• 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: Lupine-Teacher Conference

Day Five: Lupine-Teacher Conference

“EEEK!” The unicorn reporter mare with the camera flash for a cutie mark managed one startled yell as the shapeshifted Changelings rushed her into the abandoned building on Canterlot’s South Side.

“I’m the press! You can’t get away with this, whoever you are!”

With a snort, a silhouette stepped forward out of the musty shadows within – another mare, a tall slim unicorn whose eyes and horn glowed like gold. The reporter had only enough time to gasp before the sleep spell hit her.

Vespid, wearing her Yellowjacket form, looked down at the mare collapsed on the dusty floor. “Any others?”

[None, O Queen!] the lookout chittered from outside the doorway, then shifted back in a burst of yellow fire. Vespid recognized his unmarked fresh carapace – the young tunnel guard from a few days before. The dumb one.

Flying inside, he showed fangs in a grin and alighted before his Hive Queen, chittering for a moment before a hoof landed on his head.

[OW! What was that for?] He looked up at her, rubbing his head.

“Idiot!” Vespid hissed at him. “Pony form, now!” The scent of her pheromones quelled any further outbursts from him. He cringed and vanished in fire to reappear as a black and gold unicorn.

“Cutie Mark!” The Changeling craned his head around for a glimpse of his blank flank, shifted again. When the gold fire faded, he bore the reporter’s mark on his flank.

“And always speak Equestrian when Topside!” The young changeling nodded frantically, then a golden aura shoved him back to his post. Vespid wished she could’ve brought more of the experienced changelings Topside for this. Wished she had experienced Changelings to bring Topside. Discord you, Chrysalis!

While the two slightly-less young drones secured the door and checked the window shutters, Vespid levitated and inventoried the reporter’s saddlebags – quills, ink, notepads, press pass with name and newspaper affiliation, the invitation with the time and address on the north side of town.

“All clear, O Queen.”

Vespid buzzed an acknowledgement as she secured the saddlebags on her back, then reinforced the sleeping spell on their previous owner – enough to keep her under well into the next day. As she finished, the clip-clop of hooves against flagstones sounded from outside.

All four Changelings froze. The hooves passed outside, continued, faded away. The first to move again was the young one, gazing at the door, hunger glowing in his eyes. Vespid sniffed and shot off a spark of her magic that landed against his flank. He yelped and jumped.

“You will stay here, and watch over this one. I will go and attend this ‘press conference’ and learn what the ponies know. When I return to here, we will go Below again.” She made sure to catch the youngster’s eye in particular as she said, “No matter how tempting it gets, do not go off looking for emotions to feed on.” She turned to leave.

“But, O Queen,” the youngster chitter-whined behind her. She looked at him as he stared at the fallen mare. “A little wouldn’t hurt, would it? I’d be careful, I swear. The way she feels about some pony…” He looked back at the reporters, licking his lips. Then to Vespid’s shock he shifted unconsciously, taking on the form of the mare, elegantly styled red mane and all. The others began snickering the ki-ki-ki-ki sounds of Changeling amusement. He looked confused until he looked down at his forehooves. Eyes wide, he shifted back to his normal pony form. When the mockery of the others didn’t stop, he began to snarl at them.

“No more of that!” Vespid stepped into the middle of them. She looked at the youngster. “If you cannot control your shapeshifting, then stay Below!” He looked crestfallen. The amused looks of the other two vanished as Vespid said, “And if you two find it amusing to see another make the same mistakes you both did, then I order you two to do a better job of teaching him how to maintain focus. Understood?” All three nodded so frantically it looked like their heads might fall off. Vespid lowered her muzzle and let them nuzzle her. Then, having reassured them, she shifted herself from Yellow Jacket to a shorter, chunkier mare with the reporter’s mane and Cutie Mark. And name from the papers in the saddlebags – Flash Bulb, from The New Moon, Canterlot Office.

Checking outside with her magic, the Changeling Queen slipped out the door and stepped into the deserted back street. In the distance, a train whistle sounded.

* Shoo be doo, shoop shoo be doo… *

The Song of the Sea Ponies kept running through Ardi’s head all day. Even when he tried to help Fluttershy with the work around the Boutique, it kept nagging at him, eliciting frustrated growls from the mare-suited wolf. But he still felt that he was finally fitting in.

“Your change, madam,” Ardi said in his best Rarity-voice as he handed a few bits over to the gold-maned pink mare. Her new saddle hung over her back, embroidered with lace. “And I’m quite sure that everypony will wonder at how my work flatters such a lovely mare as yourself.” She smiled and nodded before turning and trotting out. Fluttershy watched silently as she worked on some sewing, patching some small dress that must have been meant for a filly. She quickly went to the door and flipped the sign to Come Back Later.

“Oh, good, that’s over,” Fluttershy said with a sigh. “I’ll be so happy when Twilight gets back from whatever it is that Celestia needs help with so we can get you out of here. Not that I’m saying you need to be going, but…” She let out a little squimper of dismay at his growl. “Oh, dear! I’m so sorry I said you need to leave.”

“What? No!” Ardi bit down on his growl as the Pegasus flinched. “It’s not you, Fluttershy. It’s just that Sweetie sang some song for me last night and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head, something about calling for Sea Ponies…” He broke off at Fluttershy’s giggle. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” she said, picking up a broom and helping to sweep up. Ardi remembered the surprise he’d felt at learning that Rarity owned three brooms, along with some spares in case one broke. Fluttershy continued with, “But I think that everypony needs a few days to get the Song of the Sea Ponies out of their head after they first hear it. I know I did. I suppose she told you the Wavedancer stories, too?” He eyerolled and snorted. She just nodded. “I thought so. Sweetie loves Wavedancer. Rarity told me all about it, she and I used to be big Wavedancer fans too when we were fillies.”

