Corruption

by PixelMoon

First published

Twilight Sparkle finds herself being led to question things she's never questioned and try things she'd never tried by Rarity. But slowly Twilight begins to feel like she's being corrupted, and begins to wonder if Rarity is a vampire.

Twilight's life has just fallen apart. With basically nothing left, she's forced to move out to Ponyville just to be able to afford rent. It's there that she makes a powerful, but dangerous friend named Rarity.

Rarity is one of those sorts, who lives for indulgence and breaks rules simply for the sake of breaking them, rumors even go as far as to claim she's a vampire. Twilight had always avoided such delinquents, living her life by all the rules up until now. And yet Rarity is different. The things she says makes sense, and the forbidden pleasures she offers Twilight are beautiful.

And slowly Twilight begins to wonder whether Rarity is offering her corruption or enlightenment. She wonders how far she'll let Rarity pull her along. Hopefully not enough to become a vampire.


Story originally by Epsilon-Delta but was deleted from this site. Permission was given from Epsilon to reboot this story and continue it.

Popular 5-20-18

Chapter 1

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The train made another stop. Twilight silently and nervously hoped no one getting on the train would sit next to her.

She glanced out the window at the platform. Only a few ponies were out there. Meanwhile, there were at least five seats completely empty in this cart alone. Twilight let out a sigh of relief. It looked very unlikely that anyone would sit by her now.

Twilight glanced towards the aisle out of the corner of her eyes to see a yellow pegasus mare passing by, wearing an octopus plush toy on her head like it was a hat. The moment that pegasus came into Twilight’s line of sight, it was like she was stepping over a trip wire. She froze, mid step with one hoof still raise and turned her head in Twilight direction.

Twilight snapped her eyes back to her book and pretended to read. Before Twilight even got the chance to hope, the pegasus made it clear she was going to sit next to Twilight, throwing some of her luggage in the compartment above the seats. Twilight moaned internally as she listened to the pegasus rustle through one of her bags, unpacking things.

It couldn’t have been more than fifteen seconds before Twilight glanced back at her, and yet she’d already settled in, unpacked a dozen or so stuffed animals and set them all around her. There was a huge stuffed turtle resting between the edge of her seat and the back of the one in front of them, making escape impossible.

The pegasus turned to Twilight and gave a warm smile. There was something strange about this pony. Twilight found herself unable to look away the moment she saw that smile. Or maybe ‘didn’t want to’ was a better phrase. She was just really pretty, to the point where Twilight found herself staring, studying her every feature out of curiosity more than anything else.

But then the pegasus grabbed one of her plushies, a stuffed cat, and slowly pushed it over to Twilight, moving it up and down like it was hoping towards her. When the cat was right next to Twilight’s cutie mark, the pegasus tiled its head up to look at her.

Oh boy. Twilight was sitting next to a crazy pony, wasn’t she?

“Do you want one?” she asked.

“W-wuh?” Twilight stared at her. How was any sane pony supposed to react in this situation?

“A stuffed animal, I mean.” She held the cat up and gave it a little shake. “I have tons of these. I’d give you any of the ones here if you want, except the one on my head. Octomus is my favorite.”

“No thank you,” Twilight muttered. She did that more than she cared to admit.

Twilight really hoped this pony wouldn’t be next to her the whole way. She glanced up at the board that stated the next stop. Twilight never heard of ‘Davus Town’ but hoped this pony was going there. That sounded like the name of a town ponies like this would live in.

“Um. Er... Where are you going?” Twilight made herself smile, though the smile was probably so forced and big that you’d think she was the crazy one.

“Ponyville,” she said.

Argh! That was where Twilight was going!

“You’re going to Ponyville too, right?”

Twilight blinked. “H-how did you...?”

The pegasus pointed at a little ticket stub on the rack above. Twilight just now noticed this must be a system for marking where each passenger was supposed to be going.

“I travel on the train a lot. My name’s Fluttershy, by the way,” said Fluttershy. “I actually live in Ponyville. Why are you headed there? You look like you’re staying for a while.”

Fluttershy looked over all of Twilight’s luggage. Twilight had managed to get everything she owned into these boxes and bags, or at least everything she cared to save. She’d sold off most of the things in her parents house. It would be just too expensive to move everything, save her book collection and some essentials. She’d have to get a bed once she’d gotten to Ponyville.

As for why she was moving into Ponyville...

“I don’t really want to talk about it.” Twilight turned back to the window, but she could feel Fluttershy looking at her.

It wasn’t even the normal way you felt somepony’s stare, it was somehow so much stronger. Try as she might, Twilight couldn’t ignore it, couldn’t even get it out of her head. Twilight glanced back, feeling like she didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

Fluttershy gave her a little smile. There was just something about that smile, about Fluttershy. She was just so cute somehow. Twilight couldn’t help but soften her expression a little, feeling some of her tension relax. Maybe it was being surrounded by all those cuddly animals or something?

“Are you upset about something?” Fluttershy asked.

“M’fine,” Twilight mumbled.

“You know, when I’m feeling sad I just buy more stuffed animals until I feel better.” Fluttershy grabbed the arms of one of her toys and made it do a little dance. “Though I guess that doesn’t work for most ponies.”

It’s not like Twilight would be talking to a pony much more than this normally, but with this pony there just didn’t seem to be any sensible responses to make.

“But if you’re going to be staying in Ponyville long, I have to warn you about something,” she continued. Fluttershy held up another one of her plushies and gave it a shake. “Recently a dreadstalker’s been in the woods nearby. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about those before but they’re like giant spiders. They have a tendency to rip open your rib cage and bit onto your heart to suck out all the blood, so you know, they’re kind of dangerous.”

“A dreadstalker?” Twilight did know what that was, she’d read all about them in ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Arachnids’. “But shouldn’t we be too far north for one of them to be here? I didn’t think Ponyville was that far south. If I’m not mistaken, those are native to the Zevar jungles south of the badlands and they’re supposed to need lots of humidity to live.”

“Ah! You do know about them,” said Fluttershy. “Well yes, normally that is true, but during particularly hot summers sometimes they wander way up north. Once they get here they can last all the way until fall before freezing.”

“But this summer wasn’t hot,” said Twilight. “At least it wasn’t in Canterlot.”

“It wasn’t in Ponyville either.” Fluttershy frowned for the first time. “It’s very strange, actually. But anyway, the important thing to know is that dreadstalkers are very dangerous. You should try not to go outside at night alone.”

“Right.” Twilight nodded, that did make sense given what she knew about dreadstalkers. “Because dreadstalkers only stalk solitary prey and while their special chitin makes them invisible it also decomposes rapidly in ultraviolet light, making them incapable of going out during the day.”

“That’s exactly right,” Fluttershy agreed with a nod. “You know must know a lot about dangerous animals.”

Twilight’s ears twitched. Normally, when she started ‘lecturing’, reciting facts like this, other ponies would just ignore her. That, or they’d be polite and give Twilight a thousand mile gaze or mock her for being a ‘nerd’.

“I know I don’t look it, but my job is actually to deal with dangerous animals.” Fluttershy ruffled through her stuffed animals until she found a mantis and held that up to Twilight. Apparently, that was her most dangerous one. “I’m actually coming back from an expedition in the east Equestrian island. I discovered a new species of giant mantis that doesn’t even have a name yet. Do you want to hear about it? It hunts by sending out these tiny mites that crawl into your ears and devour your brain!”

An actually interesting subject? Twilight wasn’t about to let that one go!

“Yes!” Twilight nodded quickly. “I would love to hear about that!”

Maybe this train ride wouldn’t be so bad...


And then the conversation took a turn for the worse. Twilight stared out the window mournfully, watching the bright, sunny day roll by, mocking her.

It had been great for a while, Twilight got to hear so many new facts and Fluttershy actually listened to all of her ‘fun facts’. Maybe it was a bit scary how casually she described all the horrible ways monsters could eviscerate you, but it was a nice distraction. That is, until Fluttershy managed to slowly change the subject to why Twilight was moving to Ponyville, the very thing she’d been trying to distract herself from.

Even though they just met an hour or so ago, Twilight already felt a connection with Fluttershy. Maybe it was her soft voice or gentle demeanor, but somehow Fluttershy’s presence was just so calming. Twilight had always had trouble talking to other ponies, but found talking to this pony, even about sensitive things like the recent death of her parents, so easy.

“It really is terrible,” said Fluttershy. “Are you moving to Ponyville to come live with another relative?”

“No,” said Twilight. “I’m moving to Ponyville because its impossible for me to afford living in the city anymore. It’s just insane how much they want for an apartment in Canterlot. Even in Ponyville the money I inherited enough from my parents will only last a few months, and after that...”

That fear that had been plaguing Twilight for the last few days began to return. She was at the absolute worst age for this to happen. Too old for any foster care, but not yet finished with school. After all that hard work studying, Twilight wold probably end up with a job flipping burgers if she was lucky. If she wasn’t-

“You’ll be okay,” said Fluttershy, interrupting the thought. She put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and gave her a gentle smile.

In a strange way, that was all it took to calm Twilight down to a reasonable level. Twilight had tears in her eyes, but it was hard to keep herself from smiling back at Fluttershy a little.

“You can’t really be alone, though,” said Fluttershy. “Don’t you have any friends or family?”

“I don’t think so,” said Twilight. “I was home schooled and my family was everything to me. I spent most of my time in my room reading and never really met anypony else, I guess.”

“It’s okay,” said Fluttershy, dispelling the feeling of guilt Twilight had always felt over being friendless before it began to sink in. “Everypony has friends, though. Sometimes you just haven’t met them is all.”

Twilight shook her head, shame and sorrow flooding into her gut.

“I’ve never had any friends,” said Twilight. “And I probably never will. I’m just too worthless.”

Twilight turned back to the window. The bright, sunny day and idyllic landscapes that passed by the train as it moved seemed to be mocking Twilight. It should have been raining or something. Why was the world so cruel? Everything was terrible, every single thing.

Fluttershy turned Twilight’s head back to herself and to the inside of the train. It was relatively dark in there, but Fluttershy was also there with genuine concern and that feeling of calm.

“Don’t talk like that,” said Fluttershy. “You’re better than you think.”

Twilight wanted to disagree, to berate herself for being terrible, but somehow found it hard to speak. Not because she was choking on tears, but for some reason she couldn’t put her hoof on. It was hard to explain, but Fluttershy just said that last part that in a way that made Twilight believe it, Twilight herself not entirely sure what made it like that.

“You know, I used to be the same way,” said Fluttershy. “I’ve always been very shy which made it hard to meet ponies. Actually, I used to be much more shy than I am now. I spent a really long time alone because of how shy I was and because I thought I was just too terrible to even deserve friends.”

Twilight listened to Fluttershy very intently, forgetting her own troubles for a moment. If she felt any sadness it was for Fluttershy, not herself.

“But I do have friends now,” said Fluttershy with a smile. “Sometimes we just haven’t met our friends yet, but if you don’t go looking for them you might never meet them.”

The train suddenly stopped and Fluttershy stood up.

“I live next to the pond on the edge of town,” said Fluttershy. “Feel free to visit me any time. I’d be happy to be your first friend.”

“Thanks,” said Twilight. “You can come visit me whenever you want too. I am supposed to be living near the edge too.”

“Thank you.” Fluttershy smiled. “I’ll remember that.”

Twilight thanked Fluttershy and the two of them parted ways, Twilight staying behind slightly longer to gather her bags. Make some friends... That was easier said than done.

Chapter 2

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The feeling of lonesomeness that had been plaguing her ever since the death of her parents came back as soon as Twilight and Fluttershy parted. Twilight had never felt lonely before, despite never having any friends, but now it seemed to be all she felt. Maybe it was because the fact that she was alone had finally been brought to her full attention, but who knew?

But she did have Fluttershy's offer now, right? Fluttershy was nice! She could be friends with her! As long as Twilight didn't screw everything up, that is. Maybe she should go find a book about friendship and read up the proper way to interact with a friend before hand, just to make sure she didn't blow her one real shot at a friend.

Nevertheless, Twilight did resolve to take Fluttershy's offer and go meet her later.

After gathering the bags she had brought onto the train, Twilight get off the train and entered her new town.

And Ponyville did not make a good first impression.

The first thing Twilight saw upon getting off the train was a pony who very clearly had mental issues. It was a pink earth pony, twirling around on a lamp pole near the train tracks, making a 'woo' sound with each spin. That alone would have made Twilight look away and walk away quickly, but that wasn't even all of it.

Not only was she wearing cloths, which was rather uncouth thing to do casually, but she was wearing a leather jacket. While not illegal, those weren't something any good pony would wear. She also had sunglasses on even though it was nearly sundown on a cloud day because that was totally normal! And on top of that, she crossed the 'do not cross' line next to the train with every spin – a clear safety hazard!

Her public yelling, her disregard for safety and social etiquette and her general devil-may-care attitude made her the single most wild pony Twilight had ever seen. Frankly, she was stunned. Weren't ponies in the country supposed to be less unhinged than the ones in the city? Maybe she had lived a somewhat sheltered life, but this was more than what she was expecting to see.

Come to think of it, Fluttershy had some strange habits too. This town was filled with crazy ponies, wasn't it?

A blue pegasus dressed the same way, down to the sunglasses and leather jacket, flew up and landed next to the pink pony.

“Pinkie!” the pegasus called to her. “The boss is waiting for us inside the station. Stop wasting time and get your plot over there, you dork!”

Twilight staggered back when the pegasus said that. Did that pegasus just curse? She said the D word and the P word! And then Ponyville got its third strike!

Or maybe Twilight had just misheard. She must have because 'Pinkie' simply laughed at that remark, instead of being outraged.

“Ha!” Pinkie kept her hooves on the pole and bent back to look at the pegasus upside down. “No one tells Pinkie what to do! Especially not you, Dashie!”

It was strange, really. That sounded like something an angry pony would say, but Pinkie had a smile on her face and said it without the least bit of malice. And Dashie, as she called her, just grinned at it.

“Not me.” Dashie bit hard on her ear and yanked her right off the poll, leaving Pinkie to fall flat on her back. “The boss.”

Pinkie bounced off her back and tackled her to the ground, pinning the pegasus with her forehooves.

“You're telling me what that boss is telling me,” said Pinkie, “and I don't listen to you!”

Dashie threw her off and got pushed in turn. Soon the two of them were fighting, shoving one another back and forth and laughing like they were mad.

This looked extremely dangerous! The train had already left, but fighting near the tracks was beyond irresponsible. Not to mention fighting was against the rules in general. Twilight didn't like talking to strangers, but this wasn't something you could just ignore.

“E-excuse me,” Twilight said in the meekest of tones.

They didn't seem to notice. Twilight tried getting closer, taking a step or two in their direction. They came close to Twilight at a much higher speed, the pink one literally throwing the blue right at the spot Twilight was trotting to. Dashie hit the ground with a thud as Twilight jumped back and let out a loud yelp.

Now they were staring.

“Sorry!” Pinkie yelled far too loudly, like she was calling to somepony across a mountain or something instead of ten feet away.

“Um," Twilight gulped, now that they were looking at her she suddenly felt nervous. “Fighting is, um, bad and stuff. And you're not supposed to go past the yellow line. So, um, yeah. You shouldn't do that.”

The two of them gave Twilight a look that made her feel like a total idiot, like she was the crazy one or something.

“We're not fighting, silly,” said Pinkie. "We're just-”

“-don't talk to lamos, Pinks.” Dashie got off the ground, picked Pinkie's sunglasses up, which had apparently fallen off at some point, shoved them onto Pinkies face. “I can already tell this pony is incredibly lame and you know not to bother with them.”

"Don't go using language like that!” a voice with a southern accent called out exactly what Twilight had been thinking. She looked in the direction of the voice to see an orange earth pony wearing some kind of hat.

“Speaking of lame ponies,” Dashie muttered.

The earth pony marched right up to those two in a huff, stopping inches in front of Dashie and staring daggers at her. Dashie looked like she was about to get stuck listening to her aunt drone on about the old days, sighing miserably.

“That word is highly offensive!” the earth pony said. “The lame have feelings too, you know.”

“Not in their legs they don't!” Pinkie called back. Dashie and Pinkie herself burst out into laughter at that.

Twilight couldn't believe what she had just heard! She'd heard ponies curse a few times before, sure, but here was someone who just got called out for it and instead of apologizing she doubled down and said something even worse! And they were laughing on top of it!

In a more fitting reaction, the earth pony stomped her hoof and gritted her teeth.

“I have had it up to here with the three of you!” she shouted at them. "You think you can just do whatever you want? One day this is all gonna catch up with you! And if you don't stay away from me and my kin that day's gonna be-”

“Pfft! Look Pinkie. Dashie nudged Pinkie and pointed to the upset pony. “I think Appledork is trying to threaten us again.”

The two broke out into another fit of laughter.

“Why you-!” The pony called Appledork looked like she was about to do something, but just then the door to the train station opened.

The door hardly made a noise, but it still got everyone's attention. They all got silent for a second, like a lion had just walked through the door. But really it was just a unicorn mare wearing the same getup as Pinkie and Dashie.

The unicorn was, in a word, beautiful. That wasn't something Twilight normally paid much attention to, but with her it was something different. Even in a leather jacket and sunglasses she just oozed elegance and grace. Her fur was the purest white Twilight had ever seen and all of her features were absolutely perfect. This, Twilight decided, was the most beautiful pony she'd ever seen.

“Rarity's here!” Pinkie gave a celebratory leap into the air.
The pony known as Rarity simply ignored Pinkie and kept walking towards the group of ponies. She walked like a lion; proud and powerful, with the sort of attitude a princess walking among the masses would have.

“What's going on here?” Rarity stopped just inches away from Dashie. She casually looked to Dashie, then to Appledork, as Dashie called her, then back to Dashie and lowered her sunglasses just a little. “Didn't I tell you not to talk to Applejack? I keep my promises, and you keep my promises too.”

“Hey. I technically didn't talk to her,” Dashie said with a shrug. “Applebutt came on to me. I swear.”

Rarity gently, tenderly put her hoof on Dashie's shoulder, then swatted her away with enough force to send Dashie staggering several steps away. Then Rarity turned to Applejack, Applejack freezing as soon as Rarity's eyes turned to her.

“And didn't I tell you not to bother to us?” Rarity asked Applejack.

Applejack didn't say anything. She just clenched her jaw and glanced away. Rarity smiled at that and moved in closer to Applejack, putting the tip of her muzzle right up against Applejack's.

“Oh. But maybe you did have something very, very important to say to me. I can't imagine why else you'd think it was a good idea to be a pest towards my beloved friends.” Rarity took off her glasses and gave Applejack a look that made even Twilight shudder. “Did you have something important to say, Applejack?”

Twilight could see Applejack was sweating now. Applejack said nothing, breathlessly staring Rarity in the eyes for what seemed like a long time. Eventually, Applejack gulped and this promoted Rarity to laugh and put her glasses back on, taking a step away.

“I say you be the bigger mare and just walk away. Go play the banjo or whatever.” Rarity flicked her hoof, shooing Applejack away. “That sounds like a better idea, doesn't it?”

Applejack made a noise of protest, but lowered her head and trotted off out of sight, grumbling angrily to herself once she was a safe distance away.

“Heh.” Dashie came trotting back to Rarity and slapped her on the back. “You got that retarded pony tucking her tail between her legs as soon as you show up! Looks like that dingus knows what's up.”

“You're the best, Rarity!” Pinkie glomped on to Rarity, hugging her from behind. “Thanks for getting rid of her. She's so bucking annoying!”

“You don't need to tell me I'm the best, darling, we all know it. Even Applejack, apparently.” Rarity returned Pinkie's gesture with a one-foreleg hug and nuzzled her mane lovingly. “And I'd do absolutely anything for you two.”

Pinkie just melted into the gesture of affection, nuzzling Rarity's chest in return. So there they were, out and outcuddling in public. That was not something you were supposed to do! Twilight once again found herself staring at them in disgust, mouth slightly agape. What was wrong with these ponies?

Rarity's ears twitched and she turned to Twilight, as if Twilight had voiced this out loud. She gently picked the other two up with her magic and moved them aside before walking over to Twilight. Rarity looked Twilight over, staring at her horn and working her gaze all the way down to her hooves. Then she started walk around Twilight in a circle, looking over every inch of her.

Twilight blushed heavily, feeling quite paralyzed by sheer embarrassment. She could almost feel Rarity studying her butt right now, but couldn't even turn her head right now. Twilight just kept her tail down and stared forward with her face beat red and eyes wide open.

And then Rarity was in front of her again.

“You're very pretty. I take it you didn't know that?” Rarity asked. “Though let's be honest here, you do need a bit of work before colts are fighting over you. If you ever find me after midnight I'll fix your mane and give you a few touch ups, free of charge even!”

Twilight's mouth opened, but she didn't manage to say anything.

“But seriously, who the buck is this?” Rarity turned back to the other two, letting her sunglasses slide down her muzzle just enough to reveal her eyes.

“No idea who this loser is, Rares,” Dashie reported. “We were just minding our own business and she came up and started giving us bucking lectures."

“Is that so?” Rarity turned back to Twilight with the same kind of smile she gave Applejack just moments ago. “I could hear a good lecture right now. What did you have to say to us?”

“Well, I didn't have anything to say to you.” Twilight felt her heart beating hard. “Just to those two, kind of. Sort of.”

"They're right over there, darling, they can hear you.”

“Well,” Twilight said with some hesitation, she just wanted to bolt but there didn't seem to be any way out of this. “They were roughhousing in public and near the train tracks and, um, even went over the do-not-cross line. Oh, and they were cursing too. They said the l-word and the d-word. And then you hugged in public. That's all, you know, bad and stuff.”

Rarity giggle a little. Twilight felt like a total moron right now.

“The 'd-word'?” Rarity grinned and looked back at Dashie and Pinkie. “Now what did you two have to say about the d-word?”

“Oh,” said Pinkie, “Dashie just couldn't stop talking about how much she adored-”

“She means 'dork'.” Dashie jabbed Pinkie's barrel hard enough to silence her. “Ponies were being dorks so I called them dorks.”

“W-what, what other d-word were you talking about?” Twilight asked.

That got a laugh out of the three of them. Rarity turned back to Twilight, the smile on her face was suddenly less threatening.

“Cute! I think I like you,” said Rarity. “Tell me your name.”

“Twilight Sparkle?”

“Well, Twilight,” said Rarity, “I don't think there's anything wrong with saying any word, regardless of what letter it start with.”

“Well it is!”

“Why?”

Twilight paused. She had never considered that before. There was probably some book on the subject, but she hadn't read it. Or maybe there wasn't because the answer was so obvious. But if it was obvious then why couldn't Twilight think of an answer? It was like someone asking you what the definition of the word 'cat' or 'blue' was. Her mind just stalled.

“I'm waiting,” said Rarity.

Twilight hesitated

“Well. Y-you can't,” said Twilight. “It's just wrong because, you know- it just is! Maybe?”

“Maybe? Really? I say you should think about it and get back to me, if you're staying in town long,” said Rarity.

Twilight nodded. Yeah. If she actually had time think, Twilight was sure she'd shut Rarity down on this subject! Rarity seemed to like that answer, Twilight could tell.

“I take back what I said!” Rarity came in real close to Twilight again. “Actually, I think you're absolutely adorable! I'm not even being sarcastic here, Twilight, I like you a lot. That's a very, very good thing. You'll see.”

Rarity touched Twilight's cheek with her hoof. It felt nice. Twilight's withers relaxed for the first time since she came off the train. But then Rarity turned and walked away, the other two following her inside the train station. Suddenly, Twilight missed Rarity.

And then she came back to her senses and shook her head hard. A stranger had just touched her! That was harassment! But Rarity was already gone and this probably wasn't bad enough to go to the police or anything.

Twilight looked around to see if there were any responsible adults to complain to, but there was only one pony around. Applejack, they called her! She seemed like the town's token sane pony!

“Hey,” said Twilight. “Do you know who those three were? They don't live here, do they?”

“'Fraid they do,” said Applejack. “Those three are the biggest troublemakers in town; Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie. Trust me when I say you don't even want to talk to them. Like, at all.”

“Really?” Twilight asked. “I mean, the two, sure, but Rarity didn't seem so bad.”

“Didn't she just touch you? And didn't you see her hugging Pinkie?”

Twilight blushed and scratched her head. Yeah, making any kind of physical contact in public wasn't exactly 'good.'

“Really shouldn't be too much trouble for ya, less you're staying here longer than most folk.” Applejack looked over at Twilight's small pile of luggage. “Though I guess from the look of things maybe you are.”

“I'm moving to Ponyville, actually.”

“Well I'll be! I had no idea we had any new ponies! Well let me be the first to welcome you here! Ponyville's a great place for the most!"

“Actually, I met Fluttershy on the train,” said Twilight. “I dunno if you know her.”

Applejack nodded. “I see. She, uh, warned you that a dreadstalker's been around, yeah?” Applejack asked.

“Yeah, she warned me.”

“Good. I ain't as sure as she is, truth be told, but don't go out at night is the important thing.”

Just like that Applejack's smile was gone. She stared off into blank space for a moment, but quickly regained her composure and returned to the real world.

“But hey! Need help carrying any of that?” Applejack made herself smile. “I'd love the chance to talk to you on the way to your house.”

Twilight thought about it for a few moments, before remembering what Fluttershy said about making friends and all. So she accepted. "Sure!"

Chapter 3

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Applejack had begun to grab Twilight's bags when given the approval. Turned out she could carry a whole lot! She had twice as much on her back and most of the rest thrown into her wagon. It was good she did have a wagon, she just saved Twilight from having to rent one and money would be tight now.

The two of them walked together for a little while, Applejack going on and on about apples and the country, Twilight going 'uh huh' every now and then. It was kind of boring, but Twilight couldn't seem to change the subject. Twilight had read extensively about apples, mind you, and could talk about them at length, but it was a little boring. And as her mind drifted, she became distracted away from what Applejack had said entirely.

In her mind, Twilight played back everything Rarity had said to her over and over. Rarity had somehow managed to sear herself into Twilight's mind after just a minute or two. Every little thing about her was stored in Twilight's mind perfectly. Her voice, her face, her every little move and her words. What was wrong with swearing? Why was it bad?

Because it hurt people's feelings, that's why! Twilight wished she had thought of that during the actually conversation. This always happened to her. She'd always think of the perfect thing to say, but always too late to actually say it, making her look stupid. That's why she hated face to face conversations!

“Listen,” Applejack said, breaking the silence. She didn't look at Twilight, but kept her eyes facing forwards. “About those three. They're-”

Applejack stopped in her tracks and stopped speaking for no apparent reason. As if breaking her out of her train of thought wasn't jarring enough, stopping like that threw Twilight for a loop. She also stopped in her tracks and stared at Applejack.

“They're what?” Twilight glanced in the direction Applejack was looking, but saw nothing.

“Well they're, uh...” Applejack closed her eyes and thought to herself for a minute, like she was struggling to find the right words. “They're- well they're bad ponies, okay? Just be careful around them is all I'm saying. Rarity liking you ain't a good thing.”

That was a relief. For a second, she thought Applejack had seen the dreadstalker or something.

“Like they're going to prank me or something? Are they bullies?”

“Worse. They won't harass you, but Rarity messes with your head,” said Applejack. “She acts like she's helping you by asking these questions and doing you 'favors', but really all she wants is to corrupt ponies until they're just as bad as she is.”

Twilight wasn't sure if they were as bad as Applejack made them sound. They were rude, sure, but Applejack was talking like Rarity was pure evil, like some kind of comic book villain or something. She didn't that out loud, though, not wanting to be too confrontational.

“I wasn't planning on spending much time with them,” said Twilight. “Cause, you know, after all that cursing and violence and public hugging and disregard for train station safety and, uh – maybe they are pretty bad.”

“That's good!” Applejack started walking again and Twilight scrambled to follow behind. “But that's enough talk about Rarity. How's about you tell me what made you decide to move to Ponyville?"

Why did everypony have to ask her that today?! Didn't they know Twilight didn't want to think about this right now? To be fair, moving into a new town that would be the most obvious question to ask and all, but still!

“I don't want to talk about it,” Twilight muttered.

“Ah don't be shy!” Applejack ran ahead just a little so she was just in front of Twilight, looking back. “We're neighbors! No reason for none of that.”

Twilight just made a nondescript noise of displeasure. Applejack just ignored the grunt and pressed the matter again. She was just going to keep pestering her until Twilight answered, wasn't she? Ponies could be so annoying sometimes. She decided to answer just to get this over with.

“It's cheaper here,” said Twilight, trying to keep her voice from being too harsh. “My, uh, family kind of died. I guess I'm on my own so... you know.”

Applejack frowned and nodded. “My parents died when I was about your age.” She took her hat off and put it over her heart. “Had to take over the orchard myself. I can relate to what it's like.”

Twilight's ears perked. Now she felt bad for getting upset so fast a moment ago. She reminded herself that other ponies had problems too. Applejack might actually be a big help.

“Our lives are short and fleeting,” said Applejack, her eyes closed in that way ponies did when they were talking about Celestia. “But you know what isn't? Celestia! She's the one true immortal, the only truly eternal entity. Whatever happens she'll live on in the world we create for her. That's why we need to work hard every day to make the world a better place for Celestia. And you know what else? Even the smallest actions will have ripples that last forever! Your parents actions will live on forever and Celestia will appreciate them forever.”

Twilight lowered her head. That kind of talk never really comforted her. She understood that most ponies found comfort in Celestia, in knowing their achievements would live on through her. But to Twilight it just didn't make any sense. Her parents were still gone. Even if they did make some contribution to society and the princess, it didn't change the fact she'd never see them again. How could other ponies think like that?

“Is it wrong for me to care more about my parents than what they did?”

“Yes,” said Applejack. She shook her head when she saw Twilight's reaction to it. “Now don't give me that look. You know what I mean. It's not that our lives are unimportant, just that they last such a short time compared to what we did. Something so short can't compare to something that lasts forever. Forever, Twilight, think about that. Compared to infinity we don't even exist, just what we send out into the world.”

Twilight knew Applejack was right. Everypony knew Applejack was right. They always said that the finite was literally nothing compared to the infinite. Everything was nothing compared to Celestia, and thus you only existed in relation to her, like it or not. It was just something everypony knew was the truth. It was just something you had to accept.

If everypony was wrong, Twilight couldn't imagine how. They were right, after all. She still didn't like it, but she couldn't say Applejack was wrong, either.

