“Did you remember the most important part? Didja didja?”
Only Pinkie Pie could become that excited, creepy and cheerful at the same time. Scootaloo backed up a pace.
“No,” said Scootaloo. “Can you run that by me again?”
“The most important part,” said Pinkie impressively, “is kinda LIKE THIS!”
Her eyes bugged out… literally. They bobbled around on stalks, just for a moment, and then returned to what passed for normal pony form.
Scootaloo whimpered, cowering back into a little ponyball and trying to stay brave in front of little kids, or at least the one little kid who was watching: Rock Candy, Pinkie’s kid.
Oddly, he seemed nearly as disturbed. “What was that for?” he cried, running up and confronting his Mom.
“What was it for?” squeaked Pinkie, in indignation. “What was it FOR? It was for about three seconds, and do you know how difficult it is to fit your eye back? I think you need to do some eyeball practice if you think it’s so easy, mister! This takes skills, as well as kazoos!”
“You’re being scary!” wailed Rock. “This isn’t how this is supposed to go! And you scared Scootaloo!”
He looked over to see that worthy filly, only to be surprised by the sudden change in her attitude. Scootaloo hadn’t stayed down for long. She was giving him a dirty look, and she turned to Pinkie with her chin held high. “Yeah,” she said, “pretty impressive, I guess. Looks to me like you scared Rock Candy, which seems kinda mean since he’s your foal and all. And never mind how long you did it, what good is it?”
“I can do it again?” suggested Pinkie, with a big bright smile.
Scootaloo cringed back for another moment before gritting her teeth and forcing herself to stand her ground. “Boring! Seen it,” she replied. “No, I mean, how is that going to help us fight vampires?”
“Some vampires,” said Rock. “Mom says they got Hollyhock, he was the bad vampire.” He shot a nervous look at Pinkie, but her attention remained fixed on Scootaloo.
“Whichever vampire,” said Scootaloo. “Not Fluttershy of course, she doesn’t count. Whatever’s still there. Didn’t you say the Kirin was freaking out because we still had vampires?”
Pinkie grinned even worse. “We’ve got something! That’s why I keep telling you, we need the whole team. And that’s why it’s so important to get you on board, Scootaloo. You might be better suited than Rock to, uh, certain secret missions of great importance.”
Slowly, Scootaloo grinned. “I like it…”
Pinkie’s eye twitched, but the smile held. “That makes one of us!”
There was a noise in the foliage. The secret gathering place, which was in the bushes around the back of Sugarcube Corner, was proving not so secret after all.
“Scootaloo!” called Sweetie Belle. “I know I heard your voice, I… EEP!” She’d run right into Pinkie Pie’s rump, and into the brunt of the most high voltage, yet artifically generated, smile in all Equestria.
“Good evening, Sweetie Belle!” called Pinkie. “I’m so glad you’ve come. You can join Scootaloo!”
“In what?” quavered Sweetie, backing up.
“In the most important job you ever had to do in all your life!” chirped Pinkie. “It’s time to join our superhero team and go forth to combat evil!” She paused, made a face, and rapidly counted on her hooves. “Me, Rock, Spy, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle… no, it looks like you’ll go fifth. Is that okay? It’s still very important and you should be proud to volunteer!”
“How did you do that?” said Sweetie, trying to remember how many hooves ponies were supposed to have. “There’s a superhero team?” She gave Scootaloo a suspicious look.
“I talked to the kids, that’s the Rock Lobster over there and the Green Streak should be showing up any time now, and they Pinkie Promised that we could all be superheroes together! And so we are!” said Pinkie. “So, speaking of which, how about you and Scootaloo make us the same promise? You know the kind. A Pinkie Promise. It’s super important!”
Scootaloo frowned. “Is this like when we promised Fluttershy we’d listen to her and not go out into the Everfree Forest to look for her chickens except we totally did anyway and then Fluttershy had to rescue us and Twilight Sparkle too?”
Pinkie’s smile became more of a grimace. “Um… yes and almost completely oppositely no in a way I can’t explain right now!”
“Oh, okay,” said Scootaloo, mollified. “How do we do it? Don’t you have to poke yourself in the eye or something? Can we skip that part?”
“Scootaloo!” exclaimed Sweetie. “I think you should skip more than that, dearest.” She turned to Pinkie. “What’s the matter? Something terrible is wrong. You’re so sad and upset!”
“I am not!” denied Pinkie, bouncing determinedly off all four hooves. “Everything is just the most splenderiffic ever, these are the best end times we could ever watch dwindling away into futility!”
Sweetie stuck out her lower lip, trying to parse that, glowering cutely. “Oh, really? Pinkie Promise that it is?”
“Watch it, buster,” warned Pinkie.
“Momm!” whined Rock, giving her a piteous look.
“What?” she said. “It’s recruiting! Don’t you understand how big of a hero team we need for this?”
“Yeah, but… it’s our hero team!” pleaded Rock. “How come you gotta be the boss hero when we were here first, and why is everything so screwed up?”
