• Published 11th Mar 2019
  • 980 Views, 80 Comments

The Pegasus who Kicked the Changelings' Hive - A M Shark

After being injured during the events of "The Ponies who Played with Fire" a now-captive Discord is facing trial for murder, while Fluttershy and her small band of allies are in a desperate struggle both to clear his name and avoid their own capture.

  • ...

Chapter 6. Hosea 6:1

Chapter 6

"Come, let us return to the LORD; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up."—Hosea 6:1

Skywishes stuck her head through the now-open panel. "It's Wasp and Card—What are you doing?"

Fluttershy peeked around her to see that Applejack, Screwjob, Twilight, and Rarity seemed to be in the middle of sorting through Highflyer's trunk of colorful wrestling costumes. But before she could locate the tiny wrestler, Dinky, or even Bonfire, Rarity looked up, beaming.

"Ah, just the pony we wanted to—" Her pleased expression fell as Skywishes boosted Fluttershy up into the TreeHAB before climbing in after her. "Where's Spike?"

Skywishes turned to slide the panel shut, leaving Fluttershy to answer the question. "He, uh ... he decided to stay behind."

"What?!" Twilight's head snapped up, her expression alarmed.

"Don't worry! He's all right." At least I hope he is, Fluttershy silently added in her thoughts before quickly filling the others in on what had happened during the hospital trip. While she described things, she saw Highflyer step out from behind his open trunk, and noticed Dinky almost completely hidden in a pile of camouflage, getting some much-needed sleep. Only Bonfire remained unaccounted for.

By the time Fluttershy had finished explaining Spike's reasoning for staying at the hospital, Twilight's expression looked a trifle less alarmed though still uneasy.

"I'm going to check on him." She whipped out a quill and a sheet of paper, jotted a quick note on the paper, rolled it up, and sent it to Spike via her magic. The scroll flashed back into existence so fast Fluttershy briefly wondered if the spell had malfunctioned. But when Twilight caught it and unrolled it to read the contents, her expression relaxed. "He's all right," she said with a rueful expression, turning the scroll so they could see Spike's reply written under her original message. "He says he was expecting this." Then her expression turned thoughtful. "Actually having him there might work with what we were planning to try here."

Skywishes glanced about at the colorful wrestling outfits now covering the floor. "What exactly were you planning to try?"

Rarity smiled. "Well, for starters I am about to give your wardrobe a much needed makeover."

Skywishes's eyes widened in alarm as she whirled to face Rarity, but before she could voice a protest, the unicorn went on. "After all, you did agree to let me tailor our outfits when I got back here."

Skywishes opened her mouth. Then promptly shut it. Fluttershy could almost hear her remembering the way she'd answered Rarity with an offhoof: Yeah, yeah. Sure. Whatever you want.

"I mean, all this drab shapeless stuff," Rarity continued, using her magic to lift the camouflage cloak she'd been wearing earlier, and tsk-tsking in disapproval. "Honestly, darling, it's not fit to be seen in."

Skywishes suddenly seemed to recover and narrowed her eyes. "Why do you think I wear it? Not to be seen in! That's the whole idea."

"We know that, Skywishes, but hear us out," Twilight quickly cut in. "While you were gone, we got to brainstorming and decided that since we have everything here we need to make the crystal pony potion except the powdered gemstones, we could try making a modified version of it by using the dye from Highflyer's clothes instead. In theory this modified potion won't make us look like crystal ponies, but it will change our coat colors."

"And that's where the wardrobe makeover comes into play as well," said Rarity. Still keeping the camouflage cloak aloft, she also used her magic to lift a much smaller sleeveless purple shirt trimmed with gold up next to it. "If the modified potion works, we'll use a similar spell to transfer the colors from Highflyer's clothes onto the insides of several camouflage outfits—" She tucked the shirt inside the cloak. "—and with a few of my tasteful alterations, we'll all be equipped with practical-yet-pleasing two-in-one winter garments. Camouflage for traveling through the forest," She wrapped the cloak around herself to demonstrate. "And bright colors for venturing into society." She turned the cloak inside out so that the much smaller shirt was now on the outside. "Of course, the final product will look much more fabulous than this," she added as she separated the cloak and shirt.

"We'd have made the potion and started testing it by now, but we weren't sure how much of our daily water supply we could spare on it, and wanted to check with you first." Twilight added. "So what do you think?"

Skywishes was silent, her expression unreadable. While she hadn't promptly squashed their idea, her lack of response wasn't particularly encouraging.

