Nine years is a long time to spend in prison.

The train squeaks and slows as the Ponyville central station slowly grows agains t a landscape of white. The other passengers – mostly earth ponies and unicorns, t hough there's a yellow pegasus pony on your carriage too – gradually begin to gath er their belongings. Some are chatting excitedly about meeting relatives, or see ing friends. You have no relatives. You have no friends. Nine years is a long time to spend in prison, with only a note to show for it. As the train stops, you magic your saddle onto your back. It's light – the only sa ddlebag with any weight is the one holding your bits. There should be enough her e to keep you fed until you find whatever work there is to be had in this town. Personal items? You don't have any. All you have to look forward to is a small h ouse, set well away from the homes with foals. Nine years in solitary was the end result of the sentence; you suppose that for a crime like mareslaughter, it was justified. Pleading guilty reduced your sente nce, and good behavior cut it more – which reminds you that the “home” you are now hea ding to is parole-mandated. Your life is mandated, by good behavior and expectat ions for a crime that you are pretty sure you did not commit. There t you anted dawn rise was a face, her face, but you didn't remember it. The evidence matched, bu don't remember how you got there or why. You can't even remember why you w to kill her. Heck, you can't remember anything before the time just before when you stood there with her blood on your hooves, waiting for the sun to and the police to find you.

You push these thoughts out of your head. It's best not to focus on them, now. Y ou've had nine years to dwell on them; now, it's time to start a new life. A new life in ponyville. Nine years is a long time to spend in prison, note that gave only a location – Ponyville – what else could? You treated like a religion y Ponyville was the promised land. Why it was with only a note to show for it. A and a saying: “believe.” It sustained you: for a while, trying to find out wh important to believe.

Now, it seems like you'll finally be able to find out. The route to your house is cold, and your hooves chill out in the falling snow. At first, there is bustle and noise; this quickly gives way to silence, and you find yourself walking down empty streets in the midday to your new home. You're not the first to get there. As you approach the small cottage, there's a unicorn pony there waiting for you, silently watching as you approach. Is she a police officer? You've never seen her before. She's light green, with a darker greenish-blue mane that curls softly at the ends. Her eyes are violet, h er snow-gear plush and different shades of brown and white. You can't make out w hat her cutie mark is from here; her saddle covers it. Should you say something to her? She's looking right at you. Maybe she wants to say something first, but maybe she's being polite. Heck, you don't even know wha t she wants to talk about. For the first time in ages, you open your mouth and say... >Hello. Is there something you need?

You figured it was probably polite to address her first, but courteously – if she is an officer, she's going to expect formality. If someone else is looking for y ou, well, it can't hurt to be polite. Nine years haven't entirely killed your tongue, after all. Her eyes rise in surprise as you address her – perhaps you were too forward? Then you notice a faint blush rise in her cheeks, and a faint smile creep onto her li ps. “No,” she says. Her voice is surprisingly low for a mare's voice, but still contains the uniquely feminine susurrus that many foals find soothing. “Actually,” she continues, “I was going to ask that of you.” “Pardon?” you respond. It wasn't exactly the response you were expecting. “You're the new arrival, correct? There was supposed to be an out-of-town pony mov ing to this location today. I wanted to make sure you had everything you needed.” “Wait.” the realization of her purpose dawns on you. “You're the welcoming committee?” “The whole welcoming committee, i'm afraid.” She says, sighing. “Normally, there would be plenty more ponies out here, but It's rather cold out, as you may have notic ed. The rest...ah...heard about your reputation.” Nine years is plenty of time for others to judge, you think to yourself. The unicorn frowns concernedly. Did she read your expression, or just guess how you would react? “Dear, don't take it personally.” she replies. “I'm sure they'll grow to love you, in time. Every pony is welcome in ponyville, and they have been fo r decades, now. This is a place of new beginnings, after all.” She lapses into silence. The only sounds for a few seconds are the faint whistli ng of the wind. For the life of you, you can't think of anything fitting to fill the silence between you two. “I forgot to introduce myself, didn't I?” she says, suddenly, looking up. A few flak es of snow tumble from her mane. “My name is Eloquence. I teach over at ponyville general.” She offers a hoof. You take it, shaking it slowly so as not to startle her. She smiles more at this ; perhaps she prefers gentleponies to the more modern type? You'll have to remem ber this. You give her a name, and she smiles. “If I may be so bold...what is your profession?” she asks. “I might be able to help yo u find work here, and get more settled in.” You freeze. Already, a problem came up. How best to explain to another pony that you don't have a cutie mark? Or, at lea st, don't have one now; when you came to your senses that fateful sunrise, in th e place where your cutie mark might normally be, there was a withered patch. It was as if someone had melted it off with acid, or seared it with torches. The jury at your trial found it damnable evidence of your wicked nature; who but someone with cruelty in their heart would choose to hide their born role? You c ouldn't explain it any better than they could, and you'll be damned if you can e xplain it now.

But how are you going to explain that to Eloquence? She's watching you, waiting for an answer that you don't have. What are you supposed to do? >Be honest, but dodge the question of your cutie mark. “I don't have a fixed job.” Eloquence looks puzzled. “You don't? What about your cutie mark?” You dip your head slightly in a half-shy, half-submissive gesture. “I don't want t o talk about it.” For a second, the wind whistles through the dead trees, and again there is silen ce. “I understand.” Eloquence says, gently. You look up, somewhat surprised. “You do?” She looks at you, chewing on her lip. “New beginnings, right? I understand if you don't want to talk about it. Goodness knows, everypony's got a skeleton or two i n their closet.” Including you?, you almost ask. At the last second, though, you hold your tongue . Something tells you – some small voice – that it's probably not a good idea to get into an altercation with the first pony to actually talk to you in this town. “You know,” Eloquence says, “I don't think I got your name.” This question I can answer. “BFF,” you reply. “It's short for...” “Best Friend Forever?” Eloquence says, smiling. “Well, that's certainly a pretty name.” More like Blank Flank Freak. Yet another thing you don't feel entirely like tell ing her about; The name is more of a codifier than anything. You earned the nick name during your trial hearings, and it stuck like a set of magnets. During the weeks of your trial and appeal, it morphed into so many iterations – butt fat frye r, brutal filly flayer, brilliantly failed fashionista, and all of the various, more explicit epitaphs. Regardless of what your actual name was at the time, you have all but become BFF now, and you'll probably continue to be BFF for the res t of your life. One of these days, you would like to reclaim your real name. You left it behind as well, along with your cutie mark and your memories, on that bloody dawn nine years ago. Perhaps when the weather once again shines under the summer sun, you' ll return and figure out exactly what happened and why. Maybe you'll meet the pony that wrote you the note, too. You would like to thank whoever it was for encouraging you to believe. It wasn't much, you understand; but nine years is a long time to spend in solitary. Eloquence's next question snaps you out of your reverie. “Would you like to come b ack to my place?” “Huh?” You can't help but let the stupid, dull exclamation slip from your lips. Eloquen ce giggles almost girlishly at your reaction; it's a much lighter sound, like the tintinnabulation of bells.

“It'll take ages for you to get everything cleaned up, even if all you brought is in those bags. This house hasn't been renovated in years, dear. Besides,” Eloquenc e probes with a slightly snarky grin on her face, “You've got to be at least a bit hungry, right?” You open your mouth to deny this, but your stomach betrays with a sudden, wet gu rgle. You haven't had anything since you left your cell...yesterday, at around m idday. It strikes you rather suddenly that you are famished. “Come on!” Eloquence says before trotting off through the snow. You find yourself fo llowing her not out of any sense of obligation or coercion, but out of the actua l desire of companionship. Maybe the world was a kinder place than you had remem bered. [friendship achieved! Friend-Eloquence unlocked!] [you have learned new things about Eloquence! Scroll to the bottom of the page f or more information!]

The two of you have a surprisingly fun time chatting as you walk together throug h the snow. You learn that Eloquence's job at the school is educating adolescent fillies on writing and critical reading – a “remarkably tiring job”, as you quickly g row to find out. You had no idea that school was, for some teachers, closer to a battlefront than a house of learning. Thank goodness you have time to find out how it is, in exacting detail. Eventually, Eloquence stops by a door – one located smack dab in the middle of tow n – and raps a hoof against a door. The only thing is, it is probably not her hous e. The large “Bakery” sign hanging above the door gives it away. Was Eloquence planning on doing some last-minute shopping in this kind of weather? Is she a tenant of this shop? Whatever it is, it can't be that she works here – you could have sworn this pony just spent the last hour The door swings open, and...SOMETHING...steps out. If it's a zebra, it's the lar gest one you've ever seen. It towers above you and Eloquence like – like – like SOME THING massive and tower-y. It's at least a full head taller than you, maybe more . “EL! How ya doing, ya filly!” the humongous zebra booms out. Your travelling compani on is suddenly wrapped in something half resembling a hug and half resembling th e most vigorous dutch rub you have ever seen. “I'm doing marvelously, Farasi. Please stop trying to tear my mane off my head.” Elo quence murmurs through a mouthful of cannon and ergot. Eloquence is attempting t o look annoyed, but is failing horribly at it. The Zebra (Farasi?), meanwhile is giving off the vibe of a filly fresh into her cutie mark. You get over your initial stock to get a good look at the Zebra. It's definitely true that she's a head taller than you; a full head-and-a-half might be the clo sest approximation of size. Unlike eloquence, she's not wearing anything, save f or a slew of metallic bangles and glass shards woven into her crest mane. Her cu tie mark, or whatever the zebra equivalent is, is a series of waving lines wafti ng upward, like smell lines in cartoons. At least it's distinguishable from the rest of her unusually black-and-white striped self. You're more than a little shocked to see an actual zebra hugging and chatting wi

th your newfound acquaintance. The fact that she's a giant is even more alarming . The crown jewel, however, is that she isn't acting remotely like a zebra after all. Zebras, as everypony knows, are all exclusively trained in deadly and sinister w itching arts. They can turn ponies to stone with a glance, and use fillies and f oals as meats for their pernicious, life-extending brews. They speak exclusively in riddles and rhymes and care for nothing but themselves. Also, you're pretty sure they normally speak in alien tongues. Riddlesome, rhyming alien tongues. Is this zebra deliberately trying to act normal? Whatever it is, you don't like it. It's almost certainly wretched and probably going to get you in trouble. Zeb ras, as everyone knows, are bad news. Nine years is a long time to spend in pris on, but at LEAST you still can get your facts straight. Said zebra, meanwhile, has turned her attentions to you. “And who's the foal?” she b ooms, loud as a cannon. “El, you lucky mare! Don't tell me you managed to snag som e FOB piece of tail for yourself tonight!” Eloquence blushes a dark purple. “It- Farasi, why is your mind always in the gutte r? He's going to eat dinner with us tonight, that's all.” “Ooh. So it IS the new guy, eh?” the zebra says, shooting what was probably a very p oor knowing look at you. “dinner, eh? Am I allowed to come to the movies with you when you're done?” Eloquence turns to you, looking quite flustered and more than a bit irritated. “BF F, this is Farasi. She's the town baker. Farasi, this is BFF. He's going to be l ooking for work around here, so keep your eyes peeled for anything, okay?” Farasi looks at you. “Charmed, kid.” she says, offering a hoof. “What'cha thinking 'bo ut?” Before you can stop yourself, you blurt out something stupid. It was inevitable, really. What with all the crazy thoughts running around in yo ur head, and the general bustle of today, there was no chance that you WEREN'T g oing to say something that would probably be considered offensive. It can't be h elped, really. It still doesn't change the fact that you ask... >I thought you guys talked in riddles? As soon as that sentence escapes your lips, you clap a hoof to your mouth. What was I thinking? You think to yourself. Eloquence, beside you, gasps. Farasi just chuckles good-naturedly. “They had you in prison for how many years, k id?” “Nine?” you venture, trying not to make any more faux pases. Even if she IS a flesheating witch with freaky hypnosis powers, it's best not to make an enemy of her. Especially not when her friend is watching. “Nine HUNDRED's more like it, hoo, boy!” Farasi says, stamping a hoof. It causes the snow around you to scatter in a dander-like puff. “what kinda' crazy wheat-bread camp did they put'cha in, the Arcantersas federal?” “Actually, yes.”

Farasi Laughs. It's got all the tonality of a foghorn, and about as much volume. Eloquence shoots you an awkward glance before approaching the zebra. “Farasi, don 't-” “Nah, the colt's fine.” Farasi says to eloquence, shooting you a wink. “He didn't mean no harm, n'neither did I. Ain't that right, kid?” “Yeah. Uh, Sorry about that,” you agree. “I'm just kind of...you know, flustered. I ju st got here...” Farasi slams a hoof down so hard it echoes through the store. “Tarnation! I forgot to get the breads! Here, let me dash off for a bit and i'll be right back, okay ?” Before you can say anything, she rushes off to the back room of the shop. A few seconds later, and a string of clanking pans and muted curses burst forth from the back of the shop. Eloquence grimaces a bit and turns back to you, desperate to find something else to focus on. “Do you like her?” she asks. “Who, the zebra? Yeah, she's pretty cool.” For a cannibalizing witch, you think to y ourself. To be honest, you're not quite sure WHAT to think of Farasi. She seems friendly in all the ways that a deceptive snake-in-the-grass shouldn't normally be, so either she's very, VERY good or else she's not a witch after all. But if she's not a witch, than why is she so massive? Normal ponies don't get that larg e, not by your knowledge. Eloquence, oblivious to your mental monologue, beams. “Wonderful! I was worried th at you...didn't like zebras, but I think you'll really get to like her. She's so friendly, if a bit...” A particularly choice oath rings out, extra-loud. “...MUCH at times.” You flash Eloquence an understanding grin, and she smiles back at you. “I hope dinner with other guests isn't going to be a problem?” she asks. It takes yo u all of a half-second to realize that “other guests” probably means “you” to everyone e lse; you, BFF, now the perennial tagalong. If it means free food, it means free food. “It's fine! It's wonderful!” you say. There is silence, again, between you. In the back room, the noise has died down; Farasi must have almost everything she wants. Still, this isn't a bad time to fill the conversation with another question... >How in the nine holy hells did Farasi get to be so huge? Eloquence giggles at this. “She was that big when I moved here.” Eloquence chortles. “You would not believe the s tares she got when she first moved here! We don't normally get a lot of zebras i n ponyville, and seeing a giant like her, well...” “A giant?” you probe. “Genetics.” Eloquences says, dismissively, hoofwaving aside your query. “Not that ever

ypony believed it at first. Actually, there are still a few out there that think she used dark magic or something to get that big.” “ah?” “Yeah. Not that it makes any sense to me now. I mean, why would she want to get so big? How does that help with breadmaking? As far as I can tell, it's basically made her life more awkward and unpleasant.” A likely response, you think to yourself. “But I used to believe it at first, too” Eloquence continues. “Actually, there was thi s one time where one of my students wanted to know if it was possible to use mag ic to become smarter. I didn't know, regrettably – but I figured that Farasi proba bly used a ritual to grow bodies, so she probably knew a spell to grow brains, t oo.” Eloquence giggles a bit at this part, sending a tuft of snow cascading form h er mane. It breaks apart in the air into a flurry of flakes that light upon the snowy ground like flower petals. “So I went up to her the next day – she was at the market, buying a humungous sack o f wheat – and I asked her 'Miss?'. She turned around, looked me dead in the eye an d said 'ma'am.'. So I continued: 'excuse me', I asked, 'but I was wondering – I me an, I figured you knew how to grow bodies, and so I wanted to know if you knew s ome way to grow brains?'. And she said -” “Horse Apples, Eloquence. You're not telling that story AGAIN.” Farasi is standing in the doorway wearing the largest saddle you've seen in your life. It fits her loosely, but only a little. Slung across it are a couple of l arge, brown paper bags – the baked goods, you realize. Eloquence spins around. “Farasi! Language!” Farasi scoffs. “Eloquence, I can curse up a storm worse than that and you know it. Are we gonna head out, or do you wanna tell that story about how I baked a scho olyard full of fillies into a massive pie and served it to Celestia Herself?” You suddenly get an image of the princess bowing her head to eat filly pie. Invo luntarily, you giggle, and Farasi turns to look at you with a weird eye. You rea lize that Farasi probably doesn't think the very best of you at the moment; perf ectly understandable, you realize, but unfortunate. It's never a good idea to ha ve an evil enchantress breathing down your neck, after all. “Come on, El, B.” she says to the pair of you, as she starts trotting down the stree t. “This food ain't gonna eat itself.” The walk to Eloquence's house is much more quiet than the walk to Farasi's baker y. Farasi and Eloquence talk a little about school, and they reference a slew of ponies that you can't keep straight. After a while, you let the conversation wa sh over you, and shortly after that they fall silent. Eloquence's house is located right next to Ponyville General. The school itself is an almost Frankensteinian amalgamation of makeshift attachments spliced to a plain, rectangular-looking mane schoolyard. A lone merry-go-round stands out aga inst the emptiness of the schoolyard, illuminated by the warm orange glow of a s treetlamp. Eloquence's house is much more welcoming; it's a plain, no-nonsense s tructure, with two stories, plenty of windows and altogether too much green pai nt. The roof and slats were painted like her mane and body color, of course; per haps it would look better in the warmer months. Now, it stands out like a potted

plant in the middle of a desert, cast into shadows by the glow of the same stre etlight that spread light over the merry-go-round. “BFF!” You turn around and realize that Eloquence and Farasi have come to a halt, rough ly five feet behind you. You flush; were you just about to barge into somepony e lse's house? Quickly, you apologize to Eloquence, who frowns. “It's not that.” she says. “Sorry, I should have mentioned this sooner. You're going t o want to step back a bit.” You do so, still confused about what is going on. Eloquence approaches the door, raises a hoof and knocks. For a couple of seconds, there is silence. Then a voice on the other end of the door pipes out – it's distorted and warbly, like the voices in electronic music. B riefly, you wonder how you remember a detail like that; you certainly didn't lis ten to music, not in your nine years of prison. “Hello, there, Eloquence!” The voice warbles out. “Lovely day, isn't it?” Eloquence sighs and rolls her eyes. Despite Eloquence's warning, you take a coup le hoofsteps forward. “Vermeillia, take down the death traps” Eloquence says, exasperatedly. “I've invited a friend to dinner.” “I love friends! What kind of friend?” the voice (Vermeillia's?) burbles. The statem ent is followed by a series of mechanical clicks – like the sound of several switc hes being flipped. “The new kind, okay? It's the pony that just moved in, BFF.” Eloquence says. “He's goi ng to be having dinner with us, okay?” There's a pause at the other end of the line. A low, rumbling mutter emerges fro m the other side of the door, and you move a couple of steps closer to make out the words. Eloquence snorts, stamping her hoof against the ground. “I am not being mind-controlled, okay? Why are you going to insist on this kind of nonsense every time I try to invite someone over? He's perfectly fine! A gentle pony! Now, can you please open the door? It's getting cold out here!” You take a step forward, the doorknob rattles, and suddenly you're looking up at the sky. It takes your brain a second longer to realize that something just collided with you, full-force; the realization hits at exactly the same time you hit the grou nd. The wind is knocked out of you, full-force, and you skid painfully backwards across the snow-slicked streets. As bursts of light dance in front of your eyes and the air is knocked out of your lungs, your attacker rears into view. Griffins are supposedly rare creatures, majestic and beautiful. You know that th ey have a kingdom of their own, far away; it's probably unusual to find one in E questria, much less in a small town like ponyville. They are known to be fierce but honorable, and many of them are steadfast and reserved in their dealings. You abruptly decide that all of these conceptions are crap, because the one on t op of you looks like it is seconds away from murdering you. Its eyes glimmer wit h hate, its beak frozen in a snarl; one of it's claws pins you flat to the groun

d, while the other is raised in the air, talons fully extended, ready to swipe d own and slash out your throat. The claw swoops downward, only to be blocked by an oversized black hoof. A secon d later, and Farasi has her chestnut wrapped around your attacker, dragging the Griffin off of you. “Down, girl.” Farasi mutters as you gasp for breath. Out of your line of sight, you hear the sounds of someone galloping towards you- Eloquence, you think. Tentativ ely, you get to one hoof -And something knocks into you full force, and you are hurtling backward s across the dock and crash into a stack of textiles crates and it hurts and eve rything hurts and you can't breathe and the world spins red around you“BFF?” You're staring at the ground again; a stretch of pavement smeared with s now and spotted with a couple of drops of red. Your hoof has collapsed in front of you. Tentatively, you put weight on it, and it holds. You get to your hooves “BFF?” Abruptly, you realize that Eloquence has been trying to get your attenti on. You turn to look at her; a mingled look of horror and guilt is plastered on her face. Somewhat further away, Farasi is setting the griffin down on the pavem ent much as a cat owner sets down a cat into a travel crate. “Are you okay?” Eloquence gasps. It suddenly occurs to you that you've proba bly put on quite a production, collapsing to the ground after getting tackled. Y ou start to feel guilty, even ashamed, when the pain hits you. It hurts pretty much all over your body. Your back feels like it's on fi re; your stomach feels like someone hit it with a sledgehammer. Your forelegs an d hindlegs hurt too, of course, but not nearly as bad as your chest. Even your h ead throbs, probably from when you hit it against the ground. It feels bad; should you see a doctor about it? Part of you wants to, bu t another part of you wonders if you're just making a production out of this. A third part of you wants to, crazily enough, apologize; if you hadn't gotten too close to the door, the griffin wouldn't have been able to attack you and none of this would have happened. Whatever you do, you can't tell anyone about...whatever happened with th e vision. Was It a hallucination? Was it a memory? Was it a vision of the future ? You don't know, but you don't want to make any more waves as is. There's no se nse in spending nine years in prison, just to end up an outcast again. But you've got to do something. >put the griffin's mind at ease “Yeah, i'm fine.” you sputter out. “Don't worry about it, El.” “but-” “no, look. You told me to stay back. I should have stayed back, right? I r eally screwed this up for everyone. I'm sorry.” El stands there for a second, staring at you. You return her gaze evenly , trying to ignore the throbbing pain in your chest.

