• Published 27th Mar 2019
  • 1,327 Views, 195 Comments

Five Score – A Prench Tale Vol.1 - Alsey



Getting a cutie mark for my birthday was already strange enough, but what will I do now that my body has suddenly decided to take a Prench leave..?

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10 – Violette's Pink City

Sweetchard's View

I've been awake for some time now, the rays of the sun starting to filter through the blinds, but I don't want to get up... Not when I could just stay here, Crispy so close to me, at least a little while longer..!

And I'm pretty sure it's the same for her, seeing how still she holds herself, how she breathes less deeply than if she was asleep, how she's squeezing the foreleg that I've draped over her barrel...

A phone buzzes somewhere in the room, and our ears turn on their own towards the cot of Rafale's sister. I'm afraid our quiet intimacy will come to an end sooner rather than later...

I start nibbling gently at Crispy's neck, drinking in her sweet scent, and I smile as she coos in delight and starts to rub her back against my belly. It gets my blood pumping, but with the human already beginning to stir, any more sensual prospects are a no-go. I disentangle from my mare, wriggling away to get enough space to roll upright, and I help Crispy getting up; with her pastern still quite sore it's easier if she can lean on me.

“Thank you, Sweety...”, she whispers with a nuzzle.

I snout at her dainty jawline in return. “So, ready to meet the new ponies..?”, I ask softly, not wanting to wake our still-sleeping friends.

She takes a critical look at me, from head to hoof. “I don't think so...”

“What..?”

Her only answer is to turn towards our pile of bags in the corner, taking hers in her mouth as quietly as possible, and bringing it back to our cot. She sits with the bag between her forelegs, rummaging inside until she pulls out three brushes: one with lots of little comb-like teeth, another short-bristled one looking like it came from a broom, and a classic hairbrush. She fumbles with the first one – it's clearly not made for hooves, the back strap too short. With a huff she seizes it between her teeth, and motions for me to get closer. I comply, a bit gingerly.

Her movements are awkward at first, but soon she manages to comb through my coat in wide, circular strokes. She sneezes once or twice because of all the dust she's getting off of me, I didn't know I was so dirty..! Beyond that, I must admit that this is also turning out to be quite pleasant!

The next brush's softer and doesn't feel as good as the previous almost-massage, but it does help making my coat look nice. Crispy doesn't leave any hair unbrushed, even those on my face! Gosh that felt strange... And it must show, seeing how mischievous she looks all of a sudden! I try to back away, but she's quicker and brushes me right on the nostrils, and I've to fight the urge to sneeze!

I rub at my snout as she puts the brush away, still smiling. “I won't have us meeting new ponies without looking our best, and I refuse to be seen with such a scruffy-looking stallion..!”, she declares, now taking the hairbrush with her hoof. “Maybe I could even tame this wild mane of yours..!”

“But that's like, twenty percents of my natural rugged charms..!”

“Perpetually looking like you just woke up isn't in my definition of 'charm'..!”

I let out a long-suffering groan, but I still abandon myself to her care. I admit it feels kind of nice too, even for all the knots she has to untangle... All in all this horse grooming stuff isn't so bad!

She stops, yet doesn't look too satisfied with her work. “It's like the darn thing is fighting against me..!”

I pass a hoof through my mane; it feels okay, falling over my brow like it should, with only some locks deciding they're better sticking out. “I'm sure it's alright Crispy...”

“I did what I could, in any case. Now's your turn, if you would...”, she says, presenting the comb-like brush.

Well, I guess it's only natural I return the favor!

I seize the comb in my mouth, the rubber strap lodging itself just behind my front teeth, and I start brushing her shoulder. I put too much strength in my first stroke though, Crispy almost toppling over!

“Not so rough, please..!”

“Shorry...”

I do my best to be more careful, and keep combing through her coat. She turns out to be a bit less grimy than I was, but I still take the time to give her as good a massage as she gave me earlier. I can't help but make a game out of linking spots large and small with my strokes, traveling along her curvy body while keeping an ear on how she reacts to the stimulation. Her cutie marks are clearly a special zone for her, I'll keep this in mind...

Once this step's taken care of, I switch to the second brush.

“Follow the hair's direction, still front to back...”, she instructs me, and I do as my lady commands... “Shorter strokes, Sweety...” Well, I try at least..!

It's certainly easier to take care of her mane and tail with the hairbrush, I have a bit more experience with this kind of grooming. I don't have much to do anyway, after barely more than a couple strokes her chocolate mane is back to its usual slightly curly self, her forelock falling just under the level of her eyes.

“I admit, they both look very cute...”, Rafale whispers as I'm brushing Crispy's tail. Glancing her way, I see both her and her sister watching us with sly smiles. In fact, Rafale seems so amused that she doesn't even notice that Mélanie has claimed Crispy's bag, and the pegasus whinnies in dismay as the human starts brushing her... That is, until Mélanie goes for the neck, then Rafale turns into a big blue puddle of bliss.

“Well you look pretty cute yourself..!”, I wink at Rafale, whose grumble sounds more like a cat's purr.

“She'd look even cuter with a braid, let me tell you..!”, Mélanie smirks. “How much I could play with her hair during our childhood... It's shorter now, but I still think I could fix a little something...”

“Noooooo...”, Rafale moans sedately. “I don't wannaaaa...”

“Oh, and maybe we should also do something about your wings, they're a real mess...”

Like an on-off switch, Rafale contentment turns to sourness. “It's okay Mél, thank you.”, she mutters, twisting away from her sister and getting her wings firmly back under her sweater. “If you're all ready, we should get going. We're already lucky enough that we didn't wake Amber...”

Like she said, the unicorn's still soundly asleep on her cot. “Shouldn't we wake her..?”, I ask.

Rafale shakes her head. “No, she had a difficult night... A little more rest will do her good.”

We have no reason to contest her judgment, so after a bit of tidying up we all quietly leave the room.

Out of the corridor we arrive in the living room, and the sounds and smells of a hearty breakfast guide us towards what must be the kitchen. Like the rest of the house the flowery decoration isn't in good shape, looking right out of the previous century, and there's barely any actual kitchen appliance – the 'sink' is a large bucket under a wall faucet, and there's a small microwave, a coffeepot, and a portable electric hotplate, that's all.

However, the kitchen's main attraction certainly makes up for it: four ponies are seated on pillows, around a low table covered with baskets of fruits and pastries! One of them is of course the unicorn Violette from last night, though this time I notice her cutie mark – what I suppose to be a violet flower, without too much surprise. In front of her is a blueish earth pony mare, maybe just a bit older than Amber but quite a bit more portly, with a glass jar cutie mark. On her left is a pegasus stallion with a coat barely darker than mine, but most of his features are obscured by a big hoodie, and next to him is another pegasus, a mare this time, with a double lightning cutie mark, light blue coat and pale yellow mane. Oh, and she doesn't wear any clothes, of course.

I elbow Rafale: “You see that? Finally at least one pegasus who knows how to dress properly!”

She only graces me with her annoyed squint for half a second before addressing our new friends: “Good morning to you all.”

Four pairs of eyes turn towards her, and I can't help but notice that the ears of our fearless leader draw back slightly, her jaw muscles tightening. Still not much of people pony, huh..?

Violette seems only too happy to come to her help: “Good morning to you too! Please join us, take a seat, I'll introduce everybody!”

Rafale puts herself at the end of the table, flanked by Mélanie, while Crispy and I take place next to Violette, who levitates paper plates and plastic cups to each of us.

“Wasn't there a young unicorn with you?”, our hostess asks with a raised eyebrow.

“She, uh, she still needs a little sleep...”, Rafale stammers.

