• Published 24th Nov 2017
  • 8,065 Views, 500 Comments

Who Told You This Was A Good Idea?! - Bender Alpha

After 1000 years of tyranny and despair, one mare attempts to unleash ultimate evil, in a desperate bid to save her people and lead them to a brighter future. What she gets is not quite as advertised on the box.

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Chapter 6 - Who's buying the next round?

Most of the rest of that day was taken up with trying to force the sudden burst of comprehension from earlier to remanifest. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work again. Even the passage about Howl’s Moving Castle—the existence of which still has me convinced that pony naming conventions are some sort of big, cosmic pun, despite the vehement opposition of certain “intellectual” ponies—had devolved into illegible glyphs, interspersed with the occasional English word. Instead, I focused on helping Starlight out, browsing through the pictures in between bouts of labor.

The work was certainly just that: hard, mindless labor. Each bundle of witchwood bark required us to gather from three or four trees, so as not to take too much from any single trunk. The best bark stuck to the trees like dollar bills to a conservative’s wallet. Several times, I had to thoroughly probe the trees to find even a pinhole-sized fault to exploit. But we worked hard and the witchwood trees weren’t terribly uncommon, such that by late afternoon of the second day, we had gathered the assigned amount.

That evening, I helped Starlight forage up some edible plants and roots for a vegetable stew, and lit the campfire again, since she was magically exhausted. As she was eating, I decided it was time to move forward with my plans.

“I’m heading back to Ponyville tonight. It’s time.”

Starlight nearly choked on her stew, but remained silent for a time, even after regaining her composure.

“Already, huh?”

“The longer I wait, the more likely it becomes that it will be connected to you.”

“Alright, just… promise you’ll be careful. I don’t know if I’ll be able to help you if you get caught.”

A couple hours and a solemn promise later, Starlight had fallen asleep on a bed of dry leaves we had collected. I made to leave, but concern held me back. I didn’t really want to leave her, but this couldn’t wait until she returned to town; that would defeat the purpose. Instead, I settled for a little surveillance. I wasn’t sure it would work at long distances, but all the same, I left a pea-sized blob of myself stuck to Starlight’s back, letting it settle into her coat. I felt slightly guilty, like I was wiping my snot-goblins off on her, but it was the only way I could feel some semblance of reassurance. Worries partially assuaged, I rolled silently out of camp.

Once I was out of earshot, I abandoned all pretense of stealth. The sooner I got back to town, the better. With a little experimentation, I learned I could increase the transparency of my goo. That way, I could suspend my eyes at the center of my mass and turn myself into a living Superball. I rolled faster and faster until it felt like I was moving at speeds generally reserved for stock car racers and certain species of freaky, blue hedgehog. Trees whipped past me at an alarming pace. However, the first one that I couldn’t quite turn fast enough to avoid taught me that high-speed impacts meant absolutely nothing to a being that could almost literally turn itself into rubber.

I would have laughed out loud when I ricocheted off the trunk, had I retained my vocal cords. Instead, I gleefully rebounded off of a few trees before remembering my purpose. As I continued back towards town, I realized I didn’t have to worry so much about avoiding obstacles.

The moon had barely moved in the sky by the time the walls of Ponyville were in my sight. I looked down at the town like I would a moldy piece of bread. There was disgust for the state of things, yes, but there was potential, too. All it needed was the right catalyst. Tonight would be my first step in becoming that catalyst. Perhaps someday soon, I would be able to begin working on a social penicillin.

The guard had nearly been doubled, but I also had the advantage of darkness. The light breeze rustling the grass wasn’t unwelcome either. I doubted even the sharp-eyed guard from before would have an easy time spotting me. As I rolled down the hill, I used the motion to roll out my body like an unshaped pretzel. It was time to don the Verdant Snake guise once more.

Shut up! I think it’s a cool name.

