“Eee!” squeaked Fluttershy, flapping as best she could, but it was useless.
Gilda had her in a very determined and very strong hug.
“Shh,” she urged. “Nuu. Uh-uh. Nuh baby…”
“What are you doing?” wailed Fluttershy, her voice shaking. “It’s time for me to go! Get out of the way before my nerve fails, I’m not a brave pony!”
Gilda turned her head, and that beat-up visage glared at Twilight’s submissive form. “If you do it, I swear I’ll fucking take you apart.”
“I’m not!” cried Twilight.
“She won’t,” confirmed Princess Celestia, shaken. “Calm yourself. Nopony is going to do anything until we understand what’s happened here.”
“Yeah well I understand enough,” said Gilda, “be quiet!”
Shocked, Princess Celestia did as she was asked, glancing around to check that her ponies weren’t freaking out. But the only one freaking out was Twilight, and she just lay on the floor crying, Trixie coming to her aid with cuddles and soft words.
“What’s that noise upstairs?” said Dash, ears perking.
“Probably more bunnies,” said Applejack.
Gilda ignored them all.
“Shhh,” she said to Fluttershy, “we’re not gonna talk that way, okay? We’re just gonna be gentle and nice, like you taught me…”
Fluttershy struggled weakly. Her eyes were terrible to look into, glistening with pain and repressed tears, too wide, staring into some awful fate without the acceptance she’d hoped to find for herself. “Stop it!” she sobbed. “How dare you interfere! What gives you the right to protect me?”
“Name one thing in this room with a better right to,” retorted Gilda.
“I’m not safe to exist!” wailed Fluttershy. “Is this some kind of thrall thing you still have?”
The back of Gilda’s talon smacked Fluttershy across the face. Not savagely… but the sound bounced off the walls. Zecora, nostrils flaring, lunged forward, but Applejack grabbed her. “Hey! Vampire, remember? Gilda cain’t hurt her. Let ‘em work it out.”
“I’m back,” said Gilda to the startled pegasus. “This is the real me in case you hadn’t noticed. There is no vampire Gilda anymore, and don’t you dare insult me by saying this is me as some puppet. That’s done. I have some things to say to you. And sorry about that… but you’re not good at listening.”
Fluttershy gulped. Her wings flexed in Gilda’s grip. “Am so. I try to listen to everypony. To everything.”
“Everything but the truth,” said Gilda.
That shut Fluttershy up again, and Gilda continued.
“I came through the Everfree Forest. Through jungle, through danger, leaving everything I knew behind, to be with you. I thought I was in love, more than I’d ever felt before. I didn’t know I was just a vampire thrall, and it seemed to make sense at the time, and I came and found you. And you weren’t exactly thrilled about it. I was out of control, frantic, trying to do anything to please you but getting it all wrong. I fucked everything up. And what did you do about it?”
She regarded Fluttershy, who didn’t answer.
“Good girl, it was a rhetorical question. I’ll tell you. You loved me anyway. I couldn’t help myself, I would’ve done anything you said, I put myself completely in your hooves, and you were so freaking pony that you did the best you could by me even though you despised me.”
The gentle vampegasus promptly pouted. “What else could I do?”
“You’re supposed to say, oh no, I don’t despise you,” suggested Gilda. “It would be polite. I’m a little surprised, I thought you were gonna correct me there. I was being dramatic to get the point across.”
“I watched you pull the head off a bunny,” retorted Fluttershy. “I’m not going to lie, I do despise you. Or… well… I despise you doing that! You need to stop doing it!”
Both looked at the corral of headless vampiric bunny bodies.
“I guess you could call it littering,” admitted Gilda. “Maybe you’re right. But you brought me fishes when I was starving.”
“You and those ferrets,” grumbled Fluttershy. “It’s probably not fair. Just because fish aren’t cuddly and don’t have much of a thought in their heads…”
“They’re delicious,” said Gilda. “The point is, I’m not going to stand for you sitting there saying it’s time to freaking die, just because you made me a vampire and beat the shit out of me. You have a lot going for you, Fluttershy.”
“I’m a vampire,” said Fluttershy. “I’ve even made a thrall, which I swore I’d never do.”
“You’re a pony,” insisted Gilda. “I admire you guys. Who ever heard of a vampire taking care of its thrall? Usually they just fly around trying to eat everybody until ya gang up on ‘em.”
“And set fire to them?” accused Northern Spy, holding her injured leg in the air, but paying close attention.
Gilda blinked. “Nah. What you do is, you pick up rocks, big ones. I guess you ponies can’t do that without talons? You whip rocks at the vampire until you break its wing. Then you keep throwing until it’s buried under a big pile of rocks. Then you just keep adding rocks.”
Rainbow Dash paled. “Whoa. You do realize that might not kill a vampire griffin?”
“So?” said Gilda. “It’s a vampire. If it can’t get out, so much the better. You can lose a whole glory of griffins to vampirism, they just devour each other. Bloodlust, y’know.”
