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Pawn

By Alycorn
Created: 3rd March 2021 04:25:20 PM
24th April 2021 06:12:25 AM

  1. Pawn
  2. A story inspired by 5s/4
  3.  
  4. “Don't understand what? That I used two pawns to capture a knight and topple a king? It's CHESS Danny... but you wouldn't understand that.” - Vlad Plasmus, Danny Phantom
  5.  
  6. The world's gone sideways on me. Seattle's fallin' apart, my little brother is a pony, there's a bunch of other ponies, and somehow I got stuck in the middle of it all, a Mobster with a motorcycle, a messenger bag, and a box full of fancy jewelry.
  7.  
  8. How the hell did this happen?
  9.  
  10.  
  11. Chapter One: Quarter Dollar Chess Piece
  12. -May 1st, 2020, 1213 Hrs-
  13. “Look, Mr. Q, I'm not trying to screw you here. I'm not an enforcer, I'm not a fighter, I'm the messenger. We've been playing this little song and dance for a while now, and I've laid out what the boss wants, and what he's willing to give you in exchange for this set of artifacts.” I growl out, feeling very frustrated as I glare down the odd man on the other-side of the table.
  14.  
  15. The office high-rise is very fancy indeed, a good twenty stories up in a very exclusive office building, the office of an art dealer only known by his moniker of 'Q'. I've been in yet another meeting with him, the fifth one this week in fact, and it's another God-Be-Damned long one. Seven hours of wheeling, small talk, pleasantries, veiled threats from both sides, and enough haggling to make a second-world country marketplace vendor faint from either joy or anguish because they're about to score huge or lose much, much more.
  16.  
  17. All over five necklaces and a frigging tiara. Six art pieces. Stuff the boss wants. And one way or another, the boss gets what the boss wants. Always. Comes with being the boss of the Mob, yeah? Of course, Q doesn't seem to care, the black-and-white haired man as aloof as he always has been, every time we start working on one of these deals.
  18.  
  19. Working for the Mob isn't that bad... at least, not all the time anyway. It's got it's up and downs, gang warfare or fights between the families, Mafiaso trying to muscle in on our territory here in Seattle, someone steals this, takes over that, takes over this drug ring, that prostitute ring got found out by the boys in blue, yadda yadda. It's a long story, old as America and it's been written since the Mob formed from the first Irish boys working on the docks, trying to get that dream, the American Dream. Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. What a crock of bullshit.
  20.  
  21. Ah well, shit is what shit does, and that's festering all over this damned world. There's a few bright spots here and there, but they hold no place in this conversation, which my mind just wandered away from. Better pull myself together, got shit to deal with now first. The rest of the shit can wait.
  22.  
  23. “Mr. McCloud, I'm going to be blunt- I understand what you're working with at the moment, and what your bosses offer is. I'm telling you that these artifacts are worth a bit more then the four million he's offered.” Q says, the smarmy bastard sitting back with a satisfied smirk on his face. His black-and-white pinstriped suit looking as perfect as it did when we started this farce, my own suit a bit wrinkled from sitting down for so damn long, his angular face hiding nothing and yet hiding everything.
  24.  
  25. “And I'm tellin' ye Mr. Q, yer' not going to get a better offer!” I say with as much force I can muster, which is quite a bit considering that my accent is actually starting to get the better of me. “The Mob is being [i]very[/i] generous with our offer of four million. The mafiaso will just try to kill you to take it, and the private collectors won't offers as much as we will.”
  26.  
  27. I huff, taking a moment to look off to the side, glancing at myself in the mirror. Besides the annoyed look on my face, I look your standard rough and tough dock boy. Five foot eleven, broad shoulders that don't look like they should fit in the sharp black suit I'm wearing, messy brown hair tied back in a decently long ponytail, about to my shoulders, sharp green eyes centered in a solidly jawed face spotted across the nose with freckles giving me my own glare right back before I turn my attention back to Q. “It's our final offer Mr. Q. I have the briefcase right here. You can count the money yourself before I leave.”
  28.  
  29. “... Oh very well, you are trying so hard to drive this deal, Mr. McCloud.” The sharply dressed, if eccentric art collector says with a sigh as he closes the case containing the jewelry and softly pushes it across the table towards me. As he does, I carefully lift the briefcase over the jewelry case and set it in front of him, snapping it open as I turn it around smoothly. Just like you'd see in the movies. I know, because I've been doing it for too damn long now.
  30.  
  31. “The money is right here, Mr. Q.” I say, letting the briefcase go as I stand, putting a hand on the jewelry case, and he starts counting his money. He's taking his bloody damned time doing so, but before too long he's closed the case and he nodded his consent.
  32.  
  33. “Very well Mr. McCloud. Go and tell your Boss that is has been, as always, a pleasure doing business with the Mob, and I look forwards to our next dealing.” The smarmy bastard, being all pleasant after that bloody ordeal.
  34.  
  35. “A pleasure, Mr. Q. Good Day.” I manage to say in as pleasant and accent-free tone as possible before make my out of the building as fast as humanly possible, practically leaping down the stairs, carefully handling my package to ensure no damage is done to it, sliding it into a messenger bag. Before I reach the exit, I slip into the public restroom of Mr. Q's offices on the first floor and quickly strip out of the monkey suit and replace it with a much more comfortable black cotton teeshirt and a pair of jeans and leather boots.
  36.  
  37. The moment I'm out of the suit, it's in the messenger bag as well and I'm out the door, quickly moving over to my motorcycle. A Harley Davidson Nightrider, specially made for me as a twentieth birthday present from the boss. The smooth, curved lines of the bike helped to highlight the beautiful paint and trim of my ride, the chestnut brown coloring broken only on the tank, which had a clearly marked out name in white and black- The Pony Express.
  38.  
  39. When you're the fastest and most dependable messenger/delivery man/dealer around, you end up getting nicknames like that, and almost everyone in the Mob just called me Pony, or The Express. Only the boss used my full title, and very rarely, my full name. Michael McCloud, the Third. Twenty-seven years old, twenty eight today. Seems like times passed too damn fast for my tastes. Too much shit to deal with.
  40.  
  41. My bike revs hard as I start it up, flipping my helmet onto my head and latching it in a smooth motion, the horses ready to fly as I lay into the handle and tear out of the parking lot like a bat outta hell, glad to be on the road once again as I tap my helmet, activating the bluetooth built into the helm.
  42.  
  43. *BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BE-Click* “This better be good news Pony.” The low growl of my Enforcer drifts into my ear. My best friend since before all this shit started, Brick. Stupid name, sure, but hey, never said he was named for anything besides how friggin' big the guy is. Built like a brick shithouse.
  44.  
  45. “Brick, do I ever give you bad news?” I drawl, sarcasm practically drooling from my mouth as I weave around a sixteen wheeler and rev my bike harder. “I got the package, let the boss know that it's good to go and I have it covered. I'll deliver it personally, as usual, at the Meet-up. Three weeks.”
  46.  
  47. “Yeah yeah. Fine, good work Pony-boy, no one knows what you got or who you got it from, blah-blah. I'll let the boss know.” Ahhh that's Brick for ya, blunt as his namesake. Pity, he's a great guy to party around, but here I am, in Seattle, while he's hanging with the Boss in NYC. “Oh, and Michael... Happy Birthday. Twenty Eight years is a long ass time. Glad to see you've made it this far.”
  48.  
  49. I chuckle and shake my head lightly. “Thanks Brick. It'll be thirty before you know it and then you'll be making fun of me instead of congratulating me.” I say before hanging up, letting out a breath as the wind whips against my body comfortingly. Personally, I think this is what flying, really flying, feels like. The roar of the wind against your body, the pressure of the speed your traveling at pressing at every inch as you move so fast, faster then everything around you.
  50.  
  51. Wish I could fly, heh. That'd be something to see, the amazing flying Irish Mobster. Doesn't quite roll off the tongue like the Flying Nun, but meh, we'll roll with it for now.
  52.  
  53. I quickly pull out of the main part of the city and start into the suburbs towards my apartment building (owned and maintained by the Mob, not that 60% of the people living there know that) when my bluetooth starts ringin', informing me I got a call from my little brother. Now -that- puts a smile on my face as I tap the side of my helmet to answer the call.
  54.  
  55. “You've reached the Pony Express.” I chuckle, a grin on my face as I wait for my brother to speak up.
  56.  
  57. “Big Brother! Finished that business deal finally? Another high-class art piece for that Museum in Boston, right?” The eager voice of my little brother echos through my earpiece, as high and as boyish as ever, even though he's turning twenty five. My brother, the man child. I shake my head, chuckling harder, almost laughter, as I reply.
  58.  
  59. “Yeah, finished it up. Sorry, I have to bring work home to the party, but hey, I'm bringing some other things too. Like your presents.” I hum, revving my engine a bit harder, that much more excited to get home.
  60.  
  61. “YES! Can't wait! See you soon BBBFF!” My brother crows through my earpiece, making me shake my head again. Several years off the air and he -still- loves that show. He tried to get me into it, and it's alright. I mean, Lauren Faust is spectacular, and her vision was pretty awesome, but it wasn't really my thing, especially with having to work all the time in order to provide for me and my little brother.
  62.  
  63. “Yeah yeah, see you soon Danny-boy.” I say, hanging up as my mind turns to the last fifteen years of my life. The death of my parents, after the adoption of my little brother, running from the law to avoid the foster houses, finding my Uncle, who my parents never wanted me to meet, to keep me away from the mob... I shake my head, clearing the dark thoughts of all the things I've done to keep my brother and myself safe.
  64.  
  65. A few more minutes of peaceful, mindless riding and I'm rolling into my parking spot, kicking out the stand and shutting down my bike, a low breath drifting from my lips as I open the seat to pull out a few carefully wrapped presents, a brown bag with a particular bottle of booze in it, and check that my messenger bag still has everything in it. As usual, no problems. This bag has never, ever let me down.
  66.  
  67. I walk up the stairs, whistling as I attempt to cheer myself and reassert the mask of the delivery boy/ business man that my little brother thinks I am. As my adopted brother, he's got the protection from the Mob, but no connections. He doesn't know, and as far as I am concerned, he will never know. He doesn't need to know, and knowing would only put him in danger.
  68.  
  69. I smile as I flick my key out, thinking about my brother. Danny was always the special one. Knew it from the moment I met him when I was six, when my parents adopted him. I was a little annoyed at first. All the attention that my parents had given me before was now going to him, or was split between the two of us. I had actually gotten into a row about it with my parents when I turned nine, and that's when my Dad pulled me aside and gave me a talk I'd never forget.
  70.  
  71. I love my Dad. He was a great man, the greatest man. The marine, the fisherman, the story crafter, a horrible singer, teller of even worse jokes, and the strongest man in the world in my eyes. He sat me down and explained to me where he got the strength to do all those things. His love for my Momma. Love for Me. Love for my new little brother. Love for our family. All of our family.
  72.  
  73. Something changed that day. I don't know what it was, but I vowed that I would be there for my family. Be there for my little brother, from that day on wards. Twenty years is a long time to keep on a promise, but I haven't stopped yet.
  74.  
  75. That puts a solid smile on my face as I open the door, thinking of family, the good times, the bad times, and more importantly, that my family is safe, because of me. “Hey Danny-boy! Where you at little brother?” I yell out, looking around to avoid a sure-fire tackleglomp, mostly to avoid damaging my packages.
  76.  
  77. “Michael!” His excited tone reaches me as he whips around the corners, sliding across the wood floor of our apartment on his socks. Heh, ever the child, that's my little brother. Danny McCloud, twenty five as of today, chocolate brown hair, green eyes, pale white skin from sitting inside all the damn time, and video game fanatic. He's always been a short, weedy one, five-five and thin as a bean pole, and if he didn't have his student ID with him you'd swear he's 14. I grin at him as he comes charging hard and quickly put my bags aside as he tackles me with all 125 pounds of him. Which is to say, he doesn't budge me an inch and instead glomps me in a big hug.
  78.  
  79. I laugh, hugging him back. “Happy birthday Danny, you got a delivery from the Pony Express.” I grin, rubbing his head in a way that gets him to let go and pout at me. He hates it when I do that, but it's easy enough to get him to move as I grab the bags and make my way towards the kitchen. My little six room apartment really isn't that little. It's pretty big honestly, with a full kitchen and dining room, a large entertainment/living room that I call 'The Cave', my bedroom, the 'guest' bedroom, which is Danny's room, and a large bathroom/shower. Over all, a really nice place.
  80.  
  81. I drop the bags on the counter and check my watch. Thirteen-fifteen. Not bad for a seven hour meeting, and then a ten minute ride home. Good to be back. I smile as I hear Danny following me. “So, what did you get me, what did you get me, huh?” He asks, bouncing a bit, making me shake my head and sigh, a common action around my house. “Danny, come on bro, we haven't even started the party yet. Anyone else coming?”
  82.  
  83. “Nah, just us today. The guys from the card shop couldn't come because we had a tournament today.” Danny says, shrugging as I set my messenger bag on the table.
  84.  
  85. “Huh, shame, those guys can be fun to have around. But, if we're gonna get started, then your first present is to get to see... this.” I slide the jewelry box out and open it up so that Danny can look at it and he gasps.
  86.  
  87. “The Elements of Harmony!” He says, looking up and close at the beautiful pieces of jewelry. “This is what you were dealing over?”
  88.  
  89. I blink and look at the five necklaces and the tiara... crown... whatever the hell it is, once more. “... Huh. They do look like the elements, don't they?” I murmur. Didn't notice that while I was dealing. The golden necklaces and tiara all had the proper jewels and coloring. They were perfect. Literally perfect. Of course I knew that, that's why we were dealing so much for them.
  90.  
  91. “That's so cool! And they're a museum piece right?” Danny asks, marveling over them, reaching out to pick up one, though I smack his hand away. “No touch. And yes, yes they are. I'm not sure for who, or why they are though. They're very rare art pieces that are being donated.”
  92.  
  93. Lies. All lies. But lies that my little brother can believe. Lies that are important for him to believe, to keep him out of trouble, keep him away from the Mob. “The Boss figured they'd look really nice as a period piece, or just on display as a solo art piece. It's some of the finest jewelry we've seen, and yet it's all hand worked, no machinery was used on it. Makes it worth a small fortune, and yet it's just being given away.” I explain. “A labor of love that my boss just needed to have to display.”
  94.  
  95. Danny and I looked at the jewelry for a few minutes, Danny just kind of looking blankly at them for a moment, like he was entranced. I frown, and snap my fingers in front of his face to snap him back into focus. He shakes his head like a dog and blinks a few times before looking back at the finely crafted art in front of him.
  96.  
  97. “Wow, that's soooo cool!” Danny grins as I close the box and put them back into my messenger bag, tossing my suit jacket and pants aside. “Hey, are you gonna set up the side car today? You promised you'd give me a ride!”
  98.  
  99. I hum. Danny had bought me a really awesome side-car attachment for my motorcycle, painted with a herd of running mustangs on the side of it, to go with the pony theme. I hadn't been planning on setting it up for a while, but I did promise that I'd take him for a ride in it when I did. “I'll work on it later Danny boy. So, cake, or presents first?”
  100.  
  101. ------LineBreak-----
  102.  
  103. -May 1st, 2020. 2254 Hrs-
  104. The two person party went on without a hitch. Watched a few movies (including 'Equestria Girls'. Ugh. I still don't get his fascination with that show) and re-watched a few episodes of that show on his insistence. He loved his presents, a Princess Luna plushie that I had found in the discount bin at Walmart, (not that he'll EVER know that), and the newest Call of Duty game. Not the fanciest gifts ever, but he was happy, and wouldn't go anywhere without his plushie, so I figures it goes well.
  105.  
  106. Then again, Luna is his favorite pony. He's got enough pictures of her on his computer, so I figure he's more then happy to have her to cuddle with. Still a kid, needing a plushie to hug to sleep, but hey, no one else needs to know that.
  107.  
  108. I let out a deep breath as I recline on my couch in the lounge, smiling to myself. It was a good day, I had a nice, smooth glass of liquor as a birthday present to myself, we got the sidecar for my motorcycle set up, my family was safe, my bank account had a nice big addition to it for today's job, with the other half coming upon delivery... Yeah. Today was a good day.
  109.  
  110. I chuckle as I watch the TV. An old episode of Star Trek, the Next Generation is playing, and Captain Picard is dealing with that old time lord loon that seems to find humans a fascinating play toy.
  111. I laugh loudly as Picard practically leaps out of bed when the time lord is laying there with him.
  112.  
  113. “Hah! I forgot how good this show was.” I snigger, rubbing my chin as I take another sip of my alcohol when a word slips from the TV that makes me spit it back out in shock.
  114.  
  115. “Damn it Q!”
  116.  
  117. Woah, wait, what? I refocus on the TV, putting my drink down and actually watching and listening. The time lord guy talks back to Pickard, and the voice sounds very, very familiar, which spikes a little confusion in my mind.
  118.  
  119. Pickard calls him Q again, and Q keeps talking, and the more he does, the more he sounds like Mr. Q, that damned auctioneer. The more he talks, the more similar the two are... What the fuck am I thinking?
  120.  
  121. I stand up, shaking my head as I turn off the TV and finish my glass of booze with a gulp. Nope, that's my last glass tonight, I'm connecting fictional characters with reality. I've officially had too much to drink.
  122.  
  123. Heh. At least my little brother had a good birthday. I guess I did too. I check my watch. Twenty-three hundred. Yeah, it's time to sleep. I chuckle as it hit's twenty-three-oh-one. My date and time of birth. I smile warmly, humming the birthday song to myself under my breath as I go to the bed room and slide under the covers.
  124.  
  125. Yeah, it's gonna be a good night.
  126.  
  127. -End Chapter 1-
  128.  
  129. Chapter Two: Setting the Board
  130. -May 2nd, 2020. 1015 AM-
  131. I yawn as I slowly push myself out of my bed, rubbing the back of my head softly, wearily blinking as my hand slowly uncurls itself from the grip of my Thompson Submachine gun. Good ol' Tommy. Almost a hundred years old, and still works just as good as she did when she was made, my tomgirl. I smile and softly pat the pillow that it's hidden under, and after a moment, lift the pillow up to check the safety, check the magazine (twenty round stick mag. I got a few drum mags, but they don't fit under the pillow), put her back down and away, and roll out of bed, yawning again as I get ready to start breakfast.
  132.  
  133. I stumble a bit as I get to the hallway. Damn, that was some quality liquor. Malt. As strong as 151 and as smooth as cream soda. The good stuff. I hum warmly, a little light headed but still ok as I get myself up and on the move, slowly walking forwards, walking down the hall past my little brothers room. He's sleeping peacefully... no, wait.
  134.  
  135. I freeze, looking at his door, and after a moment, press my ear to the door. Something doesn't feel right. A few moments pass, and I hear a quiet whimper. Shit, another nightmare. I curse softly. He's been having on and off night terrors since the show ended. That last episode... hell, I wasn't even a fan of the show and it spooked me. It was just off. So damn dark, slightly demented... like one of the writers had written it on LSD and Shrooms. Hallucinations and Paranoia. I slowly open the door, the whimper a bit louder now as I step inside.
  136.  
  137. Danny is curled up tightly under the covers, squeezing his plushie close. He's got tears on his face, fresh and still falling, and is shaking like he's in the middle of a blizzard. I curse, wishing that Mom was here. She'd be able to handle his nightmares. She was always good at calming us down, but Mom isn't here, so it's on my shoulders. I softly place a hand on his shoulder, and shake it, whispering urgently. “Danny. Danny. Danny! Come on Danny, wake up buddy, it's just a nightmare. It's another dream, wake up Danny!”
  138.  
  139. He wakes up with a gasp and a jolt, flinching away from my touch, and my heart breaks a bit as he looks at me in terror, exactly how I'd imagine he'd look at me if I ever told him what I really did for a living, who I really worked for. His eyes slowly start to focus and he bites back his whimpers and tears, wiping his face. “M-michael...”
  140.  
  141. I softly rub his head. “Hey little brother. The dream come back? Come on, take a deep breath. It's just a dream. You're fine, you're safe, that stupid mythological creature ain't gonna come knocking round our door, and if he does, you know that your big brother's gonna break him.” I say, grinning at him warmly, comfortingly... or at least, I think I am. He shivers for a few moments more and sits up, shaking his head softly as he clutches at that Luna plushie. I take a moment to look around his room. His computer is blacked out. He must have turned it off. He always did prefer the dark to sleep in, and I can barely make out the posters and figurines from all kinds of anime and of course My Little Pony that adorn his walls and book shelves.
  142.  
  143. “It...” His voice makes my head rotate back to him, my focus fully on my quivering little brother, who lets out a soft breath before continuing, “It just felt too real Michael... it always does.” He mutters. “It felt... different this time though. More real... HE came... was laughing at me, because I was standing up against him, trying to keep him from... from Luna...”
  144.  
  145. The words pour out of his mouth as he starts to blabber about the dream, talking out the details. It's actually pretty freaky how detailed these lucid nightmares of his are. He's a pony in the dream, never can tell who according to him, and this pony ends up trying to fight Discord, only to watch in terror as the draconequus did something to Luna that made her vanish in a bright flash of white, and then to do the same to him.
  146.  
  147. I shake my head and softly rub his head again, trying to be as comforting as possible. I'm not quite made for this sort of thing. I've always bottled my own emotions, hid them and then let them out later. It's easier to keep focus that way, to get through the shit in life. “Hey, hey, calm down Danny boy. It's just a nightmare.”
  148.  
  149. “But it felt so damn REAL Michael! It always does!” Danny whispers, shaking his head again. I let out a hard sigh and lean back a bit, letting my hand leave his head.
  150.  
  151. “I know Danny. But it's a nightmare. It's your mind trying to terrify you or some shit like that. We know it sucks, but you need to get it together man. I know it's hard, but you need to let it go. Can you do that for me? Just for now. If you want to talk it out later, I hear ya, but at the moment I need you to get outta bed. I'm gonna start breakfast, and we need to eat if we're gonna make it to the zoo.” I say, Danny perking up a bit at the mentioning of the Seattle Zoo and Aquarium.
