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Herd 05

By Hawkeye
Created: 18th December 2020 04:19:02 PM

  1. >Morning breaks bright and clear.
  2. >You apparently left the balcony doors open yesterday, and now a crisp autumn breeze chills the room.
  3. >Snuggling deeper under the covers, you pull Lotus tight against you.
  4. >As a trace of her perfume catches your nose, you think back on yesterday.
  5. >Cloudchaser, the last dance, carrying her home...
  6. >Unlike Lyra, Lotus didn't pass out on the way home.
  7. >Which has a lot to do with why you're only just now waking up.
  8. >The clock reads a quarter past ten.
  9. >Grabbing a hoodie, you roll out of bed and quickly pull it on.
  10. >Crossing the room, you close the balcony doors and slip out into the castle.
  11. >On your way to the kitchen, you run into Spike, vacuuming.
  12. "Hey Spike. No note-taking today?"
  13. >"Nah, Twilight is in Canterlot for the next few days. She left an hour ago."
  14. "If that's the case, can I ask a favor of you?"
  15. >"Sure Anon, what's up?"
  16. "I'm gonna throw some of those Appleoosan apple pancakes in the oven. You know, the stupid big ones? Can you bring them upstairs when they're done?"
  17. >"You know Twilight doesn't like you using me as a waiter, Anon."
  18. "Which is why it's so convenient that she's gone!"
  19. >"Okay Anon. When will they be done?"
  20. "Like half an hour." you say, heading towards the kitchen "And Spike, you know I always tip."
  21. >Stepping into the kitchen you can just barely hear him grumble.
  22. >"And that's probably why Twilight doesn't like it."
  23.  
  24. >Returning to your room, you scrounge a couple of bits for Spike, and then hit the shower.
  25. >A thorough scrubbing leaves you smelling like Ice, Wind and Freedom.
  26. >With a hint of spruce.
  27. >After washing your hair, brushing your teeth (an exercise in futility with breakfast on its way, but oh well) and shaving, you step out into the room and lie down next to the still sleeping Lotus.
  28. >You grab a sketch pad and pencil and start doodling ideas for the old boathouse. You should have already heard back about your revised offer, and you're starting to itch about it.
  29. >Good thing you've got Rose around, she'll know what to do with that huge backyard and the overgrown garden.
  30. >Gotta get a tire and a rope for the big tree on the riverbank.
  31. >Further thoughts are interrupted by the stirring of the blue pony curled up against you.
  32. "Morning, sunshine." you offer cheerfully.
  33. >"You" she groans. "Are too much."
  34. "I have no idea what that means."
  35. >"How are you so cheerful right now?"
  36. "Well, its eleven o'clock and I've been up for an hour-ish already."
  37. >Lotus just buries her face in her pillow.
  38. >It occurs to you that she'll want to use the shower, so while she slowly moves towards actually maybe getting out of bed, you grab the wet towels from the bathroom and toss them in the hamper.
  39. >In the hall, you start checking closets until you find fresh towels.
  40. >You also spot the normal guest toiletries, and grab some of those.
  41. >Lotus doesn't seem like one to use Old Spice.
  42. >Carrying it all back to the room, you can smell those apple pancakes, all the way from the kitchen.
  43. >Or Spike is on his way, one or the other.
  44. >Restocking the bathroom, you find Lotus up on her hooves again.
  45. >Stepping aside, she makes her way into the bathroom, not bothering to close the door as she starts the shower.
  46. >Oh Lotus.
  47. >Smiling to yourself, you pocket the bits on the table and head down towards the kitchen.
  48. >You find breakfast cooling on a rack, and Spike has coffee brewing.
  49. >It's something you had forgotten to ask for, which is why you always tip.
  50. >Once the coffee is done, you load everything but the coffee pot onto a tray.
  51. >Leaving the bits on the counter, you take the tray in one hand and the coffee in another and head upstairs.
  52. >Passing Spike in the hallway, you thank him and nod towards the kitchen, and he scurries off.
  53.  
  54. >By the time Lotus emerges, you've closed the door (mostly) and set up breakfast for two on the balcony.
  55. >When she finally joins you, she looks perfect as always.
