“Sis?” Her voice came weakly, wearily, as Sweetie Belle scuffled into the room.
She dragged her hooves, the noise of keratin against carpet creating a rasping shhk shhk shhk where she pulled her legs through woven fiber, and altogether her body bespoke of a young filly who felt that she had done something very wrong.
The child felt a stirring within her, a small aching throb at the very pit of her belly. It was nerves, surely – the mere physical manifestation of turbulent emotions.
Rarity perked up from her magazine as her younger sister entered, closing it gently so as not to crease the pages, and looked over the rim of her reading glasses. She rose slowly from her table.
“Sis? I…” Sweetie choked, as her eyes moistened.
A hairbrush was brought forward, swept along unsteadily upon a glow of green.
“S-something happened!” Sweetie Belle blubbered, showing it to her sister.
Tangled up in the brush was a small amount of hair, the sort that normally comes loose during a session of vigorous brushing. But rather than dry, thin strands, the hair clumped together like a thrown-up furball. A gleam of sticky maroon liquid coated the mass – too thick to be blood, but red all the same – and a few pieces of a gelatinous substance that looked like scrambled jelly clinging on.
It faintly reeked of rotting fish, something that made Sweetie worry even more with the rampant thoughts of what it could be.
Rarity took in a breath, her shoulders tensing, but her face did not express any signs of overwrought concern. It took upon the characteristics of one finding an unexpected bill in the mail – a bit of tension, a bit of annoyance – and a sudden seriousness befell the room.
But still, she moved to check, as was her duty as a sister and caretaker, and turned to look at Sweetie’s rear. “It doesn’t hurt, does it?”
There, upon the curly white-and-lilac locks of Sweetie Belle’s tail, was more of the strange reddish substance that reeked of nidor; a coating of blobs that had the texture of melting fat.
Sweetie gave her rump a little shake, feeling her tail swish with the movement of her hips. If anything, her tail felt… loose. It felt that it wasn’t really connected, somehow, as if someone had merely stuck it on like a pin through paper. The tail itself flopped around like a dead, wet, fish.
It was wiggly.
Rarity drew back her head just in time to see Sweetie shaking her head ‘no’ in response to her question. As a matter of course, Rarity strung her hoof to her nose to blot out the smell, which was becoming stronger and stronger as the minutes passed. Even Sweetie herself was trying to hide the wrinkling of her nose at the malodor.
With a sweep, Sweetie Belle was guided out of the room to the main floor, where Rarity quickly shut the boutique for the day, locking the doors and drawing the curtains.
All the while, Sweetie stood patiently, clutching the brush to her chest, the smell slowly curling up into her nostrils.
But finally, as Rarity finished closing up, Sweetie looked up to her and asked a simple question; half out of innocent fear, half out of the simple need to know.
“Sis, what’s going on?” she whimpered.
“Nothing to worry about,” came Rarity’s swift reply, as she shook her mane out of her eyes. “But I am surprised you were the first. I suppose it’s started, then.”
“Yes. This is something… quite important, but there is nothing to worry about, I assure you, my dear. “Rarity sighed wispily at an errant thought. “You are simply about to shed your tail.”
“Shed? My tail?” Sweetie squeaked. “Like… it’s going to come off?”
“Well… in a way.” Rarity nodded slightly, trying to give her sister a boisterous smile that only came out as tired and burnt. “It’s something every child must go through as a matter of growing up. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. As long as you do the right thing.”
“But I don’t want to lose my tail!” Sweetie blurted out, squeezing the brush harder in the crook of her leg. She continued to tear, but for a different reason now.
“Oh! No dear, no, of course not,” Rarity cooed. “Listen, I will make a visit to your school this very moment. You can expect an extra-special lesson tomorrow explaining all this. And if you have any questions, you can ask your teacher, Miss Cheerilee. She’s far more equipped for this than I am.”
“Um…” Sweetie sniffed, her eyes casting themselves down to the floor. “What’s happening?”
“Oh, my dear. I am sorry, but there really isn’t anything to be afraid of, okay? You’ll be fine. I promise. It’s absolutely natural. It’s like losing your baby teeth! Remember how you lost your first one a few years back, and you were terrified as well?”
“But… this is different! Tails aren’t supposed to come off! I don’t want to lose my tail!” Sweetie yelled, reaffirming her stance. “Is it ever going to grow back?”
“Of course!” Rarity chippered up, happy to be able to answer something with definiteness. “After all, I have mine, don’t I? And you can be sure that my baby tail fell off when I was around your age as well.”
Sweetie’s expression turned from shock to indignance as she felt a heat rise in her throat. “You should have told us! Why didn’t anyone say anything about this?”
“Well, we don’t tell you your teeth will fall out either, do we?” Rarity said softly, uncharacteristically so. “You’ll be fine. I’m sure of it. Just be glad you’re one of the first.”
“W-why is that a good thing?”
“Because then you’d not have to worry about being next, of course! And… Oh!” Rarity exclaimed, cutting herself off. “Just make sure to listen to Miss Cheerilee tomorrow, alright, dear? She’ll explain everything you need to know. And this will be just a tiny bit of an annoyance for a while, but you can get through it. I’m positive! Now, if you would excuse me, I have to go meet your teacher now and do some errands. And once I get back, I’ll be sure to help you with preparations.”
“You know, this and that, this and that,” Rarity sang. “Now, why don’t you go take a nice hot shower? Maybe wash some of that gunk off? It does rather smell, doesn’t it?”
Rarity gave her little sister an encouraging smile.
Sweetie Belle nodded. She had no other choice.
“Oh, but… you must be gentle from now on. It will get a bit… sensitive. So, stop combing your tail from this moment on. Don’t pull on it either. Okay? And be extra gentle when washing it.” Rarity added. “It will only get messy again later, so just let it. For now, it’s better not to fuss. I’ll set some extra sheets down so you won’t dirty your bed.”
“O-okay,” Sweetie replied, head filled with clouds.
“It will only be for a while.” Rarity reassured as she unlocked the door to leave, her expression dropping. “As long as you listen to the rules.”
It didn’t take long for her friends to notice that her tail wasn’t worn the same way to school that day: instead of the usual curls and perfect bob, it hung lifelessly like a mass of wet string, weighed down by a constant oozing of red liquid that congealed quickly enough that it didn’t cause streaks along the floor.
If anything, it was merely embarrassing. And that was the extent of trouble that it caused Sweetie. There were a lot of initial stares; a lot of questions made; a lot of whispers behind locker doors – nothing that Sweetie Belle hadn’t already gotten used to from the status of her flank.
What was more concerning, however, was the lack of two specific voices – two that Sweetie was almost certain she would hear. Turning around in her chair, it was soon apparent why.
