“Oh, no!” squealed Rainbow Dash, panicking. “They got her too! Princess Twilight!”


The voice came from overhead, and down came Princess Twilight herself, and she did not look pleased.

“Don’t touch that!” she ordered. “What do you want? I’m very busy, I have important things to do.”

Rainbow Dash stared, amazed. “Are you kidding? Does it not look like this is important, Twilight? Did you say you’re busy, are you fucking kidding me right n…”

She’d begun to charge Twilight, but before Dash could get in Twilight’s face she twanged to a stop, country pony teeth gripping her tail.

Applejack growled, “Stoppit!” She let go Rainbow’s tail, and glared. “Don’t you be hotheaded, Dashie! Somethin’s seriously up!”

“Oh, fine, side with Twilight at a time like this…”

“Somethin’s WRONG,” insisted Applejack. “Look at her!”

They looked at Twilight, and fell silent. Now that Applejack had drawn their attention to it, there was no doubt. Twilight Sparkle was obviously more upset and frightened than they were.

“Sweet Celestia, Twi,” said Applejack in disbelief. “What the hay is going on? Kin we help?”

Twilight shook her head, as if to clear it. “Rrgh. Ow! My head… How about you tell me what your terrible disaster is and then I’ll tell you mine? Argh…”

“Your head’s hurtin’ ya?” asked Applejack. “Do ya need to have a lil’ lie-down, sugarcube? Except this big magic thing’s keepin’ us out of your place…”

“Tell me!” screamed Twilight, and winced. She stamped the dirt, looking crazed, her wings folding and unfolding.

“Uhhh, maybe it ain’t that big a problem,” said Applejack, placatingly, as Rarity trotted over from the Carousel Boutique.

“What?” squawked Rainbow Dash. “It’s a huge problem! Fluttershy got turned into a hideous monster except this time she attacks ponies! Foals!”

Rarity gave a shriek and galloped up, confronting Dash. “Did you say Fluttershy? What’s happened to Fluttershy, Rainbow?”

Twilight twitched. “Fluttershy! Of course! That’s just the pony he’d do things to. Rainbow! Did you see Discord around at the time? Was she doing anything unusual when she got turned into a monster?”

“Wait, what? Discord? And I don’t know if you’d call it unusual, she was just fucking all the farm ponies at once!”

Twilight Sparkle’s jaw dropped. She stared at the crowd, and it was indeed nearly all the farm ponies, plus Applejack and Rainbow Dash and Rarity and Derpy—and Pinkie Pie, who was covering Rock’s ears and looked quite green.

“Only one thing can explain this amount of insanity,” she gritted.

“Yeah,” said Rainbow Dash, “epic pegasus heat, never saw anything like it. That part was awesome! But then she turned into a…”

“No!” cried Twilight. “Discord. Also known as Chaos. And his scheme is worse than I feared, and everything is at stake! It all fits, all of it!”

Rainbow laid her ears back. “That’s the scary part. Even before she changed, yikes! I’m still not sure how that fit, and I should know. I’m gonna be having nightmares though they might be also kind of exciting nightmares.”

“What happened?” pleaded Rarity, trembling with anxiety.

“Six words,” hissed Rainbow impressively. “Big Macintosh And Braeburn Double Penetration.”

“Oh my goodness,” gasped Rarity.

“But then she…”

“Shut up!” yelled Twilight, and all the ponies fell silent as she took deep breaths between her clenched teeth, fighting for control. They could see the magic crackling off her, and drew back, and shied away from her glare as she gazed out at the crowd commandingly and addressed them. “There can be only one explanation. Discord is running amok and trying to ruin everything good in Equestria. He’s taking a grotesquely sexual angle, perhaps specifically to mock me, and his acts are undermining the very structure of our lives, stripping us of all our best leaders and good examples. He’s humilated Princess Celestia and now he’s driven Fluttershy, who trusted him, to heinous and extremely improbable acts.”

She broke off and gawked at Rainbow Dash. “Did you say Big Macintosh and… Both? At ONCE? Are you telling me Big Macintosh screwed her while she was having sex with somepony else? This Big Macintosh?” She gestured with a frazzled wing at the placid Apple pony, who was even more crimson than usual with shame.

“Anally,” said Rainbow Dash. Rarity squealed in dismay. Dash pulled herself together and forced her wings down. “But then she…”

Twilight went pale lilac for a moment. “Ow!”

“Well, it was also kind of ridiculously exciting,” admitted Rainbow Dash. “But THEN she…”

“This has gone far enough!” cried Twilight. “I’ll be back and we’ll fix everything. But I have to go and conquer Discord right now, or there’s no point to any of it! I’m telling you, until we do that it’s hopeless! Don’t touch the force field! I’ll get it later. It shouldn’t hurt you. Gotta fly!”

With a leap, she rocketed off into the sky, leaving a sparkling purple trail behind her that smelled like burning tin.

Rainbow Dash’s jaw dropped. “…turned into a horrible vampire attacking ponies… oh, the heck with it.”

Rarity grabbed her, shook her. “Tell me, tell me, this instant! What has happened to my friend and yours?”

