Apple Bloom stared in horror at the triumphant pink pony. Diamond Tiara sneered back.

“…one, two, three, four…”

Apple Bloom’s head whipped to the side. Across the field, Applejack was working. She hauled on a plow, and she sang as she pulled… sang cheerfully. It was that song about raising the barn, the one she kept singing lines from when she was feeling content.

She had wept when they’d lost the farm to the Flim Flam Brothers. There was no chance she knew what Diamond Tiara was telling them.

Apple Bloom stared in horror at her happily singing older sister and went chalk-white for a moment, and then she’d seized the hateful paper in her teeth and she was off, running down the road.

Sweetie Belle screamed. Scootaloo charged after her, and Sweetie followed. Bringing up the rear was Diamond Tiara, laughing, mocking.

“Oh, that was too easy! I can’t decide whether it’s disappointing, or all the more satisfying, this way!”

“You shut up, Diamond Tiara!” yelled Scootaloo, trying to catch up. Apple Bloom’s hooves pounded the dirt, and it wasn’t easy even for Scootaloo to match her desperate speed.

“Come back, Apple Bloom! Don’t run away!” begged Sweetie Belle.

“Go ahead and run!” taunted Diamond Tiara. “I took your home and I’m going to kick all the ponies off it and do whatever I want!”

“You can’t just run away from your problems!” raged Scootaloo.

“Her problem is me, and she’s right to run away!” sneered Diamond Tiara, eagerly chasing the Crusaders.

Apple Bloom screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, just a few feet short of the bridge leading into town, and she spat the eviction notice onto the ground and whirled to face her pursuers as they ran up to meet her.

“Ah ain’t runnin’ away!” she snarled. “Ah’m runnin’ TO!”

Scootaloo and Sweetie blinked, puzzled, but Diamond Tiara blanched.

“Oh, no, no. No!” she squeaked. “Don’t you dare!”

Apple Bloom glared at her, seized the paper, and took off again, but this time it was Diamond Tiara on her tail, as Scootaloo whooped with delight and followed, crying “Go Apple Bloom! Run TO! Um, wherever!”

“Where’s she going?” panted Sweetie, trying to keep up.

“I bet she’s going to the cops and have Diamond Tiara put in jail!”

“There are no policeponies in this little town!” protested Sweetie. “Or jails! You’re thinking of Fillydelphia!”

“Then it’s the Royal Guards and they’ll throw Diamond Tiara in a dungeon!”

“The Royal Guards are in Canterlot, silly!” replied Sweetie, and then blinked. “Except one is having sex with Octavia sometimes, and also the only good dungeons are in Fillydelphia!”

Scootaloo stopped. “The only good what?”

Sweetie panted. “That’s what Rarity said once!”

Scootaloo looked warily at her. “Your mom tells you about dungeons that she thinks are good?”

“She was talking to Trixie Lulamoon, not me!”

Scootaloo snorted, and charged off after Apple Bloom and Diamond Tiara again, to a cry of dismay from Sweetie. In the distance, the fleeing ponies ran past the market stalls, and then Apple Bloom whirled and kicked open the door to the general store, Rich’s Barnyard Bargains.

“What’s she doing that for?” said Scootaloo. “It’s not open today, everypony knows that! The place will be empty!”

Sweetie galloped along determinedly, and in seconds they’d caught up and followed Bloom and Tiara into the empty store.

It wasn’t really empty, of course. Shelves were clean and fully stocked, signs hung everywhere advertising bargains and quantity discounts, and on top of that the store was now filled with Diamond Tiara’s hectic screeching.

“Don’t you dare bother him! This is crossing a line, you can’t do things like this, you stupid girl!”

A familiar voice rang out, normally self-satisfied and posh, but weary and harried now. “We are CLOSED today!”

Apple Bloom ignored Tiara. She looked around until she spotted a door with light coming from under it, and she kicked that open as well and charged in, her friends close behind—and Apple Bloom spat out her paper and reared up, hooves on the large desk, and confronted Filthy Rich.

“What th’ HAY do you mean by this? You got a lot of nerve!”

Filthy Rich glowered at her. “You think so? I’m sorry, but my decision is final. I’m afraid I must ask you to leave…”

“Ah am Boss Mare of Sweet Apple Acres an’ I ain’t leavin’!”

He looked sour. “I don’t see why that should change anything.” Then, Filthy Rich flinched. “Ah… is this your way of telling me that you do require special treatment? Your family has always been most reasonable, Miss Bloom, and nothing in your previous behavior led me to expect…”

Apple Bloom banged her hoof on his desk. “Ah din’t expect this neither!”

