Untitled Work for /nmp/ (Incomplete) (Pine Hearts)

Cosmic_Naut Mar 11th, 2018 (edited) 1,471 Never
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  1. >Be Pine Hearts.
  2. >And be very excitedly trotting down the cobblestone streets of the Crystal Empire.
  3. >The quick clopping of your hooves upon the stone surface mirroring the thundering pace of your heart as you near your destiny.
  4. >It had been several years since The Initiative, as they liked to call it these days, began in earnest.
  5. >What started as a mere trickle of humans into the pony world had turned into a small river.
  6. >As you glanced around at the various shops and homes, the sparkle of the crystal ponies glinted in your bright green eyes
  7. >You also noticed more than a few humans and their mares happily going about their business.
  8. >Many looked simply over the moon to be seeing each other.
  9. >Hugging, cuddling, kissing like nopony was watching.
  10. >Obvious new couples…
  11. >And you were going to be one of them so soon!
  12. >The small smile you’d been wearing since you got the successful match letter a few days ago widened a little more as you thought of your match.
  13. >They were kind enough to include a little informational card with the letter about the human you’d soon be calling your husbando.
  14. >His name was Anonymous.
  15. >A man of nature, but trapped in technology.
  16. >Liked to work with his hoo-err hands.
  17. >Interests (that he could bring across the void with him, you know, no tech…) included hiking, lazing in the sun, and bird watching.
  18. >All things you had found great joy in at one time or another.
  19. >Your trot slows a little as you get lost in thought.
  20. >Your mind raced with ideas of what the two of you could do with each other once you were back in your comfy home far in the countryside.
  21. >Hiking in the hilly forests all around your home.
  22. >Lazing in the late summer sun as the birds and bugs and clouds passed you by.
  23. >A whisper escapes your lips as you close your eyes.
  24. “From the mold of the earth to the space in the sky. I promise I’ll never leave your side or lie”
  25. >You hum to yourself an old folk tune your father used to sing to your mother when you were young.
  26. >Most of all you just wanted to be held again… to cuddle somepony… someone.
  27. >Yet one part of the letter still haunted the back of your mind.
  28. >You brush a tear full of clashing emotions out of your eye before taking a deep breath and continue your canter toward the Crystal Palace.
  29. >The hub of the Initiative.
  30. >Well the hub was actually a large annex constructed adjacent to the Palace, but it was all the same to a country mare like yourself.
  31. >Approaching the large, yet welcoming doors of the Initiative you whisper to yourself.
  32. “Ok Piney this is what you’ve been waiting for… what he’s been waiting for… be brave… be –
  33. >”Oh welcome miss!”
  34. >Your little confidence speech is cut off by a jovial older mare in a smart Initiative uniform.
  35. >She seemed to come from nowhere, catching you off guard.
  36. >Her deep blue eyes glance over you for just a second before she nods, beaming a smile at you.
  37. >”Have you come to meet your husbando?”
  38. “Oh well yes, ummm errr… kind of actually… I’m supposed to meet a representative first… about… something?”
  39. >Your brain is actively falling to tatters at her simple question.
  40. >Ohhh Celestia you couldn’t be this nervous could you?
  41. >Quickly trying to save some face, you reach into your saddlebag with your magic and remove the match letter, floating it over to her.
  42. >Once it was in her hoof, your deep green magic faded, releasing it to her.
  43. >Glancing it over she makes a series of “ohs” and “hmms”.
  44. >When it looks like she’s finished, you pipe up with a little more confidence.
  45. “There was a note… at the bottom… that I have to speak to a representative about a complication of some kind?”
  46. >When you first read the note at the bottom of the letter, you’d felt a lump in your chest.
  47. >You had done your best to ignore the note up until this point.
  48. >But you couldn’t ignore the familiar tightness building inside your chest again as you spoke.
  49. >All manner of worry flashed across your face in the half second between you finishing that sentence and the older mare replying.
  50. >”Oh yes, don’t worry a thing about it dear. This is all quite standard, happens all the time.”
  51. >It sounded like she was trying to be reassuring.
  52. >You wanted to be reassured.
  53. >But the worry still niggled at the back of your mind.
  54. >”If you would follow me please, we can get this resolved right as rain and have you and your husbando together in no time!”
  55. >She turns beginning to walk over to the door.
  56. >She opens it for you, and you follow her inside.
  57. >Inside it’s a bit more bureaucratic than you’d expected.
  58. >Past the receptionist’s desk were rows of long halls decorated in various frilly romantic things.
  59. >Pink hearts, inspirational quotes, and some distinctly sciency looking bits too.
  60. >An odd decorum, and not one you particularly liked, but you weren’t here to judge their choice in interior design.
  61. >Your guide stopped at the receptionist’s desk and spoke a few words to the stallion at the counter.
  62. >You didn’t catch anything except for your name being spoken, you were too busy going over every possible thing in your head.
  63. >She catches your attention with a hoof wave, knocking you out of your musings, and motioning for you to follow her.
  64. >The graying mare leads you down one of the side hallways and up several flights of stairs.
  65. >Eventually, you arrive at a small room adorned with several plush chairs placed around a moderately sized oaken desk.
  66. >”If you would, Ms. Hearts, just wait here for several minutes. The princess will be here to talk to you soon.”
  67. >The words not registering as you dumbly trot to one of the chairs and take a seat.
  68. >Your mind is still swimming with worry and anxiety.
  69. >”If you need water, there are bottles in the fridge in the corner. Also, feel free to have an apple if you’d like. It’ll just be a minute.”
  70. >With that, she quietly shuts the door and leaves you to your devices.
  71. >Dissociating, you stare blankly at the bowl of apples at the center of the table.
  72. >What could this ‘complication’ be?
  73. >You’d tried so hard not to think about it on the train ride to the Crystal Empire… but now you couldn’t avoid it.
  74. >He is trapped in a dying world working with things he’d rather not be while being denied the simple pleasures of nature…
  75. >You tried imagining yourself in some situation like that… but kept coming up short.
  76. >You were an arborist through and through.
  77. >From the day your sunny spruces appeared on your flanks you knew what you wanted to be, and you were just that.
  78. >But having to be something you’re not just to survive…
  79. >What could that do to a pony?
  80. >To a human?
  81. >But… but that doesn’t seem like all to you.
  82. >If it were that way then every human would have the same complication from the stories you’ve read about their kind and their world.
  83. >M-maybe this really was the norm.
  84. >Like that friendly mare who brought you here said, ‘happens all the time.’
  85. >A glint of hope sparkles in your eye as you look out the window, watching the city folk go about their day.
  86. >You let yourself slip into a state of sonder as the many little ponies and occasional humans go about their day.
  87. >Imagining the little intricacies of their daily lives.
  88. >It was always something that calmed you down when you were in a city or town.
  89. >Took you away from yourself, and gave your anxious mind something else to chew on.
  90. >Then it hits you.
  91. “Did she say princess?!”
  92. >And as if on que, a moment later the door opens softly, and you’re greeted by the regal visage of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.
  93. “P-Princess Cadence!”
  94. >You blurt out, doing your best to bow while seated at the table, but only effectively smacking your nose into the hard oak surface.
  95. >She chuckles softly to herself before shutting the door and taking a seat across from you at the table.
  96. >”It’s wonderful to see you Pine Hearts.”
  97. >She smiles at you, her eyes full of care.
  98. >”I hope that didn’t hurt.”
  99. >Her voice is like lavender washing over you.
  100. >Rubbing your sore snoot, you can’t help but feel a little more at ease in her presence.
  101. >She’s just not as intimidating as you feared…
  102. >However, a small part in the back of your mind couldn’t help but scream at the rest of your mind that you were just a nopony country mare, and this was one of the four princesses of your country!
  103. >Here to talk just to you!
  104. >Taking a deep breath to steady yourself, you reply.
  105. “I-it’s wonderful to meet you too, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza. And I’m fine.”
  106. >Still smiling, she shakes her head a little at your formalities, giggling just a little again.
  107. >”Please, just call me Cadence. All those titles are a bit too gaudy don’t you think?”
  108. >Shifting your eyes nervously between her and the bowl of apples, all you can reply with is a simple hum.
  109. >Nodding, she glances down at a few papers she had brought with her before looking back up to you with a more serious air about her.
  110. >”I’m really very sorry, this must be so much for you… Thank you for making the journey all the way here to the Empire. I understand you had to leave your nursery to be here. So I wouldn’t want to take any more of your time than we need.”
  111. >How did she know about your nursery…
  112. >Princesses you guess?
  113. >No time for these thoughts! Snap out of it Piney!
  114. “It was no problem! I can leave my trees for a few days, they’ll be fine… not like they’ll miss me or anything.”
  115. >You chuckle nervously as she shares a giggle with you.
  116. >N-not like you ever talked to your trees or anything…
  117. >Oh Luna you got lonely sometimes.
  118. >C-can Alicorns read thoughts?
  119. >She better not be reading my thoughts right now!
  120. >You chuckle nervously again, rubbing one hoof against your other foreleg.
  121. “Sooo you meet with every mare before they see their husbandos?”
  122. >You ask her, the spark of hope returning to your eye.
  123. >Only to be immediately extinguished when Cadence’s smile drops a little.
  124. >“I’m afraid not, Ms. Hearts.”
  125. >You could feel the tightness in your chest grow several orders of magnitude at her words.
  126. >”While your husbando’s case isn’t unique to us, I always wish to meet with their matched mare before we bring them here, to Equestria.”
  127. >Her voice is soft and sweet as ever, however you can’t detect any emotions in it.
  128. >”The human whom you’ve been matched with has experienced extreme emotional trauma in his past.”
  129. >The tightness in your chest reaches a breaking point, and you feel a tear or two begin to form in the corners of your eyes.
  130. >”I’m not at liberty to disclose the nature of his trauma. However it is my duty as Head of the Initiative to inform you that his emotional state is extremely fragile. It’s very unlikely he will be able to handle physical contact when you meet him… and intimacy, of any sort, emotional or physical… will not be quickly or easily earned.”
  131. >She takes a breath and swallows.
  132. >”If ever.”
  133. >You feel your chest splitting apart, tears staining your cheeks.
  134. >Emotionally traumatized, may never share physical contact, intimacy… cuddles…
  135. >As she goes on your eyes glaze over, but you continue to listen intently.
  136. >”With this in mind, we would fully understand any hesitancy on your side. That is why, if you would like, I can have The Heart find another suitab-“
  137. “no...”
  138. >You cut her off, your voice barely above a whisper as you begin to tremble.
  139. “No.”
  140. >Your voice grows louder
  141. “No!”
  142. >You nearly shout, tears freely flowing down your cheeks, falling to the table.
  143. “no…” you whisper
  144. >Cadence eyes you curiously.
  145. >Letting a tsunami of emotion wrack through your body for a moment, you meagerly attempt to compose yourself, and force out the only sentence you can think.
  146. “I won’t abandon my husbando.”
  147. >You don’t abandon ponies… or trees… or humans.
  148. >It’s not in your heart.
  149. >Anymore.
  150. >Cadence smiles softly at you, but you wouldn’t know.
  151. >Your eyes are downcast, staring as your hooves as more tears fell between them.
  152. >Oh Piney what are you going to do…
  153. >How will you even start?
  154. >Just-just be brave Piney…
  155. >Like Dad used to say ‘The most powerful love comes from the greatest struggles’.
  156. >Stupid old romantic.
  157. >Sniffling and blinking back the tears, you look up to see Cadence’s concerned expression.
  158. >With genuine, almost motherly concern in her lilac voice, she speaks to you.
  159. >”Would you like a hug?”
  160. “Y-yes.”
  161. >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  162. >Be Anon.
  163. >And be exhausted in every sense of the word.
  164. >A subtle headache thumped in pace with the shallow beats of your heart as you walked back to the old apartment building you called home.
  165. >Every breath of the foul city air, every glare of a harsh headlight that passed, every whine of a distant siren, amplifying the headache slightly more.
  166. >If the mild throb was causing you any discomfort, you didn’t show it; your face bearing the placid little frown you always seemed to wear.
  167. >Rounding the corner of 62nd and 31st, you spot the red brick building, stained gray from years of pollution.
  168. >You quicken your pace a little, eager to be back in your comfort zone.
  169. >Lost in your effort to get home you don’t notice the passerby until they’ve already brushed up against you.
  170. >As their shoulder makes contact with yours, you stiffen for a half second.
  171. >A jolt of lightning splitting your headache.
  172. >The stranger passes with a grunt, not even looking at you.
  173. >But you stop, stunned by your own broken mind for just a moment.
  174. >Recovering, you briskly shake your head ever so slightly.
  175. >Not enough to aggravate the ache more, but enough to clear some undesirable thoughts from your mind.
  176. >You quicken to a jog, covering the last hundred feet in a few seconds.
  177. >Punching the pin into the little keypad on the door, you step inside and are greeted by the familiar warm, yet oddly moist air of the apartment building.
  178. >How the air maintains it’s consistently warm temperature and high humidity year round was a mystery to you.
  179. >It felt comforting… in a sick sort of way.
  180. >Taking a breath of the slightly less polluted air, you make your way up the stairs.
  181. >Creaks and groans emanating from the old wooden floorboards as you hastily ascended to the third floor.
  182. >You lived in a street facing end unit.
  183. >It had been described as a ‘cozy little studio with a wonderful view of the hustle and bustle below you’.
  184. >What it failed to mention was that you could hear AND feel the hustle and bustle of everyone else in the building and for the next five blocks around the building.
  185. >It was certainly a startle when the subway passed below your building the first night.
  186. >And you had thought the East Coast didn’t get earthquakes.
  187. >Turns out it just doesn’t get natural earthquakes.
  188. >Settling down on your bed you lay back, stretching out and listening for the little pops your spine made.
  189. >Slowly, little by little, your headache passed, and you let out a sigh of relief.
  190. >It was a Friday; work was behind you…
  191. >And in front of you was just your plasma TV and old Xbone.
  192. “No more computers for today.”
  193. >You grumble to yourself, rubbing your temples.
  194. >However you still flip on the telly.
  195. >The image of a newswoman glows to life on the screen.
  196. >Seems she’s reporting on another one of the disappearances.
  197. >Must be an important one if they’re playing this tired old story again.
  198. >Looks like one of the Bitcoin Core developers just up and vanished last night.
  199. >The report goes just like all the others that you’ve heard about the past few years.
  200. >Some guy, always unmarried, usually no family, generally described as depressed or at the least highly stressed just up and vanishes.
  201. >No security footage of them leaving, no traces of anything in their homes, no evidence of foul play.
  202. >The news media has taken to calling the phenomena ‘Lonely Raptures’.
  203. >Made for a catchy name for a news piece.
  204. >And it played up the whole mystery around them.
  205. >Just getting them more clicks.
  206. >Which meant more cash for them.
  207. >Yay for the capitalist machine not even considering the implications.
  208. >You check your phone.
  209. >Yep, crypto’s crashing hard.
  210. >Called it!
  211. >Congratulations! You just got significantly more poor.
  212. >The newswoman ends her piece with the typical fear mongering that they all did when the subject came up.
