• Published 8th Jul 2019
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The Rains of Vanhoover - kudzuhaiku

It was raining in Vanhoover. It was always raining in Vanhoover.

  • ...

Unexpected expectations

Clove’s eyes were floodgates that somehow held back morose monsoons. With each blink, the storms of summer threatened to break free, but she somehow maintained a brave face even in the shadow of such terrible adversity. As Nut looked into her eyes, he made several meaningful conclusions, the first of which being that he saw this pony not as his mother, but as a mare, and his friend. Their relationship had changed in some as-of-yet unknown way, and neither of them quite knew what to make of it.

The boarding platform was under heavy guard due to fears of sabotage. Not all that long ago, the harbour had been utterly destroyed in an act of terrorism, along with several airships. Now, there was a certain tension here, an apprehension and anxiety that was new to Canterlot. It was too early to say how this new environment might change the ponies of Canterlot, but change they would—and Nut sincerely hoped that it would be for the better. They might be the city above the clouds, but could still be touched by the troubles from down below.

It had been an exceptionally pleasant day, a much needed day for all of them. Family photographs. A fine lunch, served with a side of laughter. It felt as though they’d reconnected, reestablished old, worn bonds left weak from neglect. All of the right things had been done, which made the day almost perfect, if perfection were truly possible. And now, at the end of it all, Nut hesitated, uncertain if he truly wanted to leave.

“Did you talk with Gestalt?” his mother asked. “He’s old, and getting older by the day.”

“I did,” he replied. “Time is limited… this I know. Grandfather and I spoke briefly. I don’t know if anything changed between us, but he wished me well. There was no subtle undercurrent of unpleasantness.”

“I can’t stop thinking about what you said during lunch,” she said to her son. “You’re right. House Eccentrica used to be risk takers. Nonconformists. In some ways, we still are, but not in the ways that matter. We founded the Royal Academy of Science… which is, in all likelihood, the most dangerous place in all of Equestria. I cannot recall when one of our own has even set hoof in that tower.”

“Mother, I have.”

“Oh.” Clove seemed genuinely surprised. “Of course you have. Why wouldn’t you have? If you don’t mind me asking, what did you do there?”

“There was an experiment involving a toilet connected to an interdimensional sewer. Flush waste from our reality into another. Probably seemed like a brilliant idea to whomever thought of it. But things went horribly wrong. I was actually there for a different reason, I was going to attend a biology lecture, but I ended up fighting an interdimensional shapeshifting spider-clown who nattered on and on about how we’d all float. He was no match for us, by the by, and we gave him what for.”

“Oh my.” Bulb’s outburst, if it could be called such, was rather understated and subdued.

“Not keen on spiders nor clowns.” Taffy shuddered and then pressed herself against Pod. “Not keen on those things at all. I am never going to that dreadful place.”

“Well, you should,” Nut said to Taffy. “Just think of the science credentials you could have.”

“No, I’d rather not.” Repulsed, Taffy shook her head. “I’m a powerful-ish wizard, but I am ill-suited for combat. Not my cup of tea.”

“You are becoming a storied member of our house, Nut.” Bulb’s tone was neutral, but his ears were pricked at full attention. “I’d still like to know the whole story of the basilisk den and all those basilisks. How is it that you came away unscathed?”

“I was armed with a spoon,” was Nut’s cryptic reply, and he offered no further elaboration.

“Basilisks, trolls, mimics, a fight with a sea monster… and an interdimensional shapeshifting spider-clown.” After a moment of hesitation, Bulb sighed. “At one point in our family tree, such accomplishments might’ve seemed commonplace. Clove has had a little excitement… and all I have are my tulips. I suspect I might be allergic to hazardous conditions.”

“Yes”—Nut nodded—“Mother has played dangerous games of hide and go seek with vampires. Which I have yet to do—”

“Son, it isn’t a list. And you embellish what it was that I did. We were treating a disease. Trying to stop the spread of a dangerous contagion. I only did what was necessary and I didn’t enjoy it. At all.”

“Well, Mother, maybe you should have.” Nut’s words got him a stern glare, but he endured it. Almost smiling, he continued, “Mother… it seems that right now, you could make a difference. Canterlot is plagued by vampiric rats. Which I am still attempting to internalise. But you could be more involved. If not taking up the fight, you could at least make yourself available to those that do. Share what you know. Teach. You’ve had rare, unique experiences.”

“You glorify my field research—”

“No, Mother… I glorify you. Forgive my interruption, but there is a difference.”

Her eyes, already dangerously glassy, now began to leak. Nut watched as the first tear fell. It rolled down from the corner of her eye—since when had his mother developed crow’s feet—and made it halfway down her cheek before it vanished, absorbed into her pelt. Her lower lip quivered and to see this as it happened caused Nut’s insides to twist into painful knots.

More tears followed the first.

A siren blared and the sudden, unexpected sound caused Nut to tense up. The soldiers did too. While Nut stood there, trying to examine his surroundings, he couldn’t help but notice the different reactions of the various creatures present. For the most part, the ponies cowered in panic—except, of course, the soldiers and himself. It didn’t take long to spot the cause; a stallion had pushed through the security checkpoint. No doubt, he believed he was entitled to do so and now, as he was led away by soldiers, he would discover that there were consequences for his entitled actions.

Panicked panting from Tater Blossom got his attention right away.

“Miss Blossom?”

