(As with all my stories, this one takes place in the AviaVerse. This particular story takes place a bit before the Kingdom of Avia chapter "Trouble's Waking", but you don't need to read Avia to know what is going on).
Svengallop is a manager to the stars, or so he claims. But many of his rising stars have mysteriously vanished. One day, he meets a 'down home' mare named Coloratura, who has a wonderful singing voice, and decides she's worth training. But her biggest, most expensive concert is interrupted by a stranger, a stranger who is far too clever, who seems to know his plans, and she doesn't like them. And armed with that knowledge, that stranger is going to make him pay...
Characters: Svengallop, short appearance of Countess Coloratura (thus the 'other' tag because there's no tag for them yet). Other characters are OCs, including OC Diamond Dogs.
Teen rating and dark tag for violence/implied violence and slavery. No coverart because I'm not sure what the cover should be. I know it would have Svengallop cowering on the ground, but I'm not sure of which of my characters should be lording over him.
Note: After watching "The Mane Attraction", I wanted to see that blasted jerk of a manager Svengallop get clobbered (I have a low tolerance for jerks-too many experiences with them). I was hoping Applejack would kick Svengallop in the head. But since Svengallop didn't get punished in the show, I wrote this story, albeit with a darker twist (since this is an AviaVerse story).
NOTE: The main story is technically complete, but I plan on adding a bonus "what-if" chapter that doesn't have to do with the main storyline, but is a story on what would have happened, had Svengallop not met the bounty hunter in the first chapter.
In a small, dingy nightclub in the worst slum in Manehattan, a white earth pony mare with a dark purple and blue mane and tail is singing. Though she has a beautiful voice, most of the audience isn't paying attention. Quite a few of the ponies are drunk, others are bickering and fighting.
In all the chaos, only one pony is listening. He's a white-gray earth pony stallion with a pale orange striped mane and tail, has glasses, and is rather overdressed for the occasion. He's wearing a fancy business suit.
Once the music is over, the patrons leave, though some have to be dragged out. The only ones remaining are the mare on stage and the stallion in the audience.
"What is your name, miss?" asks the stallion.
"Coloratura," replies the mare. "Why do you ask?"
"Because you have such a beautiful singing voice."
"Thank you. But who are you?"
"Svengallop, manager to the stars."
"Oh. You better go find someone worthy of being a star then."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not star material. I'm just a simple singer..."
"That's where you are wrong, miss. You shouldn't be singing in small, dingy places like this. You deserve to be on a much bigger stage!"
"But how can I do that? Most ponies don't know me- they've never heard of me."
"Perhaps I can be of assistance."
"What do you mean?"
"Let me be your manager. I'll make sure everypony knows your name."
"How? How could you ever do something like that? And why?"
"Oh, trust me, I've made quite a few ponies famous. I was the one who gave both Ruby Shine and Sapphire Shores their start. Unfortunately, Sapphire and I had a... disagreement... and she fired me."
"Ruby Shine... Isn't she the one who vanished?"
"Afraid so. I've been looking for her since that fateful night, but by now I'm almost sure she was murdered."
"Murdered?! But who in Equestria would do such a thing?!"
Who indeed... thinks Svengallop.
Aloud, he replies, "I wish I knew, miss, I wish I knew."
"But why would someone like you show interest in a nobody like me? I still don't get it."
"I know star potential when I see it. Now come on, I'll teach you. And soon, you'll be the star of Canterlot!"
"C-Canterlot?! But only the very best are allowed on the stages there! I'm not good enough!"
"Let me teach you, and you will be. Deal?"
Svengallop takes a scroll out of his suit pocket.
"Then sign this contract. No need to read the whole thing."
"No need? But why?"
"It's just the standard form."
"Still, I'd like to clarify..."
"Oh, very well. Let me know if you have any questions."
Coloratura reads through the contract, and looks like she's about to sign, then sees the fine print.
"Um, Mr. Svengallop, what's this about 'Neither the second party (the singer) nor relations and/or allies of the second party (the singer) may seek legal action against the first party (the manager) under any circumstances'?"
"Ah yes, the lawyers had me put that in."
"But why would you need it?"
"In case of unforeseen situations. For instance, a rowdy audience, obsessed fans, bandit raids- things that, while highly unlikely to occur, could end up happening, in which case someone might sue me, even if circumstances are beyond my control."
"Ohh, that makes sense."
