“Is this awesome or what?” said Northern Spy. “Now come over here and let me do you. We’re a team!”

Rock Candy’s eyes were very wide. He trembled, and he didn’t move the slightest bit toward eager Spy, the newly Fanged Streak.

“What,” he said.

“Turn you into a vampire too, dummy!” snapped Spy impatiently. “I can feel it’s doing stuff that probably makes all spooky powers to do amazing things. Let’s both find out!”

Rock shook his head, screwing his face up. “No, I mean…”

“Whaddya mean, Rock?” said Spy, in sudden quietness.

“I’m just trying to say that…”

“You’re not… failing to be awesome, are ya?” goaded Spy. She stamped the ground with a forehoof.

Rock Candy knew he only had a moment. Northern Spy wasn’t patient at the best of times, and he did not like the tiny green filly’s tone of voice. He thought frantically, and then he threw it over to his deepest instincts, and heard himself speak—and he sounded angry, and—disappointed?

“I thought there was more to my name than that, Green Streak.”

Spy blinked. “Huh? What’s your problem, Rock?”

“I thought I was the Rock Lobster. To you,” he accused.

Spy sat on her little rump, perplexed. “Since when are you not? I still don’t understand what it means. You’re weird!”

“You do know what it means. We’re a team. Our whole mission is because you know what it means. Green Streak, you trust my instincts.”

Spy considered this. “Well, yeah. You could sense the presence of the tiny monsters that are coming into town! I still can’t, though it’s like I can hear their littlest motions now. And their noises make better sense,” she said. Her ears quirked, as she considered her own remark.

“I can sense many things with my Pinkie Powers,” asserted Rock. “I don’t always understand what they mean, but I have mysterious gifts, Streak.” His heart was hammering like a scared rabbit’s.

“Now we can make those gifts bigger and more creepy and awesome!” said Spy. “I bet it won’t hurt much, I think these teeth are real sharp now. So what do you say?”

“But I already told you,” said Rock.

Spy blinked. “This is you being weird again, right?”

“You said, is this awesome or what,” accused Rock. “I told you. It’s what. It is not awesome, and please don’t come any closer to me right now.”

He flinched then, as Spy banged the floor of their secret base with her hoof.

“This is NOT how this is supposed to go! I thought we were a team, Rock!”

“Of course we are,” soothed Rock. “We’re always gonna be heroes! I just need you to say that you’ll leave me the way I am. You know! The Rock Lobster, with the spooky Pinkie Sense, and totally not as amazing as you but I have my moments…”

“But we can fix that!” urged Spy, her eyes too bright. “Maybe you won’t ever be as fast as me, but we can share this!”

“Mom wouldn’t like it.”

“She’s a vampire herself!” scoffed Northern Spy.

“Fluttershy would be really mad,” said Rock. “She’d be really mad at me and she’d say I shouldn’ta. But I didn’t mean her.” He twitched, uneasily.

“Are you gonna side with me, your partner in superheroes,” protested Spy, “or are you gonna side with Moms? I can’t believe you’re siding with Moms, Rock! Are you kidding me?”

“How did it happen?” retorted Rock. “I can’t believe you want to do this and you don’t even know how it happened to you!”

“Do so!”

“Well, then?”

Northern Spy’s eyes, which had begun to light up in an eerie way with her anger, dimmed. She looked down, and scuffed the floor with a forehoof. “Okay, kinda. I felt so funny hunting those tiny monsters. They look like monster bunnies! I picked that one up to put it in the sack, and that’s when I noticed my teeth were funny. Do you think it… made this happen?” She shook herself. “Which is AWESOME and how dare you refuse to come be this way with me! Seriously, Rock? You gotta!”

Rock Candy began to feel his Sense kick in, harder and harder, and he let it guide him. “I don’t know, Spy…”

“The Green Streak!” demanded Spy, trembling.

“I don’t know, Streak,” said Rock, placatingly. “Does that mean they’re vampire bunnies? You caught it from them?”

“Well, how can I tell that?” snapped Spy. “The one I caught didn’t even have a head! How’s it supposed to have fangs if it has no head, Rock? Huh?”

“Did it make the awful noises?” pressed Rock. “Is that how you found it?”

For a moment, Spy looked haunted, and very small, like the filly she was. “Yeah. Yeah, it was making the noises. Even though it didn’t have a head. That didn’t stop it. So gross. That wasn’t a happy bunny I caught, Rock.”

Rock nodded. “Happy bunnies always seem to have heads,” he said, and then winced at how dumb a remark it was.

Spy didn’t seem to hold it against him. Her eyes flashed again. “We need to catch the rest of them! Power that great cannot be left to headless screaming bunnies, Rock Lobster! We’ve got to round up every last one of the monsters before they…” and she hesitated.

“Oh yeah?” said Rock. “Sounds dangerous.”

Spy drew herself up proudly. “The Green Streak laughs at danger!”

“I guess you can laugh even more at danger now,” suggested Rock. “On the other hand, it’s gonna be really awkward explaining this to your Mom, even if we don’t also have to explain me to MY Mom at the same time.”