Princess Celestia appeared shaken, but nodded. “Among ponies, too, there is no record of cooperative vampires. Rocks, do you say? I might investigate. Clean death by magical fire could be… preferable to lying trapped, crushed under rocks, unable to die for eternity.” She shuddered.
Applejack nodded. “Eyup. An’ I thought our farm ponies was cruel! You say griffins get nasty when they go vampire, Gilda? How come you didn’t? And Northern Spy, what about you?”
Spy frowned. “I feel better now. I kept wanting to do stuff I didn’t understand. It seemed… wrong.”
Gilda nodded. “Yeah! I’m amazed I didn’t figure it out. I kept trying to eat these bunnies, and there’d be this huge desire to suck its blood and devour its very soul, and I’d remember I was trying to reach Fluttershy and I’d just freak out and throw the bunny away. It really hurt, denying that urge. I guess I know how the vampire griffins felt, but I had to get to Fluttershy. And I knew she wouldn’t accept that stuff.”
Fluttershy nodded, slowly. “For such a long time, I just felt a dreadful hunger. Zecora’s mane extensions helped, I can’t tell you how much that helped. When I fought Gilda, something inside me said I’d done wrong. But devour her soul? I remember a moment, looking down at her, when I wanted to. But I turned her over to pony justice, and I was very proud of myself, too. Maybe I was extra proud because I’d had this impulse. I don’t even know what it would be like to do that.”
“Perhaps that is what saved you all,” said Princess Celestia. “Not one of you killed a thrall by eating their soul. Not even this sad collection of vampiric bunny bodies has been so assaulted.”
Dash squinted. “I think one of them’s been a-ketchuped. Whose idea was that?”
Gilda cringed. “The bunny did that! It wants to be eaten. By me.”
“Dang!” blinked Applejack. “Hardcore. But I s’pose it ain’t got much left goin’ for it, huh?”
Zecora spoke up. “Though vampire thralls have energies, another name will have to serve. I would not call what’s left a soul. The soul’s the part I can preserve!”
Celestia’s ears were laid back as she tried to sort out the tricky web of moral obligations regarding vampires and their prey. “A valid point, Miss Zecora. We are accustomed to saying the vampire devours the soul of its thrall, killing it, and that this leads the vampire on a search for more and more of such prey and its eventual demise. I see among griffins the experience is similar. But here we have a lineage of vampires, now mostly cured, distinct through never having fed upon these energies, and now we learn that the pony soul… pardon, the pony and griffin soul, or whatever these separated energies are, can be stored in a wig and indeed restored to the pony or griffin…”
“Mane extensions!” protested Fluttershy, blushing.
“HEY!” cried a voice from up the stairs.
Rainbow Dash’s face fell. Fluttershy’s eyes went wide. Zecora sighed.
“Oh, nooooo…” moaned Dash.
Down the stairs trotted Pinkie Pie, a big brittle smile on her face… and she froze, staring dumbly at the proceedings.
“Uhhh…” said Applejack, “it ain’t what you think!”
“It kind of is,” blurted Rainbow Dash.
Pinkie Pie didn’t listen. Her huge, innocent, blue eyes scanned the basement, taking in ponies, Princess, pummeled griffin, the tense atmosphere… and lastly, the corral of bunnies. Struggling, horribly squealing bunnies. Headless, bloody bunnies.
Her eyes turned slowly to Gilda, sitting in the middle of the group.
“Did you do that?” said Pinkie Pie, her chirpy little voice strangely loud in the silence.
“Well, yeah, but…”
Fluttershy screamed. Applejack and Princess Celestia whinnied. Rainbow Dash sprang.
Even then, she might not have intercepted Pinkie’s hysterical and violent attack upon Gilda if it hadn’t been for her own foal, Northern Spy, who flung herself into the fray and bounced off Pinkie, slowing her.
Dash wrestled Pinkie, grimacing. “Stop it! Argh!”
“Ow ow ow worth it ow,” moaned Northern Spy, backing out of the way. Applejack leapt forward and joined Dash, wrestling the enraged Pinkie away from cowering Gilda.
“Cut it out!” raged Applejack. “We’re tryin’ to fix up all this! Gilda’s proper sorry for all them bunnies!”
“SORRY DOESN’T FROST THE CUPCAKES!” screeched Pinkie Pie, thrashing and trying to get at her quarry.
Gilda looked frantically around for a place to hide. One presented itself… except that it was the single scariest, most insane notion she had ever known in all her life, and she flinched, nearly ready to brave Pinkie Pie instead.
Princess Celestia had lifted a wing, and was staring right at her, that griffin-vaporizing horn glimmering faintly. “Quick! Under here!”
“Mommy…” whimpered Gilda. Celestia winced.
Pinkie Pie let out another shriek, kicking out indiscriminately.
