Cold Comfort

“Can you, like, totally wreck her little Kirin ass… but nicely?”

Only Rainbow Dash could combine that level of licentious wantonness with adorable sincerity.

Only Big Macintosh could respond, unhesitatingly, “Eyup.”

“Land sakes, Rainbow!” said Applejack. “I hardly think this is a time for wreckin’. Come along, Big Macintosh! We have to get back to the others before they all get kilt by vampires.”

Big Macintosh gulped. “Yeah? Maybe I’m a-stayin’ here.”

“You do,” snapped Applejack, “and you’re livin’ more dangerously. We’re all campin’ out and keepin’ watch. I told you, it got Fern Gully. We reckon it’s Hollyhock who went to the bad. Ain’t Fluttershy who bit him, either, he bit HER… maybe you remember the occasion!”

“Eyup,” said Big Macintosh. “You’re campin’?”

“All us ponies are keeping watch,” explained Rainbow Dash. “In the morning we’re going to find Hollyhock and, well… you can guess. It’s not the same as the last time. He went crazy and killed Fern Gully and we have to stop him before he does it again.”

Big Macintosh considered this, seriously. His ears were laid back hard as he listened to the terrible tale. “Watchin’ just for Hollyhock?”

“And who else?” retorted his sister.

Big Macintosh looked distressed, and didn’t speak.

“Upon my life, Big Macintosh,” said Applejack, “if ever you knew when not to say unkind words, this might be the best time NOT to…”

Big Macintosh stamped a heavy hoof, and Applejack was cut off short. “How can you be that sure,” he said, “that it weren’t Fluttershy?”

“It’s not Fluttershy!” protested Rainbow Dash.

“She’s a strange mare,” insisted Big Macintosh, “keeps to herself, don’t mix with th’ farm ponies. And she is the one critter around here we know is a vampire. How can you be sure?”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash looked at each other, chagrined.

“Uhh…” said Applejack, “character witnesses? I saw Princess Celestia give her a magic spell once, that meant she never had to go to th’ bad.”

“Fluttershy’s one of my best friends!” vowed Rainbow Dash. “She would never hurt anypony, ever, no matter what!”

Big Macintosh glowered at the ground. “How can you be that sure?”

Rainbow Dash set her jaw. “I’ll tell you how. Applejack, can you guys scout Ponyville without me? Or maybe we should say, I’m not scouting Ponyville tomorrow until I have my partner flanking me.”

“I’m your partner, Rainbow,” said Applejack.

“No,” said Dash. “I mean, call her my… wing-mare? And I don’t mean we’ll cover twice the ground, because she’s not flying searches alone. But she might be better at spotting a vampire, even though she’ll be flying in that mane and tail and looking like a pegasus.”

Applejack’s eyes widened. “Oooh. You think she might have a special sense for that stuff?”

Dash pouted, and glared at Big Macintosh. “Not exactly. What I really mean is, I’m not letting her out of my sight until we find the real vampire! And then you might owe her an apology.”

Big Macintosh studied her. Slowly, he nodded. “That’d work.”

“It totally will,” said Dash, “and you know why? Because Fluttershy isn’t a vampire! I mean, yes she totally is, but she’s not THIS kind of vampire. She’s not the hurting and killing ponies kind of vampire. She’s the other kind.”

“How many kinds do you ‘spect we got?” asked Big Macintosh.

“Too dang many,” said Applejack. “Come along. You agreed to help us with th’ Kirin. Apple Bloom’s makin’ a bonfire.”

“Of the Kirin?” gasped Big Macintosh.

“Of firewood!” snapped Applejack. “Maybe of Hollyhock, if we can catch him. I reckon if we threw an innocent pony in th’ fire Nurse Redheart could look after him, but if it’s a vamp the bugger would go up like dried leaves. Rainbow, keep Fluttershy away from the bonfire, got that?”

“Got it,” said Rainbow Dash. She hesitated. “Do you and Big Macintosh need me to escort you back to the others? I need to get over to Fluttershy’s, right away.”

“Yes, we do,” said Applejack. “And you need to report back and tell the Boss Mare what you’re doin’. I don’t think she can object but all the same you ought to get her okay, before going. She’ll say yes.”

By the time they got back to the campfire, Big Macintosh and the Kirin seemed almost equally fretful. Big Macintosh skulked through the night, startled by every snapping dry stick and unexplained noise in the darkness. Since his frame was massive, the snapping dry sticks underhoof were plentiful. He was nearly to the point of whimpering by the time the dim glow in the distance gave way to a reassuring campfire and his pony companions.

If Big Macintosh’s trepidation was obvious, Hina’s terror was debilitating.

She cowered, curled up on the ground as Apple Bloom exhorted her.

“Git up, ma’am! Time for workin’! Light that funny horn up and do somethin’ useful with it for a change!”

On the far side of the bonfire, cowering nearly into the shadows, Snowy Hocks shook his head frantically. Beside him, Oakback also objected. “Boss, we got this. Send her home, she ain’t up to this mess. We’ll start patrollin’ in the morning. We don’t need no fancy magic ponies to do what Ponyville can do for itself, like we done of old!”

“Well, we got one, don’t we?” argued Apple Bloom. “They’re supposed to be all that and a bag of apple chips! Or they would be if they’d quit shirkin’ and get busy! So help me, ma’am, I will nip your little rump for you if you don’t uncurl and start gettin’ a sense of how things lay…”

“Nooo!” wailed Hina. “Don’t, that would be bad! Please no more biting!”

