• Published 11th Jul 2013
  • 4,931 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?

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Day Five: Sweetie and the Wolf

Day Five: Sweetie and the Wolf

The sound of a pup’s whimpering jolted Ardi awake.

He looked around in the dark. Wait, this place doesn’t smell right. This isn’t my den! He licked his nosepad and winced at the sweet, flowery taste. The heck?

Then as the whimpering from the next room, Sweetie’s bedroom, became clear to him, he remembered. He was hiding in Ponyville from an angry dragon and furious ponies, and he’d managed to get stuck inside of a pony costume that made him look like a spear-head pony. A spear-head mare, at that, and the loveliest one in town. His friend Fluttershy was helping him hide out until her friend – the Burning Queen’s apprentice! – returned to help him escape. Not for the first time Ardi wondered why Fluttershy thought somepony trusted by one of the ponies’ demon queens would help a wolf.

Even as he thought about that, he rose from the bed and headed out of the room and to the door of Sweetie’s room. Her weeping came from behind it, the tears of a pup terrified by something from their dreams. Ardi felt some surprise to realize that wolf and pony pups both sounded so alike when they were afraid.

He raised his paw, er, hoof to push the door open and hesitated. Were he among wolves, he’d know what to do. He’d return to sleep until he was needed, for hunting or pupsitting or whatever duty his pack needed, and let the pup cry itself to sleep. Coddling the weak was frowned on in pack society. The sooner a pup learned that nightmares were nothing when compared to the sort of things that could happen to you when you were awake, the better. Ardi could remember, more than once, whimpering for his sire and dam as a pup after being frightened out of dreams about the Burning Queen and Nightmare Moon coming to eat him. And every time, they and the rest of the pack ignored him.

But did ponies do that?

“Big sis?” Sweetie wept beyond the door. “Big sis, don’t let Fenris eat me…”

That decided him. Ardi walked inside the room and went straight to her canopied bed. He’d told Sweetie those tales, and now she was weeping from fear of them. He’d made this happen.

“Sweetie? Little one?” Ardi reached across the mattress and lightly touched the little unicorn. She jerked awake. Her eyes opened wide. She pushed away something that looked like a stuffed fish with a pony’s head as she crawled over to Ardi across the bed. He heard the silk covers slipping against each other as she moved.

“Big sis?” She touched him on his current sleek white muzzle. “No, wait, you’re the wolf.” She sounded upset as she said, “I’m sorry if I woke you up. I,” She gulped and shivered, “I had a nightmare.” Then, hesitantly, “Can y-you stay with me? Rarity usually does when I have a bad dream.”

“I…” Ardi wondered if this was right. He sat down on the bed and gingerly patted her along her neck. “Well, what was the nightmare about?”

“I dreamed that Fenris was gonna come and eat me because of what you said ponies did to wolves.”

“What?” Oh, scat. Ardi cleared his throat and cuddled her, but only for a moment. Comforting was one thing, coddling quite another. And wasn’t she a pony, after all? Didn’t she deserve some misery? He smelled her pup’s scent, sweet and warm and innocent. Her wide eyes pleaded at him. Ardi sighed and shook himself as he hugged her close. Pony or not, I can’t just walk away now. “No, no,” he said as he held her, “I’m sure Fenris won’t hurt you. He probably won’t even get free for a long time.”

“B-but you said he was gonna go free after Princess Luna came back an’ Discord got free again?” Sweetie sounded somewhere between curious and frightened. “An’ those both happened.” She shuddered. “I remember about Discord, I fought with my friends right under his statue, an’ he got free right after that… Rarity an’ Miss Dash and Applejack had to hide us for a month after that, ‘cause ponies were mad at us for letting him go…”

“Oh, what foolishness is this?” Ardi picked Sweetie up and held her before him to look her in the eyes. “Listen, pup, er, pony. The Twisting One is a wicked liar, a monster. You had nothing to do with letting him go, and anywolf who thinks differently is a fool. Understood?” He set her back down. Sweetie pressed up against his side as he said, trying to sound as fierce as he could in Rarity’s voice, “And Fenris won’t hurt nice ponies like you. I won’t let him.”

Such valiant words. He mentally yipped laughter at himself. One would think you actually meant them.

She gazed up at him and smiled. Ardi felt an odd warmth.