“That sounds exactly like something am innocent pony would say. TOO simila r. I don't believe you for a second.” This voice is new – it's curt and cutting. It's the first truly feminine v oice you're heard from your new group of friends, but it's not exactly effeminat e. It's the voice of someone ready and willing to kick your ass into next week – a s the speaker attached to it would testify. The griffin walks toward you, calmly this time. It's a nice change-up fr om tackling you to the ground and attempting to kill you. “I'm not fooled by you, Pal. I know you did – something, used some creepy prison magic thing to make them like you. But i'm not going to fall for it.” Is this griffin completely out of her gourd? For a moment, you want to t ell her as much; then you mentally remind yourself that you're supposed to be di ffusing things, here. Getting into a fight with something that can kick your ass in seconds wasn't on your itinerary for the day. “Look...” you say. “I'm sorry about that business, okay? I honestly was invite d over to dinner, and i'm not going to try to do anything stupid. I'm just inter ested in getting to know ponies here, okay?” She points at you with one razor-sharp talon. “I don't believe you for a s econd. That's exactly what some kind of dark-magic-using...prison scum-pony woul d say to put a victim's mind at ease.” “How can I cast magic if i'm not a unicorn?” It's true. Your flank aside, you are, for all intents and purposes, abou t as normal a pony as they come. Your skin is white, your mane an unkempt light brown – nothing particularly out of the ordinary. You've got all the strength and stamina of a typical earth pony, but there's nothing unusual about that – that is, nothing unusual except that it probably saved you even more pain and misery fro m your griffin aggressor. The Griffin sputters at this. “Don't...don't you use that kind of logic ag ainst ME, pal. You could have whipped up some nasty enchanter's brew and drugged them all or something.” You sigh. Are all griffins this obstinate, or this batshit crazy? “Look, t he ponyville express keeps a list of baggage tagged on train travels. If you wan t to go through my luggage log, I'd be more than happy to let you examine my sad dle and my purse of bits. I'm not sure you will find many brew-making ingredient s there, though.” “What about your house?” The griffin snaps accusatorially. “Completely cleared after the last owners moved out. You know as well as I do that's part of probationary procedure – or you should know, right?” “Don't -“ the Griffin stammers, faltering for words. For once, her expressio n fades from a rage-fueled grimace to a half-confused masque. “Don't you make fun of me! I still don't have any reason to trust you. You had better believe me, bu ddy, I am going to be watching you. Like a hawk.” You can't stop yourself. “Shouldn't you be watching me like a griffin?” The griffin's mouth drops open. Behind her, Farasi booms with laughter. Without another word, the Griffin turns stiffly around and walks back to Eloquen

ce's house, cracking her tail in the air like a whip as she does so. You turn ba ck to Eloquence to find her giggling, slightly. “Did I handle that okay?” You ask. Eloquence's eyes soften, and she nods. “I'm sorry about this,” she continues. “Vermeillia's always been a bit...defen sive of us, but she usually doesn't go off on ponies quite as much as she did on you.” You wince at the memory of your recent drubbing. Eloquence notices. “Oh, you poor thing! I forgot all about that! Your poor back...” she mutters , staring with a mixture of pity and disgust at your back. A part of you wonders just how badly it got scraped up; another part of you is glad that it doesn't h ave to know. “Here,” Eloquence says. “I was only planning on having the four of us for dinn er, but I know a pony – she's very good with injuries of all sorts. She'll have yo u all bandaged up in no time!” “Oh, really, Miss Eloquence. It's not a problem,” you say. Blatant lies, of course, but you can't afford to gripe in front of someone trying to hard to be n ice to you. Fortunately for you, she doesn't buy it for a second. “Farasi, Could you get BFF settled in the house? I'll go and invite Restin g Place over for dinner and some gauze.”, The unicorn says to Farasi. The zebra no ds, before plastering an enormous hoof to her forehead in a military salute. Wit h a nervous “goodbye” to the pair of you, Eloquence turns on her heel and disappears into the darkness. You trot over to Farasi. “Is there anything else I should be careful of?” “Besides Vermeillia? Beef, If you could take care of all your problems lik e you took care of her, I can't imagine why you wouldn't be some kinda of multib illionaire right now.” The zebra smiles warmly down at you as you walk slowly to E loquence's house. The Griffin (Vermeillia?) didn't even bother to close it; as a result, a happy yellow glow extends outwards over the white, recently-fallen sn ow. “So I'm 'Beef' now?” you probe lightheartedly. “Eyup! As much as Eloquence is El, or the Featherbeast is Vermy. Or as muc h as i'm See, come to think of it.” The zebra continues, looking down at you thoug htfully. “Ya know, I didn't figure you'ld be that personable a guy.” You can't think of anything truly appropriate to say to this, so you giv e a generic variation on “thanks”. “It's just different, huh? I figured you'd be kind of a bad racist, myself – you know, 'zigger this, zigger that, ziggers ruining our glorious country of eq uestia' – all that jazz.” She says, all trace of humor in her voice gone. “but I guess you're not that bad, really. Probably.” >You're plenty cool, Farasi. Farasi raises an eyebrow at this. “I wouldn't expect you to say anything less, after that whole speech. But I guess I shouldn't really expect ya to say more – you're welcome, beef.”

****************************** The inside of Eloquence's house is surprisingly small; After Farasi and you clamber inside, there's not a whole lot of room to stand around and talk. No t that Farasi feels like she has anything else to say, apparently; as soon as yo u get inside she tosses down her humongous brown-paper sacks on a rickety brown table and takes a seat. “Beef, have a – er, second thought.” she says, wincing a bit. “Ya might want to wait outside, actually. I'll, uh. Get the plates set up.” It takes you a second to realize why she wants you to wait outside. “How b adly am I...?” you say, tentatively patting a hoof to your back. You wished you hadn't almost instantly. It's cold enough that what you b led out froze-dried pretty quickly. As a result, there must have been a tougheni ng matte of frost and drying blood on top of your back – a matte that you unknowin gly cracked with one stroke. You wince again. When you pull your hoof back again, it's slick with red . You must have gotten scraped up pretty badly. “That bad?” you ask Farasi, trying to keep calm. The zebra sets down a plate with her teeth and nods. “It's not that I thin k you're delicate, but I don't know how El'd take it if you got blood on the cha irs. I mean, assuming it didn't have to happen every other week or so.” she says, casting a glare over at Vermeillia. The Griffon snorts, rolls her eyes and throw s herself into the chair facing the doorway. “You can't blame me for doing my job.” Vermeillia quorkles. “Everypony's got t heir way of fitting into life, right? Don't blame me for not being born with a c utie mark.” “I'm blaming you for getting blood all over the chairs...and table...and c abinets...and the couch...and the-” “that was last week!” “and you still didn't clean up. Honestly, Vermy, I don't know why El doesn 't just kick you out by now. You don't clean up anything, you eat all the food i n the house, you're constantly bitching and moaning about-” “And you're making me look bad in front of the guest, Farasi. How about yo u keep your cattiness to a medium, and how about I pretend to ignore you?” Farasi glares at Vermeilla. Judging by the expression on Vermeillia's fa ce, the number of fucks the griffin could give about this rounds to zero. >Inquire about Vermeillia's job. Is it her blood, or somepony else's? Your inquiry was enough to halt the “conversation” cold. Vermeillia brighten s at your question, while Farasi groans, grabs a bag with her teeth and tips it over onto the table. A variety of baked goods – two large, sliced breads and a num ber of smaller, bagged rolls – tumble out. Vermeillia grabs the hard end of one of the loaves and tears into it hungrily, barely bothering to chew the hunk before swallowing it. “S'good. Sourdough?” Vermeillia asks Farasi.

“Hey. I made that especially for Eloquence. Don't you have a pig to be eat ing or something?” Farasi snaps angrily. Vermeillia rolls her eyes, swallows audib ly and fixates her attention at you. Her stare is just as intense as it was the first time she was about to hand you your ass on a platter. This time, though, it's not angry; it's enthusiastic, pr oud to the point of arrogance and possibly a bit...nervous? No, you decide, not nervous; it's not as if she's worried about what she's going to say. Maybe she's worried about whether i'm going to like it? “I suppose it wouldn't hurt to put a little fear into the heart of crimina l scum such as yourself.” ...Why did I even bother wondering, you think to yourself. God, you must absolutely suck at finding meaning in the eyes of other people. “Listen up, Blank Flank! You are looking at the face – the stern, unyielding face – of justice made manifest! Of courage! Of honor and glory and retribution! I am Vermeillia – Ponyville's embodiment of vigilante justice!” With this, she beats her chest with a clutched claw, with a preposterous ly prideful look on her face. You and Farasi crack up simultaneously. The pitch of your laughter harmo nizes with her deep, bellowing timbre, filling the kitchen and echoing out the d oorway into the chill night air. Vermeillia's face rapidly cycles from confusion to rage to indifference back to rage, before settling on contemptuous disdain. You almost couldn't help but laugh at that. Not that there's anything ne cessarily funny about being a self-proclaimed superhero; but the way she said it , combined with the odd chest-beat at the end, was almost comically characterize d. Did she get all her ideas of justice from a comic book? You think to yourself . Farasi wheezes and gasps a couple times as she returns from a spasmodic laughing jag. “Vermy, I swear, you get better every time!” Farasi says with a cackle . “did'ja just add in the little hoof-beat thingie?” “It isn't a 'hoof-beat thingie', you stupid...zebra!” Vermeillia spits. “That' s a traditional breast-dap of my kingdom. It's a time-honored cultural symbol da ting from a tradition leading thousands of years back-” “-that you only just found out about now?” “Shut up.” Vermeillia snaps angrily, then turns back to you. “Don't think what that...mare believes is any indication of how strong I am! I'm plenty tough! I could kill any of you in a fair fight, easy peasy!” “wait a minute, who's fighting?” You turn around to see Eloquence, giving you a rather stern look. Behind her, you see a light brown pony with a matted-grey mane and a rather large set of saddlebags. The doctor, perhaps? “Nopony, El! Just Vermy and the new guy and me having a chat!” Farasi calls from the kitchen. “and you made BFF stand outside?”

“I didn't want him getting' blood all over-” “oh, for Celestia's SAKE, Farasi!” Eloquence huffs. “a little bit of blood's n othing at all to deal with. Resting Place, take BFF and run to the bathroom, ple ase? I'll make sure things get quieted down over here.” “but-” Farasi starts. “NO. Resting Place? Please?” You feel a hoof on your flank. Turning around, you see the tan-and-grey earth pony staring directly at you, prodding you in the flank. “Uh,” you mutter. “i don't know where the bathroom is. Sorry.” Without a word, the pony brushes past you and walks calmly through the k itchen. It only occurs to you now that Eloquence's doorway is rather huge. When Farasi went through first, it looked normal. But for the new pony...she's probab ly a little shorter than you, but the doorway looked like it dwarfed her. You walk into Eloquence's house, trying not to make eye contact with any one else. Behind you, you can feel Eloquence's eyes boring into you briefly, as if waiting impatiently for you to leave before letting into Farasi and Vermeilli a. The zebra tosses you an apologetic smile as you walk past; Vermeillia, on the other hand, glares coldly at you. [friendship achieved! Friend-Farasi unlocked!] [you have learned new things about Farasi! Scroll to the bottom of the page for more information!] ************************** Even though you have no idea where you're really going, you still make a half-hearted attempt to find Eloquence's s restroom. After the oversized kitche n and door, you were sort of expecting the house to be similarly built for giant s; however, it appears to be more Eloquence's size, at least in the hallway. A small tapping noise echoes behind you. Turning around, you see the tan -and-grey pony tapping a forehoof to a closed door on the left. I must have pass ed it, you realize. Blushing slightly, you walk over to the door. Wordlessly, th e pony opens the door, and you walk inside. It's a small bathroom, as far as bathrooms variety of colorful shampoo bottles in one corner, ween them and the door, a plain, white rug lies on comfortable to the touch; there's a slight give to her nice to step on. “no. bathtub.” It's the first time the tan-and-grey pony has spoken to you. Her voice i s also feminine, but dull and flat, like the voice of someone bored with talking . She points a hoof at the bathtub; since she doesn't seem that open to negotiat ion, you get in. Silently, the new pony walks over next to you, grabs her saddle bag in her teeth and lifts it clean over her head before setting it down gently on the ground next to her. Either it's a specially designed bag, or... The silence is beginning to creep you out. You've got to say something. “R go. and the the There's a bathtub with a a commode in another. Bet floor. It's surprisingly padding that makes it rat

esting place?” you ask. “Yes?” “Oh, I mean, that's your name, right?” “Yes.” “It's nice to meet you. My name's BFF, but I guess Farasi started calling me Bee – you could use that if you want” “I heard.” Okay... “Am I bothering you?” “No”. She's applying some kind of soothing lotion to your back. Pain you did n't even know you had starts to fade, but the temperature of the room feels like it drops several degrees even as you relax. “Do you not talk much?” “Yes.” With her forehooves, she takes out a set of bandages – linen-looking thing s – and begins to loop them over and around your back, like the kind of hoofbraces you see on courier ponies. You're not quite sure why Resting Place doesn't want to talk to you. May be she doesn't like that you were fighting? But who would she be upset about? Fa rasi? Vermeillia? Maybe she's upset that you got eloquence all ticked off? Or maybe she's just not terribly verbal. Maybe you should just let her w ork, and not say anything. >Say nothing The bathroom lapses into silence. Occasionally, you turn around to look back at Resting place's work. Her hooves move with remarkable speed as they wind and knot the bandages over your back, pausing only to apply some kind of cream or another to you're back. It's chilly, but fast; in five minutes, she's got you r back wrapped snugly in bandages. You turn to look in the mirror; it looks wors e bandaged than you think it felt, but... “Thanks.” you offer. Resting place nods politely, still not saying anything. It's starting to go beyond unnerving and into awkward. “is there anything I should do to take care of it?” Resting place inhales. “Strenuous physical activity should not aggravate the injury provided that you refrain from twisting or flexing your muscles too much.”, she begins. “Aerobic activities, particularly cantering and galloping, should be safe. I would not ad vise anaerobic activities or light physical activities that involve twisting or turning, particularly dancing. Getting into fights is probably the worst course of action that you could take, and I would advise against angering Vermeillia. O

ther than this, change the bandages and reapply an antibacterial solution daily. If you need to purchase some, I can provide a map and directions to my store.” You blink. “Uh, thanks.” Resting place nods again. “So you're a doctor?” “No. doctoring merely happens to be my secondary occupation. I don't have the necessary physical training or skill to professionally adopt the role. Howev er, I am skilled at first aid and pharmaceutical administration, which is appare ntly sufficient for Eloquence's needs.” I never know what's going to set her off. “I'm sorry?” “it was not intended as a critique, BFF.” “oh, right. Sorry about that.” Resting place is silent. “No, I – uh, look, I don't know a lot of ponies here, and i'm a bit out of p ractice with this whole communication thing. I didn't mean to – whatever, I guess.” “You are looking for ways in which to get along amicably with company whil e simultaneously not embarrassing yourself.” “Yes”. It's basically true at this point. You've worked pretty hard to get p onies on your good side, but you're rather out of practice. Things just seem to happen so fast, here. I mean, I haven't taken a hoofstep inside my house and I'v e already been invited to dinner. This can't be normal. “Eloquence thinks highly of you; I believe she is interested in perusing a friendship with you. Vermeillia also seems to have developed an interest in you .” “You mean Farasi?” “Vermeillia.” Resting place says, staring directly at you. “I don't think I ha ve seen her stare at any other pony like she's stared at you. Possibly Eloquence , but I don't think it has the same implications.” This is ridiculous. “You think Vermeillia's in love with me?” Resting place shrugs her shoulders. “I am not sure. I do not have a basis of comparison for Vermeillia. It's equally likely that she wants to kill you, or something entirely unrelated.” You look at the mirror, staring at your injuries. “I think i'd be more lik ely to believe that.” “Don't!” You freeze. Resting Place's voice has changed to something much higher-p itched and energetic. It's... God, I know that voice... And you can almost see her standing in front of you by the docks at the

warehouse and her pink mane is blowing slightly in the wind and she's staring at you with those damn beautiful blue eyes and her mouth is moving and I believe in you she says And I tell her not to believe in me that it's dangerous that I don't kno w I can do this whatever it is and she says I will always love you and she says thank you -and you're staring at the inside of the sink, and it's coated with vomi t. Your vomit? Gingerly, you touch your stomach and feel it roil. Without warnin g, you're sick again, inside the sink. You gag and wheeze as your retch emptily now, spitting gobs of saliva and fluid. Where the hell did that come from? You could have sworn you were feeling fine no less then five minutes ago. “are you allergic to anything?!” Resting place snaps. “No!” you shout back. Already, the nausea is beginning to fade. It's true, t hough; you really aren't allergic to anything, haven't been allergic to anything . They made sure that you were getting your necessary medical and dietary requir ements for nine years, and it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. And where the hell did that hallucination come from? What the hell was t hat? Who was she? Why did she love me? I probably shouldn't mention that. You turn back to Resting place. “I'm so rry about that. I'm feeling better-” The words die in your throat. Resting place is staring at you, looking a t you dead in the eyes, with a terrified look on her face. “Resting place?” She doesn't break eye contact, but stammers for a bit. “Yes?” Her voice is definitely back to it's usual range, not the unnaturally gi rlish pitch of before. It's higher, but it's definitely her voice. Her voice, as spoken by someone terrified by something. Behind you? You spin around; all that's there is the bathroom and your reflection in the mirror. You don't look any different, you think; maybe a little pale, but y ou just vomited into somepony else's sink. Twice. But when you turn back to Resting Place, she still looks terrified. It t akes you all of half a second to realize the only thing she could be terrified o f is you. “is something wrong?” you ask. “no!” she responds. Her voice is breathless, but slowly gravitating back to normal. There's lying in her eyes, though. She's terrified of you – whatever it is

that you did. Did she see what I saw? You think. Did she? That's a good question. She's probably letting on more than she knows, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee that you two are having the same delusion. Then again, maybe something else is going on entirely – maybe she's scar ed of illness or something – and it's best not to press the issue. >She's lying. Play it cool. Of course she's lying about something – it would probably be obvious to a filly fresh out of diapers that Resting Place is lying to you. There's no need t o go raising a massive fit about this, though. If she wants to tell you what she 's lying about, she'll tell you what she's lying about; it's probably for the be st to just make her feel comfortable. “look,” you begin. “you can tell me if there's something wrong, okay?” Resting Place freezes. “Was it something about the sink? If it's important to Eloquence, I can go tell her right now, and - “ “It's not that.” So she was lying to you after all. “is...is it something you want to talk about?” you say, letting just a littl e bit of trepidation creep into your voice. She looks down at her hooves for a b it, as if confused and unsure. “I mean,” you continue, “it's – I guess it's not important. I'm sorry, I didn't want to make you – whatever. I can drop it.” “thank you.” Resting Place says, her voice little more than a mumble. Though you want to know more, you're willing to leave it at that. There' s no point in pressing Resting Place if she doesn't want to tell you what is, ap parently, terrifying. The niggling thought lingers: did she see what you saw? It's something you'll have to keep track of. [notes updated] The silence lingers for a few awkward more seconds. When you realize tha t Resting Place has nothing more to say, you turn back to the sink and begin run ning water. You are short on cleaning tools, but you splash water around as best you can and hope that it doesn't smell too horribly after you leave. You freshe n up and turn around to find Resting Place, still standing close to you, staring at the floor. Silently, the two of you walk back to the kitchen. The kitchen is full of light and noise. There's a hearty bustle at the dinner ta ble as Eloquence, Farasi and Vermeillia all chatter excitedly with each other. E loquence waves a hoof over at you excitedly, and you take a seat opposite to her . Resting Place sits at her plate, absentmindedly grabs a roll and begins chewin g it thoughtfully. There doesn't seem to be much of an opening into the conversation; it switches t opics at the drop of a hat. When you first entered the room, it started as somet hing relating to snow; now, it's going on about some boutique or another. You pa

ss glances over each of the ponies. Eloquence has virtually ignored her meal in favor of conversation, and is joining in a three-way debating match with Farasi and Vermeillia. Farasi's talking and shoveling food into her mouth at the same t ime, sending great breadcrumbs all over her plate and the table. Vermeillia argu es with a grin in her eyes and a hammering of her foreclaw; once, she takes a br eak from the argument to eviscerate a slice of bread, before swallowing it greed ily and returning to her argument. Resting place, meanwhile, is chewing a roll thoughtfully. She no longer looks te rrified, but she doesn't look happy, either. It looks like you're going to have to dive into the conversation the forceful wa y, taking an opportunity when it arises. You're more than a bit out of practice at this, though. At least nine years so. Who are you interested in talking to, anyway? Eloquence ous to you, and has been nothing but friendly. Farasi's , too, even if Resting Place didn't imply it; maybe you ond chance? Then there's Vermeillia, who might or might According to resting place, anyway. Of course, there's omething's seriously up with that pony, and it couldn't Who to try and talk to, though? >Vermeillia Even if Vermeillia hates your guts – which is more than likely, in your opinion – th e very worst that you could do is to make her hate you no worse. And it's reason able to want to keep someone from killing you, particularly when said someone ca n knock you flat on your ass and slice your trachea in half. On the off chance that she doesn't hate you, this might even help you initiate a friendship. You're fairly confidant that Eloquence and Farasi wouldn't be again st talking to you tomorrow – you're less sure of Vermeillia. Carefully, you listen in on the conversation, picking apart places where you can leap in. “...obviously, the greatness of the bearers of harmony depends on the most significant of their impacts, not the number of their impacts. Quality over qua ntity.” Vermeillia says, rotating one foretalon in a circle. “She managed to stop an international war, in addition to all that harmony stuff. I figure that should count for something.” “i'm not saying she wasn't important.” Eloquence says. “I'm saying that you're underestimating the significance of long-term commitments. Sure, maybe the Spar kle memorial library didn't have a significant effect in the first generation of it's construction, but it was the only free library this town had for at least two generations, and even at the time it was as large as the libraries they had in places like Fillydelphia. Now, it's one of the largest libraries in the world and the average test scores of fillies and colts in this town has risen -” “Correlation doesn't imply causation.” Damn, you think to yourself. I wasn't expecting Vermeillia to bust out a phrase like that. “I think it can be used as a fairly accurate parameter, though.” Eloquence s tates calmly. “Particularly in the case of standardized testing.” “If that's the case,” Farasi interrupts, “Why not cite Applejack? There's prob ably a correlation between the construction of the appleclan free medical instit has been more than graci been reasonably friendly should give zebras a sec not have a crush on you. resting place, herself – s hurt to find out what.

