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Herd 01

By Hawkeye
Created: 18th December 2020 04:14:13 PM

  1. >Princess Celestia levitates the chocks from the giant gilded turbine, and nods to her sister.
  2. >An azure aura envelopes the lever and pulls, sending a pair of motors whirring to life.
  3. >With a groan, the floodgates open and water pours once more over the pristine stone of the canal, rushing forward to push the turbine into motion.
  4. >Passing through the golden blades, the water falls to its familiar pool a thousand feet below.
  5. >The bursts of flashbulbs and queries of journalists were commonplace for the Princesses, so you simply stand, content, to the side.
  6. >"Mister Anonymous?" A voice squeaks beside you.
  7. >Looking down, a familiar white unicorn filly stands there with a microphone, her cameracolt barely big enough to hold his equipment.
  8. "Well hi, Sweetie Belle, what are you doing here?"
  9. >"Um, Pipsqueak and I are here from the Foal Free Press in Ponyville and wanted to ask you a couple of questions."
  10. >Normally you avoided such exchanges, but...
  11. >The project was finished.
  12. >You are feeling pretty good.
  13. >They're kids, what's the harm?
  14. "Okay, shoot." you grin.
  15. >You swear the filly's smile is ear to ear as the two mini-ponies push a chair beside you for her to stand on.
  16. >"Mister Anonymous, How hard was this project compared to your other elec-elet-your other lightning power projects?"
  17. "Well Canterlot is very unique because of the way it sits on this mountain, so I'd say it was a fair bit more complex."
  18. >"Is it true that Princess Sparkle has asked you to look at the Ponyville Dam to maybe put in something like this?"
  19. "Where did you...? Uh, yeah. That's true, Princess Sparkle has asked me to look into it."
  20. >"Wow, so we could be getting lightning power in Ponyville!?"
  21. "Well, even if we don't use the dam, we'll probably have Ponyville hooked up next year sometime."
  22. >"Okay, one last question Mister Anonymous. What's your next big project?"
  23. "I don't have one. I've made my bits, I've worked non-stop for over five years now, I think I'm just going to find a nice quiet town and retire."
  24. >"Well Ponyville is nice and quiet! You should come visit! Thanks Anonymous!"
  25. "No problem." you wave as they disappear into the crowd.
  26. >Ponyville, huh?
  27.  
  28. >The next morning you're reading an article on the Canterlot Works when an anxious knocking breaks your reverie.
  29. >That urgent desperation means only one pony.
  30. >A pony who valued knowledge almost as much as she valued friendship.
  31. >You wonder which has brought her here today.
  32. >Opening the door, you are greeted by Princess Twilight Sparkle herself.
  33. >You let her in and as soon as you've turned from the door she's hovering in your face.
  34. >Anonymous! Explain yourself!" she demands, shoving a newspaper into your chest.
  35. >Unfolding the paper, you take a seat on your couch as Twilight paces in front of you.
  36. >It's from the Foal Free Press, must be the article that Sweetie interviewed you for.
  37. >...
  38. >This is really accurate.
  39. >It's also impressive yet off-putting how much info a bunch of foals gathered on the pros and cons of a hydroelectric dam in Ponyville.
  40. "What's the big deal Twi? Those foals are more straight-forward than the Canterlot Press." you yawn. "I might just give interviews with them more often. That's good honest reporting, right there."
  41. >"Honest? But they made it seem like you were going to really retire! As in done working! Done creating! They even doctored your interview, look!"
  42. "Where did you get that projector?"
  43. >"Shush."
  44. >The tape rolls, and you watch a slightly remastered version of your interview.
  45. >Nothing seems off.
  46. "Nothing seems off to me. I said what I said." you shrug.
  47. >"B-but, the Ponyville Dam?"
  48. "Absolutely still on the table."
  49. >"What about all the other things we talked about? The Apploosan Irrigation problem? The underground trains for Manehattan? Redesigning Baltimare's Harbor?"
  50. "Twilight." you say flatly "Look at me."
  51. >Rising, you gesture first to yourself, then to a picture on a nearby wall.
  52. "I caught a glimpse of a photo of us and the other Princesses when I first arrived here the other day. You know the difference?" you ask.
  53. >She shakes her head.
  54. "I am visibly exhausted."
  55. >"B-but... Anon?" she starts, her ears laying back against her head.
  56. "I don't eat right because I don't have the time and energy to cook anymore. I lose hours and hours of sleep agonizing over project hang-ups. This?" you say, holding up a glass "Is as much alcohol as it is orange juice."
  57. >Downing the glass, you continue.
  58. "I used to drink with friends, just another part of a fun night out. Now I drink to help me sleep, to help me shrug-off the day, hell it's the only way I can relax anymore...I am acutely aware that I am dependent on it."
  59. >The look the purple princess is giving you right now could break Pinkie Pie's heart.
  60. "Twilight, look. I just need a break, okay? A vacation, a sabbatical, whatever. I need some down time."
  61. >"And...when you feel better... then you'll want to work again?" she asks, a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
  62. "Yes Twilight. When I'm back to my old self I'll start working on something. I don't know what, but I know that the old itch will be back." you smile.
  63. >"Okay Anon. Everyone needs a rest now and then. And I have just the place!"
  64. "What? No, I'm  just going to stay here-"
  65. >"Ponyville! You're coming to Ponyville with me." she declares. "It's quiet, it's peaceful, it's perfect. You'll love it."
  66. "I really should have seen this coming."
  67. >"Yup!"
  68.  
  69. >The stars gleam overhead as you trot into the courtyard.
  70. >Celestia and Cadence are already there, and greet you as you arrive.
  71. >Moments later Luna arrives.
  72. >"Why is it that you have called us all here tonight?" she asks.
  73. >You admire her straight-forward desire to get to work.