Diamond Tiara, with her head hanging low, also bore a tail streaked with red blobs, and it clumped together even harsher than Sweetie’s did. It was a mess, like barbed wire dipped in old sauce. She fidgeted around in her seat, throwing Sweetie Belle a look when she noticed her looking. Silver Spoon sat quietly beside, trying not to ogle her friend’s odd-yet-curious appearance.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Scootaloo asked, leaning over from her seat. “This some kind of new fashion or something?”
“N-no,” Sweetie said, tearing her eyes away from Diamond, speaking under her voice. “Um… This just started happening out of nowhere yesterday. Rarity told me that I’m going to shed my tail.”
“What?” Scootaloo exclaimed, her shoulders tightening.
A few of their fellow students turned at the sudden outburst.
“Y-yeah. I guess…” Sweetie continued to speak in a hush, eyes darting around the class. “I don’t really know too much about it. Rarity came to talk to Miss Cheerilee last night, I think. I was told that she’s probably gonna give some special class on this or something. Did you ever hear about tails falling off?”
“Did ya say your tail was fallin’ off?” Apple Bloom cut in with a yell, her ears picking up on the conversation.
The rest of the class suddenly dropped into dead silence.
Sweetie felt a heat rising around her neck, as she turned to look at each and every classmate frozen in place as they all looked to her for a response. Some of them were nervously shifting their eyes between her and Diamond, realising the connection.
“W-well, everyone’s tails are going to fall off, according to big sis. I’m…” Sweetie spoke up, voice shaking. “Well, we’re the first. But everyone else is gonna follow.”
The class abruptly burst into murmurs; comments over speculation burst forth as everyone clamored in mild panic. Sweetie sunk lower into her chair. Diamond shook her head slowly, her hoof placed upon her forehead.
“Did your sister say anything else?” Scootaloo asked, speaking above the clamour.
“N-no. I tried to ask, but she said that I needed to get a lot of rest, so I had to go to bed early. It was pretty late by the time she got back home.”
“Hmph!” a voice shot out from the rear, carrying over the rest of the voices. “As usual, I’m the first! I don’t know about others, but of course I’d be first.”
“Yeah!” another voice joined in suddenly, like a cart waiting for the flag to signal the start of a race. “Of course you’d be first!”
“Don’t worry, Silver. I’m sure you’ll be next. I don’t know why that blank flank over there gets hers first as well. I was sure this had something to do with maturity, of course, and how can you be mature without a cutie mark?” Diamond scoffed. “It must have been a mistake. But don’t worry! I’ll forgive it for now!”
Scootaloo and Apple Bloom rolled their eyes.
“Can you believe her?” Scootaloo whispered. “Even for something like this…”
“Yeah,” Apple Bloom agreed. “We gotta do something about this! She’s crossin’ the line, here! Let’s go tell Miss Cheerilee later! Alright?”
Sweetie said nothing in response, turning her eyes away to stare at the table.
“Uh… Sweetie?” Scootaloo asked.
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry,” Sweetie responded hurriedly. “I mean… I’m just finding this really weird, you know? And I… I think… I think we oughta forgive her big mouth this one time.”
“That’s, uh… well… nice of you, I guess,” Scootaloo muttered, quickly steering the subject back. “Anyway, you’re not the only one finding this weird. Why didn’t anyone tell us this was going to happen? I definitely haven’t heard of it before!”
“I dunno. Rarity said that since it’s just a normal thing, they kinda just don’t talk about it. I guess it’s just one of those things that happens at our age or something?”
“Yeah, maybe, but that’s still pretty strange though, ain’t it?” Apple Bloom scratched her chin. “I mean, there’s a bunch of other kids who are older than us, and nothing happened to them.”
“Maybe they just kept quiet about it?” Scootaloo countered.
“But Miss Cheerilee’s about to teach a class about this, ain’t she?” Apple Bloom continued. “Don’t that mean that they tell everypony once somepony gets this? So if others got it first…”
“Well…” Scootaloo trailed off.
“And I mean, look at this. How’s anyone supposed to hide this?” Apple Bloom pointed to Sweetie’s soggy behind.
The three sat in contemplative silence while the classroom chatter remained.
“I’m sure it ain’t a problem, though,” Apple Bloom said, after a while. “I mean, it’s normal, right? There’s no reason to think otherwise just because we find it a lil’ weird ourselves. Besides, we can ask Miss Cheerilee whatever, so it’ll be fine.”
“It’s plenty weird, Bloom,” Scootaloo countered, frowning.
Just then, the teacher entered the room, carrying with her a great number of charts, papers and other materials. She had her usual cheerful smile, but there was something strained about it. It almost looked as though she were a painting, and the presence of her smile was simply because her artist drew her that way.
“Okay, class!” She burbled, silencing the students. “Everypony have a seat! We’ve got a super special lesson today! Now, it seems as though everypony here already knows what we’re about to talk about, so let’s not stand on ceremony!”
She dumped her materials on the table and continued, shifting her eyes from pony to pony, while they sat there and swallowed their tongues. “This may be a very shocking and very frightening experience for some, but I want to assure everyone that there is nothing at all to be afraid of if everyone simply takes care. It seems like our very own Sweetie Belle and Diamond Tiara are the first to have their tails start to come loose, but be sure that over the next one month, every pony here will eventually have their tails drop. It usually takes about a week for–”
Diamond Tiara’s hoof shot up. She didn’t make a sound otherwise, but the teacher stopped short to address her.
“Yes, Miss Tiara?”
“Why?” she demanded, in a tone that was devoid of patience. “Why do tails fall off?”
“Oh, well,” Cheerilee smiled. “That’s the big question, isn’t it! Well, to be honest, no one really knows! It’s just something that happens!”
Sweetie Belle frowned.
“Oh,” Diamond Tiara muttered, putting her hoof down. “Well, it… it stinks!”
“Yes, yes it does! You’ll have to get used to the smell!” Cheerilee joked. “But all that aside, what’s really important is the rules. Now, if the first in every row would like to come up here to the front, I’d like you to distribute some notes!”
“Well, that was pointless,” Scootaloo said, as the three of them left school for the day.
In the end, Cheerilee had reasserted the simple fact that it was completely natural, healthy, and painless as long as they kept to the rules – something that Sweetie had been already told multiple times. Their questions ended up leading the teacher to once again repeat the same points, and most of them left the classroom in anxious dread for when it would be their turn.
“I don’t get this,” Scootaloo continued, waving around the sheets that had been distributed. They were colour-coded and written in friendly, inviting text. It was all very jovial, and little smiling faces had been drawn where there was an extra important rule to remember.
One of the sheets was entitled ‘Your Changing Body and You!’ and detailed the odd physical changes that were to be expected. The others were simply lists of what was to be eaten, at what time, and in what quantity, along with other specifics about what and what shouldn’t be done.
