• Published 5th Dec 2012
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Tangled Roots - Bad_Seed_72



The CMC know that Babs Seed was bullied in Manehatten, but how bad could things really have been?

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Sins Of Our Fathers

Sins Of Our Fathers

The journey back up the rolling hills of Manehatten’s finest estates felt much longer than usual. Babs repeatedly needed to remind herself to trot, finding her hooves frozen in place more than once as her thoughts raced.

Though she had an aerodynamic edge by being lighter and more streamlined than the colt, Lucky Toss had slipped past Babs Seed’s hooves once more, galloping off towards downtown. She had let him go. He offered her no more aid anyway.

He… felt sorry fo' me. Him. One o' dem. One o' dem bastards, one o' dem who started all o' dis madness. He’s one o' the reasons I can’t sleep… one o' the reasons I keep havin’… flashbacks… how… how can he jus' up an' change his mind? An' what was he sayin' 'bout Slinger?

More questions than answers attacked Babs's psyche as her hooves met the sidewalk, climbing up the steep Manehatten Hill. The skies were even darker than yesterday, autumn knocking at the city’s door even louder, threatening entry. The trees hadn’t changed yet, but she still hung onto hope that the transformation was nigh. One of the best parts of the season was gathering the fallen leaves into a large pile and plunging within, becoming lost in a mess of orange, red, yellow and brown. Perhaps if she piled up enough leaves, she could hide her tracks, tunneling underground to some faraway place where there were no more riddles.

“No, dat’s jus' stupid,” she scolded herself, reaching the top of the hill and pivoting her hooves towards home. “Youze can’t run from youze troubles. Youze gotta face ‘em—head on, directly ta the forehead—no matta how scary dey may seem.”

Babs Seed trotted over to the mailbox, feeling her heart begin to race in anticipation. Without a stool to assist her, she jumped into the air, grabbing the lid of the mailbox and pulling it wide open. She stretched on the tips of her hooves, feeling around within the cavernous container, searching for the corner of an envelope or the curl of a scroll.

There was nothing but emptiness.

“Maybe Citrus o' one o' the servants already got the mail,” she wondered as she slammed the hinged lid shut, picking up her pace as she made her way to the front door.

~

Another day had passed. He could tell only by the shadow of the sun as the Earth tilted on its axis, indicating it was just before the dusk now. The days had begun to jumble together into one hot mess. Three weeks, it had almost been. Three weeks. Nearly twenty-one days. It felt like forever.

The colt was alone now in his most holy of holies, playing priest in his temple, blackout curtains hiding his face from the cruel probing of daylight. Lying against the cold felt of the pool table, joint in hoof, he took a deep drag of his salvation. There was nothing more sacred than escape.

As he exhaled slowly, feeling the warmth of smoke tunnel through his body, the colt’s thoughts turned to the task that lay before him.

Law-ponies were no longer at the forefront of his mind. He knew that they would have come with a battering ram if they were to come at all, and days had gone by without a single knock at his door. The shack was no secret. There was no need. The inmates had been running the asylum for some time now, and nopony knew the feel of a straightjacket against his fur like him. He was King Crazy, and all the other crazies feared him, giving him the distance he required.

Puffing deep, letting his thoughts evaporate with the smoke, Card Slinger felt himself falling into the teasing hooves of sleep. Since his official declaration the day prior, he had been left to his own devices, burning through both plant and bottle at an alarming speed. He savored every drag and every drink, not sure how many more would await him at the other side of his quest. His eyelids began to plummet towards the ground.

Just as his limbs started to go slack, he heard the steady knock of a hoof at his door.

He was alert in an instant. Rolling off his back, careful to land on all four hooves rather than his face—the world drifting away from him—Slinger answered the summons, pleased to see his right-hoof colt looking back at him.

“Toss, buddy, come on in,” he said, slamming the door shut as Lucky Toss followed behind him. “Youze want anythin’ ta drink? Ta smoke?”