“BECAUSE,” screeched Pinkie, and then fell abruptly silent. Her problem remained, no matter how frantically she tried to work around it. Already there’d been a dead pony, and she knew in her bones things were going to get worse before they got better, if they even got better at all. She faced a scary void filled with the vision of wrathful Fluttershy wreaking unearthly vengeance on some hapless victim. Was the victim, perhaps, herself? She couldn’t feel her crucial Pinkieness persisting beyond that scenario. So, she did her level best to lay plans for murdering Fluttershy, knowing that it could be her own end she faced. Something was going to die, perhaps many things in many ways. That seemed to be the story in which she lived.
Pinkie, completely at a loss for how to answer her and Fluttershy’s colt Rock Candy, dove into the bushes, and emerged with a paper squeaker, the same sort of party favor she’d coughed up earlier. She blew it at him, petulantly, and pouted, stubbornly.
Part of her wept to see his tragic look. But, Rock Candy wasn’t without resources himself. He reached up and pulled a matching paper squeaker out of his right ear, tapping into his own version of Pinkie Powers… and he gave her puppy-dog eyes, and he blew his own paper squeaker and tried to smile.
“Not bad,” said Pinkie, and his worried little smile bloomed.
Pinkie gazed into those adorable eyes and her lip quivered. Please, she thought, could this not be happening? No, don’t think it! Get too close to the reality, and all the fun goes away forever and then what are you? A useless earth pony lump who couldn’t save anything! On with the plan, and the new recruits!
“New recruits!” Pinkie called. “Sound off!”
She looked around, and there was nopony there except herself and Rock. Sweetie and Scootaloo had snuck off while she was distracted by the apocalypse inside her own head.
“Mom!” begged Rock. “Settle down!”
Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo galloped through Ponyville like a tiny stampede, Pinkie’s scream of betrayal echoing in their ears. It seemed to be ‘run around like a madpony’ day: Scootaloo squealed and jumped as a green streak flashed directly under her, Northern Spy busily racing the other direction. In the distance, Lily the flower pony was screaming and running too, possibly an earlier victim of Northern Spy’s velocity follies. The flower ponies all tended to react poorly to Spy running by, as she moved too fast to be identified as a pony, and was often startling to encounter when at speed.
In the air, Rainbow Dash whizzed overhead in yet another direction, describing a rough spiral that covered Ponyville and headed outward toward Sweet Apple Acres. Sweetie and Scootaloo ran on, while Scootaloo wondered for a moment what was so urgent that Rainbow wouldn’t swoop down to check on some of her favorite fillies. There was no pausing to ask Sweetie, though. Sweetie was going so fast that it amazed Scootaloo: the unicorn filly was typically more concerned with sensuality, beauty, and hedonism, and Scootaloo hadn’t even known Sweetie could run so fast. But there she went—she’d caught Scootaloo’s eye, gestured with her horn in the direction of ‘away’, and when Pinkie’s attention had lapsed, Sweetie had been off like a scared bunny with Scootaloo right behind her.
Just as Scootaloo began to wonder where Sweetie was going, the question was answered. Sweetie swerved and burst into the Carousel Boutique, nearly knocking the door off its hinges and toppling a hapless ponyquin before she skidded to a halt.
Rarity let out a shriek. “Sweetie Belle! Whatever is the matter with you? Don’t roughhouse in here! I’m trying to set up dress displays!”
Sweetie, winded, panted like an adorable tiny bellows. “You… you gotta…”
Rarity blinked. Her eyes widened. She stared hard at Sweetie, and she abandoned her displays at once, even allowing one to topple over, its ignored dress spreading across the floor like elegant paint. “What happened? Sweetie, tell me what happened. What’s wrong?”
“I’m not really sure,” said Scootaloo, nowhere near as tired. “We were running all through town. This place is going nuts!”
“Sweetie Belle!” commanded Rarity. “Speak! Have you been attacked by a vampire? Does it pursue?” Her horn lit, and she slammed the door to the Boutique, and then braced a ponyquin against it to bar entrance.
“You gotta…” panted Sweetie.
“What’s going on, Rarity?” asked Scootaloo. “Why are you so serious? You were just scolding Sweetie for running in here, roughhousing! She hasn’t even said what’s wrong so what’s the big deal? For all you know we WERE roughhousing!”
Rarity shut her eyes, frowning, her ears splayed in chagrin. “If you must know…”
“We must! We must!” encouraged Scootaloo.
“I know it’s not roughhousing, because had you been roughhousing your hoof marks would be on my Sweetie’s flanks,” Rarity informed Scootaloo. “Forgive the observation, but by now I’m so accustomed to your little roles that the lack of mounting-scuffs is alarming and suggests a darker explanation for her rambunctious entrance.”
Scootaloo had gone pale, then blushed scarlet, at Rarity’s admission. It was easy to forget that Sweetie’s happy hedonism existed in a context beyond just the two lovers, and shocking to discover that their intimate ways weren’t nearly so intimate as they’d seemed. And it was true: Sweetie had a great fondness for getting pounced by pokey pegasus, and Scootaloo had seized her own adolescence by laying claim to a magic bit and mounting Sweetie with great enthusiasm. And her hoof-marks had been on Sweetie’s sides many, many times. But it had been private… or so Scootaloo thought.
