• Published 27th Mar 2019
  • 1,326 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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11 – Night Mares

Laurence's View

“... now no one can stop my rule!”

The vision ends in a flurry of white fire, cruel laughter ringing out in my skull as I jump awake, my torment compounded by falling from the couch.

Ouch..!

I'll never get used to this... And I can't count on more oneiric interventions to fight it off. If only I could forget... If only I didn't wear this sordid skin as a constant reminder..!

Staying still is so tempting right now, just to push away the moment I'll have to be reminded of how my limbs bend and pull. How far my head is removed from my shoulders... How... How long I could go, listing all that is so very wrong with me..!

Come on Laurence, get up... Laying sprawled on the hard floor won't do you any good anyway.

I curl the only fingers I have left, pushing with the knuckles against the tiles to raise my upper body. My arms and shoulders don't have enough range of motion to—

Hey, stop! Just get up, dammit! You won't get anywhere close to fixing this curse if you can't even GET UP!!

Lower lip bitten to the blood, I force my feet under me, trying to forget the lingering pains in my flesh, and taking stock of the situation. Evidently I fell asleep on the couch, waiting for Amber and Vi to come back from their stroll. I'm lucky enough my phone didn't crash down with me, last time it was a pain in the ass to piece the parts together, between stupid hooves and trouble judging distances...

Mmh, I am surprised that they didn't at least shut the salon's lights off on their way back, though.

They wouldn't be still outside, would they..? It's almost midnight, according to the phone.

Could something have happened during their stroll?

... Nah. Violette is a responsible mare, she wouldn't let them get into any foolish business. And if foolish business found them instead, I know Amber can take care of herself, mostly.

...

Let's take some fresh air, just in case. I switch the lights off, and go through the kitchen to get to the terrace.

Well, 'fresh' was kind of an understatement, chilly would be more like it... Must be a combination of the humidity and this nasty wind. I feel the wings rustling under my sweater, making me cringe. Maybe I should pluck them completely to make myself an eiderdown? Now there's an idea! I'm sure it would be warm and nice!

In the meantime I'll just freeze my butt on that chaise lounge, though...

Oh come on, stop being so dramatic Laurence! You may be feeling the cold in the air, but you don't feel cold, however this is supposed to work. This pony biology is a weird thing...

Now what are these two unicorns up to? There's no light in the outbuilding, and I would see their magic auras if they were around the orchard. They wouldn't be doing... unclean things together in the dark, would they..?

Tsss, that's ridiculous, how would two mares go about doing this kind of things anyway?

They probably just went to sleep a while ago, and let the lights on so that I wouldn't stumble in the dark when I woke up, that's all. I should get inside too – my body got so used to the cold that I almost feel warm, that can't be natural.

Getting back to the kitchen, my ears are pulled back by a most unwelcome surprise: the American pegasus mare – 'Sassie' will have to suffice. She's drinking from a cup held with a wing, and looking right at me. I'm not sure what I should make of her expression, there's something else than the usual sassiness in her eyes...

You just had your Discord dream, didn't you?”, she asks me in English. “The way the couch reeks of stress and sweat, it's quite distinctive. I'm surprised you still react that strongly, so long after going pony.

Was she looking for the one thing that I wish to keep farthest from my thoughts..?

I act as if I didn't hear her, ambling back toward the salon. I'm half-deaf, after all.

Sassie won't let me escape her so easily though, slithering between me and the door:

Not super chatty, are you? Hey, I want to apologize for earlier, calling you 'delusional' wasn't really nice... I guess I'm too used to brutal honesty, you know?

... Is this mare for real?

It's far too late to deal with this kind of nonsense... I try to go around her, but her outstretched wing prevents me.

Hey, I know you understand me, Grumpy Pants!”, she frowns. “Discord got your tongue?

Uuuuuuuuurgh..! Won't she stop pestering me!? I put my sternest face on: “What do you want..?

It's satisfying to see her flinch at least a little, but her usual cheekyness quickly reasserts itself: “Like I said, I just wanted to apologize, and you know, maybe chat a little? I can't sleep with this wind outside... 'Vent d'Autan', Violette called it I think? Anyway, it's driving me nuts! I'm pretty sure it's gonna rain a lot real soon, too. I don't know how Flashie can sleep through this...

'Flashie'..? By process of elimination she must be talking about Alex. Don't tell me I have another name to keep track of!

If you really want to talk so badly, at least let us get to the couches...”, I grumble, shoving her away to enter the salon. I climb back on my couch and– wait why is she getting on the same couch? There's two couches and even an armchair, it's not like we're short on places to sit! But no, apparently my couch must be the comfiest or something, as she lies down on her belly, turned toward me! I scoot as far from her as I can.

My perfectly reasonable reaction makes her smirk: “You're really not the most sociable pony, huh?

You're one to talk, you pest!!

So, I was wondering, you always lived in France?

God I hope she's not going to ask for my whole biography... This kind of thing is private! “Yes.”, I reply curtly.

It's funny, you seem to understand me just fine, and your vocabulary and sentences are pretty good, but your pronunciation and accent are really weird! Is it how they teach English in your schools?

As far as private questions go this one is benign enough, so I go for honesty: “I learned with video game cutscenes, TV shows, and fanfiction.” I always found it funny how much more easily it is to learn something when you have a personal stake at improving your understanding of said thing. Is it my fault teachers are usually so boring?

She seems to find my answer funny: “Seriously?

Why the hell would I be lying? “Yes.

Eh, I guess that explains it. It's cool that Flashie gets new ponies he can really talk to, he hasn't been as open as usual with me since he got his wings...

Oh yes, and the fact you call him 'Flashie' when he explicitly wants to go by 'Alex' didn't clue you in on the why..?

Actually you seemed to really hit it off yesterday! So, I'm curious... What did you two talk about?

It's true that Alex and I found some common ground in discussing our reasons for not following the 'Ima pony, so swell!' trend of our companions. Though he doesn't share my absolute loathing for our new bodies, I suppose we're somewhat birds of a feather.

... God I wish this expression hadn't become so literal..!

Anyway, what he told me is not Sassie's business. It's for a good reason that he was so relieved to have somebody to talk to who didn't just push his concerns away... I'll tell her what he clearly did not consider to be a confidence: “He is feeling homesick.

Gosh me too... And it's so frustrating!”, she rants. “Like, we could get to the airport on hoof from here, you can always see planes coming and going in the sky! But no, we can't go home yet, 'cause they won't let ponies on planes, and Flashie doesn't even want to try hiding in a suitcase!

So very unbecoming of him...

If only I could at least really stretch my wings, you know? Flying without having to keep razing the grass, trying my hoof at some weather work... Oh, and building a cloud house, too! There's so many things I want to try, all the things I've dreamed about watching the show, things I can do now!”, she rhapsodizes. “Isn't there anything you'd really want to do, with your new body?

