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Anu

By meslam
Created: 2024-01-30 22:46:38
Updated: 2024-03-20 04:21:37
Expiry: Never

  1. [Komorebi - Backwoods]
  2. >There was an endless tape you had playing in the foggy depths of your head.
  3. >It was a recording of every time your mother had called your name.
  4. >”Anonymous.” ”Hey, Anonymous.” “Anon.” “~Good morning Anonymous!” “Anonymous!” “Anon...” “Anonymous?” “Good night, Anonymous.” “Eat up Anon!” “Oh, hello Anonymous!” “ANONYMOUS.”
  5. >It all appeared to you in a grainy film view, projected on a wall you weren’t familiar with.
  6. >You were still a pony, and you could feel your fur rubbing against the grain of the fuzz of the air mattress beneath you.
  7. >The atmosphere was damp and smelled like sea-spray.
  8. >From the one window in the tiny room you were in, up on the wall to your right, you could hear the sound of waves crashing nearby.
  9. >Your mother’s changing faces reeled by, from smiling to grinning to laughing to crying to staring to-
  10. >Suddenly the scene in the film shifted, melting away like a bad artifact in an old video file, into a shot of a streetlamp with a dozen moths fluttering around it.
  11. >Then reality shifted as well and you duly assented, parsing the information in front of your mind’s eye, but processing it..?
  12. >You were staring at the streetlamp, watching the moths flap around pointlessly, occasionally banging into the plastic casing of the light they’d never quite reach.
  13. >Sighing, you put your hands in your pockets and started walking down the street, on two feet.
  14. >Really, you were human again.
  15. >Wearing jeans again, wearing a normal hoodie again.
  16. >A short laugh, so short for the moment.
  17. >Was it you who laughed?
  18. >Wait, you weren’t you.
  19. >You were a pony again.
  20. >The neighbourhood was never yours from the beginning.
  21. >Everything was in the wrong way, and in the wrong place again.
  22. >Houses clustered together and piled on top of each other with sheets of corrugated metal and debris branching roofs one to the other.
  23. >It was a sprawling favela.
  24. >You saw yourself, as a pony, go flying off the roof of one bodega on a skateboard.
  25. >She did a kickflip and promptly bit the dust when she landed on the pavement in front of you.
  26. >But when you looked at her, she was fine.
  27. >You stood there, and you stood there, staring back at yourself.
  28. >Then to your right, you saw yourself again, human, male, standing there.
  29. >He was staring at a streetlamp.
  30. >Suddenly a your face burned with stinging pain.
  31. >The scene changed to be replaced with another, and it was like twisting the lens of a kaleidoscope, all flash and colour.
  32. >You were fighting in a pit of gravel and slate.
  33. >Fighting a unicorn, with patches of scales in his fur, metal wings on his back and claws on his hooves.
  34. >The rain was beating down on the both of you but he looked untouched.
  35. >No, you were laying on a sofa.
  36. >You could smell soap.
  37. >The smell of ozone was strong in the air, and as if to punctuate it, a great bolt of lighting reached down from a thunderhead above and struck the unicorn’s wings.
  38.  
  39. >His fur was white, so white your fur could not be called white anymore, especially with how tarnished it had gotten in the mud and the rain.
  40. >His scales and wings were of burnished brass.
  41. >The fabric of the sofa was soft and nostalgic, it reminded you of days you thought you’d forgotten, when you were just 3 years old.
  42. >You were kicking with all your might against the unicorn, going blow for blow, buck for buck, as he struck back and parried with his horn.
  43. >Five times he nearly gored you on the end of it, and four times he cut just askance with his claws, tearing your flesh.
  44. >The sun was shining through the window, on your face
  45. >You blinked and everything was bright.
  46. >Everything was okay.
  47. >You were comfortably snuggled up in a fleece blanket, laying on a fat red sofa, with your head smushed into a pillow.
  48. >Your memories of the journey through slumber that you’d only just quit moments ago, were quickly sifting their way out of your mind as you blinked and fidgeted.
  49. >You just managed to hold on to the memory of that lonely room by the ocean, and started to recount it to yourself in your head to remember better.
  50. >Then the crackling, spitting sound of bacon frying made your ears twitch and turn.
  51. >There was also talking somewhere behind you, a familiar feminine contralto, and a stranger tone that answered it.
  52. >You tried to lift yourself up, and that comforted feeling you had was washed away in a sea of vertigo.
  53. >Your face fell back into the pillow, and you moaned feebly.
  54. “MMnnnngghh...”
  55. >Your head was like a cup of apple sauce, you felt like if you moved at all, you’d tip it over and just spill your brains everywhere.
  56. >Without moving any part of yourself besides your eyes, you took in your surroundings, just now starting to associate them with your memories.
  57. >Right, this was Aisling’s house.
  58. >There was the fireplace, no fire in it now.
  59. >The scorch marks on the floor, the open book on the coffee table, two empty cups beside it.
  60. >Sunbeams speckled by dust gleamed through the window behind your head to land on the wood floor.
  61. >Across from you, on the other side of the room, you could see the dinner table, with the window looking out on the back yard behind it.
  62. >But you couldn’t see the kitchen, where everything was happening.
  63. >”-et the bread? I do-”
  64. >That was Aisling.
  65. >”-en she wak-”
  66. >Who was that?
  67. >It was all still meaningless to you, the talking.
  68. >A strange smile tugged at the edges of your lips, you could understand bacon, but not English.
  69. >If you could just... shift...
  70. “rrrGGnnhh...”
  71. >You slid your head up a few inches, and it made you feel like you were swimming upside-down in a turbulent surf, being battered by the tide.
  72. >Your vision pulsed and wavered, before finally coming into focus again.
  73. >With breathless blowing, you shifted the blonde strands of your mane out of your eyes.
  74. >Over the counter, inside the kitchen, you could see a black unicorn standing on a wooden stepping stool in front of the stove.
  75. >Aisling.
  76.  
  77. >Her horn was glowing softly, maintaining a magic hand with a spatula in its grip.
  78. >The metallic ribbon that was her tail bobbed left and right to the tune of her humming.
  79. >Thank God she was fine.
  80. >But for all her carefree joy, and all the comfortable things you were surrounded by, you felt totally numb and hollow.
  81. >Where was Chad?
  82. >The last thing you remembered before waking up just a minute ago was him stomping out of the fairy circle.
  83. >Regrets only piled up from there; getting scared when the gnomes were pursuing, freezing up when they appeared, losing your head to your hobby while the gnomes surrounded you, giving in to Clapperleg’s demands with barely a fight...
  84. >...Casting that spell, with the worst possible timing, right after Chad gave himself up to stop everything.
  85. >Your breathing came faster and faster as you watched your, mercifully, living friend hum and cook.
  86. >But you were still too weak to call out to her and ask about Chad.
  87. >The logic that if Aisling was okay, he must be too, was dreadfully tempting, though you reeled at the thought of clinging to it, in case you were wrong.
  88. “Uuuuuurrhhg...”
  89. >As you quietly agonized, Aisling flipped the whole panful of bacon onto a plate, her humming rising to a crescendo of actual singing with the motion.
  90. >Then, deftly, she went about cracking and frying eggs next.
  91. >The mare smiled and tossed her silvery mane as she looked behind her to flick off the boiling kettle, still not noticing that you were watching her.
  92. >”Got the bread.”
  93. >Your heart jumped in your chest, and your ears pinned themselves flat to your head as your disbelieving eyes stared at the horror that had just walked in.
  94. >There was a giant talking bird in the kitchen.
  95. >You could just see the head of it, like a massive hawk’s, over the top of the counter.
  96. >The sharp yellow eyes on it may as well have been shooting lasers they looked so piercing.
  97. >One ragged breath escaped your muzzle before you managed to stifle it, worried that the raptor might notice you were there.
  98. >It had spoken to Aisling like it was nothing.
  99. >And, like nothing, she turned her slender neck and answered,
  100. >”Thanks. It’s almost ready. Maybe you should try and wake her up?”
  101. >The bird somehow dumped the loaf of bread on the counter-top next to Aisling with its leg?
  102. >Were you still dreaming?
  103. >What-
  104. >Without turning his head, the predator’s eye locked onto yours.
  105. >Your heart was pounding so hard it hurt, as a crooked smirk forked across the hawk’s face.
  106. >”Really, half past zero-dark-thirty and you’re only awake now?”
  107. >Half past zero-dark-thirty, the code.
  108. >‘Hurt, but still alive.’
  109. >You gasped, and sobbed as all the horror was flushed away with relief.
  110. >Chad, the hawk was Chad.
  111. >Your barrel rose and fell abruptly from the harsh staccato of your breathing.
  112. “Chad...”
  113. >You cried weakly.
  114. >Tears were welling in your eyes and your fore legs were kicking desperately beneath the blanket.
  115. >You wanted so much to fly off the sofa and tackle him, but you just couldn’t.
  116.  
  117. >Chad’s rictus smirk drooped, his eye, so sharp a moment ago, grew dull and nearly glassy.
  118. >Slowly he stepped around the counter and you got a look at what he’d become.
  119. >Front half of a hawk, back half of a lion.
  120. >Grey, white, rust.
  121. >He had the feathers of a ferruginous hawk.
  122. >Everything besides his expression looked like it was shaped for the purpose of killing.
  123. >Right now, you didn’t care.
  124. “You’re... alive... thank... God...”
  125. >You breathed out between great sobs.
  126. >Chad’s talons scratched and clipped against the wood floor as he walked over to you.
  127. >That was when the most unfathomable regret of all struck you.
  128. >It was your fault he was like this, all of it was your fault.
  129. >You sucked down air and tried to regain your composure, to apologize properly and promise to make amends.
  130. >But before you could, Chad set a scaled hand on your head, and mussed up your mane.
  131. >”Don’t apologize.”
  132. >He was smiling.
  133. >Aisling was smiling too, her chin resting on crossed hooves.
  134. >Your face twisted up into a ball of regret, your lips pulled right back and you grimaced.
  135. >You could taste your tears, dripping past your mouth.
  136. >This wasn’t right, you didn’t deserve their smiling.
  137. >All you could think of was what a coward you had been.
  138. >You sniffed and rubbed some of the wet from your eyes with one hoof, only to cry more.
  139. >A hoarse, bitter laugh broke past your mouth, and you choked,
  140. “FUCK... you...”
  141. >”Anonymous...”
  142. >Aisling murmured.
  143. >Chad just shook his head and sighed,
  144. >”You were cornered, do you seriously think I’m going to blame you for that?”
  145. >Your anger flashed hot and short like gunfire.
  146. “If YOU were cornered, I KNOW you would blame yourself!”
  147. >The stupid crying just wouldn’t stop, you could hardly breathe, and Chad wasn’t taking you seriously.
  148. >Even around that beak, you could tell he had not been bothered by your outburst at all.
  149. >Who could blame him?
  150. >You looked ridiculous right now, just a snivelling little horse in a blanket.
