• Published 2nd Jul 2018
  • 2,091 Views, 126 Comments

Menace to Propriety - PatchworkPoltergeist

As part of their joint effort to grow closer, come together as a family, and comply with their therapist, Diamond can choose a new pet. Any pet at all. (Terms and conditions may apply.)

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I Would Do Anything For Dove (but i won't do that)

During the first week Spoiled Rich moved to Ponyville, Diamond Tiara often wondered if she was really happy to live with them, because her new stepmom never smiled or laughed or talked loud the way other ponies did.

“She likes to smile on the inside,” Dad had explained, though it didn’t explain too much.

Diamond had understood hidden frowns from the time she’d learned to trot; service came with a smile, and Mom said frowny little fillies couldn’t win a shiny trophy. Smiles got ponies to like you. Didn’t Spoiled want to be liked?

“When you’re at home,” Dad had told her, “you shouldn’t need to work at being liked. She likes the chance to be herself for a little while. Some ponies want to wear a fancy necklace so everypony can see them, but others would rather keep them in a safe—feelings can be like that sometimes, too. Understand?”

She hadn’t, but through the years, Diamond Tiara developed a keen talent for spotting a lockbox smile. Hanging out with Silver Spoon meant that she kind of had to; the filly lockbox smiled every ten seconds (along with lockbox scowls, sighs, giggles, eye-rolls, screams, and revenge fantasies). Silver kept her lockboxes in concrete three feet underground, while Spoiled left hers on a closet shelf.

That said, the comparison was moot within Ponyville city limits. Precious few Ponies Who Mattered lived here, and even fewer who played at social politics, so Spoiled rarely had to bother with forced niceties. Nine times out of ten, the face you saw was the real one—not unless she had a very good reason to lock it up that day.

Today was one of those days, and somehow, Diamond suspected she wouldn’t like the reason. Especially not when Spoiled had held this particular lockbox smile since breakfast.

The two of them strode through the summertime shade at a respectable pace. Diamond’s regular business trot, according to Spoiled, wasn’t appropriate for today’s agenda. Fair enough; a three-minute walk didn’t really justify a power trot. Diamond Tiara glanced at their carriage waiting at the base of the dirt path, where a knot of weasels sniffed at the odd contraption parked near Fluttershy’s cottage. Sparkleworks—whose chauffeur/maid/bedtime snitch duties didn’t include pest control—squinted back warily.

“Proper elite do not walk to their appointments, Diamond. We are not here to meander through the square, Spoiled had told her. Coincidentally, it also meant a chance to show off the new carriage amongst the local peasantry and certainly had nothing to do with the Silvers’ antique luxury coach.

One heard Fluttershy’s cottage long before they saw it. Flocks of songbirds chorused in the branches above them, fuzzy critters barked and growled and chittered on the ground, and fishes splashed in the running stream… And cooing.

Very aggressive cooing.

The birds in the trees went quiet, and several swooped in to land on the fence to watch them pass. Chickens in the yard stopped scratching and turned towards the newcomers. None of them looked too happy.

Diamond blinked at the cooing basket hanging on her side. “I think Menace is awak—”

The basket slammed hard against her barrel, rocking and thumping and bouncing with the slap of pigeon wings. A little pink beak stabbed its way through the wicker and cooed even louder.

Fluttershy’s birds gaped at them a moment.

The yard erupted.

Gangs of finches clung to the thatched roof in a carpet of grey and brown feathers, every one of them fluffed like a cotton ball and screaming their little lungs out. They beeped and scolded and screamed and slammed tiny wings against their chubby stubby bodies. One screamed so hard it lost its grip and fell off the roof into a bush.

Diamond flinched from the outraged hens trying to claw through the fence. “Pony’s sake, Menace, what did you say?!”

Whatever it was, he wasn’t even close to done saying it. One pus-white eye glared daggers from the hole he’d gored through the basket. Menace cooed once. The finches exploded into even louder beeping, and this time, a flock of sparrows, a pair of cardinals, three vultures, two separate mobs of crows, and a particularly outraged peacock swarmed to join the horde.