“No… No, thank youze, Slinga,” Toss replied, eying his surroundings. The gang’s shack appeared the same as usual, complete with pool table and accessories, a dartboard, tables, chairs, and beanbags. Manehatten and Equestrian flags and old-timey metallic signs decorated the walls. The colt questioned his scanning. Lucky Toss had seen the inside of the structure more times than he could remember.

Yet, it didn’t feel the same.

“So…” Card Slinger plopped his intoxicated hooves down into one of the beanbags. “Take a seat. What pass-downs do youze have ta bring me?”

Joining him on the floor, Lucky Toss said, “Nothin’ too much. Same ol’, same ol’. Everypony has followed the orders so far.”

Burning the antidote to his overdose to its last end, Card Slinger took one last, deep hit, flicking the roach into an ashtray. “Good.” He exhaled, filling the room with a dragon’s-worth of smoke. “Nopony talkin’ ta the Orange bitch, right?”

“… No, sir.”

“Good. I knew I could count on youze, Lucky Toss, ma main colt, ma partner in crime.” Slinger chuckled softly. “Youze is ma second-in-command. I can count on youze fo' everythin’… includin’ our lil’ secret.”

Card Slinger had not stopped at telling his followers that he would take care of Babs Seed. No, Slinger had flat-out ordered his troops to forget about her, about anything they had done to her, and to ignore her… to act as if she were a new filly on the block, a stranger from some far-off land they had just met and didn’t want to know.

Furthermore, Slinger had decreed that the gang-shack was off limits until further notice to everypony but Lucky Toss. He had reassured his disappointed followers that they would know when the Manehatten gang was open for business—“youze will know when I thirst fo' mischief again.”

These insane thoughts had leaked out of his membrane later during the night of their meeting (after Boone’s lost bet of ten bits) in a surprising moment of sobriety. While the other foals had partied, drinking and smoking their thoughts away, Card Slinger had sat in a corner, rubbing his forehooves together and whispering to himself.

Lucky Toss feared his best friend had finally lost it.

The two colts had not always been this way, serving the dark gods of immorality and worshiping at the altar of hedonism, roaming the streets with sharp tongues and reckless hooves. They had once been younger foals, free of all the decaying blackness in their hearts. They had once been… happy. Lucky Toss had once been on the path of the good and just.

Card Slinger once had parents.

“… Do youze remember, Toss?” Card Slinger sighed, looking at his friend through bloodshot eyes. “Do youze rememba dat day, two years ago?”

“How could I forget?” Toss replied, his mane more pure than any remaining corner of his heart. The unmarred places had all but disappeared, replaced by his misdeeds and his anger.

Two years ago, a mare and a stallion had owned a prosperous shop in Manehatten, operating a printing press. Beyond the local newspaper, the couple made a decent living through printing textbooks, novels, and decks of cards. Nightlife in Manehatten had been far more active back then, and games of poker and blackjack sprang up in neighborhood bars and restaurants like wildfire.

After accumulating some generous profit, the mare and stallion sought a new location for their corporation. “It takes money to make money,” as the wise They had said, and the two ponies sought to take Their advice. Assets and liabilities not quite in balance, the pair turned to the most powerful business-pony in Manehatten, begging for a loan. With some consideration, the stallion relented.

A heavy price tag came with their newfound bits. Usury, of course, is a common business practice, but this stallion enforced the terms of his agreement with hired muscle and bricks thrown through more than one window. The interest rates climbed with each missed payment, until the minimum payments alone threatened to swallow their debtors whole.

Seeing no end in sight, the mare and stallion hoofed it, leaving the care of their foal to the stallion’s brother, trying to outrun their collector's pursuit. A few days later, the two ponies were found in the desert, their bones picked clean by vultures.

No autopsy was performed, as they were presumed to have died of dehydration—not foul play. Nopony could rule it out for certain, but the case had long been closed.

“It’s… it’s crazy,” Card Slinger muttered, searching for patterns on the blackened ceiling. “I… I neva put two an' two togetha. I mean, I was told Ma’ an' Da’ had turned tail afta gettin’ involved wit' a gang at first.”