Spy bared her teeth, and the little fangs flashed in the light. “It wasn’t my fault! They can’t be mad at me for that, I was just superheroing! How was I supposed to know it was a vampire bunny when it didn’t even have teeth or a head? Or that just touching it would… would…”

“I know,” soothed Rock, keeping as far back from his tiny, irate, vampiric filly friend. “That’s totally unfair.”

“Totally!” insisted Spy.

“The thing is, we might have to deal with it anyway. Do you know any way of not being a vampire anymore, Spy? ‘Cos I think your Mom’s gonna be mad. I’m just saying.”

“So what?” retorted Spy, defiantly.

“Right!” said Rock, keeping his distance. “Who cares what Moms think when it comes to superheroing? But it’s gonna change our plans, Spy. Okay? I think we have to assume you’re in trouble. Really big trouble, if we can’t put it back. Do you understand the trouble you’re in, Spy?”

Spy snorted, kicking the ground. She didn’t answer, and it was more alarming than all her raving. Something had got under her skin with that question. It seemed to be a really, really bad question, somehow.

“I’m serious!” protested Rock. “I don’t think we can just keep going as we were. I have a feeling they’re really going to freak out. That’s why I asked if you knew how to de-vampire yourself! If you can’t, I think your Mom’s gonna be really, really mad.”

Spy snorted again. She wouldn’t look up. She refused to consider the idea.

“Don’t you understand?” begged Rock, his heart pounding again.

No reply.

Then, Northern Spy did slowly look up, and for a long moment she just looked at him… and her eyes looked like the monsters sounded, when they screamed their agony in the night.

She licked her lips, for her mouth had gone bone dry.

“Rock? I think I’m… dead.”

He couldn’t speak, couldn’t look away. No uncanny vampiric force held him. Just love.

“I didn’t ask to be dead,” she continued unsteadily. “I can tell that’s what this is. I feel so cold. I don’t think I can stop being a vampire now. Won’t I just be… dead?”

Rock whimpered, his heart wrung, watching the torment of his very best friend.

Northern Spy tried to give a brave little smile, to hang on to that bravado and courage.

“W…” she began, and choked, her eyes stinging as tears attacked. She pressed on, defiantly.

“What more… can my Mom even do to me?”

Northern Spy’s lip quivered. Her face twisted.

The last thing she saw before her vision was blinded by tears was her faithful Rock Candy, charging over to wrap her in a tight, comforting embrace.

Rock clung to her fiercely, as if the ferventness of his hug could take the pain away. There were no words. Northern Spy’s small green body shook, and her little blue tail thrashed as emotion flooded her. She wept in silence, or tried very hard to—faint cries of anguish seemed to force their way out, against all her efforts. Rock clasped her even closer, allowing her to muffle her wails against his soft white fur, its pristineness stained with her tears.

He wasn’t sure what else he was supposed to do, but he was sure that the danger had passed: for him, anyway. The danger hadn’t passed Spy. It’d got her. Her body seemed to be sucking warmth out of him, and he wrapped himself around her as best he could, trying to ward off the chill, though it was too late. She shuddered and sobbed, inconsolable, struggling the whole time not to make a sound.

Endless time seemed to pass. Rock let it.

Eventually, he felt Spy’s head stir against him. She was looking up, and he met her gaze. It was an unforgettable gaze, drenched in tears but strangely undefeated. And yet, Northern Spy seemed to have something left to say, something very important, more important than the coolness and awesomeness she so fiercely clung to.

“I’m s… sorry,” said Northern Spy, miserably.

“It’s okay,” said Rock.

“Shyeah, right!” sniffled Spy. “Nothing’s okay!”

“No, I mean, you didn’t bite me,” said Rock. “And you’re not going to, my Sense says the danger passed.” He blinked, and gave a twitch. “Um. Are you going to bite me?”

Spy made a face. “No way. It would be bad for you, so bad. This is so bad, Rock… It would be so horrible, so wrong. I’m sorry.”

Rock hesitated, then asked it. “So how come you tried so hard to talk me into it?”

The little green filly face contorted again with pain and grief, shame dragging her eyes down, and when she looked up at him again it was with an unmistakable Northern Spy angry sullen honesty. She’d never bothered to lie about things she could just brazen out.

“Would YOU want to be dead… just all by yourself?”

The tears returned, and the shaking, and Rock Candy returned to his cuddles.

“Imff mf plmf,” mumbled Spy despairingly against Rock’s side.


She lifted her head just enough to speak, as if it had become very heavy. “I need a plan,” she sighed.

“No,” corrected Rock.

Immediately, Northern Spy scowled. Being contradicted suited her no better in death than in life. “Whaddya mean, no?” she blurted, and her lip quivered in another wave of despair.

“No no,” explained Rock. “WE need a plan.”

It took all of Northern Spy’s energy to curl her mouth up in the tiniest inkling of a smile, but it was worth it. With the chill seeping into her dead bones, Northern Spy basked for a moment in her Rock Lobster’s answering smile, and then snuggled up against him and dropped into an exhausted sleep.

Rock didn’t sleep. He curled around Spy as best he could, even draping his fluffy pink mane across her face, in efforts to keep her warm. He couldn’t help but notice that she’d got so tired she forgot to breathe, or beat her tiny heart, and a chill went down his spine to see it.

