Two By Two

“That was AWESOME!” squeed Rainbow Dash.

Flight Lightning rolled her eyes, grinning. “I think we’ve got a new secret weapon, Dash. Sweetie Belle, how did you think of all that stuff?”

“Please, be quieter!” begged Sweetie. “I’ll tell you if you just don’t make so much noise, okay?”

The four ponies lurked in a little wooded valley, a nook among the tastefully sculpted hillsides that seemed somewhat overlooked. Perhaps it was just the way the trees formed picturesque horizons all around it, but their refuge seemed positively strange for its relative un-groomedness. The ponies who’d made all of Neighpon an exquisite garden, had skipped this part.

Scootaloo, hugging Sweetie, glared at her mom and her idol, respectively. “Yeah, since when did the kids have to be grown-ups and the grownups turn into kids? What’s the big deal?”

Rainbow Dash reached over and tousled Scootaloo’s mane. “Since we got to know how awesome you and Sweetie really are, that’s when. Kid, my ass… you’re a full-on part of the team… ‘kid’.”

Scootaloo made a little subdued whinny of delight, then controlled herself. “Well then, my question stands. Sweetie says this place is dangerous. Why are you goofing around?”

“We’re dangerous too,” boasted Rainbow Dash. “And completely badass. Holy crap, Scootaloo, I was carrying Sweetie on my back all this time and how come I never knew she had, like, the squeak of death?”

Scootaloo winced, as Sweetie blushed scarlet. “Maybe you just didn’t catch her at the right moment!” griped the pegasus filly. “I didn’t know it would work, but we were desperate. Do you think it KILLED those ponies? That’s horrible!”

Already scarlet, Sweetie Belle burst into overwhelmed tears, and both adult ponies turned to helping Scootaloo comfort her.

“There, there, kiddo,” soothed Rainbow Dash. “Of course it didn’t. Who said that? It’s just like the flower ponies, you know? You didn’t hurt them. You just made them fall over.”

“Something else,” said Flight Lightning, sternly. “Settle down, girls! I understand this is very exciting, but it’s only a different country. Ponies are ponies everywhere you go, and I don’t want you making up stories and behaving like this is some crazy dangerous place. It can’t be that bad. Now that we’re somewhere that we can talk, I’d like to hear more about how Sweetie knows all these things. You were right about the monster costume, Sweetie, and that’s amazing. How did you know it would be there?”

Sweetie sniffled, wiping her eyes with the back of a hoof. “Haven’t you read about Neighpon?”

Three pegasi looked at each other.

“Flying’s more my jam,” said Rainbow Dash, as Flight Lightning nodded. “How about you pretend we’ve never read about Neighpon? I mean, one of the Daring Do books was in Neighpon, but I figured that was all bullshit. I mean, awesome and exciting and my favorite, but you know they’re stories, right? They don’t really have insane pegasus warriors. They’re ponies like us, right Flight Lightning?”

“Let her answer,” advised Flight Lightning.

Sweetie sniffled again. “No, they do. I never read that Daring Do book, but it’s real. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Dash’s eyes widened.

“Maybe you should tell us again, then,” she said. “What exactly have we gotten ourselves into, here?”

Flight Lightning’s eyes narrowed. “Sweetie Belle? How come you’re shaking? Out with it, now!”

Her jaw dropped, as did Dash’s. Sweetie crumbled where she stood, curling into a little ball of trembling filly, and Scootaloo wrapped herself around her fillyfriend faithfully and glared at the adults. “NOT helping!”

“Oh be quiet Scootaloo be quiet please please quiet!” begged Sweetie, almost incoherently.

Dash and Flight Lightning exchanged a glance, and then they settled to the ground to either side of the younger ponies, secluded in the little wooded valley, and they were quiet. Just little fluffy rustlings of feathers joined the sound of breezes through the trees, as Flight Lightning cuddled the side of Scootaloo not already wrapped around Sweetie Belle. Dash didn’t do likewise for Sweetie, but Scootaloo was making up for it, not even caring who saw her snuggling Sweetie with her small orange wings.