“Ahhh!” cried Applejack. “Ow! Dunno if I can hold her!”
With a kittenish flicker of movement, Gilda darted under the wing of what had been her life’s worst enemy, and cowered, trembling… and the great alabaster wing came down and covered her, shielding her from harm.
Celestia bowed her head. “A sort of redemption,” she mumbled, and looked up. “Release her! Let Pinkie go before she’s the ruin of you, prithee!”
Dash fell one way, Applejack the other. Pinkie burst from their confines like a fluffy explosion, and charged.
She got right up to Celestia’s face, and stopped. Even a maddened Pinkie Pie had to respect the look in the Princess’s eyes.
Celestia bared her teeth, and growled, “Cease. This griffin has transcended some of her nature. She is under my protection and I am proud of it, and you will not harm her. Cease your attacks!”
Pinkie was hyperventilating. “Murdering! Bunnies! Blood! Monster!”
“I said cease,” hissed Celestia, cuddling trembling Gilda closer.
Pinkie blinked. “Why do I smell cat pee?” she said, in an incongrously normal tone of voice.
Princess Celestia winced. “Because this griffin has also transcended her litter box training, or whatever it is they do. Please be so good as to not mention it again, she has had a very difficult day.”
Pinkie looked around frantically, unable to make sense of her surroundings, and seeing this, Fluttershy stepped forward.
“Twilight,” she said, “help me explain! Pinkie Pie, dearest, maybe this isn’t the best place for you to be right now?”
Twilight’s expression was still racked with guilt, but she couldn’t deny Fluttershy’s request. She got up, face streaked with tears, and approached the quiet vampegasus and hysterical earth pony. “Yeah, you could say that. Pinkie Pie, we have a lot of work to do. I’m not even sure exactly what we’re going to do. We cured some vampires but Fluttershy is… is…”
Twilight began to cry again. Fluttershy rolled her eyes. “Doomed to an eternal unlife of vampiric evilness?” she suggested.
“Pretty much that,” admitted Twilight. “Or there’s death. But we’d rather not do that, okay?”
“Your actions do not connote evilness,” chided Celestia. “To all appearances you remain a good pony, Fluttershy.”
“You ARE!” came Gilda’s muffled voice. “You ARE good!”
Pinkie’s lip quivered. She turned, and she looked at the great love of her life, Fluttershy, and then she turned to Twilight.
“You better not be saying mean things to Fluttershy,” she said. “Are you not helping her?”
Celestia instinctively lifted her other wing, but Twilight waved her off with a forehoof.
“It’s not like that. We can’t help her. She’s been too hurt,” admitted Twilight.
That got through. Some of the psychotic gleam faded from Pinkie Pie’s eyes. She blinked, and her ear twitched. Her lip quivered again, and her eyes glistened, and she turned to Fluttershy and took a deep breath.
“Please let me take you away from all this!” said Pinkie Pie. “I can’t bear to see you hurt!”
Fluttershy’s eyes flashed.
“No,” she said, scuffing the ground bashfully with a hoof.
“This is not fair,” said Pinkie. “You are the sweetest most sensitive pony ever with very delicate feelings and how dare all these ponies put you in a room with bloody bunnies and violent griffins, it’s like the worst place for Fluttershy ever, and you must feel so awful and please please PLEASE let me take you away from here and cuddle you and make you feel safe…”
“I said no, Pinkie Pie,” insisted Fluttershy. She stamped a forehoof. “I mean it! We have things still to do here!”
“You’re so cute when you’re like that!” cried Pinkie. “I’m just going to drag you out of here because you’re being adorably sulky, okay? It’s super cute but staying here will give you nightmares so let’s go off and have a big hot fudge sundae on top of two big chunks of fudge in a bowl made for two out of fudge…”
“Twilight, don’t let her drag me!” protested Fluttershy.
At that, Twilight Sparkle blinked, and some of her normal manner came back. “Good luck with that! You’re still a vampire, remember? You’re probably ten times as strong as she is. Please don’t bite her, I can’t imagine anything so terrifying.”
“Oh,” said Fluttershy. “That’s right.” She regarded Pinkie. “You’re going to sit quietly while we sort out these things, or I’ll Stare at you. I hate to do it, but I will if it’s the only way I can keep you from disrupting things. We have very serious business on our hooves.”
Pinkie gulped, getting the message. She hesitated, and then said, “I’m only trying to bring you back to niceness, Fluttershy. This is too horrible. It’s important to make things be nice. Niceness is serious.”
Fluttershy made a face. “Niceness is complicated.”
“No, it isn’t!” wailed Pinkie. “There’s nothing complicated about it! All this blood and mean griffins and stuff, that must be complicated, but niceness is easy if you only try!”
“Shush,” commanded Fluttershy. “That’s what I AM doing. So is Gilda. So is Twilight if I’m any judge. Will you be quiet and let us work things out? Even if it’s complicated? Because maybe that’s important.”