  152.  
  153. “We're going to the zoo?” He says, a bit of a smile coming to his face.
  154.  
  155. “Yeah, we're going to the zoo. Another adventure to be found, I'm sure.” I say, shaking my head. I hate the damn place, but he thinks it's awesome, and I did promise I'd take him somewhere. Besides, he always feels better after going to the zoo. Dunno what that's all about, but it seemed to do a decent job of chilling him out after a nightmare, so I guess it makes a pretty good deal all around.
  156.  
  157. I grin at him and offer my fist for a fistbump, which he gladly returns, a bit of a smile coming to his face before I turn and walk out the door to his room, heading back towards my kitchen to start up breakfast as I hear him start the shower.
  158.  
  159. That's one crisis solved. I smirk, feeling rather pleased with myself as I start making omelets.
  160.  
  161. ----Linebreak---
  162.  
  163. Breakfast went pretty smoothly, after Danny came out of the shower, still clinging to that Luna plushie. I guess it's comforting to him, and I'm glad he's enjoying his present, I just hope he leaves it at home when we go out. No need for him to make a fool of himself or end up loosing it. I'm pretty sure there aren't many of those plushies left if they aren't hand made by fans of the show. I mean, the shows been gone for five years now. I'd imagine it's difficult to find a fan who's still dead on for the show, who can make plushies, who's willing to make one for you.
  164.  
  165. We ate breakfast pretty slowly as I checked my watch again, eyes glancing over the digital display. Zero eight twenty. Perfect. I grin as I finish my food and put the dishes in the dishwasher and stand up, stretching. “Alright little brother. One more present for ya, and then we can get rolling.”
  166.  
  167. Danny hums, tilting his head as he looks at me. “Why didn't you give me it yesterday?”
  168.  
  169. “Well, it's a gift that you kinda need, and it is a gift, it's just not a really fancy one, and I'd figured that you'd like the plushie more.” I say as I walk over to the door, grabbing the last bag that I'd left there and bringing it over, pulling a old-fashioned motorcycle rider's helmet from the back and lightly tossing it to him. “Need a helmet if you're gonna ride.”
  170.  
  171. Danny breaks out in a massive grin, pulling the helmet on and strapping it as I pull my leather jacket on, stretching and checking to make sure that the internal hidden holster and my browning high-powered is still there. Yep. Everything is as it should be. I snatch up my keys from the table by the door and start out, Danny close behind, though he pauses for a moment to give his plushie another hug before leaving it on the table. I close and lock the apartment door after he leaves, and we make our way down to my bike, with it's new side car.
  172.  
  173. I don't like side cars that much. Don't let me ride as fast, nor as nimbly as I'd like, plus they always remind me of Mom and Dad. But Danny wants to ride, so a side car it is. He clambers into the car as I mount my steel stallion, grinning as I turn the engine on and listen to the horses rumble.
  174.  
  175. Side car or no side car, I love riding my bike, so we hit the road hard and smooth, the pony express on patrol.
  176.  
  177. The ride to the zoo was unremarkable, just a standard ride for me, minus getting used to the side car, but Danny seemed to be enjoying himself, whooping when I revved and cranked the speed up to quite a bit over the legal limit (slowing down before the cops saw us) and got us to the zoo in record time. I smirk at him as we ride, and as we pull into the zoo parking lot, chuckle lightly. “A bit better then going in that old beat up Dodge Durango, yeah?” I say, lightly punching his shoulder as I turn the bike off.
  178.  
  179. “Hell yeah! That was great!” Danny whoops, pulling a big grin up onto my face as I dismount and take my helmet off, storing it in my bike. I hold my hand out for his helmet, which he doffs and offers to me. However, I end up stopping short of taking the helmet as I gawk at his hair for a moment before chuckling.
  180.  
  181. “Heh, did I do something that spooked you Danny-boy? You got some streaks in your hair.” I laugh, taking his helmet as I grin at him. He blinks, and tilts his head at me as I put his helmet away and check my messenger bag.
  182.  
  183. “Streaks? What are you talking about?” Danny blinks, looking at me in an adorably confused way that makes me chuckle and shake my head.
  184.  
  185. “Your hair has a lighter stripe going through it, like you were shocked into a lighter color dude. Hah, it's probably just a trick of the sun.” I grin, shaking my head at him. “Well, whatever, don't worry about it. Come on, the whole day is ours, lets light this firecracker.”
  186.  
  187. He smiles and nods, following me as we head into the Zoo and start to explore. A few minutes in from the gate, a big sign is posted up, boasting about their newest attraction. “Hello, what is this?” I murmur, looking the sign over. “Saudi Arabian horses? Neat. Want to check that out Danny?”
  188.  
  189. “What's the difference between those horses and normal ones?” Danny says, shrugging. “I mean, they're all horses right?”
  190.  
  191. I shrug. “I dunno. Lets go find out.”
  192.  
  193. With that thought, we start walking, Danny starting to chatter about the various animals and their traits, making me smirk. It was gonna be a long day at the zoo, but damn if it wasn't worth it to get his mind off of that nightmare.
  194.  
  195. ----Linebreak----
  196. -May 2nd, IIVX-
  197. Blugh. Two hours of walking around the zoo and we finally came to the only thing that really caught my attention. The Saudi Arabian horses. They had them in a massive enclosure, in which a large group of horses were trotting around, eating, nickering at one another, and generally being, well horses. I have to admit, they were rather spectacular looking horses, more like prancing nobility then the work horses or running mustangs that adorned the side of my new sidecar, tall and rather majestic, a rather stunning specimen of a mare galloping by, almost blindingly white and her pale mane seeming to grab the sun as she passes.
  198.  
  199. Danny seemed to be in light awe, standing up on his tip-toes to get a better view of the horses as I snapped a picture or two of the horses in motion and one in particular of the majestic white horse. Hmmm, gives me a few ideas for a project to work on once I 'retire' from the Mob. I've got plenty of money, maybe a farm or a dude ranch or something. Whatever a dude ranch is. I'm pretty sure it's a ranch where you have lots of horses. Maybe breed 'em for the track or something?
  200.  
  201. Well, whatever, Danny has been enjoying himself all day, talking my ear off about animals, horses, the show, some art piece he was working on, a image he saw online, a story that he was working on... just talking talking talking, non stop. I love my little brother, but sheesh, sometimes he can really blather. I glance over at him, and stop for a moment, before looking between him and one of the horses he's looking at.
  202.  
  203. His hair looks... longer, and that lighter brown stripe is much more visible now. Kinda like one of the horses down there. A little unusual to be sure, and I find myself staring at his hair, a little confused. His hair has always been a dark, chocolate-ish brown. The lighter stripe was really weird to look at. He finally stops talking and looks to me and notices my stare, and nervously runs a hand through his hair.
  204.  
  205. “What? Something on my head bro?” He asks, trying to find what's making me stare. I shake my head after a moment and chuckle. “Nah, nah, just the sun playing tricks on my eyes little brother. Nothing to worry about. Come on, lets get something to eat and then kick the pavement, I think we've seen just about everything.”
  206.  
  207. He nods, so we make our way over to one of the overpriced restaurants, ordering some hot dogs and two sodas. We sit down to eat, when Danny starts talking. “Thanks for this BBBFF, it's really cool of you to hang out with your little brother.” Danny grins. I shake my head. “It's no problems. I know I got a lot of work to do, but come on, I can take a week vacation to hang out with my brother. Besides, after this job, we're gonna be set for a while.”
  208.  
  209. It's true, the money from this art run was gonna be tight. From what the Boss told me, he was gonna throw in a bonus for me, as a 'thank you' for the years of hard work. Maybe a promotion. I'd been running the delivery routes for the Mob for several years now, doing everything from gun running to moving precious pieces of artwork like this, and I've got a perfect delivery record. Dollars to Doughnuts that I've impressed the boss somehow and now I'm getting my pay for it.
  210.  
  211. I bite into the hotdog, not really paying attention to it when I notice something odd. A guy in a miscolored suit. Not really that big of a deal, but it was really weird. Don't see a lot of burly dudes walking around a zoo wearing a half-black, half-white suit. Especially when the white is on one half of the suit and the black is on the other, split right down the middle.
  212.  
  213. I try to put it out of my mind as I continue to eat, but something feels a little off about this guy. He's just looking around, and his suit really makes him stand out, the shades don't help. A few minutes pass and he starts moving away, pulling out a cellphone. I raise an eyebrow, and finish off my hotdog.
  214.  
  215. Dunno what his problem was, but whatever, he's not my business and isn't looking into mine, so I'll leave it be. No sense sticking your head into a hole in the wall just to have it cut off. “Alright little brother, ready to go?”
  216.  
  217. I glance over to Danny, who's only eaten a bit of his hotdog and has a slight frown on his face. He's eaten all the fries, but I guess the 'mostly pork' hotdog didn't agree with him. “Yeah, I'm good to go big bro. What time is it?”
  218.  
  219. I glance at my watch, reading the time and noticing the date idly in the back of my mind. May second, 2020. The digital display reads 0159. “Almost two o clock.” I say, feeling surprised. We spent a lot more time here then I thought we were going to. I look around at the crowd of people and families going about their day, and stand up, stretching.
  220.  
  221. I motion for Danny to follow and we make our way out of the zoo, walking out the front gate towards the parking lot. I have this weird, niggling feeling in the back of my head that something is wrong, but no matter how many times I scan around, I can't place it. I softly pat my jacket to make sure my browning is still there, which it is, and the feeling drifts to the back of my head, comforted by the knowledge that I can handle trouble if there is any.
  222.  
  223. As we walk over to my bike, I check my bag. Yep, everything's accounted for. The 'museum' pieces are still there, as well as my extra ammunition. I re-sling it on my shoulder and pull my helmet and his out of my bike, passing Danny's helmet over and pulling my own onto my head. At that point, my bluetooth starts ringing, making me let out a low, annoyed groan. I just wanted to enjoy a day with my little brother, is that too much to ask?
  224.  
  225. I mount my bike and start the engine as Danny climbs in, and tap the side of my helmet. “You've reached the Pony Express.”
  226.  
  227. “Ah, Mr. McCloud, good I knew I had the right number.” I blink as Q's voice echos over the speakers, that uncomfortable feeling from last night while I was watching Star Trek returning. I gesture to Danny to be quiet because I have a phone call as I speak up. “Mr. Q. How did you get my number? Or I suppose a better question would be why, and why you called me? I know that I'm the primary dealer with anything of your involvement, but all negotiation is to be done in person, and meetings set up-”
  228.  
  229. “-Through your enforcer, yes yes, I know procedure, but you see, Mr. McCloud... I have a request of you.” The voice is cold, malicious, and calculating, and immediately, that feeling of wrongness from before leaps up and grips me around my neck, making me shiver even as I push my bike back and start pulling out of the parking lot, head on a swivel.
  230.  
  231. “A request. Look, Mr. Q, all requests go through the Enforcers and then through the boss. I'm just the delivery man. That's why they call me the Pony Express. I negotiate prices and deliver final products. All deals are final unless the boss says otherwise. I don't do requests.” I growl, not pleased that my day was being interrupted rather rudely by this arrogant art dealer.
  232.  
  233. “Oh, but this is a request that I must simply -insist- that you oblige me with Mr. McCloud... you see, all I request is that you die in a fireball, and take those annoying Elements with you! Ari Vua!” Q's voice is dark, demanding, and full of maniacal glee as he suddenly disconnects.
  234.  
  235. I immediately gun my bike, pulling out as fast as humanly possible. That set me way too far on edge, and I take those kinds of threats seriously. Danny yelps as he's pushed back into his seat, looking at me in confusion. I ignore him as I look around wildly when I see it. A black SUV, Escalade from the looks of it, rolling after me, riding fast and looking to follow.
  236.  
  237. “Hey Danny, want to see some real riding?” I yell out so Danny can hear me. He looks confused but nods his head. “Sure, something up BBBFF?” He yells back, tilting his head.
  238.  
  239. “Nah, everything's fine, just hang on!” I say as I rev the engine and then race off, pushing my bike for all the horsepower I can get as I start weaving tight runs through the slower Seattle Traffic, glancing back via my mirrors to try to see the Escalade.
  240.  
  241. Damn, for a SUV, it's hauling. As fast as I'm going, about seventy, definitely over city limits, the SUV is doing about seventy five and it's gaining. I pull the bike and side car into a tight, looping left turn around a confused looking Taxi Driver, and the SUV follows. I curse as I look ahead. No cars in front of me, and glance back, cursing harder. There isn't a single car behind me, and we're on a straightaway.
  242.  
  243. One of the SUV windows starts to roll down, and my eyes widen as I watch a man lean out the window, pulling a rifle out with him, which he charges menacingly with one hand before bringing it around to aim at me and Danny.
  244.  
  245. I swear and veer my bike to the side, the telltale retort of a rifle being fired echoing as I see bits of the pavement to the side of me get ripped up. I pull more in front of the SUV, swearing long and hard as I start to reach in my jacket, only to look at Danny and notice him looking at me wide eyed and scared.
  246.  
  247. I bite my lower lip. If I pull my pistol, Danny'll know that somethings up. But he already knows somethings up, because we're being SHOT AT. I told myself I wouldn't get him involved in this kind of thing, and I don't know what the hell kind of game Q was playing, but I needed to protect my little brother.
  248.  
  249. I pull my browning from it's holster, and quickly rack the slide and unsafe it, holding my throttle down as I aim back for a few moments, pulling the trigger with a satisfying BLAM, 45 caliber death being slung faster then the speed of sound back at the SUV. It hits the windshield, making it shatter, and making the driver swerve and his buddy duck back inside. I whirl back to look at the road as I move from rolling about seventy to ninety, wind ripping at me as I tuck myself lower to the bike, behind my windshield.
  250.  
  251. “Michael!? What the hell is going on?” Danny yells, looking panicked as he grips the side car, ducking low.
  252.  
  253. “I don't know Danny, hang with me little brother, we're gonna get out of this, I promise!” I yell back, glancing to see if the rifle carrying asshole decided to hang out the window agai... well shit.
  254.  
  255. The guy is leaning out the window again, but this time he's got a fucking rocket launcher?! What the hell is going on? I scream bloody murder as I whip the bike and side car into a sliding U-turn as the guy fires the rocket. I watch as it screams by my head, inches from contacting my face, and carries on past as I roar forwards, U-turn complete as I zip by the SUV, firing my browning at them the whole way past. The guy with the launcher jerks a few times and slumps, pretty much falling out of the SUV as we drive onwards, when a loud roar lets out behind us. I glance into the mirror, only to look in horror as a good chunk of the road and sidewalk, as well as a lamppost and several windows are blown away by the rocket hitting the road.
  256.  
  257. “This is fucking insane. This is FUCKING INSANE!” I scream out, my heart hammering as I look back for the SUV, which swerved away down a side alley, and tap my helmet, activating my Bluetooth, dropping the speed back down to about 70 as I slow enough to keep the wind from killing my voice.
  258.  
  259. “CALL BRICK!” I yell, heart pounding as I look around for more trouble, more vehicles. It's like the world is deserted, there's nothing else around but me and Danny.
  260.  
  261. *Briiiing. Briiiiing. Briiiii-click* “This is Brick. What the fuck are you doing calling me right now Pony? You know this is Brick's personal time.” I barely resist the urge to facepalm as Brick picks up. Bright has this 'personal' time each day that he takes to do something really immature, like read a child’s story, or watch a cartoon, or something. I usually don't even think about it. But it's a big deal at the moment apparently.
  262.  
  263. “Brick! As much as I'd love to say I'm calling you simply to ask what you're watching today, WE'VE GOT BIGGER PROBLEMS!” I yell out, swearing as I pull another hasty U-turn as two more SUV's come into sight, guns and guys hanging out the windows. I swear as gunfire lances by and rips up the road and I crank the throttle harder, leaping from the seventy I was hovering at into the hundreds. A panicked cry comes from Danny as gunfire echos around me.
  264.  
  265. “What the fuck? Pony, what the hell is going on that you're got gunfire going off?” Brick says, sounding confused. Oh Brick, stop being stupid please. We got bigger shit to deal with right now.
  266.  
  267. “I'm being chased through downtown by motherfuckers in Black SUVS that were sent by Q, who are shooting at me and my little brother for some goddamn reason, and they've got FIREPOWER THAT'D MAKE THE ARMY BLUSH IN EMBARRASMENT!” Ok, maybe it was a over exaggeration, but what can I say, I panicked.
  268.  
  269. “Holy shit, that explosion a few minutes ago was you?! I thought that report was exaggerated.” Brick says.
  270.  
  271. “YES, it was me, dodging a mother fucking RPG round. GET THE BOYS ROUNDED UP! I need to get back to my apartment and grab my gear so me and Danny can book it!” I yell into the bluetooth.
  272.  
  273. “Dude, I can't, I'm in NYC, remember? With the boss.” Brick says, sounding very worried.
  274.  
  275. “THEN CALL THEM. Something, anything! I didn't join the mother fucking Mob to get screwed over at times like this!” I say, panic creeping into my voice as I turn, firing the last few rounds in my browning at one of the SUVs. It swerves away wildly and crashes into a building, so I'm guessing I hit someone or something important.
  276.  
  277. “OH! Right! Yeah, I'll get on it! Hang tight Pony, the Calvary is on the way.” Brick hung up and I prayed he realized how serious this was as I reached into my messenger bag to pick out another mag.
  278.  
  279. “B-Big Brother! What the hell is going on?” Shit... I forgot about Danny! I look over and my heart breaks. It's the nightmare look. It's that damned look that I always feared I'd end up seeing directed at me. He's scared. Terrified. Of me.
  280.  
  281. “Danny... Danny, it's gonna be ok. I promise.” I yell back. “Trust me, please little brother, I'm not gonna hurt you. They're not gonna hurt us.” I wince as one of my mirrors is blown away by a round of .556. “I WON'T let them hurt us!”
  282.  
  283. “You... I.... you owe me an explanation b-big brother... the mob?” Danny says. I can barely make it out, but I can read his lips just fine, and I shudder.
  284.  
  285. “I promise... to explain, little brother.”
  286.  
  287. My heart sinks. I promised. I never break my promises.
  288.  
  289. “Then you really should wake up.”
  290.  
  291. What?
  292.  
  293. ----Linebreak----
  294.  
  295. -May 2nd, 2020. 1500 Hrs-
  296. I cry out in surprise as I jolt upwards, clutching at my racing heart as I look around wildly. I'm suddenly tackled in my side with a crushing hug, and I look over at my little brother. “Wh-”
  297.  
  298. “Michael! You're ok!” Danny cries out as he hugs me tightly. “You were having a really bad nightmare big brother, worse then mine!”
  299.  
  300. I blink, rubbing my forehead softly as I look around. I wasn't in my bed, I was on the couch... guess I fell asleep watching Star Trek. That last glass of booze must have done me in. I shake my head. What a horrible dream...
  301.  
  302. “... Michael? What... were you talking about?” Danny asks quietly, looking up at me with soulful eyes. I wince.
  303.  
  304. I wanted to deny everything he might have heard out of hand, but I still don't know what was going on, so I look at Danny in confusion. “What are you talking about little brother?”
  305.  
  306. Danny pouts at me. “You never were a good liar Big Brother... how long have you been... been... a mobster?” Danny says, sitting back a bit.
  307.  
  308. I sigh softly. Yep. I was talking in my sleep. And apparently Danny was sitting for a while to listen. I glance at my watch. Fifteen oh five. Three o clock in the afternoon? Damn, I was really out of it... on a hunch, I quickly check my watch again. It reads the same. Not dreaming. “I said a lot in my sleep, didn't I?” I say out loud, slowly looking up to Danny.
  309.  
  310. “How long?!”
  311.  
  312. I hang my head a bit and look at my little brother, blinking and frowning a bit as I noticed something... off. “Uh, Danny, a question before you grill me- What's with your hair dude? It's... longer.” I say, shivering at the vague sense of Deja Vu from the nightmare as I look at his much longer hair.
  313.  
  314. “I don't know, don't ask about the stripe in it either, you mentioned it while you were sleeping too. Now tell me!” Danny says, prodding me in the chest with a finger, making me wince and sigh again.
  315.  
  316. “... Since I started being a delivery man Danny. Uncle Jameson was a enforcer years ago, and his condition for his help was for me to join the Mob till I turned thirty.” I said flatly, sitting back.
  317.  
  318. “Thirty... you've been in the mob for almost fifteen years?” Danny says, sitting back, looking at me in shock. “What the fuck?! Why didn't you tell me? No, wait, how didn't I noticed? Have you actually killed anyone? Is it anything like the movies? Why BBBFF?”
  319.  
  320. “To protect you!” I say, probably with a big more force then I should have, as Danny flinched back from my outburst. “Because I needed to keep you safe, because I promised Mom and Dad, because I wasn't going to that damned foster house, and I sure as hell wasn't leaving you there! I swore on their death bed that I'd protect and provide for you little brother. The Mob was just... an easy answer. Besides, delivering messages and packages isn't dangerous... mostly.”
  321.  
  322. Danny frowns at me and softly picks up Luna from my chest. I blink, and after a moment, pull him and the plushie into my arms for a hug. He had given me his plushie to try to comfort me in my nightmare. I vaguely remember something about Princess Luna being able to protect dreamers from nightmares. Pity she wasn't here, I'd have appreciated the help.
  323.  
  324. Danny sighs. “Not exactly the greatest birthday present here big brother...”
  325.  
  326. I shake my head. “No, not exactly the greatest birthday present, for either of us.” I say with a light chuckle, hugging Danny. “I'm sorry for not telling you, but I'm also not sorry at all for not telling you, because honestly, I'd rather you never found out.”
  327.  
  328. The pair of us let out a sigh and Danny fixes me with a glare. “You owe me something for this.” He says, crossing his arms. I groan, shaking my head.