  213. >To keep our families close, to keep an eye out for each other, and to ask our respective gods for safety.
  214. >You always laugh at that bit.
  215. >Seems their respective gods might be calling them home…
  216. >But why only the most lonely and down trodden of men?
  217. >Never women, and never anyone who seemed even partially fulfilled in this life?
  218. >You shrug and lay back on your pillow as her piece finishes.
  219. >A low whisper escapes your lips.
  220. “Luna just take me now…”
  221. >You chuckle to yourself.
  222. >At least you still had MLP to comfort you when your head ached and your body felt like it was about to break.
  223. >You had found the show maybe a year or two ago.
  224. >Probably closer to two.
  225. >Just flipping channels and you happened upon something innocent and pure.
  226. >Since then you had also found the fandom online, but chose not to associate with it.
  227. >You wanted just the show, pure and wholesome.
  228. >No fanfics of wastelands, of corrupted ponies, introducing the horrors of our world on the pure one the ponies had.
  229. >No autists arguing over which pony was best pony.
  230. >No other people ruining the one thing you could still find some kind of pleasure in.
  231. >You brought up the Netflix app on your TV and browsed to FiM.
  232. >Might as well start your weekend off right.
  233. >You select season one episode one, and let yourself be carried off to the magical land of Equestria.
  234. >Somewhere after episode one, but before little Luna (who is best Luna) makes her appearance you drift off to sleep.
  235. >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  236. >You’re in a vast, foreign, conifer forest.
  237. >Walking… somewhere.
  238. >Somewhere you really wanted to be.
  239. >A warm breeze plays in your hair, and you can hear the bird song emanating from everywhere around you.
  240. >Before you know it you’ve found yourself at the edge of a mighty river.
  241. >The birds and animals and forest all seem so far away as you turn to look back.
  242. >When you look forward again you’re in the river.
  243. >Being swept away from the forest you had just been walking through.
  244. >As your head falls below the surface, you make to scream but nothing comes from your mouth.
  245. >Suddenly you’re back in a terrible, familiar room.
  246. >Your body is heavy, too heavy to move.
  247. >Shadows dance across your naked form as you can feel the very core of you being violated.
  248. >Again you attempt to scream, but nothing.
  249. >You’re back underwater, the pressure crushing you down to little more than a speck.
  250. >You curl up tighter.
  251. >Attempting your very best to become nothing.
  252. >But instead of rendering yourself into the void, you find that you’re back on that forest floor.
  253. >Covered in little brown pine needles, you raise your head to the sky.
  254. >Suddenly there’s a blinding flash.
  255. >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  256. >Your jolted awake as what must have been lightning flashed outside your window.
  257. >Groggily, you wait for the inevitable thunder.
  258. >After a few tense moments of fruitless waiting, you begin to rouse yourself.
  259. >What was that? It doesn’t sound like it’s storming…
  260. >Pushing yourself up, the only light illuminating you is the soft glow of the TV asking if you’re still there.
  261. >Maybe in body you’re still there.
  262. >But your mind was taking a few minutes to get back to you.
  263. >Reaching for the lamp on your nightstand, you’re surprised as your hand brushes against something you hadn’t left there.
  264. >Fumbling for your light, you eventually twist the little knob on the lamp.
  265. >In it’s warm incandescent glow you could see a light-green envelope sitting neatly next to the bottle of water you kept around for midnight sips.
  266. >Grabbing the bottle first, you down the rest of it’s contents, letting the lukewarm water wake your mind.
  267. >Crushing the plastic bottle and blinking a few times, your focus shifts towards the alien letter.
  268. “I-is anyone there?”
  269. >You ask into the dim stillness of your one room apartment.
  270. >You distinctly remember locking your door when you got home.
  271. >And while your landlord was a cunt about rent, she wasn’t the type to intrude on her resident’s privacy.
  272. >So what’s with the letter?
  273. >You would have noticed if it was there when you came home.
  274. >It’s bright color clashed with the dull everything of your old apartment.
  275. >Curiosity compels you to pick up the letter.
  276. >Turning the letter over in your hand, the only thing you notice is a pink wax seal with a heart stamped into it.
  277. >If this was some kind of love letter, your suitor could have chosen a less creepy way of delivering it than picking your lock just to place it by your bed while you slept.
  278. >A-atleast they didn’t do anything else to you…
  279. >An involuntary shiver ran down your spine as you did your best to ignore a number of thoughts rising in your head.
  280. >Ok lets see what’s in this!
  281. >Cracking the seal, you open the letter only to have a small picture fall onto your lap.
  282. >Curious, you pick up the picture, holding it in the light.
  283. >I-it’s a pony.
  284. >But not a normal one, no, she looked like one of the ponies from FiM.
  285. >Only a lot more realistic.
  286. >Like you could make out every strand of her dark green mane.
  287. >She was a unicorn with a deep brown coat and light jade eyes.
  288. >Her mane partially obscured her face, and she looked just a bit nervous.
  289. >The light from the flash had caught in her eye, giving it a little sparkle.
  290. >She wore a small smile, the kind you might see in the faces of old friends meeting again after so many years.
  291. >Turning the photo over there are a couple words written on the back in simple cursive.
  292. >’Pine Hearts’
  293. >You felt a little flutter in your own heart as you read it again.
  294. >There was a little pine tree hastily sketched below her name.
  295. >Flipping it back over, you set the photo aside and read the letter proper.
  296. >Several readings of the letter later and your mind is reeling.
  297. >This mare, Pine Hearts, had been determined to be a perfect match for you by some ancient relic of pure love magic?
  298. >That you could be her other half, and she yours?
  299. >That happiness was just a signature away?
  300. >Hell that Equestria was a fucking real place!!!
  301. >This has to be a dream, it must be.
  302. >Any second now you’d be back in that terrible place all your dreams brought you to.
  303. >That you would be powerless again.
  304. >That you would be broken again.
  305. >No mind! No! Stop it!
  306. >You run the rigid edge of the letter against the back of your hand, cutting a slight red line in your skin.
  307. >Watching as a little blood pooled around the paper cut, you could feel the slight sting of pain.
  308. >No, you are awake.
  309. >This letter is real.
  310. >At least you want to believe this letter is real.
  311. >You take another look at the photo.
  312. >The detail is too good, the subtle imperfections in her features, a strand of mane out of place, a bit of coat rubbed the wrong way.
  313. >You just noticed what looked to be a little damp patch on the one cheek you can see.
  314. >Like she had just cried not long before this photo was taken.
  315. >But when you looked into her eyes, you saw that rare spark of life.
  316. >She didn’t look pained.
  317. >She just looked nervous… and maybe a little lonely.
  318. >This is – this is just too much!
  319. >Sure all your dreams had died years ago.
  320. >Along with any family that cared about you.
  321. >Money was tight.
  322. >And your job was a nightmare.
  323. >Shifting your eyes back to the letter, there was a line at the bottom for you to sign.
  324. >To sign away everything for something better perhaps.
  325. >Could you really let yourself hope like this?
  326. >You glance at the photo still in your hand.
  327. >If you were to believe all this, she was your soul mate.
  328. >And looking into her eyes again, you could feel something… something you couldn’t quite describe flicker inside yourself.
  329. “What’s the point of living without hope?”
  330. >A whisper to yourself, like a prayer.
  331. >With a new determination, you get up from your bed and rummage around for any sort of writing utensil.
  332. >After a few minutes of searching, you find an old pen that still works enough.
  333. >With all the grace of a computer scientist, you scribble your name on the line and refold the letter.
  334. >Yawning, you place the letter in your nightstand’s draw as per the instructions.
  335. >Returning under your blankets, you mutter to yourself an old phrase you like to use in situations like this.
  336. “Alea iacta est.”
  337. >Stupid Latin class sticking with you after all these years.
  338. >You chuckle at the absurdity of all this before yawning again.
  339. >Turning FiM back on, you’re lulled to sleep by a familiar old song.
  341. >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  342. >Be Captain Brighter Days.
  343. >Husbando retrieval specialist in charge of the most sensitive of cases.
  344. >You had gathered your small extraction team around the scrying stone set into a pedestal at the center of the briefing room.
  345. >To your right sat your most trusted emotional expert, Buttercup Smiles.
  346. >And to your left the ever necessary security and secrecy specialist Whisper Winds.
  347. >Whisper wasn’t new to husbando retrievals, but this would be her first mission with you.
  348. >Your last security and secrecy specialist went and got herself husbandoed last week.
  349. >She’d probably be out of action for the next couple weeks.
  350. >You were happy as ever for her, but this left you with a mare you’d never worked with before.
  351. >You had been going over the specifics of the mission with them for the past half hour since the portal team sent the offer letter through.
  352. >Initial scouting had determined that the apartment indeed had windows.
  353. >And the floors and walls were particularly thin.
  354. >Noise and light would be a primary concern on this mission.
  355. >As you were finishing the briefing the scrying stone changed from a dark black to a luminous shade of pink.
  356. “Ok team, we’ve got confirmation the target has accepted the offer.”
  357. >You nod once before shifting to your right.
  358. “How many times have you checked the targets psychoanalysis, Buttercup?”
  359. >”Triple Cap’!”
  360. “Good! Soul stone working right?”
  361. >The light yellow unicorn to your right floated a translucent off white gem up to her eye before looking at you through it.
  362. >You did your best to feel as calm and collected as possible to get a good calibration for the stone.
  363. >It’s color shifted to a bright yellow.
  364. >”All’s yellow, you should be feeling as mellow as a bug in a rug Cap’.”
  365. “Check one.”
  366. >Next you shifted your psyche to focus on darker emotions.
  367. >You brought up old memories of fear, uncertainty, and sorrow.
  368. >The color of the stone shifted from yellow to red to orange to black.
  369. >As Buttercup lowered the stone, it returned to it’s normal milky opacity.
  370. >”Lets see, that was fear, uncertainty, and sorrow this time Cap?”
  371. “Check, check, and check.”
  372. >The mare to your right beamed you a little smile, which you returned.
  373. >Turning left to Whisper, you focused your gaze at the midnight mare.
  374. “You have the layout of the place memorized?”
  375. >”Rodger!”
  376. “You’re absolutely sure you’ve got the materials, textures, and colors of the apartment down?”
  377. >You’d heard Whisper was good, but now was her time to prove it to you.
  378. >Determination on her face she nods.
  379. “Ready to cast the false window spell?”
  380. >Whisper nods once more before a dark aura emanated from her horn.
  381. >The test windows on the other side of the briefing room becoming darkened mirrors of the target’s apartment.
  382. >You stood up from your chair and approached the glass, inspecting the images Whisper was casting.
  383. >It looked exactly as one would expect.
  384. >A prone form slumbering away in a darkened room with nothing but the dim glow of a television emanating from the window.
  385. >You shift your viewing angle to make sure the illusion accounted for every detail.
  386. >As you moved side to side you saw different parts of the room reflected back at you.
  387. >You hoof the light switch off, and take note of the soft glow emanating from the illusory windows.
  388. >Satisfied, you hoof the lights back on as Whisper’s spell fades away.
  389. >Making your way back to the chairs around the pedestal, you give Whisper an approving nod, earning a little smile from the midnight mare.
  390. “Now there’s just one more item on the list.”
  391. >You go to clop your hooves together to get the attention of your team.
  392. >Only you can’t hear the clopping of keratin on keratin.
  393. >Out of the corner of your eye, you notice Whisper’s horn faintly glowing deep blue again.
  394. >A wider smile forms across your muzzle.
  395. “You know, they told me you were a quite one Whisper, but they didn’t tell me you were a mind reader too.”
  396. >”I assure you Cap, I’m no psychic.”
  397. >”Good cuz I’d be out of the job then!”
  398. >Buttercup’s comment elicits a small chuckle from Whisper and yourself.
  399. >You turn, lightheartedly shaking your head at your old friend.
  400. “An empath and a psychic are two completely different things, Buttercup.”
  401. >”I know that! But how do you know I’m not both?”
  402. “Oh really now~ So then you might be able to tell us what’s on our new friend’s mind then?”
  403. >Both of you look toward Whisper, who suddenly looks a lot more nervous.
  404. >Buttercup scrunches up her muzzle, staring through Whisper for a few moments.
  405. >Then speaking low and long.
  406. >“Your thinking of your husbando back home right now.”
  407. >Whisper’s eyes suddenly go wide as a faint blush crosses her cheeks.
  408. >”H-how the?”
  409. >Smiling devilishly, Buttercup continues.
  410. >”Oh~ But that’s not all. You’re thinking of a particular ~part~ of your human aren’t you?”
  411. >Buttercups words ooze with desire.
  412. >Whisper’s deep blue face is starting to become awfully purple just about now.
  413. >You’re fighting to keep your laughter contained.
  414. >”And you’re thinking of him doing that particular thing you like so much with that ~particular~ part of his body.”
  415. >Ok, now Whisper’s face was a solid maroon.
  416. >Buttercup, shooting Whisper her best half lidded eyes opens her muzzle to speak again.
  417. >However no sound comes out.
  418. >Whisper had cast her quieting spell over Buttercups mouth.
  419. >Breaking out into a fit of laughter, you fight to compose yourself like the elite Captain you are.
  420. >Failing to hear herself, Buttercup just pushed her lower lip out, pouting.
  421. >Clearing your throat, you push the last of the chuckles out of your mind.
  422. “Ok, ok everypony. Enough of the shenanigans. We’ve got a mission to do.”
  423. >You glance at Whisper who was fighting to rein in her fierce blush.
  424. >You raise an eyebrow at Whisper and look back toward the silent Buttercup, who now appeared as if she was attempting to sing something.
  425. >”Only if she agrees to stop talking about my husbando like – like that.”
  426. >Buttercup quickly crossed a hoof over her heart before sticking it an inch away from her eye.
  427. >Whisper gave a sharp glance toward Buttercup before dissipating her spell.
  428. >”I was just talking about belly rubs, geeze!” Buttercup blurted out.
  429. >Whisper blinked a few times, shocked again.
  430. >”R-right.”
  431. >You look at the yellow mare again.
  432. “How did you know what Whisper was thinking?”
  433. >Buttercup closed her eyes, a self-satisfied smile spreading across her muzzle.
  434. >”Lucky guess is all.”
  435. >You cock your head.
  436. >Could she really?
  437. >Well you’ve known her for years, and you won’t let this change what you think about in her presence.
  438. >Whisper on the other hoof looks a little more startled.
  439. >Before you can say anything though, Buttercup pipes up.
  440. >”Hey, sorry if I got you all bothered there. It was just too fun watching you turn into a tomato!”
  441. >She looks over toward Whisper with guilt in her eyes.
  442. >”Friends?”
  443. >She holds a hoof out to Whisper, who had mostly recomposed herself.
  444. >”On one condition. How did you know?”
  445. >”Oh that’s easy! You’ve got a bracelet on your hoof, and I mean who doesn’t love having their belly rubbed?”
  446. >Glancing down to the silver and gold band around her left hoof Whisper nods a bit to herself, thinking it over.