“I’m sorry,” mumbled Scootaloo. She considered saying she’d stop, but feared it’d cause Sweetie to either burst into tears or beat the crap out of her, so she left it at that.
Rarity snorted. “Tut! I am most certainly not, darling. We’ll not speak of it further as your, a-hah, affairs are your own. You’ll also not speak of it at breakfast, or in social gatherings, please. Or in front of my customers, which is not precisely a social gathering but is in some ways even more civilized. Enough of that! You’ve not been roughhousing in the sense I mean, so what is happening? Answer me, Sweetie Belle!”
Sweetie’d caught her breath through Rarity’s diatribes. She turned to her Mom, completely undaunted, and said, “You gotta let us hide in your creepy sex dungeon!”
Scootaloo’s jaw dropped. Rarity didn’t even blink. “Spoke too soon,” she said. “No, get your own, and you had better be responsible or there will be hell to p… Wait. Did you say ‘hide’, Sweetie Belle? Hide from what?”
Sweetie gave her an eye-glistening, lip-quivering, fillyish gaze, and said, “Pinkie Pie! Okay, so let us hide in a closet or something. Please, Mom? She’s trying to get us!”
Rarity turned to Scootaloo. “Is this true? Are you fleeing Pinkie? Did you make a,” she said, and glanced huntedly at the windows of her shop, “Pinkie Promise, only to break it?”
Scootaloo blinked in surprise. “How’d you know?”
“Oh, Celestia!” wailed Rarity. “Maybe if I use my magic to dig a cellar for you girls, and then pretend it doesn’t exist…”
“No!” said Scootaloo. “We didn’t make any promises. But she wanted us to! She’s making this superhero team or something. She wanted us both to promise to be part of the team, to Pinkie Promise it, and Sweetie wasn’t having any of that and the next thing you know she was running faster than I’ve ever seen…”
Rarity grimaced, holding back some remark, and Scootaloo went, “What? What?”
“Nothing, darling,” said Rarity, thanking her exceptional self-control. There were times to exhibit honesty and times to put a cork in it, and replying ‘fillies run faster without an amorous faux stallion clinging to their butts’ was nearly the worst thing she could have said. The worst thing would probably have been, ‘if you had spurs on those fetlocks I’ll bet you she’d run faster still’. Rarity’s eye twitched as she firmly sealed off the well of such retorts, and she smiled and said, “Will you girls join me for dinner? I feel we should talk about our friend Pinkie, and what you may expect from her. Or, rather, what you can and can’t expect from her.”
Sweetie stamped a forehoof. “But we need you to hide us!”
“Sweetie, no. There’s no danger,” said Rarity. “I’ll explain, if you calm down. Hm?”
Rarity’s smile grew warmer as she watched Sweetie pout, scuff the floor with a forehoof, look anxiously at the blocked door in spite of her Mom’s reassurances… and nod.
Triumphantly, Rarity led the girls to the dining table, and busied herself with cooking dinner for three rather than one. Derpy had gone off to fly her mail route, and lunch for Rarity was often a hasty affair, but this warranted extra effort. Among other things, thought Rarity, dear Sweetie had been rushing madly about, and if she was not fed she’d be melting down in no time, or even emitting those high-pitched screams that broke window glass and peeled the paint off ponyquins.
Perhaps not, thought Rarity, as she noticed the girls waiting. Scootaloo was sitting very close to her Sweetie, who did show signs of meltdown coming on. The little pegasus filly’s attention wasn’t amorous in the erotic sense: with little wing-snuggles and kisses, Scootaloo was being amorous in the grander sense, and taking pains to soothe the jittery and excitable unicorn filly.
Rarity smiled to herself, and finished dinner up properly. Her Sweetie was in good hooves.
When they’d been served, both Sweetie and Scootaloo looked to Rarity and demanded, “What’s up with Pinkie Pie?”
“And why’s she so freaky and scary?” added Sweetie, taking another bite of saffron-infused haycake.
“She is not! I wasn’t scared,” insisted Scootaloo, with just a touch too much attitude.
“Hm,” said Rarity. “May I ask what she did? I may say that I have seen some, as they’re called, doozies from Pinkie in my time.”
Sweetie frowned. “She didn’t really do anything, really, it’s what she was saying. Or just how she was feeling?”
“A lot you know,” scoffed Scootaloo. “She stuck her eyes right out and wiggled them around! And then she put them back!” As Sweetie cringed, Scootaloo added, “It was before you got there.”
“That’s pretty bad,” said Sweetie, “but more just weird. I mean what she was saying! It’s not nice for Pinkie Pie to say, ‘these are the best end times we could ever watch dwindling away into futility’.”
“What?” said Rarity, startled.