ute and a rise in health quality among ponies in our city.” It finally dawns on you exactly what they're talking about. “Are you seriously arguing about which pony is best pony?” you blurt out. Th ree pairs of eyes stare intently at you, and you realize the volume of your outb urst. “There's no argument.” Farasi cuts in. “It's Applejack.” “She was racist, you know.” Eloquence cuts in. “Was not. Those rumors were probably exaggerated.” You sigh. There's discussion, and there's conversation, but then there's mindlessly raging about personal preference. Discussing the personal preference s among a group of ancient superhero figures probably takes the cake, though. “let me guess.” you state. “you've been having this argument every time you ge t dinner together, since Celestia only knows when, and you never manage to resol ve it.” “you know, hon.” Farasi cuts in dully. “I figure your cutie mark was probably deprettifying things, 'cuz you just managed to get this beautiful cycle of ours and make it sound dumb.” “pointless. Slight difference.” you say, before you can stop yourself. Faras i frowns at you while Eloquence grins, before covering her smirk with a napkin. To your right, you hear Vermeillia sniggering. “so, let me guess. You told me you like Applejack.” you start, pointing at F arasi. “Eloquence...you said stuff about a library, so i'm gonna guess Twilight Sp arkle. Resting place, I'd say twilight for you, but given that everyone else at the table seems to disagree I figure it's probably not her.” “no.” resting place says quietly, nibbling blandly at her food. “so...hmm. Probably Fluttershy, then.” Resting place nods. Three for three. You can probably guess what Vermeil lia's favorite is, and you're about to say it when you remind yourself that the whole point of diving into this conversation was getting a chance to talk to her . “Vermeillia...hmm. I'm not sure.” It's probably a bad lie, but the Griffin falls for it completely. Her ey es light up in triumph, and she draws herself upright to address you. “The one and only Rainbow Dash! Honorary member of the wonderbolts, broker of the international Pony-Griffin alliance and founder of the legendary 108 Tra nscendent techniques!” “...and all-around asshole.” Farasi cuts in. “Shut up.” Vermeillia snaps. “They probably exaggerated those rumors, too.” “Have you read her autobiography? It's all true.” “That thing was ghost-written and you know it. I refuse to accept it as ca

non.” “It was ghost-written 'cause she specifically asked her ghost-writer to wr ite it for her! That's documented in th' preface of her autobiography!” “Hah!” Vermeillia shouts triumphantly, banging a fist against the table. “that 's exactly the kind of thing a ghostwriter would slip in to validate his claim. I refuse to accept it as proof!” You realize this is getting out of hand. Eloquence obviously realizes it , too, because she turns to you and cuts into Farasi and Vermeillia's argument. “How did you get to know about the bearers of harmony, anyway?” “Well,” you start, “I was in solitary, but the prison had a library. Strictly under their control, of course, so the selection was limited. But they would occ asionally let me check out books to read in my cell, and they had an old history textbook. It was the biggest thing there, so I - “ “Wait, hol' up.” Farasi demands. “how old?” “fifty years?” Farasi snorts, but is otherwise silent. You can tell what she's thinking to herself about you, and it's probably not pretty. Then again, she is a zebra. There's potentially quite a lot about her that's not pretty. Wait, what are you thinking? Your business about zebras looks almost sil ly, given what Vermeillia acts like. Perhaps your feelings are justified, but it 's certainly nothing to dwell on too much. An absolutely great way to start your stay in ponyville would be to have the welcoming committee think you're nuts. “What else did you read?” Eloquence probes. You think back. Come to think of it, you actually spent a fair amount of time reading, since there wasn't much else to do. Well, that and reflecting on a crime you remembered almost nothing about, anyway. “well...” ****************** Laughter echoes through the well-lit room as you finish your story. The pie vanished without a trace half an hour ago, but everypony seems to have ignor ed that. It's been a surprisingly fun night of banter and discussion, all things considered. [notes updated] “Wait!” Eloquence snorts. “Wait until I tell you about...” All of a sudden, she yawns mid-sentence. Obviously embarrassed, she blushed and covers her mouth with one free hoof. “You getting' tired, El?” Farasi calls, cheerfully. “what time is it?” You glance at the clock. Time passes faster than you thought: already it's 8:30. “Late...” Eloquence murmurs, sleepily. As if taking it as a cue, Resting place – who h

ad been all but invisible this night – rises from her chair and plods over to the bathroom. “I guess that's the cue. If silenceface is leaving...” Vermeillia mutters. Stretchin g, the griffin casually puts her feet up on the table and rocks back in her chai r, absentmindedly flexing her talons. Resting place plods back into the kitchen without a word, her formidable medical saddlebag slung over her shoulders. It occurs to you briefly to thank her, but just as you rise to call her attention she pushes open the door with a hoof and disappears into the night. You note that, if Eloquence is feeling tired, it's probably time for you to head out, too. Not that you have a lot to set up back at your house, but wha tever there is will be easier to tackle after a nice sleep. “are you sure you want to head back?” Eloquence says. You're not quite sure you understand. “She's asking if you want to spend the night.” Vermeilla chips in, dryly. What? “Not like that!” Eloquence quickly cuts in. “I know that you probably don't ha ve things all that well set up at your house, and I figured you wouldn't want to deal with that until morning. Farasi heaves a sigh. “Look, kid, if you wanted' to spend the night at my place you're more than welcome to.” she says, not sounding particularly pleased to say it. Honestly, going home probably wouldn't be too much of a problem for you, at this point. You're not sure how much of an inconvenience it would be to take either pony up on their offer. They are offering, though... >return home “It's okay, ponies!” you interject. “I really don't have that much to get set up back at home. I wouldn't want to inconvenience any of you. Farasi nods silently and trots out the door. Eloquence, however, looks a t you a bit concernedly. “Are you sure you know how to get back?” “Don't worry, Eloquence. It can't be that bad.” ********* Ten minutes later, and you have absolutely no idea where you are. None o f the buildings around you look familiar, and the bare glow of the occasional st reetlight doesn't really help. Eloquence, however, seems to know exactly where she's going. The tip of her horn glows like a torch as she deftly trots down the now-icy cobblestones, t urning left and right as if at random. At the time, you thought that her offer t o walk you back to your house was mere politeness. But she was right; it's easy

to get lost. You probably already would have, if she hadn't been walking with yo u. You must have been really focused on conversing with Eloquence the first time you walked here! You don't remember any of the buildings that you are walk ing past – and you can't guess at the function of half of them. Some of them are h ouses, maybe, but shadows distort and blur their outer facades. What looks like a witches' castle looms in front of you; Eloquence turns left to avoid it, and a s you catch up with her you see it's some kind of candy store. The pair of you trot in silence. Not that you don't want to talk; it's b een nine years since you actually had something resembling a conversation with a nypony else, but you figure Eloquence is keeping her mind on finding her way aro und town. Not that you blame her; the ponyville streets reflect their age and or igins, and are as sinuous as a bagful of snakes. Instead of talking, you make a list of the things that you should take c are of, now that you're in town. You don't know if your house has a refrigerator , or something resembling a stove; if not, you're going to need to go shopping, pronto. Food will, of course, be important: you know you can buy bread at Farasi 's, but you wonder if there's anywhere else that sells food. You're going to wan t some clothes, too; your saddle is serviceable but it's not perfect for keeping out the chill. That's all going to cost bits, so you're probably going to need to find a job, and fast. Apparently you had close to 50 bits in personal effects before incarceration, so you're going to have to survive on that until you are financia lly stable. “I think this is your place?” You nod to Eloquence. It is indeed, down to it's gloomy, out-of-the-way location and lack of décor whatsoever. You haven't really seen for yourself if pon yville is a colorful or lively town, but the ramshackle brown cottage you appare ntly have to call home certainly isn't setting any records. Nodding to eloquence , you bid her goodnight and head inside. It's completely dark, and you forgot to bring some source of light from you. You turn around to call out for Eloquence, but she's already walking back. You figure it would be foolish to ask for her help yet again (even though she wa s rather insistant the first time...), so you decide to make do. Placing one hoo f on the wall to your right, you carefully walk around the perimeter of the room , slowly, being careful not to bump into things. You bump a couple of times, and a couple of times your path angles and y ou follow it. There's a pair of doors you nudge open with one hoof; both rooms f eel slightly different against your hooffalls, and your forehoof brushes against different textures of object when you bump into them – a rough, grating feel, a s moother, large brick-like thing, a short, stumpy, smooth thing. It's only after you carefully trace your way around those pair of rooms and you return to the original floor texture do you bump into something soft. Ca refully, you trace the surface of the object; it's long and straight. Perhaps it 's not a bed, but you are tired and at this point it's probably close enough. Gently, you clamber on top of the surface and feel around for covers. Wh en (to your relief) you find them and something possibly soft enough to be a pil low, you cover yourself in the blankets, rest your head and prepare to sleep. A second later, and you slumber.

************************** [day 2] There's a thought niggling at the back of your mind. It's keeping you fr om sleeping entirely dreamlessly, like a hard-to-scratch itch. You can't pinpoin t exactly what it is, but it's not letting you go back to sleep, either. What did you forget? Your bed is comfortable (there's a pleasant tingle that runs through your body at that thought. It's almost a call to sleep, and yo u want to answer it.) You don't think anyone at Eloquence's is terribly mad at y ou – well, maybe Vermeillia, but maybe not. Or maybe Farasi, but maybe not her, ei ther. Resting Place seemed okay to you, too, except when... Crap! You just remembered what it was. The vision-y, weird hallucinatory things that cropped up. You haven't had those for nine years...why would you ha ve them now? And why are you dreaming, or giving yourself the chance to dream? I don't want to see those, you realize. I don't want to have to recall whatever t he hell they were. I don't want to be crazy. You've got to stop sleeping. Almost painfully, you force yourself awake, clambering out from the half-pleasant haze of someone not quite asleep into the painful, tired ache of a pre-emptively awakened mare. Or stallion, in your case . As you open your eyes, the world suddenly fills with sunlight. You are staring u p at the ceiling, almost exactly in the same position that you were in when you started sleeping. Dust motes, illumined by a sunbeam from a window by the front door, dance to a silent minuet in the air You sit up, yawning, and something pings to your right. You turn your he ad, wondering what it was, to see a string darting across the floor and out the door. Was it some kind of tripwire? How in the name of Equestria did you manage to avoid it the first time? You wait a couple of minutes for something to happen, gradually looking around. The room you are in appears to be the main room; your bed's tucked away in a corner of a mostly empty room. There's a table and a chair placed awkwardly in the middle of the room, and absolutely nothing else. Two doors are stuck aga inst the wall to your left, at varying points. The far one is swung open; the ne ar one is closed. Wait a minute, didn't you open both doors last night? What's going on? Why do all these weird things keep happening to you, anyway? >look around your bed for tripwire-related things Yeah, it's probably best to go looking for whatever it was you tripped. Nothing would be worse than to start off a brand-new life in ponyville dead. Kee nly careful, you look around your bed for anything suspicious. After about ten seconds of scanning the area, you find what you assume y ou're looking for: a small, hastily-bolted-on brass ring, right next to your bed . A gossamer strand of string hangs limply from it, severed at the merest touch of your pressure.

You're guessing that whoever set this up probably snuck in to do it whil e you slept. But for what purpose? To trigger some kind of alarm? You decide to check around your bed, too, just to be on the safe side. A quick glance to the l eft and the right of your bed reveals nothing out of the ordinary, but perhaps t here's something at the foot of your bed. Precariously, you place two hooves on the bed frame and peer down. The toilet flushes. You raise your head upward just as the closed door o pens. Vermeillia struts out with a self-satisfied look on her face, then freezes as soon as she sees you staring at her. There's a moment's pause when neither o f you say anything, instead staring into each other's eyes. You are the first one to say something. “what – why the hell were you in my bathroom?” you sputter, somewhat indignant ly. Vermeillia rolls her eyes. “three guesses, genius.” “no, I mean what are you doing in my house?” “Keeping an eye on you.” Vermeillia says it so casually that for a second yo u almost take it as an acceptable answer. “for the last time, i'm not-” “look. e's staring at 't necessarily d. For a brief Let's drop the charade for a second, okay?” Vermeillia interjects. Sh you now; her amber eyes are locked on you with a focus that doesn denote anger, but certainly rivets you to the spot where you stan second, you feel like prey.

“You've done a really surprisingly excellent job of obfuscating you intent ions”, Vermeillia begins. “You've just come into the town and already you've proven yourself to be charming, witty, and genial. After however long you spent in that prison cell of yours, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for you to behave anti socially. And yet, you are doing your best to fit in.” “That's because-” “I'm not done yet.” Vermeillia interrupts you again. You suddenly realize th at she's been padding her way over towards you as she spoke, and the two of you are almost beak-to-mouth close. “I have a hard time believing that anyone has pure intentions, certainly n ot someone just recently released on parole. Now, there may be ponies in this to wn willing to turn a blind eye and offer a helping hoof to a colt in need. Me? I don't want to appear so gullible. I think i'm entitled to believe, given your h istory and your mannerisms, that you are running some kind of con on all of us. And you're damn good at it. “what-” “don't give me WHAT, dweeb. This is what I do: hunt down crime like you. I want to know when we can drop this pretense-laden bullshit and actually act lik e the enemies that we are supposed to.” “and on the off chance that i'm actually innocent?” it feels good to get a s entence in edgewise, this time. “nobody is innocent, blank flank. Everybody is one reason short of committ

ing a crime. I thought a pony as logical as you could understand something like that. I was also hoping that you could APPLY the same logic towards treating me fairly, so we don't have to do this acting-in-character drama shit all the time. Can you at least be honest about being the villain you are to me?” >how do you want me to convince you? Vermeillia looks confused for a minute. “uh, what?” “That I'm innocent,” you begin. “Can you give me some kind of-” Vermeillia smacks her foreclaw into your bedframe, hard enough to make t he entire bed shudder. “No, no, no! Goddamnit, dweeb, are you even listening to a single word i'm saying?” “but-” “whatever.” Vermeillia snaps. “You want to play that bullshit innocence game w ith me, fine. But don't think that i'm going to give up this easily, because I a m NOT. GOING. TO.” You get the feeling that you've said something terrible. “I'm sorry.” “No, you aren't.” Vermeillia cheeps, bluntly. “look, just get dressed and go.” “Go where?” Vermeillia begins to tally off on her foreclaws. “One. You don't have any food in your fridge. Two, you don't have any bodywash or goop for your mane. Thr ee, this place is completely friggin' sparse – I take it you haven't heard of furn iture? Also, you need to find a job to pay for this crap, because I went through your saddlebags and man, are you ever lacking in bits.” You are vaguely aware that your jaw is hanging open. “you-you went through my stuff?” you sputter. Vermeillia looks almost proud. “swept the whole damn house!” she chirps. “had to make sure you weren't hiding anything. You're clean, suspiciously so. See, th at's how I can tell that you are kind of new to this whole skullduggery business . If you were REALLY good, you would have faked a sleepyweed addiction or stashe d some pornography in the freezer to throw me off track, assuming I would have f allen for it.” “you-you went through my fridge?” Vermeillia looks nonplussedly back at you. “yeah...” “and...you went through my pockets? How am I supposed to know you didn't s teal - “ “fifty-one and eighty-sevenths' bits, raw currency. And I don't steal.” That is...distressingly accurate, you think to yourself. You remember ha ving roughly fifty bits to your name, which was not really enough. “and what, you showered, too?” “oh, don't pretend to be hurt.” Vermeillia cuts in. “your utilities are paid f or. You know, you're going to have to get a towel, too. I had to borrow one from

Eloquence-” “how do you know my utilities are paid for?” Vermeillia smirks at you. “wouldn't you like to know.” You can't resist but to slip into sarcasm. “No, because obviously what i'm most curious in was whether you had to borrow toilet paper from Eloquence, too.” Vermeillia snaps her talons. “Right, I knew I forgot something. Stay right there.” She says, before sidestepping her way back to the bathroom, eyes fixed on you. For a second, you consider making a run for it, just to see how she would react; after remembering last night's incident, though, you decide against it. S till looking at you, Vermeillia pries open the door, reaches onto the floor and pulls out a jar before juggling it to her other talon and slamming the bathroom door shut. The jar itself is a large, glass affair, with a jam lid screwed on tight . It's the kind of thing designed to hold preserves, like strawberry jam or froz en peaches. What's actually in it looks noxious, however; it's three-quarters fu ll of a vile-looking, dark-colored sludge. You recoil, just a bit, in disgust. “what IS that stuff?” “Self-made weapon!” Vermeillia chirps. “See, this helps me make absolutely sur e that I don't have to take my eyes of a quarry. And as a bonus, if they ARE gui lty and are trying to get away, I can chuck this at 'em! It'll make 'em SO easy to track!” “That still doesn't explain what's actually in the jar.” Vermeillia stares blankly at you. “you don't have to play dumb, dweeb.” “humor me, then.” She does. For a couple of seconds, you can't think of anything to say. “...are you KIDDING me?” Vermeillia looks pleased at your mingled surprise and disgust. “admit it, dweeb. You're just jealous because you didn't think of it first. Well, actually, there's that and that you wouldn't need to track anyone down, because you proba bly would be DOING the fleeing rather than the tracking. But I bet you're still jealous at my genius.” “Oh, yeah.” you retort. “Your brilliance is so over my head, I can't even foll ow this conversation. I think you and your brain lost me somewhere around the po int when... >you raided my saddlebags to keep tallies on how much money I had. Vermeillia's face darkens. “I didn't steal anything.” “I never said that you did-” “you IMPLIED it. You're so frustrating to deal with sometimes, you know th at? I'm the one who's going out and doing good. ME.” She's completely insane. “well, maybe if you hadn't gone through my stuff -”

“that was because I was SUPPOSED to, okay? It's my job. This is what I do. Keep. Tabs. On. Criminals. You don't have to...go around, and make my life diff icult and be so obstructive and shimmy your way into Eloquence's good graces-” “This isn't about her!” “or IS it?” she says, getting right up in your face. You can't take it. “why do you have to be so crazy?” Vermeillia pulls back, puzzled. “what?” “Why does it have to be like this with me? The wire trap, the snooping aro und my house, the tackling and -” you wince. You forgot you were still wearing ban dages. “why do I deserve this more than any other pony around here?” “because-” “oh, YOU drop your pretense!” you snap. “I'm tired of having you breathing dow n my neck and treating me like crap! I mean, I wasn't expecting to be treated we ll at all, but I wasn't expecting THIS. This is just...just stupid!” Vermeillia winces. “I'm going out.” you mutter. Storming over to your saddlebag, you hoist it u p over your head and let it fall comfortably to your sides. Not that you have an y idea where you want to go, but you know you want to get out of this room full of crazy. “hey, wait.” Vermeillia says, but you aren't even bothering to listen. Throw ing your door wide, you storm outside. You are six hoofsteps from your front doo r before the front door bangs open again. “Stop!” Vermeillia shouts, sounding vaguely hurt and confused. You ignore her. “Excuse me!” you ask a baseball cap-wearing colt with a red coat. “Could you tell me the way to Eloquence's? I'm supposed to meet with her.” The colt looks surprised, but gives you directions. You thank him and he turns to leave. Breathing in, you take a step into ponyville. Vermeillia's blocking the way. Her eyes are angry and disbelieving, but even more than this they are hurt. Just two minutes ago she was yelling at you, and now she looks practically on the verge of tears. “What are you DOING?” she yells at you. “going out. I'm sick of trying to deal with this pretentious game or whate ver it is you're doing. Leave me alone.” You turn and begin to trot away into the crowd. Before you clear the fif th step, you hear a small coughing sound behind you. What on earth that griffin could still want from you? You turn aroundVermeillia looks completely miserable. She isn't saying anything to you; she doesn't look like she could saw anything, even if she wanted to. Maybe you should say something. Maybe that was a bit...much? Of you? Or maybe, this is what she deserved all along.

>apologize “I'm sorry.” Vermeillia looks at the ground, avoiding your gaze. “no, seriously.” you say, faltering a bit. “I didn't know...what ever this thi ng is, I didn't know it was that important to you, okay? But I shouldn't have sa id it was stupid.” Vermeillia continues to stare at the ground. “it's just...it's frustrating, okay? I know you are totally in rights to t hink i'm some kind of crazy criminal, but i'm not and I don't know how to prove that to you. And things seem like they just keep getting out of hand, and I feel like I screwed up way back when I was first introduced to everyone and-” Vermeillia mumbles something. “what?” “I said.” her voice is uncharacteristically soft. “i know that feeling.” “you mean about screwing up?” Vermeillia briefly tilts her head downward, before raising her head to m ake eye contact. She looks rather different from before; her amber irises. are w atery and soft, like smears of color around her pupils. “I don't want to think you are a criminal,” she starts, before making a nois e somewhere between a cough and a gag. It occurs to you that she may be trying t o suppress tears. “you've been funny and nice, and Eloquence really likes you. And I trust her. But if i'm wrong and you are, what then? I don't want to be wrong.” You can't help but remember the conversation you had with Resting Place the other day. “I don't think I have seen her stare as hard at any other pony as s he had at you,” Resting place had said. “Well, possibly eloquence, but without the s ame implications.” Is Vermeillia really interested in you like that? Or is there some other meaning to the word “implications” that you don't kno w about? >hug A chill breeze kicks up the moment before you embrace Vermeillia. The sn ow that had fallen the day before whirls up from street corners and the uncleane d streetlights to dance in the morning sunlight. You wrap your forehooves around her in an awkward hug. On the outside, s he's cold feathers, and it vaguely occurs to you that you're going to want some substantial winter gear while you're out shopping. Then you press against her. She's wiry and tough; you can feel her muscles, firm and powerful under her skin. But she's also strangely, phenomenally warm. You press your chest agai nst hers, and you can feel her heart beating a steady pulse, somewhere inside he r ribs. For a minute, she stands stock-still, and all you can hear is the beat o f her heart and the distant sounds of ponies going about their business.