“Oh, all right; I suppose you did arrive pretty late. So! If I remember well, we have here Crispy, Sweetchard, Laurence, and Mélanie!”, she gestures at each of us in turn with a hoof. Crispy and I say hi, while Rafale just nods, and Mélanie waves. She looks almost as awkward as her sister, but probably more because she's seated at an overwhelmingly equine table.

Lawrence..?”, the new pegasus mare repeats with a growing smirk. “Eh, another man-to-mare with wingies!

Wait, was that English..?

I think it's Laurence with a 'u', it's a feminine name in France.”, the pegasus stallion tells her, still in English... What's up with them? I hope they won't turn out to all be Yankees or tea drinkers, that'd make communication a real hassle..!

It is.”, Rafale... confirms, I guess..? Well, at least some of us won't feel completely lost..!

Oh, too bad... But at least you speak some English, that's great!

“So, this is Sassaflash.” Violette resumes, pointing at the pale-maned pegasus. “Her stallion friend prefers to go by Alex; they're both from America, and were visiting the city.”

“Nice to meet you all.”, Alex says in quite passable French. Ah, that's kind of a relief, even with this heavy accent...

“And here's Bilberry,” Violette concludes with the earth pony mare, “who is a Toulousian purebred like me!”

Bilberry giggles, and looks straight at Mélanie: “We already know each other!”

The human seems puzzled at first, then recognition dawns on her face: “Océane..? Is this really you!?”

“Of course it's me, silly!”, she answers playfully. “I know I've gained a couple kilos over the weekend, but come on!”

“You look so different..! If I hadn't seen your mane last time... And does your..?”

“Good as new! Which, it is, I guess!”

I tilt my head in confusion, and seeing that she elaborates:

“I lost my right leg when I was fifteen... But it came back! It's a horse leg now, granted,” she adds, bittersweet, “but it's still a leg!”

“Amen to that!”, Violette cheers.

“That's impressive..!”, Crispy breathes. “I didn't know the transformation could be so powerful!”

This makes Rafale snort: “It rebuilt our whole bodies from the ground up, I don't know what kind of limits you expected for something like this...”

“Touché...”

Yeah, well, that's still impressive in my opinion!

Violette clops her forehooves, grinning: “So, now that we're all acquainted with each other, let's... Oh excuse me Alex, do you have a question?”

The stallion does indeed have his hoof raised like a proper schoolcolt: “Yes please, Sassie was asking herself if there are still other ponies with you? You were four on the picture you sent, are you, uh, are you more?”

“It's only the four of us, just like on the picture,” I reply, “Amber's just sleeping in for a bit.”

Alex translates for his compatriot, who rolls her eyes in clear frustration: “Only dirty OCs again!? Why are we still trapped in bootleg MLP!? This country sucks! I'm sure there's real ponies back home!

I glance at Crispy, but it doesn't look like she understood much better than I did...

Violette clears her throat. “Anyway, it's breakfast time for now! Please take some pastries while they're still hot!”

“Won't have to tell me twice!”, I laugh as I load our plates with delicious-looking croissants and pains au chocolat.

We all focus on enjoying our food and drinks for a moment, until my ears turn towards Crispy:

“If you don't mind me asking,”, she says to Violette, “where does this feast come from? Or this whole house, actually?”

“We bought the house and its lot a couple years ago. We planned to have some apartments or offices built in its place, but my mother was too enamored with the old brick style to see it destroyed, so it sat here empty for a long time. The neighborhood is mostly fields and office parks around here, so it seemed secluded enough to house some ponies, temporarily. Oh by the way, if you ever feel bored here, we're slowly but surely taking care of the renovation by ourselves!”

“Your family lets us all stay here..?”

“Yes, and they also have someone taking care of our other needs, like this breakfast. Please do not hesitate to tell me if you want anything specific, I'll pass the word!”

Even if her face stays neutral, the fact that Crispy's ears draw back slightly is a sign that Violette catches on easily:

“Is there a problem..?”

“No, no! It's just... Are you sure we can trust them so thoroughly..?”

“Who, my parents? Of course we can, why wouldn't we?”

“We... Well let's say all the humans we met until now haven't always been trustworthy, that's all... Not that I accuse your parents to be like them, of course, but I hope you can still understand my point of view..?”

Aww... I nuzzle my poor Crispy, hugging her as she leans against me. Not all of us are as lucky as Violette or Rafale...

“Don't worry Crispy,” Violette tells her, a supporting hoof on her shoulder, “my parents aren't perfect, but they are firmly on our side, I can guarantee it. Dealing with humans may have become scary since we switched species, but we can't close ourselves to them either, we need their support more than ever.”

“You're probably right, Violette.”

I can tell Crispy's only trying to be polite here, and I hug her all the more. Considering what happened with her father, then the Brigade, I can see why she may not be so quick at trusting people yet...

“Uh, speaking of humans,” Mélanie announces, “you'll have to excuse me, but I need to get going, I'm already late enough for work...”

“Oh, of course!”, Violette exclaims. “I will help you get your car out.”

“Thanks, and thank you again for letting me crash here for the night, and for helping my sister and her friends.”

“It's only natural dear.”

Mélanie gets up, and she seems to be about to hug her sister, but instead she just pats her on the shoulder: “You take care of yourself, all right?”

“Yeah...”, Rafale grumbles.

“You rest!”, the human states sternly. “Sister's orders!”

“Okay, okay, I'll rest..!”

“I will make sure the orders are followed!”, Violette chimes in with a cheerful smile, making Rafale groan all the more.

The unicorn goes outside while Mélanie retrieves her purse in our room. She waves us goodbye from the kitchen door: “I'll keep in touch, see you later!”

“Please tell everybody at the office that I'm alright, okay?”, Bilberry asks.

“Will do!”

As we hear the sound of the car starting outside, Sassaflash jumps out of her seat, actually flying for real as she stares at us: “Okay new ponies, now that we're alone, it's time you take the mirror test!

She flits effortlessly towards the living room, and it's quite the sight to behold! Why doesn't our pegasus fly, huh?

I, uh, don't have a clue what she was talking about, though... I turn to Crispy: “What did she say..?”

“I'm not sure, but it involves some kind of test..?”

“Ah yes, her 'mirror test'.” Bilberry confirms. “It's an interesting experience, you should try it, see what comes up!”

Crispy looks at me, and I just shrug, so we follow after Sassaflash. We find her in the entryway, back on her hooves, in front of a big mirror leaning against the wall. It's in the house's image: large enough that we can see ourselves fully, the metal frame is elaborate but worn, and the glass, though clean, is cracked in places.

Come on, look into it, and tell us who you see!”, the pegasus beckons. I don't need to understand every single word to grasp what she's getting at.

I move closer to the mirror's surface. There's nothing special about it though. I see Sweetchard... And I see myself, too, of course...

What was she expecting..?

I mean, it's just me... A big, strong stallion, with the perpetually shaggy green mane and tail, his yellow-beige coat with lighter muzzle and fuzzy fetlocks, his beige hooves... Those deep magenta eyes... I can see bits of his cutie mark – my cutie mark – from this angle, the three beets turgid with sweet sugar...

Who is this..?”, Sassaflash whispers directly into my ear.

Sweetchard...”, I reply without thinking.

That's all, just 'Sweetchard'? Well you didn't need my help for this one, but you still passed!”, she seems to... congratulate me..? She then turns to Crispy: “You're up!

It is really necessary..?

I think it's fun, like a little rite of passage! And who knows, maybe you could learn something new about yourself..?”, Sassaflash answers, waggling her eyebrows.

Crispy doesn't look too convinced by whatever the other mare just told her, but she still gets in front of the mirror. She gazes at her reflection, and Sassaflash whispers her question once more.

Crispy... Crust..?”, she croaks, befuddled.