What I want!?”, I repeat, baffled. “I want to rend this flesh, to break these bones!! But that won't get me anywhere..!”

It won't get me anywhere... So I have to be pragmatic! I have to...

To not break down like this..!

Only then do I notice the sting in my thigh, where I struck myself violently in my outburst. It wasn't a conscious act.

I have to... To get back in control.

My chest heaves painfully, my sudden rage still burning at my lungs. I need a little time for my heart to calm down, so rattled I am by the naked truth that surged through my lips.

Even Sassie looks unnerved by what happened... Damn I shouldn't make a spectacle of myself like this, it's shameful!

Uh... Didn't get what you said, but I'm not sure I want to...”, the pegasus whispers, looking away with ears swiveled back.

No, you probably don't want to...

Say, uh...”, she dares, after the tension fully eases from the air, “I got bits and pieces from Crispy, but... What the heck happened to you..?

She's gesturing at the right side of her face as she asks, but I can feel her eyes roaming all over my body. When I glance at her expression, I analyze it as mainly concern, tinted by nervousness. She must be seeing me as volatile, and a danger to myself...

Not that she would be wrong, I guess.

I got hurt...”, I sigh. “I got hurt because I had to fight through an unwinnable situation, brought upon myself by sadistic evilness... Cowardice and failure, now I have to live with the consequences...

A roundabout way of talking about it, certainly, but... It's easier that way.

Easier than admitting the full magnitude of this horror...

Wow...”, she blinks, bemused. “These humans really did a number on you...

These specific humans could certainly factor in the bleak outlooks too, yes...

Sassie fidgets quite a bit. Her curiosity probably led her to territories she's not comfortable with... She needs a little time before addressing me again: “I can see how that could leave a lasting mark, in the head I mean... We're pretty lucky we didn't have to deal with this kind of thing! I started changing almost two days before Flashie, so he helped me and kept me safe. It really became hard when he followed after me though, let me tell you! One pony and one almost-pony, locked in their hotel room, in the middle of a foreign country, it could only lead to all kinds of mayhem!

She keeps on narrating the first days of their change, with renewed exuberance, and without omitting the most insignificant details. I guess she's trying to push away the unpleasant thoughts I dredged up. A less cynical analysis would be that she's trying to distract me from said thoughts, but still, urgh, that's not how I planned to spend my night...

But I suppose she made efforts to be less obnoxious than usual, and she did look honestly concerned for me, so I should at least be courteous. I put myself into 'fake attention' mode, tailoring my facial expressions to hers, and let her talk.

I wish I was with Amber or Vi instead... They're so much nicer and stimulating collocutors.

So then, we had to sneak right into the laundry chute! Seriously, getting my nose full of human stink was the nastiest part of the whole escape plan by far!

*sigh*

Case in point...

Ambre's View

Violette shakes me lightly. “Amber, are you all right..?”

It takes all my strength to not scream at her face! How could I EVER be all right!?

She doesn't need words to see I'm upset of course: “Sorry for my sister's, hmm, brusqueness...”, she whispers, trying to not be heard by the human in the front seat. “Like my parents she was hit hard by my change, and I suspect overcompensating like that, playing at being normal, it's her way to cope...”

Funny you'd say that, 'cause I remember Sandrine being just as annoying back in the day! Always snooping around everybody's business and trying to get between us! But don't worry, I could never hate her as much as you, Raphaël!!

I turn back towards the window. I don't want to see the fake concern in her eyes.

Violette is Raphaël... It's like he's betraying me all anew! Was it your plan, to have me lower my guard and open myself to you, just to better twist the rusted knife you left in my heart, and stab me with a whole new one while you were at it!?

“Please tell me what's wrong...”, she says, nuzzling at my neck. “Did I do something..? Would you have preferred if it were just the two of us?”

Haha, she thinks I'm JEALOUS!? You're lucky I'm not stupid enough to get out of a moving car, otherwise I'd jump out right now!

She keeps on nuzzling and rubbing her head against me. I can feel that her ears are drawn back, just as surely as mine are. Is she...

Is she honest?

Could it be that... she doesn't know who I am..?

Reviewing our interactions during the past two days, I actually don't remember any sign that she could be aware of our shared past. It would be a little suspicious, considering we spent our whole childhood together, if only it hadn't flown over my head too. I never imagined that she could have been a human I knew!

Though maybe that's why she wasn't bothered when I told her I was becoming overly naive..? It'd help protecting her secret after all!

I feel like I should give her the benefice of the doubt, but that's just the optimism talking I'm sure! And it doesn't change the main issue in the slightest: SHE'S RAPHAËL!

She's Raphaël, she's the so-called 'friend' who betrayed me when I needed him most, who didn't hold on to my greatest secret... and who now has her head resting on my shoulder, trying to comfort me.

It's the most frustrating thing in all this: I want to hate her, to explode and scream the truth, to strike back at her for all she pushed me into, but... How could I do that without feeling guilty, when she seems so earnest in her worry and affection?

And gosh, how broken am I, that I crave so much the comforting touch of the very person who hurt me in the first place..?

I try to focus on what's happening on the other side of the glass, if only to prevent the tears from getting to my eyes. We're driving through the city, though I'm not sure where we are. It's been years after all, and I'm more used to Toulouse by day anyway.

Eh... In the end, I was right to fear coming back. I just didn't expect that the menace would be wearing pony skin...

I blink as we pass in front of a familiar sight. Wasn't that my high school? I look a little closer at the shadowy buildings looming over us, and yes I'm sure, I know this street. If I'm not wrong, and I know I'm not, Raphaël's sister must be driving us through Patte d'Oie, and from there to—

Wait, aren't these police lights?

Our car comes to a stop on the side of the road, Sandrine turning the headlights off. Looking beyond the passenger seat and the windshield, I can see that there's at least three police vehicles on the other side of the large Patte d'Oie roundabout, blocking the avenue. What are they doing here?

“I think we have a problem...”, the human points out oh-so helpfully.

“Did you hear about any trouble in the city today?”, asks Violette. “It must've made the news, if the police is out in the middle of the night like this.”

“Nope, I don't know what it could be... Wait a minute.” She lowers the passenger window, and only now do I realize that we're not alone in observing the blocked roundabout: two young men, looking quite inebriated, are loitering just on the right of our car. “Hey guys, you know what their deal is?”, Sandrine calls. We crouch down, trying to look inconspicuous.

One of the two men sashays towards us, the whiffs of alcohol already quite evident: “Hey babe, what's you doin' here in this cool car?”

“Just passing through. So d'you know what the cops are looking for?”