“She did!” insisted Sweetie. “And then Rock was arguing with her and she was so upset, she was yelling and SO upset, and…”
Sweetie trembled. Scootaloo hugged her. Rarity said, “Eat your haycakes, they’ve got alfalfa. Did you say dwindling away into futility? That is not right.”
“It’s totally weird!” said Scootaloo. “The eye thing was weirder, though.”
Rarity frowned. “Hrm. Do please bear in mind that ‘weird’ is our Pinkie’s oats and drink, as it were. This town was once invaded by parasprites, and I cringed upon a stool, surrounded by the beastly things as they ate my finest fabrics. Pinkie appeared, vowing to save me, but all she did was seize a little flute, as I watched. She then played upon it with the noise of a concussed and very sick goose. Naturally, I screamed and screamed.” She shook herself. “Who’d have thought she would solve the problem in the end? She was terribly cross with us, knew what to do the whole time. My point being, Pinkie Pie does not seem to follow the usual rules. You must give her space at times, and she’ll work it out.”
“But how does that work,” said Sweetie plainitively, “when she’s incredibly, unbearably miserable?”
“Oh, come on,” said Scootaloo. “How can you be miserable when your eyes are on stalks like that? You’re making it up.”
“I wish I was,” said Sweetie, and her eyes were troubled and tearful.
Rarity frowned again. “You’re sure, Sweetie dear?”
Sweetie just nodded. Her lip quivered, but didn’t pout in the manner of a filly putting across a deceit: she seemed to be still feeling the woe she claimed Pinkie’d had.
Rarity’s eyes narrowed in thought. “Hmmm,” she mused.
The thing was, some ponies were simply more empathetic than others, thought Rarity. It wasn’t surprising that Scootaloo didn’t pick up on such things: Scootaloo was much like Rainbow Dash, who was sometimes blissfully oblivious to the emotional overtones of others. Fluttershy, of course, was very solicitous… but Fluttershy, as Rarity well knew, wasn’t with Pinkie anymore. And Sweetie… well, Sweetie was very unusual.
Rarity had raised Sweetie in secrecy, not even admitting their true relationship until events made it impossible to deny… but though she’d been deprived of the title of mother, all the same she’d devoted herself to Sweetie’s care with an intensity that nearly compensated for her distraction as she ran her business. It was disconcerting how much Sweetie picked up from her: though not privy to any private debaucheries, she’d nevertheless emerged as a spectacularly shameless little pony, but without the undercurrent of guilt Rarity experienced. That curious innocence had some consequences, and one was this: whether it was through her upbringing, and connecting to her ‘sister’ as the mother she truly was, or whether it was simply some streak of understanding passed down from mother to daughter, Sweetie Belle sometimes could sense the heart of an emotional situation like no other. It didn’t mean she had answers for it, but she’d sometimes see right through you with that so-innocent gaze, not judging or criticizing, but rendering you completely transparent to her earnest little pony heart.
And at those times, Sweetie Belle would speak the truth, and it was up to other ponies to know what to do with it.
“I see,” said Rarity. “I’m sorry to hear it… though I suppose I’m not as surprised as I might have been. Pinkie’s had to deal with some things that aren’t easy for her… or,” she corrected, “she hasn’t been dealing with them at all, and I daresay that’s what you’ve noticed. She’s that sad, is she?”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” argued Scootaloo. “She’s bouncier than ever. And all that smiling and being happy and doing crazy things…”
Rarity frowned. “It’s a front. I guess all this is really eating her up, damn it. The trouble is, how do you even get through to her? If what you’re saying is true, Scootaloo, then she’s completely in denial and won’t even admit she’s hurting, perhaps won’t even admit it to herself. That’s foalish, but then sometimes Pinkie is awfully foalish. Damn it… however will we get through?”
“If we’re gonna go hug her,” said Sweetie tremulously, “can you come along? Because she’s scaring me. How she feels and how she looks are so different now!”
“Of course I would,” said Rarity, “but I’m not sure we’re the best choice for it. And, if she’s that off the beam, I’d rather you not be around her if we can help it. That goes for you as well, Scootaloo. Please don’t defy me on that, Pinkie can be very intense and mercurial when she’s keyed up, and it sounds like she is under terrible stress.”
Sweetie nodded, unhappily.
“I guess, if you say so, even though I’m totally okay with her and not scared at all,” said Scootaloo, gratefully. “I can stay with Sweetie.”
“You do that,” said Rarity.
“Can we go see the sex dungeon Sweetie was talking ab…”
“No,” said Rarity, and sank into contemplation. “Hmmmm. I fear I shan’t be able to reach Pinkie. It’s hopeless expecting Fluttershy to do it, and rather unfair to Fluttershy. I’m not sure Applejack has that sort of connection with her, plus Applejack and the other Apple farmers are quite busy with their vampire hunting, or whatever it is they’re hunting now that we got Hollyhock. I’ve no idea where Twilight is, probably off being royal with the Princesses. And then there’s… hmmm. Hmmm!”
“What is it?” asked Sweetie hopefully.
