“Well, there they go,” said Trixie.
“Eh?” mumbled Twilight Sparkle, head bent over an agglomeration of wires and crystals.
Trixie blinked. “Girl and that pegasus, of course. Derpy, was it?”
Trixie blinked again. “Mistress?”
“What?” snapped Twilight, her tone edgy, brittle.
Trixie trembled. “May Trixie ask a somewhat personal question?”
Twilight heaved an exasperated sigh. “Rrrhhh! Okay. What is it, Trixie? Be quick.”
Trixie’s lip quivered.
“Are you okay, Mistress?”
Twilight’s eyes flared with anger, and she drew a deep breath, preparing to unleash a storm of invective—but before she could do it, she in turn blinked at an unexpected thought, and her first word wasn’t angry, but wary.
“Trixie? You are not a stupid unicorn. You have seen what I’m up against and the stuff I’ve got to do to get this whole situation under control. You know I didn’t sleep last night, and you know I’m far from okay, but you are still asking that like it’s a serious question. What am I missing here, Trixie? What do you mean by okay that isn’t the obvious stuff?”
Trixie sighed with relief. “Mistress is so intelligent!”
Twilight gave her a sour look. “It’s worthless if I can’t determine the power source for the bits and document it and their failure modes.”
“It’s Mistress’s failure modes Trixie worries about,” said Trixie.
“I swear, I’ll get some sleep once I’ve got this worked out…”
“No,” said Trixie. “It started before that.”
Twilight stared at her for a minute. Without blinking, she rested her head on her hoof, and her determined gaze was only accentuated by the dark circles under her eyes. “Explain,” she said. “And I mean right now, Trixie. Or I’ll NOT-punish you.”
“Trixie is serious!”
“So am I,” said Twilight.
Trixie gathered her thoughts. “It’s just that… Mistress, Trixie knows you as a mare of great compassion as well as amazing sexiness. Trixie expected to have to run interference, to chase off the gray pegasus and defend you from the impositions of what is clearly a very horny and eager pony.”
“And I appreciate it,” said Twilight, “you’re absolutely right, Rainbow Dash cannot bring random ponies to join our circle. I’m not sure involving Rarity was my greatest decision. Derpy Hooves is right out, and Rainbow is crazy to suggest it.”
“But…” said Trixie. “Well, Trixie expected to have to remind you of this from time to time. You are so sensitive and kind—yet Trixie has done nothing to hold you to the path, and you write off this Derpy Hooves so blithely!”
Twilight sighed. “Yeah.”
“Is it her race?” began Trixie, and then froze at a furious glance.
“Bite your tongue!” snarled Twilight. “Or, well, don’t bite it, whichever is worse. I thought you knew me better than that! Damn it, Trixie, you remember how bent out of shape I was over Applejack when all this started. It seems like a thousand years ago. Before that, I had a crazy sleepover with Rainbow Dash and she made me come until I was limp, with just a hoof! I am not a racist unicorn. Don’t even think that!”
Trixie was grovelling from the first words. “Mistress! Never! Trixie will never!”
“Good. You just pissed me off, Trixie—I ought to turn Rarity loose on you, except that I don’t approve of the way you two are escalating.”
“Trixie will do anything you wish, anything!”
Twilight pulled herself together, shaking. She muttered, “I’m so tired. How about you listen, carefully? Hear me out.”
Silence. Trixie barely breathed, eyes fixed utterly on her beloved Mistress.
“First,” said Twilight, “how likely do you think it is that I’m going to have sex with this Derpy pegasus?”
Trixie considered. “Not at all. You have been more and more sensitive to the, erm, details of our relationship with Girl. You seem to be under such a lot of strain, and show no signs of wishing more sex with other ponies. Trixie is not complaining! Trixie is yours, always.”
“Yes,” said Twilight, nodding approvingly. “Yet you say I’m not kind.”
Trixie hesitated. “To call Rainbow Dash a retarded pegasus is perhaps rude, because she isn’t one: she is about as clever as the usual pegasus. To say the same of this Derpy seems… well… because…”
Twilight winced. “Yeah. Because she kind of is, isn’t she? She’s not really a drooling cretin, she does pretty well all things considered. I’m told her mother took care of her for years, and now the whole town sort of does, but for all that she’s independent and delivers our mail passably well. Diligent, I’ll say that for her. Yeah, calling her retarded to her face is crossing a line. I realized it about five seconds after I said it. I was so busy yelling at Rainbow Dash that I wasn’t thinking.”
“You look stubborn,” said Trixie cautiously.
“Let me ask you this. Suppose I’m kind, compassionate, all the things you say. What happens when I show all those qualities to Derpy Hooves? Apologize, show some love and consideration like I would naturally want to do? Imagine it really bothers me, that I’d love to go and beg forgiveness and tell her she’s wonderful and has a good heart and lots of great qualities.”
Trixie looked ill. “Oh,” she said.
“Yeah. If I show her that side of me, she’ll never fucking shake this crush, will she? I didn’t mean to, but I was an absolute jerk to Derpy Hooves and if it’s all the same to you I’d rather live with the consequences of that. Maybe she’ll pee on my mail or something. I doubt it, that’s one sweet pony and I don’t think she can be vindictive. I’d be more worried about Rainbow Dash that way, but if I apologize to her she’ll only tell me she’s not the one I should be apologizing to…”
“Oh, Mistress,” sighed Trixie.