'Crispy Crust'... It sounds good, I think!

Crispy must not agree though, it's like she ate something sour: “Crispy Crust!?”

Fit for a bakerpony, I'd say! You don't like it?

“It... It's ridiculous!”

“Nah,” I try to reassure her, “it really sounds alright!”

“Do you even know what it means!? It means 'crispy crust'! As if just 'Crispy' wasn't bad enough on its own!”

Aww..! I can't let her look so upset! I drag Crispy away from the mirror and the confused Sassaflash, hugging her tight: “Well I think it's a cute name for a beautiful mare!” She's still pouting something fierce, but each little nuzzle helps in rubbing it off. “Hey, a name like 'sweet chard' isn't the definition of awesome either, but silly names are a proud pony tradition!”

That at least makes her chuckle, that's good. Just have to keep distracting her...

“What are you three doing..? What happened?”, Rafale asks as she and Bilberry join us in the entryway.

“Nothin', just took Sassaflash's little test, but it's not as fun as she says.” I then whisper to Crispy: “We'll just keep it between us, alright honeybunch..?”

She nods, even if it's clear that she still doesn't like it. Sure pony names can be a bit... off-putting at first, but in the end I think they really fit like a glove! Well, in a manner of speaking... 'Like a sock', maybe..?

From the corner of my eye I see Rafale getting closer to the mirror, at Sassaflash's urging. Eh, I wonder how she would react...

...

Oh buck I already know exactly how she'd react! “Uh, that's probably not a good idea! Stay away from the mirror!”

She turns to me, head tilted: “Why? What is this 'test' supposed to do?”

“It's just a way that Sassie found to know your pony's name.”, Bilberry explains. “Mine is 'Bilberry Jam'... Not the coolest thing around, but I like it well enough! Would you care to try?”

Like I suspected, the idea doesn't appeal to Rafale at all. “It won't be needed.”, she answers to Bilberry, before addressing the impatient Sassaflash: “My name is Laurence. Don't need no test for that.

It's clearly not what the American pegasus wants to hear: “Come on, it'll be fun! And a pony's name is really important, it tells lots of things about them! And if you don't, I'll have to guess it myself then! Let's see... 'Peganonymous' is really too on the nose... Oh I have it – the eyepatch, the age, the sourness: 'Pink Boss', hehe!

Rafale just squints at her, before turning on her heels back to the living room.

Oh my bad, that clearly wasn't it!”, Sassaflash calls after her. “Now I'm sure it's 'Grumpy Pants'!

I can't help but chortle at that name! It's true that it's more than fitting..!

...

Wait, how did I understand that..?

Ambre's View

I shuffle groggily through the corridor, guided by the faint sound of voices elsewhere in the house. It's a bizarre feeling, waking up in a place you don't know, not knowing how you got here... Fortunately the room was heavy with the scent of my friends, on our bags and on our bedding, so I knew I had no cause to freak out.

So we're finally in Toulouse...

It's a bit anticlimactic, for now... Which suits me fine, for sure! I'm still uncertain how I'd react if I cross paths with my parents, or any of my old friends. Maybe it'd be interesting, to see how they fared since then?

And Raphaël... Childhood friend, always quick to defend me from bullies, my best friend. And yet also the one who betrayed my trust, who outed me to my parents, who indirectly pushed me into my downward spiral...

I don't think I want to see his traitorous face ever again..!

*sigh*

Anyway, I arrive in a large salon, with two couches and an armchair. It looks like an old house, in style and in state of repair, even if otherwise the inhabitants clearly take their housekeeping seriously. I suppose real estate opportunities are kinda limited for ponies...

The wafts of food and coffee guide me out of the salon and into the kitchen, where a half-full coffeepot and some fruits sit on a low table. Opened French doors lead outside, towards a terrace, and the voices.

I exit to behold the Toulousian sun, though I'm not too surprised that it has to share the sky with plenty of clouds. The air's more humid and... I don't know, earthy maybe, compared to the coastal one I've grown used to these last few years. The din of hoofbeats on the soil brings my eyes back to ground level, and I see Sweetchard galloping happily with a young earth pony mare, of light blueish coat and purple mane. They're apparently running a course around an overgrown copse of trees, maybe what's left of an orchard. Looking farther, there's another building close to the already large house, maybe an ancient barn, and the whole grassy park is surrounded by high walls, clearly of a more recent construction than the house itself. I suppose it's a goo—

My eyes go wide, seeing this pegasus mare flying low to the ground, in pursuit of the two earth ponies! It's so strange, to see such a large creature darting through the air with so little effort, and at such speed to boot!

“I wish I could join them...”, comes Crispy's sullen voice from my right.

I follow my ears, turning towards her. She's reclining on a plastic chaise lounge, looking at her splinted foreleg with overt distaste. “I'm sure you'll be able to join them in no time, you're healing pretty fast!”, I tell her as I walk closer.

“Oh, good morning Amber!”, she greets me, her morosity put aside. “I hope you slept well?”

“It was okay, yeah. I suppose there wasn't any more bumps in the road last night?”

“No, it went well. It's too bad you weren't up earlier, you could have met everyone at the same time, or said goodbye to Mélanie. You deserved your rest, according to Laurence.”

“I think I needed it, yes... How many new ponies are there actually?”

“Four. Here playing with Sweetchard you have Bilberry, and Sassaflash is flying with them. Alex is a pegasus stallion, he went to work on the renovation of the outbuilding over there. And Laurence is with Violette, getting a tour of the property. I'm sure you'll be quite interested in meeting Violette by the way, she's a unicorn like you.”

“Oh, that could be interesting indeed!”, I smile. “Though right now my priorities are coffee, and the bathroom...”

“For the first one you can help yourself in the kitchen,” she chuckles, “and for the second, just go back through the salon, first door on the left in the corridor for the toilet, and the bathroom itself will be the next door over.”

“Thanks a bunch!”

I saunter back to the kitchen and its coffeepot, fixing myself a cup. It's only lukewarm, but it's still good coffee! Reenergized, but feeling even more full, I go on my way to take care of this detail.

Once I'm done, I hesitate to go to the bathroom proper; I don't exactly have to wash my hooves after all... But I could probably benefit from some personal grooming, so after gathering my hairbrush and toiletry bag I head to the bathroom. It's one of these old-style ones, with a bidet; quite practical in a pony house I'm sure, and indeed clearly more in use than the big bathtub. There's also a plastic stool to easily get to the top of the sink.

My forehooves clink on the sink's chipped enamel, and I look at myself in the mirror. Like I expected, my mane is still a mess, so I levitate my brush, and start getting my golden waves into order. At least I look better rested than last night.

Last night...

I shiver, just thinking back to the horror scenario I glimpsed when I realized what the change could've done to me...

At the time, when we were still changing, I mostly went with the flow, maybe because of my belief that this transformation had a logic to it, that it recognized me as my true gender, and that, in a very small way, it could count as a blessing...

But what should I make of that, now..?

Laurence was terrified of the change, she was warning us about how it could affect us, and now she experiences what could very well be a 'species dysphoria'... Was she right, then, to fight it..? Back when we still had hands, she had asked me why I didn't feel as affected by our transformation as she was, and even if it was a bit scary to think about what it could do to my mind, I brushed the issue aside pretty quickly.

Crispy admitted that, even if she's adapting, she was having a hard time at first, she really didn't wish for what happened to her. And Sweetchard, who seemed to treat the change like it was nothing, clearly has issues he tries to push away, violently if need be...

So... That means...

Gosh... Of all the ponies I know, I'm actually the one who dealt the most easily with all this!

Well, until now, that is... I suppose that's pretty ironic, considering I was the only one with lived experience relevant to the matter! Sure, it wasn't on the same scale, and a gender transition is quite a bit more commonplace than turning into a pony, but still...

