Garotte and Twilight sat opposite each other in Celestia's dining hall. Plates of bronze and silver with matching forks, knifes and spoons were resting atop cloth napkins with Celestia's cutie mark as a design on them. The table itself was mahogany wood, with coasters aplenty to prevent water damage from sweaty drinks. Their meal had been provided by the Sun Princess, given that the two socialize and attempt to bond.
It was Celestia's never ending crusade to unite the world through friendship, even if some needed more 'convincing' than others. Twilight, as her pupil, was following the same philosophy. Despite her hopes, Twilight was still wary of Garotte's motives. So far, all Garotte had done was wear her 'evil' uniform for some reason, and sit nervously while looking everywhere but in Twilight's direction. This pattern was broken as Twilight tried to bite into her sandwich. (Spinach, olives, tomato and some daffodil.)
"So..." Garotte began, smiling uncertainly and averting eye contact. "What do... 'Heroes'... do?"
Twilight raised an eyebrow. "Heroes?" She then set her sandwich down, untouched. "We're not 'Heroes'. At least I'm not."
"Oh, um, my mistake." Garotte replied meekly, reminding Twilight of a certain pegasus.
"Why do you think I'm a hero?"
Garotte looked up and met eye contact for a moment, before hiding behind her mane and absent mindedly petting the bangs nearest her face. "Well... you and your friends defeated Nightmare Moon, Discord, Sombra and a bunch of other 'Evil' things... So doesn't that make you a hero?"
Twilight didn't see it that way. "I wasn't out there with my friends to seek glory for a quest, if that's what you mean."
"No!" Garotte blurted. "I just..."
She was clamming up again, and Twilight had to act fast. "It's nothing to worry about; I'm just interested in your view of everything. I didn't think that somepony that seems as nice as you would join the Forces of Evil."
Garotte was tempted to explain, but she knew that Twilight was only trying to pry information from her, or get her to do something she would regret. She had no reason to trust anything Twilight said, and remained silent. She also slid down her chair for good measure, and to appear smaller.
"Sorry..." Twilight offered.
Garotte instead chose to take command of the conversation. "So, um... What is having friends like?"
Twilight seemed stunned by this for a moment, but she soon mastered herself. "It's like having somepony always there that you can rely on. Somepony who cares about you, your day, and who's opinion matters to both of you. Like having somepony you can be completely silly around and also share serious moments. It's like having somepony that you can fully be yourself around. That's what a true friend is, at least."
Garotte took a moment to process this. "Well, I'm pretty sure I've never had that. I mean, I've had ponies and griffons that I've known by aquaintence, but nothing that special."
Twilight took this as an opportunity. "I could show you around Canterlot, if you want." Her voice was carefully toned to not convey her growing excitement about the idea. Maybe if she could turn Garotte from evil with the magic of friendship, then she could save everybeing else!
"Are you sure that's a good idea? My face will be all over CNN..." She hid behind her hooves as her head rested on the table in front of her. Her own sandwich was Olives, Lily, Tomato and a slice of bacon. (She lived in the Griffon Empire for a few years, and the taste was exceptional, despite the inability to digest it.)
"Well... maybe you could leave your uniform here, and we could go to a Spa to get your mane fixed?" Twilight offered.
Garotte looked to her mane. It was a gradient of black at the roots to white at the tips, shades of grey in between. It was scraggly and messy, a habit of living on the streets was to give up on mane-tenence entirely. She liked her mane the way it was. It reminded her of harsher times where she had survived.
"No... but thank you for the offer, Twilight."
'Well, at least she's using my name.' Thought Twilight.
"Whatever you're comfortable with. It must be really jarring to be rescued from evil." Twilight hopefully smiled.
Twilight's smile vanished.
"I had everything going my way before the attack on Ponyville." Garotte was morose. "I had a home, food, a job, health benefits, a retirement plan..." She looked to Twilight, pushing her sandwich away. "Now I'm stuck in Canterlot of ponies that only care for themselves." She growled with a slightly higher voice of anger.
"Garotte, please!" Twilght tried to calm her. "Getting angry won't fix anything."
Garotte was angry, true. But she knew if she caused any scene or injury, she would go to the dungeons or worse. "F-fine." She stammered, and promptly sat down.
Twilight decided to shift the focus of the conversation. "Why do you wear that uniform?"
Garotte was peeled from her brooding before it could begin, and looked at her uniform. "Well, um... this is embarassing..."
"That's okay. I won't make fun of you." Twilight said reassuringly.
"It... It was given to me by the nicest stallion I've ever met, and I owe him alot."
This interested Twilight. Maybe they could find common ground after all.
"What was his name, If you don't mind me asking?"
"I don't know if I should say..." Garotte replied, shinking further into her seat and using her forehooves held together as a bulwark towards Twilight.