  74. "We have a problem. Anonymous was serious about retiring, at least for a while."
  75. >"But Shining was really looking forward to working on the Crystal Railroad expansion with him! What am I going to tell him!?"
  76. >"Cadenza, please." Celestia chides. "You said at least for a while? Is it possible we might change his mind?"
  77. "He said he wanted to get back to his old self... he seems to feel he has deteriorated. He referenced this picture." you explain, brandishing your own copy of said picture. "For reference, this is him last month at a press conference."
  78. >It is easy to read the others' expressions as the pictures float around.
  79. >Shock.
  80. >Anon was right, he's paler, bags hang under eyes that once showed only laughter, and his shoulders sag with the weight of the work you've all put on him.
  81. >It's his fault really.
  82. >If he wasn't such a brilliant engineer this all wouldn't have happened.
  83. >If only you weren't a princess... you'd make it all better for him.
  84. >Oh yes...
  85. >"He looks so tired." Celestia remarks
  86. .>"We truly have taken him for granted." Luna agrees.
  87. >Their remarks sail past you as you try to figure out a nagging at the back of your mind.
  88. >Cadence interrupts your introspection.
  89. >"Does he live alone?"
  90. "Yes, why?"
  91. >"Does he have a house?"
  92. "No, just his apartment."
  93. >"What's it like?" she continues.
  94.  "A living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and a second bedroom he uses as a home office. I don't think he uses it all that much. He does have some pictures of him with us, or the other elements. I guess that's about it? Why?"
  95. >"Don't you think it's a little strange that someone who fussed over the aesthetics of the blades of Canterlot's turbines would leave his own home devoid of life?"
  96. >"Cadence, I do not follow. Please, speak plainly." Luna states.
  97. >"I think Anon isn't just tired. I think he's lonely." she replies.
  98. >"Hmmmm" Celestia hums. "A predicament indeed."
  99. >Silence reigns as the four of you ponder solutions in silence.
  100. >An idea suddenly comes crashing through your mind.
  101. "I've got it!" you cry out. "It's so simple!"
  102. >The others stare at you, which you take as an invitation to continue.
  103. "When Anon first got here, I ran all sorts of tests on him. While I didn't test for it specifically, my results were thorough enough to conclude that Anon would be an excellent Herd Stallion. I even pinned down an ideal number of mares for him. I think it was seven, or something else really high. So all we have to do now-"
  104. >"Is find a way to make him agree." Celestia grins. "No easy task, I'm afraid."
  105. >"Don't be so sure, Auntie." Cadence says slowly. "He is wealthy and has orchestrated great works for the crown... what if we invoked Pecunious Stallion Herding?"
  106. "What?"
  107. >"Tis an old law, Twilight Sparkle, but one I am not surprised Cadence is familiar with. It states that stallions of wealth and high regard are to maintain herds both as a symbol of social status and -more practically- as a support structure."
  108. >"And a support structure is exactly what Anonymous needs. Perhaps if he had had one this wouldn't have happened." Celestia adds.
  109. >A thought gnaws at you inside that everypony here might have let Anon down, but that feeling is drowned out by the prospect of an incoming Friendship Lesson.
  110. "I am taking him to Ponyville. It's quiet there, peaceful. Away from the city. Perhaps while he's there we could-"
  111. >"Yes. I agree." Cadence cuts in. "We should take this as an opportunity to put mares in his path that he'll learn to love unconditionally."
  112. "Well, yes but-"
  113. >"Ah, build the herd for him, without him realizing it? How conniving, Cadence."
  114. >"No." Celestia states firmly. "Anonymous should know what is going on. We all remember how he reacted when things got beyond his control last time. We shall tell him that, by law, he must build a herd. From there, he can handle the situation as he sees fit."
  115. >With a nod, Celestia comes to some further conclusion.
  116. >"Twilight will deliver the news after she confirms the ideal number for his herd, which is how many mares he must claim."
  117. "Me?"
  118. >"Who better than the Princess of Friendship?" Celestia smiles warmly. "After all, you're the one taking him to Ponyville."
  119.  
  120. "Why are we here, Twilight?"
  121. >"Oh, um, well you see... We Princesses had a discussion, and..."
  122. "Twilight."
  123. >"Yes, Anon?"
  124. "Just tell me whatever it is. We're friends, nothing to be nervous about."
  125. >"It's just that, I uh..."
  126. "Okay, let's start at the beginning. Who all was at the meeting?"
  127. >"Me, Cadence, Luna and Celestia."
  128. "Who called the meeting?"
  129. >"I did."
  130. "What did you want to talk about?"
  131. >"...you."
  132. >It takes all of your will power not to facepalm.
  133. "Oookay. What about me?"
  134. >"Your retirement, and all the things we talked about yesterday."
  135. "You mean how I'm worn out and want a nice, quiet, uneventful rest?"
  136. >"Yes." she nods meekly.
  137. "Why do I get the feeling that I am not going to get a nice, quiet, uneventful rest?"
  138. >"Because the other princesses invoked *mumble*mumble*"
  139. "What?"
  140. >Twilight takes a deep breath and steels herself.
  141. >"Because Cadence suggested we use Pecunious Stallion Herding Law to coerce you into building a herd that would support you and love you and help you not to get burned out when we push you too far on your really cool project ideas and I'm really sorry I tried to stop them but they wouldn't listen and Celestia decided this was a good idea and she's the Princess so I couldn't possibly disagree with her-"
  142. "Whoa whoa whoa. Okay, I get it. I don't know what you mean by herding, but I get the gist of the rest of it."
  143. >Twilight heaves a sigh of relief before giving you a quizzical look.
  144. >"You don't know what herding means?"
  145. "Nope. Should I?"
  146. >"It's really quite straightforward Anon. You build a herd."
  147. ...
  148. >"Of Mares."
  149. ...