But that just wasn't something that comforted Twilight at all. Apparently most people just thought of Celestia and soldiered on when these things happened, Celestia being their rock in any storm, their greatest comfort. Life had meaning because Celestia had meaning, they'd say. Twilight, though, just missed her family and she didn't see how Celestia could help with that.

“I know.” Twilight hung her head in defeat. “It just isn't fair.”

“Don't say that,” said Applejack. “I know it don't seem that way, but it is. Celestia is what really matters. Why, if you can't accept that, then you're no better than those delinquents.”

“I guess you're right,” Twilight muttered, trudging ever onward.

“You know, most ponies feel better after that.” Applejack looked off to the side. “Sorry if I didn't help much. I don't like seeing you so down about it much. Hey, maybe I can give you some stuff to read about it? I know I don't always say this stuff right."

“Thanks.” Twilight smiled and gave a nod.

That did comfort her a little. Twilight loved books, and with money being tight right now, free books on any subject would be more than welcome.

“Think that's your house up there!” Applejack pointed to the top of the hill where a small building stood.

Twilight could tell it was the right road, at least. Also that it was the only house on said road, so it had to be the right one.

It was a small house, practically a shack. It had all the rooms you needed, a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living room and even an ante chamber. Of course, half of those were the same room and all of them were very small.

Before leaving, Applejack gave Twilight a bobble head of Celestia to show her that the only immortal was the only thing that mattered.

Unpacking was a chore, but Twilight did it. It only cost her the entire day. The next year or so would not be comfortable for Twilight. After selling all of her possessions, save the bare essentials, she had just enough money to move somewhere cheaper to live. She would be able to make it through the year and finish school, but just barely. She'd have to eat nothing but carrots and grass and spend nothing on luxury, but she could just barely make it.

Before going to bed, Twilight looked at the bobble head of Celestia. She did kind of like the way it looked. Maybe she'd put it in her window after all. And who knew? Maybe it really was magic or something. Twilight chuckled to herself.

Twilight turned on a lamp and took out a book to read. No matter how bad things got, you could always hide in a book.

She didn't get very far before a thump was heard from the window, then another, then another.

Curious, Twilight moved to the window and opened it. Outside she saw two of the ponies from the gang she had run into earlier standing a good distance from her house. Rainbow Dash was one of them, holding a rock in her hoof as if she was about to throw it, but pulling back as soon as she saw Twilight.

“Twilight!” Pinkie called up to her. “Come out and Play! Twilight! Come out and play!”

“What? It's nine!” Twilight shouted back. “It's bed time, not play time!”

“What are you, six?!” Dash shouted up at her. “The boss told us to come get you, so come out!”

“No!” Twilight shouted. “Why are you even here?! Didn't you think I was the L-word?!”

“I just told you!” Dash shouted. “The boss wants you so we're here to get you!”

Twilight grumbled. This was a terrible way to have a conversation. Her voice was already getting tired from this.

“Look!” Twilight shouted. “My house only has one floor! Just come over here so we don't have to keep shouting!"

Pinkie whispered something into Dash's ear and laughed. Dash chuckled and pushed her away.

“You come out here!” Dash shouted. “We ain't budging.”

The nerve these two had! Twilight grumbled to herself as she trotted out of her room and over to the front door. They weren't in front of the door, either, but several yards away. Pinkie playfully beckoned to Twilight to come out further. Twilight rolled her eyes and trotted out a bit farther.

“What?” she asked them to their faces. Now that she was up close, she noticed that the two of them were still wearing those sunglasses, even though the sun had gone down completely some time ago. “Why are you wearing those at night?”

“Cause we're that awesome,” Dash said, but took them off to look Twilight in the eyes. “I got good news for you, Sparkle. Our leader decided she likes you, so we're gonna take you out partying.”

There was just something about the way the moonlight reflected off Dash's mane and eyes that made her look so pretty all of a sudden. Her colors popped out more in the dark than it had at day, they almost glowed. She had this draw to her similar to what Rarity did earlier today. It was strange, really. This morning Twilight was almost repulsed by Dash's leather cloths and crass attitude, but now having her attention felt great.

“A party?” Twilight asked. “Like now? But it's nine. That's too late for a party!”

The two of them laughed. “It's never too late for a party,” said Pinkie Pie, lowering her sun glasses. “In fact, my parties only take place at night and my parties are the best parties!”

“I dunno,” said Twilight. “I really don't think it's a good idea to go out with strangers at night. My parents warned me about stranger danger.”

“Look, you want to hang out with us or do you want to be alone like a dork?” Dash asked.

“This is your big chance to make some friends, Twilight,” said Pinkie. “Don't you want to be super best friends? We're the best friends you could ever find, trust me. You don't want to miss the chance to be Pinkie's friend!”

Make friends? Twilight had vowed to do that just a few hours ago. But did she really want to be friends with ponies like these? Twilight frowned and blushed. Her head said no but her heart said yes.

“I'm not sure if you two are really the sort of ponies I want to be friends with,” said Twilight.

“There's gonna be more than just the three of us there,” said Dash. “Look, I don't think you have what it takes to be friends with us, either. But we got orders from the boss and you can meet other ponies there. It's a win-win.”

“Come on, Twilight!” Pinkie leaped to her side and leaned in closer than Twilight was comfortable with. “You gotta take a chance if you wanna have fun! And trust me, there's tons of fun to be had if you follow us!”

“Maybe,” Twilight said. “Maybe we can try being friends. But you have to promise not to say any more bad words and maybe we could meet up tomorrow afternoon instead? We could play the quiet game or something.”

“The what?” Dash laughed, but gave Twilight a rather painful looking frown when she realized she was being serious. “Your childhood sucked, huh? You poor, poor thing. I can understand why the boss pities you. Look, we curse as much as we bucking want and we only go out at night. If you want to hang with us you just gotta deal with it.”

“I just don't really like parties is all!” Twilight insisted. “They're kind of boring, you know? I always end up sitting in the corner, not doing anything.”

“First of all,” said Pinkie, “at my parties nopony just sits in the corner, I make sure of that! And second, if you're ever bored for one single second then it's partially your fault! It means you're not trying hard enough to make things fun.”

Twilight scrapped her hoof across the ground. She did like their manic attitude a little and she wanted to act on what Fluttershy told her. She might actually be able to make a friend there, even if not one of these two.

“Come on!” Pinkie winked. “You know you want to.”

Pinkie walked back to Dash's side and beckoned Twilight to follow. Twilight felt herself trembling.
She wanted to go but she also didn't want to go! Would somepony else ever even invite her to a party again? Twilight didn't know anypony so she may never get this chance again.

And yet going out with strangers? Who cursed? At night?! The fact that she was tempted must have been that peer pressure thing she had read about. Twilight needed to resist temptation and do the thing a good filly would do- stay home and study!

“If you don't want to it's your choice," Dash shrugged. “Come on Pinks, you know the rules.”

Pinkie made a disappointed sound, but followed Dash as she began to trot away, glancing back at Twilight sadly as she began to leave.

Twilight was going to be alone again, wasn't she? Forever, maybe.

“Wait!” Twilight called. The two stopped and looked back at her. “There's going to be other ponies there, right?”

The two nodded.

Twilight bit her lip. She just didn't want to be alone right now, was all. She needed some company and she wouldn't do anything bad there. That's how she justified it to herself anyway.

With her head lowered and knees shaking, Twilight trotted in between the two mares. In excitement, Pinkie gave a victory leap into the air.

“Hurray!” Pinkie called. “See, Dashie? I knew Twitwi would be our friend!"

"Twitwi?” Twilight asked under her breath. She'd read about nicknames like this. "Yeah...don't call me that."

Chapter 4

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Rainbow, Pinkie, and a shaky Twilight trotted away from the house that Twilight lived in. Pinkie was bouncing around, yelling, "hoarry! Twitwi wants to be our friend!"

“She'd not exactly our friend yet, Pinks,” said Dash. She put her glasses on and began trotting forward. Soon the three of them were all heading to town together. “Look, the boss said we had to give you a chance, not that we had to be your friend. Try not to be a bucking loser, Twi.”

There was that language again. Twilight frowned at Dash. “Why do you have to curse so much?” Twilight asked. “Talking like that accomplishes nothing and hurts ponies feelings. There's just no logical reason to ever use those words, especially the... the 'b-word'."

“You mean buck?” Dash asked.

“Yes,” said Twilight. “You can't say that.”

“Buck buck buck! Buck Buck Buck! Buck buck buck buck buck!” Pinkie began to dance around Twilight singing that horribly offensive song. “Pony feathers, plot! Horseapples, heck! Crap, clop! Mud pony bonehead!"

Twilight was stunned, far more than ever before. She had no words for that string of obscenities. There weren't any words for that! All she could do was stare with her mouth agape.

“There,” said Dash. “Is Celestia flying down from the sky to smite us?”

Twilight couldn't help but look up, she wouldn’t be overly surprised if Celestia did just that. Dash and Pinkie laughed at this. Twilight blushed and scowled at them.

“This isn't funny!” Twilight insisted. “That kind of language can really hurt somepony's feelings!”

“Oh yeah?” Dash asked. “Who's feelings did we hurt, huh?”

Twilight looked around. Nopony was around. Most of the sane ponies were probably already asleep.

“Well, um,” Twilight thought about that. “Uh...mine?"

Dash pulled down her sunglasses a little.

“Okay, maybe not,” said Twilight, “but if somepony did hear then that language could have hurt them!”

“Look, the real problem here is with society,” said Dash. “Why does the word 'buck' hurt their feelings? Cause they're a bunch of morons who enshrine those words and give them the power to hurt. If nopony gave a buck like us then there would be no 'bad' words hurt their feelings.”

Twilight was taken aback at that answer. She had not expected this pony to be so philosophical. Frankly, Dash seemed more like punk.

“Well?” Dash asked after Twilight had hesitated for a significant period of time.

Twilight's brain scrambled to think of a response but once again she was no good at thinking on her hooves. What Dash said did make some sense and Twilight couldn't really think of why it was wrong. She just sort of felt like it should be wrong.

“I-I dunno,” said Twilight. “I never really considered that. I'd need to think about it.”

Dash smiled a light whack on her withers. “Well that's more than 99% of the planet would do,” she said. “Maybe you ain't completely horrible.”

“Come on, Twitwi,” Pinkie chimed in. “Try saying 'buck'! Just say it one time and the curse will be broken forever!”

Twilight frowned, backed up and shook her head. No way she was ever going to curse.

“Don't push her too hard,” said Dash. “The boss won't be happy if she bails before we get there. Come on."
She started walking forward again and the other two followed her.

The worst part of that song Pinkie was singing was that it had a catchy tune. Now it was stuck in Twilight's head, playing over and over as she trotted forward.

“I'm pretty sure 'clop' isn't a curse word, though,” said Twilight. “It's just the sound your hooves make when they hit something hard.”

The two of them burst into laughter. Twilight didn't get the joke and wasn't sure if she wanted to.

“Are you sure it's okay to be out here?” Twilight gave nervous looks to every shadowy spot as they walked.

“Who's gonna stop us?” Dash asked.

"The dreadstalker?” Twilight suggested. “I heard there was one on the loose. Aren't you worried about that?”

The two of them snickered. Obviously the answer was no.

“How can you laugh at that?” Twilight asked. “Do you not know how dangerous those things are?”

“Oh I know.” Dash crouched her head down and took a step towards Twilight. “A spider that's eight feet tall is bad enough, but a dreadstalker? They move so silently and hide so well that one could be following you for days with you never noticing. Nopony's even ever figured out how they move with so much stealth.”

“Well there are a few theories that hold merit.” Twilight pulled back a little, as Dash was right in front of her now.

“It could show up at any time after dark and you'd never see it coming.” Dash jabbed her hoof against Twilight's chest. “They hook their fangs into your ribs and rip 'em right open! They can suck a pony dry of blood in seconds and leave you lying there on the ground, dying a horrible death. And that's if you're lucky. They can shoot spines, acid and sticky webbing too! Maybe you''d bleed to death or maybe you'd drown in acid or glue. Only sure thing is you'd die.”

“Y-yeah," Twilight shuddered, from both the macabre description and from being touched. “I know how dreadstalkers, um, do things. All this isn't very reassuring, you know.”

“Well I'm not a very reassuring pony,” said Dash.

“This is one thing you could try doing." Pinkie Pie trotted up quickly from behind. If a dreadstalker shows up you could just scream, 'Rarity come rescue me!' and go like this.” Pinkie put a hoof over her forehead and pretended to faint.

“And maybe.” Pinkie bounced back up onto her hooves. “If Rara is close by she'll swoop in and save the day. Know why? Cause she thinks you're cute.”

Cute?!

“W-what?!” Twilight stopped in her tracks, blushed, shook her head and finally scrunched her nose in disapproval “Cute how, exactly?”

The two of them laughed again. “And you say we're perverted?” Dash wiped a tear away from her eyes.

“Well! Now you're the one assuming what I was assuming,” Twilight huffed.

“And now you're assuming what Dashie was assuming what you were assuming!” Pinkie looked like she was about to burst from joy. “Let's do this for hours!”

"No.” Dash shoved Pinkie over and started trotting forward again.

“But you're seriously not worried about the dreadstalker?” Twilight asked. The others shook their heads. “But why?”

“Secret!” Pinkie gave a cocky smile.

“Even telling her that is a bit much,” Dash muttered. “But hey! It don't matter either way cause we're already here!”

The three of them reached a house, one pretty close to Main Street. Twilight could already hear music playing from the other side of the door, that's how loud it was. And the music got much louder when Dash opened the door to let Pinkie and Twilight in.

It was the bad kind of music too, the really upbeat sort with lots of electric instruments that ponies like, well like these two were supposed to listen to, the exact opposite of the classical music she was used to. It was far from deafening, but it was still far louder than what a normal pony would listen to.

There were about two dozen ponies in the room, talking to each other, dancing, eating, that sort of thing. Of course, they were dancing a bit too fast, eating candy and laughing too loud. Twilight could only assume they were talking about lewd things as well.

“Rainbow Dash! This music is terrible!” Twilight tried yelling over it. “It focuses too much on melody and not enough on-”

“It ain't that loud,” said Dash. Sure enough, her voice could be easily heard. Actually, a few ponies were looking at Twilight after she shouted. “If you want loud music try going to a rave or a concert some time – you can't even hear yourself think.”

Twilight was looking around, gathering a list of complaints about this scene when she saw Rarity. Even surrounded by other ponies, Twilight’s attention was drawn right to her and once her eyes were on Rarity there was no going back. Rarity noticed Twilight just as quickly.

“Come sit next to me, darling!” Rarity called out to Twilight.

The seat next to her was already taken, but Rarity just shooed the stallion who had been sitting there away to make room for Twilight. The stallion obeyed, reluctantly but without hesitation, and Twilight quickly trotted over and sat next to Rarity. She might as well go over there, right? Twilight had to sit somewhere.

Even though they were the same height, Twilight felt small sitting next to Rarity, like she was next to a stallion or something. Truth be told, it was like sitting next to a stallion in more than one way. Like a 'this was the most confusing thing Twilight had ever felt' kind of way.

Rarity gently moved her hoof along Twilight's neck, finally placing it under her chin and lifting Twilight's head to look her in the eyes. Yes, she was touching Twilight flippantly, without permission, and in public, but she didn't care. The other ponies there didn't care, either, not that Twilight even remembered them.

Rarity's eyes were just gorgeous. It had that same, strange quality Dash's did just before, like they were glowing or something, but dialed up to eleven. Twilight just couldn't look away. For a moment, those eyes were the world, and they belonged to Rarity.

“Well I'm very glad that you accepted our invitation,” said Rarity. “Though I dare say it will take a while for you to warm up to all this.”

Items was at this point that Twilight realized that she had been staring into Rarity's eyes with her mouth slightly agape. Embarrassed, Twilight snapped back to attention and muttered some kind of 'thank you'.

“I meant it when I said I liked you, Twilight,” said Rarity. “If there's anything you need just let me know.”

“You mean like to eat?” Twilight asked. “Do you have anything other than candy?”

Rarity laughed. “No. The three of us have a very large sweet tooth, but that's not what I meant. I meant that in a general sense. Around town?”

“Around town?”

“Well,” Rarity said, “for example, have any stallions caught your eyes thus far? Maybe anypony here you think is cute?”

“W-what?” Twilight felt a burning sensation in her cheeks. “No!”

“Oh?” A sharp grin came onto Rarity's face. “Perhaps, maybe, a mare then?”

Twilight's heart was pounding in her chest, and her face felt like it was on fire. She couldn't even bring herself to answer that. Rarity giggled.

“Relax, darling.” Rarity patted Twilight on the back. “I was only joking about that part. But in all seriousness, if there's anypony in town that you wish would take notice of you, then you need only tell me. I'd have them worshiping the ground you walk on in a blink of an eye.”

Rarity tilted Twilight's head about and brushed her mane aside to get a better look at Twilight's face, studying it. She wasn't really looking into Twilight's eyes so much as at them.

“Like I said,” said Rarity. "You're definitely somepony I could work with.”

Twilight wasn't sure what to say to that. She eventually decided that 'thank you' would be enough. Rarity smiled, then hit the ground with her hoof a few times. This caught everypony's attention. All of them quieted down to look at Rarity, and even the music died down for a moment.

“Your attention, as ever,” said Rarity. “This is Twilight Sparkle. She's just moved to Ponyville and I'd like to be the first to say how glad we are to have her here. So how about we all give her a warm welcome, hm?”

The other ponies applauded at that. Suddenly, about a dozen ponies Twilight had never met before had their eyes on her. Several crowded around Twilight, welcoming her. It was enough to overwhelm Twilight, she could hardly keep tract of them all.

“I know,” Rarity said to one of them, somehow her response stuck out more than whatever she was responding to, “isn't Twilight just so pretty?”

“Absolutely!”

And then they all switched over to telling Twilight how pretty she was.

“I just love your highlights,” said one of the mares. “I'm always so jealous of mares with more than one mane color.”

“Nice horn too,” she heard one of the stallions quietly mention to another.

“I can't believe how pretty your eyes are without any make-up!”

Twilight was not used to this kind of attention and had no idea how to respond. Her face had to be beet red by now and her body was frozen up.

She'd be lying if she said this didn't make her feel kind of like she really was, well, pretty. She actually kind of liked the feeling.

“Hey, where are you from anyway?” asked another mare.

Twilight tried to respond but only managed to make a 'dyuh' noise.

“She's a bit shy, so be patient with her,” Rarity answered for her. “Twilight, if you want to make any friends you're going to have to socialize a bit.”

“Well,” Twilight said, scratching her head bashfully with her hoof, “I guess I'm from Canterlot and I just moved here.”

“You're from Canterlot? Where did you go to school?”

“What do you like to do?”

And then, probably for the first time in her life, Twilight was the center of attention. She told them about Canterlot, how she was home schooled, and about all the latest books she had read. You'd think these were the sort of ponies that would declare you a nerd the moment they heard about the books thing, but surprisingly they were okay with it and listened to her speak with rapt attention.

The way they were just so accepting helped Twilight slowly transition from shaking with nervousness to eventually actually enjoying the attention. It did feel good to have everypony's interest once the initial shock wore off.

Though she'd be lying if she said being peppered with all these questions this late at night wasn't just a little exhausting. She yawned and Rarity jumped right on that. “Would you like some coffee, dear?” her voice broke through the rabble again.

“What?” Twilight blinked. A cup of the stuff was already floating in front of her. “But coffee stunts your growth!”

“You're already fully grown, dear,” said Rarity. “Have you really never had any before? I think you should give it a try. Just don't drink too much of you'll be up all night. And who would want that?”

“Um.” Twilight was nervous again. She looked into the black liquid and tried to think of why she was refusing. “It's just, Celestia says she likes tea better and we should all conform to what Celestia likes, right?”

Twilight could tell all the other ponies in the room agreed with her from their nods and quite agreements.

“I don't even understand how that's an argument,” said Rarity. “You don't have some moral obligation to like every food Celestia does, and even if you did it doesn't mean you can't ever try something she doesn't like.”

Twilight was stunned, not by how arrogant Rarity had just been but because Twilight honestly couldn't think of an answer to that. The whole 'conforming with Celestia' thing was something ponies had always simply accepted in the past. Some of the other ponies were uncomfortable with what Rarity just said, a few of them stalking off to other parts of the room.

Twilight looked around. A couple of ponies were drinking coffee it seemed. She knew adults did this sometimes, even though you were supposed to drink tea instead. It wasn't out and out immoral, just something society frowned on. Maybe Rarity did have a point.

“I, uh, I guess it's okay to try,” said Twilight. “As long as I only drink a little, right? And like tea more.”

She took a sip of the coffee while Rarity smiled widely at her. It wasn't bad, not as good as tea of course, but not bad. Rarity gave Twilight a pat on the head. That alone was worth drinking the coffee, and it sent an electric thrill through Twilight's body.

“Twilight,” said Rarity. “I want you to know that if there's anything you need at all, then you can feel free to come to me. And this isn't something I offer most ponies, so keep your head up high.”

“Hm?” Twilight watched Rarity say all that out of the corner of her eyes, as she downed the coffee. “Help with what exactly?”

“There's little I can't help you with,” said Rarity. “If you want to meet more ponies, if you need a job, if you out of luck or get in trouble, if you want to bath in luxury, then come to me. Oh! And let's not forget love either. Have you seen a stallion you want for yourself yet?”

“What?” Twilight was suddenly more awake. “N-no!”

“A pity.” Rarity rested her check on her hoof and looked Twilight over mournfully. “Well if you ever do just point and I'll make him worship the ground you walk on. Thunderlane? Come dance with Twilight for a while.”

Rarity spoke and ponies obeyed. Thunderlane was no different. The pegasus colt held out his wing, inviting her out to where the other ponies were dancing. Twilight was hesitant to leave, but Rarity gave her a little shove and there was no going back from that.

Twilight's heart was racing! Twilight had no idea how to dance! But she couldn't just sit there, either. She just meekly lifted each of her legs in turn to the beat. Thankfully he didn't seem to be putting too much into it, unlike that maniac Pinkie who was spinning and jumping all over the place. Actually, Twilight was dancing much the same way as the other ponies.

This wasn't so bad now that she relaxed a little. It was kind of fun, moving to the music. Twilight was feeling her energy returning. That coffee stuff must really work well!

“So, uh, hey,” said Thunderlane. “I'm Thunderlane, that's my name.”

He laughed at that for some reason and now Twilight was nervous again. She desperately tried to think of something to talk about, but Rarity was the only thing that came to mind. Here she was, dancing with a coltand all she could think about was Rarity. Come to think of it, Twilight was more nervous about sitting next to Rarity than about dancing with Thunderlane.

Twilight didn't suddenly turn into a lesbian, did she? Twilight needed to get Rarity out of her head! But what else was there at this party?

“So, uh, the party!” Twilight blurted out. “Yeah, this is a pretty crazy party, right?”

“Yeah! It's fun to cut loose a little sometimes.” Thunderlane looked around, making it almost look like part of his dance, then came a bit closer to Twilight. He spoke lower now. “Though to be honest, those three go a bit too far sometimes. Like you heard the way Rarity questioned Celestia before?”

“Y-yeah,” Twilight nodded.

She'd be lying if she said that didn't make her a little uncomfortable, even if Rarity did kind of have a point. And now Twilight was thinking about Rarity again. She needed to think of something else to talk about! Thunderlane did seem to be devout towards Celestia.

“Oh, uh.... Did you know Celestia's favorite tea is Yakstanian oolong tea? She actually invaded Yak Yakistan just to overtake their supply,” Twilight recited. “She first had the tea exactly 325 years ago when uh...”

Thunderlane got that same look everypony got when she brought up obscure facts. Twilight bit her lip. This wasn't going so well!

Just then the door flew open and a very angry looking Applejack entered the scene. She surveyed the room until she spotted Twilight. She proceeded to march right up to Twilight in a huff, ignoring everypony else.

"Oh no..." Twilight muttered.

Chapter 5

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Twilight looked confused as Applejack burst into the party and walked up to her very angrily.

“Twilight!” Applejack shouted at her. “What do you think you're doing here?”

Twilight was taken aback by that. “What? I just got invited over so-”

“So nothing!” Applejack stomped her hoof. “We're leaving now!”

“Hey!” Dash shouted from across the room. “Who let bucking Appledork in?” Dash moved over to Applejack and grabbed onto her wither. “You. Leave.”

Applejack shrugged her off. “I'm taking Twilight with me,” she said, grabbing Twilight. “Come on.”

“H-hey!” Twilight pulled back. “I kind of want to stay.”

“Well you can't!” Applejack was far more angry then you would have expected. “You can't go to parties this late, curse or whatever else they got you doing, and you cannot talk to these three!”

“Y-yes I can!” Twilight shouted back, a bit louder than she meant to. It was just that Applejack was shouting too. “What's your problem? I just met you like five minutes ago, you can't go talking to me like this!”

“You don't understand,” Applejack said. “These three are much worse than you think.”

“You're the one who's worse than I thought,” said Twilight, then stuttered. Did she really just say that? Maybe things were getting more intense than she had meant them to.

“No!” Applejack pulled her face downwards with her hoof a little. “Twilight they're- these three- they're-”

“We're what, doofus?” Dash came back into sight. She came dangerous close to Applejack, grinning a toothy grin. “Come on. Say it!”

Applejack just grunted and turned her head to the side.

“Maybe she's trying to tell Twilight that we're vampires?” Pinkie asked in a mocking voice.

Dash grabbed Pinkie by the withers. “Pinkie!” Dash gnashed her teeth. "How many times we gotta tell you not to go around telling ponies we're vampires?”

Pinkie gave an apologetic smile while Applejack jumped on it. “It's true!” she looked Twilight in the eyes, dead serious. “They're vampires! Twilight, you don't get that you're in danger here! I came over to check on your house cause I was worried they might try to get you, and here you are! Vampires are bad news Twilight, you need to get away from them.”

“Vampires? Seriously, Applejack?” Twilight pulled away from her. “And why are you the only one warning me? Is everypony in this town a vampire or something?”

Most of the other ponies laughed at that vampire comment, too. Twilight heard a few of them mutter about how Applejack always goes on about this vampire nonsense.

“Rarity ain't after none of them,” said Applejack. “Rarity didn't force any of them to come here and-”

“No! I chose to come here and I'm staying, okay?” said Twilight.

“No you're not!” Applejack went to grab her again, but Dash moved in the way, blocking Twilight defensively with her wings.

“You want me to get rid of her, Twi?” Dash looked back at Twilight.

“If you mean make her leave then, um, maybe that's for the best.”

Dash smiled and grabbed onto Applejack. She dragged her kicking and yelling about halfway before Applejack broke away, gave Twilight a glare and stomped off grumbling to herself.

“I warned you!” she called just before leaving.

Dash trotted back to Twilight laughing. “That was actually pretty cool,” she said. “I'll be honest, I didn't think you had a spine but guess I was wrong.”

“Well,” said Twilight, “you know. She was being a, um-”

“A jerk?” Dash grinned. “Yeah, I noticed. You know, maybe you aren't as lame as I thought. Hey, you ever tried a pixie stick before?”

Twilight shook her head. Dash started trotting forward and a moment later, Pinkie was pushing Twilight in the same direction Dash was headed. What awaited her was candy, and lots of it. There was a tower of cupcakes, bowels filled with lollipops, stacks of candy bars and a fountain of chocolate, among other things.

The 'pixie stick' Dash had mentioned a moment ago was basically just colored sugar in a long, paper tube. Being pure sugar, it was the most sugary candy conceivable. Twilight was about to comment that these seemed a little excessive when she Pinkie outdid her by a factor of ten.

Pinkie was practically inhaling cupcakes, wolfing down five of them in just a few seconds, and washing it down with a big cup of liquid chocolate. She didn't stop there either, but just kept going, swallowing a gobstopper whole. Didn't she know that was a serious chocking hazard?!

“Is it really a good idea to be eating sugar this late?” Twilight asked.

“What's a party without sugar?” Dash asked. She put a large lollipop in her mouth and offered a second pixie stick to Twilight one to Twilight.

“Well normally, they just serve carrots and celery."

“They made you eat bucking carrots?” Dash asked, apparently she mastered the art of talking with a lollipop in her mouth. She grabbed another lollipop and offered that to Twilight as well. “You poor thing. Here, take two.”

“I dunno,” said Twilight. “Candy this late at night sounds like a bit much."

“Come on, Twitwi! Fight the power! Give in to the fun side,” said Pinkie. “The coffee didn't hurt you did it?

“Well,” Twilight said. She still wasn't convinced this was a good idea. Something in the back of her head was screaming 'no' at her.“Well what?” Dash asked. “Because some idiot decided for you that it was bad? How do you know they're right, huh? How do you know something until you question it?”

Dash did have a point. These three were really good at asking questions. Twilight grabbed a piece of candy, but not either of the ones being offered her. Instead, she took one of the jumbo candy bars off the table and bit into it.

The other two ponies pumped their hooves into the air and cheered. And it did taste good! Way better than any carrot! Twilight tried a few different candies after that, all of them were great! She had another cup of coffee too, finding that it made the chocolate melt in her mouth afterward!

“So, did the candy kill you yet?” Pinkie asked.

Twilight shook her head. “I feel great!” She bobbed up and down on her hooves. “I can't remember the last time I had this much energy!”

“Yeah, you never drank coffee before, right?” Dash looked at Twilight's jittering hoof as she turned the bottom of her cup up and started gulping it down. “You should probably take it a bit easy.”

But by then Twilight was already done drinking her second cup. She put down the empty cup, looked at Dash for a second, then grabbed another piece of candy.

“Or not.” Dash shrugged. “Just don't say I didn't warn ya!”

As the night went on, Twilight kept drinking coffee and eating candy, not nearly as much as Dash and Pinkie, but certainly more than the other ponies there. Strangely, she didn't become more tired as the night went on, but more awake!

It wasn't like Twilight was just sitting there, either, she was becoming increasingly active as the night went on. She went back to dancing with Thunderlane for a little while, but he couldn't keep up with the pace after a while.

Twilight found herself dancing with Pinkie and a few other fillies instead, much more wildly than before. The whole time, Twilight kept downing cup after cup of coffee and bar after bar of chocolate. And this music just kept getting better! And so did the dancing! Before long Twilight felt like she was made of electricity!

Twilight was ecstatic, unable to sit still for a minute, shouting out the words to songs she didn't know with Pinkie and Dash. Eventually ponies started leaving and things got increasingly more quiet and empty. But the empty room just meant more space to run around in. By this point, Twilight's dancing had turned into jumping around the house with Pinkie.