Rainbow’s eyes teared up. “But that’s just it. She’s not! She turned into that vampire monster again but way meaner, she’s not my friend anymore and not yours. And dumb stupid Twilight totally wouldn’t even listen!”

“Oh, sweet Celestia, please don’t tell me ol’ Twi is going wacky on us again…” mumbled Applejack.


Every single pony present lifted their heads. Hope came to their eyes.

Around the corner of a nearby house peeked none other than Princess Celestia. Her ears were back, and she peered huntedly up at the sky where Twilight had gone, but she stepped out into the open regardless.

She was swarmed, immediately, by hysterical and needy little ponies, and she did not hesitate to hug them, as many as she could reach, with comforting long forelegs and elegant wings.

“Princess Celestia!” cried Rainbow Dash, and Big Macintosh, and Derpy Hooves, and Fern Gully… and for a moment, Celestia was flustered just trying to hug all the frantic equines that needed soothing.

“My little ponies! Whatever is the matter? I have not seen you this distressed since parasprites invaded your town!”

“Fluttershy turned into a monster!” cried Rarity.

“And she tried to take Rock Candy!” wailed Pinkie Pie.

“And Twilight’s being a big jerk!” cried Rainbow Dash.

“And ah fucked her up the ass!” wailed Big Macintosh.

Princess Celestia stared at the scarlet stallion, dumbfounded, as awkward silence fell.

“Uhhh… Fluttershy, I mean, not Princess Twilight,” said Big Macintosh.

Celestia licked her lips, eye twitching as she tried to process the statements. “Well, I suppose we can be grateful for that…”

“Ah’m sorry!”

“I should think she was as well, reckless young pony! Good heavens! You are not standing at stud correctly, sir!” retorted Celestia, her ears laid even farther back. “Wait… was this before, or after, she turned into a monster? What sort of monster? Be clear!”

Big Macintosh held his head in his hooves, and couldn’t even answer. With a concerned look for his lover, Braeburn spoke up.

“Reckon that depends on how you look at it, Princess. Don’t read too much into that. Even before she grew them fangs and scary wings an’ stuff, Miss Fluttershy was actin’ kinda funny.”

“Explain, please,” said Princess Celestia.

“Well, I wouldn’ta believed it if I ain’t seen it with my own eyes,” said Braeburn, “but she proper went after Pr… Big Macintosh, here, and not in a good way. She taunted him, that she did. Called him not a real stallion. Tole him to ask permission from old Snowy Hocks, and her a-winkin’ at him all the while. Big Macintosh shoulda stayed to the good, but she knew what she was doin’, did Miss Fluttershy. I gave up, she were too tricky for me. She got exactly what she was lookin’ to get.”

“Anal sex from an oversized farmpony?” blurted Celestia. She winced, and added, “So they say! I mean, so my sister claimed. Not that this was a bad thing in her opinion! I… perhaps we’d better leave that alone for now. Do you mean the act Big Macintosh admitted to?”

“Naw!” said Braeburn. “Ah mean gangbangin’, real nasty-like. She called the boys together and riled them up and goaded them on and she wanted them to ruin her lil’ yellow ass, that she did! Maybe not so literal as it turned out. An’ I realize that ain’t a nice thing to say, but it weren’t a nice thing she done either, and I won’t have ya looking funny at my Princ…” His eyes went wide, and he blushed, but held Celestia’s gaze. “My Princess. Yep. This here stallion is my princess, same as he’s your stud-horse to royalty and all that fancy business. And he’s sorry and won’t do it again, and he din’t mean no harm, he jes’ lost his head on account of Miss Fluttershy played him somethin’ cruel.”

Princess Celestia blinked, her ears still laid back. “Forgive me for saying that is somewhat hard to believe. I know the pony to whom you refer, and none of this seems in character for gentle Fluttershy.”

“No, it is,” said Pinkie Pie miserably.

Celestia glanced sharply at her. “Indeed?”

“Yes,” confirmed Rarity, looking distraught. “I fear it is all too plausible. Oh, dear! I should have insisted upon monitoring the situation, guiding her as she explored these things. I am a fool! Just because she was determined and wilful does not make her a responsible practitioner!” she wailed, and was wrapped up in a hug from Derpy Hooves.

Princess Celestia was glancing back and forth between her little ponies, aghast. “Tartarus! Do you mean to tell me sweet little Fluttershy had such a dark secret, and you all knew about it? That she solicited the rough favors of a group of stallions, not as consensually as one would hope, and then turned into some sort of… did you say fangs? Ponies do not have fangs! And what is so scary about her wings? They’re very nice wings, she is a lovely pegasus pony!”

“Not any more they’re not,” blurted Rainbow Dash, “let me tell you!”

“Yes!” commanded Celestia. “Tell me everything. You are all dreadfully excited and I have seen many things in my thousands of years, and I am here to help you. What have you seen?”

Rainbow Dash was hopping up and down, excitedly.