  150. >"Who you love. And who will love you."
  151. "Why on earth would I do that?"
  152. >"From what you've told me, you wouldn't on Earth. But you're in Equestria, and it's quite commonplace here. Just look at how many mares there are, and how few stallions there are. Even stallions of minor status often have a second mare."
  153. "Uh-huh. And how many mares do you expect me marry?"
  154. >"You don't have to marry any if you don't want to, or marry all of them. They're your mares either way, it is just about whether you want a ceremony or not."
  155. "You're avoiding my question."
  156. >"No I'm not."
  157. "How many, Twilight?"
  158. >....
  159. ...
  160. >"Seven."
  161. "SEVEN!?"
  162. >"Maybe eight. At least seven, though."
  163. >These ponies.
  164. >They always had the best of intentions, but sometimes...
  165. >Extracting your face from your palm, you look up at Twilight.
  166. "I just wanted a nice, quiet, uneventful rest, Twilight."
  167. >The purple princess refuses to meet your gaze.
  168. >Twilight is your friend, you know she won't be too much trouble. The other princesses, however, could prove meddlesome if they don't see any progress.
  169. >Best take control of the situation now.
  170. >And by take control, you mean delegate.
  171. "Okay Twilight, here's how this is going to work." you say, leaning back in your chair and closing your eyes. Focusing, you recall as much as you can about Ponyville. "I am going to rent a house for a few months, not enough rooms for the entire herd to stay in, but enough that I can host multiple overnight guests if necessary."
  172. >Opening one eye, you see Twilight scribbling notes down furiously. With a smile, you close your eye and return to your train of thought.
  173. "I am going to proceed to relax. I will do whatever I would normally do. Read, hike, spend time with friends, hash out fleeting ideas, you get the picture. I am going to leave it entirely up to you and your friends, but preferably not the other princesses, to figure your mess out."
  174. >"What?"
  175. "You created this mess. I am going to take my vacation. Surely the Princess of Friendship and the Elements of Harmony are capable of finding the right pony and putting her in the right place for us to coincidentally meet?"
  176. >"Well, I mean-"
  177. "It's only seven mares after all." you grin, rising from your seat. "Now where's this carriage we're taking?"
  178. >Twilight just groans in response.
  179.  
  180. >You are Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship and Element of Magic.
  181. >And you bucked up seriously.
  182. >Your plan to spend time alone with Anon by whisking him away to Ponyville was foiled by your own Sister-in-Law.
  183. >And, as always, you got carried away in the thrill of the plan and accidentally made things worse.
  184. >Damnit Sparkle, get it together!
  185. >You're a Princess, for buck's sake!
  186. >With Anon asleep in his room, you sit with the girls in your council chamber.
  187. >Rarity had finally arrived, so you could get this meeting started.
  188. "Okay girls, so we have a situation."
  189. >"Alright! I've been itching for some action!" Rainbow shouts. "Should I get my bags?"
  190. "Rainbow, please sit down. And no, you don't need your bags. This isn't that kind of situation."
  191. >"Well what in tarnation are we all here for if ya don't need us to save 'questria?"
  192. "I sort of..." you drift off, then regroup "Well you see-"
  193. >"Out with it, Twi!" Applejack snorts, stamping a hoof.
  194. "I accidentally suggested Anon build a herd."
  195. >Rarity looks at you with a puzzled expression. "Why in Equestria would you do that, darling?"
  196. "It came up in a meeting about his planned retirement. Princess Cadence commented on how he must be lonely, and well, things got a little out of hoof."
  197. >"Well, and please feel free to tell me if I'm wrong, but can't he just...not?" Fluttershy offers.
  198. >The others nod in agreement, and you grimace.
  199. "Normally, yes. But since he's a stallion of status, and since we're dealing with my rather clever counterparts in the castle...no. They've invoked an old law and well, he can't refuse."
  200. >The others stare at you, not comprehending what exactly you're saying.
  201. >Rarity recovers first.
  202. >"So Twilight, you're telling us that you somehow have managed to force poor Anonymous into building a herd, when my darling little sister tells me he really just planned a little leave of absence?"
  203. >You hang your head and nod.
  204. >"Twi, you are one of the smartest ponies I know. But that idea was a few apples short of a bushel."
  205. "Girls, please, I know. I screwed up, but I really need your help."
  206. >"I have no idea what's going on, but I'm always ready to help my friends!"
  207. "Thanks, Pinkie." you smile. "So we all know that Anon is very clever, and his response- yes, I have already told him- was to basically shove all the work off on me."
  208. >"Doesn't he, um, remember when we told him about the incident with the- the doll?" Fluttershy asks.
  209. >You wince at the memory.
  210. >Never going to live that one down, it seems.
  211. "That's why I'm asking you for help. Actually, he suggested it, but it is a good idea. I know with your help, we can absolutely do this." you explain. "He is going to take his vacation here. Tomorrow he's going to go look for a house to rent, and he'll be here until he feels his 'spark' again, probably a few months. If I can manage it, I'll make the Ponyville Dam his first project when he's back, so that'll buy us even more time."
  212. >"I still don't know why we're here. This doesn't sound very awesome, just kind of boring and mushy."
  213. >"Rainbow Dash, hush." Rarity scolds."So while he's here we are going to try to set him up? Play a little matchmaker, hmm?"
  214. "Exactly. But you all know Anon, he'll probably avoid any outright blind dates."
  215. >"Oh, well, I don't know that I'll be much help..." Fluttershy mumbles. "Things with us didn't exactly go well."
  216. "Oh hush, Fluttershy. I am sure Anon doesn't hold any of that against you. It was an honest accident." Rarity assures her.
  217. >"Aw yeah, I smell a recon mission!" Dash smiles. "I'll take a few days off to tail him once he has his place."
  218. >"You're just tryin' to skip work" Applejack snorts.