  329.  
  330. “Whatever you want little brother.”
  331.  
  332. “ANYTHING?”
  333.  
  334. I bite my lower lip. “... Yeah, anything. I mean, I've got enough money and time.”
  335.  
  336. “... Pony marathon.” Danny says, crossing his arms.
  337.  
  338. I fix him with a blank stare. “... A pony marathon.”
  339.  
  340. “Yep! Starting right now, you're watching the rest of the episodes with me. Season three onwards.” Danny says, a smirk on his face. “You never watched the rest of them.”
  341.  
  342. I groan, rubbing my forehead. “Alright... alright... if we must.”
  343.  
  344. Not the worst thing that could happen, but honestly, not how I wanted to spend today... Oh well, time to man up and face the music.
  345.  
  346. “Alright Danny, lets watch... ponies.”
  347.  
  348. -End Chapter 2-
  349.  
  350. Chapter Three: Opening Moves
  351.  
  352. -May 3rd, 2020. 0229 Hrs-
  353. I groan and stretch, enjoying the cricks being popped out of my back as I stretch. Danny is happily curled up with his Luna plushie, watching the TV, where yet another episode of MLP:FiM is playing. Season four, I believe. The episode is actually pretty damn funny, reminds me of a horrible romantic comedy. Rainbow Dash going on a date that she doesn't realize is a date and the worst possible date EVER? I have to admit, the show's got it's moments, but this takes the cake. I find myself laughing and chuckling along with Danny as we watch.
  354.  
  355. “See, the best part is that Dash never realized that it was a date, even after words.” Danny giggles boyishly, kicking his feet a bit with a big smirk on his face. I haven't looked over at him in a while, focused on the TV as much as he was, and I hum in agreement, checking my watch before shaking my head.
  356.  
  357. “Damn... it's zero two thirty, really?” I mutter. We've been watching the show for close to twelve hours now, with no stop in sight. “Danny, I dunno about you, but I'm hungry. What's the plan here little brother?” I say, glancing over as the credits roll.
  358.  
  359. Danny hums softly before stretching and getting up from the couch in a rather unusual fashion. As he starts walking towards the fridge, I frown. “... Dude, why are you walking on your toes?”
  360.  
  361. He blinks and looks at me, and I notice that his hair looks even longer now then it did before, and it looks like he's got something hidden in his hair. “Huh?” He says, looking distracted. “What are you talking about?”
  362.  
  363. I sigh and point to his feet. “Dude, you're walking on your toes.” And he was, just arched up and walking on tip-toe, like a ballet dancer or a cat bugler. He blinks and looks down at his feet.
  364.  
  365. “Huh... I didn't notice.” He says, settling back down onto his heels and frowning at something before he settles back onto tip toe. “Doesn't feel right to be walking any other way right now.”
  366.  
  367. I shake my head. “Whatever bro. Grab me something from the fridge.” I say as I turn back to the TV, listening to him humming along with the music as the intro to the next episode starts playing. He comes back a few moments later, still walking on his toes, and tosses me an apple.
  368.  
  369. “Apples?” I says, chuckling. “Alright.”
  370.  
  371. Danny grins at me and sticks out his tongue playfully. “It's natures candy big brother. Come on, you know you love 'em.”
  372.  
  373. “Yeah, yeah, I know.” I say, shaking my head as I bite into my apple. Mmm, crisp and juicy Red Delicious, my favorite. Danny sits down and yelps, shifting around. I blink and look over at him. “You ok little brother?”
  374.  
  375. “Owww! I sat down on my tailbone!” Danny whimpers, standing up and rubbing his backside before frowning a bit. “Hm... hey, big brother, I need to see something. I'll be right back.”
  376.  
  377. I shake my head, wondering what he's up to as he walks off again, and I settle in to watch the show. I wasn't really paying attention to what this episode was about, but whatever it was, it wasn't quite as good as that last episode.
  378.  
  379. A few moments pass of me absently watching the flickering lights on the TV when Danny lets out a scream. I leap to my feet, snagging my jacket and ripping my browning out of it's holster as I dash towards his room, slinging the slide as I go. “Danny! DANNY! Are you ok?!” I yell out as I skid into his room, looking around wildly for any danger, only to freeze up at the most bizarre thing I've seen all day.
  380.  
  381. Danny has slumped to the ground and is staring into the full length dressing mirror that I have in pretty much every room with a closet in the house, that is to say, his room and mine, because you should always know how to look presentable. His eyes are wide in shock and he's got something his his hands. A something that is connected to his tailbone.
  382.  
  383. It's a tail, a long, dark chocolate and brown chocolate colored tail, long and flowing, and as I stepped in, two things on the top of his head swiveled towards me. Ears. Two ears. Two big, triangular horse ears.
  384.  
  385. “D-danny?” I says, looking at him in shock. He whips around, panic in his eyes as he leaps up and runs to me, glomping tight. “B-Big brother! W-whats going on? I-I felt a little weird earlier while we were watching a-and then I couldn't hear and then could hear again, so I assumed I fell asleep and...”
  386.  
  387. I take a few deep breaths and softly rub Danny's head, my hand noting the distinctly different feeling of his hair and the... fur, on his ears. It's different, very different. But it feels nice at the very least. “Easy Danny-boy, easy.” I say soothingly. “Uh... wow, this is different.” I say, thinking back to my nightmare and the strange things that happened in it. Danny with the different hair. The comparison I made to the horses and him. Jesus, this is getting kinda creepy.
  388.  
  389. “Ok, lets calm down, think this over logically...” I start to say when Danny lets out a little pouty snort, which is honestly rather adorable when combined with the ear-flick that came along with it.
  390.  
  391. “I've got pony ears and a tail Michael, logic's got nothing to do with this!” Danny whines, and I sigh.
  392.  
  393. “Ok, ok, point made. Ummmmm...” I frown, rubbing the back of my head as I try to think of something to do. “Alright, alright, calling a doctor? No no, bad idea. As is calling my boss... or calling Brick.”
  394.  
  395. “Your old highschool buddy?” Danny says, tilting his head.
  396.  
  397. I nod. “Yeah, he's an enforcer. He knows more about Pony stuff then I do. I just... we got nothing here little brother! I mean, you have a MANE. A TAIL. And HORSE EARS.” I say, letting out another deep sigh, rubbing the back of my head harder before running both hands through my hair. “This is insane. Absolutely... crazy?”
  398.  
  399. I blink as Danny suddenly takes off, running for the TV, and I follow behind, wondering what Danny's up to as he starts cycling through the episodes, muttering to himself. “Danny, what are you doing?”
  400.  
  401. “The nightmare!” Danny says, continuing to cycle through episodes till it ends on one in particular. The show's finale. I sigh in distaste. The rest of the show was ok, but this episode always set me on edge. It was too short. Sure, the first half of the episode is pretty awesome, the big battle, but the last half is talking, Discord... well, killing Celestia for lack of a better term, and then that scene with Twilight being... vanished, I think the term would be.
  402.  
  403. The episode goes just as it always has, but Danny is frowning, moreso then he usually does after watching this episode. “Michael... something is missing.” Danny says, scratching behind one of his ears, which flicks and flattens to the side of his his head to match the other one, which has been laying back for most of the episode.
  404.  
  405. “What are you talking about? That's the whole episode, just as it's always been.” I reply, wondering what he's going on about now.
  406.  
  407. “No, no no, it's wrong. It's very, very wrong.” Danny says. “There's a whole scene missing! The nightmare. The pony that's trying to stop him from getting to Princess Luna. Blimey, the whole scene WITH Princess Luna is gone!”
  408.  
  409. I blinks. That's a new one from him. Blimey? Where the hell did that come from? I frown at Danny, but motion for him to go on. “Alright, tell me more about the nightmare then... I mean, what's happening during the nightmare that's such a big deal?”
  410.  
  411. Danny sighs, flicking his ears, and his tail flicking to the side. “Well... the pony that was with Luna... h-he was small. And... feeling very scared. He didn't know what he could do to protect Luna...” He says, looking very nervous now, and I feel a little niggling tick in the back of my mind saying that something was very, very wrong about how he was talking about the dream.
  412.  
  413. “He... he had to be brave. He had to be. Because... he needed to protect the best Princess. He had to protect Luna!” He says, stomping his foot lightly.
  414.  
  415. I softly grab his shoulder. “Danny, Danny, calm down. I... in this dream, are you the pony, or are you watching this unfold?”
  416.  
  417. “I... I'm the pony.” He whispers.
  418.  
  419. “Well, it's a start I guess, but I dunno if that causes more problems or solves them, but it sure as hell gives me a million and one questions.” I grumble, rubbing my forehead softly, “At this point, I'm tempted to just look online for anything that could help us.”
  420.  
  421. “Us?” Danny asks, looking at me confused.
  422.  
  423. “Last I checked, you're still my little brother.” I say firmly, smirking at him. “Partially Ponyfided Person you are, I'm still your big brother, and I still have a promise to keep. And you know that McClouds never make promises they don't keep.”
  424.  
  425. Danny brightens up at that and hugs me. I smile and hug him back, and softly pat his back. “Tell you what little brother. I'm gonna hit up the net, see if there's anything on this kinda thing happening. I doubt it, but I need to do something. You go ahead and keep watching ponies.”
  426.  
  427. “Alright!” Danny says brightly.
  428.  
  429. I sigh and make my way to the computer, checking my watch as I go. It's May 3rd, and four o clock in the morning. Great. I log on swiftly, tapping out several searches after I pull up firefox.
  430.  
  431. ----linebreak----
  432.  
  433. -May 3rd, 2020. 0701 Hrs-
  434. Well, this has been a bust. Three more hours of searching and all I'm getting is bullshit and hearsay. A few messages around various forums have seemed genuine, but honestly, I'm not buying it. Too many chances for someone to find out too much involved as I log out with a annoyed grunt. Damn, things were just not going my family's way at the moment.
  435.  
  436. A few moments later, the silence I find myself in is broken by my cell phone ringing. The screaming guitar opening from one of the old Call of Duty Zombie modes starts playing as I snatch up the phone from my pocket and glance at the screen. Brick? What the hell is he doing calling this early?
  437.  
  438. I frown, unlocking and picking up the call. “Brick, what the hell are you doing calling the Pony Express at...” I check my watch, “zero seven? It's barely even morning dude.”
  439.  
  440. “I'm back in Seattle. You need to meet me at the Windpower Cafe in fifteen.” Brick says, gruff and to the point.
  441.  
  442. I blink, feeling very confused as I hear him speak. “What the fuck are you talking about Brick?” The Windpower Cafe was an old fashioned cafe that the Mob ran here in Seattle. Not a horrible place, the little ol' lady who ran the joint was an old Nanny of the boss, and a lot of the smaller meetings around town took place there.
  443.  
  444. “Pony. Windpower, fifteen fucking minutes. I need your help. Now.”
  445.  
  446. Well, Bricks feeling pretty vocal today. I nod to myself. “Alright, alright, I'll be there.”
  447.  
  448. “Good.” With that, the line goes dead. I shake my head. That was definitely Brick, but what the hell was he doing back in Seattle?
  449.  
  450. I walk out of my room and head back into the main part of my apartment. “Danny, I'll be right back! Brick called, he said something was wrong.”
  451.  
  452. Danny pokes his head around the wall of the entryway to the living room and frowns, one ear flicking at me. “Mob stuff?”
  453.  
  454. I sigh. “Possibly. But I don't think so. He would have said other wise. I'll be right back, ok? If... well, if you figure out something, or anything else changes, call me IMMEDIATELY, got it?”
  455.  
  456. “Got it Govn'a!” Danny says with a salute and a bright grin. I shake my head and smile at him to hide my unease. Something about this really doesn't add up. I look at my messenger bag and after a few moments, carefully take the jewelery, which I'm pretty sure aren't the actual elements of harmony, I mean, come on, it's a kid's TV show, out of the bag, and put the case in the living room with Danny before walking to my room and pulling the Thompson out from under my pillows, putting it in the bag along with a drum magazine and my extra magazines for the browning.
  457.  
  458. I mean, nothing's wrong, but still, that nightmare really has me on edge. Nothing is gonna happen, I'm worrying over nothing, I'm just being paranoid over nothing... right?
  459.  
  460. In case you couldn't guess, that was me lying to myself, trying to convince myself that everything was ok, that Danny was fine, that Brick just wanted me to get something to drink with him, and that the boss needed me to get something else. But too many things were just stacking up. Danny's nightmares, my own nightmare, Danny's new appendages, Brick's sudden phone call while all of this was happening.
  461.  
  462. I didn't like it. All of this started with that meeting with Q... getting the jewelry. I wish I could get some bloody answers, but at the moment, it's all I can do to just keep my head on straight as I get on my bike and start it up.
  463.  
  464. ----Linebreak----
  465.  
  466. -May 3rd, 2020. 0730 Hrs-
  467. Traffic was bloody and nasty, as you'd expect from morning traffic rush in a big city. Nothing that I couldn't make my way though with careful weaving, but all the traffic was just making me more paranoid. I was glancing around, looking for anything that stood out, men in unusual suits, someone holding something in an unusual way, unmarked vehicles, just anything... not right.
  468.  
  469. Eventually, that little cafe on the corner, the Windpower cafe, came into sight. I let out a deep breath, more of a hard sigh, of relief as I pulled up to a parking spot for motorcycles and set down the kickstand, turning my bike off as I dismounted, idly checking my browning and my bag to make sure nothing shifted out of place during the ride, and then checked my watch, looked away, and checked it again. Zero-seven-thirty-three, not bad in the traffic, and still awake.
  470.  
  471. I carefully picked my way inside, weaving past two hipsters looking for their fancy high class coffee that wasn't Starbucks, and looked around. The interior of the cafe was what you'd expect from a small, family run cafe. All wood, warmly lit for comfort, a small fireplace sitting in the corner, lots of comfortable couches and big, thick wooden tables. Frankly, they made for better cover, which was why they were there.
  472.  
  473. See, below the cafe was one of the safehouses for the Mob. Not a big one, maybe twenty people could fit inside. It was decently stocked, and was one of our command centers for the area. The lack of big windows and plenty of choke points made it easy to defend and was pretty much the first place I was to run to if one of the other families or other unscrupulous types were trying to muscle in on our turf.
  474.  
  475. What I didn't see, however, was the big, imposing figure of my highschool buddy, Brick. See, Brick was not someone you'd miss. I mean, he's big, bold, and built like a brick shithouse. He probably could walk through walls by taking the walls down, and he cuts through crowds like a hot knife through butter. And yet, I couldn't see him anywhere.
  476.  
  477. “Pony. Over here.” Aha! That's Brick! I'd recognize the low growl from anywhere. I turn, walking towards the voice. He picked the corner facing the door and away from the main store area, also away from the safehouse. Fits my paranoia pretty go- hang on a moment.
  478.  
  479. I freeze, blinking at the figure sitting at the table. That doesn't look anything like my buddy. For starters, this person is about two feet shorter then Brick, and maybe a fourth as wide. They're wearing a big sweater that looks like one of our old highschool hoodies, size XXXL. That's definitely Brick's sweater, but it's hanging off of this person like a draped curtain.
  480.  
  481. “Oh, sorry, I'm looking for one of my friends.” I say, giving the figure an uncertain smile, rubbing the back of my head. “I though I heard his voice over here.”
  482.  
  483. “That would be because you're looking at him, Pony.” The figure growls out. I jolt a little. This tiny figure is Brick?! That's certainly his voice, but...
  484.  
  485. “Pony, either stop staring, sit your ass down, and talk, or I'm going to stand up and put your head through the wall.” The-Figure-Who-Might-Be-Brick says flatly. I blink a few times and after a moment, move around the table, pulling out a chair and slowly sitting down, glancing at the door.
  486.  
  487. “I'm assuming that you're either Brick, or you have Brick on a cellphone on speaker, though it's got to be quality speakers...” I say, warily eyeing the hoodie wearing figure.
  488.  
  489. “It's me dumbass.” The figure says, sitting back in their chair. Now that I'm sitting, I can see a bit of a graceful, smoothed chin, and rounded, pouting lips that are set in an annoyed frown. I frown at them, and cross my arms.
  490.  
  491. “Bullshit. What are you doing back in Seattle? The Meetup is in four days and you're supposed to be with the Boss in NYC. You're definitely not Brick. Too small, though points for having his voice down. Who the fuck are you, how did you get my number?” I say, my hand creeping towards my jacket.
  492.  
  493. “Pony, I swear to fucking God that if you pull your Browning on me, I am going to break that hand, your arm, and your shoulder. It's me, damn it!” The figure that might be Brick hisses at me as they turn, allowing me a much better look at them.
  494.  
  495. A slender, graceful, and dare I say, feminine face looks at me. Smooth, carefully angled face, with bright, expressive sky blue eyes. A lock of unusually colored pink hair fell down in front of one of them, making the figure let out a light growl and brush it out of the way, revealing slender, but strong hands.
  496.  
  497. “Ok... ma'am, I'm having a real hard time believing you.” I say slowly, backing away as much as I can while in the chair.
  498.  
  499. The feminine face takes on a look of rage and lets out a deep, low growl before speaking up. “Fine. IF you're gonna go that way... You're Michael McCloud, You went to Rockridge Highschool, class of twenty-ten. I met you on your first day of freshman year for you, third floor bathroom, third stall on the right. I passed off a bag of weed for the Principal, a gift from the Boss to his cousin as a reminder that you were to be passed off as a nobody and to be left alone for shady dealings. The deal went down without a hitch and after that I lead you down the street to 14th and Main, where I introduced myself, Brick Farland, and introduced you to my big brother enforcer, Two-Cards.”
  500.  
  501. I blink, and frown. No one but me, Two-Cards, and Brick knew the whole set of details of that day. “... Ok, maybe I'm starting to believe you... what happened in the first firefight we got into?”
  502.  
  503. Maybe-Brick smirks at me, which was really discomforting on the slightly soft and feminine face. “August Second, Twenty-Fourteen. We were at the warehouses in the Bronx, just off the docks, and were setting a deal with the Triad. They wanted new guns, and they had a new set of explosives that the Boss wanted in on for money and for our own use. We agreed to a trade agreement, and you were sent as the dealer, myself as your backup. You were packing that shiny new Browning and six magazines, with an extra round in chamber, and I had a AK47 with three extra mags, banana clip, thirty rounds each.”
  504.  
  505. I feel my jaw slowly drop as Brick continues, because I had no doubt that this odd figure was him, between the voice and the details that he was giving me. “The Triad had four guys show up. Two muscular dudes, one carrying a fucking ninja sword, the other had some kinda tactical bullpup that we never found out what it was, some Chinese knock off of an AUG. The other two guys were their dealers, two weedy thin accountant like dudes, coulda been killed by a stiff breeze. The deal went smoothly, and we had just finished writing up the documents and shaking hands when a grenade came in through the upper window...”
  506.  
  507. “... The Mafia had found out about the deal and wanted to take everything for themselves, but we didn't bring any of it with us so they planned to kill both sides and make it look like we killed each other to start a war between the Mob and the Triads, maybe draw the Yakuza into the mix with a plant of some kind or another, but we wiped them out. One of the Traid's dealers was killed by the grenade, but we cleared out the Mafia guys. There were six. You killed three of them with the AK and the other guys got one a piece, but I got separated...” I mutter, finishing part of the story with Brick grinning and nodding as I put my jaw back in place.
  508.  
  509. “When I walked around that corner and saw you covered in blood, firing two full clips into a dead body, I thought you went nutso Pony-boy. You pulled yourself together pretty good afterwords. The Triad still call you the Blood Runner you know.” Brick says, leaning back and relaxing a bit, a smile on the feminine face, even as I wince at the name and the bloody memory, my hear pounding as a reminder of that faithful encounter rocks me to the core before I shake my head and focus on the here and now.
  510.  
  511. “Brick... God damn dude, what the hell happened to you?” I say, looking him up and down. “You look like you've lost a good two tons.”
  512.  
  513. “Feel like it too. Weird shit is going down Pony, weird shit.” Brick says with a nod, glancing to make sure no one can see us as he pulls the hood down. I gasped, and felt my jaw drop again.
  514.  
  515. That oddly-colored hair continued much like my little brothers, long and flowing, and two distinct white furred ears stood on the top of his head. The very much female face was more exposed now, with eyebrows and lashes to match. The ears swivel softly as I look at them, slowly folding back as he pulls the hood back up.
  516.  
  517. We sit staring at one another for a good five minutes before I'm able to work up the voice to speak. “What the fuck... just... what... what the fuck?” I say, looking at him with wide eyes. “How the fuck do you have fucking horse ears on top of your head? Who did this to you? Did they do it to Danny at the same time?!”
  518.  
  519. Brick blinks. “Wait, Danny? Little Pipsqueak's got this happening to him too?” Brick says, leaning forwards.
  520.  
  521. “Horse ears and tail, and... well, I think he's got a mane, but I can't really tell, but his hair changed color.” I say, leaning back in my chair, idly aware of the door to the cafe opening and closing.
  522.  
  523. “Well... small favors then.” Brick mutters. “What is his cutie mark?”
  524.  
  525. I blink, looking at Brick in confusion. “His... cutie mark? What, like My Little Pony?”
  526.  
  527. Brick huffs. “YES, like my little pony! Come on, I know Danny is a brony, what is his cutie mark?”
  528.  
  529. I frown. “I don't think he has a cutie mark Brick.” I say. Danny didn't mention anything about a cutie mark. “At least, if he does, he hasn't said anything about it. He's just had the changes. What's going on?”
  530.  
  531. Brick sighs. “I don't know, all I know is that we were in the middle of a meeting when the boss mentioned that my hair looked lighter and I noticed it was changing color! I got one of the other enforcers to cover for me and discovered that my hair was still changing, and when I went to take a shit I found a big red cross on my ass. A cutie mark of a background pony. I took the rest of the day off when I noticed I was getting... shorter. I grabbed one of the trucks and started back for Seattle.”
  532.  