“I’ll be fine”—her response was strained, almost a croak—“caught me by surprise.”

“These issues with anxiety concern me,” Nut said to his companion.

“Me too,” she replied with subdued nod.

“We’ll get them sorted out. Together.”

“I hope so.” Tater allowed herself to be comforted by both Taffy and Pod, which left Nut in a rather relieved state.

He felt a gentle tugging upon his frock coat and then heard his mother speak, saying to him, “Son, I don’t know how much I can tell you. But the rats… they’re in other cities. Even though most of their efforts are focused here, in Canterlot, our central seat of government, they are elsewhere as well. Be wary. Protect others if you can. I know you’ll do what’s right.”

“What for will be given freely, Mother.”

“Son”—Bulb paused for a short time, perhaps collecting his thoughts—“there’s been some talk about what you could be doing, and while there is some merit in that, there is also merit in the undiscovered. Like your mother, I can’t even begin to understand what it is that you are doing… but I can appreciate that you are doing it. Go do great things, Son.”

Before Nut could respond, Pod was already talking.

“This feels like the goodbye we should have had. The goodbye we deserved. Though, a part of me doubts that we would have made it easy to leave. Yes, we probably would have tried to talk you out of it. Or made things complicated. So it makes sense that you left to avoid all that. I’m still peeved with you, Nut.”

The airship began to board and as it did so, a steam whistle blasted out a single sharp note. Nut lingered for a moment—a part of him did not wish to go—but another more practical part of him felt the need to hurry. Susan and his suitcase were joined by a third; Tater Blossom had her own suitcase, which was filled with clothing, treats, books, as well as assorted odds and ends.

“Pod. Taffy.” With a turn of his head, Nut focused upon the two young mares. “Get into mischief. Do not go quietly into conformity. Become known disturbers of the peace.”

“Sure. Fine—”

“Taffy, no. We’ll end up on a list.”

When Nut chuckled, so did his mother, but it was a nervous, halting chuckle. One of much discomfort. Pod and Twilight Taffeta. His relationship with the two of them was still to be refined. With Taffy, it was oddly as if he’d known her the whole of his life, and he suspected that Tater Blossom felt the same way. For a short time he marvelled at how new friends could feel like old friends, and it pained him just a little that he didn’t have more time to get to know her.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his mother and father having a quiet word with Tater Blossom. He watched as his mother kissed his apprentice on the cheek, and then whispered something that Nut failed to hear over the hubbub of the loading platform. There could be no doubt, no second-guessing; Tater Blossom was now part of the family, because such was the way of apprentices. Nut suspected that his parents would even arrange for his apprentice to have an inheritance, a tiny share of the vast family wealth. For some reason, this knowledge bothered him, even as it left him relieved.

Pod’s mouth curled into a smile for a short time, then flipped into a scowl, and then returned to a state that was somewhat smilish. “Gestalt is very old, Nut. While I don’t mean to sound ghastly, he could drop dead any day now. While I don’t doubt that you made some effort to say goodbye, I would be remiss if I did not mention the need to reconcile. To reconnect. Perhaps a bit of correspondence? Stay in touch somehow? Gestalt does speak fondly of you, Nut. Well, sometimes. Like the rest of us, he doesn’t understand you.”

Everything that Pod had said made Nut think of the pilfered book stowed in his possessions: The Virtue of Rude Attitudes: A Defense of the Oppugnant Pegasus. He couldn’t wait to read it on the way home. Yes, home. He was going home. This thought was bittersweet, and as he stood there, cogitating, a part of him wondered if Pod had noticed that he’d slipped off, alone in a crowd once more.

“I owe Gestalt an apology,” Nut said to Pod, though he did not mention why. “Goodbye, all of you. I must board. Please, do not make this a clingy experience that hinders me. Let me go.”

His mother waved, a brave action. A moment later, his father did the same. Nut returned the gesture and felt foalish whilst he did so. On the verge of tears, Tater Blossom crashed into Taffy; then, Taffy, Pod, and Tater Blossom all stood neck to neck with one another as they exchanged their goodbyes. Nut watched them as the first ponies made their way along the gangplank to the docked ship.

Nut lifted both suitcases, his umbrella, and then waited for Tater Blossom, who lingered. Watchful guards waited; every move, every interaction was studied as they sought out signs of trouble. Tater Blossom pulled away, but her resolve failed and she pressed herself against the two mares once more. Bulb and Clove leaned against each other, silent and resolute.

“Farewell,” Nut said to all who were gathered. “Thank you for the lovely time.”

A powerful sidewind and violent updrafts caused more than a little turbulence, which left the tearoom in a less than tranquil state. Teacups clattered upon saucers. Tableware led a curiously nomadic existence, sometimes moving whole inches across the fine white tablecloth. Every cup of tea was half-full, if even that, and in its current excitable state, liked to jump out of its cup to see what the world had to offer.

Nut appreciated his surroundings; there wasn’t any plastic to be seen. Anywhere. Wooden chairs, wooden tables, fine porcelain and ceramic. The servers were properly snooty and everything just felt… right. He could even tolerate the wainscotting on the walls; while somewhat plain, it was clean, well-polished, and didn’t appear run down. His chair was comfortable, in good condition, and none of the stuffing was in danger of escaping through any untoward tears.