  447. >Seeming to come to a conclusion in her head, Whisper reaches her hoof toward Buttercup’s still outstretched foreleg, giving it a strong shake.
  448. >”Friends.”
  449. >Getting up from the table, you stomp your hoof on the marble floor.
  450. “Alright fillies, now that all the giggles are out of our systems, we’ve got a husbando and waifu to bring together!”
  451. >Both stiffen up and salute you.
  452. “Now lets go give the sciency pony a visit, shall we?”
  453. >You turn, making your way out the door and across the hall toward another door labeled ‘Transdimensional Teleportation Chamber #3’.
  454. >Once inside your team is greeted by a white earth pony buck in a labcoat.
  455. “Good to see you again Dr. Strangehoof!”
  456. >You give the good doctor a quick hug.
  457. “Hows the subject?”
  458. >”The subject is doing wonderful! Just marvelous actually! Magical monitors indicate he’s in REM sleep right now. Heart rate and cortisol levels are somewhat elevated… however, that seems par for the course with the trends we’ve noticed in his sleep patterns.”
  459. >You frown a little.
  460. “Seems like Luna will have her work cut out for her with this one.”
  461. >”Sadly so. Though the Princess always seems to have a way of getting through to them eventually once they’ve been here long enough.”
  462. >Nodding slightly.
  463. “Still, I can’t help but feel a little bad for all the work she’s been doing to help the humans through their dreams.”
  464. >Dr. Strangehoof just gives you a knowing smile.
  465. >”Perhaps, though I’ve heard from reliable sources that she’s never been happier actually. The satisfaction she gets from her nightly dream walking has never had such profound effects on the people she’s helped. I think it’s given her an even greater sense of purpose… Though maybe my source is just confusing her glee at having a husbando with her sense of purpose and self-actualization.”
  466. >You shrug, reining in the conversation to the matter at hoof.
  467. “So anyway has anyone told Ms. Hearts that her husbando has accepted her yet?”
  468. >He smiled and nodded.
  469. “As soon as our stone turned pink I sent a currier with the good news. She should be in the waiting room now. Try to be quick, she’s probably all nerves and butterflies out there.”
  470. >”Wonderful! We’ll try not to keep her waiting too long. Now it’s just up to us to bring him to her!”
  471. >You turn back giving your team a wide smile.
  472. “Alright team! Lets suit up and get this show on the road!”
  473. >The three of you each grab a black fabric full body suite from a rack on the wall.
  474. >Slipping in quickly and pulling the hood up, you tuck your mane under your suite.
  475. >Completely clad in black the three of you now appeared as proper ‘Husbando Hunters’.
  476. >Dr. Strangehoof was now at a gem-studded archano-tech terminal, looking back at you.
  477. >”All systems look good, ready when you are Captain.”
  478. >At the far wall sat a large U shaped piece of the finest archano-tech ponies could build.
  479. >A Zetta-class portal device being fed over twenty thousand mega sparks of pure magical flux.
  480. >There was an entire battery of capacitor crystals in the basement of the building for each portal device.
  481. >They’ve had to build two whole magical power plants just to feed the immense power draw of this facility.
  482. >Even then, the lights still dimmed whenever one of these babies was fired up.
  483. >The sheer archano-technological power of these devices always got you a little moist.
  484. >Giving one more glance to the Doctor, you firmly nod.
  485. >”Commencing Interdimensional rift in three…”
  486. >You glance to Whisper.
  487. “Remember, you’re first in and out, cast the silencing spell on our hooves and him first. Next the window illusion. Don’t miss a beat. You’re our camo.”
  488. >Whisper nods with determination.
  489. >”Two…”
  490. >The lights began to dim as the machine let out a long whir.
  491. >Turning your head to Buttercup.
  492. “No physical contact unless it is deemed mission critical, understand?”
  493. >”Understood.”
  494. >”One!”
  495. >You cover your eyes as a brilliant flash of light erupts over the room.
  496. >In the center of the large golden U was a great swirling vortex.
  497. >The Void.
  498. >Not missing a beat, Whisper jumped through the portal first, followed by Buttercup.
  499. >Taking one look back at the doctor and waving, you jump through the portal yourself.
  500. >You never get used to the sensation of Void.
  501. >Silently landing on the other side, you quickly assess the situation.
  502. >You’re in the small entranceway of the target’s apartment.
  503. >Whisper has already cast both the silencing spell and window illusion.
  504. >Buttercup was peering through her soul stone at the awaking target.
  505. >The stone was turning from black to red.
  506. >Ok, sorrow out of the dream to fear…
  507. >Well fear you’ve dealt with before.
  508. >Buttercup glanced back to you as the target jolted upright in his bed.
  509. >His mouth was open, and it looked like he was trying to yell something as he pushed himself to the far corner of his bed.
  510. >The stone was turning darker and darker red.
  511. >Shoot he was becoming increasingly frightened.
  512. >Ok, lets take control of the situation.
  513. >You approach his bed, and remove your hood, letting you long pink mane fall around your head.
  514. >He’s looking right at you, mouth no longer open.
  515. >You glance for a second to the stone.
  516. >Maroon purple; fear giving way to curiosity.
  517. >Good, removing the hood always helped.
  518. >No need for it anymore since Whisper had the window illusion cast so fast.
  519. >Looking him in the eyes, you raise a hoof up to your muzzle, and make the universal quiet gesture.
  520. >He seems to calm, and nods his head slowly.
  521. >Another glance to the stone, and you can see it’s become mostly purple.
  522. >You nod to Whisper for her to partially lift the silencing spell.
  523. >She nods back to you.
  524. “Hello, and so very sorry to scare you there. I’m Captain Brighter Days, and this is Whisper Winds and Buttercup Smiles.” Glancing to the respective ponies.
  525. >Your voice is soft as a feather as you introduce your companions.
  526. >He’s stunned, like they all are when they meet their first pony.
  527. >But not entirely lost for words.
  528. >Ok, now he’s just laughing.
  529. >He falls forward onto his bed, his laughter sounding like a distant thunderstorm.
  530. >”I finally fucking broke, I must be crazy! There’s no way I’m not crazy!”
  531. >His manic laughter breaks down into a heavy sob.
  532. >”Fucking insane…insane…stupid broken brain.”
  533. >You glance back to the stone.
  534. >Gray blue; damn, he’s starting to despair now.
  535. >Your emotional specialist pipes up in her muted voice now.
  536. >”No, you are not going insane. What you are feeling is quite normal for a matched husbando upon first meeting one of us. We aren’t here to harm you, we’re here to bring you to Pine Hearts."
  537. >Quickly reaching out her magic, she levitates the photograph of Pine Hearts from his nightstand over across the bed to him.
  538. >Cautiously he grabs the photo out of the shimmering air in front of him.
  539. >Another glance at the stone reveals it’s back to blue.
  540. >A flicker of a smile catches the corner of his mouth as he puts the photo down.
  541. >Closing his eyes, and breathing deep for a moment, he goes to speak again.
  542. >”So it’s real then… Equestria, you ponies, the show?”
  543. >He looks over to the television, which was asking if he was still there.
  544. >Horse apples, was their technology catching on?
  545. >Wait, no… remember basic. This was something their TVs did.
  546. >You’d just never seen one asking before.
  547. >Buttercup was the one answering his questions now.
  548. >”Simply put, yes it’s all real… This may be a lot to take in, but the show was our way of trying to find suitable humans for mares. We toned down many of the maturities of our world, and used magic to inspire the show creators and staff.”
  549. >His face contorted in confusion.
  550. >”But why do this? Why go through all this trouble just to make two strangers less lonely?”
  551. >Oh humans and their human questions…
  552. >Your glad for Buttercup’s patience.
  553. >”Well, that’s a long story. But the basics are that our gender ratio is about 90% female while our homosexuality rate is just 10%... which means many, many lonely mares. Now why humans? Because you’re a species with the ability to empathize and love more than any other species we’ve ever found; just as much as ponies can! It’s just that most of your species have walled those parts of themselves away. So we want to take some of you, the ones with the most love to give, and match you up with a mare who’s also pent up with unfound love. I know, it probably sounds gooey and stupid and too romantic and perfect to be true to you, but that’s the truth! Honest to goodness, I swear!”
  554. >He seems to process that for a minute before falling back on his pillow.
  555. >”And there’s absolutely no ulterior motives, not Changelings here to enslave me for love, not going to put me in a zoo, not going to harvest my organs for science?”
  556. >”Well we do hope that you’ll start a family after a while, but that’s not requisite at all! This is real, unfettered love, no strings attached. The Crystal Heart has never been wrong; every single one of us has faith in its ability to pick matches.”
  557. >He’s looking at the ceiling now.
  558. >You glance back at the soul stone.
  559. >It was pink blue.
  560. >His curiosity was giving way to hope.
  561. >”That all sounds so… so nice.”
  562. >He sits up in his bed, letting the blanket he’s been under fall to his waist.
  563. >”So can I get dressed? Or take anything with me?”
  564. “Yes, please, take any clothes you’d want. You may also take any books, records, pictures, or other non-electronic devices with you. All other amenities will be provide for you once you arrive.”
  565. >Glancing back at the swirling vortex behind you.
  566. “Electronics don’t fare well in the void.”
  567. >A white lie, but if it got you out of their world faster, the better.
  568. >You could feel the pollution making your body feel off already.
  569. >How they lived in it you’d never fully comprehend.
  570. >”Sure, just a second… Umm if you could please turn around?”
  571. >Obliging, your team understands Human’s issues with letting others see their naked form.
  572. >All three of you turn around at once.
  573. >For the next five minutes there is the sound of hasty rummaging and a bag quickly being packed.
  574. >”Ok, you can look now. I’m all ready.”
  575. >He was standing before you, well dressed in a black suite and red tie.
  576. >He was a human who knew how to dress to impress.
  577. >In his hand was a duffle bag with what you could assume was all his most important worldly belongings.
  578. >Just one quick standard procedure before you left.
  579. “If you don’t mind, just let me scan your bag for any tech.”
  580. >He shifts nervously.
  581. >Looks like you’re gunna have a hold out for the tech on your hooves.
  582. >Taking his bag from him you hoof it over to Buttercup who casts a detect tech spell over the bag.
  583. >And sure enough a little thumb drive appears in a pocket of the bag.
  584. >Pulling it out with her magic Buttercup, floats the drive over to his nightstand.
  585. >You hoof his bag back to him.
  586. >He looks down, seemingly in shame.
  587. >”Sorry about that, I thought maybe it was worth a try.”
  588. >Raising your eyebrow, you’re a bit curious.
  589. “Usually we have humans trying to sneak whole computers or phones past us… but you just wanted a thumb drive without a computer to even attach it to. Why was it so important?”
  590. >He looks back to the drive, a bit painfully.
  591. >”Well… it’s just that drive has all my Bitcoin, my money, on it. Like my entire life’s savings. Just about everything I’ve worked for right there.”
  592. >Ohhhhhh he had some of those.
  593. ”Don’t worry much about it, we’ve got real bit coins were we’re going. Not those fake ones we introduced a while ago.”
  594. >Now he looked absolutely shocked.
  595. >”Don’t tell me Satoshi Nakamoto is a pony… really?”
  596. “Her name is Twilight Sparkle and she worked on the project with some of our top sociologists. It’s a social experiment that was created around the same time we started implanting ideas of our world in the heads of your creatives. She wanted to get a better understanding of human vices and values and to what lengths they would go to pursue them, and at what costs. Needless to say, it’s been a very fruitful endeavor.”
  597. >That seemed to break something inside his mind.
  598. >And you sort of regret saying that.
  599. >But it was the truth, and he deserved to know.
  600. “So are you re-“
  601. >The whole building began to shake and groan.
  602. >Panic flooded through you as you tried to assess the situation.
  603. >Buttercup had already hopped back through the portal in a panic.
  604. >Whisper was backing her way towards it, fear in her eyes.
  605. >And the target was laughing to himself.
  606. >This better not be a trap!
  607. >You’ve tried your luck one too many times!
  608. >Your pupils dilates as you make for the portal.
  609. >”Wait, wait, hahaha, it’s, haha, it’s just the subway!”
  610. >Just as you’re about to hop through the portal, you turn back to him, a bead of sweat rolling down your forehead.
  611. “S-subway?”
  612. >”Yah, runs right under this place… gotta be the first one of the morning. We should go. It always wakes up the building.”
  613. “Y-yah, after you.”
  614. >You nervously glance at Whisper, who still looks scared stiff, but is holding her spells like a champion.
  615. >She’s getting a commendation for this.
  616. >You step aside from the portal, and motion for the human to jump through.
  617. >He looks anxiously into the swirling abyss.
  618. “Don’t hesitate, just jump. Trust me, the faster the better.”
  619. >He swallows hard, before getting into a jumping position.
  620. >”Alea iacta est!”
  621. >And he’s though.
  622. >Doing the essential post sweep, you collect the photo, letter, and take one last look around.
  623. >The glint of the soul stone on the floor catches your eye.
  624. >If the higher ups heard Buttercup dropped a magical item on a mission; that would be her job.
  625. >You’re going to have to talk to her about this, but you won’t report it.
  626. >Slipping the stone into a pocket on your suit, you put a hoof on Whisper’s shoulder and look into her eyes.
  627. “Don’t say a word about the soul stone, ok?”
  628. >She nods, and you beam her a little smile.
  629. >She returns her own shaky smile before you jump through the portal.
  630. >Finally Whisper releases her spells and makes the jump herself.
  631. >Behind her the portal vanishes.
  632. >The TV still glows as the early morning light streams through the windows.
  633. >Asking one simple question.
  634. >’Are you still there?’
  635. >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  636. >Be Pine Hearts.
  637. >And be nervously pawing at the plush of your chair.
  638. >You were sitting in one of the three chairs on the far end of a cozy little room.
  639. >Beside you sat Cadence herself.
  640. >She’d been the one to tell you that your match, Anonymous, had accepted the letter.
  641. >You think you squeed like a filly when you heard.
  642. >There was also dampness on your cheeks, so you probably cried too.
  643. >And you think you hyperventilated a bit.
  644. >But you couldn’t remember really.
  645. >For the past half hour, your mind was a fog of fighting thoughts.
  646. >As soon as you were able to clear the fog enough to think about one thing, a million other little thoughts burst into your brain and drown out any cohesiveness of your mind.
  647. >Happiness, nervousness, anxiety, ecstatic joy, despair.
  648. >All these emotions were coursing through your veins.
  649. >But the one you kept coming back to was fear.
  650. >Fear that you’ll mess this up.
  651. >Fear that he might not like you.
  652. >Fear that you might not be brave enough.
  653. >Or strong enough.
  654. >No! No! No! You ARE brave! And you ARE Strong! You’ve got this Piney!
  655. >But then why are you shaking so much right now?
  656. >Holding a trembling hoof before your face, you try your best to steady it.
  657. >It’s not working.
  658. >Suddenly you feel a reassuring hoof rest on your shoulder.
  659. >The sudden contact makes you go rigid for a second, as you’re broken out of thought.
  660. >It’s just Cadence, she’s the only other pony in the room with you.
