Xenophilia: Cultural Norms

by Goat Licker

First published

Lero continues learning about the cultural norms of Ponyville. He'll have plenty of help. Based in the Xenophilia universe.

Since arriving in Equestria, Lero has struggled to fit in with Pony society. His beloved herdmates, Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and Lyra, will continue to help him adapt to Pony culture.

Meanwhile, Berry Punch attempts to deal with the absurdity of her life. It mostly involves drinking.

1. Bath Time

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Even though Lero had long since told her that she could come in without knocking, Twilight Sparkle still had to fight feelings of awkwardness entering Lero's house. It felt as if she was breaking some immutable social law. To make herself feel better, Twilight would slowly open the door before making known her presence.

“Hi Lero, hi Rainbow Dash!” Twilight said. Lero was lying on the couch, resting up after a hard day’s work. Rainbow Dash was sprawled atop him, reading a book. Twilight trotted toward the two and gave Rainbow Dash a peck on the cheek.

“Hey smart stuff, glad you got that report done!”

“Oh yes, I rushed over here as fast as I could,” Twilight said, as she leaned toward Lero with a big smile. Lero reached out and held her head as they both kissed their greeting.

“Mmm, thanks,” Twilight said. “So, are you guys ready?”

Lero raised his eyebrows. “Ready for what?”

“The spa! Today’s the big day!”

Rainbow Dash’s book made a thunderous bellow as she slammed it shut. She let out a nervous, forced laugh. “Oh yeah, ha ha! The spa!”

“The spa?” Lero said, sitting up as much as he could without knocking Rainbow Dash to the floor.

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight said. “You didn’t tell him!”

“Hey, I forgot!” She leapt off his chest with an impressive display of acrobatics before landing on the rug. “You could have told him!”

“You told me you wanted to be the one to tell him, so it wouldn’t look like we were ganging up on him!”

“Well, you should have reminded me!”

“Ladies,” Lero said, sitting up. “I’m fine with going to the spa. Relaxing with you two after what I had to do today is a great idea.” The average pony’s diet of grasses and vegetables did not make working in raw sewage any less unpleasant.

Both mares looked askance and made hesitant noises.

“Okaaay,” Lero said. “There’s something I’m missing here. What’s going on?”

“Well...” Twilight said, scuffing her hoof against the rug.

“We’re not the only ones who’ll be there,” Rainbow Dash said. “Fluttershy will be there.”

“And Rarity,” Twilight said.

“And Applejack.”

“...and Pinkie Pie.”

Lero shrugged. “That’s fine.”

“The main thing is that we’re going to be in the big tub together,” Twilight Sparkle said. “You know...naked.”

“Including you, big guy.”

That was the cue for embarrassment and shyness to prance in and paint Lero red.

“Dude, it’ll be okay.” Rainbow Dash said. “It’s with ponies you’re friends with! It's not like you're going out in front of the whole town.”

“Dash, we’ve already talked about this,” Lero said. “It’s... it’s just hard for me to get over, okay?”

Rainbow Dash huffed at Lero’s ever-present nudity taboo. He stood up from the couch and rocked from one leg to another, a sign Rainbow Dash recognized from him as nervousness.

Twilight Sparkle stood next to Rainbow Dash, viewing Lero with a gentle smile. “Lero, you’re always talking about how hard you try to fit in with us ponies, but you always wear clothes when you go out amongst us.”

“’Amongst’? Really egghead?”

“Dash,” Twilight said, turning to face her. “Don’t interrupt!”

Rainbow Dash lifted a hoof and held it out to Lero as if she was presenting a new guest. “Have at it,” Dash said.

“As I was saying, you’d fit in a lot better if you’d stop wearing clothes all the time – a human custom, not a pony custom, I might add. Like Dash said, we don’t expect you to go out in public naked. Consider this spa visitation foal steps to help you learn to fit in better with us ponies.”

“Yeah!” Rainbow Dash said. “If you think about it, you stand out more for wearing clothes than for not wearing them!”

“Oh, so a sapient bipedal hominid walking around Ponyville doesn’t stand out at all,” Lero said.

Rainbow Dash groaned while Twilight Sparkle giggled. “I’m afraid you’re always going to stand out,” Twilight said.

Rainbow Dash sighed. “Look, I’m sorry we’re ganging up on you like this. I should have asked you about it sooner.”

“It’s okay,” Lero said with a smile. “I know you aren’t trying to pressure me.”

“But, could I ask one question?” Twilight said as Rainbow Dash shot her a dirty look. “Is there anything outside of the taboo that’s holding you back? Like, is your natural bashfulness that difficult to overcome?”

Like you have anything to be bashful about, Rainbow Dash thought. She knew it would only make him blush harder if she said it, though.

With as impassive a poker face as he could muster, Lero said, “The human body is a shameful, disgusting thing and should be covered at all times.”

“What!” Rainbow Dash shouted, her wings lifting her off the ground. “That’s crazy!”

“It’s not shameful!” Twilight Sparkle said, taking a hard step forward.

“It’s beautiful!” Rainbow Dash said.

“I love every inch of your body!” Twilight Sparkle stood as if taken aback by what she said, and then blushed deeply, hanging her head as her ears flattened. Rainbow Dash’s laughter at her sudden confession wasn’t helping her mood either.

“Ladies,” Lero said, holding up his hands in a placating gesture, “I was just joking. I don’t believe that at all.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyebrows rose at this reveal. He got one over on me, she thought. I can always tell when he’s joking. A smile crept across her mouth. I’ll get him next time!

Lero walked toward the still blushing Twilight Sparkle with a gentle smile. He knelt down and lifted her head, gently kissing her on the lips. Twilight closed her eyes and sat on her haunches, putting her forelegs over his shoulders.

Lero broke the kiss and smiled into Twilight Sparkle’s searching eyes. “Twilight,” Lero said. “I love every inch of your body, too.”

Twilight Sparkle blushed again, but this time in deep pleasure. “Oh, thank you Lero! That- that means a lot to me!”

“Hey, are you forgetting someone?” Rainbow Dash said, flapping in place. She folded her forelegs over and viewed her two mates with mock irritation. “It’s not nice to show favoritism.”

“Not at all,” Lero said, standing up as Twilight Sparkle released his shoulders. Rainbow Dash landed on her hind legs and couldn’t help but lick her lips in anticipation, a gesture Lero noticed and acknowledged with a grin. Rainbow Dash threw her forelegs around his neck and lunged into his kiss, letting his tongue enter and play with hers. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and finished the kiss.

“Rainbow Dash,” Lero said. “I love every inch of Twilight Sparkle’s body.”

“I love ev- hey!” Rainbow Dash shouted as Lero got out from under her forelegs. Twilight Sparkle broke into merry laughter. Rainbow Dash looked at the two and shook a crude fist at them both. “Oh ho ho! Trying to be a joker, huh? How about we have a little competition? See which one of us is the best at pulling jokes!”

Lero’s eyes widened in terror. “I don’t have a chance of winning against you.”

Whoops, Rainbow Dash thought, maybe I’m coming on too strong there. “Don’t worry big guy, I’ll handicap myself. It needs to be a fair fight, after all.”

“Maybe some other day,” Lero said. Still, he bent down to hug Rainbow Dash and put his mouth to her ear. “I love every inch of your body, love. You know that.”

Rainbow Dash let the warmth flow through her. “Yours too.” A lascivious grin spread across her face. “But some inches I love more than others.”

Lero pulled back and smiled at her. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll do it.”

“Alright!” Rainbow Dash said. “First person to get pranked ten times loses! Nothing that hurts though, so no shockers.”

“No, I mean I’ll go to the spa. Naked. With you two.”

Twilight Sparkle clapped her hooves together. “Oh, I’m so proud of you Lero! This is big step for you, and I promise we’ll do everything to make you comfortable.”

Lero nodded, trying to regulate his breathing. Come on, Rainbow Dash thought, you can do it! “Sounds like a plan. As long as you two are with me, I’ll be okay.”

“Of course we’ll be with you, Lero,” Twilight said.

“I just need to prepare,” Lero said as he headed toward the bathroom. “I’ll be out in a bit.”


The walk to the spa was pleasant, despite Twilight Sparkle sharing the non-classified parts of an obtuse and bizarre report she had just finished for the Princess. Dash noticed that Twilight had a little more spring in her step and light-heartedness in her voice, and she knew why – Lero telling her he loved her body had made Twilight extremely happy. Dash couldn’t help but smile at the loving eyes Twilight wore when she looked up at their stallion. Good going, Lero, Rainbow Dash thought. I haven’t seen her that giddy in a while.

The three entered the spa, greeting Aloe and Lotus. Both told them the rest of their group had already arrived, and Lero’s two mares could sense the tension in his body. Rainbow Dash was hoping they would have made it early enough to beat everyone to the bath – no such luck. Well, this will be his baptism of fire, except with water, Rainbow Dash thought. Ugh, what a terrible joke.

The three entered the changing room – really a place for bathers to set aside any personal effects - and waited for Lero to disrobe. He was taking deep breaths to calm himself.

“Are you gonna make it?” Rainbow Dash said. “It’s okay if you want to turn around.” He’s trying so hard to make us happy. We have to find a way to pay him back.

“We’ll be happy to go back with you,” Twilight said, and she meant it.

Lero nodded. “I’m good. Let’s go.”

Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash watched Lero look around the room. Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. “Uh, you need to take off your clothes first.”

Lero hesitated, and then removed his articles of clothing, laying them out one by one on a wooden bench. Twilight Sparkle couldn’t help herself, and used her magic to fold them into neat stacks.

Rainbow Dash instantly noticed what he had done, and started laughing. “Did you go to the bathroom to trim your pubic hair?”

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight hissed.

“Well... I wanted to make sure I was presentable. No need to be, um, untidy.”

“Heh,” Rainbow Dash said, grinning from her laughter. “You trimmed your chest hair too. Actually... you look really good.”

“Thanks,” Lero said, a little tersely.

Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle approached Lero and stood on their hind legs, placing their forelegs on him for support (both for them and for him). Lero wrapped an arm around each one, pulling them close to his body.

“Thank you both,” Lero said. “I’m sorry I’m making such a big deal about this.”

“You’re fighting a deeply ingrained cultural norm,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Of course you’re going to feel nervous.”

“We’re with you,” Rainbow Dash said. Forever, she thought, her heart filling with a sweet pain. The broke the embrace and entered into the spa, where their friends were waiting.


So the first problem, Rainbow Dash decided, was going to be keeping their pony friends from making Lero uncomfortable with shows of affection. While he had adapted well to the tactile, affectionate nature of ponydom during his stay in Equestria (Rainbow Dash was a lot like him, in eschewing a majority of public displays of affection), it didn’t take an egghead to know Lero receiving embraces, nuzzles, or kisses from his friends, while naked, would cause him intense discomfort. Pinkie Pie’s normal greeting of assault hugging was not the way to go, and Rainbow Dash was ready to be a pony shield for any attempts at violent displays of affection.

The second problem would be comments on the parts of his unclothed body most different from ponies, specifically his penis shape and lack of a penile sheath. One time Rainbow Dash had inadvertently hurt his feelings by teasing him about his penis being smaller than the average stallion. After Dash’s passionate, though confused, apology, Lero explained this aspect of his home culture, where a large penis was valued as a symbol of sexual prowess and manhood, and smaller penises were considered undesirable. Dash thought it borderline psychotic – he uses it so well (“You’re the best rut in all Equestria!” which Lero thought hilarious due to her lack of sexual experience), so why does size matter? Dash explained that a mare’s only preference for penis size was that it fit, and his fit beautifully (this was also why Big Mac had not yet been approached by a mare – his would be too huge for the average mare in Ponyville to take). Ultimately, Lero seemed more embarrassed that he had taken offense at her teasing than the actual teasing itself.

Twilight Sparkle, upon hearing this story, opined that the confusion had to do with patriarchal and matriarchal differences in their respective societies. Since a penis was the most obvious defining characteristic of a male, and physical size denoted strength and power – things important in patriarchal societies – then a large penis would be valued as well, at least symbolically. Twilight echoed Dash’s sentiment that penis size was far less important to the mares in Equestria, who wouldn’t want their canals being brutalized by overly large stallions (“Though there is a fetish for everything...” Twilight Sparkle trailed off).

The three entered the main bathing area, Lero between the two as if they were his bodyguards. Four ponies sitting on short stools turned toward the late comers and exchanged greetings, with Lero mumbling something and displaying a lethargic hand wave. He didn’t so much as look at the mares as pass his eyes over them.

The two herdmates tried to stick to their stallion, but the seating arrangement wouldn't allow this. There was a space between Applejack and Rarity that Lero took, mostly because it was closest to him and allowed him to sit down quickly. Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle took the two spare seats on the other side of Applejack.

Since the ponies were sitting on the stools with their haunches, Lero folded his legs under him. Rainbow Dash didn’t think it looked comfortable, but she didn't want to bring attention to him by pointing it out.

“Darlings,” Rarity said, amongst her collection of shampoos, moisturizers, conditioners, soaps, and creams, “I’m so glad you were able to make it.” Using her magic, Rarity lightly dabbed her body with a sponge. “Lero dear, you especially deserve a nice long soak, after that awful job the mayor had you doing.”

“That was more than I bargained for,” Lero said with a forced laugh. He lifted the bowl over his head and deluged his body with crystal-clear water. He had already showered as soon as his job had been finished that day, so he made a rudimentary lather from the soap instead of an intense scrubbing.

“Mr. Handy’s a hard worker,” Applejack said, her sparse display of one bar of soap a striking contrast to Rarity’s opulent layout. “There ain’t much ponies willing to do dirty work like that, being frilly and all.”

“It’s good I scheduled our bath for today, then,” Rarity said, ignoring Applejack’s attempt at causing trouble. “It’s a little too late for the full spa treatment, but a comforting soak in hot water should suffice.”

“You know, there are cultures on earth that do communal bathing,” Lero said, this fact causing Rainbow Dash’s ears to pick up and a grin to spread across her face. There are humans not scared to be naked in public? “Ha!” she said, “so you mean not every hu-” what am I doing? Dash thought. “Um-”

“That’s interesting,” Twilight said, interrupting a conversation she and Fluttershy were having. “Is it done the same way too?”

“Pretty much,” Lero said. “They would douse themselves in water like this, soaping up and rinsing off before soaking in the tub, or even a hot spring.”

“Hot springs!” Rarity said, her eyes lighting up. “We must schedule some vacation time this winter and visit a hot spring! Say you’ll come, Lero.”

“It’s a plan,” Lero said, managing to look Rarity in the eye as he said it.

Eventually the seven rinsed off and made way to the tub. Lero was quick to enter, and Rainbow Dash and Twilight made sure to sit on both sides of him. Fluttershy drew an imaginary line with her hoof while waiting for the rest to enter the tub. Applejack and Pinkie Pie waited outside, watching Rarity slowly immerse herself into the tub before assaulting her with a double cannonball. Only then did Fluttershy enter.

Rarity tried to pout, but was too angry to pull it off. “Seriously? The both of you? This is supposed to be relaxing!”

“Come on Rarity, lighten up a little,” Applejack said, saddling up next to her. “It’s fun when it’s your friends.”

“I don’t know what definition of fun you’re using,” Rarity huffed, “but there’s more to life than the mindless pursuit of constant stimula-”

Pinkie Pie, who had remained submerged, immediately burst out of the water and pointed a hoof at Lero. “You have encountered a Lero! Attack, Magic, Morph, Item? Attack! Critical hit! 132HP damage! Yay!”

Bafflement mangled Lero’s face. “You know what RPGs are?”

“Know what what is?” Pinkie Pie ducked back under the water, and Lero crossed his legs.

“Relax,” Rainbow Dash whispered, putting her cheek on his shoulder. “It’s not what you’re thinking.”

The friends soaked in the tub, with the usual oohs and ahs punctuating the conversation. Eventually, it drifted toward the incident Rainbow Dash experienced with the ponies trying to pick a fight with her over Lero. “It’s a good thing Lyra showed up when she did,” Rainbow Dash said. “There would have been some hurt ponies.”

“I’m really sorry that has to happen here,” Fluttershy said as Applejack nodded. She looked at Lero. “I’m glad no one has tried to start a fight with you.”

“Me too,” Lero said. He smiled at Dash and nudged her with his elbow. “There would have been a hurt human if it was just me.”

“Hey, you’re pretty tough,” Rainbow Dash said. “You get some over me every now and then when we’re play fighting.”

“Play fighting,” Lero said.

“Your hands might sure be useful,” Applejack said, “but they ain’t as hard as hooves. Can’t see ‘em doing much damage there.”

Lero smiled at Applejack’s brutal, and sometimes tactless, honesty. “It’d be better for me to grapple or get them in a choke hold instead of striking,” Lero said. “Which may be fine for a one-on-one battle, but it wouldn’t work against a group.”

“Pardon me for butting in,” Rarity said, “but could we please put this dreadful conversation aside?”

“That goes for me too, please,” Twilight said. “I can’t stand thinking about some pony wanting to hurt you. It makes me mad.”

The bath time had continued splendidly after that, and Lero didn’t rush to cover himself when it was time for everyone to exit the tub. However, he did dress more quickly than normal. The group had said goodbye, and, as the sun was setting, Lero headed toward home with his two mares as civil workers began lighting the gas lamps. The first stars shuffled in to take their seats for the night.

“I’m glad I did that,” Lero said.

“I’m so proud of you!” Twilight said.

“Yeah, and I’m surprised everypony acted so normal about it,” Rainbow Dash said. “I was afraid they’d make a big deal about you being naked and make it worse.”

“Of course not,” Twilight Sparkle said with a smile that could only be read as pride of accomplishment. “I talked to them about it a week ago. No staring, no touching, just normal conversation.”

Her two mates looked at her. “Wow, you had this... oh yeah!” Rainbow Dash said, as she pounded one forehoof into the other. “We discussed that when I was supposed to tell Lero.” She made a sheepish grin at Lero, who was now propping an eyebrow at her forgetfulness. “Sorry guys, I really dropped the ball there.”

“No damage done,” Lero said. “It all went well.” He patted Twilight Sparkle on her shoulder. “Thanks for looking out for me.”

“Of course!” Twilight said, as she rushed ahead of Lero and turned around. She got up on her hind legs and rested her front hooves against his chest, and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. “Someone has to!”

Expecting more praise, Twilight Sparkle looked at Lero’s frozen face with some confusion.

“Twilight, come on,” Rainbow Dash said.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Twilight said. “I forgot about the public affection thing!” Twilight Sparkle was never one to hide her emotions, and her raw feelings of shame made themselves manifest with her downcast glance, her drooping shoulders, and eyes coated with shame at her faux pas. Lero and Dash could see this clearly.

Lero bent down and scooped Twilight into his arms, flipping her over on her back and cradling her in his arms. She yelped and squeaked, and then laughed joyfully when Lero kissed her tummy.

“It’s fine if it’s you,” Lero said. “Don’t worry about it, okay?”

“Okay,” Twilight Sparkle said, with an odd note of shyness. “But I promise I’ll try my best not to embarrass you.”

“You’ll never embarrass me,” Lero said. Twilight Sparkle smiled and gently caressed his cheek with her hoof. He turned his head and kissed the bottom of her hoof.

He adjusted his holding of Twilight so that she was sitting upright in his arms. His fingers intertwined to form a seat for her rump, and her forelegs arced over his shoulders as she nuzzled Lero’s neck with closed eyes and delighted sighs. Her tail swished gently against his legs.

She opened her eyes and grinned. “Don’t look now, but I think we’re being followed by a lecher.”

Lero turned around and laughed at the cartoonishly perverted leer Rainbow Dash was wearing.

“Enjoying the show, Dash?” Lero said.

“What show? It hasn’t started yet,” Rainbow Dash said. She took to the air and flew next to Lero as he carried Twilight Sparkle to his home.

2. Steam Donkey

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The old tavern creaked when ponies trotted across its wooden floor, but their boisterous sounds of merriment drowned out its moans of old age. The Steam Donkey had been in the same spot since Ponyville’s pioneer days, and while it had never been the classiest of places (even less so now that tea houses were the pony public’s gathering place of choice), the clientele were not bothered by its reputation.

Berry Punch watched the jenny come up from the cellar with a bottle of her favored beverage – Pinot noir. Barringcoat, a descendant of the donkey family who founded the tavern, placed the wine on the badly tarnished mahogany bar.

“Here you go, Berry. Fresh and properly chilled.”

“Thanks. Put it on my tab.”

“As always!”

Berry Punch turned her head sideways and bit the neck of the bottle, lifting it up. She swung around from the bar, the wine held horizontally in her mouth, and smacked a unicorn mare’s lowball onto the floor.

“Thorry,” Berry said.

The drenched mare, her horn flashing in anger as the remains of her sazerac changed her light blue coat into a gross blotch, whinnied her anger. “Sorry doesn’t cut it! You need to watch where you’re going!”

“I’ll get you a new drink,” Barringcoat said. “On the house.”

The mare’s brain was a factory of wounded pride as she stared at Berry’s backside receding into the distance. “I’m talking to you, plummy! You come back and apologize!”

“Thbbt dnnd arghhbt,” Berry Punch said. She let out a filly-like giggle as her lips were tickled by the glass bottle vibrating with her voice.

“What did you call me?” The mare’s horn flashed orange, but her concentration was interrupted by Barringcoat’s hoof touching her shoulder.

“Don’t fight her.”

The mare jerked her body away from Barringcoat’s hoof, her face caked with disgust. “Since when have you banned fighting, huh?”

“I haven’t,” Barringcoat said, a crack entering her soothing voice due to dark feelings about the mare’s reaction to her touch. “But you’re trying to fight a Drunken Hoof master. Fight her, and you’ll just end up feeling depressed and slightly violated. Let me get you a towel and a new drink.”

The mention of Berry Punch’s martial arts mastery – and in an art that was disharmonious! – was a quick-acting antidote to her poisoned thoughts. Besides, that mare did say “sorry”, didn’t she?

“Well... a new drink would be nice.”

“I’ll get right on it,” Barringcoat said. She tossed the mare a towel before preparing her new drink.

Berry Punch approached her table, where Amethyst Star, Junebug, and Red Harvest (Golden Harvest’s cousin visiting from Cloudsdale), sat in wait. Red Harvest was a dirt brown pegasus stallion with a peach mane. He was a holder of a rare abstract cutie mark, his being an odd assortment of rectangles of many shapes and angles jammed into each other, longer horizontally than it was vertically, with one end tapering off into a triangle. His cutie mark was as black as shadow.

Berry Punch interrupted the conversation they were having by nuzzling each member of the group in greeting.

“Could you at least put the bottle down before doing that?” Amethyst Star said, as she dodged the Pinot noir when Berry tuned to nuzzle a surprised (because they had only met each other once before) Red Harvest.

Berry sat down on the thick and soft rug, which would have been considered an outright luxury in the early days of the tavern. Steam Donkey originally served earth ponies that came in sweaty and dirty from hard work, earth ponies who wanted some good liquor before heading home to attack their tiredness with sleep. Dirty, sweating bodies sprawling over rugs would make for ridiculous cleaning bills, so only hard wood met bottoms in the old days. The floor was cedar for that antiseptic touch.

Junebug had already drained her pear cider, and her mug was coated with a pale yellow film. Amethyst Star kept a bottle of brandy at the bar, and was sharing some with Red Harvest, who carefully used his hooves to manipulate the snifter. He was skilled at wing manipulation, but Amethyst Star told him that brandy was great when warmed by hooves.

Junebug eyed Berry Punch. “Did you forget your glass?”

Berry Punch pulled out the cork with her teeth, pointedly let it drop on the table in Amethyst’s direction, and took a long swig of her wine.

“Never mind.”

“At least let it aerate,” Amethyst Star said, as she magically swirled the brandy in her snifter. Red Harvest noticed that she didn’t use her hooves, and wondered if he had been taken for a sucker.

“Takes too long. Got places to do, things to drink.” Berry Punch turned her half-cocked smile toward Junebug. “I was interrupting something interesting.”

“Yeah, let’s hear the rest of this,” Amethyst Star said to Junebug.

“W-well, I was pulling out the weeds when I saw him,” Junebug said. “I mean, he came right up to me and started helping out! I was so scared! He had those c-claws out, and when he spoke I’d catch a glimpse of his fangs... I mean, I know he won’t hurt anypony, but goodness he gives me a fright!”

Red Harvest waited to see if the mares had anything to add before speaking. “He is intimidating,” he said. “He usually sits down or folds his legs when he talks to us.”

“Oh, Mr. Lero did that for me, but I kept feeling like he was going to p-pounce.” She sighed. “I wish I could stop being afraid of him. He’s very kind. But every time he comes near, I just want to run away, ya know?”

Amethyst snorted. “He’s not scary at all.”

“Well, you have unicorn magic to protect you.”

“It’s not that. I can’t be scared of ugly.”

Red Harvest was trying to figure out how to voice a disagreement when Berry Punch said, “He’s different, so you think he’s ugly.”

“Sure he’s different... did you finish your bottle already?”

“No,” Berry Punch said. She tipped the bottle over and a drop came out. “See?” She leaned over and licked the drop from the table. “Now it’s finished.”

“That was gross, Berry,” Junebug said.

“But yeah,” Berry Punch said. “He’s not ugly, just different. You know, with the walking around on two legs, and the cat eyes, and the scales and fire.”

“Oh, ha, ha,” Amethyst said, toneless. “You heard Junebug say ‘Lero’, so don’t pretend she was talking about Spike.”

“I’m pretending you’re in Tartarus right now.”

“As I was saying, I think he’s ugly,” Amethyst said, with a challenging glare tossed at Berry Punch. “With that flat face, and weird looking muzzle with the nostrils underneath.”

“I bet he can smell his breath easier,” Berry Punch said.

“How can he see anything with those tiny eyes? And he’s virtually hairless! I mean, you can see that pinkish skin, like a plucked chicken. And what are those ears for? They don’t even move!”

“They hold his face together,” Berry Punch said. “You take one off and the other falls out like a broken doorknob. Then you have to put the pieces of his head back together and affix the doorknobs back. I mean, the ears.”

“W-what?” Red Harvest said. “Um...”

“Pay her no mind,” Amethyst said. “Her filter doesn’t work.”

That’s hardly an explanation at all, Red Harvest thought.

“I don’t think he’s ugly,” Junebug said.

“I don’t either,” Red Harvest said, watching for reactions. “His face has sort of a gentle look to it, to me. I mean, he’s really different, like Berry Punch said, but there’s a sort of exotic handsomeness to his features, you know?”

“Heh. That’s a polite way of saying weird-looking,” Amethyst said. “You know, it’s fitting he herds with the two skinniest mares in Ponyville. No stallion in his right mind would take those two, so they settle for an ape. Ha!”

“You know what’s funny, is that there’s kind of a historical precedent for it,” Junebug said, trying to remember her ancient history lessons. “Bucephalus the Great tamed a pony-eating gorilla. It even accompanied him on his battles as a war-ape. I can’t remember its name, though.”

Amethyst Star snorted. “I’d hardly compare those nags to Bucephalus the Great.”

“Yeah,” Red Harvest said with a nervous laugh. “Those are some flat flanks. Lyra’s pretty good looking, though.”

“She’s alluring, sure,” Amethyst said. “She’s just weird. Like I said, fitting.”


Lyra straddled Lero’s lap, her body pressed against his, front to front, her front legs arced over his muscular shoulders. His knees were bent and pressed against her back while he held her with his arms. Her rear legs were bent at the hock as she pressed them against his back. She was slightly taller than him this way, and she looked down into his half lidded eyes, their mouths parted as they shared one breath, bodies close from the position they had maintained since penetration twenty minutes ago. The only proof of any sort of exertion was the gentle perspiration coating their bodies.

Lyra had been overjoyed at how quickly Lero had taken to this position, something she had only ever been able to successfully do with mares. She had dolphin-style sex with stallions before, of course (Lyra had more sexual experience than her three herdmates combined), but it was extremely difficult for a stallion to maintain this upright position, sitting on his rump while a mare balanced in his lap - not to mention no stallion could last as long as her Lero.

His unique body allowed him to wrap his limbs around Lyra with ease, which was fitting for a position where the point was physical closeness. When Lero was able to wrap both legs and arms around her and press her close, Lyra felt as if she was being enveloped and taken into him. He could reach her horn, too, but Lyra didn’t want that distraction right now, and Lero complied.

Their breath increased together, and their bodies trembled like petals touched by a gentle breeze. They had not broken their mutual stare, as even their eyelids synchronized blinks. There was one heartbeat with both bodies pressed together, senses attuned to hot breath and rushing blood, senses so enveloped with each other that neither heard Rainbow Dash’s derisive comment from the doorway about how boring it was to watch, and how could anypony even like having sex that long without moving. They didn’t hear Twilight shush her, either.

Their heart rate increased, and Lyra knew it was coming soon, when she’d have to leave her stallion. Unlike Rainbow Dash, orgasm wasn’t her favorite part of sex – it was the intimacy, the point after penetration, when she could revel in her stallion and let the pleasure and love overtake her. A climax was exactly what it meant – the end of the closeness.

“Not that I don’t like it when he makes me come,” she had explained to Rainbow Dash. She loved it, and she loved it because she knew how it made Lero feel. It was important that he be able to induce these reactions from his mares, and who was she to deny that?

So they approached climax, and when neither could tell when Lero began and Lyra ended, they came together. Lero, encased in living electric silk, trembled as he ejaculated. His trembling was Lyra’s, and her climax joined his and gripped her body, released, and gripped again, constantly, her breathing now gasps of pleasure, his breathing interrupted with those quiet moans he made. The end, she thought (the first thought she was aware of having), as the last bit of semen erupted inside her. But another beginning will be here, and then, the best part – the middle.

(Once, when she was trying to vocalize her feelings, Lero called the middle that she was so fond of stretching until it felt like forever, “the big long now”. Lyra thought it a hilarious turn of phrase, and decided to keep it.)

Lero slowly lay on his back, and only when he was completely supine did Lyra disengage. She rolled onto her side of his bed and rested her head on that wonderful shoulder of his. A trail of their fluids leading from her vagina traveled across her belly and ended at his penis, made shiny by the lantern-light reflecting their fluids coating its surface.

The three mares had their own specific post-coital rituals – Rainbow Dash liked to talk and cuddle, while Twilight sometimes couldn’t help but fall asleep, though she wanted to “compare notes” when she awoke. Lyra’s ritual was one of simple contemplation, more feelings than thoughts, of her mate.

Lero’s arm pulled around Lyra’s upper barrel, and let his hand be caught in her hooves. Such an amazing device, Lyra thought, feeling his soft flesh that served as organic clothing for the surprising strength contained in those fingers. Her horn flared and her magic touched his hand. It was like he was touching her magic, that ethereal part not just of her body, but of her spirit, and she let out a pleased sigh at the feeling of closeness.

She spread each finger apart like a web, and used her magic to manipulate joints like simple gears. She moved his fingers together and spread them out, glancing up at Lero’s smile. She grinned hugely before closing the fingers into a fist and opening them up again. She let go with her magic but held on with her hooves. She moved his hand toward her muzzle and kissed the tips, gentle and slow like she was paying homage to a holy object. Lero trailed his fingertips from her muzzle toward her ear, letting his palm touch her cheek. She held his arm with both hooves and let out a sigh, thick with pleasure and love.


“Lyra’s mean,” Berry Punch said. “She won’t fight me.”

“Good,” Amethyst said, slapping her hoof on the table. “I hope you never get to fight anypony ever again, for as long as you live.”

“I challenged her to a fight, and she looked like she wanted to throw up.”

“I can’t imagine that,” Junebug said. “She’s always so calm.”

“And how in the world do you expect to beat her?” Amethyst said. “She’s a Still Way grandmaster! You’re only a master in some… some mindless flailing cooked up by a draconequus.”

“That’s a myth,” Berry Punch said. “I’m actually a grandmaster.”

“Oh, congratulations,” Junebug said, patting Red Harvest on his withers to calm his mental whiplash. “When did this happen?”

“Last week. Passed the final test.” Berry Punch smiled warmly, filling Junebug and Red Harvest with happiness and pride, and Amethyst with suspicion. “I had to read these letters that kept getting smaller and smaller.”

“That’s an eye exam, dummy.”

“Well, I passed it. Now I’m a grandmaster.”

Amethyst Star sighed, and refilled her snifter with brandy.

“You know, we better be careful,” Berry Punch said. “I mean, talking about Lero and his mares. Our newly crowned Princess is in that herd, and we don’t need to be murmuring against the state.” She made a spectacle of looking at neighboring tables, as if sorting out spying ears connected to tattling tongues.

“Yeah, yeah,” Amethyst said. “I have nothing against our esteemed Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

"Except…” Berry Punch said, leaning in close with a salacious look.

The corner of Amethyst’s lip got quite a workout that night, lifting itself in scorn against Berry Punch. She ignored the inappropriateness of Berry’s expression, and pushed Berry’s face away with her magic.

“Except nothing,” Amythyst said. “She’s a clumsy introverted nerd, and I have nothing against her at all.”

The table laughed with a secret, dangerous thrill that came with mocking sovereignty.

“I’m surprised her flanks are so flat with what little exercise she gets,” Red said, reveling in the spike of excitement of speaking irreverently against the crown.

Berry leaned in with conspiratorial looks. “How does she fly?”

“Adequate, actually,” Red said. “Rainbow Dash taught her well. She used to fly like she was falling all the time. She’ll never be in the Wonderbolts, though.”

“She just gets to tell them what to do,” Amethyst said.

“Jealousy?” Berry said.

Amethyst snorted. “Not likely, just an observation.”

“She has a really pretty coat and mane,” Junebug said, by way of concession. She glanced around the table.

Red Harvest nodded. “It’s unique, certainly.”

“Oh, don’t be traitoring the cause with your half-mule praise,” Berry Punch said. “We’re all going to hang now, and we don’t need you nasty snitches getting cold necks.”

Junebug smiled. “We aren’t doing anything wrong.”

“We’re just establishing what an unusual herd they are,” Amethyst said. “Nothing wrong with that.”


“It’s okay, girls,” Lyra said in a low, husky voice. “You can come in.”

Rainbow Dash virtually cannonballed the bed as she landed on all-fours next to Lero. “It’s about time! I didn’t want to break up your communing or anything.” Lyra grinned at Dash’s choice of words. Dash winked at her before lowering her head to kiss Lero, who said, “Pardon me a second, Dash.”

He turned to kiss Lyra and whispered in her ear, “I love you, Horny.”

Lyra smiled. “I love you, Fingers. I’m required by law to make you prove it as much as possible, though.”

Lero smiled at her as he returned to kiss Rainbow Dash, making sure not to disturb Lyra as she virtually cocooned into her stallion’s shoulder. He still held her around her upper barrel, and she turned on her side so she could stick her nose on his neck and just drown in his scent. Rainbow Dash plopped down on Lero’s other side.

Twilight Sparkle stood at the foot of the bed, eyes following an indeterminable spot between Lero and Lyra. Her pursed lips caused Lero to laugh. “Twilight, go ahead.”

“Thanks!” Twilight said. She hopped out of bed with a flap of her wings, landing a little hard on her front legs as her rear bowed up. She let out a gasp before settling down properly, and glanced back with fearful look, expecting Dash to make fun of her dismount.

Dash was indeed smiling mischievously. “You really know how to stick a landing, Twilight.”

Twilight did a poor job pretending not to have heard Dash, as she couldn’t silence an angry snort. She trotted into the bathroom and returned, her magic holding a wet washcloth. Her fastidious nature sometimes clashed with their love-making. Sex, after all, could be pretty messy, and while Twilight wasn’t grossed out by its natural by-products, she wasn’t exactly an ally of them, either.

She used the cloth to wipe Lero’s belly and genitals (Lero grunting a bit at the touch, as his refraction period hadn’t yet ended). Lyra only raised a brow when the wet cloth swiped across her vulva. Rainbow couldn’t help but watch this ceremony with a mischievous grin, and Twilight was doing her best to ignore it.

“You know, you could try getting that spot out of the sheet,” Dash said, pointing a newly made love puddle with her hoof. “But it’d still leave a stain.” Lero tossed a long-suffering gaze at Rainbow’s never-ending harassment of Twilight when she displayed the more eccentric aspects of her personality. Dash only thrust her chin out like a parody of smugness.

Twilight, busy rubbing the washcloth against the stain on the sheet, stopped and smiled at Rainbow Dash. “You’re right, Dash!”

“Well of course I’m – whoa!” Dash found herself lifted into the air, Lyra and Lero along with her. Dash flailed her wings uselessly. “Put me down, Twilight!”

With an effortless use of her magic, Twilight stripped the sheets from the mattress, balled them up, and moved them to the washing room. New sheets came in, dark blue and fresh, and Twilight unfolded them and quickly made up the bed. Lero and Lyra were gently placed on the clean sheets while Twilight simply released Dash from her magic.

Dash managed to right herself before landing face first into the floor. “Twilight, you know I hate that! Quit grabbing me with your magic!”

Twilight hopped on the bed and took the unclaimed position next to Lero, letting one wing drape over his body. She liked touching him with her wings every time she had the chance, although it led to some embarrassing situations – there were some things pegasus ponies didn’t do in public, and a red-faced Dash had to explain them to the newly crowned alicorn princess.

Dash hopped onto the bed and lay across Lero’s legs. She was irritated that Twilight had taken her place, but had to admire her method of doing it. “You know, Twilight, you could have just asked me to let you have that place. You didn’t have to toss me around with magic.”

“It’s more fun this way, though,” Twilight said with a prim smile full of fake demureness. Dash only grinned while thinking, I’ll get you back.

“Dash,” Lero warned. Dash smiled genuine. Gosh, he knows me so well. The feeling of comfort and contentment, like a distant memory (distant to the point of believing instead of remembering) of being held by loving parents in infancy, enveloped her and she spread her wings around her herdmates. This met with some surprise from the other two mares, followed with happiness. It was a wonderful occasion when Dash showed her herd sisters physical affection.

“How’s your purple reign going?” Lero asked Twilight with a wink. She huffed.

“Oh, don’t get me started! Everything is so slow! Wrapped up in papers signed in triplicate, and indexed, and debriefed… urgh, I just want to use my magic to get things done, but it’s against-” Twilight sat up and lifted her hooves in the air in a monstrous approximation of scare quotes, and sarcastically finished, “-the Rules of Order!”

“Let me help you,” Lero said. “I could serve as a gopher if you need me.” Twilight leaned in to nuzzle him.

“That may not be necessary. Princess Celestia will be back soon. Besides, there’s a lot of intrigue and, well, apple-polishing going on, and I’d hate for you – any of you – to have to face that before I know what traps are there. I really miss you guys, though. I think about you all the time.” Twilight giggled shyly. “You know, when I was introduced to my throne, my first thought was, ‘My throne is Lero’s lap.’”

Rainbow Dash snorted a laugh. “I bet your wings get stiff all the time, being around the royal guard.”

“Of course not,” Twilight huffed. “I grew up with the royal guard. They don’t have some weird sexual hold over me like they do you.”

Lero’s free hand, rubbing against Twilight’s neck, had worked its way down toward the muscle in her wings. Twilight shivered as her wings slowly rose to attention – even in getting stiff, she was slower and more leisurely than Dash. She looked at Lero with surprise and growing lust.

“Um, are you ready so soon?” She said this with a slight blush that made Dash laugh. As long as we’ve been together, and after all the things we’ve done with each other, she still blushes like a school-filly. Her laugh stopped as she noticed Lero’s penis returning to its former tumescence.

“Huh,” she said. “Did you take a stamina potion or something?”

“No,” Lero said. “Just really heated tonight, I guess.”

With her eyes still closed, Lyra leaned toward his ear and whispered, “You don’t have to prove anything to us.” Lero jerked his head at Lyra, who partially opened her eyes in acknowledgement. “It’s not like that,” he whispered back. “I miss Twilight.” Lyra smiled and scooted away from his arm so he’d have another weapon in the war to please his mares. He grabbed Twilight and pulled her on top, her yelp silenced by his gentle lips meeting with hers. One hand rested on that sensitive spot between her wings while the other began working the base of her horn.

Twilight jerked her head away before the point of going completely cross-eyed. “Wait,” she said. Her horn glowed as the all-important silencing spell enclosed Lero’s house, a spell she cast ever since receiving complaints from his neighbors about how loud she could get. She moved back underneath Lero’s hand and kissed him again.


The tavern had grown boozy, warm, and loud. Amethyst let the brandy seep into her as she continued her story about Rainbow Dash.

“So I just tapped it against the fountain," Amethyst said to snickering. "She was able to open it, and wanted to know how amazing I thought she was."

“I bet you turned her down with that respectful manner of yours.”

Amethyst shot a glance at Berry Punch. “She was being annoying.”

“She can be really full of herself,” Junebug said with a nod. “Really boastful.”

“She seems to be better,” Red Harvest said. “I remember in Cloudsdale when she tried to come on to a guy. She just blurted out of the blue, ‘I like you. Let’s get together.’”

Amethyst Star laughed. “’Get together’? Ha! Like she’s too much of a filly to say, ‘Let’s rut.’”

Red Harvest ducked his head. “Well, he turned her down, and she just said ‘Your loss’ before flying off.”

“I wonder how she hooked up with Lero, then,” Amethyst said. She changed her voice to be full of gravel. “’Listen, no stallion in his right mind would ever want a skinny and garish mare like me, and no mare would ever want some hairless monkey like you, so how about we cut our losses and get together.’” Her laughed died down as she saw the disapproving stare Junebug had for her.

“That’s really mean, Amethyst,” Junebug said. “You don’t need to be so mocking and cruel.”

“That was pretty mean,” Berry Punch said, trying to stick her hoof into the opening of the empty bottle.

Amethyst let out an exasperated sigh. “Seriously? After everything we’ve talked about, that’s what gets you upset.”

“I’m upset too,” Berry Punch said. She managed to create enough friction between the tip of her hoof and the opening of the bottle to lift it in the air. It fell onto the table and rolled onto the floor, where it broke with a loud crash.

“Look,” Amethyst said, ignoring Berry’s mess. “I’m a bad pony-”

Junebug took Amethyst’s hoof in her own. “No you’re not!”

“I am. I’m full of this idiotic, pointless anger against my fellow ponies. Coming here is the best way I have to vent and let out all this… these stupid feelings, okay? You two are the best friends I have, and I trust you not to, uh, judge me too harshly.”

“We don’t at all,” Junebug said, tapping Amethyst’s hoof before letting go.

“I do,” Berry Punch said. “I judge you all day long.”

“Um, have you thought about getting help?” Red Harvest said. He shrunk back from Amethyst’s questioning gaze.

“I do get help,” she said. “This is my treatment, talking to you guys. Dr. Flem Matic suggested that I should talk about my feelings to ponies I trust in an atmosphere I’m comfortable in. This is it.”

“That was my treatment,” Berry said, pointing at the remains of her broken Pinot noir bottle as it was carried away by one of Barringcoat’s younger relatives. A fresh bottle was sitting in front of her.

“Berry, do you have anything interesting to add besides your stupid jokes?”

“Just my masterful presence,” Berry said. She bit the cork out of the new bottle and spat it on the table. “Grandmasterful presence. You know, this conversation started off about Lero before we started talking about his mares.”

“You steered it that way,” Amethyst said.

“Sure, but what do you guys think about Lero as a person? I mean, not his looks or anything, but his personality.”

Amethyst’s eyes narrowed as she contemplated the horror that was Berry Punch. “Why do you care, Berry? You trying to start something?”

“Just asking questions.”

“Uh-huh. So, how about you tell us what you think, first?”

Berry Punch shrugged. “Meh. Now it’s your turn.”

“Lero’s annoying,” Amethyst said, ignoring Berry and returning her attention to her other two table mates. “You know that pony that tries so hard to fit it, but just doesn’t, and you wish he’d go away? That’s Lero.”

“H-he’s nice,” Junebug said. “I think I already said that. I don’t know him that well to have an opinion. I do wish he wasn’t so, you know, pushy.”

“He gives great massages, though,” Berry Punch said.

“I couldn’t stand letting him touch me,” Amethyst said. “Those fingers remind me of wiggling snakes.”

Junebug shivered. “Oooh, d-don’t say that!”

“I get massages from him, too,” Red Harvest said, as he pawed at the table. “I have one scheduled for tomorrow, which is why I’m in town. He can make it feel really soft, but then there’s real strength in those fingers. Sometimes I have to take a nap afterward.” Red Harvest realized his wings fluffed, and he quickly pushed them to his side. He trailed off, hoping the mares would continue the conversation without him.

Amethyst Star cocked an eyebrow at him, and quickly peeked under the table. Red Harvest crossed his hind legs, but it was too late.

“You’re attracted to him?” Amethyst Star said, more as an accusation than a question. Red Harvest ducked his head.

“He’s… he’s intriguing. So kind and concerned, you know? Even wise. It’s easy to be attracted to him.”

Berry Punch idly spun her empty bottle with her hoof. No one remembered seeing her drink it. “And he has nice flanks.”

Red Harvest was overcome with a dreamy stare and a longing sigh. “He has wonderful flanks.” His reverie was invaded by Amethyst’s barely hidden look of disgust. His ears flattened as he lowered his head. “I’m sorry.”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Amethyst said, massaging the space between her closed eyes as she waved her other hoof at Red Harvest. “I have no right to react that way. I mean, just because I think he’s ugly doesn’t mean everypony else feels the same way. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Red said. He surveyed the mares – Junebug looked at him with polite interest, while Berry Punch arched an eyebrow and thought secret thoughts against her empty bottle. Amethyst had finished rubbing her face and stared, open-eyed, at Red.

He cleared his throat. “It’s not just physical attraction,” he said, as if still trying to placate Amethyst’s feelings. “I like his personality and viewpoints. He’s so strong-willed, definitely for a stallion. I mean, he makes decisions for himself. He isn’t afraid of what... other ponies think of him.”

Berry Punch laughed. “‘Other ponies’, huh? Sounds like coded language for ‘other mares’. So, he’s going around putting revolutionary ideas in stallions’ heads? About equality with mares? Well, we’ll just have to put that little social revolution down really quick.”

“I didn’t mean like that!”

“Don’t mind Berry Punch,” Junebug said.

“That bears repeating,” Amethyst said, launching a scornful stare at Berry. “Don’t take seriously anything she says. We aren’t medieval mares who think a stallion’s place is in the fields or the bedroom. You speak your mind here.”

“Thank you,” Red said with a nod of his head.

Berry Punch grinned. “You gonna try to stable with Lero, Red? Because I know you don’t want to join that herd.”

“Well, no. He, uh… he’s not into stallions. At all.”

“Really?” Junebug said. “He’s that bent?”

“Very much so.”

“That’s one unusual herd. Rainbow Dash is bent, too. Against mares.”

“Rainbow won’t fight me either,” Berry Punch said. “Said she had an image to maintain.”


Twilight Sparkle moaned and collapsed onto the heavily breathing Lero.

“Can’t… wow,” she said between pants. Her wings receded and she lazily folded them in. Rainbow Dash moved so Twilight could roll onto empty space.

Dash and Lyra had lain next to Lero, having watched the proceedings. They knew Twilight enjoyed an audience, and Dash wondered if exhibitionism was Twilight’s secret kink (it was – Princess Luna, to her regret, had discovered that one night when she mistakenly dove into a red smoky haze she thought was a nightmare. “She even had our dream-images applaud at the end,” she had told her sister. “Why are you laughing at this?”). Dash had absolutely no complaints. She loved watching the expressions that played across her lovers faces when they had sex. Lero’s stony glint and the concentration he wore, and Twilight’s expressions that lingered at the border when ecstasy became overpowering, especially when her horn was manipulated at the same time. Seeing the tears run down her cheeks as those long, loud moans erupted from her made Rainbow heated enough that she wondered if she herself could climax without even being touched.

Rainbow Dash smiled at Twilight as she drifted off into sleep, the tip of her tongue poking out of the side of her contented smile. Lero smiled at her sleeping form and leaned over to give her a kiss on her muzzle, causing Twilight to let out a happy sigh. Dash’s eyes moved over to Lero, and she was shocked to find him still hard.


“Didn’t come,” Lero said. “I guess my, uh, second wind lasts a lot longer.”

“Twilight comes faster than she used to,” Dash said, licking her lips. “I mean, since you can play with her horns and wings. Um, would you like me to, you know…”

Lero smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “I won’t be able to do anything, though. Worn out. Won’t last long.” He sat up. “Let me, uh, clean up.”

Rainbow Dash stood over him and pushed him back down. “No,” she said, with a greedy grin. “No time to waste, right?”

Lero’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow. I didn’t expect that.”

“Hot, huh?”

“Yeah. You don’t mind, um, Twilight still being on me?”

“Nope! She’s my mare, right? So why would I mind?”

“I’d like to point out that I got wiped off,” Lyra said, curled up while watching the proceedings. Dash stuck her tongue out at her, which prompted a lazy, vampish grin from Lyra.

Dash looked back at Lero with a hungry look, and stalked toward him until she was standing over him, looking directly into his eyes. She relished the lust and excitement in Lero’s face, though she could see how exhausted he was. She decided not to tease him, and plopped herself onto him.

Lero’s body jerked, and he grabbed Dash’s hips with both hands as her wings snapped to attention. The shocked look on his face showed he wasn’t kidding when he said he wasn’t going to last much longer.

Immediately Dash began thrusting her hips, taking in Lero to the hilt with one thrust and raising right up to the glans with the second. She knew his length by heart, and no longer had to have a practice run to get acclimated. Oh it felt so wonderful, so delicious, feeling him in her like this, like the last piece of a puzzle that just fit perfectly.

She was familiar enough with the secret topography of his body to know that he was going to come at any second, and to know she wouldn’t be able to follow even though she was racing as fast as she could. Wait, is he still fighting it?

“Lero,” she gasped, “Let-whoa!”

Grabbing her back and pulling her on his body, Lero flipped over and was on top of Dash, kissing her lips, using his legs instead of his hips to thrust. Lyra dodged her stiff wing, though the other one had slapped the rump of the sleeping Twilight, who muttered “Dash” in her sleep, with a smile.

Dash knew why he had done this – he was on top of her, holding her down. The sensation of being trapped really turned her on. Tears escaped her eyes as she wrapped her legs around his body, holding on to him so she could keep rotating her hips in time with his thrusts. This wonderful stallion loved her so much that he was letting himself face discomfort because he wanted her to come at the same time, because he wanted to give her pleasure more than he wanted to feel it. She was rooting for him, really, not because she wanted to climax with him – though she really did, oh goddess yes – but because she wanted him to win.

His hand reached up, grabbed Rainbow Dash’s mane, and pulled.

Dash gasped as a starfield of pleasure shot though her. Almost there, but she felt his body shudder and knew he wasn’t going to make it.

In the space of time between when his semen shot into Dash, but right before it landed, Lero bit Dash’s throat and growled.

Dash’s rear legs bucked as her orgasm hit her hard. She could feel his teeth against her throat, sharp teeth – a predator’s teeth! – his semen washing her insides, and she swirled into pure thudding pleasure. For the first time, she let out a vocal squeak that made even Lyra’s jaw drop. She thrust hard against him as her orgasm faded. He collapsed on her when he was done, panting heavily.

She laughed when it was over, a laugh of quiet joy. “You won,” she said, rubbing the back of his head with her hoof. “I can’t even tell you how much I love you right now.”

Lero rolled onto his side and looked at her with a tired, but satisfied smile. Lyra pressed up against his back and sighed.

“I love you, Dash,” Lero said. “I can always tell you.” He reached out a shaky hand and wiped the tears away from her eyes. Dash sniffled, and kissed the side of his hand as it went away.

Hooves thudded the ground as Lyra rolled out of bed. “I’m getting some water so you don’t get dehydrated.”

Lero rolled onto his back. “Thank you, Lyra.”

“And some painkillers,” Lyra said, trotting toward the kitchen. “Because you’re going to be very, very sore.”

Rainbow Dash peered at Lero. He was sweaty, sure, but his breathing was labored and she could read pain in his features.

“Dude!” she said, leaning in to get a closer look. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Love, just overexerted myself,” he said. He forced a weak smile. “Don’t worry about it.”

Dash watched his face. “Lero. Don’t hurt yourself trying to make us happy. ‘Cuz that doesn’t make us happy at all.”

Lero reached up and played with a lock of her hair. Dash let her wing trail across his body while her hoof trailed across his chest. She didn’t want the physical contact to stop. “Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to worry you.”

Lyra came back with a glass of water and a small yellow pill. “You can thank Zecora when you feel better,” Lyra said, as Lero took the pill and drank the water. “She’s quite the apothecary.”

Lyra cuddled back next to Lero, and the three eventually joined Twilight in the domain of sleep.


“I wonder why he always wears shoes on his rear claws,” Amethyst said. “Bottom claws? Whatever.”

“He does wear clothes all the time, doesn’t he?” Junebug said. “I wonder if he has a terrible deformity he’s hiding from us. He really goes out of his way not to offend us, doesn’t he?”

“He looks normal to me,” Berry Punch said. “I watched him swimming at the pond out there on the woods, showing his mares how he does it. He took all of his clothes off to swim. I didn’t see anything wrong with him.”

“I didn’t know he could swim,” Junebug said.

“He looks perfectly normal?” Amethyst said. “All things considered, I mean.”

“Perfectly normal,” Berry Punch said. Her face scrunched in thought. “Well, he doesn’t have a sheath.”

Junebug gasped and covered her hoof with her mouth. “Oh no, did it get torn off?”

“It looked more like he was born without one. His penis was just hanging out there.”

Amethyst took one last sip of her brandy, and magiced the empty snifter back to the table. “So if there’s nothing wrong with him, then why does he wear clothes all the time?”

No one at the table could come up with an explanation.


Last call was announced, and the group decided to hit home. Amethyst returned her half empty bottle of Brandy to the bar. Berry Punch and Amethyst traveled down the alley toward Amethyst’s house. June Bug and Red Harvest left together.

“Think she’ll get some action tonight?” Berry Punch said.

“Not really our business,” Amethyst Star sniffed. She broached a subject she had been dreading. “You heading straight home tonight?”

“Nope,” Berry said. She looked quietly worried. “There’s something wrong there, and I’m not comfortable going there.”

“I was wondering what was going on,” Amethyst said. “I saw you sleeping on a bench one morning. What’s the deal?”

Berry Punch shrugged, a trick Amethyst always wondered about. How does she shrug while walking? “Doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

“While I was gone to take the final test to become a grandmaster, somepony broke into my house and replaced everything with an exact duplicate.”

Amethyst Star couldn’t stop the burst of laughter at Berry’s ridiculous fear. Her laughter dissolved into confused chuckling, as Berry wore a serious look.

“You- you really believe that happened?”

“I know it did. I didn’t bother filing a report, before you ask. This isn’t something that could be solved by police, though. I suspect malicious presence.”

Their hooves clopped against the cobblestone walkway, echoing through the alley. Their shadows played against brick walls, cast by the moon and lantern light. The whispered sounds of the tavern crowd died behind them as the ponies carried out their plans to crawl into their beds – or other ponies’ beds.

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Keep researching, I guess. I don’t want to get anyone else involved with it.”

Amethyst sighed. That stubborn earth pony temperament. “How about you stay at my place tonight?”

Berry smiled. “No thanks. Your herd hates me. Don’t worry Ames, I can handle it.”

“This is where I get off,” Amethyst said, standing in front of her house. “I’m serious Berry, get help if you think this is real.”

“Sure. Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

They hugged before Berry went her way.


Berry Punch swung her rear leg out and balanced in the water fountain as she chanted her mantra.

“Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name.”

Berry Punch displayed the technique that made Drunken Hoof the most physically difficult (and some argued the most worthless) of the pony martial arts – its bipedal forms.

“Thy kingdom nada, thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada.”

She jumped from her hind legs, twirling in the air, slinging her body about like an equine missile as she splashed in the water.

“Give us this nada our daily nada.”

A learned Drunken Hoof practitioner twisting and turning in the air was an impressive sight to see. Most of the students thought so when they passed that level.

“Don’t even try using those forms for fighting,” her sifu, a pegasus mare named Long Goodbye, said to Berry’s class when they had made adept. “They’re completely worthless.”

“Then why did we go through all that pain?” A pegasus stallion asked. “I dislocated my shoulder trying to learn those forms!”

“It’s important that the Drunken Hoof practitioner learn the meaning of pain and futility.”

After most of the class abandoned the kwoon, though not before loud screaming, promises of arson, and threats of lawsuits, did grandmaster Long Goodbye survey the remaining students.