“I’m gonna have to wait them out, that’s all there is to it. One day I can mend things with Derpy Hooves,” said Twilight. “Probably long after she finds some nice pony to fuck her silly. Which she isn’t, honestly. She’s slow, but Pinkie’s a lot more silly, or at least she was before she had a kid with Fluttershy. Derpy Hooves is pretty serious. She’s not smiling all the time because she’s an idiot, she’s smiling because she sees the specialness in ponies. We’re all pretty amazing to her.”
Trixie was crying. “Now Trixie wants to make nice to her. Trixie thought she was just bullying you to have sex with her.”
“Oh, she was,” said Twilight. She gave a little laugh. “Been there, done that. First crushes are really tough. Maybe Rarity can shake her.”
“Do you think we should mend things with Rainbow Dash?”
Twilight gave a wry smile. “No urgency there. One thing about Rainbow? That pony is hard to shock.”
Rainbow Dash stared at the severed bunny foot lying on her kitchen counter.
“Oh, sweet Celestia! Wait, not white, it’s not white, it can’t be Angel. Oh please let it not be Angel! No, it couldn’t possibly be…”
Behind her, she heard wings, and she turned a chalky shade of pale blue and shot out of the kitchen in a storm of mad flapping, squealing, “Don’t come in! Nothing to see h…”
It wasn’t some innocent Ponyville pegasus come to visit, though. It was the culprit—Gilda the Griffin.
“Oh, crap,” she squawked, looking winded.
“Gilda!” yelled Dash.
“I’ll get it! I just took Applejack home. I wanted to get back and clean up before you…”
“Clean up the blood, you mean! Clean up the blood and guts and… hurrgg…”
“Easy, Dash. Yeah! Clean up the blood. I wouldn’t ask you to do it, you’re a pony!”
“You can’t do this! Not around here!” protested Dash, trying not to be sick.
“Whoa, whoa, hold it, Dash. I’m not! You’re not letting me explain. I’m flying way out into griffin territory, to the North, to hunt. I’m not hunting around here, so settle the fuck down, okay?”
“They’re still bunnies!”
Gilda glared. “And I’m still a griffin. Problem?”
“You should…” began Dash, and trailed off.
Gilda stared levelly at her for a while, and then sighed. “Rainbow baby, I’ve been through all your shelves and cupboards. I’ve been through this whole kitchen. I can’t digest any of it. Okay? I don’t eat grass, or hay, or oats, or flowers. I eat little things that run around.”
“Run away, more like!” spat Dash.
“Not fast enough,” said Gilda. “As you saw. You know I’m a griffin, Dash! You’ve always known I’m a griffin! What did you think I ate? Rocks? I’m sorry I didn’t clean up better. I really am. But if there’s stuff you don’t want to think about, maybe you should not think about it!”
Dash gave her a hurt look, and then blasted out of the house like a bullet.
“Dammit, Dash!” yelled Gilda after her. “Lame! Who’s running away now?”
But Rainbow Dash was already out of sight.
“This way,” said Rarity. “And I must remind you, again: do not engage! We are here only to glean information about more suitable clubs. They come and go so quickly, darling, one must be quick. I have been away too long, and cannot pretend to be privy to current Fillydelphia night-life.”
Derpy blinked, trotting alongside Rarity. “But it’s not night-time, Rarity!”
Rarity’s smile was smug. “Won’t matter.”
“And if the clubs come and go… and you’re not sure whether they’ve gone away when you’re not looking… well, why do you think this one will be there even in the middle of the afternoon?”
“Won’t matter,” repeated Rarity. Her smirk grew more wicked. “This one never dies. You’ll see. Remember, say nothing!”
It was a simple black door, with no handle of any sort, down a small flight of dingy, unlit stairs. Derpy stared puzzledly at the door, and gave Rarity a look.
“Unicorns, darling. Rather… special unicorns. And their special friends. Speak to nopony and stay close by my side—and, perhaps, remember a glimpse of another world you’ll not see elsewhere.” She took a deep breath. “My… the memories. All right, Rarity, get in there…”
Her horn glowed, and inside the door, a latch lifted, the latch she knew was there. The door swung open, slowly, with an ostentatious and teeth-grinding creak.
Rarity made a face. “I swear, I’d oil it one day if I didn’t think it would cost me my horn. SO tacky. Well, come on!”
They walked into a murky, red-lit hellscape of banging, rasping music and milling dark forms with horns.
Derpy’s eyes were wide and seemed to point in even more directions than usual as she followed Rarity into the darkness. She stepped lightly, ruffling her wings as she skirted a short and burly earth pony whose head was enclosed in an arrangement of black straps that gagged him and cut off his vision to the sides. He drooled on the floor, a dull red ball wedged into his mouth. As Derpy goggled at this fellow, she blundered directly into a lovely white flank, and she squeaked and said, “I’m sorry, Rari… Ra…”
The unicorn looking down on her wasn’t Rarity at all. It was a white unicorn mare, and she was made up to look glamorous, but there the resemblance ended. There was a sneer to her lip, and some sort of tension about her, and she called out, “Why, Rarity, you’re back! You’ve brought us a toy? She’s mistaken me for you.” Her smile broadened. “That should count for at least five welts. Will you, or shall I?”
