• Published 20th Oct 2015
  • 1,969 Views, 163 Comments

Norrath, Earth, Equestria. A Construct's Journey - Nimnul

A strange construct, or fancy golem, is displaced to Equestria. But Landshark is no servant, no mere automaton. She claims to be a renegade Bellikos. What and Who is she, and why does she just want to settle down quietly now?

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Walking, Talking

Landshark had at one point suggested that Lyra should meet her old friends in the presence of her parents if she really needed support, but apparently that wasn't what was going to happen. Perhaps it was a question of pride. And some people did seem to get embarrassed about their parents at times.

So now Lyra had arranged to meet her friends at a place they had all frequented in the past, and asked that Bon Bon and Landshark show up a little later, after her friends had been properly primed.

"So is making simple things complicated just a unicorn thing or what?"

It was only half a joke, really. Of course, she didn't know that many adult unicorns particularly well, but Lyra had her quirks, Rarity could certainly make clothing into something shockingly complicated, and ponies did occasionally tell stories about Twilight's more neurotic past episodes.

They were just leaving the building Lyra's parents called home. Bon Bon snorted. "I dunno. Probably just like to feel in control." She turned her head to offer a lopsided grin. "That kind of talk can get you written up for sensitivity training, you know?"

Landshark chuckled. "I call 'em as I see 'em. Still, I guess I've seen few enough that I can still change my mind."

They were halfway down the street to the next corner when one of the few pedestrians suddenly addressed Bon Bon, rather imperiously, at that. It was a unicorn mare with a grey coloration which set Landshark completely adrift when it came to guessing her age. She wore a lot of silver jewelry, inset with small pieces of a mineral that the construct couldn't immediately identify. Not gems, at least. The construct gave her some credit for the restraint.

"You there! Where'd you get that servant?"

Well, that was bound to happen eventually, Landshark supposed. This was a very magical city, so maybe the assumption wasn't absolutely outlandish. She resisted the urge to peer closely at Bon Bon to figure out what about the earth pony suggested she was wealthy enough to keep her own service personnel. She rested her gaze on the unicorn, which sometimes unsettled ponies but was having absolutely no effect at the moment. She hinged her jaws open slightly. Still nothing. Some people were just hard to shake.

Bon Bon put on her best smile and shook her head. "Oh, that's not a servant. Why would you even think that, Miss ... ?"

"I am Lady Ivora Ferra Pyrite, you'd do well to remember that." The unicorn stated this loudly before she gave Landshark a critical look. "Having a servant construct with tool-using appendages would only make sense for those ponies with neither magic nor the claws of a griffon, wouldn't you agree?"

The look became more appraising. Maybe the unicorn was wondering if constructs had to get paid or would labor for free.

Bon Bon seemed to have every intention to handle the exchange herself, so Landshark kept quiet to wait and see. "Lady Pyrite? I've heard the name. Still, I'm afraid my friend here is completely unique." Apparently the earth pony had chosen to ignore the barb about not having magic, or fingers. "She's got her own mind like anypony else, and her own job."

"Sure do," Landshark agreed with a nod. "Sorry to disappoint you."

The unicorn raised an eyebrow. Her looks she was giving Landshark and Bon Bon didn't turn much friendlier, and she seemed to lose interest immediately "Well, I do apologize if I gave offense. I hope you enjoy your stay in our fair city." Apparently considering the conversation over, she strode off, head held high.

The earth pony's sunny smile turned into a more subtle and natural version of itself. "Huh, she actually apologized. I was about to take a cheap shot at her over the rent thing." She smirked and lowered her voice before continuing. "I'd bet hard cash a minor noble like her wouldn't want to leave the impression that she has money problems."

They continued on their way. "Don't stare, but there's always a bunch of old timers pony-watching from the windows, and the doorstallions have keen ears and pass on gossip for tips." She smiled with fondness. "Lyra's mother has a really weird fascination with gossiping. She doesn't spread anything around herself, but she just loves keeping track of it, like one of those nature researchers observing a pack of apes or something. I think she has it written down how long it took to get around that her only daughter is into mares."

