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Herd 16

By Hawkeye
Created: 18th December 2020 04:29:01 PM

  1. "I cannot believe it!"
  2. >You are Rarity.
  3. >And you cannot believe what you are hearing.
  4. >"I'm sorry to say that it's true." Twilight sighs.
  5. >Anonymous, brawling with Cloudchaser in the streets like some sort of common brute!
  6. >You always held his appreciation for beer and sports to be rather...simple.
  7. >But this!
  8. >This is almost inconceivable!
  9. >But here it is.
  10. >A simple fact.
  11. >Twilight received the report with her daily mail this morning.
  12. >Undoubtedly this had to do with Flitter -the poor mare, stuck between Anonymous and her sister!- but while fighting for the hoof of a lover was certainly romantic once... the time of such gestures has passed.
  13. >You roll your eyes internally at the realization that the Apple family probably still embraces this kind of thing.
  14. >Maybe the time for these gestures isn't *entirely* passed.
  15. >"Rarity?"
  16. "Oh! I'm sorry Twilight, I simply became lost in my own thoughts for a moment."
  17. >"It's okay, I'm not sure what to think myself."
  18. "It just never crossed my mind that this little feud would ever escalate like this."
  19. >"It certainly isn't in character for Anon." Twilight agrees. "Though Cloudchaser has been in a few fights before."
  20. "I had no idea."
  21. >"I only found out today. Mostly when she was younger, mostly defending her sister from bullies."
  22. "Well, I can hardly hold that against her."
  23. >"Of course not. If everypony stood up to bullies, Equestria would be a better place!"
  24. >Twilight hums.
  25. >"Maaaaaybe not with such a hooves-on approach though."
  26. "No, maybe not." you agree with a small laugh "I do think I am going to have to find Anonymous someday this week and give him an earful."
  27. >"I am too!" Twilight agrees with a stamp of her hoof, before her ears fall and she adds "As soon as I figure out what to say."
  28. "I don't understand, dear."
  29. >"I just feel like maybe if we had done a better job setting Anon up -as well as you've done- that Anon wouldn't have walked right into this mess."
  30. "Twilight" you say sternly "To believe that Anonymous' solitude is anypony's fault but his own is ridiculous, and I for one simply will not hear it."
  31. >"But I-"
  32. "I know." you cut her off with a huff. "You were the one who set the entire herd idea in motion. It was an honest mistake, and you cannot let Anon wield it against you as some kind of weapon."
  33. >You take a calming breath before continuing.
  34. "You are an excellent friend, and you should speak openly and honestly with Anonymous. Do not spare him."
  35. >"Maybe you're right..."
  36. "Of course I'm right."
  37. >"Okay. Yes. You're right.  Tonight I will make a list of points I need to make to him, and tomorrow I will find him and tell him how disappointed I am in him!"
  38. "That's the spirit, dear."
  39.  
  40. >You are Anonymous.
  41. >Favored engineer/architect of the Diarchy
  42. >Resident Human in Equestria
  43. >Unwitting subject of a Herd Mandate
  44. >And today, you don't feel all that great.
  45. >You didn't drink that much last night, so it's only a slight headache.
  46. >Your arm is /killing/ you...
  47. >...maybe you'll actually wear the sling for a while.
  48. >But it's the knot in your stomach that's really bothering you.
  49. >When you woke up you tried to brush it off as a result of last night's drinking.
  50. >But you can't lie to yourself.
  51. >And you know that it's because of the fight last night.
  52. >You're out for a walk, hoping that it will help, but all it's done is free your mind to worry.
  53. >What the hell happened?
  54. >You'd only been in one fight in your entire life, and a scuffle on the bus in 5th grade really doesn't make you some sort of street fighter.
  55. >Normally, you try to defuse these kinds of things.
  56. >Oh well.
  57. >Too late to change things now.
  58. >You only have to face your Herd.
  59. >And your friends.
  60. >The lecture you're sure to get from Twilight won't be fun.
  61. >Nor will the haranguing you're bound to receive from Rares.
  62. >And the court-ordered letter of apology to Celestia and Luna will be awkward to write.
  63. >But you could handle those.
  64. >Even balance them out with some commiserating at the bar with Rainbow and AJ.
  65. >They've got your back.
  66. >You don't know how Aloe and Lotus will react, but given Lotus' history with Cloudchaser you suspect that they will be surprised, but supportive.
  67. >Or Lotus will, at least.
  68. >Aloe can be hard to read sometimes.
  69. >But the two you fear the most are Lyra and Roseluck.
  70. >Lyra...is so naively innocent sometimes that you're worried that she'll think less of you because of this.
  71. >And Rose, well, you can already feel the crushing weight of her quiet disappointment.
  72. >Reaching into your jacket, you pull out your flask and take a swig.
  73. >The sharp burn of the alcohol quickly mellows into the lingering sweetness of apples.
  74. >God Bless Sweet Apple Acres.
  75. >Stashing it away, you look up to find that your feet have taken you to the house.
  76. >You had promised Jim Beam that you'd let him do his work.
  77. >But maybe it wouldn't be a bad day to walk the site, see how things are going.
  78. >Just to keep your mind occupied.
  79. >Walking to the front gate, you stop to take in the scene before you.
  80. > (And to take another gulp of SAA Special Reserve)
  81. >The deck is gone, though you can see a few bits of it in the rubbish heap at the side of the house.