  151. >He’d probably saved your life and Aisling’s life twenty odd times while you literally just snoozed away.
  152. >Fuck.
  153. >Fuck this.
  154. “Fuck being a pony.”
  155. >For the first time, your words seemed to have some impact on Chad, and he stepped back from you.
  156. >Your eyes darted to Aisling.
  157. >But she was gone to flip eggs or whatever.
  158. “I’m so...”
  159. >You breathed, and breathed, fighting back the sobs.
  160. >Finally, with one great gasp, you managed to get some air in your lungs, and you wiped away the tears from your eyes.
  161. >You grunted and tried to push yourself up on your hooves forcefully, ignoring the dizzy spell that struck.
  162. >Chad reached out to stop you, to put you back on your side, but you slapped his claws away with a hoof before stumbling off the couch and onto the floor.
  163. >You laid there in a pile, groaning, when a sudden and sharp pain cut your breath short.
  164.  
  165. ##Gratitude
  166.  
  167. >Reflexively, you wrenched your body off of it’s side and turned your head to check the damage.
  168. >The lead feathers of your right wing were bent almost all the way backwards against you, and just twitching the affected limb netted you fresh jolts of pain.
  169. >Burning with frustration, you snapped,
  170. “Fuck.”
  171. >Chad simply sighed and shook his head as you struck out with your mouth to lay the feathers back as flat as you could.
  172. >Then you jerked your wing up against your barrel, where it still throbbed harshly.
  173. >Now, bracing yourself with short breaths, you planted your hooves on the boards and started the laborious process of standing up all over again, when a scaly yellow hand was lowered in front of your face.
  174. >You looked up into Chad’s waiting face.
  175. >Your eyes twitched over his sympathetic expression, as he started to say,
  176. >”Anonymous-”
  177. “I’m fine.”
  178. >You replied curtly.
  179. >Groaning and aching, you forced yourself to stand.
  180. >With great pains, wobbling twigs for legs and nausea so bad you nearly threw up, you were finally on all fours and breathing hard.
  181. >What even was this anyway?
  182. >A magic hangover?
  183. >Magic was such horseshit.
  184. >Aisling and Chad were both standing in front of you now, with no expressions to be read on their faces.
  185. >Out of everything, it hurt you the most to see them like that, because you knew it was your actions that had put them in this position.
  186. >All the more, it made you feel like this was the right thing to do.
  187. >You had to take responsibility first, even if that came across as callous or ungrateful.
  188. >So, as gravely as you could manage, you sunk your head low into a bow and apologized.
  189. “I’m sorry, please forgive me. I will help fix this.”
  190. >For a minute neither of them responded, and you didn’t move, you just stared at the floor.
  191. >All you could hear was your own heart, and the occasional spit of grease from the pan on the stove.
  192. >It was kind of soothing on your magic hangover actually, like a recovery position.
  193. >Suddenly your ears twitched to the sound of Chad’s claws scraping the floor, and the clopping of Aisling’s hooves soon after.
  194. >You lifted your eyes, expecting to seem them walking up to you, maybe for some corny make-up group hug.
  195. >...That you half-way wanted.
  196. >But they had taken their seats at the dinner table instead, where Aisling already had breakfast all laid out.
  197. >You blinked.
  198. >And stared.
  199. >Chad snipped off a section of toast with his beak, popped in a strip of bacon, sucked an egg yolk out from the white and chased it all down with most of his share of coffee before Aisling had hovered her fork over.
  200. >Grunting approvingly, he reached over to pat and rub her hoof on the table while looking her up and down like they were some elderly couple.
  201. >Aisling just rolled her eyes and laughed before digging into her eggs.
  202. >”Hey, geek.”
  203. >Chad’s voice snapped you back into yourself.
  204. >He was hitting you with a baffled expression.
  205.  
  206. >As if it was the most obvious thing in the world, Chad jabbed a thumb talon out next to him, at another plate of food.
  207. >”Breakfast come on, you need it.”
  208. >Your heart sunk, you tucked one fore leg behind the other, and blood rushed to your face as your tail swayed left to right.
  209. >You were in the rapid process of actually waking up, and the more your brain pumped, the stupider you felt.
  210. >FUCK this was embarrassing now.
  211. >It just hit you that you’d been a self-centred moron all morning.
  212. >Refusing help, and insisting on apologizing while secretly waiting for your friends to just forgive you and make up right away anyhow?
  213. >Chad rolled his eyes at your expression, then held his claw out at you as he shook his head, brashly imploring,
  214. >”Don’t make this any weirder alright? We’re already two unicorns, a dozen gnomes, and a griffon away from normal. Let’s at least eat breakfast like it’s nothing.”
  215. >Aisling just smiled at you a little wanly, her eyes glancing at your friend as he emoted.
  216. >You bit your lip.
  217. >You’d been desperately melodramatic, you realized, and now you could feel the secondhand embarrassment of your friends.
  218. >Just... Relax, you thought.
  219. >Nodding without speaking another word, you walked over and clumsily climbed into your seat, without Chad or Aisling offering you any assistance.
  220. >You resolved yourself to just stay quiet and eat for now, get your energy up before you said anything else.
  221. >But before your mouth reached the plate, Chad spoke again.
  222. >”I don’t forgive you, because there’s nothing to forgive.”
  223. >Your eyes flicked to him, watching him vigorously dab his toast into the yolk of his second egg.
  224. >He snapped up a bite, and spoke around it with his eyes more intent on his bacon than you,
  225. >”And obfiously ur gonna help stupid.”
  226. >Aisling chimed in, and her eyes gleamed meaningfully at yours.
  227. >”If anything, I have more to apologize for than you, but if we started now, we would be at it all day.”
  228. >Chad stabbed his last strip of bacon with a talon.
  229. >”Then there would be no time to kill that thing.”
  230. >You sympathized immediately with the dark look in his eyes.
  231. >For the first time all morning, there was something you could speak to with confidence, like a gleaming bit of gold you’d swept the sand and grit away from.
  232. >The feeling was as if the fact had been revealed to you in your dreams last night, though you could sift what memories you had of them and know for certain it wasn’t.
  233. >Calmly, you said,
  234. “He’s not a gnome.”
  235. >And punctuated it with a bite of egg.
  236. >Aisling tilted her head from behind her hoisted mug, curiously, and her ears flopped to the side.
  237. >Your griffon friend just paid rapt attention, crunching toast awkwardly with his beak.
  238. >For the next moment, you took a bite of your toast while you formalized the explanation in your head.
  239. >They both waited patiently, eating too, until finally you swallowed and continued.
  240.  
  241. “It’s the nickname that gave it away, Clapperleg. I got halfway to making the connection when he said it back then, but dropped it because uh...”
  242. >You stuck your tongue out and set your head askance, staring at the floor while you thought of a good euphemism for “I was quizzing a gnome on what myths about his race were true while they had us surrounded”.
  243. >Chad sighed and leaned back in his chair, drinking more coffee before he cleanly capped off your sentence.
  244. >”You were busy.”
  245. >With your mouth in a thin line, you nodded to him.
  246. “Yeah. I was busy.”
  247. >You took a deep breath and focused again, this next part was too important to fuck up.
  248. >Looking straight at both of your friends, you continued.
  249. “His real name is Cichol Gricenchos. They’re Fomorians, not gnomes.”
  250. >Faint recognition was dawning in Aisling’s eyes, but there were wrinkles of doubt on her brow too.
  251. >Chad just nodded.
  252. >”How do we kill Fomorians? I tried steel and it worked pretty good.”
  253. >For a moment, Aisling had opened her mouth and raised a hoof to cut in, but stopped and stared at Chad instead.
  254. >The bird brain was leaning his chair way back on two legs in front of a clean plate and an empty cup of coffee.
  255. >That arrogant smirk on his face made you feel like nothing had changed, at least not since the day he got duct tape off of your fore legs with olive oil.
  256. >You grinned and laughed right at Chad, while he looked on, bemused.
  257. >The unicorn at the end of the table let out a little giggle too.
  258. >Peering at you, he asked.
  259. >”What?”
  260. >And eventually you packed your mirth in enough to answer.
  261. “You got turned into a griffon by stepping out of a ring of mushrooms last night. You don’t even know what a Fomorian is. I... I may as well be talking Star Trek right now, and you’re just going to run in there and kill them anyway?”
  262. >Chad shrugged.
  263. >”As far as I’m concerned, you always are. I already know what I know, and what I don’t know I know you know.”
  264. >Aisling and you just gaped.
  265. >Letting his head fall back out of exasperation, Chad splayed out his arms and pointed his next remark right at you,
  266. >”You remember what you said, back in high school, after that big fight.”
  267. “...What. Not... not that ‘you hold the monopoly’ right?”
  268. >You shook your head after you answered and started pecking at your eggs again, hardly believing that was even something you’d considered.
  269. >...But the silence was ominous enough to make you look up.
  270. >Chad was grinning.
  271. >”I hold the monopoly on violence. Always liked the way you put it back then, nice vocabulary. ‘You hold the monopoly on violence, and you dispense with it judiciously.’”
  272. >He quoted.
  273. >The memory flashed through your head; you’d just gotten out of a schoolyard brawl with Chad at your side, not totally on the winning end of the scale.
  274. >He was bummed out, wiping the blood out of his mouth, until you had put on a mocking, drama club kid voice and said something corny to lighten the mood.
  275. “That was a jok....”
  276.  
  277. >In a disbelief so profound that you failed to keep talking, you watched as the bird brain in front of you held a set of claws to his chest and spoke again using that odd locution unique to him.
  278. >”I trust that you can trust me to dispense the violence judiciously on your behalf.”
  279. >Aisling was halfway to rubbing her face off with her hooves.
  280. >You wanted desperately for him to just stop talking.
  281. >Telling him anything ever was a mistake.
  282. >Your tail was whipping the chair so hard it stung, and your cheeks were burning with blush.
  283. >Sensing your discomfort, Chad broke things up with a chuckle full of bravado as he set his chair aright again and smacked you on the withers.
  284. >But he felt the need to fire one last torpedo of a sentence at your ears as he reached over and stole your untouched bacon too.
  285. >”You point. I shoot. I don’t care what Fomorians are really, but go ahead.”
  286. >There was nothing you could do but physically cringe away while Chad crunched happily at the strip of meat.
  287. >...Aisling was the first to break the silence, with a question pointed at you.
  288. >”It’s a bit of a stretch to say they came all the way here don’t you think?”
  289. >You gathered yourself, munched up some toast, and nodded.
  290. “Yeah, but I really don’t see any other explanation. It all fits together way too well. Clapperleg is an actual word that has been used as a translation for Cichol’s epithet, Gricenchos.”
  291. >Now you looked at Chad and asked him directly,
  292. “He showed you his feet right?”
  293. >And Chad nodded back, with some disgust lingering on his lips at the memory.
  294. >”They were fucked.”
  295. >Nodding, you turned your gaze back to Aisling, who was looking a little more convinced at this point.
  296. “There’s another detail I haven’t really mentioned yet,”
  297. >You started.
