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Going Bump in the Night: Chapter 9

Notonefuck May 31st, 2017 920 Never
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  1. >The first thing that hits you as consciousness slams into you with the force of a freight-train is how unbearably dry your mouth is. Next is the pounding in your skull. If you had to describe the painful sensation, it would be like little men in your head taking sledgehammers to your brain. Or maybe the armored hooves of vamponines repeatedly kicking it. Not a fun experience either way. Just what did you do?  
  2. >Bleary images slowly play in your mind along with disjointed sounds, as if being presented with a half-broken projector. The bat bar, drinking with Umbra and Bright, then a few nameless friends who wandered over, and finally Umbra flying you back to your room in the morning sun. So a hangover is what this torture must be. Lovely.
  3. >You groan lowly, only to stop and wince when the action makes your stomach churn threateningly. Instead you just bury you head into the chilled, softly snoring mass in your arms, enjoying the cool and plush fur against your aching head.
  4. >...Wait…
  5. >Cracking open your eyes just the smallest amount, you take in the sight of a disheveled cobalt mane and a pair of tuft-tipped ears. You squeeze the soft body in your hold with a bleary blink, earning a low “Mmm…” for your efforts. The faint smell of sweat and flowery shampoo is already present. So this can only be…
  6. “Umbra?” You ask quietly, still not feeling fully sober. “What are you doing here..?”
  7. >The vampony, who you now notice is devoid of her armor, just mutters something in her sleep and snuggles back further into your arms with a content sigh.
  8. >Oh god did you..!
  9. >With effort worthy of being sung about in an epic, you fight through the fatigue and lift an arm just enough to let you peer down the covers on you and your guard. Thankfully, your clothes are still on. Even with that, the first urge that runs through you is to recoil from the overly intimate position. Not that you’ve never been willing to be close to Umbra, and ponies tend to be more touchy than humans, but this is... just a little too far. But for some reason other than the hangover, your body doesn't respond.
  10. >You don’t WANT to move away.
  11. “U-umbra?”
  12. >Again, she doesn't move sans a twitch of her ear.
  13. >You try to swallow, but your mouth is still bone dry.
  14. >As carefully as you can, you pull her closer, taking great pains to move slowly lest you wake her and owe an explanation. Inch by inch, you close the already small gap between you and your best friend, your face practically glowing red as you do so. Finally, the vampony is laying flush against you, her wings twitching against your chest in her slumber. She smiles unconsciously and murmurs something too quiet to hear, making a small smile form on your face as well.
  15. >Idly, you run your hands across her taut stomach and the beginnings of her legs. The sensation of her impossibly soft coat on top of a thin layer of fat, all supported by a frame of whipcord muscle is fascinating for a reason you can't place. Your roaming fingers find and trace the occasional small scar across her belly, none bigger than what a mild cut could accomplish, but all of them hidden under her coat. Right at her hip, a thumb runs over a larger mark, definitely large enough to be a wound. But you’ve never seen Umbra injured in such a place though. Was that before she met you? That would be something you ask.
  16. >Yet with all these little injuries, she still looks as perfect and beautiful as a masterpiece chiseled from marble. Even before your blood sharpened her features and smoothed over her blemishes, she still stood out amongst her kind. Her trim form, work ethic, and heart of gold aren’t all just passive bonuses of being a cuddly vampire.
  17. >How luck you hard to have such a mare so close to you...    
  18. >“Mmm, run your hands lower, stud,” a sleepy voice starts, freezing you in place. “You’ll have to help me into mounting position though. My legs are still jelly from last night~”
  19. >Lucky to have her? Nevermind. This little vampire is still a pain in the ass.
  20. “How long have you been awake?” you ask with pride at your lack of stutter. Too bad it does nothing for the heat on your cheeks. “And I already saw that my clothes are still on. Nice try though.”
  21. >She turns her head and from her position spooned against you, which ends up pressing her cheek against yours, letting you feel the amused smile on her face. “Killjoy. I’ve been awake since you decided you wanted a closer cuddle and to feel me up,” she says with a giggle. “Jeez, you’re getting really bold. I half expected you to give my flank a squeeze, you raunchy human.”
  22. >She wiggles said flank against you, and by against you, you mean right on your crotch, making your breath hitch.
  23. “Umbra, don’t!”
  24. >“Why’s that?” she asks playfully. “Admit that you like it, tough guy!”
  25. “Umbra I swear to fucking god!” You exclaim in horror, trying to cross your still uncoordinated legs. “Do not! You’re on the fast track to becoming worst pony!”
