I’ll Take No Denial

“How are you feeling, honey?” crooned Fluttershy, bending solicitously over Pinkie Pie who lay in bed, looking ragged and exhausted.

The only response was a groan. Rock Candy glanced up from his post atop his ailing mother, and smiled. He’d been dreadfully worried, struggling to get Pinkie home like some tiny sheepdog, but once he had her in bed and was sitting on her to prevent her escape he’d seemed much relieved.

Fluttershy was pretty sure she had him figured out.

“That’s right, Rock. Pink Mommy will stay inside where it’s safe. But you know, Winged Mommy was able to protect you both, and I promise the danger is gone now, okay?”

Pinkie coughed, squirming under the covers. Her eyes opened, a glint of pure blue through heavy-lidded slits, squinting up at her hovering mate.

“Do you need more blankets, love?” asked Fluttershy. “I understand you might want fewer because you’re sweating but you were also getting chills and I thought…”

“She didn’t do it,” said Pinkie hoarsely. She coughed again. Rock nuzzled her.

Fluttershy’s serene flight wavered. “I’m sorry?” she said.

Pinkie’s expression was grumpy. Her voice was weak, but clear. “What were you just telling Rock?” He cocked his head, then rolled off her, apparently satisfied she was well again.

“Just what I wanted to tell you. The danger is gone,” soothed Fluttershy, “and Gilda is under arrest. I, uh, I helped. I had no choice. It was rather exciting.”

“No, no. No. It’s not. I just went really deep into Pinkie Sense, and the danger is totally not gone. It’s getting worse. All I can remember is the idea of good ponies terribly changing…”

“Into kebabs?” snapped Fluttershy, tartly. “We’ve stopped that, thank you very much! It breaks my heart that we couldn’t save Applejack and Big Macintosh, but there will be no more vanishing ponies.”

“Something’s very badly wrong,” insisted Pinkie. “It’s still wrong. You feel wrong! What are you doing looking at me like that? You’re being sarcastic and you’re holding your chin so high and what’s going on, Fluttershy, what happened?”

At that, Fluttershy came down to a graceful, silent landing on her slim little hooves. She dropped her gaze, and peered at Pinkie from under her bangs, and her expression was sulky and resentful. “I thought you’d be proud of me, Pinkie Pie. I saved us all. Iron Will would be proud of me, why can’t you? Sometimes when there’s a vicious monster, and it’s physically attacking a helpless pony right in front of you…”

Pinkie rubbed her eyes, groaning. She looked at Fluttershy more closely, and the pegasus’s yellow chest still showed the rust-colored stain from that telltale blood-soaked bedspread, but that wasn’t all. “Shy! Your chest! What happened to you?”

Fluttershy’s chin rose, scornfully, again. “Gilda happened to me, that’s what. It’s okay. I handled it.”

Rock looked worried again. Pinkie was shaking her head. “But… that’s impossible! I used my Pinkie Sense, and I drifted outward to get the feel of things and I felt… I don’t know how to describe it. This outpouring of pony hearts in sympathy from somewhere. They responded to… to Gilda’s tenderness…”

“So did I,” snapped Fluttershy. She pawed the floor with a forehoof, swishing her tail. “Where were they when I had to respond with a hoof to the head? I could have used their help, these pony hearts. I guess they were too busy pouring sympathy to notice when Gilda was about to tear Octavia’s boyfriend to pieces and eat him right in front of her. I’m sure that’s easy to miss, what with the leaping and hurling him to the ground and everything.” She blinked. “Well, to the cloud, anyway.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” objected Pinkie. “How can that be? Fluttershy, I’m telling you, she and Applejack are friends. Maybe very special friends, you know what I mean? And I know she’s extra special friends with Dashie. She can be a real jerk-face, but I saw her at Sweet Apple Acres and she was trying really hard to be nice. And I went into Pinkie Space super hard and I don’t know that Applejack is even dead! She… went away somewhere. It’s really weird, I can’t even tell you.” She shook her head in disbelief. “This is all wrong, somehow!”

“I saw her too,” hissed Fluttershy. “I saw her tear the head off a helpless bunny. Don’t you tell me she’s not a killer.”

Pinkie blinked. “That sucks. Is that why Rainbow Dash left you that note, saying to keep your bunnies inside?”

“Uh-huh,” said Fluttershy. “I bet she’s sorry now.”

Pinkie was thinking. Her long straight hair fell over her glowering, concentrating eyes. “But… the thing is… well, you take care of animals, Fluttershy. Don’t you?”

“The ones not being eaten by wild griffins, yes,” said Fluttershy haughtily.

“Well, then you must understand. Gilda’s like a big cat with a bird head. I wholly approve of keeping our bunnies and small woodland creatures safe, however much I think some of them deserve a wake-up call…”

Pinkie glared across the room. Angel Bunny stuck his tongue out at her. Meanwhile, two squirrels headed into the kitchen, and a hawk and eagle peered around the edge of the door.

“But,” continued Pinkie, “some animals eat other animals, not grass like us. You know this! Gilda gets it both ways, she’s a big cat but she’s also a bird of prey. Look! Fluffkin, there, look at him!”