  661. >This was the 10th time she’d put her hoof on your shoulder.
  662. >It worked for a minute or two every time.
  663. >You could feel the fog of doubt and worry waning away for a moment.
  664. >Turning your head up, you see her softly smiling at you.
  665. >”Don’t worry, you’ll do just fine~.”
  666. >Her voice reminds you of your Mom before she sent you off to school in the mornings as a filly.
  667. >You missed that voice.
  668. >And right now you needed that voice.
  669. >Closing your eyes and exhaling a deep breath, you can feel yourself calming down just a little.
  670. “Yah. I-I’ve got this… Definitely. He’s just – just my h-husbando… f-for l-life.”
  671. >Oh dear here comes the anxiety again.
  672. >You can feel your breathing increasing.
  673. >But you force yourself to take large, spaced breaths.
  674. >We’re not going back to hyperventilating again.
  675. >”I know it must be so difficult for you Pine Hearts.”
  676. >Hearing the Princess speak your name, you look back up to her with glistening green eyes.
  677. >”You’re a strong pony, Pine. And Anon will like you because you are the mare you are. Don’t worry about a few clouds right now, love will shine through.”
  678. >You sniffle a bit, and smile towards her.
  679. >In a tiny voice, you manage to mutter out
  680. “Thank you”
  681. >”He should be here any minute, extraction usually doesn’t last more than a half hour.”
  682. >You had been sitting here for what felt like an eternity and a half.
  683. >What if something went wrong!
  684. >What if he wasn’t there?
  685. >O-or something else happened.
  686. >You start taking rapid shallow breaths again.
  687. >And again you feel the reassuring hoof of Cadence.
  688. >As if reading your mind Cadence speaks in her motherly soothing tone again.
  689. >”Captain Brighter Days and her team are the best operatives in the Initiative. They have my complete confidence in their abilities. It will only be a minute more.”
  690. >You shakily nod with her words as your mind drifts back into a daze.
  691. >Defocusing your eyes, you do your best to just not think.
  692. >It actually sort of works this time as you manage to keep your mind blank.
  693. >Heh this isn’t so bad.
  694. >He’s your husbando!
  695. >I bet he’s just as much of a mess as you are.
  696. >And one day you’ll both be able to laugh at what socially anxious wrecks you both were.
  697. >You chuckle a little to yourself.
  698. >Yahhhh just like transplanting a sapling Piney.
  699. >Bring him out of the old claustrophobic environment, and plant him where he’ll grow best.
  700. >By your side!
  701. >Nothing to worry ab-
  702. >Your train of thought is derailed as there’s a knock at the door.
  703. >”Oh this must be Captain Brighter Days and Anonymous!”
  704. >You stare at the door, going stiff as a spruce in a spring freeze.
  705. >”Come in!”
  706. >This is it.
  707. >Don’t mess it up.
  708. >The door opens, and you see a white coated, pink maned Earth Pony walk in, beaming a bright smile.
  709. >And following her is Him.
  710. >Anonymous.
  711. >Adorable and sharp as a splinter in that ‘suit’ as they called it.
  712. >You can’t tell if your heart just stopped or you just lost all sensation in your body.
  713. >Maybe both.
  714. >Ok no time for dying.
  715. >He’s looking at you.
  716. >Just say something dummy!
  717. >”Good to see you made it in one piece Cap!”
  718. >Cadence breaks the silence, greeting her Captain pony.
  719. >”Like a walk in the park, Cadence. So you want to introduce the new couple?”
  720. >Oh no, you’re not letting the Princess speak for you.
  721. >You had a husbando to prove yourself to!
  722. >Breaking in, you get to your hooves and hop down from the chair.
  723. >Ok all eyes are on you.
  724. >Especially Anon’s.
  725. >Put on your brave face, and look at him filly!
  726. “I-I’m Pine Hearts! It’s nice to meet you.”
  727. >You speak briskly, looking into his little hazel human eyes.
  728. >He’s maybe five feet in front of you.
  729. >He’s just looking at you with an unreadable expression.
  730. >Why isn’t he smiling?
  731. >Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!
  732. >You’re starting to tremble again.
  733. >Just then, he takes a step forward and squats down, coming to eye level with you.
  734. >Oh he was tall, your head would probably be at his belly when he stood… and if you got on your tippy hooves you might just be able to get your mane all in his face...
  735. >I-if he’d let you get your mane in his face.
  736. >Oh wait, he was still looking at you.
  737. >You think you can see a smile form on his lips.
  738. >”It’s wonderful to meet you, Pine Hearts. I’m Anonymous, but please just call me Anon.”
  739. >His words are so smooth.
  740. >How is he not nervous?
  741. >Or… or is he just really good at hiding it?
  742. >Oh you must look like a mess.
  743. >He holds his hoo- no hand! He holds his hand out to you.
  744. >You’d read in the info pamphlet that humans greeted each other with a gesture a lot like a hoofshake.
  745. >You look at his outstretched hand for a second, before looking back into his eyes.
  746. >They don’t look cold, but you can see so many emotions in them.
  747. >Wait he’s still holding his hand to you.
  748. >Don’t be weird!
  749. >You reach your hoof out to him and you make contact with his hand.
  750. >He wraps his claws around your hoof and shakes it firmly a few times.
  751. >Those are the softest claws you’ve ever felt.
  752. >And just as quick as it happened it was over.
  753. >Releasing your hoof, he stood back upright.
  754. >You suddenly felt like you were underneath one of your Spruces back home.
  755. >A sudden wave of homesickness washed over you at the thought.
  756. >Ignoring the sensation, you do your best to look back up at him.
  757. >You have to push your evergreen mane out of your eyes as you look up towards his face.
  758. >He doesn’t seem as calm as he was just a second ago.
  759. >His eyes dart between you and the pony he walked in with.
  760. >”S-sooo this is the part where I wake up right?”
  761. >His voice sounds a lot smaller with a hint of anxiety in it.
  762. >Before you can even think of anything to say Cadence cuts in, trying to console him.
  763. >”No, I can assure you that you are not dreaming, Anonymous. This is all quite real.”
  764. >You could see his hand picking at a light wound on the back of his other hand, drawing some blood.
  765. >His eyes were darting between you and Cadence, and he looked very nervous now.
  766. >This isn’t good.
  767. >Think Piney what can you do…
  768. >What was it he liked… ummm long walks in the woods, bird watching… ummm clouds?
  769. >You’ve gotta do something!
  770. >Closing your eyes and taking a deep breath.
  771. >And with all the grace and tact of a drunken Pegasus, you blurt out
  773. >You half yell this in a quick high-pitched voice.
  774. >And immediately go red as everypony stares at you again.
  775. >Shoot you’re ruining everything like the stupid no good pony you are.
  776. >You just made it even more awkward.
  777. >Stupid! Stupid! Stu-
  778. >You hear a faint chuckle.
  779. >You look up to find the source is Anon.
  780. >He’s laughing.
  781. >And it’s growing louder.
  782. >Cadence and Brighter Days both join in.
  783. >Surely enough it’s infectious and even you can’t stop laughing for a few minutes.
  784. >All the worry in the room seems to melt away in the warm laughter.
  785. >Eventually the laughter simmers down to an occasional chuckle.
  786. >Anon had to take a seat to keep from falling over.
  787. >Now he sits cross-legged on the floor.
  788. >You sit opposite him.
  789. >Both of you are just looking at each other curiously.
  790. >So this is your mate?
  791. >The one who will make you happy?
  792. >And vica versa.
  793. >You smile more at him.
  794. >And he returns it.
  795. >This makes you giggle in response.
  796. >And he looks away bashfully.
  797. >Ok he’s getting too cute for you.
  798. >You’ve got to look away too.
  799. >Gosh are you still a school filly or something. Grow a spiney Piney and say something!
  800. >It’s hard to speak in more than a whisper.
  801. “B-bird watching.”
  802. >”Hummm?” He looks back to you curiously.
  803. “I meant you’d p-probably like to go bird watching… with my trees… under the clouds. Heh”
  804. >You finish with an anemic chuckle, looking at him though your mane.
  805. >He smiles that weird, endearing, little human smile of his again.
  806. >”That sounds so very nice…”
  807. >His voice is light and airy, like he’s imagining it to himself as he says it.
  808. >”You keep trees?”
  809. “Y-yah! I have a whole nursery of them. My own little forest inside a forest sort of I guess.”
  810. >”What kind of trees?”
  811. >You think he’s trying to paint a mental picture.
  812. “Wellll a lot. I’ve got a huge section of your run of the mill Pine and Fir trees, then I’ve got another whole section of Spruces. And then my favorite section, the Sequoias!”
  813. >Talking about your trees always set you at ease, and you were feeling much better.
  814. >He listened intently, and you could see the wonder in his eyes and on his face.
  815. >”Wow… I can’t even imagine… I can’t wait to see them!”
  816. “Heh, yah, the Sequoias are pretty cool.”
  817. >You hope they haven’t missed you while you’ve been away.
  818. >Your treeful thoughts are interrupted as Cadence takes a seat on the floor perpendicular to you and Anonymous.
  819. >It’s just now that you notice Captain Brighter Days isn’t in the room anymore.
  820. >Anon seems to come to the same conclusion, as he twists his body to look around.
  821. >Cadence clears her throat, catching the attention of both of you.
  822. >”Well it’s wonderful to hear the two of you bonding. I look forward to hearing how you get along. However, in the mean time I have a few things for the both of you.”
  823. >She floats over a few booklets, several sheets of paper, a thick catalog, and a letter, setting all of this by her side.
  824. >She floats the first booklet over to Anon, turning to speak to him.
  825. >”This is a little informational book that has many of the Pony basics in it. From our culture to a brief rundown of our history. There’s also a biology section in the back that covers all the important things about how we work. I suggest you start with the section on pony psyches.”
  826. >Grabbing the book out of the air, he leafs through a few pages before thanking the Princess and beaming her a wide, genuine smile.
  827. >”Any help at all here is appreciated. It’s going to be – no - it is, just a lot to handle…”
  828. >”We know, that’s why we made the book, and also these.”
  829. >Next she floats a few sheets of paper to each of you.
  830. >The paper has a large circle drawn on it and a few runes around the outside of the circle.
  831. >”If you ever have an emergency or just need to talk to an Initiative Specialist, place the paper on a hard surface and smack it in the center like this.”
  832. >She sets a page on the floor in-between all of you and hits the center with her hoof.
  833. >Instantly a little portal appears, and you can see an olive mare on the other side.
  834. >”Hello, how can the Initiative help you today?”
  835. >A bright and peppy voice flows out of the portal.
  836. >”Oh hay Eager Ears, nothing right now, just introducing a new couple to the support system.”
  837. >Cadence levitates the page up showing the mare in the paper to Anon first and then to you.
  838. >You wave at her, and she waves back.
  839. >”This is Anon and Pine Hearts, the newest husbando and waifu couple!”
  840. >”I’m so happy to hear that! Well if you ever need anything, I or another operator are just a piece of rune paper away!”
  841. >Cadence crumples the paper, and it disappears into a poof of smoke.
  842. >”Pretty neat eh? Twilight came up with that one. You can get more from any post office”
  843. >”Dear Luna…”
  844. >You heard Anon whisper to himself in disbelief.
  845. >Cadence smirked at him.
  846. >”While it seems you got a bit of our culture down already, magic will take a while to get used to. Lucky for you however, your waifu happens to be a unicorn.”
  847. >”I feel lucky…”
  848. >”If you’d like to know more about magic, there is a good sized section about it in the book.”
  849. >Anon nods, and he seems to hold the book a little tighter than before, looking at you.
  850. >He was looking at your horn.
  851. >Shyly you used your magic to part your long mane out of your eyes.
  852. >This elicited a little ‘Oooo’ from him.
  853. >Damn he’s cute when he’s awestruck.
  854. >”And that reminds me, here’s your human book Piney. It covers all the basics about your husbando’s kind. What they need to eat to stay healthy, how to comfort them, things to look out for, and how to help them become part of Equestrian society. Oh and of course a standard biology section in the back.”
  855. >You noticed she didn’t mention anything about their history or culture in there.
  856. >You’ll have to ask Anon about that yourself one day.
  857. >”And now the fun stuff!”
  858. >Cadence floats the thick catalog down to Anon.
  859. >”Shopping!!! And free shopping too!”
  860. >Anon perks up at this, casting an even, skeptical gaze toward Cadence.
  861. >”Nothing’s free.”
  862. >”I assure you, this is 100% on the house. The primary purpose of the Initiative is to use the full resources of the Equestrian government to ensure the happiness and comfort of all those who participate. Which means for you, a bunch of free stuff!”
  863. >Anon looked the catalog over carefully for a few moments, thinking to himself.
  864. >”But what’s the other purposes of the Initiative if happiness is the primary one?”
  865. >Cadence eyes him for a half second, seeming to be choosing her words.
  866. >”Family.”
  867. >A look of pain quickly crosses his face before vanishing.
  868. >”And… what if I – we”
  869. >He glances to you for a second, and you suddenly feel a lot heavier.
  870. >”don’t want family?”
  871. >Cadence is quick to respond.
  872. >”Not an issue at all. Like I said, the primary prerogative of the Initiative is to ensure the happiness of the couples. And if you don’t want to have foals, there is no pressure to.”
  873. >A look of ease crosses his face before he contorts his brow in confusion.
  874. >”But how… how would we even… you know… h-have foals?”
  875. >You can see he’s getting nervous again, blushing a tad.
  876. >You’d be lying if you said you didn’t feel some heat on your cheeks at the thought.
  877. >Ok now that you were thinking about it that might be a lot of heat on your cheeks.
  878. >Calm down Piney and listen, you’re really curious about this yourself.
  879. >Cadence chuckles to herself before giving another short answer.
  880. >”Magic!”
  881. >She does a little flourish with her hooves, and makes a rainbow appear between them.
  882. >”Well magic you have to sign up for anyway. Without the spell there is no way for you and your waifu to conceive.”
  883. >”Ooookkkaaayyyy”
  884. >He seems lost in thought, though there is definitely a blush on his cheeks that won’t go away.
  885. >Oh wait.
  886. >Implications.
  887. >There’s those hot and heavy thoughts again.
  888. >Shoo! Shoo! Out of my head.
  889. >Think of your lovely, innocent, little saplings back home.
  890. >Saplings that are definitely in need of some water right about now.
  891. >You need to get home to your trees!
  892. >Cadence clears her throat again.
  893. >”Anyway, reining things back in here. You and Piney can choose whatever you want from the catalog and it will be delivered to you post haste. All we ask is that you and your waifu don’t go overboard. Remember, there is still somepony out there who has to make everything.”
  894. >”Don’t worry, I don’t need much. I live simple.”
  895. “Me either. And I’ve got a lot of stuff in my cottage already.”
  896. >You both share a smile.
  897. >”Excellent! You should be able to find anything and everything you could need in there. If you have a suggestion, just write to the address on the back and we’ll do our best to accommodate it.”
  898. >”Cool cool… So I can ask for a computer eh?”
  899. >He was joking, you could tell by the sly eye he was giving the Princess.
