that worked.
She sat bolt-upright, eyes wide, ears and tail twitching, before glaring at Ibis and smacking him across the face with one hoof. Before he could even say "Ow!" she grabbed him and gave him a massive kiss... then smacked him again.
While the grey griffin sat there, bewildered as the rest of us, Rose pulled her duster on, strapped on her saddlebags, secured her rifle holster on her back and sat there expectantly, waiting for the rest of us.
For the rest of the day, she was acting odd. She'd trot in front of Ibis with her tail raised, then turn around, block his path, and either kiss him or hit him. She didn't say a thing all day, to any of us, either.
By the time we stopped to make camp again, Ibis was bruised and limping from the beatings Rose'd given him. While he drank a healing potion to take care of it, and Rose trotted off to get firewood, I sat next to Magpie.
"What's wrong with that mare? It's like she doesn't know if she likes my son or hates him."
I shrugged at the older griffin's question. "I dunno... I've never seen her like this... I don't think Ibis has, either."
"You're her sister, Lily. Try talking to her." As Rose charged at a dead tree about four hooves thick and slammed into it, knocking several branches down and cracking the trunk, I considered my answer very carefully.
"Nope. How about you? She respects you; I'm sure she'll talk to you."
We both flinched as Rose charged again, this time hitting the dead tree hard enough to break the trunk and knock it over, leaving a splintered, jagged stump poking up from the dry dirt.
Magpie turned to me slowly, looked me straight in the eye and said, "Not on your nelly, kid."
We watched as Rose proceeded to snap off all the branches with her teeth and hooves and drag them, one-by-one, back to the campfire. When she was done with that, she approached the now fully-healed Ibis, and all three of us watched her nervously.
To our shock, she shoved him onto his back, climbed onto his chest, and just lay there, straddling him and staring into his eyes. They stayed like that all night, Ibis because he was too scared to move, Rose for whatever reason she had. Every now and then, though, she'd kiss him... usually followed by tearing out a feather or two.
The next day, I worked up the guts to talk to her, since Ibis had taken to the air after she charged him for touching her flank. Magpie was up there, too, and they were swooping and circling above us as we walked.
"So... what's up, Rose?" She just blinked at me over the top of the whiskey bottle she had in her mouth. "I mean, you're acting kinda funny. Did Ibis do something?"
She shrugged, and I groaned. "Speak, Rose. What's wrong?"
"Dunno." She didn't bother to spit out the bottle, so her voice was a bit muffled. "Twitchy."
"Twitchy?" I stared at her, and she nodded before tilting her head back and swallowing a mouthful of whiskey.
"Twitchy. A bit fighting twitchy, a bit kissing twitchy."
"Oo~kay..." I kept staring at her as she tilted her head back, drained the bottle, stuck it back in her bag and came out with a fresh one. "Rose, how many of those have you had today?"
She blinked at me, then shrugged. "Two."
"Two whole bottles?" She nodded. "Since we broke camp?" Another nod. "Rose, give me the bottle." I enveloped it in my magic and tugged. "Please?" She gripped it tighter, her teeth locked around the opening. "Give... me... that... bottle... right... now... young... lady..." Instantly regretting that I sounded like my mum, I gritted my teeth and yanked harder, only for Rose to jerk her head back and drain the entire thing in one gulp before letting go. Since I was still pulling on it, I had to hit the ground to avoid getting brained as it flew towards me.
I spat out some dirt and stood, brushing myself off and glaring at Rose. "That wasn't funny." She just hiccupped and stood there, swaying, her eyes unfocused. Three bottles of whiskey in an hour... I shook my head in dismay. What's gotten into you?
A flapping sound alerted me to the griffins landing just behind me. "What was all that about?" Magpie spoke first, approaching slowly until she was just outside of Rose's reach. Ibis stayed a bit further back, not wanting to be at the mercy of Rose's erratic mood.
I sighed. "Rose is drunk."
The black-&-white griffin raised her eyebrow. "This can't be good."
On the other side of me, Ibis took a tentative step forwards, only to freeze as Rose's eyes focused on him, a big, goofy grin spreading across her muzzle. "Ibis." She charged before he could take off, knocking him over and pinning him down. "Ibis... wanna know a secret?"
He swallowed and nodded slightly, and Rose buried her face in the feathers of his neck. "I love you." She hiccuped. "let's... let's y'know..." She raised her head and kissed him, giving him what must have seemed like a sexy look to her boozed-up brain. "Let's do the thing... with your claws..."
"You mean, that? Here?" When Rose nodded, Ibis shot us a pleading look. "Uh, what about Lily?"
Rose glanced at me, then wrapped her hooves tightly around her griffin. "No." She kissed him again. "I'm not sharing. My Ibis."
"That's-" He was interrupted by her insistent kisses, "That's not what I... what I meant..." He wriggled, trying to get free, but Rose had him pretty well pinned. "You don't wanna do that out here, do you? I mean, that's... we..."
Magpie rolled her eyes, stalked over and grabbed Rose by the collar of her duster, hefting the amorous mare so all she could do was dangle and wave her hooves feebly as Ibis scooted away and stood up. The elder griffin spun Rose, who was busy flailing and trying to get back to Ibis, so she could look her in the eye. "Rose. Whiskey Rose! HEY!" With a screech, she finally got my drunken sister to pay attention... or at least look away from Ibis.
