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/bootleg/ Jacky Part Ten

By BlondieAnon
Created: 2021-09-22 00:04:41
Updated: 2022-01-13 03:24:32
Expiry: Never

  2. >The butler screams at me.
  3. >Sorry to whoever was supposedly to get the baguette but it's mine now!
  4. >I gallop as hard as I can for at least four blocks and cut around to alley to below the district bridge.
  5. >By the time I stop to catch my breath, I've nearly chomped the baguette in half.
  6. >Dashie is sleeping under a thick scarf we found.
  7. >I lean down and chomp down harder, leaving the two halves perfectly even.
  8. >...maybe one side is longer than the other.
  9. >She should take the longer portion.
  10. "Hey, hey Dashie! Dashie! I got bread, it's fresh too!"
  11. >She is sluggish but she manages to lift her head at the smell of it.
  12. >Her wings have always been really big but she looks like she's almost nothing but wing.
  13. >She told me not to wander off or cause trouble but this isn't trouble.
  14. >It's food!
  15. >She inhales and tries her best to smile.
  16. >"It must be from that cafe... Jacky... did you take this from someone?"
  17. >My face scrunches up.
  18. >She said not to cause trouble.
  19. "N... no? I mean, it was gonna fall and I caught it. And because I caught it..."
  20. >My eyes wander.
  21. >Dashie keeps teaching me how to lie but I don't get it.
  22. >It is how we get a lot of things.
  23. "...finders keepers?"
  24. >I smile as wide as I can.
  25. >She shakes her head.
  26. >"I don't believe you. You need to remember to keep it realistic. Ok? No one will believe you if you don't believe it."
  27. >She reaches out with her neck and takes the smaller portion of bread.
  28. "H-hey, not that one! That one is mine! You take the other one, here."
  29. >I nudge the larger portion of bread toward her.
  30. >She shakes her head.
  31. >"Nope, I don't want it. It has all of your slobber all over it. So you take it."
  32. "W-wha?! It does not!"
  33. >Dashie smiles and continues to eat.
  34. >"The bread is warm... thank you, Jacky. But you better eat up too. I may eat your half and leave just crumbs."
  35. "You can't do that! Watch, I'm gonna finish up first and then eat YOUR bread too!"
  36. >I take a step back just to pounce onto the feast.
  37. >Its gone in seconds.
  38. >By the time I finish, I feel too full to even move.
  39. >Dashie is still eating.
  40. >But she looks at me like I'm doing something funny.
  41. >"Still want mine?"
  42. >I wave one of my hooves at her
  43. >It isn't a lot but there is a little creek under the bridge for water.
  44. >It doesn't taste the best but it does smell clean.
  45. >Mostly clean.
  46. >Cleaner than where we were before.
  47. "Think we'll get to stay here for a while? Winter's gettin' close ain't it?"
  48. >"Jacky, don't roll around on the ground like that. It takes a lot to find shampoo to clean that lion mane of yours."
  49. >I go from laying on my back to sitting up.
  50. >I still feel energetic but Dashie doesn't want me dirty.
  51. >She said that we look like "dirty homeless fillies" when we get too dirty.
  52. >But it doesn't make sense to me, a lot of ponies look dirty when they're doing jobs or stuck out in the rain.
  53. >Or a tornado.
  54. >Tornados while it's raining even!
  55. >"Did you listen to me?"
  57. >My head stops bobbing from side to side.
  58. >If there was a snowstorm tornado with a side of rain I could look normal no matter how dirty I was.
  59. "Yeah..."
  60. >"Then do it next time you go out. Ok? It's for your safety."
  61. "Yeah, I know. We ain't ever get hurt before, why do you really want to worry about it everywhere we go?"
  62. >"Because not everywhere we go is safe for us, Jacky."
  63. "Yeah yeah..."
  64. >You don't believe her.
  65. >Some places weren't so friendly.
  66. >But they would never be so bad that it would be dangerous.
  67. >"And Jacky?"
  68. "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!"
  69. >I roll my head around my neck, rolling my eyes too until it feels like the world is spinning.
  70. >"Don't forget bread for Anon. When was the last time you got him something?"
  71. "Wait, what?"
  72. >In a sudden jolt I...
  73. >Where am I again?
  74. >"Jacky, I said Anon was grabbing bread from the store! WAKE UP ALREADY AND TELL ME WHAT ELSE YOU WANT!"
  75. >That angry voice...
  76. >It's Sparky
  77. >Anon likes to call her Shine or Shiner or Shiny Heiny
  78. >But she'll always be Sparky to me
  79. "NnnnnnnnnnnnnnnAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHH!"
  80. >I slowly erupt with my own roar as a response
  81. >...
  82. >...
  83. >...
  85. >I scamper out of our bed and do some sort of crawl-run that can only happen when your right legs are asleep
  87. >By the time I reach the living room, I'm out of breath and tingling all over
  88. >One more attempt to move and the billion pins and needles shooting down to my hooves keep me from saying anything else
  89. >"...didja get all of that?"
  90. >"Yup. Y'alright Jackerat?"
  91. >It's Anon's voice from the laptop he keeps out in the living room
  92. >It takes a little bit of effort for me to regain my tingly wits
  93. "Ye-I... ah... legs fell asleep. Are you gonna go to the store now?"
  94. >"Well I just left and I'm walking to the car so yeah. Tack on maybe an extra twenty minutes to my ETA?"
  95. >I move to salute the internet call Anon
  96. >Only for my eyes to roll up in my head and for my entire arm to burst into needles again
  97. >Wrong leg
  98. >"...yeah, Jacky just made a really interesting gesture with her face. You better make that an extra ten or you're gonna be missing out on something she's planning."
  99. >I hear him bark out a laugh
  100. >"Alright, I'm gonna double time it. Whatever you do, don't let her stop making that face. Later."
  101. >Just as I manage to get the overwhelming sensation out of the way... he already disconnected from the call
  102. "Ah... dang it... you had to go and tell him that?"
  103. >"Don't you want him to think of your face more?"
  104. >I push out my lips and squint at her
  105. " this a trick question?"
  106. >Sparky rolls her eyes
  107. >"No you idiot."
  108. >She shakes her head and stands up to stretch
  109. >Who knows how long she spent today in front of that thing
  110. >"You've been sleeping a lot lately, even when he's home. Are you feeling sick or something?"
  111. "Sick? No, I..."
  112. >I've been dreaming a lot lately
  113. >Like little clips out of movies
  114. >...clips I probably shouldn't tell her about at least
  116. "...just like sleeping. It's finally getting colder now so it ain't so hot in here. Doesn't that want to make you nap too?"
  117. >Sparks groans
  118. >"I've been sleeping too much WITH that heat, you know. It's nice out... I want to be awake to feel it."
  119. >I shake my head and yawn something melodic
  120. >Something from one of the songs I've been listening to lately
  121. >"You are just a complete prize, you know that?"
  122. >I smile at her dull-toned compliment
  123. >Joke or not, I take it as a compliment
  124. "Well I'm sure glad you know it. Where's feathered filly free from... uh..."
  125. >"Trying to do that wordplay thing Anon does?"
  126. "Yeah."
  127. >She gives me some sort of condescending smile
  128. >"Practice more. She's in the bathroom."
  129. "Oh... dang..."
  130. >I want to talk to her
  131. >"Are you having dreams about... you know. How things were before?"
  132. >My ears fold down
  133. >How did she guess that?
  134. "...don't tell Anon?"
  135. >She looks at me
  136. >And sighs
  137. >"Alright... but it's really not a bad thing to open up about stuff like that."
  138. "Like coyotes?"
  139. >It feels like my wit is starting to wake up too
  140. >She glares at me
  141. >"...don't start with that. Not today."
  142. >I chuckle and nod
  143. >Maybe it is a bit too soon to talk about that
  144. >It has been a bit of a while since that happened
  145. >Anon tried bringing it up once or twice but not even I spoke up about it
  146. >I still don't know why I flinched that badly
  147. >I've been in fights a ton of times!
  148. >Maybe not that many real, dangerous fights
  149. >Maybe not with... animals
  150. >Maybe not with RABID animals on top of that...
  151. >But I've taken care of myself before
  152. >I didn't need Anon to scoop me up and run off with me like I was some sort of doll
  153. >But it felt nice
  154. >I felt safe
  155. >...and after, I felt embarrassed
  156. >"Are we having orange chicken tonight? Is it really with oranges or is it just because of the name..."
  157. >Dashie's mature, cool voice floats in the air as she walks past me
  158. "Dashie! I gotta talk to you later, can we?"
  159. >She doesn't answer until she returns to her throne of pillows
  160. >Maybe it's some sort of... nesting pegasus thing
  161. >She didn't really use to do that back then
  162. >"You don't remember? We're having a movie tonight. It's some sort of..."
  163. >"Slasher movie Anon found."
  164. >"Yes, that's the one."
  165. >Sparks seems focused on the laptop
  166. >It's spooky how well she can use it now
  167. "...oh yeah."
  168. >I frown
  169. >It feels like I'm just... forgetting things lately
  170. >Or maybe it's more like I'm just focusing on different stuff too much
  171. "Well... is after that ok? It's important. It's about back then."
  172. >Sparks smirks
  173. >I squint at her
  174. "Hey, you shush. It ain't from when you were around... it was before."
  175. >Dashie looks serene in her nest
  176. >"How far back?"
  177. >I shrug
  178. "I really don't know... that's the problem. I remember... like bringing bread to you. Washing myself in a river..."
  180. >Now that bread basically comes from the magical bread isle at the grocery store, water comes out forever through a faucet and both of those things aren't actually infinite but is so openly plentiful...
  181. >I really was a little piece of something bad, wasn't I
  182. >"I haven't had any dreams like that. It has been... months now?"
  183. >Dashie frowns as well and ruffles her wings all around
  184. >"What do you think is the reason?"
  185. "I don't know. It feels like it's forever ago but... it also feels like it just happened. You know?"
  186. >I get the feeling that I know what both of them will say
  187. "I can't tell Anon about that sort of stuff. Not yet."
  188. >Sparks rolls her eyes and Dashie giggles
  189. >"Jacky... darling, you've been an item with that man for how long and you're still saying something like that?"
  190. >"And besides, how much does he already know about how shit we were?"
  191. >The combined giggling makes me get up and stomp in between them
  192. >It's more a show of just how mad they're making me
  193. >It doesn't work to stop them
  194. "I mean it! This sort of thing is different, ok... I feel like it's something important I gotta remember. Like maybe it matters to something..."
  195. >Maybe it's a secret like how I'm some long, lost princess
  196. >Or that Ma lost me and I'm set to inherent an entire massive orchard
  197. >Anon would like that
  198. >I hope it's something important in that way
  199. >I really want it to be important
  201. "Hey is that..."
  202. >I see a red filly huffing around.
  203. >She looks really familiar.
  204. "It is...! Sparks! Sparky!"
  205. >I gallop to her, ducking under a cart being pulled by some buff stallion.
  206. >She sees me and tries to act like I don't exist.
  207. >Of course it doesn't matter because I do!
  208. "Sparky!"
  209. >I leap onto her for a hug.
  210. >She tries to act like I'm just bothering her but I really am happy to see her.
  211. "I thought I wouldn't see you again! What are you doing all the way out here?"
  212. >The last time I saw her, it was at least a month ago.
  213. >We were having fun and ended up getting a... few too many ponies angry.
  214. >"...just luck I guess. Will you get off of me already?"
  215. >I finally let go of her.
  216. >She's as scrawny as always, but even now more than before her belly looks concave.
  217. >"Is your... uh. Who is she again?"
  218. "Dashie! She's at home sleeping. She spent a lot of last night looking for food and she came back with some fruit stand's stuff. Want a banana?"
  219. >Sparks grimaces at the sound of Dashie's name... but she scrunches her face at the mention of having something to eat.
  220. >"...Yeah. You probably have more than just that I can have, right?"
  221. >I giggle and pet her shoulder with my hoof.
  222. "Of course! We're friends, right? I don't know why Dashie couldn't wait for you but we kept looking for you!"
  223. >I look around, trying to sound more convincing.
  224. >Dashie told me to not talk to Sparks anymore.
  225. "I mean... well, you know. I did most of the looking."
  226. >"Guess you found me before it was too late now."
  227. >She sounds tired.
  228. >She's always been irritable when tired but right now she doesn't even seem to care that you've been touching her.
  229. "Yeah, well... let's go! We have a river and stuff too. It tastes good, really."
  230. >She doesn't walk so fast but I keep a slow pace so we don't lose sight of each other.
  231. >When we reach home, only around half of the collected fruit was left.
  232. >...there are signs that birds came and went.
  233. "Ah... crap..."
  234. >Without asking, Sparks takes some of the largest bananas and apples and devours them, peel and all!
  235. "Whoa... do those actually taste good? They were getting kinda brown."
  236. >She doesn't answer me.
  237. >When she finishes, she reaches to grab even more fruit!
  238. >Even an orange!
  239. "H-hey, not that one!"
  240. >I shield the orange with my hoof, knocking away hers at the last second.
  241. >She glares at me... harder than usual.
  242. >"I need the orange Jacky."
  243. "No, that one is mine for later!"
  244. >"It's going to rot if I don't eat it now."
  245. "I won't let it rot, it's good for at least this evening!"
  246. >Sparky starts to sound more angry.
  247. >It's hard to talk to her when she gets like this.
  248. >Out of nowhere, a hind leg kicks into her!
  249. >The kick leads to her landing in the mud near the river.
  250. >"You aren't supposed to be here. Find another spot to stay, this is ours. And that food was ours."
  251. "D-dashie! No, it's ok, I gave that food to her!"
  252. >"It wasn't yours to give, Jacky."
  253. >Sparks screams and struggles to get back to her hooves.
  254. >She's covered in mud now...
  256. >Her horn sparks up, enough for it to actually light up.
  257. >That doesn't happen a lot.
  258. >"You... LOSERS! You wouldn't have gotten anywhere without me! You think we're gonna be a gang and get things done right if you two keep running away whenever someone starts snitching?! I'm the brains, I'm the one who got us the most!"
  259. >Her voice echoes under the bridge.
  260. >"We aren't a 'gang', you leech. If you keep talking to Jacky I'm going to get you sent to a mine."
  261. >"Yeah?! I bet you could do that, you sure are friendly with enough guards!"
  262. >This is too much.
  263. >They aren't supposed to fight like this.
  264. >They're friends.
  265. >We're all friends.
  266. >...
  267. >That dream still bothers me
  268. >It feels like it happened yesterday
  269. >But yesterday was a different dream too
  270. >I watch Dashie and Sparky bickering over something
  271. >They've been going at it for a long while now
  272. >They try to cook everything and it seems like they're trying out some sort of new thing
  273. >"Orange rinds, Sparking? You're disgusting."
  274. >"It adds flavor, smell, and looks fancy!"
  275. >"What would you know about fancy?"
  276. >"More than you, you dumb bird-horse."
  277. >Are they really so heated about something so minor?
  278. "...why not try half with, and half without?"
  279. >They look back at me
  280. >And then at each other
  281. "Jacky..."
  282. >They both say at the same time
  283. >"This is about quality and presentation."
  284. >"This is about making something edible."
  285. >They also speak their logic at the same time
  286. >It makes me shake my head
  287. "I... don't get it. What is this for, anyway?"
  288. >"Orange chicken."
  289. >They speak simultaneously again
  290. >The stuff Anon got at the store?
  291. "...why don't we just buy more? It's ok if we don't know how to make it, right?"
  292. >"Number one... I know how to make it. Number two, we save money if we cook it on our own. And that means making use of everything we have to make it even better."
  293. >"And that includes putting rotting rinds in our food and stomaching it because it's what you think is 'fancy'?"
  294. >"You know what? I'm done with this. I'm gonna go bug Anon. He knows I'm right. Then we're going to laugh at you until you pluck your chicken wings bare out of sheer jealousy. Stay mad."
  295. >Sparks stands up, flicks her mane at Dashie, and wanders off
  296. >It's just me and her now
  297. >Today has been going by so slowly that it has been difficult to stay focused
  298. "Hey Dash... is this really worth threatening each other over?"
  299. >Dashie grins with a chuckle
  300. >"She may have the magic and better skill to cook, but we're not going to let her ruin everything for her ego."
  301. "I guess... whatever happened to helping me learn how to cook too?"
  302. >"Well..."
  303. >She shrugs at the question
  304. >"I mean, you already do a lot. And it's just important for me that our food turns out good. Shine may have better skills due to her magic but we still need more than just magic for good food."
  305. >I don't believe her
  306. "Yeah, sure... you aren't still mad at her, are you?"
  307. >"For orange rinds? Not more than usual, dear."
  309. >I sigh
  310. "Come on... when you present this stuff to Anon and we all eat and all that, you guys are gonna get the praise."
  311. >Some... sense of jealousy feels like it's starting to bubble up
  312. >It feels like something familiar
  313. "I want to do stuff too. I want to help out and create questionably delicious food and be able to be counted on."
  314. >Dashie smiles and brings me in for a hug
  315. >I don't resist
  316. >"Oh Jacky, y..."
  317. >She pulls away
  318. >"...questionably delicious?"
  319. " peels."
  320. >"...right."
  321. >She hugs again
  322. >"You already help us out. You're by and far the most well-adjusted, which means that you know how to bring us all together. You know how to make Anon happy which is good for all of us and you are usually the one to introduce us to new media. You're our frontiersmare when it comes to looking at..."
  323. >She hesitates
  324. >"...weird things on the internet."
  325. "They're called memes."
  326. >"...yeah... those."
  327. >She releases the hug
  328. >"We all have our own skills to let us shine. Even... well, Shine. But don't you worry, I'll teach you the right way to cook things. Especially since we can't rely on Shine and emulate her using magic."
  329. >That sounds acceptable
  330. >I focus on her words
  331. >That sense of jealousy isn't going away
  332. "...what do you mean keeping Anon happy is good for all of us?"
  333. >I leer at her
  334. "I don't... that's not what that is. That's never what that was."
  335. >The mere thought of...
  336. >How would I ever do that?
  337. >How could I?
  338. >Dashie looks at me like nothing's wrong
  339. >"I know... but benefits are benefits, aren't they?"
  340. >That's not what you have with him
  341. >That's not the intent or even a benefit
  342. >None of any of that has anything to do with l...
  343. >L...
  344. >I still can't even think the word
  345. "I'm... gonna go."
  346. >You want to tell her that you feel disgusted by that
  347. >You don't want to hurt her feelings
  348. >"Alright, Jacky. Look forward to dinner!"
  349. "Yeah..."
  350. >You go around the closest corner you can to get out of her sight
  351. >You could go for some Anon right about now
  352. >He's always open to talk about anything and everything
  353. >But these dreams?
  354. >He wouldn't get it
  355. >He had his own share of stuff but it was never had it like you
  356. >Not that you've had it so much worse than him either
  357. >Probably?
  358. "I just really need..."
  359. >Something to help clear your mind
  360. >When you get to Anon's room you see him sitting with his legs crossed
  361. >With Sparks sitting on his lap
  362. >Both of them are watching a game he's playing
  363. >"If you don't get your guy out of range he's going to die next turn."
  364. >"It's fine, he's meant to be a decoy."
  365. >"But he's your last infantry."
  366. >"I can make more."
  367. >"Man... you're a harsh guy, you know that?"
  368. >"War is hell, Shiner. And better they be gunned down than my neotanks get blasted to scrap."
  369. >They're always so close knit
  370. >And together
  371. >That jealousy feeling feels like it's only flaring up
  372. >Without saying anything I get onto our bed
  373. >And lean against Anon's side
  375. >"Hey there Jackula."
  376. >Even without turning his head away he can tell it's me
  377. >He smiles when he speaks
  378. >"You've just caught me leading Orange Star to supreme victory over the foreign hordes of Black Hole."
  379. >Sparks snickers at the last two words
  380. >...I do too
  381. >...Anon does too
  382. >"Ah... God damn it."
  383. "Are they really orange? They look kinda red to me."
  384. >"You think so too, huh?"
  385. >"Well they're orange when compared to me."
  386. >"Your face is orange when compared to you."
  387. >"That makes as much sense as why you put your bomber over there..."
  388. >"It's for next turn, Spit-Shine. Guy's gonna probably push forward and I'm out of range of his missiles unless he moves those too. And if he does, they'll be what I bomb, or an enemy that's close enough that I won't be at risk."
  389. >"...oh."
  390. >He makes so much sense my eyes glaze over
  391. >It's yet another game I haven't seen before
  392. >I've been here for so long now but there's always something completely new that I haven't seen before
  393. >I don't want to interrupt him...
  394. >But I want Sparky's spot
  395. "Hey, uh... Dash's taking out the trash. And she put those orange rinds in the trash bag too."
  396. >The red lapmare sighs and rolls her eyes
  397. >"Whatever... let her do it I guess. Next time I'm going to show he."
  398. >She isn't moving
  399. >I thought that would work
  400. "Ah..."
  401. >What do I say now?
  402. "Hm..."
  403. >"Something on your mind?"
  404. " spot."
  405. >Anon looks at me
  406. >"What's your spot?"
  407. "...I want in my spot."
  408. >"What's your spot?"
  409. >Sparks looks at me
  410. >She's smiling
  411. "...that's my spot."
  412. >"I don't see your n-"
  413. >Anon cuts her off by picking her up like how people pick up long cats
  414. >And puts her at his other side
  415. >She has the most disappointed look on her face
  416. >"There... good lap pony."
  417. >He pats her head
  418. >Her flat face gently curls to a smile
  419. >He opens his legs enough and pats his thigh
  420. >"Alright, in your spot Jackinomics."
  421. "Eheh, awesome."
  422. >I climb onto his lap and curl up
  423. >Rather than sit in it, I focus on laying back
  424. >This is a whole lot better
  425. "After this level, lemme play too."
  426. >"You got it. This even has multiplayer too...up to three players."
  427. >He leers down at me
  428. >A familiar squint that gunslingers make in the high noon sun
  429. >My smile hardens to a stern squinting
  430. >We glare at each other
  431. >"...see? You could have used that so-called 'decoy' to at least kill that unit there."
  432. >He turns his glare to her
  433. >As do I
  434. >She doesn't catch onto what's going on
  435. >"...what?"
  436. "It's on."
  437. >"Like Donkey Kong."
  438. >This confuses her even more
  439. >"...what? Who's Donkey Kong?"
  440. >"Me, because I'm gonna beat your butts like a set of bongo drums."
  441. >The way he says it is particularly threatening
  442. "So what's a bongo drum then?"
  443. >I know the timing is off but the face he makes is priceless
  444. >"I'm gonna start with you, Jack. Make your peace."
  445. >Oh no
  446. "'s not gonna be in front of everyone is it?"
  447. >He raises an eyebrow like it hasn't even thought of it
  448. >"You know, that's a good question."