  56. >She just smiles and sits across from you.
  57. >Brunch is quiet, just spent watching the ponies on the streets below.
  58. "So what are your plans for today?"
  59. >"I have work at three. Until then, nothing."
  60. "I also have nothing going on this afternoon. How convenient."
  61. >The door opens inside, and Spike brings you your mail from yesterday.
  62. >The counter-offer from the Haymakers is in, a letter from Celestia, a letter from the Canterlot Academy, and a bank statement.
  63. >Today being Sunday, everything is closed.
  64. >You'll deal with it tonight. Right now, you return your focus to the mare across the table from you.
  65.  
  66. >Quiet conversation turns into a walk through the market, and a walk through the market turns into  you carrying bags of groceries for Lotus.
  67. >Around two in the afternoon you find yourself on the door to a townhome down the street from the spa.
  68. >Turning the key, Lotus lets you in, and directs you to the kitchen.
  69. >There's something really nice in doing the mundane with company.
  70. >And even more so, it was nice to see a side of Lotus that wasn't aggressively flirting all the time.
  71. >The morning seemed full of Rose-like activities, as opposed to last night's decidedly Lotus-like activities.
  72. >Realizing how you just described those things causes you to pause.
  73. >As Lotus preps herself for work, you just stand in the kitchen, lost in thought.
  74. >You really do like Lotus and Rose.
  75. >Hell, her sister isn't bad either...
  76. >...that probably isn't feasible.
  77. >And Lyra is pretty awesome.
  78. >So three?
  79. >A good start.
  80. >Assuming they're up for it.
  81. >Lotus is definitely up for it.
  82. >The others probably are too.
  83. >You'll have to figure out how to ask them.
  84. >Later though, because Lotus has returned.
  85. >You walk her to work, and outside the spa kneel down to hug her.
  86. "Hey Lotus? We should do this again."
  87. >"Which part?" she shoots back, a coy grin creeping across her face.
  88. "Yes." you quip back. "Now hurry up. Aloe's gonna be upset if I make you late for work."
  89. >"No, but she'll be upset if you don't come see her though."
  90. "You just want to flaunt last night."
  91. >"A little, maybe. But I know Aloe better than anypony. She'll go on break when I start, and then you can spend some time with her."
  92. >Furrowing your brow, you adopt a more serious tone.
  93. "I'm not going to come between you two, am I?"
  94. >"Having a hard time choosing?" Lotus teases. "Then take the third option."
  95. >She then proceeds into the spa, laughing at your dumbfounded expression as she does.
  96. >Following her into the spa, you hear Aloe asking what Lotus is laughing about.
  97. >The twins share a whispered conversation before descending into a giggle-fit.
  98.  
  99. >Following Aloe out the door, you wave one final time to Lotus.
  100. >Across the street from the spa is the north end of the riverfront park, and Aloe wastes no time heading towards the water.
  101. >Hopping onto a bench, she starts to dig into her saddlebags as you take a seat beside her.
  102. >The bench offers a nice view of the river, the tree covered hills of Sweet Apple Acres rolling towards the horizon beyond.
  103. "Quite the view."
  104. >"I always come here for lunch. This end of the park is usually very quiet."
  105. "Makes sense. We're quite a ways from the center of town."
  106. >Aloe continues to unpack her lunch, and you stretch your arms across the back of the bench, the sun-drenched wood warm in contrast to the crisp autumn air.
  107. >A faint breeze carries a hint of Aloe's perfume across your nose.
  108. >Similar to Lotus, but different.
  109. >Complimentary, even.
  110. >You furrow your brow.
  111. "So Aloe, yesterday-"
  112. >"Lotus told me." she says, finishing a final bite of her apple.
  113. "I don't want to come between you two." you start cautiously.
  114. >"So don't."
  115. >You were afraid it might come to that...
  116. >"Anon."
  117. >Slowly turning your head to face the pink mare, you see that she's... smiling?
  118. >A velvet hoof reaches up to your chin.
  119. >"I know you aren't very good at this, Anonymous." she says, looking around quickly.
  120. >Stepping fully onto the bench, she straddles your lap and leans in close.