  219. >Rainbow merely shrugs.
  220. >"Okay. I'm going to try a more social approach. But since I'm helping him settle in, that'll be easy. The rest of you girls start thinking about who you think he might work well with, and we'll meet back here next week. Okay?"
  221. >They all nod in agreement, and the meeting breaks up.
  222. >Whew, first task complete.
  223.  
  224. >Strolling through Ponyville, you can't help but reminisce about your first year in this world.
  225. >The wild Pinkie Parties
  226. >Late nights spent trying to recapture human ideas with Twi.
  227. >Autumn was painted brightly on the trees, maybe you could jump in on some Hoofball with Rainbow and AJ.
  228. >Man, some of the other teams really hated her that year.
  229. >The animals would be getting ready for the first snow, Fluttershy would probably love some help.
  230. >You never did get that squash soup recipe from her.
  231. >And you couldn't forget Rarity.
  232. >The only pony who really /got/ you when you first arrived.
  233. >Sure, Twilight adored your vision and the new science you brought to this world.
  234. >But she had a hard time holding a conversation without it turning back to one of those things.
  235. >No, Rarity was the pony you turned to when you just needed a friend to talk to.
  236. >...is it cheating if you talk to her about this whole Herd thing?
  237. >You know that she's supposed to be helping Twilight...but she's still one of your closest friends.
  238. >She's the only one you wrote letters to.
  239. >Of course, she's also the only one who you figured would read and respond to letters.
  240. >A hearty laugh escapes you as you try to imagine Dash writing a letter.
  241. "Dear Anon, I am so awesome and I wanted to remind you. Signed, the future captain of the wonderbolts."
  242. >"Anon? Who are you talking to?"
  243. >Looking over, Twilight is at your side.
  244. "Just talking to myself, Twi. What are you up to today?"
  245. >"Well, I knew you were looking for a place today, so I thought I'd tag along!"
  246. >You raise a brow and turn to her.
  247. "You know you don't have to do that, Twilight. I'm a grown man, I can do this myself."
  248. >"Oh I know. But won't it be more fun with a friend?"
  249. "Fair enough." you nod, tousling her mane "Just leave the interior design to Rarity, okay? I want a house, not a lab or a library."
  250. >"Hay! I've done a much better job with my palace!"
  251. "You know Rarity and I kept in touch, right?"
  252. >"Just because I asked for some advice doesn't mean I didn't do a better job." she huffs.
  253. "I guess that's true." you shrug, pulling open the door to a realtor's office. "Hello?"
  254. >"Ah, Mister Anonymous! And Princess Sparkle, always a pleasure." The brown pony at the desk says, standing to greet you. "My name is Gablegait, but you can call me Gabe."
  255. "Excellent to meet you, Gabe. I'll be spending the next several months here and need a home."
  256. >"Well, rentals are few in town, but if you're okay with a townhome I can-"
  257. "No, I need a single family place." You interrupt, perusing some listings tacked to the wall.
  258. >"Well, that does make things a bit tricky, but I might be able to find a seller willing to rent for a while..."
  259. >...
  260. >These prices man... way cheaper than Canterlot.
  261. >...it would send all the wrong signals...
  262. >...absolutely going to encourage her...
  263. >But it will probably be way easier that finding a seller who will rent.
  264. >Gabe is droning on about the arduous process ahead when you clear your throat, cutting him off.
  265. "You know what? If these prices are typical for the area, I can afford to buy." you say, indicating the listings on the wall. "I'm used to Canterlot real estate, this is much more affordable."
  266. >"Oh! Yes, you'll find Ponyville much cheaper than Canterlot. Still no interest in having one built?" he asks hopefully.
  267. "None. I want something older, with character. If possible, with room for expansion. Like an old farmhouse on a large plot of land."
  268. >"Okay, I get the idea, Mister Anonymous. How many bedrooms are you looking at?"
  269. "Many."
  270. >"Three or four?"
  271. >"...or five or seven..." Twilight mutters. Gabe cocks his head at her.
  272. "Hush. I am going to need quite a few in time. But for now, let's say a Master plus five would be ideal, but four to seven is the rough range."
  273. >"Oh my, quite the plans you must have, Mister Anonymous."
  274. >You groan internally while throwing a glance at Twilight, who has the good grace to look a bit apologetic.
  275. "Yes... I suppose I do. Is there anything you can think of that might fit the bill?"
  276. >"Oh yes, several, Mr. Anonymous." the stallion pulls a large binder out of a drawer and drops it on the desk with a resounding 'thud'.
  277. >He shuffles through the many pages, occasionally pulling a few out.
  278. >When he's finished, he puts the papers in his saddlebags and dons them.
  279. >"We can walk to several of these. I'll call a carriage to take us to the last three." he says.
  280. "Sure. It's gorgeous outside, why not."
  281. >Gabe leads the way, and you follow him out, holding the door for Twilight.
  282.  
  283. "So Twilight, how goes the research?" you ask idly.
  284. >"Oh, it's great Anon! It's basically all devoted to trying to recreate the calculators you talked about. I think I'm really getting somewhere!"
  285. "That's great Twilight. Maybe someday I'll see a computer again."
  286. >"Absolutely, Anon! This is just the beginning! Together we're going to get so much done!"
  287. "Right after my nice, quiet, uneventful rest, right Twilight?"
  288. >"Er, right. Of course. I'm sorry again, Anonymous. I really didn't mean for this to happen."
  289. "Things have a way of working out." you reply, waving a dismissive hand. "Anyways, it isn't really my problem anymore is it?"
  290. >Twilight winces at your words.
  291. "Sorry, that came out a bit harsher than I meant. It's just how I'm dealing with the situation, reminding myself that I don't have to worry about it." you say, turning to smile down at her "I have the utmost faith in you and the girls."
