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Royal Guard Mare Thread (WIP)

Bluebirdd065 Sep 11th, 2016 (edited) 13,565 Never
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  1. "Hmm, so you're my bodyguard, huh?"
  2. >"Yes sir."
  3. >You hold a hand up to your chin and slowly walk around, scanning, inspecting her.
  4. "I'm not going to lie, this won't be an easy job for you. Do you know what you signed up for?"
  5. >"Yes sir."
  6. "Completely sure?"
  7. >"Yes sir."
  8. >You slowly nod and continue her inspection.
  9. >You inspect that golden and blue Royal armor of hers, accented with a hint of green to show that she's also yours.
  10. >Standing before her, you look into her eyes, searching for a hint of uncertainty, and kind of falter in her stone cold expression.
  11. >A tense moment drags on.
  12. >Her eyes stay on you, completely unmoving.
  13. >A smile slowly crosses your face.
  14. "Good. In that case..."
  15. >You drop the formal posture, and your grin grows wider.
  16. "Let's get some motherfucking ice cream."
  17. >She nods, then immediately pauses.
  18. >"Excuse me, sir? Can you repeat that?"
  19. >Your formal posture comes back, and you spin to face her.
  20. "Are you questioning my authority?"
  21. >"-No sir, I just want to be sure I heard you correctly."
  22. "What, not loud enough for you? Do you want a goddamn hearing aid?"
  23. >You kneel and meet her eyes with yours.
  24. >"No sir."
  25. >You take a moment to look for another change.
  26. >...Goddamn, she's good.
  27. "Will I have to repeat myself again?"
  28. >"-No sir."
  29. "-Good."
  30. >Another pause.
  31. "Then, you are to come with me and enjoy some frozen dairy treats! That's an order!"
  32. >Her face twists slightly into one of confusion, then quickly disappears.
  33. >She holds a hoof up in a salute.
  34. >"As you command, sir."
  35. >Hot damn, this is so cool.
  36. >You wave her around and start walking towards the direction of the ice cream parlor.
  37. >Your new guard follows suit with a small rattling of her armor, probably with a half serious, half confused look.
  38. >She really DOESN'T know what she signed up for.
  39.  
  40. >
  41. "So then, what do you want? I'm more of a chocolate man myself, but don't let that stop you from getting something else."
  42. >"Permission to speak, sir?"
  43. "-Well, kinda asked you a question, and you're already talking anyways, so whatchu want?"
  44. >"Well sir, I was kind of expecting something... different. Training or orientation."
  45. "Ah, so then you DON'T know what you signed up for, eh?"
  46. >She immediately straightens herself out.
  47. >"I'm always ready for anything, sir."
  48. >The last pony in front of you leaves, and you both move up to the parlor guy.
  49. "Then I hope you're ready to order, because you spent this whole time talking to me instead of looking at ice cream."
  50. >You step to the side and let her see the entire menu.
  51. >Her eyes dart across all the flavors, then to you.
  52. >She opens her mouth-
  53. "-Yes, I order you to order."
  54. >-Then closes it.
  55. >She stands there scanning the menu with a serious, focused expression on her face.
  56. >It's cute as all hell, honestly.
  57. >"I'll have the, ah, cookie dough flavor."
  58. >The parlor guy nods and scoops it all.
  59. >So, a cookie girl, huh?
  60. >You can definitely admire that.
  61. "And I'll have cookies and cream, please."
  62. >The guy nods and gets to work.
  63. >Meanwhile, she just stands there by your side, practically unmoving.
  64. >You can see her through your peripherals, and you actually have to make sure she's even breathing.
  65. >Once the dude's done, he slides two cups of ice cream over the counter, and you grab them with your guard in tow, following over to a booth by a window.
  66. >She doesn't even sit.
  67. >She just stands there, patiently beside the seat.
  68. "You may sit."
  69. >THEN she sits.
  70. >Man, this pony really is super serious about everything.
  71.  
  72. >You've already destroyed a big portion of your ice cream by the time she's decided to take one bite.
  73. >She takes these super small bites, and she seems to really be struggling with that spoon.
  74. >For some reason, you've noticed that hoof horse magic doesn't work with plastic things.
  75. >Like it's electrical or something.
  76. >Well, where most, if not all Earth Ponies would just eat without any utensil, she was trying to use a small plastic spoon fruitlessly.
  77. >Obviously in her mind, using it is more 'professional' or serious or something, than just eating it like that.
  78. >You drop your spoon in your ice cream and grab hers.
  79. >First she seems a little pissed, then confused when you scoop some of hers and hold it in front of her face.
  80. >Her eyes dart from the spoon to you, looking very confused.
  81. >So you move it closer to her muzzle.
  82. >Despite it just being ice cream, she moves away from it like it's some kind of plague or something.
  83. "I don't think ice cream bites."
  84. >Her eyes just snap to you and stay there for a few moments, a mix of confusion and contemplation in them.
  85. >Until she grabs the spoon in between both her hooves and slurps up the ice cream.
  86. >"I can manage just fine, sir."
  87. >You just roll your eyes slightly and work on your ice cream in the meantime.
  88. >So stubborn.
  89. >While you're enjoying your treat, you kind of just scan your new guardpony.
  90. >Because she's too focused trying to use the spoon with her hooves right now.
  91. >Hell, you don't even know her name yet.
  92. >But you don't think VIPs and shit get acquainted with the people trying to stop you from dying.
  93. >Or maybe they do.
  94. >You wouldn't know.
  95. >But honestly you're not even sure what you need to be guarded FROM.
  96. >You were just amongst the Princesses and shit, and all you heard was talk about you having a guard.
  97. >You could be in horrible and grave danger, but you jumped on that shit the second your name and pony bodyguard was in the same sentence.
  98.  
  99. >But now that you have time to look at her, you realize how beautiful she is.
  100. >-More in an actual horse kind of sense.
  101. >Like, that mane of hers is all flowy and shit.
  102. >If this pony wasn't a guard, you'd definitely think like, model or something.
  103. >Though every pony you've seen has been cute, it's all about the colors and shit that make one stand out.
  104. >And this one has some pretty interesting colors.
  105. >A white coat, though not white enough to hurt your eyes, is definitely shining.
  106. >Then those gleaming, though cold, emerald eyes of hers, focused on the spoon in her grasp.
  107. >And finally, her mane, which as you've said is voluminous and silky smooth as anything, as well as a light brown color.
  108. >It being marshmallow pony land, you've noticed that natural hair colors are actually super uncommon, compared to all the other bright colors on the rainbow.
  109. >And because of that, you prefer the natural ones.
  110. >Kinda reminds you of home.
  111. >You start spacing out thinking of the place, when you see her eyes move up to you.
  112. >Though she doesn't say anything.
  113. >Her looking up breaks the trance you're in, and you shake yourself back to Earth.
  114. >-Well, not Earth, but you know.
  115. >You finish off the rest of what's in your cup, and notice that this mare isn't even half done.
  116. >Sure, you may have destroyed that goddamn ice cream, but even a regular person wouldn't be that far behind.
  117. >Watching her trying to pick up her spoon again, you're not surprised when it almost immediately falls from her grasp.
  118. >And before she has a chance to grab it, you swoop in and hold up another spoonful of ice cream to her muzzle.
  119. >She glares at you slightly.
  120. "Either you take all day trying to eat ice cream, you use your face, or I help. Pick one."
  121. >Her eyes glance over at the spoon, and your face repeatedly.
  122. >Then she seems to look up at her helmet.
  123. >A soft sigh escapes her, and she takes the spoon in her mouth.
  124. >A retarded smile crosses your face.
  125. >It's like feeding an actual horse in a petting zoo.
  126.  
  127. >
  128. >Next thing you know, you're walking out of the parlor, ice cream gone and a slightly flustered guard pony with some on her muzzle.
  129. >She decided at one point that she'd just eat without your help, then immediately regretted her decision.
  130. >Needless to say, she's kind of pissed that her face is now sticky.
  131. >And you didn't even do anything lewd.
  132. >So as you're walking home, she sticks close behind, still not having said 'thank you for the ice cream'.
  133. >Though there really wasn't anyone there to witness it, she seems really upset that she had your help.
  134. >Even if it WAS just for ice cream.
  135. "So then, what's your name, anyways?"
  136. >She looks up from her thoughts and answers almost immediately.
  137. >"Whatever you desire, sir."
  138. >You mentally hold a hand to your chin in thought.
  139. "So, if I want to call you Mistress, I can?"
  140. >Her expression doesn't change in the slightest, but you can just tell she doesn't like that.
  141. >"W-whatever you desire, sir."
  142. >-Okay, THAT's how you tell she doesn't like that.
  143. >Either that's anger, or embarrassment in her voice.
  144. >No change in tone, but you'd think those are your two options.
  145. "If that's the case, then I'd like to make it easy on both of us and ask your name."
  146. >She pauses for a second.
  147. >"Just call me Brave, sir."
  148. "Like the Disney movie?"
  149. >She just looks at you, the slightest hint of eyebrow movement as the only indicator she doesn't know what you're talking about.
  150. "Eh, it's an Earth thing, you wouldn't know about it."
  151. >When you spin back around, your home is already conveniently in front of you, in all it's bill and tax free glory.
  152. >Horseland really is great.
  153. >So is being the only one of your entire race and species, in some senses.
  154. >Hell, if you weren't, you're sure you wouldn't have a guard.
  155. >Without having to pay for it, at least.
  156. >And fuck that shit.
  157. >Opening the door, you step to the side and hold it for Brave.
  158. >She just stays outside again.
  159. "You may enter my humble domicile, child."
  160. >With an extra hint of un-amusement on her face, she walks inside.
  161.  
  162. >She immediately scans the place.
  163. "I assure you, there are no ninjas hidden in my home."
  164. >She doesn't even glance back at you.
  165. "...Well, probably."
  166. >Continuing to ignore your ass, she helps herself and starts walking into every room of the place.
  167. "Alright, sure, make yourself at home."
  168. >While she does her ninja-check, you decide to start something up for dinner.
  169. >It was already about like, seven, you think.
  170. >If you had a watch or some shit you'd be able to tell.
  171. >But yeah, that ice cream visit kind of took a while.
  172. >Brave really is a stubborn pony.
  173. >Plus, every time is ice cream time, and it should be illegal to say otherwise.
  174. >You decide to make an old time favorite of spaghetti, the best and worst dish ever made, depending on how you look at it.
  175. >Getting everything out, you can hear her practically tearing up your shit upstairs.
  176. >Better be putting it back, too.
  177. >Once you pop that pan out of your cabinet, you hear her finally coming down the stairs, and once she's made her way over to you, she's still scanning everything.
  178. >"Sir, do you wish me to assist in cooking?"
  179. "-Oh shit, you can cook?"
  180. >You look at her with a mix of curiosity and excitement.
  181. >Spaghetti's only an old time favorite because you can't fucking make anything else.
  182. >Sure, there's sandwiches, but you're not eating plants and hay and shit.
  183. >"I can assist you in any way you need."
  184. "-So you CAN'T cook?"
  185. >"-Yes sir, I can cook."
  186. >Jesus, she sounded kind of annoyed saying that.
  187. >Regardless, she just stands there, practically motionless, waiting for a response.
  188. "Weeell, while normally I'd say hell yeah, spaghetti here is my specialty. You could just wait over by the table, if you want."
  189. >You point a thumb behind you, and she salutes in the corner of your eye.
  190. >"Yes sir."
  191. >You hear her walk away, and continue on your dinner making.
  192. >Then you realize all you heard WAS walking.
  193. >When you look back, she's doing exactly what you said, and is only waiting BY the table.
  194. "I meant you can sit down."
  195.  
  196. >"Yes sir."
  197. >She sits down, and you turn back to your spaghetti.
  198. >Dear lord, this pony-
  199. >-Fuck, why did you pull out a goddamn pan?
  200. >-And why do you even HAVE a pan?
  201. >Sure, you have eggs, but you're really lazy.
  202. >When you make eggs, you kinda just leave them in a pot, throw on that top, and let it cook itself.
  203. >If the yolk is runny, cool, if not, who cares it's still eggs.
  204. >You fix your retarded mistake and start things up.
  205. >And things start to get boring quickly.
  206. >Sure, it's not like you normally had conversations with yourself in the kitchen, but you have someone here for once, and you feel there should be some kind of conversation going on.
  207. "So Brave, why did you sign up to be my guard, anyways?"
  208. >You didn't see if there was a list or anything, but apparently there was an actual sign up for it.
  209. >Like signing up for some retarded high school club or some shit, you just went and put your name down for it.
  210. >For a moment, there's silence, and you're convinced that either she just doesn't give a shit about your questions, or won't talk because of how non-specific you were in asking.
  211. >Probably should have asked for a response, or told her she could talk-
  212. >"Because I saw it as an opportunity to leave the barracks, sir."
  213. >-Well damn, she actually responded.
  214. >In your mind, you actually are surprised you got something out of her.
  215. >And it actually seemed like she had FEELINGS, from her response.
  216. >-You can totally understand that, though.
  217. >During the time you were taken to the Princesses to be evaluated and shit, you've had a lot of talks and visits with the guards there.
  218. >Though they are the Royal Guard, not all of them guard the royals, naturally.
  219. >Some are stationed in other towns, some train others, and others kind of just live and work with them while they wait for a position.
  220. >And from what you've heard, said barracks really are boring as hell.
  221. >You were probably welcomed there more than you were to the castle.
  222. >Loved seeing someone out of their routine.
  223.  
  224. >And hot damn, those ponies were so much more laid back than Brave here.
  225. >Kinda wonder what's different, seeing as how she's FROM the barracks.
  226. "And you know, you can take off your armor if you want, seeing how we're inside. Can't imagine how uncomfortable that thing is."
  227. >"Yes sir."
  228. >You nod while you watch the spaghetti boil.
  229. >And behind you, you don't hear any armor clanking or moving around.
  230. >When you look back, she's still got her armor on.
  231. >She just turns to you.
  232. >"Yes, but no thank you, sir."
  233. >You nod again and spin around.
  234. "Whatever you say, then."
  235. >You seriously can't imagine that armor's comfortable.
  236. >Especially WITH all the noise it makes.
  237. >Probably heavy, too.
  238. >-Then again, she's an Earth Pony, so you're sure she just shrugs that shit off.
  239. "You also can use my bathroom if you'd like, since I know your muzzle still has dried ice cream on it."
  240. >And that's when you hear a some clanking, probably from her touching her own muzzle.
  241. >You take a quick glance back, and you were completely right.
  242. >She has a hoof on the end of her muzzle, while she crosses her eyes to look down.
  243. >Goddamn that's adorable.
  244. >You turn back before she notices and grab that pasta sauc-
  245. >-And hear a knock at the door.
  246. >Spinning around, for a split second you see that Brave's got her tongue out, where she was obviously trying to clean her own face.
  247. >Then she quickly straightens out, hops out of her chair, and walks over to peek through the window beside the door.
  248. >A tense few seconds pass, and she comes out with a confused look.
  249. >She walks over to the door and opens it slightly.
  250. >"HALT! State your business!"
  251. >Through the open part of the door, you just see the black of the night, and a little lighter colored black.
  252. >And something a little purple, or blue, or whatever.
  253. >It's dark, it all looks like the same shit.
  254. >"My business? Well, what's YOUR business?"
  255.  
  256. >The mare past the door has a voice that's a little less... harmonic, than Brave's.
  257. >Brave has a slightly deep, but soothing voice to her, like the kind of shit you'd hear in a porno.
  258. >Just imagine a shitty low budget one, and the girl is all like, "oh, I don't have enough money, how EVER shall I repay you?"
  259. >The only difference is, she doesn't have to force herself to talk that way, and she doesn't speak as slow as they do in pornos.
  260. >Like, you guess slower talks make things hotter to some people, but you never really got it.
  261. >Pornos were more comedy than anything, honestly.
  262. >-But anyways, she has a nice, smooth, but not tomboyish voice on her.
  263. >This one is more high pitched- not squeaky, but not deep like Brave's.
  264. >Like, if you heard her through a phone, you'd be completely sure this mare would be fifteen or some shit.
  265. >-Which may be old in horse years- but you don't know how ages work here.
  266. >"That's none of your concern, citizen."
  267. >"-CITIZEN? Hey, you see this armor? I didn't just buy this at a FLOWER shop!"
  268. >"Then state your business!"
  269. >"I'm here to guard that Anonymous guy. That tall thing with the two legs and weird face? He lives here, right?"
  270. >-HEY.
  271. >"I thought there was only going to be ONE guard?"
  272. >"Yeah, then Princess Luna was all, "oh, but that one pony can't guard him twenty four seven," and Celestia was all like, "yes, that is a very good point you make dear sister," and she was like, "well then Imma send one of my guards over to watch in the night while yours sleeps or something," and she was like, "sweet let's do that," and now I'm here!"
  273. >Those impressions are too spot on.
  274. >-Well, not really, but they were pretty funny.
  275. >She made Celestia sound like a man, and gave Luna a stuffy high pitched voice.
  276. >"And how do I know you're a guard?"
  277. >There's a silence.
  278. >"...Do you SEE these fangs? The eyes? Ear fluff? MAYBE these HUGE BATPONY WINGS that are attached to me? -No, I glued everything on and stole this armor, OBVIOUSLY."
  279. >Man, she's sassy.
  280.  
  281. >There's some more silence.
  282. >Then a loud groan.
  283. >"Jeez, you really are stubborn, you know that? NOW I have to go around, fishing for the paper, taking all these minutes because YOU need to see some stupid paper… Here."
  284. >Brave looks down, probably at the paper, just as the pony slinks past her and walks into the room.
  285. >"So then, where's the- aah, there you are!"
  286. >She walks up to you, saddlebags in tow and in full non-Royal-Guard armor.
  287. >Aside from the shapes, it's just a bunch of dark shades of blue and purple, with small, recognizable trims of green surrounding every piece.
  288. >"Yo what up, call me Vannie."
  289. >She holds a hoof up to you, and for a second, all you can do is stare.
  290. >You've heard about bat ponies a few times, had them described to you, but you've never actually SEEN one before.
  291. >Especially not so close.
  292. >She's giving you this toothy smile, where you can clearly see her fangs present.
  293. >Though she's almost half your size, your guard, and extremely goofy so far, you can't help but feel a little nervous seeing them.
  294. >Yes, a grown ass man is nervous of a quirky, fluffy bat pony's fangs.
  295. >You don't want to imagine what those things could do to your face.
  296. >-Or your anything, really.
  297. >Looking past her fangs, the other noticeable thing is her eyes.
  298. >They're a darkish blue, and, well, those pupils of hers are not what you usually see in a pony.
  299. >It's not that frightening... but still a little.
  300. >She has some freckles on her cheeks, a few shades darker than her light grey coat.
  301. >She also wasn't lying about the ear fluff at all.
  302. >Those are some very fluffy ears, which do well to make you feel more at ease.
  303. >They just seem so rubbable.
  304. >Then lastly, is her mane.
  305. >It's wavy, long, a wine red color, and really noticeable even with that helmet of hers.
  306. >You aren't aware of how long you've been staring, but once your focus is back on her, a frown is on her face.
  307. >"Ah, so you're like a disabled thing, then. That makes sense."
  308.  
  309. >Just to make a point, you quickly grab her hoof and shake it.
  310. "-Sorry to disappoint, but no, I'm very much here."
  311. >You pause, taking a second to scan her again.
  312. "I've just, you know, never seen a bat pony before."
  313. >She nods in understanding.
  314. >"Well I've never seen a... whatever the hay you are, before."
  315. >In the back, you can hear and see Brave making her way over to the table, door now closed and a slightly annoyed expression on her face.
  316. "Yeah, I get that a lot."
  317. >She nods again, then snaps to attention with an exaggerated, serious look on her face.
  318. >"So then sir Anonymous sir, what does sir want me to do, sir?"
  319. "Well, you-"
  320. >"-AS LONG as it isn't cleaning, because I suck at that. Unless you want a lot of junk under the fridge and stuff."
  321. >You pause again, waiting for any more interjections.
  322. "Okay, well I-"
  323. >"-AND- nah, I'm just kidding, continue please."
  324. >She flashes you an innocent smile.
  325. >After a quick eyebrow raise, you step to the side and motion to the stove.
  326. "Okay, well I'm making spaghetti, and if you want to sit down, I can serve you some. You can get comfy if you want, too; take your armor off or whatever."
  327. >The second you said armor, she beamed.
  328. >"Aw SWEET!"
  329. >And before you can say any more, she sheds off all of her armor on your kitchen floor and starts stretching.
  330. >"Awww yeeeaaah, that's sooo much better."
  331. >She stretches out like a cat and yawns, head lowered and rump in the air.
  332. >When she's done, she flashes you another cute smile and grabs both bags and armor in her hooves.
  333. >"Thank you, Mr. Anonymous!"
  334. >Then she flies it all to the living room and puts it nearby a couch.
  335. >After heavy consideration, mind you.
  336. >Already decided what couch to lie on.
  337. >Finally settled with everything, you hear again the sound of a chair moving while you're making the plates.
  338. >As always, you have way too much spaghetti.
  339. >But there's nothing really wrong with having a bit more extra, you like to think.
  340.  
  341. >You spin around, now with three plates in tow.
  342. >And you then realize how horrible of an idea trying to carry three big ass plates is.
  343. >When you look up, both Brave and Vannie snap to attention and quickly head over to you.
  344. >You can tell the idea was to just take one plate and let you carry two, but since they both did, they really just picked their own plates.
  345. >Then they both look at each other.
  346. >And glare for a second.
  347. >-Or, you THINK it was a glare.
  348. >Too quick to really know for sure.
  349. >They take their plates and head back over to the table, where you can only hear one set of armor clanking around.
  350. >You sit down just as they both follow, one pony on each side.
  351. >Makes you feel like some mafia boss or something.
  352. "Well, hope the pasta isn't too shit."
  353. >You motion for both of them to eat, and thankfully Brave doesn't need an order to, like you thought she would.
  354. >However, she just picks up a fork with her weird hoof-magic shit and looks to you.
  355. >Vannie just digs right in.
  356. >-With her face.
  357. >And it's not until you start eating that Brave does.
  358. >Man, these two are like, the complete polar opposites of each other.
  359. >Minus their will to help you, it seems.
  360. >"Sweet Celestia, this is the best spaghetti I've ever tasted."
  361. "Y-you too."
  362. >A retarded smile immediately crosses your face.
  363. >Good thing they didn't hear that.
  364. >"Hey, so Mr. Anonymous guy, what are you, anyways?"
  365. >You wipe your face clean and swallow what you had.
  366. "Well first off, you can just call me Anon, and second, I'm a human. You wouldn't know what that is, though."
  367. >She immediately scrunches.
  368. >"-Well, how do you know I don't know? What if I DO know what that is?"
  369. "Oh, you know what a human is?"
  370. >Her pissed expression softens.
  371. >"Uh, y-yeah, of course I do!"
  372. "And you remember Earth, too?"
  373. >She nods somewhat confidently.
  374.  
  375. "Wow, that's so great! I've never come across another pony on this entire PLANET that's known what Earth is! I'm so glad I finally have!"
  376. >She nods and cracks a nervous smile.
  377. >"Oh of course! I'm just, heh, I'm a one of a kind pony!"
  378. >You quickly nod, smile present from just how far you think she can take this.
  379. "So then, do you remember that time they made a park just for dinosaurs?"
  380. >She nods.
  381. "Ooh, or how about the time Skynet first launched?"
  382. >She hesitates slightly, but nods again.
  383. >You tap your chin with your fork.
  384. "It's been a long while since I've been there though... When did that happen, again?"
  385. >She taps her own chin and looks at the table in thought.
  386. >While her obvious idea is to try to look knowing, her eyes are clearly darting around nervously.
  387. >"Th-that was 1607, right? It's been a while since I've been there too, I-I don't think I completely remember."
  388. "-OH, thaaat's right! I forgot about that!"
  389. >Her ears perk up, and her eyes widen just a bit.
  390. >Before she has a chance to look even more confused, you shoot another question.
  391. >In your peripherals, Brave is just silently watching back and forth, taking small, lady-like bites of her spaghetti.
  392. "So how was your last time there? What'd you do?"
  393. >"-I WENT SKIING."
  394. >She quickly smiles.
  395. >She yelled at you like she was starring in Family Feud or some shit.
  396. >But you maintain your stupid smile.
  397. "Oh, where did you go skiing? I heard Gotham had some pretty nice skiing mountains."
  398. >With every retarded hint you throw out, your smile can't help but widen a bit.
  399. >"I-I- yeah, I went there! It was great!"
  400. "When did you last go?"
  401. >"F-four years ago. It was a bit of a long time, so I-"
  402. "-But didn't it blow up in that nuclear plant accident SEVEN years ago?"
  403. >She pauses, and the most confused, frantic expression ever slides over her face.
  404. >She slowly closes her mouth and just stares past you.
  405. >"I-I..."
  406. >You lean over and pat her on the head.
  407. "Earth's not in this universe, Vannie."
  408. >She scrunches again.
  409.  
  410. >You smile and softly laugh.
  411. >She really doesn't seem to share your amusement though, judging by the shade of red coating her cheeks.
  412. >As well as the intensifying scrunch.
  413. >"-W-well, Earth sounds lame, anyways!"
  414. >You quickly shake your head and point at your plate.
  415. "We had forks that twirl spaghetti on their own. Best place ever."
  416. >Her ears immediately perk up.
  417. >"Wait what? Really?"
  418. >You nod.
  419. "Hell yeah we did."
  420. >She looks so amazed at that.
  421. >-You got one of those forks, actually.
  422. >It was shit.
  423. >Couldn't even twirl that much spaghetti.
  424. >When you look up, Vannie's just staring at her fork with a disappointed expression on her face.
  425. >Not that she's even used it or anything.
  426. >
  427. >Spaghetti times close quickly without a hitch, and now you're all satisfied and ready for bed and shit.
  428. >-Well, YOU are.
  429. >Not sure about these two.
  430. >If Brave is tired, she's not showing it.
  431. >Though she hardly shows anything, so that's understandable.
  432. "Alrighty, so how's sleeping going to work, here?"
  433. >A thought hits you.
  434. "Actually, how's EVERYTHING going to work, here? If you're guarding me twenty four seven, doesn't that mean you're practically living with me?"
  435. >The only way you're able to tell Brave is thinking is by her slight eye movement.
  436. >Vannie just holds a hoof on her chin, stares at the roof, and lets out a loud-
  437. >"-Hmmm..."
  438. >And while they think, you hop off your chair to start cleaning shit up.
  439. >Just as you're like, a foot away, Brave comes clanking over and reaches the sink.
  440. >"Please sir, allow me."
  441. >A pone wanting to take over your mess?
  442. >While normally you'd be so alright with this, your white knighty-ness says that's no gud.
  443. >She's dealt with your ass for an entire day, it's the least you can do.
  444. >-Well, in reality it was only a few hours, but still.
  445. >Don't want your own guard to hate your guts.
  446. >And yeah, she is a really difficult pone to read.
  447.  
  448. >You shake your head and offer a smile.
  449. "Thanks, but no thanks. I made the mess, I should clean it."
  450. >She shakes her own head.
  451. >"Sir, allow me to help you."
  452. >So, you shake your head again and start grabbing things to put them in the sink.
  453. >And she starts doing the same, already globbing soap all over the pot.
  454. >Alright, let's try something else, then.
  455. "I order you to not help me clean."
  456. >She completely freezes, then turns to you.
  457. >Now she's scrunching.
  458. >Very lightly, but it's definitely noticeable enough to be on the scrunch scale.
  459. >"...Yes sir."
  460. >She backs up a little and lets you take the reigns.
  461. >When you grab the pot and start to clean that shit, you spin around to them both.
  462. >Vannie's still sitting at the table, and turns to you like Brave does.
  463. "And let me make it clear now that even if you guys are my guards, you're not my servants. I don't really expect you to cook, or clean-"
  464. >-Vannie fis-hoof pumps the air-
  465. "-Or do anything I know I can do myself. And, on top of that, you're still my guests, and can get as comfortable-
  466. >-You shoot Brave a glance-
  467. "-Or you know, not comfortable, as you want. Do I make myself clear?"
  468. >"Yessir!"
  469. >"Yes, sir."
  470. >You nod and spin back around.
  471. "Good!"
  472. >And now thinking about it, you wonder how long they'll be with you, anyways.
  473. >Apparently there's actually an underlying threat you're not even aware of.
  474. >-Well, there has to be, you'd imagine.
  475. >You really doubt the Princesses would send guards to your home, just so they could be your friends or some shit.
  476. >Especially with Celestia sending one so serious, you wonder what that could be.
  477. >And, well, with how long Luna's been away, you know that her guard hasn't seen much of anything in a long-ass while, and Vannie here might even be the best guard they have.
  478. >But, well...
  479. >You look over and see her lightly bobbing her head to some unknown beat.
  480. >-You've yet to really tell for sure.
  481.  
  482. >If they're going to be guarding you though, they practically WILL be living with you.
  483. >You'll have to look into beds, maybe a new HOME for-
  484. >-Well, they're GUARDS.
  485. >Shouldn't they have some kind of building to hole up in?
  486. >You've never had guards before, but you don't think the president sleeps with the secret service in his home.
  487. >...Or maybe he does.
  488. >You don't know.
  489. >You idly start cleaning the dishes.
  490. >There's only one bedroom in this house.
  491. >...And you like your bed.
  492. >You subtly glance over your shoulder, where Brave's sitting on the floor, silently scanning the area behind your back.
  493. >Well, there IS the other couch, next to the one you're sure Vannie's going to sleep.
  494. >Your inner white knight may disagree, but you have to plan ahead here.
  495. >If you wake up uncomfortable, or can't sleep, nobody's going to be happy.
  496. >It's more a matter of the town's safety than it is your own benefit.
  497. >After drying the last plate, you stack it up and start with the stove gear.
  498. >-And now that you think about it, how is Vannie going to work with everything?
  499. >Is she just going to watch you sleep in the night, then sleep herself in the day?
  500. >You don't even know her that well, but you're pretty sure she wouldn't be able to stay in the same spot doing nothing for multiple hours.
  501. >It's impossible not to see all these questions and inconsistencies.
  502. >And you just finished washing everything.
  503. >When you turn around, Brave immediately spins and faces you.
  504. >And for some reason Vannie's looking at the hoof in front of her face.
  505. "Alright, so since that's done, how is this going to work?"
  506. >You glance at Brave, face still as serious as ever.
  507. "Where are you going to sleep for tonight?"
  508. >"Wherever you wish me to, sir."
  509. >Vannie shoots her hoof up.
  510. >"-BIG COUCH, CALLED IT!"
  511. >For a moment all you do is tap your chin with a finger.
  512. >...Well, guess time to see how much space is in your room.
  513.  
  514. >
  515. >-And it's not a lot.
  516. >Well, now it's not looking like it.
  517. >You stand in the corner of your room, Brave sitting and scanning beside you, while Vannie looks around the place.
  518. >Your bed is definitely big.
  519. >But that's why there's practically no room left.
  520. "...Well, Brave, I guess you're sleeping here."
  521. >"Yes sir."
  522. >She starts to pat the ground like a cat.
  523. "-On the bed, if you will."
  524. >"-Yes sir."
  525. >She climbs onto your bed.
  526. >With her armor still on.
  527. >You just watch, a bit out of longing, and another out of confusion.
  528. >Longing, because your white knight just took over without you realizing it.
  529. >And confusion, because that looks so uncomfortable.
  530. >She just glances over at you, saying nothing.
  531. >-Alright, well if that's squared away, then you've got a couch to go pre-
  532. >-You immediately hear clanking up to you.
  533. >Brave is now just standing beside you, keeping close.
  534. "Uh, Brave, you can sleep, you know."
  535. >She shakes her head.
  536. >"I won't rest until you do, sir."
  537. "-That's not necessary, Brave. You get your sleep, and Vannie will cover the night."
  538. >-Who's currently looking around your closet right now.
  539. >...Brave doesn't budge.
  540. "Brave, that's an order."
  541. >She shoots you a glance, then nods.
  542. >"Yes sir."
  543. >She hops into bed again, and you start walking to-
  544. >"Sir, may I ask where you are going to rest tonight?"
  545. "Well, I was just going to go on the couch downstairs."
  546. >A small moment of silence follows.
  547. >"Sir, I think it would be best if you would stay within my line of sight."
  548.  
  549. "Your 'line of sight'? What are you suggesting?"
  550. >"I'm suggesting you rest within a certain distance of me, so that I may quickly respond to any threats that could appear, sir."
  551. >You pause.
  552. >So, she's pretty much saying you should sleep with her.
  553. >"-Then where the hay would I go? Do you want me to just, STAND here?"
  554. "-Isn't that what you were going to do anyways?"
  555. >"-Well I'd like to at least be COMFY!"
  556. >You pause again.
  557. >Well, though it'd be damn difficult, you're sure you could bring a couch up here.
  558. >Going from nothing, to magic, to nothing again really made you realize how helpful it was.
  559. >You could just have that thing teleported, and that would be it.
  560. >But now, you have to go downstairs, drag the thing up here, and take it through the door.
  561. >Ugh.
  562. "Fine, then let's bring that couch of yours up here."
  563. >"The BIG couch?"
  564. "-Yes, the big couch."
  565. >"-Aw yiss!"
  566. >Vannie flies from the closet on out, and you follow after her.
  567. >"-Sir, do you require my help?"
  568. >You turn back to Brave, who's almost looking a little anxious.
  569. >You say almost, because, seriously, no expression.
  570. >It's more in her tone of voice than anything.
  571. >-That sexy, super model voice that seriously does NOT belong on a small pony.
  572. >But yes, that voice.
  573. "Sure, you can help."
  574. >She hops off the bed immediately, and closely follows you down the stairs.
  575. >When you're there, Vannie's already struggling just trying to pick up one end of the thing.
  576. >Then Brave comes by and lifts it with one hoof.
  577. >-Seriously, one hoof.
  578. >Earth pone strength, man...
  579. >So you take the other end, and Vannie decides to just guide you both.
  580. >"Alright, back up a few meters East- EAST! OKAY, YOUR FIVE O'CLOCK- ANON, THAT'S NOT FIVE!"
  581. "I KNOW WHERE THE STUPID STAIRS IS, VANNIE!"
  582. >-You bump into a small table and pull down the lamp that was on top of it.
  583. >It falls over and shatters into hundreds of pieces.
  584. >"I'M NOT CLEANING THAT BECAUSE I SAID FIVE!"
  585. >GODDAMN IT-
  586.  
  587. >
  588. >Well, shattering lamp and couch upstairs later, you're here on the ground, cleaning all of the pieces that flew across the room.
  589. >-Finishing up, thankfully, but goddamn, this all took long.
  590. >Too long, honestly.
  591. >Definitely more than an hour, for sure.
  592. >Brave luckily had already been near the stairs when that shit broke, so you didn't have to worry about her stepping on any glass or anything.
  593. >-Or crystal, whatever.
  594. >But the damn crystals here may as well be the same shit as glass.
  595. >Like glass on steroids, because regular glass shouldn't leave this many pieces.
  596. >You make one last final sweep and slowly shuffle over to the trash to throw it all away.
  597. >You're not exactly sure what time it is, but it seems like it's one in the morning or some shit.
  598. >Probably just that tired.
  599. >When you finish everything up, you turn off the lights with a yawn and trudge upstairs.
  600. >The first thing you notice is that Vannie is knocked out on that couch.
  601. >Mouth open slightly, mane messy and in her face, hooves sprawled out.
  602. >Obviously not a light sleeper.
  603. >So much for guarding.
  604. >-Brave is still awake, though.
  605. >Barely, judging by her asynchronous blinking, even if her expression has yet to change.
  606. >You're surprised she even lasted an hour in that bed.
  607. >It's too damn comfy for you to do that.
  608. >-Though, she IS wearing her armor still, which may have helped make it more uncomfortable.
  609. "Why aren't you sleeping?"
  610. >She glances at you.
  611. >"I don't rest until you do, sir."
  612. >She even sounds tired.
  613. >Though, it's obviously not that big of a difference, it's still there.
  614. >As with every single action of hers thus far.
  615. "You don't need to stay up with me, Brave. You need your sleep, too."
  616. >She gently shakes her head while you close the door and take your shoes off.
  617. >Goddamn, you're so tired.
  618. >You want to take everything off, but you don't think that'd be very... appropriate, here.
  619. >So you climb in with your slacks and undershirt on.
  620. "You also don't need your armor on."
  621. >"Yes sir, I know."
  622.  
  623. >She doesn't move an inch.
  624. "Meaning, you know, you can take it off to sleep."
  625. >"I understand, sir."
  626. >But she still doesn't do anything.
  627. >Well, you guess she's comfy in that or something.
  628. >You glance over at her.
  629. >...Or something.
  630. >Straightening yourself out and getting comfortable under the sheets, all you can really feel is how damn cold that armor of hers is.
  631. >You'd figure that with these sheets and everything, it'd at least warm up a little.
  632. >Especially because you spent an hour downstairs.
  633. >Guess not.
  634. >You subtly glance again.
  635. >You really hope she doesn't shower in that shit, too.
  636. >Then you try to retain as much body heat as possible while you drift off to sleep.
  637. >
  638. >-Goddamn it, what the hell is that shit?
  639. >You can hear like, skittering.
  640. >And you know that's not your goddamn imagination, however cruel it may be sometimes.
  641. >You slowly sit up in bed and scan the room.
  642. >Brave is sleeping, almost completely still and practically in the same spot she was before.
  643. >Only difference here is that her eyes are closed, really.
  644. >Past her, you notice that the couch in your room is now missing a certain resident bat pony.
  645. >You're not sure what time it is, but it's still damn late, if the lack of sun is anything to go by.
  646. >Very slowly and quietly, you slink out of bed without waking Brave up.
  647. >It makes you remember that she's in fact alive, and not some kind of guarding robot or something instead.
  648. >Door already slightly open, you slip past and walk through the hallway.
  649. >There's a light coming from downstairs.
  650. >While your built-in cliche-horror-scene-detector's starting to beep, you know that the only one that would be downstairs is Vannie, which really doesn't scare you much.
  651. >Unless, you know, she uses those fangs of hers for vile things, and you're about to stumble on that.
  652. >-Alright, don't think that way.
  653. >She's a quirky bat pony with freckles, what horrible things could anyone possibly expect from that?
  654.  
  655. >When you step down some more, you notice that none of the room lights are on, which would explain why said light is so dim.
  656. >You freeze when you also notice the sound you're hearing.
  657. >That's not skittering.
  658. >It sounds like... vicious eating.
  659. >Your horror scene detector's going off a bit more.
  660. >You know you shouldn't investigate.
  661. >This is exactly why you have that detector.
  662. >This is how scary movies end up.
  663. >Safety in numbers.
  664. >If something sounds or seems scary, you don't investigate.
  665. >And if you DO investigate, you'll probably die.
  666. >But really, how scary can a bat pony be?
  667. >What could she possibly be into?
  668. >You doubt this is gonna be anything bad.
  669. >You doubt you'll, you know, DIE here.
  670. >...R-right?
  671. >Finally reaching the end of the stairs, you slowly move and peek over the wall.
  672. "-OH MY GOD!"
  673. >"-EEEEEE!"
  674. >Vannie flies up and forward into your cabinet, then falls back down.
  675. >-Then you hear clanking from the top of the stairs.
  676. >Ignoring that, you flip the lights on and run over to Vannie.
  677. >-While also ignoring what you're sure is your entire food supply, most half eaten or made into something.
  678. >-Which is a LOT of goddamn food.
  679. >When you move around the island, Vannie is there, clutching her muzzle with her hooves.
  680. >You kneel beside her.
  681. >She faceplanted into that thing pretty hard, actually.
  682. "Shit, I'm so sorry Vannie! How bad is it?"
  683. >She doesn't answer, instead just continuing to hold her muzzle.
  684. >When you move her hoof, nothing seems wrong with it- no blood or anything.
  685. >But goddamn, did that look like it hurt.
  686. >Suddenly the clanking reaches the bottom of the stairs, and you're quickly accompanied by Brave, who despite being woken up, looks as alert as ever.
  687. >"What has happened, sir?"
  688. "-Just a little accident. It's nothing to worry about, Brave."
  689. >Though she doesn't move from her spot.
  690. >You see Vannie tearing up a bit, muzzle still scrunched and in her grip.
  691. >-Goddamn it, you already feel like shit, don't do-
  692. >-She starts to sob.
  693.  
  694. >"-I'm sorry, Anon! I'm sorry!"
  695. >You pause.
  696. "Sorry for what, Vannie?"
  697. >"I-I just couldn't h-help myself! I always get snacky in the night, a-and I just..."
  698. >You look up and around at your surroundings.
  699. >-Right, all of your food.
  700. >Ahead of you, the fridge is completely clean, aside from a few condiments still sitting on the door.
  701. >But on the island and on the counter, all your food is spread around, things like bananas missing a few of their own.
  702. >Crumbs, empty bags, plates around the place.
  703. >She really cleaned your shit out.
  704. >When you turn back to her, you now notice some crumbs lining her muzzle.
  705. >-Which may also be why she's holding it.
  706. >Trying to hide her shame or something.
  707. >-That's good!
  708. >-Well, not her crying or being embarrassed or anything, but it's good that she's not crying over you scaring her into a cabinet.
  709. >Though, you know, she's still crying.
  710. "No Vannie, it's alright, I'm not pissed off or anything. It's just food."
  711. >If anything, you're just curious.
  712. >If she's ALWAYS snacky, then you don't get why she's not a bit chunkier.
  713. >You glance between her and Brave.
  714. >...Well, maybe there's a LITTLE bit extra, but you don't really-
  715. >-Oh right, she's crying.
  716. >You pick her up and set her on her hooves, where she keeps a hoof still covering her face.
  717. "Does your muzzle still hurt?"
  718. >Her sobs turn into sniffles and she opens an eye on you.
  719. >She simply nods.
  720. "Would a bag of ice or something help?"
  721. >She pauses, then nods again.
  722. >-Before you move, Brave slinks through and digs into the freezer, resealable bag in tow.
  723. >Soon, you've got a sniffling bat pony with a bag of ice on her muzzle.
  724. >Brave shuts the fridge while you lead Vannie over to sit on the couch.
  725. >You sit down with her, and try to wave Brave off.
  726. >Surprisingly, she takes the hint, nods, and heads upstairs.
  727. >-VERY surprisingly.
  728. >Probably looking for any chance to go back to sleep, behind that expression of hers.
  729. >And with her gone, silence quickly takes over.
  730. >You glance back again at the carnage.
  731. >If you were back home, you're pretty certain you'd be beyond pissed.
  732. >But one of the perks of being the last of your kind is the free groceries.
  733. >-Well, free everything, because of the Princess' allowance for you.
  734. >Or it may as well be.
  735. >Only reason you're here, is because you weren't a fan of being babied by those two.
  736. >You're a man, damn it.
  737. >And they went too far.
  738. >-But you digress.
  739. "That's pretty impressive, you know."
  740. >Vannie's ears perk up.
  741. "I can admire a girl who knows how to eat."
  742. >She turns back and examines the battlefield.
  743. >"…That IS a lot, isn't it?"
  744. >You nod.
  745. >Goddamn right it's a lot.
  746. >She hangs her head.
  747. >"I-I don't know what came over me… I think I have some vampire fruit bat somewhere in my genes."
  748. >Yeah, you'll say.
  749. "Well, don't worry about it. There's always more groceries to be bought."
  750. >"-I'll pay you back. How much do you think that all is?"
  751. "Vannie, don't waste your money on a simple mistake, I can buy it myself."
  752. >"-No, let me pay you back!"
  753. "No, I can get it-"
  754. >"Let me!"
  755. "No Vannie-"
  756. >"-LET MEEE."
  757. "-Okay, you want to pay me back?"
  758. >She quickly nods.
  759. "Then work with me here and don't worry about it."
  760. >Her face quickly twists into a frown.
  761. >"Mark my words Anon, I WILL repay you for this. A BAT PONY NEVER FORGETS!"
  762. "I thought it was elephants?"
  763. >"-WHO CARES!"
  764. "Sure, okay then."
  765. >She flashes you a toothy smile in return.
  766. >Man, even if you were pissed, nobody would be able to stay mad at that face for very long.
  767. >Unless, you know, you hate cute things.
  768. >Then it would be pretty easy.
  769. >She resumes looking around the kitchen, holding the bag of ice with one hoof.
  770. "So, your face feeling better?"
  771. >She moves the bag and crosses her eyes to look at her muzzle.
  772. >"Yeah, a little bit-"
  773. >While her attention is elsewhere, you reach a finger up to her and-
  774. "Boop."
  775. >Almost immediately, her face twists into an intense scrunch.
  776. "Yeah, you're fine."
  777. >
  778. >Despite not liking to clean, Vannie helped you clean the whole kitchen for like, the next two hours.
  779. >You kinda made a game while you were at it.
  780. >You'd grab something that was made, and whoever had the most ingredients in what they picked up got a point.
  781. >During all of this, the lack of sleep hit pretty hard, so the game went from calling out points and cheering, to simple grunts and groans.
  782. >Still don't know what time it is, but all that you care to know is that it's late, and you're tired.
  783. >But at least she already prepared food for like, the next few days.
  784. "Well, thanks for the help, Vannie."
  785. >"Mhm."
  786. "Imma go die in bed."
  787. >"Mhmmm."
  788. >With a final flip of a switch, you both start walking upstairs.
  789. >When you step into your room, the first thing you notice is that Brave isn't asleep.
  790. >Vannie crashes on the couch, and you climb into bed.
  791. "Brave, don't tell me you just waited for me this whole time."
  792. >"I don't sleep until you do, sir."
  793. >Her speech is much slower than it usually is.
  794. "Then I order you to not do that again- get some sleep whenever you can. I don't think both of us being sleepy will help anything."
  795. >She pauses, probably taking a moment to process your words.
  796. >"Yes, sir."
  797. "Good."
  798. >You shift around in the covers a bit, trying not to take them all, and trying your damnedest to stay away from that cold ass armor of hers.
  799. "Night, Brave."
  800. >"Goodnight, sir."
  801. >
  802. >-No, no, it can't be morning already.
  803. >It can't beee.
  804. >You cover your face with a hand and regret leaving those goddamn blinds up.
  805. >Usually it's your natural alarm, but usually you also have more goddamn sleep in the night.
  806. >And this isn't usually.
  807. >Fuck you Celestia.
  808. >You cover your face with a pillow.
  809. >Yet somehow, the sunlight still bleeds in.
  810. >So with a groan, you move slightly to-
  811. >...You move slightly to-
  812. >-Why aren't you moving slightly?
  813. >You look back and notice that Brave is much closer to you than she was last night.
  814. >Also, that her hooves are wrapped around you.
  815. >Fuck she's strong.
  816. >You try to move a bit and confirm that she is indeed fucking strong.
  817. >It's like you're chained up or something.
  818. >Her mane is flowing over your neck, and you notice one of her hind legs resting slightly over you.
  819. >Seriously, how the hell did this happen?
  820. >-And more importantly, WHEN?
  821. >You never heard or even felt her latch on to you during the night.
  822. >And with all that armor, you figured the whole town would have heard.
  823. >Fruitlessly, you try to gently pry her hooves from your chest.
  824. >It's like trying to break iron.
  825. >-And the actual iron of her armor doesn't help.
  826. >…That sun is getting really goddamn annoying.
  827. "Brave-"
  828. >-Her hooves slip from you, then she rolls away from you and lands on the ground.
  829. >When you turn around, you notice that she's landed on her hooves perfectly, and she's already scanning the room.
  830. >"Yes sir?"
  831. >-Holy shit how did she do that?
  832. >You stare blankly at her for a moment.
  833. "Uh… I uh, nevermind, I guess."
  834. >She nods and salutes you.
  835. >Was she even SLEEPING?
  836. >Maybe just, cuddling you there on purpose?
  837. >She stands there, that serious expression on her face unmoving.
  838. >…Nah, you doubt that.
  839. >Probably just a weird dream or something.
  840. >-If she even dreams at all, that is.
  841. >You slump out of bed and throw your shoes on.
  842. >Vannie's on the couch and out cold, pawing at the air slightly with her hooves.
  843. >You just need some goddamn coffee in you now.
  844. >
  845. "-You can sit, Brave."
  846. >"Yes sir."
  847. >You adjust yourself in your seat and yawn.
  848. >You kind of feel bad for just leaving Vannie back at the house, even if she literally asked for it.
  849. >Or in her words, "Uuugh, just let me sleeeep."
  850. >-Which may be a good thing, because you don't know how disastrous her and coffee would be.
  851. >"-Good morning! I got a coffee, no sugar or cream, and a mocha latte?"
  852. >With another yawn, you nod while the coffee pone sets the two drinks down.
  853. >"And will that be all today?"
  854. >You lazily nod again.
  855. >"Okay if you need anything, just ask! You two have a nice day!"
  856. >She walks off, and you're left with your caffeinated lava in a cup.
  857. >Brave immediately takes a sip of her drink and softly sighs.
  858. >And that's all you get out of her.
  859. >You sip yours and yawn again.
  860. >It's black and bitter, like your soul.
  861. >So it's perfect.
  862. >And while normally you'd probably get what Brave has, this isn't normally.
  863. >You're tired as fuck, and you need something to alleviate that tired-ness.
  864. >Who gives a shit about flavor, when you can't even be bothered to process anything normally?
  865. >"-So sir, if I may ask, what's on the agenda today?"
  866. >Another sip and yawn.
  867. >You smack your lips together.
  868. "...You may NOT ask."
  869. >Her ears perk up slightly.
  870. >Probably wasn't expecting that response out of you.
  871. "-Because I don't even know myself. But if I stay tired any longer, I'll have to add 'die in a hole' to the list."
  872. >She just nods.
  873. >At least she's not dramatic like most other ponies are.
  874. >If you told any others you were going to die in a hole, they'd think you were serious.
  875. >And probably cry.
  876. >…They're like that.
  877. >You focus again on her, watching while she eyes that coffee of hers with the same expression.
  878. >That expressionless expression expressed on her.
  879. "What would YOU like to do today?"
  880. >Her ears perk up again.
  881. >"Excuse me, sir?"
  882. "-You're excused."
  883. >She stares at you, somewhat confused and waiting for you to continue.
  884. >But you stay silent and pretend that's all you had to say.
  885. >When she turns back to her drink, you strike.
  886. "Now, what would you like to do today?"
  887. >She quickly regains herself.
  888. >"Whatever you wish, sir."
  889. "-Well, I wish you to tell me what you want to do. And add grocery shopping to it."
  890. >"Grocery shopping it is, sir."
  891. >Goddamn it.
  892. >Oh well, you DO need some groceries anyways.
  893. >Though you're not sure if that's a good idea or not.
  894. >You wouldn't want to buy a shit ton of groceries just to have them destroyed tonight.
  895. >Not that buying them is the issue, but you're too lazy to routinely be doing that shit.
  896. >And speaking of destroying, you just destroyed your coffee while you were thinking.
  897. >Damn it.
  898. >You watch while Brave just takes small sips of hers.
  899. >While she routinely scans the place, you notice that she's not looking as seriously as she usually does.
  900. >It's more of a neutral look now.
  901. "So, Brave."
  902. >She looks up at you.
  903. >"Yes, sir?"
  904. "After that whole incident yesterday, you slept for the rest of the night, right?"
  905. >"Yes sir."
  906. >You nod.
  907. "And do you, uh, normally move around in your sleep? You know, grab random things?"
  908. >She pauses.
  909. >"No sir."
  910. >You nod again, much slower this time.
  911. "So, you wouldn't, I don't know, maybe cuddle the closest person to you in your sleep or something?"
  912. >"-No-"
  913. "-And like, have them in a super strong grip that you didn't break, until they said your name?"
  914. >"No sir. Why do you ask?"
  915. >You wave your hand.
  916. "Oh, nothing, no reason."
  917. >You leave her be to finish her drink, looking for any signs that she knows exactly what you're talking about.
  918. >There are none.
  919. >Guess she really is just a cuddle sleeper.
  920. >-Which you're going to take full advantage of.
  921. >Your eyes trail to her armor.
  922. >-Well, you'll TRY to take full advantage of.
  923. >She finishes her drink and lets out another soft sigh.
  924. >"Thank you for the coffee, sir."
  925. >You had half a mind to say something cheeky like, 'and thanks for the snuggles last night,' but you decide against it.
  926. >She has to undeniably know what she did, first.
  927. >It'd make it that much sweeter.
  928. >You nod and grab both cups to throw them away.
  929. >Woo.
  930. >Now, time for grocery shopping.
  931. >
  932. "I don't know, I'm just saying that these strawberries look kinda shit."
  933. >The mare frowns.
  934. "-Not that I'm saying there's anything wrong with how you GROW them! It's just my opinion- I'm sure there's a lot of ponies who would think they're not shit."
  935. >Her frown deepens.
  936. "-Okay, I'm just used to huge ass strawberries from my home, all genetically modified and wonderful. I just think ten bits for a small ass bag isn't fair."
  937. >Her frown gets even worse.
  938. >"…Nine bits."
  939. "Seven or I'm walking."
  940. >You shake your bag of bits for emphasis.
  941. >Putting pressure on her.
  942. >She stares at the bits, then the bag of strawberries.
  943. >Then you stop shaking the bag and shrug.
  944. >And slooowly start putting the bag-
  945. >"-Fine, deal!"
  946. >She pushes the strawberries towards you.
  947. >Man, these ponies are just too easy.
  948. >Instead of giving her the seven bits, you just give her the bag.
  949. "Consolation prize. Git gud at haggling, mate."
  950. >She looks at it in surprise, and by the time she flashes you a grateful smile, you're already walking towards the next booth.
  951. >So you settle on a simple wave.
  952. >"May I ask what the purpose of that was, sir?"
  953. >You shrug while you walk.
  954. "I just get bored a lot. Even something as simple as a little haggle keeps me from blowing my brains out of boredom."
  955. >She simply nods, and you catch a little fucker on your shoe coming loose.
  956. >You stop and kneel to retie your sho-
  957. >-You hear a small whizzing sound and a clang.
  958. >Before you turn to the noise, Brave stumbles and bumps into you.
  959. >You catch yourself from falling and lose your knot.
  960. >Damn it-
  961. >"-SIR WATCH OUT!"
  962. >And before you can speak, you're tackled behind a stall.
  963. >By an Earth Pony.
  964. >Wearing armor.
  965. >IRON armor.
  966. >The wind is knocked out of you the second you hit the ground.
  967. "S-shit..."
  968. >While you try to suck some air back into yourself, you notice Brave's side.
  969. >There's an arrow.
  970. >A fucking ARROW.
  971. >It's just there, sitting in the side of her armor.
  972. >Though she doesn't seem to be hurt by it.
  973. >BUT THAT'S A FUCKING ARROW.
  974. >You peek your head out to see where it came from, but she immediately pulls you back.
  975. >"STAY DOWN!"
  976. >Ponies are just running around, kicking up dust and shit everywhere.
  977. >Where did a FUCKING ARROW come from?!
  978. >You simply stare at it in horror.
  979. >Was that shit actually aimed for YOU?
  980. >Thoughts run around your mind a mile a minute, and the only thing you can really think about is how much you want to get the fuck out of here now.
  981. >Eyes darting around, you notice Brave looks just like you do.
  982. >Sitting, she's just staring at the arrow, eyes wide in what is easily panic and confusion.
  983. >And how easy it is to read, is what's worrying you.
  984. "Fuck this shit, let's get out of here!"
  985. >You grab her hoof, and it takes a second for her to even notice your presence.
  986. >Then she looks around at all the ponies, panicking and running around, until she gives you an unconfident nod.
  987. >She stands up with you, and you jump out of the other end of the stall, using all the dust and confusion to slip past on the way towards your house.
  988. >A FUCKING ARROW.
  989. >And while you're glad that your house is close by the marketplace, you're also scared.
  990. >Nobody sells bows or anything in the goddamn market.
  991. >And if they did, they wouldn't load it like that.
  992. >AND, it wouldn't cause mass panic like it just did, if it was just a simple mistake.
  993. >You practically fly into your house and pull Brave in with you.
  994. >Then you slam that damn door shut.
  995. >When you spin back around, the first thing you notice is that Brave is shaking slightly.
  996. >Sitting there with a thousand yard stare, it really worries you.
  997. >You investigate the arrow still lodged in the side of her armor.
  998. >From what you can tell, the thing wasn't really meant to pierce any kind of armor.
  999. >It's pretty much a giant, wide cone.
  1000. >You put a hand on it, and Brave gasps.
  1001. >Then you slowly take it out.
  1002. >She doesn't flinch or wince, which is a great sign.
  1003. >When you look at the arrow, you realize why it was lodged in her armor.
  1004. >It's got fucking spines all over it.
  1005. >God... imagine if that hit YOU.
  1006. >"Heeey, what's with all the slamming?"
  1007. >Vannie walks down the stairs and sees your panicked face.
  1008. >"What's going on?"
  1009. >She hurries down the steps a little more and sees the arrow in your hand.
  1010. >"-Woooah, where did that come from?"
  1011. >When she gets quicker, she sees the little hole in Brave's armor.
  1012. >"OH HAY, I'LL GET A FIRST AID K-"
  1013. "-No, I don't think it actually hit her."
  1014. >You look back to the pony in question, and she's still staring off.
  1015. >You put a hand on her shoulder- or whatever the horse equivalent is.
  1016. >Wither or something.
  1017. "You aren't hurt, right?"
  1018. >Her eyes slowly trail over to you, and she shakes her head.
  1019. >It's not very noticeable.
  1020. >But only because of how much she's already shaking.
  1021. >With a small sense of deja vu, you wave Vannie off upstairs.
  1022. >She simply nods, a face the most serious you've seen so far.
  1023. >Then you wrap your arms around her chest, under her front hooves.
  1024. >From what you've seen and learned about ponies, a hug can fix many things.
  1025. >Apparently professional huggers are a thing, too.
  1026. >Ponies that just hug others, knowing just how to calm or make another happy.
  1027. >Though they're usually seen with a prescription of some kind.
  1028. >...It's hard to believe that a world prescribing hugs can have assassins hiding amongst them.
  1029. >Makes you wonder what else is true here.
  1030. >Even through Brave's armor, you try your hardest to calm her down.
  1031. >Rubbing her back, more for the thought than the feeling.
  1032. >The armor on her neck pokes at yours, but you continue regardless.
  1033. >You stay silent, not even knowing what to say.
  1034. >What COULD you say?
  1035. >'Thanks for getting hit instead of me?'
  1036. >And though she's technically just doing her job, you won't stand by here and literally just see her as your guard.
  1037. >With certain positions, you've noticed that it's sometimes hard to know you're dealing with people.
  1038. >As a nurse, you can sometimes just see patients as more work.
  1039. >At Mc Donalds, you see more people as more headaches.
  1040. >But you're not going to see these two as a simple guard.
  1041. >If they're gonna guard you, you're going to do the same, as well as you possibly can.
  1042. >You feel her hooves slowly wrap around you, instead of just laying limp like they have been.
  1043. "You okay, Brave?"
  1044. >She's still shaking a bit, but she slowly nods-
  1045. >-A knock on the door breaks you from your thoughts.
  1046. >You feel Brave tense up in your embrace.
  1047. >Slowly breaking away, you look at the door behind you cautiously.
  1048. "Alright, stay back, I'll answer the door."
  1049. >The odds are in your favor here that there's not another arrow behind that thing.
  1050. >Who the hell would just knock on the door of someone they're trying to hurt?
  1051. >-But regardless, especially with Brave in that state, you don't want to risk anything.
  1052. >"-N-no, sir."
  1053. "-I order you to stay back."
  1054. >She pulls away and just looks at you, both scared and worried.
  1055. "And if the one behind the door has another arrow lined up or something, kick their ass."
  1056. >She stays silent for a moment, then nods, still shaking.
  1057. >When you stand back up, she hides beside the door and readies herself with that serious expression you've gotten used to seeing.
  1058. >You peek around the window slowly.
  1059. >...It's just some stallion guy and a kid.
  1060. >And the guy looks worried as shit.
  1061. >Weird.
  1062. >You unlock and open the door, bracing yourself for anything.
  1063. >"-Mister, please, I'm so sorry about that arrow!"
  1064. >-At the sound of 'arrow', Brave hops out and gets ready to pounce.
  1065. >The kid screams and hides behind the guy, and the guy just shrinks and covers his face with a hoof.
  1066. >"-N-no, w-we didn't mean for you to get hurt! Honest!"
  1067. >...Okay, you're confused now.
  1068. "The hell you two talking about?"
  1069. >You hold Brave back with a hand, and she obliges.
  1070. >"I-I was t-teaching my son to w-work with magic. M-my son accidentally teleported the arrow wh-while throwing it."
  1071. >You pause.
  1072. >You and Brave share a confused look.
  1073. "You were having your son play with ARROWS to teach?"
  1074. >"I-I had a target out back. W-we were working on his focus with it."
  1075. >All you can do is stay silent.
  1076. >And judge the fucking dicks out of them.
  1077. >The stallion shrinks even further under your gaze.
  1078. >"I-I'm s-sorry-"
  1079. >You slam the door in his face.
  1080. >A few seconds pass, and you and Brave just continue to stand there.
  1081. "...I fucking hate this town sometimes."
  1082. >She just nods slowly.
  1083. >You need a goddamn drink now.
  1084. >That was way too many emotions, too much stress for a simple kid fucking around with magic.
  1085. "Do you drink, Brave?"
  1086. >She pauses, but shakes her head.
  1087. >"Not while I'm on duty, sir."
  1088. >Huh, so she's back to calling you 'sir' again.
  1089. >Even if her voice is a little shakier.
  1090. "Then consider yourself off duty, because I fucking need one right now."
  1091. >Vannie flies down the stairs and walks over to you both, now clad in her Night Guard armor.
  1092. >"Sounds good to me."
  1093. >
  1094. >While you walk through the town with your guards, you can't stop thinking about what the hell just finished happening.
  1095. >While you can kind of understand focus and an arrow, what the fuck kind of parent uses a REAL one?
  1096. >That arrow had spines and shit on it!
  1097. >You mentally shake your head at the thought.
  1098. >And though, while you're glad Brave didn't get hurt, now you realize that could've been an excuse to see her without her armor on.
  1099. >Just, obviously that was the last thing occupying your mind at the time.
  1100. >But hey, cold armored pony hug +1.
  1101. >Though the fact that she even needed a hug is worrying.
  1102. >Going from super cold and serious to shaking like a leaf isn't exactly normal.
  1103. >And how Vannie seemed pretty much the exact opposite.
  1104. >Though she's not the one that got shot with an arrow.
  1105. >You see that the bar's coming up, and lose your thoughts in that.
  1106. >You're no heavy drinker or anything, but people have bad days.
  1107. >And Equestrian drinks are weirdly more relaxing than their counterparts back on Earth.
  1108. >You haven't had many to figure out why, but the few you've had have been nice.
  1109. >You push the doors open, and like some kind of old western movie, everyone turns to you.
  1110. >There's some jazzy music from a jukebox, that makes sure it isn't completely silent.
  1111. >Though the silence you're getting is pretty much worse.
  1112. >You make a point to cooly walk up to the bar, guard on each side, and sit.
  1113. >You're not exactly sure if the looks are a good or bad thing, but you think it's probably just confusion.
  1114. >Hell, if you saw ET stroll in guarded by two police officers, you'd be damn confused, too.
  1115. >You lift a finger.
  1116. "Brandy on the rocks, and whatever these two ladies want."
  1117. >You gave your best mob boss impression right there, and you think it sounded awesome.
  1118. >You can hear the sound of hooves coming up towards you, and you wait until they try to tap your shoulder or something.
  1119. >But it doesn't happen.
  1120. >"Heeey, can me and my buddy buy you two a drink?"
  1121. >"No."
  1122. >"Pffft, I'm nothing YOU can afford, guy."
  1123. >You don't hear any response except for the sound of them walking away.
  1124. >A smile grows on your face.
  1125. "Jesus, you two sure are gonna be popular today."
  1126. >Vannie just shakes her head in disgust.
  1127. >"Only stallions you ever see hitting on mares at a bar are cuddlesluts, Anon."
  1128. >Brave simply nods in agreement.
  1129. >And here, you didn't even know 'slut' was part of the pony dictionary.
  1130. >But then again, most of them have showed signs that they understand every bit of your colorful vocabulary.
  1131. >Just never heard any of them cuss like you do.
  1132. >"Now then, I'll get an appletini, easy on the tini."
  1133. >"Whiskey, neat please."
  1134. >The bartender mare nods, then gets to work.
  1135. >So, a cuddleslut.
  1136. >Based on the name, you can obviously tell what that means, but you don't know what it means to these ponies.
  1137. >Is cuddling like, the equivalent to a one night stand, or what?
  1138. "So, what IS a cuddleslut?"
  1139. >Vannie looks at you like you just drooled all over yourself and ate a crayon.
  1140. >"How do you not know what that is?"