A little white rabbit with a bad attitude shot them the stink eye from the window. Spoiled returned the favor as she took in the menagerie on the roof. “Sooner we get this over with, the better.”

“Mother, are you—WHOA!” Diamond slammed both hooves on the basket lid before Menace shoved it open. Feathers flew through gaps in the wicker. She practically had to shout to be heard over the commotion of tweets and coos. “Mother, are you sure you don’t want to go to Doctor Fauna? It might be quieter over there?”

Spoiled rapped the door twice—a formality at this point, considering the noise. “Yes, it might. However, Fluttershy comes highly recommended and your… animal is something of a special case.” The lockbox smile faded, a legitimate frown taking its place. Her eyes flashed between Diamond and the basket before returning to the door. “She has a light touch.”

Diamond flicked her tail. “It’s because she’s free, isn’t it?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Diamond. Nothing’s free but trouble, you know that.” Another side glance. “But yes. Partly.”

The top half of the door flew open. Fluttershy pulled off a beekeeping mask and gasped at her front yard. “What in Equestria is going on out here?”

Before the question even finished, a cacophony of beeps, chirps, clucks, screams, honks, and whistles rocked the cottage.

“One at a time—one at a time, PLEASE!”

The noise settled. A series of whispered chips traveled from bird to bird. They nodded. In a flurry of brown, the fattest finch came down to perch on the bottom half of the door. It hopped up and down on its absurd little stick legs, beeping at her.

Fluttershy sighed. “I agree, Mr. Feathers, that’s not a very nice thing to say, but—”

Angrier beeping.

“That doesn’t mean you should say such ugly things back.” The pegasus flapped her own wings at a chirp from one of the cardinals. “No, I don’t care what he said about your eggs, that’s still not something you ought to say to a new patient. Where did you all learn to use such language? And against a poor little pigeon all by himself, too. You should know better.”

Fluttershy’s disappointment bent every feathered head there. The peacock and crows shuffled away in disgrace.

“You should all know better.” Finally, Fluttershy turned to the wicker basket. It still rattled with scratching and flapping and cooing. She put a delicate hoof to her mouth, turning to the white rabbit sitting in the window. “Oh my… he does have a bit of a potty mouth, doesn’t he?”

The rabbit crossed its forepaws and nodded.

Fluttershy’s eyebrows rose at the defiant coo inside the basket. “I suppose that’s true, the mean streets do have a language of their own….” She frowned. “But there’s no need to bring my mother into this.”

Diamond gave the basket a gentle flick. “’Mean streets?’ Is that what they’re calling society weddings now?” You’d find everything mean and nasty about Upper Canterlot’s gated communities everywhere except the street.

Compared to the racket outside, the chittering and chirps inside might as well have been whispers. Even those died down to a hush as Fluttershy led Diamond and Spoiled into her living room; the animals seemed to know the difference between casual and business visits. Diamond set the basket on the carpet, opened the latch, and stepped back. Spoiled watched from the safety of the doorway, her ears low and wary.

No explosion of feathers. No rigorous flapping. No scratching or furious cooing. For someone with so much to say before, Menace had gone strangely quiet. If not for the flashes of black and white moving behind the wicker, Diamond might have thought he’d escaped.

Fluttershy sighed and shut the door, where a cluster of hens still glowered at them. “I’m sorry about that. I just don’t know what got into them; they’re normally so well behaved.” She crossed the living room in two smooth flaps to hover above the basket.

The white rabbit fussed under the table, munching alfalfa cubes. It peeked up every few minutes to check on his caretaker, who watched and listened to her new patient in silence. She seemed to be waiting to see if the bird would make the first move.

“Sometimes it’s upsetting,” Fluttershy finally said, “to deal with so many changes at once. It can be overwhelming and frightening; every creature reacts to it in their own unique way.” The statement didn’t have any particular target. She murmured it into the air for anyone to catch. Long threads of pink mane swept over the basket as Fluttershy dipped lower. “There’s no shame in feeling afraid. It’s perfectly natural.”

A soft coo burbled at the back of the basket.