  292. >"Thanks, Anon." she smiles back.  "We won't let you down."
  293.  
  294. >You quickly dismissed all of the homes in town.
  295. >Gabe was correct in finding large homes, all with character, but none had room to expand.
  296. >And expansion would be essential with seven mares.
  297. >You are currently touring an old farmhouse.
  298. >In a quieter area a few blocks out of town, it used to belong to Carrot Top's grandparents.
  299. >But as the town encroached, the family moved farther out, closer to their fields.
  300. >It was obvious by the layout that numerous expansions had already been tacked on.
  301. >But it was nice, it had a cozy feel to it.
  302. >You weren't sure where you would put your studio, but that was a detail for later.
  303. "Gabe, I really like this place." you decide. "Let's put this down as the first potential candidate."
  304. >"Of course! I'm glad we finally found something for you!" he beams.
  305. >"We should still see the other listings." Twilight interjects.
  306. "Of course. There may be something better just up the road!" you agree.
  307.  
  308. >As you ride by carriage away from the next place (Very similar to the last one. Cheaper, but in disrepair. Too much work was needed. You swore off projects while you were on vacation) Gabe pipes up.
  309. >"Anon, can you tell me what exactly you liked about the first farmhouse? Maybe I can find something more easily that way."
  310. "Oh, sure. I guess I've been awfully quiet." you nod. "So it had character. You could see by the layout how more bedrooms and a new kitchen had been built onto the original house. It reminded me of the farm some of my, well, to be honest I don't remember how we were related, but let's say cousins owned."
  311. >"You never mentioned them before. Did you not see them often?" Twilight asks.
  312. "Just once a year. The full extended family got together out there for a big reunion every Fall." you muse. "The kids would all get a free pumpkin from the farmers to carve for Halloween."
  313. >Gabe looks at you, confused.
  314. >"Halloween is the human version of Nightmare Night." Twilight explains proudly.
  315. "Sure is. Maybe that's why I liked that place so much. Could be that the season is just making me nostalgic for those family get-togethers!" you laugh.
  316. >Gabe smiles and nods.
  317. >"Anything else? Anything you didn't like?"
  318. "It's got a lot of rooms, and looks like it could be pretty easily expanded and renovated as needed. But nothing really struck me as my office." you admit. "I'm just waiting for a room that really pops. Just hits me and screams 'this is where I will draw up plans for the Ponyville dam' or 'I can already feel the itch to redesign Baltimare's harbor' you know?"
  319. >"Hmmm, your work is important to you, yes?"
  320. "It's become a part of me, yes." You reply. "Even if I need to get away from it once in a while."
  321. >"It seems all great ponies are like that. So you hope to work from home? Be closer to your family even in the middle of a big project?"
  322. "Yeah. I always was a family man. My situation just got a little, complicated." you explain. "I was the only human here, and that species barrier is... well, it's not been easy to get past. Plus I'm always buried over my head in some royal project or another...I've just never had the time."
  323. >"A family is a big responsibility." Gabe nods sagely. "But it is obvious you've put a lot of thought into this. I am sure you will do fine."
  324. >The carriage stops and Gabe hops out.
  325. >Before you stands a home that is half Georgian-manor and half haunted house.
  326. >The red brick and white trim meld seamlessly with the bright colors of the fall foliage, and it is obviously a home of considerable size.
  327. >However, that trim is faded and peeling, a few shutters hang loosely from their anchors (or are missing entirely) and when the grass peeks out from under the fallen leaves it nearly reaches your knees.
  328. >"This one needs a bit of work, but I assure you, it should meet all other requirements."
  329. >With a groan, you follow Gabe into the house.
  330. >"Anon, I know you don't want a project house, so why even bother?" Twilight objects.
  331. >You look ahead at the enthusiastic realtor opening the door up ahead.
  332. "I can see the positives already, even though I'm aware that it has a lot of negatives." you say slowly. "I am willing to trust Gabe enough to take a look inside."
  333. >"There's a perfectly available plot of land just a block away from the castle, why not just build a home there?" she asks. "You'd have more control, and probably put in as much work as you will in this old place."
  334. "I suppose." you concede. "We'll see how much work actually needs to be done."
  335. >Gabe waves you excitedly over and leads the way inside.
  336. >"The Haymaker Estate belonged to one of Ponyville's first families. They arrived with the Apples, you know." Gabe explains as you admire the spacious entry hall. "The old Hayseed built it when his children moved out and scattered to settle new lands. Sold most of the farm so him and his wife could live here comfortably when he retired."
  337. "The floor is worn to hell." you remark dryly. "And the lamps are old oil lamps still."
  338. >"Come Anonymous, let me show you the rest of the house." Gabe smiles.
  339. >Begrudgingly, you follow him on the tour.
  340. >Eight bedrooms and four bathrooms line a long hall to the right of the staircase.
  341. >So that each of the Old Hayseed's children could visit simultaneously, Gabe explained.
  342. >Three doors lay to the left.
  343. "This is one hell of a bedroom." you muse, stepping into a room easily three times the size of the others.
  344. >"Too bad about the bathroom." Twilight adds, scrunching her face at not just an out of date, but a falling apart bathroom.
  345. "It was a nice tile job when it was new." you counter, picking up a fallen tile from the floor. "You'd pay a lot of money for this kind of craftsmanship in Canterlot."
  346. >Back downstairs, the rooms are largely unassigned living areas. The kitchen is an outdated galley style monstrosity, but the dining room is elegantly designed, offering great views of the river and Ponyville beyond.
  347. >Lifting an old moving sheet that was left behind, you get a glimpse of what the wood floors used to look like, and crouching down, you give the worn out wood a fair appraisal.
  348. >A massive stone fireplace adds real character to a cavernous common room. As does some truly awful wallpaper in several other rooms throughout the home.