But the Green Streak would still expect to hear about his plan when she woke up, all the same.

The zebras cantered tirelessly on. There was so very far to go, to return to their ancestral homelands.

That said, both knew quite well that they weren’t covering the distance zebra-style. Quite apart from the obstacle of the intervening ocean, traveling through Hoofington to the south coast and Stableside, and then through the mountains of Cervidas and the ensuing desert, would be weeks of grueling travel. They weren’t provisioned for that, weren’t prepared. There was a reason traditional zebras did not appear in Ponyville: even in Canterlot the fine robes and bangles of Zebrican diplomatic delegations rarely appeared.

Traditional zebras journeyed on hoof, or in zebra-crafted boats, taking weeks to cross the great distances involved, setting hoof rarely on the Equestrian continent.

Zecora glanced wordlessly at Dursaa, cantering beside her. She’d had him pegged as a traditional zebra, but he’d surprised her on the trip. He knew where she was heading as well as she did.

The ponies didn’t put much stock in week-long laborious journeys, unlike zebras. The pegasus ponies certainly enjoyed rapid flight, but when it came to long distance travel, it had been the unicorns who really solved the problem… if you were not traditionalist, and if you were not easily frightened by arcane forces.

Zecora would never forget the series of portals she’d been told of. From a position outside of Zebrica but miles south of the Dromedor capital of Camelu, you were magically transported into the center of Cervidas, surrounded by creatures who didn’t even rhyme their polite words or speak your language. From there you sought out another portal that brought you to the northern coast, where there was still another portal taking you to Stableside. If the magical forces had not stolen your zebra soul and left you a empty, dried-up husk of a zebra walking like a person but secretly a dead puppet, you then galloped to Hoofington, and used yet another magic portal to skip past the impassable mountains and jump straight to Fillydelphia, where you’d emerge in a basement next to some nightclubs that confirmed the worst suspicions of decent Zebricans. If you got away from that place without being seized and carnally used by ravening pegasi, it was a straight shot to Ponyville, or of course nearby Canterlot.

No decent zebra would submit himself to such an unnatural series of conveyances, much less do it all over again but backwards to return to the homelands. Zecora valued some things about her heritage, but considered some of it nonsense, and she’d found the process liberating, even transforming.

Not that she believed herself transformed into a soulless husk! It was true she had shied away from the first portal despite the urgency of her desire to flee. She’d whinnied in fear, barely out of fillyhood, unable to remain but afraid to take the risk. And then she’d flung herself through the humming field of sorcery, and found herself among strangers, not even zebras, who were totally uninterested in her. They cared nothing for her well-being, for her bad behavior, had not the slightest concern for the way she violated custom. They simply, absolutely, did not care.


As she silently and shyly found her way to the next portal, Zecora had felt freedom and a kind of joy spark within her. By the time she’d made her way to the outskirts of Ponyville, it had become a proud blaze. The old ways were dead, and she didn’t need them, for no problems would arise. She would set up shop and no pony would question the gifts she’d provide: they wouldn’t even understand she was a herb doctor, much less realize that a mare herb doctor was a contradiction in terms, an abomination. She would thrive, even if she had to sneak into town and do business only with experienced, far-traveling ponies who weren’t alarmed by outsiders.

She kept the rings around her neck, her bangles and earrings, as her private rebellion: she was every bit a mare, for all that she’d taught herself the stallion’s crafts, for all that she had taken advantage of the unicorn magic portals to journey to Ponyville, her new home. Zecora knew she had done the right thing, knew it to the core of her being, defied anypony or zebra to suggest otherwise.

After all, she’d come out of that first portal, turned her head to look back, and saw the swirling thing appear on her flank as her cutie mark.

She glanced again at Dursaa. In the manner of traditional zebras, he did not have a cutie mark. That was for Elders, and zebras did not run about exploring new ways in hopes of discovering their uniqueness. Zebras kept with the herd, maintained the community. When they did pick up cutie marks, it was in the form of traditional zebra occupations, fishing or weaving or herb doctoring, not some swirling magic portal shape.

Zecora had seen his double-take when first he saw her mark, and had immediately assumed he’d accompanied one of the caravans galloping for miles across the desert. Why he’d chosen to work at Sweet Apple Acres was a mystery, but he seemed a traditional zebra stallion, almost to the point of being a rebuke for all she’d become.

Yet, he headed for that basement in the depths of Fillydelphia without even being told, like he’d experienced it before. And if he had, he’d most likely used the others too: and that seemed startlingly out of character.

Zecora glanced yet again at Dursaa. He had gone through four magic portals alongside her, without a word of complaint. She wanted to ask him about it, but could see he was still too emotionally hurt for casual conversation.

“Elders,” she said, as they approached the Zebrican capital. “Courage.”

Zecora gritted her teeth as a magistrate approached, not sure how the interaction would work. She refused to bow her head to a ranking city stallion, or any stallion for that matter, but she’d not risked a return to Zebrica since she’d left. She returned wearing the bangles of a Zebrican mare, but with the mark of an Elder on her flank, which was unthinkable… yet, also, in the company of a stallion, which was expected. To top it off, she feared she would have to speak for Dursaa and herself, which was so outrageous that it beggared belief. And yet, her companion remained silent and morose, even as the other stallion trotted to meet them.

