• Published 11th Jul 2013
  • 4,878 Views, 246 Comments

Wolf In Pony's Clothing - Ardashir

Ardi the wolf is hiding out in Ponyville from an angry dragon and enraged ponies. Oh, and he's disguised as Rarity. AND a fear of Changelings and other monsters pretending to be ponies stalks the land. What could possibly go wrong?

  • ...

Day One: HIDE ME!

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria...

Day One: HIDE ME!

A white streak zigzagged across the floor of the Everfree Forest, yelping as another jet of fire tore through the canopy, blasting a patch of Poison Joke from bright blue to charred ash. From above came the bellow of a full-grown dragon.

"THIEF! STEAL MY HOARD!" A second blast of flame followed it, a blazing hurricane tearing down through the trees whipping smoke and ashes and branches and dirt all around the panicked white wolf.

Ardi didn’t remember how long he’d been running through those fell woods, only that he had to keep his head down and keep running. His lungs were on fire, his leg muscles burning and ready to cramp. Miniscule gems and golden coins from some long-lost Equestrian minting spilled from the torn packs he wore strapped to his side above his flanks. The trees thinned, then he was under open sky, pounding across a dirt road, taking a flying leap over a rail fence into another chunk of forest – a forest of apple trees, set in even rows.

Orchard – apple orchard – pony orchard – wasn’t there an apple orchard around here? He remembered an orchard from last year, last year when that flyer-pony helped him… She lived in a house like a little grassy hill… Maybe she could talk his pursuer into…

"I’LL TEACH YOU TO STAY OUT OF MY LAIR!" More flame whipped past him, close enough to scorch his tail. Ardi yipped and found new reserves of energy. As he shot under the trees another roar came from behind.

Or maybe he'd better just run.

He raced deeper into the orchard, panting his exhaustion and fear, as the dragon's roars dimmed behind him. It wasn't pursuing him?

Just ahead he could see a ramshackle treehouse. Okay, he thought, not that flyer's, but any place where I can hide... Just so long as that dragon doesn't get me, and I don't get seen by any ponies except that one before I can get away... He shuddered as his imagination brought up images of two giant ponies, winged and horned, one dark as the blackest night and the other burning like the sun, closing in on him as they had so many other wolves...

A renewed roar from behind sent the wolf racing for the safety of the treehouse. Not even ponies would hurl a wolf to an angry dragon. Would they?

His paws were on the stairs leading to the treehouse when he heard the first enthusiastic cry – the high-pitched neigh of a pony-pup.

"Hey, look! It's a wolf! Cool! Let's try and catch it, maybe we can get wolf-catching cutie marks!"

"And it's coming this way!" A second voice added, rougher than the first. "Git inside an' close th' door!"

Ardi’s paws scratched over the wooden steps, bringing his face level with the open door as a third, more musical voice said, "Hey, wait, let me see it!"

And so Ardi, panting, tongue lolling, fur stained with soot and dirt and muzzle frothing, found himself face to face with a pup-sized marshmallow-white spear-head pony with a cotton candy mane, her large green eyes looking directly into his bright blue ones, so close he could have slurped her with his tongue. Just half a heartbeat long the tiny unicorn and the filthy and frightened wolf locked gazes.

Then the little spear-head's eyes engulfed her face and she started screaming.


Somewhere in the Everfree, not nearly far enough away, the dragon roared its rage. Ardi cringed and heaved his forequarters through the doorway.


Behind the screaming pony-pup stood roughly-made chairs and a table, posters and lists of something against the plank walls - and two more pony-pups, a tawny flyer and a yellow earth pony with a big bow in her mane who wheeled around and sent both of her small but hard hind-hooves right into his face.

"Git! Y'all ain't eatin' me r' any o' mah friends!"

Ardi's head spun with an explosion of stars; he yelped at the sudden migraine, then snarled as he levered himself further into the treehouse. The little earth pony leaped back; the flyer's wings buzzed like an insect as she grabbed the little spear-head and made for the window on the far wall.

"Apple Bloom!" the flyer yelled at the earth pony. "I - I can't carry you too!"

"Don't worry none about me!" Apple Bloom snorted as she went on her hind legs and held her forehooves out in a Hoofkido kata. "Ah kin handle some mangy ol' wolf! Just go an' git help!"