  298. >But first you had to confirm your suspicions with Chad.
  299. “You mentioned earlier that steel worked on them, does that mean you couldn’t hurt them without it?”
  300. >Chad nodded and showed you his left hand bristling with sharp talons.
  301. >”I stuck Clapperleg or Cichol or whatever with these and he didn’t even bleed. But before that I remembered something you said about fairies so I stabbed him in the chest with my knife and nearly killed him before he got away. Tore another one of them in half, no blood, still alive. The knife was definitely the only thing that could hurt them. Left it back there in one of their skulls.”
  302. >Hearing that made you completely certain of your theory.
  303. >You sipped some coffee and continued what you were going to say before, with your eyes on Aisling especially.
  304. “I could hurt him, with my own body. He bled after that kick. No iron necessary. That’s what really confirms it for me, it must be my Celtic ancestry that allows me to do it.”
  305. >”Partholón...”
  306. >Aisling murmured.
  307. >Finally, Chad seemed curious, and looked to you inquiringly.
  308. >You broke it down simply for him,
  309.  
  310. “Basically the Fomorians were this mythical race of subterranean slash deep sea people or creatures depending on how you interpret the writings. They were the original inhabitants of what we call Ireland now. Partholón was a man who came with group of settlers to the island, he was supposed to have killed Cichol, Clapperleg, and scattered the Fomorians. Although there are accounts that say Partholón only defeated him.”
  311. >The griffon seemed satisfied, and walked away to get himself another cup of coffee.
  312. >Aisling pushed her empty plate aside and leaned over the table far enough to have both of her fore legs on it, her tail idly swishing back and forth as she pressed you with another question.
  313. >”So what do you think they’re doing looking like gnomes? Their methods with the verbal contracts were very specific.”
  314. >You finished off your eggs and answered,
  315. “If we think about it this way, now that the existence of these things is confirmed, we should assume that much of, if not all mythology is real in one way or another.”
  316. >Pressing a hoof to her chin, Aisling laid into the table and thought for a minute.
  317. >Then she said,
  318. >”There are a lot of trickster spirits in myth after all... And the Fomorians were portrayed as being a kind of mix of different creatures. Maybe they can shape shift? And they just decided to look like gnomes for that encounter?”
  319. >You shrugged.
  320. “It probably doesn’t matter too much either way, but at least we won’t be surprised if they look different when we see them again.”
  321. >Chad was back from the kitchen, with a fresh mug of hot coffee in his grasp.
  322. >Speaking to the both of you he proposed,
  323. >”Let’s turn on the fake news, see if Anon’s spell did anything noticeable.”
  324. >You both nodded, and got up from your chairs.
  325. >For a second you eyed your half full cup of coffee, regretful to leave it behind, when suddenly it was wrapped in a turquoise glow and floated off.
  326. >Aisling gave you a smile, her horn glowing and both your mug and hers hovering by her.
  327. “Thanks.”
  328. >”Yeah, no problem. I should try to teach you how after this.”
  329. >That lit a flame of excitement in your belly.
  330. >You could cast spells now, it made you want to try it right away.
  331. >For the moment though, you just sat down on the couch with your friends, in front of the TV and the empty fireplace.
  332. >Chad was laying a bit like a sphinx, with his arms crossed over the arm rest beside him.
  333. >His face was turned intelligently at you, like many birds of prey you’d seen before, and it felt a little uncanny knowing this was your friend.
  334. >You sat up straight between his lion back half and Aisling.
  335. >Passively, you turned your head back to peek out the window.
  336. >It was bright and sunny outside, but probably still frigid, since the snow hadn’t melted down much at all.
  337. >Aisling drew the curtains to keep the glare off the screen, obscuring your view, so you turned back around.
  338. >With a quick spell, Aisling flicked the TV on.
  339.  
  340. ##The Reveal
  341.  
  342. [Aphex Twin - Stone in Focus]
  343. >The grainy recording of an infomercial appeared on the screen, and the scene was an older man spilling a glass of milk down his shirt.
  344. >Click!
  345. >Your ears were pummelled with an exceedingly generic electric guitar riff, causing them to flip flat to your head, while on screen two boys were gunning each other down with foam dart blasters.
  346. >Click!
  347. >While you watched Aisling tumble through the channels, you braced yourself mentally.
  348. >The worst case was that any amount of PON-E was enough to be permanently transformed, and the dwarves had started putting it in food.
  349. >You swallowed as the channels came and went; commercials and pre-recorded programs blaring for a second before giving out to the next number’s moment of white noise.
  350. >Aisling was clearly searching for something live, and with how fast she was going one might have thought she was getting frantic, but her face hardly seemed to have lost any of that relaxed glow from breakfast.
  351. >Now that you thought about it, her and Chad had been given a lot more time to process all of this...
  352. >It made you wish that you had asked some pointed questions earlier, instead of sperging out about ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’, but it was too late now.
  353. >Whatever the outcome of the spell was, that was just it, the outcome.
  354. >All you could do now was observe.
  355. >Despite that, your thoughts still hurriedly rounded back to the possibilities, while your body fidgeted and fretted.
  356. >You had to stop yourself from trying to bite one of your hooves like it was a fingernail.
  357. >If the worst case was true, and it likely was, there would have been a sudden mass outbreak of transformations.
  358. >And if not yet, then soon...
  359. “Fuck...”
  360. >You whispered, hardly audible over the insensate babble of an advertisement for a cereal brand.
  361. >...The insidious option of a slow poisoning had just smuggled its way into your head.
  362. >Although it was technically an even more horrific possibility than instant widespread transformation, it left you with the tempting possibility of deferring blame over time.
  363. >But you quashed it right away.
  364. >In that last moment before you had blanked out from the magic flooding through your brain, you’d seen real fear in Clapperleg, in Cichol’s eyes.
  365. >The Fomorian’s gnomish contract deception had been clever and calculated on a surface level, but the more you poked and pulled at their nature, the more you saw the attack for what it was.
  366. >A desperation play.
  367. >This idea of a slow, drawn out extinction of mankind through PON-E tainting was just not possible.
  368. >The Fomorians did not have that kind of time.
  369. >You had no idea why they didn’t, but still you had no doubt.
  370. >Before you could form a more concrete basis beyond that first gut feeling, Chad cut in, clicking his beak and pointing with his claw.
  371. >”Go back one. That was the news, it was just on commercial.”
  372. >Aisling nodded and acquiesced.
  373. >It was the middle of some car advert.
  374.  
  375. >As the seconds ticked by, and the corny ‘uplifting’ piano in the ad plinged and plonged, your heart pumped faster and faster.
  376. >You knew no matter what had happened your friends wouldn’t blame you, and that what Chad had said earlier was more than just.
  377. >But your body just didn’t seem to believe it.
  378. >Your ears rotated all about to the tiniest noises, your tail kept twitching and shivering almost violently, and your withers were tensed up as solid as rock.
  379. >Suddenly, your sweater felt uncomfortably warm, and with a jolt you realized you were panicking.
  380. >But you were so hopped up on adrenaline that even knowing you were was not enough to calm you down.
  381. >In a motion about as smooth as grinding two millstones together, you turned your head to look at Aisling.
  382. >Once again you were amazed at her constitution.
  383. >She tipped her muzzle so deftly to drink from her cup of coffee, that only a single hair in her mane drifted over her eyes.
  384. >And it seemed to just melt back into the molten silvery flow as she straightened out again.
  385. >You had been half hoping for some encouraging words, but her gaze was fixed so raptly on the screen that she didn’t notice you looking at her.
  386. >Somehow you couldn’t muster the energy to talk right now anyway, so you turned away.
  387. >On screen, the featured SUV was coming over the top of a hill on a quiet highway through a coniferous forest.
  388. >A man’s voice with a British accent extolled the virtues of the vehicle while your eyes wandered to the right.
  389. >Chad seemed calm at first glance, and just as fixed on the TV as Aisling.
  390. >Suddenly though, the sound of tearing fabric reached your ears, and the source was immediately obvious.
  391. >Your griffon-friend’s talons were steadily puncturing the arm rest as his claws locked up.
  392. >Aisling didn’t seem to notice.
  393. >You motioned to let him know, but your voice never left your throat.
  394. >The climax of the commercial was coming, it was the typical trope of the SUV coming to a full stop before hitting something.
  395. >After the stunned, yet relieved face of the actress driving the car faded to a logo on a black background, your muscles all tensed up in anticipation.
  396. >The screen had gone totally black, the final jingle of the ad had ended.
  397. >Aisling and Chad and you were all leaned as far forward in your seats as you all could be without falling over.
  398. >The screen flashed white for a moment, dazzling your eyes, before displaying the typical intro animation of the morning news segment.
  399. >All three of you sighed loudly, and fell back into the couch.
  400. >You lowered your head, as your anticipation turned into pent up frustration.
  401. >To vent some of it off, you forced a second, longer, more lingering sigh from yourself while you stared holes into the floor.
  402. >Suddenly, the recognizable jabber of a news person started up from the television and you snapped your head up as fast as you could.
  403.  
  404. >Your eyes locked onto the lit screen, and immediately your whole world gave out below you.
  405. >Reality was impossibly more terrible than the worst thing you could have thought of.
  406. >There was a newscaster babbling excitedly and nonsensically to the camera.
  407. >She was a pony.
  408. >A raspberry pink pony with a sandy blonde mane, and earmuffs pointlessly pressed to the sides of her head.
  409. >Her speech was queer, full of strange turns of phrase that made everything she said completely unintelligible at first.
  410. >But then your brain started to catch up, to process it properly.
  411. >”-ut everypony is now wondering if the federal government is going to trot in or if they’re going to be delegating this relief effort to a particular somepony, like the minister of health, or if there’s any sort of plan at all. Earlier this morning the Prime Minister released a statement asking ponies to-”
  412. >It was all ‘horsetalk’, that was the first word that came to your mind.
  413. >Since you had been transformed, you had experienced instances where in your head you thought up replacement nouns, verbs and colloquialisms that weren’t real, but suited your new body better: everypony, on the other hoof, etc.
  414. >You’d never said them out loud, except as a joke maybe.
  415. >But this reporter was spitting them out like it was second nature, there was no put upon act or any indication of a joke in the tone of her voice at all.
  416. >She was being completely serious.
  417. >Behind her was some government office, surrounded by thousands of stampeding figures.
  418. >They were all ponies.
  419. >There wasn’t a single human in sight.
  420. >Pegasi soared through the air all around, trash cans and other debris were floating up in magical lights before being flung limply at the walls of the besieged edifice by screaming and whinnying unicorns, normal ponies bucked and kicked and tumbled over each other in the snow and the mud.
  421. >And everywhere, always, resounded the cacophony of clopping hooves.
  422. >Aisling whispered beside you, her breath whispering like the wind.
  423. >“They... reversed...”
  424. >Taking PON-E will turn a human into a pony.
  425. >“So... now-”
  426. >Chad cut her off, and stifled your thoughts with a brief flare of hope.
