Kawa and Yosuru crept through the night, keeping near the treeline and peering around by the light of the moon and stars.
Kawa looked up, sharply. “Do you feel that?” he asked, but one glance told him that his Kirin companion felt it, too.
Wrongness. Wickedness, tragedy, injustice, lurking in the shadows…
“With me,” ordered Yosuru in a commanding hiss, but she’d taken only a few steps toward the danger when its nature revealed itself. At first slinking towards what might be an attacker, she began to gallop towards the opposite… an attackED.
“Oh, no!” gasped Kawa. The sad little pile of disheveled feathers looked very small in the moonlight. And it looked small in the daytime, though indomitable, because it was the great Moeru. He’d seen greater days… and nights.
“Don’t…” began Yosuru, worriedly, but Kawa had already reached out with his magic and lifted the pegasus warrior’s little head.
Moeru stirred, then emitted a shrill whimper. He tried to cover his head with his wings. “Ow, ow ow ow ow!”
“Don’t do that, little one!” begged Yosuru.
“Why ow! not? ow!” wailed Moeru pitifully.
Kawa had gone pale. He saw why not. Moeru was moving feebly, barely coordinated, and had every excuse for that: there was a visible dent in his head, from some terrible blow.
Yosuru turned to Kawa, grimly. “Keep him from moving, and keep him alive! I will get Kantokusha, he would never forgive me if I failed him now!”
“But you’re more powerful at…” began Kawa, but he was talking to the wind. Yosuru was just a receding streak in the moonlight, tearing across the hills of Neighpon at unthinkable speed to fetch the Kirin who looked after the town of Taikutsuna, adjacent to Kabochaebi. Yosuru was no doubt more powerful at keeping a grievously injured pegasus boy alive, but she was also faster at getting help.
He turned to Moeru, biting his lip in anxiety, trying to work out the best course of action. What if the wild little pegasus tried to leap about, or flee?
His fears were unfounded. Moeru didn’t move, not even his trembling wings. Moeru… cried.
His voice was soft, perhaps because of his distress, perhaps because the pain of his injury forcibly subdued him. It wrung Kawa’s heart to hear it.
“Why?” whimpered Moeru. “Ow… why did he hit me? I was going to be nice to him. It hurts, it hurts so much…”
“Don’t move,” urged Kawa. “Help is coming.”
“Am I going to die?” said Moeru softly. “It was not a battle. I didn’t want to battle him…”
“Shh,” said Kawa, but couldn’t help but ask, “Who?”
“The Sneaking Spy,” breathed Moeru. “I wanted to make love to the Sneaking Spy. He was so sexy. Oh, it grows dark…”
“Hold on!” said Kawa. “Soon Yosuru will return, with… He arrives! Be strong, hold on!”
It was two streaks that raced across the hills to join them. Yosuru’s speed was amazing, but the other streak kept right up. Racing to Moeru’s side, the haughty Kirin Kantokusha did not spare a glance for either the Kirin that had fetched him, or the Kirin who attended his townspony.
Indeed, Kantokusha bumped Kawa aside, and stood over Moeru, his eyes huge and worried and his lip quivering in emotion. “My foolish pony…”
“It’s you! Kushie-pie!” said Moeru feebly. “Kiss me, I am dying…”
Kantokusha wiped a tear, making a face. “Nonsense. Don’t fidget. Yosuru, make your energies available, in case I need them.”
“I can too!” said Kawa helpfully.
“I suppose,” said Kantokusha dismissively. “Be quiet, I must focus.”
His horn, glimmering in the moonlight like glacier ice, seethed and lit. The glow reached out to Moeru’s head, cradling it.
“Ow, quit it!” whimpered Moeru.
“You, be quieter,” ordered Kantokusha. “It serves you right if this hurts. It’s for your own good.” The words were strict, even harsh. All the while, the uptight Kirin’s powerful magic gently, delicately worked on the dent in Moeru’s head, controlling bleeding, healing tissue, knitting bone and restoring it to its proper place. Kantokusha looked angry, formidable as he worked, but all the same he was biting his lower lip as Kawa had, a telltale sign of anxiety.
The anxiety gradually subsided as Kantokusha’s efforts bore fruit. He found less and less to do, and finally he loomed over his little pony, frowning, stroking Moeru’s mane. Yosuru and Kawa held their breaths, and Moeru himself lay quietly and obediently.
“Have you healed his wounds?” asked Yosuru.
“Yes, I have,” said Kantokusha.
“YAY!” squealed the Great Moeru, and sprung up off the ground with a great flapping of wings. “Owies! Yay!” He whirled and pounced his Kirin, hugging and kissing Kantokusha even while his eyes crossed with giddy agony.
