• Published 24th Nov 2017
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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 8 - Why can't we all just get along?

Not long after Stark Raven had narrowly evaded her clutches, Ruby Drops sat in her Ponyville administrative office angrily gulping down bourbon, as if it would quench the little ember burning at the base of her skull. It had been almost an hour since she had lost sight of the strange stallion, and the guard had found neither hide nor hair of him or the so-called “klepto-sludge”. The most information she had received was that there definitely hadn’t been a stallion of that name enrolled in the Academy. Even with her magic, she had been unable to track him… it… whatever that thing was. It made her blood boil. These were the kinds of setbacks that made her wish she could somehow negate her ridiculously high alcohol tolerance.

Oh how I miss that pleasant, comforting buzz, she lamented. I suppose there are at least a few benefits to being an alicorn. And yet…

She glared out the office window. Somewhere out there, the guard captain was yelling at his subordinates because he couldn’t yell at her without severe consequences. She chuckled to herself. That “conversation” had been cathartic, at least.

But before Ruby could go back to wallowing in self-pity, her train of thought was derailed by the thunderous whoosh of a teleportation spell going off behind her. Quick as a viper, Ruby whirled on the intruder, drawing her dagger in one move. She started to salivate at the thought of dismantling whoever had decided to intrude so blatantly, until she saw the pony that stood before her.

It was one of Odd’s Inquisitors. She could tell immediately by the orange pegasus mare’s distinctive black habit, belted white scapular, and white cornette. The mare immediately bowed before her, although her posture denoted that she was, by no means, prostrating herself.

“Greetings, Lady Rain. I am Inquisitor Kingfisher. I apologize for my sudden appearance, but Brother Odd saw it best that I arrive with all due haste.”

Ruby sneered.

“Ah, one of Odd’s little harlots,” Ruby needled, smirking when she saw Kingfisher tense up. “Still clinging to his old ways, I see.”

The mare looked up at Ruby with one lidded, chocolate eye, then glanced meaningfully at the half-empty bottle of bourbon on the desk.

“Indeed. But that has no bearing on why I am here. Brother Odd spoke of some strange happenings going on here in Ponyville. He sent me here to assist you however I can.”

Ruby Rain was no fool. The inquisitor’s subtle wording left little doubt that she only intended to follow Ruby’s orders if they coincided with Odd’s wishes. Never had Ruby wanted more to pluck a pegasus’ feathers than she did at that exact moment. Unfortunately, Odd had gotten his Inquisitors deep in Argent’s good graces, making them untouchable. While she couldn’t argue with their results, they had muscled in on her turf. She was supposed to be the interrogation expert, not these wannabe nuns.

“Well, Inquisitor,” she all but spat, “I regret to inform you that your services won’t be needed. I have things well in hand.”

“Really? Because our informants have told us that the guards still haven’t managed to find the source of the disturbances.”

Ruby had to keep herself from growling. “If he’s so concerned, why doesn’t Odd come out here himself? Or did he lose his balls while he was molesting foals at night?”

While she couldn’t see because of the full-body habit, Ruby knew from the tightening of her face that she was getting under Kingfisher’s skin. But before Ruby could feel take any satisfaction from her discomfort, the infuriating mare schooled her expression, putting on the stony face she had perfected over years of service.

“Brother Odd is currently investigating the cases of industrial sabotage throughout the state of Gilder, at the behest of Master Gold Standard, seeing as Brother Odd is able to keep both the affairs of Merth and his investigation into Equestria’s insurgents in order.”

Ruby gritted her teeth so hard, she was certain she felt sparks fly. Oh, how sweet it would be to slice this insubordinate mare from her chin to her ovaries. To watch her gasp in shock and terror, as her guts spilled out onto the floor. To taste her despairing tears. But she was off-limits. Insolent little fucking rat.

“Fine,” she hissed, eager to get the Inquisitor out of her sight before she did something she might regret later. “Do as you please. Just don’t get in my way. Any indication that you’re interfering with my investigation, and I’ll string you up and bleed you like a suckling pig.”

“I doubt that will become a problem. Who knows? Perhaps I may even be able to solve your problems for you,” Kingfisher said with a barely noticeable smirk. She then turned in place, completely disregarding the dagger still levelled at her, and walked out the door. As the door closed, Ruby couldn’t contain her impotent rage. She telekinetically hurled her dagger at the spot where Kingfisher’s head had been moments before, burying it up to the hilt in the door. Although she heard Kingfisher yelp quietly, the rage burning in the back of her brain wouldn’t allow her to take much satisfaction from it. Ruby yanked the dagger out with her aura, stowed it away in the sheath strapped to her thigh.

She would need to visit the Everfree Ranch after this, to really blow off some steam.


It’s difficult coming up with the right combination of words. Especially when you’re trying to convince someone you are who you say you are, even though you’re not.