“Then git the fuck UP!” demanded the diminutive Boss Mare, snorting figurative fire and nearly snorting the real stuff as she stomped a burning brand and sent it flipping through the air.

“Please reason with me nicely!” begged Hina. “The vibrations are awful!”

“This IS nicely,” snorted Apple Bloom. “You wanna try for nasty?”

Hina looked despairingly at another old face across the fire, as if seeking venerable ancestors for wisdom. Unfortunately, she got Granny Smith.

“Yep!” said Granny approvingly. “She even said ma’am. Twice, that she did. Now if you ask me, I’d recommend that you stand up right quick when the Boss Mare asks so nicely. Kin you catch bein’ a Kirin if somepony bites your patootie so hard they draw blood?”

Hina gasped. “No!”

“Care to test that assumption?” quipped Granny Smith.

The watching eyes were full of many things: fear, frustration, appraisal, disappointment. What they weren’t showing was sympathy. The farm ponies were waiting for instructions, and their Boss Mare was sidetracked trying to rouse a cowering magic-pony of foreign extraction… if she even counted as a pony, for she was more deerlike or goatlike… and enlist her aid. Apple Bloom’s exasperation was contagious.

Hina, still shaking with fear, pouted and struggled unsteadily to her little cloven hooves.

“Thankee,” said Apple Bloom wryly. “Now, if you were payin’ attention instead of kickin’ up a big fuss, you would see that right behind you…”

Hina squealed and hit the dirt again, covering her head with her forelegs.

Apple Bloom didn’t even move, though a muscle in her neck twitched. “As I was sayin’, right behind you is our good Big Macintosh. We’ve brought him here for ya on account of you came to town looking for a good farm pony fucking, plus he’s a pow’ful comforting individual in tough times. Oh, don’t blubber, Big Macintosh! Ah swear, you two deserve each other!”

“Ah ain’t blubberin!” argued Big Macintosh. “Smoke got in my eye.”

Hearing that deep voice, Hina’s head jerked upright again, and she whirled to face him. “You! The big red pony! I helped you mate that young mare! I h-helped you, I wasn’t useless, truly I helped you…”

Big Macintosh blinked at her, ears back. “With fuckin’? Beggin’ your pardon, miss, but it ain’t that complicated.”

“Shh!” hissed Rainbow Dash. “Humor her!” She turned to Apple Bloom. “Can I go? I need to go check on Fluttershy, like right now, okay?”

“Since when?” demanded Apple Bloom. “I thought I told you, we need you to patrol tomorrow!”

“Yeah, well,” said Rainbow Dash, “I need to go get Fluttershy tonight and we can deal with tomorrow when it’s tomorrow!”

“Aw, shit,” came a voice, “you’re bringin’ her here?”

Rainbow looked around frantically, and then spotted Snowy Hocks peering around Oakback, plainly appalled, his mouth shut tight in disapproval but a world of ‘nope’ in his eyes. She stamped a forehoof. “Maybe I should, whatever you farm ponies think! You liked her well enough when you were banging her and you didn’t think she could fight back!”

“No fighting!” begged Hina.

Rainbow gave her a hard look. “Funny you should mention it, because Fluttershy is the most no-fighting pony I’ve ever met. Until I met you, I guess. But I don’t care what you think!” she yelled, turning back to Snowy. “What I need to do is go and be with Fluttershy. Then if anything else bad happens, she has an alibi which is me, and when morning comes both of us can go on patrol, together!”

Apple Bloom wasn’t flinching, and stared back at Dash with matching fierceness. “So you’re not defying my orders, huh?”

“I’m doubling them,” retorted Dash. “Maybe Fluttershy has a sense of vampires. She ought to. Once she finds him, I bet she can compel him to be nice!” She hesitated. “If that’s even the way it works. It was with Gilda! And with Gilda and Northern Spy.”

“Yeah!” said Spy, who was balanced on Granny Smith’s back. “He wouldn’t ever disobey her!”

Apple Bloom lifted her chin. “Don’t y’all get carried away. We’re still makin’ a bonfire, this very one, and we ain’t had a vamp get so obstreperous before. I am not sure if we are going to rehabilitate Mister Hollyhock. You might want to look in poor Fern Gully’s eyes and tell him it’s time to make nice.”

“Somepony closed his eyes,” objected Rainbow Dash, her ears flattened in dismay.

“Then look in mine.”

Dash shuddered. “No thank you, Apple Bloom. I think maybe you’re right and it’s time to kick vamp.”

“Maybe? Maybe?!” retorted Apple Bloom, but Applejack hastily spoke up. “I think you got her okay, Rainbow. Go ahead… and keep her safe!”

“From us, y’mean?” said Oakback, while Snowy glowered silently. “Safe from us?”

Rainbow Dash sagged a bit. “Maybe a little of that, Oakback. But also, not saying you’re right, but it can’t hurt to have somepony watching Fluttershy around about now.”

“That’s me, silly!” chirped Pinkie Pie, brightly.

Every pony shrieked and cringed back. Pinkie had every reason to remark brightly, for she was doing it out of the heart of the bonfire, and the flames seemed like curls of pink mane just for a moment.

“Git her outta there!” wailed Applejack, charging forward.