  427. >”This might just be a local thing. Switch to 33, then 48, then 56.”
  428. >Aisling’s magical hand worked the remote in a fury, flicking through all the channel numbers Chad had rattled off in quick succession.
  429. >A scene in Washington, ponies were stampeding up the steps of the Capitol Buil-
  430. >Ten ponies were all bucking in unison, against the glass door of an Apple store on a cobbled street corner in Londo-
  431. >Two unicorns were sat across from each other in a newsroom, while a video of ponies wrapped in blankets, all standing around in Moscow’s Red Squ-
  432. >Back to the local news.
  433. >The field outside the building had been thoroughly stomped into muck at this point, and a news anchor, a light green stallion with a slicked back teal mane, was commenting on the situation.
  434.  
  435. >”Yes well err... The PM has come out with another statement affirming that this is a nationwide issue affecting... Well, everypony. A general state of emergency has been declared-”
  436. >Chad ripped out a fistful of the armrest and flung it at the television, while Aisling sighed and rubbed at her eyes with a hoof.
  437. >You breathed out from your nostrils and tried not to boil over.
  438. >But there was no doubt left, this was clearly not just a mass overdose.
  439. >The rules had changed.
  440.  
  441. >NOT taking PON-E will turn a human into a pony.
  442.  
  443. >You were practically catatonic as you swiftly iterated through the full scope of the calamity, struck so dumb that your tongue actually lolled out of your gaping mouth.
  444. >Every breath was a rugged struggle, but your heart and mind both raced frenetically.
  445. >To begin with, your level of thinking had been far too shallow, rather than just making PON-E a more powerful drug, the gnomes had used the existence of PON-E to strike at the very nature of ‘humans existing’.
  446. >Cichol had specifically said: ‘the effects of PON-E’.
  447. >Effects, plural.
  448. >It must be, that only one other thing had been reversed.
  449. >Before, if a human overdosed on PON-E, they would turn into a pony permanently.
  450. >So now, if a human overdosed on PON-E, they would turn into a pony temporarily.
  451. >You, as a human, took one and temporarily turned into a pony.
  452. >So you were going to turn back after 24 hours.
  453. >You sucked down air.
  454. >Then because you weren’t taking any PON-E, you would permanently turn into a pony.
  455. >You blew it out
  456. >Even in the spirit of the promise Cichol had made to you, as opposed to the literal words he’d said, it had been a half-truth.
  457. >If you took two PON-E, you would ‘temporarily’ turn into a pony.
  458. >So your transformation was now temporary, but at the same time, there was no escape.
  459. >Aisling was permanently a pony, Chad wasn’t human anymore so none of this applied to him anyway, and nothing had really changed about you.
  460. >You would have hands, for not even a noticeable moment, then lose your wings and horns, so that you couldn’t even have the snowball’s chance in hell of casting a reversal spell.
  461. >It was over.
  462. >Your heart sunk past your chest and into the floor, and your lungs went totally flat.
  463. >Everything was black.
  464. >You were falling, maybe thousands of feet through the air.
  465. >”-nymous. Anonymous.”
  466. >The falling feeling stopped, then burned away like fog in sunlight.
  467. >Reality bled back in through your senses
  468. >Claws pressed against your chest, a hoof rubbing against your shoulder.
  469. >Piercing yellow eyes, and mirror-pool turquoises peered into yours.
  470. >Chad’s fearsome beak creaked opened to whisper soft words into your steadily waking ears, as Aisling’s face swam out of view.
  471. >”Let’s lie down okay? You need to breathe...”
  472. >You blinked slowly, and inhaled, the air rasping it’s way through your dry throat.
  473. >Strong arms and sharp claws guided you down onto your side, then gently they moved your legs in towards your body to make you more comfortable.
  474.  
  475. >Gradually you settled into a breathing rhythm again, your barrel rising and falling at a more natural rate.
  476. >Your heart sort of hurt, it felt like it was beating too slow after all that rush a moment ago.
  477. >Chad slumped over on the floor, but kept his head level with yours, still looking you straight in the eyes with his face pressed in close.
  478. >Your gaze wandered over to where you’d seen the unicorn go.
  479. >”You drooled over yourself, Aisling went to get some stuff to clean you up.”
  480. >Like a magic spell, you could suddenly feel the dampness on your furry chest.
  481. >”Hey,”
  482. >The griffon whispered to you as quietly as he could, literally touching the inside of your ear with the tip of his beak.
  483. >His downy neck brushed against the end of your nose as he spoke.
  484. >”You stopped breathing there, was that the same feeling as when you woke up, or just panic?”
  485. >After asking, Chad slowly brought his face back, and looked you straight in the eyes.
  486. >Not with concern, or pity, but with plain ‘care’.
  487. >The entire sequence had been so wonderfully honest and simple, that it made you want to cry so much, that you couldn’t cry at all.
  488. >Chad’s gesture was like a beacon leading you back to consciousness and sanity.
  489. “...panic...”
  490. >You croaked, and almost laughed.
  491. >Your friend nodded his feathery head deliberately.
  492. >”Uh-huh. I can uh... see why.”
  493. >There was a sudden outburst of sound from the TV screen, some voices were raised in hollering, and the dull sound of flesh beating against flesh drummed away.
  494. >Anyone else would have turned around to check the television behind them, but Chad reached for the remote and shut it off instead, without moving his face at all.
  495. “...Sorry.”
  496. >You gasped out, then this time you actually managed to force out a laugh.
  497. >Chad smiled and took a wet towel from Aisling.
  498. >As he dabbed it against your messy fur, he answered,
  499. >”I told ya that you have nothing to apologize for. You have to look out for yourself a little before you start trying to help other people you know.”
  500. >A silver hoof gently rapped on Chad’s back, and you heard Aisling scoff,
  501. >”That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, both of you are so stupid.”
  502. >He didn’t seem to pay the comment much mind, besides a shrug and a bigger smile while he daubed away.
  503. >Eventually satisfied with the cleaning, Chad handed the towel back to Aisling before pressing his beak up to your ear again to whisper like he did earlier.
  504. >”That was a panic attack, I used to have them all the time. How do you feel?”
  505. >Then his face was back in view, his eyes blinking just once.
  506. >You pressed your lips together and nodded to show that you understood.
  507. ”Better... almost normal, just, tired.”
  508. >Chad nodded, and without breaking eye contact with you, motioned with his claws behind your head.
  509. >You heard the sound of blinds closing completely, and the room got much dimmer.
  510. >Instantly you felt an extra degree more at ease.
  511. >There was nothing to look at but Chad’s face, nothing to feel besides the sofa underneath you and nothing to hear besides your breathing, his breathing, and Aisling’s hooves clopping softly.
  512. >”Let’s just relax.”
  513. “Yeah.”
  514.  
  515. ##Calming Down
  516.  
  517. >Beams of sunlight, thin like strands of gossamer, faintly illuminated the room with a sleepy glow.
  518. >Everything was still, besides the sparse few motes of dust that gleamed between the lights.
  519. >Aisling seemed to have gone upstairs, you couldn’t really tell because your best friend’s hawkish countenance was your whole world right now.
  520. >Chad’s eyes were almost unblinking, and in this dimness they had assumed a warmer yellow than before, like honey.
  521. >This was the first time you had taken proper stock of him.
  522. >While his hawk’s head was totally alien from his human face structurally, there was that unmistakable shimmer of Chad’s soul behind every little element of it.
  523. >So much so that it made you wonder how you hadn’t recognized him at first.
  524. >The way he held his gaze, the expression on his mouth, even the way the little feathers on his cheeks were arranged seemed nostalgic to you.
  525. >Your eyes traced the slope of his brow, curving up and back and down in that characteristic shape of a bird of prey.
  526. >Chad’s whole head was like a boxy teardrop, with his smooth, curved beak being the tail end.
  527. >Something about the speckled rusty spots was ‘him’ too, as if it couldn’t be any other way.
  528. >You wondered if he saw something similar, looking into your face.
  529. >Was the white fur ‘you’?
  530. >Did he tousle your blonde mane and still think of the shade your hair was before?
  531. >Looking into your blue eyes, was he staring through those same two windows to the soul that he had stared through countless times before?
  532. >Were other people considering this now that they had been transformed too?
  533. >The content of all this thinking could be disheartening, probably should be, but with Chad here you found it impossible to despair.
  534. >It felt like you were floating on an overwhelming wave of peace moving from him to you.
  535. >Because he was not worried, you could be calm.
  536. >Besides that, the more you groped ahead mentally into the teeming void of unknowns that these transformations had engendered, the stronger your grip over yourself became.
  537. >Seeing the differences between the griffon Chad and the quintessential man himself, from the unicorn Aisling to the girl who spent too much on books, and even the stallion Tam from that bubbly woman in those earlier days, that seemed now to have been years ago...
  538. >It was not like setting one thing down to look at another, there wasn’t just; human, then ‘other’.
  539. >A more suitable metaphor would be the act of staring into a prism struck through with light.
  540. >Behold it at first and you’ll be dazzled with one end of the light’s wavelength, some shot of azure or shock of red.
  541. >Twist it and suddenly green comes flying out.
  542. >But the light passing through the prism has not been swapped out, it is just the prism’s position has changed.
  543. >Though it has been warped and twisted around inside the glass, the light shines through, and it is still the same light that went in.
  544. >A smile played on your lips.
  545.  
  546. >Basically, griffon Chad was still a numbskull, just a feathery numbskull.
  547. >Gently, you bumped the end of your muzzle against the sleek side of Chad’s beak.
  548. >But what is that ‘light’ really?
  549. >Your eyes were half lidded in a relaxed reverie as you mused,
  550. “What are you?”
  551. >Chad smiled and blinked, answering honestly,
  552. >”I’ve never been a philosopher at least.”
  553. >You yawned and felt your tail flop around as you stretched on reflex, reaching your hooves to the sides of your friend’s head.
  554. >The little loose feathers around about his face swayed in the shifting air after you exhaled.
  555. >There was still a dull pain in your chest, and the stretch teased it out a little stronger, but it was a comfortable ache.
  556. >It made you feel like you were 13 again, staying home sick from school.
  557. >Some of those times, you had found yourself celebrating internally when you woke up the next morning just sick enough to take another day off, this was exactly like that.
  558. >You wanted to stay like this, almost forever, barring the tempting prospect of a warm shower.
  559. >Eventually, when you were all carefully balled up just the way Chad had placed you before, you followed up on what you were saying earlier, asking,
  560. “Yeah, but, I was just thinking that... Well, I think you still look like yourself. Do you know what I mean?”
  561. >Those sharp golden eyes didn’t roll, and there was no irony in Chad’s voice when he answered.
  562. >”I think so. For me, when I looked at you for the second time, I remember I thought: ‘Yeah, that’s what he would have to look like.’”
  563. >The warmth of that honesty and sympathy glowed inside you, making you curl your legs into yourself.
  564. “Same. Actually that sounds better than how I put it in my head.”
  565. >”How did you put it?”