Rarity whirled, diverting her attention from the bartender whom she was beginning to question, and were she not already white, she would have blanched.
“Aftershock!” she cried. “What a pleasure to see your gentle face once more.”
The other white unicorn stiffened, and Rarity permitted herself a tight little grin. Got you, darling. Best to get her off balance from the start. It was no pleasure to see Aftershock. She’d turn up with her toys, abused and submissive mares without the experience to identify a rogue practitioner, and she would always have the wit to stay out of trouble, more was the pity. That was not so, for the ponies she brought. Aftershock tended to form a retinue of unofficial fans, stallions that liked to prey on the innocent, and so they formed a little clique of off-the-reservation kinkiness, and Aftershock never seemed to be one of the ponies taken to the hospital or thrown out of the club. She was the catalyst for things that were bad even for this place, clever enough not to be consumed herself by the reaction, and seeming to enjoy the sick scenes she indirectly created.
She strolled over to Rarity, as Derpy scrambled to rejoin her friend, bumping into a haggard and lean earth pony stallion on the way. “Oh, yes. Lovely as ever, Rarity, that manestyle never dates, whatever the other ponies say!”
“Neither do most of your friends,” purred Rarity, smiling, showing her metaphorical fangs—ah, Aftershock, so lacking in finesse. “Your opinion is most appreciated, darling. One must reach all levels of fashion sophistication, after all.”
She froze, as the haggard stallion headed over to join them, a few of his friends drifting in their direction as well. “This one bumped me!” he said. “Yours, Aftershock?”
Aftershock sniffed. “Please! Look at those eyes, look at that mane. This one’s Rarity’s.”
Their ears all perked up at once—and then their eyes widened, as Derpy spoke.
“I’m sorry. What’s the matter with my mane? It’s… nice, what Rarity did to it! I thought it was nice?”
“Oh, wow,” said the haggard stallion. “Listen.”
“Yeah,” said a tall unicorn stallion. “Now that’s good. Wow.”
Aftershock’s eyes widened. She glared at the males. “So predictable! Do you really believe this act? This… feeble charade? Rarity’s brought a much-plowed field, you fools, just as I’d expect from the second string dommes.”
“Derpy?” said Rarity, with careful nonchalance. “We are insulted. We should go.”
Derpy gave her a wide-eyed look of surprise, and then squeaked, ruffling her wings. The short, burly earth pony stallion in the creepy mask had shoved his face right up to her vagina, sniffing and eyeing her. He lifted his head, and shook it.
“What’s that, Crowbar?” said the haggard stallion. “You don’t think so? Tough luck for you, then, right?” He trotted around, and Derpy stared at him in shock as he studied her hindquarters, ears perked forward. “Hey guys! He’s right, I think. Damn, Rarity. Nice find!”
“Derpy?” said Rarity, a hint of desperation entering her tone.
“Is that your name for her?” said the tall unicorn. “Or hers for these pleasant afternoons we’ll spend together? It’s a little too perfect, isn’t it?”
Derpy blinked. “Huh? I, uh, it is a pleasant afternoon, thank you. What’s wrong with my name?”
The short, burly stallion grunted. The haggard one said, “Crowbar wants to know what you’re doing here.”
“Derpy!” pleaded Rarity.
“Uhh, Dusk Shine… that’s my name for him… wants me to see other stallions. Maybe first? I dunno. I kind of want to save myself for him though, okay?”
Rarity’s jaw dropped in horror. The three stallions’ eyes widened in glee. Another two shadowy forms began to drift in their direction.
Aftershock snorted. “You boys are so predictable.”
“And when did you bring us anything so good?” rasped the haggard stallion.
“It’s fake candy!” sneered Aftershock.
“Looks pretty sweet, who cares?” said the haggard stallion.
“Crowbar!” announced the tall unicorn. “You go last. Understand? You probably wouldn’t fit first off anyway, we’ll, ah, lubricate with some fluids. Don’t worry, ‘Derpy’, we’ll prepare you for ‘Dusk Shine’, very thoroughly. Step this way. Or, hell, why don’t you just stand still?”
Derpy, cornered and beginning to look dismayed, stared at him.
“Dibs,” rasped the haggard stallion.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said the tall unicorn. “Back off, Crowbar!” His horn glowed, and a field of force smacked the short, burly pony across the face-mask. Derpy stared in alarm at him, and then under him, for he’d dropped a frighteningly thick erection that was swinging forward at her even as she watched. Then, she whirled, flapping, for the haggard stallion was moving around behind her, rearing—and then whirled again, for she’d inadvertently turned her back on the short one, and she could see he was just the sort of stallion she least wanted to have mounting her.
Then, Rarity acted, as only she could.
“MINE!” she snarled, stamping the ground and facing the three—now five, with another four approaching—stallions down. Her eyes burned with dominant fire, her teeth were bared.
The tall unicorn’s jaw dropped. “Oh, you surely must be fooling, sweetness.”