“Okay, I guess,” Sweetie said, nodding. He smiled and nuzzled her, inhaling the sweet scent of her mane. Almost delicious… No, none of that. “You really do sound like Rarity now.” Ardi snorted in disgust, but he gave her one more nuzzle and set the covers back over her. Sweetie reached for her fish-tailed pony doll and said, “Can you please stay here? Sometimes Rarity lets me sleep with her when I get scared. But don’t tell Scootaloo,” Sweetie quickly added, putting her hoof on his mouth, “She’d probably make fun of me. She never gets scared of anything. Well, maybe ghost stories…”

“Umm,” Sweetie gave him the saddest eyes imaginable. Ardi winced. Nopony should be able to look that pitiful. He said, “Okay, I’ll sleep here. On the floor.” At least there’s a carpet. He walked over to it, circled once or twice, and laid down. He yawned widely, tongue lolling and most un-equine fangs gleaming. Sweetie giggled behind him at the sight. Ardi darted her a mock-serious look. “Oh, so you want to laugh at your big sister, do you?” He pretended to turn back away, and then swirled and leaped on her. Sweetie’s startled whinny turned into laughter when he started tickling her. “You think I’m funny, do you?” This is just like being with my pack, with the little pups. Ardi mock-growled, “I won’t stop until you stop laughing, little sis!”

“A-hahaha! Oh, stop! Please!” Sweetie swatted him on the nose. “You’re a silly Diamond Dog!”

What?” His words were so cold then that Sweetie’s laughter died immediately. He just looked at her, under his jaws, like a rabbit or a squirrel. Sweetie looked back at him, confused.

“Ardi? Mister Wolf?” She suddenly squeaked when he lowered his muzzle and gripped a mouthful of her mane. His ears lay flat and his blue eyes showed cold as Nightmare Moon’s in that moment. Sweetie’s flowery scent suddenly turned sour with fear. She squirmed wildly, pleading as she did. “No! Please don’t eat me!”

“Never call me that again.” Ardi growled at her in a voice thickened by fury. He forced down a sudden impulse that told him to bite holes in her ears. He gave her a shake. A gentle one by wolf standards, but judging by the way she shivered, it was more than Sweetie cared for. He spoke as clearly as he could while keeping firm hold on her mane, but still seemed to be chopping the words off as he spoke them. “Never. Call. Me. A Diamond Dog. Again!

He kept his grip a moment longer and then spat her mane out. It hung limp and draggled, soaked with wolf slobber. Sweetie gave him a look that mingled confusion and terror. She shook like she thought he was about to eat her. Ardi felt his anger retreating before it, wondered why now he felt remorse. After what she called me? If she were a wolf, she’d barely notice that.

But she’s not a wolf, is she?

He dropped back and stepped away from her bed. He opened his mouth to apologize.

“Sweetie, I…” She just stared at him in fear, but he thought he saw some curiosity peeking through. He turned away, his or rather ‘Rarity’s’ tail hanging limp behind him. He wondered if that cat was outside and waiting for another chance at attacking him. If so, maybe he deserved it right now. He headed for the door, saying, “I’ll leave you alone from now on. And I, I promise I won’t hurt or scare you again.” He was almost at the door before she spoke up behind him in a voice soft and still as falling leaves.

“What did I do wrong?”

He looked back at her. Sweetie huddled in the middle of her bed, watching him warily. The utter terror on her face was gone, replaced now by curiosity and hurt. But not for her own scare. Ardi felt a wave of disbelief going through him to realize that she felt sorry for hurting him. He wondered if he should just leave. Then with a sigh he turned and faced her, not moving any closer.

‘Sweetie, you…” How to explain it to one not of his own folk? Best to be blunt. “Sweetie, you called me a Diamond Dog.” The words tasted like dung on his tongue. She looked back at him, curiosity filling her bright eyes.

“But aren’t wolves kind of like Diamond Dogs?”

“No we are not…” Ardi started forward with a snarl. Sweetie cringed back, clutching her little fish-tailed doll to her. The wolf took a deep breath. “Sweetie, we Wolves are hunters, we live under the open sky.” When we’re not hiding from flier or spear-head ponies, a voice inside snapped at him. He tried to ignore it. “We’re untainted by the Twisting One, by Discord’s touch. And we don’t like being reminded that we share anything in common with,” he shook himself, growling in disgust, “Diamond Dogs.” She just looked at him. Hoping that everything was explained, Ardi turned and headed for the door one again.