"You don't have to if you feel uncomfortable."
Garotte was silent for little over a minute, and her reply changed the conversation once more. "Do... um." She scratched her cheek with a forehoof. "Could we visit Canterlot after all?"
Twilight had to restrain herself from jumping with excitement, and managed a very eager sounding, "Yes!"
Meanwhile, across the city and causing quite a commotion, was Queen Chrysalis and some fifty of her changelings. Attacking? No.
Chrysalis had taken the Idea of the Flim Flam brothers into account, and used her connections via disguised changelings to purchase a large storefront in the tourism district of the wealthy city. Her changelings, as well as herself, were always in desperate need of love. The idea of the two salesponies was to make a profit from the needs of royalty in Canterlot, whom were known to be exceptionally needy and vain. It was then her idea to have her own changelings disguise themselves as various celebrities and nobility, and offer the services of their changeling nature summarised as the storefront's namesake.
The Queen had aquired all of the legal documentation, a pony sponsor by the name of Fancy Pants, and a review by an up and coming stallion named 'Satisfaction' (Herself, of course.)
"One Night Stand receives a one hundred percent Satisfaction guarentee of excellence."
She still loved that witty pun.
She had advertised on CNN, and the final portions of the grand opening were underway. All that remained was to entice customers inside. It wouldn't be too hard, given that the Nobility or fans thereof aways had a need to either look at themself or gawk, respectively.
Her own hive could only communicate vocally under disguise, or with unintended mutations from Chrysalis' own unperfected skill at alchemy.
"Queen Chrysalis, we are ready to begin." A changeling disguised as Sapphire Shores stated plainly.
Chrysalis glowered at this one. "If you're going to play a role, at least pretend to be in character."
"A lesson learnt from experience?" It quipped.
Chrysalis was about to backhoof that changeling when she caught sight of a pony she hadn't been expecting.
Oddly, she was accompanied by some grey unicorn mare. Becoming interested, she sensed for love in the air and found only sparks of familiarity between them. Bah.
Putting on a friendly face, 'Celestia' (Chrysalis in disguise) intercepted the duo. "Twilight! I was not expecting to find you in a place such as this."
Twilight was instantly suspicious, and her friend had nearly melted into the floor with fright like a dropped pail of water at the sight of 'Celestia'.
"Princess Celestia?" Twilight asked with bewilderment.
"You were not expecting me in my own city?" Chrysalestia replied.
"Not so soon, to be honest." Twilight then shifted her focus from the impostor to the store itself.
Two stories, a great deal of rooms. Pink and red decor, possibly to incite passion, and soft carpetting. Paintings or pictures were along the walls of the lobby, where customers could pick a Celebrity and a price.
"What is this place?" Twilight asked.
"Succinctly explained; a changeling love store."
Twilight made a face. "Huh?"
Chrysalestia resisted the urge to peel off her own face with irritation at Twilight's density, but swiftly recovered. "Think of it as a 'Changeling Novelty Store'."
Not knowing what that was either, Twilight opted to pretend that she knew, and nodded in understanding.
"Would you or your friend want to browse the selection?" Chryslestia asked with barbed wording, causing Garotte to flinch. She motioned towards all of the portraits.
"Uh... nothanks!" The friend replied.
Twilight considered her response, and replied, "This place seems nice; not that I trust it. Be safe, Princess Celestia." She gave a polite bow afterwards.
"To you as well, my faithful student."
Chrysalis watched them leave, and returned to her original self as the door chimed.
"I'm getting better!" She quietly cheered to herself.
Garotte and Twilight were walking along; a distance of awkward proportions between them. They looked more as two seperate ponies traveling in the same direction than anything else. Garotte had insisted on wearing her uniform out in Canterlot, and Twilight had opted to go bare, as she was more comfortable that way.
"I'm sorry about what happened back there." Twilight opened. "I wasn't expecting Princess Celestia to be back so soon."
Garotte was silent, but twitched her muzzle in reply. Feeling nervous and a sense of failure, Twilight offered another activity the two could try.
"We could grab something to eat at Pony Joe's!" She chirped excitedly.
"We just ate, and I'm still full." Garrote replied tiredly. "Thanks though."
Twilight grumbled internally. It shouldn't be this hard! She had befriended all of her friends without even trying. Although, maybe Garotte had alot of evil preventing her from making friends? Should she run tests?
No, that wouldn't work. How do you even 'scan' for evil?
"Maybe we could watch a movie together?" She offered.
This got a somewhat enthusiastic response. "Oh! That sounds like something to do."
"Great! I know just the place!"
Garotte had followed behind Twilight through the winding streets, going largely unnoticed suprisingly to her. She had expected rotten fruit to be hurled towards her at least. She wasn't complaining.