Anyway, I finished morphing into my snake disguise just as I reached the bottom of the hill. I crested the next small rise cautiously, gauging whether my little stunt had been noticed at all. I saw no evidence that an alarm had been raised, nor any undue attention directed my way. I grinned—a move that likely would have deeply unsettled any onlookers, had there been any—and slithered forward.

I slipped past the guard so easily, I almost cried. The gate guards were positioned too far forward, sitting directly before the gate, rather than just behind it. I was able to slip around the inside of the arch without even needing a distraction. Navigating the backstreets of Ponyville once more allowed me to slip past the patrolling guards with ease. All in all, I had reached the walls of Silverglow Academy without breaking a sweat. Not that I could sweat if I wanted to.

I couldn’t help but glare up at the cold masonry. This was supposed to be a place of learning, of cultivating the next generation, bettering its students in order to better the world. Instead, it had just become another cesspool of affluence, a place for the sons and daughters of the elite to flaunt their wealth. Well, it was about time their boastful and disparaging natures came back to bite them in the ass.

The bricks scrolled past me like a list of sins. I pondered my approach as I climbed the wall. Most likely, the teachers and wealthiest live-in students resided on the top floor—the fifth. If I had time, I would search the fourth floor as well. When I finally reached one of the fifth-floor windows, I peeked inside.

The window led to an empty, dark hallway, lit only by wall-mounted candle sconces and what little light filtered in from outside. Anxious to get out of sight, I silently squeezed a pseudopod beneath the crack and undid the latch. Then, in order to avoid making noise, I coated the inside of the window frame track with my slime before I pushed the lower panes upwards. They slid up with nary a squeak.

Quickly, I heaved the bulk of my goo inside before closing the window behind me. The halls remained still and silent the entire time. I rolled over to the right side of the hall—the closer of the two corners—and peered around the edge. No one in that direction, either. I grinned. The coast was clear, at least for now. With that, I approached the first door in line.

Unsurprisingly, the top floor doors had tumbler locks. A brief probing of the side of the door frame revealed a slide latch as well. The slide latch was easily dealt with, simply by reaching through the crack and pulling it aside, and the tumbler locks were only slightly trickier. I simply flooded the mechanism, using my goo to circumvent the bottom pins and push the top ones out of the lock. Then, I could freely turn the lock. A process that took all of about five seconds to do silently. Once unlocked, I reached through the other side of the door frame to grease the hinges, and I was golden.

Almost literally, even.

Serendipity must have been keeping an eye on me, because the first room I entered housed the same boorish stallion that had been manning the desk at the library. His room was just as gaudy as his fashion sense. Silken tapestries and rugs lined the walls and covered the floors, opulent furniture crammed into nearly every space in between. Mirrors, bowls, drinking glasses, candelabras; everything was either made of or heavily featured precious minerals and metals of all kinds. Material wealth was on display every which way I looked, and while it disgusted me morally, my new body’s primal instinct told me I was confronted with a veritable feast. I scarcely knew where to start.

Eventually, I decided that his wardrobe was the second thing I despised after his manners, so I would start there. I moved silently over to his dresser and climbed up on top of it. There, sitting smugly amidst its brethren, was a jewelry box of such nauseating opulence that I couldn’t look away. The thing had to be sculpted out of gold, with pearl inlays and set with precious gems. I opened it to find more of the same: brooches, cufflinks, rings, and amulets lined the felted interior. If this body could have salivated, the dresser-top would have been awash with it. I only hesitated momentarily before swallowing the entire thing.

Now then, I’ve already described the taste of gold, at least according to a Smooze. However, those sensations were but a drop in the bucket compared to the jewelry box I had just inhaled. It wasn’t quite an orgasmic experience, but it came pretty darn close. All told, I had gotten maybe an ounce out of the gold leaf I had stripped from Autumn’s carriage. Put together, that much gold is no bigger than the average table grape. With that jewelry box, I had just eaten the rest of a bunch, plus an assortment of nuts in the form of all the precious stones.