"Huh, that is pretty weird. I can see why Lyra might not think too highly of Canterlot, if that's how the game is played here." Landshark twitched her jaw in her usual smile. "If Enny doesn't spread anything around, it's better you didn't bring up anything you heard from her. But that lady was pretty rude with the bit about not having magic."

Bon Bon grimaced. "Eh. Canterlot snob, daughter of snobs. I'm willing to see her as a acceptable sort for apologizing to you even if she was haughty. And you know how high strung Lyra's been lately. No need to aggravate her. Enny's going to get me all caught up while Lyra and her dad see the play tomorrow. And I bet she'll just love cataloguing whatever rumors start flying about you in this street."

"Well, maybe it'll actually work out with Pyrite. Enny seems like a forgiving sort."

"You don't know the half of it." She seemed somewhat embarrassed and continued with a blush. "I like spending time with her, and there's always a funny story. Not that I really care, honestly. I don't know any of these neighbors. I just like to listen to her talk while we bake." She hummed, apparently in thought. "I guess it wouldn't quite work on you ..."

Bon Bon was struggling for words. "I dunno how to describe it. She knows how to make a pony feel at home." She sighed. "I dunno what magic that is, but Lyra's got it too, when she's not worrying so much. Hopefully she'll be back to normal once things are sorted with her friends."

"You should tell that to Enny. That whole thing. She'd appreciate hearing that her daughter takes after her in that regard. I'll wager Lyra won't mind hearing it either."

Landshark supposed it was probably some sort of parental skill or attribute. It probably wasn't anything Ditzy didn't also do for her daughter, for example. Landshark wasn't particularly receptive to that sort of thing, but she could appreciate the effects. She remembered how Lyra had helped calm Bon Bon down after a brief argument before heading to Twilight's palace. She wondered if that had been the last time Lyra had had sufficient peace of mind to comfort Bon Bon like that.

In Landshark's estimation, Bon Bon wouldn't mind being there for Lyra to lean on for support, it just so happened that the timing was poor, and the earth pony was often not doing particularly well for herself either.

"Hm. Suppose I will."

It was a bit of a walk to their destination, and Landshark decided to make some small talk on the way. "I ever tell you the story of the time I got petrified?"

"No. You haven't talked much about your old job. Mostly about your old friends."

"Yeah ... funny story about that. It's not about my old job."

Trying to collect useful plants in the Everfree to make a few quick bits had been a bust. Sure, most animals left her alone, and she didn't have to worry about poison or any such thing, but she hadn't found much of anything useful. She wasn't particularly at home in the great outdoors.

In the interest of being honest with herself, she hadn't expected much. She had heard that the town already had something of an Everfree expert in Zecora. It had been a convenient excuse for an excursion into the forest, though. The way ponies talked about the Everfree had really made her curious.

Unfortunately she had been a little too convinced that her construct nature would be all the advantage she would need. It wasn't like getting mauled by some large monster was going to kill her, although it would have been a severe inconvenience.

Now she was slowly trudging towards Fluttershy's cottage, a thrashing sack slung over her shoulder. She ignored curious stares from various critters and knocked on the door.

"Hey, Fluttershy!" She hoped her voice didn't sound too different from normal. "I got an animal problem here!"

Eventually the door opened slightly. Fluttershy was a good sort, lots of empathy for others, but she was easily frightened, and the construct was showing up unannounced, after all.

Perhaps it was a bit rude, but Landshark didn't feel like waiting for pleasantries. "Would killing a cockatrice undo petrification?"

"K-Killing? No!" Well, that seemed to have gotten Fluttershy's attention. "It's not something they maintain. But they can undo it!"

Landshark nodded to herself before pushing the door open. Fluttershy scrambled backwards in surprise. Probably hadn't expected the construct to be quite so intrusive.