I can't believe she fell for it, thinks Svengallop as Coloratura signs the contract.
"Thank you, miss," he says aloud.
"What do I do now?" asks Coloratura.
"We need to figure out your image."
"Huh? What's wrong with my current image?"
"A beautiful voice like yours deserves much more of a spectacle."
"I don't understand."
"*sigh* Come with me and I'll explain things better."
At the hotel, Svengallop resumes his explanation.
"Miss Coloratura, stardom requires grabbing the ponies' attention. Despite your beautiful singing voice, your appearance simply isn't enough to get the attention of the masses. We need your performances to be more elaborate so you get- and keep- attention. Same with your looks. Not that you aren't a lovely mare, but your appearance would be considered 'dull' by the audience. This is not my opinion of you, of course, but most ponies are shallow, and bore easily."
"But I don't want to give up who I am and live a lie..."
"I never said you had to. Rather, I was thinking, what if we got you a fancy stage outfit and name for your performances, but outside of your big performances you're still able to be who you are."
"But wouldn't I be lying to the audience?"
"Yes, but if you show them the truth, they'll ignore you. So you have the choice of either being honest and staying broke/singing in trashy nightclubs or becoming rich and famous through an alter ego of sorts. It's up to you."
"On one hoof, I don't want to lie, but on the other hoof, I do need money... I suppose I'll agree to your deal, at least until I make enough to live comfortably and pay my bills."
Perfect! I couldn't ask for an easier target! thinks Svengallop.
"Very good, miss. Now we need to figure out your outfit and stage name."
"Well, I've always liked the term 'countess'..."
"Hm, then how does Countess Coloratura sound?"
"I like it!"
"Good. I'm glad. Now for a stage outfit. The term "countess" could present an air of mystery, so would you be opposed to wearing a veil to give off an aura of mystery?"
"I don't think I'd mind that."
"Good! We also need to make your mane more flashy to stand out. Perhaps long white and violet, and a matching outfit of bright purples. What do you think?"
"I always did like purple- I like it!"
"Perfect! Let's go!"
Soon enough, Countess has performed in every stage in Manehattan and beyond, as far as Appleoosa even! But as her fame grows, Svengallop takes on a colder tone talking to her, eventually giving her orders not to associate with anyone not in Equestria's elite class.
One night, Countess just can't take it any more.
"Svengallop, I want to quit! I can't take this any longer! I can't see anyone because I'm always so busy, you won't let me visit those I miss any longer, I just want it all to stop!"
You'll get your wish soon enough, Countess. Everything will stop all right, permanently! thinks Svengallop.
"Peace, Countess, calm yourself. We just have one last performance in Canterlot, then you will be free to leave. Perhaps you should go on a nice long vacation, and then if you still want to quit we can discuss it in detail."
"Really? I'll be allowed to leave after my break?"
"And will I be able to keep the money made performing?"
"Of course." Not that it will do you much good with what's going to happen to you...
"Okay. But Canterlot will be it! Then I'm leaving the stage, at least for a while."
"Very well. Now get some rest, Countess. Your final performance is tomorrow."
The next day, Countess Coloratura and Svengallop head to the stage in Canterlot.
"Now," says Svengallop as they draw near, "Remember what I told you. Entrance is key to success! And for Celestia's sake, don't associate with those commoners!"
"Because you, Countess Coloratura, are a star thanks to me. And I won't have you sully my good name by associating with such lowlifes! And if you don't do as I say, I'm going to leave. And we both know you don't stand a chance on stage without my help!"
"I know..." replies Countess, lowering her head. "You never let me forget that..."
She takes her place on stage, along with her backup dancers, while Svengallop gives orders to several big draft-type stallions.
"Remember, if any of the riffraff tries to get to the stage, and anyone who comes in without a ticket, must be aggressively removed. I won't have anyone interfering with my show! And if you fail at this simple task, I'll have you fired without so much as a ticket stub! Do I make myself clear?"
"Yessir Svengallop!" say the drafts. They take their places near the stage and the entrances.
In the woods outside town, however, someone is watching. Or rather, two someones. One is a draft-sized black-and-white pinto unicorn mare, battle-scarred, lion-tailed, and built like a deer. The other is a just-as-big golden she-griffin.
The unicorn stares at the Countess, only looking away when the griffin nudges her in the side.
"Heh, staring at the pretty mares again, Storm?"
"Heh, you know me all too well, Goldfeather!"