  900. >”Heh, no unfortunately. We try to keep electronics to a minimum. Just vacuum tubes and switches you can flip with your hoof.”
  901. >Now he seemed a bit surprised.
  902. >”So you have radios and televisions?”
  903. >Cadence shakes her head again.
  904. >”No no. The cost of making such things is too great and we actively try to limit how much technology we create for the sake of harmony. However, we do have phonographs and certain amenities you might recognize like refrigerators, ovens, and blenders. But once you start getting into information technology we tend to stay away from those branches.”
  905. >Anon nodded knowingly, and his smile only grew at her explanation.
  906. >”I can understand your wariness of certain technologies. I don’t blame you for avoiding information and telecommunication technologies. The world is best off without all that crap.”
  907. >Your ears twitched at his harsh language.
  908. >Is this going to be a part of him?
  909. >You kind of hope not.
  910. >But you won’t say anything.
  911. >For him.
  912. >”Sorry, without all that junk.”
  913. >Did he notice…?
  914. >You cock your head a bit, still wearing your dopy smile.
  915. >He notices and quickly explains.
  916. >”Probably shouldn’t pollute your world with the bad language of mine… Doesn’t feel right or even necessary here.”
  917. >”Thank you for being so understanding… If only some of the other humans were a bit more like you.”
  918. >That last part almost sounded like a pipe dream as Cadence said it.
  919. >”Trust me, it’s probably for the best they aren’t like me.”
  920. >Cadence just nods in response.
  921. >”Anyway, I’m sure the two of you would love to get out of this stuffy room and start your adventures together! So here is the last item.”
  922. >She levitates the envelope over to you.
  923. >”These are your train tickets back to Harrisburg. Good for any time, you’ll get your own private sleeper car. The both of you are welcome to stay here in the Empire for as long as you’d like. There are accommodations across the street which don’t charge for couples… Though I think Piney might want to get back to her nursery soon.”
  924. >Tapping your hooves together sheepishly.
  925. “W-well this is the longest I’ve ever left them… I-I mean we don’t have to just yet, but we could stay if you’d like?”
  926. >He shook his head at that.
  927. >”No, I’d really like to see your forest, and no offense, but I’ve had enough city living to last me a life time.”
  928. >”Alright then!”
  929. >Cadence stood up, stretching her legs.
  930. >You and Anon did the same.
  931. >”I trust the two of you can get to the train station alright. There should be one leaving for your neck of the woods in about an hour. I’d suggest grabbing a snack before you leave. We have a human friendly cafeteria down the hall.”
  932. >On que both you and Anon’s stomachs let out audible growls.
  933. “Yah, what do you say, husbando?”
  934. >”I say lets get some eats!”
  935. >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  936. >Be Anon
  937. >And be staring out the window of your train car as the countryside rolled by.
  938. >Across from you sat your waifu.
  939. >She was doing the same, though you could see she was really looking at you through the reflection in the glass.
  940. >It’s pretty obvious when her eyes are focused on the pane in front of her instead of the majestic scenery on the other side.
  941. >Her large, expressive, jade orbs.
  942. >So maybe you spent a bit of time staring into the reflection of her eyes against the glass too.
  943. >But most of your time was spent focusing on the absolutely pristine scenery.
  944. >It was like how you imagined a train ride through Europe in the 1850’s must have felt.
  945. >Leaving the empire, there was mostly frozen tundra for the first hour of your ride.
  946. >Yet even that tundra was majestic in it’s own right.
  947. >Sprawling meadows of lichens and little purple flowers that clung to the wind swept earth radiated out in all directions for a long while.
  948. >You saw several great hulking masses of polar bears.
  949. >And the lithe and playful forms of reindeer.
  950. >White and black birds swarmed across the sky in numbers you’d never seen.
  951. >You saw only one settlement the entire time in the frozen vastness.
  952. >A community set up at the junction of the railroad tracks and a meandering river.
  953. >The train had halted at it’s station for just but a few minutes.
  954. >The conductor had said it was named ‘Frozen Frog’.
  955. >Apropos, you think, given the climate.
  956. >Now which kind of frog did they mean though…
  957. >It didn’t matter.
  958. >You saw a bundled up human and his mare get off at the station.
  959. >They were one of the one’s you’d seen cuddling out in front of the Initiative HQ when you and Piney left.
  960. >You felt lucky that Piney lived a bit further south.
  961. >Looking at her reflection again, you just felt lucky to have her at all.
  962. >You certainly didn’t feel like you deserved her.
  963. >This is probably just one big dream anyway.
  964. >And soon enough you’d be cast back into your nightmares.
  965. >Scratching some more at the back of your hand, you feel a prick of pain as you peel off the fresh scab.
  966. >”A-anon, doesn’t that hurt?”
  967. >Piney was looking directly at you now.
  968. >And her worried eyes filled you with a much greater pain.
  969. >This was the first thing she had said to you since your initial round of small banter trailed off when you left the empire.
  970. >You’d been contented to merely stare out the window at this miraculous alien land.
  971. >And it seems she had too.
  972. >And now you’ve made her worry for you.
  973. >She shouldn’t worry about you!
  974. >You should be the one worrying for your mare!
  975. >That’s what strong men did!
  976. >Show no signs of pain, be strong for their other half, and only worry about them to yourself.
  977. >And you can’t even do that.
  978. >You - you really are weak and worthless.
  979. >Not worth her time.
  980. >You don’t deser-
  981. >”Anon! W-what are you doing? Y-your hoof – hand!”
  982. >You snap your mind out of it’s self destructive cycle only to notice you’d been scratching at your wound.
  983. >Blood now dripped onto the carpeted floor between you and Piney.
  984. >Drops of deep crimson staining the green fabric.
  985. >You blink several times, and only now does the pain come flooding into your mind.
  986. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I – I don’t know. I just…”
  987. >You trail off, your words growing weak.
  988. >Drops of blood still trickled down your hand and onto the floor.
  989. >”J-just stay right here! I’ll go get some napkins and - and see if I can find a bandage.”
  990. >Piney hoped up from her seat in a rush.
  991. >You got up at the same time, stopping her.
  992. “No, I got this, just, I can handle this.”
  993. >She was looking up at you again with those bright eyes of hers.
  994. >Your heart burned with shame.
  995. >”Y-You’re dripping blood. Please, let me… let me get a napkin at least.”
  996. >You were holding the wound with your other hand, afraid to even look at the source of your shame.
  997. >Blood still dripped between your fingers.
  998. >You bow your head in a semblance of a nod.
  999. >Taking that as a sign she began to canter down the car.
  1000. >Turning your head to look where she went you notice the worst possible thing.
  1001. >There were other ponies looking at you now.
  1002. >You suddenly wished to be anywhere but here.
  1003. >Even back on Earth in your crappy apartment.
  1004. >Oh suicidal thoughts, your old friends, come now to grace you again.
  1005. >You sat back into the seat, careful not to get any blood on your suit or the upholstery.
  1006. >You do your best to ignore the stares you had gotten, and just go back to looking out the window.
  1007. >The tundra and northern planes had given way to a dense conifer forest now.
  1008. >You also noticed that the light outside was dimming considerably.
  1009. >Dusk was approaching.
  1010. >There wasn’t much to see.
  1011. >Just endless trees passing by at high speed.
  1012. >Your eyes focused now on your own reflection.
  1013. >And what you saw was the visage of agony.
  1014. >Your face looked sullen.
  1015. >And your eyes dim.
  1016. >How could a mare so sweet ever even like something like you?
  1017. >A tear formed in the corner of your eye.
  1018. >What the hell were you doing?
  1019. >She’s a tree pony.
  1020. >She probably wants someone big and strong, like her Sequoias.
  1021. >Not this – this thing that stared back at you in the window.
  1022. >Now she’s stuck with you…
  1023. >How long will it be before she realizes what a horrible excuse for a husbando you are?
  1024. >How long until she realizes she’s better off without the burden of you.
  1025. >You shake your head.
  1026. >You must stop thinking these thoughts!
  1027. >You must be strong!
  1028. >If for no one else, for her.
  1029. >She needs you to be.
  1030. >You notice a deep green mane appear behind your reflection.
  1031. >”I got a few napkins and a wet towel.”
  1032. >You turn, and she’s sitting on the floor in front of your seat.
  1033. >She’s so close to you now.
  1034. >She has to be sitting on a few drops of your blood.
  1035. >Again, shame burns in your heart.
  1036. >”C-can I see it?”
  1037. >She’s levitating a napkin next to her.
  1038. >Reluctantly, you agree, and remove the hand that had been hiding the wound.
  1039. >Another pang of guilt as a look of pain momentarily crosses her face.
  1040. >Not even a day into this, and you were already causing her pain.
  1041. >You felt sick.
  1042. >She was levitating the napkin to your hand now.
  1043. >You winced as her magic pressed it to your wound.
  1044. >In just a moment, the once white cloth was now mostly stained deep red.
  1045. >Removing it, she floated the second over.
  1046. >”There… not too bad eh?”
  1047. >Her words were shaky as the second cloth pressed into your wound.
  1048. >Pressing your other hand over the cloth, you looked back into her eyes.
  1049. >You could feel the tingle of her magic subside.
  1050. >You couldn’t look into her eyes for long though, shame eating you alive.
  1051. >You were fighting back tears now.
  1052. “Sorry”
  1053. >It’s but a whisper
  1054. >”It’s fine, really. Heh, not like blood is as sticky as sap anyway. Ever try washing that out of a coat!?”
  1055. >Was she really…?
  1056. >You find the courage to look at her again.
  1057. >”C-cuz let me tell you, i-it’s no fun at all. Nuh-uh!”
  1058. >She had her hoof in her chest fluff, acting as if it was stuck in her coat.
  1059. >Her smile was weak, and nervous, her eyes betraying her inner tumult.
  1060. >You smile, a real genuine smile at the display.
  1061. >And you can see her ease up a lot at the simple reaction.
  1062. “Heh, well actually I haven’t, though I could guess it’s no fun.”
  1063. >She shakes her head, mane swirling around her face.
  1064. >”Nope, no fun at all! Just wait until you get some in that mane of yours. Then you’ll know true torture!”
  1065. >A piece inside you tells you that you already know true torture.
  1066. >But you smile along, and go on.
  1067. “I’m not looking forward to that day! Nope, not one bit!”
  1068. >”Oh, don’t you worry, I know the secret to getting it out of your mane and coat.”
  1069. >She looks boastfully to you, smile beaming.
  1070. >Well now you’re curious.
  1071. “And what might that be?”
  1072. >Sly smile still present, her eyes dart around as if looking for anypony that might be eavesdropping.
  1073. >She motions with her hoof for you to come closer.
  1074. >You do, leaning forward and tilting your head so she can whisper to you.
  1075. >She brings her muzzle right up next to your ear.
  1076. >Her warm breath causes a sense of frisson to wash over your entire body.
  1077. >Your own breath hitches in your throat as you hear her whisper ever so gently into your ear.
  1078. >”Whiskey~”
  1079. >She pulls away, but you’re left stunned.
  1080. >Did she… Did she just suggest?
  1081. “No way, really?”
  1082. >”Really!”
  1083. >She’s beaming you that bright smile again.
  1084. >Though you can certainly pick up on a few traces of red under her earth colored cheeks.
  1085. >Unless she meant…
  1086. >But she couldn’t have!
  1087. >You’re at a loss.
  1088. “… to help when you rip the sap covered fur out?”
  1089. >Now she looks shocked.
  1090. >”What!? No! It dissolves the sap right away… And the sap m-makes it taste a little better too.”
  1091. >She was looking at you through her mane again.
  1092. >Yep the only thing cuter than a normal poner is an embarrassed poner.
  1093. >Also screw your brain for those implications!
  1094. >Of course she just meant it dissolves sap.
  1095. >Just that.
  1096. >Nothing else.
  1097. >Not like you’d like to get drunk with your waifu one day.
  1098. >Not at all.
  1099. “So you keep a lot of the stuff around… you know… for sap related incidents?”
  1100. >She looks down at the floor and coyly draws circles in the carpet with a fore hoof.
  1101. >”M-maybe I have a few… barrels… just for sap removal of course.”
  1102. >Looking back up at you, and shaking her long mane from her face, she’s got her eyes trained on yours again.
  1103. >”I wouldn’t mind though… if we… tested some of it to – to - make sure it’s still good enough for sap dissolving.”
  1104. >She’s definitely blushing now.
  1105. >And so are you.
  1106. “Well I wouldn’t mind. If it’s to ensure the quality of the rest of course.”
  1107. >”Of course!”
  1108. “Well then, maybe we’ll have to roll around and get all sappy one day then.”
  1109. >Wait what did you just say to the lovely tree pony?
  1110. >She goes a deeper shade of red, and lets her mane hide her face again.
  1111. >”I – I’d like that.”
  1112. >She’s looking away, face covered in straight green mane.
  1113. >You can feel the awkward reaching a crescendo.
  1114. >Just then you remember.
  1115. “Ummm Piney?”
  1116. >She looks back up at you, embarrassment evident on her face.
  1117. “Could you, umm, could you help me with my hand?”
  1118. >”O-Ohh yes of course! Let’s get that washed out.”
  1119. >Gingerly you pull back the bloodied cloth, revealing a several centimeter gash on the back of your hand, maybe a millimeter deep.
  1120. >It still oozed a little blood, but it had coagulated rather well.
  1121. >”May I see?”
  1122. >Piney was standing again, trying to get a good look at your hand.
  1123. >You oblige, and extend your appendage to her.
  1124. >She doesn’t touch your hand, but just grimaces a little as she’s able to get a better look.
  1125. >”Hmmmm we need to wash it, and this wet towel won’t do well.”
  1126. >You frown a bit.
  1127. “I can go to the bathroom and wash it out proper.”
  1128. >”That would be good. I’ll go grab another cloth napkin… I couldn’t find any bandages… sorry.”
  1129. >She hung her head at the last word.
  1130. “No, no, I’m sorry I did that… I just… I don’t know why I’m like this. I – I guess that I was told once you can’t feel pain in dreams… and I need to know I’m not dreaming.”
  1131. >A desperate lie; you didn’t know what was wrong with your mind.
  1132. >You could see a few tears in the corners of her eyes now, but she shed none.
  1133. >”Oh, well, this isn’t a dream. Like the Princess said, it’s all really real. Though, I’d be lying if I said that this doesn’t feel like a dream to me too.”
  1134. “How do you know it’s not?”
  1135. >Listening to your simple question you see her eyes defocus as it looks like she dissociates.
  1136. >You shouldn’t have asked that question.
  1137. >Quick, don’t let her go down the thoughts you know all too well.
  1138. >Think!
  1139. >Without hesitation you reach your non-wounded hand out and quickly boop her nose, causing her to snap out of her spell and scrunch up her muzzle.
  1140. >She quickly relaxes again, looking back up to you in wonder.
  1141. >”Because of that…”
  1142. >You just smile at her.
  1143. >And notice a little blood stain you left on her nose.
  1144. >Oh that’s right, both your hands are covered in blood.
  1145. >Sheepishly you look behind her.