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The- Doooo!” Twilight jumped farther than she meant to and slammed into one of the couches. She bounced right off it, along with all the pillows and was buried.

She sat on her back for about two seconds, then a bit of that electricity she was made of surged out of her, causing her legs to flail about wildly for an instant. Then Twilight jolted to her hooves and was perfectly still. Twilight wondered what exactly had just happened.

Twilight shook her head and reached for another cup of coffee, it shook a little in her grasp, but it got blasted out of her hoof from a shot of blue magic.

“Twilight.” Rarity began casually trotting closer. “Remember when I told you to only have one cup for now? How many did drink?”

“Um!” Twilight stared at Rarity without blinking. She almost felt like her body was vibrating. “A lot?”

“I'm cutting you off.” Rarity picked the container of coffee up and trotted off into the next room with it.

“Ah, it was getting cold anyway!” Twilight jumped back out into the living room and darted her head around, looking for somepony to jump around with. “Come on! Come on! D-dyuh- Thunderlane!”

Twilight jumped in front of him and started bouncing up and down to the beat of the music. Thunderlane made an attempt to lift one of his hooves, but that was too much. His head collapsed down a moment later from exhaustion.

“Okay, this is too much for me.” Thunderlane yawned loudly. Twilight just now noticed his slumped posture and tired eyes. “I think I should be heading home. It's pretty late.”

“What? Already?” Twilight had so much energy right now. She kept her hooves grounded and bobbed up and down near Thunderlane. “Come on! We should dance more!”

“This is the latest I've ever been up for, Twilight.” Thunderlane yawned miserably. “I don't think I can last another hour. We'll have to meet up some other time.”

“Okay,” Twilight said as Thunderlane walked passed her and out the door. She was sad to see him go, almost felt like she'd done something wrong, but at the same time she was about to explode from all this energy. She couldn't stay in that spot or that thought for any longer! Twilight jumped and spun around, excitedly looking around for whatever ponies were left.

She counted three and yes, it was those three. Twilight was alone with Rarity's gang now. Pinkie looked to be just as awake as Twilight, jumping from couch to couch.

“Not bad, kid!” Dash clapped her hooves together “You're the last one standing! Gotta admit I didn't see that one coming.”

“What? Everypony else already left?” Twilight darted her head around, looking in every direction. She didn't find any more. “But it can't have been more than an hour!”

Twilight looked at the clock. This was the point where her eyes should have widened in horror, but they were already as wide as they could go.

“2 AM?!” Twilight's eye twitched a little. “How is that possible! Why am I the only one freaking out?!”

“Maybe this is late for daywalkers,” said Dash, “but to us the night is only just starting.”

“I'm surprised Thunderlane even lasted this long. I think maybe he wanted to get your attention very badly.” Rarity moved her eyebrows up and down. “Maybe you should try flirting with him a little? Oh, and you're welcome, by the way.”

“So what? You going to sleep now?” Dash took off her sunglasses and eyed Twilight critically. “Make sure you get enough sleep so you and Thunderbutt can be boring tomorrow?”

“Sleep? I don't even think I can blink right now!” Twilight started trotting in place. Her legs simply needed to move. “I can't sit still. I gotta do something! W-were you three about to do something?”

“Oo! Oo!” Pinkie jumped in front of Twilight and started bouncing back and forth between her front and rear hooves. “Me and Dashie were totally going to do something! You should come with us! She can come, right Dashie?”

“I gotta admit you're kinda fun like this,” said Dash. “I dunno if you'd be up for what we got planned, though.”

“Up for what? I'm up for lots of things! Especially if it involves lots of running around.”

“Alright!” Dash flicked her glasses back on and straightened her jacket. “You can come with us, but if you do anything too lame I'm sending you packing, got it?”

Twilight nodded enthusiastically.

“Guess we'll see you later, Rares.” Dash gave Rarity a salute.

“You're not coming to the, uh,” Twilight didn't even know what she just agreed to. "With us?"

“Afraid not,” said Rarity. “I have some business to attend to. Maybe we'll meet again.”

Rarity blew a kiss and trotted into another room. What kind of business was there to do at two in the morning?

“So hey!” Pinkie brought Twilight's attention back to her. She was standing in the doorway, beckoning to Twilight. “Are you coming with us or going home?”

“Coming, uh,” Twilight hesitated, then ran over to Pinkie. “I think I'm coming. But coming where exactly?”

Dash lowered her sunglasses and gave Twilight a dangerous smile. “You ever played ding dong ditch?”


Rainbow Dash rang the doorbell to a house in town.

“Now hide,” Pinkie whispered loudly.

The two of them dove into the near-by bushes. Twilight panicked and managed to do nothing but turn her head back and forth between the two. Pinkie grabbed her and pulled her into one of the bushes.[

Twilight watched as a pony she'd never seen before opened the door. “Hello?” he asked. “Is anypony there?”

Pinkie was giggling madly, but silently, as the pony took a few steps outside and looked around in confusion. He called out one or two more times before scratching his head and going back inside.

That was the single biggest adrenaline rush Twilight had ever had. Her knees were weak and shaking and her heart was pounding harder than it had ever pounded before.

“Why did we do that?” Twilight asked, panting between words. “I feel so- so-!”

"We like to call that feeling 'being alive',” said Dash. “You should try it more often.”

Twilight looked down at her trembling hooves. Alive? It wasn't entirely a bad feeling, just a lot of it.

“Now you ring the doorbell,” Pinkie whispered.

Twilight nodded and rang the bell, this time not hesitating to dive into the bushes. It was a thrill! That's what she was feeling! They rang several more doorbells, each time that feeling of thrill raced into Twilight's gut. She was starting to see the appeal of this game.

Then somepony caught them. It was the third time they had knocked on that particular door, but this time Twilight tripped and the pony got to the door before she could hide.

“Hey!” the pony shouted at them. “What are you kids doing?!”

And then Twilight screamed.

“Run!” Pinkie shouted and the three of them went racing off, Twilight screaming as she ran.

.Twilight doubted she had ever run so fast! Her hooves were pounding just as hard as her heart as the buildings flew by. Twilight took it back, this wasn't worth it! She didn't want to spend the rest of her life in jail for this! Why did she do any of this?!

“Lost him!” Dash called out.

Twilight's screaming and running came to a tumbling end. She regained her footing and turned around to see that the pony had not been running after them as she had originally thought. Pinkie and Dash both grabbed onto her and laughed, Dash giving her a playful noogie.

“You were great, Twi,” Dash said. “Running away screaming. That guy must have thought you were insane!"

“Oh, I just came over to 'AAAAAAAH'!” Pinkie broke out into laughter again.

“So we're not going to jail?” Twilight asked. More laughter followed.

Relief slowly came over Twilight. Her heart was still beating so hard, but it wasn't entirely bad. This was... exhilarating! Twilight laughed a little bit herself.

“Dashie!” Pinkie suddenly called out. She pointed sternly towards the horizon. “Red.”

Well, the red was only starting to overtake the purple, but there was no mistaking that the morning was about to come. This was far from the first sunrise Twilight had seen, but this particular one got a look of amazement from her.

“It's sunrise? We stayed up till morning?” Twilight asked in disbelief. “I've never stayed up until morning before!”

“Me neither. Wouldn't be caught dead doing that,” said Pinkie. This got a little chuckle from Dash. Twilight had missed a lot of jokes, but this one somehow made even less sense to her.

“Did I make some kind of innuendo?” Twilight asked. She tried thinking of how that could possible work. Sunrise. Sunrise? Oh Sweet Celestia! Twilight's mind was being dragged to the gutter!

“Nah. Just an inside joke. Maybe I'll explain it to you one night.” Dash gave Twilight a toothy grin. “Anyway, we're out.”

"Out? You're going home?” Twilight asked. She supposed it was very late, or early depending on how you looked at it.

"When red's in the sky we gotta fly,” Pinkie said.

“Yep. But listen,” said Dash. She took off her glasses completely for the first time and looked Twilight in the eye. “The boss invited you this time, but now you're getting an invite from me. Meet us at the cemetery tonight. You won't regret it.”

Without waiting for a reply, Dash put her sunglasses on and turned to leave. Pinkie trotted beside her and the two snickered and whispered into each other's ears as they made their exit. Twilight never did find out where either of them lived. Probably on the same side of town, from the looks of it. Unless they lived with Rarity.

Well that had certainly been one heck of a night. It gave Twilight a lot to think about, but right now the fact that she'd stayed up all night eating candy was beginning to catch up with her. Her boundless energy was fading faster and faster. By the time she was nearing her house, Twilight was dragging her hooves along, struggling to keep her eyes open.

They were closed as she got to the top of the hill, so Twilight didn't see she had a visitor until she opened her eyes to grab the door. Applejack was standing there, just next to her, looking very serious. Oh boy...

“Applejack?” Twilight whined. “Go away. I'm too tired for whatever you have to say.”

“No!” Applejack slammed Twilight's door shut just before Twilight could open it. “I know you don't believe me now, but those three really are vampires!”

Twilight sighed. The anger woke her up just enough for her to function again. “Okay, here's a short list of some of the things wrong with that,” said Twilight. “One, there's no such thing as vampires. Two, if they were trying to 'get' me they could have done it last night when I was all alone with them. Three, I saw them walking around in the sunlight when I got off the train.”

“About that one,” said Applejack. “The whole 'vampires burst into flames in daylight' thing was just something some guy made up to avoid copyright infringement. It ain't true.”

“How does saying that vampires die in sunlight avoid copyright infringement?” Twilight asked.

“It don't. Guy got sued for everything he was worth,” said Applejack. She reached into her saddle bag and produced and ominous looking book, black with red letters on the front. “Take this.”

Twilight looked down at the book. It read 'The Only Authentic Guide to Vampires, by Granny Smith'.

“It's written by my grandmother, actually,” said Applejack. “My families been fighting these monsters for generations. I understand if you think vampires don't exist, but just read this, okay? When you realize what Rarity really is, knowing this stuff will do you a whole ton of good.”

[“Uh, huh.” Twilight took the book with her magic, holding it like a dirty rag. “Even if they were vampires, they don't seem like they want to hurt me. I was with them alone, in their house and yet here I am with all my blood!”

“They're not trying to kill you, they're trying to corrupt you,” said Applejack. “That's how Rarity gets her kicks. She finds the sweetest and most innocent ponies she can and twists until they're degenerate enough to want to be her vampire minion. Why else do you think somepony like Rarity would be inviting somepony like you to her party, huh?”

Twilight didn't answer that question. It was true Twilight was a social reject, the type ponies didn't normally like. Somepony as cool and popular as Rarity wouldn't normally give Twilight a second look, let alone make her the guest of honor and offer to help her with 'anything'.

[“Exactly.” Twilight nodded. “I've seen it happen before with Pinkie Pie. Ask anypony, she was this sweet, quiet little gem. Pinkie was real ladylike and pure, never spoke out of turn, never did anything she wasn't supposed to, never smiled or laughed too loud. She was a considerate, calm pony, you know?” Applejack stomped her hoof on the ground.“But then Rarity got to her,” Applejack sneered. “It didn't even take her a year convince her to run away from home and become a vampire. And now look at her, going 'woo woo' all over the place and acting like an animal. All this partying All this joking around, being all wild, all this candy eating? She's a completely different pony!”

“Rarity convinced Pinkie to run away from home?” Twilight had read all about cults and the like. One thing controlling, abusive groups always did was try to separate you from your family. “That does sound pretty bad.”

“I think you missed the part about the vampirism,” Applejack said. “And all the cussing and partying she does now. And how the old Pinkie is basically dead because of their vampire mind control.”

Twilight let out a frustrated sigh. Maybe Applejack could have convinced her they were like a cult or dangerous gang or something, but there was no way this vampire angle was not going to work.

“Again, there's no such thing as vampires,” said Twilight. “Okay. Maybe the thing about Pinkie running away is true, maybe that's bad, but I really think those three are a lot nicer than they seem on the surface. There's nothing wrong with eating candy and all that every once in a while.”

“It ain't gonna be once in a while. It's gonna be every single day. They're gonna suck you in, Twilight.” Applejack pointed to the book. “Just promise me you'll read the book, okay?”

Twilight just rolled her eyes. “I'm going to sleep,” she said. “Goodbye, Applejack.”

Twilight slammed the door before Applejack could warn her again. The whole thing was ridiculous! Twilight gave the book one sideways glance before throwing it off to the side She'd organize it tomorrow, maybe make a 'superstition' section just for it.

Twilight lumbered a few feet over to her bed and collapsed. Her exhaustion finally caught up with her and she was asleep almost instantly.

Chapter 6

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Twilight woke up.

Well, sort of. She groggily rolled out of bed around noon. Noon! Waking up this late was like some kind of crime, something only the laziest of ponies would do. Twilight had never slept in this late before and intended to never let it happen again.

She felt terrible on a physical level, too. Her head pounded, the light from outside stung her eyes, she felt thirsty for some reason and despite sleeping until the middle of the day, she was still tired.

'What was wrong with eating candy and staying up all night? Huh? What's wrong with it? What's wrong with it?'

Those mares had asked her that all all night long and here was the answer. It felt good at the time, but made you sick the next day. If she ever saw those three again she'd be sure to point this out, and seeing them again was a big if.

Vampires or not, Twilight vowed never to do that again. Fun as it was, it wasn't worth this. She silently decided that she wouldn't be meeting up with them for another all-night candy party, certainly not in a graveyard.

Twilight shambled out of bed and opened the curtains, blinding herself. She staggered backwards into her bed, wincing. Thank Celestia she didn't have work today, that job at the Pony/11 wouldn't start for a few more days yet. She needed to get up eventually, though, needed to do something, build some momentum or at least stay tired enough to go to sleep at a more reasonable hour tonight.

But what? It's not like Twilight had anything to do, not if she wasn't going to go meet those three. There was no school right now, nopony to talk to, all of her books were still in boxes and she'd read all of them anyways.

She opened one of her eyes slightly and noticed the book about vampires Applejack had given her. There was one book she hadn't read, at least. Theoretically, she could also go to the library today, get a card and take out a new book, but she was far too tired today to go with that.

Twilight pulled the book over with her magic and opened it up. She yawned and rubbed her eyes until the page stopped being blurry.

If you're reading this, then you've most likely met a vampire already. Have you recently ran into an exceptionally beautiful pony, one who rarely goes out at day and at night their eyes seem to glow, who eats nothing but candy, who's commands everyone, including yourself, seem compelled to follow?

This pony may be a vampire and you may be in danger.

Below are several chapters organized by subject filled with vital information you'll need to survive. But above all else remember these three things– never invite one into your home, never accept what they tempt you with and never trust them.

She could understand why Applejack would assume Rarity was a vampire, if she seriously believed this. Rarity, at least, matched that description perfectly. Though really only that last part gave Twilight any pause. Rarity's charm seemed almost unnatural, she was just so pretty that you almost hoped she'd tell you to do something, just so you could do what she told you to.

If that didn't make any sense, it was because it didn't. Yet Twilight had experienced that feeling firsthand. Sitting next to Rarity, it gave her such a strange emotion. She tried to remember that warm feeling of safety and comfort Rarity gave to her, but couldn’t quite summon them up. She remembered how beautiful Rarity's face and eyes were– that much was burned into Twilight's memories. And then there was the way Rarity seemed so in charge, even the way she walked was-

Gah! And now she was daydreaming about that mare? Twilight shook her head and tried to regain her senses.

It was certainly strange, something Twilight had never encountered before, but vampires would be even stranger. Running into something unusual that you couldn't explain didn't give you license to assume even more fantastical explanations for it. Applejack was just bad at logic.

Twilight read on.

Vampires are manipulative, vicious and deceptive. They will hypnotize you into adoring them and giving them whatever they want. They will, if you are most unlucky, try to turn you into one of them.

Vampires cannot create others of their own kind as easily as other books would have you believe. It is a process that takes months rather than minutes and can easily be undone up to the last moment. If you are to become a vampire you will need to want it, the vampires will need to make you want to be corrupted to your very core. For this reason, the vampire will need the consent of the one they seek to transform and they will manipulate you to that end.

They prey on ponies who think they have nothing left to lose, 'strays' who could be easily tempted with promises of a better life. They are cunning and will start slow. Just a minor gift, just a small step towards corruption, just try binging on candy one time, cursing one time, staying up all night one time, and you'll be given attention, love and gifts in return – that's how they get you!

It will creep up on you, but you'll soon realize you've given in to the corruption, become as perverse as your corruptors.

This too sounded vaguely familiar. Those three had certainly been coaxing her into doing lots of small things which were bad, but not immoral. It was even the exact same list the book gave! All of this was pretty coincidental.

Nah! It was still silly, Twilight decided. What was this book even advising her to do? Not do something completely evil if Rarity suggested it? Twilight was pretty sure she'd be able to draw the line at doing something actually immoral.

Besides, them suggesting she do slightly suspect things didn't mean they were vampires or even evil. All it meant was that they were slightly a suspect.

But take note! As convinced as you may be now that there's nothing wrong with your new lifestyle, as far as you've fallen, you still do not understand the real danger you face. Vampires are manipulative, but they are also deceptive, remember this.

They seek to transform you not for your own good, but for theirs. When a pony is turned they become the mindless slave of the vampire who turned them. You will lose all control over your own body and your sire will constantly, painfully drain your life force from you.

You may think your corruption is worth the pleasure you'll get in return, but it is not. All you'll get is slavery, not love or luxury. Your fate will be being trapped inside your own body, burning on the inside, forever. The vampire will deny this, but do not trust them!

That was certainly a disturbing image, but Twilight felt this part didn't apply to her. Twilight didn't want to 'give in to corruption' or become a vampire or anything like that. She wasn't even planning on going out to party again.

Before Twilight could read any more, there was a knock at her door. Twilight's ears twitched. She had no idea who that could be. Applejack? If she was back already then that mare was too persistent for her own good.

Twilight opened the door to see a stallion she'd never seen before. He was wearing a shirt, looking very professional. Then Twilight started to remember what happened last night in her manic craze. She wasn't about to get busted for ding-dong-ditch, was she?!

“Miss Sparkle?” the pony asked. Twilight nodded. “I'm here about your house back in Canterlot.”

That was a relief. “Oh! Did it sell?” Twilight asked eagerly. She honestly didn't expect this so soon. Her parents had the house nearly paid off before they died, meaning Twilight would get a very good amount of money from the sale, money she needed right now.

“I'm afraid not,” said the pony. “Actually we were doing the inspection of the home-”

“-oh. I-it passed, right?”

“Not nearly,” said the pony with a flat frown. “I'm afraid we found dengu mold growing under some of the floorboards. That is a very serious matter.”

“It- it is?” Twilight asked. She had never heard of that particular mold before, but knew mold could be a big problem for house. “How much would it cost to get rid of the stuff?”

The pony flicked through his papers for a moment longer. It was like he was trying to torture her or something! But how much could it seriously cost? Bleaching the house, even tearing up the floorboards wouldn't be more than ten or twenty thousand bits, right? Even if it was a hundred thousand, Twilight could still live with that! She'd still make just enough from the house to survive.

“Dengu mold is an endangered species protected under current environmental laws,” said the pony. “'Getting rid of it', as you put it, would be a felony. Your house has been condemned.”

“Wait! My insurance will cover it, right?” Twilight asked desperately.

“No insurance covers dengu mold,” said the pony. He took out another paper and gave it to Twilight. “Here.”

He finally handed her a piece of paper, which Twilight eyed it over frantically. Something about money. Something about 25,000 bits. Oh no. Oh no!

“A bill?! F-for what?!”

“The inspection, a fine for endangering the mold, a bill for the cost of your blighted property, and various other charges,” said the pony.

“But I can't afford to pay this!”

“Well it's not too bad.” The stallion handed over another piece of paper. “The endangered species compensation fund is paying you out approximately twenty-five thousand bits. It more or less cancels that out."

“What?! So they're fining me and compensating for the exact same thing?! What kind of sense does that make?”

“Not much,” said the stallion, “but you know how politics are. I'm sorry I couldn't give you better news.”

He gave her a card, tipped his hat and left. Twilight just stood there for a moment, stunned. She swayed just a little bit, any stray breeze could have knocked her over. Then her mind came back online and she rushed inside to do math, to try and find some way to deal with this.

She looked over her bills, the amount she inherited and the amount she expected to make, running the numbers in her head over and over again. There was no way. No way at all! Twilight would have to drop out of school and get a second job if she wanted to survive. It was either that or be homeless. But then if she never finished high school she'd never get into college...

Everything fell like dominoes. She'd never get to be a great mage, would she? It was gone, her dream was dead now! She'd be flipping burgers for the rest of her life and that was it! All of that hard studying, all of her knowledge and intelligence, none of it would amount to anything.

It wasn't fair. Why did things only ever seem to get worse? Just one good thing, that was all Twilight wanted!

She was going to have to sell all her books too, wasn't she? Twilight still had a large library of books, but it was the last thing of value, in both cost and how much she loved it, that Twilight had. Everything else had already been sold off. Just the thought of giving that up was enough to make her tear up a second time, but food and shelter were more important.

No! Someday she'd get a good job and be able to buy them back, she assured herself. Maybe she could work her way up to manager or something! Until then there'd always be the public library, that was a thing.

Yeah! Yeah maybe this wasn't so bad. Twilight told herself that again and again, but it didn't help too much. The important thing was that there was nothing she could do about this until tomorrow. Tomorrow she could go to the library and research until she found something she could do, or something, some statistic, to comfort her!

For now she just had to relax. She could either spend all night in a cold sweat or relax and the latter was the logical choice. So why couldn't she do it? Twilight looked at the clock. It was already seven, she'd been budgeting for hours and now she was so exhausted.

Maybe sleep would be the best idea. Twilight went to bed and buried her face in the pillows. She closed her eyes, but her mind kept racing with worries about the future. And so she tossed and turned for what felt like hours, but, when she finally opened her eyes, only turned out to not even be a half hour.

She couldn't sleep right now. Twilight really, really didn't want to be alone. She desperately wished there was somepony she could run to for advice, or even just to talk to, but there was nopony left now.

At least she had her books. Yeah, that was right! Books were just as good as friends. She wasn't going to sell them tonight.

Twilight rushed over to her remaining books and grabbed the one about vampires, opening it to some random page.

Vampires are most typically-

Would Twilight have to sell her books? How would she even live without them? No, no she'd been over this a million times already. She just had to read for now!

-most typically found in two-

But what would happen if she got thrown on the streets? Would she have to live in a box? Where did homeless ponies even find boxes? Maybe she could go to a homeless shelter but she didn't really know where one was or how those worked. Did you just walk up to random ponies saying 'hey I'm homeless now, so-'

No, no, no! Twilight went back to reading.

Vampires are most typically found in two types of groups, either a small number of mares living together or-

Twilight read that but didn't really get it. She read it two more times but her mind kept wandering away. She couldn't even get through a single sentence of this! Her books had failed her!

Twilight checked the clock. It was eight. Not even eight if Twilight was going to be honest. All that worrying and not even a half hour was gone! This was going to be a long, long night.

Twilight looked out into the night. It was almost night anyway, that time when the sky was still purple. Not even night yet. Twilight sighed.

Though come to think of it, wasn't it around now that those girls had wanted to meet with her? Twilight's ears twitched at that thought. She did have someone she could go to, didn't she?

Well, probably not for financial advice, of course, but she did have somepony she could at least talk to in general! Maybe her books couldn't distract her from her impending doom, but if anything could it was them.

But then Twilight reminded herself that she regretted it the last time. Those ponies would want her to stay up all night again, eating candy, drinking coffee, cursing and doing Celestia knew what. And the next morning she'd once again be-

Actually, forget it! Twilight was going to stay up all night, sick with worry, anyway! She'd be exhausted the next morning no matter what she did. She might as well go over there. At least then the night wouldn't be a complete waste, at least she'd have a real chance of distracting herself, and at least she wouldn't be alone.

Twilight threw a few things into a saddle bag and trotted out into the night.

Chapter 7

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It was dark now, the kind of dark that made you think of all the horrible things that could be standing behind you. Right now there was a legitimate chance said thing was a dreadstalker. Yes, Twilight remembered that! Oh, how she remembered that. It'd be nice if she'd remembered it before going outside, alone at night, or even if she didn't remember it at all, but now?

So Twilight was moving at a brisk canter. She'd be relatively safe in town, at least, but she wanted to get to the others as soon as she could. A dreadstalker would almost never attack a group of ponies.

It wasn't too long until the graveyard was in sight and Twilight was moving around, looking for the entrance. The whole thing was surrounded by a high gate. It was an old graveyard too, possibly older than Ponyville itself. Twilight could tell just by glancing at it.

Specifically, she could tell this from a prevalence of an old style of gravestones and tombs, ones that short, spiked polls on the top and vines purposely running up them and over the grave. It was a motif that had become unpopular a few hundred years ago, making it easy to date them between three and hour hundred years ago.

There were, of course, more modern looking tombs sunk into the ground, but they were interspersed with the more ancient, vine-covered so that looking left to right the graveyard smoothly transitioned from being drowned in vines to having none at all.

The large gate before Twilight was vineless and new. As soon as she came up to it, Dash landed on the top of the gate and looked down at Twilight. Dash looked briefly shocked to see Twilight before laughing.

Twilight would take anyone right now! Her mood lightened a little just from seeing another pony, and so she waved up at Dash. “Hey!”

“You actually came?” Dash pumped her hoof down at Twilight, one of those long-distance bro-hoof deals. “Nice! I knew you'd be tough enough to show up, but Rares thought you'd crash so bad after last night you'd never want to hang with us again. I'll admit she's usually right about this stuff, but not this time! Come on in, Twi!”

While remaining on top of one of the gate doors, Dash pushed the other side open for Twilight with a swift kick. Twilight looked at the now open path into the dark graveyard. Rarity had actually predicted Twilight's reaction perfectly. Either Twilight was the most predictable pony in the world or Rarity was just insanely good with ponies.

That was probably a better explanation than the vampire theory, she just knew how to handle ponies. Or maybe manipulate them. That thought brought another important issue back to Twilight's mind.

“Hey, Rainbow Dash?” Twilight looked up at her. “Pinkie is here, right? I wanted to ask her about her family.”

Dash jumped off the gate and landed in front of Twilight, her wings spread defensively. She was fast! To be honest, Twilight had never really known any pegasi so she didn't know how normal that was.

“Whoa, whoa! Why do you want to bring that up?” Dash gave Twilight a stern look, but quickly lightened her expression and stance and shook her head a little. “Guess I can't blame you for not knowing, but that's kind of a bad topic for Pinks. Think you could maybe not kill the mood by bringing that up?”

Twilight couldn't help but be suspicious over Dash not wanting her to ask about it. Was Applejack right?

“It's just that Applejack said you convinced Pinkie to run away from her family,” said Twilight. “If that's true, then it's not right. That's like something a cult would do.”

Dash groaned, rubbing her hoof against her face. “First of all,” said Dash, “Pinkie ran away from home before she met us. She'd been living on the streets for months when we first met. Me and the boss found her in a dumpster looking for food. Nopony else bothered to help her. Her parents never even went looking for her. Know why?”

Dash took off her sunglasses and moved forward, forcing Twilight to take a step back, glaring into her eyes. “It's cause they were horrible ponies. They...” Dash started but hesitated, loosing Twilight's gaze for a moment. “They did things. If Pinks had stayed on the streets she would have been better off there. Let's just leave it at that. If giving her a place to stay was a crap thing to do then yeah, the boss is a total bucking jerk. Otherwise, Appledork doesn't know what she's talking about.”

Twilight's ears fell flat against her head. That did change the tone of the story completely.

“Sorry,” said Twilight. “I'm sorry. I just-”

“Eh! It's alright.” Dash put her sunglasses on and smiled at her. “Like I said, you didn't know. We're cool. Just don't bring this up when Pinks is around.”

Twilight nodded.

“And we're not a cult or anything like that,” said Dash. “The boss just has a bit of a soft spot for strays is all. You know, kind of like you.”

Dash tried to give Twilight a light jab on her chest, but Twilight staggered back at the threat of being touched. What was with these ponies and physical contact? Who did that? And yet Dash rolled her eyes like Twilight was the one acting weird.

“R-right.” Twilight cleared her throat. “Maybe I should have been more skeptical of Applejack. She was saying some pretty crazy stuff, like that you three were all vampires.”

Twilight chuckled and so did Dash. “She told you we're vampires?” the pegasus asked with a toothy grin. “Well I guess even Applejack has to be right about something, right?”

Twilight blinked. “W-wait! Are you saying you're really-” Twilight began. Dash snickered. “Oh, right. Joking.”

Dash stepped aside for Twilight and opened one of her wings, inviting the mare into the graveyard. She then took a deep breath and stepped inside.

They walked deep into the graveyard, towards where the older graves stood, until they were surrounded by stones covered in large vines. Finally, they reached a section where a number of small, square tombs rose above the ground.

Here, Twilight found Pinkie and Rarity waiting. Rarity was sitting with her back to one of the tombs, reading some kind of orange pamphlet. Whatever it was, Rarity had a small stack of them next to her. Meanwhile, Pinkie was lying on her back, keeping a small ball in the air by kicking it with each of her four legs in turn.

As soon as Twilight approached, Pinkie kicked the ball forward instead of up, sending it flying towards Rarity's face.

“Twitwi's here!” Pinkie exclaimed and shot up to her hooves.

Meanwhile, the ball hit Rarity hard in the face. She was completely unfazed by this though, simply blinking and casually looking up with her eyes. When she saw Twilight, she gave a sly smile, put the pamphlet down and strode over to her.

“Twilight, darling,” said Rarity, coming uncomfortably close to Twilight, “I'm absolutely thrilled you showed up. To be honest, though, I wasn't expecting it.”

Rarity and her gorgeous blue eyes were inches in front of Twilight's face now. Rarity's charm sank its fangs straight into Twilight's heart, making it beat rapidly. A moment ago she was hoping they wouldn't be weird and get close to her this time, but now that Rarity was right next to her, Twilight found herself desperately trying to think of a way to get Rarity to pat her on the head again.

“I knew you'd come!” Pinkie ran after the ball and picked it back up. “And that means you lost your bet, Rara! Ha!”

Pinkie threw the ball at Rarity again, who effortlessly caught it in one hoof and threw it back at Pinkie. Twilight wondered how hard the ball was, as it was able to bowl Pinkie over when Rarity threw it. Then again, Pinkie started laughing right after so maybe she only pretended to be knocked down.