Slowly, slowly, you find yourself sliding upward as Vermeillia lifts her self to return the hug. Her grip is much shorter than yours – a quick squeeze, if anything- but you can feel the trepidation in her arms, the slight quickening of her heartbeat as she returns the hug. The moment passes. You break away from the hug at about the same time sh e does, and make eye contact almost immediately after. She looks...happier? It's hard to tell if she actually looks happy, but she certainly doesn't look misera ble. She looks more certain of herself, at any rate. “Thanks.” she offers. You respond politely. She grins for real, now; the smile slides across h er beak like a knife cutting through butter. All of a sudden, something sparkles in her eyes. “don't think that you're off the hook, though. You could just be REALLY go od at covering for yourself.” The way she says it is...borderline playful? You suppose that she's neve r fully going to give up this idea. Not that you mind all that much, now; This i s just Vermeillia being Vermeillia. She's doing her duty, and you're pretty sure she's just trying to be as fair about it as possible. It's an interesting dynamic, but not necessarily a bad one. “oh, drats!” you respond in your most nasally voice. “curses, copper! I see yo u've ratted my foul plan out, but i'll get you next time!” Vermeillia snickers and punches you in the shoulder. “You'll never get away with your foul schemes, ne'er-do-well!” she responds in a deep baritone. “I'll track you down no matter where you are to bring you to j ustice. You cannot hide from me!” You waggle a limp hoof in her direction. “just you wait! I'll be back when you least expect it!” The two of you manage to withhold your giggles for roughly two seconds, before they tumble out like potatoes out of a spud sack. The two of you are prob ably getting weird looks at this point, but you aren't sure you care. Let them s tare all they want; you're still here, you've got friends. It feels GOOD to actu ally be able to go and do as you please. Your shoulder aches, and your back does, too. It's a reminder that you h aven't changed your bandages today; you probably should have asked for some from Resting Place yesterday, at Eloquence's. Then again, there's just so much to do ! You have a house to furnish, food to stock up on, clothes to outfit yourself i n, medical supplies to take care of yourself with and a job to get so you can pa y for all of the rest. You probably should get started, sometime this morning. >get medical supplies You absentmindedly pick at one of the bindings on your back. It might be better than it was last night, but you should still probably treat it regularly – getting a massive infection on your back would be painful at best and incapacit ate you at worst, and it's better to not have to deal with that risk. You mentio

n to Vermeillia that you were supposed to get some bandages and antibiotics for your back injury. “Yeah, I think she's supposed to be working today,” Vermeillia replies. “Don't worry, I know where she is. She's never super-busy, so she should have time to getcha your meds and stuff. You druggie.” “I thought she said she wasn't a pharmacist, though” you respond. “She's not.” “but she works in medicine.” “kind of.” “kind of?” “body sciences.” ******************************* While technically Vermeillia WASN'T lying to you, you feel like it may h ave been stretching the truth a little bit to say that Resting Place worked in b ody sciences. This is pretty clearly a morgue. “I'm pretty sure this is a morgue.” you dutifully inform Vermeillia. The Gri ffin rolls her eyes and strolls through the doorway. “Did the sign on the door or the general architecture tip you off?” she snor ts. Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer, you suppose. Still, you would fe el slightly more comfortable talking to a doctor than a mortician. Or, at least, you would be slightly more comfortable with one doing what's best for business than the other. Still, resting place seemed nice enough, if a bit quiet. And Vermeillia trusts her, which is probably a good sign. Unless she doesn't trust-trusts her, or whatever it is she does to you. Or does she do that to every pony? What about other griffins? Heck, is it strictly a griffin thing? You should probably stop thinking about this. It's far better not to med dle in the affairs of griffins; you aren't certain that they are terribly subtle , but they are definitely quick to anger. You enter the mortuary – a somber, black-marble-looking affair with a “Resti ng Place Funeral Services” banner draped across it. The interior is dark, with jus t a couple of small windows to light up the interior; it's remarkably well-furni shed besides this, with a clearly-located and clean front desk and waiting area. There's a striped, multicolored mat in front of the door, and the floor is smoo th, reflective tile – overall, it gives off an heir of gravity and respectability. Vermeillia strides over to the door marked “employees only” and hammers on it. Loudl y. “Yo! RP! Getcher' butt out here, We've got a blank flank needing bandages!” There's a pause. After a couple moments pass, you hear the muffled sounds of hoo ves clacking on the floor, from somewhere behind the door.

“Tell it to go to the medical clinic.” Resting Place says, in her trademark half-awa re manner. Vermeillia hammers on the door again. “Dweeb, it's the new dude! Yanno...whatshisn ame! BFF!” You are rather surprised that Vermeilla actually remembered that you had a name besides “you”, “dweeb” or “criminal”. It's a rather nice feeling. There is a slight pause before the door clicks open, and Resting Place trots out . Her Gray mane is patchy and matted in places, as if she slept on her mane wron g. There are slight bags under her eyes, too; it looks like she hasn't really sl ept that well. You're about to wonder what could have kept her up, when you reme mber your last conversation. Did she really find you terrifying? Why? You're probably as curious to figure th at out as she is scared. Maybe more, since she doesn't look scared now. Mostly t ired, and a bit bored, nothing terribly out of the usual. “Right. You.” Resting Place says, before giving you a gaping yawn. “i made a bag of th ings in the back room.” Without another word, she turns and walks back towards the “employees only” door; not really seeing much choice in the matter, you turn and fo llow her. The Employees only room looks much like the waiting room, only slightly sparser; there are bookshelves and folders on a couple of shelves, where you suppose Res ting Place keeps most of her records. A smaller desk is built into the war, next to a roller-chair; the desk is furnished with a snowpony paperweight, assorted pens and pencils, a portable CD player and a couple assorted scraps of paper. Tu cked away in the corner is a large, unmarked bag. “Is that my tote of supplies?” you ask. “Yes”, Resting place replies, not turning around. “should I go and grab it?” “yes.” Unlike the last time, where it seemed like she was merely avoiding making idle c hitchat, there is almost something unfriendly about the way she refuses to turn to look at you. Is this deliberate jerkassery, or is she just tired? Or is this just normal Resting Place state of affairs? >she's tired. Ask her what's bothering her. “Resting Place? Are you feeling okay?” “No.” You are somewhat accustomed to her trademark bluntness, but not to this...somewh at-hostility. Maybe it's just the way she speaks, though? You decide to give her the benefit of doubt. “What's wrong? Are you sick?” “No.” “Is it something I did?” “Yes.”

Already, you have a sinking feeling in your gut. Nothing you did last night was terribly objectionable, except for vomiting in Eloquence's sink. And the halluci nation, of course, but there was no way she could have known that you were seein g things. Resting Place is an earth pony, she shouldn't be able to use mind-read ing magic...right? But she knows, somehow. She looked absolutely terrified, much more than she soun ded when you first lost your pre-packaged lunch. You decide to stop being cute; you figure she probably deserves that much, anyway. “It's not about me being sick in the bathroom, is it?” “No.” Resting Place turns around and looks at you. It's not a glare, or a frown, or ev en a grimace – but it is one of the most intense stares you have ever had to bear witness. Her green eyes are practically drilling twin holes in your head, with t he kind of focus that makes you feel less like you are in trouble and more like you are about to be dispassionately put to the sword. Without another word, Resting Place moves toward you – past you – to ehind you. Slowly, methodically, she shuts the blinds to the windows , dousing her office in a sort of mid-morning darkness. Not entirely t's going on, you stand and watch. When she finishes, she looks back ugh not with the piercing focus she wielded before. “Take a seat”, Resting place commands. You look around; the only seat around is on the rollar chair, which she probably wants to sit on. You sit on the floor, attempting not to make eye contact with her. “On the chair.” Resting Place says, pointing. You get up and take your seat on the chair. It doesn't have much give – either it is new, or Resting Place is very particular about how she sits. You are inclined to believe the latter. You stare at Resting Place, who stares back at you coolly, still standing. Appar ently she is not going to take a seat. You suddenly have the fillygarden sense o f being told by the teacher that you are in deep trouble, only your teacher is a small, demure mortician. “who did you kill?” She knows. She somehow saw...you don't remember all of it, but whatever flash it was from last night...she saw the pony with the pink mane. She saw you standing on the dock, spattered with blood – you have no idea how the blood got on you, bu t you can't help but put the two together. Apparently, Resting Place can't, eith er. You killed somepony. You have no idea why, or how – but you know who she is and yo u are almost certain it was her blood on her hooves and she is nine years dead. You've got to play it cool. “I don't know what you are talking about-” “Ponies have lots of different reactions to death” Resting place says abruptly, cutt ing you off. “For some, fear; for others, anger; for many sorrow; for a few, liber ation. But when they actually bear witness to dying or the dead, their reactions lock the door b in her room sure of wha at you, tho

tend to be similar. They all share this same, half-disgusted look of shock, hav ing realized how fleshy and fragile any creature that calls itself a pony really is. How their magic and their wings and all the friends in the world cannot mak e them any more than a pile of organs held together with sinew and flesh. That look was in your eyes. You can suppress it now, but you did not, then.” “What makes you think I killed somepony?” “Your background.” Cripes, you really can't get away from your prison term. Every time you think th at it's a part of your life you can put behind you, somepony has to throw it in your face. “That's not conclusive evidence, you know.” “It will be for Vermeillia.” Resting Place says, dully. “I may not know anything, and I know for a fact that I am not good at telling lies. But Vermeillia has convinc ed herself that she is, and she will be more than happy to interrogate you for t he truth. I am offering you the opportunity to come clean the easy way, before d ragging the truth out of you through unpleasant methods.” Shit! She's blackballing you. You are going to have to tell her something, anyth ing, at this rate; you don't figure she knows the full story, but she knows enou gh to make educated guesses at the rest. How educated, though? Should you tell h er about your hallucinations? It's the truth, but she could think you are crazy. Maybe it's better to just give her the official court verdict. Or maybe it's be tter yet to just explain your side of the story – assuming she'll accept it. >Tell her everything you know You decide that honestly really is the best policy in this situation. Whatever i s happening, it's messed-up and needs to be taken care of. Resting place may not be the number-one pony you can trust in this situation, but you appear to not h ave a choice in the matter. Slowly, carefully, you tell Resting Place about your hallucinations. She watches as you describe what you have seen first with disbelief, then with suppressed h orror. When you finish describing the incident, she stands, staring blankly at y ou for a couple of seconds; then, she sits down on the ground abruptly, with a t hump. “Listen,” you tell her, “I know I told this to you, but this is something I really thi nk I should keep under wraps, okay? I didn't have this kind of problem back in p rison, and I think if word got out it could be bad.” Resting Place nods mutely. “Is there...is there anything else you wanted to talk to me about?” Resting Place shakes her head. “Ah. Should I just grab the bag and go?” Another nod. Gingerly, you lift the saddlebags onto your still-sore back and trot off towards the door. As you push open the door with one hoof, you turn around to find Rest ing Place getting to her feet, looking pensive.

“...And so that's the point where I grabbed the bear by the throat and gave him th e speech!” The morning is now in full swing, the sun risen high in the sky. You and Vermeil lia have been chatting with each other, which mostly consists of Vermeillia tell ing you her best stories. Some of them are, surprisingly, pretty good. You sigh in relief as the dull browns of your cottage draw near. Your back is st arting to get even more sore than it already was; you can't wait to get your ban dages changed and some disinfectant on your back. Well, maybe you can wait on th e disinfectant, unless it's the nice stuff the Resting Place used last night. You push open the door of your house; the door creaks its hinges a little as you walk in. Vermeillia follows you to the threshold, then abruptly stops. “Dweeb. There's something-” The world explodes with pain. You are gasping for breath before your brain can e ven register the first blow hitting you, and before you can do anything more tha n sputter something hits you, hard, between the ears. You go down, your hooves s prawled all over the place, as your vision blurs and spots of light explode in f ront of your eyes. Somewhere off in the distance, you can her Vermeillia give ou t a muffled squawk. It's followed almost immediately by the wet, muffled thump o f a body hitting the floor. Your limbs are pulled into a painful lock; you feel the sensation of something c old wrapping around them, before securing with a click. Hoofcuffs, your brain th inks numbly. It occurs to you that Resting place must have phoned in right after you left... “Golf Down.” a voice sounds, to your right. You are positive you have never heard it before. “Delta secure”, a voice responds in front of you. “Gassing.” You are rolled over onto your back. The last thing you see before a damp rag is shoved in front of your muzzle is a dark brown pony, wearing a pair of sunglasse s. Your name is Resting Place. You are an honest mortician, doing honest work. Late ly, you've gotten yourself involved in something you aren't sure is entirely hon est, though. There was a newcomer in town, on parole from a prison, with murder in his eyes. He confessed to such only the day after you met him, and, like any dutiful pony, you called the police and asked them to keep an eye on him. You know the ponyville law enforcement team; they're an upstanding, honest bunch , and you know they wouldn't hurt a fly unless they were ordered to. So it struc k you very much to your surprise when, shortly after placing the call, the newco mer – and your occasional friend Vermeillia – disappeared. Eloquence was the first to notice; a search party was mounted, but it didn't tur n up anything. Eventually, everypony returned back to their business – what else c ould they do, after all? When Vermeillia turned up a week later, everypony was t hrilled. Everypony except you, Farasi and Eloquence. Vermeillia never mentioned the new guy again. You know she spent at least some t ime with him, but from just asking her you would have believed she had never met him before in her life. Eventually, you and your friends stopped asking; much, much later, you convinced yourselves, one by one, that he was a figment of your

imagination. But you still have the vague impression, sometimes, that the new guy – BFF – is prob ably dead. And, for whatever reason, it is probably your fault. [GAME OVER] [RESTART AT PREVIOUS CHECKPOINT? Y/N] [Y] [RESTARTING AT CHECKPOINT INTERRMENT_INTERFACE_3] [LOADING PREVIOUS DATA...] “Resting Place? Are you feeling okay?” “No.” You are somewhat accustomed to her trademark bluntness, but not to this...somewh at-hostility. Maybe it's just the way she speaks, though? You decide to give her the benefit of doubt. “What's wrong? Are you sick?” “No.” “Is it something I did?” “Yes.” Already, you have a sinking feeling in your gut. Nothing you did last night was terribly objectionable, except for vomiting in Eloquence's sink. And the halluci nation, of course, but there was no way she could have known that you were seein g things. Resting Place is an earth pony, she shouldn't be able to use mind-read ing magic...right? But she knows, somehow. She looked absolutely terrified, much more than she soun ded when you first lost your pre-packaged lunch. You decide to stop being cute; you figure she probably deserves that much, anyway. “It's not about me being sick in the bathroom, is it?” “No.” Resting Place turns around and looks at you. It's not a glare, or a frown, or ev en a grimace – but it is one of the most intense stares you have ever had to bear witness. Her green eyes are practically drilling twin holes in your head, with t he kind of focus that makes you feel less like you are in trouble and more like you are about to be dispassionately put to the sword. Without another word, Resting Place moves toward you – past you – to ehind you. Slowly, methodically, she shuts the blinds to the windows , dousing her office in a sort of mid-morning darkness. Not entirely t's going on, you stand and watch. When she finishes, she looks back ugh not with the piercing focus she wielded before. “Take a seat”, Resting place commands. You look around; the only seat around is on the rollar chair, which she probably lock the door b in her room sure of wha at you, tho

wants to sit on. You sit on the floor, attempting not to make eye contact with her. “On the chair.” Resting Place says, pointing. You get up and take your seat on the chair. It doesn't have much give – either it is new, or Resting Place is very particular about how she sits. You are inclined to believe the latter. You stare at Resting Place, who stares back at you coolly, still standing. Appar ently she is not going to take a seat. You suddenly have the fillygarden sense o f being told by the teacher that you are in deep trouble, only your teacher is a small, demure mortician. “who did you kill?” She knows. She somehow saw...you don't remember all of it, but whatever flash it was from last night...she saw the pony with the pink mane. She saw you standing on the dock, spattered with blood – you have no idea how the blood got on you, bu t you can't help but put the two together. Apparently, Resting Place can't, eith er. You killed somepony. You have no idea why, or how – but you know who she is and yo u are almost certain it was her blood on her hooves and she is nine years dead. You've got to play it cool. “I don't know what you are talking about-” “Ponies have lots of different reactions to death” Resting place says abruptly, cutt ing you off. “For some, fear; for others, anger; for many sorrow; for a few, liber ation. But when they actually bear witness to dying or the dead, their reactions tend to be similar. They all share this same, half-disgusted look of shock, hav ing realized how fleshy and fragile any creature that calls itself a pony really is. How their magic and their wings and all the friends in the world cannot mak e them any more than a pile of organs held together with sinew and flesh. That look was in your eyes. You can suppress it now, but you did not, then.” “What makes you think I killed somepony?” “Your background.” Cripes, you really can't get away from your prison term. Every time you think th at it's a part of your life you can put behind you, somepony has to throw it in your face. “That's not conclusive evidence, you know.” “It will be for Vermeillia.” Resting Place says, dully. “I may not know anything, and I know for a fact that I am not good at telling lies. But Vermeillia has convinc ed herself that she is, and she will be more than happy to interrogate you for t he truth. I am offering you the opportunity to come clean the easy way, before d ragging the truth out of you through unpleasant methods.” Shit! She's blackballing you. You are going to have to tell her something, anyth ing, at this rate; you don't figure she knows the full story, but she knows enou gh to make educated guesses at the rest. How educated, though? Should you tell h er about your hallucinations? It's the truth, but she could think you are crazy. Maybe it's better to just give her the official court verdict. Or maybe it's be tter yet to just explain your side of the story – assuming she'll accept it. >Explain some of the things

“Okay, i'll tell you what I know.” you admit. Resting Place's eyes narrow. “You will tell me the truth.” she commands. “I will, okay? Geez...look, this might require you to take a leap of faith , but bear with me, okay?” Resting Place doesn't say anything. You suspect that she is checking you r face for visual tics, trying to determine if you are lying. That alone tells y ou that she probably isn't that good at detecting lies; it occurs to you that yo u might get away with telling her a great deal of things. Wait, what are you thinking? Resting Place is a friend, and you are goin g to tell her everything she should know. You don't want to tell her that you ar e crazy, or seeing things. You're sure she'll understand this way, anyway. And so you tell her about your sentence, about the courts; you describe your years in prison, and the things you read. And you describe how you got ther e in the first place – the dead body of the girl, by your feet, with no idea how i t got there. “You honestly don't remember?” “I can get in touch with the medical office if you want. I honestly don't remember anything before that point – they did tests to see if it was magically in duced, but the tests turned up with unreadable results and were dismissed.” Resting place frowns. “Don't tell me you don't believe me!” you start. “I'm telling you the truth! H onest! I don't want to do anything like that again – I don't want to spend another nine years of my life, rotting in some steel hole in the ground!” “I don't necessarily disbelieve you. But your explanation, while valid, do esn't answer my question. Why did you think of the dead filly when you looked at me?” You can't tell her that you have been hallucinating, but you don't feel like just lying to Resting Place, either. Instead, you go for the half-truth, ho ping it pans out. “You reminded me of her.” Resting Place clearly wasn't expecting that for an answer. Her voice is level as she questions you again, but her eyes are wide with surprise. “explain.” “It's something about your faces, I think. They were smooth – I mean the kin d of smooth from someone that didn't have a lot of frown lines. It was a bit of your eyes, too – hers were blue, but they were kind of...you know...open?” Resting Place is clearly intrigued by this. “define 'open'.” “it's like they were taking in a lot of things at once. Maybe they were wh en...when it happened, but you kind of have that look a lot. And I guess I didn' t really notice until you started talking to me, in the bathroom. It took me by surprise, you know? I was trying to think of that expression, but I couldn't put

a hoof on it until I realized that it reminded me of her...” “...i don't want to think about it.” you conclude. “I don't know what happened , but it really scared me and...and I don't want to go back to prison. I want to move past whatever happened.” It's true, in a kind of deliberately-built way. The pink pony did have t he same, hollow expression as Resting place does, now. You don't want to think a bout it, and you don't want to go back to prison. You haven't really lied; you j ust haven't told Resting Place that you are fucknuts, and honestly, who would sa y something like that? “I understand.” Resting place says, her eyes lowering. She seems to have rea ched some kind of conclusion. “I am sorry about questioning you in this manner. I feel as if I have infl icted unnecessarily painful memories on you, and I regret this. You are free to take your supplies and leave.” You exhale a sigh of relief you did not know you had been holding in. wa lking over to the bags of supplies, you gingerly lift them onto your saddlebags and start to walk to the door. “Do you honestly remember nothing about your past, before your sentence?” Re sting Place interrupts, one last time. It's curious; you assume you had some kind of past life. You clearly lea rned how to read and write somewhere, as well as talk. You know by instinct the general social mores of Equestria, and you don't think you have made a massive f ool out of yourself. Yet, everything before that point is a complete blur. You tell Resting Place as much, and she nods. “Were you tested for deliberate amnesial conditioning?” she asks. “The doctors couldn't find any trace of magic, and my psych tests showed u p normal. I can get them for you, if you like-” “I can do the research myself.” “Wait,” you ask. Is she going to call the police? You don't want them to thi nk you had violated parole “I am not going to contact the authorities,” she says as if reading your min d. “Our local librarian is rather an expert on matters such as these; I will ask h er. I understand that you do not want to risk a parole violation, so I will make sure to keep matters out of government hooves.” “Thanks,” you tell her, breaking out into an involuntary smile. To your surp rise, she smiles back. She waits in silence as you make your way to the door; by the time it cl oses behind you, she still has not moved from her spot. It occurs to you, dimly, that you forgot to ask the librarian's name. [notes updated]

Vermeillia is fiddling with the handheld radio by the time you return.