"Why don't you go talk to her, see if she's got a stallion or mare or if she's single?"
"Sure you won't mind?"
"Of course not. I may be sweet on you, but buck, that new mare is fiine!"
"Indeed she is. Think I'll talk to her- you want to come?"
"Nah. Those ponies don't like us griffins very much- think we'll hunt them and kill them for food."
"Can't blame them. Your kind is one of the realm's apex predators, even though most of you go for fish."
"Enough talking, pretty pinto. Go see if that pony girl is single, go on!"
Storm trots over, but is halted by one of the draft-type stallions.
"Don't come any closer."
"We don't want your kind around here."
"You look like a thug, a troublemaker. Like the riffraff our manager wants to keep out."
"Well, aren't you specieist. What do you got against pintos?"
"It's not your fur color. You're all dirty and scarred- you must be some kind of thug."
"So what's wrong with a little dirt and a few scars? I earned these battle scars, and am proud of them."
"Our boss is very particular. He doesn't want the lower class here."
"Well, your boss can go buck himself. I'm just here cause that pretty mare you were escorting caught my eye."
"The Countess Coloratura? She wouldn't want anything to do with a peasant like you."
"Anyone ever tell you it's a bad idea to insult a scrapper? Hope you have medical insurance."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Since you insulted me so much, I can only assume you want a fight. Now you got it."
"That's not what I-" The bouncer is cut off by hard, sharp hooves slamming into his skull and knocking him out cold.
"Anyone else?" asks Storm, glaring at a second bouncer nearby.
The other draft stallion decides to back off, not wanting to risk getting hoofprints on his forehead.
Storm takes a seat in the audience, on alert. She doesn't pay much attention to the music, but instead watches the mare on stage dancing and singing.
She's pretty all right, but blast it, I wish she'd take off her veil. She'd be even prettier without it.
Once the show is over, Storm attempts to go up to the stage, only to be stopped by yet another bouncer.
"You going to let me pass, or should I dent your skull?"
"Is that a threat?"
"What do you think?"
"I think yes. But still, you aren't allowed near the Countess. You look like part of the riffraff the boss doesn't want here. You might get the Countess's pristine fur dirty. Why, you might even have fleas!"
"Nope, no fleas here. My lady just preened me so no bugs. As for the dirt, a little mud never hurt anyone."
"You horrid creature, how dare you insinuate the Countess should be allowed to get dirty?! Dirt is for the common ponies. Now get out of here!"
"Welp, you just blew it," says Storm.
She kicks the bouncer in the legs, tripping him, and slams her hooves down on his head.
This taken care of, she goes backstage where the Countess is out of costume and preparing for her next show.
"Hi," says the pinto.
"Name's Storm. You busy?"
"No... how did you get back here? And why?"
"Easily. As to why, I thought you were pretty and decided to tell you personally."
"You really think I'm pretty?"
"Sure. You're beautiful. Especially without that veil."
"It's been such a long time since a pony said something that nice to me."
"What do you mean?"
"My manager won't let me near anyone besides those snobby upper-class ponies. Says anyone else is 'beneath me'."
"Sounds to me like you need a new manager."
"If only it were that simple... But I owe him my entire career. He says that I'm repaying that debt by working for him, that if I ever stop working for him he'll make sure I never get another chance at fame. But at least he's going to let me take a break- said there's a slim chance he'll let me quit afterwards"
Storm's ears go back and her voice takes on a much darker tone.
"Your boss sounds like a slave trader."
"Mhm. Down Below, the slave traders say things like that to trap unlucky travelers and make them battle slaves."
"That's horrible! But pardon my ignorance: what's the "Below" you mentioned?"
"It's a place where they take you and torture and/or make you fight til you die."
"That's awful! But how do you know about this?"
"Because I spent half my life there. That's where I got the scars. Got tricked into it by a silver-tongued griffin who charmed me into obeying him. I was one of the lucky ones though- got out alive. That doesn't happen often."
"Are you saying my manager means to get me killed?!"
"I'm not sure. Does he have some kind of life insurance on you?"
"Then you're bucked."
"But he wouldn't kill me!"
"Didn't say he would, but he might cause it another way..."
"What? He wouldn't do that!"
"Still, it might be better for your health to kick him out."
"I'm not going to do that- I'd never get another job!"
"Up to you, pretty one. By the bye, are you free later?"
"I'd like to show you around."