  82. >On the opposite side of the house, you can see a team of ponies carefully lowering a beam through the cellar doors.
  83. >And every so often a pony comes out of the house with old carpet, rotten floorboards or other construction debris.
  84. >Capping the flask, you open the gate and head in to get a closer look.
  85.  
  86. >A demo pony kindly points you to the east end of the house, where the flooring needs to be redone.
  87. >Stepping into one of the rooms, you find Jim and Walnut discussing a floor that has been stripped down to bare beams.
  88. "You guys sure move fast."
  89. >Two heads whip around, and Wally adopts a sly grin.
  90. >"You owe me ten bits."
  91. >"Yeah, yeah." Beam scowls. "What can I do for ya, boss?"
  92. "Just coming around to see how things are going." you shrug "I can't leave you unsupervised forever."
  93. >"It woulda been nice." the forepony grunts "As you can see, we've got most of the demo complete. And with the first flurries scheduled just two weeks from now, we'll be pushing the roofers to get movin' a-sap."
  94. "I'm a little surprised that you stripped the floors down to the cross-members...was the water damage that bad?"
  95. >"Just two rooms." Walnut clarifies "And I planned for three in my budget. The others aren't nearly so bad."
  96. "Ha! We're still ahead then, good to hear!"
  97. >"So far so good, yeah." Jim agrees. "We'll have ya in here by Hearthswarming. I'd bet money on it."
  98. "I would appreciate that. I really would."
  99. >Wait a minute.
  100. "Didn't you just lose a bet to Wally?"
  101. >"Everybody's a critic." he groans "C'mon, I'll show you what we've got done while Wally gets back to work."
  102.  
  103.  
  104. >Jim leads you around, and it is obvious that the house has been thoroughly gutted already, an impressive feat given the timetable.
  105. >Of course, that's part of why you like Jim.
  106. >It might cost you a pretty bit, but he has a knack for getting the most out of the crews he manages.
  107. >A balance of bonuses and overtime, you suppose.
  108. >In the master bedroom you see boxes of neatly stacked recovered tile next to boxes of new blank tiles.
  109. >"We'll be starting that bathroom soon, we were able to salvage about two thirds of the original tile." Jim explains "I've got a designer working on drawings for how to use it. Should be on your desk this week."
  110. "I understand." you say, wandering back out into the hall. "And the deck?"
  111. >"Wally is starting on that as soon as the lumber arrives. Should be here any day now."
  112. "Won't the roof underneath it have to be redone first?"
  113. >"I already told those slackers what the deal is. If they don't get a move on, they'll have to work around it."
  114. "Won't that take longer and cost more?" you ask, furrowing your brow.
  115. >"Not the way I wrote their contract. Issues stemming from /their/ buck-ups are /their/ problem." he explains. "That's why I know they'll get it done in time."
  116. "You're one hell of a taskmaster, Jim."
  117. >"Wouldn't be worth th' cost if I wasn't." he grumbles, leading the way back downstairs. "Speakin' of buck-ups, the hell'd you do to your arm?"
  118. "Aw, I just hurt it playing hoofball. Nothing big. Probably."
  119.  
  120. "Probably, huh? You sound like one of the guys after doin' something stupid." he snorts. "Anyways, is there anythin' else you want to see today?"
  121. "How about the basement? I'd like to see how the reinforcements are going."
  122. >"Er, I'd rather not, boss." he frowns "Nothin' personal, it's just a bit cramped right now and the jobs tough enough as it is without us nosin' around down there."
  123. "Alright. Then I guess that's all."
  124. >"Really? No new change-orders? Last minute additions?"
  125. "It's too early still for any of that, but I'm sure they will come in time."
  126. >"Well okay then, boss. I'm goin' to get back to work if ya don't mind, then."
  127. "I can find my way out." you say with a nod.
  128. >After Jim departs, you cut through the house and cross the backyard.
  129. >Walking out onto the crumbling dock, you watch a pony pull her cart along on the far side of the river.
  130. >Behind her, you can see the pastel skyline of Ponyville.
  131. >And on the far horizon, Canterlot Mountain, with its namesake city suspended upon it.
  132. >Canterlot...
  133. >A few months ago you'd never have believed what your life is like now.
  134. >No panicking over last minute details.
  135. >No backers and investors to placate over cost overruns.
  136. >No daily check-ins from the Royals or their messengers.
  137. >A whole new set of problems, sure.
  138. >Taking a seat with your legs hanging over the edge, you close your eyes and breathe for a few slow moments.
  139. >New problems indeed...
  140. >Forming a Herd.
  141. >Building a Home.
  142. >And of course the most recent incident last night...
  143. >You can't help but think that you both got off pretty easy, with the constable just ordering you both to write letters of apology to one of the Princesses for "Breaking the Royal Peace" or something.
  144. >Cloudchaser almost looked like she wanted to object.
  145. >Considering your friendship with Twilight, she must think you're getting off easy.
  146. >But she clearly hasn't been lectured by Princess Twilight Sparkle before.
  147. >They never end, and any interruption sends her off on a tangent that only draws the process out.
  148. >Opening your eyes, your hand instinctively pulls the flask out of its hiding place and up to your lips.
  149. >Tilting your head back to down the last swallow, you can't help but catch another glimpse of Canterlot, gleaming white on the dark mountainside.