“Ponies….” Ardi growled. He started trotting to the door, hesitated, and then moved in a lupine lope. Fluttershy gave him a wary look. “I’m being careful,” he responded. “I never do that when anypony but you or the fillies are around.” He looked down at himself, wondering how the sight of a white spear-head mare with a purple-mane in place of a shaggy white wolf could have become such a normal sight. “I wish moving like a pony wasn’t starting to feel so natural, though.”

“Oh, Ardi, it’s only for a little while longer…” Her voice broke off as somepony knocked on the door. Fluttershy went to open it.

“Oh, wonderful, more company.” Ardi sighed and tossed “his” elegant mane back over one shoulder, half closing his eyes as he purred out at whoever was coming in, “Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where everything is…” His voice trailed off in a croak as he saw the flier-pony mare with the raggedy-cut mane and tail coming in. Remembering her words, he tucked his own tail close. Fluttershy caught his reaction and quickly moved to set herself between them.

“Oh, hello, Rainbow Dash. Umm, whatever are you doing here? We don’t usually see you here at the Boutique. You’re not one for dresses. Not that I’m telling you to like or dislike dresses…”

“Hey, Flutts,” Dash said idly as she flew over her to speak to Ardi. The wolf looked up at her with a nervous smile as the flier-pony said, “I just came over from the school. It looks like the Cutie Mark Crusaders got in some kinda trouble.” She snorted and rolled her eyes. “Again.”

“They did?” Fluttershy gasped. A curious look crossed her face as she looked outside. “But that’s strange, I don’t remember hearing any explosions or panicking ponies.” Ardi gave her a double take. Just what sort of trouble did his, er, Rarity’s little sister and her friends normally get themselves into?

“What? Nah, nothing like that.” Dash moved behind “Rarity” and started ushering her to the door, the downbeat of her wings washing against the mare-suited wolf. “Apparently they got in some kinda fight with two of the other fillies, Filthy’s foal and some other one. An’ Cheerilee and the parents of the other two wanna talk ta us about it.” Ardi tried digging his hooves in, but Dash gave a shove that sent “her” out the door. “Yeesh, get going already, Rares!”

“Why, yes, of course, Rainbow Dash!” Ardi gave Fluttershy a confident wink. When she relaxed he sagged in relief. He felt gladder than ever that this suit covered most of the normal lupine body language. He didn’t want her to know just how scared he really felt right now.

* * *

In the shape of the reporter, Vespid trotted past the Black Stallion Hotel, every hoof-width the image of a pony on a mission. She’d learned as a hatchling Princess that even the best shapeshift was useless if your behavior didn’t match. Act like you belonged somewhere and most ponies wouldn’t question your presence.

Mount Epona’s main peak and the golden spires of the Castle grew over the rooftops as the Changeling Queen trotted north through Canterlot, the roar of Epona’s Tears growing in her shapeshifted ears as the hint of coal smoke faded from her nostrils. Here in Old Town, the buildings were taller, more ivory and alabaster and gold and faience than the rougher dwellings and businesses of South Side, gleaming in the afternoon sun, flooded with pony emotions.

She drank from the swirl of emotions from the ponies, passed cross-street after cross-street with names like Hurricane, Puddinghead, Clover, Starswirl, carriage and wagon traffic straining up and down their slopes connecting the terraces of the mountainside city. Stopping near the Clock Tower and its Great Carillion, she levitated the invitation from her saddlebags and checked the address.

Platinum and Sunrise. Near the Royal Offices, in the high-rent district against the secondary peaks but outside the Ravine, the hidden canyon where the real nobles’ mansions stood. Turning opposite the Opera House, she started up Platinum Street.

Three blocks uphill, and there it was. A three-story noble’s townhouse tucked against the mountainside, the kind used by either minor unicorn aristocrats or highborn foals who’d embarrassed their families, with a long flight of steps up from the outer gate. And a small herd of ponies at the terrace at the top.

Checking the invitation a final time, Vespid climbed the steps to the upper terrace. The herd of ponies milled around the door, all with saddlebags over their backs and press passes slung around their necks, all oblivious to the breathtaking view across the city and valley.

Vespid trotted up behind them, listening in on their grumbling. They radiated annoyance, sour but edible.

“Where the hay is this ‘secret source’?” One unicorn stallion grumbled. A notepad and pen floated nearby, held in the red glow of his magic. “He wanted us all to be on time. Why do these aristocrats always have to be fashionably late?”

“How do you know he’s an aristocrat?” Vespid asked him, curious. She had her own suspicions, but she wanted to see if she could get them confirmed. The stallion looked at her press badge and then her before giving a snort.

“With digs like this? By the old palaces? Who else could he be?” The reporter snorted, swatting his tail in annoyance before he looked at her. “From The New Moon? You’re not Early Edition – new mare, huh?” He levitated up his pass. “Column Lead, Canterlot Sun.”

“Flash Bulb, New Moon.”

His gaze lingered on her. Vespid felt a small spike of desire from him, sweet amid the sour annoyance of the others, drank it in to take back to the Hive. “Well, if anypony gets an exclusive, it’ll probably be you if this particular pony is who I think it is…”

Before Vespid could ask him what he meant the townhouse’s doors opened. Some unicorn pony dressed in servant’s livery, long enough to cover his cutie mark and wearing a Nightmare Night mask that hid his face, nodded at them. Vespid lowered her head to hide a smile at his choice of mask. It was a rather obvious Changeling mask.

“Good, you’re all here. This way, please.” The reporters began asking questions all at once. The servant’s sole response was, “My master will answer all of your questions, I assure you.” He turned and trotted down the entry hall with great dignity. Or as much dignity as somepony in an obviously fake horror movie mask could muster, anyway.