“Good,” she said. “Now we can continue the training, and you’ll learn the true meaning of Drunken Hoof.”

“When do we get to the drunk part?” Berry Punch asked.

“I think you’re already there,” Long Goodbye said with a sniff.

“Nada us our nada as we nada our nadas.” Berry Punch balanced on her hind legs and stretched the left one forward, as one front hoof swung at the limit of equine movement. Her front legs were splayed as if she was holding a bowl. “Nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.”

“How did you come up with your mantra?” Long Goodbye asked.

“I didn’t,” Berry Punch said. “It just came into my head.”

“That’s the same thing, isn’t it?”

Berry Punch grabbed a piece of paper from her sifu’s desk, and clutched a quill between two hooves, hastily drawing an earth pony before pushing it onto her desk.

“Who is this?”

“It’s Swing Sway. Actually, don’t worry about it. It’s a metaphor about what happened to me. See how someone put a picture on your desk, but it didn’t originate from the desk? That’s how it is with that mantra. Someone else came up with it and put it into my head.”

“I see.” Long Goodbye studied the drawing with obvious disgust. “That’s an excessive way to show your point, though.”

“He’s throwing up and pooping at the same time.”

“Yeah, I see that.” Long Goodbye said. She flipped the paper over and gasped in shock. “This is Swing Sway’s advancement form!”

“I hate that guy,” Berry Punch said.

Shortly afterwards, Berry Punch realized the mantra showed up in her head at the exact same time Lero made his appearance in the Everfree Forest. It was an uncomfortable coincidence.

Berry Punch then ended her mantra with the phrase that had made Long Goodbye think the whole thing was a vicious satire of Still Way philosophy; “Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.” Her final form was standing with her rear legs crossed, as her front legs were arranged as if she was playing a flute.

Berry slowly lowered herself to all fours.

“Why the hay am I in the water fountain?”


Lero woke up shortly afterwards, Dash’s snoring not being conducive to good sleep. He slowly sat up in bed and wondered how the other two could sleep through it. With some careful maneuvering so as not to disturb his herd, Lero brought himself to the window, split the curtains, and opened the window to the fresh night air. The fantasy land of Ponyville met his sight, along with the night sky, beautiful and clear like a happy memory, and the large pale moon hanging above, bright like a comforting beacon for distant dreams.

Lero wasn’t particularly religious, but sometimes he couldn’t help but feel as if he had fallen into some prelapsarian world, where these innocent and childlike ponies had never partaken of the fruit, and were never driven out of Eden. He knew it was false, of course – a cursory survey of Equestrian history, with its violent tribal clashes and poor treatment of stallions, put that idea to rest. His own troubles with the Honey bunch didn’t do much to further that theory, either. Still, he couldn’t help but feel a quiet awe at this wondrous land and these amazing ponies, where magic was real and myths were common history. It could be overpowering at times.

He turned towards his sleeping mares and smiled. They helped him get through it.

He turned his glance back toward the window and was met with a riot of pink as Pinkie Pie took an aimless midnight stroll. He grabbed part of the curtain and covered himself. Sure, she had seen him naked plenty of times – he was still trying to figure out how she squirted herself out of his showerhead – but old habits die hard.

“Hi, Pinkie.”

“Hi there Lero zero schmero!” Pinkie said, waving her hoof frantically. “Letting the stank out?”

“...getting some fresh air, Pinkie.”

“Me too! I just love a little midnight stroll! Mmm-mm!” She inhaled deeply. “Think you and the ladies could come by for breakfast tomorrow morning? I mean, this morning? Later this morning? I’ll make that black bean arepas you like so much!”

“That sounds great, Pinkie. I’ll see you there.”

“Great! Have a great sleep... Leeerroo!” Her winking leer crossed over from perverted to absurd, and then she made her way back to Sugarcube Corner. Lero couldn’t help but smile as he closed the curtains. He left the window open. Fresh air would be nice, he thought. He needed to get back to bed anyway, as he had massage duty tomorrow with a visiting stallion from Cloudsdale, the one with the oddest, most out-of-place cutie mark he had ever seen – a tommy gun.

He made his way back to his bed and crawled between his mares, settling in and holding Dash like a stuffed teddy bear. He could virtually see her smile. As he drifted off to sleep, his last thought was wondering if he actually saw Berry Punch sleeping in the fountain.

3. Heat Season

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High above Ponyville, in the clouds, Rainbow Dash waited for her annoyed and boisterous crew to settle in. Down below in the town, the bright grass shined emerald in the sunlight and the golden tops of roofs simmered like sweet icing, giving the city a view to the cloud walking pegasi as if it was a unique toy, a tiny dolls’ village where the dolls moved on their own.

There were very few ponies in the streets below. It was a situation that would last for the next five days.

“Okay girls, listen up,” Rainbow Dash said. “I know this is really bad timing, but one of the tanks at the Cloudsdale cold front processor blew up, and we need to push the cold front into the Everfree Forest.”

“Where the stallions at?” Dizzy Twister said, hollering between her hoofs. Snickers erupted from the gathering, magnified by Dash’s humorously disapproving stare.

“What do you think, Dizzy? I’m not going to have our stallions up here having to put up with a bunch of heated mares. Look, I’m sorry this happened at the beginning of heat season, but we need to get this done, okay?”

“S-soon as possible,” Blossomforth said. “I feel awful, boss. My heat is terrible!”

Dash could tell at a glance that at least half of her crew had already started their heat. The eyes squinting as if trying to see through the desire, the tails jerking as if trying to swat away their lust– it was all there. This is going to be a bad one, she thought. She tried to cover her sly smile. But not for me!

“I’m sorry Blossomforth, but that’s why we have to do this without stallions.” Dash felt bad leaving them out of this. It wasn’t their fault, but the weather team was majority mare, and they couldn’t deal with the distraction. Then again, the stallions were probably happy enough not having to deal with an emergency. “Let’s break into our teams, and set up this counter-wind, okay? If we concentrate on it, we’ll get it done in an hour and then we can all go home.” She didn’t mean to be so pushy. Her own heat hadn’t started up yet, but she knew it was a matter of hours – maybe even minutes! – and she wanted to get this done.

The mares broke into teams, and Rainbow’s team concentrated on building a cloudwall. Rainbow, Cloudkicker, and Beck Dell, a yellow pegasus with a short black mane and a hay bale cutie mark (which caused some minor controversy in her family. “That’s an earth pony thing! What does it even mean?”) were rolling up mist, using their natural pegasus magic to form a line of clouds to barricade the incoming cold wind from passing over Ponyville. Dash did her work in silence, pushing fluffy clouds that were always slick and cool to the touch. It felt neat to squish the clouds going under and around the anklet she wore on her left hoof. They would have been forming the wall faster, but one pegasus seemed more interested in what was going on below.

“Flitter!” Dash said, causing the blue-grey pegasus to gasp. Dash followed Flitter’s line of sight to what caught her attention – an earth pony stallion walking the streets.

“Come on Flitter, don’t look down! Get your mind on the job.”

“Y-yes boss!” Flitter said. She flew back to the cloudwall her crew was creating. “I didn’t mean to get distracted, but Celestia I can’t stop thinking about… about…”

“I know,” Dash said. “Stallions.”

“That’s the whole thing about why I don’t like heat season,” Beck Dell said, flapping her wings to accelerate the mist. “It’s like we can’t talk about anything but stallions. Get two mares in heat together, and that’s all they’ll talk about. It’s like we don’t even have a personality no more.”

“Yeah, but, you only like mares,” Flitter said.

That was certainly true. Dash figured that Beck Dell was probably more bent toward mares than she herself was toward stallions, and that was saying something.

Beck Dell snorted. “That ain’t the point. It’s just that I got better things to talk about.” Beck Dell grinned and jabbed Cloudkicker with her hoof. “Ol’ Cloudkicker don’t have that problem, do ya? You don’t like mares, either.”

“Sex is gross,” Cloudkicker said, not taking her attention away from her work. She shuddered in disgust.

“Okay, can the heat talk,” Dash said. “It’s like you girls are just searching for a reason to get distracted. Come on, speed it up!”

Raising high the post-hole digger, Lero brought it down hard on the supple earth. It dug down into the ground, and, with a mighty pull, Lero forced it to give up its secret soil.

Fluttershy had found part of her fence ruined earlier that morning, when she went out to feed her livestock. The wooden poles had been uprooted and smashed, and the fencing snipped as if by fangs. She suspected timberwolves, but the tell-tale sign of whole twigs, as if grown fully independent of a tree, were not at the wreck.

“None of my animal friends were hurt, thank goodness,” Fluttershy said when she asked Lero for emergency help. “The chickens decided to visit the Everfree Forest again, though.”

Fluttershy watched Lero plunge the post-hole digger into the ground, where he planned on making sturdier, deeper holes. Her menagerie of animals idled behind her as if she were a shield between them and Lero. They studiously avoided Lero, with one exception.

Lero moved to the next spot he had marked off, doing his best to ignore Angel’s stink-eye. Angel sat on Fluttershy’s back, watching Lero’s work with an overly critical expression, mostly a sneer. When Lero first tore through the ground, Angel made gagging sounds. When Lero sunk the first pole into the ground, Angel rolled his eyes and heaved sighs. When Lero accidentally made eye contact with the bunny, Angel made a slitting motion across his furry throat and pointed at Lero.

“You just try it,” Lero said under his breath.

“Pardon?” Fluttershy said.

Lero cleared his throat. “Is Angel alright, Fluttershy? He’s making some strange sounds.”

“No, Angel’s just a little cranky. Right Angel?”

With Fluttershy’s attention turned toward Angel, Lero mouthed, “Rabbit stew.”

With a gasp of anger, Angel leapt at Lero with the intention of sinking his buck teeth into any bit of flesh he could get a grip on.

“Angel!” Fluttershy said, catching him in mid-jump. She held the madly struggling bunny in her hooves as she flew to her cottage. “That is not proper hospitality! And after Mr. Lero was concerned about your health. How shameful!”

Angel squeaked out promises of physically impossible acts of violence, shaking a tiny fist at Lero. Lero tried to be an adult about it and focus solely on his work, but he could barely suppress his grin.


“I’m sorry about Angel,” Fluttershy said. Lero filled the hole with concrete, made with magically altered cement that would completely harden in thirty minutes after mixing with water. “He can be a little testy sometimes.”

“I don’t know any rabbit like him,” Lero said. “Most of the animals here are afraid of me anyway, so it’s strange to me that one little bunny is so antagonistic.”

“Oh, he’s a real delight once you get to know him,” Fluttershy said. Lero decided not to respond to that.

Lero pushed the poles into the cement, while Fluttershy held up braces to keep them straight. Lero checked the poles with a spirit lever, and found it good. Considering they had to wait for the cement to harden before he could began nailing on the planks, Fluttershy decided it was a good time to break for a snack.

She brought out a basket with apples, an orange for Lero, toast, and goat cheese. Lero tore the peel off the orange and bit into it, while Fluttershy manipulated her wings to spread cheese on her slices of a granny smith apple, taking bites in-between conversation.

“Fluttershy, how’s your paper going?”

“Oh, it’s finished,” Fluttershy said. “I named it ‘Survival Culture in Breezy Migrations’. It’s not a terribly exciting name, is it?”

“No, it’s good. It gets the point across.”

“Thank you. I wanted to mail it to the Zoological Academy today, but with heat season starting I may not get to send it off. Everything shuts down.”

“I noticed. You know, I’ve read about some of Professor Elite Key’s work,” Lero said, naming Fluttershy’s teacher. “You were actually mentioned by name in a science journal.”

“Oh, you must be talking about New Perspectives in Magical Evolutionary Metabiology.”

“Yes,” Lero said. He turned to Fluttershy and smiled. “I didn’t know you were referred to as one of ‘Elite Key’s Angels’.”

Fluttershy blushed and ducked her head, and Lero couldn’t help but smile at the adorableness.

“Oh, I wish they wouldn’t call us that,” Fluttershy said, referring to herself and two other colleagues who were also students of Elite Key. They all studied the animal species in the Everfree, though from different areas and different disciplines. Fluttershy specialized in behaviorism. “It’s embarrassing. I’m just another animal lover.”

“With a doctorate and articles published in professional journals.”

Fluttershy blushed again, and Lero chuckled. He bit into his toast.

“I studied a little biology when I was in college,” Lero said. “I’m able to pick up on some of the basic similarities between evolution on both of our worlds, but your field is so rarified that I have trouble wrapping my head around it. I need the layman’s version to even hope to understand.”

“I’m sorry Lero,” Fluttershy said, extending a wing to lightly pat him on the shoulder. “I guess I do write in a lot of technical jargon.”

“It’s fine. You’re a professional.”

“I really enjoy talking to you about the similarities and differences, though,” Fluttershy said with a smile. “Besides, exobiology was a purely imaginary discipline before you showed up.”

“I’m glad I was of some service to science.” Lero said with a raised eyebrow.

“What was most interesting to me was how similar your species and my own are to each other. We used to think we were the only mammals that can cool down solely by sweating, but here you come along and prove that wrong. Also, like pony stallions, human stallions don’t have a baculum, which is completely different than other primates here. And then there’s the similarities in how our societies are set up. There are obvious differences, of course, but all of it is just so fascinating.”

Lero had to smile at Fluttershy’s enthusiasm. Here was a side to her she rarely showed even to her closest friends, but she was so easy and free with him. He was actually touched by it, and Lero made sure he’d do nothing to betray their friendship. After all, he thought, she’s the one that found me.

They finished their snack, and went back to putting up the fence.

Lero, dirty and sweaty, accepted Fluttershy’s offer of taking a bath. They were in her bathroom, Lero sitting on a cedar stool while he scrubbed shampoo into his hair. Fluttershy used a sponge, looped around her wing, to wash his back.

Fluttershy couldn’t help but admire Lero’s body. It was just so aesthetically pleasing. The way those muscles all worked together, joining and stretching, were a real sight to see. His body had this wonderful pleasing shape, like an arrow pointing down, from his broad shoulders narrowing into his hips. Even his penis was pointy, and it added to this sort of arrow effect. This all rested on those strong sturdy legs that carried him so effortlessly, so gracefully, with lines of bone and sinew intersecting like perfect geometry.

Legs his people used to run prey down to exhaustion, she thought. Persistence predators, his species. She could only imagine some little pony (did they eat ponies where he’s from? She couldn’t remember), crying, running as fast as it could, begging these tall bipeds to stop chasing it. Then, the collapse from exhaustion, pleading not to be eaten, only to die at the hands of these monstrous pursuers would never, ever stop running, and never, ever tire out.

Lero would die before he’d ever hurt a pony, Fluttershy thought, moving the soapy sponge to his armpits, smiling at his chuckle at the soft feeling. Yes, he certainly had an aesthetically pleasing body, but more important than that was their friendship. This body-shy human, who always wore clothes in public, loved and trusted her enough to be naked in front of her, to be at what he considered his most vulnerable, and not even show the slightest fear or hesitation. She couldn’t help but feel happy at this.

“N-now!” Bon Bon grunted. Lyra, thrusting away, bit into the pump and squirted the salt water mixture into Bon Bon. It hit, and she moaned, a moan more of desperation than joy.

Lyra held onto Bon Bon’s withers, her friend below her thrusting back into her cooler. Even though Lyra’s mouth was currently full of the air bladder she was rhythmically squeezing, she was still able to form a mischievous smile. She slowed down pumping the bladder as Bon Bon winded down.

“Okay Lyra, I’m about-”

With her horn lighting up, Lyra magically tugged Bon Bon’s mane. She gasped, and when Lyra squeezed the bladder again, no cooler mixture came out. Bon Bon launched into another orgasm.

It died down, and Bon Bon struggled to get out from Lyra’s hold. “Lyra, don’t you dare do anything, I can’t take any more.” Lyra hopped off as Bon Bon staggered away, collapsing on the tile floor of the kitchen. She was breathing heavily, mindlessly rolling on her back with her legs splayed in the air, trying to force some coolness out of the floor into her body. Salt water and her own fluids leaked out of her vagina, dribbling down her vulva and anus before hitting her dock and separating into two canals.

She raised her head to look through her legs, and angrily surveyed Lyra. “I need to be cooled down, not turned on. That mane pulling stunt made it worse.”

“I’m sorry Bonnie,” Lyra said. Her voice trembled with true apology, and it took Bon Bon by surprise.

“Hey, it happens,” Bon Bon said. She rolled onto her side and smiled at Lyra. “You’re in heat, too. Even you don’t think too clearly when in heat. And here I am having you bang away at me like a stallion. How are you dealing with yours?”

Lyra smiled. “It’s fine. I meditated this morning to clear my head. My heat is fortunately not very strong this time.”

A mischievous smile matching Lyra’s washed across Bon Bon’s muzzle. “Well, of course you’re fine. You have an ‘alien sex god’ at home.”

Lyra slowly closed her eyes, and let out a long, meditative sigh. “I was hoping everyone would forget about that.”

“Not on your life. You and Dash were so smashed that day.”

“That Applejack cider.”

“Sure, blame it on that,” Bon Bon said. “I mean, your herd is more secretive than normal about sex, not even jokes, you know. And then, a couple of drinks later, and we end up hearing about the most amazing sexual activity.”

“This is terrible.” Lyra shook her head. “I can’t even remember what we said.”

“It wasn’t a lot, but what we heard? Wooo,” Bon Bon said. “Dash mentioned that Lero was able to get her off ten times, after some of the pegasi were arguing that more than two wasn’t possible. You chimed in that he once got all three of you off at the same time-”

Lyra cringed.

“-using his hands, and that’s when you called him an alien sex god. Twilight swooped in at that moment and ushered you two out. Lyes, her face was so red.”

Lyra buried her face in her hooves, and Bon Bon giggled. “Sorry Lyes. I was getting back at you for pulling my mane. It’s not as bad as you feel it is, I promise.”

“It is bad,” Lyra said. “I betrayed his trust. I hope he never finds out what was said. I’d be so ashamed.” I’m ashamed now, Lyra thought. One moment of weakness…

“I thought it was great, frankly. I’m really happy for you, you know, that you’re, uh… serviced so well. At the very least, it shut up some gossipy mares.”

Lyra’s eyes looked soft and hazy, but Bon Bon could detect the steel. “Who?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just some dumb mares making up stories, showing mock pity for the herd that has this weird looking monkey – their words, not mine. Then they hear what this ‘weird looking monkey’ can do with a mare, and well,” Bon Bon zipped a hoof across her muzzle. “No more disrespect.”

“So the whole town knows. Great.”

“Oh, it’s just some pegasi talking about it. You know how they are. Hmm, that was tribalist, wasn’t it?”

“I’m married to a pegasus. Don’t worry, I know what you mean.”

“And don’t worry about Lero finding out. It would upset him, and upsetting him means dealing with an angry Rainbow Dash.”

“Thanks for the reassurance.” Lyra took a slow breath, and released, letting the negative feelings fly away. She felt better, though only a little. “How’re you feeling right now?”

Bon Bon sighed. “This is absolutely the worst heat I’ve ever had. I’m miserable right now. Hey, could you take your cooler off? It’s distracting.”

Lyra magically unhooked the straps that attached her cooler, and floated it to the kitchen sink. She levitated a rag out of her saddlebag, wetted it, and ran it down the length of the shaft. Bon Bon couldn’t help but watch, biting her lower lip and rubbing her rear hooves together. Her reaction didn’t go unnoticed by Lyra.

“I really did mess it up, didn’t I?”

Bon Bon shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. I imagine you haven’t had to use a cooler in long while. We have all week, anyway.” She turned her head away as Lyra filled the chamber, located where the testicles would be on a stallion, with the salt water mixture.

“I could tell this was a bad heat,” Lyra said, putting the cooler into the saddlebag. “You were clenching pretty hard against my cooler. That’s couldn’t have been comfortable.”

“Yeah,” Bon Bon said. Her eyebrows shot up, and she shut her eyes, letting out a long groan of disgust. “College,” she spat out. “Remember?”

Lyra raised an eyebrow. “You’ve clearly dug up a repressed memory.”

Bon Bon looked up, her pain apparent. “Briny Mirth.”

Lyra’s face fell flat as she attempted to calm herself. She closed her eyes and launched into a mantra. “With balance I have origin, with balance I have affinity.”

“Remember her party tricks?”

Lyra sighed as her meditation was annihilated. “I was trying not to remember.”

Bon Bon let out a choked laugh. “It’s not good enough I have to suffer. You need to come down with me.”


Briny Mirth, an earth pony they knew from parties the two attended during their college years, her cutie mark being a red clam, its shell slightly parted. One time, during a particularly long, drunken, and raucous party, Briny Mirth demanded everyone’s attention, and, taking a meter long rope, instructed a nearby pony to place only the tip into her vagina.

Using only her vaginal muscles, Briny Mirth pulled the entire length of rope into into her canal. Shocked stares and a sarcastically clapping Berry Punch accompanied the trick.

“Wait,” Briny said, intense concentration on her face. A minute later and she birthed the rope, but this time, it was tied in knots.


“That was an interesting trick,” Lyra said. “I wonder if that was her special talent.”

“Oh, I absolutely hope not,” Bon Bon said. “Could you imagine that being your special ability? Idiotically strong vaginal muscles? What’s the point?”

Lyra grinned. “I’ll never forget the stallions’ reactions. It was like synchronized erections.”

“Ha!” Bon Bon let out. “What really got them was when she crushed that steel rod immediately after. Every single penis went straight back into their sheaths. I couldn’t stop laughing.”

They both shared a laugh, and shortly became serious.

“They never found out who set the house on fire, did they?”

“I don’t think so,” Bon Bon said. She sighed, shakily standing up. “Blast it Lyra, I need to go again. We don’t need to talk about penises and clenching vaginas for the rest of the week.”

Lyra smiled. “I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to stop it. I can help you meditate through it, though.”

“Afterwards,” Bon Bon said, pointing her rump at Lyra and lifting her tail. Lyra used her magic to lift the cooler out of the saddlebag, and strapped it on.

Lero walked home through the deserted streets of Ponyville, feeling refreshed and clean and ready to take on whatever Lyra and Rainbow threw at him. It was easier now with just those two, since Twilight, being an alicorn, didn’t go into heat anymore. In the past, when he knew heat season was coming up, he’d start running every morning to build up his stamina, since cooling down three mares all week took every last bit of energy he could spare. That was no longer needed.

He passed through the Ponyville bazaar, the stands shuttered, and the absences of wheeling and dealing allowing him to hear the wind blow through the empty alleyways. He liked Ponyville like this, like it was deserted and he was the last man on earth – well, he technically was, but that wasn’t the point.

He turned a corner and was surprised to see a pony out. Berry Punch, lying on the bench in front of the fountain, a splotch of royal purple breaking up the pale yellow of the pine bench. He counted at least five whiskey bottles sitting up-right on the ground. Is she really drinking in public? Lero thought.

“Ms. Punch,” Lero said, smiling in greeting.

Berry Punch waved. “Hi there, Mr. Lero. Looking for stalls to rob?”

“Not today. I just got back from helping out Fluttershy. With a fence.” He stood in front of the immodestly reposed Berry. “What are you doing out here?”

“Taking advantage of heat season,” Berry said. “Everypony’s inside, so I can go out and drink in public and no one is around to yell at me or fine me or whatever. I get a thrill out of it. Don’t judge me.”

“I’m not,” Lero said with a laugh. “So, the um… the heat doesn’t bother you?”

Berry Punch scoffed and airily waved his question away with a swirl of her hoof. “I don’t go into estrus. Only weak-minded mares do that.” Like prophecy, as if it was foreordained after such an absurd boast, Lero’s sight was blasted with shy pink hiding behind purple, and like a hand closing, the pink disappeared. Berry Punch’s vulva had winked at him.

“You didn’t see that,” Berry said. “Don’t tell anyone.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Mine aren’t, apparently,” Berry said. Her vulva winked again. “Whoops. Let’s pretend I never said anything about weak-willed mares.”

“That sounds like a plan.”

Lero had been winked at before by mares in heat, and not just the mares in his own herd. Most of the time, the mare that winked had been apologetic that it happened, giving him their ‘I’m sorry’ with bowed head and blushing face. Only one mare actually meant it, and expected him to respond in the affirmative, some unicorn mare in Canterlot. However, she wasn’t actually in heat. Dash was utterly furious with the disrespect shown toward Lero, and it took Lyra and Twilight to stop her from pounding the mare into paste. Berry, though, was the first mare to wink at him that didn’t seem to care that she was doing it, or that her body was betraying her urges in this way. She wasn’t even blushing.

Lero, of course, had been embarrassed the first time a strange mare winked at him. He couldn’t stop blushing, and even felt ashamed that it had happened. There was so much to get used to in this new world, and a mare’s vulvar winking was something he never thought he’d see. Rainbow Dash, and Twilight especially, had helped him come to an understanding and even tolerance of it.

“A mare in heat can’t really help it, Lero,” Twilight had told him. “The second most mortifying experience of my life was during my third heat, when I winked at my dad. I was so embarrassed. So totally ashamed. I didn’t come out of my room for a week.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. “Did you-know-who give you grief over it?”

“Oh no, dad didn’t tell anyone. They had no idea why I wouldn’t come out of my room. But, I leaned that it was actually a fairly normal experience for a filly. I mean, the herd fathers are the stallions she’s around the most. Fortunately, it never happened again.”

Twilight had told him that years ago, and Lero had since learned to control his reactions. No need to further upset a mare by getting embarrassed by her natural bodily reactions. He’d just nod and smile and say, “That’s fine, you didn’t offend me.” Yet, here was Berry Punch, completely indifferent to what had just happened.

Berry proffered a half-empty bottle. “Want a drink?”

“No thanks,” he said. He smiled and nodded his head. “I’m going now. Be good.”

Berry saluted. “Thanks, but I have other plans,” she said to his retreating form. “Hey Lero!”

Lero turned around.

“Guess what I use the empty bottles for?” She put on a lascivious smile, licked her lips, and once again, winked her vulva.

This time, Lero couldn’t help but let his jaw drop. His face reddened.

“I turn them in for a refund,” Berry said. “Why, what were you thinking? You’re a pervert, Lero.”

Lero shook his head. “Bye, Berry.”

“I’m telling everypony,” Berry shouted, and Lero sighed. Years ago, barely a month after he arrived in Equestria, Rainbow Dash pointed out Berry Punch, from a distance, as the “town troublemaker.” Berry had yet to betray that label.

Well, he’s still Lero, Berry thought. She sighed, and rolled over on her back. She stretched a hoof and grabbed a bottle, biting out the cork and spitting it on the ground. She held the bottle straight up and took a long swig, thinking about Ponyville.

Something has to be done.

Rainbow Dash pushed against the rapidly growing cloudwall, ready to redirect the errant cold blast to the Everfree. Her crew, despite dealing with the opening of Ponyville’s heat season and its distractions, worked steadily to build up the system that would redirect the cold.

With a flap of her wings and a push of her hooves, Rainbow folded the mist into the cloud. Her eyes were closed as she concentrated on pushing until there was no more give. A shoddily made cloudwall would just fall apart under a cold front, and that wasn’t going to happen on her watch. The cloud was sufficiently hard, so she opened her eyes. Down below, in the deserted streets of Ponyville, walked Lero.

My Lero, Dash thought, with a surprising amount of possessiveness. That wonderful way he walked, with those beautiful muscles working under his clothes. She could imagine those muscles now, holding her, his fresh skin pressed against her coat, his closely trimmed body hair, how it felt roughly against her own fur as his silken naked flesh rubbed between her hips, how that delicious contrast drove her to ecstasy. Those wonderful marathon sessions, so long and so hard oh that the ceiling in that tight little room would swirl with mist. Her tail twitched.

Oh great, she thought.

Behind her, Flitter snickered like a dying wind-up toy. “I’d say our boss just got hit.”

Beck Dell laughed. “I’d love to make you whinny, Dash, but I’m pretty sure that wink wasn’t meant for me.”

“Of course it wasn’t!” Dash said, reeling behind her. She took a breath to calm herself. “Sorry Dell, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Beck Dell said with a grin. “Just how it goes. I was pushing it, anyway.”

“Alright, let’s get this… stupid thing finished so we can all go home. Move!”

“You can take off if you want, boss,” Flitter said.

“No way. I’m not going to have you mares work while I get cooled down. We’re in this together.”

Dash, her end goal so close in mind, kept a tight grip on her mares as they bogged down into heated distraction. Despite the problems, they got it done.

Dash did a final inspection, forcing herself to slow down to make sure everything was set up right. The mares stood off to the side, a mass of rear hooves rubbing together, hips quivering, and tails twitching. Poor Dizzy Twister actually moaned, and it looked like Cloudchaser was going into a pant.

“It’s good! Everyone can go now!”

The mares burst from the gathering, shouting “good bye” and “see you next week.” Several flew into the town below, flying into their houses without even touching the ground. Others went to their cloud homes, where their respective herds were waiting.

Flitter and Beck Dell flew down to Ponyville. Beck Dell pointed out Dash rushing through Lero’s door, and grinned.

“Ten times,” she said.

Flitter could only shake her head, mixing amazement with disagreement. Two times, frankly, was more than enough, she thought. Ten times was terrifying to contemplate, and only a total freak would want that many, anyway. She respected her boss, sure, but Dash was definitely that freak.

“I sort of wish that herd would let Lero out as a cooler,” Beck Dell said. “Considering he can’t make kids. I’d love to try him for a ride.”

Flitter gasped in astonishment. That a herd would let their stallion be used as a cooler for other mares was something only done in the old days, when castration was considered a viable form of punishment for disobedient stallions, or in very isolated communities – it was frowned upon now. Flitter also thought Lero unattractive, and so would never consider him for mating, cooler or otherwise. More astonishing to Flitter, though, was who was making the suggestion.

“But you don’t even like stallions!”

“Yeah, but ten times? No mare’s that bent.”

Lero entered his house after having dropped off his tools at the shed. He scraped off his work boots before entering the living room, and made his way to the lavoratory – a literal lavoratory, since the bath was separate from the toilet in pony houses.

(“Why do you have the toilet inside the house?” Dash asked him, when looking at the remodeling plans.

“It’s convenient,” Lero said.

“But what about the smell?”

“Unlike a pony, human waste doesn’t stink, but actually smells like apple pie.”

Dash knew better than to believe that, and gave him a good poke in the ribs.)

He stood at the toilet, leaving the door open out of habit, because he knew Lyra liked watching him pee.

(“He pees standing up,” Lyra said. “Mares have to squat, and stallions have to move their body in line with their aim, but he can actually control the angle and trajectory with just one hand. It could go anywhere he pleases. Urination isn’t in charge of him; he’s in charge of it. His stream is like an arc of transcendence.”

“You’re a weird pony,” Dash said.)

He finished washing his hands, and stepped out of the room just in time to catch Spike walking by with a glass pitcher of tea.

“I’m stealing your tea,” Spike said, his reptile eyes blinking.

“Enjoy,” Lero said. “Going back to the library?”

“Of course,” Spike said. “I don’t want to be here when Dash or Lyra show up.” He cringed. “Mammals.”

Lero laughed.


Twilight came in shortly afterwards, putting her cooler case in the closet after helping out Cheerilee and Pinkie Pie that morning. Lero rested on his bed, a little mellow from that relaxing bath with Fluttershy. Twilight lay on top of him, giving happy hums as he stroked her mane and back.

“You smell nice,” Twilight remarked, giving him a sniff. “Like Fluttershy.”

“Violets,” Lero said. “The soap she uses.”

“It’s cute that you let her bathe you.”

“I’m just another one of her animals,” Lero said with a chuckle. “How goes your new ‘Ponyville Estrus Season Cooling Initiative’?”

“It’s a bust,” Twilight said. “I’m afraid most of the mares are too intimidated by the whole princess thing. I mean, everyone here already knows me from before my ascension, so why would the title matter? Am I really so different?”

“Well, I’m proud of you for trying to help out,” Lero said. His hand wandered from the back of her neck down to between her wings, and they were semi-stiff. Unlike Dash, who decided that any hint of sexual arousal meant building up to sex, Twilight was able to enjoy the feeling on its own. “You ever miss heat?”

“Heavens no,” Twilight said. “It was always such a pain. I’d have to deal with biological imperatives when I’m trying to study or do research. I tried developing a spell to get rid of it, but no such luck. It’s like its own force that refuses to be stopped, one of those rare transmagical forms that resist attempts to interfere with it. I don’t miss having it.”

“Would Anti-Broad have enough power to destroy it?” Anti-Broad was a powerful unicorn mystic that the Elements of Harmony had to best in combat. His mad quest was to destroy universal forms, and he had started off by annihilating the form of doomaflatchie.

(“What’s a doomaflatchie?” Lero asked, after the battle was over.

“We don’t know,” Twilight said, sadly. “When he destroyed its form, the destruction was apparently retroactive. No one remembers what it was. He was about to destroy the form of doorknobs before we stopped him.”

“I guess his dictionary only started with ‘D’,” Lero said, and Twilight had a well-deserved laugh.)

“I’m not sure,” Twilight said, squinting in thought. “His was such a weird power, nothing like it.”

“Just as well,” Lero said. “Dash loooves heat.”

Twilight snorted. “Probably the only mare in history that does.”

“I always had to be very, very gentle with you.”

“Yes, especially after that scare,” Twilight said. She pecked him on the lips. “That magic climax I had that made me a closed circuit for orgone feedback. Gosh, I slept for a week after that. At least I learned that too much pleasure can be just as bad as pain.”

“I was scared out of my wits,” Lero said. “I was afraid you had a stroke.” Twilight could feel a slight tremble in his body. She spread her wings around him protectively and nuzzled his neck.

“Everything’s okay, Lero,” She said gently. “That’s was very quick thinking, contacting Cadance.”

“Well... I figured if anyone knew what to do in that, um, sort of situation, it would be her.” Twilight felt his body shift, as if trying to hide under her. “It was... well, I was very embarrassed to have to get her to help with that.”

Twilight lifted her head to look into his hazel eyes, and gently touched his face with her hooves. “Oh Lero, I promise you Cadance was in no way embarrassed or ashamed.”

“I know,” Lero said. “There’s a lot of things I know that I tell myself, but, for some reason, my body doesn’t really pay attention.”

“That was heat for me,” Twilight said. Lero’s hands drifted down the length of her body, and Twilight wiggled her rump a little as he kneaded her soft, tight flanks. She hummed happily, and his hands traveled back up to her neck.

“How do you put up with heat?” Twilight asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Putting up with three bossy, needy, aroused mares for a week. You never complained about it.”

“I was gladly performing my duty,” Lero said with a smile. “I love you guys more than I could ever explain. I was happy to help.”

“Thank you, Lero,” Twi said, planting a tiny, lingering kiss on his lips. “I mean, I know you aren’t naturally attracted to us mares. It’s something I noticed when you first got here. I was wondering about your sexual needs, but you never showed any sign of wanting to mate with a pony. Don’t deny it.” She placed the tip of her hoof on his lips. “You avoided looking at our back parts, and there was more than just modesty there. You didn’t like what you saw.”

“I’m not sure what to say here,” Lero said. “Sure, I don’t go around looking at pony butts, but you three are the sexiest females of any species I know.”

Twilight giggled. “That’s love blinding you. What do you think, anyway? I mean, the first time you saw mare bits.”

Lero coughed. “Well, the anus sort of looked like someone stuck their finger in a burnt marshmallow.”

Twi gasped and swatted him. “Oh please! There’s only one po—person I know that actually has fingers to go around sticking them in butts!”


“You! Don’t drag the innocent into this.”

“Yes, it was me,” Lero said, grinning. “It was always me. A long time ago I was camping in a forest, trying to make s’mores. A herd of ponies came by, attracted by the smell of chocolaty goodness.

“‘Would you little ponies like some s’mores?’ I asked.

“‘We would, mister, but we can’t eat. We just get tummy aches, because we can’t poop!’ and with that, they turned around and lifted their tails. Sure enough, they didn’t have any buttholes!

"‘Don’t worry,’ the kind genius – that’s me – said to them. ‘I’ll take care of that.’ And so Lero burned marshmallows and stuck them to their backsides, making sure to poke in a little hole with his finger. And with that, the little ponies were able to eat and not get tummy aches, because now they could poop. And that’s how Equestria was made.”

Twilight couldn't hold back her laughter, her body vibrating with loud joy. Lero smiled and chuckled with her.

“That’s so ridiculous!” Twilight said. “It’s like those Because I Said So stories, like how a zebra got its stripes. Where on Equestria did you come up with that?”

“Oh, it actually happened,” Lero said. “How did a zebra get its stripes?”

Twilight’s laughing face turned to a frown as she tried to dredge up the story. “You know what? That story’s kind of racist.”

Lero’s front door slammed open so hard it shook the house. Not even a microsecond later did the bedroom door fling open, exposing a wild-eyed Dash viewing the scene with disbelief.

“Twi, get your princessy purple butt off my stallion. I got needs, sister.”

Twilight snickered, kissed Lero, and hopped off. “Have at it.”

“Alright!” Dash hopped on his bed, bit the waistband of his jeans, and started tugging.

And so it begins, Lero thought, sitting up to take off his shirt. He wasn't really in the mood, still feeling mellow and relaxed from the bath, and wanting to keep playing with Twilight, but like hell he was going to let Dash down in her time of need.

Lyra trotted in, and deflated. “Looks like I’m late.”

“Give me a minute,” Dash said. “Two minutes. That’s all I need. Then he’s all yours.”

“And once again, I’m just a piece of meat to be traded between mares,” Lero said.

“Ha!” Dash said, after tossing his pants on the floor. “You know it. And don’t act like you don’t like it, because I know you do.”

Lero smiled. He couldn’t deny it.

Interlude: Berry Punch Visits Her Father

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The train rolled up to Beavertron station, the dried out and colorless pine slats of the platform greeting visitors with its apathy. The train visited only two days a week, and Berry Punch was the only passenger to exit that day. She picked up her saddlebags from the luggage car, and walked off the platform, glancing at the ticket master behind the broken glass. The ticket master shrugged in greeting, and Berry shrugged back.

She walked through Beavertron’s quiet and cramped streets, passing by the remains of houses as they had been stripped for materials needed for other towns. She passed by the ruined walls of the abandoned explode-o-dome, where unicorn scientists once hurled rocks around a track before smacking them into each other to study the explosions. Most of the innards had been moved to Zebratron, where a bigger, more advanced explode-o-dome had been built. They could actually use boulders instead of rocks, and the newly grown magic amplification crystals let them hurl the boulders at greater speeds.

Across the street from the explode-o-dome was the orphanage, state sponsored, and probably the only source of outside money Beavertron received. The kids were on the yard, playing below the dark clouds, chasing each other and squealing with delight as they tried to squeeze in one last inch of fun before the rain started. A griffon fledgling played with the ponies, and they were all watched by the smiling, though weary, pony staff.

Her dad’s home, at the end of a dead end street, jutted next to the Aether forest. She did not look into those dark and foggy woods. She could hear the antlers scrape against the branches, and could hear the cloven hooves press into the dirt. She would deal with it later, if at all. For now, she had to meet the civil servants in front of her father’s cottage.

“Hey!” the leader said, an earth pony mare with the yellow reflective jacket of a construction worker. “Ms. Punch, welcome back.”

“Don’t you threaten me,” Berry said, walking through the entirety of Beavertron’s civil servants. It looked like five today.

“Still a smart-donkey, I see,” Crocus said with a smirk. “Think you could tell your dad to knock it off when you go inside?”

“Sure, but he won’t listen,” Berry said. “His fear is greater than your… something-or-other.”

“His fear is stupid, pardon my saying,” Crocus said. “What’s his big deal with entropy, anyway? Without entropy, we’d be out of a job. What good is maintenance now, huh? There’s not a single hole for me to patch, and Hay Zoos here hasn’t been able to do lawn work in weeks.”

Hay Zoos, an earth pony stallion, nodded angrily. “The grass, it won’t grow. It’s always freshly cut, like new. I need to work the ground, Ms. Punch. It’s my cutie mark.” He thrust his rump toward Berry, showing off his pruning shears cutie mark.

“Mowing grass is a sick and depraved act,” Berry Punch said. “You should be ashamed of yourself, striking down grass as it reaches for sexual maturity, keeping it in an artificially retarded childhood, gelding those poor blades for the sake of appearances. How perverted.”

Hay Zoos snorted in offense, and a pegasus mare put a wing on him to calm him down. Drops began to fall, and Berry could hear a ponderous movement coming from the forest.

“Just ask him, okay?” Crocus said, as the little group split up to find cover.

“Yeah, sure,” Berry Punch said, entering the door.


Raindrops spattered against the windows of the dustless and still den. A chintzy couch was pushed against the stucco wall. In front of it sat an oval coffee table, and in the corners of the den edifices made out of books, stacked high, terrorized probability by leaning and not falling.

Berry walked through the silent room, pushing through the air that hadn’t moved in a month, which was the last time she visited. She felt it come to life as it flowed over her, and she wondered how a finely-tuned pegasus would take the static state of the atmosphere in this cottage. Air that barely moved would probably be a horrifying thing to a pegasus, so used to feeling it and reading it like it was a living being.

She could remember her youth when the cottage was cramped and lively, with her birth mother and herd mother and her father living in happy domesticity, while her younger sister stacked blocks to watch them tumble. Even though her parents were unicorns, and she was an earth pony, Berry never felt left out. It was a cozy little herd, up until her sister and herd mother, Double Mint, were killed.

(Years later, during her other life in Ponyville, Berry Punch had bribed a young filly to run with her in the Sisterhooves Social, using ice cream sundae as payment. It was another of what Amethyst Star would call ‘a trifling stunt’ (especially since Berry used her bilocation skill to heckle the participants while simultaneously competing in the event), but, for a split instant after she won, Berry felt like she was trying to relive something she never had the chance to have.)

Of course her birth mother, Fruit Loop, didn’t take Double Mint’s death well. Fruit and Double were made for each other, and Double Mint’s death, in Berry’s opinion, destroyed Fruit Loop’s ability to tolerate reality. Fruit Loop decided she had enough of the shrieking pain of her existence, and had walled herself off from reality, to pursue the strange pleasure of a stone; pleasure that comes from not having pain. She existed outside now, wherever outside was. Berry didn’t know. She figured no one would ever see her mother again. And, of course, that destroyed her father’s will to face up to reality. Berry wished her mother had fought against whatever dark forces were savaging her will, at least for her father’s sake.

Berry passed the dull and lifeless kitchen, and entered the hallway, its walls adorned with pictures of the herd’s past. She opened the door to her father’s bedroom. The blinds were closed, and the thick yellow curtain was drawn, and they dulled the sound of tapping raindrops. Notebooks were stacked in one corner, and a box of tissue next to it. None of those items had been touched in years. There was no dust in this room, and there probably never would be.

In the bed, lying under the sheets, was the unmoving body of her father, Star Struggle.

It wasn’t always like this. Sure, he’d spend most of his time in bed, sheets up to his chin, never leaving his house due to the foul terror, born of grief, that he lived with. He cooked and cleaned, and studied whatever it was he studied. He’d answer the door when Berry came to visit, or when the local grocer brought food. Then, he stopped answering the door. He wouldn’t leave the bed unless he was going to eat, bathe, or eliminate.

And now, after worrying about his collapsing mental state, after cajoling out-of-town doctors to visit, after tearful entreaties and furious begging, her father simply didn’t move at all.

“Hi,” Berry said. She sat down and let her saddlebag fall off, the bottles clinking together as it landed on the red carpet. “There was some angry folks with a petition outside. They asked me to ask you to knock it off. With the not moving thing. It’s kinda neat, you know, that you’re like a statue. When was the last time you had a meal? A year ago? I don’t get the mechanics of your despair. It’s weird. I’m guessing the explode-o-dome and the Aether forest probably allowed some of this to happen, that combination of magic weirdness.

“If you think about it, refusing to move to the point of ruining the, uh, local system’s tendency toward disorder, or whatever, what with your heart only beating once every other day, and your digestive system barely running, takes a monstrous act of will. Mom had that, ya know. When Double Mint died, mom used that monstrous will to remove herself from reality, to wherever she is now. I used to think it didn’t make much sense, you know. Why not just kill yourself? But it’s not just an act of grief, it’s an act of rebellion against a universe she considered meaningless and absurd.

“Yeah, I’m getting off track. Hmm. Anyway, your refusal to move, to not act, to add as little as possible to entropy, is in itself an entropic act, because of the will it takes to not act when it’s easier to act. Get it?”

Star Struggle didn’t move.

“Eh, I figured that wouldn’t work. I don’t know much about that stuff, anyway. Of course, the doctor couldn’t figure out how slowly your synapses fired, so as far as I know, maybe decades down the line, the words I just said will finally process in your brain. Who knows? I bet I’d be an old mare, coming to visit her father, who still looks as old, or as young, as he did when his heart decided it couldn’t deal with reality anymore.

“I talked to a physicist about why you aren’t freezing cold, like near absolute zero, what with you slowing down your system and stuff. Anyway, the physicist couldn’t come up with a good explanation outside of some stuff like reality bubbles, so I decided it’s because you’re a dilettante. The immediate outside world should be near freezing too, up to however far the radius is that your mad quest affects, but you aren’t doing that right because you’re a dilettante.”

Berry Punch frowned, and sighed.

“Actually, now that I think about it, it’s the Runner in the Woods keeping that from happening. I’m sure of it.

“Listen, when Double Mint died, mom decided her life had no meaning, and she thought it was terrible. I think it would be a wonderful thing. It means ultimate freedom. We’re ponies, and our life’s meaning is given to us by our cutie mark. That means I live my life toward a goal or a destiny, and that’s a terrible thing. Take my word for it. Having to live my life around whatever goal the universe had planned for me? I might as well just burn everything to the ground.

“There’s this Still Way grandmaster in Ponyville – oh, I’m a Drunken Hoof grandmaster now – and we sometimes get in philosophical arguments, the few times we’ve spoken to each other. She’s definitely a quality over quantity pony. I guess aiming for quality makes sense if you’re an alicorn, and have untold thousands of years to live for, but with our measly little lives of seventy or eighty years, it’s just a waste. Maybe if you believed in Elysian Fields after this, sure, but that’s so beyond my experience that it’s just another absurd thing. I can’t believe or disbelieve. There’s so much to do in this life that you’d never be able to do them all. Aiming for quality over quantity really cuts out a huge swath of what’s good in life, wanting to do one or two things really well. I told her I want to do everything I can, as much as I can. Quantity has a quality of its own.

“That’s what I told her, but, deep down, I really don’t care. You and mom deal with this universe through grief and despair, you two even shaped it into a weapon of sorts, but what I have is scorn and indifference. I just don’t care either way. I mean, I’m a Drunken Hoof grandmaster, and that took a total qualitative act. Then I spend most of my time drinking and ruining things and occasionally getting into fights. So much for quantity.”

Her cutie mark throbbed. She looked up, looked through the wall, hazing away, looked across the field and through the forest, through the trees, to the clearing where the ponies danced in drunken frenzy, and in the middle was the Runner in the Woods, pointing a cloven hoof at Berry Punch, beckoning her.

Berry popped open her saddlebag and pulled out a glass jar of moonshine. She gulped it down in seconds, closed the lid, and put it back in her saddle bag. Her cutie mark was burning hot.

“I get called the town drunk, but if they actually paid attention, they would notice that I never, ever, get drunk. I’ve been pushing my tolerance limit for decades. I want to know what’s happening…” she pawed at the ground.

“I get all the lovely feelings of harmony and belonging when I do what my cutie mark tells me, and I hate it. I do everything I can to fight and rebel against it. I don’t want to be told what to do. It’s like I’m being manipulated by outside forces, and those forces are me.”

She bent down and kissed his cheek.

“Gosh, you’re cold. I guess you were listening, huh? You’re not cold enough, though. Heh, you’re being a dilettante again.”

She put on her saddle bag and headed toward the door. She turned back.

“I love you dad. I love mom too, no matter what. But, if either one of you ever make it back, I am going to beat total hay out of you. Both of you. A complete and utter smack-down. Get it? Because both of you deserve it.”

Berry Punch frowned, squinting in thought. “Actually, deserve has nothing to do with it. I’ll beat hay out of both of you because it’s funny. A daughter reunited with her long lost parents, running up to them, tears in her eyes, and right before they hug, she gives them a major beat-down. That’s hilarious. Anyway, good luck with achieving that personal zero-point energy state. Bye dad.”


The rain stopped, and the fog rolled over the grassy meadow, green in sunlight but now a pale blue as the dark clouds glowered overhead, and Berry Punch trudged through the mud toward the Aether forest. A combination of unwanted emotions struggled with each other, sadness and anger toward her parents, and love, and grief, and anger toward herself and fear for what was going to happen. She pushed them back and tried to manufacture self-control. Her cutie mark throbbed warm-hot-warm and pushed her forward. Tinglings of expectation shot through her, and Berry tried to fight it by following the example of her mother; the pleasure of a stone. Her cutie mark mocked her.

She entered the now darkening woods, walking under the beech trees that towered straight up before creating a leafy canopy. The darkness graduated to black, but light came from the center of the forest and guided her. Rushing wind carried faint music, and the fiery tingling increased, telling her she wanted to experience the pleasure and ecstasy now, and Berry ignored it. I refuse, she thought. Her bottles clinked in the saddlebag.

(In Canterlot, weeks prior, Berry Punch woke Minuette up and told her, “I want to eat an ice cream cone.” Not able to go back to sleep, Minuette followed her to Freezy Pop’s for some ice cream.

Minuette, levitating her hot fudge sundae, took a seat and waited for Berry to join her. Berry, as if staggering in a dream, made her way to the garbage can and threw away her one-scoop alfalfa-flavored ice cream cone.

“W-why did you do that?” Minuette asked.

“Nopony tells me what to do,” Berry said. “Not even myself.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense!”

Berry Punch only laughed in response, scaring Minuette.)

Trying to ignore the call of her cutie mark never worked. It was if it pulled her toward the forest, and that was never pleasant. Even when she tried to leave town, taking the turn toward the train station, she’d somehow be on the street again, looking at the corner of her dad’s house, as if the street looped on itself. If she was summoned by the Runner in the Woods, then she could not leave until she saw her.

She pushed through the forest, the trilling of flutes and whirring of bullroarers getting louder. Screams that lingered between ecstasy and pain filled the air and added to the mad symphony. Berry’s lip curled up in scorn.

She made it to the clearing. The noise of the debauched revelry stopped, and the shadows of ponies projected through the trees, waiting for her to join the revelry.

In the middle of the clearing, in a field of daises, stood The Runner in the Woods. She stood bipedal on her cloven hooves, her antlers reaching out like webs, her phalluses hanging low. She saw Berry and smiled her fanged smile.

“You aren’t fulfilling the duties of your sign,” the Runner said, pointing to Berry’s cutie mark.

“I ain’t beholden to that mess,” Berry said.

“Berry Punch, I am trying to give ponies the gift of ecstasy and revelry that destroys all inequities. I would prefer that all of my chosen ones fulfill their duty.”

“I didn’t vote for you,” Berry said. “I don’t remember signing a ballot that said you could tell me what to do.”

The Runner’s mouth closed, though her lips formed a smile that could be called pitying. “Poor, deluded, Berry Punch.”

I should never have been born a pony, Berry Punch though. I’m a bad fit for it. A cutie mark telling me what to do. I refuse on principle.

The Runner didn’t move toward Berry, but simply folded the space between them. A hoof traced Berry’s jawline, and Berry tried to manufacture disdain at the lust that shot through her, a synthetic response to a true emotion. She panted instead.

“Look at you fighting it,” the Runner whispered, her words like a silk brush tickling Berry’s ears. “You’re the only pony I know that tries to make a virtue out of unhappiness.” One of the Runner’s phalluses sprang erect. Berry’s vagina became instantly wet. She forced her tail between her legs, not to hide her reaction – the Runner knew what was happening – but as a defiant act against the dictates of her body. Her cutie mark flared, and whispered unwanted commands to her soul. Berry Punch curled back her lips in rage.

The Runner trailed a hoof across her back, this simple gesture causing a moan of pleasure to escape from Berry, though it trailed into a growl.

“You always try to fight, and you always give yourself to me. Please, dear Berry, please stop hurting yourself. Follow your destiny. You want this pleasure.”

“I don’t want to want it.”

The Runner lifted Berry’s tail, and Berry’s flanks quivered.

“Don’t,” Berry said.

“Then walk away, Berry. Simply leave. I am the one that summons you here, but only you can make you stay.” The Runner bent down, and breathed her hot breath over Berry’s vulva.

I’m going to come, Berry thought, and she stuttered out, “Our n-nada who art in nada, nada be thy name.”

“What are you doing?” The Runner said.

Berry’s mind, despite the pleasure invading her body, trying to stoke the fires of voracious lust, settled into the stillness of a grandmaster meditating. “Your kingdom nada, thy will be nada,” and Berry burst into laughter.

The Runner stood up and away from Berry as her purple body shook with laughter. Berry spat out parts of her mantra as she laughed, and she fell to the forest floor, folding her front legs under her to hold her chest as it heaved with laughter. Berry’s laughing died down, and she noticed a parade of expressions marching across the Runner in the Woods’s face; anger, confusion… and sadness? Hurt?

“I give you untold ecstasy, Berry Punch, and you reject it.”

Berry Punch rolled her eyes. “Sex is boring,” she said. “All day trancelike orgies with you and a bunch of easily manipulated ponies? Snore. I got better things to do, like setting things on fire. Like these trees. They’re stupid, by the way. This whole forest is stupid.”

“Your childish insults mean nothing to me,” the Runner said, and Berry startled when she felt the coldness in her cutie marks.

“You released me?”

“You released yourself,” The Runner said. Tears filled her eyes and fell down her cheeks. “You have rejected me.”

I’m free, Berry thought. Her cutie mark was a dead thing now, a mere scribbling empty of purpose and destiny, and it felt wonderful.

Stunned, the bottles in her bag forgotten, Berry whispered, “I won.”

“I loved you, Berry,” the Runner said through her sobs. “I watched you since you were a child. I admired your will-“

“I don’t care,” Berry said, turning to leave. “I’m out.” She walked out of the clearing, ignoring the Runner’s sobs. An uneasiness settled over her as she tried to define the long years of her servitude to this demigoddess and her orgies. A giant red neon sign, flashing RAPE flared in her head, and Berry felt confused.

I was raped, Berry thought. She had never felt that before, or even realized it. It was a rape I was complicit in by virtue of my cutie mark. No, I’m making excuses.

“Am I?” she said, as she walked through the meadow next to her father’s house. This should be a victory she was celebrating, a victory over her internal destiny and an ancient demigoddess whose rites should have been obsolete long ago. There was no anger, no sadness, no guilt. Maybe I’m in shock… or am I indifferent to even that? She slowly made her way to the train station, walking through the empty streets.

The train station had a self-serve post office next to the ticket office, and Berry selected a form that was a petition to the Office of Princess Celestia.

She sat at the visitor’s desk, set out the form, and thought about how she could describe what happened to her. At the very least, someone needed to know about The Runner in the Woods. Maybe there were other victims like her, ponies that wanted to stop, but couldn’t. There was a chill fear that the diarchs did know about Her, and weren’t going to do anything about it. She gripped the quill with her mouth, dipped it in ink, and began to write. She only paused to get a second sheet of paper. When finished, she stuffed it in an envelope and dropped it in the mailbox in the train station.

Eventually, as the sun set, the train came to pick her up. I’m free, she thought. Whatever that means. I’m going to change. No more groping against destiny. I can do what I want. I can change myself to whatever I want!


In Ponyville, the next day, after finishing a bottle of Pinot noir, Berry laughed as ponies tried to sample jelly donuts she had secretly filled with mayonnaise.

“You’re such a troublemaker, Berry!” Minuette said, spitting out bits of fried dough and mayo.

Berry frowned. “Welp, I guess I’m not going to change after all. Oh well.”

The wind carried the sound of Pinkie’s sad trombone.


"'Know thyself?' If I knew myself, I'd run away."
- Goethe

4. Going to Canterlot

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Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and Lyra were at the Ponyville train station, awaiting the arrival of the 1:15 to Canterlot. Applejack and Pinkie Pie were seeing them off, although Twilight Sparkle had trouble keeping up with the conversation. She would peer back toward the station, searching for Lero’s bipedal form walking above the ponies. Sometimes she would flap well above the platform and study Ponyville intently before settling back down.

“Don’t fret, Twi. He’ll be here,” Dash said, watching Twilight flap above her head for the third time. “He's why we're going to Canterlot, anyway.”

