• Published 11th Jul 2013
  • 4,455 Views, 225 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?

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Day Three: Sleek, Chic, and Magnifique

Day Three: Sleek, Chic, and Magnifique

Celestia’s sun was just peeking over the mountains as a butter-yellow pegasus pulled a white cart blazoned with three blue gemstones down the Everfree Road towards town, her hooves making a steady clip-clop on the dirt and gravel, the traces pulling on her chest and withers in the morning cold. Pony cottages lined the road into town; Fluttershy checked each of them as she passed. All were closed up tight, with no sign of life. Stretching her neck around, she checked the clock tower in the distance. Except for one lookout atop the tower, she didn’t see a single pony, and he was too far away. Pulling her head back, she whispered to the cart behind her.

“Ardi? Are you okay?”

The answer was a soft, low growl. “Fine, given that I’m hidden in a wagon that smells like perfume and being sneaked into a town full of wolf-hating ponies.” She heard him shifting around inside the cart, brushing against the boxes of supplies she’d set under the tarp. He said more softly, “I’m sorry for how that sounded. Thank you, Fluttershy. And I’m fine except when – yipe!” One wheel went over a major bump in the road and the cart bounced hard. The wolf growled back, “Except when that happens!”

Fluttershy opened her mouth to respond and then froze. A small herd of ponies trotted up the road towards her, led by a palomino mare in a Stetson.

“Eep! Quiet! Ponies coming!” Fluttershy felt a wave of relief when Ardi didn’t demand to know what was going on. She just smiled at her neighbors as they came up to her, most of them bearing rakes, scythes, and other farming tools. To her surprise she saw Lyra and Bon Bon among them. The sea-green unicorn looked excited, bouncing on her hind legs; the purple-maned earth pony looked like she’d rather be at home in bed. Applejack stood at the front of them, and she looked as determined as the rest of them put together. Her lasso hung at her side, and AJ looked ready to use it.

“Oh, um, hi everypony,” Fluttershy said. “I guess you’re still looking for that wolf?”

“Sure are, sugarcube,” Applejack said with a snort. “He’s still hidin’ in town somewheres; I checked his tracks and didn’t see anywhere they lead out of town.” The palomino mare looked at Ponyville and then back at Fluttershy. “Funny it’s only one of ‘em; they usually run in packs… Say, what’re ya doin’ out and around so early?”

“Oh,” Fluttershy said, thinking fast, “I just borrowed Rarity’s cart; I needed to haul some things over to the Boutique and I just wanted to get it done early so it’d be done and out of the way. So, umm, I’d better get going.” Putting hooves to dirt, she began pulling the cart past them.

Only to have Applejack step in front of her.

“Sorry, sugarcube,” she froze as Applejack spoke. “But Ah can’t go letting yah do that.” Then, sounding almost annoyed, “Just what were yah thinking of anyway?”

She knows! Fluttershy almost heard Ardi yell it, or maybe that was just her own sudden panic. The wind went cold through her sweater, ruffling her mane and wings as it set her shivering. Applejack stood fast in her path, a look of concern on her face. Fluttershy hoped she didn’t shiver too much. Just as she was about to open her mouth and plead for the poor wolf, Applejack spoke again.

“We can’t let yah go off by your lonesome through Ponyville with that wolf on th’ loose!” She set herself alongside Fluttershy’s left while the assorted stallions and mares surrounded her and the wagon. Cheerilee came up opposite Applejack on Fluttershy’s right, giving her a somewhat embarrassed smile.

“Sorry, but she is right, Fluttershy,” the purple schoolmare said. “Pulling that cart by yourself? You’d be helpless if that beast attacked. Even with that Stare of yours.”

He’s not a beast! Fluttershy swallowed the words at the last minute. To her relief the cart’s contents stayed silent. She looked around at her friends, gave a weak smile and nodded. The small herd set off, their hooves clopping over the road. Fluttershy wondered what Ardi must be thinking. If he panicked now, she didn’t even want to think what would happen. She tried to go around a few more bumps in the road, but her equine escorts stayed so close to her that they made it impossible. With every bounce and rattle from the cart she winced, wondering if the wolf was going to yelp again.