Stark Raven was not going to last. I knew that much when I made up the persona. You don’t associate your cover story with a symbol you came up with in junior high and expect it to stick around. The story I told the guards wouldn’t stand up under a light breeze, much less even a cursory investigation. All I really wanted was to slip by them so I could properly hide and not hang around in the stinking sewers. Even without a proper sense of smell, I could just feel the diseased air diffusing into my jelly-like flesh. That’s why I had the Adjutant perform a thorough and comprehensive sanitization of all the bacteria and other nasty stuff I had probably accumulated the very moment we had a bit of privacy.

Call me overreacting, call me germaphobic, but it pays to be clean, even if I don’t have an organic body. Plus, I highly doubted my host would appreciate the smell.

Rara was terribly meek around strange ponies, such as myself, but I couldn’t blame her. Not with what Ruby did to her. So, I did my best to appear unconcerned with her condition. When she offered to help me prep the vegetables I had so valiantly liberated from one of the home gardens in the noble district, I placated her by saying I wanted to treat them to something nice, as an apology for intruding on their lives.

“So, my dear,” I prattled as suavely as I could, neatly slicing a tomato with a knife held by the glowing, ‘magic’ tentacle sticking out of my forehead, “I’ve told you a little about our expedition. What are your thoughts?”

“Well, I… I’m not sure,” she admitted, hurting my heart as she tried desperately to keep her voice from cracking. “I’m afraid I don’t know much about archaeology. B- but it certainly sounds interesting! I mean, if it turns out that this moving castle exists, I’m… I’m sure that the M- masters will be pleased that you brought it to their attention.”

Even a deaf politician wouldn’t have had a hard time noticing the difficulty she had in forcing that last sentence out. I neatly dropped the diced tomato I was pouring into the pan of other vegetables. Although she couldn’t see it, I turned my head to give her an understanding smile.

“Perhaps, but I think the thrill of discovery is much more rewarding, don’t you think?”

I could see the emotions warring behind her demure smile. It seemed the optimist in her wanted to believe that she might have found another ally, but the pessimist she had developed reminded her not to get her hopes up.

“I suppose so,” she mumbled noncommittally. After a moment of internal debate, I decided it was time to drop the bomb.

“Would you like to come with us?” I asked offhandedly, barely looking up from the spices I was adding.

Immediately, her ears perked up and she turned to face me.

“Pardon?”

I can hear you judging me from beyond the pages. Listen, there are three reasons I decided to try convincing Starlight’s roommates to join us. First, it was obvious that Lady Ruby had it in for both Starlight and Rara, and, probably by association, Night Glider. If I left with only Starlight, there was no guarantee we wouldn’t come back to a house vacated in the worst possible way. Second, even if I did have some assurance they wouldn’t be bodily targeted, there was still the matter of money. Starlight made up at least half of their household income. If she suddenly stopped providing, the other two would likely be starving within a week. Third, they couldn’t accidentally rat us out if they came with us. Eventually, the guard would come looking for Stark Raven. By the time they connected him to Starlight, it would be best for all three of them if they were long gone.

This was one of those times when it would actually help to have all my eggs in one basket.

“Just imagine it,” I prompted in a dramatic stage whisper, turning away from the stove to fully face her. “The three of you on an expedition through the dunes. The stars to guide our way. Campfires on the side of the road. Discovering ancient ruins and fantastical technologies! An adventure that will bring the three of you closer together than ever.”

“I… I don’t know. Wouldn’t I just get in the way?”

“Nonsense. I’ve heard more than enough from Starlight to know you’re a perfectly capable mare. The way you navigate this house without assistance is more than enough to convince me of that.”

“B- but I live here. I won’t be able to move as freely out there. Y- you shouldn’t worry about me. I’ll get by, somehow.”

I clenched my jaw and idly stirred the ratatouille. This was going to be more difficult than I had thought. She really didn’t want to cause trouble, even if that meant sacrificing herself. But I understood more than she thought. Depression was a hell of a disease.

Adjutant?

<<Yes, Director?>>

Can we synthesize organic matter?

<<Organic matter is no different from any other matter. The only thing we cannot recreate is the soul.>>

That statement would have thrown me for a loop only days prior. But since I had somehow swapped bodies, I was beginning to feel like I might not understand as much about the universe—or multiverse, it seemed—as I had originally assumed. At the very least, the idea of some kind of higher power was no longer far-fetched. Whether or not that higher power took the form of some flying spaghetti monster or what have you was still wildly up in the air, but anything seemed possible in a world of telekinetic, technicolor ponies.

Right. Anyway, can we create stem cells?

<<With enough materials and a sample of the recipient’s DNA, it is possible for us to heal a living creature, yes.>>

I huffed in amusement. Well, well. It seems someone is able to make simple deductions, at least.

<<Of course. I am an AI, limited though I may be.>>

So just how possible is it?

<<It depends on several factors, including the patient’s reaction to treatment, the extent of the damage, cleanliness of the operation area, et cetera. Even then, there is no guarantee we will be able to entirely reverse the damage done.>>

I looked back up at Rara, considering my next move. Did I dare dangle that carrot before her, when I had no idea whether it would work or not? On the one hand, it made me feel like the world’s scummiest insurance salesman, using her injury as a bargaining chip. But, on the other, it had always been my intention to help her out in some way. If she didn’t come with us, I would have no way to treat her.