“I do have to say, I'm so rarely wrong about ponies that I get a bit worried when I make a mistake. Why did you come back to us, Twilight?” Rarity was staring deep into Twilight's eyes. “I realize I'm too beautiful for my own good sometimes, Twilight. Did you just fall for my charms, Twilight? Maybe you spent all day unable to think about anything but me, Twilight? Did you see my perfect body every time you blinked, Twilight? Were you dying for me to pay attention to you again, Twilight? Is that why you came here, Twilight?”

Twilight was unable to even blink while Rarity talked, she just kept staring into those deep, deep eyes, hanging on Rarity's every word. She thought to herself that Rarity was saying her name far too often, but felt her ears twitch every time she heard Rarity say it. It's weirdness took back seat to something else, a need to answer.

“N-no,” Twilight felt the words slip out of her mouth without the hesitation she normally had when talking to Rarity. “I didn't have you stuck in my head all day."

“Interesting!” Rarity pulled away from Twilight, trotting a few steps away from her. Her smile was different now, a bit wider. “Very interesting.”

Pinkie nodded excitedly at Rarity.

“Hm! Then why did you decide to come to us a second time?” Rarity asked. “Why come to the 'bad' ponies instead of the ones who are 'normal' and act exactly like you? I set you up to be friends with Thunderlane, Bonbon and all them. Or do you want something more? I did say I'd give you anything you wanted. So what is it?”

Twilight felt a little chill when Rarity offered her 'more'. It made her remember that book. She also was suddenly back to her normal self, unable to answer right away.

“Er. I was just having a bad night,” Twilight admitted. “I didn't want to be alone and I figured, you know, you three were the only ponies I know who stay up this late.”

“Bad night?” Pinkie threw the ball aside and got on her hooves. “What happened, Twitwi?”

Twilight blinked. Pinkie was looking at her with a pretty serious look of concern. She was a little taken aback by the sudden interest.

“I don't really want to think about it right now.” Twilight shook her head. “But I can stay with you three tonight, right? I mean, hang out and all that. You did invite me!”

Twilight turned back to Rarity, who gave a little frown, thinking over Twilight's answer.

“Well you're certainly welcome to come to us whenever you want.” Rarity's mouth flipped back to its typical grin. “It's just important to me that ponies only come to me because it's what they truly want. It's a bit hard to explain to anyone who isn't me, though.”

“She's just trying to keep from losing our bet,” said Dash. “You hear that, Rares? You better pay up later!”

Rarity gave something that sounded like a scoff and strode over to Dash. Faster than Twilight could see Rarity snatched Dash up with one of her forelegs and gave Dash what looked like a crushing hug. Dash struggled against Rarity's grip but wasn't able to pry her loose.

Then Rarity whispered something in Dash's ear that made Dash blush heavily and stop struggling. A second later she was nuzzling Dash and then Dash was nuzzling back and-

-and did they really have to do this in public? This was getting awkward.

Twilight took a few small steps until she was next to Pinkie, who was looking at the two of them with a warm smile, like it wasn't totally gross.

“H-hey, Pinkie! How come no one else is here, by the way?” Twilight looked around to make sure she didn't miss anypony. “I guess I just assumed you'd have more ponies around.”

“Usually it's just the three of us,” said Pinkie. “It's super fun to have lots of other ponies around but daywalkers are- well they're okay in small doses! Dashie says we gotta be careful around them so we don’t catch 'terminal lameness'. Like polio, I guess.”

“And why are we in a graveyard?” Twilight asked. “You know this is a weird place to be, right?”

“Well we're weird ponies! And you know what?” Pinkie leaned in like she was going to whisper, but just shouted instead. “Being weird is awesome! I wish I started sooner."

“I did warn you.” Rarity came trotting back, Rainbow Dash in tow. Thankfully they seemed to be done. “But there are wonderful things you can find in places like this, if you care to look.”

She moved over to the doors of a crypt and grabbed the vines with her magic, pulling them to the side. Rarity fumbled about with her magic a little more and just like that, the door was opened. Twilight didn't see anything but black on the other side.

“A tomb?” Twilight asked. “You wanted to show me a tomb? That's not exactly what I call awesome”

“It's through the crypt, not in it,” said Dash.

“And it is super, amazingly awesome!” Pinkie assured her.

“But we can't just go in there,” said Twilight. “I recognize from the architecture that this is an Elementalist tomb. In their religion its forbidden for the living to enter the resting place of the dead. Only dead ponies and elementals are supposed to see the inside of these tombs, so going in there is a really big taboo.”

“Well I am impressed with your knowledge, Twilight.” Rarity turned away from the crypt and came within reach of Twilight. For a second Twilight's heart stopped beating as she hoped for another head pat. Sadly, it didn't come. “But tell me, are you an Elementalist? Do you believe in the elementals? That the dead can see? That Therazane will drag us into the earth if we behold that which is meant for the dead alone? That's the real reason entering these tombs are forbidden, you know, for fear of Therazane. Elementalists don't fear these tombs out of some misguided respect, but because they truly believe the elementals will get them. Do you?”

“Well, no,” said Twilight. “I don't believe in any of those things, I'm a Celestian and all that. But, I mean, well it's still disrespectful to the dead, right? Whoever's buried there believed that stuff, and I'm sure their families would want us to respect that, so um...”

Twilight couldn't quite finish that argument. It was frustrating that she was so good at argumentation when written down, but couldn't articulate it so well in actual conversation.

“The dead won't care what we do,” said Rarity, “and as for any relatives they may have, I can personally guarantee you they don't mind us visiting. Besides, I hardly see how we're the disrespectful ones. What's more disrespectful, leaving the dead to their dust, to be forgotten completely, or to visit their memories?”

“Well, I mean,” Twilight said, scratching her head, trying hard to think of a logical counter to that.

“Well what?” Rarity her smile got more vibrant as she watched Twilight try to mull it over.

“I guess it just feels wrong,” said Twilight, “even if I can't say exactly why. Shouldn't I, you know, go with that?”

“Should you?” Rarity gave her a smile and a wink before heading inside the tomb.

That was another thing about Rarity Twilight just noticed – when she went somewhere you wanted to follow. She took a subconscious step towards her, her hesitation suddenly replaced with a magnetic pull towards Rarity and the crypt. Twilight approached the doors and looked at the blackness inside. There was a steep staircase right after the door, leading deep underground. A feeling of dread came over Twilight for obvious reasons, breaking that magnetic feeling as fast as it had come.

“Come on Twitwi! There's so many great things you'll never see if you stay up here!” Pinkie moved up behind Twilight and started pushing her forward with the top of her head. “Come on come on come on!”

“Are there going to be dead bodies all over the place?” Twilight dug her hooves in, slowing her movement to a halt. “I mean, there are dead bodies down there. Won't it be a festering pit of rotting corpses?”

“Nope!” Pinkie said without the slightest care before giving up on pushing Twilight and bouncing past her and down the stairs. “Join us, Twilight! Being one of us is great!”

Well, that much was good.

“It's your choice.” Dash walked past Twilight. “But if you came here you might as well go all the way. You won't ever regret following us."

And that's how Twilight ended up alone in a graveyard, staring into an open tomb. Should she go? The other option was staying up here alone. Somehow, that would be even worse.

Twilight took a deep breath and went down the stairs.

Chapter 8

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As Twilight trotted down she worried for a moment that she'd be blind down there, but already she could see a light at the bottom of the stairs, a bright red glow that flickered like it was coming from a fire. Twilight followed it until she was in the crypt itself. Inside was nothing like she thought it'd be, it wasn't even dark like the entrance was.

Far from a festering pit of rotting corpses, this place was beautiful. It was a hallway with six stone coffins lining each of the walls and a bed of stone in the center of it all. The coffins were gilded with gold and the walls and columns between them were covered in gems. Everything had intricate, detailed designs carved into them, swirling patterns and carvings of ponies with eyes socketed with gems.

Money looming on the back of her mind, Twilight wondered how anyone could have just buried so many valuable gems.

“I knew these tombs were ornate,” said Twilight, still taking it all in, “but this is much more than what I imagined. This family must have been amazingly wealthy.”

“Fairly wealthy,” Rarity corrected her, “but not as much as you'd think. This is the tomb of the Gemstone family. This one-”

Rarity trotted over to one of the coffins, one with an image of a filly carved into it. She ran her hoof down the side of the stone face and closed her eyes.

“This was a filly name Sweetie Belle,” she said. “Just after getting her cutie mark, she got an incurable disease and died tragically, at such a young age. Her family was devastated. Her father coped with the loss by focusing his attention on building this ornate tomb or her.”

Rarity very slowly trotted over to the next coffin, running her hoof along the waving, swirling patterns along the wall as she went, tracing the patterns in the gilded stone.

“The whole family were renowned for their artistic talents, you know,” said Rarity. “The father bought the finest stone and most brilliant gems to fill this place, spending more money than he could really afford, spending days and days down here carving this out, making it perfect– his final, beautiful gift for his lost daughter.”

She finally stopped in front of a second coffin. From the design on the front it looked like it probably belonged to a mare.

“Does that sound like a sweet gesture?” Rarity glanced back at Twilight. “Well not everyone thought so, apparently. Sweetie Belle's mother was also crushed and her husband spent all his time down here, away from her, focusing on the dead rather than the living. Maybe he could have helped her through it otherwise, or maybe it was always hopeless, but-”

Rarity ran her hoof along the coffin in front of her, lovingly, sorrowfully. Twilight almost got the impression that Rarity had known the pony inside, though of course this was impossible, seeing as they died hundreds of years ago.

Unless Rarity was a vampire, said a little voice in Twilight's head, but she dismissed it right away.

“-here they are,” said Rarity, not taking her eyes off the coffin. “A tragedy, some bad decisions, love makes us do stupid things, Twilight. Not just good, stupid things, either.”

Rarity let out a sorrowful sigh.

“You know,” Twilight said to Dash, “this is actually kind of depressing.”

“This isn't what we came here for,” said Dash. “Rares doesn't always get this whishy washy when we pass through here.”

Dash moved over to Rarity and put a hoof on her back.“You gonna need a minute?” she asked.

“Of course not.” Rarity turned back to Dash , a sad smile on her face. She closed her eyes and nuzzled Dash's mane softly. “I would never make the same mistake these ponies did. Pinkie?”

“Right,” said Pinkie. She bounced her way over to the far corner of the tomb and began pushing a stone slab that was on the ground.

“Rara brought us here a couple times just to look at the statues.” Pinkie had managed to dislodge the slab by this point, and was now taking bricks out of the wall behind it. “I was so incredibly bored one time that I started poking around and poking around until I noticed-”

A small collection of bricks were next to Pinkie now, and a hole in the wall was in front of her. It was a small, cavernous tunnel, only about half of it above the foundation, leading into the darkness.

Pinkie smiled and gestured to the tunnel before crawling into it.

“We're going spelunking?” Twilight asked. “But that's really, really dangerous! Did you know there are fifty-two ways that cave diving can kill you? Because there are!”

“We've already explored this cavern,” Rarity assured her. “It's stable and there's a place to turn around up ahead. We've even put support and lighting up in the main area.”

“And the place at the end is awesome,” Dash said. “Bit of a drop at the end of the tunnel, but you'll be fine.”

Twilight bit her lip and looked at the tunnel. This still sounded like a bad idea. In fact, the ideas they were giving her were getting progressively worse, from uncomfortable to disrespectful to outright dangerous.

“I don't know,” said Twilight, backing away a little. “It's okay if I say no, right?”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Look, Twi. We were right about the party and playing pranks and coming down here. And going into the cave is a great idea too!”

Rarity raised a hoof, which was enough to silence Dash. “Of course you can say no. Everypony has their choices to make,” she said to Twilight, then turned back to Dash. “We've done enough convincing. I want to see if she'll follow on her own now.”

Rarity crawled into the tunnel next. Dash gave Twilight one last glance before following.

“Trust us, Twi,” Dash said, just before crawling into the hole herself.

Twilight secretly wished they had stayed to convince her, or even told her she had no choice. Sure, the latter would have been rude, but now Twilight found herself conflicted. Being brave had worked out for her so far, but surely there was a limit to what one should shrug off their fear to do.

Twilight started trotting back and forth, wanting to both follow and leave at the same time. She stopped herself much quicker this time, though. This conflict was just going to keep her alone and from seeing new things, wasn't it? Besides, they assured her this was safe and they'd done it before.

Twilight took a deep breath and crawled into the tunnel. Once you had gotten past the entrance, it actually wasn't too cramped, Twilight could easily stand but she had to duck her head. It was tight enough that turning around would be a bit tough, but they said there was a bigger area just ahead.

So with her head bowed and her horn glowing, Twilight trotted down the tunnel. Soon enough she came to the drop Dash had mentioned, which was actually two drops, one to a ledge then one to something that looked to be a much larger area, some light already glowing from within.

“Is it really safe to drop down there?” Twilight called out. The drop did look to be from almost the height of a second story window.

“Do it all the time,” said Dash. “You'll be fine.”

Twilight hung looking over the ledge for a moment, running some calculations in her head... Maybe it would be safe after all.

Twilight leaned forward and fell onto the ledge, front feet first. She landed a bit hard, but it didn't hurt. It wasn't so bad, actually. She made the second jump much faster and landed in a surprisingly warm section of cave with a large pool of water in front of her.

Rarity shot a spell straight upwards. Twilight followed that ball of blue magic with her eyes. Just now she realized that the roof of this place was actually a massive ruby, with several smaller, but still large, rubies littering the ceiling and to a lesser extent the sides of the walls.

Rarity's blue magic lit up the gem, causing it to glow along side her sphere of magic. The red from the rubies and the blue from Rarity's magic mixed to fill the cavern with an otherworldly purple glow. The cut of the gems caused the light to cascade a bit, stopping in some places and breaking into pure red or blue in others.

“This really is pretty,” said Twilight. She wasn't sure if it was better than the gilded tomb had been, but it was at least as beautiful. “To think something like this would be buried so deep- Is this what you wanted to show me?”

“Nope!” Pinkie exclaimed. “That's not even the good part! The good part is the hot spring."

Hot spring? Twilight moved over to the water and put her hoof over it. Sure enough, it was warm, a bit more than a bathtub. A little bit forward was a heavy trickle of bubbles, some of which made it all the way to her. It was almost like a natural Jacuzzi.

“A hot spring?” Twilight asked, more out of surprise than anything else. “But that's impossible. Ponyville isn't anywhere near a volcano, and if it was wouldn't there be more?”

“Not from a volcano,” said Rarity. She pointed to the ceiling. “Pay closer attention. These aren't rubies, they're fire stones.”

Twilight did study them more carefully and blushed at the realization that Rarity was right. Twilight did know her gemstones mind you, it was just that it had been dark before and Twilight had been a bit distracted. She wouldn't have made this mistake otherwise!

“And nopony knows about this place but us!” Pinkie moved past Twilight excitedly and jumped into the hot water, reclining against a stone. “Come on in, it's great! Oh! But don't go over to where those bubble are or you'll die a fiery death!”

Twilight looked at Pinkie, then back to Rarity. “But wouldn't this water be stagnant?” Twilight looked around the edges of the cave to see where this pool of water could be coming from, but couldn't find a source. “Well, actually I guess the bubble might help, but we're near a graveyard! It could be contaminated!”

“Purification spell.” Rarity bent her head over the water and her her glowed. The water followed suit briefly, then the blue light among it died down. “You said you study magic, yes? I'm sure you know that one.”

“Well yes,” said Twilight. It was an advanced spell, but not too advanced. Twilight knew it, but you certainly wouldn't expect anyone who hadn't studied magic to. “I'm just a little surprised you do. Did you study magic?”

“You could certainly say that,” said Rarity. “I dare say I'm very well versed in magic.”

“Really?!” Twilight's eyes sparkled. She had just found another pony her age that was into magic! All of Rarity's weirdness was suddenly forgotten, this was great! “What kind of magic do you study? Enchantment? Illusions? Kinetics? Transformation?”

“I've read up on all of the major branches, and minor ones. I can't think of a type of magic that hasn't caught my interest at some point.”

“Me too! I can't get enough of magic! I know over a hundred spells and try to learn a new one regularly.”

“That's a lot for your age.” Rarity circled around Twilight, looking her over once more. “You are a very clever little pony aren't you?”

That was the sort of thing that would sound condescending from any other pony on the entire planet, but when Rarity said that, it made Twilight blush. Her instinct was to freeze whenever Rarity circled her like this.

That blush was interrupted by a splashing sound and some warm water hitting Twilight. Pinkie had just jumped into the springs like it was a pool.

“Come on in!” Pinkie dipped under the water, then came back out, spitting some water up like a fountain, which Twilight was fairly certain wasn't a standard hot spring activity.

Dash was beckoning her too, already having gone in while Twilight wasn’t looking. Twilight looked down at the water and poked at it. It wasn't too warm. The stone near the edge had clearly been carved into at some point, given the one side was a smooth wall. Then she turned to Rarity who just smiled at her.

“Well?” Rarity smiled.

“Come on!” Pinkie fell onto her back and started swimming around. “Join us, Twitwi.”

“Stop saying that, Pinkie!” Twilight took a break from poking the water to give Pinkie a stern look. “It sounds creepy!”

Twilight braced herself and moved into the water. It wasn't bad. It felt great actually. Twilight let out the most exhausted sounding groaned she'd ever heard and sat down, leaning her back against the stone wall. The warmth melted away all the tension in Twilight's muscles.

She let out a much more contented sigh and relaxed. She was glad she came here. This was way better than having a panic attack.

“Nice, hm?” Rarity leaned over the edge of the spring towards Twilight, but didn't touch the water herself. “I bet you didn't know being 'corrupted' felt so nice. Maybe you should let me twist you a little bit more?”

“I dunno if sitting in a hot spring is very corrupt.”

“Indulgence of any kind is frowned upon in society. A sad fact, if you ask me.”

“And you're trying to corrupt me?” Twilight sank into the water a little more. She knew Rarity was just teasing her, but still.

“Most ponies wouldn't have followed us down this far,” said Rarity, “not nearly. I think if you're here then maybe you want to be 'corrupted'.”

“Followed you down?” Twilight thought about that for a moment. Through a graveyard, to a crypt and now here. “Oh sweet Celestia! This cave is a metaphor for my moral descent isn't it? I don't want to be corrupted!”

Twilight stood up straight, lifting most of herself out of the water.

“There are no metaphors in real life.” said Rarity.

“And even if there were, we're the ones with a hot tub!” Pinkie declared splashing the water a little. “How can somepony with a hot tub be evil? Hmm?”

“That's nonsensical but interesting,” said Twilight, leaning over to look at her dim reflection in the pool. “What is the hot spring supposed to represent? I guess my reflection is kind of blurry. Like, the pleasure of the hot spring is blurring my character? Does that make sense?”

Twilight looked up Pinkie who gave an enthusiastic nod. Rarity looked less amused.

“What did I just say?” Rarity put her hoof on Twilight, just slightly above the base of her tail, and pressed down gently.

Twilight tensed up and resisted for a second, but slowly gave way to Rarity and sat back down in the water. The warmth came back, relaxing her.

“There!” Rarity sounded so chipper. “That's better.”

Twilight liked that, but she didn't want to admit it. She just blushed and tried not to make a sound.

The blushing only got worse when Rarity sat down right behind her and began fussing with her mane. Rarity looked it over, then flipped it around with her magic, then put one hoof on Twilight's back and another on her head, poking around Twilight's mane in a manner that reminded Twilight of an ape picking bugs out of another's fur.

This was a clear violation of personal space. Most ponies would be outraged by this. Twilight knew she should tell Rarity to stop, but she really like the feeling of her hooves poking against her. And the other two were just splashing each other, acting like it was no big deal.

Somehow this was normal here.

So Twilight just let it happen, pretending it was normal like the others did. Just sitting here, completely silent felt awkward, though. Twilight tried to think of something to talk about.

“So uh, how did you know about that family?” Twilight asked. “The ones in the tomb upstairs I mean."

“There's a plaque on the side, dear,” said Rarity. “Why do you ask?”

“No reason.” Twilight let herself sink into the water a little. Darn it! She should have asked about magic or something.

“Applejack's been feeding her those vampire stories,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Oh? Are you worried about that?” Rarity let go of Twilight's hair and leaned around Twilight to look at her from the side. “Even if we were vampires I'm sure you'd be fine. We like you, Twilight. So would it even matter if we were?”

“Yes. Cause then you'd be killing ponies and drinking their blood. Vampires are evil.”

“Oh I'm sure if I was a vampire I'd be clever enough to not have to kill anypony,” said Rarity. “I hardly think a vampire has to be evil, either. In fact, I think it'd be better than being a normal pony. Wouldn't you want to be a vampire, if you could?”

“Um. No? Why would I want to be a vampire?”

“Well you'd get to live forever,” said Dash.

“And they're supposed to have eternal beauty and unnatural charm,” said Rarity.

“And vampires never get sick or tired!” Pinkie declared. “They never have to go to work or school and can play all day!”

“I don't think that last one is a thing,” said Twilight. “But what, are you huge fans of vampires or something?”

“We are very much fans of this stuff,” said Rarity. “It is interesting to think about, isn't it? Would you really turn down an offer for all of that?”

“Yes,” said Twilight. “Vampires have to kill ponies every day and die instantly in the sun.”

“And who's idea was that, huh?” Dash asked. “Maybe vampires just lose their powers in sunlight. Maybe they're like fruit bats instead of the blood-sucking ones and just need lots of sugar to live. Unless you actually met one, how would you know?”

“Well if you're just making up your own vampire rules then sure,” said Twilight. “But they're supposed to be drink blood and-”

“-that's not the interesting question here.” Rarity waved the objections away with her hoof. “The interesting question is if you'd like to live forever. Would eternal youth be worth never going out in the sunlight again? Or at least being outcasted by society.”

“Well of course I wouldn't,” said Twilight. “Living forever would be horrible.”

They were going to ask her why, Twilight knew it.

“Because,” Twilight added quickly, struggling to find the reason why. Again, she knew it was the right answer, but struggled to think of why. Rarity smiled. “Because then, um. You'd have to watch all of your friends and family grow old and die.”

“Wrong!” Pinkie pointed at Twilight.

“Think you got that backwards, Twi,” said Dash. “Watching your friends grow old and die is something you have to do now, it's something every normal pony has to deal with. But if you were a vampire-”

“-and all of your friends were vampires,” Rarity continued, “who also never aged, then you wouldn't have to do that, would you?”

The other three had moved a good deal closer to Twilight and had surrounded her. Twilight glanced back and forth between them.

“Okay, now you're really giving me the impression that you're vampires who are trying to turn me,” said Twilight. “I mean, I don't believe in vampires, but if you were-”

“-we wouldn't hurt you,” said Rarity.

“I know,” said Twilight. You'd think being alone with them in the perfect place to hide a body would be unnerving, but Twilight actually felt more secure here than back home. “But you'd tell me, right?”

“Oh, I don't know about that.” Rarity gave a teasing smile. “It'd depend. Maybe it would be dangerous to tell ponies who don't want to join me themselves.”

“But you'd join us, right?” Pinkie lurched forward. “If we were vampires, I mean. Wouldn't it be awesome to all be vampires together?”

“No.” Twilight pulled away from her a little. “I just said I wouldn't want to be immortal.”

“And gave a bad reason,” Dash said.

“There are other reasons,” said Twilight. “I'd get bored of everything eventually, when the sun explodes I'd be floating through space, eventually years would seem like seconds, I'd be sucking up resources and deny new life the chance to take my place. Eternal youth would be selfish.”

Twilight nodded. There. Those were all good reasons.

“You mean except when Celestia does it,” said Rarity.

Twilight's confidence shattered just like that.

“Th-that's different!” She managed to stutter out.

Rarity just chuckled and sat down behind Twilight once again. “Ah! Now I know!” She pulled Twilight's bangs all the way back. “The perfect mane style for you. Something spiky, like Rainbow Dash's but more of an up do.”

Twilight looked skeptically at Dash's hair, then back at Rarity.“But I'm a unicorn, and that sounds like a pegasus' haircut.”

“I know.” Rarity winked. “That's precisely one of the reasons it would look so bold on you.”

“But you can't-”

“You can do your mane any way you want,” said Rarity.

“I know I could technically get any mane cut I wanted,” said Twilight, “but there are some things you're just not supposed to do! Earth ponies, unicorns and pegasi all have very specific ways they're supposed to wear their manes and deviating from that would be – well it'd be going against society!”

“Buck society!” Dash spit off to the side. “And buck Celestia too! What right do they have to tell you what you can do?”

Twilight gasped at Dash's flippant attitude about this. Did she really just blaspheme Celestia? Twilight had never heard anyone say something bad about the princess before! She was pretty sure you could get fined for that! Even go to jail if it was bad enough.

“Oh come on!” Dash let her self float on her back and drifted deeper into the water. “You seriously think Celestia's right about everything? And that society is too? They have all kinds of stupid crap they force on you! You honestly think the system is fair?”

Now, Twilight would normally have lectured Dash about this, and she opened her mouth to, but had to stop talking. She remembered what had just happened to her just a few minutes ago. She was about to defend how fair the society that had basically ruined her life moments ago for the sake of some mold was.

Twilight couldn't muster the will to disagree with Dash and had no choice but to shut her mouth and look off into the distance. Maybe it was a little unfair sometimes.

With only her eyes above the water, Pinkie drifted over towards Twilight till she was an inch away and looked up at Twilight with her eyes.

“You suuuure there's nothing you want to tell us?” Pinkie asked. “You look kind of like there is.”

Twilight bit her lip, unsure if she wanted to say it.

“Okay.” Twilight bowed her head and sighed. “It turns out I'm not getting any money for my parents house and now I got a huge bill instead. I honestly don't know how I'm going to keep all my bills paid till I'm done with high school, let alone get through college.”

“Well I'm not sure of the specifics,” said Rarity, “but it may be worth it to challenge whatever caused you to lose the house. As for debts– those can be deferred or renegotiated. If you're really going broke most ponies will settle for something instead of getting nothing.”

“Wha?” Twilight didn't see that one coming. They really could give her financial advice? “Well, maybe, but I don't really know how to do any of that.”

“I'm very good with managing money,” said Rarity. “If you're willing to show me all the papers, I can show you what to do.”

“R-really?” Twilight thought about protesting, at least to be polite, but she really needed help right now. “I mean, if you can help me at all that'd be great! Thank you so much!”

Turned out coming here was a good idea! “Thank you. I-I really.” Twilight's eyes started watering. It really was so unfair, all of it! She tried not to cry. “It's just so much! Was my family dying and having to move here not enough?! Everything is just so terrible right now! I just-!”

Twilight lurched forward and sobbed, trying so hard not to cry. She didn't want to break down in front of everypony, but it was so hard to keep the tears back.

“Ah. Poor Twitwi.” Pinkie popped out from under the water completely. “You know what you need? A hug!”

Pinkie smiled widely and held her forelegs out wide, offering to receive Twilight. Twilight was shocked by this suggestion. Her eyes widened in horror as she stumbled backwards, falling out of the water entirely. How could Pinkie just ask that?

“You can't hug somepony in public!” Twilight gasped.

“Says who?” Dash asked.

“I'm pretty sure like 99% of ponies would think that's inappropriate!”

“Yeah, maybe they do, but 99% of ponies are stupid. Sides, it's not like a secret underground chamber is 'public', Twi.” Dash swept her hoof across the very secluded location.

“Well yeah, but-”

“Have you really never been hugged before?” Pinkie frowned at her. “Poor Twilight! I know what that's like!"

Twilight had been hugged before of course, by her parents. She got hugged by them once a year, on a holiday where it was traditional to hug your foals. Even then it was quick and awkward, something you did to get it over with and shuddered at the thought of. That was how normal ponies hugged. Well, either that or in a very dark room with your spouse, never to mention said hug again.

“Yeah,” said Twilight. “Only with my immediate family, though! I know you three hug each other all the time, but frankly I think it's wrong! You can't hug anypony but your family and even that's pushing it.”

“But we're friends now!” Pinkie just opened her hooves wider. “And friends are just as good as family! Better, I'd say!”

“Friends?”

Twilight had never actually had any friends before. No real friends, anyway, nopony that she'd go and have play dates with and all that.

“Are we friends?” Twilight asked.

]Pinkie nodded. Twilight found herself shifting in place a little. Actual, honest-to-Celstia friends?

“Heh. I know what the real problem is.” Dash snickered. “You'd rather hug Rarity, right?”

Twilight bit down hard on nothing! Why were they so good at silencing her?!

Dash just laugh hysterically. "Hahaha! You're too easy, Twi!”

“Is that it?” Rarity asked playfully. “Do you want me to hug you and make it all better?”

Rarity got out of the water and sauntered over to Twilight. Twilight's mind instantly screamed 'yes'. It was just so wrong, but Twilight really wanted to grab onto Rarity for support. Something deep down told her to, something she knew she was supposed to resist.

“There's nothing wrong with it, dear,” said Rarity. “It wouldn't be tempting if there was no good in it. Go ahead and just say yes.”

Twilight swallowed hard, looking into those beautiful eyes. “Y-yes,” the words drifted out of her mouth.

That was all Rarity needed. She gave Twilight an almost seductive look and came even closer, much closer than before even. Rarity wrapped her forelegs around Twilight and the two of them were pressed together.

Twilight had never done anything this crazy before. Her body stiffened up, becoming stone.

“Relax,” Rarity whispered in her ear.

Rarity rubbed her hoof gently down Twilight's back and made hushing noises. Twilight felt Rarity's heart beating against her chest, something she didn't remember ever feeling in another hug before. She could feel so much strength behind Rarity's grasp, but it was a gentle at the same time. Twilight felt... safe.

Twilight let her shoulders drop just a little.

“There you go.” Rarity nuzzled her forehead. “I bet you feel a lot better now.”

Slowly, bit by bit, Rarity rubbed all the tension out of the hug. This wasn't at all like the other hugs Twilight ever had before. It was just so warm and soft. Maybe the fact that Rarity didn't see it as wrong let Twilight relax as well.

Twilight was drooping into Rarity now, burying her face into Rarity's chest. She felt safe from the world for a moment, everything outside vanished. All that cruelty, Twilight felt like she could hide from it.

“I-it's just not fair!” Twilight sobbed into Rarity's fur.

“No, it isn't.” Rarity gently patted Twilight on the back. “But I'll try to be.”

Twilight sniffed. Rarity just seemed to strong and amazing right then.

“Can I ask why you like me?” Twilight ask. “You could hang out with anypony you want, why a loser like me?”