“It’s so good you’re all doing this,” she said, trying to speak loud enough to be heard by her passenger. “But don’t other ponies need your help even more? Oh, not that I’m trying to tell you what to do,” she hastily added. “It’s just that, isn’t school going to be opening soon? And the little fillies and colts might need an escort more than a grown mare like me. Unless you’d really rather not.”

“Actually, that’s why I volunteered for the early patrol,” Cheerilee said beside her. “I can keep an eye on my students this way.”

“Oh dear, all by yourself?”

“Well, I will have some help from Big Mac.” Cheerilee flicked her tail off towards the big sorrel draft stallion who plodded along wearing his horse collar. “He volunteered for it, actually. He’s so worried about what almost happened to his little sister. And I have to admit,” Cheerilee’s voice dropped to a near whisper and her cheeks flushed as she said, “I think part of it is him wanting to keep me company. But he’s so shy he’ll never admit it.”

Fluttershy looked from the schoolteacher to Big Mac. The stallion’s ears were set back, but with his red coat Fluttershy couldn’t tell if he’d somehow heard and was blushing himself. She’d heard about that mess last Hearts and Hooves day with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Part of her hoped that Mac and Cheerilee could make a relationship without the love poison, and it looked like maybe her wish was being granted.

Something shifted in the cart, bringing Fluttershy back to why she was out here. She thought back to late last night, when after returning home from Rarity’s she’d sat down and come up with what seemed like the best plan to her.

She’d taken Rarity’s cart from the railway depot where she’d found it sitting behind the ticket office, where some baggage handler had put it after Rarity boarded the train. She’d hide Ardi in the cart and sneak him into Carousel Boutique where he could hide out until the panic died down. He’d growled when she told him she’d have dye his fur some shade of brown or grey or the like; his gleaming white pelt was just too easy to spot from the air. While waiting, she’d sew him some simple clothes to make him look like a wandering Diamond Dog – she winced as she remembered how he’d yelped at that. Then when the hue and cry finally ended, load him back in the cart and sneak him through Whitetail Wood, south to where the woods ended at the old abandoned gem quarries.

“I can let you off there,” she’d told him as he looked at her in disgust. “Nopony would think twice about sighting a stray Diamond Dog there, and you can get away.”

“B-b-but a Diamond Dog?” He’d yelped at her, “I think I’d rather be caught!”

Angel looked ready to agree. Fluttershy quickly said, “Please, Ardi, it’s this or you get caught. And I don’t want my friends to hurt you or get hurt themselves.” Then she’d given him a pleading look she’d learned from Rarity – “Please? For me?” He’d growled and bristled and shook himself, but in the end he’d agreed.

And so before Celestia could raise the sun she’d loaded him into the cart and off they went. And here they were, surrounded by some very suspicious and not at all friendly to wolves ponies. Hoping she didn’t look as nervous as she felt, the pegasus looked around for a way to get away from her friends.

“Oh, but wait,” she said, pointing with her snout as they approached the small red schoolhouse. “Umm, the school’s right over there and the Boutique is all the way across town.” She stopped and smiled. ”Heh, guess I’ll be seeing you all later. Thanks for the escort.”

“Don’t be that way, ‘Shy,” Applejack shook he head. “Yah gotta pass the schoolhouse ta get ta Rarity’s anyway. And ‘sides, we’ll stick with yah every step o’ the way.”

“Oh,” she said, feeling her hopes plummet. “Great.”

Fluttershy hauled the cart over another bump in the road, knowing she heard muffled grunts and growls from the cart as she did. She remembered the Mayor saying that they needed to re-grade several of the roads and streets. To her dismay, they seemed to be walking down every single one that needed work. She thought, sorry, Ardi.

Fluttershy and her guards reached the schoolhouse; none too soon for her liking. She noticed how Cheerilee and Big Mac, at least, spooked whenever she pulled the cart over another bump. Hoping Ardi would get the hint, she said, “Well, here we are at the schoolhouse. I guess you’ll want to get all the colts and fillies together to keep them safe from the big bad wolf, right?” She laughed nervously. “So I’d better be going…”

“Not so fast, Fluttershy!” Applejack stopped her with a raised foreleg in front of her. “Cheerilee, yah want ta wait just a minute?”