Fluttershy narrowed her eyes. “Pinkie Pie…”
“Okay!” squeaked Pinkie. “Go ahead! Since you want to so much!”
“Rainbow Dash?” called Fluttershy. “Applejack? Perhaps Pinkie can sit with you while we settle a few things.”
Celestia nodded. “If you would be so kind. I would fain release Miss Gilda, who cannot be enjoying her experience.”
“What’s not to enjoy about hiding under Princess Celestia’s wing?” objected Pinkie, being led away by her friends.
Fluttershy ignored her, turning to the Princess, as Trixie crept up behind her with a towel and a smirk. “Yes, please release her. We hadn’t finished our conversation and now I have a clearer idea of what I must say to Gilda Griffin.”
The vast white wing lifted. Gilda slunk forward, wide-eyed. Trixie, horn glowing cheerfully, dove in with the towel and mopped up Gilda’s indiscretions. She nuzzled Celestia’s side and demanded, “Now me!”
As alicorn wing settled down over delighted unicorn, Fluttershy and Gilda faced each other.
“First of all,” said Fluttershy, “I’m not sure if I’ve ever said I’m sorry for attacking you. I’ve learned a lot, Gilda. You’ve tried very hard to please me, and though you are hard to understand, I was so very wrong about you. I’m sorry I hurt you, and if I can help tend your wounds I think that would be appropriate.”
Gilda, still jittery, made a face. “That’s not the first word that comes to mind. Usually the griffin who kicks your ass doesn’t stick around to bandage it.”
“I’m not a griffin,” said Fluttershy. “I’m a pony. Well, a vampire. But a vampire pony, and if I want to tend your wounds I’d like to see anypony stop me.” She directed a cranky glance at Pinkie Pie, who sat between Applejack and Rainbow Dash, both of whom hugged her in a position conveniently ready for pony-wrangling… just in case.
Celestia cleared her throat. “And I, in turn, am sorry for our sad past. I do not know if killing your mother in magic fire held any hope of saving the pony she and you had been devouring…”
“Nah,” said Gilda, looking haunted. “You were too late. I watched her die. She was looking right at me. Somehow I knew. I could feel it. Crouching there with my mouth full, looking in her eyes like ‘hi, you’re tasty’ and seeing her die.” She shuddered, and she glanced at Twilight. “Do you think I could have passed the test of your magic glowy thing, if I’d spit instead of swallowed?”
Princess Celestia winced. “We will never know, Gilda Griffin. Just as I will never know what might have happened had I not struck your mother down in what was no more than vengeance. I had hoped to rescue that pony, and I’d told myself she lived, but you tell me all was already lost?”
“Yah. I don’t know how I knew,” said Gilda. “I never forgot. That kind of thing sticks with you.”
Celestia bowed her head. “I hope in some way I have honored your mother’s memory by protecting you in your time of danger.”
Twilight Sparkle had stepped forward. “Well, at least you guys were protecting something. Fluttershy… I don’t even know how to say this. Um… I’m sorry for going nuts and stabbing you through the heart with my alicorn horn?”
“That’s okay,” said Fluttershy placatingly. She thought for a moment, and added, “Well, not really. Because it curses me to unlife forever, and that’s awful. But look on the bright side, I’m sorry for killing Gilda and turning her into a vampire. And you fixed that for me, didn’t you? So thank you, Twilight Sparkle.”
“No problem,” mumbled Twilight.
Fluttershy hesitated. “You are very powerful. And Trixie is here, and Princess Celestia is here… do you think maybe if you put my soul back, all of you could maybe heal me very quick and I wouldn’t die? I’m just asking.”
Twilight boggled at her. “Shyeah, right! I’m not taking responsibility for that. First of all, my horn came right out your back, I ran you right through and you say I got your heart because you felt it there.”
Fluttershy nodded. “It took ages to repair it, sometimes I almost decided not to bother. It hurts very much and feels stranger than I can even explain, to have your heart not able to beat because a stupid alicorn’s horn is stuck right through it. Um, no offense.”
Between Applejack and Rainbow Dash, Pinkie’s eye twitched.
“That’s not even the whole story,” argued Twilight, “you took a full-on alicorn death-bolt. Nothing of the sort has ever existed. You know, like when a dying unicorn vents their whole life-force into a magical attack that kills the caster? You took an ALICORN deathbolt. Nothing could survive that. No way am I trying to return you to mortality and heal you from that before you’re gone! I’m not even sure what would happen!” She hung her head. “And yeah, talk about stupid. I’m so ashamed. I was completely crazy to attempt such things.”
“Death bolt?” said Fluttershy, frowning. “You seem proud of it, even though it was horrible to do.”
Twilight blushed. “Nobody’s ever unleashed such a powerful magical attack in the history of ever. I’m the only one.”
“Kills the caster?” sniffed Fluttershy. “It must not have been very good then. You’re still alive.”