Fluttershy smirked—since when did Fluttershy smirk?—with a sly light in her eyes. “Ooh, tough guy. ‘Not scared of nothin’,’ huh? Well, why don’t you come out and prove it?” Then to Diamond, “He’s a wedding dove, you said?”

Diamond nodded. “He’s got papers, too. I don’t think Menace flew in that many weddings, though.” Pulling out her pigeon’s paperwork, she noticed Fluttershy’s politely-trying-not-to-verbally-judge-your-naming-choices expression. Other ponies might have called it a frown. “He came with the name,” Diamond added. “Good morning, by the way. Menace, say hi.”

Menace did not.

Spoiled Rich—who had not received a second glance from the pegasus, much less a polite greeting or an invitation to sit—cleared her throat.

Fluttershy brushed the basket handle with her hoof. “I think he wants you to open it for him, Diamond. It’d be better to do it on the table, so he’ll be elevated and I can get a better look.” Her tail twitched in the rabbit’s direction. “Angel, clear a spot, please?”

Spoiled stepped closer and cleared her throat again, louder this time.

“There’s cough drops in the drawer.” Fluttershy didn’t even turn her head.

The top of the basket opened slowly as Diamond gently tipped it on its side. Menace shook himself and stepped onto the tablecloth. Fluttershy’s ears tilted forward, eyes wide as she stared into the empty basket. “How… how long did you keep him in there?” She was either horrified or quite impressed. Both, perhaps.

“What do you—” She looked down. Diamond’s mouth fell open.

Black and white feathers plastered the basket, fused to the ragged wicker with pigeon droppings. Violent twisted spikes jutted from every angle like some sort of picnic-time iron maiden. Bits of frayed twigs lay scattered among the feathers, each one torn out by an angry little beak.

Spoiled clicked her tongue at the disemboweled basket. “Well. That’s sixty bits well spent.”

“I—but…” Diamond swung both forehooves between the basket and the pigeon as if she could physically mash the two into a plausible explanation. “How did you do all this in ten minutes?!”

With a little coo, Menace climbed onto her foreleg and blinked remorseless little eyes at her. His bald little chest heaved hard, puffing the five stray feathers clinging to his skin. He wore about half the feathers he’d left the house with.

Practically jumping onto the couch, Spoiled yanked her tail away from the snowfall of down feathers drifting across the rug. “Is it molting?”

The gentle contours of Fluttershy’s face hardened as her eyes lingered over the bald spots. She landed hard beside Diamond, wings still spread high. “No, he’s not.”

Menace jumped, clapping his wings hard at sudden landing. If pigeons had teeth, he would have snarled. He puffed his chest with his little beak wide open, watching Fluttershy’s wingspan as if it might bite back.

Fluttershy stepped back, slowly folded her wings, and waited. They watched each other for a full minute before Menace relaxed his stance. Gently, Fluttershy’s hoof reached out to stroke his chest. The pigeon tensed and cooed unhappily, but he didn’t stop her.

“This is not molting.” Fluttershy’s voice stayed cotton-soft, but those blue eyes seared. “He’s plucking.”

Deciding this would be an ideal time to investigate the thread count on the sofa, Spoiled shifted to the other side of the couch. “Well, don’t look at me—Diamond found the bird this way.” Her hoof yanked off the floor before a floating primary feather touched it.

“You don’t need to act like he’s diseased,” Diamond snapped. “The bird pony already said he’s not sick.” She frowned at the jagged empty spaces where feathers should have been. But she said a lot of things.

“Birds don’t pluck their own feathers because they’re sick; they pluck because they’re upset. Very upset. Sometimes it’s also because they’re bored or not eating right, but in this case…” Fluttershy glanced at Menace with a grim nod. “He says his old home didn’t treat him very well. I’ll give you a birdie sweater to stop him from plucking at himself.”

A sneer wrinkled Spoiled’s muzzle. “Pure incompetence. Glad I fired her.”

For once, we agree on something. Diamond ran her hoof over Menace’s cheek feathers and cradled his head as it began to drift sideways. He trembled, despite the summer heat and the conflux of warm animal bodies crowding the cottage.

It didn’t go unnoticed. Spoiled watched Menace like a tripwire, and she’d been doing it ever since the basket opened.

