Circus

Gilda peered fretfully at the ominous device. “So… what the heck is that?”

Twilight smiled brightly, perhaps too brightly for such an early morning hour. “Measurements. I’ve adapted it from an earlier experiment. Trixie says she got a feel for what was happening, last night.”

The griffin’s expression was nervous. “Oh, she got a feel all right,” she said, and then as Twilight approached her, she squawked “Not so fast!”

Twilight, rebuffed, blinked. “Why would it matter if I do this fast or slow?”

“Well,” said Gilda grudgingly, “okay. You can’t say I don’t cooperate. Just… can you at least tell me where you’re going to insert it?”

“Insert it?” squeaked Twilight. “You don’t! You wear it like a hat. Why did you think I was going to poke it in you somewhere?”

Gilda, at a loss for words, shrugged. She gave a little sigh. “Ponies. Or should I say, I’ve been learning so much about unicorns lately?”

“Errrrh!” grumbled Twilight. “Trixie, clearly I let you get away with far too much around here. Just look at you!”

“Thank you, Mistress!” called Trixie Lulamoon, in her accustomed position as Gilda’s divan.

“I should get her a real chair!” protested Twilight.

“Does she need one?” yawned Trixie, lazily. “Trixie’s glorious rump is quite soft compared to the dreadful piece of furniture you’re thinking of, Trixie has seen it. Perhaps you are thinking of a pillow? Does she need one? Is darling Gilda,” said Trixie and smirked dreadfully, “sore?”

Gilda made a face. “No thanks to you!”

“I should never have let her be alone with you,” vowed Twilight.

“No, it’s okay,” said Gilda awkwardly. “Mostly. Uh… though I am a little sore. I like sitting on unicorn butts, we’re great, carry on!”

“Well, if you’re sure,” said Twilight dubiously. “As I said, this device will help measure things.”

“Like what?” said Gilda.

“Harmonic overtones of thaumic resonance,” replied Twilight.

“Sorry I asked…”

“It’s very interesting!” protested the lavender unicorn. “Or at least it will be if we find anything. And I happen to think it’s even interesting if we don’t. It’s not science if we know the answer ahead of time! Don’t you even feel any thrill of discovery? We might make great strides of science before breakfast!”

“Trixie has no intention of striding anywhere before breakfast,” said Trixie. “Trixie will prepare a delicious breakfast for her Mistress and her new special friend, once Mistress is settled in and has got her early morning nerdiness out of her system.”

At that, Twilight blinked. “Are you hungry? I’m sorry, I rushed right down here first thing, because there’s so much to discover…”

Trixie yawned. “You did indeed, and once you are preoccupied with scientific equipment you will not think of breakfast, even if you are hungry. Trixie intended to remind you within an hour, because you would most certainly not have remembered by then.”

Gilda was looking around. “You sure do have a lot of junk down here. What’s that?” She pointed with a talon.

“That’s a distilling apparatus. I had to make Granny Smith promise not to try and take it back and use it. Also, to not tell Rainbow Dash I’d bought it from the Apples: that pony is mad for cider, and I think she’d react badly if she knew the Apples’ shortages were partly my fault.”

“And that?” asked Gilda nervously.

“Experimental multi-headed broom slash whisk,” said Twilight. “For sweeping the floor and also three levels of bookshelves in one convenient motion. It works almost perfectly!”

Trixie gave her a cranky look. “Mistress will test it on her own bookshelves next time. Period!”

“It only ate one book!” protested Twilight.

“Exactly.”

“I replaced the book, Trixie!” pleaded Twilight. “When are you going to forgive me, huh?”

Trixie’s glower softened. “Trixie forgave you immediately, Mistress.”

“Well then!”

“But you did not replace Trixie’s book,” said the blue unicorn levelly.

Twilight blinked. “I did! I went out and got you another. It cost seventy-three bits and I was happy to do it! And yours wasn’t in nearly as good condition and didn’t have gilt edges.”

Trixie sighed. “Trixie is grateful, truly. Don’t mistake her! Trixie enjoys the new shiny book. But the original book had been targeted by your device because it was heavily torn and soiled and resembled detritus one would find in a ditch.”

“Oh yeah?” said Gilda absently, still looking around the sciencey basement in trepidation. “Why was it so dirty, then?”

Trixie lowered her eyes in a moment of reverence. “Because it was one of the first books Trixie carried from town to town, before she had a cart, before she kept her books in a secret cave guarded from intruders. Trixie read THAT book until it fell apart, and still kept reading even then. It is nice to have the words on clean paper, and turn pages without them falling off. But Mistress did not replace that book.”

Twilight teared up. “Oh, Trixie!”

“Don’t cry,” added Trixie hastily. “Mistress did replace Trixie’s whole life. One book is not too high a cost.” She thought about that for a moment, with a startled look, then nodded.