“Hey.” she quorkles as you walk up to her, turning off the vague staticky so unds emmitting from the speakers. “Where did you get that?” you ask, pointing at the radio. “Resting Place usually keeps it behind the counter. Background stuff and a ll that. I figure i'd borrow it for a while,” she adds casually. “...Borrow it?” “I'll probably return it. I usually remember.” Vermeillia says offhandedly. “I figure I could use a bit of background music to keep myself entertained, though . You know, while making sure you aren't up to anything.” You smirk at this. “I'm really that boring, huh?” “TOTALLY dull” Vermeillia replies, rolling her eyes. “Anything you want to lis ten to?” “What's on the stations?” “Mostly static,” Vermeillia responds as she drops to her feet, clutching the radio in one foretalon. “I got at least three channels, though. There's My Magica l Romance – I think one of their new CDs – a Photo Finish marathon and Vünderbölt, I thi nk? I can't keep their albums straight.” >Vünderbölt As the two of you walk outside into the brisk winter air, Vermeilla clic ks the radio on and fiddles with a pair of knobs. Within a few seconds, a melodi cally angry rush of strings and growled lyrics fills the air with what could arg uably be called “music”. “Where to next, dweeb?” Vermeilla asks. The truth is, you probably don't want to be carrying these saddlebags ar ound all day. It's probably for the best if you go back and change your bandages , so you tell Vermeillia as much. You half expect her to make some snarky commen t at your expense; instead, she shrugs, grabs the radio handle in her beak and t rots off down the road. You trot after her, keeping pace; There's not a whole lo t to talk about with the radio on full bore, so you instead reflect on how every one seems so intimately familiar with their surroundings. *********** “Did I ever tell you about the time I beat up a bear?” Vermeillia asks, sett ing the radio down. Already, you are beginning to grow weary of the look of your house. So m any ponies have houses that, if not ostentatious, are colorful; houses that give some kind of indication as to who they are, or what they do. Maybe someday, you 'll get the house decorated; probably not now, when it's cold, but it should be something to keep in mind for spring. “I don't think you did.” you tell Vermeillia, taking the conversational bait . “Okay,” she begins. “so it's kind of a long story. See, it was this last summe r, and I figured that I would need to go through some serious training...”

She starts at length and works from there, in an epic saga detailing all of her various exercises and the way that absolutely, positively nothing escape d her notice. Only half-listening, the pair of you walk inside, sloughing off th e radio and the saddlebags with varying degrees of ease. As Vermeillia begins te lling you about how she noticed a pink-haired foal in obvious distress, you root through the supplies resting place leant you. To your surprise, Resting Place w as generous; besides the gauze and sticky tape, there are also several tubes of cremes of various colors. You examine the labels briefly; some appear to be anti bactierials, while others are to reduce swelling and itchiness. There's even an ugly pink “soothing lotion” in the mix that is supposed to help with pain or discomf ort. You might as well get started now. You feel around your torso until you find something resembling an edge, and begin to unwind the gauze. “...And so that's the point where I grabbed the bear by the throat and gav e him – dweeb? What are you doing?” Vermeillia says, cutting her story short. You are a bit busy trying to take off your bandages, and you currently h ave a mouthful of gauze that you are using to tug away at a particularly stubbor n strand. Sighing, Vermeillia stalks over to you and begins to unwrap the rest o f your body. “What exactly do you figure you're going to do with that?” she asks. “Did you think you could try and wrap yourself up without help? Seriously, Dweeb, I think you're kind of dumb.” You spit out the mouthful of gauze as Vermeillia finishes debandageing y ou. “hey, come on!” you protest. “It's not THAT hard! I could do it!” “Do it, yes. Do it well, no. Dweeb, trust me; if you're going to go around getting yourself beat up all the time, you are going to need someone to put you back together after you turn into a bloody mess.” At this point, you feel it would be redundant to tell her that she has b een the ONLY cause of your injuries around here. “So you're a certified doctor, th en?” You probe, jibingly. “I of course, he says as something. know enough.” Vermeillia states flatly. “Eloquence knows a bit, too. Then, so does Resting Place, but she's usually kind of busy. Whoof, dweeb-” s she finishes unwrapping your bindings. “Seriously, go take a shower or Your scabs are rank.”

“Wait, so who's going to help me get these on and off?” you ask, pointing at the bandages. Vermeillia shrugs. “Do I look like your babysitter? It's your call.” >Vermeillia should do it. You shoot a catty grin at her. “It's going to have to be one or the other.” “Huh?” Vermeilla says, staring at you. “See, because – since it's my call, you're going to have to be my babysitter .” The implication of what you are saying finally dawns on Vermeilla. “Aww, d ragonfire no. I have better things to do than babysit you.” she retorts.

“Better things than babysitting me?” you press. “are you sure you don't mean g uarding me? You know, so I don't go off on my wacky criminal hijinks and acciden tally burn down a cottage or go on a murdering spree? You know, stuff that crimi nals might do.” Vermeillia sputters and looks like she is on the verge of saying somethi ng, but stops herself. “But, hey!” you finish. “I might as well get sweet, innocent Eloquence to help me with the bindings. I certainly wouldn't, say knock her unconscious and shove r her in the closet, and then go rob her house. Thoroughly.” You can't help but sm ile; it's not a complicated con that you just pulled, but you pulled it brillian tly and the two of you both know it. Vermeillia pretends to sigh in frustration, but you can tell that she's pleased. “Fine, dweeb! You win!” she says, unfurling her wings in frustration. “But se riously, get in the shower first, you smell like something crawled on your back and died.” For whatever else you can complain about in your house, the hot water is actually hot. You spend a good ten minutes just letting the water run over you, soothing your muscles and cleaning your pores. When it actually comes time to s oap up, you are refreshed; rubbing the bar over your scabs, of course, immediate ly undoes the work of the last ten minutes, but you are reasonably sure that you didn't make yourself start bleeding again. It just feels that way. Ouch ouch, indeed. Gingerly, you step out of the shower and dry yourself off. You take it e asy with the towel on your back, but get nice and dry everywhere else. There's n ot point in staying wet when it's this cold out, after all. You open the door to find Vermeillia, with a lattice ready-made and half-opened, a smear of creams m ixed around in the spot where your back should go. The lattice is lying on the f loor; Vermeillia's lying on your bed. “Your bed sucks” she informs you as you walk back in the room. “also, everythi ng's ready.” “You aren't going to help me into it?” you jibe as you walk over to the latt ice. You aren't really sure how to get this contraption on, actually; you're rat her hoping that she helps you into it. Vermeillia hops off the bed, struts over to the lattice and grabs hold o f it with one claw. “Hold still”, she says. You comply. Expertly, she snaps a couple of metal clamps together – you must have overlooked those – and presses down near y our chest. You can feel the medicinal gum beginning to adhere; The bandages shou ld probably stick on for a while. The medical goop on the top of your back, mean while, is cold – but not as cold as before. This is actually a really, really good job. You tell Vermeillia as such, and for the briefest second she shoots you another one of those honest, defense less smiles. As if realizing what she has done, she frowns again, and is back to business. “Right. Anywhere else you wanted to go?” >Ask Vermeillia what she thinks

The griffin snorts good-naturedly and unfurls her wings. “Well, if I were you, i'd probably get a bite. It's midday, and I don't know what kind of hours e x-cons take, but...” Is it seriously midday? A quick glance at the sun tells you that, yes, a n awful lot of time HAS passed. Or maybe you just woke up late? Regardless, you probably should think about getting something to eat. Something BESIDES the groc eries you eventually plan to have stocked. Vermeillia, meanwhile, has started flapping her wings, and looks about r eady to take to the sky. “Aren't you going to show me where to actually get this stuff?” you ask. “uh, i've got to get lunch sometime, too, dweeb.” she tosses down at you. “Can't I tag along?” Vermeilla snorts again, less good-naturedly this time. “Trust me, dweeb. I 'm pretty sure you wouldn't like what i'm gonna be getting. Besides, you know wh ere to find...THAT zebra's bakery, anyway.” Actually, Eloquence did most of the leading, last time. You could try an d find your way back, but chances are you would probably get lost. Not that getting lost would be a bad thing; you get the feeling that the town's a pretty interesting, hospitable place. You're sure to find a place that sells food somewhere, and while you don't have much you certainly have enough t o not go hungry. On the other hand, you aren't quite sure why Vermeillia's being obstinat e now, of all times. Does she really dislike Farasi, for whatever reason? Is tha t something that maybe should be discussed, before it becomes a problem? And wha t's so secretive about her eating habits, anyway? >Ask Vermeillia to accompany you “I'm pretty sure I don't know where Farasi's bakery is.” you retort. Vermeillia's eyes narrow. “Then you could ask Eloquence.” “She was the one showing me around the entire time. Including to her house . And I was a bit distracted with conversation at the time.” “Resting Place, then.” “I was talking to YOU, then.” “For crying out LOUD, dweeb! What the hell am I, your nanny?” “it's your job to make sure i'm not up to anything subversive, remember?” Vermeillia is clearly at a loss for words for this. Her beak clacks open angrily and she makes various pointing gestures towards no, but no words come o ut of her mouth. You seem to have a knack for catching her surprised. Eventually, whatever thing (or things) she was planning on saying to you get unsaid; with a sigh of exhaustion, she descends to ground level and scowls at you. “Fine, then. We're going. Try to remember where everything actually is, th is time.”

You mentally add it to your itinerary that you really should get a map o f the town. As the two of you walk through the streets of ponyville, you chance anot her glance at Vermeillia. She certainly seems annoyed, yes. But you note that, a lmost as much as annoyed, she seems...anxious. Or is it angry? Angryxious? Regar dless, you're starting to wonder if the thing that's really bugging her isn't so much the you as it is the Farasi. The two of them clearly don't get along well at all, that much is obviou s. You don't know when or why it started, but they seemed averse to normal conve rsation before and they seen averse to normal conversation now. Is this something you should perhaps bring up? You don't want to make it seem like something that has to be dealt with, but...well, maybe it does have t o be dealt with. If you're going to be buying food from one and shepherded aroun d by the other, you don't want to have to deal with this kind of head-butting ev ery day. Of course, nothing says you have to deal with this any day but today; it depends on who is selling what in ponyville. Certainly, if there are other food vendors, you might want to just start eschewing bread entirely. Assuming that's not completely unhealthy. Then again, you don't think you have much against Farasi right now, save for the strained relationship between her and Vermeillia. Sure, maybe she think s you're old-fashioned, but that's probably more your fault than her own. Like m ost everypony else that you've met, she's been kind and helpful in getting you s ettled in. That's probably it, really: ponyville is just a NICE place to live. You weren't given much of a reception, sure, but you weren't expecting anything more than tomatos and veiled oaths. Instead, you've already become acquaintances wit h no less than four ponies – four! - and the potential for friendship is definitel y there. Maybe this is what the world here is really like, after all? A caring, k ind place that can forgive mareslaughterers as readily as the god-queen celestia forgave her dark sister? You would like to find it hard to believe, but apparen tly the world did not forget the nine years you spent in a steel box, and the wo rld wants to make it up to you. It it, perhaps, your business to make it up to the world? You're not sur e. For all intents and purposes, you were born a murderer and raised in a cell; how would a pony like you go about doing good? Maybe it's up to you to find out. That's why a foal's flank is blank, af ter all: it shows that they have yet to discover what gift they can give. You're drawing near to what is unmistakably Farasi's bread stall, now. Y ou can already see fillies and gentlecolts alike exiting the store, chattering e xcitedly and brandishing different kinds of baked goods with avaricious eyes. Yo u suppose it's time to decide how to approach things: should you bring up the an imosity between Vermeillia and Farasi, or let it hide? On one hand, digging out the root of the problem is the surest way to extract it. On the other hand, it c an bring all sorts of ugly things to light; maybe it's just better to bury it de ep and smooth it over with new growth. >bring up the problem if it rears its head in the store

You decide not to make an issue of things unless things become an issue. There's nothing terrible about this, right? Maybe things will turn out fine, af ter all: you shouldn't assume that they will turn out horribly simply because th ey always have in the past. Maybe there's a past you don't know about. Right. The two of you brush past an indigo-haired unicorn levitating several ba gs' worth of food as you enter the store. It looks as if Farasi's on full-on ven dor mode, and has her cases full of a multitude of different kinds of bread. Bag uettes line one shelf, while bagels cover another; in the center display case, s everal circular loaves gently fog the overlaying glass with steam. Farasi sets t he last of these loves down before whipping around to write “Today's special – Sourd ough, 50% off” on a white sign behind her with a marker. Setting down the marker, the zebra turns around to greet her next guest with a smile; a smile that somewh at fades on discovering the two of you. “Welcome! Is there anything I can – oh, hey, it's Beef and Vermy. What'cha t wo up to?” “I'm just making sure that THIS foal,” Vermeillia says with an elbow jab to your bandaged ribcage “doesn't try anything suspicious. But while i'm here, I gues s i'll grab one of the round things.” “and I'll assume you have th' bits to pay for it, again. And again, i'll b e sore disappointed.” Farasi says. Her voice is beginning to lose the friendly swi ng it seems to have when she talks to almost anyone else, to be replaced with a tone that is only a half-step removed from dangerously formal. “It's not in the business of you to be obstructing justice, is it? I would suspect that any shop owner would want to aid a figure of the law.” Vermeillia sa ys, staring straight at Farasi. The two have almost seen to have forgotten compl etely about you. Still, you aren't sure if you should cut in now. Perhaps this c onversation will be salvageable. “I know enough about law to keep a petty mooch and layabout from taking ma h prime inventory, day after day, on th' basis of law.” Farasi snaps. You can swea r she somehow managed to make herself even larger, to the point where she's all but filling the room behind the counter. Vermeillia's feathers begin to fluff by your side, and you can tell that she's trying to make herself larger, too. The atmosphere between them practically crackles with the electric surge of anger. “I thought that the ponies in the town were about love and tolerance?” Verme illia says, in the most razor-edged smile you've ever seen her give. “Surely, you could help a member of the town down on their luck.” “There's a whit of difference between down-on-one's luck and stea-” “Um!” You had to interject. You got the feeling that if Farasi had managed to complete the word “stealing”, there would have been serious trouble. If there was ev er a time to cut in, it's going to have to be now. “Guys! Guys! Calm down! Did I do something?” You start, the gears in your br ain already whirring away at finding a solution to this intractable problem. “NO.” they say in unison, turning towards you. As if at one, they adopt near ly identical rictuses of feigned happiness.

“You should just get whatever you want, shrimp.” Vermeillia says, nudging yo u towards the counter. “Don't worry, you should probably be able to pay for it.” “Oh, I doubt that'll be a problem. What are ya' lookin' for, Beef?” Farasi says, almost pinning you to the ground with her stare. “Feel free to ask around ab out prices and whatnot. I'm sure you'll be able to pay.” If anything, this is worse. Any second now, and they're going to start t aking barbed jabs at each other without actually saying anything. You've got to interrupt with something, but what? >get conciliatory You decide that the gentle-hooved approach is probably the best approach in this situation. That being said, you aren't quite sure how to break up the c old war that has sprung between Farasi and Vermeillia without making things wors e. If you attempt to defend Vermeillia not having much money, you are probably g oing to insult Farasi's sense of fairness, and you can see where she's coming fr om. On the other hand, even implying that Vermeillia's in the wrong will probabl y tick her off. Awkward as it seems, probably the best thing to do here is to keep them from saying anything at all. Every word the two of them have said, so far, has b een a cheap shot at the other; in order to get them to reconcile, you are going to have to simultaneously shut them up and get them to realize how the other is likable – or, at least, how senseless this game of mindless insults is. Immediately, you begin whipping up a maelstrom of polite banter. “Hmm...Farasi, these all look really good! I mean, really, really good. Li ke, super good!” you start, mouth working at a breakneck pace. “I think i'm really g oing to have a hard time deciding what to get, unless I decide to get whatever i s on sale – I mean, not that money matters or anything! Of course not!” The look on Farasi's face suggests that your brains are starting to leak out of your ears. You press on, harder, hoping to overwhelm emotion with pure v olume. “waitaminutewaitaminutewaitaminute let me get SOME THINGS OF MONEY OUT OF MY BAG FIRST!” you say, immediately turning to your saddlebags and burrowing into your wallet pouch. The small mouthful of bits tastes old and musty in your mouth , and you spit them out onto the counter quickly, to get rid of the taste. The r esulting projection spatters the counter with coins, some of which ricochet behi nd, in front of and on top of Farasi. On the plus side, nopony's saying anything anymore. On the down side, Ve rmeillia and Farasi are staring at you like your brains definitely DID just leak out of your ears, and then caught fire, and somepony should really go about fet ching a bucket of water. Farasi is the first to regain her composure. With a twitch of her body, the rest of the coins decorating her monochrome flanks clatter to the floor; the n, with a cursory glance around at the scattered bits, she reaches under the cou nter and begins pulling out loaves of sourdough bread. Four of them. “Total comes out ta' this exactly! Anything else you'd be wanting?” Farasi s ays, with an awkward smile. Completely, totally and utterly shamed out of your mind by your sudden a

nd reckless burst of good will, you silently accept the bag and briskly trot out of the store. You were rather glad that you remembered to keep your eyes open when wal king to the store this time; well, either it was this or luck, but you manage to make tracks back to your home in record time, ears burning with humiliation. Yo u've just got the bag of breads down on your bed, for lack of a better table, wh en Vermeillia catches up with you. “BEEF! Jesus! You could at least have cleaned up or something!” You turn, ready to accept a veritable conga line of shame. Will Vermeill ia yell at you or simply laugh at you? You can't wait to find out. The griffin pads over to you and gently places a talon on your shoulder. “we're...sorry about that.” huh? “Well, Farasi is anyway. Or something. I guess.” Vermeillia says, rolling he r eyes. “whatever that's supposed to mean. Aw, crap, that's not what I meant! Sorr y! Again!” Vermeillia sputters, spitting the second apology out like a bullet. “I me an, you shouldn't have had to have seen that. Except that you did, since you mad e me go in there. With you. Whatever! Not the point!” If Vermeillia's trying to apologize to you, she's doing an adorably poor job of it. “...Point is, you didn't need to see that.” Vermeillia concludes lamely. >Sorry for bringing it up If there's one thing you don't want to add to your current unstable equa tion, it's the possibility of making it even more unstable. The complex chemical compound of Vermeillia's mood doesn't really need a catalyst to make it more vo latile, but trying to reconcile the Farasi/Vermeillia feud would probably have b een like dropping potassium in water. With a mumbled apology and a semiawkward s ilence later, the topic falls, to hang in reverie for a couple of seconds. A chill breeze howls past the windows on your shack, and the silence bre aks. “Right! I was, ah...needed to finish getting lunch. Dweeb, stay here. Don' t go anywhere. I'll be back in five minutes,” she says, and darts out. You rush ou tside to find she's already taken to the noontime air. Well, you certainly can't keep up a good run without watching where you are going. Defeated, you turn back inside and begin to eat lunch. As it turns ou t, you way overbought on bread; you've got enough to last yourself for at least two days, or maybe up to a week if you ration. Gently, you grab a round, sourdou gh loaf between your forehooves, lean in and... ...WOW. This is REALLY GOOD. A quarter of the bread is gone before you a re even sure of what's happening. It's still at least a bit out-of-the-oven warm , but the flavor melts like butter and kicks like vinegar. And the texture is so ft, but not watery – it's doughy, but in a springy way. Heh. That might almost be grounds to stop seeing Vermeillia right here a nd now, if Farasi's offering goods this -

“Hey. I'm back.” ...That was fast. With an almost catlike silence, Vermeillia stalks over to you, grabs a second loaf of bread and silently chews away at it. She didn't ask, of course, but you didn't think she would. The two of you enjoy lunch for a while, in silence. Part of you is curio us about the contents of the bag, but the silence is some of the first you have all day, so you value it for what it's worth. Eventually, halfway into the bread , Vermeillia pauses to dig out of the bag, grab something and take a bite. It's only after she's pulled it away from her beak that you can make out what it is: a now-headless, slimy-looking fish. Of course, you think. Griffins are omnivores, and it would make sense th at they eat meat. And of course, there would be no reason for you to tag along, since you can't eat meat, physically. Not that you think that eating the flesh o f other creatures is okay in any instance, anyway. That would be morally unfeasi ble, for a pony. Even if it was dead. Like the fish. And yet, you can't help but wonder about what the fish tastes like. Is i t salty? Slimy? Slippery? Is it like grass after a good rainstorm, or a totally alien taste? Vermeillia's eyes lock onto yours. Oops. The jig is up. “what are you looking at this for?” she demands. You try and downplay your odd musings, but Vermeilla's expression clearl y tells you that she is having none of it. “Come on, dweeb. Stop acting shifty. You were looking at this fish. What a bout it? Is there something wrong?” You tell her that nothing's wrong. “STOP that. You aren't fooling me. Tell me what's on your mind before I ha ve to wrestle it out of you.” You don't think she was joking about the wrestling part. At least she wa sn't promising to beat it out of you. Yeesh. >How does it taste? Vermeillia's eyes narrow. “You have some kind of problem, I think.” the griffin responds. “You know, tha t's probably why they threw you in prison. Cannibalism.” This again? You attempt to explain that you didn't mean anything by it, that you were the kind of idly curious that can only be beheld by ponies eating lunch and having nothing better to do. The words die in your throat as you reali ze they would probably only make you seem odder, and you return to your meal. You munch bread silently for a few seconds before the half-eaten fish is shoved in your face. “Take a bite.” Vermeillia demands. “Wait.” you reply. “I thought you -”

“Of course I think it's weird. I also think you need to get your head chec ked out by a professional or something, even if you look normal. But you're prob ably also going to keep yammering on about this until somepony explains it to yo u, and I suck at explanations. Take a bite.” Vermeillia has gone back into serious stalker mode, again. You can see h er evaluating you with her eyes, tracking your movement, your breathing. Now tha t you think about it, it is a bit of an odd impulse. Ponies don't eat fish. Do t hey? You find yourself half-seriously wishing for one of those inexplicable f lashbacks that plagued you yesterday. Maybe, besides making you completely bonke rs, it could actually give you a clue as to what the hell happened nine years ag o. “Look, I really don't want to make an issue out of things -“ Vermeillia's face softens. “I know, dweeb. I'm not beating a confession ou t of you. I just want you to get...whatever you're thinking of out of the way. I 'll be done owing you that way.” “Owing? For what?” Vermeillia sighs. “Look, dweeb. What you did was noble, yadda yadda yadda, nice things. Farasi and me are always going to fight, and we're going to keep o n fighting forever, and there's nothing you can really do about that. But you tr ied to do something about it, which was nice, I guess, so I guess we owed you. A bit.” “so payback...” “I didn't say It was good payback, you idiot.” Vermeillia snaps. “But if you w ould take a goddamn bite or something we could be square, and I wouldn't have to deal with owing things to criminal scum anymore.” “That's important?” you ask, quirking an eyebrow. “Duh.” >take a bite. You're curious. Vermeillia almost seems a bit surprised when you take the fish from her talons. You look down at what exactly you are going to eat, one last time. The f ish is – literally – half eaten; you can see the white, pulpy material inside suppor ting the scaly exterior, as well as thick, semiviscous liquids holding the whole mash together. Too late now. You can't let something like this just slow you down. You' ve got to follow through, for Vermeillia's sake and the sake of your curiosity, and a real man just doesn't back down. You take a bite. Your teeth aren't entirely suited for the role of bitin g, but they can chew and pulverize well enough. The taste...salty more than anyt hing else. Reminds you a bit of salt licks, like the kind theoretically offered at pubs and bars. You feel a little chagrined as you swallow. Vermeillia stares at you as you return the fish. “What?” you say, grinning. “you wanted to be even, right?”