Rainbow Dash caught her. “No, Applejack!” she yelled. “Stop! She’s gone! See? She’s not there! Maybe she was never really there, like with the mirrors and stuff?”

Applejack panted, but stopped trying to throw herself on the bonfire. “Mirrors? What?”

“Good, good girl,” said Rainbow, “that’s the way. Yeah, mirrors, you know? When she appears in mirrors and just says HI! and then she’s gone? Like just to mess with you?”

“Nope,” said Applejack flatly. “She ain’t done any such thing. You tellin’ me that girl’s popping out of mirrors now? That’s bad luck!”

“Nah,” said Dash, “she just kind of… appears? With this big creepy smile? She doesn’t do that to you, huh?”

“She pops out of teacups,” said Big Macintosh. “She broke m’ teacup. Granny, kin I have another teacup? Pinkie Pie broke it.”

“How’d she do that?” pressed Granny, suspiciously.

“By jumpin’ back in,” said Big Macintosh. “Don’t seem possible, nohow. No wonder it broke, that mare’s got a butt full ‘a cupcakes.”

Hina trembled. “These things are not right!” she wailed, distraught. “The evil chokes me! I will faint again!”

“Oh, no, you don’t!” commanded Apple Bloom. “Here, Big Macintosh! Miss Hina, you go with Big Macintosh, he’ll take care of you. Rainbow Dash, you go off and keep an eye on Fluttershy, and don’t you bring her back here tonight, especially not all lookin’ fangy and scarey, ‘cos that would be entirely too damn much. I’ll expect you flyin’ search patterns tomorrow morning. And before you go, fair warning: when you report in tomorrow morning, I’m gonna have you hold your hoof over the bonfire to prove you ain’t no vamp, and I’m checkin’ your teeth. Fluttershy is exempted from this for obvious reasons. Off you go!”

“Got it!” said Dash, spreading her wings.

Applejack gasped. “You’re holdin’ her HOOF over the fire?”

At that, both Dash and Apple Bloom turned to stare right at her.

“Name one thing scarier than a secret vampire Rainbow Dash what ain’t on our side,” said Apple Bloom. “We got to be sure.”

“Bring it on,” vowed Rainbow Dash. “Fluttershy would never hurt me, and even if she tried that would be incredibly sad but she still couldn’t catch me. I’ll be careful, and I’ll prove I’m still a pony when I come back in the morning. And like Apple Bloom said, Fluttershy will be flying searches alongside me but she’s exempted from the test because she’d pretty much automatically fail it.”

“Sorry I asked,” moaned Applejack, as Rainbow turned and took to the air, flying directly to Fluttershy’s while staying far out of earth pony vampire reach.

“How’d Pinkie Pie appear in the pyre?” said Snowy Hocks, indistinctly, from behind Oakback. Just his knees could be seen, and they were shaking terribly.

“What?” said Applejack. “Speak up, dammit! Ah don’t know, but she’s a pow’ful strange pony, and I guess we’re still learnin’ how powerful and strange.”

Snowy saw Hina, the Kirin, being led off by Big Macintosh toward the Sweet Apple Acres farmhouse: he’d seemingly decided that his barn room was too close to the festivities, and wanted somewhere quieter, such as Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s master bedroom while they weren’t in it. Such a thing might never have occurred to him under normal circumstances, but these were anything but normal circumnstances.

Oddly, the sight of the trembling, departing Kirin seemed to upset Snowy more. He thought hard for a moment, then asked “Is she BAD?”

“Pinkie?” blinked Applejack. “You spit your bit or somethin’? Leavin’ aside anything to do with promises, it appears our Pinkie can do all manner of strange stuff to help us. They say she’s appearing in mirrors, I’ve personally seen her take on all sorts of bizarre shapes, she just appeared in the bonfire without bein’ harmed which proves she ain’t no kind of vampire, and she’ll be doing all that stuff and more to help us, plus her spooky visions, with only laughter as her guide. How’s that make you feel, Snowy?”

Snowy shook harder for a moment. “Scared!” he brayed, and he turned and charged off into the darkness.

“SNOWY!” yelled Applejack, beginning to chase.

“No!” demanded Apple Bloom, jumping across her path. “Stop it! Let him go, th’ foolish old horse! Stop, don’t go after him!”

“But…” protested Applejack, and then made a face. “Shit!”

“Yeah,” said Apple Bloom. “You got that right. Nopony else do nothin’ stupid! We stick together! If we’re lucky we’ll see our Snowy again, alive. Which I’m sure is what we say more often than not, old coot that he is…”

“Manners!” snapped Granny Smith.

“I coulda said if we’re UNlucky we’ll see th’ malingering old fool alive,” grumbled Apple Bloom. “That was good manners!”

Granny Smith considered that. “Hmph. True enough. Dang if you ain’t like old Applesauce. Applesauce of old, that is, your mother: ain’t like she lived to be old, pore thing.”

“Yeah,” said Apple Bloom, “well you ponies are gonna live to be old if I got anything to say about it. Snowy Hocks can come back if he knows what’s safe for him, the crazy old fool. If th’ vampire tries to eat his soul it’s gonna get a stomachache.”

“Hollyhock, y’mean,” suggested Applejack.

Apple Bloom took another long look at dead Fern Gully… her farm pony, and her responsibility.

“Ah think he’s gonna be ‘the vampire’ to me from here on out,” she said, grimly.