  26. >She just snickers and arches her back, driving her rump further into you. “Come on, prude. You li-”
  27. >*poke*
  28. >“-ke it…” she trails off with a confused blink. “What’s the..?” She pushes back again, nearly making you howl from what you feel under her tail, even through your pants. Her own face slowly turns bright red with a blush from the prodding. “O-oh. I guess you really DO like it…”
  29. >You just lay there, beyond mortified with yourself. Umbra says nothing as well, turning away and staring ahead with her cheeks so red it can be seen through her coat. Thankfully, the sheer embarrassment running through you curbs your arousal, but does nothing for your whirling thoughts and wish-for-death migraine. Is she going to be disgusted by such a reaction? You didn’t just fuck up your friendship with her, did you? All the times you’ve kept a lid on your rebellious body’s reactions from her teasing are meaningless now.
  30. “...You know, you never did tell me why you're here.”
  31. >Wow. What a stellar start to that conversation, dumbass.
  32. >The pony in your arms shifts, but thankfully doesn't pull away. “Well, you got so trashed that I had to carry you home. When I put you in bed, you got grabby,” she says dryly. “Hell, you even said ‘lose the armor and get in. It get’s hot under the covers you pony-shaped icebox.’”
  33. “I…” You pause, trying to recall your words through the fuzz in your thoughts. “I don’t recall that.”
  34. >“I’m surprised you can even think straight now even after a full day's rest,” she replies, shifting around in your arms so the she faces you.
  35. >You narrow your gaze to a squint when the luminescent glow of her eye not covered by her mane makes yours string from the light.
  36. “I didn’t get that wasted?” You say, the statement coming out as a question despite your best efforts.
  37. >“You did.”
  38. You grunt. “No, you.”
  39. >She snorts and doesn't reply.
  40. >Silence falls over the darkened bedroom room again, but thankfully it’s a more comfortable quiet than the previous awkward one.  
  41. >You let out a breath and let your eyes fall shut, making the throbbing in your skull lessen just the slightest amount.
  42. >“How are you feeling?” Umbra asks quietly. “You really did get smashed yesterday. Bright nearly wanted to pump your stomach.” She pauses. “Well, she wanted to until you started swinging.”
  43. You click your tongue. “I didn’t hurt her, did I?” You're going to feel like a real ass if you smacked poor Bright Night in a drunken hissy fit.
  44. A melodic giggle is your answer. “Nope. Swinging may have been too strong a word. Flailing is more like  it. You did punch out some poor stallion and that got us kicked out for the night though.”
  45. >What?
  46. “What did I knock the guy out for?” you grumble.
  47. >“He was running his mouth about you and I. I couldn't really make out half of what he was saying since he was pretty far gone, but apparently you did,” the vampony just an inch away said with a soft nuzzle to your cheek. “My hero~”
  48. “I got us kicked out of a bar for dropping a drunk pony. Yay,” you say flatly.
  49. > “You just cannot have any fun, can you?” She asks, still sounding amused. “Do you want something to eat? It might soak up a bit of the remaining booze in your stomach.”
  50. “I wouldn't say no, but I really don’t wanna move.”
  51. >Your guard snorts again. “I really am a babysitter now. Fine, lazybones. Let me go grab a maid.”
  52. >Umbra slips out of your hold and out of the bed. You nearly make a grab at her before you regain control of yourself at the last moment and let her go. Why are you acting to weirdly? Are you still boozed up?
  53. >As you have your moment of hazy introspection, Umbra trots up the door and pokes her head out of it for a moment, stopping someone with a quick “Excuse me!” and following up with a brief exchange too quiet for you to hear. A moment later, she trots back up to the bed. “A maid said she’d bring something up here in just a bit along with some aspirin.”
  54. You nod without opening your eyes. “M’kay, that sounds good…” you say, hesitating over your next words. “You going to hop back in?”
  55. >“Hop back in?”
  56. >You crack open your eyes to take in the vampony’s tilted head.
  57. “That’s what I said, right? I’m not going to tell you to just get lost.”
  58. >She blinks. “But I figured…” Then a soft smile blooms on her face, making your heart jump. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
  59. >A short hop and a single flap of her leathery wings puts Umbra floating right above the bed, where she gently falls down to the spot she occupied just a few minutes ago. The bed hardly even sinks under her weight, reminding you just how light pegasi are even as vamponies. A flick of her wing catches the edge of the covers and flings them up just long enough for her to crawl in, retaking her place pressed against you. Almost immediately, the slowly rising temperature under the covers drops as your bedmate soaks up the heat like a sponge does water.
  60. >The vampony lets out a happy hum as you wrap her in another hug and rest your hands just below her wings. “Lazy day today?”
  61. “Very,” you agree. “The most I’m getting up for today is to eat and eventually take a piss. I’m sure it’s due here soon.”
