Side Story 1 – Misty Slate [Complete]

Nov 8th, 2018 (edited)
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  1. Side Story 1 – Misty Slate
  3. >She lost count somewhere around seven hundred.
  4. >And that was...
  5. >Misty Slate had to admit she had no idea.
  6. >It was definitely more than five minutes ago.
  7. >And less than a day.
  8. >The only way to keep track of time was to listen droplets spatter on the floor somewhere.
  9. >Well, they did let her out to eat, drink and piss once a day.
  10. >On a leash, of course.
  11. >Or maybe it was once a week.
  12. >She didn't know.
  13. >All she knew was that the room she was in was so dark she couldn't see her own snout.
  14. >The room had rough concrete walls, some kind of a tiled floor, a mattress in one corner and a door made of solid steel.
  15. >It was also cold.
  16. >And damp.
  17. >No matter how she tried to curl up on the mattress, she couldn't shake the cold.
  18. >If only she had a blanket.
  19. >If only she could feel her magic.
  20. >If only she knew whether her husband was okay.
  22. >Drip. Drip. Drip.
  23. >Listening to it was all she could do.
  24. >She did not understand what happened.
  25. >One day, she'd taken readings about the Rift with one of the human researchers.
  26. >The next day, the researchers were gone and men with weapons came out of some kind of self-propelled vehicles and started ordering the pony researchers around.
  27. >Twin Weaves had enough.
  28. >He zapped one of them with a stun ray and...
  29. >Bang.
  30. >Misty's last memory was the stallion lying in a rapidly-expanding pool of red.
  31. >Then she felt a prick on her side.
  32. >The next thing she knew was that she woke up here.
  33. >Had they stopped after taking over the research outpost?
  34. >Princess Twilight and her friends would stop them, right?
  35. >Princess Twilight would come rescue Misty and the other ponies who were taken, right?
  37. >Drip. Dri-
  38. >Thud. Thud. Thud.
  39. >Footsteps.
  40. >Misty's heart suddenly beat a lot faster.
  41. >Was it time already?
  42. >Though she had no clue how long it'd been since the last time, her stomach wasn't growling with hunger and her bladder didn't feel like it was about to burst.
  43. >Could it really be time?
  45. >Click.
  46. >Screeee...
  47. >Light.
  48. >So much light.
  49. >It made her eyes throb with pain.
  50. >”Hey. Pony. On your feet.”
  51. >It was that same gruff voice as previously.
  52. >A male human.
  53. >The one who fed and walked her.
  54. >Though her eyes saw only blinding whiteness, her mind saw a huge man with his lazy eye and unshaven chin.
  56. >”I haven't got all day.”
  57. >Thump, thump, thump.
  58. >His footsteps came closer.
  59. >Misty scrambled to her hooves and staggered towards his figure.
  60. >Her eyes watered and throbbed, but the blinding white and red had given way to dark shapes in an ocean of light.
  61. >”At least you can walk out on your own.”
  62. >The man-shaped blob of darkness reached out towards Misty's neck.
  63. >The mare knew what was going on, and stopped in her tracks.
  64. >He fumbled around with her collar for a second.
  65. >Click.
  66. >It was the quick-attach latch of her lead.
  67. >Something she had no choice but to accept.
  68. >Without her magic, she couldn't do anything to resist.
  69. >He was far bigger, and he had already picked up Misty like she was a toy, back when she first woke up in her cell.
  70. >That was before whatever drug they used to knock her out had left her system completely.
  71. >She'd figured it'd be easier for her if she played along and acted nice.
  73. >The interior decorations of whatever facility she was held in certainly wouldn't win any awards.
  74. >Unless humans had an award for “dullest building.”
  75. >Bare concrete walls dotted with hefty doors made of unpolished steel and the floors were coated with a thin plastic mat that did little to muffle the echoes.
  76. >Long, buzzing fluorescent bulbs were the only source of light; there were no windows.
  77. >The whole building, or at least everywhere Misty had been to, stank of chloride detergent and denatured alcohol.
  78. >As far as she know, there were only three humans and her in the entire facility.
  79. >Or more.
  80. >The huge man who was leading her even now was the only one she knew of for sure.
  81. >Apart from him, she'd seen two guards who held weapons and wore full uniforms with balaclavas.
  82. >It could be that there were many guards, but she ever only saw two at a time and couldn't tell if they were the same guards or not since she couldn't recognize them.
  84. >Beep beep beep beep beep.
  85. >78422.
  86. >Misty made a mental note of the number the huge man punched in.
  87. >It was what Princess Twilight would have done.
  88. >She'd memorize the number and then somehow rescue her friends and use the Elements of Harmony to make everything right again.
  89. >Misty would never get to use the number, but knowing it made her feel like she was in control of her own destiny.
  90. >Buzz.
  91. >The thick steel door she'd never been on the other side of swung open, revealing a corridor much like the one she was in, only it was painted white and the doors on the side were made of stylized, light wood.
  92. >She wished to ask where they were going.
  93. >But she'd made the decision to not talk unless she had to.
  94. >Stubbornness?
  95. >Maybe, but it was her way of protesting.
  97. >She heard something on top of her hoofsteps and the heavy footsteps of the man leading her.
  98. >Her ears perked up.
  99. >Voices.
  100. >Two men talking.
  101. >It came from where she was being led to.
  102. >The huge man glanced down at her.
  103. >”I know as little as you do.”
  104. >He rolled his eyes.
  105. >”Was just told to take you there.”
  107. >Knock knock.
  108. >”Ah, that must be them. Come in.”
  109. >He pushed open the door they'd stopped in front of.
  110. >The room on the other side was small and plain.
  111. >Two men sat on simple chairs at the opposite ends of a wooden table: one in a suit and with a laptop computer in front of him, the other in a hoodie and jeans with nothing on his end of the table.