“Dursaa got done with her and everypony cheered ‘cos she staggered off and fell over and like NOpony was able to satisfy her, she was like a pegasus volcano they were trying to put out with come, and then he did it! Except he started pulling off her mane and tail, but not really her mane and tail, the extensions, do you remember when Gabby Gums busted her for wearing a fake mane and she stayed home crying for days and Angel wouldn’t let anypony in to see her? He was so bossy! Well, Dursaa pulled off the fake mane and tail and threw them in a puddle of spooge and they like sparked and stuff like they were magic, which I guess they WERE magic, right? And we all look at her and she’s like RAAGHH and she’s like, what have you DONE? And she stretches out those creepy bat wings and she swoops down and grabs Pinkie’s foal and flies off with him!”

Princess Celestia was trying to follow the rapid, dramatic story. “Pinkie’s foal? This Pinkie Pie? Rock Candy?”

“Yeah!” squealed Rainbow Dash. “And Pinkie was running to try to grab him but she was too late, and she screamed and it was horrible and Applejack just went ‘go!’ and smacked me and I exploded out of the woods like BOOM and I caught up with her before she could get him into the clouds and suck his blood all out! And I fought her in an epic aerial battle, pony against horrible undead vampire bat thing, and she wouldn’t let go and I tried to break her wing but I couldn’t though I felt something crunch when I hit her in the back of the head, and she went to try to bite me all with the fangs and I whirled around like I was Applejack for a moment, like I had the spirit of Applejack come to me, and I kicked out and I broke one of its forelegs! And Rock fell, and I was gonna dive for him but the vampire had the same idea and I just freaked out, I was screaming and kicking it in the face and that leg was flapping around and I was too much for it! It screamed and flew off to hide, and I had like only a second to dive and catch Rock and I totally made it…”

“You broke her leg?” gasped Celestia. “And kicked her in the face?”

“It was trying to bite me!” objected Dash, ears laid back in alarm just recounting the story. “Wait, what? You know this thing?”

“Slow down!” demanded Celestia. “We are still talking about Fluttershy, aren’t we?”

That stopped Dash, as if she’d flown into a rock wall. Her wings flapped confusedly, her ears flattened. “It didn’t sound like Fluttershy. It didn’t look like Fluttershy, anymore, either. It didn’t act like Fluttershy! It attacked Rock Candy who was just minding his own business!”

Celestia turned to Pinkie, who was holding Rock. “Has he any injuries? Loss of blood, bite marks?”

Pinkie shook her head. “Not a scratch, Princess.” She looked stunned at these new details.

Dash stamped a hoof. “I’m telling you, I saw it! We all did! Suddenly there’s this bat-winged monster, pissed off, and it lets out a scream that will haunt my nightmares, all fangs and teeth and stuff, and it jumps and GRABS and it flies right off with…”

“Her foal,” finished Princess Celestia, grimly.

For a moment, nopony said anything.

Celestia sighed. “My little ponies, this may be complicated and difficult. Would that I had known this poor creature’s secret! Perhaps I may have helped, but she did not trust me with it.”

Pinkie Pie’s voice quavered, though she tried to hold it together. “Yeah, she’s good at that… not trusting the ponies that love her.”

Rainbow Dash’s face was twisting in distress. “But it… okay, Fluttershy NEVER had teeth like that, or scary glowing pink eyes. If you saw how MAD she was, oh my gosh, I just knew she was gonna eat the kid. If she had been there I know she would have wanted me to kick that monster’s… actually, no, Fluttershy always tries to protect monsters, doesn’t she?”

Applejack gulped. “Yep. Even them vampire fruit bats. Those DAMN vampire fruit bats!”

Princess Celestia blinked. “But, dear Applejack, those eat apples! Luna and I would have interceded in some way if they were carnivorous, but they cannot digest pony blood! What you think is impossible, pray do not blame the innocent vampire fruit bats! They are just part of life when you live near the Everfree Forest, as you do!”

Rainbow Dash, face tragic, was still thinking out loud. “This explains how she beat up Gilda, though. And scared that dragon. And the kids, the Crusaders, they said she faced down a cockatrice once, and nopony can do that, the thing even got Twilight before she made it turn all its victims back! And she just would not let us chase away the vampire fruit bats, I’ll never forget that. Wow. It’s like Fluttershy has been like this all along, and never told anypony!”

“Faced down a cockatrice?” pressed Princess Celestia. “And is not Gilda the griffon who visited Ponyville and caused some upheaval, so I hear?”

“An’ she survived a really tough foaling,” added Applejack, “we thought she was dead for a while there!”

Princess Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “She was. Hmmm.”

“What do we DO, Princess Celestia?” pleaded Pinkie, with a curious soft earnestness that caught everypony’s attention. The party pony had no bounce left in her. She held her colt tightly in maternal forelegs, and looked imploringly up at her Princess, trusting her to have the answers, because that was what Princesses were for. They were for saving the day when things got too scary, or hurt too badly.

Celestia gazed off into space, frowning. “Please listen carefully, my little ponies. It is of the highest importance that you do.”

Slightly pale, Dash saluted her Princess. “Got it!” she said, and listened really hard.

“From everything you tell me, your Fluttershy is an undead creature with many dark powers, who has clearly been fighting towards the good in all the time that I have known her. I do not remember seeing her in previous centuries, so I feel she must have been created, or turned, within your lifetimes. I don’t know when the change occurred, but she plainly has fought it.”