“But why?” Sweetie asked to his back. “What did Discord do to Diamond Dogs?” Ardi slumped, tail and ears drooping. Remember, he told himself as he turned and walked over by the bed, you asked these questions once too.

“Sweetie, do you remember the stories I told you and your friends before? About how the Twisting One changed animals from what they once were to make monsters, not to keep ponies and wolves and other people strong, but just to torment them?” When Sweetie nodded at him, he very carefully laid down on the edge of the bed, making sure to give her plenty of room. “That’s how he made Diamond Dogs, so long ago. They were Wolves, once. A pack of wolves who wanted to try and live like ponies, with walls and roofs of stone to protect themselves against their enemies, instead of their own strength and speed and cunning. They didn’t know how to make those things themselves, so they caught ponies and kept them for slaves. And they tore at the body of the earth and ripped out the gems growing in the earth, to pile up for treasure.”

“Like some of them tried to do with my big sis?” Sweetie said to the confused looking wolf, “Diamond Dogs in the old quarries outside of town caught Rarity and tried to make her find diamonds for them. Spike got her friends to help save her, but by the time they got there she was able to make the Diamond Dogs let her go.” Ardi let out a low bark of surprise. Sweetie smiled and said, “Sometimes she still sees them there when she goes looking for more gems, but she says they run away when they see her.”

“Your sister is brave and clever,” Ardi told her, thinking, lucky too, that they just didn’t bite out her throat and have dinner. I can see things to respect in you, real-Rarity. “Anyway, these wolves were betraying everything about us. We’re not supposed to live in buildings or make slaves of other beings.” Sweetie opened her mouth to say something. Ardi gently touched his paw, er, hoof to her mouth. “Yes, I know what I’m doing here, but this is only temporary. And I didn’t make any of this. But getting back to the story. These wolves got greedier and nastier. They begged Fenris to give them more slaves and more wealth. Fenris went and told them that he’d given them everything he gave other wolves and it was enough for them.” Ardi fell silent, scowling as he remembered the rest of the story.

“So they went to the Twisting One – this was when he ruled Equestria, so you could find him if you looked long enough – and begged him for help. Begged the Twisting One!” Ardi snarled the last few words out. “And he answered them, the lazy thieves! He touched them with his Chaos power, made them into nasty dirty mongrels – twisted savages that scratched in the dirt, were too cowardly to live in the open clean air again. Now all they do is pile up their worthless gems and hide from everywolf.” Ardi sniffed. “So that is why no Wolf wants to be called a Diamond Dog, and no wise Wolf will ever trust the beings that tricked Father Fenris.” Sweetie looked at him with wide eyes. He nuzzled her forehead and turned to go back to the carpet. But as he did she spoke behind him again.

“Would Fenris be happy if he knew how my big sis and her friends, umm,” Ardi turned to see her little brow furrowing as she hunted for the right word, “Pet-tree-fied him again, when he got out? Even if he tried to make her mean?”

“Your sister and her friends beat the Twist – I mean, beat Discord?” Ardi bit his tongue to stop from laughing. He hugged her close. And ponies wonder why we think they’re all braggarts. “I’m sure she did, dear.”

“She did!” Sweetie gave him an indignant look. He grinned back at her. Now it was Sweetie’s turn for her scent to reek of anger. Little sparks of light came off of her horn, tingling him where they touched the Rarity-suit, as she said, “My sis and her friends stopped Discord and made Equestria normal again, just like they cured Nightmare Moon and made her back into Princess Luna! An’ they saved everypony when that nasty bug-pony Queen Chriss-whatever tried to conquer Canterlot.”

“Really?” Ardi said, tilting his head to the side. “Fluttershy never mentioned any of this.”

“Miss Fluttershy doesn’t like to brag,” Sweetie said back to him. Looking a trifle shamefaced, she added, “And maybe Miss Twilight’s big brother and his fiancé helped with the bug-ponies. But my big sis did do all of those other things! She’s brave and wonderful, just like Wavedancer!” Sweetie held up her little doll. Ardi now noticed that its mane did look a little like the suit’s. His disbelief must have shown on his face. Sweetie pointed at the wall where a vellum scroll hung in an ornate frame. “See, right there’s the proof. Princess Celestia gave it to her.”