  112. >There was a fluorescent lamp on the ceiling and a window with blinds drawn on the wall opposite to the door.
  113. >A tiny bit of sunlight peeked through the blinds.
  114. >Misty didn't remember the last time she'd seen daylight.
  115. >”Yes, thank you for bringing her. You can leave us now.”
  116. >The man in a suit did a shooing motion at the huge man who'd brought Misty.
  117. >”And give the leash to him.”
  118. >He pointed at the more plainly-dressed man at the other end of the table.
  119. >”Hmph.”
  120. >The man with a lazy eye blew some air out of his nose.
  121. >”Fine.”
  122. >But he did do as told, and handed over Misty's leash.
  123. >Thud thud thud.
  124. >Slam!
  125. >An awkward silence followed his departure.
  127. >”Now, where were we?”
  128. >The suited man's lips curled into a practiced smile as he lifted his elbows onto the table.
  129. >”You just went into far more detail about my daughter's lives than is appropriate and made sure I understand you are threatening them. I guess the next thing would be the actual blackmail. So go ahead: tell me what you want.”
  130. >The plainly-dressed man sounded surprisingly calm, given his words.
  131. >”Me? Threatening your little girls? Heavens no. I was simply pointing out that the information you have may cause unrest if it goes public, and that some places are safer than others. But I suppose it is time to get to the meat of the issue.”
  132. >Tap tap tap tap.
  133. >The man at the far end of the table tapped his laptop for a short while.
  134. >”Ah. There. Misty Slate. Closemouthed, passive, not even the slightest hint of violent tendencies.”
  135. >He wagged his finger at the screen and nodded his head.
  136. >”Perfect for a recently laid-off father of two.”
  137. >He forced a wide, shockingly fake smile onto his face.
  138. >”She's yours now. You know, to sweeten the deal.”
  140. ***
  142. >The sun's warmth felt so good on her coat.
  143. >She had her snout pointed to the sky.
  144. >The only thing she saw was the redness of sunlight shining through her eyelids.
  145. >”Are you going to run away if I take the collar off?”
  146. >She was outside.
  147. >In the middle of a parking lot, maybe, but still outside.
  148. “I don't even know where I am. Where would I run to?”
  149. >And the breeze in her mane.
  150. >It felt so refreshing.
  151. >”Okay then. Just, don't do anything stupid. I have no doubt that they're ready to do what they threatened to.”
  152. >Something grazed her neck.
  153. >His touch was soft.
  154. >He fumbled around for a few seconds before he got the collar off.
  155. >It felt liberating.
  156. “Thank you.”
  157. >Misty turned her face towards him, opened her eyes and leaned in to touch the back of his hand with the tip of her snout.
  158. >”They're going to keep an eye on us so you'll have to stay with me. For now, at least.”
  159. >From how extensive the facility she was held in was, she'd got the impression that the people they were dealing with were organized and powerful.
  160. >Though she missed her husband, she didn't want to bring any harm to this human and his family.
  162. >”Get in. I'll take you home, then we'll figure out what we're going to do.”
  163. >He held open a door of one of the self-propelled vehicles in the parking lot.
  164. >Misty hopped onto the padded front seat.
  165. “I got the feeling that we're going to be together for a while, so... Hi. I'm Misty Slate. I was one of those who were researching the Rift when... when something.”
  166. >”I'm Anon. Just a sec, I want to get as far from here as I can as fast as I can.”
  167. >He slammed the door shut, jogged around the car and squeezed himself behind the wheel.
  168. >”Yeah. I used to do research on the Rift as well, on this side of it. Then they said something about intelligence of an impending invasion and we were forced out. Then I got fired, and... well, now we're here.”
  169. >Misty flinched as Anon twisted the keys and the engine rumbled to life.
  170. >”It was bullshit because I know they didn't get intelligence from the other side – I saw everything that passed through, and it was just us and a few of you ponies!”
  171. >He rammed the pedal and steered the vehicle out of the parking lot and onto the road leading away from the holding facility.
  172. “Oh. You worked on it as well?”
  173. >”Yeah. Never passed through, though, so I guess we were never in the same world. Until now.”
  174. >The engine roared and whined as he sped down the quiet road.
  175. >”Anyways. I got two daughters and my wife is working overtime to keep us fed. I guess I can come up with something for you to do to keep those dudes in suits happy while we figure out what's going on for real. Since I now own you or something.”
  176. >He kept his mouth shut and his eyes on the road.
  177. >Misty looked down at her hooves.
  178. >She didn't really have any choice, did she?
  179. >They may not have been ponies, but she couldn't risk hurting someone's foals.
  180. >Even if it meant she'd be away from her husband for... for however long it'd take for Twilight and her friends to sort everything out.
  181. “Yeah. I'll do my best. Not sure how much I can do without my magic, but I'll try to look busy.”
  183. ***
  185. >”Here we are. That's where we live.”
  186. >Anon made a sweeping motion towards the building they'd parked next to.
  187. >It was an apartment complex, five floors high and with a red brick exterior.
  188. >It wasn't in the best of conditions, with a cracked brick here and a spot where mortar had peeled off there.
  189. >”Don't mind the exterior, it'll get renovated as soon as the annoying old lady dies. She's 85 and in poor health, and enjoys seeing others suffer.”
  190. >Misty stopped in her tracks as Anon pulled the door open.
  191. >Did he just say he wants someone to die?
  192. >”Come on. Fem loves it when I have food waiting for her when she gets home.”
  193. >And acts like it's nothing out of the ordinary?
  194. >”Don't tell her I said that, though. She thinks I'm too dumb to figure out her cues.”
  195. >Misty glanced up at him as she trotted through the door he held open.
