Alone in Equestria/CHS Prompt [work in progress]

May 5th, 2016
Not a member of Pastebin yet? Sign Up, it unlocks many cool features!
  1. TODO: Rewrite most of this. Lawd almighty does this need to be better. The original stands as is, but by my own admission, it is a mess, with a (maybe) a few good tidbits. Expect some changes soon-ish.
  3. "Hey girls, you ever wonder why Anon is always alone?"
  4. >As the question leaves Pinkie's mouth, five pairs of eyes zero in towards the corner of the lunch room.
  5. >"I mean...he always eats by himself, right? On top of that, in all the classes I have with him, he doesn't try and talk to anyone! All I see him do is sit down, take notes, and do class work all by himself!" Pinkie exasperates, limbs flailing to emphasis her point.
  6. >"Pinkie, paying attention in class isn't a bad thing," Sunset replies with a small smile on her face due to her friend's melodramatic show, "but you do have a point: he does spend a lot of time by himself."
  7. > "Probably because he's a nerd!"
  8. >Everybody else rolls their eyes at Rainbow Dash's response.
  9. >"Darling, simply because other people are more willing to pursue their academics with more relish than you doesn't mean that they are, as you a put it, a 'nerd.' "
  10. >Rarity emphasizes her last word with a small jab from her fork.
  11. >"M-maybe he enjoys smaller crowds? He might not be comfortable around so many people," squeaks out Fluttershy.
  12. >"Ah don't know; he always did seem a little off, and I bet apples to oranges that he goes out of his way to avoid some people."
  13. >"It could be he just needs some space for himself during school, we don't really know his social life at all. Maybe he has a group of friends or a few close ones that he hangs out with at night and on the weekends."
  14. >Everybody stops for a second to ponder Sunset's remark.
  15. >Rarity scrunches her nose as she tries to recall anything she knows about Anon,
  16. >"Come to think of it, we don't really know that much about Anon at all; he hasn't even been here that long if I recall."
  17. >"Actually, if mah memory serves me right, he popped into our school around the same time as Princess Twilight, during the Fall Formal."
  18. >Dash's face suddenly lights up as what Applejack said brings up old memories.
  19. >"Yeah! I sorta remember him hanging around with her, helping her out when she needed it. Anon was always in the background, never really bringing attention to himself."
  20. >"Could learn something from Anon there, Dash."
  21. >Dash turns to Applejack with a pout on her face.
  22. >"Hey, I can't help it if the spotlight follows me!"
  23. >Other voices at the table start to chip in as everybody starts piecing together the origins of Anon.
  24. >Everyone except for Sunset, who is fidgeting in her seat with a nervous look on her face.
  25. >Oh, and Pinkie Pie
  26. >Mainly because she was already half way across the cafeteria at this point.
  27. >"Wait, where'd Pinkie go?"
  29. >Be Anon
  30. >And today is mac n cheese day.
  31. >There aren't many things you enjoy on the lunch menu, but damn does Granny Smith make some good homemade mac n cheese.
  32. >As a side you also grabbed some cornbread, freshly baked.
  33. >To top that all off, you were able to snag a Snack Pack for desert.
  34. >Why the heck couldn't your old high school have lunch like this?
  35. >It was either pack your own lunch or go off campus to grab something to eat.
  36. >Which when you only had a 45 minute lunch period, there wasn't too much you could grab that was good and fast.
  37. >Can't forget how everything got crowded and the wait time was atrocious.
  38. >Eh, enough talk about your old home.
  39. >That always brings back some bitter memories.
  40. >Right now it's time to enjoy some-
  41. >"Hey, my name's Pinkie Pie! What's your name? Anon? Oh that's cool! We should be friends"
  42. >Jolted out of your thoughts, you look up and are greeted by a giant bundle of pink energy.
  43. >Letting out a big sigh, you accept the fact that you're going to need to speak to another person.
  44. "Can I help you?"
  45. >"Yeah, you can help me by helping you be friends with me!" your Pink assailer shouts.
  46. >A little too loudly for your tastes, which makes you cringe a little.
  47. "Wait, so you came over to try and make friends with me? Do you mind me asking why?"
  48. >Oh thank goodness, that made her pause for a minute. Now, while she's trying to think of a response you can-
  49. >"Well, you don't have any friends and you never smile or seem to be happy, so I thought that maybe if I made friends with you I could help make you happy and then you would also have a friend!"
  50. >Why did this have to happen to you.
  51. >All you wanted to do was enjoy your lunch in peace and...wait.
  52. >Did she say you have no friends?
  53. "Alright, first off, are you saying I don't have any friends?"
  54. >"Yep! I don't ever see you with anyone during school, and you always eat lunch by yourself."
  55. "So, maybe I have people I hang out with after school! Just because I don't feel like socializing in class or during lunch doesn't mean I don't have any friends! Come on, you barely even know me; nice job jumping to conclusions right off the bat while trying to make a new /friend/."
  56. >Your remark might have been a bit too icy there, or maybe you just caught her off guard, but the beaming smile that was initially on her face is gone.
  57. >In its place is shock.
  58. >"Wait, no! I wasn't trying to imply-"
  59. > You cut her off, taking some satisfaction in returning the favor.
  60. "Second thing to address: you said I wasn't happy. What the heck does being happy have to do with smiling?"
  61. "Could it just so happen to be that I don't enjoy smiling that much? What if, what if what you define as happy is different from what I define as happy?
  62. Let's also consider that maybe I don't enjoy the same things that make you happy; wouldn't your attempts at making me smile just a be a waste then, and possibly hurt my feelings?
  63. Not all of us need to have parties to make ourselves feel good. Some of us actually enjoy having a deeper feeling of fulfillment in life rather than your stupid, shallow version of happiness.
  64. Go back to your friends, leave me alone, and let me enjoy the rest of lunch, and my life, by myself."
  65. >With your last sentence, you slam your fists onto the table.
  66. >Huh, you don't remember balling them up.
  67. >Your breath is coming out in heavy pants now.
  68. >You might be a little mad.
  69. >And you might have started to raise your voice a little there at the end.
  70. >Fine, you were yelling, and now that pink girl is...crying.
  71. >Her lips are trembling and tears are starting to form in her eyes.
  72. >Well shit, hopefully nobody is watching you at the moment.
  73. >You look around the cafeteria.
  74. >If nobody was paying attention to you before, they all are now.
  75. >Okay, this isn't that bad, maybe somebody missed it.
  76. >Your eyes start drifting across the many different tables and
  77. >You catch Sunset's face.
  78. >She's giving you the "abort, red alert, abort" face.
  79. >Her mouth is forming the words "calm down."
  80. >That settles that: time to get while the going is good.
  81. >With as much tack as you can muster, you carefully stand up and walk towards the exit of the lunch room.
  82. >Once you make it through the double doors and they close with a resounding *clunk!*, you continue to calmly walk down the halls until you find yourself in front of your locker.
  83. >*bang!*
  84. >Your fist connects with metal, but you don't feel the pain.
  85. >After spending so much time trying to live your life and draw as little attention to yourself, you just blew up in front of sweet girl trying to be friendly towards you.
  86. >Not just any pink bundle of energy though, oh no, it had to be one of the girls who helped Sunset get back on track.
  87. >Fuck!
  88. >*bang!* *bang!* *bang!* *thunk!*
  89. "Ow, fuck!"
  90. >Better stop punching the locker before you make a dent in it...
  91. >...and before you seriously hurt yourself.
  92. >Letting out an exasperated sigh, you start heading towards the library.
  93. >You didn't really get to eat your lunch, but you're not going back into that room to face the crowd.
  94. >Best to take your mind off of what just happened and read a book before class starts.
  95. >Be Pinkie.
  96. >Still standing there, in front of the now empty seat where Anon once was.
  97. >The only thing left to show he was even there was his half eaten lunch...
  98. >...and the tears in your eyes.
  99. >What started out as a relatively friendly conversation (on your end at least) took a dramatic turn for the worse.
  100. >Anon...exploded.
  101. >Yeah, exploded; there's really no other way to describe what happened.
  102. >The event you just witnessed could be compared to you firing your party cannon point blank at someone, spraying them with confetti.
  103. >Except instead of confetti, pent up emotion.
  104. >You figured he was lonely but this? This was more than just loneliness.
  105. >Something was seriously wrong with Anon.
  106. >He needed someone to lean on, some friend to help him through this.
  107. >You are roused from your thoughts as you feel a someone gently lay a hand on your shoulder.
  108. >As you turn around, you are met with the very concerned face of Rainbow Dash.
  109. >And behind her are the rest of your friends, their faces a mix of concern and anger.
  110. >"Hey, are you alright Pinkie? Things sounded like they got a little heated over here."
  111. >You sniffle, trying to stop the tears from flowing out.
  112. "Y-yeah, I'm fine Dash. All I wanted to do was be his friend and try and make him happy. Why doesn't he want to be my friend?"
  113. >"That there Anon is a special case; I don't think he takes too kindly to people at all. I think it's best we just leave him be and leave it at that."
  114. >"B-but Applejack! Someone needs to help him out! I can totally tell that he just needs a friend to open up to. Once he has someone he can count on, I'm sure he'll be super smiley!"
  115. >"Pinkie, I'm going to stop your right there." Sunset raises her hand to stop you from speaking any further.
  116. >"We don't really know anything about Anon; he keeps to himself at school, but that's the best we know. He could spend time with friends after school or even have friends not from this school! If you hadn't left so abruptly, you might have actually heard us talking about this."
  117. > Her face is stern, similar to how Principal Luna looked after she took you to her office over the Great Cupcake Fiasco.
  118. >You look down at your feet, shuffling them back and forth, feeling a little downtrodden over Sunset's lecture.
  119. >Sunset's features soften, and she leans in to hug you.
  120. >"Hey, I'm not saying you shouldn't make friends with him, but we should at least try and get to know him better, OK? Don't just jump into this with your usual gusto; I don't want you getting hurt."
  121. >You return the hug, feeling a marginally better than you were before.
  122. >Hugs always make everything better.
  123. >Maybe Anon just needs a hug.
  124. "He really needs some friends Sunset, we should try and help him."
  125. >Your words a little bit muffled as your face is nuzzled into Sunset's hair.
  126. >She pats your back and gently strokes it.
  127. >"Yeah, he probably does, but let's take it slow. Promise me that you'll give him some time to cool off and plan out a better way to make friends with him? I think it's in everybody's best interests if we don't have him lash out at you again."
  128. >Out of the corner of your eye, you catch Fluttershy meekly nodding.
  129. >"Some of the animals I work with don't always open up to you right away. There was a mean old tabby cat we had a few months ago that would hiss and claw anyone came near. In the end, we gave it lots of space and love from afar. Eventually he warmed up to us, and now he loves snuggling up with people."
  130. >"Remember darling, we know how you are about making friends, but we have your best interests at heart first. We'll help you at as best as we can, but we need you to...tone things down. This situation might require a more delicate touch to it, rather than your usual bravado approach."
  131. >With Rarity's last remark, all your friends nod and join your hug.
  132. >It's great to have friends.
  133. >Anon really needs to have some, and you Pinkie Promise that he'll get at least one new friend soon.
  134. >Now time to find a cupcake...
  136. ------------------------------
  137. >Be Anon, right after school.
  138. >Packing up your bag at your locker.
  139. >You would like to think that things went well for the rest of the day, but you would be lying to yourself.
  140. >After lunch, you felt all tensed up and anxious, trying too hard to ignore everything going on around you.
  141. >People were staring at you, whispering and pointing.
  142. >If you had any doubts earlier that not everyone saw your outburst in the cafeteria, well, now everyone surely knows.
  143. >High school gossip is a killer, and you don't feel alleviated at all knowing that you might have just forced your way into the center of it.
  144. >Great, as if you don't feel bad enough about unloading on that poor girl from earlier.
  145. >Now you gotta deal with a bunch of self-righteous white knights jumping to her defense.
  146. >The accusations of "How could you?" and "You heartless bastard, making her cry!" are the last things your guilty conscience needs at the moment.
  147. >You breathe in, then slowly let out the air in your lungs.
  148. >At least you're out of school now, don't need to worry about anyone getting on your case.
  149. >Besides, you have to meet up with someone in the park in a half an hour, so you might as well start walking now.
  150. >Ignoring the daggers people are staring into your back, you shift your bag onto one shoulder and start walking down the hallway, eyes forward.
  151. >Your somewhat thankful that you weren't called to Principal Celestia's office.
  152. >Even if she isn't THAT Celestia, the similarities are enough to give you an uneasy feeling in your stomach.
  153. >Quickly dispelling any thoughts about either Celestia before things get ugly, you double your pace to the front of the school.
  154. >You push open the double doors and are hit with a cool breeze.
  155. >You feel a gush of air let of your lungs.
  156. >At some point you were holding your breathe, when you don't know.
  157. >Man, you are really out of it.
  158. > Taking the steps two at a time, you briskly set off towards the park.
  159. >It's only about a fifteen minute walk from the school, so you'll have some time to collect your thoughts.
  160. >You start heading towards the park, focusing on your feet as you place one foot in front of the other.
  161. >You've been to the park so many times now you can simply let your feet lead you to your destination.
  162. >One foot is set down, then the other.
  163. >Each one alternating, making a resounding *thud* on the concrete as they connect with it.
  164. >You start to drift away as your eyes focus in on the movements of your feet.
  165. >After walking for a little bit, you are jolted out of your trance as your feet find their way onto the softer surface of grass.
  166. >Looking up, you immediately feel at ease with the familiar surroundings.
  167. >The trees are dancing to a tune you can't hear, moving back and forth with a gentle breeze.
  168. >There are a few dry patches of grass here and there, but it's mostly a uniform green.
  169. >Scanning for your usual spot, you enter the park.
  170. >Such a serene place is exactly what you need right now.
  171. >You even get the benefit of nobody else being inside this sanctuary of clam at the moment.
  172. >This is exactly what you need to unwind.
  173. >You follow a familiar path to and old, weather beaten wood bench.
  174. >The plaque on it has lost its gilded color, and is now nothing more than a plate of steel with illegible writing on it.
  175. >Shifting the bag off of your shoulder in one swing, you place it down at your feet as you collapse into the bench.
  176. >The old boards creek in protest as you place your weight on them, but the bench holds.
  177. >You reach into the left pocket of your jeans and check the time.
  178. >1618
  179. >You still have a little bit of time before your meeting, so you reach over to your backpack and unzip the front pocket.
  180. >Reaching in, you pull out a pair of headphones.
  181. >Unfolding and adjusting them to fit your head, you snuggle them over your ears.
  182. >Grabbing the dangling cord, you place the jack into the audio port on your phone.
  183. >One of the few things you were really able to hang onto after all these years, you were pretty pumped that this world had Micro-USB chargers.
  184. >That and having internet after going a painfully long time without it was incredibly refreshing.
  185. >It also allowed you to listen to your shit taste in music you had accumulated from your old home.
  186. >Thumbing through the music, you select your 'Just Chill' playlist and hit play.
  187. >You lean back into the bench, arms stretching out to encompass the top and for the first time today, you truly start to relax as the familiar beat resounds in your ear.
  189. >As you let the music drift you away, you start to piece together your thoughts and feelings.
  190. >Yeah, this whole world was familiar.
  191. >So much like home, but...not.
  192. >The continents and countries you were familiar with are no longer here, replaced by who knows what.
  193. >Gone are the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, no more North Americans with their freedom loving practices, and no more EU or Asia, no more family...
  194. >Fuck, so much is different here.
  195. >Going down this line of thought isn't going to get you anywhere new, so you move on to the present troubles as the next song comes on.
  197. >Man, screw thinking, you just want to get lost in the music.
  198. >That won't really work though, ‘cause you have a feeling that today's events are going to come back at some point and bite you in the ass.
  199. >Dredging some of your conscious mind out of the music induced high, you go over what happened at lunch.
  200. >One of Sunset's friends, the pink one, came over and tried to talk to you.
  201. >She came bouncing over, asking if you wanted to be friends.
  202. >Which you responded with an example of how not to make friends.
  203. >Yeah, really shouldn't have yelled at her there.
  204. >Though she was right about not really having any friends.
  205. >You sorta have friends, but you never really committed to the whole 'friend' thing.
  206. >Part of you doesn't really want to move on and accept this place as your new home.
  207. >Out with the old, in with the new.
  208. >You're still clinging to those old memories, the meat that defined who you were back then.
  209. >Though this is a new world, new place to start.
  210. >Maybe making some new memories wouldn't hurt so much.
  211. >Heal up some old wounds that you could never really get rid of.
  212. >Yet another sigh comes out of your mouth.
  213. >If you plan on making new friends, you gotta get over some of your old trust issues first.
  214. >A light tap on your left shoulder rouses you from your musings.
  215. >Checking your phone, you see the display blink 1627.
  216. >Well, she's a little early today.
  217. >Though that's to be expected, after everything that went down today.
  218. >You turn to your left and are greeted by the face of Sunset Shimmer.
  219. >Removing your headphones, your put on a half-assed smile and confront her concerned face.
  220. "Hey, uh, long day huh?"
  221. >You scoot over to make room on the bench, dragging your backpack with you.
  222. >Sunset slowly comes around the bench, still eyeing you with concern as she takes a seat.
  223. >Her constant staring is starting to make you a little uncomfortable, forcing you to shift in your seat.
  224. >Words. You need them, her eyes and the silence are starting to get at you.
  225. >She breaks the silence first.
  226. >"You cooled off yet?"
  227. >Not the best place to start, but better than nothing.
  228. >You shoot the breath out of your mouth staring down at your hands, watching the bones and muscles move as you flex your fingers.
  229. "Yeah...yeah, I'm calm now."
  230. >You flip your hands over, staring at your wrists.
  231. >Your eyes drift over to the mark on your right wrist. A black rune, the shape of a six sided star with a smaller, offset star behind it, surrounded by more, smaller stars. [spoiler]A little reminder of who you're in debt to.[/spoiler]
  232. >You grimace at the mark, events and people linked to it coming to the forefront of your mind.
  233. >Tearing your eyes away, you attempt to approach the elephant in the room with as much diplomacy as you can muster.
  234. "So, about lunch..."
  235. >You let the end of your sentence trail on as she closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and starts pouting at you.
  236. >"What the heck were you thinking?"
  237. "Hey, let me just explain-"
  238. >"No, let ME explain."
  239. >Caught off guard by her interruption, you shut your mouth. Best not to get in her way, she's in one of those moods.
  240. >She lets out an annoyed breath.
  241. >"What in the name of Celestia possessed you to start yelling at Pinkie?"
  242. "Well, you see, what happened was-"
  243. >She glares at you, with a look that would make lesser men cringe away.
  244. >At this moment, you aren't one of those men, but you are fully aware that you have the full attention of a peeved off Sunset.
  245. >Pray to the dark gods that you make it through this intact.
  246. >"There's your average teenage angst, then there's what you just pulled off at lunch."
  247. >"How the heck can you defend letting loose on poor Pinkie after she came over to your table with the intention of trying to make friends with you? Don't even try to justify what you did, I'm not in the mood to hear it right now."
  248. >Finishing her small rant, Sunset crosses her arms and lets out a huff.
  249. >"Seriously, you're too old to be acting like this."
  250. >Damn, she mad.
  251. >Hopefully not too mad, it would nice to have a normal conversation today.
  252. "Yeah, I screwed up."
  253. >Your fingers run through your hair as you try to find the right words to say.
  254. "I need to apologize to your friend, don't I?"
  255. >Her features soften, not by much though.
  256. >"That...would be a start, but first we need things to calm down first. I was able to do a little bit of damage control and get you some room to cool down, but I don't know for how long."
  257. >"They're not exactly too happy with you at the moment, y'know, due to making Pinkie cry."
  258. "Yeah, don't need to remind me about that. My conscience is already working full time telling me that."
  259. >"Hmm, good."
  260. >A smirk starts to play across her face.
  261. >"At least you're capable of feeling something other than anger towards innocent, cupcake giving girls."
  262. "Wow, really helping over here."
  263. >She suppress a giggle, covering her mouth with her hand.
  264. >"I do my best."
  265. >With the tension mostly gone, you both relax more, leaning into the back support of the bench.
  266. >The wood, softened by years of abuse from the sun and rain, gives some ground as your backs press against.
  267. "How mad is the pink girl at me?"
  268. >"Who, Pinkie? She's not actually mad at you. More convinced that you have a tragic background and that you desperately need friends."
  269. "Heh, if only she had half an idea of what I've been through and where I came from."
  270. >Sunset looks at you quizzically.
  271. >"What, that you came from Equestria, and before that, a completely different human world? It's not TOO farfetched; I mean, I'm a pony trapped in the body of a teenage girl."
  272. "Sunset, you know how I feel when you talk about your fursona. Keep that stuff to yourself."
  273. >She gives you the stink eye and sticks her tongue out at you.
  274. >You can't help but smile at her response.
  275. >"Don't give me that crap. You know full well where I come from, and so does Pinkie. If the entire school can get over the fact that I came from a magical pony land, then they can probably accept you coming from an alternate dimension."
  276. "And y'know, being slightly older than I look."
  277. >Weird thing about going through the portal between Equestria and this world: your body goes back 10 years.
  278. >Sunset was, by this world's standards, a college student in Equestria when she was studying under Celestia.
  279. >When she went traveled through the mirror to come to this reality, she came out in her mid-teens.
  280. >After you were dragged along as a guide for Twilight to this world, you came out closer to early adult hood.
  281. >You feel like you're somewhere around the age of 19, but in all honesty you lost track of time long ago.
  282. >"I don't think people need to know about your actual age. Sorta hard to get over that considering your outside appearance."
  283. >You head bobs up in down in as a small nod to her response.
  284. "Yeah, you have a point there. You can keep my age a secret, and I won't tell anybody how blitzed you got when you reached the pony equivalent of a legal drinking age."
  285. >Sunset's face starts to flush, her cheeks taking on rosy hint.
  286. >"You swore you would never speak of that night again. Just thinking about it makes my vision in the world was I supposed to know the stuff you drank was harder than anything ponies normally drink?"
  287. "I did warn you, buuuut you might have already been tipsy at that point. I was honestly surprised that whiskey even existed in Equestria, and even more so that ponies would try and drink it. Seriously, you guys couldn't hold your liquor worth a damn. Most of you thought wine was hard stuff. WINE."
  288. >You both start laughing, reminiscing about old memories and good times.
  289. >Sunset gets a distance look in her eyes, drifting back to a few years back.
  290. >"Whatever happened to those old days? The days where there wasn't much to worry about other than how to spend our free time at night and the next time the Wonderbolts were coming to town."
  291. >Slowly, the smile that was on your face fades to half of its original intensity. The happiness of the moment is still present, but bitterness has slowly started to creep in.
  292. "You left."
  293. >The simple statement is all you need to say. Recognition over their meaning give way to regret as she places her hands on her lap and stares down at them.
  294. >"Right, I left..."
  295. "Yeah..."
  296. >Neither of you are too keen on approaching this subject. You've both talked this over several times before, but it never an easy thing to bring up.
  297. >Time to redirect the conversation.
  298. "Oh, before I forget..."
  299. >You unzip your backpack and grab a letter sized manila envelope. It's well filled out and sealed.
  300. >You present the envelope to Sunset.
  301. "Here's this month's rent, money for utilities and groceries, and a little extra spending cash so you can go out with your friends."
  302. >Her arm starts to reach towards your outstretched hand, but then hesitates.
  303. >After a few moments, she closes her eyes, shakes her head, and opens them again.
  304. >She continues to guide her hand to the envelope, until she grasps it, and gently pulls it out of your hands.
  305. >"You don't have to keep supporting me like this. I can always find a job to make ends meet. If that doesn't work out, I'm sure Princess Twilight would be more than happy to help support me too."
  306. >You give her a blank look.
  307. >Another subject you guys have talked about a lot.
  308. >Maybe 'talked' is a little lenient of a word there. There have been a few times where you've argued about giving money to her.
  309. "Sunset, you know my position on this, and you also know how stubborn I can be. Please, just take the money."
  310. >Sunset, clearly reluctant on accepting the cash, but not willing to argue her point, unzips the middle pocket of her backpack and safely tucks the cash inside.
  311. >"You aren't obligated to help me for her sake you know," she says as she zips the pocket closed.
  312. >You raise your shoulders in a shrug.
  313. "Twilight trusts me, that's something I don't take very lightly. Before she went back through the portal the first time, she-"
  314. >"Told you to watch over me, I know, we've talked about this before." Sunset finishes your sentence. She sighs.
  315. >"But I don't think she meant for you to keep it up this long. The hours you keep and the work you do is going to start eating away at you, if it hasn't already."
  316. >You give Sunset's right arm a friendly punch, just enough for her to glance over at you.
  317. >Her light, cyan colored eyes stare at you with a mixture of feelings swirling in their depths.
  318. >Compassion, thankfulness, worry, kindness.
  319. >Pulling your eyes away from her gaze, you wave a hand nonchalantly.
  320. "I've already been through high school once, so I'm not losing out on much if I go out and work. You," the wave extends to her direction.
  321. "You need to enjoy high school while you still can. This world ain't all it's cracked up to be. Focus on the little stuff now, take pleasure in the joys of your youth."
  322. >"Hey Anon, you know how I said you should act older, more your age."