Twilight’s lip quivered, but before she could respond, the griffin sitting on her marefriend’s rump had extended a birdlike arm and pointed a trembling talon. Not at her, but at a large object lurking in the shadows that seemed to extend talons of its own.

“And what is THAT?” Gilda squawked, in alarm.

Twilight sighed. “THAT is a trebuchet.”

“A what?”

“It is a catapult and you know it,” snorted Trixie.

“No! It’s a trebuchet, see? The end bit swings as it goes. I realize it’s not a rope and sling but all the same since it’s a swinging arm the classification has to be trebuchet! It’s a traction trebuchet with magic-tensioned springs.”

“Trixie thinks you shouldn’t leave it tensioned.”

“It’s not loaded! The basket’s empty.”

Gilda gulped. She repeated herself. “A what?”

“It’s a device for flinging objects, weapons or projectiles at a target,” said Twilight. “This particular one is designed for flinging a projectile that is also a weapon, at a variety of targets such as doors, walls, or standing changeling drones alone or in groups. That is the intended target, and the projectile is Spike.”

“Say what?” blinked Gilda.

“That,” repeated Twilight, “is a trebuchet for flinging Spike.”

Gilda boggled at her for a while. She knew of the unicorns’ baby dragon. Finally, she found words, or at least ‘word’.

“WHY?”

“Don’t judge,” said Twilight defensively. “Anyway, he really enjoyed it! Parts of it. Maybe not the wall. Why am I answering this? We’re here to ask YOU the questions! Please put the thing with the lights on your head and don’t insert it anywhere, and put your paws in these shackles on the thing with the button and the knob and the screen and the two wires. I will do the inserting, and all I’m going to do is insert the green wire where the red wire and the blue wire go.”

“Why do I have the feeling ‘put your paws in these shackles’ is something you’ve said before?” moaned Gilda.

“No no,” said Twilight. “Those shackles are upstairs. These are different other shackles, more like clamps. Come on, come on! Oh, right, use your claws instead, paws are your hind feet. Hooked up to this we ought to be able to meter practically everything about you!”

Gilda rolled her eyes and complied, frowning worriedly as lavender magic fastened the shackles tightly with a click.

“Did you hear something upstairs?” she said.

“No,” said Twilight. “Maybe it’s somepony returning a book? No stalling, now. Use your dark powers on something!”

Gilda gawked at her. “Are you joking?”

“Not in the least. Go on! Heal something. Are any of your claws or talons broken?”

“No!”

“Could you hold one out for me, please? It’s for science!”

Gilda cowered, for a cheerfully mad light glowed in Twilight’s eyes. Before any more unreasonable suggestions could be made, Trixie spoke up. “What about healing something else? Trixie remembers! Miss Gilda, you did say you were… sore.” She smirked, horribly.

Gilda turned to stare at her pony divan. “Yeah. You pounded me so hard I couldn’t believe it. You’re crazy, doing that to a live griffin.”

“Dead griffin,” corrected Twilight.

Gilda winced. “All right, all right. I’m still getting used to that, okay?”

“Trixie thinks you will have a great deal of time to get used to it,” suggested Trixie. “One cannot die twice, can one?”

“I don’t know much about this,” muttered Gilda.

“Neither do we!” said Twilight. “That’s why you’re helping us to learn. Trixie, did you really fuck her so hard you did her an injury?”

Trixie’s ears were back. “She had a safeword!”

“Oh? Really? And what was this safeword of hers?” demanded Twilight.

Trixie batted her eyelashes. “It was ‘no, stop’. That was Miss Gilda’s safeword. Is, rather.”

Twilight boggled at Trixie, then shrugged. “Lightweight! But still, she’s damaged up in there? Even now?”

Trixie smirked. “Not such a lightweight after all. Our little birdkitty took it outrageously hard, Mistress. Shows great promise. If she has not repaired this damage, it is with her still.”

Twilight turned to Gilda. “Well then! That saves time. All our circuits are powered and ready! Trixie, focus your energies in case stuff happens on a bandwidth we’re not recording. Gilda? You taught Northern Spy to heal herself, though not very well. Please do that again, on whatever part of your vagina Trixie Lulamoon battered into submission.”

Gilda rolled her eyes. “With pleasure. I hope you both visit a griffin outpost someday. In a strange way you guys would fit right in. I thought Dash was the most obnoxious pony ever, but I hadn’t met any unicorns. Can you fly?”

“Not very well,” said Twilight. She winced, and added, “Not anymore!”

“Can you run?” teased Gilda.

“We can fire bolts of magical fire from our horns,” said Twilight. “How’s that?”