  533. I shake my head. “Why back to Seattle? It's only, oh, I dunno, on the other side of the fucking USA from NYC.” I ask, looking as confused as I feel, I'm sure, tilting my head as I tap my fingers on the table.
  534.  
  535. “My safehouse is here, dumbass, and more importantly, most of the other field-docs are here. There's still business to be done, not all of us are going to the The Meetup.” Brick says with a flat glare. “I wanted someone from home to check me over. I started driving and keep on going. Got back late yesterday when I noticed that... these... were here.” He says, gesturing to the ears. “I also felt uncomfortable sitting. I had assumed because I was driving for so long, but instead, it was a bloody horse tail!”
  536.  
  537. I hiss at him, motioning for him to bring his voice down. We had gotten a glance from one of the nearby patrons. “Alright, alright, point made, drop the volume. So you were having these changes. Why didn't you call the doc?”
  538.  
  539. He falls quiet for a moment and then whispers back. “Because I woke up without feet and my penis this morning, that's why.”
  540.  
  541. … Well, it's official. That's the strangest thing I've ever heard anyone say about anything. Ever.
  542.  
  543. “Wait, wait, what?”
  544.  
  545. Brick glances around and shifts. I prepare to cover up my eyes, mentally worried that he's gonna flash me when instead he lifts up a leg and shows me a great, big hoof. A horses hoof. Right were his foot should be. I tentatively reach out and touch it.
  546.  
  547. “Uh, wow. Ok.” I mutter, softly tapping the hoof again, just to confirm for myself that what I'm seeing is real. “So... no... uh... junk?”
  548.  
  549. “Just a equine vag.” Brick confirms. “No, I'm not showing you.”
  550.  
  551. “No offense bro... uh... dude...” I bite my lower lip, not quite sure what to call Brick right now, so I finish up with a lame, “Brick, but I don't exactly want to see your... not so normal pieces. Less then I want to see your normal ones.”
  552.  
  553. Brick snorts softly. “Right. So, what's the deal with your little brother? What happened to Pipsqueak?”
  554.  
  555. I sigh and lean back as Brick puts his hoof down... er, her hoof down, and I cross my arms. “Long story or short story?”
  556.  
  557. “Short.”
  558.  
  559. I smile. That was a bit of classic Brick there, short and to the point, and oddly, made me feel a bit better. “Well, you know the First was my birthday and Danny's-”
  560.  
  561. “It's mine too.” Brick says bluntly, interrupting me and making me start.
  562.  
  563. “What? But we always celebrated on the thirtieth.” I say, looking at her in confusion. She sighs, and gives me another light glare.
  564.  
  565. “That's because my family celebrates birthdays at the end of the month. It's safer that way. Actual date of birth was the first at noon.” Brick says, crossing her arms. Weird to associate that male voice with the female body... wait, wait, no, female body with Brick's voice! What the hell am I thinking?!
  566.  
  567. “Ok... weird. Wish you told me that sooner... maybe...” I hum for a second in thought and then shake my head. “Right, back to the story. I finished up with Mr. Q over that art deal, the five necklaces and the tiara. Afterwords, I called you, ran home, and had the birthday celebration with Danny. I ended up passing out on the couch, too much good malt. Wound up in a nightmare, a pretty nasty one at that. Danny woke me up, heard me talking too much, I explained what I dreamed, something about Q being that chaos baddie from the MLP show.”
  568.  
  569. Brick holds up a dainty hand to stop me. “Wait, wait, back up. Mr. Q was Discord in your dream?”
  570.  
  571. I nod, shrugging. “Yeah. I dunno, it was just weird. Danny was having all these weird changes going on, longer hair and it was a different color, which turned out to be true, looked like a horses mane in my dream. We went to the Zoo because he installed a sidecar onto my bike...”
  572.  
  573. “Did that actually happen?” Brick asks.
  574.  
  575. “Yeah, it's his birthday gift to me. For easier package delivery and to give him rides, we got it all set up before I drunk myself into a nightmare, if you'll stop interrupting?” I say, raising an eyebrow at her.
  576.  
  577. “Sorry.”
  578.  
  579. “Anyway, I ended up getting a call from Q, and he told me that I needed to die in an explosive way, and take the Elements with me. I had no idea what he was talking about but some guys in mismatched suits followed me and started shooting at me and Danny while we were riding home. They were firing a M4 or something and then a fucking RPG. I think I killed the driver because the vehicle peeled off and then two more came up... and then Danny woke me up.”
  580.  
  581. Brick stares at me. “These guys in the suits... how do you mean, mismatched?”
  582.  
  583. I blink, and look at Brick. “Uh... well, black and white suits, but not pinstriped. I mean, like one half is white, one half is black, side by side, or they're wearing open suits, their shirts were half and half, and then their suits were half and half the other way, or just... mismatched. Usually in black and white. Why?”
  584.  
  585. Brick lets out a slow breath. “What do you have in your messenger bag, right now?”
  586.  
  587. “Thompson, it's loaded with a twenty stick and I've got a extra drum mag for it, and two extra mags for my Browning. Didn't bring the jewelry because I've been paranoid like all hell since the dream.” I say, sitting back.
  588.  
  589. “Good... good. Listen, don't react too quickly, but one of those guys from your dream is sitting at the bar right now.” Brick says slowly. I twitch lightly, but her hand is on mine and holds me back. “Hey. Relax. Don't draw yet. I'm letting the bartender know. I'm gonna take your messenger bag. I don't have my piece on me.”
  590.  
  591. I nod and look at her as she grins at me. “Listen. When I say go, this whole place is gonna go to hell. Don't shoot the guy, yet, but if he reacts strongly to you breaking and running, don't be afraid to shoot him. Where is your bike parked?”
  592.  
  593. “Right out front.” I say, forcing myself to calm down enough to not bolt or tense up. Tensing would be bad right before I ride, especially if I end up cramping up or something stupid like that.
  594.  
  595. “When you run, I'm right behind you. Start the bike, I'll jump in the sidecar. We'll make tracks for your place. You still got that hidden compartment above your bed?” Brick asks. Funny, her voice sounds lighter then it did a few moments ago. Higher.
  596.  
  597. I shake that thought, deciding not to mention it before speaking up, “Of course I do. We'll grab our gear and flee, right?”
  598.  
  599. “Our gear? Jeez, you're too giving Pony.” Brick teases with a sigh, shaking her head. I chuckle.
  600.  
  601. “Best friend in trouble, little brother in trouble... the family is in danger, and you know as well as I do that I made a promise.” I say, sitting up straighter even as Brick spreads a wide out grin as she flips her hood back on, that grin going from charming to menacing in an instant.
  602.  
  603. Brick waves a hand-signal, just two fingers held together that split apart, towards the bartender. I don't need to see the counter-signal from the bartender to know that they know what's up, and the gesture to the oddly-dressed man in the suit, wearing shades inside... pretty obvious now that I think about it.
  604.  
  605. “And McCloud's keep their promises.” Brick says as she gives me a warm, one armed, brotherly hug after standing up and stepping around the table, reaching down and unzipping my messenger bag. “On three.”
  606.  
  607. “THREE!” I yell, and leap out of my chair, bolting for the door as Brick rips my Thompson from the bag, flicking it to 'fire' and racking it as she starts right after me, slinging my bag over her shoulder as I reach into my jacket pocket.
  608.  
  609. The guy in the suit knows what's up apparently as he reaches into his own jacket, pulling out a frankly over-sized piece, like he's trying to show off. Some kinda fifty-cal jobbie, probably a Deagel, though why anyone would want to use that is beyond me. Overpowered piece of shit.
  610.  
  611. I dash past the guy in the suit, putting my shoulder into and through the front door, blowing it open with a loud crash as I run for my bike, just as the guy with the gun prepares to open fire, the click of the safety coming off audible.
  612.  
  613. Well, audible for all of two seconds before the sound of a Chicago Typewriter spelling out another message of death is heard. I don't need to look to know that guy's going down the painful way as the sound of flesh getting ripped apart by .45 rounds and blood splattering hits my ears followed shortly by screaming and yells of surprise as I hit my bike and leap on, starting the engine and revving twice when Brick leaps into the sidecar.
  614.  
  615. “MOVE IT PONY!” Brick yells at me as I peel out, whipping the bike and sidecar around and leaping onto the road, cutting off a guy in a pinto as we make our way gone as fast as I can. We're pulling away and a good two hundred yards off from the Windpower cafe when I hear a muffled whup, and then an overpowering bang. Heat peels across my back as I whip my head around and look in shock as a fireball licks the sky, right where the Windpower cafe was.
  616.  
  617. “Brick!”
  618.  
  619. “Ignore it Pony, we got bigger problems right now!” Brick yells back, getting me to focus on the road again as she keeps an eye out when I hear her gasp.
  620.  
  621. “Pony, what did those cars in your dream look like?”
  622.  
  623. “Big, black unmarked SUVs.” I yell to her, mentally cursing.
  624.  
  625. “We got two following us right now!”
  626.  
  627. “Oh for FUCKS sake!” I yell out, revving harder and swerving around a granny driver in an oldsmobile as I draw on all the horses hidden in my engine to take the road with a vengeance, the speedometer quickly climbing to highway speeds through the city streets, desperately racing to hit the highway and some more open roads.
  628.  
  629. “Pony! Please tell me that you've made some kind of modification to this thing!” Brick yells as she moves to a more comfortable firing position, leaning against the front of the side car as she braces, aiming the Thompson behind us.
  630.  
  631. “No, I kept the Express road legal!” I yell back.
  632.  
  633. “Well, then you better be great at dodging!”
  634.  
  635. “Why?”
  636.  
  637. Bullets answered my question as one whipped by my ear and took out my mirror, just like in the dream, some kind of rifle caliber ripping up the road as we were fired upon. I curse, ducking my head a bit as I quickly check my ear. Didn't hit me, but it sure as hell got close.
  638.  
  639. I grit my teeth as I hear the Thompson open up on the SUVs, Brick letting out a fierce yell as she fires at the black vehicles. I bite my lip, fearing that it was the nightmare all over again when a bit of the asphalt kicks up and hits me in the cheek, making me wince in pain. Yep, not a dream.
  640.  
  641. Brick fires off a few more choice shots before cursing, dropping the stick mag into my side car and pulling out the drum magazine and the third-hand. “Help would be nice Pony!”
  642.  
  643. “How? I can't exactly drive comfortably one handed!” I say as I swerve the bike and sidecar, pulling us out of the line of fire, hopefully, as Brick works the bolt of the Thompson and starts firing again. She lets out a victorious yell as I hear tires screeching and the sound of metal crunching and scraping across the ground, and then the hard crash and breaking of glass of something heavy hitting something solid.
  644.  
  645. “HAH! Flipped 'em! Got the driver, and their buddy couldn't get around! We're clear Pony-Boy!” She crows. I let out a light breath as I continue riding hard, carefully but swiftly whipping around a corner even as I keep the horses running. Good, we're getting away, maybe.
  646.  
  647. What the fuck is even going on? How the absolute fuckery is any of this real?
  648.  
  649. “Hide the Thompson Brick, I'm gonna pull onto the highway. Keep out of the lime light, so to speak. No need to be around when the cops show.” I reply, veering towards the on ramp that I had planned to hit to try to outrun the SUVs before pulling up onto it, slowing down to the legal limit.
  650.  
  651. Brick nods to me, her ears swiveling as she stows my Thompson away out of sight but still in easy reach. I look around, glad to see that we aren't in any danger for the moment, minus my missing mirror, and we smoothly integrate into traffic.
  652.  
  653. Jeeze. That was just like my Nightmare, well, minus having someone that could use a weapon with me. And having a real weapon with me. In fact, all that's missing is the phone call.
  654.  
  655. We make quick time down the highway, and we soon reach the exit towards the apartment complex when Brick reaches over and taps my shoulder. “Find a seven-eleven or something to pull up too!” She yells out. I nod my agreement as we roll down the off ramp.
  656.  
  657. There's a small convenience store right down the street from my apartment complex. Not exactly the biggest place in the world, and I'm friends with the owners, a little old Chinese lady and her son. Her son is a good kid, he's gonna go places in the world. We pull in smooth, and I turn off my bike, dismounting and stretching a bit, Brick hopping out of the sidecar after putting the Thompson back into my messenger back as I look at my mirror.
  658.  
  659. “Damn, shattered... gonna need to replace that.” I sigh, shaking my head. It's not that bad, I can replace it myself once we get back to the apartment, but damn it, I hate having to replace my mirrors. I average about three every month, so it gets annoying after a while. Brick walks up next to me with a grin.
  660.  
  661. “Another broken mirror Pony?” She says with a light chuckle. I shake my head at her and then gasp.
  662.  
  663. “Dude! Hoodie! Hoodie!”
  664.  
  665. Brick blinks, tilting her head at me in an adorably confused way. “Huh?”
  666.  
  667. I groan and grab her hood and pull it up over her head, leaving enough for her to see. “Your ears Brick! Crap, were they visible for the whole ride?”
  668.  
  669. Brick blinks at me and then face-palms, cursing. “Crap, yes, my hood was pulled down by the wind!” She says, looking around. “I don't think anyone followed us though, so we should be ok.”
  670.  
  671. I groan, shaking my head. “Be careful man, we don't want people to notice. Less reason for us to be noticed, the better, especially after... well, that.”
  672.  
  673. Brick nods in agreement and starts towards the convince store when my phone starts ringing. I sigh and shake my head. Jeeze, seem to be doing that a lot recently. “Go on in Brick. I'll follow behind you after my phone call.”
  674.  
  675. She waves me off as I pull out my phone and unlock it, picking up the call. “You've reached-”
  676.  
  677. “The Pony Express. Yes, yes, I'm quite aware that I've reached you, Mr. McCloud. Now, that wasn't very nice, how you played with my toys.” My blood freezes as the voice on the other end of the line speaks up. A voice I've heard a few times recently. Once in person.
  678.  
  679. “Mr. Q.” My voice is cold and emotionless, even as my heart races like only something from your nightmares can make it race, a chill running up my spine like someone was dragging a knife across it... or someone was stepping on my grave.
  680.  
  681. “The one and only. Tisk tisk. Why are you getting involved Mr. McCloud? Oh, because I wanted you to! Such a willing pawn as well. Taking the Elements with you wherever you go. Come now, did you really think I was going to let you walk away with those? And then you come back out into the open with the same messenger bag? Really, it was obvious.” Q says, smug and annoying as ever, but now, that darker tint I heard during my nightmare is much more focused.
  682.  
  683. “What the hell do you want Mr. Q? Your toys? You mean the guy in the suit that blew up the cafe and the ones that had that horrible accident?” I growl out, my dander now fully roused and white hot anger overriding fear and paranoia as I lay down the not-so-subtle threat.
  684.  
  685. “Oh come now, they weren't real. I don't have nearly enough influence in your world to have real people. But nor does most other magics. The Elements, for example. Twenty-Five years of no charge leaves them nice and dead. Ready to be destroyed! Not by my hand of course... no, they're in your possession. Their destruction is on your hands.” Q crows, obviously pleased with himself. “It was the plan, you see. The whole time. I've waited so long for my plan to come to fruition. And now, now, it's almost done!”
  686.  
  687. “What the fuck are you talking about?” The growl is gone, replaced now with only confusion. Not real? Magic? The Elements? Does this fucker really think he's actually Discord? Any more thoughts are cut off by the maniacal laughter that can only come from a cartoon villain.
  688.  
  689. “Hehehe... Heaahahahaha! MUAAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAA!
  690.  
  691. FOR FIVE SCORE, DIVIDED BY FOUR!
  692. YOUR MEMORIES REMOVED! YOUR BODY CONFUSED!
  693.  
  694. FOR YOUR INSOLENCE YOU MUST PAY!
  695. CAST OFF TO A LAND FAR, FAR AWAY!”
  696.  
  697. I hiss, snatching the phone away from my ear. This fucker was LOUD, and more importantly, something about what he was saying was shaking me in the very core of my being. I gripped at myself as I threw my phone at the wall, as hard as I could. It shattered upon impact. And yet, the voice continued, hauntingly screaming through my ears.
  698.  
  699. “TO SCATTER THE SIX, JUST THE START OF MY TRICKS!
  700. THEIR MINDS ARE WEAK, YOUR OUTLOOKS BLEAK!
  701.  
  702. THEY FORGOT EVERYTHING AND SHALL LIVE AS FOOLS!
  703. NOT EVEN YOU SHALL CHALLENGE MY RULE!”
  704.  
  705. The words scorched me. I felt like someone stabbed a knife in my chest, and let out a strangled, pained cry. Moments later arms wrapped around me and I felt myself pulled over to my bike, away from my phone, which was smoking before it shorted out with a loud POP.
  706.  
  707. “Pony! Pony! Goddess damn it MICHAEL! Deep breaths brother! Come on, calm down! You're gonna be ok!” Brick's voice filtered through my ears, about two octaves too high. I let out a pained whine, my feet scrabbling against the ground for something to grip onto, some kind of traction.
  708.  
  709. The fact that she actually said my name filtered into my head, making me shake and pull my head together long enough to look at Brick. Her face was written with worry and she was muttering under her breath, her hands flying over my body before pressing two fingers into my neck.
  710.  
  711. “Pulse is flying. Damn it Pony, talk to me!”
  712.  
  713. “B-brick... Q... I... wha...” I stutter, trying to regain focus before she pulls me up onto my feet.
  714.  
  715. “You had a panic attack, I- wait... you were talking with Q? Mr. Q? The same guy that you've been doing art deals with for the last six years?” Brick says, blinking at me.
  716.  
  717. “Yeah, the same Q. He... he was saying some weird shit. It felt wrong, like he was trying to attack my brain or something.” I say, panting a bit.
  718.  
  719. “... I've heard that before, what he said. Discord said it.” Brick says, “In the series finale.”
  720.  
  721. “Wait, in my little pony? What the hell are you talking about Brick?” I say, looking at him in confusion. Brick finally gets me stable and clambers into the side car.
  722.  
  723. “I'm not sure, but we need to get back to your place. Now. Get on and drive Pony. It's time to watch a cartoon.” Brick orders. I shakily comply, getting onto my bike and starting off as Brick pulls a carrot out of a shopping bag and starts quietly munching on it, pretty nonchalant about letting someone currently in shock drive.
  724.  
  725. I blink at that. Brick never was one much for carrots. Or veggies of any kind. But frankly, today has been weird enough without questioning eating habits, what with being shot at and having a cafe explode and... I suddenly have the urge to check my watch, and then check it again. I boggle at the time. It's not even thirteen hundred yet. Noon-Thirty. I groan, holding my head in my hand for a moment.
  726.  
  727. It's gonna be a long day, and it's not a fucking dream.
  728.  
  729. I wish it was.
  730.  
  731. -Chapter 3 End-
  732.  
  733. Chapter 4- En Passant.
  734.  
  735. -May 3rd, 2020. 1245 Hrs-
  736. We rolled into my apartment complex quietly. Well, as quiet as you can be on a Harley, but still, quietly enough. No gunshots, no panicked racing. Just calm, cool, quiet driving, slowly rolling back in to my parking spot. I park with a deep sigh, softly hanging my head, taking in the momentary quiet.
  737.  
  738. Too much had happened in such a short amount of time. This was ridiculous, just absolutely insane. Nothing I expected and nothing that I wanted to deal with. Not right now. Not today. Not ever. But, my problem or not, it landed in my lap, and was effecting me whether I wanted it too or not. I take a deep, shuttering breath and let it out slowly, shivering for a moment, and raise my head a bit as I feel a small, slender hand rest on my back.
  739.  
  740. “Deep breaths Pony. You got through a nasty case of shock fairly quickly, but you're probably still feeling some of the effects.” Brick says quietly, looking at me with soulful eyes. I give her a quirked half-smile.
  741.  
  742. “Yeah, still feeling it Brick. Thanks. Didn't know you knew so much about medical stuff.” I comment idly. She grins at me and pats me on the shoulder before climbing out of my sidecar, pulling my messenger bag with her.
  743.  
  744. “I've always been good with medical crap. You're just good at avoiding getting hurt Pony-boy.” She says, her voice smooth and alive. Much more lively then I've ever heard Brick's voice... you know, come to think of it, it doesn't sound anything like Brick anymore. At least, not the big buddy of mine. It's a female voice. I kind of like it actually.
  745.  
  746. “Heh, avoiding trouble is something I'm good at Brick. Apparently I can't avoid this.” I say, shaking my head. “Alright, come on in. Lets see how Danny is doing.”
  747.  
  748. Brick grins at me as I pull the keys from my bike and trot up the stairs to my apartment, unlocking the door and walking inside. “Danny? Danny!” I call out, looking around for him as I walk in the door. “Hey, didn't get any calls from you. I'm assuming nothing changed?”
  749.  
  750. A slightly squeaky, almost Nottingham accent calls from the living room. “Big Brother! Help!”
  751.  
  752. I bolt towards the living room, cursing and drawing my Browning as I go, Brick hot on my heels, clip-clopping with each step. “Hang on Danny, I'm coming!” I yell as I skid around the corner, aiming into the room, only to freeze at the sight before me.
  753.  
  754. Danny is strung up in the room, tied up in the handset cord of the old telephone I have, his arms tied up together and one leg plus hoof up there as well, and somehow got his tail tangled in there as well. He's much, much smaller then he was when I left, and I'm left covering my face with one hand as I put my Browning away.
  755.  
  756. “... Danny, do I want to know how you ended up tangled in the phone cord?” I say blandly, Brick letting out a giggle behind me. I blink at the unusual sound before the light, squeaky voice of Danny snaps me out of the momentary daze.
  757.  
  758. “W-well, I was gettin' hungry, 'n I wanted an apple or somethin'. See, I was gonna just go the fridge, but when I got up, I feel outta my pajamas!” Danny says. I blink, noting that yes, he is wearing nothing but his boxers, which look like long gymshorts on him now, though the waistband is thankfully still wrapped to his body for the most part.
  759.  