The purple earth pony mare was just putting her key into the school door. Applejack said. “Just give me an’ Big Mac a second, in case that wolf’s hidin’ nearby.” Fluttershy blanched at her words. AJ saw the look on her face and said, “Just somethin’ I been thinkin’ on. Maybe the wolf is hidin’ inside some building, waitin’ ta pounce on some pony an’ gobble ‘em up. We don’t want anypony takin’ chances.”

“No… we certainly don’t,” Fluttershy whispered agreement, then stood there with Cheerilee and the other vigilantes as Applejack and Big Mac entered the school and went all through it. They could be heard from outside. Cheerilee winced as once or twice the sound of something falling over came from within.

“Doggone it, Big Mac! Ah tole yah ta watch out for that bookcase…”

“Oh dear,” Cheerilee’s eyes went wide and she shot inside; a moment later Fluttershy heard a pained yell. “Oh, no! Applejack! Do you have any idea how long it took me to convince the Mayor to pay for that set of encyclopedias?” She heard AJ try and answer Cheerilee, but it was cut off by another crash. Fluttershy winced. A moment later Applejack walked out of the school, looking rather embarrassed.

“Umm, say, everypony,” she said to the posse. “Maybe y’all can go in an’ help Cheerilee? The school’s a little messy right now, an’ I think she might appreciate getting’ some help cleaning it up.” Lyra, Bon Bon, and the rest all hurried in. Fluttershy thought that some of them looked relieved to be taken off of wolf-hunting. She had to smile at the thought that they were all so frightened of somepony like Ardi. Some ponies were such scaredy-cats…

“Hey, Fluttershy!”

“EEEK!”

“Yeesh, ‘Shy,” Rainbow Dash hovered in front of her, pumping wings raising dust from the road. Fluttershy felt her heart start beating again as Dash said, “Ya gotta stop being so scared of every little thing.” The azure pegasus flew over to the cart and began poking at it, the downwash from her wings fluttering the tarp. “So, what’re ya doing with Rarity’s cart?” She reached in and began to lift the tarp.

“Ahhh! Nothing!” Fluttershy wheeled around to face the rainbow-maned Pegasus. “Just returning some things to her! Oh, no need to help! I mean, unless you really want to.” Dash gave her a curious look. Past her the yellow pegasus could see much the same look on Applejack’s face. Fluttershy took a deep breath. “Really, everything’s okay, so I’ll be on my way…”

“Now, I told ya already, Fluttershy,” AJ said as she walked up on one side of her. “Ah cain’t let ya go strollin’ around Ponyville with that wolf on the loose.” Applejack looked over at Dash and said, “Want ta help me out here?”

“Eh, sure, why not?” Dash settled down on the other side of Fluttershy. She lightly slapped her flank with one wing. “Let’s get going. The sooner we get you to Rarity’s the sooner we can go back to getting that wolf.” She grinned and pounded one hoof into the other.

Fluttershy wondered how much worse this day could get as she passed under the archway into Ponyville proper, her two friends sticking to her sides like a second set of wings. With every pothole and bump of what was now Library Lane, she spoke to them as loud as she could to cover any sounds from her unhappy cargo. “So, umm, how has everything been on the farm lately? And Dash, what’s weather patrol been like? Your pets are doing well? Who do you think’s going to win the next big hoofball game? Anypony know why Twilight’s in Canterlot?” She shot the questions out one after another like Dash or Pinkie Pie, leaving neither of them time to respond, barely noticing they were passing the old well and Sugarcube Corner. Not even the usual delicious scents of breakfast pastries made much of an impression as she kept talking, “Oh, I’ve been having a wonderful time of it myself, thanks. No problems with my wolves, I mean my animals, at all…”

“Hey, guys! Fluttershy!”

AJ and Dash both stopped. Fluttershy froze at the sound of that voice.

“Oh, no…”

Pinkie Pie came bouncing up to all three, somehow balancing a plate of muffins on her head. She wore her usual delighted smile. At least the worry that seemed to be affecting everypony else wasn’t bothering her. Either that, Fluttershy decided, or she was an expert at covering it up. Or Pinkie was just being Pinkie. The pink earth pony with the cotton-candy mane offered the muffins all around. Fluttershy’s mouth watered as she smelled warm apples and cinnamon mixed together. Dash and Applejack both eagerly took one. Regretfully, Fluttershy shook her head.