  62. >You say that right as Umbra nuzzles herself into the crook of your neck, making her bust out into a few short laughs and sending tickling twitches down your body. “Real classy, Anon. I can only wonder why mare’s aren’t hanging off of you,” she says, voice dripping with sarcasm.
  63. “You’re hanging off me, aren’t you?” You shoot back cheekily.
  64. >“I’m also being paid a pretty bit for my time,” she sniffs. “Babysitting an endangered species is pretty lucrative, you know.”
  65. “Free cuddle hookers courtesy of the tax payers,” you reply with a chuckle. “This is the real shit right here. A real utopia, Equestria is.”
  66. >Umbra nips your neck, making you wince. “Don’t call me a hooker. I’m a high-class escort at the very LEAST. If it wasn't taxes paying, then you couldn't afford me.”
  67. You snort. “So you’re too expensive for me, at my side twenty-four-seven, and literally suck the life out of me,” you snark, rubbing a thumb over the smooth membrane of one of her wings. “At this rate I should just call you my wife.”
  68. >Curiously, Umbra shuts up after that one. From her spot wedged against you with her face in your neck, you can’t see her expression. You do, however, feel your lips move without noise in the same pattern. Finally, she comes back with a weak “You wish…”
  69. >Her nose twitches against your neck after a few minutes just resting. “Anon? Do you mind if I..?”
  70. “Go ahead,” you tell her sleepily, already half asleep despite already sleeping a full day. “Probably more liquor than blood on me right now, though. Drink at your own risk.”
  71. >She lets out a quiet giggle. “Thank you, Anon.”
  72. >You just nod, making her ear twitch when you brush against it.
  73. >She settles again, muzzle pressed against the soft spot between your neck and shoulder in a way that can only be described as familiar by now. The little vampire also moves in closer, closing the small gap between you and her. Her chilled hide makes goosebumps run along your skin as she seemingly moulds to the contours of your body, not letting any space exist between her and you.
  74. >Her muzzle is pressed to you tightly as she takes a deep breath, making her shiver and purr deep in her throat as your scent fills her nose and lungs. A warm tongue laps at it’s favorite spot a few times, and the lips just behind it caress the skin of your neck with unusual gentleness, even for a feeding. It makes you wonder just what she’s up to.
  75. >The faint gold glow in the room fades as Umbra closes her eyes, leaving it darker than before and leaving you with only your sense of hearing and touch to tell what is going on in the low light.
  76. >She stops lapping at the spot and just lets her lips rest there, where she almost absent-mindedly… Kisses you neck? Sure enough, in the near silent room you can hear the quiet smack of lips on flesh. No biting, just kissing…
  77. >Again, your face starts heating up and with her close proximity, you KNOW Umbra can feel it.
  78. >Your hands start roaming again in an half-hearted attempt to distract you from the drawn-out feeding your friend seems insistent on.
  79. >Umbra groans into your neck when one of your hands gently wraps around the base of her right wing, kneading the bundle of nerves and muscle just under it. The other hand traces a small hole in her left wing, making the sensitive membrane twitch under your feather-light touch. Her hot breath contrasts sharply with the cool muzzle it comes from, making the goosebumps on your skin stand just a bit higher.
  80. >The hand teasing the hole in her wing seems to tire, and instead slips under the wing itself, coming to a rest on the seldom touched side of the vampony. Said vampony shivers as your fingers and thumb part the plush coat in five even lines, letting your warm hand rest against her nippy skin. Your other hand is more bold, abandoning her wing and sliding down to a stop right at her hip, making your heart race in excitement..?
  81. >Do you… Go further?
  82. >This is wrong, a part of you says. She’s your friend, and you’re already pushing what could be called “platonic” to it’s limit. Don't risk your friendship with the one who literally guards your life because you feel grabby.
  83. >Do it, says another part. Surely all stories have a kernel of truth to them, so her flirting can’t be all banter, right? She must be interested in you.
  84. >But I don't like ponies! Says a final part. She’s a cute little horse with bat wings. It’s wrong! But the cries of the third voice go unheard.
  85. >You hand shakily slides further down, ready to be slapped away. Only… It’s not.
  86. >Trembling fingers gently dig into the pony-silhouette mark emblazoned on Umbra’s flank, making the tight mass of muscle tense. The pony in your arms vainly tries to hold back a pleased mewl, her back legs weakly kicking at nothing.
  87. >She’s not fighting it?
  88. >Hesitantly, you drag your fingernails across your guard’s cutie mark, making her stiffen and let out a ragged breath.
  89. >You gulp with some difficulty and find yourself sweating. She’s not fighting it. She should be. You’re her much younger, different species charge. This goes beyond what friends do… Right?    