  1141. >You can see Brave with an equally curious look in your peripherals.
  1142. "Well I mean, I know what a slut is, but I want to know if it carries the same weight to it."
  1143. >"They're stallions that only go around to cuddle mares for a single night, instead of building a relationship with them, sir."
  1144. >Vannie agrees with a disgusted look.
  1145. >-Whelp, that's pretty much exactly what you thought it was.
  1146. >But if CUDDLING for a single night is seriously frowned upon, you wonder how much weight doing the other stuff has.
  1147. >"So, what does a cuddleslut mean where YOU come from?"
  1148. >You pause for a moment while you think about it.
  1149. "Well… back home we didn't have CUDDLEsluts. We just had, well, sluts."
  1150. >Vannie nods, and waits for you to continue.
  1151. "A slut back home was kinda..."
  1152. >You rub the back of your head.
  1153. "Well, they were pretty much people that did the more, ah... adult... kind of stuff. A lot."
  1154. >They both seem confused.
  1155. >Jesus, you don't want to practically spell it out for them.
  1156. >Hell, they're adults, and you know they're mammals, but the ponies here are just...
  1157. >You glance over at Vannie, ears perked up and fluffy as always, a curious, cute look on her face.
  1158. >They just look too damn innocent, really.
  1159. "They were, uh..."
  1160. >She and Brave wait patiently for you.
  1161. "They, you know, do the thing that everyone does to make kids. Just, a lot."
  1162. >Vannie pauses for a moment, mulling over your words.
  1163. >Then they both break into a blush at the exact same time.
  1164. >Like, exact same time.
  1165. >Very weird.
  1166. >"O-oh."
  1167. >"H-how? I mean, y-you only do that with a pony you LOVE!"
  1168. >You shrug.
  1169. "No idea, but there was a lot of it."
  1170. >While they just think about what you told them, your drinks are given to you.
  1171. >You know that at some point you need to be more specific in what you order, because just blindly asking for a drink can end up shit.
  1172. >Though, the bartenders usually end up giving you something good anyways, just so you can pay more.
  1173. >But the fact that Brave did the same thing makes you wonder how much she actually drinks.
  1174. >While you take a sip of yours, you can't help but smile at the dumbfounded faces of the two.
  1175. >You'd definitely be considered a cuddleslut if you were a stallion.
  1176. >And you'd probably love every second of it.
  1177. >The drink goes down smoothly.
  1178. >You didn't really care whether a drink had flavor or not back home, but you had to admit that this glass in your hand wouldn't be the same without its flavor.
  1179. >You can't really pinpoint what it tastes like, but a hint of apples is definitely there.
  1180. >Just like every single other drink here.
  1181. >Just apples, apples, and a hint of apples.
  1182. >With an apple on top.
  1183. >But you get the point.
  1184. "So then, wanna hear more about my world?"
  1185. >You know you just finished saying how innocent these two look, but hell if the thought of destroying that, while a bit evil, doesn't sound fun.
  1186. >Plus, you guess if you're gonna have these two guarding you long term, they oughta start knowing you at SOME point.
  1187. >Brave just stays silent, and Vannie looks around, as if trying to see who else you could be talking to.
  1188. >But curiosity gets the best of her, and she hesitantly nods.
  1189. "Oh, I know that might have seemed bad for you guys, but where I come from isn't that bad."
  1190. >They relax.
  1191. "…It's probably worse."
  1192. >They frown.
  1193. >You just smile.
  1194. >It's just too easy to toy with them.
  1195. >You take another sip at about the same time as Brave.
  1196. >Her sip was smaller, and you can tell based on her look that it hit her.
  1197. "Alrighty! So, starting off from the very beginning, where I come from is a lovely planet called Earth, fourth in the eight planets making our solar system, far away in the beautiful Milky Way galaxy!"
  1198. >"Our solar system has eight planets, too! Well, nine, counting that little one waaay over there!"
  1199. >You pause.
  1200. "Well, we had a ninth one also, but its orbit wasn't aligned very well with the other planets, and it was pretty small, so eventually we just stopped counting it."
  1201. >Vannie nods and takes a sip while still watching you, waiting to hear more.
  1202. "But yeah, awesome planet called Earth. In my time, there was about seven billion people alive. And though it wasn't seven billion exactly, it no doubt would have in the next few years."
  1203. >"Seven BILLION, sir?"
  1204. >You just nod.
  1205. "Seven billion indeed. And with all those people, there wasn't much harmony or friendship like there is here."
  1206. >You notice that Vannie's moved a bit closer to you, captivated by your words just like her counterpart is.
  1207. "Yup, and with seven billion, it was admittedly a bit hard to stand out."
  1208. >You take another sip of your drink and point at yourself.
  1209. "Yours truly here was kinda, well, boring, by Earth standards. Never did much, both legal and illegal, but I knew people that did that kind of stuff."
  1210. >"What was considered illegal, sir?"
  1211. >You pause for a moment.
  1212. >That's like asking how much water's in the Pacific Ocean.
  1213. "Well, a lot of things, but the most obvious things was stuff like, you know, selling drugs, murder-"
  1214. >"-M-MURDER?!"
  1215. >...Jesus, they both yelled at the same time.
  1216. "Yep. Lotsa murder."
  1217. >Vannie looks absolutely terrified.
  1218. >...Maybe you should skip rape, then.
  1219. "But really, there was crime everywhere, so usually the odds were that you wouldn't experience any of it, because of how many people there were."
  1220. >Though there was that time some guy robbed the gas station you were in.
  1221. >You convinced him that killing you, though you were a witness, was just going to make noise and make any sentence he found himself in longer.
  1222. >Not without stuttering and crying a bit, though.
  1223. >Looking back at it, he probably let you go because he had no idea what you were saying and decided a retard's life wasn't worth a bullet.
  1224. >Never know, but you did get those snacks you had for free.
  1225. >Small victories.
  1226. "So I was never really part of that. I just stayed in my house, played games, watched movies, slept, and kinda ended up here."
  1227. >Brave frowns a bit.
  1228. >"That's it, sir?"
  1229. >You shrug.
  1230. "I mean, you guys being in another world, I'm not exactly sure what you guys would find exciting about mine. If my phone wasn't dead as all hell, I could probably show you both some pictures or something."
  1231. >That grabs Vannie's interest.
  1232. >"Phone? You mean like the telephones in Manehattan? How do you have pictures on that?"
  1233. >You pause and look at her.
  1234. >Then, you realize that unlike grandma who hasn't gotten with the times yet, she genuinely wouldn't know what a cellphone is.
  1235. "Well, with all the people living there, we were able to quickly develop and improve in technology, so we had shrunken telephones that were meant to fit in your pocket, and were wireless. Then, you were able to just tap and do things with them, instead of having buttons to press."
  1236. >They both seem so mesmerized.
  1237. >Brave unknowingly takes a big sip of her drink, and winces from what you presume is the burn of an inexperienced drinker.
  1238. "And with that, you could eventually take pictures, make videos, record voices, and use programs that other people made on them."
  1239. >"-What's a video?"
  1240. >"What's a program, sir?"
  1241. >-Dear lord.
  1242. >You take a deep breath.
  1243. "Okay, a video is pretty much a bunch of pictures that are crunched together. When you played a slideshow of those pictures really fast, they would make a video...ish thing. Animation, I guess would be more accurate..."
  1244. >Vannie pretty much downs her whole drink right there, then asks for another.
  1245. >What the hell does 'easy on the tini' even mean, anyways?
  1246. "And a program was just a..."
  1247. >You pause.
  1248. >God, how do you explain this shit?
  1249. >It's like grandma's been living under a damn rock for the apocalypse that never came.
  1250. >You take another long sip from your glass.
  1251. >Explaining all this shit might take a very long while.
  1252. >
  1253. "So, in a nutshell, that's pretty much the internet."
  1254. >"It sounds like so much."
  1255. "It damn well is, and I spent pretty much all my time on it."
  1256. >"Doing what?"
  1257. >-Well, porn, games, porn games...
  1258. "Depends on how I felt, really. But usually I just played games or watched movies."
  1259. >"You never did anything else? Went anywhere with friends, sir?"
  1260. >You pause and take another sip.
  1261. "Well... technically speaking, I never really, uh, HAD friends to do things with."
  1262. >Immediately, Vannie leans over and hugs you.
  1263. >"Oooh, we'll be your friends, Anon!"
  1264. >...Her armor is damn cold, too.
  1265. >Why is all the armor so damn cold?
  1266.  
  1267. >Brave just lightly pats your back.
  1268. >From someone who just viciously cuddled you this morning, you'd expect more than a simple pat on the back from her.
  1269. >…Wait a minute.
  1270. >Can she be considered a cuddleslut for this morning?
  1271. >Well, that would be more or a cuddleRAPIST, you'd think.
  1272. >You're not sure how far this cuddling thing goes, exactly.
  1273. >Vannie stops hugging you, and you realize that she just offered to be your friend.
  1274. >-Well she kind of offered herself, and Brave against her will, but you know.
  1275. >Those looks of sympathy are telling you that they think you're just some kind of friendless basement dweller they decided to take pity on.
  1276. >When you said, 'technically speaking,' you meant REAL friends.
  1277. >There's people you talk to, people you know, of course.
  1278. >Then there's ACTUAL friends, who actually know who you are as a person, pay that one cent you're missing, and don't just see you as happy all the time.
  1279. >-God, that sounds gay.
  1280. >But in that sense, you really did have no friends.
  1281. >And you don't think these two know what that means in your own sense.
  1282. "I didn't really live an unhappy life, though. I was content with what I had, and it was fine."
  1283. >A smile crosses your face.
  1284. "Just me, my bed, and my PC."
  1285. >-And a special sock in the corner.
  1286. >But they don't need to know about that.
  1287. >"Well, what other cool things did you have?"
  1288. >You pause and think.
  1289. >Well, 'cool' is a general term.
  1290. >Frankly, you would find a bird shitting on someone's head cool.
  1291. >But you guess you can try the easy things.
  1292. >If they find forks that twirl spaghetti on its own cool, they'll practically find everything you tell them cool.
  1293.  
  1294. "Well, computers and the internet is practically what started making everything more advanced. We were on the brink of having self-driving cars and hoverboards and stuff like that."
  1295. >"What's a car?"
  1296. >In your peripherals, Brave takes a big gulp of her drink and almost breaks the glass when she sets it down, that burn obviously getting her pretty good.
  1297. >You simply lift another finger to get the bartender's attention, but she's already seen Brave dying for long enough, and she gets what you were going to ask her for anyways.
  1298. >A glass of water is slid over to the dying mare, and she quickly brings it to her lips.
  1299. >You and Vannie kinda just watch.
  1300. >For a few seconds, she just gulps all that shit down, then lets out a sigh.
  1301. "…You alright?"
  1302. >She meekly nods her head.
  1303. >"Y-yes sir."
  1304. >Man, either she's got some shit to forget, or really just doesn't know how to handle a drink.
  1305. >Or you know, both.
  1306. >Once you feel she's not going to die, you casually take another sip and clear your throat.
  1307. "Well, simply put Vannie, a car is a motorized carriage."
  1308. >"Motorized?"
  1309. >You nod.
  1310. "Nobody needs to pull it, and it's got a piece of machinery that works to move itself. You get a wheel to steer it, pedals to move and stop it, and it's completely enclosed, like a kind of capsule, I guess."
  1311. >Vannie just looks completely awestruck.
  1312. >And Brave is looking at you, though her mind seems to be elsewhere, a focused or thinking expression plastered on her face.
  1313. >Probably thinking about getting a new drink or something.
  1314.  
  1315. >
  1316. >You take another sip.
  1317. >Okay, you're starting to get a little drunk, here.
  1318. >Not super drunk, but drunk.
  1319. >Like, on a scale of nuthin to drunk, you're probably at a place, like, somewhere in the middle.
  1320. >Or something.
  1321. >"So, why does he wear the mask?"
  1322. >You pause your drinking and start to snicker.
  1323. >Vannie just seems confused at what you find funny.
  1324. >Oh, the memes.
  1325. >Oh man oh man, the memes.
  1326. >You shrug, retarded smile still plastered on your face.
  1327. "You'd have to watch the movie to find out."
  1328. >"-That's not fair! We don't even have movies here!"
  1329. >She scrunches.
  1330. >God, that's so cute.
  1331. "Man, you ponies are so adorable when you're angry."
  1332. >She pauses with a blush, then scrunches harder.
  1333. >All you can manage is a wheezing laugh.
  1334. >In the meantime, you lean back and rest your head in what would be Brave's lap.
  1335. >Still don't know these horse anatomy words.
  1336. >You look up at her.
  1337. "You know, you're being really silent for someone still living."
  1338. >She glances down at you, obviously tipsy.
  1339. >"Sorry sir, just thinking."
  1340. >And now you're curious.
  1341. "About?"
  1342. >She looks down at you for a moment, as if silently wondering whether she should talk to you.
  1343. >"...It's nothing, sir."
  1344. "Oh come on, it'll be something eventually."
  1345. >"...Nothing, sir."
  1346. >With a long, obnoxious groan, you lift your head back up and sit normally.
  1347. >-But not before wobbling a bit and catching yourself.
  1348.  
  1349. >Vannie's sucking down another appletini when you look up.
  1350. >Hot damn, she really loves those things.
  1351. >Your stomach derails your train of thought with its annoying whining.
  1352. >Yep, you're goddamn hungry.
  1353. "Man, I got the munchies. You guys got the munchies?"
  1354. >Vannie stops and quickly nods her head.
  1355. "-Well, I know YOU do. You look like you could destroy an entire kitchen."
  1356. >She smiles and nods, before fully realizing what you said.
  1357. >Instead of scrunching and hitting you back with something like you'd expect, her ears droop.
  1358. "Ah, lighten up Vannie, it's just food. Just be glad you don't have a gut because of it."
  1359. >-Nope, because all of it went somewhere else, instead.
  1360. >A place that you vastly approve of.
  1361. >-Alrighty, don't think about that, Anon.
  1362. >You lean back again onto Brave.
  1363. "So then, whatchu say? Food sound good?"
  1364. >She pauses, then nods.
  1365. >Another smile crosses your face.
  1366. "Awesooome. And I think I know just where to go!"
  1367. >When you sit back up, you hear more hooves moving towards you.
  1368. >And before you can spin around-
  1369. >"-Can I buy you a dr-"
  1370. >"-Not interested, buzz off."
  1371. >You only get a quick glimpse at the guy before he sniffles and walks off.
  1372. >What a loser.
  1373. "Goddamn Vannie, you've sure been popular today."
  1374. >She simply nods.
  1375. >"Always am."
  1376. >You respond with a nod of your own.
  1377. >Then you notice how she said that.
  1378. >That wasn't a cocky, smug, 'always am.'
  1379. >That was like, a depressed, tired, 'always am.'
  1380. >You can even hear the difference in your head.
  1381. >And before you can question it, she lifts her wing up and exposes a little bag of bits, then takes it off and puts-
  1382. "-No, I'll pay, Vannie. Don't worry about it."
  1383. >She almost completely ignores you and places it on the counter anyways.
  1384.  
  1385. >Christ, polar opposites or not, these two are still stubborn as all hell.
  1386. >You grab the bits and hand it back to her.
  1387. "I get free money from the Princess. You paying for this is kind of just a waste."
  1388. >You're pretty much getting the ponyland version of welfare, really.
  1389. >Though it's a lot, and for a completely different reason.
  1390. >And, you didn't need to fill out forms and shit.
  1391. >...And you're not black.
  1392. >After some hesitation, Vannie takes the bag back and straps it under her wing again.
  1393. >You finish your drink and wait as the two do the same.
  1394. >Brave slurps it down and immediately looks like she's regretting it.
  1395. >She starts coughing and practically dying, signaling the bartender pony nearby.
  1396. "Jesus, at least try to survive a week, yeah?"
  1397. >When she gets a glass of water, she nods.
  1398. >You hop off your chair and help them both on the ground.
  1399. >Vannie immediately starts staggering off to the side, wings beating lightly at different paces.
  1400. >You catch her from falling on her back, then hop over and have to help Brave from faceplanting, just from standing.
  1401. "Man, you guys are lightweights."
  1402. >-Well, you also didn't get it straight like Brave did, but Vannie even asked for less alcohol.
  1403. >She just happened to drink like, thirty of them.
  1404. >Those fruity drinks, man.
  1405. >That's how they getcha.
  1406. >You fish around and just give the bartender a bag of bits.
  1407. >You hate having to carry these damn things around like this.
  1408. >Either have higher bit values, or just make cards a damn thing already.
  1409. >These are slacks, but it may as well be shit used for the military, with all these pockets.
  1410. >The mare just nods, and you give a late nod in response.
  1411. >Taking a moment to process things, here.
  1412. "Alrighty guys, come hitler! No, wait, it's hither- hither, right?"
  1413. >Your guards just give you a confused look.
  1414. "Eh, let's just go."
  1415. >And so, with the help of some chairs, you stumble back outside.
  1416. >"-Don't die, Anon!"
  1417. "Y-you too."
  1418.  
  1419. >The sun's starting to go down, thankfully.
  1420. >It just reminds you how pretty damn unproductive you were today.
  1421. >You pop your back and look over your shoulder to see both Vannie and Brave stuck in the doorframe.
  1422. >Their armor is stuck and holding them both up.
  1423. >Yep, these are the ones the Princesses entrusted with your life.
  1424. >Just stuck in the doorframe of a bar.
  1425. >Vannie slowly paddles with her hooves, trying to break free.
  1426. >Brave just stays still, an annoyed expression on her face.
  1427. >"A little help, sir?"
  1428. "Help? I was just planning on leaving you both here."
  1429. >Vannie scrunches at you.
  1430. "Of course I'm going to help. What kinda person you think I am?"
  1431. >You grab Brave's hooves and try to pull.
  1432. >...Nothing.
  1433. >How the hell did they manage to end up like this in the five seconds you were turned away?
  1434. >You try again.
  1435. >...Nope.
  1436. >See, and if it wasn't the fucking armor itself that's stuck, you'd just be able to get butter or something.
  1437. >You stand there for a moment, thinking of what you can do.
  1438. >If you pull too hard, you might just lose your arms or something.
  1439. >And the way they're stuck, it doesn't look like you'd be able to push them back inside.
  1440. >You think for a moment, before your eyes trail over to a door inside the bar.
  1441. >The back door.
  1442. "...Hang on."
  1443. >You jog over to the other side of the bar, trying your hardest to stay in a straight line.
  1444. >Needless to say, you almost ran into a few things in that short walk around.
  1445. >You pop in through the back and see that nobody's even noticed the two stuck there.
  1446. >Where the door is, there's really no way for anyone to see.
  1447. >Which, is uh... kinda good.
  1448. >Now looking from this side, you see that, well...
  1449. >That armor doesn't really cover everything in the back.
  1450. >It's more like a goddamn FRAME than anything.
  1451. >You turn away when you feel your cheeks burning.
  1452. >...Okay, how the fuck are you going to do this?
  1453.  
  1454. >You mean, you're sure you'll be able to push them out, but where are you going to put your hands?
  1455. >You never really inspected that part of the armor, but you kinda hoped there was actually a plate or something there.
  1456. >Absolutely every place you can put your hands, is one you wouldn't feel comfortable with until you bought them dinner.
  1457. >Unless you like, pushed their hind legs?
  1458. >...No, that doesn't look like it'll do anything, really.
  1459. >You let out a long, drawn out sigh and think.
  1460. >That thinking gets interrupted when you hear hooves approaching behind you.
  1461. >You hop over to the two and turn around, arms at your side and trying to cover as much of their backsides as you can.
  1462. >A stallion comes stumbling around, pausing just to look at you.
  1463. "This door is, ah, under maintenance. You'll have to use that one there."
  1464. >You point at the back door and watch the guy wobble outside.
  1465. >Jesus, you need to fix this NOW.
  1466. >You start pushing them with your back.
  1467. >Parts of their armor practically dig into it, forcing you to immediately stop and turn back around.
  1468. >"Anon, I'm huuungryyy."
  1469. >Brave nods in agreement.
  1470. "Well, I'm trying, here! And the only real option is one that I'm pretty sure would be uncomfortable for all of us."
  1471. >Vannie groans and wiggles around fruitlessly.
  1472. >…You're forced to peel your eyes away.
  1473. >"Just do whatever it takes, sir."
  1474. >You pause while your mind wanders.
  1475. >Whatever it takes-
  1476. >-No, stop it Anon.
  1477. >This is barely the second day, calm yo self.
  1478. "...Are you guys, uh, sure about that?"
  1479. >Vannie groans again.
  1480. >"Yes, who cares! Just get us out!"
  1481. >You have to force down a smile.
  1482. >-And something else-
  1483. "-Uh, a-alright, if y-you say so."
  1484. >Slowly shuffling towards them, you can't believe you're actually about to do this shit.
  1485. >You wonder what the Princesses would think about this.
  1486.  
  1487. >You take a breath and mentally vow to make this quick as possible.
  1488. >At least for them.
  1489. >It's not like they're asking for this.
  1490. >-Well, they kinda did, but you digress.
  1491. >You gently put your hands on their rumps, at least making sure not to touch their horse parts.
  1492. >Brave lets out a small whinny noise, but they immediately snap back around to you.
  1493. >"S-SIR?! W-WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"
  1494. "-I TOLD YOU GUYS IT WOULD BE WEIRD!"
  1495. >You start to lean in and push, also trying to push all those lewd thoughts to the back of your mind.
  1496. >You wish you were drunker for this.
  1497. >And unfortunately, the surface you're working with is too goddamn plush for this.
  1498. >You don't feel you're really doing anything here.
  1499. >Moving your hands from the further end of their flanks to the closer one, you hope it'll make things easier.
  1500. >Vannie throws you looks, trying to look angry, but obviously flustered.
  1501. >Brave just tries to look everywhere else, scanning to make sure nobody else is watching.
  1502. >Every time Vannie looks back, you have to pretend you're not staring.
  1503. >And it's goddamn difficult.
  1504. >You could easily knead them like dough.
  1505. >But you hold yourself back and just focus on pushing.
  1506. >Brave's tail flicks at your face and nearly hits your damn eye.
  1507. >And her counterpart's just facing forward with a scrunch, eyes closed in what you can only assume is hot and bothered shame.
  1508. >Still trying to seem angry, but it's not happening.
  1509. >...After a moment, you think that trying to push them is hopeless.
  1510. >Arousing, but hopeless.
  1511. >Then you see Vannie's armor move a little forward.
  1512. >-Until she jerks it backwards into your hand.
  1513. >Goddamn it.
  1514. >When you look at how much they've moved, it just looks like you're pushing them together, instead of out of the door.
  1515. >That's probably why you haven't gotten anywhere.
  1516. >You take another deep breath, then close your eyes.
  1517. >Then you move your hand more to their... uh, respective centers.
  1518.  
  1519. >You pull your hands back immediately, looking again at your predicament.
  1520. >The trim of the armor around their flanks is damn thin.
  1521. >It looks essentially like you'd be pushing a tough piece of paper.
  1522. >If that shit hurt just pushing with your back, you doubt your hand would really end up better.
  1523. >But seriously, why the hell is there no plate back there?
  1524. >You know the ponies don't normally wear clothes, so that might not be there so they can, you know, do their business and shit, but jesus fuck, man.
  1525. "...I apologize in advance for this. But I guess that's what dinner is going to be for."
  1526. >"J-just hurry u-up."
  1527. >You nod and quickly put your hands back where they were just a few seconds ago.
  1528. >Immediately, both of them gasp.
  1529. >It's short and almost inaudible, but it's there.
  1530. >You put your palms on the lowest part where it's a bit more comfortable for you, then push.
  1531. >Your feel something touch your hands.
  1532. >...You think they just did that horse thing.
  1533. >You don't even know what it's called, but you just know that-
  1534. >-Okay, FOCUS ANON.
  1535. >You lean in and push the ground with your shoes.
  1536. >After a second, they actually move forward a bit.
  1537. >Their armor just grinded and shaved off some of that doorframe, but you're still making progress.
  1538. >Jesus, they're really wedged in this fucking thing.
  1539. >You take a deep breath and charge in again-
  1540. >They both get thrown outside, and with how much force you had in you, you go out flying with them and faceplant into the fucking dirt.
  1541. >Hard.
  1542. >You instinctively prop yourself up with one hand and feel your face with another.
  1543. >-And end up smearing some fluids on your face.
  1544. "-OH GOD!"
  1545. >You try wiping it with your other hand and just manage to throw rocks and dirt into the mix.
  1546. >And more of said fluids.
  1547. "-FUCK ME, GODDAMN IT!"
  1548. >You finally wipe your palms on your slacks, and your face with your suit's arm.
  1549. >When you look up, the two are just looking between each other, faces red as all hell with accompanying looks of embarrassment and beads of sweat on them.
  1550. >Then you realize what you said.
  1551. "-Not LITERALLY!"
  1552. >Vannie quickly nods and helps you up.
  1553. >You dust yourself off, watch the bar door close on its own, then sigh.
  1554. "Okay... I need to get so drunk I don't remember this happened. And if not, let's agree that this never happened at all, alright?"
  1555. >They both nod, faces still extremely red.
  1556. >A bit weird with coat colors like theirs.
  1557. "Alright, good. Now let's get the shit out of here, I'm hungry."
  1558.  
  1559. >You walk through the streets at a slow pace.
  1560. >You're also all silent.
  1561. >Truly a weird experience for everyone.
  1562. >And those two aren't faring any better than you.
  1563. >Every time you look back, you notice the huge patch of red on both their faces.
  1564. >...Maybe a bit of food will fix everything.
  1565. >And lots of drinks.
  1566. >
  1567. >"Hello, welcome to the Garden of Olives, how may I help you?"
  1568. "Unlimited bread sticks, a big bottle of wine, and a few moments to look at the menu, please!"
  1569. >She pauses, then nods and walks off.
  1570. >You're sure she was asking about appetizers or something, but who cares?
  1571. >You sit back in your seat and smile.
  1572. >Out of all the things that could be transferred between universes, you're pretty glad Olive Garden was one, if only for the breadsticks.
  1573. >Like, this place is exactly as the restaurant.
  1574. >The two are just glancing around, hooves on the table and a blush still on their cheeks.
  1575. >-Jesus, how long does that last?
  1576. >Your thoughts are interrupted when a big batch of bread sticks are put down in front of you.
  1577. "Aw yiss."
  1578. >The girls, instead of engorging on these wonderful beauties, just stare at them.
  1579. >Brave bites her lip looking at one.
  1580. >...Do they think they can't eat, or what?
  1581. >Drunk or not, Brave still waited for orders to sit, which is damn ridiculous, so you wouldn't be surprised.
  1582. >But Vannie, too?
  1583. >You figured she'd be jumping on this shit by now.
  1584. "You guys know you can have breadsticks, right?"
  1585. >Brave blinks, while Vannie shakes her head out of nowhere.
  1586. >Like they were thinking about something, then got snapped out of it.
  1587. >Well, you still have the hopes that food will fix things.
  1588. >Usually always does.
  1589. >Brave's the first one to snap back to reality, and she grabs a breadstick for herself.
  1590. >Vannie just keeps staring.
  1591. >With cuddlesluts being a thing, you can't help but wonder what they think of you for earlier.
  1592. >But really, the most important part is that you're here now, and not still stuck trying to push two plump rumps out of a doorframe.
  1593.  
  1594. >You start munching on these wonderful breadsticks.
  1595. >Technically speaking, you don't even think you ate today.
  1596. >All you and Brave had was coffee.
  1597. >Maybe Vannie pigged out some more, but you don't know.
  1598. >But somehow realizing you haven't eaten just makes you hungrier.
  1599. >When you reach for another victim, Vannie does so at the same time.
  1600. >Being the drunk you are, it takes you a while to react to it, so you grab her hoof instead of grabbing a breadstick.
  1601. >Then you take a second to realize you did.
  1602. >You pull back immediately and grab another delicious thing for yourself, noticing Vannie's now wide eyes.
  1603. "Ah heh, uh, sorry."
  1604. >Jesus you probably just made things more awkward.
  1605. >You bet they think you're worse than a cuddleslut at this point.
  1606. >Her face is burning more than it was a few seconds ago.
  1607. >You're not sure if that's because she's pissed now or what, but it slightly worries you.
  1608. >When you retreat back to your seat, you can't help but notice how much Brave is… enjoying, that breadstick.
  1609. >You guess she's trying to savor it, but that doesn't look like the conventional way to eat one.
  1610. >…That licking is really something.
  1611. >And those half-lidded eyes even more so.
  1612. >She hasn't even noticed you looking.
  1613. >A big bottle is put in front of your face, snapping you back to reality.
  1614. >-Oh hey, wine!
  1615. >Time to drink yourself to death!
  1616. >Three glasses are placed on the table, and you promptly fill them up.
  1617. >You'd say like, cheers or something, but what the hell would you be celebrating?
  1618. >'Woo, we survived an uncomfortable situation and aren't talking!'
  1619. >And who knows, maybe it's not even a horse thing in the first place?
  1620. >You mentally shrug and swish your wine around.
  1621. >Never really did know what to look for when rating wine and shit.
  1622. >You just drank it.
  1623. >And so, you just drink it.
  1624. >-It may as well just be grape juice.
  1625. >These Equestrian drinks sure are fruity.
  1626.  
  1627. >You destroy your glass in one go and move on back to your breadstick.
  1628. >And you haven't even looked at the menu yet.
  1629. >Once you promptly eat the shit out of that thing, you see how much of a goddamn mess you left.
  1630. >Oil and salt and shit everywhere.
  1631. >Before you reach for the napkin you promptly lick your palms clean, then move to wipe the place dow-
  1632. >-Wait.
  1633. >Your eyes slowly trail downward.
  1634. >You look at your hands.
  1635. >...Y-you just...
  1636. >W-with...
  1637. >The thought bores itself into your mind.
  1638. >When you look up, the girls are looking at you and completely silent.
  1639. >Brave's frozen with a breadstick in her mouth, and Vannie with her hooves resting on the menu.
  1640. >You don't even dare to breathe.
  1641. >You're pretty sure you're all on the same page, but nobody wants to talk about it.
  1642. >It's a bad page.
  1643. >A page in a kid's book that the illustrator accidentally left in.
  1644. >Dicks and shit all over it, just for the children.
  1645. >It's that kind of page.
  1646. "I... I think I need to wash my h-hands."
  1647. >You quickly stumble out of your chair and speedwalk towards that bathroom.
  1648. "Oh god, ohgodohgod."
  1649. >You don't even want to acknowledge what just happened in your own mind.
  1650. >Dear lord, that just fucking happened.
  1651. >THAT JUST HAPPENED.
  1652. >...
  1653. >A-Anon just did that.
  1654. >You know you saw that.
  1655. >YOU BOTH saw that.
  1656. >It's not even the season yet, but hay if that and the breadsticks don't just...
  1657. >-Stop, keep it together girl.
  1658. >You can't crack before Brave over here does.
  1659. >-You saw how she acted with that first breadstick.
  1660. >After a sip of wine, you wipe your face with a hoof.
  1661. >Jeez, why is it so hot in this stupid place?
  1662.  
  1663. >This wine is actually pretty good.
  1664. >Better than the cheap beer everypony else in the guard liked.
  1665. >Never understood why they liked it so much, it was practically dirt in a bottle.
  1666. >But, you guess something had to get them through the day.
  1667. >Better getting drunk than mocking you constantly.
  1668. >Jerks.
  1669. >Brave finally starts chewing on that breadstick of hers.
  1670. >Sheesh, you wonder how bad she's got it behind that look of hers.
  1671. >You feel fine.
  1672. >Calm, resolute, ready for anything.
  1673. >Ready to protect whatever comes for Anon!-
  1674. >-Anon.
  1675. >Anon left for the bathroom.
  1676. >You casually look around the restaurant.
  1677. >Lotta ponies here...
  1678. >-WHAT IF ONE IS OUT FOR ANON?
  1679. >-Or you're in the sights of some random arrow?!
  1680. >You scan the place again.
  1681. >Brave doesn't even seem to be thinking about the what if.
  1682. >Probably only one thing on that mare's mind, and it ain't guarding, that's for sure.
  1683. >You sit quietly for a moment, staring in the same direction as Anon had gone.
  1684. >You probably shouldn't be thinking of the what if.
  1685. >But hay, what if there's a whole SQUAD of ponies waiting for him!?
  1686. >The thought settles in your mind.
  1687. >...Maaaybe just a quick check on him.
  1688. >Simple knock, see if he's fine.
  1689. >You move from your seat and try to ignore your backside for one second.
  1690. >At least that napkin's saving the seat...
  1691. >Brave still seems out of it.
  1692. >Man, that mare needs more self control.
  1693. >She can say 'sir' and stay as still as she wants, but that one's just got 'rookie' written all over her face.
  1694. >You're sure you've stayed in the guard much longer than she has.
  1695. >After a quick trot over to the bathrooms, you end up at the stallion's and lightly knock.
  1696. >Instead, you push the door open.
  1697. >And in that small time it was open, you didn't see anypony out there.
  1698. >-W-what if something happened to Anon?!
  1699. >You have to investigate!
  1700. >-But it's the stallion's room!
  1701. >You look around yourself.
  1702. >Come on, you have to!
  1703. >It's your duty as his guard!
  1704. >You take a deep breath, then slowly step inside.
  1705. "...Anon?"
  1706.  
  1707. >There's no response.
  1708. "Anon? You here?"
  1709. >The silence is deafening.
  1710. >You can't see anypony here.
  1711. >…W-what if-
  1712. >"-OUT OUT, OOOU-"
  1713. >"-I'M GOING, FUCK! HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO EVEN TELL THE DIFFERENCE WITH THOSE GODDAMN SIGNS, THEY'RE BOTH JUST HORSES!"
  1714. >The bathroom door opens up, and suddenly in walks Anon.
  1715. >You can't help but let out an elated gasp, which sounded squeakier than you expected it to.
  1716. "Anon, you're not dead!"
  1717. >He just looks at you with a confused face.
  1718. >"Uh, y-you too?"
  1719. >He walks over to the sink and starts washing his hands.
  1720. >…Unfortunately.
  1721. >After a moment, he finally turns to you.
  1722. >"Wait, Vannie, why are you here in the guy's bathroom?"
  1723. >You freeze with a scrunch.
  1724. "Well, why were you in the mare's bathroom?"
  1725. >His face immediately grows red.
  1726. >"Look, the signs BOTH have horses, okay? How the hell was I supposed to know to look at the muzzles? The damn things aren't even color coded!"
  1727. >A sly smile slowly grows on you.
  1728. "You weren't peeping, were you, Anon?"
  1729. >"W-WHAT? N-no, I wasn't!"
  1730. >He pinches his nose and takes a long breath.
  1731. >Then looks back at you while he's drying his hands.
  1732. >"…What about you being in here then, huh? Weren't trying to peep on ME, were ya?"
  1733. "-N-NO, I was just making sure y-you're alright!"
  1734. >"-Uh huh, likely story, Vannie. Part of the job following me into the bathroom, eh?"
  1735. >All you can settle with is an angry scrunch.
  1736. >So WHAT if you kind of wanted to come in here?
  1737. >Who cares, at least he's safe!
  1738. >THAT should be all that matters, none of this, 'why do you follow me into the bathroom' stuff.
  1739. >He just flashes an amused smirk, which makes you even more upset, then walks over to one of those stallion urinal things.
  1740. >He stares at it for a moment.
  1741. >Then he turns to you.
  1742. >"I know I'm a weird alien creature, but you're not really going to watch me while I go, are you?"
  1743. "-N-no! I'm not weird!"
  1744. >He raises an eyebrow, but turns around before you can scrunch any harder.
  1745.  
  1746.  
  1747. >You turn around as well, allowing him to go or whatever.
  1748. >Nopony else is in this bathroom, so it should be okay for you to turn.
  1749. >As you sit, the silence is broken by the sound of water dripping.
  1750. >...For a long time.
  1751. >You quickly feel uncomfortable in your position.
  1752. >-And that's not mentioning the already uncomfortable aching back there.
  1753. >You sit, staring at the wall, trying to spot shapes in the weird texture of it.
  1754. >Just, here, staring.
  1755. >And staring.
  1756. >Jeez, how much does he have in him?!
  1757. >...You wonder how big it i-
  1758. >-STOP, STOP IT RIGHT NOW.
  1759. >You're a guard for Luna's sake!
  1760. >Get it together girl, this is practically your first day!
  1761. >You nod to yourself and straighten out your back.
  1762. >You barely even know Anon, so rump is not going to win this round today!
  1763. >The sound finally stops, and you watch Anon walk over to the sink again.
  1764. >"Man, how are you not needing to go, too? I saw you drinking those appletinis like fuckin' Kool-Aid!"
  1765. >You shrug.
  1766. >Though now that he mentions it, you kind of need to go.
  1767. >But protecting Anon is number one priority!
  1768. >He dries his hands off and walks over to hold the door.
  1769. >"Well, if you and Brave need to later on, I'll try not to die during that time. Now come on, peeper."
  1770. >You nod and get up to your hooves, then scrunch again.
  1771. "At least I wasn't in the bathroom with other ponies."
  1772. >His smug expression falls.
  1773. >"THE SIGNS LOOK THE SAME."
  1774. >With a now smug smile of your own, you walk out with your chin up towards the table.
  1775. >...
  1776. >Oh Celestia.
  1777. >You didn't mean to do it.
  1778. >But you did.
  1779. >You ate all the breadsticks.
  1780. >Y-you just...
  1781. >You shift slightly in your seat and bite your hoof.
  1782. >Why the hay are you so worked up today?!
  1783. >This is worse than any estrus cycle you've ever dealt with!
  1784. >-Oh shoot, here comes Anon and that bat again!
  1785.  
  1786. >They both come around and sit.
  1787. "I, uh, guarded the table while you were away, sir."
  1788. >"-And all the breadsticks, it looks like."
  1789. >Your eyes slowly trail to the basket, in a futile attempt to pretend you have no idea what Anon's talking about.
  1790. >You have no response for him.
  1791. >Instead, you silently sip your wine.
  1792. >It tastes much better than what you got at the bar.
  1793. >Now, whether it can get you so drunk you forget today's happenings, is yet to be known.
  1794. >But by Celestia, you hope so.
  1795. >You want control of yourself again.
  1796. >Whatever Anon did is just… too much.
  1797. >Though that bat seems to have fared much worse than you have.
  1798. >You mean, following him into the bathroom?
  1799. >She has one thing on her mind, and it obviously isn't guarding.
  1800. >Not that it really seems to be on her mind much in the first place.
  1801. >She may as well have 'rookie' plastered on her forehead.
  1802. >Your thoughts are interrupted when that waitress mare comes back over to the table.
  1803. >"Hellooo, you three ready to order?"
  1804. >-Oh hay, you didn't even look for at the menu.
  1805. >"You guys have that eggplant parmigiana thing here, right?"
  1806. >"Yes we do, sir!"
  1807. >"Then, ah, I'll get that, and I dunno, I think the girls may need more time-"
  1808. "-I'll just get the same thing-"
  1809. >"-Me too then!"
  1810. >The mare looks at you all a bit weirdly, but jots it down quickly.
  1811. >"Alrighty, and did any of you want, I dunno, like, other drinks, or just that wine?"
  1812. >The three of you share looks and come up with nothing.
  1813. >"Nah, we'll stay with the wine."
  1814. >"Oookie, those plates will be out in a bit, then!"
  1815. >She walks off, and you realize you have no idea what you ordered.
  1816. >You just didn't want to wait for that waitress to come by again, you're needing some real food NOW.
  1817. >Besides, you're sure whatever Anonymous is getting is good enough.
  1818. >Eggplant IS pretty tasty.
  1819.  
  1820. >...
  1821. >Aw yiss, this shit really IS pone Olive Garden!
  1822. >Didn't even need to look at the menu.
  1823. >And though what you got wasn't really your regular go-to plate, it's the only non-meat thing you remember.
  1824. >...It does have no meat, right?
  1825. >Well, regardless, you know it won't now.
  1826. >And with how quick the two were to ask for the same, you don't think they even looked at the menu.
  1827. >Well, not that Vannie could while she was with you.
  1828. >And based on the crumbs still on her face, you think Brave was just too busy eating everything.
  1829. >You pour yourself another glass of wine and chug it down.
  1830. >Gonna need another bottle soon.
  1831. >You glance over at the girls and notice how much they're moving around in those seats.
  1832. "You guys know if you need to go or something, you can, right? You're technically off duty."
  1833. >-Wait.
  1834. >That's right, they're off duty!
  1835. >Vannie must have forgotten or something before she went off with you earlier.
  1836. >Understandable with how drunk they are still.
  1837. >Slightly slurred speech, that blush still on their cheeks, and the way they can't even sit still is a big indicator there.
  1838. >And yeah, you won't lie, you're damn drunk too, but they look much more so.
  1839. >Because you can still sit fine.
  1840. >"...So, Anon, why don't you tell us more about your world?"
  1841. >You stop the pouring of the wine into the cup under your control.
  1842. "Hzuh-who?"
  1843. >Vannie's words take a moment to process.
  1844. "Oh uh sure, what did you wanna know?"
  1845. >There's a small silence while she thinks.
  1846. >"...Did... did you ever have a marefriend?"
  1847. >-Okay, that's not what you were expecting to be asked.
  1848. >Brave looks up from her thoughts at the sudden start of conversation.
  1849. >Your hand instinctively rests behind your neck.
  1850. "Well, back home they were called girlfriends, and, ah, no, I... never really had one."
  1851. >Honestly your PC was more girlfriend than anything, as sad as anyone else would see that.
  1852. >Vannie and Brave's ears perk up.
  1853.  
  1854. >Hearing your own answer, you can't help but feel a bit sad yourself.
  1855. >More than eight years after high school kind of just... being there.
  1856. >Not that you saw much wrong in it- you didn't really see your situation as sad or anything.
  1857. >But it's like saying it out loud kinda sheds some light on it, in a sense.
  1858. >You finish off your wine again.
  1859. >Bottle's already half empty.
  1860. >Wonder how much of that was from you.
  1861. >"-How come, sir?"
  1862. >You stare at your glass for a moment before shrugging.
  1863. "People kinda just think I'm boring, I guess. Don't know what else."
  1864. >You pause for a moment, and they both look like they're ready to ask something else.
  1865. "Could we just... stay away from that topic?"
  1866. >You feel you can say more, but you also feel you shouldn't.
  1867. >Earth was kinda like...
  1868. >Well, let's say it was like an accident.
  1869. >And when an accident happens, it's usually something you just move on from.
  1870. >After all this time in Equestria, being forced to think about it again is just...
  1871. >It kinda sucks.
  1872. >Though, that may just be the wine talking.
  1873. >You were sure fine with it back at the bar.
  1874. >But regardless, the two stay quiet.
  1875. >Which in turn makes everything else quiet.
  1876. >You're not exactly sure how to start up more conversation without making it feel forced.
  1877. >So, it's a good a time as any for blunt-ness.
  1878. "I'm just, ah, not a fan of thinking about how I was back home. I've changed a lot since then, and seeing myself as I had been for so many years is kinda just depressing."
  1879. >They both nod.
  1880. >And their ears fall, which makes you kinda sad.
  1881. >"I understand, sorry for asking sir."
  1882. >You quickly wave a hand.
  1883. "Nah, it's fine, I only just told you. And you don't have to call me sir, you know."
  1884. >"Yes sir."
  1885. >-Jesus.
  1886. >Drunk, but still serious as ever.
  1887. >Well, at least the way she speaks, even with that slur of hers.
  1888. >The waitress mare interrupts you with another basket of breadsticks.
  1889. >"Would you like another bottle of wine, sir?"
  1890. >You glance over an-
  1891. >-Holy shit, the bottle's fuckin empty.
  1892.  
  1893. >You stare at the bottle for a moment.
  1894. "Sure, why not?"
  1895. >The mare nods and walks away.
  1896. >She had a little smile on her face, though it was clearly forced.
  1897. >Wonder if that's because she hates you, hates her job, or hates you being part of her job.
  1898. >Or, you know, she's jealous that she can't buy two bottles of wine on a waitress' salary.
  1899. >Pick one.
  1900. >You just wonder if they have like, drugs and shit here.
  1901. >Though it's adorable ponyland, if they have alcohol, there's bound to be some drugs, too.
  1902. >Maybe all the Zebras run that shit.
  1903. >You know, because they're black.
  1904. >-Well, half black, really.
  1905. >But the now amusing thought of these two pones being high as kites sounds hilariously interesting.
  1906. >You glance over at them, both just eying those breadsticks.
  1907. >You seriously don't know what's up with the breadsticks today.
  1908. >But aside from that, you realize that you barely even know these two.
  1909. >At this point, they know more about you than you know about them.
  1910. >Only thing you know is that Brave loves trying to be super serious, and Vannie is a hardcore midnight snacker.
  1911. >And they both love being stubborn as hell.
  1912. >...Which may be why you don't know much about them in the first place.
  1913. >You figured that a night out eating food and drinking would be a nice way for them to ease up.
  1914. >But really, they just seem more on edge now than they were before.
  1915. >Shifting around in those seats and everything.
  1916. >You don't get these mares.
  1917. >Once another bottle's put on the table, and the other is taken off, you silently help yourself while you think.
  1918. >...You wonder if Brave's even showered since you first saw her.
  1919. >Haven't even seen her without that armor of hers.
  1920. >They both grab them breadsticks and go to town on them.
  1921. >Though instead of really chewing, they both subtly lick them.
  1922. >...Yep, these ponies have your life in their hooves.
  1923. >The ponies just licking all the salt and shit off breadsticks, like a bunch of weirdos.
  1924.  
  1925. >Jesus, how many of these damn glasses have you even had?
  1926. >You pour yourself another while you think about it.
  1927. >These two look really drunk.
  1928. >What you originally though was licking, upon further inspection is really just lazy chewing.
  1929. >Like they forgot how to eat or something.
  1930. >-Oh shit, and speaking of eat, you see that pone waitress over there with three plates on her back.
  1931. >The balance on that one is extraordinary.
  1932. >She walks over, sets up one of stand things, then puts the tray on it.
  1933. >Aw yiss, you're goddamn hungry.
  1934. >"Okaaay, I got... well, the same dish all around, so heeere ya go!"
  1935. >She puts all the plates down on the table and flashes another smile.
  1936. >"And if you need anything, just ask me or another employee! Enjoy."
  1937. >When she finally walks off, you admire your dish for a moment.
  1938. >Oh man, this is gon be fuckin good.
  1939. >You cut a piece and pop it in your mouth.
  1940. >Ooooh, yeah.
  1941. >It's like a fuckin orgasm in your mouth.
  1942. >-Not like, in your mouth, but IN your mouth.
  1943. >...Hopefully nobody came into this food.
  1944. >
  1945. >Holy shit, you're already done with your food.
  1946. >What the hell, that damn plate was full like, a second ago!
  1947. >With a sigh and a sip, you glance up at the two and suddenly feel wonderful for having hands.
  1948. >They both have like, sauce and shit all over their muzzles.
  1949. >Vannie's trying to lick it off, but Brave is completely unaware of it.
  1950. >So you swoop in like a superhero, napkin in tow with all their muzzle cleaning needs.
  1951. >Brave gets stunned by your boop, and you quickly clean her face up, then move onto Vannie and get a scrunch in response.
  1952. >It's like, a lazy scrunch.
  1953. >A small, lazy scrunch.
  1954. >And it's still goddamn adorable.
  1955. >"I coulda done that, Anooon."
  1956. "But ya didn't, so I did!"
  1957. >She lets out a long, exaggerated sigh.
  1958. >It grabs Brave's attention, who just watches her like a puppy, confused by where the sound is and why it's happening.
  1959. >You let out a retarded laugh because of it.
  1960. >You think you've all had too much wine.
  1961.  
  1962. >After Vannie gives you another good deal of scrunching, she goes back to her plate in enjoying the delicacies of Earth.
  1963. >Or who knows, maybe Equestria made it first.
  1964. >It would explain a few things.
  1965. >Maybe you're just here to steal a bunch of ideas and end up back on Earth or something.
  1966. >...Not that there are many ideas to take.
  1967. >You could try opening a vegan restaurant that cooks flowers, but you're sure some vegan guy would end up bombing the place in a week.
  1968. >"Hey so Anon, is it okay to ask how you got to Equestria, anyways?"
  1969. >Your internal court case judging a vegan is halted by her words.
  1970. "Heh? What?"
  1971. >Her words register in your mind after a moment.
  1972. >Though it's hard to, based on what you actually heard.
  1973. >Somewhere along the lines of, 'heysoh anun, eset oke'-
  1974. >-But you get the point.
  1975. >You pause for a moment, then shrug.
  1976. "Hell if I know."
  1977. >She's unsatisfied with your answer.
  1978. "I mean, the only real thing that makes sense is that this is some kind of afterlife. But even THAT is iffy."
  1979. >Who knows, maybe this is some kind of Matrix shit.
  1980. >There was a glitch that threw you in poneland instead of Earth with everyone else.
  1981. >Now they both look unsatisfied, as the talk seemed to get Brave's attention.
  1982. >You simply offer unlimited shrugs.
  1983. >Offer expires when you're dead.
  1984. >In your hazy peripherals, the waitress comes back and takes the checkbook.
  1985. >Along with the hefty sum of bits you left.
  1986. >-Seriously, they need goddamn cards here.
  1987. >Only reason you're not super fat is because you have to carry so many goddamn bits around with you.
  1988. >The suit became less of a luxury and more of a necessity with Celestia's kindness.
  1989. >If only you'd of ended up here with fucking military grade tactical gear and shit.
  1990. >All those pockets would have done nicely.
  1991. >Quick scan of the table, everything's done and waiting for you to get your ass out.
  1992. >Except for one thing.
  1993. >You grab the wine bottle and unleash your inner hobo in finishing it there.
  1994. "Okay, you guys ready to GTFO?"
  1995.  
  1996. >
  1997. >Christ, you really are drunk.
  1998. >Walking's such a challenge, you've got half a mind to just ask these two to carry you.
  1999. >If only they weren't stumbling as bad as you are.
  2000. >Probably look like a damn bunch of zombies.
  2001. >But the good thing about where your house is, is the fact that everything is stupidly close by.
  2002. >You live in like, the marketplace area, which really is convenient for everything.
  2003. >Unless you find yourself wanting to become Ponyville's new mayor, there really isn't a reason for you to move away much.
  2004. >Like your own PC and desk territory, but with a larger area to it.
  2005. >...You really do miss Earth.
  2006. >At least sometimes.
  2007. >Thinking about going back, re-doing everything straight after school.
  2008. >So many missed opportunities...
  2009. >With the thought caught in your mind, you throw the front door open and walk in with the other two following.
  2010. >You don't even give it a second thought.
  2011. >You drunkenly swoop in and hug them the second they come in.
  2012. "Man, I know it's only been like, a day, but hell, I just wanna say I've had a damn blast with you guys so far."
  2013. >It takes a bit of wobbling before you're confident you won't fall and die, and you hug to your heart's content.
  2014. >Even if they have super cold and hard armor.
  2015. >Brave just smiles at you, and Vannie gives an exaggerated groan again.
  2016. >But you saw that smirk.
  2017. >"Anooon, I'm tired. Save the hugging for later, yeah?"
  2018. >Brave hesitantly agrees, just ready to pass out in your grasp.
  2019. "Fiiine. Off to the room we go!"
  2020. >Stumbling upstairs like a tard child with nowhere to go, you go into your room and immediately jump on the bed.
  2021. >And in the process, you kind of forget that you have two ponies in tow.
  2022. >But they drunkenly follow suit and simply get comfortable.
  2023. >Jesus, this bed is so comfy.
  2024. >You could just die on this thing right now.
  2025. >...Hopefully you don't die anytime soon.
  2026. >But, you never know what might happen.
  2027.  
  2028. >You kick your shoes off and slip under the cover while they drunkenly try to do the same.
  2029. >Despite the armor, you help them get settled and throw the covers over them.
  2030. >After they're settled, you stretch your arms out and instinctively pull them close.
  2031. >The whole cuddleslut thing comes to mind after you do, but you figure that this is different.
  2032. >It seems like you're going to be seeing these two for a long time, so it doesn't seem like anything wrong.
  2033. >And they don't really seem to mind.
  2034. >But, that's also because they're half asleep.
  2035. >Regardless, you try to snuggle their shit, if only just to feel you're not going to sleep alone.
  2036. >It's, sadly, not a feeling you're really used to.
  2037. >So, with two mares in your arms, and a drunken smile on your face, it doesn't take long 'till you feel yourself drifting off.
  2038. >
  2039. >You open your eyes.
  2040. >There are blurs moving past you.
  2041. >One bumps into your shoulder and nearly sends you on your ass.
  2042. >Then you quickly notice the familiar colors and shapes.
  2043. >It's all people.
  2044. >Purses, jackets, all the things you remember just seeing on the street.
  2045. >Things that are now rarely seen outside your home.
  2046. >You look down, and suddenly the whole world materializes around you.
  2047. >You stand on a busy sidewalk in what's obviously New York City.
  2048. >And though you know it usually looks busy, you don't think it'd ever be THIS busy.
  2049. >The people just walk past, not even giving you a single glance like some kind of cliche movie scene.
  2050. "The fuck is this?"
  2051. >Someone pushes you out of the crowd, and you're sent falling back.
  2052. >But instead of landing on concrete, a chair catches you.
  2053. >It takes you a single second to recognize your old room, super comfy office chair and all.
  2054. >Your surroundings are unmistakably dark, only illuminated by the single monitor in front of you.
  2055. >Well, the only monitor that's on.
  2056. >You're not some pleb with a single screen for gaming.
  2057. >On it, Google's opened up with your name in the search bar.
  2058. >...Weird.
  2059.  
  2060. >So, completely ignoring that, you get up and walk towards the window nearby.
  2061. >When you pull the blinds, you simply see your neighborhood, completely dark and unmoving.
  2062. >And a little higher up, a little twinkle in the sky that you recognize as the favorite fourth neighbor, Mars.
  2063. >You pause for a moment.
  2064. >...You told Brave and Vannie that EARTH was fourth.
  2065. >Oh well, guess you're a martian now.
  2066. >The second you turn back around, you notice that you're not in your old room anymore.
  2067. >Goddamn it, you were hoping to play some games from memory or something.
  2068. >The bed and couch are right in front of you, but Vannie and Brave are nowhere to be seen.
  2069. >Some kind of weird force turns you back around, and you notice something in the sky.
  2070. >Exactly where it was in your old room.
  2071. >Mars, just sitting there, chillin' like a villian.
  2072. >You stare at it for a moment.
  2073. >It just sits there, twinkling with that little reddish light of i- OH MY GOD IT'S HEADED FOR YOUR FACE!
  2074. >You scramble away from the window and trip onto your bed.
  2075. >
  2076. >Jolting awake, you feel your goddamn heart racing.
  2077. >-You just got scared by fucking MARS.
  2078. >Something shifts beside you, a quick look confirming that it's Vannie, clinging to your side like some kind of cuddly leech.
  2079. >...If your arm wasn't pinned under Brave, you'd so rub those goddamn ears right now.
  2080. >A yawn escapes you, and you make a mental note to just do that tomorrow.
  2081. >Then you rest your head back again.
  2082. >
  2083. >You open your eyes and immediately have a feeling telling you you're dreaming.
  2084. >The world materializes around you once again, until you're sitting down on your living room couch.
  2085. >It's dead silent.
  2086. >And despite knowing it's a dream, it mysteriously terrifies you.
  2087.  
  2088. >After a few seconds of nothing, you see a big blue blob phase through your wall.
  2089. "Princess Luna?"
  2090. >The pony in question just nods.
  2091. >"I have other ponies to see over this very night, so I'll make it quick. There is an important matter we wish to discuss with you in Canterlot. We have already arranged for your arrival, and tickets to the city should be delivered to you shortly in the morning."
  2092. >-Jesus, no hello?
  2093. "Well, we're in a dream, can't you just stop time and tell me now or something?"
  2094. >She shakes her head.
  2095. >"It is a matter my sister would like to speak to you about as well."
  2096. >And before you can respond, she just nods.
  2097. >"Have a good night, Mr. Anonymous."
  2098. >And she just disappears out of nowhere.
  2099. "-Okay, well bye."
  2100. >You sigh, mind trying to process what the hell she could mean, and why she literally just left so quickly.
  2101. >While you do this, a thought slowly comes to mind.
  2102. >...You're dreaming.
  2103. >Taking a deep breath, you also confirm that this feels very much real.
  2104. >And you can control your own dreams, right?
  2105. >You sit there while some ideas come to you.
  2106. >A smile slowly crosses your face.
  2107. >And so do a few lewd thoughts.
  2108. >-Oooh, a LOT of lewd thoughts.
  2109. >You try to settle on one of them and feel excitement quickly bubbling up inside of you.
  2110. >Just gotta fooocus...
  2111. >Slowly but surely, you notice some bright lights in the spot you're looking at, like the magic you've gotten so used to seeing around Ponyville.
  2112. >A shape slowly appears, but you quickly notice that it's nowhere near what the hell you wante-
  2113. >-HOLY FUCK IS THAT A GODDAMN ZOMBIE?!
  2114. >A loud gurgling noise interrupts your thoughts, and you scream and hop off the couch.
  2115. >-You suddenly remember why you liked staying awake so late.
  2116. >And, of course, you're graced with a running one.
  2117. "FUCK YOU LUNAHAAA!"
  2118. >You trip over a carpet and faceplant into your tile floor.
  2119. >
  2120. >You jolt up, heart racing again for the second goddamn time this night.
  2121. >Only, it's not night anymore.
  2122.  
  2123. >From the light pouring in, to the pounding of your goddamn head, you're sure it's morning.
  2124. >What's better is that yesterday is a goddamn blur, and might explain why you're alone in the room right now.
  2125. >You scan the place to make sure, and indeed confirm that you're alone.
  2126. >And after a few minutes of mental preparation, you finally build up the courage to roll off the bed and throw your shoes on.
  2127. >While you're heading downstairs, you seem to recall small pieces of your dream, yet fully remember the conversation you had with Luna.
  2128. >And though you have pretty much no idea what she's wanting to talk to you about, you're sure it has to deal with Brave and Vannie somehow.
  2129. >-Speaking of, the first thing you see going down the stairs is them, sitting on the couches, mugs of coffee in their hooves.
  2130. >You yawn and idly wave.
  2131. "Morning, guys."
  2132. >They don't even respond, clearly suffering from a whole half day of drinking.
  2133. >Though, you're sure you did most of it.
  2134. >So, having the prior experience in dealing with hangovers, you take the liberty to go start on breakfast.
  2135. >-After a huge fuckin glass of water, which you should have remembered to drink yesterday.
  2136. "So, any one of you remember what happened yesterday?"
  2137. >They both slowly shake their heads.
  2138. >Damn, guess the world may never know.
  2139. "Well, I got visited by Princess Luna last night, and she told me we're gonna have to head off for Canterlot today. Tickets should be coming in the mail or something."
  2140. >They simply nod again.
  2141. >Man, they seem really lifeless.
  2142. >With a yawn, you pour yourself a mug of black coffee and ready up some food.
  2143.  
  2144. >
  2145. >Christ, you really hate mornings.
  2146. >If morning was a person, you'd skin that bastard alive and force him to eat his own human jerky.
  2147. >The coffee helps, but it doesn't really make you feel any less dead inside.
  2148. >But at least you're done with the damn food now.
  2149. >Simple egg burritos, because it's something really hard to mess up, and you're goddamn lazy right now.
  2150. >Plus, horseland makes cooking food things difficult.
  2151. >While spaghetti is your specialty, you DO know how to cook, having had a lot of time and money on your hands to learn that shit.
  2152. >Just not with all this vegetarian crap Equestria has.
  2153. >Every single cooking book you've gotten mentioned throwing hay and shit into the mix of everything.
  2154. >And, without meat, almost every single thing you make is pretty much just shit.
  2155. >So, this now being your life, you pretty much can't make fucking anything.
  2156. >Well, except for salad.
  2157. >Sure, you still have the time and money for new recipes, but with no steak or awesome tasting chicken to throw into the mix, the motivation just ain't there.
  2158. >You pause for a moment, then softly sigh.
  2159. >Don't know what you got, 'till it's gone.
  2160. >So, plates of lazy-ass egg burritos in tow, you head on over to the table.
  2161. >And you say lazy, because you didn't even bother to scramble.
  2162. >Just throw butter, eggs, top the pan with a cover, and let it cook itself, yolk and all.
  2163. >Bam, made in like, five minutes tops.
  2164. >...If only you could throw bacon into the mix.
  2165. >You sigh again and set it all on the table.
  2166. >The girls slowly shuffle over and sit without a word.
  2167. >Idly scratching at your face, you tell yourself to shave soon.
  2168. >Or maybe grow a full on survivalist beard.
  2169. >Become a lumberjack.
  2170. >Bitches love lumberjacks.
  2171. >Probably.
  2172. >Maybe not.
  2173. >You silently chew on your food, quickly noticing that the two are avoiding your gaze.
  2174. >Or it sure looks like that, because whenever you glance their way, they face away from you.
  2175. >-Nah, it's probably just you.
  2176.  
  2177. >>
  2178. >...
  2179. >Oh sweet Luna, your head.
  2180. >This is what you get for liking the fruity drinks.
  2181. >That's how they getcha.
  2182. >You try to ignore your body's attempts to wake up.
  2183. >That sun ruined your perfectly good sleep, you shouldn't have to do any getting up for it.
  2184. >You make yourself comfortable again on your pillow.
  2185. >...Your breathing pillow.
  2186. >Why is it breathing?
  2187. >Your eyes snap open, and the first thing you see is Anon's sleeping face.
  2188. >You quickly pick your head up against its wishes and look at yourself.
  2189. >You're under the covers.
  2190. >Your forelegs are wrapped around him.
  2191. >Tossing the cover off of yourself, you also see your hind legs where his hips are.
  2192. >And some golden armor.
  2193. >Oh sweet, merciful Luna.
  2194. >Picking your head up just a bit more, you see Brave, head tucked by his neck and drooling on the pillow.
  2195. >Y-you BOTH...
  2196. >Quickly but silently, you slink away from the bed and stand there for a moment, staring at both of them in what you only assume looks like pure disbelief and horror.
  2197. >You barely even know Anon, yet you just CUDDLED HIM?!
  2198. >What the HAY was going on in your mind yesterday?!
  2199. >What made you think this was OKAY?!
  2200. >What would the other guards think?
  2201. >What will LUNA think, if she ever finds out you cuddled the one you're supposed to be PROTECTING?
  2202. >Through your thoughts, you see Brave stirring awake.
  2203. >The first thing she sees is your wide eyes, then Anon right next to her.
  2204. >And the look on her face says it all.
  2205. >She doesn't know what happened, either.
  2206. >Through all the frantic squirming she does, you're surprised Anon hasn't woken up.
  2207. >She rolls off, then heads over to you.
  2208. >"I-I can explain-"
  2209. >You raise a hoof.
  2210. "-Let's just agree that this never happened, and get some coffee. Sound good?"
  2211. >She nods quickly.
  2212. >Good.
  2213. >Because you're going to need a clearer head to focus on forgetting this.
  2214.  
  2215. >
  2216. >...
  2217. >The doorbell ringing brings you from your thoughts, instinctively jolting you from the table and towards the front door.
  2218. >When you open it, instead of seeing the regular mailmare, there's a Royal Guard dude in front of your face.
  2219. >...Really, just to deliver tickets?
  2220. >Imagine that.
  2221. >Without a word, he digs into his saddlebags and holds an envelope out to you.
  2222. "-Did the Princesses seriously have you come all the way here, JUST to deliver this?"
  2223. >He shakes his head.
  2224. >"They have asked me to escort you safely to Canterlot."
  2225. >-Goddamn, this guy has a weird voice.
  2226. >It's like, New York City street gang kind of kid or something.
  2227. >Or like, stereotypical mafia grunt.
  2228. >'Ey yeah boss, what we gonna do wit these punks?"
  2229. >From behind you, the sound of your beautiful chair scraping against the floor and hoof-steps pick up towards you.
  2230. >Vannie slows the closer she gets to you, but eventually stops to glare at the guard.
  2231. >"OH YEAH?"
  2232. >"Er... yeah."
  2233. >"Well, Anon doesn't need anyone else to escort him anywhere! We can guard him just fine! Right, Brave?"
  2234. >"-Whouh?"
  2235. >The guard pauses before looking past you and Vannie.
  2236. >His eyes find Brave, and his eyes widen with a smirk.
  2237. >"Huh, I was wondering where YOU had gotten shipped off! Heard stuff about a 'super important, very confidential' mission."
  2238. >He looks around the place, then at you.
  2239. >He laughs and looks over at her again.
  2240. >"Figured it wouldn't be that difficult a job if they chose YOU for it, but sheesh, this may as well be a paid vacation!"
  2241. >That smug grin still on his face, you snatch the envelope from him.