  449. >He clears his throat
  450. >"Hey Priss-mass, you wanna see me beat some Jacky butt like a bongo drum?"
  452. "Hey Dash, what are we doing here?"
  453. >"You want to help me out more, don't you?"
  454. "Yeah, of course!"
  455. >"That's what you'll be doing today."
  456. >I'm in the middle of some really big train station.
  457. >There are a ton of ponies of all sorts talking and moving at once.
  458. >All of them look so different in so many ways.
  459. "...I don't get it. What am I doing?"
  460. >"Listen to them... I want you to learn how they speak."
  461. >I frown and try to listen to the chorus.
  462. >It's too loud to focus on... and my stomach growling sounds louder than everything else.
  463. "Dashie, I'm hungry... can we please go find some food?"
  464. >She looks hungry too, but she doesn't like acting like she is.
  465. >She doesn't need to act like she's so much better than me.
  466. >"I know, dear... I'm going to go look. But you stay right here, ok? Do not move from this spot. Don't talk to anyone. Just listen. Ok?"
  467. >We at least found a nice bench to sit on.
  468. "Ok... hurry back."
  469. >Dashie trots off, her wings shifted low to help hide her exposed ribs.
  470. >She looks so skinny now, she didn't used to.
  471. >She keeps finding new homes for us but I wish we could find one place to stay.
  472. >"Well dang it, where did that little sprout go?"
  473. >"Damn it, that stupid heifer said she would meet me here! Useless."
  474. >"I ain't getting on that accursed contraption again! Did you see that it almost splattered them there birds?"
  475. >"Ooh la la, zis is our déstinasyon! But ver iz ze... how you say..."
  476. >...A lot of these stallions and mares sound funny.
  477. >I can't imagine ever sounding so silly as a default voice.
  478. >"Hello! Hello little filly!"
  479. >I blink a few times.
  480. >I see that the funny voice belongs to a... very large mare, wearing a mountain of ribbons.
  481. >"Yes, you! I see you!"
  482. >She trots up to me, smiling as big as she can.
  483. >Which is a lot.
  484. >"Hello to you, I am in searching of ze hotel. Ou est l'hotel?"
  485. >I gawk at her.
  486. >What in the world did she just say to me?
  487. "H... huh?"
  488. >The mare gives a loud, cheerful laugh
  489. >"Esxcuse me, my tongue, she slips back sometimes! I am staying at a very nice hotel. Do you know, where the building iz?"
  490. >I run the sentence through my head multiple times.
  491. > she asking me where the hotel is?
  492. "I... I don't know where any hotels are. I was told to just sit here and listen."
  493. >I try to avert my eyes from her.
  494. >I feel terrible for not being able to help her.
  495. "I'm sorry. Dashie said she would be back with food."
  496. >The mountainous mare inhales hard enough that it actually causes my mane to shift.
  497. >"Oh NO! A little filly, without even a bite of food? Did you even have a little... what is, the petit déjeuner?"
  498. >...what did she just call me?
  499. "I... I don't know...?"
  501. >I flinch and lower my head in embarrassment.
  502. >Is she calling me hungry?
  503. >"Your Dashie, she will return with the food! Yes? In that case, let us... how do... beat her to ze punch! Let us go!"
  504. "Wait, I can't leave this spo--WAAAH!?"
  505. >She wraps one of her front legs around me and scoops me away from the bench.
  506. >I spend the entire day with her.
  507. >We eat at a really nice place and she buys me a ton of stuff to eat!
  508. >A soup, a salad, a funny sounding sandwich that had a lot of gross oil from olives in it...
  509. >...I still eat the sandwich, but my mouth feels oily afterword.
  510. >We even find the hotel she's staying at!
  511. >I have so much fun with her and hear her stories of exploring the world that I don't even remember that I'm supposed to be at the station bench until...
  512. >"Oh la la... look at ze sun! She is setting already."
  513. "She iz, how you say... getting zleepy! Hon hon!"
  514. >I've been having fun with her accent.
  515. >She really seems to like it since it makes her laugh.
  516. >"Zat is right, ma petit cherie! Your Dashie... iz she running late?"
  517. >We only left the station for a little bit of time.
  518. >The place we ate at oversaw the bench so I could see her easy.
  519. >She has big wings and she doesn't have some sort of funny accent so of course she would stick out.
  520. "I hope not... she is the..."
  521. >I don't know how to continue that train of thought so I clear my throat.
  522. "I don't know... she's never really late for anything. You know?"
  523. >"I hope she does not punish me for stealing you away for ze day!"
  524. >She laughs like it's the best joke she has ever told.
  525. >I laugh a little too... but now I'm worried.
  526. >"Tomorrow, maybe we meet again, yes? I shall buy a full meal for both ma Jacky et zis famous Dashie! It shall be a celebration of great fortune!"
  527. >She continues to praise having met me but after a little while I do see Dashie!
  528. >I hop up on the bench and wave to her.
  529. >She looks like she was scratched up by something all over.
  530. >She only has a single green apple tucked above her wing.
  531. >"Oh ho! Zis is la Dashie extraordinaire! I am pleased to meet, I am Jelly Belly, I come from many trains to be here today!"
  532. >Dashie looks... exhausted.
  533. >She looks at me, and then at the mare.
  534. >"...have you been talking with Jacky all day, miss?"
  535. >Jelly Belly laughs again.
  536. >It's almost so much that the bench bounces.
  537. >"I have! Your Jacky, she is terrible to hide ze hunger! But zis is no problem, for I gave her an exquisite meal for helping me to find my hotel! Iz the best of both worlds!"
  538. >Dashie looks at me again.
  539. >I feel so guilty.
  540. >I forgot to keep some food left for her too.
  541. >She doesn't look angry.
  542. >But she has this... distant look in her eye, like she's looking past me.
  543. >"...I'm glad you were able to help her out, Jacky... please excuse us, we need to go home."
  544. >She sounds so... dull.
  545. >I really feel like I did something horrible.
  546. >"Please say bonjour to your parents for me!"
  547. >Before I can hop off of the bench, Jelly Belly claps her hooves together.
  549. >"Dashie et la Jacky. Shall we meet tomorrow morning? I shall treat you both to ze best breakfast around! It iz the only thing I can do after she has helped me so much! I have been ze lost et lonely, and would continue to have been so if it weren't for her!"
  550. >Dashie squints at the mare.
  551. >At her lack of a response I stifle a giggle.
  552. >Her eyes whip to mine as if they were looking for some sort of explanation.
  553. "What she means is she wants us to have breakfast with her! Can we do that? Please?"
  554. >"Please, Dashie? I meet new friends everywhere I go, but none look so... how you prefer, famished?"
  555. >Dashie stands there, absolutely at a loss.
  556. >"I... I suppose we can...? And you do not require anything in return?"
  557. >"Ohhh non, I can not do that! You work very hard for Jacky, and you smell like tree sap!"
  558. >Dashie's face scrunches.
  559. >She really doesn't like to smell like stuff like trees or dirt.
  560. >Jelly Belly gets up from the bench and laughs more as she trots off.
  561. >"I shall meet tomorrow! Bonne nuit to you both!"
  562. >Soon it's just me and Dashie in the station.
  563. >Apparently it's also a 'plaza'.
  564. >"...did you understand a word she said at all today?"
  565. >I giggle and puff my face out as much as I can.
  566. "Oui oui, I am ze Jacky! I understand ze alllllll of ze words!"
  567. >She shakes her head and sighs.
  568. >"I have no clue what you just said to me... let's go home. Good job, Jacky."
  569. "I am ze best! Hon hon hon~"
  570. >...
  571. >I poke at my french fries
  572. >Due to everyone being lazy and hungry, Anon got some drive through
  573. >Some sort of weird zombie movie is playing that involves the zombies talking
  574. >Who would ever want their zombies to talk?
  575. "Zis iz le French of fries..."
  576. >My tongue flickers easily
  577. >"Oui. Ze fries flies where ze belly lies."
  578. >Anon nods to himself with his tongue twister
  579. >"Ou est le fry... not in zeese eyes..."
  580. >Sparky lifts up a fry and points it into the center of our bags with a cautious leer
  581. >We all look at Dashie
  582. >She purses her lips and looks...
  583. >Is it awkward?
  584. >"Zeeese... eeEase... mon... food?"
  585. >She visibly changes her face with every new sound, losing her usual air of finesse
  586. >Sparky fails to hold in a snort
  587. >"Oh come on, accents and... voices are the only things I can't do!"
  588. >Everyone laughs at her resignation
  589. "It ain't that hard, Dashie, you just gotta keep your tongue loose and sway with the words if they sound swervy!"
  590. >I sway back and forth on my pillow seat
  591. "Now try another one!"
  592. >After some chuckling and small talk everyone falls silent
  593. >Dashie's eyes dart all around
  594. >Her face scrunches up and moves like she's chewing something super hard
  595. >"...y'aint gonna hol'a gal like me all captive an'th'like, shucks."
  596. >The room erupts with cheers!
  597. >"Well dad gum, our little saloon queen knows how'ta speak like us common folk!"
  599. >Anon speaks in his own exaggerated native accent
  600. >She averts her eyes and purses her lips
  601. >"...well it's not like I wanted to sound like some... huckleberry. It makes my mouth sound like dirt."
  602. >"That might be because you like those burnt fries. They're gonna be a little earthy if you're not so lucky."
  603. >Anon seems pretty happy for the night
  604. >That helps make this feel so much better
  605. >"How did you even pick up the accents? I mean, I grew up with goofy movies and stuff. I even used to sound Canadian, eh?"
  606. >His voice gets a weird bounciness to it at the end
  607. >Dashie shakes her head
  608. >"Oh no, that's far too long a story. It's just a skill that we naturally have. Admittedly, Jacky here has her strengths on voices and I..."
  609. >She clears her voice and her wings push out
  610. >"I am the most absolute of royalty if required of my subjects!"
  611. >I try to stifle a laugh
  612. >It sounds so uneven
  613. >It almost sounds like what she tried to be when she first came out of her box
  614. "I... I think you can retire that one. It was never that good?"
  615. >Dashie gives a loud, theatrical gasp
  616. >"I do say, even Jacky has given me scorn?! Where will such injustices end?"
  617. >She gives a high-energy gesture of despair
  618. >...
  619. >But... it just looks like her front leg windmilled a few times before landing on her eye
  620. >I want to laugh
  621. >But I think she used to do this seriously
  622. >...No wonder some ponies looked at us funny
  623. "Y-yeah... I mean... practice helps too, right?"
  624. >I try to look at Sparky and Anon
  625. >Both of them are doing their best to hold back laughter
  626. >Anon's failing and doing a mini-emulation of her action with his fingers
  627. >"Pract-eese? I am the paragone of class! This demanding tonne has gifted us with entire banquits!"
  628. >Now some of her words are coming funny
  629. >She's just now noticing that two of us are dying from holding it in
  630. >And it's getting hard for me to stay composed
  631. >"...and wot is so funny?"
  632. >The entire room erupts
  633. >Everyone is laughing
  634. >I feel like I'm laughing too hard
  635. >I remember when she used to pull that on guards and they would just stare at each other
  636. >Sometimes they would be so confused that I could slip by and grab stuff
  637. >It's so silly but it still worked!
  638. >"Pezsants do not laugh at me! I am Baroness Faint Presm, heir to the Presm land deed!"
  639. >I can't tell if she's playing it up or trying to remain in character but it's hilarious
  641. >It's raining out.
  642. >Dashie said we have to find a new home.
  643. >I argued with her for hours but she didn't listen to me at all.
  644. "...she said she would take care of us."
  645. >"I said no, Jacky."
  646. >We haven't seen another pony for hours.
  647. >We're stuck on a dirt road to another town.
  648. >After a really fun week, Dashie woke me up in the middle of the night and said we had to go immediately.
  649. >I never even got to say 'good bye' to Jelly Belly.
  650. >It makes me more angry than sad because she really seemed to like me.
  651. "Why did we have to leave? What happened this time?"
  652. >We always have to leave.
  653. >And she always has a reason.
  654. >Always.
  655. >We walk for entire minutes without her saying anything.
  656. >I stop.
  657. >She only notices after a few more steps.
  658. >"Jacky, let's go."
  659. "No! Tell me why we left."
  660. >"Later."
  661. "No! I want to know right now!"
  662. >"Later. Jacky the sun will be setting in a few hours and neither of us ha-"
  663. "I don't care! Answer me!"
  664. >I didn't think I could shout that loud.
  665. "We left behind Sparky AGAIN, we left behind Mademoiselle Jelly Belly! How many other ponies have we left behind?! WHY?"
  666. >I can feel myself tremble.
  667. >I want to just stomp off... but what if she leaves me behind too?
  668. >I can't be alone now.
  669. >"Sparking Shine is not your friend, Jacky. She is not my friend either. She's too loudmouthed, she is a third mouth to feed, and she's useless to us."
  670. >Only now have I bothered to look at her face.
  671. >She looks so sure of herself.
  672. >"That... mare. I don't know what she would have done with you. But she would have separated us. She would leave me to starve and take you off to who knows where."
  673. >That hurts to hear.
  674. >Jelly Belly said that both of us could globetrot with her.
  675. >You never saw her look down on Dashie either.
  676. "Yeah well... what if I wanted to globetrot..."
  677. >She smiles at me.
  678. >"Then it's better to do it with me. Aren't we globetrotting in our own way? Nothing and no one is stopping us from going where we want."
  679. >That throws me off.
  680. "Yeah but..."
  681. >I feel a little confused now.
  682. "...doesn't globetrotting mean that we have a home to return to?"
  683. >She starts walking again.
  684. >"That's what we're looking for, Jacky! Now come on, you'll find new friends soon. You always seem to make new ones anyway..."
  685. >She isn't stopping... so I chase after her until I'm back up to pace with her.
  686. "I still don't see why we had to leave..."
  687. >"Because that wasn't home, Jacky. It was a ditch under a bridge."
  688. >I don't like it... but I really don't know if that's really enough or not.
  689. >We walk for hours without stopping, even with the sun starting to set.
  690. "...What is home going to look like, anyway?"
  691. >"Home to me, or home to you?"
  692. "What sort of question is that? Isn't my home your home too?"
  693. >You don't get an answer.
  694. >Only when the sun is really low does she speak to me again.
  695. >"We don't have anything to make a fire with... come on, let's find somewhere off the road we can sleep."
  696. >If we were still with Jelly Belly we would be having dinner now...
  698. ...
  699. >It's a lazy Saturday morning
  700. >These dreams...
  701. >They really haven't been stopping
  702. >Anon has been noticing and has been extra cuddly lately
  703. >We're both watching some documentary about frontier caravans and some sort of big country-wide trail
  704. >It doesn't go into a lot about guns or cowboys so I don't really care about it
  705. >He doesn't seem too into it either
  706. >"Hey Jackquinox."
  707. >My ears perk up at his voice
  708. >I can't imagine what life would be like if I had to move away from that
  709. "What's up?"
  710. >"I got us some tickets to go somewhere tomorrow."
  711. >Tickets?
  712. >We've never done anything like that yet
  713. >"Where to?"
  714. >"A festival. It's not western but it has a lot of cool things like knights, swords, booze... I thought it'd be cool if we all went."
  715. "Oh... weird. What's the occasion?"
  716. >"It's the start of October and they're celebrating by letting a lot of people drink a lot of booze and stuff for really cheap. Which means you and I are gonna see who can hold more."
  717. >I've noticed that over the last year, both of us have been drinking less and less
  718. >I really liked doing it before since everything felt like a dream anyway so it wouldn't matter if I got sick
  719. >But... this isn't a dream
  720. >And we do a lot of things as is without touching it
  721. >But it's still fun in it's own way too
  722. >Especially if I can convince Sparky to drink
  723. "Mmm... that's gonna be fun."
  724. >I've been laying on him like a pony-shaped blanket, with my head on his shoulder
  725. "Hey Anon."
  726. >"What's up?"
  727. " I still asleep?"
  728. >I expect him to laugh at me but he doesn't
  729. >He pats my flank
  730. >And pinches it, making my entire leg twitch
  731. >"Hm... probably not. That have something to do with how weirdly you've been sleeping lately?"
  732. >...crap
  733. >I was hoping he wouldn't notice
  734. >Maybe it's not a good thing to hide this stuff from him
  735. "Y... yeah. I guess so."
  736. >"Anything you want to talk about?"
  737. >Yes
  738. ""
  739. >Crap
  740. >"You're sure? Well... I hope you're talking to someone about it. I really don't want you to be bothered about dreams. They can kinda get worse if you can't stop them."
  741. "Are they something you used to have?"
  742. >"Kinda. I used to have a lot of dreams. To me, they were a lot more satisfying than staying awake."
  743. "Well it ain't that... I like being awake. They're more like nightmares."
  744. >"Like what, zombies and all that stuff?"
  745. >I shiver and shake my head
  746. "No but if I have a nightmare about zombies I'm gonna kick your butt for showing them to me."
  747. >He chuckles
  748. >"Alright so we know it's not about the big, bad zombambos. So what do they include?"
  749. >Crap...he's good
  750. "It's... stuff that I think is from back then."
  751. >I don't want to specify further
  752. >Mostly because I don't know how much more specific I can really be
  753. >"Must be heavy stuff... you really have been acting kinda different lately."
  754. "But am I acting differently now, or am I acting more like how I used to be?"
  755. >He doesn't answer
  756. >I don't think he can answer that, anyway
  757. >I don't even know if I can answer that
  758. >"Have the other two had similar dreams?"
  760. "I don't know. Sometimes it's like they know exactly what I'm talking about... and other times they act like it was just a dream."
  761. >He's gone back to petting me
  762. >I've stopped trying to figure out if it's weird that he sometimes treats me like a pet
  763. >It doesn't really matter anyway since it's not like I'm a human like him
  764. >It doesn't interrupt anything either
  765. >"Have you tried talking to them about it? Prismite has been your go-to for pretty much forever, right?"
  766. "Right..."
  767. >My hind legs kick out a few times
  768. >I haven't been able to look at her directly for a few days now
  769. "...what we say is usually kept between us, right?"
  770. >He finally looks at me directly
  771. >"Of course. I don't think we've ever had to worry about that before. Is it something about her?"
  772. >I turn my head back
  773. >Our door is open...
  774. >I can hear a video game going in the living room
  775. >And something... else?
  776. "...what's that whistling?"
  777. >"Sounds like that tea kettle is starting to whistle. I guess someone's doing something with hot water."
  778. "Ah..."
  779. >Then it should be safe to say
  780. "I think she used to keep me away from other ponies on purpose. These last few nights I've been dreaming about some big French pony named Jelly Belly that was teaching me how to speak all frou-frou like the way you like? But anyway she said that she always wanted a pair of daughters since she never had a chance to have foals on her own and I was really excited about it but Dashie was all 'nah' and then we ended up running away from her and I never got to say 'good bye' and we even left Sparky behind too and it really hurt because I felt like I was being kept from my friends and I really wish what would've happened if I got to live nice and not have to worry about food anymore."
  781. >Anon looks at me
  782. >I think I said all of that correctly
  783. >After the second sentence is all kinda... came out
  784. >"That was a mouthful."
  785. "...did... you get all of that by chance?"
  786. >I feel my head pull back
  787. >I feel more embarrassed than anything else
  788. >This is Anon
  789. >If I couldn't trust him with this sort of stuff, who could I trust?
  790. "Loud and clear. I guess that does kinda explains some of the ways you talk. If we ever see her again, I'll have to thank her."
  791. >If we met her again...
  792. >Is that sort of thing possible?
  793. >Would she forgive me for leaving?
  794. >Wouldn't she be mad that she got me food and I didn't do anything to help in return?
  795. >Of course she probably wouldn't
  796. >But part of me worries
  797. >Part of me feels like I'm still there and on the run
  798. >He nudges my flank again
  799. >I blink a few times
  800. >"It's alright. You did what you could, you know? I'm happy she managed to help you how she did. And I bet she's happen she was able to help you out too, even if she couldn't do more."
  801. >I inhale
  802. >And exhale
  803. >The exhale comes out as multiple short, hard huffs
  804. "Do you think I'll ever be at the point that I can help someone out like that?"
  805. >"Sure. But I think you've exceeded just giving someone a few meals."
  806. >I have?!
  807. "Since when?"
  809. >The idea amuses
  810. >Since when have I ever done anything that important?
  811. >"Since you came into my life, Jack. It really is thanks to you that my life has finally felt like it has some purpose. You've helped me as much as I've helped you. Now whether or not that sounds like a lot... well, it is."
  812. >His other arm is around me
  813. >...He still hasn't moved his hand away from my flank
  814. >Not like I could complain
  815. "...Anon, I..."
  816. >Something catches in my throat
  817. >It feels like a physical item that is keeping me from speaking
  818. >He looks at me like he's waiting for me to spit it out
  819. "..."
  820. >He chuckles and gives me a human-strength bear hug
  821. >"It's hard, isn't it."
  822. >I grumble out something
  823. "'s not hard..."
  824. >That's half of it
  825. "'s embarrassing is all."
  826. >"More embarrassing than the time-"
  827. "Shh-shh-phft-ah-nope-no, not a word."
  828. >I rush to cover his mouth with my front hooves
  829. >I give him my hardest death squint
  830. "...yes. And you ain't gonna say it. Not when someone could be listening"
  832. >Sparks calls out from the kitchen
  833. >She must've heard us talking
  835. >If I could just have three minutes to clean her clock, I'd...
  836. >My hooves are meeting some sort of resistance from wanting to crush
  837. >...It's Anon's face
  838. >I carefully pull my hooves away and give my best smile
  839. "...sorry."
  840. >He releases me completely and takes a moment to massage his face
  841. >"Well you didn't squeeze any teeth out of my head yet so... alrighty then."
  842. >This is a perfect time to let the topic die out and switch to something else
  843. >Anon has done that now
  844. >...I have too
  845. >Let something happen and suddenly the topic is just dropped and no one gets an answer
  846. >And a secret is kept safe
  847. >I can't do that
  848. "...but yeah. That's kinda just how it is. I don't act like I don't, do I?"
  849. "Well you may like me but you sure did hate my face for a moment there."
  850. >Now I feel even more awkward
  851. "I'm gonna say it, you know. When you least expect it I'm gonna knock your socks off."
  852. >"In front of everyone?"
  853. "Maybe."
  854. >"It'll embarrass you."
  855. "I'm gonna embarrass you even more."
  856. >"Oh ho? And how are you gonna do that, my little Jacky?"
  857. >I grin at him
  858. "By acting like an animal so everyone thinks you're a weirdo."
  859. >He opens his mouth to speak
  860. >You know for sure he had an answer for almost anything you could say
  861. >Almost being the key word
  862. >He closes his mouth
  863. >" wouldn't."