“It’s kinda… strict, ain’t it?” Apple Bloom remarked.
“I… I guess so. But it’s only for a week, and I mean… I can live without candy for a week.”
“It’s not just that!” Scootaloo flipped the paper back to go through it again. “You must drink at least twenty glasses of water a day? Six meals? And look at this here. ‘You absolutely must not eat more than six meals a day’. Who could?”
“And the meals are to contain fish?” Apple Bloom added. “That’s a little… I mean, fish is for like… bears and gryphons and stuff, ain’t it? I mean, have you ever had fish before?”
“Nope. I hear it’s some kind of thing up in Canterlot, but… I dunno,” Sweetie said. “Rarity doesn’t like it. Says the last time she had it it gave her a bit of an upset stomach.”
“Well, a lotta ponies are meat intolerant,” Apple Bloom shrugged. “The fact that they’re makin’ us eat fish sounds wrong.”
“Hey, do you think Rarity had to eat fish when her tail fell off?” Scootaloo asked.
“I… I guess? Oh, boy, is my stomach gonna start hurting?” Sweetie looked down between her legs.
“I dunno. Where are you even going to get fish, anyway?”
“What do you think fish tastes like?”
“Hey, do you think the last time Rarity ate fish was for this tail thing? If it’s the same, then maybe…”
But Sweetie Belle had stopped listening to the incessant questions a few moments back. Her attention was taken by a strange thumping upon her lower abdomen; it was something she only realised was happening because she gave it just enough attention.
She held a hoof up to her stomach, feeling around, as that throbbing sensation echoed somewhere deep inside her body.
A strange white noise pierced her ears the more she concentrated, a whine like air escaping a balloon, until all she could hear besides that was a rhythmic thumping that vibrated up her leg and into her skull.
“Hey!” a voice called, snapping Sweetie out of her stupor. “Sweetie!”
“Wha?” Sweetie dropped her leg, staring up.
Scootaloo and Apple Bloom blinked at her, faces blank.
“Yo, Equestria to Belle,” Scootaloo said. “You okay?”
“Oh, yeah. I am. Sorry. I just… I just thought I heard something.”
“Something?” Scootaloo raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, like a thumping in my body. It was pretty loud. Sort of like in my head but not?”
“Uh, yeah, genius,” Scootaloo chided. “That’s called a heartbeat?”
“Oh, right. Yeah.” Sweetie chuckled nervously. “Yeah. Sorry. Just a bit…”
“It’s okay, Sweetie. You’re probably just tired or somethin’. Ain’t no big deal!” Apple Bloom stepped in. “You oughta go back home and get some rest. We’ll see ya tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay,” Sweetie said, as her friends broke off to go down different paths.
And then she was alone.
But the quiet walk home allowed her mind to empty, and as she walked, her empty steps caused the thumping to resonate ever louder.
She could feel it now, much more clearly than before – a strange pounding within the pit of her chest. Each time it throbbed, it sent echoes up into her skull. It was like a ball bouncing around in a pool of water – hearing and feeling blended into one, and all there was was a terrible beating in her ears.
Gasping, she shook her head roughly and ran, and did not stop until she reached home.
School the next day seemed to have returned to normal, where the only thing left of the previous day’s proceedings was a huge blow-up of the rules that had been tacked up on the classroom’s cork board, just as a gentle reminder.
Special permission was granted to Sweetie and Diamond to eat during class, something that most others griped about under their breaths.
It was especially aggravating to the others due to the sheer size of the two student’s boxed lunches; they were bags packed full of vegetables of all sort, all raw and unseasoned and tasteless, and yet the two girls ate with such ferocity that they barely stopped to breathe.
Scootaloo and Apple Bloom also couldn’t help but notice that Sweetie tore through a small fish with the utmost ravenousness, and it didn’t seem as though it were causing her any bother whatsoever.
As class ended after one, the younger students poured out to go home for the day, and the three crusaders beat a hasty path away to avoid the stream of questions that they expected would come.
Of course, friends were exempt from this no-question treatment, and Scootaloo couldn’t help but attempt to sate her sense of curiosity.
“So, what’d it taste like?” she asked, as they slowed down their pace in an alleyway near Sugar Cube Corner. “Was it gross?”
“What?” Sweetie asked, as she caught her breath.
“The fish! You looked like you were enjoying it back there!” Scootaloo pushed. “Looks like you were able to find some just fine, too.”
“Oh, that. Uh, yeah. Turns out Rarity knew to get them. She brought them back last night, in fact. She brought back tons of food, too.”
“Huh. I guess she has done this before, then.”
“Y-yeah, must be.”
It had been over two hours since she last had food, and already that noise was returning – that overbearing sound of a hoof punching against wood that grew in volume over time. She had found that the noise would go away when she was eating, but it would soon return, distracting her and incessantly plaguing her conscious mind like a cat beating at a ball of yarn.
“You really eating six meals a day?” Scootaloo continued.
“Y-yeah. Well. I had three yesterday and three... three already today,” Sweetie explained, trying to regain focus.
“That’s nuts. It’s gone straight to your hips.” Scootaloo stuck out her tongue and poked at Sweetie’s waist.
“H-have I gained weight?” Sweetie asked weakly, trying to lighten the mood with a joke.
She turned back, glancing at her midriff. As Scootaloo had suggested, it was far lumpier that day. But ‘slight weight gain’ and ‘mild distension’, amongst other things, had been documented in the briefing sheets that Cheerilee had passed around the previous day. Everyone was well aware of it, even though it wouldn’t stop a friend from teasing.
At the very least, Sweetie took heart that the condition of her tail had a sort of progression to it. There was a visible and obvious change to it, and even if it didn’t look better, it looked right in its own way.
It was stringier, more worn out, and there were far fewer globs of ooze that clung on. When she woke that morning, she found a lot of hair had fallen out, leaving uneven brushes sticking out here and there, as if someone had taken a razor to a fern. But besides that, there was, as she was told, no pain whatsoever.
“I guess it’s not that bad,” Sweetie said, to herself.
“What, the fish?”
“Yeah, that… that too,” Sweetie turned back to face her friends. “I thought I wouldn’t like it, but to be honest, I’m not hating it. It’s got a… weird taste and it feels like chewing on a sponge, I-I guess, but I don’t think it’s that bad, really.”
“Does it make your tummy hurt?” Apple Bloom smiled slyly.
“N-no, it’s alright. It’s been alright so far, at least.”
“Well, that’s great, then! And you definitely have your appetite!” Scootaloo commented.
“Oh. Yeah. I’m super hungry. Like… even now.” Sweetie nodded slowly.
“What, really? Even after all you’ve been having?”
“Yeah. I mean, I guess all I’m having is salad, so I can eat more of it? I don’t know how it works.”