“A gang… like ours?”

He snorted in response. “No, Toss. A gang o' adults would make our little scheme look like, well, foal’s play. No, I was told dat dey had crossed the wrong Don, delayed their repayment a lil’ too long. I thought dey got the extra bits from the streets, not some weasel’s coffers. Dat’s why I founded all o' dis,” he explained, gesturing to a hoof around their cave. “Ta clean up the streets. Ta be a better gang-pony. Ta set an example, an' create ma own lil’ family. Ma’ an' Da’ would’ve liked dat, don’t youze think?”

“I… I guess…” Toss mumbled uneasily.

Card Slinger sighed. “But… no… it’s only recently dat I’ve learned the whole truth. Ol’ man Applejack Daniels freed ma poor uncle at last from his chains. Bernie Madhoof, dat’s who it was, who pretty much killed ma parents.”

Lucky Toss felt the last shades of orange begin to drain from his coat.

“An'… now… I have… dat filly… in the crosshairs.” Card Slinger fell onto his back, forehooves behind his neck, feeling the full effects of the drug at last. “An'… I’ll have my way, Toss. I’ll have the last laugh. Youze jus' gotta keep dis under wraps, see.”

Lucky Toss hesitated, unsure if he could keep such a secret. But, what other choice did he have? Mutiny was out of the question. Snitches get stitches. Blood in, blood out. There was no going back. The coffin and the cell were his only tickets to freedom at this point. Disobedience would surely be punished, but would Slinger really follow through, especially towards his best friend?

He shuddered.

They were only colts, sure, but Lucky Toss would put nothing past Card Slinger. In the aftermath of his parents’ deaths and an escalating chain of addictions, his best friend had transformed over two years, evolving into something more demonic than equine. Slinger’s intentions had become far more sinister, almost if they were implanted into his brain by Old Scratch himself.

And it had taken the sight of a scared little filly on a cobblestone road for Lucky Toss to question his own path, to question what kind of stallion he wanted to become.

Noting the silence, Slinger whispered, “Youze ain’t goin’ turncoat, are youze, buddy?”

Lucky Toss’s pupils caught sight of a large, black dagger on the table across the room, its killing edge sharp and jagged. He felt his breath catch in his throat.

“… What are youze plannin’, Slinger?”

“Revenge. What else?”

“… What kind o' revenge?”

Slinger lifted his head, squinting his eyelids even narrower at the interrogation. “What otha kind is there? An eye fo' an eye, Toss. An eye fo' an eye.”

“An’ what does dat mean?”

“It means… whateva happens, happens,” Slinger answered. “An',” he added, seeing the faith he had instilled in his underling begin to waver, “it means dat dis conversation neva happened, an' youze don’t be comin’ 'round here until youze see the signal.”

The signal. Until Lucky Toss found Card Slinger’s tag—graffiti of an Ace and King crossed—crying out in victory throughout Manehatten, he was to remain off the premises, keeping his vow of silence and ignorance.

Sensing his hesitation, Card Slinger casually asked, “Is it me o' dat filly, Toss? Where do youze loyalities lie?”

Feeling the last corner of his heart blacken into ash, Lucky Toss replied, “Youze, Slinga. Youze, as always.”

~

“I’m sorry, honey. There was no mail today.”

Mother Orange’s words echoed within the recesses of her daughter’s brain as she sat at the dinner table, staring down at her empty plate. Allspice was busying herself with a cornbread-and-sweet-pea casserole in the oven, Citrus Blossom was chatting excitedly about a new fashion line, Father Orange was gazing longingly at his empty wineglass—staring at it so intently that it might burst—and Babs Seed just sat, waiting for her supper.

She shoulda got my letter by today! Dat derpy-eyed mailmare may not be the most graceful pegasus there is—I’ll never forget dat one time she almost crashed inta Dad’s office buildin’—but she’s a fast flyer. Ponyville ain’t more than an hour o’ so by pegasus wing. Hopefully it didn’t get lost.