“Why doIlike you?” Rarity asked. “Well maybe I just like corrupting innocent ponies like you, just as Applejack said. Or maybe...” She stroked Twilight's mane and brought her muzzle up against the other unicorn's. “Maybe I see something wonderful in you,” said Rarity. "Something ponies very rarely have, a certain cleverness, a certain love and curiosity. I think perhaps you're one of those few, few ponies who can come to realize that what she calls corrupt is better than what she calls good.”

“Are you saying corruption is better than goodness?” Twilight pulled away a little.

“Pay more attention, darling.” Rarity patted Twilight on the cheek and pulled away herself.

As soon as Rarity pulled back, Pinkie moved in and glomped onto Twilight from the side.

“If you weren't like that you'd never know the joy of hugging a friend!” Pinkie declare. “And you wouldn't get to eat all that candy or play any of those games! You thought all those things were bad just yesterday, didn't you?"

“Maybe,” said Twilight. “Maybe. I think I'd like it all more if my life wasn't in tatters. Distractions are nice, but that's all they are.”

“I still don't think you understand how good I am. Tomorrow will be a better day for you, darling,” said Rarity, smiling in the light of the fire stones. “In fact, I'm certain of it.”

Chapter 9

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It was noon and once again Twilight was still in bed. She had somehow managed to fall asleep, though not until six in the morning. Much more of this and those three would successfully turn Twilight nocturnal.

Twilight pushed herself out of bed, rubbing the sleepy out of her eyes. Sleeping through the morning and waking up at noon made you hate the sun. The crash wasn't nearly as bad this time, maybe because she had less candy or maybe because she didn't stay up for twenty-four hours straight yesterday. Celestia knew.

The main problem with waking up at noon now was that Twilight was starting work tomorrow and wouldn't be able to sleep from six in the morning till two in the afternoon anymore. As always her friends has a solution to this as well – stay up all night, go to work and then go to sleep. She started work at six in the morning, so she could sleep from two in the afternoon till ten at night and never have to see the sun again.

Just like Luna intended.

Twilight looked at her tired face in the mirror. They really were trying to turn her into a vampire, literally or not. And Twilight was tempted to try it, too. She was so exhausted in so many ways she could probably sleep till after dark. Rarity said she could come over tonight to help with finances if Twilight was still awake...

And then there was a knock at her door. Twilight banged her head against the bathroom sink and moaned. It felt like ages since she'd opened the door to anything other than bad news and really, should she expect this to be any different? Life was just a series of horrible things happening, it seemed. Literally the only good thing in her life right now was the delinquent candy vampires, and even they were sketchy.

Oh how she wished it was one of her new friends, but Twilight knew they slept all day. Twilight braced herself and threw open the door.

Fluttershy was standing on the other side, a basket covered in a blanket in her mouth. Today Twilight learned that Fluttershy did indeed carry stuffed animals with her everywhere. There was a large fox on her head and two more on her back, near the base of each wing. She gave a muffled 'hello' through the basket handle before setting it down and giving Twilight a warm smile.

Twilight had honestly forgotten Fluttershy even existed. Had that seriously only been two days ago? It felt like an eternity.

“Fluttershy!” Twilight was relieved to see her. She was pretty sure that basket didn't have any bad news in it, and at this point an obsession with stuffed animals had become a welcome sort of insanity. “How are you doing?”

“Oh, I'm always doing wonderfully.” Fluttershy put the basket down to talk. “I brought you a few things, just some fruit. You don't mind right.”

“Of course not,” said Twilight. “I would love the company, actually.”

Fluttershy came inside and set the basket down on the table. That fruit would be coming in handy. Twilight needed to save every bit she could now. She pulled the blanket off and it was actually a very expensive looking gift basket. It had a spread of all sorts of fruits as well as chocolates and cheeses.

“Oh, wow! Thanks. This is really nice of you.”

“I, uh, did have something else to say.” Fluttershy carefully placed her fox plushies nearby, as if they were guests at the table too. Then her expression became rather serious for someone who had just set her stuffed animals up for tea. “It's about the dreadstalker. It, uh, got another pony, the night you and me got to Ponyville.”

And then Fluttershy grew quiet for a moment, lowering her head. So it was bad news after all. Twilight felt bad for whoever died, but this new was hardly as crushing as yesterdays. Really, it didn't affect her at all. She already knew there was a monster on the loose.

“And the reason that's important is because he was in his house, in the middle of town when it happened.” Fluttershy opened her eyes again. “That means it isn't a normal dreadstalker, since they wouldn't typically go into town at all. And then add to the fact that I'm having so much trouble finding it... normally I would have already brought it back south by now!”

Twilight's ears perked at that news. This sounded much more pressing on a personal level.

“And, uh, how worried should we be about this?” that seemed like the most important question here.

“Not too much more than you were,” said Fluttershy. “It's mostly just that it's going to take a lot longer to find this animal than normal and that you aren't necessarily safe in town at night, not alone anyway.

“Yeah. I'm not really an expert like you, but it coming up this far north and wading through ponies and streetlights, it sounds like it's sick even to me.” Twilight folded her forelegs and thought about it. “Why are you having so much trouble finding it, though? Shouldn't it be easier to find if its sick or something?”

“The only explanation I have for this is that its got some kind of dark magic implanted in it- that's something that hurts animals a lot and something they don't get better from.” Fluttershy made a small, slight whimpering noise. “That means that I may have to... you know, put it down.”

She looked pretty shaken up about that, too. Fluttershy was probably one of the few ponies in the world compassionate enough to care about the dreadstalker. Twilight almost thought she'd cry for a second, but Fluttershy pulled herself together rather quickly.

“But that's besides the point! I'm supposed to hand out these pamphlets. They're about dreadstalkers.” Fluttershy pulled out an orange pamphlet and put it on the table. “Since it might be a while till we catch it, it'd probably be good that everypony knew more about them. You know, to stay safe. Oh! And normally I put these in the mailbox, so I thought I'd just bring in your mail, too.”

Fluttershy put a few letters on the table and gave Twilight one of those squeak-smiles. That was kind of weird, but then again, Fluttershy was kind of weird.

Twilight noticed the letter on top had red stripes on it and the word 'URGENT'. She also saw that it was labeled as an insurance notice. Her heart sank when she saw that and snatched it off the table with her magic, forgetting Fluttershy was there for a moment.

“You don't mind if I-” Twilight looked back up at Fluttershy.

Fluttershy smiled and prompted her to go ahead and so Twilight tore the letter open. Her eyes tore though the contents as fast as possible to get to the important part.

It had a check for fifty thousand bits in it! Was this for real?!

“Is it bad?” Fluttershy must have noticed Twilight's stunned expression.

“It says it's for my parent's life insurance.” Twilight was still reading the letter over. “It's fifty thousand bits! But I didn't think they had life insurance. That lawyer guy said they didn't.”

She took a moment to study it more carefully. “Clear Living Insurance?” Twilight eyed the letter suspiciously. “I don't think I've ever heard of them before. You don't think this is a scam do you?”

“I actually have insurance with those ponies,” said Fluttershy, “Clear Living Insurance, I mean. I know the company is real at least.”

That much was reassuring. Maybe Twilight was just getting a bit paranoid after all bad luck. Maybe she was jumping straight to the worst case scenario. The letter did look legit and it was entirely possible Twilight had just missed something about her parent's insurance. Celestia knew she was young and didn't know a lot about this stuff.

She combed over it several times for any sign to the contrary, but slowly she began to let herself relax and accept that this thing might just be for real. Twilight couldn't stop a smile from creeping onto her face.

“This is-” Twilight held the note against her chest and smiled, tears in her eyes. “This is exactly what I needed! Now I won't have to get a second job and I can go to school and buy books again! Oh! Thank you so much mom and dad!”

Twilight balled up in excitement, then gave a leap into the air. She was so excited she started to jump around the room, listing off all the horrible things that wouldn't happen to her. Everything was going to be great now! Somewhere in her excitement she remembered Fluttershy was there and that she was making a rather ignoble display in front of her.

“Oh! I'm sorry.” Twilight froze in place and blushed.

“It's okay with me,” said Fluttershy. “I'm just happy you're not going to starve and, uh, all those other things.”

“Yeah.” Twilight plopped back down on the floor, a little exhausted. Excited as she was, she had just woken up. “Of course, I still need to have the bank look over it to be completely sure it's real. But if it is, I really think things are going to work out!”

“Oh, and speaking of things working out, did you make any friends like I suggested?” Fluttershy smiled at Twilight expectantly, like she was asking about her colt friend or something, way to optimistic about getting a positive answer. “Hm?”

Had Twilight made any friends? Those three flashed into her mind immediately, as did the crazy nights she shared with them and most of all the fact Pinkie had called her a friend.

“Well I kind of met these three ponies.” Twilight rubbed the back of her head. “I dunno if we're 'friends' though. I mean, we hung out and I've never done that before, but I'm not sure if we're friends.”

“I think that's good enough to call them your friends.”

“Maybe, but- It's just they're kind of strange.” Twilight looked down at her tea. She was less certain of that than Fluttershy. “They listen to loud music and stay up all night eating candy and they curse and hug each other and... well lots of weird stuff.”

“They aren't pressuring you into doing anything you don't want to, are they?” Fluttershy asked. “Do you want me to talk to them?”

Twilight found the idea of Fluttershy going up against those three to be even more of a mismatch than her going against the dreadstalker. Fluttershy was nice, but – well actually that was exactly why she probably wouldn't be able to stand up to them.

That did raise a good point, though. These ponies were exactly the type those educational films warned about– the kind that use peer pressure. Were they pushing Twilight into all of this deviant behavior? She thought about everything they'd done so far.

“Well, no,” Twilight concluded, somewhat reluctantly. “Really, it's almost the opposite with them. They're constantly saying everything's my choice and I can leave whenever I want. ”

“Do you like doing, um, whatever it is you do with them?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight frowned to herself. That was exactly what she didn't know the answer to.

“It's fun,” Twilight admitted, “but I don't think it's what– well most ponies wouldn't approve of it.”

“Don't tell too many other ponies about this.” Fluttershy looked around, then leaned forward and spoke to Twilight like she was sharing a secret. “I actually have a huge stuffed animal collection. Most ponies think it's really strange for a mare my age to have those and for a long time I used to keep it a secret. I'd run around and hide all of them every time somepony would come over. But eventually I decided it was best to just be myself.”

“I can kind of understand that,” said Twilight. "But I don't know if what they're into is what I really want to be doing.”

“I don't see any harm in finding out,” said Fluttershy.

Twilight yawned. She was tired. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad an idea to give those three a chance. Yeah. Twilight decided to go back to sleep for a few hours once Fluttershy left... until night came.

Chapter 10

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It was seven o'clock at night and Twilight had just finished eating breakfast. That's how you knew you were nocturnal. She was surprised at how easy the change had come to her. Waking up without the sun was difficult at first, but Rarity gave Twilight this self-lighting lamp that made the room bright at any time you set it to, solving Twilight's main problem with her new schedule. And of course, her new friends strongly approved of the change.

Her job was so mind-numbingly boring in comparison with them. She worked in retail, which she didn't like at all. Still, she felt socializing with the girls had really helped the skills she needed for it. Twilight felt much more comfortable talking to strangers after they had forced her out of her shell. So that much was going well, she was actually making money now, although a pitiful amount.

Probably more important than the job was that the check checked out and the money was in her bank! That one check was more than she was going to make in a year at the pony/11 where she worked. And that was before Rarity even stepped in to help with Twilight's finances. Rarity knew so many ways to help Twilight deal with debt and to manage the money she'd inherited. At the end of it all-

Well at the end of it all Twilight felt like she was rolling in money! She could actually spend on luxury goods now, something she feared wouldn't happen for years to come, but Rarity kept warning her not to overestimate her wealth and all that. Rarity gave twilight a strict budget which Twilight kept to religously.

And the best part of having enough money to live was that she got to spend time with her new friends now. Twilight wouldn't be needing a second job after all!

She'd gone out with them every single night for the past three weeks and it seemed as though they had a never ending supply of new wonders to show her. They took her to caves, abandoned buildings, dark places in the woods, and more, to all these dark forbidden places she never would have gone to without them. And everything they showed her was beautiful. Despite everything Twilight knew and felt they were all amazing.

But tonight was different! Tonight Twilight was going to have one of them come to her. Things kept going up and up!

This was such an exciting day for Twilight! She'd never had a friend over to play! Well, not since she was like five or something, but this was her first real play date with a real friend at her actual house! Though, Twilight resolved not to call it a play date, less she sound 'uncool'. Dash had been teaching Twilight all about how to be cool.

But she was also showing Twilight some more questionable things, too. Just the other day, Dash showed Twilight this one song by a band called Nightgaurd. It was one of those songs, a 'metal' song. Everypony knew that newer music was tasteless, vulgar and arouse too much passion in ponies. Celestia had almost considered banning rock and roll once, even. Like candy it was something you were only occasionally supposed to listen to, and even then comparing metal to actual music was like comparing junk food to a five star resturant.

Yet that song filled Twilight with emotion like no other song ever had. Not just the song, but that feeling was stuck in her head, heart and hooves for two days straight. And somehow that was a good thing. It was this uplifting kind of feeling, that gave Twilight a spring in her steps as that 'dununanana' echoed in her head. It made her whole day better, gave her this drive to work hard for Celestia, as the saying went.

Secretly, Twilight went out and bought a record of it and listened to it non-stop for hours! She'd never done that with any other piece of music before in her life, but this one was just different, magical somehow, but she couldn't get enough of this. She had to hear it again and buying the record was less embarrasing than announcing to Dash that she liked that garbage song.

Twilight thought getting a few stares from ponies as she bought the delinquent record was bad enough, but far worse was when Rainbow Dash noticed Twilight humming it to herself under her breath. Twilight tried denying it and insisting that she still loved classical more but – well one thing lead to another and Twilight invited Dash over to her house to listen to some music with her.

To her credit, Dash agreed to give Twilight's music a chance, just like she wanted Twilight to give hers one. They were always consistent with their philosophy, strange as it was.

Twilight was expecting Dash at any moment now and was busy setting up. Actually, she had set up hours and hours ago, meticulously arranging everything for her first visit. Right now she was just making some final touch-ups, making sure the snacks were facing in the exact right direction, that her record player was in the proper spot to the exact inch. And yes, Twilight was bringing out a ruler when she heard a knock at the door.

Twilight's heart skipped a beat and she ran straight to the door. When she got there, Twilight stopped to compose herself, fixed her mane and opened it to find Dash on the other side. Twilight was so excited it was hard to stay still, but she tried to remain calm and collected. Cool.

“Hey!” Twilight leaned against the side of her doorway all cool like. “You're right on time! Well, two minutes and fourteen seconds early, but that's within the range of statistical averages for visits! So-!”

“Remember what I said, right?” Dash laughed. “Just relax. You'll be fine.”

“Er, right!”

And the two of them just stood there for a very awkward ten seconds. Twilight knew it was exactly ten seconds because she was counting the ticks coming from the clock behind her, the loudest thing going on right now.

“So, uh...”

“So are you going to formally invite me inside?” Dash smirked.

“See, this is what I'm talking about,” said Twilight. “You girls always go on talking about how stupid nonsensical formalities are, but then you insist about always getting invited into places! Are you trying to make me think you're a vampire or something?”

“Yeah, probably.” Dash gave a toothy grin. “Messing with you? Sounds like something I'd do! But then again, being a vampire would also explain this perfectly.”

Twilight groaned and rolled her eyes. They teased her on the whole 'vampire' thing a bit more than Twilight wanted them to. She knew it made no sense, but somehow Twilight was never really able to get that thought out of her head. If anypony was a vampire it was definitely Rarity but, you know, nopony was a vampire.

Then she remembered something she had sitting in the window, that Celestia bobble head Applejack gave her. Twilight smiled to herself. Maybe she could have a bit of her own fun.

“Okay.” Twilight thrust the Celestia bobble head at Dash, shaking it in front of her face. “Take this!”

Dash had no reaction to this at first. Then she very slowly shrugged at it. “Welp. Guess I'm dead now,” she said. “But don't go driving a stake through my heart next, thanks.”

The two of them laughed.

“But seriously, if we're gonna hang out you gotta get rid of that thing.” Dash motioned to the bobble head.

“Get rid of it? That's exactly what a v-” Twilight stopped in the middle of her sentence when she saw Dash's smile widen. “You're playing with me, aren't you?”

“Well that and I don't like Celestia, if you haven't gotten that through your head yet,” said Dash. “She's a heartless jerk and tyrant. Garbage like that belongs in the trash.”

“Rainbow Dash! How can you talk about the princess like that?!”

“I dunno! How can Celestia not care about anypony but herself?

“Because she's the only one who's immortal!” Twilight recited the answer. “At the end of the day Celestia's the only pony who matters. Everypony knows that.”

“Ugh! I didn't come here to talk about politics!” Dash put a forehoof on her head in dispair. “But we can at least agree that superstition is dumb, right? I'm surprised you're scared of throwing out a piece of plastic. It's not even a good picture of Celestia.”

Twilight hesitated.

“Well why not, huh?” Dash asked. “It's not like Celestia's gonna know. She probably wouldn't even care if she did.”

“It's just supposed to be bad luck,” said Twilight. “You know, my dad kept a newspaper with Celestias picture on it for five years once because-”

“Because he was brainwashed by the system,” said Dash. “You're supposed to be all logical, right? You realize there's not such thing as 'bad luck'. So it shouldn't be a big deal to you.”

“I'm not brainwashed! And I don't believe in luck, sure, but-” Twilight frowned at the little figurine.

“Oh, or do you still think I'm a vampire?” Dash put a hoof against her cheek and gave Twilight a mockingly cute smile.

“You know, I would probably forget all about this vampire stuff if you didn't constantly bring it up.”

“Hey, I'll give you a hint, Twi,” said Dash. “The way to get us to stop teasing you is to not get so choked up over meaningless stuff like this.”

“I'll tell you what,” said Twilight. “If you come inside without being invited and with the bobble head in the window I'll... I'll throw it out.”

Without hesitation, Dash stepped inside the house. She looked at Twilight, unexploded, with the unamused expression a tired parent gives they're foal after showing them there were no monsters under their bed.

Twilight felt humiliated. Of course Rainbow Dash wasn't a vampire. What was Twilight even thinking?

“S-sorry.”

“No problem.” Dash took off her glasses and tapped them against her temple, smiling with mischief. “But we had a deal, right?”

Twilight looked over at the bobble head, then at the garbage and gulped. She was actually trembling. This was blasphemy! She was being squeezed on two sides, pressure from Celestia and pressure from Dash, but only one of them was actually watching.

Twilight levitated the bobble head and moved it over the garbage. She hovered it over the top of the garbage's flip cover, unable to let go. What would her parents think if they saw her even considering doing this? Still, she took the plunge. She let go of it with her magic and she felt her stomach sink as it fell down and disappeared from view.

She felt a sense of such total defeat in that moment. Dash snatched Twilight up with one of her wings before that feeling lingered for even a second. Twilight blushed heavily. After that night in the graveyard, Twilight got hugged all the time now, with less warning each time. Yet she actually grown to like having her personal space invaded by them. Being wrapped under a pegasus' wing felt great, it was warm and soft, but she would have gone her whole life without feeling it had they not broken her down.

“There ya go!” Dash cheered her on, messing up Twilight's mane with her hoof. “Most ponies are too superstitious to do something like that. 'Oh no! Not the cheap piece of plastic crap! That vaguely resembles our dictator! But I knew you were smart enough to get passed it!”

“Heh. Yeah.” Twilight found herself laughing despite herself. She felt a kind of relief now that that tense moment was over. “I guess getting so worked up over something symbolic is a little silly when you consider it from the outside.”

“Well you can thank me some more for getting you to put that thing where it belongs later, dork.” Dash gave Twilight a little shove, pushing her out from under her wing, before trotting deeper into Twilight's house.

Twilight didn't protest at being called a dork or getting shoved around a little anymore. That was normal too, she'd heard that word so much it just bounced off her and she knew it was meant affectionatly, though she didn't like it like she did hugs. At least not yet...

Slowly easing her in to the corruption. Sometimes Twilight couldn't get Applejack or that book out of her head, but she quickly dismissed the idea. Twilight had just gotten proof none of it wasn't true.

“Oh, and Twi?” Dash backed up a little so she was face to face with Twilight. She took off her glasses and gave Twilight a sinister, toothy smile. “Before you get too cozy, you already invited me inside yesterday, didn't you?”

She said that in the creepiest way possible, enough that Twilight felt a chill. The chill melted away second later as Dash let out a howl of laughter and collapsed back onto Twilight's couch. She laughed in this cheesy 'evil' way that nopony could possibly take seriously. Twilight growled a little.

“Dash! You buc-” Twilight froze. She almost said it!

She didn't want to say any curse words, really! It's just she was around these ponies and their constant cursing! They constantly threw the b-word in front of things for no reason! Sometimes it almost slipped out.

“What was that Twi?” Dash smirked and leaned forward. “Am I a bucking retard? Or a bucking doofus? Or a bucking-?”

“A b-bad prankster.” Twilight made a bit of a derp face and looked away.

“Eh, we'll get you soon enough. You'll be cursing like the rest of us before you know it.” Dash winked. “But for now we're gonna compare music, yeah? That's all I'm trying to get you with tonight!”

Dash opened her bag and took out a half dozen records.

They agreed to let Twilight go first, so she took out one of her own records, assuring Dash that she was starting off slow and working up to the good stuff. In truth, this was the best piece Twilight owned, considered the greatest musical masterpiece in all of history! She just wanted to make sure Dash liked it is all.

The brilliant cords began to fill the room. Dash sat on Twilight's couch, listening to Ancient Overture's fifth opera. Twilight kept nervously glancing back at her, trying to gauge her reaction to the music, sweating so bad you'd think she was the one who wrote the opera.

Twilight was certain that the composed music of the true musical geniuses of history was far superior to modern music, even after hearing that one song Dash showed her. It was simply that she wasn't used to power metal in the way she was used to classical music, Twilight concluded. She had a strong reaction to that the same way she had a strong reaction to caffeine the first time she tried it. Since Dash wasn't used to classical music, Twilight was certain she'd be blown away the moment she heard truly good music!

Dash's reaction didn't seem very positive. She was listening a bit too closely, leaning her ear real close to the speaker, like she was listening to the mad ramblings of some crazed pony as they barfed out sentences that almost made sense but never actually meant anything.

Maybe she just didn't 'get' it. Twilight knew that cultured music wasn't something that the uneducated could just listen to and enjoy. You had to explain the music to them before they could fully appreciate it what with all its nuance.

“See, like this flute here.” Twilight pointed at the record player as the 'toot toot toot' of the flute came through. “This represents the regal heroism of Commander Hurricane. The composer was very bold to put flutes in this, as nopony had ever put flutes in an opera before! It was incredibly revolutionary, giving a strong political message to the democratic nationalists who dominated opera at the time. Oh and listen to this harmonic progression! Pretty great, huh?”

Dash leaned closer to the record player, then shook her head and sat back on the couch. “That's supposed to sound heroic?" she asked. “Sorry, but I honestly don't hear it. Sounds more like the guy's dragging his hooves on the way to work.”

“But it is very emotional! It's just more balanced than the sharp contrasts of modern music! A-and again, it's the harmonic progression that makes music great.”

“You want contrast?” Dash pulled out one of her records and spun it on her hoof. “Kay! I'll show you what 'heroic' sounds like!”

And contrast there was. This record shook the room, blasting the player as loud as it went. Twilight couldn't name all the particular musical cues like in the music she was used to, but she could feel them! It surged up her spine. There was such intense emotion in it, the feeling was right there without having to research it out, it really was heroic.

Way more heroic sounding. Twilight couldn't deny that.

“Way more heroic, huh, Twi?"

“No!” Twilight denied it without thinking.

“Oh come on! How do you like that other stuff better?” Dash was jumping a little in tune with the heavy beat now. “Come on! Jump around with me! It's more fun that way.”

“But like!” Twilight stood still and followed Dash around the room with her eyes. “It's too easy to 'get'! I prefer the intellectual stimulation of the, uh, complexities of the harmonic progressions of the classical music. And all that.”

“Sure ya do!”

Dash kept bobbing her head and pumping her hoof to the music. Twilight needed some restraint to stop from bobbing in time with the music. It was insane how powerful the beat was in Dash's music.

Even hyped up on this music, the nervousness wasn't entirely gone. She'd failed to impress Dash! Twilight had been so sure that the classical music would blow her away, but if anything the opposite was true.

“I guess maybe we just have different tastes in music,” Twilight assured herself. “That's okay, right? I mean, you wouldn't be mad at me or anything if I liked different music, right?”

Dash laughed wildly and hit Twilight's back a few times. She stopped laughing when she saw how nervous Twilight still was.

“You're being serious aren't you.” Dash leaned against the back of the couch again. “Hey, I'd be a total bucking hypocrite if I told you what kind of music to listen to. You wanna listen to that boring crap go right ahead!”

“But w-we're still friends even if I like different music, right?!” Twilight jumped up onto the couch with her front hooves. She really didn't want to lose her only friends over something like this.

Dash patted Twilight on the head a few time and gave a roll of her eyes. “Sheesh! Relax already!” She gave Twilight a little shove, pushing her off her own couch. “We like you, okay? You don't gotta freak out over everything. Just be cool. Like me!”

Right! Cool! According to Twilight's reading worrying too much and trying too hard could easily ruin a friendship. That was certainly one of her main problems.

Twilight sat down and crossed her forelegs, imitating a pose she'd seen from Rainbow Dash plenty of times.

“There.” Twilight smirked and raised one of her eyebrows. “Cool.”

“Man, even sometimes I gotta admit you're adorable!” Dash laughed and jumped off Twilight's couch. “But seriously, Twi, we both know you like rock and roll better than that old stuff! I can smell it.”

“What? No!” Twilight shook her head a bit too fast. “I honestly just think there's more genius in the composition of the classics! Really!”

“Hey, whatever you say! But you'll feel a lot better once you admit to yourself that you like power metal now.”

Twilight tried to avoid eye-contact with Dash. The main problem here was that Dash was right and Twilight knew it. Twilight just wished Dash wasn't right. She wished those three would be wrong about something even just once.

She felt like she was constantly resisting all these new feelings. Just like Dash said, it was a huge relief any time she did give in, like a burden had been lifted from her.

Like, whenever they were right about something, which was pretty much always, Twilight got this intellectual stress, where she'd know she was clutching at straws and bringing up logical fallacies and bad evidence. That stress just stuck with her until she finally gave up and admitted the others were right. And it wasn't just the feeling of not having to struggle and be wrong that Twilight enjoyed, but what they replaced it with, too.

Hugs, candy, staying up all night with her friends, talking about intellectual stuff – these were some of the best things she had! Sure it was awkward at first, but as Twilight relaxed and let it become normal these things became better and better. That's how it was, the more she relaxed and accepted things the better she felt.

Rainbow Dash wanted Twilight to listen to crazy music and watch violent movies with her. Rarity wanted Twilight to get spiky hair and read seditious books. Pinkie wanted Twilight to start cursing, rough-housing and displaying affection in public like she just didn't care. In every area, Twilight got that feeling of resistance, like she was holding her breath. Some part of her deep down knew she wouldn't be able to resist forever, she'd need to take a breath eventually. And once she did, Twilight would be a completely different pony.

The two of them listened to a lot more music that night, but through it all Twilight never mentioned her true feelings, only resisted them.

Chapter 11

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Later that night, so late it was early, Rainbow Dash and Twilight were trotting off towards town. This was how Twilight usually found the others when she wanted to see them but didn't have any plans. If she just started walking around at night, Pinkie would always, always find her before long.

Tonight was no different. Pinkie jumped out of the bushes and yelled in Twilight's face. “Invisible pink dreadstalker!” Pinkie shouted.

Like a normal pony, Twilight let out a yelp and fell back, while Pinkie laughed and laughed.

“Oh, Twilight!” Pinkie whipped a tear from her eye. “How can something invisible be pink? I can't believe you fell for that one.”

That was how Pinkie typically 'found' Twilight. It was an annoying habit to be sure, but Twilight was starting to get used to it. She vowed not to fall for that the next time.

Pinkie's uncanny ability to just appear whenver you wanted her was typically useful, at least. Honestly, even the other two seemed perplexed by Pinkie's stealth.

Rarity wasn't far behind, as usual. She came up much more slowly, walking with great dignity, a smile of controlled exctiment on her face. Twilight couldn't help but smile back, it was hard not to smile whenever Rarity showed up. Rarity was fun, there was no way Twilight could deny that.

She nodded at Twilight, then came up close to Rainbow Dash, looked into her eyes and gave Dash a kiss on the nose. Twilight's smile weakened just a little. She's seen Dash and Rarity kiss before, but they did it sparingly and everytime they did it made Twilight uncomfortable, or maybe just a little sad. Twilight tried to ignore the feeling.

“It's nice having some alone time with Pinkie, but I always miss you.” Rarity put her forhead against Dash's. “You know how lonely I get without both of you around."

“Aw, you get mushy too fast.” Dash pulled away from Rarity and put her sunglasses on. “What'd the two of you do, anyway?”

“I don't think I can tell you in front of Twilight.” Rarity winked.

She plucked Pinkie up with her magic and pulled her over. Pinkie was breifly disoriented for a moment before Rarity managed to snatch her up with her hooves instead. Dash stepped back to give them some space.

It took Twilight a while to piece together what these three actually had going on, since Twilight always felt it too awkward to ask outright. They weren't really in a three-way relationship, like she originally thought. It was more like Rarity had two girlfriends, the other two were romantic with Rarity but not each other.

Though even then, Twilight wasn't sure that was entirely accurate, just as close as she could get. They were all very touchy feely with each other, but that didn't seem to be necessarily a romantic thing. Rarity had gone on a 'date' with each of them since Twilight met her, so there was obviously something there, unless dating was completely platonic to them as well. Couple that with the fact that Rainbow Dash and Pinkie seemed perfectly fine with Rarity having a girlfriend in addition to them and it all shorted out Twilight's brain just a little.

Twilight had a small frown now as she watched Rarity cuddled Pinkie pretty hard, rubbing her muzzle against Pinkie's chest, Pinkie laughing. That somewhat lonely feeling got worse. She creeped her way over to Dash's side.

“Dash?” Twilight looked at Dash through the corner of her eyes instead of facing her. “Don't you ever, um, you know, get jealous? When Rarity is like that with Pinkie, I mean.”

“Jealous? Of what?” Dash asked. “It's not like you can only kiss somepony twenty times and then you run out.”