"Sugarcube," Applejack said, moving forward to gently put a hoof on Skywishes's shoulder. "We know you're trying to keep us alive, but we can't have you running yourself ragged while the rest of us just sit around here."

At the touch, Skywishes started and shook herself. "I know that, I just ... I'm just not used to this. To ... working with other ponies ... To ... having these options..." She shook her head but Fluttershy got the impression it was more to clear her mind rather than to express disagreement. "Still," said Skywishes, turning to more fully face Twilight and Rarity. "If the potion works like you seem to be saying, those are some good ideas you've got. And they're probably our best bet for survival. Even without Spike, our current supplies won't last much longer; we can't sustain ourselves solely on magically grown stuff long-term." A grimace flashed across her face. "And believe me, we don't want to have to eat pulped Timberwolf if we can avoid it."

Fluttershy shuddered at the thought. "Does it taste really awful?"

To her surprise, Skywishes actually smiled in amusement. "No, it actually doesn't have much of a taste at all. It's more the ... side effects of eating it that are the problem."

"Side effects?"

Skywishes's smile turned back into a partial grimace. "You know that infamous bad breath Timberwolves have? Well, I found out that once you eat some pulped Timberwolf and get it into your bloodstream you smell just as bad as their breath."

This was met with expressions and exclamations of disgust all around as the group tried to imagine it.

Skywishes nodded. "It may have kept a lot of predators away, but pretty soon even I was having a hard time coping with me. The only other plus to it is that you apparently taste as bad as you smell. I found that out when a hydra got me in one of its mouths at the time—I guess the smell alone wasn't enough to deter it—only to promptly spit me back out." Then she seemed to notice an absence in their group. "By the way, I've been meaning to ask, where's Bonfire?"

"Oh, she tried hobbling around a bit on her peg-leg until she'd hobbled herself over there," said Screwjob, pointing toward the photo of Sunny Daze and Skywishes as fillies. There were several books and bundles of camouflage stacked between the group and the picture, but now Fluttershy caught sight of the edge of a magenta membrane behind the stacks of material. No wonder she'd missed it earlier. "She's just been hiding back there since then."

Skywishes frowned at this before going over to the photo. After a moment's hesitation, Fluttershy followed. Rounding the stacks of material, they saw Bonfire lying on her stomach inside the bubble, wrapped in her camo blanket with only her grotesque head visible. Her eyes were trained on the photo, but as Skywishes and Fluttershy drew near, she sprang up and whirled toward them with a fierce snarl.

"Relax." Skywishes ordered in a flat emotionless voice, and surprisingly the little mystery creature actually seemed to quiet, her snarl softening to a low thrum. Bonfire's gaze flicked from Skywishes and Fluttershy to the photo and back again several times before she adjusted her position to more fully face the photo. Still keeping a wary sidelong gaze on the two ponies, she leaned toward the photo. With her fleshless muzzle barely an inch from the image of filly Skywishes, she trilled softly.

Skywishes squinted one eye at this little demonstration before deciding to interpret it as a question. "Yeah, that's me as a filly."

At this, Bonfire turned her head enough to point to the other filly and trilled a second time.

"And that's my twin sister, Sunny Daze."

A third inquisitive trill.

Skywishes considered what question the little creature could possibly be asking before saying, "She's dead. Died a long time ago."

Bonfire's head drooped and she let out a very soft trill that was almost a sigh. Her eyes closed and she seemed to tremble.

"Bonfire?" Fluttershy asked softly, moving closer to her. "Is something wrong?"

Bonfire's whole body shook as she tried to block out the image that refused to leave her mind. The image of those six ponies struggling helplessly as their lives were strangled away. Her memory of the white pegasus with the yellow-and-magenta streaked orange mane had always been the clearest. The white pegasus had been the only one of the six fleeing ponies to turn back and snatch her up. The only one who had attempted to take her along. Now behind her closed eyelids she saw the white pegasus once again staring at her, trying desperately to communicate something with her eyes before light and life left them permanently.

Sunny Daze... Now at long long last she finally had a name to put with the white face and dark green eyes. Those eyes so—

Her own eyes suddenly snapped open and her head swung around. She vaguely registered the yellow pony. Registered ... Fluttershy ... but she had eyes only for ... Skywishes. She stared into a pair of dark green eyes so identical to Sunny Daze's in color, and yet at the same time so different...