He shrugs. “They say that there's like, danger or something, like terrorists and stuff, so they're searching all the cars that go towards city center... You wanna get a little somethin' to drink with us? There's a reaaaally nice bar nearby...”

“Sorry no can't do, but thanks. I need to call my boyfriend, he's waiting for me.”, Sandrine answers as she raises the window up and takes her phone. The man kicks at the car in frustration, and goes back to his friend.

“So, terrorists and shit...”, she says in her phone, but clearly to our attention. “What are we doing?”

“This is nonsense!”, Violette protests. “Switch the radio on, they must be talking about this!”

She does, getting on a local channel, and like the drunkard said, we soon find out that all of Toulouse's center has been cordoned off during the past hour, with police barrages looking for 'suspicious vehicles'. Indeed, during our wait, we saw a car taking the roundabout from another street, and being stopped by the cops. They promptly searched the vehicle, only letting it pass minutes later.

Violette is not happy. “Oh come on, it's ridiculous! Couldn't these darn terrorists choose another day!?”

“Sorry bro, but I don't think we can do much about it this time...”

“If not by car, we can still take the subway! I'm pretty sure it's still working at this hour, and it could take us close to our hotel.”

Now you are ridiculous... “You know the subway is full of cameras and that there's security staff inside, right..?”, I scoff. “And if the police's looking for something, the subway guys will be even more on edge than usual. Getting yourself locked in an underground railcar, that's not a great idea.”

“She's not wrong...”, Sandrine sighs. “And if they're looking for a vehicle like they said on the radio, you would've better chances on foot anyway. It's easier to hide yourself, at least.”

Which was her original plan anyway. Sandrine already got her a lot closer, she should be thankf—

“This is my city!”, Violette suddenly cries out, outraged. “I should be able to walk its streets with my head held high, not hiding in the shadows like I don't belong here! I have nothing to blame myself for! We should be able to confront these policemen directly, and demand that they let us through just like any citizens!”

Is she... Is she serious..?

Oh gosh I can't help but laugh! You may be a mare now Raphaël, but in your head you're still a spoiled white boy!

Violette glowers at me, clearly not liking that I'm snickering at her face. Oh don't worry buddy, I'll spell it out for you: “That's not how the world works!”, I chortle. “In case you didn't notice, you're part of a minority now; heck, maybe even one of the tiniest, most vulnerable minorities out there! Your old rules don't apply anymore, you can forget them. These guys out there, they don't care about you, you're not even the same species! They're not here to protect you, they're here to protect others from you! You never had to fear what the police could do to you before, but now you definitely should!”

Aww, poor Violette is all pouting now..! Well sorry for the wake-up call, Raphaël! Now how does it feel, TO BE LIKE ME!?

I'm fuming, lips drawing back into a sneer. My mirth at seeing her so clueless is devolving into red-hot fury, as I realize that Fate forced him into the very same kind of life he cast me into! Oh such delectable irony, to see you brought so low as if by divine retribution! Now if only my parents were ponies and had switched genders too, that'd be perfect! EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU FORCED TO ENDURE WHAT YOU DID TO ME!!

So what do you say now, 'Violette'!? What will be your answer!? Come on, I'm curious!

“I know.”

Wait, er... What..?

She's not pouting anymore; she looks deadly serious, and calm. That steely determination is back in her eyes. “I know, and that's precisely why I'm doing this.”

My rage deflates, and only now do I notice that my horn was shining with angry red magic.

“This kind of unjust indignities, I shall end them.”, she continues. “Maybe not with a single audience, certainly not, but it will be a first step, and it'll make the next one a little easier, and so on, until the day we won't have to live in fear anymore. I don't want anybody to have to live in fear of a system that should be here to serve them. And well, if they can accept ponies, then accepting any other human should be easy-peasy, right..?”

She smiles, and even if her goal is more utopian than anything, I can't help but admit that it's a noble one. For all that she is, or he was, at least her heart's in the right place... “So... You weren't going to try talking to the cops..?”

“Of course not.”, she says, eyebrow raised in amusement. “I'm idealistic, not stupid. I won't resist arrest, if it comes to it, but I'll not jump in their arms either.”

“Uh, all well and good,” Sandrine mutters, “but if you're done with that little light show of yours, that leaves the question of what you're gonna do..?”

“Right, like you said, and as frustrating as it is, hoofing it is the safest course of action, at least to get through the police blockades. I'm thinking that you could take the car, let them search it, and meet us further into the city to complete the trip?”

“Okay bro, let's try that. Where should we meet then?”

“I... I'm not sure, we would need a somewhat secluded place...”

“By going on hoof through the Rue de la Gravette then other little streets,” I muse, “it's possible to get to the Rapas Cemetery. It should be really quiet in the middle of the night, and from there it's just a matter of continuing to the Pont Saint-Michel to get to Palais de Justice, and thus the TGI.”

“Wait, you know Toulouse?”, asks a surprised Violette.

“A little bit, yes...”, I shrug.

So... If she wasn't feigning, that'd confirm she truly does not know who I am...

Maybe I should tell her..? Though I barely avoided exploding right in her face less than a minute ago, just thinking about what she did to me... I'm not sure it's the time and place to go into our personal history, when any strong emotion makes me look like a lighthouse!

“All right!”, states Violette. “We will follow this plan. Sandrine, drive to the policemen, find some excuse for them to let you through, then we meet at Rapas.”

“Got it. Be careful.”

Looking out the window, it seems that our pair of drunkards vacated the street. Violette is first to get out of the car, still carrying her backpack. I hesitate an instant before following her, already missing the heated interior of the vehicle. To think that I could be sleeping peacefully right now... I should've let her go in the first place! What took me, to insist on following her!?

Well, I know what did: I couldn't let her do it alone. This blasted yearning for her, that unbeknownst to me must've been the last remnants of our friendship...

Now that I know who she really is...

Could I leave her?

We're not so far from the house yet that it'd be impossible to get back on my own. I'm pretty sure I could find my way.

I could just close my eyes, and let her go... Just like she did for me, four years ago...

But...

Argh!! I couldn't do it earlier, I can't do it now either! I'd be too worried about her, and I'd feel guilty if something happened!

Okay Ambre... You wouldn't have wished for this situation, but now you have to deal with it! Let's follow h—

Ouch, what did I bump int—

I look up at the man staring at me, with a smelly can of beer held in his hand.

He begins to open his mouth, but I don't let him utter a single word:

“Shush, you! I've enough idiots to take care of tonight! You drank too much and you're hallucinating, all right!?”

I skirt around him, trotting away, barely hearing his answer: “Uuuh, okay, Miss Horsey..?”

Violette is waving at me from behind a public toilet, looking quite concerned as I join her. “He came out of nowhere..! Are you all right..?”