  760. “Riiiight.” I say, looking over at the pajamas on the floor. “Go on.”
  761.  
  762. “Well, I figured tha' you'd want ta know that I was gettin' so small, so I was gonna make a phone call.” Danny says, trying to sit up to talk to me. “But I couldn'd reach the phone, so I went to the fridge, bu' I couldn't reach the 'andle for the fridge! So I ran back to the phone and climbed up to the phone...”
  763.  
  764. “Ok, stop there Pipsqueak. Hold still.” Brick says as she steps past me, rolling her eyes as she starts looking Danny over and checking him for injuries as she starts untangling him carefully.
  765.  
  766. “Lor' Blimy! You found another one big brother!” Danny says, smiling as he looks at Brick's hooves and ears. The hood must have been pulled down while we were running. “She's pretty!”
  767.  
  768. I snigger lightly to myself. “That's Brick Danny. I know she looks a little unusual now, but it's just Brick.” I nod.
  769.  
  770. Brick blinks and then looks over at me, raising an eyebrow. “Did you catch what you just said?” She asks, tilting her head, making her bangs sway over her eye again. I look at her in confusion.
  771.  
  772. “What, I just said it was you Brick, did I say something weird?” I say, frowning.
  773.  
  774. “You called Ms. Redheart Brick, big brother! That's not right!” Danny giggles, the much smaller twenty-five year old acting more in a manner of a five year old, maybe six. Brick huffs and blows her mane out of her face before finishing untangling Danny, who slides out from his position on his back and stands up. He's maybe three and a half feet tall now, and grinning like a loon as he dashes over to me, the traditional clip-clopping of hooves meeting each step as he leaps and nabs me in a hug.
  775.  
  776. I chuckle and hug him back, softly rubbing his head. Brick stands up, wiping her hands against each other as she stretches with a nod. “Right, well, now that the little crisis is handled, lets get some food in him and ourselves.”
  777.  
  778. That sounded very agreeable, so I heft Danny up onto my shoulder, and he giggles like a loon as I walk us into the kitchen and set him down on one of the chairs at my table before walking over to the fridge and pulling it open. “So, Apple, yeah?”
  779.  
  780. “Yes please!” Danny says with a grin. Brick lets out an affirming huff as she walks in. “I'd like one as well please Pony.”
  781.  
  782. I pull out an apple that I toss over to Brick, who catches it and starts munching away idly, and throw together a sandwich for myself. Danny grins at me as I settle down with my slapdash 'whatever is in the fridge' sandwich, with chips on top. “Here you go little brother.” I say, rolling the apple over to him. He grabs it with a big grin and starts chowing away as I start eating my sandwich.
  783.  
  784. We all fall quite, lost in various thoughts as we eat, the only sound the ever present crunching of apples being eaten and the softer cunch of my teeth ripping into my sandwich n' chips every once in a while. I let myself slump and eat with table manners that would have had my Mum in a rage if she ever caught me doing it, but after the start of the day, I didn't feel like eating properly.
  785.  
  786. Several minutes pass, before Brick makes an audible huff and breaks the silence, grabbing both Danny and my attention. “So. What was that whole ordeal about, Pony? You freaked out a bit there after the phone call you got from Q. I mean, I heard the end of that, and it was freaky, but until we see the season finale, I won't know for sure.”
  787.  
  788. I freeze, half-way through chewing another bite of my whatever sandwich. “...” I pause, swallowing before setting the sandwich down, very well aware of my little brother's gaze, emphasis on little, looking at me. “I... well, I'm not sure. I mean, I'm sure, but I'm not. There's a lot that happened there Brick. He was being... deliberately confusing. Like he was taunting me.”
  789.  
  790. “Tell me.” Brick says, leaning back, crossing her arms across her chest.
  791.  
  792. “Um... well, he said that I was... a pawn. That it was all part of some damned plan or another, that he wanted me to be in possession of the elements, something about him not being able to effect it or effect humans, but his 'toys' could... the guys in the suits. That they weren't alive.” I say, leaning back, softly clutching my forehead.
  793.  
  794. Brick nods, urging me to go on with a hand. I close my eyes, thinking back to the phone call, trying to remember everything I can before I speak up. “He said that the destruction of the Elements could only happen if they were in my possession. Something about them having no charge. Twenty five years...”
  795.  
  796. The words slip from my lips, unbidden and unwanted for the most part, but yet, there they were. “For f-five score... divided by four... their memories removed, their bodies confused...”
  797.  
  798. I stop, shivering, not wanting to say a single word more. Danny blinks at me, and quietly speaks up. “For your insolence you must pay...”
  799.  
  800. Brick then chimed in. “Cast to a land far far away.”
  801.  
  802. We finished it together, our voices in unison. “To scatter the six, just the start of my tricks, your minds will be weak, your outlook bleak, Forgetting everything and living like fools, you have all lost, now no one can stop my rule.”
  803.  
  804. Once we stop, we all shiver softly, and I lean back, letting out a slow breath before my spine stiffens for a moment with a cold chill. “... Oookay, that was freaky.”
  805.  
  806. “That's the words big brother- the ones from the nightmare.” Danny says, looking at me with his big, soulful brown eyes. Brick nods and speaks up. “I've heard those before as well... again, a nightmare. I always thought they were just... words from a dream.”
  807.  
  808. “Mmm, Danny, who said those words? Your nightmare, it was Discord, right?” I say, looking to my little brother, who nods in agreement.
  809.  
  810. Brick frowns. “Then why does Q know them? That makes no sense.”
  811.  
  812. I hum, closing my eyes and crossing my arms, softly tapping my arm with my fingers as I do my best to think. Nothing came to mind, making me snort in frustration. “Damn it, there has to be something we're missing. A thread, some kind of connection.” I grumble, not pleased by the mental gymnastics that all of this was causing.
  813.  
  814. We sit there pondering for a while before I sigh. “This is getting us nowhere. I need a fucking break. I'll see you in a few.” I mutter, Danny blinking his soulful dewey eyes at me as I stand up, Brick frowning at me even as I turn to leave.
  815.  
  816. I meander a little bit after I slip out of the kitchen, rubbing my head and trying to calm my nerves, looking down at a still shaking hand. Shock indeed. This whole fucked up mess is one big shock.
  817.  
  818. I groan softly as I slump down onto the couch in the living room, letting out another, louder groan and a curse as my elbow comes down on the remote for my TV, and changes it off of DVD and back to the scheduled programming.
  819.  
  820. “-And it's absolute chaos here in downtown Seattle where a shootout took place outside of this small, family owned cafe. This is the second currently unexplained explosion to take place today, and police are on high alert for possible terrorist activity, as a bookstore was destroyed from the inside around midnight, and now a shootout took place outside this cafe just a few blocks away. Thankfully, no bodies were discovered and it appears that all onlookers were able to escape the cafe without injury, though the owners are distraught at the loss of their property. Police have issues pictures and reports from eyewitness observations of two figures who fled the scene, chased by two large black SUVs. Police assume that the motorcyclist and passenger caused the damage seen here.” The news woman is saying, pictures of the blacked corpse of the Windpower Cafe on the screen, followed by a cellphone pictures of my bike. Or rather, my back tire, the back of my left leg and a bit of my boot, a bit of the sidecar, and the long hair of Brick being whipped around by the wind. Thankfully, it missed my license plate entirely. I let out a slow breath as the image on the screen switches to the SUVs, crashed together before the on-ramp to the highway.
  821.  
  822. They were riddled bullet holes. Brick really went to town on them, the glass in the windows were shattered, and both vehicles were beaten to hell, having crashed into one another. A body was blurred out, but from the coloring it looked like he was wearing a mismatched suit, hanging in a rag-doll-on-a-shelf kind of way halfway out the window, the body twisted in unnatural ways... he must have been hanging out of the window when the SUV rolled.
  823.  
  824. “Current casualty count is six fatalities from the highway shootout, all from the two SUVs, and three scorch and concussion hurt men from the explosion in the Windpower Cafe.” The lady finishes. “Seattle's Police Department has issued a request for any possible information for either of these attacks in order to find the cause of these possible terrorist attacks, though no claims for either attack ha-”
  825.  
  826. I turn the TV off with a softly shaking hand, shivering softly. They had pictures of my bike. They had a picture of Brick, though it looked like you couldn't see more then her mane. The weirdos in the suits had caused some serious damage, and some people had gotten hurt because of it. I drop the remote on the couch and hang my head, softly gripping my knees.
  827.  
  828. It was my fault. I don't know how, I don't know why, but Q had planned this. He said as much. He was trying to kill me. He didn't care who got in his way, but he was trying to kill me, and destroy the fucking jewelry that looked like it was out of a kids TV show. For some crazy ass master plan that was threatening my best friend and my little brother. Today couldn't possibly get any worse.
  829.  
  830. I don't know how long I was sitting there, just hanging my head. A soft arm draped itself around my shoulders, giving me a soft squeeze. I slowly turned my head and saw Brick sitting there, trying to give me an encouraging smile. “Hey, come on Pony-boy. Don't be so down, we've been in worse scraps then this.” She says with a firm nod.
  831.  
  832. I half-laugh as I nudge her with my elbow. “Bullshit, I'm good at avoiding danger remember?” I give her a half-baked smile before frowning and sitting back. “This is just so fucked up. Who the fuck is this guy, what's his deal? Why the hell does he want me dead? Doesn't he know that the Boss is gonna raise hell if I'm not at the me-”
  833.  
  834. I pause and then groan, hanging my head. “Fuck. The Meet-up.”
  835.  
  836. Brick blinks and then blanches, shaking her head. “Damn it, I forgot about that as well. There's no way in hell you're gonna be able to get there if the Police are looking for suspicious individuals with the Elements on you.”
  837.  
  838. The Meet-up. A bi-yearly event for the Mob, Mafia, Yakuza, and Triads, as well as some small time Gangs around the USA. It's one of the few 'peaceful' moments between the families. A time for making agreements, deals, adjusting old ones, discussing territories, and showing off the newest hardware we have, showing off power. Or, showing off the newest items we've acquired. Art pieces, stolen goods, new vehicles. Anything really fancy and showy, or rare, that we can show to prove that we're more powerful, have better connections. A big game, really.
  839.  
  840. I slowly stand up and walk over to the jewelry case that started this whole mess and after a moments hesitation, pick it up, carrying it over to the couch and my coffee table before I put it down and open it. Five gorgeous necklaces, perfectly crafted and set in gold, and a beautiful tiara that glints in the lights of my living room. I softly lay my fingers on the jeweled star adorning the tiara, letting out a thoughtful hum before I groan and hang my head. Q really did want me dead, and he had been planning it the moment I had negotiated for the Elements.
  841.  
  842. I look over at Brick, who's been showing much more emotion then I've ever seen her show before. She gives me a soft, worried frown, and stands up, walking over to my side. I sigh and slump back down onto the couch and after a moment, she sits down with me.
  843.  
  844. “You got something on your mind Michael. What's wrong? Did you figure something out?” Brick asks quietly as she prods my shoulder with a finger. I look at her, eyes moving over her slender face, bright, shining eyes, and perky ears, which are swiveled towards me to catch everything I say. It's kinda cute really, and earns a small chuckle from me before I sigh again.
  845.  
  846. “Yeah. Whatever Q's plan is, he was planning it for a while. He's convinced that killing me is important.” I say flatly, turning to look at the Elements again, gazing at the beautiful jewelry. “He's planning on turning the Mob against me. Actually, no, he already has.” I growl, gritting my teeth as a spike of anger rolls through my veins as the sudden insight hits me with a jolt as I pull my finger away from the jeweled star.
  847.  
  848. “What are you talking about?” Brick says, frowning. “The Mob would never just abandon you, you're family!”
  849.  
  850. “Yeah, family that has been photographed running from one of our safe-houses before it exploded with a girl they don't know in my sidecar, and is skipping out on the Meet-up without delivering a four-million-dollar deal that was gonna be a centerpiece for our showing this year.” I say blandly, hanging my head. “Face it Brick, there's a lot of reasons I never ranked, but you know as well as I do unless Uncle J helped me I never would have joined the family. This looks bad, and worse still, it's a masterful set up. The gooks mean nothing, but without you as... well, you, to back me up, I have exactly zero people in my corner. I'm just the delivery man.”
  851.  
  852. Brick opens her mouth to say something, but I stop her with a finger on her lips. “And I know that you'd speak for me, but Brick, you don't even sound like yourself anymore, and you're... well, you're not Brick. At least, not physically.”
  853.  
  854. Brick huffs at me, pouting, but she can't disagree. “So what you're saying is that we're screwed.”
  855.  
  856. I shake my head. “No, what I'm saying is that we have too many questions and too few answers. We need to figure out what's going on, who Q is, and then we need to find somewhere safe to start planning.” The gears in my head spin even as I let myself rally, my hands clenching tightly as I stare at that six-pointed star, my blood rushing in my ears as I let the idea stew in my head.
  857.  
  858. McClouds don't break promises.
  859.  
  860. Brick's ears flick at me as she contemplates what she just said, tilting her head and looking at me curiously. “Planning? Planning for what?”
  861.  
  862. I grin ferally at Brick. “Revenge, of course. Or getting him first.” I say with a snarl, punching my fist into my palm. “I'm not gonna lay down and let him fucking kill me, not without getting my shot at him first. Besides, he's threatening Danny.”
  863.  
  864. Brick grins back at me, baring her teeth, which makes me recoil slightly, as I notice that her canines are gone, and she's only got molars. “That sounds like an excellent idea Pony.”
  865.  
  866. “B-big brother?” Danny's voice comes up from behind the couch. I flinch and softly turn to look over the couch.
  867.  
  868. The much smaller little brother of mine looks up at me, his ears folded back and big brown eyes gazing at me mournfully. His tail is hanging out and is drooping to the floor. “Are you really gonna... fight? I mean, you could get hurt!”
  869.  
  870. I sigh softly, and after a moments hesitation, reach over the couch and pick up my little brother, lifting him over the couch and onto it, sitting him down next to me. He presses into my side and hugs me tightly, and I softly rub his head behind his ears, trying to think of the best way to word what I want to say as he leans into the gentle petting.
  871.  
  872. “... I know I could get hurt Danny. But that's why I got to do it. Because if they hurt me, then they could try to hurt you, and I can't let them do that. I -won't- let Q do that.” I say, softly clenching my free hand. “I promised.”
  873.  
  874. “But big brother...” Danny says, looking up at me again. “I don't... I don't think Q is behind this, who'ver this guy is. He's trying to destroy the Elements of Harmony, right?”
  875.  
  876. Brick hums thoughtfully and speaks up, “He's got a point Pony. He's not trying to kill -you- specificity, I don't think, he's trying to destroy the elements. He thought you had them on you after all.”
  877.  
  878. I raise an eyebrow at Brick, who blushes and turns her head a bit. Guess she heard more of the phone call then I expected, but she does have those new horse ears. She probably can hear a lot better then I thought. I make a mental note to be a bit more careful about where and how loudly I'm talking to keep too much to getting to Danny before looking up at the ceiling.
  879.  
  880. They did have a point though. Q wanted to kill me to destroy the Elements of Harmony. That's what he was saying. And there was the matter of that freaky ass speech that literally came from my little brother's and best friend's nightmares and almost gave me a fucking heart attack...
  881.  
  882. “Well, if it's not Q, then who is it? I mean, I've met him like fifty times. He seemed normal, if eccentric.” I question, looking down at Danny.
  883.  
  884. Danny twiddles his thumbs, looking down at his hands as he replies, “Discord of course. I mean, he and Q have the same actor.”
  885.  
  886. … Wait, what?
  887.  
  888. “Hold on, what do you mean, Q and Discord have the same actor?” I say, looking down at Danny.
  889.  
  890. Danny looks up. “Q is played in Star Trek by John D. Lacey, who voice acted Discord for the show. They're both chaotic characters, in their own ways, and love messing with people.”
  891.  
  892. My jaw drops a bit as I think that over. “So wait, you're saying Q is Discord?”
  893.  
  894. Danny shrugs. “It sounds like it could be.”
  895.  
  896. Brick facepalms and groans. “That sounds almost too obvious to be true, but before we draw any conclusions, we should watch the last episode.”
  897.  
  898. All three of us let out a displeased groan at the thought of watching that horrible excuse for a finale again, but Danny softly hops off the couch and trots over to the TV, his hooves making that telltale clip-clop of equine hooves as he puts in the season five DVD and then trots back, leaping up into my lap and snuggling against me as I turn the TV on and switch over to the HDMI port to bring up the DVD and start the episode.
  899.  
  900. We all cringe through the start of the episode. The opening battle is pretty cool, but the moment Discord turns on Celestia and starts spouting his evil plan, I shiver and shudder, softly reaching up and gripping at my chest again. That phantom pain had returned and my eyes were locked on the draconequus, even as I force myself to listen very closely to his voice.
  901.  
  902. Very. Very. Closely. “That sounds just like Mr. Q.” I say softly. “I think you might be right, little brother.”
  903.  
  904. The rest of the episode passes without much thought or complaint, but both Danny and Brick are frowning after Twilight is taken by Discord's magic. “Yeah, the final scene isn't there.” Brick says, leaning back.
  905.  
  906. “Uh-huh! Where is his attack against Luna and... Pipsqueak?” Danny says, tilting his head. “They were in the castle, several rooms down from Twilight's chambers.”
  907.  
  908. “I'm more confused about why they took out the scene with Discord attacking the hospital with his chaos. He was going to 'fix' injured ponies when Nurse Redheart charged out and kicked him in the snout, and he attacked her.” Brick says, crossing her arms.
  909.  
  910. I frown. “Those scenes were never in the episode. It just ends like that, with Twilight getting vanished.”
  911.  
  912. Danny and Brick look at me with confused looks on their faces, and then look at one another, frowning before looking at me again. I shrug at them both and give Danny a hug before moving him off of my lap and standing up, stretching a bit when I hear the doorbell ring.
  913.  
  914. We all startle, and my browning is in my hand before I've even considered what to do. We freeze indecisively before I finally take over, my brain cranking back into motion. “Brick, grab the Thompson, hide the elements under the couch. Danny, stay out of sight for now. I'll answer the door.” I say firmly, taking a deep breath. Paranoid? Maybe, but at the moment, I didn't feel like taking chances.
  915.  
  916. I don't bother to check to see if Brick and Danny listened to me, and started towards the door, snagging my jacket and putting it on, using it to help conceal my weapon as I make my way down the hall before slowing my steps as to make as little noise as possible before checking the peephole.
  917.  
  918. On the other side of the door is two girls wearing hoodies. One of them looks very nervous and is softly patting her hood, as if she's having issues keeping it in place, and the other is smiling brightly and slightly bouncing in place, a lock of curly, bubblegum pink hair springing up and down with each bounce, like she can't stay still.
  919.  
  920. Unusual, and at the moment, unusual is making me nervous. I take a breath, making sure that I can easily draw my Browning before I slowly open the door, making sure the chain latch is in place. “Hello?” I say, looking at the two girls.
  921.  
  922. “Ah! U-um, hello there. M-my name is... Tess, and this is my friend...” The girl that was nervously patting her hood starts when the bouncy girl bounces up in front of my face, grinning brightly.
  923.  
  924. “Hi! I'm Pinkie Pie!” She says brightly, holding out a hand through the door to me, making me stumble back a bit for a moment before I look at her in confusion. They both sound very familiar in voice, but Pinkie Pie?
  925.  
  926. “Pinkie Pie. Like the cartoon pony.” I say flatly, ignoring the hand which she was currently shaking at me insistently.
  927.  
  928. “Uh-huh! I had a twichy-twich that told me that you were someone to follow and-” Pinkie's energetic speech was cut off by a hand covering her mouth, though she continued to chatter on though the hand, and the other girl looked at me warily.
  929.  
  930. “We... uh, well, we saw you on the highway, with the... other... um...” She frowns, biting her lower lip, obviously trying to figure out what to say before pulling her hand away from Pinkie's mouth and pulling her hood down, making my eyes almost pop out of my head.
  931.  
  932. There, right in the smack dab center of her forehead, was a gracefully curved horn, and long bangs that were all shades of royal blue and purple. A haircut that I knew pretty well, considering that it featured pretty heavily in almost every single episode of a particular cartoon that my little brother and best friend were currently turning into characters from. I glance upwards, and perched on her head were two unmistakable horse ears.
  933.  
  934. I pause for a few moments, just staring before I slowly close the door, pausing for a moment in contemplation, opening it again to stare at the two girls before closing it yet again. Then I undo the chain latch and open the door up fully. I stood about a head taller then each of the girls, and I cough lightly as I look down at them. Twilight fidgets under my gaze, and Pinkie smiles at me brightly.
  935.  
  936. “So, let me get this straight. You followed the guy on the motorcycle that was being chased by two big black SUVs and had a partially pony person sitting sidecar shooting at adversaries?” I say, unaware of my unintended alliteration, though Twilight perked up a bit at that as Pinkie nods enthusiastically, her hood coming down and revealing a massive poof of bright pink curly hair which bounces all over with each nod, two more horse ears now visible and perked up in attention.
  937.  
  938. I rub my forehead. “And you thought this was a good idea... why? I mean, I'm sure you couldn't miss the fact that we were... not exactly chatting pleasantly and having tea n' crumpets or something like that. You've got to have figured out that I'm armed.”
  939.  
  940. “It's part of the reason why we came. We thought you might be in trouble, especially when we saw Nurse Redheart with you! And then I had three ear flops and a knee twitch which means that we needed to meet you!” Pinkie says, bouncing a bit more. Jeez, she really just couldn't stay still, could she? I stare at her for a few moments longer and groan, softly palming my face and shaking my head.
  941.  
  942. “You know what? Whatever. The last two days have been crazy enough. I'll accept Pinkie sense. Lord knows that it made about as much sense in the show as it's making now.” I grumble, looking at Pinkie who grins brightly at me. Twilight nods her head and softly coughs to draw my attention to her.
  943.  