"I guess somebody's in luck, then!" Landshark set the sack down heavily. She gave the interior of the cottage a cursory glance, her eyes audibly grinding in their sockets. "Now that I know biting off its head won't help, maybe you can convince this thing to turn me back? I mean, they tell me animals are your thing." She closed the door behind her. "Should I let it out, or is that too dangerous for you?"

Fluttershy exhaled a sigh that seemed weary. "Y-yes, let it out. I'll be fine." She peered at the construct with open curiosity. Well, as open as possible, from behind her mane. "Are you alright?"

The construct shrugged. "Yeah, I'm okay. I don't care for all the extra friction." The construct bent her wrist and balled her fist. "This rock isn't smooth enough." She chuckled. "Bet this little bastard was real surprised when I snatched him up and bagged him. I guess turning someone into rock doesn't feel so smart if the rock still moves."

Fluttershy watched the cockatrice throw off the bag it had been trapped in. "We've been over this before," she chided gently. "If you turn my friend back, I'll let it slide, you've never seen one like her before, after all."

Although Landshark wouldn't have any qualms about wringing the weird chicken monster's neck, it seemed generally more apprehensive about the pegasus. It didn't require much coaxing to undo the construct's petrification.

"Excellent. Thanks Fluttershy." She glared down at the beast. "As for you, next time you try any funny business, I really will bite your head off."

"I'm sure that won't be necessary!" Fluttershy hurried the cockatrice to the door. "Go straight home. If you pick on any ponies, I will know."

Fluttershy had sounded stern, but now she turned back to the construct and offered a small smile. "I appreciate you coming here instead of just killing it and asking Twilight to fix you with magic."

Landshark shrugged and made sure to sound amused. "No problem, but I'd appreciate if we could keep this between us two, alright?"

Bon Bon was laughing briefly, but with genuine joy, then shook her head. "I guess it makes some sense, that it wouldn't stop you."

The construct was glad her embarrassing anecdote had served to lighten the mood.

"Well, I've got no fluids to circulate, nothing that needs to bend or flex or twist. No delicate meat brain. You might say I'm a solid-state creature. Didn't do any favors for my agility at the time, of course."

There had obviously been the risk that being petrified would just turn all her joints into uniform masses. That would have been rather unfortunate, although Landshark was certain that, given time, her nature would have reasserted itself. She was a divine creation, after all, an animal's magic trick wouldn't stop her for good, she was sure.

"Well, hope you learned your lesson about getting cocky regarding the Everfree." Bon Bon seemed to work a kink out of her neck. "So, what's the worst damage you took on the job, then?"

This seemed like some sort of new step, however minor, in their friendship. They had never really offered, or asked for specific anecdotes. Still, Landshark was happy to offer an answer. "Tough question. There were a few times I had to be glued back together. Once I got impaled through the chest by a metal spike and pinned to a wall. By the time I'd worked myself loose my section had been evacuated from the area. It worked out okay, though."

She tapped her fingers on her upper arm. "Was a time I was stuck doing desk work for a few weeks when they were sawing me open and reinforcing me with metal, bit by bit. That was rather invasive, on the whole, but ultimately went some ways towards making up for the fact that being away from the Underfoot diminished me physically. I used to be pretty easy to dismember." She shrugged. "My joints are still weaker than I'd like but it's better than nothing."

Making sure no bystanders were in range, she swung one of her arms back and forth in an exaggerated motion before dropping it to her side again. "I kind of like the extra heft. That's the weight of cutting-edge metallurgy, resists corrosion, heat and a great deal of force, at least along the major limbs. All without adding further magic."

"Hm. Suppose if you hate your creator, it's easy to be happy about deviating from the blueprint." Bon Bon cracked another crooked grin. "I think ponies would worry about all sorts of existential questions if they started improving their own bodies like that. There's only the one of you here, so I guess no one could tell anyway that you're not quite factory spec."

"Pretty much." It had been necessary to be entirely positive about the modifications. Incorporating them into her self-image was a prerequisite, otherwise her essential nature might reject the additions, their presence impeding her natural recovery from damage. "I'm not immune to that sort of thinking. I like my form, and consider it normal. I would have difficulty accepting modifications that change my appearance too greatly. But reinforcing my structure improves on the First's design, which is immensely satisfying." She hesitated. "But what about you? You don't look like a real grizzled vet, you know. Not to the average observer, I mean."