The reporters followed, Vespid trailing behind as the doors closed behind them. She glanced at the art hung along the walls as she passed them. Ivory and marble statues, paintings by great artists like Old Master (a name that pony had taken after his reputation became assured), even somewhat threadbare tapestries that looked old enough to come from the Age of Discord, all of the same theme: a royal family of heroic unicorns, stallions and mares, protecting and nobly guiding pegasi and earth ponies. Vespid recognized some of the scenery in the more recent, less well done paintings as coming from the ponies’ stories about Hearth’s Warming Eve, though she didn’t remember ever hearing a version that showed Princess Platinum defeating the windigos single-hoofed. The house itself bore emotional traces, barely perceptible through the noise of the live ponies – self-love, pride, a rare bit of loneliness.

She was beginning to get a very good idea just whose house this was.

“Madam, please do hurry.”

Vespid awoke from her reverie to find herself at the end of the hall. The door before her was solid oak, inlaid with an elaborate compass-rose pattern. The other reporters stood by it, eying her in exasperation while the servant stood holding it open. In the parlor beyond, a white unicorn stallion stood waiting. He wore a half-mask like something from Phantom of the Stable, but his quilted robe left his Cutie Mark bare – a compass rose pointing in all eight of the cardinal directions.

Vespid hurried up beside the reporter she’d spoken to before. “Wait, if this all supposed to be done anonymously, then why is he…?”

“Because he’s not the sharpest horn in the stable.” A low ripple of whickering laughter went through the small herd. The unicorn within seemed oblivious. The servant showed no response, though Vespid felt a sort of exasperated agreement from him as they entered to stand before the badly-disguised Prince Blueblood.

“Worthy members of the press, welcome to this most secret of meetings.” Blueblood began, trying to sound ominous but coming off more like a bad actor. He tilted his head back, long golden mane hanging, and said, “I’ve asked you here to discuss and dispel some of the rumors about what my, I mean, what Princess Celestia is doing to deal with the threat posed to Equestria by the Changelings, with help as provided by her woefully underappreciated nephew…” Blueblood walked through the group as he spoke, forcing them to follow him. The reporters seemed to roll their eyes in unison, but they began writing his remarks down. Vespid followed their lead.

If he’s at all wise, he won’t reveal anything too important or dangerous here. Vespid mentally ran over everything she had heard about Blueblood. Then again….

Vespid lightly tossed her mane so that it hung just slightly loose. And as Blueblood walked past her, she emitted some of her pheromones. The golden-maned unicorn stallion’s eyes went wide behind that mask as he walked by the Changeling. He turned and looked at her with a gaze she found tiresomely familiar.

“My dear?” He said, before bending in close to whisper, “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

“But of course, my lord,” Vespid said in an awed voice, letting her eyes flutter shut. Privately she thought, like you’d notice a non-royal in any event, you dolt of a pony-drone. Why does your hive queen even keep you around? Blushing, she said, “I, I’m so eager to do well at my newspaper, you see, and if I could speak to you at greater length in private?” She looked at him from under half-closed eyes. “If you’d be so generous, that is. I’d be so very grateful.”

“Really?” Blueblood smiled on her the way parents did to small foals they were humoring. “Perhaps later you can stay and we can discuss everything at greater length. In private.” He said the last words in a tone that promised more than an interview, as if Vespid couldn’t feel the lust coming off of him thick enough to rival his self-love. Sour and weak, but the Hive was starving.

Okay, Vespid thought as Blueblood kept wandering around the room, the increasingly annoyed reporters following him, some of them also darting disgusted looks at her. Next I find out what Celestia and the court really know and are planning to do about my Hive. Maybe I get a quick snack. She saw how Blueblood looked her over and returned his hungry smile with one of her own. And then I return to the Hive and rally my Swarm to fix the problem.

What could possibly go wrong?

* Shoo be doo, shoop shoo be doo… *

The trip to the schoolhouse seemed quicker than before. Then again, that morning Ardi didn’t have a pushy Pegasus constantly circling back to tell ‘her’ to get ‘her’ flank in gear. He just wished he could get that song out of his head!

He’d seen some sort of activity all day from the Boutique – something to do with the town square and the tall balconied Town Hall. Now he passed the details, herded on by Rainbow Dash.

Caravans and tents packed the square behind the hall, outnumbering the market stands, ponies and griffins going in and out of the hall itself, carrying various equipment and hanging large posters from the balconies over the porch, watched by a second herd of local ponies. Griffins. Meat eaters.

Ardi remembered not to tongue his nosepad, tried to catch the scent through the perfume of the ponysuit. And, as he passed the mass of caravans and tents, found what he was sniffing for – the faint aroma of meat, coming from the large pavilion-tent at the center.

One flier-pony hanging posters noticed the maresuited wolf as he trotted by; the word spread, sparking looks and whistles and appreciative nickers from the stallions and male griffins – including the griff in beret and dark glasses who seemed to be in charge of the chaos.

He almost growled, but remembered how those mares acted in the books on Rarity’s nightstand and gave them a warm smile and a tail wiggle instead. The sounds they made got even friskier before a she-griffin came out from the main tent – the one emitting the droolworthy meat-scent – and chased them back to their tasks. She darted a dirty look in his direction. ‘Rarity’ hurried on her way.

Oh well, Ardi thought as he took in the males’ reactions, if I had any questions as to my ability to portray a female spear-head mare, that settled them. He looked to see Rainbow Dash looking annoyed and waving her hoof in an obvious ‘hurry up’. He followed, wondering should I be more worried about their reaction, or mine?