“I’m pretty sure she wasn’t a bloodsucking monster with fangs when we were fillies in flight camp together,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Sh! Perhaps not,” said Princess Celestia. “She apparently had magical aids that helped her control her appearance and perhaps, her dark impulses. Those are now lost to her. Oh, my little ponies! Please be careful, be cautious. Fell creatures can be overcome by their dark urges. She may have felt herself slipping, tried to resist it. Her words, ‘what have you done’, are ominous.”

Pinkie Pie was shaking her head, tears coming to her eyes, fighting to retain her composure.

“I swear to you, I will do everything I can to bring your Fluttershy back,” vowed Celestia, “but it is not possible to know what she is now, without study. You must be cautious, and you will know her by her choices, not her impulses. Does she follow the dark impulses, or the light? Did she perhaps give up fighting towards the good impulses? From the sound of it she is a terrifying and dangerous creature, at least in potential. It is very difficult to kill a vampire. They do not heal naturally, for they’re dead, though I believe they can eventually mend themselves: she would have slowly done this after her pregnancy and difficult foaling. Had you, Rainbow, broken her wing, I feel confident that she would be grounded for some time. The injuries you did inflict will not have killed or threatened her but may have impeded her: for instance, she won’t be able to pick up any local foals and carry them off, with a broken foreleg.”

Rainbow gagged, remembering. That was true and yet she’d tried anyhow, frantic desperation in her eyes, until Rainbow’s frenzied attack had driven her away. “D… does it hurt? Do they hurt, these vampires?” she managed, feeling sick.

Princess Celestia fixed her with a very old, very wise, very stern gaze.

“Do not dwell on it, Rainbow Dash. We cannot know whether your actions were tragically misguided, or saved the life of Fluttershy’s and Pinkie Pie’s foal.”

“Colt!” squeaked Rock Candy, his ears perked in horrified, fascinated interest.

“Colt, then,” said Princess Celestia directly to him. “Young fellow, you are to stay with your m… with specifically your Pinkie Pie mother, until we know more. Do you understand? If your mother Fluttershy tries to lure you somewhere away from other ponies, seek help! Stay where it’s safe. We are going to get her back but she may be very sick right now and you must trust that we will try to make her better, Rock Candy.”

He nodded, wide-eyed. Pinkie cuddled him, her face rigid, her jaw too tense.

“Do ya think you can do it, Princess?” said Applejack.

Celestia didn’t reply at once. She sighed, and hesitated, and said, “We know her as a kind and peaceful creature who is impossibly good. She’s gone to great lengths to cling to that. Did it… break? If it did break, did it break all at once? Please, please, do not be incautious if you encounter her again, ponies. I feel mostly confident that I could handle anything she attempted to do, but I cannot predict her reaction to current events.” She shuddered. “If it were me, I am not sure I would be quite sane. We cannot assume her cooperation, now that she is stripped of her mask and stands revealed as a very serious threat.”

“Flies,” said Dash. “She’s not going to be standing too well, right now.”

Celestia glanced sharply at her. “Yes, thank you, Rainbow. So, add injury, great pain, and frustration at being deprived of either her only foal… or her prey. We can but hope our Fluttershy does not react by going to extremes.”

Dursaa, who’d been silently weeping, cleared his throat. “If only I could hope for that! It seems, my Fluttershy goes only to extremes.”

Princess Celestia raised her head, standing and calling out to all ponies within earshot. “Hear me! I call upon Ponyville to care for and protect Fluttershy’s mate Pinkie Pie, and her foal Rock Candy, both from physical threat and by comforting them through their grief during this difficult, painful time. It is rare that such a tragedy occurs, but I promise you that I will try to find and heal the poor creature if it is within my power to do so. Until that time, be cautious, and be safe!”

“You got it, Princess Celestia!” cried Applejack. “You heard her, ponies! You’re gonna watch for vampire Fluttershy and keep her away from Pinkie an’ Rock, but don’t hurt her! We’re gonna bring her back so Princess Celestia can work on her. If the Princesses can’t fix her up, ain’t nopony can! I got a good mind to go off and lasso her myself. We’ll get her back and we’ll fix her!”

Rainbow Dash jumped and flew a loop-de-loop. “I’ll go fly search patterns! Um. Except she might be scared of me now since I totally kicked her ass which was more than Gilda could do but maybe not such a good thing… Maybe I can scout her out and somepony else can go and get her if I find her?”

Rarity glared tearfully at her. “Indeed! Rainbow Dash, your pugnacious attitude was never so ill-advised! How could you injure our poor, sweet, timid Fluttershy?”

“Hey! You didn’t see her, obviously! It was bad, really bad!”

“Yeah,” said Applejack. “Rarity, you got to take my word for it, she turned into… well, some of us have seen it. Big fangs, bat wings, real scary, real mad… I can’t blame Rainbow, ‘specially when she grabbed a foal an’ took off. We all ‘bout dropped horse-apples just seein’ it. The important thing is to straighten this mess out, not fight more, okay?”

Rarity pouted. “Very well. But of all the ponies to bludgeon and harm! Not for fun, I mean,” she hastily added.