“There is one other thing,” I mentioned as nonchalantly as I could, turning back to the pan to continue stirring. “If you were to come with us, I may be able to treat your injuries.”

Rara stared at me like I had grown a second head. Not that she could have seen whether or not I had, but she sure tried. Have you ever been stared at by a blind person? It’s rather unsettling. No wonder Daredevil has a way with criminal interrogations. But before I had started sweating too hard, she let her confusion be known.

“Why?” she asked, as though I had just given her the keys to the kingdom. She couldn’t see me smiling sadly at her, but I couldn’t help it.

“Because I owe Starlight a debt that can’t be easily repaid.”

We were interrupted by the front door suddenly opening. A pair of sweaty, disgruntled mares shuffled into the main room, covered in twigs and bark dust and carrying a makeshift litter between them, stacked high with bundles of bark strips.

“Ugh, finally home,” Night Glider grunted as they set the litter down.

“You know, Nighty,” Starlight teased, “you didn’t have to help me carry all that.”

‘Nighty’ huffed as she picked up a currying brush off the side table by the door and started to brush herself off. “Yeah, but if I hadn’t we’d have had to wait for you before starting dinner. Speaking of which… Hey, Rara, what smells so good?”

Night Glider froze as our eyes met. I gave her a pleasant if somewhat teasing smile.

“Good evening! You must be Night Gli-”

Before I could even finish my sentence, she had flown over to Rara and was patting her down, thoroughly examining every inch of her.

“Rara! Are you alright? Who is this stallion? He didn’t hurt you did he?”

I raised an eyebrow at the brazen accusation, but Rara’s reaction mollified me.

“What?! No! No, Night Glider, he didn’t hurt me. What do you think I am, a foal who invites random strangers into our home?” She pushed Night Glider off of her, then gestured towards me with a hoof.

“Night, this is Eric. Eric is a friend of Starlight’s.”

“Is that so?” Night Glider pondered, looking at me with a raised eyebrow of her own. She then switched to Starlight, who was openly gawking at me. Seeing as that wasn’t terribly conducive to keeping my story free of holes, I decided to nudge the conversation’s steering wheel a bit.

“Sorry, Starlight. I know you said you’d meet me here tomorrow, but I was too excited to get underway. I was just running our plans by Miss Coloratura here, to see how she feels about coming along.”

“What?!” Starlight and Night Glider shouted at the same time. Rara flushed out of embarrassment.

“Yes!” I asserted. “In fact, I was going to speak to you next, Miss Night Glider. Only, the two of you got home before I finished speaking to Miss Coloratura. So, how about it? Would you like to join us on our little expedition?”

Good grief, I have no idea where all that bravado came from, but boy was I sure talking up a storm. I think, at the time, I was still a little disassociated from my new form. I’d only had it for a few days, after all. Well, it allowed me to at least act the part of an up-and-coming lord. I just wish I knew how quickly it would come back to bite me in the ass.

“How about we discuss this over dinner? I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of preparing a bit of ratatouille for us-”

I cringed as I was interrupted once more by the front door. This time, someone had come knocking. Three sharp raps followed by silence. This was beginning to get ridiculous.

Unfortunately for me, like a car with its brake lines cut, events were beginning to accelerate beyond my control. I could only control the direction I was traveling. Not that I realized that at the time. I just thought it was annoying.

Starlight, as the one closest to the door, looked to the rest of us. We all gave her some form of assent, although I still had the presence of mind to move out of line of sight of the door. After all, I still thought I had some control over the runaway railcar that was my life.

Starlight opened the door a crack, and a familiar voice drifted through.

“Ah, Starlight! I’m glad I’ve caught you. There’s something going on at the Academy and, well…” Preceptor Rubeo cleared his throat. “Anyway, I was hoping to find you before you. Now that I’m here, though, would you mind terribly if I imposed? Something smells delicious.”

Before she could deny him entry, he pushed past Starlight, entering her home with an oblivious grin. I felt a bit chagrined that she didn’t do much to keep him out. But if she had, it would only have cast suspicion on her. Not to mention she had no way to know what he was talking about, unless she had overheard something from the town’s gossip-mongers. But with the amount of crap she had been carrying, I very much doubted she had paid the idle chatter any mind.

“Now then,” Rubeo hummed cheerily, “just what are you cooking that smells so-”

And, again, I was noticed only after someone had already entered the house. This time, though, the reaction was even less favorable.

Rubeo stared at me, taking in every detail, his eyes hardening as he did. There was a sudden flash of bright, red light, and Rara and Night found themselves standing next to Starlight at the door. Rubeo moved between us, his horn leveled at my throat.

“You! You’re Stark Raven! You’re wanted by Lady Rain and the town guard for questioning.”

“What?! Eric, what did you do?”