“You’ll have to,” said Gilda. “It’s actually kind of disturbing how griffinlike your obnoxiousness is…”

“I’m about to,” retorted Twilight. “Unless you get busy healing that kitty vagina so we can measure it! Should I send Trixie in there to wreck the joint even more?”

Gilda’s tail-tuft bristled out, as did her longer patches of fur and the feathers on the back of her neck. “Uhhh, no need! Here I go, I’ll be good, I’m not sure how I do it, but it goes something like this…”

She concentrated. Twilight whickered with excitement, reading her dials. Stray lights on Gilda’s peculiar hat blinked.

“Did you get anything, Mistress?” said Trixie. “And what IS that upstairs?”

“Probably the Apples coming back,” said Twilight dismissively. “Sh!”

Gilda continued to concentrate, even wriggling a bit with effort, which caused Trixie to flick her tail in pleasure. Then, the big griffin took a breath. “All done. That was it, everything torn or bruised is like new again.”

“Round two?” suggested Trixie, and Gilda choked, speechless for a moment.

“No, stop!”

“Trixie hadn’t started yet,” said the blue unicorn divan, pouting.

“Settle down, both of you!” ordered Twilight, smiling. “I have a result!”

“Ooooh!” squealed Trixie. “Mistress! What did you find?”

“It’s not so much what I found,” said Twilight smugly. “It’s what I didn’t find. Gilda, you have an area of total blankness, a big huge gap up around the second thaumic spectrum. On a pony that would be a magical frequency common to all species of pony, be they unicorn or pegasus or earth pony: in fact the earth ponies tend to have very strong resonances up in this bandwidth. I say resonances, but that’s actually not true because they’re characterized by an unusually broad signature, the opposite of what you get with a pony like say Lyra, who does her crazy things with horngasms through a strikingly narrow thaumic resonance that develops a cascade effect…”

“Mistress,” said Trixie, “you are losing Trixie and our griffin is probably totally confused.”

“Well, so am I!” said Twilight. “I don’t think anypony has ever measured a gap like that before! We have no idea why Gilda is magically dead at those frequencies, no living thing in the history of thaumic spectral analysis has returned such a result!”

“She isn’t a living thing,” pointed out Trixie. “She’s a vampire griffin.”

Twilight blinked. “Oh. Right. Pardon.”

“No problem,” said Gilda. She looked like she wanted to face-claw, but her talons were firmly held in the shackles. “So there’s, like, part of me missing now? How does that work? I feel the same as ever. Apart from I gotta go devote myself to Fluttershy forever ‘cos I’m hollow nothing and all cold inside.” She blinked. “So yeah, maybe not quite the same…”

“Trixie hears something upstairs too,” said Trixie.

“They can let themselves in,” said Twilight, “they know the way. I think that’s them getting the door. The important thing is, we’ve isolated something different about vampire magic. We don’t know if vampirism suppresses those thaumic bands or if something’s been stripped away by death. Maybe Gilda is just a corpse that doesn’t know she’s dead and the vampirism is animating those remaining thaumic regions, and if it stops she’ll drop right down dead, splat!”

Gilda whimpered. After a moment, she waved a claw like twirling a tiny flag. “Awesome,” she managed, rolling her eyes.

So was Trixie. “She makes an exceedingly lively corpse,” suggested Trixie Lulamoon. “Trixie thinks if it was all vampirism, she would not have such rewarding animal urges. Something else is going on, and most of Gilda Griffin is with us. Some part is removed, somehow.”

Twilight was just settling into debate mode when there was a squelch on the stairs.

The ponies, and the griffin, stared as something white with a brown paw came into view. It staggered forth, tumbled, and seemed to pour down the stairs like a sack full of jelly, leaving red splotches as it went.

“What the fuck is that?” cried Twilight Sparkle. Trixie gasped.

Gilda just stared, wide-eyed, her pupils pinpoints of horror like she was being haunted from beyond the grave.

There was no point denying it: she was.

“Is that a BUNNY?” wailed Twilight. “A headless BUNNY?”

Gilda gulped. “Oh, crap…”

“What is it doing?” blinked Trixie.

“Let me OUT!” squawked Gilda. “Let me go, it’s gonna get me!”

Trixie watched the thing advance upon herself and Gilda, who remained shackled to the machine. A light bulb on Gilda’s hat blew out from the force of her panic. “What do you think it can possibly do to you? It is tiny and you’re huge! Do you think it will bite you? It has no head with which to do so! Whatever does it want?”

Gilda stared in horror, as the bunny with the brown paw squelched bonelessly over to confront her. It began hopping up and down as well as it could, which was not very well at all, and gesticulating, all the while making horrible noises out of its neck.

“What’s it SAYING?” gawked Twilight. “What’s it pointing at? It’s pointing at… its OWN neck?”