Svengallop comes out of his office and notices the big pinto mare talking to Countess.
That is not a high-class equine. She needs to be removed! I can't have her telling Countess about the commoners! It would ruin all my plans! I didn't charm that singer into working for me just to have some outsider ruin things!
He comes up on the pinto from behind, a serious mistake.
"You-" he begins.
Storm is so startled by the sudden voice behind her, she lashes out with her back hooves, almost knocking him out.
"Why did you hurt him?!" asks Countess.
"He was behind me. And when something comes at me from behind, it's usually a predator. Naturally, since I'd rather not die, I instinctively kick at them."
Svengallop starts to come out of it, muttering about "keep her isolated" and "finish the job" while still half-out from the blow.
"What did you say?" asks Storm, stepping between the Countess and her still-down manager.
"Unh, put the hay in the apple and eat the candle..."
"Not that. What was that about 'keep her isolated', hmm?"
"Keep Countess isolated from... help... use her fame... bandits... insurance money!"
"What does he mean?" whispers Countess, sounding scared.
"Pretty sure he plans to keep you away from anyone who could help you, and use the fact you owe him for your fame to keep you caught til he sets the bandits on you to get you killed."
"But why would he do that?!"
"Because he's a greedy jerk that just wants money."
"I don't believe you!"
"Then ask him when he wakes up. I'll know if he's lying."
"I will! I'll show you!"
Svengallop comes out of it in full, and finds himself looking up at a very angry pinto mare.
"Your Countess has a question for you. And you better think pretty hard before you answer."
As she speaks, the pinto lowers her sharp horn and touches it to Svengallop's neck.
"Are you really just using me?!" asks Countess, "And do you plan to get rid of me for the insurance?!"
"Of course not!"
"Are you sure?" asks Storm. "Why so scared?"
"You have a weapon against my neck!"
"No, it's more than just that. You're hiding something."
"No I'm not!"
"Mhm. Are you sure about that?"
Something about this pinto makes Svengallop rethink what he's saying.
"Maybe I am hiding something. But that's all I'll tell you."
"I see. So you won't mind explaining why you keep Countess isolated, why you were talking about using her fame and why you mentioned 'bandits' and 'insurance money'."
Storm moves her horn away but keeps her captive pinned down.
"I never said that!"
"Yes, you did," says Countess. "But what did you mean?"
Oh dear, thinks Svengallop. They are both suspicious... Maybe I can trick the Countess though, and turn her against this scary pinto...
"I, um, meant using her fame to, uh, keep serving her..?"
"You are a terrible liar," snaps Countess. Even she is suspicious now.
"Um, perhaps I should leave."
"Yes you should," says Countess, "And stay away. You're fired!"
"Why you mother-bucking, ungrateful, snotty brat! When I get through with you, your career, your fame, even your life will be ruined!"
"No, it won't," says Storm.
She turns to Countess.
"Mind if I take care of this for you?"
"Not at all. Just, please, don't hurt him too badly. He did give me my start, after all. If not for him, I'd still be stuck in bars and nightclubs, and flat broke."
"Oh I won't hurt him."
"I guess he's in good hooves then. I'm going to call the others and move on."
"Good luck, pretty Countess."
Countess Coloratura leaves, and Storm grins down at Svengallop, looking incredibly sadistic.
"As I recall, you said you wouldn't harm me."
"Yeah, but I'm not the only one here."
As she speaks, Storm takes a rope out of her pack and ties it around Svengallop's neck, to be used as a lead, and drags him into the woods.
"Hey Goldfeather," she says once she and her prisoner are out of sight and hearing of the ponies.
"What'cha got there, pretty pinto?"
"Lunch," says Storm with a smirk.
"LUNCH?!" gasps Svengallop, "What do you mean?!"
"Griffins are carnivores. You figure it out."
"You're both stark raving mad!"
"Nope," says Goldfeather, "Just hungry."
She turns back to Storm.
"Still, this critter doesn't look like it'll taste that good. Might not be worth the job."
"True. But, hmm, you know, the Diamond Dogs aren't as picky about their meals."
"Ooh yes, and we might actually get a good price! This one is pretty able-bodied. Could make a good slave til they get hungry. Course, I doubt we'll make as much a profit on this as the last crook you turned in."
"You're going to sell me to the Diamond Dogs?!" gasps Svengallop.
"Mhm. But don't worry, with what they'll do with you, you'll be glad when they finish you off!"