He blinked. “Hang on. You do understand I close the store one day a week to run accounts and inventory?”

At that, Apple Bloom’s jaw dropped. She stared hard at him, her ears laid back, and then dropped quietly to her hooves and stepped over to where she’d dropped the paper. Diamond Tiara made a move toward it, but Scootaloo and Sweetie blocked her, and all she could do was pout, which she did with great intensity. Her Dad ignored this, as if it was a familiar sight.

Apple Bloom took the paper in her teeth, placed it before him calmly, and said, “Mr. Rich, what is this here?”

He smoothed it out with a hoof, and read, his face not changing one bit, and looked up levelly at her.

“This is a mouthwritten purchase order for patent apple corers, in my rather indecipherable writing, with the words ‘Eviction Notice’ added at the top in crayon.”

Apple Bloom blushed, her ears laying back more, and Diamond Tiara smirked from behind Sweetie and Scootaloo.

“Crayon, huh?” said Apple Bloom, her tail flicking.

“Who gave this to you, Miss Bloom? No,” said Filthy Rich, frowning. “Don’t answer that, you don’t need to. Diamond, really?”

“Oh, Dad!” protested Diamond Tiara. “You’re no fun at all, couldn’t you have played along for a few minutes?”

“If it ain’t an eviction notice,” said Apple Bloom, “what d’you mean your decision is final?”

“Oh!” said Filthy Rich. “The store’s closed today, that’s what I meant. Nothing more, Miss Bloom. It’s closed so I can address the week’s paperwork without,” and he frowned at his daughter, “distraction.”

“So you ain’t buyin’ Sweet Apple Acres?” pressed Apple Bloom.

“Certainly not!”

“And Diamond Tiara can’t kick our butts out on th’ street? Jes’ gettin’ clear on that point,” said Apple Bloom.

“Of course not,” said Filthy Rich, gravely.

“Good,” said Apple Bloom.

“Fine!” wailed Diamond Tiara, and prepared to flounce out.

“Just a minute,” came her father’s voice, and Diamond froze in her tracks, her eyes wide. She turned to catch a stern, unwavering parental gaze.

“You’ve endangered business relationships that are valuable to me,” said Filthy Rich in a perfectly level tone.

Diamond Tiara gulped, trying to maintain bravado, but her lip was quivering.

“Do you understand what I’m telling you, Diamond Tiara?”

She gulped again. “Yes, Dad,” she said, her gaze suddenly pleading with him.

“You understand there must be a consequence to this choice of yours, don’t you?” he said.

Sweetie Belle was watching, entranced. Plainly this new development was the best thing ever, to her.

Scootaloo cleared her throat. “Uhh… Mr. Rich, right now spanking might NOT be a good idea, I’m just saying…”

Sweetie cuffed Scootaloo with a furtive “Shh!” and instantly returned to her innocent look, though something in her eyes betrayed her utter glee. Diamond Tiara went scarlet with embarrassment.

It didn’t matter. Filthy Rich turned to Scootaloo with a scornful look. “Do you know me at all? Miss, I do not lift a hoof against my precious child. We Riches do not handle things in that crude manner. Why, I have not even hugged since… well, since I lost her poor mother. Please don’t mention it further. And please do not insult me and dear Diamond Tiara by suggesting we resort to crude physical acts of that nature! No such actions are ever necessary.”

For a moment, Scootaloo caught an expression flash across Diamond Tiara’s little face. It was a brief flash of utter misery, and suggested that spankings were not the only thing Filthy Rich deemed unnecessary. She glanced at him, at his pompous and uptight expression, and she was able to believe that he hadn’t hugged since his wife’s death. Then Scootaloo glanced at Diamond Tiara, and was certain of it.

Scootaloo knit her brow in thought, but Apple Bloom was already speaking.

“Well, they din’t harm me none, but you carry on as you see fit, Mr. Rich. All Scootaloo’s telling you is that your daughter is in heat. She’s become a mare. Uh, don’t ask me how I know, ‘cos I reckon she’d rather I din’t tell you everything.”

Diamond’s blush was about ready to leap from her visage and douse the room in flaming red. She couldn’t look up, and she scratched at the floor with a hoof.

It didn’t faze Filthy Rich. “I will inform her maid. Unless you’re suggesting this is some sort of excuse?”

“Oh hell naw!” blurted Apple Bloom. “You go ahead and punish her!”

“While we watch!” squeaked Sweetie Belle cheerfully. This time, Scootaloo cuffed her.

Apple Bloom’s ears quirked, as she processed Filthy Rich’s reaction to the news. “Her maid? Ya tellin’ me Diamond here still has a nursemaid, like a lil’ foal?”