The master bedroom was cozy as ever, though the bedsheets whiffed of pegasus. Big Macintosh glanced at Hina uncertainly, wondering if that would offend her. Seeing her jump into bed and hide immediately under those same covers, he concluded it did not.

Before joining her, he went over and drew the curtains, taking a moment to peer fearfully into the darkness.

“It’s all right, Miss Hina-rin,” he said. “Our Apple Bloom has it all under control.”

The covers rumpled. The Kirin’s dainty head peeked out from under them, wearing an expression of disbelief. “You are kidding me.”

“Naw,” said Big Macintosh. “Ain’t jokin’ nor jestin’. You’re safe.”

“That can’t be right!” protested the hapless Kirin. “I mean… oh, I’m so sorry, I can’t even give you courtly speech, I am so flustered! Give me a moment. I’m better than this, surely I am better than this…”

“Courtin’ speech?” said Big Macintosh. “Uhh… you might have to give me a moment, too. Not what you might call ready to drop a stiff one an’ go to town. Ah’m sorry, Miss Hina.”

“Oh!” squeaked Hina. “That’s right, they wanted me to have sex and be soothed! I’ll fix this, I can rise to the occasion…”

“Kin you?” snorted Big Macintosh. “More’n I can promise.”

Hina gulped. “I am out of sorts, and have let the ponies of Equestria down, and if you let me use my magic I can help you become erect though I, I, maybe you should go slowly or we could go see if the pantry has any butter we could use…”

“Hold on,” rumbled Big Macintosh.

“I would be happy to!” said Hina. “I’ll hold onto whatever you like, it doesn’t matter how…”

“HOLD on!” repeated Big Macintosh, and the Kirin froze, alarmed at his sudden sternness.

Big Macintosh drew a deep breath, and let it out again. “How old are ya, Miss Hina-rin?”

“Five hundred and seventy-three years old,” said Hina.

Big Macintosh’s eyes bugged out a little. “Huh. I could ask what that is in Kirin years, but never mind, then. You seem fretful, Miss Hina.”

Her eyes were tragic. “I must help this town! But the miasma of evil was so strong I could not think! The angry filly was so aggressive, nopony in Neighpon has posed such challenges, I can’t even speak right…”

“Shh,” said Big Macintosh. “I reckon I know what to do here. Prob’ly Apple Bloom knew it all along…”

“The sex, yes! Give me a minute…”

“No, ma’am,” said Big Macintosh sternly. “You got some funny ideas about your obligations.” He climbed onto the bed, which creaked under his weight as Hina’s eyes widened. He rolled onto his side, and he held out his forelegs. “C’mere.”

Hina’s eyes glistened as she understood… and then she’d wriggled out from under the covers and, snuggling up, was clasped in his strong and protective embrace.

“There, there,” he rumbled. He made a point of dropping his voice to subterranean depths, knowing the likely effects: and indeed, Hina trembled as the vibrations from his mighty ribcage went through her. “All right. It’s good.”

Big Macintosh felt her tail flicking against his crotch. She drew a breath that wasn’t as steady as he’d have liked, and suggested, “I could let you have some sex… if you are gentle?”

“Slow down,” he said. “Forget about that for now, Miss Hina. Why are you so all-fired eager ta please?”

She turned her head, and those huge heavy-lashed eyes served him a startled look. “I shouldn’t please just myself! Ponyville is in danger!”

“Must be Tuesday,” grumbled Big Macintosh. “Me, I’m more concerned with pleasin’ my Boss Mare. You shouldn’t call Apple Bloom the ‘angry filly’, at least not where she can hear you.”

“Can she hear me?” squeaked Hina, caught off guard.

“Eenope,” said Big Macintosh. “Just sayin’.”

Hina subsided. She snuggled up against Big Macintosh, the magic mane sparkling fitfully. “Spirits and monsters,” she sighed. “Which is the one that appeared in the fire before us? Is she dangerous?”

“Nope,” said Big Macintosh. He considered this, and said “Yup and nope. Depends on what you’re up to, I reckon? Pinkie Pie’s a caution, but as long as you let her behave like everythin’s happy fun play time forever, there ain’t no harm in her.”

“Happy fun play time in fire?”

Big Macintosh thought about that, and about Fluttershy, and what little he knew of Pinkie’s life. She’d never gotten over learning Fluttershy was a vampire, or worse: a heterosexual. She spent a lot of time with Cloud Chaser, and had been dating Zecora but that turned sour—Fluttershy had apparently taken Zecora from her, though gossip suggested it’d been the other way around, and that Pinkie had been the one making a play for Zecora and failing. She was very protective of the foal she’d had with Fluttershy, taking responsibility for her role in triggering pegasus ovulation through wing-biting and the part her spirit played in young Rock Candy’s makeup, but she barely acknowledged the zebra-pegasus foal Dursaa Jr. at all, even though as rumor had it, and as Fluttershy confirmed, she’d done exactly the same thing with him. He was still too little to notice her attitude, but Fluttershy’s zebras certainly did.

“You got a clever way of puttin’ things, Miss Hina,” said Big Macintosh. “In fire, eyup. Guess so.”

Hina nestled closer to him. She took a deep breath. “I must be honest. I’m not in a mating mood. Can you just hold me?”

“Eyup,” he said, and he did.

