I watched the clouds above shift over the night sky, obscuring the beauty of the stars that sprinkled the sky like sparks. My official job description was to sit at my telescope and observe the stars and the various phenomena associated with them. How was I supposed to do that with clouds everywhere?
Asking anypony on the weather teams, especially Rainbow Dash, to clear the sky wasn’t an option. They wouldn’t listen to me. I suspected that it had something to do with me refusing to speak to the mayor about my house. She’s got a problem with me because my house looks out of place in comparison to all of the other wooden structures that stand next to it. It’s like somepony took a chunk of Fillydelphia and dropped it right in the middle of Ponyville. It was built with a plurality of solid, candy-colored bricks, each either a pure red or green, and each layered one on top of the other in an alternating fashion; as such, it readily stands out amongst its neighbors. It’s gaudy, it’s eye-catching, and it’s absolutely Fillydelphian in every way.
I trotted up to my home with a smile on my face. My neighbors were absolutely livid that I chose to keep the house after my father’s death.
The mayor’s tried several times, with subtlety befitting one of her position, to get me to move, or to at least remodel the house, but this house is special. My father built this house, brick by brick, and created what was surely a masterpiece, a work of art that called back to his stomping grounds in West Fillydelphia where he was born and raised. Any sort of tampering with his work would be unthinkable. It’s a part of his legacy, a remnant of a bygone era where he was king of the contractors and lord of the architects.
It’s also unthinkable that I’m missing what was sure to be a beautiful night. I hurried through the darkness of my home and raced up the stairs to the roof, my back weighed with what felt like reams of paper, all of it encompassing the full measure of my work.
Luna’s return revitalized my research, what with the chaos that Nightmare Moon caused celestially. The irony was sweet, but the extra workload wasn’t. Nightmare Moon’s sudden appearance, after a period of a thousand years, had sent the stars into disarray. That offered a pony like me whole strings of opportunities to study the movements of each celestial body, and an opportunity to score a nice fat research grant. After all, I’m sure Luna would’ve liked to hear that the very things she brought out at night were moving and shifting radically out of place.
Of course, I couldn’t collect those bits until I finished a good portion my research, and I couldn’t finish my research until I was allowed a good view of the stars.
Perhaps now you can understand my predicament with Rainbow Dash and the weather teams.
Still, the stars aren’t the only sight to be seen at night. I walked up to the telescope on the far corner of my roof and sighed. I wouldn’t get any work done, but I’d try to at least enjoy myself. Through the lens, I could make out parts of the moon not yet veiled by the clouds. In the distance were landmarks that towered over the horizon, like the mountains. The towers of the royal palace in Canterlot burst through the backdrop of snow capped mountains, almost shimmering as gentle strokes of moonlight pierced through the clouds and parted the darkness around the city.
I shifted the telescope far to the left. The Everfree Forest looked as imposing as ever, and at night it took an almost ethereal form. Almost.
I used to swear that something powerful was growing in the forest. I’ve since retracted that in favor of the theory that it’s the forest itself that is growing, both in power and in size. That place is the stuff of nightmares.
My musings about the Everfree Forest were interrupted when I felt my horn tingle. Moments later I heard something crash and break downstairs. That meant that my break-in detection spell was working. Somepony was in my house, in the middle of the night, uninvited.
The nerve of some ponies...
Fear wasn’t exactly one of the first things that came to me. The intruder was harmless, for the most part, and I knew exactly what he wanted.
“Stacks!” I yelled through the darkness. No response came forth.
Stacks is the most stubborn foal I’ve ever had the pleasure of being friends with. He’s twice my size, twice as smart, and twice as rich. We play card games, board games, and drinking games all the time. He goes about his work in the day, I go about mine in the night. We are the best of friends.
Of course, our friendship didn’t stop him from breaking into my house in the middle of the night looking for a place to sleep off the insane amounts of alcohol in his system. Letting him in my house whenever he got a little tipsy was a courtesy that I extended to him, but only because I feared that he might forget where his own home was. My house is conveniently located across the street from one of the local watering holes, making it easy for him to find.
The things I do for friendship.
“Stacks, I know you’re here!”
“Ugh, y’don’t haffa yell, Shunny.” he slurred from behind the couch. I rolled my eyes and circled around to get a better look at him. My eyes are well accustomed to the dark, allowing me to see things almost as well as I can during the day; the benefit of years prowling the dark for the perfect stargazing sites.
Stacks was sprawled out on the floor, clutching a keg of mead like it was his most prized possession; his only possession, even. His shaggy green mane was even rattier and shaggier than usual, and his pale yellow coat was covered in discolored spots. Some looked like hickeys, others like bruises. He didn’t seem to be in much pain, though alcohol can serve as an effective painkiller in the right quantities.
My eyes easily traced his path of destruction back to a broken window near the back door. “Was the front door too hard to find? I mean, it’s not even locked.”
“...It was dark.”
“Dark enough that you couldn’t find the entire front side of the house?”
I shook my head with a sigh. “You’re paying for that window.”
“S’long as you don’t kick me out.” he mumbled with a wave of his hoof. Yeah, best of friends.
I moved over the back door to survey the damage my intoxicated friend had inflicted on my home. Stacks had broken through cleanly. The glass had been shattered, fragmented, but most of it simply dropped to the floor. I doubted any glass shards had actually pierced Stacks’ skin.
Regardless, I resolved to check him in the morning, just to make sure he was alright.
I went to sleep that night, only to awake feeling like utter manure in the morning. This morning, in particular, was bright and ungodly and hot. The blood under my skin felt like it was boiling in the heat, and my tongue rolled around in my mouth like a ball of sandpaper.
Something sizzled in the background, and I briefly wondered if it was just sound of my eyes frying in the heat.
“Hey Sunny, you awake yet?” It was Stacks. He poked his head into the doorway of my bedroom and waved a hoof. “You okay Sunny?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” A lie, but a necessary one. I tried not to think back to the time Stacks had tried to nurse me out of a fever.
Stacks, although a magnificent artist and a social mastermind, is by no means a doctor or a scientist. About a year ago I was stuck outside in the rain when I had traveled several miles outside of town to one of my favorite stargazing sites. I managed to catch a nasty fever during my trek back home. Bedridden, I had no idea what horrors awaited me.
Stacks had tried putting leaches on me to suck out the fever, covered the walls of my home with scented oils to drive away ‘evil fumes’, rubbed my back with special herbs that actually turned out to be poison ivy, soaked my clothes in peppermint oil, lit all of my rare and exotic plants on fire, ordered obscenely expensive wines under my name, and threw a party at without my permission to ‘help soothe the body with a happy environment’.
The horror, oh the horror.
“Glad to hear it, cause I’m making breakfast. You want in?”
“Depends.” I said warily. “What are you making?”
He grinned. “Fried kelp. It’s so legit, you don’t even know.”
I groaned. Stacks had this thing about eating healthy that was almost borderline obsessive. He made alcohol the only exception to his diet, which didn’t surprise me. Stacks loves his alcohol, and cutting off all ties with it would’ve crushed him.
“Can’t you just make normal food? Like a hay sandwich. Or a fruit salad. Or hell, just a salad!” I complained.
“I’m hurt, Sun Spot, I really am. I went out of my way to cook for you and this is how you treat me?” He asked, putting a hoof to his head in mock indignation. “Some friend you are.”
I smiled slowly. “Shut up.”
Stacks disappeared from the doorway as I jumped out of bed. With a nod of my horn I touched the room with my magic; a cleaning spell invoked with a thought’s command. The sun’s rays were still unbearably hot, but my eyes did seem to be getting used to the light.
“There’s some apples in the fridge if you’re hungry.” I heard Stacks yell from downstairs. “Oh, and I took the liberty of looking through your mail. You’ve got a letter from a secret admirer.”
I cursed internally and bolted for the kitchen. Stacks was on the floor, clutching his gut in an attempt to hold back the laughter that threatened to roar out of him.. On the counter lay an opened pink envelope and a folded piece of white paper. I barely caught the scent of lavender over the nauseous fumes of burning kelp.
“That letter wasn’t for you!” I yelled angrily. He snorted and shut off the stove, letting his fleshy green food sit on the pan to cool. I grabbed both the letter and the envelope with my teeth and stormed out of the room. I plopped down on the couch and opened the letter carefully, inspecting the handwriting up close. Delicate calligraphy filled the page, each line painstakingly written in perfect alignment with all the others. Not a letter was out of place, not a single drop of ink wasted.
“Somepony must’ve put a lot of effort into this.” I thought aloud.
I had given the paper only a cursory glance when Stacks came into the room with a plate of his disgusting kelp. He took a seat next to me and pointed at the letter. “You do know that Rarity wrote that, right?”
“Don’t you ‘Stacks’ me.” He took hoofful of kelp and shoved it into his mouth. One of the slimy green things hanged from his mouth as he spoke again. “Anypony with half a mind could’ve figured that out. I mean, I don’t know a pony out there who is as obsessive as her when it comes to being neat and tidy. And I don’t know many other ponies who even talk, or write, like her.”
“Yeah but you didn’t even give me the chance to figure it out for myself.”
He snorted again. “Like that even matters.”
I gave him a half-hearted glare before turning back to the letter. “It says here that she wants me to meet her in the...” My words trailed away as I sunk into disbelief. There was no way she could be serious. Not in a thousand years. “Oh no.”
Stacks stopped his manic chewing to give me a questioning look. I gulped. “She wants to meet up tomorrow night in the... the Everfree Forest.”
No words came after. We remained silent, neither of us able to break away from the weight of my plight.
I wasn’t about to ask him whether or not I should go, because he’d probably respond with a corny one-liner like “Do what your heart tells you.”, which wouldn’t be helpful in the first place. I knew that I was going to go, I knew that I had to go.
“This is my chance to finally get the mare of my dreams, you know? ”
“Oh yeah! Weren’t you crushing on her for, like, two years?” He managed between laughs. “You sent her flowers every week last year until you found a whole dumpster filled with the ones you sent.”
“You don’t have to remind-” he cut me off with another round of laughs. “Haha, remember when you sent her a love note, and it came back to you stamped ‘return to sender’ on top?”
“You said you wouldn’t bring that back up!”
“Oh, right. I forgot. Sorry.” He smiled again. “Not.”
I wasn’t going to win an argument with him, so I left. I dropped the letter, grabbed my saddlebags, and left. There was business to attend to in town, business with the mayor. My research was damn important, and I wasn’t about to let some huffy bureaucrat delay it any longer by refusing to tell her teams to clear the skies at night.
Before I walked through the door, however, I saw Stacks turn back to his kelp with a certain animation that almost tricked me into believing that he actually liked that stuff. Almost.
That day, it had been unbearably hot indoors. Outdoors, however, it felt like I was being slow roasted by the heat of the day. No longer did my blood boil beneath my skin, it all but evaporated.
The town hall was within sight, the only thing between me and it being a pony that I’d hoped to avoid for a little while longer. Before I even had a chance to think about running away, our eyes met, and she advanced on me, eyes furrowed in that classic Twilight Sparkle glare.
“Oh. Hey... you.” I said, backing away slowly.
“You? You!? Where in the world have you been?” She yelled, continuing her advance. I smiled sheepishly, but that didn’t placate her.
“Look, Twilight, I know you’re a little mad but-” She cut me off before I could finish, pointing at me with an accusing hoof.
“A little?! I’ve been putting off my own research just to help you with your stupid project and you go ahead and ignore me for two weeks! How am I just a little mad?” I cringed. Reds and oranges began to bleed into her eyes until they looked like two small, glowing suns. Just looking into them made me tear in pain.
Twilight Sparkle is one the brightest ponies I know, and her skill with magic is unmatched.When I hit a few roadblocks in my research, I immediately thought about seeking her help. Stacks may be smart, but the study of celestial bodies isn’t exactly in his intellectual comfort zone. I came to her one night, calculations in hand and a head full of questions, and the next thing I knew everything was all better. I just looked at the paper in my hands, surprised that, with her help, everything suddenly made sense; every single star had been properly aligned according to the shifts I’d recorded. The night after that, I came back to her with more questions, then the night after that and the night after that.
Let me be clear. I am not a mind-reader. If there’s a spell out there capable of giving a pony that ability, I wouldn’t know about it. All I knew was that she was furious with me now, and that was something to be scared of.
I felt a few tears spill from my eyes. She stopped, no doubt thinking that I was crying because of her words. I took advantage of that quickly, sniffling a little for added effect. Now I was on the offensive.