That got her one of those level gazes from Diamond’s father. “No, Miss Bloom. Diamond has a ladies’ maid, who attends to many matters of grooming and caretaking. I have a butler and maid to take care of the house, and Diamond has a dedicated maid, Daisy, who serves her and her alone.”

He frowned, then. “If, indeed, a pony behaving so badly should continue to have her own servant to attend her…”

That got through to Diamond Tiara. The blush ebbed briefly as her face tried to go from red to white without visiting pink in between, and Diamond shrieked in horror. “No!”

He observed this reaction, and said, “A suitable punishment, then! She’ll take the week off.”

“Don’t you dare!” screeched Diamond Tiara, but it was the wrong thing to say to Filthy Rich, and the wrong tone to say it in.

“Two weeks,” he corrected, his face not changing expression in the slightest. He lifted an eyebrow.

Diamond Tiara physically shuddered, and the Crusaders watched in fascination as she changed tactics with desperate speed, forcing the anger out of her voice and adopting a manner they’d never seen her display. She lowered her head, peered up at him with big eyes, and she begged shamelessly, trying not to look at the other fillies as she did it. “Dad, no, please, you can’t, don’t take away Daisy, anything but that, I need her, you don’t know how much I’ve been LOSING lately!”

Scootaloo stared at Diamond again, her ears back in perplexity. She’d only just realized that the insufferable pink princess went around deprived of hugs and had flirted with sympathy for her, yet now she had to wrap her head around the idea that this hug-deprived filly was waited on by a personal servant, which seemed to Scootaloo like an outrageous luxury beyond the experience of any reasonable pony.

Her father was studying Diamond Tiara. “Surely this only makes my punishment more effective? It won’t be forever. You’ll do without Daisy for a week, to make the point. I’m not at all sure you should be reacting this badly to the suggestion. It implies you are using Daisy as some sort of ego support, Diamond: I’ll have you know my servants are not tools or property. They run the house for me while I work and I appreciate them immensely, but I could do without their assistance in a crisis. It should not shock you this badly to be deprived of Daisy’s services as a punishment.”

Diamond glanced in a panic at Apple Bloom, Sweetie and Scootaloo, going red again.

Her father spotted it. “You are, Diamond! You are treating her as an ego prop, in spite of everything I’ve said! It should not make any difference to you whether your friends know of your punishment or not. Daisy’s work is a convenience, nothing more, yet you treat it as a point of superiority that you have a personal servant!” He was frowning worse, clearly aghast at his daughter’s attitude.

Diamond Tiara did nothing to relieve his worries with her next action.

She flung herself to the floor, and groveled, heedless of the watching Crusaders. “Pleeeeeeease! Noooo, Dad, no! Don’t do this, don’t take away Daisy, not even for a moment! I need her, you can’t do this to me, anything but that, anything!”

“Diamond, behave,” said Filthy Rich, glancing embarrassedly at Apple Bloom. Both the Riches were behaving as if the intrusion of Cutie Mark Crusaders into their personal dealings was awkward, but Diamond Tiara wasn’t about to let that stop her, and Filthy Rich didn’t look happy with the situation.

“Nooo!” begged Diamond. “I’ll die, you’ll destroy me, don’t ever, please! Anything, do anything to me but take away Daisy! She is devoted to me, you’ll kill both of us if you do, please reconsider! Dad! Anything, I’ll literally do anything but that! Don’t take away Daisy!”

Filthy Rich’s ears were back. He gulped. It seemed he had only limited defenses against the verbal pleadings of the daughter he didn’t cuddle or hug, and perhaps that was the very reason he was vulnerable to such protests. For a moment, it looked like he believed it: believed Diamond’s servant so devoted that both of them would be shattered by such a move. Scootaloo’s eyes narrowed, for she more than suspected this Daisy would find such an enforced vacation an enormous relief. Filthy seemed to be buying the whole story, however.

“Then… how about some other sort of punishment, dear heart?” stammered Filthy Rich.

Diamond popped to her hooves with a squeal of delight. “Thank you, Daddy! I’m sure you’ll think of something that isn’t too dreadful. I love you, I’ll get out of your way now! I know you’re busy working…”

“Hold it,” said Filthy Rich, staring into the middle distance.

Diamond quivered, obviously aching to run out of the room, but unable to defy her father while he was still forming a decision.

“You can’t bear to lose Daisy for even a week, but part of it is apparently because you wish to lord it over your friends…”

“They’re not my friends,” interjected Diamond hastily, but it didn’t help. Filthy Rich looked even sterner.