“I can't believe you actually TOOK A BITE. Cripes, dweeb, there's somethin g seriously messed up with you.” Vermeillia says, but you can tell she's stifling a grin. You play it up for what it's worth. “Yeah, i'm a cold-blooded killer. I ki lls what I can catch, and eats what I can kill. I am TERROR INCARNATE.” a small snort escapes Vermeillia's beak. Going all-out, you scramble up onto your hind hooves and stagger forward a couple of steps, miming a fearsome e xpression. “ROAAAAARRR!” That did it. The griffin covers her beak with both claws, but can't stop a couple peals of laughter escaping. Her laughter is refreshingly young and fre e, unburdened by concern or care. It's not the laugh of a little filly, per se, but there is a certain youthfulness to it that is better heard than explained. Y ou giggle in surprise. Then the two of you are setting each other off into peals of laughter th at echo through the empty walls of your home in an almost-musical cadence. Eventually, the laughter dies down. The two of you, a little bit more br eathless than you were to begin with, eventually begin to resume eating. The sil ence that fills the air this time is a little less frosty, a little more warm. Y ou're starting to feel as if Vermeillia is finally letting down her guard around you. She's not exactly an open book – but, then again, you never asked that. It occurs to you, suddenly, that the pair of you have sort of stumbled i nto a friendship without really acknowledging it. It's not the most conventional model, sure, but the connection between you two – well, it doesn't feel imperviou s, but it is definitely there. You grin. You weren't really expecting normalcy from Vermeillia, anyway. [friends list updated] Of course, you realize as you finish the last couple of bites of bread, you aren't really finished with chores for the day. There's still a house that n eeds to be furnished, and you might want to get some clothes before it gets seri ously cold. And then, of course, there's the issue of money. Maybe you should be looking for a job, so you can find some way of paying for all of the nice thing s that you need. >Look for a job There's not a lot of point in trying to go for anything ambitious at thi s point – you are going to need to find something to actually last you before oyu can afford to spend more money. If that means eating lunch on your bed for a whi le, well, you're going to have to do that. And chilliness is just chilliness. Yo u can deal with it. Nine years of silence taught you that you can deal with any petty concerns, as long as you actually get to be out and about, and talking to ponies again. Vermeillia must be able to sense that it's time to be off, because she s lithers off the bed, more serpentine than leonine; in one sinuous movement, she' s up and over the bedpost and on the floor, trash bags already sailing overhead to a nearby waste bin. She then looks over at you, eyes flashing an unspoken cha llenge. Sure, of course you can be that cool. It doesn't even matter that your h

oof-grippers aren't as prehensile or as pointy as her talons; in fact, that's ju st going to make it even cooler when you do the same thing as her, without fancy opposable digits. It's just a matter of lifting yourself up -launching yourself over the bedpost-...and okay, now you feel a bit dumb. You were probably supposed to lan d on your hooves, not on your stomach. Vermeillia chuckles as she walks over to you, when all of a sudden your house is the middle of a hotel room and the sun's bathing down on you and the heat the heat's not even that bad because pink mane and blue eyes she is rubb ing her hooves down your back and it's the best massage ever neighgerian décor on the wall as she rubs your back all the way down and w hispers in your ear sweet things and the heat god the heat can't get any better than this but it's making you dizzy the world spins and you're staring at the inside of a toilet bowl with a pair of strong arms grappling you from behind. Vermeillia's voice barks something in your ear, and it sounds something like “now.” Your body understands more than your mind, and complies. Sides shudderin g, you heave, forcing a foul-smelling sludge out of your guts and into the bowl. You heave once, twice more, until you mouth is dry and your stomach is empty. A gurgling sound escapes your lips as Vermeillia pulls your head from the toilet, and then she shunts your body off towards the shower. You let her push you into the shower stall, and give the lever a twist. Hot water courses down from the shower head, reminding you very briefly of some kind of dream you...just had? The details are already escaping you. Outside the shower stall, you see a shadowy, blurry impression of amber and white – Vermeillia, you think – stand for a few seconds. Then you hear the sound of a toilet flushing, and the figure pads out of the room. It's okay, though. T his gives you a bit of time to think. That couldn't have just been food poisoning. Well, technically speaking it could have, but you've only barfed after having those...visions? Flashbacks? Whatever kind of weird hallucinatory sequence it was. Correlation doesn't imply causation in all cases, but you are pretty sure you are on to something here. In any case, who can you trust with this? Resting Place is the only pony that knows so far, and she seemed pretty freaked out by it. You don't want to t hink of what kind of conclusions Vermeillia could jump to, and then there's the whole “not making waves” issue with the rest of the ponies you've met. Whatever it is, it's messing up your life. If you are crazy, then clearl y you are going to need to start being medicated, probably heavily. If you aren' t – if these are some kind of memories – that's even worse. Probably the best thing to do in this situation would be to play it up l ike it was foodborne illness. Nopony needs to know about this, not right now. An d, come to think of it, you probably shouldn't have been eating raw fish anyway. There's this whole “herbivore” deal in question.

Is it actually safe for you to eat meat, though? Since you can't make as sumptions about the last test you conducted, assuming that it's the visions that are causing stomach imbalance. Why would they be, though? The shower water begins to run cold. You gargle briefly to get the taste of vom it out of your mouth, then shut it off. The winter air feels chill against your skin, and you just remembered that you don't actually know where the towels are. If you even have towels. Goddamnit, but being poor sucks. You decide the next best solution is crawling into bed. If you are suppo sed to be sick, this isn't at all out of character, and besides, it might actual ly warm you up. You can't think of anywhere else you really want to be going, an yway. You are going to need time to think about this. Only two days on parole, and already you are beset by these confounded v isions! Nothing ever has to go easy for you, does it? The last thing that you wa nted to be doing with this shot at a new life was playing detective to your craz y mental impulses. Maybe things will get better, but that's not exactly somethin g that you can count on. At the very least, your bed is warm and comfortable. Not that there's an ything else to relax on, but that can wait for some other time. Maybe if you tak e it easy for a couple of days, things will...calm down. Almost unconsciously, you begin to drift off to sleep. [notes updated] ******************* some time later, the door opens. Vermeillia, accompanied by Eloquence, w alk in. The sun is almost down, and thereB's not that much light, but they still wake you. You're groggy – more from being woken than by any feigning on your part – but aware enough to have a bit of soup, then lay back down. You don't even remember to ask about jobs before you are once again slee ping. ***************** [day 14] Things have been going well, as of recently. The day after the fateful “ba d fish” day, you were out and about, feeling just fine. Of course you passed it of f as indigestion – a perfectly acceptable excuse, all things considered. And, luck y you, you haven't been plagued by any visions since that day. The soup itself was pretty okay stuff – you had some a day later, and it w as a bit watery and flavorless. You later found out that Vermeillia made it hers elf, barring the help and ingredients of Eloquence. The griffin has apparently b een getting cooking lessons from eloquence, and been using that as a way of “payin g her back.” You aren't sure if Farasi is buying it, but Eloquence has been lookin g a bit more rested as of late – and there is a little more swagger in Vermeillia' s stride, too. Though it's not like she needed it. Over the past couple of weeks, you have been working at assembling your

own furniture – scrap from various trashbins, some frozen wood branches from the o utskirts of the everfree forest, a hammer, some nails and a whole lot of elbow g rease. It's not exactly the Hoity Toity™ line of credenzas and sofas, but it certa inly makes your place feel less sparse, and it's pretty close to free. You've go t some back-debt to work back to Vermeillia and Eloquence for food, of course – ab out two week's worth. But today? the sun is high, the morn is fresh and your teeth are brushed to a shiny white state. You are ready and prepared to tackle...JOB HUNTING. Of course, it's actually Eloquence who gathered up a list of potential p laces to look. It's a bit curious, since by now most ponies would have a cutie m ark; an adult blank flank is something of an oddity to them, and probably won't make it easy for you to land a spot in anyone's store. You were hoping to get a cutie mark in carpentry, but...oh well. No time for slowing down! Today is the day that you are going to make a cutie mark on the world, and chance are it's going to be your own. So, the only question is: where to start? >See if you can track down Vermeillia, first. She might like this. Well, of course you're going to bring along one of your best friends for this! One of your only friends, really. Not that you don't like other ponies, b ut friendship is a reciprocal thing, ya know? It's gonna take time and effort to get them to want to chill with you, which is perfectly reasonable. After all, s tanding around in the middle of winter to have conversations with ex-convicts is n't exactly your thing, much less the thing of anypony else. Asides, you know how Vermeillia likes to spend her free time keeping wat ch over ponyville, like a grim by-day vigilante. One of these days, you are goin g to have to mention to her that most vigilantes operate by night. Though that w ould mean she would spend most of her day sleeping instead of working, unless sh e tried to both catch up on her culinary studies and practice her training, and decided to throw sleep on the back burner. Which might be something she would de cide to do. Vermeillia's nothing if not confident of her abilities, after all. On second thought, perhaps it is for the best if you don't bring it up. The real problem is going to be finding Vermeillia. She moves around a l ot – as is to be expected, given that she tries to watch over all of ponyville at once – and so there isn't really one place where you can “meet her”. She spends the ni ghts at Vermeillia's, but she won't be there unless she overslept, which she has n't done yet. You sigh as you realize that you are going to have to wander aroun d town, looking for the best possible vantage points, until she turns up. The temperature is comparatively warm as you step outside – it's obviously not tropical beach weather, bur for january it's not half bad. You yawn a bit i n the face of the sun, kick out your hooves, stretch out your fetlocks, and then it's off down the road! Fortunately for you, you remembered to ask Eloquence fo r a map ahead of time – it's more a set of directions to get to her house, but as long as you don't stray too far from this... ...Wait. You were supposed to be looking for Vermeillia. Who might not necessari ly be on this rather simple, straightforward path. Who might, in fact, be e ntirely off of this beaten path, leaving you completely and utterly lost. You decide to take the path indicated on the map first. If you don't see any sign of the griffin, then when you get to eloquence's you can ask the unico rn where she might be. Eloquence understands about your friendship-of-sorts, any

way, and she'll probably be willing to lend you a few minutes to find the vagabo nd. There's a reasonable amount of hustle and bustle going around town, and you jostle against a couple of schoolfillies as you navigate Eloquence's spindly hoofwriting. You are starting to get accustomed to the crowds, now. Before, it was kind of odd to think of so many people co-existing all at once without becom ing acutely aware of each other. Now, you are starting to learn how to tune poni es out, to go about your own affairs obliviously. It's kind of odd to think that obliviousness is a skill to learn, but you suppose odder things have happened i n the course of equine history. Something brown darts across your peripheral vision. You glance upward t o see something streak briefly across the sky, before moving behind some colorfu l mechanical claptrap pinwheeling around a candy store. Vermeillia? You trot off the beaten path, heading into the sun to find t he source of the conversation. The path widens and twists a bit, and you realize you must be moving closer to the town square. A cursory glance at the businesse s around tell you that besides the regular crowd of earth ponies and unicorns, t here are several pegasi flitting around. With a little inward groan, you realize d it was probably just some stranger flying around, and not your passive-agressi ve friend. Still, maybe it's worth at least a glance around the candy store to chec k to see that Vermeillia's not there. She doesn't seem like the type of griffin to like that sort of stuff – come to think of it, you aren't really sure that grif fins like candy at all, maybe you should ask Vermeillia about that? - but you mi ght as well check to make sure she's not, say, arresting anypony or anything. >Check around the store There's not a chance that she actually went into the sweetshop – not Verme illia. Even if griffins did make a habit of eating sweet things, you doubt that Vermeillia would ever show the weakness of liking something as cutesy as candy. This particular store seems almost deliberately designed to affront the senses: it's bright pink , and a giant foam cake is growing out of the section of one ro of while pinwheeling lolipops orbit around the other sections. You walk to the front of the store. A quick glance tells you that Vermei llia's not part of the hustle and bustle that crowds around the store. You can't hear her, either, but that's not surprising: while Vermeillia is loud and brash around ponies she knows, you suspect that she is quite the huntress while on-du ty. That aside, it's loud over here! Besides the clinking and clanking of the lo llipop ferris wheel, the bell on the door jingles constantly and ponies chatter animatedly with each other, and while it's not deafening it certainly is distrac ting. You glance into a couple of side alleys, just to check. You finally do e nd up seeing the flash of brown – a pegasus with tousled hair and an hourglass cut iemark – but no vermeillia. Just for the sake of clarity, you decide to check behi nd the store. You don't want to stray too far off the beaten path, but you surel y won't lose too much time by doing this. You duck into the alley behind the store - and something plows into you, sending your sprawling against the pavem ent. You brace yourself instinctively for what you can only assume to be the fur y of Vermeillia. When no angry griffins pop into your vision, you pull yourself to your hooves and look around.

A golden pony with a long, luxurious scarlet mane and a poofy, velvet sc arlet-and-gold vest is splayed out against the paved stones, frantically upright ing a spilled watering can. You can see a similar oversized can strapped to his back, and come to the conclusion that this pony was carrying the water somewhere in great haste. In vain, too – you can see wet slicking the pavestones even as th e pony fixes the other large watering can to his back. “Oh, no.” The pony mutters. “oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. NO!” It appears that you have inadvertently done something terrible, tripping up this pony. Surely, he at least deserves an apology, so you give him one. “You certainly SHOULD apologize!” The pony snaps. “Do you have any IDEA what y ou've – no. It's not your fault. Or maybe it is. If you'll excuse me -” The pony say s, attempting to sidestep you. You block him. Apparently an apology isn't going to be enough, here; you screwed up something major, and so the only reasonable thing to do is offer to help. “Help? No, I don't need help.” The gold-and-scarlet pony says. “I need time, a nd i'm in a bit of a hurry. If you'll excuse me...” That's not entirely true. The buckets of water look excessively heavy; y ou could offer to help him carry them, if you wanted. He'd probably be grateful, assuming he wouldn't be frustrated about you blocking his way. Maybe he knows w here Vermeillia is? Heck, maybe you need to stop detouring around and head back to the path, and get over to Eloquence's. >Offer to help “I'm afraid I really don't have time for this - “ He begins. You don't give him the chance to finish. Shooshing him, you grab the heavier bucket with your t eeth and lift it up and over onto your back. It's a good thing your back has healed up! The bucket's really heavy. Yo u sag a little under its weight, despite having braced yourself to its weight be fore. The gold-and-scarlet pony looks a bit flustered. Clearly, he understands what you are doing, but he appears to be caught between his sense of urgency to get wherever he is going and a sense of awkwardness he clearly does not feel at liberty to explain. After four seconds of awkward blinking and grimacing, he th rows a hoof in the air. “Fine!” he says. “Help me out. But you're going to need to run as fast as you can. Follow me.” The colt takes off down the street, rounding a sharp left. You follow, h ot on his heels. You would have suspected by his fancy dressing and his smoothly coiffured mane that he cared more about beauty than personal fitness and, well, you would have been right. Despite this, he puts on a remarkable hustle, and ne ar the beginning you find it a struggle to keep up with his sharply winding path . Near the end, he begins to tire and is clearly working beyond his means. With a tap on the withers, you manage to get his attention; with a series of ho of-gestures later, you manage to convince him to let you carry the other bucket. He's too tired to argue, and sighs gratefully as you relieve him of his burden.

You're really struggling under the weight now, but you were in better sh ape then the gold-and-scarlet colt. You weren't exactly a weightlifter for nine years, but you were encouraged to stick to a light exercise regimen to keep from atrophying in your cell; and, gradually, you learned to extoll the virtues of m ind and body. You suspect that by hanging around Vermeillia, you'll probably lea rn to become even stronger. Four blocks later, and the colt ahead of you screeches to a halt. Both o f you are panting heavily, and sweat is running down your back and into your eye s. Gold-and-scarlet pushes open the door of what looks like a run-down fruit sto re and stumbles in. Less certain of what exactly it is that you are supposed to be doing, you follow. The colt walks down a musty flight of stairs, and a nervous twinge runs down your back. What if this is a trap? Quickly, you glance at your surroundings . None of these buildings you recognize; In following the colt you wound up gett ing yourself lost, again. He pushes open a door at the bottom of the staircase and wanders inside. It's almost completely dark near the bottom, yet the colt just walks through th e door and disappears. It takes a few seconds for him to realize that you've sto pped following him. “Come on,” he says breathlessly. “It's down this way.” “What?” you ask, feeling a little bit hesitant. “Come on! It's almost time, and you wouldn't believe me if I told you.” he s ays, sounding a little irritated. His voice is beginning to regain some of what must have been his usual color – slightly fancy, but with hints of a Trottingham a ccent to it, too. Definitely foreign. “Uh...” You may not be a magical bookworm, but it doesn't take the god-queen to figure out that walking into dark spaces in the residences of complete stran gers is more than a bit foolhardy. “Look,” the colt says exasperatedly, “If I had wanted to do something bad to y ou, I would have had plenty of opportunity to do so. I could come up there and c ollect the mixture from you but at this point i'm rather afraid of spilling more .” You still hesitate a bit. “I know your mum may have said not to go wandering around in the houses of stranger, but please.” the colt begs. “We're almost out of time.” >Follow him to the basement Walking down the stairs without tripping is more than a mite tricky. Fir st off, the staircase is straight, not spiralled. It's uncomfortably steep in th e best of conditions, but it's even worse with two heavy buckets attached to you r sides. Still, you pick your way carefully down the stairs for at least a solid minute. As you reach the bottom, a faint glow off to your right catches your ey e. You turn to the source of the light and gasp. A small sun lamp is illuminating a glass case that stretches from the fl oor to the drab basement ceiling. Inside the case is a sarcophagus-like box that glitters a brilliant emerald. It appears to be almost floating off of the groun

d, until you notice a small cable connecting the coffin to the ceiling of the gl ass case. Attached to the whole ordeal is a gigantic metal slab covered in switc hes, knobs and the kind of pulse-measurement screen you would expect to see at a hospital. It's mot making any noise, but the line blips upward in a regular met er, like a healthy patient would have. A healthy patient...? “Thank you! Now, if you could just bring it over here...” the colt gasps gra tefully. It's hard to tear your eyes away from the mysterious tomb, and it takes you a couple of seconds to look away. Your acquaintance is holding up a small f unnel right to the center of the metal slab; as you approach and peer under it, you see that the funnel is leading into a different small, metal pipe opening. A light next to the pipe glows red in the near-darkness. You walk over to the pipe and the vest-clad pony and gently set the buck ets down with your teeth. They clang slightly against the stony basement floor; as if on cue, when you set the first bucket down the colt reaches down to his ve st and tugs at it with his teeth, tugging it over his head. By the time the seco nd bucket is on the ground, he has the vest off; a pair of feathery, golden wing s flap twice as the colt rears back. All of a sudden, there is a clicking noise, and the light turns green. W ithout missing a beat, the pegasus colt grabs a bucket in two forehooves, flaps upward and tilts the bucket, pouring the contents down the pipe. At first, you had assumed that this was some kind of coolant mechanism, or maybe some magic brew. But no kind of coolant or brew would be necessary sole ly for a machine whose purpose is to watch something else; why not just treat th e coffin itself? This has to be for whatever is inside the case; pour it in the hole, and let it get vented or sprayed or whatever later. You take another look at the bright-green tomb. Where have you seem something like this before...? An explanation pops into your mind, so ridiculous it has to be true. You gasp a little in surprise, and the pegasus shoots you a glare. “Mind! I almost dropped the bucket!” he says, pouring for a couple of second s more before setting the first empty bucket down and picking up the second one. You shut up, but continue to stare at the monument in the case while the pegasus pours his mixture in. It is probably less then half a minute before he finishes, but it feels like almost an hour of agonized silence. You have to ask him – you're dying to know. But you can't distract him while he clank. There, he's done with the bucket. Before he can go off (before he can ev en land, actually) the question tumbles from your mouth. “Is that a cocoon?” The pegasus lands, panting a bit. “You're awfully perceptive” he says, wipin g his brow. “technically, it's a chrysalis, but you're close enough.” A vague sense of concern begins to fill you. Whatever kind of bug is in that thing isn't necessarily going to be nice. It could be a beautiful giant but terfly; it could just as easily be an enormous, fabric-eating moth. You understa nd that you helped out a pony in need, which was a good deed in and of itself – bu t you're starting to regret doing so.

“What's inside?” you ask. “Giant Butterfly.” the pegasus responds nonchalantly. “I'm a breeder, but that 's not my job. This is a favor for a friend.” “So what do you do?” The pegasus doesn't answer for a bit; instead, he tugs his vest back ove r his head, sliding it over his wings. It takes him a bit of wriggling to get it back over his wings, but once the florid fabric is over his chest, he might as well have been an earth pony. “Care to walk around for a bit?” he asks. “It's a bit drab down here.” >Sure. “Great!” the pegasus says, beaming. With a slightly larger stride to his ste p, he picks his way up the stairs and back out into the comparative brightness o f the abandoned store. “I'm sorry about the rush earlier”, the colt chips in as soon as the two of you are up and into the abandoned store. “There's a timer attached to the input pi pe; it only accepts a nutrient batch between noon and one after noon, and I had a whole weeks' worth to deal with and...you know...” You feel obligated to ask the obvious question. “Why?” “To reduce the amount of outside atmospheric contamination.” The colt says, nonchalantly. “I don't want her to get injured while she's in this stage, i'd feel most guilty. The chrysalis, I mean. This is the non-mobile stage, so if anythin g happens...” “You'ld feel guilty.” The colt nods. “I put a lot of work into this. You understand how it is.” The light has steadily been growing brighter as the pair of you walk, an d you finally pay attention enough to your surroundings to figure out why. The t wo of you seem to be tracing back the path that you had taken before; while it's still back-alley streets from here, the business district seems less offensive. Somewhere not terribly far off, you hear the clanking of machinery. “I'm probably going to need to increase the dose, next time. I did spill s ome, you know. Complete accident, of course, but one must be responsible for the ir charges, and I shouldn't have let myself get distracted with business.” “What kind of business?” The colt stops. “Oh, goodness! I'm terribly sorry, I forgot to introduce m yself and...well...I guess i'm not in the most presentable condition, but...” Walking in front of you, the colt bows, letting a long, scarlet lock of mane fall deliberately in front of his face. He looks rather roguishly handsome, in a refined way. You bet he's done this countless times before, and that it (p robably) gets the ladies. “Il mio nome é patrón. My name is patrón. I am an art enthusiast and sponsor fro m Canterlot, and am associated with the founding and executive management of sev eral enterprises. And yet, signore, I find myself honored to know you, and wish to ask your name.”