"Fool pups! I'm not here to fight, I just want to find..." Ardi yelped again as Apple Bloom kicked him again, hard. With a snarl he snatched a handful of her mane and lifted her into the air so he could look directly into her eyes. Behind her, the pegasus and her squirmy burden flew out the window - for about two seconds before her wings gave out and they both vanished from sight with a pair of high-pitched frightened whinnies, followed by the sound of crashing branches and leaves. Even as they did the filly hoofed him again in his sensitive nosepad. Ardi yipped and growled, "Knock that off!"

"Ah ain't making it easy for yah ta have fresh pony for dinner!" She tried punching him some more. Ardi just held her at arm's length. Her tiny hooves connected with nothing but air, but that didn't stop her from making a fierce effort of it. The two other fillies’ voices faded in the distance as they ran off, yelling for some Apple-pony. "Yah better let me go 'less yah wanna deal with mah big sis an' mah bigger brother!"

Ardi almost grinned. Under other, far better circumstances he'd have admired her nerve. You’d make a fine alpha bitch, pony-pup. But right now he needed help.

"Listen! To! Me!" He punctuated every word with a firm shake of the filly. She yelled and went silent. Satisfied that she'd learned who was the dominant here, he cupped her chin in his other forepaw and forced her to look at him as he growled, "There's a dragon after me! I need help! I need to find a flyer-pony with a long mane and tail..."

Apple Bloom sank her strong teeth into his paw. Ardi's howl filled the room. He dropped the filly, and before he could recover she spun and lashed out with another kick that sent him crashing out the door. The world spun for a moment, then he slammed into the ground on his back, head spinning, the Burning Queen’s sun dazzling his eyes.

"I just need to find one pony," he groaned, "Need somewolf to help me, feed me..."

"So yah want ponies, do yah?" A voice similar to the little filly's but deeper snorted from nearby. Ardi caught his breath, shook the sun’s afterimage out of his eyes to see a palomino mare coming at him, her eyes blazing at him from under her Stetson. Beside her stood the biggest earth pony stallion he'd ever seen, ears down, snorting and scraping at the ground with one hoof as the mare spat, "Here's two o' them, yah pony-eatin' vermin!"

"Eee-yup," the stallion snorted as he gave Ardi the second angriest look he could ever remember seeing on a pony. The first was the one the mare showed as the stallion charged at him.

Ardi yelped and ran. Not again!

* * *

"Apple Bloom!" Applejack looked up at the CMC clubhouse as Big Mac vanished from sight, hot on the wolf's tail. Fear clawed at her. Where was her little sis? When a battered Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle had come running into the farmhouse, spilling out a story of a rampaging wolf attacking them, she'd half thought it to be another of their tall tales. But now that she'd seen the frothing and snarling wolf with her own eyes... "APPLE BLOOM!"

A bright red mane tied in a big red bow poked out of the clubhouse. "Ah'm okay, big sis!" Apple Bloom appeared at the edge of the surrounding railing and gave Applejack a wave. "Ah hit thet nasty ol' wolf good! He shook me kinda hard, but..."

"He did what?!?" Applejack looked after the path the wolf and her brother had taken. She heard the crash of branches and yelps of the wolf mingling with Mac's snorts as he chased the beast. She took a step and hissed as she felt something hard stick into the frog of her hoof. AJ looked to see a small yellow gemstone such as Rarity might either use or give to Spike for a snack. "How the hay did thet get here?"

"The wolf dropped 'em!" AJ turned to look at Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. She'd ordered them both to stay at the house, but they'd followed, insisting on helping Apple Bloom. Sweetie still looked badly frightened from the wolf's attack, but Scootaloo said, "He's got two bags full of 'em, and right before he showed up we heard a dragon roaring from the Everfree."

“Dragon?” Applejack looked west, towards the Everfree. Through the trees in the distance a green reptilian shape larger than the Sweet Apple Acres barn banked on mighty wings. After circling twice, it turned and flapped off, disappearing over the forest.

"So thet's what thet was," Applejack said. Bad enough they had a wolf here, but what did he have to do with a dragon? She shook her head, her golden mane spilling. Time for that later. "Apple Bloom, the rest o' yah, lissen up. Git back to the farm house and no complaints," she headed off their protests before they half started. "Tell Granny what's goin' on and warn any other ponies yah see about this. Where there’s one wolf, there’s gonna be more!" She turned to follow Mac but stopped when Sweetie Belle grabbed her tail.

"But where are you going, Applejack?"

"Ah'm goin' ta help Big Mac," Applejack looked after the path her brother had taken. "Somepony's gonna have ta stop thet wolf 'fore he kills a pony!"

Applejack set out in hot pursuit of her brother and that giant savage wolf, fearing what she'd find when she caught up to them both.