“Wait, ‘Eric?’” Rubeo backtracked. “Starlight, do you know this stallion?”

In the face of all this focused disapproval, my facade crumbled like so many sheets of tin foil. I gave up all pretense of sophistication in favor of exasperation.

“Starlight, is now really the time for this conversation?” I hissed at her.

She was about to retort when her eyes widened, as if she had just realized who was with her in the room. Rubeo, Night Glider and Rara were watching her expectantly, although Rara appeared to be a little more relaxed. Or slightly less distrustful of me, at least.

“Well, Starlight?” Rubeo prompted, not unlike a disappointed parent. “I’m listening.”

“Ah, um, well, you see… The thing is…”

“Starlight saved me from a fate worse than death,” I explained tersely. “I am merely repaying the favor.”

“By stealing from the children of the nobility?” He nearly shouted. “No! I will not allow you to drag Starlight’s good name through the mud.”

Rubeo blasted me with a spell before I could even react. The difference in ability between he and Starlight was laughably huge, like comparing an expert gunslinger to a kid with a wrist rocket. Unfortunately for him, however, no amount of experience will allow a gunslinger to shoot a pond into submission.

“Look,” I said, blinking the spots out of my eyes, “I think we started off on the wrong foot- er, hoof here.”

“W- what?! Impossible! I hit you dead on! You should be paralyzed”

“And yet, here I am, still talking.”

“Indeed. It seems I will need to use the more direct approach.”

The small but hefty dining table suddenly shot up into the air, encased in Rubeo’s burgundy aura, and barreled towards me. I let out only the slightest of whimpers.

Look, some things are hard-coded into the mammalian brain. I may not have one anymore—or much in the way of organs at all, really—but the mentality remains the same. You try staying stoic while large objects are sent hurtling through the air towards you.

I almost slipped character, but my reflexes saved me. Rather than using my malleable nature to dodge, I utilized something I had already been using. My glowing forehead tentacle shot out, whipping around the table and halting it in mid-air. I gently set it down.

“Hey, now! Let’s not be too hasty,” I tried to soothe. But Rubeo was not having it.

“Demon! I’ll have you in irons!” He then shouted at Starlight and he roommates without turning away from me. “Run, you three! Get the guards! I hold him off.”

“But-!”

But Rubeo was no longer listening. He was too busy throwing tables, chairs, silverware, and anything he could get his magic on at me. I was so busy trying to deflect or dodge everything, that I missed the final nail in the coffin until it was too late.

In the corner of the window, an orange-coated mare in a weird hat was looking in on us. I cursed when she ducked out of sight, but I couldn’t do anything. Not without endangering Starlight and friends.

The sound of a mortar firing bled through the wooden walls, and the night sky lit up with red light. My stomach dropped through the floorboards. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. How could things have gone pear-shaped this quickly?

I didn’t get the chance to lament any further than that, however, as the air outside cracked like an old oak being snapped in half, breaking all the windows. Deathly silence followed, and Starlight and her friends instinctively backed away from the front door. Even Rubeo paused his assault to watch warily as the front creaked open.

Like a praying mantis preparing to bite our heads off, Ruby Rain stood in the doorway, leering at us.

“I found you…” She singsonged in a voice to make a stallion’s balls shrink all the way up into his sternum.

Nobody spoke. Nobody knew what could possibly be said to make the situation any better. Ruby stalked into the room, eyes fixed on me.

“So, Stark… That was your name, wasn’t it? A real ballsy move, lying to my face. Almost got away with it, too. If only you had left the city when you had the chance. You might have even gotten a few miles before I caught you.”

Rubeo, the crazy old stallion, nervously cleared his throat.

“M- my Lady! Thank you for coming as quickly as you did. We… we’ve trapped the thief here, but he is proving difficult to detain. Please, lend us your immeasurable power.”

Ruby Rain glanced sidelong at the old stallion with a barely concealed sneer of disdain.

“Yes, I can see your failures from here. Worry not. I’ll deal with you when I’m done here.” She would have turned back to me, had somepony else not caught her eye.

“Well, well, well… Why am I not surprised?” Ruby lilted, her sneer turning wolfish. “Little Starlight Glimmer and her raggedy friends, here in the midst of these dark dealings. What am I to do with you?”

“My Lady,” Rubeo pleaded, “they have nothing to do with this. The thief tricked them and invaded their home in order to-”

“Silence, worm!” Ruby shrieked. “All who harbor enemies of the Masters, even unwittingly, will be punished! Unless… you wish to join them?”

“B- but…!”

“Oh, give it a rest, Crabby-o. Queen Bitch obviously isn’t listening.”

There comes a point in every person’s life when they are faced with someone beyond unreasonable. We have only two options: avoid confrontation, or embrace it. Avoiding confrontation in one way or another is usually the better of the two options. Anger leads to anger, pain to pain, and all that jazz.

This was not one of those times.

Lady Ruby whirled on me, baring her teeth like a rabid dog. I merely huffed in amusement.