“Stop that, calm yourself!” demanded Kantokusha, and his magic seized the demented little pegasus by the scruff of his mane, and held him at a distance.
Moeru blinked at his rescuer. “Why does my head still hurt?”
“Because something smashed it in,” explained Kantokusha wearily, “and now you must heal. Do you think I am Daiyam, there to knit together the thoughts of your very brain? I doubt even he could do that, and if he could, he would be horrified at most of those thoughts, little pony.”
“Can I kiss you some more?”
“No,” ordered Kantokusha. “You must tell me what happened. Another tree collision?”
“Not as such,” said Kawa. The older Kirin glanced sharply at him, and then returned his gaze to Moeru.
Moeru blinked, and then Kantokusha put him down and he sat politely and began to explain. “We were hunting the Sneaking Spy. You know? The creature that Kawa and Yosuru are seeking. It hides and creeps through the night. And I found it, and it was a very sexy stallion! So I pounced him, and captured him, and I was going to keep him prisoner and make him happy by letting him have sex with me a lot…”
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Kantokusha looking more and more worried, “but then what happened?”
“But that’s what makes me sad,” said Moeru, “cos he was just about to get started, he even had an erection and it was a really good one, and then… he HIT me…”
Kantokusha’s eyes widened. He stared at nothing for a moment, too dismayed to speak. Then he glanced at Yosuru… and, after a moment, at Kawa with an expression that spoke eloquently of the low opinion he held of Kabochaebi’s second Kirin, the less powerful one brought in to be a good influence on Yosuru. And then, Kantokusha spoke to them.
“You will accompany me. We go now. We will find this Spy. And he dies tonight…”
“Wait!” squeaked Moeru.
Kantokusha looked shocked. He glanced at Moeru, astonished that his vengeful justice should be challenged by the very victim of needless violence who’d just been harmed. He blinked at the warrior pegasus. “What?”
Moeru scuffed a hoof on the grass. He made a face, laying his ears back, for his head still hurt in spite of Kantokusha’s healings. He stuck out his lower lip, petulantly.
“You can’t kill him yet,” said the little warrior.
“Because you claim that privilege for yourself?” said Kantokusha, disapprovingly. “You must let us administer this justice.”
“No!” squeaked Moeru, and winced. “No. Not for that reason.”
“What is troubling you?” said Yosuru, gently. Kantokusha shot her an annoyed glance, but it seemed to have helped.
Moeru’s eyes glistened. “You can’t kill him until I get to ask him why.” he said plaintively. “It hurt my feelings. I was giving him love, and I was going to be nice to him. I have to know… Kushie-wooshie, please. I gotta know.”
Kantokusha frowned, and did not immediately respond…
Back in Ponyville, on the previous afternoon, three ponies had trotted cheerfully off to Sweet Apple Acres to conduct important turnip business.
Uni (or Kabochaebi) led the way, eager to negotiate exclusive trade agreements to Apple Turnip Cakes in Neighpon… or, indeed, anywhere she could. She smiled, her eyes faintly narrowed, as she trotted along. If the language of the agreement gave her exclusive rights to distribution in Ponyville also, that would go politely unremarked upon unless it was time to renegotiate the contract. Of course, the way she’d frame it would be ‘Camelu, Zebrica, and all other foreign countries’.
Everywhere was foreign to somewhere. Uni sped up, her gait bouncy.
“Rarity?” said Applejack. “Got a moment?”
“Why, yes,” said Rarity. “Shall we stop?”
“No, no… jes’ let me bend your ear a mite while we head over to Sweet Apple Acres?”
“Consider it bent, darling,” said Rarity, and quirked it Applejack’s way with alacrity.
Applejack sighed. “Thankee… it’s just that Uni’s got me frettin’. You seem to know things about Neighpon? Ah thought I did, until we got talkin’.”
Rarity’s gait was untroubled. “I don’t know everything, but I am nothing if not cosmopolitan! You may be surprised at how many ponies have had some contact with Neighpon. I’ve not been there, but I’m dear friends with several garment buyers from Neighpon. They are shrewd, even ruthless, but I am the artiste: when they get too demanding, I resort to the fainting couch and I wail and cry that they don’t love me, and they straighten right out.”
“Oh yes. So what’s worrying you?” asked Rarity. “You don’t think Big Macintosh is in danger, do you? He’s there working for Vinyl and Octavia. If I know anything about Neighpon, it is that they will not treat underlings poorly. The Kirin are very strict about it, and my Neighponnese buyers take great pains to ensure that my creations are not sewn by exploited ponies, because they’ll answer to the Kirin for it. And of course, all of my creations are horn-sewn by myself.”