“Oh, perhaps nothing,” said Rarity. “I’m just wondering if the best way to reach a Pinkie Pie who’s gone quite dreadfully bonkers… is through Rainbow Dash. You know the two of them go way back, ever so far back. And close? My goodness, yes. I really wonder whether we can get hold of Rainbow Dash, and enlist her aid.”
“Yeah!” said Scootaloo loyally. “Rainbow Dash could fix everything!”
Rarity twitched. “Well, that or wreck all of Ponyville even worse than the parasprites wrecked it. The notion of both Pinkie AND Rainbow off the beam is rather too alarming to credit…”
The bushes seemed to explode in a heedless burst of Northern Spy.
“Hey, guys!” she cried. “You’re not gonna believe what I found out!”
“Not right now!” pleaded Rock Candy. He was turned away from her, hunched over the figure of Pecan Peep, who was… napping? She was turned away as well, her face in her folded forelegs, as if she was napping in the bushes.
Northern Spy wrinkled her brow. “Not right now, Rock Lobster?”
The pink figure vibrated, rustling the bushes, and then suddenly whirled, and Pinkie Pie was facing the Green Streak with that bulletproof smile in place on her grubby, streaky face.
“NO,” she said. “Right now! And when I say right now you better believe it’s the nowiest now since whenever! What tidings do you bring, Green Streak? Tell us… right now!”
There seemed to be something weird about the situation, and Rock looked very upset, but the Green Streak could not resist the mighty invocation, ‘right now’.
“AW yeah!” said Spy, bouncing in place. “I have news! You know that crazy unicorn-pegasus pony, Numeric Essence? Real tall, plays chess? Well, she’s gone totally out of control!”
Rock frowned unhappily. “You mean, like rumpypumpy? Like all those other ponies in Ponyville, that we’re not s’posed to watch when they do that?”
“No!” proclaimed Spy. “She wants to do crazy experiments on earth ponies that might kill them! And she ran off when Apple Bloom told her not to!”
Rock protested, “That’s not very nice! I don’t believe you, I met Numeric Essence and she’s a really nice pony, she wouldn’t do that!”
“Would too!” countered Spy. “I saw her, she was really into it! She might be killing ponies with magic spells even now!”
“Cut it out, Northern Spy!” wailed Rock.
“The Green Streak!” demanded Spy. “This is an important superhero meeting, Rock, use my hero name!”
Rock backed off, pouting, scuffing the ground with a forehoof. “Not if you’re telling lies, Northern Spy! I know that pony and she wouldn’t be so mean! Mom! Tell Spy to be good!”
Spy turned to Pinkie as well. “I’m making my report, Punchy Puke! You probably know it already with your creepy powers! Tell Rock, isn’t it true Numeric Essence is going to kill with magic spells?”
Pinkie blinked, staring at nothing. “Indirectly, yeah,” she said. “That’s not the important part.”
“What?” said Rock in dismay.
“Told you so!” crowed Spy. “So what’s the important part, since I’m totally right?”
Pinkie’s eye twitched, in a creepy way.
“KAZOOS!” she exclaimed, so loud that two little sprinkles of confetti came out her ears.
Northern Spy blinked. She wrinkled her brow in irritation. “Kazoos?” she said.
But Pinkie was already off, Rock cringing back from her as if his Mom had become something scary and sick. “Kazoos!” she raved. “The trombone is too serious so the tone must be set by massed kazoos! I can probably manage two, three if we had an extra serving of beans for dinner, so we’re gonna need you and Rock to pitch in and that means MORE KAZOOS!”
Northern Spy was totally undisturbed by Pinkie’s ravings, but also painfully unimpressed. “That sounds dumb, Petunia Pow. What’s the big deal? Kazoos are dumb. Is this some kind of weird Sense thing again?”
Pinkie nodded frantically, her eyes too bright but not really focussing on the world around her. “Yes, oh yes! We’ve got to have the full complement of kazoos!”
“Why?” demanded Spy.
“They set the right sort of nihilistic tone, where all our efforts are bitter mockeries of the ponies we might have been!” replied Pinkie.
Northern Spy screwed up her brow again, while Rock trembled, staring in horror at his Mom.
“So, definitely a dumb weird Sense thing, huh?” said Spy, resignedly.
Rock Candy burst into action.
“I saw one over THERE!” he squealed, panic giving his voice urgency and verisimilitude. And he tore off through the bushes, without looking where he was going.
Behind him, two squees of excitement, two ponies thrashing through bushes toward their promised kazoo quarry.
Ahead of him, just enough bushes to obscure his path… and a street, doubling back around Sugarcube Corner.
Rock Candy reversed course, zipped past Northern Spy and Pinkie Pie as they noisily churned through foliage like little pony hedge-clippers, and tore ass away from Sugarcube Corner, keeping clear of the road for a few seconds so the sound of his hooves would be muted on the grass. He gulped as he ran. They hadn’t seen him. If it didn’t work…
“I think that’s it!” squeaked Northern Spy, scrabbling at shreds of bush. “Under here!”
“No, that’s a twig, silly!” said Pinkie Pie. “It’s over here! Or here… Rock, where did you say it was?”