“Well, I just don’t want him to be late,” Twilight said, landing back on the platform. “The train wouldn't wait for him.”

“Ooh, I bet Twilight could use her princess privilege to make it stop!” Pinkie said. She reared up on her hind legs and thrust out a hoof. “Engineer! Don’t move this train, or else!”

“Oh, I would never do that,” Twilight said, as her imagination of the abuse of power caused her to duck her head.

“Pfft, yeah,” Dash said. “She won’t even get her own private car.”

“I don’t need a private car. I don’t want to be treated differently just because I’m royalty.”

“I like that attitude, Twilight,” Applejack said. “I’m glad you didn't turn all frou-frou on us, tryin’ to lord it up and everything.”

Twilight met Applejack’s praise with a bashful smile and pink cheeks. “Thanks, Applejack.”

“Hey, remember when I played Commander Hurricane?” Dash asked, showing a slick grin. “That’s how you should act as a princess. Just bark your orders out at everyone.”

“Oh please,” Twilight said.

“Ooh, remember when I was Chancellor Puddinghead?” Pinkie asked, violently inserting herself between Dash and Twilight. “I used food rewards to order my underlings around. Chocolate cake if you’re good, broccoli if you’re bad!”

Applejack cocked an eyebrow. “Now Pinkie, I don’t believe that was in the play.”

“What play?”

“Here comes the train,” Lyra said. She could feel the vibration of the metal beast leap into the wooden platform and dance under her hooves. The mares’ conversation had passed in and out of her awareness while she was feeling the breeze brushing her mane and the sun rubbing her coat. Seconds later, puffs of smoke rose over the horizon.

“I'm going to go find him,” Twilight said, readying her body to launch into the air.

“There he is,” Lyra said, with a playful smile. The four mares followed her line of sight toward Ponyville.

“Tarnation,” Applejack said. “What’s he wearing?”


He was wearing a black business suit with a white dress shirt and a black tie, though more stylish than average. It was a Rarity special, and the curves and angles could have easily passed as something from the great Italian fashion houses. It was a suit he wanted specifically for meetings with government officials.

“I followed our plans exactly, Lero,” Rarity had told him, days ago, as he admired her handiwork at her boutique. The white dress shirt, its French cuffs held together with gold cufflinks inlaid with onyx, was draped over one of the brand new ‘mannequins’ Rarity had specially designed. She was the possessor of the only two in the world. The shirt’s collar was full of a black silk tie displaying a perfect Windsor knot. The other mannequin had his dress jacket, a two button single-breasted design without the breast pocket – Lero wanted a symmetrical appearance due to reasons he couldn't quite explain. Maybe I have a deep-seated fear of asymmetry, he thought. He couldn't remember ever feeling that way before, though.

“Rarity, that’s perfect.”

“Thank you, darling! I’m quite proud of it. And, if I may be perfectly honest, you’re an excellent canvas for my art.”

Lero smiled. “Thanks Rarity. So, what do the pants look like?”

“What pants?”

Even now, as he was carrying his rolling luggage, Lero had to smile at that. Yeah, he was going to meet the princesses with shirt, jacket, tie, shoes, but no pants. Of course, ponies rarely ever wore pants anyway, so he didn't begrudge Rarity forgetting that one important point.

He heard Rainbow shout his name, and saw her floating above his herd and their friends, waving her hoof. He waved back, grinning at her grin. His fingers throbbed with soreness, since sometime last night Lyra had taken his middle and index finger into her mouth, and had fallen asleep without removing them.

He walked past the outhouse next to the platform when the door violently swung open. Lero gave a startled glance as Berry Punch, her face full of what could be described as regret, shut the door behind her. She glanced up at his querying expression.

“Chardonnay doesn't pair well with nachos,” she said.

“Ah,” Lero said. “Well, thanks for the tip.”

“Keep the change.”

He moved toward the stairs where his herd were waiting for him. “Sorry to keep you guys waiting,” he said. “I was helping Spike build a trebuchet.”

“Lero!” Twilight said, trotting up to him as he navigated the stairs with his suitcase. Twilight gripped it in her magic and levitated it over to the porter, who tagged it and put it in line to be placed in the luggage car of the train. “You look amazing!”

“Thanks,” Lero said, flashing a smile. “As usual, you can thank Rarity for her fine work.” He walked toward the group and met their greetings with his own.

“You sure clean up good, Mr. Handy,” Applejack said. The train was busy pulling into the station, and the terrified squealing of iron brakes and the dangerous hissing of steam nearly overpowered their conversation. “Pretty fancy."

“Thanks, Applejack.”

The train car let out its passengers, and those idling on the platform waited for permission to enter the cars. One earth pony stallion left the train, and did a double take as he saw Lero.

“Ugh! What in Equestria is that thing?” the stallion said, his lips curled back in disgust and confusion.

“Hello to you, too,” Lero said.

The stallion’s brows shot upward. “Someone taught it how to speak?”

With a bang that vibrated the wooden slats and traveled into the bodies present, Dash slammed down into the wooden platform, raised her wings, and stared down the stallion. The stallion’s entire body cringed, as if trying to hide inside himself.

“Shut your mouth,” Dash said. “Keep moving.”

“S-sorry, I-"

“Shut. Up.”

The stallion quickly trotted away, his fear-stricken face not leaving Dash’s steady glare. He broke into a gallop toward Ponyville, and Dash did not let up watching him until he was out of sight.

Her body deflated when he was gone, her wings lowering against her body. Her anger dissipated, and strange feelings of shame settled in her heart, though it was only a pinprick. Venting anger at a stallion just wasn't something she ever wanted to do.

Twilight and Lyra leaned against Lero, and even Pinkie reared up to give him a hug.

“I’m sorry that happened,” Twilight said.

“It’s okay,” Lero said, patting Twilight and Lyra, and then reaching around to pat Pinkie. When they let go, he went up to Dash and held her cheek.

“Thanks, Dash,” he said.

“Eh, it was nothing.” Dash said, forcing some old bravado into her smile, her heart leaping at his touch.

The porter called for ‘all aboard’. The herd said goodbye to their two friends, and made to enter the cars.

“Ooh, before you go!” Pinkie said, as she stuck her head toward Lero. “Pleeease?”

With a lopsided smile, Lero plunged both hands into Pinkie’s cottony mess of a mane and vigorously scratched, scritched, and rubbed her scalp.

“Ooooooh,” Pinkie let out, her moan sweet and satisfying like fresh pastry, as Lero made electric pleasure on her head. Pinkie’s tongue hung out of the side of her mouth, and her eyes rolled up to meet her eyelids, lowered at half-mast.

“You know, he usually charges for that,” Dash said. She meant it as a joke, but it came out half angry.

“It’s okay, Dash,” Lero said, as he bent lower to continue massaging Pinkie, her body virtually melting into a puddle. “I’ll give a freebie to a friend every now and then.”

Lero got a flash of petting a dog, but pushed it aside. He didn't want to think of ponies as dogs, as it was terribly insensitive, and could possibly lead to some social faux pas. He had managed not to fall into any, thanks to Twilight’s guidance when he first came here (for instance, patting the head of an adult pony was usually considered as highly patronizing; the patter was implying that the pattee was a foal), but Pinkie’s reaction to his scalp massage was putting associations in his mind that he wasn't comfortable making.

Pinkie eventually lay on the platform, and Lero quit his massage, as he’d have to sit on the platform if he expected to continue. It was past time to board, anyway.

They said their goodbyes to Applejack, as Pinkie was off in another world, and boarded. Applejack left Pinkie behind, deciding to let her sleep it off. It ain't like anypony would trip over her, she thought.


The herd entered a passenger car, and Lero noticed Berry Punch was behind them.

“Hello again,” Lero said. “Going to Canterlot?”

“Yeah, but just to grab the train to Beavertron. Visiting my father.”

“Long trip?”

“Eh, it’s only about thirty miles north of Canterlot.”

“Well, since you’re here, how about you sit with us?”

Behind Lero, Berry Punch saw Rainbow Dash staring at her, her glare full of the sound of sharpening knives. That sort of challenge would be enough to make her say ‘yes’, just to instigate trouble, but going to Beavertron always put Berry in a pensive mood.

“Thanks, but I usually get an entire seat to myself. I like to lie down. Thanks though.”

“No problem,” Lero said, moving toward his seat with his herd. Dash’s frown was full of secrets, but Lero thought nothing of it.


Lero always had to duck when walking in a train car. It was like he was the intruding adult at an amusement park, trying to get on the kids’ rides. The ornate and flowery interior, painted in soft pastels, added to the playtime feeling.

The cloth benches were low to the floor, and he had to cross his legs at an awkward angle to sit on them. It wasn't an uncomfortable position, but he always had to stretch when standing up – which was hard to do in the low ceiling of the car. He had long since gotten over his fear of sitting on items where a pony’s bare bottom had been before. It was simply one of the many fears he had to conquer to function normally in Equestria.

He sat next to the aisle, sharing his seat with Twilight.

"It's nice of you two to come with us," Lero said to Lyra and Dash, sitting across from him.

"Hey, you guys need some..." she hunted for the term. "Moral support, and that's what we do."

"Well, it is very nice," Twilight said. "I'm surprised you're willing to brave a long lecture."

"Oh, I'm not actually going to the meeting. Me and Lyra are going to hang in Canterlot."

Twilight giggled. "Moral support from a distance, huh?"

"It's the thought that counts," Lero said. He held out his fist toward Twilight, who grinned and bumped it with her horn, her ring tapping his ring.

“That’s so lame,” Dash said, as he did the same with Lyra. Lero turned to her and held out his fist, and she grinned and met it with her hoof, bumping his ring with her anklet. Twilight snickered.

Lero glanced at his ring, holding out his fingers flat.

“You did a wonderful job on them,” Twilight said.

“Thanks. I was just thinking about our flowers. I tried to make them last as long as possible.”

“I remember,” Twilight said. “They’re supposed to be temporary, anyway.”

“I know,” Lero said. He looked up at Twilight, his hazel eyes shining. “They meant a lot to me, though. I wanted to keep them.”

“Do you know about the origin of the flower?” Lyra asked.

Lero nodded. “It made them seem so sordid.”

“Wait,” Dash said, “what is the origin?”

“They came from earth pony aristocrats, well before unification,” Twilight said. Dash had asked the question to Lero, but Twilight, so eager to launch into lecture mode, pushed ahead to answer. Dash let her have it. After a long whistle, the train lurched forward, beginning the process of accelerating toward Canterlot.

“In the bad old days, earth ponies had to protect themselves from numerous predators and, well, unicorns and pegasus looking for slaves.” Her shame on those last words were apparent, despite the long time elapsed since those practices. “Being on constant vigilance meant mating practices had to be pretty quick. Once a mare introduced herself to a stallion, and the stallion reciprocated the interest - and in those days, unattached stallions had to reciprocate or face punishment - they, well, pretty much launched into mating and herding on the spot.”

“Whoa. Just like that?”

“Just like that. Really, that was the norm probably back when the first equines appeared on Equus. It’s the sexual life of most prey animals. You never knew when predators would strike, so sex had to be quick, and practiced in the protection of a herd. The aristocratic earth ponies invented the flower symbolism, and the drawn-out courting practices that go with it, as a way of separating themselves from the commoners.”

“That’s how it was in the history of my world, mostly,” Lero said. “Complicated practices invented by the rulers to separate themselves from the plebes. That’s how manners and etiquette were developed.”

“Wait,” Dash said, “so the flower was just some snobby thing the aristocratic earth ponies invented to make themselves seem special?”

“Pretty much,” Twilight said. “It was their way of saying, ‘we’re so rich and powerful that we can hire guards to protect us from predators and other pony tribes, so we can take time with our courting and herding.’”

“They didn't have to worry about a bunch of hungry Leros showing up and causing trouble,” Lyra said with a wink.

Dash grinned. She had a great idea for their next role-play session.

“And when unification happened, the aristocratic houses from the other tribes adopted the flower,” Twilight said. “Over the years the commoners, starting with the petite bourgeoisie, began using the flower as well, and it trickled down to the working class.”

“Wow,” Dash said. She folded her front legs. “It doesn't seem so romantic now.”

“It’s the intention behind it that matters,” Lyra said. “We offered flowers in love and companionship, and that’s romantic enough.”


The train pulled into Canterlot station, and Twilight Sparkle, staring out the window, stifled a sigh.

“It looks like the guard are here to escort us,” Twilight said, as her group entered the aisle. “I can’t really be incognito like I used to.”

“No complaints from Dash, I bet,” Lyra said, giving Dash a poke in the ribs. “All the eye candy she can stand.”

Dash shrugged. “It doesn’t matter,” she said, giving Lyra a vinegar look. Lero was good-natured about her attraction to Royal Guard, but she didn’t want to push it, especially with him standing right next to her with that half-smile of his. He brushed his fingers through the hair tumbling down her neck, and she grinned at his touch.

They exited the train, and all ponies present bowed at Princess Twilight Sparkle. Lero tried to stretch as secretly as possible, but the pop of his joints gave him away. His luggage was being moved by one of the unicorn guard, who was grasping the handle in his magic.

“Greetings, Princess Twilight Sparkle, and herd. Welcome to Canterlot,” a guard said.

“Thank you, Right Stuff,” Twilight said. “Will you be escorting us to the throne room today?”

“I will be escorting you, Princess, but to the tea garden. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna will greet you there.”


Plenty of Canterlotese bowed as Twilight and her group was escorted to the garden. Stern stares from the guard kept her from being accosted. Twilight was flushed from the attention, and her herd watched carefully as she warded off panic attacks.

“May we stop for a moment, please?” Twilight asked, channeling the quiet manner of Fluttershy.

“Halt!” Right Stuff ordered, and the retinue quit moving. Twilight sat on her hunches, and practiced the breathing exercises Cadance had taught her.

“Continue, please,” she said when she finished.


The energizing scent of rosemary greeted the herd as they entered the massive balcony known as the Royal Tea Garden. Nestled between plants, flushed green with health, was a bright blue crystal table, where Celestia and Luna had been sipping tea from porcelain cups that had settled on its glassy surface. Celestia arose with a warm smile, while Luna sat behind the table, across from the entrance, and watched the herd enter with her typical stony features.

“Hello my friends,” Celestia said, approaching the group. Lyra and Dash bowed, while Lero bowed at his waist. While he adopted many of the pony norms to better fit in, he never closed his eyes when bowing to Celestia.

Celestia bent her head down toward Twilight, who, at the last second, turned to nuzzle Celestia, cheek-to-cheek. Celestia brushed Twilight’s cheek with her lips when she moved away. She greeted Lero with a hug from her right wing.

“Thank you for visiting us, Lero. It was very kind of you to share your discoveries with us.”

“I can’t really take credit for it, princess,” Lero said. “It’s something that’s existed on my world for a while. I just hope it’s as useful as Twilight seems to think it is.”

“I’m sure it will be,” Celestia said, as she folded her wing, the tips of her feathers brushing against Lero’s neck.

“Greetings, fellow princess,” Luna said to Twilight, as Twilight moved toward her while Celestia gave her greetings to the rest of the herd. “I welcome you to our newly constructed tea garden.”

“Thank you, P- Luna,” Twilight said, as she trotted to where Luna was standing. Twilight reared back in shock when she got a full view of Luna’s body modification.

“Ah, pardon me,” Luna said. Her horn lit, and she blinked her sheath, and the penis it held, from existence. “I had engaged in sexual congress with one of my guards and her herd this morning. It must have slipped my mind.”

“T-that’s okay,” Twilight said, with a nervous giggle. “Um…”

“I could teach you the spell,” Luna said. “I’m sure Lyra would find it quite enticing. Perhaps even Rainbow would wish to join with you.”

Twilight’s nervous giggle crossed the border into panic, as she sensed her herd and Celestia returning to the table.

“Perhaps at a later time,” Luna said, speaking at a low volume. Luna’s last minute compromise to propriety calmed Twilight, though her blush hadn’t dimmed as she turned to face Celestia.

“I hope you won’t mind sharing tea with us before talking to our Self Defense staff,” Celestia said, taking her place next to Luna. Luna greeted Lyra, Dash, and Lero.

Using her magic, Celestia poured oolong tea into the cups in front of her guests. “I hope you’ll pardon my absence from most of your lecture, Twilight, but the Sejm is meeting to vote on sending more supplies to the Appaloosian territories. Luna and I need to attend.”

“Oh! Does that have to do with the massive amounts of pollen producing flora that were destroyed?” Twilight asked. “I read that they captured the mad chemist, Ig Farben.”

Celestia smiled. “Yes, Twilight. He’s currently undergoing demolishment at Bester Hospital. His psychic rebuild is expected to be complete within the month.”

“We should not be held long,” Luna said, in a regal voice. “I do not foresee a liberum veto. We’ll attend the latter half of your presentation.”

With a smile that Luna recognized as mischievous, Celestia turned toward Twilight and asked, “Twilight, do you remember why I instituted the liberum veto?”

Twilight straightened her posture, and recited, “The liberum veto was introduced to ensure that all decisions made by the Sejm were in accord with the principles of harmony. Any bill or law that was not agreed upon by every single member was not harmonious, and thus not fit to be enshrined.”

“Exactly as the history books say,” Celestia said.

“That’s what you said in your original speech. Now I expect you to tell me that it’s all wrong.”

It was subtle, but Celestia’s teacup jittered in its saucer. She put it down on the table. “Am I truly that obvious?”

“I know that smile, Celestia,” Twilight said, with a grin of her own. The fear of disrespect lingered at calling her ‘Celestia’, but it dimmed each new time she said her teacher’s name. “I learned to recognize it when you were teaching me.”

Celestia let lose a golden laugh, open and kind, and Lyra smiled at the ache threatening her heart.

“You make me proud, Twilight,” Celestia said, and Twilight fluttered with the praise. “Indeed, I created the liberum veto simply to keep the Sejm out of trouble. If they were forced to pass legislature with a unanimous vote, then they would have to learn compromise. I also introduced it to undercut the pernicious absolutist influence of the Persimmon party, which fortunately no longer exists.”

Lero cleared his throat. “There was something similar on my home planet, practiced by a nation that no longer exists. Their liberum veto was open to manipulation by outside forces who could simply bribe certain legislators to serve their interests. This weakened the nation to the point where it was eventually partitioned by three other nations.”

“That was my problem with the idea, though I wasn't around to oppose it,” Luna said. “Fortunately, Celestia created means to detect such events. It rarely happened, and improvements I have introduced should make it nearly impossible.”

“Oh, you mean the espionage network you overhauled?” Twilight said.

Luna fixed Twilight with a stare full of cold iron. “Do you mean the classified espionage network, Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight gasped, putting her wings over her face in embarrassment. “Oh gosh, I did not mean to say that out loud! I’m so sorry!”

“There’s no need for apologies,” Celestia said. “I know all assembled will tell no one.”

“Certainly not,” Lyra said. Lero and Dash both agreed.

A guard came and announced that Lero and his crew were to be escorted to the conference room. They said their goodbyes to Celestia and Luna, and followed the guard.


Celestia watched Lero depart, her lips pursed by secret concerns. She then quoted, “The darkness drops again but now I know/that twenty centuries of stony sleep/were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle/and what rough beast, its hour come round at last/slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

“Delightfully cryptic, sister,” Luna said, as she poured more tea into her cup. “What is a ‘Bethlehem’?”

“I’m not sure,” Celestia said, slowly moving her warm gaze toward her sister. “What I quoted is part of a larger piece. Very odd.”

“Did you come up with it yourself?”

“No. It came into my mind fully formed.”

“Would I be correct in assuming that it happened on the day Lero arrived in our world?”

Celestia studied her sister. “I assume you have one as well.”

“You assume correctly.” Luna cleared her throat, and quoted, “'We keep imagining eternity as an idea that cannot be grasped, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, imagine suddenly that there will be one little room there, something like a village bathhouse, covered with soot, with spiders in all the corners, and that’s the whole of eternity.'”

Celestia breathed deeply, trying to let the helpful scents of the tea garden clear her head. “Cryptic phrases that could be described as disturbing or terrifying entered our heads when Lero first appeared. Are we the only ones?”

“We could ask Cadance and Twilight if they experienced something similar,” Luna said. She watched her sister intently as the theatre of concern, a deep concern touched with an old darkness, played across her face. “Fear not, sister. There is artistry in these words, despite their dark content. I assume they are from Lero’s kind. Not from the rancid bitches and whatever clunking abortions they pass as art.”

Celestia bristled. “Let’s not speak of them.”

“Fine. Instead, let’s speak of your attraction to your one-time student and her stallion.”

Celestia stared at her Luna, eyes wide open.

Luna rolled her eyes. “Please, sister. I saw how you moved your lips across dear Twilight’s cheek, and how you brushed Lero’s soft neck with your feathers. Your body trembled in pleasure. You know I saw it, so don’t waste time playing pretend.”

Celestia took halting steps toward her sister, her neck bobbing as she worked to arrange her feelings into words. “It’s shocking,” Celestia said, “to have these feelings after so long.”

“It’s not shocking. Celibate you may be, but eunuch you are not.”

“Over a thousand years, Luna. I chose the path of celibacy, forswore romantic entanglements, to better serve my ponies. And now these feelings toward my former student and an alien. It’s ridiculous.”

“Your celibacy is ridiculous,” Luna said. “There’s no need for it. Your insistence on combining love with sex has always baffled me. That it’s easier for you to forgo sex instead of simply separating the love component you've attached to it is an aberration of psychology and sociology.”

Celestia smiled. “You know my nature, Luna. I’m a natural romantic.”

“If you want to call yourself a romantic, then be a romantic. Declare your love to your student, and to Lero. Ask to join their herd.”

Celestia let out an elegant scoff. “You know the noble houses would never accept it, especially with Twilight’s new castle and rulership. I couldn't do that to my country.”

Luna huffed. “Then simply stable with Twilight and Lero. I’m sure Lyra and Rainbow Dash wouldn't mind. There may be rumblings from the nobility, but since the throne isn't joining itself to a house, then who really would pay attention to the fuss?”

Luna peered at Celestia as she sorted her thoughts. Luna took a sip to force herself not to smile, and then said, “From espionage and dreams, I can confirm that Lero is a lover of astonishing sexual ability. A master at cornilingus. As we have overheard the gossip of our pegasus guards, ‘ten times’ is no mere rumor.”

Celestia fixed Luna with a patient smile. “You know that bedroom ability never mattered to me.”

“And once again does my sister display an aberration of nature.”

Celestia laughed. So many times had she and Luna had these talks. Early in their long life span, when they worried about the age difference between themselves and potential lovers (they stopped worrying about it around the age of two-hundred). Discussions about dealing with grief and memories of lovers passed, which affected Celestia far more than they did Luna. So many worries and wonderings cured or rendered unimportant by a simple listening ear and caring heart. Luna knew her sister so well that questions of why, as in 'Why Twilight and Lero?' need not be asked.

“Thank you, Luna, for your opinions. You're always the splash of cool water I need. I may pursue stabling, though it will be in the future. I want Twilight to be more comfortable with me, to see me as a friend and peer. If I don’t achieve that, however…” Celestia shook her head.

Luna popped a hoof out of her slipper and placed it on Celestia’s shoulder. “I will help out in any manner I can.”

“Thank you. And now, we need to discuss what you've been hiding about Lero.”

Luna stared, impassive. “What clue did you uncover?”

“Mentioning dreams and Lero. Your face was a pinch confused – and not a new confusion, but one you've been ruminating on for a while.”

“Well read, sister. Indeed, every glance and furrow from ourselves is but an open book to ourselves.”

“And now you’re stalling.”

Luna stood, ambled toward the edge of the balcony, and gazed into the city below. Celestia watched the dark build of her sister’s body, shadows and secrets wrapped in night, all controlled by a stern pragmatism.

“Yes,” Luna said. “Something deeply perplexing and confusing. I’m not able to order my thoughts.”

“Please use me as your slate, Luna.”

Luna, wings spread, ambled around Celestia, her shoes pressing down into the velvet green grass. Her eyes scanned the ground, looking but not noticing, as her thoughts turned inward.

“I've walked Mr. Lero’s dreams before, and always felt ill at ease, despite my power over the dreamscape. One night, I found the reason; there is a deeper sub-layer beneath his dreams, which I am not able to explain. He… fell into it, and I followed him. I have never before been terrified while in another being’s mind. I had no power, no control over where I was. This was not a dreamscape. This was a deeper layer of consciousness...”

Luna paused, flipping through her massive storehouse of words and definitions to explain what she saw.

“It was an unconsciousness, Celestia, because Lero will never be aware of being there. He wakes up from this and will remember nothing, unlike dreams. It was inhabited with ancient beings of terrifying power, alicorn-like power.” Luna shook her head. “No, not beings. I’m afraid I’m equinizing what I experienced. There was nothing sentient or sapient here. I believe forms would be a better term… types. Forms.”

“Forms?” Celestia said. “Like ideals?”

“Perhaps,” Luna said. “But with a very basic personality. I shall refer to them as archetypes. Lero’s self, his very selfhood… disintegrated here, sister. He merged with these archetypes.” Luna shook her head, and then looked directly at Celestia. “It was extremely difficult for me to read what was going on. These were not dreams. Dreams are a replay of memories, thoughts, feelings. A psychic cleaning house. Not here, sister. This place had an insane, ancient depth that should be impossible. He… Lero isn't hundreds of millions of years old!”

Luna gritted her teeth and stomped her hoof, looking away. Celestia remained still.

“I thought it was a type of a dreamscape, but when he awoke, the place did not dissolve. It is still there.”

Luna closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Celestia moved next to her sister and draped her with a wing.

“Luna, this is far beyond anything I've ever heard. I would never have imagined another consciousness layer underneath a consciousness layer. I've never even heard of such a thing.”

“Nor I, sister. As far as we know, no species on this planet has this, though our knowledge of dragon psychology is woefully inadequate. These archetypes are ancient, sister. Remembering some of his equ… anthropology lessons, this place is older than even his species.”

“I wonder,” Celestia said, “if this is somehow related to humans not having magic. They obviously wouldn't have a magicae mundi to collect psychic residues, so I wonder if this serves the same function. However, because there is no magic in his world, then the threat of phantoms stalking the night is impossible. If that's the case, then why would such a thing exist at all? I assume Lero isn't the only being of his people with this place inside his head.”

“I assume the same, sister. Perhaps this psychic layer is something all humans have. A sort of… collective unconscious. I couldn't begin to imagine what the point of such a place would be, however. I wonder if it is some sort of psychic vestigial organ, no longer needed but still functioning.”

“We should ask him,” Celestia said. “He’s well educated, and he may be able to explain it.”

“Certainly,” Luna said. There was a slight hesitation, a mere dip in her voice, and Celestia caught it.

Without waiting to be prompted to speak, Luna said, “This is perhaps fear of the unknown, sister, or mere paranoia, but when I left his collective unconscious, I felt as if something had followed me.”

“Followed you?”

“Outside. I've since sent spies and magic sensitives to Ponyville, though none have noticed anything.”

“Well, why would something from inside his head, not even truly alive, follow you?”

“That’s what I thought as well. Really, there’s so little we know about how magic affects Lero. He is not a magical creature, but magic seems to have the same effect on him as it does on anypony, at least on the surface. But how would prolonged magic affect him? What cumulative effects would crop up, unnoticed, until too late?”

Celestia’s answer was a grim frown. “I hate to drag this out again, but how do you know this isn't a trap planted by his former captors?”

“Oh, I can easily recognize the sad whoredom of their art,” Luna said, stiffly. “This place, despite its terrifying aspect, had a deep beauty, completely unlike the boring, banal perfection they try to pass as beauty. They mistake mathematical precision as perfection, and so are unable to understand the soul of art. They will never be able to grasp this because of the syphilis driving their brains.”


“In fact, they have lived so long with syphilis that it has altered their very bodies. They are so crooked that the males of their degenerate species can only enter the female’s vagina – which, as we all know, is like pulling apart two slices of melted cheese – they can only engage in sex by using a corkscrew motion. The males have to completely rotate their bodies, in midair, in order to even achieve full penetration.”

Celestia cleared her throat. “Luna-”

“The obvious inferiority of their putrid intellect is like a dead fish in the moonlight; it shines and stinks.”

Celestia waited in the silence. Then she said, “Are you finished?”

“They only exist because the universe forgot to wipe. You understand, sister? They are of such a magnitude of defilement that they cannot even qualify as shite – merely shite’s afterbirth.”

“I can’t help but admire the depth of your hatred and contempt,” Celestia said, “although I do wish you wouldn't express it in such deranged terms.”

A guard entered the garden and announced that the emergency session was about to start. The princesses thanked him, and made their way to the Sejm.


After forgoing debate, the Sejm opened the emergency provision bill to a vote. While the legislators delivered their secret ballots, chamber music was provided by the famous concert cellist Octavia, who had chosen a soothing classical piece to perform. After the vote had been tallied (unanimous, in favor), Luna and Celestia approached Octavia and thanked her for providing music at such last minute notice. Afterwards, Luna and Celestia made their way to the Self Defense Force conference room, using the private stairs.

“I detest the prudery of this age, sister,” Luna said, causing a secret smile to spread to Celestia’s lips.

“I didn’t realize you were so sexually frustrated,” Celestia said, leading the way up the stairs.

“I’m not. I simply hate having to comport myself as a skulking servant, sneaking into the chambers of his mistresses. It’s undignified.”

“Delightfully progressive simile, Luna.”

“Thank... ah, that was sarcasm. Glorious.”

Luna carried on. “In the old days, I simply had to open the door of my boudoir, and have a dalliance with whatever pony or ponies entered my chamber. Now I must be coy and sly, and determine interest, and navigate a host of complicated emotional dross simply to perform coitus. Most distressing. I blame you, of course.”

“Of course.”

“So goes the leader, so follows the nation. I’ve studied it. The mores changed when you refused to take lovers. Sex became private and secret, as if it was something dirty to be hidden. It became about romance instead of being for its own sake.”

“We’re here,” Celestia said, as she exited the stairwell.

“I plan on attacking modern mores, of course. My first strike, the shock troops if you will, will be to reinstitute primae noctis.”

Celestia stopped. She turned around to face Luna. “That would be a terrible idea.”

“Is it?”

“You know its history, why we banned it when we took power. I can’t-” Celestia deflated when she saw the smirk entering Luna’s lips. “You were joking. Of course.”

“Of course. How boring it would be to coach disinterested nobles. I’ll pass.”

Celestia shook her head, composed herself, and entered the conference room.


Of all the conference rooms, the Self Defense Force’s was the most plain. There were no pictures on the wall, not even the stereotypical recruitment posters that populated military recruitment offices. This was also the only conference room with no windows, positioned as it was in the center of the castle.

What the room did have was possibly the sturdiest table in the castle. On it was a simple map with basic descriptions of hills and grass. Square bits of colored cardboard, stuffed with numbers and simple drawings of soldiers, dotted its surface. Surrounding the table were general Cake Dancer, three members of her staff, and Twilight Sparkle with Lero behind her.

“-which should explain the functions of the Combat Results Table,” Twilight Sparkle said.

“Interesting discourse on risk management,” general Cake Dancer said. “It certainly explains why a ten sided die is used. But why is the map broken into hexagons instead of squares?”

“It’s in hexagons because it measures movement, not distance.” With a flash of her horn, Twilight Sparkle levitated one of the counters and pointed at a white number in a black box. “This earth pony peltast has 4 movement points, so, in one turn, it can move four hexagons on perfectly flat land. You’ll have to check the terrain effects chart to determine its movement over other features. Now, if this map was broken into squares, then the distance from the center of this unit’s starting square to the center of a square diagonal to it is one half times longer than the distance to a square that is horizontal or vertical to the starting square. This would completely throw off the movement point value.”

“So it’s broken into hexagons so the units always move the exact same distance, regardless of direction,” the general said. “Interesting!”

Celestia was glad to see her general’s reaction. She already knew about this ‘consim’, as Twilight called it, from a detailed letter and rules explanation she had sent her. Celestia intuited its simulation value as a tool to teach commanding officers military history and tactical thinking.

“An oblique formation,” Luna said, as she surveyed the map. “This is the Battle of Stonefly. Interesting choice.”

“I chose that one because of its similarity to an important historical battle in my world,” Lero said. “The Battle of Leuctra. I’m constantly amazed by historical similarities between our worlds.”

“As am I,” Celestia said. She paused, and turned to general Cake Dancer and her staff. “Please pardon my interruption.”

“No interruption, your highness,” Cake Dancer said. “I’ve already decided to use this system to teach ancient battles to my command staff. That it’s adaptable to other battles of the same era is a great bonus. I’d love to recreate the Battle of the Long Run.”

“And with some fiddling, it could be adapted to modern military theory,” Twilight Sparkle said. “Lero and I are currently working on a model right now.”

Celestia noticed Lero’s pained expression. He quickly smoothed his face into neutrality. A quick glance at Luna confirmed that she had seen it as well.


“Oh, it was a sight-seeing tour,” Dash said, as she reached for a breadstick. Dash, her herd, and the princesses ate an early supper in the royal kitchen’s dining table. The grand dining hall was used for formal occasions, such as entertaining foreign dignitaries and politicians. This smaller table, shoved up in the back of the kitchen, was for friends. “She showed me her old stomping grounds. Emphasis on stomp.”

“Girls!” Twilight said. “Surely you didn't-”

“Calm down Twilight, nothing like that happened,” Dash said. “She just showed me around the old neighborhood, and that jar where the diamond dog philosopher lived.”

“Dogenes,” Lyra said. “The founder of irrationalism.”

“Ah, dear Dogenes,” Celestia said, her eyes misting with memory. “His criticism of the state while I was in self-exile was absolutely crucial in bringing me out into public again. I only wish I had done so sooner.”

“No need for regret, sister,” Luna said, as she rubbed one wing across her sister’s back.

“I read some of his work,” Lero said. “Lyra loaned it to me. His defense of the ad equinem fallacy was… interesting, to say the least.”

Lyra smiled. “He called it a truism.”

“Ah yes, he was an interesting canine,” Celestia said. “Let’s see… ‘In this era of debased politics and bought ponies, personal attacks are the only true ideals we have left, and the only response our rulers deserve.’ Something along those lines.”

“Well, it was neat,” Dash said. “Don’t say anything, Twilight.”

“Not me,” Twilight said, fixing herself with a saint-like look.

“I mean, this old jar, over a thousand years old, and then there’s this newer neighborhood built around it.”

“I had it declared a national monument,” Celestia said. “No one will disturb it as long as I’m here. I had to leave it off the registry as a compromise, though.”

The waiters brought out the pony equivalent of a Cobb salad. All gathered served themselves, and ate with relish and conversation.

“Lero? Are you well?” Celestia asked.

“Huh? Oh, yes, I’m fine,” Lero said. He had loosened his tie, taken off his jacket, and rolled up his sleeves. “I’m a little warm, but I’m okay otherwise.”

“Open a window, please,” Celestia said to one of the waiters, who nodded and did what she was told.

“Mr. Lero,” Luna said, “are you having some trouble with your conscience?”

“His conscience?” Twilight said, looking at her husband’s face. “Why would he have trouble with that?”

“Keeping secrets, eh?” Dash said with a wink.

“Well… it has to do with introducing our game. It’s silly.”

“Not at all,” Celestia said. “We don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.”

“What’s all this about?” Twilight said, looking between Lero and Celestia.

“I had some negative feelings about introducing our little game to the military staff,” Lero said. “Some, um, misplaced pacifist feelings.”

“Not misplaced at all,” Celestia said. “You are right to feel worried about helping an organization designed for the purpose of killing. I can only assure you that your trust in us is not misplaced.”

“Thank you, Celestia. I already knew all that, but the feelings come up anyway.” He smiled and took a drink of water. “It feels like hubris, a little. I mean, it’s not like I’m introducing some weapon of mass destruction. Just a game.”

“Your game, from what I have read from Sparkle’s letter and seen firsthoof, will prove quite useful in teaching tactical thinking,” Luna said. “Don’t deride it because of its little nature.”

“Sure,” Lero said with a slight nod. “I thank you for helping hash out my feelings.”

“You’re welcome,” Luna said. “It is always a pleasure to help out a friend.”

“Hold on,” Rainbow said, “help out what? When was this?”

“Well, some nights ago, Luna helped me in a dream-”

“Whoa,” Rainbow said, “you went in his dream?”

“He invited me,” Luna said. “It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted.”


Port was served. A lot of port.

“Dream sequences are garbage,” Lero said, and Twilight gasped.

“You take that back!” She broke into giggles.

“Hey, you’re talking about the newest Daring Do novel, aren't you?” Rainbow said, sloshing some port onto the table.

“Ah,” Luna said with a sniff. “Genre fiction.”

“I share the same sentiment,” Lyra said. “I’m not good with escapism.”

“But that Still Way mumbo-jumbo is escapism!” Dash said.

“Accepting reality isn't escapism,” Lyra said with a grin.

“Dream sequences are cheap methods to push outré ideas without actually having to weave them into the narrative. The biggest excesses of style take place in those. The worst are when they’re used as foreshadowing, which not only makes them annoying, but cheap. It’s like the writer doesn't know how to properly use the tools of storytelling, so he shoves...” Lero trailed off, as confusion entered his face.

“Lero?” Twilight asked. She giggled.

Lero drooped. “Ladies, I’m truly sorry. I don’t know why I’m going on about this. I’m just embarrassing myself.”

“But my dear, you've done nothing wrong!” Celestia said. “It’s wonderful to listen to you have a strong opinion about something. Frankly, I think we should get alcohol in you more often.”

"Indeed," Luna said. "The most interesting Trottingham accent appears."

“Well, I’d hate to offend anyone,” Lero said.

“Dude," Dash said, "that’s never going to happen. Goofus.”

Lero smiled and took Dash’s hoof. The looked into each other’s eyes, and all assembled saw that they had gone to that secret place shared in each other’s heart, the place built from love and trust, where the outside world could never invade.

They broke the gaze, and Lero wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Is it just me, or is it really hot in here?”


Lero awoke.

He didn't even let out the gasp that welled up in him, a breath of bitter sadness. When he was sure he could control himself, he gently moved out from under the wing blanketing his body and the hoof holding his chest. He was grateful for the sturdy construction of the bed; he didn't have to worry about squeaks waking the princess.

He rolled out of bed, stepping over his pile of clothes and Celestia’s regalia before heading toward the oriel window, where he laid his head on the cool glass and stared out into the courtyard, where the night lay heavy on leaves and petals, and where the moon shed loneliness on every blade of grass.

Dash was his favorite, his true love, his special somepony. He could go for long periods without acknowledging it, but this night, with memories and emotions raw after his dream, his feelings strode to the front of his brain like a soldier, demanding the honor of bearing her colors. His body trembled, and he let out long, slow, controlled breaths to keep from sobbing.

Dash was his favorite. He knew this, and after knowing it, guilt followed. He felt guilt toward the long deceased Lyra, his gentle breeze, who loved him more than he deserved, who loved him more than he gave back. He wondered why he couldn't think of Lyra on her own, reminisce about her as she was, playful and wise, wondered why he couldn't bring to mind those special, private moments he knew they shared. Lyra only ever played at the fringe of his memories of Rainbow Dash. Dash was always the center.

He felt guilt toward Twilight Sparkle, the sweet light of his life. He had spent the vast majority of his life with Twilight, their hearts had intertwined over the centuries like no other, but Dash was the song of his soul.

He felt guilt toward Celestia, the lover he never thought he’d have, who had lost more than he could imagine, and who gave him great comfort in his own loss. That he couldn't be as serene and gentle as her felt not just like a failure of personality, but an insult to this wise ruler who gave her loving heart and listening ear so simply to him.

Twilight, Lyra, and Celestia were forever in his heart, but Dash was his soul, and it had been ripped out of him. It had long ceased to be poetical nonsense to Lero, as the roaring cold emptiness in him would never be filled with warmth. His heart was full of love, but his soul was shattered.

So he stared at the purple skin of the night, slowly shut down all thought, breathing slowly, practicing the meditation somepony had taught him (was it Lyra? I can’t remember), looking into the long slow centuries ahead...


And woke up.

Lero saw the wooden seats of the train car and the blackness outside the window. He felt the vibration of the train and the hardness of the wooden seat he was on. The cold, howling emptiness inside him died down as he looked around, the dream fading away into the caverns of memory until it wasn't even a spark.

“Wide awake, big guy?” Dash said with a smile. She was sitting next to him. He could smell her spicy scent, like nutmeg and cardamom touched with cinnamon.

He reached out and grabbed Dash, pulling her against his body. She wrapped her wings and upper legs around him and hugged him back. She could feel the rise and fall of his body. He moved his face into her mane and kissed her neck, letting out a sigh.

“Hey,” Dash said. “Look at me.” Lero pulled back, and Dash studied his face. “You had a bad dream, huh?”

“Yeah,” Lero said, his voice choked with sleep. He coughed to clear his throat. “It’s gone now, though.” Across from his seat sat Lyra and Twilight Sparkle. He reached out toward Lyra, who hopped down and reared up so she could get her hooves around his neck. He held the back of her head, his thumb trailing her ear, and he leaned in to kiss her jaw line. He could feel her mouth widen into a smile, and he finished by planting a kiss on her lips.

He looked at Twilight. “Come on, Twi, there’s room.”

Twilight smiled and pushed between Dash and Lyra, pressing her hooves into his chest and throwing her wings around Lyra and Dash. Lero moved his hands so he could touch her spread wings, and kissed her soft, sweet mouth. Faces nuzzled into each other. No one wanted to ever let go.

An orchestral belch, gross like spoiled milk, came from the front of the car and broke the silence. Three heads (Lyra didn't bother) looked toward the sound, and saw a purple rump with a grape and strawberry cutie mark and a limp tail sticking out over the aisle. Dash scowled, and Twilight huffed. Glass hit the floor, and an empty Pinot noir bottle clattered across the aisle.

“I bet that was a mood killer,” Berry Punch said.

5. A Massage and a Message

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Rainbow Dash felt Lero’s warm skin press against her coat as the dawn crawled toward Ponyville. She looped her forelegs around his neck and kissed him, feeling his breath meet hers, feeling his fingers dance down her body, those gentle and strong fingers her husband used so effectively.

Her husband. ‘Husband’ used to not mean anything to Rainbow Dash. It was a title in marriage, and that was something only noble ponies did (and some monogamous cultures, like donkeys), a government thing to share wealth, or domains, or titles. Normal ponies didn't get married. Normal ponies just herded if they liked each other. There wasn't any need for these crazy ceremonies the aristocrats practiced.

Twilight Sparkle was one of those noble ponies, and marrying her herd was something needed for issues of, again, wealth, domains, and titles.

But there was a secret marriage Rainbow Dash and Lero carried out years before, that joined their hearts together, just her and him, using a ceremony his culture practiced. Now the title ‘husband’ meant something; it was Lero, and it meant Lero was hers. She was his too, and knowing this, feeling this, gave her the deepest and warmest thrill.

And then Twilight, and then Lyra. All had the same private ceremony, the joining of hearts and lives together, well before their public marriage. Twilight said their public marriage was to ‘follow the responsibilities of the nobility, and keep with the mores of that class’. As far as Rainbow Dash was concerned, that was a fancy way of saying ‘we got married so the houses would get off my back’. Twilight gasped and blushed when Dash told her this, for it was quite the vulgar term.

But that didn't matter now, because Lero was here. Dash’s wings stiffened underneath her, one tapping Twilight as she slept next to them. Lero’s hand explored further, and discovered how heated she really was. Just the tip of his pinky, and he felt her clench around it, wet and soft.

“That’s so neat,” Lero whispered.

“Lero!” Dash hissed. “Stop teasing me and put it in!”

“You're so romantic,” Lero whispered with a smirk.

“You try saying something romantic!” she whispered.

Trying to put as much smokiness into his eyes as possible, Lero said, “I’m going to make love to you, mare.”

“You’re such a dork,” Dash said.

They both stifled a giggle, trying not to wake Twilight. Lero lifted his body slightly, and Dash caught her breath as she saw his member, fully erect. He moved a free hand under Dash’s head, his fingers diving into her mane and swimming to the scalp, where his fingertips tickled with their light touch. Oh, it felt so good, and Dash wished her hooves could do the same, light touches and strong kneads like Lero. But that was okay, because Lero loved her hooves anyway (he kisses them!).

He removed his pinky, its tip trailing crystal liquid that stretched out into a parabola before it broke and landed on the sheets, and Lero then moved his hips and maneuvered till the tip of his penis was pressing against Dash’s entrance, her wetness dampening over it. Dash clenched hard, holding onto delicious anticipation, her breath almost caught in her throat, until Lero pushed past.

She let out a long, low sigh that vibrated her belly, and then she wiggled her hips and wrapped her hindlegs around his lower back. She tried to imitate that wiggle-thrust that Lyra did, that made Lero arch his hips just so, and caused those wonderful moans to escape from his lips, but she couldn’t get it exactly right. Twilight had tried to mimic it too, but she'd get lost in pleasure and forget her plan.

Lero moved his mouth toward her ear and nibbled with lips and tongue. “Love,” he said, with his free hand patting her flank, her own moistness spreading against her cutie mark. “Rotate your hips, like you always do.”

“O-okay,” Dash said, following his lead. That darn stutter!

“You're exactly what I want,” he whispered, and warmth spread from her heart and made her grin. Lero let his lips travel down her cheek, kisses like whispered secrets, until he pressed them against her mouth. Dash pressed back, trying to put how she felt into one perfect kiss. She smiled, and Lero, feeling the smile, opened one eye to see what she was up to.

“I’m your house,” she tried to say as deadpan as possible. “Come inside me.”

Lero snorted, and Dash broke into laughter. “H-how’s that for romantic?”

Lero shook his head. “You’re a trailblazer, Dash,” he said, and Dash giggled again.

Twilight stirred, and deep in her sleep, muttered, “No fun allowed.” She rolled over and was silent.

Dash and Lero stole amazed glances at each other and choked down laughter, holding each other tight as they tried to bring voices back to whispers and moans. The first rays of the sun broke into the room.


“I did not!” Twilight said, her wings splayed in irritation.

“Yes you did!” Dash said. “’No fun allowed!’ Lero heard it too!”

They were in the living room at Lero’s house, and Lyra was busy rolling up her futon with her hooves. The bed was nice and big for the whole herd, but the slightest bump or tap to her bandaged horn would make her whimper with pain. While there were plenty of beds at the castle, she didn’t like to be away from her herd. Besides, she had a checkup to look forward too today. Perhaps the bandages could come off.

So she had been using her hooves for the past four days. She decided to use it to live in the moment, deliberately, to make thoughtful movements when using her hooves, and to test her patience. Of course, it sometimes tested the patience of other ponies as well. Beyond that, it made her feel closer to Lero, living as he did, without magic.

“Now Dash, she was half asleep,” Lero said, as he came into the room. He was naked, having just stepped out of the shower. “I’m sure she didn't mean it.”

“Well, of course she didn't mean it,” Dash said with a roll of her eyes. “I’m just saying it was funny.”

“Good morning,” Twilight said brightly, rearing up on her hind legs to hug Lero. Dash came up to his neck, and Lyra to his chin, but Twilight was big enough now to look him in the face. She loved looping hooves around his neck, staring into his eyes, and kissing him full on the lips, while his hands trailed down her wings.

“Nice!” Twilight said with a merry inflection, as she dropped back to all fours. “Just the pick-me-up I need before checking in at the Ponyville theatre.”

“Lyra’s supposed to get her bandage taken off today,” Dash said.

“I can still walk, Dash,” Lyra said. “I’m not an invalid.”

“I know that! I was just saying, that’s all.”

“I have two appointments today at the spa,” Lero said. The three turned to Dash.

“Got an appointment with a cloud,” Dash said with a smug lift of her chin. “If you guys were as hard workers as me, then you’d get the day off, too.”

“Speaking of hard workers,” Twilight said. “Spike!”

“I know, I know,” Spike’s voice came from down the hall as he struggled to leave the influence of his bed, full of warm sheets and pleasant dreams. He didn’t like sleeping alone in the castle, either. “Restack the civics and economics section,” he said, as he trudged into the living room.

“Good! And remember, Aristrotle’s Nickle Making Ethics should be in numis—”

“I know already!” Spike said, as he stumbled into the kitchen. “You act like I didn’t grow up in a library.”

“Well, somebody’s a grumpy-pants,” Twilight said, as she walked toward the kitchen. “Sorry Spike. I can’t ever thank you enough for all the help you’ve given me in Ponyville’s new library.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Spike said, as he entered the living room, holding a mug of coffee.

With fluttery eyelashes and melodious voice, Twilight said, “I love you very much, baby brother.”

“Ugh, Twi, don’t get all mushy on me,” he said, with burning cheeks. He stopped to let Twilight nuzzle him, reaching his free arm to hug her neck, nuzzling her in return. She was glad to discover that he had at least bathed last night, as he had that clean dragon scent of pine and licorice. “loveyouto,” he murmured.

He completed his entry into the living room, peering at all assembled as they wished him a good morning.

“Mornin’,” he said, blinking. He took a sip of his coffee and glanced up at Lero as he passed by.

“So what?” Spike said. “I got two.”

“I’m getting dressed,” Lero said, as he headed toward his bedroom.

“Oh, good work, Spike,” Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes. “It’s not like he needs two anyway.”

“He hardly even needs one,” Lyra said.

“First of all, ew, and second of all, gross.” Spike headed toward the exit of Lero’s house, pausing to rub sleep out of his eye before letting loose a sigh and opening the door to Ponyville.

“What got into him?” Dash said, after Spike shut the door.

“Oh, he was up late last night reading comics,” Twilight said. “I told him he had to get up early, but he didn’t care.”

“Heh, typical teenager.” She trotted toward the kitchen to see if any of Lero’s coffee was left. “What does a dragon need two penises for anyway? Peni.”

“I prefer the term penes, but technically dragons have a hemipenis.” Twilight cleared her throat and raised her muzzle at an academic level, and Dash drowned in horror—it meant Twilight was going to lecture them. On dragon penises. She looked toward Lyra in desperation, but Lyra only gave her a loopy smile. You brought this on yourself, her expression said.

“Dragon mating, at least what we ponies know of it, is unique in the animal kingdom. Female dragons have three vaginas, although two are actually connected to each other and loop around. While most creatures with a hemipenis—like snakes, for instance—use one organ at a time, male dragons use both, in the hopes of increasing their odds of impregnating a mate. After ejaculation, both organs will break off and remain lodged in the female, which pony scientists figure is a method of preventing rivals from possibly impregnating her. Eventually the two organs are pushed out, but by that time pregnancy should show. Usually a dragon will grow his hemipenis back after a year.”

“Ha ha, that’s real neat Twi, thanks,” Dash said, unease coloring her shaking voice. She squirmed, trying not to imagine a dragon penis... broken off into... ugh!

“There was a great dragon martial artist, Rectum Rectus,” Lyra said, standing at the entrance to the kitchen. Dash looked at her with anger over this betrayal, but Lyra only smiled. “When he was cornered by masters of the Sly Scrimmage school, he actually broke off both his penes and dual wielded them as clubs.”

“That’s interesting!” Twilight said, as Dash whipped her head toward her, her lips curled back and eyes wide with terror. “Actually, I've read that during periods of starvation—”

“La la la la I don’t care!” Dash shouted, as she leapt over the bar into the living room, not wanting to risk pushing back Lyra at the entrance. Of course she stood there on purpose, Dash thought. I’ll get you back!

“That’s strange,” Lero said, as he walked into the living room, fully clothed. “How did they evolve such an... interesting mating system?”

And now Dash’s betrayal was complete. Her own stallion had turned on her. She pouted her lip and saddened up her eyes, but stopped when she saw that look she was so familiar with in Lero—scientific arousal. Eggheadedness. He didn’t know he was backstabbing me, Dash thought. I guess I have to forgive him.

Twilight gently pawed at the white linoleum of the kitchen, as she cocked her head at Lero. “That’s the thing, there’s no biological forbears for dragons. They just appeared ex nihilo.”

“That’s hard to imagine. They really just... showed up?”

Twilight nodded. “They’re purely magical creatures. They sprung from magic, not from biological processes.”

“Can we please stop talking about dragons, now?” Dash said. “It’s soooo boring.”

“Wow Dash, I didn't expect you to be bored,” Lero said with a smirk. “I thought you loved learning boring facts.”

“Ha! Get real,” Dash said, wondering where Lero was going with this.

“After all, you got a 100 on a test.”

“That’s right!” Twilight said. “You aced the Wonderbolts test! That means—”

“Don’t say it!”

“—you’re an egghead too!”

“Nooo!” Dash shouted. She raised her forelegs to her face and fell to the floor. “Can this day get any worse?”

“Oh, Rarity,” Twilight said, walking toward Dash. “It just started. It’s a beautiful day! Nothing can ruin it.”

Dash stood and looked out the window, seeing Twilight’s point immediately. Somewhere, out there in that sky, was a cloud with her name on it. Maybe Lero can nap with me when he’s done at the spa, Dash thought. I’ll get Twilight cast that cloud walking spell. Ooh, her and Lyra, too!

“Okay, so it’s gonna be a good day,” Dash said, standing up. “I mean, as long as nopony is out there planning something stupid.”


Berry Punch hooked one hindleg over the armrest of the wheelchair as Minuette pushed her outside. Berry took a long swig from a bottle of celery and salt soda (her own batch, from her own one-mare soda company, Berry Shines) as she surveyed her thoughts.

“That hospital was a drag.”

“Berry, you can take your neck brace off,” Minuette said, in her energetic sing-song voice. “Actually, I think you could have taken it off yesterday.”

“It’s a fashion statement,” Berry said. “Wheel me over at Rarity, and I'll show it to her. Then keep going.”

“I'm not running over Lady Rarity for you.”

In a high-pitched voice, like a schoolyard taunt, Berry said, “Lady Rarity.”

“Ms. Punch!” Nurse Redheart shouted from the entrance of the hospital. Berry was nonplussed, but Minuette stopped pushing the wheelchair to turn around, her wide eyes betraying her startled state. “You bring that wheelchair back right this minute!”

“Oh, sorry about that,” Minuette said, with a smile and a wave. “I wasn't planning on stealing it!”

“I know you didn’t, dear, I’m talking to—” Redheart jumped as the empty bottle of soda bounced off the path in front of her. It landed in the grass with a dusty thud, disrupting a ladybug who buzzed in confusion before setting down on the edge of the bottle’s glassy lip.

“I'm claiming this wheelchair for Princess Celestia,” Berry Punch said, not bothering to turn around. “Minuette, forward!” She thrust a hoof in the air.

“I'm not going to post bail today,” Minuette said with a giggle. "Come on, let's get Redheart her old chair back before she totally flips out."

Berry Punch peeked back over the top of the wheel chair just in time to see Redheart grab the handles. Berry jumped from the chair, her momentum causing Red Heart to stumble forwards.

“Be sure to pick that bottle up,” Berry said, as she peeled off the neck brace and dumped it in the wheelchair.

“Next time, I'll just have the vet take you out back and end it for good,” Redheart said, as she pointed the wheelchair to its rightful home. She expertly wheeled the wheelchair back into the hospital.

“Now why can't you be that fast?” Berry Punch said.

“I could, but I didn’t want you falling out,” Minuette said.

“That’s nice,” Berry said, patting Minuette on the head.

Minuette swatted Berry’s hoof away. “Are you doing anything this afternoon? I mean, I'd love to have tea with you today.”

“That sounds like wonderful fun,” Berry said in an ambiguous way. “But right now I got an appointment with one of them Lero fellas.” She turned to leave, and, after a few steps, realized Minuette wasn't there. She turned around to see Minuette’s face bursting with confusion.

“You're actually going?”

“Yeah, why wouldn't I?”


Berry squinted in exasperation. “Minuette, he’s a professional. He’s not going to turn me away.”

Minuette shook her head and followed behind. “You really push it sometimes, you know.” She trotted quickly to catch up to Berry.


Wearing his Aloe-and-Lotus-approved white pants and white t-shirt, Lero aimlessly dusted the massage table with his towel as Berry Punch entered his domain.

“I see a mister with a job to do,” Berry said.

“Welcome back, Berry,” Lero said. “I’m guessing I’m going to be doing some work on your neck.”

“You guess correctly,” Berry said, as she crawled onto the massage table. “Uh, how’s Lyra?”

“Bandages should come off today,” Lero said. He made precursory dips into Berry’s neck and upper back, feeling for tension. “I got a list of your injuries from the hospital. Do you have any pain here?”