“Yes of course I'm all right!”, I snap. Gosh this night really has it against me..! “So, let's check if your sister has any luck getting through the police.”

From here we can indeed see the roadblock, just as Sandrine's car reaches it. Like we expected, the policemen stop her, ask for her papers, and start searching the vehicle.

However, the control doesn't unfold like the one we saw earlier; Sandrine is forced out of her car!

“I told you, I don't know where my brother is!”, we hear her calling loudly as she's handcuffed!

“What..?”, Violette whispers, aghast. “Why would they want to know where I am..? And why are they taking her!?”

“You don't get it..?”, I grumble. “Someone really doesn't want you to attend your audience... There's no terrorists, they're looking for you..!”

“But that's outrageous! Whoever faked a terrorist attack will get in big trouble!”

“Yeah well for now we are the ones in big trouble..! You should shut off the geolocation on your phone, it could be how they knew we would come this way by car...”

“... Yes, all right.” She gets out of view to take care of that. “But what about my sister? I can't let her be roughed up like that..!”

I try to channel my inner Laurence: “She's distracting them, we can't miss this chance she's giving us. Come on, the subway station's between us and them, they shouldn't see us getting to la Gravette!”

We scamper on the pavement towards the mouth of the street, but dang our hooves aren't made to be stealthy..! Fortunately for us Sandrine has always been good at causing a ruckus, and she makes plain use of her talent; I don't think any of the policemen noticed anything. We can't only count on our luck for the rest of the journey, though...

Mmh, let's see... Ah, these dumpsters here could help!

I fish through the trash, trying to find appropriate bags and other materials, then pulling them out under Violette's perplexed gaze. I gather the strings on one side, and stuff like paper, cloth and pieces of cardboard on another. Fully emptying a bag, I fill it with a good layer of stuff, then pull it up over my forehoof like a sock, using the string to secure it in place. I stomp to test my stealthsock, and I'm satisfied to be met by a nicely muffled sound; it works!

My three other hooves are soon fitted, and I turn to Violette, who look almost nauseous: “... How can you put your hooves in... in this..!”, she moans, gesturing at the garbage littering the pavement.

Her overt disgust makes me smirk. “What, don't tell me you aren't ready to dirty your hooves a little in the pursuit of your righteous cause..?”

She pouts, but doesn't stop me when I move to give her her own stealthsocks. Thought yourself too high and mighty to ever have to rifle through garbage, did you..? Well welcome to living on the street, even if it's just for one night!

“This better be worth it..!”, she shudders. “Now what?”

“Now,” I answer as I tie my mane and tail with some more string, “we go down la Gravette, come on.”

I lead the way through the long street, following the narrow sidewalk between buildings and parked cars. We're surrounded by small houses, with no space in-between them to hide, but most of the inhabitants must be asleep, or at least not looking out their windows.

Our trot is uninterrupted until we reach the other end of the street a couple minutes later. It opens on another road, Rue de Cugnaux if memory serves. Four-story apartment buildings overlook the crossing, but even though light comes through some of the windows, they too are closed. However, Cugnaux's wider and more open than la Gravette, we will have to be careful... Looking to the right, I catch sight of two police cars about a hundred meters from us, near the railroad crossing, but they're watching the other way. That's great, we went around them with no issue!

“Where to, now..?”

“We go left.”

“Toward the Allées Charles de Fitte..? Are you sure, Amber? I'm not so familiar with the little streets, but I know the Allées are busy even at this time of night.”

“We won't go as far as reaching them, we'll turn right the next street over. That'll allow us to get to the Fer à Cheval and the bridge through the back roads.”

She nods, and we engage into Cugnaux, keeping to the right side of the street. We clear the apartment buildings quickly enough, in favor of walled gardens. We pass in front of a bicycle sharing station, and I find myself picturing what we could look like riding them... It would certainly look a bit ridiculous, but it'd also be a quicker and more discreet way to cross the city. At least our trotting gait is still quite effective!

We arrive to our next turn, in Rue Molière. Like la Gravette, it's a small one-way street, with gardens and individual houses. Once again it's smooth sailing, until we arrive in front of Rapas Cemetery.

No Sandrine to meet us here, like I expected... Well, it won't stop us now! We follow the road to the left, trotting along the cemetery's wall. Again we're more exposed, but I suppose that at least one half of the neighbors doesn't risk to call the police or the pounds on us...

We reach another intersection. “Should we take this...” Violette checks the road sign on our right. “This Rue Rodin?”

“Yes, from now on it should only be more little streets until we get to the Fer à Cheval.”

Following the cemetery's wall is doing us good for now, so we keep it up, taking first a left, then a right through a little parking lot.

“I'm impressed Amber,”, Violette tells me as we trot, “you really know your way around here..! Either you have an excellent memory, or this power of yours is truly incredible!”

“I suppose it is...”

To be honest, I'm pretty sure my memory is what guides me. I doubt magic pony powers would be able to conjure street names out of the ether, unless my horn is somehow a Wi-Fi antenna directly connected to Google Earth.

My father's always been one to walk a lot, believing that the regular exercise was essential to a healthy body, and thus a healthy mind. He made me walk with him at every opportunity, disdaining the subway or the bus, probably trying to instill the same passion in me. It somewhat worked, I admit, but I lost the habit after leaving Toulouse. Not that I didn't want to, but... I didn't feel comfortable or safe anymore, walking so much outside...

Well, it's time to leave the cemetery; I thank the Dead for granting us safe passage until now, and hope our luck will hold. “Mmh here,” I mumble, “let's take left on Delpy...”

“'Derpy'..?”

“Uh? Oh no, it's 'Delpy', after a painter I think.”

Like all the one-way streets we took until now, this one would have vehicles coming from in front of us, lessening risks of being surprised from behind. It's also a low-density residential area, so I don't think we can be more safe at this late hour.

“Should we take the next at right?”

“No, let's wait until the one after. This one would take us sooner than necessary to the Avenue de Muret, let's enjoy the little streets for as long as we can.”

“Agreed. I like these nice quiet ones, it almost feel like we're in a quaint little village rather than in Toulouse itself..!”

I roll my eyes, but I suppose it's better to have the levity to play tourists rather than running for our lives...

We soon make our turn and keep going forward to the next one. On the other side I can already make out the Avenue de Muret with its tramway line. We won't have the luxury of little one-way streets anymore...

“The Fer à Cheval roundabout is right on our left...”, I whisper to Violette as we reach the Avenue. No more houses here either, but multi-story apartment complexes all around. With that and a tram station so close, I'm not surprised to catch sight of multiple passersby in the distance, in both directions.

“I don't like this. We're too exposed...”, she whispers back.