Think of the most satisfying food you’ve ever eaten. Imagine the taste, the texture, the feel of it as it goes down your throat. Now multiply that by the relief you feel with the first drink after a few days of very little water, and add the giddiness of having spun in place for a minute. Then, you’ll have an inkling of how I felt in that moment.

I struggled to remain coherent, focusing all my mental energy on ensuring the digestion process occurred near my core, to keep it silent. By the time I had regained my faculties, I already took up more surface area than the top of his dresser would allow. The rest of the items atop his dresser had already been subsumed, and my body was busy dissolving them too. I had to suppress a giggle, I felt so giddy. In a haze of delight, I began opening drawers, the scrape of wood on wood muffled by a thick layer of jelly. His clothes quickly followed their kin into my boundless “stomach”, recycling cloth and fancy buttons alike. I had to remind myself not to eat the furniture itself; I didn’t have time to digest objects that big. I would just have to content myself with eating the accents off of it.

I was growing quite rapidly at this point. Every bit of precious metal I consumed made me bubble outwards, covering more space and enveloping even more delicious materials. It was a cascade of growth. Before long, I could easily spread myself across the entire floor. Valuables were being swallowed up before I could even take notice. I floated across the room on a euphoric high. Eventually, I ended up in front of the snobby stallion’s trunk at the foot of his bed. With a little more gooey lockpicking, I popped that open as well. What I saw confused me at first, but then made my eyes bulge almost clear out of my mass.

The stupid thing was nearly full to the brim of bags of coins. He must have had close to a thousand gold bits inside, not to mention the silver and platinum. With only a moment of hesitation, I spilled over the edge, letting myself completely envelope the contents of the trunk.

The effect was almost immediate. I began to proliferate so quickly that it probably looked like a pot of pudding had suddenly started boiling over. Torrents of goo spilled over the edge of the trunk, making the already messed-up room look like it had recently been host to the entirety of the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.

Such a haze clouded my mind that I almost didn’t notice that the stallion had awoken. The only thing that tipped me off was the quiet yelp of fear when he noticed something about his room was amiss. I looked up to see the foppish pony trembling in his silken pajamas, staring wide-eyed in my direction. My mind a jumble, I went with the first thought that came to mind.

I leaned forward from the foot of the bed, looming menacingly over the stallion; a feat helped by my now considerable bulk. Slowly, drunkenly, I brought a tentacle up to my lips and uttered a single sound:


I followed this up with the biggest Cheshire grin I could manage. Upon seeing this, the stallion’s eyes rolled up into his head and he promptly fainted.

After that hiccup, the burglary proceeded smoothly. I was able to enter the next handful of rooms without waking anypony else. A couple of the rooms were modest enough and gave me a good enough impression that I backed out, feeling too guilty to ransack them. As the night progressed, the gold affected me less and less, until it only gave me a pleasant buzz. Eventually, I also came to an absolutely stunning realization.

The more I consumed, the harder it became to fit in the rooms.

Shocking, I know. I realized this when I could no longer fit the whole of my bulk through a doorway at once, even with the door open as far as it could swing. As I sat in the room, passively snatching up even more riches, I pondered what I should do. If I continued like this, it would only be a matter of time before I was caught. I needed to shave off a few dozen pounds, because increasing my density would not help my stealth.

Something caught my eye, and I got an idea. An awful idea. I got a wonderful, awful idea.

It was dangerous. At least it seemed dangerous, but I couldn’t really be sure. I hadn’t actually tested whether or not I was vulnerable to water yet.

“Now’s as good a time as any, I guess,” I murmured to myself.

I had already consumed most of the good materials in the room I was in—some spoiled noble daughter’s—so I rolled over to her private bathroom like a wave at low tide. The door opened easily, and I found myself in yet more luxury. Shelves upon shelves of expensive makeup and intricate styling tools lined the walls. I sneered and snatched up everything in sight. I then turned my eyes on the sink.