* * *

Ardi dashed down the road, barely staying ahead of the snorting sorrel stallion hot on his paws. Any hopes he had of outdistancing the stallion and losing him faded as they passed by other farms. One grew carrots, to judge by the sign hanging outside. Wolf-sized ponies heading out for their work, saddlebags hanging full and heavy on their flanks and plow-harnesses on, saw him fleeing past. He caught shocked stares as he ran by them before, with loud whinnies of, "Wolf! Wolf! Get the foals inside! Get it before it kills somepony!" following him. And then more angry neighs as they joined the chase.

The herd grew ever larger as he fled, wondering if he was running the right direction or if he was going to find himself trapped in some cul-de-sac, slowly backed into a corner as he bristled and snarled, readying for a last fight. He jeered inwardly at that idea. One wolf against - he took a quick peek - more than half a dozen ponies? He'd be trampled into a pulp in moments.

Horrified visions filled his head as he ran. Him cringing and pleading for mercy, those mighty and heavy hooves rising before they plunged downwards, smashing his spine and neck and skull. And looking down from high above in the shape of the sun, their Burning Queen... No! No no no! Just. Keep. Running!

If he could just find her, that shy winged pony from last autumn, she could explain.

If he could find her.


"We got him!"

Ardi dared to dart a glance behind. The big stallion was in the lead of the multishaded stampede, mouth and sides foaming, eyes glaring, hooves striking sparks from the stones as he galloped. One or two of the other ponies behind him raised their heads and neighed, calling skywards. Oh, Fenris Sun-and-Moon-Slayer, no! If any of the flyers or spear-heads joined in, he'd be taken within moments!

Ardi sobbed and whimpered, one foreleg starting to cramp. He couldn't go back into the forest, and - wait, what was that smell? That mix of thick sweetness and a sharp and hard odor that shrieked touch us not? A glance took it in. In the field ahead, amid grass and brilliant flowers showing here and there against the rich brown ground, a row of wooden boxes that emitted a low buzz of warning.

The ponies came at him, their eyes wide and filled with fury, hooves pounding the ground beneath them.

He put on a last burst of speed even though his lungs burned within him, crashed through two of the beehives and kept going.

Golden honey began to ooze slowly over the ground, joined by a rising drone getting louder and louder.

The ponies stopped and stared at the dark cloud of bees erupting from the smashed hives, horror going over their faces.

"Oh, no," One caramel-brown pony with three blue horseshoes for a cutie mark said in the sudden silence, then the swarm was upon them. Whinnies and neighs of pain filled the air as the ponies raced away from the overturned beehive, the angry bees following and stinging in indiscriminate fury. Splashes came as a few ponies hurled themselves into the nearby stream to escape their tormentors. Even through his panting exhaustion Ardi barked a laugh.

"Hah! Take that, you - OWW!"

Ardi jumped and yelped as a few stragglers from the swarm landed on him. Pain flamed up inside one ear, on his nose, in a few other spots where his fur was thin. Yelping, he fled, less swiftly now. He was a wolf, he could hunt all day and night over the snow without tiring - but after his panic-stricken flight from both dragon and ponies, the kicks he'd taken from that filly, and finally the bees, he was reaching the limits of his endurance.

Whoops came from overhead, pony laughter. Ardi looked up, caught a glimpse of a multishaded tail dangling over the side of a low-hanging cloud. And past and above it, more big and bright-colored flyers, all of them diving back down by the road. The wolf gave a snarl that turned into a whimper as he fled.

Ardi splashed through a bend in the stream, looked, blinked, looked closer. It stood before him on the streambank, what he’d been looking for since he cleared the treeline – a house like a small hill strung with birdhouses. Chicken coop outside, cages and pens for animals, the smell and sound of rabbits and chickens and an entire menagerie. Even the musky and warning scent of bear, but faint, sign he wasn't anywhere nearby.

Not that Ardi cared. He needed to hide. And in all this land, he could think of only one pony that might help. Ardi headed for the Dutch door of the house before him, ignoring the delicious scent of the chickens and rabbits that fled before him. He whined to hear renewed neighs from the ponies behind him, the pounding of hooves and growing cloud of dust behind a bend in the road. They were coming; a few more seconds and they'd come around the bend and see him and he no longer had the strength to keep running.

Panting, he staggered to the hill-house, half knocked, half collapsed at the door. No sounds came from within. Please, he thought, please be home…


The top half of the door slowly creaked open before him. A familiar equine face topped by a flowing mane looked down as a half-remembered voice whisper-gasped, "Ardi?"