“You didn’t see her,” repeated Applejack. She glared around at the farm ponies. “Point is, it stops now! We’re gettin’ the old Fluttershy back, and no more bloodsuckin’ monsters and no more draggin’ off the boys of Sweet Apple Acres! The crazy stops here.”

“Well said,” added Princess Celestia.

Applejack scuffed at the dirt with a hoof. “Now… speakin’ of crazy, what about Twilight?” she said. “What’s this big ball of magic with Golden Oaks stuck in it, and why’s she got to be such a pain in th’… neck?”

Celestia blinked, her ears laid back. “Ah. Indeed,” she said, and studied the glowing sphere of force. “Hm. Certainly Twilight’s.” She prodded it gently with a hoof, and jumped back when it sparked. “Strong! My goodness.”

“Kin ya bust it? Dashie was fixin’ to borrow a Daring Do book from her,” said Applejack.

Celestia’s eyes widened. “No! Please don’t try to interfere with this magic, ponies. Twilight is… well… how shall I put this?”

“Crazy?” suggested Rainbow Dash.

“No, no!” protested Celestia. “Not as such. That said, if you could give her some space and not interfere while she works things out… Princess Twilight is going through a difficult phase, akin to alicorn adolescence. We all went through it, in our respective ways. I remember a time when I alphabetized an entire library not by title, but by the initial words of the text, in the belief that ponies would recognize that more easily.”

“So, totally batshit crazy?” guessed Rainbow Dash.

“Indeed not!” argued Celestia. “I put it back, I’ll have you know! And then all the librarians forgave me and returned to work. My point is that you must be patient with Princess Twilight Sparkle, and help her make this adjustment. Try to be understanding. Please don’t confront her on things like this sphere of raw magical force. I’ll raise the issue politely at an appropriate time, which I hope will be forthcoming at some point.”

“Is it dangerous?” asked Applejack, eyeing the vast sphere suspiciously.

“Not to you, Applejack, though I would not suggest kicking it! I strongly recommend that no unicorns exert their magic in attempts to breach this sphere,” said Princess Celestia. “I do not think it will be dangerous to you unless you are dangerous to it, just like its creator.”

“Twi’s dangerous?” gasped Applejack. “I won’t say I ain’t seen it comin’ but this is bad news for us! And mighty sad, besides!”

“No!” snapped Celestia, and screwed her eyes shut as if she had a headache, pressing an elegant hoof to her forehead. “I’m sorry, Applejack, I didn’t mean to shout. But please, trust me, will you? Trust, and love, is what will get you through this.”

“I’m sorry too, Princess! It’s okay, I know we must drive any Princess to distraction now and then,” admitted Applejack.

“And don’t give up on ponies just because they’re frightening, or going through difficult times,” urged Celestia. “I understand this is difficult. Poor Fluttershy is in serious trouble, and Princess Twilight has her own struggles to contend with: I may say I am grateful to not be burdened with them anymore, but I remember those days with dreadful vividness. Stay safe, and call for me if you locate Fluttershy. And let me know if this magic forcefield changes. Twilight has something in here that must be very important and I wish she would trust me a little more than this, but I will have to take the initiative by trusting her with it, first.”

All the ponies nodded solemnly, agreeing to love and trust and do their best. Pinkie trembled, but set her jaw and lifted her chin, determined to hang in there for her friends and for Rock.

Rarity blinked, struck by a thought. “Princess Celestia, how did you know to come and help us? You are so wonderful. We appreciate all that you’re doing beyond measure and you are indeed helping us, but how did you know?”

At that, Celestia dropped her gaze, scratching at the ground awkwardly with a forehoof.

“Oh, ah… ‘twas my good fortune, to be sure! Yet all the same, I knew no such thing,” admitted the Princess. “It was simply an errand that brought me to Ponyville today. I’m here to pick up… ah… Apples!”

Rarity boggled politely at her. “Apples? Really?”

Applejack’s eyes bugged out, followed shortly by Rainbow’s. “Yep! Sure as shhhhh… ugarcubes and cute lil’ ponies! We got your APPLES for ya down at the farm, Princess, you just come right this way!”

The crowd of ponies dispersed, Applejack and Rainbow galloping back home gleefully, followed by a grateful and blushing Princess who didn’t speak to them again until they were inside Sweet Apple Acres and private.

“Thank you, my little ponies,” she then said. “Your discretion is much appreciated! Now, Applejack, I believe I was here to borrow something, as we’d discussed? Assuming it is not an inconvenient time to do so? Pray don’t disrupt your plans on my account.”

“Naw,” said Applejack, “it’s fine! I can go fetch it in a jiffy, long’s you don’t mind a, heh heh, bit of indecency while I do! I suppose you’re gonna carry it around with your horn.”

“She doesn’t have to!” protested Dash. “It’s totally okay if she wants to carry it in her teeth. Totally. Noooo problem with that, at all.”

“Hush, Dashie,” suggested Applejack, wryly. “I’m sure your wings got no problem with that situation, neither.”

Rainbow blushed and tried to lower her wings, which were sticking up with great eagerness. “Sorry. I tried!”