Hina sighed, comforted. “I will help this town,” she murmured, forlornly. “If I can. I am not useless. Though if I could call in some senior Kirin… “

Big Macintosh blinked. “More? More Kirin, comin’ here? I ain’t sure what Apple Bloom would say about that.” He considered it. “I ain’t sure what Princess Celestia would say about that.”

Hina winced. “True, I have no authority to do that. I should consult the Princess. I wish our Kirin authorities were here.”

“It’s real different in Ponyville, huh?” said Big Macintosh. “Don’t be frightened, lil’ Hina. We’ll keep ya safe.”

She wriggled, petulantly. “I should unleash the potent powers of good!”

At that, Big Macintosh chuckled.


“That’s what Apple Bloom wanted me to do. Maybe I’m still doin’ it but in a different way.”

Hina gave him a look. “Hmph!” she said, and the corner of her mouth turned up. “Just for that, I’ll unleash the potent powers of good on you, mister. That is a promise, and I will keep the promise.”

“Oooh,” remarked Big Macintosh. “Who’s doin’ the unleashing now?” He frowned for a moment. “Soundin’ like Rarity, with all this talk of leashing. Huh.”

“Huh? Like Rarity?” said Hina.

“That was a funny, awkward time in my life,” said Big Macintosh, gazing into Hina’s heavily lashed eyes. “You kinda look like her… perty, that is, an’ all white, and them eyelashes. Are yours fake? Rarity don’t like ponies talkin’ about how her eyelashes is fake.”

The lush, radiant eyes widened. “Not fake in the least! Nothing about a Kirin can be fake, sir!”

Big Macintosh chuckled again. “Eyup, you do remind me of her. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. I used to be awful scared of not being right. Rarity likes bein’ wrong, which I never could understand. For all that, she’s a clever mare. She knew I was gonna like takin’ a stallion, back when that seemed like the worst possible thing. Dang, how I hated her for that, for a mighty long time, too.”

“Please don’t hate?” urged Hina. “Not here, not right now.”

Big Macintosh wasn’t paying too close attention to her. He gazed off thoughtfully into the distance, and Hina’s mane lay quiet against him, hardly sparking at all. “Past tense, Miss Hina. Rarity’s changed. She’s with that Derpy Hooves. Turned out she was Sweetie Belle’s Mom, too… still don’t understand all of that, to be honest. I b’leeve I was wrong to be so angry at Rarity. I don’t think she blamed me. She did think it was awful funny to see me with Braeburn, though! Well, I guess maybe that is funny.” He blinked. “Uh. With all your talk of goodness, do y’all Kirins object ta gay ponies? Cause this might be a short snuggle, I’m jes’ sayin’.”

Hina shook her head. “Pony ways of love come in myriad forms. So do the ponies, in fact. Back in Neighpon, where I live? I help with many matings. Some in most peculiar ways. My scales don’t grow over that.”

Big Macintosh’s eyes widened. “Scales? Y’mean, some kinda disease?”

Hina laughed, for the first time since she’d panicked at the bonfire. “On my neck, silly!”

He studied the elegant arch of her neck, but there was nothing, just alabaster hide, as fine and flawless as Rarity’s had been. “I don’t see nothin’.”

Hina wriggled. “You’re such a good horse. That is why.”

“Heh, heh, heh… you don’t know that yet!”

“Eep! I did not mean… let’s not test things out so soon! I need to relax.”

Big Macintosh snuggled her closer. “Just teasing, hon.”

“Hina-rin,” corrected the Kirin, nestling into his embrace again.

“Eyup,” said Big Macintosh, obediently. He quirked an ear, considering with surprise just how much he felt stirrings for the exotic creature he cuddled. She reminded him so much of Rarity, but it hadn’t occurred to him the way that could latch on to his libido… and, deeper than that, his feelings of protectiveness and chivalry. It seemed the first love left deep roots in one’s psyche, and now, with his forelegs wrapped around a demure and fussy mare (sort of) who combined arrogant public graciousness with an eagerness for private wanton debauchery, Big Macintosh felt utterly at home.

“These bedsheets stink dreadfully of pegasus,” observed Hina-rin. “Just whose bed is this?”

Big Macintosh smiled. That was Rarity all over. “It’s the Apple master bedroom,” he said. “Once I thought Ah was gone git it. That’s why it tickles me to be here in it now. Want me to tell ya the story?”

“Yes, please do,” said Hina, wriggling pleasantly and melting against him like a contented cat.

“When we lost our mother… a barn fell on her… the master bedroom was empty,” explained Big Macintosh. “I thought for sure I was gonna get it, which din’t seem like a bad idea as I was a growin’ colt and it’s the biggest bed by a long shot. But my lil’ sister, Applejack, she took on the Boss Mare job. Won’t say she kept it, nor did Granny Smith before her, but she took it. And she decided she was gonna sleep in that big bed, all by herself.”

Hina blinked. “And?”

Big Macintosh chuckled. “She didn’t bargain on thundery nights.”

Hina’s eyes widened. “Oh…”

Big Macintosh nodded. “Terrible scared of thunder, my sister is, always has been. All the Apple mares are, except lil’ Northern Spy. They kin boss the farm like nopony’s business but in the dark of night, with all that rumblin’ and boomin’, you find them all cuddlin’ up to you at once, shivering and crying. It’s jes’ their way. And Celestia help you if you go talkin’ about it the next morning!”

“What has this to do with beds?” pressed Hina-rin.