“Oh, Pinkie, I’m so sorry, but I really can’t…” Pinkie looked devastated as only she could. Fluttershy relented. “Oh, well, just one wouldn’t hurt anything, I guess.” She took a bite out of it, reminding herself as she did that Ardi would need to eat eventually, too. She almost sighed around the taste of the muffin. Pinkie might be a little intense at times, but she was still far and away the best pastry chef in Ponyville.

“Say, Fluttershy, what’s in the cart?” Pinkie bounced over to it and tapped on its wooden side. “Ooh! Is it a surprise! Because I LOVE surprises! Hey, would one little-wittle itsy-bitsy peek inside be okay?”

“Eep! No!” Pinkie jumped back, startled, as Fluttershy spun on her. “It’s nothing, really! Just some things of Rarity’s! In fact I’d better get going with them!” She turned around and stopped. Applejack stood there, giving a look that combined wariness and concern.

“Look, sugarcube, you sure you’re feelin’ okay?” Applejack touched her forehead with her hoof. “Ya don’t feel sick or nothin’. Or are ya just that scared o’ that wolf?”

“No! I mean yes! I mean…” Fluttershy sighed and took a deep breath. “I just want to take these things to Rarity so it’s done. That’s it, really.” She looked around at her three friends, reminded herself that just because they were driving her crazy that they were indeed her friends, and said, “Well, that and while I appreciate your trying to protect me, I am a grown mare and I can take care of myself. So maybe you could trust me to do that?”

Looks of embarrassment crossed AJ and Dash’s faces. Pinkie just watched, her good mood seemingly regained. Fluttershy found herself wondering if maybe she could get Pinkie to help sneak Ardi out of town when the time came, under Pinkie Promise. If anypony could enter or leave an area without being noticed, it was Pinkie. Maybe she could set up a fake wolf sighting to keep everypony occupied while she snuck him out the other side of town?

“Aww, hay, ‘Shy,” A shamefaced Applejack rubbed one hoof along her mane. “Y’all are right. I guess I been treating ya a little poorly. It’s just that, you act so much like an earth pony, sometimes I forget ya can fly when ya need ta. An’ an earth pony cornered by some wolf can be in real trouble. It’s just that,” she sighed, “Ah’m worried about ya, okay? Cause you’re ma friend.”

“I know,” Fluttershy said. “And I’m flattered that you worry about me so much. I really am. But I have to get this cart back to the Boutique now, and I think I can do that by myself.” She turned and walked off down Library Lane, headed for the town square and Boutique. Just as she reached the curve in the street she looked back and saw her three friends watching her. She smiled at them. They waved at her. She neighed back. Then the rows of half-timber houses cut off their view of her and she let out the breath she didn’t know that she’d been holding. Her hooves resumed their clip-clop against the packed earth of Library Lane.

Okay. Clear sailing from here on. And hopefully some privacy too.

* * *

Back before Sugarcube Corner, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie sported somewhat forced smiles as they all waved to Fluttershy as she rounded the curve and disappeared, hoofbeats fading in the distance.

“Umm,” Pinkie said to the others, “We’re gonna follow her, right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“’Course we are,” Applejack said. She started off after the shy pegasus. “Y’all saw how scared she was actin’ the whole time. Poor Shy’s scared ta death. But she don’t want us ta worry none, an’ she probably figures that we ought to be lookin’ after our families.” The palomino trotted down the road. “But somepony gotta make sure that Shy steers clear o’ that nasty wolf.”

* * *

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop…

Fluttershy kept a lookout as she drew the cart past the Riches’ mansion and Ponyville Inn. Both Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon stood behind the mansion’s front gates, Filthy Rich and a liveried butler looming behind them. The two fillies looked around like they expected a filly-eating wolf to leap on them at any moment; the two adult stallions just looked wary. Filthy Rich gave Fluttershy a nod as she went past, then resumed his lookout. She held her breath until she was under the next archway and into the town square itself. Aside from a few other fillies and colts being escorted to school by patrols of two or three stallions and some of the bolder mares, downtown was mostly deserted.