  150. >You know, there just might be a way to dodge that lecture after all...
  151.  
  152. >Handing your ticket to the conductor, you board the Friendship Express to Canterlot.
  153. >The plan is perfect.
  154. >You can deliver your apology to the Princesses in person, and also ask for some advice.
  155. >The trip also allows you to walk the expanded grounds for your project again.
  156. >And the biggest bonus: It buys you time to think of what to say to the others.
  157. >As the wheels lurch into motion beneath the train, you continue to turn the issue over in your mind.
  158. >Celestia will surely be able to help you with Twilight.
  159. >And Luna is surprisingly insightful when it comes to these things.
  160. >Crazy dream-walking Moonhorse.
  161. >...
  162. >If you had to, you could always hop another train.
  163. >Visit the Crystal Empire.
  164. >No...
  165. >It isn't that bad.
  166. >You messed up, no doubt about that, but it isn't so bad that you need to go see *her*.
  167. >In fact, that will be your forfeit.
  168. >You either return to Ponyville tomorrow (or Tuesday, maybe) to apologize.
  169. >Or you go to the Crystal Empire to see Cadence.
  170. >...
  171. >Yeah, you're gonna go back to Ponyville for sure.
  172. >"You seem rather preoccupied."
  173. >Huh?
  174. "Huh?"
  175. >Looking up, you find a familiar face sitting across from you.
  176. "Sorry Miss Octavia, I didn't notice you sit down."
  177. >"I noticed. You seemed to be lost in troubled thought."
  178. "Yeah, I've got a lot on my mind is all." you say dismissively. Shaking those thoughts clear from your head, you shift the focus of conversation. "I thought you were heading back to Fillydelphia?"
  179. >"I received a letter this morning asking for a call-back audition." she explains, unable to hold back a creeping smile. "I made it past the first round of auditions for the CSO!"
  180. "That's fantastic!"
  181. >"I know! I have always dreamed of playing for them -I suppose every musician does- and now I am closer than ever!"
  182. >You can't help but think that Lyra seems content to stay in Ponyville, but to each their own.
  183. >Lyra!
  184. "Lyra is going to be so excited when she finds out, I can't wait to see her reaction!"
  185. >"Oh, um, I haven't told her."
  186. "Well yeah, you're a little busy right now, but I meant when you got back."
  187. >"I wasn't going to tell her, Anon." She says, shifting in her seat. "I don't want to get her hopes up."
  188. "What?"
  189. >"The last time I auditioned for the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra, Lyra took it as a given that I would be chosen and began making grand plans based on that assumption."
  190. >It isn't difficult to imagine the over-excitable unicorn running around her house, making room for her friend in the guest room.
  191. >Talking Bonbon's ear off about Octavia coming to stay until she finds a place in Canterlot.
  192. >Planning to visit her friend all the time, not just once in a great while.
  193. >"You see how it is."
  194. "I do... I take it she was crushed when you didn't get the spot?"
  195. >"More than even I was, I think." she sighs "I, at least, was aware of how slim the odds were. And how slim they still are."
  196. "I understand. I'll keep this between us."
  197. >"Thank you, Anonymous. I really do appreciate it."
  198. "So what's your plan for the day?"
  199. >"Oh, I don't have anything planned, really. Just find a hotel for the night and take in the city. I doubt the hotel will let me practice, and the CSO is rehearsing today so I can't use their space either."
  200. "As if you even need to practice."
  201. >Octavia rolls her eyes.
  202. >"Thank you, but I'm not /that/ good." she retorts, continuing over the objection you begin to raise "If I was, I would already be part of the CSO."
  203. "Hmmm, perhaps." you concede. "But that was then. This is now."
  204. >"I suppose that's true." she muses thoughtfully.
  205. >Hopefully, maybe?
  206. >"What did you say you were doing in Canterlot again?"
  207. "Hmmm? Oh." you work hard to hide the quick frown you give her. "I have a summons to the castle."
  208. >"You don't seem happy about it."
  209. "I happen to know the princesses better than most, and I can see a disappointed lecture coming a mile away." you lament.
  210. >"A disappoint- what did you do?" she asks, accusingly.
  211. "I simply defended myself." you scoff waving it off, before letting your shoulders sag "But I need to make my apologies anyways."
  212. >"I'm afraid I do not follow, Anonymous."
  213. >Ugggghhh.
  214. >Leaning your head back, you inhale slowly.
  215. "Coming back from the party at Fluttershy's, Cloudchaser confronted me, picked a fight, and I did not back down."
  216. >"I hardly think an argument is worth travelling to Canterlot."
  217. "I didn't say we had an argument. I said she picked a fight."
  218. >"A fight? As in, physically attacking one another!?"
  219. "Yes." you reply. "And your tone tells me that I was correct to avoid bringing it up earlier."
  220. >"Well, I...I just never expected such a thing. Lyra thinks so highly of you it is hard to imagine you as anything less than a gentlecolt."
  221. >Opening your eyes, you fix Octavia with a serious expression.
  222. "I will be honest with you, Octavia. I fear the disappointment of my four mares in Ponyville far more than the lectures of the two princesses in Canterlot."
  223. >"More than...how in Equestria can you be more concerned about Lyra than the Princesses?"
  224. "Well, to start with, I consider the princesses to be friends." you explain "So while this won't be a fun visit, they aren't as intimidating to me as they are to most ponies."