  90. >The temptation to reach further down and around the tight flank is unreal now, almost clouding your rational thought in a haze of animalistic instinct aided by the liquor still in your system. You already know the prize that awaits if you throw caution to the wind. But even with such thoughts rampaging through your mind, you still have enough clarity to shift your hips and hide your excitement from the mare you’re molesting.    
  91. >Umbra takes in a few choppy breaths as her teeth nip and nibble the spot right between your neck and shoulder, telling you what’s next. Or so you thought.
  92. >Rather than the stinging pinch you’ve come to know, the vampony’s fangs slowly glide into your flesh with no resistance, parting skin, muscle, and sinew with only the barest hint of discomfort. It takes nearly a whole minute for her mouth to finally close around the pair of slowly bleeding holes. Then a violent shudder runs down her frame as the first few drops coat her tongue.
  93. >The little red gem around your neck glows faintly.
  94. >Umbra drains your precious lifeblood much slower than usual, savoring each morsel-sized dollop she takes and stopping to kiss at the small puncture wounds occasionally. Your stomach leaps and flutters when her affectionate lips wander up to your jaw, letting you see her eyes. They’ve dulled and glazed over, and she’s steadily going limp in your arms.
  95. >“Anoooooon~” the little vampire practically moans into the crook of your neck, sending a shameful shiver down your spine and filling your head with impure visions. “You’re the best… Always there when I… Need you.” She lets out a fond giggle and gives you a red-stained smile. “I really can’t imagine life without you now, you know that?” Umbra asks with half-lidded eyes, lazily licking the rapidly closing bite.
  96. >If your heart was pounding before, it’s thundering with the force of a wardrum now, complete with a primal chant urging you forward and violently drowning out all other thoughts.
  97. >Do it.
  98. >Do it.
  99. >Do it!
  100. >DO IT!
  101. >You’re going to do it. You’re about to flip your best friend over and take her. Do or die. Now or never. Eternal shame if you retreat and everlasting regret if you hesitate. Your limbs tense in eager preparation to pull yourself above Umbra.
  102. >The mare blinks, taking notice. “Anon..?”
  103. >You say nothing, instead just smirking at her and getting up on your hands and knees over her, almost straddling the vampony and doing nothing to hide the arousal pointing right at her.
  104. >Umbra blinks again, her mouth falling open. Her forelegs curl up to cover her open mouth and reddening face, and her tail curls around her legs. It all makes the mare look uncharacteristically shy and small, but the hungry golden orbs staring at you only urge you to go further.
  105. > A split second later though, her ear twitches towards the door, and your heart sinks.
  106. >*Cl-click!*
  107. >“Mister Anonymous! I brought everything Miss Umbra asked for!” Chirps a normal unicorn maid as she opens the door and wheels a small fancy cart in the room with a covered platter on it. “I have a light breakfast and some… pain pills…” The maid trails off, her peppy smile falling when she catches sight of you and Umbra, both wide eyed and frozen in your positions. “...For you. S-should I come back later?” she weakly asks, cheeks bleeding into pink.
  108. >As one, you and the mare under you look at the maid, then to each other.
  109. >Umbra then vanishes from her spot so quickly and violently that it knocks you backwards from the near-shockwave her movement makes.
  110. “Shit!” You yelp, just barely avoiding going over the edge of the bed and onto the painful floor in a heap of limbs and embarrassment.
  111. >The maid squeaks in fright when the Major re-materializes an inch away from her, face screwed up into a badder-weakening snarl and a growl befitting a rabid animal tearing from her throat. The baleful glowing eyes and scowling maw of sharp teeth only made the vampony that much more menacing.
  112. >“You. Will. Say. Nothing. Got it?” Umbra grounds out each word to bone white mare, an impressive feat since her coat was yellow just a moment ago.
  113. >The shaking maid just nods so fast it’s a wonder she didn’t break her neck. “Ofcoursema’amhereiseverythingyouwantedI’vegottaGO!” The poor maid is out the door so fast that she may as well have teleported, leaving the cart and still covered platter behind.
  114. >Umbra's expression holds for a full minute, making you wary of trying to snap her out of it. When her demonic visage finally melts into mere annoyance rather than murderous intent do you dare speak up.
  115. >"Umbra?" you ask, almost hoping she won't answer.
  116. >Her ears swivel back to face you, a shuddering breath running through her frame along with a slump of her shoulders and droop of her wings. The pony slowly turns to you, a suddenly tired look finding it's way to her face. "Well, that happened I guess," she says lamely.
  117. "Yeah..." you mutter, not really sure how to proceed.
  118. >You pull yourself into a slumped seated position on the bed, your legs hanging over the side and brushing the floor.
  119. >Umbra slowly walks back from her spot, revealing the carpet under her hooves to be shredded from her rage-induced haste to oust the maid. The vampony hops up next to you, keeping a small distance from you as she stares at the ground, her gold eyes roaming the floor in conflict.