Fluttershy sighed in relief as she passed through the all-but-empty town square. Past the statue, alone save for a few birds who twittered and sang at the sight of her. One of them spread its wing out wide and fluttered it. Fluttershy smiled at them. She was glad to see that Miss Chickadee was doing much better with that sprained wing.

Then past the carousel tower of Town Hall, with its new commemorative plaque shining in the sunrise, announcing that this was the place where Nightmare Moon had returned before the Elements of Harmony saved Princess Luna and all Equestria from her. Fluttershy smiled as she remembered how every time Dash saw it, she’d the time to give it a quick shine.

By now she was approaching the river and the East Bridge. She could hear the soft music of the water as it flowed along. She stopped before the bridge and whispered back to the cart.

“We’re almost there,” she said in her soft voice. “Just over the bridge and the railway tracks,” she paused at another miserable growl from within the cart, “And we’re there. Brace yourself, here comes the bridge.” The cart clattered behind her, its wheels bouncing over the bridge’s flagstones as she crossed over onto Whitetail Wood Road. She winced to hear the boxes banging inside it. “Oh dear, are you alright?”

“Wonderful,” Ardi whispered back to her, sounding anything but. “What’s next – YIPE!” Fluttershy winced as he nearly howled as she took the cart over the tracks. Bang! Bang! went the contents, and the wolf yelped both times. “My leg! My back!”

“Not so loud!” She looked ahead. “Almost there, now just take it easy, we’ve got to go off-road here.” She took it thumping across the grass and turf, making sure to steer around a few patches of alfalfa Rarity let grow in her yard for emergency snacks. Most ponies did, but Rarity was “too much of a lady” to admit to it.

Fluttershy hoped Ardi was okay. His groans did nothing to reassure her as she hauled the cart around the circular Boutique to the small kitchen and bath annex at its rear. Watching carefully over her shoulder, she backed the cart up to just short of the back door. She reached down, undoing the girth strap with her mouth before unhitching the cart. She gave a sigh as she stepped free of the traces, spreading her wings and shaking out her mane. It felt so good to be out of that harness!

She went to the door, removing Rarity’s spare key from her saddlebag with her wing. She took it in her mouth, cold against her teeth and tongue as it turned in the lock. The click as she unlocked it sounded very loud to her. She gently pushed the door open with her snout. She stepped back, looked right and left, then up for any pegasi. Nopony visible. Good.

Fluttershy went back to the cart and pulled the tarp back. A miserable Ardi looked back at her. The box containing cans of her meat substitute had fallen onto him and spilled open, leaving him covered in cold soybeans.

“Oh, dear! I’ll be bringing some more over later – but right now, get in!” Ardi slithered out with surprising speed, growling and wincing as he worked his muscles, and vanished inside the Boutique. Fluttershy gave one glance around, picked up two of the lighter boxes, slipped in behind him and closed the door. She set the boxes on the floor and looked to find Ardi staring at her.

“Now what?” he whispered. He took a moment and licked some bean debris off his pelt, giving a disgusted look at the taste. “Can we speak normally here?”

“I guess so, but don’t be too loud, not that I’m telling you what to do,” she answered. She walked by him, feeling her tail brush against him as she passed. His fur felt rough and soft, different from a pony’s coat. She stopped to scrape the dirt off of her hooves against the back step, and smiled to see Ardi following her lead. She got ready to open the door and hesitated before saying in her best Rarity-voice:

“Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where everything is sleek, chic, and magnifique,” she giggled at how she sounded. He followed her into the mud room as she said, “You ought to be safe here.”

“I hope so,” he said. “I really don’t want to get caught by your friends, not after what I heard them saying.” The wolf shook himself. “I like my pelt right where it is, covering me.”

“You’ll be very safe, just so long as you stay away from the windows,” Fluttershy warned him. She went to the nearest one and drew the shades. “And keep the curtains drawn.” She looked at him to make sure he listened. He just eyed her back, his blue eyes almost glowing in the dim light, before he nodded at her. She said, “I’ll be here during the day minding the store. You can stay upstairs and be safe there,” she paused as he growled and bristled slightly before lowering his hackles and giving her a sheepish nod. “I’m not calling you cowardly,” Fluttershy emphasized, remembering how wolves tended to react to suggestions that they hide or run. “But I want you to get out of Ponyville without any more trouble.”