“They should be. They are your peers,” he said. “The solution becomes apparent. Diamond Tiara, you will continue to have the services of Daisy to attend to your grooming, and you will need them!”

“Of course I need…”

“Because you are going to work on Miss Bloom’s farm for a week!”

Apple Bloom’s jaw dropped. Scootaloo choked. Sweetie began bouncing up and down in glee.

Diamond Tiara regarded her father with absolute horror.

“No,” she gasped. “You can’t…”

“Oh? Two weeks,” said Filthy Rich in that level, stern tone. This time he didn’t lift an eyebrow. This time he meant it.

Diamond Tiara made a dreadful strangled croaking noise.

Filthy Rich waited for a reaction. “You were saying, dear heart? Something about ‘I can’t’, was it?”

Diamond Tiara made not the slightest sound. She just stared at her father as if he’d become a Diamond Dog covered in buffalo poop.

He turned to Apple Bloom, who was still speechless, and he said, “I assure you, Diamond is healthy and intelligent, and I’m sure she will be a help to you, though you may not think it to look at her. This is, as I believe your Granny Smith might say, ahh… ‘long a comin’, and I’m sure your family will accept her help because we’ve tried this once before during your Zap Apple harvest. Indeed, that’s what gives me the idea.”

Sweetie made a little squealy noise of delight, and Scootaloo demanded, “What?”

“Long a comin’!” giggled Sweetie. Scootaloo hid her face in her hoof.

Filthy Rich paid no attention to them. His ears were back, and he studied Apple Bloom. “Miss Bloom? Will that do? You look distraught. Please believe that I am sincere: Diamond both can and should help you. I won’t stand for recalcitrance, and I expect you to inform me if she’s misbehaved, but she will not. Will you, Diamond?”

Diamond Tiara was staring at the ground, blushing red again. “No, Dad.”

“Well, then. Miss Bloom?”

Apple Bloom bit her lip. She stared at her friends. Sweetie nodded manically. Scootaloo shook her head, just as urgently.

Apple Bloom set her jaw. “You got yourself a deal,” she said, and Scootaloo gasped in horror.

“Splendid!” said Filthy Rich. “Now, this interruption has gone long enough. I’m glad we were able to resolve this, Miss Bloom, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart for my daughter’s shenanigans…”

Apple Bloom was shaking her head, and her mouth was smiling, but her eyes were not. “Aw, you don’t know th’ half of it…”

“But right now, I must ask you children to make your plans elsewhere and leave me to my accounts. And I do mean right now, I’ve lost far too much time. Diamond, go with them and have a work schedule arranged by the time you return this evening, which you will furnish me: I will be checking on whether the Apples say you’ve lived up to the spirit of the arrangement.”

“Yes, Dad,” said Diamond Tiara, leadenly.

“I’ll tell Daisy to be ready for you in case they put you to work this afternoon: in fact, if they do that we’ll call it a full day, all right? Two weeks minus one day?”

Diamond didn’t answer. She just trudged out of the room. The Crusaders blinked at Filthy Rich, who stared back at them.

“I did say I needed to return to my figures… and I asked you to leave,” added Filthy Rich, and they scattered and trotted out of the store in haste, to find Diamond Tiara sitting outside, staring at the ground, her mouth a tight hard line.

Sweetie bounced. “You totally have to let me watch! Eeee!”

“Cut it out, Sweetie, this is terrible!” yelled Scootaloo. “Apple Bloom is in danger of falling in love with a bad awful pony now!”

“No she isn’t,” objected Sweetie. “They’ll be doing scenes, like my Mom talks about! They can, like, make it a game and stuff! That way everything will work out, and they can both have all the sex they want and get it out of their systems so Apple Bloom can go find an actually good pony later!”

“Sweetie, you have some really strange ideas sometimes,” said Scootaloo darkly, but she fell silent. Apple Bloom was approaching Diamond Tiara.

She walked up and stood before her. Diamond wouldn’t look up.

“It ain’t so bad,” said Apple Bloom. “Your Dad’s right, though, it will do you good to do some nice honest work for a change.”

Diamond wouldn’t speak.

“Uh,” added Apple Bloom, scuffing the dirt with a hoof, “about that other stuff. We kin maybe set you straight. I don’t mean touchin’ you in a way you don’t like! We got off on a wrong hoof there. What Ah mean is, there’s stuff you kin do to settle your parts down. Ah done it, Ah kin tell you what ya do. It’s basically messin’ with a hoof, jes’ by yourself, and you might find…”

“I hate you all so much right now,” said Diamond Tiara, in a cool level tone eerily like her Dad.