  120. >You wring your hands in your lap as what just happened replays through your now lucid-from-shock mind over and over. Just ten seconds more, and you may have made a move that would have ruined the relationship between you and Umbra. What the fuck were you thinking? What the actual fuck were you thinking!? You molested your guard and came seconds within trying to have SEX with her.
  121. >The hungry look she gave you just a minute prior is forgotten.
  122. >A nearly-dry gulp runs down your throat painfully when you glance at her, only for her eyes to avoid yours entirely. All the courage you had previously seems to have fled without looking back, making the already weak words in your mouth die before they could be realized.
  123. >For the second time in just a few minutes, an uneasy silence falls over the room.
  124. “So…” you start, then stop when no other words will force themselves out.
  125. >Umbra rolls her bottom lip between her teeth, obviously struggling to come up with something herself. “I guess we got caught up in the heat of the moment, right?” She finally asks after some time.
  126. “Yeah…” you agree quietly.
  127. >Another long pause.
  128. “I’m sorry.”
  129. >Your guard recoils, eyes wide and mouth open just the slightest amount. “YOU’RE sorry? I was the one teasing you while you were still a bit out of it. I should be the one apologizing.”
  130. Your head shakes. “No, this was one me. I lost control of myself and overstepped my bounds. Despite all the shit I gave you, Umbra, you’re my best friend. I don’t want to drive you away with some stupid actions.”
  131. >“We are best friends, aren’t we?” she asks quietly, rubbing one foreleg with another. “It’s fine, Anonymous. I’m not going to stress over what happened.” She turns to you, a small, strained smile on her face. “We’ll say it was the heat of the moment and call it done, right?”
  132. “Right,” you agree, beyond relieved that she’s not going to hold what happened against you.
  133. >For a moment, you think about reaching out to hug her in gratitude, but stop short.
  134. >Getting up off the bed, you grab the covered platter and the small pill bottle off the cart and and return, setting the warm silver in your lap before removing the lid. Under it is a steaming plate of eggs, a small steak, and a glass of water that you dig into with little fanfare. The usually delectable taste of the castle cooking seems a little less satisfying tonight.
  135.  
  136. ------------------------------------
  137.  
  138. >“Better?”
  139. >You crack open a eye, taking in the sight of the bedroom ceiling with far less pain that it would have caused an hour ago. Pony medicine really is the best.
  140. >Sitting up on the bed, you turn to an inquisitive Umbra, who is lying on her belly just a few feet away. She’s kept some distance from you since, well...  Regardless, the gesture still sent a painful pang through your chest.
  141. “Much,” you reply simply. “How long was I out?”
  142. >“Not long, about an hour.”
  143. >A glance at the wallclock confirms the vampony’s estimate.
  144. >You nod and lay back again, crossing your arms behind you head as you do so.
  145. “I was being serious when I said I wasn’t doing jack shit today.”
  146. >Umbra snorts. “Do you have to half-ass everything?” She asks lowly as she sets her head on her forelegs.
  147. “Hmm?”
  148. >“Nothing,” she says back. “Nothing.”
  149. >The room is quiet again.
  150. >Suddenly, Umbra perks up. “Hey, if you don’t wanna do anything, how about a movie?” she asks with something close to her usual smile. “They finally got around to doing the original Daring Do and turning it into a movie. What do you say?”
  151. You let out a whiny groan. “Umbra, the cinema is on the other side of town. Unless you want to fly me there…”
  152. >“No no, I mean in here!”
  153. “...I’m listening…”
  154. >Her smile gets a bit wider. “We just need to go down to one of the auditoriums, swipe the projector and stereo for the night, and pilfer one of the princess’s copies of the movie. Easy.”
  155. “So we need to to get up, run all over hell’s half-acre, steal from the castle and one of the princesses, and get back here,” you start, leveling your guard with an unamused stare. “Sounds like a TON of fun…” Then another thought hits you. “Why would the princesses have a copy of a just-released movie? Isn’t that shit on old-timey film?”
  156. >“Aw comon, Anon!” Umbra whines imploringly. “It’ll all be worth it, I promise! As for the movie, Princess Luna has kinda become a film aficionado since her return. Who is going to say no to her if she wants private flicks?”
  157. “Yeah, fair enough,” you concede. If Luna’s shiny puppy-dog eyes couldn’t get her what she wanted, then all it would take is some ROYAL HEADACHE VOICE to convince anyone to cave.
  158. >“And it would help dispel some of the… awkward in here.”
  159. >You don't bother replying to that. With an annoyed grunt, you pull yourself up and onto your feet, swaying just a little.
  160. “Alright, alright. Lemme change into an outfit that doesn't smell like booze and death and we’ll go.”