Ardi looked around the small, mud room the ponies called it? A sink, almost gleaming in its cleanliness, hung from the wall. A laundry wringer hung over it, and a hoof-pump sat in the floor beneath it. A second larger hoof-pump set beside it. He looked at Fluttershy.

“That’s for the roof cistern,” she told him. “We don’t get town water this side of the river.” He followed her into the hallway beyond, toeclaws clicking over the polished floor. She pointed first at the left door and then at the right one. “That’s the bathroom in there,” she said, “and this is the kitchen over here.” She was about to say more, but the wolf pushed up beside her and glanced into both rooms.

The bathroom smelled as flowery as it usually did. She saw how Ardi’s eyes went over the floor toilet with wall-mounted tank, the fancy tub Rarity loved to take long soaks in imported all the way from Prance and big enough for two, and the sink complete with two racks filled with Rarity’s usual array of soaps, body washes, mane and tail styling needs, perfume, and makeup. Fluttershy hid a small smile when she saw how Ardi winced at the sight of it all. He looked at her in confusion.

“Do all she-ponies keep that much around just for their looks?”

“No, not quite,” Fluttershy responded. She kept quite a few essentials herself for her own mane and coat, but Rarity had her beat. No, Rarity had everypony in town beat. She added, “We’re not wolves, we can’t just roll in some carrion and call it a day.”

“Be easier for you if you could,” Ardi snorted at her. He sniffed and grinned, tongue lolling. "I smell meat!" He turned and headed for the kitchen. Fluttershy gave a little squeak and got between him and the door. She winced as he instinctively bristled and showed his fangs at her violation of the most basic law of canine etiquette: Don’t get between me and my food.

“Oh dear! Don’t go in here anymore than you can help, and please be careful when you do,” she explained. “Don’t disturb anything. Rarity knows where everything is and where it should be; she’s very touchy that way. That meat you smelled is probably Opal's.” At his wary look, she added, “I’ll unload the cart later.”

He sniffed and went past her, headed for the stairwell. She could hear him sniffing all the way as he examined the building. Fluttershy eeped when she saw him sticking his head through a curtain and out into the main Boutique. She ran to him, grabbed his tail with her mouth, and yanked the wolf back. “Don’t! They’ll see you from outside!”

“Well, where can I go then?” He snapped. “Or should I hide back here for a week?” He looked around, tonguing his nosepad and sniffing some more. “She has a cat around somewhere,” he said, “And another pony visits a lot. She smells like Rarity but a little more familiar somehow.”

“That’d be Opal, oh, she’s her little kitty, and Sweetie Belle, she’s her little sister.” Fluttershy pointed at the stairs, curving up in their stairwell against the outer wall. “You’ll be staying upstairs for the most part.” She heard him following her up into the empty room at the top of the stairs. Three colorfully painted wooden doors were set against the walls. Fluttershy went to open the first one.

“Okay,” she said. “This is her guest room.” Ardi looked past her into the room, sniffing and shaking his head at the sight of fancy lace cover, a four-corner bed, and posters of Sapphire Shores and other pony singers on the walls. Fluttershy added, “Sweetie Belle, that’s her little sister and the pony that you smelled downstairs, she’s stays over here most of the time; their parents travel a lot.”

“Parents ought to stay here for their pups,” he growled. Fluttershy barely avoided nodding in agreement. She went to the next door.

“This is Rarity’s bedroom,” she said. Ardi looked past her. Inside were thick purple curtains, a large canopied bed, Rarity’s vanity table piled with currycombs and cosmetics. A massive wardrobe cabinet stood against the wall. Sewing supplies were scattered about in profusion, and a fancy outside door from Prance, set with glass. It led to a balcony walk, railings just visible through the glass. Ardi slipped past her and went for it. He halted at a cry from Fluttershy. “No, ponies will be able to see you from outside! And Rarity will get furious if anything’s disturbed in here.” Ardi gave her an annoyed look.

“Just how fussy is this marefriend of yours?”