  1146. “Can I see the wet towel for a second?”
  1147. >A moment of confusion crosses her muzzle, but she floats the moist towel over to you anyway.
  1148. “Now just, just stand still ok?”
  1149. >Still confused, she nods once.
  1150. >Dabbing at her nose, she scrunches her muzzle again, closing her eyes.
  1151. >After but a few boops more, her nose is clean of your blood.
  1152. >”W-what was that for?”
  1153. >She’s glaring at you through her mane.
  1154. >Blushing, you hold your blood covered booping hand out to her.
  1155. “I ughhh sorta got a bit of my blood on your nose… and wanted to clean it off.”
  1156. >”Oh umm thanks!”
  1157. >She goes cross eyed as she tries to look at the tip of her nose.
  1158. >You suppress a chuckle at the sight of your cross eyed waifu scrunching her muzzle, trying to see if her nose was indeed free from your blood.
  1159. >After a second she rubs a hoof against her nose before looking back at your hand.
  1160. >”Well alright, enough of that. Go wash your hoo-hands and I’ll meet you by the bathroom with a few more napkins.”
  1161. >You can’t help but smile at her trip up with hooves and hands.
  1162. “Sounds like a plan.”
  1163. >You both get up, and sure enough there is a bathroom at the end of the car.
  1164. >Piney continues down into the next carriage as you enter the lavatory.
  1165. >It’s pretty cramped in there.
  1166. >Barely any room for you to move around, and definitely not enough room for you to use that poner size toilet.
  1167. >You really hope this isn’t going to be a theme with bathrooms.
  1168. >You’ve only gone once since you were abducted, and they had normal sized bathrooms at the Initiative HQ.
  1169. >Good thing you went before you left!
  1170. >Anyway, aside from being a bit lower than normal, the sink is easy enough to operate.
  1171. >In but a minute you have your hands clean.
  1172. >And on que, you hear a gentle knocking on the door.
  1173. >You open it to find your waifu levitating two more cloth napkins to you.
  1174. >You use the first to dry the wound and your other hand.
  1175. >You let your waifu’s magic wrap the second one tightly around your hand.
  1176. “Thank –“
  1177. >A long yawn escapes your lips
  1178. “Yooooooouuuuuuuu”
  1179. >Your word played out with the yawn.
  1180. >Piney also lets out a long yawn.
  1181. >It looks like it’s mostly dark outside now.
  1182. “Time to find our sleeper car?”
  1183. >”Definitely”
  1184. >Piney yawns again while nodding.
  1185. >It’s been a long day for the both of you.
  1186. >The two of you make your way back to the seats where you pick up your duffle bag and she magics her saddlebags onto her back.
  1187. >As the carriages swayed slightly, you and your waifu walked down the cars until you got to the sleeper section.
  1188. >There were still a lot of ponies and a few humans up and about the carriages.
  1189. >You and Piney had decided to forgo dinner.
  1190. >The meal you had back at the Initiative HQ still filling you.
  1191. >Seriously you’d never had a hamburger quite like that before.
  1192. >Who knew that a big old beat slice would taste so good on a burger!
  1193. >Anyway, you needed to pay attention to the room numbers.
  1194. >Glancing at your ticket, you were in room number #25.
  1195. >Counting down the rows, you eventually come to a room #25.
  1196. >Sliding the door open, you motion for Piney to enter first.
  1197. “After you.”
  1198. >”Such a gentlecolt. How’d I get so lucky?”
  1199. >Her voice is sincere, without a trace of sarcasm.
  1200. >You’re left stunned.
  1201. >Her lucky?
  1202. >To have you…
  1203. >Just don’t think about it.
  1204. >But you mean you DO feel lucky to have her…
  1205. >You step inside, and slide the door closed behind you.
  1206. >Setting the duffle bag down beside Piney’s saddlebags, you observe your sleeping situation.
  1207. >Looks like a big bunk bed.
  1208. >Human sized… nice!
  1209. >“Oooo I call top bunk!”
  1210. >Piney is already half way up the steps before you can even register anything.
  1211. >As she’s busy climbing, you get your first good glance at her flanks.
  1212. >N-not like you were looking or anything.
  1213. >And aside from some fine flank, you got your first good look at her cutie mark too.
  1214. >It appeared to be a pine tree emblazoned in front of a fully radiant sun.
  1215. >You’ll have to cache that one for when you aren’t so tired.
  1216. >As Piney crests the top of the bunk bed, she disappears for a second, before her head pops out from underneath the sheets.
  1217. >”Too slow!”
  1218. >She sticks her tongue out at you playfully.
  1219. >You just smirk back.
  1220. “Good thing I like to sleep close to the ground.”
  1221. >”Suit yourself! The higher up I sleep the better.”
  1222. “Sure you’re not part Pegasus?”
  1223. >”Pretty.”
  1224. >You shrug and begin to disrobe.
  1225. >As you’re removing your undershirt, you notice Piney is still watching you curiously.
  1226. >You suddenly feel a little embarrassed.
  1227. >But why should you?
  1228. >She is your waifu… she’s probably expecting to see you naked one day…
  1229. >You take the shirt off, only wearing pants now.
  1230. >She’s still looking.
  1231. >And you’re getting a little uncomfortable now too.
  1232. “Ummm Piney… could, you maybe… give me a little privacy?”
  1233. >She gives a playful little pout.
  1234. >”Awwww you got to see my flank just now. Can’t I see yours?”
  1235. >Oh how’d she know you were sneaking looks!?
  1236. >A-and it’s not the same, she never wears clothes.
  1237. “It’s – I – I just don’t feel comfortable being that naked around you yet… I hope you understand.”
  1238. >”Awwww, Ok though.”
  1239. >She pouted a bit more before disappearing over the side.
  1240. >”Don’t worry I’m not looking!”
  1241. >You disrobe down to your boxers, and quickly slide under the sheets.
  1242. “Ok it’s fine to look now!”
  1243. >And almost immediately you see Piney’s head pop over the side of the bunk bed.
  1244. >Her mane fell down all around her head, framing it in dark green.
  1245. >The way the incandescent light shone behind her made her face appear dark while her mane glowed slightly.
  1246. >You can’t help but whisper
  1247. “You’re beautiful…”
  1248. >And she immediately disappeared back behind the side of the bed.
  1249. >”R-really?”
  1250. >Another whisper.
  1251. ”The most beautiful mare in the world.”
  1252. >You heard a high pitched ‘Eeeeeeee!’ from above
  1253. >”N-no pony has ever said that to me beside my parents.”
  1254. ”Well you are.”
  1255. >”A-and just so you know I think you’re the most beautiful human in the world.”
  1256. >Your heart stuck in your throat.
  1257. >Did she really think that way?
  1258. >You didn’t feel it.
  1259. >She’s just saying it… because you called her beautiful.
  1260. “R-really?”
  1261. >A desperate whisper.
  1262. >”Really.”
  1263. >Suddenly the lights flicked out, and a second later the dim glow of deep green magic faded away, leaving you in the dark.
  1264. >”Good night, Anon~”
  1265. “Good night, Piney~”
  1266. >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  1267. >Be Pine Hearts.
  1268. >And be trotting down the ancient sunken hollow on the way to your part of the forest.
  1269. >And be constantly looking over and up to the towering figure of your husbando walking beside you.
  1270. >It was a bit after midday, and Anon was snacking from a bag of dried fruits and nuts you had gotten him back at the train station.
  1271. >He seemed fascinated with the bits you used to pay for him.
  1272. >He was still twirling one between his claws – no fingers.
  1273. >You need to get these human terms down Piney!
  1274. >Anyway…
  1275. >You had to take a connecting train from Horseshoe Bay to the nearest town, Harrisburg.
  1276. >Nopony really knew why it was called that, just lost to history.
  1277. >But that’s beside the point.
  1278. >You had trotted this path almost every day of your foalhood, and much of your adulthood.
  1279. >You knew every tree along the sides of the road, and each knew you.
  1280. >Anon looked lost in rapture as the birds and bugs fluttered around in the trees above.
  1281. >The sun broke through the conifers occasionally, creating little pools of light that warmed your hide as you trotted through them.
  1282. >It was about a four-mile trot from town to your home, and it never got old.
  1283. >No matter if it rained or snowed or was as beautiful and warm as it was today, you loved it all the same.
  1284. >Taking a deep breath, you let your lungs fill with the sweet forest air.
  1285. >It’s late summer, that part of the year where life slowed down, the sun hung high in the sky, and everything just seems so… perfect.
  1286. >Anon flips the coin one more time high in the air, and catches it with a deftness you hadn’t seen from him before.
  1287. >”So is this all your families’?”
  1288. >Anon’s question breaks you out of your reverie.
  1289. >Looking over and shaking you head a bit.
  1290. “Oh, no, this isn’t really my families land until just a bit further… this is just noponies land.”
  1291. >Anon seems to nod his head for a few moments before stopping to set his duffle bag down, and sitting cross-legged on the packed dirt road.
  1292. >”Hope you don’t mind, not used to all this walking.”
  1293. >He’d chosen a little spot of light to sit in, and it looked big enough for two.
  1294. “Not at all!”
  1295. >You take a seat across from him, but close enough that both of you were in the beam of sunlight breaking between two trees.
  1296. >”So no one owns this land here?”
  1297. >He gestures toward the forest, and you can hear the rustle of critters through the brush.
  1298. >Smiling you shake your head, letting your mane fly around.
  1299. “Nope, nopony does. It’s the forest! I mean my family technically owns part of it… but that’s because we planted it!”
  1300. >You notice Anon’s eyes go wide as you say this part.
  1301. >You can definitely see a sparkle in them as the light washes over his face.
  1302. >”What do you mean your family planted it? This forest looks ancient!”
  1303. >Smiling still, you look down to your hooves a bit embarrassed.
  1304. >You can feel your mane falling all over your face, tickling your nose.
  1305. “W-well it’s sort of a long story…”
  1306. >Anon merely shrugs, and lays back fully on the road.
  1307. >”We’ve got all the time in the world.”
  1308. >Suppressing a little giggle, you stretch next to Anon.
  1309. >Not like many ponies ever walk this road.
  1310. “Weeelllll it all started a little over a thousand years ago. My ancestors lived in this forest in harmony with all the plants and animals that also called this place their home. They were very simple ponies, trading wood from the trees that had grown very old and strong to the farmer ponies outside the forest. The farmers would give them food, and the forest ponies would help them build their houses. They always replanted any of the trees they cut down and never took more than they needed or upset the other wild life. Together the ponies and the forest thrived for centuries. The ponies of the forest were like it’s guardians and keepers. If a forest fire took some of the forest, they would help it regrow. If a bird broke it’s wing they would nurse it to health, and if the floods threatened the other animals, they would help them… but then the night that never ended happened…”
  1311. >You glanced over to anon, and he had his eyes closed, listening to you with a smile on his face.
  1312. >The way the sun and shadows played on his face.
  1313. >He looked so much more at peace than he was yesterday.
  1314. >A faint smile even graced his lips.
  1315. >And made your own grow as well.
  1316. >He stirred for a second, cracking an eye to look over to you.
  1317. >”What happened during the night that never ended?”
  1318. >His voice was soft like the breeze through your mane.
  1319. >You settle back down and close your eyes, recounting the old legend.
  1320. “A thousand years ago Nightmare Moon plunged the land into an eternal night. Not many ponies know how long the night lasted. And most stories make it sound like it only lasted a few days… But it lasted much longer. A year, perhaps more… It lasted so long that the entire forest died, many of the forest ponies too. The winter was cold and harsh, and they didn’t have any food stores or any knowledge of when or if the sun would ever show again. All they had was a hope the sun would prevail against the night, and they had each other. But time and the cold took it’s toll. First the old ponies went peaceful into the night, then the foals also went peaceful into that cold long night. But the strong ponies who would not go peacefully into that night raged. They raged against the dying of the world. But mostly they raged against the dying of their parents and their children… yet there were so few left, starving and with nothing more than the seeds of the trees that had died to feed themselves on. They were so desperate, so scared… So alone.”
  1321. >You felt a shiver run through you, recounting all the times your father and grandmother had told you this story.
  1322. “But once they had nearly lost all hope, the sun shone anew! It rose, and burned away the icy grip of the deep snows and cold that had claimed so many. The critters of the forest and ponies rejoiced, dancing with the little strength they had left, and singing in broken voices. But there were so few left to sing the songs of old, and to dance the way their parents had, and none of the trees arose. They all looked like needles sticking from a brown and lifeless ground. The few forest ponies that survived were heartbroken. Their parents were dead. Their foals were dead. Their home was dead…”
  1323. >Again you glanced over at Anon, still laying back on the old road.
  1324. >His expression had changed, and he looked somewhat pained.
  1325. >A tear glistened on the side of his face.
  1326. >”What happened to the forest?”
  1327. >Closing your eyes again, you continued.
  1328. “Though it appeared it was dead, it actually was not. Though all the trees had died, the forest ponies had saved some of the seeds, and they began to plant them. They only had a hoof full of seeds to start with. The few they had not eaten, in hopes of the day they could plant them again, so they did what they could. They planted outwards from the center of the old forest. When the forest ponies were at long last able to check on the town of farmer ponies, they found only desertion and death. The farmer’s town was dilapidated, and their fields fallow. The forest ponies hearts were too heavy to rebuild the farmer’s town so instead they cut down many of the dead trees and built their own town a ways away. This town became known as Harrisburg. Nopony knows why it’s called that… But the forest ponies who lived there lost touch with the forest after many years. Yet still some forest ponies kept to their old ways, and things went back to how they were after a while.”
  1329. >You look over again, and see his smile had returned.
  1330. >Your heart felt warmer than the sun on your earthen hide.
  1331. “It took many generations, but the forest ponies replanted the entire forest. The critters that survived became just as numerous as they had been before the night that never ended. Flowers returned and the bugs became plentiful again. Birds chirped through the morning rays of sun, and winter came and passed year after year. Nights grew long, but never as long as the night that never ended. The forest came back to life, and was made anew by the efforts of the small clan of forest ponies. But, the forest ponies, they never quite recovered to what they were… now it’s just my family. We are all that’s left of the forest ponies… and well, we aren’t many either.”
  1332. >Anon had since rolled onto his side to look at you, and you were a little caught off guard to see him staring at you so intently when you finally opened your eyes again.
  1333. >”I can’t believe I’m saying this, Piney, but I really want to meet your family.”
  1334. >Now it was your turn to be a bit confused.
  1335. “Why can’t you believe you’re saying that?”
  1336. >Anon rolled back onto his back as he looked up through the trees.
  1337. >Birds chirped their songs and a few dragonflies passed by as Anon didn’t answer.
  1338. >He looked lost in thought before he finally turned to you again.
  1339. >”I know it sounds odd to you, but I didn’t have a very good family.”
  1340. >He looked down at his properly bandaged hand, before looking back into your eyes.
  1341. >”My family and I didn’t get along… at all.”
  1342. >There was so much sadness in his voice, tinged with the bitter flavors of ancient malice and anger.
  1343. “Why didn’t you get along?”