“Babs, is something wrong?” Libra asked, eyes filling with concern. Beneath the table, the mare’s forehoof nudged the lone stallion's flank.

Clearing his throat, Father Orange tossed in, “Yes, um, darling, is everything… alright?”

Unfazed by her father’s sudden interest, Babs said, “Nope, everythin’s fine, thanks,” without missing a beat.

“Oh, hon, is this about the letter?” Citrus chimed in.

Am I really dat easy ta read?

“Letter? Beg pardon, Citrus?” Father Orange asked.

“Oh, yes, Father. Babs Seed wrote a letter back to the Cutie Mark Crusaders in Ponyville telling them all about her new club! Well, to Apple Bloom, anyway. Isn’t that exciting?”

Mustering a grin from somewhere only a magician could conjure it, the stallion chortled weakly and added, “Oh, yes, that’s… very interesting.” His wife narrowed her eyes at him, speaking volumes of warning, unsatisfied with his current display. Picking up what his irritated mare was putting down, the stallion pressed, “Do tell us about it, Babs Seed.”

“Aw, there’s nothin’ new ta tell,” Babs mumbled, her head hanging. “We’ve got our next meetin’ on Friday, but ‘till then, jus' hangin' out. Played four-square today. Dat was kinda cool.”

“Did youze win again, Madame Orange?” Allspice asked, placing the hot casserole on the table. She grabbed a set of utensils and began to slice, supplying the stallion of the house with the first and most fresh piece.

Her spirits lifted by the aroma of yet another expert Allspice creation, Babs peeled her eyes from the empty plate at last and replied, “Not dis time. It’s a much harder game than it looks! But tomorrowa I get ta pick what game we’ll be playin’, so I think it’ll be hoofball again.”

Citrus Blossom smiled. “And my little sister owns at hoofball!”

Babs nearly face-hoofed. “Citrus, did youze jus' say… owned?” she asked, baffled by her normally formal sister sinking to the level of slang.

Sheepish, Citrus upturned her hooves into a shrug. “What can I say? A lot of the columnists in my magazines talk like that! It’s definitely chic right now!”

Babs Seed giggled. Only her big sister would worry if slang was “in” before adding it to her extensive vocabulary.

Father Orange tapped his glass at his servant as she began to turn from the table, all plates graced with an appropriately-sized slice of the casserole. “Ah, Allspice, could you please bring me some… water?”

Water? Since when does Da’ drink WATER? Babs Seed turned to her sibling curiously, mouthing, “What the heck?!” Citrus shrugged back, watching with equally curious eyes as a wary head servant took the wineglass from the stallion.

Allspice filled the glass quickly with cold water from the tap, offering it to her master. “Here youze are, sir.”

“Why, thank you Allspice,” he graciously thanked the mare.

Mother Orange smiled. Together, the little family and its favorite servant had the quietest dinner in a long while.

~

Libra Scales slept in the master bedroom after dinner, promising her stallion that she would resuming sleeping next to him as long as he kept both his mouth and his liver clean, and his hooves to himself. She was pleased to see that his first day without liquor had not brought about the delirium tremens—the terrible shaking of hooves that cursed victims of alcoholism—nor had he stumbled upon his newfound kind words at dinner.

“If you keep this up, Bernie,” she whispered, “then I’ll uphold my end of the bargain. Three-quarters of Orange Enterprises will be yours again.”

“But of course, my dear,” he replied quietly. “You were right. You always were. I’m sorry my ways were so twisted and dark; now, I shall walk the straight and narrow.”

Unable to process his sudden change of heart and heaviness of words, Libra clarified, “I wouldn’t go that far, darling, but just give this a chance. Give sobriety a chance. Give Babs Seed a chance.”

An actor in one of his past lives, the stallion grinned in the moonlight, his molars revealing none of his intentions. He said nothing and pressed his lips to his wife’s forehead, mumbling, “Good night, sweetheart.”