  121. >"Lotus and I have spent our whole lives together. We went to school together, we got our cutie marks together, we opened a business together..."
  122. >You instinctively pull her against you as you look into those deep sapphire eyes.
  123. >"...it would only be natural for us to marry a stallion together." she finishes, moving in for a kiss before you can even register what she's saying.
  124. >Her lips are soft, and her tongue aggressive, as you revel in the moment with this mare.
  125. >As you break the kiss, the wind whips up, hiding your faces in her mane as she stares down at you with a small smile.
  126. >"Are you still worried?"
  127. "Not at all." you say, a smile creeping across your own face.
  128.  
  129. >Dropping Aloe off at the spa you walk through town with a renewed spring in your step.
  130. >Not three, four.
  131. >Four mares.
  132. >Not that you've asked any of them.
  133. >The twins are clearly interested.
  134. >And you've got a feeling Rose and Lyra won't be hard sells.
  135. >Four isn't bad, maybe when you talk to Celestia you can convince her that four is enough...
  136. >Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Anon.
  137. "Right, still have to ask." you say to yourself.
  138. >"Ask what?"
  139. >What?
  140. >Looking around, you see Sweetie Belle staring up at you.
  141. "Oh, hey Sweetie Belle. Just talking to myself."
  142. >"Yeah, you kinda looked like you weren't paying attention. You almost stepped on me!"
  143. "Sorry Sweetie. I was kind of spacing out there."
  144. >"So what do you need to ask, Anon?"
  145. "Oh, just thinking about a project I was asked to work on in Canterlot." you lie. "Hey, why are you out here alone?"
  146. >"Well..."
  147. "You aren't working a story, are you?"
  148. >"It's not my fault!" she squeaks. "I don't get to choose the story, Diamond Tiara just assigns them to us."
  149. >You pick up Sweetie Belle and carry her as you change course, bound now for Carousel Boutique.
  150. "So what's the scoop?"
  151. >"Huh?"
  152. "The story, what story are you working on?"
  153. >"Oh, uh, well the thing about the Dam was really popular. So Diamond wanted me to find out more about what you were doing in Ponyville."
  154. "I see. Nosy little filly, isn't she?"
  155. >"She's the worst." Sweetie Belle agrees.
  156. >You can't help but laugh, and as you make your way through the center of town, you decide to make a detour.
  157. >Sweetie, perched on your shoulder, hugs your head as you approach the gingerbread bakery.
  158. >"You're the best, Anon."
  159. "Seems like a good place for an interview."
  160. >She giggles as you place an order and carry her over to a booth in the corner.
  161. "Now what do you need to know?"
  162.  
  163. >Pinkie brings a bucket of fresh cookies and two glasses of cold milk, and the two of you munch away as Sweetie begins her interview.
  164. >"So are you just here on a vacation or something?"
  165. "No, I'm actually planning to settle down in Ponyville." you say.
  166. >"Really? Are you gonna live in the Castle with Princess Twilight?"
  167. "I am right now, but I'm shopping for a house. I've got my eye on a few options."
  168. >"That's so cool! So are you gonna stop working on projects and stuff?"
  169. "Nope. In fact, I just got a letter from Canterlot asking me if I am free to begin work on a project up there."
  170. >"But you're living in Ponyville, won't that be hard?"
  171. "I plan to open a small office here, and I'll have an office in my future home. There's a lot of my job that doesn't require me to be on-site. And if I have to spend time away from home, that's just part of the cost of hiring me."
  172. >"So like, you'd live in a hotel or something?"
  173. "More or less. I still have an apartment I own in Canterlot, so not for this project. But if it was in say, Fillydelphia, yeah. I'd have to stay somewhere after all."
  174. >"What is it that they asked you to plan?"
  175. "That is for them to announce, I just make the plans and see them through."
  176. >"Aww, alright. Do you have any projects planned for Ponyville?"
  177. "Nopony has approached me, but I'm not really looking for work. This project in Canterlot was something I was asked about a year ago, but they just now got the bits to pay for it."
  178. >"So we won't see a new dam anytime soon?"