“I’m pretty sure fish ain’t salad, darlin’,” Bloom said. “And it really is doin’ a number to your figure, no offence.”
Sweetie Belle chuckled softly, unable to muster up anything more. “Yeah. Guess it’s the downside to… to all this. But something’s making me really hungry all the time.”
“Maybe it’s hormones,” Apple Bloom shrugged.
“What? What’s that?” Scootaloo asked.
“I dunno,” Apple Bloom replied. “All I know is the last time Twilight gained like a billion pounds, she said it was hormones.”
“D-does it go away?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“Yeah, I think so.” Apple Bloom scratched her head, smiling as she thought of a great idea. “But you know what? Once the three of us all get past this, we should all go on a diet together!”
“Sure, that sounds real fun,” Scootaloo said. “Cutie Mark Crusaders Diet Club Member? No thank you. I’ll just exercise extra hard while eating so I can keep the weight off.”
“Anyway,” Sweetie muttered. “Sorry to have to run like this, but I gotta get back home. Big sis is h-helping me prepare my lunch, and I better be back for it or else she’ll get mad.”
“Alright!” her friends chimed in, before turning to each other to talk about the real food they’d be enjoying for now.
Deciding on a place, they walked down the alley in the direction of Sugar Cube Corner, at which Sweetie sighed forlornly. Her brain poked her.
Maybe the diet wasn’t that strict.
After all, what’s a single scoop of ice cream, or the tiniest piece of cake?
As she thought about it more and more, her heart beat faster, and that booming noise in her skull soon resembled a voice yelling at her to go, eat. More and more, as she thought about all the food she was missing out on, did that voice scream. More and more, the thudding was becoming overwhelming.
Gasping, she turned her body toward the end of the alley that led to all the shops in town, and slowly walked up, step by step along to the beat of the resounding thuds in her head.
She heard nothing, saw nothing, except for the swirls of smoke in her mind, her vision like a lighthouse trying to penetrate a dense blanket of fog at night. But at the touch of something upon her right shoulder, she was pulled back into the alley, where she threw her eyes wide open and gave out a little exclamation of shock.
“Hey!” Rainbow Dash said, drawing her hoof from Sweetie. She gave Sweetie the glimmer of a grin as her eyebrows fell down and a sense of urgency took over. “Hey, so… uh… I couldn’t help but see you there.”
“O-oh, hey, Rainbow,” Sweetie stammered. “Um… yeah. I was just... ”
“Yeah. I know,” Rainbow said gently. “I… hope you don’t mind the intrusion. I just happened to pass by, and I saw ya there. Don’t you have to… get home to eat?”
“Yeah. I was gonna.” Sweetie scuffed her hoof on the ground.
“Your home’s that way,” Rainbow nodded at the other exit.
“Um… yeah!” Sweetie was quick to nod. “You’re right. Sorry. Just got confused for a bit.”
“Yeah! Of course you were, of course you were.” Rainbow let loose a little chuckle. “Uh… and you’ve been eating right? Accordin’ to the rules?”
“Yeah.” Sweetie looked up at Rainbow.
“Right, right. Of course you have. Listen.”
There was something rather odd in Rainbow’s eyes that glinted as she spoke. It was the way that she wasn’t really looking back at Sweetie, but rather toward the far end of the alley, as if she was looking right through Sweetie’s skull.
“Um… so, I know it’s kinda hard. Trust me. I know. But you just gotta make sure you follow the rules, okay?” Rainbow said.
“Yeah, sure,” Sweetie muttered. “Everyone’s saying that.”
“No. You have to listen to the rules,” Rainbow yelled suddenly, with no other warning than a quick step forward, which caused Sweetie to jerk back in response. Rainbow’s voice was devoid of that fun jaunt it normally carried, now sounding like a commander barking out orders. “Okay? Seriously!”
Sweetie was too shocked from the sudden shift in tone that she couldn’t respond, instead opting to nod her head roughly as her mouth hung open slightly.
“Okay. Sorry,” Rainbow said, looking left and right, trying to calm herself. “I… I’m sorry for burstin’ out like that. It’s just that… I just don’t want anything bad to happen to you, okay? We’re all looking out for you guys.”
“Is… is something bad going to happen?” Sweetie asked, her voice lowering to a near-whisper.
“Not if… No! I mean… just… just listen to your sister and teacher, okay?” Rainbow flustered. “And make sure you keep to your diet. That’s the most important, I think. And everything will go fine, and you’ll be fine, and… yeah…”
“Miss Rainbow?” Sweetie asked weakly. “Is… everything okay?”
“Look, I’m… I gotta go. I’m no good with this kind of stuff. I just needed to make sure that you were keeping to the rules. I just… I didn’t think…” Rainbow sighed, shaking her head. “No, nevermind. Just promise me. Try to fight the urges.”
“I… I promise.” Sweetie found those words beating down even harder than usual.
“Okay. And you gotta look out for your friends too, okay? It’s really important that once you’re done, you look out for your friends and make sure they keep to it too. Friendship, huh? It’s im-important.” Rainbow Dash nodded to herself, dragging her hoof in small circles in the dirt.
“Miss Rainbow?” Sweetie asked.
“Um… what happens if you don’t?”
Rainbow breathed out slowly, dragging it out over the course of many tedious seconds. It was as if she knew the question was coming, and she absolutely hated that it was here.
Her eyes roamed the rest of the alleyway, inspecting it, carefully checking each brick like they were the most interesting things in the world.
When she finally brought her gaze upon Sweetie, her eyes were lacking the colour and life that normally represented her.
“I gotta go, girl. Stay safe,” she said, shaking her head.
And just like that, she was gone, leaving Sweetie Belle blinking up at the sky.
When Sweetie Belle showed up on Wednesday, she almost had to drag herself into her chair.
There were two things that were far more apparent about her that day – her tail had frayed even further, and it now resembled a short, stiff brush with random tufts that stuck out unevenly from its surface.
And her stomach had grown far rounder than it had been just one day ago. It was now grossly large, as if she were swollen with child.
Weary legs and large bags under her eyes betrayed her sleeplessness, and she even blinked longer than usual just to keep her eyes shut for those fleeting moments.
The only time she seemed to have energy to move with swift resolution was during her mid-class meal, which she tore through even quicker than she had the day before.
Diamond Tiara seemed to be just as worn, but she still attempted to keep up appearances. Everyone could see that it took her too much effort to pretend to not be affected by the stares and calls and constant talk that lay at the edge of her hearing.
Her tail, unlike her rival’s, looked far more luxurious. It had grown out a bit more, and now, without those red clumps, it burst forward with the density of a hedge and the smoothness of silk.