  566. “It was kind of an overbearing metaphor about light through a prism...”
  567. >Chad sighed, looking at you like he didn’t know just what to do with you.
  568. >A stray sunbeam traced the smile around his beak in gold.
  569. >Your tail batted softly against the sofa, stirred by that little joy you’d stocked up from his words.
  570. >For a while longer, the two of you just rested quietly, not moving.
  571. >Birds tittered and sang outside, Aisling’s hooves clopped upstairs, once in a while.
  572. >You mulled over the soul with nothing to distract you, then there was a brief exchange between you and Chad, just about pleasant nothings like videogames.
  573. >Eventually Aisling came back down from her room upstairs to set out some tea and a plate of homemade biscuits.
  574. >Just the smell of the flour and the Earl Grey got you to laugh.
  575. >Chad made something of a show of trying and failing to cleanly peck away at his crumbling biscuit.
  576. >He couldn’t help but thrust his beak into it every so often like he was trying to pull out the innards of a rabbit.
  577. >The first time he did it, you nearly fell off the couch laughing at his face full of exploded crumbs.
  578. >While he fussed about that, Aisling taught you how to use magic to lift things.
  579.  
  580. >At first you couldn’t even summon up the magic in your horn, and Aisling’s explanations of how she envisioned casting the spell just confused you.
  581. >But once you’d understood that she was basically separating the tasks in her head, then doing them synchronously, you had a joyous flash of ingenuity, and your horn lit up with that strange black light your magic assumed.
  582. >After five minutes of practice, you were floating teacups and food around with relative ease.
  583. >You could twirl them in your grasp, spin them in the air like a top, float them up, sink them down and generally just place them wherever.
  584. >But Aisling was clearly more precise and capable.
  585. >”Watch...”
  586. >She murmured, her eyes locked on your teacup.
  587. >”I realized it’s all about how you make the magic ‘flow’. If you can get a better picture in your mind, of the magic moving, the level of control gets higher.”
  588. >You watched her intently, while the griffon next to you indelicately munched away.
  589. >A turquoise gleam gradually wound it’s way up the fine spiral of her horn, producing a faint hiss like a silken sheet falling to the floor.
  590. >There was that same magic light sparking up from the pits of her pupils too.
  591. >Little glints would start up, shine and then fizzle down in highly intricate geometric patterns.
  592. >Finally, when her horn was fully lit, Aisling cast her spell.
  593. >A single spark appeared in the bottom of your cup, drew the Fibonacci sequence, and fizzled away.
  594. >You smiled a little regretfully at the failure, and turned your head aside to look at Aisling consolingly.
  595. >But she was still utterly focused, and simply asked you to,
  596. >”Look.”
  597. >As you watched, the liquid tea floated up and away from the cup, with no clear signs of magic at all.
  598. >Then, piece by piece, the entire contents of your teacup agglomerated together into one perfect brown and gleaming sphere.
  599. >Aisling breathed softly, and the magic around her horn pulsed with a quiet rustling like bells over autumn leaves.
  600. >In response, the ball of tea rippled, like a single drop had fallen into it.
  601. >You couldn’t help but gape.
  602. >The dusky unicorn’s horn sounded again, and this time the ball twisted, assuming the distinct and paradoxical shape of a Klein bottle.
  603. “Holy shit...”
  604. >”Damn.”
  605. >Chad agreed.
  606. >It was just a wondrous sight.
  607. >Flowing in on itself, the Klein bottle melded back into a sphere, and Aisling gently began to put it back.
  608. “Wow Aisling, that’s-
  609. >Suddenly, Chad’s beak flashed out.
  610. >He dipped the end of it into the ball and sucked nearly half of your tea away before you had the good sense to magically grab a pillow and start whacking him with it.
  611. >All you got was one squawk, before he laughed maniacally.
  612. >Aisling looked desperately like she wanted to giggle, but couldn’t for the need to maintain the spell.
  613. >So you laughed for her, and Chad did his bit too, the tea thieving fuck.
  614. >As soon as she’d gotten what was left back into your cup, she joined in.
  615.  
  616. >The rest of the tea break was spent ribbing one another about the strange caveats that came with each other’s new form.
  617. >Well really it was just you and Aisling ganging up on Chad to try and regain the lost ground from having no hands or physical strength.
  618. >At the end of it all, you were feeling wholly yourself again, full of biscuits, jam and joy, so you decided it was time to take a shower.
  619. >Chad stood up and patted you on the back after you said as much.
  620. >”Not that it will do much.”
  621. >It was lucky for him that you didn’t know where was the best spot on his body to kick him yet, so you just stored that comment in the repository of un-repaid favors.
  622. >Smiling a little ruefully, Aisling shot you a look and said,
  623. >”The tea-tree oil shampoo is what I use, and there’s a conditioner bar in there too.”
  624. >Nodding gratefully back, you retired to the washroom, feeling a little unsteady on your feet.
  625. >As soon as you got inside, you lowered your front end and started to slip out of your hoodie.
  626.  
  627. >Anonymous wandered off into the bathroom, and you watched her go.
  628. >Her walking pace was clearly slower than usual, and she was hesitant in finding her footing at times.
  629. >She rounded the corner slowly, and her blonde tail flicked ‘round after her.
  630. >Those new wings and that horn, frankly, looked awkward on Anon, but right now you knew you’d just be kicking her while she was down if you tried to tease her about it.
  631. >...Maybe you could spin it into a compliment?
  632. >Maybe not...
  633. >You already felt enough like an idiot for letting her watch the fake news.
  634. >From the very beginning when she had woken up just to scrape and apologize, it was obvious that she would take it bad.
  635. >Regretfully, your mind went back to the forest last night, when you had Clapperleg at your mercy.
  636. >Just a little deeper maybe, and none of this would have been an issue.
  637. >Worse, if you had just flown back into the forest after dropping the girls off...
  638. >You started up suddenly from your daze, drawing your eyes away from the floor.
  639. >That had been a pointless hypothetical, clearly, there was no reason to entertain it.
  640. >God only knows what would have happened if you’d actually left Aisling and Anon alone yesterday.
  641. >Sighing, you licked raspberry jam off of your talons then swiftly snatched up the last biscuit before Aisling could wrap her magic around it.
  642. >She stared at you with the most vehemence you’d ever seen in those eyes before, paired with an expression that was frighteningly cold and dry.
  643. >Anger just wasn’t the word for it.
  644. >Hatred, maybe, was appropriate.
  645. >With a smug smile, you slowly lifted the baked good up and then dangled it over your gaping beak.
  646. >You held that pose for maybe half a minute, never losing eye contact with the seething unicorn across from you.
  647. >...Before relenting, and handing off the stolen item.
  648. >Laughing good naturedly, Aisling promptly split the biscuit in half with you in a flash of magic, then said, around bites of her treat,
  649. >”It’s... good. She’s... Ah, looking better.”
  650.  
  651. ##Peer Pressure
  652.  
  653. >You nodded slowly in response, pecking absentmindedly at your biscuit and staring indistinctly into Aisling’s chest.
  654. >As soon as she spoke, that quiet moment with Anonymous had come barreling through your train of thought.
  655. >That had been...
  656. >Something like a black swan event, you realized, your own mental bank run, so to speak.
  657. >When he was human, Anon’s words had always excited and grabbed at you, because through him you found that your own ideas held water.
  658. >So you listened to everything he had to say and shared your most honest thoughts and sentiments with him.
  659. >Anonymous was one of the only people like that for you in the whole world.
  660. >Anonymous was your peer.
  661. >His thoughts were on par with yours.
  662. >Physically it had always been a bit of a mismatch but he held his own as a man.
  663. >As a pony, and more distinctly, as a girl, the content of her thoughts hadn’t changed, but something in the delivery was different.
  664. >There was probably a more precise word for it that she would use, but you’d settled on ‘softer’.
  665. >At first it had been uncanny, you remembered that cigarette shivering moment in your dorm room, that first time you laid eyes on her and she’d spoken the code word without missing a beat.
  666. >The mannerisms, translated down to that equine body, and remembered only because they stood out as strange.
  667. >Subtle morphs and bends had slung themselves against your apprehensive mode of thinking.
  668. >You’d been scared half out of your mind, and you only overcame it out of your sense of duty to protect your friend in distress.
  669. >The trick you pulled on your stupid head to pull it off, was to play the role of: ‘protector’.
  670. >You were softer on her, sometimes you just humored her when she spoke, oftentimes you had snubbed the people around her to keep her totally safe.
  671. >Your beak clicked together unconsciously.
  672. >You would never have done that shit before.
  673. >But even as you rejected the sentiment, it still clung to you and you to it.
  674. >The drive to protect was uncannily familiar, and you weren’t sure yet if that scared you more, or less.
  675. >”What are you?” she had asked, and you had almost asked her the same.
  676. >Were you getting acclimated to her transformation, or yours?
  677. >At least you knew that what scared you most was that one day you might think nothing of these things.
  678. >Anonymous would just be Anonymous, the pony.
  679. >Habit would erode all the blocks you threw in the way eventually.
  680. >It seemed already to have worn her down some, she had transformed much earlier than you after all.
  681. >A rough sigh rattled down your throat as you thought of something even more worrisome: that one day soon, you might look back on a memory with her as a pony and yourself as a griffon, and feel more fondly for it than the ones from when you were both human.
  682. >Earlier on the couch, when you whispered in Anonymous’ ear, and by doing so made that memory dearer in both of your minds, was when the ghost of that possibility had first laid its cold hand on your shoulder.
  683.  
  684. >In the background, the hiss of the shower and the whirring fan in the bathroom resonated.
  685. >Your eyes were still locked on the undifferentiated blackness of Aisling’s fur.
  686. >The relationship you had with Anonymous, as Keyboard Masher, was not like before.
  687. >She was not your peer.
  688. >Just a while ago, you knew that you would have found that thought unthinkable.
  689. >But now it was undeniable, neither of you acted that way anymore, just as you looked a little down at her, she looked a little up at you.
  690. >A piercingly clear thought struck you as you realized that.
  691. >Anonymous still had her honor, but it had morphed into such a different shape it pained you as if she’d lost it.
  692. >She held her own as a pony, not a man.
  693. >It had all started when you saw her typing clumsily on a laptop atop your bed, with pens strapped to her hooves, looking too fucking cute for her own good.
  694. >The memory reeled past your mind’s eye like an old family 8mm tape on a projector.
  695. >Anon laid there on the soft sheets, her pen equipped hooves pecking away at the laptop nestled between her forelegs.
  696. >Her mane was a natural ribbon of gold falling in a wave from her head, never really straight, and actually a bit of a mess from all the tumbling around she’d done before meeting up with you.
  697. >It immediately reminded you of the one time a girl had been in your bedroom, back in high school.
  698. >She’d had messy hair too, red though, with more lascivious intentions compared to Anonymous.
  699. >The pony rolled her body so that she laid on her side, and breathed deeply while she went about proofreading her essay.
  700. >Anon’s fur was short, and white as linen.