  179. "Sweetie, even if I started today, that kind of project will take time. It would be months at the earliest before the plans were finished, then they have to be approved by the Mayor and Town Council, and if the Princesses are helping to pay for it then there are a lot of ponies in Canterlot that have to look at the plans and approve them too."
  180. >"Why?"
  181. "Just the way it is."
  182. >"Grown-ups are weird."
  183. "Cheers to that." you say lifting your glass.
  184. >You talk about all sorts of things, and tell her what you're looking for in an office space.
  185. >Helping her get ahead is the easiest way to keep her on the straight and narrow with her reporting.
  186. >That in mind, you promise to give her a tour when you finally find a work space.
  187. >Bucket now mostly empty, you put the remaining cookies in a to-go box and lift Sweetie back onto your shoulder.
  188. >Bits on the table for Pinkie, you head out the door and towards Carousel Boutique.
  189.  
  190. >"Anon, I wasn't expecting you! The boutique is a mess!"
  191. "Your desk is always a mess. The rest of the place is fine, as usual." you remark, setting down Sweetie Belle.
  192. >"So what brings you to my humble little shop today?"
  193. "Just ran into an errant filly on my way home, figured I'd return her to proper adult supervision."
  194. >"Oh, is that all?"
  195. "Maybe cruising for company. I'm afraid I've recently spoiled my appetite."
  196. >"I suspect, by the crumbs on my dear sisters face, she will have no need for dinner?"
  197. "You are likely correct." you say, taking a seat on the couch.
  198. >"And I suspect that a certain human, with a bit of something at the corner of his mouth, is responsible?"
  199. "Guilty as charged."
  200. >"You do know that spoiling her like that makes it that much more difficult for me, right?"
  201. "Why Miss Rarity, whatever do you mean?" you ask, feigning shock.
  202. >Carefully putting away her design notes, she walks over and sits next to you.
  203. >"Just know, Anon, that I shall not forget these things. After all, with seven mares, it won't be long until you're a father."
  204. "Touché."
  205. >A moment passes before Rarity breaks the silence.
  206. >"How is your search going, by the way?" Rarity asks, hopping off the couch.
  207. "Better than I had hoped."
  208. >"Oh? Do tell." she prods, putting a tea kettle on the stove.
  209. "Not much to tell, to be honest. You already know who I spent the evening with at Pinkie's last party. Just getting closer with those same mares."
  210. >"All of them?"
  211. "Yeah, why?"
  212. >The kettle whistles, and Rarity doesn't answer as she moves the water to a ceramic kettle and brings the whole tea service with her.
  213. >Pouring herself a cup, she looks at you.
  214. >"Really, Anonymous? Twins?"
  215. >You nearly fumble the teapot, but recover just in time.
  216. "Heh, well, I am a guy. And from the conversation I had with Aloe earlier..."
  217. >"You are truly incorrigible."
  218. "It's a cross I have to bear." you nod.
  219. >"So other than Aloe and Lotus, who's in this little harem of yours, hmm?"
  220. "Like I said, the mares I sat with at the party. So Lyra and Rose."
  221. >"Just four? If I recall that's a few short."
  222. "I don't know, four seems like plenty." you object.
  223. >"But the Princesses said seven, and that number comes from where? Oh yes, Twilight's scientifically grounded analyses of your abilities as a Herd stallion."
  224. "Oh Twilight, that's- wait, seriously?"
  225. >"You didn't know? She had all this data and interview material, and as she sorted through it, she decided one of her analyses should be on your ability to lead a herd."
  226. "Somehow that isn't that surprising." you sigh. "So I guess I'm probably stuck looking for three more, huh?"
  227. >"Yes dear, I'm afraid so. Though the fact that you've invited four mares into your herd might buy you some extra time from them."
  228. "Heh, yeah, about that. I said I'm closer, I haven't actually invited any of them."
  229. >"Anon, are you saying you're just stringing those poor mares along?"
  230. "Well, I wouldn't-"
  231. >"You need to ask them. Soon."
  232. "Is there some pony dating rule I'm missing here? Because right now we're barely dating."
  233. >Except Lotus, you're definitely more than dating Lotus.
  234. >Rarity doesn't need to know that though.