  864. >I scoff
  865. "Oh I totally would, pony boy. It's ok for me to like humans because I'm a girl but you liking some sort of animal girl like me?"
  866. >I put my hoof up to the side of my face
  867. "Ohhh the things they might say...~"
  868. >He grimaces and puts his hands on my shoulders
  869. >"Now you've done it."
  870. >This catches me off guard
  871. "...what?"
  872. >"Call me Zeus."
  873. >I'm completely lost
  874. "...why...?"
  875. >"Because I'm about to release the Jacken."
  876. >That tone in his voice
  877. >Oh no
  878. >OH NO
  880. >It was a lazy morning...
  881. >After everything was done and... done some more
  882. >Neither of us said the word
  883. >But I felt it
  884. >I still feel it
  885. >I probably wouldn't embarrass him in front of a ton of people
  886. >But I like that he doesn't get mad at the idea
  887. >Maybe he wouldn't really mind it
  888. >...
  889. >Maybe I'll have to actually try it out and see what happens
  890. >If I can say it in public, I can say it in private
  892. >"Are we ready?"
  893. "Ready!"
  894. >"Ready."
  895. >"...did we have to get up this early?
  896. >I haven't seen Anon this excited in a while
  897. >Dashie is awake and alert
  898. >Sparky is tired and had to be carried to the car
  899. >I woke up when Anon did and...
  900. >I could still use a little sleep
  901. >But it will be a bit of a drive too
  902. >"Alright, that's what I like to hear!"
  903. >His excitement lasts for maybe ten minutes of the drive before he mellows back out
  904. >"You guys are gonna love it. It's like the larping week we did, except everyone's a giant dork."
  905. "Does this mean I can be a barbarian again?"
  906. >"No... well, yes. Not this year but next year. You gotta learn the ins and outs of the place."
  907. >"How big is this festival? I'm sure you've waggled your tongue at Jacky enough about it..."
  908. "H-hey, wording..."
  909. >"No, she's accurate."
  910. "Anon!"
  911. >No one speaks for a moment
  912. >"...but you haven't said much of it to us. Wouldn't this have made a prime date for just the two of you?"
  913. >"Yes. But this is bigger than a date thing. I've been squirreling away some extra scratch and got four tickets for us. I can't promise that we'll all be dressed up like rogues by the end but there's booze, food, games, shows and... ah..."
  914. >Anon scratches his head with his non-steering hand
  915. >"...horses? I think there's some jousting going on. Y'know, guys on horses smashing each other with lances."
  916. >I could probably carry Anon on my back
  917. >But I doubt I could run fast enough for him to bash someone
  918. >"Are you going to enter us into a competition? I'm not performing unless I get a cut."
  919. >Dashie sounds... like she enjoys the idea
  920. >Her tone is still sharp but she's not angry
  921. >Anon doesn't seem to know that
  922. >"What? No, I wouldn't put you guys in as some sort of... animal act or something."
  923. >He glances at me a few times
  924. >"I... I mean... three talking ponies, huh... y'think...?"
  925. >That wouldn't be the worst idea... would it?
  926. >We might be able to bring in money that way
  927. >How many of us are out there in the world, anyway?
  928. >"Eh. Nah. I wouldn't want to risk you guys getting the wrong crowd or something. It's gotta be safe or no go."
  929. "Well, it would pay well, wouldn't it?"
  930. >"Not enough to me, if it means risking bad attention or something."
  931. >"How thoughtful... glad to see that our Anon isn't the sort that would sell us out."
  932. >Dashie really doesn't sound like she's happy...
  933. >But I know she is
  934. >Even without looking at her face, I can tell that she's really happy
  935. >"Well don't sound too excited there, Miss Wingspan..."
  936. >I don't think Anon gets what she means
  937. >"What's Shiner's opinion on this, anyhow? She's been quiet?"
  938. >I peek behind me
  939. "She's, uh... still sleeping I guess. Didn't think she was that tired."
  940. >"She's trying one of those 'boss rush' things. She gets far too worked up over those things..."
  941. >I don't think I remember Dashie really being so worked up over anything
  942. "Well she kicks butt so why shouldn't she?"
  943. >I'm still not so great at those games
  944. >It's pretty awesome that she is
  945. >Maybe she can teach me some stuff
  947. >The trip has been pretty low energy so I asked Anon about where we're going
  948. >He put me in charge of the navigation, which meant watching his phone's GPS directions
  949. >Apparently we went in the exact opposite direction to the warehouse that had Nona
  950. >I wonder how Hanz is doing?
  951. >"GPS signal lost."
  952. >Uh oh
  953. "Uh, Anon? The phone said that we're lost."
  954. >"No we're not."
  955. "What?"
  956. >"Look ahead of us, I know where we are now I think."
  957. >I stop focusing on the phone and raise my head up
  958. >There's at least a dozen cars in front of us, bumper to bumper
  959. >"Safe to say the guy in front of us with the dragon wings painted on his rear window is heading toward ye olde festival."
  960. >We...
  961. >Slowly...
  962. >Drive...
  963. >For at least another half hour
  964. >I check back at Dashie
  965. >Even she's sleeping
  966. >But... she's sleeping while sitting up
  967. >I could never do that
  968. " it usually always this slow?"
  969. >"I... ah... not that I remember? Maybe it's a big year..."
  970. >I shrug and try to poke around in Anon's phone
  971. >The wallpaper is that picture Sparky took of us
  972. >I look like such a goober
  973. >She still has that smirk
  974. >It feels like that happened a hundred years ago
  975. "I like your wallpaper."
  976. >I don't try to speak too loudly so neither of the two behind us wake up
  977. >"I do too."
  978. "...has it always been that?"
  979. >Anon chuckles and scratches the side of his neck
  980. >"Yeah... after a bit, I kinda just had to. Y'know?"
  981. "Yeah..."
  982. >I boop the touch screen to check out his other things
  983. >Emails
  984. >Spam
  985. >Spam
  986. >A... whole lot of spam
  987. >A few receipts?
  988. "Did you order a few things?"
  989. >"Yyyyyyyyyyyeaaaaaa-no. Nope. Not for you or anyone else."
  990. >His eyes dart down to me for a second
  991. >"Don't look at those. Sales are going on now and Christmas is around the corner."
  992. "Heheh... alright."
  993. >I can't really sneak a look anyway with him in front of me so I boop my way out
  994. "How are we doing?"
  995. >"Good! We crossed the train tracks and our first volunteer is directing traffic and we're... going to the further parking area... Jesus, I don't remember this place being so packed last time I went."
  996. "Ew... wait, when was the last time you went?"
  997. >Anon shrugs
  998. >"Honestly? I don't remember. But it is pretty neat. I hope you guys like it."
  999. "What do you actually wanna do there?"
  1000. >"Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii think. I'd dig trying out the mead. And they have really great shows. Other than that, I don't know. I want to see you guys have fun. If talking ponies, including a unicorn and pegasus can blend in anywhere, it'd be here, you know? But I am kinda curious about how it'll turn out. I bet if we dressed up, we really could have some sort of goofy show."
  1001. "Would they allow that?"
  1002. >"Since they have no clue who we are? No. But people set things on fire so... you know. Shine might feel right at home. As long as she doesn't set kids on fire."
  1004. >More slow, jerky progress
  1005. >But I can see people now!
  1006. "Ha! That man's wearing a skirt!"
  1007. >"It's a kilt, Jackly."
  1008. "A wha?"
  1009. >"'s a skirt. But it's a Scottish thing so it's not a skirt."
  1010. "Hey that guy's a pirate! And the wom... Anon, don't look."
  1011. >I can hear him giggling
  1012. >Oh no
  1013. >Did he know that women dressed like this?!
  1014. "You remembered that detail, didn't you?"
  1015. >I squint at him
  1016. >He shrugs
  1017. >"Hey, it's period-appropriate! That's just how it was back then."
  1018. "Yeah huh... pretty convenient."
  1019. >"Don't worry, my eyes will be stuck on the stonework, swords and shows."
  1020. "Being sold by ladies dressed like that?"
  1021. >I'm not jealous
  1022. >I'm not
  1023. >But
  1024. >"What? No, most pottery and artisan crap tends to be sold by really old timers who've been doing it for decades and decades. Pretty romantic stuff, honestly."
  1025. "Oh. Who's gonna make stuff once they retire?"
  1026. >"Who knows? Their kids, apprentices, maybe they'll have something good going on."
  1027. "It must be nice to have a sort of... legacy."
  1028. >"Yeah... that sort of thing ain't for everyone."
  1029. >I want to say something about the topic
  1030. >But I can't
  1031. >It feels like too much of a serious topic for what's going on right now
  1032. >But
  1033. "What, uh... what do you want our legacy to be?"
  1034. >He doesn't answer immediately
  1035. >I don't want to stare but I do look at him out of the corner of my eye
  1036. >He doesn't look sad at least
  1037. >That's good, isn't it?
  1038. >"Legacy... I don't know. What could we even have as a legacy, you know?"
  1039. >He looks behind himself
  1040. >I almost turn my head because for a second it looked like he was looking at me
  1041. >He looks ahead again
  1042. >"I guess the only legacy I want is that I gave you everything I could."
  1043. >He clears his throat
  1044. >He said that pretty quiet
  1045. >"And that's all I guess I have to say about that."
  1048. >I didn't expect there to be so much walking
  1049. >There are so many next level larpers that put our week to shame
  1050. "Wholesome qualities are what I might possess."
  1051. >Sparky yawns, doubling her efforts to keep up with us
  1052. >"That ride was too short.... my shadow has a different vibe than my nose has, and that's a fact."
  1053. >Dashie smirks at me
  1054. >We've all been working on a few more songs
  1055. >"I serve as an example of a something that's almost right."
  1056. >Anon points to each of us when his part comes up
  1057. >"Fixable, mixable, sitting in plain ol' sight."
  1058. >I inhale to go to the next verse... and stop when someone walking near us just...
  1059. >Stares at me
  1060. >"Dude, do you have talking dogs?"
  1061. >It's some man that's dressed up like a jester
  1062. >Instead of a knife, he has a carrot at his waist
  1063. >"Ah... nah, man. They're talking ponies from another world. One flies, one has magic and the other has legs strong enough to crush your head five times over."
  1064. >Are my legs that strong?
  1065. >The jester blinks at Anon a few times
  1066. >"...either you're on something or you need to give me some of what you got."
  1067. "Hey, at least he's being honest! Head's up, I'm not the one that uses magic."
  1068. >My own voices makes him jump
  1069. >He watched every word I said and still doesn't seem to be afraid or freaked out
  1070. >"Huh. Well, you sound like a babe. Gimme enough of anything and I game I guess."
  1071. >Anon scoffs
  1072. >"You act like you've never been around talking pony chicks."
  1073. >The jester thinks over that comment and shrugs
  1074. >"I guess not, man. My carrot's not for sharing so, you know."
  1075. >He picks up his pace and breaks away from our path
  1076. >"Well he was rude... he seemed almost disappointed."
  1077. >Dashie chuckles and gives her wings a single strong flap
  1078. >"As if we're so unique we'll turn heads... but maybe it'll be fun. Anon. Rules on how we should act?"
  1079. >Anon shakes his head
  1080. >"No stealing, mugging, kidnapping or ambushing."
  1081. >I snort at the disappointed look on her face
  1082. "Come on, we're here to have fun! And there are a lot of families here too. I bet this is a really great place, we can't ruin that for them."
  1083. >Her answer is a sigh
  1084. >"If I end up in the petting zoo I'm burning any kids that try to touch me. This is the only warning I'm giving today."
  1085. >Sparky still sounds tired
  1086. >Irritated and tired
  1087. >I sidle up to her and nudge her flank with my own
  1088. "Come on, it'll be fun! We can do all sorts of stuff and I bet we'll even get discounts for being cute and talking ponies! We've done stuff like this before, haven't we?"
  1089. >Sparks sighs
  1090. >"I don't know, have we?"
  1091. >"Eyes ahead, girls. I have the digital tickets and things are gonna get crowded so stick close."
  1092. >There are so many people standing and walking around us that it has gotten hard to keep track of them all
  1093. >So many of them have outfits that look just like stuff video game characters wear!
  1094. >Some even look like they have real swords and knives on them
  1096. >"Yup, hi there. Got tickets for four."
  1097. >Anon holds his phone out to a man in a green and gold outfit
  1098. >...the man is at least twice as big in size but he has a sorta squeaky voice
  1099. >"Four? Someone showing up? They're gonna need the tickets, I can't pre-approve them."
  1100. >"Wha? No, four. Me and... uh..."
  1101. >Anon looks at us
  1102. >"I mean... do my girls need tickets?"
  1103. >The big ticket keeper looks at me like he's confused
  1104. >I smile wide at him
  1105. >"N... no? The tickets are for adults and... uh... animals get in for free."
  1106. >"Ha! Awesome. Well I'll help myself then."
  1107. >"Don't worry Anon, we'll be good. And how hard is it to find us in a crowd anyway?"
  1108. >Sparks and Dashie trot off past the bewildered
  1109. >"Did those two ponies just-"
  1110. >"Yes, they talked. Keep up to speed, man."
  1111. >After getting his ticket validated, we walk through some big stone gate
  1112. " does this mean?"
  1113. >"That I wasted like eighty bucks on three tickets we didn't even need?"
  1114. >He sighs
  1115. >"...yup. Sure does."
  1116. "Oh... I'm sorry."
  1117. >Ducking and darting through at least a dozen people, I see...
  1118. >Another world!
  1119. >Every structure and store is all colorful wood and custom signs
  1120. >Everyone is very clearly either a normal visitor or some sort of larper in full attire
  1121. >Some even have armor!
  1122. "...woah."
  1123. >Without waiting for Anon to comment, I sprint off to check out nearly every store I can see!
  1124. >Clothing
  1125. >Huge pots and ceramic jugs
  1126. >Cups
  1127. "Woah, WOAH! Is all of this stuff handmade?!"
  1128. >"Well that's right, little lady."
  1129. >An old woman wearing the tightest corset I've ever seen answers
  1130. >"Care to check them out?"
  1131. >I look around
  1132. "'re talking to me, right?"
  1133. >"That's right!"
  1134. " know I'm a talking pony, right?"
  1135. >The woman smiles
  1136. >"Honey, I've been setting up shop here for thirty-four years. I've seen weirder."
  1137. >She winks
  1138. >"Besides, I know we have all of that drone technology going on. You got a real high tech thing going on!"
  1139. >But I'm not...
  1140. >Wait
  1141. >Maybe it would be better if I play that angle up?
  1142. >This could be my chance to enjoy more normal stuff!
  1144. >"Hey, Anon! Let's grab something!"
  1145. >Out of the ether he pops up with a folded up map in hand
  1146. >"What's up?"
  1147. >"Your mare here wants my jugs."
  1148. "WHAT?!"
  1149. >"Oh score, she has good taste."
  1150. "WHAT?!"
  1151. >The two humans share a giggle and focus on me
  1152. >"So what are you looking for?"
  1153. "Iunno... how about a pair of..."
  1154. >A lot of things are high up on wooden shelves and tables but a lot are on the ground and on benches
  1155. "...cups? What cups are good for couples?"
  1156. >The woman's eyes dart to me and Anon
  1157. >"Well, depends what sort of couple you are. Complimentary colors or clashing?"
  1158. >I can hear Anon begin to speak but this is my time to shine
  1159. "Complimentary! Like these."
  1160. >I poke an orange ceramic cup
  1161. >And a green one
  1162. >"...are those complimentary colors Jack?"
  1163. >I look up at the woman
  1164. >She looks at me
  1165. >"Well I think they compliment the two of you."
  1166. >I look at Anon
  1167. "They compliment us."
  1168. >Anon shrugs
  1169. >"Fair point."
  1170. >"Gonna need bowls to go with those cups, aren't you?"
  1171. "We do..."
  1172. >We spend time comparing and contrasting not just bowl styles but colors
  1173. >Thankfully all of the things are in one of four colors so its easy to find the right options
  1174. >By the end of it, we grabbed a matching pair of bowls, cups, and even plates!
  1175. >I have no clue how often we'll actually use the plates since they're kinda small but we'll figure something out
  1176. >"Alright... you guys just get here? I can hold onto them for you."
  1177. "Please! These are fine, right Anon?"
  1178. >"Definitely. The green ones are mine, right?"
  1179. >I smirk at the woman
  1180. >She seems to get exactly what I mean
  1181. >"...I'm not liking the looks going on here."
  1182. >"Don't worry, Romeo, you're fine. So will that be cash or card?"
  1185. >"So we have our bowls, our cups-"
  1186. "Some cups, we need different sizes, right?"
  1187. >"Sure, so got those and the bowls."
  1188. "Yup!"
  1189. >"What's next? I don't think they really do silverware here. We might be able to find someone who makes those really long forks and knives but spoons were usually wood back then."
  1190. >I look up at him while we curve around the stream of people going every which way
  1191. >Some are looking at us
  1192. >At least I'm not paying attention to them
  1193. "Really? Why's that?"
  1194. >"Supposedly it had something to do with forks being more as a tool to assist in cutting stuff. Everything was pretty much done by knife. Cutting up, cooking, and eating your meat really only requires that."
  1195. "Ooh..."
  1196. >Even in some westerns they had spoons
  1197. >But were they all wood?
  1198. "Maybe we need a knife and huge fork then!"
  1199. >"I wouldn't say we need to go that far..."
  1200. "And a knight outfit with a really heavy looking sword..."
  1201. >"...what?"
  1202. >I slow down and...
  1203. >Just gawk
  1204. >At the mountain of a man that's wearing what looks almost like gold armor
  1205. >He has what looks like a huge sword on his back but it's hard to tell
  1206. >"Jesus... is that even a sword?"
  1207. "Iunno. Let's ask him!"
  1208. >"Let's not and s-wait, JACK! GET YOUR BUTT-"
  1209. >Spurred on by his shouting, I giggle and sprint up to the armored man with my head low
  1210. >I don't manage to stop in time and effectively headbutt his metal shin
  1211. >It wasn't the smartest thing I've done today
  1212. >"Wha-oh, hey there little thing."
  1213. >The man sees Anon running up to us
  1214. >"This goat yours? I've gotten rammed by all sorts of things, they really don't like the reflections."
  1215. >I can hear Anon stifle a laugh
  1216. >"Y... yeah. That must be it."
  1217. >Free from my daze I take a few paces back and raise my head up
  1218. "Hey, I'm not a goat! I don't even have horns!"
  1219. >The armored man
  1220. >This truck of a human being
  1221. >He sees and hears me speak and his first response is to scream and dodge away
  1222. >"Woah?!"
  1223. >He looks at Anon with some varying level of concern
  1224. >"...that's a neat trick."
  1225. >"It's not a trick."
  1226. "I'm NOT a trick!"
  1227. >Now that the initial shock has worn thin, he looks at me funny
  1228. "I got a question for you!"
  1229. >I punch my hoof up into the air at him
  1230. >I can hear Anon trying to talk but he isn't stopping me
  1231. "Tell me how much that armor cost so I can get Anon suited up!"
  1232. >Anon's voice winds down
  1233. >The man isn't sure who to look at, at this point
  1234. >"Well, uh... little... gallant mount. It's custom-fitted and it's actually a real suit made from a very popular fantasy series on TV you've probably watched. Cost me around eight grand, and that's because I knew someone."
  1235. >Satisfied, I smile and focus on Anon
  1236. "Well alright! You got eight grand on you, right Anon?"
  1237. >The mere mention of the number makes him look sick
  1238. >"...not really."
  1240. "Really? It can't take that long to get that sort of money."
  1241. >"It can take a very long time to get that sort of scratch, Jackbags."
  1242. "But it's worth it, look at him!"
  1243. >"And how often am I gonna wear that sort of thing anyway?"
  1244. "You can wear it while you rescue me!"
  1245. >"...from who?"
  1246. "That's a good question. Hey, golden boy who w...ou...?"
  1247. >I look around
  1248. >Golden Boy's gone
  1249. >A lot of people are staring
  1250. >"Are you guys performing at that one stage near here?"
  1251. >The woman saying that looks genuinely confused
  1252. >"If we were, I'd be dressed up."
  1253. "Yeah, he'd be dressed up!"
  1254. >What sort of question is that?
  1255. >I feel myself tense up to charge at her next
  1256. >Before I can chase her off, my body turns weightless
  1257. >Anon scoops me up into his arms and leaves me on my back
  1258. >I squint at the woman, who's now upside-down
  1259. "Be lucky my man's here."
  1260. >"Alright Jackoff, no more spazzing out, sorry everyone!"
  1261. >Anon carries me off just as a crowd starts to form
  1262. >After a few steps the slight bounce in his arms is enough to be comforting
  1263. >"Jack, you gotta chill. A lot of people here are just enjoying the day out, you know?"
  1264. >I huff
  1265. >Twice
  1266. >I want to argue but I get the feeling he's right
  1267. "...not a goat."
  1268. >"No you are not. You're a dork."
  1269. >I scrunch my face and sigh
  1270. "I refuse to believe that I'm such a weird sight."
  1271. >"And you aren't. You got all sorts of people here who don't see much outside of TV and work."
  1272. "Whatever... I don't like them anyway."
  1273. >It bothers me how other humans look at me
  1274. >They don't have the same look that Anon has
  1275. >He looks at me like I'm... not an animal
  1276. "Hey... can you put me down?"
  1277. >"Tired already of your knight carrying you?"
  1278. >Well when he puts it like that...
  1279. " But self control isn't my strong suit right now."
  1280. >He puts me down almost immediately
  1281. >"Right. Definitely for the best of us right now."
  1282. >There are still people all over the place
  1283. >There really is no escaping them
  1284. " there any place where we can kinda be alone?"
  1285. >Anon chortles
  1286. >"I... yeah, I wouldn't recommend something like that out in public, Jack. Especially here."
  1287. "N-not that, But glad to know I'm on your mind like that."
  1288. >And I am
  1289. "There are too many people here... is it always so busy and crowded?"
  1290. >"Oh. Yeah, pretty much."
  1291. "Where are we even walking?"
  1292. >"No clue. Wanna take a break?"
  1293. "Yeah..."
  1294. >The walking isn't tiring
  1295. >The people are
  1296. >I always thought it would be fine to just go out, make a scene, have fun
  1297. >Kinda like in the old days that I think I'm starting to remember
  1298. >But they were ponies
  1299. >Not humans
  1300. >The disconnect is still weird to me even though they're in everything I see
  1301. >All of the westerns
  1302. >All of the other movies
  1303. >All in the games that I see
  1304. >We reach a mass of wooden benches and tables and sit down
  1305. >I sit right beside him and actively lean against him
  1306. >He puts his arm around me
  1307. >This feels a lot better
  1308. >Anyone who looks our way doesn't seem to think twice
  1309. >A lot of people are eating though
  1310. >Some of the food looks good
  1312. >There are so many smells that I can't really tell what is what
  1313. "...hey, can we get some food?"