She’d been unusually quiet too, now that Diamond thought about it. Oh, she’d spoken, but only a spare sentence here and there, and those had been more like thinking out loud. Spoiled hadn’t actually spoken to anypony—or rather, she hadn’t complained.

Critters of all sizes and sorts crawled across walls, slithered over rugs, tramped through rooms, and nested in bookshelves. Feathers and animal hair littered the floor, along with spare bits of food and nesting. The cottage smelled of musk, fur, animal feed, and who knew what else—bad as a barnyard, if not worse. Spoiled never failed to complain of the Sweet Apple Acres “barn stench” that stuck to Diamond’s coat when she came back from visiting Apple Bloom.

Fluttershy had forgotten to properly invite them inside, yet Spoiled hadn’t protested beyond a passive-aggressive cough.

Watching her now, Diamond realized something else: the lockbox smile had vanished. Whatever secret thing she’d hoped for, Spoiled didn’t look forward to it anymore. She met Diamond’s eyes. “Tell her what’s happening with your pigeon, sweetheart.”

Knots twisted Diamond’s stomach. Today had too many variables. Too many questions. Why had Spoiled been so keen to visit a dirty crowded house full of shedding animals at ten in the morning? What had she and Dad talked about out in the hallway? And why did Fluttershy go out of her way to smile so gently at her? Or was that just how she smiled at everypony? Diamond couldn’t remember anymore and didn’t want to find out.

They should have been done by now. We know why he lost the feathers. Problem solved. Why can’t we just go home? Menace was fine. No, better than fine, he was perfect. She rubbed the top of his head, and the pigeon cooed and leaned into it. The most perfect little bird in the whole world.

“Go ahead, Diamond,” Spoiled softly said.

This whole thing smelled rotten. A trick. A scam. To what end, Diamond couldn’t tell, but everypony else except Menace and her seemed to be in on it. With the trap sprung, however, she had nowhere else to go.

Diamond sighed hard. That made Fluttershy smile another one of her sweet little encouragement smiles. Diamond Tiara kind of wanted to sock her in the mouth. “Well, his neck…” She motioned to Menace’s head as it slowly twisted backwards. “It does that a lot.”

Fluttershy nodded, running her feathers down the bird’s neck and down his sides. “Torticollis. Ponies also call it ‘wry neck’ or ‘stargazer syndrome’ because their heads are staring up all the time. Eggwina had it a few years ago.” She examined the vet records. “Menace has had it a long time… I think it might be hereditary? You should ask Doctor Fauna to be sure.”

Diamond Tiara flattened her ears. They could have gone to Fauna in the first place if Spoiled didn’t want to be cheap.

“It doesn’t seem to impair him too much,” Fluttershy continued, “but it can make birds fly funny sometimes.”

Which explained why Dainty Dove left him out of the wedding flights and the breeding roster. No wonder she’d been so ready to ditch him. “Right. So, if he’s born that way, that means it’s just how he is. He’s. Not. Sick.” Diamond tossed a defiant glare toward the couch.

Spoiled just stared back at her calmly—or… sadly? No. Calmly. Spoiled Rich got sour, never sad.

Fluttershy’s wingtips threaded along Menace’s ribs and sides. “Excuse me, but can you please tell me when you ate last?”

The pigeon cooed.

“Job time?” At Fluttershy’s signal, the white rabbit lifted a plate of safflower seeds. “So that would be yesterday?” She glanced up for a quick confirmation from Spoiled. “Gosh, a whole day without any nice seeds or oats or anything? You must be pretty hungry.” Fluttershy nudged the plate of seeds closer.

Menace’s head sunk into his shoulders.

“You could, but I really think it would be better if you ate it now.”

A short coo.

Fluttershy frowned. “I never said I was the boss of you. I just think it might make Diamond Tiara happy if you ate a little bit.”

The seeds rolled through Menace’s toes as he spread them around the plate. He peered at Diamond, who nodded and smiled encouragingly, then tilted his head at the safflower seeds. Menace righted his neck to peck at the plate. The seeds reached his beak this time, but he only swallowed a couple.