He got a good close look at the posters as Dash rushed him along. The titles were in an elaborate Equestrian font which he didn’t have time to read, but he didn’t need to read them. One showed a panicking filly running in terror, pursued by a huge pack of Changelings. Another showed The Burning Queen herself, wings spread and blazing with fury, surrounded by the heads and necks of seven great dragons.

Then Dash herded him down a street, past the poofy-maned poisoner’s bakery and down another street, and another, until the schoolhouse sat before them where town gave way to pasture. With Discord’s Demense in the distance.

Even through the suit Ardi could smell the scents of dozens of little ponies, fillies and colts. He bit his tongue to keep from licking his lips hungrily, but nothing could stop him from salivating. After that scent of meat in the square…

“Yeesh, Rares,” Dash said as she dropped down beside ‘her’. “First it’s Big Mac, an’ now those guys? It’s not that time of the year!” She entered the school before Ardi could respond, so he just followed her in.

“Good afternoon, everypony,” Ardi said, hoping he acted more like Rarity than ever when he saw who stood inside the room. Dash went to stand beside the palomino earth pony with the hat – Applejack, that was her name – down by the front of the room, past the rows of pony-proportioned wooden desks. That earth pony mare from that morning was there as well, smelling of pony-pups, chalk, and annoyance. Ardi remembered the Crusaders describing her as their teacher, Cheerilee. Sweetie Belle and her two packmates sat before the desk, their heads hanging and their expressions angry. Both Scootaloo and Apple Bloom hurried to stand by their sisters. Judging by how cowed they seemed, Ardi wondered what trouble they’d gotten into.

He trotted down to the desk – remember, swing the hips and tail, but not too much – to where another pair of fillies stood with a pair of mares, all earth ponies. One pony-pup bore a surly expression along with a black eye underneath the jeweled tiara set in her mane. A similar-looking mare stood behind her, about ready to paw the wooden floor. A second pony-pup, her mane done slightly differently and sporting glasses, stood nearby, the second mare holding a stained tissue to her nose, muttering reassurances. Ardi judged the mares to be the mothers of the little ones by their similar appearances and scents. At least what he could scent through the cloud of perfume from the second mare. The two pony-pups also differed from the Crusaders in that they bore Cutie Marks, a tiara and a spoon.

And both of them were directing very unhappy looks at him, er, ‘her’. He reached the front of the room, catching the faint scents of blood and fear from the two fillies. Sweetie Belle hurried to him. Ardi lowered his muzzle and nuzzled her, inhaling her sweet little scent. He started a bit at the tang of iron in it. Then he notice that she bore some bruises. Her friends did as well, but she’d gotten the worst of it.

“So, who did you fight with? Those two?” Sweetie looked at him wide-eyed. Ardi whispered to her as he nuzzled the pony-pup. “Don’t be surprised. I can smell the blood. And I hope you hit the other one twice as hard.” He raised his muzzle to see the other mares giving him looks that ranged from dismayed to furious. Hoping that the smile he gave them was polite, he said, “Whatever is the problem?”

“Rarity, glad you could join us,” Cheerilee said, looking unhappy. “You know Applejack and Rainbow Dash of course.” She indicated the other two mares. “And these are Golden Tiara and Silver Platter, the mothers of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. I’m afraid there’s been some trouble.” She directed a meaningful look at Sweetie and her friends, who tried to look defiant, “And I think it’s best we settle it before it can get worse.”

“What trouble?” Ardi asked in Rarity’s voice. Everypony else looked at Cheerilee. She cleared her throat and began speaking.

“It started with the report I assigned the girls.” She indicated Sweetie and her pack-mates with a wave of her tail, “About that wolf.” Ardi felt a chill claw of fear trailing along his spine as she said, “They were supposed to talk about how wolves have been viewed and treated in Equestrian history, but instead they, ahem, well…”

“They told crazy stories about how Princess Celestia and Luna and, and Discord all cheated some mangy old wolf named Fender and stuck him in a net made out of stuff that doesn’t even exist!” The filly with the tiara pointed her hoof out at Sweetie Belle.

“His name was Fenris, not Fender!” Sweetie said. She looked like she wanted to give a snarl of her own as she pointed back at the other filly. “An’ it wasn’t a net, it was a rope! You didn’t even listen, Dee Tee!”

“I listened enough to know you’re not just dumb blank flanks, you’re crazy too!”

Sweetie snorted, and scraped the wooden floor with one hoof. Diamond Tiara hid behind Golden Tiara’s leg. The mare set herself protectively between the two. Ardi noticed that Silver Spoon already hid behind her mother, peeking around. The stink of her fear filled the air. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom moved up beside Sweetie, supporting her like proper packmates. Their sisters followed, but not too closely. Ardi supposed they didn’t want to provoke things any more than they’d already been.

“Now, girls!” Cheerilee didn’t raise her voice, but the fillies still fell silent, still looking daggers at each other. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Ardi had to hide a grin. Apparently pony pups were just as maddening as wolf ones. The grin slid away from his, er, “Rarity’s’ lips as Cheerilee looked right at him. “They presented a rather, well,” Cheerilee looked embarrassed, “A rather unique version of Equestrian history. One that cast the Princesses in a light you normally don’t see outside of tabloids. And, Rarity?” Cheerilee gave Ardi a look that almost pleaded, “They said they got it all from you. Is, is that true?”

“Oh, well, yes.” Every one of the mares looked at ‘her’ in confusion. “What? Is there some rule against telling fillies stories from the wolves themselves?”

“Well, no…” Cheerilee swallowed. Before she could say more, Ardi had to take a step back as both Dash and Applejack stuck their faces into hers.

“The hay, Rarity! What’re ya tellin’ the Crusaders stories about how Celestia and Luna cheated some mangy old wolf…”

“Doggone it, Rarity, Ah don’t want ya givin’ Apple Bloom any crazy ideas!”