"Bonfire?" Fluttershy called softly, trying to get her attention, but the orange eyes were riveted on Skywishes.

"Why are you staring at me like that?" Skywishes barked, squirming under Bonfire's scrutiny. "Knock it off." She shot Fluttershy a 'help!'-look before turning back to meet Bonfire's unblinking gaze. "Wh-what are you hungry? Thirsty? Fluttershy help me here," she muttered out of the corner of her mouth.

"Bonfire!" Fluttershy repeated, not shouting but still louder than her usual soft tone. This time the little one jerked with a start and snarled in her direction.

"It's okay, sweetie," Fluttershy soothed in her usual gentle way. Once again Bonfire's snarl softened to a low thrum, and Fluttershy found herself hoping that maybe, just maybe, someday the little one would stop treating every interaction as a possible attack. Not for the first time, she wondered what had given Bonfire this mindset, but aloud she only said, "We just need to know if you're hungry or thirsty. Please just nod for 'yes' or shake your head for 'no.' I mean nod if you're either hungry or thirsty, and shake your head if you're not either of those things," she added, realizing her directions probably hadn't been very clear.

However, Bonfire did neither of these things. She only responded with a soft trill that could have meant anything.

"Well, so much for that," Skywishes muttered, sounding half-amused, half-annoyed at the cryptic response. She eyed Bonfire ruefully. "Though even if you did answer with a 'yes,' there's still that little issue of how we're supposed to get anything into you." Under her breath she added, "You lipless, tongueless wonder," before turning to Fluttershy. "Any ideas?"

Fluttershy didn't answer immediately as she studied Bonfire, mentally calling up all her knowledge of caring for many different animals. There was still the possibility that Bonfire was one of Discord's creations...

But she seems to be flesh and bones like a normal animal, rather than just paper like Mache Max, Fluttershy mused. That might mean she needs food like a regular animal would...

But how much to give her? Was her skeletal appearance just normal for whatever her species was, or was it due to a lack of nourishment? Fluttershy mentally weighed the two possibilities.

It would probably be best if we treat this like a case of starvation. If that really were the case, we'd have to start her off with only a little food at first to see if she could keep it down anyway.

Of course that brought things back to the issue of how they were even going to feed Bonfire. If Fluttershy had been caring for any normal animal that looked as underfed as Bonfire currently did, she would have started it off on a liquid diet, but would that even be possible for Bonfire? Her lack of a tongue and proper lips meant she wouldn't be able to lap up anything and sipping would likely be difficult at the very least. Still, there must be some way to feed her.

"Maybe..." Fluttershy said, drawing out the word as her brain continued working through possible ideas. "Maybe we should start by giving her some water. If we ... soaked a sponge, she could bite down on it, tilt her head back, and swallow the liquid that way. ... And if that works, we could probably give her some broth the same way before trying to give her anything solid."

Skywishes looked surprised for a brief second before her expression shifted to thoughtful. "It's worth a try. I should have some sponges around here somewhere, and the others needed water to test their potion idea anyway."

Soon after Skywishes had divvied up an allotment of water between Twilight and Fluttershy. Most of the other ponies went to help Twilight assemble the potion ingredients, while Fluttershy focused on tending to Bonfire.

It took her a good bit of coaxing to get Bonfire to come out from behind the stacks of books and camouflage, and even then the little one seemed wary of getting close to the other ponies. Fluttershy decided it was probably best not to try forcing Bonfire too far out of her comfort zone just yet, and thus didn't insist they join the others.

It took even more coaxing, even going so far as biting into the soaked sponge herself to prove it was harmless before she could put it and the water bowl into the bubble without its occupant attempting to retreat.

Now Bonfire approached the offerings cautiously. She sniffed at them, and prodded at them with her splinted, membrane-encased front leg. Finally, she decided to chance slowly sinking her teeth into the sponge. As the water oozed from it, her eyes widened and she was suddenly gnawing on the sponge and sucking the water from it as if the liquid were an especially tasty dessert.

"Aww." Fluttershy wasn't sure if it was more endearing or sad that the little one showed such enthusiasm over taking a simple drink of water.

"High, will you stop wincing every time we make the tiniest tear in your clothes?!" Screwjob suddenly snapped behind them. Fluttershy spun around to see him leaning into the open travel trunk. Highflyer was a short distance away, covering his eyes with one forehoof.

"Honestly," Screwjob went on. "You'd think we were ripping your flesh the way you're flinching. No, I take that back. You'd actually be flinching a lot less if we were ripping your flesh. Suck it up, will you? They're just clothes."