  701. >You reached out to touch it, and passing your hand over it had a similar feeling to duvet.
  702. >But in places like her chest and the nape of her neck, you noted with gentle fingers, it was fluffy.
  703. >...Anonymou-
  704. >You blinked and flicked your gaze to the window.
  705. >A cardinal blitzed past when it saw your upturned face, but you could still track it precisely with your eyes and count each ruby red feather.
  706. >Now that you had the personal experience of having wings, you could appreciate how well the teensy sprite moved.
  707. >He bent his wingtips so subtly, catching the smallest updraft to send himself wheeling in an upward arc to the tree across the lawn.
  708. >But it all seemed in vain, when in your head you could draw the perfect line to fly along and snatch him out of the air.
  709. >The desire to really do it pestered you in the background, a subtle itch.
  710. >You sighed, and then you abruptly intoned,
  711. “She’s had too much pressure put on her. I don’t want to see her get like me, anxious, it’s a fucking cancer.”
  712. >That was deadly ironic, right back to protecting again huh?
  713. >You felt your heart pump one solitary note of building frustration with yourself.
  714. >Letting your relationship with Anonymous get twisted any further was a loss you couldn’t abide.
  715. >But at the same time... she really did need your help right?
  716.  
  717. >Aisling nodded her head as she took the last sip of her tea, agreeing, but looking so collected it made you wonder which part of your sentiment she was agreeing with.
  718. >”We kill Cichol, and it’s over. All the gnome’s magic will be undone.”
  719. >Your eyes widened at her sudden remark, and a hopeful smile resolved itself on your face.
  720. >With vim and vigor you swept away all the useless, probably Fed voice-to-skull planted thoughts from your head and brashly spouted,
  721. “Well, I went for the kill as soon as I could. But I’ll be honest I wasn’t really thinking of it as the ‘best’ solution.”
  722. >A tricky smile danced on Aisling’s lips, and she looked at you askance.
  723. >”I was digging through some books while I was upstairs, just refreshing my memory of the myths relating to the Fomorians.”
  724. >The knowledgeable unicorn started.
  725. >You shuffled in closer on the couch, flexing your wings to get comfortable while she continued,
  726. >”The accounts are conflicting, but, interpreting the texts, I think that whenever their leader is killed, they disappear off the face of the earth.”
  727. “Didn’t that never happen though? Clapperleg was supposed to have been killed by that... pancake guy or whatever. But they’re all here anyway, along with him.”
  728. >Aisling nodded, smiling.
  729. >”That’s just it, they’re back. It’s not that they’ve just been around all the time, all THIS time. There are several instances in Celtic myth where they are defeated and all their dominion vanishes. So, logically that must mean they come back.”
  730. >You grasped at your beak with a claw, beginning to understand.
  731. >Again, thank fuck you had weird friends.
  732. >People into this kind of stuff were about one in a trillion these days, common core had thoroughly squashed the kind of light people got in their eyes for it.
  733. >Aisling looked up into your face, softly glowing with just that light and excitement you meant, but calmly waiting for an answer.
  734. “Alright, makes enough sense, in that nonsense faerie way that things have to make sense in since last night. Let me think about it for a sec.”
  735. >The mare clacked her fore hooves together approvingly, while inside you crunched the logistics for gnome slaughter.
  736. >Have to be during the day.
  737. >Have to be done with steel or iron.
  738. >Have to have friends to watch your back.
  739. >Have to find the gnomes.
  740. >Have to kill them quick.
  741. >...Girls like to stay clean.
  742. >In the vein of an analog computer, you printed the answer out, as fast as the physical limitations of your brain would allow.
  743. “That’s a farm next door right? Do they have guns?”
  744. >”Yes, they’d probably let us borrow some too. I think a newly minted family of ponies would be willing to listen to a story about maleficent gnomes hiding out in the forest, from a griffon and two unicorns.”
  745. >Aisling didn’t even miss a beat.
  746. >She smiled at you thinly, like a paid dealer handing you a four of a kind, while she reached over and stole the last of your tea.
  747. >You rubbed your hands together, and licked the edges of your beak clean of jam.
  748.  
  749. >She had no qualms about killing them, no qualms about firearms either, and it was safe to assume Anonymous was the same, from that conversation over breakfast.
  750. >You looked over Aisling’s head, at the clock on the stove.
  751. >1100.
  752. >Daylight, check, friends, check.
  753. >Third of the way there already.
  754. >You grinned, and felt the thrill of endorphins rushing through your powerful body.
  755. >In a clear, authoritative tone, you said,
  756. “We’ll leave after you get cleaned up. Then you and Anonymous can get all our gear ready while I scope the woods out. We’ll have lunch, then aim for an assault no later than 1500 hours.”
  757. >It was a conscious effort to stop yourself from digging your talons into the sofa.
  758. >You could feel the claws inside your paws slipping in and out as you tensed and relaxed all your muscles in anticipatory excitement.
  759. >Your tail whipped against the cushions.
  760. >”Chad, you’re purring.”
  761. >Aisling quietly uttered, her little smile veiled behind a dusky foreleg.
  762. >You blinked in surprise, and listened.
  763. >Nothing.
  764. >Instantly your face twisted into a sarcastic grimace, and you reached out with all claws to make the biggest tangle of Aisling’s mane that you could manage.
  765. >But she ducked away, sliding off of the couch like water, while giggling.
  766. >You opted not to follow, and she just danced her way back into the kitchen, magically carrying all the dishes in tow.
  767. >Instead, you reached over to where Aisling had been sitting and grabbed the remote.
  768. >More from a passing curiosity than from feeling some need to get additional information, you flicked the TV back on.
  769. >Instantly the scene made your gut wrench and twist before kicking out an ironic guffaw.
  770. >There was a ‘human’ on screen.
  771. >Of course, it was some delegate from the UN, come to inspect how the nation was handling the newly dubbed “Pon-E-vent”.
  772. “I’m always fucking right. Always...”
  773. >You spat under your breath.
  774. “Shapeshifters.”
  775. >Just once you wanted the motivation behind some economic disaster to be only greed, or for there to be a perfectly logical paper trail of private interests that didn’t dovetail into ritualistic child sacrifice.
  776. >”What? What’s up?”
  777. >Aisling exclaimed from the kitchen, peeking her head up from the dishwasher.
  778. >Laughing again, you slung back in your seat, laid your paws to rest on the coffee table and your arm on the back of the sofa, then looked her straight in the face with a smug smile and answered,
  779. “Oh you didn’t get the memo?”
  780. >You waved some talons at the screen.
  781. >Aisling rolled her eyes at you from over the countertop, before hopping down and trotting around to see what you were talking about.
  782. >As soon as her eyes met the screen, and saw the ugly, paunchy looking politician there, her delicate brow furrowed.
  783. >A single silver hair off her mane went astray.
  784. >Then for the first time, you heard Aisling curse.
  785. >”What in damnation is that supposed to be?”
  786. >She whipped her head around at you, frowning deeper.
  787. >”Every human should be a pony right? What?”
  788.  
  789. ##Back of his mind
  790.  
  791. >Your smile grew ten sizes, and you lifted up your claws to make airquotes.
  792. “””A human.”””
  793. >Aisling sighed and shook her head, before turning back to the television.
  794. >On screen, the “””human””” was receiving an oddly old looking, wax sealed scroll from the mouth of the pony prime minister.
  795. >It symbolized the nation’s statement of intent: to follow in lockstep with UN proposals for the duration of the emergency.
  796. >Most of the nation’s politicians on screen were ponies, which surprised you greatly, especially since all of the reps from the UN, along with a few feds with ‘certain’ citizenship ‘situations’ seemed to have magically avoided the fate that befell humanity.
  797. >This made it unlikely that the ponies were just stand-ins, if that were the case then they should have just replaced everyone and kept the populace under the illusion that they were all human.
  798. >You wondered if they were changelings or if Icke was right.
  799. >Hell could be both.
  800. >The thoughts kept flowing, the next step must be faking a few remaining pockets of human-
  801. >”WHAT IN THE FUCK.”
  802. >Your eyes snapped right.
  803. >Anonymous was back and already looking thoroughly de-relaxed after her shower.
  804. >With her fur still damp, and a towel wrapped around her head, she goggled at the screen in disbelief, her hooves planted wide and her wings spread aggressively behind her head.
  805. >”WHY DO THEY GET TO BE HUMAN???? WHAT.”
  806. >She turned to Aisling first, who simply shrugged, and you repeated the gesture, still smiling while you focused your gaze on the television again.
  807. >Ohh what a treat.
  808. >You were on the edge of your seat, with your tail twisting up and batting around behind you like a cat’s might.
  809. >There was one particular delegate that caught your eye, just as “””human””” as he could look, with the most transparent smirk of duper’s delight that you’d ever seen.
  810. >For a few seconds he aimed it straight into the camera.
  811. >You smirked right back at him, and half entertained the thought of paying him a visit later.
  812. >It would just be a body double anyway...
  813. >More formalities were walked through, and some new platitudes were rolled out.
  814. >The prepared words for the crisis seemed to be ‘transitioning’, ‘returning’, ‘on-ramping‘. ‘off-ramping’ and ‘changing pace’.
  815. >In particular, the key phrase ‘re-factoring infrastructure to meet new requirements’, was uttered in several different ways.
  816. >As the action on screen began to wind down, and states-ponies featured more prominently, Aisling started off to the washroom, sighing and magically flattening her mane out again.
  817. >Her silver tail glimmered ‘round the corner, then you heard the door shut.
  818. >Anonymous still stood there and gawked, her wings slowly drooping at her sides.
  819. >Her tail was dripping wet still, lying limply at her back.
  820. >It had been so long since something this juicy had appeared on live TV.
  821. >This was better than Clinton collapsing into a car, better than Dave Dave, better than... fuck, anything.
  822.  
  823. >Staring doggedly at the television, you reached for the remote again and flicked the channel.
  824. >”Hey!”
  825. >Anon protested.
  826. “Who else.”
  827. >You uttered simply, not looking at her while you swapped to an American station.
  828. >You took her silence as assent.
  829. >The CEO of a certain large social media company was being interviewed on how his platform would change, he was “””human””” of course.
  830. >After having waned some, your crooked grin was back.
  831. >That key phrase came tumbling out of the freak’s mouth, this time in the form of ‘...the plan is a sort of easing down, re-factoring our service, then transitioning out of the previous paradigm to meet these new requirements...’
  832. >Out of the corner of your eye, you could see Anonymous watching your expression with exasperation.
  833. >You really had to wonder what these things were.
  834. >Your first thought had been changelings, though it didn’t add up, if they were changelings then you of all people would have seen at least one before PON-E.
  835. >Instead, your first sighting had been just a while ago, when the city was already crawling with them.
  836. >There was no reason for the gnomes to want changelings and the C4NG3 drug that produced them around either, it went contrary to their motives.
  837. >So there were competing interests in this intrigue?
  838. “Reptilians...”
  839. >You mused.