“Our greetings to you, my good stallion, let us soothe your cares!” began the magistrate. “Welcome to Zevera, home for you and all your ma…” He broke off, his eyes bugging out. He’d seen Zecora’s flank.

Dursaa gave him a weary look, still not speaking, and rolled his eyes. Then, he glanced at Zecora.

Zecora gulped. It was no great favor to her. The stallion was expected to speak for his herd, but Dursaa knew she didn’t consider herself his mare, far from it. Very well, he seemed to say: take it from here. He had to know the implications, had to know that for her to launch into courtly speech as if she was the ranking stallion of the herd would be impossibly shocking, and yet there he stood, saying nothing.

She fell back on the urgency of their mission as the only course that might save her, and went straight to Elder speech, attempting no rhymes. “Elders,” she said, her voice shaking only a little. “We need Elders.”

The magistrate trembled, on the verge of panicked flight. He looked frantically around him, as if expecting lightning bolts to come down and smite him where he stood. He backed off a pace.

“That is plain to see,” he managed. He shuddered, violently, and concluded, “Better them than me!” and then he’d whirled and galloped off for all he was worth, vanishing into the town. Other zebras, seeing his panic, turned and left. It was easy to tell from his manner that something wrong was happening, and from elegant lissome mares to curious colts to strong and virile stallions, not one of them wanted to be there when it did.

Zecora stood, impassive. A muscle in her neck twitched, but that was the only sign of her frustration.

“They will come, though others fear,” she said quietly. “We need only remain here.”

Dursaa nodded. They waited.

“Rainbow, honey?” called Applejack. “You seen lil’ Spy around the place?”

Rainbow Dash stopped, on her way out the door. “Do you hear, oh, about six more screaming headless bunnies in the yard?”


“Well, then, she’s not done rounding them up,” said Dash. She hesitated, then flew back inside, landed delicately and trotted over to hug her mate. “Listen, take it easy. Bunnies aren’t going to hurt her. We got this. All we have to do is find a place to put them, and maybe ask Fluttershy what they are. I’m glad you reminded me, I really should do that.”

“You’re goin’ out to talk to Fluttershy?” asked Applejack.

Dash made a face. “Not exactly. I got a date. With a couple unicorns. Hey! All the better, they might know what this is even if Fluttershy doesn’t. I just have to not ask until we’re at Fluttershy’s, or we’ll spend the day looking through boring textbooks.”

“Why, Dashie!” said Applejack. “Am I readin’ too much into that? You playin’ with Twilight and Trixie? I may say I understand th’ temptation but you know hoppin’ unicorn tail can be dangerous. Though I’m glad you ain’t still mad at ‘em for how they treated poor Derpy Hooves.”

“That was ages ago,” scoffed Dash. “We’re cool. You might even say… we’re hot.” She kept a straight face for a few seconds, then gave way to giggling. “Nah! It’s not like that. You want to know the truth? We’re going to prank Fluttershy. Guess who’s learning to play pranks? They promised I could watch.”

Applejack’s ears were splayed in fretfulness. “Oh my. Twilight, prankin’? I’mma go and tie down everything on th’ farm. What do you figure she’s gonna do, Rainbow?”

“I don’t have to figure,” boasted Dash, “I know. I watched her get the idea, and it’s going to be awesome. You know how Gilda’s fallen in love with Fluttershy, from the amazing ass-beating she took? Well, Twi’s going to present her with a magic bit for fucking Gilda with. I can’t wait to see the look on her face!”

Applejack blinked. “Wouldn’t Pinkie Pie be mad? You know we cain’t poke fun at Fluttershy. She’s too sensitive, Dashie, you know this.”

“Yeah, so you forgot she’s an unkillable vampire too?” suggested Dash.

“Uhhh… maybe it’s her feelin’s we need to be gentle with,” said Applejack.

“Or maybe,” said Dash, “she’d be happier if we just treated her like a regular pony. Applejack, you’ve seen Fluttershy give birth! You KNOW she is a total badass, deep inside.”

Applejack frowned. “Ah do know she would like her zebra honey to be more on th’ rough side. He don’t want to. Maybe she’s gettin’ tired of playing the delicate flower?”

“Exactly! Well, Twilight Sparkle is going to fix that. Don’t worry, she’s not actually gonna use the bit on Gilda, that would be crazy and maybe even dangerous. It’s a gag! We’re going to have some fun, that’s all. And then I can ask her what the zombie bunnies are. That should make her feel better, even if she gets an attitude about being pranked. Right?”

“Maybe,” said Applejack. “You be careful, y’hear? And if you run across Spy, you send her on home. There’s been enough bunny-herdin’ for the time being.”

“Got it!” said Rainbow Dash, and she gave Applejack a kiss, took to the air and zipped out of the door. The wind from her passage swung it slightly, but then it hung open, forgotten. Applejack sighed, and trotted over to close it after her raised-in-a-cloud beloved. She hesitated.

“Spyyy?” she called. No answer.

Applejack shut the door, and turned to do her household chores.