Celestia chuckled, richly. “Ah, you two! In truth all you Element Bearers are indeed close to royalty. Perhaps a bit too close, you naughty girls! I don’t blame you for trying, Rainbow, but please allow me to do this discreetly. It is, I fear, an awkward situation, and my choices might not meet with the approval of ALL my subjects.”

“You’re tellin’ me!” said Applejack. “You sure got a forgivin’ heart, Princess. Everypony was talkin’ about how Discord done you wrong!” Her eyes widened as she realised what she’d said. “Uh… so I hear!”

“I’m sure you did,” said Celestia. “And it is not just the opinions of random townsponies with which I am concerned. I doubt I have to spell it out, but I shall anyhow: until we can settle Princess Twilight down, please do not gossip about my love-life. I know she does not approve of my relationship with Chaos, and she certainly would not smile upon my… experimenting.”

Rainbow Dash let out a little squee of glee, and then blushed and scuffed the floor with her hoof. Applejack smirked at her. Princess Celestia smiled fondly on them both.

“I may have some searching to do,” she said, “for Chaos’s exact whereabouts remain unclear, but I am of a mind to pursue the gentler side of royalty… and comfort my soul with another kind of beauty that is yet related to the pony heart. Well, um… pony parts, I’ll just say. Goodness, I feel younger than I have in thousands of years. Frisky!”

Dash couldn’t stop grinning, and her wings were hopelessly stuck in the fully erect position. She bounced on her hooves, and squeaked, “Go get ‘im, Princess Celestia! Woo!”

Celestia was blushing scarlet, and couldn’t meet their eyes or stop smiling at the floor. “Her,” she corrected, bashfully.

“Oh, great,” grumbled Applejack, “now we even know HOW you’re gonna do it…”

“Awesomely!” insisted Dash, bouncing. “Can I…”

“No!” said both Applejack and Princess Celestia at the same time, and Dash deflated. “Awwww…”

“You are a wilder animal than even a vampire pony,” accused Applejack.

“And proud of it!”

“Is that all right?” asked Celestia, worriedly. “Please, right now I need to maintain discretion. I’ve probably told you too much as it is, but it seemed only fair…”

Applejack hastened to reassure her. “Of course it is! However you like it, Princess. We’ll do everything we can to help you find your love, and we won’t tell a soul. Will we, Rainbow?”

“No way! I’ll never tell. If you want to be sneaky, I bet you can be the sneakiest Princess ever!”

“Heh!” snorted Applejack. “Somethin’ like that. Princess, we’re on your side just as much as you’re on ours. Jes’ know that, okay?”

Princess Celestia gazed gratefully upon her little conspirators. “I do know it. Thank you…”

“What do YOU want?” demanded Pinkie Pie.

“My motive should not take too long to tell,” said Dursaa placatingly. “It’s only to ensure that you are well.”

“Oh, really?” snapped Pinkie, tartly. “Fine. We’re terrific! Beat it.”

Dursaa hesitated. “The evening’s a thief: stole comfort, left grief.”

“Mooooom!” wailed Rock Candy, from up in his room.

Pinkie went chalk white, and charged up the stairs in a panic. She felt the stairs shaking behind her, as she burst into the bedroom, to see: Rock, sitting up in bed, crying.

“Make Princess Celestia come back!” he sobbed.

“Aw, sweetie, I… YOU!”

Dursaa blinked uncomfortably, looming in the doorway. Pinkie whirled on him. “You get out of here, buster! You don’t want to see what can happen when Pinkie opens up a can of frosting on your…”

“No!” squeaked Rock desperately, and Pinkie stopped, and looked back at her foal.

He sniffled. “Make him stay here!”

Pinkie gaped, her jaw dangling. “Buh. Are you kidding me?”

“Uh-uh,” said Rock in a little voice.

Pinkie’s whole body twitched in sheer rebellion. “WHY?”

“Cos Mama was mad. An’ turned into a big monster! An’ I’m scared. An’… an’ you always do what Mama want,” said Rock Candy.

Pinkie’s heart pounded, and she had no answer for her little colt, none at all. Behind her, Dursaa spoke.

“Pinkie Pie, this is the thing that stops the child from slumbering?”

She screwed her eyes shut, fighting back tears, calling on outrage. As she did, the interloper stepped forward, addressing her kid.

“Little one, the night did not bring you delight. But you are safe at home—don’t toss or turn or roam—turn your attention, please, to making little Zs.”

Rock blinked. “Are you gonna protect me? ‘Cos if Mama tried to eat me…” he said, and his face twisted in woe, “…other Mama might let her.”

“Never,” choked out Pinkie, trembling. “No, Rock. You come first. Never.”

Dursaa glanced at her worriedly, and turned to Rock.

“Believe your mother, young Rock Candy. If I may, I will stay handy. May your little brow unfurrow—lay your head upon your pillow and make small Zs the whole night through, while big Z watches over you.”

Rock glanced at Pinkie. She bit her lip, and nodded, her jaw tight. “This once,” she said. “But we’re gonna have to have a talk, mister. Since I can’t get Princess Celestia back for you, this big ugly male will have to do.”

“You talked like him!” said Rock.

“Somewhat, my little lad,” remarked Dursaa in his deep, rumbling voice. “Her scansion’s very bad.”