“They’re not crazy, and…!” Ardi snapped back, stopping before he could continue with “…and Father Fenris isn’t mangy!” Looking into their stunned and suspicious faces, he remembered what Fluttershy had told her about Rarity’s past and chose his words carefully.

“When Mother and Father sent me to finishing school in Canterlot,” he began in what he hoped was a good Rarity voice, “I came across an old book in the school library that included the Old Stories of all these creatures. The story of Fenris was one of them. I don’t remember anything else of that book except that story.” So far, so good.

“And yesterday, Sweetie Belle told me they couldn’t find any books on Wolves in the library here, that ‘Dee Tee and Spoony’ had gotten there first and checked out all the books. So I remembered that Old Story and told it to them.” He looked past them to Cheerilee. “Was that all of it? I don’t see why they’d get in trouble for a, well, a different view of history.”

“Oh, no, that wasn’t it at all,” Cheerilee said, looking unhappier than ever. She looked at first the Crusaders and then at the other two rather disheveled fillies. “When they got finished with their presentation, it was lunch time…”

“Wait, they took thet much time?” Applejack asked, her eyes wide. She looked at her little sister. “Ah guess now I know what ya were up ta in the barn all night long.” Apple Bloom tilted her head back and looked proud.

“Well, yes.” Cheerilee said. She looked amused, saying, “It was very well done, I admit. Though I think the shadow puppets for the play based on the wolf creation story were a bit much.”

Ardi looked wide-eyed at the pony pups, and bit his tongue against a soft woof of surprise. They’d done all that, just on what he’d told them? Just, just for him?

“But then, when the students were outside, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon had, a, well, a disagreement with them.” Cheerilee indicated the two marked fillies as she spoke. Ardi didn’t fail to notice how the looks of nasty self-satisfaction on their faces changed to the most badly put-on innocent looks he’d ever seen. A growl almost escaped his jaws as he realized who they were. Diamond Tiara = Dee Tee, Silver Spoon = Spoony… Sweetie had told him how those two insulted and bullied her and her friends, along with all the smaller and unmarked students in Cheerilee’s class. A certain amount of bullying was normal among wolf pups; there were few other ways to figure out who’d have the force of personality to become a pack leader when they got older. But from what Sweetie said, these two took it too far. In a wolf pack they’d have gotten bloody ears by now at the fangs of their fellow pups. And one or two of the adults. As he thought that Cheerilee said, “Actually, they got into a fight with one of the girls.”

As soon as those words left her mouth, Applejack and Rainbow Dash rounded on the little fillies.

“Apple Bloom!” The palomino almost stomped over to stand above her little sister, looking no, not angry, but ashamed. “What have Big Mac n’ Granny Smith n’ me told y’all about fighting at school?”

“Scoot,” Dash said, pulling the little orange Pegasus close to look her in the eyes, “I know it’s not easy, I really do; remember what I told ya about my time in flight school? But hard as it is, ya gotta learn to ignore it.” The stunned looks on the faces of the two fillies, who Ardi couldn’t smell even a hint of violence on, told him the truth before Cheerilee even opened her mouth.

“Oh, no, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom tried breaking everything up,” Cheerilee directed a very disappointed look at little Sweetie, who looked defiant. “It was Sweetie Belle who actually hit Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon,” Ardi smiled down on the little spear-head filly, but the smile froze on ‘Rarity’s’ face at the teachers next words. “And she was saying something about knowing a nice wolf!”

Oh. Scat.

As the other ponies gave Sweetie shocked looks, Ardi hoped he didn’t look as frightened as he felt. He sneaked a glimpse in a nearby mirror and saw that “Rarity” looked dismayed, but not terrified. Of course, there’s still time for that to change. Just be glad she didn’t hurt them too badly, or I’d have to hunt for them until they healed up – no, wait, ponies don’t do that.

“See, I told you she was crazy!” Diamond Tiara pointed her hoof at Sweetie, who gave her a dirty look in return. “Wolves are all big ugly stinky monsters!” She sniffed at the little spear-head in contempt.

On second thought, maybe Sweetie could have hit her a few more times.

“Don’t talk like that!” Sweetie stomped her little forehooves. “Wolves can be nice, too! And they don’t eat ponies!” She pointed at the blackboard. Ardi looked at it to see something that shocked him. A crude but still recognizable picture of him done in chalk. Thankfully they didn’t show him wearing the Rarity-hide. He didn’t need that much public recognition. As he looked Sweetie added, “The wolf’s not bad, he’s just scared! I bet he doesn’t even want to hurt anypony.”

“Shows how much you know,” Silver Spoon spoke up from where she hid by her mother. Looking around the mare’s well-padded side, she flinched when everypony looked at her, but went on with, “My father used to be in the Royal Guard, and he had to fight wolves once by Stalliongrad. He said they’re dangerous!”

Ardi felt his eyes widen momentarily. He remembered the older wolves in his pack telling him about something that had happened before his eyes opened. How one desperate Stalliongrad winter several dozen wolves had broken through the city walls to snatch whatever prey they could find. Unfortunately for them the ponies repaired the hole in the city walls before learning about the wolves, and for the next week there’d been a running fight between the starving, cornered, desperate wolves on one paw and the angry ponies on the other. It all ended with all save a few wretched wolves cornered in the town square and speared or trampled or slain with spear-head magic. Ever since then, his pack and all the others had been more frightened of ponies than ever.

But the ponies won, they’d seen they were stronger, so why were they acting like they were scared?

He returned his attention to the conversation.

“Young lady, if your parents had any horse sense they’d remind you how to speak to your elders!” Silver Platter said to Sweetie. The older mare looked like she was getting furious now, with her ears down and her tail whipping back and forth in a way that reminded Ardi all too well of Rarity’s filthy cat whenever it got ready to attack him. Golden Tiara didn’t look any happier.