“And us,” suggested Applejack. “You know, when you’re openin’ a store or such-like.”
Rarity frowned. “Ah. That. Yes, I’d better watch it. Fortunate for me the Neighponnese buyers weren’t around for that one. And thank you again for that help, I fear I was a real hoof-full…”
“Aw, don’t worry,” said Applejack. “But it ain’t Big Macintosh I was thinkin’ about. You do realize our Braeburn’s gone off after him? That’s my second cousin. Just how deeply honest and trustworthy do you figure ol’ Braeburn is at heart?”
“Ah,” said Rarity. “Erm. He’s… well, he’s a persuasive fellow, I’ll give him that.”
“Meanin’ he’s fucking his way across Neighpon, huh?”
“You said it,” said Rarity, “not I. Hmmm.”
“And then there’s Rainbow Dash,” added Applejack. “Ah love her like life itself, but pree-cisely how responsible and law-abidin’ do you reckon my Rainbow is, at heart?”
Rarity grimaced. “I’m sure she can outrun anything in Neighpon, Applejack. And Flight Lightning is very quick, too.”
“Thus leavin’ behind Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle,” continued Applejack. “You see what I’m drivin’ at? Exactly how sensible and wise are Scoots and Sweetie, when things get a lil’ too frisky? Naw, I’ll rephrase that, their kind of frisky won’t bother Neighpon none, and your Sweetie’s a gentle soul. How gentle is Scootaloo when something riles her?”
“Stop it!” protested Rarity. “You’re making it seem like they’re galloping to their dooms! They’re all good ponies and you’re being a worry-wart, I insist that they’re in no danger! Least of all Big Macintosh, but of the others, I’m sure the worst that could happen is they’ll be scolded and sent home!”
“Uni says they killed a passel of pirates,” said Applejack darkly. “She never tole me that before, and she should have done.”
“And why is that,” said Rarity, and, with a sharp glance at her companion, “…’Booties’?”
Applejack whinnied in surprise, and fell back a step. “Who’s that?”
Rarity’s gaze was calculating and amused. “I read, darling. I thought I should know what Sweetie Belle was reading. For such an honest pony, you do contain murky depths, don’t you? What does that word mean to you, darling? Oh, don’t pout. I quite understand. But am I reading too much into that? To put it bluntly, darling, were you the Dread Pirate Booties of legend? It seems hard to credit, but strangely plausible.”
Applejack pouted worse. “One of ‘em. It’s a long story.”
“If only I’d known when we were dating,” purred Rarity.
“Thank fuck ya din’t,” said Applejack sincerely.
“Awww!” said Rarity, trotted closer and gave Applejack a little kiss as they travelled. “You’ll always be the lovely mare, to me, darling. Never fear. I do expect the whole sordid story when you’re ready. It is a sordid story, is it not?”
Applejack made a face. “First mate to Blackmane, screwed every which way by him and th’ crew, pirated a bunch of poor buggers… yeah, that’s sordid as shit, thanks for askin’.”
Rarity’s eyes dilated. “Ahnn. You did stop, though, surely that’s the important thing?”
“Stole his damn crew and damn near killed him and taught the whole crew to be good in the end,” said Applejack. “Ah hope they stuck to it, but I did my best.”
“You see my point?” shot Rarity, quickly and earnestly.
Applejack blinked, and nearly stopped in her tracks. “No, I don’t know what the fuck you’re even drivin’ at, Rarity. What?”
The elegant unicorn didn’t even break stride. “The Kirin have met you, and our companion Uni, formerly known as Kabochaebi. I’ve read a little about that name, or more accurately heard about it by way of Neighponnese garment buyer gossip. Both of you were the most dreadful pirate-ponies, but your true natures came out, and the Kirin loved you for it. I’ll be quick, Sweet Apple Acres approaches.”
“You do that,” said Applejack, her ears perked forward in great interest.
“You’re a lovely pony,” said Rarity, “and Uni is lovely though also a smidge scary. She speaks of pirates who would not follow her lead and be good, and that they were killed by the Kirin. And so you imagine that our ponies might meet the same fate… but, Applejack, you stayed very good once you committed to it.”
Rarity shot her a sharp glance. “I wallowed in the bondage clubs of Fillydelphia for years, darling. I too found my way to pony goodness, especially when I ceased living an enormous lie and began to be more honest with the world around me, but I have seen things you haven’t. You’ve cried, on occasion, just getting a whiff of that darkness.” She dropped her gaze, suddenly bashful. “You’ve led me out of it, in a sense.”