"Heh. Perk of the job. Excellent medical care. I took my share of damage, just never anything career-ending. I bounce back pretty well, anyway." She hummed to herself, seemingly in thought.

Landshark was nearly ready to assume that Bon Bon wasn't going to share an anecdote when the mare spoke up again. "We were on a mission down in the Hayseed Swamps, doing a bit of sweep and clear, make the edges less dangerous for ponies gathering useful herbs, push some more problematic beasts deeper into the swamp. Solid mission, everyone survived, but it was no picnic. Some giant leech thing spat on me before we killed it."

The earth pony grinned again, seemingly not bothered by the memory. "Tried to wash it off, but apparently that stuff'll soak right through your skin before the real trouble starts. I took my share of damage, yeah. Turns out, nothing delivers solid, scream yourself hoarse pain like a proper chemical burn, in my experience. Sidelined me but good. A lot of healing magic went into fixing me up."

"Hm. Excellent medical care is one way to make a dangerous job more palatable, we had that as part of the benefits package as well." The construct had very limited experience with pain, but it seemed that some people could look back on memories of purely physical pain without much difficulty, or trade stories to see who had experienced worse, in previous encounters. To some people, surviving physical damage was a mark of pride. Of course, she hadn't exactly worked with a useful average cross-section of the human population, so she tried to avoid generalizing.

"I guess physically, you got lucky. You got all your limbs and no immediately obvious scars." She hummed."I guess that might have been kind of a trite observation. Sorry."

Bon Bon snorted. "Don't worry. I do appreciate my health, you know." She shook her head. "Anyway. You brought cards?"

"Sure did. You think those girls play?"

Landshark hadn't played poker in some time. Her Ponyville friends seemed to prefer shedding games, which was alright. The construct had no preference.

"Well, only one way to find out. If not, we just teach 'em something harmless." Bon Bon shrugged. It had been her idea to help break the ice, as it were. It would give them something to do while making introductions or exchanging stories. It would also provide something else to focus on besides her and Landshark, although the construct didn't usually mind curious scrutiny.

The donut joint was spacious, to say the least. Everything just a little fancier than she had expected from an establishment like this. Round tables spread throughout the room and lots of floor space were unexpected. Landshark had imagined something vaguely cramped with rows of booths along the walls to use space more efficiently. She didn't have much experience with eateries beyond cafeterias. This place looked a little more fancy just by being less concerned with maximizing space efficiency.

They entered, and the stallion at the counter looked suitably surprised. Bon Bon raised a hoof in a small wave of greeting. "Hey Joe. Been a long time."

If anything, the stallion looked even more surprised after a moment of scrutiny. "Huh. It's the ghost from the back corner. Figured you'd had a heart attack or found some other way to kill yourself with coffee." He squinted, then smiled. He seemed to appreciate what he saw. "Glad you seem to be getting three square meals a day lately. Good on ya."

Landshark had spotted Lyra and four other unicorns at one of the tables. Lyra was waving and evidently pointing her and Bon Bon out to her other friends. Still, the earth pony approached the counter first.

"Name's Bon Bon, by the way." Genuine happiness swung in her voice. "Sorry for being bad company, back then. Life turned around, and I moved away."

"Excellent, now I can stop thinking of you as Candyflanks. Yeah, those were dark days indeed, when you stopped coming around. Pretty sure your coffee habit helped me with my last mortgage payments."

Bon Bon raised an eyebrow. "You sure you didn't use those funds to fancy the place up? Looking real nice. Anyway, just figured I'd introduce myself."

"Sure, sure," Joe grinned. "It's the least you could do after we spent so much time ... uh ... existing in the same building. Serving you coffee. Yeah, apology accepted, you were terrible company. And now you keep some odd company?" He turned an inquisitive look upon the construct.