"Really Screwjob must you be so crass?" Rarity objected. "Granted his taste in fashion is a little..." She trailed off, probably realizing that wasn't the best direction to take. Clearing her throat, she turned to Highflyer. "Eh-hem. Regardless, the fact that you've allowed us to use your clothes in this little endeavor, knowing they might get destroyed in the process is a noble sacrifice."

Highflyer didn't respond to this, but Screwjob greeted it with a snort. "Come on, it's not like these are the only clothes he owns in the world." He leaned even further into the trunk. "They barely make a dent in his laundry pile. They're not even a tenth of what he has."

"Not even a te—?" Applejack sounded shocked as she turned to Highflyer. "How many outfits do you have?"

Fluttershy saw Highflyer's ears go red and felt sure his face under the mask was currently the same color. He mumbled something that sounded like: "Mmbowfifunded."

Applejack frowned. "What was that?"

"Mm, about five hundred."

"And every one of them custom-made no less," Screwjob added.

Applejack was stunned and even Rarity looked impressed. Applejack asked, "What do you need that many duds for?"

"They're a business investment!" Highflyer snapped, lifting his hoof away from his eyes.

Screwjob tittered from inside the trunk. "That's us. The Studs with the Duds. Well, let's be honest, only I really make the Stud category." His next words came out as if he had something clamped in his teeth. "Ain't I hight, Happs?"

"Yes, you ain't," she replied with an eye roll.

Screwjob's head came up and Fluttershy was sure he was about to deliver some comeback, but at that moment Highflyer suddenly launched himself at the taller wrestler. He slammed into Screwjob's side, causing him to stumble away from the trunk. As he fell over, Fluttershy saw that he had pieces of a blue costume in his mouth. Crashing onto his back, he spat the costume out next to him and looked up at the tiny attacker now straddling his chest.


The masked wrestler shoved his muzzle right into his coworker's bearded face, gritting out: "You're not. Using. That one."

Screwjob blinked at him, looking genuinely confused. "That one what?"

Taking care to plant his hooves in Screwjob's chest as many times as possible while he turned, Highflyer jumped off and snatched up the discarded costume. "This one what," he snapped, smoothing the costume pieces out only to start folding them up before anyone could get a good look at their design. "You can use—" he thrust one of the folded bundles into a pouch on the left side of his camo vest, "—any of the clothes in my trunk—" he thrust the second bundle into a right side pouch, "—except—" Grabbing the portion of his mask that covered his muzzle, he pulled it outward, and shoved the final bundle underneath, snugging it up against his forehead. "—this set." he finished, punctuating the statement by allowing his mask to snap back in place.

Screwjob sat up, wincing and rubbing at his neck while he rolled his head from side to side. "High, I know you're Captain Picky-pants when it comes to your clothes, but there's no need to get your mask in a twist. You've got other blue get—"

Highflyer whirled around to face the bigger stallion, his body low to the floor, his stance tense. "I only got this one because of Ray!"


Screwjob's annoyance seemed to promptly vanish, but Highflyer's tension didn't. He stayed in that crouched position, glaring at his coworker. For several uncomfortable seconds there was no sound but Bonfire's awkward sponge-slurping. Fluttershy watched the two wrestlers, wondering if she or anypony else should try stepping in, when Screwjob suddenly lowered his gaze.

"You're right, High. Sometimes I just get wrapped up in the whole heel thing, and ... well, I wasn't thinking and I'm sorry about that."

Highflyer continued to glare at the other stallion for several seconds more, before his stance abruptly relaxed. He sighed and shook his head. "It's just as well our boss can't hear you being all sappy. He'd probably decide to have you turn face."

Screwjob looked revolted at the idea. "Oh, wonderful. I offer you an apology and in return you try to traumatize me." Then his expression went thoughtful. "Though I might agree to being a face if it meant I got to double cross you somewhere down the line. Like that storyline where we teamed up to take on Phenom and Brimstone." He chuckled reminiscently. "There we were, the conquering heroes, the fans were loving it ... and then I turned on you. Clobbered you with the title belt, tore your mask off, put you headfirst into the steps, the whole nine yards." His eyes lit up at the memory. "Boy, did they hate me after that and when you returned weeks later to officially kick my tail they just ate it up."

Highflyer laughed fondly as well. "That was one of our best storylines wasn't it?"