“My big sis told me to be honest, too.” Sweetie said, nuzzling Ardi. He grinned weakly as both mares gave ‘her’ furious glares. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a more respectful look from Applejack. “And everything I said is true.”

“You can’t make peace with monsters, and with wolves you shouldn’t even try.” Silver Platter sniffed. Applejack and Rainbow Dash kept their end of the argument up, while Cheerilee tried vainly to keep everything under control. Sweetie pressed against him, shivering slightly. Ardi could hear her sniffle.

She’d tried to help him, and now she was going to get punished for it?

“Now, wait a minute,” Ardi stepped into the middle of everything. They all kept talking, so he put all the force he could behind his voice, like when he was a younger wolf and howling defiance at the full moon. “I said WAIT! A! MINUTE!”

Everypony immediately went silent, staring at him with wide eyes. By the looks on their faces nopony was used to hearing the ladylike Rarity speak like this. Too bad, he thought fiercely. They were about to get used to it. He stomped into the middle of the small group, facing Silver Platter and Golden Tiara. They actually flinched back as he thrust his head out at them. Ardi half wondered if the mane of the Rarity-suit was bristling.

“What is the matter with you two?” He indicated their two fillies with a jerk of his head, who flinched back from the mad mare in their midst. “I thought one of the things ponies did was to forgive, and not judge by appearances! Didn’t Wavedancer make peace with the Crabnasties when everypony else thought they were just scary monsters?” Looks of confusion went over the faces of the two mares. Behind him, Applejack cleared her throat.

“Umm, Rarity, ya know, that’s just a little foals’ tale…”

“It is?” Ardi responded. Think fast! What Would Rarity Do? He remembered one of the other stories the little fillies told him last night. “Oh, but what about the zebra, Zecora? You – we used to be scared of her, but then we learned she was a good friend. Fe – Celestia’s fetlocks!” he’d almost said “Fenris’s fangs”, “We saved Nightmare Moon and made her sane again!” Or so they said, Ardi thought. Sane by pony standards, anyway. He stepped back away from them all, taking Sweetie along so she stood beside him. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom hurried to stand with her, before him and under the wolf picture they’d drawn. Ardi said, “So don’t you think that three brave little fillies willing to give a wolf a chance deserve as much respect?”

The ponies all stared at him and the fillies wide-eyed. He dared hope his words worked.

“Hah, you’re just as crazy as those dumb blank flanks!” Diamond Tiara stepped out in front of her mother and snapped at him. Silver Spoon trotted up beside her and joined in her jeering. “Stupid crazy little blanks!”

Golden Tiara’s and Silver Platter’s eyes went wide in shock, then narrowed in fury. The two mares stepped forward past their daughters. Ardi braced himself, ready for a fight, then stopped as the two mothers concentrated on their daughters.

“Young filly, what did I tell you about using that sort of language on other ponies?” Golden Tiara towered over her daughter, looking as stern as a pack alpha about to punish an errant wolf. Beside her Silver Platter similarly scowled down at her own daughter. Silver Spoon tried to shrink away as her mother spoke.

“Silver Spoon! What have I said to you about using language from the farmyard?” She might have said more, but Applejack broke in. Loud.

“Hey now!” She stomped up to face Silver Platter. The older mare recoiled as though she expected a hoof in the jaw as Applejack continued, “Ah’ll have you know we don’t use thet sort o’ language ‘round our barn, nor anywhere else.” She looked at her own little sister. “An’ Apple Bloom, have they been talkin t’ y’all like thet?” Apple Bloom looked uneasy, as did Sweetie and Scootaloo beside her.

“Maybe,” she said, sounding very wary. She kicked against the floor with one rear leg. “Once in a while, ever’ now an’ then.”

“Rotten little crybaby tattletales!” Diamond Tiara snapped at her, “Can’t you take a joke? It was supposed to be funny!”

Then everypony began talking at once. At least the adults did. Platter and Golden Tiara both sounded somewhere between apologetic and horrified as they spoke to Applejack and Dash, neither of whom looked or sounded amused. If it was a joke, nopony or wolf here appreciated it. Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara slunk away, looking like they wanted to get clear. Ardi saw them heading for the door, stepped between them and their goal. Sweetie stood beside him, and Apple Bloom and Scootaloo joined her. Silver Spoon flinched, her ears going back, but Diamond Tiara just sneered up at “Rarity”.

“Y-you better get out of the way,” she said, sounding less certain than she tried to look. She kicked lightly against the floor. Ardi tried to keep his lips over his fangs as he began to smell the fear of the two fillies. It smelled so much like dinner. Something of that feeling must have shown even through “Rarity’s” face, because the two nasty fillies flinched back. Diamond shivered, used a hoof to straighten her tiara, and said, “Didn’t you hear me, narwhal?” The word meant nothing to Ardi, but judging by the horrorstruck look on Silver Spoon’s face, and the sudden little gasps from the Crusaders, it couldn’t be anything good. Like calling a Wolf a Diamond Dog?

“I said move your flank, narwhal! I’m not gonna get in any trouble just because of those blanks.”

With a shocked snort, Golden Tiara reached down and snatched her daughter up by her mane, sending the pony-pup’s tiara clattering across the floor. The entire room fell into stunned silence at the mare’s next words, with everypony staring at her and Diamond.

“Diamond Tiara Rich!” Diamond Tiara’s voice rose into a panicked whinny as her mother snapped at her, “Blank Flanks? Narwhals? That is NOT how your father and I raised you to speak!” She turned her daughter around yo and made her face Rarity. The mare snapped in the commanding tone of a pack’s alpha bitch, “You will apologize to Miss Rarity and her little sister, and her friends, at once!”