The zebra Elders approached deliberately, their eyes very wide. The story they’d heard had apparently been a shocking one, but the nearer they got to the strange couple on the outskirts of town, the more they believed it. Indeed, there was an unhappy and unfamiliar stallion awaiting them, and a quiet… anomaly.

Zecora shifted uneasily from hoof to hoof. As the Elders got near enough to touch, she drew back, just a little. She spoke, and half the Elders startled at her voice.

“Elders, sit with us,” she said.

There were five of them, with cutie marks from cooking to jewelry-making. They glanced back and forth among themselves, ears flattened.

Dursaa gulped, and licked his lips, and instantly they turned to him.

“Elders, sit with us,” he repeated.

The ears went from flattened in dismay, to perked forwards in fascination. One by one, the zebra Elders lay down on the grass in a circle. They looked up at Dursaa. Some glanced at Zecora, ears splaying in chagrin. They kept staring at her cutie mark, which they seemed to find unsettling.

Slowly, Dursaa lay down also, joining their circle. Zecora did likewise, and the nearest Elder with the fish cutie mark scooted away a few inches, surreptitiously.

They waited.

Zecora’s lips parted, but then she clamped them shut. I will be like them in wisdom as well as in marking, she thought. I will let the distressed one speak. I will sit with my own distress until understanding comes, or until a truth visits.

She gave Dursaa a look. He returned it. He sighed.

“We love a pony,” he said. “It does not go well.”

The Elders shifted, and did not speak.

“Mistress!” called Trixie Lulamoon. “What keeps you?”

“Just a moment!” came Twilight’s voice from inside Golden Oaks Library.

“Eeee!” squealed Rainbow Dash, and did a loop-de-loop. “This is gonna be so awesome!”

Twilight emerged, cute little saddlebags on her back, one of which she was closing up with a glow of her pert unicorn horn. “There!”

“Is that where the bit is?” said Dash excitedly. “Do you have it in a box, or something for her to open?”

Twilight’s ear flicked. “Huh! You’re better at this than me, Rainbow. No, I was planning to hold it behind my head while I told her. I can keep it out of reach, don’t you worry.” She smirked at Trixie, trotting alongside her. “Sometimes I make Trixie wrestle for ours. Makes her more lively.”

Trixie stuck her tongue out at her Mistress. “And Trixie saw her place it in the other saddlebag, so it can’t be that. We tested it, by the way, but didn’t properly use it. Now Trixie wishes she had!” She reared and tried to mount Twilight, who squealed in delight and galloped out of reach.

“So what didja bring?” asked Dash, swooping around the trotting unicorns.

Twilight winked. “You know how she was when she was carrying Rock, and little Dursaa. I just thought it’d be good to bring some insurance, and make sure she’s not sad or hurt. A little bribery. Corruption? A nice sweet sort of corruption, for a nice sweet vampony.”

“But what…” went Dash, but the saddlebag was already opening, letting her peek for an instant.

“Fudge!” proclaimed Twilight.

“Oh, Mistress!” cooed Trixie. “Lovely, so kind! That should work.”

Twilight eeked, and kicked out behind her. “Hey!” she yelled, for Rainbow Dash was trying to nuzzle her nose into the saddlebag while flying.

“Fudge tester!” insisted Dash, grinning ear to ear, and licked her lips.

Giggling, the three ponies headed at a brisk trot towards Fluttershy’s cottage.

“Now what is it?” declared Fluttershy, in exasperation.

Gilda peered up from where she sprawled worshipfully on the floor before Fluttershy. “It’s the things! I thought I was getting away from them! They keep getting closer to me!”

“What things?” demanded Fluttershy. “Gilda Griffin, you try my patience! Explain at once.”

Gilda gulped. Her head hurt, and she thought the birdseed was congealing into an unpleasant lump in her belly, unless that was what true love did. Maybe both? She hastened to comply. “Some kind of little monsters hunt me. They make these horrible cries that sound strangely wrong. I don’t know what they are but I thought I’d lost ‘em.”

“How would you know what’s wrong?” accused Fluttershy. “I’m here trying to teach you right and wrong, and suddenly you act like you know already? Young lady, some of the things I’ve watched you do are the wrongest things ever!”

“I’m sorry!” sobbed Gilda, and grovelled on the floor for the twelveth time that morning.

Fluttershy set her jaw. “Nopony is beyond redemption. I have to believe that, no matter what. No griffin, even.”

“Just beat me up again!” begged Gilda. “I can’t bear it, you hate me! Hurt me until you feel better.”

“No!” insisted Fluttershy. “That is not how we solve things, Gilda! Listen. There is a part of me that would like to get in a big fight with you, even let you hurt ME…”

“Noooo!” wailed Gilda.

“Listen!” said Fluttershy. “Just like I have a zebra husband, and there is a part of me that wants him to hurt me. And we have got to get past that and find out how to be loving and nice. Do you know that I have to be careful with my husband, and he with me? I want our lovemaking to be savage, but he may never nip me the way stallions do. I mean, I would love it but I know better, it is only a fantasy, because it would be dangerous. And here I am, they’re all gone and I’m stuck here with you and I don’t even like you…”

“I’m sorry!”