  161. >Umbra beams so brightly she nearly matches the full moon.
  162.  
  163. ------------------------------
  164.  
  165. >Just a few moments later, you and the now-armored vampony wander the expansive halls of the night decorated castle.
  166. “So, where to first?”
  167. >Umbra screws her face up into an expression of intense thought, complete with her tongue poking out. “Auditorium first,” she says after a moment. “There’s one closer, and we’ll pass the kitchens on the way, so we can swipe some snacks while we’re at it.”
  168. “Stealing movies, projectors, and now food. That’s not very guard-like,” you start with a tone as dry as a desert. “What’s next? Are you going to download a car?”
  169. >“Bite my pretty, pert ass,” the guard sniffs.
  170. “Don’t threaten me with a good time.”
  171. >Umbra rolls her eyes, but does so with an almost unnoticeable smile. “If this is the thanks I get for helping you and offering free stuff…”
  172. “Stuff you’re about to steal,” you scoff playfully.
  173. >The vampony glares up at you, her cheeks puffed out in irritation. “It’s not stealing, it’s borrowing.”
  174. “This is some schoolfilly logic…”
  175. >“Then why are you helping me with my schoolfilly shenanigans, smart guy?” she asks with a badly hidden smirk as you and her pass a pair of patrolling night guards.
  176. >You try to mount some sort of verbal offensive to deflect the question, but end up just walking forward with a single finger pointed out like you wanted to speak.
  177. >She giggles, but a stifled snort drags your attention backward.
  178. “OI!” You yell at the sounds, whirling around to see the pair of startled nightguard mares you just passed. “Don’t you two have something to be doing!?”
  179. >Both go from startled back to amused as they quickly round a corner, where barely audible laughing can be heard before it rapidly fades with the sound of wingbeats.
  180. “Can it,” you tell Umbra preemptively, already feeling her merriment-filled eyes on your back. “Anyways, kitchen?”
  181. >The next few minutes are spent in a companionable silence just following the major down the hallway. The only sounds breaking the quiet are your footsteps, the steps and passing greetings of the occasional guard or late-night noble, and the ever present background of classical music that flitted in and out from somewhere you could never find.
  182. >*clink!*
  183. >“Drat…”
  184. >Then something else breaks the silence.
  185. >As one, you and Umbra glance towards the narrow corridor the noise had come from. As usual, Umbra walks right toward it and ignores you after you shake your head no. With a despondent sigh, you follow after her.
  186. >Down the narrow hall is a single vampony mare in full armor standing in front of a ratty (for castle standards as it has no decorations of gold and master-piece carvings) looking door. The full-set of armor covering her head from hoof made for an intimidating sight and covered everything that could be used to identify her, making you step behind a still casual Umbra as you walk.
  187. >The fell blue glow coming from the narrow eye slits in the full helm turns to you and your guard. “Halt!” The mare mare calls, booming yet feminine voice reverberating through her helmet and the hallway. “I have been tasked with guarding this area and I will have no interference. Turn around and leave immediately.”
  188. >Umbra surprisingly stops, raising an eyebrow as she does so. “And just who is ordering me?”
  189. >The armored mare opens her wings and turns to the boosted vampony “I am…”
  190. >Before the mystery mare can finish, her helm slips down with a *clink!* and covers her eyes.
  191. >“Drat!” She says, sounding more like a filly with a bucket on her head than the terminator pony she sounded like just a moment ago.
  192. >The mare backtracks clumsily and bats at her helmet with a hoof, nearly tripping in an embarrassing clatter of armor.
  193. >Umbra covers her smile with a hoof while you just watch unsurely.
  194. >Finally the mare gets her balance back and swats at her helmet again, sending the head armor off and to the ground with a loud and hollow *Bong!*, revealing something you didn't expect.
  195. >Under the helm is what looks like a teenaged vampony, something you had never seen before. On her head is a messy mane of shocking orange hair, with pale blue eyes full of innocence contrasting sharply with her mane. Her coat is the same vampony grey as all the others. All at once, you notice how poorly her armor fits, like it was made for a larger pony.
  196. >The small mare shakes her head, clearing the cobwebs her self-induced daze brought her before she focuses on Umbra. She blinks.
  197. >Then the realization hits.
  198. >M-m-m-MAJOR UMBRA?!” the armored mare exclaimes in panic, making your guard recoil. “I’m sorry ma’am! I-I had no idea it was you! The helmet has really poor visibility so I didn’t see you at all and a-and and!” The poor carrot-topped vampony stutters and jumps into a hasty salute. “My deepest apologies, ma’am!”