The Virtue of Rude Attitudes: A Defense of the Oppugnant Pegasus proved to be a fascinating treatise into the behaviours and attitudes of the common pegasus. Nut did a little light reading while eating a creamed spinach and cheese sandwich. Pegasus ponies were odd creatures with a wholly different psychology unique to them. While earth ponies and unicorns had similar traits, as well as unique traits that made them distinct, pegasus ponies were quite different than their ground-dwelling counterparts. A tremendous portion of their brain was dedicated to relating to three dimensional space, making them mathletes and natural mathematicians; but how this affected their social skills and other thought processes was still mostly unknown.

It wasn’t that pegasus ponies were stupid, as might be the typical assumption.

No, far from it—pegasus ponies were birdbrains.

Birds; some brilliant minds believed that birds were the descendents of dinosaurs. Birds had different priorities than most mammals and were nature’s great survivors. Like so many ponies around him, Nut was settled in for a good read from a book that promised to be enlightening. A part of him wondered if the book might be seen as offensive, even though it was written by a pegasus. It painted a rather… colourful picture of the pegasus pony tribe, acknowledging them as vicious birdbrain brutes.

Perhaps the author was having a bit of fun at the reader’s expense.


He raised his eyes from his book and his ears now stood at attention. There was something slightly off with his apprentice, and this worried him. Was she missing Taffy and Pod already? Or scared of the turbulence? He watched her, trying to read her expression, but it was hard. She was wearing the felted deer ear hat, which covered her ears.

“What does it mean to be free?” she asked.

It was a question he was unprepared for.

“I mean, in just a few days, my whole world has changed. Vanhoover. Canterlot. New friends. Meetin’ princesses. Pod and Taffy. There’s just so much. The world is a big place. Now that I’m free, I don’t know what to do with myself. And I’m scared, Nut, real scared and bothered, ‘cause I know that if I didn’t have you around, I wouldn’t be free for very long. At least, I don’t think I would be. You… you made all this possible, and I still don’t know why you did it. You ain’t asked for a thing from me. And as wonnerful as all this is, it’s also terrible awful.

“When yer told what to do, you don’t have to put much thought into anything. You just sort of do it, and even if you don’t much like it, life at least makes sense. There’s direction. But now that I’m free… not having my mark is a whole lot scarier. I ain’t got no direction, no sense of where to go or what to do. It frightens me that I can’t take care of myself. Don’t much care for it.”

Where did he begin?

He started by slipping a bookmark into his book, and then closing it. With his book shut, he attempted to dredge up an answer, but none presented themselves. Smart ponies suffering insecure moments took more effort than mere soothing words, which could be seen as patronising. How she had changed with just one visit to Canterlot. Her short bobbed mane poked out from beneath her antlered felt beanie. The smart, stylish bob made her appear smarter somehow, more sophisticated, but the silly deer hat made her look foalish in some indescribable endearing way.

The fact that she wore it during tea, in a fancy tearoom left him full to brimming with fond feelings for her. Getting her that hat was one of his more memorable accomplishments, and he allowed himself a moment of quiet pride whilst he gave thought to all that she had said. For some reason, he recalled some things said between him and Princess Luna, but this left him no closer to explaining what it meant to be free.

“Prince Gosling went and made everything all the worse,” she said, almost muttering. “He gave me this talk about religion and faith that I ain’t smart enough to understand. Something about how religion is all about restriction and memorising lists about what you can’t do, while faith is ‘bout empowerin’ and being all free from the stuff in religion that holds you back. One gives while the other takes away. He told me that I’m free now to leave behind my religion and go find my faith, and I can’t make sense of a word he said.”

With every word said, Nut could only think about how he’d threatened Princess Luna with starting a religion. Perhaps he’d been hasty in doing so. This—all of this—put things in a different perspective. He was no theologian and he felt woefully unprepared for this conversation.

“Princess Celestia done told me that she only has but one commandment, and that is to love her sister as I would her. And that messed everything up, ‘cause I done heard it from Almighty Celestia’s own lips. Everything I done believed in afore is all messed up ‘cause of it, and now it feels like I have this huge hole in my soul in need of fillin’. I feel like a pie with no squishy middle bits and I don’t much care for it. So I got to thinkin’ that if I could figure out what it meant to be free, it’d go a long way towards a-fillin’ that hole I done gots me.”

Desperate, Nut levitated his cup of tea and had a sip; much to his disappointment, it lacked the harsh slap to his senses that he needed right now at this very moment. With nothing to say, he became almost painfully self-aware of the fact that his continued silence was—problematic.

“How is it that two sisters can have two bodies, but one soul?” she asked, blurting the question out while Nut was already overwhelmed. “It’s hard to understand.”

At last, Nut had something to say.

“Perhaps this is one of those things best taken in faith.”

Even as he said it, he was disappointed with himself for saying it. Almost right away, a little voice in the back of his mind began to compile a list of everything wrong with the words that he’d uttered, such as the fact that they were trite, cliché, and just plain bad. What sort of hackneyed banality had just escaped his lips? Just what sort of answer was that? This hoary old chestnut needed to be put down—and yet, he could not think of a better answer.


“From the looks of things, Nut… you and I have a bit in common. I’m startin’ to wonder if I left home for a lot of the same reasons you did.” She relaxed a little, some of the tension visibly left her face, and she settled back into her chair while she kept her steady gaze affixed on Nut. “We can’t find what we is a-lookin’ for at home.”