“Well, the very first night Applejack took over th’ master bedroom, there was a big storm. And I kept waiting for her to come and hide under my covers, along with Granny Smith an’ Apple Bloom. But she just wouldn’t. Lil’ Apple Bloom, still just a foal, she’s askin’ me how come Applejack wasn’t scared of thunder no more. And I told her Applejack was very special, and she’d become the Boss Mare even though she was still little, and she weren’t scared of nothin’ in Equestria no more.”

“But, the beds…”

“The next morning,” said Big Macintosh, “she come down to breakfast. And there’s these big dark circles under her eyes, and she gives me a look and I din’t say nothin, not one word. That mare toughed it out all night in this very bed, rather than show weakness. She showed lil’ Apple Bloom what it is to be an Apple Boss Mare, and I guess she showed herself a thing or two. Even after Apple Bloom took over, she let this be Applejack’s room. So this is Applejack’s bed. She earned it. Just tickles me to be usin’ it. Though I admit it might be strange to be a-fuckin’ in it. But not as strange as you’d think, all things considered…

“But,” said Hina, “the smell?”

“That’s why it ain’t strange to be fuckin’ in this bed. My sister’s with Rainbow Dash, you prob’ly saw it. Rainbow is a mighty wild mare, but ain’t much for housekeeping, so I guess it’s her turn to wash the bedsheets.”

Hina considered this, her elegant ears splayed in dismay. “She does not do the chores fairly given her?”

“That seems strange to you?” said Big Macintosh. “Ponies are balky critters, especially Apples, and Rainbow is what you might call honorary Apple. That’s probably why Northern Spy ain’t scared of thunder, she’s Rainbow and Applejack’s kid. With, uh, with a lil’ help. So she’s all kinds of Apple.”

Hina’s mane had flared up briefly as Big Macintosh touched on the way he’d ‘helped’ bring Northern Spy into the world. She ignored it. “In Neighpon, all is harmonious and calm. Ponies gladly do their work. We help them find paths that bring them lasting joy. We keep them from conflicting. And we always, always make the ponies talk it out.”

Big Macintosh blinked. “Beg pardon? You make ponies talk when they’re fussin’?”

“Yes, obviously,” said Hina, rolling her eyes.

“But,” said Big Macintosh reasonably, “ponies think different things. That’s why they argue. Wouldn’t be no arguments or fightin’ without ponies each makin’ up their own minds. Why, I used to be in a heck of a fight with Rarity on account of I had it in my mind that certain stuff mattered. An’ I weren’t too far off, neither—practically got disowned by my Granny and it’s a grateful wonder we all worked it out in th’ long run, and Granny still ain’t thrilled but she’s come a long way. That’s why she loves it so when I am th’ stud-boy.”

Hina sniffed. “If ponies talked, then they wouldn’t think such different things. In Neighpon, we know better. Conflict is wasteful.”

“How kin you possibly stop ponies from thinking different things?” said Big Macintosh. “Like, terrible awful different best-not-even-talk-about-it things, that you gotta jes’ mind your own business and not bring up?”

Hina batted her eyelashes at him with serene confidence.

“The Kirin magic of knowing what is best.”

Big Macintosh boggled at her for a moment, but she seemed to believe it. “Y’sure about that, now?”

“How else could it be?” said Hina, puzzled.

“Okay,” said Big Macintosh. “I guess we’re gonna have to agree to disagree? I’m jes’ saying, I’ve known all kinds of things in my day, and not all of them was ‘best’.”

Hina gave him a look of polite disbelief and incomprehension, mystified that he’d ever take upon himself the Kirin burden of knowing how everything should be. Then, the troubled look passed, and she smiled indulgently at him and snuggled back into his embrace.

“I prefer the ‘agree’ part,” she said.

“Eyup,” said Big Macintosh, stroking her belly with a gentle hoof. He pouted slightly, and smirked slightly, and his eyes were narrowed slightly.

They would indeed agree to disagree… and at some time, not tonight but before long, the haughty creature could be in control all she wanted… while she could.

Big Macintosh didn’t need to bite or dominate mares to get them to melt into submission and drop their argumentative natures. A few more inches of dick generally sufficed, and left everypony happy. And then, he’d again enjoy the experience of snuggling a quivering lover, formerly bossy as all hell, rendered limp and struck dumb by the magic of horsecock.

It wouldn’t last, he knew, but nothing lasted forever. Did it?

Snowy Hocks galloped through the darkness, his eyes glowing disturbingly. It was mighty fine to have energy again, though he thought he might’ve broken an ankle on a tree root that stuck up where it shouldn’t. He didn’t care, because his vampire powers would let him run on through the pain and probably fix up the broken ankle and who knew what else, forever.

He wasn’t running away, though. He was running TO, as fast as he possibly could.

Realizing this, he forced himself to stop. To think!

Snowy’s rational mind had never failed him, even as his body began to break down and mortality loomed. He’d thought clearly and coldly, reasoning his way through life to get what he wanted.

He’d had a plan, too. Mortality could go fuck itself. Snowy didn’t want any of it. When he’d realized Hollyhock was acting funny, and why… the plan had sprung into his head nearly fully formed, and it was simple and foolproof.

