Masks

“Well, if I can’t have a cape, you should at least let me have a mask!” protested Lyra.

Princess Luna snorted, amusedly. “Exquisite one, be reasonable! We are pleased thy journeys provide thee enjoyment, but garbing thee in strange disguise seems excessive!”

“What’s so strange about it? I can be the mysterious masked mare. The Mmmmmmm!”

That got a still louder laugh. “Naughty little pony! Thou art indeed the Mmmmm, as you well know, but we are discussing the manner in which you travel Equestria in our absence…”

“But you have to let me have fun with it!” protested Lyra. She dropped her eyes, and pouted. “Because it is in your absence. That’s the problem.”

“Oh, Lyra,” sighed Luna. “It’s for your protection. We must send you forth, lest we use you up in transports of too much ecstacy.”

Lyra trotted over and nuzzled her Princess affectionately, tucking her head under Luna’s chin. This, from any other unicorn, might be uncomfortable—but it was different with Lyra. Her horn had been half burned away, healed up enough to smooth the charred end, and then in another erotic paroxysm, she’d lost a third of what she had left and Luna had set about her plans for sending Lyra away.

That had worked so well that Lyra’s horn looked pristine—but only in that the burned end had rounded over. It was still a mere nub compared to any other full-grown unicorn, and gave her a disturbingly foal-like quality that wasn’t reflected in Lyra’s personality or attitude. It was this nub that Lyra pressed lovingly to Luna’s neck, in sensuous rubbings that made the Princess of the Moon tremble. Though she could not feel bound by unicorn mores, she knew how wanton her sweet Lyra was being, and she quivered to feel her little pony love-making with just a touch.

“Indeed, even now thou seekest more such transports!”

“Of course I do, I’m yours,” said Lyra. “I should be here. I want to devote myself to you. Like if you were my stallion, and you were giving me foals when you do that and… hey! If I’m going to take your horncome again and again, do you know if there’s a way you could turn into a male alicorn and…”

“There are no male alicorns,” interrupted Luna.

Lyra blinked. “Huh?”

“None,” said Luna. “The nature of the condition precludes it, little one. My sister, ever trying to make sense of the universe around her, has speculated that it is akin to our giving birth to magical versions of ourselves.”

Lyra’s eyes were sharp under that disturbingly foal-like horn-nub. “So you’re all females and magical versions of… ooh! Does that mean you’re all female unicorns to start with?”

“We did not say that, dearest,” chided Luna. “Do not pry. We are more mysterious than you know, for all your… mmmmm-ystery.” She kissed Luna on the nose, smiling a secret smile.

“Well, then, if you’re strictly female, we can’t get me pregnant from you,” said Lyra, her mind seizing on the idea and worrying it like a terrier. “Or… ooh! If I got turned into a male, not just with the bit which we don’t have anymore, but the real deal…”

Luna laughed. “Little pony! Desist with thy panting to bear my foals! Let us just share our sweet life and think not of the morrow!”

“But that’s just it, what if you could bear mine? Huh? Oh—unless you wouldn’t want that. Or if that’s impossible too.” Her eyes were big and solemn. “Luna, what is possible? I can have foals, I’m a unicorn mare. You’re an alicorn. Can you have babies?”

“How do you wish me to answer?” said Luna.

“Tell me the truth,” said Lyra. “I want to know everything about you. Even if it’s sad.”

Luna hesitated, and Lyra’s face began to fall. “Oh, Luna!” she said. “I’m so sorry!”

“Nay, nay!” said Luna. “We are merely wondering… how much we may or should reveal.”

Lyra’s eyes widened. “It’s that secret?”

“It can cause problems, Lyra. For an alicorn, to become pregnant is a grave matter. We are vulnerable, our magic hobbled. Be aware that we lose a little bit of that magic to the process, Lyra, and it is not a thing we think of lightly.”

Lyra pressed more closely to her alicorn lover. “Tell me. Tell me everything. I have to know, now.”

“And what shall you do, little pony, if we refuse to answer?”

Lyra considered. “Cry? Beg? No, I think I’ll just remember and I won’t be able to let go of the thought now that you’ve mentioned it. And the more you hide it, the more obsessed I’ll be, and I’ll think of nothing else, and I’ll always come back and bug you until you finally tell me, or until it makes me sick with curiosity and I end up dying young, wasting away in worry about the big secret you refuse to tell me. So there.” She stuck her little tongue out.