Rarity’s eyes glittered. “Try me.”
“Is it Crowbar? I can tie him up if that’s worrying you. I’m not sure why you’d care if the pegasus is loosened a bit. Or a lot. She’s very convincing!”
Aftershock looked interested. “Goody! Is there popcorn? Rarity’s going to get in a fight and get thrown out!”
Rarity did not let herself be distracted by the other domme’s tauntings. She stared past trembling Derpy at the tall unicorn stallion, and said with dangerous quietness, “You heard me. Mine. Back off, or face punishment… my way.”
Crowbar whimpered, his eyes yearning. The unicorn stallion went pale. “I’m no sub, Rarity.”
“Then it will not be your pleasantest afternoon, will it?” Her horn lit, and he flinched, but all Rarity did was reach out to the bar. A small bowl of popcorn floated over, to be placed mockingly in front of Aftershock, and Rarity said, “There you are, darling, I’m sure it won’t make you much fatter. This may take a while.”
“Crowbar!” barked the tall unicorn. “Tremor! Go back to the table, right now.”
The short earth pony scuttled off, his terrifyingly thick ponycock swinging under him. The haggard one backed away, a sour look on his face.
Rarity dipped her head elegantly. “Thank you, darling. Ta-ta!”
Derpy stumbled over her own hooves, looking this way and that with very wide eyes, as Rarity prodded her unceremoniously toward the door. It opened to Rarity’s magic, and the two figures were silhouetted in the day’s brightness. The door shut firmly behind them.
“Shit,” said Tremor.
“Fake,” announced Aftershock. “I told you.”
“Hrmmmngg,” said Crowbar, sadly, through the ball gag, and his penis began to droop.
Derpy Hooves hugged Rarity. Rarity wept bitterly, curled up on the ground in the middle of the street in full neurotic unicorn meltdown.
“It’s okay, Rarity. It’s okay, Rarity. What happened, Rarity?”
Rarity wiped her streaming eyes, and then wailed to see her mascara smeared across her hoof, and, she knew, her face.
“Oh, Derpy, I’m so sorry! I just can’t stand it, I am vile, the most vile creature…”
“No you’re not,” said Derpy stubbornly.
“Derpy,” sniffled Rarity, “do you understand what happened down there in that bar?”
She stared bleakly as a luminous, proud smile stole across Derpy’s face, and her pegasus companion replied, “I think so!”
“Really,” said Rarity. “Really! Derpy Hooves, what do you think happened?”
Derpy’s eyes widened, and she glanced from side to side, which was particularly easy for her of all ponies to do, and she whispered to Rarity, “I think one of those stallions wanted to have sex with me!”
“Quite,” said Rarity weakly.
“In, in fact I think a couple of them did, Rarity! I feel more proud of myself now. Mama was right! I must be a very pretty pony. I even saw the penis of one of them! Though I would not want to choose him because he was much too big and anyway I need to be brave and go show Dusk Shine that I’m really a very pretty pony…”
“Oh, Derpy. Thank goodness I got you out of there. That really is not how it works in that place.” Rarity shuddered. Her face twisted, and she began to cry again.
“It’s okay, Rarity! Don’t cry, Rarity!”
“I shall take you home,” blubbered Rarity, “and I shall present myself to Mistress Twilight and plead utter failure and hope her punishment can aussage the shame I now feel, and the terrifying thing is, I’m not sure any amount would help, I am hideous, hideous!”
“What’s aussage?” said Derpy, fretfully. “Please don’t cry!”
“You cannot begin to understand!” wailed Rarity.
“Tell me,” said Derpy firmly.
That stopped the hysterical unicorn. She stared, and said, “But you wouldn’t understand. Truly, you wouldn’t.”
“But I can listen. My Mama said, sometimes it’s good just to listen and care.”
Rarity couldn’t look away. “But, Derpy, it’s about what I did for a moment. I can’t bear it, truly I can’t. It’s too horrible.”
Derpy stamped a hoof, glaring at Rarity and a nearby wall. “Tell me! I’ll bear it with you. It can’t be that bad because you are such a nice pony.”
“I’m not.” Rarity shuddered again, looking haunted. “I am so very not.”
“Rarity, I’m warning you!”
Rarity’s eyes narrowed, and she gazed sidelong at Derpy. “On your head be it, then. Did you notice the little pause before I interceded, pretending to claim you, so we could escape?”
“I guess so? You’re a silly pony, I’m not yours! But I’m not their special somepony either, so I guess it’s okay? I’m not mad, Rarity.”
“You should be,” said Rarity bitterly. “Your charming rescuer spent seconds—seconds!—standing there, imagining just what would transpire were I frozen to the spot and too shocked to act.”
“What’s that, Rarity?”
“Let me be clear,” said Rarity. “I vividly pictured myself cowering, weeping. Watching…” Her voice dropped lower and lower, bitter with shame. “…masturbating.”
Derpy’s eyes widened. Then she smiled, and it lit up the dingy street. “You silly pony, it’s not bad to masturbate! You shouldn’t get wet stuff on the mail, though. Or drip it on pony heads as you fly by, ‘cos they get mad.”