“No,” he was quick to reply, “we cannot. For you, I don’t think the seeds of faith can be found in the toxic miasma of religion you grew up in.” His own words surprised him; they sounded pretty good, almost wise. “As for myself, nopony hates nobles quite as much as I do, and I am noble-born. I suspect that, ultimately, I am searching for a reason, something that validates our continued existence. Are we necessary. Am I necessary? Are my hatreds justified?”

“And you can’t answer that in Canterlot, ‘cause all you see is all the reminders of stuff you hate. Which is uh, what’s that word? It changes what you see and how you see it.”

“Eyeglasses?” he suggested in a teasing manner.

She snorted; then, after her nostrils flared wide, she snorted again.

“Now that it is quiet, I suspect that you are sorting out the events of the past few days.” Unsatisfied, he eyeballed his tea, which was pleasant enough, he supposed, but did nothing for him. “Which reminds me, I have a journal for you, as well as an ink pen. Pod included stationary and such in your suitcase when she packed everything for you. There’s some other odds and ends as well, which might please you.”

Though she smiled, her eyes were troubled when she said, “I still don’t know what it means to be free…”

Nut awoke to curious noodly sensations and hazy recollections of the Gallopagos. Somepony was shouting—no, ponies were shouting—and he could hear a commotion in the hallway. When he went to turn on the lights, he discovered that something wasn’t quite right; the lights flickered and had a weak glow. Just as he slid out of his bunk, Tater Blossom awoke with a startled grunt.

The whole of the ship shuddered as a dull roar reverberated through the bowels of the vessel, and this was no mere turbulence. There were more screams, more shouting and panicked cries. He armed himself with Susan, found his balance as the ship listed, and then he put his senses to work so that he might determine what was wrong.

“Nut, what’s happening?”

“I don’t know, Miss Blossom, and that—”

“When I’m scared like this, I’d be real nice if you’d just call me Tater.”

“Tater, I don’t know what is wrong.”

A high-pitched metallic whine came from the back of the ship.

“Stay in our cabin,” he said to his apprentice. “You stay here and you lock the door. The only reason that you are to leave is if they call everypony out or sound a state of alarm. But you stay here, and you stay calm. If you can. Should something go wrong, I shall need to find you. I can’t save you or keep you safe if I can’t find you.”

In response, she whimpered, but nothing else was said.

“All wizards are to convene in the dining room,” a crackly voice on the intercom said. “Please, do not panic. All wizards, please assemble in the dining room. Everypony else, please, stay in your cabins and remain calm. There is no cause for worry.”

An explosion from the back of the ship made everything rattle.

“Be brave, Tater. Lock the door behind me.”

“I’ll try,” she said, almost whining. “I’m real scared.”

With no final words of comfort to offer, he departed.

The hallways were crowded, packed with ponies, all of whom were trying to move to the front of the ship. Nut, a contrarian as always, found himself going against the flow. All manner of Tartarus was currently breaking lose. The lights flickered, threatened to go out, and tendrils of acrid smoke crept along the ceiling. Through the chaos and cacophony, one thing remained constant.

Ponies kept shouting about rats and the fact that the ship would soon sink.

He wasn’t keen on the idea of the ship sinking; while he could save himself and his apprentice, Nut knew that his magic was limited. Also, flight conditions might not be ideal. Flight in high wind was risky at best, and suicidal at worst. Doubt gnawed at him and he wondered if he’d made a mistake leaving Tater Blossom by herself in their cabin.

Without hesitation, he pushed beyond an employees only sign, not concerned in the slightest. The ship was clearly having engine troubles, and that was where he needed to be. While he was no mechanic—well, he was, of a sort, but that was beside the point—he could deal with the furry little saboteurs, should he find them.

“This is the captain speaking,” a tremulous voice said through the speakers. “Would every electrically-attuned unicorn please gather in the dining room. This is a matter of utmost importance. Thank you.”

Without needing an explanation, Nut knew what was going on. Celestium needed electricity to maintain lift—and logic would suggest that the ship currently had a bit of a shortage. He wondered if a group of sparky unicorns could generate enough electricity to keep the ship aloft. Even if they could, for how long? This was dire circumstance, indeed, and rather exciting in a daredevil way.

He was walking towards the sounds of explosions; this bothered him in some way.

The lock was so ridiculously easy to pick that it might as well have been not locked at all. Three wafer tumblers. Just three. No attuned iron to make it magically slippery. No wonder the ship had saboteurs running amok. He bypassed the lock without damaging it, pushed the door open, and then waited for a moment so that his eyes could adjust.

Everything was bathed in vivid red emergency light.

Just beyond the door was an unmoving body, which gave Nut pause. He noticed the tiny dart protruding from the stallion’s neck and suspected that poison was the cause of death—and what an unpleasant death it was. Hemorrhaging from every orifice was a bad way to go. The blood was obscured by the red emergency light, and the floor just looked wet rather than bloody.

A single dart had done this; he would need to be careful.

It was smokey, everything was bathed in a Tartarian red glow, and hot. He could hear the sound of smashing and bashing. Metal against metal. Mechanical violence. The turbine sounded like somepony had dropped a pile of scrap metal into a blender and then pureed the whole mess. Or made the attempt, anyhow. Cautious, creeping, with Susan at the ready, Nut moved through the entryway and then peered around the corner.

There was a rat.

And what a rat it was.