“LISTEN!” demanded Fluttershy, shaking. “It’s making me think! I was so frightened of you and imagined you tearing ponies to bits with your cruel claws. And part of me wants that, because I’m worse than you could imagine. But we have to do better, Gilda Griffin. It’s not just about you. I have to do better, somehow. My husband doesn’t want to hurt me, and I should be able to accept that, and here I am endangering a beautiful friendship with somepony special just because I want to be harmed even more, and then they l…left me…”

Gilda blinked tearfully in utter confusion. “Wait a minute. We’re a beautiful friendship now? Is this some pony thing?”

Fluttershy’s lip quivered.

There was a knock at the door.

Dursaa sighed. “I found a wife, far away. In Ponyville. She is a pegasus.”

The Elders glanced at each other, then returned their gaze to the bereaved stallion.

“She is very submissive,” said Dursaa.

Zecora frowned, but didn’t speak. The Elders nodded, solemnly.

“It is well,” said an Elder.

Another smirked, very subtly. “Indeed, if she is a sturdy mare, a zebra husband may be well with her as well!”

Zecora glared daggers at him, but Dursaa was speaking again.

“She wishes it to hurt… but I cannot conquer her as a stallion. It is different.”

He fell silent, and the Elders sat calmly, not rushing him. Finally, one cleared his throat, and spoke.

“Why can you not claim your mare as a stallion, sir?”

Dursaa gazed sadly at him. “I must not bite her,” he said. “She wishes my stallionhood, with ruthless force, until she cries, but I may not act as a true male and dominate my mare. Hear me, Elders. There is more to reveal.”

Zecora’s ears were laid back at the revelation, but some of the Elders’ ears were perked forward in glee.

“It would appear some part of your marriage is normal,” said one. “I have heard of this. Truly, the earth pony or unicorn or pegasus mares from faraway lands, who take as husband a zebra stallion, are in for a big surprise! If the mare can stand her husband’s force, she is a happy wife.”

“I love her,” said Zecora grimly.

The Elder glanced uncomfortably at her. “I do not know what you are. What are you?”

“I am Zecora, and I love her,” said Zecora defiantly.

The Elders glanced at each other.

“Sir,” said one to Dursaa, after a quiet pause. “When one goes to foreign lands, one finds their ways are strange. I see it is true: where here we know the mares flock to a strong male, to be seeded and cared for by him, yet there are places where the mares take many lovers.” He gulped, a faraway look in his eyes. “Especially pegasus mares,” he said, and shook himself. “Ah, yes!”

Dursaa looked unhappily at him.

After a little pause, the Elder added, “There are reasons why we do not mingle with ponykind, sir. It may be that you have made a mistake. If you desire to master your mare, but she wishes only your penis and instead to have this, this… visitor to bite her pert pegasus posterior and make her know her place…”

“Nay!” protested Zecora, but the Elder gazes silenced her.

“You do not understand,” said Dursaa in despair.

“Damned right they don’t,” added Zecora, but the Elder glares were even fiercer that time.

They sat in the angry silence, because that was their job: to sit until the anger drained away and they could try again.

After a long time, another Elder spoke very quietly and gently.

“Why may you not dominate your wife, sir?”

Dursaa gulped, and couldn’t meet his eyes. “I can mate her, but I cannot bite her rump. We agreed I must not draw her blood by my stallion teeth and reduce her to submission. I came too close, already, when I claimed her: the risk was great, too great. And… I do not want to nip her, though she would wish it with all her heart. I don’t want that. She is so precious. I want to make tender love.”

Elder eyes widened—as did Zecora’s. Contrary to their custom, several Elders began to speak at once.

“Is it this strange one who sways you?”

“Sir, the mare wishes to submit in fullness! You withhold what speaks to her deepest instincts!”

“Can pegasus mares really submit like a real zebra mare?”

“You risk being no stallion at all!”

Zecora’s eyes flashed. She banged a hoof in the dirt, shocking them. “She is a vampire horse!” she shouted.

Stunned silence.

An Elder gulped. “Sit with us,” he said. “Start again. We begin to understand why you came here…”

The door to Fluttershy’s cottage was tightly shut. Nopony responded to the rapping of Trixie’s hoof.

“Fluttershy?” called Twilight. “Are you home?”

“Eee!” squeaked Rainbow Dash, then covered her mouth with a hoof. Her eyes danced. “This is gonna be so funny!” she whispered.

“Trixie wonders if we arrived at an inopportune…”

Hoofsteps approached. Dash trotted in place, and her wings sproinged up stiffly.

The door opened, and Fluttershy peeked tearfully out, looking frazzled. Her mane was ragged, and her cute little fangs were barely visible: apparently, she was stressed out enough that the enchanted mane and tail extensions couldn’t entirely mask them. “What do you want?” she said. She concentrated, and the fangs faded from sight, her mane straightening itself a little.

“Oh, nothing much,” chirped Dash smugly. “Only to bring you and yours the most wonderful present ever!” She grinned, and frisked on the doorstep.

Fluttershy sniffed the air. “Is that… fudge?”

“Sooooo is Gilda here?” asked Dash, nonchalantly.

“And where else would she be?” retorted Fluttershy.