  2242. "I think I agree with Vannie on this one. I'm fine with without an escort from some shithead."
  2243. >Before he can retort with anything, you back up and slam the door in his face.
  2244. >Vannie pouts.
  2245. >"Aww, why'd you do that? I coulda kicked his flank and said I was defending you!"
  2246. >You smile at the thought.
  2247. >That WOULD be pretty great.
  2248. >-Your thoughts are interrupted by a sniffle.
  2249.  
  2250. >When you both turn back, Brave just has this unnatural-looking serious expression on her face.
  2251. >Then her eyes dart to you both of you for a second, and it all crumbles.
  2252. >Immediately, she covers her face with a hoof and hops off the chair.
  2253. >"I-I think I g-got something in my eye!"
  2254. >She rushes upstairs without another word.
  2255. >"…You better go cheer her up, Anon."
  2256. "-Don't have to tell me twice."
  2257. >You toss the envelope on the couch and head up.
  2258. >The first thing you hear is the bathroom sink running.
  2259. >And, if you didn't stop in your tracks, you wouldn't hear the almost inaudible sobbing behind it.
  2260. >Goddamn, this hurts.
  2261. >Like, you can just feel parts of your soul committing suicide from hearing this.
  2262. >Nothing so adorable should be so sad, and the fact that almost every pony in this place is adorable, is why you practically have no soul.
  2263. >You try to quietly open the door, but naturally, it's locked.
  2264. >Alright, then time for something else.
  2265. >You walk back into your room, and open up the top drawer for your house master key.
  2266. >Because nobody's safe from tha masta.
  2267. >A hop, skip and a jump later, and you're unlocking the bathroom door.
  2268. >"I-I'll be right out, sir! Just washing my hooves!"
  2269. >You slowly open it, seeing just how much her voice was lying about how she felt.
  2270. >She gasps and freezes, obviously expecting you to have no way in here.
  2271. >More than a few tears have already trickled down her face, and it looks like plenty more are on the way.
  2272. >Her eyes are wide in surprise, and for once, her helmet is off.
  2273. >Her long brown mane is flowing somewhat over and around her face.
  2274. >And, being stuck under that helmet, it's messy and very unkempt.
  2275. >Yet it looks super fluffy and clean.
  2276. >Those green eyes of hers kind of just rest on you, like a bunny waiting for your next move.
  2277. >So do what you're best known for, and swoop in with a hug.
  2278. >You found that ponies really like being picked up for some reason.
  2279. >You hold her weight with one arm, her back with the other, and pull her in.
  2280.  
  2281. >At first she's of course startled, but soon enough gets comfortable in your embrace.
  2282. >Then she continues to cry.
  2283. >While you definitely feel the need to know what's going on here, you figure to just let her calm down first.
  2284. >Which she does, slowly.
  2285. >Meanwhile you just gently brush her mane while holding her.
  2286. >And goddamn, that armor really adds on some weight.
  2287. >It went from carrying the usual single bag of groceries, to a fully grown, fat Saint Bernard.
  2288. >Whatever the material this is made out of, it's definitely not meant for anything other than Earth ponies.
  2289. >And she just wears it like there's nothing there.
  2290. >While you think more about a small pony being able to lift more than you, you notice that her crying seems to have stopped, reduced to no more but a few sniffles every once and a while.
  2291. >You gently try to pull away, but feel her just hold tighter in response.
  2292. >-Alright, guess you'll just work with this, then.
  2293. "Feeling better?"
  2294. >You feel her nod.
  2295. "…Care to tell me what that was all about, then?"
  2296. >She stays silent.
  2297. "You can tell me anything you want, Brave. As a tall, hairless suit-wearing monkey, I can't really judge anyone."
  2298. >Her silence continues, the bathroom sink as the only noise present in the room.
  2299. >Then you hear her sigh.
  2300. >"...Th-the barracks."
  2301. >She sniffles, and you wait for her to continue.
  2302. >"I...I just asked for this position because I wanted to stay away from that place- stay away from all the ponies there... A job on my own sounded perfect."
  2303. >She looks up at you, eyes watering once again.
  2304. >"I-I just wanted to prove myself, show those ponies that I can be the best darn guard they'd ever seen."
  2305. >Her eyes trail to the floor.
  2306. >"B... but, n-now..."
  2307. >She practically crumbles in your arms.
  2308. >"-I'm just g-going to be the biggest joke of the entire guard."
  2309. >She doesn't even continue to hug you, and just slumps over your arm to continue crying.
  2310. >"I'm sorry I'm such a horrible pony, Mr. Anonymous."
  2311.  
  2312. >You can't help but frown, and lift her chin up.
  2313. "Hey hey hey, look at me."
  2314. >Slowly she does, tears continuing to pour down her face while she hides behind her mane in shame.
  2315. >A big change from the tough, super serious expressions of hers you had gotten a bit used to.
  2316. >You pause and take a moment to brush her tears away.
  2317. "First off, just call me Anon. All my friends do."
  2318. >The thought slowly sinks in, and a small smile graces her face.
  2319. "And secondly, as one of the best guards I've ever met, you shouldn't lie to yourself like that- you're an awesome pony."
  2320. >She blinks while she waits for you to continue, a look on her face like she can't believe what she's hearing.
  2321. "I mean, it's not like I buy just anybody ice cream."
  2322. >You sigh and push a lock of her mane from her face.
  2323. "Or, in the words of someone from back home: You smart. You loyal. You grateful- I 'ppreciate you."
  2324. >Another retarded smile crawls on your face, and hers widens a bit in response to your words.
  2325. >You bring her back into your embrace, staying still for a few moments in a comfortable silence.
  2326. >"...I'm sorry, si- Anon."
  2327. "For what, Brave?"
  2328. >She pauses for a moment.
  2329. >"I...I..."
  2330. >You wait for her to finish, which seems like it'll take a while.
  2331. >"I-I... cuddled you..."
  2332. "What?"
  2333. >"-I didn't mean to, I swear! But when I woke up this morning, I-I was..."
  2334. >She looks ready to cry again.
  2335. >Jesus, cuddling really IS a serious thing here, you guess.
  2336. >But you offer a gentle smile in return.
  2337. "Oh yeah, I noticed you did that yesterday morning too. You have quite the iron grip, you know."
  2338. >Her face grows a deeper shade of red.
  2339. >"I-I WHAT?!"
  2340. >You nod.
  2341. "Wrapped around me like a cobra. Probably wouldn't have made it out if I hadn't woken you up."
  2342. >The look on her face is priceless.
  2343. >Shock, shame and embarrassment, all tossed into one adorable look.
  2344. "But don't worry, I don't mind it at all. Cuddling wasn't a big deal back home as it seems to be here."
  2345. >You lean into her ear.
  2346. "And it can be our little secret."
  2347.  
  2348. >Her eyes widen, and her face reaches tomato red levels.
  2349. >"S-sir- Anon, I-I..."
  2350. >She's practically speechless.
  2351. >You just squeeze her a little bit.
  2352. "Well you know, standing offer."
  2353. >You gently place her on the ground, getting no resistance from her.
  2354. >She sits there, blushing furiously, wide eyed and speechless.
  2355. "I'll be downstairs with Vannie when you're ready to head for Canterlot."
  2356. >You stroke her mane once.
  2357. "Take your time. I heard once that you can't rush perfection."
  2358. >She dumbly nods, and you head out of the bathroom, still leaving the bathroom sink running.
  2359. >As you're closing the door, you swear you could see a smile on her face.
  2360. >She's a good mare, that one.
  2361. >The way this is going, you might actually be able to call her a true friend at some point in the future.
  2362. >You sure hope so.
  2363. >Waking up to someone else in your room is a pleasant surprise as it is, but you can't help but find yourself wanting more.
  2364. >And having a good friend...
  2365. >That's definitely on your list of things to get.
  2366. >Heading back down the stairs, you meet an anxious looking Vannie sitting on the couch.
  2367. >"Well?"
  2368. "I think I was able to cheer her up. Didn't want to pry too much into the situation though."
  2369. >She nods.
  2370. >"Well, I could imagine a lot of teasing and such in the Royal Guard. Way too many insecure stallions there."
  2371. >You sit on the couch across from her and stretch a bit.
  2372. "Well how were the barracks for you?"
  2373. >She smiles and flutters her wings a bit.
  2374. >"Well, since Luna had been gone for so long, the Night Guard kinda just became a smaller branch of the Royal one. Most ponies just quit the guard, so our numbers were smaller, and we were all closer. We played, trained, and usually did all the long, out-of-country jobs that they were too scared to do themselves."
  2375. >Her eyes trail to the floor a bit.
  2376. >"I mean, sure, we had our share of jerks... But it was easy to find a friendly face."
  2377. >She flashes you a warm, toothy smile.
  2378. >"Even in your jobs."
  2379.  
  2380. >"Hay, even some Royals tried to join our guard, just because they thought that we all did nothing... They never lasted long."
  2381. "So what, they died?"
  2382. >"-Whaaat? No! But BAT ponies are in the Night Guard for a reason, and it's called the NIGHT Guard for another. Being nocturnal's just in our nature, and they all just quit after trying to stay awake with us."
  2383. >You look around the room.
  2384. >-And more specifically, all the sunlight pouring in around it.
  2385. >"-I was always able to adapt to sleeping patterns and stay awake longer. That's why they chose me for this job."
  2386. "...They CHOSE you?"
  2387. >She nods.
  2388. >"Princess Luna went around the barracks to look for somepony to come here. I ended up being it."
  2389. >She pauses and shrugs.
  2390. >"Not that there were many to choose from, but you know. Most of the ponies are out dealing with some tensing situation out of the country. The others were just rookies."
  2391. >Her eyes trail again.
  2392. >"And all of those rookies care more about playing around than they do the job, even WITH the Princess back in power."
  2393. >She starts to stare off a bit, and you wave a hand in front of her face.
  2394. >She blinks and shakes her head.
  2395. >"Sorry, bad habit of mine."
  2396. >The sound of hooves climbing down the stairs interrupts both of you, and Brave comes down with a shy look on her face.
  2397. "So then, ready to head out?"
  2398. >She watches you like a deer in headlights for a second, then quickly nods.
  2399. >"Y-yes sir- Anon."
  2400. >You figure it's going to take a while before she just sticks to your name.
  2401. "Alrighty, then let's head out and find out what the hell the Princesses want."
  2402. >You glance over at your kitchen table.
  2403. "-After I clean up."
  2404. >"-I'll help, s-Anon."
  2405.  
  2406. >
  2407. >"Sheesh, how far is this stupid train station?"
  2408. "Pretty stupid far. I mean, didn't you come from there?"
  2409. >"Nope, luxurious carriage ride for me!"
  2410. "Well then, you're going to enjoy sitting in a train for like, five hours. The ride to Canterlot is super long."
  2411. >It's actually not, but that look on her face is priceless.
  2412. >You rub the side of her armor with a hand.
  2413. "But hey, that just means plenty of time to spend with your dear ol' Anon! I can spin sum more tales of the happenin's over on my good friend Earth!"
  2414. >She fakes an uninterested look in return.
  2415. >"Woo, sounds wonderful."
  2416. "You're damn right it does. It's gonna be the best train ride in the history of train rides."
  2417. >In your peripherals, you can see a little smile on her face.
  2418. >
  2419. >"So wait, if the kids had just stayed within the gate, everything would have been fine?"
  2420. "Yep, but nooo, they had to be rebellious retards and run into a QUARANTINED AREA. And it was the stupid dad's fault for kissing his wife, too. I mean, sure it was his wife, but he knew about the infection and everything, and I guess just decided, 'oh yeah, the entirety of humanity is definitely worth one kiss'."
  2421. >"...That's really dumb."
  2422. "Yep. I mean, if you loved your wife so much, why would you just leave her in that house in the first place, right?"
  2423. >They both nod.
  2424. "But whatever, it was a movie."
  2425. >Scanning your surroundings, you notice that you three are alone in your train car.
  2426. >You look out of the window and see that you're not even half way to Canterlot.
  2427. >Literally finished explaining the entirety of two movies in this time.
  2428. >The discovery practically saps you out of all your energy.
  2429. >So you try to lie down on the seat, your legs hanging over the edge with a sigh.
  2430. >God you hate being tall sometimes.
  2431. >You mean, Earth was bad, but THIS place.
  2432. "I actually thought that this trip wasn't going to take forever, and since it seems like it will, I may as well get comfy."
  2433. >Smiling, you hold your arms out to them.
  2434. "Wanna get comfy, too?"
  2435.  
  2436. >Brave immediately knows what you're talking about, and goes back to her red tomato ways.
  2437. >Vannie just raises an eyebrow in confusion.
  2438. >Until she understands what you're saying and matches her partner.
  2439. >God, riling up these ponies is just too easy.
  2440. >You snicker like a grade schooler and sit back up.
  2441. "Man, even to this day, it's weird seeing how different things are here from Earth."
  2442. >They look so flustered.
  2443. "And I gotta ask, what does cuddling really mean here, anyways? Like, how well do you have to know somebody or what?"
  2444. >"W-well..."
  2445. >Vannie takes a deep breath, as if not sure how to explain this.
  2446. >You slowly start to feel like some kid having the birds and the bees explained to you.
  2447. >"T-to cuddle with somepony, y-you have to really trust them."
  2448. >Brave slowly nods in agreement.
  2449. >"You have to feel super safe with them, like knowing that they'll never do anything bad to you for as long as they live."
  2450. "…And I'm guessing not many other ponies fit that bill?"
  2451. >"It's very, VERY difficult to find somepony like that."
  2452. >Huh.
  2453. "Huh. Well, back home it was kinda like, 'hey, wanna cuddle?' then, 'sure, why not?' I mean, I never really did it myself, but I knew that's what it was like."
  2454. >Or you know, maybe your life was a complete lie, and it was just as serious back home as it is here.
  2455. >But your new knowledge starts to put a few questions in your mind.
  2456. >You kinda caught a glimpse about how serious cuddling is and everything, but now actually KNOWING how much it is, you can't help but think that you maaay have gotten carried away in talking with Brave.
  2457. >Hell, you mean sure, you did genuinely offer to be her cuddle-buddy, but the 'iron grip' thing might have affected her more than you thought it would.
  2458. >But really, who KNOWS what she's thinking now?
  2459.  
  2460. >…
  2461. >Celestia, this is too confusing for you!
  2462. >You either feel safe with Anon or you don't, nothing in between!
  2463. >Sure, you cuddled him in your sleep, but does that really count?
  2464. >You've heard of some ponies who did that, and they ended up finding out that the one they cuddled with was 'the one'- but is that really Anon?
  2465. >Almost everypony in the Guard had been cuddled, whether it was with the pony they truly felt safe with or not.
  2466. >Maybe doing that in your sleep is just a sign of how desperate you are for your first genuine cuddle.
  2467. >But hay, if you're going to have your first cuddle with somepony, they're GOING to be the one!
  2468. >And what about Vannie?
  2469. >You had heard rumors of the Night Guard being a bunch of cuddlesluts, but that look on her face this morning told you otherwise.
  2470. >She was just as freaked out as you were.
  2471. >-And does Anon even know that she was apart of it, too?
  2472. >You've seen her eyes darting around, that tiny scrunch on her every once and a while.
  2473. >She's probably thinking about this just as much as you are.
  2474. >…
  2475. >Oh hay, SHOULD you tell Anon?
  2476. >He says that cuddling is a small thing in his world, but telling him wouldn't be!
  2477. >-And what about Brave?
  2478. >She looks super conflicted right now.
  2479. >She's probably thinking exactly what you are!
  2480. >You mean, there's no way that Anon here can be your cuddlefriend.
  2481. >Not only is he technically your JOB, but he isn't even a pony.
  2482. >You were probably just too drunk to think about it, and wanted a good cuddle.
  2483. >Hay, you even still had your armor on, so you REALLY weren't thinking!
  2484. >-And since you had armor, that doesn't count, right?
  2485. >…Right?
  2486. >You shake your head to clear your mind.
  2487. >It doesn't work.
  2488. >Sure, Anon's nice, but aside from his name and a little bit about his world, you still don't know much about HIM.
  2489. >Though whether he knows it or not, he leaves a lot of hints that he's bottling everything up inside.
  2490. >You noticed that change in his voice when he mentioned that he never cuddled somepony else before.
  2491.  
  2492. >So from that, all you're getting is that he likes to joke around, puts his feelings before everypony else's, and is obviously dealing with a lot of said feelings.
  2493. >Or maybe he doesn't know how to express them?
  2494. >Or maybe he's PURPOSELY ignoring them?
  2495. >Or maybe he just doesn't feel safe talking to anypony about them.
  2496. >You ponder the thought.
  2497. >You recall him telling you both that he didn't even have friends, at the bar.
  2498. >"Well then, guess it's true what they say, in that you learn something new everyday!"
  2499. >Anon lies back down and yawns.
  2500. >"And I just learned right now that I'm still tired, so I'm to try my damndest and sleep on these horribly uncomfortable train seats."
  2501. >He glances around the train car.
  2502. >"And unless there's some ninjas waiting to stab me somewhere, I think it's safe to say that you guys can do the same, if you want."
  2503. >He tries his best to get comfortable, and stares at the ceiling for a moment before closing his eyes.
  2504. >You're still too lost in thought to really respond, so you take to looking out the window while Brave just watches her hooves with a pensive expression on her face.
  2505. >This train ride really IS taking forever.
  2506. >
  2507. >After spacing out for a moment, you look back to notice that Anon's pretty passed out, mouth open slightly and breathing softly.
  2508. >You nudge Brave, who had just been in the same spot since you last saw her.
  2509. >She jolts a bit and turns to you.
  2510. >"Hiuh?"
  2511. >You pause for a moment.
  2512. "I've... kinda been thinking."
  2513. >You glance over at Anon, her gaze following.
  2514. "What is Anon like?"
  2515.  
  2516. >"Well, he is very nice."
  2517. >You nod.
  2518. "Nice, but that's practically it. Every time I've seen him a little bit sad, he's always gone back to smiling, like he ignores himself, you know?"
  2519. >Brave glances at his sleeping form.
  2520. >"I haven't noticed that."
  2521. "Well he does it a lot. Remember when we asked him about friends at the bar yesterday?"
  2522. >She pauses, then nods.
  2523. "He just said he had no friends to do things with, then played it off like there was nothing wrong with it!"
  2524. >"…Maybe it's common for ones in his species to not have friends? He did say there were seven billion of them."
  2525. >You quickly shake your head.
  2526. "Seven billion people just means more opportunities to have a friend! And Anon didn't say he even had ONE!"
  2527. >You look over him again.
  2528. >You may just be pulling from your own experiences or something, but you're starting to think that all this mentioning of cuddling is just some kind of desperate cry for help.
  2529. >Nopony can survive without at least ONE cuddle in their life, and these things you're seeing kind of just tell you that Anon hasn't had any of them.
  2530. >And in turn, he's just letting that all bottle up.
  2531. >And you DEFINITELY know that will lead to no good in the future.
  2532. >As a Guard, you feel it's your duty to protect and improve life wherever it needs to be.
  2533. >And after how great Anon's treated you and your usually sarcastic ways, you only feel it's right to return the favor somehow.
  2534. >You start to take your armor off, much to the confusion of Brave.
  2535. >"What are you doing?"
  2536. "What needs to be done."
  2537. >First you slip from the chest piece, then your shoes, everything off until your helmet is last.
  2538. >You gently pull it off and let your mane flow freely, then have a much-needed wing stretch.
  2539. >Then you gently climb onto the seat, find a comfortable position, and wrap your hooves around Anon.
  2540.  
  2541. >Immediately, you feel a soothing wave of warmth wash over you.
  2542. >It's been so long since you've done this.
  2543. >The last time was with that heated pillow, you remember.
  2544. >Until you cuddled it so much it just caught on fire at one point.
  2545. >But really, nothing, NOTHING, beats this.
  2546. >You feel every sore point, every inch of stress in your body just melt away.
  2547. >A content sigh escapes you, and you instinctively drape a wing over Anon, feeling like you just had an entire spa day to yourself.
  2548. >You haven't felt this relaxed in a LOOONG time.
  2549. >With a yawn and a gentle smile on your lips, you start to close your eyes.
  2550. >Past Anon on the other seat, Brave just watches, that incredibly bright shade of red on her face, that you've just gotten used to seeing at this point.
  2551. >
  2552. >...
  2553. >Holy fuck, for being a shitty seat in a train car, you slept surprisingly well.
  2554. >It's like the seat's enchanted or something.
  2555. >When you try to stretch, you notice some kind of weight on you.
  2556. >Opening your eyes, you're really not expecting to see Vannie all comfortable and resting on your chest.
  2557. >Or her wing completely over you.
  2558. >Glancing over to the side, Brave's not apart of the action, and is just sleeping on the chair by herself, armor still on.
  2559. >Jesus, guess you really did do something wrong in poking fun.
  2560. >Or maybe Vannie's just got a problem.
  2561. >Hard to know, really.
  2562. >Regardless, turning back to Vannie, just sleeping on top of you...
  2563. >It brings a familiar urge to light.
  2564. >One that you haven't really acted on since she's been here.
  2565. >You're going to fucking rub those fluffy ears.
  2566.  
  2567. >Trying to be super silent in order to keep her asleep, you reach a hand over.
  2568. >Her ear twitches slightly, giving you this sudden pain in your heart.
  2569. >She's really just that cute.
  2570. >-But just as you're about to touch those damn fluffy ears, you're interrupted by a sudden jolt, and go flying.
  2571. >After hitting the other seat and faceplanting, you're left on the floor while the girls are now both wide awake.
  2572. >Vannie somehow managed to anticipate the sudden brake or something, and slowly hovers on top of the seat.
  2573. >"-Well hey, it's Canterlot!"
  2574. >Slowly pulling yourself from the floor, the girls just throw you some confused looks.
  2575. >Of course, they didn't see you just get fucking launched from your seat.
  2576. >Probably think you're just some kind of tard for sleeping on the floor or something.
  2577. "Fucking trains."
  2578. >Vannie throws her armor on, and the two follow while you slowly make your way outside.
  2579. >Immediately, there's a Royal Guard with a sign saying, 'Anunymus'.
  2580. >And unless you find out you have a retarded twin brother soon, you're pretty sure that's your sign.
  2581. >The guard spots your ass and meets you halfway.
  2582. >"Princess Celestia has arranged you with a carriage ride to the castle. Follow me."
  2583. >You do so up to this fancy carriage, which is being pulled by Pegasi.
  2584. "Oh, fuck me."
  2585. >Hesitantly climbing in, you immediately start to shake.
  2586. >Goddamn Pegasi rides
  2587. >No fuckin seat belts oh man fuck this stupid shit christ
  2588. >The girls both climb up with you and sit down normally.
  2589. >Sit like they're not about to be pulled in a fucking door-less carriage ri- AAAHHH-
  2590. >
  2591. >"Are you alright, Anon?"
  2592. >You climb out of the carriage, heart beating out of your chest and a terrible feeling in your stomach.
  2593. "F-fuckin' peachy."
  2594. >You spin around and throw up over a bunch of sunflowers growing nearby.
  2595. >While you're puking out what's left of your soul, you hear the faint hum of magic and shit you'd gotten used to hearing for a while.
  2596. >"I see you enjoyed your carriage ride, Anonymous?"
  2597.  
  2598. >You turn around to face none other than Celestia, in all her wavy weird-maned glory.
  2599. >Brave and Vannie drop down to bow in an instant.
  2600. "Oh yeah, a fucking blast."
  2601. >Seriously, you're not sure why you hate flying so much.
  2602. >You were fine in airplanes, as long as you didn't think about the presence of snake eggs among the cargo, but carriage rides just make you sick as shit.
  2603. >And you know, the thought of two Pegasi ponies half your weight pulling everything is goddamn scary.
  2604. >It's like riding a roller coaster made of wood.
  2605. >Just fucking terrifying.
  2606. >Though, you do still enjoy the rides- just afterwards.
  2607. >You got some of the fascination of flight from your good ol' grandpa Anon.
  2608. >-And a pretty good portion of anxiety and fear, probably from when he crashed during flight.
  2609. >Rest in peace grandpa Anon, you insanely racist beauty.
  2610. >While you're having flashbacks of the many times you've almost died flying in the past, you barely realize that you're being stared at.
  2611. >And of course, the girls are just absolutely shocked that you cursed in front of the Princess.
  2612. >She mentioned one time how she thought it was fine, because it 'shined a light into your culture' or some shit like that.
  2613. "So then, I'm guessing you didn't just ask me to come here for more flying torture? What's goin' on, Celestia?"
  2614. >Her smile fades a bit.
  2615. >Like, when you know everything is screwed, so you just smile and hope that nobody sees through it and calls your bluff.
  2616. >And that's not good.
  2617. >-In fact, now thinking about it, the fact that she actually met you outside of the castle like this probably shows how important it is.
  2618. >And, THAT'S NOT GOOD.
  2619. >So, following Celestia through the halls, you can just hear all the gasps and awes from the two trailing behind you.
  2620. >It brings a soft smile to your face, past the growing worry you're feeling.
  2621. >Kind of wish that Celestia would have just given you a hint or something.
  2622. >What is so important and confidential that you needed to be brought here?
  2623.  
  2624. >Your walk is cut short when Celestia opens the doors to this big ass meeting room.
  2625. >It's completely empty, save from Princess Luna, who you see just sitting at the table.
  2626. >Celestia stops in the doorway, then looks over at you three.
  2627. >"This is a matter that... I think would be best kept private."
  2628. >She glances over at the girls.
  2629. >Vannie shoots you a worried glance, but Brave's the first to reluctantly bow.
  2630. >"As... as you wish, Princess."
  2631. >They continue to stay there bowed, until you walk inside.
  2632. >But Vannie sneaks every glance up that she can.
  2633. >Finally, the doors shut and you follow Celestia over to meet her sister.
  2634. >Any retarded comments you have just die in your throat with the tense feeling in the room.
  2635. >You sit across from Luna, and Celestia sits at the tip of the table, being right next to you both.
  2636. "...So, what's this about?"
  2637. >They share some looks with each other.
  2638. >"A few days ago, we had gotten reports of some kind of... artifact, that was found during a guard's routine duties in the Crystal Empire. We are certain that it has some connection to the home world which you have spoken about to us."
  2639. >Before you can respond, this big fucking disco ball-looking thing is put on the table.
  2640. >You stare at it for a moment.
  2641. "...What the hell is this? A space golf ball or what?"
  2642. >The first thing that shot through your mind before this shit was put here was, 'there's no fucking way what they're saying is true,' but now, it's looking more like, 'wow I got fucking called out here for this shit?'
  2643. >How the hell could this thing have any relation to Earth?
  2644. >To answer your unspoken question, Luna spins it around to expose the insides through a crack in the shell.
  2645. >In it is...
  2646. >Wait.
  2647.  
  2648. >You jump from your seat and bring the thing closer to you.
  2649. >Inside is a plaque, with three images of Earth.
  2650. >At the top left corner, you see some writing.
  2651. >'Laser Geodynamic Satellite (LAGEOS)'
  2652. "...A satellite?"
  2653. >The top right is some kind of orbit, with what you think is the Sun in the middle, and an orbit with an arrow pointing at Earth.
  2654. >Then a picture of Pangea, with an arrow pointing back, a huge ass humber next to it.
  2655. >Then zero, with Earth as you remembered it.
  2656. >And finally, a huge ass number, an arrow going forward, and Earth, map torn around and mashed in a way you haven't seen before.
  2657. "...How did you find this? Where?"
  2658. >"-As Luna said, it was found during a guard patrol in-"
  2659. "-But, HOW? How did...?"
  2660. >You sit down to collect your thoughts.
  2661. >Nobody in this place even knows how to say 'human' right, there's no goddamn way they know how Earth looks!
  2662. >-These two are the only ones that kind of know what it looks like, only through your crude drawings of the place.
  2663. >If they haven't even made CARS yet, there's no way they could make a goddamn satellite...
  2664. >You stand up and stare at the plaque some more.
  2665. >There's obviously some binary code in there next to the picture at the top, but you don't know anything about the language to decipher it.
  2666. >"Anonymous, there is another matter at hoof that we need to discuss."
  2667. >You throw your hands.
  2668. "HAH, of course there is! Because a fucking satellite isn't news enough, right?!"
  2669. >They completely ignore your outburst.
  2670. >"There have been rumors of more artifacts like these, being unearthed throughout the Badlands-"
  2671. "-Then I want to see them."
  2672. >They both pause and share another look.
  2673. >"Anonymous, we've talked of searching for them, but due to the location, it would take more than several months to receive a report back. I do not necessarily like the idea of sending my ponies out to-"
  2674. "-Then fucking send me, I don't care!"
  2675.  
  2676. >"I do not like the idea of sending you, either."
  2677. >You throw your hands again.
  2678. "Then the hell was the point of telling me this?!"
  2679. >"It seems that the Griffons have already found a relation between you and what they found in the area."
  2680. >What.
  2681. "What."
  2682. >"And from what we have heard from them, we believe you may be a target."
  2683. "A target."
  2684. >Celestia simply nods.
  2685. "So what, you mean people are out to ASSASSINATE me?"
  2686. >She slowly nods again.
  2687. >You immediately freeze.
  2688. >"Now, because of this, we feel it's in your best interests to stay here in the castle, until further notice."
  2689. >You don't know how to respond to her.
  2690. >So, you unintentially settle on an expression akin to a fish out of water.
  2691. >That is to say, you look semi retarded, and shocked as all hell.
  2692. "Well, why am I suddenly a target for them? What did I ever do to the catbirds?"
  2693. >"As of now, the definite reason is unknown, but we believe they may see you as a danger to their lifestyle."
  2694. "-HOW?"
  2695. >Celestia just keeps that calm, collected look on her face.
  2696. >For someone taking care of an enormous ball of fire, she sure did have a cool temper.
  2697. >"They seem to see you as some sort of false god, based on what they supposedly found in the Badlands. There is some evidence that shows they know more about you than even we do."
  2698. >You dwell on the thought.
  2699. >How the hell, and WHAT the hell could they have gotten over there?
  2700. >Your gaze trails back over to the satellite sitting in front of your face.
  2701. >...You're going to need a lot of reality checking soon.
  2702. >"So, in light of this situation, if you wish to have more guards appointed to your side, you may. But in the meantime, your old room has been tidied up for you."
  2703. >All you can manage is a blank nod.
  2704. >And a disbelieving sigh.
  2705. >There's just too many thoughts running through your head, too many questions.
  2706. >And, these two seem to know just as much as you, at this point.
  2707. >...Fucking perfect.
  2708.  
  2709. >With one last glance at the satellite and a quick nod to the Princesses, you stand up.
  2710. "Thank you."
  2711. >And take your leave.
  2712. >It's completely silent in the room, save for the tapping of your shoes against the floor, and that still faint hum of magic from the two.
  2713. >When you step up to the door, a soft golden glow unlocks it for you, and you push it open.
  2714. >Immediately, you see two heads pop up.
  2715. >"Hey Anon, how'd it go? Everything alright?"
  2716. >You gently nod at the two, but can't wipe that conflicted look off your face.
  2717. >"Is everything alright, sir?"
  2718. "Yeah. I just, I dunno, need some sleep or something."
  2719. >While you walk down the hall, you notice how much closer they're following you.
  2720. >But they don't try to pry you for anymore information.
  2721. >At one of the many hallway intersections in the place, you take a right turn, much to their confusion.
  2722. >"Uh, Anon, the exit's that way?"
  2723. "I got relocated."
  2724. >You can see they're clearly still confused by your words, but continue to follow you through the hallways.
  2725. >And while you do, you start to think.
  2726. >You don't remember how long you've been here.
  2727. >Seasons have gone and passed, but you never kept count of them.
  2728. >Never knew when your birthday was in this new calendar.
  2729. >Never knew how many hours each day was, just because it was all on Celestia.
  2730. >Never knew if they had a daylight savings, never read up on Equestrian history, or its sciences.
  2731. >-You toss the thoughts from your mind.
  2732. >You remember the route to your room better than you do your old neighborhood.
  2733. >There's more pony faces in your memory than peoples'.
  2734. >While you walk, you try to clear your head.
  2735. >You step into your old room and look around.
  2736. >Everything is just as you had left it.
  2737. >Then a thought hits you.
  2738. >You remember this room.
  2739. >More than you remember your old house.
  2740.  
  2741. >The girls look around the place, and Brave starts to scan everything.
  2742. "You guys just, get acquainted here. I'll be with you both in a minute."
  2743. >Vannie shoots you a worried look, to which you respond with a small, reassuring smile.
  2744. >You gently slink outside and shut the door.
  2745. >Then you make your way over to the balcony nearby, stepping just outside.
  2746. >You always remembered coming out here, if just to see the sunrise.
  2747. >It always looked so beautiful.
  2748. >You take in the whole view of Equestria.
  2749. >The mountains, all this land spanning as far as the eye can see.
  2750. >Fields of green, patches of snow.
  2751. >-Though, slowly, your familiar feeling of serenity fades.
  2752. >You stare out into the distance.
  2753. >Take the Equestrian air into your lungs.
  2754. >Feel the gentle breeze caress your form, the soft sound of the waterfall soothe you.
  2755. >Your gaze steadily tilts upwards.
  2756. >...A shiver crawls up your back.
  2757. >The air around you suddenly wears thin.
  2758. >Your legs quiver beneath your weight.
  2759. >Before you.
  2760. >Right in front of your own eyes.
  2761. >A small, single red speck in the sky, shimmering in the space above you.
  2762. >You begin to feel weak.
  2763. >Feel like you have no control of your own body.
  2764. >You lower yourself to the ground.
  2765. >You sit with your back against the marble railing.
  2766. >Frozen, staring at the other end of the balcony wordlessly.
  2767. >You feel the first tear roll down your face.
  2768. >An unknown weight crushes you from the inside out.
  2769. >You crumble and fall on your side, the cold marble floor stinging your cheek.
  2770. >You feel yourself shiver from the cold, suffocate from the air.
  2771. >Left completely powerless, utterly defeated.
  2772. >So you shut your eyes.
  2773. >Leave your body wracking with tears.
  2774. >With fear.
  2775. >With uncertainty.
  2776. >With disbelief.
  2777.  
  2778. >As if the thought never really settled, you dwell on it.
  2779. >You're the only human.
  2780. >The last surviving member of your entire species.
  2781. >Around seven billion people, just, gone.
  2782. >Vanished like they never existed in the first place.
  2783. >Yet here you are, like some kind of fossil.
  2784. >A living, prehistoric creature.
  2785. >Through your tears, you turn towards the sky again.
  2786. >You gaze out into space.
  2787. >The stars, constellations.
  2788. >...And that single reddish dot amongst it all.
  2789. >Mars.
  2790. >You're home.
  2791. >You've BEEN home- but it isn't yours.
  2792. >Through your sobs, the sound of hooves clacking against the floor interrupts it.
  2793. >Soon enough, your head is picked up and turned to face an extremely worried Vannie.
  2794. >"Anon, what's wrong? What happened?!"
  2795. >-No, she's not supposed to be here.
  2796. >She's not supposed to see you like this.
  2797. >A sense of hopelessness washes over you.
  2798. >-But really, it doesn't matter how you're seen anymore.
  2799. >The human race is gone and dead, you have no more of a reason to act strong.
  2800. >No reason other than yourself to keep from being pathetic.
  2801. >You've kept your cool this long, but now, there isn't much of a point.
  2802. >You've lost, and your species is just going to go extinct with you, whether you like it or not.
  2803. >You'll die, and simply be forgotten.
  2804. >...Before, you still had hope.
  2805. >Figured that while you're here, those you've left behind are simply living their life as usual.
  2806. >Figured that hey, maybe magic can find you a way back eventually.
  2807. >But now, the evidence is hanging above you, and always has been since you got here.
  2808. >You're truly alone, destined to take every last bit, every accomplishment and dream of the human race with you.
  2809. >And you don't want to be the one to.
  2810. >Being only able to cry, Vannie takes the liberty of sitting and covering your shivering form with her wings.
  2811. >"It's okay Anon, I'm here. Just let it all out..."
  2812.  
  2813. >Soon enough, you find yourself without tears, just trying to control your own breathing.
  2814. >Christ, look at you.
  2815. >A grown ass man crying your eyes out like a kid.
  2816. >-While a cute pony half your size simultaneously consoles you.
  2817. >Truly the finest Earth had to offer.
  2818. >While you lay there in Vannie's embrace, you wonder what your parents would think of you.
  2819. >You're sure somewhere, somehow, the entirety of Earth is just watching, shaking their heads in disappointment.
  2820. >But, it's not like you were any shining beacon of hope when there were another few billion roaming around the planet.
  2821. >It's been at least a few years already since you first showed up here.
  2822. >In that time, you set yourself to not focus on the past, and to look at the future.
  2823. >Did everything you couldn't do back home, and worked to better yourself.
  2824. >But now, looking at yourself here, a sniveling mess…
  2825. >You can't help but think, what have you even been doing all these years?
  2826. >Hiding behind yourself?
  2827. >LYING to yourself?
  2828. >You try fruitlessly to shake the thoughts from your mind.
  2829. >You've been down this path before, you'd rather not like to have a repeat.
  2830. >Holding on to that single shred that's left of your dignity, that tiny little atom that remains, you sit back up, pulling yourself away from Vannie.
  2831. "...Sorry I made you come out here. Emotions just got the better of me, but this is all just stuff I should fix myself. Don't you worry about it."
  2832. >Though with how badly you just broke down, you're sure that's the opposite of what's on her mind.
  2833. >And of course, that worried look stays on her face.
  2834. >Instead of a proper response, she scoots over next to you and wraps you in her wings again, before nuzzling her head under your neck.
  2835. >"I can tell when ponies lie, Anon."
  2836. >For a second, you simply stay frozen, unsure of how to react.
  2837. >But honestly, she was right.
  2838. >The feeling of someone else next to you, someone that didn't just see you as a sad sack of shit.
  2839. >It feels... nice.
  2840.  
  2841. >Frankly, the feeling that someone else actually cared about you was very foreign.
  2842. >Sure, you had your dad, but he wasn't really the caring type.
  2843. >Not that he was bad or anything, but it was the kind of cliche where he spent more time doing work than he did being a dad.
  2844. >Though, you feel that the lack of it only bugged you when you saw others enjoying it.
  2845. >Like they say, don't know what you got 'till it's gone, and the fact you never had any to begin with just made you want it more.
  2846. >But, you bottled it, saved it for another time, and spent all your efforts to give yourself a rich, independent life instead.
  2847. >...And now, here you are.
  2848. >Like that shirt you always wondered about, finally being found in the closet.
  2849. >Except it was a really ugly shirt that your mom got you for Easter when you were five.
  2850. >Super itchy, horrible ass material, and she wanted you to look nice in it for a family photo.
  2851. >And she just found it in your closet, X years later.
  2852. >A mix of pain that it's found, but another half of relief that you don't have to keep it in anymore.
  2853. >You feel Vannie shift and get even more comfortable with you.
  2854. >It brings you a nice sense of warmth- safety even.
  2855. >And as you're sure that emotional support isn't part of a guard's duty, you find yourself enjoying it even more.
  2856. >-Though, the other part of you says it probably is.
  2857. >If cuddling is a big thing, it wouldn't surprise you.
  2858. >Though... she did cuddle you on the train, didn't she?
  2859. >She mentioned how you have to truly care for, and trust the one you're cuddling with.
  2860. >How it's extremely difficult to find a pony you feel that way about.
  2861. >You glance down at her, so relaxed in her state.
  2862. >But, does she really care for you?
  2863. >Trust that you'll never do anything to hurt her?
  2864. >-Not that you feel you ever would, but for her to see you that way...
  2865. >The thought settles in your mind.
  2866. >Soon, you find yourself teary-eyed again.
  2867. >But this time, not in hopelessness, or in fear for the future.
  2868. >But in joy.
  2869.  
  2870. >Nobody had ever really showed any sign that you belonged here.
  2871. >As you walked in the streets, regardless of town, you were watched, pointed at, like some kind of carnival freak.
  2872. >Though you were still treated nicely, you could see the looks on a lot of ponies' faces.
  2873. >They thought you didn't belong, either.
  2874. >And being as tall as you are, buildings weren't, and still aren't, very better at that.
  2875. >But in a place where even the environment said you couldn't belong, you still made the most of it.
  2876. >You had your home built right, ignored all the looks, and ended up fine.
  2877. >Though the feeling stayed in your thoughts.
  2878. >But now, this.
  2879. >Something as simple as a hug while you're down, a small cuddle while sleeping in a train car...
  2880. >You can't help but feel that you're no different, if only in one pony's mind.
  2881. >And that makes you happier than you're sure anything else could right now.
  2882. >So you instinctively bring Vannie just a bit closer to you.
  2883. >She doesn't resist, and instead just works to make herself even more comfortable.
  2884. >You reach a hand over and wipe your tears away while she looks up at you from the sudden movement.
  2885. "I know it may sound weird... but you really don't know how much this means to me. Thank you, Vannie."
  2886. >She responds with a simple smile.
  2887. >"I've been in the same spot, Anon... I know how much a hug can help."
  2888. >Through that look on her face, that sad smile of hers, it looks like she IS in the same spot.
  2889. >But of course you don't feel the need to mention it.
  2890. >Instead, another idea comes to mind.
  2891. >And slowly, you poke your hand out from under her wings.
  2892. >She watches you curiously while you reach for her.
  2893. >Or more specifically, her ears.
  2894. >And you start rubbing one.
  2895. >It slowly folds, until a blush forms on her face and another smile on her lips.
  2896. >She fights the urge to lean into your hand, the blush obviously from embarrassment.
  2897. >She obviously enjoys this more than she'd like to admit.
  2898. >You swear it sounds like she's purring.
  2899.  
  2900. >Eventually she starts nuzzling both you and your arm, while that cute, content grin stays on her face.
  2901. >And just something as simple as rubbing fluffy ears, a smile can't leave your own face.
  2902. >Vannie here has really made a bigger impact on you than she believes.
  2903. >And after a bit more nuzzling, she finally tucks her hooves in and simply lays under your chin, wings still draped over you.
  2904. >After bringing her back into your embrace, you feel her relax.
  2905. >She really does trust you.
  2906. >Trust that you would never do anything to hurt her.
  2907. >And you never will.
  2908. >...She was also so right.
  2909. >Hugs really DO help.
  2910. >
  2911. >You catch yourself mid-snore and quickly look around yourself.
  2912. >Oh shit.
  2913. >You fell asleep.
  2914. >Vannie still sitting in your arms, drooling a bit, but looks completely knocked out.
  2915. >It's still dark, based on, well, the dark, and the crickets you can hear down below.
  2916. >The sun was going down when you were awake, but now the moon is just all the way up there.
  2917. >And, you're kind of uncomfortable sitting here.
  2918. >-Well, it's not that bad, but knowing there's a better alternative nearby is what's uncomfortable.
  2919. >So, forcing your tired self up, you lift Vannie into your arms in the most silent way possible.
  2920. >Wings lazily hanging on her sides, you try to support them, too.
  2921. >And you slowly shuffle back into the castle and into your room, carrying her fireman style.
  2922. >And you don't even lift.
  2923. >When you open your door, you immediately see Brave lying on the bed, staring at the door and head bobbing while she tries to keep herself awake.
  2924. >Oh damn it.
  2925. >She glances over at you, blinking asynchronous.
  2926. >"I got lost in the castle looking for you."
  2927. >Her eyes trail over to Vannie.
  2928. >"-Both of you."
  2929.  
  2930. "You didn't need to do that, you know. We're safe in the castle, you can get your rest here."
  2931. >She slowly shakes her head.
  2932. >Still stubborn.
  2933. >You could be in a hidden underground bunker and she'd probably still insist on staying awake.
  2934. >She just watches as you gently put Vannie down on the bed and hop on it.
  2935. >Being in a castle and all, the beds here are damn huge, so there's plenty of room for everyone.
  2936. >Could have like, a cuddle orgy here, if that's a thing.
  2937. >Once you get yourself situated under the covers, Brave does the same, armor still on.
  2938. >As always.
  2939. >Vannie paws at the space in front of her before she catches one of your arms and reels herself in.
  2940. >Cuddly leech.
  2941. >Brave simply tries to sleep, and you figure that if she feels like cuddling, you'll definitely be here.
  2942. >Not like you'll force her to or anything.
  2943. >You're no cuddle-rapist.
  2944. >The ridiculous idea brings a small amused smile to your face while you stare at the canopy top of your bed.
  2945. >And slowly, other thoughts fill your mind, and it fades.
  2946. >You think back.
  2947. >...A damn satellite.
  2948. >You're not entirely sure what to do in your situation.
  2949. >But really, what CAN you do?
  2950. >The Griffons seem to be the only ones with any answers to your questions.
  2951. >But they apparently also want to kill you because of what they found.
  2952. >You don't feel the need to cry, or feel anymore sorry for yourself, but your mind quickly becomes overwhelmed with thoughts.
  2953. >You need to find out what happened to everyone.
  2954. >You never really questioned your reason for being here before.
  2955. >-At least, not much.
  2956. >The only real explanation that made sense was that you died.
  2957. >But what the hell kind of afterlife would have relics from Earth?
  2958. >Talking ponies is one, but mixing fantasy and reality like this...
  2959. >It's just goddamn confusing.
  2960. >You have to know more.
  2961. >You have to find out why you're here.
  2962. >Because now it seems like you're here for a specific reason.
  2963.  
  2964. >
  2965. >You wake up feeling like shit.
  2966. >Sure, you didn't really sleep early, due to your thoughts, but still.
  2967. >In such a comfortable bed like this, you're not sure how you can feel so horrible afterwards.
  2968. >Slowly turning to your right, Vannie's moved from hugging your arm, to just hugging you.
  2969. >She's also drooling on your suit, which kind of serves you right for not changing before sleeping here.
  2970. >Brave's also attached to your side.
  2971. >Though you're pretty sure it was just another one of her sleep-attacks.
  2972. >With a yawn, you look up from your bed and- holy shit, all your stuff is here.
  2973. >Everything from Ponyville, right on your floor.
  2974. >-No seriously, just there, lying all over the ground.
  2975. >Fucking food included.
  2976. >Like someone just lazily teleported all this shit here.
  2977. >A sigh escapes you.
  2978. >Just glad it's nothing that can't be replaced, like meat.
  2979. >Dear lord, if you saw any steaks on that floor, you'd have no problem disregarding the entire human race until you brought your revenge upon whoever did this.
  2980. >-Though, they can still eat a dick.
  2981. >You brush upon your thoughts from yesterday, and feel the need to get started on it, tired or not.
  2982. >Even in ponyland, you're more than used to being dead inside during the morning.
  2983. >But these two are really hanging on there.
  2984. >You're fine with no sleep, but hell if you're going to interrupt theirs.
  2985. >So you instead just stare at the ceiling, silently weighing your options here.
  2986. >If you had a horn, you'd be able to get out of here quickly.
  2987. >-Well, a magical horn, at least.
  2988. >But for now it looks like you're stuck.
  2989. >...And slowly, every single thought works into trying to get you up.
  2990. >Because hell, you haven't showered in a while.
  2991. >And the bathrooms here are awesome.
  2992. >And that goddamn sun is in your face.
  2993. >And holy shit, now you need to drain the lizard.
  2994. >Life is just damn cruel sometimes.
  2995.  
  2996. >Looking over your situation though, you figure there's worse positions to be in.
  2997. >And at least you're comfortable.
  2998. >-Vannie wraps around you tight enough to cut blood flow.
  2999. >Well, you WERE comfortable.
  3000. >Seconds later, you feel Brave shifting around.
  3001. >She lazily opens her eyes on you.
  3002. >She slowly blinks past you, obviously waiting for brain.exe to reboot.
  3003. >A few moments later, you see her eyes move down a bit, glancing at her hooves wrapped around you like a python.
  3004. >She just stares, and the only indicator that she's alive is the growing blush on her cheeks.
  3005. >"-HEY ANON, YOU'RE BACK!"
  3006. >-You jolt back and hit your head on the wall.
  3007. >Vannie gets tangled in the covers and falls off, all while making that bat noise of hers.
  3008. >And Brave just jumps off the bed like a cat.
  3009. >In the doorway, it's that guard dude that was assigned to you when staying in the castle last.
  3010. >He just guarded your room, and you admittedly don't even remember his name, but he was cool enough.
  3011. >He looks over the girls with increasing confusion.
  3012. >Then he sees all the food and furniture scattered all over the floor.
  3013. >And now he seems a little scared.
  3014. >Like, questioning the unknown so much you get a little spooked, scared.
  3015. >Seeing that Brave fled into the bathroom, you move over to Vannie, who's just making her situation worse in her panic.
  3016. >"EEE! EEE! EEEEEE-"
  3017. >You pull the blanket off in an instant, and she simply lies there for a moment, hooves folded and looking up at you.
  3018. >"Oh. Uh, h-hi, Anon."
  3019. "Yo."
  3020. >You pull her up to her hooves, then see the expression on the guy's face while he stares at the food lying on the ground.
  3021. "...Well, you definitely got me at a weird time."
  3022. >He simply nods, still looking around the place in what you can only described as a disturbed gaze.
  3023. >Then his eyes meet yours.
  3024. >"Well, uh, when you're ready, breakfast is done and all of that."
  3025. "Yeah, alright."
  3026. >He quickly scans the room again.
  3027. >"Yeah…"
  3028. >He shuffles away.
  3029.  
  3030. >The door slowly closes with a faint blue aura.
  3031. >Well, that was weird.
  3032. >Moments later, you see Brave sticking her head out from the bathroom door.
  3033. >And she looks upset.
  3034. >Like, 'fuck everyone, but mostly who woke me up,' upset.
  3035. >And you only know this, because it's probably the same look that's on your face.
  3036. >Granted, you were already awake, and you knew that guy, but you're still annoyed.
  3037. >Brave then glances your way for a second, then at the bed, and blushes slightly.
  3038. >Guess she finally realized what she was doing before waking up.
  3039. >Makes you wonder if she ran into the bathroom out of fear, or embarrassment that she got caught cuddling the shit out of you.
  3040. >Hell, you wonder if that guy even noticed.
  3041. >…Nah.
  3042. >There was probably too much stuff happening at once for that.
  3043. >With a yawn, you start to stretch, then being followed by the girls, who were probably waiting for you to acknowledge what just happened.
  3044. >But you're too damn tired for that.
  3045. >Once you feel a bit more comfortable, you hop out of your suit and dress shirt, leaving only your white t-shirt on underneath.
  3046. >In fact, this lovely shirt was made here in the castle just for you.
  3047. >Another stretch, then you get down into your boxers, too.
  3048.  
  3049. >One thing you loved about this castle was that you never really had to leave here.
  3050. >So, you could always be as stupidly comfortable as you needed to be.
  3051. >And with that settled, you roll off your bed and head for the door.
  3052. "Whelp, I'm super ready to get food when you guys are."
  3053. >And on the way, you can ask someone to help sort your damn room out.
  3054. >Because hell if you're going to start waking up to the smell of rotten food in the morning.
  3055. >And you don't know where you would store all of this.
  3056. >You spin around at the door and are met with Vannie's blushing face.
  3057. >You wonder WHY she's blushing for a moment, until you remember you just stripped for her and Brave.
  3058. >Not wearing clothes is a pony thing obviously, but you guess it'd be the same deal for Brave if she took her armor off.
  3059. >You're used to ponies with no clothes, but without that armor…
  3060. >-Okay, don't do that, Anon.
  3061. >Mentally reminding yourself to take a long ass shower after this, you slowly step out into the hallway, then being followed by the girls.
  3062. >Brave slowly peeks out into the hallway first, then Vannie comes out after her, now clad in her own armor.
  3063. >They both stick close to you.
  3064. >A thought made its way to you, but then you realize you never even told the girls about the meeting with the Princesses.
  3065. >Or at least the most important part about it.
  3066. >You know, the part about probably being hunted down by an entire nation.
  3067. >Though you know you're safe here, it's probably a small detail they should be aware of.
  3068. >Though... you don't really want to worry them.
  3069. >THOUGH, it kind of IS their job.
  3070. >…Probably when they're more awake.
  3071. >After all, you really wouldn't be able to leave the castle unless you told them.
  3072. >Or at least feel super safe without doing so.
  3073. >...And now more guards doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
  3074.  
  3075. >The walk to the dining hall is naturally uneventful.
  3076. >Though, you do get a few 'ooh's and 'awe's from behind you.
  3077. >"Sheesh, I could sooo get used to living in this castle."
  3078. >You would agree, but after a while, this place kind of got… weird.
  3079. >It's just the Princesses, man.
  3080. >Last time you were here, you swore they were treating you like their child.
  3081. >It was just… weird.
  3082. >But let's not talk about that.
  3083. >You finally pull up to the dining hall, and hold open the door for the two.
  3084. >And, if these doorframes weren't bigger, they definitely would have gotten stuck in it.
  3085. >You walk in, and like some kind of spell kept you from hearing outside, it's suddenly super loud.
  3086. >-Well, to castle standards, at least.
  3087. >Which is to say that the echoes are probably the loudest thing.
  3088. >Glancing at all the ready food, you can't help but grin.
  3089. >One thing you did think was neat here was how they all did breakfast.
  3090. >Which is to say, a huge ass buffet type thing with every castle staff member.
  3091. >-And those residing in it, of course.
  3092. >At the end of the table, you see Luna holding a large mug of coffee with this half dead look on her face.
  3093. >And Celestia, though everything unkempt, looking as bright as ever.
  3094. >Ugh, morning people.
  3095. >The girls stop in their tracks, and you unknowingly pass them, autopilot putting you back into a familiar routine.
  3096. >Though you pause when you finally notice they're frozen.
  3097. >You spin around, and they both look at you nervously.
  3098. >Then they both turn to the huge amount of guards at the table.
  3099. >Oh.
  3100. >Of course.
  3101. >With how that one guard at your house acted, you wouldn't be surprised if a guy recognized one of them.
  3102. >Brave tries fruitlessly to put on that super serious look you haven't seen in a while.
  3103. >Vannie just rolls her eyes and frowns, before hiding a bit behind her mane.
  3104. "-Just stick with me, guys. I'll make sure they don't come near us."
  3105. >Vannie's frown eases a bit, and she nods.
  3106. >Meanwhile, Brave embraces her inner statue.
  3107.  
  3108. >You walk around to the tables, and hell, you don't even recognize the guards here.
  3109. >Guess you came to the party a little late, because these were the afternoon guards.
  3110. >Then again, you wonder if the morning guards are even the same ponies.
  3111. >-AND, you still barely knew them.
  3112. >Honestly, you knew the guards residing in the barracks more than these guys.
  3113. >They chose the guys who can stand there and look intimidating, so all the ones in the barracks were usually laid back mares or bro-tier guys.
  3114. >Unless they had a higher ranking here, or were in charge of guarding your room.
  3115. >But that's a different story.
  3116. >Like some kind of shitty high school movie, you're stuck looking around for a place to sit.
  3117. >Instead of all sitting around each other, all the guards liked to make groups based on the hours or places they covered.
  3118. >So instead of taking up a small space around the table, they're fucking everywhere.
  3119. >Like a movie theater.
  3120. >You don't start filling up all the in between seats and breaking families up until there's a shit ton of people.
  3121. >While you walk, you start feeling eyes on you.
  3122. >Though, they're not ALL on you.
  3123. >You hear a few whistles.
  3124. >"Heeey batmare, you wanting to hang?"
  3125. >"I can stay up aaall night, you know!"
  3126. >"Why don't you fly over here, cutie?"
  3127. >You hear Vannie grumble.
  3128. >Well, now the frown of hers from earlier makes more sense.
  3129. >"-Oh snap, is that 'BRAVE'?"
  3130. >"-Oh hay, it IS!"
  3131. >"Hey hey, really climbing up the ranks, aren't ya?"
  3132. >You turn to Brave and see her steel demeanor start to falter.
  3133. >-Then a few hooves catch up to you.
  3134. >"-HEY, KEEP TALKING, I'LL START REMEMBERING NAMES!"
  3135. >All the guards in that group shut up, and the guy who was in charge of your room walks up.
  3136. >If only the Princesses heard what those guards were saying.
  3137. >The guy just grins at you.
  3138. >"So, a few things changed since you were here last."
  3139. >That's when you notice how different his armor is from the other guards.
  3140.  
  3141. "Promotion?"
  3142. >He smiles and nods.
  3143. >"Lots of 'em."
  3144. >He turns to the girls with a sincere look of sympathy.
  3145. >"Really sorry about those guys. The night shift has never really been the cream of the crop in our guard."
  3146. >While he walks you over to a few seats, you figure you really should learn his name at some point.
  3147. >You had actually been staying in the castle for a long ass time, and he was practically the only one you talked to.
  3148. >Now look at him, all promoted and nice and shit, like you're old high school buddies.
  3149. >And you don't know his name.
  3150. >As if reading your thoughts, he gives another friendly smile, which just makes you feel worse.
  3151. >"Well, if the guys give you anymore trouble, just look for the fancier red mohawk thing in the crowd, alright?"
  3152. >You nod and return the smile.
  3153. >"Well, now then, I've got some insubordinates to talk to! See you around, Anon."
  3154. >You simply nod again, and he walks off.
  3155. >Goddamn, he's even more of a bro now.
  3156. >-That just makes you feel worse.
  3157. >You turn away from the guards and notice how close you are to the Princesses.
  3158. >Like, you're almost literally right next to them.
  3159. >Then you notice the small patch of empty chairs next to them.
  3160. >Guess all the guys are too scared to get near dem strong, independent black womens.
  3161. >Then you notice how Brave and Vannie are taking it.
  3162. >Which is to say, they might as well be trembling.
  3163. >Luna stares off into the void with that dark look on her face, while Celestia stops destroying that cup of coffee and notices you.
  3164. >"Oh, hello Anonymous! How are you, today?"
  3165. "I'm still alive."
  3166. >She nods, already used to your shitty responses.
  3167. >Then she smiles at Brave, whose pupils shrink immediately.
  3168. >She immediately attempts to bow in her chair, but instead hits her muzzle against the table.
  3169. >"Oh, are you alright?"
  3170. >Brave, hooves on her face, quickly nods.
  3171. >"Y-yes, Ms. Princess Celestia, ma'am."
  3172. >You notice Vannie shrink in her seat.
  3173. >But you also notice she's seeing Luna's morning gaze.
  3174.  
  3175. >Christ, she looks ready to vaporize everything in this room.
  3176. >If you weren't used to seeing this practically every morning, you'd be fearing for your safety right now.
  3177. >Celestia waves a hoof.
  3178. >"Please my little pony, there's no need for formalities. We're all family here."
  3179. >Brave slowly nods, but still looks a bit hurt and frightened.
  3180. >Man, she really hit that table hard.
  3181. >You turn to her and lean in a bit.
  3182. "You sure you're okay?"
  3183. >Now focusing on you, she visibly relaxes, giving a small nod.
  3184. >You fake a gasp.
  3185. "Oh, snap! Let me see your muzzle!"
  3186. >Brave moves her hooves and crosses her eyes to look at what you're seeing.
  3187. >Then you strike.
  3188. "-Boop."
  3189. >She immediately scrunches and gives you a dirty look before covering her muzzle again.
  3190. >Celestia just softly laughs in the background.
  3191. >"So, I take it you three have been getting along, then?"
  3192. >Then her gaze turns to Vannie, which leads her to looking over at Luna.
  3193. >She nudges her.
  3194. >"Oh come on Luna, mornings aren't THAT bad. And look, you're scaring your own ponies!"
  3195. >Luna blinks and looks down, expression softening.
  3196. >"Ugh, I'm sorry sister. I happened to stumble upon a few... peculiar dreams this night."
  3197. >"-No details please. I want to have a FEW peaceful nights for once."
  3198. >"-Well, there was one where-"
  3199. >"-I'm going to stop you right there."
  3200. >Luna softly giggles, still looking super tired.
  3201. >And finally, she looks over at Vannie.
  3202. >"Ah, 'Vannie'. It is nice to see you again this morning."
  3203. >"Likewise, Princess."
  3204. >You notice that she doesn't seem as nervous now as she was a few seconds ago.
  3205. >Probably from the little chit chat between the two, as Brave has stopped shaking, too.
  3206. >You have to admit, it was weird first seeing them both act, well, normally, considering their positions.
  3207. >Controlling the fucking sun and moon, both of which can dramatically change or destroy the entire planet in a second, is kind of a big deal.
  3208. >Yet they're still normal, occasionally bickering sisters.
  3209. >It really is odd.
  3210.  
  3211. >Luna glances at you.
  3212. >"And Anonymous, how are you this un-fine morning?"
  3213. "Stiiill alive."
  3214. >"I see. So, have you thought about our proposal of more personal guards?"
  3215. >In your peripherals, Brave and Vannie suddenly freeze.
  3216. >Then they both slooowly turn towards you.
  3217. >They silently wait for you to speak.
  3218. >God, even though they're your guards, the looks they're giving you don't really show it.
  3219. >It's the kind of look you'd expect a girlfriend to be giving you, after she found out you had plans to hang out with the guys on the weekend.
  3220. >Or that you've been hanging out with your grade school friend, that just happens to be another girl.
  3221. >The point is, you suddenly feel put on the spot.
  3222. >Like your soul is being pierced by their eyes.
  3223. "Well, uh, I was going to talk to these two about that… At a later time."
  3224. >"-And WHY would you be needing more guards, Anon?"
  3225. >You take a deep breath and feel a few man-stincts kick in.
  3226. >Feel like you're walking on thin ice here.
  3227. >-But before fight or flight mode kicks in, a realization hits you.
  3228. >You're not being suspected of cheating on these two or anything, you're just being offered more protection for a developing situation!
  3229. >Still, you kind of wave the Princesses off and silently ask them to let you discuss.
  3230. >Then you huddle in with the girls.
  3231. >Who look like they've already made their minds about everything.
  3232. "...Okay, I won't go into the big details of yesterday, but I was offered more protection because, well…"
  3233. >You sigh, the thought suddenly putting more weight on your shoulders.
  3234. "I miiight have the entire Griffon nation out for my head."
  3235. >They both freeze again.
  3236. >But this time, Brave seems worried, and Vannie looks pissed.
  3237. >Thankfully though, she doesn't seem to be pissed at YOU.
  3238. >"What do those stupid bird brains want with you?"
  3239.  
  3240. >You rub the back of your neck.
  3241. >You didn't really didn't plan on, or even plan HOW you'd tell them all of this.
  3242. "Well, they see me as a 'false god,' which I'll talk about later."
  3243. >Or never, which would be nice.
  3244. >You pat your stomach and fake a smile.
  3245. "-Because fake Jesus needs some food right now."
  3246. >They both seem unsatisfied with your answer, but nod regardless.
  3247. >The longer you can wait before talking about all of that, the better.
  3248. >Still so many unanswered questions…
  3249. >-So, ignoring that, you hop out of your seat, the girls following you.
  3250. >You spin around and kind of just stand there for a moment, until Luna acknowledges your existence.
  3251. "I think I'll need to think about your proposal some more, Luna."
  3252. >She just nods.
  3253. >But it's less of an 'ok' nod, and more like, 'alright whatever, it's YOUR life, not mine'.
  3254. >And with that, you head on over to the breakfast table.
  3255. >You grab a plate and take a examine all the food.
  3256. >Oooh man, what to choose, what to choose?
  3257. >-You mean, you're deliberately ignoring an important thing that you absolutely SHOULDN'T be, but WHAT TO CHOOSE, WHAT TO CHOOSE?
  3258. >Maybe pancakes?
  3259. >French toast?
  3260. >Eggs?
  3261. >Crippling fear of the unknown, with a side of extreme denial?
  3262. >Yeah man, it ALL looks great!
  3263. >Or hey, maybe you can grab yourself a nice heaping bowl of absolute hopelessness!
  3264. >You mean hell, you've had so much of it, why the hell not have more?!
  3265. >-A loud shattering noise brings you back from your thoughts.
  3266. >You blink and notice that you've dropped your plate.
  3267. >And now it's almost completely silent behind you.
  3268. >The echo of that plate dropping was probably extremely loud.
  3269. >"Sir? Are you alright?"
  3270. >You quickly nod, kneel and start picking up the plate pieces from the ground.
  3271. "Guess I just got a bad case of butterfingers today! Ha ha, haaa."
  3272. >Almost everyone is still staring.
  3273. "-Just an accident, folks! Sorry about that!"
  3274.  
  3275. >The entire hall is still silent though.
  3276. >You don't dare to turn around and see all the eyes plastered on you.
  3277. >The clanking of all the pieces is the only sound you can hear.
  3278. >You keep that smile on your face, one that only Brave and Vannie can see.
  3279. >You'd like to tell yourself it was just an innocent accident.
  3280. >That you didn't feel yourself shaking a bit before that plate fell.
  3281. >You'd like to.
  3282. >Eyes boring into you from all sides, you can't help but feel yourself shaking a little.
  3283. >A moment where you can't help but see the whole world out against you.