But she too looked as if she had swallowed a beach ball. Her stomach was grossly distended, a sphere threatening to burst forth from her abdomen.
Neither of them had the strength to fight that day, and the day proceeded with an odd peace.
During class, Cheerilee reminded everyone of the rules once more, and Sweetie couldn’t help but notice the looks she was giving to Diamond Tiara while she was running through them again.
She also gave an extra dire warning – to not bother those who were undergoing shedding. They needed to stay as stress-free as possible, she said, and the school would have to be strict about others not bothering them. Three days’ detention to all those who would cause unnecessary problems for anypony who was shedding at the time.
It seemed that all the other classes at the school were given the same warning as well; besides the occasional stare and sneaked look, most others gave the two girls a wide berth after class had ended. It seemed that the adults were preparing for the situation to escalate.
In fact, the three crusaders caught sight of a young colt who ran off from school after it ended, his tail streaked with red.
“There’s another one,” Scootaloo commented, as the three of them rested in the corner of the play yard.
They moved slowly. Sweetie had neither the energy nor effort to flee away that day, and they had all elected to stall in a familiar spot while the crowd thinned – under a tree at the very edge of school property.
The three watched as the sun danced through the swaying of the branches in the wind above their heads. It was a pleasant day, all other things considered.
“Hey, are you okay?” Apple Bloom asked, when she felt the time was right. “You look pretty… terrible.”
“I feel sick,” Sweetie Belle replied, voice scratchy and weak. “I couldn’t sleep at all last night.”
“Hungry. So hungry.”
“Hungry,” Sweetie hiccuped. “But I… I can’t. It’s bad to eat too much. Can’t.”
“Hey uh… yeah.” Apple Bloom said, as she averted her gaze for a moment. “I hate t’ say, but I guess that’s a good thing. You seem t’ be…”
“Yeah,” Sweetie said, looking down at her gut. “I don’t think this is because of the food anymore, though.”
“I guess so. This does seem far more than just a ‘little weight gain’.” Apple Bloom frowned at the huge lump. “But I still don’t know ‘bout all’a this. It just don’t seem right, no matter what anypony’s sayin’.”
“It’ll be over soon,” Sweetie rationalized. “Just… gotta fight it. Real hungry, though.”
“You know, I’m sure a snack wouldn’t hurt.” Scootaloo shrugged.
The thought of food – any food – made Sweetie’s head pound again. Just the idea of putting something into her mouth, tasting, chewing, swallowing, and her heartbeat raced, causing those noises to echo along the rim of her skull.
“I wish I could.” Sweetie groaned, trying to shake those thoughts away. “Offering me isn’t helping, Scoots.”
“Sorry. I just thought…” Scootaloo looked down.
“Yeah, I know,” Sweetie assured. “But I think… it’s better to just stick by the rules. A lot of ponies have been telling me. Sounds serious.”
“You know, speaking of which, we’re not supposed t’ eat sweets, right?” Apple Bloom asked.
“But...” Belle murmured. “I haven’t been eating any sweets. I wasn’t cheating, I promise!”
“Nah. Not you. After we broke up yesterday, we went to Sugar Cube Corner, right? And Diamond Tiara was there. She tried to order a big old milkshake, too, but Pinkie upright told her to get out and go home,” Apple Bloom explained.
“Huh.” Belle muttered.
“Yeah! And she was mad, too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pinkie that unhappy before!” Scootaloo chimed in. “Everyone there was kinda shocked, except for Mr. Cake, who kinda just nodded along.”
“And Diamond did somethin’ real strange,” Apple Bloom continued. “She downright begged for somethin’ t’ eat! She was near cryin’ too. She sounded almost pitiful. But Pinkie put her hoof down and sent her packin’. I think Mrs. Cake followed her home, in fact.”
A sudden jolt coursed through Sweetie’s chest, like a kick to the heart
“Wait, Diamond’s trying to eat candy?” Sweetie Belle realised, jolting upward awkwardly. “Do you think she already has?”
“Who cares? That’s her problem. She’s always doing what she wants,” Scootaloo sniffed. “It was nice to see her get chewed out by Pinkie Pie, though.”
Sweetie’s chest contracted again, the pressure inside her ribs growing.
She struggled to her hooves all of a sudden, staggering sideways as her size caused her to go off-balance. “We gotta go talk to her!”
“What about?” Apple Bloom asked, raising her eyebrow.
“Yeah, hold up there,” Scootaloo agreed. “What’s going on?”
“I… I don’t know. I just got a really bad feeling about this. I think we should stop her from eating weird stuff before it’s too late!”
A fourth voice broke the trio, as quietly, a figure pulled up from around the tree. How long she had been there was unclear, but then was the time that she chose to reveal herself.
“It’s already too late,” Cheerilee smiled sadly, as she walked around to face the three children.
Two of them stared up with surprise from their seats on the ground. The third, Sweetie Belle, simply glowered at the proclamation.
“What do you mean it’s too late?” Sweetie charged the question.
“It’s unfortunate, but… there’s nothing we can do anymore. The poor dear probably couldn’t stop herself early. But I suppose it’s understandable. She has the resources to get what she wants, and she’s always been a bit of a rebel,” Cheerilee mused.
She turned to the sky and smiled. There was a tinge of something else in there. Regret, perhaps, or maybe fear. But either way, her eyes shifted nervously as she brought her head back down. “I’m sorry, girls. I wasn’t trying to pry. But I had to be sure. Being the first is always the most difficult and the most simple in some ways, and I needed to be sure that you were keeping to the rules.”
“That’s okay, miss Cheerilee.” Sweetie replied. “But please, what do you mean it’s too late?”
Cheerilee sighed, the smile disappearing from her face. “I mean that she’s already eaten enough for things to change. You’ve noticed, haven’t you? Her tail and yours?”
“But her tail’s doing a lot better, it looks like,” Scootaloo said.
“Ah, looks aren’t everything,” Cheerilee warned. “Especially in this case. No. It’s a shame what must happen, but we’ve tried our best, right?”
Sweetie Belle swallowed heavily. There was something about the way that her teacher had said that last line, almost as if were not meant to be rhetoric.
But before she could answer, Cheerilee started to move away, headed back toward the school building. “Listen, keep it up. It won’t be long, now. A few more hours before it’s ripe. And then it will be over.”
She disappeared into the distance, leaving the others wordless in the dirt.
It was a moment later when Sweetie, scrunching her face up into a determined frown, stepped forward as well to hobble off into the distance, and not the objections of her friends would stop her.
~ ~ ~
Sweetie Belle found Diamond Tiara at home, her large mansion that bordered Ponyville. It was as large as houses went, and it was even more impressive up close – this was the first time that Sweetie found herself needing to go there.
Her friends had tried to follow along, but Sweetie insisted that this was something she had to do herself; she was the only one whom Diamond would speak to, she believed vehemently.