  1314. >I keep my voice to a mutter so no one sees me talking
  1315. >Maybe that's the issue
  1316. >"Sure. What sounds good? Look around, we got options."
  1317. >Both sides of the road are lined with food stalls
  1318. "I want the caramel apple stuff. And I wanna try out the curds and one of those big pretzels."
  1319. >Anon chuckles and gives me a squeeze
  1320. >"Three course meal, coming up. Save our spot, alright? I'll be back."
  1321. >The bench wobbles as he gets up and starts on his pilgrimage
  1322. >I'm surprised it's still safe to sit on given how old it looks
  1323. >A few people look at me but don't make a big deal out of it
  1324. >Should I smile?
  1325. >Say something?
  1326. >How many of them are like Anon?
  1327. >Really like Anon?
  1328. >How many of them are not like Anon...?
  1329. >The thought sorta scares me
  1330. >...what is even happening to Sparky and Dash right now?
  1331. >They're capable
  1332. >They always were
  1333. >And this is obviously a safe place to be at
  1334. >...
  1335. >Right?
  1336. >Anon is taking too long
  1337. >I feel naked
  1338. >Someone sits down at a table next to ours
  1339. >They're going to talk to me
  1340. >I know it
  1341. >And it's going to be awkward
  1342. >This is getting to be-
  1343. >Someone sits right next to me
  1344. >I jump and can't stop a yip from coming out
  1345. >It's Anon!
  1346. >"Alright... hold on."
  1347. >In one hand he's holding a plastic cup full of brown liquid
  1348. >In the other is a large black bowl... and above that is a clear plastic tray... and on top of that is a huge pretzel
  1349. >He sets the cup down first then the cup and puts the tray nearby
  1350. >It all happens in slow motion
  1351. >The food
  1352. >It's a lot
  1353. >It looks so good
  1354. >"...y'alright?"
  1355. "Huh?"
  1356. >"You look like you're overthinking something."
  1357. "You can tell?"
  1358. >"Obviously. Listen, open your gob."
  1359. >I open my mouth
  1360. >Anon tilts my head back and pours part of the cup's content in
  1361. >He nudges my chin so my mouth closes
  1362. >It's... sweet
  1363. >Honey sweet
  1364. >I let my tongue swish it about
  1365. >It tastes kinda fruity too?
  1366. >It really is a whole lot smoother than any sort of alcohol I've had before
  1367. >I eventually gulp it down
  1368. "...what was that?"
  1369. >"Mead, my Jacken-Dazs. The real reason this place has lasted for decades without missing a single year."
  1370. >It warms my chest on the way down
  1371. >When was the last time Anon and I really had a drink together?
  1372. >It is one of my first memories with him
  1373. >Did I ever even have alcohol before that?
  1374. >"So, we have cheese curds with sauce, a big-ass pretzel, and a bowl full of chopped apples with caramel and some cinnamon ice cream. I told them to drown that sucker."
  1375. >What would I have done for all of this food before?
  1376. "...and it's fresh too?"
  1377. >I couldn't stop myself from asking that
  1378. >"Heck yeah, girly. I watched the curds and pretzel come out. Apples, I stole a bite and they are crunchy so I'd say we're good."
  1379. >Where do I start?
  1380. >This is all such a big shift from what we have at home, even if we've been going out of our way to try a lot of new things
  1381. >"You're drooling."
  1382. "Eh?"
  1383. >"You're drooling harder than the time I introduced you to chocolate syrup."
  1386. >The more the mead flows, the less I worry
  1387. >Technically he can only buy one cup per visit
  1388. >And people look at us funny when he gives me my half of the cup
  1389. >But screw them
  1390. >What do they know, anyway?
  1391. >Between the warm feeling that gives, and the hot food in my belly I feel great
  1392. >Even if I've been bored of walking since an hour ago when we first came in
  1393. "Anooooooon."
  1394. >"What's up?"
  1395. >He's standing on the side of the main road, looking at a shop that has a lot of leather items
  1396. "Where are we going?
  1397. >"Well... I guess we don't really have a destination in mind. Interested in a corset, by the way?"
  1398. "Eh... nah, that's alright."
  1399. >It'll take far more alcohol to get me to act funnier than usual
  1400. >But between the walking and the dirt and the grass and the gravel?
  1401. >I haven't felt this... filthy in a long time
  1402. >It doesn't make me feel good
  1403. >When did I used to care?
  1404. "Anooooooooonamooooooooo...!"
  1405. >I close my eyes and moo his name
  1406. >"Hold on, gotta write down the..."
  1407. >He fiddles with his phone and takes a note about something on a counter then comes back
  1408. >"Good looking stuff. What's up?"
  1409. >I want to go home
  1410. >And take a bath
  1411. >And watch a movie
  1412. >Being out here is fun but it keeps bothering me
  1413. "Let's find Sparky and regroup. It's been a while since we've seen her."
  1414. >Anon squints and scans the area
  1415. >"True... and she's kinda the sort that sticks out. Let's hope she hasn't gotten thrown out or stuck in a vase."
  1416. "Heh... gotta bust her out like a secret item or something."
  1417. >I wasn't having the best time
  1418. >She always has troubles going on
  1419. >Maybe together we would have more fun
  1420. >Anon keeps stopping every few stores to take a quick glance
  1421. >None of them really seem interesting to me
  1422. >Human clothing shops
  1423. >Sword shops
  1424. >Most of the clothing stops cater to women
  1425. >I can tell when he's thinking of getting something for me
  1426. >But what he's looking at doesn't fit me
  1427. >Not unless he really tries to modify something
  1428. >We search so many places without any luck
  1429. >I notice that less people stare when I don't speak
  1430. >"Haha, alright minions! Your empress will return again another day!"
  1431. >That voice
  1432. >"What the hell?"
  1433. >We share a look
  1434. >That's Sparky
  1435. >She's on a stone bench
  1436. >Wearing a white tiara
  1437. >With wings?!
  1438. "Sparky!"
  1439. >I trot up to her
  1440. >A lot of people that were watching her are watching me now too
  1441. "What's all of that stuff, where'd you get it?"
  1442. >"Oh, this? Nothing, just a REAL silver tiara with REAL dragon wings."
  1443. >Real dragon wings?!
  1444. "There are dragons here?!"
  1445. >"No, she's just wearing a set of wings that people put on their dogs. Nice fit though."
  1446. >Anon's amused explanation causes Sparks to give a sour look
  1447. "Oh, that's less cool. You look like an alicorn though, like a princess!"
  1448. >Sparks gives me a haughty laugh
  1449. >"Princess? As if. I am an empress."
  1450. >"Oh hey there's Prism too. Yup, over here!"
  1451. >Dashie's here too?
  1453. >She trots up and sits on the road next to Anon
  1454. >Though she isn't smiling I can tell she's really happy
  1455. >Her chest is puffed out and she has a tiara on too
  1456. >The tiara has a horn on it
  1457. >"Greetings, Jacky. Both of us have had an awakening while you were away."
  1458. >" smell pretty fancy."
  1459. >"I struck a deal with a perfume lady."
  1460. >"You had cash?"
  1461. >"Feathers."
  1462. >"Ahh... ew."
  1463. >This doesn't make any sense!
  1464. "How did you find the tiaras? And the wings!"
  1465. >She glances back to the crowd that had mostly dispersed by now
  1466. >"Oh, you know. Do a few magic tricks and people are easily impressed."
  1467. "Aw man... I want wings and a tiara too."
  1468. >Sparky scoffs
  1469. >"No way. You get Anon, I get the title of Empress and get to rule over humanity."
  1470. >I can hear Dashie clear her throat
  1471. >"...and... Marchioness Prism gets her own little spit of land in the middle of nowhere, it really doesn't matter."
  1472. >The pegasus holds her head up high and marches to the self-titled empress
  1473. >"Excuse me but selling my feathers has given us most of our money to get these."
  1474. >"Ew, that's because they're gross and gross people will buy anything."
  1475. >"They bought more of my feathers than your little parlor tricks."
  1476. >"Tell that to your stomach, my magic and polite asking gave us food!"
  1477. >"You know, you actually sort a like Princess Celestia now. You even have the narrow face and everything."
  1478. >...Anon has a good point
  1479. >Dashie opens her mouth to say something
  1480. >...
  1481. >And closes it
  1482. >"Given she is the ruler of all of Equestria, I take this as a compliment. Thank you."
  1483. >"Yeah, and she's a freaking jobber. Now Empress Shine on the other hand..."
  1484. >Both of them smell nice
  1485. >Both look like they're happy
  1486. >...I want a tiara too
  1487. >" you want your own wings and stuff too?"
  1488. >Sparky sounds so bored by asking that
  1489. "Well yeah! Totally! I want to be an alicorn too!"
  1490. >"Fiiine... I guess you can be... like a Duchess or something. Maybe a mayor."
  1491. >I look back at Anon
  1492. >He already looks pleased
  1493. >"Well would you look at that. I'm gonna have an entire royal court at this rate."
  1494. "Yeah! Lead the way!"
  1495. >Reunited, I follow the empress and marchio...
  1496. >Marchion...
  1497. >Empress-lite
  1498. >Even being an alicorn mayor would be awesome so it works for me
  1500. >From rags to riches
  1501. >A nobody to ruler
  1502. >I am
  1503. >An alicorn
  1504. >" done up there yet Jack?"
  1505. >Anon's voice...
  1506. >Oh how sweet he is
  1507. >For a mere mortal, he brings insight to my life
  1508. >He will make an excellent...
  1509. >An excellent...
  1510. >Companion?
  1511. >Assistant?
  1512. >Butler?
  1513. >I shrink back from my heroic princess pose, having run up a set of stacked benches to survey the area
  1514. >The fluffy white angel wings fit me perfectly, and act as an opposite to Sparky's black dragon wings
  1515. >The tiara is actually just a headband with extra bits but it has a lot of clovers and even some sort of fruit in the center
  1516. >I choose to believe that it's an apple
  1517. >"...Jack? You're getting that funny look again."
  1518. "Please, mortal man! Your mayor is contemplating life."
  1519. >"Yeah huh. You know you're not even on the level of some viceroy, right?"
  1520. "If I knew what that was, I might care."
  1521. >I re-establish my brave pose
  1522. >...the wings are really just part of some sleeve slipped over my chest but I'm sure I could get them to flap if I bounce enough
  1523. >With one last inhale, I bounce down to the dirt road
  1524. >Anon was close to eye level with me
  1525. >Now he towers above as is the usual
  1526. >Maybe it is better to be the ace up his sleeve...
  1527. "Hey, where did they go?"
  1528. >"Jousting arena, it's close to here so they're picking out some seats."
  1529. "Men riding mares into battle..."
  1530. >I look over Anon
  1531. >"And not just battle, if you know what I mean. C'mon, let's go."
  1532. >We keep pace until I see the empress and march...
  1533. >Empress-lite
  1534. >Dashie's tiara is a lot more place, with some sort of gem or piece of blue glass in the center
  1535. >Sparks' tiara is sorta spiky with a rose at the center
  1536. >They are nice but neither can really compare to mine
  1537. >"I'm gonna grab us some kettle corn, keep tight alright?"
  1538. >I nod at Anon's notification and squeeze between the two
  1539. "Fellow rulers, how go-eth the battle?"
  1540. >"Shh."
  1541. >"...not now Jacky."
  1542. "Come on, why not?"
  1543. >"Shh."
  1544. >"...not now Jacky."
  1545. >What's up with them?
  1546. >I focus on where their eyes are
  1547. >A quintet of men in colorful outfits are leading around huge horses that are wearing appropriately colored blankets
  1548. >Mare
  1549. >Mare
  1550. >Mare
  1551. >Mare
  1552. >M...
  1553. >Stallion
  1554. >While it a distance away, I can tell
  1555. >It's a stallion
  1556. "...I'm on purple team."
  1557. >"Get in line."
  1558. >"Mmm..."
  1559. >Barely a word is spoken until Anon comes back
  1560. >People are really starting to crowd around but he manages to squeeze onto a bench right behind us
  1561. >"Hey girls, I got kettle corn. It's usually sweeter than the usual stuff so it's a real treat."
  1562. >"Cool."
  1563. >"Mmm..."
  1564. "Yup."
  1565. >"Well... don't act so awestruck."
  1566. >Eventually the horses are led away and some wimpy looking dork runs into the center and starts shouting about different houses and clans and crests and boring things
  1567. >There's a kingly figure
  1568. >A queenly figure
  1569. >And even knights that are in full armor!
  1571. >"Yeah, get his ass!"
  1572. >One knight keeps winning these one-on-one duels
  1573. >After the stallion, there's really no interesting stuff that can keep up
  1574. >"...they're going to have jousting, aren't they Anon?"
  1575. >Dashie breaks our silence
  1576. >"Well yeah, after this. The jousting stuff is the dramatic climax, this is just warming the crowd up. The guys are in armor so dense that for the most part those swords would never d-"
  1577. >"Yeah yeah, thanks."
  1578. >"You're welcome, Empress Derp..."
  1579. >The purple knight gets a cheer from us even if he loses in under a minute of boasting and some sort of medieval slapping fight
  1580. >Then...
  1581. >The jousting
  1582. >What will eventually lead to the jousting
  1583. >All of the knights mount their horses and line up, proclaiming their own virtues and whatever
  1584. >I don't remember what the purple knight said but Anon starts cheering when they all distances themselves away
  1585. >"Blue man group, kick red's ass!"
  1586. >Sparky seems to take this as a challenge and glares at Anon
  1587. >"Blue sucks my horn, purple's going to teabag the competition!"
  1588. >Anon seems to take this as a challenge
  1589. >"Purple's packing teabags, blue's gonna show everyone a real pair!"
  1590. >Some people cheer with Anon's rally
  1591. "Anon, purple really should win you know."
  1592. >He scoffs
  1593. >"You kidding me? He's a jobber and a half, he's the most dull dude out there."
  1594. >This can not be
  1595. "No way, his horse is awesome and..."
  1596. >Crap
  1597. >What else is worth cheering on?
  1598. "Ehhh...?"
  1599. >He shakes his head
  1600. >"An awesome mount isn't enough if you can't handle a hit."
  1601. >He's not wrong
  1602. >But
  1603. >I focus on the arena
  1604. >The jousting is actually really fun
  1605. >At least two lances shatter!
  1606. >No one was seriously hurt but one was a critical hit on a shield and the other was deflected and dug into the dirt
  1607. >It feels like things are starting to wind down...
  1608. >Until the purple knight rides in!
  1609. >As he passes us, all three of us let out loud cheers that seem to confuse him since he stops and... doesn't say anything
  1610. >Like he forgot his lines
  1611. >After an awkward pause, he calls out to the yellow knight about how he's going to win or something
  1612. >It sounds like he's issuing a real challenge
  1613. >The purple knight's horse turns his flank to us, trotting sideways
  1614. >Someone brings the knight a lance that has some sort of different design to it
  1615. >After some more shouting, the knight gallops off to his opponent!
  1616. >The quilt flaps up during the sprint, causing all of us to cheer
  1617. >I think Dashie screamed a little too loud, her face got red
  1618. >The challenge lasts for three passes but eventually the purple knight is defeated
  1619. >The yellow knight wins all of the prestige...
  1620. >Even though at the end all of the knights present themselves and bow for the crowds
  1622. >"So... big fan of purple, are we?"
  1623. >We keep close as a group and walk off after everyone else starts to leave
  1624. >Anon sounds suspicious
  1625. "Yeah... he was so cool."
  1626. >Sparky looks satisfied
  1627. >Dashie looks excited
  1628. >I haven't seen her look so physically happy in I don't know how long
  1629. >"Hm... so, I noticed all of the mounts were mares. Why do you think they chose that for all of them?"
  1630. >I chuckle
  1631. "Come on, Anon. Obviously there were stallions there."
  1632. >"Really? I'm used to seeing mares. Green, blue, red, yellow..."
  1633. "But not purple..."
  1634. >We all three nod at the same time
  1635. >"...Jack?"
  1636. "What's up?"
  1637. >I don't know what he's talking about but today turned from good to great
  1638. >"Did you get you an eyeful of stallion?"
  1639. >All of us freeze
  1640. >...
  1641. >Empress and Empress-lite start to hurry ahead
  1642. >I'm stuck
  1643. >Don't look back at him
  1644. >Don't answer
  1645. >"You're gonna get it."
  1646. >Crap
  1647. "RUN!"
  1648. >All three of us break out into a full sprint
  1649. >I don't remember the last time I have ever seen Faint "Dashie" Prism run!
  1650. >She's keeping up actually really well
  1651. >I turn my head to ask her how the heck she's so fast...
  1652. >And then I see him
  1653. >Anon
  1654. >He's barreling after us with a bag of half-eaten kettle corn in hand
  1656. >His outburst causes a burst of speed
  1657. >Rather than splitting up, we start to duck under and around people while keeping on the road
  1658. >The rush of getting caught and thrill of being an alicorn with horned apple tiara is too much to bear
  1659. >I can't tell if I started it but we all end up cackling and laughing at our escape
  1660. >Anon can keep up but he's nowhere near fast enough to catch us
  1661. >Feeling like I need a bath with a full belly
  1662. >Trotting on familiar feeling dirt roads
  1663. >Dozens of people around us that are too surprised to try to stop us despite the man chasing us and shouting cartoonish threats
  1664. >I feel like we're back to being fillies, free to be troublemakers and effortlessly evading The Law
  1665. >This was how things were supposed to be
  1667. >We lose sight of Anon and explore everywhere as a trio
  1668. >Though it was fun to stay on the run, we do let him catch up
  1669. >Every trio of alicorn leaders needs a strong knight
  1670. >I would dub him a knight but I don't think mayors have that authority
  1671. >"Alright... I'm starting to get pooped. And I can taste dirt in my mouth. When do we get to go home?"
  1672. >Sparks is the first to say what we're all thinking
  1673. >Sprinting around has felt amazing
  1674. >Ducking around people and darting through crowds really made me feel alive, like a real thief or rogue
  1675. >Even if I still do believe I fit a barbarian role better
  1676. >I sit down on a patch of grass on the side of the uneven dirt road road
  1677. "I kinda wanna take a bath too."
  1678. >Dashie frowns at the realization that her coat has turned visibly browner
  1679. >"I... do not miss the dirt."
  1680. >Anon's shoes and legs below the knee have some speckling of dirt and a light dusting of grey and brown too
  1681. >"Well we've been here for..."
  1682. >He checks his phone
  1683. >"Almost three hours now."
  1684. >He looks over all of us
  1685. >We have our wings
  1686. >Our horned tiaras
  1687. >"Well, we ready to head out then?"
  1688. "Is three hours enough?"
  1689. >"Well this is the third time I've seen this tree stump... and I'm an Empress. We don't have the stuff required to roll around in the dirt like commoners."
  1690. "Yeah well you also don't have an Emperor either."
  1691. >I glance up at Anon with a smile
  1692. >He picks up on this
  1693. >"Thankfully I'm not Emperor material. I'm more a captain."
  1694. >We all look up at him
  1695. "So, what do we do next, cap'Non?"
  1696. >Dashie smirks
  1697. >"I guess even commoners can grow into some form of authority. Orders?"
  1698. >Sparks scoffs
  1699. >"You better not get used to giving me orders, mortal."
  1700. >Anon takes a proud stance of authority
  1701. >A few random onlookers are taking notice of the man and his three technicolor mares
  1702. >"Mares, our destination is the entrance. We'll claim our kitchenware then head back to the car. After we drive off..."
  1703. >His eyes narrow
  1704. >"Steaming hot baths for every single one of us until there isn't a speck of dirt left."
  1705. >We all cheer at the order
  1706. "He's a true leader, he is!"
  1707. >I slip into a slightly silly accent with an unusual drawl, which is what a lot of the people in outfits stick to when in character
  1708. >A few onlookers even clap
  1709. >That causes Anon to shrink away from the newfound attention
  1710. >"...anyway let's kick dirt, girls."
  1711. >Before an even bigger crowd forms, he leaves
  1712. >We follow
  1713. >Sparky and I flank his right side and Dashie takes his left
  1714. >Maybe it's the wings and tiara but I feel like a bad ass now
  1715. >If we were really all alicorns, we could really rule the world
  1716. >Or at least conquer a city
  1717. >And bring Anon all sorts of great things and gifts
  1718. >Maybe that wouldn't be SO bad
  1719. >We end up at the entrance in record time, or maybe we were closer than I thought
  1720. "...were we this close to the entrance the entire time?"
  1722. >"I think so. Either that or we mentally mapped out everywhere. I'm surprised we didn't find more things to buy, honestly."
  1723. "Same... are you sure we'll be ok without grabbing some knives and those huge skewer forks?"
  1724. >Anon squints at me
  1725. >I slowly squint at him
  1726. >"You just want a skewer so you can poke me with it from a distance."
  1727. "Nnnnoo...."
  1728. >My mouth stays open while I stay on the 'o' sound
  1729. "...ooooookay maybe a little. But just when you're busy."
  1730. >"Not gonna happen."
  1731. "Dang it."
  1732. >"Stay here real quick."
  1733. >Anon breaks off from the group to go back into that store we went into
  1734. >The woman with the jugs seems happy to see him and hands him a pair of plastic bags that look like they, themselves, are in plastic bags
  1735. >Rather than coming back, he takes a detour to a guy sitting on a wagon
  1736. >You can't hear what he's saying but after some back and forth he exchanges a bill for an absolutely massive bag of... popcorn?
  1737. >What's medieval or fantasy about popcorn?
  1738. >He rejoins us and waggles his eyebrows
  1739. >"Alright, let's go."
  1740. >As a unit
  1741. >As a well-dirtied machine
  1742. >As reliably as a man herding cats, we go through the entrance and into the freedom of grass, gravel, dirt and a herd of people moving to and from the entrance
  1743. >"We're finally free... if none of you mind, I'm gonna rush ahead. I need to clean myself up."
  1744. >"Isn't that why we're going to take turns taking baths at home?"
  1745. >Anon doesn't seem to get it
  1746. >The Empress looks up at him like he's stupid
  1747. >"Magic? I can just clean myself that way."
  1748. "You can do that?
  1749. >"I guess you can do anything with magic, huh..."
  1750. "Except make ice twice."
  1751. >Sparky takes it personally with my comment
  1752. >"Hey, I did it once! That proves that I can do it."
  1753. >"...maybe that was just a cutscene ability..."
  1754. >Dashie snorts with her comment
  1755. >"I'm going to roast your wings and serve them for dinner, Prism."
  1756. >"You'll have to catch me first, dear."
  1757. >What happens next...