  3284. >You mean hell, why wouldn't they be?
  3285. >You stick out like a goddamn glowing thumb with glitter all over it.
  3286. >You're living off of an allowance from the Princesses, complete with your own guard, and it's practically law that everyone has to be nice to you.
  3287. >But do you deserve it?
  3288. >Of course not.
  3289. >Out of everyone on the entire planet, it had to be you.
  3290. >Not even average joe, but some guy who spent a vast majority of his life in front of a computer.
  3291. >Who never socialized, never did anything worth writing in the books.
  3292. >Out of everyone, the most incapable.
  3293. >In charge of doing something- something important for the entire human race.
  3294. >Like some kind of shitty school project, you're here wondering if you should just do another baking soda volcano.
  3295. >What can you do?
  3296. >What SHOULD you do?
  3297. >What the hell is expected of you?
  3298. >How the FUCK are YOU meant to do ANYTHING IMPORTANT?
  3299. >You feel a hoof on your shoulder.
  3300. >And along with it, a kind of white noise in your head.
  3301. >One that practically drones everything else out, leaving you to only hear your own thoughts.
  3302. >"-Anon, are you okay?"
  3303. >You turn to a worried looking Vannie and Brave.
  3304. >The sound of everyone behind you breaks through.
  3305. >They're all talking normally.
  3306. "...Yeah, yeah I'm alright."
  3307. >-Though, you're not really sure yourself.
  3308.  
  3309. >And they both see right through you.
  3310. >"What's wrong, Anon?"
  3311. >You shake your head and throw the plate pieces away in a nearby trash can.
  3312. "It's nothing guys, really."
  3313. >They obviously don't believe you, but refrain from pushing further.
  3314. >Grabbing another plate, you make your way down the table, grabbing whatever looks and whatever you remembered was great.
  3315. >The girls follow suit, and you try your damndest to push every negative thought you can back.
  3316. >You think it's odd how you've been here for years, and ignoring everything for longer, yet a space golf ball is what finally made you crack.
  3317. >What finally destroyed your perception of reality and is currently forcing you to rethink your life.
  3318. >Now that you haven't traveled across worlds, but instead time.
  3319. >Focusing on the truth of it, instead of the 'what if' does a bit to calm you.
  3320. >But only a bit.
  3321. >Once your plate's done and at max capacity, you walk your fat ass back to your seat, the girls soon following.
  3322. >The Princesses simply talk amongst each other while you eat.
  3323. >You simply stare at the space in front of you, lost in thought.
  3324. >What if everyone just went to another planet?
  3325. >Simply fled when shit started hitting the fan?
  3326. >While you'd like to believe that's the case, there's more than a few things that say otherwise.
  3327. >The biggest question being why nobody's come back.
  3328. >Nobody here even knows how to say 'human', and with this much new life present on the planet, you figured the,y'd come by to study it.
  3329. >Make peace or something...
  3330. >"So Anon, what's on the agenda today?"
  3331. >You blink and look away from the wall.
  3332. "Hmm?"
  3333. >Vannie simply looks at you, waiting for an answer.
  3334. >You pause for a moment.
  3335. "...You two can have the day off, I suppose. I don't think I'll be leaving the castle for a while."
  3336. >They both jump a bit from shock.
  3337. >"The day OFF?"
  3338. >You nod.
  3339. "I mean, I don't expect you guys to be my guards twenty four seven. You should have some free time, as well- the castle should be safe for me."
  3340.  
  3341. >They both stay silent, as if trying to see whether you're lying or not.
  3342. >And of course, they come up with nothing.
  3343. >Vannie puffs her chest out a bit.
  3344. >"Well I don't need a day off. I'm sticking right by your side!"
  3345. >Brave nods, sitting up tall by you.
  3346. >"Wherever you go, we go too, sir."
  3347. >They both throw you a perfectly synchronized salute.
  3348. >You can't help but smile at the sight.
  3349. >Partly because it's adorable, and partly because they seem to actually care about you.
  3350. >You doubt somebody would deny a free day off like this if they didn't enjoy something about it.
  3351. >-Or if they needed the money.
  3352. >But you'd like to think that money really isn't everything here.
  3353. >It certainly doesn't seem that way, from what you've seen.
  3354. "Are you guys sure? You really don't need to."
  3355. >They both nod immediately.
  3356. >...It's good to know that whether or not you feel like shit, you can at least count on two people being here for you.
  3357. >-Well, ponies, rather.
  3358. >You doubt you could have said the same with any other people.
  3359. >That was partly your fault, though.
  3360. >-But you digress.
  3361. "Thanks, guys. That... it means a lot."
  3362. >Vannie gives you one of her signature toothy grins.
  3363. >You can't help but feel your own smile widen.
  3364. >Then she starts digging into her plate.
  3365. >You almost forgot you even had food for a second.
  3366. >Some old instincts kick in, and you're not aware of what you're doing until Brave notices.
  3367. >"...Sir, is that a french toast sandwich?"
  3368. >Vannie looks up with interest.
  3369. >Looking down, in your hands is indeed, a french toast sandwich, with eggs and hash browns in it.
  3370. >A habit you've yet to break since you had your PC.
  3371. >Eating is much quicker when everything is together.
  3372. "Yes... I do believe it is."
  3373.  
  3374. >Really, if it's not burritos for you, it's sandwiches.
  3375. >Allowing yourself a sad smile for the loss of your computer, you continue to eat.
  3376. >While you do, you think some more.
  3377. >Your problem is that you overthink things.
  3378. >Looking at the problem you're facing, you shouldn't imagine seven billion disappointed faces.
  3379. >Just think about what you're going to do.
  3380. >-What SHOULD you do?
  3381. >And from a literal sense, what CAN you do?
  3382. >Unless you find some way to bring back the human race or something.
  3383. >Your eyes trail to all the ponies sitting at your table.
  3384. >...Which might not be the best idea, really.
  3385. >These ponies are too innocent.
  3386. >You could just imagine what would happen if more humans were introduced.
  3387. >There's probably a reason there's only ponies on this planet.
  3388. >-Okay, that's one thing you should do, actually.
  3389. >To at least put your mind at ease.
  3390. >You need to find out what happened to everyone.
  3391. >And the biggest lead is over in the Badlands with the Griffons.
  3392. >-The Griffons that also want to kill you for what they saw.
  3393. >Maybe they're scared?
  3394. >Maybe they found some kind of poster or something with another person, and whatever else was there is what's scaring them.
  3395. >Probably think you're going to kill them all or something, who knows?
  3396. >The only way you really would find out is if you talked to them.
  3397. >And you'd rather not like to.
  3398. >But aside from that, you feel you can do more.
  3399. >At least help in some way or something, you don't know.
  3400. >Make a difference here.
  3401. >If everyone on this place is dead and gone, the least you can do is help these ponies to not suffer the same fate.
  3402. >Their innocence already shows they're on the right track.
  3403. >-Still not perfect, mind you.
  3404. >But, well, cuddlesluts.
  3405. >Kinda tells you something.
  3406.  
  3407. >And the fact that they've already advanced quite a bit tells you more.
  3408. >Imagine how quickly magic could move things along...
  3409. >They've got trains, but skyscrapers.
  3410. >Telephones, but no radios or anything.
  3411. >Kind of all over the place, really.
  3412. >Maybe, despite your limited technical know-how, you can find some way to-
  3413. >"Anon, what are you doing?"
  3414. >You blink and bring your attention to Vannie.
  3415. "Huh?"
  3416. >She points at your hands, where you have an invisible sandwich in their grasp.
  3417. >You realize that they're also done with their own plates.
  3418. >Dear lord, you didn't think you were thinking for that long.
  3419. >Certainly didn't feel like it.
  3420. >Resting your hands, you simply take their plates and hop off your seat.
  3421. >A quick wave to the Princesses later, you're heading back to your room while the girls trail behind.
  3422. >While you pass the night shift guys, the captain-guard-guy-you-still-don't-know-the-name-of calls attention to them all, giving them a glare that just screams, 'try something, I dare you'.
  3423. >Just makes you worse for not knowing his name.
  3424. >So in the meantime, you'll just call him... Dave, or something.
  3425. >Yeah, Dave, why not?
  3426. >He gives you a small smile and a nod, which you return while you walk past.
  3427. >The girls still stick close to your side regardless.
  3428. >Well, closer than before, probably because of the death threat you finished telling them about.
  3429. >But, you know.
  3430. >They both take in the sights of the castle while you completely ignore all of it.
  3431. >After a while, it goes from, 'holy fuck, a castle!' to just, 'cool, tall roofs and loud echos'.
  3432. >Even in your goddamn bathroom, noise echos so badly.
  3433. >Ponies, including the Princesses, quickly started making fun of you when they heard word of your shower singing being heard around an entire wing of the castle.
  3434. >-All in good fun, but goddamn it, did that one last a while.
  3435. >And that's why your whole room is now soundproof.
  3436. >Not even Dave, being just outside, could hear you.
  3437.  
  3438. >Not that you'll have to worry about anyone outside hearing though.
  3439. >Walking up to your room, you see that you're pretty much on your own.
  3440. >Guess they figured Brave or Vannie would be taking shifts watching your door.
  3441. >-Which actually was kind of the whole point.
  3442. >You remember Vannie even explaining that.
  3443. >But now look, they sleep, wake up and do everything when you do.
  3444. >Went from having two bodyguards, to two roommates that sometimes wear armor.
  3445. >The thought brings an amused smile to your face.
  3446. >-Not that you really mind it, though.
  3447. >If anything, being friends with these two just puts more trust on the table.
  3448. >Maybe even pushes them to protect you more.
  3449. >That was never the goal of course, but it's a plus, especially now.
  3450. >You're just the kind of person that pretty much talked to everyone.
  3451. >Never got close to anybody, but you still talked.
  3452. >Instead of just waiting around in a building, ignoring that guy cleaning the floors, you'd start conversations and shit.
  3453. >-Which was probably annoying to many of them, but it seemed better than the random silence.
  3454. >But you digress.
  3455. >While these two are technically only doing their job, you don't want to just see them like that.
  3456. >They're still people- er, ponies, and they're helping you out.
  3457. >The least you can do is be as nice to them as possible.
  3458. >Plus, they're ponies.
  3459. >It's extremely difficult to be so mean to something so cute.
  3460. >It's like having to smack a bunny for hopping on the table or something.
  3461. >-Alright, that was a weird fucking analogy.
  3462. >But it's just goddamn difficult, alright?
  3463. >Walking back into your room, you're both surprised and happy to see that your room is clean as shit.
  3464. >You got all your furniture set around nicely, and even have your fridge set up over near a corner of the room.
  3465. >Place practically looks like a small apartment, now.
  3466. >While you kind of just scan the place, a thought creeps into your mind.
  3467. >How damn long are you supposed to stay here?
  3468.  
  3469. >Hell, obviously you'll be here longer than it takes for food to spoil, but now that you think about it, bringing all your furniture is just...
  3470. >It makes you wonder.
  3471. >Of course, you don't have your bed here, because you already have this one, but everything else is accounted for.
  3472. >Even the carpets and shit.
  3473. >Hope they don't sell your house or anything.
  3474. >That thing was specially made, and you're not going to wait all these damn months for another house to be built.
  3475. >Especially when you already know that there's a pony, just living all cozily in your non-pony sized home.
  3476. >You shake the thought from your mind and yawn.
  3477. "Alright, well because I'm in dire need of a shower, I'll be in the bathroom. Since all of my furniture is just here, there's a bookshelf riiight over there."
  3478. >You point at the shelf lying in the corner, not really filled, but not empty either.
  3479. >Really just used it to learn about Equestria's history and such, but you did grab a few fiction reads.
  3480. "Or, you know, you could just... I dunno."
  3481. >They just both look at you.
  3482. "I really wasn't lying when I said I wasn't planning on doing much. That offer for a day off, or even a break, is still on the table."
  3483. >Vannie pretty much completely ignores you and starts heading towards the bathroom.
  3484. >"I think I could use a cleaning anyways."
  3485. >You turn back to Brave, who just looks between you, then Vannie, then the bathroom.
  3486. >Then she slowly climbs onto the bed.
  3487. >So while she makes herself comfortable, you head into the bathroom and see Vannie already taking her armor off.
  3488. >Is she serious about taking a shower with you?
  3489. >And if that's the case, why is she just being so casual about it?
  3490. >She notices you looking, then gives you a sly, toothy grin.
  3491. >"What, see something you like?"
  3492. >You turn away and quickly feel your cheeks burn.
  3493. >Y-you weren't meaning to stare at her like that.
  3494.  
  3495. >She grins and shakes the last bit of her armor off.
  3496. >"You should so see your face right now. You're too easy."
  3497. >Shooting a glare and straightening yourself out, you realize what transpired.
  3498. >You mean, aside from calling you out on accidentally staring, she just teased you.
  3499. >That's new.
  3500. >-Not that you'll let it slide, but you know.
  3501. >It's new.
  3502. >Shows you how little you actually know about these girls.
  3503. >What you probably know, or what you think you do, is probably just scratching the surface.
  3504. >You're just glad she seems to be getting a bit more comfortable with you.
  3505. >-Brave, however...
  3506. >She still seems to need a bit more nudging.
  3507. >It's just crazy how quickly someone can change when you get to know them-
  3508. >-You're still staring.
  3509. >You turn away the second she kicks off her last armored shoe thing, in order to avoid getting any more comments.
  3510. >She turns back to you, that small smile still on her face.
  3511. >"So, how do you normally wash your back? Are you able to reach, or what?"
  3512. >Ignoring the biggest question on your mind, you nod.
  3513. "Yeah, I'm fine with it."
  3514. >She nods, then starts making her way over to the huge shower.
  3515. >There's also that separate jacuzzi-type tub right across from it.
  3516. >...It would probably be easier on your nerves if you went there.
  3517. >You mean, she really CAN'T be serious about this, can she?
  3518. >"Well if you could, try not to be so rough with the wings, yeah? They may feel a bit rough, but don't let that fool you."
  3519. >She pauses and looks back while you stand, just unsure of what to do here.
  3520. >"...Something wrong, Anon?"
  3521.  
  3522.  
  3523. >For a second, you stay completely still.
  3524. >Then finally, you manage a sentence.
  3525. "...How much weight does showering have, here?"
  3526. >Vannie looks at you, obviously confused and waiting for clarification of some sort.
  3527. "Like, you explained how much weight cuddling someone else has, how you need to trust them immensely and everything. So, what about... you know... showering together?"
  3528. >She seems completely unfazed by your question, like you asked something really obvious.
  3529. >"Well, it's not as big of a deal as... that. It's just a shower."
  3530. >JUST a shower.
  3531. >So that's why she's so casual about it.
  3532. >For a second there, you thought she saw the whole thing just as you did.
  3533. >Especially with that teasing.
  3534. >But now, you feel bit more uncomfortable than you did before.
  3535. >If you were stuck in this situation with any woman back home, you'd still be in that damn shower before the lights even turned on.
  3536. >Because nobody invites someone into the shower for nothing.
  3537. >But here, it just feels... wrong.
  3538. >You mean, CUDDLESLUTS, man.
  3539. >It's like they're super innocent, and just not aware of what they're doing.
  3540. >Though, you're sure showering is probably not a big problem here because of tails.
  3541. >But you kind of just have everything on display right there.
  3542. >Not to mention, Vannie is practically perfect height for it to be extremely awkward.
  3543. >You rub the back of your neck.
  3544. "Well... showering is kind of a different thing for me."
  3545. >She cocks her head like a confused puppy.
  3546. >"How so?"
  3547. >You throw your hands into your pocket and avoid eye contact.
  3548. "Weeell, showering where I come from is kinda..."
  3549. >You trail off on that last part.
  3550. "See, we kind of wear clothes a lot because, uh..."
  3551. >You take a deep breath and face her.
  3552. "Showering with someone else is just, ah, a really, REALLY intimate thing. Like, usually VERY intimate. Probably how you guys see cuddling, but a bit worse."
  3553.  
  3554. >In fact, now thinking about it, it's odd how showering is seen as nothing here, but cuddling is seen as nothing to you.
  3555. >And the ponies here practically see it as a proposal.
  3556. >Though, Vannie here pretty much ignored that, only because you said it was fine where you came from.
  3557. >By that logic, you should do the same.
  3558. >-BUT THIS IS DIFFERENT.
  3559. >You're on the highway to the danger zone.
  3560. >Now focusing on Vannie, you see that she's insanely red right now.
  3561. >Like she's replaying everything she just did through your own perspective.
  3562. >This is partly while you hesitated.
  3563. >Though you know Vannie here's an adult, you feel that explaining this was practically the equivalent of telling your kid what "tax night" with their mom really is.
  3564. >THOUGH, she did do it just for you.
  3565. >Not to mention what she did for you last night.
  3566. >She's literally the only one so far who's seen you cry.
  3567. >Not that you're proud of that or anything, but the fact that she helped instead of anything else is what's being kept in the books.
  3568. >God knows what she's risking just to cuddle you during the night.
  3569. >-Or if she's risking anything.
  3570. >You just don't know.
  3571. >But...
  3572. >The point is, you suppose, that she still cuddled you, despite how much weight it has on her.
  3573. >The least you can do is shower.
  3574. >...Th-the least.
  3575. >Looking down at yourself, all you really need to take off is your socks.
  3576. >Well, all you feel comfortable taking off, really.
  3577. >You're really just doing her a favor by keeping this stuff on.
  3578. >-Sure, you'll have to go commando in your slacks and walk around with no undershirt for a while, but it's no big deal.
  3579. >Better than going in with a birthday suit and accidentally smacking her.
  3580. >Or activating Anon Jr.
  3581. >Both would be pretty terrible outcomes.
  3582. >-Well, the chances are that they would be, at least.
  3583. >But try not to think about that.
  3584. >Especially if you're going to be close to her.
  3585. >Vannie, meanwhile, is simply staring at the floor, still blushing furiously.
  3586. >"S-sorry Anon, I-I didn't know-"
  3587.  
  3588. >You unintentionally cut her off while you walk on over to the shower.
  3589. >She just watches you curiously as you hop into the shower and look over at her.
  3590. "Well? You coming in?"
  3591. >"-B-but I thought you said it was super lewd!"
  3592. >You shrug.
  3593. "Yeah, only without my clothes on. This is alright."
  3594. >She kicks the floor a bit.
  3595. >"You sure? I don't mind trying to use my wings or anything."
  3596. >You nod and offer a small smile.
  3597. "Well, consider it a small bit of repayment. For last night, more than anything."
  3598. >She mimics your expression, then hops into the shower.
  3599. >She gets herself settled, and you flip the valve thing to the perfect setting you remember.
  3600. >For a second, you seem to forget where you are.
  3601. >Then your eyes trail to the showerhead, and you suddenly become aware of your grave mistake.
  3602. >Before you can react, a blast of water straight from the north pole makes contact with your face and the rest of your body.
  3603. "-AAA-"
  3604.  
  3605. >...
  3606. >You just don't know how you could approach it.
  3607. >Especially with-
  3608. >"-AAAHHH!"
  3609. >-THAT'S ANON!
  3610. >You quickly hop off the bed and charge towards the bathroom door.
  3611. >You KNEW you should have gone in, too!!
  3612. >Remembering the door bashing techniques you were taught, you ram into it headfirst and are surprised to see how easily it breaks.
  3613. >The second you go in, you hear a slip, and Anon falls out of the bathroom's shower, taking the curtain rod down with him and a bunch of water.
  3614. >You instinctively sprint towards him.
  3615. "SIR! ARE YOU OKA-UAAAH-"
  3616. >And you somehow forgot that a wet floor can be slippery.
  3617. >You faceplant into the cold, hard bathroom ground, and slide into a corner of the room.
  3618. >And just like that, this bad day has only gotten worse.
  3619. >You stay frozen, partially paralyzed from the pain, and partly from how embarrassed you are.
  3620. >It really doesn't matter how much you try not to be.
  3621. >You're always going to be a clumsy, useless guard.
  3622.  
  3623. >All the courage you've been building up to this point just melts away.
  3624. >What if Anon's life was actually in danger?
  3625. >You only got lucky with that arrow a few days ago.
  3626. >...You wouldn't be able to actually protect him, from ANYTHING.
  3627. >Feeling a few tears forming in your eyes, you quickly suck them back in and breathe.
  3628. >At least try to save SOME of your dignity, here.
  3629. >-The dignity you really don't even have, while you lie in the corner.
  3630. >Disappearing right now would be really nice.
  3631. >"-Oh shit, are you okay?"
  3632. >While you focus all your energy on becoming invisible, you feel something touch your armor.
  3633. >You're pulled up to your hooves, and Anon gently holds your chin up, facing him.
  3634. >He looks at you, eyes clearly filled with concern and guilt.
  3635. >"Damn I'm so, so sorry, Brave. That looked really bad."
  3636. >He scans you for any injuries.
  3637. >There's no single hint of amusement in his face, like the kind you've gotten so used to seeing from every other pony.
  3638. >It's all just worry- for your own well being, instead of his own.
  3639. >And this is the second time he's done this for you.
  3640. >...You don't deserve his kindness.
  3641. >Simply standing there, all you can do is look into his eyes.
  3642. >You feel yourself frozen, partly out of shock, and partly-
  3643. >-A hand rubs your muzzle, knocking you out of your stupor.
  3644. >"Does it hurt a lot? You need ice or something?"
  3645. >You blink.
  3646. "-No, I-I'm okay, Anon."
  3647. >Behind him, you see Vannie's gaze set on you.
  3648. >And immediately, you can tell she sees right through your lie.
  3649. >A slightly worried look crosses her face as well.
  3650. >Yet she stays silent.
  3651. >"Are you sure?"
  3652. >You quickly nod.
  3653. >While you stand there, Anon holding your chin and petting your muzzle, you can feel yourself calming down.
  3654. >Then a familiar feeling quickly takes its place.
  3655. >You really DON'T deserve his kindness.
  3656. >You don't deserve anything you're being given.
  3657. >Feeling tears coming to your eyes again, you quickly blink and slip away from him.
  3658. "I-I'll just go, now."
  3659.  
  3660. >…
  3661. >"-I-I'll just go, now."
  3662. >Before you can give another, 'are you sure?' she slips past you and sprints out of the bathroom.
  3663. >When you turn around, she's already gone, having trotted out of the now door-less frame.
  3664. >She just obliterated that damn thing, man.
  3665. >It never stood a chance.
  3666. >And it was unlocked.
  3667. >...Well, you didn't pay for it, so whatever.
  3668. >-But that's not the issue right now.
  3669. >Aside from the water still running while Vannie stands on the tub's edge, you want to know what the hell just happened.
  3670. >You falling on your face and shit, that has been established.
  3671. >But why did Brave just run off like that?
  3672. >Obviously, you must investigate.
  3673. >You take notice of the water all over the floor, then look up at Vannie the same time she does.
  3674. >And because you're either really easy to read, or she really is just that damn good, she gives you a small nod.
  3675. >"-I'll clean up here and try some wing scrubbing. Now get over there."
  3676. >A nod of your own, you get a small sense of deja vu.
  3677. >Except this time around, you're leaving the bathroom to find her, instead of finding her in the bathroom.
  3678. >So, without bothering to wring your shirt or put socks on or anything, you walk on out of there, only being slowed by the enormous amount of wooden shards scattered all over the floor.
  3679. >The second you step outside, you scan the place for any white or brown additions to the room's color palette.
  3680. >Due to the beautiful sound proofing in your bathroom and room, the shower's muffled enough to let you listen closely as well..
  3681. >And with your superhuman ears, it takes you a while to notice a not-so-showery sound nearby.
  3682. >More specifically, behind one of your couches.
  3683. >Having been put in the corner, there's a small little nook in the corner that someone could easily hide behind.
  3684. >-But, hiding?
  3685. >If you're actually not retarded, and Brave is sitting behind that couch, you feel you have every right to be worried.
  3686.  
  3687. >As you get closer, you pick up the sound as sobbing.
  3688. >Just like last time.
  3689. >...Last time.
  3690. >You hop on it and peek over.
  3691. "Brave?"
  3692. >She jumps and looks up at you, cheeks already stained with tears, and eyes red as can be.
  3693. >For a second she sits, staring like a deer caught in headlights.
  3694. >Then her lip quivers, and more tears rush down her face.
  3695. >You hop behind the couch too, the space back here being more than enough room for the both of you.
  3696. >It's a big couch.
  3697. >"I-I'm sorry sir, y-you weren't supposed to s-see me like this."
  3698. >She's sobbing so much she's shaking.
  3699. >"I'm s-so s-orry..."
  3700. >Before she moves to lie on the ground, you gently take her helmet off and hug her.
  3701. "You don't have to be sorry for anything, Brave."
  3702. >She doesn't hug back, choosing to simply rest her head on your shoulder.
  3703. "Just, tell me what's wrong. Why are you so upset?"
  3704. >Immediately, she pushes away and tries to wipe her face clean.
  3705. >"N-no, I'm fine. I'm not upset."
  3706. >She fakes a smile.
  3707. >And quickly, it falters, and she lies herself on the ground while she cries.
  3708. >"-I-I'm sorry."
  3709. "For what?"
  3710. >Breathing still ragged, she picks her head up a bit.
  3711. >"-W-well, LOOK at me! I'm a bodyguard! I'm supposed to be tough, a-and strong, b-but I'm just... just..."
  3712. >She lies her head on the ground again and covers her head with her hooves.
  3713. >"E-everypony was right about me. I-I'm no guard. I'm just a l-loser."
  3714. >She curls up on the ground, wracking with tears.
  3715. >You gently move her hooves from her face.
  3716. "Brave, you're not a loser, and you can't say you're not strong. I mean, you practically disintegrated the bathroom door."
  3717. >The fact that she doesn't crack a single smirk or anything tells you how seriously bad she's feeling.
  3718. >You mean, that was apparent already, but that just makes it worse.
  3719. >What DID this to her?
  3720.  
  3721. >Her brilliant green eyes peek through her hooves, resting on you.
  3722. >"You're too kind, Anon... I'm a wreck. I d-don't deserve to be here."
  3723. >Christ, you understand this lack of self worth waaay too much.
  3724. >It's like goddamn high school all over again.
  3725. >-But, you made yourself, and lived longer than Chad's entire bloodline, so guess who's laughing now?
  3726. >You put a hand on her head and gently brush her mane.
  3727. "You're more deserving to be here than any other pony, Brave. I mean hell, you even got the Princess' seal of approval! I think that's worth at least a LITTLE bit of recognition, don't you think?"
  3728. >Her eyes simply trail to the floor in thought while she lies, sniffling.
  3729. >Having been exactly in this spot, you know all she needs is a someone that she can trust to be here for her.
  3730. >Well, you say BEEN, but...
  3731. >-Leeet's just not dwell on that, now.
  3732. >You're no cute pony in need of counseling.
  3733. >-Well, screw counseling, what are you saying?
  3734. >That was all just a waste of your own money, really.
  3735. >And from that day forward, games and movies became your counselor.
  3736. >-But you digress.
  3737. >You move a lock of her mane away from her face, showing more of her eyes.
  3738. "Look, all I'll say is that I'm sure I know where you're coming from."
  3739. >Breathing a bit less erratic, she silently watches you.
  3740. "I've dealt with more than a few episodes where I felt like I didn't deserve anything. Like I was a burden to the very ground I walked on."
  3741. >You move and gently rub one of her folded ears.
  3742. "Now, me, I didn't really have anyone to talk to about it. I didn't feel it would help to dump my own problems on someone else..."
  3743. >You start to brush the lower part of her mane, combing it into working order.
  3744. "But you don't have to feel the same way, Brave. I'm here for you."
  3745. >Her mane is super soft.
  3746. "You can tell me whatever you want, or keep quiet about it all."
  3747. >At this point she's silent, breathing now back to normal.
  3748.  
  3749. >She's like a cat, watching you, waiting for your next move.
  3750. >Though obviously not all cautious and cat-like.
  3751. >-So, you guess not like a cat.
  3752. >You're just glad she's much calmer now.
  3753. >The fact that she's not crying tells you you're doing great so far, and that's, well, great.
  3754. "I know how hard it can be to trust someone else, to open yourself up, with that fear that they may betray you in the future."
  3755. >-Too well, you might add.
  3756. "But let me tell you right here, right now, that I wouldn't, and will never will- deliberately hurt you for any reason."
  3757. >Her ears perk up slightly.
  3758. "And if you get hurt by someone, I'll be there to pick you up... and promptly shit on whoever did it."
  3759. >A small smile graces her face at your words.
  3760. >Progress.
  3761. >You find yourself replicating her smile.
  3762. "All I ask in return from you are two very simple things, really."
  3763. >Her ears perk up more.
  3764. "One, is that you try to trust me, just as much as I trust you."
  3765. >You gently pick her head up with a hand.
  3766. "And two..."
  3767. >You pause for a better effect.
  3768. "Allow me to see that beautiful smile of yours more often."
  3769. >And just as you wanted, she quickly gives you a wide, gentle smile.
  3770. >OPFOR eliminated, friendly mission successful.
  3771. >To seal the deal, you motion with your hands and hug her.
  3772. >She returns it with full force, and maybe a bit extra.
  3773. >-A lot extra.
  3774. >While you enjoy her enthusiasm, you can't help but think of the bathroom door's fate.
  3775. >She could probably break your ribs right now, if she wanted to.
  3776. >But after a moment of vicious hugging, she finally lets go.
  3777. >She sits there, smile still gracing her face.
  3778. >It being super contagious, you feel one on your own face, too.
  3779. >Until hers slowly fades away.
  3780. >Quickly, it's replaced with a nervous expression.
  3781. >Did you not do a good enough job?
  3782. "Is everything okay?-"
  3783. >-You're cut off by the sudden feeling of lips pressed against yours.
  3784.  
  3785. >You completely freeze, and before you can react, Brave pulls back.
  3786. >So you sit there, heart now racing and your mind trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
  3787. >Compatibility settings aren't working, something needs to be updated.
  3788. >You stop staring off into space when you notice the expression on her face.
  3789. >Her ears fold back, tears threaten to run down her face again, and she shrinks onto the ground.
  3790. >"-I-I'm sorry, I-I don't know what came over m-me!"
  3791. >The first thing that kicks in is a signal from your heart, telling you that something adorable is being sad, and that's no good.
  3792. >And before Brave can shrink into the ground, you pick her up into a hug.
  3793. >She stays stiff for a moment, before melting in your embrace.
  3794. >She lays her head on your shoulder and sighs.
  3795. >While your heart continues to run faster than a goddamn ghost particle, your mind reboots and refreshes.
  3796. >Slowly, you feel yourself able to create sentences again, and you gently let Brave go.
  3797. >-Then, just looking at her, you somehow choke up again.
  3798. >You feel you can't say anything, so you instead choose to sit there, mouth moving like a fish out of water.
  3799. >-That's also being fried alive.
  3800. "I..."
  3801. >You take a deep breath and try to calm yourself.
  3802. >But for some reason, you're completely unable to when you look at her.
  3803. >So you suck in another deep breath and look at the ground.
  3804. "...Okay. So, I'm not sure how to feel about this."
  3805. >Her ears fold again, and you immediately hold your hands out.
  3806. "-Not in a bad way or anything. I just... I didn't know anyone here could see me this way."
  3807. >She scoots a bit closer to you, then wipes her face clean.
  3808. >"Why?"
  3809. >You suddenly find it weird now how she didn't call you 'sir'.
  3810. >You shrug and rub your neck.
  3811. "I just figured, I dunno, I was just someone every pony felt forced to be nice to, you know?"
  3812. >Because you certainly couldn't imagine anyone kissing ET in your head.
  3813. >But you were proven wrong again.
  3814.  
  3815. >Vannie showed that you could be treated and cared for just like anyone else here.
  3816. >And now Brave here, you guess she showed that you could be... loved.
  3817. >-But let's not jump to conclusions yet.
  3818. >But just thinking of the word seems so odd.
  3819. >Like it's got a whole new meaning, and it'll take a while for yourself to adjust to that.
  3820. >Some kind of shock while your mind reworks some things.
  3821. >-Yeah, kind of like an update.
  3822. >You're getting new features added in and shit.
  3823. >Brave nods.
  3824. >"I thought you felt that way about ME..."
  3825. >Her voice trails off, and she looks at the floor, softly smiling to herself.
  3826. >"But you never did..."
  3827. >She takes a deep breath.
  3828. >"I think I knew it for sure when you came to comfort me, yesterday."
  3829. >Her smile widens.
  3830. >"Even in the beginning, you treated me so differently from everypony else... I mean hay, you bought me ice cream my first day on the job."
  3831. >You snort as you remember that.
  3832. >How serious, cute, and seriously cute she was.
  3833. >"How nice you were with that pony selling the strawberries. At first, I thought you were just being a jerk, but the look on her face when you gave her all those bits..."
  3834. >She scoots now even closer.
  3835. >"You're so nice to everyone, but I see that under all of that... you're just like me. I just, I feel so happy knowing that, j-just being around you, seeing you..."
  3836. >She shakes her head and turns towards the ground again.
  3837. >"It all just sounds stupid though, doesn't it?"
  3838. >Instead of a proper verbal response, you pick her up, bring her onto your lap, and kiss her.
  3839. >Being as horribly inexperienced and still nervous as you are, there's no tongue or anything.
  3840. >Your heart races in response, and you hear Brave's doing the same.
  3841. >You gently brush her mane while you hold her in your arms.
  3842. >Still on your lap, she wraps her forelegs around your neck, and her hind legs around your waist.
  3843. >The feeling of her warmth, the beating of her heart.
  3844. >It's hands down the greatest feeling you've ever had here.
  3845.  
  3846. >You both stop after a short time, instead taking to a hug, which feels just as great.
  3847. >You honestly would have no complaints just sleeping here.
  3848. >Then you remember that you're both sitting behind a couch.
  3849. >And your clothes are still a bit damp.
  3850. >Because you also are in serious need of a shower.
  3851. >So, while you CAN stay here, you don't think it would be wise.
  3852. >Especially not when you have a perfectly fine bed pretty much built for this.
  3853. >A thought comes to your mind.
  3854. "...So were you aware of all those times you cuddled me in your sleep?"
  3855. >She pulls back a bit to see your face, then shakes her head.
  3856. >"Only once, but I didn't know what to feel then... Ponies say that if you cuddle somepony in your sleep once, it means that you secretly trust them more than you think you do when you're awake."
  3857. >She pauses, and gives you a small smile.
  3858. >"More than once, and it almost always means that, you know... they're your special... special.... s-somepony..."
  3859. >Though you can see the excitement in her look, it sounds like she's struggling with certain words just like you are.
  3860. >Because they seem to have a whole new meaning, now.
  3861. >She trails off with her sentence, and instead takes to looking into your eyes with this kind of dreamy expression on her face.
  3862. >A content sigh escapes her, before she rests her head on your shoulder.
  3863. >Your heart's still threatening to blow up from beating so fast.
  3864. >A small moment of silence passes.
  3865. >"...We're still behind a couch, aren't we?"
  3866. "Yeah."
  3867. >She pulls herself away to stand up, but you instead hold her close and stand yourself.
  3868. >Christ, this armor is still heavy.
  3869. >You grab her helmet with a free hand and hop over the couch, just as you see a familiar shade of grey step out of the bathroom.
  3870. >She flaps her wings a bit, then looks over at you.
  3871. >"Did you just come from behind the couch?"
  3872. "...Maybe?"
  3873. >She pauses for a second, then just blinks and hops onto the bed.
  3874.  
  3875. >She gives you both another weird look, then makes herself comfortable.
  3876. >"Well, the shower curtain's all fixed, and the door shards are all thrown away. I already cleaned up, so if you both want to go in, you can."
  3877. >You smile and nod, then walk on over to the bathroom.
  3878. "Thanks, Vannie."
  3879. >"Mhm."
  3880. >...
  3881.  
  3882. >Aaand, there he goes.
  3883. >With Brave.
  3884. >In his arms.
  3885. >That look on their faces was unmistakably puppy love.
  3886. >Guess Anon did a bit more than just cheer her up.
  3887. >Catching yourself staring at the bed, you roll over onto your back and sigh, just as you hear the shower start.
  3888. >Well, they finally both seem happy.
  3889. >You could see those sad hints in every look they'd made before.
  3890. >Now, you can't see a single one.
  3891. >That's good.
  3892. >As a Guard, you feel it's your duty to protect... and improve life, wherever it needs to be.
  3893. >You feel a weird shiver, and crawl into the covers.
  3894. >You've got a two for one bonus here, now that both Brave AND Anon are happy...
  3895. >So why don't YOU feel happy?
  3896. >Pushing the thought from your mind, you get yourself situated and comfy.
  3897. >You're still pretty sleepy from being woken up this morning.
  3898. >Good a time to sleep as any.
  3899. >
  3900. >"Hey, Vannie-"
  3901. >You jolt up from the bed.
  3902. >Anon and Brave are standing there by the bed, those smiles still on their faces.
  3903. >"It's about lunchtime, did you want to come with us?"
  3904. >You dumbly nod, having no idea what was really said to you.
  3905. >Sitting up, you lazily blink while your body slowly wakes itself up.
  3906. >Anon's words make its way into your head, and you slump out of bed and into your armor nearby.
  3907. >You don't bother to make your mane look pretty, or keep it out of the way of your face or anything.
  3908. >Too tired.
  3909. >And so, you start to follow them in your state, out of the door and down the hallway.
  3910. >Should've said no, instead.
  3911. >You don't even feel that hungry, really.
  3912.  
  3913. >At the time your mind completely settles on going back, Anon opens the door to the dining area- or whatever it is, and walks in.
  3914. >Well, you're already here.
  3915. >May as well eat, especially since it's free.
  3916. >It's another buffet type thing, just with different kinds of food on the table.
  3917. >But obviously this is much better than any buffet you've ever gone to.
  3918. >Your eyes are weirdly pulled to the side, and you notice a group of stallions staring at you.
  3919. >These aren't the same ones from the morning, but the looks on their faces say it all.
  3920. >Cuddlesluts, all of them.
  3921. >You move a bit closer to Anon and Brave, but you don't feel any safer.
  3922. >If anything, it just gives them less to see.
  3923. >Even in your armor, you feel completely exposed.
  3924. >You'll never understand why so many stallions see you like this.
  3925. >Like, some kind of plushie or pillow or something.
  3926. >An object to cuddle, then just leave alone until the next time.
  3927. >You know it's partly because of you, well, not being a regular pony.
  3928. >Too many stallions love "exotic" mares, from what you've heard and seen yourself.
  3929. >And obviously, you knew a lot of ponies who were cuddlesluts in the guard.
  3930. >They'd just get into bed with everypony that asked.
  3931. >And because of those bad apples, you're sure others think that all bat ponies are just really lewd, or will cuddle everypony and anypony.
  3932. >Hay, the first and only one you cuddled was Anon, so of course that's not you.
  3933. >Your eyes instinctively pick up towards him, before trailing back to the ground.
  3934. >Just try not to acknowledge the stallions.
  3935. >...You really should have said no.
  3936. >You sit down with Anon and Brave at the table.
  3937. >Anon waves at the Princesses nearby, and you snap at attention.
  3938. >You didn't even see them.
  3939. >They merely give you a small smile, which you return.
  3940. >Though you're sure it looked incredibly forced.
  3941.  
  3942. >"Hey, Vannie."
  3943. >Your ears perk up, and you turn around to face Anon.
  3944. >Didn't even feel your ears fold.
  3945. "Hmm?"
  3946. >"Are you alright? You look kinda... not happy."
  3947. >Well geez, thanks Anon.
  3948. "I'm fine, just tired."
  3949. >You felt like making a snarky comment, but you keep it to yourself.
  3950. >The less talking you do, the less harsh waking up feels.
  3951. >When you find yourself yawning, that's when Anon finally takes his eyes off of you and gets out of his seat.
  3952. >You don't really understand the point of sitting, just to get back up again.
  3953. >For a second you just consider staying back and telling them what you want, but you can't even see the stupid buffet table.
  3954. >Plus, you feel nervous being around both the Princesses on your own.
  3955. >So you hop out and walk with them both, yawning the way there.
  3956. >-Whoa, that fruit salad looks kickin'!
  3957. >Grabbing a plate as quick as you can, you throw all the fruit you can onto it.
  3958. >Then you stare at it for a moment.
  3959. >...You really have a lot of fruit bat in you.
  3960. >While Anon and Brave grab those sandwiches or whatever, you pick up a box of apple juice in your mouth and head on back over to the table.
  3961. >And it's not until you sit down that you notice you're alone.
  3962. >With the Princesses.
  3963. >Exactly what you didn't want.
  3964. >They both are looking at you now.
  3965. >But that's only because you're looking at them.
  3966. >-STOP LOOKING AT THEM.
  3967. >-But if you stop, that might seem rude!
  3968. >Say something!
  3969. "-I-I like fruit."
  3970. >Princess Celestia looks over your plate, then smiles.
  3971. >"That you do."
  3972.  
  3973. >Luna takes a closer look at you.
  3974. >"Just woken up, have you?"
  3975. >You shakily nod.
  3976. >She does the same, though slower.
  3977. >"I feel your pain."
  3978. >You both share a small smile, and you remember why you like her so much.
  3979. >Princess Luna has always seemed more of a best friend than a ruler.
  3980. >But you guess it's probably because her guard is much smaller.
  3981. >You're sure Princess Celestia doesn't know the names of everypony in HER guard.
  3982. >Your thoughts are interrupted when Anon and Brave show up and sit down next to you.
  3983. >"Damn, you sure like fruit, huh?"
  3984. >You sheepishly nod, and start digging into your plate.
  3985. >Apples, bananas, blueberries...
  3986. >The way the table was set up, you're sure it was meant for ponies to make their own fruit combos.
  3987. >But you don't necessarily have a favorite fruit, so you kind of just put everything onto your plate.
  3988. >And thankfully, fruit is one thing that nopony can ever mess up.
  3989. >-Unless you're trying to make a smoothie or something, and you use some old fruit.
  3990. >Then you really messed up.
  3991. >But other than that, you can never go wrong with it.
  3992. >Taking a few blueberries into your mouth, the little pop and the burst of flavor is what you love about them.
  3993. >Ooh, then the apples.
  3994. >That crisp sound it makes when you bite into one that's super fresh and just right...
  3995. >And you won't even get started on bananas-
  3996. >-Oh Luna, you're drooling.
  3997. >You quickly wipe your face clean with a hoof.
  3998. >-Or, you tried to, rather.
  3999. >Instead you managed to punch yourself in the face.
  4000.  
  4001. >You don't know whether to blame the armor for making your hoof harder, the lack of sleep for making you less coordinated, or the speed at which you tried to wipe your face clean.
  4002. >But that really hurt.
  4003. >You feel your head spinning while you hold it with your other hoof.
  4004. >"Holy shit, are you alright?"
  4005. >You feel a hand on your cheek, which gently rubs the spot you got hit on.
  4006. >All you can do is silently sit there, waiting to recuperate.
  4007. >That REALLY hurt...
  4008. >You take a breath, which comes out shuddery.
  4009. >Before you know it, your eyes are being threatened with a few tears.
  4010. >You don't exactly know why, though.
  4011. >You're too tired to figure it out.
  4012. >Hurting too much to.
  4013. >But regardless, you suck them back in and hold your head in its place.
  4014. >The last thing you'd want is the Princesses to see you crying.
  4015. >And with how happy Anon is now, you wouldn't want to ruin that, either.
  4016. >A moment passes, and you gently push his hand away when you regain control of yourself.
  4017. "I-I'm fine."
  4018. >"...Are you sure? You kind of just punched yourself in the face."
  4019. >You quickly nod.
  4020. "Just tired."
  4021. >Though that definitely woke you up.
  4022. >Before he can say anymore, you resume picking fruit from your plate, though slower.
  4023. >The stinging in your face is really hard to ignore.
  4024. >You throw another blueberry in your mouth, but find it harder to focus on it.
  4025. >Like it just immediately lost its luster.
  4026. >While you stare at your plate in silence, the sound of hooves nearby interrupts it.
  4027. >You look up, and a stallion is watching you from the other side of the table with this sly smile on his face.
  4028. >"Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here's my address, so come by maybe?"
  4029. >He places a piece of paper in front of your face.
  4030.  
  4031. >All you can do is stare at the paper.
  4032. >You knew it.
  4033. >You were right.
  4034. >You're not a pony.
  4035. >You're just... a thing.
  4036. >Nopony cares about you, they just want to cuddle you.
  4037. >All of them.
  4038. >You mean, you can't blame them for not seeing you as a regular pony.
  4039. >You're just... just a disgusting bat...
  4040. >You get up from your seat and glance at Anon and Brave.
  4041. "I'm too tired for this- I'm going back to sleep. You guys enjoy your lunch."
  4042. >And you walk away without another word.
  4043. >As you walk past those stallions, you get more looks.
  4044. >The only thing keeping you going is the promise of a comfy bed just a little bit away.
  4045. >That, and the simple fact that you won't see them again for a long time.
  4046. >You pick up the pace into a brisk trot and leave the dining room.
  4047. >While you walk back to Anon's chambers, you stop yourself from thinking.
  4048. >You keep your mind blank for the duration, knowing that once you're alone, you can think or do whatever you want.
  4049. >The thought makes you a bit more anxious to go back.
  4050. >When you see that nopony's in the halls, you gallop towards the room and hop in.
  4051. >Coming back here was probably a bad choice.
  4052. >With that threat to Anon, you should be back there, doing your job.
  4053. >You pull the room's curtains closed.
  4054. >But you being there wouldn't do much, anyways.
  4055. >It's not like you're very good at guarding anything but yourself.
  4056. >You slip back under the covers, near the very edge of the bed.
  4057. >And now, you don't even feel you deserve one.
  4058. >A bed this fancy is for important ponies.
  4059. >But you, you're just...
  4060. >You shut your eyes in vain, trying fruitlessly to stop that thought.
  4061. >Though, a simple thought is better than being with anypony else.
  4062. >Not to mention, you wouldn't be as comfy with somepony else.
  4063. >Hay, you don't need anypony else.
  4064. >Unless they can be as soft as this bed, you're perfect right here.
  4065.  
  4066. >...
  4067. >Okay.
  4068. >You would have to be retarded to not know something's up here.
  4069. >Tearing up the piece of paper, you toss the pieces at the stallion across the table.
  4070. "Hey dude, do me a favor and FUCK OFF, yeah?!"
  4071. >"-Anonymous!"
  4072. >-Oh shit, you forgot the Princesses were here.
  4073. >Though Luna's just snickering under that hoof.
  4074. "Hey, he started it! He's being a cuddleslut!"
  4075. >Everyone within a twenty foot radius gasps.
  4076. >Then they all stare at the stallion.
  4077. >His eyes dart back and forth a bit, then he runs away.
  4078. >-Wow, that word really does carry a lot of weight here.
  4079. >-But you digress.
  4080. >Wanting to leave because of all the unwanted attention is understandable, but the few answers Vannie gave you points to more than that.
  4081. >Saying 'you're tired', and 'you're fine' to everything are big goddamn red flags.
  4082. >And she did that to you, twice.
  4083. >Not to mention you noticed her staring at her plate for a while.
  4084. >You haven't talked to Brave this entire time because you've only been keeping an eye on Vannie.
  4085. >-Well, you complained about all the horse food over at the table, but that's different.
  4086. >You can't read faces like she does, but you're not stupid.
  4087. >At least completely.
  4088. >"Anonymous, where did Ms. Van Guard go?"
  4089. >You stand up from your chair.
  4090. "Same place I'm going."
  4091. >You flash Brave an apologetic smile.
  4092. "I gotta see what's going on here. I'll be back."
  4093. >She gives you a small nod, and you head out.
  4094. >Immediately, you hear Celestia start up a conversation with her.
  4095. >You pick up the speed a bit and end up looking like an old lady doing her group workout walks.
  4096. >At least, you're sure you do.
  4097. >Having legs as long as yours, the next thing you know, you're already in front of the room.
  4098. >You slow down and gently open it up.
  4099. >Immediately, you notice how dark it is now.
  4100. >The curtains were pulled.
  4101. >Over on the edge of the bed, you see Vannie lying there with the covers over her head.
  4102. >And she still has her armor on.
  4103. >Man, that shit must be so uncomfortable.
  4104. "Vannie?"
  4105. >There's no response.
  4106. >You creep over and look at her.
  4107. >She's already sleeping.
  4108.  
  4109. >Completely out like a light.
  4110. >And, well, you don't think waking her up to ask what's wrong is really the best course of action.
  4111. >And what if she wakes up when you leave or something?
  4112. >You quickly weigh your options, but soon you figure that just waiting here might be the best course of action.
  4113. >Though you should probably tell Brave.
  4114. >...But while you're there, you may as well just finish eating- you were almost done, as it is.
  4115. >Eating little and fast has pretty much been your thing, only to choke down flowers that ponies said were good for you.
  4116. >You look over at her sleeping form again.
  4117. >...Well, as long as she's asleep, it should be fine, right?
  4118. >While you won't enjoy it, you also don't think leaving Brave like that over there, especially after saying you'll be back, is the best thing to do.
  4119. >Especially because she just finished opening her heart to you a few hours ago.
  4120. >So, with a sigh and a quick glance back at Vannie, you walk over to the door and leave towards the dining room.
  4121. >You'll be back soon, for sure.
  4122. >...
  4123. >The second you hear the door close, you gasp, letting air into your lungs after holding your breath for so long.
  4124. >After a few more moments, you feel yourself tearing up again, and your cheeks quickly dampen.
  4125. >You wouldn't want Anon to see you like this.
  4126. >Hay, you don't want yourself to see you like this.
  4127. >But you just can't stop feeling bad...
  4128. >You seemed to be just fine a few hours ago, but now...
  4129. >Like some big bubble of sadness just burst.
  4130. >While you lie on the bed, you feel a wave of what you can only think as more sadness wash over you.
  4131. >It causes you to shiver.
  4132. >You can hear all of these thoughts- your own thoughts, jumping around.
  4133. >Insulting you, telling you how horrible of a pony you are.
  4134. >Telling you you're nothing.
  4135. >That you don't deserve happiness.
  4136. >But why?
  4137. >What's happening?
  4138. >You shiver again.
  4139. >And though you don't want to think about it, the more and more you listen to those thoughts...
  4140. >The more you think they're true.
  4141.  
  4142. >For the first time in a long while, you find yourself needing to hold something.
  4143. >You sit up and look around, beginning to feel anxious.
  4144. >You eventually settle on grabbing the pillow from under your head and holding it close to you.
  4145. >Though it helps, you still wish it could hold you back.
  4146. >But regardless of how you feel, you're not going to reduce yourself to becoming a cuddleslut.
  4147. >Wrapping your hooves as tightly as you can around the pillow, you shut your eyes.
  4148. >You focus on slowing your breathing.
  4149. >What went wrong...
  4150. >
  4151. >"-Hey... Vannie?"
  4152. >Waking up from your weird turtle dream, you notice Anon and Brave looking at you from the end of the bed.
  4153. "Hmm?"
  4154. >"It's uh, well, dinner time now. Did you want to come with?"
  4155. >You instinctively shake your head.
  4156. >-Did you really sleep the whole day away?
  4157. >Anon just looks at you, clearly thinking with this pensive expression on his face.
  4158. >He finally nods at Brave, who them gives him a peck on his cheek, before leaving the room.
  4159. >You fruitlessly shut your eyes again, trying to go back to your dream turtles.
  4160. >But before you can do so, a hand places itself on your side.
  4161. >"Alright, Vannie, I won't dance around this anymore. Peop- ponies, don't regularly sleep the day away for no reason, you know. I see that something's bothering you, and I'd like to know how to help."
  4162. >You pull the covers further over yourself.
  4163. >You feel like a foal doing it, but you really just want to go back to sleep...
  4164. "I'm fine, Anon."
  4165. >"Really?"
  4166. "-Yes."
  4167. >He pauses.
  4168. "Then look at me and say it."
  4169. >You rub your eyes with a hoof and take a breath.
  4170. >Whatever you need to go back to sleep.
  4171. >You do as you're told and look at him in the eyes.
  4172. >...His eyes, so filled with worry.
  4173. >So caring, like the first time he was there for you.
  4174. "I..."
  4175. >So compassionate...
  4176. >So...
  4177. >You turn away from him and cover yourself even further when you feel the first tears coming back.
  4178.  
  4179. >You can't let him see you like this.
  4180. >You won't cry like a foal again.
  4181. "I-I'm fine Anon, r-eally."
  4182. >Moving your hooves to your face, you quickly wipe your face clean with the sheets.
  4183. >They're gently pulled away, and you try your best to take them back.
  4184. >But Anon has the advantage with those hands of his.
  4185. >It slides away from your hooves, and you're left feeling completely vulnerable, the pillow you were crushing now clearly visible.
  4186. >You wrap around it even tighter and shut your eyes again, hoping it could somehow take you away.
  4187. >Take you somewhere nice and safe.
  4188. >Somewhere you can cry like a foal if you want to.
  4189. >"Vannie, you know it really sucks to see you like this, right? I can't be happy knowing you're suffering in here. Just tell me how I can help."
  4190. "Y-you can let me sleep."
  4191. >"…You know, for how different you and Brave are, you're both really stubborn."
  4192. >Anon pauses.
  4193. >"Brave also…"
  4194. >There's another pause.
  4195. >"You have something against her, don't you?"
  4196. >You take a second to understand what he's asking you.
  4197. "W-what?"
  4198. >"Your ears flicked every time I said her name. What's going on?"
  4199. >You catch yourself staring at the bed in thought.
  4200. >Something against Brave?
  4201. >No, you don't…
  4202. >...Do you?
  4203. >What would you?
  4204. >Your eyes trail over to Anon in thought.
  4205. >And for some reason, you can't pull away.
  4206. >It can't possibly be because-
  4207. >-No, that's silly talk.
  4208. >Y-you don't need anypony.
  4209. >You do just fine on your own.
  4210. >Now your gaze shifts to the pillow being crushed under your hooves.
  4211. >Just fine.
  4212. "I... I don't know what's going on."
  4213.  
  4214. >At least, not completely.
  4215. >But you know you don't need anypony.
  4216. >You've gone this far in the Guard, all by yourself, and yourself alone.
  4217. >Anon simply stands there, lost in thought.
  4218. >"...Okay, how about we talk over dinner? I know a few places nearby that we can go to."
  4219. >-Places?
  4220. >As in, not in this castle?
  4221. >"If you don't want to tell me anything, I won't hold it against you, but I at least want to make sure you eat something."
  4222. >You glance at the floor, and your mouth moves before the gears in your head can.
  4223. "A-alright..."
  4224. >...
  4225. >Okay, so you may just be insanely retarded, or more oblivious to simple things than you thought.
  4226. >But you still have no idea what's going on with Vannie right now.
  4227. >Not to mention that she looks conflicted as all hell at the moment.
  4228. >Thankfully you thought ahead with this one, though.
  4229. >Brave already knows that dinner was on the list of plans, and is okay with it.
  4230. >But honestly, you jumped to the idea quicker because you're pretty damn hungry now, and you don't think well when you are.
  4231. >And not only that, but the places you're wanting to go to are close to the castle, so you won't spend most of your time worrying about getting killed or kidnapped by Griffons or some shit.
  4232. >-Which you surprisingly haven't heard anymore about from the Princesses.
  4233. >Or anyone, really.
  4234. >You figured you'd at least get a threatening letter in the mail, if anything.
  4235. >Some kind of spooky scary note telling you that they're on your ass or something.
  4236. >...In fact, more you think about it, you're probably not even being hunted.
  4237. >-Or, you know, maybe they barely found out that you're no longer staying in your Ponyville home.
  4238. >...Okay, you've successfully scared yourself again.
  4239. >But you won't let that ruin anything.
  4240.  
  4241. >Shaking those thoughts away from your head, you move on over to her side of the bed and gently pick her up as she lay, fireman style.
  4242. >-Her armor's lighter, but not by much.
  4243. >Guess you can still fly in it, but a Pegasus that doesn't lift would most likely get crushed with this weight.
  4244. >-Which firmly reminds you that even with those fluffy ears, Vannie's horse strength could probably destroy your face.
  4245. >So, with her in your arms and a small scrunch on her face, you promptly leave the room, set on at least making one smile tonight.
  4246. >Though, while you walk down the hall, she still seems conflicted.
  4247. >About what though, you're not sure.
  4248. >As far as you can tell, she and Brave aren't sworn, vicious enemies.
  4249. >Sure, they didn't see eye to eye the first night they met, but something obviously happened quickly after that to change things.
  4250. >Maybe it has to do with that drunken night you three had?
  4251. >-If you could remember any of it, you'd probably say so.
  4252. >But something happened that eased the tension, and now it's like it's just, back again.
  4253. >Though, you think if Brave had something against Vannie, you'd of seen it a while ago.
  4254. >And hell, even Vannie here hasn't shown any signs aside from the ear flicking that she did.
  4255. >-Which is such a small thing, you you're not even sure it supports what you're thinking.
  4256. >She could just be annoyed at those guards for always hitting on her or something, which is why she decided to come here with you instead of to the dining hall.
  4257. >-Christ, just, too many ideas here, too many possibilities.
  4258. >But, you hope that gets wrapped up tonight.
  4259. >Because seeing ponies sad really makes you sad.
  4260. >-Well, mares at least.
  4261. >The only guy you think is cool is the one who has yet to be named.
  4262. >Because you don't know his name.
  4263. >But you digress.
  4264.  
  4265. >Continuing your walk out of the castle, it's not long until your arms start to get hella sore from carrying Vannie like this.
  4266. >-It's this damn armor, man.
  4267. >Tiny pones shouldn't be this strong.
  4268. >But, she seems to very much enjoy it, so you push on.
  4269. >Though you still haven't gotten a smile out of her, yet.
  4270. >She's just not complaining, is why you figure she's enjoying it.
  4271. >Because, well, every pony in this place likes to be carried, for some reason.
  4272. >But whether they like that or hugs more, has yet to be discovered.
  4273. >So, ignoring the burning and everything, you eventually make it out of the castle, but not without getting more than a few looks from the guards on duty.
  4274. >Most of them jealous.
  4275. >Can't satisfy a pone if you're no six foot tall monster like yourself.
  4276. >It's got its perks.
  4277. >The second you step outside the gates though, you get spooked.
  4278. >One thing you forgot about Canterlot was the lack of streetlamps around this place.
  4279. >And the fact that it always gets darker than it's supposed to.
  4280. >It's like, five in the afternoon right now.
  4281. >But it looks like it's three in the morning.
  4282. >That's what you get when horses control the Sun and moon, instead of any natural forces.
  4283. >Which is why you haven't celebrated your birthday in so long.
  4284. >There's a different amount of days every year.
  4285. >And whether it's because some days are too short, and they're trying to make up for it with an extra day, or because a day was so long that they're taking one away.
  4286. >But somehow, ponies still celebrate birthdays normally.
  4287. >You don't even know where in god's name yours shifted to on the calendar, but who cares anyways?
  4288. >As sad as it is, not like you had anyone to care about coming to celebrate it with you before.
  4289. >-Before.
  4290. >But now, you're glad you have a supa strong earth pony and a qt batpony that lifts, both willing to share the day with you.
  4291. >-Well, not really, as it is their jobs to stick with you.
  4292. >...Man, that's kinda sad.
  4293. >Like your parole officer being the only guest at your party.
  4294. >And now, you were carrying the latter to...
  4295. >-What's this?
  4296.  
  4297. >In front of your face, is this place you've never seen before.
  4298. >It's obviously new, and it's even CLOSER-er to the castle.
  4299. "Hey Vannie, you even been here before?"
  4300. >She snaps out of whatever trance she's in and scans the place before her.
  4301. >She calmly shakes her head.
  4302. >Whelp, you're trying it, then.
  4303. >You walk on over, pushing the doors open with your back, and immediately sigh.
  4304. >...This is literally the pony Dave & Buster's.
  4305. >The mare up front hears the bell ringing and starts grabbing things while she speaks.
  4306. >"Hi, welcome to Hay & Oat's-sss..."
  4307. >She's now just staring at you.
  4308. >Then a few seconds later, she straightens out that little tie on herself and puts that smile back on her face.
  4309. >"Forgive me! Just, never seen a, uh, uuuh..."
  4310. >She scans you viciously, obviously trying to figure out what to call you.
  4311. "-Human-"
  4312. >"-Yes, a uh, hugh-man, like you before... or ever."
  4313. >There's some more silence.
  4314. >"-ANYWAYS, for two?"
  4315. >You nod, and also notice that Vannie's trying to shrink in your arms.
  4316. >Then of course, you realize it's because of all those stallions at the bar now looking your way.
  4317. >You don't think it matters whether they're looking at you or her, but she clearly doesn't want any of it.
  4318. >So while you're following the waitress pone over to a spot, you make sure to seem like the big buff alpha that none of them would want to mess with.
  4319. >And surprisingly, they recoil a bit.
  4320. >They probably just see you as some sort of minotaur -because goddamn do you get that a lot- and word is that they're really damn strong, regardless of what they look like.
  4321. >Or maybe it's because of how tall you are, you dunno.
  4322. >But you're just glad they see whatever it is they do, instead of you yourself.
  4323. >"Aaand here we are! Is this fine, or would you like a seat change? I just figured I'd give a little room for you and your 'friend' there."
  4324. "-This is fine, thank you."
  4325. >She nods, throws down some menus, and heads out.
  4326.  
  4327. >Once she leaves, you move over to the half-booth part and gently lay Vannie down.
  4328. "-M'lady."
  4329. >Christ, you just felt yourself just lose some manly points.
  4330. >A lot of them.
  4331. >But it does get a small smile out of her, which is definitely worth it.
  4332. >There shall be no sad bat ponies when you are around.
  4333. >You sit down in your chair, glancing at the menu, seeing that it's the good old Hay-Cola stuff.
  4334. >Pretty much just pone Coca Cola, and thankfully with no real hay in it, despite the name.
  4335. >Vannie adjusts herself in her seat a little, still a bit slumped over.
  4336. >Man, it kills you seeing her like this.
  4337. >She puts a hoof on the table and just stares at you for a while, as if asking permission to go ahead and look at the menu herself.
  4338. >You offer her your own small smile, which she sees as the okay, and looks down at it.
  4339. "...You know, this place is exactly like another restaurant back home."
  4340. >Her ears perk up, and she glances at you after a few moments.
  4341. "Like, exactly the same. Same menu, tables, logo- just everything. It's kind of weird."
  4342. >You dwell on the thought, and something quickly slips from your mouth.
  4343. "-I miss home."
  4344. >You clamp your lips together.
  4345. >You really don't know where that came from, but you want to focus on Vannie here, not think about things and get yourself all depressed.
  4346. >Two sad people trying to cheer each other up, is like trying to start a fire with a bucket of water.
  4347. >But instead of ignoring it, she of course notices the underlying tone and immediately jumps at it.
  4348. >Putting others before herself, something you can definitely relate to.
  4349. >She gives you a sad smile.
  4350. >"Do you want to talk about it?"
  4351. >-It also pulls the attention away from her own problems, probably so that way you'd forget about them and only talk about yourself.
  4352. >You pause and give her a deadpan look.
  4353. "If anyone's talking tonight, it's gonna be you. I ain't saying anything."
  4354. >She scrunches slightly and crosses her hooves, turning back to the menu.
  4355.  
  4356. >You can tell she's not actually reading anything, but just moving her eyes across the menu.
  4357. >When you glance back at it, you forget that this is just like the restaurant back home.
  4358. >And that restaurant has cocktails and such.
  4359. >...Well, not like you're going to be doing anything tomorrow, anyways.
  4360. >You notice Vannie looking up at you, before her gaze trails over to the same bunch of drinks.
  4361. >You wonder if a bit of booze would loosen her up enough to talk...
  4362. >Plus, while you're sad, there's three things on your mind, being sleep, food, or alcohol.
  4363. >Or you know, all three.
  4364. >Preferably at the same time.
  4365. >While you dwell on the thought, the waitress mare from the front comes back.
  4366. >"Okee, you two ready?"
  4367. >Vannie takes another look at the menu, before silently asking you the same.
  4368. >You give the pone a nod.
  4369. >"Okay! So then, tell me what you want!"
  4370. "-What I really really want?"
  4371. >You wear a stupid grin on your face while an old song plays in your head.
  4372. >But she merely nods.
  4373. >Another thing only you'll get.
  4374. >Tragic.
  4375. >You simply clear your throat and turn back to the menu.
  4376. >"Could I get the, uh... Cinnimango Sangria?"
  4377. >Waitress nods and looks over at you, pen in her mouth and writing.
  4378. >"Mmphfuoo?"
  4379. "Spiked Root Beer for me, please."
  4380. >"Mmmhmm!"
  4381. >She puts the pen back and gives you both another smile.
  4382. >"Well, I'll get those right out! Is there anything else you'd like, in the meantime?"
  4383. >You and Vannie share another look.
  4384. "...Nope, think we're good."
  4385. >"-Okie dokie, I'll be back in a few!"