“It kinda bounced, cause you’re already dead,” admitted Twilight, blushing brightly.
Fluttershy shook herself. “Wait. What am I doing? You’re being nice… at least, nice for Twilight Sparkle. I can’t blame you for being interested in super-powered magic things, even mean things like death bolts, because that’s also so very Twilight Sparkle. Why am I badgering you about this? I accept your apology, Twilight. I only wish you could cure my vampirism and heal me, but I’ll take your word for it that you can’t.”
“I really feel the damage is too great,” said Twilight. “What with the impaling through the heart, and the magical attack stronger than any in all of history, and all that. Plus you’ll probably also get every other bit of damage you ever underwent, all at once. You can’t return to life under those conditions.”
“Like the bunnies,” said Fluttershy sadly.
Fluttershy narrowed her eyes and gave Twilight a weary look. “I’m not sure how you can ignore them. Every second, I can feel their suffering. And also I can feel whatever’s in them that I’m supposed to eat as a vampire, but we won’t be doing any of that, okay? I won’t, I just won’t! Don’t even ask.”
Twilight glanced hastily at the corral of headless bunny bodies, still trying to get out. This time, Northern Spy was booping them in the chest when they got stacked up high enough to escape. She’d tuned out the noise of their feeble screaming entirely. They’d quieted down somewhat when piled together, as if drawing some cold comfort from each others’ lifeless corpses.
“Oh gosh,” said Twilight. “That is horrible, you’re absolutely right. Do you think we can feed them to Gilda?”
Gilda squawked, and cringed away. “Are you nuts?” she said. She hesitated, and added, “I don’t care if they want to be eaten. They’re not fresh! Eurghh!”
Trixie thought. “Do you have the thaumic energy for a vampire cure, for them?” she said.
“Trixie, form up,” ordered Twilight. “Meld. Let’s look.”
The two unicorns’ horns glowed for a moment. Twilight brightened. “I think we have them! Either they haven’t got anywhere better to go, or the wavelengths tended to go to other bunnies that also became griffin chow. Or they fixated on Gilda? Or bunny souls are interchangeable?”
Princess Celestia said, “Perhaps the lesser sophistication of these animals means their spirits don’t travel far.”
“Whatever the reason,” said Twilight, “I’m sure we can do this. I can put their souls back, or whatever it is.”
“What will happen?” asked Fluttershy, quickly.
In the back of the room, Applejack and Rainbow Dash struggled with an increasingly distraught Pinkie Pie. Twilight considered the question. “First of all, they’ll die. They have no heads. The spirit will go back into the bunny, probably suffer physical agony for a moment, the heart stops and no more bunny. I’m sorry, there isn’t anything else that can happen. It ought to be pretty quick, I think? Do you have any suggestions on making it less horrible?”
Fluttershy looked pale. She thought very hard, frowning, her eyes glistening with sympathetic tears. She set her jaw, and she nodded.
“Yes, I have,” she said. “Let me cuddle them while they expire. We owe them that much, after what they’ve been through.”
There was a wail from the back of the room, and a cry of dismay from Dash, and then Pinkie Pie had rushed forward and was clinging to Fluttershy, weeping. “That is NOT less horrible! That is more horrible! You can’t do it, Fluttershy! Shame on you, Twilight, are you actually going to have Fluttershy cuddle bunnies while you kill them? Oh my gosh! Noooo!”
Twilight’s ears were plastered back against her head in alarm. “It was HER idea!” she wailed, but before she could say anything else, her arguments were no longer necessary.
“SIT DOWN,” commanded Fluttershy, her eyes burning and staring into Pinkie’s.
Fluttershy stopped Staring. “First of all, don’t make me do that again! It’s not good for me and probably not good for you! Second, don’t you understand? These innocent creatures are hurting! Listen to them! Do they sound happy? Not that you can tell very easily when they don’t have necks! Don’t you understand these bunnies are trapped in a horrible unlife and they want their suffering to end? Look, that one has ketchup on it!”
Pinkie trembled. “But…”
“No! No, Pinkie Pie. I can tell what you’re doing. You think that doing this will upset me. And so it shall. And so what? Sometimes, Pinkie Pie, a pony has to do what is right, even if it hurts!”
“But what?” demanded Fluttershy.
Pinkie blinked away tears. “But you’re so sensitive. And your feelings are easily hurt. And you need me to keep your world safe and nice. D–don’t you?”
Fluttershy looked her right in the eye. “There must be twenty or thirty innocent bunnies here. They’re suffering, and there’s no hope for them. And they need me to comfort them while they die. And that’s going to happen sooner or later. And the longer I wait, the more they will hurt!”
“But…” said Pinkie, even more weakly.
“Do you know what it feels like to sustain a terrible injury like that?” demanded Fluttershy. “I do. These don’t seem to have the knack for healing themselves. Of course, how could they, when they’re missing their whole heads! How are they supposed to fix that? What do you suggest they do, Pinkie Pie?”