Even after the past several days that Fluttershy had watched the wrestlers interact, it still fascinated her that they could offer reconciliation in the form of a perceived gibe, rather than a group hug she and the other girls might have employed.

Then Highflyer seemed to sober. "Of course, after all that happened in that storyline, I don't know if we could come up with a plausible reason for me to ever trust you, let alone team up with you again."

Screwjob looked up at the ceiling and scratched his beard. "I'm sure we could come up with something..."

Highflyer lowered his gaze and sighed ruefully. "Even if we did, we probably won't be around long enough to pitch it."

Screwjob eyed the other stallion's slumping posture, and a calculating grin flashed across his face. "Tell you what. If we get through this, I'll buy you another five hundred wrestling costumes and then some until you have an even thousand."

Highflyer's head immediately snapped up. "You will not." he said in a 'don't-you-dare' tone.

Screwjob's expression went devilishly gleeful. "Okay. Then I'll just commission Rarity to make you several fancy suits."

Highflyer bared his teeth, growling through them: "Jobs. I. Don't. Do. Suits."

Screwjob shrugged his withers. "There's always a first—"

"The potion's ready!" Twilight announced. "Who wants to be the first to test it?"

"I will!" Screwjob staggered to his feet, winced, and rubbed at his head. "Hooves off the test subject!" he warned as he stumbled past Highflyer. "Don't want to contaminate the results."

"That's not how it—" Twilight started to explain, then realized the wrestler was just joking. "Oh, never mind." She floated a mug with a small sample of potion in it to him. "Here. Drink up."

He took the mug but suddenly looked hesitant. "Uh, Twilight, just a little word of warning: If this stuff kills me, my boss will be out for your blood and he makes the changelings look like Fluttershy."

Twilight gave him a weak smile. "Duly noted."

"Well, bottoms up." Screwjob raised the mug in a mock salute before tossing its contents back in one gulp. He grimaced and a shiver ran through his body as he set the mug down. Suddenly his mane turned pale gold at the roots and the color shot out toward the end of each hair. He gave his tail a reflexive swish and Fluttershy saw that it had changed color as well. In split seconds his black mane and tail were as yellow as Applejack's. Even his beard and eyebrows, or at least the one that wasn't hidden under bandages. He blinked and looked around at the other ponies. "Did it work?" He raised one of his still-golden brown forelegs. "It doesn't look like—Aye!"

Twilight had just used her magic to yank his head down to her level and began combing through his mane, peering at the roots. "Hmm. This definitely looks natural. Not like a dye job at all."

Screwjob squirmed about in his pulled-over position. "What does? I can't see it."

"Your hair just went from black to bleached blond," said Highflyer. "Now ponies might actually think you and your aunt are related."

Applejack suddenly looked hopeful. "You mean they're not?"

"No, they are, they just don't look it."

"Lemme see!" Screwjob demanded, and for a moment it looked like Rarity was obliging him by floating over a bowl of water. Only for Twilight to dunk his head in the water.

Applejack produced some soap and hurried to join the other mares as they began washing the stallion's mane. Screwjob made noises of protest, but to his credit made no serious effort to escape. However, when they finally released him, he took his revenge by shaking himself as vigorously as a dog, drawing various indignant exclamations from the three of them.

"Well," said Twilight, wiping her face. "The color looks natural, and we don't have to worry about it washing off. Now we just have to see how long it takes for the potion to wear off on its own."

"Yeah, let's hope it does wear off," said Screwjob, scratching at his beard as he studied his reflection in the water bowl. "I mean don't get me wrong, I adore blondes," he gave Applejack a sidelong smirk that was answered with a glare. "But I've always had that tall, dark, and handsome thing going on, and now I'm just two out of three."

"More like one out of three," Applejack muttered.

"Miss Honest Apps, are you trying to make a liar out of your eyesi—?"

"Who wants to test the next potion that's supposed to change our coat colors?!" Twilight called out with so much enthusiasm Fluttershy wondered if she was trying to cut the two earth ponies off before they could really get in stride. Then the alicorn quickly added, "Apart from Screwjob."

The stallion in question shot her an indignant look. "What's wrong with me?"

"I need to see if the potion will work on our bodies without changing our mane and tail colors. Then we can test it on you to see how they both work together."

"I'll try it," said Highflyer.

"That's no good," said Screwjob. "You haven't got a mane and that sawed-off stump barely qualifies as a tail."

"The sawed-off stump will do," Twilight said dryly before passing the masked stallion a mug of potion. He downed it and shivered just as Screwjob had before his whole body turned bright cerulean. That is except for his tattoos which were still as black as ever.