  196. >He had an absent look on him.
  197. >Um.
  198. >Cultural differences?
  199. >She'd just have to accept it.
  200. >Not like she was in a position to argue.
  202. >The stairway was as dull from the inside as the building was from the outside.
  203. >They'd tried mitigating the dreariness by painting the corridors yellow, blue and green, a color for each floor.
  204. >It didn't hide the echo of Misty's hoofsteps, or the fact that the only thing breaking the monotony of monocolor walls and identical doors were the name plates.
  205. >Vivid memories of the facility she just left behind floated to the forefront of her mind.
  206. >At least the doors here weren't massively thick steel slabs.
  207. >And there was no collar choking her.
  209. >”It may not be much, but it's our home. And now yours, too, I guess.”
  210. >The door slammed shut behind Misty.
  211. >She scuffed her hooves on their doormat and took a gander at the apartment.
  212. >It looked homely and lived in.
  213. >But not in a bad way.
  214. >A cozy place, with its four rooms and mismatched furniture.
  215. “Nobody else is home right now?”
  216. >He'd talked about his daughters and his wife on the way.
  217. >”Nope. The little ones will get back from school in an hour or two, and Fem will get here a bit after them.”
  218. >He kicked his shoes off and bent down to place them in a rack next to the door.
  219. >”I still have to go get groceries, and then turn them into dinner. Which reminds me: are you hungry?”
  220. >Misty's stomach growled in response.
  221. >She felt a heat spread to her cheeks.
  222. “I'd love to have a bite, if it's not too much trouble.”
  224. ***
  226. >It wasn't so bad.
  227. >Misty had a full belly, the couch she lay on was soft, and Anon had left the radio on.
  228. >He'd asked her to stay behind as he went to 'take care of something urgent' that someone called him about as they were about to leave to get groceries.
  229. >He'd refused to say what it was about when she asked.
  230. >But his promise to call his daughters and explain what happened did ease the tingling in the back of Misty's neck a little.
  231. >How would they react to her?
  232. >Scream and bolt off at the sight of an alien in their home?
  233. >Hide in their room, too shy to introduce themselves?
  234. >Or would they let her hug them?
  235. >She could hug them and pet them and teach them things and watch them play.
  236. >Like she would with her own foals, if she had any.
  237. >She and her husband, Granite Grain, weren't blessed with offspring.
  238. >Maybe one day, if they kept trying, once she got back...
  239. >If she got back.
  240. >Surely, Princess Twilight would come for her.
  241. >She and her friends would make everything right again.
  243. >A key clattered into a lock.
  244. >The apartment's door creaked open.
  245. >”Hello? Daddy said there would be someone waiting for us.”
  246. >It was a bright voice, though it wavered a tiny bit.
  247. “Somepony, not someone!”
  248. >Misty hopped off the couch and trotted out of the living room.
  249. >Her stomach swirled as she rounded the corner.
  251. >Two little girls, one a little older and larger than the other, stared at her.
  252. “Uh, hi. I'm Misty Slate. Nice to meet you.”
  253. >Please don't panic. Please don't panic. Please don't panic.
  254. >It was as much to herself as to the girls.
  255. >The older one stared at her with her lips cracked open.
  256. >The younger one slinked behind her sister.
  257. >”Hi. I'm Nonnie.”
  258. >Nonnie jabbed her younger sibling with an elbow.
  259. >”H-hi! I'm Annie!”
  260. >Annie shuffled back into sight as her eyes locked on the tips of her toes.
  261. “Nice to meet you, Annie and Nonnie.”
  262. >The siblings glanced at each other as Misty padded closer.
  263. “I'm not sure how much your dad told you, but I'll be living here from now on.”
  264. >She stopped just out of arm's reach, despite her wish to nuzzle the backs of their hands.
  265. >She'd make a terrible first impression with how dirty she was.
  266. >And her mane was all tangled, too.
  267. “You... probably have a lot of questions. So ask away!”
  269. >”So you're a unicorn and unicorns can do magic, except you can't do magic because...?”
  270. >They sat on the floor in the middle of the living room as Nonnie quizzed Misty.
  271. >Misty wasn't too happy about how hard the carpet was compared to the couch, but the girls seemed to like it.
  272. “I'm not sure. I think there is magic in this world, but I can't connect with it. I'm not sure if it's in a form that unicorns can use at all.”
  273. >Annie stared at her with wide open eyes while Nonnie arched a brow.
  274. “If I could explain it better, I would. But I'm not that good with magic, it's just something like-”
  275. >Misty waved her hoof in front of her face.
  276. “-moving my hoof, that just comes naturally. I didn't have to think about it at all, it just happened when I wanted it to happen.”
  277. >”Can I touch your horn?”
  278. “It's something I di- Eh?”
  279. >Misty blinked twice as she looked at Annie.
  281. “I... guess you can?”
  282. >The unicorn lied down on the carpet and presented her head to the little girl.
  283. “Just don't be too rough. It's sensitive.”
  284. >”I won't!”
  285. >Soft fingertips pressed on Misty's horn.
  286. >Annie did not lie: she was astoundingly gentle for someone her age.
  287. >She slid her fingers up and down its length, following the groove.
  288. >It sent shivers down Misty's spine.
  289. >”It feels sticky.”
  290. >Annie let go and pressed her fingertips into her palm.
  291. >”But it's not sticky.”
  292. >”Can I try?”
  293. >Nonnie reached for the horn, but stopped just short of touching it.
  294. “Go ahead.”
  295. >She wasn't quite as gentle as her younger sister, but still far from rough.
  296. >Her fingers slid up from the base to the tip, then tapped at the point.
  297. >”Feels kind of pearly. And not sharp at all.”
  298. >She leaned in so her face was just a hoof's width from Misty's head.