“We’re quiet,” whispered Rainbow Dash, after a few minutes spent undisturbed. “We can stay quiet. Nothing’s happening, Sweetie Belle.”

Sweetie nodded miserably.

“Can you tell us what’s so frightening?” asked Dash. “I feel like you skipped telling us something.”

“What’s out there?” asked Scootaloo, concerned. “It must be really bad.”

Sweetie shuddered, looking haunted.

“Is it the Kirin?” asked Dash. “That’s the only thing I can think of, that’s so powerful it would scare you this much. And that’s crazy, I’ve seen a Kirin and she was a little cutie. Nice though she was a bit weird. Are you frightened of the Kirin, Sweetie Belle?”

“No,” said Sweetie. “Ask yourself how come they need Kirin that much?”

The other ponies fell silent, frowning.

“I don’t know whether I’m more frightened of the monsters or the pegasi,” said Sweetie Belle softly. “In some ways I’m more scared of the unicorns. Because I know there must be some, but they’re not talked about at all, not since their attack on the Kirin. I wonder if the ponies here will think I’m an evil unicorn coming to take over. But they do know what to do about that.” She shivered.

Dash wrinkled her brow. “Okay, let me get this straight. You’re scared of monsters here. You’re also scared of the pegasi, and maybe even more scared of the unicorns. And you’re a unicorn, and we’re pegasi.”

“Not like them,” mumbled Sweetie Belle. “We’re just not like them.”

“Whatever,” said Dash. “And yet you rode on my back all the way to Neighpon without a word of complaint, and only now that you’re freakin’ out do we start hearing about this. Never mind the stories, you can tell us those next. Sweetie, why did you even come here?”

Sweetie Belle said nothing. She just stuck out her lower lip petulantly… and clung to Scootaloo. Who blushed brighter and brighter, hugging back, understanding that the little unicorn had gone far into what she considered harm’s way simply because her mate was doing likewise. Sweetie’s bravery hadn’t been obvious when surrounded by giddy pegasus excitement and adventure. It was only now that they learned how courageous she had been.

“Start from the beginning,” urged Flight Lightning. “We’re here for ya. Tell us about these monsters, Sweetie Belle. Where did you hear about that stuff?”

“I told you, I read,” said Sweetie. “Twilight Sparkle let me come read in her library, and even Princess Celestia let me go visit her library. There isn’t that much about Neighpon, but it was really exciting and mysterious. I read everything I could find. Princess Celestia said she knew one of the writers personally…”

“The monsters, Sweetie,” said Flight Lightning. “What are we dealing with here?”

Sweetie Belle gave a sigh. “But that’s just it. It’s not even the dragons, you know.”

“We can beat dragons,” vowed Rainbow Dash. “You better believe it.”

“Fluttershy can tame dragons,” suggested Scootaloo.

“We don’t need Fluttershy to deal with dragons,” said Dash.

“We’re dressed up as a dragon,” pointed out Flight Lightning. “I mean, when we fly around in that costume. The one you stole, Sweetie Belle.”

“It’s not about the dragons!” protested Sweetie. “And I only spotted it, when we got to Neighpon and Rainbow said we should have a special disguise. They have to dress up like dragons. You took it off the clothes-line yourself!”

“Hey!” said Scootaloo. “I helped! ‘Cause Rainbow Dash was right, we ought to have a special disguise. Why do they even have dragon costumes around anyway?”

Rainbow Dash scratched her head. “Twilight did say they got up to kinky stuff. It must be that. What else?”

“I’m trying to tell you,” said Sweetie, “and please keep your voices down! It’s so scary to be here.”

“Fine,” said Dash, and whispered, “So what else?”

“The ponies of Neighpon are great warriors,” said Sweetie Belle.