Apple Bloom blinked. “Now see here, I ain’t sure you understood me prop’ly. Ah don’t mean my hoof this time! Let’s start over. What Ah mean is, you kin use your own hoof and sorta stir the puddin’ pot there until you gits you some relief, and then we can talk about doin’ farm work without what you might call untoward implyin’s…”

“I want to watch!” squeaked Sweetie Belle. “Make her do it here!”

Apple Bloom whirled on her friends. “Sweetie Belle! Don’t you understand it ain’t a thing like that? WHAT has Rarity been teachin’ you? And what crawled up your ass an’ died, Scootaloo?”

Scootaloo glared back at her. “You’re being so nice. Maybe it would be better if Sweetie was right and you were making her your pony bitch! I can see you aren’t going to do that, but you’re being kind and that’s worse! Just promise me you’re not going to go all soggy over this awful excuse for a pony. Can’t you see she hates all of us? Being nice is not going to help! This is the worst thing that could ever happen to you!”

Apple Bloom advanced on Scootaloo. “Now see here. Maybe Sweetie’s Ma teaches her funny ideas but MY… well, actual that ain’t my Ma, but between Applejack and Granny Smith I learned how to be right, and this here’s a teachable moment! Who cares if Diamond Tiara is throwin’ a fit? We will teach her to work th’ farm, and I will personally tell her about th’ natural mare things that her Ma ain’t been good enough to bring to her attention!”

“…hate you SO much…” muttered Diamond Tiara, trembling.

“She doesn’t have a mother,” said Scootaloo, “everypony knows that!”

“Well, then,” retorted Apple Bloom, “don’t it jes’ figure that she needs some help with these things?”

Scootaloo confronted Apple Bloom. “This is a mistake. Just look at her! You should go in there and tell her Dad the deal is off, and she should have her maid taken away instead!”

Diamond Tiara jerked as if she’d been stabbed, and stared at nothing with gritted teeth.

Scootaloo continued, “Exactly what do you expect to do here, Apple Bloom? I have a hard time trusting you with this situation. We were trying to take you away from all this!”

Apple Bloom glowered at her.

“Ah am going to do what’s right. Like SOME ponies should learn to do! Firstly, we will take Diamond Tiara under our wing, or maybe Rainbow Dash’s wing on account of she’s th’ only one with wings on our farm, and we will teach her the pleasure of good honest work. Her Dad was exactly right. When we harvested Zap Apples, he made her dress up and sing to the water along with us, and it worked out jes’ fine. Well, we ain’t got Zap Apples to get in, but we’re fillin’ up the barn with hay and firewood and stuff for th’ winter, and like Applejack showed ya, we got th’ plowing to do though maybe Tiara ain’t big enough to help with that…”

Sweetie blinked. “Wait. How could Applejack be plowing, when it’s going to be winter? You can’t plant things in the snow, they’ll freeze!”

Apple Bloom sighed in exasperation. “Ya turn over the soil when y’ can, Sweetie! Break up the hard pan, critters won’t forage on the field so much, it’ll warm up better in the spring—what kinda farmer are you to not know that stuff?”

“I’m not a farmer at all,” said Sweetie. “You are.”

“Diamond Tiara isn’t a farmer, either,” said Scootaloo, “she’s an evil temptress.”

Sweetie giggled. “Not a farmer, but a charmer?”

“Hate you so, so much,” muttered Diamond Tiara.

Scootaloo ignored her. “Yeah! What are you going to do, Apple Bloom, when this horrible person tries to work her feminine wiles on you? Huh?”

Apple Bloom snorted. “You are bein’ completely unfair! I tole you, I don’t gotta do nothin. Ah will respectfully teach Miss Rich Prissy Pants here to pleasure herself in safety an’ comfort in th’ privacy of her own bedroom, like she should.”

“Don’t you mean Miss Not Wearing Any Pants?” said Sweetie Belle, cattily.

“Don’t look!” demanded Scootaloo. “It’s still all worked up and goopy and I know you were staring, Apple Bloom!”

“You shut up!” yelled Apple Bloom. “What’s it to you, anyway? And ain’t none of us wearing pants, what do you think this is, th’ Grand Galloping Gala? You reckon we dress up in pants t’ work the farm?”

“Forget the pants,” replied Scootaloo, “the point is, we don’t want you touching that pony’s vagina or even looking at it any more!”

“I AIN’T!” bellowed Apple Bloom. “I will never, never again! I’mma teach her how to do it herself by explainin’, is that so wrong?”

“No,” said Diamond Tiara, and the Crusaders stopped arguing.

“Whut?” blinked Apple Bloom.