And so it was that she was led through the empty halls and quiet corners of the Diamond Tiara homestead by an old and tired housekeeper, whereupon she found herself staring at Diamond through a crack in her door.
Diamond’s eyes tried to burn with anger, but sputtered out after a few seconds, and eventually, as Sweetie stood and swallowed her apprehensions, the door opened further, and Sweetie stepped in.
“What?” Diamond sneered, as her face twitched rhythmically. “I’m going to give you two minutes, and that’s all!”
Sweetie made sure the door was closed fully before she continued. “L-listen. We need to talk.”
“The hunger,” Sweetie said.
Diamond’s face twitched again.
“There isn’t anything to talk about!” she finally declared. “If that’s all you came here for–”
“No, listen! Please. Look, I know we don’t get along, but that’s not important right now! I think something bad is happening and you have to listen to me!” Sweetie implored, as she took a step forward.
Diamond took one step back. “Th-there isn’t…”
“You’ve been breaking the rules!” Sweetie cried, as hard as she could muster. “You’ve been eating stuff you’re not supposed to, and you’ve been eating more, right? I know!”
“Oh, what are you going to do?” Diamond yelled back. “Tell on me?”
“N-no,” Sweetie stuttered. “Something bad will happen if you keep doing that! You have to stop!”
“Oh really? Like what?”
“I… I don’t know, but Rainbow told me to listen to the rules!”
A sharp rap on the ground shook Sweetie Belle silent, as Diamond brought her hoof down upon her floorboards.
“Oh, rules this and rules that. Come on, Sweetie Belle! Wake up! Can’t you see the right thing to do?” Diamond Tiara snapped impatiently. “You’re going through the same thing I am, aren’t you?”
“Y-yes.” Sweetie replied timidly.
“Then you also have the hunger, and that thumping in your head, and the crying from inside, and you know it goes away when you eat, right?”
“I… yes,” Sweetie nodded her head. Most of it sounded familiar.
“Obviously your body’s telling you to eat! Otherwise, what is it for? An alarm’s there to warn you that there’s a fire, right? So you only turn off the alarm when the fire’s out!”
“No buts!” Diamond stopped to catch her breath. She wheezed a little as she shifted in place. “Enough… of this foolish nonsense! The adults just want us to play by their rules. But the signs are clear! And besides, look at my tail and look at yours! Which is better off?”
“But Miss Cheerilee said…”
“Oh, she says a lot of things. And you know what? I feel fine! I feel great. So yeah, I had a lot of chocolate! And yeah I’ve been eating more than I had to, and I’m the one with the awesome tail! You know what? Maybe it’s not even going to fall off! Maybe I’ll be the first pony ever who doesn’t need to shed her baby tail!”
Sweetie wanted, more than anything, to raise a point in counter, but found herself stalling on the words. There was nothing she could say, there was no logic she could use, and there was no proof more than just a lot of cryptic warnings from some very avoidant ponies.
It irritated her to no end – why hadn’t anyone been clear about it? Why had no one wanted to say anything? From her own sister and teacher to Rainbow Dash, the one pony in town she could expect to speak her mind, everyone was simply giving the warnings but not speaking of the consequences.
The little filly could only keep wondering why.
“So, are we done?” Diamond asked, pointing to her door. “I can’t believe I let you in here for this. I thought you actually had something to talk about.”
“I… I’m sorry,” Sweetie blurted out before she could stop herself out of pride. “I just… I really think…”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to do that here.” Diamond said, chasing her guest to the door.
The two of them struggled, the blind leading the blind, as they both awkwardly danced along the room, their tiredness and bodies not allowing them the freedom of unrestricted movement.
Diamond turned just right, and there, on the lower half of her erupted stomach, was a small depression, a strange sunken pockmark about the size of a small orange that sunk into her flesh somewhere near her rear leg.
“H-hey, wait!” Sweetie cried, batting Diamond’s hoof away from her. “What is that?”
“How dare you!” Diamond yelled, raising her hoof again.
“No! That! Really!” Sweetie pointed. “What is that?”
“What is wh–” Diamond looked down, and stopped moving.
Her face paled.
“What… what is that?” Diamond whispered, lowering herself to the floor in a rush, thumping down and struggling on her rear.
She struggled to look past the huge mountain in the way, and she twisted and turned, using up all her energy, as she panted in panic to get a closer look at the strange cavernous spot.
“Stop moving!” Sweetie yelled out.
And then Sweetie could see it all.
There were not one but three depressions, the other two hidden away near the bottom of the entire thing. But in this position it was clear. Two small ones lay side by side, and a larger one a bit further down.
Sweetie’s heart started beating furiously as she watched it shift around underneath Diamond’s skin, like something was sucking at the other side from within. It pulsed and writhed, the edges moving up and down and inward and outward, the ovals that they made ever-changing as they rippled in her flesh.
It was unmistakable as to what it was. Even if the angles were wrong, and the positions a bit strange, it was clear what it looked like.
“What is that?” Diamond cried, on the verge of tears. “What do you see? Please, Sweetie! What is it?”
“It’s… it’s a face,” Sweetie replied. “A… a face.”
“What’s a face doing there?”
“I don’t know! But it looks like… it looks… wait…” Sweetie said, as she felt the blood rush away from her ears and cheeks. “Did you say that you hear crying?”
“I-in my head!” Diamond sputtered, running her hooves over the three sunken holes. At her touch, the holes moved, shifting away as if to hide. “D-don’t you hear it too?”
Sweetie stepped back. “I…”
“What’s happening to me?” Diamond clamoured, her face twisted like a rag. Tears started to make their way down her cheeks as her gaze unfocused. “What’s happening?”
Sweetie’s breath laboured as she turned from Diamond’s face to the one in her body. She kept going back and forth, not knowing which was worse to look at.
“I have to go!” Sweetie yelped out suddenly, stepping back once more before turning around fully to scrabble for the door.
“No! Wait!” She heard Diamond’s voice from behind her as she fumbled with the knob. “Please! I’m sorry! Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”
“I’m sorry!” Sweetie shouted, as she yanked the door open and leapt through.
Diamond’s wails echoed down the corridors as she hasted out.
When Sweetie had reached a point where the cries no longer rang in her ears, she ran as fast as she could, which was certainly not fast enough given the speeds at which she could go. Her stomach felt like a bag; she could feel something inside her swaying back and forth as she ran.
Mixed emotions ran through her head, but nothing had the time to process – there was fear for herself and for Diamond, regret for running, but thankfulness for the safety to be away from what she saw, and in the end she merely went back and forth between guilt and relief as she stumbled home.
Thereupon she wolfed down her meal – she was too hungry to resist even given the circumstances – and retired as soon as she could to her room where she huddled up against the corner of her bed for the rest of the night.