“Nah, just tense,” Berry said. Lero pressed further and began the massage. Berry let out a sigh like the hiss from a cooling kettle and relaxed into the table, her eyes closed.

Berry was usually a bit more talkative, but Lero figured she was tired from her hospital stay, and maybe just a little apprehensive considering past events. Funny how that works, he thought. Berry was usually one of the more talkative customers. Rarity would be the number one talker, at least up until he started massaging her flanks, which was when Rarity would lower her head and try to muffle her unladylike moans. Rarity was tough, though; she could take a deep tissue massage and not even wince in pain.

“Hey,” Berry said, her voice secretive and subdued like an underground river. “How’s your client confidentiality program?”

“Rock solid,” Lero said.

“Drat, so I won't get any gossip out of you.”

“Heh, not a chance,” Lero said. He thought she was going to reveal some deep dark secret. I don’t think I’d want to know any of her secrets, he thought.

“You ever get any ponies wanting something a little more than a massage?”

“Occasionally,” Lero said. “I obviously say no.”

“You ever massage wings?”

“One or two,” Lero said. Fluttershy was the only one of his customers whose wings he’d massage and preen on a regular basis. A stallion from Cloudsdale, Red Harvest, would occasionally have awful wing cramps that Lero would massage out. Red Harvest’s cramps were usually so bad that he’d actually rent a balloon to travel to the ground, as he couldn't risk flying.

“No names?” Berry said.

“No names.”

“No fun,” and Berry relaxed into a doze.


“There are no new-types having been seen, your highness,” the pigs said in unison, excitedly dancing as they spoke to their beloved princess. “Only the same feel-things from the Everfree forest. Only the same godling, only the same pink deep well, and only the same princess-thing.”

Standing in the pig pen, her legs dirty up to the knees, Luna smiled at the sty. “Thank you, my dears. Your attention is most appreciated.” Her horn flashed, and their trough filled with fresh potatoes, carrots, corn, tomatoes, and lettuce. The pigs made sure to dance-bow in thanks before digging into their meal. That they ignored their natural instinct to forage, just to thank her, touched her heart.

“What a pile of rubbish!” said a pig with a goat horn and a deer antler on his head, sniffing derisively at the food in the trough. “There’s no oil and vinegar! These potatoes aren’t pomme de frites!” He turned his egg-yolk eyes to his neighbor pigs and huffed. “I declare a strike!”

“Strikings not confirmed by pig-union, godling,” a pig said as he chewed through his words, tomato innards dribbling down his chin. “Meetings on every day seven.”

“Of course,” Discord said as he rolled his eyes. He looked toward where Luna was standing, but she had moved out of the pen and was currently teleporting the filth away from her legs.

“Leaving so soon?” Discord said, as he teleported next to Luna, who only looked forward toward Ponyville proper with what she considered regal quietude, but what Discord felt was bitchy aloofness. “Are you visiting the sheep next? Surely you aren’t showing,” and Discord gasped, “favoritism?”

“I need not explain myself to you,” Luna said. “But if you must know, I am attempting to track something.”

“Something, eh?” Discord said. “Hmm, pigs are natural mediums. Something on an astral plane, perhaps? Something you’d need their help in uncovering?”

Luna spared Discord a glance.

“Oh how delicious!” Discord said, as he changed Luna into a bowl of candied beets with a horn and dark wings. “Now where is that sister of yours?” He shaded his eyes with his hand as he surveyed the land, eyes popping out into telescopes.

“She’s going to visit with Princess Twilight Sparkle at the theatre,” Luna said, as she magically canceled out Discord’s awful notion of deliciousness. “Twilight is the patron of this season’s play. Will you be in attendance on its opening night?”

“A play? Made by ponies? Ugh!” Discord grabbed his throat and retched, puking a rainbow made of different fabrics and fibers colored appropriately for a rainbow, starting from red cotton and yellow wool and ending with purple asbestos (Discord didn’t view indigo or violet as real colors; merely shades that try too hard). The rainbow vomit-fabric formed a bridge, and a miniature black limousine carrying drunken squirrels drove from Discord’s mouth and quickly disappeared into the Everfree forest.

“A pony play?” Discord said, as his vomit somehow remained stable, despite no longer bursting from his mouth. “Full of tedious moral platitudes and saccharine sentimentality? Oh, how could I possibly miss it?” Discord reared up into psychotic laughter as the sky darkened and lightning burst around him.

“Good,” Luna said, as she continued on her path.

Discord stopped laughing long enough to view her retreating form. “A mare of little words and even less fun, that one,” he said, before disappearing.


Berry Punch had left, and Lero waited for his next customer, feeling friendly eagerness and professional trepidation. He had pulled out all the extenders on the massage table, and hoped it would be enough to support her large frame.

“Hello, my dear,” Celestia said, as she entered. Her hair was bubblegum pink, and though Lero appreciated the gesture to his mental health, he wished she wouldn’t do at all. He had long since ceased to be scared of her hair.

After they shared greetings, Celestia removed her regalia, setting it neatly on an empty massage table, and sprawled out on the table Lero had set up for her. Though he had always been aware of her legginess, the point was at the forefront of his thoughts as her hindlegs dangled to the floor. Quite a lanky pony, he thought, as he set to work.

“You're quite tense,” Lero said, working on her neck. “Busy day at the throne?”

“In a way. We've finished the high census for Equestria, but the low census seems to be behind schedule. There are many state level positions that are opening, and they need to be filled soon.”

“I see,” Lero said.

Lero worked down her back, feeling her body tremble under his hands.

“Are you cold, Celestia? You're shaking.”

Celestia turned her head to look at him, displaying a surprisingly sheepish smile. “Forgive me, Lero, but I rarely experience touch from another being. Most ponies are afraid to put a hoof on me. It’s... been a long while. I hope you're not offended by my excitable reaction.”

“Oh, not at all,” Lero said. Been a long while. He frowned in thought as the weight of Celestia’s age and position settled on him. It was hard not to ponder the experience of this pony under his hands now, this powerhouse whose experience and wisdom made him look like a child. Is she lonely? Is she afraid of making close friends, knowing they're going to die long before her?

He thought of Twilight Sparkle, and his heart constricted. His hands faltered.

“Something has upset you,” Celestia said in a soothing voice.

Lero debated sharing his thoughts with Celestia. Despite his initial, terrifying encounter with her, Lero had learned what a kind being and great leader she was. While Lero may have had some culturally ingrained opinions regarding monarchical governments, he couldn't deny that what he learned, both from studying Equestrian history and from his own experiences, was that Celestia was a good pony.

‘You seem like a decent pony’, he thought, remembering what he said when Celestia fixed his fear of her hair. He cringed inwardly. What a thing to say...

“Well, I'm not upset, just wondering,” he said, pushing through his thoughts and rationalizations to take a leap of faith and share his feelings. He took a deep breath. “Celestia, how do you deal with your long life? I know there are great benefits to it, but... I can't help but think of... of Twilight.”

“She has to outlive her friends and family, and her herd.”

“I’m sorry if I’m being too familiar—”

“Never,” Celestia said. “You can always speak your mind to me, my friend.”

My friend, Lero thought. He had to smile at that; Celestia wouldn’t ask ‘can we be friends’, like nearly all of his other pony friends (Dash just became a friend without asking). Celestia just assumed it. That’s the nature of a leader, he thought. He knew that wasn't just an expression or an empty phrase, either. Not with Celestia.

“There’s something I learned a long time ago, that I internalized,” Celestia said. “It doesn’t matter if you have ten years left, or ten thousand years, because we all lose the same thing—the present. The present is the same for everyone, and its loss is the same for everyone. We don't have the past or the future, and you can't lose what you don’t have.”

While Lero was working down her back, toward her flanks, her wings lowered to the floor in her relaxed state. She was no longer trembling.

“This has helped me to continue to make friends when I can. I don’t want to lose the present I have with them, because of fears of the past or future. Have you spoken to Twilight of your concerns?”

“No, not yet,” Lero said. “Maybe I should.”

With an inadvertent gasp as Lero massaged her rump, Celestia said, in a hushed voice, “I’ll let you get into that with Twilight.”

That’s odd phrasing from her, Lero thought, not seeing Celestia’s mischievous smile.


Hours later, Applejack and Big Macintosh walked toward the combination gardening and cooking store to purchase a new saucepan for Granny Smith. While crossing the intersection on the way to the store, Applejack spied Lero, Rainbow Dash, and Lyra further down the street, marching toward the direction of the hospital, the mares hanging off Lero’s every word. She shook her head and smiled in amusement. Ain’t ever gonna see the appeal, she thought.

Applejack turned toward the gardening/cooking store and saw Fluttershy exit from it, her saddlebag holding the handles of what looked like a new pair of shears. Fluttershy awkwardly nodded to Caramel, who was on a ladder straightening the sign of the store, Bowls and Hoes.

Applejack sensed Big Macintosh stir next to her, and she turned to look at his attentive face. She turned back to watch Fluttershy weave through the crowd, a straight view to the finest flanks in Ponyville.

Applejack grinned. Sure, Fluttershy said she wasn't interested in herding, preferring to live alone to dedicate herself to her animals and research, but surely a mare’s got needs, right?

“Like what you see, Big Macintosh?” Applejack said, with a nudge to his ribs.

"Eyup," Big Macintosh said, smiling, winking with his left eye.

At the top of the ladder, Caramel coyly smiled and winked back.


“...and that’s why he wore diapers for the rest of his life!” Pinkie Pie shouted, lifting a giggling Pound Cake in the air. “So why don’t you learn to potty, huh? Don’t be a diaper dummy, be a potty prince!”

“Otay,” Pound Cake said. Pinkie put him on the ground, and watched as he walked to the training potty, pulled down his training pants, squatted over the pot, and attended to business.

“Hooray!” Pinkie said. The chimes on the front door rang; business! Pinkie rocketed to the bar, and delighted at seeing members of her favorite herd-who-are-friends-and-not-parents-or- employers in all Equestria.

“Hi everypony!” She said, waving. “Oops, let me wash my cute little hooves!” She rocketed to the washroom and scoured her forelegs up to the knee before returning to the kitchen. She gasped at Lyra. “Your bandages got removed!”

“That’s right,” she said. Her horn lit as she pulled some bits out of her saddle bag. “I can use magic now.”

“I love magic!” Pinkie said. “It’s so magical!”


Celestia ordered her guards to stay at the doors as she entered the private office of the Ponyville court house. Luna was waiting for her, and greeted her with a spritely smile.

“My, my,” Luna said. “Don’t you look relaxed.”

“Indeed,” Celestia said, her normally benevolent voice now coated with silk. “He is a magnificent masseur.”

“As I said,” Luna said. “Details, please.”

Celestia briefly mentioned her and Lero’s discussion, and Luna burst with laughter when Celestia revealed her unthinking double entendre.

“Oh, ho, ho!” Luna said, holding a wavering hoof in front of her mouth. “I can see it now. ‘Oh dear, why did I say that, blush, titter. How forward, tee hee.’”

Celestia frowned. “That is not how I sound.”

“But of course you’d have to engage in, ahem, cunning plots with Lero,” Luna said, as Celestia despaired at the path this conversation was taking. “Twilight Sparkle, however, requires nothing more than a frontal attack. She adores you, and would readily obey your every whim. Simply give the word, and she would perform any sexual act you wish, no matter how depraved. I shall now list them in detail.”

“Luna, I really don’t want to hear—”

“She would sup at your divine fundament as it vented its honey.”

“Luna, please—”

A knock rang at the heavy door, and a royal guard said, “We have the guest. May she enter?”

“Please show her in,” Celestia said.

The twin doors opened, and Berry Punch sauntered in. The doors shut behind her as she stood, viewing her two sovereigns.

“Sorry, I forgot your wheelchair,” Berry said.

"My... wheelchair?"

"I mean, it wasn't me. I didn't do it."

“What is 'it'?” Luna said.

“What do you got?” Berry said. “I wasn't even there. Oh, pardon me.” Berry bowed low, her eyes closed, and then stood. “Didn't mean to be seditious. That comes when I find the Alicorn Amulet. Whoops, did I say that out loud?”

“Will you be trying our patience throughout this interview?” Luna said, taking a few steps to survey Berry. Luna was more perturbed than angered by Berry’s indifference to her and her sister’s presence. There is something seriously wrong with this mare.

“Uh... no?”

Celestia suddenly laughed. “Now I remember you, Ms. Punch. The False Gin incident.”

“I was really hoping everyone forgot that,” Berry said.

“The False Gin incident?” Luna said.

“Canterlot University, some years ago,” Celestia said. “Someone broke into Professor Star Sparkle’s office, poured out her gin, and replaced it with water. Ms. Punch here was the prime suspect.”

“Well, that’s quite brave,” Luna said. “I know of the Professor’s reputation.”

“I thought the statute of limitations had passed on that,” Berry said. “Not that it matters, what with me being innocent and all. Gin is gross, anyway.”

“We aren't here for that, Ms. Punch,” Celestia said. “I summoned you for a very specific reason. I received your petition.”

Berry’s head jerked back as if she had been slapped. “Really.”

“Yes,” Celestia said, seriousness in her voice. “Luna and I will handle the Runner in the Woods in one week hence, when the moon is full. Luna will be at the height of her power then.”

“You believed me?”

“Of course,” Luna said. “We have dealt with Archons before. More curious to us, however, is this ‘Beavertron’ from which you hail.”

“How so?”

“Beavertron does not exist on any map,” Luna said.

Berry squinted. “Well, it’s a dump of a town—you know, vanishing—but I don’t see why it would get delisted.”

“It’s a deeper problem than that,” Celestia said. “We scoured the archival records for any mention of it, and only found one, an affidavit. Fifty years ago, a vote in that state was taken to incorporate Beavertron. It was defeated 5-4. It’s not supposed to exist.”

“I swear I didn't make it up.”

“I believe you,” Celestia said. “Your letter was postmarked from the Beavertron post office. It would have never arrived if it wasn’t there.”

“Keep in mind that the constable of the post office has no record of Beavertron,” Luna said, “which makes this situation deeply strange. How do you travel there?”

“I take a train to Canterlot, and purchase a ticket to Beavertron.”

“There are no train maps with tracks approaching that area, either,” Luna said. She walked toward Celestia, while still facing Berry Punch. “I sent one of my agents, a pegasus, to the coordinates listed in the affidavit, and he indeed found that town. He was able to purchase a ticket back to Canterlot, and showed us the stub.”

“I would like to call Beavertron the most astounding clerical error in Equestria’s history,” Celestia said. “However, I fear it may be more than that.”

Berry Punch was sitting on her hocks now, staring out of the window toward the general direction of Beavertron, where she imagined the Runner in the Woods looking straight at her, through the trees, through the fields, through these very buildings. Her cutie mark did not throb in recognition, and it never would.

“It’s the Runner’s doing, isn’t it?” Berry said.

“Possibly,” Celestia said. “We’ll find out all, when the moon is full.”

“Thank you, your highness. Highnesses.” Berry bowed again, this time sincere. “I... this means a lot. To her victims.”

Celestia approached Berry, and gently enclosed her with her white wing, pure like a foal’s laughter and soft like a dandelion’s whisper. “I am truly sorry for how you suffered at her hooves,” Celestia said in a low, comforting voice. “It was very brave of you to detail what happened. If there is any possible help I can provide, please do not hesitate to let me know. If you are comfortable approaching Princess Twilight here, I know she will also provide any help she can.”

“Thank you, Princess Celestia,” Berry said.


“-so that it wouldn't work. Berry, you okay?”

“Yeah,” Berry said. She was at Tea Up, on the second floor balcony, sitting with Amethyst Star, and Minuette, who had just asked her the question. Berry wasn’t okay at all, and hadn’t been for a while, but she didn’t feel like going into detail about it.

“You guys check out Honeydew,” Amethyst said, nodding in the direction toward the bazaar. Honeybee was buzzing in the air, animatedly talking to Honeysuckle. Next to Honeysuckle walked Honeydew, face downcast, cheeks gaunt, and eyes glassy.

“Wow, she does look bad,” Minuette said. “I wonder what happened?”

“It’s like she needs to be reupholstered,” Berry said. She turned back around and played with her teacup and saucer, twirling it around.

“Well, she looks bad, for sure,” Amethyst said. “Hey, speaking of bad, are any of you gals going to the play Princess Twilight is working on?”

“I just got unbanned from the theatre, so sure,” Berry said.

“Of course I'm going to Twilight's play!" Minuette said. “Even if it does look super weird. Isn’t it supposed to be based on a human play? One Lero remembered?”

“Yeah, it’s called No Exit,” Amethyst said. “It does sound weird. I think it’s, uh, ponyfied, though.”

“Well, let’s expand our horizons,” Berry said. She took a sip of her tea and sat it down on the saucer, hard, splashing some over the lip of the cup. She looked out over the balcony, into the Ponyville of late afternoon, and saw Lyra and Lero head toward the newly sprouted Ponyville castle. Lyra’s horn lit, and she put an empty box of something from Sugarcube Corner, obvious by its brilliant pinkness and golden cupcake stamp, into her saddle bag.

With a giggle, Minuette hopped from her chair and leaned over the balcony railing. "Hey girl!" She shouted.

Lyra turned, shouted, "Hey girl!" and waved back. She then made eye contact with Berry Punch.

“I’m glad your horn is better,” Berry said.

“She can't hear you,” Amethyst said.

Lyra's horn lit. 'Thank you', Lyra mouthed, Berry able to understand what she was saying. 'I’m glad your neck is better.'

“Thanks,” Berry said. Lyra turned back toward the castle, and Berry looked back at the table, tense and morose.

“Berry,” Minuette said. “You should go home and get some rest.”

“Yeah,” Berry said. But still she sat, slumped, watching the spilled tea stain the white saucer and loop around the circle of her cup.

Interlude: Honeydew's Complaint

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“There he is!” Honeydew shouted, as she rounded Quills and Sofas. That unnatural, beastly gait was easy to spot, and Honeydew was great at spotting beasts. “Chase him out!”

The townsponies running with her charged against Lero, who attempted to hide behind Carousel Boutique. But Ponyville was working in accord–as a herd, as was natural–and ponies cut off his exit.

“You aren’t going to hide here anymore!” Honeydew shouted. “Why don’t you just leave? We don’t want you!”

Lero turned his head and smiled his horrible monkey smile, his fangs glistening like demons in the moonlight. “I'm sorry you don’t want me, Honeydew,” he said, his ghastly animalistic voice, a sick mockery of pony speak, cutting into her ears. “Because I surely want you.”

Lero was instantly upon Honeydew, pinning her down as her fellow townsponies only watched.

“Stop!” she sputtered, too surprised to scream. “H-help,” and it came out strangled and raspy, like an invisible hand was choking even that part of her brain that controlled speech.

“You’re mine now,” Lero whispered, silk dripping from his words, and he leaned in to kiss her.

Honeydew woke with a jerk, and blinked her eyes. “Stupid,” she mumbled, and quickly fell back to sleep.

“Okay Lero, are you ready?” Twilight said, as she lustfully eyed his naked body.

“Go for it!” Lero said.

Twilight’s horn lit purple, flashing throughout the laboratory section of her castle. Lyra and Rainbow Dash saved their vision from the bright blast, Dash by turning her head and throwing a foreleg over her face, and Lyra by gently bowing her head and closing her eyes.

When the flash was done, the two opened their eyes. Dash leapt to the air in joy. “It worked!”

Lero now had extra phalluses sprouted next to his original.

“Wow,” Lero said, as he handled his extra appendages. “Great work, Twilight.”

“Thanks!” Twilight said. “Now you can have sex with all of us at the same time!”

Lyra squinted. “Why are their four penis… penes?”

“Oh, this fourth one?” Lero said, patting the penis farthest left. “That one is for Honeydew.”

Honeydew backed into a corner as Lero and his herd suddenly turned on her, drool flowing from their disgustingly ripe lips as terrifying sexual howls escaped their sweat-soaked bodies.


“Guh!” Honeydew said, as she jerked awake. She sighed and pulled the cover closer to her chin, snuggling into her bed. “I had the most horrible dream.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lero said, as he rolled over and put an arm over her. “But don’t worry. I’ll keep you with me forever.”


Honeydew woke up screaming.



“What?” Honeydew snarled, looking across the table.

Honeybee shared a glance with Honeysuckle before continuing. “Okay, Sis, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Honeydew said, as she failed to manipulate toast into her mouth.

“Sis, we heard you screaming last night.”

“So what?” Honeydew said, crumbs launching themselves from her mouth and spattering the table. “Mind your own business.”

“What business is it that our sister and housemate wakes up screaming? Gee, I dunno,” Honeybee said.

“Don’t get smart,” Honeydew said, wiping the table with her napkin, using rough strokes. “Just been having bad dreams, that’s all.”

“You’ve been having those a lot,” Honeybee said. “Are you okay?”

“Of course I’m not okay, I’m having nightmares!”

“You know what I mean,” Honeybee said with a sigh. “Is there something going on in your life? Maybe we could help.”

Honeydew spared a glance at her sisters. She didn’t dare tell them Lero was the subject of her dreams, especially considering what she dreamed about. It was horrible, how that monster infected her thoughts, her very privacy. That last one especially was the worst, those slimy arms reaching around her… and the way he said ‘forever’ was repulsively feminine, like some mare was speaking through him. Something needs to be done about him once and for all, she thought.

“I don’t think it’s anything like that,” Honeydew said, a little softer. “Just a rough patch I’m going through. I guess it’s stress.”

“Maybe you should cut back on all that volunteer work,” Honeybee said, but her query went unanswered as Honeydew managed to push the toast into her mouth.

“Um,” Honeysuckle broke in, looking back and forth between her sisters to make sure she wasn’t overstepping her boundaries, “how about… why don’t you complain?”

Honeydew raised an eyebrow. “Complain?”

“Yes. I mean, dreams are handled by Princess Luna, right? Maybe you could put in a complaint or something about the dreams you’ve been having.”

“How…” Honeydew stopped, trying to push this new idea through her tired brain. “That’s a great idea, if it works,” Honeydew said. “Maybe I could go to the town hall, figure out what I can do.” She smiled, and buttered her second slice of toast with a bit more gusto.

Honeybee and Honeysuckle shared a look, hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this house would be a little more peaceful in the future.


“You’re the only one who likes watching it flow into the bag,” Redheart said.

“It’s neat,” Honeydew said, watching her blood fill the bag. “I know it’s just simple physics, but things flowing gets me. I tried learning about, uh, pneumoniacs in physics class, but it was beyond me.”

Redheart smiled. “I’m glad you aren’t repulsed by it, then. Thanks for coming in this week. We could always use more D blood types.”

“Certainly glad to be useful,” Honeydew said. Redheart trotted out into the receptionist area.

Honeydew watched the blood flow into the bag, and cringed when she realized she used the term pneumoniacs. I know it isn't called that, she thought. Either Redheart didn’t know either, or she was pretending. Honeydew was embarrassedly agonizing over which one it was, when a tall shadow crossed over the bag. She looked up, and nearly heaved.

Lero had come into the lab.

“Just have a seat right here, Lero dear,” Redheart said, and Honeydew cringed at the ‘dear’ part. Why is she talking to that thing like it’s a pony?

“Thank you, nurse,” Lero said, as he took a seat in front of Honeydew. His tall frame caused him to cross his legs as he sat on the low chair. He saw Honeydew and grinned. “Good morning, Honeydupe.”

“Don’t flash your fangs at me, and don’t talk to me,” Honeydew said. “And it’s Honeydew, you ignorant ape. Why aren’t you at the vet?” It’s bad enough he invades my dreams, but why does he have to be here? And that awful blue feather in his ugly hair… ugh!

“Please, Honeydew,” Redheart said. “Show respect to your fellow patients.”

“Why is he even here? Who needs his blood?”

“Well, th-“

“I was talking to a pony,” Honeydew said, interrupting Lero. She kept her gaze on Redheart.

“I really don’t need to discuss hospital patients’ personal-“

“You can tell her, Redheart,” Lero said, putting a comforting hand on the upper part of Redheart’s coup. Honeydew bristled. How dare he touch a pony! Her rage was followed by shock as she saw a faint flash of crimson in Redheart’s cheeks. She… she likes that monster touching her! Is every mare in this town a pervert?

“Um… yes,” Redheart said, clearing her throat. “Well, the blood is for him, of course. We keep several liters of it in Ponyville, but Princess Twilight decided to start a bank in Canterlot as well.”

Honeydew grinded her teeth in rage. The very idea of preserving that thing’s live was an affront to Equestria. It should be treated like any other animal when wounded, just take it out back and put it out of its misery. Our misery. But here they are, planning on helping it when it gets injured. Disgusting!

“Ah, it looks like you’re finished, Honeydew,” Redheart said, approaching the brooding Honeydew. She prepared a gauze wrap and alcohol before removing the needle, and patched up the vein. “We’ll see you again next week, same time!”

“Thank you,” Honeydew managed to get out, as she slowly moved out of her chair. “Have a good day.” She felt proud on being able to maintain her composure after the awfulness she had to endure.

“See you later, Hurrneydurr,” Lero said.

“It’s Honeydew!” Honeydew shouted.

Honeydew stomped toward city hall, it's banners flying proudly. She hoped there was some way to stop these awful dreams. She tried to harden her face into an angry grimace so as to discourage ponies from talking to her. She just didn’t have the time.

She marched into city hall. She deciding to head for information, hoping they could point her in the right direction. She couldn’t help but feel a chill when she walked past the small meeting room next to the entrance. It was where Princess Celestia had discussed her complaint of Lero attacking Shimmer, and that memory still had power to chill.

Honeydew huffed as Lyra left the meeting room in the town hall. It was ridiculous, treating that monster like he deserved rights. Actually asking him his side of the story? There was no sense to it. Why can’t they see what I see?

Honeydew tapped the wooden table, the top near the middle worn down with age, probably by countless nervous ponies waiting like her.

The door swung open, and Honeydew performed a double-take.

“Good evening, Ms. Honeydew.”

“Princess Celestia,” Honeydew said, hopping from the chair and bowing immediately. That awful Lyra was with her too, and Honeydew could only feel perplexed. What lies did greenie tell the Princess about me?

“You may rise,” Celestia said, and Honeydew did so. “I apologize for surprising you with my presence, Honeydew. Any matter that involves Lero involves me as well. I must make sure my ponies are protected.”

Honeydew grinned despite herself. Good, she thought. The Princess knows he can't be trusted, too.

“I never doubted, your highness,” Honeydew said. “He’s… he’s an awful beast.”

“Please explain your report,” Celestia said. Honeydew was taken aback by her blunt manner, but decided that she’s probably really busy. Honeydew repeated what she had told Lyra.

“-and that’s why he should be kicked out of Ponyville immediately,” Honeydew said. “He’s dangerous, and the proof is in how he attacked Shimmer.”

Celestia and Lyra had stood throughout Honeydew’s recap of the altercation. Honeydew was bursting with excitement and being able to explain to Princess Celestia that Lero was a dangerous threat, and had to force herself to not pace or sway in her excitement.

“Pardon me, Honeydew, but your report contradicts all eyewitness accounts,” Lyra said, playing the role of ‘stern cop’ to Celestia’s ‘gentle cop’. Honeydew had read enough police procedurals to recognize the technique.

“Well, yes, that doesn’t surprise me,” Honeydew said, having paused to force herself not to spit her words at Lyra. “But they don’t know Lero like I know him. They didn’t see what he was up to.”

“How do you see Lero?” Celestia said.

“He’s a monster,” Honeydew said, shaking with nervousness. “A beast, nothing like a pony. They-”, and Honeydew paused, realizing that she was, by association, implying bad things to Twilight Sparkle—Celestia’s student. As much as Honeydew didn’t like Twilight, she wasn’t going to make that mistake. She swallowed.

“Well, um, I think… I think us ponies always look for the best side in everyone, but we’re trying too hard with… with Lero here. We’re letting what we want to see… I mean, ponies here in Ponyville… what we want to see is goodness, but-but we’re just reflecting our own goodness onto him. I mean, he isn’t good.”

Celestia moved like water in the windowless room, her slippers making soft clicks against the tile floor, a strangely muted sound, like distant bells trilling at midnight.

“Honeydew, tell me about your cutie mark.”

Honeydew’s eyes shot open in surprise. “Well… it’s sort of abstract. It’s three blades of grass with shiny dew on the tips, with smiley faces… like, like Cheerilee’s cutie mark. It means I’m refreshing, like dew. I first got it when I helped an elderly mare shop for groceries, because she couldn’t do it herself. I enjoyed it so much, helping her, and before I knew it, my cutie mark appeared.”

“That’s wonderful,” Celestia said, with a smile that seemed a little too tense to Honeydew. “Do you do volunteer work now?”

“Yes, your highness,” Honeydew said. “I donate blood at the hospital once a week. I also organize cleanups and beautification projects in and around Ponyville. I set up a service for the older ponies that need some help getting basic things done… I also visit an orphanage in another town, once a week.”

“Do you ever help non-ponies?”

“No,” Honeydew said. Sourness grabbed her muzzle. “It’s… for ponies.”

“I’m glad you look out for your fellow ponies,” Celestia said. “When Lero first arrived, I made sure to let him know that any one that hurt my little ponies would answer to me.”

Honeydew careful concealed her reaction, but inside she was thrilled. Lero hurt Shimmer, and now he was going to pay!

“But Honeydew, I want you to understand; Lero is a subject of Equestria, and any pony that hurts him must also answer to me.”

Honeydew fell back on her haunches. “Ma’am—your highness?”

“I believe you’re letting your irrational hate and distrust of non-ponies interfere with your reason.”

Honeydew’s jaw dropped. She didn’t notice Lyra’s subtle smirk.

“I am throwing out your report.” Princess Celestia said. “It approaches libel. Furthermore, Sargent Lyra has told me of an incident involving you and your sisters and Rainbow Dash. I strongly encourage you to avoid Mr. Bellerophon and his herd, if you are unable to comport yourself as befits a pony.”

Celestia paused, and attempted to soften her features. “Your volunteer work is fantastic, and I am truly proud that you help your fellow ponies. I feel that perhaps your severe xenophobia is an unfortunate side-effect of your special talent. Either way, I never want to hear that you’ve harassed Mr. Lero or his herd again. Do you understand?”

Fighting back tears, Honeydew said, “Yes, your highness.”

“Thank you, Honeydew. You may leave now.”

A pause as Honeydew collected her wits. She bowed low, eyes closed, and the stood to leave, burning with shame that she had to walk past her Royal Highness in this state.

“Honeydew,” Celestia said gently.

Honeydew stopped, and looked up.

“Lero is a very gentle stallion, and would never willingly hurt another pony. In fact, I am positive that he would sooner hurt himself. You have nothing to fear from him. Please consider my words.”

“Y-yes, your highness.”

“Thank you, Honeydew,” Celestia said, with a comforting smile. “Please have a good night, my dear.”

Honeydew bowed again, and left the room.

A gentle stallion.

Would never hurt a pony.

How could I have been so wrong about Lero? Honeydew thought. He’s not some mindless beast. He’s a cunning, evil monster who even has Princess Celestia under his sway. He’s much more eviler than I thought he was.

Honeydew shook her head, as a frustrated tear fell down her cheek. How am I going to stop him? she thought. How can I make them see the truth when he can even brainwash Princess Celestia?

It was an awful situation, and Honeydew knew she simply wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to solve it.

But right now, there was a more immediate problem to deal with.

“Excuse me,” Honeydew said. “Is there a dream department, or department of dreams, or something like that?”

The grey pegasus mare sitting in the information kiosk nodded a violent ‘yes’ to Honeydew’s question.

“Yes indeedy!” Muffins said. “You want an application to work there?”

“No, I want a complaint form,” Honeydew said. She almost couldn’t continue, so afraid of being made a laughingstock. “I don’t like dreams I’ve been having.”

“Oh, we can take care of that,” and for the first time in weeks, Honeydew felt hope. “You’ll need to go to the office clerk and pick up a complaint form.” Muffins grabbed a note and, making dexterous use of her wings, wrote down a series of letters, numbers, and dashes. “Hand this to the clerk, and you’ll be all set!”

Honeydew was in a good enough mood now that she actually thanked Muffins instead of just walking off. She took the note in her mouth and headed to the clerk counter.

The clerk, already looking harried despite the early hour, took the note out of Honeydew’s mouth, squinted at the cryptographic writing, and headed toward one of the files, sliding it open and taking out a form. “This’ll do it,” he said.

“Thank you,” Honeydew said, as she took the form to one of the writing desks jammed up against the wall.

The heading at the top of the form was a stylized font, full of cuticles and swirls, that spelled out, ‘Ministry of Dreaming’. Below that, in a more businesslike font, was spelled ‘Complaint Form’ with the code Muffins had written down stamped below that in smaller type. That mare knows her forms, Honeydew thought.

She filled out the normal info, and balked when she got to the actual complaint part. She was actually going to have to write down what dreams she was having that she found disagreeable. It was bad enough to have dreams of a sexual nature with that monster, but for someone else to read about it was just too much. How many hooves would this pass through until it got to someone who could fix her problem? How many ponies would know about her... her…

Honeydew groaned and laid her head on the desk. That doesn’t matter, she thought. I want these dreams to stop. She gritted her teeth and raised her head, writing out her dreams in strong, slashing strokes, taking out her anger and hatred on this poor complaint form. She still had enough presence of mind to keep her writing legible, though.

You’ll pay for this, Lero, Honeydew thought.

Honeydew brought the completed form back to the clerk. Her cheeks burned in anger and embarrassment, knowing her awful and evil dreams were going to soon be revealed.

The clerk didn’t even glance at the sheet. “Don’t give that to me,” he said. “You’ll hand it over when you visit the Dream office.”

“Well, I have to go through Canterlot today anyway,” Honeydew said. She frowned as a thought hit her. “Why can’t you just mail it?”

“It’s not in Canterlot,” the clerk said “It’s the office of the Ministry of Dreams, so you dream it.”

It took Honeydew a couple of seconds to process what she just heard. “You dream it?”

“Well, yes,” the clerk said. “When you go to sleep tonight, you’ll visit the office.”

This is a trick, Honeydew thought. I bet Lero or one of those nags set me up to this. Did they get to Honeysuckle? “How will they know I have an appointment to just show up in my dream?” Honeydew said.

“You know about it,” the clerk said. “So you’ll dream it, and that’ll be enough. They have totally flexible hours, since time doesn’t mean anything in a dream.”

Honeydew growled with rage, grabbed her complaint form, and took off in a trot out of the office. She calmed down enough to start thinking rationally as she approached her hut, empty as both of her sisters had work to do–Honeybee for the weather service, and Honeysuckle at her stall.

She spat out the form onto her dresser, and grabbed her saddlebags, already packed for her trip that day. She put them on, tore off the bandage around her neck, and headed for the train station.

An hour later and Honeydew trotted happily across the shiny and lacquered pine slats of Beavertron station, smiling at the ticket master, who returned her smile.

It was always a happy occasion for Honeydew when she visited Beavertron, once a week. Now that was a town that knew how to operate. It was designed in an efficient grid pattern, unlike Ponyville which started as a circle (from when the founders circled their wagons). It was a thriving community, with a fancy indoor theatre, art museum, an observatory, and some kind of weird science lab where they studied explosions or something.

The lab made Honeydew deeply uneasy.

“Oh, that’s just some frequency thing going on in there,” one of the locals said, an earth pony mare named Crocus who was busy patching up a road. “They slap them rocks together, and it lets off a low frequency hum that seems to make ponies feel uncomfortable. That’s all it is. They gotta wear ear mufflers when they do it.”

Honeydew had got close to it one time, to see if she could feel the hum. Not a brave pony, but nosy sometimes, and she wanted to experience this humming now that she knew what it was.

Yes, there is a humming, she thought, when she got close to the granite building. There was something else, though. She high-stepped right next to the wall, and placed her ear on the surface, to see if she could better hear that mysterious undercurrent of sound.

That sound was screaming. Horrific screaming, like millions of ponies being burned alive, and then the stench of rotten eggs filled Honeydew’s nostrils. She gasped and ran away as fast as she could.

She never walked next to that building again.

But all that wasn’t why she came to Beavertron. It was for the orphanage.

There weren’t many orphanages in Equestria, as orphaned children were quickly taken in by relatives, and they were always provided stipends from the government to make raising them easier. However, some ponies did fall through the cracks, either because of a lack of relatives, or just simple bad luck.

Honeydew wasn’t an orphan (though she sometimes wished she had been, considering her mother and that monster she shared her bed with… don’t think about that now), but that didn’t stop her from offering her services. Why her not being an orphan should even matter wasn’t a question she asked herself; she just thought it was an interesting coincidence.

“You always come at the right time,” Morning Star said, rubbing a white plate dry with a cloth. “Shining One was sick today, and I really needed the help.”

Morning Star and Honeydew stood bipedal as they cleaned the dishes, Honeydew washing them and Morning Star drying them. Honeydew enjoyed playing with the children, but she knew it was more than just fun and games. There was so much going on in the background that had to be done to keep this orphanage up, and Honeydew was glad to be a part of it.

“Aww, that’s too bad,” Honeydew said. “What’s wrong?”

“Just a little cold, I think,” Morning Star said. “Personally, I think she’s been reading romances all night. You know she’s actually trying to write one of those things?”

“Well, good for her,” Honeydew said, flatly.

Morning Star raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound like you mean it.”

Honeydew sighed. “Just broken dreams,” she said. “I wanted to be a writer, too. My literature teacher said I had great talent, and expected me to be published. My school counselor wondered if it was a secondary talent related to my special talent, since volunteering doesn’t pay the bills.”

“That’s fantastic!” Morning Star said. “But why did you stop?”

“Well, I actually started working on novel for a while,” Honeydew said. She passed the last dish to Morning Star and reached into the sink, to pull the plug. “I was pretty excited about it. I was over halfway done–I had written about forty thousand words.”

“That’s amazing,” Morning Star said.

“Thanks,” Honeydew said. “Well… um, one day I came back home, and it turned out my… my mother was snooping around in my room. She found it, read it, and burned most of it.”

The dishes clanked together as Morning Star dropped her stack in surprise. Fortunately, they were close to the bottom of the cabinet, and didn’t break. “That’s horrible!”

“That’s not half of it,” Honeydew said, her weak attempt at smiling causing the side of her mouth to twitch. Why am I talking about my mother? “She salvaged some of the pages and marked them with her awful ‘corrections’. I got mad at her, but she told me I was too stupid to be a good writer, and to give it up.”

“I’m so sorry,” Morning Star said.

“It’s okay,” Honeydew said. “I don’t know why I brought it up.”

She used the wet washcloth and a small trickle of cold water to wipe the sink. The gentle pater of water, the cool feeling as it rolled down her hooves, and the soft rubbing of the mesh washcloth almost put her in a trancelike state.

From far away, Morning Star’s voice came in. “How did she treat your sisters?”

“Badly,” Honeydew said. Questions about her mother always made her angry, but the delectable sounds and sensations were like a muzzle on that slavering beast. “Don’t feel like talking about mother, sorry.”

“Your sisters didn’t stand up for you, did they?”

“Mmm,” Honeydew said.

Then, right in her ear, like a command, Morning Star said, “You should kill them.”

“Guh,” Honeydew said, dropping the washcloth. She looked up and saw Morning Star standing in the doorway.


“I said thanks for your help!” Morning Star said with a smile. “Let’s say bye to the kids before you leave.”

“Okay,” Honeydew said, gritting her teeth, as anger flashed over her. What’s wrong with me, she thought. It’s Lero, of course. Lack of sleep. I’ve got to get rid of those stupid dreams once and for all.

Honeydew lifted a pegasus filly into the air, letting her flap her wings and giggle, before setting her back down.

“Can fwy!” the filly said. She ran toward her friends, hopping and flapping her wings.

“Me next!” shouted Ri-An, the griffon orphan. He hopped on Honeydew’s lap, and giggled as Honeydew’s hooves automatically reached around him.

Why is this thing here? Honeydew thought. Don’t they know how dangerous it is? What those claws can do to ponies? Her hooves reached up to his neck.

Ri-An looked up quizzically. “What are you doing?”

Honeydew huffed and stood up, causing Ri-An to flutter his wings as he landed on the floor. “I’ve got to get going, okay kids? I’ll see you all next week.”

A chorus of good byes accompanied her on the way out. She hugged Morning Star a bit tersely, and headed toward the door. Usually her leaving the orphanage was slightly more drawn out, but she wanted to get out of this place as soon as possible. To Tartarus with Beavertron, she thought. She didn’t even go to Aether Fields, a hilly splotch of land where a forest used to be, fifty years ago before it was cut down to build the town. She just wanted out, and it was happening now.

Later on, miles after the train had left Beavertron, Honeydew made her way to the bathroom, locked herself in, and burst into tears.

“You’re going to the dream office?” Honeybee asked.

“I better be,” Honeydew snapped. “This better not be a joke. If it is, that receptionist has something coming.”

Honeybee and Honeysuckle shared a glance.

Honeydew slammed down her fork into her salad, splashing oil and vinegar onto the table. “Stop doing that! Just say something, alright?”

“Sis, we’re just concerned, that’s all.”

“That makes two of us,” Honeydew said.

Three of us, Honeysuckle thought.

“I don’t know why you even care, ‘Bee,” Honeydew said. “You don’t care about that monster humping-”

“Don’t start,” Honeybee said. Though they patched up their relationship somewhat after the lake incident, Lero was still a sore point. And will probably always be, Honeybee thought.

Honeydew dropped her fork. “Forget this,” she said. “I’m tired, I’ve had a rough day, I’m going to bed. Maybe it’ll work or maybe it won’t.”

“We’re rooting for you,” Honeysuckle said, as Honeydew left the table. Honeydew didn’t respond.

Honeydew angrily tossed her sheets around as she struggled to go to bed. I’m so tired I can’t sleep, she thought. That doesn’t even make any sense.

She turned over again, and stared at the complaint form sitting on her dresser, underneath a prism she used as a paperweight, the corner edge chipped from an incident with her mother. She felt fear that the whole thing was a prank Lero played on her, that he was putting himself in her dreams on purpose to mess with her. She didn’t know how he did it, but he was sure it was all him. Well, if this doesn’t work, then I know who’s gonna pay, she thought. The air felt cooler, and she wondered if she forgot to turn off the bathroom lantern light.

Honeydew looked around.

She was sitting on a plaid cloth couch, next to two cherry wood tables with magazines on them, the titles with unreadable letters that were difficult to focus on. She looked around the room.

This is a waiting room, she thought. The walls were coated with art and knickknacks. There were two clocks on the wall, a mechanical clock that had a phoenix pop out of a wooden door to tell the time, and a black cat clock with a pendulum tail swinging idly. That’s a real cat with a clock in it, she thought. The hour and minute hands on both clocks, however, didn’t move.

The highly waxed brick floor was shiny, reflecting the warm light from the oil lanterns that adorned each wall. The room seemed brighter than was possible with the limited light, and two other ponies were in the waiting room with her.

“Honeydew,” a voice announced, “Please see the administrator.”

“Uh,” Honeydew said, as she hopped out of the chair. Her hooves clacked against the brick floor, and she headed for a shiny white painted door, ornately carved with vines, sporting a brass handle. Above the door was a plaque with jumbled words that Honeydew was able to read as ‘Administrator’.

She hooked her hoof into the handle and pushed open the door.

“Hiya!” Pinkie Pie said, sitting behind a massive oak desk covered in papers.

“Pinkie Pie?” Honeydew said, mouth agape.

“Honeydew?” Pinkie Pie said. Then she giggled. “Well, that’s a fun game, now what?”

Honeydew sighed, and sat on one of the many cushions strewn around the desk. The cushion was a red velvet pillow with six large buttons, three by three, and it was oddly comfortable. She decided not to worry about how she was able to see eye-to-eye with Pinkie while laying down on the floor. It’s a dream, after all. “How did you get here?”

“I work here!” Pinkie said. “I mean, it’s my night job. I administrate the complaint thing. And believe me, we are sooo behind. Like, a whole millennium behind. Ugh.” Pinkie hoofed her cheeks, stretching them down. “But it’s okay! I threw out a bunch of the old ones, because, you know, they’re all dead now.”

“How did you even get this job?”

“Princess Luna gave it to me!” Pinkie said. “It was something like,” and Pinkie stood on her hind legs, frosted up her lip, and mustered up regality, “‘I tire of your constant dream hopping and interfering with my plans,’” —Pinkie plopped back down behind the desk— “and offered me this job instead. But it’s cool, because I get to dream at the same time, too! I mean, this is a dream, but I’m having another dream too! I can’t dream hop anymore because I’m concentrating too much on this job, but I’m not bored or anything!”

Honeydew pushed out most of Pinkie’s crazy words, and jumped right to the point. “Well… I have some problems with my dreams.”

Pinkie’s nod was a violent bobbing of her head. “Of course, that’s why you’re here! Now just give me your complaint form, and I’ll go over it!” Pinkie thrust out a hoof at Honeydew.

“Well…” Honeydew said, “I seem to have forgotten my form.”

Pinkie Pie gasped. “But if you don’t have your form, I can’t help you! Where is it?”

Honeydew concentrated, trying to break through this dream world and its vague and hazy grasp on her memory. “My dresser, I think.”

“Well you’ll just have to go and get it!”

Honeydew woke up.

“Bleah,” she mumbled, as she tossed the sheets off of her body. She rolled out of bed and stumbled toward her dresser, the utter blackness not hiding her memory on how many steps it took to get to the dresser from the bed. “Stupid… could have just told her,” she said.

She grabbed the complaint form in her mouth and managed to make her way back to her bed. She barely got the covers over her hips before falling asleep.

“Thank you!” Pinkie Pie said, as she swiped the form out of Honeydew’s mouth. Honeydew jerked, looked around, and remembered where she was. Knowing what was on the sheet, and seeing Pinkie Pie read it, made her cringe into her cushion. She tried to work herself into not caring.

“This is confidential, right?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Pinkie said, in way of acknowledgement. Then she gasped, and held the sheet away from her at forelegs length. “You have sexy dreams about Lero?”

The barrier of protection for her ego Honeydew was trying to build crashed. She defended herself with that tired and true fortress so close to her personality—anger.

“I don’t want those dreams!” Honeydew shouted. “I’m not doing them on purpose! They’re awful!”

“But I love having sexy dreams about Lero!” Pinkie Pie said. “Why would you want to get rid of them?”

Honeydew’s anger turned into confusion. “wh-what?”

Pinkie Pie looked into the distance beyond the wall and into her memories, a lazy smile spreading across her lips. “And I love having sexy dreams about Twilight, and Dashie, and Fluttershy, and Rarity, and Applejack, and Big Macintosh, and Mr. and Ms. Cake, and trees, and Shining Armor and Princess Cadence, and hoofball semi-final championships, and Soarin, and Lyra, and Bon Bon, and courage, and Mayor Mare, and outer space, and dolphins, and Cranky Doodle and Mathilda, and Princess Luna, and Mau-”

“Pinkie!” Honeydew shouted. “I don’t care about that! I just want my dreams about Lero to stop.”

“Oh, we can do that,” Pinkie said, a little deflated. A canister shuffled down a pneumatic tube into her office with silky hissing and jumped onto her desk. “I’ll go ahead and send this on to processing,” Pinkie said, unscrewing the top of the cylinder. She peered into it, and held it upside down over her desk. She slapped the bottom with her hoof, and Gummy fell out. He blinked.

“Hi Gummy!” Pinkie said.

“I’ve seen things you ponies wouldn’t believe,” Gummy said. “Attack ships on f-”

“Sorry, but mommy’s busy right now!” Pinkie Pie opened a desk draw and slid Gummy into it, and shut it with a slam.

She rolled Honeydew’s form and placed it in the cylinder, pushing it into the opening of the pneumatic tube, and pushed the send button, watching the vast mechanical lungs suck the cylinder to the receiving office… wherever that is.

“There!” Pinkie Pie said. “All set! Receiving will start processing your request immediately.”

Honeydew couldn’t help but let out a victorious, relieved laugh. Finally, those awful, evil nightmares would stop ruining her sleep (and her day).

“It should take four to sex weeks for it to go into effect.”

Honeydew choked on her laugh. “What?”

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled dream.”


Drenched in sweat, breathing hard, Honeydew was on her back as Lero towered over her, lengthwise, one hand cradling her head while the other hand oh-so slowly traveled down her hip.

Lero leaned into her ear and whispered, “The ride will never end.” He pressed his lips against hers.

Honeydew woke up screaming.

Honeydew stumbled around the Ponyville night with her hate shining brightly.

“Blasted… Pinkie… what good are you?” she grumbled, trudging through the grassy alleys in the neighborhood where she and her sisters lived. She made her way to the fountain, reflecting the partly cloudy night. She cast a hateful glance at Twilight’s castle, now ruining the Ponyville skyline with its stupid, garish design. She would kick it down with her bare hooves if she could.

Her anger toward Pinkie faded away, because, ultimately, she wasn’t the problem. The problem was Lero. It was always Lero.

She couldn’t think of him without flashes from those dreams, those awful dreams where he would breathe in her ear, or caress her body with those evil hands, and, worst of all, that last dream where he kissed her. She gritted her teeth, and blinked back tears, because the absolute worst thing, the most evil thing about those dreams, is that they felt good. There was no greater sadness, no greater self-loathing, than knowing this simple fact. She trembled, knowing that the way these dreams were progressing, that she’d eventually dream them having sex.

She sniffed, holding her eyes shut to stop crying. I will not cry over this. It isn’t worth it. It’s not my fault. It’s Lero! Why can’t any pony see this!

She exhaled quickly, as a feeling of otherworldly calm descended over her. The solution was so simple, so obvious, that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of it before.

I’m going to kill Lero.

She knew she wasn’t smart enough to plan his murder without getting caught. This wouldn’t be a perfect murder. She’d get arrested and exiled, simple as that. She knew she wouldn’t be considered valuable enough to face demolition, but she was glad of that. Being demolished would probably change her viewpoint toward Lero, would actually make her feel bad for killing him. Maybe even like non-ponies! I’d kill myself first, she thought with a shiver.

She tried to plan the murder in her head. No subtlety. Just run up to him, get that Earth pony magic good and strong, and bash his head in. That’s it, she thought. Maybe I could kick so hard it’d knock his head off. He’s pretty weak, so I could do it. I’d get his blood on me, but it’d be worth it. I’d be saving ponykind.

Honeydew thought of Celestia, and knew she’d be disappointed in her. Ponies would hate her. It can’t be helped, she thought. I have to save them.

She rounded the corner, facing the bakery, and there he was.

But of course it wasn’t going to be easy. Lyra was with him, and they were both sitting on a bench, leaning close to each other, whispering to each other. Lyra kissed him on the mouth, and Honeydew retched.

Damn you greenie, Honeydew thought. How can you let that thing do that to you? Why have you sunk so low? Her anger built up. A test, she thought. I’ll open my magic. Will she notice? Would I be able to get away with it if I tried this when he’s alone?

Let’s see if she notices, Honeydew decided. She opened inside, and felt the earth magic flow from the ground into her limbs.

Lyra broke the kiss, and looked into Lero’s eyes, her horn lighting up. Lero smiled, his gentle hazel eyes staring into her own. They shared one breath now, and that secret, special place Lyra had in his heart, and the secret, special place Lero had in her heart, opened and met. Their love flowed into each other, and it touched Lyra's magic.

Like a circuit, the earth recognized it, and it flowed into Honeydew.

She sat down hard on her haunches, and her door of perception closed shut.

“Wh… what?”

Lero and Lyra hugged each other. They hopped off the bench, and made their way to his house.

Tiny gasps escaped from Honeydew. She then rushed toward the bushes and vomited.

Honeybee, in the warmth of her bed, groaned and shoved her wings around her ears. Not again, she thought. Once again Honeydew’s stupid racket woke her up. She heard Honeysuckle’s voice, urgent, and tossed her pillow away as she sat up to listen.

Is Honeydew crying?

She hopped out of bed and rushed toward the parlor.

Honeydew was on the floor, sobbing, tears rolling down her cheeks, as she clutched an increasingly worried Honeysuckle.

“What happened?” Honeybee said, fully awake now. She extended her wings around Honeydew, trying to comfort her crying sister.

“I don’t know!” Honeysuckle said. “I’ve never seen her like this before!”

“They love each other!” Honeydew shouted. “I don’t understand! I don’t understand, I don’t understand, I don’t-”

“Sis!” Honeybee said. “What are you talking about!”

“M-monsters aren’t supposed… he loves back! He l-l-,” and sick sobbing burst from Honeydew again.

“Sis! Are you talking about Lero?” Honeybee said.

Honeydew pushed her face into Honeysuckle’s chest, and sobbed again.

“I don’t understand,” she said, muffled. “I don’t understand.”

Eventually, she calmed down enough that Honeysuckle and Honeybee were able to coax her into bed. Her crying died down, and she fell to sleep.

She woke up the next morning to sunlight and robins singing. She blinked the sleep away, and realized she didn’t dream.

It didn’t make her feel any better.

6. The Decision

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Rainbow Dash lay on her cloud, her half-open eyes watching the morning below her, watching trees and houses shorten their shadows as ponies moved past, ponies full of promise for the new day.

Underneath her cloud walked Fluttershy (always walking, Dash thought), wearing her saddlebags as she sauntered toward the commercial district of Ponyville.

Despite Dash’s lazy feelings of repose, mischievous thoughts stole into her mind, and Dash, with a smirk, stirred herself up, and as Fluttershy passed, made an awful hocking sound.


Fluttershy gasped, rocketed underneath a nearby bench, and carefully looked skyward, her cautious eyes closely framed by her pink mane. She was easily able to spot the evil vocalist—Dash’s laughter sold her out.

“Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy said, the word a combination of relief and amused annoyance. She stepped out from under the bench.

“You know, you can move really fast when you have to,” Dash said between laughter.

Fluttershy pawed at the ground, the compliment (she took it as a compliment, anyway) conflicting with dying fear of being spat on, and the annoyance at finding that it was Dash joking around.

“Hey, you wanna hang for a bit?” Dash said. “There’s enough room. I mean, if you aren’t busy or anything.”

“Oh, I’m not busy,” Fluttershy said. She flew up to Dash’s cloud, and moved into the spot Dash had made for her. She took off her saddlebags and laid them on the cloud. They instantly bored through the puffy mist and plummeted to the ground.

By the time Fluttershy had finished saying, “Oh dear,” Dash had leapt from the cloud, caught the saddlebags by flying in-between them, and was approaching the cloud to land again.

“Thank you, Dash,” Fluttershy said, as Dash flicked her hindquarters, launching the saddlebags onto Fluttershy.

“Hey, no problem,” Dash said, settling down next to Fluttershy. As they had done for many years, their wings relaxed and lay against each other, an intimate sign of their old friendship. “You must have some errands today, huh?”

“Oh, I just need to go to Bowls and Hoes to purchase a set of wooden salad bowls,” Fluttershy said. “Angel smashed them all after Discord used them to play a prank on him.”

“Uh... okay,” Dash said. “That sounds... pretty bad.”

“Oh, it wasn’t so bad,” Fluttershy said. “I mean, the worst part was getting Spike’s trebuchet unstuck from the hen house, but we needed a new one anyway. Hen house, I mean.”

“Huh,” Dash said. “Well… Lyra got her bandages removed yesterday.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Fluttershy said. Dash felt gratitude that Fluttershy didn’t call attention to her clumsy attempt to change the subject. “I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for a unicorn to not be able to use magic.”

“Just think about not being able to use wings, and that’ll give you an idea. She had to use her hooves to get things done.” Dash chuckled. “I think she enjoyed it, actually. No surprise there, huh?”

“No, that’s Lyra,” Fluttershy said. “Does she still experience any pain?”

“No, just that first day.” Dash’s expression darkened and her body tensed enough that Fluttershy could feel those dark currents flowing against her. “I’m going to get Berry for what she did.”

“Um, Berry Punch was in the hospital.”

Dash shook her head. “It’s just the principle of it, Fluttershy. I mean, I know it was a sanctioned fight, but I can’t let Berry get away with hurting my mare,” Dash finished with a huff.

“I understand,” Fluttershy said quietly. “It’s a pegasus thing.”

Dash let a lop-sided grin lighten her face. “Exactly. You feel that way too sometimes, huh?”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said with a nod. “I know I’m not exactly normal for a pegasus, but I really want to defend my friends too.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re normal for a Fluttershy.”

“Thank you,” Fluttershy said, deciding to take that as a compliment as well.