Trixie glanced rapidly back and forth between the remnants of bunny, and the stricken, shame-faced griffin. Her pupils constricted to dots and a spark of magic popped off her horn as a tremendous idea burst upon her.

“Gilda, tell Trixie. Did you eat this bunny?”

Tears were coming to Gilda’s eyes. She couldn’t look away. “I kept making myself stop it… I almost starved, until Fluttershy got me the fishes…”

Trixie reeled in her dangling jaw. She stared at the tiny, irate, vampiric griffin-snack.

“Trixie thinks it wants you to finish your leftovers,” she said.


“Mornin’, Apple Bloom!” said Applejack, trotting through the farmyard.

“Oh, hi, Applejack,” said the diminutive Apple Boss Mare, without turning her eyes from the line of farm ponies awaiting orders.

“Fine mornin’, ain’t it?” continued Applejack, her ears laying back. Her little sister seemed even more preoccupied with her duties than usual… and there didn’t seem to be enough farm ponies, not nearly enough. Applejack counted Dursaa, Fern Gully, Knothole and Big Macintosh, but old Snowy Hocks was missing, as were the herders Silver and Hollyhock.

Apple Bloom glanced at her, looking harried… and then broke into a wry halfsmile. “Call this mornin’? Ah’ve been up since four, big sister. What have you been doin’ besides layin’ in bed?”

Applejack blushed. “Dashie din’t want to git up. Specific-like, Dashie din’t want ME to get up and she was kinda layin’ on me comfortable-like and, wull…” She rallied. “If you’re so busy so dang early, where’s the rest of your ponies?”

The halfsmile dropped. “We’ll get to that,” said Apple Bloom. “Run along now.”

“Beg pardon?” said Applejack. “Are you really tellin’ me to clear out?”

“Naw,” said Apple Bloom. “Ah’m askin’. If you want tellin’, stick around. I got a situation and I have no time for big sisters… or lil’ nieces.” She gave Northern Spy a hard look. “I am given to understand you’re goin’ over to see Twilight Sparkle, like you done yesterday. Ah would say, go there now, and don’t let nothin’ stop you.”

Applejack bridled. “Oh yeah?”

Then, a friendly blue form interposed itself. “Applejack, easy!” said Rainbow Dash. “We were going anyway. It’s important! Come on. For Spy? Take it easy, Apple Bloom’s just cranky because some of her pony workers are late.”

“An’ whose fault is that?” protested Applejack. “It ain’t right, them dallyin’ this way…”

“Ah could answer that,” said Apple Bloom, “but it ain’t the first thing on my mind. Thank you, Rainbow Dash.” She turned back to the farm ponies. “The first thing is this! I don’t know what some ponies been tellin’ y’all, but I am not on any side! The only side here is the side of a plow, and you’re gonna see the side of my HOOF if you defy me. And no more talk of treachery to ponies! I will not have it, not from you and not from them! Your companions are gonna be a while a-comin’ but understand this, it ain’t strength they showin’. It is weakness and fearfulness and I swear to you I will sack ‘em if it becomes a habit. I am being mighty tolerant on account of some ponies is just nervous nellies. Cowardly! You’d think livin’ in Ponyville would put a spine in ‘em but apparently no…”

Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Northern Spy continued on, their little Boss Mare’s vituperation fading in the distance.

“What the… heck, was that about?” marvelled Rainbow Dash. “Treachery to ponies? They think Apple Bloom’s a traitor to ponies?”

Applejack snorted. “Excuse for shirkin’ if you ask me,” she said. “I know them ponies. Snowy’s a damn schemer and them herders, they’re headstrong. Lil’ sister better watch it or they’ll stomp all over her. Boss Mare! Pfah!” She trotted with aggressive, bouncy steps, flicking her tail.

Beside her, Northern Spy snorted as well, in miniature. “Yeah! You should kick her out, Mom, you should be the Boss! Or me, I bet I’m way stronger than any of them now because I’m…” She hesitated. “…well, anyway, I prob’ly am stronger than all of them!”

“Sh,” said Applejack. “We’re tryin’ to fix what you may call the down side of all that!” Her tone softened. “Anyways, I don’t want to be Boss Mare no more. Not really.”

“How come?” challenged Spy, her little fangs glinting.

Applejack glanced sidelong at her. “Got me a foal now. First of all, you’re as tough to wrangle as a whole herd o’ farm ponies. An’ second… Ah would rather be with you, sugarcube. Let’s get you fixed up, then we’ll go back home and bake apple pies. Okay?”

Spy’s eyes were wide… then glistening. “Awww, Mom!”

Dash’s eyes had been tender, for she’d known right away what angle Applejack was taking, and she agreed with every particular.

Then they narrowed, gazing past the Ponyville houses and shops, into the distance.

“Is that smoke?” said Rainbow Dash.