“Yes, that's why we're going to cross the Avenue; you see this dead-end right in front of us? It should give us direct access to the Garonne's western bank, and from there we can follow the river to get to the bridge.”

“Good idea Amber. I'm right behind you.”

We wait in the shadows of our little street for a group of young women to pass us by, then we slink across the tramway line, and right into the dark dead-end. I can already sense the increased humidity, so close to the great river, and I can't help but smile as we ascend the stairs leading to the path running along the bank.

I've missed the Garonne, and how the lights of Toulouse reflect on its sparkling surface. It's too bad we're too far south to catch it in all its glory.

Hello again, city of my birth... I once said that you wouldn't recognize me the day I'd come back, but I never imagined that it would be so prescient.

A faint flashing light draws my eyes towards the Pont Saint-Michel.

“Buck!”

“What, what is it?”

“Look, on the bridge!”

The white and blue silhouettes of the police cars are unmistakable under the streetlights, parked between the Fer à Cheval roundabout and the tram station, just in front of the Pont Saint-Michel. They're cutting our access!

“What should we do?”, Violette asks. “Do you think we could pass through?”

“I'm not sure... We can't hide on the bridge, we'd be completely in the open.” I call upon my mental map of the city, searching for alternative routes. “Next bridge to the south is the Croix de Pierre, but if I remember well it's pretty far, and that'd force us to walk even farther from our end goal.”

“And there could be policemen there too anyway, Croix de Pierre usually sees a good deal more traffic than Saint-Michel...”

“Maybe we could swim across the Garonne? If we do it at the level of the Ramier islands, it shouldn't be too arduous?”

“No, we can't take that risk... I don't know you Amber, but I certainly don't have any experience swimming with this body, and if I lose my folders and laptop to the water, this whole trip could be for naught!”

She has a point... No south, no swimming, that only leaves us north. “Then we have to try the Pont Neuf. What do you think?”

“It's not like we have much of a choice left... Let's do that. How would you go about it?”

Let's see... “Okay, we go under the Pont Saint-Michel, then through the Prairie des Filtres; the Pont Neuf is just on the other side.”

“All right Miss GPS, lead the way!”, she grins.

Ha, ha, ha... You're lucky I'm not heartless enough to just leave you to your fate!

I untie my stealthsocks, fastening them on the sides of my legs; bare hooves will be sufficient for this part of the journey, and we'll need functional stealthsocks once we're on the over side of the city. Violette is prompt at following my example.

Hoofwear taken care of, I climb over the edge of the concrete embankment. The height and the angle of the slope are a bit daunting... Wouldn't there be a safer way to get down? My eyes flick a little to our right, and I smile, seeing a series of steps carved into the concrete, barely visible. Now we're talking!

I start scaling down the embankment, though with how steep it is and the fact that I don't have that much practice with normal stairs yet, I prefer to go at it in reverse; it'll be easier to catch myself if I slip. Violette follows suit, and soon we set hoof in the muddy grass of the Garonne's natural bank, mosquitoes buzzing around us. The night feels darker here, with trees growing right at the water's edge on our right and the embankment on our left, but that suits us fine as we trot right under the Pont Saint-Michel and the police barrage without being noticed.

We arrive in front of the Prairie des Filtres, one of Toulouse's largest and most popular green spaces, stretching almost all the way between the Pont Saint-Michel and the Pont Neuf alongside the Garonne. With the cloudy, uninviting weather I hope there's not too many people loitering here in the middle of the night... In any case it's certainly better to stay close to the river rather than follow the dirt paths.

It's been a long time since I've been here, even without counting the time I spent away from the city. As we pass near the playground, I remember how my parents would take me to the Prairie, having picnics, watching rugby matches on giant screens, listening to music, or simply enjoying the view...

These were simpler times. Before I got to my teenage years, and the divide between us started to deepen and deepen...

I didn't visit often afterward, favoring the more peaceful botanical garden instead. The Prairie is well-known to students from all over Toulouse, but I was pretty shy back then, and didn't really have friends to go with. Raphaël wasn't too interested in this kind of activities either anyway.

We're approaching the halfway mark, and our next potential problem: the buvette. The bar is closed at this hour of course, but that doesn't stop people from bringing their own drinks, as seems to be the case right now. At least six humans are milling around, chatting, drinking and smoking, some catchy music playing on a phone.

Mmh... This wouldn't be an issue, if the vegetation wasn't switching from obscuring willows to revealing grass just at the buvette's level... We have to be extra careful.

Crouching low, I begin to cross the open field right at the water's edge, Violette close behind me. The humans keep to their side; I think they're celebrating something. Good for them, and good for us if it keeps them distracted.

“Hey, let me go!”

I cast a glance towards the feminine voice. A big guy, probably a rugby player, is carrying a woman in his arms, to the cheers of their companions. The young blond woman, despite her protest, seems to be enjoying hersel—

Drat he's bringing her to the water!!

I hug the ground, praying to whatever pony-loving goddess there is to keep them away from us!

No such luck though, they're coming towards us! The woman's playful struggling makes her carrier careen all over the place, sometimes away from us, but sometimes dangerously close! What should we do!? Maybe I could make him trip with my magic? That'd stop them, but I don't want to hurt them either, it's not their fault!

No, I can't risk us being discovered, it would only need one of them calling the police or animal service to doom us! I have to do something!

They're veering towards us! Quick Ambre, send them another way!

I use the slightest amount of magic to give a tiny little push to the guy's left foot as it's about to land, hoping that my hornglow won't be noticed. I let out a relieved sigh as the duo changes course to their left, just enough so that they reach the water less than ten meters in front of us...

“Stop, I've got my phone in my jeans!”, she shrieks as her friend menaces to throw her into the Garonne. That gets him to hesitate, and she uses the opportunity to slip away from his arms; her feet fall in the water, but at least she's standing.

“I'll remember this!”, she giggles, kicking water at her friend, who skedaddles back to their laughing audience.

Well, that was a close call..! I wait for the woman to leave, still playing pancake against the humid grass. She mutters lighthearted curses at her sogged shoes, and turns back towards the buvette.

Then she turns right towards us, tilts her head as if in confusion, and starts creeping in our direction.

DANG IT!!

She's getting closer!

Shoo, shoo!! Go away!!

But she's heedless to my mental commands, and I freeze as she squats in front of us!

“Are you... Are you real unicorns..?”, she breathes in absolute wonder.

“Er, yes..?”, I stupidly croak back! Why the heck did I answer!? Now we can't fall back on the 'weird dog' routine! Looking towards the buvette, it's a small comfort to see that her friends aren't taking note of the situation.

“I wished so many times to have a real unicorn for my birthday, it's a dream come true..!”, she whispers, stars practically dancing in her eyes; I think she's a bit tipsy... “Please, can we take a picture together?”