Fluttershy’s nostrils flared. Her fangs were showing, but not out of any desire to bite anything: more a testament to the ferocity of her mood.
“You don’t tell me who I am,” she hissed. “You don’t tell me what I can be. Stand aside!”
Pinkie, shattered, fell back: led away by a solicitous and troubled Apple family, with Applejack and Rainbow Dash and even little Northern Spy coaxing her to return to the back of the room.
“Come on, sugarcube, that’s the way, best not git involved in this ‘un…”
Fluttershy, her heart pounding as if it had never been skewered, turned to the others.
“Gilda, lie here with me, and don’t fuss. They’re trying to go to you, I can see it. Twilight, get ready to cast the spell. Trixie, please remove the wall of that corral thing, if you would be so good.”
It was a strange, gruesome, touching sight. Headless bunnies staggered or crawled or squelched towards Gilda and Fluttershy as if on some pilgrimage, converging on the determined vampire pegasus and dismayed griffin.
“Twilight, wait until I’ve comforted the bunny and it’s quiet and calm. Then… do it, please.”
There was a pause, filled with yearning headless noises and quiet shuffling. Fluttershy cuddled an undead bunny, comforting it until it ceased to struggle and relaxed, accepting her nurturing embrace. Then…
In the back of the room, a struggle broke out, Pinkie weeping and trying to rush back to Fluttershy… but the cry hadn’t been hers.
Fluttershy, pale, cradled a limp form in her forelegs. It had cried out in its death agony, but she’d held it tighter and soon it had been over.
“Trixie, I think you can put this back in that corral for now. There are all these others for us to do.”
Desperately, Applejack and Rainbow Dash wrestled with Pinkie.
“Is she tryin’ to get out of here? Might be a kindness ta let her.”
“Nope,” said Dash grimly. “She’s gonna try to stop Fluttershy. How sure are you that Shy is right, to do this?”
“You saw them bunnies,” replied Applejack. “Short of makin’ a big bonfire I don’t see no other way around it. They’re gonna yipe, so would you if somethin’ ripped off your head. I reckon they’re suddenly feelin’ it, and then they ain’t feelin’ nothin’.”
Dash winced. “Right. I guess there’s no good way to do this?”
Applejack glanced over, and saw Fluttershy snuggling another headless bunny, crooning softly to it as the others climbed onto her and Gilda. “Rainbow, this is the good way. It’s that or the bad way, hear what I’m sayin’?”
Another anguished and brief squeal rang out. Pinkie writhed, sobbing.
“Right,” said Dash. She bent over, still clinging tightly to Pinkie’s body, and said “Not much longer, okay? That’s two out of uh… thirty?”
“Jes’ hang on. Spy, kin you cover her ears?”
“With what hooves?” protested Spy. “My forehoof’s busted, remember?”
The pile of limp fur in the corral was much taller.
“There, there,” soothed Fluttershy. She was very pale, and her mane was disheveled, but as Gilda watched admiringly, she snuggled the last undead headless bunny in her forelegs, petting it. It kicked, wriggling in pain, but as she enfolded it in a loving embrace it gradually relaxed, Twilight watching and gauging its readiness and the position of its paws. Two bunnies had clawed Fluttershy severely in their death agonies, before she’d worked out a safer way to hold them.
In the back of the room, Applejack and Rainbow Dash sang, tears in their eyes.
“Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to lay your sleepy head…”
They sang right up against Pinkie’s ears, but she still jerked and shuddered as another cry of bunny death rang out. They’d had to tackle her once, for she’d got loose and tried to rush Fluttershy. At no time did she try to leave the basement. Her one thought seemed to be protecting Fluttershy from what she’d chosen to do. The lullaby was to try and distract Pinkie from the terrible sounds going on, as Fluttershy and Twilight did what they did.
Sounds that had stopped, at last.
Fluttershy drew a deep breath, though she didn’t need it. “All done,” she said.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash looked at each other. Pinkie hadn’t been struggling so hard, and they’d assumed it was because the lullaby was helping. They released her, and she just sagged, appearing stunned.
Pinkie Pie turned her head and looked at Fluttershy, who bore bloody markings from a host of dead bunnies, and who looked back with an expression of frustration. Pinkie stared like she’d never seen the pegasus before, and wasn’t sure she wanted to. Her haunted gaze accused and protested, wordlessly.
“All done,” repeated Fluttershy. “They are at peace. There are no more undead bunnies left in here.”
Twilight Sparkle cleared her throat. “Technically, that’s not quite true,” she said. “There’s one more. But this one, Pinkie can probably watch, and it’ll be okay.”
They followed her gaze to see Angel Bunny, peeking terrified out of a cupboard, and very much unalive.
“Oh, my!” said Princess Celestia. “I’d almost forgotten him! This is Fluttershy’s pet?”