Rarity raised one of his forelegs to examine it. "Hmm, the potion seems to have worked, but we'll have to find some other way to hide these tattoos." Her voice took on a slightly despairing tone. "Really, darling, why do you have so many?"

"They seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Twilight," Fluttershy suddenly spoke up, startling the group. "When I was at the hospital, Discord had these cuffs on his wrists that prevented him from using his power, and they seemed to work ... but his tattoos were still able to move around. I think his dragon one even woke him up. How could they do that if the cuffs were supposed to block his power?"

Twilight frowned. "Hmm, that's a bit tricky to answer considering how different the very nature of his magic is from pony magic. Let me see ... How could it...?"

"Do you know how he got the tattoos?" Highflyer suddenly asked, freeing himself from Rarity's hold.

"What do you mean: How he got them?" Fluttershy asked, trying to read what little she could see of his face.

"Do you know if he just snapped his fingers to instantly make his tattoos appear on his body, or if he went through the whole usual process like I did with ink and needles?"

"He..." Fluttershy suddenly remembered that time at the cabin when she was bleeding from a head wound, searching for a way to stitch it up...

"Discord, are you very familiar with sewing or needles?"

"I did these, myself."

Then she'd seen two Discord duplicates using needles and a tattoo machine to give him several of his tattoos and piercings.

At the time she had been so focused on patching up her head wound that she hadn't really given much thought to Discord's words or demonstration. Until now.

"Well ... I think he might have created duplicates that did his piercings and tattoos the conventional way ... but why's that important?"

"Well, I was just thinking that if he got his tattoos the same way I did—you know, got a bunch of ink scratched into his skin—maybe that would make them sort of..." Highflyer twirled a hoof in the air, looking for the right word, "...foreign? ... Separate from him in a way that they wouldn't be if he just magically made them appear on his body?"

"Ooh," said Twilight, seeming to warm to the idea. "And maybe all the time they've been in contact with his skin caused them to leech some of his magic. And now even if his magic is blocked, they can still move thanks to the magic they soaked up over the years from him."

Fluttershy's eyes widened at this new idea and what it could possibly mean for their situation.

Now Fluttershy sat a little ways away from the rest of the group, gnawing lightly on a pencil as she stared at a sheet of paper, trying to decide what to write.

How much should she tell Discord? What if some changelings managed to intercept the message? They already know that Spike, Twilight, Skywishes, Dinky, and I are together, and they probably figure the others are with us as well...

Should she ask him about Bonfire? She looked over at the little one who had finished her sponge drink and was now hunkered down in her blanket. Her lashless eyelids kept drooping as if she were nodding off only to jerk awake again. Fluttershy had tried to assure her it would be safe to sleep, that none of them would disturb her, but it was clear Bonfire didn't believe this. Fluttershy had tried to sing her to sleep, but this technique that soothed so many animals and ponies alike only seemed to agitate this one—

"Fluttershy?" Twilight's voice startled her out of her musing. "You ready to send that letter?"

Fluttershy blushed. "Uh, actually I'm still trying to decide what to write."

"Try to keep it as short as you can," Twilight suggested. "He might need to hide it if a doctor walks in on him before he can get it back to Spike."

Fluttershy nodded before looking back down at the paper. Let's see, I'll tell him we're in hiding, but that I can't say where. I should probably wait on mentioning Bonfire since it might take a lot of time to explain how we found her ... But I probably should warn him about his tattoos moving so he can make sure they don't do it when anypony is watching. Who knew what might happen if the hospital staff discovered that? Fluttershy had a horrifying mental image of them trying to cut the tattoos out of Discord's skin. Granted that doctor had said he intended to make sure Discord was fit to stand trial but how could they be sure some changelings wouldn't figure out a way to work something nefarious in the meantime? I'll tell him that I'll try to keep messaging him through Spike ... And I should probably wrap this pencil up in the note so he can write something back if possible.

"Okay," she said a few minutes later as she signed the note, and began rolling it around the pencil. "I'm ready." She slid the new scroll across the floor to Twilight, who lifted it with her magic. The alicorn squeezed her eyes shut in concentration, preparing to send the message, when Mache Max suddenly shot out from the front of Fluttershy's jerkin. Fluttershy let out a small startled cry. He had been so quiet and unmoving for the past hours that she'd forgotten he was still nestled in her clothes. Twilight's eyes popped open at the cry just in time to see Mache Max wrap several of his wings around the scroll before it and he both vanished.