Luna chuckled. “Poor little pony. Methinks we might find ways to distract you, even so.”

“No!” squeaked Lyra, jumping away, prancing about. “Tell me, tell me! How do alicorns have foals?”

“Will you promise not to speak of it around my sister, dear one?”

“How come? Will she be mad, are you not supposed to do that?” said Lyra.

“Oh, no,” smiled Luna. “Which is to say: no, she will not be angry, but the subject may dismay her. It is her happiness I wish to safeguard.”

Lyra looked shrewdly at her Princess. “She did it, didn’t she? She had a foal and it didn’t work out. Is it Cadance? Is Cadance disappointing somehow?”

Luna stared, startled. “That is not where Princess Cadance came from, little pony!”

“Then, is it…”

“We shall have to explain this lest ye run rampant with idle curiosity,” said Princess Luna, and sighed. “Vow that thy lovely lips will be sealed on the matter, or I shall reveal nothing!”

Lyra squealed with delight, and scampered over to snuggle against Luna’s body, and be covered by a large, deep-blue wing. “They will! Why would I want to talk to other ponies anyway? I have you. Tell me everything.”

That got her a concerned look. “We have spoken of the texture of thy precious life. Talking to other ponies should be a gift, dearest: how few years both you and they have to enjoy such pastimes!”

Lyra snorted with contempt. “As if. Did I tell you about the guy in Manehattan? Ridiculous!”

“Indeed not. A stallion in Manehattan insulted you?” Luna narrowed her eyes.

Lyra batted her eyelashes. “Don’t look grouchy. I handled it. Actually it was pretty funny.”

“We await the tale, oh delicious consort…”

“Hey, it was after a consort! A cello consort by Octavia. She played beautiful music though it was dedicated to something I wouldn’t have expected. But Looney, if I tell you, you have to tell me all about alicorns getting pregnant!”

“You have my word. Proceed!”

Lyra nestled closer, and began her tale.

“He’d been watching me, but not in a bad way, just sort of looking—and after the concert, he came up and started to ask me about my… prowess.”

Luna blinked. “Your what?”

“That’s pretty much how I reacted. I kind of stared at him, and he stared back with this intense look, but his eyes kept wandering. Up.”

“Oh, my,” said Princess Luna, gazing down at her lover’s burned-away horn, healed over to foalish nubbyness.

Lyra nodded. “I played along, a little. I thought I could call you if it didn’t go well. Was that wrong of me?”

“Indeed not! Yet we would fain have thee request our presence in a better class of emergency. This unicorn, what did he do?”

“Oh, he didn’t do anything. We were just talking. He seemed so needy. He was trying to tell me it was okay to be the way I was, that there were unicorns who appreciated it. He said he would be gentle. He started to explain that it was wonderful we’d met, because of the way he was…”

“Oh, my,” said Luna.

“Uh-huh,” said Lyra. “That was when he started to blush, was when he tried to explain how good it would feel for him to horncome in me. Because I was such a weakling, and would be happier with another weakling who wouldn’t burn me up in sex.”

Luna’s jaw dropped.

“That was when I started to laugh at him,” said Lyra, nonchalantly. “I couldn’t stop. The whole idea was so ridiculous. Me, a weakling! I had to find you before I could find a unicorn I wouldn’t just overpower, if I got excited, and this fellow thought my magic wasn’t enough to have sex with?”

“Oh, Lyra,” said Princess Luna. “How did he react, this fellow?”

“Ran away crying,” said Lyra, and snorted. “Good thing, too. If we had done it, I’d have killed him, probably. It’d be like you, on me.”

“It would not be unfit to suggest, perhaps, a little kindness…”

Lyra turned her head and looked up at Luna. “Why?”

Luna sighed. “Perhaps not. Curiously, your tale leads into mine. I shudder to think of what I’d have to go through for that poor fellow to impregnate me.”

Lyra couldn’t help but burst out laughing at Luna’s grave face and solemn statement. “What? Oh, Looney, what, what? You are a looney to get an idea like that!”

“Ah, but dear Lyra, you see the problem. Do you think that under normal circumstances even you could do it? Assume the best will in the world, a fully intact horn, everything going your way.”

Lyra considered this. “That was me the first time. Though you were so terribly pent up… I’ve had you again, when you weren’t as pent up, though, and it was about the same. If we arc, it’s time to light up Lyra.” She shuddered, eyes closing, teeth baring in a sensuous snarl. “I love it, I love it so much.”