  349. >Ugh, you really hated the prospect of such an endeavor, but the home certainly had a lot of character, and more than enough space.
  350. "Okay Gabe, I get the idea. The place is huge, I've seen enough."
  351. >"One last room, my friend." he smiles knowingly. "I think you'll really like this."
  352. >You nod and follow, being led back upstairs.
  353. "So Gabe, this place needs a ton of work. I hope the price is manageable."
  354. >"Oh, it's the same as the Stoney Home downtown."
  355. >"That home was in pristine condition and located right on Market Street in Ponyville." Twilight scowls.
  356. >"Yes, but this has three more bedrooms, two more rooms downstairs-"
  357. >"And is falling apart!"
  358. >"Let's let Mr. Anonymous make the decision, Princess." Gabe replies cooly, pushing open the door to the final room.
  359. >As big as the Master bedroom across the hall, the spacious room has floor to ceiling windows on two sides like the Dining Room, and its own private second-floor porch.
  360. >Natural light flows in through the windows, and you can't help but step quickly to the door and out onto the deck.
  361. >The railing is rotting, and the boards underneath you show considerable wear from years of exposure, but the view of the river and Ponyville, wreathed in Autumn colors, was breathtaking.
  362. >As Twilight prattles on about how impractical the location is, you spot an old stone boathouse next to a collapsed dock on the river, and a few hearty gourds hold out in the overgrown garden across the back lawn.
  363. >A few minutes later, you find yourself standing inside again, still staring out at the river, paperwork for the place in hand.
  364. "The Haymaker's will be most pleased to hear someone with the bits to buy is interested. They haven't received a serious offer in a while." Gabe was saying.
  365. >Staring at the boathouse reminded you of the Riverfront in Austin, and the Lakeshore in Chicago and Milwaukee.
  366. >The Purple Princess is listing off many reasons the Haymakers hadn't received an offer in a long time.
  367. "Twi." you interrupt. "Make a note, that I need to talk to you about revitalizing Fillydelphia's Riverfront."
  368. >"What?"
  369. "Their Riverfront is a hodgepodge of docks built as needed, without any plan. It is hideous and disorganized and a wasted opportunity."
  370. >"Ummm, Anon?"
  371. "We could condense the commercial docks into a central location and turn the Riverfront there into a great place for ponies to congregate. Restaurants, boutiques, upscale bars, all watching the ships sail up and down the river."
  372. "But what about Manehattan-"
  373. "Throw in some parks, maybe a new band shell- their orchestra could play their summer concert series there!" you shout. "They've got that cellist I adore, you know, the soloist the Canterlot Orchestra brought in when they put on 'Gallopfrey's Night' last year?"
  374. >"Mr. Anonymous, are you ready to make an offer?"
  375. >Snapped back to reality, you remember Gabe is standing with you.
  376. "Oh, yes, about that. Can I take these home?" you ask, indicating the papers. "I need to write a few letters and do some research. Can I meet you back here in say- a week?"
  377. >"My office would be easier to get to." he grins.
  378. "Right. That." you nod sheepishly. "I want to get a few more opinions before I buy."
  379. >"I am glad you're so interested. Let's go so you can write those letters."
  380.  
  381. >The next day you spend reading, wandering Twilight's palace (you never really had the chance to see all of it), and you air mail a few letters to Canterlot.
  382. >A letter each to Celestia, Jim Beam and Walnut.
  383. >The next day you are sitting under a tree near the river reading their responses when someone calls your name.
  384. >Sitting up, you look around and spot a familiar white mare trotting towards you.
  385. >Setting down the letters, you straighten up against the tree as she sits next to you.
  386. >"Anonymous, predictable as always I see." she smiles.
  387. "You know me well." you nod, smiling back. "I don't see you over here too often. Unless you were looking for me?"
  388. >"Guilty as charged, darling. I was going to invite you over for Dinner, but alas, you were nowhere to be found."
  389. "So you looked in all of my favorite haunts."
  390. >"Precisely. And it certainly worked, didn't it?"
  391. "It did." you chuckle, gaze returning to the river. "It sure did."
  392. >The two of you sit in silence for a few minutes, watching a rowing team cruise down the river.
  393. >"You usually have a book with you, but I only spy a few letters."
  394. "Indeed."
  395. >"May I ask who you are writing, seeing that your beloved penpal is sitting beside you?"
  396. "It's unladylike to pry, m'dear."
  397. >"Well!" she huffs. "Very well, keep your secrets."
  398. "Relax, Rares." you laugh. "One is from Celestia, another from my foreman, and the third is from an expert Woodworker I know."
  399. >"Ah, yes. That makes sense. Twilight was over for tea yesterday and she told me all about the wreck you're so interested in."
  400. "Did she now?"
  401. >"She simply would not stop ranting about how illogical your thought process was."
  402. "Did she mention that it's a half mile outside of town?"
  403. >"Do you know, she did!"
  404. "And that it is in a state of disrepair?"
  405. >"Yes, I believe that came up."
  406. "Even though I didn't want a project?"
  407. >"Came up as often as the state of the building."
  408. "How about the absolutely dated decor?"
  409. >"Actually, I don't think she once mentioned how it looked." Rarity pauses. "No, she only described it in terms of repairs and such."
  410. "She never was one to appreciate aesthetics."
  411. >"Oh don't I know it!"
  412. "So she probably didn't mention the hand-inlayed floors then?"
  413. >"Really? Are they salvageable?"
  414. "That's one of the reasons I asked Wally to come out from Fillydelphia. He'll be able to tell me."
  415. >"What else did dear Twilight fail to tell me?"
  416. "You know what, I'm taking another tour of the place tomorrow morning. Are you free?"
  417. >"I will make it so that I am!" she squeals. "Oh the curiosity is simply killing me!"
  418. "Heh. I bet it is." you smirk. "Say Rarity, do you mind if I ask you something?"