“Twilight... I’m sorry. The truth is, I haven’t been able to complete my research because the sky’s been covered in clouds at night. Just clouds, clouds everywhere and not a star in sight.” I sighed, rubbing my fake tears away with a spare hoof. “I’ve had a few conversations with the mayor about this, but she keeps blowing me off because of a previous disagreement we had about my... my father, and it’s taken so much out of me, and, gosh...”
I looked into her eyes, each an orb bubbling with regret. “I’m sorry.” I repeated softly. That got her.
“Sunny,” She began, tamer than how she’d started, “You don’t have to be sorry. I’m the one who should be sorry. I was just so angry at you for delaying my own studies that I didn’t take into account the things that you’ve been going through.” She seemed to light up at that. I wondered if there was a magic spell that could make light bulbs appear out of nowhere. That way I’d at least be able to keep track of how many epiphanies a week Twilight had. The number was surely in the hundreds.
“You know, this would make a great letter to Princess Celestia.”
“That’s great, and I hope the letter goes great, but I really need to get going, Twilight.” I craned my neck to look around her. The mayor had exited the town hall and was headed in the direction of the marketplace with a pair of ponies. “I promise to have the next leg of my research done and in your hooves as soon as possible, but right now-”
“Yeah, sure. No problem, Sunny.” She allowed me to pass with a smile and a nod. I nodded back.
“Thanks. I’ll see you later, Twilight!” That was close. The conversation hadn’t gone quite as expected, but at least I’d bought myself some more time. Twilight isn’t exactly a pony wiling to forgive and forget right away. She enjoys giving a good lecture or two before deciding that you’ve had enough of a tongue-lashing.
I moved at a half-trot, cutting through the wall of street vendors to my right to catch up with the mayor. For an old pony, she did have one hell of a stride. I did manage to catch up a few minutes later, though. The mayor looked like she was talking with Derpy Hooves, Ponyville’s very own mailpony.
I’ve only ever seen Derpy in passing glances overhead. She’s not allowed to fly low during deliveries after that last incident with the muffins and the cart. Needless to say, a few buildings were severely damaged. I don’t think Blues ever really recovered from that, either. Derpy must have finished all of her deliveries for the day, but if she did, then why was the mayor giving her a package?
Derpy flew off a few moments later, and I seized the opportunity to corner the mayor. She looked surprised, but it didn’t take long for that to turn to disdain. “Oh. It’s you.”
“I’d hoped that we could be civil and fair about this.”
“That depends.” She started, her expression tightening into a frown. “Are you ready to move?”
“You can’t honestly expect me to move! That house is-”
“Yes, yes. I know. It’s your father’s legacy. But I’ve already offered to compensate you for the loss.”
She didn’t get it. “This isn’t about the money! This is about me keeping what I have left of my father.” The mayor tried to say something, but I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. The words were forming by themselves, the frustration I felt demanded to be expressed. I needed to make her know, to make her understand.
“My father lost two of his cousins in a fire that destroyed a good portion of Fillydelphia almost twenty years ago. Back in West Fillly, he started helping out with some of the reconstruction projects, and he saw that the fires that had swept through there had turned some of the bricks green, so when they started rebuilding those homes, they reused some of those green bricks. Nopony bothered changing the colors because the discolored bricks became a badge of honor. You were a pony that, despite the odds, despite the unparalleled destruction and chaos, survived and thrived in an environment almost completely consumed by the greatest fire Fillydelphia had ever seen.” My rant was drawing a crowd. Ponies were staring at me, whispering things about me. The mayor was beside herself. A combination of shock and outrage flashed across her face. I almost smiled at that.
“My father built that house as a memorial to the cousins that he had lost. He built it alone, with his own two hooves. He built it strong and tough and capable of lasting a lifetime. And now you want to take it away from me, the one gift that my father ensured would stay with me until I joined him in death.”
“That’s not really fair. I’m not trying to-”
“Oh, but you are, mayor. You’re forcing me to choose between my livelihood and my father’s legacy, and, Celestia damn you, I won’t stand for it!” I hadn’t intended to cause a scene. I just wanted her to leave me be already. The realization that my rant hadn’t won any points with her struck me rather quickly after that. She looked just as angry as I did.
“You... you... How dare you- don’t you run away from me, Sun Spot!” I ran as fast as I could, pushing past the crowd in whatever direction would get me out of there the quickest. I dashed past Rarity’s Boutique, over a small bench, and into the park. I stopped just short of a hut in the distance came into view.
The hut was smaller than my house, but looked cozy enough. It was surely far more comfortable than a shack, though that was a debate my father would’ve ran into the ground.
“Dad...” I whispered softly, letting the wind carry my regret to him in the afterlife. Despite my best intentions, I had failed. The mayor wasn’t going to let up, and I certainly hadn’t done anything to help.
The breeze was starting to pick up.
To this day, I’m not entirely sure what happened next. Something called out to me, on the wind. A reply from my father? A guardian angel? My imagination? All of them are plausible and yet none accurately express the exact compulsion that came over me.
As the wind whispered back into my ears, I froze up. Then I looked up and stared into the sun.
When I came to, the first thing I noticed was the piercing smell of disinfectant and the faint smell of blood. The first cough hurt me. The next dozen shook me to the core. Somepony must’ve heard me hacking up a storm, because soon enough a mare ran into the room and called for somepony to hold me down. I panicked when I felt two sets of hooves press down on me.
My eyes opened, and I locked eyes with one of the nurses restraining me. Her purple eyes widened as tinges of red began bleeding into my vision. I screamed and flailed and cried dark red tears while the nurses struggled to control me.
Somepony else came into the room during the struggle. “Dude, you gotta calm down!”
“S-stacks?” That was the opening the nurses needed, I guess. They pushed me against the hospital bed even harder than before while another pony stuck a needle in me. A sedative, and a powerful one at that. Blissful unconsciousness came within seconds.
My next encounter with the world of the living came at a much slower pace than the sudden surge in lucidity that I had just...
Well, since the last time I was awake.
I swam in and out of consciousness before finally settling into a state of semi-lucidity. I still couldn’t see, not because of whatever I’d done to my eyes but because of the thick bandaging that kept me from opening them.
“Hey Sunny.” I heard Stacks say from my left. His voice is distinguishable because of the way that it booms when he speaks. A baritone, if there ever was one.
“I... don’t want you to lie to me, Stacks. How do I look? Am I scarred for life? Is my picture perfect face ruined forever?”
“No, you’re still as average as ever, Sunny. Though, your eyes-”
“How are they?”
“Don’t freak out, Sunny.”
“Just tell me what happened to my eyes?”
” Dude, just wait for the nurses to come. They can explain it better than I can. “
“No no no no. This... you’re lying.” I pounded my hooves against the bed in anger. I was blind. I had to be blind. My life was over.
“Sunny, don’t be like that. It’s nothing permanent.” he paused, “At least, that’s what the nurses think.”
“That’s what they think?!”
“You’re dangerously close to freaking out.”
“Maybe that’s cause I’m an astronomer who’s about to lose his eyes. How in Celestia’s name am I supposed to use a telescope now? How am I supposed to finish all of those equations now? How am I supposed to get that research grant now?” In truth, the money didn’t really matter. My father had left me with control of his real estate empire, which I delegated control of to his financial manager. He also left me with several bank accounts, each containing enough bits to last a pony a lifetime.
I wanted the grant because I wanted to be self-sufficient. My father did not coddle me as a child. Despite our wealth, I was given a proper upbringing with an emphasis on hard work as the best means to an end. That grant was supposed to validate me, to make me remembered not for being my father’s foal, but for being the pony that discovered the widespread movement of the stars.
“Take a chill pill, bro. I’m not the one you should be ranting at, and I’m not the one who decided to stare into the sun for hours.”
“What,” I said more than asked, “I couldn’t have stared into the sun for that long.”
“Oh, but you did. Hours, they said. Unbelievable, I said.” I could tell he was smiling. He had to be smiling.
“So I’m blind?”
There was another pause. I guessed that he was shaking his head, so I pointed to the bandaging. He sighed before continuing, “Not really. I mean, I don’t know much about your condition, but, again, the nurses told me that it wasn’t permanent.”
“Well, look on the bright side. Now you can spend more time with your buddy Stacks.”
“That’s not much of a bright side.”
Somepony else walked into the room. Stacks addressed her as doctor, which piqued my curiosity. The only doctor I’d seen was a white mare with a pair of soft red eyes and light pink hair. The nurse who held me down had the loveliest eyes, both a rich royal purple, and a navy blue coat.
“Er, hello, Mr. Spot. My name is Doctor Redheart, if you didn’t know that already. Tell me, how are you feeling?”
“Great, considering I’m bucking blind.”
“Sunny, don’t talk to her like that!” Stacks hit me with one of his oversized hooves. I tried to pretend like it didn’t hurt. “If it wasn’t for her, you would’ve lost your eyes permanently.”
“Careful. We don’t want him to get too agitated.” She said.
He’d found his new soul-mate.
Right. “About that. Stacks tells me that I’m not permanently blind.”
“You aren’t. Though we aren’t sure if the glowing is permanent.”
“See, Sunny?” He asked, tapping me with a hoof. “I told you that it wasn’t permanent. And you were about to freak out over nothing.”
The nurse approached me and carefully removed the bandages. It took her a short while to slowly peel off the bandaging, but off it went. Behind my eyelids I could see the world brighten, though I kept them closed until the last layer of medical gauze was removed.
Tentatively, I opened my eyes. This time, I didn’t cry rivers of blood, nor did I feel the intense, burning pain associated with blood flooding into my eyes.
Stacks grinned. “That is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“A mirror. Get me a mirror.”
The nurse fumbled around with one of her pockets before producing a compact mirror. Staring back at me were two glowing silver eyes. They really did glow. It was faint, but there; actual light radiating out my irises.
“I know, right?”
“Rarity’s going to freak when she sees me.”
“No way, Sunny. Fillies love talented young stallions with glowing eyes. It’s practically a given.” The nurse coughed politely to reign the conversation in.
“I’m sure all the fillies will go wild when they see you, but they are going to have to wait until we clear you.”
“And how long is that going to take?” I asked nervously.
“A few days.”
“But I’ve got a date tomorrow!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Spot, but we can’t, in good faith, let you walk out of here without first giving you a full checkup and making sure those eyes of yours don’t fail when you get out there.”
I shared a look with Stacks. He got the message.
My date with Rarity was destiny, and it would not be denied to me, not by some doctor.
Breaking out of the hospital was about easy as easy can get. All Stacks had to do was pick a lock or two. Then, we were off like a couple of bandits, internalizing the light-hearted, boyish joy we felt. I’d wager that the night had never seen a pair like us before. We were almost like kind of ponies you’d read about in books as foals. Dashing young stallions taking the world by storm, making their own rules and playing by their own terms; ponies who spent every waking moment enjoying life because life wasn’t going to give them a damn inch.
The difference between us and the ponies in the storybooks was that they could live free and adventure forever. Time would catch up with us, the weight of the world was going to end up on our shoulders at some point. It was inevitable. But at least we could enjoy the time from here to there.
The novelty of our rather clean getaway died after a while. Stacks decided around then to amuse himself by making noise; lots of noise.
“Dun dun dun dun dundundundun! Dun dun dun dun dundundundun. Dun dun dun dun dundundundun! Doodeedoodee-”
“If I have to spend another minute of you making noise in what you call theme music, I may just make myself deaf instead of blind.”
Stacks sighed that heavy kind of sigh that comes only through disappointment. He turned to me and said, “Sunny, you’ve gotta relax. S’not even your first date and you’re already acting like some jelly-legged foal.”
I admit it, I may have had a bruised ego, but I didn’t let it show. “I’ve only ever dated twice, and both times were disasters.” I said with my best poker face on. Stacks didn’t look like was laughing, though he did seem curious. That’s the thing with Stacks. You’ll always know what he’s thinking, but you never know what he’ll do. It’s weird, and it’s not something you can explain easily.
“I was sure that Volt was the perfect mare for you. I mean, she was good-looking, funny, and damn good at her job. I thought you’d like her.”
“I did.” I broke eye contact to stare at a particularly interesting rock lying over on the side of the road. “We were picnicking under the stars just outside of Ponyville when we saw a meteor shower, more like a storm though, and she loved it. There were streaks of golden light cascading down from the heavens as hundreds of meteors burned themselves up upon entering the planet’s atmosphere. And just as the meteors began to let up, the field around us suddenly bloomed. A whole field of moonlilies just bursting to life out of literally nowhere. Can you believe that?”
“When I took her home, she leaned in for a kiss, but before I could even do anything her dad opened the door, roared at me, and clocked me so hard I went flying into a bunch of thornbushes.”