She squeaked and jumped aside, then, for Rainbow Dash zipped right past her into the cottage, looking around. “Yo, featherbrain! Where are you hiding? This is your lucky day! Come on in, Twilight, she’s here!”

Fluttershy chased after her. “Rainbow Dash! Behave! Gilda Griffin has had a very trying day and I’ve sent her to bed in her basket for a nap!”

“I’ll bet you have!” grinned Dash. “Have you sent her to the moon? Hmmm?”

Fluttershy’s jaw dropped. “No, I certainly have not!”

“Oh well, the day is young,” said Dash. “She can have a nap after she goes and plays with Luna. In spirit, anyway!”

Out of a huge basket on the floor poked a disheveled, feathered head. “Dash? The fuck?”

“Eee!” squeaked Dash, and zipped over, hugging her old flame. “Hiya, babe! How’s it going?”

“I’ve been better,” muttered Gilda. Her eyes were bleary and reddened.

“Come see,” teased Rainbow. “We have something for Fluttershy you’ll like.”

Trixie frowned. “Rainbow Dash, something’s not right here…”

“And I know just what will fix that!” vowed Dash. “Right, Twilight?” She trotted over to stand before Twilight expectantly, wings aloft.

“Oh!” said Twilight, who’d been staring at Gilda. “Right! Um…”

“Candy?” suggested Fluttershy wearily. “Just ask Pinkie Pie, candy fixes everything. Right?”

Twilight confronted her, in a laughable mix of staginess and nonchalance. “Sort of! Because, uh, don’t look in this saddlebag because that’s for after, um, because we come, and I do mean come, bearing… SWEETMEATS!”

Her horn lit, and the shiny new magic bit floated out of the other saddlebag to hover before Fluttershy’s astonished eyes.

The applause was limited.

“Oh my gosh, Twilight, where did you learn to prank?” demanded Rainbow Dash, offended.

“From you?” retorted Twilight. “All right, what was I supposed to say, then? It’s a pun! You know, meats? Because she was talking about something sweet, and the magic bits give you a big fat meat and… oh, never mind!”

Fluttershy was glancing rapidly back and forth between them. “What is this? Twilight, Rainbow, is that what I think it is? What in Equestria do you think I’m going to do with that?”

Dash pouted. “Um. Cram it into a moaning, yearning griffin? What it gives you, I mean.”

“It is!” exclaimed Fluttershy. “You did try to give me a magic bit! Aren’t you a little late? Both the zebras have gone away to talk to their Elders. I don’t even think Zecora was willing to help me, after all. Everything is awful, and now this? You come here taunting me and pretending to give me a magic bit, as if I was going to use it myself? Why couldn’t you have brought it when the zebras were still here?”

Twilight’s eyes widened. “What do zebras have to do with anything… oh! Boy, this is more complicated than I thought! You’re saying that you really did want a magic bit, but only so you could give it to Zecora to use on you? But you’ve already got a…” She blinked again. “Oh. Gosh. You’re, um, braver than I thought! Really?”

Fluttershy pouted. “Don’t judge.”

“Oh, no!” said Twilight. “Far be it from me to… wow. Gosh! And… whoof!”

Trixie swatted her on the rump with a hoof. “Mistress! Stop filing away sexual fantasies and snap out of it, we have interrupted something important! Perhaps the pegasus and griffin are having a lovers’ quarrel, which our prank is not helping?”

“Good way to make up,” suggested Rainbow Dash, waggling her eyebrows. “Though kind of noisy. Take it from me!”

Fluttershy whirled. “Rainbow! You of all ponies would know why that is a cruel and foolhardy suggestion, take it back!” She considered. “You and Applejack would know. I don’t like to talk about this in front of Gilda because I am trying to be a good influence, but we all understand why that is a very bad idea!”

“Hello?” said Dash. “Prank, remember? It’s supposed to be a bad idea! Though it’s a shame, if you ask me, because Gilda’s in love with you and I think it would be the highlight of her whole existence to take even a little bit of the huge mammoth monstro cock that comes out of you! When you use a magic bit, I mean.”

“I don’t even like her!” raged Fluttershy. Dash froze.

“Not cool,” she said. “What the fuck, Fluttershy? Somepony does!” She flitted over quickly to hug Gilda, whose feathers were ruffled and who stared, stricken, into space. “We already knew you weren’t gonna fuck her, that’s why it’s funny. I didn’t think you of all ponies would turn nasty and mean.” She hugged Gilda tighter. “We’re gonna take care of her needs, and I’m really disappointed in you, Fluttershy. I thought you had more kindness in you than that. A joke’s a joke, but seriously?”

Fluttershy glowered. “Behave, Rainbow. I’m trying to like her. We both know I can’t have sex with her, even if I wanted to turn into a fake male pony, because at least twice now she has clawed and bitten lovers and she must not bite me. Not in my condition.”

Hearing this, Gilda struggled to extricate herself from Dash’s hug, to face the contentious group of ponies. “Stop it!” she squawked. “Stop being mad at Fluttershy! It’s not her fault, okay? I know I’m awful, but I’m trying to be better. I don’t even eat meat anymore unless she makes me eat fishes! I know she doesn’t want to fuck me but she’s letting me stay with her and learn how to be good!”