The cloud they were on was close to the path that led to Fluttershy’s cottage, and from the Everfree forest a whirring sound cut into their hearing. Hundreds of spiders rose into the air, propellers buzzing away, attached to a black chitinous pole that grew out of their pedicles. They changed direction by leaning their bodies in the direction they wished to travel. They flew deeper into the forest.

Dash grimaced at the sight. “What are those things?”

“Attercopters,” Fluttershy said. “They migrate after their first molt. Their mother must have given birth to them about three months ago—they’re slow maturing. I’ve never seen them this close to the edge of the Everfree.”

“Well, they’re gross,” Rainbow Dash said. She rolled over on her back, exposing her belly to the warm sun, and settled into a doze.

When Fluttershy heard her snores, she gave her a peck on the cheek before gliding to the ground below to run her errands for the day.


Lero stood in line at Fizzy Lifter’s soda jerkery, waiting behind a unicorn stallion who was trying to calm his daughter enough to order a drink. Lero had his special card in his hand, which guaranteed him a free lifetime of BerryShines soda wherever it was sold. When Berry Punch apologized, she went all out. She knew he loved her chinotto soda, too.

He was supposed to be out behind Fluttershy’s cottage right now, but he was on no one’s time but his own. So starting the work day with a soda was perfectly fine.

He felt a tap above his knee. He turned to see Diamond Tiara staring up at him.

“Get me a blueberry soda,” she said. She turned and claimed a table near the window.

“It’s just awful,” Diamond Tiara said. “They don’t have any sense.”

“How many more years before you can vote, anyway?” Lero said.

“Six,” Tiara said. “Eighteen years old, when I can run for office, too.”

Diamond Tiara’s soda was finished, though Lero still had a small bit of soda in the bottom of his glass, shining like glossy amber when the sunlight hit it.

Diamond’s ambition was an overpowering wave, and she was a political junkie, subscribing to several Canterlot newspapers to get as much info on the Sejm’s doings as possible. She also attended every town hall meeting in Ponyville. Her political and leadership talent was obvious, though Lero felt a little sorry for her that she had to wait until she was older before she could give it full expression. Fortunately, experience had taught her to better control her frustration at the situation… but not completely.

“Well, you’re going to have to win some hearts to kick Mayor Mare out,” Lero said, his half-smile showing he was joking.

Tiara sneered. “I’m not running for mayor of this dump. She can have it. Princess Twilight has too much influence anyway.”

“Yeah, that’s just an awful thing.”

“Don’t take it that way,” Diamond Tiara said. “You know what I mean.”

“Well, where do you expect to even get that sort of power?” Lero said. He used his pinkie finger to draw lines into the condensation coating his glass.

“I’m going to earn it,” Diamond Tiara said, watching Lero’s performance art display. “I’m going to start as an intern. Maybe for a highly placed noble. Perhaps even one in Ponyville?” She said the last part in a sing-song voice, lifting her head toward the ceiling, smiling, and looking around only with her eyes, an expression which could be called ‘blatantly inconspicuous’.

Lero gave Diamond Tiara a level stare. “A baron is hardly anywhere near ‘highly placed’,” Lero said. “I don’t even have any duties.” All of his wives were higher ranked in nobility than he was, even Lyra after getting married. A baron was the only rank of nobility the Twilight Sparkle Marriage Commission would agree on for him. They didn’t like that his ancestry was, for all intents and purposes, untraceable in Equestria. Lero was also pretty sure good old fashioned xenophobia had a lot to do with the decision as well.

“You’re a royal consort, though,” Diamond Tiara said. “I could run your estate, and use that as the experience I need to run as a representative for the Everfree district.”

“So I get to be a stepping stone for your illustrious career in politics. My destiny is clear to me now.” Lero didn’t have to worry about handicapping his words around Diamond Tiara. Despite her age, she was quite mature, and possessed the vocabulary of a college graduate.

“Oh, don’t worry. When I’m writing my autobiography, I’ll be sure to put you in the appendix. I’ll give credit to all the little ponies I stepped on to become Prin-” she coughed. “Prime Minister.”

Lero raised an eyebrow as Diamond Tiara, normally just oozing with self-confidence and an expectation to be followed, suddenly became shy and reserved. “You heard me say Prime Minister.”

“Sure I did,” Lero said.

“Well, anyway,” Diamond Tiara said, with an arrogant toss of her mane, “I have school to attend.” She hopped out of her chair. “Thanks for the soda and the pleasure of my company.”

“I’m welcome,” Lero said. He pointed a finger at Diamond Tiara, which startled the unicorn father and his daughter, who stared wide-eyed at Lero. “Don’t be mean to anybody. Anypony.”

“I’m not mean to anyone,” Diamond Tiara said over her shoulder, as she trotted toward the exit. “I just know when correction is needed.”

Lero shook his head, and grabbed her empty glass to return to the counter. He had hoped, through the years, that maybe he could soften some of Diamond Tiara’s rough edges. She just needed to be more patient with her peers, and realize not everyone had her precocious intelligence. Unfortunately, the lame cliché of ‘only time will tell’ applied here, and Lero just had to wait.


That was thirty minutes ago, and now Lero was in the back of Fluttershy’s cottage, right over the border into the Everfree forest, picking ripe coffee cherries from his coffee plant.

Equestria was a nation of tea drinkers, and Ponyville, despite being an outlier in so many other areas, toed the line with the rest of the nation in tea drinking. There were three tea houses in Ponyville; a workers tea house where black scalding tea was gulped in drafts by laborers ready for morning physical labor, a casual tea house for gatherings and enjoyment amongst friends, and a high-class tea house with carefully brewed artisan teas served in delicate porcelain cups (Rarity’s tea house of choice, of course).

Lero brewed mint sweet tea, but he was also a coffee drinker, and there simply wasn’t a place in Ponyville that served or even sold coffee. The closest place used to be a café in Canterlot, where Lero would mail-order his beans from the owner. This lasted until the owner decided to go back to his relatives in Minotaur lands. Now Canterlot only had Illy Styles Cappuccino House, and they didn’t sell beans.

So Lero had little choice (as he saw it) but to try and grow his own. Ponyville didn’t have the right climate for growing coffee… but the Everfree forest sure did.

It was Fluttershy leading him in the right direction, pointing out that the Everfree had the very climate and soil needed to properly grow coffee. So Lero, with Fluttershy’s insistence, decided to grow coffee in a patch of the Everfree directly behind Fluttershy’s cottage.

He was there now, collecting coffee cherries that had come to maturity. He had ordered a mature coffee plant from the Minotaur lands (once again Lero felt comradeship with minotaurs, as they had saved him many times in difficulties that ponies didn’t have a fix for, like fingernail clippers, deodorant, or work gloves, which he was wearing now). His money and influence (or, more appropriately, Princess Twilight Sparkle’s influence) allowed the mature plant to be plucked from the ground, placed in magical stasis, and shipped over rail. It arrived in Ponyville two days later.

The minotaurs grew robusta beans instead of arabica, as they desired the higher caffeine content over taste or ‘mouthfeel’. Arabica beans were only cultivated by goats, and goats had little desire to share their beans with outsiders. In addition, goats didn’t brew coffee; they simply ate the coffee cherries raw from the plant (a concept distasteful to Lero, as his one attempt at eating a robusta coffee cherry ended in hacking and gagging. He used the discarded cherries as fertilizer). So robusta it was.

His mares liked his coffee, though he felt Dash only drank it as a way of morning communing with him. She put an awful lot of sugar and milk in it. Lyra used a demitasse, and only drank coffee after dessert. Twilight would drink it in the morning if she had work to do, but was a tea drinker the rest of the day. Spike loved his coffee, and would drink it whenever it was made, and that was fine with Lero. It was enough that they all loved his mint sweet tea recipe.

As far as the rest of Ponyville went, the only other partaker of coffee was his co-worker, Bulk Biceps. When Bulk found out Lero grew and brewed coffee, he virtually begged for a sip. The first time Bulk entered his house when coffee was brewing brought tears to his eyes.

“It’s just like back home, with father and dad!” Bulk said, referring to his adoptive parents (both minotaurs.) Afterwards, Bulk would buy a pound every two weeks. Lero was worried that he couldn’t grow them fast enough, but the magical properties of the Everfree increased coffee growth. Lero was a bit perturbed by this, but after several studies conducted by Twilight, he was reassured that there would be no magical side-effects if consumed


As many times before, Lero let his mind wander while picking coffee cherries. He had done this enough that it became habit. What his mind wandered to this time was blowjobs.

Well, he didn’t start off thinking about that. He wandered to it, first thinking about the coffee he was harvesting, then about how much his mares liked the smell when he was roasting the beans, and on and on until it got to his mares and fellatio.

Lero had made it clear that he was deeply uncomfortable with fellatio, and him actually ejaculating into their mouth was probably never going to happen. A lot of his habits and feelings had changed since he had been here, especially in terms of nudity—he would swim naked at the lake, regardless of who was around, and, besides his mares, he didn’t mind being naked around his friends. If he was naked alone at his house (something he had never done back on Earth), and Rarity or Bon Bon or Fluttershy came for a visit, he would stay in the nude instead of rushing to throw on some clothes like he used to (he also couldn’t help but be amused, and a little flattered, that Rarity enjoyed seeing his naked body). So that was a change there.

But the whole blowjob thing was weird to him. Not because he didn’t like them; that was perfectly fine. He didn’t have to like them. However, there were many things he didn’t like, but did anyway for his mares. Why was this so different?

Though he sometimes tried not to think about it, his thoughts drifted to his life before, his life on Earth. The sting of separation no longer hurt him when he thought about the life before, time and love having made him immune to those attacks, but it still left him with poignant aftertaste. He remembered his last girlfriend—nothing serious, just a fling—and hoped she was doing well. And, though he didn’t like fellatio then, he still went in her mouth because she wanted it, and oh it was so hot to see the contrast between her black mouth pulling up and down on his white penis, and he figured he was racist for thinking of it like that, but the contrast was so damn aesthetically pleasing—so what was the deal with fellatio now?

He moved over to the manual mill next to his coffee tree, which forced a traumatic separation of the cherries from the beans through a series of violent grindings. He poured the beans from his bag into the mill, grabbed the wooden handle with a gloved hand, and started cranking.

That was something else he had done for his mares—his gloves. He used to work barehanded, building up some impressive calluses, proud monuments to his hard work. Dash once mentioned how they felt rough on her coat, and she said it with a sour look, so Lero ordered work gloves from those life-saving minotaurs. He wore them from then on (and he couldn’t help but think of the character from Of Mice and Men that was rumored to put Vaseline in his glove for “keeping it soft for the wife”).

It was also why he waffled away from buying a guitar. He used to play guitar on Earth, and had thought of taking it up again, but he didn’t want the calluses that came with it to irritate his mares, and then his mind went back to fellatio.

Hmm. Well, it wasn’t a big deal, or of life-shattering importance—his mares were perfectly fine with him spilling his seed elsewhere in their bodies—it was just odd, that’s all. What makes this different than anything else I’ve done for them?

He remembered the last time with his girlfriend, trying to figure it out from there, pressing on to his last remembered moments on Earth, when he was preparing to go to Knossos, and then his nostrils filled with the stupefying stench of overripe roses, he prickled with thorns digging trenches into his panicky flesh, his eyes were overwhelmed by the never-ending green foliage, and Princess Celestia’s sophisticated memory spell, resting in his pineal gland, ran its programmed routines, walled off memory neurons, and rebooted his brain to save him from going completely insane.


A door opened


Lero was pulling the handcrank, and it was no longer catching cherries. The beans were all waiting in the bin.

He stopped cranking. Weird, must have tranced out there, he thought. Cranking the mill was monotonous work, so no wonder that happened. He slapped the sides of his face, the sting actually refreshing. Get it together, he thought.

He began the process of removing the bin from the mill, the newly birthed beans ready for drying.


Rainbow Dash woke up, rolled over on her cloud, and let her gaze drift over Fluttershy’s cottage. She caught a glimpse of Lero’s bare back at the edge of the property, and watched him collect beans from a hopper. She smiled and let herself fall off of her cloud, spreading her wings into a slow dive, pulling up at the last moment to fly even with the ground. She timed her descent and distance, and figured she could glide to where Lero was working without him noticing.

Her mission was simple; to kiss the back of his neck. Due to a magic mishap involving Twilight Sparkle and Spike’s trebuchet, Lero’s hair on his head and face became horribly singed, and he had to shave his goatee and cut most of his hair. While continuing the long process of growing it back, his mares discovered that the back and sides of his neck and ears were wonderful areas to kiss and nuzzle. So, he purposely kept his hair short for their enjoyment, though he warned that as soon as cool weather came in, he’d let it grow out again. His goatee was back to its normal Lero levels, however.

But there he was, in front of her, a little slick with perspiration, and she could watch those beautiful muscles in his neck and back move as he did his work. She thought it was a little unfair that he could have such a lovely build, but still not be as strong as she was. But it was so exciting to be the strongest!

She was close behind him, gliding in to her target.

“Hi Dash,” Lero said.

“How’d you know I was there!” Dash said, making a quick landing. “I didn’t cast a shadow, I was downwind…”

“Predator instincts.”

“Ha, I bet!” Dash said, as she moved in and planted a kiss right on the back of his neck. “If you counted on your ‘predator instincts’, you’d be…” she sniffed. “Why do you smell like cotton candy?”

“Pinkie Pie was here.”

“What!” Dash said with a laugh. “She beat me to my own stallion! The nerve!”

“Not only that, but she kissed the exact same spot you did.” Lero turned around with a grin. “You and Pinkie just kissed on the lips, if you think about it.”

“Is that what goes on in your dirty mind?” Dash said, swatting him with a wing. He managed to deflect it with his hand before it hit.

“You’re the only dirty thing in my mind,” Lero said with a wink. Dash grinned.

Lero moved the dried beans, set from three days ago, and poured them into a burlap sack. Rainbow Dash helped by pouring the beans from the bin onto the rack, spreading them out with her wings so they could dry evenly.

“Hey, big guy,” Dash said.

“Yes, love?”

“Does Pinkie bother you with that affection stuff?”

“No,” Lero said, shaking his head. “It’s just Pinkie. It’s more endearing than anything.”

“Okay, just checking,” Dash said. “You’ve done so much for us, you know. I mean, I don’t want you to keep forcing yourself to like things you don’t like. I want you to be you.”

Lero finished tying up his bag, and let his smoky gaze on Rainbow Dash, a gentle smile grazing his lips. Dash sat on her haunches as a glow entered her cheeks.

“W-what?” Dash said. “You planning something?”

“Sorry, Dash,” Lero said. “Could you be patient?”

Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes, peering at Lero through a haze of curiosity and caution. “Okaaay, what’s that about?”

“I have something I’m going to tell you girls tonight, and I don’t want you to think I’m forcing myself to do something I don’t want. Can you trust me?”


“Well alright. Let’s get this coffee home.”


At Lero’s house, in his bedroom, Lyra nibbled on Twilight’s ear, starting at the cottony tip, letting her tongue tap at the edges of her ear as she traveled down to the base.

Twilight giggled and pulled away. “Lyra! I can’t concentrate if you do that!”

“Consider it training, then,” Lyra said, as she lay on her side on the bed. She curled her rear hooves in and out as she smiled at her lovely Twilight Sparkle. She watched how Twilight’s eyelids lowered like midday blinds as she concentrated on her spell, and how her soft lips slightly parted.

“You’re such a beautiful mare,” Lyra said.

“G-gosh!” Twilight said, blushing as she swatted Lyra with her wing. “You keep distracting me!”

Lyra grinned. “Okay, I won’t say anything else. Go ahead.”

Twilight laughed. “You’re such a flatterer,” she said. She cleared her throat, and concentrated again. Her horn lit deep pink.

Twilight muttered the spell that Princess Luna had sent her, concentrating on the jade pendant around her neck. Luna called it the Female Uterine Transformation Amulet, and it was an important tool that made sure this sensitive spell was cast properly. Transforming a part of the body into a different form was heady work, and the amulet served as the talisman it was supposed to be, a sort of magical antidote to any stray magic or thoughts that could hurt the spell and spellcaster. In addition, as far as Luna knew, only alicorns had the power to successfully cast this spell.

Lyra watched as she saw Twilight’s magic swirl around her cutie mark, flashing like a stellar compass rose. Magic glowed near Twilight’s crotch, and Lyra had to say her spell was a success… so far.

Twilight Sparkle finished her spell and, with a little gasp, sat on her haunches as she bent her neck to stare at her crotch.

“It worked!” she said, as she stared at the new sheath sitting between her teats. She stood and frowned in concentration. “I didn’t expect to still have my vagina.”

Lyra hopped off the bed. “Is the penis in there?”

“I can feel it,” Twilight said. “It’s strange. How do I get it out?”

Lyra kissed Twilight on the mouth, parting her lips to let her own tongue rub Twilight’s long and tender tongue. Twilight moaned, the vibration travelling into Lyra’s mouth and warming her muzzle. Lyra flicked her tongue against Twilight’s lips when she broke the kiss.

Lyra planted kisses and nibbles across Twilight’s jawline, smiling at Twilight’s moaning. Lyra traveled to Twilight’s neck and coasted her lips down her spine, noticing Twilight’s wings getting stiff. Right at the base of the wings, Lyra licked and Twilight gasped.

“I-it’s coming out now,” Twilight said.

Lyra backed up a step to take a look. Her grin changed to shock as her jaw dropped and her eyes widened.

“Is there something wrong?” Twilight said.

“No,” Lyra said. “I just… um, I’ve never seen an ultraviolet penis before.”

Twilight sat on her haunches again to take a look at her penis. “It feels so weird, like it’s being pressure-eek!”

Lyra had stuck her tongue at the base of the penis and traveled to the tip, where a dollop of Cowper’s fluid had formed. Twilight, mouth agape, watched as Lyra licked her lips.

“It’s interesting that you make that,” Lyra said. “I don’t see any testicles.”

“W-well, yes,” Twilight said. “Um… Luna hasn’t discovered a way to use this as reproduction. She seems to believe reproduction is a transmagical form that we can’t alter.” A hint of worry and sadness crossed Twilight’s face. “It’s purely magical. But, but the amulet… oh gosh, it’s hard to concentrate!”

“Well, that’s the Twilight I know and love,” Lyra said with a grin. She walked to the back of Twilight, bit her tail, and tugged, eliciting yet another gasp from Twilight. Lyra loved that cute sound of surprise and pleasure. It was so sweet.

“You’re aroused back here, too,” Lyra said, eyeing Twilight’s heavily moistened labia, parting as her clitoris peeked out. Twilight got wetter than anyone she knew, and the nickname Lero had made for her was fitting; Honeypot.

Lyra trotted around in front of Twilight and planted tiny licks on her face. Twilight breathed heavily as her eyelids fluttered.

“You know what this means,” Lyra breathed throatily. “You could take me while Lero takes you.”

Confusion only lasted a microsecond when Twilight realized what Lyra meant. Her eyes shot open. “Oh wow!” she said, turning toward Lyra, mouth agape. Lyra took advantage of this by kissing her.

Lyra grinned when she broke away. “Are you ready, Twilight?”

“Oh yes,” Twilight said. “It’s weird how impatient I feel.”

“That’s fine,” Lyra said. She turned her rump toward Twilight, lifted her tail, and winked.

Twilight giggled. “That doesn’t really affect me like it does stallions,” she said. “Wait, are we doing this the pony way?”

“Of course,” Lyra said. “You’re not going to be as flexible and bendy as Lero.”

“I guess not,” Twilight said. “Um, how…” She reared up and planted her forelegs on Lyra’s rump. Lyra swallowed.

“Twilight, don’t push it in so fast,” Lyra said. “Take it slow.”

“Okay,” Twilight said in a whisper.

Lyra pushed against the floor as Twilight clumsily moved up Lyra’s body. The edge of Twilight’s penis pressed against the wet gate that was Lyra’s vulva, and Lyra held her breath.

Even when Twilight took it slow, Lyra couldn’t help but let out a grunt. Twilight didn’t hear, and pushed further.

“It feels like silk in here,” Twilight said, breathless. “I didn’t know it felt that good.”

Lyra let out a low breath as she felt Twilight travel deeper, deeper than she had felt in a long while, and Lyra groaned.

“I can’t get it in all the way,” Twilight said.

“You’re not supposed to,” Lyra said, her voice strained. “That’s normal for pony style.”

“Lyra, are you okay?” Twilight asked.

“Oh yeah,” Lyra drawled, as she lay her head on the cool wooden floor. She let out a long sigh. “Just never had one this big before.”

“You sound like you’re in pain!”

Lyra let out a slow laugh. “It hurts a little, but it’s a good pain. Don’t worry about it. Just… just go really slow, okay?”

“Okay,” Twilight said. “I think I can make it smaller.”

“You’ll need to do that for any wild stuff we do,” Lyra said, “but right now, its fine.”

Twilight’s rear legs shifted their weight as she tried to balance herself, and she slowly pulled her penis back out. She gasped and let out a slow moan.

“Oh my gosh this feels so good.”

Lyra grunted as a trickle of sweat rolled down her temple. “Yes it does,” she said.

Twilight adapted to the balance she need to not fall out of Lyra, and entered into a rhythm like a slow dance. She wasn’t as loud as when she was with Lero, but her moaning was still noticeable. Lyra became a little more acclimated to Twilight’s girth, and was starting to enjoy it, controlling her breaths so she could tolerate the pain and wallow in the pleasure.

A drop of moisture hit the back of Lyra’s neck and rolled off, and Lyra grinned as she realized it was Twilight’s drool. She could imagine Twilight’s face right now; those eyes rolled up in her head, her mouth wide open, her tongue lolling out as a pinprick of saliva flowed to the tip and dripped off and landed in a silver splash. Lyra had seen that face so many times, when Twilight and Lero had sex. She felt a flush of pride that now she was able to give Twilight that expression, even though she wasn’t doing anything but standing there and taking it. I guess I’m a bench today, Lyra thought. She didn’t dare say it out loud, though. It’d just upset Twilight.

Twilight moaned, and her thrusting sped up, and Lyra yelped.

“Twilight, slow down!” Lyra said, and Twilight complied.

“It can’t be now,” Twilight said, her voice whispery, and Lyra felt thick warmth shoot into her as Twilight’s staccato “Oh oh oh” punctuated each thrust of her orgasm. To her credit, Twilight didn’t try to thrust harder, and Lyra felt gratitude.

“Pull out slowly, please,” Lyra said. She felt Twilight’s penis shrink inside her, and wasn’t too worried about a quick pullout.

Twilight backed up, breathing heavily, and pulled out of Lyra. Her hoofs tapped against the floor as she tried to keep her balance. Her penis went back into her sheath, and Twilight lay on the floor, her breathing slowing to normal. Her amulet lay prone against the rug.

“That orgasm wasn’t as intense as mare orgasms,” Twilight said. “I mean, I know stallions have less nerve endings in their genitals then mares, but that was a bit less than I thought. Still great, though.”

Twilight caught Lyra’s amused grin. “What?”

“Never change, Twilight,” Lyra said, as she bent down to kiss her mare on her snout. “After sex, and the first thing you do is talk science.”

Twilight blushed and ducked her head, lowering her ears. Despite that, she still grinned.

Lyra lay down next to her, pressing her body against Twilight.

“That didn’t seem to last very long,” Twilight said. She looked up at the clock, and despaired. “Four minutes? Ugh, I’m sorry Lyra!”

“Sorry about what?”

“I came too fast! I should have tried-”

“No, you did great,” Lyra said, after silencing Twilight’s apology with a peck to her lips. “You’re comparing yourself to Lero, aren’t you?”

“I… I guess I am,” Twilight said. She blushed. “He’s the only stallion I can directly compare myself to.”

“Well, don’t,” Lyra said. “Only compare yourself to Twilight Sparkle.”

Lyra leaned into Twilight’s neck, resting her horn on her mane.

“Well,” Twilight said, “how was it?”

Lyra thought on best how to word the experience. “Intense,” she said. “It felt really good. It was nice to have that… that feeling of depth.”

“But…” she said, expecting the bad news.

“Maybe too intense,” Lyra said. “Next time, let’s try it with less girth. Then you can thrust to your heart’s content, and I won’t have to worry about bruises.”

Twilight cringed. “Oh, I didn’t think of that! I’m sorry, Lyra.”

“Shh,” Lyra said, again leaving a peck on her lips. “No sorries for sex, ever.”

Twilight rested her chin on Lyra’s rump as Lyra lay next to her. They both enjoyed the afterglow (Lyra smiling that Twilight still had to compare notes) and simply being with each other. A new method of being intimate with each other had shown itself, and Twilight hoped that Dash would be interested too.

“Lyra, how many stallions have you been with?”

Thought Twilight couldn’t see her, she could imagine her grinning at the question. I bet she knows why I’m asking, she thought.

“Counting you with this spell, thirty seven.”

“My goodness, I wish I was that popular.”

“Well, I wish I wasn’t. I don’t regret it, but I could have been busy trying to find myself instead of banging everypony in sight.” Maybe that was how I was trying to find myself, Lyra thought. I was searching for answers while lost in some pony’s embrace.

“Well, I’m glad you found yourself now,” Twilight said. “Um…”


“I bet I don’t even have to ask, huh?”

“Nope. Ninth place.”

Twilight’s ears perked, as she let out a surprised gasp. “I didn’t know I ranked that high!”

“You’re the biggest I ever took,” Lyra said. “And you lasted longer than average. That’s gold stars on my grading curve.” A thought occurred to Lyra, and she laughed. “You know, I feel sorry for any stallion you or Dash might end up with. You’ll both expect way too much from him.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that to him,” Twilight said. “I mean, I know it’s not fair to compare them to Lero.”

“Dash would, though.”

Twilight snorted. “Dash totally would. Even a stallion with fantastic bedroom skills, and she’d still fuss.”

Lyra put some gravel into her voice. “’What? Ten minutes? That’s all you got?’”

Twilight giggled, and tried her Rainbow Dash impersonation. “’I only came three times! Can’t you do any better?’”

“’Whaddya mean you can’t fold your legs so I can sit on them?’”

“’Why don’t you have any hands to massage my wings?’”

“’What’s with all this hair? Can’t you just have bare skin?’”

“Hi girls,” Dash said, and Twilight and Lyra yelped.

Dash lifted an eyebrow and grinned. “So, you two are just hanging around on Lero’s bedroom floor, huh? Gee, I wonder what was going on in here.” She took a big sniff. “Nope, wait, never mind.”

Lero followed behind, spotted Twilight’s amulet, looked for Twilight’s sheath, and grew a trolling half-smirk.

“Well, I see I’ve been replaced,” he said.

“What? No!” Twilight said, jumping to her hooves. “That could never hap— Oh, of course you’re joking.”

The two greeted Rainbow Dash and Lero with kisses, double-teaming Dash with a kiss on each side of her mouth, and then rearing up on their legs to take their turn with Lero.

“What’s cooking, fingers?” Lyra said, when she dropped back to all fours.

“Just some salad, nothing fancy,” Lero said. “So…,” he sat, cross-legged, and laid a hand on Twilight’s neck. “How did it feel, Twilight?”

“If I can be totally banal, different,” Twilight said, as he told Lero what she had shared with Lyra about the experience. “I’m going to have to make it smaller next time,” she finished.

“What’s going on here?” Rainbow Dash said, confused and disbelieving of what she just heard.

“Oh, I tried out Princess Luna’s phallus spell, and… well, me and Lyra had penetrative penile sex.” Lyra pushed her face next to Twilight, and the two nuzzled.

“You make it sound so romantic,” Lero said. He let a husky baritone enter his voice, and said, “penetrative,” drawing it out like a long shower. Twilight and Lyra laughed.

“Wh…” Dash lowered her head to peek below Twilight’s barrel, and saw the sheath. “Why did you do that?” she said, with real anger in her voice.

Twilight reared back, surprised at the tone and loudness of her question. “Well, it’s a way for… a different way to be intimate,” Twilight said. “And there was some personal curiosity, too.”

“But why would you have to?” Dash said, concern entering her voice, and taking a step forward. “We have Lero!”

“Dash,” Lero said, putting a hand on her coup. “Twilight told me about the spell. I’m okay with it.”

Rainbow Dash passed a glance between the three, her anger dying as quickly as it was stoked. Lero guided her head into his chest and held her there. Dash sighed and closed her eyes.

Though Dash had yelled at Twilight, Lero knew Dash well enough to know what the root of the problem was.

“It’s that joke I made about being replaced that upset you, isn’t it? I’m sorry I said that.”

Dash opened her eyes. “It’s okay, big guy. It was dumb of me to get upset about it. It’s just...,” she pulled back so she could look Lero in the face. “You can never, ever be replaced. I hate to think that you feel that way.”

“I don’t Dash, don’t worry.”

Dash regretfully broke from Lero to hug Twilight. “I’m sorry I snapped at you.”

“Oh Rainbow, it’s okay,” Twilight said, hugging back.

Lero turned to Lyra, and winked. Lyra returned a raised eyebrow, wondering what he was up to now.

“So, Twilight,” Lero said. “What was that about making your penis smaller?”

“What? Oh,” Twilight said, as Dash broke the hug to let her speak. Twilight felt a little weird at being asked about ‘her penis’. “Well, apparently there was a bit too much girth to just, you know… let lose.”

“So, you could, theoretically, make it bigger, right?”

“Oh come on!” Dash shouted, throwing her hooves in the air.

“Yes?” Twilight said, eyeing Dash’s reaction with confusion. “But why would-”

“He’s going to ask you to make his bigger!” Dash said.

“Wh-really?” Twilight said. “I don’t want to do that, Lero. You don’t need it!”

“Yeah, it’s perfect as it is! We don’t want-” Dash recognized Lero’s goofy grin, and laughed as she jumped him with booth hooves. “Doofus! What are you doing messing with us like that?”

Lero laughed as his back was pushed against the floor, and he grappled with Dash, trying to pin her to her back.

“I can always tell when you’ve been to the Everfree,” Lyra said, as she sidled up next to the wrestling pair and used her magic to pin Dash’s wings.

“No fair!” Dash shouted with a laugh. “Cheaters!”

Rainbow Dash braced herself, expecting Lero to go in with raspberries to her belly like he usually did when she was pinned on her back, but was disappointed when he pulled up and faced Lyra with a surprised expression.

“What do you mean about the Everfree?” he asked.

“You joke around a lot more,” she said. “You’re a little more aggressive about things.”

“Aggressive?” Lero said.

“No, it’s cool,” Dash said, managing to break Lyra’s pin with her pegasus magic. She sat up and stretched her wings out. “It’s kinda exciting to see it in you, every now and then.”

Lero’s brows knitted in thought. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “I hope I’m not being offensive here.”

“Of course not!” Twilight said. “Like Rainbow Dash said, it’s fun to see in you!”

Lyra suggested dinner, and they all agreed. Rainbow Dash gave Lero a significant look, knowing that he’d know what she meant—that big thing Lero was going to tell them. Lero nodded, and they headed to the kitchen.


The four dug into their salad and toasted bread, discussing the events of the day. Twilight was showing her excitement about the debut of No Exit tomorrow evening, and how everything was falling into place for a great debut.

She was sitting between Lero and Rainbow Dash, with Lyra across from her on the round table. She had cancelled the phallus spell earlier, and felt an odd sense of relief with her penis gone. It had been surprisingly sore—something she hadn’t expected.

“How’s that Thunderlane doing?” Rainbow Dash asked, as she picked her teeth with a toothpick. “I can’t believe he’d be any good.”

“Actually, the director was very impressed with his performance,” Twilight Sparkle said. “She said he was a raw talent, and wondered where he’d been all this time. He might have a new career.”

Dash raised an eyebrow. “Hey, good for him. I wonder if he misread his cutie mark, like Troubleshoes?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight said. She frowned as she added some more salad.

“I like that look, Twilight,” Lyra said, sitting across from her. “What’s up?”

“Thunderlane better not be trying to hit on you,” Dash said. “I’ll beat him up.”

“No, nothing like that, he’s been professional,” Twilight said. She laughed to herself, shaking her head. “Well, until he actually tried to hit on Princess Luna yesterday.”

Lero laughed, while Dash violently straightened her chair. “Are you serious? He’s a total ladies stallion, but I never expected that!”

“He did, though.” Twilight said. “It didn’t go too well. She and Princess Celestia were discussing something with me, about a research project, and he kept dropping hints, and then—”


“Well, you know what they say,” Thunderlane said, flashing a killer grin. “You can’t prove a negative.”

Princess Luna fixed him with an imperial stare, nearly knocking the grin from his face. “Of course you can prove a negative,” Luna said. “It’s called modus tollendo tollens. I invented it while stargazing on my porch.”

“Uh… oh,” Thunderlane said. He swallowed. “I didn’t know that.”

“I’ve recently modernized my primer on propositional logic. I’m sure Princess Twilight Sparkle has a copy in her library.”

“Oh, I do,” Twilight said.

“I recommend you borrow it. It should prove enlightening.”

“Yes, your highness,” he said with a bow. “I’ll be sure to do that.”


Dash laughed uproariously. She liked Thunderlane, but hearing about him getting shot down so brutally was hilarious. “He’s laid every single mare in the weather team with the exception of me and Beck Dell,” Dash said. “I know him. I bet it didn’t even faze his ego.”

“No, it didn’t,” Twilight said. She frowned angrily. “Because then he hit on Celestia.”

Dropped jaws and raised brows met this revelation. Lero stopped chewing on his toast, spread with anchovy paste for that extra protein kick.

“That dunderhead actually did that?” Dash said.

“How did that one turn out?” Lero said.

“Well,” Twilight said, “he was trying to be all smooth about it, and dropping hints, and then-”


“They would say that,” Thunderlane said. “After all, history is written by the victors.”

Princess Celestia smiled kindly. “Pardon me, Mr. Thunderlane, but that isn’t my experience at all. History is written by the survivors. The victors write the future.”


“He had nothing to say about that,” Twilight said. “The director called for a return to the stage, and he just loped on, looking downtrodden. His performance was a little subdued, but he got back into the scene pretty quick after that.”

“You know, that’s interesting what Celestia said,” Lero said. “I remember studying about the American civil war, and there was a ton of revisionist history written about the conflict by the losing side—the confederates. Even when he was being taken prisoner, Jefferson Davis—he was the CSA president, the losing side—was busying writing his memoirs and trying to justify his actions. Even their descendants still write history on it, and that war was over nearly one hundred and forty years before I was born.” He also thought about the many books he had read that were written by the Third Reich soldiers after World War II—Guderian, Heinz Knoke, Dönitz, von Manstein—but he hadn’t talked about that war to his mares yet. He wasn’t sure if he ever would.

“That’s interesting,” Twilight said. “I always felt the whole ‘history is written by the winners’ to be a little too pat.”

“It could be a type of a thought-terminating cliché,” Lyra said.

“That’s a good term,” Twilight said.

“By the way, I think I’ll check out that primer on propositional logic,” Lero said. “I took an introductory class on it in college, and barely remember it.”

Twilight let out a laugh. “Thunderlane actually checked it out yesterday,” and the rest of the table laughed too.


They had moved to Lero’s parlor, where he had some of his tea out for drinking. They were enjoying each others' company, and Lero made a glance at Dash to let her know he was going to talk about ‘that thing’ he had hinted at his coffee plant.

“So, Twilight,” he said, as Twilight was pouring through her new issue of Word Problems magazine. “That phallus spell… are you able to get mares pregnant?”

Lyra put her tea down and moved over to Lero, balance tugging at her, telling her that she needed to be with him right now.

Twilight blinked, and used her magic to place the magazine on the glass table in the middle of the grouping of chairs and sofa. “Well, no. Luna studied that spell for decades, and came to the conclusion that it was impossible. She actually started on the spell in the hopes that it would help mares have children with each other, but she was blocked each time by harmony. It… reproduction is a transmagical force, and I don’t think one has ever been manipulated or changed.”

“I see,” Lero said. “Are these the same studies you’ve been doing to see if I can give children to you mares?”

Oh Celestia what is he doing, Dash thought. She looked at Lyra, who was staring intensely at Lero. Dash dropped off of the sofa and approached Lero.

“Yes, Luna actually shared all of the research and critiqued my own studies into it. She agreed with my original conclusion—that, as it stands, turning you into a pony while we are in heat would result in barely, if any, of your genetic structure being part of any child we might have—and that’s even assuming you could get us pregnant anyway. We’d essentially be giving birth to clones instead of children.”

Twilight, rattling off studies and science, missed what was happening right in front of her, with Lyra and Rainbow Dash crowding around Lero.

“Okay,” Lero said. He took a deep breath. “Listen,” and he turned to Lyra, who was sitting at his knee with a hoof on his leg, and Dash, who was sitting on the arm of the chair, resting a wing on his back, “I know you girls have purposely been discouraging stallions taking an interest in you because you don’t want to upset me, but I’m telling you right now, it’s okay.”

“Lero,” Lyra said.

“Let stallions into this herd,” Lero said. “If any are interested in us, and if one of you girls like him, then we can court him. He can give us his flower—,” he snickered, which surprised his girls. They could feel the deep emotion pounding away from him like waves on a beach, and this laugh was a big strangeness. They looked at each other in confusion.

“Sorry,” he said. “But, let stallions into this herd. Or other mares, if they’re interested. It’s wrong of me to—oh, Twilight.”

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said, tearfully, and Lero leapt to her side, letting her wrap her legs and wings around him. “I’m sorry I can’t get it to work, but I swear I’ll keep working on it.”

“Twilight, I know you will,” Lero said. “But in the meantime, we can expand our herd anyway.”

Twilight pulled away, and Lero smiled and cupped her chin. “I know your dream about having a big herd, and having children. Let’s make that dream come true, alright?”

Twilight smiled through her teary eyes. “I love you so much, Lero.”

“I love you too, Twilight,” and they hugged again.

Dash and Lyra approached as well, and they wrapped into a group hug. A little sad this time, as it felt like a Pyrrhic victory, but always comforting.

“Dude,” Dash said, her own eyes a little teary at the shock. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I want to,” Lero said.

“I know you mean that,” Lyra said. “But we can sense that tumult inside of you. Just remember what Dash said earlier; you can never be replaced.”

“I know that girls,” Lero said. He smiled again. “You know, it’s almost like I’m taking this better than you three are. I expected cheers and excited hugs.”

“It’s just shocking,” Lyra said. She smiled. “But I’m happy.”

“And no stallion will get in unless you like him,” Dash said. “That’s the rule.”

“That’s the rule,” Lero said. He rubbed his hands across their backs. “I’ve been doing a lot of research on herding and relationships among ponies.”

“I’ve noticed,” Twilight said. “I’ve been re-shelving your books.”

“I’m also going to tell you that I’m perfectly fine with stabling, if there’s a stallion, or a mare, that you like, and likes you, but doesn’t want to join our herd.”

“Same goes to you,” Lyra said. She winked. “Mare or stallion.”

“L-lets do one thing at a time,” Dash said, and Twilight and Lyra nodded. They held each other in silence for a while, hearing breaths and feeling hearts.

“I thought there’d be more discussion,” Lero said.

“It’s just a big shock, that’s all,” Twilight said.

“Well, I need to shower anyway,” Lero said, standing up. “You guys can think about it some more, and if you feel like it, we can discuss whatever points or problems you might have.”

It was agreed on with hugs, kisses, and guarantees of love.


The warm water poured on Lero as he stood in his shower, eyes closed, leaning his head against the tile wall.

I can do this, he thought. It’s for them. I can do this.

He hated that he was shaking. Lyra said they could detect the tumult in him, but he hoped they didn’t realize how much it took out of him to simply tell them to court stallions.

It’s wrong to hold them back, he thought. They’re ponies. It’s natural for them, I can do this.

A flash entered his mind, of a stallion on Twilight’s back, rutting her while she moaned, while he watched them like a dumbstruck sentry—

Stop, he thought. Any stallion that joins our herd will love them. It’s okay.

He knew his mares would always love him. Why is this so hard?

He laughed, then. He wouldn’t have children. Cross-genetic children with his mares. Bellerophon had lived up to his legendary namesake, and had slain the chimera.

7. The Aftermath

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The bathroom door pulled shut, and after the muffled waterfall of the shower started, Rainbow Dash turned away.

“Did you see how he was acting?” Dash said, looking at her two herdwives. “I mean, that laugh he did. Can he really do this?”

Lyra didn’t break her stare from the hallway, where she saw Lero exit. “I don’t think he can.”

“He said he could,” Twilight said, her face shedding away the hope she felt at his offer. “It’s a big change for him, but he says he can do it.”

Lyra slowly turned to Twilight. “Twilight, do you really think he can?”

“Yes,” Twilight said, looking Lyra in the eyes.

“Dash, what do you think?” Lyra said.

“No, what do you think?” Dash said with a scowl. “Promise you won't get all mysterious sage on us.”

“I promise,” Lyra said, and what came into her mind with the intensity of a vivid dream was last night, in this room, hours after the removal of her bandage and splint, after her first tentative use of magic in days (she lifted an unused tongue depressor in the doctor’s office) caused a powerful libido to surge inside her, like she was in heat again. She took her family home and did not hold back.

Last night Lero’s chest and stomach pressed against her back, as she leaned into him, her hips grinding against his as she felt him inside her, hard and slick. His arms were around her barrel, and her forelegs were wrapped around them. Those hands would usually wander around her body, but Lyra just wanted to feel that closeness, that warmth of being enveloped by him. Rainbow Dash was behind them, her mouth on her horn, that long tongue sliding up and down, and down below was Twilight, eyes closed, letting her moist lips and soft tongue work on her clitoris; and sometimes her tongue would dip down across Lero’s scrotum, and Lyra knew when that happened because she could feel the ticking of his pulse vibrate inside her.

After her fourth orgasm, each one punctuated with her hindlegs jutting out as her hooves curled, she tapped out. She had not let loose like that in a long time.

Later that night, when she woke up, she rolled toward Lero, ignoring the happy soreness deep inside her, resting her body on his torso, and his hands moved and lay on her back. She moved her forehooves to his face and tried to cradle it like he did after that fight, when she was almost gone. She had missed sharing a bed with him.

Gently, she whispered, “Fingers.”

“Horny,” Lero whispered back.

Lyra leaned in and kissed him. She said, “You saved me, Lero.”

The moon cast pale light on his face, and she saw him open his eyes. “How did I save you?”

“I was in a deep, dark abyss after that ridiculous fight,” Lyra said. “You pulled me out of it, Lero. When you touched my face like this, and you called my name, I heard you.”

Lero grinned, and it was beautiful. “Lyra, the doctor would have done the same thing once he had shown up.”

I think it would have been too late, but Lyra kept that to herself. She didn’t want to worry him.

“I don’t feel that way,” Lyra said. “I was lost in that pit,” and I just pretty much said what I decided not to say. Good going, Lyra, she thought. However, underneath her, Lero didn’t shudder or cringe in fear.

“Well, if you think that’s true, then nothing makes me prouder.” Lero moved his hand and stroked her cheek with the tips of his fingers. “I love you, Lyra. You’re one of the most amazing individuals I've ever known, and if I can do something that helps you, then I’m happy.”

“I love you, Lero,” Lyra said, almost breathless. “I know you’re going to say that us being a herd means we don’t do things this way, and I agree, but I will always be finding ways to pay you back. I promise.”

“Lyra,” he said, singing her name. His hand stroked the length of her back. Lyra rested her head against him, her muzzle pressing against the bottom of his chin. She cast her magic, just to see if she could, and touched his hands with it. She kept it going long enough to feel his fingers curl around it, and dropped her spell as his hands came to a rest.

The abyss, she thought, and her mind, drifting into sleep, turned to that fight four days previously.


It was early afternoon, and Rainbow Dash blinked as she tried to avoid falling asleep from the hayburgers and hayfries slogging around in her system. She and Lyra were at the Ponyville library (conveniently located inside Rainbow Castle) filling in for Twilight Sparkle and Spike, both at the Ponyville theatre overseeing the production of No Exit.

Dash would like to have found some high up shelf space to crawl into and take a nap, but she had a duty to perform, and she wasn’t going to shirk it. Especially with Lyra there to tattle on her if she did. So, she did some occasional wing pushups to keep her blood flowing through the grimy lunch and its sludgy grip on her energy.

Several ponies had come into the library that day—Dash didn’t realize it was used that much, though Lyra did—and right now Berry Punch was at a study table, skimming through several books.

Lyra trolled around to see what Berry Punch was reading. The subjects she pulled were on paranormal activity, and mental disorders, especially those that produce hallucinations. Lyra decided Berry was either trying to start rumors, or had some serious problem she couldn’t figure out. Lyra was tempted to ask, but decided not to intervene. Though not on the level of Applejack, Berry Punch was an earth pony, and they could be predictably stubborn about outside help.

Lyra couldn’t help but wonder about the other town’s martial arts grandmaster. The extent of their communication had been Berry taking the occasional swipe at Still Way philosophy, which Lyra found invigorating as it introduced her to new thoughts, or Berry standing silently by as Lyra caught up with Minuette.

(One day, while entertaining some children with her Still Way skills, she had asked, rhetorically, "What is balance?" Behind her, heading to the liquor store, Berry Punch said, "An iron boot stomping on a face, forever."

Minutes later, when Lyra asked, "What does it mean to return to the source?" Berry Punch, returning with full saddlebags, clinking with each step, said, "It means we have no one but ourselves to explain this meaningless horror of life."

For the first time in many years, Lyra was offended. And then she laughed.)

That her old Canterlot friend was in a relationship with Berry Punch said good things about Berry’s character, at least as far as Lyra was concerned. Though Lyra felt that their relationship could be called ‘semi-serious’, as Minuette still saw other ponies, Berry had shown a loyalty to Minuette that made Lyra wonder if she was a monogamist. That didn’t really matter, though; it was just Lyra trying to figure out the character of a pony that was mostly an enigma to her.

After glancing at the titles Berry Punch was plowing through, Lyra wandered through the aisles and let the names and titles swirl around her, and let the scents of ink, paper, and sunlight waft over her muzzle. She turned a corner to the study area, where Berry Punch sat at a table overflowing with books, and saw Rainbow Dash hovering above her, her curiosity (or quarrelsomeness) getting the best of her as she spied Berry’s readings.

“Are you serious?” Dash said. “Are you crazy or haunted?”

“I’m craunted,” Berry Punch said, as she turned a page in Haint or Ain’t? How to Tell if your Home is Haunted. “It’s a new word I came up with. I can do that because I went to college.”

Lyra was cool and clean on the outside, but she sped up her steps just in case Dash took the slight against her education. Lyra wasn’t sure Berry meant it as a slight; it may have just been a joke. Either way, Dash didn’t seem perturbed by it.

“What exactly is your problem, anyway?”

“Someone broke into my house a couple of months ago and replaced everything with an exact duplicate,” Berry Punch said, as she moved her attention to A Case of the Crazies. “I had to buy all new furniture to replace the dupes messing up my house.”

“Okay, you’re crazy, then,” Dash said.

Berry shrugged. “Dunno. Maybe both.”

Dash grimaced. “What did you do with the old furniture? Sell it?”

“Burned it,” Berry said, turning a page. “It’d be wrong to sell dupe furniture. It could bud asexually and then Ponyville would have a real problem.”

Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes in thought, trying to remember if she saw burning furniture, or burning anything, during her scouting around Ponyville.

“It seems like capgras delusion,” Berry said, tapping at a book. “But I don’t have any of those sorts of brain problems.”

“Oh really?” Dash said, and Lyra had to wonder how far she was going to go with this. She must be really bored to harass Berry Punch of all ponies, Lyra thought.

“What brain problems do you have, then?” Dash said.

“None,” Berry said, as she closed a book and grabbed another from the pile, entitled Double your Pleasure: Your Doppelganger and You. “I’m mentally fit in every way.”

Dash snorted in derision, and flapped away from the table. Lyra headed to the checkout counter to make sure all files were in order, for the second time that day.

When Lyra had finished checking out a zoology book to a little filly, she decided to make her rounds again. She heard Dash’s argumentative voice, and Berry Punch’s bored replies, and wondered why Dash couldn’t just leave her alone.

“-completely selfish,” Dash was saying, when Lyra came across them.

“She gave Lero a card for free Berry Shines soda, though,” Lyra said, interrupting.

“Eh? She did?” Dash said, lifting her head.

“We were talking about Filthy Rich’s copyright bill,” Berry said, not glancing toward Lyra. Lyra figured the conversation bomb she just tossed had nothing to do with the discussion, but she was trying to get Dash to leave Berry alone. Berry was a library user conducting research, after all, and she didn’t need to be harassed by the staff. Lyra also knew that a pony liking Lero went a long way with Dash—and herself, of course.

“Oh, well, that’s still nice of you,” Dash said, as she started to fly away from the table.

“Not nice, it was my duty. I gave it to him as an apology for what I told him shortly after he first came here.” Berry Punch pushed a book aside, and changed her sitting posture. Lyra’s hackles rose as she froze in place.

“That’s good,” Dash said absent-mindedly, as she flapped away. She stopped and landed on the ground, her ears splayed back. She slowly turned to face Berry, and with a look like an impending thunderstorm, stalked closer to the table.

In a still voice, enunciating each syllable, Dash said, as a command and not a question, “What did you tell him.”

It was subtle, but Lyra saw how Berry adjusted her rear legs. She’s going to kick the library table at her, she thought, and Berry spared Lyra a dead glance. She knows I saw it.

A fight in the library would be disastrous. Twilight would be angry and disappointed. The community would be poorly served while it was rebuilt and restocked. Then there was Berry’s inclination to pyromania.

Surely Berry knows we’re going to take her down, Lyra thought, in sensations instead of words. She can’t win, but of course Berry knew. It was quite possible that her definition of winning was completely at odds with the rest of the world. She probably doesn’t even have one and just fights to fight, Lyra thought, but she wondered if even that was the truth. As far as she knew, Berry had no reason for her actions.

“I asked him why he was out in the street instead of in the bedroom or fields,” Berry Punch said.

It wouldn’t take long for the shock of it to push Rainbow Dash into that zone of red-hot fury, of common sense and restraint disappearing in a fiery blast of rage, and so Lyra said, before even the last syllable of Berry’s sentence had died away:

“I challenge you to a fight, Berry Punch. Rainbow Dash, you are my witness to my challenge, and my second,” and she stood directly in front of Rainbow Dash, her calm demeanor filling Dash’s vision.

“Lyra,” Dash said with a growl. “You better get out of my way.”

“Rainbow Dash,” Lyra said. “As I have challenged Berry Punch, and as you are a witness to my challenge, you are not to cause, or allow, harm to befall Berry Punch.”

Dash’s breath pounded against her heaving chest, and tears of frustration frosted the curve of her eyes. “Why are you doing this?” she said, her voice an aching whisper.

“Imagine how upset Twilight would be when she finds out you ruined her library with a fight,” Lyra whispered.

Dash’s eyes tried to waver, but she didn’t break her gaze against Lyra. “Fine,” she said, her ruffled wings smoothing out. Dash was going to be mad at her for a while—Lyra knew it—but if that was the cost of saving the library (and more importantly, Twilight’s feelings), then that’s how it went.

Lyra turned to face Berry, who had gone back to reading one of her books.

“Let’s go see the constable,” Lyra said.

“I like prostables myself,” Berry said, as she tossed the book on the table.

Rainbow Dash was not a traditionalist. Lyra was sure that Dash would have ignored claim of duel made by any other pony, and would have attacked outright. It was only because it was Lyra that Dash didn’t interfere.

They were walking to the constable’s office now, their silence attracting attention and Dash’s baleful look pushing it away. Lyra tried to trot up next to her, as an act of comradery, but Dash took to the air. She’s going to be mad at me for a while, Lyra thought. It’s just how it has to be.

The idea of calling off the match, now that they were away from the library, passed into her mind, but Lyra was sure Dash would be angry at the subterfuge. And yet, Lyra wanted to battle Berry Punch. Though she had fought a Drunken Hoof practitioner before, she had never faced a grandmaster of that art. It was known for subterfuge and randomness, especially at the higher levels, and Lyra couldn’t help but thrill at the challenge. Though she didn’t like fighting for the sake of fighting, like Dash did, she still saw it as a way to hone her abilities, and to seek new experiences.

So, she would fight Berry Punch, a fellow grandmaster in an odd and strange art. It was as it was meant to be.

The constable of Ponyville, an earth pony mare named Hot Pudding with a cutie mark of a clown’s face (“Don’t ask,” was always her answer to the obvious question, and she would say it in such a way to make the questioner know she absolutely was not joking), took in the two challengers. She felt a blaze that burned her throat. She was familiar with Sergeant Lyra, due to her being an auxiliary member of the Royal Guard, and from several duels she had fought in the past. She had won them all, of course.

She knew Berry Punch from her reputation as the local trouble-maker. She was also the first pony in nearly fifty years to be arrested on ‘hooliganism with extreme cynicism’, which Hot Pudding didn’t even know was still on the books. Well, Ms. Punch is about to be put in her place, Hot Pudding thought. Maybe it’ll straighten her up.

“Okay,” Hot Pudding said, slapping a form on her desk. She pushed her hoof into the ring attached to her writing quill and proceeded to fill out the rudiments, the fine scratching of the quill against paper the only sound in the office.

“Fight location?”

“Mayor Mare’s bathroom,” Berry said.

“The Ponyville fields,” Lyra said.

“Oh no, my weakness,” Berry said.

Hot Pudding raised an eyebrow as she looked at Berry. “Is the Ponyville fields acceptable?”

Berry Punch shrugged. “Sure. Mark it down.”

Hot Pudding did so, and turned the paper around for the three to sign; Lyra and Berry as participants, and a scowling Rainbow Dash as a witness. Hot Pudding notarized it, and stuck it in her out box. She stood up with a sigh.

“Okay ladies, that’s settled. I’m going to alert Nurse Redheart.”


Rainbow Dash flew overhead, watching Lyra and Berry Punch (a name she couldn’t think of without anger clutching her heart) as they walked to Ponyville fields, a patch of clover that had hosted many challenges in the past. Lyra was smiling as she usually did, her happy appearance a beautiful sheath hiding a sharp sword. Berry Punch seemed disinterested in the proceedings. Usually the pony challenging Lyra would jabber or try to intimidate her, an attempt at metagaming that would never work on Lyra. Berry wasn’t doing any of that, however.

Within Dash's field of vision was the hospital, and she saw four nurses walk out with two ambulance drivers, both pulling a white painted wagon with a padded interior. Nurse Redheart didn’t play around when it came to duels.

Dash looked below again and saw Lyra look up with a hazy smile. Dash quickly looked away. She wasn’t mad at Lyra anymore; she understood why she stole her fight. But she wanted Lyra to think she was mad for a whirlpool of emotions she couldn’t contain or explain even if she knew what they were. So let her think she was still mad.

She rose higher and did a quick scan for Lero, and saw him over at Sweet Apple Acres, hammering on a plank of wood that Apple Bloom was pressing down with her hooves. Good, he doesn’t need to see this, Rainbow Dash thought. It’d be a distraction for Lyra, too.

“Rainbow, what’s going on?”

Dash yelped and gained nearly ten meters of altitude in less than two seconds.

“Twilight, don’t sneak up on me like that!” Dash said, returning to her cruising altitude.

“So, Spike and I take a break from the theatre and go to Sugarcube Corner, and I see Lyra and Berry Punch walking silently—”


“—and then Nurse Redheart and Tenderheart and their assistants, and two ambulances behind—”

“Yeah, okay.”

“—and then I see you up here with an awful scowl! Dash, are Lyra and Berry going to fight each other?”

“Yes, and it’s a notarized duel,” Dash said, as the two flew above the procession, their shadows trailing on the road below. “Nothing illegal. Don’t worry about it.”

“Of course I’m worried about it! I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Why are they fighting each other?”

“Eh… well, I guess it’s just a test of strength.”

“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said, in that stinging tone that always made Dash want to jump out of her skin. “You’re almost as bad a liar as Applejack. What’s going on?”

Rainbow Dash started the story with a huff and ended it with a sigh.

“That is good thinking on Lyra’s part,” Twilight said. She shook her head in anger. “I can’t believe Berry Punch said that to Lero. It doesn’t really make any sense, since she’s defended stallions’ rights several times before.” Twilight, as she always did, made connections, listened to her intuition, and used her intellect to pierce the mystery.

“You know, I think she said that to Lero just to instigate a fight. You and Lyra were some of Lero’s earliest friends, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she said that expecting him to tell you, or Lyra, and then wait for the fight to happen.” Twilight tried to hide the flash of pride that came from figuring out a puzzle. She couldn’t stifle a giggle of triumph.