It's funny, how the fact it was an impossibility barely registered... Quickly my main concerns were mostly how it'd complicate my life, instead of how it could happen in the first place. How it shouldn't be possible to happen at all..!

Even these fears diminished in short order. I was trying to stay positive, I wasn't really that worried... Like, some way or the other, everything would turn out all right.

That's the definition of optimism, isn't it..? To think that I've always been so very cautious, never daring to hope for the best outcome, to the point I could very well be considered a pretty pessimistic person...

And yet I'm, quite evidently, an optimistic pony.

...

I suppose this is one of the mental changes Laurence dreaded so much... I can't deny them now.

Maybe my gender didn't change...

But my personality... Who I am... It certainly did.

...

The hairbrush clatters into the sink; it's hard to keep my focus when I'm crying.

I...

I've been robbed of my body...

And of myself..!

...

But then... Looking at the teary unicorn in the mirror...

I still feel like I'm myself..!

In a way, I've just evolved, in an unpredictable way, in answer to unpredictable circumstances... Pretty much like I had to do when I discovered my transness, actually! Evolving and adapting isn't so awful in itself, that's just life, no?

Eh... Still that pony optimism, right..?

I shouldn't drop my concerns so easily... Not when this optimism seems to make me more carefree, maybe even more naive too..? Is it why I feel so much younger?

Staring at the frowning pony in front of me, I'm forced to admit it: she does look a lot younger than I should be.

But I'm still mature! I'm still an adult! Even if the way my mind works has changed subtly, I still have all my past experiences and skills, they didn't change! I just need to use them to inform my decisions, and temper that reckless optimism if need be..!

Yes, now that's something more productive than crying!

I give a determined nod at my reflection, then get on with my personal grooming; I'm not going to spend the whole morning in here!

A bit more brushing, of my tail, my coat, and my teeth, and I'm good! Last time I took a shower my coat felt really dry and yucky afterward, I suppose I'll have to search if there are equine-specific products out there, or other techniques to try.

My stuff back in my bag, I trot back to the salon, and this time the room is occupied: Crispy and Laurence are on one of the couches, the former reading a book and laying on her belly, the latter on her phone, sitting human-style. Laurence greets me with a nod that I return with a smile, then my eyes fall on the last pony of the room, laying on the other couch in front of a laptop.

She's a unicorn, and she's beautiful. Golden magic shines from her spire-like horn, very similar to the gold of her eyes. Her long, deep scarlet mane falls over the right half of her light mulberry face, though just like me her muzzle and the tip of her ears are slightly darker. Her snout is slender and more pronounced than Crispy's, also just like me, but contrary to what I saw in the mirror earlier, her features are unquestionably mature, and all the more elegant for it.

I admit, I'm kinda envious...

She must've felt me staring, as she switches her focus from the screen of her laptop to me: “Ah, our sleepyhead finally shows herself! I hope you feel well-rested?”

“I, er, yes, thank you...”, I stammer, blushing a bit as I catch Crispy smirking at the unicorn's words. Come on, I've no reason to be so bashful for being tired! “So, I'm Ambre, or Amber if you prefer, nice to meet you!”

“Nice to meet you too Amber, I'm Violette.”, she answers with a kind smile, folding her laptop shut. “I've been very intrigued at the prospect of meeting another unicorn, I must admit. Would you mind if I accompanied you for breakfast?”

“Oh, not at all, of course! I mean, I'm curious too!”

She rises and leaps from the couch, walking to my side, and I follow her to the other room. She must be a couple centimeters taller than I am, but with similar leggy proportions; I suppose that's a unicorn thing. Her magic is quick at work as soon as we enter the kitchen, fetching a cup, a bottle of orange juice, an apple, and a little bundle of paper towels from the microwave oven, putting it all in front of one of the pillows surrounding the table. As I sit, she opens the bundle, revealing a chocolatine and a croissant.

“I put them aside just in case,” she tells me as she takes place on another pillow, “I wasn't sure when you'd get up, and they were disappearing pretty fast!”

“That's really kind of you, thanks!”, I grin as I take a big bite out of the chocolatine.

“Ah, so yours is red, just like your eyes...”, she muses, looking at my sparkling horn.

“Hm?” I swallow my mouthful. “Oh, yes, just like your magic's the same color as yours, right?”

“Indeed... That's a first point of divergence, but only cosmetic I'd wager; it also varied greatly in Sassie's cartoon. Did you notice anything peculiar about your magic?”

I keep munching on the pastries, pondering her question. There's this strange 'I know the way' feeling, but I'm not sure how it works yet, or if it's truly related to my magic...

“No, I don't think so...”, I finally answer after finishing the croissant. I gather the crumbles into the two sheets of paper, roll it all into a tight ball, and spying an open garbage bag on the other side of the kitchen, I send the ball on the precise parabolic trajectory needed for it to reach its goal, right into the bag.

I go for the apple next, but I notice Violette looking at me oddly. “Er, did I do something wrong..?”

“No, not at all,” she reassures me, “but what you just did, here? I certainly couldn't do the same without a lot of training!”

“Really..? I mean, it's easy, you just have to get the feel for how it needs to go to reach its destination, and then send it on its way.”

“You make it sound easy, at any rate. Let's see...” She levitates the very same ball of paper I just launched out of the garbage bag and back to us, inspecting it closely. After an instant, she seems to gauge the distance between the ball and the target, then throws it.

Right from the start I can see that it's going off course. She put strength in her throw, but the trajectory is too straight, and not correctly aligned. Like I expected, the ball hits the ground in front of the bag, a little to the right.

Violette doesn't look upset, though, levitating the ball back into the bag. “Like I said, you make it sound easy.”

“That's strange...”, I frown. “I mean, it's like the feelings of shape and texture when you hold something in your magic, you really don't feel how to send the thing on its... way...”

Wait a minute... Could it be the same feeling as the 'I know the way' stuff..? That would be coherent...

“Interesting breakthrough..?”, Violette inquires with a smile.

“Uh? Oh, yes, maybe... It could be that my magic somehow knows which way things are supposed to go to reach their goal.”

“That'd certainly be a useful ability! No more need for any GPS with you!”

“Eh, maybe, but I don't know yet if I can make it work that way; that's actually something we thought about testing with Laurence!” Just as we'll have to test her own peculiar brand of magic, by the way! Hmm... That makes me think... “When you asked me this question about my magic, I suppose that's because you already figured your own magic had something special too, am I right..?”

She giggles: “Got it in one! Here, let me show you; watch the wall!”

I look at the wall, and its faded wallpaper. From the corner of my eye I see a flash of golden magic, there's a curious feeling along my horn, then a thin lance of gold light hits the wall, leaving a splash of purple on its surface. That splash doesn't seem to be random at all, far from it... I get up, leaving my apple on the table, and walk closer, confirming my impression: it's like the wallpaper has been repainted with a stylish purple flower. Touching it with a hoof, it doesn't bleed like fresh paint would though; it's as if it were part of the original wallpaper all along!

I turn to Violette: “Wow, that's amazing! Are you, like, a laser printer or something?”

“Nothing so versatile I'm afraid! Just take another look.”

I do, and in the short time I wasn't looking the purple flower has lost most of its color, to the point it only leaves a dull outline, barely distinguishable from the flowers already depicted on the wallpaper... Which actually look eerily similar! “Wait, did you do all the flowers on the wallpaper..?” And as I glance around, I can see lots of flower motifs all over the room, be it on the walls, on furniture, on the floor...

“I know it's really not trendy nowadays,” she laughs, “but I can't help myself!”

“And it's only flowers?”