“Yes,” said Luna, “but if you wished to, could you make it go the other way? I know you don’t wish to. But if you did?”

The sensuous look didn’t leave Lyra’s eyes as she considered the question. She began to pant, and wriggle. Finally, she crooned, “Oh, no. Never. It’s too powerful. Not even me.” Then a thought struck her, and she twisted her head and looked up at Luna, eyes wide in wonder.

Princess Luna nodded. “But yes, dear one. A unicorn must come into my horn as part of the impregnation, or there would be no foal. Think about it. I have a horn too, darling, just like you!”

Lyra gaped. “It’s not possible. You’re too strong. How is that even possible?”

Luna’s smile was wry. “Through a process of weakening, my little pony. Not a simple task. Alicorns do not foal often, for obvious reasons.”

Lyra nodded, awed. “I guess not! I know when you were pent up, it was overwhelming.” She licked her dainty lips. “Sexual exhaustion? It’s a game of drain the alicorn?”

Luna chuckled. “Indeed! In all my years I have never heard it called that… yes, you’ve got it. I would have to be weakened to where a unicorn—a very potent, magically virile unicorn—could come into my horn and I’d be helpless to prevent it.” Her face turned a still more midnight shade of deep blue. “The thought is… erotic.”

Lyra moaned. “I know. I know! I can only imagine how you feel. When I found you, my life was complete in a way that never existed before. Princess! Do you really want to feel me come inside you? To be flooded with my magic? Oh my gosh how can you be so sexy, eeeee!”

Luna was an almost black purple, and wouldn’t look up to meet Lyra’s eyes. “We would not argue the point, though there are concerns that, perhaps, are lost in the flood of emotion for the beloved…”

“I want to!” squealed Lyra, trembling. “Oh Looney, I want to do that for you!”

“Hold!” said Luna. “We said it was not a simple task, we have not finished explaining!”

“You’re telling me!” cried Lyra. “It’s hard to believe that one unicorn could wear you out, but if there’s a way…”

“Exactly,” interrupted Luna. “You’ve got it. And one of the secrets is right here.” She enfolded Lyra in her slightly blush-ruffled wing.

“Huh? Oh! I get it, I know how much you love it when I pay attention to your wings. It makes me envious sometimes. If I…”

“Wait,” said Luna. “Listen. I said one unicorn. It is not a matter for one unicorn. There must be a pegasus, attending to my wings.” She blushed worse and worse. “Or… two.”

“What?” squeaked Lyra, shocked.

“It is a question of size,” muttered Luna, “they are large wings. To, to, to be sure of conception one has a different pegasus attending each wing.” Her body trembled as she dutifully explained the process. “It is also possible for the unicorn to take one wing, and the pegasus the other. Cadance favors two strong pegasus guards combined with the unicorn, but she is not really completing the process, merely enjoying herself and her nature. Um. I should not have said that.”

Lyra hadn’t got past an earlier sentence. “A flathead? You need a winged flathead?”

Luna looked down, resentfully. “Our concerns are redoubled…”

“But I don’t understand!”

“I have wings, like them,” chided Luna. “Do you question the ways of magic? I cannot. Magic creates alicorns and we are helpless before its whims. Though I did not always believe so, I am one of the fortunate ones and magic’s requirements of me are not onerous. I am telling you how alicorns foal, and would have you listen and learn. My worries are increased, hearing you talk.”

Lyra looked chastened. She nuzzled Luna reassuringly, and said, “Don’t worry, please! I’ll try to learn. So it takes a very strong unicorn, and you also have to get some pegasi as sort of scaffolding to do your wings really hard. I hope they don’t get in the way of the unic… uh-oh. Luna? I know I’m not a stallion… but please don’t tell me it’s a pegasus that has to come inside you to finish the job?”

Luna would not look at her. She stared angrily at the bedspread she lay on. “Nay.”

“Oh good, I was worried that…”

“There are three pony races,” said Luna. She turned her head, and stared Lyra right in the eye as she said it.

At first Lyra stared, uncomprehending, and then her eyes widened, and she began shaking her head. “No no. No, no…”

“I love you, Lyra, but yes.”

“No!” squeaked Lyra. “That’s just wrong! You’re a magical creature beyond all magical creatures! It’s… a desecration!”