Storm grabs the lead in her teeth again, to drag the prisoner away.
"I won't let you sell me!" snaps Svengallop.
"Oh, we know you aren't going to let us," says Goldfeather. "Makes things more fun!"
"If you fight and struggle rather than just give up, it makes things interesting around here."
"You're both insane, sadistic, mother-bucking-"
"No worse than you."
"I overheard my lady talking to that pretty mare, Countess-whatever. Apparently you meant to keep her as a slave, trapping her through her fame, since you got her famous in the first place. And once she reached peak fame, you were going to get her killed for insurance and publicity."
"I never said-"
"Don't try lying to a griffin. We can sense fear."
"I'm not lying!"
"Yes, you are. I heard you directly say you wanted the life insurance money and were using her fame."
"We're just doing the same thing to you that you would have done to that pretty mare, albeit a bit less murderous."
"But I'm not a murderer! I wouldn't have killed her, at least not myself. If you sell me to the Diamond Dogs, they might eat me!!"
"Welp, that's your problem."
"WHAT?! How can you say that?! I'm, important, not some useless lowlife-"
"You mean like you called me?" asks Storm, letting go of the lead.
Svengallop tries to bolt, only to be knocked down by a lightning-fast strike of the she-griffin's talons.
"You did call my lady that," says Goldfeather, taking the lead in her talons. "And she isn't the 'useless lowlife' here. You are."
"But I got Countess famous! I'm not useless!"
"You manipulated her and got her famous by bullying and swindling. Not exactly the proper way..."
"But still, I'm not useless riffraff like you two!"
"You are just digging your own grave here, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Nine out of ten ponies agree that provoking someone who has you caught good is not wise," says Storm.
"Especially if she has a weapon," adds Goldfeather, extending the claws on her free talon.
"Now then, time to take you to the Diamond Dogs."
"But why them?!"
"Because they always need more slaves and they pay pretty well. Now come on!"
Goldfeather jerks hard on the lead, choking her captive.
"We're nearly there," says Storm, noticing Svengallop's struggling. "Then my lady will turn you loose. And if you pass out, well, that'll make things that much easier for us."
Svengallop would protest, but at the moment, he's finding it difficult to breathe.
The golden griffin finally loosens up on the lead as she halts before a large cave.
"Hey Diamond Dogs! Got something to sell you!"
"No! Last sellers tried to make us buy a machine we didn't need, tried to force us into buying!"
"Well, I'm not selling machines. Got a slave for you if you still need miners."
A big gray Diamond Dog comes to the entrance.
"Here it is," says Goldfeather, shoving Svengallop in front of her.
"Pardon me, but I'm a stallion, not an 'it'!" snaps Svengallop.
"Hrm," says the Diamond Dog. "Noisy one. Doesn't look like much."
"Perhaps not, but you can probably just use a bit of 'persuasion'..." says Storm.
"True... This one is not worth much though, so how much do you want?"
"Hm, what do you have?"
"We won't trade anything more valuable than iron or copper for this thing."
"How about obisidian?"
"Maybe one cart-load. We can use it for weapons. Deal?"
"Still think that's a bit high for the weak creature you brought."
"Well, it's either pay what we want, or we'll sell this critter somewhere else."
"Grr, fine. I'll have the stones sent out."
"And you better not cross us," says Goldfeather. "You know what we griffins are capable of."
"Yes, I know..."
After a few minutes, the Diamond Dog comes back out, along with a large cart.
"Better let us inspect that, critter."
"As you wish."
The pinto mare looks through the stones for a while, then, satisfied, nods and signals Goldfeather.
Goldfeather hands the lead to the Diamond Dogs while Storm takes the cart.
"WHAT?!" snaps Svengallop. "Obsidian?! That's one of the least valuable stones! Surely I'm worth more than that!"
The Diamond Dog growls.
"Shut up, pony, or we cook you for food now instead of later."
Svengallop shuts up.
"Now then," says the dog once his captive is deep in the mines, "You pull carts."
"But those carts look really heavy!"
"Pull the carts or be our next meal."
Svengallop obeys, but finds the cart is too heavy for him to really move.
"Gah, what's in here, lead?"
"Yes. We sell it to the dragons. They have the power to turn it into gold."
"Why are you making me pull it when you are so much stronger?"
"It's not a slave's place to question their master."
"Pull the cart or be cooked and eaten."
Svengallop tries to pull the cart, but he's too weak.