The thought of what I was about to try made me mentally queasy, but it was my best chance at an escape route.

I leaned over the sink and peer into the drain. It looked wide enough and didn’t have a cover, so I closed an eye and lowered it towards the drain, watching it with my other eye. My estimation was correct: my eye fit in the wide pipes with room to spare.

I squeezed into the plumbing, one eye following after the other. I kept my eyes dead center, using my morphable form to feel out the shape of the pipes. When I judged that I had gone deep enough, I decided to try something else out.

Glowsticks are made using a glass capsule of hydrogen peroxide inside of a plastic tube, containing a mixture of sodium salicylate, diphenyl oxalate, and a fluorescent dye. When the glass capsule is broken open, the peroxide reacts with the phenyl oxalate ester, yielding two moles of phenol and one mole of peroxyacid ester…

I recited my knowledge of glowstick anatomy in my head, visualizing the process occurring just behind my eyes as I did. After a moment, I opened my leading eye. Lo and behold, the interior of the pipe now glowed a faint green. It made navigating the turns a bit easier, and I silently gave thanks to my chemistry professor for being awesome enough to give us a lab assignment in making our own glowsticks.

Now sporting a light source, I quickly turned the last bend into the drainage pipe, which opened up considerably. I followed the pull of gravity, dragging the rest of my mass down the sink as fast as I safely could. Yard after yard of wrought iron pipe flew past my open eye, until I suddenly found myself floating in darkness. I had exited the drainage pipe into the sewer system. I relaxed slightly. My theory had been correct; thankfully, their plumbing wasn’t advanced enough to have a water recycler inside the school.

I slapped myself onto the ceiling of the sewers, thankful that I could neither actively smell nor taste what was going on around me. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the dim glow my makeshift glowstick cast on the surrounding sewers, I scouted out a suitable location. I was ecstatic to find that the Ponyville sewage system included walkways on either side of the main channel. Every ten yards or so, a smaller, lateral tributary pipe fed into the main channel. From the looks of it, I guessed it was a combined sewer, rather than separate sewers for sanitation and stormwater.

Lucky me.

I moved away from the tributaries, rolling down the side of the pipe and onto the walkway. Once I was approximately centered between two tributaries, it was time for another experiment. I gathered up my mass, condensed it down, and then pulled a small chunk with my eyes away from the rest of it. I willed the mass of goo to stay put, to not fall into the sewer channel.

When I separated from the large blob and it merely rippled like a giant mound of gelatin, I breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather no part of me fall into untreated sewage, even if I didn’t really have internal organs anymore. With my “safehouse” secured I returned to my task.

Unfortunately, while I was busy, so were my nemeses.

Through the dim, early morning light, Ruby Drops watched the approaching colonial-style mansion with no more interest than she would a fat pill bug. She would rather be anywhere else than on her way to visit some pathetic noble. There were so many more interesting things to be doing. Like sleeping. Or tormenting that pathetic mare. She licked her lips and grinned. She supposed she was glad that Argent had kept that old fortune-teller around for as long as he did. It was so nice to finally have found her own Element-Attuned.

There was so much to catch up on. All the other Masters had already found their counterparts. Well, except for Camellia, but she didn’t actually have an Element of her own. But that’s what she got for coming late to the party.

“My Lady, we have arrived.”

The carriage rolled gently to a stop. As she stepped out onto the gravel, a portly blonde stallion rushed down the steps of his veranda.

“Lady Ruby Drops! What a pleasure it is to have you here with us once again.”

“Baron Breeze,” she greeted dismissively, brushing some non-existent dust from her travel cape. “I trust there were no problems in the time since I last visited?”

“No, no, of course not! All your holdings are safe and secure. But, please, allow me to play host and I will give you a full report.”