The eagle gave a start, and cowered back behind the door a little. Fluttershy turned, and gave him a warm glowing smile, and called, “There you are! Fluffkin, sweetie, don’t be frightened, it’s just Pinkie! Nobody will hurt you!” She turned back. “What’s your point, Pinkie Pie?”

Pinkie narrowed her eyes. “Fluffkin is an eagle, Fluttershy. He eats bunnies too, and you love him just the same.”

“No he doesn’t,” snapped Fluttershy.


“He eats bird-seed,” claimed Fluttershy. “So does Cinnamon, there, the hawk. Don’t you, my darlings? They love me very much and they promised they won’t ever eat bunnies or anything like that, ever again. They eat bird-seed. It’s amazing how little bird-seed it takes to feed an eagle, they really eat no more than the sparrows or the chickadees and they’re no trouble at all.”

Pinkie’s jaw had dropped. She stared at the big, savage-looking eagle and the red-tailed hawk as if she’d never seen them before.

They had the decency to look extremely embarrassed.

“I think you might want to have a talk with them about that, sometime,” managed Pinkie. She realized that Angel Bunny was glaring at both of them. He turned back to her with what she recognized as a long-suffering look: the one animal, of the whole bunch, who presented Fluttershy with anything but the image of perfect peacefulness and harmony. Of course she loved him best of all, but it had never occurred to Pinkie that there was anything odd or disingenuous about the whole pacifistic menagerie until she saw Fluttershy informing her that the big, powerful eagle ate the same as a sparrow—fed on a diet of bird-seed and pure pony love.

Angel Bunny snorted, and hopped off to the kitchen. The eagle stepped hastily out of his path, and then glanced back at Pinkie in a panic—and his eyes pleaded with her, begging ‘don’t give me away’.

Pinkie gulped. “I think maybe I owe somebody an apology.”

“Yes, you do,” said Fluttershy, stepping over and petting the eagle’s head with a gentle hoof. He snuggled against her with a little sigh, and then looked embarrassed again.

“Not him,” said Pinkie. “Fluttershy, what the buck happened out there?”

A rich, fruity new voice broke in upon them, dripping with pleasure and curiosity. “Oh yes, please. I am, as they say, all ears…”

Pinkie’s head whipped around. Rock’s ears went back, and he cringed down behind Pinkie a little bit. Discord was sticking his head through the window and beaming a huge smile at them. Ever since Fluttershy had tamed him, he’d been an occasional visitor. They hadn’t heard him, because he hadn’t seen fit to actually open the window, he’d just stuck his head silently through the glass without breaking it.

Fluttershy was undaunted, and slightly stern. “Discord, what are you doing here? Are you being good?”

He slithered into the room, phasing cheerfully through the window, and it stretched and then wobbled back and forth like jelly for a moment after his passage. “I smelled the chaos. It was delicious! Oh, please, tell me what’s going on in this charming little town. I wasn’t sure it could even BE more of my favorite, but the emanations of uncontrol positively make me quiver all over. What have you done to this place, and can you please do more?”

“I’m trying to figure that out!” squeaked Pinkie. “Don’t interrupt!”

“What have you done to your hair?” crooned Discord. “I like it.”

Pinkie glowered at him. “Fluttershy! Explain what you did to Gilda, and what she was doing at the time.”

“Gladly!” retorted Fluttershy. “Whatever you say, I think Gilda killed and ate Applejack and Big Macintosh. I watched her tear the head off a bunny with my own eyes. She was jumping on Octavia’s boyfriend and she was going to eat everypony in Ponyville, so I was just kicking her in the head a little until she died.”

Discord heaved a deep, tremulous sigh. “Oh, my. I’m all squishy already…”

Gilda bit down, and the warm blood spurted into her mouth. Her mom squawked, “That’s the way, Gilda! Sweet, huh? This one’s lighter in color because it’s young. It’s rich, low in fat, and less salty, which means you should be eating these especially as you get old, whatever your Dad thinks. Take another bite. It’s actually cruel to not tear into ‘em because you’re helping it go into shock and die, and it will feel the pain more if you’re delicate about it. Big bites, don’t linger. Got that?”

She turned from her chick to sink her beak into the pony’s haunch. The pony shuddered, crying out in dazed protest despite her horrible injuries, and flailed a foreleg weakly—and Gilda obediently seized the upper part of that leg, between muscle and bone, and ripped off some more meat. She glanced over, up at the thing’s soft brown eyes, across the red-streaked sandy coat.

They weren’t brown eyes, though. They were green. The hat was brown. The hat?

Gilda’s beak dropped open. Suddenly, she wasn’t an innocent griffin chick. She was fully grown. The pony she crouched over wasn’t sandy-colored. It was orange. The red on its flank wasn’t just from her Mom tearing into her dinner, it was what they called a cutie mark, apples…

Gilda looked slowly up into Applejack’s eyes, and for a horrible moment she watched her pony lover die under her own claws and beak, suddenly inserted into that grim, suppressed childhood memory to take the place of the unnamed young mare her mother had taken down.