Still, better than nothing, right? Diamond smiled again and patted him for a good try. “He drank some water yesterday when I gave him a bath.” But had he drank since then? Diamond couldn’t remember; she hadn’t looked at the water dish when they left.

Another frown from Fluttershy (she needed to quit doing that before she got wrinkles). “I’m sorry—did you say you gave him a bath? As in, you hoofwashed him?”

“Technically, our maid gave him a bath.” Fluttershy’s stare prickled the hair on Diamond’s neck. “Uh. Are baths bad?”

“Not… exactly, but it’s a little strange. Doves and pigeons like to stay nice and clean, so they usually bathe themselves.”

Diamond scratched under her bird’s chin, watching his neck stretch upwards to meet her. “Menace is already used to the high life and didn’t want to wash in a boring old candy dish, so we did it for him. He’s also been kinda tired ever since he fell in the wedding cake.”

Both of Fluttershy’s ears flew up. Apparently, they’d forgotten to mention the cake. Whups. Maybe Diamond should have led with that instead.

“Yeah, that’s kinda why he needed a bath.”

Fluttershy hummed at that, leaning back to sit on her haunches while she stroked her chin. After a few seconds of thought, she asked what sort of cake it had been.

“Red velvet layered with chocolate truffle.” A bit of color drained from Spoiled’s face. Her eyes pinched shut with a pained little groan. “It cost nine thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven bits, and took three days to bake.”

Squinting, Fluttershy mouthed the word ‘chocolate’ to herself and turned to Menace. “Alright, this is very important: Did you eat any of it?”

Menace cooed and blinked at her. He didn’t seem to understand.

“Oh, I see. In that case, what do you remember?” Fluttershy folded her hooves on the table and leaned forward while she listened to the series of interconnected coos, burbles, chuffs. She only interrupted him once. “Where did you see him?”

Menace tried to use his foot to point at the curtains in the corner and ended up almost falling on his face. Fluttershy’s tail caught him before his beak met the woodgrain.

“I see,” Fluttershy said slowly. “I’d like to hear that again, please: What happened when you went to fight the parakeet in the window?” For reference, she pointed at her own window. “That’s what we ponies call the openings too small to be doors.”

Menace turned—though it devolved into another twirling cycle for a moment—and pointed a toe at Diamond. He gave a weaker little coo.

“Yes, that’s all. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful. You can go back for some rest, if you want.” Fluttershy watched him trot back into the basket, helped him settle, and closed the lid.

With care, Diamond eased the basket right-side up. “So?”

“It sounds like he hit a window. Menace must have fallen into the cake from there and knocked himself out, poor little guy. Oh—please don’t tell him I called him that.” Covering her mouth with her feathers, Fluttershy leaned forward and whispered, “He’s awfully concerned about his… um… ‘street cred.’ What happened after you found him?”

“Not much.” If one didn’t count that dumb circus of a pigeon custody battle, anyway. Diamond covered the broad strokes of the last forty-eight hours: how she found Menace sleeping under a table and he didn’t want to move for a while, the way he preferred riding on her head to walking or flying, and how he still liked to flap around and attack stuff. Mostly Randolph.

“I see.” That little frown of Fluttershy’s was getting real old real fast.

None of that stuff had seemed all that bad when it happened, but saying it out loud, hearing it pile up… Diamond swallowed hard. “But he bounced right back, Fluttershy! He wanted to fight every single bird in the cottage, you saw him. Look what he did to his travel basket. A sick bird couldn’t do all of that. I mean, I know he’s got weird fits sometimes and his neck does that… that ‘tortoiseitus’ thing, but it always wears off.”

A silent exchange flashed between the adults. Fluttershy settled beside her, so close that her mane dripped over Diamond’s withers in thin pink waterfalls. “Menace has a concussion.”

“Oh. You mean that’s all? Just a concussion?” Diamond’s rattling chuckle sounded better than it felt. “I got one of those when I fell off the slide last year and didn’t even have to miss school.” At best, the concussion made for a decent excuse for the C-plus on the geology test she’d tried to skip.