She brushed past the Baron and strode through his front doors, throwing them wide open with her magic. The smack and yelp from the two spineless servants standing by to open the doors sent a thrill of satisfaction down her back. If only Argent hadn’t forbidden her from giving these disgusting, simpering leeches that called themselves nobility the same kind of treatment. Something about “keeping the status quo”. Hogwash. Fear was just as valid a method of control as complacency. Then again, she needn’t cater to every whim of the ladder-climbers. After all, she was the one in power.

She turned back to Baron Breeze after reaffirming that her mask of distaste and indifference had not slipped.

“Now, then, I am a busy mare, so let’s dispense with the pleasantries, shall we? We will convene in your study and I will hear your report, and nothing more. I have many more pressing matters to attend to today.”

“O- of course, your ladyship. Please, right this way.”

But before they could take as much as a single step, they were already interrupted.

“Father! Lady Ruby!”

Autumn Breeze rushed over to the pair of them from where he had been seated in the parlor. Ruby had to almost physically restrain herself from lashing out at the presumptuous, doughy brat that called himself a noble’s son. Not many dared interrupt her for any reason. She was about to devise a suitable punishment for his insolence, when she caught the ensuing conversation.

“Father, did you tell her about-”

“No, I did not, son. I will take care of it myself.”


Myself!” The Baron hissed back at him. “We do not need to bother Lady Ruby with that sort of thing!”

Ruby Drops’ gaze locked onto the young stallion, her interest suddenly piqued.

“Bother me with what sort of thing?”

Stiff Breeze turned back to her, an ingratiating smile plastered over his sudden anxiety.

“Ah, n- nothing to concern yourself over, your grace. My son simply believes he saw some sort of night terror.”

“It was not a night terror, father! It was a monster! It killed Starlight Glimmer! I had to run for my life!”

“Killed?! Then why was she seen walking around town afterward, hm?! I swear, if you weren’t my son, I’d have you flogged for your drinking problem!” He hastily plastered his faltering grin back on before addressing Ruby Drops again.

“I am terribly sorry, your ladyship. My son tends to over-exaggerate when he’s had one snifter too many.”

“No, no, please. Tell me about this monster you saw,” Ruby cooed, speaking directly to Autumn. “I’m sure it must have been terrifying.”

“It was!” He whined. “Like something out of my worst nightmares! A horrific, green face, entirely un-ponylike, that spit out disgusting, many-feet-long tentacles. It latched onto Starlight Glimmer’s face and… and…”

“My my, that does sound rather disturbing.”

“More than you can imagine. It… it suffocated her, by sh- shoving its tentacles down her th- throat! I would have been next, had I not fled! I barely had the presence of mind to try burning down the house with the thing in it!”

“Autumn! That is enough!” Stiff Breeze roared. “First you interrupt our meeting, then you try to spin such ridiculous lies?! To the Lady herself?! You have gone too far! Once she has gone, you are going to be…”

Ruby tuned out the Baron’s desperate, furious backtracking. Any other day, she would have disregarded the young stallion’s words as the ravings of the addlebrained. But with King Argent’s recent orders…

“Where did this happen?” She more commanded an answer than asked, cutting off the Baron’s rant.

“I- in my summer home just down the road.”

“My Lady,” Baron Breeze wheedled, “surely you have better things to do than entertain my idiot son’s drunken fantasies. Just ignore him, and we can-”

“Baron Breeze,” she spoke with a menacing undertone, “do not presume to know what my wishes are. I will decide for myself whether the boy’s story has merit. Or would you rather go against our King’s decree?”

“N- no! No, of course not, your excellency!”

“Well then, take me to this summer home of yours. I wish to see the scene with my own eyes.”

I giggled quietly as I devoured an ornate, silver hairpin. This was possibly the twentieth room I had raided that night. I couldn’t really remember. Most of the night’s events had been lost in a semi-drunken haze. I was mostly used to the intoxicating effects of consuming valuable metals and minerals by then, so I was more coherent than not. I was even beginning to gain an appreciation for the different “flavors” that each material possessed.