An enormous albino rat that was seemingly bipedal. Its pink eyes flashed in the red light as it threw its bulk into a wrench. What was it doing? Well, sabotaging, obviously. Gutted machinery was everywhere. Wires and conduits were strewn about like entrails. Nut knew that fixing the damage would be no simple task. The ship was doomed, no doubt, but the saboteur would be held responsible.

Little whiskers twitched as tiny pink ears strained to listen.

Doing his best to conceal himself, Nut reached into one of his many hidden pockets, pulled out a wicked barbed dart, and then readied himself. It was time to end this, hopefully without too much fuss or headache. The rat, a rodent of rather unusual size, had about the same mass as a free-roaming foal.

With a careful flick of telekinesis, Nut hurled his dart, which struck the rat in the back of the head. It was a good throw, a great throw, entering just behind the ear, while the tip exited through the left eye. The rat squeaked as it fell over, and it’s clawed front paws clutched at its head. Impaled, it kicked and thrashed about, and Nut watched without pity. Surely, the rat would die—Nut would just have to be patient.

“Ugh, you inconsiderate prick!” The rat hissed, squeaked, and gingerly tugged on the dart, which was barbed. “Do you have any idea how much this hurts, you asshole?”

Well, this was unexpected. While Nut watched in shock, the rat began to push on the dart from behind, and when more of it had exited its eye, it grabbed the barbed point so that it could tug it out. Surely, no living thing could manage such a feat—which led Nut to believe that he might be dealing with a living-impaired rat. An ex-rat, as far-fetched as it might be.

“I would apologise,” Nut said to his foe, “but that would require that I be sorry.”

He drew Susan and with a flick, her metre long blade sprang forth. Now he had a two metre long spear—which was fantastic, because he didn’t want to get too close to the foul, abominable creature. While it tugged and yanked on the dart lodged through its head, Nut advanced, and with a well-practiced stroke, he beheaded the disgusting saboteur.

This should have been the end of things—but it wasn’t. Mere seconds after the perfectly executed decapitation, the head began growing a body, while the body began growing a head. Oh, this was all kinds of bad, the very worst of outcomes, and Nut suspected that he wasn’t dealing with mere regeneration, but rather, the undead. The rat wasn’t an albino rat at all, but a corpse rat.

Hacking the rat apart had only made more rats, and it was right now, during this dreadful moment of realisation that Nut understood the danger that Canterlot faced. Chopping the foul creatures into bits—the reasonable solution to exterminating vermin—only increased their numbers. Mincing the creature into tiny pieces would only create an army, and he needed a way to neutralise this threat.

He thought of his mother and then thought about garlic.

“Vampire!” Nut spat out the word even as he convulsed with revulsion and horror.

It was late at night, though Nut was unsure of the time. Princess Celestia’s sun did not shine. Already, the decapitated rat was almost two rats, and Nut knew that time was short. He needed garlic. No, he needed garlic and some intense heat. Surely the galley would have these things. With two quick stabs of Susan, Nut turned the two would-be rats into kebabs and then hurried out the engine room with his rats-on-a-stick held before him.

“What are you doing?” one of the rats demanded as Nut burst into the galley. “I’ll devour your soul for this, morsel! You will feel Contagion’s wrath! How dare you! What are you, some kind of impaling impaler?”

This rat had a wholly different voice than the other. It was a totally different rat. He was dealing with two distinct creatures now and Nut could not help but be in awe of the undead abomination. The emergency lights bathed the galley in a stark yellow light that, given the current situation, seemed diseased somehow.

“When I get free, I’m going to eat your eyes and burrow into your skull!”

The galley was long and somewhat narrow, with two corridors that ran alongside a central countertop that ran down the middle. He walked down the left side, looking for garlic, but not knowing if he would find it. There was a vegetable cleaver hanging from a hook on the gleaming tile wall, and thinking it might be useful, he pulled it down.

“Hey… what’re you doing with that cleaver? You should put that down.”

When he saw the sink, he paused; as tempting as it might be to cram a rat down the garbage disposal, it just wasn’t a good idea. All those little pieces would surely make a whole army of rats. He held up Susan and examined the two rats, which were now quite ratty, almost whole of body. One of them was trying to free itself, and this posed a serious problem.

“What in blue Tartarus?” a different voice asked.

Nut saw a pony in the far doorway.

“Might I inquire about your identity?” asked Nut.

“I’m the head chef,” the pony replied. “I came to fetch my secret stash. Now’s as good a time as any for a drink.”

“Garlic,” Nut said, “where is it?”

“All we have is garlic powder—”

“I’m not fond of garlic,” the chatty rat said.

“Get it for me. Now.

At Nut’s command, the unicorn shuffled over to a cupboard, opened a stainless steel door, and pulled out an enormous glass container of pale off-white powder. This was put on the counter and Nut offered a nod of appreciation whilst he prepared himself for the grim task ahead. The chef stood there, blinking, unmoving, and Nut had an idea.

“Fire up the oven. It’s gas, right?”

“Now yer cookin’ with gas,” the talkative rat said.

“Right, it is.” The chef nodded and then hurried off to do as he was bid.

Nut smacked his rat kebab against the stainless steel counter to stun them, and then pulled one off. Over and over, he smashed it into the cold steel, rendering it helpless. While it lay on the cold steel counter, groaning, Nut opened up the container of garlic, pulled out a sizeable amount, and prepared to sprinkle it over the vampiric rodent.