Distantly, a scream oozed into the unwilling air. It wasn’t a scream of terror. It was something more horrible, with a distinct wrongness to it, like it wasn’t even from a pony throat at all.

Dash tensed. So did Northern Spy.


“Settle down, Gilda!” urged Twilight.

“Let her claws loose!” suggested Trixie. “Here, let me. Trixie would be upset too if she were shackled to a machine with a dead bunny yelling at her!”

“It wasn’t yelling!” retorted Twilight. “It sort of hopped up and down and gestured. Do you think it really does want to be eaten?”

“Trixie cannot begin to guess,” said Trixie. “Hold still, Gilda! One claw… now the other… there! There’s a little griffy-poo, all better?”

Gilda stared at her in horror. “I am NOT a little griffy-poo!”

“Where’d it GO?” cried Twilight. “Where’d the bunny go?”

Gilda squawked and curled up, covering her head with her talons. After a moment, one eye peeked out, to meet Trixie’s. “Okay, maybe just a touch…”

Trixie trotted over and hugged her. “It’s okay. You’re a big, strong vampire griffin! Who apparently is making thralls out of griffin chow. Trixie did not know that was even possible. Why do they have no heads? Do you eat them head first? Kinky!”

Gilda was shaking her head, while looking frantically all over the basement for signs of the avenging bunny. “No! It’s, it’s, it’s mercy killing. I tried not to! I was getting so hungry. They’re food for griffins! It wasn’t any local ones! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I can’t believe this…”

“There it is!” called Twilight, trotting to the stairs. “It went upstairs! It’s coming back down now. Gilda, did you lash out at it somehow? It’s fucking covered in blood, I’m totally going to make you clean it up.”

“I had my claws shackled to a thing!” wailed Gilda, quaking in horror as Trixie cuddled her and smirked.

“Then what…” began Twilight, and sniffed the air. She stared at the bunny in disbelief as it struggled to get back down the stairs. “It got into the ketchup! For root vegetables and sandwiches! It’s covered itself in ketchup!”

Trixie’s jaw dropped. “That proves Trixie’s theory: it DOES want to be eaten! To end its suffering, Trixie supposes? Gilda, is it particularly awful being a vampire?”

Gilda shook her head, but not in reply so much as in sheer dismay.

Twilight studied the shambling sack of bunny-bits critically. “It looks like it got bucked in the head—sorry, there’s no head, I mean bucked in the whole body. Possibly by Applejack. I think I hear bones scraping in there. This is the grossest thing ever—thanks a lot, Gilda. Why would you even do that? Eat their heads and throw the rest away, I mean?”

“I didn’t!” wailed Gilda, hysterically. “I swear! I was trying to get to Fluttershy. And I knew she wouldn’t want me to eat animals and birds and stuff. But I was starving! And sometimes my instincts would just take over. There’d be prey, I mean a bunny, and my stomach would go GRR and then I would just pounce…”

“And eat its head?” accused Twilight, making a face.

“No! We have really strong talons, really really strong,” pleaded Gilda. “If you don’t want prey to suffer there’s stuff you can do. Important thing, break its neck instantly, it doesn’t feel the attack, so I would just RIP…” She gulped, scrunching her eyes shut. “I’m sorry.”

Twilight stared at her. “You ripped the head off a bunny? Is that what you’re telling me? In order to eat its body?”

Gilda waved a claw helplessly. “Just a bite. Then I’d remember about Fluttershy, and I’d fling it away and swear never to do it again…”

Trixie and Twilight exchanged a glance. “That would do it,” said Trixie. “Trixie wonders, if you ate them, would they end up vampire poo?”

Twilight winced. “Okay, that is the grossest thing ever,” she said. “I thought I knew what the grossest thing ever was, but clearly I was thinking too small.” As Trixie’s eyes glinted, Twilight added, “Maybe you shouldn’t have gone in for fits of vegetarianism, Gilda! Or if you did, you shouldn’t have been ripping off bunny heads. Do you think the heads are vampire too?”

Trixie blinked. “Perhaps not, if she’s described this accurately. Hey! You! Shoo!” She kicked out at the ketchup-covered vampire bunny body, which was trying to crawl across her and get to Gilda’s beak. It squelched against the wall, leaving a huge gory stain of tomato sauce.

“Well, there’s that, anyway,” said Twilight. She blinked, and her pupils shrank to dots as she had a thought. “Gilda. When you say you’d fling it away and swear never to do it again… how LONG is never again, exactly?”

There was a gruesome screaming noise from the stairs, and a tan and brown bunny with no head tumbled down to splat at the bottom in a heap. It dragged itself to its feet, and proceeded to stagger in Gilda’s direction… gesticulating wildly and pointing to its neck.

It had, however, found the ketchup that the previous bunny had used.