* * *

Fluttershy’s eyes went wide. "Ardi? What are you doing here, and -"

"No time!" He yipped. He pressed against her door, his eyes wide and desperate and ears flat against his head in fear. The butter-yellow pegasus could hear angry neighs and see the dust cloud coming up the Everfree Road towards her house. One sounded like Applejack. The sounds of galloping hooves grew louder and closer; Ardi's eyes went wider as he scratched at her door in a panic. "Hide me! Please!"

Fluttershy slammed the bottom half of the door open, pulled the dirty and starved-looking young wolf inside, shut both halves. Her critters scattered from the horror in their midst as the panting wolf followed her, their voices filled with panic. Ardi licked his nosepad, sniffed and growled, suddenly stiffening at the smell of their fear overriding that of pony. Fluttershy gave him a look, and his ears drooped. Silently he followed her to the small closet beneath her stairwell. He really must be afraid, she thought. That, or scared silly.

"Thanks for this, Fluttershy," He gasped as he followed her, tongue dripping onto the wooden floor. "I, I'm sorry, but this day... Everything's just been so insane, I..."

"Ardi," she said as she opened the door, "Just get in and hide for right now." She heard hooves trotting up to her door, more than one set. "Hurry!" He silently entered the closet, curled up on the floor beneath the clutter. His eyes glowed in the dark interior as he looked back at her. He seemed less afraid than a moment before. Fluttershy wasn't fooled. She could see how he bristled and how close he kept his bushy tail tucked. Then hooves slammed against her front door; her squeal drowned out his yelp.

"Fluttershy!" Applejack's voice came through the pounding of hoof against door. "Yah in there? C'mon out, we got us a situation here!"

"Yeah, Fluttershy!" The mare eeped to hear Dash's voice as well. "We need your help, we're chasing some wolf that tried ta eat the Cutie Mark Crusaders!"

"EEEEP!" Fluttershy shot Ardi a look that wasn't quite The Stare. He winced and whimpered. She reached in, lifted his head with one yellow fore-hoof. She saw the swelling around his left eye, but no blood anywhere.

"You'd better be ready to explain later, mister," she hissed, eyes blazing with The Stare for a moment, and closed the closet door. As she began heading for the front door of her house in response to AJ and Dash's knocking, she saw Angel sitting nearby. The small white rabbit looked at the closet door and then at her, his face hard as flint.

"Oh, Angel," she said, "I know how you feel, but he didn't hurt anypony. He couldn't have. He's more hurt himself, the poor thing." Angel just gave her one last look and rolled his eyes. He hopped to the closet door, staring at it as though he wanted to burn a hole through it and its contents with his eyes. Fluttershy hurried to the front door, opening it just as Applejack began pounding on it again. "Ooh, hello, Applejack, Rainbow Dash," she said, giving them her best smile. "W-what was that you were saying about a wolf?"

Dash looked excited, hovering a length off the ground, rainbow tail slapping back and forth in her eagerness to be off. Applejack for her part looked almost as bad as that time a few years gone when she'd bucked apples without sleep for days on end. Her blonde mane and tail were a mess, and her Stetson hung down along her neck. Sweat matted her coat despite the early-morning chill, and when she moved she moved with pain. Fluttershy saw why when she saw the unmistakable welts of bee stings studding her ears and neck.

"Oh dear! Please, Applejack, let me get something for..."

"No time fer that," Applejack responded, shaking her head. Her mane spilled as she half panted out, "A wolf. Big 'un, too, big as a pony. Came outta the Everfree, climbed up tah the CMC Clubhouse, an' tried tah eat Apple Bloom 'n Scootaloo 'n Sweetie Belle."

"Oh, dear!" Fluttershy said, her horror unfeigned. She didn't think for one second that Ardi was capable of eating anypony, despite his being a wolf, but she doubted that three little fillies could have guessed as much when they saw him. "Are they all right?"

"Ah, they're fine," the azure pegasus with the rainbow mane said as she flew in front of AJ, waving her hoof in dismissal. "Scoot grabbed Sweetie and flew out the window with her." Her chest puffed up as she added, "She actually made it about three lengths before her wings gave out. Pretty good for a filly with no real training, well, I mean no training beyond what I've shown her." Applejack snorted at her words, pushed herself back in front of Dash.

"Dash, let me speak, will ya? We gotta git back to huntin' for that murderin' wolf!"