I suppose I could try to liken them to organic foods. For example, gold has a rich, buttery flavor, like freshly baked scones or croissants, while silver is fresh and crisp, like chilled Asian pear. Copper is like caramel, and iron, when pure, tastes like a perfectly grilled steak. Diamonds have a dense, dusky flavor, not unlike chocolate. Rubies and sapphires are so similar, they’re almost like different cultivars of apple; like Pink Ladies and Fujis. Emeralds are nice and crumbly, like a good, dry cheese. Amethyst tastes like sour cherry shaved ice, while other varieties of quartz have less biting flavors. These are not, of course, perfect analogies, but they are close enough to what I experience that it might explain why I got so caught up in comparing the tastes that I didn’t notice the room’s occupant was awake until she started screaming.

The first few moments of the terrified shriek froze me in place like a banshee’s wail. I risked a brief glance backward and my fears were confirmed. The room’s little princess had awoken to find a monster of Biblical proportions ransacking her belongings. The jig was up; it was time to flee.

I fled into her bathroom under a hail of hairbrushes and hoof-care tools, and barricaded myself in by tipping over the heavy, standing cabinet she had installed. My retreat only emboldened her, however, and she started kicking up a bigger fuss. But that was fine by me; I only had to pour myself down the drain and I was home free. Not long after I started squeezing down the pipes, the banging on the door became loud crashes. A thrill of anxiety quivered through me. The ponies themselves weren’t frightening, but the idea of one of them figuring out a way to hurt me—with fire or water, for example—set me on edge.

I surged into the pipes a little faster at the thought. The plumbing rattled and groaned dangerously as I tried to force more of myself through at once. I’d pushed all but what could be considered my head through when the door finally shattered, throwing the cabinet to the ground. A pair of unicorn stallions charged, looking all around the room. By the time they spotted me, I was already funneling one of my eyes into the drain. They grasped fruitlessly at me with their magic, and then I was gone. The room disappeared behind walls of wrought iron. I bubbled with amusement and followed my latest batch of goo down the pipes, to join with the rest of me stashed in the sewers.

My victory was short-lived, however, as it seemed my latest victim felt a bit vindictive.

It started as a hiss from the plumbing just outside of my pipe. Then came the rattle and rumble of plumbing higher up. By the time I registered the high-pitch gurgle swirling down at me, it was already too late.

In the dim glow of my glow-light, I saw a surge of water hurtling towards me like a wall of death. I panicked and let go of the sides of the pipe, willing myself to fall faster. But momentum is a bitch, and she broadsided me with a barrage of something I hadn’t yet learned how to deal with: dissolution.

The moment water touched my flesh, I felt a burning sensation, not unlike hydrogen peroxide on bare flesh. I’m not talking about that weak-ass, over-the-counter, three percent concentration they sell at drugstores. I’m talking thirty percent, nigh-industrial concentrations. Yes, I do know what that feels like. Let’s just say, I had a lab partner in my Intro to Chem class that was a bit of a butterfingers. He didn’t last long there.

If I could have screamed, I would have. I started thrashing around in the pipe, instead, warping and cracking the metal as I went. I’m not sure if it was out of pure instinct, but I ballooned up and plugged the pipe behind me as I fell. This had two effects: one, I was able to keep the water from reaching the majority of the mass I had just accrued; and two, my eyes melted.

No, that’s not hyperbole. My eyes quite literally dissolved as soon as the water finished stripping away the goo surrounding them. I didn’t even have time to consider what would happen if I left them there. I had become the proverbial deer in the headlights, even while the rest of my body instinctive sought shelter. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt the main mass swing down from the mouth of the pipe and start to slide along the roof, towards the rest of my reserves. But, in that moment, the only thing I could focus on was the searing pain and the blackness spreading from the center of my vision.

Eventually, the pain became too much, and I let go.