“Ow, you asshole. Don’t assume that just because I’m undead that I don’t have feelings, you inconsiderate ass-pimple!”

Sick of the rat’s remarks, Nut dusted the rat with garlic powder. A dreadful howl filled the kitchen as the creature exposed to garlic began to smoke. It’s regenerative healing seemed slowed, or even halted, Nut couldn’t tell. So he repeated the process on the other and with the two rodents dusted in garlic powder, he went to work dismembering them with the vegetable cleaver. After chopping a head off, he applied a sprinkle of garlic powder to the severed neck and was pleased to discover that the spontaneous regrowth had been thwarted.

While he hacked the rats into assorted component parts, he noticed that little tendrils of flesh emerged from the fresh wounds, and these would try to pull the severed limbs back together with the body. But a sprinkle of garlic powder would make the gross little tendrils retreat. There was a fwoosh as the oven was ignited and Nut continued with his grisly task.

The chef stood a few yards from Nut, cringing but unable to turn away.

“This galley will never pass inspection ever again.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” Nut replied in stoic deadpan.

“We have jellied alcohol.” The chef gulped, queasy, but still did not turn away.

“Jellied alcohol?” Nut applied a bit more garlic powder to a severed limb.

“We use it to keep food warm. A little fire under the chafing dish. It burns hot. Real hot. And it’s sticky. Might be better than the oven. We just toss those rat bits into the jellied alcohol and set everything ablaze.” For a moment, it seemed as though the chef might spew, but he recovered just before the catastrophic containment breach.

“Good idea. Let’s do that.”

“This is gonna stink, ain’t it?”

“Oh, indubitably.”

“I better get hazard pay for this nonsense.” The chef shuffled off, disappeared through a doorway, and then emerged a moment later carrying an enormous metal container. “Don’t take it the wrong way, but just who are you, anyhow? I mean, I walk into my kitchen to get a final drink before I die, and I find you with some rats skewered on an umbrella. And now, you’re chopping up rats the same way my griffon sous chef chops up chicken. You’d think he’d feel bad about that, but no. Griffons are jerks.”

“Just a concerned citizen,” Nut replied.

“Concerned citizen my ass.” The chef set the container down upon the center counter and then made a dedicated effort to look elsewhere, anywhere, but nowhere in particular. “One order of rat flambé, coming up.”

Nut couldn’t wait to tell his mother that garlic powder arrested regeneration. Or maybe she already knew. Either way, they had something to talk about. The disassembled rat bits, each of them dusted with garlic powder, didn’t move much, but sat in a smoking pile. It was important to have good conversation and a shared interest; it was great for relationship building. He had a chance to be closer to his mother and explore their strange new relationship.

“This is Co-Pilot Red Blaze,” a feminine voice said over the intercom. “I’m fading fast, but while I’m still alive, I will keep this ship aloft. We need a pilot. Anypony with flight experience. It’s still dangerous though, so be careful and come armed—”

The intercom cut out with a crackle of static.

“Oh fuck me,” the chef swore.

It occurred to Nut that there still might be rats on the ship, and naturally, this concerned him. After a moment spent processing this information, he concluded that he had work to do—the sort of work that he was born to do. Meanwhile, the poor chef would also do what he was born to do, which was preparing a fine rat flambé.

“Spacious Skies was my friend.” The chef’s face was a mask on the verge of shattering. “We’ve known each other since foalhood. He got me this job. This is a cushy job… the kind you need connections to get. Can you do me a favour?”

“That depends,” Nut replied. “I need a favour in return. These rats need to burn. It’s the only way to stop their regeneration. They must be rendered to ash.” What he didn’t say was that he was confident that burning them would end them. That remained to be seen—but he was almost positive that burning them to ash would kill them, so there was no reason to cause undue alarm.

“I’ll do that.” The chef’s eyes widened. “In return, I want you to go and murderise those rat bastards. All of them. How ever many are left. Do whatever it takes… but bring them back to me and I’ll flambé the little shits. If we survive this somehow, drinks are on me.”


He would need supplies before he left, such as garlic powder. It was useful and Nut planned to exploit the advantage it gave him. His eyes darted from place to place in the galley in search of anything that might be useful. He spotted several things of interest, most noticeably the cleaning supplies beneath the sink. Some of those might prove useful.

“My name is Strudel Doodle, by the way.”


“Nut, eh? I was expecting something else…” Strudel sighed. “Well, as we say in the business, keep calm and curry on, Nut. Go get those rats.”

He would do exactly that; but first, he needed to prepare himself.

Armed with Susan and a vegetable cleaver smeared with rat blood and garlic powder, Nut made his way up the narrow stairs, mindful of the potential dangers around him. The kitchen and the dining room was midship, while the pilot’s cabin was in the top rear of the ship, a location that Nut had always believed was the tiniest bit illogical. He ascended the stairs, stopped near the top, and peered around at the floor to see if it was clear.

There was an open door to what he assumed was the pilot’s cabin. How welcoming. How inviting. Anypony coming back here to help would get cut down right away. There was a disturbing lack of cover in the hallway. Just a few yards away from the door was another unmoving body. Hidden in the cover of the stairwell, Nut spent a moment musing upon the situation. The rats were an unexpected menace on this trip, but then again, so was Nut. Surely, the last thing the rats expected was a competent killer aboard the ship.