Beneath all her rage and demands, her fear and loathing, Libra Scales was still a mare, and Bernie Madhoof was still a stallion. Biology has its way of interfering with rationality’s questions, and though there was no logic in it, Libra Scales let that display of love cast away her fear, beginning to feel hopeful at this small success.

Perhaps Bernie Madhoof still had a soul, and she could still save him.

~

The night passed for Babs Seed with nothing of much interest to report. After a simple round of homework and a vigorous series of push-ups on her forehooves, tearing her muscle fibers until she almost cried out from the soreness, she fell into a deep sleep. This time, she was visited by no dreams, falling into an enveloping blackness.

In this haze of slumber, the foal tossed about her worries regarding Lucky's words, the darkness echoing back in response. It had nothing to make of the riddle, either. When she awoke, she felt refreshed, ready to face another school day, the fear and confusion of yesterday pushed to the back of her mind.

~

Allspice awoke that same morning to find that the youngest Orange Family servant, the maid, had packed her bags during the night and left with the rising sun. There was no note or clues to her destination scattered behind in a careless rush.

Good riddance, she thought, as she suspected this servant was one of the reasons her pay (in cold, hard bits, of course, no paper trail) always seemed a little short every two weeks. Good riddance.

Now, Allspice and Bernie Madhoof’s two male servants shared the entirety of the mansion’s upkeep, adding more logs to the fires of fury burning within them. Master Orange had made no mutterings of hiring a replacement for Greyhoof, and he made no announcement regarding the maid either.

Knowing that their employer always placed the almighty bit at the very top of his priority list, the remaining help did not hold their breath, knowing that they would most likely remain short-hoofed for the duration of their stay. Their workdays, already over twelve hours in length, were about to get much longer, leaving only room for late-night ranting and sleep.

~

Thursday came and went like a thief in the night. Babs Seed chose hoofball at recess that afternoon and led her troops into the heat of battle, proving herself to be an excellent strategist on the field.

Another victory tucked securely behind her ears, the Manehatten Cutie Mark Crusader leader began to feel like she was back in Ponyville in a sense; this CMC was just as accepting—if not more—as the Ponyville CMC. Manehatten, if only for a day, began to feel like home.

The instructor bellowed out a final warning as the classroom emptied, test day nearing. Babs did not worry. I’ve got dis one in the bag. Nuclear fusion, nuclear energy… foal’s play.

After the test tomorrow, Babs planned on returning home for a quick nap. Unfortunately, the other members of her squadron were not as lucky as she and her classmates, and had a full day of school Friday to plow through. No problem. Babs welcomed the idea of extra sleep, still feeling much more indebted to the Sandmare than she had ever intended to be.

Spotting her tormentors in the pack ahead, Babs Seed began to quicken her pace, trotting past them proudly in the halls. From the corner of one of her eyes, she could’ve sworn on all that is sun and moon that Lucky Toss had met her gaze. None of the others seemed to notice her presence.

There’s nothin’ I can do, nothin’ I can change ta make their intentions known. Fo' now, I’ve jus' gotta play it cool, but stay on guard. If dey try any funny business… I’ll be ready.

~

“I trust that you have brought me good news.”

Bernie Madhoof sat in his chair, still-sore private parts protected by a pair of pressed pleated pants, staring out of his grand bay window. He watched ponies of a lesser degree fret to and ‘fro far below his skyscraper, scurrying about their daily lives as if there was meaning in their haste. There was no meaning to be found, just more bits. More bits that would be his, if his assistant had fulfilled his obligations.

The stallion trotted in slowly, surprising himself to have expected a proper greeting in the first place. Cane in one hoof, even heavier suitcase in the other, he made his way to his client’s desk, replying, “Ah, sire, only the best fo' youze.” He gently sat the suitcase back down on the desk and took the same seat as yesterday.

Madhoof said nothing, feeling like a great eagle soaring above a field of mice. The lives of layponies had always amused him. They seemed so troubled, so full of fear, so easy to crack and break. Some castles were built out of sand. His was a stone tower.