“Course I would,” said Applejack loyally.
“Did,” corrected Rarity. “But don’t you see? I know wickedness better than you. I’ve known ponies like these pirates Uni speaks of. Please trust me. There’s nothing to fear. Our ponies are much too good at heart. They wouldn’t harm a fly, and need not fear any Kirin. I promise.”
Applejack smiled. “Awww! Thank you, Rarity. Who knew your history as a perverted monster whippy-corn would come in so handy?”
Rarity reared and cuffed her, and Applejack jumped away, laughing. Rarity smirked. “Behave! I never did subject you to the lash!”
“Are you really still doin’ that stuff?” said Applejack.
“No,” said Rarity. “Derpy wouldn’t understand. Doesn’t, rather.”
“You’ll be fine,” said Applejack confidently. “Good for you.”
“But you do see my point?” said Rarity. “This is a civilized world. Ponies take care of each other. Trust that things will be okay. Really! Fluttershy is a vampire, and dead, and it was okay. And Pinkie Pie was not at all herself for a while there, and even then civilization managed to return, and goodness held sway. Love is stronger than fear, so don’t fear. Trust, and wait.”
They drew up outside Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack leaned over and gave Rarity a little kiss. “Ah will. I promise, I will. Thank you, Rarity.”
Rarity rolled her eyes. “It’s not like our ponies will go to Neighpon and begin beating the inhabitants senseless, is it?”
Uni gasped. “No, no! They mustn’t do anything like that!”
“They won’t,” said Applejack confidently. “Here we are! Diamond works pretty late addin’ up all them figures and things. Apple Bloom is probably finishin’ up with the farm ponies and it’ll be dinnertime soon.” She winked. “We kin make you apple turnip cakes. It might take me a while to talk Granny into it.”
Uni salivated, then wiped her mouth and looked determined. “No! Save them all. For my exclusive distribution. In foreign countries,” she added shrewdly.
“Who’s that?” called a weary, fillyish voice.
Uni froze, her eyes widening.
“I said, who’s that?” called the voice. Diamond Tiara was indeed at work, but her hearing worked quite well also, and she could tell immediately that it wasn’t just the usual ponies come to dinner. Uni’s accent was like nothing heard in Ponyville: Vinyl Scratch had a strong Fillydelphian accent, with not a trace of Neighpon.
Inside the house, where Diamond had set up an office, youthful hooves galloped towards the visitors.
She emerged, blinking into the sunset, looking cranky. “I thought I heard…”
She stopped, eyes locked on Uni.
Applejack and Rarity turned, to see Uni at bay, looking just as appalled. Her teeth were bared, and her ears back.
“YOU!” retorted Uni, and scuffed the ground aggressively with a forehoof. “What are you doing here?”
Diamond’s eyes narrowed, alarmingly. Her mouth curved in a hard little grin, but there seemed no humor in it. “What do YOU think I’m doing here?”
“You are the negotiator for Rich Import/Export!” accused Uni.
“And you,” said Diamond Tiara, “are Uni, wholesale food buyer from Neighpon.” Her grin got colder. “Right? Just a simple earth pony? Nothing further to say about yourself?”
Uni’s eyes flared. Her teeth bared worse.
“Uhhh, ya might not want to tease this pony,” cautioned Applejack, “and we already had the secret-names conversation, Diamond, don’t be frettin’ her with that…”
“Sh!” said Diamond. Her eyes hadn’t left Uni’s. “So, ‘Uni’, I can guess why you’re here. What do you have to say about that?”
Uni’s bared teeth took the form of a fierce grin. “I am here to make a deal with Sweet Apple Acres. I don’t have to tell you a thing more than that, Diamond Tiara. I am here with Applejack, and must speak with Granny Smith about something she’s invented. Go away at once, or the consequences will be dire when next we meet!”
Applejack and Rarity stared in horror, but before they could react, a new head poked around the door-frame.
“Some trouble?” said Apple Bloom. She looked tired, after a hard day of work as Boss Mare of Sweet Apple Acres, but completely unworried all the same.
Diamond Tiara trotted over, and kissed her. “No, honey. Don’t worry, it’s fine. I’ll handle it.”
“All righty,” said Apple Bloom, and went back into the house, where the smells of dinner were beginning to waft enticingly out to the visitors.
Diamond turned to face Uni again. Uni’s face was a picture of horror.
“That’s who runs Sweet Apple Acres now,” said Diamond smugly. “Since you obviously didn’t know.”
“Why would you say I did not know?” countered Uni.
“And guess who is her marefriend?” added Diamond. The news rocked Uni, but she rallied gamely.