... Seriously?

“We would be delighted Miss, and happy birthday,” comes Violette's voice as she scoots beside me, “but please be discreet, we're on an important mission.”

“And, er, please don't share it on social medias, okay..?”, I add lamely.

“Of course, I won't tell anybody!”, she gushes, quickly getting her phone and laying between Violette and I to take her photo. Violette actually smiles like a darn politician! “Oh it's so wonderful, thank you! Are you sisters?”

The very idea makes me snort. “Gosh no..!”, I hiss.

She gets back on her feet, still grinning like she won the lottery: “Go on on your way then, unicorns should always run free! And thank you again, from the bottom of my heart!”

I watch her as she saunters back to her friends, though her prolonged absence is noticed: “Hey, what were you doing by the water?”

“Oh just looking at two big nutrias, they're so cute!”, she answers far too giddily for someone who just saw large invasive rodents, but they seem to buy it. I don't want to count too heavily on their gullibility though, so I get back to crawling forward as quickly as possible, until we're safely out of view.

“Well... This certainly went better than I expected..!”, I mutter.

“It was nice, being reminded of the natural goodness of human beings.”, muses Violette. Well, she clearly forgot the drunkards from earlier... Or even the people passing her off as a terrorist!

“Come on, we still have a lot of ground to cover...”

As we go through the second half of the Prairie, the ancient stone and brick arches of the Pont Neuf become visible in the distance. Soon we reach the end, with the nautical club and its barge. There's no direct access from the Prairie to the Pont Neuf, so we need to get to the Cours Dillon that overlooks the Prairie des Filtres, and opens on the bridge. If we were typical pedestrians we would have to backtrack a bit to get to the stairs, but as we're crafty Equestrians instead we can try less orthodox routes... And if memory serves, the nautical club has its own private access from the Cours Dillon. Getting closer, I have confirmation: a ramp leads from the entrance of the club to a little steel gate up there. This will do nicely!

Before ascending the ramp, I wipe my muddy hooves on the grass and put on my stealthsocks; we're getting back to paved streets, after all. The gate lock is foal's play with a little magic, but just as I get to the Cours Dillon, I have a nasty surprise: the police is here too! Slinking behind a planetree's trunk, I'm at least relieved so see that the two police cars are not parked right in front of the Pont Neuf, and that the officers are watching the other way. They must still be expecting a vehicle... Good for us!

“Okay,” I whisper to Violette as she joins me, “we should be able to get to the bridge without being seen, as long as we stay against the parapets... Same on the Pont Neuf itself, we'll be in the open, so we mustn't stick out, all right..?” At her nod, we start walking towards the bridge. The police put some barricades over the road, but again it was with vehicles in mind, so we just have to go around them to finally reach the Pont Neuf.

I get more than a little anxious, crossing the bridge like this... In daylight we'd both be highly visible, and I'm not sure the night's darkness is deep enough to hide us so effectively, with streetlights all around. At least we're just the right size to blend with the parapets, even if we have to sidestep the tall lamp posts on our way... I only begin to relax once we've passed the midpoint ; almost there!

We get off the Pont Neuf without incident, though the wind stopped and it started to drizzle. I guide Violette towards the Quai de Tounis to hide behind another tree trunk; the crossroad we found ourselves at was too large, and we were too exposed to stand idly discussing things.

“All right, where is your hotel exactly?”

“It's Rue de la Fonderie, a bit before the Place du Salin.”

“Okay, now I see two options then. We could continue along the Quai de Tounis, keeping close to the river, then turning before Saint-Michel, or we could go directly through the Carmes neighborhood. The Tounis route is longer than if we try the little streets, but maybe more secure.”

“Uh, Amber..? Right now I think we need a place to take cover.”

Mmh, it's true that the drizzle is changing fast into a full-blown downpour, and it doesn't look like it's gonna stop... But that's great news! “If anything we should use this opportunity! People are less likely to be outside if it rains, and it reduces visibility, that's good for us!”

“It's certainly not good if the content of my backpack gets soaked!”, she protests.

As frustrating as it is to admit, she's not wrong. I look around, but I don't see any place that could act as both a shelter and a hiding place. Maybe we could try under the Pont Neuf? Though we can't get down here, it's too high, and the closest stairs are quite distant...

Wait, that's this, on the other side of the road..? I don't remember anything being here. “Stay under the tree,” I tell Violette, “I'm going to check something.”

I cross the Quai de Tounis towards a curious gap in the parapet, closed off by steel fences. It looks like they've improved the floodgate of the Avenue de la Garonnette below... Was there any major flood in the past few years..?

Oh! But we could get under the Quai de Tounis, that would work! If we get past these fences, we can use the new structures to get down to the Garonnette!

I gesture for Violette to join me, and she dashes under the rain to come assist me in pushing the fences, just enough to get to the other side. From here, she levitates me to a lower slope between a concrete pillar and a building so I can get on the ground, and I use my own magic to help her do the same.

Gosh it's harder than she made it look..! Why did she have to be gifted with the stronger magic? It's so unfair! Anyway... At least we now have access to the arch under the Quai, and we can get out from under the dour clouds. Just in time too, it's really starting to fall down in buckets.

We're not alone, though.

Laying against the base of the wide arch, a half-dozen meters on our left, curled in a dirty sleeping bag, is a homeless man.

We didn't wake him up.

But we awakened his dog.

The animal, clearly mixed-breed with at least some Labrador and German Shepherd blood, is looking right at us, and stands protectively over its master.

“Darn it..!”, Violette whimpers. “We have to find someplace else..!”

“It's okay...”, I whisper. “These dogs are used to people, they're usually nice as long as we don't bother their humans.”

“How can you be so sure!?”, she almost screeches.

“Personal experience... And anyway, I thought you didn't want to get soaked?”

“We should at least get to the other side of the arch! Look, it's coming toward you, it's going to attack! Get away, you beast!”

Violette seems lost between either jumping at the poor dog's throat, or turning tail and galloping away: she shows teeth, ears drawn back, head held low, tail tucked between her legs. Why is she reacting like that? Raphaël's never been afraid of dogs!

She's right about one thing however, the dog is slowly inching towards me. It doesn't look hostile, just curious about me, sniffing at the air, though it does cast regular worried glances at Violette.

Well, this one's on me I suppose... I sit on my rump, trying to look less intimidating as the dog gets almost in biting distance, still sniffing inquisitively. “Hey pal,” I say softly, “I'm Ambre, nice to meet you. I'm a pony.”

I giggle as my greeting is answered by a soggy tongue licking at my snout!

“Stop it Amber, that can't be sanitary..!”

*sigh*

“It's okay Violette, it's just a doggy kiss...”