“I have a horn, just like you have,” said Luna implacably. “I have wings, like the pegasi have. And I have a vagina, like the earth ponies have. I am a magical creature, female in essence whatever my origin, and I can foal and give birth—but to do so I must have a unicorn overcome me with his or her horn, while at least one pegasus seizes my wings, and then my womb is filled with earth pony semen and it is complete. Three races unifying inside me and kindling new life. That is how it is done, now and forever, for my kind…”

She paused for effect. She looked down at her little unicorn pony’s dismay, and her eyes burned.

“You will not scorn any part of this!” roared Luna, in Royal Canterlot Voice.

Lyra’s lip quivered madly, and then she burst into tears. She didn’t pull away, but she wailed her distress and cowered under Luna’s wing, and Luna let her vent her feelings, knowing that the spring-green unicorn was prone to such explosive moods. Luna also stared into space with a sour expression, for she knew that she’d unearthed a problem. If it persisted—well, perhaps seeking this greatest intimacy, this greatest celebration of mortal pony love, could still be considered. Yet, tainting it with mortal failings seemed unworthy. Some lives never reached the greatest enlightenment and had to be loved for what they were.

In that spirit, she snuggled sobbing Lyra with her enfolding wing, and waited for the tears to slow.

Gradually, they did. Lyra clung to Princess Luna as if trying to shield her from some awful fate, and fought to wrap her mind around what to her seemed a ghastly, arbitrary process unfitting to such a magical creature. Finally, she looked up at Luna, woebegone.

“I guess it’s worth it. If that’s what it takes to make an alicorn. That makes it okay. It’s so strange. I’m trying to understand, please don’t be angry with me?”

“Nay,” said Princess Luna gently.

“Huh?”

“That is not how you make an alicorn. It is not an alicorn that my womb would nurture and gestate.”

Lyra gazed up at her, pleadingly. “Then… a unicorn? Some other thing we’ve never seen before? Some magic beyond magic?”

“In a sense, poor Lyra, in a sense,” said Luna gently. “An earth pony foal. It produces an earth pony foal, Lyra. I would give birth to a simple, mortal, earth pony, quite naturally. That is the miracle of it.”

Lyra was shaking her head again. “But… but…”

“Unless you can understand this,” said Luna firmly, “it shall not be. We would ask you to consider it. Bearing an earth pony foal is creating new mortal life. It is the only way we alicorns can ever, ever touch the mortal world in that way. You cannot imagine our feelings on the matter, dear one. You plainly cannot understand in the least what a devout, soul-shaking miracle it is for one such as myself to rejoin the great tapestry of mortal ponykind and create life and love that binds me willingly to the world and draws me from the infinite to contemplate the source of all things, the root of all our lives, and be part of that when it seemed utterly lost… you cannot imagine, Lyra!”

She gulped, and continued. “And now, I cannot cease to imagine it.”

Lyra’s eyes were very wide as she gazed, stunned, into the depths of her beloved’s earnest gaze.


Pinkie Pie trotted up the path, and banged on the door with a hoof.

“We’re here! We’re here for our little pony playdate!” she called, cheerfully.

There was a little pause, and then Rainbow Dash pulled open the door. As her teeth gripped the handle, Pinkie looked fondly down at the top of Dashie’s head, noting that her mane was extremely disheveled, even shabby. Pinkie drew in a breath to ask if the foal had been keeping Rainbow busy…

Dash cringed back and Pinkie squawked in outrage. Little hooves had landed on her back, and Rock Candy dove straight over her head in his eagerness to get inside, whinnying shrilly.

“Hey!” yelled Pinkie. “Hey, mister ‘jump on Mom’! Watch it!”

He didn’t listen. He just bounced off all four hooves and did flips, beaming as he heard a sudden commotion from upstairs. Tiny hooves hit the floor and a green form with a powder-blue mane appeared at the top of the stairs, but for only a moment. Northern Spy wasn’t hanging around. With a look of extreme concentration, and to the alarm of Rainbow Dash and Applejack, Spy proceeded to run straight down the stairs as fast as she could, to Rock’s obvious delight.

“Whoa hey HEY!” yelled Applejack. Northern Spy didn’t listen, and didn’t slow down either. Just as she had the first time they’d met, she charged straight into Rock Candy and he went flying, legs flipping comically in the air.

“And where’s that high jumping now, huh, mister?” demanded Pinkie. “You know Fluttershy doesn’t like it when you let Spy do that! Oh, licorice. How’s it going, Applejack?”