  299. >”The groove isn't that deep, either. But your hair looks like it could use a brush. Want to borrow mine?”
  300. >Nonnie let go of the horn and pointed towards the siblings' room.
  301. “Well, I'd like to wash it first. I had a look at your bath, but I couldn't make it work without magic.”
  302. >”I can show you how it works. I could help you with the washing, too, if you're used to doing that with your magic.”
  303. “That's... very kind of you. Thank you.”
  304. >Misty tapped the back of Nonnie's hand with the tip of her muzzle before raising herself off the floor.
  305. >A smile spread onto the older sibling's face as she pushed herself off the carpet and to her feet.
  306. >”No fair! I wanna bathe with the pony too!”
  307. >Annie wasn't about to be left out and hopped up as well.
  309. ***
  311. >”I learned about multipliton and pronons today!”
  312. >Annie's voice was bright and cheery as she sat in the tub and scrubbed Misty's back with a sponge.
  313. “Multiplication and pronouns? Both are very important. Did you get homework?”
  314. >Misty felt quite flustered with all the attention: Nonnie washed her forehoof.
  315. >”Yeah. I have to practice the mul-ti-pli-cation table of six and then I have to practice using the correct pro-no-uns in sentences. I'm good with pronouns! There's first, second and third person, and there's singlular and plular.”
  316. >”Singular and plural. I can help you with your homework if you want, Annie.”
  317. >Misty very nearly let out a giggle as Nonnie moved to wash the underside of her hoof.
  318. >She managed to stifle it in the end, but couldn't help squirming a little.
  319. >”Oh. Am I too rough?”
  320. “Not at all. I'm just used of doing it myself and it doesn't feel the same. I wish I could show you.”
  321. >Just to be sure, she focused her will in her horn and made the piece of soap in Nonnie's hand float.
  322. >Only, it didn't float as no magic flowed through her horn.
  323. >How would she live without magic?
  324. >Surely she would get used to it eventually; earth ponies and pegasi lived their whole lives without magic.
  326. >Nonnie rubbed shampoo into Misty's tail as Annie sunk her fingers into her mane and spread white foam all over it.
  327. >”I bet you'll look fantastic when you're all clean and brushed.”
  328. “Mm-hm.”
  329. >Misty hummed in response since she didn't want to risk getting shampoo in her mouth.
  330. >”I can do braids. Do you want to try braids?”
  331. >The unicorn shook her head as Annie grabbed two handfuls of sopping wet, foamy mane and twisted a little braid out of them.
  332. >”Aw. I think you would look cute with braids. Are you sure you don't want to try?”
  333. >Misty shook her head.
  334. >She quite liked her mane the way it used to be, free and straight.
  335. >”Okay. Will you at least let me brush your hair?”
  336. >Nod.
  337. >”Yay!”
  339. ***
  341. >It wasn't bad at all.
  342. >Misty lay on the couch with her eyes closed and enjoyed the feeling of brushes running through both her mane and tail.
  343. >Nonnie let her younger sister brush Misty's mane and settled with her tail.
  344. >She was clean thanks to the bath, it was warm, and two girls wished to pamper her like she'd bought a spa treatment.
  345. >Her muscles felt like they were made of soft putty and her eyelids felt very heavy.
  346. >”There's so many knots in your mane.”
  347. “I had to be without a brush for a long while.”
  348. >She wasn't struggling to stay awake, but knew she could fall asleep if she wanted to.
  349. >”You didn't look so good before the bath. Do you... want to tell what happened?”
  350. >Two soft fingers touched Misty's flank, right where her cutie mark – a swirl of mist – was.
  351. “Maybe later. Would you like to hear about my home village instead?”
  352. >”Yeah! Daddy told us about ponies, but he didn't know a lot.”
  353. “Okay then. My home village is called Riverfork. It's a village of a little more than hundred ponies, located where two rivers meet. It's where I was born and raised, though I studied in...”
  355. ***
  357. >“Hey, Misty.”
  358. >The elder sibling spoke with a hushed voice.
  359. >Misty still lied on the couch.
  360. >She and Nonnie had the TV on, but muted and with subtitles.
  361. >Some kind of a talk show was on, and the subject was mundane politics.
  362. >Neither of them was interested in it, but Misty didn't dare to get up and Nonnie didn't want to be alone, so they watched it to pass the time.
  363. >The reason for their reluctance to move was Annie.
  364. >The little girl had her head on Misty's chest and her arms wrapped around the pony's barrel.
  365. >Her breathing was slow, deep and steady, and she had her eyes shut.
  366. >”I heard dad tell mom that he thinks there's going to be a war. Do you know if it's true?”
  367. >Misty looked down at the human clutching her like she was a stuffed toy.
  368. >Her mind returned to the events that led to her capture.
  369. >Men in camouflage, with weapons and heavy vehicles, capturing and killing citizens of Equestria.
  370. >There was little the princesses could do but declare war.
  371. “Yes. It probably is.”
  372. >Silence.
  373. >For a long while, the only sound was Annie's steady breathing.
  374. >Finally, Nonnie squeezed onto the sofa beside Misty's head.
  375. >She reached out and stroked the unicorn's shoulder with her soft palm.
  376. >No words were said.
  377. >No words were needed.
  379. >How was Granite Grain?
  380. >It was the foremost worry on her mind.
  381. >Would she ever feel his embrace again?
  382. >Would she see him get absorbed in planning for the quarry again?
  383. >So she'd get to shock him out of it with a nuzzle and a cup of tea?
  384. >Then leave him all flustered when she flicked her tail on her way out, giving him a glimpse of what would be his later that night?
  385. >It wasn't that kind of loving that Misty missed the most, though.
  386. >She had Annie sleeping on her, but...