“She lived with her pops?“
“Apparently. That dude looked old enough to be her dad.” I rolled my shoulders in a half-hearted shrug and moved on.
“Alright, so what happened with that other filly. What’s her face?”
“Yeah. I thought she was into you.”
I sighed. “Me too.”
“Well?” he asked expectantly. “What happened?”
“I think we dated for all of five minutes when she asked me to get us a couple of drinks. I got the drinks, and when I came back I saw her walking out the door with some other pony. The next day I overheard one of the gossips say that she moved out of town, overnight no less, to some place up north. Stalliongrad, I think.”
Stacks boomed with laughter, not particularly concerned that he was waking up the entire neighborhood or that it was at my expense. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought that all I was good for was getting Stacks to laugh. Good thing I know better.
“Pfft, don’t worry about it bro. You’ve got a chance to make up for all of that with Rarity.” He gave me a few painfully reassuring pats on the back. I gritted my teeth and smiled. “All you have to do is put the moves on her.”
I dreaded asking him, but my curiosity won me over. “The moves?”
Stacks froze, which freaked me out far more than I was really willing to admit. His head turned slowly, revealing a ridiculous and over the top look of shock and disbelief, melting away my aforementioned fear.
“You don’t know the moves?”
“THE moves!” he put a hoof to his forehead, shaking it melodramatically. “I can’t believe no pony’s ever taught you the moves.”
“What moves are you talking about?”
“THE moves!” he replied exasperatedly. I felt like knocking some sense into that thick skull of his, but I didn’t; mostly because I didn’t feel like having my hooves ripped off and shoved down my throat.
“Okay, stop. Right now. We’ve gotta do this, Sunny.” he grabbed me and looked me in the eye. I could see his emerald green eyes reflected my own wispy silver ones, and despite the light flooding into his eyes, he held me firm.
“I’ve gotta learn you up some of the moves.”
“No way, Stacks! You’re freaking me out. And besides,” I looked around, deciding that this part of town was a good a place as any. “This is your stop.”
“You heard me. You’re staying here, and I’m going to the Everfree Forest to have my date with Rarity.”
He looked hurt. I could actually see tears collected and falling down his cartoonish expression of anguish. It was all I could do to stop a smile from creeping along the edges of my now crumbling poker face.
“I... can’t come?” he asked the question seriously, but really, how was I supposed to take a question like that seriously?
“No, you can’t come. Weirdo.”
“B-but, why?” Oh Celestia, now his lips were quivering.
“Because it’s a date between me and Rarity, not a date between me, Rarity, and Stacks.”
“Bros don’t leave bros hanging, bro. You’re leaving me hanging.”
I kept a lid on my frustration, but it was hard to with Stacks giving me that look. I mean... that damn look. “Dude, shut up. You’re not coming and that’s that.”
“Hey, I busted you out of a hospital. The least you could do is take me with you.” He switched gears, his expression settling on something close to disappointment. I thought I caught a whiff of entitlement too underneath the simmering anger.
“Fine, but at least let me teach you the moves.”
“No!” I backed away quickly before turning and breaking out into a full gallop down the street.
“Sunny, you’re breaking my heart!” I heard him call out behind me. I didn’t bother looking back.
I made all haste for the forest, both to avoid being late for my date and to avoid Stacks. Stacks loves the Everfree Forest. He, in particular, loves the freedom that it enjoys. The weather is random, the creatures and critters run freely, and the presence of pony magic is completely absent. It is a haven for creatures like Manticores and Cockatrices, and a place beyond the control of Princess Celestia.
In his words, “No one pony should have all that power.”
He distrusts the princesses because everypony thinks that they’re literal goddesses to be worshiped.
“What makes them better than me?” He asked me one day, fuming at the mix of awe and fear that everypony else felt during Celestia’s trip to Ponyville.
“The fact that they’re omnipotent?” I guessed. He gave me one of the fiercest glares I’ve ever seen and walked away.
I’ve never seen him that angry about anything before, so naturally it scared me half to death. He did apologize for nearly blowing up at me over the whole princess thing, but I’ve always been wary of getting Stacks angry since then. He’s my best bro, and I’d hate to see my best bro fall into a rage more terrifying than the little that I had actually seen.
The only reason he’ll avoid going in there is because he thinks that if he does go in there, he’ll never come back out. Not after what happened to Flower Wishes.
Flower Wishes went into the forest to collect a few rare herbs a few months ago. No pony saw or heard her for a full 24 hours, not until the screaming started. It was during a lunar twilight when we heard her screams fill the night. Everypony had to have heard her. She just kept on screaming and crying and dying for an hour, and no pony did a damn thing to help her. No pony left their homes, no pony even bothered talking about it. She was given a quiet funeral with an empty casket and quickly forgotten. Death is bad for business, you know.
But Stacks never got the memo. I’ve seen him head over to the cemetery whenever he’s in a mood. It’s not often, but it does happen.
Regardless, his aversion to the forest gave me the chance I needed to get in quickly before anyone noticed. I took the same dirt path out of town to that same cozy little hut that lied on the outskirts of the Everfree Forest. The lights were off, so I assumed whoever was inside was just asleep.
Somewhere near the edges of my vision I saw a flash of purple and white. I turned and caught sight of what had to be Rarity’s mane flowing in the wind. It disappeared behind a thicket of trees and into the darkness of the forest proper.
I gave chase immediately. I couldn’t let this opportunity go to waste. I was convinced that if I did, I’d regret it forever.
My eyes, previously well tuned to the dark, were far more powerful with the extra light now filtering into the world around me. I could pick out minute details from the darkness around me far easier than I imagined anypony else could. Moths fluttered in the breeze while their honey-making brethren buzzed, hard at work collecting nectar from the beautiful jungle flowers that bloomed here.
Above me was the thickest canopy of trees in Equestria. The forest canopy blocks out nearly all light, creating an environment as dark as any cave. Birds swooped down from the branches lying overhead, surprising their prey with a vicious overhead assault. They sing to each other from the safety of the tree branches, adding to the life of the forest.
The understory of shade tolerant shrubs and ferns and fungi stubbornly grew here, using torrential downpours to make up for the lack of direct sunlight. In some places, wherever the tree canopy was broken by the terrain, the brush actually impeded my progress forward. I was forced to take the beaten hunting paths that some of the larger predators take, though with much hesitation. I wasn’t particularly eager to meet any of the nocturnal predators that had made these dirt roads.
Deeper and deeper into the forest I went in search of my purple-maned beauty. Every once while I’d see a hint of her passing or hear a faint giggle off in the distance, but never did I catch a full glimpse of her. Not until I’d reached a small grove somewhere deep in the middle of the forest. Rarity, with her back turned to me, leaned over to pick up a few Forget-Me-Nots.
It hit me as I rushed to her side. I was lost. I’d only noticed how far I’d suddenly realized that I didn’t know how to get back. I didn’t bother looking for landmarks or even keeping track of my position through the stars. Of course, the tree canopies made it hard to do that, but I did have more than one opportunity to do so.
When I turned back to Rarity, she was but feet away from me, teeth gingerly holding a fragile blue flower. I recoiled in surprise, and felt terrible for it.
I hate surprises. In my life, surprises only mean that I’ve either gotten hurt, or something terrible’s happened. Surprises are horrible, and the only use for them is to inflict some measure of pain on somepony else. It’s part of the reason why I keep my birthday a secret from Pinkie Pie. If she did hold one for me, my heart would probably stop out of shock or I’d fall down a flight of stairs or something. The risk is too great for a pony like me.
This surprise wasn’t all that bad, though. Rarity was gorgeous, a sight that I wouldn’t mind dying with. She practically glowed, despite the nigh-total darkness that hung heavy on the air. As she walked, her poise practically off the charts, the petals of the flower fell off, one by one. They swam in the breeze, swaying to and fro until they disappeared into the underbrush.
Rarity stopped a few feet from me, dropping the flower stem without a second glance. She cocked her head and gazed contentedly into my eyes.
I spoke first, before things got awkward. “So... I got your letter, and I came here like you said. Um...”
“You have such pretty eyes.”
“Uh, what? My eyes? Yeah, I thought you might like them.”
She smiled. “It’s a shame that your mane clashes with them.”
She was on me faster than I thought possible. She struck me, slamming both of her hooves onto my head. I dropped like a rock, dazed and in pain. Rarity didn’t stop there, however. She jumped gracefully onto my back, keeping me on the floor before I even had the chance to try and pick myself up.
She leaned ever so slightly over me. “I know just the thing. Hold still darling, this may hurt a bit.” The light from my eyes reflected off a thin strip of steel that disappeared beyond my field of vision. A moment later I felt pure and unadulterated pain run down my spine.
I thrashed and flailed and bucked, trying to dislodge her, but she didn’t budge. “How bucking heavy is a mare like Rarity anyway? There’s no way she weighs more than me, no way in Hell!” I thought as I screamed.
She stopped only when I had completely run out of breath. The torture had dragged on and on until the sensation of razor sharp steel slicing thin, wiry flesh became all that I knew, all that I could expect. Time became measured in the moments she spent working her blade on my back. Joy became the precious few seconds in between her cuts. Death became my best friend.
Rarity leaped off of me once she’d finished and allowed for some space to admire her work. “Yes, perfect! I knew red was the right color. It really offsets all of that gray.”
I crawled forward, teeth gritted as I fought the pain to get my limbs moving. I was trying to escape, but my body just wouldn’t work. My legs would not move as fast as I wanted them to. Rarity simply walked around me, a bloody letter opener in her teeth.
“Why are you... is it because of the flowers? Did you not like them? Or the letters? Was it something that I said?” I asked. She just smirked around the steel in her mouth. The tips of her hooves, mane, and tail were stained with blood. My blood.
“Look, I’m sorry, okay? I was being stupid, and I promise I’ll never bother you again. I swear on it, by Celestia, I swear, okay?” I asked desperately, shaking from head to hoof in fear. Tears were streaming down my face, blurring the approach of what I had once thought was an angel. She leaned over me again, this time drying my tears with her luxurious purple locks.
“Oh, darling, you’ve nothing to be sorry for. It’s not your fault you were born like this,” she cooed, rubbing some of the blood dripping down my back into my mane and coat. “But I can fix this. I can fix you.”
“No more... Please, no more.” I begged. She ignored me.
“Now, let’s do something about this face.” she slapped me a bit harder than I think she meant to. “I think a nice shade of blue would really help balance out the red.”
She swung around me, propping herself on my back, digging her hooves into my open wounds. I prayed that she would tire of my screams and just slit my throat. Killing me seemed more and more like an act of mercy compared to this.
But, instead of cutting me open some more, she wrapped her two front legs around my throat in a hug. At first, I didn’t know what to think. Then I realized what she was going to do.
A nice shade of blue...
“Rarity, no!” I managed before she denied me the ability to breathe. I tried to shake her loose, but it was no use. I was weak, and she was strong. Too strong.
The words in my head seemed impossible to articulate with all of that primal fear and my lack of air, but I said them anyway, somehow. “You... aren’t... Rarity.”
“And you aren’t going to stop me, not when the fate of the universe in coming is at stake. You will not deny me my new home.” she whispered harshly in my ear.
Darkness took me soon after that.
Imagine my surprise when I regained consciousness.
This was one of those rare surprises that didn’t actually suck in every way. I’d survived. I felt alive. I was alive.
Of course, that was practically begging the question, but I allowed myself to simply appreciate the fact that I was alive of all things.
My eyes fluttered open, unhindered by the bright light of the morning. I was laying in the same hospital bed that I’d been in when I first came to the hospital. This time, however, I was strapped securely to the bed. I wasn’t sure if it was because of all the cuts on my back or because of the fact that I had snuck out of the hospital at night, but I couldn’t really care less. Even if I wanted to move, I couldn’t. Not without tearing open a few of the nastier gashes.
Stacks was sleeping peacefully by the window, his hooves tied together around an empty bottle of bourbon.
I couldn’t believe that he just drank it all and didn’t leave a drop for me. At this point, I could’ve used a drink or two. Instead of getting angry about it, though, I just closed my eyes and soaked in the sheer wonder of it all.
I was alive, and it felt damn good to be alive.
Stacks is truly one of the worst friends, and one of the greatest friends, a pony could ask for.
I asked him how I had survived my encounter with Rarity in the forest, and he told me that
he had had me followed by Snips and Snails. Snips managed to run back into town and tell Stacks about Rarity trying to kill me. Stacks then followed Snips back into the forest and saved my life. Rarity hadn’t seen Stacks coming from behind, and it only took one blow for her to join me in oblivion.