“They take turns, those ones,” said Rarity darkly. “High Strung goes first. He has problems maintaining an erection and demands first crack at virgin pussy. Tremor goes next, and he bites ears, viciously. And then they send in Crowbar, and the crowd watch the hapless mare struggle and scream. He is a little ‘special’, not unlike you. He’s also very, very strong and hangs on like a limpet, and once he’s mounted he will penetrate, whether or not damage is done, once he gets worked up enough about it.” She gulped, adding, “The crowd finishes off what’s left.”
Derpy stared at her. “I don’t want any of that. That sounds mean!”
“I think ‘mean’ is a very good description, yes,” said Rarity, her lip quivering and eyes brimming.
Derpy broke into another smile, and hugged Rarity. “And that’s why you said ‘mine!’ and took me away! You must have been fooling them and telling them they can’t do that to me! Thank you, Rarity! I love you, Rarity!”
This produced another guilt-racked wail from the hapless unicorn, completely unable to square her momentary weakness and fevered fantasy interlude with the presence of the innocent who would have been defiled and wrecked. Rarity bawled, venting her guilt not through elaborate play scenarios and acting out her punishments, but through experiencing it directly and being forgiven just as directly, something she had never sought or been able to seek, something too emotionally raw to be endured. She shook like a leaf being blown by a pony stampede, comforted in her anguish by the same pony she’d momentarily abandoned in the worst sort of betrayal.
“Do you feel better now?” asked Derpy, eventually.
“I’m not sure,” said Rarity weakly. “For the love of Celestia, let’s go home, Derpy. I would not have believed this town could feel so unsafe to me. It is like your presence strips something away, and the things I’d willingly experience myself seem horrific and not to be borne.”
Derpy blinked at her.
Rarity sighed. “Let’s go home,” she said. “Maybe we can try some other town? Or I can ask Applejack, perhaps, if she knows any nice stallions in line with your preferences. Damn it, I don’t think I know a single nice stallion. To think I’d have told you, yesterday, that I knew many such! I do know many eager stallions, and I wouldn’t trust a damned one of them with your maidenhead.”
“Oh! Oh! I think I know what that is! It’s a vagina part. But I think I let thunder clouds blow it up.”
Rarity winced. “Indeed. I daresay that’s gentler treatment than you might have received today…”
They began, haltingly, to walk back to Ponyville, Derpy instinctively sheltering Rarity’s body with a wing.
“I feel so much more confident as a mare now, Rarity!”
“Oh, good,” said Rarity bleakly.
“When we get back you can tell Dusk, I mean Twilight, that I’m a pretty pony and other boy ponies think so!”
“Perhaps that will appease her. Or buy me some more time,” said Rarity forlornly, and they walked on.
Tawny wings beat the air. Applejack squinted up into the afternoon sun.
“Hey, baby,” she said. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Did Rainbow Dash come here?”
“Naw,” said Applejack, “not since this mornin’. Why? What’s wrong? Somethin’ wrong?”
Gilda ruffled her head-feathers with a talon. “Uh, not really, I just gotta…”
“Don’t you lie to me!” snapped Applejack. The dark circles showed under her eyes. “What happened?”
“No, really, it’s nothing you ever need to know about,” began Gilda, and then sagged. “Wrong thing to say, huh?”
“Y’all gonna tell me what’s happenin’. Now’s good. Start a-squawkin’.”
“Can we go somewhere private?” said Gilda, glancing around nervously. “I don’t want this to get out, not after the way Dash reacted.”
The two companions, earth pony and bashful predator, made their way out to the south fields, walking up the hillside. Birds chirped cheerily around them, and nopony could be seen anywhere nearby, including nosy pegasi in the air.
“Satisfied?” said Applejack.
“Yeah, all right.”
Gilda gulped. “I’ll just say it. I eat bunnies.”
Applejack gazed levelly at her, not blinking. It spurred the anxious griffin to further explanations.
“You gotta understand, that’s the best game out by griffin territories. I don’t know how they manage to keep such populations but the place is filthy with bunnies. You can’t blame me for going for it, right? I could try for smaller game, but it’s harder to spot from the air, and it becomes a lot of work. Maybe I’m just too lazy. I should be trying to adapt to the sensibilities of ponies, I know. It’s gonna make it hard. But that’s the problem, Applejack, and I’m sorry if it upsets you or makes you uncomfortable. I need to tell you.”
“What is?” said Applejack. “Tell me whut?”
“But… I told you. I eat bunnies. Cute little bunnies.”
Gilda looked vulnerable, wallowing in self-imposed guilt in order to take the pony point of view. Applejack snorted, contemptuously.
“What?” squawked Gilda.
“You heard me. Ain’t you noticed that I’m a farmer? Them things tear up the gardens, they’re a damn plague. Good! Eat more. Maybe they’ll learn. Doubtful, though.”
“Holy crap. Are you sure you’re a pony?”
“Sure I’m a pony,” said Applejack. “Ah am also a farmer. Seems to me there’s some ponies in this town what ain’t got a lick of sense. They expect to have their lettuces an’ carrots an’ such, and where do they think them things come from? An’ they keep rabbits and let ‘em run around loose and I ain’t allowed to do nothin’ about it. They’re pests, I gotta work twice as hard to deal with ‘em. Had me herdin’ the buggers one time. Me! Din’t end well.”