~ ~ ~
She crawled into school the next day.
She had checked and checked – practically the whole night – but Sweetie’s stomach didn’t grow a face-shaped depression, and the crying never came.
But when she pressed a hoof to herself, she could feel something inside; something hard,round and uneven and large. It felt like trying to squeeze a marble inside a balloon full of jelly. It simply gets away when you try to get a good hold on it.
She found herself drifting in and out of a bubble in her head, where the voices of her classmates sank into a muffled, padded room and could not reach her. She could see their concerned faces, but they didn’t spur her to react.
There was only one thing on her mind.
Diamond Tiara, despite all expectations, had also made it to school, perhaps in a final show of rebellion. She had made sure to cover herself up that day with a sort of dress. There were things underneath that she preferred others not to see.
But her expression was that of death itself. Her entire face was dry, cracked, and looked as if it had been beset upon by crows. Her eyes sunk in from lack of sleep, and her mouth permanently hung semi-open so as to aid her uneven breathing. Her whole face twitched, each element moving as if independant from each other, her features now no longer working together to adequately express thought or emotion.
And she stared. She stared at Sweetie. A vicious glare, and she would not stop. Sweetie felt it burning into her back from the moment that Diamond came in, and it lasted throughout class.
Sweetie felt Diamond’s accusations. Sweetie felt Diamond’s hatred for her abandonment. Diamond didn’t have to say a thing.
It was half-way through math class when a clatter caused Sweetie to turn around.
A pencil bounced off the floor.
There was something wrong.
Sweetie threw her hooves over her ears when the scream came.
Diamond threw her face to the ceiling, her head bent unnaturally back, her mouth agape. She clutched at her throat, scratching at it with her hooves as a high-pitched sound escaped her, like the cry of a dozen pained animals, all at once.
The unnatural scream was horrifically loud and shrill, and it seemed to come not from Diamond herself, but from somewhere within, somewhere deep inside, and the noise was merely using her throat to make itself heard. It crawled up, like a rat through a pipe, and burst to freedom from her mouth.
Everything faded as the scream enveloped all of Sweetie’s senses. She could vaguely hear her teacher, Miss Cheerilee, yelling orders with a stern voice. She could see activity rushing around her in the form of shadows and outlines.
But all she could truly see was the convulsing silhouette of Diamond Tiara, who sank to the floor, strangling herself in a vain attempt to stop the screaming.
But that too faded.
Sweetie’s mind swelled with a bright light – dancing spots and colours that slowly lost their shade. Balls of sparkling gold filled her vision, and eventually, everything was overwhelmed by white.
The first thing to come into view when she finally awoke was a great light that had been pointed at her eyes. It was as round as the moon and at least twenty times as bright, and Sweetie had to throw her leg across her eyes to block it out.
She shuffled around, realising she had been placed on some sort of padded bed, and sat up, squinting through the blinding beams.
A low buzz permeated the space she was in, and she made out rough figures of dividers, walls, and shapes where she attempted to look.
“H-hello?” she asked, her voice frayed at the edges.
She heard something move to her right, and she turned.
A blurred figure, dressed all in white, with mask over face, stared at her for a moment, and then left the room without a response.
Sweetie then looked down, toward her body.
The lump in her stomach was gone.
Gasping, she turned, rolling over in her bed, trying to stare at her rear. Through the rays of white, she saw a large white bandages placed across the area where her tail ought to be. It seeped brown with a tinge of green, the colours ebbing out from the corners.
With a leg, she reached down, slowly, hoof crawling across her thigh, as she shut her eyes to drown out the light. She felt the edge of the bandages, with coarse edges and a soft padding of cotton, perhaps, beneath, and she felt her flesh dipping in as she approached the hole, as if it were sunken into a pit.
It stung slightly, but she continued, pressing on slowly with trepidation, as her curiosity took hold.
She felt something softly graze the top of her leg.
“Ah!” She screamed.
“There there,” Princess Celestia said softly, as the lights went out. The princess nudged Sweetie’s hoof away from her wound. “Don’t touch it. You have to give your new tail a chance to grow in properly.”
The buzzing in the room died with the lights, dropping everything to an eerily dead silence.
When the spots disappeared from Sweetie’s eyes, she could finally see her surroundings clearly – it was a hospital room of sorts, with a large window on one wall, doors on the other, and a whole mess of equipment strewn around the place. To her right was a push-cart covered in rags and cotton, all of which were thick with that brownish liquid with the green tinge. Loose short hairs covered everything like a sprinkling of chocolate rice on top of a sundae.
Princess Celestia stood idly by, looking through the window.
“You woke up quite fast,” Celestia said, watching something. “That means you’re healthy. We were just about to move you to a proper room. But I suppose now that you’re awake, you can go yourself, hmm?”
“P-princess?” Sweetie asked, just to make sure.
“Yes, my dear?” The princess responded, finally turning to address the patient. “It’s over. See? No pain. Because you listened to the rules.”
“Princess? What’s going on? Where am I?” Sweetie asked dazedly. “What happened?”
“Oh! So many questions! Such an inquisitive mind,” Celestia chuckled. “Well then, let’s see, shall we? Unfortunately, your friend Diamond Tiara had an episode in school today. That was about an hour ago. Unfortunately, you must have passed out from… well. Who knows? The lucky thing is that you are just fine. We had you both shipped here to the castle for extraction. And then you woke up. That’s the whole story, really!”
“Yes, of course. Your tail. The fruit.”
Sweetie jumped when she heard an audible click. She turned. The clock on the wall had hit three. It was one of those models that lacked a second hand.
Celestia giggled again.
“The… the what?,” Sweetie asked, turning back suddenly.
“The fruit?” Celestia raised an eyebrow, judging Sweetie’s reaction. “Ah, they probably didn’t tell you much, did they? It’s so strange, they just don’t like talking about it down there.”
“Yes, in Ponyville, of course.”
“Just in Ponyville?”
“Yes, just in Ponyville. With few exceptions, of course.”
“Why… just in Ponyville?”
“Why would it be anywhere else?” Celestia tilted her head, an expression of mild confusion crossing her face, almost as if the answer were clear. “We don’t have any other farms, do we?”
“W-wait, what... do you do to Ponyville?”
“We enlist the aid of the fine citizens of Equestria. And well, we don’t need that many so we just keep it local. It’s become sort of a tradition, as it happens.” Celestia smiled. “You can be sure that everyone in Ponyville has gone through this. Even those who join later in life. But it’s slightly more unpleasant for them. The process is more laboured the older you are, which is why we prefer to sow while the body is… supple. You should consider yourself lucky to go through it at your age.”
“Uh…” Sweetie muttered. There was something disconcerting about that reply but Sweetie didn’t have the energy to think too much about it. “O-oh. I see.”