She heard the shriek as magical fire incinerated her mother. She turned to face her doom.

A long, flowing pink mane waved like a battle banner, and the yellow form descended upon her, baring teeth and rending her body apart effortlessly…

Gilda thrashed and woke with an anguished squawk. Her head was splitting, hurting ridiculously bad. The light glared, blinded her. She hurt all over. She was lying on something cold, stone-like. As her eyes adjusted, she saw bars of metal. She tried to sit up and banged her head on the roof of the cage, and behind her a terrifying snarling and baying burst forth, and Gilda twisted her head to see a large, frothing dog locked up in another cage right next to her. It flung itself against the side of its cage and she shrunk back as best she could.

“Holy crap!” squawked Gilda, and then grabbed her head, for the headache didn’t like her yelling one bit.

Outside the cage, she saw a unicorn pony dressed as a doctor, and a pegasus with a guardlike look about him. They were watching her closely.

“Applejack!” squawked Gilda. “I need to see Applejack, is she back yet from Appleloosa? She was going to Appleloosa, is she back? Did she get there okay?”

The ponies looked at each other. The doctor pony’s horn glowed, and he wrote a note on a pad of paper. They didn’t answer her, and the more desperately she stared, the more they looked away.

“But you don’t understand that she’s completely wrong!” pleaded Pinkie Pie, trotting alongside Discord as he walked down the street into the center of Ponyville.

“I never said she wasn’t,” replied Discord complacently. “Goodness, no. Friends can be completely wrong, didn’t you know that? Why, that’s practically what friends are for! What would be the point of friendship if you didn’t want to strangle them now and again?”

“I don’t want to strangle my friends!” screeched Pinkie, stamping the dirt with a forehoof.

Discord’s eyes twinkled. “Even me?”

Pinkie stuck out her lower lip. “Uh. Yeah, I guess you got me there. More like, you should get a spanking, and so should she!”

“Oooh! Kinky! I like it! Where do I sign up? Do I get to watch you spanking her? My oh my!”

“This isn’t a good time,” grumbled Pinkie Pie. She looked up to watch a screaming earth pony mare gallop toward her, a mare with daisies for a cutie mark. She ran straight up to Discord, looking back over her shoulder and whinnying, “Wild griffin! Wild griffin! The children!” in terror. Then she caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of her eye, stopped, reared, and ran straight back the way she’d come, still looking back over her shoulder, still screaming.

Discord cavorted, beside himself with glee. “You see that? You see? She flees in hysteria, from nothing. She sees me, she turns, she continues to flee, but this time it is back toward the supposed danger!” He heaved a great sigh of satisfaction. “Now THAT’S chaos!”

“It’s bad!” yelled Pinkie.

They were approaching Twilight’s house. Trixie Lulamoon stuck her head out the door, gasped, and disappeared, allowing the door to swing open. Discord pranced over happily and called, “Come out and enjoy the chaos, this time it’s all yours! I swear, I’ve done nothing in the least to cause it, do you mind terribly if I just… wallow in it for a while?”

Hooves drummed on the library floor. Twilight and Trixie appeared in the door, looking back and forth frantically at the galloping townsponies.

“What did you do to them?” cried Twilight.

“You’ve got to help me save Gilda, Twilight!” wailed Pinkie. “Everything’s going wrong!”

Twilight lost no time. She charged down the street, Trixie at her side, Pinkie on the other side. “What happened?”

“Fluttershy said Gilda killed Applejack and Big Macintosh!” yelled Pinkie, galloping.

Twilight whinnied in alarm, rearing and kicking the air. “She did WHAT?”

“But she didn’t, I’m sure of it!”

“Well, take me to Gilda, we’ll get to the bottom of this!”

Pinkie suddenly screeched to a halt. Twilight stumbled, trying to arrest her headlong gallop, whirled, and cried “What?”

“I thought you knew where she was!” said Pinkie Pie.

Behind them, Discord fell over laughing, thwapping his tail on the ground, and another pony ran screaming up to him and then back the direction she’d come. Twilight gave a little bray of frustration and stalked back, ignoring the stampeding townsponies, to confront him. “What do you know about all this?”

“Only that Fluttershy’s turned delightfully forceful, Pinkie Pie denies the whole thing, and the moment when you tripped over your own hooves was absolutely priceless! The look on your face!”

Trixie snarled. “Trixie is going to…”

“No, Trixie!” snapped Twilight. “He’s still a draconequus, watch it. Discord, Pinkie, what’s all this about killing Applejack?”

“Fluttershy says she’s dead, we dug up this bloody sheet that Gilda tried to secretly bury and hide, but I used my Pinkie Sense super hard and I don’t think Applejack died! She… she just… went away somewhere and didn’t come back?”

Twilight had turned a sickly shade of lilac, staring at Pinkie. Behind Pinkie, she saw Fluttershy approaching, Rock Candy in tow. Fluttershy looked serious, determined, angry. Pinkie’s eyes pleaded with Twilight, as Fluttershy walked up and spoke.