Ardi rolled his eyes but he obediently went to the wall and stared at the paper. The light in the room was more than bright enough for him to read it, even if he had to struggle with some of the more complex words.

Be it known to all reading these words that Rarity Belle of Ponyville, unicorn of Equestria, Bearer of the Element of Generosity, is proclaimed both Titular Countess of Lipizzan and a Hero of the Realm and to be treated with all due and appropriate respect and honor…

As Ardi read further, he felt his ears flattening in dread as he read on, especially at the last words.

…and any insult or injury done to her or her family shall be regarded the same as one done to Us.

Their Immortal Highnesses,

Celestia Solaria Invicta

Luna Selena Nocturne

Alicorns Major of Sun and Moon

Princesses of Equestria.

The Burning Queen, Ardi thought, wishing that the contents of his stomach would stop acting like they wanted to suddenly escape by one end or the other of his digestive tract. And Nightmare Moon. Rarity is under their protection. And I’m WEARING what looks like her hide.

“So.” Ardi said, stepping back from the wall. He suddenly wished that he could whip the Rarity-suit off and flee into the night. He looked back at Sweetie, who smiled triumphantly. He grinned weakly at her. “Your big sis really is as wonderful as you say, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, and you look like her, so everypony who knows that is going to treat you like her!”

Ardi shuddered at the thought of what that could mean. Of all the mares I could have disguised myself as, why did I pick a national hero? Trying to think of anything other than the now increased likelihood that he’d come to a horrible end – and while disguised as a mare, no less – Ardi went over to lay down beside Sweetie. She pressed against him as affectionately as I he were her sister. He laid a foreleg over her and hugged the little spear-head close. Right about then he felt like he needed some support.

His gaze fell on her doll, a brightly colored thing with a fishlike tail, save that it went up and down rather than side to side. “What’s that?”

“Huh? She’s Wavedancer the Hip… Hip… Hip-po-cam-pus.” His confusion must have been obvious in the look he gave Sweetie, for the little filly said, “Don’t you know who Wavedancer is? She’s the bravest of the Sea Ponies, she saved Prince Conch from Squirk when he tried to,” She furrowed her brows in concentration, “To you-surp his father’s kingdom, she taught the other Sea Ponies how to sing the whale songs, she’s the prettiest and bravest Sea Pony ever! Rarity told me all about her, all the stories, all the songs.” She looked thoughtful, and then said, “Would you like to hear some of the stories about her? Maybe I can sing the songs for you? You told me all about wolves, and Rarity always says you should be generous with other ponies. And wolves too, I guess.”

“Oh, you don’t owe me anything, pup,” Ardi snorted. Sweetie began to give him Those Eyes again, and he hurriedly said, “But if you want to then please tell me about her.” Sweetie looked delighted. Ardi got up on the bed and curled up around her like he would have when pupsitting with his pack. With luck, he thought, he’d hear some nice and quiet little lullaby and they could both drop off and get some sleep.

Sweetie frowned, concentrated, took in a breath so deep he wondered she didn’t swell out like a frog, and immediately began singing at the top of her little lungs:

“SHOOP-BEE-DOO-SHOOP-SHOOP-BEE-DOO

CALL UPON THE SEA PONIES WHEN YOU’RE IN DISTRESS

HELPFUL AS CAN BE PONIES – SIMPLY SIGNAL S-O-S

IF YOU FIND YOU’RE PAST THE DRIFT AND HAVEN’T GOT AN OAR

CALL UPON THE SEA PONIES – THEY’LL SEE YOU TO SHORE

SHOOP-BEE-DOO-SHOOP-SHOOP-BEE-DOO…”

It went on for several minutes. Somehow the maresuited wolf forced his ears to stay upright. When it ended, Sweetie looked at him and asked in a voice that all but bubbled with joy, “Did you like it?”

“Dear, I loved it,” Ardi said happily. He wondered just when he’d started to become such a good liar. Hopefully that was the end of it. Sweetie all but bounced on the bed for joy.