  387. >It wasn't the same.
  388. >Not without Granite's tendency to get lost in thought and make goofy faces while doing so.
  389. >She loved teasing him about it.
  390. >And she loved him.
  391. >His absence left a stallion-sized hole in her heart that a human child couldn't quite fill.
  393. >Rattle.
  394. >Misty's ears and Nonnie's head perked up.
  395. >Rattle, click.
  396. >It came from the front door.
  397. >”That's got to be mom. Stay here.”
  398. >Nonnie hopped up and sneaked towards the door just as a quiet creak indicated that said door opened.
  399. >”Shh. Mom, come have a look at this.”
  400. >The couch's backrest was between Misty and the scene, so she couldn't see what was going on.
  401. >”Oh? Is it the pony Dad told me about?”
  402. >The second hushed voice, also female, was one she hadn't heard before.
  403. >It was a tiny bit lower and far more mature than that of Nonnie's.
  404. >Cloth shuffled for a bit, then two sets of feet approached as silently as they could.
  405. >Loud enough for Misty to hear, but not loud enough to wake Annie.
  407. >”Oh! ...Oh my!”
  408. >A human woman, who showed some signs of age and was of average height, held a finger to her lips when she saw Misty and the sleeping girl.
  409. >A very wide smile spread to her face.
  410. >”Just a second, I have to take a picture so Anon can see this.”
  411. >She dug out a black rectangular object from her pocket.
  412. >A mobile phone.
  413. >Misty had seen some of the researchers tapping similar things, before it happened.
  414. >Those things had an impressive amount of functions crammed in them, including a camera.
  415. >Tap, tap... tap.
  416. >”There we go. I'm Fem, these girl's mother and Anon's wife. Nice to meet you.”
  417. >Fem flipped the phone around in her hand.
  418. >A moss green unicorn, with faint yellow mane and tail, and a swirl of mist on her flank, had a little human girl sleeping on her.
  419. “I'm Misty Slate. Nice to meet you, too.”
  420. >Misty would've stuck out a hoof for her to shake, but she still didn't want to wake up Annie.
  422. >Fem still had the widest of smiles on her lips when she reached out and stroked her daughter's hair.
  423. >”Mmh.”
  424. >Annie's body shook the slightest bit.
  425. >”It's time to wake up, honey.”
  426. >”Nn-mmh!”
  427. >The little girl's eyelids cracked apart.
  428. >She looked at her mother, all bleary eyed.
  429. >”I had the weirdest dream. I bathed with a pony.”
  430. >”That wasn't a dream, honey. Look who you're sleeping on.”
  431. >Annie craned her neck to look at Misty.
  432. >Stare
  433. >Her eyes went wide and her mouth fell open.
  434. “Hi. Had a good nap?”
  435. >A very soft cheek nuzzled Misty's chest.
  436. >The pony couldn't help but let a smile overtake her lips.
  437. >”Just five more minutes?”
  439. ***
  441. >”Sorry it took so long.”
  442. >Anon strode into the kitchen as soon as he got his shoes off.
  443. “I think Fem has something to show you, why don't you go have a look?”
  444. >Misty tore apart one more piece of lettuce and threw it into the bowl with tomatoes and cucumber she cut earlier.
  445. >It was slow going without her magic.
  446. >”How about we go for a short walk with Fem? There's something we need to talk about anyways.”
  447. >He reached over Misty, snatched the bowl, and stuck it in the fridge without waiting for an answer.
  448. >”Come on.”
  449. >The lettuce joined the bowl, then the door slammed shut.
  450. >Apparently it wasn't something to be argued.
  451. “I guess that's okay, then.”
  453. ***
  455. >”So what's more important than your daughters?”
  456. >Fem didn't bother holding the door for her husband as the trio left the apartment complex behind.
  457. >”They'll be fine for five minutes.”
  458. >Anon, on the other hand, did hold the door open for Misty to let her out.
  459. >”You know that some of my friends work in places where they hear stuff they're not supposed to? One of them called me. He'd heard about Misty, and, well...”
  460. >He spoke faster than usual, and his voice had a slightly higher pitch.
  461. >That, and he couldn't stop fiddling with the hem of his shirt.
  462. >Seeing him like that made the annoyance on Fem's face morph into worry.
  463. >Misty felt her stomach twist.
  464. >”...you know when they captured you? It's turned into a full-scale war.”
  465. >Silence reigned for a full minute.
  466. >Well, the hum of traffic from the nearby major road was there.
  467. >”What's that mean for us? For her?”
  468. >Fem nodded at Misty.
  469. >”For us? That she's here to stay. For her?”
  470. >Anon's feet came to a halt as he turned to face the unicorn.
  471. >He squeezed his eyelids shut and looked away as droplets welled in the corners of his eyes.
  472. >There was no need for words.
  473. >Misty's thoughts flew to the little village that was her home.
  474. >It was so close to the Rift.
  475. >And Granite was still there.
  477. ***
  479. >”Misty! Come have a look at what I found!”
  480. >Misty could barely make out Fem's words over the noise of the hoover.
  481. >She tapped the power button with a rear hoof and shook the tube off her back, then set down the metal pipe she'd pinned between her neck and a forehoof.
  482. “Just a second!”
  483. >Her tail swished high in the air as she pushed up her hindquarters to stretch her back.
  484. >Crack.
  485. >Then she pushed her hips to the floor.
  486. >Pop.
  487. >And swung her neck.
  488. >Snap.
  489. >The ache of her joints faded away with each pop and crack.
  490. >Human tools were no good for ponies.
  491. >Even pony tools would've needed some getting used to, now that Misty didn't have her magic.
  493. “What'd you want to show me?”
  494. >Misty trotted out of the bedroom.