“Twilight Sparkle, I don’t know what Pinkie Pie has been telling you, but I’m pretty sure Gilda the griffin killed and ate not only Applejack, but also Big Macintosh. They’re both gone. We have the sheet she wrapped the bodies in, and I watched her kill a bunny with my own two eyes, and she tried to hide the sheet, and when we went to question her she tried to attack Stout Heart, the guard, and we had to knock her out.”

Twilight’s eyes were the size of dinner places, staring at Fluttershy. She turned to Pinkie, who’d been telling her it wasn’t true based only on Pinkie Sense. She turned back to Fluttershy, noticing the gash on her chest, the bloodstains, the set of her jaw.

“We put her in the veterinary kennel because Ponyville doesn’t have any jails,” said Fluttershy. She dropped her gaze. “I’m sorry if this is a lot to take in at once. I don’t like it either, but at least we stopped it before any more ponies died.”

“Applejack,” whimpered Twilight. Trixie hugged her, glaring at Fluttershy.

“It’s not true!” yelled Pinkie.

“Prove it,” said Fluttershy, stamping a hoof. “She nearly killed me, and she would have killed Stout Heart if I hadn’t jumped on her and kicked her in the head a whole bunch of times.”

Discord gave a hoot of delight. Fluttershy glared at him, and he looked bashful and quieted down.

Twilight Sparkle was gritting her teeth. She lifted her head. “You know what? That is exactly what we’ll do.”

“Good!” said Fluttershy, and then froze, for Twilight was skewering her with a ferocious glare, amplified by the dark circles under Twilight’s eyes and the air of ragged, edgy exhaustion she had after her ceaseless researches on the magic bit.

“No. We’re going to prove what REALLY happened. We’re going to scry, and mage-meld, and turn over all of Equestria if we have to, and we’re going to have a trial once we have real evidence what’s happened. All the ponies in this town are crazy, and I’m not going to believe anything anypony says without evidence.”

“I’ve got evidence!” insisted Fluttershy. “We dug up a bloody sheet. I bet you anything you care to name that it’s pony blood, that it’s Applejack’s blood, and that we caught Gilda just in time before she killed others!”

“Bring it,” said Twilight grimly. “We’re going to have a little talk with Miss Gilda Griffin.”

Pony after pony stopped galloping madly to and fro, as they saw Twilight marching down the street. Pinkie, Fluttershy, Trixie accompanied her, but somehow it was Twilight’s presence that got their attention, just as she had the day the sleeping dragon was discovered. She didn’t address the townsponies, but they followed her anyhow, and a stampede turned into a quiet and anxious crowd. A good half of them shied away as Twilight approached the veterinary kennel, but they reared up and peered through the windows, terrified and fascinated.

Twilight ignored them. Her full attention was on Gilda, who cowered in the back of a cage too small for her.

Everypony in the room leapt in startlement as the dog in the adjacent cage suddenly exploded in barking. Gilda jumped as well, banging her head on the top of the cage, and then subsided, shaking visibly. Trixie glared, her horn lit, and the dog’s barking was squelched by a firm magical grip around the muzzle.

“Okay,” said Twilight. “I’m not exactly sure what we’re going to do, but I know how we can start. This is a truth spell.” She concentrated, and a glowing sphere floated in the air, which Gilda regarded with panicky suspicion. Twilight continued, “Now, let’s have some statements. Exactly what happened here?”

Silence stretched out. Twilight stamped a hoof. “Come on! This is advanced magic but it’s not going to hurt you! It’ll ding, that’s all it’s going to do! Fluttershy, what’s this about a bedsheet?”

“Oh!” said Fluttershy. “I watched Gilda bury a bloody sheet. And rip the head off a helpless bunny!”

The sphere dinged, brightly, twice. The townsponies gasped.

“Really!” said Twilight. She turned to Gilda. “Did you bury that sheet Fluttershy’s talking about?”

Gilda licked her beak. She was trembling. “And what if I did?”

“Fluttershy’s accusing you of some pretty serious stuff,” said Twilight. The sphere dinged.

“Where’s Applejack? Can I talk to Applejack?” said Gilda. There was a stir.

“How did you know it was Applejack we’re talking about?” demanded Fluttershy, and the stir doubled. The windows were a sea of pony faces, staring in on the questioning.

Twilight looked exasperated. “Fluttershy, it sounds like she doesn’t even know where Applejack is.”

Fluttershy bridled, her expression one of outrage. “What she said wasn’t a statement! It was a question. You said your spell reacts to statements.”

They glanced at the sphere. It hesitated, and then dinged four times, rapidly.

“Fine,” said Twilight. “What kind of statements do you want her to make? Then we can go home.”

Fluttershy whirled, and demanded, “Is that pony blood on that sheet you buried?”

Gilda’s beak dropped open, but no sound came out.

“Aha!” cried Fluttershy. “I got you, you can’t answer that question!” The sphere dinged twice, cheerfully.