  199. >“Whoa, whoa. Easy guardsmare. I’m not upset,” Umbra starts slowly, holding her wings forward in a placating gesture like you might your hands. “Get that the heavy armor sucks and that the helmet is the worst part. For future reference, pick medium armor next time at highest. I think you have some filling out to do if you want something bigger.”
  200. >“T-thank you, ma’am!” The smaller guard says with a sigh of relief.
  201. “What’s your name, guard? And why are you back here all by yourself watching over what looks like a broom closet?” You ask, scanning the narrow hallway up and down.
  202. >“Private Apricot reporting, Mister Anonymous! I-”
  203. “Apricot?” You cut her off with a grin. “Like the little orange fruit? That’s adorable.”
  204. >“I’m not adorable!” Apricot exclaims, dismayed. “I’m a fearsome protector in the dark! A creature who stalks the shadows and makes criminals tremble! A Nightguard!” she says with a distressed wiggle in her armor.
  205. >You bite your fist in a failing attempt to not laugh at the poor mare, but you can’t hide the growing grin on your face. These kooky, cute ponies man…
  206. >Umbra’s lips tremble as she struggles not to show her own mirth. “R-right, private. Right…” she says, taking a breath and calming down. “Anyway, I’m curious myself. Why are you guarding a closet?”
  207. >“A closet?” Apricot asks with a blink. “Sergeant Strider said this is an out-of-the-way spot where intel on changeling movements were being stored, so she assigned me to guard it.”
  208. >What? Valuable info like that being kept in some random hallway? Why is this not in the guard barracks locked away or with the archives?
  209. >You and Umbra share a disbelieving look. ‘Do you believe this shit?’ Her eyes ask.
  210. >‘Not a bit,’ yours reply.
  211. >Your vampony marches forward towards the door, making Apricot nervously step away. When the major reaches the door, she opens it on creaky hinges, revealing..!
  212. >A dusty closet.
  213. >Umbra sticks her head in as you and Apricot watch over her shoulder. Each of her eyes inspect the cleaning supplies piled up in the tiny room with the scrutiny of a microscope.
  214. >You walk up now too, leaning over the guard to look around inside. Just as you guessed, it’s nothing but janitorial equipment and spider webs.
  215. “Some intel hiding spot,” you sarcastically comment as you straighten back up. “It’s hidden so well it’s as if it... Isn’t there.”
  216. >Apricot flushes red.
  217. >“Anon, don’t be mean,” Umbra scolds, slapping a wing on your leg.
  218. You roll your eyes then turn to the still mortified private. “Well, Apricot. I think someone pulled a prank on you. There’s nothing here but mops, chemicals and-”
  219. >Umbra’s nose twitches and her face twists right before she sneezes, sending a massive plume of dust and dirt from the closet into the air.
  220. “-Ech! Dust!” you hack, covering your mouth with your sleeve.
  221. >Both of the vamponies cough too, frantically flapping their wings and whipping up a gust in the small hallway, thankfully sending the dust away.
  222. >“I have to agree with Anon, private,” your guard starts with a watery sniffle. “You were the victim of a prank. I’ll talk to some ponies tomorrow to see that it doesn't happen again.”
  223. >Apricot nods dejectedly with her gaze on the ground, her whole form radiating depression. “I really thought I was doing good…”
  224. “Well, you were,” you compliment. “I was ready to turn around when you looked my way, but,” You glance down at Umbra. “You know.”
  225. >“Say, Private? I know something that will pull you out of your funk here,” the major starts with a grin. “Consider yourself relieved from duty for tonight and follow us. Ditch the armor too. Just stuff it in the closet and somepony will get it later.”  
  226. >“But Major! That’s at least three protocol violations!” the carrot-topped mare exclaims aghast. “I could never!”
  227. >“Well I’m an officer, and I say it’s okay,” Umbra replies with a cheeky smile, bringing Apricot’s next words to a screeching halt. “Ditch the armor and follow us, rookie. You’re getting a vacation night.”
  228. >The smaller mare looks like she desperately wants to argue, but is unwilling to voice such a thing to superior officer. After a moment of nervous sweating, she caves with a sigh and starts undoing her armor.
  229.  
  230. ------------------------------
  231.  
  232. >The last piece of blue metal is tossed into the closet, leaving Apricot in just her base armor that all the guards sport, and by god is this mare tiny. Tiny enough to almost be mistaken as a teen. Only her being a vampony told you that she’s older.
  233. “You’re so smol!”
  234. >Apricot squeals in surprise when you easily pick her up and hold her.
  235. “So light too…” You marvel. “I know pegasi are light and all, but you weigh almost nothing. Are you getting enough to eat?”
  236. >The mare in your arms slows her struggles, blinking sleepily instead as her cold vampony body eagerly takes the heat yours provides.