  944. “Um, is it alright if we intrude upon your home for a little? There's four of us. Me, my brother, Pinkie, and Tom.” Twilight says, gesturing back behind her, where the others must be. I shrug lightly and wave a hand into my home.
  945.  
  946. “Yeah, yeah, come in.” I say, looking back into the house for a moment before looking to Twilight and... Pinkie? The pink-maned girl is gone, and I look around in confusion. Where in the world did she go?
  947.  
  948. Twilight sighs. “Don't ask, I don't know how she does it either.” She says as she graciously steps into my house after I back inside, walking with me towards the living room.
  949.  
  950. I step ahead of her and call out, “Brick, stand down, it's friendlies... I think. Danny, where are you?”
  951.  
  952. “Right here big brother!” Danny says as he climbs up over the couch and rolls over onto the cushions, sitting up with a bright smile before gasping. “Ms. Twilight!” He says, bouncing on the cushions a bit as he sees who followed me in.
  953.  
  954. “Heh, I guess. Hi Pipsqueak.” Twilight says, giving Danny a smile while I look at her in confusion, mostly because I thought it was an unusual nickname to call someone you don't know by. Danny grins brightly though, so I brush it off.
  955.  
  956. Brick lets out a deep sigh as she leans against the wall, holding my Thompson in a ready carry, flicking the safety back on while Twilight watches her. “Twilight Sparkle? Huh. Well, that brings more questions, but glad to know we found one of the mane six.” Brick says, glancing down at the couch she's standing next to. Guess that's where the Elements are stashed.
  957.  
  958. A few moments pass in sightly-awkward silence before the cheery chattering voice of one Pinkamina Diane Pie echos through my house as a series of hoof-steps announce the arrival of the rest of Twilight's group, along with the sound of my front door closing, a rattling sound and a click telling me they locked and chained my door. I cross my arms and sit down on the back of my couch as Pinkie walks in, still chattering away, followed by a very elegant lady with finely curled purple hair and bright white horse ears and a horn like Twilight, who I could only assume to be Rarity, and a big, strapping fellow with firm shoulders and a chiseled jaw, royal blue hair and two white ears, and of course, a horn.
  959.  
  960. A light snigger leaves me, making me shake my head. “Unicorns. Three bloody unicorns. And here I thought I had seen everything.” I say glibly, laughing a bit. The three unicorns give me a flat look and I grin back, giving them a light shrug. “Sorry, sorry, I'm just... well, it's been more then a little crazy, and now I've got three mythological creatures in my living room, along with my best friend who's apparently turned female and is shrinking, and my little brother that's lost half his height and is also turning into a cartoon pony.”
  961.  
  962. Saying it out loud like that made me twitch uncomfortably, as it sounded just insane, asinine even, but here we were. Twilight coughs a bit and then gestures to the other ponies. “Um, well, lets do introductions then? I'm Tess, this is my si... brother, Rachel,” 'Rachel' looks pretty unhappy with that title name, though I suppose suddenly having a penis instead of a vagina is as freaky as waking up without a penis and having a vagina instead, so I just nodded and urged 'Tess' on, who coughed lightly into her hand before continuing, “The other unicorn is Tom, and...”
  963.  
  964. Pinkie jumped up in front of me, making me yelp in surprise and back step before she grins and holds out her hand yet again, once more instantly shaking it in my face. “I'm Harry! Hiiiii!”
  965.  
  966. 'Tess' groans and hangs her head, face palming and gestures to the bouncy pink one. “Well, yes, you've met Harry already.”
  967.  
  968. I was leaning back from Pinkie and after a few moments I sighed and finally shook her hand, leading to her letting out a happy cheer before she pranced away from me. “Right. Well, I'm Michael, Michael McCloud, though amusingly most people call me Pony.” I say before gesturing to Brick, who's stepped up to the group with Danny, who's trotting circles around the group in excitement before he leaps over and hugs my leg, grinning brightly at the four new... do I call them people or ponies, I wonder?
  969.  
  970. “This is Brick, don't ask about her last name, she doesn't use it and despises it, and don't ask about her first name, or you'll learn the hard way. And the little ball of energy is my little brother, Danny.” I finish kind of lamely, not sure how to continue.
  971.  
  972. Danny smiles and takes over for me, speaking up. “We should say our pony names! I'm Pipsqueak!” He says brightly, that Nottingham-esk accent lighting a smile on my face. “That's Nurse Redheart!”
  973.  
  974. Brick sighs as Pipsqueak points at her, and she nods lightly. “Or at least, that's the cutie mark on my flank.” She says.
  975.  
  976. 'Tom' rubs the back of her head, and speaks up, “I think I'm Rarity, as Redheart said, that's the cutie mark.” She says, followed by 'Rachel'.
  977.  
  978. “Shining Armor, Captain of the Royal Guard.” He says, his voice strong and smooth. Very manly. Bet 'Rachel' isn't too happy with that, but I left it be for now as I turned to look at 'Tess' and 'Harry' who shrug. I pretty much said their names out loud already, but they confirm it moments later.
  979.  
  980. “Hi! I'm Pinkie Pie!” 'Harry' says as 'Tess' follows up with a simple, “Twilight Sparkle.”
  981.  
  982. I nod and let out a breath. “So... uh, should we be using all of your Pony Names, or would you prefer human names, or...?” I look at them all.
  983.  
  984. The ponies fidget for a moment before Twilight looks at me pointedly. “What about you? I mean, aren't you...”
  985.  
  986. I shake my head, and wave a hand through my my hair. “No ears, no tail. Nothing has changed as far as I'm aware.” I say. “So human am I.”
  987.  
  988. Twilight mutters a curse, getting a startled look from me as she starts grumbling about 'broken patters of siblings' or something, and she starts pacing. Meanwhile, Shining Armor steps up to me. “Well, a pleasure to meet you Mr. McCloud. Thank you for letting us into your home.”
  989.  
  990. I shrug and offer my hand, which Shining shakes, and give him a light smirk. “It's been a day for weirdness, ever since I woke up from a whacked out nightmare before getting shot at. Aaaand my little brother is pretty fond of you ponies, so I guess I'll do what I can to help. Besides, if Discord's been working this plan of his against everyone, then he's gonna go after Danny at some point... sorry, Pipsqueak, which means he's gonna have to go through me.” I say, letting go of Shining's hand and crossing my arms.
  991.  
  992. The four new ponies give me a confused look and speak at once, again, in that uncanny way that only cartoons can, “Discord?” and Danny hugs my leg a little harder. I sigh and rub my forehead. “Maybe we should all sit down and get comfortable? I think I've got a lot of talking to do.”
  993.  
  994. ----Linebreak----
  995.  
  996. It's mostly organized chaos getting myself and the ponies sorted out and seated in my living room. We finally end up with myself seated on my couch, against the side arm, with Danny snuggled into my lap and Brick sitting next to me, Shining Armor and Pinkie Pie sitting across from me, Twilight and Rarity sitting on the other side of Brick. Everyone has some food of some kind with them after I walked to the fridge to raid it, because frankly, I wanted something to munch on, and I offered food. The ponies all had, well, pony food, so apples, carrots, and celery stocks... hehe, missing the colorful flowers though.
  997.  
  998. I sigh and rub Danny's head as I take a bite out of my apple, looking around at each pony as I chew and swallow before speaking up. “Ok, so, I guess I'll start with what I know information wise. Mostly because I don't know what you all know about what's going on, but I think I've got a bit more if only because I've actually ended up face to face with the big bad.”
  999.  
  1000. This gets everyone’s attention, though Danny and Brick already know, and Shining Armor leans forwards. “Wait, you mean you've met with Discord face to face? How?”
  1001.  
  1002. I sigh. Well, the secret was already out, might as well go all the way with it. “Well, first of all, you should know that I'm a member of the Mob.”
  1003.  
  1004. This gets the expected reaction of surprise and slight disturbance from the four out of the know. I stick my thumb at Brick. “This one is too. Brick-” “Nurse Redheart big brother! Come on!” Pipsqueak interrupts me, making me sigh and shake my head.
  1005.  
  1006. “Right, right, NURSE REDHEART, is my best friend from Highschool and my Enforcer in the Mob. I'm a... well, more or less a business dealer and delivery man. An art dealer and weapons dealer, so to speak, gun runner, so on so forth.” I explain, rubbing the back of my neck. “Hence the nickname, 'The Pony Express'. Anyway, my last business deal was with an art dealer that had a particular set of jewelry that my boss really wants to show off. Four million dollars worth of fancy art here. Some of the finest craftsmanship I've ever seen.”
  1007.  
  1008. “Ok, I'm failing to see the connection here, though I do quite want to see these art pieces.” Rarity says with a soft flip of her head to get the hair out of her eyes.
  1009.  
  1010. I shake my head. “Oh, I'm sure you will. Anyway, the art dealer that had these pieces goes by the name of Q, and I had spent a good seven hours wheeling and dealing with him to get them. I get the art pieces, and not two days later I'm being shot at with my best friend who is turning into a pony while running from two big black SUVs loaded with guys who share the same taste in suits as he does. And then I get a phonecall from the guy.”
  1011.  
  1012. I look around at the whole group. “Q called me, and gave me this whole villain speech, ending with a series of lines... Five Score, Divided by Four.” I say. Everyone freezes, as if they're remembering those lines in their heads.
  1013.  
  1014. Shining speaks up quietly, “I've heard that before... Five Score, Divided by Four, Your Memories removed, your body confused.” He says, shifting uncomfortably. I nod my head.
  1015.  
  1016. “Yep. He gave me that whole speech, and honestly, it shook me to my core, like he was trying to cast some fucking hoodoo voodoo on me. Actually made my cellphone spark up and melt. Da... uh...” I pause, looking at Danny, who is looking and frowning at me, making me sigh before I say, “Pipsqueak, actually struck upon the connection between names. He thinks, and honestly, I'm fairly convinced, that Q is actually Discord, and the human form is one he's using to move among our... I can say our right? I mean, you all are still kinda human.” I say, looking around at the collection of manes, horse ears, hooves, tails, and horns.
  1017.  
  1018. This makes everyone shift around and act in a slightly nervous manner. Yiiiiikes. Sour spot then. I cough, starting conversation again. “Uh, well, anyway, it's the only way that he can walk around Earth. He was using it to set up the art pieces, to give them to a human, in order to destroy them, apparently, we think.”
  1019.  
  1020. “Destroy what?” Pinkie asks, looking at me wide eyed.
  1021.  
  1022. I softly lift Danny... Pipsqueak, up, placing him on Redheart's lap before reaching under the couch and pulling out the jewelry box. “To destroy the Elements of Harmony.” I say as I turn the box around and open it up while it's sitting on my lap, earning a gasp from the four ponies that hadn't seen them.
  1023.  
  1024. “You have the Elements!” Twilight and Shining Armor say at the exact same time, making me wince and nod.
  1025.  
  1026. “Yes, yes I do. At least, I think so. I can't see any flaws and they certainly feel real enough.” I say, rubbing the back of my head before softly closing the jewelry case again. “Q said during the call that the Element's destruction was in 'my hands'. That magic didn't have enough influence in our world or... something. He's planning on making sure I die, enough that he's turning the Mob, and most likely, all the other criminal organizations against me.”
  1027.  
  1028. All of the ponies, including my little brother, gape at me. Redheart hesitates a moment, and then softly lays a hand on my shoulder. I give her a soft smile at the comforting gesture before looking back to the rest of the ponies. “I guess he thinks that my death will somehow ensure the destruction of the Elements of Harmony. I doubt it, because frankly, it sounds stupid. But whatever, he's the God of fucking chaos, I guess he can think what he wants.”
  1029.  
  1030. I take a moment before I turn the case back around, looking down at the Elements again. They really are very nice. The colors of the gems are just amazing, polished and shining with perfect clarity as I let my fingers softly trace over each necklace and gem.
  1031.  
  1032. The background noise fades away and I loose myself in inspecting the necklaces and tiara. I mean, seriously, something this beautiful shouldn't be able to exist. I'm not exactly much of an art lover, but even I can appreciate how beautiful and well crafted these are as I carefully trace each gem.
  1033.  
  1034. I can sightly hear someone saying something about 'did you see that?!' but I ignore it, assuming they're looking at the TV or something as I continue to gaze at the Elements. A few moments pass before a hand is waved in front of my face and I snap back into focus, looking up and shaking my head.
  1035.  
  1036. “Pony, are you alright? You kinda... spaced out on us.” Redheart says, looking over at me with worry crossing her face. I blink, and look around at the ponies, each one giving me a look of worry or confusion, with the exception of Twilight, who's got studious curiosity on her face.
  1037.  
  1038. I frown. “What are you talking about Redheart? I was just looking at the Elements.” I say, shrugging at her. She frowns at me.
  1039.  
  1040. “Pony, you've been looking and tracing the Elements for about six minutes now. Are you ok?” She says, softly touching my shoulder. I sigh at her and shake my head. “I'm fine Redheart, honestly.”
  1041.  
  1042. Twilight stands up from her seat and walks over to me and the Elements. “Turn your head and look at me please.” She says, crossing her arms. I frown, wondering what she's on about, and look at her.
  1043.  
  1044. Twilight hums, tapping a finger to her chin thoughtfully, and says, “Well, he seems fine, his eyes are dilated, and his breathing appears to be smooth and steady, so he's at ease. Hands up please.”
  1045.  
  1046. I blink and sigh at Twilight. “What's this about?” I say, giving her a annoyed and confused glare as I lift my hands up for her. She takes them and flips them over so she can see the palms of my hands, studying my fingers.
  1047.  
  1048. “No damage, no scorch marks... hmmm, interesting.” Twilight says. I frown at her and pull my hands away, closing the Elements case, giving them one last glance before standing up, setting the case on the coffee table.
  1049.  
  1050. “Alright, well, that's enough weirdness for one day.” I grumble, stretching a bit. Twilight frowns at me. “Wait, before you go.” She says, holding out a hand for me to stop.
  1051.  
  1052. I sigh, stop, and turn to face her and the rest of the ponies. She coughs, blushing slightly, as if she's embarrassed about something. “I need you to drop your pants. Just the side, so we can see the flank of your butt.”
  1053.  
  1054. I blink at her. “... You're joking.” I say, shaking my head before looking at her.
  1055.  
  1056. Twilight just stares at me, looking rather serious, if embarrassed. The others are all looking at me now, same expression, though Pipsqueak looks confused as he speaks up. “Why do you want to see his flank Twilight?”
  1057.  
  1058. Twilight coughs softly. “Well, I'm trying to see if he has a cutie mark or not.”
  1059.  
  1060. Pipsqueak lets out an 'oh' as I look at them in confusion. “A cutie mark? What, like in the show?” I say. “Come on, I know you're all turning into the ponies, but you can't tell me that you actually have their cutie marks. That'd just be silly.”
  1061.  
  1062. The ponies glance at one another, looking decisively uncomfortable before Twilight sighs, as if she's taking charge, and turns to the side, her tail swaying as she grips the side of her pants and pull them down. I blush, turning to look away, when something unusual catches my eye. There, right on her flank, as clear as day, is her cutie mark. Twilight Sparkle's cutie mark.
  1063.  
  1064. I blanch, taking a step back. “What the hell...”
  1065.  
  1066. Twilight nods. “Right. That's why I want you to show me your side. We need to see if you have a mark or not.”
  1067.  
  1068. I bite my lip, and after a moment, turn so that my side is facing the rest of the group and drop my pants and boxers enough that we'd be able to see my 'flank'. I look away for a moment, afraid of what I might see there, but I eventually turn my head to look down.
  1069.  
  1070. What I see relieves me. Nothing. No mark, just my own skin. I chuckle lightly and pull my pants back into place. “See, nothing.” I say, shaking my head.
  1071.  
  1072. “If you'll excuse me, I'm gonna take a nap. I've been awake for far too long, and it's...” I glance at my watch, look away and back again, and sigh in disappointment when it doesn't change. “It's almost sixteen hundred. Wake me up tomorrow or something, please. Good... whatever it is, afternoon, night, whatever... Brick, you're welcome to raid my armory if you wish, please refill the Thompson's magazines and my Brownings...”
  1073.  
  1074. With that note, and a very weird glance from Shining Armor, I turn on my heel and make my way to my room, sliding into bed and crashing out after kicking off my jeans and dropping my jacket onto the chair in front of my desk.
  1075.  
  1076. I stretch and groan as I slump into bed, not even fully bothering with the covers as I pull them over my legs and grip one of my pillows, curling lightly to sleep.
  1077.  
  1078. Ugh... I dunno what I'm about to dream, but I'm not looking forwards to it. It's been a weird few days, that's for sure. I just wonder why I'm suddenly so tired... I mean, I'm just... so... tired.
  1079.  
  1080. -Chapter 4 End-
  1081.  
  1082. Chapter 5: Armageddon Game
  1083.  
  1084. A dreamless sleep is both the most gratifying and terrifying thing that I've had through these last few days.
  1085.  
  1086. -May 4th, 0500
  1087.  
  1088. As I rouse from my slumber, my head aching softly from the thoughts that have been swirling in them, I slowly push myself up from my bed, eyes closed still in this moment, no desire to look upon the world that might be.
  1089.  
  1090. I'm not about ta fool myself here. I know what's going on is real. I've been checking my watch enough to know for sure, but one thing that should be known that I am a lucid dreamer. For those of us who dream lucidly, and can guide or even control our dreams, one thing that is firm fact is you can't keep any kind of symbology the same when you're dreaming. Your brain just doesn't hold onto it.
  1091.  
  1092. It's why I have a digital watch instead of an analog one. It keeps the nightmares from being unbreakable and from dreams from being inescapable. It's grounding, and lets you know that everything is real.
  1093.  
  1094. After all, if the watch reads the same number after you stop paying attention to it and look back, then you're not dreaming. Of course, I've also seen some strange things on that watch-face before while sleeping. The entirety of the Elements of Harmony once even after I saw the first two episodes upon Danny's insistence.
  1095.  
  1096.  
  1097. Pipsqueak. Pipsqueak's insistence.
  1098.  
  1099. Ugh, that's gonna be hard to get used to.
  1100.  
  1101. I sigh, opening my eyes and checking my watch. 0505, and the same on second look. I slept for well over twelve hours.
  1102.  
  1103. Not really, if I'm being honest with myself, I spent several hours simply laying in my bed and listening to the voices softly echoing down the hall to my room. The ponies had quite the discussion after I left, mostly about who they each are or who they think they were, who they were before, sharing about their lives.
  1104.  
  1105. Brick told Danny a few stories about some of my deliveries gone sideways, including the one-that-I-don't-think-about. I didn't hear him afterwords, and I'm not sure I want to know how he responded to it. It always makes me sick.
  1106.  
  1107. I shift out of bed, wearing not much else but my boxer shorts and silk pajama pants. A quick shift at the dresser and I'm wearing clean boxer-briefs, and the pajama pants again. I'm not going anywhere if I can help it, but I think something with a bit more grip and support and less likely of causing wedgies is probably a good call today.
  1108.  
  1109. Besides, I like my Brazilian boxer shorts, they're super soft and long enough that if my actual pants somehow end off of my body I won't feel indecent.
  1110.  
  1111. Thus dressed, I slowly creep up to the door of my bedroom and quietly open the door, glad that I oil all the hinges to silent perfection as I glance out into the dark hallway.
  1112.  
  1113. Not a sound, nor motion. Looks like the pony-people are all down for now.
  1114.  
  1115. I open the door fully and step out of my room, letting out a sigh as I continue to lightly step along, not a sound coming from my bare feet on carpet as I move to the bathroom to begin a proper morning routine.
  1116.  
  1117. I haven't shaved, showered, or bushed my teeth in three days. I'm starting to feel grungy and grotty. And I bet I smell just -wonderful- after all the adrenaline has coursed through my veins and my nightmares made real.
  1118.  
  1119. So yeah, a shower was in order.
  1120.  
  1121. No, I'm not going to give details. Weirdos.
  1122.  
  1123. A quick shower, shit, and shave, and I'm soon brushing my teeth. Sure, it's not exactly great to brush before you eat breakfast, but screw it, I just won't have any orange juice this morning.
  1124.  
  1125. Feeling much more human, I sigh as I stare at myself in the mirror after turning off the sink, only to be disturbed by a knocking at my door.
  1126.  
  1127. I check my watch twice as normal- 0540. Not bad.
  1128.  
  1129. The knock comes again and Brick's new feminine voice drifts through the door. “Pony, I swear you better hurry up in there. I need to figure out how to use the new equipment and there's a lot of it.”
  1130.  
  1131. I blanch at the thought as she knocks again, though I'm a bit confused as to why she would be using her hoof to do it, as I can clearly hear the clopping reverberation of hoof on wood.
  1132.  
  1133. “Yeah, yeah, I'm moving.” I groan, realizing that I've got guests now, and shaking my head to wake up a bit further. Any more focus is gonna require some serious shock or a cup of coffee. I yank the door open and now I'm fully awake because what the fuck.
  1134.  
  1135. At a little higher than my waist height stands a white-coated pony with a pinkish-red mane and tail, and a Red Cross on her flank. She's staring directly at me with icy blue eyes, and a small eyebrow raise only adds to her stare.
  1136.  
  1137. She opens her mouth and sure enough, Brick's new voice drifts out of the little equi-... no, little pony, standing before me. “What, do you want to watch or something?”
  1138.  
  1139. I slowly, mutely shake my head, working my jaw a bit before I step out of the bathroom and step aside for her, making her grumble as she trots inside, looking even less awake and aware than I am, and I close the door after her a moment later.
  1140.  
  1141. In my head, a countdown has started.
  1142.  
  1143. “Three, two, one...”
  1144.  
  1145. “EEEEEYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
  1146.  
  1147. The girlish shriek is absolutely not what I expected, but somehow befitting as I open the door, not looking inside. “Brick?”
  1148.  
  1149. “WHAT THE FUCK PONY!”
  1150.  