  840. >If so, it was remarkable that you and Anonymous had just happened to get caught up in the thick of it.
  841. >The last time you’d been in the middle of a mess like this was that counteroffensive in the ancient city, when you were the gofer with Gideon’s crew out west.
  842. >A shiver passed through your whole body, ending at the tip of your bottlebrush tail, when your thoughts just skimmed the memory of what you’d seen in the drained poolrooms of that chthonic complex, carved in the bedrock.
  843. >You swiftly flashed through the news channels and took an approximate tally of what you were tentatively referring to as reptilians.
  844. >It seemed maybe a third of celebrities were not human after all.
  845. >But there had been a few surprises, like Ellen appearing as a pegasus stallion, and the whole cast of The View being ponies.
  846. >All of the news casters were ponies, no matter how popular.
  847. >The filter, besides Freemasonry, seemed to be net worth.
  848. >Past a billion, it was practically all “””human”””.
  849. >Especially in tech, there wasn’t a single one them who had been ponified.
  850. >The fact that you could check it all so quickly just flicking through the channels like this made it pretty obvious that this was intentional.
  851. >They really were gloating.
  852. >You laughed, nibbling at the end of one of your talons.
  853. >Then you switched off the television, feeling just as sick of it as you were entertained by it.
  854. >What was more important than this ‘who’s what’ crap was that key phrase, and the language they were throwing around.
  855. >The tone was all ‘phasing out’, ‘toning down’, ‘slowing’.
  856. >Wh-
  857. >”Why do you have to be right?”
  858. >You locked eyes with Anonymous.
  859.  
  860. >She appeared to be at the end of her rope, enough so that it struck you with a pang of frustration, thinking about how you’d just brought her down from that panic attack earlier.
  861. >Sounding bitter, she asked,
  862. >”They’re not human right? None of them are.”
  863. >There was a hint in her eye, that told you to answer seriously.
  864. >So you sat up properly, at least as properly as a griffon could, and answered,
  865. “Yeah. My best guess is they’re reptilians. They’ll probably fake their way out and say some small pockets of humans around the world avoided being transformed. Then produce footage of these ‘people’.”
  866. >”Why?”
  867. >You stared down at your talons, interlocking and unlocking them again as you slipped into deep thought.
  868. >...This conversation made you want to reach for a cigarette you just didn’t have.
  869. >Everything that was to come out of your mouth next was the wrong thing to tell Anonymous.
  870. >None of it was going to help her any, or you.
  871. >It was a senseless knowledge that only served to increase your anxieties, and you were about to give it to her like a poison.
  872. >You may as well jump over and peck at her fetlocks for an hour, for how productive this was going to be.
  873. >But her eyes brooked no euphemisms or denial, and if you denied her that right then you felt like you would be treating her even less like a peer.
  874. >So you pressed on, meeting Anon’s blue eyes directly.
  875. >You felt a grim determination settle over you as your brain retraced thoughtpaths you’d walked bare, many years ago.
  876. “They’re doing it to keep the masses placated before they announce they’re leaving for space. This is one variation on their fallback plan in case of some global upheaval. I imagine in this case they’ll say PON-E has completely tainted the water and so they’re leaving Earth to preserve the human race. Really they’ll just be in bunkers.”
  877. >”Really I-”
  878. “Because space is fake and gay.”
  879. >You added, pedantically.
  880. >Anonymous lowered her head, pressed her lips together and glowered straight down her muzzle at you, prompting you to at least look a little apologetic while you finished,
  881. “I was thinking the same thing by the way, about being right. Wish it would stop. Seriously.”
  882. >She looked like she wanted to protest some of what you’d said, but after a few seconds of intense staring, your friend just heaved out a long sigh, and shook her head as she unraveled the towel from her mane.
  883. >Water droplets beaded from her neck down onto her back, and if you looked close enough, you felt you could see the needless weight you’d laid on there too.
  884. >Casting a simple spell, Anonymous started patting down her wet tail with the towel and stated,
  885. >”Sometimes I think ‘they’ just wait for you to think something up, and then do that. You should try filing a patent next time you have an idea for making this dystopia any worse, they seem to respect copyright law at least.”
  886.  
  887. >You laughed and lolled onto your back to stretch your legs, poking out each hidden claw in your paws one by one, then countered with,
  888. “But then nothing would happen, we’d just be frozen in the middle.”
  889. >She rolled her eyes, when a flash of inspiration suddenly lit up her face.
  890. >You watched curiously, expecting a spell.
  891. >After setting her towel aside, Anonymous stood with all her legs spread evenly.
  892. >She breathed in deep, shut her eyes, and lit her horn black.
  893. >It was quiet, then there was the rushing sound of wind against a rockface, and all her fur was blown up on end as if she was standing under the exit of a carwash.
  894. >Anonymous’ platinum coil of a mane twirled around and around along with her tail, visibly becoming wavier and wavier.
  895. >She stood there like she was in the eye of a typhoon, her cheeks all puffed up and her eyes shut tight against the wind.
  896. >You couldn’t help but laugh, even though you pictured getting a hoof to the head for it.
  897. >At the end of all the enchanted blow drying, she looked like a marshmallow with peeps stuck to both ends.
  898. >She was dry though.
  899. >You whistled and smiled.
  900. >Grumbling some curse in response that you couldn’t understand through all the puff, Anonymous shook herself like a dog and set about flattening everything down, obviously not confident in her control to try and use magic to fix it.
  901. >You slid off the couch and started to help.
  902. “Your mane’s gotten longer.”
  903. >You said, as you threaded your talons through it, teasing it back into position around her black horn.
  904. >From under all that hair, your friend’s muffled voice answered,
  905. >”Believe me I’ve noticed. Should just chop it off up to my temples.”
  906. >It relieved you to hear her talk like that, but at the same time-
  907. “Nah, you don’t need to.”
  908. >The words just came right out of your mouth, without you really thinking about it.
  909. >For a second, you’d caught yourself off guard.
  910. >Anonymous turned her head up to look at you straight, and confusion played on her bright blue eyes, between locks of her golden hair, as she asked you her favorite question,
  911. >”Why?”
  912. >You clamped your beak on your tongue and looked away, at the corner of the ceiling to your right.
  913. “Uhh...”
  914. >You started..?
  915. >What the fuck?
  916. >You thought you’d gotten over these small fry issues by now, it had been so long since she’d become a pony after all.
  917. >Your gaze swapped left, but your field of view was still so big you could see Anonymous’ stare starting to trend towards discerning your thoughts.
  918. “...Well we’re gonna fix all this anyway, soon...”
  919. >You deflected, lamely.
  920. >Stupid fucking answer, should have just said it looked nice, you’d never gotten tripped up like that in forever.
  921. >To keep busy, you kept working your talons over her mane like a comb, avoiding her eyes.
  922. >Anonymous still eyed you up though, looking bemused.
  923. >But in the end she seemed to be more preoccupied with getting the rest of her fur down, so the thread of conversation was dropped.
  924.  
  925. >Letting out a breath you didn’t realize you were holding, you finished the last bit of her hair and stepped back to appreciate it.
  926. >Looked a lot cleaner than the first day you met her.
  927. >Anonymous checked herself over, and her mane tumbled round her head like a billowing flag.
  928. >Her fur was a splendid white again, with that broken keyboard mark standing out as a proud crest on her flank.
  929. >Each little hoof clopped in turn, and her tail flicked from side to side.
  930. >Yeah, Anonymous was cute.
  931. >Though those wings and that horn still just didn’t sit right with you.
  932. >She flexed the new appendages on her back slowly, and mouthed a few stray feathers into place while you watched.
  933. >There were more white than black feathers in them now, though the black ones seemed to be persistent around the edges of her wings.
  934. >Her horn caught the light, and there was a subtle spiral of white in it that you hadn’t noticed earlier.
  935. >So they were changing color too, probably because of some gnomish nonsense you’d have to read twenty books not even about gnomes to understand.
  936. >You frowned a little.
  937. >All this extra shit just reinforced the fact that they were too fantastical, and more suited to someone like Aisling, the Anonymous you knew was more humble than that.
  938. >As a man he’d had the mind of a scholar and the wisdom of a carpenter.
  939. >As a girl you’d say something like; the manners of a milkmaid and the features of a secretary?
  940. >But these new features were sort of... rich?
  941. >You were swinging well out of reach of the limit of your vocabulary at this point, and using a lot of borrowed words you’d heard Anonymous say first, so you cut that train of thought.
  942. >Setting a claw under your beak, you narrowed your eyes and muttered, just loud enough for Anonymous to hear,
  943. “Like painting a crown into a pastoral...”
  944. >Her ears perked, and her cheeks puffed up again like an angry fish.
  945. >Anonymous really was your friend because she could catch on as quick as that.
  946. >In a curt tone she rebuffed you,
  947. >”Shut up sperg.”
  948. >Then she started batting you around the head with her piano wings.
  949. >With each swing came a word.
  950. >“Since. When. Did. You. Appreciate. Art. Enough. To. Make. A. Reference. Like. That?”
  951. >You smiled and enjoyed the feeling, answering simply,
  952. “Had to take a bird course on classical poetry.”
  953. >Eventually she was smiling too, so the beating stopped.
  954. >With an honest look on her face, Anonymous stretched out one of her wings and stared at it and you curiously, asking,
  955. >”You’re really not a fan of them?”
  956. >You sat back on your haunches and nodded, already ready with a trimmed, honest answer from your thinking about it earlier.
  957. “Yeah it’s cramping your style, maybe just the horn would work. I mean magic is pretty nice... But I dunno, your appeal is simple cuteness, this over-complicates things.”
  958. >The regret for being even a little honest struck you with every word you spoke.
  959. >Anon’s eyes narrowed in response, and her smile became more foxy than frank.
  960.  
  961. >She sat down too, mirroring your posture.
  962. >Then with the sort of precision that was reserved for ballistics, she selected and fired a penetrating remark, straight at your heart.
  963. >”You’ve really thought about this huh?”
  964. >It was impossible to stop your wings ruffling on reflex, but you cleared your throat and puffed out the feathers on your chest to distract her with exaggerated bravado.
  965. >Quickly, you answered,
  966. “Sure. Aesthetic taste is the mark of the quintessential Western man.”
  967. >Anonymous stifled a giggle and held her response for a few seconds, letting you simmer there.
  968. >Your heart was beating faster, but you managed to keep your tail still at least.
  969. >You met her gaze easily.
  970. >...Her heart-rate was frighteningly placid.
  971. >But eventually Anonymous just let loose with a free and easy laugh.
  972. >She pulled her wing back in, before poking you in the chest with a hoof and whispering up at your face,
  973. >”Bird brain.”
  974. >Then, beaming brightly, she suddenly asked,
  975. >”So what’s the plan?”
  976.  
  977. ##Semantics
  978.  
  979. Raflum - 林泉吟​/​Melodies Of Forest And Springs
  980. >Your chest deflated and you regained your bearings.
  981. >With a nostalgic ‘standard ops’ bent to your voice, you laid it all out for your friend while walking back to the couch with her.