I felt my little blockade start to fall and the connection was almost instantly severed, leaving me as the fat blob of Smooze sitting on the walkway. The disorientation sent my mind reeling. It was like falling asleep, waking up, and forgetting where you were, all in the span of a few seconds. A distant, sustained splash registered somewhere in the overwhelming amount of conflicting information. I felt like throwing up, but my gutless body didn’t know what to do with the sensation. I tried to take comfort in the coolness of the stone beneath me.

I’m not sure how long I spent sitting in the blinding darkness, dazed and unable to process anything but the ambient dripping echoes of the sewers. The sudden loss of my sight had hit me hard. I wasn’t sure how I was going to proceed, or how I would compensate for my lost sense.

But then I remembered I might not have to. I already knew I could alter the physical properties of my body. There was a chance, even if it was incredibly slim, that I might be able to synthesize new eyes. After all, I doubted that my previous ocular organs were made of anything much different than the rest of my amorphous body. The only question was: how should I start?

Did I try to recall the anatomy of the human eye? The chemical composition of ocular tissue? Trying to recreate the sensation of sight? My eye color? Where does one begin to make an eyeball? The questions piled up, swirling around my mind like flotsam in a whirlpool. So deep in concentration was I, that I almost missed the quiet, courteous voice that popped up in between my thoughts.

<<It sounds like you are trying to synthesize an ocular organ. Would you like some help with that?>>

Ruby Drops looked around the smoldering ruins of what used to be the Breezes’ summer home with no small amount of satisfaction. Anything that took the uppity noble family down a peg was alright in her book, especially if it was self-inflicted. Of how she adored the look of despair and desperation on the faces of ponies that had brought about their own ruin. Not that this little indiscretion had done very much to tarnish the already spotty Breeze family reputation, let alone lay it low. Still, she savored every drop of their misfortune.

Schadenfreude was her middle name.

Still, she had a job to do, no matter how tedious it may be. Ignoring the Baron’s babbled reassurances and placations, and pressed on into what remained of the main foyer.

The fire had certainly done its job. Between the shock and the rumors of dirty deeds, the citizenry hadn’t been terribly interested in reporting the sudden fire to the authorities. It had grown unchecked in the time it took the fire station to notice the smoke. As she wandered the ruins, it became apparent how little remained of the once majestic home. Naught had been left standing but charcoal-blackened and crumbling skeletons of the framework and support beams. Puddles of ash and water collected in the sagging remains of the floorboards. If there had ever been evidence to back up August’s claims, it had all been consumed by the indiscriminate flames.

Ruby snorted in disgust, making her way back to the entrance. What a waste of time. And here I was hoping that something actually interesting might have finally come of my vis-


She paused. That had not been the squelch of the ash puddles. It was too viscous, too fine. None of the pulpy mess. Slowly, she lowered her gaze.

It looked innocuous enough, covered in the same ash as the rest of the flooring she’d seen. Anypony would have mistaken it for just another ash puddle. But when she looked around, she noticed that these floorboards were remarkably dry and still fairly warm. Apparently, the fireponies had missed this spot while hosing the house down. The nearby collapsed section of roof was probably the culprit.

Ruby picked up her hoof to examine what she had just stepped in. She fully expected it to come up caked in congealed blood. Perhaps the Baron’s son had gotten a bit too rough during his little tryst, then tried to cover up the aftermath with a simple house fire and a convenient lie. It would certainly make sense.

But the thick goop that clung to her hoof was a dark, burnt green, not crimson.

Ruby had difficulty comprehending what she was looking at. None of it made a lick of sense. She had been so convinced that the absence of evidence pointed to a cover-up. But then a snippet of her earlier conversation wandered to the fore of the thoughts.

A horrific, green face, entirely un-ponylike…

A bitter, sour taste blossomed on her tongue, before spreading to the rest of her face.

“Oh, buck me to Tartarus. He was telling the truth.”

Author's Note:

Well, it's been about a month and a half. Still, much better than three and a half months, don't you think?

Let me know if I missed anything.

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