“Yay!” Her next words sent a chill along his spine. “I know all the rest of the Wavedancer songs too!” And as she began to belt them all out, one after another, in a volume that would have sent dragons fleeing their dens, Ardi just lowered his head and reminded himself that he could sleep in the morning.

* * *

“Jacky, ya really still think that wolf is hidin’ in Ponyville?” Dash ruffled her wings in annoyance as Celestia’s sun drove Luna’s stars from the sky. The early chill didn’t bother her much, a Pegasus could take much worse than this without really feeling it, but right then she still vastly wanted to go back to bed for an hour before her shift with the Ponyville Weather Patrol started. Dash flew over Applejack, the earth pony looking around attentively as they circled the West Pasture well north of the clock tower. “I mean, it’s been three or four days now, ya know?”

“Ah know,” Applejack said, looking at the grass-covered pasture for any signs of wolf tracks. “But Ah still think he’s ‘round here somewheres. You had the whole weather patrol out, an’ mah posse was watchin’ the ways into the Everfree and Whitetail Woods, an’ none of us saw him leave.” She bent to look closer at a track and recognized it as one of Spike’s clawmarks. AJ snorted and stomped on it in frustration. “Doggone it! Where did that varmint get ta? It ain’t like anypony is hidin’ him.” She frowned and thought, are they? She shook her head at the thought and trotted along towards the edge of the Everfree. “C’mon, Dash. We just got a little longer ta go, an’ then you can get back ta your beauty sleep.”

“Gee, thanks,” Dash muttered as she flew along after the palomino pony. Rolling over, she looked at the sky, pale purple in the west and crimson in the east, then the orange glare of the sun clearing the eastern mountains, the wind blowing the last of the night chill through her mane and feathers. No sounds could be heard beyond Applejack’s hooves crunching over dirt and grass, and the slow beat of Dash’s wings. “Say, Jackie, how are most of the ‘posse’ doing? I’ve seen less and less ponies coming out for it.”

“Ah know,” Applejack repeated in a grumble. “’Least that Lotus is still willin’ ta help. Got to admit, I never thought that she or her sis were much more’n a couple of wanna-be Rarities, but Lotus has really been eager ‘bout all this.” Pride rang through Applejack’s voice when she said that. Dash dropped behind her to cover her sudden wince at the mention of the blue earth pony mare.

“Yeah,” Dash said, not bothering to hide her unease, “Maybe she’s a bit too eager, if you ask me. And where did she get that hunting spear and harness from, anyw – What the hay!” She flew up into the air and circled, diving down to settle beside Applejack. “That’s not what it looks like, is it?”

“’Fraid it is,” Applejack said, looking like she was swallowing a lump in her throat. The two ponies circled around what lay on the ground before them. A scorch mark, almost as big across as a typical Ponyville house and as long as the Riches’ mansion. The grass was burned off, the dirt beneath charred and almost fused. A few rocks still studded the area inside that burn. Applejack experimentally stepped on one. It crumbled under her hoof.

“Dash,” Applejack said, wishing her voice sounded steadier, “Fly up again, okay? An’ let me know if there’s anything else around.” When she didn’t get an answer, AJ looked and saw that Dash was already circling her way up – twenty lengths, thirty, forty, until the blue Pegasus looked like a toy. Then she stopped, hovered for a moment looking down at the ground, then folded her wings and dove for Applejack. The palomino got out of the way just in time as Dash pulled off one of her rocky landings, almost faceplanting into the dirt.

“There’s more,” she said, grim now. “The dragon that left that,” she pointed at the burn, “Wrote some words in the dirt.”

“Wild dragons can do that?” Applejack asked, wondering. She shook her head. “Never mind. What’s he got ta say?”

Dash just pointed over to the far side of the small rise. Applejack galloped over and saw the words there, carved into one of the large flat rocks dotting the pastureland. She felt glad that dragon used that instead of a house or worse, her barn, to leave his message.

I KNOW THE THIEF IS AMONG YOU

YOU ARE HIDING HIM FROM ME

YOU CANNOT PROTECT HIM FROM ME

RETURN THE WOLF AND MY TREASURE WITHIN THREE DAYS

OR I WILL TAKE HIM FROM YOU

Applejack checked the marks. They weren’t just scratched into the stone’s surface, they’d been dug into it like somepony idly whittling soft wood with a knife. That is, if they’d used a knife the size of a pony’s foreleg. She shuddered as she stepped back.