“Yeah well I’M a…”

“No, shh!” urged Sweetie. “It’s all because they haven’t got enough monsters and stuff to fight. They have to dress up like dragons to have any, that’s why they have costumes. Also, they have way fewer pegasi and unicorns than us, something about preserving the great tapestry of natural ponies. Kirin have something to do with it. They’re like trainers. It’s like they don’t let unicorns and pegasi happen except when they’re just naturally born, but then they make a big fuss about it…”

Flight Lightning frowned. “That’s different. Kirin are against pegasi? If I knew that when the Kirin visited Ponyville, I’d have given her a piece of my mind about it.”

“You mean a piece of your hoof,” smirked Dash.

“You hit me first, Dash,” retorted Flight Lightning, “and anyway never mind, I’m sorry and that’s long over. Tell us more, Sweetie Belle. They don’t want pegasi? What do they do with ‘em? This sounds bad, and it sure has you scared. Do you think they’re gonna hurt you because you’re a unicorn? Are we, like, not allowed?”

“It’s not that,” said Sweetie, and looked perplexed. “I don’t think it is. They… want to treat us like we’re more special? It’s weird. You’d think they would just help ponies get along, but they want unicorns and pegasi only to happen by accident… but then, when they do, it’s a big deal and they celebrate it a lot. But it’s in this creepy way…”

Scootaloo poked her with a hoof. “Maybe it’s just because we aren’t Neighponnese? Explain, Sweetie. What do they do? Start with the pegasi. It sounds like you know more about their pegasi.”

Sweetie nodded. “Their pegasi are, like, the next best thing to Kirin. I told you, they’re warriors. They go away and train for battle, it’s all they do.”

“Wow. Battling each other?” said Dash.

“No. Yes,” said Sweetie Belle. “Kind of. I really didn’t understand that part.”

Dash, Flight and Scootaloo glanced at each other.

“We’re all pegasi, Sweetie,” said Dash. “What’s ‘no yes’, and what do they battle? You just got our attention, bigtime. Do they attack other pegasi, like us?”

“I think they just train so hard that they get kind of crazy,” said Sweetie. “The Kirin teach them to be protectors of ponies when the Kirin aren’t around. Maybe even when they are? I don’t know what the unicorns do, I just know about the evil unicorn cabal that tried to take over. That was a whole age… they call them Ages of Neighpon, and that was the Age of Sorrow. I don’t know if they like unicorns much. They don’t seem to take the unicorns away, the naturally born unicorns I mean.”

“Hey,” said Scootaloo, cuddling her. “Any way unicorns get born is okay by me.”

“Keep going,” said Flight Lightning sternly. “They train these pegasi for battle, and then what?”

“They do it when they haven’t got monsters and stuff to fight. Demons,” said Sweetie.

“Pink demons?” asked Rainbow Dash.


“One of those ponies was yelling about pink demons coming back,” said Dash. “Are they supposed to fight pink demons?”

Sweetie looked puzzled. “I don’t think I saw anything about pink demons in all the old books I read. Are you sure you heard that right?”

“They train for battle,” repeated Flight Lightning, “and then what? They fight monsters, and?”

Sweetie looked sick. “If they can’t fight monsters the Kirin let them fight each other because they’re so nuts for fighting. They wiped out all the bad monsters. One pegasus would take on a dragon like it was nothing. It wouldn’t matter if they got killed or terribly injured because they just wanted to fight the biggest enemy, you know? I think the Kirin encouraged them, but in the Age of Despair it got bad and the pegasi took to attacking regular ponies and demanding tribute.”

“Their Ages kinda suck, you know that?” said Dash.

Sweetie shook her head. “They’re in the Age of Bountiful Joy now, so I guess they got better. But the Kirin dealt with the pegasi taking over by getting them to fight each other.”

“Explain that,” said Flight Lightning. “I thought Kirin were supposed to be good and nice. How did they do that?”