"Yeah, name's Landshark. Long story. I live in Ponyville, in case that helps." Landshark shrugged. "Sorry I won't be ordering anything for myself."

"Ah, Crazytown, Equestria. Say no more." He seemed indeed satisfied by the sparse information and nodded at Bon Bon. "Anyway, nice to see you didn't just graduate to a bar when you left. You ladies enjoy yourself."

The place seemed a little too bright for anyone in a sour mood to actively seek it out, but maybe the coffee and donuts were just that good, Landshark supposed. Bon Bon had said on multiple occasions that she didn't much care for sleep, so a coffee habit wasn't wholly surprising.

Bon Bon put on a placid smile and moseyed up to Lyra's table. Landshark had observed in the past that the earth pony rarely hurried unless it was absolutely necessary. This time around the leisurely movement probably also made the earth pony seem more approachable. She didn't appear particularly worried about meeting this group of ponies.

Landshark also approached. As Bon Bon and Lyra briefly nuzzled one another, the construct took the initiative in introducing herself. She inclined her head in a nod. "Ladies. I'm Landshark. Blacksmith in exile, if you will." She sat down on one of the pony seats. Bon Bon had seated herself as well.

The unicorn mares introduced themselves in turn. Lemon Hearts, Minuette, Moondancer and Twinkleshine. Landshark didn't expect any difficulties telling them apart. With the exception of Moondancer, the lot of them seemed a little more giggly than Landshark was used to from her own friends.

Minuette and Moondancer appeared to take an immediate interest in her construct nature. The blue one seemed impressed by the working of her finger joints, the one with the glasses expressed interest in the method of her animation.

That wasn't unexpected, and perhaps something Lyra had hoped would happen, but the construct didn't think it was ideal. She placed her hands onto the edge of the table and shook her head. "Look, I understand your curiosity, but please keep your magic to yourself. I'm told you're friends with Twilight too. I'm sure she'd love to tell you some of what she knows about me. It's not particularly secret, but this isn't the time nor the place."

Landshark wasn't normally averse to talking about herself, of course.

"Heh, I still remember that day we agreed to be friends," Lyra spoke up with a grin. "You laid out the unicorn ground rule, no telekinesis unless it's an emergency or you bite the horn off."

Landshark nodded severely. "It served me well, so far." She raised one of her hands slightly to point at Lyra. "Of course, there did end up being an emergency and you did help carry me to Twilight's palace for some repair work." With a shrug, she added, "I just feel strongly about being restrained or manipulated from afar."

Bon Bon nodded in apparent understanding. "Yeah. Isn't the only one who tried to put you down by magic dead now?"

Landshark had never actually flinched and didn't have much experience faking it, so she didn't bother this time. She would have preferred not to have that one brought up, however. Not on a first meeting. Apparently Bon Bon was willing to play it a bit blunt, though. "That was a clear case of self-defense, in my own home, and protecting another innocent." She crossed her arms. "Regrettable all around."

Even people willing to accept that she was a real person and not just a machine sometimes reacted oddly to the knowledge that Landshark could, in fact, take lives. Perhaps some of them carried a subconscious assumption that she would have some manner of hardwired directive to prevent violence, or at least to value organic life over her own. Finding out that this wasn't necessarily the case could cause some disquiet.

Of course Landshark valued the lives of others very highly, but that was more of a personal standard she had set, to be modified or ignored in situations where it did not apply.

Still, dealing with that sort of person was preferable to the types which simply wouldn't believe a machine could be a moral person in the first place. She hadn't been raised a god/celestia-fearing proper citizen after all.

This world had a lot of weird creatures and cultures in it, so it seemed a lot of ponies were willing to assume that the construct was a good, or at least rational sort with very little prompting, which was to their credit.

The revelation seemed to have stopped the periodic giggling, for the moment. Landshark supposed Bon Bon couldn't possibly leave a worse first impression than that. Awkward silence threatened the table until Lyra spoke up again.

"Well, anyway," Lyra's grin didn't waver. "Let's not dwell on it. Shark's a good sort, don't be fooled. This, though, is Bon Bon. She's ... she's my marefriend."