“C’mon, Jackie, we gotta warn everypony!” Dash spread her wings, crouched for takeoff. Frantic, Applejack got in front of her.

“No, Dash, don’t! What’re we gonna do, tell everypony that a dragon’s gonna flatten Ponyville ‘less we hand that wolf over?”

“Well,” Dash rubbed her chin before saying, “Yeah! We can’t hide this, Jackie, we’re in real trouble now!” For a moment both ponies stared at the twisted mass of the Everfree, dark as Nightmare Moon despite the morning sun, then Dash looked off towards Canterlot, a white speck against the horizon mountains. “I wish we had Twilight around right now. Not that I can’t handle some dragon, y’know, but,” she looked almost worried, “But she’s usually got some real great plan for stuff like this.”

”Well, she ain’t here,” Applejack said, “But we are, an’ I don’t want ta panic all Ponyville! You got any idea o’ how most ponies would act if they found out that we might just have a dragon droppin’ in on us looking for that wolf?” Dash’s eyes went wide as she envisioned it.

The dragon roared its fury as it breathed fire down into the houses of Ponyville. “WHERE’S MY HOARD? YOU PONIES ARE HIDING THAT WOLF FROM ME!” It snapped at a heroic blue Pegasus that tried to distract it, allowing her friends to escape as they called their gratitude back to her.

“Oh, Rainbow Dash! All of Equestria will remember your bravery!” Rarity called as she fled, holding half a dozen of her designs with her magic and with Sweetie Belle riding on her back.

“Dash, you’re a better pony than Ah ever was!” A stetson-sporting palomino called back as she fled, her big brother running alongside and her little sister on his back. “Ah’ll spend the rest o’ mah life tryin ta be half o’ what ya are now!”

“That’s okay, guys!” The Pegasus yelled after them. “Heck, not every pony can be half as awesome as me, and...” Dragonflame washed over her, and when it faded, nothing was left but the coolest pile of ashes in Equestria.

“Heh-heh-heh!” The greedy, cruel, most uncool wolf laughed from where it hid, watching the whole thing. “And that’s exactly why I did it all, because without Rainbow Dash, Equestria is doomed! Or at least a totally rotten place to live in, now!”

“Dash, wake up, will ya!” The blue Pegasus shook herself as Applejack gave her a swat with her tail. “We gotta tell ponies, yeah, but just the rest o’ the Element Bearers for right now. An’ Spike too, so he can send a message off ta Twilight. We oughta be able ta handle this ourselves, we’ve taken care o’ worse ‘fore this.” She looked off towards Canterlot much as Dash had a moment before. By now it was gleaming brightly in the dawn’s first true light against the mountainside. “Ah wish we had Twi here, though. Ah’d like ta have some magic around just in case things go wrong.” She began trotting off towards town, heading for Sugarcube Corner. They’d be opening for the morning rush right about now.

“Hey, we got Rarity,” Dash flew after her a short ways, before turning and flying off towards Fluttershy’s house. Her voice faded in the distance as she flew away. “She’s got some magic, and she knows dragons, at least if we’re talking Spike.”

“That’s true,” Applejack said, thinking out loud.

“’Least we got Rarity, and she can help us find that wolf.”

* Shoo be doo, shoop shoo be doo… *

The words were still running through the wolf’s head the next afternoon as he crossed Ponyville on his way to the school. They managed to even drown out the worry he might have felt at crossing the town in full view of so many ponies, including that sorrel stallion from the first day, setting up that same apple stand as before in the town square. Ardi smiled politely at him as he passed, making sure to keep lip over fangs. Judging from the gossip snorting around the square, most ponies were convinced that the marauding wolf was long gone, returned to the Everfree. Most.

Sweetie trotted alongside, her schoolbooks hanging in her saddlebags. He heard a giggle and looked down to see her smiling at him.

“I didn’t know you liked Big Mac, big sis.” She said, rather obviously forcing down a giggle.

“I did not know you liked Big Macintosh either, Miss Rarity.” His escort said with a sly tone in her Stalliongrad accent. She leaned in close and whispered into his, er, ‘Rarity’s’ ear, “Maybe you have decided in favor of a mujik and against a tsarevitch, yes?” At his blank look, the pink-maned blue mare said, “It means, ‘A peasant rather than a prince’.”