"Listen closely, young lady. You do not do that sort of thing out here, understand?" Rose bobbed her head, a kinda noncomittal nod. "If you really want to do that with my son," Magpie turned Rose to point at Ibis, only to shake her when she started trying to struggle free. "Hey! You do it in private, got it?" Another shake, and Rose nodded frantically. "Good."
Magpie released her grip, and Rose bolted straight over to Ibis the second her hooves hit dirt, cuddling and rubbing herself on him, much to my irritation. At least she wasn't trying for anything more this time.
That's how it went for the rest of our trip. As long as Rose was drunk, she was practically glued to Ibis, flirting with him really badly. When she was sober, she got increasingly unstable, switching from affectionate and begging for his attention to wanting to kill him or anything nearby like she was on a hair trigger.
When we finally reached our destination, it was a relief to all of us.
"You're sure your parents'll be here?" Magpie asked me, and I nodded.
"Yep. This town's on our route and, if I'm right, they should be arriving in the next few days." I raised my foreleg and hit a button on my pipbuck, switching it to the quest tracker so I could check the date. "Which I am. Right, I mean. We just need to get some rooms, and wait." I smiled, glad to finally be back in familiar territory, but Magpie frowned and looked over at Rose, who was eyeing up Ibis like she wanted to rip his head off. He was perched safely on top of a building, though, well out of her reach... even if he was drawing some curious stares from the townsponies.
"You're keeping Rose in your room. The way she's acting, I don't want her near Ibis without one of us in the room."
I shrugged and called up my inventory, using the pipbuck's built-in magic to pull a bottle of Sparkle Cola from my bag. "Y'know, when she's drunk, she acts like she's in heat." I popped the cap and floated it back into my bag before taking a swig. While I drank and thought about the best way to keep Rose away from Ibis, Magpie watched Rose thoughtfully. One of her hooves was stomping over and over again and her tail was twitching, but she didn't budge from her spot, watching Ibis like a hawk... which was a bit ironic, actually.
"Huh. You think she might be?"
If anyone tells you that you can't do a spit-take, they're lying. As soon as my coughing fit subsided, I managed to stammer out "What?!"
Magpie tilted her head, like that could help her understand my unstable sister. "She might be in heat. Explains why she's so clingy."
I shook my head and snorted. "No. No way. Not a chance in Tartarus. Rose's never been in heat before."
The griffin cocked her eye at me. "Really?"
I nodded. "Yeah! I only had my first heat last year, and she's younger than I am!" I paused for a bit, blushing. "Um, forget I said that, 'kay? The whole first heat thing." Magpie chuckled.
"Well, that explains why you were so into... what was his name?" Larch?"
"Lucky." I muttered, my ears going flat at the memory. "Lucky Break."
She nodded. "Right. Him. Are you really sure she's not in heat, though?"
This time, I nodded. "Of course I am! Mares don't get all crazy like Rose when they're in heat! Mum's never tried to kill dad, and I didn't get all mean either. It must be her talisman, that's all. Or maybe she's just confused; she did say things don't feel right after.. y'know, coming back... and her magic's still not working, either... that can't be helping..."
"If you say so..." The old griffin muttered. "I still want her in your room, though, at least until she's calmed down."
I rolled my eyes, but smiled. "Fine. I've missed sleeping with her, anyway."
Rose peered at me from the bathtub, everything from her nose down submerged in water that made my pipbuck click slowly as I approached. Her bag, duster and gun sat next to the tub, and every single bottle of whiskey she'd been able to get her hooves on floated in the water with her. Only a couple of them were empty, which was oddly heartening sice it meant she wasn't getting completely drunk. Just a little drunk.
"You awake?" She blew some bubbles in response, and I rolled my eyes. "I'm going shopping, want anything?" As she started to surface, I raised my hoof. "Anything that isn't whiskey?" With a glare and a snort, she submerged herself completely, hiding beneath the floating bottles. I shook my head and headed for the door to our room, calling out as I left. "Don't forget to take some rad-away when you get out, alright? And stay in the room!"
I paused, waiting for an answer, but there was just some splashing and the clinking of bottles. With a sigh, I popped the door open and headed out.
It was evening when I got back to the room, and the first thing I did (after dumping my bags on the bed) was poke my head into the bathroom. "Rose? Helloooo! Anypony home?" I blinked in surprise: the bathroom was empty. The tub was bereft of mares, too, just the bottles, still floating in the filmy, slightly radioactive water.
On the plus side, there was only one or two more empties than there had been when I left, so I was confident Rose wasn't drunk.
As I walked back into the room, I heard a muffled thud and some groaning coming from the next room over. Ibis' room. I paused, and a second later I heard it again... and again... and again.
With a quick stomp I brought up my Eyes Forward Sparkle and, sure enough, there were two yellow markers so close together they might as well have been on top of each other, moving back and forth in my vision.
I started to freak and almost ran out of the room, only to skid to a halt as I put the pieces together.
There aren't enough empty bottles for Rose to be drunk, but she ignored me when I said to stay in the room. She's still acting funny, but that doesn't sound like she's killing Ibis...
I breathed a sigh of relief, shaking my head and smirking as the grunts, groans and thuds picked up in frequency, just like the last time I'd thought she was doing something she shouldn't have.
She must have wanted to hoof-wrestle again... yeah, that's gotta be it.
Grinning and convinced it was something stupid like hoof-wrestling, I trotted into the hall, opened the door to Ibis' room and stepped inside. "Rose, what did I tell-"
A wave of blinding green light slammed into me, Rose's voice crying out loudly as the world went black.