After Fluttershy and Mache Max had left, Spike had rested a bit before exploring the duct work, peeking down into various rooms, and taking note of important locations like restrooms and the cafeteria. He also checked back in on Derpy and Amethyst. The former was still hidden within her opaque bubble, while the latter was deep in her coma. Once again he felt a mixture of relief that they were at least still alive, and frustration that he could do nothing but leave them lying there helpless.

He was just making his way back to check on Discord when he got a familiar feeling in his stomach. Before he could stifle it, he belched out a spurt of flames and a scroll appeared in front of him. With an unexpected hitchhiker.

Discord yanked his left arm back, causing the gold bracelet on his wrist to press up against the restraining strap higher up on his forearm. He stretched the arm back out as far as the straps would permit, then yanked it back in again. Stretch out, pull in, stretch out, pull in, he repeated the gestures with all the rapidity of a frenzied drummer. He'd been at this with first one arm and then the other ever since he'd awakened from that painkiller-induced sleep, trying to force those bracelets off over his hands. Neither of the bracelets were tight; they really looked more like bangles than shackles. They should have slipped off easily but no matter how much he twisted and struggled they remained stubbornly in place.

His head, neck, right shoulder, and left hip all ached, but he wasn't about to start yelling for somepony to bring him more painkillers. Not after what had happened the last time.

Before he could stop them, his thoughts drifted back to that moment: To the memory of seeing Fluttershy there in the room next to him. Of cupping her face in his paw, and hearing her soft voice. It had all seemed so real at the time, but now...

Now he couldn't shake the fear that her presence there had just been an illusion his doped-up mind had produced. True, she had mentioned details about their Applejack investigation that only the two of them knew, but that might just have been his own subconscious inserting words in her mouth the way it had previously in his other dream—


Something smacked lightly but loudly against his bandaged skull, causing him to yip though more from surprise than actual pain. Turning his head as much as the strap around his neck would permit, he saw a two-headed, five-winged, rather ragged-looking paper parrot fluttering above him with a scroll clutched in one of its beaks. Discord felt a rush of déjà vu as the tattered piece of origami swooped down in front of him and used its second beak to pull the scroll open. A pencil tumbled out of the unfurling scroll to plunk on the bedspread, but when Discord looked down at it, the parrot waggled its two heads back and forth, causing the scroll to rustle as if to say: "Don't worry about the pencil, pay attention to this."

The draconequus squinted at the paper's penciled message.


It's Fluttershy.

His heart leapt, causing the beeping of his heart monitor to spike. He tried to force his heartbeat to steady and slow down, but it wasn't easy with the words now in front of him. Was it possible that...?

He continued reading, feeling his excitement build as she mentioned visiting him the night before. He hadn't imagined her! At the mention of Spike staying behind to act as their messenger, he looked up at the ceiling to see the tiny dragon dressed in camouflage, and peeking out from under the raised tile. As their eyes met, Spike gave him a tentative wave, and Discord jerked his head upward in acknowledgment. The gesture turned out to be a mistake because it sent waves of pain through his skull.

When the pounding in his head finally subsided, he turned back to the letter. Then he came to the part where she mentioned how his tattoos had moved about, as well as Highflyer and Twilight's joint theory on why that might be possible.

He looked down from the letter to see his dragon tattoo's head and neck currently stretched across his chest, its eyes trained on the letter. As if sensing his gaze on it, the dragon tattoo turned its head enough to meet his eyes, its expression hopeful. Several of his moth tattoos swarmed down onto his chest to gaze hopefully up at him as well.

For the first time in what felt like an era, the draconequus chuckled.

Then he contorted his body about in the restraining straps enough to bring his bird wing within reach of his eagle claw. He plucked out one of his wing feathers and winced briefly but didn't stop chuckling. Biting off the end of the feather's shaft, he switched it from his claw to his paw. He was ambidextrous so this switch wasn't necessary for writing but it was if he was going to reach the barbed tattoo circling his left bicep with his newly created quill pen. As he stroked the nib against the tattoo, he couldn't keep the grin off his face.

Fluttershy paced about the TreeHAB, trying to find something to occupy herself with as she waited to see if there would be a response to her letter.

Screwjob had downed another shot of potion that hadn't altered his now-blond hair in the slightest, but had turned his coat as blue as Highflyer's currently was. Now Twilight had a stopwatch going to see how long it would take for the potions to wear off. Nothing to do there but wait.