Rock Candy was already out of sight, weaving through the streets of Ponyville, crossing the bridge over the town brook, charging down the road toward the Apples and the Everfree, galloping until he couldn’t see straight.
His Sense was just fine and was telling him a lot, but he wasn’t going to be able to handle this one alone. And the Apples were amazing, and brave, and strong, but he needed more than that. He needed his Mom.
Whether or not he was welcome there, anymore.
Rainbow Dash swooped down out of the sky, panting with effort, trotting up to Apple Bloom.
“My report is, nothing to report,” said Dash. “I did a fly-over in a spiral pattern and I didn’t see anything unusual except a lot of bush-related stuff.”
Apple Bloom’s eyes widened. “Vampires hiding in the bushes?”
“No, no!” cried Dash. “Just regular bush stuff. Like, Pinkie Pie and my kid playing in the bushes. Oh, and Bon Bon sneaking through the bushes wearing a fake mustache.”
Apple Bloom frowned. “To hide scary fangs, maybe?”
“No, she just does that,” explained Dash. “Me and Rarity and Fluttershy and Derpy caught her at it before.”
Applejack gawped at her. “You never tole us this! All right, then, if she sneaks through bushes wearing a fake mustache, WHY does she do it?”
“Because the very best chocolate is from Prance,” explained Rainbow Dash, and then blinked, her ear twitching.
Her perplexed look was at least matched by the two Apple mares, and they all stared at each other for a boggled moment. Then, Rainbow rolled her eyes, and shrugged.
“Ponyville!” she said, dismissively. “Am I right, or what?”
“No kidding,” said Apple Bloom, with a sigh. “Okay. Thanks, Rainbow Dash.”
“At least somethin’ never changes!” said Applejack, and hugged Dash and gave her a kiss. “What next, sugarcube?”
“I want to get back to Fluttershy’s!” said Dash. “She’s still hiding under her bed and won’t come out! That weird friend of hers is there. Dursaa and Zecora are at Zecora’s with little Dursaa, and I tried to get them to come help with Fluttershy but they said they had to stay, that they promised they’d keep little Dursaa safe there. Zecora has a lot of freaky stuff going on, her place is lighting up and glowing. I didn’t want to argue. Actually they wouldn’t let me come in!”
“Y’don’t say?” said Applejack. “Dang! Does Fluttershy know they’re doing that?”
“I was there when they decided it. Yes, she knows. That was before we killed Hollyhock, remember? They were already there and safe when Fluttershy flew home and hid under her bed.”
Apple Bloom frowned. “Can’t argue with that. In fact, I’mma go along with Fluttershy on that one. Rainbow, don’t you interfere with them, sounds like the zebras have a lil’ zebra fortress going on. I’ve been in Zecora’s place and I believe they’re secure, and it’s right for them to look after the colt. You want to get back to Fluttershy, huh?”
“You want me to stick my hoof in the fire again?” griped Dash. “I totally will if I have to. Can I use the other forehoof, and can we have the water bucket right there this time?”
“Aw, Rainbow,” said Apple Bloom. “Open your mouth! Okay, you’re excused. Go look after our nice vampire.”
Rainbow whirled and took to the air with a blast of wing-downdraft, as Applejack turned to her sister.
“She kin do that? Dammit, Apple Bloom, if all you got to do is look in her mouth, why’d you…”
“Nope,” said Apple Bloom. “Back before Snowy ran away, before any of this, he was talkin’ about vampire powers. We do the bonfire thing ‘cos they can’t fool a fire. Snowy Hocks, he thought that if a vampire was subtle enough, the mouth-lookin’ thing might not work.”
“Why not?” challenged Applejack.
“Because the vampire catches your eye, and you’re hypnotized, and he cleverly makes you see regular pony teeth instead of them fangs. But he can’t fool a fire. I’m sorry, Applejack, for the hurt to Rainbow’s hoof. I am not sorry I asked her to do it.”
Applejack mulled this over.
“Then why’d you let her go this time, with jes’ a fake test?”
Apple Bloom sighed, suddenly weary.
“Cos sometimes ya gotta trust somepony…”
As Rainbow Dash approached Fluttershy’s cottage, she saw a tiny white pony with a pink mane and tail galloping the same direction at breakneck speed.
“Hey, Rock!” she called, but she was too high up and he didn’t even pause, or look around. As she descended, trying to be careful and make a decent final, she watched him charge up to the door and burst right in.
Rainbow concentrated, knowing her tendency to rush the final approach and go tumbling through a window. That was the last thing Fluttershy needed! She made a neat four-hoof landing, and trotted in through the open door after Rock—and then, upstairs, where Fluttershy was exercising her skills in hiding.
Rock was hopping up and down, tearful, crying out “Mom!” while Tree Hugger tried to soothe him. It was quite a sight, for Rock was agitated and Tree Hugger was very sedate, so she tended to coo calming remarks to where he’d been half a second ago.