  225. >Octavia just stares at you, so you press on.
  226. "And while I certainly care about my friends, I am not actively trying to woo the princesses." you continue. "Whereas with Lyra, I am trying to prove my worth... I guess I sort of like having company around me for a change."
  227. >"Goodness."
  228. >You shrug, while she digests what you said.
  229. >"In a way, it makes sense." she starts. "But Anonymous, I can assure you that Lyra will rebound quickly from any disappointment if you truly are the way she claims."
  230. "I can neither confirm nor deny the claims of anypony besides myself."
  231. >"What was the fight even about?"
  232. "Cloudchaser and I... well, we're sort of rivals."
  233. >"I see. But what was the actual catalyst that sparked this incident?"
  234. "...my interest in her sister."
  235. >It's hard to read the grey mare across from you sometimes.
  236. >But this time you're sure that if she was raised a little less proper, her hoof would be on her muzzle right now.
  237. >"Oh Anonymous." she says with a shake of her head.  "You truly are the confident male that Lyra makes you out to be."
  238. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
  239. >"That depends on the mare."
  240. "Let's assume Lyra."
  241. >"Mostly a good thing. Just remember to be kind with her. She can be..."
  242. "Overenthusiastic?"
  243. >"Naive."
  244. "Ah. That."
  245. >"She is a very trusting mare, Anonymous. Do try to avoid hurting her."
  246. "I wouldn't dream of it."
  247. >"Good." she says with an air of finality "Then you only really have three mares to worry about in Ponyville."
  248. "I don't know about that, but you sound pretty sure, so maybe you're right." you agree, happy to be off the subject. "Now, did I hear correctly that you don't have any plans for tonight?"
  249. >"I do not, why?"
  250. "I also have no plans until tomorrow morning."
  251. >"Well, that's nice, but-"
  252. "And I happen to have it on good authority that you don't get out all that often." you interrupt. "I won't take all of your day, unless you're up for it."
  253. >She seems unsure still, mulling her response.
  254. >Kind of cute, but you need to strike now before she changes her mind.
  255. "How about dinner? I happen to have eaten at every cafe, grill and bar in Upper Canterlot, and have some friends who know the fine dining scene intimately. Just tell me what you like and I'll find a place for you."
  256. >Again, she hesitates.
  257. "It will be nice to have a go-to place when you inevitably get that gig with the CSO, won't it?"
  258. >"I...I suppose it would."
  259. >She seems nervous.
  260. >But, remembering what Lyra has told you about her, she probably doesn't go out much.
  261. "So tell me, Octavia, what do you like?"
  262. >"I prefer, well..."
  263. >She trails off into inaudible mumbling, seemingly arguing with herself.
  264. >You give her time, and eventually she looks up at you, then back down, and then up again.
  265. >"Anonymous."
  266. "Got something?"
  267. >"I have a confession to make."
  268. >Furrowing your brow, you lean forward in your seat, giving her your full attention.
  269. >She exhales through her nose, eyes closed.
  270. >"Lyra and Bonbon are right. I never really go out. And when I do, it is usually with my parents who simply take me to wherever they are going."
  271. "So this means-"
  272. >"I don't know what I like, Anonymous."
  273. "Well what do you eat at home?"
  274. >"Simple Equestrian staples, mostly. I got used to a cheap diet while I was just starting out, it's hard to make a living as a musician fresh out of Academy."
  275. "Ah, right. That's why Lyra has her second job."
  276. >"The Background Ponies, yes. It's also why they live in Ponyville, which is much more affordable than a major city."
  277. "So you ate poor fresh out of school, and just stuck with it even after you hit it big in Fillydelphia?"
  278. >"I did..."
  279. "Well, it makes sense, I guess. You know how to make that stuff, and most ponies are creatures of habit." you muse "What kind of places do your parents take you to?"
  280. >A brief grimace flashes across her face.
  281. >"Mostly Prench or Equestrian fare, fine dining in the Imperial Tradition."
  282. "I have no idea what the 'Imperial Tradition' is, but I take it you don't like it?
  283. >"Oh, no, the food is wonderful! These are chefs at the peak of their art, after all."
  284. "Hmmm, are you sure? It seemed like-"
  285. >"I promise, it has nothing to do with the food." she says, taking one of your hands in her hooves. "It's something else entirely, please don't worry about it."
  286. "Alright, I won't." you assure her, giving one of her hooves a squeeze. "But you still haven't given me any ideas."
  287. >"I will trust the Canterlot expert."
  288. "Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but thank you."
  289. >"Not a bar though." she adds "I'm not a teetotaler, but I need to be at my best tomorrow morning."
  290. "Absolutely." you agree "I'll figure something out."
  291.  
  292.  
  293. >In your apartment, you swirl a bit of gin and tonic water to mix them, while looking yourself over in the mirror.
  294. >Dark jeans, sweater, pea coat ...looks good for an evening out with a friend.
  295. >A night out in a city hanging off a mountain in the Fall, in particular.
  296. >Too bad the First Frost Festival was already past, that would have been a great way to let Octavia try a bunch of different things all at once.
  297. >Instead, you're heading to Caballo, a little Latin place just outside Upper Canterlot.
  298. >It has the usual trendy decor of a thousand other casual places cropping up in cities across Equestria these days, but they actually served good food, so that can be forgiven.