“That’s why I’m so scared of them,” said Sweetie. “They didn’t really ever get the pegasi to be nice again. Instead, they told the pegasi they could rule pony towns if they ruled justly, but there weren’t enough pony towns to go around. So the Kirin made the pegasi fight for it. It became a tradition, what they call a martial art? They don’t bother ruling towns anymore, but the ponies make a fuss over the pegasi just as if they did. The Kirin run the towns, with the regular ponies, and the pegasi practice being warriors and they’re ready in case anything attacks Neighpon. They will all die to defend Neighpon, and they’re super fierce and tough, and they still duel sometimes, the book said.”

“How do they duel?” asked Scootaloo.

“I shouldn’t tell you,” mumbled Sweetie Belle.

“Now you gotta,” ordered Flight Lightning. “How do they duel?”

“They can fly incredibly fast, until the sky rips and breaks…”

“Me too,” said Dash, “it’s called a sonic rainboom. Flight can really haul ass too. And?”

“And they fly directly into each other at full speed,” said Sweetie, “and try to kick out just right at the last possible instant.”

“Hoof to the head?” marvelled Dash. “That’s nuts!”

“They go for the wings,” said Sweetie Belle.

All three pegasi cringed in unison.

“They WHAT?” said Dash.

“That’s the martial art,” explained Sweetie. “There’s a special rank the Kirin set up. The regular townsponies are taught that a pegasus with one wing is as honorable as one injured fighting a dragon… like it doesn’t matter how they get wrecked, they’re to be celebrated. I guess it’s better than the townsponies killing a wounded pegasus, which is what they were starting to do in the Age of Despair? The Kirin made them the guardians of the towns but then they got the townsponies to take special care of pegasus injured in battle, like so maimed their wings were gone. I guess the pegasi bought it? They’re also the only ones who get to teach martial arts to other pegasi…”

Dash, Flight and Scootaloo still looked appalled. “Does that make ‘em feel better about it?” asked Scootaloo.

“I guess. So, they’re crazy warriors,” said Sweetie, “and they can beat a dragon or any kind of monster, and they fly into each other with flailing hooves to try and rip off each others’ wings, just for fun. Do you see why I’m more scared of the pegasi here than the monsters?”

Flight Lightning, eyes narrowed, regarded Sweetie. “This is out of history books? Sounds like bad times. How do you know they still do all this?”

Sweetie pouted. “I guess I don’t. The book said it was all true, though. If you see one-winged pegasi it must be true.”

“We haven’t,” Flight Lightning pointed out. “It’s just stories out of a book.”

“If they find out we’re here,” said Sweetie petulantly, “and they fly into you incredibly fast and kick your wing off screaming a battle cry, it will be too late to tell you to be careful.”

The pegasi cringed again, but all three looked determined.

“NOT happening,” said Rainbow Dash. “I can outfly any Neighponnese pegasus. They have a martial art that’s pegasus against pegasus?”

Sweetie pouted. “Works on unicorns, too. And earth ponies. We have legs, you know.”

“Well, we have a disguise!” said Scootaloo. “We have a dragon suit. I know it does kinda look just like a big flying worm but it has a dragony head on it! We can hide your legs in that, all you have to do is squeak.”

“Me and Dash can get it to move like lightning!” said Flight Lightning. She grinned at Rainbow Dash. “Well, half Lightning and half Dash?”

“Adds up to one totally awesome!” said Scootaloo, loyally.

“Nope! About half,” said Dash, “because it’s cumbersome. So what else have we got? I can do hoof to hoof combat, maybe not trained by a Kirin but I can do it.”

“So can I,” said Flight Lightning, and winced. “As you know!”

“Yeah,” said Dash thoughtfully, “but… not in a big monster costume. I think we need to make more of a plan. Sweetie has those weaponized squeaks…”

“I don’t want to hurt anypony!” wailed Sweetie.

“Now who’s noisy?” said Scootaloo.

“I’m sorry!” whispered Sweetie. “I don’t want to hurt anypony. I’m not gonna do it if it hurts ponies, I don’t even care.”

“It won’t,” promised Flight Lightning. “They’re just falling over. Like the flower ponies. Ponies are the same all over.”