  4386. >And she walks off.
  4387. >Man, you hope they have burgers here.
  4388. >Even some vegetarian shit that tastes like one.
  4389. >There's no goddamn way you're getting a salad here.
  4390.  
  4391. >With food on your mind, you quickly turn to the part with, well, all the food.
  4392. >Time to start browsing.
  4393. "So... why don't you tell me about yourself?"
  4394. >You see Vannie's ears perk up in your peripheral vision.
  4395. >She just looks at you.
  4396. >You glance at her from the menu.
  4397. "I mean, everything I know about you, is just what I've put together in the time we've had. I got to know Brave while you were asleep today, and I'd like to know you, too."
  4398. >In fact, that's pretty much all you did.
  4399. >Got some chairs set up on the balcony nearby your room, and kind of just, you know, talked.
  4400. >>
  4401.  
  4402. >You sit down on the plastic- though still fancy- chair you were given, and promptly rest your legs on the balcony.
  4403. >You hear Brave getting situated while you rest your hands behind your head, staring at the spot you remembered Mars being.
  4404. "...I'm sorry I wrapped you into this. Both of you."
  4405. >Unable to pull your eyes from the sky, you can just feel her gaze set on you.
  4406. >"Sorry? For allowing me to stay in the Canterlot Castle? I don't think that's how it works, Anon."
  4407. >You nod.
  4408. "Still. I mean, you took an ARROW for me, and I-"
  4409. >"-And I'd take plenty more. It's also part of my job to protect you, you know."
  4410. >You sigh, now looking down at Canterlot below, admiring the view.
  4411. "Yeah... But I meant more of everything."
  4412. >She watches you curiously.
  4413. "I've just, I don't know... I don't feel I'm worth all of this. Living in a castle, having my own personal guards- it's just ridiculous."
  4414. >You sigh.
  4415. "Like, back home, I wasn't even your average joe- I was below that line. I didn't have the things normal people did, but I was fine with it all. I had a home, I had my room, food, and that's pretty much all I ever needed."
  4416. >You stay silent for a moment.
  4417. "I guess I just don't feel I'm important enough for the possible danger you two have been put in. I never felt I belonged here, and I know I don't belong where I am now. "
  4418. >You keep your eyes fixed on the sky.
  4419. "...Even though I've been home, all this time."
  4420.  
  4421. >You feel a hoof rest on your shoulder.
  4422. >"Anon, you're plenty important, don't say that."
  4423. >Looking at the whole view from the castle, you let out a small snort.
  4424. "Not for all of this."
  4425. >You turn and give her a small, reassuring smile, as well as a pat on her hoof.
  4426. "When I first showed up here and got acquainted, I wasn't looking for some crazy life like this. I thought I was just going to find a home, live there for the rest of my days, and die."
  4427. >Brave keeps her hoof on your shoulder.
  4428. "But, instead, I've supposedly got an entire nation out for me, and I'm back living in the giant castle that I had just finished getting out of."
  4429. >A sigh escapes you.
  4430. "AND now there's a bit of things and hints that tells me I may be here for a certain reason."
  4431. >You turn to her.
  4432. "I mean, nobody's brought into another world for no reason of course, but I just didn't think it was one that would concern me so much, if that makes sense."
  4433. >Adjusting yourself in your seat, you lean back a bit more.
  4434. "In my mind, I was just here by chance. Figured, I don't know, I got abducted or something. I've thought of a lot of different things... Everything, except for goddamn time travel."
  4435. >Brave's ears perk up.
  4436. >"-Time travel?"
  4437. >You nod.
  4438. "There's very, VERY strong evidence that this is in fact, my planet, and somehow, every single one of the seven billion people in my species just either died, or left somewhere."
  4439. >And you still hold hope that it's the latter.
  4440. >Brave just sits there, wide-eyed.
  4441. "-Yeah, imagine how I felt when I realized that. It's what the Princesses brought me over here to talk to me about."
  4442. >You throw your hand out.
  4443. "And NOW, supposedly the goddamn Griffons found some shit over in the Badlands, and somehow see me as a false god, and want to kill me. I dunno, maybe they just found a goddamn picture of someone and thought, "wow this looks a lot like that guy in Equestria" or some shit- I really don't know, but it just adds onto the huge pile of shit I didn't need."
  4444.  
  4445. >You can hear yourself getting louder.
  4446. "I mean hell, just last night I was crying my goddamn eyes out right here on this balcony. Tears everywhere, shaking like a leaf while Vannie was there to calm me down."
  4447. >Looking down at yourself, you notice that you're no longer in your chair, standing up by the balcony's edge.
  4448. >You turn around and lean on it.
  4449. >Then you rub your face with your hands, which does nothing to calm you down.
  4450. "I just kept asking myself, 'why me, why me,' to which I've got jack shit. I could be here because I'm 'the chosen one', or because I'm some kind of character in a shitty fucking story- I just don't know! I ask myself all these things, try to make sense, but the bottom line is just that I don't fucking know, and I guess I never fucking will!"
  4451. >A silence looms over the both of you, which is when you notice how heavy your breathing is.
  4452. >And how shocked Brave looks right now.
  4453. >The twentieth sigh today leaves you, and you walk back over to your seat.
  4454. "Ah, I'm sorry Brave. I'm just frustrated, is all. There's too much stuff that remains a mystery, and it annoys the hell out of me that I don't even know where to find answers."
  4455. >She calms down slightly, but not completely.
  4456. >You reach a hand over and lightly scratch her ears.
  4457. "I'm just glad I got a few good things out of this."
  4458. >Moving yourself over, you pick her up and rest her beside you, hind legs sitting on one of yours, and an arm under her forehooves.
  4459. >You use your free right hand to continue scratching.
  4460. >It calms you pretty quickly.
  4461. >And for a moment, the only sound in the air, is the air itself.
  4462. "...So, how did you end up in the Royal Guard, anyways? I don't think I ever saw you in the barracks when I was staying here in the castle."
  4463. >She shifts a bit and rests her head under your chin.
  4464. >"My father was a Royal Guard when I was younger. It was a family thing for us- every stallion in the family wearing the armor the second they were able."
  4465. >She pauses for a moment.
  4466.  
  4467. >"But my brother never wanted to be a Guard. He wanted to be a big time actor, living in Manehattan."
  4468. >-God, the horse puns.
  4469. >"And in order to avoid disappointing my father, he acted like he was Guard material every day, up until the moment he got his Cutie Mark, and couldn't hide it anymore."
  4470. >She's silent for a moment.
  4471. >"From there on, though my father was angry, he managed to support him into pursuing his dreams."
  4472. >You move to gently rubbing her ear.
  4473. >"But because of that, he never really gave us much attention... He always told me that being a guard wasn't a mare's job, and since my brother didn't want to be a guard, he kind of just... stopped being a parent. Like raising a colt into the Guard was all he was meant to do."
  4474. >Her silence worries you a bit.
  4475. >"So, first chance I got, I joined up. Hoped to prove to him that I could do any job, just as well as any other stallion could."
  4476. >She pauses, then takes a shuddery breath.
  4477. >"And maybe- just maybe... turn him into the caring, kind father I always w-wanted."
  4478. >You feel her shiver a bit, and take her helmet off.
  4479. >After gently placing it on the ground, you bring her into your coat, kiss the top of her head, and brush her mane.
  4480. >She lets out a small whimper, and shrinks while a few sobs escape her.
  4481. >You try to soothe her, whispering sweet nothings into her ear.
  4482. >And after a while, you take to hugging her and gently rocking the chair.
  4483. >Based on where the sun is now, you'd say it's almost about lunchtime.
  4484. >Not that you plan on going anywhere anytime soon.
  4485.  
  4486. >>
  4487. >And even now, a nice, peaceful rest of your life sounds pretty great.
  4488. >You don't think the feelings of 'why me' will really ever disappear, but you could always ignore them inside of a cozy cabin in Ponyville.
  4489. >You're really not built for this, 'last human ever' stuff.
  4490. >It's not so much a lack of self-worth or anything, but this is more kinds of adventure that you'd rather not do.
  4491. >It's less of, 'oh god I'm nothing,' and more of, 'h-hey, look, that guy is super muscular and smart! take him!'
  4492. >Take, you know, someone who would actually enjoy all this danger and shit.
  4493. >You just need that cabin, a meat substitute, and lots of booze.
  4494. >Then you'll be happy.
  4495. >And, as much as you kind of would like to ignore this all and move on...
  4496. >Well, it's kind of a big deal.
  4497. >You're like... the last unicorn.
  4498. >Except, it's some kind of twisted swap, where you're the last human in a world with millions of unicorns.
  4499. >-Strange, isn't it?
  4500. >You're pulled away from your thoughts by a small sigh.
  4501. >Coming back to Earth-questria, you remember you're at a pony adult arcade place, with an adorable and very caring sad bat pony sitting across from you.
  4502. >"What do you want to know?"
  4503. "...Why not tell me why YOU joined the Guard?"
  4504. >She bites her lip, and glances at the floor, then shrugs.
  4505. >"Well, it's simple, really..."
  4506. >You wait for her to continue, while simultaneously scanning the menu, partly for awesome food, and partly so Vannie doesn't feel pressured from you just staring at her.
  4507. >"The Guard was the only way I felt I could gain respect... To not just be seen as some kind of cuddly toy for everypony to use."
  4508. >She looks at you with a forced smile, which quickly fades.
  4509. >"And as you've seen, I'm so well respected by everypony..."
  4510. >Her gaze trails to the floor, and you see her eyes get a bit watery.
  4511. >-Hell no, you ain't having that.
  4512. >You jump over to her seat and wrap an arm around her.
  4513.  
  4514. >"-I-I don't understand why everypony sees me like this... The m-mares just see me as some kind of deviant, out to claim every stallion for myself, a-and the stallions just think I'm some... THING, to just cuddle and leave the next day!"
  4515. >She looks up at you, eyes wide and glistening.
  4516. >"I-I've been called a FLYING RODENT before! B-bats aren't even't in the s-same family as rodents!"
  4517. >She wraps her forehooves around your chest and starts sobbing, head buried under your chin.
  4518. >You hear hooves coming by, and when you look up, the waitress mare comes around the corner and freezes at the sight of you both.
  4519. >She looks at Vannie, then you, then the tray of drinks balanced on her back.
  4520. >She tries to do some sort of signs with a hoof asking if she should come back.
  4521. >...Well, you imagine that's what she's trying to convey, judging by the look on her face.
  4522. >But before you can say anything, she just gently places the two glasses on the table closest to her, and mouths a 'sorry'.
  4523. >Then she moonwalks back out.
  4524. >So you continue to go and comfort Vannie, just as you did with Brave.
  4525. >A hug, and some sweet nothings.
  4526. >You're sure you know just how much your presence is worth to them.
  4527. >-Not in like, a conceited sense or anything, but having a shoulder to cry on really does help.
  4528. >You should know, seeing how just last night, the one crying on your shoulder allowed you to do the same on hers.
  4529. >-Well, not really her shoulder- or whatever it is horses have, because of the size difference, but-
  4530. >-Okay, you have a crying pony on you, that's all you should be focusing on.
  4531. >You run your fingers through her mane as well, then holding her close with the other hand.
  4532. >She's shaking up a storm, so you try your best to stop her from moving.
  4533. >And man, that grip she has on you is incredibly strong.
  4534. >She maintains it for a few moments, until you notice her sobs soften, and her breathing slow.
  4535. "Feeling better?"
  4536.  
  4537. >You feel her slowly nod.
  4538. "Good."
  4539. >You lean over and grab the drinks from the table, her body lazily moving with yours while she maintains her hold.
  4540. "Then I present to you your beverage, madame."
  4541. >Slowly, she gives you another small smile, before taking the glass from your hand.
  4542. >Holding it between her hooves like that, you expected it to just fall over or something.
  4543. >But, weirdly enough, it doesn't.
  4544. >It confuses you, just like the fact that the waitress was able to balance a tray with two drinks on her back.
  4545. >AND do signals and stuff with one hoof.
  4546. >Some crazy control they all have or something.
  4547. >You lean over again and grab your menu from the other side of the table, and Vannie pushes herself away a bit to sit normally.
  4548. >A moment passes where you're both just taking sips from your drinks.
  4549. >It's not weirdly silent because of the music, but they clearly don't have a speaker system, so you're guessing it's all coming from a jukebox or something.
  4550. >Or something.
  4551. >They clearly have arcade machines, but they don't have speakers.
  4552. >-Granted, you don't have enough technical knowledge to know which one would come first, but you just figure that the speakers would come before the arcade machines.
  4553. >And you know that they don't have computers yet, so it makes you wonder how they made those.
  4554. >...Probably magic or some shit.
  4555.  
  4556. >You imagine that the first consoles will probably use crystals instead of cartridges or something.
  4557. >Or maybe you'll have to do some kind of spell, maybe draw some runes under the thing to play.
  4558. >'You gotta draw this thing to save your game, but if you don't do it perfectly, you may conjure up a few console demons.'
  4559. >-Okay, you're thinking into this too much.
  4560. >And you're not even drunk.
  4561. >Not that you really expect yourself to be tonight, though.
  4562. >-Or at least not enough to forget the night entirely.
  4563. >You don't think spiked root beer could really do that to you easily.
  4564. >A thought enters your mind.
  4565. "So Vannie, do you remember the last time we all drank together?"
  4566. >She stares off for a bit, then slowly nods, a tinge of red in her cheeks.
  4567. "...What exactly happened, anyways?"
  4568. >She looks up at you, then turns back to her drink, cheeks burning more.
  4569. >"I-I don't remember."
  4570. "But you just said you did."
  4571. >"O-oh, I-I did? Silly me, hah hah, haaah..."
  4572. >That was the fakest laugh you've ever heard in your entire life.
  4573. >...Second place was that time when stallion-guy-Dave was trying to tell you he wasn't crying in front of you.
  4574. >Just tears all over his face, and he was like, 'i-its cold, my eyes dried up! hahaha, silly me!'
  4575. >Except it was mid-summer.
  4576. >And you then spent like, two hours trying to calm him down, all while he told you about the stuffed bear that he lost.
  4577. >Still to this day, the only guy you've seen cry here.
  4578. >-And the only one that's been nice, really.
  4579. >That's not to say that every other guy's a dick... but you've yet to really see otherwise.
  4580. >-Which makes you feel worse for not knowing his name.
  4581.  
  4582. >-BUT you digress.
  4583. >Judging by the look on Vannie's face, something really embarrassing probably happened that night.
  4584. >Which is well, something you'd expect, being so drunk you can't remember an entire night.
  4585. >But, you guess the good thing is that nothing bad came of it.
  4586. >Something embarrassing is much better than something depressing, or heated, or just downright scary.
  4587. >So, you decide not to press further.
  4588. >Instead, you take a sip of your drink, scoot a bit closer, and wrap an arm around her, which she joyously accepts.
  4589. >And seeing that smile on her face just makes you smile in return.
  4590. >-Oh shit, you still didn't really look at the menu.
  4591. >While you're there sipping, you bring the thing closer to you and look around at it.
  4592. >Every time you were meaning to look at it, something else would catch your attention, so you'd just end up staring at it, but not actually LOOKING at it, if that makes any sense.
  4593. >-And the second you say that, you notice Vannie looking up at you in your peripherals.
  4594. >But it's more like, the kind of look you'd give someone when they're nearby and you're trying to get their attention to say something, but you don't really know how to say it.
  4595. >You wonder if she's going to tell you what happened that one night.
  4596. >It being embarrassing just makes you more curious, though you wouldn't admit it.
  4597. >It's that inner gossipy girl trying to come out and ask for juicy details.
  4598. >-Especially if it was embarrassing on your part.
  4599. >...There's no karaoke bars in Ponyville, right?
  4600. >-Well, that'd probably end in pain for every party involved, knowing your voice.
  4601. >There's a reason you didn't last in high school choir.
  4602. >But, while you look at the menu, Vannie stays silent.
  4603. >And your eyes move around, but now you just feel curious as to what she's going to say.
  4604. >Which in turn, again pulls you away from the menu right in front of your face.
  4605. >-Oooh, that sandwich looks pretty good, though.
  4606.  
  4607. >The second you focus on that sexy-looking sandwich, Vannie sighs, and turns back to her drink.
  4608. >-Oh shit, maybe she was finally going to tell you what was keeping her down?
  4609. >At least she thought about it for a moment instead of telling you everything is just 'fine'.
  4610. >It means progress.
  4611. >-Out of the corner of your other eye, the waitress pony peeks her head around the corner and looks at you both.
  4612. >All you see are her eyes and ears poking out, one flopped over like she's hearing out for something.
  4613. >It's goddamn adorable, if you do say so yourself.
  4614. >Once she sees that you and Vannie are no longer in distress, she casually walks over with a smile on her face.
  4615. >"So, it maaay be too soon, but do you two feel ready to order? Appetizers, perhaps?"
  4616. >-FUCK you didn't look at the appetizers!
  4617. >And you could really go for something right now.
  4618. >You're starving like every child in Afri...
  4619. >-Well, you can't really starve when you're dead, can you?
  4620. >Shaking the thought away, you remember a few things from the last time you were here.
  4621. >Which was, man, holy shit, a long, LONG time ago.
  4622. >But that was a good day.
  4623. "How about... the three cheese cheese sticks, and that huge nacho mountain... thing?"
  4624. >She looks at you for a moment, as if trying to understand what the hell you just said.
  4625. >Then she perks up a bit, nods, then writes it all down on that notepad of hers.
  4626. >"Okaaay, aaand, main dishes yet, or nooo?"
  4627. >You and Vannie share another look before you quickly shake your heads.
  4628. >"Okay okay, oookay! I'll have it all out in a bit!"
  4629. >She walks off, and you weirdly feel accomplished for remembering appetizers.
  4630. >It really was a long damn time ago.
  4631. >"...Three cheese cheese sticks?"
  4632. "-Hell yeah. If I'm going to die, I'll be eating those to the grave."
  4633. >She gives you an amused smile that also just screams, 'oh shut up'.
  4634. >And you hug her a bit closer, getting a small, very bat-sounding squeak in response.
  4635. >It's like you're hugging an armored pillow.
  4636.  
  4637. >Honestly, you don't understand why you of all people took the spot of 'last human ever', but you're at least glad you've got a few good things out of it.
  4638. >Specifically, two amazing things.
  4639. >The thought dwells in your mind while you reach your other hand over, lightly rubbing Vannie's ears.
  4640. >Her fluffy, fluffy ears.
  4641. >They're just so goddamn soft.
  4642. >You swear you can hear her purring again under your touch.
  4643. >It's so odd, but simultaneously the cutest thing ever.
  4644. >She leans into it with a smile on her face.
  4645. "...Man, what did I do to deserve Luna's best guard in Equestria?"
  4646. >-You had to stop yourself from saying Earth instead.
  4647. >She perks up a bit more and looks up at you, pupils wide and disbelieving.
  4648. >-Well, as wide as they can get, seeing how they're different from other ponies.
  4649. >"...R-really? Do... do you mean that?"
  4650. >You can just see her starting to bubble with excitement.
  4651. "-No, of course not."
  4652. >She freezes.
  4653. >You pick her up into another hug.
  4654. "I mean every single bit of it."
  4655. >She lets out a little gasp, and takes a second before she crushes you with a hug back.
  4656. >-No, she actually CRUSHES you this time.
  4657. >You wheeze a bit, trying to take some air back in your lungs, but not do it loud enough as to ruin the moment for her.
  4658. >But holy shit, you feel like you're stuck in a soft trash compactor.
  4659. >"Th-that's the nicest thing a-anypony's said to m-me..."
  4660. >You feel her starting to shake in your arms again.
  4661. >Then her hooves move over to your neck-
  4662. >-And there goes your windpipe, crushed by a batmare's hooves.
  4663. >The wheeze you let out this time is loud enough for her to hear, so she gasps and relieves a bit of the pressure.
  4664. >"S-sorry, Anon!"
  4665. >Like a fish out of water, you start to breathe again.
  4666. "N-no, i-it's alright."
  4667. >Slowly after you get air back into your lungs, you notice that she's right in front of your own face, looking at you worriedly.
  4668. "Man, you've got one hell of a grip, though. Remind me not to get on your bad side."
  4669. >Another gentle smile graces her face.
  4670.  
  4671. >It's a deceiving smile for how strong he is.
  4672. >Like a buggy with a Lamborghini engine in it.
  4673. >You can never know what's under the hood.
  4674. >-And Pegasi are supposed to be the lightest ponies out of all three!
  4675. >Though, you guess Vannie here isn't necessarily a Pegasus.
  4676. >Unless they have like, subcategories or something.
  4677. >-Alright, you're thinking too far into this.
  4678. >Just hug the bat.
  4679. >You do as the strange, compelling force tells you to and hug, simultaneously rubbing them ears with your other hand.
  4680. >The way she leans in, and the purring, really makes you think she's more cat than bat.
  4681. >Maybe some coffee was spilled while writing the books or something.
  4682. >Everyone's got it wrong, these are flying cat ponies.
  4683. >And you know, you do remember hearing that cats liked rubbing against things like this.
  4684. >And if they rubbed their head against you, it was because they now considered you an honorary member of their family.
  4685. >Which Vannie's doing a lot of.
  4686. >You can't help but grin at the sight.
  4687. "You know, I can understand why other mares see you as a threat."
  4688. >She opens her eyes, looking at you curiously.
  4689. "You're just too cute NOT to be."
  4690. >You nod to the side.
  4691. "-While also being strong enough to probably break every bone in my body five times over."
  4692. >She pauses.
  4693. >"You... you think I'm cute?"
  4694.  
  4695. "Have I shat in the Everfree?"
  4696. >She just stares at you.
  4697. "Yes, the answer is yes... Those were some hard times."
  4698. >This gets a little giggle out of her.
  4699. >Man, you are just on goddamn FIRE tonight.
  4700. >Had to crank up 'comedic relief friend' up to eleven, but it's proven very effective so far.
  4701. >It is kind of what you excel at.
  4702. >-Not that you've had many, well, PHYSICAL friends to try it out on in your adult life, but still.
  4703. >You weren't THAT lonely in high school.
  4704. >-The second that silence makes its way between you two, you see the missus Plot Advance come on by with two plates balanced on her back.
  4705. >Seriously, there is just no way she happens to come by when you and Vannie aren't talking.
  4706. >She probably just peeks and listens out a lot more than you give her credit for.
  4707. >And really, you'd rather just get the food WHILE you're talking, especially because talking is one of the main ways you pass the time until then.
  4708. >Or in some cases, the opposite.
  4709. >It keeps you from complaining about being hungry constantly.
  4710. >But, watching those nachos and cheese sticks walk by, it's hard to even remember what irritated you in the first place.
  4711. >Ohhh, man.
  4712. >There's so many of them...
  4713. >She places that shit on the table-
  4714. >-FUCK you still didn't look at the menu.
  4715. >Like you're connected to a hive mind, you and Vannie immediately turn towards the menu and start viciously browsing.
  4716. >Not that there's anything wrong with waiting a while, but by the time that you order, you've already seen everyone else that was prepared just enjoy their meal, and now you're fucking hungrier.
  4717. >Then, by the time you're enjoying your own food, you CAN'T really enjoy it because now everyone is waiting on your ass so they can leave, then it's like-
  4718. >-MENU GODDAMN IT
  4719.  
  4720.  
  4721. >With your mind set like a goddamn laser, you start looking all over the menu for something to get.
  4722. >It's essentially everything you remember from the restaurant back home, but more... horsey?
  4723. >Hay for fries, vegetable burgers and shit.
  4724. >It's really odd.
  4725. >Well, being the sucker you are for spicy ways to kill yourself faster than the competition, you choose... well, you don't remember the name of it back home, but it's literally just called the 'Spicy Burger'.
  4726. >Once you look back up, you realize that the waitress has just been, well, waiting.
  4727. >Guess she noticed your frantic menu-browsing.
  4728. >"Sooo-"
  4729. >She looks over at Vannie, who is viciously flipping through the pages.
  4730. >The waitress just continues to hold that note.
  4731. >"-oooooo-"
  4732. >Once Vannie shoots up, she stops.
  4733. >"-ooo! You two ready to order, yay or neigh?"
  4734. >-Goddamn it, she actually made the horse noise.
  4735. >Vannie quickly nods, right alongside you.
  4736. >"Alrighty, tell me all that your stomachs both desire!"
  4737. >"I'll get the tuna sandwich, please."
  4738. >She writes it down, then turns to you.
  4739. "And I'll get the spicy burger."
  4740. >"-Which one?"
  4741. "The, uh... spicy one?"
  4742. >"Which spicy one?"
  4743. >She just looks at you for a moment, an amused smile on her face.
  4744. >"-Ah, I'm just messing with you. Night shift gets boring."
  4745. >...But, it's like, six in the afternoon.
  4746. >She points a hoof at your drinks.
  4747. >"So then, y'all want refills? They're on the house."
  4748. >It's not until she does so that you notice they're both completely gone.
  4749. >Goddamn, you wonder how long they've been like that.
  4750. "Uh, sure."
  4751. >She sweeps her hoof over the table and pushes them both onto her back in one go.
  4752. >-Then walks off.
  4753. >Holy shit, that pone has some amazing balance.
  4754. >She's even holding the tray with one of her free hooves.
  4755. >The second she steps away, you finally turn to the beauties resting on the table.
  4756. >Nachos and cheese sticks, fuck yeah.
  4757.  
  4758. >You absolutely destroy this shit- though in moderation.
  4759. >Vannie's still gotta get some.
  4760. >But goddamn, are you hungry.
  4761. >At one point, you notice that she's got some sour cream on her muzzle.
  4762. >But before you can use it as an excuse for a booping, she notices it and wipes it away with a napkin.
  4763. >Then you realized, you don't need an excuse to boop.
  4764. >You just boop.
  4765. >So, you reach a hand over to her, aaand-
  4766. "Hey Vannie."
  4767. >She turns to you, but before she can react, it's too late.
  4768. >You move your finger at mach one speed, and watch as time slows down.
  4769. >As quickly as it started, it ends.
  4770. >You gently press on her nose with your index finger, being rewarded with an adorable cross-eyed look, while she tries to process what just happened.
  4771. >And almost immediately, her muzzle recoils in a scrunch, and she glares at you.
  4772. >Not a real angry glare, but more, 'aw fuck, i can't believe you've done this'.
  4773. >Your smile can only grow in response.
  4774. >You scoot closer and cut short the space between you both, which wasn't even all that much to begin with.
  4775. >When you arm makes its way around her, the glare melts away, and she gently unfurls a wing over your back.
  4776. >With another smile on her face.
  4777. >You're glad to see it being much more common, now.
  4778. >Though you're still not sure what got her so worked up in the first place.
  4779. >You can only hope you'll find out soon.
  4780. >So for the moment, you sit, and simply enjoy the feeling of your favorite bat pony being beside you.
  4781. >It's nice, to say the least.
  4782. >Just knowing you're next to someone who cares so much about you- it's very therapeutic.
  4783. >And hopefully when you get things resolved here, it can be twice as therapeutic.
  4784. >You'd say 'if', but things do seem to be working out well, if Vannie's look has anything to say about it.
  4785.  
  4786. >You see Vannie reaching over for her drink, and the cogs in your mind slowly pull you out of your comatose state.
  4787. >When did she get another drink?
  4788. >-When did YOU get another drink?
  4789. >That waitress is either super fast, or you just looked super retarded staring off into space while she came by.
  4790. >And you're almost certain it was the latter.
  4791. >You didn't even hear any hooves come by, or notice anyone in your line of sight or anything.
  4792. >...Maybe the drink you have is stronger than you think.
  4793. >Certainly doesn't feel that way.
  4794. >Though, you've figured out that's how they getcha.
  4795. >In fact, you're pretty sure that's how it got you the last time.
  4796. >You may have ordered a spiked root beer, but this literally just tastes like the regular kind.
  4797. >In the corner of your eye, Vannie just empties the whole glass in one go.
  4798. >You wonder how tolerant she is to that.
  4799. >She notices you looking, and simply shrugs with a sheepish smile.
  4800. >"I like the cinnamon part in it."
  4801. "I can tell."
  4802. >If your drink is practically a regular soda, you can only imagine that as some kind of fancy fruit punch.
  4803. >And if your hunch is correct, it's also got more alcohol in it.
  4804. >-The second the thought passes, she hiccups, then resumes leaning against you.
  4805. >You decide to attack the nachos again after staring at it for a second.
  4806. >"So... how was it when you first arrived here? When you left your world?"
  4807. >The question kind of stops you in your tracks, and you feel a small frown on your face.
  4808. >Then you remember your talk with Brave, and softly sigh.
  4809. "Well... I don't think I've ever left my world. I think I kinda just... moved through time, I guess."
  4810. >She turns to you, now curious.
  4811. >"Really? How?"
  4812. >All you can respond with is a shrug.
  4813.  
  4814. >You pause and think of a way to explain this to her.
  4815. "I don't know how, but there's been a few big things that tell me this is still Earth, despite the differences."
  4816. >"Like what?"
  4817. >Another sigh escapes you.
  4818. "Well, remember when I kinda just... broke down crying? On the balcony?"
  4819. >Her ears flatten a bit, and she nods.
  4820. "That was when I knew for sure where I was."
  4821. >Vannie stays silent and seated, waiting for you to continue.
  4822. "I saw the planet I remembered seeing and learning about back home. There was no mistaking it."
  4823. >You feel her wing hold you a bit tighter.
  4824. "In short, I just overreacted, mostly because I didn't- and still don't- really know how to feel about this. I don't know whether I should feel honored, or sad, or angry at everything... though I definitely gave Brave an earful earlier."
  4825. >You stay silent for a moment.
  4826. "Thanks for doing the same for me, though... For staying by my side through it all- it really does mean a lot to me."
  4827. >She gives you a cute smile with a tilt of her head.
  4828. >"Well, isn't that what a guard does?"
  4829. >A smirk crosses your face, and you nod.
  4830. "Yes, I do believe it is."
  4831. >Quickly, silence takes the air around you.
  4832. >Though, it's a calm, comfortable silence.
  4833. >But as the seconds go by, you start to notice Vannie getting anxious again.
  4834. >Just like she did earlier.
  4835. >She wants to say something, more so than she did earlier, but-
  4836. >"-III've got the food things!"
  4837. >-But the waitress ruins it.
  4838. >Seriously, you're pretty positive at this point that she just waits.
  4839. >She waits before waiting.
  4840. >Walking around the tables, she walks another tray over to you both, and bumps it onto the table.
  4841. >...Then kind of just stands there.
  4842. >She looks at you both, biting her lip for a few seconds.
  4843. >Then she practically jumps.
  4844. >"Heeey, I know this is a bit weird, but can I take a picture with you? BOTH of you?"
  4845.  
  4846. >She fidgets in her place.
  4847. >"I know it's really, reeeaaally weird, but nopony will believe me when I say I've waited for a BAT pony and a... hue... uuuh-"
  4848. "-Human-"
  4849. >"-Yeah THAT!"
  4850. >She smiles at Vannie.
  4851. >"And honestly I've never seen a bat pony so close before. Or out of their armor."
  4852. >She gets a bit closer to Vannie, scanning her up and down.
  4853. >"I personally never understood the dislike for you all..."
  4854. >She trails off, then takes to just looking into her eyes for a moment.
  4855. >The second Vannie starts to look uncomfortable, the waitress-
  4856. >"-You have pretty eyes, if you don't mind me saying, miss!"
  4857. >She turns around and grabs a camera from herself.
  4858. >It's one of those old school self-printing ones.
  4859. >Her smile just widens, and she runs in place a bit.
  4860. >"Sooo...?"
  4861. >You and Vannie share an unsure look.
  4862. >Though, looking at this pony, you don't think she's up to no good or anything.
  4863. >She just seems really quirky.
  4864. "Ah, sure, I guess-"
  4865. >"-AW YEA-"
  4866. >She hops on the seat between you both, camera facing you all.
  4867. >Like an old school selfie or something.
  4868. >She grins and tilts her head a bit, holding the camera in her blue hooves.
  4869. >"Alrighty, smiiile!"
  4870. >You give one of your half-ass portrait smirks, and Vannie's looks a tiny bit forced.
  4871. >The flash goes off, and immediately after, you swear you can see something covered in a blue aura slide onto your plates.
  4872. >-Wait WHAT?
  4873.  
  4874. >Vannie rubs her eyes after the flash, while the waitress takes the photo out of the camera.
  4875. >"Alright, let's just see how it came out heeere!"
  4876. >She shakes the picture a bit, and watches as it slowly develops.
  4877. >And sure enough, subtly glancing at the picture, you see that behind that white and blue mane of hers, there's a horn.
  4878. >...If she has a horn, then why didn't she use her magic all this time?
  4879. >Is she PURPOSELY hiding it?
  4880. >-And what the FUCK went into your food?!
  4881. >See looks at the image and grins.
  4882. >"-Awesooome! Thank you both so much!"
  4883. >She hops off the seat and looks at you both, as giddy as ever.
  4884. >"So then, anything else you two want?"
  4885. >You quickly shake your head.
  4886. >"Okaaay! Then you need anything, just holler!"
  4887. >She skips away.
  4888. >Vannie, still a bit disoriented, continues to rub her eyes.
  4889. "Vannie, we've got to get the hell out of here."
  4890. >She turns to you, now clearly confused.
  4891. >"...Huh? Why?"
  4892. >You turn to your food in horror.
  4893. "I swear I saw her slip something into our food. With MAGIC."
  4894. >"What?"
  4895. >You move over to your sandwich and immediately scan it.
  4896. >Man, and it looks so good, too...
  4897. >You pull it apart slowly, as if you're looking for a bomb.
  4898. >Christ, what did she do to it?
  4899. >What IS it?
  4900. >You hold your breath, until you finally spot something out of place.
  4901. >It's a strip of something, completely white.
  4902. >You slowly reach for it, fearing what it may be.
  4903. >Though, the second you do, you realize what exactly it is.
  4904. >It's paper.
  4905. >A note.
  4906. >You slowly pull it from under the sandwich.
  4907. >"W-what is it?"
  4908. >Flipping it over, it's...
  4909. >-An address?
  4910. >A RESIDENTIAL address?
  4911. >You look over Vannie's plate and take the slip of paper from hers.
  4912. >'You both are welcome here, anytime~ -Minuette'
  4913. >Putting that piece next to yours on the table, you see that it was clearly a full note at one point, just torn in half.
  4914. >Vannie hesitantly leans over and glances over it.
  4915. >"Oh."
  4916. >Her eyes move over the note, and slowly, a blush makes its way onto her cheeks.
  4917. >"...O-oh."
  4918.  
  4919. >You and Vannie kind of just share a look.
  4920. "Well, looks like you're not just popular with stallions."
  4921. >Her blush deepens.
  4922. >Guess the waitress is into the 'exotic' stuff.
  4923. >And now thinking about it, you guess you could be considered 'exotic', too.
  4924. >Though just a few years ago you lived as the mass majority.
  4925. >Now, you're like a white tiger or something.
  4926. >...Though, you're pretty sure white tigers are extinct, now.
  4927. >Damn.
  4928. >But, you digress.
  4929. >Still doesn't explain why she didn't use her magic all this time.
  4930. >-Her horn being hidden is a bit understandable, though.
  4931. >It seriously looks like she just woke up.
  4932. >And if it weren't for the blue aura you saw, you never would've guessed she was a unicorn.
  4933. >You find it odd that the bedhead-look is what seems to be trending, here.
  4934. >Or at least, it may as well be trending.
  4935. >All those fashion model pictures you've seen all have the same messy mane.
  4936. >And before your mind drifts away into questioning bizaare pony fashion, you notice that Vannie is still winning the blue ribbon for reddest tomato.
  4937. >So you do what any sane person would do, and allow Vannie's feelings about sweet mare action simmer, all while smiling like a retard.
  4938. >The food on your plate finally catches your eye, and your main directive becomes clear.
  4939. >CONSUME.
  4940. >Hell, the appetizers were mauled, so really all that is left is this, anyways.
  4941. >And you're still hungry.
  4942.  
  4943. >...Also, you think you're a little buzzed.
  4944. >But just a little.
  4945. >Probably because you drank a bit before you actually ate-
  4946. >-H-holy fuck, this is amazing.
  4947. >This tastes just like a regular burger.
  4948. >A-and, the ranch sauce- or whatever's in this, is practically pure porn, just poured all inside this thing.
  4949. >And it looks just like it did in the picture.
  4950. >The jalapenos practically melt in your mouth, which, while being weird, is simultaneously the best goddamn thing ever.
  4951. >You have to stifle a moan.
  4952. >It's just that good.
  4953. >Taking another bite, you don't even feel able to describe the individual flavors anymore.
  4954. >You're too lost in it all that you just let them rest as one beautiful concoction.
  4955. >You don't even remember the last time you ate meat actually, but this is ex-fucking-actly like a regular burger.
  4956. >Though you can still see the veggies and shit in it that tells you it's not.
  4957. >But the sweet, sweet taste of the food you always missed is what makes this so good.
  4958. >You shudder with pleasure.
  4959. >If this keeps up, you may need to change your pants.
  4960. >THAT'S HOW GOOD IT IS.
  4961. >Like being stuck in a desert for hours, then finding an enormous oasis party, complete with every single goddamn drink you'd want in the universe.
  4962. >With steak, a-and ribs, and this smoky bbq sauce that's just beautifully tangy, but still-
  4963. "-M-mmmph..."
  4964. >Oh shit you just moaned
  4965.  
  4966. >
  4967. >It feels like it's been a second later.
  4968. >But now you're staring at an empty plate.
  4969. >Hell, even Vannie finished.
  4970. >Good things never last, do they?
  4971. >The sound that brought you out of your stupor walks out in front of you, in all her blueish-ness.
  4972. >She's got an even cheerier smile, and a very faint blush.
  4973. >Because pony physics you guess, it's always easy to spot.
  4974. >These ponies blush for everything, you swear.
  4975. >"You guys enjoy yourselves? I asked the cook to make sure you'd have absolutely no complaints about the food!"
  4976. >She stands proudly, a tiny smirk on her face.
  4977. >You and Vannie both nod, as she grabs the plates off the table.
  4978. >Immediately, a question bubbles up.
  4979. "So, if you have a horn, how come you don't use it?"
  4980. >She tosses it all onto her back and grins at you.
  4981. >"Weeell, I kind of got told not to by my boss."
  4982. >She kicks the ground a bit.
  4983. >"I maaay have had a tiny, tiiiny little accident, that maaay have destroyed a LOT of plates and glasses."
  4984. >Oh.
  4985. >Well, that makes more sense.
  4986. >"Maaay have."
  4987. >She moves around a bit with a grin.
  4988. >"But hey, I had an Earth pony parent, so I don't just need magic to move things around! I've got a bit of that connection to the ground and stuff, too!"
  4989. >She looks over you both, her cheeks getting visibly redder.
  4990. >"Aaand, a few other perks~"
  4991. >She flashes you both a sultry smile.
  4992. >Her eyes dart to the note still resting on the table, and her cheeks now practically turn purple.
  4993. >"I just hope you'll accept my invitation for desert sometime..."
  4994. >-You feel your own face heat up.
  4995. >I-is it just hot in here, or wh-what?
  4996. >Vannie's wings spring up slightly, where she immediately tries to push them back down to her sides.
  4997. >Minuette then jumps up, back to her simple little smile.
  4998. >"-And speaking of desert, did you want anything? The menu's right here! Oooh, and there's always the arcade!"
  4999.  
  5000. >Vannie takes to just hiding behind her mane a bit, and you glance at the menu.
  5001. >...You shouldn't.
  5002. >These ponies are already threatening to kill you with diabeetus, speeding up the process doesn't sound like such a great idea.
  5003. "Ah, I guess we'll pass on dessert."
  5004. >"That's okay! Then, were you going to head into the arcade? I could give you both a little bonus, you know, for being awesome."
  5005. >You look over at Vannie, ears perking at the sound of 'arcade'.
  5006. "Sounds good to me."
  5007. >"Aaalrighty! Let me just finish cleaning up, then I'll meet you two over there!"
  5008. >Vannie jumps up almost immediately, probably looking for an excuse to not be seen by Minuette here.
  5009. >You stand up too, immediately noticing Minuette glance at the table, a small, hurt frown crossing her face.
  5010. >You wonder what that look may be for while you pick up the note, and immediately see her frown turn upside down.
  5011. >Oh, nevermind then.
  5012. >So, leaving Minuette to fix things, Vannie follows you over to the arcade.
  5013. >Which you're very eager to see.
  5014. >You've seen a few arcades around Ponyville, but they were all meant for kids.
  5015. >And you doubt the parents would enjoy having to console their children, after you've DESTROYED THEM in every single game available.
  5016. >Not that you'd really try to.
  5017. >But, you know, fingers.
  5018. >At least here you can play normally without looking like a manchild in front of other adults.
  5019. >No regrets!
  5020. >You stop and stand in front of the place, glancing at all the games and flashing lights around you.
  5021. >Oh man, this'll be fun.
  5022. >Vannie, who's still slumping around, barely makes it to your side and stops.
  5023. >You nudge her, and she looks up at you curiously.
  5024. "Y'all ready for this?"
  5025. >-Before she can question what you said, and break your heart by not knowing the song you pulled it from, you wrap an arm around her and hoist her up, fireman style.
  5026. >Which of course, gets a loud-
  5027. >"-EEE-"
  5028. >-Out of her.
  5029. >Too cute.
  5030. >But now then.
  5031. >ARCADE, ARCADE, ARCAAADE!
  5032. >-God, you really do feel like a manchild.
  5033.  
  5034. >Holy shit, there's just so many games!
  5035. >What do you play first?
  5036. >And do you need a card here, too?
  5037. >Do you just play?
  5038. >LET'S LOOK AROUND
  5039. >You casually move over to what looks like a 'Tower of Power' machine.
  5040. >Essentially, there's a line moving fast, and you gotta stop it in the middle.
  5041. >You were badass at this shit.
  5042. >Elementary school field trips, you'd impress all the guys, and you couldn't get the bitches off yo dick.
  5043. >-Though, that was mostly because you had all the fucking tickets, and they wanted you to buy shit for them.
  5044. >But still.
  5045. >Next up is your common 'spin the wheel' type thing, complete with a few colorful pones in the design-
  5046. >"-Heeey, I'm here now! So, if you'll just follow meee..."
  5047. >She walks away, still holding that note.
  5048. >So, you follow the soft 'eeeeee' in the distance, and the blob of blue in front of you.
  5049. >Soon enough, you come up to a counter, where she hops behind it and grins at you.
  5050. >"So then, how much were you planning to play?"
  5051. >You viciously fish into your pockets and grab another bag of bits.
  5052. >-While also realizing that you never really take them out of your pockets much-
  5053. "-HOWEVER MUCH THIS WILL LET ME."
  5054. >You look down at the bat-mare still in your arms.
  5055. "-I-I mean us."
  5056.  
  5057. >Minuette kind of just stares at the bag, probably wondering how you had so many damn bits in your pocket.
  5058. >Well, now they know how YOU feel, when they go and pull shit out of their mane.
  5059. >"...You mean like, ALL of this?"
  5060. "-YEEES."
  5061. >"Oookay! As for the little bonus, I could add half of the amount you gave me to the total!"
  5062. >-FUCK YEAH-
  5063. >"And I took the liberty of already making you a card, which I'll deposit everything into riiight abooout... now!"
  5064. >You hear a little beep, and she holds the card out for you in her teeth.
  5065. >Once you take it, she jumps back into her trademark smile.
  5066. >Wait, how do they have fucking game cards, but no cards for all your goddamn bits-
  5067. >"-AAAnd, as per a new rule, drinks are allowed in the arcade, so I got you both some refills!"
  5068. >She puts two glasses out on the counter.
  5069. >...Fuck yeah.
  5070. "Sweeet. Thank you kindly, Ms. madame-lady Minutette!"
  5071. >"-Please, just Minuette is fine. Or Min, Minu, Mini- you get the point."
  5072. >You nod and smile again, like a tard having his birthday party at the petting zoo.
  5073. >You turn and start to walk-
  5074. >"-Oh, and one more thing..."
  5075. >-Then turn back-
  5076. >Minuette rubs the back of her neck sheepishly.
  5077. >"If you two don't want to... you know, do things, I can always look forward to coffee, or lunch or something... I'm no cuddleslut, I swear."
  5078. >She pauses.
  5079. >"Th-though, if you ever think about it more, I-I-won't-tell-if-you-don't-"
  5080. >She darts away.
  5081. >You just watch as she zips past the ponies and into an employee area.
  5082. >...What an odd pone.
  5083.  
  5084. >You free a hand and make sure the note is still in your pocket.
  5085. >You don't want to become a cuddleslut, but you've never really known that many ponies since you've stayed here.
  5086. >It'd be nice to change that.
  5087. >You adjust Vannie's hastily put on and crooked helmet, getting a small smile from her.
  5088. >She quickly makes herself comfortable in your arms again.
  5089. >Glancing back at the arcade, a shooting gallery-looking thing catches your eye.
  5090. >You know, ones with this targeted shit everywhere, and a fake gun to use.
  5091. >Duh, shooting gallery.
  5092. "Oh I'm playing the hell out of this."
  5093. >You walk up to it and glance at the controls.
  5094. >It's got some weird launcher thing in place of a gun.
  5095. >It looks like a hose, but just, larger, and with a handle at the top.
  5096. >One hoof to move the launcher, another to shoot, you guess.
  5097. >Should be easy.
  5098. >The thing's resting on a bipod, beside the spot where your card goes and this big red button.
  5099. >You move to gently lay Vannie on the ground, then stop.
  5100. >Her hooves dangle a little ways from the ground, and she looks at you curiously.
  5101. "Actually..."
  5102. >Picking her back up, you hold her with one arm, forelegs resting over it while her back rests against your chest.
  5103. >Now with one arm, she's goddamn heavier, but man, you bet you sure look cool.
  5104. >Nobody really here to notice, though.
  5105. >And Vannie's probably more amused than impressed.
  5106. >You place your card on the area it tells you to, and the red button starts flashing.
  5107. "Alright, let's do this shit, hard mode."
  5108. >You tap the button, and this whole old western saloon-looking scene turns on, complete with targets, and blinking lights galore.
  5109.  
  5110. >You've got bottles, table things, signs, and even... buffalo?
  5111. >None of the ponies are targets in this, just the buffalo.
  5112. >If buffalo talk and shit too, you're pretty sure this is racist.
  5113. >Because they're wearing hats and clothes, you're pretty sure that's the case.
  5114. >Eh, whatever.
  5115. >You pull back the handle on the hose thing once and confirm that it's how to launch things.
  5116. >It shoots out a big yellow ball towards the poor buffalo in front of you.
  5117. >If given to the wrong hands- or hooves, this could really ruin someone's day.
  5118. >Either by simply shooting other ponies, or just missing enough to lose a bunch of these.
  5119. >The target goes down, and a big fifty takes place of the zeroes up on the big scoreboard.
  5120. >The high score is twenty thousand.
  5121. >Pffft.
  5122. >You got this.
  5123. >Spotting a bottle worth five hundred in the background, you launch a ball at it.
  5124. >And miss.
  5125. >"Nice shot Anon!"
  5126. >You can just hear the sarcasm dripping from Vannie's voice.
  5127. >Though if anything, that's a good sign.
  5128. >You launch another ball.
  5129. >Miss.
  5130. "Oh that is shit."
  5131. >Fire.
  5132. >Miss.
  5133. >These shitty foam balls are huge, how did that shit miss?!
  5134. >"Come on Anon, thirtieth time's the charm!"
  5135. >She giggles.
  5136. >Goddamn it, this is hitting your ego worse than it should.
  5137. >It's like completely failing every game at the fair.
  5138. >Can't even pop a balloon with a pointy dart.
  5139. >Steadying your aim, you launch again.
  5140. >It bounces off the fake wooden beam and smacks you right in the face.
  5141. >Being foam, it hurts your soul more than it does you.
  5142. >"Oh, are you okay, Anon?"
  5143. >You gently lower Vannie to the ground.
  5144. >Alright, game.
  5145. >"Anon?"
  5146. >You fucking asked for it.
  5147.  
  5148. >Vannie gently flaps her wings to stay on your level.
  5149. >Dramatic pop of the knuckles, and you grab that hose launcher.
  5150. >You notice that you've only got thirty seconds left, and there's targets and shit everywhere.
  5151. >Alright game, you want to play?
  5152. >Let's fucking play.
  5153. >Not even bothering to aim, you just grab the handle and start pulling it back, as fast as it can shoot.
  5154. >It keeps up, and the next thing you know, foam balls are flying around the whole scene, smacking things left and right and making a ringing noise every time they hit.
  5155. >Which is a lot.
  5156. >They bounce everywhere, hitting other things and just constantly overlapping the soft music playing in the background.
  5157. >It's like someone just viciously ringing a bell, dinging noise never ceasing.
  5158. >You hit bottles, hats, some little targets popping in and out.
  5159. >And in your peripherals, Vannie's just slackjawed.
  5160. >A bunch of big flashing lights appear in the middle of it, and you see this one bandito-looking buffalo appear.
  5161. >He doesn't look fat like all the other buffaloes you shot down just now.
  5162. >Really lean, but muscular-looking.
  5163. >Wearing a braid or two, like the others are, with beads and shit.
  5164. >Not excessive, like the other ones though.
  5165. >Ignoring why you decided to describe a shooting gallery target, you let loose on that dude.
  5166. >Tons of balls, just all over his face.
  5167. >And your score just multiplies itself by five.
  5168. >The second you glance up at your score, the launcher stops working, and a loud ringing erupts.
  5169. >You got sixty nine thousand points.
  5170. >...Heh.
  5171. >"...Wow, that's the first time I've seen anypony beat that score!"
  5172. >Spinning around, you're met with Minuette, who's holding two drinks on her back, and a still slight blush on her cheeks.
  5173. >As if not expecting to be looked at by you and Vannie, she shies a bit and paws at the ground with a hoof.
  5174. >"S-sooo, you both kinda just left your drinks over at the counter, and I figured I'd bring 'em to you!"
  5175. >...Oh shit, you DID forget the drinks.
  5176. "Thank you."
  5177.  
  5178. >You take the glasses from the tray on her back, and before she can say another word, she once again darts away.
  5179. >You stare at the drinks in your hands for a moment, then notice that expectant look of Vannie's in the background.
  5180. "Well, I don't remember ordering TWO drinks, but that's alright!"
  5181. >You take a sip out of both glasses, getting a huff out of her.
  5182. >"Hey! Gimme!"
  5183. >You hold her glass just above your head.
  5184. >And you forgot she can fly.
  5185. >So the second she zips up, you move it behind your back.
  5186. >She pauses in front of your face, scrunching up a storm with that angry glare of hers.
  5187. >After you give her a smug look, you hand the glass over to her, THEN-
  5188. "-Boop."
  5189. >Her scrunch intensifies.
  5190. >Like, a lot.
  5191. >She's practically shaking.
  5192. >And you can't tell if it's embarrassment or anger, but it sure does look like both.
  5193. >You move a hand up and rub those fluffy ears of hers, then take a sip of your drink.
  5194. "So then, what game you wanna play next?"
  5195. >Like a robot, or some kind of super hyper kid, she completely drops that scrunch of hers, now looking around at the games with an eager grin on her face.
  5196. >You follow while she flies around the place, glancing at everything.
  5197. >And you notice how different she seems now.
  5198. >Whether it's because you've accomplished a big part of your mission, or because she's drunker than you think, you're not sure.
  5199. >But look at her now, making snappy remarks and flying around on her lonesome with a big smile on her face.
  5200. >Definitely an improvement if you've ever seen one.
  5201. >"Oooh, oooh! Skeeball!"
  5202. >Up ahead is indeed a skeeball machine, complete with another weak high score you're sure you could beat.
  5203. >Though, you're kind of curious how this would work, here.
  5204. >You'd figure a Unicorn could just levitate that ball over and get all the tickets.
  5205. >You look around.
  5206. >In fact, a LOT of games could be won like that.
  5207. >Either there's some really elaborate mechanisms in place here, or ponies just don't cheat.
  5208. >You'd like to say it's the latter.
  5209.  
  5210. >Going up to the skeeball machine, you throw your card onto two machines, and usher Vannie towards the one next to you.
  5211. "Ready to lose?"
  5212. >A playful glare crosses her face.
  5213. >"Wow, you're so funny Anon, I didn't take you for a comedian!"
  5214. >Okay smug bathorse, it's on now.
  5215. >It is on so much that not even IT knows how to turn it off.
  5216. >A line of balls roll down, and you realize that the more you play games with balls, the gayer it will sound in your head.
  5217. >You grab the first one in the line and test launch it up the ramp.
  5218. >And you get ten goddamn points.
  5219. >"Nice one Anon!"
  5220. "-Hey hey hey, that was a test run, thank you."
  5221. >She playfully rolls her eyes and shoots a ball of her own.
  5222. >And she gets fifty points.
  5223. >"Now THAT'S how you do it!"
  5224. >She starts dancing in place.
  5225. >Gloating?
  5226. >Not on YOUR watch.
  5227. >You casually roll another.
  5228. >A hundred.
  5229. >The scoring sound drowns out her personal victory.
  5230. >Slowly, she turns and glares at you.
  5231. >And you're sure you've got the biggest shit-eating grin on your face.
  5232. >A tense silence grows between you both for a moment.
  5233. >Then she lunges for a ball, prompting you to do the same.
  5234. >She starts tossing all of them in the same direction, in order to hit the hundred point part.
  5235. >So, you once again do the same.
  5236. >Of course, you're much quicker at it though.
  5237. >And sooner than you'd think, it comes down to your last shot, which you both use at the same time.
  5238. >Because you managed to fuck up a little, checking her score instead of where you were throwing, you missed a bunch of shots earlier.
  5239. >And because of that, you both were also neck and neck.
  5240. >If you could pull off another hundred, you'd win for sure.
  5241. >But if you wanted a secure win, you'd just need thirty points.
  5242. >So, easy route, or bragging rights?
  5243. >...Bragging rights.
  5244. >Show no mercy.
  5245. >Like a well oiled machine, you throw your ball first, staring hopefully at your shot.
  5246. >It rolls, hits the top part, aaand-
  5247. >-IT HITS THE SIDE FUCKING WHAT?
  5248.  
  5249. >Despair grips you as the ball quickly falls into the ten point hole.
  5250. >You just completely lost.
  5251. >Pinching the bridge of your nose, all you can manage is a long, drawn out sigh.
  5252. >And the first thing you see when you stop is Vannie's sparkling eyes, complete with a super smug, excited grin on her face.
  5253. >Goddamn it.
  5254. >Your gaming life is over.
  5255. >Taken by a giddy batmare wearing armor.
  5256. >She starts to dance in place again, moving her head and hooves to a silent victory song.
  5257. >Though, looking at another side, you're surprised to see that she IS dancing.
  5258. >Earlier it was all tears and silent sadness.
  5259. >Now, even though she just dominated you at one of the simplest games on the planet, she actually looks happy.
  5260. >Especially because she doesn't seem to notice the other ponies glancing over at her.
  5261. >Or, she just doesn't care.
  5262. >But this was definitely a wonderful choice.
  5263. >...Even if you did get destroyed in skeeball.
  5264. >So you stand there, clearly upset, but also a lot happier yourself, while she dances and gloats in your face.
  5265. >Once she peeks to see your reaction, she finally settles with another grin, then slowly grabs her last shot.
  5266. >You know, that unless some divine force wills it, there will be no chance she doesn't win here.
  5267. >She just needs a mere ten points, and boom, you suck for eternity.
  5268. >She pauses for dramatic effect, then hypes herself up and throws the ball.
  5269. >Your heart sinks while it rolls up the ramp.
  5270. >It jumps up to the fifty point mark-
  5271. >-THEN HITS IN BETWEEN THE TARGETS AND MISSES
  5272. >WHAT
  5273. >WHAT?!
  5274. >You watch as it slowly rolls down to the very bottom, where it's simply taken by the machine.
  5275. >Excitement quickly bubbles up inside of you.
  5276. >-Then you glance up at the scoreboard, and see that it's just a perfect tie.
  5277. >Oh.
  5278. >You and Vannie just stare up at the machine for a second.
  5279. "...Well, that's kind of shit."
  5280. >She nods.
  5281. "-ALRIGHT, NEXT GAME!"
  5282.  
  5283. >You grab your card and move on over to this machine you figure might be awesome.
  5284. >All you see is the cover art and shit on the outside, then curtains on the sides.
  5285. >So, it's gotta be some kind of shooter-like game.
  5286. >Not that all you like are the shooting ones, but damn, you remember being the best at these.
  5287. >Kids all lining up, watching you destroy in House of the Dead.
  5288. >Man, those were the days...
  5289. >You pull back the curtain and indeed confirm that nobody's here.
  5290. >"What's THIS game?"
  5291. >You shrug and hop in, the cover art outside now making much more sense.
  5292. >And it definitely is a shooter game.
  5293. >Aw yiss.
  5294. >Though, instead of guns, you have two giant cannons, which are just mounted in front of the chairs.
  5295. >The thing really isn't your height, but by putting your legs a little further forward, you make it work.
  5296. >Vannie, however...
  5297. >Curtain pulled back, she kind of just stares at the seat next to you.
  5298. >With all that armor, there's no way she can fit in this seat.
  5299. >At least not comfortably.
  5300. >Like, at all.
  5301. >Luckily though, there's plenty of space in the front, which she takes notice of almost immediately as you do.
  5302. "Need help with that?"
  5303. >She shakes her head, then takes her helmet off, letting that mane of hers flow freely.
  5304. >You wonder how a ponytail would look on her.
  5305. >...A pony-ponytail.
  5306. >She kicks her shoes off, then clicks the little emblem on the front of her chestplate, which allows the parts next to it to open and have the whole thing removed.
  5307. >Interesting.
  5308. >After staring off for a moment, you help move everything to the front and pat the seat next to you.
  5309. >She flies up and nestles herself into the seat, an excited smile on her faaa-
  5310. >-You forgot the fucking drinks again.
  5311. >Goddamn it.
  5312. "I'll be right back!"
  5313. >Before she can ask where you're going, you hop out and speed walk over to the wretched skeeball machine.
  5314. >And right where you left them, both drinks are just sitting there.
  5315. >You grab them as quick as you can, then carefully walk back.
  5316.  
  5317. >Once you pull the curtain thing open, you notice Vannie's gaze, which is set on the floor, a troubled look on her face.
  5318. >It immediately brings you down.
  5319. >And in the split second she notices you, she jumps back to her happy grin.
  5320. >Though there's no doubting what you just saw.
  5321. >Here you were, thinking you were making all this progress, but now, you're not so sure.
  5322. >Has she been faking it this whole time, just so you wouldn't worry anymore?
  5323. >You try not to focus on the thought enough for it to show, but you're reminded again why you're here with her in the first place.
  5324. >It's not just to show her a good time or anything.
  5325. >It's to make sure that she ALWAYS has a good time, no matter what she's doing or where she is.
  5326. "Your drink, madame."
  5327. >She flashes you a small smirk and nods.
  5328. >-Yep, that's a big difference if you've ever seen one.
  5329. >"So, what do we do, here?"
  5330. >You place your card face down in attack mode, then hit the big start buttons next to the cannons.
  5331. "Simple, move the cannon, hit things that are trying to hit you! ...Unless it's different here, in which case I have no clue."
  5332. >You slowly settle in your seat, watching a little cutscene play in front of you.
  5333. >At the bottom, a little black bar just says, "AT EASE".
  5334. >So, you're on a sailing ship, and look, ghosts attack.
  5335. >Such a gripping story.
  5336. >But as long as you get to shoot things, you'll take it.
  5337. >It just shows you hopping on a cannon and aiming at the ghosts.
  5338. >-Which, you'd figure that ghosts can't get hit by cannonballs, but whatever.
  5339. >The cutscene ends and-
  5340. >-Wow okay, this is a very weird cannon.
  5341. >It doesn't even shoot cannonballs.
  5342. >They're like, lasers.
  5343. >And you don't even press a button to shoot.
  5344. >You're just shooting constantly.
  5345. >Though, in like these first few seconds, you see that in order to kill the enemies, you probably have to aim at the red spots on them.
  5346. >When you turn to Vannie, you see she's super focused.
  5347. >No more feelings.
  5348. >Only ghost-killing lasers.
  5349.  
  5350. >This really does bring back some memories, but not so much.
  5351. >It's not the same as shooting zombies, and being called a hoe every time you need to reload.
  5352. >Man, you kicked major ass in that game.
  5353. >Practically a god.
  5354. >-Damn, you hope they have some fighting games here, too.
  5355. >You could beat everyone in this damn arcade right now-
  5356. >-Whelp, you're dead.
  5357. "Oh goddamn it."
  5358. >"Hurry up and START!"
  5359. >Vannie smashes your start button, throwing you back into the game with her.
  5360. >You're not used to laser cannons, damn it.
  5361. >You both reach another cutscene in the game.
  5362. >Somehow your character can just grab the cannon like that and use it.
  5363. >The seats start to rumble, then jerk to the side, nearly flipping you over.
  5364. >You hold on and try not to die.
  5365. >"-W-wuoah, this feels weird."
  5366. "I didn't know this was some shitty rollercoaster ride, too!"
  5367. >Not really paying more attention to the little video, you both just end up in the water on some raft.
  5368. >The chair and the cannon controller rock slightly with the game, which is now really throwing you off.
  5369. >This all just got a lot damn harder.
  5370. >You lean over and grab your drink, then spill a bit on your pants.
  5371. >Christ.
  5372. >You quickly take a sip, then put it back.
  5373. >"Hey, I want a sip, too! My drink's too far!"
  5374. >Hah, stubby pony legs.
  5375. >Through all the motion of the ocean, you bring the glass over and let her drink from it.
  5376. >Then the cutscene stops.
  5377. >"Oh, hay! Move!"
  5378. >She straightens herself out in the seat and grabs the cannon thing.
  5379. >You put the drink in a safe space and then join, that little sip giving you a much needed boost.
  5380. >Seriously, ponies really love their sugar.
  5381. >You try again to kill ghosts here, hit boxes there.
  5382. "-Oh shit, that pony needs our help!"
  5383. >"I see him!"
  5384. >You both turn and zap all these ghosts surrounding a pony.
  5385. >He runs up to you guys and nods.
  5386. >'Thank you!'
  5387. >Aw yiss, extra life.
  5388. >Definitely reminds you of the old school arcades now.
  5389.  
  5390. >
  5391. >Next thing you know, you're both fighting a giant ghost man.
  5392. >It didn't take a long time or anything, but you were too focused in the game to be thinking of anything.
  5393. >"There's the weak spot!"
  5394. "Got it!"
  5395. >You see a ghost move to attack Vannie, and kick its ass.
  5396. >Then a bunch of ghosts come after your ass.
  5397. >Vannie takes them down, and you both share a small smile.
  5398. >You focus fire on that ghost guy, and soon you're both delivering the final shots.
  5399. >Throughout this game, you've noticed how much more steady and precise she is.
  5400. >With hooves, it's really impressive.
  5401. >And finally, that shit health bar drops to the ground, and that bitch explodes.
  5402. >Then credits start to run.
  5403. >-Wait, credits?
  5404. >You stare at the screen for a moment, and the chairs stark to rock back and forth like in the game.
  5405. >A few minutes start to go by, then you're almost positive that the game's over.
  5406. >Like, the whole game.
  5407. >In what, two, three cutscenes?
  5408. >And there are a lot of names in this credit list.
  5409. >This is retarded, you can't just kill one boss and call this shit done!
  5410. >How disappointing.
  5411. >Just like the stupid skeeball.
  5412. >You fold your arms and watch the credits slowly move across the screen.
  5413. >Well, at least the rocking thing is pretty cool.
  5414. >Leaning over, you give Vannie her drink and take yours.
  5415. >There's no music coming out of this thing, and it's just ocean sounds and such, while you just drift away into the sunset.
  5416. >Still disappointing.
  5417. >You sit there, frequently tasting your drink.
  5418. >"...A-Anon?"
  5419.  
  5420. "Hmm?"
  5421. >Turning your head to the side, Vannie's got this nervous look on her face, just like she did back in the booth.
  5422. >Her eyes focus on you for a second, before she turns away and hides herself behind her mane.
  5423. >Which just makes you curious.
  5424. "Something wrong, Vannie?"
  5425. >She quickly shakes her head and slumps in her seat.
  5426. >"N-nevermind."
  5427. >You watch as she drowns whatever sorrows of hers in that drink.
  5428. >Alright then, no more beating around the bush here.
  5429. "Vannie."
  5430. >Slowly, she peeks at you from behind her mane.
  5431. "You can't hide it from me, I've seen those sad looks of yours since we got here. What's the matter?"
  5432. >She stays silent.
  5433. >Wait for a few moments, you actually start to get irritated.
  5434. >Hell, you've been as nice as you can, you've tried to get anything you can out of her, but she just won't budge.
  5435. >Why won't she tell you anything?