“I…” She tried giving her mother a sad-eyed glance. Golden Tiara pawed the floor with a snort, the reek of her anger coming through the flowery scent of the ponysuit. Apparently the filly caught the scent too, because the words spilled from her in a torrent. “I’m so sorry I said nasty words and I’ll never do it again!” Her friend looked like she was seeking escape, if necessary by dropping through the floorboards, only to flinch back at the sound of her mother’s voice.

“Silver Spoon! Please tell me you have NOT behaved like this to anypony, especially not the little sisters of the Elements of Harmony!” The filly darted a shame-faced look at her mother. The mare moved to stand above her. “You will apologize to all of them this very instant. And you will NOT use such language again! Am. I. Clear?” Silver, looking very downhearted indeed, turned and gave her own apology to Ardi and the Crusaders. The wolf thought she sounded more sincere than Diamond, who aimed a surly look her way that promised trouble. Ardi wondered if he’d really get in all that much trouble if he ate just one particular filly in town before leaving.

Meanwhile both Golden and Platter were apologizing to him as well as to Applejack and Rainbow Dash.

“Rarity, all of you, I’m so sorry, I knew that Diamond was a little full of herself, but I never dreamed she was becoming a bully…”

“Miss Rarity, please accept my deepest and sincerest apologies. I assure you, if I had known my daughter was picking up such foul language and using it on the little sister of a hero of the realm…”

They looked at him in something like desperation. Ardi tried to think of what to do. Wolves weren’t big on offering apologies to lower-ranked pack members – if you wanted to get some respect, you either worked or fought your way higher in the pack’s hierarchy. But neither were these two acting in the ears-lowered and tails-tucked fashion of lower-ranked wolves who knew they’d just offended their superiors and needed to beg forgiveness. Were that the case, he’d just take them by the throats, give them both a good shake, allow them to aid him in his hunting for a few days, and consider it over. Ardi doubted that ponies did it that way.

Why must ponies be so confusing? What would Rarity do right now? Think, wolf, think!

“Thank you,” he said, nodding his head at first Silver Platter and then Golden Tiara. Hoping he used the right words, he said, “I, ah, I am willing to forgive and forget everything that’s been said here. And so is my little sister. And her friends.” Diamond and Spoon looked relieved until his next words came out. “However, maybe as a way of showing how repentant they are, they can help Apple Bloom and her family with the work on their farm for a few days? With the proper supervision, of course.” He said the last while looking at Applejack.

“Sounds right fine ta me,” Applejack said with a grin. She stepped up beside her little sister. “Ah’m sure Ah can find something for them ta do. Nothin’ too big, but we always got some little jobs that need doin’. Sloppin’ the pigs, muckin’ out the barn, diggin’ a new outhouse…”

“Hah!” Diamond Tiara snorted. She tilted her head back loftily. “As if! My mom would never…”

“She’ll do it,” Golden Tiara said in a grim tone that allowed for no argument. Past her Platter nodded her head in agreement. Diamond tried to complain, but subsided at a dire look from her mother. “The sooner she learns some respect for working class ponies, the better.” She looked down at her daughter and said in a slightly sad voice, “I think your father and I may have given you too easy a life. And oh yes, he will be hearing about this later.” Driving their shocked and still complaining daughters along before them, Golden Tiara and Silver Platter both left. Ardi looked at Cheerilee and the other two. The two who want my hide and my tail…

“If there’s nothing else then, ladies?” Cheerilee sighed tiredly and shook her head no. Ardi returned her a gracious nod and left the school, Sweetie and her friends beside him. Outside it looked to be quiet. Ardi supposed most ponies must be at home eating. He thought he caught sight of that weird little dragon, but the little walking flamethrower walked around a corner almost as soon as Ardi saw him. He whispered to the little spear-head, “I hope they stay away from you after this.”

“They oughta,” she said. Suddenly she craned her neck and rubbed her cheek against Ardi’s, nuzzling him. He almost yipped in surprise as she said, “Thanks a lot, ‘big sis’! Oh, and thanks for agreeing to take me and my friends to see the movies tonight!”

“Huh? I didn’t agree to anything about any movies…” None of the three fillies even tried their sad-eyed look on him. They just tilted their heads and quirked an eyebrow in unison. “Oh, very well,” he grumbled. All three grinned. I suppose if I spend a few of Rarity’s gems, it won’t be a problem...

“Hey, Rarity!” Ardi almost jumped at the sound of the farmpony’s voice. Applejack spoke again, this time to the little fillies. “Apple Bloom, why don’t you ‘n yer friends go and get somethin’ nice ta eat? Here,” she gave her little sister a pair of shining golden discs which the tiny filly snatched up in her mouth and set away immediately, “Go n’ get some food – and no spendin’ that on any movies! The last time ya watched some o’ them horror movies, ya had nightmares ‘bout getting chased through the Everfree by zombie ponies!”

“Oh, but Rarity here said she was going to take us later,” Sweetie said with a giant smile. “Isn’t that right, big sis?” All three of the fillies smiled at Ardi. He fought down an urge to snarl at the little blackmailers. Sweetie added, “It’ll be in Town Hall, the big room where Nightmare Moon appeared that one time.”

Nightmare Moon? NIGHTMARE MOON?

“And where the griffins set up that big tent that smells like meat.” Applejack shuddered at the word. Dash looked thoughtful, and Ardi stopped shaking and tried hard not to drool.

“Oh, that’s exactly right.” Ardi said, thinking real meat! “I figure that the girls deserve it after all this. And it’ll be alright, Fluttershy will be with us.”

“Huh. Well, okay then, Ah guess. They kin go.” The three little fillies cheered and raced off. Applejack smiled after them before she turned to Rarity and said in a low voice, “Rares, we gotta talk. Right now.”