Trixie kicked the new vampire bunny away. It got up and began staggering once more toward Gilda, as Trixie narrowed her eyes and readied her hoof.

Gilda was curled up in a fetal position, whimpering. “Fluttershy’s gonna kill me…”

Twilight twitched. “If she manages that, can we measure what happens?”

“Shh, Mistress,” urged Trixie. “Can you trap that one? It’s frightening our griffy-poo. Where’d the first one go? How many of them are there, anyway?”

Twilight opened her mouth, but before she could even compose a nasty enough remark, another headless bunny tumbled down the stairs.

“Trixie is sorry she asked,” said Trixie hastily.

There was a large sproing. From the basket of the trebuchet, the first bunny soared through the air, to bounce off Gilda and Trixie with a great splattering of tomato sauce.

Twilight squealed in disgust, trotting in place. “EEEEggghh! This is not only the grossest thing ever, all of this is officially the grossest thing that could ever possibly be!”

“Trixie doesn’t know about that,” said Trixie smugly. “Do you have a blender?”

“EEEEEEEEEE!”


The smoke was coming from behind a house. As Applejack galloped around it, Dash took to the air and checked the windows, finding nothing, swooping back down onto the source of the blaze…

A bonfire.

A bonfire with a screaming, headless bunny directly in it.

A bonfire with stern-faced farm ponies standing around it.

Applejack thundered up, and screeched to a halt, horrified. Dash flapped madly, trying to make sense of the sight. Northern Spy zoomed around the side of the house, but then approached more slowly, wide-eyed, her mouth tightly shut: sensing danger and something horribly wrong in Ponyville.

As the three Apples hesitated, the headless bunny flared up for good and turned into a little pyre and then a collapsing bunny of soot and ash.

It was Hollyhock, Silver and Snowy Hocks. With them were Carrot Top and Roseluck. Hollyhock looked grim as ever. Silver bared his teeth, and raised a forehoof…

“The HELL you think you’re doin’, sonny boy?” demanded Applejack, appalled.

“Learnin’,” said Snowy. “Go on!”

Silver stamped down into the flames, and embers and ash scattered on the wind.

“That worked,” said Snowy. Hollyhock looked pale, and nodded.

Applejack snarled, “Ah tole you NOT to hurt them zombie bunnies!”

“They ain’t,” said Snowy Hocks, with quiet authority.

“What?”

“They ain’t zombie bunnies,” said Snowy. “Ain’t no such thing.” He took a breath. “Them’s VAMPIRE bunnies.”

Applejack’s eyes widened. Dash gasped.

“Why do you say that?” said Applejack carefully. She felt Northern Spy, moving in a little closer behind her as if taking cover, saying nothing. Good, thought Applejack. Don’t you show them fangs right now, little one.

“We don’t jes’ say, we know,” said Snowy. “This proves it. The oldest ponies remember, even older’n me. You kill vampires in different ways, but it’s good to burn ‘em. They dry up or somethin’.”

“Listen here,” said Applejack. “I said not to hurt ‘em, whatever they are. You can’t tell me that din’t hurt the poor helpless critter.”

“It would be nice if folks was more loyal to ponies,” said Snowy.

“And not vampires and monsters!” added Silver. His ears were back, and he breathed in panicky gasps, even after the vampire bunny was dead.

“We need to kill the monsters!” squealed Roseluck. “Before they eat us all!”

Northern Spy drew even closer to Applejack. Her eyes got wider and wider, and she still didn’t speak. Dash stepped across, to stand in front of her as well.

“What’d you mean, learnin’?” demanded Applejack.

Carrot Top spoke. “My Grandma said, when vampires attack, there’s still hope. You can make them fight each other, you can trap them, you can burn them or cut them to tiny bits.” She nodded. She looked a little pale as well, but determined.

Snowy added, “That’s why folks say they burn up in the sun.” He glanced at Hollyhock, and Silver and Roseluck. “It ain’t true as you kin see, but now we know. Folks thought that ‘cos them vampires do burn. What was it your Grandma said, Carrot Top? The older they get, the easier it is to do? S’pose they could go around splashin’ themselves with water, or swimmin’. We kin try and burn one on water, see if it works.”

Hollyhock nodded, seriously. Silver hissed, “Yes! We should find out!”

“Zombies or vampires, what difference does it make to you?” protested Applejack. “There’s timber wolves in the Everfree Forest and you ain’t rushin’ off with all saws in your mouths. How dare you persecute innocent critters that ain’t like you?”

She stepped back, at the glare she got from every other pony on the other side of the bonfire.