Twilight had gone pale. Gilda licked her beak, and repeated, “Have you seen Applejack? I’d rather not talk about that stuff until she can help me explain…”

The sphere dinged. Fluttershy pounced. “And if she’s dead, that’s never, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Yes, you’d rather not talk about it! Ding! What about the note?”

“What note?” squawked Gilda, looking back and forth in a panic.

“The more you talk, the more we have you,” said Fluttershy, and the sphere dinged at that too. “Don’t pretend not to understand. Rainbow Dash was sent a note, supposedly from Applejack, to lure her away to Appleloosa. Well, you left that note. Didn’t you?”

The sphere had chimed twice, once for each part of Fluttershy’s furious accusation. The stir and commotion in the room was turning ugly. Gilda, trapped, glanced back and forth among the shifting, stamping ponies, and she gulped.

Twilight was looking around as well. “Settle down, ponies! Gilda, you can say no, can’t you? If you didn’t leave a note like Fluttershy claims…”

“I saw her do it,” hissed Fluttershy. The sphere dinged. The crowd rumbled in anger.

“Whoa,” said Twilight. She turned to Gilda. “Is that true? Did you do that?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

The sphere dinged, the crowd growled, and Gilda cringed back, unable to face all those angry eyes. Twilight was looking around her, wide-eyed and alarmed. “Guys! We have to be civilized here! I’m not sure this sphere business was a good idea! Can you clear the room? We need to wrap this up, not sit around asking creepy questions and gossiping about notes!”

At that, Fluttershy lifted her head. “Gossip? You think just because I watched her trick Rainbow Dash it’s gossip? Fine, we can wrap this up right now! Gilda!”

Gilda stared at Fluttershy in a complete panic, and Fluttershy stepped forward, baring her teeth.

“Have you eaten pony flesh, Gilda? I think you have. Tell us.”

Gilda wouldn’t answer. Her eyes were very wide. She shook, in the cage, and could hardly breathe.

“All you have to do is say no, you haven’t,” added Fluttershy bitterly. “And then the magic thing will go ding and you’ll be safe. Unless…”

Ponies were cramming themselves against the windows, pressing forward in a crowd.

“Unless you can’t say that, because it would be a lie, and we’d all know it. Unless you’ve eaten pony, maybe very recently. Isn’t that right, Gilda? Say, ‘I have never eaten pony flesh’. Go on.” The spell continued to confirm Fluttershy’s every statement.

Gilda was shaking her head weakly. Tears ran down her cheeks, but she could not speak.

“Have you eaten pony flesh? Have you tasted pony blood?” asked Fluttershy. “Have you?”

Twilight Sparkle stamped her hoof, and her horn flared brightly. “That’s enough!” she squealed, and the sphere popped and was gone. “This is NOT how this was supposed to go!”

Gilda was sobbing, cringing against the back of the cage. “I want to see Applejack! Please!”

“Oh, now you do, I’m sure!” yelled Fluttershy, shaking with fury. “It’s a little too late for that, isn’t it? Why don’t you stick a claw down your throat and see if there’s any of her left!”

Twilight had turned to face the horde of angry, shoving ponies. “Get out of here, all of you! You too, Fluttershy, get out! Trixie, help! Clear the room!”

Trixie snarled, and her horn flared to life again, and between her efforts and Twilight’s, the crowd of ponies were forced back out the door, kicking and shouting. Twilight turned, sweating, and cried, “Trixie! Put up wards, I know you’re good at those! Block all the doors and windows, they’re gonna try to kill her!”

“Yes, Mistress! Go!” yelled Trixie, and Twilight shoved the mass of struggling, enraged ponies out onto the street. Blue light flared blindingly, and then all was silent except for the panting of Gilda and the whining of the formerly savage dog in the next cage, and a blue glow sealed every window and door. Trixie heaved a deep, exhausted sigh.

“They think…” choked Gilda, and sobbed. “No! Please don’t let it be true. No!”

Trixie turned, her eyes weary, and fixed the hapless griffin with a sharp, impatient look. “Trixie can do that spell too, Gilda. Let’s not fuck around. Have you eaten pony? And Trixie does not mean oral sex, Trixie refers to tearing flesh and drinking blood and making a pony die. Can you tell Trixie and her truth spell that you have never done that?”

Gilda just stared at her dumbly.

“They say you killed Applejack,” added Trixie. “They’re saying she’s dead now. They say you tried to hide a bedsheet or something, presumably soaked with her blood, and they have the sheet. It sounds like Applejack’s gone. Did you kill her?”

Gilda whimpered, eyes flooding with tears, and then turned away and curled up in a miserable ball.

Trixie snorted. “Mistress will find the truth here. Don’t try anything, including harm to yourself, or Trixie will bind you, uh, paw and claw. You’re lucky Mistress got to you first, if Trixie is any judge. Those ponies would have torn you apart.”

A sob was the only reply she got.