Reactions varied. Twinkleshine seemed vaguely disappointed. Minuette grinned widely while Lemonshine checked a notepad she had magically pulled from a set of saddlebags leaning against her seat. She frowned. "Looks like Minuette wins the mystery marefriend pool. Time to pay up, Twinkle." Lemonshine herself put the notepad away and started counting out a stack of bits. "Couldn't have waited another couple of weeks to finally introduce us? But no hard feelings, Lyra. It's nice to meet you, Bon Bon." She giggled, again.

Moondancer seemed confused. Apparently she hadn't been in on the betting pool.

Lyra grimaced. Her emotions seemed to conflict, and it was hard to tell quite what she felt. "You knew I had a marefriend?"

Shaking her head, Moondancer was first to answer. "I didn't. But yes, nice to meet you, Bon Bon."

"Oh yeah," Minuette was counting her winnings. "I mean, at some point it was the only reasonable explanation, right? Just because you never invited us to your house whenever we were in Ponyville doesn't mean we're dense, yes?"

"Yeah," Twinkleshine giggled, disappointment over her loss apparently forgotten. "And we'd seen Bon Bon once or twice when you had one of your small gigs here in Canterlot." She frowned briefly. "And there's not that many candy stores in Ponyville either. That's yours, right?"

"That's right. And I just really don't like train rides," Bon Bon threw in, probably to explain why she wasn't seen in Canterlot more often.

Lemon Hearts smiled. "If you were meaning to keep it a real secret, it was kind of a cheap effort, but since we were only meeting you infrequently, it wasn't really our place to push." She shrugged and sounded apologetic, almost. "Getting introduced to her this year was honestly the long-odds bet. Not that I expect Minuette to complain about the bits."

"Ugh!" Lyra threw up her hooves, then rested her head, face down, on the table top. "I feel like a buckin' idiot. Go on, laugh it up. I know you wanna." She sounded choked up, perhaps on the verge of weeping.

It was intensely awkward. Nobody seemed immediately willing to deny that the situation had seemed humorous to them. Most ponies probably were terrible liars anyway. Bon Bon reacted first, pulling Lyra into a hug. "C'mon, Lyra. It's fine. We're all friends here, right?"

The nature of Lyra's reaction had clearly caught the other unicorns off guard. They nodded along with Bon Bon and offered muttered agreements, but seemed unsure of the situation, as far as Landshark could tell.

"Twilight took an interest," the construct started without preamble. "She thought you were not sufficiently part of Lyra's life, and that Lyra and Bon Bon were socially isolated. Twilight's reaction to Bon here was easily mistaken for a negative one, initially." She shrugged. "The opinion of an alicorn, the Princess of Friendship, even, has considerable weight, it seems. It caused Lyra stress."

She had their attention now and droned on. "Arguably an overreaction, but no less real, a whole mess of fears and doubts were kicked loose. Was it the right choice to abandon Canterlot for then-insignificant Ponyville? Her heart belongs to a mare, and an earth pony. How were Canterlot unicorns going to react? She resolved to introduce Bon Bon to you to appease Twilight, but that didn't make the fear go away again."

Landshark stood up and snapped her jaw. "Well, surely you can reassure her? I'll be back in a minute."

Striding over to the counter once more, she emitted a sigh. "We're going to need more coffee and donuts, Joe. Put together a good mix, please."

As the construct was counting out bits, Joe apparently couldn't ignore his curiosity. "Everything alright there?"

"Hm. I feel like rolling my eyes but I don't know quite about what. Organics? Civilians? Ponies in general? Unicorns? City folk, maybe."

She really didn't want to be uncharitable here, but it was hard not to feel that Lyra had been overly worried and probably, by implication, done her old friends a disservice by shying away from introducing them to Bon Bon.