  235. >"I mean, there are a lot of envious mares out there, Anonymous. And I know if I were a mare hearing some of the rumors going around..."
  236. "I haven't been in town a month yet!"
  237. >"I'm just warning you, darling. If nothing else, those poor girls will need some assurance that you're just taking things slow."
  238. "Now that is sensible advice. I can do that."
  239. >"But seriously dear, start thinking about how you want to invite them to your herd."
  240. "I'll put some thought into it."
  241. >"Good." she smiles "Now enough about that, how is your-"
  242. >Rarity is cutoff by a crash from upstairs.
  243. "I think that is my cue to leave."
  244. >"Yes, do come by again soon though, we have so much to talk about!"
  245. "Sounds good. Seeya around, Rares." you say, letting yourself out as she ascends the stairs.
  246. >"Sweetie Belle!" Rarity's voice rings out as you shut the door.
  247. >There's nothing you can do to spare the filly from the wrath she has brought upon herself.
  248. >Humming a tune to yourself, you head home.
  249.  
  250. >Sitting on the balcony again, you finally sort through your mail.
  251. >The letter from Gabe was practically burning your fingers, you couldn't wait to open it.
  252. >Reading over it, they came back over your offer by a hefty amount, and wanted their own appraiser to take a look at it.
  253. >Hmm, the appraiser is fine, maybe you could convince them to use the town assessor. They're paid by town hall, so they'll be impartial.
  254. >The money, well, you'll counter at the cost of expenses. Not a bit more.
  255. >Your mind made up, you set it aside and open the bank statement.
  256. >And move quickly on to the letter from the academy.
  257. >It seems that a wealthy donor has agreed to fund the botanical gardens, they're asking if you're available to design them.
  258. >They are willing to front a nice chunk of change, and it'd be an excuse to visit Canterlot.
  259. >A thought crosses your mind, and you decide to ask Rose what she's doing Wednesday.
  260. >Scribbling down a reply, you ask if this week is too soon for a meeting to discuss the project.
  261. >Sealing the letter, you set it aside.
  262. >Lastly, the scroll from Celestia.
  263. >It's an offer to cover a portion of the bits for your home. Doing a bit of mental math, it comes out to like 40% of the original price of the home.
  264. >Not bad.
  265. >If the academy can meet with you, you'll make sure to make time to visit with the princesses while you're in Canterlot.
  266. >Business handled, you head to bed.
  267.  
  268. >Morning breaks clear and cold, the first real frost of the year coating everything in a crystalline sheen.
  269. >Rising at a decent hour, you enjoy breakfast in the kitchen with Spike.
  270. >He's in a pretty good mood, and you hear out his aspirations.
  271. >Twilight is a good pony, but she will always treat Spike as a kid.
  272. >Every kid grows up someday though, so you're looking to his future.
  273. >Poor guy is tired of being her maid, and you can respect that.
  274. >But he genuinely likes working with Twilight, and you have an idea for that too.
  275. "So why don't you become a Scribe then?"
  276. >"You mean like the stuffy old dudes in Canterlot? No thanks, Anon."
  277. "Well yeah, the stallions in the archives are scribes, but the job itself actually lends itself well to being a research assistant. In fact, Starswirl was originally trained as a Scribe. All that time spent around magical research led him to develop some theories of his own, and boom, greatest arcane theoretician of all time!"
  278. >"Okay, yeah. I'll think about it."
  279. "I'll put in a good word next time I see the princesses."
  280. >"Just don't tell Twilight."
  281. "Yeah, that's a good call." you nod, downing the last of your coffee. "You cooked, I'll take care of the dishes. Go enjoy your day off."
  282. >Not needing to be told twice, Spike scurries off to do whatever it is he does.
  283.  
  284. >Dishes complete, you head for the real estate office, stopping to drop the reply to the Academy in the mailbox as you go.
  285. >A bell rings as you step inside.
  286. >"Be with you in a moment!"
  287. >Taking a seat, you relax.
  288. >"Oh, Mister Anonymous, good timing!"
  289. >You raise an eyebrow.
  290. >A pony steps into the room behind him, and moves to extend a hoof to you.
  291. "My name is Perfect Measure. I'm the Ponyville Assessor."