One of the dogs cracks him with a whip. and he spooks and bolts, even carrying the heavy cart. Unfortunately, once the adrenaline rush is gone, his legs give out.
The dog just shakes his head.
"We'll try lighter carts. If those don't work, you're useless to us."
The next time, they use lighter carts with lighter minerals, but Svengallop fails time and time again. He's just too weak to do the heavy labor.
Finally, the dogs just shove him into a side cavern.
"What are you doing?" asks Svengallop.
"You're useless as a slave. We're keeping you here til we kill you. Probably will be tomorrow."
Svengallop's scream of terror is cut off as a huge rock is shoved into the entrance, keeping him trapped.
The next day, the rock is removed, but before the Diamond Dogs can grab him, Svengallop bolts.
He gets recaptured, but as soon as one of the dogs pulls an obsidian dagger, he runs off again.
Even though the Diamond Dogs are fast, they are no match for a panicked pony, and he manages to get away, though just barely.
Eventually, he comes to a halt deep in the forest and hides in a bush, where he overhears familiar voices.
"Well, pretty pinto, this is the last of the blades. Did you give out the others?"
"Of course, flier. They're ready! We'll need more before we can do the job, but this is a good start."
Svengallop storms out of the bushes, extremely angry.
"YOU! You sold me to those demon-dogs! I'll destroy you!"
The pinto mare in the clearing looks at him with complete disdain. Obviously, she is unimpressed.
"Got an appointment?" she asks.
"Appointment?! Wait what?"
"Heh, my lady and I are on quite a few hit lists. So if you want to kill us, you need an appointment. Maybe next Tuesday at 2:00? I should be free then."
"I'm not a murderer! I wouldn't kill you! I meant destroy you professionally!"
"Too bad we don't have a profession then, huh?"
"Argh, I mean I'll make sure no one trusts you again!"
"Well, no one trusts the two of us anyway, what with my being half-wild, and her being a griffin, so..."
"Gah, what does it take to cow you?!"
"Huh? I'm not a cow, I'm a horse. Did my black-and-white patterning throw you off, or..?"
"I mean what scares you! What makes you afraid and intimidated?!"
"Most folk say my lady and I don't have enough sense to get scared!"
"I hate you both so much now..."
"You mean you didn't already?"
"Argh, you are impossible!"
"No, I'm pinto!"
Svengallop is so frustrated and exasperated by Storm's repeated non-answers, he just leaves, rather quickly.
"Good luck not being killed by hungry predators," hollers Storm behind him.
He's cut off by a loud manticore roar.
Once again, Svengallop is sent into a running panic, only to notice an odd glow nearby. It almost looks like a blue-white lantern, and he finds himself called to follow it.
The source of the lantern is a pale green unicorn stallion with a pale yellow mane and tail and lantern cutie mark.
"Hello, traveler," says the stranger. "I'm Willowy-Wisp. And you are?"
He approaches the unicorn stallion, unusually cautious.
Something doesn't feel quite right... This 'Willowy-Wisp' seems nice, but why do I feel like I should run away from him..?
"Why so afraid?" asks Wisp.
"I... don't know."
"Calm down, my friend. I'm not going to hurt you."
As he speaks, the unicorn moves in much closer and brushes his muzzle against Svengallop's mane.
"Whoa, wait, what are you doing?!"
"You don't like me being so close?"
"It's not that, I just want to know why!"
"I don't get many visitors out here. Especially in the way of handsome stallions."
"Uhh... thanks for the compliment..?"
"You're a bit dense, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm trying to flirt with you."
"Oh! Uh, well, I'm not sure how to respond to that. I mean, I've never had anyone, mare, stallion, or whatever show any interest in me..."
"Well, perhaps I can remedy that."
"I'm not sure..." Something about you feels 'wrong' somehow.
"Come now, you shouldn't be so skittish. I'm not going to hurt you, not myself anyway..."
"What do you mean you won't hurt me yourself?"
"Oh, nothing. Nothing at all."
"No, you definitely mean something!"
"Shh, shh, come with me."
"To where? And why?"
"I know a nice, hidden place where you can stay."
"Why hidden? What don't you want others to know?"
"Let's just say I'm not exactly well liked."
"Oh? Why not?"
"Some have spread... disturbing... rumors about me, claiming I'm a traitor, that I lure in travelers to make them my slaves."
"Is that true?"