  495. >Her attention fixed onto the pair of massive plastic bags at Fem's feet.
  496. >'Re-Able'
  497. >”Me and a friend talked about you the other day, and she pointed out this shop that specializes in aids for the disabled. I'm pretty sure some of these will be helpful.”
  498. >She stuck her hands in one bag and rummaged for a second, then pulled out some sort of a contraption.
  499. >It was some kind of a lever that stood on a very wide base, and had a spot where something was meant to be attached.
  500. >It looked a bit like a stapler, only far larger.
  501. >”See this thing for example. It's for people who have no fingers, or who can't use them. You set it on a table, put a knife here, and – actually, let me show you.”
  503. >Chop. Chop. Chop.
  504. “Yeah, you're right. It is easier this way.”
  505. >The knife attached to the lever on the device cut into an onion effortlessly.
  506. >Its long handle meant Misty had to use very little force, and the wide base together with the knife being clipped into it meant there was no risk of it slipping.
  507. >It wasn't the fastest way to cut things, nor did it have the finesse of either magic or hands, but it was far easier than doing it by hoof and mouth.
  508. >”Told ya.”
  509. >Something grasped Misty from behind all of a sudden.
  510. >It made her flinch, but she knew not to resist as Fem lifted her off the floor.
  511. >”Oof. Now you're going to help me relax. Then we can look at the other stuff I got.”
  512. >Misty would really have liked to see the stuff that'd make her life easier, but she'd known Fem for a month and had learned there was no escaping her.
  513. >So, she relaxed and let herself get pinned to the human's bosom as she was carried to the living room.
  515. “How was your day? Did anything interesting at work?”
  516. >It wasn't that she disliked either Fem or the way she treated Misty.
  517. >”Oh, you know, just another boring day. Customers, customers, and more customers.”
  518. >Lying on the sofa between her arms and with her cheek on top of Misty's head wasn't bad.
  519. >”I wish they'd stop complaining about stuff I can't do anything about.”
  520. >On the contrary.
  521. “Did you hear anything about Anon and his job hunt?”
  522. >”Nope. Not a word.”
  523. >The problem was that she didn't have any options.
  524. >Fem didn't ask if Misty wanted to be there.
  525. “Oh. Well, I hope he got lucky this time.”
  526. >”Hah!”
  527. >The human's body jerked.
  528. >”He's not going to find a job, not until your friends in black decide he can have one.”
  529. >A hand stroked Misty's barrel.
  530. >”But there's nothing any of us can do about that. He'll just have to keep trying and we'll have to support him.”
  532. ***
  534. >”You can't catch me!”
  535. >Annie stuck a hand out a grasped a lamp post.
  536. >She swung around it, keeping her speed as she ran off in the opposite direction.
  537. >Misty's hooves rattled on the gravel as she skidded to a halt before trotting off in the opposite direction.
  538. “I'll get you this time!”
  539. >She sped up her pace and took to a gallop.
  540. >Annie's back got larger and larger, despite the girl giving it her best.
  541. >Tap!
  542. >Misty touched Annie's shoulder with her horn.
  543. >”Eee! He-ha!”
  544. >The girl sunk her heels to the ground, then fell over onto her back.
  545. >”You got me.”
  546. >She stuck her arms up in the air and waved them at the unicorn.
  547. “I told you! You can't outrun a pony when you have just two feet!”
  548. >Misty tread closer, and stuck a hoof out for Annie, to pull the little girl up.
  550. “How are you doing?”
  551. >Nonnie looked up from her phone screen when Misty squeezed on the bench next to her.
  552. >”I'm not sure what to think of all this. Just took a video of you two running around and uploaded it, just like last time. It'll get some views before getting deleted, just like last time.”
  553. >They both stared at the younger sister, now playing ball with a few other kids who were around her age.
  554. >”You said you're not the only pony in here, yet there's nothing about you on the net. Well, there's some sketchy conspiracy sites, but that's it.”
  555. >She glanced around the park they were in, at the field of grass, the trees, and most importantly the people who paid no attention to the pony in their midst.
  556. >”I mean, it's not like we're trying to hide you. So why the silence?”
  558. >Misty's mind swirled with excuses.
  559. >'It's just because the idea of talking equines is so outlandish.'
  560. >'Nobody would believe that.'
  561. >But none of them were believable.
  562. “You'll have to ask your dad about it.”
  563. >”What do you mean? Is there something he's not telling us?”
  564. >Silence.
  565. >A full minute passed, during which Misty couldn't meet Nonnie's eyes.
  566. >She was no Applejack, but coming up with a flat out lie for a question she didn't want to answer?
  567. >That'd be against what being a pony stood for.
  568. “I can't talk about that.”
  569. >”So you know something.”
  570. >Nonnie's gaze bored through the side of Misty's head.
  571. >A heat spread onto the pony's cheeks.
  572. “How about... How about we just head to the store to pick up what your mom wants, and then go home?”
  573. >”I see. Yeah, let's do that.”
  574. >The elder sibling got on her feet, closely followed by Misty hopping on her hooves.
  576. ”Annie! It's time to go home!”
  577. >Some of the older humans glanced at her, then returned their attention to their offspring.
  578. >Everyone who regularly visited the park knew Misty.
  579. >It'd taken quite some time to get them used to the idea of talking ponies.
  580. >”Already? I only just got started.”
  581. >Two tiny feet thumped on the ground as Annie ran to meet them.
  582. >”I want to play! We got good teams!”
  583. >She waved her hands in the air and at the bunch of kids kicking a ball around behind her.
  584. >”We have to get something for mom from the store on the way back, and I want to talk with dad. That's why we're leaving early.”
  585. >”No fair!”
  586. >Annie squeezed her eyelids shut, pursed her lips, and turned her head to look up and to the side.