“Ah, pardon. Perhaps that was rude of me. Would you prefer Cunt-ess, instead?”

For a moment, Lady Ruby couldn’t respond. She had been stunned by my sheer audacity. This suited me just fine; I had at least a few things to get off my chest.

Mind you, this was not the product of a rage-fevered mind. In fact, I was paradoxically distressed that I was feeling so calm. Perhaps it’s the result of no longer having any sort of hormones, but even the heart-pounding adrenaline rush of facing a surely dangerous situation hadn’t reared its ugly head, much less left its cave. What I felt was more akin to the protective spirit of watching a favorite character in a TV show- er… story, facing danger. I felt concerned for the safety of Starlight and the others, but not like I was in any danger myself.

“Regardless, you do have one thing right,” I offered, walking towards her and simultaneously putting myself between Ruby and the others. “Starlight is at the center of all this.”

Everyone but Ruby and myself gasped, Starlight probably because she realized that the major life changes had come much sooner than anticipated. It couldn’t be helped, though. There was no weaseling out of this one. Ruby had blood on her mind, and no amount of pleas or bribery would change that. I had only one option.

Push the offensive.

“She’s the one who saved me, and the one who contracted me to oppose the likes of you. And I’ll admit, after hearing all about you and seeing the mare behind the tales, I’m itching to take a bite.”

I walked forward with as predatory a grin I could muster, and snapped my teeth at her. Ruby instinctively backed out the door. Whether it was out of fear or simply because she was overwhelmed by such direct aggression after standing unopposed by the commoners for so long, I’ll never know. But from the look in her eyes, I suspected it was probably a bit of both. I brushed past her on my way outside.

“Now then, shall we dance a bit, you and I? I’m eager to shake off the rust.”

Had it been anyone else in my place, that would have turned into a fatal mistake.

For an instant, I felt a sharp tug around my neck, like a string wrapping around it. Behind me, a chorus of loud, despaired gasps echoed out of the house. I could hazard a guess as to what had just happened, but I figured I might as well know for certain.

Adjutant, what just happened?

<<Director, the one known as Ruby Rain slashed through our neck with a dagger, in an attempt to sever our head, destroying 0.00000012% of our microculture. Apologies. My automated defensive programming has not yet reached full capacity.>>

No worries. It’ll take many more hits like that before she even makes a dent in us. Let’s send her a message, shall we?

I felt glad at that moment that the Adjutant could access my thoughts, because it understood my plans and assented in an instant. My grin spread almost from ear to ear.

For effect, I rolled my neck, creating a dozen satisfying pops, even if they were artificial. I then turned my head to look directly at Ruby, without turning my neck.

“Ah, how rude of me. It seems I forgot to introduce myself properly.”

I turned towards them all and hunched forward, before transforming. True to form, the Adjutant knew what I wanted and followed through perfectly. I began to grow in jerky spurts, shifting form with an unnecessarily gruesome cacophony of breaking bones and wet, tearing sounds. But by the time it was all over, I felt more comfortable than I had in days.

I was human again.

Well, more or less. I still didn’t have any real organic parts, I was still green, and I made my teeth more akin to a shark’s, but it felt good to stand on two legs again. So that’s what I did.

I was never a terribly tall person, and yet I stood a full head and change taller than Ruby. Starlight and friends didn’t even come up to my navel. I had morphed with a full three-piece suit, complete with tailcoat, and my shoulder-length hair was pulled into my usual tight ponytail. With my sharp cheekbones framed by long bangs, I’m told I looked very much the part of the demon prince.

“It is my great pleasure to finally meet face-to-real-face,” I hummed, voice unhindered by the shape of my teeth. “Allow me to formally introduce myself. My friends know me as Eric, although I have many more names; Prince of the Eternal Cairn, Doppelganger, The Beast of a Thousand Voices, The All-Consuming Hunger. But you may call me… The Smooze.”

I made up a couple of those, yes, but it had the desired effect. Ruby took a step back from both the house and myself.

“Im… Impossible! You were sealed away! No one should have been able to release you!”

“Perhaps. But my dear Starlight found a way. Now I’m back and feeling a bit… peckish.”

I made my pupils shrink to pinpricks, and my deranged grin spanned fully from ear to ear.

“And right now… you look absolutely scrumptious.

The terrified yelp that escaped Ruby’s lips was so much more satisfying than it had any right to be. I hadn’t even touched her yet. But I didn’t have long to wait for something better. In her panic, Ruby launched her dagger at me. A mistake, as I caught it with ease. It’s so much simpler to stop missile weapons when you don’t have to worry about them piercing flesh.

I looked curiously at the blade embedded in my palm. It was a sharp, vicious thing in elegant dressings; quite a reflection of the wielder it seemed. I smirked and removed it so that it dangled between a thumb and forefinger. Then, to add insult to the non-injury, I opened up wide and swallowed the thing whole. I made a face, as it tasted odd, like a poorly aged steak. It was probably all the dry blood hiding in the weapon’s cracks.

“Blech. You don’t take very good care of your weapons, do you?”