“Wow,” said Gilda. “Wow. Did you attack them?”
“Naw,” said Applejack. “But all th’ same, they knew. Oh, they knew, all righty.”
“I can’t believe it,” said Gilda. “Holy crap, I feel so much better, Applejack. I mean, just knowing you don’t think less of me for what I eat.”
Applejack glanced from side to side, furtively, but nopony was around to overhear. She whispered to Gilda, “Bucked one in the head, once.”
“Oh, you are shittin’ me…”
“Naw. Ah did. Caught it stealin’ lettuces. Wild one, not a pet one.”
Gilda leaned in. “Did you stop it from stealing lettuces?”
“Killed it stone daid. So yep, you could say that…”
Gilda squealed in glee. Applejack frowned. “Don’t tell Fluttershy, ever,” she said. “Ah don’t make no habit of it.”
“What did you do? You are like the best pony ever! Did you eat it? Was it good? You’re like an honorary griffin, even more than Dash!”
“Naw,” said Applejack. “Ah buried it. Din’t give much of a eulogy, mind you. All’s I could think to say was, ‘those weren’t YOUR lettuces!’ and I reckon it figured that out. Maybe not. Its head was kinda flat.” She shifted her weight, lifting first one rear hoof and then the other off the ground, hindquarters flexing. “Kicks an’ Bucky don’t talk quietly.”
Gilda drank her in, pupils wildly dilated. “Ohhh. You are so radical. That’s amazing!”
“Well, it would upset Fluttershy, so kindly don’t spread that around, okay? Ah’m supposed to ask them bunnies to leave, and be firm.” She snorted. “We just got different ideas o’ firm, maybe.”
“If you buck any more, can I have them?” begged Gilda. “I have to fly so far to hunt! This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship…”
Applejack jerked. She twitched again, her eyes flying wide at some private thought that seemed to dismay her. “Uhhh… Gosh, I better not. Them townsponies might not take too kindly to it. They think they know me…”
“Awww,” said Gilda.
“Ah thought ah knew me,” breathed Applejack, under her breath. Her legs were trembling, and her eyes haunted, and she shut her mouth tightly, refusing to speak another word, trying to think of anything but the conversation she’d just had…
…because the words she was cutting off were, “If you kill any more, can I watch?”
Rainbow Dash blasted through the air, back the way she came, rehearsing the little speech she had in mind.
“I totally… no, no how about make that, ‘I mostly understand where you’re coming from, Gilda’. Don’t bullshit her, you were about to spew grass, you don’t totally understand. Right. I mostly understand where you’re coming from, Gilda, but I need you to understand that this is my house, even if I’m not living there right now, and that makes it a pony house. And you can’t expect any pony to…”
The cloud house zoomed closer. Dash gulped.
“Okay. Let’s do this.”
Rainbow Dash flew in the door, pulling up and announcing, “Gilda, I…”
The room was empty. Dash stared, dumbfounded, for she’d been so set on her plans that she hadn’t considered Gilda might leave.
Then, Dash’s jaw dropped in horror, for the room wasn’t empty anymore.
A bunny hopped into view, from the kitchen. It blinked at her, and scratched its ear with its paw. It decided she wasn’t interesting, turned, and hopped off towards Dash’s bedroom.
“Oh, noooo,” moaned Rainbow Dash. “No, no…”
She sagged, planting her blue rump on the floor with a thud, her brain whirling. She hadn’t told Gilda about the new rules yet. So this bunny was Gilda’s dinner, a dinner she had no idea she wasn’t allowed to have at the house. And it wasn’t specifically that Gilda was going to have it for dinner, it was that Rainbow Dash’s house was not the place for rending flesh and drinking blood. Gilda would have to take the bunny back away again, back out to the griffin territories where it came from. It would die there, and not here.
The bunny hopped back into view. It blinked cutely at Rainbow. Rainbow stared at it with her ears back, peering out of the side of her eye as if it was a horrific object. It gave her a disgusted look and hopped away again. Of course, it wasn’t a horrific object yet. And it didn’t know what was going to happen to it, from the claws that had presumably carried it up here for later consumption, the same claws that had tickled Dash’s privates and caressed her face. Now Rainbow was getting acquainted with something else, another living breathing thing that would have a very different experience from those griffin talons…
She was shaking, not seeing clearly because her eyes were flooding with tears. Just because she hadn’t told Gilda, just because it wasn’t fair to Gilda to change the rules without telling her, this creature was going to die. She could smell its fur, and the light herbivorous scent of the dump it had taken in her kitchen, and because she was loyal to her friend and considerate of her needs, she was going to sit there and do nothing but tell Gilda to take the poor bunny away before she killed it…
Dash banged a hoof on the floor. The bunny peeked around the side of the doorway to the bedroom, and then continued to ignore her. It had put up with a massive predator carrying it around, it wasn’t about to be impressed by some winged pony.
It squeaked in alarm and changed its mind in a hurry when Dash thundered into the room and grabbed it up between her forelegs. She pinched its ear between her hooves, grappling for a hold, and it let out a chilling scream like some foal, and bit her.