“That is nice. I am happy for you, horrible little horse. Now summon her and please give us privacy,” said Uni, “because we must…”
“AND,” continued Diamond Tiara, her eyes sparkling, “the business manager for Sweet Apple Acres.”
Uni’s jaw dropped. For a moment the raging Mantis Shrimp looked out of her eyes, and Applejack and Rarity trembled. Then, Uni glanced imploringly at Applejack, as if begging for some kind of respite, some hint that it was all a big joke. Instead, Applejack sadly nodded at Uni, confirming it.
“Fuck you,” she told Diamond Tiara.
Diamond’s eyes twinkled with twice as much glee.
“Fuck you right back!” she retorted.
“Fuck you twice!” returned Uni, stamping forward.
“Fuck you eleven times!” retaliated Diamond Tiara.
Uni gasped. Applejack and Rarity were speechless.
“And all your crazy mathematics with you!” added Diamond Tiara, herself stamping forward to confront Uni nose to nose.
The world seemed to stop…
…until both Diamond and Uni burst into wild, raucous laughter, and hugged.
“Nooo!” wailed Uni, giggling. “My horrible fate! Tell me why I should not go home right now?”
“Oh no you don’t!” laughed Diamond Tiara. “You have to come to dinner, and tell me what in Equestria you’re after this time! Granny made oat cakes! We’ll feed you oat cakes!”
“How many oat cakes?” asked Uni.
Diamond smirked. “Eleven, of course. You have to promise you’ll do what we say in exchange for eleven oat cakes. I have it in writing.” She whacked Uni on the ear with a little hoof.
Applejack eeked. “Settle down, you two! Diamond, you shouldn’t be roughhousing with her like that, I’m jes’ saying…”
“Come inside!” called Granny Smith. “Supper’s ready!”
Smirking, Diamond Tiara served her greatest rival oat cakes.
“Oooone…” she said, placing an oat cake on her plate. Then, moving in mockingly with another, “…eeeeeeleveeenn.”
Applejack boggled at Diamond, and scratched her head. “I’ll grant you, I’m not much for the fancy mathematics. On the other hoof, I kin still count, and I thought you’d mastered that too, Diamond Tiara.”
Diamond giggled, smirking up a storm, as Apple Bloom gave her a skeptical look.
“Maybe I can refresh your lil’ pony skills,” offered Applejack. “Ya started off just fine. Oooone… an’ then it goes, twoooo…”
“Depends who you ask,” replied Diamond Tiara, helping herself to oat cakes.
Granny Smith boggled. “Y’don’t say! Well, missy, around these parts I’m here to tell ya two follows one, just as sure as zap-apple harvests follow jumping around in bunny suits…”
Uni looked inquiringly at her, then at Diamond Tiara, whom she seemed very comfortable with.
“Don’t ask,” said Diamond dismissively.
“Do they even have bunny suits in Neighpon?” said Rarity.
“Not for that reason,” said Uni meekly.
“Okay, I’m teasin’,” admitted Applejack, “but it ain’t fair, not lettin’ me in on the joke. Ah know you can count, Diamond Tiara, so what’s th’ deal?”
Diamond snickered. “A one time deal, that’s what. You might ask Kabochaebi here about that.”
They looked. Uni blinked back, meekly, without expression.
“But nothing would happen,” said Diamond, “because she won’t tell you.” She sipped some water. “So I will.”
“Is that all right with Kab… with Uni?” said Rarity. “Oh, thank you, Granny Smith, one will suffice.”
“Derpy is cooking us a roast rutabaga,” explained Rarity, “I can’t stay long but I also can’t wait to hear this story…”
Diamond Tiara cleared her throat. “I’d just begun handling international trade for my father, when I met THIS little demon. Innocent looking, isn’t she?”
“You never can tell with pirates,” said Applejack innocently. “Go on.”
“I shall. She came to set up a trade agreement: we would purchase a small number of olive barrels from Whinnytian farmers. My father warned me that the price ought to come between three and eight bits per barrel, since we were contracting with the farms directly through an intermediary, not through retail. I’d never dealt with Whinnytians before, but I knew a little bit about their history and I was charmed. I couldn’t wait to learn more. And the intermediary was this small, quiet Neighponnese pony. There was something about her, something to the eyes, but you never saw such a humble, quiet pony. She seemed almost shy to be talking to me, even though I was just a filly.”
They all looked at Uni. There was nothing to her eyes, not at the moment. She gazed calmly at her oat cakes, serene as a rock in shade.