  299. >And it seems like it will push Octavia out of her comfort zone.
  300. >She had politely declined the offer to take your bedroom, saying that the CSO would reimburse call-backs for their travel expenses.
  301. >And in retrospect, it was kind of forward of you.
  302. >Even if you intended to sleep on the couch.
  303. >Downing your elixir, you stuff a pair of gloves and earmuffs into your coat and head out the door.
  304. >Clambering into a cab, you have him take you to the Dusk Gate.
  305. >It's an easily recognized landmark, so you had instructed Octavia to meet you there.
  306. >Better than asking her to remember the address to Caballo, or the twists and turns to find the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
  307. >Tipping the cabbie, you unfold yourself onto the pavement and make your way to the city wall, where the wind isn't so bad.
  308. >It only takes another two minutes for Octavia to arrive.
  309. >The wind picks up again, so you just wave for her to follow.
  310. >Navigating the twists and turns of one of Canterlot's old neighborhoods with ease, you turn a corner and find yourself at the doors to Caballo.
  311. >Holding the door open, you let Octavia pass you before following her in.
  312. >As soon as you do, a wave of warmth crashes over you, awash with the delicious smell of chiles and sofrito.
  313. >The interior is painted in bright colors, with simple wooden tables, of which you're taken to one in the corner.
  314. >Your usual table.
  315. >It's only been a few months, you suppose.
  316. "So were you able to find a decent place close to the CSO hall?"
  317. >"Yes." she nods, dropping into her seat with a heavy sigh. "It's only a few blocks away from Carneighgie  Hall."
  318. "Good to hear. So do you play for a panel at these things, or...?"
  319. >"Yes. I played for a large panel of a dozen members of the orchestra last time, but this time it will only be the CSO's Chief Executive, the Conductor and the lead Cellist, Minor Seventh."
  320. "Sounds intimidating."
  321. >"On one hoof, it naturally is, this is the Canterlot Symphony Orchestra I'm auditioning for after all. The best of the best." she explains "But at the same time, in the Academy we had to pass Juries, which were final exams played in front of a panel of professors. So the format is, at least, familiar."
  322. "I'm sure you'll ace it. You're phenomenal."
  323. >"Thank you. I hope you're right."
  324. "Señor, Señorita, something to drink?"
  325. "Horchata."
  326. >"Water will be fine."
  327. "Get her a horchata too." you jump in, before leaning in towards Octavia. "Trust me. If you don't like it, I'll drink it."
  328. >"Very well." she says slowly, before nodding to the waiter.
  329. "You're gonna have to trust me a lot, tonight."
  330. >"I suppose that this is the price to be paid for not giving you more direction."
  331. "The nice thing here is that they describe the food in the menu in common Equine. None of that fancy chef speak that looks impressive but is basically meaningless to the average pony."
  332. >"Perhaps someday I will have a chance to decipher that 'fancy chef speak' for you."
  333. "You're fluent?"
  334. >"I told you earlier, my parents prefer those sorts of restaurants. Years of practice taught me the language."
  335. "A mare of many talents."
  336. >She lowers her menu just enough to give you an eyeroll before returning to her reading.
  337. "I'm only repeating what I've heard. Lyra thinks very highly of you."
  338. >"Lyra is a dear, but she thinks highly of everypony."
  339. "Bonbon also seems to think you're incredibly talented."
  340. >"Well, I, er-"
  341. >Reaching across the table, you tip her menu down just enough to see her muzzle scrunched up and her cheeks rosy with blush.
  342. "Just take the compliment, Tavi." you quip, leaning back in your seat as the drinks arrive.
  343. >"Do you know what you want to order?"
  344. >"I'll take the Chile Rellenos. Beans and rice is fine. Now maybe you can help me with her-"
  345.  
  346. >That is a ridiculous amount of food.
  347. >"Anonymous. This is ridiculous."
  348. "I like the idea, though."
  349. >The brilliant plan you and the waiter concocted was to just order Octavia one of every taco the place makes.
  350. >Turns out, they make fourteen types of taco.
  351. >And it came with rice and beans.
  352. >"I am beginning to see how you and Lyra get along so well."
  353. "This does seem like a Lyra kind of idea, now that you mention it."
  354. >Picking a taco at random, Octavia takes a hesitant nibble.
  355. >Chews.
  356. >And then takes a full bite.
  357. "See? Good stuff." you say, stabbing a fork into your own plate. "So how long have you known Lyra?"
  358. >She looks up, chews, swallows, dabs a bit of salsa off her muzzle, and sets the napkin down.
  359. >"A couple of years now. We met in our first year at the Academy." she answers. "And yes, it is good stuff."
  360. "See, I wouldn't steer you wrong. It sounds like your little group got into some real adventures at the Academy."
  361. >She nods, finishing chewing.
  362. >"Yes, and I suppose I owe Lyra some thanks for those times. I probably wouldn't have had half as much fun at the Academy if I had simply stayed home and practiced all the time."
  363. "Just Lyra? I heard that there was a fourth, more troublesome member of your little quartet?"
  364. >"Vinyl."
  365. >You simply cock an eyebrow expectantly, sipping your horchata.
  366. >"Yes, she certainly had a lot of wild and crazy ideas, but Lyra always wanted everyone to have fun, so if Vinyl got too crazy Lyra would start worrying and join what we called the 'logical half' of our group."