Ruby screeched in fear and anger. Nothing had caused her this much trouble in decades. And like the rabid animal she was coming to resemble, she lashed out.

“Die! Die! DIE!!!

With each panicked order, she shot at me with blasts of focused magic. None of them did more than ruffle my fake clothes. I chucked evilly. This feeling of power was quite intoxicating, it seemed, and it certainly felt nice to have somewhere to direct all the pent up aggression from everything I’d encountered.

“I was taught not to play with my food. But, for you, I think I’ll make an exception!”

Faster than even I expected, I whipped out with my Extendo-arm—patent pending—and delivered a resounding slap across her face. She stumbled back, stunned by the unexpected strike. I capitalized on the opportunity by grabbing her by her horn.

“Now then, which part should I bite off first, I wonder?”

What happened next caught me completely off guard. With her personality type, I expected Ruby Rain to be the kind of spellcaster that specialized in nightmare illusions or fear enchantments, maybe even a fire elementalist. But no, her forelegs suddenly sprouted thick, brown fur and sharp claws. Ruby Rain was a transmuter.

With one swipe, she splattered my weaker, stretched-out arm. It snapped back at me like a broken rubber band, and I quickly reeled it back, recalling the part now hanging from her horn as I did. It seemed I couldn’t block magic if it was focused inward.

“It will be me that does the biting, monster!” She spat, circling me as she continued her transformation into a grotesque chimera of bear arms, raptor legs, boar tusks and the spiny tail of some insectile monster I’d never encountered. She roared at me, puffing up like a frightened chicken. I just raised my eyebrows.

“Not bad. Solid seven out of ten. Could be scarier. Let me show you how it’s done.”

I started quivering violently, literally coming apart as I did. Bladed limbs burst out of my back and split my arms down the center. My jaw dislocated as my teeth grew until they were finger-length and as sharp as needles. My eyes sunk back into my skull and my hair wilted and was absorbed back into my body. My clothing devolved into something more skin-like, wrinkled and bunched up in odd places. Then, to really drive it home, I let out a deafening screech.

Foley is so much easier in this body. I can shape my vocal cords any way I want, including the reed-like shape I used for the screech. Even so, looking back, I was lucky that my first attempt at creating a sound outside of the human vocal range yielded results that wouldn’t have been out of place in a horror film.

Unfortunately that’s where my luck ended.

Ruby Rain let out a gurgling shriek, hindered by her tusks, and jumped back. Her tail whipped forward reflexively, launching a salvo of spines from the bundle at the end of her tail. Apparently, she wanted me to stay away. I smiled viciously.

But that victorious feeling died when I heard someone cry out behind me. I turned slowly, a freezing chill washing over me. Starlight had sat down, probably because of the foot-long spine now sticking out of her chest. The front of her coat was slowly being dyed red.

I hadn’t protected her. I shouted without thinking.

“Emma!”

With my bladed limbs, I clattered over the ground towards her, rapidly dissolving into a mass of green goop. I had to save her. I had to do something. I couldn’t lose Emma again. With all the care of a paramedic, I scooped her up into my crude arms.

Help her, goddammit! I shouted in my mind.

Without a word, I felt the Adjutant take control of a portion of my body and use it to maneuver into Emma’s wound. The flow of blood from her chest ebbed to a trickle. The spine seemed to wiggle itself free and then get whisked away, quickly dissolving into nothingness. The Adjutant spoke, though its voice felt distant.

<<The quill pierced her left ventricle and she has lost large quantities blood. It is possible to heal her, but until we escape Ruby Rain, it is a moot point.>>

I couldn’t even take a moment to consider. As fast as quicksand, I swallowed her up into a pocket of air I created inside me, making sure I set up an air renewal system, as well. Almost as an afterthought, I surged over to where the others were all standing and did the same. They panicked, of course, but I paid them no mind. They were safe inside me, and that’s what was important.

My exterior hardened until it became a shell as hard as steel, just in time to fend off another volley of spines. But I couldn’t pause to retaliate. I had to get Emma to safety. Like an armored personnel carrier, I thundered out of the house, smashing through the door frame like so many toothpicks.

With all the subtlety of a rhinoceros, I barged past Ruby Drops and out onto the main thoroughfare. As I did, for a just moment, my brain itched, and my vision blurred around the edges until all I could see was Ruby. I lashed out, using all the mass I could spare. The tendril ended up about as thick and as long as a ten-year-old pine tree trunk. She tried jump over the swiping tentacle, but wasn’t quite fast enough. I caught her tail and quickly enveloped it. In that split second, we locked eyes.

Then I pulled. Hard.

There was an audible crack, followed by a pained scream, and something gave way. I sped off down the street, holding half of her barbed tail in my tendril. I consumed it out of spite, though it tasted incredibly bitter.

Ruby’s anguished cries split the air behind me, but I couldn’t pause to savor them. I had to get out of town. I revved my “engines” and scrambled, making for the South Gate at forty miles-per-hour.