“Not only that,” said Twilight, “I’m nearly certain his bunny-soul is hanging out in Fluttershy’s wig…”
“MANE extensions!” protested Fluttershy.
“…and can be restored much like we did Spy and Gilda,” finished Twilight. “That’s assuming he hasn’t been impaled, blown up or otherwise killed during his undeath. Fluttershy, has Angel Bunny been physically damaged that you know of?”
“Never!” gasped Fluttershy. “That must never happen! Ever ever! Nothing must touch my dear sweet Angel Bunny, no matter how many salads he hurls in my face or throws out the door! It’s not that much trouble to go collect the bowls!”
“Uh-huh,” said Twilight. “Princess?”
“Do you think Fluttershy is the way she is because she’s guided by bunny thrall?” said Twilight. “I mean, are we gonna see a totally different Fluttershy if we take her sire?”
“I knew Fluttershy as a filly,” offered Dash. “She was pretty much the same. I think you’re in the clear.”
Twilight turned to Fluttershy. “Maybe we can set you free, Fluttershy. We’ve not tried to cure a vampire sire before, we were going thrall-first. Are you sure Angel Bunny has never been injured?”
“He ate a bad lettuce once and kicked me out of the house until I begged his forgiveness,” said Fluttershy fretfully. “But maybe it wasn’t really as bad as he thought?”
“Right,” said Twilight. She glanced at Celestia again.
The Princess gave her a sympathetic look in return. “It’s up to you, Twilight,” she said. “I really don’t know what will happen. It might make her unlife easier.”
Twilight nodded, slowly. “We can set her free. Trixie? Meld with me. Let’s do this extra carefully. You’ll find the bunny soul in Fluttershy’s wig.”
“Mane… oh, horseapples,” sighed Fluttershy.
Unicorn horns glowed.
Angel Bunny’s ears shot straight up in high alertness, and his nose quivered.
Fluttershy’s eyes went very wide, and her jaw dropped. She just stared, stunned.
With a squeak of delight, Angel jumped down from the cupboard he’d been hiding in, and scampered over to hug Fluttershy around the neck. She continued to stare at nothing, her eyes making little movements as if recollecting memories or dreams.
“Uh, Fluttershy?” said Twilight nervously. “You okay?”
Fluttershy shook herself. Then, her motions were quick and assured. It was a flurry of motion, flapping, bunny squeaking, and then everything became clear: she was spanking Angel with her wing, fluffy thwacks and alarmed squees from the hapless lapine.
The next moment, he was on the floor and she’d pinned his ear with one careful hoof, leaning in, speaking sternly…
“Most of those salads were FINE, young man. We’ll have no more of those tantrums!”
Angel nodded frantically.
“Do you promise?”
Angel nodded. Fluttershy released his ear. He threw his little arms around her neck again.
Fluttershy petted him with a once more gentle hoof. “There’s a good bunny.”
“Sooooo…” said Twilight. “I guess you’re feeling better, huh?”
Fluttershy turned and looked around, with an oddly betrayed look eerily like the one Pinkie had shown her.
“I don’t know. I don’t have to do anything now. What am I going to do with the rest of my unlife?”
“What do you want to do?” suggested Rainbow Dash.
Fluttershy glanced immediately at Zecora, then dropped her gaze, blushing.
Dash smirked. “Heh. Same old Fluttershy.”
Northern Spy frowned. “Huh? What does she wanna do, Mom?”
“Tell you later,” said Applejack. “Or never!”
Fluttershy hesitated, then said, “Is there more you can do?”
“Like what?” said Twilight. “We can’t return you to life. Is setting you free not good, somehow?”
“It’s not that,” said Fluttershy. “It’s… well, you said it. ‘Good’. How can I know I’ll be good? Especially if I’m not a slave to dear spoiled silly little Angel? I don’t even know what it’s like to be free. How can I trust myself when I know I could turn evil?”
The ponies all looked at each other… except for Pinkie Pie, who stared at nothing, one ear twitching.
Princess Celestia cleared her throat.
“Here is how,” she said.
Her horn lit, and produced a scintillating cascade of twinkling stars that poured down to enfold Fluttershy in glimmering light. It contracted until it coated her with magic glow… and then, it contracted more, and Fluttershy gasped. The glimmer had soaked into her skin, her feathers, and kept going until it was lost to sight.
Celestia bowed her head. “It is done.”
“What did you do?” cried Dash.
“That’s…” began Twilight, but she stopped at a glance from the Princess.
“You wished to know goodness,” said Celestia. “Very well: so it shall be. I have given you the power of choice, Fluttershy. Whatever impulse you have, from this day forth you will always be able to choose. The goodness within you shall guide you. It may not always be easy but it will always be simple, and it will go with you wherever you go. So, in a sense, from today onward you may walk in goodness forever.”