“Oh, maybe,” Ardi said, giving her a weak smile. Lotus returned it, though he imagined hers looked rather more conspiratorial than his. The dawn’s light gleamed over both her smile and on that hunting spear in her jousting harness. Ardi couldn’t take his eyes off that spear, with its barbed head as serrated as a Changeling Queen’s horn. He found he oddly appreciated the spa pony escorting him over to the school, her accent reminding him of home. But did she have to keep talking about all the uses for wolf pelts? With that all-too-determined look on her face?

“Lotus, dear, I really do appreciate your protecting me like this from that big wolf,” Ardi said, gladder than ever that the suit disguised his voice along with everything else, “But I don’t want to keep you from your business…” His voice trailed off as Lotus gave him a wide-eyed stare.

“Why, Miss Rarity, watching over you is part of my business!” She leaned close and whispered, “You are best customer Spa has! What if you ended up inside wolf?”

“It’s more the other way around,” Ardi muttered in a voice low enough that only he heard it. He kept silent after that until they reached the Everfree Road and the little red schoolhouse at the edge of town. Forcing back a rising shudder, Ardi entered the school. Almost as soon as he did the scents of dozens of colts and fillies tickled his nosepad even through the suit. Don’t start drooling now!

“Now, Sweetie,” Ardi said, turning to the little spear-head filly, “Remember to be a good student and don’t make trouble for the teacher. Okay?” He hesitated. Something about that determined look on her face worried him. Too much like that crazy mare with the spear.

“Sure, big sis,” Sweetie said, right before she trotted off to join Scootaloo and Applebloom. Instantly they drew her into their little circle and looked as thick as thieves. Ardi felt more unsure than before. He turned to head back home. The meat substitute – ugh – would be waiting for him there. After he got past Crazy Spear Pony near the door. She looked busy, chatting with some purple-coated mare with a clutch of berries for a cutie mark. Hoping to escape unnoticed, he began edging over to the door. He’d almost made it before hooves clattered over the wooden floor and a large and disturbingly well-honed and polished spear head glittered before his eyes.

“Miss Rarity, you think you are not needing any more escort?”

“Gah!” Ardi stepped back. Lotus followed, her eyes wide with worry. Ardi felt half flattered at her concern. The other half of him remembered the reason she was packing that spear, and if she ever guessed the truth about him? He cleared his throat and said in his best Rarity-voice, “Thank you so much, my dear, but I really need to be getting back to my Boutique. I have, uh, an order to take care of! Yes, that’s it.” He began to trot out the door again. Once more he almost ended up on his haunches as that spear ended up between him and the outside.

“Oh, but Miss Rarity, big bad wolf is not caught yet! What if you met him?” The blue earth pony mare set herself beside him, brushing against his flank. Ardi could feel her warmth and smell her sweet scent as she said, “Have no fear. If bad wolf attacks the Spa’s best customer, then I will protect you!” She smiled even more widely, looking lovelier than ever, and sad with a gleam in her eyes, “Besides, I can show you how to cure wolf pelt for clothes. Uncle Sure Shot taught me how!”

“Wonderful,” Ardi groaned as she followed him out the door, talking in great detail about how to turn a wolf into a bedspread.

* * *

“Hey, Sweetie! So, er, how was it last night with yore ‘big sis’?” Apple Bloom and Scootaloo both looked curious. In a more conspiratorial tone, she added, “He didn’t invite anypony in ta eat ‘em or nothin’, did he?”

“He’s not like that!” Sweetie gave Apple Bloom a glare. The filly’s eyes widened in surprise as Sweetie added in her normally gentle voice, “Wolves are nice. Well, at least he is. He even told me about how Discord made Diamond Dogs out of wolves; and then he listened to me while I sang all the Wavedancer songs.”

“Wow, that long?” Scootaloo said, her eyes wide, and then added, “Wait, he told you something else about wolves?” She shook her little hoof. “Darn it! I thought he told us everything we needed to know last night.”

“That reminds me, did you two work on all the stuff we agreed that we’d need?”

“Sure did,” Scootaloo nodded at Sweetie. She and Apple Bloom showed some outlines they’d cut out of dark paper, of a wolf and a draconequus and two alicorns. “We’ll do it like we figured. Say, if this works, maybe we’ll get our cutie marks for both shadow puppetry AND making presentations on wolves!”