  292. >"We were about to go meet Buckwheat and have a look at the Haymaker estate, if you'd like to join us?"
  293. "They won't mind?"
  294. >"It is only fair. No question about what is in the report if both parties are present." Measure offers.
  295. "Sounds good. have you shared the previous appraisal with him?"
  296. >"I have not."
  297. >"I don't want my opinion biased by it." Measure explains.
  298. "Makes sense. Let's go then."
  299. >Your group makes their way via carriage to the outlying estate, and when you do you're greeted by a lanky pony with a brown coat and gold mane.
  300. >Stepping out of the carriage, he clearly wasn't expecting you.
  301. >It makes him nervous, you can tell.
  302. >Good, he probably knows that the house needs work, but isn't sure how much.
  303. >Or your height is intimidating him, that's been the case before too.
  304. >Reading ponies was never your strong suit.
  305. >Measure and Gablegait are already at the door, so you introduce yourself.
  306. "I'm Anonymous, by the way." you say, extending your hand.
  307. >"Buckwheat." the pony says, taking it.
  308. >Firm, dry, three seconds. Handshake acceptable.
  309. "Let's go, before we miss the appraisal." you say gesturing for him to lead.
  310. >The appraisal goes largely in your favor.
  311. >Measure isn't quite as apocalyptic as Beam and Walnut, but you feel good about it.
  312. >As you exit the house, you turn to Buckwheat.
  313. "I can increase my offer just a bit, maybe 5%."
  314. >"I think we'll accept. It's our fault, really. None of us have been out to look at it in ages." he concedes.
  315. "Good. I'll buy lunch then. Gabe, Measure, lunch?"
  316.  
  317. >After lunch, Measure parts ways, and the three of you return to Gabe's office.
  318. >A bit of dickering later, and the paperwork is complete.
  319. "I'll have the money lined up by the end of the week."
  320. >"I'll leave the keys with Gabe, then." Buck says. "It's good to have grandpop's place off our hands after all these years."
  321. >"Trust me, it's going to be put to good use."
  322. "I've heard the rumors. Good luck, Anon."
  323. >You just laugh, and Buckwheat heads out.
  324. >Following suit, you head towards the post office, before opting to stop and visit your favorite florist.
  325.  
  326. >"Anon! I haven't seen you around in a while." Rose smiles, wheeling a cart of arrangements out into the shop.
  327. "Sorry, I get caught up in things."
  328. >"I know. But it makes a mare nervous."
  329. "I'll make it up to you."
  330. >"You'd better." she says, starting to unload.
  331. >You move in to help, taking the opportunity to bump her, which earns you a look.
  332. "Speaking of making it up to you, what are you doing this week?"
  333. >"Other than working? Well, I'm a popular mare, but I suppose I could find a free evening."
  334. "Ah, work's no fun. Why not take a break."
  335. >"When?"
  336. "The next three days."
  337. >"Kind of hard to plan a break with that vague of a schedule." she says, pushing the now empty cart back behind the counter. "I'm going to need some details."
  338. "Oh, you misunderstand." you explain, leaning on the counter. "I meant all of the next three days."
  339. >"Three days?" she says, moving back around the counter. "What could you have planned that needs little ol' me to take three whole days off of work?"
  340. >Putting your back to the counter, you slide down into a sitting position.
  341. "Well, I got a letter about a project."
  342. >"What kind of project?" she asks, taking a seat next to you.
  343. "A fancy garden."
  344. >"Where?"
  345. "Canterlot."
  346. >"I am quite fond of flowers."
  347. "And I am quite fond of you." you say, draping an arm across her. "So I figured I'd make a little trip out of it. Handle some business, and spend some time with little ol' you in Canterlot. I just hope you can make time for me."
  348. >"You make it hard for a mare to say no." she giggles. "When do you want to leave?"
  349. "I think the first train is at nine o'clock, does that work for you?"
  350. >"Should I meet you at the station?"
  351. "I'll take that as a yes, and I'll swing by around eight thirty to pick you up."
  352. >She leans into you.
  353. >"You're something else, Anon."
  354. "Ah, you love it though." you say, squeezing her lightly.
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