  237. >The slight narrowing of Umbra’s eyes doesn't go unnoticed by you. “You might want to let her down, Anon. Or she’ll pass out and you’ll have to carry her the entire way,” she supplies.
  238. “Yeah yeah… I was just surprised is all. Not everyday you see a shrimpy guardsmare,” you say, letting the mare in your hold down.
  239. >“M’not shrimpy…” Apricot mumbles before she shakes off the last of her lethargy. She then briskly trots to Umbra, who stands half a head taller, and salutes. “Task complete, ma’am. I’m down to my core armor set.”
  240. >“At ease, Apricot,” the higher ranked pony says with a lopsided smile. “Like I said, consider yourself off duty for tonight. We’re off to the kitchens. Follow us.”
  241. >You retake your spot next to Umbra as she walks, and Apricot takes your other side.
  242. >“The kitchens, ma’am?”
  243. >“Yep. We need to pick up some snacks for later. After that, the auditorium, then Princess Luna’s room.”
  244. >Apricot looks between you and your guard with a dubious expression. “I don't follow…”
  245. “Movie night, apparently,” you answer. “This one,” you flick the tuft on Umbra’s ear, making it twitch, “wants to steal a bunch of things to set-up a movie in my room. Congrats on being invited I guess? You were more shanghai'd into this, really.”
  246. >A shiver runs up the small guard’s frame, making her fur stand on end. “S-steal?”
  247. >“We are BORROWING!” Umbra butts in, annoyed. “Not stealing. None of that. We’re just borrowing a projector and speakers, some food, and a film reel from Princess Luna.”
  248. >“But watching a movie on duty? Isn’t that…” Apricot looks around conspicuously, then leans in “...goofing off?” she whispers as if the phrase is a sin. It’s enough to make you smile.
  249. >“More like a part of VIP guard detail,” the major answers with a badly suppressed grin. “ A very nice part about VIP guard detail. About time we got here…”
  250. >You and the pair of mares comes to a stop in front of a pair of wooden double doors. Above the doors is a sign simply saying “Kitchen” in flowing, flowery script. Even after already eating, the subtle smells that waft through the crack between the doors is enough to make your mouth water.
  251. >Umbra takes charge and opens one door, letting the dull roar of moving hooves, barked orders, and the clinking of cooking tools out. When you look inside, you feel your eyes go wide.
  252. >The room is huge, open, and brightly lit, with lines of stoves and ovens strewn throughout manned by ponies of all sorts. Pegasi, earth ponies, unicorns, and a larger number of their vampony counterparts rush to and fro in the kitchen fit for a world class restaurant. Each one moves with purpose and without a single wasted effort. In one of the far walls are ovens lined and stacked so high that only pegasi and unicorns could use them. Another wall has a huge trough of dirty water and currently full dish racks just above it. The final wall is lined with odd runic circles carved into the stone wall with gems throw about here and there, the only a door labeled “storage” breaking the line. A butler vampony with a loaded tray on his back walks up to one, mutters something too low to hear, then vanishes in a flash of light!
  253. “Damn…” You murmur, trying to take it all in. “Remind me to explore the castle more. This is crazy.”
  254. >“You think this is neat?” Umbra asks with a grin. She elbows your leg a second later. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
  255. >Apricot looks around, but seems less impressed than you are.
  256. >A vampony unicorn stallion in a bowtie takes notice of you and pulls himself from his throng of fellows to address your group. “Good evening, Sir and Madams. Is there anything I can help you with?” He asks, tone polite and professional.
  257. “Yes, actually,” You start. “You all wouldn’t happen to have a mobile popcorn machine, would you?”
  258. >“We do,” he replies, not even raising a brow to the question. “Is there a place in particular you would like it brought?”
  259. “My quarters, VIP suite number one.”
  260. >“Of course,” the bowtie-clad stallion turns his head to a normal pegasus mare in a maid outfit just behind him and nods, making the pegasus take off towards the storage room by the runic circles. Nary a moment later, she emerges again pushing the red and white machine with a burlap bag across her back. The pegasus mare moves into a spot in front of one of the circles, where she and her load vanish in a flash.
  261. You blink. “That was fast.”
  262. >“We pride ourselves on our speed and finesse, sir,” the still unnamed vampony stallion says with a small smile. “I’ll pass along your compliment. Anything else we can do for you? Soft drinks to go along with your popcorn, perhaps?”
  263. “Ehh…”
  264. >“Come now, what sort of plebeian doesn't enjoy a cold soda with popcorn?” a new voice cuts in.
  265. >You blink, noticing Umbra’s expression of surprise, the trembling of Apricot, and the bowing of EVERY pony in the room.
  266. “She’s behind me, isn’t she?”
  267. >“Verily. I would have words with the ones who think they can take things from me.”
  268. “Well shit.”
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