Fluttershy’s butt and hind legs stuck out from under the bed, kicking wildly. She plainly heard Rock, and though she was done with hiding for the moment, she remained stuck.
“Fluttershy!” yelled Rainbow Dash. “Let me help!”
Fluttershy’s kicking instantly stopped.
“Do NOT pull me,” she ordered, from her under-bed position. “Lift. The bed. UP!”
“Yo, Tree-butt!” said Dash. “Let’s do it!”
Tree Hugger smiled, and she and Dash each took one post of the bed and heaved. Up it came, and Dash remarked, “Hey, not bad! I didn’t know you were that strong!”
“A clear mind and pure spiritual attitude is best supported by a healthy body,” replied Tree Hugger with satisfaction. “Fluttershy, sweetie?”
Fluttershy scrabbled backwards and was free, and Rock Candy flung himself into her forelegs, and was then wrapped in her wings nurturingly. She looked around and told her friends, “Thanks, that’s a much nicer way,” and then her attention was fully on her colt.
“Mommm!” wailed Rock, indistinctly, his face buried in her chestfluff.
“Shhh. Shhh. What’s wrong, Rock?” she said. “Tell me what happened. Mama will fix everything.”
“It’s Mom! It’s Pinkie Pie,” sobbed Rock.
Fluttershy stiffened, and for a moment she stared at nothing with a stricken look.
“Mama will try,” corrected Fluttershy, bleakly. “What happened, honey?”
“She went crazy,” sobbed Rock Candy, “and she’s talking a lot of stuff I don’t understand! But my Sense does! She’s… she’s gonna hurt somepony, really bad…”
“Hoo boy,” moaned Dash.
“She wanted to get Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle to make Pinkie Promises to her, but they’re promises to do bad things and they shouldn’t be doing bad things just because Mom says so…”
“Hoo boy!” gasped Dash. “Really? She’s freaking out but she’s getting Sweetie and Scoots in on it?”
“But they ran away, I think Sweetie made an excuse and she and Scootaloo ran off before they promised anything, and Pinkie Pie, she screamed no in such an awful way…”
“Whoo boy!” said Dash. “Who else? Who’s she got tied up in all this?”
“And I ran away when I sensed she’s gonna hurt somepony, but Northern Spy is still there, I don’t think she’s going to give up…”
“Fuck,” said Rainbow Dash.
Fluttershy cuddled Rock, and he was quiet, though still trembling. She looked levelly at Dash. “What are we going to do?”
Dash squinted her eyes shut in fierce thought, hoof to her forehead. She looked up. “I don’t think we can turn Spy. But I don’t think anything she does is gonna hurt Spy. And something else… I don’t think Spy will go along with something really wrong.”
“It’s all wrong!” wailed Rock.
“Shh! Shh,” said Fluttershy. “Rainbow, I think I have to agree. With Northern Spy and what she’ll do, I mean. I think she’s caught up in whatever Pinkie is doing, and it seems very exciting and brave to her. She’s in it up to the stifle: Pinkie is nothing if not dramatic.” She looked around, huntedly.
“Is she still bugging you?” asked Rainbow. “Or the zebras?”
“The zebras are at Zecora’s,” replied Fluttershy. “And no… she stopped. She completely stopped. I’ve been trying to tell myself that shouldn’t frighten me.”
“And I want to tell you the same thing!” encouraged Tree Hugger. “Fear will put up all your walls and leave you unable to experience authentically. Fluttershy, take a deep breath and repeat after me the mantra I suggested, okay honey?”
“The what now?” gawked Rainbow.
“Shh!” said Tree Hugger. “Okay, breathe… and after me… What do I really have to be afraid of?”
“A vengeful ex driven by jealousy and resentment she won’t admit with creepy unnatural powers who’s now gone completely insane?” suggested Rainbow Dash.
Fluttershy glowered at Rainbow, rolled her eyes, and then snuggled Rock once more and stepped back, studying him intently.
“Rock Candy, honey, I know you have powers too. I know they’re frightening you right now. I’m going to stay with you and we’re going to be safe. Rainbow is a big jerk but she’ll protect you too, and so will Treesie. Isn’t that right, Treesie?”
“Of course I will,” said Tree Hugger soothingly.
“You bet I will!” vowed Rainbow, not put off by the dose of Flutter-truth one bit. “And you know I can kick some serious ass. We’re gonna keep you safe. And probably at some point I can talk Pinkie down, we have a lot of history y’know.”
“You see?” said Fluttershy. “It’s going to be okay. Even if Pinkie’s having a bad scary time she can’t hurt you, we won’t let her. We’re here, Rock Candy, and you’re okay.”
“Hey, now that you mention it…” said Dash, “Rock does have some of that Sense stuff, doesn’t he?”
Fluttershy made a face. “It’s as bad as being a vampire! Look at the poor baby, he’s distraught. It’s not fair on a young colt.”
“Yeah, but maybe he can use it for us,” said Rainbow. She fixed Rock in a determined gaze. “So, Mister Apprentice Freaky-Pony… is this right, what we’re gonna do? Should we be here? Or… well, I’ve been trying to zip around and check on everypony at once, because that’s kinda how I roll. And your Mom’s hiding under the bed, because that’s how she rolls. Is that good, or should we be trying something else?”