  1758. >I never would have expected it
  1759. >Prism lets out a dignified laugh, like she was royalty
  1760. >She takes off into a full gallop and after only six steps she flaps her wings so hard even I can feel the gust they create
  1761. >In one solid bound and with a few flaps, she's
  1762. >She's airborne
  1763. >She glides for dozens of yards, leaving a shimmering rainbow that lingers in the air for entire seconds
  1764. >People seeing cheer at the sight
  1765. >"Holy crap, they didn't have that last year! Mom, did you see it?!"
  1766. >You can make out at least one comment
  1767. >None of us move
  1768. "I... I don't think I've ever seen her do that."
  1769. >"I had no clue those feathers actually worked."
  1770. >Neither of us could believe it
  1771. >"...bro. Prismatic dissed you and sky-dabbed her way to the car."
  1772. >Anon and I look at Sparky
  1773. >The look on her face is that of sheer humiliation
  1774. >"...that bitch...!"
  1775. >"You gonna get stood up like that?"
  1776. >Her horn starts to glow
  1777. >I really should not encourage this
  1779. >But...
  1780. "...she's gonna get the front seat and get the prime air conditioning if she makes it there first too."
  1781. >The glowing intensifies until the tip begins to spark
  1782. >"She's dead."
  1783. >"Not if you can't catch up she isn't."
  1784. >There's this... teasing tone to Anon's voice
  1785. >It's such a tiny little thing but I can tell it's there
  1786. >Sparky huffs and stamps the ground
  1787. >After three breaths, she sprints ahead at full speed
  1788. >The black dragon wings on her start to glow and flap hard
  1789. >It isn't enough to get her off the ground but it gives her a noticeable boost in sheer speed
  1790. >Anon and I watch one chase the other into the dozens of rows of cars
  1791. "...was it a good idea to spur her on like that?"
  1792. >"Honestly? I'm not sure. But hopefully if they damage a vehicle no one will have proof."
  1793. >Left alone, we start walking as if the two talking ponies defying reality have nothing to do with the man and his talking pony that is dressed up vaguely like the aforementioned two
  1794. >Halfway to the car, we stop seeing signs of the two gliding and running around
  1795. >There are at least no screams of anger or terror
  1796. >That has to be a good thing, right?
  1797. >" you've never seen Prism fly like that, huh?"
  1798. "No, never."
  1799. >"...she's a fast runner too."
  1800. "Seriously."
  1801. >Less people are walking by us now, most likely a new wave of visitors
  1802. >"Hey Jack."
  1803. "What's up?"
  1804. >"Since we're apparently seeing all sorts of neat things today..."
  1805. >Uh oh
  1806. >I think I know what's going to happen
  1807. >"I have something to tell you."
  1808. >My defenses immediately drop
  1809. >Ok
  1810. >He isn't going to do that here
  1811. "...well, you know, we're all open books."
  1812. >"You remember when we were out at that park trail?"
  1813. "Yeah, our date!"
  1814. >He smiles
  1815. >"Yup. Since then..."
  1816. >He shakes his head
  1817. >"No. Before that point..."
  1818. >He doesn't continue
  1819. "What about it?"
  1820. >I'm not really sure where he is going with it
  1821. >We walk for another minute or two
  1822. >There are less people around but still a lot that are either changing behind their vehicles or getting ready for the day
  1823. >I don't get the feeling that he's actually waiting for there to be less people
  1824. >"...yeah... I don't have anything clever to say. I thought I did."
  1825. >He pauses
  1826. >"I hoped I did."
  1827. >I snort
  1828. "Anon's out of fancy-sounding words? What'd I do, finally dumb you down?"
  1829. >"Yeah well, I'm doing pretty damn well you know. People get a lot more dumb when they're in love."
  1830. "Ha! Yeah, I b e t . . . y o u . . . "
  1831. >I slow down my pace
  1832. >He said it so casually
  1833. >Just like we were talking about anything else in the world
  1834. >My mind really is drawing a blank on how to react
  1835. >No, that isn't right
  1836. >Of course I know how I should react
  1837. >But my body just won't move so well
  1838. >I end up sitting down
  1839. >Is it me or does the sky look that much more blue?
  1840. >The air is so fresh, even with the little bit of taste of dust on my lips
  1841. >Anon stops walking too
  1842. >He crouches down on one knee and puts his hand on my head
  1843. >His face
  1844. >That's the face of Anon
  1845. >That's the face of the man that just said he was in love
  1846. >I blink
  1847. "...with who?"
  1849. >The serene face of that man eventually melts into a concerned expression
  1850. >"With you, dumbass. Who do you think?"
  1851. >I blink again
  1852. "'re sure?"
  1853. >The concerned expression grows
  1854. >"You really are a barbarian, aren't you."
  1855. "I-you-wha-"
  1856. >I'm caught off guard fully
  1857. "You don't just spring that on someone, I wasn't prepared!"
  1858. >Everything's heating and tensing up!
  1859. >"It's not about being prepared you dork, you just do it when it feels right!"
  1860. "Don't you call me a dork you GEEK! You do all sorts of things without letting me know!"
  1861. >"Because it feels right!"
  1862. "But how do I know if it does?!"
  1863. >"Then you just do it!"
  1864. >Our voices start raising until we're basically shouting at each other
  1865. "Then what do I do if it feels right?!"
  1866. >"Nike, bitch! Just do it!"
  1867. "Fine!"
  1868. >I spring off of the ground and launch myself at him with my full might
  1869. >I want to buck that stupid face off of his shoulders
  1870. >Instead, my lips meet his
  1871. >And a little extra
  1872. >Where does he get off for bringing up that sort of thing?
  1873. >Why would he say all of that when he's already proven it with his words?
  1874. >When did he think that and why wouldn't he have said it sooner?
  1875. >What does he think he's doing, just bursting that out and making me react this way?
  1876. >The kiss eventually ends
  1877. >I'm sitting on his chest, huffing with a furious burst of energy
  1878. >He looks
  1879. >Satisfied
  1880. >That silly face makes me want to buck a the next ugly car I see into junk
  1881. >Those smug eyes make me want to
  1882. >"Jack."
  1883. >That voice
  1884. >"You're salivating."
  1885. >I blink a few more times
  1886. "You're lucky I love you, Anonymous."
  1887. >"Why's that?"
  1888. "Because tonight I am releasing the Jacken."
  1889. >That look on his face fades
  1890. >It slowly changes into something of more genuine fear
  1891. >Good
  1892. >"...ah shit. It's going to get rough, isn't it."
  1893. "Yes."
  1894. >"It's going to hurt, isn't it."
  1895. "Eventually."
  1896. >"...volume control?"
  1897. >That stops my roaring fire
  1898. "...crap. I didn't think of that."
  1899. >He sighs and pats my head
  1900. >"Yeah, I know."
  1901. >I feel pent up suddenly
  1902. >This can't just... end now
  1903. >That's not how it happens in the movies
  1904. >He leans in to whisper
  1905. >"Listen... let's pretend that family over there did not watch a guy and a talking yellow pony make out. And let's go. Before they decide to do something that might involve cops."
  1906. "...o... oh shit."
  1907. >We both look at the family
  1908. >It's a man, woman, and three kids
  1909. >The one kid, who's eyes weren't covered, has his jaw dropped low enough to taste grass
  1910. "...oh... oh... no..."
  1911. >"Slowly hop off me... and let's fucking book."
  1912. >Still watching them, I get off of anon one hoof at a time
  1913. >They're watching me specifically
  1914. >They know I'm watching them too
  1915. "Anon... get up."
  1916. >I whisper to him
  1917. >"...can't."
  1918. "Anon, get up."
  1919. >"I'm paralyzed by both embarrassment and a little fear."
  1920. "Anonyouaren'tparalyzedrightthere,they'restartingtowalkoverherelet'sgonowAnonNOW!"
  1921. >That causes Anon to slowly, procedurally get back to his feet
  1922. >He looks at the family
  1923. >Slowly kneels down to grab the kitchenware and popcorn
  1924. >The staring contest continues
  1926. >There's no way stare downs in Westerns are this hair raising
  1927. >"...Jack?"
  1928. "...yeah?"
  1929. >"Cheese it."
  1930. >Surprising myself and the family, we basically break out into a full sprint like our lives depended on it
  1931. >We run like Mexican banditos, zombies, ghosts, cattle rustlers and American Union soldiers are on our tails and ready to shoot, stab, eat and rustle us
  1932. >We find Sparky and Dashie sitting in front of the car, idling talking about something
  1934. >"What the hell is a code re-"
  1935. >Anon hurls the massive bag of popcorn at Sparks' face and smacks her with the weight of a moderate pillow
  1936. >He fumbles for his keys and unlocks all of the car doors
  1937. >Picking up on the urgency, Dashie grabs the bag and scrambles up into the car
  1938. >Magic slams all of the car doors shut
  1939. >With the haste of a madman Anon... calmly pulls back out and angles his way back onto the main dirt road to leave
  1940. >There's... a line to leave
  1941. >We patiently crawl along for at least ten minutes
  1942. >Not a single one of us is prepared to speak
  1943. >Only when we're back on the main highway does Anon peel off and start screaming
  1944. >Unsure of what to do, I start screaming too
  1945. >I turn my head back to the Empress and Marchio...
  1946. >Marchoni...
  1947. >Empress-Lite
  1948. >They're just looking at me funny
  1949. >"...Jacky, why are you screaming?"
  1950. >They don't get it
  1951. >Of course they don't get it
  1952. >They aren't in love either
  1955. >I can't stop myself from retching.
  1956. >The hoof to my stomach has turned my world into itself.
  1957. >"Thanks for the food, loser."
  1958. >The larger colt takes my bread and trots off, laughing with a full mouth.
  1959. >I feel completely alone but I know there are ponies all around.
  1960. >None of them stopped him.
  1961. >None of them helped me.
  1962. >After some minutes I go back to... where I sleep.
  1963. >Dashie found a new place to sleep.
  1964. >An alleyway between two big buildings.
  1965. >Everything's all muddy and grey or brown...
  1966. >She's still missing.
  1967. >"Hurts, doesn't it."
  1968. >It's a unicorn.
  1969. >A grey one and about my size.
  1970. >I don't say anything to her and lay down on a discarded quilt.
  1971. >It is one of the luckiest finds I've ever had.
  1972. >"You look dirty. Why are you still alive at this point?"
  1973. >I don't reply.
  1974. >It's probably just a bully anyway...
  1975. >A lot more of those are starting to pop up.
  1976. >Maybe it's because I've gotten older.
  1977. >Less ponies are nice to me.
  1978. >"You know. It's ok to die. If you really have no reason to keep going, it's ok. Everypony dies."
  1979. >She doesn't sound like she's trying to convince or talk down to me.
  1980. >I look away from her and try to focus on my stomach.
  1981. >"If things get too hard. You know that you can just die. I wouldn't hold it against you. I would do the same thing."
  1982. "Leave me alone."
  1983. >"Leave you alone? No way, you still owe me."
  1984. >That voice...?
  1985. >I lift my head up.
  1986. "S-Sparky?! It's you!"
  1987. >I struggle to my hooves and lunge forward for a hug
  1988. >I haven't seen Sparky in nearly a year!
  1989. "I've missed you, where have you been this entire time?!"
  1990. >The hug is too strong because she can barely speak.
  1991. >I let go and she backs away from me, huffing and puffing.
  1992. >"You freak, you're still living in trash and you got stronger?! What sort of shit is that, that isn't fair."
  1993. >She... looks really the same as I last saw her.
  1994. >Maybe a little more long in the legs.
  1995. >Her horn is still there.
  1996. "I'm not strong, you're just weak. Can you still almost-do magic?"
  1997. >She glares at me.
  1998. >"...listen. I found a way to get food. And money too."
  1999. >That catches my attention.
  2000. >Getting money means buying things, not just food!
  2001. >"But I need help. You want in?"
  2002. "Y-yeah! Of course! Have you seen Dashie? Maybe she can-"
  2003. >"No, Jacky. You need to stop trusting her."
  2004. >She steps closer to me.
  2005. >She looks serious.
  2006. >"That little punk that stole from you... I know where he lives. And his family has money."
  2007. >Is she talking about robbing someone?
  2008. >I want to tell her that's a dumb idea.
  2009. >But what if...
  2010. >I want to get back at him?
  2011. >...Is it ok to do this to live?
  2013. ...
  2014. >I've been staring at the closet in Anon's room for too long
  2015. >He and Sparky are doing some sort of medieval breakfast thing
  2016. >It's been a week and all we've been watching have been movies about kings and knights and thieves
  2017. >I really like how the closet has changed
  2018. >It used to be just some of his stuff in there
  2019. >But all of our hats and wings and tiaras and other things are still there
  2020. >Except Dashie's tiara
  2021. >She's still wearing that
  2022. >She seems like a completely different pony with it on
  2023. >Anon ducks his head head inside
  2024. >"Psst. Jaqen H'ghar."
  2025. "Mm?"
  2026. >I don't look away
  2027. >I almost have a hat for every occasion
  2028. >Sparky wouldn't mind if I stole her 'GET SMOKED' hat, surely
  2029. >"Breakfast is ready. It's more... American colonialism than knights and stuff but we got eggs, oatmeal and figured out a way to make bread pudding."
  2030. >I frown at him
  2031. "That sounds like... what we eat already. How do you turn bread into a pudding?"
  2032. >"Through age-old magic... we also have a stew set up that'll be ready by dinner."
  2033. >He ducks his head out
  2034. >...
  2035. >He ducks his head back in
  2036. >"Pspsps... hey Jack."
  2037. >I smirk at the man
  2038. "Forget something?"
  2039. >"Love ya."
  2040. >He ducks back away after my surprised reaction
  2041. >For the last week we've almost been playing a game of it
  2042. >The more randomly that word popped up, the better
  2043. "Alright, time for goat's milk, goat cheese, goat steak and... uh..."
  2044. >"What are you talking about?"
  2045. >Sparky's up on a stool
  2046. "Oh hey, you have a chef's hat now!"
  2047. >"Yup."
  2048. >She's staring at a huge pot
  2049. "Is the stew in there?"
  2050. >"Yup."
  2051. "Cool. So... we aren't eating anything with goat in it?"
  2052. >"No, you dork. It's venison, apple, butter, potato, garlic and some herbs."
  2053. " why are you watching it?"
  2054. >I was ready and excited but her focus is draining the energy out of me
  2055. >"Anon said a watched pot never boils."
  2056. "...oh. Ok. Well I'm gonna go eat."
  2057. >"Breakfast is set up in the living room."
  2058. >I take a few steps before smiling
  2059. "Oh yeah... Sparky? Sparky warky?"
  2060. >"Yup?"
  2061. "I love you."
  2062. >"Mm. Love you too."
  2063. >I giggle and trot off
  2064. >Only after a few seconds do I hear a heavy thud and a 'WHAT?!'
  2065. >The blankets and pillows have been cleared up
  2066. >A huge pot and some bowls and other things have been set up
  2067. >Anon is pouring oatmeal onto a giant omelet and handing it to Marq...
  2068. >Mar...
  2069. >Empress-Lite Dash
  2070. >"And a breakfast fit for you, Marchioness Prismite."
  2071. >"Thank you Anon, you're a dear."
  2072. >Ever since she had that tiara on she's been so much nicer
  2073. >Our two plates also have a fat egg blob on them, along with a third that has one for the stew watching chef
  2074. "So what makes this special?"
  2075. >"Turns out? Not much at all. Humanity is pretty damn dull when it comes to cooking the exact same things for centuries."
  2076. "Ah... well that stew sounds cool anyway!"
  2077. >I'm not sure why apples are in a stew but if it turns out good then it'll probably be fine
  2079. >Chef de la Spark joins us and breakfast is had with not a whole lot of talk outside of commenting on how to make food that looks exactly like what we saw in the movies
  2080. >Nothing really stands out for conversation until Anon clears his throat
  2081. >"So gals... it's been kind of a while since we discussed D&D stuff."
  2082. >The minor commentary or conversations hush down
  2083. >No one has really wanted to talk about it since the last night of larping
  2084. >"...what about it?"
  2085. >Sparky is the first to speak up
  2086. >"Well, we still have our campaign going on. And I haven't heard of anything yet when it comes to perks."
  2087. >We all look at each other
  2088. >None of us have honestly sat down and discussed it
  2089. >No one has really approached us about it too, which means that we're probably safe
  2090. >"...glad to see that this hasn't been a completely scarring event..."
  2091. >He sounds worried
  2092. "It's not that."
  2093. >I rush to be the first to answer
  2094. "It's just..."
  2095. >"A little too real for us."
  2096. >Dashie followed through
  2097. >"Rabid animals aren't fun to deal with either."
  2098. >Sparky finishes
  2099. >"Yeah... I know. Sorry."
  2100. >That week wasn't bad at all
  2101. >It was almost all fun
  2102. "How about we set things back up tonight? Anon, you still have everything set up, right? We can just get back to it like normal?"
  2103. >He shrugs
  2104. >"Well yeah, of course. I still have my campaign notes and such too."
  2105. >I'm too full to be too active but I stamp my hooves down in a rhythm
  2106. "Then let's do that! We can begin with getting our perks or whatever and we can do and then go back to saving the world!"
  2107. >We weren't exactly saving the world
  2108. >We got distracted and our hometown got overrun with zombies but we were last tasked with going to a new town to protect them
  2109. >No one else really says anything about it
  2110. "Come on, aren't you guys excited? We get to fight zombies and we got some sort of... thing!"
  2111. >"It was an amulet. Anon won't tell us what it does and none of us are able to figure it out."
  2112. >Sparky speaks up while eating
  2113. >She's using magic to fold her omelet into some sort of burrito with oatmeal leaking out from both ends
  2114. >Except when it leaks out, it automatically ends up on top of the egg burrito
  2115. >"Hey, I can't give you everything for nothing. You had that one sage you could have brought it to."
  2116. >"And pay him?"
  2117. >Sparky snorts
  2118. >"I can do it. I just need... to spend a few more skill points to figure it out."
  2119. >"So tonight I suppose we're going to start our adventure once more?"
  2120. >"That's right, Prisimena."
  2121. >Anon seems pretty chill about it
  2122. >But I don't think he sees it
  2123. >I can see it
  2124. >The way we're all looking at each other
  2125. >Even if it is just a game, it is going to be really dangerous
  2126. >We have to make sure we cover each other
  2127. >Thankfully only I have gone down to 0 HP once, and that was due to an enemy landing a critical hit
  2128. >This time we'll be ready for anything
  2131. >Candles are lit
  2132. >Lights are off
  2133. >Laptop is on
  2134. >Character journals are out
  2135. >We started keeping track of things in journals after Anon stopped reminding us what we were doing, or where we were going
  2136. >He said that it was more 'old school' that way
  2137. >It has helped me at least because I've been able to write down plans!
  2138. >What to buy next
  2139. >What is weak to axe strikes
  2140. >What is weak to axe strikes with the blade turned flat!
  2141. >Anon gave me some bonus experience the first time I asked if I could do that for blunt damage
  2142. >Sparky thought I was dumb for wanting only an axe and not wanting to switch it out for something more heroic like a sword
  2143. >Dashie has been sticking with a knife and a bow
  2144. >While she does get a damage penalty, Anon has let her use arrows themselves as little things to stab with
  2145. >She hasn't let him know why, but she sees it as a good way to always have a weapon on hand
  2146. >Anon and Sparky are in his room discussing something
  2147. >I heard that it was about what she wanted her perk to be, and some other things that are more focused on how things work
  2148. >I bet she's trying to figure out how to bend the rules
  2149. >She was really bothered when she found out her spells can completely fail
  2150. >I nudge through my notebook
  2151. >A lot of it has random doodles
  2152. >Attempts at drawing enemies and important characters
  2153. >They aren't so great but they were fun to do while waiting for my turn, or waiting for questions to be answered
  2154. >I let out a melodious yawn and look at Dashie
  2155. >She hasn't taken off that horn tiara once that I've seen
  2156. "You know, you've been really chipper lately."
  2157. >Her only answer is a smile and a nod
  2158. >Have I ever seen her this obviously happy?
  2159. "...y'mind me asking why?"
  2160. >She shrugs and stretches out on her bunker of three pillows
  2161. >She doesn't really look awake enough to want to play...
  2162. >It has gotten late
  2163. >"I've always wanted to be one."
  2164. >I chuckle
  2165. "Is that really it?"
  2166. >It seems too simple
  2167. >At least it seems too simple given it's her
  2168. >She's been the most mature mare I could ever imagine
  2169. >She nods herself silly
  2170. >The tiara fits so well it doesn't even budge
  2171. "...when did you want that? I mean, I've never known."
  2172. >"Well I've never wanted to tell you."
  2173. >I scoff at the more usual curt response
  2174. "Well duh, I guess that makes sense."
  2175. >I leave the book and sit near her
  2176. >...
  2177. >The pillows she has work so I rest my head on one of them, her still in my sight
  2178. "C'mon, Prissee. Can you tell me about it?"
  2179. >The new nickname makes her chuckle
  2180. >"Oh all right... but there isn't a whole lot to it, you know."
  2181. >I focus on her completely
  2182. >"It's no mystery that... I suppose I was a bit of a control freak back then."
  2183. "Only back then?"
  2184. >A tease but it actually does make her lose some of her smile
  2185. "...I'm just messing with you, you know?"
  2186. >Maybe this isn't the best thing to joke about
  2187. "...I remember, yeah. I think I've been remembering more things."
  2188. >"I don't know if I've ever forgotten, to be honest."
  2190. >I can't even begin to imagine what is going on in her mind
  2191. >Her way of thinking and approaching situations has always been so different than mine
  2192. >"I always wanted to be powerful. Important. Alicorns were just fantasy but I knew that if I had a horn, and even an inkling of magic... I could just make things fall into place. I could be strong."
  2193. >Anon would probably have something clever or important to say if he heard this
  2194. >"When I saw how everyone was completely living the roles and outfits they had... they weren't acting or pretending. They really were. Maybe if I can keep it on, I'll begin to really have that strength."
  2195. >I understand her
  2196. >I really do
  2197. >But part of me feels... agitated?
  2198. " why'd you get all angry when Anon got me that doll of Ma?"
  2199. >She looks apologetic
  2200. "I mean... I know it's just a toy. And probably not even a real expensive or fancy toy that human kids get. But it's important to me. It made me happy."
  2201. >"...only made?"
  2202. "Well, I mean it still makes me happy. But... you know, I'm aware. It ain't her. If I have a real Ma... she probably ain't even look half as decent. And probably never knew I existed."
  2203. >Laying down and talking about this drains my strength enough that a shrug only moves my head
  2204. "But... you know. I have you. I have Sparky. Shiny. And I have Anon too. And with that doll, I feel like I at least have something of Ma with me. Like she's able to see how well I'm doing, you know?"
  2205. >"I'm sorry Jacky."