  323. "Yeah, why?"
  324. >"You're starting to sound too old now; tone it down you old geezer, you're not that much older than me."
  325. >A small smile flashes on your face over Sunset's remark.
  326. >Sunset, you have no idea how off you are on that statement.
  327. >You stare off into the sky, watching the sun's slow decent into the horizon.
  328. >It's still a little too early for the sun to go down, but it is a lot closer to the ground than when you started your bench chat with Sunset.
  329. >Reaching into your pants left pocket, you grab your phone and unlock it.
  330. >The screen flashes to life and blinks back the time: 1700.
  331. >Your talk has gone for about half an hour, it's about time you start heading home. There's still a few things that need to be sorted out before it gets dark.
  332. >Sunset catches you checking your phone.
  333. >"What time is it?"
  334. "1700, just checked."
  335. >"Wow, it's already been half an felt a lot shorter than that."
  336. >You shrug.
  337. "Time always does seem to drift by when you're in the middle of a good conversation. Anyways, I gotta get going here soon."
  338. >"Yeah, me too. I promised I would meet up with the girls later this evening."
  339. "What are you guys up to tonight?"
  340. >She turns to face you, raising one of her eyebrows at you.
  341. >"Getting a little nosy now, aren't we?"
  342. "Hey, I was just curious. It is a school night, and your group doesn't fit the profile of rowdy teenagers looking for adventure."
  343. >"Fair enough. We have band practice later this night. Rainbow Dash is giving me a shot at trying out lead guitar this session."
  344. "Wait wait wait; Rainbow Dash, the most self-centered, attention hogging, egocentric sports super star Canterlot High has ever seen is letting you try out lead guitar in her self-named band?"
  345. >Sunset grins at your quip at the expense of her friend.
  346. >"It took more than a little convincing to get through to her, but in the end she couldn't deny my sick shredding skills."
  347. >To emphasis her point, Sunset brings up her arms as if she's holding a guitar and mimics playing a gnarly riff straight out of an 80's rock concert.
  348. >You eye her grandiose display with amusement, her infections smile spreading to you and lighting up your face.
  349. "Honestly, I'm just happy to hear that they're actually taking you seriously in their band now. It only took a group of magical deviants enslaving the entire school to let you in."
  350. >It's her turn to shrug now, as her face turns grim and her beaming smile transforming into a frown as she relives memories.
  351. >"They had a good reason..."
  352. >Yeah, turning into a demon and trying her own hand at creating thralls of her fellow classmates had a few repercussions.
  353. >Namely the entire school ostracizing her and continuously punishing her guilty conscience for her actions.
  354. >Sunset's friends weren't really her friends then, barely acknowledging her and tossing scraps of pity only when backed into a wall.
  355. >Many a battle were fought on this very bench here, as you braved a never ending wave of anguish and tears while trying to comfort Sunset.
  356. >Fortunately for all present company, that only lasted for around six months.
  357. >...six long, grueling months of a very, VERY insecure Sunset; the threat the Dazzlings provided was almost a blessing compared to watching Sunset struggle with her identity for several months.
  358. >Almost.
  359. >They took the school by storm, hypnotizing almost everyone in one fell swoop.
  360. >If that weren't bad enough, because of their leader's impeccable planning, they were able to turn the school's musical showcase into a battle of the bands...
  361. >...which, traditionally, isn't that bad. Sure, it encourages a healthy amount of competition between students and sometimes things can get nasty, but it usually got people to bring out their A-game.
  362. >Now, considering that the main competitors were a group of magical seahorses that fed off of the misery of their victims, and the other a representation of magical elements from a world filled with talking ponies, the chances of a 'traditional' battle of the bands had been sky rocketed to the sun with the option of retreating quickly melting away with each passing minute of its ill-fated journey.
  363. >"Do you have work tonight?"
  364. >You are interrupted from your internal musings by Sunset's question.
  365. "Not really; some administrative stuff to handle, but I can do that back at my place."
  366. >"Well, I won't keep you here any longer then."
  367. >She stands up from the bench, stretching her arms out into the air cool air and balling up her fists.
  368. >She closes her eyes and her faces stretches as she lets out a yawn.
  369. >You follow her lead, stifling a yawn with your right arm as you extend your legs and hop off the bench.
  370. >Abruptly, you are greeted with a face full of Sunset's hair as she lunges into a hug with you.
  371. >Caught off guard, you hesitate before slowly embracing her in your arms.
  372. >"Try to get a good's night rest," she softly says while nuzzling into your shoulder.
  373. >"You could use it after today. Promise me next time Pinkie talks to you, you don't make her cry? Trying to be a diplomat between my friends isn't the glamorous career choice Twilight makes it out to be."
  374. >You nod, squeezing her tightly into you for a brief moment.
  375. "I'll do my best."
  376. >Satisfied with your answer, Sunset breaks away from you.
  377. >Hoisting her backpack onto her shoulders, she spins around and waves a goodbye.
  378. >"See you later this weekend then. We still down for movie night on Saturday?"
  379. "You bet your butt I'm still down; see you then."
  380. >With that, Sunset heads off down a path to the left of the bench, setting a brisk pace for herself.
  381. >Meanwhile, you continue stretching and admiring the scene around; the sun giving off a soft, warm glow, casting shadows across the park.
  382. >It'll be dark in a few hours, better start heading back to your house. Besides, you do have a little bit of work to do.
  383. >Tonight is an informal meeting of sorts for your entire workplace, going over logistical nonsense.
  384. >You start trudging your way home to prepare for the evening, and its depressing lack of festivities.
  385. >As your feet start to carry you away, tighten the straps of your backpack so they comfortably dig into shoulders.
  386. >Grabbing hold of your straps, you push your pace up to a light jog, slowly increasing the force of each step.
  387. >Eventually, you're pounding at the ground with, your legs moving at a steady rhythm. The house you're staying at is about five miles away, on the outskirts of town, closer to the forest. It's not the most ideal location, being far from school and town, but it's affordability and isolation provides an escape from the chaos of everyday life and the benefit of not killing your wallet.
  388. >You leave the pleasantries of the park behind you and enter back into the suburbs of town.
  389. >You zone out as you continue running through the town, contemplating over the day's events. Cars rush by in a haze of color and buildings begin to blur together.
  390. >Your subconscious mind reacts to the neon colored street lights and shaped signs, leaving you to your inner thoughts.
  391. >Stress and worry that had been eating at you throughout the day melt away as endorphins kick in and bring your mind to an elevated state.
  392. >Your conversation was fairly benign, but all things considered, that was alright.
  393. >She was much more understanding about lunch than you had hoped, and though the conversation had a bitter end, you had the chance to reminisce about a few happy moments you got to share in Equestria.
  394. >Thinking of Sunset's homeland brings a furrow to your brow. Though the sun shines brightly and the inhabitants who live under it are colorful, your stay there wasn't...pleasant.
  395. >Your time spent with Sunset helped redeem some of the pain you experienced during your stay, but it was a small relief.
  396. >As your line of thought drifts to Sunset, you recall her mentioning band practice with the Rainbooms tonight.
  397. >You may not pay attention to most of the social activities and groups of the school, but even living under a rock wouldn't prevent you from knowing about the school's most popular rock band. Having Rainbow Dash as the leader was a large contributing factor to the bands presence at Canterlot High.
  398. >Whereas you do your best to make as little an impact as possible within the school, she does her best to ensure EVERYBODY knows who she is and her self-proclaimed awesomeness.
  399. >No amount of social barriers could prevent you from hearing her name, and by association, the band she plays in.
  400. >God, you hated that pretentious teenager. Every new trophy, victory, or any success fed her egotism and made her cockier. Your running theory is that Dash's ego has become super saturated so that any event in her life that mildly brushes it will cause her to explode in pride over it.
  401. >Your run has finally lead you out of the major neighborhoods, and draws you closer to the forest at the city's edge.
  402. >The roads here are less kept, cracks riddling the asphalt road. Houses are much sparser in this area, the buildings forsaking grandeur in favor of a rustic charm and hardiness.
  403. >Continuing your journey, you sidestep multiple potholes that litter the only street; at this point, it may as well be nothing but a mound of rubble meshed together.
  404. >Up ahead pine trees loom over, engulfing a quaint cabin in shadows. The area around the cabin may have been cleared in the past, but nature has reclaimed most of it: grass as high as your knees whistles in the wind, unkempt and plentiful.
  405. >You slow down, panting hard, until you stop near a small gravel pathway leading to the door of the cabin. Hands connect with your knees as you gasp for breath, sweat glistening on your forehead and staining large sections of your shirt.
  406. >The cabin is built of old wood, aged brown over many years. A simple one story house, you don't need anything terribly fancy. Windows peak out of the framework blocked by dark blue curtains on the inside.
  407. >To the right of the cabin is a black van, a little larger than the average model. You try not to drive around too much, the van is mostly for work. Besides, running to school is a good way of keeping in shape.
  408. >Your steps crunch as you travel down the gravel patch all the way up to the door. Compared to the rest of the house, the door is fairly new, having been replaced when you moved in; the previous one was so beat up a breeze could have knocked it over.
  409. >You shrug off the right strap pinned to your shoulders, swinging the backpack around to your front. As the bag connects with your stomach, you grab it with your right arm and position your left arm to hold it up and leaving your right hand open.
  410. >The top pocket is opened and your free hand fishes around for the keys to open the door. Feeling the cold metal and familiar shape, your hand snatches the keys and you lift your prize out.
  411. >Flipping through the various keys, you find the appropriate ones, first unlocking the deadbolt and then the doorknob. Pulling the key out after hearing a *click!* to signify it's unlocked, you stash them into one of your back pockets.
  412. >Your hand grabs the gilded doorknob and twists it open. You shove your shoulder into the doorframe and lean into it, swinging it wide open.
  413. >You can say with some pride that the though the outside of the cabin may be a little rough around the edges and is in desperate need of some yard maintenance, the inside is well maintained.
  414. >Consisting of a kitchen, a small living room and dining room, three guest bedrooms, and a basement, for the price you’re paying this place wasn't half bad.
  415. >Of course, you did sink in a lot of money refurbishing the interior. The wood floor had been covered in grime and eaten through by termites in some sections, so new flooring was set down and everywhere but the kitchen was covered in a dark grey carpet.
  416. >You take off and toss your shoes next to the doorway, and close the door behind you. To your right is the living room and kitchen, while to your left are the bedrooms, a door to the basement, and a bathroom. Moving towards the right, you deposit your backpack at the entrance of the kitchen and move to one of the various cabinets to grab a glass.
  417. >After finding a suitable one, you bring it over to the sink and fill it with cold water. Once it's filled you bring it to your lips and greedily gulp down the contents, filling the cup twice more before satisfying your thirst.
  418. >Sighing in a satisfied manner, you check to the stovetop clock: 1735. Knocking off a couple minutes for entering the cabin and grabbing a drink, you'd say it was a pretty successful run overall.
  419. >You gaze over the kitchen counter top into the living room, eyeing its contents. As your eyes drift across the furnishings, you spy the couch and its enticing cushions.
  420. >Setting your now empty glass into the sink to clean later, you meander on over to the velvet lined couch and flop down into its padding. Leaning your head back, you close your eyes and melt away into the folds of the couch.
  421. >The couch draws you deeper and deeper into the cushions, smothering your limbs in soft, luscious comfort. Remaining conscious becomes an uphill battle, one that you are quickly losing to.
  422. >In the back of your mind, you recall that your co-workers will be coming over soon, and that you should start preparing dinner soon.
  423. >...screw it, you can always order a pizza and pick it up later. Nobody delivers this far out of the city proper unfortunately, but at least you'll have someone you can drag along once everyone arrives.
  424. >With justification cemented in your brain, you succumb to the sweet bliss of a late afternoon nap.
  426. -------------------------
  428. >You are jolted out of your slumber by a loud pounding at the door, and someone screaming "Wake up you lazy bum! We know you're in there, and it's not polite to leave guests out in the cold like this."
  429. >Reluctantly, you drag yourself off the couch, stretching your arms in front of you. Your hands clasp together at the midpoint and you crack your knuckles with loud, audible pops.
  430. >Finally moving off the couch, you head towards the front door, flicking a few light switches to brighten up the now darkened living room. You quickly glance over to the kitchen, and see the stovetop display wink 1930 in green numbers.
  431. >Well, your co-workers are as punctual as ever, and it's a good thing they woke you up now; if left to your own devices you probably would have continued sleeping until the next day.
  432. >The pounding at the door seems to grow in fervor as you turn on the outside light to the cabin. Stifling a yawn with the inside of your right arm, you pull the door open and are greeted by your guests.
  433. >In front of you stands Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze, and Sonata Dusk: the group formerly known as the Dazzlings.
  434. >Aria is in mid knock, preparing to strike the door again, Adagio has a bored look on her face with her arms crossed, and Sonata looks up from her phone, dopey smile etched in her face.
  435. >"Hey Anon! You look like you just woke up!"
  436. >Sonata's lively voice grates against your ears, causing you to flinch. Aria notices the movement, and mistakes your reaction to her sister’s voice for her raised fist. This produces a smirk from her, and receives you two rapid punches to your shoulder.
  437. >"Two for flinching you wuss," she chortles sadistically.
  438. >Adagio frowns at Aria's actions, shaking her head.
  439. >"Can we go inside now? I didn't bring a jacket with me today and it's getting cold outside."
  440. >Aria shrugs, and pushes past you. Adagio follows her with a look of indifference, and Sonata brings up the rear, stopping to give you a quick hug before walking into the kitchen.
  441. "Hey, wait a second, shoes!"
  442. >The girls all stare at you as if you had just demanded them to personally tell Rainbow Dash how awesome she was. Collectively, they turn around as one and continue doing what they were before.
  443. >Aria and Adagio flop on to your couch while Sonata begins to raid your fridge.
  444. >"Anooon, do you have anything tasty to drink other than beer?" Sonata asks.
  445. >She's only been in your house for less than five minutes, and already she's going for the beer. Well, at least you know she won't be driving; neither Aria nor Adagio would ever let her near a steering wheel.
  446. "No, I don't. If you want something that isn't beer, then grab a cup of water."
  447. >Sonata turns around and pouts, but her attempt at appealing to your softer side is interrupted by Aria.
  448. >"Sonata, while you're up, can you grab me a beer from the fridge? I'm thirsty."
  449. >"Get it yourself you meanie, I'm trying to get Anon to reveal his secret stash of soda."
  450. >"Sonata, you know he doesn't keep soda around the house ever since you put Mentos in an entire liter of Diet Coke. Nobody wants a repeat of that incident; we had to buy new computers and it took a day to scrub all the soda out of the carpet," Adagio quips in.
  451. >"Besides, we're not here for soda, we're here to discuss business and check on the progress Aria and Anon have made this month. YOU are here to take notes on the conversation, not to have fun."
  452. >Sonata bites her lip, a defeated look across her face. Aria snickers on the couch, no doubt enjoying Sonata being berated.
  453. >Feeling some sympathy towards Sonata, you place a comforting hand on her shoulder, causing her to redirect her gaze from her tormentor on the couch to your eyes.
  454. "So, I was thinking about ordering pizza for dinner tonight. You wanna pick the toppings?"
  455. >"For realsies?" Sonata's eyes brighten up at the prospect of greasy cheese and dough.
  456. "Yeah, for realsies. Think of some toppings while I go talk to your sisters really fast."
  457. >Sonata starts absent mindedly listing her favorite toppings under her breath, counting them out with her fingers.
  458. >You slide around the kitchen counter and step into the living room, walking over to the couch. While Sonata is distracted with the benign task you gave her, there's a chance of having an intelligent discussion now.
  459. >"Where's my beer?"
  460. >You stare at Aria, the likely hood of getting anything done tonight slowly dwindling.
  461. >Sometimes you wonder why it was a good idea to hire these three sirens in the first place: they can be more trouble than their worth far too often.
  462. >Your face must reflect your inner thoughts, because Aria grins at you, leaning back into the couch, repositioning her legs so one is crossed on top of the other.
  463. >"I'm just messing around, you know," she says, then twists around to face the kitchen and yells, "but seriously, Sonata, where's my beer?"
  464. >You catch Adagio's hand connecting with her face, which is shortly followed by a groan of someone who wants off this ride.
  465. >"Aria, focus, we might not be working tonight but we have actual issues to talk about. Our monthly budget report is coming up soon, and we also need to discuss the most recent Changeling appearances."
  466. >Glaring over at Adagio, Aria stops berating Sonata and settles in to the couch. You remain standing, staring down at both of them.
  467. >"Oh, stop looking so dramatic and sit down already."
  468. >Knowing how thin Adagio's patience is, you quickly get your butt in gear and squeeze in between the two girls, seating yourself on the center cushion.
  469. >Nodding with approval, Adagio rotates herself to face Aria and you, leaning into the couches right arm for comfort.
  470. >After finding a suitable position, Adagio attains a regal air and begins to speak.
  471. >"So, first things first: how's our impromptu guest doing in the basement?"
  472. >You shrug, masking your face with indifference.
  473. "If by 'guest' you mean the Changeling locked in a dog cage downstairs, and if you have a very loose definition of hospitality, then our 'guest' is doing rather well at the moment...I think."
  474. >Adagio's eyes narrow at you, small embers of wrath burning in them, waiting to be become a raging inferno.
  475. >"What do you mean you think? Have you even checked on it today?"
  476. >The distance between Adagio and you have become dangerously heated, her eyes nearly igniting the air that separates you.
  477. >Fully aware of the potential danger you are in, you start to retreat towards Aria's side of the couch, scooching your way over to her very slowly, so as to not draw more attention to yourself.
  478. "Well you see, it's a funny story: after Aria and I came home last night and tucked our guest in, I went upstairs and crashed. I woke up late and got caught up rushing to school to check on it."
  479. "Why don't you ask Aria how it's doing? She stayed the night and was still sleeping when I left this morning, so maybe she checked up on our guest.
  480. >Aria, clearly seeing through your mediocre attempts to redirect Adagio's anger her way, is not amused with this development.
  481. >"Ugh, look, let's just tell her the truth," Aria says, punctuating her statement by closing her eyes and facepalming.
  482. >"Tell me what?"
  483. >Adagio is now fuming, dissecting Aria and you with her murderous gaze, conveying unspeakable tortures in store for the two of you if neither one came clean soon.
  484. >Sighing, you realize you have no choice but to break the news to Adagio. Aria just couldn't keep her mouth shut.
  485. "We may have been a little too liberal introducing our guest to the cattle prod last night."
  486. >The sound of teeth grinding is heard throughout the small, confined space of the couch. What was once a seat of luxury and comfort is now your prison; there is nowhere to escape.
  487. >"What. Does. That. Mean," Adagio says through gritted teeth, tensing her face with each word.
  488. >"It means we fried his brains out," Aria replies flatly.
  489. >Straight to the point, no tact present in her words.
  490. >The preceding scream of rage emitting from Adagio's mouth is earth shattering, nearly shaking the entire building. There was so much force in her incoherent cry that it broke Sonata's concentration from the ever so important task of choosing the perfect pizza topping.
  491. >While Sonata ducks behind the kitchen counter to hide from the fuming Siren in the other room, two hapless victims are left to bear the full brunt of the monster's vexation.
  492. >"How did you two nitwits electrocute a bug in one evening?! No, wait, let me guess: beer!"
  493. >Together, Aria and you nod in sync, eyes downcast at the floor.
  494. >As one, you speak the name of both your savior and the eternal source of most of your problems.
  495. "Beer."
  496. >That glorious, amber liquid had gotten you into this mess, and once Adagio calmed down enough for you two to slip away, it was probably going to get you into more trouble.
  497. >A wail of absolute, soul shattering doom assaults your ears as Adagio's anger reaches its apex and gushes out of her. You hear a whimper of terror come from behind the kitchen counter, Sonata's psyche no doubt shattering from fear.
  498. >Aria braves the blast head on, eyes closed and face held taut as the sounds waves assault her over and over, again and again.
  499. >As for yourself: you have faced dragons, great horrors banished to the depths of hell, and even defied a princess who wielded the power of the sun.
  500. >So right now, how is it that you face the Siren's wail?
  501. >By curling up on the couch, smothering your ears with your hands in hopes of blocking out the majority of the sound.
  502. >Having exhausted her supply of air, Adagio starts taking in deep, long breathes, exhaling them in a slow, steady stream as she tries to regain her composure.
  503. >After a minute of maintaining this pattern, Adagio has achieved a semblance closer to calm, yet there is still a spark of pure, unadulterated rage waiting to unleash hell upon the cabin.
  504. >"Now, why don't we start from the beginning: how did you manage to capture a Changeling in the first place?"
  505. >Her words are spoken softly, all the more jarring after her outburst.
  506. >Swallowing, you open your mouth to speak, but you recoil back as Adagio spins around to face the kitchen counter.
  507. >"Sonata!" she barks.
  508. >A blue ponytail peaks up over the counter, accompanied by a pair of scared, raspberry eyes.
  509. >"Y-y-yes Adagio?"
  510. >"Go find the recorder; these two idiots," her eyes dart towards the part of the couch you and Aria occupy, "are going to give us a confession of them royally screwing up. That way, if city council ever asks why half the citizens of the town are love chugging bugs, they'll know exactly who to blame."
  511. >Sonata nods vigorously, jumping to her task with an enthusiasm spurred by her want to escape the immediate vicinity.
  512. >As Sonata's figure disappears down the hallway, Adagio's full attention is once again upon you and Aria, eyes melting holes into you both.
  513. >Sharing a glance with Aria, you gulp, and start to explain the events of last night.
  514. "So...Aria and I were out in town last night, checking out the a few of the local bars."
  515. >"Yeah!" says Aria. "We were...investigating, yeah, investigating the bars. There were rumors that people were disappearing at a few of them, then showing up a few days later."
  516. >"So what? They probably got drunk and passed out underneath a bridge or something; you two were just looking for an excuse to go drinking."
  517. "Well, initially, yeah, that was one of the big reasons we went out."
  518. >You begrudgingly acknowledge this statement, causing Adagio's lips to twitch into a smirk. Just what you needed, to prove that girl right.
  519. "When we started our rounds last night, we figured we could knock out two birds with one stone: grab a quick drink, and check out some of these rumors. It could have been just drunks wandering off and getting lost, but it was worth investigating."
  520. >"So we picked a random bar and went in," pitches in Aria.
  521. >"After having a few rounds and loosening up, we started talking to the regulars around the bar. Nobody was overly talkative, and when we questioned them about the rumors of people disappearing, most people clammed up and told us to buzz off."
  522. "Now that I think about it, at the time I found it odd that most of the people there weren't really there for drinks at all...they were just...meandering around, waiting."
  523. >"They might have been there for the atmosphere, or with friends," suggest Adagio.
  524. >Aria shakes her head, disgust evident on her face.
  525. >"Trust me when I say this Adagio: this was NOT the place to go for atmosphere, or somewhere you would take your friends to willingly."
  526. "Anyways, we hung around for a while until the bartender got tired of us pestering his customers, and kicked us out. At that time, I think we were maybe, what, three or four drinks in?"
  527. >"Pssh, try closer to seven. I had a pretty good buzz going, and you weren't walking in a straight line anytime soon when we left."
  528. "That sorta explains why things are a bit hazy after that..."
  529. >"Yeah, but I remember it pretty well. After we left, we started making our way back the van, choosing to call it an early night. When we were nearly at the van, we got stopped by these two guys."
  530. >Memories rush back, the alcohol from last night providing a murky representation of what happened next.
  531. "And then we got in a fight with them. Before you ask," you raise a hand at a protesting Adagio, "I don't know how, or why, but it happened. All I can really remember is this god awful screeching and then they charged us."
  532. >"Ugh, don't remind me of that sound. Thinking about it makes my head hurt."
  533. "The first guy got decked hard by Aria, the dude just charged her thinking that she was going to be easy."
  534. >"Sucks to be him; it takes a whole lot more to take me down, even when I'm drunk."
  535. >Many a poor soul had made the mistake of trying to take advantage of a drunk Aria; most of them didn't get very far before they were crawling away, whimpering in pain.
  536. "So one guy down without a lot of fuss. The other comes for me, and I'm able to barely sidestep him and smash his head into the van. When we stepped back to check each other out, they were both unconscious. Then things got weird"
  537. "They started to...melt; and where there used to be two, normal people were now these nasty lookin', black bugs."
  538. >"After Anon spent a few minutes freaking out, I managed to slap some sense into him and got him to calm down."
  539. "Me, freak out?! If I remember correctly, there was a certain pig-tailed bitch screaming 'Game over man, game over!' for a straight minute before she tripped over one of the bodies and knocked herself out of a stupor."
  540. >"Shut up! That didn't happen!"
  541. >You start to laugh, but are abruptly cut off by a serious of punches to the gut as Aria silences you in her own discreet way.
  542. >As your laughs turn to gasps of pain, Adagio rolls her eyes, folding her arms and leaning back into the couch.
  543. >"Quit it you two, and focus: what happened next?"
  544. >Frowning, you try to scrounge up some idea of how you went from an alley to your home.
  545. >Aria seems to have a better recall than you, and answers the question.
  546. >"We grabbed one of them, stuffed him in the back of the van, and tossed the other one in a dumpster."
  547. >Adagio's shocked look only receives a shrug from Aria.