  367. "You and Bonnie, makes sense. And what were Lyra and Vinyl?"
  368. >"They called themselves the 'fun half' of the group." she says with a groan. "As if Bonbon and myself were incapable of having fun!"
  369. >She accentuates her displeasure with a dignified huff.
  370. "Have you tried the horchata?" you ask. "It's gooood."
  371. >You gently nudge the glass towards her and she deigns to humor you.
  372. >Her disgruntled frown breaks as soon as she takes her first sip of the deliciously sweet concoction.
  373. >"Oh my, this is wonderful!"
  374. "I told you so."
  375. >"Maybe you are trustworthy." she shoots back. "And from what you've told me, I'm not the only one going on adventures. Or should I call this a misadventure?"
  376. "A misadventure for sure."
  377. >"Was this the first?"
  378. "It was here. I've mostly spent the last few years working myself into exhaustion." you admit sheepishly "That's how I got to know, the princesses. I was their go-to architect."
  379. >"And you're giving that up to live in Ponyville?" she asks, her voice heavy with skepticism.
  380. "Yes and no." you answer slowly, considering your response. "I am in Ponyville. That is true. And I intend to stay there."
  381. >"But...?"
  382. "But I'm building a large house and will have many wives -assuming they'll still take me- and that costs money." you elaborate "Suffice to say, I think I'm going to be a regular commuter on this train."
  383. >"I don't know your other mares all that well, but I can assure you that Lyra will still take you." Octavia assures you, taking a big bite of a new taco.
  384. >She makes a face, finishes her bite and sets it aside, picking up a different one.
  385. >"You said the fight was over your interest in that mare's sister...you might have lost your chance with her, Anon."
  386. "Yeah, I kind of think so too." you agree glumly, shoving another forkful of chile and cheese in your mouth.
  387. >"I don't think any of the ones you're already with will abandon you though, Anonymous."
  388. "You don't?"
  389. >"No. I just think you're going to spend a long time making it up to them."
  390. "Well, I think I can live with that. Cheers." you say lifting your horchata before taking a long draught.
  391. >Yeah, it might be rough.
  392. >But you won't mind making it up to your girls.
  393.  
  394.  
  395. >Collapsing on the couch, fresh gin and tonic in hand, you stare at the wall.
  396. >It has been a good night.
  397. >Now to have a drink or two and turn in for the night.
  398. >Hopefully Celly will get back to you in the morning.
  399. >As you swirl the ice around your suddenly empty glass, contemplating whether to make another, there's a knock at your door.
  400. >Who the hell is calling at...ten o'clock at night?
  401. >Well, Canterlot is pretty safe.
  402. >Getting up, you set your glass down and go to the door.
  403. >Opening it, you're greeted by a night guard who hoofs you a letter and -after a quick salute- takes off.
  404. >You've spent enough time working for the Princesses to recognize a summons when you see one.
  405. >Breaking the royal blue wax seal, your eyes lazily scan the text.
  406. >For tonight?
  407. >Goddamnit Luna.
  408. >Alright.
  409. >Shrugging into your coat, you dump the ice into the sink and set the glass beside it before heading back out into the cold alpine air.
  410.  
  411. >At the gates, you grumpily brandish the summons at the guards and they let you in, sending a runner ahead of you.
  412. >By the time you reach the palace itself, a herald is waiting to escort you.
  413. >She leads the way to the throne room (not that you couldn't find it yourself) and announces your arrival as the doors swing open.
  414. >"Your Highness, Mister Anonymous is here in response to your summons."
  415. >The bored looking alicorn immediately perks up.
  416. >"Wonderful! We will not remain here long, send him in and have a coffee service brought to my library!"
  417. >The herald bows, backing away from the door, and gestures for you to enter before trotting away.
  418. >Before you make it halfway to the throne, Luna is trotting down to meet you.
  419. >Wrapping your good arm around her neck, you feel her wings flare in surprise, before slowly enveloping you in return.
  420. "I don't know why that still surprises you."
  421. >"Few ponies would be so bold as to hug their Princess."
  422. "Good thing I'm not a pony then."
  423. >"Indeed." she exhales slowly. "It is not often that you come to visit us anymore, Anonymous."
  424. "There are some downsides to living in Ponyville."
  425. >"So we have heard." she says, finally releasing you. "Sister will undoubtedly have many questions for you tomorrow afternoon. Come, walk with me."
  426. >Following the Moon Princess, she leads you down a dimly lit hallway headed deeper into the castle.
  427. "When you say she will have questions, does that mean she is expecting to receive my official apology?"
  428. >"She likely is, but of course I am also a Princess and more than capable of accepting such an apology." she answers with a smirk. "It is enjoyable to take these little things from her once in a while."
  429. "I don't want to stir up trouble-"
  430. >"Nonsense, it is a small thing between Tia and myself, you will be doing nothing wrong." she says, leading the way into a small atrium. "Also, brace yourself, Anonymous."
  431. "What? Nononono-!"
  432.  
  433. >Ugh
  434. >You hate teleportation.
  435. >Celestia and Twilight respect your wishes to simply travel by foot.
  436. >But Luna refuses to accept the inefficiency.
  437. >At least you didn't vomit this time.
  438. >That would have been a real shame.
  439. >"So you have an official apology to give me?"
  440. "Maybe I should wait until the morning..."