The story itself is still pretty unbelievable. Snips, with his stubby legs and lack of focus, seemed like the least likely person to find his way out of a forest, then back in, without getting lost. When asked about that, Snips just said he’d taken a shortcut. Pursuing that line of questioning just seemed... pointless, I guess. I didn’t bother. I didn’t have to.
Snails managed to get a few pictures of the whole thing with that old camera of his. He’s actually a pretty good shot, despite what some ponies may say about him.
I just couldn’t believe that Stacks was dumb enough to pay two mentally disabled foals to follow me into an extremely dangerous forest so he could get pictures of me and Rarity, and that his stupid plan had actually ended up saving my life. Stacks called it luck, but I don’t believe in luck. I believe in the power of coincidence. There are countless ways of interpreting what seem to be random occurrences, but I believe they aren’t random at all. Stacks’ poor decision making had simply worked in my favor that day.
A perk of being friends with Stacks, wealthiest pony in Ponyville.
I’m the second wealthiest pony in Ponyville, which is great because one of the greatest perks of being rich is being able to afford all the expensive, magical treatments that I need. Doctor Redheart had to call in a specialist from Canterlot to magically heal all of the damage I suffered during my little “date” with Rarity. I had to wait a few days for him to get here, but his treatment worked like a charm.
Of course, the good doctor made it quite clear afterwards that I was one of the worst patients she’d ever had. So far, I’d landed myself in her clinic twice in the same 24 hour period, which was, might I add, a personal record. I didn’t care much for her griping, though she did make sure I wasn’t so much as able to leave my own bed to go to the bathroom without her express permission.
I tried not to think too hard about her bedroom etiquette, despite the temptation to do so. All I could imagine were ropes and whips and safety words and all types of delectably improper things. I idly wondered if there was such a thing as brain-bleach. The opportunity to profit from something like that was hard to ignore.
A few more days passed while I lay strapped in my hospital bed, nearing a full recovery, when I decided to create an outlet for my boredom. With Stacks’ uncanny skill with a lock-picking set, we managed to sneak all of my stargazing equpiment onto the roof, allowing me to continue my research unhindered, or rather, almost unhindered.
I spent every night following Stack’s second break in working on the roof. The star maps I had drawn were useless. Months of work had been made irrelevant by a single act of violence. It would take a while for me to track and trace where each star had gone. It was on the eight night of my stay in the hospital when Doctor Redheart discovered me. She barged in on me as I settled on the constellation of Orion with Stacks in tow.
“Again?” She asked. I couldn’t tell if she was angry, disappointed, or just shocked that we had disobeyed her orders. Again.
“It was all his fault Doc! He came up with the whole idea.” Stacks cried, his eyes as wide as dinner plates. So much for loyalty amongst bros.
I decided to head her off before she could start ranting.“Listen, Doctor Redheart, science waits for no pony. The more time I spend confined to a hospital bed, the less time I have to complete my research. You’ve got to understand that-”
“Oh, I understand. I understand that you two morons can’t follow simple instructions and are, at best, a pair of disasters just waiting to happen.”
“Doctor, don’t you think that assessment’s just a tad unfair?” I asked a bit sarcastically. Above, Orion’s belt had snaked itself farther north towards the North Star. The star’s movement over the past few weeks had eclipsed my old data, my old predictions made useless. That alone warranted hours of recalculation, hours that I wasn’t sure that I had.
“No, I don’t think the assessment’s unfair. You two have caused me nothing but trouble.”
“Even me, Doc?”
“Was ‘you two’ not descriptive enough?”
“I thought you were talking to Sunny and his imaginary friend.”
I whipped around to face the two ponies, my annoyance with them increasing by the second. “Can we just skip to the part where you leave,” I pointed at Doctor Redheart, “and where you go pour me another glass of wine?” I gestured Stacks over to a cooler under a tent by the door.
The doctor was not amused.
“I’m not leaving, not until you give me a reason.”
“Because I’m not hurting myself or anypony else. All I’m doing is looking through a telescope, and really, would you prefer that I sneak out of the hospital again?”
“... No, not really.”
“Then leave me to my devices. I’ll be out of your mane in three days and you can go back to healing the sick or whatever once I’m gone. All I’m asking for is access to your roof for a few days.”
She relented. “Just... make sure you get this stuff out of here when you leave.” I waved her off, satisfied with my victory. Stacks ran to the door and opened it for her as she left, smiling a creepy little smile.
“I love you,” he whispered at her retreating form. Hoping to get off that tangent and back to my work, I turned to my telescope. Grouping the stars by constellation had improved my efficiency, though I wass a little paranoid about making a mistake. I didn’t have time to go over my mistakes. Everything would’ve just had to have been done right on the first pass.
Stacks trotted over to my side, a frown already in the works. “Honestly, Sunny. That’s strike three. ”
“Yeah. You’ve disappointed me three times so far.”
“Well,” he started, rearing back onto his haunches to get a little more comfortable. “Strike one was that you refused my amazing relationship advice by not letting me teach you the moves.”
I looked up from my telescope, quirking my eyebrow quizzically. “Okay, hold up. Who’s ever said your advice was worth anything anyway?”
“Everypony.” He stated rather matter-of-factly. “Sunny, I’ve been on more dates than there are stars in the sky-”
“That’s, like, highly improbable,” I added quickly.
“-So really, it was foalish of you to have just run away from me like that. I know more about dating than anypony else in Equestria.”
“Whatever. What’s strike two?”
“You didn’t help me when I was fighting that hick.”
“Her name’s Applejack, and did you really expect me to help you beat up some orange mare?”
“No, I expected you to be a bro and help me defend your honor.”
“I don’t know, Stacks. It looked like you had everything under control.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “Were we seeing the same fight? She ran into the room making accusations about you doing things to her ‘gal’. I told her that her ‘gal’ was a psychopath that tried to kill my best bro, and she gave me two black eyes.”
“Dude, you pushed her out a window.”
“Sunny, she shrugged off the fall like it was nothing. She just galloped back up the stairs, took my empty bottle of bourbon, and smashed it over my head.”
“But you did hit her pretty hard with that chair.”
“Only after she knocked out a few of my teeth with that killer left hoof.”
I shrugged in concession. “Just tell me what strike three is.”
“You haven’t offered to be my wingpony yet.”
“With Doctor Redheart? Seriously? Aren’t you the dating expert here?”
He groaned in frustration. Apparently I wasn’t getting it, not that I really cared to. “S’not the difficulty, considering there is none. It’s the principle. You’re my best bro, right?”
“Then help me.”
“Do you not see me working here? I don’t have time to help you do something you can do yourself.”
He shook his head in disappointment, something I found he was doing a lot more of lately. “Sunny, believe me when I say we’ve got all the time in the universe, and more. Now, try to think of this as helping your bro during an important phase...”
I tried ignoring him, tuning him out, but he just wouldn’t stop talking. Then he started complaining. Then he started whining. Have you ever heard a pony with a deep voice whine? The sound is off-putting, and more importantly, distracting. You can’t help but not listen to it. I wasn’t going to get any work done like this.
“Okay! I get it. I’ll help.”
He perked up instantly. “Great! We’ll go to your place after you’re discharged and drop off all of this telescope junk, then we’ll head over to my place to work on my plan to win over Doc Redheart.”
I rolled my bright, glowing eyes dramatically. “Sounds like you’ve got things figured out”
“Oh believe me, I do.” He stretched his hoof out lazily, and despite how annoyed I was with him, I pounded it in a customary brohoof. “Catch you later bro. I’ve got a little something to go take care of right quick.”
I watched him leave and sighed. Broship was hard, but worth it. Stacks was a steadfast companion, a smart advisor, and a loyal friend. Even if I could do better, I wouldn’t. What we shared together was magical, a lifelong commitment to something beautiful and indescribable. We were more than friends. We were best bros. Forever.
Satisfied that my best-friendship was healthy and intact, I turned back to my telescope. With Orion’s belt finished I had at least four of the major constellations on my belt. Pun intended. “Andromeda, here I come!”
Before I dove back into my research, I took note that Stacks was heading over to the graveyard again. I’d have to talk to him about that at some point.
Anger and confusion flooded me. My knees shook, my eyes teared up, my heart felt crushed inside of my ribcage. Stacks was standing beside me, speechless. He didn’t know what to say. I didn’t either. The crowd around me was far more vocal, however.
“There was an explosion.”
“Really? In Sun Spot’s house?”
“What caused it?”
“Must’ve been the furnace.”
“That’s nonsense. There was probably just a gas leak.”
“I heard differently. Somepony told me that it was arson.”
“Here in Ponyville? Are you nuts?”
“I’m telling you guys that it was the furnace.”
“It was definitely arson.”
“You’re both wrong. It had to be a gas leak.”
I tuned them out after a while, the arguing and whispering getting on my nerves. I didn’t care what caused the explosion, I just cared that my house was gone. Blown up. Destroyed. I could fix it, sure, but it wouldn’t be the same.
My father had imbued what was an empty plot of land with life. It’s hard, irrational, maybe even a little bit crazy to say that a mound of bricks and mortar has life, but you’d think otherwise after seeing one of my father’s creations. He had such a way of turning ordinary structures into works of art that felt alive. They were created. They lived and played and dreamed. They grew old, sick. And, when their time came, they died. If home is where the heart is, then I had a void where my heart was supposed to be.
The charred remains of my home made something ache in me. Red and green bricks were strewn about the area, having been expelled outward in what was presumably one hell of an explosion. The top right side of the building had lost form and toppled over while subsequent explosions sent the rest of the building flying in all directions. The buildings adjacent to my home had also suffered some damage, though it was mostly cosmetic damage. There were blast marks, broken windows, even holes in the walls where bricks had smashed through.
The roof of my house was missing amidst the destruction. My home is uniformly square, and in the explosion the four walls were shattered and thrust outwards, but the roof should have caved in once the walls were gone. I’d have to go look for it later.
“Dude, your house-”
Ponyville doesn’t have a fire brigade to deal with fires. Instead, everypony of age undergoes special training so that, in the event of a fire, anypony would, theoretically, be able to act to fight the fire. My neighbors had probably seen, even felt the explosion and worked to put out the resulting fires before they burned down out the whole neighborhood.
“No words. Not yet.”
I didn’t want to hear the obligatory pity parade. I didn’t want anypony’s sympathy. I just... wanted to hold off on that stuff until I took measure of the destruction with my own two eyes. My legs moved of their own accord, pulling me forward into the smoking ruin. No pony followed me, or tried to stop me. Not even Stacks.
I held my breath and closed my eyes tight as I crossed through a cloud of smoke and into my living room. Curiously, my eyes stopped stinging. I opened them and realized that there actually wasn’t a cloud of smoke, just a veil of one billowing around the outer edges of my home.
The mayor was on her haunches in the middle of the room, drinking shots from a green bottle. I didn’t say anything at first, but eventually I spoke up. I immediately avoided asking her any of the more pressing questions that I had. It seemed too soon, whatever that means. “What’s that? Gin?”
“Nice.” she downed another shot, then poured herself some more.
“You’ve always been a stupid, stupid foal.” she told me, choking up every once while out of intoxication. “But never have you surprised me like this. Following a mare you don’t even know that well into the Everfree Forest because she sent you a love letter?” she let out a series of hearty laughs, to which I smiled awkwardly.
“You missed your appointment with death, Sun Spot. You were supposed to be here.”
“I was?” I surveyed the nigh-total destruction of my home. The sofa was ripped to shreds, the mirrors were all cracked, the bookcase in the corner was knocked over, and the books themselves were nothing more than ash-covered husks.
The coffee table seemed to be alright, aside from the puddle of tears and booze the mayor left on it.
“I’m kind of glad that I wasn’t, to be honest. Though, if you were trying to kill me, you could’ve just said so.”
“You’re still as ignorant as ever, Sun Spot.” She managed without slurring. I commended her internally for being able to hold her liquor, for an aging mare that is.
“If you know so much, why don’t you just enlighten me?”
“What does it matter? My plan to blow you up failed, Rarity’s plan failed, and now they’re going to come after us. After you. ”
“There was a bomb here? Was that what was in the package that you gave to Derpy? And, wait, you and Rarity were in on things? And who’s they? Why are they after me? Why were you after me?”
“Ugh...” she teetered forward and collapsed onto the coffee table. It held, surprisingly. “No more questions. They give me headaches when I’m drunk.”
She paused, considered the shot glass in her hands, and threw it casually to the side, favoring the bottle itself. She lifted it up with her hooves and teeth to take another swig. Her poison of choice was nearing its end. “If I’m going to start explaining everything, you’ve got to believe what I say. Every word, without question.”