  982. “Once Aisling gets out of the shower, we’re going to the neighbour’s place to get guns. Then I’ll be scouting out the woods while you two get geared up. After that we break for lunch and we’ll attack the gnomes by 1500.”
  983. >Anonymous nodded, totally resolute, and performed a salute with her right wing that you instantly emulated.
  984. >”Hoorah.”
  985. “Hoorah.”
  986. >As soon as the salute was over, her steadfast expression transformed into exasperated frown, and while her eyes searched your hawkish face, she inquired,
  987. >”As if. Attack? What the hell are we actually gonna do?”
  988. >You grinned and laid an arm around her withers.
  989. “Kill Clapperleg.”
  990. >Anonymous’ long face peered peevishly up at you still, her muzzle scrunching as she pressed,
  991. >”Why? I mean I get ‘why’, but how is that going to fix anything?”
  992. >Free and easy, you explained Aisling’s theory to Anon, still in high morale.
  993. >But her expression was only ever quizzical at best.
  994. >By the time you had finished, she had turned her face away from you and her eyes were lidded in deep thought.
  995. >Your tail curled around and softly batted against the sofa, just once, as you let the little pony slip naturally away from your grasp.
  996. >A sigh escaped your beak.
  997. >You weren’t liking the way this was going.
  998. >Things would be so much better if all it took was military action.
  999. >At the back of your mind though, a venomous little thought spat back at you: Just one more regretful slaughterhouse scene right?
  1000. >”I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.”
  1001. >Anonymous answered softly.
  1002. >You sighed again and slouched into the cushions, eyeing her thoughtful face sidelong.
  1003. >She stared at you straight and continued,
  1004. >”Aisling is probably right about them all disappearing whenever Cichol is killed, but I don’t think that will actually fix the pony problem.”
  1005. “Why?”
  1006. >You prompted, already feeling resigned.
  1007. >”Partoloin and his people all died of a plague shortly after defeating the Fomorians.”
  1008. >The picture was pretty clear to you just from that statement alone, but Anonymous kept going.
  1009. >”Cichol was probably the cause of that, having met him in person it would make total sense for that demon to have contingency plans. I don’t think the Fomorians were making PON-E themselves this whole time, my best guess is they formulated it with magic, then made a deal to get humans to produce it for them. That way, even if PON-E is magic, it’s so abstracted from them at this point that killing Cichol won’t change everyone back.”
  1010. >Anonymous appeared completely certain of what she was saying, but it sounded like she was apologizing to you.
  1011. >She was even stroking your back with her hoof.
  1012. >You nodded regretfully at her, staring down at your clasped claws.
  1013.  
  1014. >Maybe the reason you’d latched onto getting a gun and killing Clapperleg so quickly was because you were feeling out of loop from all this mythical theory crafting.
  1015. >Your talons clenched as if around a trigger.
  1016. >You could do with the familiar feeling of a bolt action slide, and the nostalgic kick of a rifle butt against your shoulder.
  1017. >”I thought so too.”
  1018. >A gentle contralto emanated from across the room.
  1019. >Aisling stood there, her mane and tail silently flowing beside her.
  1020. >Her fur looked blacker than black, darker than night, even in a setting as mundane as this.
  1021. >The night mare’s silver mane looked positively celestial, undulating like it was caught in an electromagnetic pulse, glistening with pearls of water that were here this moment and gone the next.
  1022. >Unicorns must have been real, you suddenly thought, a sight like this didn’t just arise from some coincidence of drugs and a time in history.
  1023. >Anonymous’ eyes narrowed at her, probably because of the spell, which was clearly a refined version of her own botched drying magic from earlier, rather than at the statement Aisling had made.
  1024. >The dusky unicorn continued,
  1025. >”But it still remains true that their dominion vanishes with them whenever Cichol is killed, and magic is typically counted as part of that ‘rule’ in most accounts of it.”
  1026. >Ahhhhhh... Moooooorrrrre myyyyyyth...
  1027. >You shut your eyes and promptly melted into the couch, trying to suppress your pent up feelings from all the inaction.
  1028. >Both unicorns delved into a swift back and forth, dropping names and dates and titles and you could have sworn a flat out homebrewed DnD ruleset at one point, as they established the information they were dredging from.
  1029. >They were better to be around than fluoridated sportsballers sure, but how either of these two had found the time to go outside and make other friends besides you, between stuffing their heads into books, you didn’t know anymore.
  1030. >Once both bookworms had established they were speaking from similar sources, your long time friend cut ahead in the conversation, as she was often wont to, flatly saying,
  1031. >”So you’re talking about how Cichol was the one who cast the spell that reversed the effects of PON-E, since I couldn’t cast it myself.”
  1032. >Aisling didn’t answer right away, you could just hear the soft rustling of her mane against her neck, and her hooves clopping closer.
  1033. >There came the sound of wood creaking as she hopped up on the divan besides you, and then her voice again,
  1034. >”No, I know that’s a dead end. Changing the effects is what made people turn into ponies after all, not the spell itself. I’m talking about the spell they cast to make PON-E work in the first place.”
  1035. >You heard a sharp intake of breath from Anonymous, and took that as your cue to get interested in the conversation again.
  1036.  
  1037. >Opening your eyes, you sat up, leaned over the table with your claws interlaced, and intoned, without looking at either pony,
  1038. “So it’s like when rabbis mumble some words over a vat of Coca-Cola and it’s suddenly all kosher?”
  1039. >Immediately after speaking, you laughed, not at your lame joke, but at the contrast of your clunky, deep voice against the two mares’ dulcet tones.
  1040. >Anonymous and Aisling both looked thoroughly un-amused with you.
  1041. >Their ears were pinned back, and their eyes gleamed down their muzzles at you with unrequited violence.
  1042. >You just threw up your claws apologetically and went back to lying down.
  1043. >The white unicorn pointed her gaze at the black one and picked up the conversation again.
  1044. >”Being the product of a spell they cast, the implication is that PON-E and its magically induced effects will disappear with them.”
  1045. >Aisling nodded.
  1046. >”Exactly.”
  1047. >But Anonymous still looked as unconvinced as before.
  1048. >As she responded, she tapped the end of her hoof against the coffee table for emphasis.
  1049. >”No, I don’t agree. I don’t think it will work retroactively that way. I think the magic is in the drug coming into existence, not the drug working.”
  1050. >Alright you had to add SOMETHING.
  1051. “Isn’t this just semantics though?”
  1052. >You proposed, watching both of the girls’ expressions.
  1053. >The two mares looked you straight in the face, un-phased, and without missing a beat:
  1054. >”Yes. That’s the kind of nonsense we’re dealing with.”
  1055. >”Yes. That’s exactly how this bullshit all works.”
  1056. >Once again, you threw up your scaly hands in mock surrender.
  1057. >But this time you leaped out of your seat and said,
  1058. “Then fuck it, let’s go get guns and shoot all the stupid gnomes first. Then you two, fresh air avoiding, grass not touching, nerds can debate all you want about it later.”
  1059. >Without waiting for an answer, you walked over to the front door and swung it open, then looked back.
  1060. >Aisling smiled despite herself, and, daintily, she began to follow after you.
  1061. >Anonymous laughed and jumped off the side of the couch, bumping her side against yours.
  1062. >”Fine. Stupid catbird. Now teach me how to fly.”
  1063. >The three of you all filed outside onto the front yard, blinking and dazzled by the bright midday sun.
  1064. >Birds of all feathers were darting around, exciting that tight bundle of predators’ synapses in your head.
  1065. >The sun had melted the snow down a couple inches by now, and here and there in the yard there were patches of bare grass where Aisling had scuffed up the snow before.
  1066. >One long stretch of it was also totally exposed from your own antics last night.
  1067. >You sucked down air and puffed all your feathers up, while you stretched your wings and marched in a little circle in the snow to stretch your legs.
  1068. >It felt like you were finally waking up after all that snoozy lounging around.
  1069. >Somehow it must have looked really funny to Aisling and Anonymous though, they had to hang on to each other to stop themselves from falling on the ground laughing.
  1070.  
  1071. >Eventually Aisling broke away, and struck out for the neighbour’s place early, saying,
  1072. >”We can meet up there, I’d rather go on a nice walk than-”
  1073. >Here her gaze honed in on you, and her smile became ironic as she finished,
  1074. >”-ride along.”
  1075. >With that she left across the yard and up the neighbour’s driveway, her silver tail bobbing along behind her.
  1076. >Anonymous popped her grinning face up right in front of yours, obscuring your view of the black pony.
  1077. >With honest excitement she asked,
  1078. >”So how do we start? How should I flap my wings?”
  1079. >Her joy was infectious, especially since it hadn’t even been a day yet since you first flew.
  1080. >That spark from last night flared in your belly again.
  1081. >Grinning, you stepped back from Anonymous and spread your wings as wide as they went with a sonorous sound like a sail taking wind.
  1082. >She mirrored you, and her span was maybe three quarters the length of yours.
  1083. >A sudden gust swirled by, as if to celebrate the moment, ruffling the feathers on your chest and sending her mane aflutter around her head.
  1084. >You locked eyes with Anonymous, then slowly, and carefully, you began to beat your wings with that freshly imprinted form.
  1085. >Her eyes glimmered and narrowed, watching every little motion.
  1086. >Once you had completed a couple cycles she started flapping her little wings too, and it drew a chuckle from you seeing her so focused.
  1087. >You watched her form, and saw a whole lot of errors, though you couldn’t be sure they were all mistakes since her wings were different than yours.
  1088. >Hers were not as broad, and the way her primary feathers were placed were different.
  1089. >Breaking off from your demonstration, you motioned her to continue, and walked up beside her.
  1090. >Hm...
  1091. >You eyed Anonymous up carefully, then looked around at all the birds, trying to find a closer comparison to make against her shape.
  1092. >After picking through chickadees, blue jays, a cardinal, and an eagle soaring above, you settled on the wings of a crow.
  1093. >They seemed to be a perfect match.
  1094. “You’re just flapping up and down, you have to really push the air, scoop it out and send it past.”
  1095. >You remarked.
  1096. >Anonymous nodded, and modified her beating, but it still wasn’t quite right.
  1097. >So you shook your head and asked,
  1098. “Just a second, hold them out?”
  1099. >And she acquiesced, watching as you sat before her and reached out with both of your hands.
  1100. >Gently, you grasped the tip and the base of her wing with a set of claws apiece, then you began to move her appendage yourself to mimic the scooping motion you were talking about.
  1101. >Anonymous’ feathers were so pleasantly soft it gave you pause.
  1102. >Man if this was it, and you were stuck like this, your kid was going to hate flying lessons because half of it would just become wing squeezing.
  1103. “See it’s the way you rotate this joint that-”
  1104. >As best you could, you proceeded to explain the principles you had instinctively grasped already.
  1105. >The little pony listened intently, and with every word, her smile slowly crept up and up.

Nemetona

by meslam

Anu

by meslam