Diamond Tiara rose, trembling, to her hooves. A delicate wet noise came from behind her, as her body begged for certain kinds of attention, but Diamond wasn’t in a mood to take sass from her own body any more than she was ready to listen to country bumpkins tell her to fondle herself.

“I said, no. Is it too long a word for you?”

“No what?” challenged Apple Bloom, stamping a hoof.

“You are not going to tell me to do degrading things to myself with a hoof,” hissed Diamond Tiara. “I do not sully myself with such actions. I am a perfect lady, with my own attending maid and a jeweled crown of great price, and I am not some gauche animal of the fields crudely masturbating for the amusement of your friends.”

“Never said you was,” replied Apple Bloom. “Ah was TRYIN’ to be decent to you, missy. It’s these critters who ain’t got a shred of love in their fool hides. An’ I wouldn’t touch your fancy swoled-out hooha if ya paid me, so don’t you insult me neither.”

Diamond Tiara’s eyes narrowed. “You are not invited, farm horse.”

“You see? You see?” demanded Scootaloo. “She’s being horrible! She’s going to seduce you but the whole time she hates all of us and you’re just going to fall in love with her and ruin your whole life! She’s evil!”

Diamond Tiara whirled, and wobbled unsteadily for a moment, but her glare was anything but unsteady. “Oh, really, Scootaloo? Maybe a pony so bereft of class and good taste would think that could happen, but didn’t you hear me when I said I hated all of you several times? Do you think I was joking? I was not joking!”

Apple Bloom gritted her teeth. “Fine! Go off and cool yer jets on yer own time and come back tomorrow for work. If that’s how you’re gonna be, then so be it!”

Sweetie pouted. “Awwww…”

She froze, then, for that got her the attention of the raging Tiara. “Oh, disappointed, are we? Disappointed that we are not going to see our betters desecrate themselves? But then I’d expect such crass behavior from the secret child of the greatest unicorn slut in Ponyville!”

Sweetie gasped, shrinking back in shock. Scootaloo bared her teeth, and stepped forward.

Apple Bloom shoved between Diamond and Scootaloo, facing Diamond Tiara with her eyes fierce and grim. “Ah do believe I said, go. Come back tomorrow for work, but for now, y’all best git out of my sight or I cain’t be answerable!”

Diamond Tiara’s lip curled. Her legs trembled, worse and worse. She pivoted, flicking her tail. “Does it make you ashamed to see what you can’t have, peasant? Is that why you make such disgusting, crude suggestions? About things you shouldn’t be thinking about, ever?”

Apple Bloom gulped, grinding her teeth in fury. “Now see here…”

Diamond Tiara’s tail flicked across her face, and as it fell away, Apple Bloom heard an unexpected noise, and felt something wet smack her muzzle.

It wasn’t some sexual thing. Diamond Tiara had spat in her face, and was leering inches from her nose.

“Filthy paint-mark blank-flank liar!”

Sweetie screamed, and Scootaloo shouted, but it was no use.

Apple Bloom reacted as she had once before. She knocked Diamond Tiara down, and her foreleg swung in a mighty blow, and before she knew what she was doing, it struck… as it had once before. Tiara had wriggled around quick as a flash to take the blow on her rump, and Apple Bloom’s hoof whacked her with a resounding squelch.

Apple Bloom scrabbled backward, in horror, unable to tear her eyes from the sight. Once again, Diamond Tiara bucked on the ground, dripping fluids and shaking all over with sexual release, her lust-sculpted vagina winking out at four horrified and two fascinated eyes.

“Eeee!” squeaked Sweetie Belle, her eyes gleaming. “Do it again! It’s totally a scene, that must be what a scene is!”

“Dear Celestia,” moaned Apple Bloom, “she got me again th’ same way…”

Scootaloo grabbed Apple Bloom. “Run! Run away, this monster is too much for us to handle! I warned you!”

“Awww,” protested Sweetie, and then Scootaloo was confronting her and shaking her.

“No! This isn’t what your Mom does, it’s creepier and all wrong and we have to get out of here…”

The three Crusaders, clinging to each other in alarm, froze and stared at Diamond Tiara, who’d raised herself up onto her elbows though her hind legs were again rendered useless by brutal climax.

She dragged herself around to face them, and her eyes were all savage triumph.

“You filthy, sick beasts! You assaulted me… again! Now I know your plan! You can’t help yourselves, can you?”

Apple Bloom, Sweetie, and Scootaloo stared back in terror.

“You are vile,” said Diamond Tiara, “but I am pure and furthermore, a pony of my word.” She gulped, her eyes dancing with some mad, crazed light, too bright, too wide. She licked her lips, one eye twitching oddly. “As such… and against my better judgement… I will see you at your dreadful farm, tomorrow.”