Dash was frowning. “Except when they aren’t. Hey, Flight? You still got that hoof-to-hoof thing goin’ on? If Sweetie’s right, we could end up duking it out with a Neighponnese pegasus. Are you up for that?”

“I doubt it’ll be as extreme as she says, but yeah, if we get jumped I won’t go down without a fight. But you’re missing something, Dash. Anyone attacking us has to get through that crazy costume! There’s padding. You know it’s kind of heavy.”

“We jump out and kick the hell out of the attacking pegasus samurai!” boasted Dash. “Like, fling off the disguise and YAAA!”

“NOW who’s noisy?” griped Scootaloo, as Sweetie clung to her in a panic.

“Dash?” said Flight Lightning.


“Sweetie Belle’s in that costume. And she can’t fly. Great plan, dude, A plus. How about you think of something else?”

Dash subsided. “Oh. Yeah. Um…”

“I think I could squeak even louder if it was a scary warrior pegasus attacking us,” said Sweetie hesitantly.

Scootaloo set her jaw. “You need hoof to hoof combat, huh?”

“We have to consider the possibility,” said Dash grimly. “And your mom’s right: we can’t fight and fly in the costume at the same time. We could work out how to get down to the ground in a hurry, and split up, and Sweetie can… try to hide under the costume? I don’t know, kid, we’re in a big fog here. You got anything?”

“You know, I think I just might,” said Scootaloo grimly. “Mom? Throw me at the attacker.”

“Like hell,” retorted Flight Lightning.

“No, listen! When I won the Ponyville dance contest it was with these wild moves. You know, you KNOW I’ve always had a lot of dexterity. It’s kind of my thing. And I can totally fly well enough to guide myself, and unlike Sweetie Belle, if I fall from way up, I’ll get down without hitting too hard. You know I can pull off a glide which isn’t all that steep. Give me one shot.”

“To do what?” said Rainbow Dash.

Scootaloo’s eye glinted. “If some pegasus warrior is attacking us… and Sweetie? I’m gonna do those moves again, but to HIT instead of to miss. I don’t care how fast they are, I’m faster, and I’ll knock them the fuck out. End of problem. You can meet me back on the ground and we’ll fly out of there.”

“You’re going to fly out of the mouth of the dragon, and beat up pegasi warriors?” said Flight Lightning, skeptically. “That’s the plan?”

“She is orange!” quipped Rainbow Dash. “They’ll think she’s a dragon flame. I was at that dance contest, I saw her. It could work. Scootaloo, that’s an interesting suggestion, and I believe you about protecting Sweetie Belle. It makes sense in a stupid way. I’ll go along with it on one condition.”

“What?” said Scootaloo.

“Show me,” replied Dash, with an evil grin. She scuffed the dirt with a forehoof.

“Oh, come the fuck on, Dash,” said Flight Lightning.

“Scootaloo?” said Sweetie Belle.

The grin on Dash’s face spread… to Scootaloo’s. Their eyes locked, and didn’t waver. Scootaloo got to her hooves, shaking out one foreleg, then the other.

“Oh, Scootaloo, don’t!” pleaded Sweetie Belle. “It’ll be okay, you don’t have to!”

“You do,” corrected Rainbow Dash, “you totally do. Come on. Show me. I dare ya. We need to know. Come ON! I bet you c…”

They didn’t even see Scootaloo move. One moment, she was standing poised and tense, eyes locked utterly on Dash, and then she was a whirl of a blur, little orange limbs spinning with alarming velocity in a sort of kamikaze cartwheel. In that fraction of a second, Rainbow Dash reacted with Dashian speed, trying to gauge where the little orange hoofs were coming from, her adrenaline up, holding nothing back with her own blue hooves flashing out to intercept the incoming blows.


Sweetie squealed, in spite of herself. Flight Lightning yelled. The blur came to rest well past Rainbow Dash, panting.