“Let me explain somethin’ to you,” said Snowy Hocks. “Just ‘cos we kin fight vampires doesn’t mean they’re safe. Vampires is powerful critters that don’t ever die, an’ prey on the living. A powerful an’ smart vampire could rule all of Ponyville and make us all its slaves. We’re dependin’ on the vampires bein’ dernfools and gettin’ caught the way they always did of old, like the old ponies remember in stories from their grandparents, but it don’t have to go that way. We could have new powerful vampires that don’t make no mistakes. We could have new powerful vampires with powerful friends.”

“The hell you insinuatin’, Snowy Hocks?” snarled Applejack.

“You say zombies and vampires,” said Snowy coldly. “Seems that’s easy for you to say! You wanted us to believe it was zombies. Well, there ain’t no such thing as zombies. But somethin’s makin’ vampires, Miss Applejack. Somethin’ might be makin’ a vampire army to control. And what could that somethin’ be? A vampire, Miss Applejack. Am I goin’ too fast for you?”

“So?” retorted Applejack. “Big deal!” She couldn’t tell if it was Spy behind her trembling, or if her own hocks were shaking.

“Happens it is,” said Snowy placidly. “It is a big deal. Because as you kin see, there is a vampire. Makin’ other vampires.”

“And living in Ponyville!” cried Roseluck, trotting in place anxiously.

“And we’ve all seen her,” said Snowy Hocks.

Applejack stared into his cold eyes. She glanced at the ebbing bonfire. She stared again into the old horse’s eyes, suddenly terrified.

Beside her, Rainbow Dash leaned over, and whispered, “I think he means Fluttershy!”

“Don’t say that name!” whinnied Silver, jumping back in a panic. He kicked the fire up, and Roseluck and Hollyhock also jumped back in alarm.

“Hoo boy,” breathed Applejack. Behind her, Spy pressed against her leg. She was almost sure it was the kid shaking, yet Spy still made not a peep.

“You know what else I’ve seen?” said Rainbow Dash, casually.

“What?” said Silver, rolling his eyes in alarm.

Dash stared right at him. “I saw the Apple Boss Mare. And was she pissed!”

At that, the three farm ponies flinched. The two mares looked puzzled, and Carrot Top rolled her eyes, but Hollyhock, Silver and Snowy suddenly looked worried.

“Yeah?” said Snowy.

“Something about farm ponies being cowardly and thinking of excuses to blow off work,” added Rainbow Dash. “I told her I never heard of that happening. Right, Applejack?”

“Oh!” said Applejack. “Yeah, lil’… ah mean, my fearsome and roughnecked sister Apple Bloom, she was about fit to kick a hole in the barn if ya ask me. She don’t like bein’ mocked. I thought folks generally took their, what do you say, RECREATIONS on their own time, but maybe it’s different these days.”

“It didn’t look different,” said Rainbow Dash. “It looked like she was ready to kick some ass. That’s if she was being nice. Or she might just fire some ponies. Hey, they could all get a job with Carrot Top! You know, if they have a lot in common?”

“What are you talking about, Rainbow Dash?” demanded Carrot Top. “I don’t hire any laborers for my little farm! I’m certainly not going to go and hire a bunch of ponies the Apple farm fires! What do you say to that?”

Rainbow Dash heaved a big, theatrical sigh.

“I’d say, maybe some ponies have some kissing up to the boss to do. And some catching up on their farm work!”

Three sets of farm pony eyes widened. Three farm pony stallions turned without a word, and began to trot, then canter toward Sweet Apple Acres. Carrot Top boggled at them, stamped the dying bonfire once more for good measure, and trotted back to her own farm. Roseluck, her eyes still haunted with fear, drifted off with nervous hoofsteps as if walking in an unsettling dream.

“…are they gone?” whispered Northern Spy, trying to hold her mouth closed while talking.

“Yeah,” confirmed Rainbow Dash.

Spy whirled, and was off, with Applejack galloping close behind her and Rainbow Dash flying air support, watching in every direction for signs of angry townsponies with fire.

They streaked down the streets, around corners, and straight for Twilight Sparkle’s library treehouse. The door was open, but the Apples might have charged straight through it even if it had been closed. Applejack had more difficulty managing the interior of the library at a gallop, and Rainbow Dash knocked over a bookcase, but Northern Spy seemed to not even slow down, zipping ahead.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash, together, descended the secret stairs to the second basement… and gawked at what they found.

Twilight and Trixie were putting the finishing touches on a makeshift corral. In it were no less than five headless vampire bunnies milling about.

And in the center of the room, Gilda Griffin tenderly embraced a hysterical, weeping Northern Spy. But it wasn’t terror for herself that had so upset the vampire filly.

“They burned it up and it was just a monster bunny and they want to burn up vampires and they might try to burn YOU up and please don’t, never, don’t ever let them hurt you, they’re mean horrible and they’re the monsters and we have to keep you safe and protect you and how can I protect you, I’ll do anything, I’ll do anything…”

“Dang,” said Applejack, scratching her head with her hoof.