Derpy Hooves pranced down the Ponyville street, beaming her cockeyed smile, and Rarity could not help but smile back to see it. The dear sweet silly creature was simply delighted to try out new mane-styles and makeup, thrilled to turn herself over to Rarity’s ministrations. Yet, the task called for all of Rarity’s subtlety. She herself delighted in bold eyeshadows and elaborate coiffure, but found that Derpy seemed more beautiful when artifice was eschewed. Only the most delicate shades would do, the most seemingly artless stylings of that silky mane. It proved a fascinating and rewarding challenge. Rarity speculated idly whether the apex of Derpy Hooves’ unexpected beauty would be reached not with powder and brush, not with comb and gel, but simply with a stallion’s kiss that lit her from within…

Or perhaps it was simply her gratitude that skewed things, caused her to smile so winningly at her benefactor. Perhaps this produced an effect that would not transfer to the intended stallion beholders. Perhaps it was going all wrong!

“Uht!” snapped Rarity, looking stern. Derpy squeaked, and dropped her gaze, peering bashfully up at Rarity and pawing the ground with a hoof. Her lower lip quivered, her eyes glistened as if threatening to become tearful.

Rarity tried to hold the stern look, but she could not maintain it for long. The corner of her mouth quirked up. “False alarm, darling.”

“Uh, what does that mean, Rarity?”

“I was just testing. It’s not merely my own opinion: you are exquisite.”

Rarity’s stern look was ruined, then, for Derpy beamed at her with such innocent joy that Rarity could feel her mouth being wrenched into a matching foolish smile, which only got worse as Derpy bounced off all four hooves with a little “Eee!” of delight.

“Now come on, darling, your audience awaits. This time we shan’t risk Fillydelpia, but shall tread the safer waters of… oh!”

Two figures had appeared around the corner, then more. Trixie Lulamoon was marching down the street, her magic firmly holding a leash that attached to a heavy muzzle that wrapped awkwardly around the beak of a full-grown griffin. Rarity saw that it was Rainbow Dash’s friend Gilda, but it was Gilda rendered unrecognizable: her head encased in the straps that normally held the muzzle onto a large dog or savage beast, her posture beaten, her tail dragging as low as her trudging, stumbling gait. A crowd of glowering ponies followed them at a safe distance.

Rarity’s eyes gleamed with interest as Trixie approached, and she licked her lips. “Mistress! Kinky! May I join, or is it a private scene?”

She then cried out and fell back, for Trixie had reared and smacked her in the face with the back of a hoof, hard. Derpy screamed and cowered, but it was hard to tell what frightened her worse, the captured griffin or the fearsome captor. Trixie brandished her hoof, glaring.

“Shut up, Girl! This is serious! Keep your filthy mind to yourself, we’ll come get you when you’re needed!”

Trixie strode on, and Rarity found herself lying in the dirt, Derpy Hooves hovering over her and sobbing, “Rarity, no! She’s such a mean pony, I’m going to go and kick her, you watch!”

“No, Derpy! No!” blurted Rarity. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hoof, and it came away red. “Ow. Damned Mistress! No, Derpy, don’t you do anything! This is our way!”

Derpy shook her. “I need to help you, Rarity! She’s mean to you, Rarity!”

“Cease!” hissed Rarity, transfixing Derpy with a very dominant gaze. “Listen! Will you listen?”

Derpy’s jaw sagged. “I… I’m sorry, Rarity. I’m listening, Rarity.”

“Good.” Rarity gulped, her mouth a thin hard line of concentration. “How shall I put this? It is not your affair. Please pretend you saw nothing, it is personal. It is just our way of making each other happy, perhaps a curious and perverse way but our own. You must understand, it is all voluntary. I have agreed to this, Derpy. I have agreed in writing.”

Derpy’s face was filled with woe. “You… agreed? For mean Trixie to hit you?”

“Among other things, yes. It is, on occasion, mutual.” Rarity glowered, thinking back on the amazing challenges she’d faced in order to shake up the manically submissive Trixie Lulamoon in sub mode, and the savage and psychically scarring payback this inevitably provoked. Twilight’s concern was, indeed, warranted.

“It makes you happy?” said Derpy, piteously.

Rarity struggled to look reassuring and in-control. She had a feeling there was a trickle of blood leaking from the corner of her mouth, and that was a public display she’d thought would not transpire. “Yes, darling. It is our way of being happy.”

Derpy shuddered. Rarity realized that both her eyes were in focus, staring into Rarity’s with desperate urgency. She spoke, and her simple words stabbed Rarity’s heart like some shining, clean needle bearing an injection of painful truth.

“You don’t look happy. You looked happy before, and now you look sad. And you look worried, Rarity. Please don’t be sad?”

Rarity gulped, suddenly flung back into that head-space she’d occupied outside the club in Fillydelphia. What was the damndable power this fluffy, silly pegasus had, to ruin her good and familiar fun? Rarity gazed up at Derpy, and flinched, for the sun was behind her and it blinded her eyes. She squeezed them shut, and then felt a tender hoof wiping a tear away.

“Please don’t be sad, Rarity,” begged Derpy.