“At first yes, and it's still the easiest, but I'm slowly extending my repertoire to other plant-like patterns. The more magic I put into it, the longer the color stays, and I can even change actual flowers' color too! Come, I'll show you!”

Violette skips outside, horn already aglow, and I run after her.

Laurence's View

One thing I'll say about Violette's human support system: they clearly spare no expense for their little pony park, at least when it comes to the food quality. It's all vegetarian of course, but even I have to admit that this sweet onion casserole was delicious, and a fitting side dish for the steamed vegetables and veggie meatballs.

Actually, this was certainly the most enjoyable takeout I've ever had – something I really wasn't sure of when we were delivered those large plastic containers. I guess they must order in bulk to a foodservice...

“Hey, stop zoning out!”, Chard chides me.

“Oh sorry.”, I say as I take the cleaned forks from his hoof, wiping them with my towel. We mostly use paper plates, but our cutlery is good old silverware. Considering I've been formally banned from taking part in any taxing work around the property, helping do the dishes is the least I can do.

“So, I was thinking that this afternoon we could maybe try to do something about the orchard?”, Violette proposes to the room. “If the trees are healthy we could have our own apples later this year, but even if that's not the case we could still do a little potager garden? I for one would be delighted to eat food I have grown myself rather than receive it in boxes!”

I'm not sure what she has against boxes, but it's true that our current system must be neither cheap nor ecologically friendly. There's a general murmur of agreement among the ponies, though two stand out – the pegasus girl with the weird name, who groans at most prospects that do not involve some form of loitering, and Amber, who seems to approve of everything that comes out of Violette's mouth: “That's a great idea! And it'd look nicer without this bunch of wild scrubs everywhere!”

“Excellent! Could you come help me Amber, I think there are some old gardening tools in the shed?”

“Right away!”

And the two unicorns scamper out of the kitchen, chatting amiably, soon followed by the others as Chard and Crispy stay with me to finish cleaning.

Well, at least Amber completely got over her anxiety, that's a good thing I guess...

“Hey, so,” Chard whispers conspiratorially, “do you think love is blooming in the Pink City..?”

Huh? He wouldn't be talking about Amber and Vi, right..?

“I don't know,” Crispy answers as she helps her mate rinsing one of the containers, “they just look really affectionate toward each other, more like friends than anything. And, well, there seem to be a large age difference...”

'Age difference'? “... You know that they're both twenty-five, just like all of us?”

Chard snorts like I've said something stupid. “Oh come on, Amber's barely out of fillyhood, while Violette looks more middle-aged, right honey?”

“That would be about right, yes.”

... How are you even supposed to know that, seriously!? Just because Vi acts more assured of herself, or is slightly taller than Amber? Because even if it is probably true, I don't see how you'd go about judging the age of these equines, with how inhuman their faces are. It's already a good thing they all have such garish colors, because otherwise those ponies would all look the same to me...

Okay, this is a gross exaggeration, but still! Do they also have to go with those silly names, and in English? What's wrong with good old-fashioned French? I've got used to Sweetchard and Crispy with time, but I still fumble a bit for the others, seeing how bad I usually am with names...

The pegasus mare is Sass-something, but I don't think that's even a real word... It was easier to find little mnemonics for the others: the pegasus stallion is Alex because 'PegAlex', Bilberry is an earth pony like Chard so it makes me think of plants and she's blue so it leads to 'blueberry' and then it's just one syllable away, and as she's Mélanie's coworker, it's an 'i'. If I remember the annoying pegasus mare's name I could maybe go with something like 'Pegass-whatever'? Eh, that would work nicely, she is an ass!

Unicorns are so much easier! Amber has her mane like her name, and Violette is purple and she has a violet on her butt. I like Violette, she's nice and she has a French name, even if she's monopolizing Amber...

Chard bumps lightly against my shoulder as he gives me the last knife, bringing my focus back on him: “Happy to have met a fellow olden mare, huh?”, he quips.

Uh? What is he insinuating!? I'm not old!! I put my stern face on: “Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting..?”

He seems a bit taken aback. “I'm only sayin' you and Violette seem to be closer in age than either of you are to Amber, that's all.”

“How could you see something like that!?”

“Well...”, he haws, not meeting my eye. “It shows.”

“Sweety, be nice...”

“What!? I'm not gonna lie, it shows!”

He looks more sorry than mean as he says this, so I'll assume it's in good faith: “All right, let's be specific then. What parameters are you basing this on?”

“I guess it's your eyes... Uh, eye I mean. Or around it maybe..? Your coat and mane are a bit pasty, that could be it too...”

Crispy nips at his flank, clearly no more impressed than I am by his attempts at 'niceness' – and it's not like his naked honesty is especially informative in any case.

“But it's not a bad thing, really!”, he tries to placate me. “You're still hale and hearty, full of vigor and strength, an attractive, mature mare! So, uh, what I mean is, don't let youngins like Amber steal your chance at sweet pony romance! Or maybe you're jealous Amber could have set her sights on someone else..?”, he chuckles lamely.

“All right Sweety, enough of this disaster...”, mutters Crispy as she drags him bodily outside before he can sputter any more nonsense.

*sigh*

“Why did I even took part in this inane conversation in the first place..?”, I grumble to myself.

And I'm certainly not jealous, that would be simply preposterous.

I take care of putting the silverware away, and after checking that the kitchen's in order, I stroll to the terrace, laying down on the chaise lounge with my phone. I'm still forced to use the tip of a feather to interact with the touchscreen, but at least I found a way to circumvent moving those damn wings more than necessary: I plucked a feather earlier – which was stupidly painful – to see if I could use it as a stylus, and as long as I hold it firmly it works pretty well! Take that, wings!

Needless to say, the two pegasi looked at me as if I were crazy.

They're both standing with the others around Violette now, probably planning how their gardening session is going to unfold. Sassaflash – ah yes, Sassaflash – looks resigned to help out, Alex translating the instructions for her I believe. He's still wearing that oversized hoodie like some kind of cape, his wings going through the rolled-up sleeves. At least this time the hood's drawn back, revealing his Mohawk-like blue mane. I'm not sure his choice of attire is a question of decency though... I don't think he's experiencing the same unrelenting nightmare as I am, but it could still be interesting to chat with him.

As for the others... Well, I'll say that I've grown distressingly used to their nudist ways.

It seems that Vi isn't satisfied with the collection of rusty tools she has at her disposal, and she and Crispy leave the other ponies to begin to clear the orchard with what they have.

“Aren't all these requests going to be suspicious in the long run..?”, I hear Crispy asking the unicorn as they get back to the terrace.

“I don't see why; we are a crew of volunteers taking care of the renovation of this house, which is the truth, and no-one has any reason to imagine that said volunteers are not human!”

“That's... true, I guess.”

Vi goes inside, while Crispy unfolds a second chaise lounge to sit beside me.

“Tensions?”, I inquire.

“Not really, but... Violette is going to call for her humans to bring us more tools, and I'm afraid these constant interactions will bring unwanted attention toward us, sooner or later...”

“It is a valid concern.”, I concur. “I took a look around earlier, and this wall is far from being unbreachable for someone motivated or curious enough. It could be wise to not spend so much time outside...”

“Tell that to them...”, she mutters, pointing at the ponies already hard a work. “They clearly enjoy it. I admit I would, too, if not for my pastern. And I'm sure Sweetchard is not going to accept being cooped up inside now that he has some space to stretch his legs...”

“I saw him run this morning, yes. He looked jubilant... Though it's also how he got caught by the Brigade, going outside to hoof around.”

“That was reckless of him, as usual... But I'm almost happy it happened, we wouldn't have met otherwise..!”, she muses.

“I guess so...”