  1344. >He lay back down on the ground, looking up again through the trees.
  1345. >”I guess you could say that your family has always had a purpose, always known your place and where you belong?”
  1346. >You roll onto your back parallel to Anon, letting the sun warm your tummy.
  1347. “I could say that I guess.”
  1348. >He was silent for another second as a breeze rustled the trees.
  1349. >”My family, we never had a purpose I guess, no place, nothing to work toward… and what that did to my parents, well, it wasn’t good for them or me.”
  1350. >You got the sense that he was reliving a bunch of memories he probably didn’t want to relive.
  1351. >He was so close to you, and you wanted so badly to just touch him… but you knew what Cadence had said.
  1352. >You resist, but it hurts your heart.
  1353. >”I grew to hate them for what they did to each other and to me… and I still don’t like them, even though in retrospect I can understand why they did what they did. I don’t forgive them.”
  1354. >His voice was becoming hard now, as you could feel him bringing back old emotions of pain tainted by ancient hate.
  1355. >You can’t let him get this way, it’s not good for him.
  1356. “Anon?”
  1357. >He seemed to break his trance.
  1358. >”Huh?”
  1359. >He tuned to you, looking into your eyes.
  1360. >There was no malice in them when he looked at you.
  1361. “Can I hold your hoof?”
  1362. >Now he looked at you curiously, and with some hesitation.
  1363. >But a little smile shown through.
  1364. >”Sure, but it’s a hand silly.”
  1365. “Heh, sorry, still new to the whole human husbando thing.”
  1366. >You let your mane continue to drape over your face.
  1367. >But you hear him shift a little, and you reach your hoof out halfway between him and you.
  1368. >And he does the same.
  1369. >And in a moment of true peace he took your hoof in his own hand.
  1370. >Not forcefully, and not weakly either.
  1371. >His ho-hand was warm, and soft on your rough forest pony hoof.
  1372. >And for a very long while you both lay there, in the middle of the sunken road letting the shadows play across you.
  1373. >Birds and squirrels watched you and him curiously before going back to their day.
  1374. >No words were spoken, none needed to be.
  1375. >And for what seemed a short forever, you two just lay there, listening to the forest, your hoof in his hand.
  1376. >Only a sniffle at your side broke the peace.
  1377. >When you looked once more at his face, tears were streaming down his cheeks, making little dark spots on the dirt road.
  1378. >He cried silently, so silently he must have been at it for a while and you never even noticed.
  1379. >He didn’t look particularly sad…
  1380. >But still your heart ached seeing him like this.
  1381. “Anon, why are you crying?”
  1382. >A long sniff from him, as he tried to also clear his throat.
  1383. >Letting go of your hoof, he sat up and used the hand to wipe the tears from his face.
  1384. >”It’s just, this is stupid, but it’s just everything… It’s all so… I can’t describe it.”
  1385. >You could do your best to guess, but you kept coming up short.
  1386. >He’s carried so much pain and anger and hurt inside himself.
  1387. >Sure you had your mistakes and regrets.
  1388. >Mistakes and regrets you won’t let yourself remember now.
  1389. “You don’t have to, but I’m here for you always, Anon. We’re partners now, and I’ll never let you down… Or I’ll always do my best not to.”
  1390. >He was looking at you now though bleary eyes that shown bright in the sunlight.
  1391. >”S-same to you Piney, it’s just so… so hard.”
  1392. >You just nod a knowing nod, smiling gently.
  1393. >Now you had to sniffle a little and wipe a tear away.”
  1394. >But he sniffed louder and had more tears to wipe away.
  1395. >”Sorry I’m not strong like your trees Piney… look at me crying like a baby over nothing..”
  1396. >He was chuckling just a little.
  1397. “No, no don’t be sorry. I think you are strong, and becoming stronger. Heh, real stallions can cry.”
  1398. >Now he’s just looking at the ground, smiling and shaking his head.
  1399. >”Maybe, maybe here… not where I come from though.”
  1400. “Maybe the humans in your world forgot what strength is?”
  1401. >”I think they have.”
  1402. >And with that he suddenly pushed himself forward and stood again.
  1403. >Taking his lead you rolled yourself over onto you hooves, and stretched yourself out.
  1404. >He did the same, stretching those long and strong looking legs of his.
  1405. >Yes, you like to look at him stretch out.
  1406. >And you might like to trot a step behind him occasionally because you liked the view.
  1407. >So what? A pony can look.
  1408. >And those clothes of his leaves so much to the imagination.
  1409. >Wait what were you thinking about Piney?
  1410. >Oh right! Home!
  1411. >Anon had already gotten his bag, and so you followed his lead, magicing your saddlebags back onto your back.
  1412. “You know I think you’re going to like my gramma!”
  1413. >Beginning to walk down the old path again, he was by your side looking at you now.
  1414. >”Just your gramma?”
  1415. >Your trot slipped for a second at his question.
  1416. “A-and my Mom and Dad too! I think you’ll like them too!”
  1417. >He looked back up into the canopy, a smile on his face, the remnants of a few tears glistening in the occasional light.
  1418. >”I’m really looking forward to meeting your family.”
  1419. >~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  1420. >Be Anon.
  1421. >And be walking just slightly ahead of Piney.
  1422. >She seemed to like walking behind you, because even when you slowed, she slowed too.
  1423. >She only trotted next to you when you were talking to her.
  1424. >You didn’t really mind, though you swear you could feel her eyes on your butt.
  1425. >Which made you feel… weird, a bit uncomfortable, but also just sorta kinda sexy.
  1426. >You really didn’t mind.
  1427. >A few minutes ago you’d crossed under an old sign across the sunken road with faded letters that spelled “Heart Of The Forest Nursery”.
  1428. >Though the scenery didn’t really change much,
  1429. >You did notice that the forest seemed to become more ordered after the sign.
  1430. >The trees having mostly the same height and all of the same species.
  1431. >Though the old sunken road still went on past a long bend ahead.
  1432. “So Piney, are we getting close?”
  1433. >In a moment she was beside you again, swishing her mane out of her face.
  1434. >”Yep, just around that bend!”
  1435. “Awesome! Cuz this bag is killing me.”
  1436. >You shift the duffle bag onto your other shoulder.
  1437. >”Same here, I can’t wait to get home, and show you around!”
  1438. >Piney shifts her shoulders a bit, letting her saddlebags resettle a bit on her back.
  1439. >You just have to ask.
  1440. “So why don’t you just, you know, float your saddlebags next to you?”
  1441. >Looking back to you, she gives you another little smile.
  1442. >”Well that would just make me more tired. It’s kind of hard to explain. Like I’m really good with some spells, but can’t even imagine how to do others. Then there’s pretty basic ones like telekinesis, but even that I’m not the best at. Soooo it’s just easier to carry something on my back if I have to carry it for a while.”
  1443. “Oh, I think I get it. So what spells are you good at then?”
  1444. >Piney nods her head back and forth for a second, thinking.
  1445. >”Oh, not that many really. I can make a sapling’s roots grow faster for a little while, or feel inside a tree to know how healthy it is, or ummm I can also cauterize a tree wound. But that’s really it I mean. I’m not Twilight Sparkle or anypony special really.”
  1446. “Well you’re special to me Piney. And I think those are some cool magics. You really are a tree aren’t you with all the tree magic?
  1447. >”Heh thanks Anon. I never said I wasn’t.”
  1448. >Looking down at your waifu, you raise an eyebrow.
  1449. “Well I bet a tree couldn’t beat me in a race to your house?”
  1450. >”What?”
  1451. >But it was too late for Piney, you’d already began a mad dash around the long curve in the road.
  1452. >Dufflebag bouncing against your back, and wind rushing through your hair, you think you could hear a distant voice behind you.
  1453. >”Hey no fair!”
  1454. >Glancing behind you quickly, you saw your waifu in full gallop after you.
  1455. >And she was gaining ground quick.
  1456. >Damn she’s fast.
  1457. >Putting your full concentration into your legs, you lift your dufflebag slightly to keep it from banging you too badly.
  1458. >Channeling what little inner athlete you had, you closed your eyes and kept up the mad dash.
  1459. >Though you could hear hoof beats behind you.
  1460. >Then to the side of you.
  1461. >And finally, you could feel dust against your face.
  1462. >And a moment later, you heard Piney shout out.
  1463. >”Winner, winner chickpea dinner!”
  1464. >Stumbling to the ground, out of breath, you finally open your eyes again.
  1465. >Steadying your ragged breathing, you note that you need to work out more.
  1466. >And there in front of you was Piney, sweat dampening her coat, sly smile on her muzzle, and hoof held out to you.
  1467. >Taking it in your hand she gave you as big a yank as she could muster, getting you back to your feet.
  1468. >”Still think I’m a tree now?”
  1469. >Panting heavily, you give her your own sly smile.
  1470. “Still not convinced… not the first time… I’ve been beaten… by a tree.”
  1471. >That got a good laugh out of Piney.
  1472. >”Hahahaha What?”
  1473. “You heard me.”
  1474. >Shaking her head a little, you finally take in the sight behind her.
  1475. >An impressively large (even by human standards) two story stone cottage stood proudly in the center of a large clearing in the forest. Ivy grew up one side all the way to the slate roof. Six large chimneys rose out of the slanted roof, one pouring out white smoke. To the side of the house you saw a well, and further out was a large well-maintained garden.
  1476. >You stood in awe for a few minutes as you let the sight sink in.
  1477. “This is your house?”
  1478. >Beaming a bright smile up to you, Piney shook her head.
  1479. >”No, this is our home!”
  1480. >Still in awe of the structure, you found it hard to form words.
  1481. >Eventually though, you managed to whisper.
  1482. “It’s majestic…”
  1483. >Kicking her hoof in the dirt, Piney replied sheepishly.
  1484. >”Heh it’s, well its home. Want to go in? I think Gramma is cooking dinner.”
  1485. “Absolutely! I’m starving!”
  1486. >And with that, you let your waifu lead the way into your new home.
  1487. >The door was surprisingly big, so big you had no need to duck.
  1488. >And upon entering, you saw why.
  1489. >The ceilings were easily ten feet tall, and everything in here seemed to absolutely dwarf the little poner in front of you.
  1490. >It was a truly rustic interior.
  1491. >Wide and open with wooden floors, massive and ancient beams supporting the floor above, lanterns dotted the walls, and above you hung a great chandelier adorned with a number of candles.
  1492. >There were a number of comfortable looking chairs and sofas that were much more pony sized, yet still large enough to accommodate you.
  1493. >Before a large fireplace was a rug that took up around half the floor space.
  1494. >And all along, the walls hung various musical instruments, photographs of ponies past, and paintings (mostly of trees and landscapes).
  1495. >And in the corner sat a grand piano, regal and repose, just asking to be roused with a musical number that it probably hadn’t played in ages.
  1496. >”So ummm, do you like it?”
  1497. >Piney’s question goes unanswered as you simply continue to look around agape at the rustic wonder.
  1498. >It felt like a hundred or more ponies had lived here before you… probably because a hundred or more had.
  1499. >And you’re inheriting their collective lives works.
  1500. >You needed a minute.
  1501. >But a minute you did not get as you heard the creak and clop of hooves on the hard wood floor.
  1502. >”Now who’s got the heavy hooves? I could hear them stomping down the path a mile away.”
  1503. >A creaky and old voice called out from another room.
  1504. >And a second later, you saw the source.
  1505. >An elderly light brown Earth Pony mare with a graying mane done up into a bun, creaked and hobbled her way into the family room and toward you.
  1506. >She looked you over with her slightly filmy eyes before turning toward Piney.
  1507. >”Did you bring a Minotaur with you? It’s so big and tall? But I’ve never seen one without horns.”
  1508. >Piney shook her head, giggling a bit.
  1509. >”No Gramma, this is Anonymous, my husbando. And Anonymous, this is my Gramma, Spruce Shine.”
  1510. >Squatting down to be at eye level with Spruce Shine, you hold out your hand to the elderly mare.
  1511. “Nice to meet you Mrs. Shine.”
  1512. >Gently shaking your hand, the aged mare squinted into your face.
  1513. >”Ahhh yes, no Minotaur, too small a snout. And please, just call me Gramma.”
  1514. >Smiling warmly to the old mare, you nod your head.
  1515. “Nice to meet you Gramma.”
  1516. >She smiles back to you.
  1517. >”Nice to meet you too An... ummm Aon…”
  1518. >”Anon.”
  1519. >Piney pipes up.
  1520. >”Anon, yes. Sorry, memory isn’t quite what it used to be.”
  1521. >Standing back upright, you shake your head a little.
  1522. “It’s nothing to worry about, but what’s that wonderful smell?”
  1523. >It had caught your nose since you entered, but only grown more tantalizing as time passed.
  1524. >”Oh that. It’s just my famous carrots, celery, and everything else stew. Made it since you and Pine Needle were coming back today.”
  1525. “Pine Needle?”
  1526. >”Gramma! Don’t call me baby names anymore!”
  1527. >Piney pouted, sitting on her rump.
  1528. >Turning back, Gramma just gave her a little wink.
  1529. >”You’ll always be my little Pine Needle, and you know that. Now don’t keep Anon waiting, show him where he can put his stuff then come get some dinner.”
  1530. >And with that she disappeared back to what you can only assume is the kitchen.
  1531. >Piney was still pouting on the floor.
  1532. “Pine Needle?
  1533. >”I told her not to call me that anymore, I’ve told her not to for years. It’s what she called me when I was a foal.”
  1534. >Smiling to yourself a bit at the antics, it’s pretty hard not to chuckle a little.
  1535. “You know it’s really cute? Pine Needle?”
  1536. >Rolling her eyes, and standing back up Piney just gave you a little stink eye.
  1537. >”Maybe, but she keeps calling me my foal name. It’s just old after a while.”
  1538. “Well I guess you’ll always be her little foal eh?”
  1539. >”I guess so… Anyway lets go check out your room!”
  1540. >With a cheerful prance Piney was up and walking to the same doorway Gramma had taken.
  1541. >Picking your duffle bag back up, you followed your mare.
  1542. >Along the way, you saw the source of the wonderful aroma, the kitchen being on your left you saw a cauldron hung above a roaring fire.
  1543. >Rounding a corner, Piney lead you up a large flight of stairs to the second floor.
  1544. >You were pleased to find that the celling up here was just as high as the celling downstairs.
  1545. >In front of you was a long hallway with eight doors, four on both side, and a large window at the front and rear of the hall.
  1546. >Turning back to you, Piney looked up at you for a second. You swear you could see a hint of concern in her eyes.
  1547. >”Ok, so the room on your right is Gramma’s room. Then the two doors in the middle are bathrooms, and then finally the room on the left at the far end of the hall is my room… You can have any room you want except for Gramma’s…
  1548. >She sounded unsure about the last part, and you could see she was avoiding eye contact.
  1549. “Why wouldn’t we share a bedroom? I mean we are husbando and waifu right?”
  1550. >She was still looking at her hooves. Mumbling she said.
  1551. >”At the Initiative, t-they said you were… umm… were…”
  1552. >Now you were curious, what did they tell Piney, what did they think they knew about you?