Rarity heaved a great sigh. “Oh, Derpy darling!” Impetuously, she hugged the kindly pegasus, splaying her wings awkwardly from the embrace and causing a sharp gasp and sudden return to earth for her. The thump was surprisingly heavy: though Derpy was a pegasus, her bottom was unusually plush and shapely, requiring strong and supple wings to cart it around. Rarity shook herself, released Derpy and looked deeply into her startled eyes.

“I shall not be sad, darling. Come! Something is up, I’ll warrant. If she is not enjoying the pleasures of that griffin as I thought, if it is no provocative game, if it is indeed serious: then it must be serious indeed!”

Derpy bounced up, excited. “Let’s go and see what it is, Rarity!”

Rarity found herself smiling again. She reared and galloped off, hearing the flapping of soft, firm wings behind her, and in a jiffy she’d reached the town offices, where Trixie had been heading. The crowd was intense, and Rarity shoved her way through it, finding surprising difficulty. She wasn’t used to townsponies being so forceful. She heard wings over her, and felt hooves on her flanks: somehow she could tell it was only Derpy, clinging to her for reassurance, so she did not look back or so much as flick her tail in offense.

The two made their way toward the front, where an argument was underway.

“No, we don’t need to chain her up, Fluttershy!” snapped Twilight Sparkle. “Look at her, she’s not doing anything. Take that muzzle off, Trixie, let her talk. You can tie her to that fence if you really want to. Not in any creepy way, understand? And would you put that down, please, Fluttershy?”

“It’s the evidence,” said Fluttershy. “You should cast a spell to identify whose blood it is. And since she did this how can you say we shouldn’t chain her up? Do you know how much damage a wild griffin can do in just a split second?”

Trixie nodded, and her horn glowed as she bound Gilda to the stout wooden fence, using the lashings from the muzzle. Gilda didn’t resist, and looked crushed, broken.

“Do I look like I go around casting spells to identify blood?” retorted Twilight. “Give me a couple days and I’m sure I could research one. We don’t have that kind of time. Look at all these ponies! We’ve got to address this situation before it gets even worse.”

“I can, darling,” called Rarity clearly, and above her, Derpy gasped.

Twilight’s head whipped around. “Who was that?”

“It is Rarity. I know such a spell, darling.”

Derpy stared in unabashed wonder. Trixie’s eyes narrowed. “Girl, if you…”

“Consarn,” snapped Rarity. She gritted her teeth and stared down Trixie, defying her to bring private bondage pleasures into this public scenario.

Trixie blinked, her eyes widened, and then she cowered back. “Yes, Mistress!”

“Not now,” snapped Rarity. “Twilight, you need a bloodstain identified?”

“Uh, yes. How come you know how to cast a spell like…”

Twilight trailed off, looking into Rarity’s confident smile. The ponies around her had shied away, leaving space for Derpy to hover close, watching anxiously. Rarity didn’t flinch.

“I withdraw the question,” said Twilight, shaking her head. “Of course you can do that. Rarity, will you please tell us whose blood is on the sheet Fluttershy is carrying?”

Rarity’s horn lit. She concentrated, with her eyes shut, and a look of horror ran across her face. Derpy hugged her as she swallowed, cleared her throat, spoke.

“That’s Applejack’s blood, Twilight. I’m certain of it. Lots of blood.” She gulped again. “So very much.” Her face twitched again, anguish flashing across it. “What is this, Twilight? What has happened? Please tell me nothing has happened to Applejack, I cannot bear it…”

“We all have to be brave, Rarity,” said Fluttershy. “We’ve caught the criminal who did it.”

Rarity’s ears were laid back, and she looked helplessly at Twilight, who nodded and said, “It’s hard to tell what exactly happened, but circumstantial evidence suggests that Gilda here killed Applejack, and possibly Big Macintosh.”

Rarity shuddered again, crying out “No!”, as Gilda stared dully into space.

“It’s only circumstantial evidence,” insisted Twilight. “We have to know more. Thank you for helping, I can see it was painful for you…”

Hooves galloped in the distance, coming closer. Fluttershy turned on Twilight angrily. “What more do you want? Now we even know it was Applejack’s blood! If she ate Applejack up, there won’t be a body! I insist that we punish Gilda for murder, right away!”

“Noo, Applejack!” wailed Rarity, as Derpy clung to her trying frantically to comfort. “How can I survive if you are gone? I cannot bear it, I shall never feel safe again, never!”

“Rarity, calm down!” yelled Twilight, looking frazzled. “It hurts me too, okay? But we have to go through this process, we’re having a trial! Pull yourself together!”

“But Applejack is dead!” cried Rarity to the uncaring wind, her howl of anguish echoing off all the nearby buildings.

Five ponies burst into the crowd, two adults and three small ponies.

“Oh no, she ain’t!” yelled Apple Bloom triumphantly.

“Who said that?” snapped Twilight.

“Quick, guys, make a… thanks!” came Apple Bloom’s voice from inside the milling crowd. Her head appeared on a level with the adult ponies, for she was standing on Scootaloo’s and Sweetie Belle’s backs. She repeated, “Oh, no, she ain’t! I jes’ come straight from Canterlot and Applejack ain’t daid! She’s in a thing called a coma and we can’t wake her! What’s goin’ on here then?”