“Oh wait, I'm sorry!”, she blurts out, putting her hoof on my shoulder. “I didn't want to imply that—”

“It's okay,” I cut her off, shying away from the contact, “don't worry. I didn't take it like you were making light of it. Now I just hope that this is behind us, and that Vi's family is careful enough for as long as we have to stay here...”

Speaking of the devil, the unicorn joins us, a small smile on her snout: “This should be taken care of in the course of the week. I hope we will be able to turn this place into something nice!”

So she's really seeing us occupying this house on the long term... “Uh, Violette, I was wondering... How long are you planning on staying here with your ponies?”

“Well, they're not my ponies, but I was thinking that we would have to stay here for the foreseeable future, hence taking care of the house for everybody's benefit!”

“But do we have to stay so inherently reliant on the humans?”, asks Crispy. “Your parents may be kind and generous, this must still cost them a significant amount of money, and I don't see how this will be sustainable for more than a couple months.”

Vi's composure wavers, her voice growing somber: “I wholeheartedly agree; it is not sustainable. Our world changed so fast, and we are still trying to catch up, to survive... We have no choice but to upend this status quo, but...”

Her head drops as in resignation. She holds a forehoof up, looking it this way and that, and—

It's so different, these new bodies,
We can't hide it, now we're ponies...

Is she... singing!?

Now we're ponies..!”, the others echo mournfully from the orchard.

What the hell is going on?

Violette carries on like nothing strange's happening:

It'd be easy, to just resign,
Our very life, put on the line...

Put on the line..!”, her chorus repeats. Seriously, did they rehearse this while I wasn't looking?

Vi stomps angrily, her whole attitude shifting from distress to steely determination:

I say no!

It's like her sadness evaporated, replaced by boldness, as she parades in front of us, still singing with all her heart:

Never give in, my solemn vow!
I'm not goin' to begin now!

Yeah!”, the other ponies chant in support!

“... When did this turned into a fucking musical!?”, I blurt out!

“Shhh!”, Crispy shushes me, as she's swaying in rhythm!

Violette doesn't care or notice the interruption, resuming her lively song, dancing along:

My existence, always so bleak,
Prison of flesh, so sick and weak..!
No more! Right now I want to prance,
To celebrate my second chance!
Living fully, it is my vow!

It's a weird chance,
This four-hooves stance..!”, the others speak my mind.

I'll take Destiny by the horns,
without a care for any thorns!
I won't stand for anything less,
Than a life free of all tristesse!
For tomorrow, it is my vow!

Out of this mess,
No more distress!”, they agree.

For this reprieve, there's just one way,
Despite our fears, we can't say neigh!
Humans, either neighbors or kin,
Only hoof in hand will we win!
To build this bridge, it is my vow!

Now the ponies don't look so sure:

Out of hidin',
Where to begin!?

But Violette isn't backing down in the slightest – she's even more spirited:

That's why, at their side, days and nights,
I will be fighting for our rights!
Ponies they will have to embrace,
'Cause in this world we have our place!
This new future, it is my vow!

This seems to wipe away any fear the others could have, they're looking just as eager now:

To find our place,
No more disgrace!

Together our voices will be heard,
And so our rights will be assured!”, Violette and the ponies sing in unison.

Never give in,
Keep on fightin'!, she proclaims with fire in her eyes!

Our place in this world, we'll avow!
'Til this day we will never bow!”, they all chant!

It is my vooooooow!”, she intones, rearing on her hindlegs as she carries the note for a good five seconds..!

Vi falls back on her hooves, the song seemingly finished, and her impromptu chorus goes back to work like nothing happened. The unicorn's a bit sweaty, but grinning like a loon:

“Hehe, sorry..! I always get a little carried away when I talk about what I'm planning to do, it's really important to me!”

“You don't say...”, I deadpan. “So if I, uh, understood it all... You're planning on advocating for pony rights..?”

“Absolutely!”, she beams. “I'm a lawyer by trade, and I won't let society treat us like nonentities if I can help it! My family and my colleagues all helped me in pushing the local politics to get an audience with the TGI of Toulouse for next week! I've been working on this case since the change completed, and I will make sure we are back to being fully-recognized citizens in no time! It's my vow to each of you!”

“Yeah, I, uh, got that... Still, it's quite the ambitious prospect!”

“Are you really going to do this..?”, Crispy breathes. “Does it mean that all of Toulouse knows we're here..?”

“Of course not! They know me, but not where I am, or that I'm not alone. I'll keep that for the audience itself, to prove them that I'm not an isolated case.”

Crispy certainly doesn't look too convinced...

“Anyway, I don't know you, but I'm winded! I'll get some water before going back to work.”, Vi says as she trots happily to the kitchen, apparently still oblivious to the fact she just performed a full musical number version of her explanation.

Well... That happened. So much for discretion.

...

These ponies are crazy.

Amber's View

“Here you go!”, I say as I pass her mug to Violette, our magical fields mingling for an instant as she seizes it.

“Thank you Amber. I really think we did good today!”

“I think so too.”, I answer, looking at the refreshened orchard as I climb on the second chaise lounge. It's amazing what a bunch of ponies can do when they work together! It made our dinner all the sweeter, and this mug of herbal tea will be perfect to relax watching the sunset.

I forgot how pleasant gardening could be... If I have a house someday, it could be nice to have some grounds to play around with!

Violette seemed to have fun too, and I liked working with her. I could not explain why I feel so comfortable around her, it's so easy to just be myself when we're talking... Maybe it's a unicorn thing?

“I hope that, if I succeed, ponies and humans will be able to work just as harmoniously in the future...”, she muses.

“You really think there's so many other ponies out there?”

“Sassie is sure of it, and Alex agrees. They both know more about this than any of us, so I'd tend to trust their judgment.”

“It's... It's a bit scary, to imagine so many people changed against their will...”

“I suppose it is... But I believe that it can also be a fantastic opportunity, a new start at life!”

“You said something similar earlier, yes, but... I don't know. Maybe for people like Bilberry, who lost a disability by becoming a pony, it could feel like that, but we also gave up a lot of things...”

“I think it was worth it. You know...”

She hesitates, mulling over what she was about to say for a moment, before carrying on:

“I'm one of these ponies, who gained more than they lost...”

“Oh..?”

She gets a far-off look. “I'd been fighting against cancer for four years before I changed, and... And I was losing that fight... Sometimes I'd think that it was all pointless, that despite all my efforts I'd end up dying before I could reach my goals... Before I could even live... Just because of some confused cells in my body!”

Her eyes get watery, and I slide off from my chaise lounge to join her, pressing my body against hers in support.

“Actually,” she goes on, “when I changed, I thought it really was all over, I was as good as dead, all my efforts made pointless for real... Like Fate wanted to get a last laugh from my despair... But the change saved me. It cured me. Sure I'm a pony, and many things are so much more complicated now, but I'm free. I can live, and my fight wasn't in vain. What if I had given up before my twenty-fifth birthday, if I had conceded victory to the cancer? I never would've been given this second chance at life. Sure, it's as a female pony, but beggar won't be chooser! Oh, and magic. Magic is awesome. And awesomely flowery!”, she giggles through her tears.

“That it is, yeah...”, I smile, but this line of thinking brings me back to my considerations from this morning. “Though... Did you experience any change to your personality, along with your body..?”

“Hmm... I don't think so..? I'm certainly happier than I was before, but I'd attribute it to being cancer-free. Did you have to go through something like this..?”

“I think so, yes...”

“And... Is it good? Bad? A bit of both..?”

“To be honest... I think it's mostly good, but scary all the same. I wasn't really the most optimistic person before, I always felt like the sky would fall on my head sooner or later... Didn't really let myself hope...”

“I suppose I can relate to that...”