  5436. >What is SO big of a deal, that she just has to keep all of this to herself-
  5437. >"-I-I'm jealous... of Brave."
  5438. >Your brain forces a shutdown of everything.
  5439. >All unsaved progress is lost.
  5440. >You're left staring off into space.
  5441. >After a few moments of wondering how to react here, she downs the rest of her drink and slumps further into the seat.
  5442. >"Sorry. I-I shouldn't have said anything."
  5443. >You don't know what exactly to say, but know that's your cue for SOMETHING.
  5444. "No, it's okay."
  5445. >You sit there for a moment, trying fruitlessly to wrap your head around this all.
  5446. >Instead, you create more silence.
  5447. "But how? When? WHY?"
  5448. >She stays silent again, slowly shrinking into her seat.
  5449. >Well, at least you know why her ears move around mentioning Brave.
  5450. >You stop staring off into space when you see some tears trickling down her face.
  5451. >"I- s-sorry. Forget I said anything."
  5452.  
  5453. >You brush a lock of her mane away with a hand, her eyes now in full view.
  5454. >So she shrinks even more.
  5455. >Her gaze trails over to the ground, more tears on the assault.
  5456. "No, Vannie, you don't have anything to be sorry about."
  5457. >You pause, though not intentionally.
  5458. "But... are you sure? I mean, is that how you REALLY feel?"
  5459. >She sits there, messing with her forelegs before nodding.
  5460. >...Really though?
  5461. >You sit back and just continue thinking.
  5462. >But no matter how much you think about it, you always come up blank.
  5463. >The thought that a pony here could even see you that way was surprising enough, but now TWO?
  5464. >It's just- there's no way.
  5465. >And if she really DOES, and you and Brave are...
  5466. >-You guess it's better that you're finding out so soon, but TWO?
  5467. >What in the hell do these two see in you?
  5468. >You're brought back when you hear her whimpering.
  5469. >Like every thought just melts away, and you know just what to do.
  5470. >Though you really don't.
  5471. >But an instinct kicks in, and you reach over and grab her, pulling her close to your chest.
  5472. >Then you think about that.
  5473. >Here you are, holding her next to you, like you're comforting some animal.
  5474. >-Which, she kinda still IS one, like you, but still.
  5475. >You're here, petting her like some kind of house cat.
  5476. >But she's a grown adult, despite how much she's enjoyed it before.
  5477. >If cuddling is seen as such a sacred act, what in the hell does all you've been doing mean?
  5478. >All the rubbing, petting and such.
  5479. >Is this why you've got her after you?
  5480. >You glance down at her, curled up even with her tail between her legs, forehooves tucked in and wiping her cheeks.
  5481. >You don't know exactly how to react to this.
  5482. >You don't know what you're going to do about this.
  5483. >But you know for certain that you can't have Vannie being this sad.
  5484.  
  5485. >But as you mindlessly pet to soothe her, you think of other things.
  5486. >Like, do you have your own feelings, here?
  5487. >You stare past the ground while you think.
  5488. >Well, of course you like Vannie.
  5489. >Not only is she one of the least boring ponies you know, but also one of the kindest.
  5490. >And you know that first-hand, after she spent practically a whole night consoling you.
  5491. >Then, there's other things.
  5492. >Like the fact that you instinctively don't want her sad.
  5493. >-But that would be any of these ponies.
  5494. >You've hugged away many tears in your life here.
  5495. >...Well, okay, not that many.
  5496. >But you always do where you can.
  5497. >Glancing down at Vannie again, you feel a lot more sad seeing her like this than you'd care to admit.
  5498. >And just right now, you couldn't tear the smile off your face seeing her dance.
  5499. >Does that mean...?
  5500. >Okay, let's just think this through, Anon.
  5501. >Brave is super cute.
  5502. >Her serious nature and ability to get things done is pretty awesome.
  5503. >But on the flip side, beyond that tough, stubborn exterior is a super sensitive pony that just wants respect and love.
  5504. >Now, Vannie.
  5505. >She's ALSO super cute.
  5506. >Her pretty quirky and caring attitude is really what makes her stand out.
  5507. >But aside from that, she seems completely insecure, and tends to care for others before herself.
  5508. >...But what about you?
  5509. >What are YOU like?
  5510. >The thought lingers in your head, but yields nothing.
  5511. >How do you go about this?
  5512. >How WOULD you go about this?
  5513. >Go behind one another's backs constantly, until you're found out by one pony?
  5514. >Ignore someone's feelings and go with another?
  5515. >Or just come clean about it all, and hope it goes well?
  5516.  
  5517. >-Okay, let's just say, hypothetically, that you DO like BOTH of them?
  5518. >That you'd rather not see one happy over the other?
  5519. >What the hell could you do, here?
  5520. >You feel you shouldn't need to choose, but your mind says it's probably one way, or no way.
  5521. >A sigh escapes you.
  5522. >Vannie looks at you curiously, still curled up as she is.
  5523. "...You know I like you, right?"
  5524. >Her ears flatten, and she doesn't nod her head.
  5525. >You're guessing it's either because she thinks you're friendzoning her, or because she doesn't even feel anyone could like her.
  5526. >Definitely seemed like the latter earlier at the table.
  5527. "Well, let's say that I like you as more than a friend... what about Brave?"
  5528. >Her ear flicks.
  5529. >That doesn't really help your confidence.
  5530. "I don't want either one of you sad, you know."
  5531. >God, there really isn't a clear cut solution to this.
  5532. >This is why your PC back home was the only girl for you.
  5533. >Vannie stays silent.
  5534. >Damn, how do you make everyone happy, here?
  5535. >Do you really have to CHOOSE?
  5536. >You mindlessly rub Vannie's belly a bit, getting a few hushed squeaks out of her.
  5537. >The screen from the game goes black for a few seconds, then displays the main menu.
  5538. >"Anon?"
  5539. >Vannie looks up at you curiously, her eyes shimmering with sadness.
  5540. >"Did... d-do you..."
  5541. >She takes a small breath, shivering a bit.
  5542. >"Do you really...?"
  5543. >It takes you but a second to understand what she's asking you.
  5544. >And you can't help but feel selfish for the answer.
  5545. "Yes, Vannie... I do."
  5546. >For a second, she stays completely frozen.
  5547. >Then she starts shaking, and her ears fold.
  5548. >Her eyes water up, and her lips slightly curl upward.
  5549. >"R-really? Y-you... you really mean i-it?"
  5550. >You softly nod.
  5551. >You're just digging a deeper hole here, if anything.
  5552. >But hell, at least it gave you a smile.
  5553. >And from what you can see, the most genuine one you have out of her.
  5554. >Ears folding further back, she squeaks and wraps you in a big hug-
  5555. >-Oh god you can't breathe
  5556.  
  5557. >She stops after hearing you quietly suck in loads of air.
  5558. >For a second, you thought you were going to die or something.
  5559. >It was that bad.
  5560. >Not even Brave's post cuddle iron-lock is that strong.
  5561. >Like, you wouldn't be surprised if that was some kind of lethal takedown, or a CQC move she learned in the guard.
  5562. >"-I'm sorry! I-I didn't hurt you, did I?"
  5563. >After a moment, you start breathing normally.
  5564. "Feels like you broke a few ribs."
  5565. >She freezes with a gasp, eyes wide in disbelief.
  5566. >For that moment, her gaze scans you and her surroundings wildly, before she starts to tear up.
  5567. >Then she realizes that you're joking, probably through that stupid grin on your face.
  5568. >Her ears snap back up, and a glare crosses her face.
  5569. >"D-don't do that! I'm very emotional right now!"
  5570. >You nod and hug her, resting your head on hers.
  5571. "I can tell."
  5572. >You can tell she's scrunching under you, but it doesn't take long until she's comfortable again in your embrace.
  5573. >And though her being happy makes you happy, that nagging feeling in your mind keeps you from completely enjoying this moment.
  5574. "So then, this is all why you were upset?"
  5575. >After a second, you feel her slowly nod.
  5576. >"I... I didn't even know what was wrong myself, until we got here. I knew I felt bad, but I just didn't know... why."
  5577. >You nod.
  5578. >She moves her head to look at you, a small smile on her lips.
  5579. >"Th-then, I came here with you, and it was like... everything was better- so much better..."
  5580. >She looks into your eyes, brightening up.
  5581. >"Then... I definitely knew what I was missing."
  5582. >The thought fills your stomach with an uplifting feel.
  5583. >Slowly, she moves her head back to rest under yours.
  5584. >She softly sighs.
  5585. >"Even now, I'm surprised I was able to say anything, much less hear that you feel the same."
  5586. >You lay back down on the seat, happy to see that Vannie's no longer curled up as she was.
  5587. >Instead, she gently lies back with you.
  5588.  
  5589. >You gently rub her underside with a hand.
  5590. >She really is a fluffy pony.
  5591. "You put yourself down too much, Vannie. The last thing you should be worrying about is what a bipedal caveman from the past-future thinks of you."
  5592. >She stays silent, aside from some soft, shuddery breaths.
  5593. >She flips over and lays her chest on you, slipping a hoof around you.
  5594. >"I don't care about anypony else... All I need is you."
  5595. >That catches you off guard a bit.
  5596. >You mean, a lot of things have so far, but this is definitely top three.
  5597. >This is one of the things that you imagine are easy to tell your ninth grade girlfriend through text, but to actually HEAR it in person, is entirely different.
  5598. >You can just feel how much she believes her own words.
  5599. >She lies her head on your chest, ears flopped over with another smile on her face.
  5600. >And though she looks a bit calm, you can feel her heart racing.
  5601. "You shouldn't just limit yourself to me, though. You deserve more."
  5602. >She shakes her head.
  5603. >"No more than I'm sure you can give me."
  5604. >More silence slips between you both.
  5605. >Another sigh leaves her.
  5606. >"I don't know what it is, exactly. Every time I see you, I just feel... happier. I realize now, that I've had that same exact feeling since I first saw you- I just never noticed or knew what it was, before..."
  5607. >Her eyes get watery again.
  5608. >"But I've never felt this way about somepony else in my entire life."
  5609. >She looks at the ground for a second, then back to you.
  5610. >"I-I don't want to make you feel weird or anything... but I know now, that no matter where I end up, or how... I'll be okay, as long as I'm with you."
  5611. >You're left speechless.
  5612. >You mean, hell, what do you even SAY after that?
  5613. >While you sit, dumbfounded, she sneaks in a quick peck of your cheek and hides behind her mane again, face flushed probably just as bad as yours.
  5614. >Never did you think you'd hear something like that, being told to you directly.
  5615. >Games- sure, shitty fanfiction- of course, but in person?
  5616. >Never.
  5617. >Yet, here you are.
  5618.  
  5619.  
  5620. >Vannie rests back down on your chest and closes her eyes with a sigh.
  5621. >Though how her ears move, you're sure she's actually waiting for a response.
  5622. >So, you say exactly what's on your mind.
  5623. "I don't know how to respond to that without either sounded retarded, or just really inadequate."
  5624. >Slowly, she sits up and puts a hoof over your lips.
  5625. >"Then don't say anything."
  5626. >She wraps her forelegs around your neck and rests her head on your shoulder.
  5627. >Not before nuzzling you a bit, though.
  5628. >All the fuzz on her tickles your neck.
  5629. >And holy hell, is it soft.
  5630. >You mock her own actions and hug her.
  5631. >Then you pick up a sound nearby.
  5632. >Before your brain processes said sound, a hoof pulls open the curtain on your side.
  5633. >You and Vannie both snap to it, staring like a deer in headlights.
  5634. >A stallion and a mare just stop and stand there with the same expression.
  5635. >Well, the stallion's jaw is dropped, and the mare's got a hoof over her mouth, but the fundamentals are the same.
  5636. >Shock, and a whole lot of blushing.
  5637. >And it really doesn't take long to think about how this looks to these folks.
  5638. >A bat pony out of her armor, arms wrapped around a guy's neck while she sits on his lap.
  5639. >Yeah, it looks pretty terrible.
  5640. "W-we, th-the, I..."
  5641. >You have no idea what to say.
  5642. >Even more so than before.
  5643. >So instead, you just quietly grab the curtain from the stallion's grip, and pull it back to cover you both.
  5644. >And for a moment, almost everything stays still.
  5645. >Then finally, you hear hooves softly run away from the machine.
  5646. >Though the silence stays between you and Vannie.
  5647. >Her system reboots before you, and she throws you an embarrassed look, complete with crazy red cheeks.
  5648. >"...M-maybe, we should go back to the c-castle."
  5649. "-Agreed."
  5650.  
  5651. >You lean forward and quietly peek through the curtain, making sure the coast is clear.
  5652. >Then you let Vannie hop off and grab her armor from the other seat.
  5653. >You suck down the rest of your drink, grab your card, and hop out.
  5654. >You brush yourself to look more presentable, and check your own surroundings.
  5655. >Going around the machine, Vannie's almost completely done putting her armor on, save for the main chest piece.
  5656. >You help her click it all into place, then pick her up again.
  5657. >Fireman style, just like always.
  5658. >You enjoy the little squeaks it gets out of her.
  5659. >Or hell, just from all ponies in general.
  5660. >They all squeak for everything.
  5661. >Though, Vannie definitely squeaks the most.
  5662. >But what you like most, is the-
  5663. >"EEE!-"
  5664. >-Sound that she usually makes.
  5665. >Resting in your arms, she hides behind her mane again, cheeks red either from what just transpired, or the fact that she's being carried around the arcade like a newlywed.
  5666. >Though you still see that smile on her face.
  5667. >Drunkenly ignoring the odd looks from the ponies, you end up near the exit and see Minuette back at the counter, doing a crossword puzzle with a bored expression on her face.
  5668. >Once she spots you both, she brightens up and quickly waves.
  5669. >"Oh, byyye! Hope to see you both soon!"
  5670. >You give your own little wave before hopping outside in the dark.
  5671. >They've got arcades and telephones and shit, but no streetlights.
  5672. >How that works, you don't know.
  5673. >You figured someone would have thought of putting a few bulbs on the street a long time ago.
  5674. >The air outside is pretty chilly, but nothing too crazy, or anything you're not used to at this point.
  5675. >Being up on a damn mountain, it's colder, but not uncomfortably so, which is nice.
  5676. >So, with bat pony in your arms and unknown amounts of alcohol in your system, you stumble on over to the castle.
  5677. >It's super close, but still takes forever in your head.
  5678. >You watched a few scary movies as a younger kid, and that shit haunts you even to this age.
  5679.  
  5680. >It helps having Vannie here, but you still can't help but check every corner.
  5681. >And hell, with the whole catbird thing, it may not be such a bad idea, after all.
  5682. >Though you really haven't seen or heard anything about any Griffons, lately, which is nice.
  5683. >After a moment of thought, Vannie shifts in your arms and hugs your neck.
  5684. >And immediately, you feel that the Griffon threat means nothing.
  5685. >Which... is nice.
  5686. >Slowing your pace and heading up to the gate, those night shift guys open the thing up for you.
  5687. >They glance at Vannie, then at you with this jealous scowl.
  5688. >So you settle on a shit eating grin and flipping them the bird while you walk past.
  5689. >Not like they know what it means, but it sure amuses the hell out of you.
  5690. >You glance up at the moon for a quick estimate of the time, and estimate that... it's night.
  5691. >...You're not good at reading the time.
  5692. >You have the front doors open for you as well, and hurry on back to your room before the guards even notice Vannie hanging out with you.
  5693. >Walking through the halls, you do see a guard every once and a while, mostly struggling to keep their eyes open, or obviously lost in thought.
  5694. >You would think that more bat ponies would be better suited for the night shift, but whatever.
  5695. >Based on what Vannie's told you, they seem more like mercenaries than anything.
  5696. >Or military police.
  5697. >A bit more walking and some turns later, you spot your beautiful room up ahead, sitting in all its hidden glory.
  5698. >You mean, every hallway has more than one room in it, and the hallway to yours is just blank.
  5699. >No guards, then you've got your room and the balcony.
  5700. >Not that you're complaining, but still.
  5701. >Walking up to your bedroom door, you gently open it without a creak.
  5702. >You don't know how late it is exactly, but you still know it's goddamn late.
  5703. >At least by pony standards.
  5704. >Practically everything dies out at nine.
  5705. >Once you catch sight of your bed, a figure resting on it slowly raises itself.
  5706.  
  5707. >But before your drunken mind can process the figure as a bloodthirsty Griffon or a possessed Japanese girl, it speaks.
  5708. >"Anon?"
  5709. >It's Brave.
  5710. >And christ, she sounds tired.
  5711. >Your eyes adjust, and you walk in, seeing her lying on the bed, rocking gently in an exhausted fight to stay awake.
  5712. >Which immediately makes you feel like shit.
  5713. "Aw hell, you don't need to stay up for me, Brave."
  5714. >She sheepishly nods her head.
  5715. >"I sleep... when you do... sir."
  5716. >She lets out a long yawn.
  5717. >You notice that Vannie's knocked the hell out when she speaks again.
  5718. >"So... I take it things worked well?"
  5719. >You quickly nod.
  5720. "Surprisingly, yes. Though I'll give details about it tomorrow."
  5721. >But not before deciding how the hell you're going to go about this.
  5722. >She nods, then yawns.
  5723. >Then you see that she's still in her armor.
  5724. >And hell, so is Vannie.
  5725. >This simply will not do.
  5726. >You gently rest her on one side, then walk over to Brave's.
  5727. >Her eyes lazily follow you over, and you hold her front hoof.
  5728. >Then, you slowly guide her onto her back and start taking her armor boots-shoes-whatever off.
  5729. >"What... what are you doing?"
  5730. "You're super tired, and I want you to be comfortable."
  5731. >"No, but... I can't-"
  5732. "-That's an order."
  5733. >She looks at you for a moment, trying to conjure up a response.
  5734. >But comes up blank.
  5735. >You gently rub an ear, before going back to taking her armor off.
  5736. "Just get comfy, okay?"
  5737. >She slowly nods, then shifts a bit on the bed.
  5738. >You take all her shoes off, then the helmet, resting it on the nightstand next to her.
  5739. >Finally, you take off the chest piece, realizing that this is the first time you've seen her completely out of her armor.
  5740. >Though you can't really see much of anything in this dark.
  5741. >Her mane practically explodes over the pillow she's on, and you give her a quick belly rub.
  5742. >She coos for a second, before you cover her up and watch her get settled.
  5743. >"...Thank you, Anon."
  5744. "-Of course-"
  5745. >"-No... I mean... for everything."
  5746. >You give her a small nod, and a smile.
  5747.  
  5748. >She puts her hoof on your hand, then returns the smile.
  5749. >You both stay like that for a moment, before she unintentionally reminds you how tired she is.
  5750. >You give her ear another rub, then slip away to the other side of the bed.
  5751. >Repeating the process with Vannie, it's much easier because now you see that she is a goddamn heavy sleeper.
  5752. >Taking her shoes off, helmet and everything yields no response from her whatsoever.
  5753. >The second her helmet came off, her mane popped up and comically covered her face.
  5754. >But she still stayed asleep.
  5755. >So, pushing her mane away and setting her armor on that nightstand, you finally kick off your own garments and settle in your bed.
  5756. >Though the only things you can take off are your shoes and socks, because you're still kind of going commando, here.
  5757. >You move up towards the middle and rest your head.
  5758. >Immediately, Brave scoots up to you and rests a hoof on your chest, her head buried by your shoulder.
  5759. >She gives your cheek a gentle kiss.
  5760. >"Goodnight, Anon..."
  5761. "Goodnight, Brave."
  5762. >You lie there for a moment, just staring forward, lost in thought.
  5763. >Not that you're trying to keep yourself awake, but you never really did get adjusted to pony time here.
  5764. >In your peripherals, Vannie shifts in her seat, as if looking for something.
  5765. >She paws aimlessly at the air again, then catches your arm and reels herself in.
  5766. >A soft sigh escapes her and tickles your neck, and a smile develops on her lips.
  5767. >So, you lie there.
  5768. >Unable to sleep, and now reminded of a certain dilemma.
  5769. >Drunk as you are, you're still aware of the severity here.
  5770. >You're going to have to choose, and you don't know how to.
  5771. >You don't know how ANYBODY would be able to choose, here.
  5772. >This isn't blue or red pill type business, here.
  5773. >It's like Ferrari or Lamborghini.
  5774. >Coke or Pepsi.
  5775. >Xbox or Playstation-
  5776. >-And though you don't see yourself falling asleep anytime soon, you don't think you'll have enough time to think about this.
  5777. >...And you don't think you ever will.
  5778.  
  5779. >
  5780. >Like a flash, morning is here before you know it.
  5781. >You have half a mind to walk over to Celestia and demand more time.
  5782. >It can't be morning already.
  5783. >There's no way it's been nine hours.
  5784. >No way.
  5785. >Sunlight now pouring in past the curtains, you already feel Brave shifting around next to you.
  5786. >She lets out a small groan and a sigh, lazily turning her head and leaving a lot of mane in your face.
  5787. >She covers her head with the sheets, moving again every once and a while to slightly make herself more comfortable.
  5788. >Vannie's still out like a light, forelegs wrapped around your arm like a boa.
  5789. >The sun is right in her face, but it doesn't seem to faze her in the slightest.
  5790. >She really is a damn heavy sleeper.
  5791. >Brave moves a bit more, backing herself into you and immediately pausing.
  5792. >She slowly turns her head towards you, clearly trying to see if she woke you up.
  5793. >You muster a small smile.
  5794. "Morning."
  5795. >"-I'm sorry, did I wake you up?"
  5796. >You shake your head.
  5797. >And at the same time, she scans you.
  5798. >"Though, it doesn't look like you had much sleep... I didn't snore, did I?"
  5799. >You smirk and shake your head again.
  5800. >It's odd how different she is, now.
  5801. >Before you couldn't get anything but a blink out of her, and now she's worried about waking you up with a snore.
  5802. >Even her tone of voice has been completely different.
  5803. >Much more... relaxed.
  5804. >Definitely not as serious as it used to be in Ponyville, that's for sure.
  5805. >Her eyes trail over to Vannie for a second, then move away back to you.
  5806. >"So then, what's on the agenda for today?"
  5807. >Anything you can stall with.
  5808. "...How about coffee, for now?"
  5809. >She smiles and nods.
  5810. >"Sounds great to me."
  5811. >Almost silently, she slides out of bed and starts putting her armor on.
  5812. >Just, watching her, being near her... you feel something you really never have.
  5813. >Contentment.
  5814. >Then you turn over to Vannie, the same feeling brewing in your gut.
  5815. >And finally, an overwhelming sense of dread.
  5816. >What are you going to do?
  5817.  
  5818. >The second Brave clicks the final parts of her armor into place, Vannie wakes up with a snort.
  5819. >She covers her face with a hoof and groans.
  5820. >"Oh Celestia whyyy..."
  5821. >She buries her head under the covers and groans again.
  5822. >It reminds you of an ostrich.
  5823. >You use this moment of freedom to hop off your bed and dust yourself off.
  5824. >Seeing how you kinda, well, kept everything on, that's really all you're able to do at the moment.
  5825. >Still need to wash your other clothes.
  5826. >...And get more clothes.
  5827. >That's always been the issue here, you swear.
  5828. >Stopped letting the castle staff wash for you because things would just disappear.
  5829. >First it's a sock, then the next thing you know, you have no shirt anymore.
  5830. >But that's why you do your own laundry, now.
  5831. >Despite how far away the stupid room is.
  5832. >-But you digress.
  5833. >You put your shoes and everything on again, then do a quick check to make sure you don't smell like something died in your jacket.
  5834. >When you're all set, you and Brave just look back at the bed, watching Vannie.
  5835. >Head under the covers, rump and everything else just sticking out.
  5836. >She groans again, before very slowly slumping out of bed.
  5837. >She stretches out and manages to give you a small smile.
  5838. >Eyes half lidded and mane everywhere, she yawns before working to put all her armor on.
  5839. >She looks as exhausted as you feel.
  5840. >You help speed things up, then head over to the front door.
  5841. >"Where are we going?"
  5842. "Getting coffee."
  5843. >"-Oh sweet Luna, thank you."
  5844. >She moves towards the front door with Brave, and you file out behind them.
  5845. >"...Where the hay do they even serve coffee here?"
  5846. "Well, there's a place nearby this castle that I went to all the time."
  5847. >Brave looks over at you curiously.
  5848. >"Wait, you're wanting to LEAVE the castle? AGAIN?"
  5849. >You shrug.
  5850. "Nothing bad happened last night. I'm sure I won't die or anything."
  5851. >She slows down and keeps close to your side.
  5852. >You gently rub her ear, getting a small smirk out of her.
  5853. "Besides, I trust you both can protect me."
  5854.  
  5855.  
  5856. >Though you don't feel that the same can be said the other way around.
  5857. >Vannie just continues to walk forward, obviously placed in a mindless autopilot from whatever degree of hangover she's experiencing.
  5858. >You pass by some of the morning shift guys heading over for early breakfast, cheery faces on almost all their faces.
  5859. >They really are morning people.
  5860. >It disgusts you.
  5861. >Nobody should be so full of life at this time, even with sleep.
  5862. >It's just not natural.
  5863. >In fact, you're pretty sure that Dave is already over at that breakfast table.
  5864. >He was the worst one, always ushering you over and trying to wake you up like a mother would.
  5865. >'Anooon, wakey wakey eggs and cake-y!'
  5866. >Christ, that line still haunts you.
  5867. >Your flashbacks fade when you arrive at the castle doors and step outside.
  5868. >And the whole altitude difference leaves the air nice and chilly, just like you like it.
  5869. >Not super cold, but just enough to wake you up a bit more.
  5870. >It's damn perfect.
  5871. >Vannie moves a bit closer to your side, as you noticed she did passing by the morning guards.
  5872. >One hanging by the gate spots you and signals the others, then flashes you a smile and a salute as you walk out.
  5873. >Seriously, morning people.
  5874. >They close the gate behind you, and you let your mind walk itself to the coffee shop.
  5875. >After going there so many days, you could do it even with your eyes closed.
  5876. >And you have, once before.
  5877. >You were that tired.
  5878. >Though you didn't actually get you any sleep, the extra rest for your eyes really helped.
  5879. >But you digress.
  5880. >Again.
  5881. >The walk to the shop doesn't necessarily take long, but it is further from the castle than that pony D&B you went to yesterday.
  5882. >Familiar sights and ponies walking around catch your eye, and you even get a few waves.
  5883. >Though you know it's all just courtesy.
  5884. >They see you coming out of the castle, they'll wave.
  5885.  
  5886. >The whole walk there, you reminisce more than you do anything else.
  5887. >You almost forget that you have armored company until you open the doors to the cafe.
  5888. >And with that company, you've got a choice to make.
  5889. >Behind the counter, it's nobody you recognize from the last time being here.
  5890. >Just some random ponies.
  5891. >They all stare at you and the girls for a moment, then shake it off and hop into business mode.
  5892. >"Good morning, welcome!"
  5893. >You walk up to the counter, trying to disarm that slightly worried look on this mare's face.
  5894. >But instead, her eyes just cautiously follow you, until she's looking up at you from in your shadow.
  5895. >You're not that close to her, but the sun's not helping with the angle it's in.
  5896. >Taking a simple step to the side, you sigh.
  5897. "I'll just get a black coffee, and whatever these girls want."
  5898. >Vannie walks up, still looking exhausted as ever.
  5899. >She glances up at the menu and squints.
  5900. >Her eyes slowly move across the boards.
  5901. >"...I don't know, there's too much stuff. I'll take anything with loads of caffeine in it, please."
  5902. >The mare pauses, then slowly nods.
  5903. >Brave takes a step, eyes never leaving the menu.
  5904. >"Vanilla latte, please."
  5905. >The mare nods again, you throw down some more bits from your seemingly unending pockets, and you move over to a table.
  5906. >You actually only have four bags left.
  5907. >Not that bits are really big, though.
  5908. >They're kind of just like thick quarters.
  5909. >It's odd.
  5910. >The mare opens the bag, then starts to count the coins.
  5911. >She looks up at you, and you immediately wave it off.
  5912. "Just keep the change, it's fine."
  5913. >She nods, and you head on over to a table.
  5914. >The girls follow suit, Brave sitting across from you, and Vannie on your side.
  5915. >Symbolism, you guess.
  5916. >Silence quickly fills the space between you and the girls.
  5917. >You know it's likely because you and them just woke up, but your mind puts a separate thought in place.
  5918. >It just makes you feel nervous.
  5919.  
  5920. >You catch yourself messing with your hands, the main thing you noticed you do when stressed.
  5921. >Popping fingers and such, anything to occupy yourself.
  5922. >Eventually, you settle them under the table, trying to seem less... troubled.
  5923. >But damn, you are.
  5924. >You're avoiding what's been in the back of your mind this whole time.
  5925. >You wasted precious time thinking about other things, just to avoid this.
  5926. >And now, you're left completely unprepared because of it.
  5927. >-Well, more unprepared than you could have been.
  5928. >What do you say?
  5929. >What are you going to do?
  5930. >Should you wait for later?
  5931. >Later would be nice, when everyone is awake and everything.
  5932. >Or maybe tomorrow.
  5933. >You can have this whole day to plan it all ahea-
  5934. >"-So, a black coffee, a vanilla latte, and 'a thing with loads of caffeine in it'. Will that be all for you three?"
  5935. >You nod and smile, then watch her walk off.
  5936. >Now you feel even more constrained on time.
  5937. >That waitress interrupted your thoughts.
  5938. >That precious time.
  5939. >-You're avoiding the subject again.
  5940. >You blink and take a sip of your coffee.
  5941. >It burns your tongue and makes you wince.
  5942. >Though the girls are too invested with their own drinks to really notice.
  5943. >You absent mindedly do the same as them, blowing into the mug while you think.
  5944. >There's a damn choice to make, here.
  5945. >Just the thought of it sends a shiver through you.
  5946. >You don't think you can do this.
  5947. >How CAN you?
  5948. >You've never done this before.
  5949. >Never had to deal with this.
  5950. >You need guidance.
  5951. >Someone to just take over and do the dirty work for you.
  5952. >To go out and make the right choice.
  5953. >But what IS the right choice?
  5954. >Should you flip a damn coin?
  5955. >Roll some dice?
  5956. >What do you do?
  5957. >"Are you alright, Anon?"
  5958.  
  5959. >Looking up, Brave's watching you curiously.
  5960. >And the commotion has brought Vannie's eyes up, as well.
  5961. >You don't like the attention.
  5962. >It's like you don't even see them anymore.
  5963. >You don't get that fluttery feeling seeing them.
  5964. >At least not together.
  5965. >You just feel more dread.
  5966. >You feel uncomfortable.
  5967. >You feel like you're being judged.
  5968. >Everything that you do and say, immediately being judged by the both of them.
  5969. "Y-yeah, I'm fine. J-just tired."
  5970. >Vannie lazily nods alongside you, while Brave pushes forward.
  5971. >"Yeah, how come? You look like you just haven't slept at all. What kept you up?"
  5972. >You quickly shake your head.
  5973. "I-it's nothing. Just- a bad nightmare..."
  5974. >One where you messed up.
  5975. >Where you said the wrong thing, and it all went downhill.
  5976. >Where you ended up alone, because you were greedy with the company you'd never had before.
  5977. >Where every good thing spiraled out of control, out of your grasp and out the window.
  5978. >Leaving you cold and alone, worse than you had been before.
  5979. >The same thoughts, the same feelings in a different place, just controlled by something else.
  5980. >Another force pulling the strings, tugging at the same spots, keeping you going just for the sake of it.
  5981. >Moving you around until you're tired of it, or can't feel the motions anymore.
  5982. >Until it all just blurs into one big mess-
  5983. >"-Anon!"
  5984. >You snap at attention and blink.
  5985. >"Celestia, you really need some proper sleep. We're going back to the castle after this."
  5986. >You idly nod and continue blowing on your coffee.
  5987. >It's not until you try it that you realize how long you were doing so.
  5988. >It's just warm now.
  5989. >Taking some small sips, you notice Vannie doing the same.
  5990. >Though she quickly seems to perk up, despite caffeine usually taking thirty minutes to kick in.
  5991. >Guess it's the sugar.
  5992. >That coffee of hers does look really creamy.
  5993.  
  5994. >You continue staring past the table, taking sips from your mug until your lips are met with nothing.
  5995. >You stare at the empty bottom of your mug, then set it down.
  5996. "...Guys."
  5997. >The two look up at you.
  5998. >Then your brain processes what you just uttered.
  5999. >Against your own will, your own thoughts, you just talked.
  6000. >You started exactly what you didn't want to.
  6001. >Now they're both looking at you, waiting to know why you grabbed their attention.
  6002. >WHY did you do this?
  6003. >You're not ready.
  6004. >You don't know what you're going to say.
  6005. >You didn't do it on purpose.
  6006. >They both watch you curiously, waiting for what you're going to say.
  6007. >An emerald green and a sapphire blue, peering into you.
  6008. >The two biggest things in your life right now, just for the changes they've brought you.
  6009. >The new doors they've opened.
  6010. >The easier they made the journey.
  6011. >...And here you are, just waiting to ruin that.
  6012. >Your eyes trail to the table.
  6013. >You can't stand to face them like this.
  6014. >And you never wanted to.
  6015. >"Is something wrong, Anon?"
  6016. >The better question is, what ISN'T wrong?
  6017. >Softly shaking your head, you take a damn deep breath.
  6018. >It just makes them more interested in your words.
  6019. >Tapping the mug in your hands, another sigh escapes you.
  6020. "I... I don't really know how to go about saying this..."
  6021. >Now they both look worried.
  6022. >"What happened, Anon?"
  6023. >"Yeah, what's up?"
  6024. >You can hear the tone in your voice.
  6025. >Now you feel you're making too much of a big deal, here.
  6026. >Or maybe not a big enough deal.
  6027. >There's just no winning this, is there?
  6028.  
  6029. >You take another breath, then rub your face with your hands.
  6030. >You've already passed the point of no return, now.
  6031. >Waited too long to pull of a, 'it's nothing,' and you have too much attention on you to say, 'maybe later'.
  6032. >Trying that now, you're sure they'd just keep pushing you.
  6033. >So it's now or never.
  6034. >And never wouldn't sound so bad, if you weren't afraid of the consequences.
  6035. >Or knew the severity of them.
  6036. >-Being blunt has pretty much always been your thing.
  6037. >Or you've tried to make it that way.
  6038. >Of course, you don't mind lying with the little things, like remembering that movie you never saw, just to stay in a conversation.
  6039. >But, for instance, group things, face to face confrontations where everyone has something to say, but nobody wants to say it.
  6040. >The only thing here is, YOU'RE the only one with something to say.
  6041. >This isn't a friendly misunderstanding or debate.
  6042. >This is, 'how badly fucked are you?'
  6043. >Or damage control time.
  6044. >Weighing options, seeing which will hurt you the least.
  6045. >But ultimately, you're sure that being blunt could lessen the blow.
  6046. >Leaving things to imagination just creates more ways to be wrong.
  6047. >At least, that's how you see it.
  6048. >Brave reaches a hoof over and places it on your hand.
  6049. >Then gives you a warm, caring smile.
  6050. >-Which just destroys your confidence.
  6051. >This is like choosing which pet to save from the pound.
  6052. >You can't save them all, and you know that all the ones you don't choose are gonna be grinded up into tendies.
  6053. >Staring at the mug a little longer, the silence ushers you to speak.
  6054. >You shut your eyes and let out another sigh.
  6055. >No dancing around this, goddamn it.
  6056. >Like a bandaid, just ripping it off will be better.
  6057. "-I have feelings for both of you."
  6058. >Both of their eyes go wide.
  6059.  
  6060. >You turn away from their gazes.
  6061. "I just... I didn't want to leave that in the dark. I didn't want to show feelings for one, and forget the other, or just do nothing at all."
  6062. >You can't see their faces, but you know they're still looking at you.
  6063. "I've never dealt with these kind of feelings, before, but I've seen time and time again how it all works out."
  6064. >You hold your hands out.
  6065. "-Before you say or do anything, just know that I'm telling you both this because I don't want anyone to be hurt. You both have brought the best changes in my life, and I couldn't have lived with myself if I went behind anybody."
  6066. >They're completely silent.
  6067. >Nobody even breathes.
  6068. "If you have anyone to be angry at, it should be me. I'm the cause of all of this."
  6069. >There's still silence.
  6070. >You stand up from your seat, still avoiding their gaze.
  6071. "I'll be back at the castle, give you time for whatever you need to. As of right now, you're both off-duty."
  6072. >You practically skip and speed-walk away.
  6073. >The second you leave the coffee shop, you feel this small sense of relief, but also despair.
  6074. >Leaving like this might not be the best choice, but you're just surprised you were able to say all of that.
  6075. >Sitting there, being judged any further by them would have just crushed you.
  6076. >The more they know about you, the more flaws they can spot.
  6077. >At least now, should they decide to leave you, you won't see their faces.
  6078. >It's like everything.
  6079. >The less you see of it, the less of an impact it leaves.
  6080.  
  6081. >...
  6082. >...Dang it.
  6083. >Exactly what you didn't want to happen, just happened.
  6084. >You knew you should have kept your stupid mouth shut.
  6085. >You shouldn't have had so many drinks.
  6086. >You should have just, kept it in...
  6087. >Now look at what you caused.
  6088. >The look on Anon's face was so nervous, so scared.
  6089. >And now Brave looks ready to cry.
  6090. >...You didn't want to cause this.
  6091. >Why didn't you keep your mouth shut?
  6092. >Why didn't you just talk to him earlier?
  6093. >...Why?
  6094.  
  6095. >...
  6096. >You knew it was too good to be true.
  6097. >Someone as great as Anon... you'd never have been able to keep him for long.
  6098. >You're not good enough.
  6099. >Never have been.
  6100. >Vannie has so much more than you.
  6101. >Why in Celestia's name did you think you could compete with a bat pony?
  6102. >You're just... just a dumb mud pony.
  6103. >That's all you'll ever be...
  6104. >You jolt from your seat and stand up.
  6105. >You don't know where to go.
  6106. >You don't know where you WANT to go.
  6107. >Just... anywhere but here.
  6108. >Anywhere.
  6109.  
  6110. >...
  6111. >You watch as Brave trots out of the coffee shop alone.
  6112. >She was already tearing up.
  6113. >You'd go after her... but what could you say?
  6114. >She probably hates your guts right now.
  6115. >Thinks you went out to try and steal Anon or something.
  6116. >...And hay, you kind of did.
  6117. >Stupid you.
  6118. >You knew that she was with Anon.
  6119. >You saw how happy they were.
  6120. >And you just had to ruin that.
  6121. >Couldn't just ignore it all and let them enjoy each other.
  6122. >Now look.
  6123. >Because you got greedy, nopony's happy.
  6124. >And it really is all your fault.
  6125. >...You shouldn't have gone with him last night.
  6126. >Shouldn't have tested your luck.
  6127. >You're just a filthy flying rodent, remember?
  6128. >You're not worthy of love...
  6129.  
  6130. >You continue to sit at the table.
  6131. >You don't know where else to go, really.
  6132. >You want to be alone, but you don't want to deal with anypony right now...
  6133. >An idea slowly makes its way into your head.
  6134. >Let's just see how good your memory is.
  6135.  
  6136. >...
  6137. >You're still not sure if walking away was the best choice.
  6138. >-Well, of course it wasn't, but you're regretting it more every second.
  6139. >What if they weren't angry at all, and just sad or something?
  6140. >Then you just managed to abandon them, instead of give anyone space.
  6141. >...Damn.
  6142. >This whole situation is just messed up.
  6143. >You knew it was going to be, but you still held onto that sliver of hope, you know?
  6144. >It's magical horseland, where cuddles are treated as something super serious.
  6145. >You figured that would make things like this easier to deal with.
  6146. >Guess all it did was make things worse.
  6147. >Walking back up to the gate, hands in your pockets, the guards are clearly wondering why you're missing two, but stay silent.
  6148. >They open up the gate for you, and the next thing you know, you're back in the castle.
  6149. >And it's impossible to wipe the frown off your face.
  6150. >On the way towards your room, you hear the sound of hooves nearby, and the next thing you know, you're face to face with Dave, who's clearly coming from breakfast.
  6151. >"Oh hey, Anon!"
  6152. >You manage a small wave and a fake smile, which he immediately sees right past.
  6153. >"-Is something the matter, Anon? Wanna talk about it?"
  6154. >You shake your head and continue smiling.
  6155. "Ah, it's nothing really, just tired."
  6156. >He starts walking past you, then slinks his hoof under your arm.
  6157. >"If it's nothing, then you won't have a hard time telling me about it. It's about time I return the favor, yeah?"
  6158. >You're practically dragged back the way you came.
  6159. >You were really hoping to just sleep or something.
  6160. >You really ARE tired, on top of all this.
  6161.  
  6162. >Eventually you take to just walking beside him, out of the castle and out of the gate.
  6163. >You feel even more terrible with every passing second, both physically and mentally.
  6164. >But at this point, more physically.
  6165. >You haven't stayed up this long in... well, a long time.
  6166. >Dave looks back every few seconds to make sure you're trailing behind, ushering you on whenever needed.
  6167. >Until finally, you're taken to... a pie place.
  6168. >You figured it was going to be a bar or something.
  6169. >Not that you need anymore alcohol in your system, but still.
  6170. >Then you remember, this IS the guy who cried over losing a stuffed animal.
  6171. >He holds the door open for you with a smile, and you slump inside.
  6172. >"I always came around here when I felt down."
  6173. >He flashes you another smile.
  6174. >"It's hard to be sad with a whole pie in front of your face, you know."
  6175. >He walks up front to this whole counter, full of all these pies on display.
  6176. >You walk over and look at them all.
  6177. >Man, those ARE some really good looking pies, though.
  6178. >"Oh hey, haven't seen your face around here in quite a while!"
  6179. >Dave looks up from the pies and grins.
  6180. >"Hi Creame! Just here to cheer up an old friend of mine."
  6181. >He points a hoof at you, and two eyes slowly peer over at you.
  6182. >"-W-woah, you sure are tall."
  6183. >He turns back to Dave while you continue browsing.
  6184. >"So then, this is the 'Anonymous' I've heard so much about, finally?"
  6185. >Dave nods.
  6186. >"The very same one."
  6187. >The stallion just continues scanning you curiously.
  6188. >"...Fascinating."
  6189. >After a moment, he shakes his head.
  6190. >"But nevermind that, what can I get for you two?"
  6191. >"Usual for me."
  6192. >They both look at you.
  6193. >Christ, there's so many pies here.
  6194. "I guess, uh, a regular apple pie for me."
  6195. >"Sure thing, buddy!"
  6196. >You fish around into your pockets and grab a bag of-
  6197. >"-No, no, that won't be necessary. Any friend of Gold here is a friend of mine."
  6198. "Oh, thank you, sir."
  6199. >So part of Dave's name is Gold then, huh?
  6200. >Well, that's a start.
  6201.  
  6202. >
  6203. >...
  6204. >Hiding under your Night Guard armor makes sure that nopony really talks to you the whole way.
  6205. >It's nice.
  6206. >One tiny thing you don't have to worry about, at least.
  6207. >Though you still got plenty of looks.
  6208. >Frowns from the mares, and... other looks, from the stallions.
  6209. >Even a few mares too, actually.
  6210. >You hate it.
  6211. >It's times like this you wish you were just a Pegasus.
  6212. >You can't even take a simple walk without being ogled by everypony that goes past you.
  6213. >Lots of ponies would brag about that.
  6214. >Enjoy all the attention they get from other ponies.
  6215. >But not you.
  6216. >You just want it to stop.
  6217. >Just blend in like a normal pony for once.
  6218. >...For once.
  6219. >Glancing at your surroundings, you finally believe you found where you wanted to go.
  6220. >Hopefully.
  6221. >You're feeling a bit nervous being here.
  6222. >You're not even really sure WHY you're here, too.
  6223. >But you're here.
  6224. >This just seems to be one of the few places you think you'd be safe.
  6225. >Not having to worry about everypony else, scanning, watching you like some kind of prized flower bush.
  6226. >You walk up a bit closer to the door and gently ring the bell.
  6227. >For a moment, you think that nopony's home.
  6228. >Maybe you got the wrong address, and woke somepony up.
  6229. >If anything, you can just hide your mistake under 'guard business'.
  6230. >Say you're searching for somepony or something.
  6231. >Then you hear the door locks click, and watch the door slowly open.
  6232. >And in front of you, that blue unicorn you remember from yesterday, mane disheveled and everywhere.
  6233. >"Oh, hey! I didn't expect to see you so soon."
  6234. >She looks around at the room behind her, then moves the door open.
  6235. >"Would you like some tea or something?"
  6236.  
  6237.  
  6238. >You walk in with a friendly smile and a nod.
  6239. "That would be nice, thank you."
  6240. >Still feeling a bit apprehensive, you take simply to standing by the doorway while Minuette closes the door.
  6241. >You gaze around the place.
  6242. >It's much more decorated than you thought it would be.
  6243. >Family pictures, a painting of a beach sunset and such.
  6244. >It almost reminds you of a dentist's office.
  6245. >It's friendly, but... formal looking.
  6246. >Like it could also be an office, as well as a home.
  6247. >There's even magazines on that glass table in the middle of the room.
  6248. >"Well don't be a stranger, make yourself comfortable! I just need to, you know, fix myself up a bit."
  6249. >You stop yourself from asking why when you look at her mane again.
  6250. >Yesterday it looked a bit messy, but it was clearly done up that way.
  6251. >Some kind of crazy manestyle that you see in the magazines.
  6252. >Now, you can clearly see that she was woken up.
  6253. >Not that you mind it, because you're sure that under your helmet it looks like a bomb went off.
  6254. >Moving over and sitting on a couch, Minuette gives you a smile before slinking away.
  6255. >You don't really find yourself getting comfortable anytime soon.
  6256. >Really, you're not even sure why you're here.
  6257. >Though you feel you need a hug, you wouldn't want to hop on Minuette like that.
  6258. >You're no cuddleslut.
  6259. >So, you sit there, rubbing one foreleg with the other, and continue to gaze at the walls.
  6260. >Looking at the pictures and such.
  6261. >You just wish things could somehow fix themselves.
  6262. >That you could leave this place, just to find that Brave and Anon are okay.
  6263. >...But then, what would that mean for you?
  6264. >While you regret blurting everything out like that, you don't feel it's fair...
  6265. >One side just wants to see Brave and Anon happy.
  6266. >But the other side doesn't understand why you can't also be happy.
  6267. >Why you get to see everyone else enjoying themselves, and never experience any of it for yourself...
  6268.  
  6269. >Though, you still don't feel right, doing as you did.
  6270. >Really, the only time Brave was ever hostile towards you was the first night you showed up.
  6271. >But you know, being IN the guard business, that was just part of the job.
  6272. >Aside from that, she's done no wrong by you.
  6273. >But, you still...
  6274. >A sigh escapes you.
  6275. >There's just too many conflicting feelings in you right now.
  6276. >None of them good.
  6277. >"-I hope you don't mind green tea. It's kinda what I had brewing. I-I mean, I can make some more, if you'd like-"
  6278. "-It's fine, thank you."
  6279. >She pauses for a moment, then sets up a mug and pours some tea in it for you.
  6280. >"I mean, I'm more of a coffee gal myself, but I've heard all these benefits and such of drinking green tea in the mornings. It's supposed to give you that extra jolt of energy and promote good health or whatever."
  6281. >A tired sigh leaves her.
  6282. >"Which I definitely need, for every morning ever."
  6283. >She pours herself a mug and sits across from you.
  6284. >For a moment she just idly stares at the ground, looking super exhausted.
  6285. >"-Oh hay, I forgot I look like a mess."
  6286. >Before you can say anything, she hops off the couch and leaves again.
  6287. >You take the mug in your hooves and simply sit there, back straight and towards the edge of the seat.
  6288. >Wouldn't want to dirty the cushions or anything.
  6289. >You blow on the tea to cool it down.
  6290. >And meanwhile, you think again about what you're doing here.
  6291. >What even is the plan?
  6292. >Eventually, you're going to have to go back to the castle.
  6293. >You can't just stay here forever.
  6294. >And you really doubt Brave would just quit or something, so you'll definitely be forced to face both of them.
  6295. >But... what would you do?
  6296. >What would you say?
  6297.  
  6298. >...
  6299. >You sigh.
  6300. >It's all you've been doing for the past few hours, really.
  6301. >Sigh, seeing all the couples walking by.
  6302. >Then sigh when they do something lovey-dovey.
  6303. >...You wish you could do those things.
  6304. >Have no care in the world, like all these ponies moving past you.
  6305. >While you just sit here, sighing on a park bench.
  6306. >The only place you thought you'd get some privacy here.
  6307. >But all this has managed to do is make you feel worse.
  6308. >It never really clicked in your mind that every couple in Canterlot would be drawn to a park.
  6309. >You sigh again.
  6310. >You feel like crying, but you know you've done enough of it.
  6311. >It's all you're good for, really.
  6312. >-You shake your head.
  6313. >It's wrong to have such negative thinking.
  6314. >You already sunk the boat, you should at least try not to drown.
  6315. >Though, it's really difficult.
  6316. >Not having one thing can just tear you up inside, but you see now, that the worst feeling is to have that thing, then watch it be taken away.
  6317. >Or it certainly feels worse.
  6318. >It's like, one half just wants back what you had, and wants to be happy again.
  6319. >But the other half...
  6320. >It wonders how happy Anon could be without you.
  6321. >That maybe you just aren't worth having that happiness.
  6322. >Vannie certainly seemed to have it bad earlier.
  6323. >A few tears make a break for it.
  6324. >So you sit up and start to walk.
  6325. >Nopony can see you like this.
  6326. >Nopony SHOULD see you like this.
  6327. >Only one has seen you cry, and you want to keep it that way.
  6328. >At least to keep SOME of your dignity.
  6329. >Just... some of it...
  6330.  
  6331. >You end up climbing this little hill with a tree next to it.
  6332. >It's big enough so that the sun doesn't bother you, and thankfully seems far enough so that nopony can see or hear you.
  6333. >And just as the thought leaves you, a few tears follow.
  6334. >You always hated crying.
  6335. >It always just made you feel weaker.
  6336. >Dad certainly thought so...
  6337. >Backing up against the tree, you allow yourself to sob.
  6338. >Knowing that nopony can see you just alleviates some of what you're feeling.
  6339. >And wearing this armor... you always felt safer.
  6340. >Though you're the one who's supposed to make ponies feel safe, you always enjoyed wearing it.
  6341. >It makes you feel like everything... hurts you less.
  6342. >It's just nice.
  6343. >You're sure at least a few fillies look up to you.
  6344. >Think you're some kind of big, strong mare that can do anything.
  6345. >At least, you'd like to believe that.
  6346. >But here you are, watering the grass and crying like a foal on the dirt.
  6347. >You really don't even know why you're crying.
  6348. >Too many things to keep track of at this point.
  6349. >All you know is that you're sad, for many reasons.
  6350. >...You wish Anon was here.
  6351. >That he could just be here to hug you, tell you everything will be fine, and that he'll never leave you.
  6352. >That you're the only mare for him.
  6353. >...You wish.
  6354. >Lying down on the grass, you fold your forelegs and bury your head in them.
  6355. >You feel cold.
  6356. >The armor doesn't help this time around.
  6357. >In fact, you don't think anything will.
  6358. >You just feel... empty.
  6359. >As the thought passes, you clear your mind.
  6360. >And still, all you can do is cry.
  6361. >Because, really...
  6362. >It's all you're good for.
  6363.  
  6364. >After a moment, you seem all out of tears.
  6365. >So you straighten yourself out and wipe your face clean with a hoof.
  6366. >When you're all settled, you just take to staring at the grass, blowing gently in the wind.
  6367. >...You shouldn't be here.
  6368. >You shouldn't be just lying in the grass like this, crying your eyes out.
  6369. >You should be better than this.
  6370. >You wait for your mind to inevitably shoot you back down, but nothing comes by.
  6371. >Glancing around at your surroundings, another sigh leaves you.
  6372. >You're a guard, Brave.
  6373. >...Sad or not, you should be doing what you're paid to do.
  6374. >Even if it means... seeing Anon again.
  6375. >A shiver runs down your back at the name.
  6376. >You want nothing more than to go see him.
  6377. >...But you don't know if he'd want to see you.
  6378. >Especially not Vannie.
  6379. >Hay, they're probably together right now.
  6380. >Probably...
  6381. >-No, stop it!
  6382. >Who cares how you feel.
  6383. >Ponies say you can't do a stallion's job, and you're going to prove them wrong.
  6384. >No matter what it takes.
  6385. >If Anon wants to spend the rest of his life with Vannie, then... so be it!
  6386. >The least you can do is go and make sure that he feels safe.
  6387. >Maybe it could be another thing you can do right.
  6388. >Standing up, you brush off your armor a bit, then start at a brisk pace towards the castle.
  6389. >Regardless, one thing's for sure.
  6390. >Anything is better than just lying there, wallowing in your own sadness.
  6391. >...Anything.
  6392.  
  6393. >...
  6394. >"...Wow. That sounds pretty terrible."
  6395. >You simply nod your head, then shove another piece of pie down your throat.
  6396. >If recounting all of this didn't make you feel bad, you'd definitely find yourself enjoying this pie a whole lot more.
  6397. >It is pretty damn good, honestly.
  6398. "And at the end of it all, I kind of just left. Figured a little time away from me would help things."
  6399. >"Yeah, that makes sense. I could imagine needing a few after hearing something like that."
  6400. >You nod again.
  6401. >There's been a lot of that going on this morning.
  6402. >Gold stays silent for a moment, obviously lost in thought.
  6403. >Finally he turns to you, just as you inhale another piece of pie.
  6404. >-You know, when you came over here, you were really under the impression that you'd just be getting a slice of a pie, like Village Inn or something.
  6405. >But nope, it's literally the whole damn pie or nothing.
  6406. >And it's pretty cheap, considering.
  6407. >"-Honestly, I don't know what to tell you, though. All it seems you could really do is... wait, unless you go back to just favoring one over the other- BUUUT, doing that after you just said you liked BOTH of them would... well, it sounds like it'd be pretty terrible."
  6408. >A sigh leaves you.
  6409. >That was pretty much what you thought your choices were, but you had your hopes.
  6410. >That he could just conjure up some really obvious third choice, that immediately makes everything happy for all of you.
  6411. >Hell, it's like the only real danger is between you three, instead of the supposed threat looming over your head.
  6412. >You dwell on the thought for a moment.
  6413. >When you first saw Brave, never did you think you'd end up here with her.
  6414. >"...If it helps, I'm here for you whenever you need it, you know."
  6415. >You turn away from the table and manage a small smile.
  6416. "It does, thank you."
  6417. >You fork another apple piece into your mouth, much to your stomach's displeasure.
  6418. >The pie's pretty much three fourths of the way there already.
  6419. >Gold's only got a slice and a half to his name, out of eight.
  6420.  
  6421. >This is like your sad ice cream binge.
  6422. >Only, you know, with pie instead.
  6423. >And you're super goddamn tired.
  6424. >You have an idea, then scan the place for a moment.
  6425. "You know where the bathrooms are at?"
  6426. >Gold spins around and points at a doorway in the corner.
  6427. >"Right over there."
  6428. >Taking one last bite, you excuse yourself and head over there.
  6429. >Thinking you have enough space to pass through, you end up hitting your forehead on the doorframe.
  6430. >"-You alright?"
  6431. "Fuckin' peachy."
  6432. >Rubbing your head, you stumble in and look around.
  6433. >Tiled floors, four stalls and three conjoined sinks, complete with a big, long mirror on the wall.
  6434. >It kind of ticks you off that there's not four sinks for four stalls, but whatever.
  6435. >Over in a corner is a fire exit, complete with a little picture of a pony running down a stairs from a fire.
  6436. >You move over to the mirror and look at yourself.
  6437. >More specifically, you look at your head, but it's not hard to see that you also look like shit.
  6438. >Not sleeping for more than twenty four hours will do that to you.
  6439. >If this was your old life back home, twenty four hours would be jack shit.
  6440. >But now look at you, softened up by pony bedtimes.
  6441. >In fact, you think you may have softened up as a whole.
  6442. >Before, you wouldn't give a shit if you heard about a hundred thousand people dying in some place you didn't know.
  6443. >You'd just shrug it off, never donate a cent, and continue on.
  6444. >Now, you see a pony get hurt, you have to stop absolutely fucking everything and help them out or cheer them up.
  6445. >...You wonder how the girls are holding up.
  6446. >Ever since you hopped out of there, you regretted not looking up for at least a second.
  6447. >They could have been super happy about what you said, and you kind of just left.
  6448. >-Though, if they were, you would've seen them on the way to the castle, or back, even.
  6449. >Maybe they just went to enjoy the day off you gave them?
  6450. >...Who knows.
  6451. >You certainly don't.
  6452. >Stupid you.
  6453.  
  6454. >Focusing back on the mirror and your frowning face, you see a bit of blood now coming from your forehead.
  6455. >It's just a bit, but damn, you didn't think you hit it THAT hard.
  6456. >Though, you guess if you were wanting a wake up call, you definitely got one.
  6457. >You splash a bit of water in your face and clean your cut.
  6458. >After, you move over and grab some paper towel for your face.
  6459. >As you do so, you can hear the door nearby creaking open.
  6460. >Probably Gold coming in to check on you.
  6461. >You really need to find a way to repay him for all of this.
  6462. >Sure, he said this was repayment for you listening to his problems and such, but you never bought him pie.
  6463. >Though, you did offer a lot of things.
  6464. >...Man, he was so serious as your door guard.
  6465. >It took too long just to get him to talk without calling you 'sir'.
  6466. >Even longer than Brave-...
  6467. >Well, you just made yourself sad again.
  6468. >You hear hoofsteps against tile, just as something clicks in your mind.
  6469. >The front door's right there.
  6470. >If someone came in, you definitely would have seen them.
  6471. >That mean a pony came in through the fire exit?
  6472. >You turn around and immediately freeze.
  6473. >Your eyes go wide.
  6474. >Right in front of you, and all staring, are three Griffons.
  6475. >-Yes, Griffons.
  6476. >Full on fucking catbirds, one of which has a knife at the ready.
  6477. >"So... your name's Anonymous, right?"
  6478. "-N-no."
  6479. >You look around for some kind of escape.
  6480. >The only thing closest to you is the door now on your left.
  6481. >Just a hop, skip and a jump away.
  6482. >It's completely quiet for a moment.
  6483. >Nobody moves.
  6484. >Nobody even dares to breathe.
  6485. >Then, you finally move and jump for the door.
  6486. >Your leg is caught, and your chin connects with the floor.
  6487. >They quickly start to drag you off while you recover.
  6488. "-GOLD! G-MMPF!"
  6489. >You fruitlessly try to kick around, but one of them quickly makes work of tying you up.
  6490. >All you can do is watch as the door grows further and further away from you.
  6491. >They tie something around your neck, and you quickly find yourself falling asleep.
  6492.  
  6493.  
  6494. >...
  6495. >You watch as Minuette gets comfy in the seat across from you.
  6496. >"You don't have to be so... stiff, you know. Do whatever makes you feel right at home."
  6497. >You give a small smile, but do nothing.
  6498. >How you are right now, is probably just as comfy as you're going to get.
  6499. >"...Ooor not. Whatever floats your boat, I guess."
  6500. "Sorry. I'm just... not used to hospitality, really."
  6501. >She takes a sip of her tea and nods.
  6502. >"Oh, I can definitely understand that. Ponies here are just too rude sometimes."
  6503. >Levitating her tea over, she walks to you and sits beside you.
  6504. >Not too close, but not too far.
  6505. >"But you don't have to worry about that from me. I may have been born here, but I'm a Ponyville girl at heart. You ever been there?"
  6506. >You slowly nod.
  6507. >"Yeah, I loved it there. If it weren't for all the crazy stuff that happens, I'd still have my roots down there. Did you know that place got attacked by a BUG BEAR not too long ago?"
  6508. >You shake your head.
  6509. >"I don't even know what a bug bear IS really, but it sure sounds like it's scary."
  6510. >You nod.
  6511. >"Hey... you okay? I mean, I know I ramble a lot, but you're being awfully quiet for somepony already wide awake."
  6512. >Your sigh is the only thing to break the silence.
  6513. >You wish you could say you're okay.
  6514. >That you're just waiting for Anon to come by and get you.
  6515. >That the only reason you're sad is because you haven't been hugged in a few minutes.
  6516. >You feel a hoof touch a side of your armor.
  6517. >"I can understand if you don't want to tell me what's bothering you, but just know that I'm no mean pony. I can listen."
  6518. >Her offer seems too good to be true.
  6519. >Not many ponies have ever offered such a thing, though seemingly small.
  6520. >Yet, you still hesitate, even though this is exactly what you had hoped for when coming here.
  6521. >Despite what you believe, you ruined Anon and Brave's relationship, just by talking.
  6522. >Somehow, you feel that a few words could break apart what little you have here with Minuette.
  6523.  
  6524. >She idly takes another sip of her tea while she waits for you to speak.
  6525. "-There's been trouble."
  6526. >Her ears perk up, and she looks up at you expectantly.
  6527. "...Between me, and Anon, and this other p-pony that helps guard him."
  6528. >"I was going to ask where Anon was. You two seemed really close."
  6529. >You nod.
  6530. >Though you feel ashamed to.
  6531. >"What happened, if you don't mind me asking?"
  6532. >You take a deep breath, though it does nothing to calm your nerves.
  6533. >Though you know it will feel better to get this all off your chest.
  6534. >Even if none of it will be solved.
  6535. >You've already told her the jist of it.
  6536. >May as well throw in details and hope for the best.
  6537. "Well... Anon may have had a newly developed relationship with this pony. I had liked him too, but I knew that the other pony- Brave, would be happier with him."
  6538. >You feel a shiver crawl down your back.
  6539. >Like all the cool air from the outside just hit you in one spot.
  6540. "And, just yesterday, when you saw us, I may have had too much to drink."
  6541. >You take another breath, and close your eyes.
  6542. >It makes it seem more like you're talking to yourself, instead of somepony else.
  6543. "I messed everything up. I confessed it to him, ignored everything that could go wrong and told him that he was the only one for me- that nopony else mattered."
  6544. >You hear her take another sip.
  6545. "So, this morning he took all three of us to a cafe, said he had feelings for both of us, and didn't want to choose somepony over the other and hurt them. Once he left... I didn't know where to go..."
  6546. >"-And you came here?"
  6547. >You slowly nod, then open your eyes, which are now really watery.
  6548. >You quickly wipe your face with a hoof, and fake a yawn to cover it up.
  6549. >"...Sheesh, that sounds like quite the pickle."
  6550.  
  6551. >You nod again.
  6552. >She looks at her tea, lost in thought for a moment while she drinks it.
  6553. >You try to calm yourself and do the same.
  6554. >"I mean, unless you share him or something..."
  6555. >She looks up at you curiously.
  6556. >"Ooor, if you have any feelings for this other pony...?"
  6557. >She holds that look and waits for a response.
  6558. >Feelings for Brave?
  6559. >Another mare?
  6560. >...You mean, sure, you've thought of it, but not with Brave.
  6561. >And you don't really THINK about it.
  6562. >It just passes by, you know?
  6563. >Besides, not many ponies are even nice to you.
  6564. >-Well, except Minuette here.
  6565. >Yes, and Brave.
  6566. >But that's just...
  6567. >The thought never ever even crossed your mind.
  6568. "I-I don't know..."
  6569.  
  6570. >...
  6571. "What do you MEAN this 'doesn't concern me'?! That 'weird green thing' you happen to be talking about is who I'm in charge of guarding!"
  6572. >Another stallion snorts.
  6573. >"Well, you sure did a good job of it."
  6574. >You huff and look around the place.
  6575. >And clues, any indicator of where he could be...
  6576. >Every guard here seems occupied with something else, be it talking to other ponies or searching around the shop.
  6577. >Then you spot somepony.
  6578. >The one stallion you're sure will listen to you.
  6579. >You speed-walk over to him.
  6580. "Do you know what happened to Anon?"
  6581. >He looks up at you, clearly worried himself.
  6582. >"I-I don't know! I mean, he went over to the bathroom, and then he just... disappeared..."
  6583. >The last word sends a shiver down your spine.
  6584. >There's no way he just vanished.
  6585. >He's probably somewhere nearby, just... doing something.
  6586. >You glance around and spot the bathroom.
  6587. >Pushing past all the other ponies, the stallion takes point and walks towards it.
  6588. >"I came in after like, ten minutes, and he just wasn't here. I SAW him hit his head on the doorframe and walk in! I mean, I even asked if he was okay! I... I know I saw him come in here."
  6589. >You nod and slowly walk in.
  6590. >The stallion does the same, hugging the wall while you scan the place.
  6591. >Tile floors, stalls, sinks and a mirror...
  6592. >There's really nothing out of the ordinary, here.
  6593. >Nothing big enough for him to fit through, and the only door is the one that you both came in from.