“Well aren't you, uh.” Twilight hesitated. It was awkward, but she avoided asking this question for too long. “Aren't you Rarity's girlfriend or something? I mean, I just assumed since- I could be wrong but, you know- You three act weird and I don't get what you are.”

“Oh, Twilight.” Rarity finished hugging Pinkie at the worst possible time and came closer to Twilight again. “Relationships aren't these neat little things that you can give names to. There's no reason to shove yourself into roles imagined by society like 'lover' or 'sister' or 'friend'. Rainbow Dash and I can be all of those things at once.”

“But yes!” Pinkie blurted out. “We're both madly in love with Rarity!”

“Well I'm not going to give you a hard time about it,” said Twilight. She knew if she tried Rarity would just run circles around her in argument and Twilight would be forced to admit there was nothing wrong with it. “I guess I just don't understand. Neither of you have a problem with Rarity dating another pony besides you? I mean, I've never been in love but I'm sure if I was I'd be very jealous over this sort of thing.”

“What do you mean 'if'?” Dash snickered. “I bet you're the jealous one. You probably wish you could be Rarity's girlfriend.”

“What?!” Twilight staggered back several steps. “No! I'm straight!”

“Oh man!” Dash laughed. “You're so obvious, Twi!”

“Are you feeling left out, dear?” Rarity smiled at Twilight. “You know, I bet you'd feel a lot better if I took you out to dinner and brought you back home with me. Maybe if you begged nicely enough-”

“No! Absolutely not!” Twilight threw up her hooves in an X. “I just said I was straight! And I get enough physical contact as it is! Too much, even!”

“Well you know,” Pinkie leaned in to Twilight. “You can hug more than one pony at a time.”

“What? No you can't!”

“I found a way,” Pinkie insisted. “I call it a 'group hug'! You want to give it a try?"

Group hug? It was like they were constantly finding new ways to unnerve Twilight.

“That's too far even for me, Pinkie.” Twilight pulled away. “This is getting out of hoof. Anyway, I gotta get to work. Guess I'll see you later.

“Don't forget we're going with you. The sun isn't up yet,” said Rarity, “and I'm not going to let you put yourself in danger by walking around alone. Dreadstalker and all.”

Twilight nodded. In some ways it was a little embarrassing, needing to be escorted to work every day, but it was for the best. Besides, Twilight enjoyed chatting with them on the way.

“And don't think I'm gonna let you be lonely!” Pinkie jumped to Twilight's side and pressed up against her. “Don't worry, I'm not giving you any personal space until we get there.”

And Pinkie stayed at Twilight's side, close enough they were touching, the whole way. It wasn't like Twilight could stop her, Pinkie's attempts to slowly erode Twilight's sense of personal space was going well, it was just that Twilight couldn't help but wish it was Rarity next to her as they went.

Before going, Rarity came two inches in front of Twilight and wrapped a forleg around the back of Twilight's neck. She moved in ever so slowly, lips slightly apart, her mouth coming closer and closer to Twilight's. She was leaning in for a kiss! Twilight froze, unsure if she should stop it or not.

Then Rarity kissed her own hoof, and blew Twilight a point blank kiss. Without another word, Rarity trotted away, giggling.

Talk about mixed messages. Twilight sighed and went into the Pony/11. Now Rarity was going to be stuck in her head all day again, probably exactly what that mare wanted. Sometimes Twilight felt like Rarity was trying to turn her into a lesbian or something.

Twilight tried to change her mind, so she could focus on work if nothing else. Another thing stuck in her head was the music Dash had shown her, so she hummed a little tune as she came into work. Another one of her coworkers was punching in just then too, rubbing her sleepy eyes and yawning, while Twilight wasn't the least bit tired. Her coworkers were always so sluggish and slow when they first got in. Daywalkers, you know?

She was supposed to get there an hour before the store actually opened every day to get things in order. Today a bunch of decorations for Nightmare Night had arrived and Twilight was tasked with putting them up. The manager had taken notice of Twilight's knack for organization and relatively high amounts of energy, so she was always given these kinds of tasks.

So things were going as well as they could for a low-end job. Still, the work here was mind-numbingly bland, Twilight had actually grown to like it when somepony crazy showed up just to break the monotony, and crazy ponies did show up from time to time. But for the most part, nothing actually happened. It was boring, really horrible boring, especially when you compared it to the crazy nights before.

And then Applejack showed up.

Applejack was the bane of Twilight's existence! Well, no that was too strong, but she was annoying. She was always showing up, criticizing every new thing Twilight tried, always talking about vampires, warning Twilight about all the horrible things Rarity would do to her one day.

Oh, and she was always telling Twilight she wasn't good enough to hang out with those three. Twilight wasn't sure if that was true or not, to be honest, but she still felt like Applejack shouldn't rub it in so much. Twilight was trying to be more confident, you know? She didn't want constant reminders of how terrible she was.

“What do you want, Applejack?” Twilight moaned and shoved a plastic bat onto its shelf a bit more harshly than the poor bat deserved.

“Dropping off some apples.” Applejack raised an eyebrow and motioned to a cart sitting outside, then took a sales form “You know? Same thing I always do.”

Same thing she always did. Twilight decided to start a little game with herself, one called 'how long till Applejack starts complaining about vampires and every little thing Twilight did?' The title could use some work, granted.

“You're sure you don't have any complaints about me today? Hm?” Twilight shoved the remaing bats onto the shelf and moved on to the cheap, plastic spiders.

“I got a job, too,” said Applejack. “Though now that you mention it, yeah. That little 'tune' you were humming was rock and roll, right? That stuff leads ponies to kill, Twilight.”

“It does not! Argh!” Twilight snatched the sales form from Applejack and started filling it out as fast as she could. “Just leave it next to the other boxes and go.”

Applejack brought the apples inside and left them next to the boxes of Nightmare Night stuff like Twilght asked. She carefully eyed the boxes with a curious surprise.

“Nightmare Night stuff?” Applejack raised an eyebrow. “But it's the first of August! That's a bit too early in my opinion. Guess I'll have to start extra early this year, too.”

“You celebrate Nightmare Night?” Twilight looked up from her paper in surprise. “You don't think it's like Nightmare Moon's birthday or something?”

“Only ignorant ponies think that. I know it really commemorates Princess Celestia's triumph over her wicked sister! Shoot, we love Nightmare Night so much that me and my family always run a haunted corn maze every year,” said Applejack. “It's the best time you can have on Nightmare Night here in Ponyville.”

“I always wanted to try one of those,” said Twilight, “but my parents always said they were too spooky for me.”

“Well you're on your own now. Nothing stopping you from going to as many haunted corn mazes as you want,” said Applejack. “Cept maybe that there's only the one in Ponyville.”

Nightmare Night. With friends! Twilight couldn't help but smile.

“I can't wait for this years Nightmare Night! This will be the first time I get to have real non-parental friends for once!” Twilight threw one of the spiders up in the air and grabbed it on its way down, locking it in a tight hug. “I bet those three love Nightmare Night, what with their love of dark stuff. Oh! We're going to go to haunted houses and Nightmare Nighting and we can tell ghost stories and watch scary movies like Ghost Slide! I can't remember the last time I was this excited for a holiday that's three months away!”

“Nightmare Nighting? Ghost Slide?” Applejack cringed. “How old are you again? Cause I'm pretty sure Ghost Slide is for little fillies.”

“I guess it sort of is, but even though it's rated G my parents would never let me see it cause it has a ghost in it.” Twilight blushed a little. “You know, now that I'm on my own, sometimes I feel like maybe I was just a little bit over-sheltered.”

“Fine, I get that you were a little bit smothered. But you gotta grow up now and leave kids stuff like cartoons behind,” said Applejack.

“Pinkie says there's nothing wrong with liking 'kid's stuff' and that it's not the same as acting like a foal. It's perfectly okay for me to watch cartoons or go Nightmare Nighting if I want to because society just arbitrarily decided those things were only for foals.”

Applejack groaned and rubbed her face into her hoof. “Pinkie is a delinquent and a hedonist,” she said. “And – I know you don't like talking about this, but how can you not see that your 'friends' are just-?”

“There's no such thing as vampires!” Twilight slammed one of the boxes down. “Will you just stop it with that already?”

“Look, let's just pretend those three aren't even vampires for a second,” said Applejack.

“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea,” said Twilight, “except instead of a second lets make it fifty years, okay?”

“Even then,” Applejack continued, ignoring Twilight, “they're still manipulating you. Do you really not get that Rarity is just using you?”

“Using me? What makes you think that?”

“Like what makes you think they'd even want to hang out with you, huh?” Applejack asked. “Some shy, nerdy type with no social skills rolls up into town and they want to shower you with attention, hang around you every night, spend all this time slowly bringing you out of your shell? I get why you act like a filly, but you really think those three are the understanding type? That they'd waste their time on somepony like you?”

“That's kind of rude.” Twilight blew some air out of her nose. “But yeah, I asked them that same thing. They said that I'm open minded and intelligent enough to give them and their, uh, activities a chance. And I am! That's what makes me 'cool', for your information.”

“Asking questions isn't gonna get anypony anywhere. All it does is undermine the harmony of society.”

“See?” Twilight raised her chin. “And that's why you don't get to hang out with Rarity! Because you're not cool like I am.”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Okay, well if I'm such a loser then why would they bother with me at all, huh? I'm sure they could get a pony a hundred times better than me.”

“That's not what I meant. Maybe that came out a bit harsh, but-”

“Answer the question!”

“The fact that you're vulnerable,” said Applejack. “You ain't got nopony or nothing! Same as Pinkie was. All Rarity needs to do is waltz on over, give you the least bit of attention and next thing you know you're eating out of her hooves, completely dependent on her for all your love! And that's exactly how it is, ain't it? You stay out all night with them, far away from other ponies, laughing the night away about how stuck in our ways the rest of us are.”

“Maybe I am spending a lot of time with them, but it's not like they're keeping me away from my other friends,” Twilight grumbled. “I didn't even have any before them.”

Applejack looked down at the ground, momentarily distraught. “Well, hey! You can go out and make other friends, right? Ones who won't be a bad influence on you! Not to mention won't turn you into a mindless puppet. In fact, If you want you can come over to my place for supper tonight! If it'd stop you from turning into a vampire then I'd be glad to-”

“Oh? But I thought I was so boring and socially inept that nopony would ever want to be my friend!” Twilight turned back to her spiders, shelving them rapidly as she spoke. “That's the entire premise of your argument. By your own logic you must be a vampire trying to suck my blood too. What are you trying to get out of me?”

“All I want is for there to not be a fourth blood-sucking, homicidal maniac in town.”

“Well then maybe you should be over at the law offices instead.” Twilight smirked.

Applejack stared at Twilight like she had just started speaking in an entirely different language.

“Cause like- lawyers! They're blood-” Twilight blushed and quickly turned away from Applejack, back to her boxes. “Look! I'm still a cool pony in training, okay? I already have plans for tonight, plans with my friends. You got your form signed so just go back to your job, okay? Please?”

“Fine, but let me just ask you one more thing,” said Applejack. “Don't you think its suspicious nopony's seen this dreadstalker that's been terrorizing the town? Why do you think that is?”

“Um, maybe because dreadstalkers are invisible? That's literally what the word means, you know. Nopony has ever seen a live dreadstalker so chances are they won't see this one either. What are you, retar-”

Twilight's heart stopped beating. She almost cursed, in public, in front of Applejack. It was bad enough when she almost swore in front of her friends, but in front of other ponies it was like being caught in public with your socks on!

“What did you just say?” Applejack narrowed her eyes. Whatever she was about to say about the dreadstalker was already forgotten.

“I didn't say it!” Twilight turned in some other direction.

“You almost did.” Applejack forced her way into Twilight's view. “You really don't see what a bad influence those ponies are? They have you nearly cursing yourself without even meaning to!”

“Well-!”

“Well what?”

Twilight choked on nothing. She didn't have an answer to that. There were some things about hanging out with those three that Twilight honestly wasn't comfortable with and this was one of them. Applejack had a point. Twilight hated it when other ponies had a point, which was far too often these days. She was used to it with Rarity, but not with Applejack. That pobably meant something.

“Look, I got a lot of Nightmare Night stuff to organize!” Twilight focused all of her effort on taking plastic skulls out from a box and stacking them neatly on the rack.

“Even if you don't want to spend time with me, spend time with somepony else. Anypony other than those three. There's plenty of ponies in this town your age! Ones who won't make you curse like it ain't nothing, and believe me that's still just the start, Twilight.”

Twilight didn't turn around to look at Applejack, instead focusing on her plastic skulls. Applejack must have felt the point was made, because a moment later Twilight heard the door open and close. Twilight let out a sigh of relief, but truth be told her mind was anything but at ease.

Maybe Twilight was growing sour on Applejack in general, but she did have a point. Twilight liked her friends, but they were... maybe a bad influence in some ways. There was no reason Twilight couldn't have other friends besides them, friends that might be a bit more moral, who wouldn't curse or question the princess.

And she did have options, too! Rarity had introduced her to several ponies during that party on Twilight's first night. Actually a lot of those ponies would be going to school with her in a few months. It might be a good idea to go talk to some of them either way.

She thought back and tried to remember their names, but forgot most of them. Had it seriously only been a few weeks? It felt like that happened to Twilight in a past life or something. Twilight did remember Thunderlane, at least. She had his address written down somewhere in her house, too.

But was she seriously going to go over to a colt's house and just knock on the door? A thrill of excitement ran down Twilight's spine. Yes! These past weeks had been good in some ways, at least. Twilight wasn't nearly as scared about talking to ponies now. She was much more bold than the old Twilight who would have just shouted 'nope' and locked herself inside at the thought of it.

With that resolve, Twilight went looking for his address.

Chapter 12

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Twilight walked up to Thunderlane's house. At least, she hoped it was his house. If it wasn't – well Twilight had played ding-dong-ditch enough times to know what to do in that situation.

So she took note of the best escape route, braced herself and knocked on the door. She still didn't know exactly what she'd say if and when he answered. Hopefully it wouldn't be too stupid. Twilight felt a lot more confident in her social skills now, so this shouldn't be too hard!

Thunderlane answered just moments later. Suddenly all of that confidence faltered. For a very brief moment, Twilight was back to her old self, the Twilight that couldn't approach another pony on her own, didn't really even want to. She got a sudden urge to just turn tail and bolt, but no, she had to be brave, just like her friends taught her to be.

“Hey, Thunderlane. Do you remember me?” Twilight just blurted the words out. She smiled and pointed to herself.

Thunderlane stared at Twilight for a moment, clearly not remembering her. It made sense, they hadn't spoken in like a month.

“Oh!” Realization suddenly came to his face. “You're, uh Sunset Shimmer, right?”

“Twilight Sparkle. We met at the party! Rarity, erm, ordered you to dance with me?” That did sound a little awkward when you said it out loud. Twilight swallowed hard and continued on, scraping the ground with her hoof between every word. “I was, um, wondering if, uh, maybe you wanted to maybe do something? Or something?”

“You mean like with Rarity?” Thunderlane asked. “I dunno. I'll go to one of you guys' parties but going out alone with you four is-”

“Us four?” Twilight blinked.

“Everypony says you've been hanging around them a lot is all.” Thunderlane shrugged. “I figured they let you into the gang.”

Twilight smiled. She did like the thought that she was part of the 'gang', it gave her this warm kind of feeling to know she was seen as part of something. But then here she was, trying to not get sucked into said gang. And the smile faded at that thought.

“And like, no offense, but I don't want to get involved with any gangs, or be around all that swearing.” Thunderlane shook his head. “And honestly I have no idea how you manage to stay up every night without collapsing, or not get sick from all that candy. So like, no offense, but no thanks.”

“Actually I was thinking maybe I could do something with you, but not Rarity and the others?” Twilight asked. “Like just the two of us. Alone.”

“Like a date?” Thunderlane raised an eyebrow.

Twilight blushed heavily. Of course that's what it would look like! How did Twilight not realize that's what it would look like? She tried to say something, but the words turned to 'dyuh's on her toungue.

“I kind of recently hooked up with Raindrops, actually,” said Thunder.

“Oh good!” Twilight let out a sigh of relief.

Thunderlane's look just kept getting more perplexed.

“I didn't mean to ask you out,” said Twilight. “I just wanted to hang out with somepony other than those three.”

“Ah. They finally got to you, huh?” Thunderlane chuckled to himself. “Like I said, they throw great parties, but you don't really want to hang around them too much. I guess you noticed they're uh, not good company, yeah?”

Twilight didn't want to answer that. Her first instinct was to defend them, that's what she did when Applejack badmouthed them, but again she remembered that the whole reason she came here was because she was worried they were a bad influence. Instead she just frowned at her whole situation.

“I've got a couple of ponies over right now,” said Thunderlane. “If you wanna come in that's fine with me!”

“Yeah thanks!” Twilight nodded and followed him inside.

Turned out it was just Thunderlane and two other mares, both pegasi.

“Hey.” Thunderlane gestured over to Twilight. “This is Twilight, dunno if you remember her. It's alright if she hangs with us, right?”

“Sure,” said Raindrops. Twilight recognized that one. “And yeah, I remember you! I heard you fell in with Rarity's crowd, though.”

“Yeah,” said Thunderlane, “but she realized they weren't really the right crowd. She decided she'd rather hang out with normal ponies.”

Twilight didn't remember going that far with it.

“I can understand that. What were they making you do?” Raindrops asked.

“They weren't really making me do anything,” said Twilight. “We'd just listen to music, go see cool places, talk about philosophy and books and stuff. You know, try a bunch of new things.”

“Yeah.” Raindrops nodded knowingly. “That sounds like their normal tricks. Sometimes they try to make you do that kind of stuff. Those three are pretty sketchy if you ask me.”

Sketchy? Well maybe they were a little. From the sound of it, they did occasionally invite other ponies over like they did Twilight. They did it with Pinkie Pie, if nothing else. Twilight had never bothered getting a third party perspective on what happened with Pinkie. She trusted Rarity over Applejack, but still wanted to be absolutely sure.

“Can I ask you something about them?” Twilight asked. “It's just that I heard a rumor that they convinced Pinkie to run away from home and-”

Thunderlane chuckled.“Nah. Pinkie didn't need anyone to convince her to run away from home,” he said. “She used to do that all the time! She'd ask people if she could live in their tree houses, always wanted to have a sleepover, and stuff like that. It happened so often that it became a sort of joke among the other kids.”

“Other kids? Did you go to school with Pinkie?”

“I used to go to school with Pinkie, sure,” said Thunderlane. “She used to run away from home from time to time and be absent from school for a while, but the police or whoever would always bring her back to her parents. Well, that's what I heard anyway, never really knew her too well, you know? Anyway, I guess there's an age where they won't bring you back to your parents anymore and I think she ended up homeless for a couple months or something.”

“I remember there was this whole thing with her living under the bridge on the edge of town,” said Raindrops. “A bunch of ponies wanted to run her out of town or something. But then I guess Rarity adopted her or whatever. Never saw her without those other two after that."

Well that all but confirmed that Applejack had been out and out lying to Twilight. It was a bit of a relief to know that her new friends weren't nearly that sinister, though.

“Heh. You know Applejack was pegging them as some kind of cult,” said Twilight. “Guess that was nonsense though, right?”

“Well actually, there are some rumors going on about them,” said Thunderlane. “There's some suspicious, mysterious things going on with those three. Some ponies say, and with good reason mind you, that those three are, you know...” Thunderlane glanced both ways and leaned forward to whisper the word in Twilight's ear, as if he were about to pass on dire information. Maybe it wasn't just Applejack who suspected them, then. “Lesbians,” he whispered.

Twilight staggered back. She was not expecting to hear that! “W-what?”

“Think about it,” he said. “They're all touchy feely with each other and they never hang out with any colts. Heck, ask any colt in town and they'll tell you those three are the prettiest mares in town, no offense, but not one of them has a coltfriend. Very suspicious if you ask me.”

“Well I can pretty much confirm they're lesbians,” said Twilight, “but it's not like there's anything wrong with that! Even Celestia says some ponies are just born that way.”

“Sure,” said Raindrops. “I'm absolutely okay with it, I just need to keep track of who's dating who, you know? It's an obsession of mine! Oh! But which one's of them are dating, hm? It sounded like you knew!”

The correct answer to that was that Pinkie and Rainbow Dash were both dating Rarity. Twilight knew that was something they'd have a problem with, though. Even Twilight had a problem with it at first. She may have gotten used to their weird relationship, but was still embarrased to bring it up, knowing there'd be backlash against it.

“Rainbow Dash and Rarity are like a couple,” Twilight said. That was technically true.

“Opposites,” said Thunderlane.

“Oh? And what about Pinkie? Was she hitting on you?” Raindrops asked.

“No,” said Twilight, “I just, uh, get the feeling she's a lesbian. It's gaydar, you know?”

“Well you know who else I think is gay?” Raindrops asked the others. “Bramble.”

Twilight didn't know who bramble was. To her dismay, the conversation went down a path Twilight couldn't follow, knowing only like five of the ponies in this town. Twilight really had no idea who or what they were talking about for a solid half hour. They just went on and on about rumors about all the other ponies in town. They sure liked to gossip.

Maybe if Twilight committed to it, she would be able to follow what they were saying, but even then she didn't care too much for hearing about everypony's secrets and all that. So that was two reasons she didn't say anything for what was almost an hour now.

And as they kept talking, Twilight picked up more and more little things about them that irked her. Like every now and then one of them would say something like-

“I just love strawberries so much.” Raindrops or whoever would say, but with no real emotion.

It was hard to pinpoint, but the way they said it just sounded so fake, so inauthentic compared to how she'd gotten used to the others acting. It almost made her want to cringe.

They were boring. Twilight came to that realization. This whole thing was boring! Even more boring than her job! Twilight was starting to get annoyed at how boring it was, really. She could be asleep right now, you know.

But she remembered something Pinkie said. If you were bored then it was partially your fault, because you weren't trying hard enough to have fun. You have to put effort and passion into it! That was the only way you'd have fun, and if you didn't you'd end up being inauthentic.

Maybe she just needed to turn the subject away from gossip.

“Uh, hey!” Twilight blurted out a bit suddenly. Maybe too suddenly, as they were all looking at her now. But then again, that was what she wanted. “So uh, Raindrops, what are you into?”

“Ah, you know.” Raindrops shrugged.

“No I don't. That's why I asked.” Twilight chuckled and so did Raindrops, probably for different reasons. “Like, do you read?”

“Not really.”

“Really? Not even Daring Do? It's really popular these days!”

“No.” Raindrops shook her head. “But I guess I heard of it.”

“Oh, but I think Clear Skies is really into those.” Thunderlane tipped his drink in the other pegasus mare's direction.

“It's true, I'm such a nerd.” and she laughed. “I've seen both of the movies.”

The movies? Well that was good enough! Twilight could talk about Daring Do for hours even with just that much. Time to impress Clear Skies with her encyclopedic knowledge of the books!

“Ah, well did you hear that theory that Ahuizotl is actually a chimera created by Underdrome labs?” Twilight knew she'd get a kick out of that one.

“Owi-who?” Clear Skies raised her eyebrow.

“Ahuizotl! He was- he was like the main villain of the first movie!” Twilight stared in disbelief.

“Oh. That pegasus guy?”

“No! That was Caballeron! Ahuizotl was like the monster thing!”

Clear Skies had to think about it for a moment. “Oh yeah. I think I remember that thing.”

“You think? But he was like, a huge part of the movie. How do you not remember him if you're a huge fan of it?”

“I guess I'm not that much of a nerd.” Clear Skies rolled her eyes. “Seriously, who'd read a book instead of just going to the movie?”

“Yeah, looks like now Twilight's the biggest nerd here,” said Thunderlane.

They all laughed, possibly at Twilight, she wasn't sure. Her heart started beating faster again.

Was their something wrong with Clear Skies? Was she stupid? But then they were treating her like she was the normal one here. Twilight decided there was no hope for that pony. None at all.

“Okay, well do you like music?” Twilight asked Raindrops instead.

“I listen to it, but I'm not really 'into' music.”

“What about sports?” Twilight asked. “Or art or, uh, crossword puzzles?”

Just one subject! One thing and Twilight would be able to have an actual conversation with this pony. She knew enough about everything that it didn't even matter what subject it was!

“Nope.” Raindrops laughed. “I'm just kind of normal, you know?”

Normal?

“Well there has to be something you're interested in.” Twilight's laugh was just a little unhinged that time. “History, math, science, anything?”

“I don't know anything about history or science and honestly I don't want to!” Raindrops snickered.

Thunderlane made sounds of agreement and pumped his hoof in the air. “Yeah, me neither. Like seriously. DNA? Planets? Who cares, am I right? It's not like any of that is actually useful.”

“Basically what I know about history, literature, math and all that is exactly nothing!” Clear Skies said with a proud smirk. “The number zero is all I need to get out of math, you know to count up to how much I care about all that 'book smarts'. Yeah, I'll take common sense instead, thanks!”

And then they laughed. Were they proud of their ignorance?! Twilight bit her tongue and trotted away. That was the end of that conversation.

Still, Twilight resolved not to give up that easily.

“Hey, how about we do something?” Twilight looked around for any sense of interest.

“We're already hanging out," Raindrops shrugged.

“No, like play a game or something.”

“A game?” Thunderlane gave Twilight a painful look. “We're not foals, Twilight. We don't play games.”

“Well we could play like an adult game.” The others just scoffed at that idea. “No, really! There's lots of games that are fun! And even if you don't want to play a game there's so many other things we could do. Don't any of you want to try something new? Like, how will you know you don't like playing a game unless you try it?”

“Sheesh, you really have been hanging around those three a lot.” Thunderlane shook his head. Twilight could tell he was getting annoyed with this. “Look, even if we did want to play tag or something – it's just not something adults do, okay? It's too kiddy!”

“Well maybe there's nothing wrong with being a little bit like them,” said Twilight. “Maybe they do go too far on some things, but they still have a lot of good ideas! Like, who says we need to put ourselves in these boxes, deciding what we do based on our demographic? Huh?”

“Celestia? I'm pretty sure Celestia wants us in those 'boxes'.” Clear Skies snarked. “What's your problem anyway? We were having a great time till you decided to bring all this up!”

“My problem?! Well Celestia doesn't have to be right about everything! And we don't necessarily have to do what she wants us to. Right?”

That line they didn't like. One of them glared at her, one of them shook their head in disgust and the other covered their face with their hoof in disappointment.

“See,” said Raindrops, “this is why we don't normally let your little gang around us. Rarity and the others are freaks who like acting like little kids and breaking the rules for no reason. And if you're like them, then you're bad news.”

“Well they're a lot more fun than you! And nicer too! And smarter and they even smell better! I think they're right to question Celestia because otherwise you end up like, well like you!”

“I think maybe you should go, Twilight,” said Thunderlane.

“Yeah?” Twilight stood up. “Well you can't think I should go because I'm already going!” And with that she started marching towards the door.

“That doesn't make any sense!” Thunderlane called after her. All the other mares laughed at that for some reason.

“Hey, look! I'm still doing my coolness training, okay?!” Twilight threw the door open and turned around to face the other ponies. “But next time you get a comeback from me you're all gonna be like 'oh snap'.”

And then Twilight slammed the door shut on them all. She wished she'd been just slightly faster, though, as she heard even more laughter just before closing those ponies off.

Whelp! One bridge burned. Good riddance, though.

You know, this was probably the real reason Twilight was never interested in making friends. She just never met the right type till coming to Ponyville. 'Normal' ponies were not the kind she liked hanging around with, that was true back then and it was true now.

Twilight was glad she came here if only because it made her realize that. It was so obvious! Your average pony was just so boring and dense. She needed the excitement and challenge that Rarity and her gang gave her. That was where Twilight belonged and that was where she'd go instead of wasting her time here.

And she was supposed to go meet them in the woods tonight. There was no way Twilight was going to miss that now. But first there was something she needed to get.

Chapter 13

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Twilight trotted deeper into the forest, through the fog and darkness. It was close to midnight and she was all alone in a darkness so thick she could only see a few feet in front of her face. This was something that a normal pony wouldn't do, but Twilight had become fearless towards the dark, comfortable even. It didn't matter if she was alone.

There was one small thing she was worried about, but it was something she had largely grown used to as well. That dreadstalker still hadn't been caught. That thing was like the most elusive spider in history or something. Being alone in the woods was not a good idea.

That was why they were supposed to meet up just a tiny little bit into the woods before going deeper together. Dreadstalkers didn't attack groups of ponies, they only attacked you when you were all alone. Kind of like how Twilight was now.

For some reason, her friends weren't by the rock they were supposed to be by. All she found next to the rock was mud. It was like somepony had dumped gallons of water on this spot to the point that the ground wasn't entirely solid. Twilight tried only stepping on the largest rocks she could find, but even then she found herself scrapping mud off her hooves with her magic as soon as she got away from the muddy patch.

Twilight thought maybe she had gotten the wrong spot and decided to look around a bit, but not that much. She wasn't that brave when Rarity wasn't around, not enough to spend all night alone in the woods, anyway. Not to mention that she wasn't that stupid, either.

The crickets were so loud tonight, it was strange. That'd didn't mean a monster was nearby, right? No, if that was some kind of sign it would have been in that pamphlet everypony got about dreadstalkers. Twilight was just being paranoid again.

It was probably for the best that they were drowning out the other sounds of the woods, or else Twilight would be thinking every little noise was the dreadstalker.

No, instead she only thought every loud noise was a dreadstalker. She heard the sound of branches cracking nearby like something was running through the woods. Those were definitely hooves and she thought she heard a pony's voice too. Twilight decided to run that way, figuring it was either her friends or somepony who got lost.

A familiar rustling sound came from one of the bushes. Twilight sighed just before Pinkie jumped out from behind the bush.

“Rar!” Pinkie screamed, bearing her teeth as if she had fangs.

“Hey Pinkie,” Twilight said calmly.

“Aw!” Pinkie's ears drooped. “Not even a little?”

“If you do it every single time I'm gonna get used to it,” said Twilight.

“Ah, buck.” Pinkie swung her hoof. Her disappointment was short lived, though. Her expression quickly turned to a smile and she leaned against Twilight affectionately. “I guess I gotta find a new way to prank you. Twitwi has become fearless!”

“Well good luck with that,” Twilight said. “At the rate I'm going I won't even be able to feel fear in another month. It'd have be to pretty good to get me after that.”

“Oh I already have an idea.” Pinkie smiled with her teeth real wide, showing them off to Twilight. “It'll get you, trust me! Just wait for it.”