Dash’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she toppled with a flail of cerulean wings, collapsing. Scootaloo had hit her three times in less than half a second, twice in the head.

“What the FUCK, kid?” yelled Flight Lightning. “What have you done?”

Scootaloo trembled, fighting for breath. “It’s okay! Give me a moment… I’m sure I gauged it right! I think I’d have to go harder if it was an earth pony, but that ought to work for another pegasus…”

“It doesn’t WORK at all!” yelled Flight Lightning. “You are so grounded. We’re going home! Except that’s dumb, never mind, we’re going to go find some Neighponnese ponies and take Rainbow to the hospital! Or whatever they have here, do they have pony hospitals, Sweetie? Holy shit, kid! Not okay! Bad pony!”

“It’s important!” yelled Scootaloo. “She told me to do it! I had to prove what I said!”

“She’s an idiot!” replied Flight Lightning. “And so are you! You don’t get to take chances like that. Not when Sweetie depends on riding Dash to get around! And since when do you hit your big damn hero Rainbow Dash?”

One ruby eye cracked open.

“When she can do it right,” rasped Dash.

She was promptly mobbed by two fillies, and then one truly pissed off pegasus Mom, all hugging and comforting her.

“Ow, ow ow!” moaned Dash. “No more demonstrations! You made your point. Ow! I’m OK, I’m totally OK, don’t jostle me, ow! Fuck! Why’d you have to go for the head?”

“What else could I do?” said Scootaloo.

“Yeah, least useful part,” said Flight Lightning. “For fuck’s sake, Dash. Don’t be fucking stupid again, okay?” The harshness of her words was belied by her hoof gently stroking Dash’s mane, exploring Rainbow’s skull for signs of damage.

“Yaaa! Cut it out, I’m fine!” wailed Dash. “And really, Scoots? You go for me with the most disabling attack? Point made, okay? You’re our new karate weapon, we fling you at enemies and you boot ‘em in the head and then we gather you back into the suit. It’s a brilliant plan and there’s nothing ridiculous about dragon monsters puking violent pegasus fillies at enemies. Or if there is, that’s ponies for ya. Never mind, it’ll work. WHAT?”

Scootaloo pouted, for she’d been trying to get a word in. “It wasn’t.”


“You said the most disabling attack. I didn’t, I kicked you in the head twice.”

“That’s not your best?”

“If some pegasus warrior comes to hurt Sweetie,” said Scootaloo, “I’m gonna kick their wing off. Don’t you think I could get through any block they had? I think so. And then,” she said, and gulped, “they can go off and be important teachers of warriors. ‘Cos we’re gonna keep their wing as a trophy!”

Dash and Flight Lightning gagged. Sweetie’s adoring eyes were worried.

“Scoot,” said Flight Lightning, “no! Just no. Calm down. Nopony’s gonna hurt anypony. We’re just going to find Braeburn. Your Dad, remember? What would he think if he heard you talking that way?”

Shared pause.

“Bad example,” said Flight Lightning, “never mind. Think of ME, and remember ponies are always ponies. We’ll be fine.”

Sweetie gulped, apparently unconvinced. Dash studied her.

“You really think the pegasus warriors are that badass here, Sweetie? It’s not pretty. Ugh! Scootaloo, if things get that heavy, we’re going to have some explaining to do when we get home. On the other hand, I just got a little more certain that we WILL get home. Let’s figure out where we’ll go next.”

Sweetie Belle’s lip quivered. “I would kinda rather believe that Flight Lightning is right about this. But you took me seriously… Rainbow Dash, you also think we’re going to need that kind of ferocity?”

Dash’s glance went from her, to Scootaloo’s truculent glare, back to Sweetie again.

“Well,” said Dash, “we got it.”

“Eenope,” said Big Macintosh, gently.

The Neighponnese earth pony mare stuck out her lower lip. “Really? Curse! Are you sure? I thought all traveling musicians were wildly promiscuous.”

“Don’t need that much practice,” said Big Macintosh. “Ah’m just wondering if you heard of a Kirin name of Hina-rin?”