“At least I wasn't expecting anything, you know, and I was grateful for whatever I could have. But since the change, it's like... It's almost like this way of thinking was turned inside-out, and I can't help myself from being hopeful!”

“And, you're not sure this is a positive development..?”

“Well, it's probably good for the soul or whatever, sure, but I feel like I've gone too far the other way, you see? Like, I don't feel like it could crash down any minute anymore, but now it's almost an obviousness that it won't crash down at all..! You get what I mean?”

“Maybe, yes... So you fear this is making you overconfident?”

“In a way, yes, but it also feels... It's kinda like when you're still a child, innocent, with this conviction that whatever happens, everything will turn out alright in the end. But it's just not realistic!”

“I'd like to think that cynicism isn't a requirement of adulthood, but rather an unfortunate consequence, so no, I don't think it's not realistic.”, she smiles at me, nuzzling soothingly at my neck. “You seem to be an intelligent and willful young mare, I'm sure that if you give yourself the means of succeeding, you'll be able to make all your hopes a reality!”

“That's pretty optimistic of you...”, I sigh.

“Well, isn't that one of your defining traits too, now..?”

“I suppose you're right...”, I chuckle, nuzzling her back. “I must admit, when you've spent the last decade or so of your life wallowing in hopelessness and depression, being able to look at tomorrow and the trials ahead with a sense of hope and confidence... Well, that's just buckin' sweet!”

“Language..!”, she smirks, nipping playfully at my ear. “But yes, it feels good to be free, to leave it all behind...”

“Well, I didn't forget my life and all the things I went through. I will never be able to forget, and... I think I don't want to anyway. It's a part of me, and these experiences, as painful as they were, are still precious in a way.”

“I see what you mean...”

“It's just that I have an easier time not listening to this conviction that had been drilled into my skull through the years, that everything will inevitably crash down sooner or later. Maybe that's naive... Heck, I'm sure my naivometer readings shot through the roof since the change..!”

“In my books it's the best kind of naive!”, she giggles.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up..!”, I giggle in kind. “It's still a bit heady. The mind really is a plaything to the body, then..? Nature and Nurture and all this stuff...”

“Oh I think we ponies could very well write a whole thesis on the subject!”

“Eh, maybe, yes..!”

We hug each other, cooling mugs forgotten on the terrace, as the sun dips below the horizon...

Sweetchard's View

Well, something hooves certainly have over fingers: when you miss the nail, the hammer doesn't hurt as much..!

I'm not as fond of this renovation work as I was of taking care of the orchard yesterday, but until Violette's family sends us more tools and seeds there's not much to do outside for now. It's a good way to kill time while still being productive, at least. The outbuilding is really in need of repairs anyway, compared to the main house, so us stallions are taking care of the rough jobs while the mares take care of the rest. Uneven floor, holes in the walls, even in the roof... Working with a pegasus was quite useful for that last one, of course!

Alex isn't the most talkative guy at first, like he's afraid to reveal too much for one reason or the other – kinda fitting, with his hoodie – but once you reassure him that you just want to be his buddy, he lowers his defenses and is quite friendly. Apparently he's an architecture major, he and Sassie are newlywed, and were touring France for their honeymoon when their birthdays occurred, and the change hit... I admit I wouldn't have pinned them down as a couple, but maybe it's just that Americans don't show their emotions the same way.

Crispy has been mainly hanging out with Sassie, they seem to get along swimmingly. She's still a bit anxious about our living arrangements though, so I try to be optimistic for the both of us.

I wonder what she's doing right now..?

“Hey Alex, I'm gonna go get something to drink, alright? Should I bring you something?”

He looks up from the plank he's sawing: “No, thank you, it is all right!”

“Okay, be back in a minute!”

I trot outside, shaking the sawdust away from my coat, and go for the main house. It's quite cloudy today, and the wind has picked up, so I guess working inside has its advantages.

Crispy turns out to be in the kitchen, sweeping the floor. “Everything's all right, Sweety?”

“Oh yeah, just wanted some water, and to see a very special mare.”, I smirk.

She hides her blush well, gesturing towards the wall faucet: “Well, you're halfway done then!”

“Eh, maybe I'd fancy a little more than just a look..?”, I wink. “What would you say?”

“A tempting offer...”, she whispers, getting closer...

“GODDAMMIT!!”, Violette roars from the other room, making us jump!

Darn it, I was in the middle of something here..! But Crispy's already trotting to the salon to see what's happening, so with a sigh I follow after her.

The purple unicorn is pacing around the couches, fuming and muttering angrily. Amber, Bilberry and Sassie come from the corridor, just as surprised as we are. Rafale was the only one already in the room, but she just shrugs, not looking like she has any more answers than we do.

Amber places herself in front of Violette: “What happened?”

“'What happened'? These yellow-bellied dingleberries happened, that's what happened!!”, she stomps with both forehooves, angry sparks flying from her horn!

“Uh, Vi, could you please calm down, and be a little more specific..?”, Rafale asks.

Violette snorts noisily, and she slowly gets her self-control back, though she still looks very angry: “Sorry all, that was unbecoming of me... I just received an email from a friend, telling me that my audience has been moved to Friday morning!”

“Friday? That's the day after tomorrow, right?”

“It is.”, Rafale nods, before turning to Violette: “How is this a problem? I thought you couldn't wait to get on with it?”

“It's a problem because, first, the TGI itself didn't notify me like they would usually do, which means that someone is actively trying to prevent me from attending! I wouldn't know about it if that friend hadn't overheard about the schedule change! And second, we had it all planned out for next Wednesday! We arranged for transport, and lodging, and my doctor was supposed to be here to give his expert opinion on the case, but he won't be back until early next week! This is a disaster!!”

Oh... Yeah, that's kinda bad for her plans...

“We must be able to do something about it!”, Amber affirms. “You could tell your doctor, maybe he could come back in time?”

“She's right, Vi.”, Rafale agrees. “This is only a small setback, your audience is still occurring, and you can still attend. You should call both your doctor and your parents as soon as possible to inform them, and devise a solution.”

Violette sighs deeply, and nods: “Yes... Yes, of course, you're both right..! I won't let them win so easily!”

She doesn't waste any time levitating her phone to her, and goes to her room to take care of the problem. Interrupted in our respective activities, we wait in the salon for Violette to come back, Bilberry going to the outbuilding to fetch Alex.

Violette's angry voice can be heard through the house, and I'm afraid that dealing with this issue is getting far more difficult than she hoped... From what we can glean, it seems that, this time, her parents can't be of much help.

“I knew this would happen..!”, Crispy mutters. “She asks us to trust them, but just look how easily humans can screw us over!”

“It's just some humans, not all of them, Crispy.”, Amber contests. “Sébastien was here for us, just like the Prévosts, and Mélanie, and it's the same for Violette's parents! We wouldn't have a roof over our heads if not for them...”

“And what a roof..!”, my mare scoffs. “This is little more than a cage! Tell me, what is its purpose in the end: to keep the humans away, or to keep us away from them?”

“If it's choosing between this 'cage' and being on the street, I'd choose the cage any day...”, the blonde unicorn frowns.

“I think our situation is not that extreme...”, Bilberry says. “I mean, yes we're hiding, but it's only temporary, that's why Violette's work is so important! We will have to go out sooner or later, and cohabit with humans.”

“Or change back...”, Rafale adds, though her proposition is clearly not taken seriously.

“I don't know about you,” Crispy resumes, “but I don't feel reassured to know that we're surrounded by humans, and that even the most trusting and friendly of us can be treated like garbage if they feel like it! What will happen, when Violette's parents decide that she's not worth the effort anymore? When they feel that it's too bothersome to take care of a bunch of ponies?”

“It's not like we can just go and survive on our own!”, Bilberry argues. “We don't really have the resources for building our own little commune in the woods...”