Fluttershy paced over to where Bonfire had finally succumbed to sheer physical exhaustion and fallen into a fitful sleep. Considering their success with the sponge earlier, Fluttershy had decided to try feeding the little one some broth the same way when she woke up. Maybe she could get started on preparing the broth now. After all, it would need some time to cool considering Bonfire wouldn't be able to blow on it if it was too hot ... But then again if she started making it too soon it might get too cold and—

"Fluttershy, would you be a dear and let me trim your mane?" Rarity suddenly asked from behind her. She turned to see the unicorn with a pair of scissors encased in her magic.

Fluttershy blinked at the sight of them. "Where'd you get those?"

"From Skywishes. She said she'd have given them to you earlier instead of a knife if she'd known you were planning to cut your mane. Now please please please will you let me style it? I promise I won't cut it much shorter, just trim it a little here and there."

Fluttershy had to smile at her friend's pleading look. "Sure, you can style it."

Rarity looked relieved. "Oh, thank you, dear. I know I didn't say anything earlier, but seeing your lovely mane all hacked up like that was driving me wild."

Fluttershy sat down and Rarity began snipping away.

"Though," said the unicorn after a few minutes. "I must say that was a clever idea: Using your mane to lengthen your tail. If only we could do something like that for poor Dinky."

Without moving her head, Fluttershy's eyes flicked toward the still-sleeping teenager with only a few short jagged tufts where her mane had once been.

"I mean, I realize looks aren't everything," Rarity went on as she used a hoof first to floof out Fluttershy's now-more-stylish mane, then brush any loose bits of hair from her neck. "But being able to look one's best can make so much difference in a situation. There, doesn't that look so much better?" she asked, holding up a hoof mirror Fluttershy hadn't noticed earlier.

Fluttershy actually hadn't had a chance to see what her earlier self-done manecut had looked like, so she couldn't really compare the two. But she had to admit that even though it was odd to see herself with a much shorter mane, it still framed her face well and was almost rather ... cute. So she smiled and nodded, which seemed to please Rarity.

The unicorn leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, "You know, when I first saw what you had done with your mane and tail, I thought that maybe we could do something similar for Dinky. Cut her tail shorter and weave the cutoff section into her mane." Then her smile seemed to fade. "But unfortunately she doesn't have enough mane left to weave anything into."

"You could always do as High do, and just shave it all off," Screwjob suddenly chipped in from where he and Highflyer had been semi-resting, waiting for their dye jobs to wear off. "Of course that baldness is a little hard to notice under the mask," he added, noogieing the top of Highflyer's masked skull for emphasis.

"Big-ears," Highflyer muttered as one of his front hooves shot up and caught a hold of Screwjob's offending one. The two stallions proceeded to do a sort of side-by-side foreleg wrestling match.

While this was going on, Rarity had been giving them a speculative look. "Excuse me," she said to Fluttershy before moving toward the two wrestlers.

Fluttershy wondered what she intended to do, but at that moment Mache Max materialized in front of Twilight, clutching a scroll that looked remarkably like the one she had written earlier. He shot past the alicorn and made a beeline straight for the wingless pegasus. Landing before her, he tucked one head coyly to the side while the other one held the message out to her as if offering her a bouquet.

Heart pounding with emotions she couldn't quite identify, Fluttershy reached out to take the scroll. Giving Mache Max an automatic caress of thanks on both heads, she unrolled the scroll. Out of it fell not only the pencil she'd put in earlier but a blue quill pen. And under her original message was a new one written not in pencil, but in shiny black ink.

Just supply me with the paper, my dear. I've got enough ink to draft a novel.

Unconsciously her hoof moved to trace the new sentences, but as she touched them, they swirled together, reforming into the image of a moth identical to one of Discord's neck tattoos.

Author's Note:

*Looks over at Discord's tattoos* I love you guys.

(Yes, I know that little loophole may be a complete copout, but hey, it gives me an extra excuse for Discord to have them.)

*Grins Sheepishly* Okay, so there wasn't quite as much penpal time between the Odd Couple as I originally thought there would be in this chapter. Turns out there were several other things we had to get out of the way first. However, I can say the Odd Couple will finally be talking (or rather writing) to each other and will know for sure they're interacting with the real deal in the next chapter.

And of course as always a big thank you to Nightwalker for his suggestions and editing. (This time especially for a certain scene regarding my wrestling boys.)