  548. >"What? It seemed like the best idea at the time; you can't expect us to make good decisions while drunk."
  549. >"No, but I can expect you to not drink on the job!" explodes Adagio.
  550. >Aria visibly winces at the response. Fortunately, before Adagio can start ripping Aria to threads, Sonata bounces into the room holding a digital recorder.
  551. >"Okey dokey Adagio, one recorder, just like you asked! I hope I didn't miss anything too interesting."
  552. >Sonata's cheery voice cuts through the tense atmosphere easily. Hopping around the couch, she places the recorder down on a coffee table and hits the record button.
  553. >Or at least she thought she did.
  554. "Okay, okay, this is secret agent Anon-"
  555. >"Ooh, and this is special agent Aria! We just, we just, hold on a this thing on?"
  556. >Yours and Aria's slurred speech comes out of the speakers of the recorder.
  557. >Your back becomes rigid, and you freeze in place, not daring too move.
  558. "So, so Aria and I, we was going out, minding our own business when this motherfucker-"
  559. >A *thwump!* is heard in the background, accompanied by a yelp of pain.
  560. "This motherfucker, right here, ruined our good evening out."
  561. >"W-w-where am I? Where did you two take me?"
  562. >"Shut up!" You hear Aria's voice ring out followed by the sound of a hand meeting a face.
  563. >"You already screwed this evening up for us, now it's our turn to ruin yours. Anon, grab the cattle prod."
  564. >Slowly, ever so slowly, your eyes start to rotate towards Adagio.
  565. >The recording continues.
  566. >"Wait, please! I'll tell you anything you want! J-j-just don't hurt me!"
  567. >"Fine, fine, jeez, just shut up. Anon, I didn't say stop grabbing the cattle prod."
  568. >"Ohgodohgodohgod..."
  569. >"So," feet shuffling around can be heard over the sobs of the Changeling.
  570. >"So, umm, what are you then? Like, I haven't seen you before, and I've seen a loooot of things."
  571. "Oh, that's easy, it's a Changeling."
  572. >"Changeling? What?! How?!"
  573. >"Wait, you know what I am? Then why didn't you tell her!"
  574. "Shhhhhhhh, too many noises, making my head hurt. Urgh. Okay, so, you know, I used to live in Equestria-"
  575. >"Where the heck is Equestri-AHHHH!"
  576. >The Changeling starts screaming in pain mid-sentence as a crackling of ozone is heard.
  577. "Fucking-a, I'm trying to tell a story here, shut the fuck up!"
  578. >"Nononono, you're doing it wrong Anon, give, gimme the cattle prod."
  579. >More shuffling as the aforementioned object switches hands.
  580. >"See, you gotta, sorta, jab it in, like this."
  581. >Aria's words are punctuated by another scream and a crackle.
  582. "Yeah, I was doin' it like that...Wait, was, what was I telling a story?"
  583. >"Yes, yes you were! Please, tell it! Just don't shock me again!"
  584. "I'm not gonna tell the story if you're talkin'. Aria, Aria you gotta make him quiet before I can tell my story."
  585. >The only response you here is a series hisses and sputters as the electrified tip of the cattle prod hits chitin over and over again. Each time, the intensifying screams continuing until they reach a crescendo. An inhuman sound escapes the recording, sending shivers down your back.
  586. >Your eyes have finally found their way to Adagio, and what you witness is a bad omen. Her left eye is twitching every few seconds, her face distorted in an ugly grimace.
  587. >Hard to say if she was having an aneurysm or consumed by her anger. You're not saying the former would be better, but the latter could prove to be exceptionally painful, both mentally and physically.
  588. "Hey, it's quiet now. Poke it a few more times, just to make sure."
  589. >*fzzzt!*
  590. >"Nope, I think he gots the point. So what were you saying?"
  591. "Hmm...lemme see...Changelings, Changelings...oh, right! So, back when I was in Equestria, I used to work in the Night Guard, doing cool stuff like hunting monsters and routing out Changelings from the ponies."
  592. >"So sorta like what you do now?"
  593. "Yeah, but with more ponies and magic and things like that. Wait a sec-"
  594. >*sniff!* *sniff!*
  595. "Do you smell that?"
  596. >"Smell what?"
  597. >You motion for Aria to head towards the front door as you gingerly pick yourself off of the couch, tiptoeing your way out of the living room.
  598. >Adagio has her full attention focused on the recorder, almost melting holes into it with her incinerating gaze, not noticing as you two stealthily make your escape.
  599. >The condemned recording continues along, damning the both of you with each passing second.
  600. "It smells like something got burnt. Oh shit, did we leave the oven on?"
  601. >"Naw, we didn't cook anything tonight...I think. Wait, I think it's coming from the bug."
  602. "Changeling."
  603. >"Okay, fine, Changeling. Oh yeah, it definitely smells like it's burnt or something. Hey are you hungry? We should, like, make some nachos."
  604. "Dude, nachos sound so bomb right now! Let's do it!"
  605. >As the recording comes to an end, you and Aria are starting to slip out the door. Right as the door is soundlessly closed, you here a deep, resounding roar come from the cabin.
  607. >That's your queue to bail while you are still have limbs attached to your body.
  608. "Go go go!" you shout, tossing Aria the keys as you jump into the passenger seat of the van.
  609. >Aria sprints around the front of the van, slipping on the gravel while trying to propel herself forward. Just as she opens the driver side, you hear the cabin door slam open and someone starts to come towards you.
  610. >You spare a quick look out the window, seeing Sonata waving her arms frantically all the while screaming: "Wait, don't leave me with her! She's really, really angry! I don't wanna be left alone while she's like this!"
  611. >Yet another soldier lost in the line of duty, for a worthy cause. As Aria bangs her door shut and starts the van, you roll down a window and shout over the rumble of the engine.
  612. "Sorry Sonata! We have to go grab the pizza! We'll be back in a bit!"
  613. >The engine roars as Aria puts the peddle to the metal, tearing up the grass and dirt as you are launched forward onto the broken road.
  614. >You watch as Sonata tearfully collapses down on to her knees. You realize that she never did get to tell you what toppings she wanted...
  615. >You'll make it up to her by buying a soda. Yeah, soda will make her happy.
  616. >As the cabin becomes a pinprick of light in the distance, you let out gasp a sigh of relief. Taking out your phone, you plug an audio out cable into the headphone jack, selecting music appropriate for the mood.
  617. >
  618. >Your ride hurtles off into town; you've bought some time for Adagio to cool down, and you plan on sweetening her up with a good bottle of red wine. Hopefully you can bribe your way out of this screw up.
  619. >Now, what toppings would Sonata like on her pizza? Better ask Aria.
  620. "Hey Aria, what does Sonata like on her pizza?"
  622.  ----------------------------------------------
  624. >Be Anon.
  625. >You are currently sitting in math class, barely paying attention to the lecture at hand.
  626. >Between the upcoming lunch period and everything that happened last night, re-learning how to find the reduced row echelon form of a matrix is not at the top of your priority list.
  627. >A feeling of apprehension sinks into your stomach at the thought of lunch. Your...breakdown yesterday is still on everybody's mind, the halls buzzing about your outburst.
  628. >You've received some dirty looks today, but no one has yet to insult you personally. Things could be worse, but it doesn't ease the anxiety you feel.
  629. >Nor does the events of last night: after escaping from your house and returning with pizza, wine, and soda, you were able to ease Adagio out of her anger.
  630. >For the most part.
  631. >The red wine went a long way to smoothing things over, but by no means did it completely smother the fire raging in her.
  632. >You and Aria were chewed out for a good fifteen minutes, and only then did Adagio stop only because she had consumed half the bottle of wine.
  633. >You shudder as you recall last night. An angry Adagio is a force never to be reckoned with.
  634. >Once the pleasantries had been dealt with, your little group was able to get back on topic: Changelings.
  635. >The fact that there was one Changeling meant there was a very good chance that there was a hive also active within Canterlot County.
  636. >Having dealt with Changelings in the past, and having experienced how enormous a single hive can be, you have an exceptionally terrible, gut wrenching feeling about how the next few weeks are going to play out.
  637. >"Mr. Mous!"
  638. >You jump at your desk, lifting your head off of it. Ms. Harshwhinny is giving you her usual look of disapproval. Most of your classmates follow her gaze to you, staring at you like vultures, waiting to see what happens next.
  639. >Shaking your head to try and clear it, you take a look up at the board to get an idea of what the teacher might have asked you.
  640. >"Well, Mr. Mous? Are you going to answer the question?"
  641. "Um, what was it again Ms. Harshwhinny? I, uh, wasn't paying attention."
  642. >Ms. Harshwhinny sighs, irritated over your apparent lack of interest in the class. Which, she is of course, right: there are greater things at stake right here than finding the leading ones.
  643. >"The question, Mr. Mous, is if you could tell the class the next step to in reducing the matrix on the board."
  644. >Your eyes dart to the chalk board, staring at the stark white numbers and symbols on the dark, green surface.
  645. "You need to swap multiply the second row by negative two and add it to the third row, right?"
  646. >Satisfied with your answer, Ms. Harshwhinny nods her head in approval, then writes down the operation you just described.
  647. >"Very good; you might not have trouble with this Mr. Mous, but please pay attention in my class. Now, who can tell me the next row operation we need to perform?"
  648. >Suspecting you're in the clear for now, you lean back into your desk chair, pretending to take interest as the problem is continued to be solved.
  649. >After time drags by for what seems to be hours, but could only be minutes, you spare a glance over your left shoulder to check the clock hanging on the wall.
  650. >The small hand is almost upon the twelve, and the larger one is slowly reaching towards the nine.
  651. >So you have about fifteen more minutes of this torture. At least when Adagio was yelling at you, she was keeping your interest.
  652. >Albeit, that was mostly because you were afraid of the consequences if she caught you zoning out.
  653. >You sit and wait, time oozing by slowly, as if it is a pit of tar that is sluggishly dragging you under its depths, your struggles only hurrying your demise.
  654. >The high pitch sound of the bell is a blessed release from the drawling classroom atmosphere.
  655. >Quickly packing away your notebook and pencils, you sling your backpack onto your right shoulder and nimbly navigate your way through the rows of desks to the door.
  656. >Instead of following the flow of the crowd to the lunchroom, you opt to break away and slide down one of the side corridors, your feet leading you to the school fields.
  657. >The first thing you notice is how quiet it is outside. The hustle and bustle of the school is gone, the drone of conversation replaced by a small breeze and the sound of the occasional car passing by.
  658. >You start a path towards the bleachers, the faded, grey concrete and rusting rails looming ahead.
  659. >Climbing the steps, you choose to stop halfway to the top, sidestepping your way down of the rows, then plopping yourself down.
  660. >The weather today wasn't too bad; the sun is shining, a few clouds were passing by, occasional wisps of wind kept the temperature moderate.
  661. >Yep, this day was alright.
  662. >You reach into your backpack, and remove a few pieces of foil. Inside are slices of pizza, leftover from last night.
  663. >You munch on a slice of artichoke and garlic pizza; Aria had convinced you this was one of Sonata's favorite combinations.
  664. >Of course that was bullshit, but hey, you are a sucker for artichokes. Just to make sure you don't let Sonata down, you also ordered a pepperoni and a liter of root beer.
  665. >As you suspected, she did not enjoy Aria's choice of toppings, but the soda and pepperoni did seem to please her.
  666. >You tear a chunk out of the dough, taking your time munch on the chewy dough thoroughly, enjoying the clashing flavors.
  667. >Your breath is going to smell worse than the boy’s locker room after this meal.
  668. >Continuing to chew in silence, you are blissfully unaware of most of your surroundings, enjoying a rare moment free of stress.
  669. >In the back of your mind, you recall that eventually, sometime later this week you'll have to go back into the lunch room and probably apologize to Sunset's friends, but in the meantime...
  670. >As your mind begins to drift, you almost fail to notice the school bell ring, signaling the end of lunch.
  671. >Man, time went from slogging by to rushing out the window. Why can't it ever seem to be consistent?
  672. >You stretch out, standing up and cracking your knuckles.
  673. >Well, time to get back to class; at least you have English next, with Ms. Cheerilee.
  674. >Trudging your way down the bleachers, you glance up from studying your feet traversing the wide steps and notice the field start to fill up with students from gym.
  675. >Dang, you must have missed the early bell and only just heard the late bell.
  676. >You quicken your stride, taking the steps two at a time.
  677. >Rushing into the school, you hurry to your locker, grabbing the necessary textbooks then running down the now empty hallways to your class.
  678. >You don't slow down until you approach the classroom door, easing off your panicked run to catch your breath.
  679. >Gulping down one last lungful of air, you quietly open the door and sneak your way to the back row.
  680. >Ms. Cheerilee spares a you a brief, surprised face; it's not usual for you being late.
  681. >Recovering from her initial shock, she launches back into her lecture on 19th century Romanticism.
  682. >It's at least more interesting than what you're learning in math; numbers and proofs are always consistent for years to come. The wonderful thing about literature is how it asks and questions that have no single, right answer.
  683. >Settling in for an enjoyable hour, you remain focused on the class discussion until your pocket begins to vibrate.
  684. >Frowning, you reach into your left pocket as it shakes again. You pull out your phone, wondering who in this world would be calling you right now.
  685. >Your question is quickly answered as you gawk at the caller ID: Adagio.
  686. >Without thinking, you press the screen and hang up the call, preparing to place it into your backpack so it won't disturb you again.
  687. >Almost immediately the device begins to vibrate again, Adagio's name popping up on its screen.
  688. >Nope, in class right now, not going to deal with this.
  689. >You hang up a second time, and quickly push the phone into your bag.
  690. >Your hopes of muffling out the vibrations within the leaves of paper and books are crushed as yet again, the phone buzzes.
  691. >Sighing, you rustle around your bag for your phone with your left hand, hoping to not draw too much attention to yourself.
  692. >If Adagio's calling, and she keeps calling, then something must be up.
  693. >Either that or it's just her being stubborn to a fault again.
  694. >By the dark gods, this better be important Adagio...
  695. "Yes?"
  696. >You hiss into the phone, communicating clearly how peeved you are over being called in the middle of class.
  697. >"I need you over at the cabin, now. I'm sending you and Aria out to town early today to start tracking down more rumors of disappearances before the Changelings really dig in to the town."
  698. >Her voice is blunt, getting straight to the point; she isn't expecting you to argue with her orders.
  699. >That's unfortunate for her.
  700. "I'm at school right now, I can't. Give me a few more hours, then I'll be out."
  701. >"Unacceptable. You need to leave. Now."
  702. "No, screw that. Just wait for me to finish."
  703. >"Fine, I didn't want to do this, but it looks like I have no choice: I'll make Aria go in and drag you out. She's already parked in the school parking lot, so she would be there in minutes."
  704. >"Either you come out on your own free will, or I make her drag you out; I might even persuade her to use an unnecessary amount of force, just like you did a few nights ago."
  705. >The ice in her voice is bites into you like a sharp winter chill.
  706. >You've already drawn too much attention to yourself this week, so the last thing you need is one of the school's rogues bursting into your classroom and making a scene.
  707. "...I'll be right out. Let me pack up."
  708. >"Good. I thought you might see things my way."
  709. >The aura of smug enveloping Adagio leaks through the phone to you. She's a manipulative bitch, but damn does she know how to get results.
  710. >You slide the contents on top of your desk into your backpack, zip it up, and proceed to walk out of the classroom.
  711. >Ms. Cheerilee is bewildered by your actions, and calls out to you as you approach the door.
  712. >"Wait, Anon! Where are you going? Class isn't over yet."
  713. "I know," you say, barely pausing as you grip the door handle and fling open the door.
  714. >"Then where are you going? We still have," she glances at the clock located above the board, "about half an hour left."
  715. "Something big just came up that I have to take care of."
  716. >Before she can reply you close the door, walking down the hall with a sense of purpose.
  717. >Oh boy, yet more fuel for the rumors spreading about you. You can already picture the conversation in your head:
  718. >That weird loner Anonymous, you know him right? The guy who yelled at the school's prominent party person at lunch the other day? Get this: he just up and left in the middle of class. Nobody knows why, he was there and then gone without an explanation.
  719. >Almost a year keeping to yourself, drawing as little attention to yourself.
  720. >All that down the drain in two days.
  721. >At least the average teenager's attention span will let most of this crap blow over in a few weeks...hopefully.
  722. >Who knows? Right now it doesn't matter, you have work to do apparently.
  723. >You crash out of the school's front entrance, launching yourself off of the front steps and rushing towards the parking lot.
  724. >The black work van is tucked away near the front of the parking lot, in a visitor slot.
  725. >Aria is leaning nonchalantly against the front, a bored expression drawn across her face, arms crossed and her back slouching.
  726. >"I see Adagio was able to bust your balls pretty hard to get you out of class. You ready?"
  727. "No, but I don't really have a choice. Let's go."
  728. >Aria shrugs at your words, and walks to the driver door and unlocks the van.
  729. >You both climb in, and with a twist of keys, the engine rumbles to life.
  730. >Skipping out on class, in full view of the teacher, is going to have consequences. Hopefully just a confrontation with the vice principal.
  731. >You honestly can't deal with the principal.
  732. >No matter how much remind yourself that it isn't HER, you can't get over the similarities.
  733. >You unconsciously rub the mark on your right wrist as a groundswell of emotions grips you, precipitated from your train of thought.
  734. >Rage, betrayal, anguish, fear...
  735. >This isn't the time to wallow in the past.
  736. >You plug in your phone, selecting a song to blast out the speakers.
  738. >Satisfied with your choice, Aria pulls out of the parking lot as the heavily distorted lyrics thunder out of the van.
  739. >"Dread, seh Pappa To-yan, Dread, ya know a Dread, ...."
  741. ------------------------------
  742. >Be Sunset.
  743. >Today has been a bit chillier than normal, so you left your house this morning dressed in your favorite black leather jacket and a pair of blue jeans.
  744. >Right now, it's lunch time, and there's something that has been bothering you the past few days that demands more of your attention than the salad in front of you.
  745. >You haven't seen Anon in about a week.
  746. >There have been some rumors about what he's been up to, but they're just that - rumors.
  747. >All you know for sure is that: a) he left school almost right after the lunch period and b) he texted you saying he had to cancel movie night.
  748. >He never misses movie night!
  749. >Furthermore, he didn't even tell you why he was bailing out on you; the only warning you received was a bland text saying he couldn't make it.
  750. >This combined with his absence has had your concern for him gradually growing.
  751. >Anon is up to something, but you don't know what.
  752. >"Hello? Earth to Sunset; are you there?"
  753. >Rainbow Dash is waving her hand in front of you, trying to get your attention.
  754. >Dragging yourself out of your thoughts, you start to poke your salad, picking through the leafy greens and tomatoes, avoiding eye contact with Dash.
  755. "What's up Dash?"
  756. >"You alright Sunset? Lately you've been a"
  757. >"Yes dear, you seem to have quite a bit on your mind," chips in Rarity.
  758. >"Whatever is the problem? We would like to help, but first you must tell us."
  759. >The others at your table take a moment to pause from eating their meals, looking at you expectantly.
  760. >Has Anon's disappearance been bothering you that much?
  761. >You open your mouth to speak, but then pause and bite your lip.
  762. >Your friends are still in the dark about your friendship with Anon, and as far as you know they're still not entirely happy about how he treated Pinkie Pie.
  763. >Hmm...
  764. >Well, it has been about a week, and Anon hasn't tried to contact you or tell you what's going on.
  765. >You also don't need to tell your friends that you personally know Anon.
  766. >The best course of action right now is to just tell them what's on your mind.
  767. "Well, I'm sort of worried about Anon..."
  768. >"Why would you be worried 'bout that no good varmint? Tha one time any of us reaches out ta him, he went and got his britches all twisted."
  769. >Applejack punctuates her sentence with a huff, folding her arms and settling into her seat.
  770. >"AJ's right; why should you be worried about that jerk? He made Pinkie cry, and he still hasn't even tried to apologize about that!"
  771. >Dash is quick to back up Applejack; a little too fast for your liking.
  772. >You were kind of hoping that any feelings of dissent wouldn't have time to fester by the time you could convince Anon to publicly apologize to Pinkie.
  773. >Unfortunately, his lack of presence postponed any attempts of reconciling with the girls (and apparently a few of them are still holding a grudge against him).
  774. >"Don't be so harsh Rainbow Dash," Fluttershy's quiet voice floats over the din of lunchroom banter.
  775. >"Simply because someone was unkind to us doesn't mean we should treat them the same way. That sort of behavior never leads to a happy ending."
  776. >At least you still have Fluttershy on your side; if she was even remotely mad at Anon, there would be no chance of redemption for him.
  777. >You shoot a grateful smile towards her.
  778. "Fluttershy is right: if you girls had treated me the same way I used to act towards you, we wouldn't have had this chance to be friends."
  779. >"Oh tarnation," sighs Applejack, "you have a point there. If we hadn't warmed up ta you, we never would have defeated the Dazzlings."
  780. >"You and Shy make a good point, but that doesn't answer mah earlier question: why are you worried about Anon?"
  781. "I don't know if you noticed, but he hasn't been in school for a week now," you say flatly.
  782. >Your forward statement catches the apple farmer off guard; the rest of table seems to be mulling over your words.
  783. >"You may be, how do you say it, jumping the gun there Sunset? He may have caught the flu or some other dreadful illness."
  784. "Rarity, it's the beginning of spring. No one has had the flu for months now, and nobody else in school has been struck with a mysterious illness."
  785. >"Well, I heard Trixie was out for a few days," starts Rainbow Dash.
  786. >Rarity's eyes start to twinkle in that 'I told you so' manner.
  787. >"Buuut, like I said, that was only for a few days. She said she had a fever, not anything major."
  788. >Rarity has lost a little bit of that gleam in her eye, but she is far from defeated.
  789. >"Hmph, that still doesn't mean he CAN'T be sick. We shouldn't get ourselves all worked up because one unsavory gentleman hasn't shown his face in a while."
  790. >You roll your eyes.
  791. >As great as Rarity is, she can be too damn stubborn about her viewpoints.
  792. >"Has anyone seen Anonymous in town? I'm sure he wouldn't be above playing hooky for week just cause."
  793. >Knowing Anon, he probably wouldn't skip school for a week without a good reason.
  794. >Not showing up at school would draw attention to him, and he always seemed to go out of his way to stay out of the spotlight.
  795. >You're about to retort to Rarity, when an unexpected voice speaks up.
  796. >"I saw him," Pinkie says quietly.
  797. >The normally bubbly, pink party person's uncharacteristic volume is unnerving.
  798. >To add to your unease, Pinkie is much more...reserved.
  799. >That's a word you never thought you would use to describe her.
  800. >"I...I saw him, this Tuesday."
  801. >All attention at your little table is focused on Pinkie now.
  802. >Not that she notices; she continues to stare at her lunch, poking the meatloaf with disinterest.
  803. "How was he? Was he okay? Is he hurt?"
  804. >You bombard Pinkie with questions, desperate to find out more.
  805. >Normally, your line of question might have raised some questions of your intention from the girls, but all eyes are on Pinkie now.
  806. >Her tone, her body language, it all leaves you with a sinking feeling.
  807. >"He was...fine. He was fine. Sorta just passed by him; he asked me not to say anything, but you sounded like you were getting worried Sunset."
  808. >Her dead tone and lack of details does nothing to calm you down. The whole sentence feels forced, unnatural, as if Pinkie is trying to hold back.
  809. >You can't help but ask: is she hiding something?
  810. >"Pinkie, ya wouldn't happen ta be holdin' out any details on us, now would ya?"
  811. >Apparently you aren't the only one who senses how off Pinkie's comments are; Applejack is eyeing Pinkie curiously, giving the girl her rapt attention.
  812. >"Anon told me not to, y'know, tell anyone about me running into him. He made me Pinkie Promise and everything!"
  813. >Pinkie's voice starts to attune to her normal volume and attitude as she mentions the very serious business of promise making.
  814. >Rainbow Dash groans.
  815. >"This means we're not going to get any more info about Anon from you, right?"
  816. >"Yep."
  817. >"Not even just a teensy morsel of his current state or what he's up to dear?"
  818. >"Rarity," Pinkie's demeanor becomes stern as she begins to lecture.
  819. >"You know how important a Pinkie Promise is to me. I mean, come on! It has my name inside of it! Each promise is a deep, interpersonal creation of trust where nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever make me break it."
  820. >"For example, I never told anyone about the time I saw you in the bathroom with a picture in one hand and the other inside your skirt while you kept moaning the name ‘Tom’ and then you-"
  821. >"Stop!" Rarity hastily cuts in.
  822. >She looks a bit frazzled and has her hands on the table, leaning into them.
  823. >Just when it was getting good to...
  824. >"You've made your point; your promises shall not be infringed upon."
  825. >"That's what I thought," says a smug Pinkie, accompanied by a snicker from Rainbow Dash.
  826. >She suddenly stands up straight.
  827. >"Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!"
  828. >She punctuates each statement with an equivalent action, crossing a hand over her heart, flapping her arms in a wing like motion, and sticking a cupcake into her face.
  829. >Wait, where did the cupcake come from?
  830. >Nope, nope, don't think about it, just let Pinkie be Pinkie.
  831. >The tension at the table has nearly evaporated, but it still floats in the back of your mind as Pinkie licks the frosting off of her face.