Pinkie gritted her teeth, and a glint lit her eyes. “Oh, that bugs you, does it?”

“Please let him stay!” begged Rock.

Pinkie sighed. “I already said I would, buster! Come on, you. Downstairs. It’s gonna be a long night.”

Dursaa coughed, clearing his throat. He and Pinkie had been sitting at the kitchen table in silence, staring at each other and listening to the sounds of nothing outside. Pinkie’s ear twitched forward. It begins, she thought.

“Pinkie Pie, please do forgive me my longing for Fluttershy’s favors,” he began, elegaically. “I meant her well, but my love proved to shatter, not savor…”

“No shit it did,” said Pinkie, bitterly. “Good job! Gold star!”

He shuddered. “All I can offer is heart, soul and all of my Zebra devotion. Please let me do what I can to soothe all this commotion.”

Pinkie’s eye glinted.

“There once was a zebra named Dursaa, who thought he was good but was worse-a. He fucked a nice mare, and pulled out her hair, and now she goes round in a hearse-a.”

Dursaa cringed. “Please…”

“Oh, you can talk like a pony, huh?”

He pulled himself together. “It is respect that I show by expressing my words to you, Pinkie! I have committed myself to the love of this family!”

Pinkie’s eyes gleamed with a mad, despairing mischief. “There once was a pony named Pinkie, who gave herself furiously to thinkie. Then some big old clod gave her sweetie the rod, which she thinks is insufferably stinkie.”

Dursaa’s eyes teared up. “I hoped to save my beloved from her dark despair and destruction. What can you say that hurts worse than my failing this function?”

Pinkie’s teeth gleamed as she went in for the kill.

“There once was a big stripey thug, whose face was both stupid and smug. He played the big hero but was really a zero and honestly he ruined all of our lives so completely that he should be fucking well ashamed of himself and as much as I’d like to clobber Fluttershy for starting all this horribleness, if he doesn’t shut the hell up he’s the one I’m totally going to…”

Dursaa cringed back again. Pinkie was glaring at him from a few inches away, breath hissing between her teeth, brandishing a pink hoof as if she was indeed inches away from slugging him. Tears came to his eyes.

“…hug?” he said, lip quivering dreadfully.

Pinkie blinked. “What?”

The huge, hulking stallion sniffled. “Please?”

“But this is all your fault!” screeched Pinkie.

“I know, and it hurts so bad,” quavered Dursaa, the deep voice choking up. “I love her, Pinkie Pie. I love her.”

Pinkie Pie stared in astonishment, her vindictive anger draining away. He was wrong: it really hadn’t been his fault, and she knew it. He was just one of the males Fluttershy had gone after, and the only one who seemed to be all that torn up about the outcome.

“That… makes two of us,” said Pinkie Pie.

She wondered for a second what Fluttershy would have her do, if she wasn’t permanently an evil bloodsucking monster. The answer wasn’t difficult. Pinkie took a few deep breaths, reached up and hugged the big stripy stallion. Whatever else was ruined, it seemed like the guy was just another sad brokenhearted pony mourning the loss of Fluttershy. He was far from the only one who’d been screwing her, and she’d been trying to make that situation as ugly as possible, which apparently he’d been resisting. And a fat lot of good it had done him, too. Neither she nor he were able to stop Fluttershy’s downward spiral.

Dursaa stood the hug for a few seconds, trying to maintain a degree of dignity, trying to weep silently and keep a stiff upper lip. It lasted about as long as it took for Pinkie to do what Fluttershy would always do in that situation, pet his mane with a gentle hoof and murmur, “There there” in his ear. She even sort of meant it, though part of her was saying it to herself, desperately trying to tell herself things were going to be okay.

He broke. Suddenly he was bawling, nuzzling her neck like a foal, and all that haughty maleness and attitude melted away leaving Pinkie Pie awash in a surge of emotion: raw, earnest, and very sincere grief. Dursaa’s defenses were gone. There was only the intensity of his lonely longing, the vulnerability of a romantic soul who’d worshipped his object of desire from afar and then, in reaching out to win her, saw both his hopes and an innocent life destroyed. It was hard to tell which hurt him worse. Pinkie would’ve guessed that it was entirely his selfish lusts being balked, but her Sense insisted that assumption was extremely unfair.

“I tried to do right and make her my own, my wife!” he sobbed. “I thought I could give her safety, a home, my life!”

“Get in line,” muttered Pinkie, trying to hug away his torrent of emotion.

He gulped, screwing his eyes shut. His body shook, racked with sobs, and she comforted him as best she could as he cried, the big strong zebra stallion hurt beyond his ability to endure. It was hard to see him as a ghastly raping male-monster when he was crying so hard. He was trying to keep it down, so Rock upstairs wouldn’t be troubled, and it only made him more piteous in his grief.

Then he pulled back for a moment, gazing at her. “Pinkie Pie so fair… you are wondrous beyond compare.”

“Don’t you even think of trying to do that stuff to me,” she informed him icily. “I am mare ONLY, buddy…”

“No, no!” he blurted. He shook his head. “I didn’t mean that. I know how you are. This Zebra is far from suggesting a touch that might mean not so much: and though you are fair I love only one mare.”