  2206. >I smile and give another ultra-lazy shrug
  2207. "It's alright. It's not like I talk to her every night anymore anyway."
  2208. >Not even Anon knows that I do that
  2209. >I've made sure of that
  2210. >"Is it too dumb of me to say that I thought it was too immature?"
  2211. >Says the tiara wearing pegasus to me
  2212. "Kinda. But I won't hold it against you."
  2213. >She raises her eyebrows for a moment and smirks
  2214. >"Well thank you for that. And I did. I saw how happy you were and... it just bothered me for some reason. I thought you should have been more focused on important things."
  2215. >She glances at me for a moment and continues
  2216. >"And no, I don't know what those important things actually consist of. But... I just thought that you and Anon would have had something more... I don't know, official? Something more visibly or functionally... adult?"
  2217. >She's starting to wake up by how she's shifting from laying on her side to her head coming up
  2218. >"I mean to be honest I barely recognized you when I first saw you. It isn't like you physically aged much but... your eyes."
  2219. >She looks me right in the eye
  2220. >"I can tell that who you were was very different than the Jacky I knew. Even now... and I always used to lead you to our new home. Our new goal. Our new... I don't even know."
  2221. >She looks around the room
  2222. >She looks like she's never genuinely seen the living room before
  2223. >It's where she spends most of her time
  2225. >"And... tell me, Jacky. Did I die? Did we die and is this some sort of heaven for us? A purgatory? Was this some fever dream or delusion that my mind cooked up?"
  2226. >Her eyes focus on me again
  2227. > this really Dashie?
  2228. >She was never this unsure of anything
  2229. >She was always convinced of herself somehow
  2230. >I think
  2231. >"I asked myself that again and again... and for months, I just... sat here. And wondered that. I watched Sparking Shine continue to adjust and go through her phases and, to be quite honest, end up incredibly powerful. I never thought I would see the day that she could wield magic and smile and laugh and... threaten me, but not entirely mean it."
  2232. >Her mouth has been creeping up into a smile, and went full blown at the last moment
  2233. >It's infectious and I smile with her
  2234. "Yeah, right? Now she can play a lot of games, she can cook well, help out... work doors..."
  2235. >I'm happy for her
  2236. >I really am
  2237. >But it bugs me how I can't do any of that
  2238. >Nowhere near as well as she can
  2239. >"And I watched you. Listened to you. Paid very close attention to this... beast called a man. This creature and this world where we are not on the same level as them."
  2240. >I get the feeling that if I bring up anything, she'll just talk right over me
  2241. >"And... the dream hasn't ended yet. It never ended, not even for a single night. Anonymous never turned feral on us, or abusive. I never woke up in that sewer. Or alley. Or ditch. Or cave. I never once ate and came to find out that it was mud or some insect-infested trash."
  2242. >Her lips turn to a disgusted snarl
  2243. >"And the bathroom. And the shower. Do you know what honestly broke me out of all of that? Do you know what truly, genuinely told me that this isn't just some sort of coma or fever dream, Jacky?"
  2244. >The look in her eye
  2245. >The slight trembling at the corner of her lips
  2246. >Has this always been what my sister was like?
  2247. >Have I really never been able to see her like this?
  2248. >"The taste of dirt in my mouth, and getting dirt stuck to my hooves and mane. Being surrounded by animals talking and gawking at Sparking and I, I'm sure I could fantasize in some twisted bout of head trauma. But that dirt? That feeling of being disgustingly filthy after only an hour of walking around and smelling food I knew I couldn't get on my own and being stuck with her as my only... friend!?"
  2249. >She licks her lips
  2250. >"And... and before I knew it, I sold a few feathers. For money, Jacky. Not for food, but for enough money to get hot, fresh food and this tiara. And a few other things that you saw."
  2251. >She nods a few times
  2252. >"And then we saw that stallion and..."
  2253. >She giggles
  2254. >I can't help but join in
  2255. "That was real."
  2256. >"It was... we didn't even need binoculars from where we were."
  2258. >She sighs
  2259. >"This tiara... being here. Maybe I've just been in denial. I don't know. But I like it. It's a trophy. A symbol of..."
  2260. >She trails off
  2261. >I guess I can never make fun of her for being quiet again
  2262. >"Of me. You have Anonymous. And us. Sparking has her magic and everything that allows, and us. And I... I have all of you. And I have this. Maybe it won't always be so important to me. Maybe it may sit on a desk or in a closet and gather dust. But it will still be a trophy. Something I got without having to steal. Or demean myself over."
  2263. >Her eyes look so bright
  2264. >Almost innocent
  2265. >Almost to the point like I feel like the big sister
  2266. "I'm glad you're doing better."
  2267. >What else can I say?
  2268. "You'll always have me. And you'll always have Shiny. And you'll always have Anon too, even if the two of us were missing or not around."
  2269. >Before I even know what I'm doing, I scoot to her and hug her as hard as I can
  2270. >She really is my sister
  2271. >Big or little, it doesn't matter
  2272. >She knows so much more than I ever will
  2273. >On some things
  2274. >But in other ways I've grown where she hasn't
  2275. >And that's ok
  2276. >"Pegashield."
  2277. >Her wings flap out to their full span
  2278. >They retreat to her sides, one resting and hugging me tight
  2279. "I love you, Priss. I guess I can't call you Dashie since you don't just strut around everywhere at your own pace, huh?"
  2280. >"Nonsense, I'll always be Dashie. And I love you too."
  2281. >A few moments pass
  2282. >"...I see Anon taught you that word just recently too... having fun using it?"
  2283. >I instantly try to deflect that but what comes out is awkward word salad
  2284. >I hold my tongue for a bit
  2285. "...well I just kinda realized that... it fits."
  2286. >"Does saying it change your view of me? Of him?"
  2287. >Does it?
  2288. >We haven't said it since that one time
  2289. >To be honest, how we were after saying it changed absolutely nothing from how we were before saying it
  2290. "...not really. Is that bad?"
  2291. >"I highly doubt it. I'll admit, when I first saw how close you and him were, I thought that word had been said daily."
  2292. "Heheh... it really is that obvious?"
  2293. >She gives me this...
  2294. >Condescending smile
  2295. >"Jacky, this is not an overly large apartment. It can be difficult at times to focus on things, even if the door is closed."
  2296. >Oh
  2297. >...oh...
  2298. "...I'm not sure what to say to that."
  2299. >"Neither am I, dear."
  2300. >I feel beyond flustered
  2301. >Beyond embarrassed
  2302. >Part of me wonders if I should even be embarrassed at this point
  2303. "...where's Anon anyway?"
  2304. >Out of freaking nowhere
  2305. >"Eh, I'm fine with holding it off until tomorrow night. Shiner and I got wrapped up in some shit and now we're doing a co-op run of Dynasty Warriors."
  2307. >"ANON, QUICK, IT'S LU BU!"
  2308. >I do feel more than embarrassed now
  2309. >Anon's in the kitchen, rooting around to grab a pair of sodas and a snack
  2310. "...have you been listening?"
  2311. >Anon looks at me with the items in his arms
  2312. >"..."
  2313. >He looks around the living room like he's trying to find something, or focus on a fly buzzing around
  2314. >"...nope, no. Not at all. Sound of the game and me being thirsty kinda distracted me."
  2316. >"Welp, she's getting thrashed and trashed, duty calls. Don't mind me."
  2317. >He makes a hasty retreat toward his room
  2318. >I don't hear any sort of video game going on...
  2319. >Normally if they're playing something neither of them shy away from blasting the speakers
  2320. " time we have a big talk, can we do it on the patio or away from prying ears?"
  2321. >"Why, are you worried?"
  2322. >Am I?
  2323. "...well, no. But I don't want everyone to hear this sort of stuff all the time."
  2324. >"Should've thought of that before you let Shine and I know just how close you were to Anon."
  2325. >I get a sort of sinking feeling
  2326. "You aren't gonna let go of that by chance, are you?"
  2327. >"Not until it makes you more uncomfortable than it made me."
  2328. "...does 'I'm sorry' cut it?"
  2329. >"I'm afraid it doesn't."
  2330. "...craaaaap..."
  2331. >My head drops down on one of the few pillows and my eyes close
  2332. "Send me to the glue factory already."
  2333. >Priss sets her head down and rubs her cheek against mine
  2334. >"Don't worry, we'll get through this too. Worst case scenario is that I add my own interjections and remind you that you aren't alone."
  2335. >I can't tell if she's teasing me or if she's serious
  2336. >I don't know which is worse
  2339. >It's another night
  2340. >Things are starting to really get chilly outside
  2341. >When Anon was at work I went out for a walk with Dashie and Sparky
  2342. >I've tried sticking with Prissy and Shiny
  2343. >...but it doesn't sound right to me
  2344. >Dashie will always be Dashie
  2345. >Sparky will always be Sparky
  2346. >They have both changed and grown but I still see them as the same scrawny fillies I grew up with
  2347. >We didn't go all that far, just in case, but it was refreshing
  2348. >A few people looked at us funny but I think that is pretty normal now
  2349. >We live so closely to so many people but I don't even know any of their names
  2350. >I don't think Anon knows any of them at all
  2351. >I don't know yet if it's really isolating or comfortable to know that so many people are nearby
  2352. >Anon is on his laptop, typing up something
  2353. >Nice music has been playing
  2354. >It's enough to make me want to sleep but...
  2355. >Sleeping has been weird
  2356. >Or maybe it's better to say that my dreams have been weird
  2357. >I want to talk to Anon
  2358. >But I don't want to interrupt the music
  2359. >As if he can read my mind, he stops typing and pats my flank
  2360. >"Jacky butt, Jacky butt..."
  2361. >He idly pats in time with his words
  2362. >I go from sitting on my side to laying down
  2363. >"Has anyone ever told you that you're basically a cat?"
  2364. >This sounds familiar
  2365. "...meow?"
  2366. >"...yeah. That's the good stuff."
  2367. >He nods in approval
  2368. >"You dork, tell me what you want for Christmas."
  2369. "Eh?"
  2370. >"That's right."
  2371. >His hand travels up to my stomach and keeps patting
  2372. >"I suck at deciding what would be best. What are you wanting?"
  2373. "Mmm..."
  2374. >I shrug
  2375. "Iunno. It's hard to want things when you have everything. Y'know?"
  2376. >"I suppose so."
  2377. >He doesn't sound convinced
  2378. "Welllllllll..."
  2379. >I roll onto my back and lock eyes with him
  2380. >His hand slides to my chest
  2381. >His fingers drum against my ribs
  2382. "What do you want for Christmas?"
  2383. >He shrugs
  2384. >"Iunno."
  2385. >I give him a trademark squint
  2386. "So how are your answer different from mine?"
  2387. >He returns the squint
  2388. >"Did you say 'how are your'?"
  2389. >I close my eyes and stick my tongue out
  2390. "Deal with it."
  2391. >"Fucking killer queen over here..."
  2392. >His hand goes up to my throat and pats it a few times before going back down to my belly
  2393. >"I guess... I can't blame you. To be honest, the only thing I could want for Christmas is to spent it with who's important to be. And you'll be here. Prismatic and acrobatic will be here. Shiner will be here. Did I mention you'll be here too?"
  2394. "I don't think so, better let me know where I'll be."
  2395. >He inhales
  2396. >Holds
  2397. >And exhales
  2398. >" you want to be here for Christmas?"
  2399. "That's a silly question."
  2400. >"You're a silly pony."
  2401. "And you're a silly man."
  2402. >I look up at the ceiling
  2403. "Did you know that we have a lot of neighbors?"
  2404. >"Yup. Not just down the hall but below us too. And in other buildings."
  2405. >Well he's known
  2406. >That kinda makes me feel a little more comfortable
  2407. " would it be better if we had a house rather than an apartment? I mean, would you want something bigger?"
  2409. >"Yeah. It would be nice. Obviously, my room isn't that big. And it would be cool to have a real kitchen that has space for more than one guy and poner cooking. And then you could all have your own rooms. Instead of the living room and my room. And that spare room that..."
  2410. "...well, there's junk in there so it works best."
  2411. >The thought of having an entire room to just yourself sounds
  2412. >It sounds...
  2413. >Lonely
  2414. >What would you even fill it with?
  2415. >Why would I want something like a bed to myself when it's always better to sleep with Anon or at least have the others nearby?
  2416. >I blow some air through my lips
  2417. "I guess if I had my own room, I would need a lot of Christmases to fill it out huh."
  2418. >"And your birthday."
  2419. "Mmm... wait, birthday?"
  2420. >"Yup. I think it's coming up pretty soon."
  2421. >My birthday...
  2422. >Anon decided that the day I popped up would count as a birthday
  2423. >But I don't see it as that
  2424. "Can I do a raincheck and get something later?"
  2425. >"Hm..."
  2426. >His hand goes to my front leg and idly swings it back and forth
  2427. >"No."
  2428. "Dang."
  2429. >Now you have to figure something out
  2430. "Anything, huh?"
  2431. >"If you have some secret third friend you want me to grab from the brink... I really don't think I have the money for that. It'll take another two years' worth of saving at the very least."
  2432. "Eh... ew."
  2433. >I grimace
  2434. >I don't like asking about that particular topic
  2435. >But every now and again I feel like I need to have a real conversation with him on how to make that up
  2436. "No... I don't think so, anyway."
  2437. >"That's a relief. I think."
  2438. "I think so."
  2439. >I look around the room
  2440. "Does it have to be physical?"
  2441. >"I don't think so."
  2442. "Can it be something like... a promise or something?"
  2443. >He's focusing keenly on me
  2444. >"Maybe. What are you wanting?"
  2445. >I return the gaze
  2446. >The direct eye contact is almost relaxing
  2447. >I know that he enjoys looking at me
  2448. "Can you let me know that you won't be going anywhere?"
  2449. >His eyebrows tilting at an angle tell me he doesn't really get it
  2450. "I mean... I'll have been here for two years, coming up soon. Can we promise that we'll do another two years?"
  2451. >"What happens after the two years from now?"
  2452. >I shrug and smirk
  2453. "We promise that we'll do another four years?"
  2454. >He returns the smirk
  2455. >"And what happens after those four years? We double up and go for another eight years?"
  2456. >I giggle and puff my chest out with achievement
  2457. >He understands fully
  2458. "And then sixteen and then after that and... yeah."
  2459. >Anon inhales
  2460. >Leans down from his sitting position to give me a full embrace
  2461. >My upper legs hook around his shoulders
  2462. >"You got it, Ackjay."
  2463. >He squeezes to intensify the hug
  2464. >I return the effort
  2465. "And maybe another thing is that next we make sure that you're spoken for."
  2466. >Rather than release the hug, he kicks out his legs from under him and lays on me
  2467. >His face is near the side of mine
  2468. >"And how will we do that?"
  2469. "Oh, you leave that to me."
  2470. >"That doesn't inspire confidence."
  2473. >Another night
  2474. >Another dream
  2475. >Another visit by that grey unicorn
  2476. >It told me that dying really isn't so bad
  2477. >Not when there's nothing to live for
  2478. >Was that really how my life used to be?
  2479. >Did I ever meet a unicorn like that?
  2480. >I haven't slept well for days now because of that
  2481. >The dreams feel too real
  2482. >I can taste the blood that I used to spit out after I started to get into fights
  2483. >I can taste the dirt that used to coat most of the food I ate
  2484. >I can smell the stagnant water and sewer tunnel I used to sleep in
  2485. >Did I always hate it?
  2486. >Did I know enough to hate it?
  2487. >Dashie has been getting more happy and content lately
  2488. >But the more we talk about it, the worse I feel
  2489. >I was really like that
  2490. >I don't know why I can't not focus on it now
  2491. >I try to talk to Shiny about it but she doesn't want to talk about it at all
  2492. >I don't want to make a big scene out of it but...
  2493. >She certainly has a lot of thoughts on it, right?
  2494. >She has to
  2495. >"Fuck whoever that little waste of space was. I'm not useless anymore. I can use magic just fine. I don't have to do anything like that for food anymore."
  2496. >That was the last thing she would say on the matter
  2497. >She was playing a new game while she said that too
  2498. >She and Anon have been playing it back and forth for days now
  2499. >I really want to talk to him
  2500. >I need to talk to him
  2501. >There's a bottle of mead that he bought next to the edge of the bed
  2502. >I don't even feel like drinking it
  2503. >That wouldn't help
  2504. >What if I drank it all anyway and left none for him?
  2505. >What if I'm just overreacting and this isn't a big deal?
  2506. >We all had a bad past
  2507. >Anon had a bad past
  2508. >Am I just selfish for being the only one that feels like it's getting to be too heavy a weight right now?
  2509. >How do I calm down?
  2510. >What do I do?
  2511. >The playlist I put on is full of comfy but sad music
  2512. >It's getting to me
  2513. >I've been laying on my side for hours but still can't muster the strength to change it to something else
  2514. >I can't move
  2515. >I'm frozen
  2516. >A dull, lazy sense of panic starts to set in
  2517. >It's starting to pile onto my chest
  2518. >I need to scream and let it out
  2519. >I can't though
  2520. >That would cause everyone else to freak out or for me to ruin the evening
  2521. >I can't help it
  2522. >I gotta do something
  2523. "ANON?!"
  2524. >I didn't expect my voice to be so loud
  2525. >Or for it to sound so... frantic
  2526. >I hear some crashing and Sparky yelping
  2527. >Anon doesn't just poke his head around the corner
  2528. >He hurls himself toward the bed and ends up kneeling on the edge of the mattress
  2529. >"Jack. What's up? Are you alright?"
  2530. >He isn't glaring but he is watching me closely
  2531. >He has that serious tone in his voice
  2532. >I'm sorry to take you away from your game
  2533. >I didn't want to
  2534. >Honest
  2535. "..."
  2536. >I try to speak
  2537. >But I can't
  2538. >I feel like I've been put on the spot
  2539. >Anon peeks behind him and closes the door as quietly as he can
  2540. >He sits down on the floor, next to the mattress
  2541. >His hand goes to my head
  2542. >"What happened? How can I help?"
  2543. >I try to speak but my throat clenches tight
  2544. >I can't tell him
  2545. >But I do
  2547. "...I... I've done a lot of bad things, Anon."
  2548. >My voice escalates into a whine
  2549. >Before he can ask me what's wrong I spill every bean to him
  2550. >Every dream
  2551. >How I stole from someone who bullied me
  2552. >Worse, I stole from his family
  2553. >And hurt him
  2554. >And hurt others
  2555. >And got into fights
  2556. >And thought it was normal
  2557. >I thought it was brave or heroic of me to hurt others because it was for food or tiny amounts of money
  2558. >Ma wouldn't be proud of me
  2559. >I don't even have a Ma
  2560. >I was just left alone and had no choice if I wanted to keep living
  2561. >It all came out as a single string of pent up words and thoughts and regrets
  2562. >I thought it was all normal
  2563. >I thought it was something to be proud of
  2564. >By the end of it all, I'm heaving
  2565. >And in his arms
  2566. >When did he drag me into an embrace?
  2567. >My breathing calms after a few minutes of silence
  2568. >Silence outside of the playlist
  2569. >" know you don't have to worry about that stuff anymore, Jack. You've done a lot of good since you've been here."
  2570. "How?!"
  2571. >I know he's trying to make me feel better but I have no clue how I could have done enough good to offset the bad
  2572. >"You've found your friends-your sisters. You've helped me in ways I can't even begin to list, and you know fully well you have."
  2573. "But is it enough?"
  2574. >Of course it isn't enough
  2575. >How could it be?
  2576. >"I don't know."
  2577. >Of course he wouldn't know
  2578. >I wouldn't ask him to know
  2579. >The panic and adrenaline start to bleed out from me
  2580. >He's hugging me pretty tight
  2581. >"You're not shaking as much now."
  2582. >Was I shaking?
  2583. >I didn't even notice
  2584. >I refuse to speak for longer
  2585. >There's no way I could
  2586. >It doesn't seem to mean anything to Anon
  2587. >He keeps holding me until I feel everything slow down again
  2588. >Rather than everything going by a mile a minute, it feels... more normal
  2589. >I can feel my lungs tire out to the point that I have no choice but to inhale and exhale normally
  2590. "...I feel dizzy, Anon."
  2591. >"I bet... how else are you feeling?"
  2592. >I shouldn't think
  2593. >If I think much longer, I feel like I'm going to scream
  2594. "Confused... sad."
  2595. >He gives me a squeeze so tight I let out a squeak
  2596. >Just like the toy of Ma
  2597. >She's on the far edge of the bed
  2598. >I'm still happy I have her
  2599. >"Yeah... panic attacks are never good."
  2600. >Now that I've told him everything, there's nothing more I can hide
  2601. >"You're here now, Jack. And you won't be going anywhere. Not alone, anyway."
  2602. >The authority of his voice tells me that he's serious
  2603. >Of course he's serious
  2604. >He wouldn't lie
  2605. "What do I do...? Everyone else has a trait or power or has something that looks fancy and I..."
  2606. >'I can only hurt other ponies' is what I want to say
  2607. >But something deep inside refuses to let me say it
  2608. >Like it's too taboo or evil a thing to utter
  2609. "I just... I just go with the flow. I don't have any skills. I can't DO many things."
  2610. >I can't do things like Sparky
  2611. >My stomach turns to a brick-sized knot at the split second that comes and goes before I can consciously attack it
  2612. >Within that split second, I wondered
  2613. >If I was just getting in the way
  2615. >I can feel my head spin until it doesn't even feel like I'm in the conversation
  2616. >Not really
  2617. "I thought all of the memories would come back them. I thought we had some sort of higher goal or journey or something. And all we amounted to was bad memories, and being a pest."
  2618. >Should I even be surprised?
  2619. >He tightens the hug again
  2620. >"What do you want to do?"
  2621. "About what?"
  2622. >"Anything."
  2623. >I glance up at him
  2624. "I'm not following."
  2625. >"I'm talking about you learning to do more things, My Little Dumbass."
  2626. >I can't help but smirk
  2627. >"I mean it. You got a pretty good voice. I enjoy your singing too. If you're looking to be more productive, you could always become a merJack."
  2628. " I wanna know what that is?"
  2629. >"Well, the seashell bra isn't mandatory. But a mermaid sort. Legend has it that they used to sing and lure sailors into the ocean where they'd drown. Or maybe that was sirens... wait, was it sirens? Or are they just the same thing?"
  2630. >I butt the side of my head against his chest
  2631. "Why are you asking me?"
  2632. >I think I get what he's getting at
  2633. >...I think?
  2634. "So you'd really appreciate it if I learned to sing a few things for you?"
  2635. >He adjusts himself until his back is up against the wall, dragging me further into his lap
  2636. >"That's right. But that's just for me. You've been here for a while, what sort of things are you really drawn to?"
  2637. "You."