  832. >The bell rings, signifying the end of lunch.
  833. >Everybody starts to grab their things and throw away any trash or leftovers.
  834. >As you and your friends start to exit the cafeteria, you put a hand on Pinkie's shoulder, drawing her back towards you.
  835. >She shudders at your touch, but eases off once she hears your voice.
  836. "Hey, Pinkie, got a minute?"
  837. >She turns around, her sunny smile a stark contrast to her demeanor a minute ago.
  838. >"Sure; what's up Sunny?"
  839. "Can you tell me anything else about Anon? Anything?"
  840. >Her smile remains, but it is no longer one of happiness.
  841. >"Funny thing, Sunset: he made me especially promise not to tell you anything. Something about not wanting you to be worried."
  842. >Yeah, that sounds like Anon.
  843. >He never did understand that the more he asked you not to worry, the more you did.
  844. >Pinkie's sympathetic face does little to ease your feelings, and not knowing any better remedy, she hugs you.
  845. >Such a simple act does more than any words could do to comfort you, and you bury your face into her shoulder.
  846. >"Hey, it's gonna be alright Sunset. He'll be fine - I think. If it makes you feel any better, I can tell you something he told me right before he left."
  847. >You pull back, hands firmly gripping her shoulders.
  848. "What was it? What did he say?"
  849. >You stare into the depths of those cerulean eyes, waiting for her words.
  850. >While you look deeper and deeper into them, you catch something.
  851. >It's faint, ever so faint, but once you realize what it is, it stands out with a stark contrast.
  852. >"Don't stay out after dark."
  853. >Dread. 
  854. >The fear evident in Pinkie's parting words was infectious, spreading down to your very core.
  855. >Throughout the rest of the school day your agitation grew and grew.
  856. >You were nearly fidgeting in your chair due to the roiling storm of mental uneasiness trapped inside of your head.
  857. >Why would Anon tell Pinkie something so...ominous?
  858. >How the heck did she think that would help ease your anxiety?
  859. >There has to be some context behind those words, but Pinkie's wasn't opening up to you anytime soon.
  860. >Maybe if you told her how you and Anon-
  861. >*Briiiing!*
  862. >As the bell rings to announce the end of the school day, you nearly jump out of your desk.
  863. >You quickly stuff your books and notes into your backpack, and rush out of the classroom, briefly stopping by your locker to grab your guitar.
  864. >The Rainbooms were having band practice after school today, but honestly, you weren't feeling it.
  865. >This whole day was starting to feel off.
  866. >You had planned on settling some of your agitation at lunch by talking to your friends; instead it seems to have grown thanks to all the new tidbits of information you've gathered.
  867. >Where the hell was Anon, and what was he doing?
  868. >You force your way through the hallways and out the front doors, escaping the cramped halls as fast as you could.
  869. >As you hurdle by the equine statue out front, you pause for a minute, memories flooding your thoughts.
  870. >Sifting through your past, a purple face fades in, and stands prominently at the forefront of your mind.
  871. >Twilight...she might actually be able to help you with your current problem.
  872. >You're not wholly committed to revealing your relationship with Anon to your friends just yet, but Twilight has been in the know ever since she left after Fall Formal.
  873. >You need to go home, write to Twilight.
  874. >She would know what to do; she always has a fresh perspective on problems.
  875. >You're thankful that you can fall back on her as a friend, especially after a troubled day such as this.
  876. >Come to think of it, Twilight might actually be able to reel in Anon a little bit.
  877. >You recall that he was supposed to be under her supervision, or something like that, when she came to retrieve the element of magic back from you.
  878. >Anon also seems to hold an insurmountable respect towards Twilight, so chances are her words would have much greater sway on him than yours do.
  879. >You may be friends with the man, but he rarely confides with you and only seems to consider your advice, never whole heartedly committing to it.
  880. >One of these days he might listen to you - but first, he has to be a little more trusting towards you.
  881. >You guess he never really did get over you leaving him behind in Equestria when you stepped through the portal separating these two realities.
  882. >It couldn't have been that bad, leaving him suddenly...right?
  883. >Princess Celestia was the one who introduced you two, so he obviously knew her at least.
  884. >On top of that, he was working with Twilight when he crossed over to this world, so that's at least two people he knew.
  885. >Eh, it's probably something else; you've had this talk with him many times before, and it always felt as if he was holding back his reasons.
  886. >Maybe helping him out with whatever trouble he's run into will loosen him up a bit.
  887. >You really hope've invested too many of your emotions into him at the moment to have him become even more distant towards you.
  888. >A part of you would like to think that there was a deep bond between you too, especially after all the months he spent helping you on the path to redemption.
  889. >Hefting the guitar in your right hand, you leave your musings behind at the statue and continue on towards home.
  890. >First priority was to write to Twilight, then maybe start on homework.
  891. >Best not to get behind, especially with exams approaching fast.
  892. >With the school grounds to your back, you make your way into the nearby suburban maze, following the streets to your apartment.
  893. >It was only about a good 15 minute walk away; close enough that you don't have to rush to school unless you wake up late.
  894. >You pass immaculate lawns, neatly trimmed bushes, and white washed houses.
  895. >Nothing quite like the uniformity of the suburbs.
  896. >Some days it was disturbing to see everything so lined up perfectly and in order, but today it provided comfort.
  897. >The seemingly never changing, perfect landscape was familiar, and something familiar was what you needed right now.
  898. >You make your way around another corner, the one-story houses giving way to a series of apartments, each one capping out at four stories tall.
  899. >The apartment complexes had a much more modern aspect to them; all angles and edges.
  900. >The exterior was painted a tasteful firehouse red, every floor separated by gray railings from balconies jutting out of the building like branches from a tree.
  901. >Eager to find solace in your home, you hurry towards the gate leading to your complex, punching in the building's password into a keypad off to the left of it.
  902. >*thunk!*
  903. >You wrench open the gate as soon as you hear it unlock, letting it swing closed behind you.
  904. >Bounding up the open stair well, you rush up towards the third floor, taking the stairs two at a time.
  905. >Pushing a gray, steel door open, your feet thud onto the soft carpet of the interior hallway.
  906. >Doors stretch out in front of you, and you swiftly move down towards the one that belongs to you.
  907. >You are in such a rush that you fail to notice the shadow moving out from the alcove tucked to the left of the door.
  908. >As you patter down towards your room, you also fail to hear the other pair of quiet footsteps stalking yours.
  909. >Finally, you come upon the door leading to your home, and you fumble inside your jacket for the keys.
  910. >After a few seconds of patting down your jacket to discern their location, you finally find them stashed in your left pocket.
  911. >You grab your set of keys and flip through them until you find the appropriate ones.
  912. >With haste, you unlock your bland apartment door and pass through the doorframe.
  913. >To your surprise, as you swing the door closed behind you, you feel resistance.
  914. >You start turn to find out what could be stopping it when you are firmly grabbed from behind and pushed out of the doorway.
  915. >The guitar falls from your grasp and hits the floor with a clang, the strings humming an out of key chord from the impact.
  916. >The door closes behind you with a thud and you feel something cold and hard pressed up against the right side of your head as you instinctively grapple with the arm being forced around your neck.
  917. >As you start to wonder what is happening, a loud, metallic click rings out, and any hope of it being anything less sinister than your first assumptions evaporate.
  918. >Currently, someone has a gun placed up against your head.
  919. >Your body shivers with dread; your first thought?
  920. >You were going to die.
  921. >Before your panicked mind could think of worse fates for you, a familiar, soothing voice speaks up.
  922. >"Shhh, Sunset, it's me."
  923. >No.
  924. >It can't be.
  925. "A-a-anon?"
  926. >"Yeah, it's me. Now listen very carefully-"
  928. >"Well, if you hadn't interrupted me, I might have been able to tell you by now."
  929. >He sounds tired, with a hint of annoyance in his tone.
  930. >It seems all you're doing is ticking him off at the moment.
  931. >Way to go Sunset, annoying the man with a gun to your head. No, please continue; this will only end well if you keep going.
  932. >"What I was going to say, was I wanted you to tell me something only the two of us would know."
  933. >"W-why?"
  934. >Anon pauses, then speaks up again.
  935. >"To make sure it's you."
  936. >What can you say? Dear Celestia, what can you say?
  937. >Desperately you search your mind for something, anything that could be met the criteria of his question.
  938. >You hear his hand tighten on the grip of his weapon.
  939. >The silence is apparently getting to Anon.
  940. >"Please Sunset - say something."
  941. >His next sentence is as quiet as a breath of wind.
  942. >"Don't make me regret this."
  943. >Your body tenses as you imagine his finger slowly squeezing the trigger.
  944. >You squeeze your eyes shut, afraid that this may very well be the last thing you'll ever see.
  945. "D-during Fall Formal - right after everyone went inside to dance - I was sitting on the steps of the school, by myself."
  946. >You voice comes out in a shaky gasp.
  947. >Nothing happens; no reply from the gun or Anon.
  948. >The quiet greets you.
  949. "I-it was just me in front of the school after everybody left. Nobody was there, and I doubt anybody wanted to be there with me."
  950. >Bitterness enters your tone as you remember that harrowing scene, one of the lowest points in your life.
  951. >The pressure on your skull eases up ever so slightly.
  952. >Tears start to well up in your eyes as you continue.
  953. "I was at rock bottom, nobody to lean on, and bawling my eyes out on the ruins of the front steps. Ruins that I made."
  954. "While I was at my lowest low, there was at least one person out there who took pity on me, the last person I expected; the last person who I really deserved any help from."
  955. >To your right, you hear the gun start to shake, clattering in Anon's hands.
  956. >A single tear starts to flows down your checks, and you feel more preparing to breech the dam.
  957. "Do you want to know what that person said to me, to comfort me? His answer to why he was willing to show any mercy, any sign of forgiveness towards me despite how terrible of a friend - of a PERSON - I was?"
  958. >Your voice is a low murmur now; a low, angry, emotional murmur.
  959. >Taking a deep breath, you answer your question, your eyes weeping your frustration.
  960. "He said," you grit your teeth, "everybody deserves another chance to prove that they can be a better person."
  961. "The same person who said that is the IDIOT currently holding a gun to my head."
  962. >Your voice comes out in an angry sob, its volume rising.
  963. "So Anon, put the damn gun down before you make that chance you gave me mean absolutely nothing."
  964. >The next few seconds are the longest in your entire life.
  965. >As your words echo throughout the apartment and silence devours them, you jam your eyelids together as hard as you can.
  966. >One way or another, this whole nightmare was about to end...or maybe just begin?
  967. >You feel the coldness on the side of your head disappear, and the grip on you loosen up.
  968. >A loud sigh comes from behind you, accompanied by the sound of Anon collapsing to the floor.
  969. >You spin around, fury and fear mixed with a dash of adrenaline keeping you standing.
  970. >As you finish turning to face Anon, ready to give a personal demonstration as to why "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" to him, you stop.
  971. >The red haze that was covering your eyesight is quickly dispelled by the sorry sight before.
  972. >Anon was a disaster.
  973. >On his forehead was an angry red gash, stretching from the end of his left eyebrow and curving up to the center of his face.
  974. >Bags hung heavily beneath his sleepy, bloodshot eyes.
  975. >He was slumped down, back against your door, knees hugging into his chest.
  976. >His arms were limply hanging off of his knees, one hand weighed down by the pistol clutched in his grip.
  977. >His arms...all along them were scratches and bruises, forming a tapestry of violence.
  978. >He looked pathetic, beaten down.
  979. >Raising his head, he looks up at you, oblivious to your horrified stare.
  980. >"Hey Sunset...I'm gonna crash at your place, hope you don't mind..."
  981. >As the meaning of his words finally registered in your strung out mind, Anon was already drifting off, his eyes heavy and breath coming out in slow reps.
  982. "Wait - no; nononononono. Don't you dare fall asleep on me yet! What the hell is going on? You can't just sneak up on me, point a freakin' gun to my head then act like you're just crashing here for the night!"
  983. >Your yelling doesn't faze him; he continues to slip away, but not before a wry smile creeps across his lips.
  984. >"Little too late for that Sunset. Goodnight."
  985. >With those parting words, Anon slip away from the conscious world, a small snore signifying his departure, the gun clattering to the floor as his hand relaxed its grip.
  986. "Gah!"
  987. >You don't know how many times you've asked yourself this in the past few minutes, BUT WHAT IN THE NAME OF TARTARUS IS GOING ON?!
  988. >Anon is gone for a week then shows up - with a gun - asking you to prove that you’re...yourself?
  989. >Let's not even get started on what just happened, his current physical state, and his apparent run in with Pinkie that seems to have traumatized her.
  990. >You reach up and grab your hair and yank down, nearly hard enough to pull strands of it out of your scalp.
  991. >Alright, let's calm down...deep breaths.
  992. >In...and out. Breathe in...and out.
  993. >You close your eyes and focus on your breathing, controlling the air flow into your lungs and feeling your stomach expand and contract with each breath.
  994. >After what feels like several minutes, you open your eyes and glance around your apartment.
  995. >Anon is still passed out in front of your door, but nothing else seems to be amiss.
  996. >You head to your left, stepping into your small kitchen, dropping your backpack near the entrance and grabbing your guitar.
  997. >Absentmindedly, you right the guitar up so it’s leaning against the kitchen counter.
  998. >Taking a few steps to fully enter the kitchen; you then empty the contents of your pockets on to the counter next to the stainless steel sink.
  999. >As your wallet, phone, and keys clatter onto the countertop, you reach towards on overhead cabinet and grab a glass, then proceed to fill it at the sink.
  1000. >That whole encounter has left your throat dry as a whistle.
  1001. >You chug that water down, as if it's the first drink you've had through after a long trek in a desert.
  1002. >Filling up your glass again, you take smaller sips of the water this time, leaning your back against the counter and surveying your apartment.
  1003. >Probably should move Anon onto the couch or something...
  1004. >Or, y'know, the floor.
  1005. >He did just hold you at gunpoint, and despite how bad he looks right now, you're still angry at him.
  1006. >Besides, you bet he's pretty heavy, and trying to get him onto the couch is going to be pretty hard by yourself.
  1007. >Finishing the contents of your glass again, you place it in the sink to deal with it later and walk back towards the door.
  1008. >You stop in front of Anon, legs spread shoulder length apart and hands on your hips.
  1009. "Anon, what am I going to do about you?" you grumble to yourself.
  1010. >Sighing, you take a few steps towards him and squat down.
  1011. >Grabbing him by his ankles, you start to drag his body the short distance towards your living room.
  1012. >Your apartment isn't that big: just a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
  1013. >A simple, small home, but well-furnished and in much better condition than that dump you used to live in before Anon started helping you with rent.
  1014. >Ugh, that place was terrible.
  1015. >Bad part of town, a mysterious leak that always left the carpet moist and moldy...
  1016. >You could go on and on about the list of problems with that place.
  1017. >At the time, it was pretty much the only option available based on your budget.
  1018. >It was better than being homeless at least.
  1019. >Fortunately, you don't have to worry about the barely livable conditions of your old apartment.
  1020. >Unfortunately, you do have to deal with the sleeping wreck you're dragging along the floor.
  1021. >Positioning Anon's body so it was sandwiched between the couch and your coffee table, you let go of him and stand up, dusting off your hands.
  1022. >More as an afterthought than an act of kindness, you pull a pumpkin colored pillow off of your couch, gently lift up Anon's head, and place it underneath.
  1023. >You can now say you at least tried to get him comfortable.
  1024. >If he complains...well, he better not complain, not after the way he entered this apartment.
  1025. >Well, you initially came home early and skipped band practice so you could write to Twilight and ask her for help.
  1026. >If you thought you needed some outside help before, you really need it now.
  1027. >You walk to your bedroom, pushing open the door and glance one more time into the living room.
  1028. >Anon's body is obscured by the couch, but you can clearly see his head poking out from the end, cushioned by the pillow you placed.
  1029. "What sort of trouble did you get yourself into this time Anon?"
  1030. >You leave him with those words, closing your door and heading over to your desk.
  1031. >Opening the center drawer, you're greeted by your cutie mark stamped on to the worn, leather binding of a journal.
  1032. >Placing the tome on your desk, you drag up a wood chair and set yourself up at your desk.
  1033. >Flipping through till you find where you wrote your last letter to the Princess of Friendship, you grab a ballpoint pen from a baby blue cup overflowing with writing utensils.
  1034. >With a click, you start to write, and a soft purple glow hums off of the pages.
  1035. >"Dear Princess Twilight..."
  1036. >It's been about an hour since you wrote a letter Twilight.
  1037. >Nothing fancy, just a brief overview of your current predicament and asking her for help with...whatever Anon got himself into.
  1038. >You thought about sating your curiosity and questioning Twilight how she met Anon and any details he surrendered to her.
  1039. >But, you decided against that; part of you felt that you would be going around his back, prying into his background without his permission.
  1040. >Sure, it's frustrating that you know very little about him, and it would be great to learn more of his past, but you want to learn it from him.
  1041. >So after only requesting for assistance, you've been keeping yourself busy while waiting for Twilight's reply.
  1042. >She is a princess after all, so you don't know when you'll be getting a reply.
  1043. >You do, however, have a set date for when all your homework is due: tomorrow.
  1044. >So while waiting for the tell-tale glow associated with receiving a new message from Equestria, you've been making steady progress on the sizable chunk of assignments your teachers loaded on to you.
  1045. >Speaking of messages, you hear a muted buzzing coming from outside your bedroom.
  1046. >Probably Rainbow Dash or one of the other girls sending a message to see why you skipped out on band practice.
  1047. >Pushing yourself away from your desk, you stand up and leisurely open the door to the rest of your apartment, giving the door a light tap to swing it closed.
  1048. >You head towards the kitchen counter, the buzzing drifting from that direction in a consistent pattern.
  1049. >Seems like someone is trying to call you.
  1050. >When you arrive at where you left your phone, you are surprised to see that no one is calling it.
  1051. >There's notifications for a few new messages, but that persistent buzzing isn't coming from your phone.
  1052. >Just as you start to look around for the source of the sound, it stops.
  1053. >Huh.
  1054. >Wonder what they could have been; maybe the compressor on the back of the fridge was acting up?
  1055. >Shrugging off any lingering curiosity, you grab your phone and prepare to check your messages when the buzzing starts up again.
  1056. >Turning around, you raise an eyebrow as you try to discern where the sound could be coming from.
  1057. >No, it's definitely not the fridge; sounds like it's coming from the entrance to the kitchen though.
  1058. >Stepping around the counter, your eyes spot an object vibrating on the floor in-between the front door and the kitchen.
  1059. >Placing one knee on the ground, you investigate the protrusion on the floor.
  1060. >It's...a phone? You think.
  1061. >It has a small screen on the front displaying the caller's number, but it's nothing like the phones you're accustomed to seeing.
  1062. >Lifting it up you observe the lack of any sort of touch screen, it appears to be folded in half.
  1063. >You never knew that phones like this existed; it must be some sort of archaic technology from when they were first produced on this world.
  1064. >Upon further inspection, it looks like you can flip the phone open. Inside is a keypad on the bottom and a screen on top displaying the caller's ID.
  1065. >Just as you're about to press the button to receive the call, it goes to voice mail.
  1066. >The display shows that missed caller is labeled as "Purple Grump."
  1067. >That's gotta be a nickname of sorts; there's no possible way there's actually someone out there named "Purple Grump."
  1068. >You think.
  1069. >With nothing better to do, you hit the talk button, bringing the phone to your right ear and intrude on an apparently very angry voice mail.
  1070. >"Anon, you stupid, lazy sloth, pick up your damn phone before I-"
  1071. "Hello?"
  1072. >"'re not Anon."
  1073. "Yeah, I'm not. Who is this?"
  1074. >"No, first off, who are you?" demands the huffy voice.
  1075. >You could get into a short little argument about who should identify themselves first, but that wouldn't get you anywhere.
  1076. >Besides, the mystery voice might have some idea what happened to Anon.
  1077. >Sighing, you concede your name to the other side of the line.
  1078. "This is Sunset; Anon is currently staying at my place. He passed out about half an hour ago."
  1079. >You swear you hear someone grinding their teeth over the other end of the phone.
  1080. >"Wait- your name is Sunset, last name Shimmer, and Anon is at YOUR place, passed out?"
  1081. "Yeah, you just about covered everything I just said. Congratulations, your skills of perception far exceed my expectations. Now who am I speaking too?"
  1082. >"My name is Aria Blaze; don't you remember me, and how you wrecked my life in one fell swoop?"
  1083. >Oh.
  1084. >Shit.
  1085. >Questions...more questions on top of the already unanswered ones slumbering in your living room.
  1086. >At this rate, by the time you go to sleep you'll barely be afloat in this ever growing enigma.
  1087. >Hell, it’s almost like it’s a Hydra at this point; for each question you ask, two more pop up to take its place.
  1088. "Why the heck are you asking for Anon? Have you roped him in to another diabolical scheme of yours to try and enslave the school? Are you the reason why he's all scraped up and bruised?"
  1089. >Your accusatory tone strikes out at the Siren, making her pause for a few moments.
  1090. >When she responds, it's not what you expected.
  1091. >"How bad does he look?"
  1092. "Excuse me?"
  1093. >"How. Bad. Does. He. Look!"
  1094. >Aria's words are spat out of the speaker, hammering into your ears with a malicious force, driving their meaning home.
  1095. >There’s still some initial confusion over the siren’s words and the heavy emphasis on them; since when did the Dazzlings have any sort of…well, empathy for anyone outside of their group?
  1096. >You raise your free hand to your temple and start to rub at the slowly growing ache in your head.
  1097. “Gah! Is it too much to ask for no more surprise today? All I want is a teeny, tiny bit of piece of quiet, maybe a nice glass of wine, and a good night’s sleep. Why does all the weird stuff happen to me?”
  1098. >As you start to zone out of the conversation with your mutterings, Aria has the courtesy to ground you back to the topic at hand.
  1099. >”Hey, Baconswirl; get out of your pity party and freakin’ talk to me! I don’t like repeating myself multiple times in a row to incoherent lunes, so let me ask this one more time: what’s Anon condition right now?”
  1100. >...if your definition of courtesy includes insulting you over the phone.
  1101. >One thing has been answered now with her offhanded remark towards you: she does somehow know Anon.
  1102. >Out of all the names and insults you’ve been called, “Baconswirl” was very specifically one came he up with.
  1103. >That and “Semen Demon,” which at the time had made you a little bit red in the face. He thought it was pretty funny until a few solid hits to his shoulder and gut had him agreeing with you that it was a very crude attempt at humor.
  1104. >Shifting your mindset away from nostalgic memories, you glance at the slumbering body within your living room as you answer Aria’s question.
  1105. “Currently, he’s not looking too well.”
  1106. >You heave out a sigh.
  1107. “His face has a nice, big gash across the forehead and his arms looked like a cat was using them as a scratching post. That’s all the superficial damage I saw; didn’t search the rest of his body for any other sort of injuries. Just dragged him over next to the couch, propped his head on a pillow, and let him sleep.”
  1108. >The other end of the line let’s out an annoyed groan.
  1109. >”I figured he might look something like that,” Aria says in a defeated tone.
  1110. >“At least now we have an idea of where he is; what’s your address? I need to come over and check on him visually, boss’s orders.”
  1111. “I can’t say I feel entirely comfortable with disclosing my address to a group of people who believe me to be their enemy, even if we do have a common cause to work with at the moment.”
  1112. >”Yeah, and I don’t like the threat of Adagio abusing my butthole with a steel rod as punishment for not finding the exact location of Anon.”
  1113. >Your mouth drops agape from that last remark there, punctuated with an awkward silence.
  1114. “Would she actually do that?”
  1115. >”With Adagio, given the right motivation and circumstances, yes, yes she would. Is she bluffing? I have no idea, but I really, REALLY don’t want to find out the hard way she isn’t.”
  1116. >Your mind wanders off a little as the image of Aria being bent over with her thick, firm butt has its cheeks spread apart as Adagio slowly lines up a metal rod to the entrance of-
  1117. >Nope, not going down that train of thought; Dazzling is not for sexual.
  1118. >You whip your head back and forth quickly hoping nobody can see the rosy color of your cheeks as you forcibly dispel any lewd thoughts from your mind.
  1119. >After all the crap that has happened today, you could really use a drink…
  1120. >Unfortunately, you’re still considered a minor on this world, and Anon is passed out so there’s no chance that he could buy you anything.
  1121. >You suddenly perk up, an idea invading your thinking space.
  1122. “Hey…you wouldn’t happen to have any wine on you would you?”
  1123. >”What’s it to you if I do?” answers Aria with clear disdain in her force.
  1124. >You push past her snarky tone and get to the point.
  1125. “If you would happen to have, say, a bottle of red, I could really use a drink right now. Now, if you somehow just happen to have a few bottles lying around that you wouldn’t mind parting with, I wouldn’t mind inviting you over.”
  1126. >As Aria’s mind slowly processes what you just said, you hear an audible “Ohhhh!” on her side of the phone as things finally click in her mind.
  1127. >”Well, it just so happens to be that we do have a few bottles waiting to be opened. I’d be willing to part with one if you’re willing to disclose the location of where I’ll be dropping it off.”
  1128. >Her tone is a little smug, probably cause she’s getting her way in the end. Whatever; you really need a glass or two to drown out the day’s events.