“Is it just you here, though?” Twilight looked around but saw nothing but Pinkie, trees and darkness. It wasn't very often you saw one of them alone. “Where's Rarity?”

“The others are up ahead,” said Pinkie. “They told me to bounce around the woods and try to snag you when you showed up. You know, like normal. Follow me!”

Twilight started following Pinkie deeper into the woods.

“So how come you weren't at the meeting place?” Twilight gave Pinkie the harshest glare she could muster. “That's kind of an important thing. I could have gotten hurt.”

“Let's just say somepony tried to play a mean prank on us,” said Pinkie. “But nopony is able to out prank Pinkie!”

“Prank? Who tried to prank you?”

“I dunno.” Pinkie narrowed her eyes. “But let's just say it was probably somepony who likes apples and hates fun.”

“Applejack?” Twilight looked at Pinkie with disbelief. “She doesn't seem like the pranking sort.”

“Applejack doesn't seem like a lot of things, but trust me when I say she's all sorts of stuff!” Pinkie held her forehooves far apart like she was showing Twilight how big a fish she caught. “She does this kind of stuff to us all the time! Or used to anyway. But now she's doing it again!”

Twilight gave a long, loud yawn. “I should probably ask about all the drama, but I already heard enough gossip today and now I'm tired. Do you have any coffee, by the way?” Twilight asked. “I wound up staying up all, uh, day I guess.”

“There's three things I always carry!” Pinkie pulled down the hook of her mane and then let it spring back up. A cup of coffee appeared out of it and landed in Pinkie's hooves. “Coffee, Candy and Cuddles!”

“I'll just take the coffee for now, thanks.” Twilight took the cup and took a few deep gulps of it.

Twilight wasn't even concerned about the fact that this had been in Pinkie's hair a moment ago. Apparently that just kept it fresh.

Twilight drank the coffee as she went deeper into the woods. It wasn't long until Twilight saw the glow of a fire through the trees, then the fire itself and then Rarity and Rainbow Dash. Dash was poking the fire with a stick, either for fun or to tend to it, while Rarity sat in the glow of the flames, thinking to herself.

Just seeing Rarity was enough for Twilight to relax, even more than having Pinkie around did. Rarity just had that force of presence, being with her was like being with a lion, one waiting to pounce on anything that tried to harm you. Even if it might not be true, Twilight felt like nothing could touch her when Rarity was around, like Rarity could could just stomp on a dreadstalker if it showed up.

Rarity noticed Twilight the moment Twilight saw her, turning and smiling. “I got one Twilight!” Pinkie bounced passed the other unicorn, landing next to the other three. “Hope that's enough.”

“And,” said Twilight gave a huge grin and took out a pair of sunglasses, “I brought my own sunglasses! That I'm gonna wear. At night. Because I'm that cool.”

Twilight put the sunglasses on struck a pose. It definitely probably looked cool, but she ran into a problem right away. Wearing sunglasses at night left her completely blind.

“How do you see like this?” Twilight was forced to pull them down a little. “Are those special sunglasses or something?”

“Or something, yeah,” said Dash, casually knocking the sunglasses off of Twilight. “Sorry, Twi, but you're not cool enough to wear sunglasses at night yet.”

“And once you arbitrarily declare me 'cool' I'll magically have dark vision?” Twilight asked. “And for your information I am cool!”

“Ha!” Dash grabbed Twilight with a foreleg and hugged her tight. Twilight said nothing. “You know we like you, Twi! I just got high standards for who gets to be called 'cool' is all.”

Dash shoved Twilight out of her own grasp. Twilight smirked and shoved Dash back a little. It was another one of their contageous attitudes.

“Well I read a book about coolness before coming here,” said Twilight. “'Too Cool for Mule'. It was racist, but highly analytical and according to it, I am quantifiably cooler than you on 8 out of 10 metrics!”

Dash and Pinkie laughed. “You are such a bucking dork!” Dash said, but in the way she normally called things 'awesome' or 'sweet' or the like. “But you're our dork, so I guess your a dork in a kinda sweet way.” Dash gave Twilight a noogie and a nuzzle. “Tell you what, you can call yourself cool after you say the B-word.”

“You know I don't curse,” said Twilight.

“Ah come on, Twi!” Dash rolled her eyes. “You never gave a single reason not to.”

Twilight hesitated. She was feeling that temptation again and that feeling that she was resisting. She honestly wasn't sure if she wanted to say it or not. She knew giving in was almost inevitable. She really couldn't even think of any reasons not to at this point, save looking for acceptance from ponies like Thunderlane.

“It's alright if you don't want to,” said Rarity. “I think it's endearing. You can go out into a forest alone with a vicious monster on the loose but are too scared to say a word. Normally, I'd see that as vexing, but from you I like it.”

Twilight felt a little disappointed that Rarity didn't push her into it. She felt that way a lot.

“And you'll give in eventually.” Pinkie smiled a sinister smile. “Hehehe.”

“Yeah? Well-” Twilight yawned. “Maybe eventually you'll give in, to uh-”

Twilight yawned again. She hadn't realized Thunderlane and pals took that much out of her.

“Sorry,” said Twilight. “Didn't get any sleep.”

“How come you didn't sleep?” Pinkie gasped. “Oh no! Was it more bills? Was everything you own infested with dengu mold? Did the dengu mold get in your brain and now they're gonna cut it out?”

“No? I tried hanging out with Thunderlane,” Twilight said. “Him and his friends were literally bragging about how ignorant they were! It was so- so-”

“Lame?” Pinkie cocked a smile.

“Well, yeah. It was really boring.” Twilight got up and let out a grunt of frustration. “I just can't believe how bad they all are. They get so disgusted whenever you bring up something that doesn't fit into their tiny worldview, just like you girls are always saying. No wonder I never liked playing with other ponies! They're all so- so-”

“Say it!” Pinkie jumped in front of Twilight with an ecstatic smile. “Come on! Say it! Say it! Say it!”

“You'll never really be better than them until you're able to go outside your tiny worldview, Twi,” Dash agreed.

Dash did have a point. She'd always had a point when it came to this sort of thing. Twilight was still fuming at Thunderlane a little. Maybe she should just do it.

“Do you want me to make them shut up, Twilight?” Rarity asked.

“No!” Twilight blurted out.

The others looked at her, all of them confused except Rarity, who gave Twilight a knowing smile.

“I mean, okay!” Twilight nodded firmly. “Okay. You know what? I'll do it. I'm going to curse!”

Pinkie started prancing in place in excitement.

“B- b-” Twilight's mouth refused to move. It was like she was about to jump off a cliff or something.

Twilight glanced at the others and got a very enthusiastic nod from Pinkie.

“B- bu-” and then as quietly as possible added, “-s."

“Bus isn't a curse,” Pinkie said.

Great, she somehow heard it.

“Just say it and get it over with!” Dash flared her wings.

Twilight swallowed hard and nodded. This was it! Surely this was the final step.

“B-buck.”

Twilight's heart stopped, her breathing stopped, everything stopped for that moment! She felt like she'd committed some unforgivable crime, some part of her waited for Celestia to show up and light her on fire.

But instead she got applause. Pinkie and Dash stomped their hooves and cheered. Even Rarity slowly clapped her hooves together. Twilight couldn't help but smile. It was such a huge relief that nothing happened. Of course nothing was going to happen, but nothing actually happening was different than knowing nothing would happen.

“Now you just gotta say it over and over,” said Dash, “that way it'll lose its power.”

“Y-yeah! B-buck, dork, uh, lame.” Twilight's breathing was heavy. For some reason she couldn't think of any more curses than that. “Er. Buck. Buck buck bucking bucked buck!”

“Woo-hoo!” Pinkie stamped her hooves in applause even louder.

This was actually kind of fun. Twilight laughed. “Hey squirrel!” She pointed at a random squirrel passing by. “Buck you! You're lame! And a doofus!”

Twilight screamed at the squirrel, causing it to run for its little squirrely life. Twilight found herself yelling the word louder and louder each time. Thunderlane came into her mind and so did all the unfairness of the world, making her blood boil, causing Twilight to scream even louder.

“Buck! Buck! BUCK!” Twilight screamed at nothing. “BUUUUUUCK! AAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAHHH!”

She kept screaming at the darkness. All the frustration she'd felt the past month, all the worry about vampires, about money, all the anger at everything she lost, at how unfair society was, all of that came gushing out in a screaming mess of curses as Twilight screamed and stomped her hooves as loudly as possible.

She honestly had no idea how long she screamed for, but afterward felt exhausted and fell down on her haunches.

“Whoa.” Pinkie stopped applauding for a second and trotted over to the now panting Twilight and patted her on the back. “Feel better now?”

Twilight nodded. She kind of did, actually.

“Maybe like ten percent less next time,” Dash suggested. “But otherwise, I think you're right on.”

“Yeah.” Twilight stared up at the stars. “So, uh. We're having like a campfire or something? Oh, I mean, a bucking campfire.”

“Well that depends on whether or not-”

“Cutie Mark Crusader vampire hunters!” shouted someone lousy at sneak attacks.

Two fillies jumped out of the bushes, firing super soakers and screaming as they charged forward. Pinkie and Dash happened to be the closest to them, so they took aim for those two, though neither of them were able to hit.

Dash effortlessly flew high over the stream aimed at her then came down like a bolt of lightning, kicking the squirt gun out of her hooves. Pinkie, meanwhile, had made a game of bouncing around as the other filly tried to shoot at her, twirling about and laughing at every missed shot. She actually looked a little disappointed when Dash knocked the other squirt gun away.

One of the fillies ran for her gun, but Rarity picked both of them up with her magic, unscrewed the water tank and dumped out the water. With that done, she politely handed them back to the fillies.

“So I take it you were-” Rarity began, but just then another scream interrupted her.

This time it was a gray unicorn who came charging forward. “Vampire Hunter!” she screamed.

The unicorn filly threw a dozen or so water balloons at Rarity, who effortlessly caught them with her own magic and tossed them behind her, leaving them to pop against the ground.

“Aw.” The filly lowered her head and scraped the ground with her hoof.

Now that Twilight got a look at her, she recognized the three fillies. The leader was Applebloom, Applejack's younger sister. She was with a unicorn filly named Dinky and a pegasus who Twilight had seen before but didn't know the name of.

“That's bad manners,” said Rarity, tsking them, “trying to squirt ponies, and with a dishonorable sneak attack at that.”

“Hey!” said the orange pegasus. “You three curse and break the rules all the time! You have no right to say we have bad manners.”

“Yeah!” Applebloom stepped forward. “Not to mention that you're a bunch of blood-sucking monsters! Death is too good for you.”

“And uh! Um,” Dinky started, then stopped to think to herself. “Oh! And you're manes are really stupid too! I mean, the rainbow one is kind of cool, but the rest of you are stupid-manes.”

“Dinky, let me do the talking,” Applebloom whispered to Dinky.

“Applebloom,” said Twilight, “there's no such thing as vampires, okay?”

“Did the vampires tell you that?” Applebloom asked with a skeptical look.

“No,” said Twilight, “because there's no such thing as vampires. I think you're taking your sister's stories too seriously.”

“Nu-uh!” said Dinky. “They are too vampires! And those three are vampires and we're gonna slay them and get vampire slayer cutie marks! And I know they're evil vampires because-”

Applebloom and the pegasus jumped on Dinky, covering her mouth and shushing her loudly.

“Vampire hunter cutie marks?” Rarity asked, strutting her way over to those three. “So you want to murder ponies for a living? You want to see these vampires screaming in pain? You want to watch them die by your hooves?”

“Well, I mean when you put it that way,” said the pegasus.

“Vampires aren't ponies,” Applebloom insisted. “They're monsters!”

Twilight picked up one of the crushed super soakers and gave it a stern look. “How were you going to kill us with water, again?” she asked.

“It's holy water,” said Dinky. “You'd burn up the second it touches you. And just so you know, we never even intended to kill you. We were just the distraction!”

“Dinky!” Applebloom stomped her hooves on the ground in frustration. “The whole point of a distraction is to not let them know it's a distraction!”

Twilight saw a flash of blue light and just like that understood why their meeting spot was soaked. It was a water stone! Twilight had never seen one in person, but had read about them extensively. A single water stone could summon gallons and gallons of water in short bursts, enough so that entire desert towns could survive on the water of just two or three of them!

Not that any of that reading was needed to see the effects. Right now, floating a few meters above them, stretching out far in every direction, was water, a whole, whole lot of water. And it began to fall down on towards them. They were going to get soaked, or maybe even crushed or drown! Twilight didn't know how far up the pool of water stretched.

But then Rarity's horn glowed.

A shield of blue light surrounded the area, covering all four mares and all three fillies. A normal unicorn could create a shield, but holding back what may have been literal tons of water was something that took a great deal of strength. But Rarity made it look so easy, boring even.

For a second it looked like they were in a bubble under a lake, but soon the water flooded away in every direction. It took a minute or so for it all to disperse and sink into the ground, but once it did, Rarity dropped the shield. Now the ponies were standing in what may very well have been the one dry patch of land in the entire forest.

Even once the water went down, Rarity didn't stop with the magic. She had somehow spotted where Applejack was and plucked her out of the tree. Applejack was carrying a saddlebag, which Rarity tore open and threw things out of until she got the waterstone, which she passed to Pinkie.

Applejack kicked around, but to no effect as Rarity floated her over to the muddiest patch of mud she could find. It was practically oozing! It looked like you could sink down a mile into that patch.

“Shall I drop you in the mud, Applejack?” Rarity called over to her.

Applejack just continued to grunt and struggle, though much harder than before.

“Well?” Rarity lowered her just a little bit more. “Last chance to say no.”

“Y-you can't!” Applejack spat back at her.

Rarity hesitated for a moment, before instead throwing Applejack onto the island of dryness.

“Stay there,” said Rarity. “Believe me I can if I absolutely have to.”

Rarity turned back to the three fillies. She took one step towards them and they huddled together in fear, so close they were almost touching.

“Firstly, you three. There's something else you need to consider about your career,” said Rarity. She stopped right in front of the three fillies, looking down on them. “Do you know what would have happened to you three tonight if we really were vampires and if vampires really were monsters?”

The three of them stared up at Rarity, breathless. “We'd die?” Dinky whispered.

Rarity nodded slowly.

“Rar!” Pinkie jumped on Rarity's back, leaning forward to scream in their faces. All three of them screamed and ran.

“Was it really a good idea to chase them away?” Twilight asked. “There's still that dreadstalker.”

“We're not that far into the woods and they're together. They'll be fine.” Rarity turned her eyes to Applejack. “But I think we need to have a serious talk here, Applejack."

“Yeah, Applejack. What the buck were you doing?” Twilight had some difficulty saying that in front of Applejack, mad as she was, but it was easy to be brave when you were standing behind Rarity. “You could have really hurt us!”

“What the what was I doing?” Applejack pushed herself off the ground, glaring at Twilight as if she was the one who had just done the attempted murder.

“I-” Twilight falttered, but quickly regained her courage. “I said 'buck'. What the bucking buck were you thinking you bucking r-retard?”

“I warned you this would happen,” Applejack said.

“Well I don't bucking care anymore!” Twilight was feeling unhinged now. That word did get easier to say every time, just like they promised. “And I get you hate Rarity or whatever, but why bring a bunch of fillies into this?”

“Bet I know the reason.” Dash spat off to the side. “Applejack couldn't find anypony stupid enough to go through with this except a bunch of fillies. I'm right, aren't I?"

“Don't you know it's dangerous out here?” Twilight asked. “Ponies her age shouldn't be in the woods at at all.”

“Take your own advice,” said Applejack. “You're the one in real danger.”

“Twilight's with me.” Rarity wrapped her hoof around Twilight's neck.

“That's what I'm afraid of,” said Applejack.

Rarity calmly let go of Twilight and started trotting over to Applejack with that dangerous look she got. Nopony could glare like Rarity could. Every time she walked up to a pony like that and looked them in the eyes it made Twilight was glad she was on Rarity's side.

“Applejack! We had a deal, yes? You don't bother us and we don't bother you,” said Rarity. “It's not a good idea to go crossing lines, Applejack. If you keep all of this up I may have to bother you back and I dare say I can be quite a bit more bothersome than you can, if you know what I mean.”

“You're the one who crossed my line!” Applejack stepped forward, far more resolved than the last time she tried to stand up to Rarity. “You broke our deal the minute you came back here and started killing ponies in my town!”

Twilight was dumbfounded. Thinking she was a vampire was one thing, but out and out calling Rarity a murderer was on a completely different level. The others didn't have high opinions of Applejack's accusation, either. Pinkie was just as stunned as Twilight, Dash was gritting her teeth and Rarity just rolled her eyes.

Applejack faltered slightly at that lukewarm reaction. Twilight wasn't sure what she'd been expecting.

“That's right!” Applejack tried to regain her indignation. “I know there ain't no dreadstalker out there! It's you draining their blood and killing them! Ain't it, Rarity? You killed all those ponies!”

“You're seriously accusing Rarity of murder now?!” Twilight just wanted to bash her head against a nearby rock. “Applejack, if you seriously believe somepony is murdering ponies then you should go to the police, okay? Not spray them with squirt guns!”

“The police can be too easily swayed by her vampire powers even if they believed me,” said Applejack. “But those soakers had holy water in them! That can kill a vampony!”

“And in your dim little mind you were trying to kill the three of us then,” said Rarity. “Sounds like you're the murderer here, or at least want to be.”

“She has a point, Applejack,” said Twilight. “Next are you going to try driving a stake through their heart or something? I honestly think you need help!”

“You really don't get it, do you? You're being manipulated.” Applejack shook her head at Twilight before turning to Rarity. “If you're really her 'friend' then why don't you tell Twilight the truth, huh?!”

“The truth?” Rarity tilted her head, she walked over to Applejack and sat down in front of her. “Maybe you should give me an example. Don't you have something you think Twilight should know? Hm?”

Rarity laughed at the way Applejack bit her lip at that. Twilight's ears perked. That line made it sound like there was something nopony was telling her.

“Well that's awfully hypocritical of you, isn't it? Though maybe given how you've been acting in general it'd be better for me to call you,” Rarity leaned her head forward and almost whispered in Applejack's ear, “a monster."

Applejack snapped at that. She scramble back to her hooves and charged at Rarity, pulling a foreleg back, ready to deliver an all-out punch to Rarity's face. Rarity didn't even bother reacting, she didn't have to. Dash came in from the side in a blur of blue and punched Applejack hard on the muzzle, throwing her off to the side.

Applejack went tumbling to the ground, rolling over rocks and sticks. It must have been as painful as it looked, as Applejack looked like she was struggling to regain her orientation. Twilight noticed her muzzle was bleeding pretty badly.

Rarity took her time standing up, brushing a little dirt off her tail, before casually walking over to Applejack. Just as Applejack was lifting her head, Rarity gently placed her hoof on it and pressed Applejack's muzzle back into the dirt.

“Applejack, this isn't a deal this time, it's a threat. Stop harassing us or else. And when I say us, I'm including my Twilight in this.” Rarity gave Twilight a smile, causing her to blush, mostly at the 'my' part. “I don't want you putting any more lies in her head. What you're doing is cruel. Now run along.”

Rarity let up on Applejack, allowing the earth pony to scramble to her hooves. Applejack didn't run along, but crouched her front half and gritted her teeth at Rarity, staring pure hatred at her.

“Oh? Was there something else you wanted to say, Applejack?” Rarity just kept giving that soft smile. “I'd just love it if you'd say 'or else what'. Please.”

Applejack glared for a moment longer, then gave a glance over in Dash's direction before taking a step or two back, getting up from her crouch.

“This isn't over!” Applejack spat and ran off.

“For your sake I hope it is!” Rarity called after her.

As Applejack vanished from sight, Rarity gave a flick of her mane before trotting back to the others.

“That was intense,” said Twilight.

Rarity put her hoof at the top of Twilight's horn and ran it across her mane, down her neck and back and all the way to the base of her tail. That always calmed Twilight down, like a whole lot. She already felt the tension from that little fight melt away. Did Twilight mention she was glad she was on Rarity's side?

“I'm sorry you had to see that,” said Rarity. "But I don't think you realize what a nuisance Applejack is to us or how far she takes this. We're at the point I'll have to get a restraining order, since it doesn't look like she's gotten the message yet.”

“A restraining order?” Twilight asked. “Is it really that bad?”

“That crapsack's attacked us plenty of times before,” said Dash. “Don't think she didn't have that punch coming.”

“And she's a liar too,” said Pinkie. “You wouldn't believe all the kinds of nasty stuff she told me about Rarity back when – uh, well let's just say I got stuck in a garbage can one day.”

“Right, but by the way, you made it sound like Applejack had some kind of secret.” Twilight turned to Rarity. “I don't suppose I get to hear what that is?”

“Yes! I promise I'll tell you about it tonight,” said Rarity. “But for now be patient. You can do that for me, yes?”

Rarity put her hoof on Twilight's head. Twilight sat down and nodded.

“You understand that I love you, yes? And that you're under my protection?” Rarity brushed her muzzle across Twilight's neck. “And because of that you trust me.”

The answer was 'yes', but Twilight hesitated to say it. Rarity got it anyway and nodded. “I was thinking maybe it was time we showed you something.” Rarity leaned her head against Twilight's, but kept looking forward.

Vampires. That was always what popped into Twilight's head whenever they said something mysterious like that.

“What? That you're vampires?” Twilight remembered her vow. “Er- bucking vampires! If you are vampires you're at least not going to, uh, be retarded and kill me right? Cause I'm too bucking pretty to kill.”

Rarity giggled and Twilight found herself smiling. She liked it when Rarity giggled.

“Killing you is pretty low on my agenda, I'll admit,” said Rarity. “But I meant our house. I want to show you where we live."

Chapter 14

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"Your house?"

"Yes, our house. I'd rather explain what we have to say there than in the middle of the woods. It's a long story.”

“Oh, so you three do live together?” That was another thing Twilight had always assumed about them. “But wait! I did see your bucking house before, you doofus. That bucking place you have your bucking parties in, right?”

“That isn't where we live. I own quite a bit a real estate, that building included, but it's not where we live. Too bright for us nocturnal types.”

“Oh!” Pinkie fell out of a branch, catching herself with one of her forelegs before falling too far, to hang in front of the two unicorns. Twilight hadn't even seen her get up into that tree. “Why don't we see if you're a vampire, Twi Twi? See if you can come into our True Home without actually being invited.”I

“Didn't you just invite me over?” Twilight looked at Rarity.

“Did we?” Rarity smiled. “I think we should head home, Pinkie.”

Rarity stood up and started walking away.

“But I can come with you, right?” Twilight stood up and looked around at the others.

Pinkie let go of the branch and landed in front of Twilight. “I dunno. Can you, vampire scum?” She gave a manic smile before bouncing after Rarity.

Twilight thought about it for a moment, then decided to follow, trotting quickly to catch up with the others.

“Looks like we're being followed,” Pinkie whispered to Rarity.

Dash flew into sight and landed next to Twilight. “Hey! We're taking her there already?” she asked. “Shouldn't we, uh-”

Dash glanced at Twilight, then cantered to Rarity's side and whispered something in her ear. Rarity pushed her to the side dismissively.

“It'll be fine,” said Rarity.

“Now hold on,” said Twilight. “All this whispering about me being ready makes me think you have some kind of horrible secret. And also all that stuff you said to Applejack about having a horrible secret.”

“Well there's only one way to find out what it is, Twi,” said Dash. “You won't know if the place is full of dead bodies till you get there.”

“Maybe I should run ahead and clean up all the blood?” Pinkie asked.

“You're, uh,” Twilight tried her hardest to think up a good comeback, “gonna need to clean up blood if you don't stop making these vampire jokes!”

And that was more or less how the walk went, the four of them laughing all the way as normal. No, maybe not like before. Twilight found herself laughing much louder than she would have ever let herself before.

Twilight followed them all the way to the pond on the far side of town, near where Fluttershy's house was. But they lead her to the side of the lake Twilight didn't typically go to. There was a hill on that side, with a steep cliff facing the water. It was on top of that hill, near said cliff, where they stopped.

Above Twilight was a clear sky, filled with stars. The water below reflected the starry sky perfectly, making it so sparkling lights were in every direction, dotting the calm, cool darkness that Twilight had grown to love. So it was an amazing sight, but there was one major problem here.

“This is not a house,” said Twilight.

Dash beckoned Twilight to look down the side of it and pointed out a hole in the hillside when she did.

“You live in a bucking cave?” Twilight asked, swatting at Dash.

“We live in a cave in the same way you live in a pile of dead trees,” said Dash.

Twilight leaned over the edge, looking for a good way to get inside. “Even if it's nice in there, it's a pretty inconvenient location, isn't it?” Twilight asked.

“That's kind of what we were going for,” said Dash. “We don't want anypony bothering us during the day so we built a house over here.”

“And how am I supposed to get in?”

“The best way to get in is to climb down over there.” Rarity pointed to a slope that was narrow, but could probably be walked on.

“Nope!” Pinkie objected. “The best way to get inside is to just jump off the cliff and make Dashie catch you!”

Pinkie took two steps back, then charged towards the cliff, leaping off the edge.

“Weeeee!”

Dash muttered something and flew off the cliff with blazing speed. She caught Pinkie before the mare fell far and whisked her into the cave. A moment later Pinkie poked her head out of the cave and waved up at Twilight.

“Jump Twilight!” Pinkie called to her. “It's more fun that way!”

“I'll catch you if you do,” said Dash, coming to the opening a moment later. “But I'll also make you regret it!”

What the buck! Twilight was already going completely nuts tonight! Might as well go through with this too. She took a few steps back then charged off the cliff, just as Pinkie had done moments ago. As she fell, Twilight spread her legs wide open to catch as much air as possible. And the air went rushing by as she fell. It was exhilarating!

“Wahaha!” Twilight felt a thrill running through her again. She fell further than Pinkie had, passed where her and Dash were standing. Twilight shouted up to them as she fell passed. “Dash!”

Twilight fell further while Dash just stood there. The water was getting close now and a tiny twinge of fear started to form in Twilight's mind. She was pretty far up and she was falling into shallow water! The fear grew stronger. What the heck was going on?! Dash wouldn't seriously-

Just before Twilight reached panic territory, Dash flew out of the cave with unbelievable speed, faster than she had ever seen a pegasus fly before. In the blink of an eye, Dash flew down and caught Twilight in a swooping motion, stopping her just inches above the ground.

Dash flew straight forward, gliding over the surface of the lake, until she was halfway across. The whole way, Twilight clung to her as tight as she could, eyes closed, feeling a gust of cool air surrounding her.

After realizing she wasn't dead, Twilight dared to open one of her eyes and was greeted by the sight of Dash sailing through the air, the dark waters beneath both of them. Twilight smiled just a little. Of course Dash wouldn't let her die!

Twilight reached one of her hooves out a little to touch the water beneath. It was surprisingly warm and split into waves at her touch. Then Dash turned upwards, doing a spin the brought both of them into the air. Twilight caught a glimpse of the lights from town, far away, tiny and beneath her, as Dash looped through that air to carry them both back to the cave.

Dash landed gracefully at the entrance of the cave, Twilight still clinging to her and trembling a little.

“You can let go now,” Dash said. Twilight quickly released her friend and scrambled to her shaking legs. Dash laughed. “You didn't think I'd actually let you die, did you?”

“Go buck yourself, Dash,” Twilight said, giving Dash a playful swat. “That was cutting it way too close.”

“I think you're forgetting how awesome I am,” said Dash. “You never have to worry about falling when I'm around.”

Twilight looked into the dark cave. The first thing she noticed was Rarity standing just before her.

“Rarity? How did you get here?” Twilight asked.

“I climbed down while the two of you were, hm, 'embracing', shall we say.” Rarity gave the two of them a sly smile. “Come along, Twilight. And wipe your hooves. You don't know where Rainbow Dash has been.”

Twilight followed her a little into the cave and sure enough there really was a doormat and just passed that was an actual door. The stone quickly went from rocky to carved as soon as you got a little inside. It was nice and smooth here, with what really looked like the wall of a house wedged inside it.

Rarity unlocked the door with her magic and went inside, turning on the lights. What Twilight saw was surprisingly elegant.

Twilight knew Rarity had a fair bit of money, they were able to live without working, but she thought the price of that was having to live with less, just barely managing to scrape by on the interest, dividends and ever depleting account withdrawals. But this was better than what her parent's house was.

The 'cave' looked more like the inside of a mansion, with all the walls covered with fine, wooden boards. The first room that greeted her was a large, open living room with several doors and halls leading off in every direction. It was well furnished with couches and tables, had one of those fancy radios and a large fireplace. The walls were lined with electric lights, fine art and portraits.

It was a bit dim, with the electric lights turned down low, but they did love darkness and likely did that on purpose. That was the only 'flaw' she could find in this luxurious building.

Twilight stepped into the room, mouth agape. Pinkie just bounced right by her, leaping into the room and landing on a bean bag chair.

“I had no idea you had this much money,” said Twilight. “I mean, you act like you're rich, but not this rich!”

“Twilight, we live exactly how we want,” said Rarity. “How else does one live like they're rich?”

“But how did you get this much money?” Twilight was turning around in circles, taking it all in. “I mean, you can't be much older than I am! Were your parents insanely rich?”

“Not as rich as you'd think,” said Rarity. “It is old money, to be certain, but I made a great deal of it myself. Believe it or not, I do spend a lot of time moving it around. I'm very good at managing money and you'd be surprised how much you can make just by that.”

“Some ponies have all the luck.” Twilight looked down at the antique rug. That was probably worth more than Twilight! “But you can hardly say you're parents weren't that rich if you got this much money from them. I mean, enough to make it into this after just a decade or so.”

“Maybe I didn't get it from them,” said Rarity. “We did say we wanted to bring you here to talk about a secret, didn't we?”

Twilight heard the door close behind her. She looked over to see Dash lock it. Now she was hoping the secret was that Rarity had invented some kind of soft drink or something. Also that the secret ingredient in said drink wasn't ponies.

“Look at me, Twilight.” Rarity brought Twilight's attention to herself, Twilight staring at those beautiful eyes. “You trust me, right?”

Right now Twilight was a little on edge, but looking into Rarity's eyes calmed her. She knew the answer, even now.

“Yes.”

“And you love me.”

That time it wasn't a question, but Twilight nodded anyway.

“Good. Then you needn't fear what's standing right behind you right now.”

That was one way to put a pony on edge. Twilight stared at Rarity, not daring to turn around. “You saying that makes me feel like there's something horrible behind me."

“There is,” said Rarity.