Turning at last to his guest, Bernie took the suitcase in his hooves, snapping the locks open quickly. The very top document caught his attention, stamped with a red mark that screamed, “CONFIDENTIAL.”

The stallion, wearing another black pinstriped suit, laughed as he explained, “Oh, yes, sir, forgive me. Dat is the details o' ma operation, intended fo' youze eyes only, ta docum—“

“Fool!” Bernie exclaimed, seizing the report in his hoof. “Have you been living under a rock? Documenting this sort of activity? Exactly whose side are you on?!” The stallion rose from his seat, pressing his muzzle against his hire’s, shooting daggers poised to stab into the other male’s eyes.

Raising his hooves in surrender, the omega shook his head at the alpha, apologizing profusely for his foolishness. “Sir, yes, sir, I’m sorry! I don’t know what I was thinkin’! I—“

“Has anypony else seen this?!”

“No, sir, no!”

“Good.”

Bernie Madhoof fetched a match from one of his desk drawers, striking the tip against its backside. Holding the dreaded details of his misdeeds over a wastebasket, he brought the flame to paper, watching it in silence as it burned. There would be no trace of his crimes.

“Now,” he said as he stomped out the flames, “tell me what I really want to hear. Tell me that all of that whore’s tricks have been relinquished.”

“I… Yes, sir,” stuttered his contractor, fidgeting in his seat, taking a deep breath.

“I’ve gone inta the account, made ma merry way through the bank itself. I represented maself as youze attorney acting on youze behalf, tellin’ ‘em youze were at an important conference in Trottingham an' needed some emergency changes ta youze account. The teller weren’t too bright, took ma seal like it was from Celestia herself.

“Once I had access, I simply transferred bits between the accounts o' youze an' youze wife an' removed all beneficiaries from youze account, sir. Youze now is the sole payout recipient o' all the bits in case o’ emergency—an' Libra’s name ain’t anywhere on ‘em, nor the foals’. She’ll still have access ta the statements o' both accounts—an' she’ll think she has access ta both fo' transactions—but she’ll only be able ta withdraw from one o’ dem. Hers. Which is zeroed out.

“But she won’t know dat; the digits I manipulated as well, wit' a few bits towards the head accountant ta keep him quiet. He’ll keep her runnin’ balance accordingly, an' the bank’ll loan her the bits she requests. But once a limit has been reached, it’ll be time ta pay the piper an' the true numbas will be revealed. She’ll be in debt, an' you’ze won’t owe any o' it.”

Bernie Madhoof returned to his grand, plush chair, turning away from the now-useless body before him. Cekestua was beginning to cast her magic from her Canterlot throne, turning the whole sky into a sea of holy fire—red, orange, and yellow blazing before him. Manehatten never looked as beautiful as it did in that moment.

“Excellent. I’m impressed. You’ll have your payment soon, my friend. That will be all. For now, let me relish in my victory.”

Anticipating the sweet music of bits rustling in his pockets, the stallion rose and bowed, leaving the suitcase for his master’s evidence and trotting away with his cane. If Bernie Madhoof paid him as well as he always did, more gems would soon come to join the diamond on its pommel.

~

C'mon… jus' a lil' bit higher…

Babs Seed stretched again on the tips of her hindhooves, reaching up into the mailbox. Frantically, she thrust her hoof all around its innards, searching around. To her surprise, something was in there this time. She yanked back, hard, falling on her rear as she did so.

It was a letter in a plain yellow envelope, marked, “To: Babs Seed. From: Apple Bloom.”

Nearly squealing with delight, Babs almost ripped the envelope in the process of opening it, and began to read.

To her dismay, all it said was:

“Babs Seed,

I have a surprise for you soon. Look out for checkered flags.

—Apple Bloom

P.S. You’re cute when you’re mad.”

Blushing furiously, as embarrassed as she was confused, Babs seed threw her head to the Heavens, incredulous, repeating, “Cute? Me?? Cute?!