"Oh come now, why would a unicorn living in the forest as a hermit want slaves?"
"Hm, good point. But why would a hermit let me come near them?"
"Sometimes I get a bit lonely out here, and long for companionship. Of course, it was easier to find company before she interfered with my plans."
"Who? And what did they interfere with?"
"A pinto mare. I doubt you've met her though. You're still alive."
A pinto mare? Pinto colors aren't that common among civilized ponies. Surely he doesn't mean...
"*Ahem*. Wisp, could you tell me more about this pinto?"
"What is there to tell? She's a cold, cruel, calculating killer. And very clever. I've... heard... that she managed to survive for years in the now-illegal death-battle arenas, and that she actually murdered one of the most brutal slavemasters in existence because he tried to kill her."
"What else? What species is she? And what are the colors of her fur? What does she look like?"
"You are asking a lot of questions."
"I'm wondering if we're talking about the same pinto. The one I met kidnapped me and then sold me to the Diamond Dogs!"
"Hm, perhaps. Repeating your own questions, what color and species was she? How did she look?"
"She was a draft-size piebald unicorn. But she was built like a deer with a lion tail, and her horn was curved. And along with her was a huge golden griffin. I noticed both of them were battle-scarred, like they'd been in a lot of fights. They looked half-wild, like they'd kill you as soon as look at you."
Wisp's ears go flat against his head.
"Storm," he snarls. "By Celestia and Luna, I wish she'd bucking die already! Someone needs to hunt her down and kill her! But not quickly, no, not quickly. She needs to suffer til she begs for the sweet release of death! And even then, she shouldn't be given that mercy!"
Svengallop backs away.
Okay then, I believe this stallion is insane. Perhaps I should go see if there's something less bloodthirsty out here, maybe a manticore...
But before he can bolt, an eerie blueish-white glow envelops his hind legs, making him fall. Behind him, Wisp's horn and eyes glow with magic.
"What, leaving so soon?" asks Wisp, "I'm afraid I can't allow that."
The unicorn keeps tight magic hold on Svengallop's legs, keeping him from getting up, and moves in uncomfortably close.
"You're mad! Stark raving mad!"
"Now is that any way to talk to someone who offered you safety, hospitality, and possibly other benefits as well?" asks Wisp, almost whispering in the other stallion's ear.
"You are making me extremely uncomfortable! Please go away!"
"Oh, but you'll never survive alone in the wild, my dear."
"Can you at least get out of my personal space?!"
"Very well. But it's getting late. You might want to stay in my den tonight, or else one of the many nocturnal predators will get you."
"But how do I know you won't do something to me while I'm asleep?"
"I'm no coward, pretty-colt. If I wanted to do something to you, I'd make sure you were awake and fully alert, so you could try to fight or escape. Now come, it gets later by the minute. And I'd rather have you alive than caught as prey."
"...What's that supposed to mean?"
"Let's just say I have use for you..."
"That doesn't sound good!"
"Too bad you don't have a choice!"
Wisp's eyes gleam with a savage light and he tightens his magic hold, then rears up and literally throws his captive into the nearby cave.
Svengallop's head strikes a nearby wall, and he goes out cold.
When Svengallop comes to, Wisp is standing over him.
"I'm glad you're awake. I'd hate for you to miss this."
"AAH! W-what are you going to do to me?!"
"Oh, I'm not going to do anything," says Wisp. "But they are!"
"Who? What? Why?!"
"You'll find out in due time."
Wips turns to the back of the cave.
"Come on in, boys. I have a new toy for you."
A motley crew of bandits come out of the darkness, likely through a hidden tunnel. There's griffins, equines, and even a wildcat from Felina.
Svengallop lets out a most un-stallionly shriek of terror and bolts.
But he doesn't get far. The wildcat leaps from its perch and pounces, catching the terrified pony with sharp claws and biting down on his neck, though it doesn't aim to kill. It merely waits til its prey stops struggling, then drags him deeper into the tunnels and unceremoniously drops him in a mud pile.
"What do you want with me?!" asks Svengallop.
"Your life," replies Wisp with a smirk.
"What have I ever done to you that makes you want to kill me?"
"Oh, you didn't do anything. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You would have been better off with that pinto."
"I thought you said she was evil."
"I was lying. While she is dangerous, she's not truly an evil being."
"And you are, I take it."
"Evil is such a strong word."
"You lure travelers in to kill them! I'd say that's pretty evil!"