Fluttershy blinked to hear real anger in her voice. She glanced back at the closet and wondered how much of this Ardi was hearing where he hid. She wondered how her friends would react to her if they knew she hid him. Applejack went on with, "He went after Apple Bloom but she fought him off, kicked him right square in the face, she said. Then he took off, with Big Mac and some o' the ponies from the other farms chasin' him. But by the time I caught up he'd kicked a bees' nest over on 'em. He's fine, they're all fine," Applejack held her hoof up to forestall Fluttershy's question, "Just stung up a mite. Like me." The palomino mare finished with a meaningful look at Fluttershy as she said, "Do, ya see or hear anything in the last few minutes like a wolf runnin' around?"

"Oh, no, no big bad pony-eating wolves here," Fluttershy said. She thought she heard Ardi whimper in fear where he hid. She winced and mentally added, it's not technically a lie. She turned to close her door. "Umm, I've got to get back to feeding my critters. They're probably a little scared from everything. And I guess you want to make sure that wolf ran back into the Everfree?" She added the last part hopefully.

"Hah!" Dash tossed her multicolored mane. "Not a chance, Fluttershy. Soon as I saw what was happening with Jackie and her friends," she broke off and snickered. Applejack gave her a furious look. Dash raised her hooves before herself and shook them, failing to hide a smile on her face. "Sorry, AJ, but they really did look kinda ridiculous running from all those bees."

"Ya coulda kept an eye open for that lousy wolf," AJ snapped back. She stomped her hooves like she was bucking apples. "Ah find it, Ah'm gonna kick it so hard it won't be nothin' but a mangy old wolfskin when it's finished. Don't nothin' try tah hurt or eat MAH little sister!" She looked back at Fluttershy and said only a little more calmly, "Anyhow, Ah'm going tah warn everypony so they know tah be on the lookout fer that wolf. They run in packs, where there’s one there’s more. Dash here's told the Weather Patrol," Dash nodded enthusiastically, "So we know they'll be keepin' their eyes open too."

"Yeah, and when we see him," Dash flapped up against the sky, then folded her wings and dived into the earth of Fluttershy's yard, forehooves-first as though crushing something beneath them. Small clods of dirt exploded up from where she hit. "BAM! No more wolf!"

* * *

Ardi choked at the sudden image that rose up in his mind: the door of the closet being flung open and a furious Fluttershy standing there beside that palomino and the scratchy-voiced pegasus he could hear.

"So, you hurt innocent little fillies, did you?" He tried to plead but she turned her back on him with a contemptuous snort. "He's all yours."

Ardi's panicked pleading turned into hapless whimpers as the earth pony and pegasus closed in on him, both stamping their hooves against the ground. Wicked cruelty danced in their eyes and made their voices harsh as they spoke.

"Yee-haw! Looks like Ah'll have that wolf-skin rug Ah always wanted!"

"Hey, save the tail for me! I wanna tie it to my mane so it can flap in the breeze when I go flying!"

Don't be a fool, Ardi told himself frantically as he forced the frightening fantasy back down into the recesses of his mind. He licked his nosepad, inhaling the scent of pegasus, the sharp must of mothballs, the many delicious odors of the animals filling Fluttershy's house. That's not what she's like, those other ponies yes, but not her, she saved your life last Nightmare Night, she wouldn't turn on you now...

And the closet door creaked open just a crack.

Ardi almost howled.

* * *

A sudden whimper came from inside her house. Both of her guests looked curious and suddenly wary. Fluttershy darted a glance at the closet and frowned to see Angel standing beside the now cracked-open door, a satisfied expression on his face. Turning back to her friends, she gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

"I'm taking care of a wounded animal," she said, her voice soft and concerned. "The poor thing! He came to me scared out of his wits. When he's finished healing I'll return him to the Everfree." And the sooner the better, she thought. I can't sneak him out now, though, not with Dash and the Weather Patrol watching. What do I do?

"Huh," Applejack said. "Well, yah better keep one eye on him, an' the other open fer that wolf. Ah'm gonna get him one way or t'other." She turned and trotted off back to the road. Dash flew high, looped, and headed off in the direction of the clouds bearing the Weather Patrol offices. Fluttershy kept a smile on her face as she stood at the door, watching them leave. Only when she felt sure they were gone did she turn to the closet. The door she'd closed stood open. Angel stood next to it, arms folded, a smug grin on his rabbit face.