When he emerged from the stairwell, he moved with impossible lightness. No part of him made a sound as he crept down the hallway towards the open door. Halfway to the door, he heard pained cries, muffled sobs, and fearful gibbering. Slowly. Slowly. There was no need to hurry. There was a scritching sound, like something scraping against metal, but Nut did not let it distract him.

Just short of the door, he levitated a can of bug spray that had a huge pictograph warning label of flames. He had this and a spark lighter, a deadly combo. But he did not peek around the doorway, no. Instead, he pulled a spoon from his pocket and relied upon the bottom of said spoon to give him a wide-angle view of whatever was beyond.

There was a small sitting room, well appointed, and a circular staircase in the corner that lead up to the glass-enclosed pilot’s cabin. There were machines in the sitting room, all of which appeared to be wrecked. In the middle of the room was another pale white rat, similar to the first that Nut had met, and this one fed upon one of his victims.

Somepony was alive and she wept while she watched.

The silver spoon went back into his pocket and Nut wasted no time. He rushed into the room, took steady aim with his canister of bug spray, and before the undead rodent could react, Nut squeezed the spark lighter just as he activated the nozzle. A cloud of fire billowed forth and in mere seconds, the pale vampiric rodent was engulfed in flame. The mare shrieked, but she did not move.

This time, Nut did not decapitate his foe, having learned from the last encounter. He flung garlic powder onto the rodent’s charred, blackened skin, and there was a keening wail of pain as the creature thrashed about. With the rodent subdued and helpless, Nut stabbed Susan right through the creature’s skull, while also delivering another dusting of garlic powder.

There was no describing the horrific stench and as the last of the flames died out, Nut had a look around. He saw a crossbow resting upon the body that the vampiric rodent had been feeding on, and there was a rat-sized sword as well, whose blade glistened with gore. Were there more rats? This was unknown, but two were more than enough to start an invasion. Chopping them apart would only cause more rats to deal with, and Nut now had a vague understanding of the danger that Canterlot faced.

“Miss, are you okay?”

She offered no coherent response, only gibbering.

“Miss… can you please speak to me. Say something.”

It seemed as though she stared right through him and he didn’t know what to do. He needed to dispose of this rat, but had no way of knowing if there were more rats. The mare closed her eyes, her head lolled about on her neck, and then she shrieked, a terrible sound of raw anguish. Mere seconds after the shriek, he heard something in the hallway.

A few moments later, Nut was joined by a pegasus, a burly earth pony, and a rather fat, skittish unicorn. The trio were led by the pegasus, who was indeed quite fearless in what was truly a terrifying situation. Nut looked at the three, the three looked at Nut, and to explain his actions, Nut raised the chaired black rat that writhed and smoked.

“We came to help,” the pegasus said in a voice that held no fear. “I’m Private Strangewing.”

“I operate locomotives, but this can’t be that different.” The earth pony tapped on his broad chest with one hoof, his eyes searched the room, but kept returning to the skewered rat.

“And I’m a med student.” After a tooth-clattering shudder, the unicorn added, “First year.”

“Go help the mare,” Nut commanded. “She’s not responsive. I need to return to the galley to help prepare rat flambé. How secure is the ship? Any idea of our status?”

“Slowly sinking,” Private Strangewing replied. “We’re adrift. The dining hall and the deck are secured. Some of the wizards have created barriers and wards and things I don’t understand. The good news is, if we go down, we’ll go down soft. The bad news is, we’re at the mercy of the wind, which has blown us near the mountains.”

“Hmm.” Nut was about to say more, but noticed that the skewered rat was starting to recover. He gave it another dose of garlic powder, twisted Susan’s blade around, and scrambled the creature’s brains. Then, with the rat subdued once more, he said to the trio, “If you’ll excuse me, I must be going.”

“Wait,” the med school unicorn said to Nut as he moved to aid the stricken mare. “Those rats… they don’t die. There’s a published study of a rodent regenerating from a single surviving ear. When threatened, they can tear off pieces of themselves, such as their tails, and hide them so that new bodies will regenerate later. Burn it to ash, but when the sun rises, take those ashes out into the light. It’s the only way to be sure. Princess Celestia’s pure sunlight kills them dead.”

“Excellent advice, thank you.” Nut offered a respectful bow of his head.

And with that, Nut hurried off to return to the galley.

The galley was a smokey, reeking charnel pit that almost knocked Nut right from his hooves upon opening the door. Strudel Doodle was drinking and raised his glass in salute while Nut entered. The diseased yellow emergency lights did nothing to help the situation, and everything seemed tinged with madness in some vague incomprehensible way.

Deep within Nut’s mind, the Disgustang lurked, eager to clean and purge all filth.

Still holding his glass aloft, Strudel’s slurred words were filled with grim cheer when he said, “I knew you would return, friendo. And successful no less. What great fortune we have to have an umbrella-bearer aboard our troubled ship. Who is responsible for this good favour? What providence—hic—provides for us?”

“Princess Luna,” Nut replied as he flung the rat down upon the stainless steel counter.

“Well, glory be to Princess Luna’s umbrella-bearers.” Strudel raised his glass a little higher in a toast, then lowered it, placed it to his lips, and drank the contents. Then, he grimaced as he endured the burn and hiccuped once more.

When Nut raised his cleaver to dismember the rat, Strudel said, “No need. No need. The jellied alcohol burns them into fine powder. But the smell… oh the smell. Princess Celestia’s glorious teats, the smell. There’s no power to run the ventilation system, friendo.”