“You’ve got to promise me that you’ll believe what I say.” She looked me straight in the eye, lucid and alert. I was taken aback, but composed myself to respond.
“Sure, I guess.”
“Not good enough!” she said, slamming a hoof onto the coffee table. I saw tiny fractures in the glass spread out from the point of impact like a spiderweb stretching out in all directions.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. She was heavily intoxicated, emotional, and responsible for the state my house was in. In my indecision, I decided to take something out of Stacks’ playbook and just roll with it. “I promise.”
“Good. Good...” she nursed the rest of what had to be her fifth or sixth drink before tossing that into the crater too.
“Let’s start at the beginning then.”
The mayor was looking up into the sky, watching as the sun hovered overhead, signaling the approach of noon. The explosion that destroyed my home went off a few hours ago, early in the morning. I’d only been discharged thirty minutes ago when I heard the news about my house. Had I not burned some time packing my equipment, and sampling a few of my finer wines with Stacks, I would’ve been a dead pony.
I took a second look at the damage around me as the mayor gathered her thoughts. My pictures were all missing. Somepony had torn down and taken them all. Why anypony would want them was beyond me. I didn’t have any family pictures beyond the few that I kept of my father and my mother, and they were both dead. The only other pictures were of me and Stacks on our various road trips.
We like taking time out of the year to make the rounds in all of the best vacation spots and famous Equestrian cities. This year’s first trip had been to Manehattan. I took Stacks to a score of private museums. He took me to all the raves that DJ P0N-3 was working. He fell asleep during the museum tours and nearly dropped dead from exhaustion at the raves. As you can probably imagine, I spent more time dragging Stacks’ sorry hide across the city than I did anything else.
In the end, I did have a lot of fun. I can’t say that didn’t. But those were happier, simpler times that faded into memory. They felt like dreams, unreal yet vivid and working upon the mind an image of childlike innocence, free from guilt and responsibility.
The mayor waved me over and I complied, hoping to finally get some answers.
“Now, before we begin, you must come to understand the true nature of the universe. Instead of telling you, however, I will simply show you.” At that, the smoke drew inward. I panicked.
“What’s going on?” I yelled.
“Enlightenment,” she replied simply. Stacks said something outside, but it only came across as a jumbled, garbled mess. Time was slowing for everything outside of the house, if the smoke was any indication. I brought my front legs up to shield myself from the smoke cloud, only to feel myself get whisked away. The ground disappeared, and a sense of disorientation came over me. When I dropped my hooves, I was no longer in Ponyville, or Equestria for that matter. All around was a vast, infinite stretch of inky darkness, reminding of space, with its twinkling stars and its silent vacuum.
From my position somewhere near the core of the universe, I could see time and space stretch under the force of gravity. I watched stars implode, galaxies break apart, reality crack under the pressure. The universe tore itself to pieces right before my eyes in an apocalypse a billion times grander than anything my pathetic pony mind could imagine. The fires eventually cooled. The void consumed all light within it. An oppressive darkness reigned supreme.
Then, in the distance, a single spark breathed light back into the universe. Massive clouds rolled into view, and I realized what they were. They were stars, so distant that they looked like the tiniest of dust particles drifting aimlessly in the vacuum of space. More stars bloomed as the universe waxed. Planets formed and fell into line, allowing the creation of solar systems, which in turn allowed the formation of galaxies. The universe that I had originally come to had restored itself perfectly.
“Do you understand now?” The mayor was standing beside me, eyes glassing over the billions of stars around us.
“I’m not sure if I should even bother asking you where we are.”
“You know where we are. Besides, I'm sure you want to know how I brought you here.”
I was curious, sue me. “Okay. How?”
“Magic,” Of course, “And before you ask, yes, I can do magic.”
I took a moment to consider my next question. It had to be an obvious one, one that wasn’t ambiguous, and one that absolutely avoided the topic of magic. I don’t think I could have handled her explanation for her magic just yet. “What did I just see?”
“What anypony else would see.” I wasn’t very good at asking questions, apparently.
What I had seen was the end of the universe, but that couldn’t have been the answer. No, she wanted something a little deeper than that. To figure out her game, I backpedaled to the one question she had asked me.
Do you understand now?
Not really. Though, I probably wasn’t looking at this the right way. What I had seen was a universe die, then come back to life, but that wasn’t the right answer either. It’s not what I saw that mattered, only what I took from it.
“So, the universe’s destruction symbolizes death, and the spark of light symbolizes life?”
“Something like that, yes.”
That meant I was going in the right direction. “So... Something about life and death?”
She shook her head. “Sun Spot, life is cancerous. It grows upon itself in large, ugly tumors. It is inconsiderate and selfish. Life can be beautiful, but only when kept in check by death. Death is what prevents life from spiraling out of control. Death is the surgeon who cuts away the malignant growths that sprout from life’s recklessness. Death is eager with its blade, however. Life must always grow enough to sate death’s need to cull, lest it decide to cut into virgin flesh in search of tumors.”
“What it means is that order is maintained so long as life and death do not try to overcome one another. Order is the key to our universe.”
“Order is born through the balance of life and death?”
“Exactly.” she told me, nodding.
“What does that mean anyway?”
“It means that if there is an imbalance, if the scales are tipped in either direction, the universe will end. Life will end. Death will end. Then, the process will begin anew. Life has not, cannot, and will not be permanently extinguished. The souls of those not yet born will demand existence, their own chance at life. Denying them that right is impossible.” She explained as we delved deeper into the universe
Now she lost me. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“The scales are being tipped.”
I froze in fear. The hairs on my neck stood on end as I tried to wrap my head around the implications of her words. She’d said that if the scales tipped, the universe would end. That was cause for fear. Not regular pansy fear, like the fear I held for surprises, but real, apocalyptic fear. “H-how?”
“Think about it. What single event do you think could’ve caused the scales to tip over in either direction.”
I tried, but nothing came to mind. “I don’t know.”
“Oh come now, Sun Spot. It’s the whole reason you’ve been sitting underneath the stars, working with that silly little telescope of yours.”
The revelation hit me like a ton of bricks. Red and green ones, to be precise. “Nightmare Moon...” I said, the words breathless and empty. The vacuum of space seemed to have that effect on me. I felt tired, drained. What I was learning was something far heavier than I’d intended.
“Yes. Good.” I couldn’t see her, but I knew that she was satisfied with my progress. I was finally beginning to understand.
“Nightmare Moon, she only moved the stars. Right? That couldn’t have possibly-”
Her laughs sent chills down my spine. “Did you really think that your little planet was the only world with life on it? As the stars shift, the garden worlds of the universe die. They're being consumed by a fiery, irradiated Armageddon or are being left to freeze in the absence of their stars’ heat. ”
“Not all the stars have shifted.”
“True, but it’s only a matter of time.”
“Wait,” I said, rubbing my head with my hooves, “we’ve got time until then. This is still fixable. I mean, if Luna, or Nightmare Moon, managed to move the stars, than she can move them back.”
The mayor looked at me expectantly. When I didn’t respond, couldn’t respond, she asked me, “Do you see why we tried to kill you? Why we had to kill you?”
It took me a while, but the connections started to form. The logical progression led me from one discovery to the next, until the picture on the puzzle that represented this ridiculously mind-numbing conspiracy made some sense.
“You... were trying to stop me from telling the Princesses because they can stop all of this. You actually want the universe to end.”
She seemed proud of me, like an enthusiastic parent pounding their hooves louder than everypony else at her son’s piano recital. I was horrified. “Why? You’ll die too if the universe ends.”
“Because, Sun Spot, I am not the mare you think you know. I’ve changed. I’ve Melded.”
“You’ll find out what that is soon enough.” The black void around us turned into the burnt out wreckage of my home. “Just know that the mayor and the Other are now one and the same.”
”Can’t you just tell me now?” I begged.
“We’re out of time.”
Stack ran into the room. I didn’t catch the first half of whatever sentence he’d been trying to form, but the other half came as clear as day. “...alright in here?”
“Hold that thought, Stacks,” I told him as he came to my side. I think he was worried that I’d done something to get myself hurt again. Was I truly that clumsy? Clumsy enough that I needed to be watched carefully? I didn’t ask.
“Mayor, I need answers.”
She gave me a pointed look. Stacks was not to hear what she had to say.
“You two should get going. It’s not safe to be out at night anymore.”
I nodded in agreement, but didn’t leave. I couldn’t leave the mayor to her fate. “They”, whoever they were, were coming after her. She’d die without my help, and I didn’t trust her to willingly keep herself safe. I couldn’t take her with me, either. Not after she had tried to kill me.
“Mayor, I really hope you can forgive me for this,” I said before swinging my right hoof at her as hard and as fast as I could. I connected a second later, and the mayor dropped like a rock. She didn’t move. Next to me, Stacks’ jaw hung open in shock.
“Sunny, what the hell did you just do?!”
It seemed pretty obvious to me. “I knocked the mayor out with one punch.”
“And why’d you do that?”
“Cmon, Stacks,” I pointed over to a spot near the back of the room, “Clear that rubble so I can bring her down to the cellar.”
“Dude, the mayor. You-”
“We don’t have time for this man. Just help me, and I’ll explain what I can later.”
He sucked his teeth. “I don’t like this, Sunny.”
“I don’t either, but it’s what we gotta do.” he nodded slowly, then went to work on the rubble while I checked the mayor’s pockets. The only interesting thing I found in there was a postcard from a pony named Ursa in Trottingham. It read, “Here’s to all your problems bleeding away.”
I stuffed it in Stacks’ mane as I carried the mayor’s body down into the cellar. He didn’t seem to notice.
I guessed that I’d been in Stacks’ bathroom for around thirty minutes when I began to regain the faculties of thought, but the only thing that I could think about was myself. I’d even forgotten why I came into the bathroom in the first place.
My dark steel coat, which I hadn’t groomed in days, felt unruly. My silver mane wasn’t much better either. It looked ugly and knotted, and its strands of hair spilled everywhere. This wasn’t the perfect head of bedmane. My eyes were definitely my saving grace. The two silver, glowing orbs were captivating, and would’ve made up for the mess I was in.
It’s been months since I’ve last seen myself in a mirror large enough to reflect my entire face. That’s because I have a problem with mirrors. I found out early on in my life that if I look into a mirror longer than a few moments, I become entranced by my own visage. It’s not out of arrogance, but more out of wonder and amazement. I find the sight my eyes, my muzzle, my ears, and my mane, strange and fascinating. It only takes a sideways glance into a mirror or into a glass of water or a pool, or even somepony’s eyes, to keep me transfixed for hours. Eye contact usually doesn’t last for more than a few seconds anyway, so that’s never a problem. The others are still very much a problem for me, however.
It’s for that reason that I live without mirrors. I’ve lived without them since I was a child. It’s a secret between me and Stacks that I keep out of embarrassment, though if you’re going to read my story, you might as well know something else about me.
My name is Sun Spot, and yet, I look nothing like a sun, or a spot. The name was fitting when I was a colt, but I outgrew it rather quickly. I was born with a virgin white coat and a dark red mane. My eyes danced across the infrared part of the light spectrum, never settling on an exact color. Over time, however, I changed. My white coat grayed and darkened while my eyes and mane turned silver. Of course, I’d been so used to my name that I couldn’t change it even if I wanted to.
The memories of my ultra-ironic childhood came flooding back one at a time, until Stacks started banging on the door. The noise tore my attention away from the mirror, freeing me from the compulsion to stare at myself.
“Bro, how much longer are you gonna clop in there?”
“I’ll be out in a second. Just wait for me downstairs. Okay?”
“Sure. You had better tell me what the heck is going on when you come out though.”
I turned the sink on and splashed some cold water on my face and ran some through my frazzled mane and coat. I felt a little better. The water would keep my hair down, and I’d at least look passable.
The desire to look presentable was a strange one, but one that I fulfilled quickly and, dare I say it, obsessively. I gave it no more thought beyond that.
I exited the bathroom and leaned over the second floor railing. The front door was open with no Stacks in sight. I assumed he left and decided to explore his house while I waited. His house isn’t exactly all that familiar to me. He stays at my house more often than not, so there usually isn’t a reason for me to be in his. Now that I was officially homeless I had the perfect opportunity to check out what Stacks was missing every time he ended up sleeping at my place.
His house reminded me of a casino, with beige walls and dark green floors. Around a short coffee table were four white lazycolts, each with a different symbol. The looked like the suits you’d find on playing cards. Stacks also had a few support beams in his house shaped like a stack of poker chips, same as his cutie mark.