The roads were uneven and twisty, but with my unique attributes they posed no problem. The only thing that truly hindered us were the ponies that wandered into the street, to see what all the commotion was about. I did my best to swerve around them, and the ones that did actively attempt to stop me, I plowed right through. The bystanders that I couldn’t avoid and the pursuers that weren’t wielding weapons were met with rubbery surfaces, so as to minimize the damage. The ones that tried to attack us with steel, however, encountered a shell that was much more unyielding. I’m sure I broke more than a few bones that day, but I didn’t have the luxury of mercy.

The South Gate, however, was not so simple. The guard had somehow received word of my escape already. I suspect they were advised ahead of time that something was about to go down. Regardless of how they found out, a platoon of guards stood directly in front of the gate, and the iron portcullis had been closed.

Alone in the street, I paused a moment to consider my options. I could try to enter the sewers and find out where they let out, but that would take time I did not have, and was too inflexible an option. Plus I really didn’t want to go back down there. So that was out. I could also try lifting the gate, but I wasn’t willing to gamble on whether or not I was strong enough. That really only left me with one option: scaling the wall.

Guards stood at attention no more than a foot apart atop the wall, spears pointed inward. Still, this was much sparser than an entire platoon. What’s more, the further away from the gate—and, subsequently, the stairs to the top of the wall—they stood, the more spread out they became. The best choice was fairly obvious.

I maneuvered into the back alleys, in order to approach the walls with relative secrecy. They could probably catch glimpses of me between the rooftops, but I hoped I could keep them guessing as to where I would end up. Eventually, I reached the point where I was sitting behind a little shack at the edge of town, with about twenty yards of open space between me and the wall.

Peering carefully around the corner, I saw about a dozen guard ponies shouting down the line, calling for reinforcements. They had obviously seen me; you can’t sneak very well when you’re the size of a four-person camp trailer. It was now or never. The longer I waited, the more guards I’d have to go through.

And yet, I hesitated. I was pulling people from their lives to drag along with me on some crazy adventure I’d been unwittingly thrust into. Did I really have the right to do that?

But then, I felt Emma cry out in pain, and all doubts were wiped from my head.

The distance between the shack and the wall vanished before I even realized I was moving. I found purchase on the wooden beams as easily as a squirrel, and slurped my way up the side of the wall. The guards barely had time to react. Some tried to stab me with their spears. Others shot arrows at me. A few ran. But none could stop me from scaling the wall.

I crested the wall with ease, shoving guards out of my way as easily as toy soldiers. A few fell, but their distressed cries were drowned out by the ones emanating from inside me. Without hesitation, I leapt from the crude, wooden crenellations and out into the free countryside. Moments later, my mind caught up with me, and I realized I needed to slow my descent, or else the impact might be transferred to Emma and the others.

A thousand pencil-thin legs exploded out from underneath me. As they came into contact with the ground, they snapped under the weight bearing down on them, only to be replaced by two more. Each impact lessened my velocity incrementally, until I had drifted to the ground on a ramp of broken stalks. The broken pieces reverted to goo without needing any sort of order, and scurried over to join me, all while a hail of arrows pelted my armor plates. A few found the gaps, but they were easily stopped between friction from the plates and the shock absorption of my jelly-like flesh. As soon as the last splotch of remaining goo rejoined me, I sped off, rumbling down the road at breakneck speeds.

The alarmed shouts faded into the background as I rounded a curve, until no sound reached me. I continued like this—rumbling down the road like an M1 Abrams in fourth gear—for a few miles. Then, when my paranoia settled a little, I started searching for a large enough copse of trees to hunker down in.

Adjutant, how is Emma doing?

<<By Emma, do you mean Starlight Glimmer?>>

I paused for a moment.

Uh… yeah. Starlight. What did I say?

<<You have been calling her Emma.>>

Hot shame washed over me. How long had I been doing that? Had she noticed? Had the others noticed? If so, how long would it be until they started asking questions? Questions I did not want to answer.

<<In any case, Starlight Glimmer has been stabilized. I was able to repair her cardiac tissue with the limited resources available. However, she still has a deep puncture wound through her thoracic wall, and I do not currently have the resources to regenerate the rest of the damaged tissue and membranes. I could attempt to simply seal the wound, but doing so may impair her ability to breathe and walk. Additionally, while I am able to act as her flesh, her body may eventually recognize the microgolems as foreign elements and attempt to reject them. This will exponentially increase the risk of infection and reopening of the wound.>>

I chewed on that info bite before asking:

What do you need?

<<Between the sulfates and phosphates we picked up in the sewer and the tail segment you procured earlier, we have a healthy supply of most of the necessary atomic compounds. However, we still require more hydrogen, oxygen, sodium, carbon, and iron. You should have no trouble picking up the necessary quantities from the air and from roadside particulate. Then, we merely need time to perform the synthesis.>>

I shuddered at the idea of having picked anything up from the sewer. But the Adjutant had assured me that all harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi had been purged. So things weren’t too critical. I only needed to get my little group as far away we could, and then Starlight would be healed and we would be on our merry way.