  1151. “What do you mean, 'what the fuck', and who's calling who the pony here, because clearly you are.” And a quick shift of my head is all that prevents a roll of TP from taking my head off as the enraged mare whips it at me.
  1152.  
  1153. “SHUT THE FUCK UP WITH THE WISECRACK BEFORE I MAKE SURE THE MCCLOUD LINE ENDS WITH YOU PONY-BOY! What the actual fucking-”
  1154.  
  1155. As she rants, I mostly close the door and walk away. I'm probably going to catch a hoof for that, but that is also future-Michael's problem, and walking into my living room lets me survey the full extent of the current going-ons. Sure enough, I've got a herd of now-starting-to-wake-up ponies in my living room.
  1156.  
  1157. “Good morning! I'd say Don't Panic but I'm going to be ignored here in a moment and none of you have your towels so I would -also- say that none of you are a hoopy-frood.” I say in mock-joy. “Be thankful it's Monday, not Thursday. Never could handle Thursdays.”
  1158.  
  1159. “I hate Mondays.” A whiny high-pitched voice coming from a surprisingly droopy-maned pink pony says. “Daddy, don't make me go to school!”
  1160.  
  1161. “... Pinkie, you're twenty five, you don't go to school anymore.”
  1162.  
  1163. Suddenly you're face to face with a poofy-haired Party Pony instead. “REALLY?!”
  1164.  
  1165. “... Uh, yes? I mean, you're a Pony, so I don't know what ya'll did for higher education bu-”
  1166.  
  1167. “Ooh, ooh, I have a degree in psychology!”
  1168.  
  1169.  
  1170. Everyone is now awake, even your little, and you mean it, -little-, brother, who was sleeping next to “Twilight”, and all of them are staring at Pinkie Pie.
  1171.  
  1172. “What? It's not like you have much else going on when you grow up on a rock faaaaaaaaarwaaaaaaaaaaaaait a minute.”
  1173.  
  1174. Pinkie pauses, posing particularly particular pondering prowess of prancing party ponies.
  1175.  
  1176. “... I shouldn't know that. How do I know that?”
  1177.  
  1178. “... Right, well, this is too weird for me now.” I groan, stepping back from the pony and continuing on to the kitchen, rubbing my eyes as I try to mentally wipe away the last few minutes from my head.
  1179.  
  1180. “Brain bleach doesn't work!”
  1181.  
  1182. “SHATTAP PINKIE!” I snap back, not even looking over my shoulder as I start making breakfast.
  1183.  
  1184. “Rude!”
  1185.  
  1186. “I 'aven't even 'ad me fookin' coffee yet!” I snarl, my accent slipping out fully now as I whirl, glaring at the pony with a newly acquired pan in my hand.
  1187.  
  1188. “Ohh, please and thank you!”
  1189.  
  1190. “NO!” Six voices call as one, making Pinkie pout as she's denied caffeine.
  1191.  
  1192. ------------
  1193.  
  1194. The ponies seem less than surprised about themselves... minus Brick. Apparently that conversation I was hearing later last night was them comparing changes as the transformation neared completion before they all faced sudden exhaustion and collectively agreed to go to sleep. Brick had gone to bed a while longer with the note that she didn't want to see, hear, or experience anything and had done what she always did, and immediately zonked out.
  1195.  
  1196. It's a skill I both am envious and absolutely terrified of due to a single road trip with Brick where he had to share the cab of the rental U-haul with me. Passed out right next to me and his head lolled to the side so he was staring right at me.
  1197.  
  1198. He closes his eyes when he sleeps normally, but he zonks? Eyes wide open. Fuckin'. Terrifying.
  1199.  
  1200. The ponies, lead by Twilight, are all checking themselves over and discussing the changes, apparently a continuation of the discussion from last night as I fry up some bacon and a few dozen eggs.
  1201.  
  1202. Ponies can eat eggs right?
  1203.  
  1204. Eh, guess we'll find out. Not exactly like I have enough carrots and apples to feed all six of them at the moment.
  1205.  
  1206. I feel something warm lean up against my leg and glance down to see a droopy-eyed and tired piebald colt leaning into me. Danny. He looks absolutely knackered, and I can only frown thoughtfully as I let him lean on me.
  1207.  
  1208. Why is Danny still a colt? Did he really turn into one of the characters from the show? The rest of them did, and as I cycle through my memory, keeping one eye on the cooking as I try to remember as much of the show as I can.
  1209.  
  1210. Wait, wait. That one episode that he adores.
  1211.  
  1212. “Shit, what the hell did they call that day...” I grumble to myself as I carefully extract the fried eggs from my large skillet, and glance at the pantry. I think I have some just-add-water pancake mix, and honestly, shaking that might keep me occupied from thinking about everything and this funky ass-
  1213.  
  1214. “Nightmare Night!”
  1215.  
  1216. The ponies are now all staring at me as I blink from my exclamation as I finally figured out what episode I was thinking of. “... Yeah, what about it Pony-boy?”
  1217.  
  1218. I glance back and my heart stops.
  1219.  
  1220. Holy shit.
  1221.  
  1222. Alright, I need to seriously get a realignment in my head because wow, Brick looks really good with wet hair.
  1223.  
  1224. I try to shake the vision of the fluttery-lashed blue eyes and curve-clinging wet-mane from my head and instead look down at my now very confused little brother, who stands about as tall as my knee, maybe a bit taller.
  1225.  
  1226. “Oh, uh... that's the episode Danny's character is from right? The one with Princess Luna in the... second... season?” I say as I stare at Brick a few heartbeats longer before I'm able to wrench my eyes and focus away and turn it back to cooking just in time to save my bacon from going from 'crispy perfection' to 'burnt crisps'.
  1227.  
  1228. “Yyyyyes, yes it is. I didn't know you were a fan Michael Darling.” Rarity speaks up as she seems to have finally gotten herself set for the moment, almost daintily walking over to join me in the kitchen.
  1229.  
  1230. “I'm not, the pony fan in shortstuff here.” I say, mussing Danny's mane which makes him squeak and then pout at me.
  1231.  
  1232. “Oh'm not short, oh'm jus' lil'!” He says, stomping a little hoof and making me laugh, even as I nervously maneuver my bare foot away from said hooves.
  1233.  
  1234. “Whatever you say Pipsqueak, whatever you say.”
  1235.  
  1236. The classical exchange, accents and races changed but the words the same, lightens my heart a bit as my brother continues to pout even as he hugs my leg, hanging off of me as I finally decide that Pancakes are a good idea and grab the shaker bottle from the pantry.
  1237.  
  1238. “Well, at the very least you have a good relationship with your brother, darling. We're truly in your debt for helping us, especially as all of these changes have come on so fast...” The showy mare says as her horn gently sparks. I glance back at her as I shake up the pancake batter, watching as a few attempts pass before the energy seems to 'catch' and suddenly my drawers and cupboard open and close as she starts taking out plates and utensils to set the table.
  1239.  
  1240. It's quite the impressive show, and feat, considering that she's been a unicorn for all of... well, whenever she woke up.
  1241.  
  1242. “Rarity, that's amazing!”
  1243.  
  1244. Twilight, of course, can't help but be her enthusiastic self, which sets a small smile on my face.
  1245.  
  1246. If I was put at gun point and told to pick a favorite pony, Twilight was the easy pick. I mean, come on, who doesn't like the protagonist?
  1247.  
  1248. “Oh thank you Darling, I'm just pleased that I can be helpful. Now, shall we break our fast?”
  1249.  
  1250. I shake my head as the ponies gather into the kitchen. “Still need to actually cook the pancakes folks, at least hold on that lo-”
  1251.  
  1252. “DID SOMEPONY SAY CAKE?”
  1253.  
  1254. “PINKIE NO!”
  1255.  
  1256. -----------
  1257.  
  1258. “... My kitchen.”
  1259.  
  1260. “My head.
  1261.  
  1262. “My balls...”
  1263.  
  1264. The event that followed would never be spoken of again, by mutual and silent agreement and understanding, especially for poor Shining Armor. Honestly, I've never seen someone get hit that hard between the forks with a wiffle-ball bat before.
  1265.  
  1266. Where the fuck Pinkie even got it from, I'm not sure, but honestly, I'm starting to seriously worry a hell of a lot more, and I think I'm going to need to hide the guns.
  1267.  
  1268. Thankfully, breakfast was made and ready to be eaten, so even with the disaster that occurred moments before, I am able to herd (heh) the ponies back into the living room and set them up with something to eat, taking a seat on the couch myself, seeing as my kitchen table was broken in half by the rubber chicken.
  1269.  
  1270. No. Really.
  1271.  
  1272. Stop laughing.
  1273.  
  1274. How and why Pinkie got a rubber chicken big enough to snap my kitchen table in half is completely beyond me.
  1275.  
  1276. Anyway, soon we've all eaten and watered our throats, Shiny has recovered from being the recipient of unwanted CBT, and we can all focus.
  1277.  
  1278. If the duct tape will hold Pinkie long enough anyway, but I'm not counting on it, so I also snagged some shiny objects, a bouncy ball on a string, and a laser pointer. I'm not taking any chances here.
  1279.  
  1280. “So, does everyone feel... uh, well, all there?” I ask carefully, looking at each pony.
  1281.  
  1282. “Still alive Pony-boy. Honestly, I feel stronger than I did before, but I also feel like someone jammed thirty doctorates worth of medical knowledge into my head.” Brick comments, nodding at me before I look to Danny.
  1283.  
  1284. “Yeah, what Redheart says, fit as a fiddle govnah!” He squeaks, hopping up and down for a moment before sitting back with a smile, obviously full of coltish energy.
  1285.  
  1286. “Yes, everything appears to be in order, and I've taken full account of... what we've learned from the scripts.” Twilight says quietly.
  1287.  
  1288. Even as Shining Armor simply gives me an 'Affirmative,' Pinkie a 'Yep yep!' and Rarity a 'Quite well darling,” I can't help but turn my attention back to the second half of Twilight's sentence. “Script?”
  1289.  
  1290. “Yes, we uhm... w-well we noticed what was happening to us on Saturday and we did our best to recount what we where learning and being fans, my Sis- ehm- Brother and I remembered that the original bible for the show was currently on display-”
  1291.  
  1292. “In a comic shop?” I say flatly, my mind quickly putting together the pieces. Oh my god, they blew up a comic shop. Why did they blow up a comic shop?
  1293.  
  1294. “Aheheh... y-yeah. We uhm...” She flinches and rubs the back of her head with her hoof. “Kiiiiinda stole it. And we were really showing signs of ponydom at that point and might have snuck over the boarder?” Twilight says with a really fake laugh.
  1295.  
  1296. “... Wait, you're leafs?”
  1297.  
  1298. I moan and facepalm.
  1299.  
  1300. “Oh for fucks sake Brick...”
  1301.  
  1302. “Redheart!”
  1303.  
  1304. “Thank you Danny-”
  1305.  
  1306. “Pipsqueak!”
  1307.  
  1308. “Right, anyway, -Redheart-, does it really matter that they're Canadian?”
  1309.  
  1310. The white and pinkish-red pony shakes her head. “Not particularly, but that is where the show comes from Pony-boy.”
  1311.  
  1312. Twilight nods firmly. “Indeed, and it even came directly from me.”
  1313.  
  1314. Everyone is now firmly focused on Twilight even as I speak up. “Purple smart says what?”
  1315.  
  1316. “I... w-well, maybe I should just read it for you.” She comments softly as her horn sparks up and she summons over a large, well loved manuscript that makes me raise an eyebrow. “This is the show bible's intro...”
  1317.  
  1318. “When I was first approached by Hasbro to make the show, I loved the opportunity to be able to make a show for girls, but I was a little worried because I had no experience with My Little Pony when I was a little girl.”
  1319.  
  1320. “Wait, that's not right. Her favorite pony is Firefly, she's said so in -several- major interviews when she was starting up the show.” Brick says, narrowing her eyes. Twilight simply smiles nervously as Shining Armor and Rarity sit a bit closer together, looking resigned as Danny just tilts his head in the confused-puppy manner he always has.
  1321.  
  1322. “I told the Hasbro staff, and anyone that asked at the time, that I knew everything about the ponies and I always loved them. The truth is my parents never bought them for me when I was a kid. Really, the only exposure I ever had with ponies was when the daughter of one of my friends would put on shows for us. She was a sweet kid, she really loved those ponies, and she had such a brilliant imagination too.”
  1323.  
  1324. “... Nope. No no no.” Pipsqueak, squeaks, looking heart broken. “S-she was lying?”
  1325.  
  1326. I feel his pain. I might not be the pony fan, but I liked plenty of Faust's other work, even as Twilight reads on, now grimacing a bit.
  1327.  
  1328. “Over those years I had gone to many parties that her parents hosted. A few times I would break off from the rest of the adults and just play with this girl at her table. She was more than happy to show me her pony collection. She painted many of them to ‘look like they should’ as she put it, and then the girl would just spend an hour telling me all their traits, dozens of adventures they all went, and countless characters details. She even did voices for them and told me what most of them are supposed to sound like. She built such a vivid world that it really stuck with me. So, some ten years later when I’m in the Hasbro office, I start reciting some of the stories that girl came up with. I felt a little bad for the plagiarism, but the Hasbro execs loved it all. They told me to make episodes exactly like what I just described to them. I didn’t really want to just copy everything the girl said, but I sort of had to since I already put myself here. I was put in charge of hiring all the voice actors and picking their voices, designing all the characters’ looks, and writing the backbone for the whole show story. They told me other writers would fill in the details, but they wanted me to list out the overarching plotline. So here I am, and I can’t change any of the storyline now. For better or worse, it looks like I’m bringing life to the world this little girl told me about long ago.”
  1329.  
  1330. “... so I'm assuming this little girl was you pre-change?” I say to Twilight, who nods sadly as she gestures to her Brother. “Rachel... uh, Shining Armor remembers it better than I do, but yes, I was that little girl that recounted the entirety of the show to Lauren, and... after reading the show bible some last night, and consulting what we know of Discords spell,” at that we all shudder collectively, even as Twilight presses on, “I can only assume that I am, always have been, and continue to be Twilight Sparkle... and the events of the show are things that actually happened.”
  1331.  
  1332. “Fuck.” I moan, dropping my head to my hands for a moment. “No wonder that last episode is so fucking shit. You literally recounted your own... death, banishment? Whatever the fuck you want to call or count it as.”
  1333.  
  1334. I growl before abruptly standing up and marching off, resisting the urge to throw my dishes in the sink even as I glare at the rubber chicken while marching past. This is a lot of bullshit, but even more so, I am now mad.
  1335.  
  1336. Someone fucked with MY little brother.
  1337.  
  1338. They fuck with MY best friend!
  1339.  
  1340. That nightmare-spawning motherfucker FUCKED WITH FAMILY!
  1341.  
  1342. And that shit doesn't. Fucking. Fly.
  1343.  
  1344. A inelegant and gnashed-toothed growl spills from me as I set the dishes down as to not accidentally destroy them before I stalk back to the living room, Danny and Brick looking at me with concern as the other ponies shift back away, minus Shining who shifts in front of the mares.
  1345.  
  1346. “Not mad at you. Mad at that slap-dashed lily-livered pit-spawn of a fookin' chimera.” I finally bite out, fists clenching and un-clenching as I try to come up with that I need to say before pointing at Twilight. “You remember all of it? Or at least, you've got a vague idea?” I ask carefully.
  1347.  
  1348. “Y-yes?”
  1349.  
  1350. My finger shifts and points to the rest of the ponies, plus Danny and Brick, one-by-one. “And the rest of you as well?”
  1351.  
  1352. “Just when I'm watching the show finale...”
  1353.  
  1354. The nods that follow that make me grunt.
  1355.  
  1356. “Right. So it's fucking real. Good.”
  1357.  
  1358. This makes them all look at you in confusion as you clap your hands together. “Discord, the dead motherfucker, doesn't realized he fucked with the wrong Irishman. Brick, help me load up. We're packing the armory and getting the truck you came here on, and loading my bike.”
  1359.  
  1360. Danny blinks, as do the rest of the ponies that aren't/weren't part of the Mafia even as Brick swiftly trots into action. “What are we doing big brother?”
  1361.  
  1362. Your scowl turns into a cruel grimace of a smile. “Why, continuing years of mob etiquette and tradition my dear brother. We're making a loan collection.” My eyes narrow even as Rarity gasps and faints... jeeze, weak composition much? “And Discord is going to learn that nobody but nobody makes a McCloud break a promise.”
  1363.  
  1364. “Woah, hold -everything-, you can't tell me that your current plan of action is to-” Shining Armor speaks up, taking a step forwards even as Brick slaps a inconspicuous bit of wall near my room, making a small panel slide open and tapping a code into it.
  1365.  
  1366. “Wax the fucker? Paint the town red? Make him wish he stayed in the fookin' rocks he got frozen in the first time around? Oh yes, that's the plan.” I say with a wild laugh, suddenly feeling much, much better about everything, and myself.
  1367.  
  1368. Obviously I've completely lost my mind. But hey, when life gives you lemons, tell life to fuck off and put a round of buckshot in it's gut.
  1369.  
  1370. “This is absolutely insane... Couldn't we just-” Twilight speaks up, only to be cut off by the fake wall sliding away to reveal my 'armory', such as it was. Mostly just a bunch of boxed ammunition, my shotgun, and a old Remington hunting rifle that Da' preferred back before he died.
  1371.  
  1372. “If you got a better plan there Sparkle, I'm all ears.” I say as I pull the shotgun out of it's mount, loading shells and verifying it's six-and-one, the sound of me racking the slide making the ponies wince and Rarity wake up.
  1373.  
  1374. Twilight huffs and gives me a little glare before pointedly saying, “We could use the elements again! After all, it stands to reason that if we're here, Applejack, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash should be too!”
  1375.  
  1376. This makes me pause as I put another case of .45 ACP into my bag. She has a point. The Elements are literally in the house with us, and if the girls can get them to spark off, Discord literally stands no chance against the super weapon that is the Orbital Friendship Laser. One little design flaw with it however, makes me return to putting ammo into my bag.
  1377.  
  1378. “Could they actually get the elements to work? And even if they could, do they even have enough charge to do that?” I ask, deciding on playing devil's advocate, not because I really am all that enthusiastic about this plan, because lets face it, this is desperation mode.
  1379.  
  1380. Oh yes, lets load up on guns and ammo, stuff a bunch of ponies in a box-truck, and drive around basically aimlessly and hope we get face-to-face with Discord and load him so full of lead that if you whittled him a bit he'd make a nice souvenir pencil? Great plan. Awesome plan.
  1381.  
  1382. Better than just sitting in the apartment anyway. I wince slightly at the thought, frowning even as Danny comes up and hugs my leg again.
  1383.  
  1384. We're being dehomed, -again-. And this time, it's even less of our faults then it was that our parents died. And quite frankly that probably pisses me off more than anything else in this moment as I finish putting the ammo and carefully, reverently, picking up me Pa's rifle and carefully putting it and it's soft carry case into the bag, before turning to focus on the four I'm just getting to know.
  1385.  
  1386. Twilight stares at me, before she sighs softly, and breaks character. “Michael... I wish I could say that they do, but I'm just scared, we're all scared. We don't know how or why this is happening, and as amazing as it is that... T-that me and my sister were... are... Brother and Sister, or that our best friends and his not-so-secret boy-now-girl-crush...” Twilight explains, with the aforementioned Stallion and Mare crying out a joint “HEY!” before she plows on, “But you're really scaring us right now. I don't know how Pip... how Danny, is handling this right now, but we... we're all civilians here Michael, we aren't heroes, we sure as heck aren't trained, and vague memories aside, we're all we have at the moment.”
  1387.  
  1388. Big, watery doe-eyes gaze soulfully at me as she finishes her plea, “I won't tell you not to bring your weapons, Discord has already proved he is willing to go to serious lengths to try to kill you, but our first goal should be finding more ponies. If my memories and the memories of my friends and Brother are anything to go by, Discord hit a lot of ponies with this... Four Score curse.”
  1389.  
  1390. I work my jaw a bit as I put the safety on and stow the shotgun into the bag as well, glancing aside to the one pony that is on my side in this discussion for sure- Brick, who looks up to me with a thoughtful frown.
  1391.  
  1392. So weird seeing her being so expressive, but the mare worries her own inner lip for a bit before softly nodding at me. She agrees with Twilight.
  1393.  
  1394. I glance down at Danny, who's been very quiet throughout all of this, and he looks at me with slightly teary eyes. “Please big brother... they need a big brother too.”
  1395.  
  1396. Oof, that's a kick in the heart right there. Danny obviously considers the other ponies family, and we haven't even seen or found any outside of the few we know right now!
  1397.  
  1398. Mentally re-evaluating my plan, I sigh before hanging my head. “Damn damn and thrice damn. Fine, we'll find other ponies first.” A relieved sigh from Twi and cheers from Danny and Twi's friends are started up and stopped by my outstretched hand, finger pointed to the sky. “ONE. Condition.”
  1399.  
  1400. I shift the bag of ammo and guns and make my way into the living room, noting that Brick is carrying my messenger bag, which is holding my reloaded magazines and my Thompson. “In three weeks, no matter what else we encounter, no matter WHO else we encounter, we're going to be in New York City.”
  1401.  
  1402. This leads to a bout of confused muttering from those who aren't in the know, and then suddenly a loud, feminine shout that is tinged with a bit of rage and fear. “THE MEET-UP?! Pony, have you gone and lost your fucking mind?!”
  1403.  
  1404. The rest of the ponies turn to Brick, who's gaping at me and torn between looking afraid and looking furious. “No, I haven't. Even if we're being set up, we need to be at the Meet-Up Brick, I gotta meet with the boss and my cell is toast, and you know that I don't have any other numbers.” I say cryptically to the ponies, but rather straight-forwards to Brick.
  1405.  
  1406. See, being a messenger and delivery man for the Mob is... interesting. Most of the time, I don't actually know what I'm delivering, who I'm delivering it to, or who sent whatever it is I'm dropping off. The less I know, the better I'm able to play at my 'role' of being a independent delivery service worker. Boss's idea. Think Amazon, but less corporate soul sucking.