Twilight was staring at her, staring like she’d never seen anything so peculiar. Trixie backed away, alarmed by the passion of such a big predator.

Rainbow Dash stood her ground. “Gilda, mad romance is cool and all, but maybe not if it’s turning you into something you don’t want to be! You look terrible, and I know you lectured me once about how you can’t eat grass! I didn’t want to say anything, but maybe you ought to come with me and Applejack and get seriously LAID and forget about fucking Fluttershy, huh?”

Gilda shook her head, frantically. “No! I only want to be like Fluttershy in every way. It’s more important than sex! I don’t even care about sex! She brings me fishes to eat and she’s teaching me how to live on seeds and tea from pretty flowers…”

“Oh, bullshit!” retorted Dash. “You’re the horniest griffin in Equestria! You can’t quit that pony thunder, don’t lie! But you picked wrong, it’s just not going to work with Fluttershy!”

“Oh, my gosh,” said Twilight quietly, still staring.

“It will, it has to!” protested Gilda. “I’ll do anything she says. She knows best! I love her. I would die for her…”

“Rainbow, step back!” demanded Twilight, suddenly. Her horn lit. A glowing purple barrier began to form, herself and Dash and Trixie on one side, and Fluttershy and Gilda on the other.

Dash boggled at her friend. “What for?”

Twilight didn’t answer her. She spoke to Gilda, and didn’t blink as she stared the griffin down. “I think you did.”

“What’s going on, Twilight?” said Dash, at a loss.

“Look at her!” snapped Twilight. “Look at the way she looks at Fluttershy. You did die for her, didn’t you? That’s thrall, she’s another vampire! Fluttershy, she’s in your thrall! What have you been DOING?”

Dash blinked. “That’s impossible. She was in love even before she got here, Twilight. I saw her! And Fluttershy wouldn’t do that to her. I realize I was mad about Fluttershy not being kind to Gilda when Gilda’s really vulnerable, but are you crazy? Do you think Fluttershy is flying around at night enthralling griffins and making a vampire army?” She blinked. “Badass though that would be!”

“I am not!” wailed Fluttershy. “I wouldn’t do that, I haven’t! And I’m not being unkind and it’s very hurtful to say so! Don’t you understand how hard it is to struggle toward the good? Who would understand that better than me? I really believe Gilda is doing well with me and you’re going to give her a setback!”

Dash sighed. The prank had not only gone awry, but it seemed to be sucking the day into a horrible vortex of madness. She struggled to make sense of it. “Right. Settle down, Twi. You’re trying to tell us that Gilda, who came all the way out here because she was in love with Fluttershy, showed up on her doorstep. And Fluttershy, our gentle little vampire pony who wouldn’t hurt a fly, gave the big birdkitty a basket and brought her fishes to eat and was super nice, oh except for biting her and sucking her blood! What the fuck, Twilight? Look at them! How can you think Fluttershy is hurting her?”

“No!” retorted Twilight, holding her force field. “YOU look! Look at her beak! It wasn’t as pointy as that, I saw it. Back when Gilda attacked the guard, Rainbow. It was the day I became an alicorn. I’ll never forget that time. Fluttershy, I think it’s time you told me the real truth about that!”

“I never attacked any guards!” pleaded Gilda, grovelling. “I was only trying to knock the guy off the cloud! He was a pegasus, it wouldn’t have hurt him!”

“Quiet,” demanded Twilight. “I wasn’t asking you. Fluttershy! They dragged Gilda Griffin to me, all chained up, and they said you had beaten her in a fight. Exactly what did you do to this griffin when you saw her attack the guard?”

“I never…” began Gilda.

“Shut up!” snapped Twilight grimly. “Fluttershy? What did you do?”

Fluttershy looked stricken. “I don’t like to think about that. I was wrong. I feel like this is my chance to make up for my cruel misjudgement of her, that’s why I’m giving her a home and teaching her. We should not be mean to each other.”

“What did you do, Fluttershy?” rasped Twilight.

Fluttershy blinked, and stuck out her lower lip petulantly. “Oh, fine, remind me then! Gilda, I am truly sorry, it was wrong of me. For your information, Twilight Sparkle, I thought she was about to kill the poor guard, and everything was at stake. I jumped from the top of the house onto her before she could tear him to shreds, and I had to make her stop right away, so I punched and I kicked and I bi…”

She froze.

Nothing moved, for a moment.

Gilda glanced back and forth between the ponies. “Oh no. Oh no no no. You just said Fluttershy… is a vampire?”

The ponies could only stare at each other in shock.

“I’m a fuckin’ vampire?” said Gilda weakly. “I feel this way because I’m a fuckin’ vampire?”

Dash was staring at Gilda’s hind leg. “And when we found her,” she breathed to herself, “Northern Spy bit…”

There was a loud bang. Fluttershy’s front door sailed out into her front yard, in several pieces, burst asunder.

Dash was gone.

Trixie gulped.

“Trixie has two recommendations,” she said.

“Yeah?” managed Twilight, shaking.

“We are going to get help from the Princesses and anypony else we possibly can,” said Trixie.

Twilight nodded. “And?”

“And right now, all four of us are going to share all of the fudge you brought…”