She collapsed, panting. The Cutie Mark Crusaders turned and fled.

“I’m telling you,” said Sweetie Belle, “that’s what my Mom calls scening. I think so, anyway.”

“How could she tell you about that stuff, Sweetie?” wailed Scootaloo. “Why would anypony want to act that way? Why would she teach you to be like that?”

“But she won’t!” protested Sweetie. “That’s just it! This must be what she does, but she refuses to tell me anything about it. She doesn’t talk to Derpy about that stuff either, but she still talks to Trixie when she thinks we aren’t listening. She says… a lot of confusing stuff.”

“About how Diamond Tiara is?” pressed Apple Bloom, desperately.

“It must be!” said Sweetie. “Because it doesn’t make any sense, and neither does Diamond Tiara now!” She blinked. “Also, Rarity talked once about being reduced to a quivering, crawling shambles of a mare, and didn’t we just see Diamond Tiara do that?”

Scootaloo gulped. “Sweetie Belle, if you love Apple Bloom… you’ve got to tell us everything you know, right now!”

Sweetie blinked, thoughts ticking away in that peculiar unicorn filly brain. Scootaloo hastened to add, “About your mom and her kinky scening stuff! Everything about that, Sweetie. Quick!”

“Oh!” said Sweetie. “That’s easier. Ummm…”

She thought hard, and her friends listened avidly.

“Trixie comes over, and they kiss, but not like me and Scootaloo kiss. Not exactly? It’s like they’re being polite with each other, like they’re holding back or something. They are super romantic but the way they talk it’s like they’re not having sex with each other now? They say they’re both exploring the other kind of love. They say it like it’s funny, like it’s a joke? I don’t get what’s so funny about that. It’s like they miss something but they won’t go and do more of it, they only talk about it…”

“They won’t do it?” asked Apple Bloom.

“It’s like they’re trying not to!” said Sweetie, puzzled. “It’s all about scening, whatever that is. They’re both not doing it for some reason. Mom talks about how she didn’t get a final curtain, a last hurrah. Trixie complains about how Twilight is vanilla. I’m sure she’s a very special pony but even as magical as she is, how could her vagina taste like that?”

“No,” said Scootaloo, frowning. “I’m sure that means she’s kinda boring. You know?”

Sweetie looked a little disappointed. “Oh. Most of the time I can’t see their faces because they stop talking if they know I’m listening. I guess that’s what it means.”

“What else?” demanded Scootaloo.

“Um, they kiss and hug and sometimes they bump horns just a little bit, and they’re super nice to Derpy who doesn’t mind at all. But Trixie is extra nice to Derpy so why would she mind? Though they’re not nice in exactly the same ways. My Mom touches Derpy’s wings sometimes and they both get real excited and sometimes they have to run into the inner sanctum really quick! And it’s supposed to be soundproofed but you can still tell. And sometimes Derpy howls, and did you ever hear of a pony that howled? It’s crazy!”

Scootaloo’s eyes were wide. “Does Rarity turn her into a wolf?”

“I don’t think so,” said Sweetie thoughtfully. “When Derpy goes into the inner sanctum and howls it means her wings will be really fluffy later and sometimes she can’t move them so good because they’re stuck. And when she just screams a lot in there, she walks funny afterwards. Usually it isn’t both because Rarity says the pony frame can only stand so much. Is that true?”

“Um,” said Scootaloo. “It kind of is. I mean, if you’re a pegasus. I never used to think of Derpy Hooves that way. Does Trixie take Derpy into the inner sanctum too?”

Sweetie blinked. “Oh, no! When Trixie comes over she treats Derpy like the most special princess ever, and Rarity is so happy and proud.” Sweetie sighed happily. “I’m so glad they have so much love. Is that the other kind of love or is it like the first kind of love or maybe some third kind I never heard about?”

Scootaloo hugged her. “It’s the good kind. It’s our kind.”

“Then why do they miss this other kind so much?”

“That’s what you gotta find out,” said Scootaloo seriously. “Because maybe Diamond Tiara is like that, or maybe she’s something even scarier. And she’s making Apple Bloom do things to her.”

Apple Bloom listened to the conversation, her ears alert, her expression dismayed.

“So does that mean Diamond Tiara is scening?” asked Sweetie. “My mom won’t talk about it at all. She doesn’t even make jokes that I’m not supposed to understand, anymore. Trixie says Twilight is too vanilla, or a spoilsport. When she says that, Mom scolds her and she takes it back. They don’t like to talk about it around Derpy, either.”