“She’s not dead?” cried both Rarity and Gilda, together.

“Hell naw!”

Rarity swooned, and Derpy followed her to the ground, sheltering her from the throng of ponies. Fluttershy rushed over to the newcomers. “Why is she in a coma? What happened?”

“Some wild critter ripped her all up, that’s what!” cried Apple Bloom.

The crowd gasped. Fluttershy turned toward Gilda, her eyes burning. “And we know who that was, don’t we?”

“Sure,” said Apple Bloom, “it’s th’ wild griffin, now we got to go hunt that thing down and give it what for…”

“I think,” said Twilight, “Fluttershy’s taken care of that.”

She stood, her ears quirked in dismay and confusion, and the crowd parted so that Apple Bloom could see the captive, and Apple Bloom looked and her jaw dropped. “But that ain’t th’ one, we was gonna get Gilda there to help us FIGHT the…”

Fluttershy ignored her. “Twilight, we could still be looking at murder if Applejack does not survive her injuries. I would like to suggest that we call it attempted murder and possibly murder of bunny if that’s a thing, and we’ll go on with the trial. We have our evidence, and now we have proof that there’s a victim!”

Twilight Sparkle gulped. She exchanged a glance with Trixie. She nodded. “Yeah, we’d better go on,” she said, and then squeaked, for Granny Smith was suddenly in her face.

“That what this is? A trial? For killin’ Applejack and pore Big Macintosh? Well, then, Ah accuse!” Granny whirled, and pointed a hoof at Gilda. “Ah always knew that critter was poison! Should have knowed somethin’ was up when pore Big Macintosh disappeared, but ah was dreamin’, curse me, an’ I ain’t got time for that now! You may have ate up my grandcolt, you monster, but you din’t get both of ‘em, at least not yet you ain’t! Ah accuse you!”

Gilda cowered. “But I didn’t… she asked me to, uh, or sort of forced me to… we were…” She gulped, looking shattered. “I need to talk to Applejack! Please, bring her, I can’t even explain this without her! You wouldn’t fucking believe me for a minute!”

“We can’t wake her!” yelled Granny. “She may die!”

Apple Bloom hopped up and down on her friends’ backs as Scootaloo cursed and fidgeted. “Ah’m tellin’ you, the real killer is still out there!” She shifted to Sweetie’s back, and demanded, “How you know it’s Gilda here? What makes you think that?”

Fluttershy turned to her. “We don’t think, we know! It’s the bedsheets, Apple Bloom, the bedsheets are the answer! Soaked with Applejack’s blood, buried by Gilda in the dark of night, dug up by Pinkie Pie and they’re right here! It’s the bedsheets!”

Apple Bloom glared back, truculent. Beside her, Lyra’s eyes went very wide. “The bedsheets,” she breathed. “It’s the bedsheets…”

Apple Bloom squeaked and dropped out of sight, falling off Sweetie’s back. Lyra had whirled, knocking them over, and was fighting her way through the crowd like a maniac, provoking shouts and panic.

“Let her go!” cried Twilight. “She’s excitable, sorta weird, be careful, give her some space!” She took a deep breath. “In fact, everypony settle down, right now! Stop freaking out!” Her horn glowed, and she turned from side to side, prancing fiercely. “We are not doing this today, you’re all too excited! We are going to come back first thing tomorrow and you’re all going to go and get some sleep tonight and calm down! You too, Granny! It’s perfectly safe, we have Gilda in our custody and we’re going to do this right, got it? Stop panicking! Trixie, be ready to help me with them, okay?”

Trixie licked her lips. “No need, Mistress.”

The crowd of ponies sat on their haunches, staring at Twilight. She looked them over.

“The real killer is still out there, ready to strike again!” cried Apple Bloom, jumping up and down. The crowd stirred, restlessly.

“I need Applejack!” wailed Gilda.

Sweetie Belle began to look around, more and more frantically. “Scootaloo? Scootaloo! Where’s Scootaloo?”

The pegasus filly was gone. There was no sign of her, no hint of where she’d gone. All that could be seen was Lyra, in the distance, still galloping full tilt towards Sweet Apple Acres.

As Twilight ordered the crowd to disperse, as Trixie muzzled the frantic griffin once more, as Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle cast about in desperation for their lost companion crying “No, Scootaloo, come back! Don’t try and find Braeburn on your own, please!” and the townsponies milled, not really prepared to return to their homes…

Lyra kicked the door of Sweet Apple Acres open, and charged in, looking around and sniffing. She disappeared up the stairs, and returned with a wadded mass of bedsheets from the unmade bed that Rainbow Dash had been sleeping in. Her horn glowed as she carried them in a desperate magical grip. She tried to bundle them more tightly, hoping to enclose the most whiffy stale parts and shield them from the breeze, and she found herself hoping that Dash, that crazy sex-mad pegasus, had clopped in that bed. Whatever it took, to reach a mare that could no longer see and hear through the coma…

It was a crazy idea, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t work.

Lyra galloped madly down the road, past Ponyville, bound for Canterlot.