The mares keep on squabbling, either for or against interacting with humans. I turn to the only other stallion in the room: “What's your take on this, Alex..?”

He ponders my question an instant, maybe searching for his words: “It is... a difficult question. I know Sassie agrees with Crispy, but I think their solution is too extreme... We need friends, human friends, even if we do not like it.”

“Yeah, I guess you're right...”

I don't like seeing Crispy like this, 'cause I know her point of view must come from what her own family did to her... I can't fault her, of course, but it puts her against our friends...

Now even Rafale's arguing with Sassie in English, and I don't like the sneer on the American pegasus's face either...

Dang it... We were all of working together yesterday, and now, some human we don't even know just had to change an item on a calendar to divide us!

Maybe Crispy is more in the right than I hoped...

Amber's View

I don't know what to do...

Violette has been in a fool mood all day, and I'm worried about her, but what can I do..?

Her parents told her they couldn't push back the audience, and that whoever is trying to put a spoke in her wheel seems to have a lot of influence. That it may be just better to wait for a more opportune moment to present her case, that she should be patient...

She wasn't happy, to say the least.

I think that the fact we weren't all equally supportive hurt her, too... I can understand where Crispy's coming from, but she shouldn't let one bad experience color her view of all of humanity! I mean, considering that Laurence almost died at the hands of humans, and that she's still one-hundred percent supportive of Violette, I don't think Crispy has any ground to stand on! And of course Sweetchard doesn't try to contradict her, even if I'm sure he doesn't share her view.

Anyway... That doesn't tell me what I should do for Violette.

Maybe a herbal tea would help calm her nerves? We had a good time last evening, on the terrace.

I roll upright from my cot, leaving Crispy to read her book, and Sweetchard to trying to distract her. I walk down the corridor to Violette's room, but I find it empty. There's neither her phone nor her laptop... Maybe she's working in the salon?

There's only Laurence there, though, still on her phone. “You wouldn't know where Violette is?”, I ask her.

“Uh? Oh, she went outside for a stroll.”

A stroll?

Looking around, I don't spot her phone or the laptop either. What would she be doing with those outside?

I don't like where this is going...

It's night outside, and I can spot easily this faint glimmer of golden magic on the other side of the orchard. I gallop after her, and arrive not a minute too soon: she's unlocking a battered steel door in the outer wall, wearing a heavy-looking backpack.

“Violette..?”, I pant. “What are you doing..?”

She doesn't look happy to see me: “Amber? What are you doing here!? Go back to the house!”

“Are you going to the audience by yourself..?”

Her answer doesn't come, but I don't need it...

“How do you plan on getting from here to the middle of the city?”, I ask her.

“I don't know the specifics yet,” she retorts with a huff, “but I will find a way!”

... Oh gosh is it how I sound to Laurence..? No wonder she's wary of my hunches!

“But your audience doesn't start until Friday morning, that's more than twenty-four hours away! What are you going to do until then!?”

“I planned for that!”, she frowns. “I booked a room at a B&B next to the Tribunal for this night and the next, I just have to get there.”

“You booked a room... As a pony..?”

“My debit card is active, and I can be very persuasive.”

I can't help but roll my eyes. That's something I would say, she's supposed to be the responsible one!

“At any rate, this is my choice to make. I vowed that nothing would stop me, and I won't change my mind.”, she states, opening the door. “Please lock it behind me, then go back to the house, all right?”

Could I stop her if I tried..? Her levitation is stronger than mine, she had ample opportunity to prove it when we worked together, and I don't want to hurt her anyway!

Should I just... leave her, then..?

I...

She's my friend, but...

Why is it that, each time I try to make friends with somepony, they put me in these awful situations? No wonder I didn't want friends anymore! I shouldn't care so much!

So maybe I...

...

Oh gosh no I can't let her go alone!!

“W– wait, I'm coming!”

“What!?”, she blurts out, taken aback. “No you don't! Get back to the house immediately!”

“I... No! No I won't!”, I stomp a hoof in determination. “Either you let me go with you, or I'll find a way to follow you, and you know I'm good at finding my way!”

“Please Amber, don't do this to me..! I can't put someone else at risk!”

“Well I can't let you risk yourself! What would you have me do, just wait by a window for you to come back, or not come back!? I already know how that feels, and I won't let it happen again! So you take me with you, and I'll be your GPS, okay!?”

I can tell she's conflicted, that she doesn't like this choice either, but I refuse to let her go alone!

“... All right..!”, she finally agrees! “You can come, but you have to promise me to not put yourself in danger for any reason, you hear me? We'll walk to the hotel, without taking any unnecessary risks, and everything will go smoothly! Do we agree?”

“Of course!”

We cross the door together, Violette taking a bit of time and focus to lock it from this side. Looking around, we find ourselves on the side of a road, with the fenced garden of a house on the other side; there's some light inside, but I doubt they could see us from that far. The direction we must take is pretty obvious, thanks to the lights of Toulouse being clearly visible from here.

“Okay Miss GPS, what's the way..?”, she grumbles.

“Follow me!”, and I trot along the road, Violette just behind me.

For now the road's clear, and if all goes well we should reach the city in a couple hours. I hope my special talent will prove itself useful!

... And gosh I hope I'm not making a terrible mistake..!

We trot for a while, getting towards more residential areas, when we're startled by Violette's phone ringing. She looks at the caller ID in surprise: “It's my sister..!”

“Maybe you shouldn't answer..?”

“I doubt she'd call me this late for no reason...”

She accepts the call, and a distorted feminine voice rings out of the phone: “Hey bro, are you already on your way to the tribunal, or are you waiting for tomorrow?

We exchange a surprised glance.

Wait... That voice...

Why does it sound familiar..?

“Well, as it turns out, the first option, but... How do you know? Do Mom and Dad have me watched..?”

Come on, I know you! You weren't going to twiddle your thumbs without at least trying something, right?

“That must be because I don't have thumbs anymore!”

Hehe, so I don't care what they say, I won't let you down! I have the car, and I can get you as close to the tribunal as possible, sounds good?

“Sounds great!”, Violette laughs, winking at me. “I'll activate the geolocation, you should be able to find us this way, we're not too far.”

Okidoki, see you in a jiffy!

That expression...

“Well Amber, you're my lucky charm tonight! I knew I could count on my family!”

“Yeah, er, it's great..!”

“Is something the matter..?”

“No no, no! On the contrary, I'm relieved.”

She seems to buy it, and I rack my brain trying to remember why her sister's voice gives me this very, very bad feeling...

I don't have the time to find my answer before a car stops a little way from us, and Violette leaves our temporary hiding place without fear: “Come on, it's her!”

I follow, but—

“You know, for all the times I told you you were stubborn as a mule, I wasn't expecting you to take it so literally!”

“Ha ha,” Violette mocks, “your jokes are still lame as heck, Sandrine!”

Sandrine!?

I reach the car, and see the driver.

My blood runs cold.

It's Sandrine.

It's bucking Sandrine!!

Raphaël's sister!!

Raphaël the traitor..! The one who outed me to my parents!

The one who ruined my life!!

“Amber..? Amber, can you hear me?”

I slowly turn towards Violette, who is already halfway into the car. “Is... Is she really you sister..?”, I ask against all odds. I know Sandrine only has one sibling.

“Well yes, of course! Sandrine, this is Amber, and Amber, this is Sandrine!”

“Hey horny pony! Get in, we don't have all night!”

No..!

Oh no please no!!

Violette can't be Raphaël! She can't be him! She can't be him!!

“Come on Amber, don't freeze like this!”

I feel myself being lifted in the air by Violette's magic, and forcibly dragged into the car.

No..!

No no no no NO!!

Why did she have to be HIM!?