I haven’t been here in years, though the last time I was here his house was a disorganized mess. His personal interests were all scattered around the house, and no effort was made to make the rooms they were in mesh well at all. There wasn’t a color scheme or an identifiable style to be found. Now it looked like he’d put effort into making his home look good.
My stomach rumbled. I hadn't eaten much over the past few days because of the disgusting food that they serve at the hospital. Its, frankly, awful. Its almost as bad as the baked bads I ate that one time. One more reason not to trust Pinkie Pie, I guess. “Time for a snack. Hope Stacks doesn’t mind me raiding his fridge.”
I was already half-way downstairs when a black, impish thing smashed through the window over on the far left. It flew into one of the suit chairs before dropping to the floor. It resembled a pony in many respects, with its four legs, long muzzle, and flowing mane, but it seemed... deformed, for lack of a better word. Its face was permanently etched in a smile, and its eyes were snow white. It had a row of spikes on its back that started at its neck and trailed all the way to its rump. It was a little shorter than me, maybe a little thinner too. I didn't have a clue as to what it was, why it was here, and where it came from. Curiosity beckoned me towards the body, if only for science's sake. Up close, it looked even weirder. Impish was definitely the best adjective to describe it.
Before I could touch it, I heard Stacks curse outside and rushed for the door to help him. I’d my hoof on the door when Stacks burst through it, a group of similar screaming imp things on him. We crashed into each other and ended up in one big pile of multi-colored hooves flying at each other. Stacks had no trouble lifting himself, and the rest of the things clinging to him, up. He promptly began making his dominance clear to the pseudo-ponies by swatting the ones with wings out of the air like flies, or by crushing the slow ones underneath him with his hooves.
“What are these things?” he yelled as he stomped brutally on one of the pony imps. It seemed to bleed normally, like any other animal.
“Monsters?” I offered quickly, ducking as a black pegasus swooped overhead. I lashed out with my hind legs before it moved out of range, and its wing snapped. It tumbled into the lamp behind me, knocking out the lights. We were now fighting in the dark.
I wasn’t affected much, but Stacks was. It was dim enough that their black little bodies became impossible to see. They seemed to recognize that too, because they swarmed him almost instantly, kicking him with their hooves or digging their horns and their spikes into his unprotected flanks.
“Sunny!” he yelped, disappearing underneath a pile of angry pony imps. More streamed into the house through the doors and windows to join the mob. Something had to be done.
I entered the fray, kicking the imps off of him and biting at anything that got within range. They didn’t stop. I could barely even see Stacks underneath the swarming mass of bloodthirsty pseudo-ponies. In my desperation, I started using my magic to push them away, but I wasn’t much of a magician and there were so many of them...
I didn’t notice when the lights came back on, but I did notice when it got bright enough that I was forced to squint my eyes. The imps were running away from me. Something must have scared them off.
“The light,” I whispered aloud, “they must not like being under too much light.”
“It’s your eyes, bro. They’re acting real trippy.”
“My eyes? Really?” With a little concentration, I could make the light filtering through my eyes dim or brighten. I set it low enough to see things normally again. Did I cast a spell on my eyes to make them glow brighter? I didn’t even know any spells like that, but magic was the only logical explanation at the time. “You okay Stacks?”
“I’m dying.” he groaned, pointing at his side. He had a good number of cuts and bruises, flesh wounds really. Nothing too serious; nothing that couldn’t be healed with time and magic.
“I sincerely doubt that, Stacks.”
“You sure? It sure feels like I’m dying.”
“You’ll feel better when we get to the hospital.” I tried to help him up, but he pushed me away.
“Hell no! The Doc’ll kill me if I show up like this.”
I deadpanned, “Hang on. You think that Doctor Redheart is going to kill you for making her do the one job she’s paid to do?”
“Yes,” he answered, after a second of thought.
I was exhausted from everything I’d endured today. Losing my house, punching the mayor, and fighting these imps had worn me out to the point where I just didn’t have the energy to argue with him over something stupid like this, so I let Stacks have his way.
“Fine. Just tell me where you keep your first-aid kit.”
After I'd dealt with Stacks' refusal to sit still while I patted his wounds down with rubbing alcohol, I went to work dragging the four dead imps we'd killed outside and cleaning up the blood. I couldn't help but feel guilty at dragging my bro into the life-threatening conspiracy working against me. He didn't deserve it, really.
I started explaining everything that the mayor had told me while I worked, just to bring Stacks up to speed on all that I'd learned. Stacks kept his face scrunched up in concentration the entire time, trying to connect the dots in his head.
"Let me get this straight," Stacks started as he helped me mop the floor of imp blood before it stained anything. "the mayor told you that the universe is going to blow up into itty bitty pieces if we don't put the stars back into place? And you believed all of that only a minute after learning that she tried to blow your house sky high with you in it?"
"Sunny, you're an idiot."
He held up a hoof to silence me, "And apparently this is all a part of a conspiracy to kill you because if Rarity and the mayor and whoever the buck else don't, you'll tell our amazing goddesses so they can put a stop to it with a wave of their hooves and a twinkle of their horns," he stopped mopping for a moment, then threw one of his own hooves into the air while making ridiculous "poof" sounds.
I felt ridiculous myself, in part because Stacks was kind of right about the whole "conspiracy" thing, and because Stacks was making a fool of himself in the middle of his blood-stained floor. He was acting like a two year old, and had anypony been there I would've felt like a fool just by association.
"Stacks, you've gotta admit that it does make some sense."
"I don't have to admit a thing because it doesn't make any sense in the first place. If it did, we wouldn't be having this conversation bro."
I wanted to say something in my defence, but I didn't have anything to defend myself with. Stacks was right, it was ridiculous. There was no denying that anymore.
And yet I wanted to believe the mayor.
"But what about the mayor and Rarity? How do you explain the way they've been acting? Out of all the ponies in Ponyville, they have to be at the bottom of my 'Not to be Bucked With' list."
"The mayor hated you because you wouldn't move out of your butt-ugly house. She probably lost it at some point and decided to blow you and your house to hell," He shrugged. "and I guess Rarity was just a psychopath hiding in tacky dresses."
I couldn't stop shaking my head in disbelief. "No, Stacks. Rarity isn't a psychopath. Whoever that pony was, it wasn't Rarity. It couldn't have been her. Rarity's sweet and gentle, she wouldn't do something like this. Not to me, and definitely not to anypony else. I mean, she's one of the Elements of Harmony for Celestia's sake! An Element of Harmony just can't be possible of doing something so... terrible." I was trying to make Stacks understand, but he couldn't. He wouldn't.
"Listen, Sunny, I know you're hurting right now. You just lost your house and your crush tried to kill you, I get it. You're trying to rationalize all the crazy stuff that's happening in your life. The mayor fed you a load of manure about some apocalypse that ties in with your life and your research and you're holding on to it because it seems like the only explanation for why everything's so bucked up, but you've got to believe me when I say that it's all a lie, Sunny. She's lying to you. I didn't hear Rarity apologizing for slicing you six ways to Sunday, not even when the guards came two days ago to take her to Canterlot. She was psychotic, and you're going to have to accept that."
"But... what about those things that attacked you?"
"Just monsters from the Everfree Forest looking for easy prey. I had the bad luck of being outside while they were hunting."
"They looked like ponies."
"Does it matter what they looked like? They were monsters, and they probably came from where all the other monsters come from: the Everfree Forest"
I was more than a little skeptical, "The Everfree Forest isn't exactly right next to your house."
"Like I said, bad luck."
"There's no such thing. They were coming after us Stacks."
"Listen to yourself bro. You're saying things that the Sun Spot I know wouldn't say. The Sun Spot
I know isn't some paranoid freak with a bunch of conspiracy theories running around his head. Can't you see what you're doing to yourself, what you're letting yourself become?"
His words were battling with the mayor's in my head. Stacks was my best bro; there was no need to fear any sort of decpetion from him. The mayor, on the other hand, was completely untrustworthy. Common sense dictated that listening to her would only lead me to ruin.
A voice, coming from within me and from the outside world at the same time, argued the opposite. The mayor was right. Every word was true. There was a warning somewhere in there too, that if I didn't truly believe, that if I hesitated to do what needed to be done to save the world from total armageddon, then we were all doomed. I needed to believe.
"Stacks, I can't... I can't let this go. If there's even the slightest chance that this whole universal apocalypse thing is true, then I've got to stop it."
"Sunny, I'm telling you bro, you just had a little bad luck."
"There's no such thing!" I grunted in frustration. I wasn't getting across to him, and it showed. The conversation was going in circles, and I didn't see a way to convince Stacks to just listen to me.
"Stacks, I'm going to level with you. You're right. None of this makes sense, but I don't think we have the full picture yet. There are too many coincidences, too many factors to consider. We don't really know who's after me, or if anypony's after me. We don't know if these imps actually came from the Everfree Forest. We don't know what Melding is or how it happens. We don't know if the universe really is going to blow up, but, you know, the least we could do is find out. I will find out, with or without your help, though I'd really appreciate your help. You said it yourself, we’re best bros and bros are supposed to help bros."
"Okay, fine," Score! "but when we find proof that this whole thing is just the fantasy of a drunk, overworked, homicidal beauracrat-"
"You can say 'I told you so' as long and as much as you want," I assured him. He sort of half-smiled before turning to the small pile of imp corpses outside. They were decomposing faster than I'd expected. Whatever these things were, they weren't normal, though normal was starting to become a relatively rare sight these days.
"If we're gonna go any farther down the rabbit hole, we might as well figure out what these monster-pony-things are,"
I agreed, "Twilight probably has a book or something we can use. And I guess I should ask her about the postcard too."
"I checked the mayor's pockets before we locked her in my wine cellar. She had a postcard from a pony named Ursa. I thought it might be useful."
He raised one of his eyebrows quizzically. "Let me see it."
"It's in your mane. Here, let me get it," He turned around to give me access to his thick, green locks. I ruffled through them for a few seconds, but nothing came out. It was gone.
"Damn! They must've taken it."
"Who took what now?"
"The imps. They took the postcard during the fight."
"Imps? What imps?"
"You know, the monsters."
"We're calling them imps now?"
"I'm calling them imps, I don't know what you're calling them."
"I thought they looked more like gremlins or gremlocks."
We were getting off track, as usual. We would've spent hours arguing about the
subtleties behind the names we'd chosen for the monsters than get anything productive done had I not forced the conversation back on track. "Stupid and unimaginative monster names aside, we should get to Twilight's place before those things come back. We've wasted a lot of time already, and I'm not sure your place is safe anymore," an added bonus I left out was that she had one of my spare telescopes, which meant I could continue my work without further interruption.
Our understanding of the events surrounding us was bare bones at best. The impending apocalypse started with Nightmare Moon's shifting of the stars. I'd need to learn more about the shifts if I wanted to know anything about the happenings in Ponyville.
Stacks tossed his mop to the floor. "Alright. Let me just grab a few things before we go."
It didn't take him long to put together a sack of the worldly possessions he held the most dear along with the saddlebags holding my research. We were at his front door a minute later, but Stacks didn't seem ready to leave yet. His eyes were fastened on the dead imps.
"Stacks?" he didn't look at me.
"Yeah, I forgot to do something."
"Well hurry up."
He disappeared into the house, then came back outside holding a mechanical lighter in his mouth. I took it from him, knowing that he wouldn't be able to operate it without magic.
"Let them know who they’re dealing with," he ordered blankly. I didn’t question him on it.
The imps looked even more alien and monstrous while on fire, their smiling faces glowing and melting from within the flames. I don't usually have nightmares, but I went to sleep with that image haunting my dreams for years after.
We didn't encounter anything on the way to Twilight's house, which set Stacks on edge. I thought he'd be happy that our so called "luck" was improving. He wasn't.
"Luck doesn't work that way, Sunny. There are always false starts that trick you into thinking your luck's changed when, in reality, the only thing that's happened is nothing."
I grinned, "Luck is stupid."
He couldn't help but smile too, "Your face is stupid."
"Yeah? Well, your mother's a..." whatever amazing comeback I had left me as soon as I saw Twilight's door knocked clean off its hinges and in pieces on her floor.
"I know man, just get inside!"
We rushed into the library, one after the other, but found no Twilight. Instead, there were overturned bookcases, their contents scattered around the room haphazardly. Shattered lamps, shredded paper, and broken quills filled the spaces where the books didn't. The destruction was so widespread that I couldn't trace where it finished and where it began.