  419. >"That depends, Anonymous. What do you want to know?"
  420. "It's about this whole herd thing-"
  421. >"Ah let me stop you there, darling." she interrupts. "Let's go back to my house, where we can discuss this in private."
  422. "I didn't think it was that big of a deal, I don't want to impose."
  423. >"Nonsense!" she cries with a flail of her hooves. "I wanted to invite you over for dinner anyways!"
  424. "Generosity be thy name." you sigh, rising from your seat.
  425. >After brushing yourself free of a few errant leaves, you follow the marshmallow mare to her abode.
  426.  
  427. >"And so, after I untangled Scootaloo of course, I sent the three of them off to bother Applejack while I reorganized my work room..."
  428. "Again."
  429. >"Again."
  430. "Ah, but they mean well." you laugh, relaxing against the couch. "You should push Sweetie towards journalism. I'm more inclined to give my interviews to her from now on than those rats in the Canterlot press."
  431. >"Shush-sh-sh-sh!" she pleads "Don't give them any ideas!"
  432. "What's the matter?" you ask, leaning closer to her as she sits down on the other end of the sofa.
  433. >"Well, you see darling, the Foal Free Press is rather... hit and miss with its reporting."
  434. >Your cocked eyebrow matches your piqued curiosity.
  435. "Go on."
  436. >"I know that they did a very good job reporting on the dam and interviewing you, but they have also misreported a few stories and embarrassed several ponies."
  437. "So they need a new editor. No big deal." you shrug.
  438. >"Indeed." she nods. "Now as for your herding questions, what did you want to know?"
  439. "Why?" you sigh bluntly. "Why do this? What signals did I give that indicated I in any way wanted this?"
  440. >Rarity fails to stifle a giggle.
  441. >"Oh Anon, you can be so dense sometimes! It isn't the signals you gave, it's the ones you didn't!"
  442. "What does that even mean?" you groan in exasperation.
  443. >This pony.
  444. >Always trying to be mysterious.
  445. >Mares.
  446. >"Oh don't give me that!" she chides playfully. "I'll explain. Do you remember the first month you were here?"
  447. "Vividly, why?"
  448. >"What did you do for that month?"
  449. "I spent most of it in the Treebrary, learning the language and getting used to Equestrian Life."
  450. >"And who did you see every day?"
  451. "Twilight."
  452. >"Anyone else?"
  453. "Spike."
  454. >"Very well, yes. Anyone else?"
  455. "Not daily, no."
  456. >"How about weekly?"
  457. "I'd usually see one of you guys at least once a week."
  458. >"One of us. Not a particular one of us, just one of the Elements who happened to make up the entirety of Twilight's social circle. And when did that all change?"
  459. ...
  460. "Pinkie."
  461. >"Yes, precisely. Pinkie Pie found out Twilight was leaving you home alone for three whole days. And how many of those days did she leave you home alone?"
  462. "None. I get it, ponies are social. Pinkie thought I was lonely because I spent all my time studying, even though I was just trying to get my bearings. You ponies and your herd mentality." you throw your arms in the air and laugh. "Ridiculous!"
  463. >"Oh hush, we were simply worried about you darling!"
  464. "I don't see how that reflects on my current situation though."
  465. >"Anon, dear, assume you found yourself in a work-eat-sleep routine, and you replaced Ponyville with Canterlot and the Element of Laughter with the Princess of Love. What do you think would happen?"
  466. "I really walked into this mess, didn't I, Rares?"
  467. >"You absolutely did, dear." she agrees. "Did you need to know anything else?"
  468. "How to foil this whole plan, in detailed step-by-step instructions, if you would be so kind."
  469. >"Oh stop being so melodramatic" she chastises you, rolling her eyes. "A little romance would do a kind heart like yours good."
  470. "Flattery will not warm my icy heart to this proposition."
  471. >"A kind heart, and an infuriatingly stubborn personality."
  472. "Touche, Squiggletail."
  473. >Swiping your face with said tail, she glares at you.
  474. >She hates that nickname.
  475. >"I hate that nickname!" she frowns.
  476. >Called it.
  477. "You're adorable when you're flustered." you say, stretching. "What are you cooking? It smells delicious!"
  478. "Just a simple Ratatouille, I feel it just fits cool Autumn nights perfectly."
  479. >Always with Prench culture.
  480. >She has a point though, a hearty stew just /feels/ like Fall.
  481. "Sounds good to me. I don't suppose your beverage policy has changed?"
  482. >"How such a cultured Gentlecolt as yourself drinks such swill is beyond me." she sniffs.
  483. "A place for everything, and everything in its place." you sagely reply. "If I'm not mistaken, the White Terror should be free soon, would you like me to grab her on my way back?"
  484. >"That would be lovely, darling. Thank you!"
  485. >Rising from your seat, you don your jacket and step out into the crisp afternoon.
  486. >Acquiring a case of ale at the market, you smile and wave to all the familiar faces, and some new ones.
  487. >Ponyville is such a friendly place, you've really missed it.
  488. >It's so busy, yet so peaceful. Like a painting of how life used to be. Quaint, Rustic and Familiar.
  489. >Comfortable, really.
  490. >Your inner monologue is interrupted by a familiar drawl calling you over to the apple stand.
  491. >"Howdy Anon! Good to see ya out and about!"
  492. "I learned my lesson. I won't need Doctor Pinkie Pie's Party Prescription this time 'round."
  493. >"Aw shucks, that was a mite bit fun, as I remember it." she beams. "But Anon, I was wonderin'..."
  494. >She drops her voice and leans in, looking suspiciously around.
  495. >You lean down close as well.
  496. >"Any chance you'd be interested in some hoofball?"
  497. "Absolutely. But why are we whispering?"