Win over Hollyhock’s trust by any means necessary, and then contrive to ‘join’ him in undeath just before the ponies caught up with him and killed him. Then, Hollyhock would be gone, and Snowy would be immortal, all-powerful, and free. The Kirin had seemed like the perfect opportunity, and then when Snowy’d learned Applejack and Rainbow Dash would be teaming up with the Kirin to hunt down the evil that could only be Hollyhock, things got urgent. Snowy, terrified that the anti-evil patrol would wipe out his immortality ticket, had dragged off an equally panicked Hollyhock and demanded immediate thralldom, for Hollyhock’s protection.

And then, as the fangs delicately entered the flesh under his mane (for Hollyhock didn’t want to leave a visible mark, and Snowy had worked that out too), Snowy knew that he’d fucked up, bigtime.

His brain was still sound. That was the torturous part. All his reasoning was intact. Hollyhock was a fool, not capable of managing the realities of being an immortal predator compelling ponies into obedience. He was literally dead meat but also figuratively, set against mares like Applejack and Rainbow Dash. They’d defeated Discord even after he turned Ponyville to a demented playland. Hollyhock had no chance at all, even before the Kirin turned up.

And Hollyhock was suddenly also the one thing Snowy Hocks loved most in the universe. It was beyond comparing, beyond reason. Snowy loved him, helplessly.

And the plan remained… but twisted, perverted. It’d turned from being a coolly calculated set of events, to a nightmare of wrongness, and yet it waited like a steel trap and could not be defused.

Hollyhock was going to die… unless Snowy could save him, in spite of himself. Die… and set Snowy free. And what was free, really? What price was ‘free’?

Snowy stood, shaking, grimacing, tears running down his face as he fought to master his mind. Logic had to be his guide. He was in love, and he knew what that meant though he’d never had it so bad. He’d always managed not to be ruled by love, for it got in the way.

If he couldn’t save Hollyhock (never mind that he’d been reasoning out ways to betray him, such thoughts tormented him now) then logically the only response was to hate Hollyhock’s murderers. Unfairly persecuting a wonderful creature who was only eating the souls of the weak and the useless! How dare they!

Snowy shook his head and tried again.

If he couldn’t save Hollyhock he’d have to save himself, so he had to think hard and figure out how to defeat their enemies. That way he could destroy all the enemies, outwit them before they could even think of harming Hollyhock, and…

Snowy shook his head, fretfully. He knew he’d have to do better than that. He couldn’t remember why it mattered, but some part of him had foreseen what thralldom would be like. He’d left himself secret notes that now shamed him, notes reminding him that his real duty was to protect himself and see to it that Hollyhock was destroyed as soon as possible. He’d left notes telling himself to run far away, to convince himself his personal danger was so great that Hollyhock had to be left to his own devices. He’d left notes telling himself to focus on the wickedness of the townsponies and never think about how he had a secret plan to turn Hollyhock over to them.

Up to the moment those fangs entered his neck, that plan was clicking in every detail. It even took account of the possibility that Snowy wouldn’t be able to control himself after becoming a thrall. Snowy’d studied all the information he could get about the case of Gilda, and Northern Spy, though it was difficult to get ponies to talk. He knew the risks and had been preparing things carefully.

Snowy wept. He’d prepared things too carefully.

And then, his hooves were flying again, flying like a young stallion’s, and then he was before his master, drinking in the wonderful sight, his lip quivering.

“Took you long enough,” said Hollyhock.

Snowy gulped. “I think I broke my ankle running to be with you,” he said.

“Oh,” said Hollyhock dismissively. “Whatever. What did you find out?”

“Bad news,” said Snowy. “They’re all camping out and keeping watch. Applejack’s still gonna hunt you, same with Rainbow Dash, but there’s a problem. They’re gonna get Fluttershy. She’ll be flying with Dash, so stay under cover. Can, can she control you just by being near you?”

“Nothing can control me!” snarled Hollyhock. “Not if I get more power! You told me that, and it’s true!”

“Aw shit,” quavered Snowy. “Uhh, I think maybe I need to amend that advice just a mite…”

“Now what? And the Kirin! You said the Kirin’s the wild card and more dangerous than all of ‘em put together. What about the Kirin?” demanded Hollyhock.

Snowy tried to shift from hoof to hoof, and yelped as the other forehoof gave way under him. He held it up and frantically tried to vampire-mend it as Hollyhock stared angrily at him.

“I said…”

“About th’ Kirin!” blurted Snowy. “Funny thing about the Kirin. She ain’t the threat I thought she was. I’m more worried about the prospects of Fluttershy entering th’ equation. The Kirin freaked out and fell down crying. Must be young for a Kirin, not as good as the others, or possibly they’re just used to magemelding, which is a thing they do. If I don’t miss my guess, the thing that was freakin’ her out was none other than yours truly, standin’ there all brave and even asking questions, though I had to talk funny to keep my fangs from showin’. I don’t think they suspected a thing on account of they’re dumbasses and caught up in their own plans. More the latter, really, which is something to be concerned about. The instant these ponies do shake loose from their plans, they’re mighty quick to catch on…”

Hollyhock kicked his other foreleg out from under him, and he fell on the injured one, which immediately snapped. Snowy let out a strangled scream, desperately trying not to be loud and obvious, and looked up at Hollyhock like a whipped dog.

“What do we DO about the KIRIN?” demanded Hollyhock.