I heard a muffled groan come from somewhere in the kitchen. Stacks gave me a nod and went to go check it out. He came back a half a minute later with a half-frozen Spike in tow. I rushed over immediately to check his pulse. It was dishearteningly weak.
"I found him tied up in the fridge. Looks like he's been in there for a while."
“His name’s Spike. He’s Twilight’s assistant.” I said, invoking a spell of telekenesis to lift Spike off of Stacks' back and into Twilight's bed. I put my magic to work on the sheets afterwards, wrapping them around him until he was in a cozy little ball on the bed.
“He’s fine, I think. He’s got hypothermia, but it doesn’t seem to be too serious.”
“Kid’s pretty tough for such a small dragon.” Stacks remarked passingly. I nodded in agreement.
"You should start boiling up a pot of tea. It'll help him warm up when he comes to."
"Cool, but before I do that, you might wanna take a look in the kitchen. There's something you need to see."
Something described the scene perfectly. There was a dead pegasus imp lying on the kitchen counter, its eyes torn out and its nose shredded to pieces. I placed a hoof on its neck. Its body was already cooling.
"I’m not sure how long it’s been, maybe a few hours since this imp died. That puts it before the attack on our house. Why’d they come here, Stacks? What was Twilight to them?"
"I don't know, Sunny."
"Unless..." the connection between me and Twilight was obvious enough. "Unless they knew Twilight was working with me on my research."
"Now you're just grasping at straws. There's no way that a bunch of gremlins-"
"Imps," I corrected. Stacks rolled his eyes.
"-or imps could've known that you and Twilight were working together on this. Hell, I'm not sure anybody aside from me and Spike knew about this."
"And yet here we are. Two attacks on the same night by the same creatures? There has to be something more going on."
"Maybe, but we don’t know for sure. Lets wait for Spike to wake up so he can tell us what went down in here.”
Stacks retreated into the kitchen, leaving me with the task of watching over Twilight’s little dragon helper. I didn’t know him well. He was usually asleep whenever I came around, and we never talked aside from the “Hi, how are you?” whenever our paths crossed during the day. A prayer of protection and of healing escaped my lips, clumsy in form but all the more sincere. I prayed for Spike to awaken soon, for the safety of my friends, and for the safety of anypony else who might have suffered because of me.
The next few minutes went on in relative silence, the only noise in the library coming from the kettle downstairs.
I didn’t like the idea of waiting around in Twilight’s library, but what else could we do? Nothing, that’s what. How many others had the imps attacked? How many more ponies were dragged off into the night by a swarm of smiling, chattering monsters? If they were willing to attack Twilight, the most powerful unicorn in Ponyville, and Stacks, who could’ve given Big Mac a run for his money in terms of strength and size, then no pony was safe from their nighttime raids.
If the imps were going to go around town at night and do this, then I needed to tell somepony. But who was I supposed to tell? The mayor was still locked in my wine cellar and Twilight had been taken by the imps. There wasn’t anypony else left who would listen to
I could try telling Twilight’s friends, they’d believe me if I told them their friend was in danger. Applejack was absolutely out of the question though, considering she was probably still furious over the whole incident in the Everfree Forest and the subsequent brawl with Stacks in the hospital. Rainbow Dash seemed like a good choice, what with her brash, headstrong nature. She might’ve believed me if it meant helping Twilight, but Rainbow Dash lived up in the clouds. I didn’t have wings, and levitation would only get me so far, so she was out. Pinkie Pie was... not an option. Like, at all. Ever.
Then, of course, Rarity was locked up in Canterlot and I didn’t have a clue who Fluttershy was beyond the base description of shy and yellow.
“Looks me and Stacks are on our own,” I murmured aloud. It wasn’t as bad as it sounded, really. It’s always been just Stacks and me running around, doing whatever it is two ponies like us do, and it wouldn’t have bothered me if things just stayed that way.
“I don’t know if we can do this all by ourselves. I mean, this is the end of the universe we’re talking about here, and I’ve still got to finish... my...” I cursed myself for forgetting about my spare telescope.
Twilight usually kept it and its tripod in a long box downstairs, but I couldn’t see it amongst all the clutter. I scanned my eyes over the mess of books again and again but found nothing. Then, I began to see the chaos in Twilight’s home for what it really was. The imps had been looking for something. Namely, my telescope.
They didn’t strike me as particularly smart creatures. They had to be getting marching orders, and who else to hand them out than the ponies working with not-Rarity and the mayor? Whoever these ponies were, they were smart, and they knew things about me that few others did.
Still, the fact that the imps weren’t very smart worked in my favor. I knew where Twilight kept her own telescope. Hers wasn’t quite as big as mine, but it’d allow me to keep on working. That’s all that mattered.
I magicked it from underneath her bed, then levitated it to the balcony on the second floor. The stars twinkled their welcome tiredly.
“It has been a long night, hasn’t it?” I asked them quietly. They concurred, mute as ever in the vacuum of space.
I guessed I had around another minute before the tea was ready, so I decided to make the rounds. The stars were still right where I’d left them, with Lyra taking up position on my right and Pegasus hiding beneath it in the distance. Leo and Leo Minor both lied somewhere over on the center left, and, just above it, was Ursa Major.
“Where’s Ursa Minor?” I questioned as I magically swiveled the telescope around. Draco was a little off, but otherwise in place. Cepheus looked like it was trying to reform itself but failing, and Camelopardalis was moving south at a steady pace. No, Ursa Minor was gone. An entire section of the sky had disappeared since my last stargaze. I glared accusingly at its neighbors, but they didn’t crack under my gaze.
“That’s... just not possible! How?” the stars did not answer me. They twinkled like innocent little angels above, unwilling to reveal the knowledge that I so desperately craved. Before I even had the chance to delve deeper into the mystery of the vanishing constellation, I heard Stacks call me down for tea.
We stood by Spike as he slept, sipping tea and speaking in hushed tones.
“Why isn’t he awake yet?”
“You got an appointment or something that I don’t know about?” he chuckled, taking another sip of his tea through a large purple straw. “Just relax bro. He’ll come back to the land of the living when he’s ready.”
“We aren’t exactly safe here, Stacks.”
“Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.”
“That’s not even close to being true.”
“Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not,” he replied, still confident in his assessment of the situation. “It fits.”
“Well the longer we wait, the farther Twilight gets from us.”
“We’ll get her, don’t you worry about that.”
His confidence was gnawing at me, “What makes you so damn sure?”
“I just know. Faith, Sunny. You gotta have a little faith. ”
I do not “freak out” on a regular basis, even though it seems like I do within the confines of these pages. Before I was swept up in this whole apocalyptic mess, I did relatively normal things. I’d have a few drinks with Stacks over at Pasty’s bar whenever I felt like my liver could take it, or I’d enjoy a quiet night at home, reading a book by candlelight. Sometimes I’d head out into the fields outside of Ponyville and stargaze from one of the gentle, rolling hills where a lonely shepherd might take his flock during the day.
I can relate to shepherds. I too am alone, tending to a flock that cannot speak to me the way I can speak to them. The stars are sheep, moreover they are my sheep. I may not be able to guide them, nurture them, and protect them the way a real shepherd might, but they are my responsibility regardless.
Few other ponies ever receive cutie marks related to the stars. Those who do often choose to enter fields that make full use of their talents without forcing them to work in the celestial hemisphere above.
These ponies believe that Equestria has no need for astronomers or astrophysicists or cosmologists because the goddesses who rule over us have control it already. Why learn something that only a deity can control? I have no problem with these ponies, though I do find myself yearning for a community of colleagues to share my findings with.
I have beef with those who sell out and become astrologists. Astrology is a stupid, useless field that can hardly be called science. Those who believe in astrology, or even believe that it can be used for anything, are equally as stupid and as useless. I don’t see how anyone can believe that the stars allow one to divine one’s cutie mark or tell one’s personality. Stacks believes in astrology, but only ironically. At least, that’s what I assume. He’s never showed an interest in astrology until I told him how much I despised it.
Stacks enjoys watching me “flip my shit”. Apparently I’m funny when I’m bugging out, especially when its for no reason. But I’m not so sure he enjoyed my bugging out in his particular instance.
Stacks and I had nodded off sometime during the night. I awoke just a few hours later, shrieking so loudly that it sent Stacks tumbling over in fright.
I blinked. “Wha?”
“That was totally uncool bro,” he said, huffing and puffing as he lifted himself from the floor. I’d actually scared him half to death without even trying. I was too scared myself to feel any pride in the accomplishment.
“Jeez, I’m sorry Stacks. I was just having a nightmare, I think.”
“Well don’t cry about it, Sunny.”
“I’m not crying you ass. I’m being remorseful.”
“Coulda fooled me.”
I held my tongue. There really was no winning with this guy. I went for Twilight’s closet to see if she had an extra cot or two, only to stop short when Spike moaned something incoherent. It looked like he was stirring from his cold-induced slumber.
“Thirsty,” he moaned again, his words a lot clearer this time around.
“What’d he say?”
“He’s thirsty, Stacks. Pour him some of that tea.”
“Uh, there’s just a slight problem with that,” he said, nervously rubbing the back of his neck.
I swiveled around to meet his gaze. “You didn’t.”
“Stacks, you dolt! That tea was for Spike.”
He reeled back, taking actual offence at my words. “Hey, I was thirsty first! And I made the damn tea in the first place.”
I couldn’t believe that he was trying to justify his tea-greed. I skipped the inevitable lecture on common courtesy in favor of just yelling at him. “For Celestia’s sake, get him a glass of water, Stacks!”
“... I don’t know about you, but my momma taught me to say please when asking people to do things.” he huffed. Stacks threw his hooves over the railing, landing on the pile of books below with a muffled thump.
I wanted to say something to him, preferably something about his raging stupidity, but I couldn’t. I was exhausted. I hadn’t eaten in a while, and the little sleep I had gotten had been interrupted by a terrible nightmare; one that I didn’t want to revisit any time soon.
“Sunny?” I turned around. Spike, lost and disoriented, was trying to untangle himself from the sheets I’d so carefully wrapped around him.
“Yeah, just relax, ” I said, gently pushing him back into the bed, “You need to rest up kid. You need to give your body a chance to heat up and rest, especially since you’re cold-blooded and all.”
“I feel so numb.”
“Everything’s gonna be alright, Spike. Just relax and wait for Stacks to bring you some water. Stacks! Where’s that water?”
I heard him curse. A window shattered, something alien squealed. The sound of a struggle carried over the sound my hooves clopping loudly against the staircase. By the time I’d gotten to the kitchen, it was all over. Stacks had already wrestled the lone pegasus imp to the ground.
One of its wings had been injured when it presumably smashed through the window, but that didn’t stop it from trying to escape.
An owl perched itself on the window sill, watching us with a sort of wizened curiosity that I found charming almost instantly. Stacks’ expression, in contrast, was grim and intensely focused. Despite his size and strength, the imp refused to stop resisting, even for a moment.
“Ask that thing where it came from.”
“Who?” the owl added.
“Not who, little owl, but where.” I addressed the imp again, questioning it in a calm, even voice. “Where did you come from?”
I was unprepared for the snorts and giggles that escaped its toothless maw. By the looks of him, even Stacks must have been caught off guard. The imp pressed this opening by resuming its frantic bucking, but Stacks forced it back down with a grunt.
“I don’t think this thing can talk.”
“You’re probably right, Stacks. Still, good try?”
“Yeah, I guess,” he sighed. ”Should I... you know?”
“No. Let it go.”
“You sure? I can end this thing right now, won’t even take me more than a second.”
“Nah, man. Just let it go. We’re not from the Everfree Forest, so lets not act like we are.” By acting, I meant commiting random acts of
“Tch, whatever.” he grabbed it across its midsection and manhandled it. The imp scampered off, giggling and yelping even after it had disappeared from view.
“First things first, we can’t stay here a minute longer than we already have. That imp came back, and I’m pretty sure that it’s going to have friends next time we see it. Second, we need to figure out where Twilight is. Third, we’ve gotta head to Canterlot. Ponyville’s shown that it’s not a safe place to be right now, so our best bet is to get Princess Celestia’s protection.”
“Ugh, do we have to?”
“Yes, Stacks, we do. I’m not willing to bet on your strength and my eyes to keep us safe from harm when we don’t even know anything about the ponies coming after us. We need protection.”
“If that’s what’s gonna keep you sleeping at night, then fine. But that princess of yours had better not expect me to bend over every time she crosses the hall. I’m not going to degrade myself like that. I’ve got standards.”
“Dude, stop kidding around. This is serious.”