“So,” Diamond continued, “she began to explain the different deals the farmers offered. She was their representative. She took a pencil, and wrote out their respective prices, and put it down to explain why that was. Nine bits per barrel, and that farmer had very rich and fine lands. Six bits, and that farmer was recovering from a difficult year: the previous year, his quality had suffered. Five bits, and the farmer in question was very old fashioned and insisted on selling at the prices he’d used when he was a colt. She explained that the farmers of this type never came with large crops, but that she would not offer a crop that didn’t at least produce the quantities we required. Seven bits, and she discouraged me from this farmer, explaining that the higher price did not always correspond to greater quality: higher prices corresponded to the ability to offer many barrels in a consistent way. Olives, she said, were all very similar when they came from the valleys of Whinnyce, where old fashioned farmers plied their trade generation after generation, back into antiquity.”
She glared cordially at Uni, who mostly didn’t smile.
“And then,” said Diamond Tiara, “she took her pencil, and she wrote two downstrokes: one, one. Or, I I? They were larger, as if the numbers were different. And I looked at her, and she said: In ancient Etrotscan numerals, I I meant two.”
Applejack’s eyes widened. Apple Bloom began to grin.
Diamond Tiara blushed, just a tiny amount. She continued, “She didn’t say a word. She just watched me, as I put together the pieces about the ancient Whinnytians, and I knew their history went back to the ancient Etrotscans, and I’d learned about the II and the V and the LC, all that stuff. And about the old fashioned farmers who couldn’t produce much, but worked the way they did of old. And the difference between quality and mass production. And I just reached out and shook her hoof. Father was going to be so proud of me. I’d interpreted the hints of this intermediary, and I knew we wouldn’t require quantities beyond what this old artisanal farmer could produce, so I signed right off on a deal to buy not less than two and not more than five barrels of exceptional olives a year over the course of three years…”
Diamond Tiara sagged. “For eleven bits a barrel.”
Apple Bloom cracked up, and gave Diamond a kiss. Diamond stared wryly into her oat cakes. Uni sat impassively, head bowed.
“Now jes’ a consarned minute!” argued Granny Smith. “She had ye by the whosey-whatzey! You mean to tell me, you went back to Filthy Rich and he had you pay eleven bits per barrel? That’s highway robbery!”
Diamond glanced at Granny. “Oh, don’t worry. I learned my lesson. In fact, Father honored the deal in part so I would remember. I think he was glad she taught me that lesson, at a relatively low cost. The olives were excellent, you know. True Whinnytian olives of the very highest quality.”
“But…” began Granny Smith.
“She never once said that wasn’t an eleven. She didn’t even say the farmer was offering a price of two bits per barrel. She wrote eleven, and told me that in ancient Etrotscan it meant two. Nobody does business in Etrotscan numerals. I had only myself to blame,” said Diamond Tiara.
The ponies considered this. Applejack frowned. “Still… seems like kind of a harsh deal…”
“You think so?” said Diamond, lifting an elegant eyebrow. “Listen to this. Uni! You remember that day.”
“I remember many things,” said Uni softly.
“What would have happened if I’d asked what that number was? Specifically, if I’d said, ‘is that number in Etrotscan numerals’?”
Uni didn’t even blink. “I would have said, that bill is NOT in Etrotscan numerals.”
“Then why’d you…” began Applejack.
“Why would you say that, Uni?” demanded Diamond Tiara, chin held high.
“Because,” said Uni, “I am a good pony.” She shrugged a tiny shrug. “You did not ask.”
“Now see here…” said Applejack, and then stopped. She made a face. “Huh!”
“When you saw her,” observed Rarity, “the two of you feigned terrible hostility, but then you hugged and we are enjoying both of your company. Diamond, do you like this pony? Uni, do you like Diamond?”
Diamond and Uni glanced at each other, startled, expressionless. Then, silly grins began to spread over both their faces, until the answer was obvious: by all appearances, they adored one another.
“Diamond Poop is best pain in the ass!” cried Uni merrily.
“Kabochaebi… and you’d better believe I found out all about her, cost me five weeks allowance for my spies… is the most delightful monster in the whole world!” added Diamond Tiara.
“What happened to the farmer?” asked Applejack. “Did he have trouble comin’ up with them super-excellent olives?”
Diamond blinked. “No, of course not. He was one of the high-volume producers who could offer ten times the volume we started out at, with unfailing quality at a high price. By the time we renegotiated the contract we returned to him because our volume had expanded to where he was by far the best option. We do business with that farm to this day… at eight bits a barrel.”
The ponies contemplated this. Then, Apple Bloom lifted an eyebrow. “Diamond Poop? Seriously?”