“Oh, it is.” Strudel lurched forward, regained his balance, and set his empty glass down upon the stainless steel counter. “One order of rat flambé, coming up. Is that one rat or two? I can’t tell. Flambéd rat, the official dish of Princess Luna’s umbrella-bearers… the strange tweed-wearing saviours who walk among us. Would you be offended—hic—if I asked if you were a spook?”

“If I were a spook, as you suggest,” Nut replied, “do you think one such as I could be trusted to give an honest answer about it?”

This made Strudel pause mid-lurch. “Woah… that is exactly what a spook would say.” The whites of his eyes gleamed yellow in the emergency light and his ears twitched as the rat’s claws scraped against the steel surface. “So… wait… wait… what’s with—hic—the umbrella?”

“Nopony suspects an umbrella,” was Nut’s quiet, cryptic response. “Perfect low-key sinister menace.”

“Princess Luna has the spookiest spooks,” Strudel said in a drunken matter-of-fact way. “I’ll have to keep my eyes open for other umbrella-bearers. Is that rat multiplying? Stand back… I’m gonna cook some rat flambé.”

Before entering the dining room, Nut paused for a moment so that he could make himself presentable. But after giving himself a once-over, he saw the futility of his chosen action. He was smokey, dusted in garlic powder, there were splatters of blood here and there, as well as some unmentionable smears of filth. A shower was needed, some laundry, and a bit of downtime to recover.

A thorough search of the ship had revealed nothing, but he feared that yet another rat might remain hidden somewhere. He went from top to bottom, searching the secret places, even exploring maintenance access passes, but found nothing. After his search, he’d returned to his cabin, only to find it empty. Which meant that his ward, his apprentice had to be with the others, those in the dining room.

Strudel pushed the door open, hiccuped, staggered inside, and then stepped aside so that Nut might enter. Standing just to the left of the door, the inebriated unicorn said, “Our hero has arrived. One of Princess Luna’s umbrella-bearers. Don’t ask him if he’s a spook. Just—hic—don’t. With his help, I prepared a fine rat flambé, which I will present to Princess Celestia as a burnt offering—hic—when the dawn cracks. Nothing like a freshly cracked—hic—dawn. It’s like peanut brittle. But orange.”

Every head in the room turned in Nut’s direction all at once.

A murmur spread through the crowd like wildfire, but Nut ignored it as he strode forward. All that mattered to him was Tater Blossom, and he saw her sitting at the table in the far corner. She waved—she seemed fine and cheerful enough given the circumstances—while he closed the distance with remarkable alacrity. There were a number of foals seated at the table with her, and all of them watched as he drew near.

“Miss Blossom… am I glad to see you.”

“I got conscripted as a foalsitter,” she replied. “Doin’ my part. Some of the ponies up on deck needed to know their foals was safe.”

“And I can think of no better foalsitter.”

Tater Blossom blushed, started to say something, and then gagged. After gagging several more times, she finally managed to speak, but did so in peril of spewing. “You smell bad. Nut… please… I have to keep the foals from cryin’. Go away! You stink like stale sin!”

Sure enough, several of the little foals were on the verge of tears. Some of them had pressed their hooves over their noses. One filly in particular was engaged in a mighty struggle as tears ran down her cheeks, but she made a valiant effort to be polite. Ah, the eternal struggle. He backed away, conflicted, torn between his sense of duty and his need to be near Tater Blossom. A little pegasus colt, surely no more than a yearling, waved as Nut backed away.

“Mister, you smell,” a tiny earth pony filly said to him once he retreated a yard or two.

“Ah, you again…” Private Strangwing approached. “I never caught your name. At least, I don’t think I did. Red Blaze will live, I think, but I fear what the poison has done to her. Are we secure, benevolent stranger?”

“I searched the ship,” Nut replied. “Found nothing. My name is Nut, by the way. What is our situation?”

“I sent capable fliers off in different directions for help. We’re still sinking. Slowly. And we’re still adrift. We’re in no real danger though, and thanks to your efforts, we seem to be safe. Thanks in no small part to one of Princess Luna’s spooks, it seems.”

“I assure you, I’m just a concerned citizen doing what is right—”

“Oh, please. I’ve been around the Lantern Corps and been assigned to Prince Blueblood’s retinue.” Private Strangewing leaned in and lowered his voice. “Common citizens are here, in this dining room, or up on deck. Not a one of them has the sort of spine required to do the dirty stabby business you’ve been doing. None of them are armed. Now, I don’t know who you are, but I know what you are. Spook.

There was no point in arguing, it seemed, and Nut let go of a soft, resigned sigh.

“Dawn’s in about four hours,” Private Strangewing announced to the crowd. “Please, remain calm and look after one another. Attend to the needs of one another. Remain quiet. Some of us are injured and are in need of rest. The Crown”—he paused for a few seconds and gestured at Nut with his extended wing—“the Crowns, both of them work to protect you. There is no cause for alarm, fear, or worry. Hail the Night Lady, in whom we trust. Carry on. As you were.”

“Hey.” Strudel sidled up closer to Nut, hiccuped, and held up a mostly full bottle of gin. “We have drinking to do. We should do that. A drink would do us some good.”

“I do believe a drink would suit me right about now that my dirty work is finished…”

Author's Note:

Next chapter: unexpected layover.

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