Her eyes widened. “They’re not replacing Mangekyo-sama? Say they are not! She has come a long way and we all support her, why do you think I am wanting to mate with you when you’re strange but still obviously a pony of some sort?”

“Beg pardon?”

“You don’t know about our village? I suppose we should be grateful for that. Ponies are so judgemental at times! It is sad that the creativity of our Kirin must be stifled. Even if she did allow some things that maybe weren’t the best.”

“Ma’am,” said Big Macintosh, “Ah got no idea what you’re talkin’ about. For today I’m gonna respectfully dee-cline your perty favors, but what th’ heck do you mean, I’m a pony of some sort? Course I am!”

“We like your type,” said the mare with a wink. “You’re different. You really don’t know about our village? I thought everypony did. Will it help you be attracted to me if I tell you?”

“It might help me understand what you’re talkin’ about!”

“We like differentness,” explained the mare. “Here, status is having a family with much differentness. Mangekyo-sama helped our village be more different than any other, until the other Kirin made her stop.” She pouted.

“Go on…”

“It’s most unfair! Curse Fuwafuwa, anyway, I would have rivalled her for certain if Mangekyo-sama had been allowed to continue! She was almost ready to help me love the daioukia, I’d spent months and months persuading her. It would have been amazing and brought me great importance among my peers and I had even arranged for the special pool…”

Big Macintosh blinked. “Beggin’ your pardon, but ya lost me. Dai-what-a?”

The mare blinked cutely at him. “Daioukia. You know! The giant squid.”

Had he been drinking, Big Macintosh would have spit it. “Jes’ a moment. You were gonna have your Kirin help you screw a giant SQUID?”

“Where do you think sea ponies come from?” replied the mare. “Except I would be mother to a whole new species of giant sea ponies. With lovely tentacles! It’s SO unfair that Mangekyo-sama gave all that up.”

Big Macintosh was backing tactfully away from his cute but alarming companion. “Uhh… ma’am, ponies don’t work that way. Far as I know.”

She pouted. “Don’t be foolish! Why, Fuwafuwa mated an owl with her help! It turned into a giant owl, and just as she’d hoped, she birthed a pegasus with special wings, silent as midnight. She grew up to be a great warrior, her name was Fukuro. But I didn’t get to birth my giant tentacled sea pony baby, which is completely unfair!”

Big Macintosh’s eyes were wide. “Um… you aren’t thinkin’ I got some tentacle for a dick, are ya?”

“I’ll make do,” said the mare. “You’re so different! It’s not like the old days, but you are still the differentest pony to come here in years!”

“Ain’t this kinda… strange and creepy?”

“No, creepy was Kasukana, who mated a snail. When that family heard the Kirin were changing our village they fled across the sea. I only want my giant squid, but you’ll do.”

Big Macintosh kept his distance. The mare was so cheerful, but the tale she told just kept getting more alarming. Perhaps that was why the other Kirin had talked some sense into their Kirin, Mangekyo-sama. “Is it… normal? For all y’alls Kirin to git up to such creepy experimentin’? That seems like a pow’ful tough thing to do, crossin’ mares with squids and owls and such.”

“It keeps things interesting!” scoffed the mare. “Now come on. Come and play and give me a giant red horse foal! We have so few chances to be different anymore.”

“Is that what ya need?” asked Big Macintosh. “Bein’ different?”

The mare hesitated… and sagged. “No. The other Kirin taught us that. It’s not really necessary. Mangekyo-sama indulged us. They say it started when huge dragons plagued the land, and she bred a kind of pony whose front half was that of a giant raptor bird… they were all lost battling the dragons. You can see in the costumes of our pegasi, the stylized beaks and claws. They can’t equal the hippogriffs, but the hippogriffs couldn’t live. Their hearts gave out.” She sighed.

“Romancin’?” said Big Macintosh, uncertainly.