Fluttershy shook her head. “Windows are huge compared to a little bird’s skull, and he hit it harder and faster than you hit the ground. Three stories is a long way to fall, even with a cake to catch you, and pigeons aren’t built as tough as an earth pony.”

Diamond squinted hard.

“Um—not that Menace isn’t tough, but bird bones are different than ours. Sometimes a bird can hit a window, shake it off in a few days, and be fine.” A gust of summer air rolled through the cottage to tousle Fluttershy’s mane. Her windows didn’t have glass at all, only shutters and curtains. “And sometimes…”

“Sometimes what?”

“Sometimes they don’t make it.” Fluttershy tilted her chin towards Menace’s basket. “I don’t know if this is one of those times or not—”

Diamond glared. “It’s not.”

The stare didn’t break, though Fluttershy’s gaze softened. Her left wing rose over Diamond’s withers, but stopped in mid-air when Diamond tensed and shifted away. The wing went back into place.

Good. If Fluttershy had dared to do it, Diamond would have snatched Menace’s basket and walked home. She didn’t need hugs, she didn’t need pats on the shoulder or sympathetic sighs, and Diamond Tiara ABSOLUTELY did not need that stupid, stupid look on Fluttershy’s face—all gentle and sad and pitying. Who the hay did she think she was talking to? The Little Match-colt or some garbage?

A real animal doctor wouldn’t treat ponies this way. A REAL doctor would have already told them how to get Menace to feel better, given them some vitamins or whatever, and let them leave. Diamond felt her face growing hot. This rotten ugly cottage needed an air conditioner and smelled like week-old dog poop. Why couldn’t they go, already?

Fluttershy backed from Diamond’s personal bubble. “I’m sor—”

No. I don’t care how sorry you are.” Sorry didn’t heal her bird. Sorry stood still and made excuses, and only losers made excuses. “Tell me how to fix it.”

“It’s… not exactly something we can fix.” Fluttershy must have caught the defiant glint in Diamond’s eye, because she followed with, “Doctor Fauna would tell you the same thing. Right now, the very best thing you can do for Menace is to keep him comfortable and relaxed.”

In a cobwebbed corner of her mind, Diamond remembered somepony (Dad, maybe?) saying something similar about Nana Impossibly. That had been the week Nana came home from the hospital all quiet and weird. Dad had wanted Diamond to sit and talk with her, even though Nana did nothing but sleep and stare at the wall.

A couple weeks after that…

Diamond shook herself back into the present. “Comfortable. Okay. How do I do that?”

“It will help him rest if you keep him someplace dark and quiet. A room without windows, maybe.”

“Right. I know just the place.”

The white rabbit bounded up to the table, carrying a shoebox of tiny crochet vests. They must have been the sweaters to keep Menace from plucking out his feathers. Fluttershy wouldn’t bother giving him clothes unless she thought he’d use them, right?

“Keep food nearby in case he gets hungry, and switch it out every day the way you normally would. I’d suggest a favorite food, but I’m not sure what he likes. I’ll give you one of my special feed mixes; it should help him grow new feathers. Menace has a cozy nest of his own, right?” Fluttershy smiled at Diamond’s nod. “Wonderful. Oh, and you should talk to him, too.”

Diamond hugged the shoebox close to herself. “Talk to him?”

“Well, I know I’d want my friends to keep me company if I wasn’t feeling well. I’m sure he’ll be glad to know his friend is there taking such good care of him and rooting for him.”

Under the table, the rabbit watched them with long droopy ears instead of minding its own business. If she was the filly she’d been six months ago, Diamond would have dropkicked him into a briar patch. For now, she opted for a sneer and a shooing motion. “So it’s lots of rest in a quiet dark place, and keep him company. Is there anything else I need to do?”

In the background, Spoiled sat up on the couch, tilting her ears in anticipation.

Fluttershy considered it, then shook her head. “Besides that, keep being a good friend to him in the meantime.”

“Fine. I’m gonna wait in the carriage until we leave.” Gathering her basket, Diamond stepped over the rabbit and headed for the door.