The night air combined with a cloudless sky had brought Garotte to a halt. She was used to living in smog dense ghettos or places where the buildings were so high you couldn't see the sun or the moon. Not even to mention the stars. Garotte had sat down on the sidewalk, causing a few aristoponies to grumble as they shifted past.
Garotte was too busy seeing the stars for the first time to really care.
Twilight had walked half a block before her ears detected a missing quartet of hooves that were supposed to be following her. Turning around and looking with brief panic, she saw Garotte sitting in the middle of the sidewalk and blankly staring at the sky.
Thinking something had gone wrong, Twilight hurried over to Garotte. "Garotte? Are you okay?" She called, and received no reply.
Garotte was awestruck. Countless points of light all shimmering with seperate yet combined beauty; arranged in artistic patterns depicting animals, events and monuments to the past and hopes for the future. The moon itself being a massive beacon of cool light blue and illuminating the cobblestone streets of Canterlot, casting an eerie feel to the city of marble and gold.
Garottw felt something on her chest, and looked down to see Twilight's hoof. She then followed the hoof to the face of its owner.
"Garotte, are you okay?!" Twilight asked in panic.
"Stars..." Garotte wistfully replied in awe, her hoof pointing to the night sky in all its glory.
This confused Twilight greatly. Had Garotte been raised in a hole her entire life? How had she never managed to glance upwards until now? Was this a distraction?
Twilight then made paranoid glances over her withers, and refocused on Garotte.
She was just sitting there. Her frazzled and unkempt mane pushed from her face so she could see with both eyes. Her mouth slightly open and turned upwards in a smile. Her hoof was still raised, as if trying to reach and grab a star to take with her.
Twilight observed this, and decided if there was going to be any hope of becoming friends with Garotte, that she had to share this moment with her.
<My Queen, your requested report is ready.>
<Thank you, Gaius. You may proceed.>
<Yes, my Queen.> A short pause. <The attack on the town of Ponyville has amounted to One hundred fourty seven thousand, eight hundred fifty three bits in property damage. (147,853)>
<Loss of life?>
<Several scrapes or bruises, and a single bloodied muzzle.>
Wow. That was fairly outstanding.
<How much to repair the damages?>
<To replace what was lost, or to improve?>
<Let's go with the 'Improve' option.>
<A half million bits will modernize and reinforce Ponyville and Sweet Apple Acres from further attack. We would also install a Royal Guard barracks and a town wall to deter the smaller creatures that attack or disrupt the town. A new library and accompanied books to fill it will cost a seperate twenty thousand bits.>
<And what of the train station?>
<Several lanes could be opened, as well as a warehouse for shipping and receiving. This would be sixty five thousand bits.>
<Oh, what about the school house?>
<A new building, books and supplies should cost ten thousand.>
<Does this include toys and equipment?>
<Eleven thousand, then.>
<Thirty five thousand, six hundred. It would have a more spacious audience hall, efficient filing system as well as stained glass windows depicting the town's history and achievements.>
<Anything we're missing?>
<All of the remaining homes will be accounted for, including Carousel Boutique and Sugarcube Corner.>
<Yes, that was the one. Rarity's home.>
<Would you like the total cost?>
<No, that's alright. We have all the money in the world anyway.>
<As you wish, my Queen.>
Excellent! The first part of Aether's plan had gone perfectly. Now all we had to do was wait for the other parts.
Queen Aze then turned on her Magic Projector screen to watch CNN.
Canterlot News Network!
Bringing you the very best in the business, because nopony else is competing!
"Welcome to the nightly news, everybeing! This is First Responder here on the scene of the grand opening of One-Night stand! Ponies are lined up around the corner to have a one nighter with their favorite pony.
Or are they?
Yes everybeing, you are witnessing the first ever Changeling Novelty Experience store! Have you ever wanted to meet Celestia? Now you can! Have you wanted to spend a night with the Element of Loyalty and Cu-- I mean, cuddle indoors with Rainbow Dash? Now you can!"
The screen sparked, a white static spreading across it.
Oh! Here's the best part!
The screen returned focus to a shaded figure in a crimson robe with glowing red eyes.
"Greetings, citizens of the world."
Two more figures joined, glowing orange and pink.
"We ask you a question." The pink eyed one spoke.
"What do you live for?"
"What do you fight for?"
"What do you strive for?"
"Whom would you die for?"
The red eyes spoke.
"Live, for yourself and those you care for. Fight for your right to exist, and fight to preserve the lives of your friends and family, or your own. Strive to overcome all negativity and nay sayers. Prove to yourself and others that you are exactly who you strive to be. Die for nobeing."
Pink and Orange take turns speaking.
"Ask the ghost how they fought for country."