Seriously, what's the deal with her? She's all for taking photos with a stranger, and now all this for a friendly dog..?

“W– what are ya!?”

Oh. That was the human.

The man's staring at me, eyes wide. I can't see much of his features in the dark, but he's clearly drawing close to the middle-aged category, and of North African descent.

Well, can't help it now...

“Good evening, sir.”, I say. “Sorry if we disturbed you, we just wanted to get out of the rain, and, er, sorry we woke you up...”

“It's... alright.”, he mumble. “What're ya doin' to my dog?”

“Just making friends, promise. We'll go to the other side and leave you both alone, all right?”

He nods, even though he still looks quite shaken at meeting a talking pony. I suppose that, of the three humans we crossed path with tonight, his reaction is still the most normal!

Violette doesn't need any encouragement to follow me as I walk to the opposite base of the arch; we're a little more exposed to the elements here, but that's all right. I try to lay down comfortably, but on the rough pavement that's not easy... Violette sits next to me, watching our new neighbors intently:

“I don't like it...”, she mutters.

“Please, it's just a dog, and you saw it was nice...”

“It's not just the dog..! Are you sure we can trust him?”

Are you kidding me? “And why would he be less trustworthy than, say, a tipsy white girl? What happened to the 'natural goodness of human beings'..?”

Eh, that shut her up! It's really pleasing to see her frown, as she realizes that her morals aren't as pristine as she thought!

“You're right...”, she whispers, downcast. “I... I've no objective reason to react like this, I should give him the benefit of the doubt...”

Well, at least you recognize it, it could be worse...

“... Though I won't trust that dog!”

I roll my eyes. “What do you have against dogs..?”

“To be honest, I don't know! I've never had this kind of reaction to dogs before! It's just, like... Like I'm sure it'll attack me, if I look away..!”

Uh... Well, okay. I suppose you found one of your mental changes, then. I'll have to keep this little tidbit in mind, just in case...

Both human and dog get used to our presence after a couple minutes, and we just have to wait for the downpour to end. Considering we're right into a floodable area, I hope it won't be too long...

“Amber..?”

What does she want? Found something new to complain about? “Yeah?”

“When you said you had 'personal experience'... I suppose you weren't talking about experience with dogs in general, right..?”

Oh, that...

Should I really talk about this..? Should I waste more time opening up to her, just to be even more hurt later on?

I glance at her face, ready to rebuff her and her pathetic attempts at salvaging our friendship. But she looks troubled. Honestly concerned. It's not the face of somepony who's asking a question without having real emotional stakes in the answer.

...

Dang it, why am I so weak when it comes to her!?

*sigh*

“I've spent some time living on the street, that's all...”

... And it was your fault, however indirectly.

“Oh, I see...” She tries to nuzzle at my neck, but I shy away. “I... I hope this whole adventure isn't stirring up too many unpleasant memories, I'm sorry...”

Eh... Understatement of the bucking century... And thank you for reminding me of all the stuff I had to endure during these months being homeless..!

This time I can't avoid her as she hugs me, and to my shame, I hug her back...

I... Please, I don't want to remember that..!

“It's okay, Amber... It's okay... It won't happen ever again, I promise...”

“Tell me something, please...”, I mumble...

“Hmm?”

“Tell me something... A story, the plot of the last book you read, whatever, please just tell me something..!”

She hugs me all the tighter. “Well... I'm not sure if it's a good story or not, but there was this mare... She lived in a big city, creating beautiful things for other ponies. Flowery things of course, because it was her specialty, and she believed that she was one of the very best at it. But she couldn't focus on her work, because she was so worried. There were terrible rumors, that a monster was roaming the country, making ponies disappear, that even the Princesses, her rulers, were lost... And she had no news of some of her family members, didn't know if they were all right or not... She was thinking about going to her parents', somewhere far away, with her little foal, but she never had the chance. The monster found her. She tried to flee, to get to her daughter, but...”

“But the monster got her...”, I finish in her stead. “And since then you keep seeing her story in your dreams, right..?”

“Yes...”, she sighs. “I'm sorry, it wasn't really a nice story at all...”

“It was okay...” I decide that, for the moment, she's just Violette, a nice, gentle unicorn, and I cuddle closer. “Do you want to hear my story?”

She nuzzles the top of my head. “Of course honey.”

“So, there was this mare... She lived in a castle, well, not that she wanted to, she was just doing her job. Guard training, something like that, to become a true defender of the realm, or so she was told. There were others like her, other trainees, but one day, there was this big commotion, like something very, very big happening. Lots of real guards and soldiers left, she didn't know where, 'cause they left her at the castle with the other trainees. But that's when the monster attacked... Her comrades all fled, but she couldn't; there were so many other ponies working in the castle, ponies that couldn't defend themselves! She was deathly afraid, but she knew that she couldn't leave them to the monster, not without at least trying something. She helped some of them get away, telling them exactly where they should go, until she came across a pony who was so sad, it was like he didn't even hear her. She tried to push him away, but the monster got him... So the mare fought, even knowing she didn't have a chance, until she could barely stand on her hooves. But, if she had delayed the monster, at least a little while, maybe someone else could have gotten away during that time, you know? She was so afraid, when the monster got her... She saw another pony, a guard like her, ready to help, but it was already too late for her...”

It... It felt good, to relive my nightmare, with somepony who could hug the fear and the shivers away. Maybe... Just maybe, I'll be able to sleep a little better next night.

Violette still holds me tightly. “It's a sad story too...”, she whispers.

“Yeah... Sad stories for sad ponies... Sometimes it feels like Fate is just toying with us, to see how long it takes for us to break, you know..?”

Like... Like making it so you are you... and him too..!

“Usually I don't want to believe in Fate, but...”

She hesitates, and I feel her breathing getting more strained.

“I received my cancer diagnosis barely a month after my best friend...”, she rasps, “after I failed him...”

“I...”

...

I can't say 'you deserved it'. I wish I could, but... I just can't say something so horrible. “I'm sure it was just a coincidence...”, I tell her instead.

“Maybe... For a long time I couldn't shake the feeling that I got what I deserved, because I didn't stand with him when he most needed a friend, because after my sister told our parents what he was going through, they pushed me into keeping my distances, to get as far away as possible from the building 'scandal'... Gosh I was such a stupid coward...”, she sniffs. “After that, I vouched to never, ever back down again when I knew I was doing the right thing, even if it went against what my parents thought was 'proper' or 'politically smart' or whatever...”

A detail shines like a sun in the middle of a the starless night during her recounting. I break the hug to better see her face: “Wait a minute... Your sister? What does your sister have to do with anything?”

Violette snorts disdainfully. “Oh, Sandrine was snooping in on a conversation between my friend and I, just as he was opening his heart to me... It's only later I learned she had told everything to our parents. I was so enraged, I didn't speak a word to her for weeks..!”