“Wait a second.” Spoiled Rich stiffened. She hopped off the couch, looking back and forth between her stepdaughter and the pegasus. “W-wait, but shouldn’t you—I mean, Fluttershy, you just can’t let her leave now without—”

The door shut behind Diamond before she heard whatever Fluttershy let her leave without. If she hadn’t mentioned it, it couldn’t have been that important. Some minor thing Spoiled blew out of proportion like always, probably.

Sad little eyes watched from the birdhouses and treetops. Nosy little jerks. No wonder Menace wanted to throw down with every bird here. When they came back for a checkup, Diamond ought to let him kick their feathery butts into the dirt. It’d serve them right.

Inside the basket, her pigeon dozed in the tangled handkerchief Diamond had given him for a blanket. As the sun warmed the wicker, he opened one eye and blinked at her.

“Hi, Menace. Are you hungry yet?”

He tucked his head under the kerchief. Guess not.

Fluttershy’s voice trailed through the open window. Not her regular meek mashed potato voice, either. It had bite to it. “I already told you, no, Mrs. Rich.”

Diamond paused on the walkway and glanced back towards the cottage.

“...because it’s not for absolute certain, and even if it was, I’m not going to do your—” Fluttershy bit the rest of the sentence off. She sighed hard. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped. I understand, but I think… I think this is something she should hear from somepony else. Somepony like a member of her family?”

A moment of silence. The door opened, and a somewhat tired-looking Spoiled appeared in the doorway. Her eyebrows lifted in mild surprise. Or annoyance. Or something. Diamond felt too tired to try and figure her out today. “What happened to waiting in the carriage?”

Diamond shrugged. “Changed my mind.”

“It’s hot out. Let’s get somewhere cool and decent before you get your coat sweaty.”

Nodding, Diamond climbed into the carriage. She hugged the basket close and settled against the window as the door closed. “Fluttershy’s house smells weird and gross. Let’s go to a real vet next time.”

“Agreed.” Spoiled adjusted her earrings and knocked the roof. “Home, Sparkleworks.”

The Rich panic room sustained luxury living for the modern pony through any natural, magical, biological, or economic disaster—money-back guarantee, void where prohibited. A secure and fully furnished living space located two feet below the Rich mansion, it had been built the year Mom moved out and Dad had the house remodeled. The original conception had been a guest suite, but a glut of Everfree monster attacks and Spoiled’s paranoia changed plans quick.

In four years, the room had only been used once (not counting the nights Diamond snuck down to play pinball) and might as well have been brand new. The place still smelled like Barnyard Bargains and Davenport’s Quills and Sofas had a baby together.

More importantly, the room had no windows, soundproof walls, a light dimmer, and zero hoof traffic.

“It’s like a nest box, but bigger,” Diamond told Menace. “Nopony but me will bother you, and I promise I won’t get too loud.”

The pigeon had rested in her tiara, watching while the house staff relocated his cage and Diamond replaced the newspaper with strips of soft (and disposably cheap) fleece. He seemed to approve.

New housing hadn’t improved his appetite, but Menace soon stopped shivering and watching his airspace as if a hawk might swoop on him. He stayed calm through the afternoon and didn’t fall over quite as often. That was something at least, but it’d be better if he’d eat his dinner for once.

Maybe showing him all the trophies and crowns in the War Room hadn’t been such a good idea. Menace II Society had a pedigree; as a fancy breed, he must have been to at least one show. His parents won tons of prizes; that could be hard to live up to.

“You don’t need to starve yourself to win trophies,” Diamond had told him. “In fact, I don’t care if you never go to shows or win any trophies at all. We both know you’re perfect; you don’t need to prove it.”

That had been Sunday afternoon. Later that night, Dad came down to the panic room to eat dinner since Diamond didn’t want to go up to the dining room. Menace perched on the table and seemed to enjoy watching them eat, though he denied Diamond’s offer of oats from her plate.

After dinner, Dad wished Menace well, wished Spoiled good luck, and kissed Diamond on the cheek before he caught the balloon to Manehattan. Hopefully, the Manehattan branch manager would get canned for screwing up so bad that he dragged Dad away in the middle of his vacation.

On Monday morning, Diamond Tiara woke up before Spoiled’s alarm went off, skipped breakfast, and took the shortcut to the Silver house.