And how are the others doing?

<<The unicorn designated as Rubeo is still trying to escape the compartment. The pegasus, Night Glider, briefly attempted to break out, but has since returned to Starlight’s side. She has just started arguing with the earth pony, Coloratura, about the tendril we are using to plug up Starlight Glimmer’s wound.>>

That didn’t sound good. I quickly chose the nearest, thickest copse of trees, shrunk down a bit, and then sprouted leaves until I looked like a giant bush. When I swiveled my eyes inward, it so happened that was just the moment Rubeo stopped blasting the interior of the air bubble and turned his attention to the murmured conversation between Night Glider and Rara.

“... If it’s eating her from the inside out?” Night Glider’s voice drifted to the fore of my senses, as if I was noticing her for the first time.

“I… I think she’d be in a lot more pain if he were doing that,” Rara quietly reassured her.

“But how can you say for sure?! What if this thing’s doing something to her? I don’t like the way it’s pulsating!”

Uh, Adjutant, is the pulsation really necessary?

<<I am massaging her heart, helping it to keep her blood pumping. She is still weak from healing, and it may be some hours until the new cardiac tissue is working at full capacity.>>

Well, that answered that. But before I could reply to Night Glider’s concerns, Rubeo piped up with his two bits.

“As much as I am loathe to admit it, I believe Miss Coloratura has it right. You saw how this thing reacted to Starlight’s injury. Although I’m not entirely sure what ‘Emma’ means, or why it called her such, it would be safe to assume the two of them have entered into some sort of contract. Why, exactly, my foolish young apprentice decided to form a pact with this devilish monster, I cannot guess. But we likely won’t know until she awakens.”

I took a moment to shape a somewhat presentable face around my eyes, then pushed through the interior wall and cleared my throat.

“Or, you could just ask me.”

Rubeo whirled on me, horn already primed for casting.

“Fiend! Release us at once! I’ll not let you harm innocent ponies!”

“Hey, I just saved you from being gutted by Psycho-Bitch! A little gratitude would be nice.”

“We would not have needed saving if not for you! Now, we are wanted fugitives! How dare you drag us into your schemes!”

“As far as I could tell, Starlight and the others aren’t exactly Ruby’s chosen. I think you knew that, too. Why else would you be warning her not to go to the Academy? No, you were already embroiled in so many schemes that you couldn’t even see the surface. I’m pulling you out of all that, offering a fresh start. Your only other option would be to suffer in silence until the day Ruby Rain decides you’re no longer useful.”

“And what is this fresh start, hm? Running from the law and chasing fairy tales? You have nothing to offer but pain and misery!”

“Oh no?” I snarled, gesturing angrily back at Ponyville. “I guess you weren’t paying attention when I was handing Ruby’s ass to her on a silver platter. I may be offering a painful road, but at least I’m also offering a chance at true freedom, rather than the ever-looming threat of a knife in the back. Face it, Groucho Marx, I’m the closest thing to a chance at a life free from tyranny that you’re ever going to get!”

“Yes, and such a great job you’ve done, too,” he sneered, voice dripping with sarcasm. “I’m sure if you could ask Starlight how she feels about your protection, she’d be applauding you up and down. Might be a little difficult, though, with that hole in her chest!

“Alright, fine!” I shouted, looking away from him in shame. Unfortunately, I looked right in the direction of Starlight’s unconscious form. “I… I made a mistake. But I’m going to fix it, and then I’m going to make sure it never happens again.”

“Just like you did with this Emma we’ve heard nothing about, I’m sure.”

I froze, distracted by a sudden ringing in my ears and the hot wax coating my brain.

“What did you say?”

“Well, if you’ve done as good a job at protecting your Emma as you have Starlight, then I’m sure we’ve nothing more to wrkh-!”

It’s really quite amazing how quickly I can move when properly motivated. I had shot out a tendril of goo and choked Rubeo with it before anyone could even blink.

“If I ever hear her name pass your lips again,” I hissed dangerously, pulling him within an inch of my face, “things will go very badly for you!”

Just barely, I could make out Night Glider shouting at me to let him go, and Rara desperately asking what was going on. I held on a moment longer, then let go, leaving Rubeo to cough and gasp on the ground behind me. Without a word, I turned away, and my eyes swam back out to the surface. I had more important things to worry about than an ungrateful douchebag digging into my past. I had ponies to protect, a fortress to find, and a bunch of tyrants to overthrow.

Unfortunately, that list didn’t include taking notice of the sharp, brown eyes following my movements from the foliage of the trees.

Author's Note:

Well, here it is. A month late and a dollar short. But here, nonetheless.

For those of you that might be morbidly curious, I've been having a rough couple of months. Got a new job, quit it two weeks later, and all the while, I've been plagued by feelings of insecurity and self-loathing.

Ain't GAD grand?

Anyway, here's my early Christmas/late Hannukah/whatever present to you guys. And a happy fuckin New Year.

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