“It sounds like your Mom is trying to change how she is,” said Scootaloo. “Does she not want to scene anymore? Then why does she hang out with Trixie and remember the old days when she used to?”

Sweetie frowned. “My mom says when you understand the darkness, it will always be a part of you. I don’t know what she means… I know she’s been really sad but she’s always been the most beautiful, wonderful unicorn ever so it doesn’t make sense! Isn’t this darkness a game? That’s why I’m so curious. It’s like she plays a game of doing really creepy things because they’re sexy. Maybe they’re more sexy than even regular sex is. I sneak into her work room after she’s been working on private stock, and there’s like straps and muzzles and chains and spurs and it all looks like it’s for being mean and hurting ponies, but it’s a sex thing and it’s supposed to be so amazing and intense…”

“Diamond Tiara’s th’ queen of mean,” mumbled Apple Bloom, looking a little sick.

“That’s why I want to watch her being spanked!” said Sweetie.

“No!” said Scootaloo, thinking hard. “I mean, yeah, you’re both right, but you have to pay attention. Twice now Diamond Tiara has been spanked by Apple Bloom. She came super hard both times. She’s the queen of mean, but listen: I think she wants Apple Bloom to be mean to her.”

“Naw!” objected Apple Bloom, bridling and backing away. “She cain’t make me! I was hopin’ maybe I could tame her! Ah mean… teach her, that’s all! Teach her to be a nice pony.”

Scootaloo regarded Apple Bloom suspiciously. “Tame her, huh? Did you hear what she said to Sweetie Belle? I don’t think she deserves to be a nice pony. Lots of luck with that project!”

“It’s not even that,” said Sweetie thoughtfully.

Apple Bloom blinked. “Whatcha mean, Sweetie Belle?”

“I don’t think she wants to be a nice pony. I think she wants to scene. With you.”

“But she has everything!” objected Scootaloo. “She gets literally everything she wants! Why would she want spankings from our Apple Bloom but say she doesn’t?”

Apple Bloom gulped, laying her ears back, trying to understand…

Filthy Rich walked quietly into his bedroom. He approached the bed, observing that it was perfectly neat and tidy, pristine and empty.

Easy for a bed to be so flawlessly neat, when you didn’t have a loving mare rumpling it or hiding playfully under the covers.

He hung his head. For all that he’d scolded Diamond, it was hypocrisy. He knew that without his servants, the bed would be a mess, unmade and stale. He managed to dress himself with some of his old style, but he depended on the servants to make his bed, because otherwise he couldn’t cope. Too many memories.

His eyes drifted to the picture on his bedside table. It was of himself, and another pony, dancing. A pale lilac pony, with mane nearly as red as Apple Bloom’s, slim and graceful, eyes sparkling with pride in him—and in herself. Sometimes he went weeks without looking directly at that picture, because the pain all came back when he didn’t expect it.

The bags under his weary eyes seemed to deepen. His lip quivered.

“It’s not fair to say it,” he muttered to the empty air, “but… why couldn’t it have been you that survived?”

Just for a moment, his gaze caught that of the mare in the picture, and her plucky determination transfixed him, and as always he knew that she wouldn’t have had it any other way, that she expected him to be as strong as she’d been.

It was easy for her to say, he thought. Her struggle was over. There’d been the agony of her final hours, yes, but she’d succeeded as she always did: Diamond had been born regardless, and she’d even seen Diamond alive before she died. It’d been her last sight, and then her pain had ended despite the best efforts of the doctor and nurse.

She looked out of the old picture, from beside a younger and more innocent Filthy Rich, as if to say: never give up, together we can do anything.

Filthy Rich looked back, his unconquerable smile gone from his face, knowing she would be judging him on that selfishness that she forgave but tirelessly worked to suppress. He knew what she expected. He knew she knew what he’d just been feeling. He knew he had to do better than that… as always.

“I’m sorry, Ginger. I’m so sorry.”

Filthy Rich collapsed onto his bed, burying his face in the pillows. The tears wouldn’t come: they never did, they only pressed behind his eyes with terrible force. Perhaps that was what made those lines under his eyes. He’d suggest that it was his ungovernable daughter, but Ginger wouldn’t put up with such thinking, or with the self-pity, and he knew it.

“It’s just hard,” said Filthy Rich very quietly. A tremor shook him, and he hugged the pillows tighter, and then relaxed into the waiting embrace of his loneliness, and the chill wind blew through his soul unresisted.

On the bedside table, the sympathetic smile of the mare in the picture said: I understand. I’ll always love you. I’m here.

Eventually, Filthy Rich slept.