  1129. >A quick celebration is in order, so you first pump the air once with great gusto and mouth an exaggerated “yes.”
  1130. “Go grab the bottle, send me a picture and I’ll message you the address. Sounds fair?”
  1131. >”Eh, good enough for me,” responds Aria. “I’ll see you in a bit then, yeah?”
  1132. “Yep, bye.”
  1133. >You pull the phone away from your ear and hit a button to end the call.
  1134. >The downside of what just happened is that a former enemy of yours is now going to now where you live.
  1135. >The upside? You’re getting a free drink out of it and possibly some answers to the mess lying in your living room floor.
  1136. >Walking over to the living room, you sit down on the edge of the couch and stare down at your friend.
  1137. >This day is starting to strain your relationship with Anon a little, but you would never say that to his face.
  1138. >After he spent months offering his support to you when you were having a bad day, it’s only fair that you help him out when he has his.
  1139. >As long as he hasn’t been up to anything illegal, things should be alright. If it turns out Anon dragged himself into some stupid mess that will have the cops busting down your to worry about that when it actually happens.
  1140. >One thing is for sure: you’re going to chew him out when he is in a state to actually appreciate and comprehend how thorough of a verbal thrashing you’re going to give him.
  1141. >The flip phone buzzes, and a quick peek inside of it shows a very smug Aria with a bottle of Pinot noir. Dang, it doesn’t look like it’s a cheap brand either; guess the Dazzlings really enjoy their wine.
  1142. >Though you have to wonder where they get the money to actually buy something like that.
  1143. >How they acquired it doesn’t really bother you; knowing them, they tried to seduce someone coming out of a bar.
  1144. >Having confirmed that yes, you are going to be a getting a bit tipsy tonight, you send Aria your address.
  1145. >Closing the phone, you lean back and let yourself collapse onto your couch, bouncing a little from the impact on the cushions.
  1146. >In your past (and very brief) experience with alcohol, nothing does a better job at letting the truth spill out from someone’s lips than its intoxicating effects.
  1147. >You let a small smile form briefly on your face.
  1148. >Knocking out two birds with one stone: unwinding after a being bombarded with life and learning a bit more about what’s going on.
  1149. >All in all, as long as Aria doesn’t find some way to ruin your evening this day still might be salvageable.
  1150. >Or at least your peace of mind.
  1151. >Tilting your head to the left, you look down at Anon.
  1152. >Your eyes are drawn to his chest as it expands and contracts with his breathe. You may not have noticed it earlier, but his shirt is torn up in a few very places. Though his shirt shows sign of a struggle, his arms seem to have taken the worst of whatever punishment he encountered.
  1153. >As his chest rises and falls, you feel the stress of the past few hours finally catching up with.
  1154. >Rolling your head so you now have a view of the ceiling, you blow out a long stream of air.
  1155. >A nap would be really nice right now.
  1156. >You have no idea how long it will take for Aria to get here, so you might as well close your eyes and can a few moments of respite.
  1157. >As your eyelids become heavy, your last thoughts drift to Anon: he looks so peaceful right now in his sleep. It must be nice to drift away in your dreams, not worrying about the chaos swirling around you and losing yourself in a landscape of calm.
  1158. >You drape an arm over the side of the couch and stack your feet on top of each other, getting yourself comfortable and finally easing out of consciousness.
  1159. ------------------------------
  1161. >You’re dreaming.
  1162. >Though dreaming would be too happy of a word to describe the pictures moving in your sleep.
  1163. >It’s an old memory, one that you wish you didn’t have, and one that you always vividly relive.
  1164. >There you are, sitting on your haunches, hugging your knees and resting your head in-between them.
  1165. >You are anonymous, a deadbeat who has lost everything, even your own name.
  1166. >Your name...god, what was it? Out of all the things you could lose, why your identity?
  1167. >Feelings, so many different, conflicting feelings billow in your mind as you search for answers, for meaning.
  1168. >Emotions weigh you down and hold you in place when you try and dredge through the murky haze that clouds your thoughts; it disturbs you to no end.
  1169. >Just when you think that you might have grasped onto a concrete thought, it dissipates into a fine mist in front of you.
  1170. >It’s no use; no matter how hard you try, that which is lost will not be found once more.
  1171. >As the search in your mind becomes more and more desperate, trying to find any sort of life line to haul you out of the darkness, you hear think.
  1172. >A murmur...maybe voices? Or possibly unknown horrors that lurk in the dark?
  1173. >No, is most definitely a voice.
  1174. >Straining, you try to harder to hear the direction of the voice. It sounds so familiar.
  1175. >You can’t place where you heard it before, or if you even know the owner of said voice, but something stirring in your mind is convinced that you know this voice.
  1176. >Ears...useless; try as you might, it sounds like the voice is coming from everywhere at once.
  1177. >You try and lift up your head, get a bearing on your surroundings and broaden the search to your other senses.
  1178. >Slowly, the muscles in your neck respond and your enclosure comes in to view as you face rises above the twin peaks of your knees.
  1179. >...
  1180. >Well that was disappointing.
  1181. >A dimly lit cell - barren save for a pile of hay and a pillow - occupies your vision.
  1182. >Your eyes wander, drinking in the dirty stones beneath, their cold leeching the warmth out from underneath you.
  1183. >Iron bars, not wide enough for you to squeeze through, stare impassively back at you.
  1184. >The room would be dark if not for a small square of light, crisscrossed with shadows.
  1185. >Craning, you twist your neck and follow the path of the sunbeams to find their source coming from a small, bleak window separated into four parts by more iron bars.
  1186. >Twisting your body so as to inspect every corner of your isolated cell, you see empty cells accompanying yours on either side, but the source of the voice still alludes you.
  1187. >It echoes and rebounds around you, penetrating into your skull and your head.
  1188. >...your head.
  1189. >Could it be, that’s where it’s coming from?
  1190. >Perturbed by the thought, a cough startles you and you quickly glance up to find the source.
  1191. >Out front of your cell stands an earth pony accompanied by a unicorn.
  1192. >They stand facing away from you, standing at attention.
  1193. >The earth pony has a pristine, white coat and his mane and tail have a drab blue color.
  1194. >His unicorn compatriot has a dull grey coat and a white mane and tail; nothing particularly exciting about this two.
  1195. >What does draw your attention is the light reflecting off of their gilded armor.
  1196. >They are protected by plates that encompass their torso and centurion style helmets resting on their heads.
  1197. >Hmm...
  1198. >Royal guards perhaps? There’s not much practically in having armor covered in gold unless you want to make a show of it.
  1199. >You try and recall any sort of royalty that you remember...if you can still remember anything. So far there hasn’t been much luck in that department.
  1200. >Just as you are on the cusp of an epiphany, the voice shrieks, engulfing every fiber of your being and piercing into the veil in your mind.
  1201. “Gah!”
  1202. >You cry out in pain, clutching your head with your hands, eyes squeezed shut and your face plastered into a grimace.
  1203. >”What’s up with that thing?” a voice chimes up.
  1204. >With some effort, you look up to see who spoke.
  1205. >The earth pony is staring at you without concern, eyes blank and devoid of anything other than boredom.
  1206. “ can you not hear that screeching?”
  1207. >Your voice comes in ragged gasps as your mind reels from the continuous sonic assault.
  1208. >The guard tilts his head with curiosity, intrigued by your question.
  1209. >”What screeching?”
  1210. >Dumbfounded, you return his curious stare with a look of disbelief.
  1211. >How can he not here that terrible racket?
  1212. >”Don’t bother trying to question him,” states the pony’s compatriot, “That one there is a mad horse.”
  1213. “Man... mad man.”
  1214. >You correct the unicorn, and he shoots you disapproving look.
  1215. >”Yeah, whatever; try and keep it down. I don’t want to spend the rest of the evening with you screaming again.”
  1216. >That got your attention.
  1217. “Again? What do you mean again?”
  1218. >The unicorn rolls his eyes.
  1219. >”We go through this almost every time I come down here for guard duty; I’m tired of repeating myself every other night. Stay quiet and try not to make this an eventful one.”
  1220. “Please, you have to tell me - what’s going on? Where am I? Who am I?”
  1221. >Pity encompasses the earth pony’s face while disdain is mirrored in the unicorn’s.
  1222. >”Can we not tell him anything? I know we’re under orders and everything, but maybe if we...“
  1223. >”No,” states the unicorn flatly.
  1224. >”The princess gave us explicit orders to not release any details to him, and that’s what we’re going to do. Now can it; this might be your first time, but don’t forget what that...thing did,” he spits out with contempt.
  1225. >What did you do?
  1226. >If only that shrieking would subside and let you think straight again!
  1227. >The guards turn their backs to you once again as you bow your head, still tormented by the screaming voice.
  1228. >After an agonizingly long time, the scream slowly starts to diminish into a buzz, then into a whisper. The words are, yet again, just out of reach and comprehension.
  1229. >Thinking becomes less painful, and you now realize that the previous haze that forced you to struggle to think has been blown away by that wretched wail.
  1230. >Frowning, you accept the small victory: lucidity at the expense of pain.
  1231. >Not the worst compromise, but the benefits do not make the process any more desirable.
  1232. >Details float from the depths of your mind, finally freed from their murky prison.
  1233. >If you can trust them, you’re in...a castle, in a city called Canterlot.
  1234. >There’s already the established fact that ponies are sentient, that apparently isn’t normal.
  1235. >Nor the fact that unicorns exist.
  1236. >Somehow you ended up inside a magical world filled with friendship and ponies.
  1237. >Fucking great.
  1238. >Groaning, you shift your weight around and try and get a bit more comfortable.
  1239. >You recall the unicorn guard’s earlier comment about evening, and you stare out the window.
  1240. >Sure enough, the light seems to have dimmed.
  1241. >By the looks of things it appears to be sunset.
  1242. >The time of the dark is almost upon you.
  1243. >A change of tone in the whisper catches your attention: at the thought of the word “dark,” it seems to emit waves of pleasure.
  1244. >Interesting...
  1245. >Light.
  1246. >The pleasure changes to feelings of anger and outrage.
  1247. >For the next few minutes, you toy with this newfound source of (mildly unsettling) entertainment.
  1248. >You are so completely engrossed that you fail to notice the darkness settling in to the cell around you until a flare of light startles you.
  1249. >The horn on the unicorn is glowing as he walks away from your cell, lighting torches positioned along the lonely corridor.
  1250. >As the steady clip-clop of his hooves recede into the dark end of this dungeon, you gaze at the flickering flame held by the torch in front of your cell.
  1251. >The flames greedily lick at the air, constantly shifting and morphing as they hungrily consume their fuel.
  1252. >A memory stirs from within you, struggling to gain your attention.
  1253. >Curious, the tendrils of your thought pick up the memory and inspect it.
  1254. >It’s an old song, one you have heard numerous times before from the sense of comfort it brings.
  1255. >Though it doesn’t seem you completely memorized the full song, you nevertheless start to hum along to the general tune of it, following along to the beat in your head. [spoiler] [/spoiler]
  1256. >Oddly enough, the music seems to silence the mysterious voice that has preoccupied your time.
  1257. >You don’t let that worry you at all, instead focusing on the first half of the song, whispering the lyrics under your breath as you spread your legs out in front of you and lean back into the stone wall.
  1258. “Down from the heavens, up from the sea, they came looking, looking for me! They’ll never find me, I’ll never tell, the stories they’ve written are rooted in hell.”
  1259. >As you mentally follow the song, your voice starts to pick up with gusto, your head bobbing up and down.
  1260. “Again comes a rider, his eyes burning red; sword to his side, metal on head. He is your savior, he’ll save your soul, protect him well, never let go!”
  1261. >Raising the volume in your voice, you gain the attention of the earth pony once again, the unicorn’s hoof steps approaching slowly.
  1262. >Taking in a deep, lungful of air, you recite the chorus.
  1263. “Somewhere there’s someone who’s looking for me, and if he finds me I’ll never be free! Somewhere that someone he calls out my name; hand me a sword and I’ll go insane!”
  1264. “Defend the crown!”
  1265. >Closing your eyes, you let yourself be engulfed by the music.
  1266. >Consequently, you fail to notice an accompanying pair of hoof steps on top of the approaching guards, nor the sudden snap to attention as the earth pony diverts his gaze from you and stares ahead dutifully.
  1267. “Defender of the crown and of all that you survey; God save the king. Defender of the crown and of all that you survey; set my people free!”
  1268. >”Singing again I see; I take it that he’s improved?”
  1269. >Your eyes snap open, the song derailed from your mind as you stare at the intruder to your impromptu karaoke session.
  1270. >Now that the sun has fully set, you squint through the glare of the torches to find who could be visiting at this hour.
  1271. >Before you, standing erect and regal, is a pony that easily towers over the guards.
  1272. >Its mane is long, flowing gently to an unseen breeze. Bright colors of cerulean, turquoise, some sort of variation on cobalt, and a shade of pink that reminds you of the sky as the sun brings light to the world.
  1273. >A coat that sits on the border between white and gray adorns it, finely brushed and clean.
  1274. >Jutting out of her mane a horn that would put the unicorn guard to shame, and atop it sits a sparkling crown.
  1275. >A small movement to her sides and the sound of light feathers rustling cause you to notice the wings on her torso.
  1276. >Both wings and a horn.
  1277. >There was a name for a pony that fits that description, though at the moment that knowledge escapes you.
  1278. >The voice that no one else hears - and which you strongly suspect at this point is one that only bothers you – surges back with a hiss.
  1279. >An instinct engraved deep into you understands the message it tries to convey: whoever this newcomer is, you should be on guard.
  1280. >Tensing your body, you watch as the unicorn guard quickly trots the remaining distance over to his earth pony counterpart before stopping then saluting to the intruder.
  1281. >”Princess! What brings you down here tonight?”
  1282. >Princess, eh? Putting two and two together, you can safely assume that this new pony is most likely your captor. Maybe she came down here to gloat, or possibly ask you questions.
  1283. >Not that you could answer many questions directed at you right now.
  1284. >”Simply checking on the state of the prisoner, same as I’ve being doing almost every night now,” responds the princess in a gentle, soothing voice.
  1285. >The unicorn guard sighs and lowers his salute, glancing over to your general direction.
  1286. >”I take it you want us to open his cell again?” he asks with reservation.
  1287. >”That would be a correct assumption,” replies the princess, nodding her head in accompaniment to her words.
  1288. >Grumbling with displeasure, the horn on the guard glows and you hear a thunk as the heavy lock that holds the cell door closed is undone.
  1289. >Moving swiftly, the guards enter to both sides of the cell, positioning themselves so they can watch over you with ease.
  1290. >The princess daintily steps into the cell, her hooves decorated in ornament, golden horse shoes.
  1291. >She slowly approaches you, staring at you with caring, magenta eyes and a soft smile.
  1292. >A dim aura of light hums off of her, softly pushing away the darkness in the cell.
  1293. >Finally, she comes to stop at the center of the enclosure, her guards keeping a close eye from behind her back while she bathes in the moonlight from the single window.
  1294. >Every movement of hers is careful so as to not startle you, and her body language and expressions show no sign of hostility.
  1295. >You want to relax, you try to relax, but that troublesome voice pokes and prods at your mind, keeping you on edge.
  1296. >As you internally struggle with the battling feelings of peace emanating from the princess and the...discomfort from yourself, she looks down at you with half-lidded eyes and speaks.
  1297. >”First things first: do you know my name?”
  1298. >Gears within your mind grind away as you try to find the answer to her question, but as you suspected, you draw a blank.
  1299. >Though the voice gains a new fervor, as its mutterings form a repeating pattern spiked with malice, it does little to jog your memory.
  1300. >The volume nearly reaches a peak yet again, but you stifle it through sheer force of will.
  1301. >Shaking your head, you stare back into her eyes.
  1302. “I’m sorry, but I don’t even know my own name, never mind yours.”
  1303. >”That’s quite alright, no need to worry. I have a few other questions I would like to ask, though you already answered the one about who you are. Do you mind if I ask them?”
  1304. >You feel conflicted over the answer to give her.
  1305. >She seems nice enough, but looks can be deceiving; though in this case, your gut is telling you she doesn’t mean any harm.
  1306. >While your gut sends signals to stand down, it directly conflicts with the battle raging in your mind.
  1307. >The voice’s tone seems to be practically calling for a declaration of war against this celestial being that stands before you.
  1308. >That voice is really starting to get on your nerves, slowly grating away at your sanity.
  1309. >Your gut isn’t always right, but considering your current situation, it seems best to comply with the princess.
  1310. >Gritting your teeth against the cacophony within your head, you answer the princess.
  1311. “I guess...not much else going on here anyway, so shoot.”
  1312. >Then as an afterthought, you add:
  1313. “Hey, if I answer some of your questions, can you answer a few for me? There are...”
  1314. >You struggle to describe the current lapse in your memory.
  1315. >“...voids, large gaps within my memory that I can barely make sense of.”
  1316. >”I would be more than glad to answer any questions you have; within reason, of course.”
  1317. “Sounds like we have ourselves a deal then.”
  1318. >Grunting, you push yourself off the ground with your left hand and stand up. >Your sudden movement causes the guards to twitch a little before they relax after confirming you’re not preparing any attack against their princess.
  1319. >You were never particularly tall, standing just a little bit under 6 feet, but you have gained an appreciation for the princess’ size.
  1320. >Her head is nearly at eye level with you, whereas her guards come up to about chest height.
  1321. >Bemused, the princess fidgets a little, fluffing her wings at her sides while keeping a motherly smile in-between her cheeks.
  1322. >You don’t return her smile, simply standing and looking grim.
  1323. >”*Ahem* You mentioned that you’re having trouble remembering things, but please, bear with me: do you know where you are right now?”
  1324. “I think I’m in a city called Canterlot, though I can’t be quite certain about that.”
  1325. >”Good, you are correct, you are in Canterlot right now, in my castle. Do you know how you came to be here?”
  1326. “, no I don’t. I have some general knowledge about the area and the locals, but nothing much past that.”
  1327. >”What sort of general knowledge?”
  1328. “Uh...well, there’s the three pony races: earth, unicorn, and pegasus. Though that doesn’t account for you at all.”
  1329. >”Account for me? What do you mean by that?”
  1330. “Look at you.”
  1331. >You sweep a hand towards her.
  1332. “You’re a combination of all three: wings of a pegasus, the horn of a unicorn, and I would assume the strength of an earth pony. I feel like there’s a name for what you are, but, well, you know...”
  1333. >You tap your head as your sentence trails off.
  1334. >The princess starts to giggle, bringing up a hoof to stop it from spilling out of her mouth.
  1335. >After a few moments, bubbling laughter escapes through her hoof and echoes throughout the chamber.
  1336. >The laughter spindles down to a chuckle, then she composes herself once again, albeit more relaxed than she was before.
  1337. >”You really don’t know what I’m called, do you?”
  1338. “Yeah, I just said that.”
  1339. >Annoyance is clear in your tone; you don’t really enjoy someone laughing at your lack knowledge, especially considering your current handicap.
  1340. >Apparently the voice doesn’t like the princess having a chuckle at your expense either, as it redoubles its efforts to make itself be heard.
  1341. >A sneer is all that you show on the surface as you struggle to keep control of your rationale to work with the princess.
  1342. >Mistaking your change in face as being directed at her, the princess promptly loses her smile and attains an apologetic look.
  1343. >”Oh! I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to insult you; it was just...never mind. Let me fill in that missing piece of information for you: I’m an alicorn.”
  1344. “Alicorn...”
  1345. >You play with the word in your mind, trying to fit it into memories like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, but there doesn’t seem to be any luck in finding where it belongs.
  1346. >”Do you know of any other alicorns, or rather, remember any others?”
  1347. “None come immediately to mind, but maybe - AUGH!”
  1348. >You clutch your head and reel, dropping your left knee down to the ground as the voice reaches a crescendo, violently overloading your senses and making thinking all but impossible.
  1349. >The guards charge forward, trying to get in front of the princess to protect her from any unseen threat, but she stops them by sweeping out her wings to block their path.
  1350. >”What’s wrong?” she asks, concern creeping into her tone as she looks down at you, glancing at the unicorn briefly with a worried look.
  1351. >”Do you hear-?”
  1352. “A voice?”
  1353. >”Yes; do you hear a voice?”
  1354. >Closing your eyes you focus and try to shut out the angry noises, but to no avail.
  1355. “Really, really hard not to at the moment.”
  1356. >You say through a clenched jaw.
  1357. >The princess suddenly seems a whole lot more interested in you all of a sudden.
  1358. >”What is she saying? Can you make out any of her words at all?”
  1359. >She...what makes the princess think that the owner of the roaring taking place in your mind comes from a she?
  1360. >Struggling, your breathing comes out in labored gasps as the pain in your mind starts to take its toll on your body.
  1361. “I don’t hear anything, just what feels like screaming. Loud, angry screaming.”
  1362. >It’s almost as if the voice is trying to tell you something, but how it expects you to understand anything with the racket it is producing, you don’t know.
  1363. >The princess takes a few steps towards you, her horn glowing as bright as the sun as she kneels down towards you.
  1364. “Wait, what are you- “
  1365. >You have no time to finish the sentence as you bring your hands up to protect your face while she lowers her horn towards your head.
  1366. >Waiting for a sharp pinprick at any moment, you are surprised when you feel a warm, gentle touch on your forehead.
  1367. >A brilliant flash of light blinds you briefly, banishing the darkness.
  1368. >As the light fades and you blink away the spots in your vision, you notice the silence.
  1369. >Wait, silence?
  1370. >Spreading your hands open, you are almost bopped on the nose by a very inquisitive snout accompanied by a set of worried eyes.
  1371. >”Can you still hear her in your mind?”
  1372. >Slowly, you lower your hands from your face and stare at the princess in wonder.
  1373. >”No. No, I don’t her in my mind. What did you do?”
  1374. >The princess’s facial features become gloom as she answers you.
  1375. >”I pushed away something dark with some light.”
  1376. >Pushing herself up so she is standing on all fours again, she looks down at you with, a half-hearted smile replacing any previous distress on her face.
  1377. >”That was rather unpleasant, don’t you think? Why don’t we finish asking our questions somewhere much more comforting; would you join me for a cup of evening tea and a slice or two of cake?”
  1378. >Still mystified over what had just happened, you nod in approval to the offer presented to you.
  1379. “Tea and cake sounds good right now. It feels like it’s been forever since I had something to eat and drink.”
  1380. >Once again, you push yourself off the ground, dusting off the odd piece of hay that stubbornly clings to your clothes.
  1381. >The princess motions for the guards to exit the cell before her, which they obey, but not without the unicorn sending you a dirty look and the earth pony looking at you with a newfound wariness.
  1382. >After they are clear of the cell, the princess positions her wings so they are comfortably at her sides and starts to turn her body towards the exit.
  1383. >”You know, if we’re going to have tea, it would only be proper for me to introduce myself.”
  1384. “It would be nice to know who to thank for clearing my mind, though I cannot return the favor ma’am.”
  1385. >You start to follow her, your eyes watching as her tail swishes from side to side with the movement of her hips.
  1386. >As she is halfway through the door leading to the hallway, she twists her next so she can look back and address you eye to eye.
  1387. >You continue walking forward, a foot just now starting to enter the patch of moonlight.
  1388. >”Please, no need to be so formal with me.”
  1389. >Another step draws you deeper into the light.
  1390. >”I am Princess-“
  1391. >Your next step forward brings you into the middle of the cell, the moonlight beaming down on to your back.
  1392. >Suddenly, a shiver wracks your body and chills you down to your spine. A cold sweat breaks out underneath your shirt as a tidal wave of information floods your mind, and a single word, spoken by an all too familiar feminine voice rings out as clear as a bell.
  1393. >[Celestia...]
  1394. “Celestia.”
  1395. >Startled, the princess, no, Celestia, looks like a deer caught in headlights, panic holding her in place.
  1396. >”Excuse me?”
  1397. “Your Princess Celestia.”
  1398. >Initially surprised over how sudden the name came to you, the shock on your face melts away and is hardened as you are overwhelmed with an unsettling thought implanted by the voice.
  1399. >[She did this to you, made you forget.]
  1400. “How many times did you try and erase my memory?”
  1401. >Celestia scoffs at you.
  1402. >”I don’t know what you’re talking about; what is the meaning of these ridiculous accusations? Just a moment ago we were preparing for a cup of tea, why the sudden change of mood?”
  1403. >In your peripheral vision you see the guards starting to creep back into the cell, but you don’t care. You focus a hateful glare at Celestia.
  1404. >[She’s lying.]
  1405. “You’re right,” you say absentmindedly, “she isn’t telling me the whole truth here. No more games Celestia, no more fake pleasantries. What did you do to me?”
  1406. >Visibly steeling herself, Celestia quickly pulls herself together and returns your glare, except hers is not filled with rage like yours, but rather a sad acceptance.
  1407. >”I did what I had to do to help you. When I found you, you were lost.”
  1408. “Lost from what? Blindly following your every whim and word?”
  1409. >You inject a heavy dose of venom into your words, trying to make them hurt.
  1410. >Celestia, however, remains unfazed.
  1411. >She simply straightens her neck so as come to eye level with you.
  1412. >”No, you were lost within your own mind. She had enthralled you, made you an obedient slave for her purposes,” she scolds you, similar to how a mother speaks down to a disobedient child.