“Yes, dears?” He forced out as she and Dash came up on either side of him. He swallowed. “If it’s about my words back in there…”

“It ain’t about that,” the flier mare said. She leaned in closer and spoke. Ardi wondered if he smelled meat on her breath, wished she didn’t smell quite like a she-wolf in that moment as she said, “It’s about a dragon. And that wolf.”

Oh. Scat.

“I swear I didn’t lead it here! I mean,” Ardi swallowed and spoke more gracefully, “I mean, what about the wolf? The poor creature’s probably run away, hasn’t he? So we ponies don’t have to worry about him. Wishing his voice sounded less husky, he said, “And w-what about a dragon? Spike’s been acting a little odd.”

“Huh? No, not him,” Applejack shook her head. “Yeesh, Rarity, Ah’m talking ‘bout that dragon that the wolf musta robbed.” Ardi hoped he’d heard her wrong, but his hopes plummeted as she said, “Dash an’ me were out on patrol for thet wolf when we found a warnin’ from thet dragon Ah saw over the Everfree the day the wolf came.” Applejack quickly filled him in. Ardi was glad he sat on the ground, otherwise his tail would have been pressing up between his nethers at the fear filling him as the farmpony told him about finding the dragon’s warning. “An’ so either thet wolf is in town, or the dragon thinks he is, and wants us ta get him,” Applejack said. She looked at Ponyville and snorted sadly. “We gotta find thet wolf, an’ soon. ‘Cause if we don’t, then we’re all in a heap o’ trouble.”

YOU’RE in a heap of trouble?

“Yeah,” Dash added. “So we find that wolf, and then?” She flew up into the sky, kicked a small black cloud hanging overhead. Ardi jumped and yelped as it crackled with lightning. Thunder boomed like that dragon’s roar and sent rain sluicing down over him. It only lasted a few seconds, but when it was over, he felt soaked even through the Rarity-suit. Judging by the way Applejack and Dash looked at him, he must have looked as drenched as he felt.

“Oops! Sorry, Rarity.”

“Quite alright, Dash,” Ardi said, wondering if he’d feel this drenched when the dragon ate him. Or would it take small bites… Forcing his mind away from that thought, he said, “But tell me, darlings, what if we don’t find the wolf? I mean,” he hastily asked, “You’ve both looked for several days already. He might be gone despite what the dragon thinks.”

“Then we got either two choices. Either we let him burn Ponyvilla ta ashes, or we try ta fight him.” Applejack said it as though it were as matter-of-fact a choice as hunting down a rabbit for dinner. Ardi figured that for the ponies who’d beaten Nightmare Moon and the Twisting One, it probably was, but for him?

“DIE, PONIES!”

Dragonfire washed over the ponies, fading away to show Applejack idly twirling her lasso, Rainbow Dash stretching out with a yawn, and Fluttershy blinking against the glare. The crazy pink poisoner jumped up from her beach chair with a giggle.

“Hey, that tickled! Isn’t that right, Rarity! ... Rarity?”

Dragon and ponies alike turned to see where once a snowy-coated spear-head mare stood there was now only a blackened wolf skeleton in the middle of a circle of scorched earth with the burned tatters of a purple mane and tail nearby.

“Don’t we have any other choices?” Ardi looked hopefully at Applejack. She rubbed her chin thoughtfully.

“Huh. Maybe we could ask Spike.” Dash gave her a bewildered look as AJ said, “I mean, he is a dragon, an’ Twi said he’s been studying more on how ta be a proper dragon. Ah oughta know.” She winced as though at some unpleasant memory.

“Maybe I ought to check with him tomorrow,” Ardi said, feeling hopeful. “I mean, he does like me, after all.” Or so I’ve been told. I hope Fluttershy is right on that one!

“Hay, yeah, that sounds like a great idea.” Dash said. She idly looped over their heads. Ardi’s relief turned to cold wet ashes inside as she said, “I mean, sure, he didn’t do so great with that whole dragon migration, and he drove AJ nuts that one time, but he’s gotta be right sometime, right?” Dash circled and flew off, calling back, “I’ll see you guys later!”

“Guess that’s that. ‘See ya later, Rarity.” Applejack trotted off down the road towards her farm, casting a long and distorted shadow in the afternoon sunlight. She stopped and looked back. “And hey, now, don’t go takin’ ma little sis ta see any movies that give her nightmares.” She rounded a corner and was gone.

Don’t take your little sister to any scary movies, sure, Ardi thought as he headed back for the Boutique. He was only dimly aware of other ponies nearby as he trotted along, vaguely happy that he remembered to move in pony fashion as he mumbled to himself, “Oh, of course, Applejack. No need to scare the foals with movies when there’s a hungry dragon out there looking to eat me. Unless I run, and then it eats the whole town, and I end up stuck inside a mare-suit for the rest of my life. So now I have to ask that little purple scaly for help.”

“Maybe I’d have been better off just letting it eat me back when this all first started!”

* * *

Unnoticed by Rarity, or rather the Changeling in her form, Spike set his newspaper down and stared after her. He’d gotten close enough to hear some of her muttering. Or at least the scary part about her “eating the whole town.”

“It’s worse than I thought,” Spike said with a shudder. “The changelings are gonna eat Ponyville! Just like in Changeling Apocalypse!” He clapped a scaly hand over his mouth when he realized he’d almost yelled the last part. Glancing around, he saw that nopony seemed to have noticed. Okay, okay, he thought, it said something about scaring the foals, and Applejack told her – it – to be careful at the movies with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. That must mean that’s where it’s gonna replace them with Changelings!

Spike hurried off to get everything he’d need for when he revealed that Changeling in front of the whole town later. And then, Rarity my love, your heroic Spike will have saved you!

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