“Very good, my child. You’re quick, aren’t you?” Celestia said genuinely.
“Well, I… I didn’t know any of this happened,” Sweetie muttered, speaking whatever came to mind. “They… they just told us that our tails were falling off, and only... on the day it started.”
Celestia frowned with a look of annoyance.
“I wish they’d talk about it more,” Celestia sighed. “It’s not like there’s anything wrong with it or anything. I told them the same thing I want to tell you. When it’s time for the next generation’s harvest, you should tell your children everything they need to know to prevent… unneeded stress.”
“W-wait. I… I’m sorry, Princess. May… may I please ask…” Sweetie turned and struggled off the bed, wincing as she rolled over onto that area on her back. “Wh-what’s this all about? What is this all for?”
“Hmm,” Celestia hummed. “Well, would you like to see?”
Celestia stepped aside.
Behind her, on a table, in a tray, was a large thing. It looked as much like a fruit as a mouse looked like a squid. The size of a basketball, it was covered with lumps of various sizes, like malignant growths had taken hold. Shades of green and orange and brown covered its scaly lizard-like skin, and on top, where a stem should have been, was the remnants of something that looked very familiar, clad with fibers of purple and lilac.
The whole thing was coated with a disgusting jelly of sorts – a congealed, thick mass of yellowish blubber. When Sweetie approached, she could once again smell that familiar fish-like scent emanating from it.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Celestia said, as the two of them stared. “We haven’t had time to wash it yet, but it’s nearly perfect. You’ve done very well, Sweetie Belle. We can only hope others will follow in your example. Do be sure to remind your friends later, yes?”
“W-what is that?”
“We call it the babytail fruit,” Celestia said, staring at it, as if it were commanding her attention. “And you grew it for us.”
“I… I grew it?”
“Yes, and we are very thankful for your services,” Celestia gently patted Sweetie on the head. “Very thankful.”
“But… what is it?” Sweetie gasped with incredulity.
“It is a fruit with a very special property. It contains within it a very special magic that can replace and replicate magical power. And as you know, magic is not indefinite. So every generation, my sister and I have to make a harvest of it so that we… can go on a bit longer.”
“W-wait, wait! But… but what about–”
“Oh, don’t worry, it doesn’t take any of your magic away. You’re no worse off, I promise. Otherwise, we wouldn’t also harvest from the pegasi and earth ponies, would we?” Celestia winked. “It just takes… all the things that are left over in your body from birth. The stuff you don’t need. And all you’ve been doing is helping to nourish it with just the right things for it to grow well. As I’ve said, you’ve done spectacularly. Maybe you’ll get a farming cutie mark one day!”
“I… I…” Sweetie stammered. She hadn’t the words to express what she was feeling. No longer did thought interfere with her beating heart; everything now refused to sink in, and her soul was keeping the truth at bay, chasing it off with a stick.
“But you see, it’s different for when you don’t behave.” Celestia walked up to the window once more, peering through. “Your friend Diamond didn’t want to listen, and now… now things will be a lot more difficult for her.”
“D-diamond? She’s there? I tried to warn her! I tried to–”
“It was too late by then, so I hear.”
Sweetie rushed to the window, attempting to peer through. Unfortunately, it was built for taller ponies, and all she could see was the hallway that lay beyond, and the ceiling of the room that lay beyond that. A bright light also shone from that other room, and Sweetie could only guess what Celestia was watching.
“Extraction for her will be far more… tricky,” Celestia explained. “At the very least, she’s going to have a few scars.”
A red light turned on somewhere, drenching the corridor with red.
And suddenly, a scream came.
It came shrill and sharp, and even through two glass walls, it was loud and clear. It sounded like wailing, like horrible, horrible wailing, and it caused Sweetie to step backward for lack of other action to do. It sounded exactly like the classroom a few hours ago.
Celestia frowned, still watching.
With nothing more than the constant siren blaring in the background, Sweetie saw a streak of red hit the ceiling silently, marking the lights with liquid that started to drip. It was followed by a streak of green.
“Oooh,” Celestia murmured. “Particularly bad one this time.”
The screaming did not stop.
Sweetie saw the glint of metal being floated over. Just a glimpse, but it was there.
Passionlessly, Celestia continued to look, taking in sharp breaths every so often in response to something she saw.
And still, the screaming continued.
Until a few moments later, when it abruptly died out.
The red light turned off.
The door opened.
“The funny thing is,” Celestia said, turning to the side to face the door of the room they were in, “when a fruit gets the wrong nourishment, they change. That’s magic for you. Very specific.”
The door burst open, and a doctor, clad in a liquid-soaked smock, carried in the object.
Celestia stepped to the side, putting herself between Sweetie Belle and the object.
But Sweetie caught sight as it came in. A second or so, and it was enough.
The image of it seared itself into her head.
It was a fruit even more grotesque than what she saw earlier. It was just as lumpy, but also had two eyes that bulged out like bright white spheres nestled in two shallow pits. There were no eyelids, and they were perfectly round, unnaturally so. A giant mouth that stretched from edge to edge quivered. It was lipless, and it was not so much a mouth as a slit in the body of the thing that was already showing signs of growing teeth, or at least something very much like it.
But what hung from its bottom like roots was a trunk, a strange, whitish trunk that had a few other strange appendages shooting out from its side in thin, noodle-like ways. They looked like the tentacles of a squid – flexible and slimy and altogether not familiar, and at their tips were a fray of small bristles.
At the very top, however, was Diamond’s tail. It was full bodied, long, smooth, thick. It flowed down the head in waves like a thick covering.
From behind Celestia, a noise came, like a strained cough – a thick, raspy choking on slime that bubbled and burbled.
“Yes, it’s definitely bad,” Celestia said quietly.
But without any other noise in the room, Sweetie heard it as clear as day.
“Bring it to mirror seven,” Celestia continued. “Dispose of it.”
The door closed.
Celestia turned around, that warm, loving smile still plastered on her face. “Now then, how about we get you home?”
Diamond Tiara didn’t come to school for the next two days after school started on Monday.
Through then, Sweetie had been very quiet, as well, keeping to herself and only speaking when spoken to.
When she got home the day before, Rarity looked upon her with a piteous look, and didn’t say a word. Sweetie Belle, herself, had no enthusiasm to speak about it at all.
But that day, on Tuesday, Apple Bloom sauntered in in the morning, her eyes looking watery and her tail an absolute mess. It was covered with a strange brown liquid that clung on like blobs of congealed jelly.
And then, only then, did Sweetie speak, rushing to her friend at first sight with the liquid drained from her mouth and her eyes streaked with red.
“Please, everything will be fine,” she whispered to Apple Bloom, over and over. “Just listen to the rules.”