“Oh, she’s not bad,” Fluttershy said. She thought back on a recent time when she’d accidentally set a bobbin of gold thread down two hoof-widths away from its previous spot, and Rarity nearly fainted before she found it. “Well, maybe she is, a little, sometimes. But she’s very precise on where she wants everything to be, and…”

While she’d been talking, Ardi walked closer to her. He suddenly froze and looked at the floor behind her, licking his lips as he did. Fluttershy turned and saw Opal standing there. Normally the feline would have been rubbing against her, but right now she stared daggers at the wolf. And the look on Ardi’s face showed just how hungry he was.

“Oh, hello, Opal,” Fluttershy said, hoping to defuse the situation. She walked over to the cat, Ardi following her silently. Fluttershy gave Opal her best smile and said, “Now, this is Ardi, and he’s going to be staying here a few days. I want you all to be good friends, alright?” Opal just gave the wolf a dirty look, making a low rumbling sound of warning as she did. Fluttershy looked to see Ardi almost drooling. She lightly brushed him with her wing. “Be nice,” she whispered, and then, “She’s not dinner.” Ardi rolled his eyes before he lay on the floor, looking the cat right in her angry eyes.

“Hello, cat,” he half growled. “Don’t make any trouble and I won’t eat – I mean, we’ll be friends.”

Opal looked from him to Fluttershy. The butter-yellow pegasus smiled.

Opal swiped her claws right across Ardi’s nose.

A moment later she was flying down the stairs, the snarling wolf right on her tail.

“Oh! Oh, dear! No no no!” Fluttershy hurried after them, her wing brushing against the door to Rarity’s workroom as he did. Could this day get any worse?

The workroom door slowly swung open as Fluttershy went past it. She looked inside and saw something standing inside that brought her to a halt.

“What? Rarity, I’m so sorry! But I thought you left yesterday, and…” And Fluttershy felt her hooves seemingly grow fast to the floor as she saw Rarity’s emptied-out hide draped over a ponyquin.

It can’t be… It can’t be… I’ve been listening to Spike tell me too many of those horror stories…

A stray beam of morning sunlight entered the workroom and shone over Rarity’s cutie mark of three sapphires.

“SQUEEK!”

* * *

Ardashir chased after the filthy cat with a snarl. He’d taken enough abuse over the past few days, he was NOT going to be taking more from something that he’d normally be eating for dinner! The cat hissed and spat at him as she jumped atop a high cabinet. He leapt up and found himself almost a foot short of her perch. As soon as Opal saw she was safe, she studiously ignored him and began washing.

“That’s right, try and ignore me,” the wolf snarled at her, bristling. “Just remember, I’ll be staying here, and you have to sleep sometime, you miserable – what?!?”

“SQUEEK!”

He could just hear Fluttershy’s little sound of panic from upstairs. Even Opal looked suddenly concerned as she left off grooming to look at the stairs.

“Fluttershy!” Ardi turned and charged for the stairs.

* * *

”Oo-ooo-oh!” Pinkie Pie stopped dead by the statue in the town square. Applejack and Rainbow Dash both shot her confused looks as she said, “Twitchy tail, two twinges in my right front fetlock, left ear flick!” Her eyes went wide as she yelled, “Something’s scared Fluttershy!”

A moment later all three ponies were charging over the bridge towards the Boutique, Dash in the air, the others pounding the ground.

* * *

“Fluttershy!” The Pegasus mare barely heard the words as Ardi raced up beside her. She stood like a cockatrice had turned her to stone, frozen in mid-recoil, one hoof raised, eyes wide with horror, pinpoint pupils staring at the contents of the workroom.

At Rarity’s hide where it hung over the ponyquin.

“SQUEEK!”

The wolf nuzzled the paralyzed pegasus on the cheek; she started breathing again. Gasping, actually. And raising a shaking forehoof to point inside the room.

“In th-there,” she whimpered. “It’s – it’s Rarity’s hide! Some – somepony, they… SQUEEK…” She stopped talking, kept gasping. Beside her Ardi stuck his muzzle in the door and sniffed. Looking curious, he walked up to the white unicorn’s hide and sniffed more thoroughly. Fluttershy fought down an incipient faint when she saw him running his nosepad over her friend’s hide. He turned and gave her an amused smile, tongue lolling from one corner of his muzzle.

“What are you talking about? This isn’t anypony’s hide, there’s no blood on it and there never was.” He gripped some of it between his paws. “Come and see.”