Rock’s lower lip quivered… but, obediently, he let his feelings roam, searching for something in the shape of answers.
“I’m just not sure,” he admitted. “I think it’s okay for you to fly around taking care of ponies. That’s good, I guess. The answer isn’t to help Fluttershy hide from everything. Mom, I mean.”
Rock glanced at Fluttershy, as if frightened that talking of her in the third person had angered her.
“Keep going,” said Fluttershy firmly.
“I don’t understand much,” said Rock, in a small voice. “It’s about love, somehow. And… a rescue? And it hurts, what Mom has to go through, I mean Pinkie Mom. But Fluttershy Mom also has to get, um…”
He trailed off, looking worried, lost for words. His brow knit, as if he was trying to work out something that made no sense. “How can something be very bad but right? How does gratefulness fit in?”
Fluttershy had gone pale, looking haunted. She looked at Dash worriedly.
Hooves echoed downstairs. They’d not shut the door when they’d come in.
“Oh little stripey wingy colt!” called a voice. “Why did you, from my lodgings, bolt?”
Zecora. With her, up the stairs, came Dursaa. They entered the room, saw Fluttershy and Dash and Rock and Tree Hugger, and froze.
“A mystery, that seemed so clear,” said Zecora. “Where has he gone, if he’s not here?”
“You LOST him?” squeaked Rainbow, shocked. “You lost the kid?”
Zecora stamped a hoof. “What do you mean?” she demanded, dropping her rhyming speech in her urgency. “He stays with us! We thought he had returned to Fluttershy, and willingly crept through the forest again to reclaim him. What is this madness?”
“You might not need to sneak through the forest now,” said Dash. “We got the evil vamp, at least the one we know about. It was Hollyhock, and he’s gone. And the Kirin thinks there’s even more evil now, and everything’s going crazy. But we thought little Dursaa was with you!”
“He was,” retorted Zecora icily, but then she fell silent, looking at Fluttershy.
Fluttershy had gone ash-pale. Her lip quivered, her eyes seemed to stare upon nightmare realms.
Love? A rescue? Very bad but right?
“Rainbow,” she said.
“You’re with me.”
“Always,” said Dash, and then her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh. You don’t think Pinkie Pie’s gonna hurt…”
“Rock Candy!” called Fluttershy, loudly.
“Yes?” squeaked Rock.
“Stay here. Make Dursaa and Zecora stay, too. We don’t know exactly what’s happening but you need to protect them, and they can protect you. Treesie, you can, uh, just soothe all of them, okay?”
“Of course,” said Tree Hugger, warmth and concern in her voice. “But Fluttershy, honey, can’t I soothe you?”
“No,” said Fluttershy. “Not really.”
“Something bad’s happening right now, and it might be about Pinkie Pie or it might be something else, and it might even be another victim,” said Fluttershy, “…and I have to know. My littlest foal is missing, and Pinkie Pie is acting different, and as far as we are concerned she’s missing too. It’s like she’s found something more amusing to do. I have to know many things now before I come back here. You see that, don’t you?”
Not a pony present could argue with it.
“Can I come?” said Rock, in his littlest voice.
Fluttershy turned. “No, and here is why: we can’t be sure who the real enemy is, Rock Candy, or what’s truly happened. I told you to stay here with Zecora and Dursaa. I need them to stay safe, and you may end up needing them too, but even more than that, what if little Dursaa is lost or trapped somewhere? What if he returns here, or if he’s trying to find you? He adores you, Rock. There MUST be somepony here to meet him if he turns up. We’ll be searching for him, but if something happens to us… do you understand?”
“I don’t want to understand,” said Rock miserably.
Fluttershy hugged him with great tenderness, and then looked him in the eye. “Dear Rock Candy… can I trust you to wait here for your little brother?”
Rock’s lip was wobbling dreadfully. “I don’t know if it’s the same story as Pinkie Mom going crazy and bad! I can’t tell how the story’s gonna go! I can’t see past the part where… it all comes together…”
“You want a story?” said Rainbow Dash. “Try this: we’re going to go and get him back. Right fucking now. And if it’s Pinkie throwing some fit, she can’t stop us. Right, Fluttershy?”
Her wings were flexing, a mad energy filling her athletic body. Rainbow Dash was going to war, even as darkness fell upon Ponyville and evening closed in. She glanced at Fluttershy, and saw the same mood reflected in her eyes. This time they would not wait for dawn.
Rock just stared at her, his gaze too deep, too knowing.
“But she will. She will stop you, Rainbow. And th—then…”
“Shhh,” urged Fluttershy. “Every story has an end. I love you, Rock, and if I can, I’m coming back with your little brother.” She kissed him, and turned. “Rainbow? You’re with me.”
It was five minutes before Rock, Tree Hugger, Zecora and Dursaa could bear to close the door after Rainbow and Fluttershy had flown through it, bound for justice.