“Hold still!” hissed Dash, a hastily written note clenched in her teeth. “This is for your own good!”
The bunny struggled as rooms of the house rushed by, and then as Dash broke into the open air, it looked down and froze. Getting loose was all well and good, but not thousands of feet in the air, it wasn’t.
It held very still, as Rainbow Dash raced to her destination at near-rainboom speeds, and it shut its eyes. Surprisingly soon, a scratchy little voice was speaking to it, in words it couldn’t understand, not being a tame bunny that spoke Pony.
“It’s okay, little fella. We’re here. You can look! Go on.”
The bunny opened its eyes. It was outside a little cottage, and on the ground. It bit Rainbow Dash again, and jumped free, running over to look at the garden it saw.
“This is Fluttershy’s place, you’ll be safe here. Don’t leave! I gotta get home, okay? I’m gonna pick up after you, and I want to talk to my friend…”
The bunny ignored her, and she blasted off, a blue streak heading back to her home.
Then, the streak retraced itself, and Dash was back.
She tucked the written note into Fluttershy’s mailbox.
“Sorry, Derpy, I know you hate it when we do letters without you, but this one’s too urgent to wait.”
Dash raced off again, to the sound of a bunny tearing into one of many half-eaten lettuces faithfully planted by Fluttershy. She liked to serve them in salads, for picky eaters like Angel Bunny. All too often, they never made it that far.
The afternoon’s light gradually faded.
“Not much farther now,” cooed Fluttershy. “Almost there!”
Rock Candy stumbled along after his mother, in a most peculiar way. He staggered as if drunk on salt or too sleepy to stay on his hooves, stretching out his legs and waving them around in an ostentatious display of ‘carry me, I am too tired to walk’.
Pinkie Pie brought up the rear, and butted his rump with the top of her head, causing him to scramble forward hastily and look back at her before resuming his groggy parade.
“Hah!” said Pinkie. “Thought so, buster. No dice! You’re too big to carry, and besides you’re totally faking! Can’t fool a fooler!”
“Oh, Pinkie, don’t do that! His little bones are not as sturdy as yours!” cried Fluttershy.
Pinkie gave her a long-suffering, yet affectionate look. “Cooterpie, that kid can do a double flip—or one and a half, really, because he lands on his head!”
“And you shouldn’t call me things like that in front of him. He’ll pick them up, and other parents will be cross with us.”
“He doesn’t talk yet,” said Pinkie. She looked somewhat frazzled, and spoke a little more curtly than usual.
“He will,” said Fluttershy. “Please? Be nice, and gentle. Baby foals and other innocent creatures should be treated with kindness and gentleness whether they can understand it or not, Pinkie. It’s important. Once you learn how to live, you try to pass it on to others. I am never cross with our baby, am I, dear little Rock?”
Pinkie rolled her eyes, as Rock licked Fluttershy’s nose. “He’s got you wrapped around his hoof, slickylickybits.”
“Shh. That is where I should be,” said Fluttershy. Then, she blinked. “Well, hello. Whose little friend are you?”
The bunny sat up, studying her. She studied it right back. “I’ve never seen that one before.”
“How can you tell?” said Pinkie. She then flinched, for her tail had begin twitching violently. “Augh! There it goes again!”
“It must be a false alarm, Pinkie,” soothed Fluttershy. “Nothing has been falling, the last six times it happened. Oh, look! Why is there mail? This isn’t Derpy’s usual time for delivering it!”
Pinkie wasn’t listening. She was gazing up at the sky, her eyes wild and skittish. “What do you want from me? Huh? Fall, already, whatever you are!”
Fluttershy had drawn the note from the mailbox, and laid it on the ground, where Rock had promptly sat down on it. “Oh, Rock, darling, do please move? Pretty please?” she begged. “I’ll ask, and plead, but I’m not sure I have time to entreat properly and I would like to see what this letter says! Please?”
He rolled away obligingly, flipping to his hooves with a spring and a bound, and Fluttershy read aloud, “Dear Fluttershy. Please keep your bunnies indoors at all times. Very important. No reason, love, Rainbow Dash.” She blinked. “Well! I was not aware Dashie was prejudiced against bunnies, much less to the point of not wanting even to see them! I am sorry, but I think that is just a little bit rude. I’ll speak to her about it, because that is just unreasonable.”
“It’s not that,” said Pinkie. Her teeth chattered.
“I’m sorry?” said Fluttershy.
“Something’s happening. Maybe that’s why my Pinkie Sense is going crazy. Weird notes. Awkward Apples. Random unexplained bunnies…”
“Bunnies require no explanation,” said Fluttershy. “They are just bunnies! What more could you ask from them?”
“I don’t know!” squeaked Pinkie. She winced, and repeated herself more calmly, “I don’t know. I just know something’s happening and it’s not good, Fluttershy, it’s not good. I better protect you and Rock. But how can I protect you when I don’t know what’s gonna fall?”
“Oh, Pinkie,” said Fluttershy indulgently.
“I mean it!”
“Oh, all right. How about I fix you some lovely daisy soup, my beloved darling, and put you to bed? All this twitching, with nothing happening, is leaving you a nervous wreck. Let me take care of you?”