“Well of course that’s what she’s doing,” Dash said. “It’s obvious.”

“Oh,” Twilight said. She cringed in embarrassment, and nearly tried to paw the air.

“Um… well—”

“Because it’s the principle of it, okay?” Dash said, turning her frowning face at Twilight. “No one says that to my stallion, even if it’s just a… a trap, or whatever.”

“Our stallion, Rainbow,” Twilight said. “Let Lyra fight for him this time.”

Rainbow slowly broke her gaze from Twilight, and sighed. Our stallion, she thought, and feelings of love and friendship, of respect, and all the history they shared and the future they would travel together pushed away her desire to keep being mad at Lyra. Her mare. Our mare.

Dash stared down at Lyra. Lyra looked up (how does she always know?) and grinned. Dash let a grin grow across her own face, and she flew down to walk with Lyra, as Twilight followed behind.

She’s fighting for our stallion, Dash thought.


Of the twelve duels Rainbow Dash had seen Lyra fight in, not a single one lasted longer than five seconds. Dash doubted that this one would be any different. There used to be larger crowds when Lyra would duel with some pony, since she was their Still Way grandmaster, but they were always disappointed. They wanted a knock-down, drag-out fight, not a precise and quick takedown. So, over time, a Lyra duel didn't attract the attention it once did.

They were at the fields now, clover like a thick green carpet waving in the wind as Lyra and Berry Punch faced each other from ten paces apart. Dash and Twilight had landed on the ground, standing next to Nurse Redheart. The two wagons were parked behind them, the ambulance drivers still yoked; they had to be ready in an emergency.

Dash turned her mouth to Twilight’s ear and whispered through clenched lips, “Don’t talk or try to distract Lyra.”

Twilight did the same. “I know about duels, Rainbow.”

“From those old romance books, I bet,” Dash said.

The constable, Hot Pudding, took a glance at both contestants, and held an alarm clock in her hoof. “The first pony to be knocked unconscious, or to surrender, is the loser. The winner is not to continue attacking, or disqualification will result, and further bodily damage will result in jail time. The fight will begin in one minute, at the ringing of these bells.”


Arrows, let flown each to each/Meet midway and slice/The void in aimless flight/Thus I return to the source.

Lyra let her battle mantra flow through her, commanding her body to relax. Across from her Berry Punch stood on her hindlegs and cycled through the Drunken Hoof forms. Despite being quadruped, Berry Punch moved through the bipedal forms with willowy grace. Lyra wasn’t surprised, though. She is a grandmaster, after all. Lyra couldn’t help but wonder how Lero would take to this martial art. It seemed made for him.

Lyra let herself pick up potential magic, reading the world around her, and let it settle on Berry Punch. She could not be read, and Lyra smiled. Amazing magic defenses, she thought.

Lyra’s horn lit, and she probed Berry Punch. She felt Berry’s earth pony magic push against her unicorn magic. Berry Punch didn’t have the magic potential of her fellow earth ponies Pinkie Pie or Cheese Sandwich, but her fine control was remarkable. Once again, Lyra simply could not read Berry’s actions. Her chi was hidden, almost as if it was nonexistent.

Lyra grinned. This is going to be a challenge, she thought. She had fought fifteen duels since becoming a grandmaster, and had won every single one. She had defeated a Drunken Hoof practitioner before, but he was only an expert.

The last grandmaster she fought was a pegasus, five fights ago, and that had been a challenge, trying to grab hold of her as she pushed through the wind like a breeze of her own. She could read her, though. She couldn’t read Berry.

The alarm bell rang, and, unexpectedly, Berry completely dropped her defense.

Lyra had no time to wonder why Berry would make herself vulnerable. Sometime after the fight, when the mind had time to catch up with the memories, to browse through them like a photo album, Lyra could have sworn Berry winked at her.

Lyra instantly cast her magic, holding Berry’s hooves fast to the ground—

Berry leapt toward Lyra, her hooves dragging up clods of earth with her.

—and dual casted against Berry Punch’s head, pulling it back to introduce unconsciousness, like she had done to Honeydew years ago, but so much faster, instantaneously—

Berry’s head snapped back, and her eyes rolled up into the shades of her eyelids. In midair, her body twisted around, and her hindlegs swung in a destructive arc.

—Lyra cast again, her magic grabbing hold of Berry’s body, both a shield and a counterforce to stop Berry’s attack, and it shattered as Berry’s will pushed through it, a moving wall that couldn’t be scaled or broken.

If Lyra had the time, she would have been stunned at the power of Berry’s chi, and she would have thought, next time I’ll dodge.

Berry’s rear leg finished its journey and made contact with Lyra’s horn. Lyra’s head snapped back, and her body was pulled from the ground.

Berry’s body flipped over, now traveling head first after traversing Lyra’s body, and she landed on the ground with a thud like a meteor strike, and rolled over to a rest, her head pushed back at an unnatural angle. Berry opened her eyes, and said, “Ow.”

Lyra fell to the ground screaming.

She thrashed in the dirt, and her scream became gagging, bubbling in her throat like a witch’s cauldron. Seizures racked her body as her spittle turned to foam. Her eyes rolled up into her head as she violently arched her back. Another scream pierced the air like a siren from hell.

“Lyra!” Dash shouted, as she swooped over, her lips peeled back in fear and shared pain. Lyra screamed again, and Dash got close enough to see why; her horn was split, the break starting toward the front, two centimeters below the tip, and traveling toward the middle until it touched the root. Dash put her hooves around Lyra’s body, as hard and stiff as a statue.

“Oh goodness no!” Twilight said, as she landed next to them. She hooked a hoof around Lyra’s green hoof, and if pinched like a claw.

“Her horn!” Dash said. “Do something!”

“It will heal,” Twilight said. “But it broke while she was still casting magic! She’s in magic shock!”

“What does that mean!” Dash shouted.

Nurse Tenderheart, with a pegasus intern, arrived at the scene. Tenderheart removed her saddlebags and plopped them on the ground.
Tenderheart turned to the intern and said, “I need you to get the magic anesthesiologist right now!” The pegasus saluted and immediately took to the air, heading back toward the hospital.

She then reached into her bag and pulled out a jar full of a pearly balm. She popped the lid off, letting it land on the clover, and expertly launched dabs of it into the break in Lyra’s horn.

“This goes straight to the root,” Tenderheart said. Lyra’s entire body was rigid, her silent mouth open like the tomb of a dead scream.

“It’s nervous system disorder caused by magic,” Twilight said, her voice cracking in empathy. “She’s in so much pain right now. Only a trained unicorn can stunt it, but…” Twilight sniffled.

“But what?” Dash said, in a hushed voice.

"Her mind," Twilight said.

Lyra then did something no one had ever heard before, something Dash would never have expected this strong and awesome warrior to do—she whimpered. Dash’s heart broke.

“Oh, Lyra,” Dash said, not bothering to fight the tears rolling down her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away, and spared an angry glance at Berry Punch, ten meters away, as Nurse Redheart applied a splint to her neck.

A raspy moan broke from Lyra as new tears rolled down her cheeks, and Twilight held her free hoof over her own muzzle, her body shaking at what she was seeing.

Lyra screamed again, dying before it even left her throat, and Dash bit her lip, hoping to stop from crying. The nurse placed two splints on Lyra’s horn, and nodded thanks to Twilight when she used her magic to hold it in place. The nurse then wrapped gauze around Lyra’s horn.

“Can’t you do something about the pain?” Dash said.

“Not until the anesthesiologist gets here,” the nurse said, her voice strained. “Pardon me Princess Twilight, but could you work with this balm?”

“O-of course,” Twilight said, fighting back her own urge to just start bawling in emphatic pain. Her horn lit as she neatly pushed the balm into the crack of the horn. Twilight gasped.

“What!” Dash shouted, jumping to her hooves. “What now?”

“This… it’s so wild! I have to…”

Lero pushed between the two, putting his hands on Lyra’s cheeks, holding her face. Spike was behind him, trading concerned glances between Twilight and Dash.

“I got Lero, Twi,” Spike said. “What’s wrong?”

"Lyra,” Lero said, and Lyra’s eyes forced themselves to move to him. She whimpered again, and Dash looked away, shaking her head and gritting her teeth.

“All is ephemera. All fades away,” Lero said in a gentle and kind voice, looking into her eyes.

Lyra stuttered, “All i-i-is eph-f-f-f,” and she choked again.

Lero smiled, comforting, and said Lyra’s mantra back to her. Lyra repeated it, her heaving chest slowing, her red eyes managing to focus on Lero.

“—all returns to the source,” Lyra finished. Lero’s hands moved as he was about to stop cradling her head, but Lyra hooked a hoof around his wrist. His palm felt the canals in her fuzzy cheeks, dug by her tears.

“Thank you, Lero,” she said, almost breathless. She turned to the nurse and thanked her as well.

“Just doing my job, ma’am,” the nurse said with a salute.

Lyra smiled at her wives and Spike. “You guys better get in here and hug me.”

“Careful,” the nurse said, and Twilight and Dash rushed in, hugging Lyra. She wanted to kiss them, but abstained. She really needed to clean her face first.

“No hug, Spike?” Lyra said with a grin.

Spike folded his arms and looked away. “Maybe later,” he said, and Lyra quietly chuckled.

After the hugs were finished, Twilight levitated Lyra to move her into the ambulance, and Lyra felt that wonderful magic, magic that felt like reading a good book while drinking hot chocolate, envelop her body and gently place her in the wagon.

The other wagon pulled up alongside, and Berry Punch lifted her head, two eyes peaking over the edge like a peeping tom, and Dash had to fight an urge to just fly over there and buck that wagon over.

“You knocked me out, Lyra,” Berry said. “I guess that means you won. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Berry,” Lyra rasped with a raised eyebrow. Berry stared at her a bit more before lowering herself back into the wagon with a terse, “Ow.”

The driver pulled Lyra’s wagon behind Berry’s, and Lyra’s family walked alongside her. Lero felt a tug at his hand, and smiled as he placed his hand over the wagon, Lyra’s hoof holding it. She moved it to her chest, over her heart, and curled her hooves over it.

She looked at Twilight and Dash as they flew overhead, and looked for Spike but only saw the tips of his spines. She glanced up at Twilight and studied her face.

“You look confused,” Lyra said.

“Berry said you knocked her out,” Twilight said. “When did that happen?”

“The instant after she jumped, I knocked her unconscious,” Lyra said. She frowned in thought. “I get the feeling she purposely dropped her guard. I’ll need to talk to her about that.”

“Don’t waste your time,” Dash said with a sneer. “She’ll probably say something like ‘cuz I felt like it hurr durr’”.

Lyra let out a ‘heh’.

“But wait, I saw Berry Punch twist around to hit your horn,” Twilight said. “I felt her break through your magic shield.”

“She was still knocked out,” Lyra said, and confusion only deepened on Twilight’s face.

“You felt it, didn’t you, Dash?” Lyra said. “Her fighting spirit. Her will.”

Dash scoffed. No way would she say anything that could be seen as complimenting Berry Punch.

Lyra smiled hazy. “Berry Punch’s will is so powerful that she was able to finish her attack despite being completely unconscious.”

“But that’s impossible,” Twilight said.

Lero chuckled. “Twilight, I could write a book of impossible things I’ve seen here.”

“It’s her training,” Lyra said, looking at Dash as she spoke. “Martial artist training. All martial arts train the mind and spirit. Berry Punch’s willpower is astounding. It took me by surprise.”

“You still won,” Dash said.

Lyra tried to grin, but the pain made it a creaky rictus. “Another win like this would be the end of me.”

Dash only frowned, and looked away.


Those sensations and memories passed now, and Lyra didn’t even have to ponder on Dash’s question.

I’m not sacrificing anything, she thought. He’s the only stallion I want or need. It’s my dear girls that have to sacrifice. I’m going to be the villain here.

“I think we should reject his offer,” Lyra said.

“You feel that way too, huh?” Dash said, pawing at the rug. “It’s just… I mean…”

“You’d like another stallion or two.”

Dash nodded. “But it’s okay!” she said, striking a self-assured pose, hooves foursquare on the ground. “I love Lero more than anything. If someone told me he’d be the only stallion I’d ever have, I’d be happy.”

“He’s not the only stallion you want, though.”

Dash moved right into Lyra’s line of vision, snouts nearly touching. “What are you trying to prove, Lyra? That you’re better than me?”

Lyra sat down on the rug, lowering her profile in an attempt to calm Rainbow Dash.

“Don’t do that,” Dash said, as she lowered herself to sit in the same position. “You don’t need to. Just tell me what you’re trying to do.”

“If we decide not to let other stallions into this herd, then we’re going to have to live with that decision for a long time,” Lyra said. “Maybe for as long as were all together. We have to think carefully about the consequences of rejecting this offer.”

Dash looked up at Twilight, whose eyes were like tinted windows, not revealing what was inside. “Twilight,” Dash said, as she walked up and nuzzled her. Twilight’s body felt like it had deflated, and she leaned into Dash.

“We can’t do this to him,” Twilight said, tearfully.

“I’m sorry, Twi,” Dash said as she hugged her, and Lyra joined in as well. “You have to give up your dream,” but then Dash thought, Twilight can still have a large herd, but it will be after we’re long gone. Time and experience (and her friends) had mostly taught Dash not to spout off whatever was in her mind, and she kept this to herself.

“You guys are my dream,” Twilight said. She closed her eyes and rubbed her face against Dash’s neck. “I wanted a big herd to prove… to prove we could be happy,” and what showed itself in Lyra’s and Dash’s minds were the unspoken trauma of Twilight’s parent herd, and the problems she had with them. Instinctive insight into each other came from their shared history, and they both knew she wanted to prove her childhood experiences wrong. They felt all this despite Twilight’s simple words.

“Dash,” Lyra said. “You… your wanting to be in the Wonderbolts might not happen either.”

“What do you mean?” Dash said, as she pulled away, but she immediately realized the answer: The Wonderbolt’s sexually intimate team culture. Lero knew about it. He even compared it to an ancient army from his world that was also sexually intimate, an army that fought together and conquered.

This was something they always paced around, like a sleeping evil that no one should mention unless it woke up and destroyed everything. She figured she’d eventually have to discuss it, but it looked like even that had been decided for her, long before she thought she’d be ready.

“Then I won’t be a Wonderbolt,” Dash said, and the long dream that started in her fillyhood faded away. “I’ll just stay a reserve.”

The door opened and a blast of steam entered the hallway. Lero’s bare feet padded on the wooden floor as he entered his room, rubbing his short hair with a fluffy yellow towel, with a pink F.S. embroidered in a corner. He folded it and tossed it on his bedstand. Rainbow Dash’s feather hung from his ear.

He surveyed his mares with an arched eyebrow. “Well, I see some serious discussion has taken place.”

It was at this point that the tiny wave that had started when Rainbow Dash decided not to be a Wonderbolt turned into a tsunami and pounded against her heart. Oh gosh this isn’t supposed to hurt so much. I gotta hide it.

Twilight stepped forward. “We’re not going to accept your offer,” she said.

“Oh,” Lero said. He turned his head in confusion, studying each one of his mares.

“We saw how hard it was for you to just tell us it’s okay to herd with other stallions,” Dash said. “And it’s not okay! It’s not okay to do that to you.”

“Do what to me?”

“Lero, please don’t pretend you weren’t upset by the idea,” Twilight said. “We could tell how much it was affecting you just by your voice.”

Lero let out a long gust of air. “I’m sorry, girls.”

“Lero, stop,” Twilight said, as the other two mares were startled by the demanding tone of her voice. Dash wondered if some of the disappointment at not expanding the herd was making her snappish. It’s not fair to think that, Dash thought. “Come over here and sit down with us.”

Lero smiled in polite appeasement as he sat down on the rug, Twilight and Dash scooting up next to him, Dash placing a hoof on his knee while Twilight let a wing drape around his back. Lyra decided to let her two wives handle this discussion; they were the ones that had to give up the most.

“Lero, we love you,” Twilight said. “That will never change. Yes, we ponies—almost all of ponykind, not just the three of us here—are naturally polyamorous, and, yes, we are naturally inclined to herd with several ponies, mares and stallions, but,” and Twilight held up a hoof to silence any potential protest, “to let you hurt yourself wouldn’t just mean we’re awful herdmates, and awful lovers, but awful friends, too.”

Lero grasped Twilight Sparkle’s hoof, letting his fingers rub her frog (or what Lero, irritatingly to his mares, called a ‘hoofgina’). There were no nerve endings there, but Twilight felt the pressure of his precise fingers, always so comforting and warm.

“Girls,” Lero said. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me, that you’d… you’d go against your natural instincts just to make me happy. I can’t help but feel a little selfish here, that I get three wonderful, beautiful mares, but you only get one stallion. I don’t know how to pay you back.”

“Are you kidding?” Rainbow Dash said. “Dude, you’re the one who always sacrifices for us! I mean, think of all the things you’ve done to fit in with us ponies, like not eating meat so much, or acting certain ways to put us at ease, and learning how to read us.” And he can never see his family or land again. “It’s awesome, Lero—you’re awesome, so how about you let us sacrifice for you this time?”

“And we don’t think that way about being selfish,” Twilight said. She looked at Dash and Lyra with a smile. “It’s not just that I get a handsome, loving stallion; I get two wonderful and beautiful mares, too.”

“Me too!” Dash said.

“Same here,” Lyra said.

Lero managed a half-smile. “Girls, I promise I’ll be the best stallion I can be.”

“You already are, big guy,” Dash said, jumping in to hug him. Twilight giggled, and leaped in too.

“I’m just sorry it has to be this way,” he said, his voice muffled by Twilight’s fuzzy cheek.

“It’s okay, Lero,” Twilight said, rubbing her face on his, her eyes closed in pleasure. “I’ll keep researching to find a way we can have children. I promise.”

“And if I can ever get acclimated to the idea of another stallion, I’ll let you guys know first thing,” Lero said.

“Don’t force yourself,” Dash said, grinning. “You could be the only stallion I ever have, and I’d be the happiest mare alive.” Twilight and Lyra echoed her words.

Lyra waited, and pounced. “Rainbow Dash can’t be in the Wonderbolts.”

An angry frown whipped into Dash’s face, and she angrily stared at Lyra, who responded with a dreamy smile.

“I’m sorry Dash, but we don’t need to hide anything,” Lyra said.

“Why can’t,” and then realization hit Lero with an ache of sadness and guilt. “Oh Dash, I’m so sorry—”

“Stop!” Dash said, sticking a hoof on his lips. “Don’t say anything! Listen, I made that decision before we started talking. Giving up the Wonderbolts hurts, but I can cope with it. But loosing you? I might as well just lay down and die.”

Lero looped an arm around Dash’s shoulders, staring into her eyes as Dash tried to guess his secret thoughts. After a short while, Lero leaned in and kissed her nose, causing her smile to grow.

“Just put the dream on hiatus, Dash,” Lero said. “Like I said, maybe I can get use to the idea one day.”

“And like I said, you don’t have to,” Dash said. “Or something like that. Don’t you get it, big guy? You’re more important to me that getting into the Wonderbolts.” She made a cocky grin. “It’s not like I can’t still be in the reserves, anyway.”

After discussing some finer points, punctuated with yawns, the four agreed that the subject was talked out for now. They crawled into bed, emotionally spent, but with feelings of triumph.

We’ll always make this herd work, Dash thought with confidence, and pride in her herdmates. I know it.


Princess Celestia walked through the darkened halls of the Crystal Castle, enjoying the stillness of the cool morning before moving the sun across the sky and signaling another busy day.

Her and Luna had arrived in the city for a friendly visit to their fellow princess, Cadance. In fact, she was walking past Cadance and Shining Armor’s chambers, nodding politely to the guards, when the double door opened, and out of the darkness emerged Luna, with messy mane and tail. She used her magic to straighten her hair, and leisurely strolled toward her sister with a smile of deep gratification.

Of course, Celestia thought. She bowed formally. “Princess Luna,” Celestia said.

Luna bowed back. “Prudecess Celibatestia,” Luna said.

“A bit too forced, my dear,” Celestia said with a frown. The two walked to the balcony, the spell both had previously cast silencing their steps.

“Cadance was tickled pink to have the pleasure of my company,” Luna said.

“Luna, I am begging you, I am appealing to any love or respect you may have for me; please, please spare me the details. Or the summary. Or anything. Everything.”

“Oh sister, you don’t have to be so dramatic. Your wish is my command.” Luna kissed Celestia’s neck.

“Thank you,” Celestia said.

“You may want to wash where I just put my lips.”

Celestia’s growl turned into an exasperated scream as she teleported herself to her quarters. Fortunately the silencing spell stopped it from traveling down the hall. It stopped Luna’s hysterical laughter as well. It had been far too long since Luna had made Celestia lose her cool.


Gold and amber spilled across the sky as Celestia stood on the balcony in her guest room. Luna stood next to her, watching the sunlight’s parade.

“Will we be able to make it to Twilight’s play tonight?” Luna asked.

“I don’t see why not,” Celestia said. “We simply need to follow the plan when we arrive in Beavertron.”

The two entered the guest chamber, the early sunlight filtering through the crystals and coated the room in hues of gold and pink, like a forgotten but happy past.

“I truly hope this is the last one,” Celestia said. “The archons’ fetishlike use of numerology has this one as number seven, which means completeness in their belief system.”

“She will fall as the others have,” Luna said.

Celestia let sadness crawl across her features. “Just once, Luna, I would like one to join us, or at least not fight against us. The others we’ve either had to slay, or stand by as Tartarus dragged them into his deepest spheres.”

“You’re far too tenderhearted, Celestia,” Luna said, ice in her voice. “Perhaps I should remind you what she’s doing to our ponies. She deserves to be punished.”

“I hope I can let those poor ponies decide her fate,” Celestia said.

Luna remained silent. Celestia always suffered from terminal sentimentality, and Luna didn’t like to engage it.

A servant knocked at the door, announcing breakfast was ready. The princesses left the room to meet Princess Cadance and Shining Armor in the kitchen below.

8. Some Oneshots

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These are mature rated oneshots I posted in the Xenophilia forum. I decided to post them here instead of in Shotglass Oneshots due to their mature nature. Also included is a new story I wrote to pad out this meager for your enjoyment. These oneshots are ridiculous in nature (or stupid, if you prefer) and should in no way be considered canon to anything. They are their own stories.

Come Again?

In his bed, under the Ponyville night, Twilight’s moans of pleasure reached screaming level as she thrust against Lero, lying underneath her, his delicate fingers playing with her clitoris, her wetness spilling onto his belly. When she reached her peak, and passed it, Twilight reared her head back and shouted, “Oh Celestia, I’m coming!”


“You certainly are, my dear,” Celestia said, as she lay on the plush rug in her private quarters, riffling through the latest Drapery Explosions catalog. Hmm, that chintz design is quite vibrant.

Standing at the window, staring out into the night, Luna fluffed her wings. “Is somepony climaxing somewhere, sister?”

“Yes, and it happens to be our lovely Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia said, after taking a sip of her now cold chamomile. That zebra pattern is in bad taste.

After some silence, as Luna stared past her reflection, she said, “It would be nice if, perhaps, somepony would say my name during orgasm.”

Celestia turned to face Luna, and watched her dour reflection in the window. “I can help you, Luna dear.”


“Yes. I can leave subtle suggestions to direct those inclined to use our names during lovemaking.”

Luna turned to face Celestia. “But how?”

“Do not worry about the how,” Celestia said, with a soothing smile. “I have my ways.”

Luna let out a tiny smile, perceptible only to those who knew her well – in this case, just Celestia. “Thank you,” Luna said. “I know it’s a trifling thing with which to concern myself, but I do appreciate it.”

“You are very welcome,” Celestia said. Luna turned back to watch her night, hope in her heart. If she had just turned her gaze to a lower portion of the window, where Celestia was reflected, she would have seen that mischievous smile and realized her sister was up to no good.


The next morning, having stared intently into the mirror while panting heavily and slapping his penis against his belly, and then spurting semen against his reflection, Prince Blueblood shouted, “Oh Luna, I’m coming!”

Luna’s screams shook the entire castle.

Lero Helps Out

“H-harder!” Fluttershy squeaked. Lero thrust with greater force as Fluttershy pushed back into him, her tiny moans of pleasure reaching a crescendo. Her wings were fully erect, and Lero reached through the feathery valley to pull her mane.

Fluttershy gasped, and came hard. Lero slowed down his thrusting to match Fluttershy’s descending orgasm. Her wings deflated as she collapsed onto the floor of Lero’s living room, panting heavily. Lero squatted next to her.

“Fluttershy,” he whispered, “I'm pulling out now.”

“Okay,” Fluttershy said, between her now quieting gasps. He left the secret country of her warm and tender flesh, spilling some of her fluids onto the carpet. That was fine – he'd clean it later.

“You did great, Fluttershy,” Lero said. “I'd say best yet.”

“Thank you.” Fluttershy said. She reached up with her hooves to cradle his face and pulled him down into a gentle kiss. “It means so much that you’d help us out with this,” Fluttershy said. “I'm so glad we're such good friends. I love you very much.”

Lero smiled as the warmth flooded him. “I love you too, Fluttershy.”

As Fluttershy shakily got to her feet, self-consciousness made Lero coy. Forcing his way through his sudden embarrassment, Lero looked over to the couch and said, “Well Big Mac, what do you think?”

“I think it’s her best, too,” Big Mac said, as he hopped off the couch and approached the two. Fluttershy smiled as the two ponies nuzzled and kissed. “What do you think, Fluttershy?”

“I’m ready,” Fluttershy said, with no hint of hesitation.

Big Mac smiled broadly. “I think so, too. We'll do it tomorrow.”

Lero went to see them off, saying goodbye as they exited his house. At the threshold, Big Mac turned and kissed Lero on his cheek. “Thanks, my friend. I'm glad you're helpin’ us, too.”

“No problem,” Lero said with a forced smile. He managed to maintain his smile, still feeling Big Mac’s lips on his cheek, as he watched the new herd walk toward Fluttershy’s cottage.

Lero shut the door and rushed into the bathroom, using the back of his right hand to wipe Big Mac’s sloppy kiss off his face. He turned the hot water on full blast, slammed a bar of soap into a sponge, and thrust both under the hot water, rubbing them together until the sponge was hot and lathery. As soon as the sponge was ready, Lero proceeded to vigorously scrub his left arm up to the elbow.

Lero gets his Statue

“Oh Lero, it means so much that you’d help us out with this,” Twilight Sparkle said, shiny with a beaming smile. “You’re the best.”

Walking next to her on the long hallway that housed the officer’s quarters in the Crystal Castle, Lero forced a smile and said, “Hey, anything for my mares.”

They approached an apartment door, and Twilight pushed it open with her magic. Inside was Flash Sentry, sans armor, casually reading Stupendous Studs magazine while eating an apple. He saw the pair and hopped from his sofa with a smile.

“He came! Hi Lero, thanks for being here!”

“No problem,” Lero said, forcing yet another smile as Flash hugged him, Lero laughing nervously as he patted his back, and then Flash kissed Twilight Sparkle.

They followed him into the bedroom, where he hopped on the blue satin sheets. Twilight used her magic to remove her regalia, and jumped on the bed with him.

Lero dug off his shoes and scooted onto the bed.

“You’re not taking your clothes off?” Flash asked.

“No, he’s just coaching today,” Twilight said.

“Oh, I really appreciate it,” Flash said. “I can’t last longer than twelve seconds. I think it’s because of my monstrously huge penis.”

"Anything to help," Lero said through clenched teeth.

“Get over here, you!” Twilight said, dragging Flash with her magic. They embraced, and kissed deeply, their tongues battling like rival wrestlers.

Okay, that’s kinda hot, Lero thought. Maybe this won’t be so hard after all.

Seconds later, Flash’s penis escaped its sheath and unfurled in all its glory. Lero’s mind boggled. It had to be thirty-one centimeters long, ten centimeters longer than the average stallion (and twice the length of his own).

“Okay, I’m ready,” Flash said.

“Wha-? Oh, okay,” Twilight said, and finally Lero cracked a genuine smile. Twilight was used to long foreplay (courtesy of him), but stallions rarely spent much time on it; they only spent enough time to get hard.

“Twilight, are you wet yet?” Lero asked.

“Yes, I’m good!” Twilight said. She turned around and lifted her tail, and Flash Sentry grappled with her flanks.

“Okay, enter slowly,” Lero said, and Flash followed those instructions with fluttering eyelids. It took a long time for him to hilt.

“Ohhhh yessss,” Twilight said, as she laid her head on the bed spread and lolled her tongue out. Lero grunted and clutched his chest. She never did that with him.

“S-something wrong, Lero?” Twilight asked, her body jutting forward and backwards with each thrust.

“Just indigestion,” Lero said, and Twilight’s response was, “Ohhh Celestia yes.” Her magic grabbed Lero’s hand and moved it to her mouth, where she bit down and moaned on it. Lero felt a little more heartened after that.

“Flash, thrust with your legs, not your hips,” Lero said. “And don’t go so fast! This isn’t a competition. Take it slow at first, to see if you can handle it.”

“Okay,” he breathed, and followed Lero’s instructions. He opened his eyes and glanced at the clock on the wall.

“Fourteen seconds!” Flash said with a gasp and a grin. “It’s working!”

“That’s gre-”

“Oh gosh I’m about to come!” Flash said.

“Relax yourself,” Lero said. “Don’t think about that pressure. Breathe and relax, maybe think about something else. Uhh, food or something.”

Flash closed his eyes and slowed down his thrusting, letting out a long sigh. He gasped and opened them again. “It passed! I didn’t come!”

“Good work,” Lero said, and, without thinking, he placed a congratulatory hand on Flash’s withers.

“Oh!” Flash said, as he came, speeding up his thrusts while Twilight gasped and writhed, Flash shooting his seed deep inside her.

Lero slowly removed his shaking hand, and curled it into a fist. He hid it behind him and unfurled and furled, working the tension out.

The two ponies parted, Twilight laying on her side with her tongue lolling out, having dropped Lero’s bite-marked hand, and Flash sat on his haunches breathing heavily. He looked at the clock.

“Twenty four seconds!” He said. “Twice as long as normal! Thanks Mr. Lero!”

“Uhhh, you’re welc-ack!” Flash jumped him and hugged him tight. Lero performed an amazing act of agility and speed by twisting his body out of the way of Flash’s deflating penis.

He succeeded in avoiding the dreaded appendage. Damn I’m smooth, he thought, but then, one tear of semen dripped out of Flash’s urethra, and landed on Lero’s pants leg with a sticky slap.

Lero went temporarily insane.

Twilight, breathing heavily, looked up in confusion. “Did someone just break a window?”


From her private quarters, Cadance leafed through her copy of Melting Mares magazine. She looked up toward a specific direction of the castle, and arched an eyebrow. She stood up with a growing grin and sauntered into her royal closet.


Lero walked down the hallway with clenched teeth as he dragged his leg behind him as if it was lame.

Shit shit shit don’t let it touch my skin, he thought, as he tried his best to pretend he couldn’t smell it’s muskiness oh god it’s right there kill me now.

He made it to his quarters with a whimper, and, with as much maneuvering as possible, negotiated the pants down his legs, and dropped them in the garbage can. He grabbed a matchbook from his bed table and lit a match and dropped it in, and then two, then three, then four before tossing the matchbook aside, the red cover reading Moonlight Café along with a drawing of an unfortunately smug mare with a chef’s hat looking on.

He dashed into the bathroom, tossing his clothes aside, and jumped into the shower, turning the hot water on and scrubbing the offending bit of flesh with sponge and soap. Oh god I can still feel it on me he thought, as his tender peach colored flesh turned red. Deep down, he knew he was being ridiculous, but he didn’t care. As far as he was concerned, he had a right to be.

He smelled smoke, screamed, and launched himself out of the shower. He grabbed the garbage can and its fiery contents and dumped it under the spray, water-logging the ashes and burnt cloth.

He turned off the water and observed the soggy stew whirlpooling in the garbage can.

You know what? The maids can take care of this, he thought.

He stumbled back into the bedroom, and observed the darkening evening through the curtains. Might as well, he thought. He was going to be alone tonight.

He crawled into the bed naked, not feeling like dealing with clothes, and flung his arm over his eyes to hide the harsh evening light. He let out a long sigh. Twilight had to meet with some batpony dignitaries. Batponies were nocturnal, so he wouldn’t be seeing her tonight. Lyra had traveled to Cloudsdale to visit with Rainbow Dash, who was stationed there with the Wonderbolts. They were supposed to meet up tomorrow morning, Dash starting her two weeks leave. He wanted to go there to be with her, but Twilight asked him to accompany him, which he was more than happy to do. Besides, considering the Wonderbolts, he knew what Dash and Lyra were getting up to.

This shouldn’t be so hard, he thought. I’m doing it for my girls. He knew they had all taken lovers after their agreement, and while the thought didn’t bother him, actually seeing it happen had a different effect on him. It actually made him sad.

Suddenly, a weight appeared on top of him. He frowned and removed his arm, opening his eyes.

Cadance was sitting on him, her rump facing his direct line of sight. She was looking at him with sultry eyes and bitten lip. Her pink hair was let down, accentuating her black lace choker and the pearl dangling on the hollow of her throat. Her legs were covered in black fishnet stockings, and she wore a tiny black bustier on her lower croup, the straps dangling oh so suggestively over her rump.

“Hey stud,” Cadance said in a husky voice. “How about you let me… cage that tiger?” She flicked her tail over, and exposed her pink fleshiness. She winked at him, creamy, pearly, and deep.

“Grrrr,” she said.

Lero’s grin almost split his face.


He met up with his mares the next morning at the royal dining room.

“I am totally starving!” Dash said, sitting next to him as bits of pancake fell out of her overstuffed mouth. “I’m so glad food was waiting for me after that long train ride. Ugh, we should have just flown.”

“I don’t like heights,” Lyra said, sitting on the other side of Lero, nibbling on scrambled egg.

“Yeah, yeah,” Dash said, dismissing her with a hoof flop.

“Well, I’m just glad to have you girls back,” Lero said, hugging them both. They took turns kissing him, and Lero got a little bit of Dash’s pancake.

“Hey, I can tell, big guy,” Dash said. She swallowed her food and winked. “You’ve been smiling since you got here. You’re really relaxed.”

“Yeah,” he said, dreamily. “I just feel really good this morning. Twilight, how are you holding up?”

“Great!” Twilight said, bags under her drooping eyelids. “The negotiations were a success! But I’m going to sleep on the train when we leave for Ponyville.”

“Well, I have a lap waiting for you,” Lero said, patting his lap. Twilight blushed and smiled, eyes full of love.

“Mr. Lero,” Shining Armor said at the entrance.

“Hi Shiny!” Twilight said, waving in her delirium.

Lero wiped his hands on a cloth napkin as Shining Armor, face hard, marched to him. Guards were crowding at the entrance to the dining room, watching closely.

“Did you have sex with my wife?” Shining Armor asked.

Lero turned to face him and said, “All night long.”

Shining turned to the guards and said, “He’s the one!”

The guards cheered as confetti burst into the room. For the first time ever, Shining Armor hugged Lero.

“Uhh,” Lero said.

“Lero, thank you so much!” Shining Armor said. “I love my wife more than anything, but, she’s just totally insatiable!”

“Yeah!” One of the guards said. “I mean, she just prowls the halls and grabs one of us to have sex with her! It’s just so tiring, you know?”

“Okay... what does this have to do with me?” Lero asked.

“For the first time ever, she’s completely satisfied!” Shining Armor said. “It’s been-” he checked the dining room clock, “-seven hours since you two finished that sex marathon, and she hasn’t grabbed a single one of us to satisfy her carnal needs!”

“I was actually able to visit my herd!” a guard said.

“My penis stopped hurting!” another said.

Lero checked with his mares. At first, their mouths were hanging open at the news, but now they grinned at Lero. Their pride in their stallion was obvious.

“And don’t worry, Lero! Your accomplishment won’t be forgotten.”

“Well, I'm fine if its-”

“We’ve built a statue in your honor.”

Lero sat up straight in surprise and worry. “Well... that’s nice, but I don’t need a statue.”

“I appreciate your modesty,” Shining Armor said, “but it’s already built. I mean, building statues is our thing, you know. Let’s go see it!”

With a churning stomach, Lero followed Shining Armor and his guards to the castle exit. His mares followed behind.


Lyra arched her eyebrow in delight. Dash was snickering and giggling. Twilight had her hooves over her blushing face as she fought against her wings springing erect.

“What do you think?” Shining Armor asked.

Lero, frozen stiff, stared up at his giant form carved in crystal. The statue was fully naked, and fully erect.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Lero said, putting his hand on his head in disbelief, “but my penis isn’t that big.”

“Oh, you don’t understand, Lero,” Shining Armor said. He rose on his rear legs and placed his forelegs on Lero’s shoulders. Shining Armor’s eyes radiated sincerity and gratitude.

“Your penis is that big in our hearts.”

Twilight grimaced, and looked around. “Why do I keep hearing windows breaking?”


They took a first-class ride back to Ponyville, where they had their own private cabin, cushioned and facing each other. Twilight rested with her head in Lero’s lap, purring contentedly as he stroked her mane. Lyra and Rainbow Dash sat opposite.

Twilight raised her head and asked in a sleepy voice, “So Lero, I bet Cadance was the best sex you ever had.”

“She was good,” Lero said. “But you girls are better.”

The mares hooted and chortled at him, Dash saying, “Yeah right!” and Twilight saying, “We know better than to believe that.”

Lero shrugged and smiled. Yes, Cadance was the best sex he ever had. But that didn’t matter. He preferred his mares. He’d always prefer his mares.

And, deep down, he knew his mares would always prefer him.

9. The Last Visit

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Air rushed in, actual atmosphere, for the first time in a long time, as he woke up. She was there now, having stepped from the land she had escaped to, a land founded so long ago by ponies with skills like hers; and she took him, hooves curling over hooves, and he felt great joy.

Another was there, shouting at them, but she was far away now, and it didn’t matter; he and she were for each other now.

He and she looked at the other, and the other was still talking, but it couldn’t matter. They were already of that other world, and this mundane world could not intrude. Even now as it screamed at their intrusion, they were protected.

She led him away, and the world was back to normal, rushing in to fill a vacuum of spirit.


Berry Punch stared at the empty bed, suddenly more apparent than it had been in a long time. The house hummed with reality now, as if it had always been a living creature but too timid to make itself known.

Berry managed to make her way outside. In her head, she was punching a hole in every wall, breaking beams, tearing up the foundation. She imagined the house collapsing on her, and could see herself punching and kicking through the rubble, as family pictures tore and frames broke, as old furniture that was there when she was born ripped and shredded, and the image of her past being destroyed around her couldn’t leave her mind, even as she finally stepped out, an hour later, onto the Ponyville station; the first arriving train of the day.


Cheerilee huffed when she woke up, not just because it was earlier than she wanted (no gradual waking up like a slow dance between her and Saturday morning, no happy realization that she was off today), but because she knew who was in the bed with her.

“Berry, why are you here?”

“Mom came and got dad,” Berry said.

Cheerilee struggled over to the lantern next to her bed, lit it, and turned to the sleepytime interloper.

Berry Punch was on top of the covers, pulling them too tight over Cheerilee’s body, facing the wall. The momentum of her hoof swinging over the edge was causing the bed to sway like a boat on a gentle sea.

Cheerilee touched her, images from childhood of the warm cottage passing through as cozy nostalgia.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said.

“I asked mom to look at me,” Berry said. “When dad woke up, I shouted it at them, but they acted like I wasn’t even there.”

Cheerilee pushed the covers off of her and checked her wall clock. Might as well call it a morning, she thought, as she untangled the covers from her hindlegs and tumbled out of bed.

“Berry, come with me to the kitchen,” she said. “Let’s get some hot cocoa.”

Berry said, “Yeah,” but didn’t move.


She moved eventually, and was now sunk in a plush chair, the red wool blanket thrown over the headrest bright against the chintz design. On the side table was her mug of hot chocolate, steamy and untouched.

Cheerilee lay across from her in a bundle of pillows. She spent most of her workday seated, so being able to lay around was a great comfort to her. Its how ponies were supposed to “sit”, anyway.

It was now, after the initial message, that Cheerilee felt a mix of sadness and anger at her aunt and uncle over their treatment of their daughter. Those two powerful emotions were enough to quench any sort of vicarious triumph at the reunion of those two lovers.

“Are you sure... maybe they didn’t hear you,” Cheerilee said.

“They looked at me when I shouted at them,” Berry Punch said, her gaze off somewhere beyond the simple walls of Cheerilee’s cottage, to some place she could feel but not see. “Both of them. It was like I was interrupting something important, like... like I was a kid walking in on them talking about bills. Then they looked at each other, smiled, and walked to wherever mom went when mother died.” Mother being Double Mint, the other member of the small herd.

Berry finally took her hot cocoa, held it in both hooves and took a sip. She held the mug as her eyes roved across the floor, stopping at the fringe of a scarlet rug.

“Berry,” Cheerilee said, gently. “Look at me.”

Berry moved only her eyes. She took a sip of cocoa. “Now what?”

“No matter how your parents treated you, that doesn’t take away your value as—”

“Yeah, you can stop now,” Berry said. “I’m not one of your students.”

Cheerilee raised an eyebrow and rolled her mug in her hooves, the inside stained dark brown from the cocoa dregs. Berry’s eyes drifted toward that same invisible spot she had been studying before.

“Cheers, I, uh... I seem to be kind of rudderless right now.”

Cheerilee pushed her empty mug to the side. “I thought that’s what you wanted.”

“I wanted control over my own rudder,” Berry said. “I don’t seem to know what to do with the thing. I slap it against my belly but nothing comes out.”

“Berry, please,” Cheerilee said, her disapproval obvious.

Berry put her half empty mug on the side table, and lay across the arms of the chair, her mane sweeping against the floor as she viewed Cheerilee’s cottage upside-down. “Gravity doesn’t work in here from now on. It’s a new rule. We’re actually on the ceiling now.”

“Let’s get to the point,” Cheerilee said. “You wanted to be the aimless vagabond, with no destiny, and now you don’t know what to do with yourself. It turned out you’re a pony after all.”

Berry rolled on the armrests like a log and landed on the floor with a thud. She laid on her side and faced Cheerilee.

“If you had my destiny, you wouldn’t want it either,” Berry said. “I’d rather feel what I feel right now, than to be back... than to follow what my cutie mark tells me.”

Cheerilee’s tail swished, rubbing on the pillows and sounding like a brush on a snare drum. “Could you tell me what it was about?”

“No,” Berry said. “Not yet.”

“Have you told Minuette? Anyone?”

“Nope. Well, I told Princess Celestia, and Princess Luna knows too.”

Cheerilee sat up. “You told them?”

“Sent Princess Celestia a petition,” Berry said. “They’re taking care of it tonight.”

“My goodness,” Cheerilee said. “I had no idea it was really that serious.”

“Yep,” Berry said. She rolled onto her back.

I guess that conversation is over, Cheerilee thought.

“Well, are your feelings of listlessness the reason you fought Lyra?”

Berry rolled her head over to face her. “You gonna give me grief over that?”

“No, it was a sanctioned fight, and she agreed to it, but really, how could you say such an awful thing to Lero?”

Berry grinned. “I actually didn’t say that at all.”

Cheerilee huffed. She knew her cousin well enough to guess at the true story. “Who said that to him?”

“No idea. I heard about it years ago, at a restaurant here. He was telling some of his friends what happened. They were pretty upset.”

“With good reason!”

“He wouldn’t say who said it, though. I figured it was Pinkie Pie.”

“So you pretended to say it to start a fight,” Cheerilee said, ignoring Berry’s ridiculous suggestion of Pinkie Pie, “even though you could have simply challenged Lyra straight out.”

“It was Dash I wanted to fight.”

“Whatever.” She stood up and scooped her empty mug with one hoof, and took it to the kitchen. She was surprised when she saw Berry follow, holding her own mug.

Cheerilee started washing the mugs, but Berry’s presence wasn’t letting her cool down. She shut off the water with a hard slap against the lever.

“Berry, why do you act this way? You can be the town weirdo, or whatever contrarian silliness you’re up to, without being obnoxious about it. Do you know how many ponies have passed that story about what you said?”

Berry shrugged. “I don’t care what they think about me.”

A strangely mournful look passed over Cheerilee. “I really wish you would. Did Lyra’s herd say anything about it?”

“Twilight Sparkle and Lero Macishedlidides visited me in the hospital.”

“Oh?” Cheerilee said. She returned to the living room and laid back on the pillows. Cheerilee wanted Berry to lay next to her, but she didn’t bother to ask, and instead watched her shuffle back to her seat. “Details, please.”


Berry Punch lay in the hospital bed, the potions working their dulling effect on her neck, now in a brace, staring up at the ceiling, not really thinking of anything as she floated through the haze of her painkillers, when Lero and Twilight Sparkle entered the room.

Berry turned just enough to see Lero carrying a vial holding a rich green liquid, sitting on a nurses tray. “You’ll have to denude me,” she said, “because I’m totally nuded right now.”

“What?” Twilight said. “Oh, denature. Um, are you sure you want that? How much pain do you have?”

“Not enough pain in my heart,” Berry said. She laughed. “Heart’s head.”

Lero picked up the vial, and gently put it her her lips. Berry swallowed it, her eyes trying to focus on Lero but bouncing around like a failed shot on a carrom board.

“Lero, do you think we should come back later?” Twilight said.

“She can deal with it,” Lero said, low toned and neutral.

“Yeah Purple Drank, lisshten to the to the handsome monkey he’s a hopstial,” Berry said. “Hopppppssssital.” She blinked. “Ow.”

“Can you deal with the pain?” Lero said, as he sat back down, placing a hand on Twilight as a signal not to pursue the ‘monkey’ slur.

“Yeah, as long as I don’t turn my head,” Berry said, turning to look at them. “Ow. How’s Lyra?”

Lero folded his arms and looked at some hazy space next to Berry. “She’ll heal. In good spirits.”

“Berry, why did you lie about what you told Lero?” Twilight said.

This wasn’t why they were here, and Berry knew it.

They were here to let lose the emotions stopped up in them from the fight, the anger, the confusion, the left over fear from Lyra’s wound, all of it. The words didn’t matter, the subjects didn't even matter; they were only signals representing what they felt. Ponies, Berry thought. They got Lero playing along, too.

Berry showed no reaction. “To start a fight with Rainbow or Lyra, I guess.”

“You guess?” Lero said, looking at her. “You mean you don’t know?”

“I mean I don’t know.” Berry said. She locked his gaze, and a tiredness suddenly draped over her eyes as her neck throbbed. Her eyes wavered. “It’s something I did without reflection.”

“But why?” Twilight said, the force behind the question causing her to hop out of her seat and spread her wings. “Why did you?”

“Is this a royal inquisition? I’ll need a lawyer.”

Twilight immediately clamped her wings shut and sat back down. “Please don’t think of me as being a princess right now. I’m just a concerned member of herd Bellerophon, wondering why one of Ponyville’s citizens acts in such a bizarre and, well, dangerous manner.”

“Yeah, okay, I signed... did I call you a monkey? I’m sorry, Lero.”

“You called me a handsome monkey,” Lero said with a sardonic smirk; the first time he showed any expression that wasn’t a low current of tenseness.

“Do I need to apologize for the handsome part?”

Lero shook his head. “You were on painkillers, so you don’t have to apologize for anything. Apology accepted, though.”

“Thank you. Anyway, that form was notarized by the constable. It’s a sanctioned fight, Lyra agreed to it, so...”

“Maybe I don’t like you trying to hurt my mares,” Lero said.

“Fight, Lero,” Berry said. “If I had known it would upset you this much, I wouldn’t have started it in the first place.” She delicately turned to face the ceiling, adjusting pressure on her neck. “Ow. I was knocked out before I even left the ground.”

There was silence in the room, only the trotting of nurses and doctors in the hallway outside the door seeped in.

“I’m sorry we’re talking about this right now,” Twilight said. “Maybe we should have waited when you were completely better.”

“Naw, its fine. It keeps my mind off the pain. The pain in my heart.”

“Do you have a pained heart, Berry?” Twilight asked.

“What?” Berry turned over, this time rotating her whole body. “Of course not.”

“It’s the second time you’ve mentioned it. It’s just... if you want to talk about it, I’m here.”

Berry squinted. “Has Princess Celestia spoken to you?”

Twilight did a poor impression of a poker face, and she knew Berry saw through it. “Well, she said you had something you may want to talk about. She wouldn’t give me the details.”

Lero looked surprised. “You spoke to Celestia?”

First name basis, huh? Berry thought. “I sent her a petition concerning activities in my parents’ hometown.” Berry made a disapproving hum. “Wow, that was snobby sounding. I mailed a letter about stuff going on where my dad’s house is.” Affecting an uppercrust Trottingham accent, Berry said, “I expostulated a missive on uncanny occurrences befouling the hamlet of my fillyhood.”

“On what, exactly?”

“...I’ll tell you later, maybe,” Berry said. “If you want me to talk to you.”

“I’ll listen to anypony that wants to talk to me,” Twilight said, in her best soothing tone. “Especially if Celestia asked me too.”

There’s the trick, Berry thought, and now her neck pain became too intrusive, and she grit her teeth, careful to keep her lips closed. She gained control, and said, “Listen-”

“Before I came over here, I was going to tell you to stay away from me and my herd,” Lero said. “I don’t care about the specifics, or legality, or whatever of the fight. I don’t want to see any one of my mares ever hurt like that again. And I especially didn't want to see the mare who did it.”

Berry’s eyes slowly raised. She didn’t know what to say about that. The pain was creeping in on her now, scratching bone and torching nerve endings.

Twilight touched Lero with a wing and turned to Berry. “I talked him out of it,” Twilight said.

“Ponies are a great deal more forgiving than I’m used to,” Lero said. If there was a clue to tide of emotion drifting in him, Berry couldn’t see it. Lero wasn’t nearly as readable as ponies were, anyway. He had no tail, his eyes were a lot smaller, and his ears didn’t move. But the way he stared at her was clue enough.

Berry controlled her breathing, as anger sprouted in her heart, a strong emotion she didn’t need if she wanted to concentrate through her pain. I did nothing wrong Lyra agreed it was signed approved get out

“I’m sorry,” Berry said. Under the covers, her hoof grabbed the bedspread, and shook. This isn’t fair.

Lero’s eyes moved to the wall before returning to Berry. “I forgive you,” he said, his own fight similar to Berry’s, a secret fight neither of them knew about the other. “But it’s Lyra you need to apologize to.”

“Yeah,” Berry said, “I will.” And now, most horribly, she felt both eyes tear up. “I’m sorry, but I’m really hurting right now, and I need some of that potion.” To her dismay, ignoring her wants and will, both tears escaped.

Twilight gasped. “Oh gosh, Berry, I’m so sorry!” She hopped out of her chair and used her magic to levitate the glass vial glowing purple from the anti-pain medication. She poured it into Berry’s mouth. She swallowed in silence.

“We shouldn’t have come right now. I’m sorry!”

“S’okay, didn’t see how bad it was,” Berry said. She rolled over onto her back, watching the ceiling.

“We’ll leave you alone now,” Twilight said. “I wish you a speedy recovery.”

“Thanks,” Berry forced out. “Give Lyra my regards.”

“We will,” Lero said. He hesitated at the door, trying to figure out some appropriate goodbye. “Thanks for listening to us.”


Twilight and Lero paused, watching Berry.

Still looking at the ceiling, Berry said, “If you ever have to choose... between the dictates of your heart and the dictates of your head... then good luck. They both suck.”

“Well, thanks for that,” Lero said, his tone touched with darkness, as if he already knew exactly what Berry was talking about.

They both left. They may have said something else, but Berry was diving into the misty land of dulled senses, and so didn’t hear anything.


“Are you telling me,” Cheerilee said, ears flattened in irritation, “they came over just to chew you out?”

“It wasn’t like that,” Berry said. “They were concerned for me, but their herd stuff comes first. Which is how I guess it’s supposed to be.”

Berry Punch had told her story while sitting on the chair upside-down, her mane splayed over the carpet while her hindlegs crossed against the headrest. She righted herself, and sunk into the cushion. Cheerilee looked at her cousin and couldn’t help but think of her as suffering a sort of defeat of the soul.

“They were more concerned about your actions,” Cheerilee said. “I mean, that’s not the best time to talk to you.”

“Emotions riding high, I guess,” Berry said. She was over the whole ordeal. She was surprised at how sickened she felt at apologizing for something she didn’t think she should apologize for, at least at the time, but now she was fine with it; it was to smooth over relations—

“Huh,” Berry said, frowning.


“Nothing.” She hopped out of the chair. “Thanks for listening at a bad time. I owe you lunch.”

“Wait, Berry,” Cheerilee said, pushing herself up from her bed of pillows, rising like a flower from a thatch of leaves. She trotted over and nuzzled her cousin, who returned the gesture.

“Your parents were wrong to treat you like they did,” Cheerilee said, finishing her sentence with a gulp. “I’m sorry that happened.”

“Well, me too. But they’re together again.” Berry said this evenly, but turned away as she spoke.


They were outside now, the early dusk signaling the sunrise, and Cheerilee figured she might as well get this day over with instead of going back to bed. It wasn’t like she couldn’t take a siesta anyway. She couldn’t help but furrow her brow at Berry; she still insisted on doing things in the most unponylike way.

“You should talk to Minuette,” Cheerilee said. She trotted up next to the slowing Berry. “Pack a bag, go to Canterlot for a couple of days. With what’s happened to you recently... just go talk to Minuette.”

Berry turned to face Cheerilee. “I could stand to get out of Ponyville,” she said. “I don’t know about that telling Minuette anything, though.” Maybe if Celestia and Luna take care of it, she thought.

“Just a thought,” Cheerilee said. They hugged goodbye. Cheerilee went back inside to start her precious weekend. Berry Punch trotted toward the train station to check the schedule, before heading home to pack.

She still imagined herself destroying that old house.

10. Confrontation

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The lanterns were lit in the Ponyville Tea Room, as the last remnants of the sun fell over the valley. Directly opposite, the moon began its nightly journey, huge and full, as it cast pale light against the long shadows of Ponyville. Lero sat across from Twilight Sparkle, who fiddled with her teacup, the spoon, a bowl of cream, her mane, and pretty much anything within her sight. Two sugar cubes floated in the air in front of her, her magic manipulating them into different shapes; mostly platonic solids.

“You’re certainly nervous,” Lero said, stirring his tea.

“Yes!” Twilight said, standing up and slapping her forehooves on the table, the two sugar cubes (both dodecahedrons) rolling on the table. “Oh gosh, yes! I mean, it’s so different than any play ponies have ever seen, and I don’t know if they’ll respect it, or if the scenery we have is going to fit, and then Thunderlane hitting on every pony-”

“You know what, I regret asking that now,” Lero said. He scooted around the table to sit next to Twilight, taking her hoof in his hand. “This play will be a smashing success. I’m sure every pony will love it, and you’ll be hailed as the greatest producer of your generation.”

“Oh please, Lero,” Twilight said with a giggle. “I’m just venting. I have trust in all of the theatre crew.”

She launched into Lero with a hug, letting the tips of her wings trail across the back of her neck. Rainbow Dash wasn’t there to get on to her for public displays of affection, so she did this without fear. Let them watch, Twilight thought. I love my stallion, and he loves me.

“Lero, I’m heading on. I’ll see you after the play.”

“Good luck,” Lero said. He wasn’t sure if ‘break a leg’ was a common idiom in Equestria, and he didn’t want to go into a long explanation, or, even worse, put bad images in Twilight’s mind.

She gave him a peck on the lips, and trotted out of the tearoom. The waitress nodded, while the barista waved goodbye.

Lero drank the dregs of his tea, made a noise of satisfaction, and left the tearoom.


It was at the mid-point on the road back to the castle (where his family and friends were meeting—they were all going to Ponyville theatre together) when Lero found himself lost to the darkness of a draconequus.

“Welly welly welly welly well,” Discord said, complete with bowler hat and cane. “To what do I owe this surprise visit?”

“I’ll never get used to you using pop culture references from my world,” Lero said, shaking his head. “It’s strange to hear them here.”