Rainbow Dash gave her a hug. “That’s our kid all over. Only worried about Gilda, not herself!”

“But is it jes’ some thrall thing?”

Gilda looked up at them. There were tears in her eyes. “I don’t want this,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Dash, “we might have some bad news there.” She gulped, her eyes troubled. “Or you might think it’s good, but Spy’s gonna hate it.”

Twilight trotted over. “Well, we’ve got news too! These are actually vampire bunny bodies. Gilda’s been eating bits of bunny and throwing the rest away, and here they are. We have no idea how many of them are out there. They’re doing ridiculous things to try and get eaten by Gilda, but they’re definitely vampire thralls.”

Applejack gulped. “Yeah. We eventually figured that part out too.”

“There’s more!” said Twilight. “A part of Gilda’s thaumic bandwidth is missing. We’ve done some quick tests and can tentatively say a similar thing about the bunnies, except that the flat absent area is much less noticeable. And now that you’ve rejoined us… just a moment!”

She trotted over. Gilda’s arms tightened protectively around Northern Spy, but she did nothing else as Twilight bent her head, and lavender unicorn horn parted Spy’s cerulean blue mane and glowed slightly, pressing against her filly head.

“Aha!” said Twilight. “Same thing! There’s a piece of Northern Spy missing. It’s in the higher thaumic bandwidth, an area science knows little about. We’re not even sure what it’s for, but these two are missing big chunks of pony magic! Or griffin magic.”

Applejack watched the way Gilda was holding her foal, and gulped. “Ah think maybe Gilda has a little pony magic after all. Aw, Northern Spy!” She trotted forward, and wrapped both foal and griffin in a determined hug. “I’mma hug both of you, ‘cos for now I guess the lovin’s got to go through Gilda, dern it.”

“We already tried that experiment,” said Trixie helpfully. “Gilda did very well at it!”

Applejack and Twilight shared a glance.

“Don’t ask,” said Twilight.

“Don’t need to,” said Applejack.

“This, I could ask,” said Twilight. “A part of Northern Spy’s not there, and her thaumic aura is incomplete. Would you say that she is experiencing changes in thinking or mood?”

“Huh?”

Twilight frowned. “Well, we know so little about it. What I’m driving at is this. Do you feel that Northern Spy’s new behavior is consistent with what she would be as a pony, or are we looking at a serious personality change rendering her unrecognizable?”

“GILDA GRIFFIN!” came a new, tyrannical voice.

Every head turned, and Gilda let out a little squawk of dismay.

Down the stairs hovered Fluttershy, glowering in a rather adorable rage. Behind her walked Zecora, watching the proceedings thoughtfully. And in Fluttershy’s forelegs, cradled like a baby foal, rested another headless vampire bunny.

“Explain,” gritted Fluttershy.

Northern Spy hissed defiantly at her, sensing the anger. Gilda began to weep, unable to even reply.

“Wait, let me hook up these wires!” squeaked Twilight, but Trixie pounced her and sat on her.

Applejack lifted her head, and stared directly at Fluttershy, unflinchingly. “Just a moment, Fluttershy, please.”

“She made these! I’ve seen her rip the head off a bunny!” raged Fluttershy.

“Even so!” insisted Applejack. “There’s more goin’ on around here than you realize. I’m glad you made it here safely.”

Fluttershy blinked. “Why wouldn’t I have?”

“Well, I’ll tell you. But first, promise me you’ll keep calm!”

“Truly an admirable suggestion, dear Applejack!” came a new, distinctly regal voice.

All the ponies brightened, mortal and vampire alike.

Gilda hid her face in her claws. “Oh, nooooo…”

Down the stairs came Princess Celestia herself, with careful little steps. “My! You’ve certainly gathered all the affected beings, Twilight. What are those? Are those bunnies?”

Gilda sobbed, or perhaps laughed. Northern Spy hugged her again, in frantic protectiveness.

“What was that?” prompted Celestia.

This time it was a laugh, unmistakably. “Yeah! There’s some left over,” said Gilda, “help yourself. Hi! Remember me?”

Princess Celestia froze. She studied Gilda, sniffed the air. Her eyes widened, and the feathers on her wings bristled out for a moment, and her tail thrashed.

“I do,” she said. “I remember.”

Gilda smiled up at her, tearfully. “I’m sorry. Guess I fucked up again. Now what?” She seemed calmer, even happy, for as far as she knew her doom had come upon her, and there was nowhere to run, and at least the ponies would be protected. She knew that all too well.

Celestia gazed upon that beatific expression, and took a deep breath.

“I am sorry too.” She shook herself. “Come, Miss Griffin. You have changed your relationship to my little ponies in a miraculous way, when I would have thought you lost to bitterness. Let us honor that by restoring you to life and health… if we can.”