  587. >Then her eyes opened and she craned her neck to stare at Misty.
  588. >”Fine. I'll come. But only if you carry me.”
  590. ***
  592. >Misty's back ached from the weight of the girl riding on it.
  593. >”All the way to the door!”
  594. >But she wasn't about to complain.
  595. >Annie was all giddy, and kept stroking Misty's mane.
  596. “Okay, but you'll have to go up the stairs yourself. I'm not sure I can keep you from falling off.”
  597. >Flash! Click.
  598. >”Sorry. Forgot the flash was on.”
  599. >Nonnie stuck her phone back in her pocket.
  601. >”We're home!”
  602. >Nonnie hung her keys on the hook next to the door.
  603. >”Oh, hey. Had a good time?”
  604. >Fem peeked out of the kitchen, wearing a loose t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants.
  605. >Her hair was damp and a scent of shampoo hung in the air.
  606. >Beneath that shampoo, too faint for a human to pick up, lingered the smell of sweat and something fishy.
  607. >”Yeah! We played tag and then I played some ball with the other and then Misty let me ride her!”
  608. >The widest of smiles beamed on Annie's face as she ran to hug her mother.
  609. >”You did?”
  610. >Fem bent down, wrapped her arms around her daughter, then ruffled her hair.
  611. >”Yeah. I took a pic.”
  613. >Misty cared little for the cheeriness or the picture.
  614. >She plodded into the living room and squeezed into her corner.
  615. >They didn't have a room for her, so they'd moved two bookshelves near a corner.
  616. >The shelves now separated said corner from the rest of the room, giving the pony her own place.
  617. >She knew that smell.
  618. >Sweat and something fishy.
  619. >They weren't ponies of course, but there was that something about the scent of passion that was unmistakable, even across species.
  620. >Typically, she wouldn't mind it.
  621. >But...
  622. >She hadn't seen her husband for more than a month now.
  623. >On one hoof, she was full of lust and wanted to ride him until he couldn't keep it up.
  624. >On the other, she was full of concern about his well-being.
  625. >Was he fine?
  626. >Would she ever get filled by him again?
  627. >How was their home?
  628. >Would she get to tease him by flashing her goods until he couldn't take it?
  629. >She buried her face in her pillow.
  630. >Hoofing it was out of the question as long as the kids were awake, no matter how much she wanted to.
  631. >Surely Princess Twilight would come rescue her soon, and tell her everything's fine.
  632. >Surely.
  634. >”Hey.”
  635. >Anon's voice.
  636. >It was low and quiet.
  637. >”Did something happen?”
  638. >The bit of pudge on his belly chafed on the shelves as he squeezed through narrow opening between them.
  639. >”You're usually so eager to help the kids.”
  640. >A warm hand stroked Misty's back.
  641. “I'm not ever going back home, am I?”
  642. >The pillow muffled her voice.
  643. “I just want to know if Granite is fine, and go home with him, and...”
  644. >She was thankful that the pillow kept the corners of her eyes dry.
  645. “...and that's not going to happen.”
  647. >It was quiet for a short while.
  648. >There was just his hand stroking her back.
  649. >”I'm trying my best, but I'm just one man. And on so many watchlists it isn't funny. You're going to be here for a while, whether you like it or not.”
  650. >His hand made the mattress depress as he pushed himself up.
  651. >”Take as long as you need, and come help with dinner if you feel like it. Nonnie said she wants to talk, so...”
  652. >His shirt shuffled against the wood of the shelves as he squeezed out.
  653. >The scent of soap, and the sweat that hid beneath it, lingered in the air.
  654. >...what he said rung true.
  655. >She had no choice but to accept her new life.
  657. ***
  659. “So, how was it? What'd they say?”
  660. >Anon hung his coat on one of the hooks next to the door.
  661. >”Nope. They apologized and said they don't have an opening for me after all.”
  662. “Aw! You made it sound so good when you told us about it.”
  663. >He blew some air out his nose and rolled his eyes.
  664. >”Yeah, right. I could tell they wanted to hire me, but got a mysterious phone call.”
  665. >Misty nudged the back of his hand with her snout as he walked by, then tagged to his side.
  666. >”I think I'm done looking for now. No point in banging my head on a wall.”
  667. >The hand ruffled Misty's mane.
  669. “What's the plan now, then?”
  670. >It was just the two of them.
  671. >The girls were at school and Fem was at work.
  672. >”That depends on how far you're ready to go with me, really.”
  673. >Misty froze mid-step, with a hoof held in the air.
  674. “Eh?”
  675. >Did he...?
  676. >”The way I remember it, you ponies dislike lies and deception.”
  677. >He threw a glance back at Misty, then tread into the kitchen.
  678. “O-of course! Honesty is one of the six Elements of Harmony, and something all ponies should strive for.”
  679. >With a shake of her head, she banished the inappropriate thoughts and followed behind Anon.
  680. >”Right. That means you're not going to like this.”
  681. >He slammed shut the fridge and set a carton of orange juice down on the table.
  682. >”Let me tell you what I have in mind.”
  684. >His plan was simple and complex at the same time.
  685. >The idea behind it was very simple: get as much publicity for Misty as possible.
  686. >The means?
  687. >Not so much.
  688. >He wanted to contact various streamers and e-celebs and get them to feature the unicorn on their shows.
  689. >They were harder to censor, and public awareness of the situation should, he hoped, lead to governmental pressure on the armed forces to stop their campaign in Equestria.
  690. >There was the threat to him and his daughters, but publicity should help with that.
  691. >They couldn't make someone in the eye of a media storm disappear for re-education.
  693. “Which part of this is lying or deceiving? You talked about that earlier.”
  694. >”You're going to make more of an impact if you color the truth a little. A pony taken by armed men ransacking her home village makes for a better story than what actually happened.”