  2638. >I speak without thought
  2639. >"Outside of me. Things, not pairs of hands with a guy attached to them."
  2640. >I won't dignify that sentence with a comment
  2641. >But I am acutely aware that I don't know how I existed before having him petting and brushing me
  2642. >And things
  2643. "I don't know. I don't think I'm good at much of anything. I'm alright with that controller you got me but I would rather watch a lot of games than play them. It's like watching more intense movies."
  2644. >I glance upward at him again
  2645. >His attention is 100% on me
  2646. >I can't not say it now
  2647. "...and yeah, I still don't like playing scary games."
  2648. >He smirks
  2649. "I mean, I guess I could try to help out with cooking... Dashie doesn't have magic and stuff but she helps, doesn't she?"
  2650. >"Kinda. She gets an A for effort."
  2651. "And outside of that... I mean, only you do laundry."
  2652. >"To be fair I'm the only one that regularly wears clothing."
  2653. "You know you don't have to, right?"
  2654. >"I do if I want to go to work."
  2655. "Yeah but... you know."
  2656. >I fail to stifle a laugh
  2657. >"I recognize that goofy chortle. If I do, you wouldn't be the only one seeing."
  2658. >Damn
  2659. >He has a point
  2660. "...well fine. I guess you can still wear clothes."
  2661. >"Thank you, o' courteous tyrant of threads."
  2662. >I look around his room
  2663. >It could really use a cleaning
  2664. >My mind brings up a big ol' blank for what would even work
  2665. " here really is kinda carefree, isn't it? Everything's so easily in reach or automated."
  2666. >"It sure is. I guess that can be a good and bad thing."
  2667. "I never really questioned it before, you know? I was kinda just happy to watch movies with you, sleep and eat with you. Mess around and all that. And... two years went by."
  2669. >"Almost two years went by. Still got a few days before then."
  2670. "Yeah but... I don't remember time ever flying like that. I don't remember time even being a thing. It was never a matter of "oh, it's a Saturday, I get to cozy up to Anon all day and passively keep him in bed"."
  2671. >"Passively? Last Saturday you actively refused to let me get up unless I had to go to the bathroom."
  2672. "Shut up, that's passive."
  2673. >He shakes his head
  2674. >"Whatever you say dear."
  2675. >That gives me a giggle
  2676. "But I mean it too, you know? Entire days blended together. I used to kinda keep track and worry that one day you might not pop up anymore, or that there might be some sort of... rule. Against me being here. And it never came. And after a while I just stopped thinking about it and started focusing on when you'd be here and when you'd be gone. So I focused on that and things just sorta fit into place."
  2677. >"So are you glad you don't interact with the outside world all that much?"
  2678. "Kinda? I mean, that's a bad thing, isn't it?"
  2679. >"I guess it can be. But I can't say I blame you either. I don't really do that."
  2680. >That sounds kinda funny to hear, coming from him
  2681. >This is his world
  2682. "How? There are people at work and you can talk to people pretty easily."
  2683. >"You are aware that I spend pretty much all of my time with you dorks, right?"
  2684. "...yeah?"
  2685. >"Then there you are. I'm not really part of the world at large beyond what I absolutely need to do."
  2686. "Oh. I guess that's right."
  2687. >I can't help but wonder
  2688. "...what do you think things would be like if we were all human? Do you think we'd all have jobs and be able to cook and go out without people looking at us funny?"
  2689. >Anon snickers
  2690. >"No, people would still look at all of you funny. You could change bodies but you'd still be a weirdo."
  2691. "You're a weirdo."
  2692. >"No you."
  2693. >I headbutt his chest again
  2694. >Or maybe it's more just a rub
  2695. >I feel emotionally drained, and replenished enough, to not shy away from any further close topics
  2696. "...if I were human, do you think we'd have a family by now?"
  2697. >Rather than look at me, Anon is looking forward
  2698. >Somewhat forward?
  2699. >He hesitates before answering
  2700. >"I think we'd be getting close to starting on having a second Jacklette if that were the case."
  2701. >He doesn't look unhappy while saying that
  2702. >But I can tell it really must not be something so happy to think about for him
  2703. "...yeah..."
  2704. >At the realization of just what that would mean and signify, I feel my heart drop
  2705. "...what if we try and give it our all?"
  2706. >"Is that what you really want?"
  2707. >He was quick to answer
  2708. "...well yeah."
  2709. >"Even though you say you can't do much?"
  2710. "I'll learn."
  2711. >I didn't expect to answer that quickly this time
  2712. >He sighs
  2713. >It's hard
  2714. >I can feel his chest deflate too
  2715. >"I would like that. I really would."
  2716. >He would like that
  2717. >I would like that
  2718. >But it probably can't happen, can it?
  2719. >Neither of us say anything
  2720. >Probably because it's a little obvious that it probably can't
  2721. "Do you think..."
  2722. >"I do think."
  2723. >I scoff
  2724. "Shut up."
  2725. >He nods
  2727. "Do you think. If I learn to do more things. Would that... I don't know. Trigger something? Like some sort of upgrade that has prerequisites?"
  2728. >It sounds completely silly
  2729. >But
  2730. >What if?
  2731. "I mean hang on for a second. Sparky couldn't really do her magic for... ever. Until she came here. Maybe it's because we're in a new world that the old rules didn't apply. Or maybe... like, she just needed a social link like in those other games?"
  2732. >It's a blind grasp but it makes sense
  2733. >Doesn't it?
  2734. "What if it's just... what if the issue is that I just haven't learned to do enough. And if I can do that, then that can happen?"
  2735. >"I'm not so sure the world works like that, Jackphilia."
  2736. "Yeah and the world doesn't have talking ponies that can fly in the air or do magic."
  2737. >...
  2738. "...sorry."
  2739. >I snapped pretty hard just then
  2740. >For a split second I felt more than angry
  2741. >At him
  2742. >"...I'm just saying, it was more a glide than flying."
  2743. "...yeah."
  2744. >Neither of us speak
  2745. >It was a stupid idea
  2746. >"If we're working by that logic. Do you think you're gonna wanna help out more?"
  2747. "Absolutely, if that's on the line."
  2748. >"Well, let's try it out then."
  2749. >I didn't expect him to accept my logic that easily
  2750. "Really?"
  2751. >"Sure. I mean, if this goofy idea works out... you'll kinda be more prepared, won't you? And even if it doesn't-yet-then that means you can still learn more and grow into doing more things that might be a little advanced."
  2752. >He gives me yet another squeeze
  2753. >He could probably squeeze me until I cough up my skeleton and it'd be fine
  2754. >"I guess talk it over with Shiner and just see how you can help out. She does the lion's share of stuff now. Or so she claims."
  2755. "Maybe I can be her apprentice or something then?"
  2756. >"Maybe."
  2757. >Maybe...
  2758. >Maybe this might be what I need
  2759. >If I can, I'll have a real goal to focus on
  2760. >And if I can reach that goal
  2761. >Maybe...
  2762. >It might lead to something a lot better
  2763. "Anon?"
  2764. >"Yeah?"
  2765. "My side is getting a little numb. Mind if I just readjust? You can keep me on your lap for a while."
  2766. >"Sure, Jack."
  2767. >...
  2768. >...
  2769. >...
  2770. >What feels like entire minutes pass
  2771. " gotta let go of me before I can move."
  2772. >"Yeah, I know."
  2774. >Anon's been making me look for Christmas presents
  2775. >He keeps saying that it's around the corner
  2776. >Maybe yesterday we got... an inch of snow?
  2777. >So I guess it is Christmas time
  2778. >Technically
  2779. "Hey, Sparky... what do you want for Christmas?"
  2780. >I'm sitting on a tall bar stool with her
  2781. >It's a little weird to sit on but she seems fine with it
  2782. >"I don't know."
  2783. "I don't know either..."
  2784. >We've been cooking every day now
  2785. >After talking with Anon about how things might change if I grow more, I've been doing everything I can
  2786. >Which doesn't... amount to much, honestly
  2787. >Even helping out with Sparky has more or less led to just keeping her company
  2788. >While watching water boil
  2789. >Except it isn't even boiling yet
  2790. " it supposed to take this long?"
  2791. >"Sometimes. Since I'm showing you stuff, I can't just flash fry it."
  2792. >It makes sense that she could do that
  2793. " that supposed to be safe?"
  2794. >"Good question. I haven't gotten hurt yet so yes, probably?"
  2795. >She doesn't sound so sure of herself
  2796. >With no laptop around and no one else, it...
  2797. >It's kinda boring, actually
  2798. >Does she deal with this every time?
  2799. "...Sparky?"
  2800. >"Jacky?"
  2801. >Both of us are watching the pot water only just now start to bubble
  2802. >Chicken breasts are in the oven and have a half hour left
  2803. >The plates are out and waiting
  2804. >Sparky found out a way to do "home made" garlic bread by personally burning thick bread with garlic butter and three types of cheese
  2805. >All that's left is the pasta
  2806. >I asked for it since it required a few steps total
  2807. >Going off of the oven... it's obvious that I could never set it up
  2808. >Not unless I could somehow stick my head in an oven while holding a tray and not get hurt
  2809. >At least I can help
  2810. >...right?
  2811. "...nothing."
  2812. >Sparks scoffs
  2813. >"Really?"
  2814. >I don't answer
  2815. >I feel like it would be silly to ask her
  2816. >"Well... ok."
  2817. >The oven timer says twenty minutes left
  2818. >The water is finally boiling and has pasta in it
  2819. "Is it usually this quiet?"
  2820. >"Not really. I mean, Prism has her things to listen to but she sometimes takes it outside. Then the kissy noises you and Anon make are pretty damn hard to ignore."
  2821. "Oh. I'm sorry."
  2822. >Sparks glances at you and grins
  2823. >"Nah, you're fine. I'm used to it. I just pretend it's me sometimes. Other times I make fun of you. At least once I mirrored your noises with my own."
  2824. >My jaw drops
  2825. "YOU'RE the one who did that!"
  2826. >You remember that situation well
  2827. >Anon couldn't stop laughing but wouldn't tell me what it was
  2828. >I just thought things were echoing
  2829. >"Ahh... yes. Yes I was. And I regret nothing."
  2830. >At least that wasn't the worst thing she could have done
  2831. >Even if maybe it was our fault
  2832. "Hey Sparky... thank you for being Anon's best friend."
  2833. >Though it's short, I can see her try to hold back a smile
  2834. >"Isn't that you?"
  2835. "Well..."
  2836. >Me and Anon...
  2837. >We are close
  2838. >Very close
  2840. >But I know that I'm not his best friend
  2841. >And...
  2842. >To be honest?
  2843. >He isn't my best friend either
  2844. >Dashie is
  2845. >She always has been
  2846. >And she always will be
  2847. >I'm proud of that
  2848. "No. Not really. I mean, I've seen how close you two are when you're playing stuff together. The way he laughs with you really is different than how he laughs with me."
  2849. >I should feel jealous
  2850. >But I know that I don't have a reason to worry
  2851. >Not really
  2852. "And the way you guys sleep together... I don't know. It's different than how he and I sleep."
  2853. >Sparky clears her throat
  2854. >"Well... it's not like I do it on purpose. Not really, I guess... I'm really not trying to ruin anything for anyone."
  2855. "No, I know. Trust me, I know."
  2856. >Trust
  2857. >I do trust her
  2858. >As much as she trusts me
  2859. >And as much as Anon trusts both of us
  2860. "Just... I don't know. For Christmas, can you be there for him in the ways I can't be?"
  2861. >The unicorn looks at me kinda funny
  2862. >"Jacky... where is this coming from, exactly?"
  2863. >I shrug
  2864. "These last few days... these last few weeks. I've really tried to kinda... not hide things? But to not worry about them. And I guess I kinda wanna just be honest with myself."
  2865. >Being honest means I'll be improving too
  2866. >And if it means foals
  2867. >With Anon
  2868. >No price is too big
  2869. "I don't know where to begin. I just know that I can't do everything. I miss when it was just me and Anon. I had him all to myself. And I knew that I could chase off any sort of competition or threat."
  2870. >I can still remember it
  2871. >The first worries that I had
  2872. >Was I what Anon wanted?
  2873. >Did Anon regret me?
  2874. >Did he care about me?
  2875. >Would I be thrown away?
  2876. >Was I defective?
  2877. >Was I wrong?
  2878. >Before?
  2879. >That would have made my head hurt
  2880. >That would have made me feel sick and want to cry and make Anon tell me that it was ok
  2881. >But I'm stronger than that now
  2882. >Because of him
  2883. >I have both of my friends
  2884. >Because of him
  2885. >All I could do was try to be what I thought what he wanted the most
  2886. >No
  2887. >That's wrong
  2888. >I tried to be what I thought I wanted to be the most
  2889. >I think?
  2890. >I'm still not sure
  2891. >" know, Jacky."
  2892. >She dropped in some of what you think is salt
  2893. >Rather than using a ladle or a spoon, she's stirring the entire pot with a flat, solid lump of red aura
  2894. >"That whole... mind reading thing. I kinda did it with Anon to win that stupid bet. And I was pretty dumb by doing it so carelessly. We're all lucky it turned out well. Mostly."
  2895. "Mostly?"
  2896. >She gives me a mock grimace
  2897. >"The dark recesses of that human's mind is a dirty place and sometimes I'm glad he has his sights on you."
  2898. >I'm not sure if that should make me very excited
  2899. >Or very worried
  2900. >Or both
  2901. >"But. You know. I'm not saying I would. But if you ever trusted me enough with that sort of thing... you could let me know that way. You know? I don't know if I could let you know what Anon's head was like. But it's magic, right? I don't gotta explain shit. I just gotta do it and... I guess it happens."
  2902. >I think I like what she's saying
  2903. >I think?
  2904. "What... exactly are you saying here?"
  2906. >She sighs and rolls her eyes
  2907. >"I'm saying, dumbass, that I could give you a really deep insider look on Anon. So you could really get to know him as well as anyone could. I guess as well as I know him."
  2908. "Oh."
  2909. >"'Oh' is what she says..."
  2910. >Would that be ok?
  2911. "I don't know. Wouldn't you only give me a sort of snapshot of what he thought before? That was a long while back..."
  2912. >Sparky gives a full, satisfied chuckle
  2913. >"It was a long while back... but I could maybe do a little more of a recent lookie."
  2914. "No."
  2915. >"Huh?"
  2916. "No, not gonna happen."
  2917. >"Oh come on, aren't you interested?"
  2918. >She sounds genuinely disappointed
  2919. "Well duh, I'm interested! But if he doesn't approve of it, that's... pretty bad."
  2920. >She doesn't reply
  2921. >The magic rod or stick or whatever keeps stirring
  2922. >"I guess you're right, huh..."
  2923. >She sighs
  2924. >"You're probably right. And it's not like I wouldn't know about that stuff to anyway and noooo, can't have that..."
  2925. >She sounds like she's mocking it
  2926. >She continues before I get a chance to say anything
  2927. >"I mean, I'm not... bothered. By it. If I were to do it. It would be in his best interest, you know? And if the two of us knew what he wanted most, I'm pretty sure we could really make a difference."
  2928. >That does sound tempting
  2929. >And it would help him
  2930. >It would also help give me a direct roadmap of which ways I could improve first
  2931. >To really show him the best of the best
  2932. "Does it work both ways? Could he really see what all I would want and think and all of that stuff?"
  2933. >"Psh. How would I know. For all I know this is gonna make my head burst open from being double-teamed by your combined stupidity."
  2934. >Our eyes meet
  2935. >For having such an apathetic tone, the look in her eyes tell me that she is completely focused
  2936. >"But... I'm serious too. If I could be as... well, shitty as I used to be back about things. Then I can do some dirty deeds for you too."
  2937. >She breaks eye contact to focus on the pasta
  2938. >She focuses on a single stand and makes it dance through the air and form shapes
  2939. >"You can question the morality of it... or if it's invasive. But for me? I can't bring myself to care. If it's what's best for him, he can suck it up and thank me later."
  2940. >A second and third and fifth strand float up
  2941. >They all shift and twist until it looks like... spaghetti art of Anon?
  2942. >"I used to feel bad. I really did. But feeling bad... feeling guilty. That just isn't for me. I know what I've been doing is good. I guess that's all that really matters to me. I know I might be wrong too... but I trust you and Anon to let me know."
  2943. >The noodles twist again until they look like... me!
  2944. >"And I definitely know you well enough in a lot of ways that I really can't be you. Not in ways that matter, whatever that means. So I can just be me. I can be a better me. Just like you're trying to be a better you."
  2945. >The noodles warp again until they're a pair of flapping wings
  2947. >"And Prism... I guess I'm glad she's out walking with Anon. I don't get her. I never did. I guess I certainly don't get her now. But that's ok. I know she will always do what she needs to, for you. So I can really respect her for that."
  2948. >The noodles all twist into a braid
  2949. >Sparky tilts her head up and lets the braided spaghetti rope drop into her open mouth
  2950. >"Maybe it's the D&D talking... but I have power none of us have. I should use it."
  2951. >She looks at me again
  2952. >The smile she gives me is so confident and prideful
  2953. >"And if it's for you and Anon...?"
  2954. >She gives a satisfied sigh and goes back to watching the pot
  2955. >"Then I should definitely use it..."
  2956. >I'm not so sure that would be a good idea
  2957. >But
  2958. >It would help
  2961. >We've moved homes again
  2962. >This time it's in a sewer
  2963. >Dashie swears that this will be the last time
  2964. >I don't actually believe her
  2965. >But it'll be alright
  2966. >We moved pretty far away this time
  2967. >My head's still ringing but it doesn't hurt
  2968. >Ever since I started 'working' with Sparky to get money...
  2969. >I never should have done that
  2970. >They money really helped
  2971. >But everything got so much worse as soon as we started to look for things beyond just food
  2972. >It's even worse now because we aren't even fillies anymore
  2973. >The view at the bridge above our little pipe is nice though
  2974. >No one talks to me after they've seen me go in and out of there
  2975. >"You're up early, aren't you."
  2976. >...Almost no one
  2977. "Hey."
  2978. >It's that grey unicorn
  2979. >She sits right next to me, on the edge of the bridge
  2980. >"You don't look like you're doing so good."
  2981. >How long has she been following me now?
  2982. >I feel like she does it just to mess with me
  2983. >She only really stopped talking about dying after the accident
  2984. "We have a home now. Can't you see it?"
  2985. >I wave my hoof to the half-broken sewer grate
  2986. >It was that way when we found it
  2987. >"Oh... I see. Then I guess I don't think you'd care to hear about other homes?"
  2988. "I don't really care."
  2989. >Dashie had left when I woke up
  2990. >She's...
  2991. >Probably doing something
  2992. >For food or money
  2993. >It bothers me to think about it
  2994. >So I don't
  2995. >How long has this unicorn been following me?
  2996. >She's never helped
  2997. >She doesn't stick around or talk to the others
  2998. "You know what? Who are you? You've never actually told me your name."
  2999. >She doesn't have a cutie-mark either
  3000. >"Who am I? Who are you? You've never told me your name either, you know."
  3001. "Yeah I have."
  3002. >"Please. Jacky isn't your real name. It sounds like an alias some criminal uses. A petty criminal, at that."
  3003. >...
  3004. >Am I a criminal?
  3005. >"Besides. Isn't it better that we don't know each other? We're just a secret that we keep to each other. No one else in the world knows each other like we do."
  3006. "I don't know."
  3007. >At least she doesn't sound excited
  3008. >She used to tease me a lot more
  3009. "What are you doing here? I get why Sparky comes with us... but what is your reason? What's your point in doing this?"
  3010. >"Hey Jacky?"
  3011. >I roll my eyes and look at her
  3012. >She's staring me down like it's her job
  3013. "What is it?"
  3014. >She's staring at me
  3015. >Through me
  3016. >And not even blinking
  3017. >"Did you know that if you jump from here, you'll be too far gone to save?"
  3018. "That's not funny."
  3019. >"I'm just letting you know."
  3020. >She isn't breaking eye contact
  3021. >I don't either
  3022. >I've had a few fights before
  3023. >You never break eye contact
  3024. "Why don't you just go away? You're never helpful to me."
  3025. >"Why don't you just jump?"
  3026. "Why do you want me to?"
  3027. >"Why do you think you shouldn't?"
  3028. >The back and forth slows
  3029. "...because Dashie and Sparky need me."
  3030. >"Do they need you or do they just want you around to help them out with their goals?"
  3031. "They need me."
  3032. >"For what?"
  3033. "Because if they don't have me, they won't have anyone else."
  3034. >"How's that working out for them?"
  3035. >The unicorn smiles wide
  3036. >Too wide
  3038. >I finally break eye contact
  3039. "Go away."
  3040. >I look down at the tunnel entrance
  3041. >"I'm just asking... where would you be right now? If your pegasus friend didn't drag you all around the place?"
  3042. "I don't know."
  3043. >"You could have had a better life."
  3044. "And?"
  3045. >"A safer life."
  3046. "And?"
  3047. >"A more fun life."
  3048. "And?"
  3049. >"A coltfriend by now."
  3050. "And?"
  3051. >Bile is starting to rise in my throat
  3052. >If she keeps talking, I don't think I could feel bad if I bucked her off the bridge
  3053. >"...Does it not bother you, to think about that?"
  3054. >I inhale
  3055. >Hold
  3056. >And exhale
  3057. "Of course it does."
  3058. >"So why did you go through with it all?"
  3059. >I shake my head
  3060. >Doing that doesn't make me dizzy anymore
  3061. "Because they're my friends. And if I went off with that lady or that traveling band or any of them... I wouldn't have either of them."
  3062. >"You had so many chances in life to become something... and here we are. Here you are."
  3063. >Could I have really been some globe-trotting explorer?
  3064. >Could I really have been some sort of singer or dancer?
  3065. >Could I really have been something more than some mare that sleeps in a sewer?
  3066. "At least I have them."
  3067. >"For how long?"
  3068. "Until we..."
  3069. >Die of old age, retired?
  3070. "Until we all decide otherwise, I guess."
  3071. >"And what will that have gotten you?"
  3072. "I don't know, why don't you tell me."
  3073. >"It'll have gotten you to where you are right now. You'll be sitting here. Just like this. And they won't be around. It'll just be you."
  3074. >Something rests on my head
  3075. >"And me."
  3076. >...what?
  3077. >I shake my head to get rid of whatever's on my head and look at...
  3078. >Some creature?
  3079. >"Hey crackerJack."
  3080. "Anon?"
  3081. >How did I know his name?
  3082. >How did I know it was a he?
  3083. "I... I don't understand."
  3084. >"Neither do I but. You know. I'm here now so it's alright."
  3085. >I double take between him and... everything else
  3086. >He isn't vanishing
  3087. "What... what happened to that unicorn?"
  3088. >"Who, Shiner?"
  3089. "What? No, the... other one."