  441. >"Come now, Anonymous, it isn't that bad."
  442. >You just groan and lay your head back down.
  443. >Something warm insistently bumps against your cheek.
  444. >Opening one eye, you see Luna is prodding you with a cup of coffee.
  445. >...
  446. >*poke*
  447. >...
  448. >*poke*poke*
  449. >...
  450. >*poke*poke*poke*poke*poke*
  451. "Alright, alright already!" you grumble, carefully pulling yourself upright.
  452. >"See? You're already feeling better." she says with a tiny smile. "Now, there was something you needed to tell me?"
  453. "Coffee." you bark, cueing her to levitate the cup of rejuvenation back into reach as you sit up.
  454. >Sipping it in silence, you eye the smirking sorceress in the corner.
  455. >These ponies will be the death of you.
  456. >After knocking back a cup and refilling it, you slouch back against the corner of the chaise and exhale deeply.
  457. "Alright." you grumble. "Settle in for a story."
  458. >Luna's eyes light up and she leans forward attentively.
  459. >You start with the buildup.
  460. >Flirting with Flitter.
  461. >Lotus and Cloudchaser.
  462. >The brief confrontation after the hoofball game.
  463. >Luna is all ears, listening without interruption.
  464. >Heh, Celestia would never let you get this far without asking a question or five.
  465. "So that brings us to the other night."
  466. >Luna nods.
  467. "Fluttershy had a party -yes, that Fluttershy, and yes she did it voluntarily- and tons of ponies showed up. I think it was part of their plan to fill out my Herd."
  468. >You pause to recollect the evening.
  469. >Aside from how it ended, it was actually a really nice night.
  470. "It was a good time. All of my girls were there, I even danced a bit, and I ended up having a long conversation with Flitter."
  471. >Remembering the conversation about her family, you decide that there's no need to share all of that with the Princess.
  472. >It was a heartfelt admission, not something to be shared.
  473. "At the end of the night, Flitter and I left the party together. We were talking when Cloudchaser interrupted us and picked an argument with her sister. I stood up for Flitter, and Cloudy attacked me."
  474. >With a disappointed sigh you continue.
  475. "And really, I could probably have worked harder to avoid that fight. I think- I think I wanted a confrontation to settle the whole mess. But it doesn't seem to have settled anything. All it did was set tongues wagging in Ponyville and, I quote, 'disturb their highnesses Royal Peace.'"
  476. >Setting your cup down, it occurs to you that this is supposed to be an apology.
  477. "Oh, right. And, well, I'm sorry. I'll do my best not to let it happen again."
  478. >"Your apology is, of course, accepted." Luna replies, with a small smile. "And I shall write to my counterparts to inform them as such."
  479. "Thanks, Luna."
  480. >"But if you are not too tired from your evening with that pretty grey mare, perhaps we could talk about this some more?"
  481. "Now that I've had three cups of coffee, yeah. Probably not falling asleep anytime soon."
  482. >"Excellent!" she exclaims, clopping her hooves together before adopting a serious tone. "Tell me Anonymous, are your intentions serious with this Flitter?"
  483. "Uh, yes? She's pretty cute, and fun to hang out with." you answer, trying to find a good way to summarize the purple pegasus. "She reminds me of a cross between Fluttershy and Twilight."
  484. >"An overly exuberant and borderline obsessive lover of animals?"
  485. "I was going for shy, but kind of nerdy."
  486. >"Ah, perhaps that is better."
  487. "I can't do obsessive."
  488. >"Twilight Sparkle means well."
  489. "Oh, absolutely. I meant that I couldn't date someone like that."
  490. >"Too much like yourself?"
  491. "Ouch, you wound me, fair princess."
  492. >"Spare me your theatrics, Anonymous."
  493. "I am only sometimes mostly obsessive."
  494. >"Remember when the first turbines went in?"
  495. "Not exactly-"
  496. >"You forgot to eat for three days and passed out in the foreman's office."
  497. "Which is precisely why I don't remember all of it!" you counter with a broad smile. "And that was an exception."
  498. >"Hmmm, I'm not so sure." she muses before moving on. "But it does not matter. You like this shy and nerdy pegasus mare, and her sister is coming between you. There was a brawl, but nothing was resolved. Did you at least win?"
  499. "It wasn't that- wait, what!?"
  500. >"Did you win, Anonymous?"
  501. "I guess?"
  502. >"A draw, perhaps?"
  503. "It only ended because the constable showed up."
  504. >"I see." she pauses, closing her eyes in thought. "Were you /going/ to win?"
  505. >Your hand instinctively moves to your face, dragging slowly down to reveal the same Cheshire alicorn staring at you expectantly from across the room.
  506. "Probably?"
  507. >"Could you win a second fight?"
  508. "Maybe?"
  509. >"You know, Anonymous, there was a time when fighting for your mare's hoof was considered quite romantic. Indeed, many of the modern romance novels favored by my sister are set in such times and still feature these duels."
  510. >...
  511. "Just to be clear, Luna... are you suggesting that I *duel* Cloudchaser for Flitter's hoof in marriage?"
  512. >"It's just an idea." she shrugs "Some mares find that kind of thing romantic."
  513. >Shaking your head, you reach inside your coat and begin to pull out your flask.
  514. >Only to feel its lightness and remember that it is empty.
  515. >Damn...
  516. >More coffee it is then!