“Uh, uh, prob’ly nothing. She’s goin’ off with Big Macintosh to get fucked. I think our big problem is gonna be Fluttershy, but there’s another thing I hadn’t accounted for. Pinkie Pie appeared in the fire. She’s actin’ real crazy, but curly-mane crazy not straight-mane crazy. You know? It’s pow’ful important on account of she can do any damn thing in or out of reality when her mane’s curly, but when it’s straight she just raves creepy stuff and she cain’t do diddly-squat in that state. That’s important. In my opinion the most important thing we can do might be to figure out how we can get Pinkie Pie into that straight-mane state, nopony listens to or understands her anyway when she’s like that, because I can’t rightly defend against curly-mane Pinkie and some of the rumors I’ve heard are damn scary…”

“Snowy, you fuckin’ idiot,” said Hollyhock, shaking his head.

“Ya know what to do?” squeaked Snowy cutely, his eyes lighting up in helpless adoration. As Hollyhock spoke, his face fell.

“Pinkie Pie is an earth pony! Like I used to be, just a dumb earth pony. Don’t be stupid. We need to figure out how to kill the Kirin, because you told me it was the biggest danger and it’s a creepy foreign magic thing. I can kill all the earth ponies I want and it just makes me stronger. I did it once already, I’m going to do more. So, stop thinking about Pinkie Pie and tell me how to kill the Kirin.”

Snowy’s face was a mask of woe, but he obediently set his mind to the task. “That horn’s fragile. The problem is, getting through and delivering a physical attack, like with a hoof or something, when their magic is so hot. They can block you, and they might have magic to wake ‘em if you attack while they sleep. If they sleep, which I ain’t sure if they do. But I’m telling you, Hollyhock, it ain’t the Kirin. It’s just Ponyville that’s the problem.”

“Now you tell me? You got a problem with Ponyville all of a sudden? You fuckin’ coward! Can’t even decide what to be most scared of!”

Myself, thought Snowy, but managed not to say it. Instead, gazing deep into Hollyhock’s enraged eyes, he said, “You got to trust me. I… don’t want to get into too much detail, but I think we should change all our plans now. I got good reasons for throwing away all my old plans and makin’ all new ones which I would be delighted to do for ya…”

He knew Hollyhock was stubborn and didn’t change ideas easily. That had been part of the plan, the horrible horrible plan, too. And sure enough…

“Throw away the PLAN?” demanded Hollyhock. “Are you kidding me? That’s why I made you a vampire in the first place! To help me go through with the plan! The Ponyville plan, you explained it so many times, you told me what would happen and now I can’t have it? You fucker!”

Snowy Hocks whimpered. “Can’t we just run away somewhere and live forever in peace? This ain’t good. I swear, you don’t want to go with the original plan. Let’s go away from here right now, far as we can, and find somewhere to live far away from all the ponies and other vampires and Kirin. I don’t want to get into why I told you what I told you. Kin I persuade you to go somewhere peaceful with me that ain’t in ANY way here?”

“Peaceful?” snarled Hollyhock. “Fuck peace! You told me I had a birthright! Why are you giving me this peace crap all of a sudden?” He glared, his nostrils flaring out and his fangs bared threateningly.

“That so?” said Snowy, trying desperately not to blurt out his guilt as an answer. It seemed the height of folly to cry out, “Kill me, I am trying to betray you!” for Hollyhock would no doubt do exactly that: and then, so much for him, as he didn’t stand a chance without Snowy’s keen mind to think out the best course of action! And so, Snowy made it another second, concealing his treachery because to reveal it would truly be to betray his sire. He’d be lost without that expert guidance, Snowy told himself.

“Ruling Ponyville,” snorted Hollyhock contemptuously. “You tole me you’d help. I made you into another vampire since you was so dang sure of yourself, and now you got cold hooves? Fuck you, Snowy. I shoulda eaten your soul too. I run right off and kilt that idiot Fern Gully, and now you ain’t gonna help me take over the town?”

“Ah jes’ want to serve you,” said Snowy Hocks helplessly, cursing his wicked, faithless heart. Looking into his sire’s eyes, he had no resistance at all. Hollyhock dominated him uncaringly, the vampire eyes burning into his very soul and making him a grovelling slave, and yet the big oaf had no plan and nothing more than crude dominance to offer. He was surely doomed, up against the Apples and Rainbow Dash and the alarming Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy his hated, never-faced sire, and the Kirin… if that even mattered anymore. Snowy felt his desperately fought-for resistance erode like a piss-hole in the snow, and was filled with shame… all the more, since he knew that his scheming brain wasn’t done with him yet. A part of him knew he was enthralled, even as he cringed in horror away from that part and what it intended for his beloved sire.

Even the sight of Snowy grovelling didn’t move that sire to mercy. Hollyhock smacked him across the muzzle with a heavy hoof, and Snowy yelped, and Hollyhock growled, “You said you had a plan. Serve me, hell, you’re gonna stick to the plan about me ruling Ponyville and it’s gonna work! I don’t need to know th’ details, it’s all fancy-pony crap. That’s your job! You had me make you a vampire, and I went and got more powerful like you said, an’ now we’re gonna do the rest of your plan whether you like it or not. I got the bravery and the power, now tell me your stupid plan’s gonna work.” Hollyhock kicked the dirt, baring his fangs, hissing “Tell me right now that your plan’s gonna work!” …and Snowy stared back helplessly, trapped in that burning gaze.

He began to cry. “Yeah,” said Snowy Hocks with sheer, miserable honesty. “Yeah, I’m afraid it jes’ might.”