  6594. >You anxiously look over the room again.
  6595. >There has to be something here.
  6596. >There HAS to be.
  6597. >You open all the stalls.
  6598. >You run your hoof across the mirror.
  6599. >You turn on the sinks.
  6600. >You tap all the walls.
  6601. >There's nothing.
  6602. >Just, nothing.
  6603.  
  6604. >You can feel this lump form in your throat.
  6605. >Another shiver down your spine.
  6606. >You run your hoof over the mirror again, tapping every inch of it.
  6607. "Th-there has to be something we're missing."
  6608. >There has to be.
  6609. >Just has to be.
  6610. "...Something we're not seeing!"
  6611. >You anxiously tap the mirror a bit harder.
  6612. "Anon can't just, just DISAPPEAR!"
  6613. >"Hey, calm down, I'm sure we'll find him."
  6614. "HE COULDN'T HAVE!"
  6615. >You smash into the glass with your hoof.
  6616. >A large crack spreads across the surface, and a large piece pops out of it.
  6617. >It falls and crashes into the sinks, making you jump a bit.
  6618. >You look over to Anon's friend, who's just watching you with a startled, mildly frightened expression.
  6619. >Letting your legs take over, you move and hop out of the bathroom.
  6620. >If anything, that could be put on the Royal Guard's bill.
  6621. >You scan your surroundings on the way out and scoff.
  6622. >The stallions just continued to do what they were doing before.
  6623. >But in a much more relaxed tone.
  6624. >It's like nopony even cares anymore.
  6625. >Stallions just sitting, eating pie and talking.
  6626. >They don't care.
  6627. >They don't even care about what happens to Anon.
  6628. >Not even Celestia.
  6629. >She could have done more to prevent things.
  6630. >Maybe given you more armor, extra help or something?
  6631. >...Well, now thinking about it, you remember that Anon DID have a chance to be more protected.
  6632. >He was offered extra protection, more guards.
  6633. >But he said he was fine with just you and Vannie.
  6634. >Stupid Anon, doing that for you.
  6635. >It slowly makes you feel worse.
  6636. >Where the hay could he be?
  6637. >You should have just followed him.
  6638. >You could have stopped this.
  6639. >Why didn't you do anything?
  6640.  
  6641. >...
  6642. >You find yourself not feeling much better than when you came here.
  6643. >There's still an improvement, but not much of one.
  6644. >It definitely helped to get this all off your chest, but you just feel that there's no point in this.
  6645. >If you want anything to change, you'll have to help create it.
  6646. >Not just tell other ponies about it.
  6647. >And, Minuette helped you realize that, in a sense.
  6648. >She comes back around, both mugs you had already put in the sink, or whatever she does with them.
  6649. >You stand up and readjust your helmet.
  6650. >"Leaving?"
  6651. >You nod, now a certain kind of determination flowing in you.
  6652. >You can fix this all, you're sure.
  6653. >Just a few right words, and soon everypony will be happy.
  6654. >...Hopefully.
  6655. >But regardless, your thoughts are just too wild to allow you to stay here.
  6656. >You need to know what those two are up to.
  6657. >Make sure they're safe.
  6658. >It IS your job, anyways.
  6659. >Even for a fellow guard.
  6660. >Minuette follows you over to the front door and opens it for you.
  6661. >The second it opens, you spot a familiar face.
  6662. >Somepony you really weren't expecting to.
  6663. >Over in the distance, you see Brave sprinting towards the castle.
  6664. >Though probably due to how badly your armor sticks out and shines in the daytime, she spots you.
  6665. >You take a few steps forward, practically frozen in place in comparison to her.
  6666. >She looks extremely worried.
  6667. >...You hope this isn't about Anon, somehow.
  6668. >Though, with now how eager she seems to be to see you, you're sure it does.
  6669. >She brakes her hooves into the dirt, kicking a huge cloud over you and Minuette.
  6670. >"A-Anon is missing! I-I can't find him anywhere!"
  6671. >Like everything kicking in at once, your eyes are the first to react.
  6672. "What? What are you talking about?"
  6673. >Missing?
  6674. >From where?
  6675. >"I-I don't know where he is, h-he was just in some restaurant with a stallion, a-and he just vanished! Nopony is even looking for him, a-and I don't know where he is, he just- I DON'T KNOW!"
  6676.  
  6677. >You take a moment to process everything she's saying.
  6678. >It also doesn't help that she's speaking so fast.
  6679. >Her words quickly start to tear at your confidence.
  6680. >You weren't expecting this.
  6681. >Not at all.
  6682. >And how worried she looks, how terrified...
  6683. >-She practically jumps and wraps you in a hug.
  6684. >You quickly freeze up in confusion.
  6685. >Seeing Brave this not-calm is already odd as it is.
  6686. >But you never saw her as the hugging type.
  6687. >"I-I don't know what to do!"
  6688. >She practically buries her head in your armor, mumbling too many things to keep track of.
  6689. >You awkwardly pat her back with a hoof, than think.
  6690. >If Brave's going to stay like this, you're going to need to step up to the plate here and try to take charge or something.
  6691. >And if Anon wasn't truly missing, you doubt there would be any reason for her to be this hysterical.
  6692. >...Maybe he had more of an impact on her than you originally thought.
  6693. >-Which makes you feel worse, but if you've got any hope of figuring out what the hay is going on, you can't really let that bother you.
  6694. >The problem you're all facing should definitely be the second thing to do, if the one apart of it is just missing.
  6695. >Your priority one, now.
  6696. >You tap Brave's armor a bit, then hold your hooves to her sides.
  6697. "Have you asked around the castle or anything? Where did he go missing?"
  6698. >Though looking visibly defeated, she wipes her eyes with a hoof and steadies her uneasy breathing.
  6699. >"He... he was last seen at this pie shop, with that Guard Captain he knows. H-he told me that Anon went in, but never came back out. I-I was going to go to the castle to search..."
  6700. >You process all the information and nod.
  6701. >In your peripherals, Minuette hops forward.
  6702. >"If Anonymous is missing, I want to help find him!"
  6703. >You quickly shake your head and recite what you were always told to say.
  6704. "I can't let a civilian interfere with official Equestrian Guard business."
  6705. >"-It doesn't even matter! Th-the stupid guards here don't even CARE! They weren't doing ANYTHING!"
  6706.  
  6707. >You freeze for a second, but you see the sincerity in Brave's expression.
  6708. >She's telling the truth.
  6709. >The guards really aren't helping...
  6710. >You turn back over to Minuette, who's now looking as awake as ever.
  6711. "...Alright, just this once, you can help us."
  6712. >A grin crosses her face, and she nods.
  6713. >Well, Brave said she was headed to the castle, so you figure that's the first place to look.
  6714. >And Luna, you're going to look until it kills you.
  6715. "Come on then, let's go find Anon!"
  6716. >Brave grins and hugs you again.
  6717. >Sheesh, she really is huggy.
  6718.  
  6719. >...
  6720. >Fucking hell, everything hurts.
  6721. "Mmmph..."
  6722. >"...Well well, looks like someone here's awake. What should we do?"
  6723. >"Awake? The crystals?"
  6724. >You're tugged by your shirt collar and look down.
  6725. >On your neck, there's about eight tiny white crystals, tied around you with a string.
  6726. >"All used up."
  6727. >"Sheesh, they weren't kidding when they said he'd be resistent to this stuff. And that cost me a lot of gold, you know!"
  6728. >You feel yourself moving, hitting bumps every so often.
  6729. >Obviously in some kind of wagon.
  6730. >Rolling onto your back, you're face to face with a white cloth as a ceiling, and a Griffon.
  6731. >"Hooo boy, still ugly as ever, I see!"
  6732. >He laughs and disappears behind another cloth.
  6733. >You feel sore everywhere, like you just got done with all these extreme workouts.
  6734. >You need to stetch, but you can barely move anything.
  6735. >It's like you're starting to feel alert with the sleep, but your body disagrees.
  6736. >Like it's still sleeping.
  6737.  
  6738. >Where the hell are you?
  6739. >All you can see is that it's damn hot, and plenty sunny.
  6740. >"-Hey, if he's awake, why in the name of Grover aren't you there watching him?!"
  6741. >"Pffft, just look at him. He ain't going nowhere."
  6742. >The Griffon pokes his head back in, grinning down at you.
  6743. >Another does the same.
  6744. >Though this one's a girl.
  6745. >The bitch with the knife, you recognize.
  6746. >"Ya see? He's completely hopeless."
  6747. >The guy grabs your nose and shakes it.
  6748. >"Yeah, well try not to be too rough. I didn't risk life and limb creating that stupid portal just for him to die."
  6749. >The guy snorts again.
  6750. >"Oh, he'll be fine. He just needs to be alive, nobody will mind a few broken pieces."
  6751. >He slaps you in the face and laughs.
  6752. >Christ, you wish you could just drop kick this fucker.
  6753. >"-Rock!"
  6754. >The thing hits a bump and throws you into the air.
  6755. >And as quickly as you jumped, you hit the ground with a loud, painful thud.
  6756. >Though you seemed to be a bit numbed, which makes it hurt less so.
  6757. >Looking around, that Griffon's just perched on the back part of the wagon, watching you.
  6758. >There's an amused smile on his face.
  6759. >"Man, you sure look funny while you're angry."
  6760. >Countless quips come to your mind, all blocked by the rag tied over your mouth.
  6761. >So you try to ignore the bastard instead and sit up.
  6762. >He just watches you the whole time, watching you struggle and lean against the wooden walls of the wagon.
  6763. >"...Man, this is boring."
  6764. >He flies back out of the wagon, and you check your surroundings quickly.
  6765. >You doubt it's been long since you got taken from that pie shop.
  6766. >If you could sneak out now, maybe you have a chance of escaping!
  6767. >Mind set on that plan, you find a column-shaped piece of wood and put your hand bindings over it.
  6768. >Just like the movies.
  6769. >Just go up and down, up and down...
  6770.  
  6771. >You can hear rustling and all this conversation around you, but you're too focused on your task to really pay attention to it.
  6772. >The bindings actually start to slowly tear, and every second extra that you have to wait makes you feel anxious.
  6773. >You swap between going quickly and quietly, but finally you can feel the shitty rope on your hands start to break away.
  6774. >Finally, the pressure fades away, and your heart skips a beat.
  6775. >You take the shitty rag out of your mouth, then go for the rope on your legs.
  6776. >It comes off easily, and you just feel your whole body recover at once.
  6777. >Or maybe it's the adrenaline now coursing in you.
  6778. >You stumble a bit, but virtually make no sound towards the back wagon.
  6779. >Looking up, you see that their shadows are all facing the front side.
  6780. >So if you do this right and quietly, you can make it out of here.
  6781. >You rest your hands on the wood, and-
  6782. >"-Rock!"
  6783. >Before you can react, the wagon hops up, and you fly out of the back, ONTO your back.
  6784. >It hurts.
  6785. >But you quickly get your bearings and get up.
  6786. >Then you look around yourself.
  6787. >Desert.
  6788. >It's all desert.
  6789. >There's absolutely nothing around you, on all sides.
  6790. >Just dirt, dirt and more dirt.
  6791. >Regardless, you look back and decide to make a break for it anyways.
  6792. >But not before grabbing a pretty good sized rock from the ground.
  6793. >You sprint in the opposite direction of the wagon.
  6794. >Christ, you run faster than you did in that high school track meet.
  6795. >Which was pretty damn fast.
  6796. >Though you'd rather survive than get a medal here.
  6797. >While you run, nothing changes.
  6798. >It's all just more dirt.
  6799. >But hell, dying in the desert is better than being held captive.
  6800. >Slowly but surely, you can hear the sound of the wagon fading in the distance.
  6801. >Must be going pretty fast, then.
  6802.  
  6803. >You sneak a peek behind yourself, then spot a small brown dot in the sky.
  6804. >It doesn't take but a second to realize what that is.
  6805. >Or rather, WHO that is.
  6806. >You pick up the pace, clutching onto that rock and looking back every so often.
  6807. >Though, that dot turns into a full blown Griffon a lot faster than you thought it would.
  6808. >And now, there's a set of talons aiming towards you.
  6809. >Spinning around, you can feel your heart racing a mile a minute.
  6810. >Once that bitch gets close, you throw the rock over at her.
  6811. >It hits her wing, which wasn't what you were going for, but it works regardless.
  6812. >She crashes into the dirt in a mess of dust and feathers.
  6813. >You move over to her and spot that knife of hers, strapped to her side.
  6814. >While she fumbles around with her own wings, you grab it.
  6815. >She quickly puts her talons on you, but is unable to do anything before you have it up to her throat.
  6816. >Then you freeze.
  6817. >You have the power to just end it right now, better your odds.
  6818. >You have a goddamn weapon to give you a fighting chance.
  6819. >You press the blade a bit closer to her, getting a wince in response.
  6820. >But that's all you can do.
  6821. >Your eyes trail over to hers.
  6822. >What you can't see past is the terrified expression on her face, her pupils the size of a twenty six gauge needle.
  6823. >The slight tremble in her body and the rapid beating of her chest, both from her heart, and her breathing.
  6824. >You readjust your hands on the thing, hoping that the sudden movement will give you the strength to do this.
  6825. >But you can't.
  6826. >You're no murderer.
  6827. >You just... can't.
  6828.  
  6829. >Your head snaps to the side when you feel you're being watched.
  6830. >And sure enough, in the distance is two other dots, homing in on you.
  6831. >The Griffon under you shifts a little, and you focus back on her.
  6832. >You're no murderer, but hell if you're getting taken by these bastards.
  6833. >You roughly flip her around and pick her up, left arm around her waist and the other with the knife to her throat.
  6834. >From there, you face those two bastards and start to walk backwards, dragging her with you.
  6835. >You're still outnumbered, so you try your best to put on a brave face.
  6836. >Or more like a "wild card" face.
  6837. >The Griffon just continues to freak out in your grasp, breathing heavily with her talons hopelessly holding your arm.
  6838. >If she wanted to, she could have probably killed you a long time ago, or at least crippled you in some way.
  6839. >You're just glad she seems more scared of you than you are of her.
  6840. >Finally, those two Griffons fly down before you.
  6841. >They slowly walk towards you, but don't pick up any speed towards you.
  6842. >You match their advancements going backwards, until you realize what you're doing.
  6843. >By backing up, they know you're scared.
  6844. >So you stand your ground.
  6845. "You guys fucking try anything, and this bitch gets it!"
  6846. >...Right, nobody here understands your curse words.
  6847. >Well, your shouting seemed to do the trick regardless.
  6848. >You just hope they don't see through your bluff.
  6849. >These guys probably haven't done anything because they don't necessarily know what you're capable of.
  6850. >Then one Griffon steps up.
  6851. >"You think we care if she dies? She did her part, that just means more gold for us!"
  6852. >...Oh.
  6853. >Shit.
  6854. >Wasn't expecting that.
  6855. >They continue to advance towards you.
  6856.  
  6857. >One spreads his wings and darts over behind you.
  6858. >-Fight or flight!
  6859. >-Fuck, you wish you could fly.
  6860. >The second you hear him land, you push your impromptu hostage towards the guy in front of you, then spin around.
  6861. >Against your better judgement, the adrenaline flowing in your veins takes you charging towards the dude.
  6862. >Probably not expecting you to do so, he practically stands there and waits for you to tackle him.
  6863. >This guy you have no problem attacking.
  6864. >This bastard slapped your goddamn face, then laughed at you.
  6865. >He digs his claws into your back, so you punch him in the face as hard as you can.
  6866. >The second you hear rustling behind you, you stand up and step on the guy's wing, stopping him from recovering.
  6867. >Which he was doing pretty damn fast.
  6868. >One second later, and you would have been screwed.
  6869. >But, you still kind of are.
  6870. >Even if you get rid of these guys, they might be the only way you have of going back to Canterlot.
  6871. >-Your thoughts are interrupted by some more talons digging into your leg.
  6872. >So, you respond with a swift kick to the dude's face.
  6873. >Christ, that feels good.
  6874. >You almost feel like a bully, picking on catbirds practically still half your size.
  6875. >But damn if their wings don't make them seem bigger.
  6876. >Clutching the knife a little tighter in your hand, you kick the guy again.
  6877. >Then forget, there's another two nearby.
  6878. >Before you can turn around again, you're now the one tackled into the dirt.
  6879. >Your arms are held down with too much force to fight against.
  6880. >He doesn't go for the knife, but he clearly doesn't want you to use it.
  6881. >So, without your arms to use, your brain instinctively uses plan B.
  6882. >You bring your good leg up and knee the guy in his cat bits.
  6883. >His grip loosens only a bit, so you knee him again and feel yourself now able to move your arms a bit more.
  6884. >But the second your arms are free, the other guy pins your legs.
  6885. >You swing your arm and feel the knife bury itself into his.
  6886. >-Holy shit, you just fucking stabbed him.
  6887.  
  6888. >He lets go of your legs, so you take the blade out and push the guy still on top of you.
  6889. >He practically just rolls off of you.
  6890. >But before HE can recover, you drive the knife into his arm as well.
  6891. >It just happened to be the closest thing to you.
  6892. >Murder, no, but shanking limbs to survive is A-okay in your book.
  6893. >Feeling the other guy shifting where your legs are, you finally reel your good leg back and kick that guy in the face again.
  6894. >Once he satisfyingly takes to writhing in pain, you focus back on the weapon still stuck in this guy's arm and twist it.
  6895. >For a second you feel yourself enjoying his pain, then stop.
  6896. >Then, you realize that it's better you than him, and continue anyways.
  6897. >These bastards think they can fucking sell YOU?
  6898. >You pull the knife out again and drive it into his leg.
  6899. >You can feel your teeth gritting.
  6900. >Your heart racing.
  6901. >Trying to take YOU, away from WHAT LITTLE YOU HAVE?
  6902. "Think you're tough SHIT, HUH? THINK YOU CAN KILL ME?!"
  6903. >You stop when you notice the other bastard moving around a bit more.
  6904. >Taking the blade out, you roll and stand on your good leg, then move over to him.
  6905. >For good measure, you stab him in the leg, too.
  6906. >Then kick him, as damn hard as you can.
  6907. >It gets a good wince out of him.
  6908. >They both ignore you now, only tending to themselves, when your gaze trails over to the female Griffon, sitting in the dirt and watching you with an absolutely terrified expression on her face.
  6909. >Your eyes trail over to the two Griffons, who now have a bit of blood coming out of them.
  6910. >Then the knife in your hands, with shirt cuffs stained in said blood.
  6911. >You suddenly feel all the adrenaline leave you.
  6912. >...Holy shit.
  6913. >You just went full edge right now.
  6914. >Quickly cleaning the blade and rolling your sleeves up, you turn back to the female.
  6915. >Her right wing's bent at an odd shape, and clearly hurts, seeing how she's holding it.
  6916. >Well, now she's not going anywhere.
  6917. >Quickly, at least.
  6918.  
  6919.  
  6920. >Pocketing the knife, you look over at the carriage.
  6921. >It's just this tiny white dot in the distance.
  6922. >Now that these two guys are practically done for, and that Griffon girl doesn't seem to be going anywhere, you oughta think of how you're actually going to SURVIVE here.
  6923. >You fought these bastards, now it's time to fight this goddamned desert.
  6924. >Hell, you didn't even know Equestria HAD a desert!
  6925. >...Unless this is...?
  6926. >-No, even then, you'd rather get the hell out of here.
  6927. >Who cares what these catbirds saw to make them want to kill you.
  6928. >At this point, you just want to go home.
  6929. >You try to wipe your arms clean on your slacks, then start to walk towards the girl.
  6930. >Then you stop, and turn back around.
  6931. >You forgot something!
  6932. >Both Griffons here are writhing in pain and aren't walking anywhere, sure, but this one can still fly.
  6933. >And you can't have that.
  6934. >You walk over to the guy and step on his wing.
  6935. >Though, he still seems to be whining over the fact that he can't have kids anymore.
  6936. >You already had your edge session, but you're better safe than sorry.
  6937. >There's no way you're going to get goddamn captured again.
  6938. >The guy's pupils shrink when he finally understands what you're going to do.
  6939. >"N-no, p-please! Don't!"
  6940. >You roll your eyes and sigh.
  6941. "Really? After capturing me, trying to beat me senseless, AND sell me for a pretty penny, you're begging me to spare your wing? Christ, at least take it like a man, don't be a little bitch about it. You wouldn't have let ME escape if I said please, right?"
  6942. >He pauses to think of the right answer, but before he can respond, you grab the end up his wing and jerk it towards you.
  6943. >You can plainly hear the snap it makes, which does make you wince this time around.
  6944. >But hey, better safe than sorry.
  6945.  
  6946. >The guy cries out, and you feel a little more remorse than you did earlier.
  6947. >What's done is done, though, and screw this guy anyways.
  6948. >Who the hell knows where you'd be if not here.
  6949. >And with that, you spin back around and focus back on the Griffon girl.
  6950. >The second you do, her pupils shrink too, and she starts to scoot away from you.
  6951. >Like some kind of horror movie, where you're too scared to just stand up and book it.
  6952. >Or, you just don't think you're fast enough to get up.
  6953. >You step past both of the guys, trying to maintain the most neutral look you can, considering the circumstances.
  6954. >When you get closer, she starts to breathe heavily, and her movements get more erratic.
  6955. >Christ, she really IS terrified of you.
  6956. >She tries to scramble away, whimpering like some kind of lost puppy.
  6957. >But it doesn't take long until you're just standing before her.
  6958. >Finally, she covers her face and starts shaking.
  6959. >"P-P-PLEASE, D-DON'T HURT M-ME!"
  6960. >You stand there for a moment, then slowly kneel beside her.
  6961. >If she's scared, you're going to use that to your advantage.
  6962. "Now see here, this is the deal."
  6963. >You wait for her to peek at you.
  6964. "You take me back home, and I let you GO home. You try to hurt me, and you end up like those guys back there, kapeesh?"
  6965. >She quickly nods.
  6966. >Now then, time to sell yourself even further!
  6967. >You give her a big, toothy smile.
  6968. >You know, flashing canines and shit.
  6969. >It seems to work.
  6970. "And before you start thinking of plans, I want you to know a little something about my species."
  6971. >You stand up and pop your knuckles.
  6972. >Holy hell, you actually feel a bit giddy inside.
  6973. >You never thought you could come off as this intimidating before.
  6974.  
  6975. "Before we fully evolved, we still survived. Killed creatures easily ten times our own size, just to survive."
  6976. >You give a dramatic pause.
  6977. >"It wasn't because of our raw strength, our quick speed, or our massive intelligence, even."
  6978. >Now you slowly walk around her.
  6979. "It was because we were persistent. We all had endurance on our side."
  6980. >She cautiously watches you while you move.
  6981. >But finally, you kneel again just before her.
  6982. "Instead of attacking, we would simply wait. We would follow them around to the ends of the Earth, observing, studying them, day in and day out, all the way until the point that they finally just... cracked."
  6983. >You do a little hand motion to get your point across, which gets her to flinch.
  6984. "Staying until their very last breath. Following them no matter the distance, staying awake no matter the time, until they finally could no longer take it."
  6985. >She continues to shake, but doesn't even seem to breathe.
  6986. >You sigh.
  6987. "What I mean to say here is..."
  6988. >You put your hand on her shoulder- or whatever the catbird equivalent really is.
  6989. "If you try to run... If you try to catch me off guard again, or wait until I'm sleeping..."
  6990. >You move yourself just a bit closer to her.
  6991. "You better make sure you bring more with you, and finish the job. Because if you don't..."
  6992. >Christ you love these dramatic pauses.
  6993. "I will find you. I will track you down. And, you can bet your sweet ass that I will make sure you rued the day you ever dared to come after me."
  6994. >Finally you finish, then move to maintaining some strong, serious eye contact.
  6995. >She visibly shrinks.
  6996. >And once you're sure it's more than uncomfortable for her, you pat her shoulder and grin.
  6997. "But in the meantime, you're safety is assured! I'm no homicidal monster, after all."
  6998. >You say while covered in blood.
  6999. >And it just does exactly what you hoped it would.
  7000. >You hold her talon and pick her up to her fe-paws.
  7001. "Now then, we have quite a journey back to the carriage, and not a moment to lose! So, let's go!"
  7002.  
  7003. >You start to walk back, and hear her frantically shuffling over to your side.
  7004. >Meanwhile, the Griffons laying back in the dirt start to shout things at both you and her.
  7005. >Things like, 'oh no, don't leave us here,' and 'please help us'.
  7006. >Things that you shouldn't be worrying about.
  7007. >You did your job, and this all will weigh much less on your mind, because YOU'RE not the one killing them, nature is.
  7008. >But really, you're just too focused on what you did.
  7009. >Holy goddamn hell, you feel like such a badass right now.
  7010. >It was like living as the super villain!
  7011. >Like holy fuck, you just executed that so perfectly!
  7012. >All those games and movies have really done you well.
  7013. >You feel like you would have been a great fucking actor, now.
  7014. >Man, you're just- your heart's still racing, that's how fucking pumped that left you.
  7015. >You're just glad these guys are barely any bigger than ponies.
  7016. >If they were Celestia's size, you would have been goddamn screwed.
  7017. >-MAN, YOU WERE SO SCARY AND INTIMIDATING THOUGH.
  7018. >THAT WAS AWESOME.
  7019. >-Well, minus the fact that you're still stuck in this huge goddamn desert, but MAAAN!
  7020. >Not even bothering to hide your smile, you continue your leisurely stroll towards the carriage, a little pep in your step.
  7021. >This Griffon, even while you're smiling like a retard, is still plainly scared of you.
  7022. >You keep seeing her glancing at you, and clearly struggling to keep up the pace with you.
  7023. >Like, frantically.
  7024. >As if falling behind or moving ahead will end in some kind of punishment for her.
  7025. >It really is amusing.
  7026. >Even after you said she'd be safe.
  7027. >And you meant it, too.
  7028. >She really seems to be broken already, just looking at her.
  7029. >That's probably why she had a knife in the first place, while the guys had nothing.
  7030. >Either those guys were full of themselves, or this one here isn't confident in her own strength.
  7031. >Or hell, maybe both.
  7032. >You have to have some kind of ego to fucking slap and laugh at someone while they're tied up.
  7033. >Or just be a fucking dick.
  7034.  
  7035. >...
  7036. >"Yes, there's no doubt about it! A portal was here!"
  7037. >You feel yourself getting a little giddy over hearing this.
  7038. >Now you're all one step closer to finding Anon!
  7039. >You KNEW he couldn't have just disappeared!
  7040. >"A PORTAL?"
  7041. >"Yup, I can definitely feel the leftover magic from it. And judging by the power, it wasn't made by a unicorn. Maybe a rune or something..."
  7042. >"Plenty of guards have been through here already though, how are YOU able to sense the magic, while others can't?"
  7043. >Minuette shrugs.
  7044. >"I guess I'm just used to it from work. I'm usually in charge of walking around, making sure nopony's using magic to cheat the machines."
  7045. >"...Is there anyway for you to, I dunno, open the portal again?"
  7046. >She looks back at the wall with a pensive expression.
  7047. >"Weeell... I can tryyy. Might take a while, though. The last time I copied a spell was in magic kindergarten, to get somepony I didn't like in trouble."
  7048. >She grins.
  7049. >"It worked."
  7050. >She puts both of her hooves on the wall, and her horn starts to glow.
  7051. >If it's going to take a while, you decide on setting down all the supplies you, uh... 'borrowed', from the guard barracks.
  7052. >Vannie takes her helmet off and lies down on the ground, setting her own saddlebags full of supplies down as well.
  7053. >You just wish Celestia would have actually helped, instead of forcing you to do what you did.
  7054. >To think, you always looked up to her.
  7055. >This shining example of what a strong mare should be.
  7056. >Well respected, smart, kind...
  7057. >And she doesn't even bother to help Anon.
  7058. >Talking to some stupid diplomat Griffon isn't going to fix anything.
  7059. >If her idea was so great, he wouldn't have been taken in the first place.
  7060. >You lie on the cold bathroom floor and sigh.
  7061.  
  7062. >Celestia doesn't even care.
  7063. >Or at least not as much as you do.
  7064. >Hay, even the fact that she didn't willingly let you take any supplies upsets you.
  7065. >'You can get hurt,' she says.
  7066. >'I don't want to risk the well being of any of my subjects,' she says.
  7067. >Then what is Anon to her, huh?
  7068. >Just some kind of disposable guest or something?
  7069. >A dog that you don't mind running away from home?
  7070. >You don't know what to think of Celestia anymore.
  7071. >Going from giving him a home, a whole life, to just, practically pretending he's not even there?
  7072. >What's her end game?
  7073. >You're so lost in your thoughts, you jolt a little when Vannie lies down beside you.
  7074. >She places a hoof on your withers and looks at you.
  7075. >"Don't worry... we'll find him."
  7076. >It's then that you notice the big frown on your face.
  7077. >Your eyes trail a little to the floor, and a shiver crawls down your spine.
  7078. >You're surprised again when she wraps her hooves around your neck and pulls you into a hug.
  7079. >Though quickly, you find yourself welcoming it.
  7080. >You were always a sucker for hugs.
  7081. >Always seemed to calm you down...
  7082. >She rubs your back with a hoof, and you find yourself resting your head on her shoulder.
  7083. >Then you realize how comfortable you're getting, and think of pulling back.
  7084. >Until she does the same, and rests her head.
  7085. >It really does surprise you.
  7086. >Sure, you went to her for help, but that was because you knew she'd be the only one who would care enough to want to find Anon.
  7087. >And other than that, you were sure that's the only reason she was helping.
  7088. >That afterwards, she would just take Anon for herself and throw you aside.
  7089. >-It's not like you're any competition, anyways...
  7090. >But now, here as you are...
  7091. >A small warm feeling erupts in your stomach.
  7092. >You can feel your eyes water just a bit.
  7093. >Though slightly, you feel yourself safe in her embrace.
  7094. >Now, you're just glad you were wrong.
  7095. >You're glad to see that she's not just the extra help.
  7096.  
  7097. >...
  7098. "What the hell do you MEAN you can't send me back home?!"
  7099. >The Griffon lady quivers under your gaze.
  7100. >"I-it's just a one-use thing! I spent a lot of gold to get it, b-but I was never p-planning on going back!"
  7101. "-Right, because you didn't plan on karma kicking your ass for taking me from my home, right?"
  7102. >You use a tone that just dares her to agree with you.
  7103. >And she doesn't.
  7104. >She just shakes there.
  7105. "Jesus fucking christ-holes."
  7106. >You rub your face with a hand and look around.
  7107. >This carriage has some supplies and shit inside of it, but judging by the fact that you can't even see anything in the goddamn distance, you're sure it's not enough to survive the trip back.
  7108. >You move your hands away quickly, which gets another flinch out of her.
  7109. "And how in the shit did you know where to find me, then?"
  7110. >She pauses for a moment, like a deer in headlights, then moves over and grabs a bag from all the cargo.
  7111. >"I-I used this device to t-track your absence of m-magic. The rumor was that y-you were resistant to m-magic..."
  7112. >Christ, this one stutters a lot.
  7113. >And how the hell would a rumor like that even start?
  7114. >-Where did they learn about that?
  7115. >You shake your head and open the bag up, looking at the device she was talking about it.
  7116. >If you're gonna figure out where the hell to go from here, you're going to have to see what you have available.
  7117. >Put all those hours drained into survival games to good use!
  7118. >Looking at the thing, it just looks like some homemade kind of radar.
  7119. >Little circular screen, switches and shit.
  7120. >It looks complicated, but other than that, pretty goddamn useless.
  7121. >What the hell else could you track with the 'absence of magic'?
  7122. >You shake your head and put the thing on top of a rations crate.
  7123. "What else is there? Any tools?"
  7124. >She pauses again, then quickly skitters and brings another bag.
  7125. >Whelp, a backpack, a map, and a...
  7126. >...Is that a fucking Geiger counter?
  7127. >You pick it up and look at the Griffon.
  7128.  
  7129. >"Th-that's used to know h-how far into the Badlands you are. Th-the more of that noise it makes, th-the further in you are."
  7130. >You stare at the thing and turn it on.
  7131. >Immediately, it starts clicking, and the needle quickly moves over to the middle area.
  7132. >Then your eyes trail over to some writing on the top of it.
  7133. >Brooklyn, New York.
  7134. >Your heart sinks.
  7135. "...Where did you get this?"
  7136. >She doesn't respond, aside from a few stutters.
  7137. "-WHERE DID YOU GET THIS?"
  7138. >She cowers and falls onto the ground.
  7139. >"I-I-I-"
  7140. "TELL ME!"
  7141. >"-I-I B-BOUGHT IT!"
  7142. >You look back down at the thing again.
  7143. >Too many thoughts run through your mind.
  7144. >And none of them make sense.
  7145. >But one thing's for sure, you have to get out of this goddamn desert.
  7146. >-No wonder there's no goddamn plants here!
  7147. >No animals or anything around here for fucking miles!
  7148. >This place is a goddamn deathtrap.
  7149. >You shake your head again and place the thing down on a crate.
  7150. "Start moving the carriage."
  7151. >The Griffon just continues to shake in the corner.
  7152. "-WELL? GO!"
  7153. >She jumps and hops out to the front.
  7154. >Seriously, like yelling is the only way for her to do something.
  7155. "Turn around, I want to get the hell out of here."
  7156. >You flick the Geiger counter off and sit down on a crate while the Griffon hurriedly turns the thing around and starts pulling it.
  7157. >Though you can't take your eyes off of those two words sitting before you.
  7158. >That obviously has something to do with what was found over here.
  7159. >The reason you're being chased after these bastards in the first place.
  7160. >And though the desire to know more just burns you up inside, you also don't care.
  7161. >Your first order of business is just to get the hell out of here.
  7162.  
  7163. >...
  7164. >There is no progress, here.
  7165. >When Minuette said it would take a while, she wasn't lying.
  7166. >You figured this would have been done in a few seconds.
  7167. >Or like all suspenseful for a moment, just like in the movies.
  7168. >But it's taken more than a few minutes.
  7169. >Gold has just taken to sitting on the ground, staring at the ground.
  7170. >The Royal Guards stopped searching really quickly...
  7171. >Ponies eventually started coming in normally, wondering why three ponies were standing around another with her hooves on the wall.
  7172. >They kinda look at you weird
  7173. >Vannie's gone to lazily lying down on your hoof, and just staring at the wall gets boring after a while.
  7174. >You mean, you're still scared for Anon or anything, but this is worse than school.
  7175. >You should be waiting, ready for the second that the portal reopens to hop in and quickly save him.
  7176. >Yeah, like another movie.
  7177. >Like those that have a bunch of action scenes.
  7178. >...You watched a lot of movies as a filly.
  7179. >It's like you said, school is boring.
  7180. >So you may have missed a few days of class... so what?
  7181. >You sigh and shift a bit on the floor.
  7182. >You've grown to be able to get comfy in your armor, but not on a cold tile floor like this.
  7183. >You routinely got stuck with the late night or unwanted jobs in your training camps.
  7184. >Sneaking naps while staying or looking alert was your specialty.
  7185. >...But making things less boring for you wasn't.
  7186. >You sigh and shift around a bit with a sigh.
  7187. >Gold simply leans on the wall, watching the wall.
  7188. >You wonder if you could find a board game back down at the barracks.
  7189. >Or maybe ask for bits to go into a store.
  7190. >...No, you shouldn't.
  7191. >What if the portal opens while you're away?
  7192. >Another sigh leaves you.
  7193. >This is so boring, mare.
  7194.  
  7195. >...
  7196. >While the carriage pulls away, you watch those two Griffons quickly passing by you both.
  7197. >The one who slapped you was still up and at 'em, yelling at you when you went past.
  7198. >You'd figure, being stuck in the desert and everything, he'd try being a little nicer to you.
  7199. >Who knows, you could have showed him mercy if he did.
  7200. >Seen the light in one tiny second and decided that he could live.
  7201. >But no, he chose to just call you an ugly hairless monkey.
  7202. >-Like really, why is that everyone's insult towards you?
  7203. >You don't even have a damn tail, you figured somebody would notice that.
  7204. >...Well, no matter.
  7205. >A stop and a kick really shut him up.
  7206. >And you interrogated him a little bit while you were at it.
  7207. >You couldn't really find out much though.
  7208. >All that you were told is that you were going to be taken to some camp.
  7209. >Celestia apparently threatened to cut trade and everything if anyone tried to capture you from the Griffon Kingdom or whatever.
  7210. >But they took you anyways, just in a more secretive way.
  7211. >That was what you found out through this Griffon chick, though.
  7212. >All that bastard mentioned was the camp.
  7213. >And boy, did it make that kick so much sweeter.
  7214. >Seriously, even as he was, his friend dying and himself not faring any better, he still went after you.
  7215. >Bastard has dedication, you'll give 'em that.
  7216. >But look where that got him.
  7217. >Dust from the carriage is kicked up into his face, and you cup your hands.
  7218. "Pssst, nothing personnel, kid!"
  7219. >He just coughs, and you spin around with a much bigger smile than you thought you would have.
  7220. >Not killing them yourself was pretty worth it, if you do say so yourself.
  7221. >You're still a little hurt here and there, but man was that all therapeutic in the end, really.
  7222. >And if anything, they helped further send your message to their little co-worker up front.
  7223. >She certainly seems to be moving faster.
  7224.  
  7225. >...
  7226. >
  7227. >You shift awake and yawn.
  7228. >"...Jeez, you really are nocturnal, aren't you?"
  7229. >Your eyes widen.
  7230. >That voice...
  7231. >Turning your head, you see that Anon is beside you, and you're both lying in a bed.
  7232. >You look around yourself.
  7233. >"-Something wrong, Vannie? You seem, I dunno, confused or something."
  7234. >You pause for a moment, then softly shake your head while you try to figure out how the hay you got here.
  7235. >Then you feel his arms quickly slink around you.
  7236. >He gently pulls you close to him, then wraps a blanket over you both.
  7237. >"-Good, because it's damn cold, and I need my fluffy heater right now."
  7238. >It feels nice, but your mind is still racing too much to get really comfortable.
  7239. >Your eyes trail around the room a bit.
  7240. >You're back in Anon's Ponyville house.
  7241. >Even the couch is there, currently unoccupied by anypony.
  7242. >Then you look back after a second, and see Princess Luna sitting on top of it.
  7243. >You jump.
  7244. >"-Whoa, what's wrong?"
  7245. >Anon looks over and spots Luna.
  7246. >"-Damn it Luna, were you watching me sleep again?! Even af-"
  7247. >He stops mid sentence.
  7248. >Like... completely stops.
  7249. >He just sits there, his finger in the air and a funny look on his face.
  7250. >You turn back to Luna, and she simply nods.
  7251. >"-Yes, my dear Van Guard, this is a dream."
  7252. >You knew it.
  7253. >-Well, not really, but you were going to guess it eventually.
  7254. >She stands from the couch and moves over to you.
  7255. >"But nevermind that, now. I will be brief."
  7256. >She flies onto the bed and lies on the sheets, taking a moment to make herself comfortable first.
  7257. >Once she settles, she looks right at you.
  7258. >"I am aware of the supplies you have stolen from the barracks... Nothing gets past my own watchful eye, you know."
  7259. >Your blood runs cold.
  7260. >-Oh hay.
  7261.  
  7262. >You quickly untangle yourself and move away from her.
  7263. >"-...And, I am willing to look past that, and offer anymore assistance that you all require, in order to ensure Anonymous' safe return to the castle, wherever he may be."
  7264. >...Wait, what?
  7265. >That's not the kind of response you were expecting.
  7266. >You stare, dumbfounded, as a sigh leaves her.
  7267. >"Though you may not truly see it... my sister and I care a great deal about his well-being. She has tried to defuse the situation from a diplomatic standpoint, but obviously, this has not seemed to work."
  7268. >You shift a bit on the covers, now noticing that your armor isn't equipped.
  7269. >You practically forget it's there after wearing it for so long.
  7270. >"I do not care for any kind of diplomacy, and would rather have Anonymous back, as well as see the Griffon Kingdom set aflame for this treachery. But, I digress."
  7271. >...Sheesh, she looked scary saying that.
  7272. >But the thought of what Anon may be going through is what frightens you.
  7273. >"If you may tell me where you and those helping you are, I will be able to assist you in any way you may need..."
  7274. >You pause for a moment, and she almost instantly notices your hesitation.
  7275. >"...I hope you trust that my word is true."
  7276. >You pause for another moment, then think.
  7277. >-Wait, what do you need to think about?
  7278. >This is Princess LUNA.
  7279. >Of course she's telling the truth.
  7280. "We're in the pie shop, where he had last been seen."
  7281. >She nods then looks off for a moment, as if gauging where that is.
  7282. >Then a soft smile slowly spreads across her face.
  7283. >"I will be there momentarily, then... I thank you for believing my intentions pure, 'Vannie'."
  7284.  
  7285. >She hops off of the bed and casts you a glance.
  7286. >"In the meantime, you may enjoy this dream as you wish to. Time has no meaning here, and when you wake, only a second will have passed."
  7287. >She gives you this knowing nod, then looks over at Anon.
  7288. >"And, his personality was made from mine, as well as your own knowledge. He should be just like the real thing."
  7289. >And with that, she just lights her horn up, then vanishes.
  7290. >"-ter last... wait, where'd she go?"
  7291. >Your eyes stick to the spot Luna was just in.
  7292. >You're still left worried and a bit anxious.
  7293. >You trust Princess Luna much more than you do Celestia... but you can't help but wonder if you may have made the wrong choice.
  7294. >What if she just comes back with some guards and arrests you all on the spot?
  7295. >Stealing from the Guard, which is actually considered stealing from royalty, is a very serious offense.
  7296. >...No, but Luna wouldn't do that to you.
  7297. >-Not her, at least.
  7298. >Celestia isn't as open and straightforward as her sister.
  7299. >...You don't exactly know how she would react, though.
  7300. >Brave would definitely have a better idea.
  7301. >"-Hey Earth to Vannie, you alright?"
  7302. >You slowly turn over to Anon, which just brings a faint pain in your heart.
  7303. >You just hope he's okay...
  7304. >Looking at this Anon though, it's as if you're with the real deal.
  7305. >Even his worried look is perfect, down to the very tiny details you've spotted in him many times before.
  7306. >He leans over and wordlessly hugs you.
  7307. >"You know if something's going on, I would like to hear about it. I'd rather not watch my favorite pony just suffer in silence."
  7308. >His words register in your mind, and you glance up at him.
  7309. >Though, you doubt you'd ever hear THAT from him...
  7310. "I-it's... it's fine."
  7311. >He narrows his eyes at you.
  7312. >You stare at him for a moment, then sigh, your eyes trailing back down to the floor.
  7313. >They start to water a bit.
  7314. >You really hope he's fine...
  7315.  
  7316. >You're pulled into another hug by dream Anon, where he gently rubs your back, whispering sweet nothings into your ear.
  7317. >"-It's okay, you're alright, Vannie. It's okay..."
  7318. >...You wish that was true.
  7319. >That even waking up, you'll still be right beside him.
  7320. >The first thing you'll see being his soft smile.
  7321. >Content mirroring from his face onto yours.
  7322. >His warmth bringing you closer to him during a cold winter morning.
  7323. >His hands over your coat in a soothing fashion.
  7324. >His fingers combing your mane delicately.
  7325. >Until he finally breaks the morning silence, with only three words.
  7326. >Three words nopony else has ever bothered to tell you.
  7327. >'I lo-...
  7328. >You slowly feel your mind crumble beneath its own thoughts.
  7329. >Everything just gives up at once.
  7330. >You sag a bit, your body not feeling able to hold itself up anymore.
  7331. >...You don't know what you'd do if you lost Anon.
  7332. >You don't know where you'd go.
  7333. >In such a short time, he's easily become the most important part of your life.
  7334. >He's the only one you've felt safe crying in front of.
  7335. >The first to actually have FEELINGS for you.
  7336. >...The first you've cuddled.
  7337. >And the first who actually cared about you, instead of just, seeing you as this object, ready to be used then thrown, whenever and wherever...
  7338. >Another shiver crawls down your back while you sob.
  7339. >And though Anon's the only one who's seen you like this, you're glad it's not actually him.
  7340. >You're supposed to make HIM feel safe, not the other way around.
  7341. >But look how well you did that.
  7342. >Another shiver makes its way past.
  7343. >"Vannie please, tell me what's wrong. I've never seen you this upset before..."
  7344. >With what little control you have, you look up at him.
  7345. >You've left tears all over his shirt, and you know your face isn't faring any better.
  7346. "I-I don't w-want to lose you, A-Anon."
  7347. >A small, gentle smile crosses his face.
  7348. >"Oh, Vannie."
  7349. >He pulls you even closer, hugging you tightly, but not too tight.
  7350. >"I promise, you won't have to worry about that for a looong time."
  7351.  
  7352. >You want to believe him.
  7353. >You really do.
  7354. >But how can you?
  7355. >Everything just continues to crumble.
  7356. >You cry to the point of having trouble breathing, like a foal.
  7357. >Even under these covers, you can't help but shiver.
  7358. >Every quick, harsh breath you take rocks your whole body.
  7359. >Your eyes are blinded by tears.
  7360. >The dull pain in your heart shows no signs of stopping.
  7361. >-In a dream, you'd figure you couldn't feel anything bad.
  7362. >But all you feel IS bad.
  7363. >There's too many thoughts swimming around your mind.
  7364. >Too many possibilities.
  7365. >And much too many 'what if's.
  7366. >It's all just too much.
  7367. >Anon even stopped whispering.
  7368. >You just feel too much despair inside of you.
  7369. >Much more than you thought you would feel.
  7370. >Like everything you'd been bottling up for so long, has just cracked open from the pressure.
  7371. >You can't swallow the lump in your throat.
  7372. >You can't control your own breathing.
  7373. >Like you're not even in control anymore.
  7374. >-And it's all your fault.
  7375. >If you had just kept your mouth shut, you wouldn't be missing Anon.
  7376. >He wouldn't have been driven away.
  7377. >He wouldn't have been taken away from you.
  7378. >It's all your fault- every bit of it.
  7379. >You failed him.
  7380. >You failed Luna and Celestia, both of whom thought you were capable to guard him.
  7381. >...Everypony was right.
  7382. >You don't deserve love.
  7383. >You never have.
  7384. >It's just another thing that you can't help but destroy.
  7385. >Memories of your fillyhood come to mind.
  7386. >But none of the good ones.
  7387. >You only remember the times you were mocked.
  7388. >All the teasing, the threats...
  7389. >The rejection...
  7390. >...You deserve all of it.
  7391.  
  7392. >Another memory makes its way through to your head.
  7393. >Truly, like every single heartache, every tear you've held back since being born is suddenly making itself known again.
  7394. >Every wound you thought was healed coming back to you.
  7395. >Every day, every night you've spent alone.
  7396. >Every insult, every comment you've heard.
  7397. >Every passing thought, every bit of utter hopelessness you've felt in the past.
  7398. >The pain is too much to bear.
  7399. >You feel as if your whole body is numb, yet undergoing constant torment.
  7400. >Every shift, every movement you make is nothing but agony.
  7401. >Your eyes sting from the tears, and the pain in your chest just feels worse.
  7402. >The only thought you can focus on, the only thing standing out amongst it all, is simply the amount of suffering you're in.
  7403. >Both physically and mentally.
  7404. >You push yourself away from Anon and crawl across the bed.
  7405. >He can't see you like this.
  7406. >Dream or not, nopony should ever see you like this.
  7407. >You feel like your whole body has just locked up on itself, leaving you unable to move.
  7408. >Your breathing is half whimper, half sucking in air.
  7409. >It's pathetic.
  7410. >Simply staring at the wall, thinking that you're alone makes you feel only slightly better.
  7411. >And still, you stain the sheets beneath you with tears, hoping that soon enough, this will end.
  7412. >That somehow at the end of the tunnel, you will simply feel happy for having broken down.
  7413. >You can barely feel Anon's attempts to calm you.
  7414. >His voice is practically white noise.
  7415. >Nothing really makes itself known besides your own uncontrollable shaking.
  7416. >You can't even contain your sobs.
  7417. >Can't stop or stifle them in the slightest.
  7418. >And on top of that, you can't stop whimpering.
  7419. >It sounds utterly pitiful, which just makes you feel worse, making you whimper again.
  7420. >Like some sort of vicious cycle you wish you could find the end to.
  7421. >Everything just seems so terrible to you.
  7422. >Like you never have, and never will experience happiness.
  7423. >But really...
  7424. >...You don't deserve it anyways...
  7425.  
  7426. >You continue to stare blankly at the wall while you break.
  7427. >That is, until you find yourself NOT looking at the wall.
  7428. >Through the tears, you finally focus on Anon's figure in front of you.
  7429. >He holds your chin up, then wipes your nose with something.
  7430. >Once he's done, you see him move up to you and-
  7431. "-Mmph!"
  7432. >You feel everything in your body freeze at once.
  7433. >Your breathing halts.
  7434. >Your thoughts all stop.
  7435. >And you feel your cheeks flush.
  7436. >Then you realize what's going on.
  7437. >You're being kissed.
  7438. >Anon is kissing you.
  7439. >The second you realize this, it stops just after.
  7440. >You can feel your ear flick, and the tips of said ears burning.
  7441. >Your mouth is stuck open in shock.
  7442. >Every bad thought you finished having just melts away.
  7443. >And all that's left is more shock.
  7444. "I... I-"
  7445. >Before you can speak, he swoops in for another kiss.
  7446. >It catches you off guard just as much as the first time, but you quickly recover, and return it to the best of your ability.
  7447. >It just feels so wonderful...
  7448. >Like everything you've been feeling has just reversed itself.
  7449. >The dull pain becomes this light feeling in your chest.
  7450. >Your thoughts now stick to how amazing this feels.
  7451. >Everything breaks the webs off and moves at once.
  7452. >Your heart starts thumping like you've never felt it before.
  7453. >And as quickly as it started, it stops again.
  7454. >In your state of complete shock, you find yourself gently falling on your back.
  7455. >It takes a second to realize you fell, and in that second, Anon looked over for a moment.
  7456. >And even though this isn't the real Anon, you were quick to hide yourself with your tail and pull the sheets over you.
  7457. >Your cheeks burn much more than you'd like them to.
  7458.  
  7459. >You notice the small tinge of red on Anon's own cheeks, and he lies down beside you.
  7460. >He slips an arm around under you and gently pets your overly-fluffy chest.
  7461. >Even in your family, you always seemed to be the fluffiest.
  7462. >"-For the record, I'd never try something like that unless I knew you were comfortable with it."
  7463. >It takes you a second to understand what he means, then you get it fully.
  7464. >Even in a dream, still as gentlemarely as he is outside of it...
  7465. >His other arm makes its way around you, and you find yourself nice and snug as his little spoon.
  7466. >It still feels as good as the first time you did it.
  7467. >He's so warm, and soft...
  7468. >Though, you start to think of what just finished happening.
  7469. >...You never really thought about... you know.
  7470. >Not to mention that you don't have any, uh, past experiences, regarding it.
  7471. >If you never found anypony you could cuddle before him, you never found anypony to... y-yeah.
  7472. >Never found anypony trustworthy enough to cuddle until now.
  7473. >And THAT...
  7474. >...You don't know.
  7475. >That's all reserved for your true love.
  7476. >The pony that you will always feel comfortable with, no matter what.
  7477. >The one that makes the whole world brighter just being there, you know?
  7478. >The one pony you wouldn't mind giving your own life for, and knowing without a doubt in your mind that they feel the same.
  7479. >...So yeah, you're still kind of on the fence about that.
  7480. >Especially with Brave.
  7481. >Not that you dislike her or anything- far from that.
  7482. >But you just need some time to think about that more...
  7483. >"-I love you, Vannie."
  7484. >You tense up as those words reach your ears.
  7485. >Did... did you just hear that?
  7486. >You're pulled in a bit closer while his words register in your mind, over and over again.
  7487. >He definitely said that.
  7488. >O-okay, it's just a dream, you don't need to worry so much-
  7489. "-Y-you too."
  7490.  
  7491. >-Oh Luna, you just sounded so stupid saying that.
  7492. >He calmly laughs and resumes his petting.
  7493. >And meanwhile, your cheeks burn brightly.
  7494. >All while you feel a smile forming on your face.
  7495. >Anon moves himself a bit, finally wrapping his other arm around you.
  7496. >It gently pets your belly, which sends a few nice-feeling shivers up your back.
  7497. >You swear, Anon's a miracle worker or something...
  7498. >You don't feel sad at all anymore.
  7499. >...Well, not to the extent you were, earlier.
  7500. >But it's hard to feel any worse when being petted like you are, snug and warm against him.
  7501. >You unintentionally make this noise in your state of comfiness, which sounds a lot like you're purring.
  7502. >Though since you've got yourself licking your fluff in order to clean it multiple times, you kind of wonder if it is.
  7503. >Who knows?
  7504. >Out of nowhere, your hind leg kicks slightly.
  7505. >You guess Anon noticed, because he starts to pet in certain areas, almost if looking around.
  7506. >Then he lightly scratches one part, and you kick again.
  7507. >-You didn't do that!
  7508. >Trying your hardest, an attempt to stop the kicking is made.
  7509. >But it doesn't work.
  7510. >It's just like when you used to have check-ups as a foal.
  7511. >The doctor always had those spots to check your reflexes, or whatever it was for.
  7512. >It always annoyed you that you couldn't fight against it.
  7513. >It'd happen, no matter how well you thought you kept your hooves in place.
  7514. >Now, you can't stop these tiny kicks, and from what you can hear, Anon is nothing but amused.
  7515. >"Bit sensitive there, aren't you?"
  7516. >You kick again.
  7517. "S-stop that!"
  7518. >He snickers and adjusts himself again.
  7519. >"I'll definitely remember that spot for later."
  7520. >Your muzzle instinctively scrunches.
  7521. >Even if it IS Anon, and a dream, it's still plenty embarrassing.
  7522. >You just hope it doesn't do that waking up, too...
  7523. >Anon sighs against you and shifts again.
  7524. >"Man, what did I do to deserve the best mare-friend ever?"
  7525. "-W-what?"
  7526. >Your cheeks instinctively burn up.
  7527.  
  7528. >...
  7529. "OH YOU FUCKING CATBIRDS COME AND GET 'EM!"
  7530. >...Whelp.
  7531. >The Griffons had reinforcements.
  7532. >Guess someone got worried that these three didn't show up in time or something.
  7533. >But now there's a shit ton of them chasing after the carriage.
  7534. >You spin around and move to the front.
  7535. "YOU BETTER RUN FASTER OR WE'RE BOTH DEAD!"
  7536. >"I-I'M TRYING!"
  7537. >Looking around yourself, you start to look around for things.
  7538. >More importantly, useless things.
  7539. >-Like this radar, that was used to track you in the first place.
  7540. >You pick it up and move over to the back.
  7541. >That's when one Griffon tries to dive-bomb your ass.
  7542. >So, you throw the thing at it, and watch the cat crash into the ground, kicking up some more dirt.
  7543. >-Fucking hell, there's so many of them.
  7544. >That's easily double digits right there.
  7545. >Unless you can pull off some Kill Bill type shit right now, you don't think you'll make it out of this.
  7546. >But hell if you're not going to try.
  7547. >You move back into the thing and look around frantically.
  7548. >You spot some rope, likely extra from the shit they used to tie you up.
  7549. >And the second you do, one of the bastards claws your back.
  7550. "-Motherfucker!"
  7551. >It tears through your shirt like damned tissue paper.
  7552. >You kick up the rope and quickly wrap it around the guy.
  7553. >Then promptly throw him out of the carriage and onto his face.
  7554. >-Damn it, you probably should've crippled that guy somehow.
  7555. >Shaking your head, you move back in and grab a crate, likely filled with food or something.
  7556. >But it's heavy, which is all you need.
  7557. >A silhouette of another Griffon shows up behind the back cloth, so you toss the box at it.
  7558. >And another one goes crashing down.
  7559. >Christ, you won't be able to keep this up for long.
  7560. >A tear on top of the thing interrupts your thought and tackles you to the ground.
  7561. >Figures.
  7562.  
  7563. >The catbird claws your damn arm before you barely manage to kick it into another crate.
  7564. >You use your good leg and kick it again in the face.
  7565. >-And oh look, now there's three others on top of the thing.
  7566. >You give one final kick, hoping it'll make sure he stays down, then pull the knife you have.
  7567. >-Well, it's more of a bayonet, really, but-
  7568. >-RIGHT, ANGRY CATBIRDS.
  7569. >With the size difference, you don't feel that intimidated, but the damn speed and their shitty talons are what you're weary of.
  7570. >Having been both blessed and cursed with long legs, you try to kick one that's advancing.
  7571. >He gets hit, but another grabs your leg and slashes it with said talons.
  7572. >Which makes both legs now with terrible cuts that probably will need lots of bandages.
  7573. >You in turn grab the guy's arm and return the favor.
  7574. >The third finally decides to make his move and charge at you.
  7575. >Because he decided to do some kind of eagle screech beforehand, you had time to protect yourself and hold the blade up.
  7576. >He just flies right into it, stunning both you and the others.
  7577. >You didn't think he'd be that retarded to keep going.
  7578. >Once you pull the thing out, you notice that the carriage is now stopping.
  7579. >You peek over to the front, and oh goodie, another Griffon just tackled your driver.
  7580. >-These fuckers just love slashing and tackling things, don't they?
  7581. >You want to move up ahead and save your crippled engine, but these two are blocking your path.
  7582. >They both take defensive stances, waiting for you to move.
  7583. >After a very quick moment of weighing your options, you decide to use their own tactic and charge.
  7584. >One flinches and moves out of the way, and you grab the neck of the other one and slam him into the ground.
  7585. >-Then, of course, the other guy smashes into you and hits you against a crate.
  7586. >You lift up the knife to shank him in the side, but the other one claws at your arm and rips it out of your hand.
  7587. >And from what you hear, you driver isn't faring any better.
  7588. >Fucking catbirds, man...
  7589.  
  7590. >A punch to the face takes you by surprise.
  7591. >Or rather, how much it hurts.
  7592. >Damn talons man, SERIOUSLY.
  7593. >You grab the second punch headed for you, and the other Griffon is holding your right arm.
  7594. >It's now that you can feel how much everything hurts.
  7595. >Clawed and slashed practically everywhere, they obviously cut pretty deep.
  7596. >The pain in your left starts becoming really noticeable, and your grip starts to falter.
  7597. >So you move a bit and release your hand, the force of this guy on you practically flinging him into the crate.
  7598. >Before he catches himself, you use that same arm and grab his wing.
  7599. >You don't have enough in you to try and break it, so you just start ripping out feathers.
  7600. >He spins around and causes your right arm to break free, so you spring up and end up on your feet.
  7601. >-And holy shit, everything really hurts now.
  7602. >The adrenaline's practically all left you, and now you feel like some kind of beaten stray dog.
  7603. >The other guy, of course, goes for another tackle, but misses.
  7604. >Tackles and claws, that really is all you need to worry about.
  7605. >-Then he steadies the knife that he took from you.
  7606. >...Oh.
  7607. >Shit.
  7608. >You look around yourself, but there doesn't seem to be anything you could just throw at him.
  7609. >Not only that, but you don't think you'd be able to kick his ass, not with how bad you're hurting currently.
  7610. >And you know that would only make things worse.
  7611. >You notice that the other guy is finally recuperating, and there's still a tussle going on in the front of the carriage.
  7612. >So, with not much else to do, you spin around and sprint towards the front end.
  7613. >The half-featherless Griffon swipes at your legs, but you barely miss him and hop out.
  7614. >And as you jump, you hear the other one flying towards you.
  7615. >You push through the bit of cloth and out into the sunlight, about three other Griffons sitting just below you.
  7616.  
  7617. >One catbird is getting kicked by your driver, and the other is holding her arms-paws-whocares from the back.
  7618. >-And that so happens to be the guy you're right above.
  7619. >You think it's ridiculous that they're even going after her, when you're sure she wanted nothing more than to be saved from you, but man, do these guys have no sympathy.
  7620. >-And with that logic, you feel YOU shouldn't have any sympathy.
  7621. >You hold your elbow out and crash into that guy pretty damn hard.
  7622. >All you hear is a loud squawk out of him.
  7623. >Your driver spins around, then glances at you.
  7624. >All you give is a nod.
  7625. >If they're targeting her too, then you just gained an ally.
  7626. >She nods right back, then turns her attention to the guy in front of her.
  7627. >While she does that, you focus on the dude below you and start to punch him in the face-
  7628. >"-NOT ANOTHER MOVE!"
  7629. >You pause when you feel something pointy touching your neck.
  7630. >Looking up, a bunch of other Griffons quickly land around you, wearing both armor and holding spears.
  7631. >-The other ones you weren't even thinking about.
  7632. >They surround you and your catbird ally, stopping her in her tracks.
  7633. >Those two from inside the carriage come out and hop onto the ground.
  7634. >"Well it's about time you decide to help! We almost died trying to take this thing down!-"
  7635. >"-Shut up! That's your fault, and your fault alone. We never asked you hired goons to come anywhere with us."
  7636. >The guy nods over at another Griffon, and he moves over to you.
  7637. >The one with the spear just puts a bit of pressure.
  7638. >"BACK AWAY, CREATURE!"
  7639. "-You fucking call me that again and I'll shove that spear up your ass, faggot!"
  7640. >He puts more pressure, causing you to bring your neck back.
  7641. >And despite the adrenaline rushing through you now, you know you can't win this battle.
  7642. >Not without a shotgun or something, at least.
  7643. >So you stand up and slowly back away.
  7644. >You're happy to see that just standing up, most of the Griffons still take a step back.
  7645.  
  7646. >...
  7647. >"-STOPPED? THOSE WHO WISH TO DISOBEY ROYAL ORDERS SHALL BE PUNISHED!"
  7648. >Luna stomps her hoof into the ground, making all of you flinch.
  7649. >Sheesh, she's loud when she's angry...
  7650. >She notices all of you recoiling, then the crack she made in the tile floor below her.
  7651. >She sighs and visibly calms herself.
  7652. >"I apologize... It is... troubling news to hear of this. I will definitely have a chat with my sister about the discipline of her guard..."
  7653. >Trailing off a moment, she finally settles on looking between you all.
  7654. >"That said, I will hold a good word for those extending their duties beyond our orders."
  7655. >She nods at Gold and Brave, then sighs again, finally looking over at the faint blue glow on the wall.
  7656. >"And nopony else had come across this portal, you say?"
  7657. >Gold shakes his head.
  7658. >Princess Luna sighs for about the tenth time since she's gotten here.
  7659. >Her gaze bears the look of a million disappointed mothers.
  7660. >She moves over to where Minuette is and puts a hoof on the wall.
  7661. >Almost immediately, the blue glow brightens up, and a section of the wall pops out, slowly transforming into a door.
  7662. >It looks just like an emergency exit, for some reason.
  7663. >If this was the Griffons' idea to camouflage it, then they're stupid.
  7664. >You mean, what the hay kind of bathroom has a fire exit inside of it?
  7665. >Shaking your head free of the thought, Luna opens the thing open, and of course, there's a big portal on the other side.
  7666. >It's kind of mesmerizing, actually.
  7667. >Everypony else readies themselves in someway, and Brave picks up the supplies next to her.
  7668. >You forget you're supposed to carry stuff, and do the same.
  7669. >Luna glances at all of you, then turns back to the thing.
  7670. >"Well then, let's not waste any time here."
  7671. >She moves into the portal, and you see all this swirly electric-looking stuff going on around her.
  7672. >Then there's a large zapping noise, and she's spat back out.
  7673. >Before you can even understand what happened, your body kicks into gear and throws itself at Luna.
  7674.  
  7675. "PRINCESS!"
  7676. >You're the first to swoop to her, but she quickly gets up herself.
  7677. >"Thank you for your concern, but I'll be fine."
  7678. >Everyone else visibly relaxes, and you pull yourself away from her side.
  7679. >You all watch as she nears the portal again, her horn lighting up this time around.
  7680. >"This is no ordinary magic at work. This portal was created through enchanted crystal runes..."
  7681. >She sighs and stomps her hoof on the floor again, though softer.
  7682. >"Crafty little fiends, these Griffons..."
  7683. >She glances around at everypony, then faces you and Brave.
  7684. >"I believe it may only be up to you two, here... If I am unable to pass through this gate, I am almost certain any other unicorn will not be able to."
  7685. >Behind Luna, you can see Gold quickly frown.
  7686. >He glances at the portal, then charges into it.
  7687. >-And sure enough, he yelps, and gets spat out, tumbling across the ground.
  7688. >Luna picks him up, and he stumbles around, dizzy from all those flips.
  7689. >And the frustration on her own face just gets worse.
  7690. >It's kind of scary.
  7691. >"Those wretched PESTS! I have half a mind to start a war with them MYSELF!"
  7692. >She stomps on the ground again, earning another crack to the tile's name.
  7693. >-The shop owner is really not going to be happy about that.