“Can we not be dramatic and you just tell me what it is?” Twilight didn't dare take her eyes off Rarity. “Please?”

“Well if you want to kill the fun. Pinkie, Dash and myself really are vampires and those two are standing behind you in their true forms right now.”

“What?”

Twilight turned around and Pinkie jumped at her and hissed, baring two razor sharp fangs inches away from Twilight's face. Twilight screamed and fell on her back.

“Ha! Got you that time!” Pinkie said, but Twilight was too busy screaming to hear her.

Chapter 15

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Twilight did not recover from her initial shock. Actually, it got worse when she got a better look at what startled her. Pinkie and Dash were exactly like what you'd expect vampires to be. Catlike eyes that glowed red, long fangs, tufted ears and leathery, bat-like wings marked them as they were.

“Vampires!” Twilight gasped. “You're seriously vampires! Applejack was right!”

Twilight was going to die! She followed the vampires back to their lair and now she was going to get killed!

“Twilight-” Dash began.

“Stay back!” Twilight scrambled backwards until she hit the couch. She grabbed the nearest object, a pillow, and threw it at Dash.

The pillow did nothing.

“Twilight!”

“No! Please don't kill me!” Twilight curled up into a ball, hiding her face with her hooves and keeping her neck scrunched up. “Please don't kill me!”

Twilight coward and coward for a pretty good time, but nothing happened.

“Twilight,” she heard Dash say, “we're not doing anything

Twilight slowly opened her eyes, peeking out at the three of them. Fair enough, they were all just standing there, save Pinkie who was waving and smiling at her enthusiastically.

“Hi Twitwi!” Pinkie called. “I'm a vampire! Well, technically a vampire fruit bat pony.”

“A what?” Twilight asked, opening up from her fetal position slightly. Actually, there was a much more important question to ask here. “You're not going to kill me?”

“We're friends, Twilight,” said Rarity. Twilight only now realized that Rarity had assumed the form of a vampony as well. Doing so had made her no less beautiful. In fact, those fangs and eyes were like marvelous jewels, glittering in the light of the dull flames. “We would never hurt you.”

“But.” Twilight came out of her ball and sat up. “But you kill other ponies? L-like Applejack said?”

All three of them laughed. Twilight didn't know if that was good or bad.

“Pinks already said we're vampire fruit bat ponies,” said Dash. “Sugar is the only thing we eat."

“I suppose we're supposed to eat fruit,” said Rarity, “but candy is actually far healthier and more delicious to us. Sugar is the only thing we really need to survive.”

“Yeah, silly! How do you think we eat bowls of candy every night and never get sick?”

Twilight's eyes darted between the three of them. It was true they ate nothing but overly sugary foods.

“And before you ask, no blood doesn't have nearly enough sugar in it to be food to us,” said Rarity. “Though maybe Pinkie's would come close.”

“Are you sure?” Twilight frowned at them skeptically. “Because I never heard anything about candy vampires, just ones that suck blood and stuff.”

“Twitwi, do you really think I'd kill a pony?” Pinkie asked.

“Well.” Twilight rubbed her shoulder. “I mean, no but-”

“What makes you even think we're killers? Hm?” Rarity asked. “Because you read a fictional book about vampires being evil? Or because it's what Applejack said?”

Well it was true she didn't have enough evidence to convict Rarity of anything, or even fairly accuse her, really. Twilight rubbed her head and collapsed onto the couch. Her mind was blank. This was just so much to take in! Vampires were real?

Twilight felt a little light headed.

“But Applejack-”

“I promised I'd tell you one of Applejack's secrets, yes?” Rarity asked. “She has a chip on her shoulder, an unfair grudge against all vampire. You see, a vampire, not me or anypony I've met mind you, but a vampire nonetheless hurt Applejack very badly. It was that same vampire who killed her parents."

“Yeah, Appledork just assumes we're all evil,” said Dash. “It's like blaming every pegasus for what Stormfront did. It's completely stupid!”

“I really must stress the don't trust Applejack part,” said Rarity. “She probably tells you I'm the one manipulating her, but she's the one trying to turn you against your friends over some petty race-grudge.”

“It's just like how she lied to you about Pinkie,” said Dash. “Just think about what else she's lying to you about.”

Was it possible Applejack just hated vampires irrationally? It would change the story. Applejack had been completely wrong about Pinkie, for example. But more importantly Rarity was so beautiful there was no way she could be lying! Twilight just wanted to stare at her forever. This vampire form was just so amazingly perfect she couldn't find a single flaw with it!

Something else Applejack said managed to work it's way into her head, somehow, even through all that amazement.

“And,” Twilight said, mesmerized. She couldn't even blink right now because that meant she wouldn't be looking at Rarity for that brief moment. “And you want to turn me into a vampire? Applejack said that's what you're trying to do.”

“Oh, I'd absolutely love to turn you into my vampire fledgling, like I did with Pinkie and Rainbow Dash.” Rarity gestured back to them before trotting towards Twilight. “The process is hard and long, but at the very end, where I bite you, is pure bliss. It is the greatest ecstasy you could ever share with another pony, so much so that you form a connection that can last for centuries on that alone.”

Rarity came over and sat down next to Twilight. Twilight took back what she said about Rarity being just as beautiful, she was far more amazing like this. Those glowing eyes were the single most amazing thing Twilight had seen in all her life. They melted Twilight's heart, practically made her drool over them! Twilight was only vaguely aware that her mouth was open.

"And I do love you, Twilight,” Rarity nuzzled her mane. “You are exactly the sort of pony I would want by my side for centuries and centuries.”

When Rarity said she loved Twilight, it was the single greatest moment of her life. She felt her whole body swell with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment. Twilight wanted this more than anything. She wanted to belong to Rarity in any way she could. Rarity was just so perfect and amazing! Nothing could be better than being by her side!

“Yes! Please!” Twilight threw herself at Rarity's hooves. “Please, I'll do anything to be by your side, Rarity! I love you too! I-I hate my life so much! You're the only good thing in my life, you've given me so much! I want to be your- your whatever it's called! Please!”

Twilight trembled and looked up at Rarity's perfection. Rarity smiled and leaned in close. She brushed her fangs along Twilight's neck sending a wave of pleasure through her. Then she moved her muzzle up to Twilight's ear.

“No,” she whispered.

Twilight's eyes opened wide. She felt so utterly crushed. “What?!” SHhei shot up back onto her hooves. “You were just trying to tempt me and now-

“-I wasn't tempting you at all, though you did bring up my first point. This is the first time you've seen me as a vampire,” said Rarity. “Maybe you haven't consciously figured it out yet, but the charm I have is far more intense like this. I imagine you're just dying to do any little thing to please me, yes?”

Twilight nodded. She was absolutely under some kind of spell, she understood that now, but it was so nice she didn't really want to get out of the spell.

“But that isn't entirely just you thinking that.” Rarity rapped Twilight on the nose. Then she closed her eyes and her vampire features, the fangs, the wings and the ear tufts, all retracted and vanished. She was back to her 'normal' self.

Suddenly Rarity wasn't the living incarnation of perfection. She looked almost ugly compared to what she'd been a second ago. Twilight already felt less light headed and realized it was exactly as Rarity said. Her vampire form had been warping Twilight's mind a little there.

“Ha! 'I want to belong to you, Rarity'!” Dash did her Twilight impression and laughed. “Rares hit you hard!"

“If it makes you feel any better, our little Dashie here actually kissed my hooves the first time she saw my true self.” Rarity turned to Dash with a coy smile. “It was adorable."

Dash blushed shied away.

Twilight wasn't sure if that 'charm' hadn't worn off entirely, but she still felt so much affection towards Rarity. She felt such a strong longing, wanted to be as close to her as possible!

“But I still want to-”

Rarity scooped Twilight up and hugged her very tightly. Twilight squeezed back hard. Rarity must have known exactly what Twilight had been thinking and it did relieve that longing a bit, but not entirely. Twilight still wished she could get even closer to Rarity somehow.

“The second reason I'm saying no is because becoming a vampire isn't as simple as me biting you.” Rarity gently rubbed Twilight's back, like she was trying to calm Twilight down. “It takes at least two months and is a bit of a grueling process. And finally, I can't let you make the decision so hastily. There's too many things you don't know about vampires and too many things you still need to consider.”

“But-”

“-now if you still want to be a vampire in a year, perhaps.” Rarity smiled like she still had fangs. “I think I would turn you, if you really wanted it. But until then, no. You're going to take your time making the choice whether you like it or not.”

Twilight shot Dash a desperate look, but the other pony just shrugged coolly.

“Can't be helped,” said Dash. “Those are the boss's rules. Some ponies just aren't meant for our awesome lifestyle. If we just up and turned you into a vampire you might get angry at us later and hold a grudge forever! I've seen it happen.”

“Okay, I guess.” Twilight rubbed her head. She was starting to feel just a little more in control.

Rarity brought Twilight over to the couch and set her down, sitting close next to her. Twilight's mind was still reeling, but she felt like she was just now able to actually think about what happened, free from the initial shock and Rarity's magical charm powers.

“But why didn't you tell me this earlier?” Twilight asked her first question. “It does seem like kind of a big deal! After all those times I called Applejack an idiot.”

“Applejack is an idiot,” said Dash, “so you can relax there. But anyway, we only tell ponies we trust about this. The general public isn't so accepting, in case you haven't noticed.”

“And vampires have seriously been able to keep this a secret for however long it's been?”

“A secret from some,” said Rarity. “But Celestia and her inner circle know about us. They are the ones who decided all of this needs to be secret, not us.”

“Celestia? Why the buck would she try to keep vampires a secret?"

“Think about it.” Rarity tapped Twilight's head. “What's Celestia's entire excuse for why she alone should rule forever? Why does she say the masses should pamper her, tirelessly devote their lives to her, sacrifice their happiness for hers?"

Twilight knew the answer to that without thinking. She'd gone to Sunday school for over a decade where the answer to that was drilled into her head by rote. Celestia was immortal, her life was so much longer than yours that anything that happened to you was insignificant compared to what happened to her. That's why it was important to sacrifice yourself for Celestia, to put her before yourself in all things.

Because she was ageless.

“Wait!” Twilight felt an electric surge through her body at the realization. “Is it really because she thinks ponies won't worship her if they're ageless too? Is Celestia seriously that petty?”

Rarity nodded. “The whole philosophy she furnished is that longer lasting things are more important than fleeting things. Just the knowledge that other immortals exist is threatening enough to that. If vampirism became public knowledge many ponies would seek out our eternal youth. Make everypony's life potentially as long as hers and all that pampering could vanish overnight. Every time one of us tries turning too many ponies, or spreading word of our longevity too far, Celestia goes on a genocidal rampage against us.”

“Dang.” Twilight collapsed one of her elbows on the arm of the couch and plopped her head down on her hoof. “I knew making it illegal to question her and making us all worship her was kind of sketchy – but this just makes her sound... almost evil.”

“In my opinion she kind of is,” Dash said. “If anything I'm surprised she's still got you thinking she's above morality and all that.”

Twilight still wasn't sure where she stood on the 'Celestia is above morals' thing anymore, but- “But hold on.” She sat back upright. “If Celestia's the one keeping us – er, you – down, then wouldn't becoming a vampire put me at risk? I don't want to have to deal with Celestia hunting me down!”

“We have a sort of understanding with Celestia,” said Rarity. “Celestia would beat us, but at great cost and her victory wouldn't be permanent. So long as we don't give her too big a headache and stay in the darkness Celestia simply leaves us alone. I have no intention of trying to overthrow the government and so long as you don't either, you'll be safe.”

“Won't be permanent? Celestia couldn't just kill you all?”

“Celestia isn't the only 'true immortal'. There is another princess out there, a vampire princess, who, like Celestia, cannot be killed by any means. She will always live on and thus there will always be vampires. Though that's all I can tell you about the vampire princess for now.”

For now... that's right. Twilight had just realized there was a whole new dimension of the world she'd never even heard of. There were so many new things to learn here! New cultures, biologies, magics, histories, and possibly even physics were just waiting there for her. And if Twilight loved one thing it was learning!

“I have so many questions!” Twilight's smile was becoming more excited now. “How does vampire magic work? Are there a lot more vampires? How long do you live and why don't you age? Is that magic too? Where did the first vampire come from? How do ponies become vampires? Do you die in sunlight? Well, I guess I already know you don't, but what does kill you? How does the biology of that transformation work out? How do-?”

Twilight found herself yawning despite herself. The coffee was starting to wear off and now she was back to exhaustion, but even worse than before. Her limbs felt impossible to move.

“But on the other hoof I'm so incredibly tired,” said Twilight. “Staying up all night takes the, uh, the buck? Yeah, the buck out of you.”

“Takes the buck out of you?” Dash raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I think maybe this was too much for you.”

“But hey!” Pinkie bounced over to Twilight and came halfway up onto the couch in excitement. “Since you're already here we could just have a sleepover! Maybe even an eternal sleepover?”

“Wuh?” Twilight gave Pinkie an exhausted look. “But you just said I don't get to be a vampire.”

“Actually there was something else we wanted to ask you,” said Rarity.

The three of them sat down in front of Twilight. This sort of thing had only happened when Twilight was in trouble before, but Pinkie's excited smile was reassuring.

“You know how you gotta go to school soon?” Pinkie asked. “And how you'll be stuck at your job and school all the time and never be able to have fun ever again?”

Twilight didn't know about the 'ever again' part, but nodded. She'd been thinking about that a lot recently as well. She only had a few weeks of summer vacation left, then she'd be going to school and working full time. Twilight either had to stop sleeping or else cut out her job, schooling or friends. She didn't like any of those choices, but her friends were the only one her life didn't depend on. Twilight wouldn't be able to hang out with them like this any more.

“Well,” said Rarity, “the three of us talked it over and we decided that, if you wanted, you could come and live with us, at least until you're done with school.”

“And then you won't need a job!” Pinkie jumped forward, landing on her front hooves an inch away from Twilight. “You can stop doing your boring old work and play with us after school instead!”

“Yeah!” Dash pushed Pinkie aside and gave Twilight a confident bump of her hoof. “Most ponies your age don't need to worry about working full time jobs, you know. Why should you have to?”

“L-live here?!” Twilight pulled back a little. She wasn't sure if she really understood the offer. “You mean like, I'd move out of my apartment? And stay here?”

They all nodded.

“And- and how much rent would-”

“-no rent.” Rarity put her hoof over Twilight's mouth. “No nothing! I'll even buy your food and whatever else you need, darling. If you accepted... why we'd consider you part of our family for as long as you stayed.”

“You mean like-” Twilight wasn't sure what she was even going to say.

Getting to actually live somewhere rent free again, like she had with her parents, would be amazing! The only thing was that it'd be a bit too amazing. Twilight had only known these three for like a month or two and they were already offering to adopt her. Something in the back of her head kept screaming that there had to be a catch.

"I wouldn't have to agree to be a vampire or anything?” Twilight looked at each of them in turn for some clue about the catch.

“If you want to leave for college afterward that will be your choice,” said Rarity. “Though if you'd like to stay for, perhaps forever instead, well I'd be much more willing to bite you if you still want it by then.”

Rarity flashed her fangs. Some unconscious part of Twilight made her shrink her neck whenever Rarity did that.

“You'd be an honorary vampire, Twi,” said Dash.

“But why would you do so much for me? I mean, letting me live here without rent would be a huge thing! It'd be unbelievable nice, don't get me wrong but... I guess it's the 'unbelievable' part that makes me want to know why?”

“We don't like you being all alone either, you know,” said Pinkie. “How would you feel if one of us was in your place, huh?”

“And if you were insanely rich,” Rarity added, “to the point helping would be incidental to you.”

Twilight seriously thought about that. It wasn't hard to imagine Pinkie in her head, living on the streets as she had been before Rarity found her. She didn't like the thought of her friend being forced to look for food in a dumpster.

Yeah. Twilight would help Pinkie if that were the case, she would let Pinkie stay in her underground mansion, even though they'd only known each other for a few months. Granted Twilight's current situation was nowhere near as bad as that, but she could understand what they meant.

“I say you stop being so paranoid.” Dash gave Twilight a playful jab. “The only question you should be asking here is whether you'd rather live with us or stay where you are! Don't worry about all this crap about what's normal.”

“Well. I would want to live here,” the words came out so easily. That was true. Twilight could say with absolute certainty that would be a dream come true. “I would love to live with you three! You're my best friends ever. It'd be amazing! It's just- I dunno! Getting so much in exchange for nothing – it's not even that I think you're trying to trick me, it just feels wrong.”

“You think you're nothing?” Rarity asked. “We'd be getting you, wouldn't we?”

Twilight so badly wanted to say yes. It would be so great if she said yes. She wanted a family again so badly. Why was she even hesitating? Was it really just her sense of 'normal' holding her back?

Or maybe it was something else. Applejack's words always seemed to come ringing back into Twilight's head no matter how hard she tried to forget them. Was she really not good enough for them, like Applejack said?

Rarity put a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. “You have a couple of weeks to think about it."

Twilight nodded.

“This is so great!” Pinkie gave a leap into the air. “We're gonna get a new vampire! We're gonna get a new vampire!”

“Twi hasn't agreed to anything yet, Pinks,” said Dash. “Don't get too excited."

“Well, duh! But the obvious choice is 'yes',” said Pinkie, “and Twilight's smart so she'll realize that. But for now- sleepover!”

That brought a little bit of energy to Twilight. She'd never had a sleepover before! They could make smores or something! But then the energy faded already and she yawned.

“Sheesh. Maybe we could get to the sleeping part a little early, though?” Twilight asked.

“Of course,” said Rarity. “We'll talk more about Vampires tomorrow."

"And”, Pinkie added, “we'll do the smores and makeovers and stuff that you normally do at sleepovers. It'll be like a reverse sleepover!”

That sounded like a good plan, the sleeping part especially. The three of them lead Twilight down a hall, then down some stairs, then down another hall. This was way bigger than what three ponies would need. Twilight silently wondered what was behind all the doors she passed, but wearily wondered which was the guest room more.

"We have two bed rooms.” Rarity pushed open one of the doors at last. “This is the main one and our other is right across.”

Rarity pointed to the adjacent door.

“Only two bedrooms?” Twilight glanced at the door behind her, then back to the main bedroom. “In all this? And there's three of you!"

“Well normally we all sleep in the same bed,” said Rarity. “The other room is for guests or when I want to be alone with just one of my marefriends?”

“You all sleep together?” Twilight peeked into their main room and sure enough there was only one bed in there. “In the same bed?"

Once again, Twilight found herself staring at them dumbfounded. You'd think that'd stop happening at some point, but nope! They just kept pulling out crazier and crazier ideas.

“You never slept in bed with somepony?” Pinkie asked.

Twilight shook her head. Sharing a bed just sounded so wrong! Who did that? Even spouses typically had two beds, Twilight knew her parents did. Sure they technically got in the same one to do... necessary things... but it wasn't like they'd spend the night cuddling together afterward!

“It's really not that different from hugging.” Dash shrugged. “You should try it! Sleeping in a pony pile is the best way to sleep, Twi. Trust me, have I ever steered you wrong?”

“I dunno.” Twilight found herself glancing away. Part of her wanted to, Dash was right that everything she said was great really was great. But then there was that old part of her, screaming this was absolutely immoral. “I guess you haven't.”

“Don't feel like you have to do anything you don't want to, Twilight.” Rarity jumped into the bed and sat down near the head. “If you want the guest bed take it.”

“Oh!” Pinkie gave a small leap into the air. “Of if you want to feel like you're roughing it you can use the inflatable! I just remembered we had that thing.”

The feeling of resistance was coming back. Twilight didn't last two seconds against it this time because she didn't want to. She knew resisting this temptation wasn't going to do her any good. But giving in...

“Wait!” Twilight stopped Pinkie just before she left to get the inflatable. “Maybe – I guess I can try sleeping in bed with you! If it's still alright, I mean.”

Rarity just beckoned to Twilight. With trembling hooves, Twilight pulled herself onto the bed. She knew her ears were probably pinned all the way down.

“You're sure this is, uh, fun right?” Twilight tried to smile.

“Cuddling when you're awake is great,” said Pinkie. “But when you're going to sleep it's like a hundred times better! You'll see!”

“And, uh, you do want me to, right?” Twilight looked down at the open sheet one more time.

“We'd love for you to,” said Rarity.

Twilight nodded and laid down and a moment later the blanket was thrown over her. She was under the covers with Rarity now.

Rarity pulled Twilight close and tucked Twilight's head under her chin. Whenever they cuddled, Rarity would always take this sort of dominant stance, but that was the way Twilight liked it, in all honesty. It filled her with this warm feeling of complete affection and safety when Rarity just did it. Twilight felt like the need to resist was gone now and that familiar feeling of relief came back.

Dash came in and settled on the other side of Rarity, throwing a wing over her with just the tip of it reaching Twilight. Pinkie, meanwhile, came in from the other side and glomped onto Twilight, throwing several legs around her.

Twilight closed her eyes and relaxed. This really was the best. Just like Pinkie said, cuddling was greatly enhanced by being in bed and by going to sleep while you were doing it. Secure, warm, soft, love.

And the feeling just got better and better as Twilight sank into the affection and as she sank into sleep.

Chapter 16

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Twilight awoke the next morning feeling a lot better. She yawned and found that the three had gotten out of bed already. Panic filled Twilight's body for a moment, but calmed down when she heard Pinkie called her name and headed towards the source of the voice.

True to form, the others were eating candy for breakfast, cupcakes and one of those cereals that had so much sugar it was basically candy. Pinkie was considerate of Twilight's dietary needs and made pancakes and eggs with banana slices for her instead. So at least Twilight didn't have to worry about dying from vitamin deficiency if she decided to live here.

Twilight was shocked at how luxurious everything was. Rarity didn't just splurge on that bed, she had the best of everything in this place. The furniture was top quality, the food was top quality, even the bowl Twilight was eating out of was top quality. It had little gold tacking on the side of it, making a vine-like pattern.

They'd shown her their library, which was far more massive than Twilight's. Rarity had collected a large volume of books over the centuries, enough to almost be a library in its own right. Many were old and rare, possibly even one of a kind, given some were hoof-written, from before printing presses were common. Above all else, Twilight looked forward to getting to look through this treasure trove of knowledge.

Rainbow Dash had a room with four guitars and a couple hundred albums in it. Pinkie had a baking room stuffed with baking supplies where she did 'horrible' baking experiments. In every direction you turned, you'd find something astounding.

On one of the tables laid a small bag of gold coins, just sitting there out in the open like it was nothing, and to those three it probably was. Twilight had read a book about coins once and recognized them from that. Each one was worth over 2000 bits and the bag must have had at least a seventy of them. It was several times Twilight's net worth, but just something you left lying about to them.

She almost felt a sting of jealousy for a moment, that they could have just so much more than she ever would, but it quickly faded. Twilight could have this, she really could! She could have wealth and friends, time and security and even more. All this just because somepony cared about her.

The only barrier was her fear and ignorance. Applejack's warnings about being a prisoner in her own body and how Rarity could never really love someone like Twilight were burned into her mind. And then there was the fact that Twilight knew so little about vampires and what living with them would mean. The second problem had an easy solution, at least.

“So, uh.” Twilight took a bit of her eggs and chewed it, looking over the vampires she was having breakfast with. Really, the strangest part was how casual it was. “I guess I should ask what the vampire rules are? There are vampire rules, right?”

“Hm. Well let's see.” Pinkie stuck her spoon in her mouth and flicked it around with her jaw as she thought. “Going into somepony's house uninvited is a big no-no. That makes you burst into fire! Holy water and anything Celestia-shaped burns us. Silver and sunlight makes us lose our powers. We're okay with garlic, though. And uh... what am I forgetting?”

“The good stuff?” Dash offered. “You stop aging once you become a vampire! Suddenly life doesn't have a time limit anymore. Vampires don't get sick and we heal from any wound that doesn't kill us and it takes a lot to kill us. You got a fifty fifty shot of surviving decapitation, even.”

“And then there's the other powers,” said Rarity. “The older you get the stronger your charm becomes. You've felt it, haven't you? It's not that you get more beautiful every year, it's the other ponies simply see you as more beautiful.”

“Okay, that's the first thing I have a problem with,” said Twilight. “Or at least I think I have a problem with it. Isn't that a little like mind control?”

Twilight didn't want to say it out loud, but all this morning she had a creeping fear about Rarity's charm. What if the only reason Twilight liked her friends was because she was being mind controlled? Slight it may be, but it would still make her feel cheated in a way.

“I'm not entirely comfortable with it myself,” said Rarity. “It's the reason why I rarely take my true form, even though these two beg to see it so often.”

“I do not beg you to do it,” Dash rolled her eyes, but then added in a mutter, “just kind of ask you to sometimes."

“I admit it!” Pinkie nodded and stabbed her spoon into her cereal. “Rarity is so amazingly beautiful like that how could I not want to see it? And it feels great when her charm is sinking it's fangs into you.”

Twilight had to agree with Pinkie that it felt great to be under Rarity's charm. Maybe as long as it was temporary and consensual, then it really wasn't too different from a hug.

“But when I'm like this.” Rarity swiped a hoof across her beautiful self. “Really I have no more mind control than all the other beautiful ponies in the world. Of course pony's want my attention, to do things for me, but that's true of all pretty mares, isn't it?”

“What about hypnosis? I heard vampires are supposed to have that. I also heard that-” Twilight braced herself. Here was the big question, about what Applejack's book said. “-well I read this book, you see?”

“Did Appledork give it to you?” Dash asked.

“Yes? It's, uh 'The Only Official Guide to Vampires' by Granny Smith.”

“Twilight, that book was written by a serial killer!” Dash slammed her spoon down over the table and leaned over the table. “Granny Smith murdered like sixty people, half of them weren't even vampires. Are you seriously going to trust a deranged ax murderer over an actual vampire?”

“Well you said to test and question everything, right?”

Rarity nodded. Dash conceded she was right and slumped back into the chair. Pinkie Pie held up her bowl to drink the last of the sugary milk inside.

“Okay, uh. Well first of all it said vampires do kill ponies,” said Twilight. “It said you sucked out the blood and soul of other ponies, burning them up for energy. The book didn't say anything about this.”

Twilight pointed to the last piece of candy on Pinkie's plate before she popped that into her mouth.

“And I bet you've only seen evidence to the contrary,” said Rarity. “We only eat sugar and never in my life have I killed another pony.”

“Yeah, you've seen us eat plenty of candy before,” said Dash, “but you ever once seen us be like 'oh, hang on a sec while we go hack this guy to pieces'. Just look at how much sugar we got in this place!”

It was true that their pantry was filled with nothing but fruits, candy, bags of sugar, bottles of syrup and honey and all manner of sweet things.

“Indeed,” said Rarity. “The evidence that we're right is all around you, and the only thing on the other side is that someone wrote something down on a piece of paper.”

“Well, that and the fact that ponies are turning up dead,” said Twilight, “like Applejack mentioned.”

“And like you mentioned that's because of the dreadstalker,” said Rarity. “Those deaths have been investigated, Twilight. I'm sure Fluttershy can tell if something is really a dreadstalker.”

“And hey, how do we know you didn't do it, huh?” Dash jabbed her fork at Twilight.

“Well-! Okay, I guess you have a point there,” said Twilight. “There's one more problem the book mentioned, though. It says vampires, like when they make a minion that minion is under the direct control of its sire. The book said it was to the point where you don't even get to move your own body any more. You're just stuck inside yourself.”

“If that was the case there'd only be one vampire controlling all the others, wouldn't there?” Rarity asked. “And yes, there is an 'original vampire.'”

Twilight wanted to hit herself in the head. Why hadn't she thought of that? Though, then again that was only the case if there was an original vampire. Twilight needed to ask about vampire history later, find out where they came from.

“And do me and Pinks really look like mindless drones to you, Twi?” Dash asked.

“Yeah! Would a mindless drone do this?” Pinkie set down her empty plates and ran over to the couch. She jumped up onto the back of it, laughing, then stumbled and fell to the ground. “W- whaag! I, uh, meant to do something else.”

Twilight watched Pinkie pull herself back up. That was strangely convincing.

“It is true that you share a mental link with anypony you create,” said Rarity. “The two of them have a direct connection between their minds and my magic. As a far older and more powerful vampire, I could influence their thoughts and actions very strongly. Though all of us share a mental link with the original vampire as well.”

“So then you admit it?” Twilight asked. “You really could force them to do what you wanted?”

Rarity wiped her mouth, got up and trotted over to Twilight's side. She put one of her hooves on Twilight's cheeks.

“Twilight, I could bash your head into oblivion with one slap.” Rarity gave her a very gentle one instead. “But I would never do it, because I love you. Just the same, I could easily force my fledglings into doing my command, but I would never want to do that. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie are my beloved sisters, not my slaves.”

“Yeah, it's more like being a changeling,” said Pinkie, “but without having to do all that gross bug stuff! We can kinda feel each other's emotions a little, that's all!”

“I'd know it if Rarity was trying to force anything on me,” said Dash. “And for the record I wouldn't like it. Don't think I'm just some pushover, either. You ever see me stumble over, looking like I'm in the middle of a mental battle, well then you have my permission to punch Rarity.”

“I suppose the bottom line is I can't prove for certain they aren't mindless drones,” said Rarity, “at least, not any more than anyone can prove they aren't a murderer. But as I said, I'm not asking you to make the decision now. I'm not even letting you. Just watch everything we do carefully and learn what you can about mental links and then decide. You have as much time as you want.”

“That could work.” Twilight nodded to herself. It was pretty simple, actually. It'd take a long time to get to that level of mastery, but once she did Twilight could be fairly certain if they were being mind controlled.

Though only fairly certain. Twilight would only really know for sure if she actually took the plunge herself.

“Any more questions?” Rarity asked.

“Endless amounts!” Twilight assured them. “Like, uh. What's even next? What about that vampire princess you mentioned? Who is she?”

“Can't tell ya!” Pinkie shook her head. “I mean, I know who she is. Met her even! But can't tell you her name.”

“Yes, I suppose that's the one thing I forgot to mention,” said Rarity. “A vampire can't reveal the identity of another vampire. If hypothetically, you knew another vampire I wouldn't be able to tell you they were a vampire. I wouldn't even be able to hint at it too much. The best I could muster is to warn you if their intentions weren't very good or something like that.”

A part of Twilight thought about that. Those three warned her about Applejack a lot, didn't they? But she couldn't be a vampire too, could she? They also said something about Applejack being hurt badly by a vampire...could that be it?

Twilight pushed the thought to the back of her mind for the moment. Besides, she had an opportunity to learn more!