  1413. >”Even now, her words still slither in your mind; I tried to remove her influence, tried to pry her out, but she was rooted deep into your mind, hiding in your very memories.”
  1414. “Her, her, her! You keep going back and talking about HER! Who the hell is this ‘her’ you’re so adamant on pinning the blame on?”
  1415. >[Typical Celestia,] the voice in your head coos, [always so quick to blame everyone but herself when a problem arises.]
  1416. >[We could sit here listening to her babble on and on about how she did it for her precious ponies and their sake, but never for you. She never once cared about what you thought when she acted. Oh, how quickly your wellbeing was swept aside by her!]
  1417. >You mull over the words rebounding in your head. They make sense; too much sense for your liking.
  1418. >As you sit there staring at Celestia, you feel your anger slowly boiling.
  1419. >You’re fuming inside, a pressure steadily increasing in your gut that is ready to burst, to strike out explosively at anything.
  1420. >[But, I know what’s best for you, my dearest knight.]
  1421. >The voice oozes with a sickeningly sweet tone.
  1422. >[I’ll always be there to care for you, to love and watch over you, never side lining you for those pathetic ponies who cower in the night. You would like that, wouldn’t you?]
  1423. >Her offers of kindness and care melt your will, and any reservations you may have had toward the voice are now gone. The owner’s promises sound so wonderful; you crave the affection she vouches.
  1424. “...yes.”
  1425. >You breathe your answer out, entranced by the words so much so that you fail to hear Celestia speak, or notice the guards finally position themselves along her sides, coiled like springs, ready to launch to her aid.
  1426. >The voice is your very world at the moment.
  1427. >[Good, I thought so. In return, I only ask that you do one, tiny little favor for me.]
  1428. >Without hesitation, you respond to her.
  1429. “What do you want?”
  1430. >[Oh, so eager! I love seeing that in my most loyal servant! Well, that uncouth princess in front of you has imprisoned me, and we can’t have that now can we?]
  1431. >[So I need my daring knight to come dashing in to save the day and rescue me from the good princess’s clutches. To do that, I need you to beat her until she frees me, then she can suffer ten-fold the fate that she left me too.]
  1432. >[Now go! Show no mercy for that swine and her ‘little ponies.’ Defend the honor of your queen!]
  1433. >As the voice finishes her speech, you are compelled to ball your hands into fists as your anger finally bursts out.
  1434. >Celestia’s lips finally stop moving; what she just said you don’t care, it wasn’t important to what the voice wants.
  1435. >Snarling, you lunge forward, fist raised to strike the princess in the muzzle.
  1436. >You are, unfortunately, intercepted by a head-butt from a very sturdy helmet, courtesy of the earth pony.
  1437. >The impact sends you reeling over as your stomach conforms to his head, before he snaps his head back.
  1438. >Quickly pivoting on his front hooves, he goes for the coup de grace and extends his back legs in a powerful thrust, connecting them to your chest.
  1439. >A solid smack echoes through the room as his hooves force you flying into the cell wall, where two more smacks are heard from first your impact against the wall, and second your landing on the stone floor.
  1440. >You gasp for breath, the wind thoroughly knocked out of you, among other things.
  1441. >As you sit there wheezing for air, you find it significantly more painful to choke down oxygen than it was a few seconds ago.
  1442. >Christ almighty, that pony must have broken a rib or two with that kick of his.
  1443. >You gingerly grab the side of your stomach and are met by a sharp pain, which is quickly followed by a lung aching, wet cough.
  1444. >You don’t even bother trying to cover up your mouth as you cough, watching saliva mixed with blood fly from you onto the ground, confirming that at least one of your ribs had found a way into your lungs.
  1445. >In one fell swoop, you were already out of the fight.
  1446. >[Hmm, pity, I thought you might get further than this before you needed my; let me give you a little boost to send you on your way.]
  1447. >Your momentary confusion as to how you were expected to get up with your current injury is overwhelmed by a sudden, burning sensation that rushes through your entire body.
  1448. >A scream of pure agony escapes your tortured lungs as a fire burns your insides accompanied by lightning jolts of pain.
  1449. >Your insides twist and roil as your ribs are reknit into their proper positions, removing themselves your lungs and the surrounding muscle they punctured after being shattered.
  1450. >You double over, both arms hugging your shoulders tight as the pain overwhelms your senses.
  1451. >As you double over, you just barely hear the guards reacting to your sudden outburst.
  1452. >”W-what’s happening to him? He shouldn’t be screaming that much after a buck like that! Why is his chest glowing!?”
  1453. >”Horse apples! She still has some power left in him it sees! Princess, quickly, you need to get out of here.”
  1454. >”Sergeant, I can’t leave you hear all alone with that creature. You know as well as I do you won’t last more than a few minutes against him now that her power is coursing through his veins.”
  1455. >”...I know; but the we stand a heck of a chance if you can prepare a spell against him. Right now we have a snowball’s chance in Tartarus with the way things are.”
  1456. >”Hmm, you may be correct in that assumption sergeant. Very well, I’ll try and return as quickly as I can. Keep him detained if you can, and try not to harm him too much.”
  1457. >”Yes princess, we’ll do our best.”
  1458. >You hear heavy hoof steps running off into the distance as the burning sensation simmers down to a manageable level of punishment.
  1459. >Breathing is still a pain to do, but your gut feels a lot more solid than it did a few moments ago.
  1460. >Actually, now that you think about it, your entire body feels a lot more solid than before you got kicked even.
  1461. >You can feel your blood vessels pulse with every beat of your heart, power racing through them and pumping your body full of energy.
  1462. >Trying to raise yourself off the ground, you feel a power force you onto your hands and knees, crushing you and pushing down on your back.
  1463. >With a supernatural effort, you push back against the unseen force as hard as you can.
  1464. >You spare a glance in front of you, and are greeted by the unicorn standing with his legs a little more than shoulder length apart, his horn glowing a bright gold.
  1465. >His face is contorted in concentration, sweat dripping down his brow.
  1466. >The earth pony stares at you with a look of horror, frozen with inaction.
  1467. >”Don’t just stand there you nitwit!” barks the unicorn. “Get over there and stomp him till he’s knocked out!”
  1468. >Quickly recovering from his stupor, the earth pony moves his eyes from you to the sergeant, then back to you.
  1469. >”B-but didn’t the princess say not to hurt him?” the pony manages to stammer out.
  1470. >”Not. Too. Much! Anything you throw at him, I guarantee he can take it!”
  1471. >Strain is clearly heard through the unicorn’s grunt as he tries to keep you down with his magic, his fur becoming slick with sweat from his task.
  1472. >Redoubling your efforts, you shakily reach your right hand forward, still supported by your left one and both your knees.
  1473. >The earth pony inches towards you as you manage to drag yourself forward with your free hand, scrabbling to find purchase in the tiled floor.
  1474. >A shadow looms over you, and you assume it belongs to the earth pony.
  1475. >Sparing a quick look, you watch as a he raises a single hoof above you, preparing to strike your head.
  1476. >At the peak of his windup, he hesitates.
  1477. >That hesitation is all you need.
  1478. >Your left hand darts out and punches the stallion beneath his jaw.
  1479. >As you follow through with your punch, you send him careening towards the unicorn, where he collapses on to his fellow guard.
  1480. >His concentration broken from the swaying pony, the unicorn lets up his magical assault on you to avoid being crushed.
  1481. >Freed from the magical onslaught, you spring upwards, closing the distance between the two of you in a few strides.
  1482. >The unicorn has enough time to recover from his friend’s body check before he notices your hard gaze staring down on him, his eyes growing to the size of saucers.
  1483. >”Oh buck.”
  1484. >Before he can charge up a spell, you grab his horn with both your hands.
  1485. >You attempt to lift up the unicorn, managing to get the front of his body off the ground just enough so his front legs dangle helplessly in the air while he tries to kick you.
  1486. >With a mighty heave, you fling the unicorn by his horn into the bars on the side of the cell, earning a grunt from his frame.
  1487. >As you watch his body go slack after the impact, you notice the earth pony trying to regain his senses.
  1488. >His footing is as the equivalent of a drunkard, titling from side to side as his head reels from the punch you gave him. It will be a few minutes before he recovers his wits.
  1489. >Ignoring him, you make your way out of the cell, intent on hunting down Celestia, just like the voice wanted you to.
  1490. >[Excellent show! Now go find that pretty little princess and make her regret ever crossing your path. Defend the crown!]
  1491. >The voice cackles with glee as you stalk down the hallways, the darkness beckoning you forward.
  1492. >The nightmare truly begins...
  1493. ------------------------------
  1495. >*BAM!* *BAM!* *BAM!*
  1496. >Groggily, you open your eyes. You really don’t want to get up right now, the comforting numbness of sleep still holding you in its clutches.
  1497. >*BAM!* *BAM!* *BAM!*
  1498. >Groaning, you shift your weight to the left and check to see if Anon is still there.
  1499. >Sure enough, his body is still laying on the ground, twitching every now and then.
  1500. >At least he hasn’t gone and found more trouble to get himself into.
  1501. >You stretch out, pushing your arms above your chest and letting out a long yawn. Might as well get up and see who’s at the door.
  1502. “Just a minute!”
  1503. >Swinging your legs off the couch, you take extra caution to ensure you don’t step on the slumbering form of Anon.
  1504. >Unsteadily at first, you start walking towards your door, shaking off the last vestiges of sleep from your system with each step.
  1505. >Finally coming up to your door, you take your hands and comb out any knots left in your hair, trying to make your bedhead less apparent.
  1506. >After straightening a few strands and repositioning them so you look somewhat presentable, you raise your right hand and twist the doorknob open, noting that you forgot to lock the deadbolt earlier.
  1507. >Which is understandable, taking into consideration the...predicament you were in after entering your apartment.
  1508. >As you pull the door open towards you, an exceptionally pale purple face set in an almost permanent frown pops into your vision.
  1509. >A brief flicker of panic overtakes you as you realize that standing in front of you is Aria Blaze: the mean talkin’, ponytail rockin’ Siren.
  1510. >She’s currently dressed up in a dark, spring green hoody and blue jeans, a grey, unattractive backpack slung over her shoulders.
  1511. >Oh, wait, you invited her here.
  1512. >More importantly, she has wine.
  1513. >You step to the side and extend your right arm out into your apartment, inviting Aria in.
  1514. >”Wow, not even a ‘Hi, how are you doing Aria? It’s so great to see you again!’ Just going to coldly gesture me in?”
  1515. >Someone’s grumpy.
  1516. “Fine; would you like to come in?” you ask with a huff.
  1517. >A smirk briefly flashes over Aria’s face.
  1518. >”Why yes, I would like to come in. Thank you, Sunset.”
  1519. >She emphasizes your name, purposely saying it in a teasing, sarcastic tone.
  1520. >As she steps into your apartment, you resolve yourself to bear her attitude; there’s no love between the two of you, so this was to be expected.
  1521. >Your initial hopes that she wouldn’t be too much of a salty bitch about beating her at the Battle of the Bands are proving to be made in vain.
  1522. >Aria’s foot makes contact with a metal object on the floor, sending it spinning off a few feet in front of her.
  1523. >Surprised, you both look down to spy the gun Anon had used to hold you hostage an hour or two ago.
  1524. >”Huh,” grunts out Aria.
  1525. >”I didn’t take you as the type to be into that sort of thing Sunset. You struck me more as the kind of person who believed the power of friendship was the strongest weapon you needed.”
  1526. >You roll your eyes.
  1527. “It’s not mine, it’s Anon’s; he came in here waving it around like a lunatic before he passed out on my floor. I was a little distracted to remember that he left it lying around.”
  1528. >Aria simply shrugs at your remark and takes a quick moment to survey your apartment.
  1529. >”Speaking of Anon, where is the man of the hour?”
  1530. “He’s over there in the living room, passed out.”
  1531. >You jab a thumb in the direction of your couch, Aria’s eyes quickly following its movements.
  1532. >Her eyes dart around the living room, taking in your furniture and the person splayed out on the floor.
  1533. >Frowning, she walks towards the mound of man on the floor to get a closer inspection.
  1534. >She stops in front of Anon, head tilted down and her face scrunching in disapproval at the sight in front of her.
  1535. >For the first time since she entered the apartment, Aria refrains from making a snarky comment or quip at you.
  1536. >You close your front door and promptly squat down, daintily picking up the handgun Anon left lying on the floor.
  1537. >Best to put this someplace safe while it still has your attention.
  1538. >With your luck today, something was bound to come crashing through the door and open up a whole new can of worms.
  1539. >You hold the gun out in front of you like it’s a rabid animal waiting for a chance to bite you.
  1540. >You quickly shuffle over and place the gun on the kitchen counter, right next to your wallet, keys, and phone.
  1541. >Checking on the situation in the living room, you see Aria has bent over Anon, getting a better look at his condition.
  1542. >She still doesn’t say anything as her ponytails bob with the movement of her head as she surveys her target.
  1543. >Shrugging, you figure it’s best to let her do her thing and not get in her way; the less talking between the two of you, the less of a chance that this evening will result in more unpleasantness.
  1544. >Your guitar is stilling leaning right outside the kitchen from earlier, so you pick it up and inspect it for any damage.
  1545. >Other than a few scratches on the back, there’s thankfully no chips or dents immediately visible to your eye.
  1546. >”Did you really have to leave him on the floor like this?”
  1547. >Lazily, you turn your head to Aria, her grumpy face staring back at you.
  1548. “I didn’t really have much of a choice; I can only lug him so far by myself without any help.”
  1549. >Aria scoffs at your reply.
  1550. >”Well, you have help now; so let’s move him someplace where we won’t accidentally step on him.”
  1551. >You can’t really argue with that.
  1552. “Fine; we can move him to my bed for now. You grab his legs and I’ll get his arms.”
  1553. >You set the guitar back down against the counter and move over towards the couch.
  1554. >Aria slips the backpack off and places it down, leaning it against the coffee table before she walks around it to position herself above Anon’s head.
  1555. >You both squat down and grab the appropriate appendages, making sure that you have one firmly grasped in each hand.
  1556. “Alright, on the count of three; ready?”
  1557. >Aria nods back her approval, and you brace yourself for the upcoming task.
  1558. “One...two...three!”
  1559. >You both grunt as you lift Anon up.
  1560. >Even with the added help, Anon is still uncomfortable heavy to lift up.
  1561. >”Alright, where to?” asks Aria, small, labored breathes escaping her lips.
  1562. “Follow me.”
  1563. >You carefully back up out of the space between the couch and coffee table, occasionally glancing behind you to make sure that you weren’t going to trip on anything while walking backwards.
  1564. >Guiding your end of the body, you gently turn down the small hallway next to the kitchen towards your bedroom.
  1565. >As you approach the bedroom, you pause for a moment.
  1566. “Hold up, I have to open the door.”
  1567. >Aria nods, and together you both gently lower Anon to ground.
  1568. >You relax your muscle, the strain on them temporarily gone as you turn around and fiddle with the door handle.
  1569. >After pushing the door open as far as it can go, you move back into position, Aria mirroring your movements.
  1570. “Ready...and up!”
  1571. >You both initially struggle against gravity’s grip on the body again.
  1572. >When you both manage to get him a decent height off the floor, you start to back through the doorframe.
  1573. >Carefully, you maneuver Anon into your room, twisting his body only a little bit so Aria can get the back half of him in.
  1574. >The hardest part over, you sidestep over to your bed, kicking your chair out of the way so you could line up Anon parallel to the bed.
  1575. >Aria shimmies over to the back end of the bed, then the both of you unceremoniously toss your luggage onto the mattress.
  1576. >Anon bounces a few times before his body settles, still fast asleep.
  1577. >Satisfied with your work, you head out towards the living room, Aria following close behind.
  1578. >Heading towards the living room, you take a seat on the couch, sinking into the cushions and allowing yourself to unwind.
  1579. >You’re panting lightly from the effort of carrying Anon, despite it being only a short distance.
  1580. >Aria stands off to the side of the couch, looking uncomfortable and out of place, her arms folded in front of her chest.
  1581. >Guess you still have to deal with her.
  1582. >Sighing, you push yourself forward and lean towards the coffee table, resting your elbows on your knees.
  1583. “So...I recall there being promises of wine?”
  1584. >Aria jumps a little, startled by the comment directed at her.
  1585. >”Oh! Right, that.”
  1586. >She goes to grab her backpack, lifting it up and placing it on the table it was leaning against.
  1587. >Unzipping the largest pouch, her hands sink into the bag’s depths as she fishes around for her prize.
  1588. >With a complacent grin, Aria finally yanks her hand out of the backpack, producing a fine bottle of wine from its interior.
  1589. >”Straight from Adagio’s own personal stash; what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
  1590. “Wait...weren’t you worried about Adagio hounding you to find Anon just a little while ago?”
  1591. >”Yeah, so?”
  1592. “Wouldn’t - y’know - taking a bottle of her wine sort of...get her more likely to...”
  1593. >You move your hands to suggest ramming a long, hard object into a tight, unwilling space.
  1594. >Aria eyes the movements you make with your hands blankly for a few moments before what you’re implying slams home.
  1595. >Her free hand grasps her plump buttocks with a meaty slap, her eyes widening and face blushing.
  1596. >”I, uh, get what you’re implying,” she stammers, cheeks growing rosier by the second.
  1597. >”But like I said before: what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I have a nice little window to replace this bottle.”
  1598. >Shrugging, you let her justify her actions to you.
  1599. >It’s not your ass on the line anyways, so who cares where she got the bottle? If Aria thought the risk was worth it...well, it doesn’t matter to you.
  1600. >You get up from the couch and start making your way towards the kitchen.
  1601. “Help yourself to a seat, there’s plenty of room on the couch.”
  1602. >Sauntering on over to one of your cabinets, you grab a few glasses.
  1603. >Not your typical wine glasses, just the regular old highball ones.
  1604. >Nothing too fancy; you are still technically a high school student in this dimension, so you never saw fit to invest in any drinking apparatuses.
  1605. >That and you never really much of a drinker when you were a pony. Just the occasional glass of wine every now and then, and maybe a pint of cider when Anon was able to successfully drag you out of your studies.
  1606. “You wouldn’t happen to have a corkscrew with you, would you?”
  1607. >”No, but I know who does.”
  1608. >You watch Aria get up and head towards your room.
  1609. “Hey! Where do you think you’re going?”
  1610. >”Anon always has something on him for the job,” she says without bothering to look back at you.
  1611. >You grumble a little under your breath and approach the couch, placing the glasses on the table and waiting for Aria to get back.
  1612. >After listening to a little bit of shuffling coming from your bedroom, she emerges with a waiter’s corkscrew.
  1613. >You eye her find with curiosity; why on would Anon have that on lying on him?
  1614. >Aria catches your questioning look, and shrugs her shoulders.
  1615. >”Don’t ask me why he has it on him, he just does. Maybe he’ll be able to tell us why when he wakes up.”
  1616. >Not bothering to see if her answer satisfied you, Aria promptly walks over to the coffee table and begins to open it.
  1617. >After a few brief moments of cutting the foil to expose the cork then screwing in the corkscrew, the tantalizing aroma of fermented grapes assaults your nostrils as the cork comes off with a pop.
  1618. >Wasting no time, Aria pours each of you a generous portion, filling your glasses nearly to the brim.
  1619. >While you cautiously take a sip of your drink, Aria chooses to take a few large gulps before letting out a small belch.
  1620. >She smiles at your obvious displeasure over her table manners, and continues to enjoy her drink with gusto.
  1621. >For the next few minutes, the both of you simply nurse your drinks, occasionally eyeing each other but neither one of you willing to take it further than that.
  1622. >As Aria finishes her first glasses and proceeds to fill it up again, you finally give in and break the silence.
  1623. “How do you know Anon?”
  1624. >”Straight to the point, huh? Not evening going to try and talk about the weather or any other sort of small talk?”
  1625. >Your hard glare responds for you.
  1626. >She sighs, swishing the wine around in her glass and folding her right leg onto her left knee.
  1627. >”He never told you about how we met?”
  1628. “No; for the most part, he keeps what he does to himself. I don’t really get to hear him talk about his work other than his coworkers can be a pain in the ass.”
  1629. >”Hah! Adagio and Sonata maybe, but me? Nah, we have a good working relationship going on. We’re the grunts, doing all the hard work while Adagio sits back and tries to micromanage us.”
  1630. “So you work with him? That still doesn’t explain how any of you met or even why you started working together.”
  1631. >”Not gonna let up on that, are you? You’re not even a little curious about why Anon has been skipping school for a week or what he does?”
  1632. >Sure, you’re dying to know what Anon does, but the more pressing question is how the Dazzlings and him crossed paths.
  1633. >Aria downs a generous portion of her glass and leans into the couch, her eyes staring off into the distance.
  1634. >”Well, it all started after the Battle of the Bands...after we got booed off stage.”
  1635. >She shoots you a dirty look, but you stand firm, staring straight at her, waiting for her to continue.
  1636. >After a few moments of your little showdown, she breaks off and continues speaking, more to her glass than to you.
  1637. >”Not much was going on, then Anon popped up out of nowhere, offering to help us get off our feet. He mentioned something about seconds chances or whatever. It doesn’t matter; here we are now, stuck in the same room because we decided to work with him.”
  1638. “...That’s it? He just offered you a job out of the blue?”
  1639. >”Pretty much, yeah, that’s just what I said. Not very quick on picking up the point are you?”
  1640. >Aria just keeps staring at her glass, her eyes unfocused as she looks deeper and deeper into the sparkling red liquid.
  1641. >What she’s thinking about you have no clue, and you doubt she’s going to share it with you.
  1642. >Silence fills the air again, as you both go back to nursing your drink and trading distrustful scowls.
  1643. >You continue sipping on your glass, and after about five or so minutes it you’ve made it about half way through it.
  1644. >Aria’s pace has slowed down, she seems to be busy wallowing in...whatever; she’ll take sips, but she’s not downing the wine as fast as her first glass.
  1645. >A few minutes later, and you’ve finished your glass, and you lean over to grab the bottle and fill up again, scooching a little closer to Aria to reach the wine easier.
  1646. >She shies away from your presence, her face twisting into annoyance at the invasion of her personal space.
  1647. >”Hey, watch it there.”
  1648. “Sorry, but the bottle’s sorta in front of you.”
  1649. >”So? You could have asked me politely to pass it over to you.”
  1650. >You stop stretching yourself towards the wine, opting to straighten up and give Aria a blank look.
  1651. “...seriously?”
  1652. >”Yeah, seriously; it’s proper table etiquette. Even Sonata knows better than to lean over somebody when they’re enjoying a drink.”
  1653. >She really is doing this right now, isn’t she?
  1654. “You’ve literally been sulking on your corner of the couch giving me stink eye since we last spoke – which, let me remind you, you gave up on after a few questions. So explain to me: if you weren’t in a talking mood then, why would you be now?”
  1655. >”I don’t’ see you trying to be friendly over there yourself. Do you want the wine or not?”
  1656. “Yes, I would; could you pass it over?”
  1657. >”You forgot please; could you pass it over PLEASE.”
  1658. >The nerve of this girl.
  1659. >She’s sitting there, slowly turning screws into your skin while taking advantage of your hospitality.
  1660. >Your frustration has slowly been growing, her insults fraying at your patience as slow and sure as the tide erodes footprints left on the beach.
  1661. >Out of the blue, a thought pops into your head: you don’t have to take this crap from her.
  1662. >She came, saw Anon, and delivered the wine.
  1663. >That was the deal you made; there was nothing about sharing the wine or her staying well past her welcome.
  1664. >There really is no reason for her to keep staying here.
  1665. “Why are you still here?”
  1666. >Caught off guard, Aria’s shocked look is quickly melted away to her normal one: grumpy.
  1667. >”What do you mean by that?”
  1668. “Now look who’s a little slow on picking up the point. Exactly what it sounds like: why are you still here?”
  1669. “You came here to see Anon, right? Well, you saw him, what else do you need? I don’t really want you hanging around if all you’re going to do is ridicule me.”
  1670. >Narrowing your eyes, another thought comes up, which you vocalize.
  1671. “Unless this is just another attempt at you trying to get under my skin and wreck my self-confidence like you did while trying to take over the school.”
  1672. >The pent up anger finally finds a release, venting out of you like hot steam.
  1673. “Oh wait, that’s right, you need Adagio to do that first; you never were good at taking the lead, always waiting to follow her like the good little bitch you are.”
  1674. >Strike low and you’re guaranteed to hit something that hurts.
  1675. >In this case, it worked pretty well, though you’re not really in any position to enjoy Aria’s squirming as she wrestles with your low blow.
  1676. >Internally, you’re stewing with your own vexations, everything from today finally catching up to you and dragging you down.
  1677. >Electricity sparks between the two of you, each one waiting for the other too strike first.
  1678. >”You – you - you...”
  1679. >Stuttering escapes Aria’s lips, her fists opening and closing as she continuously clenches them.
  1680. >Deep in her mulberry eyes, you see a deep, deep hatred focused entirely on one entity.
  1681. >You.
  1682. >”Bitch? I’m the bitch?!” she finally growls out.
  1683. >”Not the stupid, naïve pony who, after failing to take over the school, in her defeat went crawling to the very same people who defeated her, begging for forgiveness?!”