  1553. >Sitting down at the top of the stairs, you motion for Piney to sit next to you.
  1554. >Once she does, and you can get a good look into her glistening green eyes again, you ask.
  1555. “Why don’t you want to share a bedroom with me?”
  1556. >That got her as she shook her head, a bit of her mane tickling your hand.
  1557. >”No, no, I mean I want to. It’s just… well I thought you wouldn’t be comfortable… I mean, with, well with sharing a room… maybe a bed… with someone else.”
  1558. >She was blushing now, and you couldn’t say that you weren’t either.
  1559. >But still, why did she think this?
  1560. “Why don’t you think I want that? I mean I haven’t shared a bed with someone else in ages, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a try with you.”
  1561. >Now she looked over to you in surprise.
  1562. >”Really?”
  1563. “Really.”
  1564. >”B-but the Initiative said you probably wouldn’t want to… said you might never want to… to…”
  1565. “What did they say exactly?”
  1566. >Gulping, Piney looked you in the eye for a moment before shying away.
  1567. >”They said that you had severe emotional trauma in your p-past. That you might never be able to be really… umm… i-intimate or you know…”
  1568. >She trailed off, cheeks burning.
  1569. >You just lay back on the floor, looking up to the celling.
  1570. >Well that isn’t false, and you had sort of sworn off women since that time… and the idea of being that intimate really scared you. It scared you a lot actually. But then again here you are, in paradise, so to speak, with your true match. She hasn’t shown you anything except care and affection, and it was doing some good for your mood… But those dark thoughts still got to you on the train. And you had the luxury of a dreamless slumber that night. Yet you haven’t even hugged your mare yet, or done anything but hold her hoof.
  1571. >And again, your thinking is cut short by a creaky call from below.
  1572. >”Hey, you two lovebirds, dinner’s ready! Don’t let it get cold.”
  1573. >Shaking your head and sitting back up, you notice Piney sitting with her head between her hooves.
  1574. >Gingerly, you reach a hand out to stroke her shoulder.
  1575. >The second your hand met her silken brown coat, her head jolted up.
  1576. “Ummm Piney, I think it’s dinner time… Can I put my bag in you room?”
  1577. >Her eyes were wet, and she let out a little sniff.
  1578. “What’s wrong?”
  1579. >”S-sorry I didn’t tell you what they told me earlier… I just though… Thought it wouldn’t matter.”
  1580. >Shaking your head gently, and stroking her shoulder a little, you speak in barely more than a whisper.
  1581. “Yes, it’s true… but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be close to you… It’s just a little more difficult for me I guess.”
  1582. >You chuckle a little, and you can see her mood brighten.
  1583. “I don’t care that you didn’t tell me they told you about that part of my past…”
  1584. >”T-they didn’t tell me what happened to you… just, just that you might be like that.”
  1585. >Nodding a bit, you stand up, as does Piney.
  1586. ”I’ll tell you one day, maybe over some of that whiskey eh.”
  1587. >”Sounds like a date.”
  1588. “You know it.”
  1589. >”So anyway…”
  1590. >Piney trotted down the hall to her room and hoofed the door open.
  1591. >”This is our room.”
  1592. >Looking inside there was just enough light from the setting sun to make out the basics.
  1593. >A normal sized poner bed set against the wall in a very spacious room. A fireplace along the opposite wall, and then an assortment of standard furniture, night stand, dresser, etc… There were things on the walls and a few things strewn on the floor, but you couldn’t make out any details in the low light.
  1594. >”Sorry if it’s a bit of a mess, just throw your bag anywhere and we’ll deal with the rest later.”
  1595. >Obliging you set your bag near the entrance.
  1596. >”So anyway lets go get dinner, Gramma is waiting for us.”
  1597. >Piney turned to leave, but there was something that had been bugging you since you got up.
  1598. “Hey Piney, this might sound weird, but could I hug you?”
  1599. >Turning back to look at you with a confused smile on her face, she glanced up to you with her big green eyes.
  1600. >”Sure! But why?”
  1601. “I don’t know, I guess I just realized we hadn’t even hugged, and I wanted to make that right.”
  1602. >Piney just hummed as she came up to you, propping herself on her hind hooves.
  1603.  >It was an odd sensation as she wrapped her hooves around your torso and your arms around her barrel.
  1604. >She really was soft and warm like you thought, you could feel her lightly squeezing you, and her mane definitely tickled at your nose.
  1605. >She was rubbing her face into your chest, and you let your chin rest on her mane.
  1606. >She smelled just like pine sap and affection…
  1607. >And in a moment, the both of you let go.
  1608. >As she returned to all fours, you ruffled her mane a little.
  1609. “Thank you for that… I needed it.”
  1610. >”Heh me too.”
  1611. “Anyway I think Gramma is gunna be angry with us if we wait any longer.
  1612. >”Oh no she wouldn’t, she’d probably just come up with some baby name for you too.”
  1613. >You wink at her.
  1614. “Pine Needle~”
  1615. >She winks back at you.
  1616. >”Nonny~”
  1617. >You both share a laugh as you walk back down to the kitchen.
  1618. >Upon entering you’re greeted by a barrage of great smells and welcoming looking dishes.
  1619. >Gramma had set the kitchen table and served everyone a generous helping with a side of bread and cups of what you assume is water.
  1620. >”There you two are! I was worried the soup would get cold. Come take a seat!”
  1621. >Not wasting a moment, both you and Piney take seats opposite each other.
  1622. >Looking your soup over, it looks like a hearty mix of everything the garden had to offer, and you salivated in expectation.
  1623. >”Well what are you waiting for, dig in!”
  1624. >And with that, the three of you began your feast.
  1625. >The rest of dinner passed in relative silence as you all ate to your hearts content.
  1626. >After the dishes had been done and put away, you found yourself sitting cross-legged on the rug in the family room listening to Gramma embarrass Piney.
  1627. >”… And it was only by pure luck we found her hiding in a pile of pine needles. The sneaky little filly had been hiding in plain sight the whole day. Nearly worried us all to death. And from then on I started calling her my little Pine Needle.”
  1628. >”Gramma! I wasn’t hiding the whole day!”
  1629. >Gramma rocked back and forth on her rocker as Piney glared up at her.
  1630. >”Oh yes you did Piney, you were gone from sun up to nearly dusk. We thought you might have gotten lost. You were a mischievous and adventurous little filly, just like your Dad…”
  1631. >That last part suddenly brought up a whole slew of questions you thought better not to ask just yet.
  1632. >”You know what Pine Needle, can you play one of his old records, maybe his second one? Ohhh can you put on the one about him being a traveler?”
  1633. >Piney just nodded and magicked a record from a shelf over to the phonograph and set the needle around the middle of the vinyl disk.
  1634. >Then looking back over to you, a little timidly.
  1635. >”Hey Anon, do you like folk music?”
  1636. >Shrugging you just lay back by her side.
  1637. “I like any music really.”
  1638. >She just nodded as she magicked a button on the player and the room filled with the warm notes of a guitar and sweet voice.
  1640. >As the music took over the conversation, Gramma leaned back in her rocker, eyes closed as she mouthed the words.
  1641. >Piney just laid next to you, eyes also closed, expression a little more pained.
  1642. >You just listened and learned a bit about the mysterious stallion who happened to be Piney’s father.
  1643. >As the final refrain faded away, Piney magicked the button turning the player back off.
  1644. >Gramma rocked back forward, looking at you with her filmy eyes.
  1645. >”And that, sweet child, is Forest Melody, Pine Needle’s father, my only son.”
  1646. “He’s got an incredible voice.”
  1647. >”He used to sing to the trees every day when he was a foal… when he wasn’t running around the forest scaring the critters that is… You know you have a bit of his voice too?”
  1648. >You just let that one pass you by as you yawned deeply.
  1649. >This had been a long day.
  1650. >Piney also let out a little yawn of her own before looking up to you.
  1651. >”Should we get to bed? It’s been a pretty long day?”
  1652. >Stretching out on the rug you let out another long yawn.
  1653. “Yah I’m beat.”
  1654. >”You two go to bed… But Piney, can you be a dear and put the record back on?”
  1655. >Getting up and stretching out her legs, you follow suite.
  1656. >As you and Piney make your way out the door, she magicks the button back on.
  1657. >After a few seconds, you heard the soft tones of another song play out, but with a distinctly more feminine voice… that sounds just a bit like Piney.
  1659. >As you make your way up the stairs you can’t help but ask your mare.
  1660. “That’s you singing isn’t it?”
  1661. >”Heh, no. That’s my Mom. That entire album was written way before I was born.”
  1662. “Oh, she sounds just like you though.”
  1663. >”That’s what I’ve been told…”
  1664. >Her voice was tinted with sadness.
  1665. >Oh your Piney…
  1666. “Anyway I don’t think your bed is quite big enough for the both of us… Think we can drag one in from the room across the hall?”
  1667. >She smiled back to you.
  1668. >”Well if you want to sleep in the same room as me so bad, we can.”
  1669. “It would make me feel better.”
  1670. >By candle light, you and Piney moved a rather heavy old bed from the room across the way into hers.
  1671. >It took fifteen minutes of struggle, but you had the bed next to hers, and you felt good and tired enough to forgive the fact it was still a little short for you.
  1672. >Piney had already plopped into her own bed, and was making herself comfortable.
  1673. >”Hey Anon, remind us to definitely get a new bed tomorrow.”
  1674. “I definitely will.”
  1675. >You blew out the candle illuminating the room and disrobed down to your boxers again.
  1676. >Feeling your way over to your bed, you found a comfortable curled up position.
  1677. >The music was still gently seeping through the floorboards as you drifted off.
  1678. “Night Piney~”
  1679. >”Night Anon~”
  1680. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  1681. >You find yourself back in the vast, foreign, conifer forest your dreams tended to take you to of late.
  1682. >Yet it didn’t feel as foreign now as it had in dreams past.
  1683. >Instead, it felt much more like Pine Heart’s home forest, now your home forest too.
  1684. >Even the sunken path you walked seemed so familiar now.
  1685. >You walked for what felt like ages, the gentle sounds of the forest surrounding you.
  1686. >Eventually you saw the large bend approaching before you, signaling you were nearing your new home.
  1687. >You quickened your pace to get to the place you so desperately wanted to be.
  1688. >Yet no matter how much you felt yourself move forward, you didn’t seem to make any progress.
  1689. >As you felt yourself walking in place, a deep sense of dread began to overtake you.
  1690. >This was the part where things would go downhill, as they always did.
  1691. >You could hear the roaring of water behind you, and you quickened your pace even more, fighting fruitlessly to bring yourself nearer your home.
  1692. >But it was no use.
  1693. >This was just how it was supposed to be, how it always is.
  1694. >Resigning yourself, you let the sound of rushing water grow nearer as your body became heavy.
  1695. >Your pace slowed as you wearily walked forward, bracing yourself the best you could for the inevitable.
  1696. >Yet time dragged on.
  1697. >And the sound of rushing water was slowly replaced by air rushing around what sounded like mighty wings.
  1698. >You could feel a great gust muss your hair, before the sound of wing beats came to rest beside you.
  1699. >Turning your still heavy head, you were greeted by the visage of the Night Herself trotting beside you.
  1700. >You continued your slow trudge down the path as the Regal pony merely trotted beside you.
  1701. >”Tis’ a wonderful day for a stroll, is it not Child of Earth?”
  1702. “It is, though it would be better if I was actually going anywhere.”
  1703. >You focused your gaze ahead, where the path curved off to the right.
  1704. >”Aye, it would seem thou hast managed to become stuck. Might We be of assistance perchance?”
  1705. >Seeing a faint deep blue glow form beside you, you suddenly feel yourself become much lighter.
  1706. >Your strides becoming much more fruitful as you can feel the world move around you, the bend in the road growing closer with each step.
  1707. >As you round the bend, you noticed your companion still trotting beside you.
  1708. “I should thank you, for helping me out of that jam.”
  1709. >“We require no thank, tis merely what We do. Tell Us child, doth thou knowest where thou art going?”
  1710. >You stop, a familiar house in sight, but one you couldn’t quite put your finger on anymore.
  1711. “I… I am going to a better place, someplace I feel I belong.”
  1712. >”Indeed thou art, yet there is a darkness which follows thee, overtakes thine dreams. If not for Our intervention, thou surly would have succumbed to this haunting presence in thine mind.”
  1713. >Looking over to address the Princess of the Night properly for once, you could see she wore a neutral, yet warm expression.
  1714. “And you saved me from my own mind.”
  1715. >”Aye, a gentle nudge tonight was all it took, yet in nights forthcoming We fear it won’t be so simple.”
  1716. >Glancing back toward the inviting stone house at the end of the trail, you can feel yourself wanting so badly to go towards it.
  1717. >”We understand thine desire to go, yet pray thee stay a while longer? We have something pressing to discuss with thou.”
  1718. >The desire to go was strong, yet you couldn’t help but to give in to your curiosity.
  1719. >So you took a seat on a convenient stump, giving the Princess your full attention.
  1720. “Go on. What is it you’d like to discuss?”
  1721. >Smiling slightly, the Princess too took a seat on a fallen tree across from you along the path.
  1722. >”Doth thou rememberest dreaming last night?”
  1723. >An odd question, but one you couldn’t come up with an answer to.
  1724. >You shook your head slightly.
  1725. “Not that I can remember.”
  1726. >”Good, good. Thou would have endured most unspeakable night terrors otherwise.”
  1727. >This made you raise an eyebrow.
  1728. “So you wiped the dreams from my mind then?”
  1729. >Now she shook her head.
  1730. >”No, no. Rather We fought them on thine behalf, warded them away from thine mind. T’was no easy dream to ward away. Thine mind wishes to tear itself asunder it would seem.”
  1731. >Now this made you chuckle ruefully.
  1732. “Yes, yes, it’s been known to do that to itself occasionally.”
  1733. >Now the Princess of the Night looked a bit more worried.
  1734. >”Thou feels powerless over thy own mind.”
  1735. >She wasn’t asking a question.
  1736. >Looking down at both your hands, you could see the bandage materialize upon your wounded hand.
  1737. “I’d say that’s an accurate assessment.”
  1738. >She nodded solemnly, her astral mane flowing in the non-existent breeze as she stood.
  1739. >”Good, So thou understands thine self well enough. We will meet again one night, however for now it is Our time to leave thee. Remember, Anonymous, that thou art in control of thy own mind, and thy own happiness. While another may hold thine happiness in their hooves, as you hold their happiness in thine hands, it is up to thou to let it into thine heart, and heal wounds of old. Good morning.”
  1740. >And in a blink she was gone, leaving you alone along the forest trail.
  1741. >And with nothing else to do, you found yourself walking back toward the friendly stone house.
  1742. >As you crossed the final hurdle, time felt as if it were slowing to a crawl.
  1743. >You didn’t feel heavy, yet the sun above shown brighter and brighter.
  1744. >Reaching the door you could feel your hand make contact as you knocked upon it once, twice, thrice…
  1745. >And you felt your eyes flutter open as you awakened to a new day.
  1746. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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