"Angel, you should be ashamed of yourself," Fluttershy scolded him. "That was very naughty to do that to a poor frightened guest." Angel frowned and sulked. Fluttershy felt an immediate pang at how rough she'd been. "Oh, I'm sorry if I was too hard on you. But don't go scaring Ardi like that." Moving carefully - she knew how unpredictable frightened animals or ponies could be - Fluttershy opened the closet. "Ardi? My friends are gone. Umm, you can come out now. I mean, if you really want to..." She saw his eyes glowing at her with cold fire from the back of the closet. She also thought she saw a puddle on the floor beneath him. "Oh dear! You didn't, umm, get too scared in there, did you?" And then, unable to contain herself any longer: "Just what did you do?"

* * *

By the time Luna’s Moon replaced Celestia’s Sun in the sky, Ponyville was as locked down as it had been the first time Zecora came into town. Word of the hungry wolf's attack on the Cutie Mark Crusaders and on Big Mac, of all ponies, had spread, the wolf growing in size and savagery with each retelling. Houses sealed up, ponies outside only in groups or airborne outside of a wolf’s reach, mayor at the Library asking its unicorn occupant if she could raise a shield over the entire town.

In a turf-roofed cottage where the Everfree road turns into town, Fluttershy sighed as she checked the pot of the salted bean paste she usually fed her more carnivorous animal guests where it hung soaking on the hearth in her main room. No real meat in it, just protein-heavy Neighponese soybeans, but even so Angel kept his distance and glared at it. That is, when he wasn't shooting dirty looks at her guest. Thinking of him, Fluttershy headed for her dinner table. The white wolf sat at it, looking mournfully at the mound of off-white paste on his plate.

"How do you like your dinner, Ardi?" Fluttershy set some alfalfa out for herself, checked and made sure that fresh oat bread and some apples were at hoof. "I've got some more soaking on the hearth."

"It's not meat," he grumbled. The wolf lowered his muzzle and took a mouthful of it, swallowed with a look like he'd just eaten dirt. He sighed and added, "Thank you, Fluttershy. I'm sorry if I scared any of your neighbors, but you were the only pony I can think of who would help me. Especially after that thing with the costumes last year."

Fluttershy winced at the memory his words brought up. She'd been sticking close by her house on Nightmare Night, the way she usually did, when she heard something being horribly sick outside. Wondering if somepony was trying to prank her, she warily went out. And to her shock, she found a young pony-sized white wolf collapsed next to her front door. He'd been shaking and twitching, spewing from both ends, his eyes unfocused and panting wildly as though his heart was fit to burst.

Ardi remembered it too. He'd been wandering Equestria, away from his pack's usual territory near Stalliongrad, several weeks north of here. Ardi was heading back, trying to make it before the first snows, when he found this pony town on the edge of the woods that wolves still called Discord's Demesne. Everypony was out in the streets, laughing or dancing or just playing. Odder still, they all wore costumes of some sort. Wary, he wandered in. To his surprise he was greeted with comment on 'his great wolf costume' and asked to join in the festivities. For a short time he did. He'd thrown fake spiders at a target made to look like a web, listened to ghost stories, even danced with some pretty she-ponies. It'd been fun for a while.

Then one smiling earth pony costumed as a giant chicken offered him a plate filled with sweet treats she called 'chocolate'. No wolf needed to be asked to eat free twice, and he did. And very shortly after began to feel sicker than he could ever remember. He'd raced away, convinced he'd been poisoned, looking for a place to hole up and wait out the nausea as he'd fouled himself. Then his heart began racing like it was going to burst. The night became a blur from then on. Ardi vaguely recalled some ponies asking if he was all right. He'd snarled at them and fled, finding himself beneath a statue of Nightmare Moon beside a pile of candy. Head spinning, the wolf thought she was descending to eat him, her mouth filled with cruel fangs. That nightmare sent him racing off again, and he remembered nothing after collapsing beside something like a small hill until he awakened a day later.

Only a few memories stood out in his mind. Like a little pony-pup dressed in what some pony obviously thought a fierce wolf should look like, and... "Wait!" Ardi jumped to say it. Fluttershy eeped and dove beneath the table. He waited for her to come back out and said, "She was the flyer I saw with that pony-pup who kicked me earlier."

"Who?" As he explained, she nodded. "Oh! Yes, that was Scootaloo. She's kind of a little sister or apprentice to a friend of mine, Rainbow Dash. She dressed as a wolf for Nightmare Night?" Fluttershy smiled softly. "That sounds like her. I remember her once asking me about wolves. She likes them, er, you because she thinks you're scary."