Well, he's certainly charming! “Uh...Sorry, it's BFF. Best Friend Forever.” you respond. “I actually just moved here, and I was...” “Indeed, signore?” Patrón says, his “charm mode” operating at full bore. “Most inter esting...you will have to show me your cutie mark...” He moves to examine your flank, but you block his sidestep. You don't wa nt him getting any ideas or knowing about your past history just yet. “Wait, you m entioned that you managed several enterprises?” Patrón blinks. “Of course!” he says, beaming. “Here, let me show you a surprise. There's this thing I have been working on with the folks over at Sugarcube Corn er for winter wrap-up...” Smiling warmly, he trots off down an alley, towards the sound of the mec hanical whirring. You follow him briskly, slightly curious as to what you are go ing to see...and slightly distrustful, too. If what this pegasus says is true – that his primary occupation is managin g “art” - then what is he doing getting his hands dirty with a butterfly? Could it b e a hobby? You're starting to doubt it – not that he doesn't seem like the type to have a hobby, but if he's raising a gigantic butterfly for his own amusement, t hen why is he doing so in such markedly uncomfortable conditions? He can surely afford better. Now that you look at him, his mane is coiff ed almost perfectly; it's barely disheveled even though he's been running and fl ying around the city with a couple of buckets of nutrient water strapped to his back. His job is the founding and management of one business, not several, and h e's DOING WELL AT IT. And then there's this “surprise” he's planning for a seasonal change that's not even going to happen for two months or so. But why is he keeping his butterfly a secret? Is there something more to him that you don't know about? There's got to be a way to casually check out wh at he's REALLY up to... Ah! Of course! His cutie mark! If he really does have a cutie mark in ar t sponsorship, then there's nothing more for you to worry about. And if there is , then you'll know this guy is trouble – or at least, not what he claims to be. Nonchalantly, you stride a little faster, peeking your head around to th e right as he continues straight down a road to central square. “Something catching your eye, signore?” You pull back your head, chagrined. Patrón is staring at your with a small smirk on his face. His cutie mark was, in fact, completely innocuous – an orange. You aren't quite sure what it is supposed to represent, but at least it's not a gun or a bag of stolen bits or anything like that. But you have bigger issues: your new-found “friend” has just caught you star ing at his ass, with all the implications that might imply. >question him about his cutie mark. He'll understand the context. “Sorry!” you say, feigning a hint of a blush. “I didn't mean anything by it. I just was thinking about you thinking about my cutie mark -” “Indeed?” Patrón says, smiling pleasantly. “There's no need to be shy about your talent, signore.”

“No! It's not that!” you say. “You say you are an art supporter, but...” “The oranges?” Patrón says, his smiling fading a little and his accent dipping noticeably. “That was my first business, honestly. I sponsored a few fruit busine sses and merged them with Fruitcorp. , but that was some time ago.” “Have you always been...?” ng. of nto my “Wealthy? Yeah.” Patrón says, seeming a little embarrassed about the whole thi “My parents were from a long family of old-blood Canterlot upper class. I kind wanted to do something...productive with the wealth, and then it spiralled i a business and, well, here we are.” Patrón shrugs. “I didn't want to just ride out luxury, and this is as close to doing good as I feel like I can.” “But you can still indulge in expensive hobbies, right?” “...hobbies?” “I'm referring to the butterfly tank.” “Ah! Yes! That! Well, that's just something I HAD to do, for a friend of c ourse.” Patrón said, his suave tones of just a couple of minutes all but gone. “Oh, lo ok, it's Sugarcube Corner. Shall we...?” You're not going to be satisfied with that kind of deferral of an answer . “Patrón. There is something that you are hiding from me, isn't there?” The smile on patrón's face fades. “what?” You sigh. “Look, this isn't an inquisition, and I certainly don't mean to cause you any trouble. I can understand if you have problems with being rich and feeling the need to give back...but then why not just hire someone to do the wo rk for your friend?” “What makes you think I need help?” Patrón adds, his face contorting into a sn eer. “The fact that someone as rich and as powerful as you was rushing, full-ou t, to make a timer with two full buckets of nutrient water strapped to your side s. I saw your wings; you had to have picked them up from somewhere in town and s printed, but for whatever reason you were held up and late. I know you wanted to keep it a secret from the way you tried to defer if from me initially, so it's obviously something really important – and somewhat secret.” Patrón's sneer is gone. Instead, his face is frozen in a mask of horror. Y ou feel somewhat guilty for being right on the mark – but at the same time, you fe el the thrill of pleasure a foal feels at exposing the guilt of another. “Now, I don't * necessarily * believe that your business is illegal. I try not to be the kind of pony that jumps to conclusions, but i'm honestly curious. What about this cocoon is so valuable – so wonderful – that you were willing to ris k revealing a big secret just to keep it watered?” Patrón's mouth is working, but nothing is coming out. He stutters a couple of times, and mutters something resembling “bluh”, but he is not forming anything r esembling a coherent sentence. After a couple of awkward minutes – him trying to f ind the right words and failing, and you waiting patiently for his response – Patrón speaks.

“Aren't you hiding something from me, too?” It's your turn to freeze. “Yeah! Your cutie mark!” Patrón says, regaining composure. “You didn't want me t o see what you had. It's probably something really bad, isn't it?” He attempts to step around you, to get a better look at your flank. You match his hoof falls perfectly. Patrón smirks unpleasantly and attempts to step ar ound you again, and once again you match him. You don't want to let him know that you are a blank flank. As soon as he learns that, he learns what apparently the entire rest of the town knows: You a re the mysterious, cutie mark-less ex-con. You doubt he will take lightly of you if he knows that you are prison material – then again, you have dirt on him, too. You've got to play this carefully. “Hey,” you say. “We can strike a deal.” “What kind of deal?” Patrón says, staring unpleasantly at you. “I'm not trouble, and I don't think you are. I'll let you see my cutie mar k, but first I want to know what exactly is in the cocoon. No surprises, no tric kery. Just a couple of honest colts being a little more open with each other, kn owing that we can TRUST one another.” It's going to be the emphasis on trust that saves you, if anything. You don't want to convey an atmosphere of blackmail: you figure that if you pass thi s off as insatiable curiosity more than malice, he'll be more apologetic to your cutie mark (or lack therof, really) when you show him. And you figure that he p robably WILL see it; there's only so long you can conceal something this obvious with nothing more than a saddle. But if you can come just a little bit closer t o figuring out what things really are... You never imagined that kicking a hornet's nest could be so entertaining . Do other ponies have secrets they are hiding? It might be something worth find ing out. Patrón's eyes narrow. “Show me first,” he says. “Then we can have a deal.” The col t slumps suddenly, wearily. “It's nothing...nothing illegal. But I really didn't w ant to show anyone, signore. I want to know I can trust you.” ...crap. >He can show you first. You understand awkward secrets, too. “Don't worry,” you say with genuine notes of empathy in your voice. “If I thou ght I would be weirded out, I wouldn't even be asking you this question. I know what the rich are like-“ “The rich?” “Yeah, indiscretions and all that. But everyone's got their little-” “Oh geez! Nothing like that!” Patrón blurts, blushing furiously. “Listen, can we go inside sugarcube corner? I'll be able to get a little bit of privacy there i f I really want it, and...” No more words need to be said; this is probably just as well, since Patrón ducks insid the store so quickly that you almost lose him. Hustling to catch up , you dart into the candy store -

- WOW is it ever loud in here. Crowded, too. You can pick out Patrón large ly on the basis that most of the ponies in the store are young colts and fillies , but even so it's a thick crowd to have to trudge through. At the counter, you can see Patrón talking with a white mare with a brilliantly yellow mane, who seems to be animatedly attempting to console him, wave you over cheerfully, and ring up a register for three school-age fillies at once. You trot over to the counter, and the white mare mutters something – you c an't hear it that well over the squeal of schoolfillies trying their luck on wha t looks to be a gumball pinball machine. “...Door to the left, but you guys should know that already! Have fun!” the mare says, chipperly. Patrón's off again, and you hurry to catch up to him. He pas ses through a door marked “for employees only”, and you follow him into a long, wood en corridor. The door snicks shut behind the pair of you, and around you there i s silence. The two of you walk for seconds in almost dead silence, the penetrating thunk of hooves against wood the only sound for quite some time. There's a door at the end of the hallway – about half-way there, you can make it out. Patron's li ps quiver for a brief pair of seconds, as if he is itching to say something, but also desperate to not say too much. He's the first to break the silence. “The chrysalis? That's not actually a butterfly. That's a pegasus.” “Wait,” he continues before you can even THINK of saying anything else. “that' s not – I mean – she's PAYING me to keep her like this. Encapsuled. See, this thing is – she really hates winter. Like, REALLY can't deal with it, the whole deal, you know? The past couple of years, she hired me to put my capital to some kind of project, and she's been paying off the loan on all that equipment-” “You MADE that?” “Invented? no. I hired a couple of brains to think it up for me. All thing s considered, I thought they were going to make a giant metal stasis thing or so mething, but this is much more economical for her and for me. But I do need to m ake sure that it's fed, otherwise the chrysalis would collapse early and she'd w ake up.” “Wake up?” “Yeah!” Patrón says, a bit more enthusiastically. “see, the chrysalis is designe d to provide nutrients to the subject inside it, but it needs to get them from s omewhere. I have to provide it with the solution you helped dump into the machin e to keep it hydrated and properly supplied with nutrients, otherwise it wears o ut. I deliberately let it undersupply at winter wrap-up, the chrysalis consumes itself and Morning Breeze wakes up on schedule-” “Morning breeze? Is that the pegasus in the Chrysalis?” “Yeah! She's really awesome!” Patrón says, beaming. “I feel like this is one of the good things i've really done, you know? But I have to juggle other projects, and so I rushed and bumped into you -” “I'm sorry about running into you, earlier.” You interject. “I'm glad that you helped me get everything in on time! Actually, I think

you helped big-time, all things considered!” Patrón practically bubbles. You've neve r heard him sound this happy. “Celestia, this feels good, you know? Actually talki ng with somepony about it, like it's not a major secret or anything.” “Is it a secret?” “Well...not officially. I don't think morning breeze goes around telling p onies about it, though. And I try not to be so telling myself, in case this acci dentally gets held against me.” “So why are you telling me?” “Well.” Patrón pauses. “maybe you could help me.” >I'm not sure. Patrón looks disappointed. “Please?” he asks. “I've had to rush at least a couple of weeks in the past, a nd I was cutting it way too close this past week. And besides, signore -” he follo ws, his voice suddenly silky smooth again - “you live in town, do you not? Would i t really be so hard to transport water to a machine once per week?” “The stuff in the buckets wasn't water, though.” “Well, it was a water-based solution, but the solute is nutrients, signore ! Nothing harmful at all, I promise I wouldn't lie to you. Is it about time, sig nore?” No, it's not about time. Right now, you don't even have a job – but you do n't want to have to get tangled up with volunteer work in case something comes a long. You tell him as such. “So it's about money, signore. I could pay you.” “How much?” The number he gives is quite large. Your eyes bulge, just a bit. Patrón do es not overlook it. “You like the sound of that offer, hmm, signore?” Patron says, smooth as but ter. “I consider it to be only fair, assuming that you would be doing the maintena nce phase regularly. There will still be the solution to be made and delivered, but I can handle that segment...It will be a partnership, the two of us bringing up Morning Breeze together. Don't you like the sound of that, signore? “and how much are you making off of this partnership?” “Only what I consider to be fair.” He's probably witholding money from you – but what he originally offered y ou isn't exactly skimpy. It occurs to you that all the fancy machinery, and the cocoon mechanism, must have cost a LOT of bits. You are starting to wonder just how much morning breeze is worth, anyway. Was she a rich pegasus? A famous one? Does she have noble blood, or was she a hero? No matter what way you look at it, this pegasus... You understand why Patrón wanted to keep her affairs under secret. You are also starting to get the feeling that you can't really back out of this. Not th at the secret is dangerous, but there's enough money riding on the line that Mor

ning Breeze's sleep could be considered a liability. Which isn't to say that there isn't a way out of this. Play it cool, def er for a while and get a hold of Vermeillia. She'll know if there's anything sha dy about patrón, and will probably be able to keep this from getting out of hand. For that matter, Eloquence, Farasi and Resting Place probably know more about th is guy than you do, and they might be able to help you out. Then again, he IS offering you a fair amount of money. And there's a rea sonable chance that you could pressure him for more. You wonder... >take the offer “All right, Signore. Two buckets of, uh...nutrient every week?” Patrón grins broadly, holding out a hoof to you. “Two buckets is all, signor e, I swear. I'll get them dropped off every week from now at two hours until noo n, at - “ With that he starts listing directions. You attempt to keep up as much a s possible, but by the time he reaches his conclusion, you have no idea where hi s directions even began. “Could I have that written out, please?” “You are lost, Signore?” “Yeah, sorry. I'm kind of new here, like I said.” “Not to worry! I know that ponyville can be a wild and confusing place, es pecially to the newcomer. I do not happen to have a map on me, but I shall have one mailed to you, with instructions. Would that be acceptable? “Uh...” “Wonderful!” Patrón says, beaming. “I knew I could trust a pony of such characte r as you. Surely, you must be the best...” Patrón bounds forward suddenly, darting around you to examine your flank. If you thought that you could have scurried out of the way, you would have given it a shot, but Patrón caught you entirely off guard. “The best...Signore, you appear to not have a cutie mark. Is this the resu lt of magic, or...” You grimace as the inevitable explanation falls on him. “So it was you! Yo u're the prisoner they released a couple of weeks ago! And I totally trusted you ! Oh, I am SUCH a foal...” This isn't going well. “Patrón...” “What?” he says, head snapping to attention. “You want to try and rationalize your way out of this? A colt whose crime was so heinous they made the national p ress? The paper said that you were COVERED in blood, you...you...” Patrón stutters. “W hat's going to happen now, huh? Are you going to try to blackmail me?” “Patrón, THINK for a second. I helped you lug around gardening supplies into the middle of nowhere, withOUT expecting any kind of reward. Before THAT, I was trying to find someplace to work – do those sound like the acts of somepony looki ng for blackmail?”

“Regardless, that's supposed to convince me that you WON'T go on a psycopa thic rampage?” “Rampage...?” “Oh, don't try playing coy with ME, blank flank.” Patrón snarls. “I know you ple aded guilty due to insanity, or amnesia, or whatever it was you pleaded, but I k now that you know EXACTLY what you did. You're just trying to pull one over all of us.” ...Does Patrón know something you don't? Was there more to the case than w as let on? This could be a prime opportunity to figure out more about your past. On the other hand, you have a very agitated pony on your hooves, and while the hallway towards the...whatever it was patrón wanted to show you was clear, if he m ade it back to the bustling store... You don't want a riot on your hooves. >Calm down, please! I'm not trying to hurt anypony! “I bet you've used that line a lot of times before. Well, it's not going t o fly with ME!” Patrón blurts. “I think it's just about time somepony learns about thi s!” With that, Patrón brushes past you and gallops, full tilt, back towards th e sugarcube corner counter. You rush after him – you're faster – but he's got enough of a head start that he reaches the door before you can grab his tail in your t eeth. Patrón throws open the door, brushing aside fillies in his wake. You can t ell that it would be inappropriate to act out physically here, but you've got to explain SOMETHING. Trailing in his wake, you attempt to get patrón's attention. I t fails miserably. “Excuse me? Surprise?” Patrón snaps at the mare behind the counter. The white earth pony turns from a candy-cane house she had been delicately laying on the c ounter to stare at patrón. As if on cue, the crowds re-form in the path patrón had m ade, forcing you try and pick your way through a sudden onslaught of young filli es. “What's up, patrón?” Surprise asks. Patrón leans in and whispers something conspiratorially into Surprise's ea r. The earth pony listens, blank-facedly, while you struggle to make your way th rough the schoolfillies without trampling over anyone's hooves. You reach the co unter just as Patrón finishes his tirade. Surprise looks up at you, evenly... ...and giggles. “He doesn't look that terrible,” she chuckles. “LISten to me, Surprise! You're thinking with your heart again, disregardi ng your brain!” Patrón snaps. “It's your duty to make sure the customers are satisfied , and I am NOT comfortable with that murderer around.” Wait, is he trying to get you thrown out of the store? “I thought you want ed me to help?” you ask patrón. “I want nothing more to deal with you! Go away!” Patrón shouts, turning to you . “You are a lunatic and a madman, and I do NOT make deals with - “

“Patrón! You're making a scene!” Surprise cuts in. “I am TRYING to save you from yourself, Surprise!” Patrón interjects. “I don't c are if I have to make a scene in order to - “ “and WHAT exactly is going on, here?” For a second, you figure the sudden drop in temperature is just your ima gination, fueled by a sudden and inexplicable sense of fear. Then you realize th at it actually has gotten colder; the door has swung wide. Standing in the doorw ay is Vermeillia. It's been a couple of weeks since she last looked angry; not that you ne eded the reminder, but now you have one right burned into your mind. More than r ed-hot in her rage, Vermeillia is eyeballing everyone in the store with the kind of tranquil menace that would make a dragon short of breath. Wordlessly, the sc hoolfillies shrink to the walls and the corners of the store, desperately trying to avoid catching her attention. Not that there's any need; Vermeillia's eyes n arrow as she sees that you are caught up in the middle of the commotion. Wordles sly, the Griffin stalks across the floor towards the three of you. Patrón looks te rrified, angry and indignant; Surprise looks annoyed. “I thought I told you to stop coming into my store, Vermeillia.” Surprise sa ys, cutting into the silence. “Don't make me have to call security.” “I'm not talking to you, candymonger. I came here to get HIM...” Vermeillia says, pointing at you, “...and I heard HIM causing a ruckus.” she says, pointing at patrón. “That's part of my business, too.” “I don't have to listen to you, you...you...you lunatic!” Patrón shouts. “You're that griffin that wanders around town, bullying smallfolk and snooping into oth ers' affairs! Who gave you the right to have ANYTHING be your business?” Vermeillia smirks. “It's my cutie mark, jackass.” Schoolfillies from all four corners of the room gasp. Surprise rolls her eyes. Patrón's face pales, then flushes crimson. “Bitch!” he snarls. “You and your FILTHY kind-” Whatever else he was going to say is choked out as Vermeillia hoists him off of his hooves, dragging him eye-to-eye with her. Her voice drops low and de ep, the bass and the menace amplified fivefold. “Say one more word about my 'kind' and i'll take this from obstruction of justice to assaulting an officer. And trust me, PAL, you don't want to go that f ar.” “You!” Vermeillia continues, pointing a talon directly at you while continui ng to stare Patrón dead in the eyes. “I figured that you would be getting yourself i nto trouble. Explain, NOW.” >It's nothing serious. (don't make waves). “It's a misunderstanding, I swear.” you begin. Vermeillia snorts. “i can't count how many times i've heard somepony say T HAT. Seriously, what happened?” “I KNEW it!” Patrón shrieks, hysterically. “You two are in some kind of...bullyi

ng cohorts thing! Money extraction! You probably work for the mob or something!” Vermeillia apparently ignores this, instead turning to Surprise. “Could yo u excuse us all for just a second? I've got some questions that need asking from these two-” she says, shrugging her shoulders at you and patrón, “-and I don't need a ny more outside interference.” “By all means.” Surprise says, flatly. “Wouldn't it be more efficient to deal with these 'war criminals' or whatever it is once at a time?” “I'm not giving your orange friend a chance to get away without him answer ing some questions first, surprise. Don't make things difficult for me.” Surprise rolls her eyes. “Then leave the blank flank with me?” “Okay. Sure. Whatever.” Vermeillia snaps, spinning around and dragging patrón from the store. The door swings shut, and is followed by a couple of moments of awkward silence. After a ten second interval that feels like an hour, Surprise clears her throat, then opens her mouth to speak. “Show's over!” she pipes chipperly to the cr owd. “Sorry about that little, ah, disturbance thing. Really, mega massively sorry . Let me make it up to you by getting out the candy roulette!” As if an invisible switch had been flipped, the schoolfillies start to c hatter excitedly among themselves and continue to puruse the shelves. Surprise s ighs happily, looking exhausted – and then turns to you. “Better brace yourself, new guy. That griffin's really not somepony you sh ould be messing with.” wait, does she...? “But I didn't do anything wrong! I swear!” “Relax! I never said you did!” Surprise says, chuckling. “It's probably not go nna matter to her, though. See, she thinks she's some kind of investigator type, and if you're that new guy that just came into town, you're gonna be due for so me HEAVY-” “Wait. I mean, I – I'm not worried about her. I'm worried about YOU. I didn' t - “ Surprise looks at you, puzzled. “You really must have just come here. See, even if Patrón's right, and you are some kind of crazy serial killer, I don't thi nk you're going to be wanting to kill me, right here, right now. Okay! Let me ge t the wheel out!” she says, suddenly shifting attention to a small teal foal at th e counter. Digging around under the counter, she whips out what looks like a gam bling wheel and a small white ball. “What do you want to call, Leaky? Reds? Blacks?” “Odd!” The foal pipes up, eagerly. Nodding, Surprise drops the ball in the w heel and gives the contraption a spin. The ball rolls and rattles around the rou lette table, and Leaky watches eagerly as Surprise turns back to you. “Sorry about that, it's gonna be a busy day. You could probably tell that, though. Anyways! I'm not gonna get mad at you unless you make a ruckus in my st ore or try to shoplift anything. But you don't look like the shoplifting type to me, anyway. You're a bit too apologetic, not withdrawn enough.” “So you don't think the bit about the cutie mark-”