  7694. >Minuette moves over and helps Gold from stumbling around everywhere, and Luna sighs once again, eyes closed while she lets out this long, drawn out breath.
  7695. >Finally, after you assume that she's calmed, she looks at you both.
  7696. >"As I have no control over my sister's guard, and mine is currently stationed elsewhere, I am not sure of what assistance I can provide for you two..."
  7697. >You pause to think, but without magic, you really can't think of anything, either.
  7698. >Everything that isn't magical is what you already have, really.
  7699. >Luna does the same, scanning you both as you stand.
  7700. >"-Don't worry about it, Princess Luna. You've gotten us this far, and that's plenty."
  7701. >She nods, but doesn't seem convinced otherwise.
  7702.  
  7703. >You find yourself casting a now uneasy glance at the portal.
  7704. >Luna follows it, then sighs.
  7705. >"...It would be completely understandable if you choose to not do this. I would rather see you two in safety, than have you trudge in alone."
  7706. >Brave looks over at the portal with you.
  7707. >And despite what she looked like first coming to you, she now doesn't seem so... unstable.
  7708. >She takes a moment, then turns towards Luna, wearing the serious, cold expression you remember seeing when you first met her.
  7709. >"-I'm aware of the risks. I'm going."
  7710. >Luna looks visibly shocked by her words, before slowly nodding.
  7711. >Then she looks at you.
  7712. >"And what is your wish?"
  7713. >You can read her expression like a book, though she's obviously trying to mask it.
  7714. >There's a bit of hope in there, and worry.
  7715. >Like she's scared that you'll agree to going with Brave.
  7716. >Scared of what could happen to you.
  7717. >Though, the longer you stay silent, the more that stone expression of hers seems to falter.
  7718. >...It makes you glad.
  7719. >After all of this time serving under her, all of those years training and working as a guard, you felt kind of stupid getting attached to her.
  7720. >She's the Princess, sure, but you haven't heard of many ponies that start to love their bosses as family.
  7721. >But, just by reading her expression...
  7722. >You can clearly see that she feels the same.
  7723. >Instead of saying anything, you slowly walk up and hug her.
  7724. >At first she's surprised, until she graciously returns the gesture.
  7725. >And through it, you're sure she knows your choice.
  7726. >"Please, stay safe out there... Vannie."
  7727. >All her Princess-y talk just vanished, her tone now more gentle.
  7728. >Almost... motherly.
  7729. "I will, Princess."
  7730. >"-Please, just call me Luna."
  7731. >You nod.
  7732. >Time seems to fly by too quickly, and you part.
  7733. >You can feel some tears forming, and quickly wipe them away.
  7734. >You feel you have so much to say, but can't find any of the words.
  7735. >So instead, you pick up the supplies.
  7736. >And with one final wave, you push into the portal alongside Brave.
  7737.  
  7738. >Once the weird feeling of teleporting passes, you're dropped onto the ground.
  7739. >You immediately ready yourself and scan the area.
  7740. >But it seems to be deserted.
  7741. >...And a desert.
  7742. >Brave looks around as you do.
  7743. >"I think we're in the Badlands."
  7744. >She says that the second you come the to same conclusion.
  7745. >If it were another desert, there would be things growing here.
  7746. >But it's just as empty as ponies say.
  7747. >Though... you think you can see a dot of something in the distance.
  7748. "Brave!"
  7749. >She turns over to you, seeing your hoof pointed in the direction of that dot.
  7750. >It's a dark color.
  7751. >For a split second, your heart sinks thinking it's Anon, but his shirt is white, and that just seems dark all over.
  7752. >While you observe it, Brave just starts in a full trot towards the thing.
  7753. >So, with some difficulty, you follow after her.
  7754. >Of course you have the conditioning to do this, but that natural Earth pony endurance of hers really shines better.
  7755. >Eventually, you just take to gliding after her.
  7756. >Because of the weight, you can't really find yourself flying, but the small hops up to glide matches her speed well.
  7757. >And soon enough, you notice that there's TWO dots nearby.
  7758. >Brave slows her pace down, and you trail right beside her.
  7759. >Is that...
  7760. >"I think that's a Griffon."
  7761. >You both watch it for a moment.
  7762. >It doesn't move, but the color of the talons and those wings are unmistakable.
  7763. >...It's not moving.
  7764. >Moving just a bit closer, you now can see the big bits of red below it.
  7765. >Blood.
  7766. >You slowly make your way over, Brave now trailing behind you as you come up to the body.
  7767. >Once you get close enough, she gasps.
  7768. >It's dead...
  7769. >Sheesh, and that's a lot of blood...
  7770. >Looking over at the other figure, you see it suffered the same fate.
  7771. >Though, it clearly tried to get away, if that trail is anything to go by...
  7772. >-But what you don't get is, what- or WHO the hay did this?
  7773.  
  7774.  
  7775. >These two just look like they were ripped apart.
  7776. >You hear this muffled squeak, and turn around to see Brave hiding a bit behind you.
  7777. >"A-are they... are they...?"
  7778. "-Dead? Yeah, big time."
  7779. >She starts to shake a bit.
  7780. >"What d-do you think did that?"
  7781. >You look around yourself again.
  7782. >Then shrug.
  7783. >They're Griffons.
  7784. "My best guess is they attacked each other."
  7785. >You know all too well how bad these freaks get when they get greedy.
  7786. >Bits were most definitely involved here.
  7787. >And in this location, you think it would be safe to say that Anon was involved with said bits.
  7788. >Treating him like some kind of voucher...
  7789. >It angers you.
  7790. >Almost makes you happy these two are like this.
  7791. >...Almost.
  7792. >All you know is that these two are dead now, and whoever murdered them is probably some force to be reckoned with.
  7793. >A force that, sadly, you both are going to have to deal with...
  7794. >That thought brings a tiny shiver down your back.
  7795. >You suddenly don't feel so confident being here anymore.
  7796. >You're going to be forced to fight whatever monster did this, just the two of you.
  7797. >Even with armor and spears, you feel scared.
  7798. >You spin back around, hoping that by some miracle you'd see something.
  7799. >Maybe see that Princess Luna and the others were able to get through or something.
  7800. >But instead, it's just Brave, who's probably wearing the same expression as you right now.
  7801. >Fear of what's to come.
  7802. >You mean, it's not like Anon would be able to do something like this.
  7803. >Not that you doubt his strength or anything, but you don't think he would have the heart like this.
  7804. >Especially not Anon.
  7805. >No, this was definitely the Griffons themselves, or something far worse.
  7806. >This was the work of a true monster...
  7807.  
  7808. "-DUDE I SWEAR I'M GOING TO EAT YOUR GODDAMN FACE IF YOU KEEP POKING ME WITH THAT."
  7809. >The Griffon snickers and pokes you again.
  7810. >You can feel your eye twitch while you shoot the guy your death glare.
  7811. >Sadly, it's not enough to vaporize.
  7812. >Though even after the uncomfortable staring, he seems unfazed, and keeps the spear where it is.
  7813. >You scoot out of the way, thankfully finding a nice, poke-less spot between everything.
  7814. >And with all these damned spears pointed at you, you're surprised to.
  7815. >The second you start to even feel somewhat comfortable, the carriage starts to slow down.
  7816. >You're forcefully brought to your feet alongside your Griffon driver girl, and you're both dropped onto the desert floor, hands and legs still bound.
  7817. >Once you're picked up again, you instinctively scan your now very different surroundings.
  7818. >This looks like some kind of military camp or something.
  7819. >Tents set up in camo everywhere, large crates stacked around in certain areas, and Griffons moving to and fro.
  7820. >It's a pretty small looking camp, but damn are there more than a few of these guys...
  7821. >Unless you suddenly find a way to unlock Rambo's secrets, you're probably not going to get out of here for a while.
  7822. >...Damn...
  7823. >Makes you wonder how everyone else is doing.
  7824. >More specifically, the girls.
  7825. >You wonder if they even know you're missing.
  7826. >-Your thoughts are interrupted when you notice this giant hole in the ground.
  7827. >Like, a man made hole.
  7828. >-Catbird made hole, whatever.
  7829. >There's digging equipment around it all, though there's some damn crates blocking what's actually inside that pit.
  7830. >Maybe it's just a giant toilet or something.
  7831. >In the desert here, it'd make sense.
  7832. >Though in your mind, you feel it's obviously related to why you're here.
  7833. >The fact that you can't investigate makes you anxious.
  7834. >You're here against your own damned will, you want to at least know WHY.
  7835.  
  7836. >But instead, you get pushed into one of the tents.
  7837. >Immediately, you spot one special snowflake out of all the other Griffons.
  7838. >Only because he actually has clothes, instead of running around naked or having armor like these few around you.
  7839. >He's got some camo hat and a matching shirt on, though unbuttoned.
  7840. >In fact, it looks exactly what the Army back home wore.
  7841. >...Like, exactly.
  7842. >And it's not until he stands up from that shitty desk of his that you realize it IS from the Army.
  7843. >Red flags just start waving around everywhere.
  7844. >Where the hell did he get that?
  7845. >And more importantly, HOW?
  7846. >"Well then, this is a pleasant surprise! I almost thought for a moment that this thing killed you all!"
  7847. >He adjusts the shirt and slowly walks up to you.
  7848. >"Though... now looking at it, it doesn't seem so dangerous."
  7849. >"He did put up a fight, sir."
  7850. >Another Griffon behind you shuffles.
  7851. >"He, ah, killed two of the mercenaries, sir. Others are badly wounded."
  7852. >The guy just pauses, before waving it off.
  7853. >"Well, what can you expect out of a bunch of inexperienced idiots with no equipment? I'd be more surprised if NONE of them were dead."
  7854. >"-One of them also assisted in his escape. We have her in custody right now."
  7855. >That gets another pause.
  7856. >"That so?"
  7857. >He shakes his head while looking up at you.
  7858. >"You really are just a mess of trouble, aren't you?"
  7859. "Untie me and we can find out."
  7860. >He rolls his eyes and walks past you.
  7861. >"You 'tough guys' never know when to just give up, eh? Put 'em in his cell, it's already getting dark."
  7862. >"-Yes, sir!"
  7863. >You're jabbed again by a spear and led out of the tent.
  7864. >That other guy's moving in the direction of the pit, and you're moved in the opposite direction.
  7865. >Then you're led to a damn big cage with no roof or anything.
  7866. >Like you're some kind of goddamn zoo animal.
  7867. >That bastard shoves you in there and immediately locks the thing.
  7868. >The heat is already killing you.
  7869.  
  7870. >...
  7871. >It looks like you've got a long ways to go ahead.
  7872. >The only indicator of your progress are those two behind you, and the trail that was left behind on the ground.
  7873. >It just goes in one direction, so you're sure that EVENTUALLY, you'll get there.
  7874. >But for now, it seems to be getting late.
  7875. >And as much as you do want to continue on, this weight is really making itself more noticeable.
  7876. >You can tell that Brave feels the same, as well.
  7877. "We should set up camp here for tonight."
  7878. >She looks at you like you just called her fat, then pauses and slowly nods.
  7879. >So with that, you finally sit and let loose all the supplies and junk you scrounged from the barracks.
  7880. >It all slides off and lands on the floor with a big thud.
  7881. >Brave does the same, and you start fishing around everything.
  7882. >You realize now that you probably should have lessened the load, now with half of what you originally packed for.
  7883. >...Too late now.
  7884. >With a sigh, you pick up the tent that was part of everything and roll it out.
  7885. >A bit experienced in the process, you get to work quickly.
  7886. >All those odd jobs in the guard really did help, after all.
  7887. >Even if they were really boring sometimes.
  7888. >Like that one noble pony that just swore there was somepony stalking him.
  7889. >But of course, you couldn't guard INSIDE the house, now could you?
  7890. >...Stupid noble ponies.
  7891. >At least being fluffy kept you from freezing out there.
  7892. >As you put the last pole up, you see that Brave's already completely put up her tent, and is already working towards setting up a fire.
  7893. >-Wait, a FIRE?
  7894. >You watch as she brings a bag of wood pieces out and just throws them onto the flame.
  7895. >Sheesh, she and Gold were really trying to bring the whole camping experience in these supply bags.
  7896. >She looks at the fire with this proud look on her face while you finish up and sit beside it.
  7897. >You look around yourself, then decide to shed your armor off.
  7898.  
  7899. >It doesn't look like anything's gone through this desert in centuries, and the only thing that DID go through is probably already long gone.
  7900. >If there's ever a time you can take your armor off, it's probably here.
  7901. >With how dead silent it is, you'd definitely hear somepony approaching, anyways.
  7902. >...Sheesh, it really IS dead silent, isn't it?
  7903. >You look around yourself some more.
  7904. >Just a big, flat plain on all sides.
  7905. >Dirt that's a light cream color, and that's it.
  7906. >No grass, no trees, and barely any rocks.
  7907. >Like something just came by and swept it all away...
  7908. >You wonder what was here, before.
  7909. >If it was some kind of lush, green rain forest or something.
  7910. >A jungle teeming with all kinds of life.
  7911. >Now just so... barren.
  7912. >You never know how weird it is to be in a place like this until you are yourself.
  7913. >How weird it is for everything to be completely silent like this.
  7914. >That's why you're kind of glad for the fire.
  7915. >Keeps you warm, and it makes things less weird.
  7916. >...It's hard to explain, really.
  7917. >It just helps.
  7918. >Once everything's off, you stretch a bit and warm yourself by the fire.
  7919. "You did everything pretty quickly. Where'd you learn all this?"
  7920. >Brave looks up at you like she just remembered you existed.
  7921. >"Huh? Oh, uh..."
  7922. >She rubs the back of her neck sheepishly.
  7923. >"I-I was a Fillyscout, back in the day..."
  7924. >Though she looks a bit embarrassed, you can still see that pride in her eyes.
  7925. >You actually always wanted to be a Fillyscout.
  7926. >But, with you being a bat pony and all...
  7927. >There weren't many options for you as a filly.
  7928. >At least not without more than a few extra downsides to it.
  7929. >As your thoughts go by, you slowly take notice of the silence between you both.
  7930. >And really, you don't know where else to go in conversation.
  7931. >You're both fighting for the same thing, right alongside each other, but really, you don't know Brave.
  7932. >Like, at all.
  7933.  
  7934. >Sure, she's been nothing but kind to you, but that puts her more as an acquaintance, or a nice coworker.
  7935. >You notice now how far the silence is stretching.
  7936. "How was being a Fillyscout?"
  7937. >Her ears perk up like she's so surprised she's being talked to.
  7938. >Once again, like you just faded from existence and came back.
  7939. >Must be doing a lot of thinking.
  7940. >Probably about what you've forced yourself not to think about.
  7941. >...You know that nothing good would come of it.
  7942. >Brave shakes her head clear slightly, then gazes at the fire for a moment.
  7943. >"It was... nice. I was always able to sell the most cookies out of all the fillies."
  7944. >She sheepishly grins.
  7945. >"But I never told anypony that my mom just sold them to all her friends."
  7946. >You can't help but crack a smile at that.
  7947. >That sounds like something you'd do.
  7948. >You don't know how anypony can just, go around town, door to door, selling cookies like that.
  7949. >As a filly, much less.
  7950. >You'd get bored way too quickly.
  7951. >"-What about you?"
  7952. "-Hmm?"
  7953. >She rubs her hooves a bit.
  7954. >"Were you apart of any groups or anything as a filly?"
  7955. >You think for a second, then wonder why you're even taking a second to think.
  7956. "Nope."
  7957. >"How come? I think you would've made a great Fillyscout, too."
  7958. >You can't help but crack a smile at that, too.
  7959. >But it's more of a sarcastic one.
  7960. >Yeah, the batpony filly being the start scout.
  7961. >That'd be the day.
  7962. "A lot of things weren't eager to accept me into their ranks, you know."
  7963. >Her head tilts slightly.
  7964. >"Why?"
  7965. >...WHY?
  7966. >You kind of just sit there for a moment, as if her looking at you would suddenly get the bulb going.
  7967. >But... nothing.
  7968. "Well, being a batpony has a bit to do with it."
  7969. >-Sheesh, that came out a lot more sarcastic sounding than you wanted it to.
  7970.  
  7971. >She keeps that head-tilt of hers.
  7972. >...She seriously doesn't know.
  7973. >Well, must not have seen any other batponies as a filly.
  7974. >That, or they were already all driven out before she came along.
  7975. "Well, me being the way I am, I was never treated fairly anywhere. Nopony wanted to see a batpony doing anything that was apart of their daily lives."
  7976. >She just sits there, waiting for you to continue.
  7977. >But you don't want to say anymore.
  7978. >"...Why?"
  7979. >You sigh, then shrug.
  7980. "Well, why are ponies without Cutie Marks singled out?"
  7981. >You move and lie down beside the fire instead.
  7982. "Nopony likes a star in a sea of special snowflakes, I guess..."
  7983. >There's a bit of shuffling from the other side of the fire, and soon you feel Brave lying down beside you.
  7984. >"Well... I like you."
  7985. >You snort.
  7986. "That's what everypony too nice to tell the truth says."
  7987. >Your gaze turns to the ground, and you can already feel your eyes starting to tear up.
  7988. >You blink them away and feel your ears droop.
  7989. >Sadly, you can't do anything about that.
  7990. >You've tried many times before.
  7991. >Another sigh escapes you.
  7992. "It's not like I-I asked to be a batpony, you know..."
  7993. >You close your mouth and shut your eyes before you continue.
  7994. >You already cried your eyes out in that dream with Anon...
  7995. >You're not going to do that here.
  7996. >You're a strong pony, dang it!
  7997. >A strong... a hated... worthless...
  7998. >Trying to shake your head clear works slightly.
  7999. >The sound of clicking and metal makes itself known beside you.
  8000. >And the next thing you know, something much warmer is lying beside you.
  8001. >Opening your eyes slightly, you're extremely shocked to see Brave out of her armor.
  8002. >And you mean like, COMPLETELY out of her armor.
  8003. >It makes you feel very... weird.
  8004. >Kind of uncomfortable.
  8005. >You mean, she ALWAYS wears that armor of hers.
  8006. >-Sheesh, is her coat white though.
  8007. >She could hide herself perfectly in the snow with that color.
  8008.  
  8009. >You don't even think Princess Celestia is as white as her.
  8010. >In fact, now you're kind of glad you haven't woken up to her being armor-less.
  8011. >Probably blind you better than the sun.
  8012. >She leans herself against you.
  8013. >Her mane is so long you're scared it's going to catch fire from here.
  8014. >"I may not know what it's like for you... but I do know what being left out feels like."
  8015. >Just as you're about to roll your eyes and sarcastically agree, you see the sincerity in hers.
  8016. >The kind that you've only seen in one other.
  8017. >You slowly close your mouth, then feel a lump form in your throat.
  8018. >She gently nuzzles into your side.
  8019. >...It feels much nicer than you'd care to admit.
  8020. >As you know, always a sucker for contact.
  8021. >Hugs, nuzzles, snuggles, the works.
  8022. >"And hay, you're the only pony who's made me feel safe and welcome. I don't feel I've expressed that enough."
  8023. >You feel your ears perk ever so slightly.
  8024. "...Really?"
  8025. >She slowly nods.
  8026. >Huh, that's... new.
  8027. >Nopony's ever said you've made them feel safe before.
  8028. >Usually it was the other way around.
  8029. >Even in the Guard, you stuck with the other ponies so that way if anything happened, you knew they'd back you up.
  8030. >Then, well, you just decided that instead of worrying about that, staying to read in the barracks was a better choice.
  8031. >-But YOU making somepony feel safe?
  8032. >She goes back to lightly leaning against you.
  8033. "Well, you're the only pony who doesn't just see my wings and eyes... I feel I should thank you for that, as well."
  8034. >She just nods and moves up, looking at you.
  8035. >"-This isn't crossing any lines, is it? I just... my mom was always able to comfort me with a good nuzzle. You look like you could use one..."
  8036. >You pause, then shake your head.
  8037. "No, it's fine."
  8038. >Though, you won't admit that a nuzzle is exactly what you need right now.
  8039. >She nuzzles your neck a bit, then rests her head slightly under yours.
  8040. >Instinctively, a wing unfolds and wraps over her.
  8041.  
  8042. >You recoil slightly, but she doesn't say anything, so you assume it's okay.
  8043. >And hay, does it feel nice...
  8044. >Never have you had a friend even offer something as simple as a nuzzle before.
  8045. >It was a small group, and that's it.
  8046. >And even then, that group was only there because you were one of them.
  8047. >More like a neutral agreement than a friendship, really.
  8048. >But... a friend.
  8049. >And now that you think about it, Minuette could be considered one.
  8050. >And Gold.
  8051. >You feel a little flutter in your stomach.
  8052. >Well, it's good knowing that you're no longer on your own anymore.
  8053. >That you actually have somepony watching your back.
  8054. >A soft sigh escapes you.
  8055. >And that they feel fine being watched by you.
  8056. "...Thank you, Brave. I... I did need this."
  8057. >She slowly nods with a sigh of her own.
  8058. >"So did I... Thank you."
  8059. >You watch the fire silently, feeling more relaxed with every second.
  8060. >The warmth on all sides, plus the crackle of the flame before you.
  8061. >It's not perfect, but it's certainly very pleasant.
  8062. >"...We should probably eat before the fire dies, though."
  8063. >You pause, then nod.
  8064. >As much as you hate having to move, she's probably right.
  8065. >Not only will it mean less to carry, but it'll probably help give you more energy for the morning.
  8066. >You retract your wing and stand, before being stopped by Brave.
  8067. >"You just relax. I'll grab everything."
  8068. >You pause, but nod.
  8069. >Yeah, she really is one in a million.
  8070. >That, or she's just blind, and everypony is this nice.
  8071. >With some regret, you lie back down and stretch again, before lying back down beside the fire.
  8072. >After all this is done, a camping trip is definitely in order.
  8073.  
  8074. >...
  8075. >Agony.
  8076. >Nothing but pain all over.
  8077. >You haven't been in this much pain since you were peer-pressured into finishing that fucking marathon.
  8078. >And then had all that colored powder thrown in your goddamn face.
  8079. >You look at yourself, feeling nothing but dread.
  8080. >To think you went from having things so great to just being... like this.
  8081. >You adjust yourself and lie back against the bars.
  8082. >While nobody was watching, you managed to break free again.
  8083. >Not of the cage, but you were able to rid yourself of those damn ropes.
  8084. >Though all you really focused on was trying to bandage yourself up.
  8085. >Tore your shirt, used your shoelaces, and hey, you have shitty makeshift bandages on your left leg and right arm.
  8086. >You're not so smart on what can get infected and what couldn't, but you were at least able to stop more blood from ruining what's left of your clothes.
  8087. >And now, you're trying to steady your own breathing while holding pressure on your other leg.
  8088. >Truly, none of these injuries hurt until you had time to notice them.
  8089. >Like getting a small cut, then wondering how you got it hours later.
  8090. >Another Griffon comes by to check on you.
  8091. >This one noticed how you broke free, but hasn't done anything about it.
  8092. >He just snorted.
  8093. >He knows you're not getting out of this cage anytime soon.
  8094. >And really, you know you probably aren't.
  8095. >You've already frantically looked around for escape.
  8096. >If the fact that you found nothing didn't deter you enough, you remembered where you are.
  8097. >No matter how far you run, somebody would eventually spot you.
  8098. >In this big, empty-ass field of a desert, somebody would definitely find you.
  8099. >Then you'd just be back here, more tired than you are.
  8100. >You feel so exhausted.
  8101. >Though you stay awake, because though you're sure these aren't life-threatening, the thought of it scares you.
  8102. >Especially with so many walking around.
  8103. >So many...
  8104.  
  8105. >...
  8106. >You slurp up the last bit of soup and sigh.
  8107. >Nothing spectacular, but it'll have to do.
  8108. >Brave finishes about the same time, and takes your can before it ever touches the ground.
  8109. >"Fire's about done."
  8110. >You nod, then look around yourself.
  8111. >It got dark pretty dang quickly.
  8112. >And though it's very faint, you can feel a bit of cold in the air.
  8113. >You're sure Brave feels more of it though, not having the burden of so much fluff.
  8114. >She puts everything away, then pauses.
  8115. >Her eyes slowly move over to you.
  8116. >"...Thank you, by the way."
  8117. "For?"
  8118. >"Just... just for being here. It helps knowing somepony like you is willing to risk as much as I am for the same reason."
  8119. >She pauses again, then manages a small smile.
  8120. >"It's... it's nice knowing I have a friend I can depend so much on..."
  8121. "Y-you too."
  8122. >...You just said that, didn't you.
  8123. >You shut your mouth and pretend you said nothing.
  8124. >But all she does is give another friendly smile.
  8125. >"Now then, though. We should probably get some sleep."
  8126. >You nod and start making your way over to the supplies, grabbing everything to shove inside of the tent.
  8127. >And it's still pretty roomy on the inside.
  8128. >"Yeah... sleep... in these tents..."
  8129. >Spinning around, Brave's still just standing in the same spot, looking at her tent while biting her lip.
  8130. "Something wrong?"
  8131. >"-Hmm? Oh, no, it's just that... no, nothing."
  8132. >Based on that look on her face, she's clearly colder than she's letting on.
  8133. >And also... nervous?
  8134. >You make sure again that everything's in order and in the tent-
  8135. >"-I-is, would it be alright if I... s-sleep with you?"
  8136. >Everything halts at once.
  8137. "Er... what?"
  8138. >She stays silent, clearly not retracting what she said, but not wanting to repeat herself.
  8139. >But you heard pretty clearly, anyways.
  8140. >You pause for a moment, thinking of how nice it felt by the fire...
  8141. >-It's just because of the cold, though!
  8142. >Nothing else.
  8143. >So it should be fine.
  8144. >Yeah, just, uh, fine.
  8145. "Y-you- yeah, that's okay."
  8146. >She nods.
  8147. >You nod.
  8148. >...Yeah.
  8149.  
  8150. >After everything's in and settled in the tent, you notice it still looks pretty roomy.
  8151. >And hay, if anything, you figure that someone trying to attack will be surprised when two ponies pop out of the tent.
  8152. >Though, you really doubt anypony would try anything.
  8153. >Again, at least with you not hearing.
  8154. >"S-sorry, I know it's weird... it kind of just got really cold, though."
  8155. >You nod.
  8156. "I noticed it too. Besides, what are friends for, right?"
  8157. >She manages another meek nod, then gives you another gentle smile.
  8158. >You could see this as a kind of sleepover, if you wanted.
  8159. >Again, another thing you never got to really do as a filly.
  8160. >That, and well... have a friend you've felt comfortable enough to be next to like this.
  8161. >You mean hay, it's not like you're going to be cuddling here or anything.
  8162. >It's just sharing a tent, no biggie.
  8163. >...Right?
  8164. >You shake the thoughts from your head and zip it up as the fire simmers down into nothing but red pieces of wood.
  8165. >And from there, you get into your usual sleeping position, lying on your stomach and your fore-hooves acting as the pillow.
  8166. >You shut your eyes, and despite the lack of a pillow, quickly feel yourself growing tired...
  8167. >
  8168.  
  8169. >Your eyes come back to life and finally open.
  8170. >Then you notice some pressure on your side.
  8171. >Or more specifically, all around you.
  8172. >You finally notice that you're now sleeping on your side, and there's a pair of white hooves wrapped around you.
  8173. >Tightly.
  8174. >Like, they practically have an iron grip around you.
  8175. >She shuffles a bit, and some of her long mane ends up in your face.
  8176. >You can hear her grumbling, before she moves a bit and crushes you just a bit more.
  8177. "-HRK!"
  8178. >Before you can say anymore, she practically holds you still with her hind legs wrapped around your waist.
  8179. >You can barely move, and you're surprised that breathing is even on the table.
  8180. >But that's not important.
  8181. >The biggest thing on your mind is that SHE'S CUDDLING YOU.
  8182. >Right on cue, she holds tighter, then lets out a hum.
  8183.  
  8184.  
  8185. "-HNG!"
  8186. >How the hay did you even end up like this without noticing?!
  8187. >You're not a heavy sleeper!
  8188. >Brave just continues to mumble incoherently while holding the very python-like grip on you.
  8189. >And while it is very warm, it's also very terrifying.
  8190. >You didn't think she was this STRONG.
  8191. >Trying fruitlessly to move, you only manage to tighten the grip some more.
  8192. >You don't even want to speak.
  8193. >It feels like saying something would just waste the precious air you have right now.
  8194. >So you merely lie there for a moment, weighing your options here.
  8195. >Then once again, a thought comes back to your mind.
  8196. >Brave is cuddling you.
  8197. >CUDDLING.
  8198. >And she clearly isn't aware of it.
  8199. >You look down, seeing again how her hind legs are wrapped around you.
  8200. >Like you're some kind of pillow or something.
  8201. >-Though it feels more like some kind of controversial combat techniqu-
  8202. >"-Soooft-"
  8203. "-HRG-"
  8204. >OH LUNA SHE'S GOING TO CUDDLE YOU TO DEATH
  8205. "-B-BRA... BRAVE!"
  8206. >All in a split second, your iron cage opens up, and you quickly roll out of the way, gasping for air.
  8207. >She hops up and immediately scans her surroundings, before moving over to you.
  8208. >"-VANNIE? WHAT'S WRONG? WHAT HAPPENED?!"
  8209. >You hold a hoof up for her to pause, and greedily suck in as much air as you can.
  8210. >After a short moment, when your breathing is somewhat normal again, you look up at her, in all her messy mane-d and worried glory.
  8211. >-Well, as much glory as a rock-snake-pony-hybrid can have, really.
  8212. >The terrified confusion in her eyes just tells you that she genuinely has no idea what she was doing to you.
  8213. >She doesn't know she spent however long cuddling you, and that you probably could have had every bone in your body broken from it.
  8214. >In fact, you're sure if you didn't have this fluff in between everything, you probably would have ended up dead or something.
  8215. >You shudder at the thought, then a blush instinctively graces your cheeks.
  8216. "I-I'm fine!"
  8217.  
  8218. >"A-are you sure you're fine? What happened?
  8219. "I uh... had a bad dream... about snakes."
  8220. >-You actually dreamed that you were making q pillow fort for some reason.
  8221. >You don't think you saw Princess Luna, or if you did, you already forgot.
  8222. >But aside from how you woke up, you can say that was a very refreshing sleep.
  8223. >And hay, you slept in a TENT.
  8224. >And not only that, but without a pillow or blanket?
  8225. >You don't know what helped you or was different, but...
  8226. >You cast a glance over to Brave, then shake your head free of its thoughts.
  8227. >Well, never mind that, then.
  8228. >Unzipping the tent open, you peek your head out, finding that it's still a bit chilly.
  8229. >Early morning, based on where the sun is.
  8230. >Best not to waste anymore time.
  8231. >You grab your stuff and pop outside, Brave right behind you.
  8232. >And immediately, she takes down the tent.
  8233. >In a matter of seconds, it's all down and rolled up neatly.
  8234. >Sheesh.
  8235. >You throw it in your pack and survey the place once more.
  8236. >Everything's all clear.
  8237. >You kick some dirt onto the burnt wood pieces, then check the trail again.
  8238. >Wheel marks, still following in a straight line.
  8239. >-And no landmarks in sight.
  8240. >...You hope he's nearby.
  8241. >In fact...
  8242. >You drop your pack and stretch out a bit.
  8243. >Then you take to the sky, slightly flapping your wings to-
  8244. >-You can see something.
  8245. >You can SEE something!
  8246. >In the distance, there's a shape with a very different color up ahead.
  8247. >You can't really tell just what it is, but it's up there.
  8248. >You quickly fall back down and softly land on the dirt.
  8249. >"Did you see anything?"
  8250. >You quickly nod, then sling the pack around you before booking it.
  8251. >Brave waits for a second, then chases after you.
  8252. >You can get there quickly.
  8253. >It's not THAT far.
  8254. >Don't worry Anon!
  8255.  
  8256. >...
  8257. >You barely got any sleep.
  8258. >Whether it was because you felt you couldn't, or just because these guys are fucking assholes, hitting the cage anytime you seemed remotely peaceful, you don't care.
  8259. >Sitting in a cage like this, you really figured to find yourself losing hope, giving up right then and there and deciding that complying is the best way to survive this.
  8260. >But you don't feel that way.
  8261. >Instead of hope, you can't find anything but anger.
  8262. >You know they fear you.
  8263. >You know you can hurt them.
  8264. >But still, they gloat, they spit on you, keeping you here like some fucking circus pet.
  8265. >Because they know you can't get them, so you can't hurt them.
  8266. >And that just pisses you off.
  8267. >Now, you're only waiting patiently.
  8268. >You know they're going to take you out of this cage.
  8269. >And just the thought of being free again...
  8270. >It excites you.
  8271. >You can't wait to exact your revenge here.
  8272. >You don't know how you will, or when.
  8273. >But you will.
  8274. >Every Griffon that's passed by, you've taken to just staring at them.
  8275. >Blank, cold expression on your face.
  8276. >And, just as you suspected, it's driven plenty of them away.
  8277. >Plenty, but not all.
  8278. >Those that stay are the ones who try to spit on you.
  8279. >You've already taken note of how they look, so you can go for them first.
  8280. >For now, you just need to be let out.
  8281. >Just a bit longer...
  8282. >A little Griffon comes by, armor and spear in hand, this serious expression on his face.
  8283. >All you do is stare at him with the look you've practiced, and try to look really menacing.
  8284. >Blink whenever he turns around, but never break eye contact.
  8285. >Since you notice that he actually is a bit smaller, he quickly becomes visibly spooked.
  8286. >Keeps glancing at you nervously, pretending to watch something else.
  8287. >And eventually, he just shuffles out of sight.
  8288. >More time for yourself, now.
  8289.  
  8290. >
  8291. >For what you swear is the fucking fiftieth time today, you're woken up by some dickwad smacking the bars with his shitty spear.
  8292. >Immediately, your instincts throw a glare towards whatever woke you up.
  8293. >An instinct that you've had long before you even got here.
  8294. >Though, since this is one cheeky enough to smack the bars, he isn't made uncomfortable by it.
  8295. >He simply laughs, then takes his post right in front of the gate.
  8296. >...With a single, almost hidden key hanging from his belt.
  8297. >Like some kind of action movie, he looks like he's waiting for you to take it.
  8298. >Though, you're not sure how sneakily you can.
  8299. >Sitting there, thinking for a little longer, you finally catch wind of an idea that might work.
  8300. >You slowly inch towards him, then stand up.
  8301. >Gently, you inch towards him, then quickly go for it, just as he glances back.
  8302. >You reach one hand towards the keys, and another around his neck, smashing him up against the bars.
  8303. >...Your original plan was just to distract him.
  8304. >They have to keep you alive, and this guy would be too busy freaking out to realize you grabbed his key.
  8305. >But, you've actually GOT him.
  8306. >He's squirming, and pretty much helpless by your one arm.
  8307. >So, it worked out pretty well, you think.
  8308. >You focus on taking the keys from his belt while you put a bit more force in the arm holding him.
  8309. >The fact that he's trying to claw himself free just puts a bit more adrenaline in your system, allowing you to use more force.
  8310. >And with every second that passes, his claws get more desperate and wild.
  8311. >But eventually, it just starts to slow, until he's clearly knocked out.
  8312. >Or dead.
  8313. >...Man, everything really did work better!
  8314. >And because of how many guards you've taken to scaring off, you doubt anymore will be coming by soon.
  8315. >You take the key off, then work it around into the slot.
  8316. >The soft click you get in response, is single-handedly the greatest goddamn sound you have ever heard in your entire life.
  8317. >You're free.
  8318.  
  8319. >...
  8320. >Flying up again, armor now on and everything, you get a better image of your destination.
  8321. >You also realize how stupidly far it is.
  8322. >Of course, you knew it was far already because you didn't see anything when you both got here.
  8323. >But even after all that running, which lasted a very long time, you haven't seemed to really get much closer.
  8324. >At least for how much dirt you were kicking up.
  8325. >-Though, having all these supplies obviously doesn't help.
  8326. >In fact, it's more like junk taking up space now than anything.
  8327. >A single thought hits you, and you drop the pack.
  8328. >For a moment, you watch the spear that's tucked away with everything else.
  8329. >...Nah, you won't need it.
  8330. >Always been better up close and personal, anyways.
  8331. >You continue to walk, and Brave quickly stops.
  8332. >"What are you doing?"
  8333. "That pack just weighs me down, and we're probably going to be coming back here anyways, I'm sure."
  8334. >Brave pauses to think.
  8335. "-I just really doubt a camp-set would be useful in saving Anon."
  8336. >That thought slowly clicks in her mind, and she drops her own pack, too.
  8337. >Though she picks up the spear.
  8338. >You simply nod in approval, then start at a quick pace towards that little base-camp-thing up ahead.
  8339. >It feels like you're wearing practically nothing now.
  8340. >You'll be there in no time at all.
  8341.  
  8342. >...
  8343. >Christ, this is uncomfortable.
  8344. >You feel like some girl wearing a skimpy outfit.
  8345. >At least the helmet fits fine, though.
  8346. >These Griffons and their big ass heads, man.
  8347. >This armor barely protects anything though.
  8348. >But, you guess you'd rather have slight protection than none at all.
  8349. >You pick up the spear beside you as well, kind of disappointed with its weight.
  8350. >This feels like a damn toothpick more than anything.
  8351. >Sure it's pointy, but it seems really damn flimsy.
  8352. >With a shrug, you finally close the cage door and lock it.
  8353. >The sight of that guy all tied up brings a happy smile to your eye.
  8354. >Whelp, time to get the hell out of here, now.
  8355. >The only question is, how?
  8356. >You pause and think for a moment.
  8357. >If you go back where you came, these bastards will only just eventually find out that you left and come back for you.
  8358. >So, that means...
  8359. >You stick the spear in the ground and pop your knuckles.
  8360. >Either you're fighting out of here, or you're going stealthy.
  8361. >But again, you're not really the stealthy type.
  8362. >Only in games.
  8363. >And stealth is optional for this mission.
  8364. >After shaking a bit of soreness from your legs and arms, you pick the spear up again and hop over to the side of a tent closest to you.
  8365. >Then you move around the back, glancing between the space of two tents.
  8366. >You see a guard walking past, in the direction of the cell.
  8367. >Oh shit.
  8368. >Once you're about to hop back over and get him, you see him again, backpedaling away in the other direction.
  8369. >What a loser.
  8370.  
  8371. >So, you continue behind the tents, up until you end up seeing that huge pit again.
  8372. >Still can't really see what's in it, but something's clearly there, if the Griffons moving back and forth is anything to go by.
  8373. >Up ahead is another guard close by, standing by the tent with his back conveniently facing you.
  8374. >The only ones moving past to see are those walking around the pit, but if you can grab this guy quickly, then the crates that blocked your view earlier will block theirs.
  8375. >You weigh your options again, before another plan comes to mind.
  8376. >Sticking by the fence, you wave your spear out of cover a bit.
  8377. "Pst, hey, come here!"
  8378. >You hear a bit of shuffling, then silence.
  8379. "Yeah, you, quickly!"
  8380. >You stay close to the tent, eventually hearing steps move slowly towards you.
  8381. >And after what seems like an eternity, you see his own spear peek out from cover.
  8382. >The second you see the color of his armor, you yank the spear, hop out and drive the guy into the ground..
  8383. >He tries to claw you immediately, but silly him, you have armor.
  8384. >Very uncomfortable chainmail-y armor, but armor nonetheless.
  8385. >You force both hands on his throat, stopping him from getting more but a few noises out.
  8386. >Though it seems to kind of take a while.
  8387. >You're no Sam Fisher.
  8388. >After a while, he finally goes out cold and stops trying to rip your arm off.
  8389. >You check to make sure you're in the clear, then throw him behind the tents.
  8390. >And from there, you plan your next course of action.
  8391. >...Man, you just took down two Griffons like a goddamn ninja.
  8392. >This is like Far Cry all over again.
  8393. >Shaking yourself back into focus, you move along the crates and behind some more tents.
  8394. >In the space between two, you see another guard guy up ahead.
  8395. >You never really bothered to count how many were pointing spears at you earlier, but less is obviously better.
  8396. >Though, you don't know how much traffic is going on where that guy is...
  8397. >A guard like that being sucked between the tents WOULD look kind of suspicious.
  8398.  
  8399. >Unsure of how to proceed, you try to peek around in order to get a feel for the amount of Griffons outside.
  8400. >It's very unsuccessful.
  8401. >Shrinking back, you think again of how you can approach this-
  8402. >"-The prisoner has escaped!-"
  8403. >-Oh goddamn it.
  8404. >The guard in front of you snaps his head over to the left and quickly trots away in that direction.
  8405. >You quickly lower yourself, trying to conceal as much as you can in the shadows.
  8406. >And as you do, you see Griffon after Griffon, all running towards the cell.
  8407. >"SEARCH THE PERIMETER! I WANT FIVE IN THE AIR RIGHT NOW!"
  8408. >"YES SIR!"
  8409. >You can just hear them all moving around you, flapping their wings and running around the place.
  8410. >You're pretty sure you're concealed nicely here, but it's not like you can stay forever.
  8411. >And with everyone moving around like this, how the hell are you going to get out?
  8412. >Even with this armor and these spears, you're completely outnumbered.
  8413. >And that's no good.
  8414. >"-Sir, two ponies are nearing our camp, how do we proceed?"
  8415. >-Two ponies?
  8416. >"Two ponies?"
  8417. >"Yes sir, and they seem to be wearing royal armor."
  8418. >You can feel your heart almost stop.
  8419. >Two ponies in armor?
  8420. >You really hope this is just some coincidence or something.
  8421. >"Are they alone?"
  8422. >"As far as we can tell, sir."
  8423. >There's a silence.
  8424. >"See what they want. If they become aggressive, just get rid of them."
  8425. >"Yes, sir!"
  8426. >The Griffon takes off, filling you with dread.
  8427. >Even if they aren't who you think they are, you fear for them.
  8428. >You feel like you should do something.
  8429. >...And there's really only one thing you can do.
  8430.  
  8431. >...
  8432. >You just saw like five of those Griffons take to the air.
  8433. >You and Brave being the only two moving things in a huge empty desert, there's no doubt in your mind that they saw you.
  8434. >But it's not like you were going to be sneaky anyways.
  8435. "Stick close to me."
  8436. >She quickly snaps to your side, obviously having seen the same Griffons you did.
  8437. >Clutching that spear a little closer to her chest, she takes a long, deep breath.
  8438. >You pause and gently place a hoof on her withers.
  8439. >She turns to you, shaking ever-so slightly.
  8440. "Don't worry, I have a plan."
  8441. >She nods, but still seems more than worried.
  8442. "Just know, whatever happens, I'll stay by your side."
  8443. >Your words help a little, and she tries to fake a confident smile.
  8444. >And though fake, you see it as a tremendous improvement.
  8445. >You remember how she was after that arrow incident, and now going up against these guys, this is still much calmer.
  8446. >You stretch and pop everything while you walk towards the camp with Brave.
  8447. >You don't even need to fly or anything, as the place is practically in your face now.
  8448. >And the closer you both get, the more Griffons you see pausing and turning your way.
  8449. >And there's... a lot of them.
  8450. >Finally, a small group of them, clad in armor and holding spears, quickly takes to the air towards you.
  8451. >One that stands out the most is this one wearing camouflage stuff.
  8452. >A shirt and a hat, which doesn't even work out here.
  8453. >Those colors are absolutely nothing you'd see in the desert.
  8454. >They slowly make their way over to you and stop.
  8455. >Brave pushes herself up against your side.
  8456. >And soon, you count seven of the armored ones, just in front of you both.
  8457. >You motion for Brave to stay still, and watch the camo guy move up first.
  8458. >"Who are you two? What business do you have here?"
  8459. >You steel yourself and subtly puff your chest out.
  8460. "We are here under official orders of the Princesses of Equestria. We have reason to believe that you've foalnapped a guest of the castle."
  8461.  
  8462. >The Griffon stays silent, trying to find a falter in your expression, a tiny hint that what you're saying isn't true.
  8463. >It lasts a while, but you can control your own expressions about as good as you can read them.
  8464. >At least under pressure like this.
  8465. >Otherwise, it's almost impossible for you to lie without smiling.
  8466. >The Griffon just raises an eyebrow.
  8467. >"-BELIEVE we have him? Well then where's the evidence that we do?"
  8468. "We traced the disappearance to a portal leading here. Witness reports prove that there's nowhere else he could have gone."
  8469. >He still looks unamused.
  8470. >Like your words just have no effect.
  8471. >You can feel a bit of anger making its way inside you.
  8472. "-If you do not release Anonymous to us, then it WILL be considered an act of war against the Equestrian Empire!"
  8473. >THAT seems to get something out of him.
  8474. >He looks a bit worried, now.
  8475. >And now you feel you've won.
  8476. >"-To who?"
  8477. "What?"
  8478. >In almost an instant, that worry just melts off his face.
  8479. >Glancing at Brave, it turns into a very punch-able grin.
  8480. >"You said it would be an act of war. Well, who else is here to see it?"
  8481. >He walks a bit closer.
  8482. >"Because it looks to me like the two little fillies are all out on their own."
  8483. "-Don't think we haven't thought about that! Reinforcements are on the way as they speak!"
  8484. >He just continues to give that smug look in response.
  8485. >"Well then, in the meantime, I see no reason not to welcome you both to our camp!"
  8486. >He turns around, then nods at the armored guys.
  8487. >"We've got a few nice, cozy cells for you both to stay in, you know."
  8488. >Almost immediately, the seven hop closer, spears at the ready.
  8489. >You hop into a defensive stance, as Brave shakily holds the spear up.
  8490. >All you offer is an encouraging smile and a nod, and she slowly returns the gesture.
  8491. >Finally, she takes to standing just alongside you, putting on a brave face.
  8492. >...Heh.
  8493.  
  8494. >...
  8495. >FUCKING SHIT FUCK SHIT
  8496. >IT'S ACTUALLY THEM
  8497. >HOW THE HELL DID THEY GET ALL THE WAY OVER HERE?!
  8498. >You push through the bit of pain in your legs telling you that you should NOT be running, and charge towards the girls like you're in the goddamn Olympics.
  8499. >And hey, you don't think anyone even saw you leave.
  8500. >-Though that's obviously the least of your worries right now.
  8501. >And you're definitely not going to be able to sneak around after this anyways.
  8502. >The closer you get, that palate of colors you easily recognized from a distance seem brighter.
  8503. >And the first thing you see locked on you is a big set of green eyes.
  8504. >Shortly after, a set of blue joins, and you're dangerously close to the Griffons now.
  8505. >The further you go, the girls just take to staring at you in shock.
  8506. >And finally, the first catbird turns around.
  8507. >"It's the prisoner!"
  8508. >But it's already too late.
  8509. >You aim for the one closest to you, then ready one of the spears you took.
  8510. >By the time the guy starts to turn around, you jump onto his back and send his face straight into the ground.
  8511. >-Yeah, that probably broke something.
  8512. >You grab his spear, snap it in half, and look, now you got a knife-ish thing.
  8513. >You pocket it, then hold the other spear ready to poke some catbirds.
  8514. >The girls continue to stare at you, then eventually remember where they are.
  8515. >So by the time you're all fine and dandy with these other spears pointed at you, Vannie-
  8516. >-Just fucking sweeps the leg of the guy in the back, then smashes his face in with a hoof.
  8517. >....That was pretty fucking cool.
  8518. >Half of the catbirds now spin around to defend against her.
  8519. >You wait for them to make their move, then beside you, Brave finally makes hers.
  8520. >She charges straight into that guy with the Army gear headfirst, knocking him several feet back and right onto his ass.
  8521. >And then all the catbirds looking your way immediately spin around-
  8522. >-Leaving themselves almost completely open for you.
  8523.  
  8524. >Vannie just starts punching before attacking even crosses your mind.
  8525. >And it does rather quickly.
  8526. >The one in front of you brings out his wings, so you throw both spears in one hand and grab him with the other.
  8527. >The second he tries to take off, you yank him back and watch him quickly fall into the dirt.
  8528. >In the back, Vannie is just... wow.
  8529. >You glance up for a second, and she's just moving around everywhere.
  8530. >She's fast as hell.
  8531. >You focus back on the grounded guy and step on his wing, just as a spear jabs right into your side.
  8532. >A FUCKING SPEAR
  8533. >The image doesn't quite click in your mind very well.
  8534. >You see a spear, and you see that it's inside of you.
  8535. >But that can't be a spear really jabbed in your side, can it be?
  8536. >The guy jabs it further and twists it.
  8537. >Pain just surges through you like a damned fighter jet.
  8538. >Then it quickly turns around into nothing but anger.
  8539. >The guy below you claws at your already injured leg, just sending a whole load of pain, mixed in with pure, unrelenting fury.
  8540. >Practically crushing the wood it's made out of, you jab the two spears in your hand towards the Griffon's face.
  8541. >Before you can even see what it did, he lets go of the one in your side and starts screaming, trying to hold the ones in his face still.
  8542. >You yank one away, causing him to yelp and stumble around, talons over his eyes and everything.
  8543. >And while he does that, you can feel your legs shaking, as just standing up is now a chore.
  8544. >You find yourself gritting your teeth from the pain, and with as much force as you can, you hold the thing with both of your hands and shove it into the first place you can see without armor.
  8545. >In an instant, the guy takes his claws off of you and holds his neck, making a bunch of gurgling noises.
  8546. >You glance back down at the large metal piece still stuck inside of you.
  8547. >When you look back up, there's now nobody standing but Brave and Vannie.
  8548. >Both of whom are staring at you, a scared and equally shocked expression on their faces.
  8549.  
  8550. >Your gaze travels over to your leg.
  8551. >It's completely red everywhere.
  8552. >Just looking at it hurts.
  8553. >You try to move, but nothing seems to be complying.
  8554. >The sound of hoofsteps quickly makes its way over to you, and before you know it, there's two pairs of green and blue looking up at you, looking scared out of their minds.
  8555. >You can barely hear them speak.
  8556. >Like some kind of movie, you can only focus on the sound of your heart racing.
  8557. >You can't take your eyes off of the spear stuck in you, so Vannie sneaks into your view, putting a hoof on your chest and talking to you.
  8558. >Though it's hard to understand what she's saying.
  8559. >...
  8560.  
  8561. "BRAVE! HELP ME OUT HERE!"
  8562. >She quickly snaps out of it and sprints over to you.
  8563. "Hold his legs, we're getting him out of here!"
  8564. >You practically throw yourself into the sky and check the way back.
  8565. >-A day's worth of travel back.
  8566. >Hitting the ground, your mind immediately goes wild with thoughts.
  8567. >You won't make that in time.
  8568. >You know you won't.
  8569. >A day's travel in a few minutes?
  8570. >You can't.
  8571. >You can feel your heart thumping at a pace you wouldn't call healthy.
  8572. >Your breathing rapid and heavy.
  8573. >You don't know what to do.
  8574. >Could you really keep Anon stable until you go back to the portal?
  8575. >Would the portal even work?
  8576. >Then your gaze snaps over the camp.
  8577. >-Maybe there's something in there?
  8578. >With the amount of Griffons in it, you KNOW they have to have at least one medical kit or something.
  8579. >You stand there, impatiently digging at the ground while you weigh your options.
  8580. >You can feel your own teeth gritting here.
  8581. >Brave has Anon leaning on her in the meantime, anxiously waiting for you to do something.
  8582. >Anon himself just seems to be out of it.
  8583. >Like he doesn't even know where he is.
  8584.  
  8585. >You can feel your heart beating even quicker.
  8586. >Everything just boring down on you, this huge weight slowly crushing everything.
  8587. >You look at Brave.
  8588. "-Stay with him, make sure nothing happens!"
  8589. >Oh dear Luna there's too much blood coming from that leg
  8590. >"-What are you going to do?!"
  8591. "-JUST STAY HERE!"
  8592. >With that, you spread your wings and dart towards the camp.
  8593. >If you weren't in this situation, you would have been impressed with your takeoff speed.
  8594. >Flying over, you immediately notice tons of eyes on you.
  8595. >Either from behind the tents or just there on the dirt.
  8596. >Though none of these Griffons have weapons, the fact that they also haven't tried anything tells you that they probably mean no harm.
  8597. >Probably.
  8598. >And that doesn't mean you trust them.
  8599. >None of them are wearing armor, though there are a few wearing lab coats.
  8600. >-LAB COATS!
  8601. >You hop towards the one closest to you, holding his collar up with your hoof.
  8602. "ARE YOU A DOCTOR?"
  8603. >He shakes his head.
  8604. "ANY FIRST AID KITS?!"
  8605. >"U-uh, th-they should be over there!"
  8606. >He points over to a tent, which you waste no time flying into.
  8607. >The second you enter it, you start looking around the place.
  8608. >It's come kind of storage room by the looks of it.
  8609. >Random crates opened and stacked around the room.
  8610. >In an instant you scope out this big white box, sitting in the corner with a red cross printed on its face.
  8611. >Your heart almost stops with relief.
  8612. >You quickly dash over and grab it, struggling a bit with the weight.
  8613. >But the second you turn around, a group of Griffons pour in.
  8614. >And THESE are all wearing armor, from their talons to their wings.
  8615. >They block the exit in a line, then ready these weapons you haven't seen before.
  8616. >It looks like a bow, but set sideways, with a handle attached to it.
  8617. >They have five arrows in total, every one pulled back and ready.
  8618. >...And all pointed at you.
  8619.  
  8620. >"STAY WHERE YOU ARE!"
  8621. >"DON'T MOVE A MUSCLE!"
  8622. >You stand completely still, the first aid kit still in your mouth.
  8623. >And you'll make sure it gets to Anon, one way or another.
  8624. >Subtly glancing around the place, the only exit you can see is in front of you...
  8625. >...And under the tent.
  8626. >You can't tell whether they're watching your eyes or not, because you can't see theirs.
  8627. >Then one of them shifts a bit, moving the weapon slightly towards the area you were glancing at.
  8628. >And now you know they did.
  8629. >One of the Griffons starts to slowly move towards you.
  8630. >"Don't you try anything, or we'll-"
  8631. >You quickly sidestep over to the left, and watch three of them instinctively shoot towards the right.
  8632. >The one closest aims at you, giving you a single second to react.
  8633. >You move your head, and the arrow gets caught in the first aid box.
  8634. >Seeing you're alright, you quickly slide the box and throw yourself under the tent.
  8635. >Just before you hop out on the other side, you hear a loud clanking noise.
  8636. >And right on your armor's flank, there's an arrow stuck inside of it.
  8637. >You can't help but smirk at the sight.
  8638. >Breaking the arrow off of the box and pulling it up with your teeth, you get back into the air.
  8639. >Over in the distance, you can see Brave and Anon still in that same spot.
  8640. >Anon's now sitting on the ground though, with Brave sitting beside him.
  8641. >You kick it into overdrive and zip towards them.
  8642. >And in almost an instant, you're landing by their side.
  8643. >-Again, if you weren't where you are now, you'd be impressed.
  8644. >The second you set the box down, Brave hops over towards it.
  8645. >She almost knocks into you before popping it open and rummaging around it.
  8646. >You were planning on doing the first aid yourself, but judging by how quickly and precisely she's picking everything up, she probably knows more about it than you do.
  8647. >Which you're more than glad for.
  8648.  
  8649. >While she does that, you move over to Anon's side.
  8650. >He's not out of it anymore, but clearly in pain.
  8651. >It hurts you to see him like this.
  8652. >More than you thought previously possible.
  8653. >Just seeing him like this, with a SPEAR, it's...
  8654. >It's...
  8655. >A flood of emotions rush through you, none of them good.
  8656. >You have to choke and blink some tears away.
  8657. >-Now's not the time to do this.
  8658. >You need to be strong.
  8659. >He's going to make it.
  8660. >You're all going to get out of here, one way or another.
  8661. >You place a hoof on his leg.
  8662. >He looks up at you, then the arrow stuck in your armor's flank.
  8663. >"Hey look, now we've all gotten hit by something pointy."
  8664. >His eyes move back to the spear, a small, clearly pained smile on his face.
  8665. >"Maybe I should've invested in armor too."
  8666. >Brave moves over to his leg, gently pulling up what's left of his pants before getting everything ready.
  8667. >"This might sting a bit."
  8668. >"-Oh god, does that mean it'll-HRRMMM, OH FFFUCKSHIT!"
  8669. >He winces, which causes him to move slightly, which makes him wince again.
  8670. >Oh Luna this is killing you.
  8671. >You watch helplessly while he shuts his eyes in pain, obviously trying his hardest to push through it.
  8672. >Your focus is only taken off of him when another sound makes its way through to you.
  8673. >One of your ears flick.
  8674. >Spinning around, those five Griffons you completely forgot about are there, slowly shuffling towards you three with their weapons up.
  8675. >Oh hay.
  8676. >They're slow, sure, but you're not that far away from the camp itself.
  8677. >You quickly look around for something and pick up a nearby spear.
  8678. >They simply stop and wait until you toss it towards them.
  8679. >And just as you fear, it bounces harmlessly off the chest of the one you hit.
  8680. >Spinning back around, Brave and Anon are now aware of the threat nearby.
  8681. >"-Are those fucking crossbows?"
  8682.  
  8683. >They slowly continue to walk towards you three at a steady pace.
  8684. >"These fucking catbirds, man..."
  8685. >You're unsure of what to do here.
  8686. >If you move Anon, that'll just end up in more pain, and they could always just fire at you.
  8687. >You try to distract them, they'll fire at you.
  8688. >There's nothing you can think of that would really help out here.
  8689. >And you're not going to just leave.
  8690. >...Never.
  8691. >"Just go, guys."
  8692. >You and Brave both snap over to Anon.
  8693. >"What?"
  8694. >"You heard me. Just go."
  8695. "Don't talk like that, Anon! We're going with you, or not at all!"
  8696. >He winces and looks at you.
  8697. >"Don't be stupid, Vannie! This isn't some damned movie, just go! I can't move anywhere like this!"
  8698. >You feel you have something to say, but the words die in your throat.
  8699. >"-It's me they want! Don't fucking do this shit to me!"
  8700. >The sound of them moving closer fills your ears.
  8701. >You can feel your heart thumping against your chest.
  8702. >A sense of dread slowly filling you.
  8703. >"-Please! Just go! Both of you, get the hell out of here!"
  8704. >Brave slowly shakes her head, eyes glistening with tears.
  8705. >She continues to work anxiously on the rest his wounds.
  8706. >You can see the fear in her eyes while she does.
  8707. >It's the same fear in Anon's.
  8708. >And exactly what you're feeling.
  8709. >He looks around, almost desperately, while you watch the Griffons from his side.
  8710. >"GODDAMN IT, STOP TRYING TO DO THIS!"
  8711. >You can see tears slowly forming in his gaze.
  8712. >The noise of metal moving around slowly grows louder.
  8713. >But you're not budging from this spot.
  8714. >"-CHRIST PLEASE, JUST LEAVE! THAT'S AN ORDER!"
  8715. >Brave continues to work, shaking slightly and wiping her eyes while doing so.
  8716. >You turn away from the Griffons and just hug his neck.
  8717. >You're not budging from this spot.
  8718. >...It doesn't matter if you were drunk or not.
  8719. >Anon is the only thing that matters to you.
  8720. >And you're going to stand by your word.
  8721. >No matter what.
  8722.  
  8723. >...
  8724. >Damn it these girls.
  8725. >Even at a time like this, they're still stubborn as hell.
  8726. >You can feel your face and shoulder getting wet where Vannie's resting her head.
  8727. >Turning yours, you choose not to focus on those armored bastards and hug her back.
  8728. >And with your other arm, you pull Brave in as well.
  8729. >If you're getting killed here, you can't think of a better way to go out.
  8730. >...Well actually, you could think of a million ways, but that's beside the point.
  8731. >If they're content staying with you to the end, then so are you.
  8732. >You close your eyes, and hold them as tight as your own strength can allow it.
  8733. >The sound from the Griffons suddenly stops.
  8734. >Everything in your body tenses up.
  8735. >The girls clutch onto you just a bit more.
  8736. >...But nothing happens.
  8737. >After a moment, you slowly open your eyes to five crossbows, all aimed at your face.
  8738. >"-Get rid of the ponies, we only need the prisoner."
  8739. >"Understood."
  8740. >Two of them turn from your face and aim at the girls.
  8741. >You quickly push both of them behind you and try to act as a block.
  8742. "-Don't you fucking dare! Just take me!"
  8743. >They stay completely still and silent.
  8744. >That, on top of the fact that you can't see any of their faces, unnerves you.
  8745. "If you hurt them, I'm not fucking doing anything for you bastards!"
  8746. >You put your hands back on the spear.
  8747. "If I die, whatever's in that dirt disappears with me."
  8748. >-As the words leave you, you realize that they've already opened or searched what was in the that giant pit.
  8749. >But they want you for SOMETHING, and that's all you need to know.
  8750. >Silence retakes the air as the five stay still.
  8751. >"-Two of you, go help the wounded."
  8752. >"-Yes sir."
  8753. >The guy in the front moves closer to you, crossbow pointed right between your forehead.
  8754. >"...If they try anything, we will not hesitate to shoot them where they stand."
  8755. >You slowly nod, but you know you have the leverage here.
  8756. >Besides, even a cage could be called home.
  8757. >Just as long as they're with you.
  8758.  
  8759. >The guy in the front just nods at the two beside him, and they come around to the girls.
  8760. "Don't worry guys, I'll find us a way out somehow."
  8761. >Vannie nods, before slowly standing up and moving towards one of the guys.
  8762. >He throws some cuffs on her front hooves, which don't look like they'd do anything.
  8763. >She could always just fly away, or run off how a rabbit would.
  8764. >But whatever.
  8765. >As you watch Brave get cuffed, you're also sure that she could just break those if she wanted to.
  8766. >...But whatever.
  8767. >The last guy just walks up to you.
  8768. >"Get up."
  8769. >Taking care not to move around the spear still stuck in you, you're able to stand.
  8770. >At this point, you're pretty sure it didn't hit something vital, because you would've been dead a long time ago.
  8771. >And with the way that bastard twisted it, you'd imagine that even holding it still wouldn't do anything if it did.
  8772. >You're no doctor, but you're pretty sure this thing is inside your intestines.
  8773. >It's a terrifying thought, and it still hurts like hell, but again, at least you're still alive.
  8774. >And at this point, this spear is your leverage.
  8775. >Holding it with one hand, you limp and slowly walk with the guy.
  8776. >When you catch yourself from falling forward, it takes but one second for the girls to move by your side.
  8777. >The Griffons all jump up with their crossbows, until they see that you're just being helped out by them.
  8778. >Which still isn't much help, both being half your size, but you guess it's the thought that counts.
  8779. >While you're too busy walking on your torn up legs, the whole camp blows past you.
  8780. >And before you know it, you're staring down into the huge pit they have.
  8781. >All you can see from here is a bunch of metal, and some hole leading into someplace very dark.
  8782. >They waste no time going down, but insist on shoving you along in the front.
  8783. >It's so steep you're afraid you're just going to end up tumbling into the place.
  8784. >And the goddamn sand isn't helping.
  8785.  
  8786. >The second the thought leaves your mind, a huge chunk of sand gives way, and you start sliding down it.
  8787. "OH SHIT!"
  8788. >Brave latches onto your arm, and Vannie dives in after you, all shooting towards the hole at the bottom.
  8789. >You try your best to fight against it, but you may as well be sliding on ice.
  8790. >The second before you fall into it, the spear smashes into the top of the entrance, shooting a wave of pain throughout your body and bending it at an odd angle.
  8791. >The floor gives away, and you fall into the dark.
  8792. >You move and land on your side, right onto something hard.
  8793. >It makes a few cracking sounds as you do, just as a goddamn terrible smell hits you.
  8794. >Your heart drops as everything sinks in..
  8795. >You quickly try to stand up, and hear something else crunch under your shoe.
  8796. "-GAH!"
  8797. >"-ANON WHERE ARE YOU?!"
  8798. >"CALM DOWN, JUST STAY STILL!"
  8799. >The second Vannie says that, a few lights come on from above.
  8800. >One of the first things you notice is all the new blood around your hands, and then exactly what you figured.
  8801. >Bodies.
  8802. >HUMAN bodies.
  8803. >They look all shriveled and mummified.
  8804. >You can only look on in horror, backing up until you're just by the wall.
  8805. >Brave and Vannie do the same against the other wall.
  8806. >Then from the hole, you see those three Griffons casually drop down and step past the bodies.
  8807. >One of them turns to you.
  8808. >"Hurry it up, prisoner."
  8809. >They move towards the other end of the room, into the more dimly lit area.
  8810. >You shake your head clear and push past the pain, slowly inching towards them.
  8811. >The girls reluctantly follow, hugging the wall of the other side and keeping the same pace with you.
  8812. >Meanwhile, your insides feel like they're on goddamned fire.
  8813. >And now, the spear is stuck at an upwards angle, like they stabbed you from above.
  8814. >Every single tiny movement is hell.
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