  517. >"Perhaps not right away though. Dueling injured would be unwise."
  518. >Holding your cup out, Luna obliges you with a refill.
  519. "You know, I suspect that your sister will advise me against a duel."
  520. >"I suspect you are correct, but we are equals, even if our little ponies often prefer my sister to me." she huffs. "I could be your second, in case you are worried about the constable becoming involved again."
  521. "My what?"
  522. >"Your second." she repeats calmly, setting down her empty cup. "In the event you are killed, I will take up the fight in your stead."
  523. >With a snort, you send half of your hot coffee into your nose, causing you to nearly drop your cup and swallow far too quickly.
  524. >Gulping down air (and coughing a bit), you take Luna's proffered handkerchief and clean your face.
  525. >Finally recovered, you fall back against the cushions with a tremendous sigh.
  526. >Luna lifts a fresh cup of coffee to her lips, but not fast enough to hide her smile.
  527. >Her eyes would have given her away anyways.
  528. >Ponies are terrible liars.
  529. "I am starting to think that you're messing with me, Luna."
  530. >Her sly grin becomes a full-on smile.
  531. "Alright. That'll do." you reply, shaking your head. "For a minute there, I really thought you wanted me to fight Cloudchaser."
  532. >"Oh, I was being serious then." she answers "Nopony needs a second anymore though. These things haven't been to the death in centuries."
  533. >Putting your face in a palm, you sigh.
  534. >These ponies are going to drive you insane.
  535.  
  536.  
  537. >In Ponyville, things are quiet.
  538. >After accomplishing your royal duties for the day, you had instructed Spike to tell Anonymous to come and see you when he got home.
  539. >You had then proceeded to practice your speech all afternoon.
  540. >A letter arrived from Cadence...it's currently lying unopened on your desk.
  541. >You're not sure which makes you more nervous, telling off Anonymous for getting into a fight or going on a blind date setup by your sister-in-law.
  542. >Neither thought gives you any comfort, nor does the fact that it is after midnight and Anonymous hasn't returned home yet.
  543. >You had flown through town, and been out to his house.
  544. >The construction ponies confirmed that he stopped by, but hadn't seen him since the morning.
  545. >At your behest, Rainbow Dash had stealthily checked in on the homes of Anon's mares, but he wasn't in any of those places either.
  546. >So you've been pacing in front of the fireplace, unable to sleep with this terrible knot in your stomach, hoping he will come home soon.
  547. >You aren't particularly worried about him -he has repeatedly demonstrated that he can take care of himself- but if he would just come home you could get this lecture over with and then maybe, just maybe, you'll be able to fall asleep.
  548. >As you prepare to rehearse your speech for the hundredth time someone knocks on the door.
  549. >Opening it, a drowsy Spike pushes a letter into your chest and heads back to bed as soon as you take it.
  550. >The ornate midnight blue seal immediately tells you who it's from.
  551. >Closing the door, you break it open and begin to read.
  552. >Anon is in Canterlot!
  553. >Of course, his apartment!
  554. >Why didn't you think of that sooner, Sparkle?!
  555. >If he wanted to get away from his problems here, it's only logical that he would hop on a train and go to Canterlot!
  556. >And, of course, the Princesses summoned him as soon as they found out he was in the city...
  557. >...Actually, just Luna by the sounds of it.
  558. >And he gave his official apology to her?!
  559. >Great! Now you don't have to deal with it!
  560. >It is odd though.
  561. >It's perfectly allowed -Luna /is/ a princess after all- but was he really that scared of talking to you?
  562. >He always joked about how dreadful your lectures were, but you always thought they were just jokes...
  563. >...maybe they weren't?
  564. >...are you really so severe that he went all the way to Canterlot to apologize rather than talk to you about it?
  565. >You're supposed to be his friend.
  566. >This new worry somehow overshadows the relief you momentarily felt.
  567. >You feel uncomfortable no matter how you stand, eventually taking a seat at your desk.
  568. >It doesn't help.
  569. >Scanning the desk, you see that accursed letter again.
  570. >Reaching across the mess of papers, you take the letter in one hoof and an opener in the other.
  571. >Might as well rip this bandage off.
  572. >Breaking the sparkling seal of the Crystal Empire, you unfold the paper and begin to read.
  573. >Hope you're well...blah blah blah...
  574. >...several great candidates...
  575. >Celestia help you, Cadence makes this sound like work!
  576. >And she wants you to come up to the Empire in two weeks.
  577. >Ugh.
  578. >You never thought that you'd be so unenthusiastic to see your family up there.
  579. >And now you've got a deadline to sort out your feelings.
  580. >It wouldn't be fair to those colts to go up there feeling the way you do about Anon...
  581. >And it isn't fair to Cadence either.
  582. >Not to mention Anon clearly doesn't see you as that good of a friend...
  583. >You really need Celestia right now...but you don't want Anon to think you're stalking him.
  584. >As soon as he comes back you're going to Canterlot.
  585. >She'll know what to do.
  586. >She always knows what to do.
  587. >With that thought in mind, you extinguish the fire and drag yourself to bed for a fitful night's sleep.
Herd Herding Hawkeye

Auction Pony Scenes

by Hawkeye

Herd 18

by Hawkeye

Herd 17

by Hawkeye

Herd 16

by Hawkeye

Herd 15

by Hawkeye