“I think you mean our world, friendo,” Discord said, snaking around to plant a paw on Lero’s shoulder. Lero remained stone faced. Discord was always talkative and friendly when they were alone, but the instant another one of their shared friends were around, he’d suddenly treat Lero as if he were a stranger (”Oh, the biped wants to come along too.” “Hmm, it looks like... Leroy? Leero is listening in.”), if not just outright ignoring him altogether. He was grateful that Twilight called Discord out on it, though Discord predictably denied it.

“I don’t remember any draconequuses back home.”

“Perhaps, but I’m sure you knew of me. Don’t worry yourself about it; you wouldn’t understand the answer.”

Lero tried to keep his face blank, not letting his act of searching his memory to show as a furrowed brow or raised eyes. “Know you personally?” he asked.

“Of course not personally,” Discord said. “But, if you must, have a riddle!”

Great, Lero thought.

Discord cleared his throat, and said:

Guardian of the chamber
sorting quick from slow.
With the Law I do tamper
that makes chaos grow.

“I await your inevitable disappointment when you decipher the riddle,” Discord said, tapping his heels.

“That’s an odd self-disparaging remark,” Lero said. “Not what I’d expect from you.”

Discord shrugged. “I am vast, I contain multitudes.”

“Hmm,” Lero said. “Well, be seeing you.”

He started his walk to the castle again, and was painfully aware that Discord was tagging along.

“You won’t get rid of me that easily, number 6,” Discord said. “I’m meeting Fluttershy and assorted at the castle as well.”

Wonderful, Lero thought. “I didn’t know you were interested in seeing the play.”

“Why wouldn’t I? Me and ‘ol froggy-eyes go way back. I’d love to see how Twilight ruins Huis Clos.”

“I’m sure Twilight will do just fine,” Lero said, irritated at himself for rising to the bait.

“Oh sure, sure,” Discord said, as he floated past Lero, an inflatable blue raft carrying him on whatever invisible pool he traveled on. He dipped his claw off of the side, the sound of splashing water clear and ringing.

“Dear, lovely, bookish, Princess Twilight Sparkle. Twily, Twily, Twily. Hmm.”

Lero mentally braced himself for whatever jackassery Discord had planned.

“I wonder if she’s thought of the full implications of her transformation,” Discord said, as he rubbed a bottle of moontan lotion on his furry chest. “Living on while her friends and loved ones die.”

“I hope to have a talk with her about it,” Lero said.

“Could you imagine how upset she would be, seeing the aging and death going on around her while she doesn’t change? Why, I bet she’d be so distraught, she might even instrumentality an entire ponykind!”

Lero sighed, despite himself. “Discord, let me handle it. I’m going to talk to Lyra and Dash on how, or even if, we should approach the subject.” I’m probably the only one worried about this, Lero thought. Maybe Twilight’s thought through all this already, and dealt with it.

“So you say,” Discord said, putting on an oversized pair of sunglasses and holding a tanning reflector to his face. He floated on, keeping pace with Lero, as he walked to the castle.


There was no fanfare when Celestia and Luna flew into Beavertron. Many spells had been cast to make their arrival as stealthy as possible. They cast no shadows despite being in the soft light of the full moon. Their hooves beat against the grassy park without indention and made no sound, and anypony who happened to be there that night wouldn’t even notice a shimmer as the two passed, though they may have felt a gentle warmth if they walked through them.

“My word,” Luna said, her words in Celestia’s mind instead of her ears, “do you feel the wrongness of this town? It literally shouldn’t exist.”

“This is a mimic city,” Celestia said, unfolding her wings, beating against air that didn’t even move the grass beneath their hooves. “Can you see its feeding?”

Luna cast her spells and probed at the city she was in. The ley lines did not shine gold with good health, but were green and diseased as they were twisted by the town, which cast them into neighboring towns to siphon psychic energy.

A false, parasite city sprung into being from the congruence of negative thoughts, astral instability, and a blasted clerical error, Luna thought. Now a predator, feeding on other cities

“Some of these ponies aren’t real,” Luna whispered. “They’re avatars of the city mimic.”

Celestia followed Luna’s example and cast a divining spell. Two ponies at what was apparently the orphanage, pony in appearance, were a mass of astral sickness, with long slimy tendrils, like puppet strings, pushing and pulling them along. Celestia traced them to the mimic; they were bait for ponies, like the fishing rod of the anglerfish.

“I sense the archon,” Luna said. She looked toward Aether forest and glared.

“As do I,” Celestia said. “I understand why she escaped our notice for so long. She’s using this parasite as camouflage.”

“Would casting our fortress spells cause this city to attack us?”

“I doubt it,” Celestia said. “If we don’t threaten the city, it won’t defend itself. Be cautious, however.”

The two nodded. They closed their eyes and cast the fortress spell, sisters’ magic folding over each other like hands clasping fingers, familiar and loving. The wall shimmered like an aurora. No archon had ever tried to escape from them, but there was no need to take chances.

Both felt a stirring in the Aether forest

“Now is the time,” Luna said.

Luna trotted out into the moonlight, spreading her wings, taking in the light and letting it mingle with her magic. A deep, happy moan escaped her throat as she closed her eyes and lifted her head.

Slowly, her horn faded, turning translucent, like a canopy over a bed, before fading into nothing. From her temples sharp, silver points sprung, parting her blue coat smoothly, growing into horns, curling around; ram horns of pure silver, and on the only head that could not be bowed by their weight.

From the base of her wings sprouted four more wings, feathers turning silver in the moonlight. A pair of wings folded over her face to protect any being, and the land, from seeing the shining glory radiating from her—they would be instantly destroyed. Her other wings covered each hoof. Each step she took did not touch the ground; violets, tulips, and daisies sprouted, withered, and died underneath her hooves.

“Sister,” Luna said, not needing to see to know where Celestia was standing; the life force of all beings, from her sister standing with her to a worm burrowing in a garden on the other side of the planet, were apparent to her. “Will this be another training exercise for Cadance and Twilight? Perhaps fake your defeat, as with Chrysalis?”

Celestia bristled. “Absolutely not,” she said. “I’d never send them against an archon.”

“They why are you in your diminished aspect? Break your locks.”

A pause. Luna had all the power they needed, but caution and perception would be a good trump to have.

A chime like a bell, augmented seventh; a reverberating gong; a baritone devil’s chord played in coastal sand.

Celestia’s wings were in display, like heraldry.

Her coat shimmered with gold, like sunlight shining from a golden age years ago. The vanes of her feathers split and opened like eyelids; golden eyes searched around, both on the front and back of each feather, as a single teardrop of gold fell and met with the eyes below it until they formed a lattice of golden tears. Two golden teardrops fell from the eyes in her face and flowed down her cheek and underneath her jaw until they met in a perfect line, with no feathering or bleeding, as if she always had those markings. Her hooves elongated and split like a deer, each step a whisper on the grass. She could run now, and nothing physical would impede her.

Her eyes saw everything.

What they saw now was the dark barren wasteland that was the planet Gaia; dirt and rocks, the true form now that the veil of magic had been lifted from Celestia’s eyes. Magic was a shared hallucination that created consensus reality. Of the natural inhabitants here, the dragon scientist Lysergia Dives had come closest to piercing the latent reality behind the apparent reality. Celestia dreaded the day when any of this land’s native inhabitants saw Gaia for what it truly was. She only hoped that they would realize it didn’t matter—reality is what you make it.

She saw her ponies. They were invaders like her, not evolving from the awfulness like the goats, or from magic like the griffons, or appearing ex nihilo like the dragons. It was in her childhood when Celestia looked down on this realm, and saw the shadows her people cast; shadows cast into three dimensional space-time, shadows that were living, thinking, and self-aware beings.

Celestia loved them. Her own people paid them no mind; ponies were too low, too dimensionally limited, to be worth anything. They lived such short lives of desperate survival that it seemed pointless to care that their shadows had produced these beings.

Them being the offspring of her people’s shadows didn’t matter. He heart overflowed in empathy with the pain of existence these ponies felt, and she endeavored to help them lead fulfilling lives. It’s why she left the upper realms to be here; because she loved the ponies. Luna followed because she loved Celestia.

“Four, five, and seven,” Luna said, naming the locks Celestia broke. “Only those?”

“You have all the power we need,” Celestia said. She would never break all seven locks in this realm, anyway. It would be the last song this planet ever heard.

Celestia could see through the forest, where the archon was waiting, sadness apparent in her large almond eyes, but sadness with pride, like the runner up who knows she did her best.

Celestia let her gaze move toward Ponyville, where she saw the ponies, descendants of the original shadows, milling about in the evening, waiting in line for the play she hoped she could see in time. There was a line now, and Pinkie Pie, talking to Applejack, turned, smiled, said “Hi, Celestia!”, and waved.

Celestia was stunned, but she managed to smile and wave back.

“Pinkie Pie can see me,” Celestia said.

Though covered by her wings, Celestia knew Luna had pursed her lips. “I can’t say I’m surprised. She has the deepest well of magic I have ever seen. It even casts outside of this realm.”

“To where?”

Luna shifted. “I can’t see the root of it,” Luna said, softly, almost reverently. “Even in this form. You know, she used to hop into dreams I was visiting, interfering with my work. I had to put her in charge of the complaint office at the Ministry of Dreams, just to keep her occupied at night.”

Celestia pushed back contemplations, saving them for later. “Well, no more dallying.” She sighed. “Let’s go.”

“Where irritation awaits,” Luna said.


Luna and Celestia headed into the forest, the dark pines parting for Luna as she trod upon the air, leaving life and death in her wake. Celestia simply passed through the woods, as nothing could restrain her now.

The bull-roarers were silent. There were no ecstatic partiers. Only the Runner in the Woods, at her full height, her antlers seeming to catch the moonlight. Most of her phalli hung flaccid, the exceptions being The Sword and The Cathedral, both of which were fully erect. She did not avert her gaze, and showed no fear.

“Well,” Luna said, not waiting for the Runner to make her opening salvo, “I see you decided not to rape our ponies tonight. Odd that an archon would show sense.”

“I give them what they want,” the Runner said. “What they don’t even know they want. You aeons are not invited into my forest.”

“I hope we can keep verbal jesting to a minimum,” Celestia said, taking a dainty step forward. “Archon, we are here to stop your crimes against the ponies.”

“I am Vala,” she said. “And there are no crimes here. If you want to attack, do so and stop wasting my time.”

“I’d prefer discussion and negotiation,” Celestia said. “However, I’m not so naive as to hope this ends any differently than past encounters with your brethren. Perhaps you could surprise me.”

“You have no right to speak of them,” Vala said, her booming voice full of brassy fury. “You murderers, you couldn’t stay away from our realm. Imagine how I feel, every day, every night, when I look up and see the corpses of my oldest brother and sister as you drag them across the sky.”

“They have been more useful in death than they ever have been in life,” Luna said. Luna had little desire to talk to Vala. It would be a simple matter to destroy her; simply flick open her wings and assault Vala with her terrible beauty. But Celestia always had to negotiate. Luna wished Celestia’s pragmatic sense was a touch stronger.

“Useful,” Vala said. She spotted a dead tree, black from lightning, and touched it with her hand. Curls of pine leaves unfolded, and it burst with life. “Useful to ponies? Let me tell you about ponies.”

“Please, don’t,” Luna said, with a flat tone. “Anything but that.”

“We don’t need to have concepts of ‘useful’, unless it’s useful to us,” she said, as she paced like a caged tiger, not once looking away from her two captors. “We saw your shadows cast down here, and the forms they took. We saw you aeons neglect your progeny. They are invaders too, though it isn’t their fault. Do you know why griffons are so antagonistic toward ponies? Because griffons actually evolved here. They struggled, and fought, and survived. Ponies were made, and then cast onto this realm. Even worse, they are given protections and coddling the griffons never had.”

“I endeavor to treat all living beings-”

“Don’t waste your time explaining yourself to her,” Luna said. “Archons have always treated the living beings here cruelly.”

“I cared,” Vala said, “I cared about these ponies, and helped them while your kind were looking the other way.”

“I don’t follow.” Celestia said. Luna smiled at the coldness now entering her voice.

“Do you understand my aim here?” the Runner said. “You call it rape, but it is an awakening. I took these ponies and gave them strong, powerful experiences, powerful urges that set them on that royal road of self-awareness. My rites and rituals lifted ponies from beasts to beings. I was doing this before any of you ever appeared. I had to hide for a long time, but this town provided great protection.”

“Perhaps I need to make myself clear,” Luna said, as the silver feathers of her wings bristled and waved. “I don’t want to hear your defense. We aren’t going to get into an argument about morality. What you must understand is that Gaia is our property, and we dictate morality. We made ourselves known to your ilk when we first arrived, and we made it clear we didn’t want the beings on this planet to be harmed in any way. We set the rules quite strictly on proper behavior, which was, namely; leave them alone.”

Luna circled around the perimeter of the grove, not bothering to pretend she was watching the Runner. Luna could feel her pulsating power, as powerful and gross as an anaconda in a swamp. “Your elder brother and sister confronted us, and of course, you know how that turned out. The rest were dragged to Tartarus, through no power of our own. Imagine, not even our brother in his sad half-life approves of you lot.”

“I am prepared to meet my fate,” the Runner sniffed. “I scorn it. Demiurge will avenge us when he comes and sees what you’ve done with his creation.”

“You will not fight?” Celestia said. She and her sister traded a confused awareness, an astral version of a physical glance. No archon had ever surrendered before.

“I am Vala,” she said. “The Runner in the Woods. I do not fight.”

“Even with the knowledge that we will kill you,” Luna said.

“I told you. I scorn my fate.”

Crunching and smacking came from the air above them. Celestia didn’t have to look to know it was Discord, sitting on a ratty chair and tossing popcorn into his fanged maw.

“Discord, please leave,” Celestia said.

“Why is the outer devil here?” Vala said.

“Oh, but Celestia,” Discord said, “I’ve never seen you and Luna actually deal with one of these critters before. Surely you wouldn’t-” his words flashed into a puff of smoke as Luna teleported him away. Far away.

“That should keep him occupied for a while,” Luna said.

“Vala, I apologize for the interruption,” Celestia said. She could feel Luna’s irritation at her apologizing to such a creature, but no matter. "As far as your fate is concerned, we have no interest in killing you, or torturing you, or sending you to Tartarus.”

Speak for yourself, Luna thought. Celestia thought back the response of a resigned smirk.

“At least, we are actively working against Tartarus taking you.”

“And what should this mean to me?” Vala said.

“Our aim, for giving you this simple courtesy, is to answer a simple question. Who is Demiurge?”

“The creator. Our creator. Your creator.”

“No being created me,” Luna spat. “Our first ancestors evolved in the wash of the big bang.”

“Which Demiurge designed and executed,” Vala said. “You aeons chose to forget, out of pride and vanity.”

Luna snorted. “I’ve heard about Demiurge from every single archon. What’s taking him so long to appear? Does he have diarrhea? Does he need someone to bring him some toilet paper before he can make his glorious return?”

Luna could feel Celestia’s irritation. Why do your insults always turn to bathroom matters? Celestia thought. Luna thought back the feeling of a tongue sticking out in merriment.

“You all will remember soon, when he returns. He will remind you, and no amount of pleading will allow you to escape your destruction. So crawl on your knees, begging like a pathetic child, your face covered in snot and tears. We will laugh at you.”

A lion’s paw wrapped around Celestia’s middle, while a claw did the same for Luna. “Well, this is quite a pickle you two are in,” Discord said, as a salty brine swirled around them, tinting the world green. “I bet I could convince ‘ol Demi-wimmy to spare you two, if he actually exists. Frankly this sounds like a whole lot of garbage.” His voice sent bubbles to the surface of the pickle jar, breaking the brine with splashes.

Luna cast her teleportation spell again. It dissipated as Discord countered it. He swam out from between them, arms cutting into waves as he executed a perfect breaststroke.

“Trying to cast me into the sea of eternity again? Don’t even b-”

Discord thudded into the grass, a solid statue now, his mouth open in a grotesque brag. The pickle jar had also disappeared.

Thank you, Celestia, Luna thought.

“Now we but need your brother and the biped,” Vala said. “And then all the outsiders will be in my forest.”

“Vala, we thank you for your cooperation.” Celestia said. “Let’s not drag this out any further.”

Celestia cast a spell, and a flash enveloped Vala. There was nothing drawn out, nothing requiring time. The Runner in the Woods was once there, and now, in her place, was an earth pony mare.

Vala’s mouth hung open, but she clanged it shut. Despite how hard she struggled, her legs shook.

“You are a pony now,” Celestia said. “You are under the laws of the land of Equestria, and will submit to them. Failure to do so will introduce you to our court system, which is stern but fair.”

“How could you,” Vala said, and she finally looked away.

“You will need to eat and sleep, and perform all the functions of a biological being for survival—if you chose survival,” Celestia said. “You also have no cutie mark. Life will be difficult in pony society for one without this mark, but you are free to find your own destiny as a pony.”

Luna, seeing no reason to wait any longer, cast the spell that destroyed the mimic city. A scream broke across the astral plane, shrill and beastly, before dying with a sharpness. Most of the buildings, and half of the ‘ponies’ in Bearvertron, were no more. They were parts of the mimic, and had died along with it.

Vala felt its destruction, and collapsed to the ground.

“It’s wrong that you have such power,” she said, looking up fiercely, gritting her teeth through her fresh tears.

“Vala, I have no compunction against making life worse for you,” Luna said. “Stay here and rot; I don’t care.”

Vala jumped to her hooves and ran into the woods, away from the city.

Celestia sighed.

“I’d sigh too, but from disgust,” Luna said. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into letting her live.”

“Thank you for keeping your word, Luna.”

“Hmm,” Luna said, as she turned to study Discord’s statue. The statue had somehow propped itself upright, and was now wearing dark sunglasses and a top hat of the same gray color as his granite prison. On the grass next to him was a brown ceramic pot, with “Donations Accepted” engraved on its side.

“I will say, however, that I’m glad you didn’t even consider sending her to Twilight for friendship lessons,” Luna said. “I would have vetoed that with great rigor.”

“Friendship lessons with Twilight?” Discord said, as he stepped from behind his statue. “Oh, she would have killed herself for sure.”

Celestia stopped herself from pouting. “We have an outline on telling Twilight and Cadance about Vala,” Celestia said. Not to mention a letter to Ms. Berry Punch. “I’m still not certain on how much we should share.”

“I’d say all of it, just to watch the fallout,” Luna said, in a flippant and light tone.

“Now that’s more like it,” Discord said, materializing a tub of popcorn again. It was quickly zapped from his paw by Luna.

“Must you engage in that tiresome cliché, Discord? Do something original, ‘outer devil’.”

“Yes, she probably became aware of me during my little coup d’état all those centuries ago,” Discord said, as he materialized a steaming hot mug of pickle juice. He laughed to himself. “I will never stop being amused about you two falling into my trap. Power doesn’t presuppose wisdom, does it?”

“We followed your rules and defeated you,” Luna said, striding toward Discord, her silver wings glistening in the moonlight.

“Oh, I could have easily broken the rules I set, but it was all japery anyway.” He opened Luna’s wings as light brighter than any magnesium flare blasted through the woods. Luna’s glory petrified the pines and grass in its wake, and ripped away even the veils of magic. Magic would never touch this area ever again.

“Peek-a-boo,” Discord said, as he shut the wings. “Well, that was an overproduction. Really, you should learn the meaning of restraint.”

“Irony has a dull taste, coming from you,” Luna said.

Discord held his closed paw to his mouth, and coughed. He turned away, frowning. “I probably shouldn’t have done that,” he said. His voice was dark and strained. A shock of worry entered Celestia at the sound of it.

“Discord,” Celestia said, floating toward him. “Are you okay?”

Discord, still frowning, quaffed his pickle juice in one gulp. He flicked the mug over his shoulder, where it exploded against a petrified pine, sending shards in every direction. “I’m... not okay at all,” he said. He turned and glared at Luna.

“I did not invite you to open my wings,” Luna said, an errant tone of compassion entering her voice. “I can help you, if-”

Discord belched, his entire body contorting at the unimaginable force of it. A green cloud floated above him, noxious and choking, as it headed for the upper atmosphere.

“Ah, just a bit of gas!” Discord said, in his familiar cheery and mocking tone. “Well, that’s that. You ladies plan on making it to Twilight’s little production? Introducing Sartre to ponies, imagine! I always knew that Lero had a sick mind.”

“We have clean up duties to perform and citizens to reassure,” Celestia said. She cast a spell message to the civil guard headquarters in Canterlot, requesting an immediate disaster report on Beavertron (with star map and ground map included). With that done, she reconstructed her locks and reverted to her regular biological form. Luna did the same, not bothering to hide her irritation at Discord.

“We’ll arrive shortly,” Luna said. “We don’t plan on missing it.”

“Very well, au revoir! And good luck with the whole explaining to Twilight and Cadance that everything thing they know is a lie.” He held up his paw to hide his face in an imitation of secrecy, and gave a theatrical wink. “You’ll need it.” He disappeared, warping away to Ponyville to catch the opening acts.

Luna and Celestia made their way through the forest, toward Beavertron.

“I have a feeling your glory hurt Discord more than he let on,” Celestia said, as she crunched through the undergrowth of the forest.

“It would do my pride well to believe that,” Luna said, regret in her voice, “but I’m afraid all it really did was give him indigestion.”

They were silent up to the border of Beavertron, where the first thing they noticed were the crying children.


Many spells had been constructed by Celestia and Luna in the early days of their arrival on this world; strong spells conducted in secret, to help the beings of Gaia to live and survive. These spells even had intelligence of sorts, and were designed to flow through the land, performing their duties. These special spells were called daemons.

Once such daemon, The Hopeless Pursuit of Remission (a mnemonic for Luna and Celestia, in case they ever had to unravel or repair it; all daemons were given mnemonics as names), had the function of collecting simulacra, psychic images created by all living beings, and spiriting them into the magicae mundi, which converted these images into mana, the basic fuel of magic. Every creature that came from this planet, from the smallest microbe to the largest dragon, gave off simulacra; images from dreams, and from unconscious desires.
Without this daemon, simulacra would stalk the land, causing fear, emotional and mental instabilities, and even insanity.

So, The Hopeless Pursuit of Remission, during its constant and continual background duties, noted that all living beings in designation Ponyville weren’t there anymore.

It had no opinion on this. It reported the discrepancy to the controller daemon (Your Face when I Finally), and continued on its duties.


In Ponyville, as the moon was wide in the sky, and the curtains in Ponyville Theatre opened for the first of the comedic opening acts to precede No Exit; when, in the remains of Beavertron, Luna and Celestia met with the civil guards to figure out how to help the orphans, the pigs on the Apple’s farm stopped eating.

Each one squealed and screamed, running around their sty, tearing up mud, splattering the fences. Their squeals were full of terror. They were calling out to Princess Luna, trying to alert her. They had found the being she was looking for.

Luna couldn’t hear them. As far as the world was concerned, Ponyville might as well have never existed.

11. Ponyville Flattened Affect part 1

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The full moon ducked behind a purple cloud bank, casting shadows on Celestia and Luna as they investigated Sweet Apple Acres. Luna was in the pig sty, conversing with her porcine servants, and Celestia prowled the border between the farm and the outer fields.

Ponyville was missing. The split was seamless; Ponyville’s absence left no gorge or crater. The average pony would never have noticed the absent town, but Celestia was all too aware of the unnaturalness of it, standing on the dirt trail that led from the gate, underneath the white wooden arch. Instead of gazing at Ponyville, her sight roamed over the grassy meadow that was on the far side of the town. As she and Luna had observed when flying here, Ponyville was gone.

Celestia’s horn lit golden as she cast a spell. If Twilight was there, her jaw would have dropped to witness this magic she had never seen before. A barrage of questions, full of unbridled excitement that was guaranteed to descend into gibberish, would surely have followed.

Luna landed behind her, the air from her wings rippling Celestia’s coat like a breeze over a wheat field.

“The pigs describe it as anti-shadow, as a darkness that exists as an absence of absence. They claim it to be what I asked them to search for.”

“Lero’s escaped archetype.” Celestia said. She turned to face Luna, forlorn. “I can’t imagine it being this powerful. Surely we would have felt it’s magic when Ponyville disappeared.”

“I wonder if it is magic,” Luna said. “Who knows if magic works the same way in Lero’s world as it does ours?”

“Hmm,” Celestia said. “It’s as if Ponyville never existed. I requested an audit from the World System-”

“My word.”

“-and now we wait for its report.” She turned to face Luna. “Ponyville is too important. Even with the love we have for the ponies there, our friends, we know what this town is supposed to be.”

They heard the creaking of bones and shuffling of hooves well before Granny Smith approached them.

“Hail, Granny Smith,” Celestia said. “I hope you forgive our trespassing.”

“Lands sakes, I hear a Princess,” Granny Smith said, as she walked up to Luna and Celestia, taking turns peering into both of their faces. “I’d like to bow to ya, but my old bones are acting up tonight.”

“Please don’t concern yourself with bowing to us,” Luna said. “We are here uninvited, after all.”

“Oh, fiddlesticks. The Princesses are always welcome on my land. I’m brewing some tea right now, and I’d be mighty pleased if ya’ll came in to take a sip.”

“We accept your gracious offer,” Luna said with a nod. “Perhaps it will be a good thinking ointment as we wrestle with the question of Ponyville.”

“I see,” Granny Smith said, as she led the two back to her house. “And what happened to ‘ol Ponyville?”

“Well... it disappeared,” Celestia said, spreading a wing back to the entrance of Sweet Apple Acres.

Granny Smith blinked in the direction her wing was pointing.

“Uh huh. Where was it?”

Luna and Celestia swiftly glanced at each other, eyes round with surprise and apprehension.

“Ms. Smith, have you ever heard of Ponyville before?”

“Don’t believe I have,” Granny Smith said, and the shock of her words put a stop in the diarchs’ steps.

“Granny Smith,” Luna said, as she moved in front of her, the night sky flowing silky over her coat in a reflection of eternity. “Are Applejack and Big Macintosh here? Apple Bloom perhaps?”

“I don’t believe so,” Granny Smith said. She tapped her chin with a hoof. “Hmm, are they distant relatives? They shore sound familiar.”

“They are your grandchildren,” Celestia said.

Granny Smith laughed. “That’s a rich one! Grandchildren, hah! It’s just me in this little ‘ol house. Me and my memories.”

Granny Smith sang,

Memories come and memories go

Flowing down the underground river

Luna and Celestia followed her into her house. They didn’t look at each other. All they could do was wait for the audit to finish.

The Steam Donkey wasn’t so loud tonight.

Mugs weren’t banging against tables demanding to be filled, laughter from ribald jokes weren’t bouncing around the ceiling, shouts weren’t bursting forth in the joy of a finished drink with good company. All around were suddenly sober ponies gazing at Lyra as she played her clarsach.

She was unusual for unicorn musicians, because she enjoyed using her hooves just as much as her magic. Her green magic danced along the strings, flowing like air, while her hoofs tapped and plucked. The ponies didn’t feel her music outside of them, despite what eyes and ears believed. It was if the music welled up from their own hearts.

And then Lyra sang, her voice almost as pure as a sine wave (she personally felt it was too pure; maybe some harmonics would give it some depth), and nearly every patron felt their heart pull to some strange place outside of Ponyville. It was impossible, this longing, and Lyra was singing about one of the legends, known as The Princess; a mare with a unicorn horn and pegasus wings that allegedly haunted the library.

But this song was new, and it folded in another legend of Ponyville, of a two-legged beast that walked during the phantom time, when phantoms stalked the planet while the ponies slept in warm beds behind locked doors and shuttered windows.

It was a love song about the Princess and the Beast. This was a bold mixture of two of the legends, a dangerous one as it could lead to accusations of disrespect and pretentiousness, but the patrons felt, deeply, that the story was right. Those two are supposed to be lovers.

She sang with her eyes closed, and each pony felt shock when she opened them, as if curtains were cast aside to reveal sunlight. Her magic stopped, and her hooves dropped from the strings. The song was over.

The clapping started slowly, and finished with stomping hooves against the wooden floor. It was not a riotous applause, and no pony cheered or whistled, but the applause rolled in, wave after wave, longer than any applause the tavern had heard before. Then the shouts of “encore” were cast at her like gold coins, and Lyra smiled, and closed her eyes, ‘shhh’ and ‘shush’ flooding the tavern until all was quiet.

She sang it again. Several of the patrons sang along, singing it to themselves.

Lyra finished, and it was only when she stepped down from the stage that the shouts started up again, as ponies jumped from their seats and ran toward her, touching her, thanking her for that beautiful song.

Lyra smiled as if in a daze, saying “thank you” out of courtesy. She heard “How did you come up with that?”, the question artists who rely on inspiration always dread hearing. Lyra just gave a loopy, enigmatic smile, and said, “From the leaves that float on the river.”

“Whoa.” Deep stuff to the drunk.


Phantom time was approaching, and Ponyville prepared to shut itself in for eight hours, as tavern stragglers rushed to houses, houses closed shutters, and the civil servants dimmed the gas lamps, hastily, with anxious looks toward home and herd.

Lyra plodded on by the riverside, dreamily, listening to the eternal rush of Ponyville river as it flowed into its interior reservoir, filling caverns forever unexplored, and rushing out again.

Lyra’s house, with Bon Bon, was close to the tavern, but tonight she felt like walking around the world to get there. It was only a thirty minute walk this way, and, in a real sense, she was only half-joking when she said the leaves floating on the river were inspiring. They moved with her, and she flowed with them.

She looked up above and was grateful to see the underbelly of the cloud system that coated Ponyville. Sometimes she would look up, and a gap would break the clouds, and Lyra would see the vast howling nothing, the screaming emptiness that was beyond the world. She’d shudder and keep her eyes on the ground.

“Why would that even scare you?” Bon Bon had once asked. “It’s natural. I mean, it’s always been there. It’s like being amazed at dirt or eggplants.”

Maybe so, but Lyra never liked it.

But that didn’t matter, it was just her and the floating leaves now. The clamor of the exiting patrons, hurrying home from Steam Donkey, echoed to her as whispers and soft sibilance on the grassy streets. Soon she walked away from pony sounds, approaching the white pillars—the remains of broken walls and beams from the rooms that used to house the Ponyville river, now jutting like ancient bones—and it was just her, the river, and the leaves.

She looked across the river, and saw herself.

The phantom split its face in a grin, blood dripping from the edges of her mouth as hundreds of needle teeth glistened yellow in the pale cloudlight.

“Minty, come out and playyyeeeayyy,” she sang.

“N-no.” Lyra could not look away. It was if her synapses were extinguished before she could even send the signal.

“Why not? I’m the only one that loves you.”

“…not true,” Lyra whispered.

“That empty feeling you have, that’s always pulsating? It’s nice. It’ll never get filled, ya know. You’ll always be empty. But I bet I could fill it forever.”

“Lyra, where have you been?” Bon Bon said, as she approached the phantom. “Phantom time is about to start! You need to come home now.”

Lyra moved her lips, but no words came out. Her strangled plea for Bon Bon to run was not even a pitiful squeak.

“Sorry Bon Bon, I guess I just got distracted with the river!” The phantom Lyra flashed a breezy smile at Bon Bon while pronging in place.

Bon Bon cocked a disapproving eyebrow. “It’s a little too late to be this excited,” Bon Bon said, though her stern frown loosened into poorly hidden amusement. “I’m going to have to brew up a whole pot of chamomile to get you to bed.”

“Lead the way!” Phantom Lyra said, and when Bon Bon turned around, a cavernous mouth of needles sprouted from the phantom, pushing away eyes and snout, and it snapped down on Bon Bon’s neck.

Bon Bon screamed and dropped to the ground, spasming, and she suddenly noticed Lyra across the river. Tears gushed from Lyra’s eyes, matching those of Bon Bon’s terror and pain.

“I’m dead because of you,” Bon Bon said. “Why didn’t you just come home?”

“I’m sorry,” Lyra said. She sobbed. “I’m sorry.”

The bloody Bon Bon pushed herself up and, with the phantom Lyra, stepped on the river, walking toward Lyra, their movements jerky as if from a novice puppeteer.

“You must pay for your bloodguilt”, Bon Bon said, as her steps didn’t even ripple the water.

Hooves curled under Lyra’s withers, and pulled her into the air. Lyra screamed as voice returned to her, and she struggled in the strong grip.

“Stop fighting me, dummy!” Rainbow Dash said, her scratchy, homey voice a welcome antidote to the awful sinister silkiness of the phantoms. “I’m trying to save you!”

“Bon Bon!” Lyra gasped. “She’s going to die!”

“She’s a phantom too!” Dash said, as the thunderous beat of her wings pulled them both over Ponyville. “You got duped, lady.”

Lyra willed herself to stare down toward the river. The two phantoms, looking up as Lyra was carried away, shot contemptuous leers as they faded into nothing. She spotted her saddle bags, holding her instrument, lying in the grass next to the river.

The gauze of terror and sadness that was draped over her senses was ripped apart by the hot claws of rage.

“Those scum!”

“Yeah, I know,” Rainbow Dash said, as she approached her tower. “I hate them too.”

“My bags-”



Dash flew through the watchtower doorway, dropping Lyra on the marble floor. Dash pushed the doors shut, and Lyra got a good look at the Nightmare.

Everyone knew Rainbow Dash, of course. Very few ponies—make that none except Dash—had the courage to not just watch the night, but to actively engage in fighting against it. Lyra watched as Dash’s muscles strained inside her black and yellow flight suit as she dropped the crossbar against the door. She pushed up her goggles and eyed Lyra.

“Thank you for rescuing me,” Lyra said. She extended a hoof. “My name is Lyra.”

“Rainbow Dash,” Dash said, as she booped Lyra’s hoof in greeting. She glanced out a window, and frowned. “Looks like Medley’s phantom is keeping watch tonight. Hmph.” Dash turned and walked toward the parlor, her hooves clicking staccato against the floor. Not sure what to do, Lyra settled on following behind.

“I’m getting a drink,” Dash said, when Lyra entered the well-lighted parlor. The floor was covered with a fringed rug full of triangles and squares, criss-crossing each other in gold thread across a scarlet canvas. Pillows were scattered around, mostly round ones for sitting, and in the middle was a simple low table of varnished applewood-a gift from Big Macintosh for saving Apple Bloom some years ago. Three lanterns lit the room.

Rainbow Dash took two mugs from the cabinet and pushed them under the nozzle of a big barrel, and filled both with cider.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Lyra said.

“I got plenty,” Dash said. “I don’t want it going bad.”

“Well, if you put it that way.” Lyra accepted a mug, and lay down on a round pillow, yellow with a fat button caving in the middle.

Dash lay down on the other side of the table and took a sip of cider. “I hope you don’t mind if I don’t take you home tonight.”

“Oh, I know your policy,” Lyra said, seeing herself, in her mind’s eye, saying that just a tad too quickly. “I mean, it’s dangerous out there during phantom time, and you don’t need a pony like me weighing you down.”

“Bingo,” Dash said. “I’m sorry about your bags.”

“Well, it’s what they had in it,” Lyra said. “My clarsach. I can get it tomorrow. Really, it’s my fault for being out so late.”

“You weren’t really out that late,” Dash said. “The phantoms have been showing up earlier and earlier.”

Lyra gasped and turned wide-eyed as she leaned over the table, dropping an excited hoof on Dash’s hoof. “You’ve noticed too? I though I was the only one!”

“That’s my line,” Dash said, as she smoothly moved her hoof away. “Then again, I haven’t said anything about it until now.”

“What do you think needs to be done?” Lyra said, as she plopped back down on her cushion. She took a sip of cider as her golden eyes watched the stern Rainbow Dash, her reputation as a granite block proving true. “I mean, you’re the phantom-fighting machine.”

“I wish I knew,” Rainbow Dash said. “You can’t kill them, or at least I haven’t been able to.”

“You tried killing one?” Lyra said. What a night of revelations this was. Despite the late time and exhausting performance, Lyra felt herself invigorated, as if she could stay up all night. Maybe the cider was hitting the right spot. Maybe it was something about how well lighted this little parlor was, with the lantern light reflecting well off the yellow-painted walls.

“Several,” Dash said. There was no braggadocio in her words, so often heard from ponies claiming to have fought a phantom and won. There was too much disappointment. “I tried drowning them, dropping big pieces of stone on them… I grabbed a lantern and set one on fire, and he disappeared, like, instantly, but he came back the next night. They’re a real pain.”

Lyra laughed. Dash raised an eyebrow, and Lyra quickly tried to allay offense.

“No, it’s just that you’re completely unafraid of them,” Lyra said, grinning big. “I mean, everyone in this town talks about phantoms in hushed voices, but it’s like they don’t even effect you.”

Dash took a long sip. “I’m not afraid of those stupid things. I just hate them.”

And now Lyra raised an eyebrow. There was a crack in this block of granite, and it was made out of hate. And yet, even that was said in Dash’s scratchy, even voice. As if the thought was there, but not the emotion.

“We all hate them,” Lyra said. “It’s pretty cool that you’re afraid of nothing.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Oh? And what are you afraid of?”

“Hey now, I didn’t say I was afraid of anything, just—”

“Come on Dashie, I promise I won’t tell,” Lyra said, singing it like a schoolyard taunt. She froze as she realized what she had just done, and instantly tried to cover it up by bringing her mug up to her mouth, popping herself in the lip and splashing a drop of cider onto her coat. Blast it Lyra, we aren’t friends, you can’t treat her so familiar, and a little sting set in at the thought of ‘not friends’.

“Hmm, well,” Dash said, as she stood up. “I need to make my rounds. Have as much cider as you want.”

She turned curtly toward the foyer, and Lyra watched, almost mournfully, as this tough and brave mare left her.

“I’m scared of the sky, myself,” Lyra said, and Dash’s ears swiveled, though she continued her stride toward the exit.

“I’ll see you in ten minutes,” Dash said. She pushed through the gate and took off, the gate clanging behind her.

Lyra let out a low groan, plopped back into the pillows, and crescendoed into an aggravated shout.

So I offend my rescuer, Lyra thought. Great.

Lyra sunk into the pillows, not asleep, but generally unaware of time and even of herself as she thought on her breathing. This was something that always came naturally to her, and though she could never actually explain why, it always served to center her thoughts and feelings. There was too much raging alcohol and adrenaline grown stale with old fear for it to work well, but it stopped her from having to think about her stupid, stupid faux pas just what was I thinking—

The gate clanged, and Lyra shot straight up, adrenaline recharging but quickly evaporating as she saw Dash walk back into the parlor.

“Geez, you gave me a fright,” Lyra said.

With a deft flick of her wing, Rainbow Dash tossed Lyra her saddlebags.

“Found your harp… thing.”

“Clarsach!” Lyra said with joy. Her magic pulled it out, and plucked a string. “Aww, you’re too kind to risk yourself for this! I bet you had to fight an army of phantoms to get it back.”

"Nah, there wasn’t any around it,” Dash said. “You were pretty much the last pony I saw out there, so it’ll probably be a slow night.”

“I see,” Lyra said, as she watched Dash take her seat on the other side of the table. “Um…”

“I’m scared of the sky, too,” Dash said.

Lyra was busy hoofing her clarsach, testing the strings, flicking away a blade of grass, rubbing away a scratch, but she put it down and fully faced Rainbow Dash, who was looking askance at the mug.

“Doesn’t it seem… malicious?” Lyra asked, cocking her head. “Like it’s against us all.”

“It’s worse than the phantoms,” Dash said. “You know, I’ve never flown above the cloudline.”


“Yeah.” Rainbow Dash played with her empty mug, the condensation sheeting off the side like glaciers sliding into a polar ocean. “It is malicious. Evil. I know for a fact that it’s connected to those phantoms, but I can’t prove it. It’s just something I feel.” She pushed her mug away and leaned back on the pillows. “A big ‘ol void watching everything.”

“And we down here being watched,” Lyra said. She pressed her lips shut to hide a yawn.

“There’s a bed for you across the hall,” Dash said, pointing a hoof at an arched doorway, candles lighting the polished wooden floor. “I still got plenty of shifts for the night.”

“I’m sorry,” Lyra said, this time not even trying to stifle a huge yawn. “I’m bad company.”

“You’re not bad at all,” Rainbow Dash said. “I just keep strange hours. Part of the job, you know.”

“Hmm. I wonder why the phantoms don’t just try to invade our homes.”

“Heh. I got theories on that, but let’s talk about it later.”

Lyra blinked, muttered a good night, and staggered to the bedroom.


Morning-time arrived, and Lyra awoke, encased in a bed sheet, as she blinked and instinctively looked for her window. The one that was there wasn’t hers—too wide, too circular—and, after a confused panic of looking around an unfamiliar room, finally remembered where she was.

Next to her, on top of the sheets, was Rainbow Dash. Lyra peered at her as the lamps outside, slowly brightening, pushed shadows away and revealed happy ponies, eager to start the day.

Rainbow Dash was the exception to all this, and she almost looked vulnerable lying here asleep, with no flight jacket and goggles. Lyra got a good look at her cutiemark, a lightning rainbow from the clouds. I guess that is her, Lyra thought. Something both awesome and flashy flying down to rescue us.

Her stomach rumbled, and Lyra really, really wanted to get home and get something to eat. Bon Bon was probably worried sick about her, but of course everyone knew Rainbow Dash would rescue any stray pony, but she was up in the sky and I’m not a pegasus and I want to touch ground.

“Rainbow Dash?” Lyra whispered. She poked Dash’s hip and inhaled sharply at the hard, powerful muscles under her hoof, the strongest she had ever felt. My goodness, she has to be the most fit pony alive, Lyra thought. She let her hoof linger a bit too long, because Rainbow Dash said, “I’m not into mares.”

“O-oh, that’s not what… I mean…”

Dash turned over and greeted Lyra with a grin. Lyra’s blush deepened, thrilled to discover that this stoic mare had a beautiful smile.

“I know you didn’t,” Dash said. “Good morning, by the way.”

“Good morning. Did you have to rescue any other ponies?” Lyra pushed ahead, hoping to distract herself from the embarrassment she felt.

“Nope, and that’s why you woke up with me.” Dash rolled out of bed and stretched. “Well, let me take you home. I can hear how hungry you are.”

“Sure, just drop me off down below.”

“Nah, that’s fine, I can take you home. You live with Bon Bon, right? I know right where that is. I buy a bag of horehound from her every now and then.”

Dash trotted toward the foyer, and Lyra followed. She grabbed her clarsach and fitted it into her saddlebag, using her magic to strap it down tight over her back. After an exploratory tug or two, she decided it wouldn’t just fall off in mid-air. Or on the ground.

Dash squatted low to the floor, spreading out her wings. “Hop on my back, put your hooves around my chest—not my neck—and please watch out for the wings.”

“Okay,” Lyra said. She sidled on to Dash’s back, letting her hindlegs hang over her strong hips, and as soon as she wrapped her forelegs around her chest, Dash took off, blasting down the foyer, through the entryway, and out into Ponyville.

To Lyra’s credit, she managed to stifle her scream, and gently fell into her meditative breathing, letting the breath fill her awareness, pushing out the awareness that she was a wingless creature in the air flying on a pony who is actually smaller than I am!

But Dash’s control was perfect, and it wasn’t but ten seconds later that Dash put on her air breaks and drifted down to a cobblestone street, landing in front of Bon Bon’s house. She had her mouthful of broom handle, sweeping the front stoop. She arched just enough of an eyebrow to see Rainbow Dash make her landing, while a sheepishly grinning Lyra hung on. Bon Bon spat her broom out, aiming perfectly at the door jamb, where it stood upright. She sauntered out to meet them.

“Thanks for bringing her home, Rainbow,” Bon Bon said, not letting her gaze, full of arching eyebrows and smirking lips, leave Lyra’s now suddenly coy countenance. “I figured she was with you when she didn’t come home last night. Hoped, anyway.”

“I’m sorry,” Lyra said. “I got caught by surprise.”

“Well, she’s safe now,” Rainbow Dash said. She flicked a wing in salute at Bon Bon. “Ma’am,” she said. She turned to Lyra, nodded professionally, and saluted. “I’ll be on my way now. Take care.”

“Nice meeting you, Rainbow Dash,” Lyra said.

“Same,” Dash said, and she blasted off into the sky, the cobblestone swirling torrents of dust marking her blastoff, and Lyra watched her loop down over the horizon and head back to her watchtower. Only then, after those wings carried Dash away, did Lyra let herself linger on how powerful those back muscles felt, pressed up against her stomach and chest, how wonderful it was to feel helpless, having to put her complete trust in the power and skill of another mare… wow.

Bon Bon leaned her head over to Lyra, her arch expression not entirely gone. “So,” Bon Bon said, “you decided to fall for a bent mare.”

“Yep,” Lyra said. She broke out of her reverie and faced Bon Bon finally, and laughed. “Welcome to the Lyra Heartstrings show, huh?”

“I’d ask for a refund,” Bon Bon said, as she turned to enter her house. “Now come get your breakfast before I throw it out.”

“Yes ma’am,” Lyra said, peddling a cheerfulness that she didn’t have.

“I wasn’t even out that late,” Lyra said, chewing through a mouthful of oats and honey. “I was just taking the long way home by the river, when I got attacked by my own phantom.” Even the sweetness of the honey turned bitter at that memory. “I couldn’t have lost track of the time. Even Dash says they’re appearing earlier and earlier.”

“Hmm, well, she would know,” Bon Bon said. “I’m sorry for chewing you out here.”

“Oh, I know you were just worried,” Lyra said with a sticky smile. “I appreciate it.”

“Mmm hmm,” Bon Bon said. She didn’t always have her sardonic switch in the ‘on’ position when talking to Lyra. She believed her story about the phantoms coming out earlier.

“Well, if you see the lanterns start dimming, then come home. That’s what I do. It doesn’t matter if they seem to dim earlier or later, just start coming home.”

“Yeah…” Lyra started, and she stopped, slowly lowering her spoon into her bowl. She instantly began shoveling the rest of her breakfast into her mouth, barely tasting the fruit of Bon Bon’s labor.

“And you’ve just thought of something,” Bon Bon said. “Something that’s going to end with you running around town yelling at ponies.” She didn’t even have the energy to shake her head at it. Lyra was just too tiring sometimes.

Using her magic, Lyra tossed the bowl and spoon into the sink and ran to her room, pushing away piles of sheet music and broken strings that littered the floor. She levitated her brush and combed out her mane and freshened up her coat. Somehow she pushed notebooks and pencils into her saddlebag with her hoof. As fast a caster as she was, multicasting was something only the best of the best could accomplish.

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth,” Bon Bon called from the kitchen, as she busied herself with cleaning Lyra’s dishes. She heard running water from the bathroom sink, and was satisfied.

Shortly afterward, Lyra stormed into the kitchen.

“Hey, you know those books and plays that have a character saying something in an offhand manner, and then the other character says, “You’re a genius!” and some montage or pass time occurs where the off-hand remark gets put into action, and it solves everything?”


“Isn’t that just such a rotten cliche? I mean, how often does that happen anyway, that—”

“No!” Bon Bon said, splashing the sink water with the scrubbed wooden spoon, sending white suds on a lazy trajectory over the sink and onto the stove. “You are not using me as an audience to deconstruct… tropes or whatever. I want a refund on that, too.”

“Sorry Bonnie, but I got to go,” Lyra said. She placed a minty fresh kiss on her check. “Love you.”

For a moment, Bon Bon’s switched into sincerity mode. “I love you too, Lyra.” That was too much, so sardonic was powered on again. “Even if it’s against my better judgment.”

Lyra gave out a merry giggle, more from general excitement than amusement at Bon Bon’s words. “Well, to the library I go,” she said. She tightened her saddlebags and dashed out of the house.

The door shut, and Bon Bon finished cleaning the dishes. She didn’t wipe the kiss away.

Lyra sat in her pile of books, all open, marks and scribbles in her notebook, as she let herself digest what she had been reading.

It was common knowledge that the phantoms came out at night. Night was a specific time of their twenty-four hour day, a day set to match the natural circadian rhythm of ponies; awake sixteen hours, asleep eight hours. The lamps were set by the Twilight Bureau, an ancient service that kept up with the clocks as well. When the night started, the time for ponies to go to bed, the Twilight Bureau dimmed the lamps. They stayed that way until morning time, when they were slowly brightened again. All little ponies were taught since birth to be inside when the lamplighters dimmed the lamps.

The Twilight Bureau was run by Spoiled Rich, who answered to Mayor Mare. There didn’t seem to be anything sinister in either of them, but there was something wrong with how the Twilight Bureau ran the day and night cycle. But assumptions with no proof behind them was all Lyra had.

Lyra collected her notes, stuffed them into her saddlebags, and started the process of placing the books on the return cart. The library was a cozy oak tree that always filled Lyra with poignant feelings, full of longing, sadness, and happiness, feelings she didn’t understand, as if she somehow missed it even though it wasn’t gone. They were sometimes too much to deal with, which was why she didn’t visit the library often. Cheerilee, the local school teacher, was the volunteer librarian and performed record keeping duties each evening. Otherwise, the library was run on the honor system.

Lyra levitated her books onto the return rack, and, as she moved toward the exit, caught a flash of rainbow colored hair in the fiction section. She froze, meditated to lower her racing, pounding heart, and trotted over to where Rainbow Dash was browsing through adventure books, laid flat on the floor.

“Rainbow Dash! Great to see you! Again!”

With a burst of her powerful wings, Dash swooped toward Lyra, blasting up a wake of books, overflowing with tales of daring and do, and hid behind the receptionists desk, blessedly empty.

“Lyra!” Dash hissed. “Did anyone see me? Is anyone else here?”

“What? No,” Lyra said, breathless from the terrific speed and sudden stop. “Just you and me.”

Dash turned on her, frowning. “What did you see, huh? Sneaking up on me?”

“I… I didn’t sneak on you,” Lyra said. “I was doing some research on the lamp system. I was turning in my books—”

“What. Did. You. See?”

Lyra gulped. “You reading adventure books.”

Dash’s face fell. “You can’t tell anybody about that.”

Lyra, worried and even a little scared, made an intuitive leap and grinned like a madmare. “Are you seriously worried about ponies knowing you read books?”


Lyra laughed and bounded out from behind the desk. “Rainbow Dash, please. Everypony reads books.”

“I’m not everypony,” Dash said. “I got an image to keep. And how did you get so quiet? No one ever sneaks up on me.”

“Oh, you like that? I’m good at it. Always have been.” Lyra relaxed her muscles, her very thoughts, and let stillness flow over her. “You have to maintain balance,” she said, voice soft, clicking like pony steps. “Four hooves in balance with the soul of the planet.” She stepped forward. Dash strained her hearing, but heard nothing. It was her mind trying to fill in the tap tap of hooves against wood as Lyra flowed.

“That sounds like a bunch of hoo-haa,” Dash said, finally. “But it’s a cool trick.”


“So… lamp system, eh? I guess that phantom incident really messed you up.”

“It made me consider a lot of what goes on around here,” Lyra said. It sounded cryptic in her mind, but goofy when said out loud. “I’m going to—”


Dash pointed toward the magic section, Lyra turned to look, and playing on the lint and dust floating near the upper window was purple. Shades of purple, as the watery, opaque form of a pony moved as if trapped in the bright lamp light flowing through the window. A horn moved sharply, and wings unfurled.

“It’s the princess,” Lyra whispered, in awe. The princess turned, eyes forming and looking upon the two ponies, first in surprise, and then in the most open love and familiarity.

She knows us.

Her mouth moved, but no sound came out. Lyra and Dash, in their mind, filled in the word, “Girls”, and their heart leapt. Dash lay the tip of her wing on Lyra’s back.

Her mouth moved again, and they saw, “more light.” She smiled, and there was love at the end.

She faded away.

It was a little while before Lyra realized Dash’s wing was on her, and regrettably for her, Dash realized it as well and quickly retracted it.

“She… she loves us?”

“Legend of The Princess,” Dash said. “She loves us all.”

Lyra struggled to hold onto the impression. She had a dream, a shared dream with Rainbow Dash, and now it was fading away like fog from the morning.

“What did she say? Do you remember?” Lyra said, groping in her memory. Dash was transfixed on that spot near the window. She wrangled her attention away and forced herself to face Lyra.

“Come with me. I have something I want to show you.”

She trotted outside, expecting Lyra to follow. Lyra stopped by the fiction section to magically levitate the spilled adventure books, and place them on the return tray.

“Did you really have to do all that?” Dash said, with a touch of scorn. Lyra just grinned.

“Gotta help Cheerilee when we can.”

“Uh huh.” Dash squatted low to the ground. “Hop on. You’ll ride me like you did this morning.”

Lyra was thankful that Dash couldn’t see her perverted grin.

They landed outside of Fluttershy’s cottage. Nearby was the patch of trees known as Everfree Woods. No one liked going there, as it was wild and independent. Local legend had it that the woods could bend and morph itself, forcing the wayward traveler to repeat paths already taken. Phantoms were known to be there, even during daytime, though they were insubstantial and allegedly harmless.

One time, a colt was lost in the woods for days. Even search parties, using rope and signals, couldn’t find him. He appeared some days later, haggard, but in good spirits. When asked how he escaped, he only said, “You gotta go up, left, down, left.”

Unhelpful advice, and the incident quickly passed into the boredom of old nags’ tales.

“We aren’t going in there, are we?” Lyra asked.

“Of course not,” Rainbow Dash said. She landed and squatted again, and Lyra regretfully disembarked from her lithe little body. “But I got something to show you.”

Dash stalked toward the edge of the woods, next to Fluttershy’s property line, a simple wooden fence broken only by the chicken shed, from where contented clucking drifted into the noon air.

“Look,” Dash whispered, and Lyra’s eyes widened. Dash gently shut her lower jaw.

The Beast was stalking through the woods as light passed through him, transparent over the dark woods that always seemed to cast their own autumnal light, golden like old memories.

The Beast was clothed, and his muscles bulged through the white shirt as he grappled with something invisible.

“What is he-”

“Shh,” Dash said.

A phantom appeared in his claws; Golden Harvest’s phantom, but now it morphed into darkness and a runny void that seeped through his fingers. The phantom faded away, and the beast turned, causing Lyra to bite her bottom lip, and then walked into the depths of the blackening woods.

“He’s gorgeous!” Lyra said, almost breathless. “The way he just glides on two legs! And those claws.” She glanced over to Rainbow Dash, who was viewing her with a great deal of consternation.

Lyra laughed. “So? I saw how you were looking at him. You’re attracted to him too.”

Rainbow Dash scowled. “Shut up! I’m not…” her view drifted back to the woods. “Don’t you think it’s weird, though? To feel that way?”

“Sure it’s weird!” Lyra said. “But so what? Be weird. The Beast is sexy, and we can both be weird all day believing it.”

Rainbow Dash let out a groan of disbelief. “That’s not even why I brought you out here! Look, don’t you see? I only ever see The Beast during this time of day, and it looks to be the same time as The Princess shows up.”

“So they’re connected,” Lyra said. A hen clucked. “I’ve always felt that, for some reason.”


“Yes. I even made a song about it, even though I never saw the Beast before. You know, I don’t like calling him the Beast.”

“Me neither,” Dash said. “He fights phantoms, so he’s okay in my book. I don’t know what else to call him.”

Lyra grinned. “The Sexy Beast.”

Dash huffed and rolled her eyes. “I hope I don’t have to hear about that all day.”

“You won’t, I promise. Hey… how about we go to lunch? My treat. I owe you for saving me.”

“Just doing my job,” Rainbow Dash said “And I’ll pay my own way, if you don’t mind.

This day was going better than Lyra could have ever hoped.

Slowly Rainbow Dash let down her guard and opened up to her. As far as Lyra could tell, she was a bit of a loner. At least, she didn’t know any other friends Dash had.

What Lyra was seeing now was the hidden bloom of a gentle, even girly mare. It was cute, and it was with a sinking heart that she knew she was going to have a hard time getting over her crush.

I shouldn’t have invited her to lunch, and the thought sent her heart lurching, falling and desperately grabbing at air, hoping for some kind of hope to cling to. I’m just making this worse for myself. Breathe, Lyra…

“So, you’re a singer,” Dash said, when she finished chewing through a bite of her daisy sandwich on hay bread. “I’m guessing you sing while you play that harp?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Lyra said. “I write songs about old folk tales, at least the ones I can find. Sometimes I just make one up out of whole cloth.”

“That’s so cool!” Rainbow Dash said. She was giving in to her natural excitement now, and Lyra noticed it. It was flattering, that Rainbow Dash would open up to her like this. “I need to watch you sing one day. Let me know your schedule, because I’d love to come see you.”

“You got it, Dash,” Lyra said. “I need to watch some of your performances too.”

“What performances?”

“Well, aren’t you the fastest flier in the world?”