Being hesitant about social contacts was something she could understand in Bon Bon, because she had observed former colleagues deal with some of the same difficulties. She had no real context for the spouses of people like that. It was impossible to know whether Lyra had always been less confident than she appeared, or if the stress of living with Bon Bon had been wearing away at her. However, by now Landshark had accepted that the unicorn hadn't been joking when she claimed, during one of their first meetings, that her fear of the unknown was less developed than her social anxieties.

"Mares, maybe? I guess some unicorns can get pretty neurotic." He smiled winningly. "Not me, though. Maybe it's from too much education? I'll get you your coffee and donuts in a minute."

"Heh, who knows. Thanks Joe." She stood and waited while trying to listen to the conversation at their table.

Minuette seemed to be explaining that it was kind of silly to worry about not having finished the school for gifted unicorns. "Yeah, if I hadn't gotten to know these girls here, my education would have been a waste of time. I'm a workforce management-slash-shedule optimization consultant. It's about as boring as it sounds to everypony else and it rides pretty much entirely on my cutie mark."

There was more giggling. "Sounds riveting," Bon Bon deadpanned.

The blue unicorn stuck out her tongue. "Well, it pays the bills and it's not nearly as stressful as Lemon's job here. Event-management at the castle?" She shuddered.

"Some of us thrive under pressure, okay? Plus I get to see all sorts of important ponies and other beings!" She winked at Lyra. "That's how I knew Twilight had been to Canterlot a whooole bunch of times before thinking of checking in on us for the first time. Your track record is a lot better than that, Lyra."

Eventually Joe returned with a large plate full of donuts, which Landshark took from him with a nod. "Go on ahead, I'll be right along with the coffee."

"Right on." Returning to the table and setting the plate down, she bowed. "More donuts, ladies." She seated herself and listened further.

"Besides, you shouldn't take what Twilight said so hard. I mean, she barely ever gave us the time of day anyway until she moved away and made new friends, it's hardly her place to comment on how we're running our lives." Twinkleshine shrugged. "To be fair, it's nice having 'Dancer back on the team. Credit to Twilight on that one," she concluded with a brief giggle.

"I'll admit I'm glad I gave this friendship thing a second chance." Moondancer smiled wryly. "I don't have high expectations of frequent contact with Twilight, but it's nice to be back. I wish I'd seen sooner what I had with you lot instead of throwing in the towel because of her."

"Not that you actually spend any less of your time with your nose in a book," Twinkleshine joked. "You just answer the door now when we drop by."

"Good to know Moony's still Moony. Real pleasant surprise when I heard about you being back." Lyra seemed to be in the process of recovering, but her eyes still appeared moist, and she was pressing herself into Bon Bon's hug. "I was just ... I was real terrified I might have to choose. And between Bonny and you girls, you'd lose. But it'd hurt real bad."

"Maybe you're an idiot," Bon Bon quietly murmured. "But you're our idiot. My idiot." She eyed the other unicorns while slowly stroking Lyra's mane. "Truth is, a lot of the time I'd rather be at home. And I can get into awful bad moods."

The earth pony smiled, love and pride evident. "Lyra's done so much for me. I'm not always good at giving back."

"Bonny, I-"

"Shhh." Bon Bon silenced her partner gently. "It's okay, Lyra." Turning her attention back to the other ponies, she continued, "I think she really needs you. Needs some friends we don't both see every day. Lyra, you can't just keep sitting on it when I'm bein' frustrating. You need somepony to blow off steam with, and you won't do it with our Ponyville friends." The look she was giving the other ponies turned pleading. "I need her, but she needs to learn to be better to herself."

Landshark held hope that in the future, Lyra would be more open to simply doing things by herself, for herself. With the training of Bon's service dog nearing completion, the unicorn should feel considerably less obligated to stay with Bon Bon so much. Hopefully Lyra would be willing to take trips to Canterlot more frequently then, whether for her music, her friends, or her parents.

That ultimately harmless run-in Bon Bon had had with Luna while Lyra was in Canterlot probably had not precisely encouraged the unicorn to leave Bon Bon alone and do something for herself every so often. At the very least, the memory of the event might have seemed darker once Lyra had begun to slide into this mess of doubt.