  498. >"Things are a little more competitive than last time you were around. And since Rainbow's schedule changed she hasn't been able to make the games anymore."
  499. "How bad is it?"
  500. >"Big Mac is still the best linepony in the league, and I'm mighty fine at rushin' if I do say so myself, but our quarterback is terrible."
  501. "Short?"
  502. >"Worse. The fella's lazy." she snorts. "He never runs, he always handed it off to me or threw a short to Dash and let her outrun the defense."
  503. "And without Rainbow, he just hands it to you every time."
  504. >"I'm gettin' my flank kicked out there, Sugarcube." she nods wearily.
  505. "When's practice?"
  506. >"Tomorrow evenin' at The Acres.
  507. "I'll be there." you promise.
  508. >Walking away, you make good time to the schoolhouse, arriving just moments before the fillies and colts flood the streets.
  509. >Spotting the troublesome trio, you wade through the crowd of parents to reach them.
  510. "Sweetie!" you call out as you get near. "Rarity sent me to get you!"
  511. >Turning to see who was calling her, the filly's face lights up as she runs towards you.
  512. >"Anon!" she squeaks. "Did you see my story in the paper!?"
  513. "I did. Best interview I ever gave, and I'm being completely honest." you say, crouching down.
  514. >"Really? Maybe I can get my cutie mark in reporting!"
  515. "Well now, little missy, I've heard some ponies that aren't as enthusiastic about that as I am."
  516. >A blush creeps onto her face as her ears fold back.
  517. >"Oh, yeah. We have sorta screwed up a couple of times." she admits, pawing the ground.
  518. >On the walk to the boutique, Sweetie fills you in on their latest escapades.
  519. >Finally reaching your destination, you set the filly down and she runs in ahead of you.
  520. >As Sweetie puts her school things away, you help Rarity set the table, then pour yourself a beer.
  521. >Drinking from the bottle wouldn't have bothered you, but Rarity couldn't stand it.
  522. >She even bought some special glasses, just for you, when she realized she'd never get you to stop drinking the occasional beer.
  523. >If the setting was right, wine would suffice. A cocktail was never amiss, there was something for every mood, after all. And Sweet Apple Acres hard cider was always a delight.
  524. >But for the haute-couture obsessed seamstress, only wine would do.
  525. >Ridiculous.
  526. >You join the others at the table, and Rarity serves up the Ratatouille.
  527. >Dinner is quiet and uneventful. You started to bring up the herd thing, but thought better of it with Sweetie Belle around.
  528. "Another perfect dinner." you sigh, looking at Rarity. "I've really missed your cooking."
  529. >"Oh please, Anon. It was nothing."
  530. >"Then why were you fussing over it all week?"
  531. "What?"
  532. >"She's been trying to figure this out for like, four days." Sweetie says, making a face.
  533. >You give Rarity a questioning look, but the doorbell stops you before you can investigate.
  534. >"Where's my precious Sweetie Belllle?" a familiar voice calls, as Rarity's parents come by to relieve Rarity.
  535. >Her dad and you discuss hoofball, while Sweetie Belle gathers her things.
  536. >When the storm finally calms, you find yourself quietly drying dishes as Rarity hands them to you.
  537. >"So Anonymous." she speaks up, breaking the silence. "What more did you want to discuss about your herd?"
  538. "I don't know. I guess I felt I needed to talk about it, but I really don't know where to start."
  539. >"No Canterlot mares you have your eye on already?"
  540. "I never really had the time. I really never made any friends outside of work. By the time I got home, it was order-in dinner then hit the hay."
  541. >"Order in? Anonymous, that kind of diet is terrible for your health!"
  542. "Tell me about it. I know I'm out of shape." you sigh. "It's one of the reasons I took a break from work."
  543. >"Hmmm, yes. Well, I can certainly see the appeal of having your friends lend a helping hoof the way your schedule pushes you, darling. But are you sure you have time for a mare, let alone seven?"
  544. "I didn't make this decision, remember?"
  545. >"Indeed. Twilight means well, but she sometimes overdoes it..."
  546. "I know." you grunt. "And when she's here with her friends you all keep her grounded."
  547. >"There is a 'but' at the end of that sentence~"
  548. "But when she's around Celestia she's still the overeager apprentice."
  549. >"Ah yes. You are not the only one to make that observation, Anonymous."
  550. "It's pretty obvious." you nod.
  551. >"But to get back on track, summing up what you've told me, you need either more time at home or some very low-maintenance mares."
  552. "Yeah, or I guess if they were a tight-knit group it would work too."
  553. >"Yes...yes! Yes, that's it! Oh darling, I have an excellent idea!"
  554. "Easy Rares, don't go all Twilight on me now."
  555. >"Always ruining my fun!" she scolds, lightly hitting your shoulder. "But seriously, Anon, I promise this will go well. And you won't even know you're on a date!"
  556. "Should you be telling me all of this...?"
  557. >"Anon, who knows you better than anypony else in this town?"
  558. "You do." you sigh. "What do you need me to do?"
  559. >"You and I are going to the spa -not tomorrow, we'll be busy looking at your project house and I /do/ have to work at some point- but I think the day after? Right after lunch will do nicely, don't you think? I have some plans we need to smooth out, don't forget to bring your calendar!"
  560. "And we are going to the spa why?"
  561. >"Because it's the time Fluttershy and I always go, dear. It'll be a great time for us all to catch up while helping our dear friend manage his woeful mare problems!"
  562. "I don't have mare problems-"
  563. >"Just because you don't have a marefriend doesn't mean you don't have problems. Now be a dear and help me put these away so I can break out the after-dinner wine!"
Herd Herding Hawkeye

Auction Pony Scenes

by Hawkeye

Herd 18

by Hawkeye

Herd 17

by Hawkeye

Herd 16

by Hawkeye

Herd 15

by Hawkeye