“Is weird? Yeah, I do, a little bit. Thing about running Sugercube corner is, though, you get a lot of interesting ponies in here. And you got off early b ecause of good behavior, right? So that's nice.” Leaky shrieks. You whip your head around to see the foal hopping up and down excitedly, the ball resting on the number “01”. “Lucky you!” Surprise squeals, clapping her hooves together. “What did you wan t to get today?” “A cupcake!” Leaky pipes excitedly, hopping up and down. “Then it's gonna be TWOOOO cupcakes for Leaky!” Surprise shouts. The foal gi ggles and shrieks in joy, and most of the other schoolfillies in the store clap their hooves together. Reaching into a glass case by the counter, Surprise pulls out two elegantly-frosted cupcakes and puts them on the counter. “Now, did you remember to bring bits this time?” Leaky pauses mid-leap. “Um...” Surprise gives him a sad smile. “Leaky, did you remember to talk to your m ommy first?” Shyly, Leaky shakes his head. “Leaky, did you sneak out of the house again? I know that trying to find y our cutie mark is important, but - “ “It's okay, miss surprise! I can pay for Leaky!” a small, pink filly with a sleep mane trots up to the counter. Leaky bea ms. “And how are you doing today, Sushiroll?” Surprise asks warmly. “Good! Leaky and I were gonna go for a hike out near the Everfree forest!” S ushiroll says happily. “We were gonna make lunches and get cupcakes and see if we could see any dragons!” Surprise chuckles. “Be careful, okay?” “We will!” Leaky Piques, before burying her head in her saddlebags, looking for bits. Surprise turns back to you. “Kids, huh? Gotta love their energy. They're my favorite part about the jo b. Well, that and helping myself to the cupcakes before we close up, you know wh at i'm saying?” “uh...” “'Course you do! So, anyways, Be careful of Vermeillia, okay? She'll proba bly try to be a grumpy-pants and yell at you a bunch. That's why I have to keep throwing her out of the store, she wouldn't stop yelling at the ponies she thoug ht were trying to steal, which was pretty much anyone holding on to something.” >Yeah, she can be a bit much. (agree) It's not generous, but facts are...facts. You chuckle as you admit to Su

rprise that yeah, things have been a little rocky with her. Surprise gets a puzzled look on her face. “You mean you know her already?” While serving customers, running the register and spinning the candy rou lette, Surprise listens as you describe your first and subsequent encounters wit h the griffin, from the dinner party to the day of “chores”, all the way up to this week. Despite being preoccupied, surprise is a good listener, nodding at all the right points, and making vaguely sympathetic noises once or twice. You don't el aborate, of course; just give her the general run-down. As you conclude, Surpris e nods. “I gotta admit, I'm kind of impressed. I don't think Vermeillia gets along with a whole lotta ponies, here, and she particularly doesn't take well to fanc y folk. You know, bigwigs, checkered-past folks, up-and-coming talents. The more colorful the pony, the more suspicious she gets – and you're this whole ex-mass-m urderer thing, AND you don't have a cutie mark – you're like the fanciest of fancy ! How'd you manage to get on her good side?” “By being nice?” The door slams open again, followed by Patrón – sailing on through, like a c ream-and-scarlet missile. He lands with an audible Thwump on the floor as Vermei llia once again menaces the doorway. “New guy. Your turn.” she mutters, evenly. She looks more stern than angry, but you are still pretty sure that trouble is going to be present in your immedi ate future. Swallowing loudly, you trot from around the counter to Vermeillia, n ot bothering to make eye contact with patrón. Two seconds outside, and you are already longing for the comparative war mth and comfort of Sugarcube corner. It's not just the frosty chill of winter th at's nipping at you; Vermeillia's inherently sharp character also seems to be si lently digging into you, like a spur. The two of you walk without saying anythin g around the back alley of Sugarcube corner, where you first met patrón. Only when nopony else is around does Vermeillia stop and turn to face you. “So. Tell me exactly everything you saw.” Vermeillia says, flatly. “Well -” “And don't leave anything out. Perhaps I got everything I wanted to know, or perhaps I did not. But let me make it clear: I will know either way when you decide to start lying to me.” Again? Is she ever going to assume that you aren't some kind of horrible , malificent creature? You're about to open your mouth for a snappy rebuttal whe n you realize: this is her job. Regardless of what she might actually think of you, this is how she has to act, and will continue to have to act, because this is what she believes is h er role in life: policepony. Policegriffin. Whatever. Maybe you should shoot straight on this one. Vermeillia might not really want to get all “interrogative” on you, and a simple apology and an explanation mig ht help set her at ease. On the other hoof, that “when” remark's definitely smarting ; you deserve to be treated better than that, after you've gone out of your way to include her in your life. Maybe you should be calling her out on that, seeing if you can get some more respect.

And maybe it's time to start asking questions of your own. This is the s econd time, today, that it's been brought up that you killed multiple people, he inous crime, all that jazz. But if that's true...You were tried for one count of murder, nothing mor e. Maybe nothing much interesting happened for five years, but you can sure as h eck remember the court case that condemned you. What's the truth? What are ponies hiding? Heck, what would Vermeillia kn ow about this? >turn the tables and start asking questions of your own “Well, I saw...i guess it's more what I heard. Something funny.” “Funny.” Vermeillia says, flatly. “No, not funny ha ha, funny weird. Uh.” You say, giving off just a hint of u ncertainty. It worked: Vermeillia leans in, eyes somehow boring even deeper into you than they had seconds before. “Go on.” she says, voice somewhere between seemingly bored and intensely cur ious. As if to demonstrate how this is nothing new to her, she suddenly pulls ba ck, raises a taloned claw to her face and begins examining the edges, as if she had just received a hooficure at a fancy spa. “...I was arrested on one count of mareslaughter, correct?” Vermeillia freezes. “Don't be dumb. You know full well how much blood is o n your hooves.” “No, I really don't.” “Is this all you were going to do, blank flank? Mind games? Because if so, it's not going to work.” There's a hard edge to Vermeillia's voice now; anger and conviction, possibly a tinge of hurt. “Look, I got what, nine years? And I was let out for good behavior? Even i f I had been only tangentially involved in the case, that would have been ten ye ars. Murder of a filly? Eighteen, minimum. Now, assume that at the half-way poin t, I had been staying entirely within the limits of my stay – good behavior. They let me off on parole, early. Half of eighteen is...” “Assuming they assumed that you were directly involved in the crime. The p ress announced that you were in no condition, at the time, to provide mentally a dequate to solve the case. Amnesia, amnesia induced by insanity – the amount they would have cut your sentence by could easily bring it down to nine, particularly if you had - “ “a lawyer? Come on, Vermeillia, i'm not trying to lie to you. I don't have a secret stash of money, buried somewhere in my yard like pirate treasure. Don' t you think that if I had, I would have bothered to make my couches out of milk crates and old blankets?” “They assign defense attorneys in the case that the defense cannot hire a lawyer, and they're well-trained. Come on, blank flank, you're wasting my time.” You're not giving up this easily. “Okay, then tell me the math. Does it co me out evenly if everything you said was true – does it follow a mathematically-fi t model? Halving and adding and...and all that?”

Suddenly, there's a talon in your face, pointing straight at a spot betw een your eyes. “shut up.” Crap. You may have just violated the #1 rule of dealing with Vermeillia: don't make her angry. But you can't give up, not when you feel like you're clos e. “Look,” you say, lowering your voice to a softer timbre, “I don't know what I would have to gain from this if I wasn't telling the truth, okay? What would that do, piss you off? That's just dumb.” The talon doesn't budge. “...I'm scared, okay?” you admit. “i feel like it's being kept from me, like i t's this big secret that i'm not allowed to know. I really don't remember it, ok ay? Not a single bit. Please.” Vermeillia locks eyes with you on the Please. A sudden thrill runs down your spine as she probes – almost violates – your eyes with her own, silently lookin g for clues. You can't take more than a few seconds. “I'm sorry, okay? I really am! I s wear I didn't mean to do whatever happened, okay? Just...” Reflexively, you shut your eyes and look down, unable to take her gaze. Silently, you wait for her rebuke. There's a pause that stretches for a couple o f seconds, broken only my the slightly unsteady inhale and exhale of your own br eathing. “...I don't get you, dweeb. I really don't.” You have nothing you could possibly say to this that would make things b etter, and so you say nothing. All of a sudden, Vermeillia sighs. “I'm not gonna clobber you, okay? Just look me in the eye.” Tentatively, you do. It's easier, this time – she's looking at you, but no t looking to impale you. The diamond-hard edge in her eyes is gone. “You really don't remember anything, do you?” she asks. >Bits and pieces, but not a whole lot. “Let's go over those bits and pieces.” Vermeillia says. There's not a lot of room in the tone of her voice for compromise, but you bear it basically no heed . You were going to tell her everything, anyway. It was only a matter of time. So you start from the beginning of what you can remember. “Part of what made the case hard is that I really don't remember anything before the incident,” You begin. “I mean, it's not like the police didn't think I ha d – they interrogated me endlessly on the subject. I can't remember how many times I was inside some kind of holding cell, marking time only by when the investiga tors stopped by to ask questions. It...It sucked.” Which is putting it mildly, you think to yourself, but th ere's no need to disrespect authority figures when you're standing right next to one. “They had a routine, I later found out, so I can't really blame them for tha t. Geez, did it ever make me feel like horse apples, though. And It just got wor se and worse, and worse, and worse. I don't think they wanted to give up, but I

couldn't tell them anything.” “Why not?” Vermeillia says, voice ratcheting up a couple notches. “Because I don't remember anything! I'm being honest!” Vermeillia quirks an eyebrow, hard, but doesn't say anything. She doesn' t say anything else, and after a couple of awkward seconds you continue. “They added the interrogation session before the trial to the interrment p eriod, but wanted to make sure I couldn't be subject to any outside influences. My holding cell was a ten foot by ten foot by ten foot cube, made of concrete. G rey mush and milk for breakfast, green mush and milk for lunch, brown mush and m ilk for dinner. No windows, and the door only opened from the outside. I didn't get to talk to anypony, but I don't think anypony was close to me, anyway. After fifty-one questioning sections, they brought me onto court. I reme mber the uniforms the guards had: Very official, very tightly pressed, razor-sha rp wings ready and poised. I think they expected me to put up a fight. I don't k now why. Then, after that, I talked to a couple more ponies, and then I was esco rted back to the cell.” “What about the trial?” Vermeillia interjects. “They didn't ask me anything new. It was...quiet, I guess.” “You GUESS?” “Well, nopony in the jury or the courtroom started screaming or anything l ike that. It just felt kind of official, you know? The judge...hee hee hee.” Vermeillia's instantly at attention again. You couldn't help the laugh, though. “Sorry. He looked a bit like a donkey. Like, his ears were a bit floppy, a nd he had a kind of wrinkly face - “ “Oh, whatever!” Vermeillia snaps. If anything, you think this is actually be ginning to BORE her. “Get on with it. What was the trial about?” “I think it was more a processing than a trial. They read off the verdict, one count of mareslaughter - “ “Ten!” Vermeillia blurts, impatiently. Almost immediately after, she squawks and covers her mouth with her foretalons. Ten? Is she seriously serious? TEN? No way. Couldn't have been. Holy...no, th at's not possible, it couldn't have been... Desperately, you cast your mind back in time. The first thing you rememb ered, when it was... Dawn, dawn breaking over the waterline. Red light, orange light, yellow light, half-circle, waterline. Ripples in the waves. Unseasonably warm because t here needed to be no snow not this week there was construction to be done. Your eyes were cast over cobblestones because you didn't want to look down, could not look down, not now, not ever.

You look down and you get this feeling that you have done it before but it couldn't have been before because it was her and oh god it is her Pink mane spread across the cobbles like a fine glass of wine freshly sp illed but that's not the color of wine the wine is below and you look down and t here's stomach and heart and lung and how she can't be dead that's not blood it's just a fine wine please don't let her be dead “DWEEB!” Something catches you hard in the face and all of a sudden you're back i n the alley. Vermeillia is standing in front of you, fist raised. “SNAP OUT OF IT!” she yells at you. “Snap out of what?” you blurt, still feeling more than a little hysterical. “You just kind of spazzed out or something! I blurted something out, and t hen you went all rigid and stuff and you eyes got WIDE...” “...are you okay?” >i'm not sure. You can't seem to stop the images from flickering back and forth in your brain – at times, your vision seems to flicker back and forth between Vermeillia' s concerned expression and fine wine and it's making it rather hard to concentrate. You try to open your mout h to say something, but all that comes out of your mouth is a feeble garbled sou nd. “Speak up.” “I don't know.” And Vermeillia loses it. Emitting an uncontrolled shriek of pure frustra tion, Vermeillia presses her beak to your face and unleashes a verbal tirade of wrath. “What do you mean, 'you don't know'? This isn't the time to be crapping ou t on me! I KNOW you're hiding something and I KNOW that you're not telling the t ruth and I don't believe you for a SECOND when you said that you weren't broken before, because there IS SOMETHING GOING ON HERE AND I AM GOING TO FIND OUT WHAT IT IS!” She breathes heavily, shakily, for a couple of seconds. “Dweeb, what are you - “ You think of how funny it is, briefly, that she can be talking perfectly calmly while making heavy breathing noises. Then you realized the sounds of bre athing are actually coming from you. Are you starting to lose it? You feel like you are starting to lose it;

weak, all of a sudden, like you just came down with a bad case of the flu. Dimly , you realize it was the same feeling you had when you had those flashbacks, but much more intense. You also don't feel sick to your stomach; there's an ache, b ut it feels like it's in your lungs, and stretched deep into the muscles on your face. “Are you – aw, come ON. Don't start crying, seriously. You know how much I h ave to deal with that bullshit?” You're not crying, you mean to say. You even open your mouth, to tell he r. But instead of words, you form a struggling, choppy, choking sound, and the p ain in your lungs redoubles. You are crying after all. How completely embarrassing. You shut your mou th and look away from Vermeillia, the better that she can't read your expression . How can you lose control of your emotions at a time like this? It's just so... so... so much like fine wine spread across cobblestones dancing across a pink mane spread out flat and straight and this time, you DO shut your eyes, because you don't want to see anym ore. “Crap, dweeb, i'm sorry, okay? Seriously, don't do this to me.” You don't want to look at her. You don't want to look at ANYTHING. But y ou can't stop yourself from imagining things, from seeing things. For nine years , you had told yourself that you didn't commit that crime. That you just happene d to be there, and that ponyville – and the note “believe” - they would be your way to proving your innocence. But that can't be true. There was no way you could have just blacked out and found yourself there, later. You weren't lying down on the docks like a roh ypnol victim; you were standing upright, looking over...her. Whatever her name w as. But about two things you are absolutely certain. The pink pony – whoever s he was – you knew each other. Liked each other, probably. And you killed her. A chill breeze kicks up through the alley, howling like a gale. It's co ld – really cold. You shiver, muscles feeling far too weak. How have you been stan ding, when everything hurts so much? You are about to stop this whole expedition and just head home when you feel something around your shoulders. On the outside, Vermeillia is cold feathers; then she presses against yo u. She's wiry and tough; you can feel her muscles, firm and powerful under her s kin. But she's also strangely, phenomenally warm. You bury your face in her ches t instinctively, and you can feel her heart beating a steady pulse, somewhere in side her ribs. For a minute, all you can feel is the two of you, pressed togethe r. The pain lessens, gradually. Your breathing becomes more regular, less c hoppy, and gradually returns to a regular meter. The feeling of chill around you dims, and strength returns to your hooves. Eventually, you are brave enough to look up at Vermeillia. The expression on the Griffon's face is somewhat estrange d, as if she is not fully confident of what she's doing.

You wonder if she's ever willingly hugged anypony else before. “You done?” she asks. You nod. “Tell me.” she says, more a statement then a question. So you tell her the most important, pressing thing on your mind: >I think i'm repressing my memories. Vermeillia has no comment for this; her expression does not change. Whic h is altogether for the best, because you aren't done. “Back when I told you I didn't know anything, I was being honest. But when I tell you that I remembered something now, I'm still telling the truth.” “And?” You take a deep breath. “I killed her, I think.” “Her?” “There was a filly. She was pink...” “Mrs. Pie?” The name sounds vaguely familiar, but you make a deliberate effort to no t dwell on it. “I guess.” “Think.” “I don't want to.” Vermeillia sighs. “See, you whine about repressing your memories...” “Just give me a day, okay?” “Sure.” Vermeillia says, voice flat. “You think i'm lying to you.” “Well, it would make sense, given everything else.” There's a pause. “But i'm not going to tell a colt who was just crying like a bitch that he's criminal scu m.” Crying like a bitch? “Hey, that's a bit much.” Vermeillia sighs. “Look, cut me a bit of slack, okay? No, shut up.” she inte rjects, when you open your mouth to protest. “I can't NOT be a bad griffon here. I f you're just some innocent, memory-repressed colt trying to get better so you c an alleviate your guilt and i'm giving you a hard time for no reason, i'm a horr ible bitch. If you're taking me for a ride on this because I trust you and am a gullible dupe, then I let a pony who killed other ponies get away scott free, po ssibly to kill other ponies. and then I'm a horrible negligent! And if you are r eally, really good at covering your tracks – which given that you got let off earl y on good behavior, would HAVE to be true given the severity of your crime – then it should be impossible for me to distinguish between the two without solid evid ence, which I can't possibly HAVE.” She lapses into silence, only to pick up after a couple of seconds.

“If I pick either option and it's wrong, I lose. I'm trying to pick both h ere, because I want to know the actual truth and get to the bottom of whatever t he fuck is going on with you, but...but I don't want to dislike you, either. And it's probably not the best option, okay? But bear with me. I've never had an ac tual...thing like this before.” “Well, not to THIS extent” she says, catching the look in your eyes. “It's usu ally some kind of mishappenstance with mail or schoolfillies being mean to each other. But all of a sudden, a mass-murderer waltzes into town without a cutie ma rk, acting cordial as can be and then gives an account of events that differs fr om what I got on Eloquence's newspaper? That's something else. And then you go, telling me that you might be “repressing” things, and if that isn't suspicious - “ Suddenly, a light flickers in Vermeillia's eyes, and she snaps her talon s. “aHA! I was trying to think of that whatshername, the little witch that ru ns the library. If she's as good at figuring out weird shit as she claims she is , we might be able to poke around a little, find out things.” “Poke around?” you blurt out. There's something about that sentence that fil ls you with an abject sort of dread. “Yeah, your brain. Geez, don't look at me like that! I don't mean an actua l lobotomy or something!” Vermeillia says, annoyed at your display of self-preserv ation. “I could just get her to use magic to do a scan or something, no problems b esides that at all!” “Is it safe?” “Of course! Mostly. I don't think i've heard of anyone having an adverse r eaction to lie-detector magic, except for those CLAIMING it was allergic. That w as, of course, not true at all. Heh.” >Agree >Postpone >Change Topic Friends list: Eloquence (friend): Eloquence seems to like you well enough; whether this is general geniali ty on her part or a more personal sort of connection, it's difficult to say. Nev ertheless, you feel as if you can count on her for advice, and you feel as if sh e can rely on you, should she need help. Physical Characteristics (Eloquence): -Color Scheme: Light green/Peacock green -Eye color: violet -Cutie mark: Ink quill -Talent: Education (adolescent) Notes (Eloquence): -Eloquence Likes ponies who act courteously -Eloquence Likes ponies who are soft-spoken -Eloquence Likes ponies who are well-spoken -Eloquence is a horrible liar -Eloquence does not like fights -Eloquence has a high opinion of the education system

-Eloquence has a high opinion of her students -Eloquence's favorite subject to teach is english -Eloquence's least favorite subject to teach is mathematics -Eloquence's favorite color is, surprisingly, blue. -Eloquence listens to classical music almost exclusively, but occasionally liste ns to whatever's popular these days (at the behest of her students) Farasi (friend-acquaintance): Farasi doesn't know you all that well, but she currently thinks that you are interesting. Only time will tell if this will blossom into a full-fledged friendship, but you are on the right track. Physical Characteristics (Farasi): -Color scheme: black/white striped, black/white striped. -Eye color: amber -Cutie mark: ? -Talent: Baking -Zebra -Genetic giant Notes (Farasi): -Farasi does not like talking about her abnormal size -Farasi considers your beliefs old-fashioned -Farasi does not get along with Vermeillia -Farasi is probably one of the better breadmakers in equestria, in terms of raw knowledge and technique. -Farasi is unlucky -Farasi likes to listen to loud music, typically the growly kinds of metal. -Farasi occasionally plays the drums -Farasi is a strong supporter of Applecorp. Vermeillia (friend): You've made a lot of progress with Vermeillia: while the griffin once wa nted to kill you, the two of you have at this point become something resembling the cross between friendship and a mare-do-well/duplicanterer -esque rivalry. It 's difficult to tell at any given point, but you are pretty sure that the two of you can rely on each other for help and advice. Physical Characteristics (Vermeillia): -Color scheme: amber/white -Eye color: amber -Cutie mark: none -Talent: none (vigilante?) -Griffin Notes (Vermeillia): -Vermeillia is not trusting -Vermeillia prefers to handle her problems openly -Vermeillia loves compliments -Vermeillia does not get along with Farasi -Vermeillia has a great vocal range, but not a whole lot of musical training. -Vermeillia moved to equestria last year, in the spring, as part of the foreign exchange species program. -Vermeillia has gotten dozens of fines for misconduct, property damage, assault and hazardous flying in the year she has spent in equestria. Serious charges hav e not been pressed, largely at eloquence's behest. -Vermeillia's favorite color is red. -Vermeillia likes rock music, in all it's various forms in styles. She's particu

larly fond of Alternative Rock -Vermeillia's favorite bands are Alice in Saddles, the Smashing Saltlicks, the C lops, My Magical Romance and particularly Green Mane. -Vermeillia is practicing the 108 transcendent techniques, but has yet to master the first – the Sonic Rainboom. -Vermeillia hero-worships Rainbow Dash. -Vermeillia's probably the best hoof-to-hoof fighter in all of ponyville. It has n't been officially tested, though. -Vermeillia can be very, very patient if she wants to be. (citation needed?) notes [general]: -You can't remember anything past a certain day nine years ago -Resting place knows something about your amnesia. -The local librarian may be able to help you -You have a high-quality map! -Getting a journal to help record your visions might help.

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