“Oh.” Dash dropped her sandwich on her plate. “I guess.”

“What do you mean ‘I guess’? You mean you don’t know?”

“No, I do know. I am the fastest,” Rainbow Dash said. “It’s just… I could be so much faster if I could just get the altitude.”

“Well, why don’t… oh.” Lyra nodded, ending her nod upward, toward the void always hovering above them.

“Yeah. That.”

They were silent for awhile. The lanterns, recently at their brightest, were being dimmed by the members of the Twilight Bureau. This was the signal that noon was over.

“Daytime is half over,” Rainbow Dash said. “Working hours for me soon.”

“Yeah,” Lyra said. Her breathing stopped, her pupils shrunk, and she dropped her sandwich.

Rainbow Dash flapped, leaving her seat, glaring into whatever distance Lyra was staring at. “What?” she hissed, “What do you see?” She turned back to Lyra, who was grinning.


“It’s light!” Lyra shouted. Patrons stopped mid-bite as they turned to look at this shrieking green mare. Most thought, ‘oh, it’s just Lyra’, and continued eating. Her eccentricities were known well enough that her shouting about light in a restaurant was normal behavior for her.

“Don’t you get it? The Princess and the Beast only appear at midday, when the light is brightest. When the lamps dim, the phantoms appear when they are at their lowest!”

Dash squinted at her. “Lyra, that’s how it’s supposed to work.”

“No, no it’s backwards! The lamps aren’t being set in time with the day, the day is controlled by the light! We’ve been doing it wrong this whole time! We can get rid of the phantoms forever, but what we need is—”

“—more light”, Rainbow Dash said. They both remembered now what the Princess had told them. Now Dash was getting infected with Lyra’s high spirits. “We need to go to the Twilight Bureau and fix it right now!”

“Yeah!” Lyra said, jumping out of her chair. It clacked against the ground, and the patrons cast curious and disapproving stares at her and the deceased chair. Even for Lyra, this was too far. “Get Mayor Mare in on it, too! We can get all of the lamplighters out and fire every single one of those suckers up.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Dash said, as she took to the air, her exit slightly more graceful.

“Paying the bill, for one thing,” Sky Gem said, as she slapped the ticket on the table. While eat-and-flee wasn’t going to happen in a world where everypony knew everypony, it was just good business sense to reign in overly-excited mares.

Dash reached into her jacket and tossed out a hoofful of bits. Lyra levitated exact change from her saddle bag. “Keep the change,” Lyra said.

“Yeah, later,” Dash said, and the two ran to the Town Hall.

Sky Gem eyed the retreating mares while sliding the bits into her cash tray. I hope Lyra realizes Dash isn’t into mares, she thought.

12. Ponyville Flattened Affect part 2

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Lyra’s hoofs rang staccato against the floor as she paced. Rainbow Dash stared at a yellowed picture allegedly depicting the founding of the Twilight Bureau.

Dash pointed a hoof at the dragon standing next to the founder.

“Hey, where did all the dragons go?”

“There never were any dragons,” Lyra said. “It’s just a legend.” She stopped and huffed. “What’s taking them so long?”

The foyer saw many ponies pass through, some surprised to see Rainbow Dash out and about so early (early for her, anyway). No one approached her as she moved from painting to painting.

“You know, I’ve never been here,” Dash said. “I mean, in the waiting room. It’s kinda neat, these paintings.” She turned to look at Lyra. “Hey, do you think the mare that painted these things was actually there?”

“It was a stallion, and no,” Lyra said. “They would have tarnished by now if he actually was there.”

Finally, the door to the main office of Spoiled Rich, the director of the Twilight Bureau, swung open. She sauntered out and aimed herself directly at Lyra.

“Do you seriously think you’re the first pony to come up with some harebrained scheme to destroy the phantoms?”

“No, I’m the first pony to come up with a working scheme-”

Strangled sounds of surprise and disapproval rammed Lyra’s response. Spoiled Rich was clearly taken aback by this pony not being intimidated, and was fishing for some kind of comeback. Rainbow Dash flapped over and stood next to Lyra, fixing Spoiled with a stony stare. Several ponies passing through the foyer stopped and watched. Office doors opened as heads poked out, anticipating an exciting drama to interrupt their daily lives of bureaucratic boredom.

Mayor Mare wasn’t having any of that in her city hall. “Ladies, in my office, please,” she said, casting a warning stare over her curious subordinates. Disappointed heads returned back into the offices from whence they came, and doors shut behind them.


“Now, let’s hear your idea, Ms. Lyra,” and here Mayor Mare fixed her patented warning stare on Spoiled Rich, “and we’ll decide the veracity of it.”

“How can an idea be hungry?” Dash mumbled.

Carefully, once again, Lyra shared her idea of destroying the phantoms, of lighting all of the lanterns at their fullest extent. She was proud of herself for pitching her idea without pause or consideration for Spoiled Rich’s grunts and sighs of exasperation and outrage.

“You have no proof that any of this will work,” Spoiled Rich said, immediately launching into her rebuttal, not even allowing a pause of thought to enter the room. “We never light the lamps that bright because of the stress on the system. We’ll have lamps going out all over Ponyville within minutes, and then what? How will the ponies know when to go inside for the phantom time? Why does it even have to be at Phantom Time anyway?

“And furthermore,” Spoiled Rich said, letting Lyra’s reply die in her open mouth, “your idea of having this done during Phantom time? You’d risk other ponies lives over your harebrained—yes, it is harebrained—scheme?”

“Well… we’ll all be volunteers.”

“Really.” Spoiled Rich said, her lips flattening in scorn. “Volunteers to get torn apart by phantoms.”

“I’m a volunteer,” Rainbow Dash said. “I’ll take on any phantom any time.”

Spoiled Rich nodded respectfully toward Rainbow Dash. Lyra imagined the gesture shredding her insides, having to be respectful to another pony. “Rainbow Dash, we all appreciate the work you do for us, saving stragglers from those awful phantoms. But you have to understand, you’ll have multiple ponies in multiple locations, all over the world. Far be it from me to ever impugn your abilities, but even this may be too much for you.”

“Well, whatever it is you got, I can fly fast enough.” Dash said, unfazed. “Faster, even.”

“If I may interrupt,” Mayor Mare said, her softer tone gently smelting away Spoiled Rich’s accusatory iron. “I wonder how you came up with this idea, Ms. Heartstrings.”

“A lot of research at the library,” Lyra said. “Mostly about the history of the Twilight Bureau,” and she explained her findings, her voice carried away on a wave of excitement. Mayor Mare sat at attention, leaning into the rushing tide of Lyra’s ideas. Even Spoiled Rich couldn’t resist the fresh enthusiasm bubbling from Lyra’s sincere heart.

Rainbow Dash surfed at the crest, and wiped out. “Not to mention the Princess told us ‘more light’,” Dash said.

She knew it was a bad idea the instant it left her mouth. The room dropped several degrees colder as harsh silence billowed through it, only interrupted by the slap of Lyra’s hooves against her face.


“The Princess,” Spoiled Rich said, an edge of antagonistic laughter poking her throat. “You two actually saw the Princess, an old myth, and decided to do what she told you to do.”

“Well,” Dash said, and for the first time, her cool and relaxed nature fled.

“Yes,” Lyra said, throwing herself upon Dash’s blade. “We saw the Princess in the library, and she told us ‘more light’.”

More silence, though Spoiled Rich’s ear-splitting grin was loud enough. She wafted it between Lyra and Mayor Mare, just waiting for the big ‘No’ to come out.

“I see,” Mayor Mare said, coldly. “Well, Lyra, your ideas are interesting, but outside of actual proof, we’ll just have to call your plan far too risky. However, if you do happen to come across any actual proof, please do not hesitate to share it with our office.”

“I won’t, Ms. Mayor,” Lyra said, deflated.

“Will that be all?”

“Yes.” Lyra inched out of her seat. Dash followed, neutral, looking at nothing. “I thank you for your time, Mayor Mare. And your time as well, Spoiled Rich.”

Spoiled Rich dropped her gloating and stood, looking professional and concerned. “We appreciate your sense of civic duty, Ms. Heartstrings,” she said, and nodded.

Lyra and Rainbow Dash quickly trotted out of City Hall.


“Ugh, those darn narcs!” Rainbow Dash said, casting an angry look back at the city hall. “Always talking about vorscacities and imp yunes, whatever that is. I stay away from City Hall, every time. Who needs ‘em?”

“Yeah,” Lyra said, staring at the ground.

With a mighty flap of her wings, Rainbow Dash landed in front of Lyra, staring intently at her. Lyra finally lifted her head.

“I’m sorry,” Dash said. “I screwed up in there talking about the Princess.”

“That’s okay, Dash,” Lyra said. “It’s something that really happened, so I don’t think it’s a mistake at all. It’s their fault for being so closed-minded.”

“Well, you should have said I was wrong, or acted like I was joking-”

“No,” Lyra said. “We’re in this together. I’m not going to set you up as a joke. Besides, it feels… well…”


“Like… it’s wrong to deny that we saw the Princess. Like I’d be betraying her if I claimed we didn’t see her.”

Dash’s head turned to the side, her focus drifting, as she stared into some mysterious distance. “Yeah,” she said.

“Yoo hoo, girls.”

Dash regained focus and eyed a mare approaching them from the direction of city hall. Lyra turned, and forced a smile. “Hi, Rarity.”

“Lyra! A pleasure to see you.” She held out a hoof to Rainbow Dash, who shook it. “Rainbow Dash, I presume.”


“Well, I am Rarity. I’m with public works, the head of the design team.”

“I’m the night watch,” Rainbow Dash said, smooth and distant.

“Yes, your reputation precedes you.” Rainbow Dash gave a tart look at Lyra and silently mouthed ‘precedes’. “I hope neither of you will be offended, but I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with Spoiled Rich and Mayor Mare.”

“You ‘overheard’ a closed door conversation?” Lyra asked.

“Well… eavesdropped, if you insist.” Rarity placed a delicate hoof in front of her lips, more of a mimic of discretion than the actual thing. “If I may get right to the point-”


“-I have also seen the Princess, and I agree with your plan to rid ourselves of the phantoms.”

“You saw the Princess too!” Lyra said, sunny excitement like a disinfectant to her disappointment.

Rainbow Dash moved in. “You think we can get rid of the phantoms?”

“Yes,” Rarity said. “And I’m not the only one that will help you.”

“Wait a second, this is weird,” Rainbow Dash said. She poked a prodding hoof on Rarity’s chest. “You’ll believe us just like that? Just because we said the Princess told us ‘more light’, and that’s that?” She stalked toward Rarity, who backed away. “How do we know this isn’t some trick to get us arrested?”

“Goodness, but you do have trust issues,” Rarity said.

“Yeah. Fighting phantoms will do that.”

Slowly, as if communication from another world, Rarity said, “'The void beyond the clouds’. The Princess said that to me, weeks ago. Goodness, I had forgotten all about it—like it was a dream—until you two showed up in the city hall. The memory suddenly came back to me, of what she said, and I simply had to eavesdrop. If the Princess told you more light, then more light it is.”

"The void," Rainbow Dash said. She turned to Lyra. "I knew it. That thing beyond the cloudline... I knew it."

"I... I always did too," Lyra said.

Rarity raised an eyebrow. "So you just believe me as well?"

"I know this sounds crazy, but yeah, I do," Lyra said, and Rainbow Dash gave a nod. “Did you say more ponies would help us? Because we need all the help we can get.”

“Yes, though not enough to light all lamps simultaneously.”

“When you get the chance, get them together and meet me at my… uh, Bon Bon’s house as soon as you can! We’ll see you there!”


“Really,” Bon Bon said. “That’s actually what you’re going to do tonight.”

“Well… yes.” Lyra said.

It was bad enough that Lyra decided to use her house for some goofy fan meeting, where all members claim to have seen the Princess and even hear her speak. Several said they even saw the Beast. The house was already full of Lyra and Dash, but Rarity had brought Applejack, Fluttershy, Starlight Glimmer, and Trixie, who denied that the Princess was real and couldn’t wait to shove it in everyone’s dumb faces, but was here only because Starlight Glimmer was, and Big Macintosh, who at least stood to the side and was super careful not to ruin anything. He was also the most taciturn pony Bon Bon had ever met, and, of the crew assembled, got on Bon Bon’s nerves the least.

Yes, that was bad enough, but what they had planned was illegal and dangerous. And so, so stupid.

“I’m in,” Bon Bon said.

Lyra’s face lit up in surprise and glee. “Really?”

“I clearly can’t stop you—any of you—from doing this, and I’m already implicated by letting you guys use my house for your plans, so I might as well go in all the way.”

“If Trixie was you, I’d run like hay.”

“Then why don’t you?” Bon Bon said.

Trixie flicked her long mane over her shoulders. “Well, I’d really like to see it blow up in your faces. So I can laugh.”

Bon Bon cast a querying look at Starlight Glimmer, who only responded by scuffing a hoof and looking at the floor. Why does she put up with her? Why does anyone?


Starlight Glimmer was a lamplighter, like Rarity, and was given the most specific instructions of the ponies the Princess appeared to.

“For the past two months, I’ve been stealing poles, lanterns, and fuel,” Starlight Glimmer had told them, when the group had been comparing their experiences with the Princess. “I actually forgot that the Princess had told me to do it, but I still, somehow, kept carrying out her wish.” She had brought them with her, five for each unicorn - Rarity, Trixie, Starlight Glimmer, and Lyra. Trixie and Lyra were given quick lessons on usage. There was no real skill required to be a lamplighter; it was really more of a prestige position, a job offered to unicorns who exemplified positive civic traits.

The earth ponies—Big Macintosh, Applejack, and Bon Bon offered protection for the unicorns as they lit the lamps to their highest degree. Rainbow Dash was air watch, with Fluttershy providing support. Rainbow Dash was just paranoid enough to figure that, if lighting all of the lamps to their brightest extent really would get rid of the phantoms, then they’d come out to stop the them.

“I mean, it makes sense, right?”

No one disputed it.

"Remember guys, if a whole lot of phantoms come out, get to shelter immediately. We'll try again later." Rainbow Dash took off to scout the area.

It was when the nine walked out into the darkening lamplight, into the cusp of the phantom hour, that the implications of their plan, the stomach turning truth of it, finally sank in. The adrenaline from giddy conspiracy, full of hope in the bright and warm house, curdled and left them anxious and even guilt-stricken.

They were lighting the lamps. Illegally. Unplanned. While not the most heinous crime, it was the crime with the most social stigma attached to it.

“Oh heavens, what are we doing?” Rarity said, her head swerving like a tennis match, looking for an answer from her fellow co-conspirators.

“Saving this town,” Applejack said. “Destroying the phantoms. What the Princess wants us to do.”

“Let’s not start panicking yet,” Rainbow Dash said, flying above them. “Alright, we have our marching orders, so let’s-”

The shutters at the top window of Sugarcube Corner burst open, and Pinkamena stuck her head out. Her long hair obscured half of her face, but one crazed eye pierced the group walking in the street below. They froze.

“What are you guys doing?” Pinkamena asked. “Are we getting out of here?”

“Uhh…” Rainbow Dash started. She desperately looked at her group for support, but they were too busy staring at Pinkamena Diane Pie, the town doomsayer.

“We’re going back to Equestria, right?” Pinkie slammed the shutters shut, and the front door to the bakery immediately opened as Pinkamena trotted out, with no pause between the events. The quickness with which she went from her second floor room to the front door was impossible, and everyone felt uncomfortable (except for Trixie, who just knew she could make it happen faster).

“Whatever you guys are doing, I want in,” Pinkamena said.

Again, Rainbow Dash’s response was, “Uhh…”

“Oh, it would be great to have you,” Fluttershy said, approaching Pinkamena . “We could use another defender. This way, we could split up the four unicorns and have an earth pony with each one.”

“Not a bad idea,” Applejack said. “We’d work quicker that way, that’s for sure.”

“Good,” Pinkamena said, as she trotted toward the group. “I’m tired of this ugly gross stupid place. I miss my family.”

Fluttershy filled Pinkamena in on their plan while the group skulked at the central fountain, which had a dragon statue poised in the middle. The gang was viewed with some curiosity by the retreating populace, ponies going to the safety of their houses, wondering why a group with tree branches and coffee cans were hanging around the fountain. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy took to the air, watching over Ponyville, waiting for the streets to empty so they could commit their crimes.

“Why can’t you just make them invisible?” Applejack asked Trixie, too aware of pony eyes peering at the odd combination. “Sticks and cans don’t make any sense.”

“Look, if they were invisible, I wouldn’t be able to see them,” Trixie said. “The Great and Powerful Trixie doesn’t have enough time to work with, so lay off.”

Dash flew back. “Everyone is gone in my hemisphere,” she said. They looked toward the horizon, waiting in silence for Fluttershy’s return.

It was a short wait. “Everypony has gone home,” she said.

“Then allow me to disillusion our equipment,” Trixie said, as she cast a canceling spell.

Rainbow Dash was far too aware of the eyes of the gang waiting for her to give the order. So she summoned resolve into her heart, and said, “Let’s mosey.”

Pinkamena showed no hesitation as she galloped toward her section of the lamps. Starlight Glimmer hesitated, and then followed her guard. The rest dispersed toward their targets spread throughout the world.

Except for Bon Bon and Lyra. They were already there.

“Well, here goes!” Lyra said. She levitated the kerosene can, unscrewed the cap, and poured its contents into the fuel reservoir. She then used the indented end of the pole, shaped to fit the specialized lamp bolt, to turn the lantern to its brightest (and most fuel consuming) capacity.

“Whew! Those things really shoot out the light!”

“This is so stupid,” Bon Bon said. “I mean, they have timers on these things, so why do they need lighters in the first place? Just keep them fueled with kerosene, and that’s that.”

Lyra gasped. “Hush your mouth, Bon Bon, this is a sacred duty.”

“Whatever,” Bon Bon said, as she trotted behind Lyra to the next lamp. This one was put out, so after filling the reservoir, Lyra used the flint end of the pole to spark the wick, lighting it.

“Sacred duty to keep earth ponies down, more like it,” Bon Bon said. “This is just some ritualistic garbage unicorns came up with to give themselves a higher status. I mean, why does a unicorn have to use a pole to light or snuff this stuff? You can just use your magic, right?”

“Sacred. Duty,” Lyra said. She was grinning; she loved Bon Bon’s angry rants. “Besides, all these lamps are magic-proof to prevent tampering. Otherwise we—”

A scream, muffled by the distance traveled through the alleys and turns of Ponyville, reached their ears. Rarity. The two stiffened. In the distance, above them, they heard Rainbow Dash’s faint, “stay on course!”

Lyra and Bon Bon trotted to the next lamp in silence, worried and scared. Bon Bon kept an angry vigilance around her, on the lookout for any phantom. Around the world, the other members that heard the scream also wondered; is this just a normal phantom attack, or will it portend something more?

Lyra squeaked, and Bon Bon quickly turned her head, tense. She relaxed.

“It’s the defective phantom,” she said, smirking. She turned toward the wide-eyed Lyra and snapped, “Get to it!”

Lyra moved toward the next lamp, forcing herself to tear away from the defective phantom standing at the street corner, watching them. The phantom was a purple earth pony mare with a cutie mark of grapes and a strawberry. There was no pony in Ponyville that looked like her, so she was a true simulacra, a copy without an original. She was called the defective phantom because she never attacked or harassed the populace. She wasn’t even scary.

Full of fear for Rarity, themselves, and anger—always anger—Bon Bon went against her normal cool-headed judgment and said, “What are you out for, phantom?”

“D-don’t talk to it!” Lyra said.

“It won’t do anything,” Bon Bon said. “This is your end. How does that make you feel, eh?”

The defective phantom said, “It don’t matter. None of this matters.”

Bon Bon soured. Lyra made a snouty whinny of fear and rushed to the next lantern. Bon Bon followed her, keeping a lookout. The defective phantom followed them, keeping a respectful distance, and Bon Bon got angrier.

“Hey,” Fluttershy said, as she descended. “Did you guys hear Rarity?”

“Yeah!” Lyra said. “Is she okay?”

“She’s good, Big Macintosh took care of it,” Fluttershy said. “I’m doing a checkup, so keep it up! It’s looking really bright.”

The defective phantom held up her hooves and yelled, “That’s not Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy snarled at the traitorous phantom. Bon Bon did not hesitate, and rushed at the phantom Fluttershy, matching snarl for snarl, ready to tear it apart. A different pair of hooves kicked her withers.

Bon Bon slid away, forcing awareness through her pain, seeing that she was surrounded by a herd of snarling, ravening phantoms, cutting her off from Lyra. Lyra dropped her pole and backpedaled from phantom Fluttershy.

“Those aren’t ponies either.”

“Shut up!” Bon Bon shouted. Screams and shouts echoed throughout the world. The real Fluttershy’s “eep” came from above. Rarity shouting, “You brutes!”, Applejack’s neighs of rage, Rainbow Dash’s muffled commands, Trixie shouting, “Fools!”, and ringing unicorn blasts of magic. The sky was full of the flaps of phantom wings.

Well, I guess we were on the right track, Bon Bon thought. She charged through the gang, in a hurry to get Lyra and get inside, to safety. Their little group could not face this many phantoms.

A phantom Dizzy Twister swooped behind Lyra, hooked her hooves under her forelegs, and lifted her into the air. Lyra flailed as a surprised yelp turned into a fearful scream.

Bon Bon shouted, “Lyra!” She pushed through the phantoms kicking and biting into her coat, struggling to save Lyra before she was lifted too far. “Use your magic!”

Lyra cast blindly, too panicked for precise shots. Desperately, Bon Bon retreated to a narrow alley, jumped from wall to wall, and clambered onto the rooftop of a cottage. She raced toward Lyra, hopping from roof to roof, hoping just to get there fast enough before she became forever out of her reach.

Lyra focused and was putting up a better fight, jabbing the phantom with her hooves, but a phantom Medley swooped in and kicked her in the jaw. Lyra went limp, and Dizzy Twister gained altitude.

Bon Bon made it to the building closest to Lyra, galloped to the edge, so painfully aware of Lyra being lifted higher. She used her earth pony magic, jumped, and felt the earth below her surge and push her up.

She reached out, high above the building, both hooves extended to grasp the phantom and bring her back down to earth. Her hooves grasped empty air, and Bon Bon began her descent, tears welling up as she watched Lyra being carried into the sky, where the void awaited. She let out a wretched sob and readied herself to fight, below, for whatever was left.


Rainbow Dash didn’t expect this to turn so bad. After all, they had the commands of the Princess herself, the twilight being who directed them to the quest of more light. They couldn’t possibly lose.

They were losing hard. She had a welt on her flank now, above her cutie mark, when she dove into a thicket of phantoms. It was especially irritating because the welt came from Trixie, who blasted blindly at a phantom trying to pull Applejack into the river. Applejack at least kept her cool and made every attack true—you could count on earth ponies for solidity. For some reason, unicorns always went into panic mode. Dash didn’t understand it.

But now she was flying to the equator, where Pinkanema and Starlight were dealing with their own phantoms. Starlight was doing that blind panicked blasting that the other unicorns were doing—really, what was up with that?—but Pinkanema was assaulting with a fury that Dash certainly didn’t expect. Her eyes were spirals of madness, and there was no courage in her assault, only fearlessness—fearlessness gets ponies hurt. Pinkanema wasn’t even paying attention to Starlight Glimmer, screaming and blasting at the phantoms closing in on her.

Dash flipped and dove straight into the pack, landing on a phantom Pokey Pierce with such force that it dematerialized into a cloud of burning coal and purple shadow. Rainbow Dash had never seen that before, and if the situation wasn’t so desperate she would think that maybe that void out there, beyond the clouds, was overextending itself by sending so many phantoms. But Dash had to save Starlight Glimmer first.

“Starlight, keep your back to the tree and watch the skies!” she said. Rainbow Dash pushed into the awful gang, aiming to get between them and Glimmer.

“Pinkanema! You have to save Starlight!” Rainbow Dash heard her voice say, and saw her phantom hovering over Pinkanema. It pointed straight at her. “That phantom Dash is goin-”

Rainbow Dash lunged at the phantom, flicking out a hoof and punching the fake right in the jaw. The phantom Dash rolled over and used her wings to fling herself upright. Rainbow Dash flapped her wings, keeping her momentum, ready to destroy the fake with one mighty kick, when Pinkanema kicked Dash in the barrel, earth pony power stealing her breath and sending her reeling.

Starlight Glimmer took this opportunity to start screaming, shut her eyes tight, and blasted at the phantom Rainbow Dash. The attack was telegraphed, and the phantom dodged it simply.

“Pinkanema! Starlight’s been replaced too! We need to do something!”

Rainbow Dash struggled to stand on her hooves, forcing herself to shake her head. She couldn’t even speak a denial, and it would only get lost in the cacophony of Starlight Glimmer’s screams and blind blasts.

“Wait a minute,” Pinkanema said, her eyes unscrewing toward sanity. “Something’s wrong here.”

“I knew you were worthless,” the phantom Rainbow Dash said, flapping in place, folding her forelegs across her chest. “Why did we even take you along? You can’t-”

A claw reached out, faint, transparent, and grabbed the Rainbow Dash phantom. Even Glimmer stopped screaming enough to watch, and said, “It’s the Beast!”

The beast picked up the phantom and slammed it to the ground, head first, and it burst into burning coal and purple shadow.

“No way.” Rainbow Dash pushed herself up, staring at the beast. She forced herself to breathe now, and managed to tell Glimmer, “Don’t attack him!”

“I’m not!” Starlight Glimmer said, her tone hushed with amazement.

Pinkanema teared up and whispered, “Lero.”

Dash startled at the surge in her heart. “W-what?”

The beast gently placed a transparent hand on Pinkanema’s head, not touching the solid matter that was Pinkanema, but she sighed and relaxed as if he had.

The beast turned his attention to Rainbow Dash, his hazel eyes giving her a jolt. She pawed at the ground, but bravely met his stare. He pointed toward the horizon, Rainbow Dash reading concern and immediacy in his expression, amazed that she understood this strange creatures look and gesture. She nodded.

“You guys, get inside right now!” She took off toward where he was pointing.

In the sky, she said, “Oh no.”

Lyra, unconscious, was being carried toward the cloud bank. The phantom Dizzy Twister sneered at Rainbow Dash, daring her to stop her. Dash stuck out one hoof and flew to what she hoped would be above phantom Dizzy, to stop her from carrying Lyra to the void. Dash constantly scanned the world below her, and saw Fluttershy following her below, carrying out her mission plan of shadowing Rainbow Dash. Good, Rainbow Dash thought. She’ll catch Lyra if I can’t.

Rainbow Dash sensed the attack, and quickly pitched out of the way as a phantom Blossomforth dove toward her. She thrust out a kick, hitting it in the back, and allowed herself only a millisecond of smugness as it plummeted to the ground.

Her ascent was halted as Derpy and Cloudchaser grabbed her from both sides. The phantom Dizzy Twister passed into the cloud line.

Dash shouted, “let go!” and struggled against their grasp, desperate, watching Dizzy Twister fly into the clouds, disappearing from sight. Pain wrenched her heart, and she growled as she fought against the pegasus holding her back.

From below, Fluttershy flew up, unseen by the phantoms, and tapped phantom Cloudchaser on the shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Rainbow Dash said through clenched teeth. Just asking that weakened the might of her struggle.

Fluttershy cleared her throat. “Pardon me for asking, but could you please let go of Rainbow Dash? We’re very busy right now.”

The phantom Cloudchaser hissed at her, baring suddenly growing fangs, dripping with slime. Her grip on Rainbow Dash loosened, and Dash twisted out of her reach, slammed down her rear hooves against phantom Cloudchaser’s face, and launched herself toward the cloudline.

“Get inside!” she shouted, but Fluttershy was already headed toward the watchtower. The two phantoms hesitated, before Derpy pursued Fluttershy while Cloudchaser went after Rainbow Dash. Neither were fast enough.

Rainbow Dash entered the clouds, and passed through them into the vast unblinking void. There was no fanfare, no mental cheer, nothing to mark this significant passage in her life. Fear didn’t matter. She had to do it. She had to save Lyra.

Phantom Dizzy Twister was a speck against the blind darkness, and Dash flew toward her, Lyra’s unconscious body the totality of her focus. She didn’t see the phantom Dizzy’s evil grin, as it flapped in place.

Is there a ceiling? Is that why she can’t go any further? Dash wondered. It didn’t matter if the phantom was ready to flee again. No pegasus, phantom or otherwise, was faster than her.

She held out a hoof as she got closer to phantom Dizzy, seeing the grin, thinking that it’d be simple to just pivot around and kick her in the back, grab Lyra, fly back down…

Thunderlane materialized in front of her. She had never seen a phantom materialize. It was instantaneous, but in her memory was a white pulsating maggot with rotten meat woven around it by long multi-jointed black claws, and a burst of nothing I can’t get it out of my mind and Thunderlane was on her, hitting her.

She blinked despite the goggles, her head knocked back, and phantom Cloudchaser caught up and gripped her barrel. Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth and managed to get her wings free, at least not falling to the ground, but phantom Thunderlane wouldn’t stop hitting her, and the bruising pain was pushing Lyra from her awareness.

Phantom Cloudchaser bit her, and Dash grunted. She struggled, and looked toward phantom Dizzy Twister. They made eye contact, and, with no ceremony, the phantom dropped Lyra.

Rainbow Dash surged toward the falling body, but the restrainers were too strong.

“Let… go!” Rainbow Dash said, but the phantom bit harder, and Dash screamed. She couldn’t give up. Lyra hadn’t reached the cloud line Why can’t I break free and her heart surged toward Lyra, toward the fall. Her head snapped back and one of the windows of her goggles shattered, shards spilling out into the sky.

Fluttershy slammed her rear hooves into the phantom Cloudchaser.

“I TOLD you we were BUSY!” Fluttershy shouted. She grappled with the phantom Cloudchaser, gripped her head, and twisted. “I even said PLEASE!” A thunderous snap, the phantom Cloudchaser’s pupils pinpricked, and her limp body fell upwards, fading into the void.

Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth, deftly avoided phantom Thunderlane’s attack, and pushed herself away from him, hoof out, diving faster than she ever had before, straight to Lyra, who now passed the cloudline.

Wind poked it’s finger into Rainbow Dash’s broken goggle and pulled it off of her head. She squinted against the wind resistance, tears pulling from her eyes, and pushed harder than she ever had before.

She was carrying a transparent cone around her.

A new trap? It didn’t matter, she pushed against it and felt it narrow around her, Lyra’s body straight below her, falling, limp, eyes closed, unconscious. The ground was rushing up too fast, too fast for Rainbow Dash to rescue Lyra, but she thought I will save her and pushed harder. She felt pegasus magic spark in her, and she pushed that too. Nothing was going to stop her except the ground. Bon Bon was running, bloody, but was encumbered by phantom Honeydew. Applejack pushed Trixie into an abandoned shed, and was pulled back by a gang of phantoms. She couldn’t see Rarity and Big Macintosh, they were on the other side of the world. Pinkamena and Starlight Glimmer just had to be inside, they just had to. She saw the Beast, running toward Lyra, but he wasn’t going to be fast enough. Only I am, she would have thought, but she was past conscious thought now. She was past everything except speed, and finally, she broke through the cone.

“Applejack!” Trixie shouted, trotting in place. “Stop fighting those things and get in here!”

“Tryin’,” Applejack said, dodging an aerial attack from a frothing Cloud Chaser. She knew a phantom was coming up behind her—the earth didn’t lie—and she timed a rear kick perfectly to phantom Caramel’s jaw.

A rainbow boomed across the sky, and the phantoms screamed. Applejack looked at her kicking hoof in confusion.

“What’s going on?” Trixie said, watching the phantoms fade with silent screams. She lurched out of the shack she was hiding in, and gasped as she looked up into the sky.

“Did… Rainbow Dash…”

“Sonic Rainboom,” Applejack said. She viewed the sky in wonder. “What’s going on?”

“We’re getting out of here,” Lero said, as he strode into physicality. Trixie looked up at him, first in fear, and then in scorn.

“Oh. It’s you.” Lero barely gave her a glance, contempt hiding behind his eyes. He was there when Trixie came with her Alicorn amulet, and made his friends perform awful, humiliating toil, like some devil torturing souls in the hell of Ponyville—a hell Trixie created. Twilight may have forgiven her, but Lero didn’t.

Applejack gently prodded his thigh. “It’s great to see you again, partner.”

Lero grinned. “Same to you AJ.”

Trixie scoffed.

“Oh my word,” Rarity said, watching the rainbow light parade across the sky. The phantoms near her and Big Macintosh fell upwards, disappearing into the air.

“Is this what Twilight meant?” Big Macintosh said, a welt across his back fading away along with the phantoms. “More light?”

“Twilight!” Rarity said. “We… we’re going back to Equestria!”

Some distance away, Pinkie Pie shouted, “I told you so!”

“What?” Starlight Glimmer said.

“Oh, it’s just Rarity,” Pinkie said. “Quick, let’s get to the library!”

“Okay, but why Pinkie?” Starlight said. “Pinkie Pie!” Her concern changed into excitement. “You’re Pinkie!”

“Hey yeah I am, now let’s get to the library! Twilight’s coming back!” Pinkie ran toward the Golden Oak, and shouted, “To the library everyone!”

Lyra was knocked out in the world she thought she knew. She woke up into memories of the old one as her eyes slowly opened, opening into the lies that were her life. The experiences she had and never wanted changed her, like a sculptor working the wet clay of her soul. She remembered now; she didn’t want to, but the stubborn memories returned.

Acting like her coming to Ponyville at the same time Twilight did was a coincidence. Having to pretend that she didn’t know Bon Bon was a secret agent the whole time. Her own clandestine work for the crown, work that was only allowed to her with the realization that death was preferable to revealing it, and the will to carry it out. How she had to change herself to contain the raging contradictory multitudes that broke within her. Her demolishment.

Lyra also woke into her love, the most gentle yet most firm hands sculpting her soul, stronger than death and regret. Love was the shore her waves crashed against, and it would never erode. Love was her strength. Rememberance was over; time to play her part, to put on her mask, and to hide her face from those she loved.

Her natural unicorn fear of high places spiked, but she was being held by the strong forelegs of Rainbow Dash. Lyra hooked one foreleg around Dash’s neck, gently, and slowly beamed.


“Hi yourself,” Dash said. “Let me land somewhere.”

“My hero.”

“Whatever,” Dash snorted. She lowered Lyra in front of Sofas and Quills. There was anxiety in her actions, and she scanned skyward for Fluttershy. She relaxed when she saw the yellow outline flying toward the center of Ponyville. She heard Pinkie’s distant shout of Golden Oak.

“Well, let’s go get Twilight and Lero,” Dash said.

“Wait,” Lyra said. She hooked a foreleg around Dash’s neck and pulled her in for a kiss. Rainbow Dash grinned, Lyra feeling it against her lips, causing her to grin, and they both broke the kiss, laughing.

“I wanted to do that all day,” Lyra said, smiling. “I love you, Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow Dash drew Lyra into a hug, resting her chin on her neck. They both wrapped forelegs and hooves around each other, sitting so that they pressed heartbeat to heartbeat.

Rainbow Dash sighed. “I love you too, Lyra,” she said. She pulled back from the hug and held Lyra’s face in her hooves. With a mischievous smirk she pulled the edges of Lyra’s mouth upward, creating a goofy smile. They both laughed.

They galloped toward the library.


Ponyville was waking up.

Doors opened, windows lifted, and ponies took to the streets in amazement and remembrance. The phantoms were transparent and dazed, and though they were watched with wariness, no one was afraid of them. They weren't even attacking.

Lyra and Rainbow Dash dodged through the pony multitude, Lyra galloping while Dash flew overhead.

“Lero!” Rainbow Dash shouted. She veered to the left, and Lyra turned and followed, beaming as she saw that beautiful creature, her stallion, kneel and hold out his arms.

Lyra sped up, beaming a mischievous grin as she used her magic to grab Dash’s tail.

“Oh no you don’t!” Dash said, using her pegasus magic to break the hold. It was only enough that she tied with Lyra as they both leapt into Lero’s arms. They leaned in to kiss him, and their mouths touched his and each others’.

He fell on his rump onto the grass, holding on to his mares, and smiled at the ridiculous three-way kiss, Rainbow Dash on his left and Lyra on his right. They all laughed together.

“Dude!” Dash said, when she pulled back. “The way you destroyed that phantom was awesome!”

Lero arched an eyebrow. “It was more desperation than anything else. I didn’t want Pinkie going crazy… uh, crazier. Now let me up, girls.”

Rainbow Dash regretfully left his roaming hand to grab it with her hooves, pulling him up with her flapping wings. Lyra didn’t leave his embrace, and instead used her magic to pull him to his feet again. She did this while casting smugness at Dash and her physical efforts.

“I’m not looking at you,” Rainbow Dash said angrily, and Lyra only grinned as she hooked her hooves around Lero’s neck.

Dash flew around and deposited herself on Lero’s back, hooking the points of her hindhooves into his belt, and casting her forehooves over his shoulders. She kissed the back of his neck, where his hair was growing out again, and deigned to cast Lyra a glance. They stared at each other, moving with the rhythm of Lero’s gait, not paying attention to the ponies around them.

Near the library, Lyra pecked Lero on the cheek, bounded to the ground, and galloped toward Bon Bon. Rainbow Dash also left with a kiss, and flew over to praise Fluttershy for her attack against the Derpy phantom. Fluttershy’s response was to hide behind her flowing mane, shyly avert her eyes, and flick a hoof at the ground.

Lyra stopped just before bowling into her, swinging hooves around to hug her.

“Oh boy, a hug from Lyra,” Bon Bon said. “My favorite thing in the whole world.”

“That’s some nice sarcasm you got there,” Lyra said. “Especially since you’re hugging me back.”

“Hmph.” Bon Bon wasn’t able to hide her smile, either, even after they separated. “We’re still here, so why are we remembering things now?”

“We’re waking up. The veil has been lifted—”

“Not convincing. I’ll wait for the official Twilight Sparkle announcement.”

They gathered around the Golden Oaks library, though no one entered while Pinkie stood guard. There were no questions on why they should listen to Pinkie. After all, she was the only one who remembered Equestria, the world they came from. She had inquiry into special knowledge before, so they trusted that it should be the same.

Pinkie Pie, riding high on the wave of a dearly missed endorphin rush, used will power she didn’t even know she had to wrangle her runaway euphoria into something slightly more controlled. There would be no bug-eyed exclamations and skull-splitting grins gushing onto the confused and frightened (and sometimes guiltily aroused) populace. She could feel Twilight Sparkle stirring, like bubbles popping on the surface of the deep well that was Pinkie Pie’s magic. Those phantoms and that nasty darkness hovering above them couldn’t hold her back anymore.

“Alright guys!” Pinkie Pie shouted, pushing against the gate to hysteria, only letting one manic giggle escape. “Get ready, because here she c-”

The library sparkled golden, like an outline drawn in stars. The bark and leaves, showing the ages the tree had lived through, lost detail and flattened as the gold flowed through them like veins. The Golden Oak shrunk comically, like a banzai tree, until it burst into a rainbow of magic. Twilight Sparkle casually walked from the burst, and fully entered into the world.

Her trajectory was aimed at her herd. On instinct, Lero opened his arms, and she landed into his embrace. She closed her eyes to a joyful cheer as Lyra and Dash crowded around each other, trading hugs and quick, chaste kisses. They did have an audience, after all.

“Hmph,” Trixie said, giving the herd a disgusted side-glance. “love is just a bunch of chemicals.”

“Oh, I know,” Fluttershy said, breathlessly. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

“A moment,” Twilight said. She cast her spell, and the dragon statue in the middle of the fountain glowed with amber light. The marble cracked as Spike shook of his sleep.

Spike hopped over the fountain and landed on the cobblestone walkway as pieces of marble fell from his body.

“It’s about time,” Spike said, looking sourly at Twilight Sparkle. “What took you so long?” Rarity hugged him first, destroying his sour teenage expression.

“I’m sorry Spike,” Twilight said with a giggle, and pounced on him and Rarity, holding them in a royal hug. Fluttershy leapt at Twilight to join in, and Applejack, Starlight Glimmer, Big Macintosh, and Rarity jumped in as well. Trixie was pulled in by Starlight Glimmer’s magic, and struggled in terror.

Lero was hugged and kissed from all sides. His human cultural standards of reserve and distance arose, feeling nervous and awkward at the affectionate tableau being afflicted upon him, but Lero ignored it. Adult ponies were more showy in their affection and love, and he had over four years to get used to it. It always amazed him, though, how ponies were so easy in there affections, so freely loving.

“Ladies… gentlecolts, I thank you for freeing me.” Twilight said, as the group hug broke. “Now if you’ll pardon me,” and she launched herself into the sky, and hurled magic to the pulsating void.

The beam broke the cloud cover, vaporizing it instantly, and punched into the oily blackness of the outsider, the invader into the fair lands of Equestria.

The void screamed.

Hair stood on end as ponies felt magic course from the earth, through them, taken from them, and focused into a blue and purple beam aimed directly at the heart of the void. Twilight burned away whatever filters and resisters stunted her power, locks that would take Lyra intense meditation to break, gone in less than a second.

Starlight Glimmer gaped in awe. She felt the magic Twilight used more acutely than any other unicorn there, and she finally understood, from a depth at and beyond conscious thought, that if she had wanted to, Twilight could have simply killed her, and there was nothing Starlight could have done to stop it.

“My goddess,” she whispered.

She was aware of Lero next to her, and she turned to see his gaze, as blank and pitiless as the sun.

Lero didn’t like Starlight Glimmer, either. He trusted her even less than Trixie, who was at least open about her hostility. Starlight’s conversion seemed too pat and convenient to him, and even though this was just how ponies did things—quick to apologize, quick to forgive—Lero remembered the struggle against Starlight Glimmer.

But she was civil, so Lero would be civil too. He nodded, and turned his attention back to his glorious mare, his wonderful Twilight, as she tore an opening from Ponyville into Equestria.


In Equestria, in Granny Smith’s house, Luna clattered her teacup into its saucer.

“Oh ho, what is this?” Luna said, arching her head toward the area Ponyville was supposed to occupy. “The daemons are spilling through a keyhole.” She looked toward her sister, seeing solid green eyes, dull like old paint. “Oh, so now the world audit arrives,” Luna said.

Enter into the infinite labyrinth of another’s brain—

“Please don’t,” Luna said, placing a silencing hoof on Celestia’s mouth.

“Granny Smith, I thank you for your hospitality, and the tea,” Luna said. “I hope you’ll forgive Princess Celestia, she’s busy parsing through a great deal of data.”

“Oh, it’s no hassle at all!” Granny Smith said. “If it comes right down to it, I reckon I could get Big Macintosh to make… to…” Granny Smith placed a hoof against her temple, delicately. “Land sakes, did I forget my own grandchildren?”

“It’s not a sign of age,” Luna said. “What was once taken from you has now been given back.”

Granny Smith creaked as she jumped from her rocking chair. “Where are they?”

“They’re coming back now,” Luna said, as she left her chair to head outside. “Please watch over Celestia so I can assist Twilight Sparkle.”

Luna strode through the windy grass, her mane following its own breeze, and led her senses bleed out into the gyre of daemons flowing into the keyhole. She cast into the keyhole and felt warmth, closeness, familiarity; sunlight parting oak leaves, diving into a blanket fresh from a clothesline, the heart quivering at the distant laughter of a friend, Ponyville, my friends.

Time is the mercy of Eternity—

“Oh my word!” Luna said, wings and hackles up in startled anger, searching Celestia’s face. “Why are you stealthy now?”

-without Time’s swiftness, which is the swiftest of all things, all were eternal torment.

“Stop, please,” Luna said, putting her hoof once again on Celestia’s mouth. A little too forcefully. Celestia jerked her head back. Trancelike concentration was on her face, but Luna imagined surprise.

“Sorry, sister. Now pardon me, as I have work to do.”

With a mighty lunge, Luna flew into the air, focused her magic into a fine beam, and stuck it into the keyhole.

Twilight Sparkle felt it, too. Luna’s crowbar prying open the hole, letting the daemons spill in and include Ponyville in their equation of the world. Phantoms disappeared as ghosts, docile and bored, as they were phased into the magicae mundi that devoured all psychic energies and gave power to magic.

Their tiny world expanded, stretching beyond the horizon they remembered. The lamps were gone, shining only in the past now, in the phantom Ponyville, but light still remained.

Rainbow Dash noticed first. “Can you see!” she said, tapping Lyra and pointing at distant horizon.

Lyra, lips parted, pushed herself into the gentle rays. “The sun,” she said, amazed that she ever forgot. Everyone felt it, so powerful and primal that Twilight Sparkle’s deconstruction of the void’s hold was almost forgotten.

“It’s shining on me!” a filly squeaked.

Medley swooped into the air. “It makes me feel so free.”

“So alive,” Flitter said, joining her, excited and awed. “It makes me want-”

The void flung itself downward.

Twilight Sparkle felt the panic of the void when her magic touched it, but now rage flowed from it; the panic was welling up from the ponies below. Twilight’s changed the cast of her spell, and pushed against it. She had burned through considerable reserves of her stamina (but not her magic), and sweat poured down her face. Below her, Starlight Glimmer cast a spell and pushed against it. Other unicorns cast their own spells as a range of colored beams, brighter and move lively than the negative blob could understand, pushed against the void. It slowed, but didn’t stop.

It was suddenly yanked away.

“Sparkle!” Princess Luna shouted, using her royal voice. “Push it toward me! I shall control where it descends.”

Twilight Sparkle strained, tiring from digging into her own reserves and other ponies’. Luna’s royal voice rocketed through out Ponyville, and Twilight had the help of every unicorn there, blasting the void with their magic, pushing it along, their beams many colored ropes lassoing the blot in the sky.

“Oh no you don’t!” Applejack said, bucking a phantom Applejack that was trying to worm its way to Twilight. Other ponies, especially earth ponies, attacked the decaying phantoms the void was spewing out, desperately pulling from the magicae mundi, sending them toward Twilight in crazed desperation. But they were weak, and easily dispatched. Like a drunkard, the void was scraping the dregs after emptying the barrel.

“Don’t get to full of yourself, now!” Applejack shouted. “These things still bite.”

Rainbow Dash zipped into the air, acting on instinct, and pushed into the void, flapping furiously. After the initial fear passed from the panicked pegasus, they tapped their courage and joined in on the assault, channeling their own special magic to push against it. Some complaints about how greasy and gross it felt against hooves weren’t enough to tamper their mighty push.

Twilight wasn’t sure what Luna was up to, but she trusted her enough to assume that she had the right idea… whatever that idea may be.


Startled, but never losing focus, Twilight turned and said, “Berry Punch?”, and then, instinctively, realized it’s a phantom.

“Is that who I am?” phantom Berry said. “I don’t want to go back. Please help me.”

Twilight had too much to do now, to think about the oddity of a phantom asking for help, of this all being a trap, and the thought of course Berry Punch’s phantom wouldn’t follow orders, but Twilight only said, “I’ll try.”

The black nothing of hate was fully in Luna’s grasp now, and she remembered the dark sandy beach, the gentle roll of the tide.

“Oh ho, I recognize you,” Luna said. This was indeed an escaped archetype, or at least one that copied itself outside of its ancient land. There was no overwhelming fear now, not for Luna. Inside that place was one thing (a fearful, baffling thing), but Equestria was her realm. Even though, she was grateful to Twilight Sparkle for weakening it enough that she could bear this violent thing away.

She saw white and pink flying in her peripheral vision.

“No! Cease immediately!” Luna said, flying away from Celestia.

Oh rose, thou art sick


Thankfully, Celestia settled on the grass, indifferent to everything around her, her horn glowing. The sun peeked over the horizon. It’s amazing she can still shove that rotting corpse around in her trance, Luna thought.

Without Celestia distracting her with her weird phrases, and with help from the magics of Twilight Sparkle and Ponyville, Luna fully focused on the screaming black void, screaming like the rushing of congealed winds. Through the roaring came the squeals from Sweet Apple Acres. She still felt the remnants of her power from hours before, when she assisted in dispatching that archon, and though this void was a slippery being, it was too weakened, too thinly stretched to fight back.

She yanked it from the tiring Twilight, shouted at the unicorns and pegasus, “Release!” and cast the void into the swine.


Twilight Sparkle was exhausted, but she cast holding spells toward the phantom Berry Punch. The phantom slipped from her grasp, and faded away, returning to the source.

"I'm sorry," Twilight said. "I'm sorry."

The phantom smiled. It was a sad smile, and then she was gone.


The sty gate burst open as the pigs ran, squealing, thundering across the dewy grass.

“Ho!” Luna shouted, flying above them. “There lies the riverbed. Don’t throw yourselves against it.” With some irritation, she realized the pigs were too busy digesting to pay attention.

“Sorry my dears, I underestimated its astral weight.” She cast gentle cushiony magic between the swine and the cliff edge, stopping their mad run. Their senses slowly returned as the void was broken apart.

Luna landed in front of the glutted pigs, and bowed. “Thank you for your assistance in ridding the world of this being.”

One of the pigs said, “Not magic. Hard to eat.”

Celestia walked toward her with a steady stride, legs seeming to operate independently instead of as a whole, as if each leg were being operated by separate ponies. Luna eyed her stiffly. She wanted to fly to Ponyville proper and congratulate her dear friends, but felt she had to wait for Celestia to say whatever awful cryptic thing she was going to say.

Celestia dinged like a typewriter, and a continuous roll of paper spilled from her mouth.

“Ah, the audit is over,” Luna said, as she reached a hoof toward the boundary of the paper and Celestia’s lip, and tore away the sheet.

Celestia coughed as her eyes regained focus and luster. “Why did it do that?” she said, sticking out her tongue and going ‘bleh’.

“I may have changed some of the output settings,” Luna said, perusing the sheet.

Celestia almost asked why, but she knew the answer and scowled at Luna.

“Daemons in working order now, though this nyktomorph was able to remove Ponyville from their operations. That’s honestly quite terrifying, though I wonder why only Ponyville and not all of Gaia.”

“Ignorance or lack of power,” Celestia said. “Or it simply didn’t want us to notice.”

Luna pouted. “You didn’t praise my term.”

“Nyktomoprh is a very clever name,” Celestia said without mockery.

“Thank you.”

“A shapless being in the shadows, using darkness to hide its motives, whatever those may have been.”

“Hmm. I won’t be wasting time applying motives to good Mr. Lero’s archetype.” She continued to peruse the paper.

“Well… fourteen percent chance that Starlight Glimmer won, and this is her world.”

“We already suspected that,” Celestia said. “Which is why we allowed these avatars to follow their mundane psyches.”


Celestia was referring to the incident when the friendship map tasked Starlight Glimmer with resolving a dispute between the royal sisters. Their ruse was unsuccessful in determining if Starlight Glimmer had faked her defeat in her battle with Twilight Sparkle.

Beyond that, the two would occasionally allow the biological functions, the materially anchored stimuli and thought processes of their respective avatars, to take control, despite the emotional distress and physiological blindspots this caused. Their ponies, after all, were biological machines, forever anchored to the material world, and it was important to the two diarchs to experience reality as ponies did. They wanted to never lose their love or compassion for these beings, to never become distant and even contemptuous because of their subjects’ limitations. So, occasionally, they let their avatars follow their whims.


“Everything in order,” Luna said, sparing a glance at Celestia. “You overacted, as usual.”

“Not quite in order,” Celestia said. “Hex Knock has been altered.”

Luna peered at the paper, interpreting the section on the daemon Hex Knock. She huffed. “Rainbow Dash has been a member of the Wonderbolts all along,” she said, anger flaring. “The Wonderbolts aren’t a megaherd.”

“An odd change.”

“A pointless retcon,” Luna said, using her magic to tear the paper. “That blasted nyktomorph, like an arrogant child, grasping at adult tools and pretending mastery. Did it even know what it was doing? Why this random change?”

“We’ve done far too much this night to deal with those questions,” Celestia said, aching toward Ponyville. “Let’s see our friends for now.”

“It could have caused awesome damage—”

“Luna. Ponyville,” Celestia said, taking flight.


Some hours later, late morning, the tired but giddy friends sat in the secondary dining room of Castle Friendship, drinking green tea and coming to grips with what happened. 'It felt like a dream' was said many times, and the events of another lifetime were fading away into memory.

“What I don’t understand is Discord,” Twilight Sparkle said. “He allegedly was going to come to the play—” she narrowly avoiding going into yet another panic about the canceled play, and the need to reschedule, and so on— “but he was nowhere to be seen in phantom Ponyville.”

Predictably to only Lero, Discord appeared in a poof of smoke.

“Well, I was getting ready for your little soiree, when I remembered it was time to collect my dram.” He pulled out a washed out instant color photographs of him standing in front of a white building with ‘Laphroaig’ painted on the side. “I own a square foot of land on Islay, you see, and I hadn’t visited in nearly a year! I also had to purchase a bottle of 15 year old from the distillery, and when I got back home decided to have a little nip of that beautiful smoky peaty amber Scotch. Are you drooling, Lero?”

“No,” Lero said, wiping his mouth.

“So I opened the canister, and wouldn’t you know it, the lid slipped and fell into my sink! Even worse, the diameter of my drain allowed a perfect fit, and I had quite the time getting the lid out. My claws couldn’t reach into the seams without causing damage, and my refrigerator magnets simply weren’t strong enough—”

“Use your magic!” Trixie shouted.

Vast disappointment in Discord’s gaze. “Tsk tsk. You lack subtlety, as usual. Why should I play an Ace when a three will do?”

“Whatever,” Luna said. “We didn’t need your help in defeating the nyktomorph.”

“Yes, you handled the fanged noumena quite well,” Discord said, challenging Luna’s terminology. She didn’t deign to even show a reaction. “Letting those oinkers feast on an astral being. Of course, this was once again your fault. Traipsing where you aren’t meant to go. My word, how you still have friends with all the damage you cause is a mys—”

Discord quickly shielded himself from the magic attacks from the unicorns, flicked away Applejack's lasso, and dodged a rear kick from the flying Rainbow Dash. He did all of this with his eyes closed.

“As if any one of you could ever hurt me,” Discord said.

“Discord,” Fluttershy said. Discord cringed and shamefully looked at Fluttershy, and cringed again as he saw the sadness in her eyes.

“Apologize this instant.”

Shamefaced, Discord slowly turned toward Luna and said, “I apologize that you cause so much trouble.”


“Ha!” Discord said, but he disappeared before Fluttershy could chastise him further.

Luna appeared nonplussed by Discord’s wound salting, even derisive. “I can only assure you that I never intend to hurt anyone of you,” she said, “and I am sorry.”

She received reassurances of friendship. She didn't expect anything else.


Lero was tired and confused.

Rainbow Dash was a member of the Wonderbolts. He remembered when she passed the exam, started as a cadet, and joined as a full member. He also remembered her choosing not to join the Wonderbolts, due to it being a megaherd and not wanting to hurt Lero. But it wasn’t a megaherd.

Clearly the events of phantom Ponyville had caused a change somehow, and he was sure only he noticed. He off-handedly mentioned this to Twilight, asking if she remembered Rainbow Dash choosing not to be a Wonderbolt, and his query was met with confusion.

I am an outsider, he thought. Maybe that’s why I have both memories. I’m immune to whatever happened. There was also the possibility that he had some kind of schizophrenic break, but why just that one memory? He could ask Discord, but he knew better than that.

He entered his house alone—Twilight was in some short secret meeting with the diarchs, Rainbow Dash had to do some last minute weather duty, Lyra had to do her round as an auxiliary guardsmare—and was pondering asking Celestia for advice when he saw a canister on his kitchen table. He paused, fearing a trap, and approached the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, with note attached.

He gingerly opened the note, read, “Enjoy! - Discord”, and, in disbelief, popped open the canister and pulled out the bottle.

He stared at it for a little while, waiting for it to change into a polka dotted snake. I can’t believe I’m so weak, he thought, as he unwound the foil to remove the cap. He expected a gloved hand to pop out and smack him in the face with a cream pie, but instead he was met with peat, alcohol, and nostalgia.

Oh geez, he thought, gulping.

He should pour it into a glass, but, instead, he took a chance, put the bottle to his lips, and took a swallow.

He huffed loudly as smacked the bottle back onto his kitchen table, glass meeting oak with a percussive slap. It’s real, he thought, or a fantastic simulation.

He grabbed a short glass from his cabinets, poured himself two fingers, and waited for his mares to come home.