Despite her earlier determination, Sweetie Belle couldn’t keep up the charade for long and was soon sulking as she trudged along.
“So, where you headed?” Graves asked as the little girl kicked a rock down the path.
“I dunno," she mumbled. "Apple Bloom went with Applejack on their deliveries, and Scootaloo’s getting flying lessons from Rainbow Dash. That’s why today would have been perfect to spend with Rarity.” Sweetie Belle let out a dejected sigh. “But she’s busy. Again.”
“This… happen often?”
“Only like every time!” the fluffy one cried out in shrill frustration. “Every time I come over, there’s always one more project to work on, one more design to finish, you name it! I just wish she wouldn’t be such a… an airhead and forget all the time! Ouch!” The little girl cried out as the stone she’d been kicking got stuck and stubbed her toe. “Dumb rock!”
The two kept on walking, Sweetie Belle’s lower lip sticking out further and further as she grew progressively more pouty. Graves just eyed her askance. Kids were a mystery in general, and cheering them up was just another step up in complexity. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try something…
“You hungry?” he asked.
“Let’s get a snack. My treat,” Graves said with a crooked, but hopefully reassuring smile. It was a shot in the dark, but eating always made him feel better.
Apparently, it worked for Sweetie Belle too, because her eyes grew wide in excitement and her mouth broke into a hopeful smile.
“Can I get the Super-Extra-Double-Deluxe-Banana-Fudge-Sundae from the Sweetwater Café?” she asked, almost glowing with pure, childish anticipation.
Graves wasn’t sure how, but one moment they were walking along one of the streets of Ponyville, and one whirlwind moment later, they were seated at an outdoor table in said café with orders being taken by a waiter with a fancy accent and an even fancier moustache.
“And for you sir? What would you like?” the maitre d asked.
“…Coffee. Black,” he replied as he gave Sweetie Belle a suspicious look; she just sat there, beaming like a little angel.
A minute or so later, the waiter returned with a pot of coffee and a giant monstrosity of a frozen dairy dessert. The something-or-another sundae Sweetie Belle had ordered was enormous! Piled high with hot fudge, whipped cream, bananas, nuts, sprinkles, and of course ice cream, the sugar-coma-in-a-bowl was probably bigger than the little girl’s entire head. Hair included.
“Would you like some, Mister Graves?” she offered.
“Um… no thanks. I’m good,” he replied, glad he’d ordered his coffee black. Just the thought of eating something that sweet set his teeth on edge.
“Thank you for treating me, Mister Graves,” Sweetie Belle beamed after she’d demolished a good chunk of the sundae. “This is my favorite, but I can’t order it when Rarity’s around. She says eating it simply isn’t lady like."
“You really like your sister, don’t you?” the marshal asked. Wasn’t really hard to guess: every comment he’d heard from the little girl thus far had somehow involved Rarity, even the complaints. Clearly, the cotton candy-haired girl held her older sister in very high regards.
“Yeah!” she agreed after another spoonful of ice cream. “I mean, she’s only the coolest person in Ponyville.”
“Really? How so?”
“Well for one, she’s really good at making clothes. She’s like, the best designer to ever make a dress! Everyone wants to wear her designs: all the people in Canterlot make orders here and even stars like Sapphire Shores want her dresses. Plus, she’s smart, funny, nice, generous, smells good, and… and… oh yeah! She’s also really pretty!”
Graves was impressed. Between the nonstop praise of her sister and practically inhaling the sundae, it’d been a good minute since Sweetie Belle had last breathed. And she just kept going.
“I don’t mean to brag or anything,” she continued bragging, “but she’s really, and I mean really, pretty too. Fluttershy’s really graceful and everything, and Twilight’s cute, but Rarity’s definitely the prettiest, maybe even the prettiest girl in all of Equestria!”
“I see,” the marshal smiled as he took another sip.
“You think she’s pretty too, don’t you?”
Graves sputtered, almost spilling his coffee as he was hit with an unexpected curve ball.
“Come on, don’t be shy,” Sweetie Belle coaxed with a conspiratorial wink, completely oblivious to how uncomfortable she was making the marshal. “Everyone I know thinks Rarity’s pretty, so I’m sure you do too.”
“She’s… definitely not bad looking,” Graves offered, hoping the little girl would take the answer and let up. It was clearly wishful thinking.
“Oh come on, she’s way more than that,” Sweetie Belle pushed. “Why, I bet you’d agree that she’s the prettiest girl in the whole wide world!”
Just as Graves started forming plans to vault the cafe fence and make a run for it, he felt a faint vibration from the inside of his long, leather coat. Reaching in, he pulled out his marshal’s badge which was now glowing with a faint, silvery light.
“Ooh, what’s that?” Sweetie Belle asked as she leaned in curiously to take a closer look.
“It’s my badge,” the marshal replied, almost heaving a sigh of relief as the little girl finally let up on her previous questions. “It glows like this when I need to do something.”
“Well, what do you need to do?”
Peering at the badge, the winged shield insignia melted away and was quickly replaced by precise, printed letters forming a short message.
“Troll,” Graves read aloud, “one in the Everfree Forest.”
“Wow, a troll!” Sweetie Belle squealed in excitement, then paused. “What’s a troll?”
“Just a big nuisance,” the marshal replied as he waved the waiter over and settled the check. “Sorry, Miss Sweetie Belle, I have to go now.”
“Ooh, ooh, can I come too?” she asked, bouncing in her seat.
“Don’t you have to… finish your… sundae…?” Unbelievably, the bowl was completely empty: hardly even a smudge of chocolate sauce remained.
“It isn’t lady-like to leave leftovers,” Sweetie Belle announced with a prim turn of the head. “So anyway, can I come with you? I’ve never seen a troll before. Is it scary?”
“Best if you stay here,” Graves said as he headed for the gate. “Too dangerous.”
“But you promised Rarity you’d play with me today,” Sweetie Belle pouted.
“Promised I’d take you into town,” he corrected. “And this isn’t playing. It’s work.”
“So, you’re just gonna leave me here for work? All alone? Just like Rarity did?” As she asked, her eyes grew wide and brimmed with tears as she dolefully gazed up at him with big, pleading pony eyes.
Graves shifted uncomfortably. She did sort of have a point. She’d already been passed off once and he’d hate to do it to her again. On the other hand, going out on official marshal business wasn’t exactly the safest thing for little children. Still, a single troll was barely a G-class threat, hardly an issue at all. However, she’d almost certainly make things more difficult. And yet, there were her big, pleading eyes…
Graves finally sighed.
“If I take you, you listen to exactly what I say, alright?”
“YAY!” Sweetie Belle cheered as she jumped up and latched onto Graves's waist in an organ-rearranging hug. He winced as he now understood why Rarity had looked so pained earlier.
“Come on,” he said, prying the pink and purple octopus off of him. “I need my things, and we have to move. Let’s go.”
“Right behind you, Mister Graves! Wow, this is going to be the most funnest thing ever!”
A naggling feeling appeared in the back of his mind, but Graves just quashed it down as he headed for his house with the little girl skipping along happily behind him. It certainly wasn’t the way he usually tackled missions, but hey, it was just a troll.
What’s the worst that could happen?