Trembling, Fluttershy entered the room. She gasped to see a second pony hide set out of sight from the door, colored purple, but lacking a tail or even a head. She gently touched the hide and was surprised at how much it felt like her friend’s sleek, creamy coat. It looked creepily like a hollowed-out or deflated Rarity, even down to the long eyelashes, styled mane and tail, and her blue eye shadow. Almost like somepony did skin her, she thought, and shuddered.

“What is this, anyway?” Ardi sniffed more at it. He took one of the forelegs in his paws and poked at it. “Look, there’s a slit in it, it runs all the way from the throat to crotch. And inside,” he explored with his paw, “It feels warm.” He held it out to her.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Fluttershy said, fighting down a shiver. “Oh! I know what this is! Rarity said she was working on a surprise for Nightmare Night…” Ardi looked blankly at her. “Oh, I’m sorry, the night you met me? When everypony in town was wearing a costume?” She looked back at the suit, shaking her head in awe and wondering how Rarity made it. She didn’t even see any stitches or seams in it. “She must have been getting magical help from Twilight, it’s too good to be just a costume. Put it on and you’d look just like Rarity. Just like,” she shuddered, “that ponysuit of me that Pinkie Pie wore once or twice.”

“Your marefriend is both odd and very vain,” Ardi said with a sniff. “Anyway, now what?” Fluttershy opened her mouth to respond, but froze at the sound of banging on the door downstairs.

“Fluttershy! Hey, ya in there? Ya need help?” Fluttershy spun with a breathy gasp. Ardi stiffened and gave a snarl that sounded rather like a whimper as Applejack said, “Dash, Pinkie, git back. I’ll buck this darn door down if I gotta!”

“They’ll find me!” Ardi yipped, hopping from one paw to the next. “What do we do what do we do?”

“Don’t panic!” Fluttershy squeaked, “I, maybe they won’t bother?”

She was answered by the sound of apple-bucking hooves colliding with a wooden door.

“Oh dear! Stay here!” She hurried downstairs, desperately trying to think of something to say to her friends even as they kicked the door down.

* * *

Ardi sniffed and whimpered. What was he going to do? He could hear them downstairs – the pony that wanted to trample him, the flyer-pony that wanted to hang his tail from her mane, and the crazy chicken-pony who’d poisoned him last year. Who knew what she’d do?

The pony in the chicken suit sang a peppy little tune about making cupcakes as she laid out an array of knives, cleavers, and less identifiable objects beside the basement table where the bound and gagged wolf was strapped down. The palomino and faceless flyer-pony stood beside her.

“Remember ta be careful, Pinkie,” the palomino said. “Ah promised mah little sis she could have herself a wolf-skin rug. So don’t go puttin’ TOO many holes in it.” She chucked him under the chin and laughed. “The rest oughta make good fertilizer. Right next ta where Ah planted all ‘o them OTHER wolves!”

“Eh, whatever,” The sharp-voiced faceless pony said. “Least it’s not me.”

Ardi wondered what that meant and then the chicken-pony turned around. In one hoof she held a funnel and in the other a bucket, a bucket filled with something that bubbled and smelled sweet and…

“No!”

“Aww, don’t be that way,” she said with a giggle as she inserted the funnel into his muzzle. He gagged on it as she began dumping the bucket’s contents into it. “Everypony loves chocolate. LOTS and LOTS of chocolate!”

And all he could do was choke on the steaming poison as they laughed, and laughed, and laughed…

Heart pounding, Ardi raced through the room for a place to hide. A few cabinets were in the room, but they were filled top to bottom with clothes in various states of manufacture. The only way to hide in them would involve tossing everything out onto the floor, and they’d see. Maybe in one of the other rooms? He headed for the closed door and froze when he heard voices just beyond.

“Oh, but girls, there’s no need. Everything is just fine here, no wolves hiding here…”

“Maybe, ‘Shy, but Ah’ll feel better when Ah’ve looked around.” The sound of a door opening, and then the palomino’s voice. “Dash, Pinkie, why don’t ya check out them other rooms?”

Ardi bit down on a panicked yip. He did the only thing he could think of.

He raced to the unicorn-suit where it hung, and as hooves sounded on the stairs began pulling it on.

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