  695. >Anon ran his finger on the edge of his nearly glass.
  696. “Why lie about something like that? Wasn't attacking our research outpost and selling us enough of a crime?”
  697. >Misty hadn't touched her drink yet.
  698. >It sat on the table in front of her, with the pulp settling to the bottom.
  699. >”We're not lying, we're just telling alternative facts.”
  700. “That doesn't make it any better.”
  701. >Anon snatched his glass and upended it over his mouth, making the last bit of juice drip onto his tongue.
  702. >”It's the only plan I can think of that can help you get home.”
  703. >Slam.
  704. >His glass came down with far more force than necessary.
  705. >”And the only one that lets me get back at them for getting me fired.”
  706. >His nostrils flared as hatred seeped into his voice.
  708. ***
  710. >Misty laid sideways on the couch.
  711. >Five fingers sunk themselves into her mane, stroked her neck, then withdrew.
  712. >Her head rested on Nonnie's remarkably soft thighs.
  713. >The TV was on, but the volume was so low that even Misty couldn't tell what the characters of the movie talked about.
  714. >It was some sort of an action flick, but she'd lost interest after the first half hour.
  715. >She'd considered going to her corner, or maybe joining Annie in her bed.
  716. >But the way Nonnie's fingers combed through her mane, the warmth of her body, and feeling her steady breathing convinced the unicorn to stay.
  718. >”Hey, Misty.”
  719. “Wuh?”
  720. >She didn't remember closing her eyes.
  721. >Nor hearing Anon and Fem come back home.
  722. >Yet the two adults now sat on the sofa beside her.
  723. “Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep.”
  724. >A list of names rolled across the TV screen, and the music had turned into a mellow melody.
  725. >”He-he! It's okay.”
  726. >Nonnie ruffled the mane on Misty's head.
  727. >”Annie used to do that when we were younger. Nap time couldn't come soon enough for her.”
  728. >”Anyhow, remember that plan I told you about? The one about publicity?”
  729. >Misty craned her neck to look at Anon.
  730. >”One of the five streamers I shot an email to replied today. He'd like to see you. As soon as possible.”
  731. >He spread out his hands and shrugged.
  732. >”So we got quite a bit of driving ahead of us tomorrow.”
  733. >”Who wa-”
  734. >”No, you can't come with us. You're going to school.”
  735. >Nonnie's stature slumped.
  736. >”Fine. But Misty will ask for his signature, right? Won't you, Misty?”
  738. ***
  740. >Slam.
  741. >Misty pushed the car door shut with her rear hoof.
  742. “Is this the place?”
  743. >They were in a very suburb-looking suburb.
  744. >Nigh-identical houses lined the road on both sides, the only differences being the color of the paint and how well maintained the yards were.
  745. >”It's the address he gave us.”
  746. >The one in front of them didn't stand out in any way.
  747. >It was painted a faint blue, the lawn had been mowed quite recently, and the car parked in the driveway was a middle of the range model.
  748. >”Nnh.”
  749. >Anon had his arm over his head and was leaning heavily to one side.
  750. >He then repeated the procedure to stretch the muscles on his other side.
  751. >”I'm getting too old for driving that long in one go.”
  752. >The sun was on its way back towards the horizon, and they'd left early in the morning.
  753. “We could stay overnight. I'm sure there's a hotel somewhere nearby.”
  754. >Misty's voice was high-pitched and the words came out so fast they nearly slurred together.
  755. >”Nah, I'll drive us home for the night. Best not leave any credit card usage for them to trace, or names on room reservation lists.”
  756. >It really hit her now.
  757. >Now that they were so close.
  758. >She was going to tell flat out lies in front of an audience.
  759. “If you're fine with it, then.”
  760. >Misty gulped down a bit of saliva.
  761. “Shall we... shall we go knock?”
  763. ***
  765. >”Oh.”
  766. >A young man, with a lithe build and a beard covering his chin, stood at the door and stared at Misty.
  767. >”Oh.”
  768. >He'd completely forgot about both the door and Anon.
  769. >”I- Uh.”
  770. >His face mirrored the confusion in his brain.
  771. “Hi. I'm Misty Slate. I heard you wanted to see me.”
  772. >”I- I didn't-”
  773. >He squeezed his eyes shut, rubbed his forehead, shook his head, then looked at Misty again.
  774. >”I thought the mail was a joke.”
  775. “Well. I'm not. And I'd really like it if you helped me get back home.”
  776. >The man stepped back from the doorway and waved Misty and Anon in.
  778. ***
  780. >'Hello, and welcome to my show! Today, I'm going to do something unprecedented: I'm doing a collaboration with a few other streamers to bring you, the viewers, a critical and suppressed piece of news. You may notice the lack of message box on the screen today; that's because this is not a livestream like usual, but a pre-recorded video. We decided to publish multiple videos on all possible platforms simultaneously to make sure the truth can no longer be hidden.'
  781. >Misty felt Nonnie, who had an arm around the unicorn's shoulder, shiver in anticipation.
  782. “What's the point in watching it? You already know what's going to happen.”
  783. >”Shush.”
  784. >The phone, which lied on Nonnie's lap, cut to show Misty sitting in the streamer's living room.
  785. >'Hi. I'm Misty Slate. I'm here to bring you a message about what happened to my home and my kind.'
  786. “You got his signature and all, and he even put your name in the special thanks list.”
  787. >”Shush.”
  788. >Misty rolled her eyes.
  789. >Fangirls.
  790. >She glanced at the screen and at the view count.
  791. >It was in the hundreds of thousands.
  792. >Gulp.
  793. >It was too late to turn back.
  794. >But hurting her, or Anon's family, wouldn't wipe the videos out of existence.
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