"We're scary?" Ardi yipped laughter. He pointed at her. "Ponies can control the weather, fly, kick trees down, make one thing look like another, move things with their minds, and vanish one place to appear at another, and you think wolves are scary?" He set his forepaw on the table, flexing slightly. He shook his head sadly at the sight of short lupine claws, ran his tongue over his fangs. "All wolves have is teeth and natural strength and cunning. Ponies have everything. Wolves have nothing. And you still think we're scary." He gave a short sharp bark of amusement. "You even have those two, two queens ruling over you who rule the sun and moon." And who stole them from us wolves, he thought, or so I've always been told, "And you fear us?"

"Now, be fair," Fluttershy said. "Most ponies remember old stories from before the Princesses about wolves eating ponies..."

"We're not Diamond Dogs, we're not Discorded savages!" Ardi growled it out. Fluttershy cringed back, wings flaring and eyes wide with fear. Remembering how shy she was, he calmed and said more calmly, "Wolves haven't eaten ponies since," he swallowed, "Since your Burning Queen and Nightmare Moon came and chased us into all the wild places."

"But, Ardi..." She began. His return glare convinced her it'd be useless. She just sighed and continued. "I remember taking care of you for three days. You got poisoned with chocolate. When you got better, I thought you were going back to your pack's territory?"

"I did," He grumbled. "I told them everything that happened. They laughed when I said you helped me, said I was joking, that no pony would ever help a wolf. Then they told me to stop lying about it." His eyes went narrow and cold. "I told my Pack Alpha to his muzzle that if I said anything else, that'd be the lie. So he chased me out and told me to stay away until I 'learned not to lie to the Pack'." He shook himself, wondering what it must be like now back in the cold forests and plains around Stalliongrad, wolves racing under a moonless sky as they brought down deer or ate rabbits or even mice when they got hungry enough; howls of defiance at the moon, daring its Nightmare ruler to come and face them as she and her sister would Father Fenris at the end of time, right before he consumed them and set the sun and moon free again; warm dens filled with yapping pups and hoary elders and sleek she-wolves and young wolves boasting of their bravery against the witch-ponies; scents of warm meat and warmer packmates, sharp clean pine, sweet-smelling flowers, and all too often the reek of utter panic as everywolf hid in the deepest dens telling each other, We saw one of the flier-ponies above or We saw some of the spear-head ponies, making a heavy tree trunk float through the air, but they didn't see us. Thank you, Father Fenris, thank you for protecting us. So hush and be quiet, pups, we have to go hungry tonight unless we want the ponies to kill us with their witchcraft or call their demon-queens to burn us in our dens like they did to so many of us in the long-ago... He awoke from his reverie as he realized that Fluttershy was speaking to him.

"Oh, dear! I remember you saying that wolves could be like that, but I thought you were exaggerating." She poured him some tea. Ardi smelled sweet honey in it and that scent that tickled his nosepad, he remembered she called it cinnamon. He lapped at it. When he finished she said, "So you wandered back here?"

"Yes," Ardi said. "I wandered through Discord’s Demense – the Everfree, you call it – until I found a cave filled with jewels and precious things." He shivered at a memory of a dark cave that reeked like serpents and old fire. "I saw nowolf there and figured I could take some of it, I remember how you said that even non-ponies could live well with gold and such if they had some..." He broke off when Fluttershy gasped.

"Wait, a cave in the Everfree? With a piled hoard in it?" At his nod her voice started to quaver. "Ardi, that was a dragon's den! And dragons never forgive anypony who steals from their hoards! Oh, you didn't!"

"That explains why that big lizard chased after me," the wolf said, waving one paw. "I ran faster than he could chase, but he stayed on my tail until I reached your town." He wasn't sure, but he thought that the yellow pegasus looked impressed. He liked Fluttershy, but still felt some surprise at how he behaved before her. Like he would with a she-wolf he sought to court. Too, he didn't like to remember the way he'd run in terror until he reached Ponyville. Not even telling himself that standing to fight would only have ended in a quick death by fire helped. He said, "I, I remember how good you are with animals. So I hoped that maybe, you could go and explain everything, ask him to forgive me? I'll give the treasure back if he wants it so much."

Both wolf and pony looked over at the saddlebags he'd worn. Torn and tattered, it looked like half of their contents were gone. Ardi looked hopefully at Fluttershy. The mare winced. Beside her, her rabbit just slapped a forepaw to his head. He then looked at Ardi, pointed at him, then at his own head, and finally at the wood of the floor. Blockhead. When the wolf growled, the rabbit simply stood by Fluttershy and gave him a defiant stare.