She rang the doorbell no less than twelve times in five seconds. Diamond jammed her face through the door the second it cracked open. “Hi, can you get this to Silver Spoon’s granddad’s house, please? I can pay for a telegram or maybe we can teleport it or whatever?”

A lamp bloomed to life, lighting the dim foyer. Mr. Silver Laurel’s baggy eyes blinked at her very slowly. “Diamond Tiara. It is four-thirty in the morning.”


Earth ponies didn’t know how to crush a skull using only the power of their minds, but you wouldn’t know it from Mr. Silver’s face. “Nothing is open for another three hours. Because it is four. In the morning.”

“Oh. Well, can you send it when they’re open?” Diamond peeked into the dark house, searching for a familiar horned silhouette. “Actually, could your butler teleport it there? He knows how to do that, right?”

“He can, but Brass Tacks has accompanied Silver Spoon to the family manor.” Mr. Silver pulled his monocle from his pajama pocket, peering at Diamond’s letter. “I’ll address and send it, of course, but I can’t guarantee when she’ll get it. There’s a fair chance they’re not even home.”

“Okay, but like—I need Silvie to come back to Ponyville. Like, now. Right now.”

The expression on Mr. Silver’s face told her that would be quite impossible, and to even ask was more than a little selfish. Too late, Diamond remembered that Silvie’s dad didn’t like her very much. If she were being a hundred percent honest, Diamond didn’t really blame him.

“I’m sorry I woke you up so early.” Even though he probably would have been awake in like a half-hour anyway. What kind of slacker woke up later than five? “If she can’t come back, is there some way I can talk to her today? A scrying glass or a telephone or something?” Telephones still hadn’t left Manehattan’s stock district, but some small sectors of the wealthy had them for novelty’s sake.

“Diamond Tiara—”

“Please, Mr. Silver! I really, REALLY need to talk to Silver Spoon.” Nopony managed a crisis the way she could. Silvie would keep her cool and… do something. Diamond didn’t know what yet, but that was the whole point of talking in the first place, right? If nothing else, she’d have her right-hoof mare. She’d have somepony to talk to.

“Is it an emergency?” Mr. Silver held up a hoof. “Not a student council problem or a beauty pageant. I mean a real emergency.”

“Um.” YES. “…k-kinda? Yes. Maybe—I dunno… I got a new pet and…” Diamond stamped her hoof. Why did ponies need to make everything such a pain? “Can you send it or not?”

Mr. Silver ran a hoof through his pale mane and smacked his lips. “Stay there. I’ll be right back.” In a few moments, he returned with a silver saucer, one of Silver Spoon’s kettles, and a cauldron the size of a grapefruit. “I can try—try, Diamond—to set up a scrying session, but no promises.”

“I’ll take whatever I can get.” Diamond pulled a folded paper from the cauldron. “Are these the instructions?”

“Follow them best as you can, then wait. She’ll contact you if—IF—she can.”

“Thanks, Mr. Silver, I owe you.” Literally, if the Silvers’ reputation for collecting favors held water. It’d be worth it, though.

Most Mondays, Spoiled Rich visited the spa from nine to noon. When Sugarcube Corner opened, Diamond camped out nursing a breakfast of deluxe milkshakes and a banana split until nine rolled around. Mr. Cake was nice enough to give her a bag of broken ice cream cone for Menace to try. He didn’t even add it to her tab.

Diamond Tiara snuck home just as the clock struck ten.

Twitching her ears, she checked the house for signs of life: nothing but Randolph polishing the floor. She checked her parents’ room: zilch. Ditto the dining room, greenhouse, living room, and the rest of her stepmom’s usual haunts. Good. Scrying supplies in hoof, Diamond grabbed an old Power Ponies comic to read to Menace and headed down to the panic room.

She froze mid-stair.

Spoiled Rich sat on a lounge couch in the center of the panic room. A silk house robe hung from her shoulders, and without mousse, her mane draped in limp purple ringlets. She’d never left the house. Menace lay on the carpet beside his cage, wearing one of his new sweater vests.

“Sit down, Diamond. We need to talk.”