  3090. >He looks around himself
  3091. >"Iiiiii'm not finding her. I guess I chased her away."
  3092. "I... I guess so...?"
  3093. >His hand goes back to my head
  3094. >Now that I know it's him I lean into some small, gentle petting
  3095. >"What're you doing up here? Your legs are kinda dangling over."
  3096. "I guess I'm just thinking."
  3097. >"Welp."
  3098. >Anon hops off the bridge
  3099. >"ANONYMOUS, NO?!"
  3100. >He remains airborne
  3101. >For not even a second
  3102. >What I swore was entire pony lengths' away was just inches
  3103. >Wait that's not true
  3104. >He stands over me, as tall as usual
  3105. >He extends his hand
  3106. >He's smiling like he knew I would be surprised
  3107. >"I've never seen your world before. Care to take a walk?"
  3108. >I'm flabbergasted
  3109. "I... uh... yeah?"
  3110. >I hop off the bridge too
  3111. >It's like I just hopped down from two steps on a staircase
  3112. "This... this is normally a lot bigger, you know."
  3113. >I can't hide a growing sense of embarrassment
  3114. >"Oh hey, that your home?"
  3115. "NO! No, we're not going there. Let's go this way instead."
  3116. >"Oh well... I wanted to see what it was like, too."
  3117. >He really isn't taking this seriously
  3119. >We walk through a number of streets
  3120. >Any ponies that see us either hide or vanish from sight like a ghost
  3121. >"Man, pony-sized cities really are something, huh."
  3122. "Yeah well you're just tall so... yeah."
  3123. >"I'm not tall. It just seems like I'm walking around a town made out of those cat condos."
  3124. >I look back to him to...
  3125. >I forget what
  3126. "I..."
  3127. >I'm not sure what I'm supposed to think
  3128. "Anon, why are you bigger than a building?"
  3129. >He stops and looks down at you, perplexed
  3130. >He takes a step back and ends up at least fifty yards back
  3131. >" is this what happens when I finally eat spinach?"
  3132. "Anon, you get back down here and shrink this instant!"
  3133. >"Fine, fine... but you know, I shrink down, everything shrinks with it."
  3134. >Before I can really contemplate the perils of that reality, he starts jogging toward me
  3135. >The closer he gets, the more he shrinks down
  3136. >By the time he reaches me he's... as tall as my shoulder
  3137. >"Woah nelly, you kinda grew a little too much, didn't you?"
  3138. >What in the world?
  3139. "More like you shrank too small you idiot!"
  3140. >The shifting sizes really unnerves me for some reason
  3141. >He doesn't seem to care
  3142. >"Hey, at least I don't have the squeaky voice, right?"
  3143. >Like a trained acrobat, he grabs onto a few strands of my mane and climbs on top
  3144. >He sits between my shoulder blades
  3145. >"Onward, Jackona!"
  3146. "...who?"
  3147. >"Jackona. It's like Jack and Epona."
  3148. >Since I can't see him, I squint into the air
  3149. "Anon, what the hell are you talking about?"
  3150. >"I don't know. I'm just excited that I get to ride you for once."
  3151. >...he has a point
  3152. >"Anyway, h'yeah!"
  3153. >The most I'm feeling is a moderate trot
  3154. >Anon seems content with that
  3155. >We end up at the plaza where I met Mademoiselle Jelly Belly
  3156. >"Nice train station... didn't know you guys had trains."
  3157. "Anon, they ride trains all over Equestria. We watched those episodes! Recently!"
  3158. >"Yeah but... come on now. That's Equestria. Does this place look Equestrian to you?"
  3159. >He brings up a good question
  3160. >The style is... off
  3161. >But was it always this off or is it just off because he mentioned it?
  3162. >He has weird size and reality warping powers now, I'm not too sure I should trust anything he says here
  3163. "Whatever... just... get off of me already!"
  3164. >I can feel him jump off of me, like a flea jumping off of a leaf
  3165. >When he lands, he's back to normal size
  3166. >"This place looks nice though... how many miles did we cover, anyway?"
  3167. "I don't know... a few thousand?"
  3168. >"Let's go take a sit over there. Got some chairs and everything."
  3169. >There really is no point in arguing with him now about whether or not the chairs will fit
  3170. >The chair fits me perfectly
  3171. >I remember because it was made with some sort of metal lattice design that left a pattern in my fur
  3172. >Opposite to me is Anon, instead of Jelly Belly
  3173. >The chair fits him too
  3174. >"So what's up?"
  3175. "What's up with what?"
  3176. >"These dreams."
  3177. >There must be something critically wrong in my head if I'm starting to ask myself why I'm asking myself why I'm dreaming using Anon as some sort of dream narrator
  3179. "I don't know. What are you doing here?"
  3180. >He nods with a grin
  3181. >"Well to be quite honest with you, I'm just proud to know that you dream about me."
  3182. >Should I even try to be serious?
  3183. >"Of course you should. Tell me what's going on, Jackrabbit."
  3184. >He leans forward, eyes on me
  3185. >"You've been kinda acting... well, not like yourself lately. I know you girls always have your... things. And such. So for the most part I kinda let you guys have your own things."
  3186. "And such?"
  3187. >"Yeah."
  3188. >I'm in my dream so screw it
  3189. "Anon... we both know that I've done bad things in the past."
  3190. >"We do."
  3191. "...and at some point. Things really just flew off the rails."
  3192. >"Is that how you got bonked on the head?"
  3193. "...I guess it is. Yeah."
  3194. >I focus on the metal lattice table
  3195. >I used to be more articulate than this
  3196. >I used to be more smart than this
  3197. >Wasn't I?
  3198. >"Do you think that's been kinda messing with you lately? Does it bother you know?"
  3199. "Well no. I mean, I don't have any headaches. I've never had a headache that was caused by that since you woke me up. My head never hurt. I never felt... dirty and straggly and hungry. I mean, I was hungry, but that first full day we ate and drank... it just felt good."
  3200. >Anon motions to all around him
  3201. >"So all of... this stuff."
  3202. >He raps his knuckles on the table
  3203. >"And this. Is this some sort of... reverse-amnesia?"
  3204. >I frown at him
  3205. >I'm not bothered by him or anything like that
  3206. >It's just sad to me
  3207. "I wish I knew... it's like when I remembered that Sparky's name is Sparking Shine. And that Dashie's name is Faint Prism. It just happened one day and it all came back."
  3208. >I tense up
  3209. >I can feel it
  3210. >I can feel what his next question is
  3211. >He's going to ask what my real name is
  3212. >"I don't need to ask you that. To me, you'll always be my Jack. No matter what."
  3213. >That catches me off guard
  3214. >"And even if I knew your so-called 'true name'."
  3215. >He puts up a pair of finger quotes
  3216. >"I've called you over a thousand things already. Like Jacken."
  3217. "Jackenstein."
  3218. >"Count Jackula."
  3219. "Jacqueline."
  3220. >"Jackass."
  3221. "Jack the Magic Dragon."
  3222. >"CarJacker."
  3223. "Jack, The Knife."
  3224. >"Jackoff Queen."
  3225. "ShhSHH!"
  3226. >I wave my hooves to shush him
  3227. "...not in public."
  3228. >"Oops... sorry."
  3229. >I try to hide part of my face, even though any figures I see going by are more ethereal than anything else
  3230. >The absurdity of this makes me giggle
  3231. >I rest my head on the table and look at him
  3232. "I guess it doesn't matter... I mean, it doesn't change who I am any. Does it?"
  3233. >"Not at all."
  3234. >He leans back and stretches
  3235. >"You're still you. And you'll always be you."
  3236. "I guess... but I wish I wasn't such a shit filly..."
  3237. >I look up at his face
  3238. "How did you deal with it? How can you do everything and do stuff like go to work and all that when you know you shouldn't deserve it?"
  3239. >He leans forward with his elbows on the table
  3240. >"Easy. I tell myself that I do what I do, for you. I can't give you everything I believe you deserve if I'm incapable of giving it."
  3241. "I don't believe it really that easy?"
  3242. >"For you? Yes."
  3244. >"Hey Jack."
  3245. "Yeah?"
  3246. >" know, we can lay inside your tunnel over there."
  3247. "Nah. I like here better."
  3248. >After having lunch with Anon, we ended up back at the bridge...
  3249. >In not even ten steps
  3250. "This dream is weird."
  3251. >"Tell me about it, you keep thinking I'm super huge or tiny."
  3252. "I ain't doing that."
  3253. >"Then who is, me?"
  3254. "Obviously."
  3255. >Despite laying on the edge of the bridge, I don't really feel like I could fall
  3256. >I don't think he would let me
  3257. >"So what sort of things do you normally dream about?"
  3258. "Isn't it a little worrying if my dream version of you is asking me that?"
  3259. >"Humor me."
  3260. "...I guess the dream you wouldn't know when to give up either..."
  3261. >That really is one of my favorite things about him
  3262. "I don't really think I dreamed at all, to be honest. Every day felt like it was a dream. The dream, I guess."
  3263. >"Since we're establishing that I'm just a figment of your imagination... mind if I just go out and ask you something personal?"
  3264. "Well you don't need to be a dreamy Anon to ask me that."
  3265. >"What's your name?"
  3266. >Anon never asked me that
  3267. >Not once
  3268. " it important to you?"
  3269. >"That's an unusual name."
  3270. "Well that wasn't my name, dumbass."
  3271. >"So what is it?"
  3272. >He's the big spoon behind me, and I have two inches before I'm over the edge of the bridge
  3273. >There's nowhere I can go for distance
  3274. >There's no running away from this
  3275. "It's Lemon Pepper."
  3276. >He doesn't immediately answer
  3277. >I can feel his arms wrap over my torso
  3278. >"...are you sure you didn't just think back to that lemon pepper chicken we had a few nights back?"
  3279. >Shit
  3280. >He remembered
  3281. "...n-no. That's my name alright."
  3282. >"Well I sure as hell..."
  3283. >He sighs
  3284. >"I don't believe you."
  3285. "Why?"
  3286. >"Because your ma was all about apples and pears and... fruits."
  3287. "Peppers are fruits."
  3288. >"Wait, what?!"
  3289. ...
  3290. >Something shoves me from the back, and causes my nose to bump into the corner of the laptop
  3291. >"Gah! What the hell?"
  3292. "Huh? What's wrong?"
  3293. >"Holy crap..."
  3294. >Anon roughly grabs leg front legs and yanks me onto my back
  3295. >He's looking really rough
  3296. "... you alright? You look like you've been..."
  3297. >I can't help but yawn
  3298. "Sleeping like, hard."
  3299. >He returns the yawn and rears his head back
  3300. >"Gah... speak for yourself, sister. What time is it, what even..."
  3301. >He leans over me to look at the laptop
  3302. >It's far too colorful with a video playing for my eyes to focus on it
  3303. >"...why does it say Saturday?"
  3304. >Saturday?!
  3305. "What? No, that ain't true."
  3306. >"Dude, it's super true."
  3307. >If that's true...
  3308. "What time is it?"
  3309. >"Just about midnight, my mare. So just now Saturday."
  3310. >How in the world did he sleep two days away and I not notice?
  3311. >Wait
  3312. >How did I sleep two days away and not notice?!
  3313. >In our shared confusion he goes to his phone
  3314. >"...well apparently I texted work and called in. So kudos on me I guess."
  3315. >Sparky
  3316. >She did this!
  3317. >I scamper out from under Anon and drag myself to my hooves
  3318. >"Hey Jack, hold on!"
  3319. >I don't stop for him
  3320. >She's gonna answer for pulling that sort of crap
  3322. >I tear down the hallway and into the living room
  3323. >Only Dashie is there
  3324. "Dashie! Where's Sparks?"
  3325. >The pegasus looks pleased to see me
  3326. >"Good morning, Jacky. I saw how nicely you two were snuggling and-"
  3327. "CAN IT! Where's Sparky, I gotta speak with her."
  3328. >"Is there a problem?"
  3329. >She's in on it
  3330. >She's gotta be
  3332. >I stamp down with the intent to atomize the carpet
  3333. "Be straight with me, come on! For once, don't tug me around and lie!"
  3334. >Her mellow façade finally melts away
  3335. >"...alright. I was told enough to think it wasn't a bad idea. She said she would be down in the garage and that she'd be near the elevators."
  3336. >She looks almost guilty
  3337. >"...whatever happened, it wasn't bad. Was it?"
  3338. >"I still have no clue what's going on but I guess I'm a part of this, huh..."
  3339. >I turn back to see Anon
  3340. >He's a lot more dressed than he was when we first woke up
  3341. >"Alright Jack. Let's go have a chat I guess."
  3342. >We leave the apartment and start down the hallway, toward the elevator
  3343. >I'm too bothered to speak
  3344. >Anon doesn't say anything either
  3345. >Only when he hits the button and we get into the janky metal box of elevated death does he say anything
  3346. >"...did you have the dream I had?"
  3347. >I can't leave him hanging
  3348. "...I don't know."
  3349. >"Huh..."
  3350. >From third to second floor
  3351. >"...would you really have jumped off that bridge if I wasn't there?"
  3352. "...I don't know."
  3353. >From second to first floor
  3354. >"...did you know something like this was gonna happen?"
  3355. "...I don't know."
  3356. >"...right."
  3357. >From first floor to garage
  3358. >We both step out into a long underground garage
  3359. >Anon doesn't usually park down here, but a ton of other people do
  3360. >I look around but don't immediately see her
  3361. >Until she rounds a corner near a truck
  3362. >She doesn't seem to notice me
  3363. >"Alright, let's go get some answers. Hey, Shiner! Get your ass here!"
  3364. >Anon calls out to her
  3365. >Rather than wait for her to come to us, I make a mad gallop at her
  3366. >My legs are moving so fast it's like I'm a race horse
  3367. >Sparking Shine doesn't look like she's surprised to see me going at her at all, and merely stands there with a little smirk on her face
  3368. >I skid to a stop on the concrete, inches away from her
  3369. >"Hey there. Sweet dreams?"
  3370. >She did know
  3371. >Nothing prepared me for what I did next
  3372. >I don't even remember doing it
  3373. >I met her question with a headbutt, aimed square at her nose
  3374. >She reels back
  3375. >I can see blood
  3376. >"Hey, Jack! No!"
  3377. >"Ah, you... bitch!"
  3378. "WHAT DID YOU DO?!"
  3379. >The feral scream I let out echoes in the garage
  3380. "Did YOU do all of this too?! Was getting me into fights not enough?! Were you that grey unicorn too, huh, just..."
  3381. >I can't finish that thought
  3382. >I don't know what I would do if she was that unicorn that kept visiting and...
  3383. >Saying those things
  3384. >Trying to get me to give up
  3385. >Anon kneels behind me and wraps a strong arm around my neck
  3386. >Just enough to make it hard to get free
  3387. >Sparking snorts a few times
  3388. >She blows her nose hard, a glob of blood shooting out
  3390. >How does it feel?
  3391. >To know I used to have to do the same thing
  3392. "How does it feel?!"
  3393. >I stamp in place
  3394. >I haven't felt so angry in so long, I may as well still be dreaming
  3395. >"You dumb jerk, I should..."
  3396. >She snorts more before coming to
  3397. >"You think I was that thing? What, you really think I'd stoop that low? Pretend to be some death freak?! Anon, hold her there, I'm going to teach her a lesson she's LOOONG overdue on."
  3398. >The fire in her eyes tell me that she's more than fine to return the favor
  3399. >Before she can do anything, Anon's voice bellows out
  3400. >"Both of you stop before I wear you like a new pair of boots."
  3401. >He grabs my jaw and wrenches my head up at him
  3402. >"You! I can and will slap some sense into you, and we both know that I will enjoy it more than I should. Fucking chill."
  3403. >With an admittedly hurtful, rude shove, he pushes me hard enough that I end up on my side
  3404. >He kneels down next to Sparking
  3405. >"Got you in the nose?"
  3406. >"Yeah..."
  3407. >You don't see what he does but that gets her to shout
  3408. >"Ow! Don't flick my nose you shit!"
  3409. >"You calm your hooves before I hollow out your horn and use it to carry mead."
  3410. >He doesn't push her but I feel better that he at least didn't giver her any sympathy
  3411. >He positions himself between us and kneels down
  3412. >"Ok. I have no clue what the hell is going on here but someone's going to start talking. Jack, save your bits for after. Shine, something really messed up happened and I want to hear about it."
  3413. >She rolls her eyes
  3414. >"Is this really the thanks I get from you two losers? Really?"
  3415. >If I say anything, I'm just going to go off on her again
  3416. >"No, treat me like an idiot and humor me."
  3417. >Sparking snorts again and glares at me
  3418. >"Jacky knows. We talked about it."
  3419. >The look Anon gives me is...
  3420. >Not a look I would want from him
  3421. >"Alright. Again, let's continue to pretend I'm retarded. Keep talking."
  3422. >Sparking inhales a few times to test her breathing
  3423. >"Ok. I, being the great friend that I am, decided to try a new magic trick. I put you both to sleep and kept trying to get you two to start dreaming together. Because hey, at least someone here gets to enjoy that sort of thing, right?"
  3424. >I didn't actually think she could do it
  3425. >"I told Prism what I was doing and she seemed ok with it. She said, and I will gladly use her words, that it 'could be romantic'. And you know what? I agreed! Happy freaking human gift-giving holiday to both of you. Now I know that this is the thanks I got, I'm glad you both apparently choked on it."
  3426. >The venom in her voice is both taunting and hurtful
  3427. >"...I'm not getting it."
  3428. >"You wouldn't, you're pretending to be retarded. Remember?"
  3429. >"First off, screw you. Second... I just don't get it. Who is this grey unicorn? When I first saw Jack, she was on a bridge."
  3430. >I'm not liking the way this is going
  3431. >It's hard to stay angry when things are being spoken over
  3432. "...she's a pony that used to follow me around."
  3433. >"And she used to follow me too. So, again, go eat trash."
  3434. "But... that doesn't make sense."
  3436. >"What doesn't make sense?"
  3437. >Anon doesn't seem to know anything about her
  3438. >How could he?
  3439. >Sighing, I try to take a step closer to them but just sit back down
  3440. "I... she started to follow me after a while."
  3441. >"And she told you to die, right?"
  3442. >Sparking sounds less vile but does sound far more disgusted
  3443. "...yeah! You've really seen her then?"
  3444. >"Hold on, how in the hell does Equestria have some sort of character like that?"
  3445. >Both Sparking and I shush him at the same time
  3446. "..tell me then. Would she follow you?"
  3447. >"She followed me like Prism followed money trails. After long enough she tried acting like my friend. Tried to talk me into turning my horn on myself, or to go take a short jump off of a tall building."
  3448. " you remember the bridge we had that fight at?"
  3449. >"Which one?"
  3450. >That... was a good question
  3451. "I... I don't know. The one with the tunnel."
  3452. >"I guess I do then? What about it?"
  3453. "She used to tell me to jump off. She told me a lot of things, since even before we started stealing for more than just food."
  3454. >"She told me that stealing would be the only option... that or I just turn myself in at a butcher."
  3455. >How could this be?
  3456. "I... I don't get it."
  3457. >"Neither do I. Context please?"
  3458. >We shush him at the same time
  3459. >Again
  3460. >"Ok, fine, kill each other for all I care."
  3461. >He threw his hands up
  3462. >I can hear how frustrated this has made him
  3463. "Do... did you have something to do with what I've been dreaming about lately?"
  3464. >Sparking looks at me like I'm stupid
  3465. >"Why, when, and how would I know any of that...?"
  3466. "B-because... you... uh....?"
  3467. >I was losing ground quick
  3468. >"I, uh, wha, huh?"
  3469. >Sparking crosses her eyes and tilts her head
  3470. >"Gee, I'm having bad dreams instead of naughty dreams, must've been magic! I've been cuddling up with my human too much or too little and now I'm having a little mood, must've been magic! Oh no, my best friend did some magical miracle and now I get to share naughty dreams with my human but it turned out less than perfectly, SHE MUST'VE FUCKED IT UP SOMEHOW, AM I RIGHT?!"
  3471. >The way her voice rises until she's screaming at me with a mad glint in her eye is...
  3472. >It's humiliating
  3473. >I'm not like that
  3474. >Am I?
  3476. >Where was all of that energy I had?
  3477. >Where was all of that anger?
  3478. >Since when did she get to have all of it?
  3479. >I can't think
  3480. >I'm at such... an absolute loss
  3481. >"...are we done here, girls?"
  3482. >Sparking makes an effort to snort as hard as she can
  3483. >Nothing comes out but air
  3484. >"I've been done."
  3485. "I... uh..."
  3486. >I avoid her burning, direct stare
  3487. "I'm sorry."
  3488. >"Alright, cool. You two hashed it out. Now it's my ass you gotta crawl out of, what did you do that put both of us into a coma for two days?"
  3489. >She inhales hard
  3490. ...
  3491. >And exhales hard
  3492. >"I will own up that I screwed up there."
  3493. >Anon leans over and flicks her nose again
  3495. >She reaches up with her hooves
  3496. >"You...! Eat my ass, I did you a favor!"
  3497. >"I don't care if you personally built me a sci-fi era centaur suit that turned Jack's head into the upper half of a human woman and made it anatomically correct!"
  3498. "...wait, what?"
  3499. >"You made me miss work, you faked messages, and what would have happened if we didn't even wake up? Did you even know what the hell you were doing?"
  3500. >"Well, obviously if I-"
  3501. >"Obviously nothing! You had no backup plan if you screwed up, you could've scrambled my head, her head, your own head, or any of our brainpans in any order! Even better, if you can't give me a good answer as to why you did this, I can and will flick you a third time and fourth time will be a five finger salute to your chatterbox."
  3502. >"I said it was for the holiday thing you guys have going on here, get off me! Fine, you wanna complain at me doing something risky then sure, do your Saturday morning special and teach me about morals and responsibility but it turned out well, didn't it? If I wanted, I could have actually had fun with it! I'm certainly entitled to some sort of reward after being such a team player, aren't I?!"
  3503. >I almost expect Anon to flick her again
  3504. >But...
  3505. >He doesn't
  3506. >I think she expected it too
  3507. >Her eyes dart to me like she's waiting for someone to hit her again
  3508. >Anon rubs his face with his hands
  3509. >It feels like all of the tension reached a fever pitch and just...
  3510. >Died
  3511. >"Yeah. I'm sorry Shine. Even if I don't exactly understand what you did, I'm glad you did it. Even if you didn't plan it and it could have led to up to three braindead bodies."
  3512. "An-"
  3513. >"Jack, you shush right now."
  3514. >He continues to rub his face
  3515. >"The... uh. The holiday you're looking for. Thanksgiving isn't about giving people stuff. That's the next one. I'm thankful you were thinking of me. And of Jack."
  3516. "Me t-"
  3517. >"Jack, shush."