  1684. >Your face grows flush, and you feel a heat rise inside of you.
  1685. >”So according to you, licking the boots of the candy coated cunts who blasted you with magic isn’t considered being a bitch.”
  1686. >Aria’s voice escalates, getting louder and louder as the raging siren within her takes control.
  1687. >”But, now let me make sure I’m getting this right, the fact that I follow Adagio because she’s the closest thing to any sort of family I have in this disgusting world, is?”
  1688. >”This stupid, stupid world that we’ve been stuck on for gods know how long, all because,” she focuses on you with venomous intentions, “some shit-eating UNICORN had to take it upon himself to judge us.”
  1689. >She stands up and takes a step towards, a predatory glare gleaming out of her eyes as she continues to rant loudly.
  1690. >” always think you know what’s best, trying to tell us what we are and what we should do. Get off your high fucking horse Sunset, you’re no better than me.”
  1691. >A part of you wants to push as far back into the couch cushions as you can, bury yourself and hide from Aria’s advance...
  1692. >...but she accused you of being like her.
  1693. >You’re nothing like her.
  1694. “You have the audacity to compare me to you?”
  1695. >One final step and Aria towers over you, fuming to the core.
  1696. >Pushing off of the couch, you stand to face her, your nose almost touching hers.
  1697. “I’m nothing like you!”
  1698. >You thrust a finger into Aria’s sternum.
  1699. “Yeah, I tried to take over the school, but you know what? In the aftermath, I tried to become a better person. I didn’t hold some petty grudge against the girls who defeated me.
  1700. >You push her back a few inches.
  1701. “I realized why what I did was wrong: I saw my selfish actions and desire for power. When my opponents offered me their hand after beating me, I took it; I actually felt guilt for what I did, unlike you.”
  1702. >Aria tosses your hand away from her chest.
  1703. >”You’re right Sunset, you’re not like me: I was never offered an olive branch after you beat us. I wonder why?”
  1704. >She reaches out and grabs your jacket, pulling you towards her violently.
  1705. >”Oh wait, I know why: because we weren’t ponies,” she hisses.
  1706. >“We didn’t matter to you or your precious Princess of Friendship; it’s all fine to forgive and forget after blasting someone if they’re a pony and offer them a helping hand, but gods forbid if they’re some other sort of species! Once you were done with us, we were dumped and forgotten like some back alley whore.”
  1707. >You’re pulled in even closer, enough to feel her hot breaths on your face.
  1708. >Shivers run down your back as you stare at the storm seething in front of you.
  1709. >”How do you explain that, little miss redemption?”
  1710. >The answer to that one is simple.
  1711. “Because you’re a monster, Aria.”
  1712. >”Grah!”
  1713. >She hurls her anger out in a roar, raising one of her hands to slap you across the face.
  1714. >Eyes close instinctively, and you wait for the sharp sting of her hand against your soft flesh.
  1715. >”Ya know, I thought I heard siren wailing off in the distance.”
  1716. >A set of gruff words pierces the air between Aria and you.
  1717. >”Here I thought it was an ambulance, but looks like I was wrong.”
  1718. >As the world enters your field of view again, you notice Aria’s hand posed and ready to strike.
  1719. >Her eyes still broil with emotion, but they’re no longer looking at you.
  1720. >”What do you want?” Aria sneers.
  1721. >”I was trying to sleep, but I it wasn’t going so well.”
  1722. >Anon?
  1723. >”That, and your cat fight is louder than a fucking church bell.”
  1724. >Footsteps softly plod towards the couch.
  1725. >You twist your head over your right shoulder to get a better view of their owner.
  1726. >Anon steps out from behind the couch and, in an almost zombielike state, walks towards Aria and you.
  1727. >Aria’s grip tightens on your jacket with her left hand as he approaches.
  1728. >Stopping a few feet away from you two, he reaches down and inspects the bottle of wine that was neglected while you tore at each other’s throats.
  1729. >Passing it from hand to hand, he inspects the bottle, glancing at the label and how much is left.
  1730. >In one deft movement, the bottle is pressed to his lips.
  1731. >He shows no signs of stopping after one gulp, continuing to down the contents of the bottle until only a few drops remain.
  1732. >Shaking the last few drops out onto his tongue, the bottle is placed back onto the table where it came from.
  1733. >”What are you two arguing about that you had to raise hell for?”
  1734. “ literally just chugged half a bottle of wine in a handful of seconds. Why?”
  1735. >”I was having a bad dream, and a drink always helps calm my nerves,” he waves aside your comment with annoyance.
  1736. >“Now again: what the hell were you two arguing about?”
  1737. >”She – she – she called me a monster!”
  1738. “That’s because you are one.”
  1739. >A series of smacks across your face is all you get as answer.
  1740. >”Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up you stupid-!“
  1741. >”Aria, stop.”
  1742. >The assault on your face is suspended as Anon grabs Aria’s violent hand by the wrist to prevent her from doing any more harm.
  1743. >”Come on, we don’t need this crap right now. Let her go.”
  1744. >”But-“
  1745. >He squeezes her wrist.
  1746. >”You wanna know what a monster is?”
  1747. >Defiantly, she tries to fight his grip, but she only succeeds in him tightening his hold on her.
  1748. >”Cause in a few moments, if you don’t calm the FUCK down, I’m going to show the both of you what a real monster looks like. Now let. Her. GO. I’m not in the mood for this shit right now.”
  1749. >Carefully, he uses his free hand to pull Aria’s grip off of your jacket.
  1750. >Resisting initially, she eventually gives in and let’s go.
  1751. >”So that’s it, you’re going to take her side of things? Just blame me for what happened?”
  1752. >There’s still some fight left in her, and she desperately wants to take it out on anyone.
  1753. >”I never said anything like that; stop with this pointless crap Aria. You’re better than this, and you know it.”
  1754. >Anon, it seems, isn’t going to have any of it.
  1755. >Massaging the spot on face where you were hit, you watch as the purple girl confronts the towering pillar before her.
  1756. >”No, screw you! Aren’t you tired of this shit?”
  1757. >A punch is thrown at Anon’s chest.
  1758. >“Always getting sidelined by these fucking xenophobic assholes,” and another one, “getting stuck in a world where you don’t fit in,” and another one, “never being able to go back home because someone else already decided your fate for you?!”
  1759. >Both of Aria’s fist slam down on Anon’s chest as she leans against him, head face down.
  1760. >”Well, aren’t you? How can you just sit there and take all this injustice?”
  1761. >Tears streak down her face as her anger starts to finally crumble and burn out.
  1762. >” do you deal with?”
  1763. >Anon’s arms wrap around Aria in a hug.
  1764. >”We can seek culpability in the face of tragedy, but it never helps. You just have to keep moving, and try not to look back.”
  1765. >Gently, he begins to rub her back.
  1766. >”Sure, you can sit there and bow your head and succumb to your fate, bitch and moan about how it all sucks.”
  1767. >He squeezes her tight.
  1768. >“Or you can cry out against it, strengthen yourself through its cruelty, mold yourself to make the best of the shitty situation you’ve been thrust into.”
  1769. >Sniffles escape from Aria as she rests her head against Anon, coming to grips with herself.
  1770. >”You may be a monster to some people,” he coldly gazes at you, “but so is Sunset, and,” an expression of pain and guilt contorts over his face, “so am I.”
  1771. >”The only monsters that exist are the ones we make out of ourselves Aria. You’re not a monster.”
  1772. >Finally calming down enough to reach some coherency, Aria returns the hug.
  1773. >”Feeling better now?”
  1774. >”Yeah,” she grumbles out.
  1775. >”Good,” he nods and separates from her.
  1776. >He looks so...old.
  1777. >Old and tired.
  1778. >Suddenly, Anon claps his hands and his face brightens.
  1779. >”With that little bit of business out of the way, I’ve got some bad news for you guys.”
  1780. “What’s the bad news?” you blurt out.
  1781. >Aria shoots you a dirty look.
  1782. >”Be quiet and maybe we’ll hear it.”
  1783. >”Can it Aria, I’ve had one too many touchy-feely moments the past day or two, I don’t need you devolving into an emotional mess again.
  1784. >Rolling her eyes, Aria grumbles incoherently, but not enough to escape Anon’s ears.
  1785. >”I heard that, you know,” he says while shooting a stern glance at her.
  1786. >Anon starts to meander around your apartment as if he is in search of something.
  1787. >”Anyways, the bad news: first off, I need to lay low here for a little while Sunset; I might have attracted some unwanted attention in the past few days.”
  1788. >Great, just what you needed.
  1789. “Ugh, are you at least going to tell me what’s going on, and is she going to have to stay here too?”
  1790. >You point a finger at Aria, who still glowers at you, but refrains from speaking this time.
  1791. >”No, Aria doesn’t need to stick around, she’s good to roam around town...I think. Ah, here it is!”
  1792. >Scooping up the gun you left on the counter, Anon fiddles with it a bit, separating a piece from it and stowing it in his pocket.
  1793. >”Huh, forgot to put the safety on,” he says while thumbing a switch up near the top of the weapon.
  1794. >”Oh, right: I can tell you what’s going on tomorrow Sunset; right now, I just wanna take a break...from everything.”
  1795. >You sigh with reservation.
  1796. >Not much of a way out of this, is there?
  1797. “Fine, as long as a get an explanation to all this madness eventually. Just please make it sooner rather than later.”
  1798. >”I’ll try. Next thing: you’re not leaving this apartment unless absolutely necessary Sunset.”
  1799. “What?” you sputter out.
  1800. “Anon, I have school to go to and friends to hang out with. You can’t keep me locked up here for the next few days!”
  1801. >”Yes I can,” he says, wiggling the gun.
  1802. >Your face darkens at his implication.
  1803. >”Hey! Joking! I was just joking! Don’t have to get your panties all up in a bunch. You’ll get an explanation for all of this, since we’ll be cooped up here for a while.”
  1804. >He tucks the gun into the waistband of his pants after sliding back the top of the gun, ejecting a bullet which he promptly catches before it clatters to the floor.
  1805. >”Look at it like an extended movie night to make up for the one I missed last week. That, and I promise to answer as many questions as I can from you.”
  1806. “All my questions?” you ask with a raised eyebrow.
  1807. >”I didn’t say all.”
  1808. “Good enough for me. Just promise me you won’t attract more trouble. I really can’t deal with all this,” your hand sweeps across the dysfunctional group near you, “and school.”
  1809. >”Gotcha. Now Aria, this last one is of critical importance: we don’t have anything to drink.”
  1810. >Oh come on.
  1811. “I have plenty of things to drink! I have juice and water stocked up in the fridge. What do you mean we don’t have anything to drink?”
  1812. >”I mean,” he walks over to the coffee table and grabs the empty bottle of wine, shaking it profusely.
  1813. >“We don’t have anything to drink.”
  1814. “Oh.”
  1815. >”Exactly; if I’m going to fall asleep tonight, I need something with a kick to really knock me out. So Aria,” he turns to her, “you’re going on a beer run.”
  1816. >Aria practically jumps at the opportunity to leave the apartment.
  1817. >”I’m fine with that.”
  1818. >”Here,” Anon fishes out his wallet and hands Aria a wad of twenties.
  1819. >”That’s a hundred dollars, more than enough for a few cases of beer, a bottle of the good stuff, and,” he points to the bottle in his hand, “another bottle wine for Adagio. Don’t think I didn’t notice that we bought this for her a week ago, right at the beginning of this whole shebacle.”
  1820. >”Yeah, yeah, I know. She doesn’t know yet, so we should be in the clear.”
  1821. >”Well, if she does figure it out, remember whose ass is getting rodded: not mine.”
  1822. >What is up with the sirens and shoving things up their butts?
  1823. >Practically skipping out of the apartment, Aria stops to grab her backpack before wrenching open the door.
  1824. >”Oh, before you go,” says Anon, “remember to say ‘Trick or treat, it’s the mailman’ when you knock on the door, so we know it’s you.”
  1825. >She nods before slamming the door shut, showing no confusion over the bizarre phrase Anon required from her.
  1826. >As you turn away from the door, you check on what Anon is up to.
  1827. >He seems to just stare off into space, shoulders shagging down as if a sudden weight was just placed on him.
  1828. >What happened? Only a few moments ago he was barking out orders, but now...
  1829. >”If you need me Sunset, I’ll be in your room.”
  1830. >He stalks off to your room, quietly closing the door behind him.
  1831. >It’s just you now, all alone in the empty living room.
  1832. >Something’s tearing at Anon, you don’t know what.
  1833. >Reflecting back on the past few moments, he mentioned something about a bad dream, but he sort of just shook it off and brushed it aside as if it was nothing.
  1834. >Maybe you should check on him, ask him what it was about.
  1835. >There’s nothing better to do, and besides, you somehow feel like you owe him an apology for getting Aria worked up like that.
  1836. >Guilt pulls you towards your door.
  1837. >As it creaks open you start to hear music pouring out from your room.
  1838. ------------------------------
  1840. >God, what a mess.
  1841. >Closing the door quietly behind you, you shuffle over to Sunset’s comfy bed.
  1842. >Nightmares, mares, and sirens, all competing for your attention.
  1843. >Is it too much to ask for a normal life around here?
  1844. >Stopping by Sunset’s desk, you offload the piece stuffed in your pants.
  1845. >The one time you really can say it’s a gun in your pocket.
  1846. >Out of your pocket comes the almost empty magazine along with an accompanying pair from your back pockets, one empty, one full.
  1847. >You stash them next to the sidearm.
  1848. >You take out your smart phone and plug it in to the pair of bookshelf speakers she has set up.
  1849. >Twisting the knob for the volume and power, you adjust it so it’s at the 10 o’clock position.
  1850. >Quickly pressing the play symbol on your phone, you then proceed to flop down face first into the red comforter.
  1851. >Without a care in the world, you let the red, cushiony surface smother you as the song begins to play. [spoiler] [/spoiler]
  1852. >Safe to say you’re pretty much done with human interaction today.
  1853. >Any interaction, really, if anybody wants to get all uppity about what species they really are.
  1854. >For now, it’s time to unwind until Aria gets back with the good stuff, then maybe you’ll finally sleep well in an alcohol induced coma.
  1855. >Lose yourself to music, let the vibes wash over you.
  1856. >Softly, you hear the door to the room open with a quiet click.
  1857. >Great, that’s probably Sunset.
  1858. >If you can’t see her, she can’t see you.
  1859. >You hear her walk over and stop somewhere behind you.
  1860. >The bed shifts with the sudden addition of more weight to your right.
  1861. >”Hey.”
  1862. >Groaning is the only response you give.
  1863. >”Come on Anon, what’s up?”
  1864. “Ugh, just let me lay here for a bit.”
  1865. >Your voice is muffled through the comforter as you speak to her, not bothering to raise your head.
  1866. >”Fine. I’ll just sit here then.”
  1867. “You do that.”
  1868. >So the two of you just chill there, neither of you budging from your positions, music playing in the background.
  1869. >Sunset is probably sitting with her arms crossed, acting all huffy as you lay there like a sloth, not giving a crap about a single thing going on around you.
  1870. >Subtle movements are felt through the mattress as she shifts her weight around.
  1871. >You know how this is going to end: she’s going to sit there until you give in and start talking to her.
  1872. >Well, you could just wait a few more minutes, or at least until the next song.
  1873. >Which should be coming up rather soon.
  1874. >That should be plenty of time to mentally prepare yourself for whatever she’s got planned for you.
  1875. >Honestly, you don’t know what to prepare for.
  1876. >Emotions swirl around your head, both good and bad, clouding out any sort of concrete thought.
  1877. >At times like this, you always chose to disconnect yourself from the world.
  1878. >Why talk to people about your problems when you can just bury them deep?
  1879. >Honestly, who really cares about your problems? Why should they care?
  1880. >Past experiences have proven that even when you open up to people, they just don’t seem to get it.
  1881. >There’s no real empathy there, no connection, just a distant nod or a neutral comment about how they understand.
  1882. >Besides, it’s easier to just bury whatever you can’t handle, you never wanted to bother people with what’s going on in your head.
  1883. >Especially with Sunset.
  1884. >She’s already got enough to going on as is, already has her own set of issues to deal with.
  1885. >You don’t need to throw more troubles into her bucket of worries.
  1886. >Fuck it, you still got a minute or so before your self-imposed deadline.
  1887. >Just listen to the music, try and relax.
  1888. >Focusing on the song, you close your eyes and try and pick out all the different parts of the track to pass the time.
  1889. >All too soon, the song comes to an end and the next one comes on. [spoiler] [/spoiler]
  1890. >Time to actually come back down to earth and deal with shit.
  1891. >Wind chimes play out of the speakers as you roll away from Sunset, splaying your arms out above your head on the bed as you stare up at the ceiling.
  1892. “Whataya want Sunset?”
  1893. >”I want to know how you’re doing.”
  1894. “Just peachy. A little too sober right now, but that’ll change once Aria gets back.”
  1895. >”You can’t always just drink away your problems.”
  1896. >Disapproval oozes from her voice.
  1897. “Who says I got problems?”
  1898. >Her worried face looms over your head, imposing on your view of the ceiling.
  1899. >She sways a little bit, trying to keep herself steady.
  1900. >”Look at you Anon: you’re a mess. You came in here looking like you came out of the bad end of a fight, and then there’s that look on your face, like you’re haunted or something.”
  1901. >Wow.
  1902. >You look that bad, huh?
  1903. >Pretty sure it wasn’t that obvious you were falling apart around the edges.
  1904. >Only a little bit, mind you.
  1905. >Not the worst week that’s happened in the past, but definitely not your best week either.
  1906. >She leans back away from you, the bed jostling as she lays down next to you.
  1907. >”On top of that, Celestia only knows why you’re carrying around a gun and how you’ve gotten yourself involved with the Dazzlings. The Dazzlings!”
  1908. >She sounds a bit...agitated.
  1909. >”I know it’s not really your thing to tell me what’s going on,” she sighs, “and you never were one to offload what’s eating at you either.”
  1910. >You just listen, remaining silent.
  1911. >Rustling comes from her side of the bed again, and you feel a gentle pressure on your left shoulder.
  1912. >”So I’m not going to push you to open up; that’s your choice. If you need to talk, I’m right here.”
  1913. >The pressure is relieved from your shoulder.
  1914. >”Besides, I don’t think you ever trusted me, even after all that’s happened between us,” she says bitterly.
  1915. >That’s one way to get you into the conversation.
  1916. “Look, it’s not that I don’t trust you Sunset.”
  1917. >Yes, yes it’s exactly that.
  1918. “Things are just...complicated. I don’t know how to tell you. I don’t even know where to begin.”
  1919. >”Complicated...things are always complicated, aren’t they?”
  1920. >You bring your arms forward and settle your hands on your stomach, cupping them together.
  1921. >Maybe she saw through your little lie.
  1922. >Maybe she didn’t.
  1923. >Doesn’t change that she’s right there next to you, hoping that you might say something.
  1924. >”I want to believe that, but somehow I doubt it’s only ‘just complicated’ with you.”
  1925. >There’s your answer of whether or not you convinced her.
  1926. >”You know what is complicated? Putting a damn gun to your friend’s head without explaining a thing.”
  1927. >Ah.
  1928. >Here comes the rant you were expecting.
  1929. >”Seriously, why? What was the point of doing that? Were you trying to piss me off or something? Drag me in to some conspiracy that’s way over my head? It doesn’t make any sense!”
  1930. >Vibrations rock the bed as you feel her pound the bed with fist.
  1931. >”You didn’t trust who I was! How could you not tell it was me?! Did you just want to see me squirm like Aria?”
  1932. “Sunset, it’s not like that.”
  1933. >”Then what is it then!?” she barks out.
  1934. >”I need an explanation Anon, you can’t just keep me in the dark all the time and tell we not to worry.”
  1935. “...don’t worry about it right now?”
  1936. >”What did I just say?” she moans out.
  1937. “Look, just don’t worry about it - it’s not your problem.”
  1938. >More movement to your left.
  1939. >”But it is my problem now! I’m stuck here until you say so, and all I can do is worry about what’s going on. The more you say ‘Don’t worry about it Sunset,’ the more it gives me cause to.”
  1940. >She does have a point; you’ll grudgingly admit that.
  1941. >For better or for worse, Sunset is temporarily part of this ride, and she has no idea what she’s been thrust into.
  1942. “I know it’s you now Sunset, and I really do trust you. You’ll get an explanation to all of this sooner or later.”
  1943. >”If you really do trust me, then talk NOW Anon. We’ve known each other long enough that I can tell that you’re hanging in there by a thread. Things aren’t okay, and you know it.”
  1944. >There’s probably going to be more, so you just wait for her to finish.
  1945. >”When you came asked me to tell you something personal. Now it’s your turn. Prove to me that I can trust YOU.”
  1946. “Wow, I guess it’s your turn to hold me at gunpoint.”
  1947. >Heh.
  1948. >Even half delirious, you still can’t take this seriously.
  1949. >”Not funny,” she pouts.
  1950. >”Why don’t you ever talk about your problems to me? You were so willing to listen and help me get back on my feet after...everything. What’s the difference between helping someone and letting them help you?”
  1951. “A lot of things actually: for one, it’s not me that’s being focused on. That, and it’s always been easier to immerse myself in other people’s issues, burying mine beneath theirs.”
  1952. >”So when do you help yourself? When do you try and fix your issues? Because you have issues Anon – a big glaring one is right there on my desk.”
  1953. >Frustration leaks from her voice as you feel her glare at you.
  1954. ”I...”
  1955. >Hmm.
  1956. >Tougher than you initially expected, you sit up to ponder her question.
  1957. >The bullet you pocketed earlier comes out as you move it around your hands, sliding from finger to finger.
  1958. >When do you really go out of your way to focus on you?
  1959. >Always, it seems, you’re chasing down another problem or trying to help someone else out with what’s going on in their neck of the woods.
  1960. >Digging your palms into the bed, you lean back a little and stare upwards aimlessly.
  1961. “There’s not really much point in solving my problems at this point Sunset.”
  1962. >”What do you mean?”
  1963. “They’re all old ones. Nothing much to it, everything that’s happened is stuck in the past, and I’m not. The people associated with them are long gone.”
  1964. >Mostly gone.
  1965. >One of them is sitting right next to you, but why tell her that?
  1966. >She would just get worried and ask more questions.
  1967. >Don’t want that now, do we?
  1968. >All sorts of awkward would come out of that topic.
  1969. >”You’re just going to ignore what’s happened in the past then? Run away and hope it never catches up?”
  1970. >Your right hand brings up the tiny piece of brass as you examine it once again, putting more weight on your left to support you.
  1971. >Light catches on the bullet, what little is left of it this evening.
  1972. >You scowl down at her.
  1973. >She’s lying on her side, arms curled close to her chest, big eyes staring at you with sadness and worry.
  1974. >Look at her, sitting there and making assumptions.
  1975. >Yet another reason why you don’t like talking to people about this sort of stuff.
  1976. “Who said I was running from my past? I know what happened, I know why it went down the way it did. I’ve accepted that, made peace with it. It’s who I am.”
  1977. >The problem, is you don’t like how you turned out.
  1978. >Or how some entities treated you because of it.
  1979. >”Who are you then?”
  1980. “ know how you called Aria a monster, based on what little you knew about her?”
  1981. >A new song begins to play. [spoiler] [/spoiler]
  1982. >Sunset shrinks into herself, guilt riddling her face.
  1983. >”Yeah...I’m sorry about that, I had no idea-“
  1984. “Exactly, you had no idea.”
  1985. >Interrupting her might not be the most prudent action right now, but you don’t care.
  1986. >You lift up your hands and place them in your laps, looking down at them.
  1987. “If you were able to make such a snappy judgement over somebody you just barely scratched the surface of, what’s to stop you from jumping to the same conclusions with me?”
  1988. >”Because I know you,” she softly murmurs.
  1989. >She stays down, looking up at your battered, angry face.
  1990. >Does she really know you?
  1991. >Or does she only know a mask you put on to keep people from looking at the real you?
  1992. >Even you don’t know.
  1993. >A hand reaches out and grabs one of yours.
  1994. >Small, comfortable.
  1995. >Such a simple act.
  1996. “How? How do you know that?”
  1997. >Small, tiny pieces of frustration enter your words.
  1998. “How can you be so sure when you don’t know my past, when you think I don’t trust you?”
  1999. >She says nothing.
  2000. >Nothing.
  2001. >Squeezing your hand for a moment, she lets go.
  2002. >You already miss its warmth.
  2003. >Sitting up, she leans into your left shoulder, resting her head on it.
  2004. >”Remember all the times we spent on the bench?”
  2005. “Yeah. Why?”
  2006. >She wraps her arm around yours, intertwining them and grasping for you hand.
  2007. >”If you really were a monster, then why would you spend all that time to stop a girl from crying? Would you brush away her tears, comfort her?”
  2008. >Maybe.
  2009. >Maybe not.
  2010. >You know who you are, deep down.
  2011. >You know what you’re capable of.
  2012. >Both the good and the bad.
  2013. >But does she?
  2014. >Does she only know the good, or has she seen the bad you try and keep buried away from prying eyes and minds?
  2015. >”You’re always talking about giving people chances Anon. Why don’t you ever give yourself one?”
  2016. “Why didn’t you give Aria one?”