Pinkie had hit the dirt again at another fierce tail-twitch. She gazed up at her mate frantically. “But… falling! Things! Bad! Weird!”
“Not another word! You need some rest and curative flower soup. I think dandelion, actually.”
Pinkie made a face. “That stuff’s so bitter!”
“It’s good for you,” said Fluttershy firmly. “And since you are so worried, I will fly around and see if I can find anything falling, or whatever else is happening to trouble you.”
“I know Rainbow Dash’s friend Gilda is in town. Staying with the Apple family, or something like that.”
Fluttershy frowned. “Maybe Ponyville’s standards are falling, then, to put up with a big meanie like that. Come along! Mama Fluttershy has two babies to care for tonight, and one of them must drink her dandelion soup and get big and strong again!”
Pinkie didn’t object. She said, to herself, “Got to go deeper. Deeper into the Pinkie Sense, find out what’s happening. Deeper! This chapter is usually where things really go off the hook. Wait, what am I talking about?” Her eye twitched.
“You’re feverish, darling,” said Fluttershy. She frowned, and added, “Or at least very Pinkie-ish! Come inside. I’m putting you to bed while I make you some soup!”
Pinkie accompanied Fluttershy willingly, trembling, comforted by Fluttershy’s soft wing across her withers. They went inside, and shut the door, leaving the bunny outside eating another lettuce.
“There you are!” cried Applejack.
Dash reared and whinnied in alarm. Applejack had come halfway to town, looking for her. They were fairly near the kids’ clubhouse, and Dash hadn’t been expecting the love of her life to spring out from behind a tree.
“Oh, honey, your leg! What’s happened to your leg?”
Rainbow tried to hide the bite marks. Explaining the bunny would mean explaining what it was doing in her house, which would mean telling Applejack unthinkable things about the griffin she was fucking. Dash winced anew, thinking about it, and said “Nothing! I, uh, hit it on a door.”
“Doors got teeth? Aw, now, Rainbow…”
“I said, I hit it on a door! Uh, it was a sharp door. Like pointy, splinters, you know. Don’t ask!” Seriously, don’t ask, she thought.
Applejack’s face showed her distress. “Well… all right, but we gonna have a talk, missy.”
“Fine! Come on. Let’s go home.”
They didn’t reach it. Apple Bloom ran to met them, and both Applejack and Dash blanched to see the look on her face.
“Help, help!” she cried. “Granny Smith!”
“Oh sweet Celestia, she died?” stammered Applejack.
“She’s gone crazy!”
Then they were all running, stampeding back to what was left of Applejack’s family, in a blur of panic and mad galloping. Applejack thundered into the house, to see Rainbow panting, working her wings and staring at Granny Smith, who sat quietly in a chair with an odd expression on her face, showing no signs of madness.
Applejack panted. “Granny? How ya doin’?”
“Dandy, thanks fer askin’,” replied Granny.
Apple Bloom ran in, her filly legs not equal to her big sister’s full gallop. “Ask—hhh—askher!” she gasped.
“Ask her what, sugarcube?” said Applejack.
Apple Bloom turned, gazing imploringly at Granny. “Granny, ain’t you worried about Big Macintosh bein’ missing again? You know, your grandcolt?”
Granny licked her lips, seeming to gather her thoughts.
“Don’t be so damn silly, child. You know I ain’t got no grandcolt.”
“See? See?” wailed Apple Bloom. “She done went crazy! She don’t know her own family!”
Had Apple Bloom been less upset, she might have seen the look of fear on Rainbow Dash’s face, looking at her beloved Applejack. Applejack had gone chalk white, looking stunned, staring at Granny and shaking her head weakly. She knew, somehow, what Granny was really saying.
“G-go to your room, Apple Bloom! Right now!” ordered Applejack.
“But we gotta do somethin’! Take her to the hospital, right away! Git help!”
“Rainbow!” cried Applejack, desperately.
Rainbow Dash hurried over, and began to coax, then wrestle the hysterical Apple Bloom up the stairs. “Come on, you heard her, leave this to the big ponies, come ON… do what she said, we need you to do that for us okay sport?” She limped a little from the injuries she’d refused to explain. Upstairs, Spy cried out, “Maaaaah!”, as Dash got Apple Bloom past the master bedroom and down the hall towards her own room. The door slammed on the two of them.
Applejack turned back toward Granny Smith, who regarded her through slitted, truculent eyes. There was so much veiled rage in those eyes. It was easy to tell that this had been Applesauce’s mother. It took family, someone who’d known Granny Smith for a lifetime, to sense behind that rage and pick up a hint of the hurt, the grief, the despair that had driven her to this intolerable place: but to sense it was all Applejack could do. On the outside, all was sheer hate, tightly bound up in proper behavior, no longer caring to appease anypony’s sensibilities. Inside, that faint scent of a poisonous, crushing despair that told Applejack, as clearly as if she’d said it aloud, that no further bullying would be any use.
Applejack stared at Granny Smith. Granny sat very straight and stared back.
“So,” said Applejack finally. “So… you ain’t got no grandcolt, huh?”
Granny licked her lips again. A vein in her forehead throbbed.
“None t’ speak of,” she said.