...

It wasn't you...

It was never you..!

Oh thank Celestia it wasn't you!!

I tackle her into a hug like I've never hugged anyone before, making us fall on the wet pavement, but I don't care, and I don't care for the tears either!

My friend didn't betray me..! He didn't hate me!

Violette looks more surprised than anything, patting me on the back: “It's okay, it's okay... You don't have to feel so sorry for me, I wasn't the real victim in this story, and I got over it, in time. Between that and the cancer, I lost myself fully into my work, just to busy my mind, but... I don't know, now that I'm not on a time limit anymore, maybe I'll try to find out what happened to him. I 'm sure he would get a good laugh at my current situation..!”

Eh... I admit, I would...

Wait. Gosh, I already did! And all the other awful things I thought about you, tonight and these past four years..!

I... Now I'm not sure I want to tell you who I was...

Not only do I want to punch your sister so hard right now, but... Raphaël, even if you didn't out me...

You didn't protect me either...

You didn't help me...

I was distant with my parents, we had a rocky relationship since I started on my teenage years, and between the gossiping, the shame, even the religious stuff, I wasn't too surprised that they kicked me out as soon as they learned I was trans, but you...

I thought I could count on you to always be by my side. But you never answered any of my messages, you did as if I were dead to you...

So... Yeah, you weren't the cause like I believed, but...

You say you've changed, that you won't ever do something like this again...

I want to trust you... Maybe I will, someday...

But for now, I'll just be Amber.

Prove me you are the friend I always thought you were, and maybe I'll tell you what happened to that friend of yours...

My tears have barely time to dry before it finally stops raining.

“Well Amber, I think we're good.”

“Yeah, we're good...”, in more ways than one...

We get up, and I check that our stealthsocks are still tied properly. Looking up, I see the man and his dog, who are both watching us from afar. I almost forgot about them...

“Wouldn't you have a little something for him..?”, I ask Violette, pointing my head towards the man.

She looks unsure, so I give her a good long scowl. I can't imagine Raphaël going somewhere without at least some change on him, and something tells me Violette wouldn't do otherwise... Oh, and clearly they're both just as miserly.

“Oh all right..!”, she grumbles, fishing out a ten euros bill from the depths of her backpack. “I suppose he was courteous enough... But I won't get close to that dog!”

I take the bill in my magic, and levitate it to the man, avoiding the dog that tries to snatch it from the air. He takes it very gingerly, but I know that, in this kind of situation, even when it's given by a cartoon unicorn, money's still money.

“Thanks,” he calls for us, “whatever you are, and, uh... Good luck, I guess?”

“Thank you, and good luck to you too.”, I answer with a smile as we leave the arch, and start going up the Avenue de la Garonnette.

I hadn't planned for this route, as I didn't think we could easily get down here from the Quai de Tounis and I'm not so familiar with this Avenue, but in the end it could prove to be quite useful; I'm pretty sure we could find a little side street that would get us pretty close to the hotel!

We arrive quickly in view of the old Tounis bridge, from the time there was still a Tounis island, and—

Oh no, cops!

I push Violette to our left, behind a line of low bushes, just in time for a police car to pass under the Tounis bridge. They're driving pretty slowly, even considering the drenched road; they must be patrolling... The car goes down la Garonnette, then turns to go up towards the Rue de Metz and the Pont Neuf.

“They're still on the lookout...”, Violette frowns.

“Yes... We were lucky to have somewhere to hide this time.” Looking ahead, it doesn't look like the Avenue de la Garonnette will keep affording such opportunities; it's a relatively wide two-way street surrounded by apartment complexes. But we do have an alternative! “Here, we'll get on the bridge, and go through the Carmes, it should be safer.”

Like I've just noticed, there's a flight of stairs leading from the bottom of the bridge to the top. A little climb, and we arrive in a narrow one-way street, the kind which was always good to us tonight. We have to take advantage that even so close to the city center, humans will think twice about getting outside after so much rain.

We advance cautiously, until we arrive in front of Notre-Dame de la Dalbade. Looking left and right, the coast is clear, so I cross the street right ahead.

I'm startled when I feel my tail being pulled, but it's only Violette: “Where are you going..? I don't have your talent, but I know we have to take a right here to get to the hotel!”

Uh?

Mmh, yes, she's right... Why didn't I turn? This way we would arrive directly at the Rue de la Fonderie through the Rue de la Dalbade, but...

“I don't know Violette, I feel this,” I say, pointing to my first destination, “is the way.”

“Well I suppose your GPS can't be right all the time after all!”, she smirks. “Come on, it's this way, we've almost made it!”

She starts trotting down the Rue de la Dalbade, and despite my misgivings, I follow after her. I'm not sure why I feel that way... There's no specific qualities of my preferred way over this one that come to mind.

Maybe Violette's right, I'm certainly still very distracted by our conversatio—

Light spills out from behind me, just like it would from headlights.

Looking back, my eyes go wide in horror at seeing a police car closing in on us! Dang it these freaking hybrid vehicles don't make enough noise!!

I gallop towards Violette: “Quick, we have to go!”

What should we do!? There's no space between the buildings here, nowhere to hide! We have to reach the next crossing and go left!

We gallop towards our goal, but the car picks up speed!

Oh come on come on come on!! Not now, not so close!!

We're almost there, I can feel it! I push myself forward, I can see the stree—

I slip.

Time seems to freeze in this horrible instant, as the plastic of my stealthsocks slips against the wet stone pavement, and I barrel right towards a metal post.

I see stars, teeth rattling, and find myself laying on the ground..!

Gosh no..! Not now..! I hate you, stealthsocks! You're smelly and gross and slippery and I hate you..!

Violette has turned back, she's coming for me! “No,” I groan, “get away..!”

“Not without you!”, she says as she's trying to help me get back on my hooves, but gosh I can barely see straight..!

“Hey you, don't move!”, comes a man's voice from behind us.

We turn to face the car, and the two policemen that just got out of it.

They both have their weapons in hand.

Fear grips at my heart; what should I do!? I can let them arrest us!

I gather magic into my horn, looking for a way to deal with them, any way..!

But Violette puts her hoof against my horn, and my already unstable magic fizzles to nothing. “Don't do anything rash Amber...”, she whispers. “We can't let them think we're a menace...”

The policemen are staring at us, and they clearly have no intention to lower their weapons. One of them mutters something on a handheld radio, and the other slowly gets closer to us: “What the hell are you..?”

“I'll take care of this, I promise. I know what I'm doing”, Violette tells me, before walking as non-threateningly as possible towards the wary policeman: “Good evening officer. We're ponies.”

Oh Violette I hope you really do know what you're doing..!