“Absolutely wonderful in every way,” said Applejack staunchly. There were dark, dark circles under her eyes, and under Dash’s, and her jaw was tight as she watched the foals caper and play.

“Oh, good,” said Pinkie, and then instinctively hit the floor with hooves over her head, because her tail began twitching violently. Applejack’s and Rainbow Dash’s ears went back, and they glanced with alarm at the ceiling, but there was nothing to be seen there.

“Darn it!” said Pinkie, getting up. “It happened again! Now what could that m…”

She stopped, looking at Rock Candy. He was facing Spy, who pawed the floor with a hoof and lashed her tail, but he wasn’t watching her. He was staring past her, with an expression Pinkie had never seen before, and he wasn’t clowning around. He looked serious, solemn—awed.

Pinkie followed his gaze across the room. Rock was staring at a full-grown griffin, sitting quietly next to Granny Smith on the couch. Just for a moment, Pinkie’s mind went blank with utter panic. She nearly wet herself, couldn’t move or think.

Both the griffin, and Granny, looked very unhappy and uncomfortable.

“Applejack?” whispered Pinkie, as Spy head-butted Rock again. “What is this?”

“It’s everythin’ being fine is what it is!” snapped Applejack, tensely. “Nothin’ to worry about. New friends. Gilda here is hankerin’ to live like a pony, I figured on havin’ a lil’ tea party with us all together. You like parties, don’t ya?”

Pinkie trembled. Her tail twitched violently again. “Yes? I mean, yes, of course! Now I recognize her! We just haven’t had… ALL kinds of party guests… with the foals…”

“You don’t mind Gilda,” said Rainbow Dash encouragingly. “We’ve hung out before! This just might be a bad time to prank her. Ah ha, ha.” The laugh fell horribly flat.

Pinkie gulped. “Uh-uh. I mean, no, I wouldn’t! Oh, gosh. Are you sure everything is okay, Applejack? You’re letting Northern Spy play with, um, all your friends?”

Dash looked away. “Actually we had her napping until you showed up…”

“Forgot you was comin’,” said Applejack apologetically.

Pinkie stared at her. “But, Applejack, you don’t forget things like that! Are you okay?”

“Never better!” insisted Applejack. “Nothin’ like a nice day for gettin’ together and practicin’ a little ponyness. Wouldn’t you say, Granny? …Granny?”

Pinkie looked over, and Granny Smith was sitting, looking miserable, and glaring at the floor. She looked up resentfully at Applejack, and then visibly gave a start, and said, “Oh, sure as sh…ugarcubes an’ fine fresh apples! Yep. Right again.”

Pinkie glanced back at Applejack, and couldn’t see her face directly, but she’d raised a rear hoof for some reason. Granny looked truculent and sat stiff and straight, only her eyes moving as she looked back and forth, watching the foals play. Rock Candy was very distracted. He kept looking at the huge predator sitting on the couch next to Granny. He’d never seen a griffin before, but he seemed to know, somehow, what sort of thing she was.

Spy plowed into him again, and he careened into a table, sending a vase of flowers flying to shatter on the floor.

“Oh, be careful, Rock!” squealed Pinkie, and rushed to pick up the pieces, but Rainbow was already there, sweeping them into a neat pile with a hoof.

“Damn it, Spy, what are you, a goat?” she demanded, ruffling her wings in agitation. “What’s with the head butting and charging everywhere?”

“She do use her head,” said Applejack, “no denyin’ that. Quick, too.”

Pinkie glanced back at Granny, wanting to apologize for the loss of the vase, but the words stuck in her throat, for Granny wouldn’t look at anything. She just sat there next to Gilda, like a statue.

“I think the foals should play outside for now,” said Pinkie.

That galvanized Dash. “Right! Outside, both of you! No more breaking stuff!” She chased them out the door, Rock looking over his shoulder the whole time at Gilda. Pinkie hesitated, following them.

“Do you think all of us should come along?” she said, plainitively.

Applejack lifted her head, staring down challengingly at Pinkie, but before she could say a thing, a new voice broke in. “I think I’ll just go home,” said Gilda. “Or… you know. Back to your place, okay, Dash?”

“She’s staying at your cloud house?” squeaked Pinkie.

“Ah tole you and tole you,” said Applejack, “Gilda is learnin’ to be a pony. I guess that’s okay, Gilda, it was a charmin’ afternoon an’ good to have ya. You kin go.”