“Well, it’d be a shock if you blank-flanks got your cutie marks for this,” a familiar nasty voice said, the words dripping such heartfelt concern that the mockery would have been obvious to a parasprite, “I mean, it’d be a shame if not even this worked out for you.” Diamond Tiara stepped in between Scootaloo and Apple Bloom. “It’d be even worse than if you got eaten up by that monster wolf. Hey, didn’t that almost happen to your dopey brother, Apple Bloom?” Behind her Silver Spoon sniggered, but nervously. She kept cutting her wide and fear-filled gaze to the open door as though expecting the wolf to come in at any moment, hungry for filly meat.

”Don’t call him that!” Sweetie stomped past Apple Bloom and Scootaloo to confront Diamond Tiara. The earth pony filly recoiled as the little unicorn filly snapped into her face, “Wolves don’t eat ponies! Er, not any more. Except maybe when Fenris comes and gobbles up Celestia and Luna.”

“What are you, crazy or something?” Silver Spoon moved to keep the Crusaders and Diamond Tiara between her and the open door. She sniffed and said, “Everypony knows that wolves don’t do anything but eat ponies and, like, live in dirty caves and stuff. They’re monsters, that’s what monsters do.”

“You don’t know as much as you think you do,” Sweetie responded. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon both tilted their heads to the side, looking at her in confusion as she gathered her two friends in and said, “We’re gonna show everypony that wolves aren’t all mean!”

Whatever else would have been said was cut off by Cheerilee’s voice. “Fillies and colts, seats, please!”

As the young ponies went to their desks, Cheerilee went to the head of the room. Sweetie thought she winced when she looked at the new set of encyclopedias, now looking rather the worse for wear, that the school got about a month ago. Cheerilee wrote TODAY IS ESSAY DAY on the chalkboard. “I hope everypony remembered their reports!”

A chorus of YES!es answered her, with Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon looking around in their trademark smug fashion. Sweetie noticed and smiled to herself. No matter what they thought they knew, nopony was going to be able to guess what she and her friends knew!

“Very good!” Cheerilee beamed at the class. “Now then, who wants to go first?” Diamond Tiara was only halfway out of her seat when Sweetie shot to the front of the classroom, a nose ahead of Apple Bloom.

“My friends and I want to go first, Miss Cheerilee!” Sweetie nodded at Scootaloo standing by the door; the little orange pegasus kicked it shut before dashing to the windows, pulling the blinds down. “We just need some preparations, is all.”

“Oh, of course, dear,” Cheerilee smiled at them, but she scraped the floor with one forehoof. Uneasy snorts and whinnies came from some of the other students. “Now, this won’t be like the time with the model volcano, will it?”

“Why gosh no, Miss Cheerilee,” Apple Bloom said as she set up a background against the blackboard. “We’re just gonna spice up our presentation a little!” She reached into her saddle bags and took out a small shadow puppet that vaguely resembled an alicorn.

“Oh, well, dears.” Cheerilee sat down at her desk. “Go ahead!” Sweetie wondered why she had that worried look on her face. They’d only burned a few holes into the floor that one time, after all.

”You’ll love it, Miss Cheerilee!” Sweetie smiled at her before she said to her friends, “Hey, you’ve got everything, right?” They both nodded at her. With a big smile, Sweetie headed for her desk, retrieving her saddlebag and the report she’d written before bed last night. She’d read it back to Ardi this morning. The wolf seemed distracted somehow, but he’d approved of everything she said. She and her fellow Crusaders had spent several hours yesterday working on this plan. They were going to set everypony straight on wolves and ponies and Discord and the Princesses – on everything!

The little unicorn filly headed for the front of the now darkened room. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom ducked down behind the small stage they’d set up. They held the shadow puppets in their hooves and mouths. Sweetie stood beside the stage and started to speak.

“Everypony knows how Equestria was made, but nopony knows how the wolves tell it.” The murmuring from the students came faster and more excited after that. Sweetie smiled. They’d probably get the best score in the class AND get their cutie marks to boot! She cleared her throat and said in the deepest voice she could muster, “Before the sun and moon hung in the sky, there was a place of fire and a place of ice…”

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