Fluttershy just stared at her, open-mouthed. She reeled her jaw in. Her lip quivered. She gulped, her eyes glistening, barely able to speak coherently, and at last words came.
“Thank you… oh, thank you, thank you… Princess… thank you…”
Celestia smiled. “Remember.”
“I will!” said Fluttershy. Her wings sprang up, and the smile grew and grew on her face.
“Of all the faces of our Fluttershy, this one is best,” said Zecora approvingly. “You’ve had a grueling day, so may your zebras bring you rest?”
“Oh yes,” said Fluttershy demurely. “Or even… Come along, Zecora. Run quickly! I’m going to fly Angel Bunny straight home. I can’t wait to tell everypony that he’s a natural bunny again!”
A noise came from upstairs. “PINKIEEE?”
“Ya know, this secret second basement ain’t the most secretest thing in Ponyville,” observed Applejack.
“It is if you don’t leave all the doors hanging open! Were you raised in a barn?” protested Twilight.
Applejack raised an eyebrow. Twilight blinked. “Oh. Right. I guess technically you…”
Down the stairs flew Cloud Chaser, looking fretful and harried. “There you are! Pinkie Pie, where have you been? You didn’t tell little Rock Candy! He was worried! You okay?”
As Fluttershy and Zecora headed up the stairs, Pinkie shook herself. She looked at Cloud Chaser as if trying to ascertain whether she was real.
“Come on, honey,” said Applejack. “She’s had a rough time, Miss Chaser, and that’s a fact. Best get her home.”
“Is that a pile of dead bunnies?” said Cloud Chaser in disbelief.
“I’m gonna tell Rock I came back to life!” squeaked Northern Spy, hobbling cheerfully on three legs.
“You’re gonna get to the pony hospital and we’re gonna put a cast on that leg!” insisted Rainbow Dash.
“No arguments! That’s how live ponies do it! No vampire healing factor here!” said Dash.
They began slowly leading Pinkie away, Cloud Chaser fussing over her and enfolding Pinkie in her wing. As they went, Pinkie roused herself enough to ask, “Are you still superheroes?”
“Sure we are!” vowed Northern Spy. “Rock Lobster and the Green Streak! Better than ever!”
“Can we… all be superheroes?” said Pinkie Pie. “And protect ponies from bad things?”
“Yeah!” said Spy proudly. “We can all be superheroes together!”
“Promise?” said Pinkie Pie.
“Pinkie Promise?” said Pinkie.
“Uhhh…” said Applejack, but Northern Spy was already answering.
“Cross my heart and hope to fly…”
Up the stairs they went, leaving only Princess Celestia, Twilight, and Trixie.
“Okay,” said Twilight. “What was that for?”
“What was what for?” asked Celestia, innocently.
Twilight Sparkle looked around. She peered up the stairs, trotted over to listen at them, trotted back and fixed her Princess with a hard look.
“Why did you cast a very ordinary visual glitter effect spell and tell Fluttershy it was goodness soaking into her?” demanded Twilight.
“Oh,” said Princess Celestia. “That.”
“Mistress,” said Trixie, “don’t be hasty. We have learned new things about pony thamaturgy even today. As much fun as it is to tease Princesses, perhaps you are jumping to unwarranted conclusions?”
Celestia scraped a hoof on the floor. “I am pleased that you enjoy teasing Princesses. We have all had a very trying day. I’d wondered if I could invite you both back to Canterlot, to relax in the pool?”
Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Princess… actually, that sounds wonderful. I think we might just take you up on that one. But first! Answer the question, please. Fluttershy’s my friend. Well, apart from the impaling part. Even then… well, half the ponies in this town spend their time impaling each other in friendlier ways, and as for the other half, ask Rarity sometime. My point stands. Fluttershy’s my friend and why did you con her?”
“But I didn’t,” said Princess Celestia.
Twilight glanced at Trixie. “So Trixie guessed right? When can you show me this new magic that’s undetectable to the normal unicorn?”
Celestia sighed. “Oh, all right. Please don’t tell Fluttershy. Yes, it was the glitter spell, but the truth is she already had that power to choose the path of good. We all do. The spell was merely a ruse, to get her attention and make her remember. Goodness is a fact, but awareness of it is an article of faith. You can disbelieve in it, with terrible consequences, but believing in it always works.”
“Hmmm…” mused Twilight Sparkle.
“So in a sense, it was a real spell after all,” explained Celestia. “It is a kind of magic. And if she believes it, then it will be true. She can be whatever she wishes to be, and the power is there for her. I’m only reminding her of what exists already, in hopes she is ready to accept the magic.”
Princess Celestia hesitated. “So… is that magic really undetectable to the normal unicorn? Fluttershy is not the only one who can be whatever she wishes to be… and many things can be true.”
Twilight lifted an eyebrow. “What are you saying, Princess?”
“Can… YOU accept the magic?”
She held her breath.
Slowly, Twilight Sparkle began to smile.