Gilda nodded. The feathers on her face were ruffled up, and she carefully didn’t look at Granny as she got to her formidable paws and talons, and walked awkwardly toward the door, obviously trying not to dig into the wood floor and damage it.

Pinkie’s eyes were wide as she watched this performance. “I’m… gonna go check on Rock!” she squeaked, and ran outside, leaving Applejack and Gilda alone with Granny.

Applejack and Gilda exchanged a glance.

“Points for trying, dude,” said Gilda. “I don’t think you get any for succeeding, today.”

“Like hell,” replied Applejack. “Don’t you give up on me now!”

That got a hint of a smile out of Granny, as Gilda shrank back, intimidated by Applejack’s boss-mare glower. “All right, all right!” said Gilda. “Um… should I wait until the ponies are gone? Or better yet, maybe you’ve got a back door I can use?”

“No,” said Applejack. “You use th’ front door like a pony. We’re gonna show this town th’ new you, an’ I will not have you skulkin’ around like that. C’mon!”

She trotted boldly out the door, her tail flicking lively, lifting her hooves high and looking around at her domain. The foals were playing with Pinkie out by the fence, while Rainbow Dash stood by, her head drooping. Apple Bloom was running up to her, calling, “Rainbow, ya seen Big Macintosh? He’s lef’ his plow just layin’ there! I was only gone for a minute!” As Applejack watched, one of the flower ponies trotted by on her way to town—Roseluck? Yes, Roseluck. She spoke to Pinkie, who gestured toward the house.

Roseluck looked over at Applejack, who began to trot forward to greet her. Then, the flower pony cowered back, looking past Applejack, her eyes wide in terror. Applejack raised a hoof, drawing in a deep breath for shouting, but it was no use: Roseluck whirled and ran back the way she came, a one-pony stampede, and Pinkie’s face fell as she watched Roseluck go.

Applejack heard the quiet padding feet coming up behind her. She didn’t dare look back, for her face had gone red, and the whole idea seemed absurd, and she was afraid she’d start to cry and could not let that happen.

“New me isn’t going over that well,” said Gilda.

“It will,” said Applejack. Her legs trembled as she stood, defiant.


As Braeburn slunk through the alley, on his way to the outskirts of Appleloosa and the awaiting plains, he heard a sound, and his ears pricked up in alarm, swiveling about.

“Who’s there?”

There was no reply.

“It won’t work,” he said, to the listening darkness. “Ah’ll git away. I’mma go and live the way I got to. Don’t know how y’all found me. You brought a set of hoof-cuffs, darlin’? ‘Cause you’ll need ‘em…”

There was a sniffle in the darkness, and Braeburn froze.

“…Princess?” he said in complete disbelief.

Slowly, a lovely form came out of the shadows, and Braeburn’s eyes widened and widened by the second.

“Princess? It is you! What the hay? Poor sweet lil’ darlin’, what’s the… wait a minute. Wait a minute!” he snapped. “If she put you up to this… Princess, did you come alone? Are you alone?”

Deep, limpid, innocent eyes gazed tragically into his. Those sweet lips parted.

“Ayep,” rumbled Big Macintosh, and his face twisted, and he wept, standing there helplessly.

Braeburn spent less than a second trying to work out if it was a trick. Princess never asked anything unreasonable and was so abjectly, pitifully grateful for everything, and Braeburn could not stand to watch him cry, and rushed forward to seize him in a fierce cowpony hug, shaking him to get some sense into him.

“Ah tole you not to tell. I tole you! Dammit! It’s like that, is it? Did they turn on you?”

Big Macintosh sobbed, nodding, melting into Braeburn’s embrace in his grief.

“Dammit, I should never have gone near Ponyville! Why din’t you listen when I tole you to keep th’ wild west th’ mild west, around them? Now I got a posse on my tail and one of my sweet lil’ fillies ain’t got no home to go back to! That’s s’posed to be the nice quiet life to take a break from, the safe place for you… how could you let ‘em catch you out? What am I gonna do now? This is terrible!”

Braeburn glowered into the darkness, and then his face hardened into a grim mask of resolve.

“Well, you ain’t. Alone, that is. Do you know why, Princess?”

“Why?” moaned Big Macintosh.

“Cos you’re comin’ with me.”

Big Macintosh gasped.

“Hope ya like th’ distant prairie?” said Braeburn, and his eyes crinkled up endearingly around the edges.