"Oh, dear, Ardi," Fluttershy said, her voice shivering with fear. The wolf felt ill to realize that she feared for him as she added, "I, I can't! Dragons scare me to death! And even if I could, Twilight told me that dragons only forgive hoard-theft if they get twice as much wealth back in payment, and if another dragon is willing to speak in your defense! You, er, don't know any other dragons, do you?" The dismay he felt must have been obvious. She said. "You've got one piece of luck. Dragons have a treaty with the Princesses. They won't enter pony towns or cities to reclaim their hoards, and they won't pursue you into Ponyville."

"So if I stay far away from the Everfree, I should be safe?" He asked hopefully. When she nodded cautiously, he sighed in relief. "Good! I wasn't scared," He thought, liar! "But it's a problem best avoided. So what, I just wait until I can leave town?"

"Umm," Fluttershy looked dismayed. "It's not that easy. Rainbow Dash and the Ponyville Weather Patrol will be watching for you. As soon as they see you, they'll fly down and catch you," Ardi forced his ears to stay up and his hackles to lay flat, swallowing the cold lump that seemed to be rising in his throat as she added, "And you can't go west, the dragon will get you. You can't go east, there's no cover until Whitetail Wood. Applejack and the others would catch you..."

"So what do I do then?" Ardi wished his voice sounded stronger. The visions from earlier returned, of him whimpering his last under plunging hooves. "Please, please, I'm begging you, get me out of here."

"No, it'll be all right," Fluttershy laid a butter-yellow forehoof over his paw, spoke in that gentle, soothing voice she did so well. Even so he felt his fears stay strong as she said, "I have to go into town tomorrow; it's Spa Day with my friend Rarity, and I can check with my friends for help..."

"Which friends?" Ardi asked warily. "I thought you didn't want everywolf, er, everypony to know I was here."

"Hmm," Fluttershy rubbed her chin with one hoof, considering. "Er, well, Dash and Applejack are both angry at you for what they think you did to their little sisters earlier, and Pinkie is Pinkie." Ardi flicked his ears in curiosity, wondering what those words meant. "My best chance for getting help would be with Rarity and Twilight. Especially Twilight, she can just make you invisible or disguise you with an illusion until you get away."

"Good." Ardi slowly began to relax. He sighed and returned to eating the bean paste. It tasted awful, but not nearly as bad as grave dirt would. Besides, he wouldn't have to eat it for long. Curious, he asked, "Just who are these friends of yours?"

"Oh!" Fluttershy took another sip of her tea. "They're both unicorns. I've known Rarity since I first moved here from Cloudsdale, she's a fashion designer and seamstress who owns Carousel Boutique on the east side of town. I'm, uh, her junior partner in the business. She makes a lot of fine clothes for some very well-to-do ponies in Canterlot and right here in Ponyville." Fluttershy sighed and looked over at the corner of her room. Ardi's gaze followed hers to see a very fancy dress hung on a sort of dummy - no, the ponies called them 'ponyquins'. She added in her soft voice, "And Twilight? She moved here two years ago, when the Mare in the Moon broke free and the sun didn't rise for days. She runs the local library, she's probably the best mortal mage in Equestria..."

"She is?" Ardi asked, feeling a bit weak. The idea of being helpless before any spear-head suddenly left him feeling like he'd swallowed butterflies. Very active butterflies.

"...And she's the personal student of Princess Celestia herself, here on an internship!" Fluttershy smiled, almost lighting up the room. "So you won't have anything to worry about." Picking up plate and cup with her mouth, she headed through the archway to the washbasin, leaving Ardi sitting motionless on the floor behind her. One of his pointed ears twitched slowly at the delicate sound of her hooves.

The personal student of Celestia. The Burning Queen. The one who sent her own sister to the moon. Ardi swallowed slowly. Every story, every puppyhood nightmare, every picture painted onto a den's wall, all came back at once. Of how so very long ago, when neither wolves nor ponies were anything more than wanderers, and when wolves fulfilled their duty granted by Father Fenris by making sure that none of the herd-folk grew too many, something sent two terrible demons to set the ponies above all others. The Nightmare, black and terrible, who stalked wolf packs in the moonlit darkness they'd so loved, and the Burning Queen, bright as the sun on her flank, who brought the sun itself down into their dens. They hated wolves, refused to understand that they held a role in the world even as the ponies did, and killed them so mercilessly that even now, thousands of years afterwards, wise wolves hid from ponies.

Wise wolves. Not ones like me, who go into their towns and sleep in their houses and need help from one of the Burning Queen's own apprentices...

A delicate hoof touched his shoulder.

"Ardi, are you okay?"

He smiled weakly at Fluttershy where she gave him a concerned look.

"Oh," he choked out, "I'm just wonderful."

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