"Ask the Immortal how they fight for peace."
"Ask the wise why they wither away."
"Ask the wizard why they study."
"They will say 'to be a hero', 'to save the world', 'to teach the new generation' and 'because theres too much to learn'. I ask why waste time when you can outlive them all, and persue your dreams."
Return to the red eyes.
"Take control of your life, and live to the fullest. Let nothing stop your rise to the top."
All three speak in unison, joining their hooves towards the screen.
"Join the Forces of E.V.I.L. today, and take charge of your life, and other's, today."
A message appears across their hooves, saying 'Press here to accept enrollment.'
"Time waits for nobeing. Will you?"
The commercial pauses for ten seconds before fading to static, and resuming CNN as if nothing happened.
"Bravo!" Aze cheered at her screen.
Garotte was still stargazing.
Twilight could be enthusiastic about nearly any learning experience, especially stargazing, but they didn't even have a telescope! How were they supposed to study and identify all the different constellations and patterns by blindly looking up?
She looked at Garotte, who had a happy smile on her face, looking everywhere at all the stars with almost foal-like glee. Twilight sighed, which broke Garotte from her trance.
"Oh!" Garotte suddenly blurted, and held her forehooves to her cheeks. "I'm so sorry! I didn't even notice how long I was taking!"
She was mortified, Twilight noticed. This caused a conflict with her perceptions of Garotte. Why would she care about any impact her actions had if she was evil? Even then, evil things don't stargaze.
"Are... um..." Garotte fumbled, her hooves held together in front of her chest while she sat. "Did I upset you?" She asked apologetically.
Now Twilight was even more confused. Evil doesn't apologise, period.
"Twilight?" Garotte asked with concern.
"Garotte..." Twilight began suddenly, causing the grey unicorn to jump slightly. "Are you really evil?"
The mare's face was one of upset and emotional pain. This caused Twilight to backpedal quickly before all of her friend making momentum went up in flames. "Not that I don't believe you! It's just.. I've never seen anybeing that was 'evil' go stargazing."
Garotte was guarded once more; her messy mane shielding part of her face from Twilight's gaze.
"I'm sorry if I offended you, Garotte. It's just so different being friends with somepony that's... Evil." Twilight softly added. She wasn't even close to being certain if it was the right thing to say to Garotte, but it was pretty much that or call it off.
Garotte looked to Twilight, brushing her mane aside to reveal a weak smile. "Nopony's ever called me 'Evil' before..." Her smile then turned into a grin. "and I've never been friends with a hero either!" She burst into a wide smile, tackling Twilight to the sidewalk and wrapping her forehooves around her in a hug.
A back popping hug.
"Garrote! Too-Tight! Stop! Ga-aaack!" Twilight strained, before her back popped several times and she slumped to the cobblestones.
She was still alive, obviously. (This story doesn't have the tags for anything else.)
Garotte was mortified, dropping beside Twilight and trying to scoop her up with her hooves and magic. "Oh no! Twilight!" She wailed.
"Garotte..." Twilight whispered.
She heard, and listened next to Twilight's face. "I'm here! You're gonna be okay!"
She leaned in, her ear swiveled to Twilight's mouth.
Then Twilight nipped Garotte's ear.
With a yelp, she fell backwarda onto her flank, fretting over her ear. "Aaah!" She had yelped in surprise.
Twilight was giggling up a storm from her spot on the ground.
"Curse your sudden yet inevitable betrayal!" Garotte declared, pointing a hoof at Twilight while nursing her ear with the other.
"Garotte, calm down." Twilight was stull giggling. "I didn't betray you, I pranked you for hugging me so hard."
The grey mare of evil was about to reply, but her declaring hoof remained absent of witty retort.
"That was really good, by the way. I feel like all the tension in my back just vanished."
This worried Garotte. "Can you still move?"
"Psh, of course I can." Twilight calmly replied, slowly becoming 'zen' as Treehugger would say. She then lazily lifted herself to a standing position and moved all her limbs. "See? Totally fine."
Garotte was still nervous. "You... you don't want to call the guards or throw me in rehabilitation or sue me or send me to the coal mines or-" Twilight's hoof stopped Garotte's panic.
"That was great, Garotte. I think I might know a place in Ponyville-" her eyelid twitched as she recalled her smouldering library. "Well, when Ponyville is rebuilt, where you can find a job!"
"A job? What would I do?" Garotte replied nervously.
"Hug ponies all day!" Twilight cheered.
"Um... I don't know, Twilight. My hugs usually get me arrested."
"Oh please, you'll do great!"
"I have the perfect way to introduce you to my friends now, too!"
Garotte had a bad feeling about this. "That would be...?"
Garotte shielded herself from the world and curled into a ball.