Uni smirked, a hint of Kabochaebi peeking out. “Because she would poop diamond, like her name. Because she is TIGHT ASS!”
“Uni, really!” gasped Rarity. “Rude!”
Diamond had gone red. She wouldn’t look at Apple Bloom, who was smirking harder and harder. Applejack got it, and began to blush as well.
Uni glanced around, and for the first time seemed dismayed. “Oh! Then we should move on to business. The wonderful Apple Turnip Cakes with salt and sour!”
“We’ll do that,” said Diamond, “thank you, Uni. On to business!”
“Yep,” said Apple Bloom with satisfaction. Diamond Tiara twitched, but didn’t whack her, and eventually the blush faded. Before it was quite gone, elements of smug had joined it, but Diamond carefully avoided further reference to pains, tightness, and asses all the same.
“I wish to negotiate exclusive rights to distribute Granny Smith’s Apple Turnip Cakes,” said Uni, “to be defined as the recipe Applejack brought to Neighpon, sold wholesale, packaged in any way that retains quality as well as the ship journey did, and produced with substantially the same ingredients and balances of flavor as the first batch we bought.”
Diamond Tiara blinked. “Bought?” she said, and Uni winced.
“Yeah, she bought all we had,” said Applejack. “Never saw the like.”
Uni seemed to be burning holes in her oat cakes with Kabochaebi’s eyes. Diamond Tiara smirked at the sight, turning in a leisurely way to Applejack.
“For how much?” asked Diamond, with the laziness of a circling shark.
“Uhhh,” said Applejack, “I had about seventy of ‘em left.”
“Ten thousand Canterlot bits,” said Applejack.
Rarity’s jaw dropped, as did Granny Smith’s. Apple Bloom began grinning wider and wider. Granny banged the table with a geriatric hoof, and cried, “Woohoo!”
Uni grumbled, “Mugen, you dumbass,” into the table, refusing to meet anypony’s eyes for the moment.
Applejack turned to her, distressed. “Ah’m sorry! It’s makin’ ya sad. It ain’t worth it?”
“Careful,” cautioned Diamond, but Uni was considering. She made a face, and appeared to do mental calculations, and screwed up her brow in concentration… and then visibly relaxed.
“It is worth it,” said Uni. “Yes! Smiles for everypony. Ten thousand bits for seventy, as promised. My sailors will transport your cakes for you, to Neighpon.”
“For a price?” demanded Diamond, shrewdly.
“Of course,” smiled Uni, glints of the Mantis Shrimp peeking out.
“Sounds like we can afford it!” said Applejack, but Diamond waved her quiet.
“We’re not done,” she said curtly. “We could transport those ourselves and you know it. I’ll concede that you have the shipping, Uni, obviously. There’s some benefit to hoofing off our responsibility when it leaves Manehattan’s shores…”
Uni nodded, peacefully. Diamond’s eyes narrowed to see her regaining that serenity.
“All right, Kaebi-chaebi-baby,” said Diamond, “let’s have it. How much? I think as actual freight we could fit… oh, hundreds of cakes into the hold of a ship. What’s your price?”
“You know my history, Diamond-poop,” said Uni wryly.
“Yes, I do. I know you can do shipping,” said Diamond. “What worries me is, I can see you thinking.”
“Two deals,” said Uni. “Either a shipping charge of one thousand four hundred bits for each fully laden journey from Manehattan to Neighpon…”
“That’s high,” said Diamond.
“Nopony and nothing interferes with my ship or my crew,” said Uni calmly. “We assume all liability from the shore of Manehattan and out.”
“That helps,” said Diamond. “But that’s close to twice the usual freight voyage.”
Uni shrugged. “We must travel empty from Neighpon, to pick up the Apple Turnip Cakes.”
“No way,” said Diamond. “I know you. You’ll be running cargo the other way. I don’t have to pay for an empty run when you’re already getting paid to make the run to Manehattan.”
Uni lifted an eyebrow. “You are offering to contract with us to import goods from Neighpon, guaranteeing that load each time?”
Diamond’s eyes widened. “Did I say that? No way! We’re selling you guys apple turnip cakes, not buying stuff!”
Uni gave a tiny shrug. “Then as far as you know, we journey to Manehattan always empty. One thousand four hundred for each fully laden trip to cover all eventualities, take it or leave it.”
Diamond’s eyes narrowed again. “Or?”
“You said two deals, and you’ve only mentioned one.”
Uni did not smile.
“You also said fully laden trip,” added Diamond, “and I need you to…”
“Four hundred cakes or more,” said Uni. “Naturally, you’ll do better with more. We don’t have to make trips carrying less.”