  1407.  
  1408. I got a license and everything. Hell, sometimes I actually will get straight up real mail and package delivery requests from very much -not- the Mob, just people that found the app and need something delivered. Not a bad side job.
  1409.  
  1410. But the loss of my phone is absolutely devastating. That had the few contact numbers to the Mob as a whole that I could call if something goes wrong, and we aren't supposed to memorize them. In fact, the only one I could call by memory was Brick's, because we could call each other and shoot the shit and he was my primary contact whenever I needed to speak to the Mob at large, such as informing the Boss that the art deal went down as expected.
  1411.  
  1412. My phone being destroyed by Discord's bullshit was a big deal. If I called any of the numbers using Brick's phone, things were going to go ass-over-teakettle and I'd paint a even bigger target on my back.
  1413.  
  1414. But if we could make it to New York for the Meet-up, there was a small, small chance that I'd be able to explain my story to the Boss. Hell, if we picked up enough ponies, it would probably make my story more creditable.
  1415.  
  1416. Having the Mob on our side would make dealing with Discord significantly easier, and even if the Boss would just decide to cut us loose, there was a significantly lesser chance of him ordering a hit on us instead.
  1417.  
  1418. It was risky, but it was worth the risk, in my mind.
  1419.  
  1420. Brick shakes her head, her mane bouncing too and fro.
  1421.  
  1422. “I don't agree with this at all, but fuck it, you seem to at least have some idea of what you're doing...” She grudgingly bites out, the mare stepping forwards and putting a hoof on my leg. “But I swear to God above Pony-boy, if you fucking die on me I will personally walk my ass to Hell to drag you back out and kill you myself.”
  1423.  
  1424. I give her a lopsided grin even as we're stared at by the rest of the ponies in the room before a crouch a bit to rub Danny's mane, getting a 'oi!' of discontent out of the little colt.
  1425.  
  1426. “Right, with that out of the way, we should probably start planning our route.” I say, checking the time again. 0640. “If we're making a road-trip of America, we've got at most a day at each stop, and that's assuming we're doing six hours of sleep at the most and breaking speed-limits the rest of the time." I turn to Redheart and quirk an eyebrow. "I still have no fucking clue how you got here so fast..."
  1427.  
  1428. Brick just averts her eyes and whistles innocently so I snort at her before I walk off to my bedroom, unsurprised to hear a set of hooves following me.
  1429.  
  1430. "Mmm, spartan... but very cozy. You'll make a woman very happy some day Mr. Mc... ah, Michael darling." Rarity says, making me jolt just a bit as I look down and back at the mare, having expected Danny to follow me, but a glance down the hallway shows that he's currently chatting with the rest of the herd, who all look quite worried.
  1431.  
  1432. I glance down at the elegant mare even as she swerves past my leg and trots into the bedroom, making my eye twitch a bit.
  1433.  
  1434. "No, please, come in, you're welcome to invade my private space, why don't you rustle through the drawers?" I drawl sarcastically even as I walk towards my bed as she inspect my bedroom before she goes to the dressers.
  1435.  
  1436. "Just helping you pack Darling. We've got a lot to do and not a lot of time." Rarity says, her horn sparking up as she opens practically every drawer at the same time and starts lifting clothing out.
  1437.  
  1438. I stand to watch the clothing dance through the air for a moment. "Uh... I don't really have a bag that'll fit in."
  1439.  
  1440. "Worry not Darling, I'm quite practiced in making things fit in tight spaces." She says with a smile and a light bounce of her curled mane.
  1441.  
  1442. Come to think of it, she's perfectly made up. How the heck did she pull that off? I know we don't have any makeup or proper hair-care products in this household.
  1443.  
  1444. ... I'm just going to blame Pinkie and move on. A light smack of the wall above my bed makes the wall fall inwards to a reach space, where I pull out a heavier version of my normal leather jacket, a bullet resistant kevlar vest rated for rifle calibers, and almost reverently, I pull out a single gold ring, kissing it and closing my eyes before saying a small prayer before I slap the wall again and let it close on it's own.
  1445.  
  1446. The ring is carefully added a necklace chain and hung around my neck before it's tucked into my shirt. "Right, no point in bringing the rest of that crap... we're not gonna have enough humans to put it on or space for it to fit."
  1447.  
  1448. When I turn around, I note that my bed has been stripped, and a fairly easy to manage cloth sack has been made out of the top sheet and is being used to carry all my clothing.
  1449.  
  1450. Rarity smiles warmly at me. "No problem darling, but if I may ask, why not bring all your... body armor, I assume?"
  1451.  
  1452. "Simple." I point at the top of the armor. "The bullet resistance only works if it hits the kevlar and the strike plates, and it can only do that if you're wearing it properly. If you're laying on the ground or... walking on all fours, then you're presenting a part of the suit that can't protect you." I heft the coat and show it too her. "This has a kevlar inlay under the leather, and strike-plates stitched into it, specifically to help protect my sides. It's not rifle rated like my actual vest, but it's a good bit of extra protection for what I'm most likely to face if I'm getting shot at, which would be pistol calibers."
  1453.  
  1454. Rarity looks confused and I shake my head. "Skip it, I'll explain later if you're really interested."
  1455.  
  1456. The mare shrugs even as I stuff the vest in the bag before draping the jacket over my shoulder and the bag sling as I leave the bedroom, pausing just for a moment to glance at one of the few pictures I have in my room.
  1457.  
  1458. It's a picture of me, Dad, Mom, and Danny, before Mum and Dad died. I quietly consider it before I look at Rarity and gesture for her to go down the hallway.
  1459.  
  1460. The soft ring of magic humming as she trots by with the bag of clothing fills me from head to toe even as she looks at me curiously before I wave her on again, before I look back at the picture again.
  1461.  
  1462. I sigh, gently putting down the bag and the jacket, closing my eyes as I step up to the picture and gently rest my head in the glass, gazing at my parents.
  1463.  
  1464. Danny's parents.
  1465.  
  1466. "Oh Mum, Da... I don't know what the foock I'm doing here." I say quietly, well aware of just how -quite- it feels now that the mare and her magic are gone, closing my eyes for a moment as I rest my head against the glass.
  1467.  
  1468. "Am I just throwing our lives away? I can't... I just can't let that bastard pull a fast one on us, on family, like this." I say to the picture, trying to justify myself, and feeling my heart ache as I beg for my parents consultation. "These ponies... Mum, they need our -help-. Danny is one too, he's not gonna leave them. I can't just turn away!"
  1469.  
  1470. I take the picture off the wall, turning and leaning back against the wall even as I look at the picture, well aware of a dewy pair of eyes from a pony smaller than the rest of the house watching me from around the corner, no matter how sneaky he thinks he's being.
  1471.  
  1472. "Dad, you told me so many times a McCloud never goes back on a promise. I've done it, I'm not stopping now, and... I Promised." I say quietly. "Please... Da, please forgive me if I'm wrong."
  1473.  
  1474. I close my eyes and rest my head against the glass again, biting my lower lip even as soft hoofsteps come up beside me and a small body hugs my leg.
  1475.  
  1476. I let one hand come down and rest in his mane, slowly ruffling it even as I take a slightly shaky break and look up, putting the picture back on the wall before I look down at Danny... Pipsqueak, who -is- crying.
  1477.  
  1478. "D-don't be sad Michael, M-mum and Dad..." He chokes up a bit, sniffing even as he clings my leg a bit tighter. "They'll understand! I'm sorry!"
  1479.  
  1480. "Oh... Pipsqueak." I slowly shift so that I'm kneeling on the floor, and gather the little colt into my arms so he's rearing as I hug him tightly, letting him cry onto my shoulder. "It's not your fault buddy. It never was. My own fears and worries are from me. I'm leading this... wild plan, but I can't not fight back. It just... it ain't in my nature."
  1481.  
  1482. I let him cry before I lean back, so that we're both able to look each other in the eye. "You're still my little brother. This..." I pet him and gently rustle his mane again, giving a wane smile as he nuzzles up into my hand. "Changes nothing. My promise stands, ok?"
  1483.  
  1484. "And a McCloud never breaks a Promise." He sniffles, making me shift from my smile to a sharp-toothed grin.
  1485.  
  1486. "Damn straight. Come on, lets get your herd rounded up."
  1487.  
  1488. As we walk down the hallway, I'm idly aware of a few quiet sniffles and Rarity gently her face with a tissue, but I make no mention of it even as the ponies do their best to look nonchalant about listening in on me.
  1489.  
  1490. Redheart steps up to me and gives me a quietly searching look, and I simply smile and give her a one-shouldered shrug and a nod in response.
  1491.  
  1492. She smiles back at me, and then firms up, her facial expression flatting out as she turns with a sharp click of her hooves. "Alright ponies, Twilight, you figured out where you want us to start yet?"
  1493.  
  1494. Twilight gives me a searching look before focusing back at the task at hand, and I note that her horn is shining brightly as she holds up a roadmap of the United State of America that she's obviously been laboring over, which makes me blink and check my watch.
  1495.  
  1496. 0801. Jeeze, time is flying when you're being introspective, and the second glance doesn't change it even as I focus on Twilight again. No wonder the smart purple mare has had the time to mark up as much of a route as she has.
  1497.  
  1498. "I think our first task is going to be to go to California. We don't have a lot of time but we should try to find the biggest communities as possible, as it'll give us the greatest chance of finding more ponies." Twilight says, frowning as she stares at the map. "Ideally, we would start here in Seattle and in Washington as a whole but..."
  1499.  
  1500. I cross my arms, and chime in. "With everything currently going on around us and with Discord actively trying to kill all of us or destroy the elements... yeah, probably not safe or sane to stay here, and the van only has so much space in it."
  1501.  
  1502. Twilight's almost distressed huff and sigh confirms it, and she nods her head as the rest of the ponies nod in agreement. "In essence. This time limit for the... Meet-Up, makes this a lot harder than it has to be." Twilight turns and stares at me and Redheart, both of us gazing evenly back at her as I shrug the shoulder not currently holding my jacket and bag of guns and ammo.
  1503.  
  1504. "Look, I know you don't like it, but one way or another I have to be there, and I'm also the only driver you got at the moment." I say as I cross my arms. "You might be able to work everything between two ponies, heck, with Rarity's magical control, she might be able to drive entirely on her own, but you would be limited to driving at night, which only makes more complications- getting food, getting gas, so on... and even then you would be without the Elements."
  1505.  
  1506. The ponies as a whole, minus Redheart, who stands stoically at my side, all cry out at that, looking shocked. "You would hold the Elements hostage?!" Shining Armor accuses before I shake my head. "No, I'm not going to hold them hostage, but if you were all serious about splitting off from me, I'd demand you take Pipsqueak with you, and the Elements would go with me to New York anyway, because I'm not planting a target like that on anyone's back but my own."
  1507.  
  1508. The ponies look a bit taken aback before I snort and tap a finger against the bag. "Do you think I'm bringing all of this for fun? Hell, it's more dangerous for me to have the armory with me than not, especially if we get stopped, and that's not even discounting that you'll need to find a way to hide." I explain. "But I've got a bad feeling about this."
  1509.  
  1510. "You and me both." Shining grumbles.
  1511.  
  1512. "And me and Redheart have already been attacked." I continue as if I hadn't been ignored. "This isn't some pleasure trip, we're going to be on the run, and trying to find the other half of the Mane Six above everything else, because at the moment, we don't have any way to put Discord down and out of action."
  1513.  
  1514. I swear under my breath before spreading both of my arms out pleadingly. "Look, the whole world is about to get a double-barreled blast of CHAOS. There isn't shit we can do about it. Families are going to be torn apart, people are going to fight, and people are GOING to get hurt." I say, trying to emphasize my point as much as I can. "Right now, we need to survive, and I hate to say it, but you three-" I point at Twilight, a surprisingly quite and serious Pinkie, and Rarity in turn, "Are the very important ponies in this situation."
  1515.  
  1516. I give Redheart a wane smirk. "The rest of us are expendable."
  1517.  
  1518. "NO!" Twilight cries out, stamping a hoof. "No pony is expendable!"
  1519.  
  1520. "Still leaves me." I point out, only for Pinkie to shake her head.
  1521.  
  1522. "No! No ponies, no humans, no one is expendable!" She says, her mane slightly deflated.
  1523.  
  1524. "We can argue the point later, but the Elements need their wielders." I counter, tapping a foot before I shake my head. "Look, we can talk more once we're on the road, but the main point I'm trying to make is this- We've got a very, very big target on our back, and having someone to smooth over the little things that being a pony would make really inconvenient or even step into harms way if Discord and his... goons, come after us, would be a good thing."
  1525.  
  1526. I point at Twilight. "Or am I wrong?"
  1527.  
  1528. Twilight sighs, shaking her head. "Ok, ok, you don't need to beat me up Michael..."
  1529.  
  1530. I nod firmly. "So, California. Where are we going?"
  1531.  
  1532. "King's Valley." She says, showing me the map. "If we take Route 5 all the way down, we'll hit several major cities and it's only small detours to get to some of the bigger areas, and hopefully have a chance to glance at some of the farmland in California." She gives me a wane smile, "If we're going to find Applejack, there's always a good shot at finding her at a Farm or Ranch of some kind."
  1533.  
  1534. "Stereotypical but it's not like we got anything else to go on." I sigh and not. "Right, lets clean the fridge out and pack up the food, and get this show on the road."
  1535.  
  1536. "Roaaaaaaaaad Trip! I'msoexcitedaren'tyouexcitedIcan'trememberwhenIwaslastthisexcitedbutwellexceptforthattimeImettwilightandwenthuaaaaaaabutImeanreallytherewasalsowhenmeandAJwentandmethergrannyaunt-" Pinkie babbles as the rest of us start packing.
  1537.  
  1538. -Chapter 5 End-
  1539.  
  1540. Chapter 6: Candidate Move
  1541.  
  1542. "This is what we're traveling in?" Rarity says with only... a little distain.
  1543.  
  1544. "You got a problem with the box truck?" Redheart says with a lifted eyebrow even as I carefully push my bike into the back.
  1545.  
  1546. To be fair, the Box Truck is a ugly thing. It's supposed to be, it's a pretend U-Haul truck after all just to ensure that people don't pay a lot of attention to it. But this box truck has been heavily modified.
  1547.  
  1548. For one thing, the cab opens up into the box part of the box truck, allowing a lot more space, and even comfort while traveling. I've slept in several of the ones that we own and modified, and this one had a bed that was Brick-sized, so there's plenty of room for people... uh... ponies, to rest comfortably, during the trip.
  1549.  
  1550. Thankfully, there's plenty of space for the bike. I frown softly after I carefully tie it down. Not a huge amount of space, even if we can get the bike in here.
  1551.  
  1552. Glancing outside at the herd, I meet Pinkie Pie's eyes for a moment before I sigh and shake my head. I really, really hope they can keep that mare entertained while we're driving.
  1553.  
  1554. -----
  1555.  
  1556. Soon enough, or too soon, depending on who you're asking, we're all packed up and all the ponies have been loaded aboard, save for Redheart, who stands next to me as I stare at the apartment complex.
  1557.  
  1558. "... You'll be back one day Michael." She says quietly, softly resting a hoof on my leg even as I sigh and turn my head away before fully turning my back on the only stable home I've known since my parents died.
  1559.  
  1560. "Today isn't that day Brick." I reply firmly as she puts her hoof down and trots next to me as I make my way to the box truck to open the passenger seat door for her. "... It's a big world out there. We got a big enemy in front of us."
  1561.  
  1562. "Two mobsters against the world huh? I've had worse odds." She says with a smirk in her tone, making me chuckle lightly.
  1563.  
  1564. "I'm thinking more like a herd of ponies verse an eldritch abomination. We'll deal with the world later." I know I'm putting up a brave front even as Redheart bumps her flank into my leg, looking up at me and making me look down back at her.
  1565.  
  1566. "So, what are we doing tonight, Pony Boy?" She says with a wide, almost feral grin on her face and a glint in her eyes promising violence and unwavering determination.
  1567.  
  1568. I smirk back, my own teeth showing as my eyes narrow a bit. "The same thing we do every night Brick- make this dull ass world a bit more interesting."
  1569.  
  1570. --------
  1571.  
  1572. The first few hours of travel weren't particularly interesting as I got used to driving Brick's box truck, and most of the ponies spent the time yammering amongst one another and listening to the radio, which was currently synched up to Pipsqueak's iPhone, seeing as I was currently missing mine and Redheart's was... somewhere.
  1573.  
  1574. I frown, looking at the mare sitting next to me before I quietly ask her, "Redheart, what happened to your phone?"
  1575.  
  1576. She blushes brightly before turning her head away, coughing a bit. "I uh... I might have ditched it when I realized what was really going on to keep anyone from tracing us through it."
  1577.  
  1578. "... Brick, that phone had numbers that still could have been useful."
  1579.  
  1580. Her ears droop.
  1581.  
  1582. "... Eeyup."
  1583.  
  1584. I sigh, focusing on the road again as I carefully watch traffic and glance at my mirrors, looking for cops or suspicious looking vehicles. Can't discount Discord having some bullshit way of tracking us either, now that I think about it.
  1585.  
  1586. "No big deal, we'll burn that bridge when we get to it."
  1587.  
  1588. ------
  1589.  
  1590. "Michael darling, would you like to take a break? We've been driving for almost six hours now."
  1591.  
  1592. Rarity is currently in the passenger seat, and a glance over at the fabulous mare shows that she's somehow put together a fairly nice outfit. It's nothing spectacular, just a blouse and skirt with a hole in it for her tail, but I'm honestly a bit surprised that she has an outfit in the first place.
  1593.  
  1594. She tilts her head at me questioningly as I check the gages to see how we're doing on gas as well as scan to verify where exactly we are.
  1595.  
  1596. I note the signs and nod my head before answering the mare. "Currently, we're in Medford, Oregon." I start, only to be interrupted by a pronking pink pony popping up onto my shoulder.
  1597.  
  1598. "Oooh, is there a party we can have here? Wait, we should stop and get some of that dank koosh, bro!" She says gleefully, before getting a face-full of one hand gently shoving her back and off as I stay focused on the road and at least one hand on the wheel.
  1599.  
  1600. "First, no drugs. Not around Pipsqueak, and I don't even what to know what they'd do to your pony bodies. In case you forgot, we don't exactly have a doctor that actually knows what ya'll can and can't do, eat, etc. So we're going to try to AVOID." As it's fairly safe right now, I swing my head around to glare at Pinkie. "Doing anything that fucks with peoples and ponies heads and body chemistry."
  1601.  
  1602. I turn my head back to focus on the straight stretch of road. "Besides, I want to get out of Oregon as soon as possible, so that we don't have to deal with their laws."
  1603.  
  1604. "What's so bad about Oregon laws BBBFF?" Pipsqueak asks from where I'm assuming the bed is, as I'm focusing on the road again.
  1605.  
  1606. "Can't pump your own gas Pipsqueak." Redheart answers gruffly. "And we don't want people looking into the Box Truck if we can help it. Standard practice for most of the Mob messages is to never, ever stop in Oregon if they can help it, and Pony Boy is one of the best."
  1607.  
  1608. "Redheart has it in one." I say, squaring my shoulders as we drive on. "Just a few more hours and we'll be out of Oregon and into California. Our first stop for the trip is Yreka- small place, population of just about 7k, not particularly popular but it's right near a lot of really pretty places and they have a Casino in town, and it's one of the 'Historic Places' of America. Being right on I-5, it's great for passing through, because they get a lot of traffic and it's easy to get lost for a bit."
  1609.  
  1610. The ponies let out impressed sounds as Rarity places a hoof over her chest. "My goodness darling, you sound like dear Twilight with that little info dump."
  1611.  
  1612. I chuckle. "You pick up a thing or two about a thing or two when you're as well traveled as I am. And little details and facts about a place can really up the quality of a trip, or make a dangerous trip safer." I lean back in the seat. "Yreka is a must-stop for basically all the messengers, because it's not only an ideal spot to get gas, but they get enough tourists that no one's going to stick their nose in your business."
  1613.  
  1614. Rarity hums and nods as she turns her attention back to the road herself. As she does, you debate asking her about the clothing, and sigh before committing.
  1615.  
  1616. "... So where did you get the outfit? I don't remember packing anything like that."
  1617.  
  1618. "Oh! Well, we brought it with our things and I made it myself, darling. Even if as ponies in the show we aren't particularly known for wearing clothing all the time I was feeling a bit exposed to the world, if you will."
  1619.  
  1620. Well, she did answer you, but...
  1621.  
  1622. "... Don't ponies have their tails and things for that? I mean... stuff rubbing on your fur coat can't feel great."
  1623.  
  1624. She blushes, and you note that her embarrassment has translated to her tail whipping a bit before wrapping around the front of her hooves much like a cat.
  1625.  
  1626. "Ah, well, that is... *ahem*, our private lives and parts might be covered by our tails, darling, but they only cover so much."
  1627.  
  1628. You blink, think for a moment, and then flush bright red, and honestly you'd assume you're steaming from embarrassment as you focus on the road. You can feel the second-hand... er... hoof, embarrassment from the rest of the ponies (minus Pinkie) in the truck before Redheart speaks up.
  1629.  
  1630. "I uh... yeah, if you could help me with that please Rarity..."
  1631.  
  1632. "Oh of course darling! I do love helping others look their best! Why, even when I was 'Tom' I-"
  1633.  
  1634. You tune everything out, and focus on the road, even as you turn up the music just a bit before Shining Armor dives into the front seat, eyes a bit wild and the stallion shaking a bit.
  1635.  
  1636. "For Celestia's sake, are mares always like that?" He says with a bit of fear in his voice as I nod solemnly.
  1637.  
  1638. "... Yep."
  1639.  
  1640. "Fuck, I need to apologize for my old gender..."
  1641.  
  1642. -----

Stampede ULTRA!

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