"I feel like somepony should be offended that you trusted us so little," Moondancer mused before cracking a smile. "But since everypony just welcomed Twilight and me back into the fold, let's just call it water under the bridge."

"Yeah, c'mon Lyra, cheer up!" Minuette was grinning fiercely. "You're always so vague when you write. We've been bridesmaids and mindslaves together! We got a connection, girl, and I'd never turn my nose up at you! So, feel free to tell us all about Bon Bon here in your next letters, good and bad."

Minuette seemed to have exuberant energy to spare, even faced with the uncomfortable situation in progress. "I'd love to meet your other friends too!"

Lyra seemed to be, tentatively, finding back to her usual grin, rubbing the last tears from her eyes. It was Bon Bon who spoke up first, however.

"Really wish I'd been there for that. I really wasn't in shape for a train ride and major festivities, that week." She sighed, but seemed to be remembering an old pain she had since come to terms with. "Felt like I let you down, but not much I could've done."

Finally she drew back from Lyra and gave the unicorn a playful shove. "Stop letting me be a dang millstone 'round your neck. I'm not going to worry you'll run off just because you spend more time away from me. I'm a grown mare, I can handle it. Especially with the friends we made this year."

Lyra sat up a little straighter. "Okay. Okay. I think I'm ... better. Thanks, everypony, Shark." Her voice was still unsteady and worry creased her forehead. "Wake me up if I start coming apart like that again. Bonny, I love our life. I'm not going to make any big changes. I'm not going to go looking for a music career." She offered a crooked grin. "Ambition's for suckers, I got everything I'll ever need right around me, right?"

"Well, that still doesn't do you any good if you won't reach out to it, silly." Twinkleshine giggled again and held out a hoof. "C'mon, let's feel some metal."

Lyra leaned forward and bumped hooves, or rather shoes, with her friend, although this immediately caused the remaining three unicorns to hold out their hooves expectantly. It forced Lyra to actually get up to reach all of them and made the proceedings seem a bit like a silly ritual, but Landshark would be the last person to complain about that. Eventually, Lyra settled down again. "Thanks for the patience, girls. Sometimes it's hard to shut up these dumb fears. I'll have to work at it."

"I'm glad you got that out of your system." Landshark failed to specify whether she was referring to the hoofbumps or Lyra's near-crying, reaching into a pocket for a deck of cards. "Don't suppose you ladies play poker? Gives us something to do while you catch up or get to know us."

Lemonshine nodded, looking serious. "Sure we do. Nothing fancy, nothing exotic. Five-card draw, no weird rural house rules or anything." She smiled. "No offense, I just don't know how they do it in Ponyville."

"I don't know," Bon Bon frowned, drawing her vowels out slightly into a subtle drawl. "We usually don't play poker."

That was the honest truth, of course, but the way she said it added certain implications about Bon Bon's level of proficiency that might not be entirely true.

"True," Landshark agreed evenly, sliding the stack of cards across the table to Lyra. "But you and Lyra can afford to fritter away a few bits. I'd feel pretty horrible about Ditzy losing money, you know her awful luck. Wouldn't feel right suggesting it. Besides, some pony only recently got off my back about keeping my bits together, right?"

"Oh, don't worry on that front," Twinkleshine assured them. "We keep the stakes low."

Lyra picked up the cards with her magic and started shuffling, concentrating on the mix of telekinesis and illusions to make her hand projections look natural. The trick drew appreciation from the other unicorns, and Lyra seemed to be enjoying the praise. As she was shuffling, she suddenly started to smirk. "By the way. Humans? Totally real after all. Just ask Shark here."

There was some eye-rolling among her old friends, but everyone seemed to take the claim with good humor. Landshark expected she'd have to talk a little about Earth while they played. She could think of worse things. Hopefully this whole thing was simply going to be a pleasant evening with friends now that Bon Bon had been formally introduced and Lyra was done feeling stupid. "Does it really count if they exist in some essentially unobservable other reality?"

Author's Note:

I'm assuming the mirror portal to Canterlot High is kept secret, of course.

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