“They were three times as fast and powerful as a pegasus,” replied the mare, “with only a pony heart. They say Mangekyo-sama cried for months when she realized what she’d done, but she had to continue until the dragons were destroyed. The hippogriffs went willingly to their deaths, because they lived to defend the village and they loved us. Ever after, ponies have tried to live up to their heroism. Mangekyo-sama will never help another mare birth a hippogriff.”

“What about the one with the owl?”

“Not the same,” said the mare. “Only a little bit swifter than a pegasus. There is no need for such measures now. In truth this is why Mangekyo-sama had to repent of her ways and won’t help me make a giant squidpony: our village once knew and loved the hippogriffs, and we never stopped bugging her and suggesting other experiments. Stupid Fuwafuwa! Though in fairness, Fukuro was the most adorable snuggly owl-pegasus-filly you could possibly imagine. Maybe that’s how she persuaded dear Mangekyo-sama? Adorableness?”

She looked quizzically at Big Macintosh, who blinked and said, “Dunno.”

“What bothers you, giant red horse?” she said. “You’ve backed up against the wall. If you really don’t want to mate me, I won’t press you. You’re acting like we are disturbing, and our village is famed for its glorious history.”

Big Macintosh scuffed a hoof on the floor. “Ah’m sorry. I’m bein’ rude, and I don’t even know your name…”

“Kai,” she said. “It’s okay. I didn’t mean to make you upset. You can come closer, you look like you’re about to gallop away as fast as you can!”

“Ah am,” he said. “Gotta set up for th’ gig. It’s not on your account, ma’am. It’s just…”


“Don’t you think,” said Big Macintosh, “that’s a lot of playin’ with the lives of ponies? Is that what Kirin do? What they’re s’posed to do? I’m jes’ askin’.”

Kai’s eyes twinkled. “Are there no Kirin where you come from? Mangekyo-sama may be over-eager to indulge our dreams, but healing the lives of ponies is what Kirin are for.”


She blinked. “I’m sorry? Why does that distress you? Do you not believe me?”

“Naw,” said Big Macintosh. “Happens Ah do…”

She carried on, as if conveying a great gossipy secret. “You would be surprised! Why, I have heard stories of a unicorn mare in a town to the south. This mare grew up tiny, uncommonly so, but all the same she became sexually mature and wished to make love with stallions…”

“Uhh…” said Big Macintosh, starting to blush under his red hide.

“Of course, she was far too tiny! Stallions hurt her terribly. Now if it was THIS town, our Mangekyo-sama would set her up with some nice chipmunk or squirrel and be done with it, but no! They say our Mangekyo-sama was foolhardy, but listen! That town’s Kirin thought they would be clever. And so they kept an eye on her, but they changed her mind so that intercourse pain was turned to pleasure, so she could sleep with her pick of stallions! They thought all they had to do was warn the stallions not to be rough with her, and she would be okay so long as they checked up on her now and then. What? You were saying something?”

“Go on…” said Big Macintosh, his eyes wide.

Kai nodded wisely. “Of course it didn’t end well. Yes, it was asking a lot of the stallions, but they had overlooked one thing: herself! The foolish mare began wrecking herself with constant intercourse. They couldn’t just put her back after all that trouble, plus it would be a cruel act to deprive her of that gift, but she ran wild and sought stronger and stronger matings until her life was regularly endangered! And eventually, the Kirin sort of took her away. They say she is allowed to go back to town on special occasions. And they can say what they like of our beloved Mangekyo-sama, but you know what else they say? They say the Kirin of that town are never short of magic.”

Big Macintosh gulped, remembering a night-time fireworks display… over a lake his partner knew would be needed. And he remembered what he’d done, and the anger and alarm of the Kirin who had rushed to the scene, healing magic at the ready…

“Ponies find ways to adapt to just about anything,” said Kai. “Hey… hey! Where are you going!”

“…gotta set up th’ gig!” cried Big Macintosh, and galloped off.

She pouted.

“Hmph! Well, there’s always good old dreams of squid…”