“What? Do you think my standards are some kinda sick joke to you?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point. We seriously need to get out of here. Doctor Redheart can take care of Spike while we head for Canterlot.” I left the kitchen at a brisk trot and walked back up the stairs. Stacks followed, but at a more relaxed pace. There was no rush, really. I was just worried about Spike.
“Oh man, definitely. But, uh, what should we do about Twilight? Isn’t she still missing?”
“I’ve been thinking about that, actually. I don’t know if we can help her. If we stay here, we’re dead, and we’re no good to anypony dead. Our best bet is to get to Canterlot and tell Celestia everything we know so she can send the guards after Twilight.”
“No!” Spike tried to lift himself, visibly straining every muscle he could actively control. All he managed to do was roll himself out of bed. He crashed to the floor with nothing more than a thud.
“Dammit Spike, you have to rest until you’re better.”
“Not them! You can’t.” he begged.
“I can’t what?”
“You can’t tell them.”
I didn’t know what to say at first. Was he talking about the ponies coming after Stacks and me? He couldn’t have known. “Tell who?”
He licked his dry, cracked lips, but they did not moisten. “Water?” he croaked. Stacks was already halfway downstairs when I turned to ask him about getting Spike a glass of water.
We left Twilight’s house a few minutes later, eager to get somewhere safe. Spike was sitting comfortably on Stacks’ back while he recounted everything that had happened before we came to the library.
Spike had awoken to the sound of somepony rapping their hooves against the door. There had been a squad of guards outside, waiting for Twilight to open it up. As she approached the door, her horn was enveloped in harmless, yet foreboding black flames.
Ordinary unicorns aren’t usually taught the relatively simple spell that allows one to detect dark magic, but Twilight is no ordinary unicorn. She’s the Princess’ apprentice, after all. As with all spells, however, it must be invoked. Spike made it sound like it was some sort of automatic reaction. There is a precedent of spells activating by themselves, like that time Stacks joined the crowd of ponies trying to get Twilight’s extra ticket to the Grand Galloping Gala. Twilight later told me that she’d escaped the mob of ponies when her magic whisked her away with a fortuitous teleportation spell, all because she’d wished that she was someplace else and not being mauled to death by a crowd of ticket-hungry ponies. It made sense that she’d be able to “sense” the presence of dark magic at work.
The guards remained outside, demanding that she open her door, but Twilight didn’t move. Then monsters, the imps that Stacks and I had fought, smashed through the door and poured in through the windows, wreaking all kinds of havoc in Twilight’s library. The imps locked Spike in the fridge while the guards dragged her outside. The last thing Spike remembered hearing was a screech, some laughing, then the sound of even more glass being shattered.
There was something wrong with his story though. The imps weren’t subtle or quiet by any means. Twilight’s neighbors had to have heard the imps destroying everything in sight. And yet, they didn’t do a thing to help her.
Flower Wishes’ death came to mind almost immediately. Talking with Stacks about her became more of a priority now.
As Spike finished his story, Stacks’ frustration finally
“This entire thing is now officially insane. Like, certifiably. Legitimately, even.”
“But its true! All of it is,” Spike protested. He looked to me for support. It was hard to deny him when he was staring me down with those big, emerald eyes. .
“Well, Stacks, it’s certainly plausible. And given the trend of-”
“Aw, Sunny, don’t feed me that load of manure. I know exactly how plausible the story is.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“This conspiracy is insane.”
“What’s so insane about having members of the royal guard kidnap Twilight? I mean, we didn’t originally know how far up this thing went, and now we do. If the royal guard are involved, then it goes far enough that we should be afraid. Very afraid. ”
“I know. That’s what I meant. Like, how are we supposed to go up against the guards anyway? There are literally hundreds of guard ponies and only two of us. And that’s without even counting the imps.”
“So you admit they’re imps then?”
He opened his mouth, then closed it, unsure of what to say. I smiled in success.
“What? Imp got your tongue, bro?”
“Probably. But in all seriousness, what are we supposed to do about all the chumps coming after us?”
“I’m not sure yet. Let’s drop off Spike before we talk about it.”
“Wait, I’m not coming with you guys?”
“‘Fraid not, Spike. You’re not one-hundred percent yet, and Stacks and I can move faster on our own. Besides, I’m sure Twilight wouldn’t appreciate us putting you in danger.”
“But, I thought we were gonna save Twilight together!”
I shrugged. “Them’s the breaks, kid.”
It only took us a few minutes to get to Doctor Redheart’s place, minutes that Spike spent trying to convince me to let him come with us.
Stacks knocked on her door while I waited at a bench some distance away. Redheart appeared at the entrance of her home just a few moments later looking very annoyed with him, most likely because he’d shown up at her house in the middle of the night holding a dragon and wearing one of the smarmiest looking grins I’d ever seen. Stacks wasted no time diving right into an explanation which sounded like what was surely the biggest pile of horseshit ever.
I expected the doctor to wail on him, but she didn’t. Instead, she allowed him to enter her home. Stacks didn’t even leave until twenty minutes later. His stupid-looking grin was still there, edges stretching from ear to ear. He looked genuinely happy.
“The Hell happened to you?” I asked. He shrugged.
“I just had an amazing conversation with an equally amazing mare.”
“... Was it a conversation, or a ‘conversation’?” I asked, using my hooves to make air quotes. He frowned at my insinuation.
“No, dude, we just talked.”
“Yes. Just talked.”
“I gotta say Stacks, I’m impressed. I didn’t think you could talk to a mare without acting like some kind of rampant douche.”
“Well, even if I was a douche, which I’m not, at least I can talk to chicks without almost getting murdered. Also, when was the last time you got laid, Sunny? Right, never. I forgot.”
Just another victory for Stacks, I guess. “Whatever bro. Lets just go.”
“Alright, but where to?”
“My place. I need to have a little chat with the mayor ”
I was surprised when we managed to get to the mound of debris that was home without going another round with the imps. A sense of foreboding permeated the air, so much so that I could taste it when I licked my lips. It tasted like cheese.
Something was bound to happen to us. After all, we were pushing the boundaries of our “luck” by coming to meet the mayor.
Stacks opened up the cellar doors while I focused on making my eyes glow brighter. I led the way inside, my eyes lighting up the path ahead like a pair of flashlights.
My wine cellar is grand, definitely the largest in Ponyville and eclipsed only by the collections that the gentry in Canterlot own. When my father drew up the plans for the house, he made sure to include the construction of the cellar for two reasons. One, was a wine connoisseur and enjoyed opening a bottle whenever he was in the company of good friends. Two, he built it to act as a safe-room should anything particularly disastrous occur in Ponyville. The heavy cellar doors could be bolted shut from the inside, and a pair of thick glass doors could be sealed off to protect the collection from fires, floods, and anything in between.
The glass doors had automatically sealed themselves when the house exploded, and I hadn’t bothered to unseal them with the appropriate spell when I brought the mayor down here. And yet, here I was, looking through the open doors at my sizable wine collection.
“The doors can only be opened by the one who enchanted them in the first place. I had the doors automatically seal themselves. They should have only opened when I commanded them to. The mayor shouldn’t have been able to open them.”
“Well, they’re open. We might as well go in and ask her.”
It didn’t take us very long to find her. She was sitting on the floor, a wine bottle cradled in her arms like a baby. She whispered endless sweet nothings to the dark-tinted bottle as we approached, taking time to nuzzle its neck and plant gentle kisses across its body.
I looked on, speechless.
Stacks managed to ask what I couldn’t. “Uh, mayor? Are you... feeling okay?”
She lifted the bottle to her mouth and chugged down what remained inside. “Mmm... 987 C.R. A good year.”
“Yeah. She’s fine,” I said, relieved that the mayor hadn’t fallen off the deep end. “I was actualy hoping that you could answer some questions.”
“You knocked me out, then locked me down here with no food or water.”
I cringed. “You’re making out to be a lot worse than what it is.”
“Yeah, Sunny. You did knock her flat on her back with that punch.”
“You’re not helping Stacks.”
“Enough. Ask your questions, then let me go.”
A fair trade. She’d give me information in exchange for her freedom. It was a win-win situation. “Sounds good.”
She stared pointedly at Stacks. “Oh, right. Stacks. Can you wait outside for a minute? ”
“Yeah bro. Sorry.”
He left the cellar without much fuss, thought it was obvious that he felt hurt. I consoled myself with the fact that the things I’d learn were worth the damage to his pride. “Alright mayor, first question: Why don’t you want Stacks here?”
“That’s a stupid first question Sun Spot. The reason why I don’t want him here is because he’s a skeptic and you’re a believer. I don’t need to hear him stating the obvious every two seconds like the obnoxious foal he is. A mare can only take so much before she loses it.”
“Uh, okay. Next question: Melding, what is it?”
“Now that, is a good question.” She drawled, rubbing the empty wine bottle in her hooves affectionately. “If you must know, Melding is the process by which one spirit fuses with another.”
“Sort of like possession, right?”
“Not quite. Possession is where one spirit seizes control of a body by overpowering the spirit already present within. Melding is entirely voluntary.”
“The mayor chose to Meld?”
“In one of her many alcohol-induced stupors, yes. She was miserable. Her job demanded much of her time. The duties that came with her position, they drove her to drink. She dreamed of returning to her youth, of going back to a time not consumed by the stress that came from her work. The Other promised her this. She was asked by The Other to signal her agreement by sealing away something dear to her while chanting something in The Other’s tongue.”
“What’d she seal?”
“I wouldn’t know. Most mortals choose to seal away their possession of choice by burying it, locking it in a safe, or throwing it into the sea. After the melding process, you ‘conveniently’ forget how, where, and what you sealed. The Others usually do that to prevent their Melds from breaking apart again.”
“So if I find what the mayor sealed away I could split her and whoever The Other is from each other.”
She nodded. “Yes. All it is one look at the item in question for the process to reverse itself completely. Of course, no one is the same after a Meld. Some things are left behind, others are replaced. ”
I kept that in mind. Turning Mayor Mare and Rarity back to normal was on my growing “Save The World” to-do list. The challenge was in finding the items that they had sealed, then hoping that they came back to us relatively normal and not murderous in any way.
A pony could dream.
“I’ve a few more questions, mayor. I sort of ‘found’ a postcard addressed to you after you uh... took a nap. It was from a pony named Ursa over in Trottingham. It said, ‘Here’s to all your problems bleeding away.’, or something along those lines. A few hours after I took the postcard, I looked up into the sky and the constellation Ursa Minor was gone. I’ve got a feeling you know what happened to it.”
“I didn’t hear a question anywhere in there.”
“Do you know what happened to that constellation?”
“I’m surprised you don’t. You of all ponies should know what Ursas are.”
“You mean the bear-like creatures that live in the Everfree Forest? Of course I know what they are. What astronomer doesn’t know about the Star-crafters?” I asked rhetorically.
Star-Crafters is a name for Ursas that few ponies The first discovery of the Star-Crafters came before my time by an astronomer and cosmologist far greater than I. Her name was Midnight Berry, though she let me call her Midberry whenever I visited her in... Trottingham.
“Midnight Berry, is she-”
“Gone? Dead? In significant danger? No, but she may be if my peers have anything to say about it.”
It was a simple answer, but it didn’t feel so simple to me at the time. Midnight Berry was my friend, my mentor. She had, along with my father and Stacks, actively shaped me to be the pony that I am today. She was the mother that I never got to have. The mayor seemed like she didn’t care.
“How can you say that like its nothing out of the ordinary? This is a living breathing pony we’re talking about here.”
“I can precisely because its nothing out of the ordinary for me, Sun Spot. What surprises me is that you think I enjoy this. I find no pleasure in dividing my time between balancing the town checkbook and plotting the deaths of the relatively innocent.”
She looked at me as though it was obvious. “There are no innocents. Just varying degrees of guilt. And though you’re no saint, Sun Spot, I didn’t want to kill you.”
“Then why’d you blow up my house?”
“Because I had to. The Other left me with a need to carry my assigned task through to its bitter and bloody end. I couldn’t help myself. The urge to kill you is hard to resist, and it gets harder every time I see you. That, and I was told that if I didn’t kill you, my life would be considered forfeit.”
Sheepish? Was that Mayor Meryl Mare acting sheepish? “I’d rather not say. Its probably for the best if you figure that out by yourself.”
She was giving me the benefit of a doubt. Did I really want to find out who or why?
“I’m going to find out anyway. You might as well tell me.”
“No, that’s life. You’d do well to remember that.” The mayor adjusted her glasses with a yawn. She was tired. I guess I was tired too.
“One last question, mayor. Where’s Twilight?”
“Why, with the Ursas of course.”