“That’s fair,” said Diamond Tiara, “we can do that. So what’s deal two?”
Uni collected her thoughts.
“One thousand NINE hundred bits, as one down payment, for my ownership percentage in the boat used to transport Apple Turnip Cakes. Then you assume responsibility for shipping, and pay no additional charge above the ten thousand bits for seventy,” said Uni briskly. “I would ask that if you select this option, we renegotiate to… eighty cakes, for ten thousand bits? Eighty Apple Turnip Cakes, specifically.”
The Sweet Apple Acres ponies stared at her, thinking.
“Hmm,” said Applejack. “You know, I’m a pretty good sailor. If we handle it right, I ain’t sure the security would be that much less. Though I’m not sure this is a great time to be goin’ to sea. For me, I mean.”
“Oh, no!” said Rarity. “I mean, I agree, we needn’t say why here, but trust me on this, you won’t want to be at sea. Dear me, such an idea! You’ll have to get another captain.”
“Down payment?” demanded Diamond, staring at Uni, who sat impassively. “I need more information. Never mind your down payment. Forget that. What’s your TOTAL figure for…”
“One thousand nine hundred bits total, for my ownership percentage in the boat used to transport Apple Turnip Cakes,” said Uni quickly. “Deal? Then you assume responsibility for shipping.” She stuck out her hoof.
Diamond Tiara didn’t react. She had a fierce little smile on, and she wasn’t looking at anypony. She seemed to be hardly breathing, she was thinking so hard. Then, one eye twitched.
“Oh, you,” she said, reverently.
“Diamond?” inquired Uni.
Diamond shook herself. She turned to Uni.
“Nopony is selling a brand new boat, Diamond Tiara,” said Uni, meekly.
“Oh no. Oh no no no,” said Diamond. She couldn’t stop smiling. “Uni. In your sentence, are you saying ‘to be used’? To be used, to transport apple turnip cakes?”
Uni froze, expressionless. “No, Diamond.”
“Then, are you saying, ‘the boat already used to transport apple turnip cakes’, Uni?”
Unexpectedly, Diamond was banging the table with her hoof, grinning like a maniac, tossing her mane in glee. “Whut the hay?” demanded Granny Smith.
“Yeah, what th’ heck is goin’ on here?” asked Applejack, visibly dismayed.
“Listen. Listen and learn,” grinned Diamond Tiara. “Uni. My dear Uni, so clever. What boat WAS used to transport apple turnip cakes?”
“We sailed back in the boat,” said Uni, plainitively.
“Ah don’t see what you’re drivin’ at…” said Applejack.
“That’s the boat you sailed in,” said Diamond triumphantly. “What was its provenance?”
“Where’d you get it?”
“Manehattan,” said Applejack, confused. Across the table from her, Rarity’s eyes widened suddenly.
Diamond couldn’t stop grinning. “Did you buy or rent it from Kabochaebi? Uni, here?”
“We sailed back together! But naw, it was some other feller! Ah don’t know who he got it from?”
Diamond turned on Uni. “Restate the deal.”
“One thousand four hundred for each fully laden trip of not less than four hundred cakes, that would be more than fifty-seven thousand bits of profit for you minus the one thousand four hundred for shipping giving you nearly fifty-six thousand gross, and we assume all liability for…”
“No no no,” interrupted Diamond. “The other deal, Uni. Go on. We’re waiting.”
They stared at each other for a moment. Then, Uni gave a little, defeated shrug.
“One thousand nine hundred bits, as one down payment and total sum, for my ownership percentage in the boat used to transport Apple Turnip Cakes. Then you assume responsibility for shipping, and pay no additional charge above the ten thousand bits for seventy cakes. No minimum shipment.”
“The boat that was used?”
“The boat that was used,” conceded Uni.
“And you want it renegotiated to eighty cakes, because you’re losing so much on the deal?” pressed Diamond Tiara.
Uni gave a little defeated wave of her hoof. “Nah.”
“Ah still don’t see what all this foofaraw is about,” said Applejack. Apple Bloom’s eyes widened. Across the table, Rarity had her head in her hooves, but it was difficult to tell whether she was crying or laughing.
Diamond turned to Uni.
“Uni, what percentage of that boat do you own?”
The little, rueful halfsmile she gave was all Kabochaebi.
“Zero,” said Kabochaebi.
Applejack’s eyes widened in horror. Apple Bloom beamed at Diamond, filled with gratitude and pride in her mate.
“We’ll take deal ONE,” said Diamond Tiara, and they clacked hooves to seal it.
And it became obvious: Rarity was laughing, laughing until she nearly fell off her chair.