"No worse than what you do."
"What do you mean?!"
"I've heard tell of you, Svengallop. They say you were behind the disappearance of the rising star Ruby Shine."
"No one can prove it was me! No one!"
"You just admitted your guilt. How is your luring in rising stars and killing them for money any different than my luring in travelers and using them for bait?"
"It is so different- wait, what do you mean by 'bait'?"
"Simple. The masses want to see blood. They love when our prisoners are torn limb from limb by hungry predators."
"That was made illegal centuries ago! You can't do that!"
"So who says what we're doing is legal?"
"What do you mean?"
"Welcome to the Underground, my dear. Where crime and violence reign and we are bound by no laws. Enjoy your life here, while it lasts."
"Insanity is relative. Now then, what trap should we bait with you?"
"Is there one for a tiny harmless creature?"
"Oh, of course not. Tiny and harmless has no place down here. No, we need something bloodthirsty and brutal... Perhaps the Shade Hounds."
"W-what are those?"
"According to legend, they are made of the darkness itself. They are, perhaps, the cruelest demons in existence. We haven't been able to catch one yet, but they've been drawing ever closer to our traps. They are drawn to negativity, so you will doubtless summon them. And if we capture one, well, the arenas will be filled completely. Nothing can survive a Shade Hound attack..."
"What if I refuse to let you take me?" asks Svengallop, edging toward the cave entrance.
"Then we'll have to force you. Get him!"
Before he has a chance to run, a griffin trips him and a draft-type hippogriff pins him down.
"I wouldn't try to escape again if I were you," says Wisp. "You won't like what happens."
"You already plan to get me killed, so..."
"Oh, I don't mean kill you. That's too merciful. But breaking all four of your legs and destroying your vocal cords..."
Wisp smirks again, enjoying his captive's fear.
"Bind his legs, boys, and tie his muzzle shut. We need to make sure he can't fight or run. Come midnight, toss him in the trap in the deepest, darkest part of the forest. Maybe we will catch a Shade Hound tonight!"
"Why midnight, boss?" asks one of the equines.
"Because that's when the Shade Hounds are more active, my dear. But enough talk. Prepare this one for the trap."
At this, Svengallop lashes out with his back hooves, catching the hippogriff in the chest and knocking them back. When he tries to get to his feet, though, a lasso expertly thrown by one of the smaller griffins catches him by the neck.
He rears up, startled, and a second rope catches his forelegs and yanks him down. A third rope wraps around his hindlegs, keeping him from standing up again.
"Well done," purrs Wisp, brushing his tail across the griffin's side.
"Thanks, Boss. Now what do we do with him?"
"Gag him. It's nearing midnight, so take some of the tougher boys to the Darkwood, and throw this stupid pony in as bait for the shadow beasts."
"You can't-" begins Svengallop.
One of the griffins ties a cloth around the pony's muzzle, silencing him.
"Now we take him to the Darkwood, right boss?"
"Indeed. Go on, boys. Take only the best fighters with you- the Darkwood is too dangerous to go alone."
The draft-type hippogriff hoists Svengallop onto its back and heads to the forest, flanked by some of the meaner-looking griffins and the wildcat.
"Hey Boss, I just thought of something," says the hippogriff, "Should we blindfold this jerk so he can't find his way to safety if he somehow escapes the Hounds?"
"Yes, that sounds like a good idea," says Wisp.
The unicorn magically grabs a piece of cloth and ties it over the prisoner's eyes.
"Now then, go. And hurry- get him there before the moon reaches its zenith!"
After a relatively short walk, the hippogriff rears up, tossing Svengallop in a cage, then taking off the blindfold. Then it, as well as the other bandits, leave and hide in the shadows.
Svengallop looks around to see he's in the far corner of a steel cage in a forest clearing, and alone.
As he struggles to get his hooves free, eerie howling echoes around the clearing.
What's that?! It doesn't sound like Timberwolves, and most canines live in the kingdom of Canidae anyway- that's all the way across the sea!
The howling grows closer, but nothing appears.
Svengallop blinks, and when he opens his eyes again, a huge black beast is standing over him. It looks a bit like a wolf, but much larger- bigger than the biggest draft horse he's ever seen. And it seems to be made purely of living shadow.
Even if he could speak, Svengallop wouldn't have time to even cry out as the shadow beast's jaws close around him.
There's a thud from the cage falling, then everything goes black.