“Then why butter me up?” demanded Pinkie. As Dursaa drew a breath, she hastily added, “And no rhymes!”

He blinked. “N… no rhymes?”

“I want you to think about what you’re saying,” said Pinkie Pie. “Answer me.”

Dursaa took a deep breath.

“Y… you are wondrous because you have been with Fluttershy all this time. All this time caring for her though it can’t have gone well, faithfully bearing what must have been lesbian h… uhh… horribleness? I know you love her. And I knew when she tried to arrange her mating with all the stallions, that it must have been torturous for you. Yet you stood by her, supporting her even as she made tragic mistakes you could not evade…”

Pinkie’s eyes glittered with unwelcome tears. “Probably about time you stopped answering, okay?”

“No, listen!” insisted Dursaa. “Not all ponies have the heart of a zebra. They seem so uncaring, they cannot sacrifice, you see it in their choices and it’s buried in their eyes and when you love a precious mare and long to bring her joy, you cannot bear to see her treated as a hapless toy. And this I had to witness for she sought that very fate, and though I tried to rescue her my efforts were too late: I hoped her troubled soul would heal when once I pledged my heart, and got a bitter ending in the place of my new start.”

“Fuck you and your start and your stupid zebra rhyming…” managed Pinkie, trying to look away, but Dursaa’s eyes were deep pools of sympathy that she couldn’t avoid.

“It was a start for her and I and you,” he said gently. “For all the things that loving familes do. I never sought to take that mare away: I hoped to bring a newer, brighter day where she could put aside her dark winter and love herself as we all so love her. I do not know if she can be redeemed: her terrifying transformation seemed not welcome to herself and that dire fall seems the unfairest tragedy of all. I don’t know where our darling can be found, in sky or on the earth or underground, and though I’d give my life to set her free, that choice is not available to me…”

“What are you trying to tell me here?” protested Pinkie, tearing up. “Celestia knows I tried!”

“One special pony knows EXACTLY how I feel inside,” he said unsteadily.

Pinkie stared at him in shock, and her feelings resonated with everything he’d said: the yearning to give poor Fluttershy a home and love and a sense of security, the fear she wouldn’t be able to get through Fluttershy’s darkness, the desperate urge to give anything to spare her from the terrible fate she seemed to seek out and assign herself…

Then, she was weeping hysterically, and it was Dursaa’s forelegs holding her tight. There wasn’t a trace of wrong feeling about it: she didn’t think for a second he was trying to seduce her. He was crying again too, but his hug was so strong, wrapping around her as if he was a mighty oak to shelter her from the storms of life, as he’d wished to do for Fluttershy. Pinkie bawled, melting into his hug in anguish as she rode out her feelings over what had happened to her beloved. She’d just about accepted the idea of losing Fluttershy to stallions in hopes at least that would make the poor thing happy, and it had gone so much worse than that for everyone.

Dursaa comforted her, just as she’d comforted him.

Eventually, they cried themselves out. The evening was quiet: they might have welcomed the sound of scary bat wings on the night, unsure if their beloved pony retained any shred of herself, but there was no such noise breaking the silence. Upstairs, Rock Candy slept, for he’d had an exhausting day and he’d decided that Pink Mama and the big zebra guy were enough to keep him safe. And so they were.

Pinkie sniffled. “There once was a zebra comrade…”

Dursaa lifted an eyebrow, a fretful look coming over his stripey face.

“…he wasn’t so bad,” concluded Pinkie Pie.

Dursaa hugged her again, wordlessly.

“How are we going to move on? Are you really gonna… would you really try to help me, and Rock? Even though I’m not your kind of mare? I can’t help it,” said Pinkie. “Just like Fluttershy couldn’t help being how she was. I’ll always love her, and she’s gone now. The light went out of the world, Dursaa, and it’s not coming back.”

“That light survives,” said Dursaa, stubbornly. “Somewhere, she thrives.”

“I tried to believe it. Her darkness was too strong. It won.”

“Care for your young colt, as you must do. I will do my best to care for you,” said Dursaa. “Don’t give up so easily, so soon. Fluttershy’s brave spirit, you’ll impugn.”

Pinkie turned to look at him, and her expression wrung his heart. She was exhausted, her curls drooping, the sparkle gone from her blue eyes. “You don’t understand,” she said softly. “I tried so hard. I tried to help her fight her darkness. It was useless. She’s not even alive, Dursaa. Something got her and ever since then she’s been hating herself to death and I couldn’t save her. I don’t know if she’s Fluttershy anymore. Neither does Princess Celestia. I have a very bad feeling about all this.”

Dursaa stuck out his lower lip. “Love will conquer all this grief and strife. She will be returned to love and life.”

Helplessly, Pinkie looked at her strange new ally, who’d turned up with such ponylike loyalty and caring, just when all was lost. She tried to summon up hope so she could agree with him. Instead of hope, she got Pinkie Sense, and a horrible premonition that it wasn’t as simple as he suggested. For an instant, she glimpsed both herself and Dursaa, standing over Fluttershy’s ruined body, together in crushing grief…

“…maybe,” said Pinkie Pie.

Dursaa hugged her again, and the night dragged on.