  2017. >A frown is lumped onto Sunset’s face, her eyes watching the dull metal in your hand.
  2018. >”Would she even accept it?”
  2019. “, she probably wouldn’t.”
  2020. >You bump your head against hers and rest it there.
  2021. “We can try and hand someone a chance at redemption, but it only works if the person you’re handing to wants it, or if they believe they even deserve it.”
  2022. >”So where does she stand on that spectrum?”
  2023. “She doesn’t need it; there’s nothing there to apologize for, no guilt. She’s perfectly fine with who she is and what she does.”
  2024. >Sunset curls up next to you, moving in closer.
  2025. >”Doesn’t that make her a bad person then?”
  2026. “Being honest with herself? No, it doesn’t. Her actions, on the other hand, can define who she is to other people.”
  2027. >”Your not going to say it are you?’
  2028. “Say what?”
  2029. >”Call her a monster.”
  2030. “Why should I? You remember what you said earlier, how you know me?”
  2031. >”Yeah.”
  2032. “Well I know her. Sure, Aria’s grumpy, confrontational, a general asshole most of the time...”
  2033. >”Not helping your case here.”
  2034. “Shush, let me finish. She may be all those things, but if you can get past all that, and you’re on her good side, she’s willing to stick by you through thick and thin, even if she doesn’t like it.”
  2035. >”So what do you have to do to get on her good side.”
  2036. “For starters? Not be you.”
  2037. >”I think I know the reason for that.”
  2038. >Explaining that the Dazzlings never really forgave the Rainbooms (and by proxy, any of their fans) for shattering the gems doesn’t seem necessary.
  2039. >”You never answered the question.”
  2040. “Which one?”
  2041. >”Why don’t you give yourself a second chance?”
  2042. >Music is all that can be heard throughout the room as you both sit there.
  2043. >Comfortable where you are, you stay still, feeling your heart thump away steadily in your chest.
  2044. >”Not gonna answer that one, huh?”
  2045. >The bullet is passed from finger to finger, the movements a distraction from the girl hanging on to you.
  2046. >The next song comes on. [spoiler] [/spoiler]
  2047. >Didn’t you say you had enough of the touchy-feely stuff for one day?
  2048. >Why are you sitting here, struggling with questions you’ve mulled countless years over?
  2049. >Enough.
  2050. >There’s better ways to waste time rather than talking about yourself.
  2051. >Like you said: you know who you are, and you’ve accepted that.
  2052. >No need to share that with anyone in particular.
  2053. >Or at least Sunset.
  2054. “Hey; let’s stop talking about this, it ain’t helping anyone.”
  2055. >”Okay, if you say so.”
  2056. >Suddenly, you’re engulfed in her embrace as she leans in and hugs you.
  2057. >”Remember, I can help if you want me to. You just need to trust me.”
  2058. >”Sorry about earlier again,” she says as an afterthought.
  2059. “Not me who you should really be saying sorry to. Talk to Aria about that. She might accept it after a bit of groveling.”
  2060. >”Ugh,” is all that escapes from her lips.
  2061. >Pushing her away, you slip your legs on to the bed and get comfortable.
  2062. >Leaning back, you rest against the headboard.
  2063. >Sunset’s initial disappointment at distancing yourself from her is interrupted as you startle her and drag her towards you.
  2064. >Placing her head on your chest, you start to scratch behind her ears.
  2065. >Fingers massage into her skin, her favorite spots ingrained in your memory.
  2066. >”Hey! What are you-!“
  2067. >She melts at your attack, one of her legs kicking out involuntarily as a low whine escapes her mouth.
  2068. >”Is this really – unf! – appropriate right now?”
  2069. >Your shoulders roll back in a shrug.
  2070. “If you think so, then we can stop. All you have to do is break away.”
  2071. >Resistance is non-existent as Sunset accepts her fate, any fight in her gone from the comforting pleasures of an ear scratch.
  2072. >”Dear do you always find that spot?”
  2073. >Back in Equestria, when Sunset was a pony by nature (not by heart), you always used to scratch behind her ears.
  2074. >Ponies loved that stuff, pushing into your hands like an over eager dog.
  2075. >More importantly, it gets them so relaxed they practically fall asleep under normal circumstances.
  2076. >Sunset has had a rough day mentally: she’s tired, worn out, and confused.
  2077. >No way is she going to be awake after a few minutes of this.
  2078. “Years of practice. I had a good partner, she and I go way back.”
  2079. >She muzzles your scratching hand through closed eyes, trying to get a deeper scratch.
  2080. >”Tell me about her.”
  2081. >Heh.
  2082. >Old memories bring a smile to your face.
  2083. “She was one of the first ponies I really felt comfortable around in Equestria.”
  2084. >You bring a hand to her hair, flowing it through her silky strands.
  2085. “There were some good nights, there were some bad nights, but man, was it worth it.”
  2086. >Feelings, both blissful and sharp, brings water to your eyes.
  2087. >Staying up, gazing at the stars and the moon as they were painted across the sky.
  2088. >Evenings spent spitting venom at each other.
  2089. “We weren’t perfect; nobody is. The flaws we had just didn’t matter when we were around each other; they were trivial.”
  2090. >”Sounds like you really liked her,” she says, her voice slowly fading out as her body grows lax.
  2091. “I did...”
  2092. >”Do you still?” she softly murmurs.
  2093. >All movement stops as you think.
  2094. >After a few seconds of contemplation, you resume what you were doing.
  2095. “Maybe.”
  2096. >Time ticks by.
  2097. >Sunset’s breathing becomes steady, more even as sleep pulls at her.
  2098. >You break the cozy silence.
  2099. “I never really got a chance to really figure it all out. She left; got lost before I could make up my mind.”
  2100. >She moves her full body to the bed, positioning herself so she can use your body as a pillow.
  2101. “In the end, all she really left behind was her mark on me.”
  2102. >”I’m sorry...sorry that I left you.”
  2103. >No more words, just let her sleep.
  2104. >You continue stroking her hair, using both hands now, focusing around her ears.
  2105. >Eventually, all you hear is her breathing and her chest rises in a steady rhythm.
  2106. >You move her head gently off of you.
  2107. >Making sure not to jostle the bed too much, you slide yourself off and move to the door, making as little noise as possible.
  2108. >As you crack open the door, you slip halfway through, before you look back at the sleeping beauty.
  2109. “Hmm, night Sunset.”
  2110. >The door closes behind you.
  2111. >The night has finally conquered the day, enveloping the world in its dark, loving embrace.
  2112. >After leaving Sunset’s room, you moved to the couch, trying to unwind from the conversation you had with her.
  2113. >You can still hear the soft hum of music coming through the door, your phone still dutifully performing its primary function.
  2114. >Next to texting and calling, of course.
  2115. >Though it is safe to say most of the mileage on that phone is from you blasting various different genres out of its speakers to your heart’s content.
  2116. >Shame you don’t have it with you right now, you really could use it, but you really don’t want to go back into that room.
  2117. >Speaking of phones, where the heck is your flip phone?
  2118. >Despite being an archaic piece of technology, it still has a niche usefulness.
  2119. >For one, you don’t need to pay for a service plan, circumventing that little snag by buying up prepaid cards that give you minutes.
  2120. >Which leads in to its next benefit: the phone is more or less disposable since it isn’t on a major plan, so if you did lose it at some point, you can always buy another one.
  2121. >To top things off, it has the bare bones basics that a phone should have: the ability to make calls and small texts.
  2122. >Plus, it means Sonata (and to a lesser extent, Aria and Adagio) won’t spend all her time wasting your budget eating up data for social media.
  2123. >That right there is the prize point.
  2124. >The less money you spend on small luxuries, the more you can spend on useful materials.
  2125. >Such as your own hardware and tools of the trade.
  2126. >Sure, your little band of misfits are considered as an offshoot of the police department, so you do get access to their expansive inventory, but you hate going through the bureaucracy to check out what you need.
  2127. >Life has a lot less headaches and paperwork if you can fund your own equipment.
  2128. >Fortunately, like any moderately sized city, Canterlot has a decent criminal underground and black market, so you’re able to get a few of the more “specialized” items you want through unofficial channels.
  2129. >Your transactions may be less than legal, but it beats waiting three months after sending in a request, only to have it denied on the grounds of being “an unnecessary addition” and “an excessive amount of force.”
  2130. >Some people just enjoy killing fun.
  2131. >God damn bureaucrats.
  2132. >Anyways, what were you thinking about earlier?
  2133. >Something had gone missing...
  2134. >Oh, right!
  2135. >Your phone.
  2136. >Its gotta be around nearby, since you remember having it when you were waiting for Sunset to show up at her apartment.
  2137. >You think...
  2138. >You weren’t exactly at the top of your game around then, so things are a bit hazy and blurred.
  2139. >Well, no big loss if you did lose it.
  2140. >There are a few other things that are bothering you right now, but you swat those buzzing thoughts away like a group of flies.
  2141. >For now, you’re content to wait in the darkness for Aria’s return.
  2142. >Which turns out to be a while.
  2143. >As the dark grows heavier and eats away at the feeble street lights outside the window, you sit and wait.
  2144. >Trying to pass the time, you spread your legs out at a comfortable distance, and relax your body, trying to mold yourself into the couch.
  2145. >Maybe the conversation with Sunset had eaten away more of your resolve and confidence than you care to admit.
  2146. >Arms hang from your body, their weight comfortably dragging them down, your palms facing up.
  2147. >Consciously managing your breathing, you begin the process of clearing your mind.
  2148. >Not because there’s anything bothering you, it’s need to sort out a few things that Sunset said.
  2149. >If you can’t distract yourself from the thoughts eating away at you, planted by her, then you’ll do the next best thing: meditate on them.
  2150. >Close your eyes
  2151. >Breathe in.
  2152. >A bizarre scene drifts by in your mind, a man stalking long halls flooded with moonlight, blood dripping from his ravaged body and the tip of the spear in his hand.
  2153. >Let your thoughts drift away...
  2154. >Breathe out.
  2155. >Three terrified, broken girls sit before you at a blank desk, in a drab room. They are angry, tired, sad...they’ve lost their way and don’t know where to go. Life has no pity for them or their story.
  2156. > waves crashing on a beach...
  2157. >Breathe in.
  2158. >A girl whose hair shimmers with the colors of the sunset sits on the broken steps to Canterlot High School, tears ruining her face, her body ragged and her clothes ratty. Guilt, shame, and regret convulse over her. The confident girl you once knew is gone; no ambition, no desire, a shade of her former self.
  2159. >...cleansing the footprints left behind...
  2160. >Breathe out.
  2161. >Creatures covered in black chitin, chittering at you in a challenge, and you answer back over a wounded comrade. They won’t let you go easily, and you feel obliged to not let them down.
  2162. >...making the sand whole and new again...
  2163. >Breathe in.
  2164. >Pleading eyes of violet, from a girl who doesn’t belong, stare at you, beg for you to come with her; but you’ve already made up your mind.
  2165. >...a brand new beach for a new brand day...
  2166. >Breathe out.
  2167. >The tender embrace of feathered wings, comforting you as magic burns inside of you, throbbing – no, pulsing – with your heartbeat. It eats away at your innards, and the only thing you can do is grip your companion tighter, losing yourself in her soft fur.
  2168. >...all marks drifts away.
  2169. >Let it all drift away...
  2170. >Breathe in.
  2171. >Her gaze, judging you, loathing what you represent: a drop of chaos in her perfect little world, a stone dropped in the middle of a river. You’re the ripple that threatens to tip over all that she holds dear.
  2172. >Let it drift away...
  2173. >She raises her horn, and it shines like the sun. Jewelry rises around her as her eyes glow, your fate sealed by her.
  2174. >Let it go, don’t dwell on it...
  2175. >Anger carries you forward, one last desperate attempt to stop her. You won’t give in, won’t let her define who you are, can’t let her win.
  2176. >You have to let it go...
  2177. >...but you can’t.
  2178. >A brilliant ray shoots towards you.
  2179. >No.
  2180. >You’ve stayed here too long, push the thought away.
  2181. >Focus on something else, bring yourself back to the present.
  2182. >Breathe out through your mouth, letting out the breath you didn’t know you were holding.
  2183. >Chest deflating, muscles relaxing.
  2184. >Breathe in with your nose.
  2185. >Feel your chest expand, the small pain in the lungs as you hold it in.
  2186. >Brush away the clutter in your mind, the persistent memories and thoughts swept aside.
  2187. >Make your mind a blank slate.
  2188. >Fingers curl into fists, gripping into your palms.
  2189. >Your squeeze your eyes shut even harder, trying to choke out any stray source of light, despite the fact you already sit in a receding twilight.
  2190. >Both your own and the world’s.
  2191. >Be like a leaf on the wind...
  2192. >Relax...
  2193. >Breathe out.
  2194. >Slowly, you loosen your hands, fingers unfolding on their own accord as your body naturally finds the most comfortable position for them.
  2195. >Eyelids are no longer forced shut.
  2196. >The cheap material of the couch rubs against your bare arms, itching at the scratches and bruises on them.
  2197. >But that doesn’t matter, just know that the couch exists, that it holds you to the material world.
  2198. >Breathe in.
  2199. >Your head sinks deeper into the couch cushion, all control of your neck given to gravity.
  2200. >...
  2201. >All the troubles, all the worries...gone. Nothing to contemplate now except, well, nothing.
  2202. >You feel a tiny pulse at the tips of your fingers and toes, but you don’t pay attention to the movement.
  2203. >Let it come to you on its own time, be patient.
  2204. >Each breath makes the throbbing more prominent, eventually overwhelming your sense of nothingness.
  2205. >Cautiously, you follow where the pulses begin, traveling down to your hands and feet, to your wrists and ankles, each body part slowly coming to your awareness.
  2206. >Never do you tread too far, waiting for each section to fall in line with the previous one, to become something bigger than its own individual function.
  2207. >The steady beat flows to your arms and legs, matching each other in time, becoming part of a larger whole.
  2208. >Soon, you feel your chest thumping to the unseen beat, your torso coursing with its hypnotic rhythm.
  2209. >There’s only one part left, to connect all the parts together, to make the body whole again.
  2210. >*Ba-bump!*
  2211. >The heart beats strong, pulling in the blood, then pushing it out.
  2212. >*Ba-bump!*
  2213. >Blood pushes out, and every vein, every artery, fills to the brim, creating the beat of life.
  2214. >*Ba-bump!*
  2215. >It’s...surreal, a primal experience.
  2216. >The body is unified as whole, by one small organ, relying on its tireless tempo, and conductor who never sleeps for his orchestra.
  2217. >Your body is whole, but what about the mind?
  2218. >Breathe in.
  2219. >*Ba-bump!*
  2220. >Breathe out.
  2221. >Dare you tread into the whirlwind of madness that inhabits your own head?
  2222. >...screw it, you got nothing better to do.
  2223. >Impulsively you fall under the mesmeric sway of your heart.
  2224. >It is not by instinct, but by choice that it carries you further and further, the couch’s touch losing meaning, the weight of clothes pressing against your skin all but forgotten.
  2225. >Heartbeats twist and turn, breaths form colors and shapes as your grasp on time and meaning are lost to the body.
  2226. >Your mind paints an alluring scene, one of a night sky not unlike the one outside.
  2227. >Except this one was crafted with the utmost love and care, each constellation representing an experience.
  2228. >Galaxies are a series of memories, the collection of brilliance and colors forming hallmarks of your life.
  2229. >At their center lies dark gaps, ever-hungry holes that will engorge on the radiance surrounding them till there is nothing left to remember.
  2230. >Already you can see a few clusters in their dying throes, as the lights twinkle out one by one, the memories they carried forgotten by the decay of time.
  2231. >You shift your view to expose more of the celestial scene, exploring the heavenly bodies and stars, touching their surfaces with your mind.
  2232. >They all store a thought, an idea, a passing remark, or an opinion.
  2233. >So many of them, representing all the unique aspects, the small characteristics and ticks that make
  2234. >Yet there is one section that isn’t you, that is alien to the landscape.
  2235. >A sweeping shadow that curls its tendrils inwards, held at bay by its own volition.
  2236. >Nothing is visible in the inky abyss except for two glittering points of a moderate cyan.
  2237. >Shining with their own intensity, magnified more so by the void that borders them.
  2238. >Some part of you, from another world maybe, is dimly aware of a pounding sound that is unnatural, not part of you; but you can’t connect to it, realize its importance or meaning.
  2239. >Gazing at the stars that shouldn’t be, you feel compelled by them, snared by their light like a moth is to a flickering flame.
  2240. >Longingly you study the dancing lights, moving closer to them and their alluring blackness.
  2241. >Icarus flew too close to the sun and fell into the sea, his hubris the death of him.
  2242. >Within the mild cyan glow lies your hubris, your defiance towards a god.
  2243. >There’s been no need for it as of late, what with there being no gods to defy and thrust your will against theirs.
  2244. >Maybe it’s better this way, to leave this part of you behind, bury it deep and forget about it.
  2245. >Move on and become a better person, like Sunset did.
  2246. >Something stirs within the pitch-black cloud.
  2247. >[Are you so willing to give up on who you are?]
  2248. >The pounding in the background grows louder.
  2249. >Stars begin to fall around you, your mindscape losing its structure and you your focus.
  2250. >While everything around you falls apart, the cyan stars, like two eyes now, do not. If anything, they become a more discernible, commanding the cloud around them, morphing it into a familiar form.
  2251. >[To give up on me? After all the times I stayed by your side?]
  2252. >Thunderous beats now echo throughout your head, dragging you away from a face you can’t live without.
  2253. >Light streaks by as the last of your concentration is lost, the hammering forcing an exit from your inner self.
  2254. >*Ba-bump!*
  2255. >[I’ll always be a part of you, and you’ll always come back to me.]
  2256. >Those final words echo into a whisper as you gasp for breath, bolting upright on the couch, heart beating wildly in your chest.
  2257. >Breathe in, breathe out.
  2258. >You gulp down fresh air, sweat beading down your forehead.
  2259. >A cacophony of bangs shakes the inside of your head.
  2260. >The effort it took to keep yourself in your mind for that long was more taxing than you thought.
  2261. >Blinking several times to chase away the blackness, you realize that yes, your eyes are open, there’s simply just not enough light right now.
  2262. >With some effort, you lift yourself off of the couch, blindly stumbling around the apartment for a wall to grab on to.
  2263. >A banging at the door startles you out of your undirected groping, enough so to cause you to trip and stumble over your own feet.
  2264. >”Hey assholes, you going to let me in or just leave me here all night!?”
  2265. >Crap, that must be Aria, and from the sound of it, she’s been out there for a while.
  2266. >Using the harsh racket she continues to play on the door, you’re able to navigate your way over to her.
  2267. >A hand reaches out and slides along the wall, searching aimlessly for a switch.
  2268. >Finally, after the door shakes a few more times from Aria’s rough abuse of it, you feel a small piece of plastic sticking out from the wall.
  2269. >Flipping it up, you wince as your eyes adjust to the sudden cascade of illumination in the kitchen.
  2270. >Quickly running your hands over your face, more to get some feeling back into your stiff jaw, you croak out a response to Aria.
  2271. “That’s not what you’re supposed to say if you wanna get in here.”
  2272. >”I’ve said it freakin’ five times in the past minute you idiot! I said that dumb phrase so many times I feel like I’ve made myself look stupid to this entire floor!”
  2273. >You rub your temple with your right hand.
  2274. “Just say it one more time, otherwise you’re going have to stay out there.”
  2275. >Aria let’s out a mighty heave, a loud *thunk!* vibrating against the door as you assume she hits it with her head.
  2276. >”’re the worst, you know that?”
  2277. “Yeah, and I love you too. Now say it.”
  2278. >There’s a brief moment of silence before she finally gives in.
  2279. >”Trick or treat,” she says in the most deadpan voice she can muster, “it’s the mailman. Jerk.”
  2280. >With your right hand you grasp the doorknob and unlock the deadbolt with your left one, prying the door open.
  2281. “Not exactly what I asked you to say, but it has that distinctive Aria flare to it, so you pass. Come on in.”
  2282. >”Finally,” she grumbles out, “I’ve been waiting out there for, like, five minutes! How come neither you or miss goody two-shoes heard me?”
  2283. “I was passed out on the couch, Sunset is asleep in her room. That’s why nobody was able to greet your grumpy butt immediately.”
  2284. >”Sleeping on the couch? Aw, did the missus banish you from the room for the night after you two had an argument?”
  2285. >She smiles sadistically as she flings the backpack off her shoulders, lifting it up on to the counter, the clink of glass hitting glass emitting from inside it.
  2286. >You push past her, eagerly unzipping the bag to pry away its hidden prizes.
  2287. >She lets out a little huff as you rush past her, her ponytails swaying as she folds her arms across her stomach.
  2288. >”Can’t even wait a minute before the alcohol is in the room...typical.”
  2289. “Don’t give me your sass young lady; and I wasn’t kicked out of Sunset’s bedroom, I left after she fell asleep.”
  2290. >”Oh, and why was that? Don’t you want to get all close to her, pushing yourself against her nice, warm embrace?”
  2291. >You heft a bottle of whiskey out with your left hand, tossing it over to your right once it has escaped the backpack’s clutches.
  2292. “Y’know, I could just beat you with this until you passed out. Nobody would know it happened until morning, but that leaves plenty of time to clean up any sort of mess you make.”
  2293. >Her grin only seems to widen at your response.
  2294. >”Hmm, then what are you going to drink tonight after you smash that bottle over my head?”
  2295. “...damn it.”
  2296. >She nods at your defeated tone, knowing she’s won this little battle.
  2297. >”That’s what I thought; but seriously, why’d you leave her room? Did she get a little too self-righteous for your tastes?”
  2298. >You place the bottle on the counter and begin searching the overhead cabinets for a few glasses, stepping further into the small kitchen.
  2299. “Less of that, more of her asking uncomfortable, psychiatric questions. Y’know, the kind where they want to know about how your feeling and to talk about your problems.”
  2300. >”Ugh, that sounds like the worst.”
  2301. >After opening and closing a few cabinets, you pry open one to reveal an assortment of glasses and cups.
  2302. “Ahah! Found them! But yeah, it sorta sucked. Would you care for a drink?”
  2303. >Flourishing two glasses, you raise an eyebrow at Aria, who stares briefly at the glasses before making up her mind.
  2304. >”Sure, why not,” she shrugs, “if I drink too much, I can always crash here. You think Sunset will mind.”
  2305. “She probably would.”
  2306. >”Great, then I’m staying the night,” she says enthusiastically.
  2307. >”Now pour me a glass, on the rocks.”
  2308. >Rolling your eyes, you turn around from the kitchen counter after setting the glasses down, and open up the fridge behind you.
  2309. >It’s a stainless steel fridge, split in half down the center lengthwise. You open up the left side, exposing a freezer full of frozen vegetables, microwavable meals, a tub of vanilla bean ice cream, and ice cube trays.
  2310. >Grabbing one of the trays, you twist it slightly to pop a few of the frozen blocks out of their seats.
  2311. >You tilt the tray at an angle and tap the bottom, further unseating the ice until they’re exposed enough to pick out easily.
  2312. >Three ice cubes are tossed into a glass, then three more into another, the heavy glasses jingling with the impacts.
  2313. >Promptly after the ice has settled, you snatch the bottle of whiskey, giving it a brief inspection.
  2314. >Wild swear you’ve heard that name before, but you don’t know where.
  2315. >Regardless, it seems like a decent brand, and as long as it can get you buzzed, that’s all that really matters.
  2316. >You break the seal at the top off the bottle, tossing the plastic covering off to the side of the counter.
  2317. >With a sharp twist, you break the label covering the cap and pry open the cork.
  2318. >A snappy pop is heard as you wrestle the cork out of the glasses stranglehold.
  2319. >The aroma of fermented grains hits your nostrils, and you let out a pleased hum.
  2320. >Splashing the contents of the bottle into the glasses, you fill them to about three-quarters full, the ice dancing along the lake of amber.
  2321. >You slide a glass along the counter over to Aria, who nimbly grabs it with her right hand.
  2322. >Snatching your own glass, you offer yours up in a toast, which Aria greets by tapping her beverage into yours.
  2323. “Cheers.”
  2324. >Both of you take a gulp from your cups, the honey-colored liquid burning down your throat and leaving a tingling aftertaste in your mouth.
  2325. >You let out a pleased sigh, and Aria’s face confirms that she is just as satisfied as you are.
  2326. >The bottle finds its way into your left hand again, and you motion for Aria to follow you on to the couch.
  2327. >As you both settle in for a long night of drinking, you reminisce over the day’s events.
  2328. >Things might not have gone entirely as planned, and there may have been a few snags here or there, but damn it, you’re going to end it on a good note.
  2329. >After a quick gulp, you top off your glass and settle in for a long night of drinking
  2330. >With Aria around, you can’t say “pleasant,” because she doesn’t exactly fit that description.
  2331. >More comforting, knowing that there’s someone out there just like you: unapologetic and brash, a standing monument of “fuck you” to an equally unapologetic world.
  2332. >Yeah, comforting is the right word, because she’s someone you can relate to, and even after all that’s happened, she’s still willing to be herself, no matter how much pain it brings.
  2333. “So Aria, how are the other two girls who mooch off our hard work doing?”
  2334. ------------------------------
RAW Paste Data