What the hay is up with this place?
That solitary thought kept resonating in Derpy’s mind as she darted about the South Side, no easy feat considering she wasn’t familiar with any of these new addresses or their inhabitants. Her mail deliveries, in spite of the sizable amount she was carrying, had been uneventful enough so far, in no small part because she was moving faster and more smoothly than she ever had before. But now, with mishaps and fits of bungling behavior no longer an issue for her, Derpy’s attention was fixated instead on getting a feel for this new area of town.
And from what she’d seen so far, she was still struggling to believe it was an actual part of Ponyville at all. No part of town had felt this upside down since it’d been literally upside down during that whole episode with Discord, and even then things had seemed less alien than they did now.
For starters, nothing positively looked like it belonged in Ponyville; most of the buildings here, although fairly new, appeared ramshackle and dilapidated. Some looked like they’d been thrown up overnight, others as though they’d been lived in for a lifetime already and then abandoned for years. The sturdiest-looking structures weren’t your typical small town businesses or residencies either; bars, nightclubs, even a couple of strip clubs seemed to dominate the business district. While Ponyville had a couple of pubs and nightclubs of its own before Derpy had left last year, they were nothing like these. The Dragon’s Hoard, Club Crimson Veil, Midnight’s Delight, Moonshine and Mares, Foggy’s Bottom; these all sounded like establishments one would find in a place like Manehattan or Baltimare, and they certainly looked the part as well. From shuttered or obscured windows on some to what could only be described as salacious billing on others, Derpy felt like she’d stepped into a seedy part of a big city.
It didn’t end at seedy, though. Looking around, dodgy was another word that came to mind. Most of the ponies she saw wore cheerless faces and seemed rather standoffish, keeping to themselves as they listlessly moved about whatever business they were up to, and an especially destitute-looking few reeked of alcohol and sat at intervals along the street panhandling. Those who weren’t lifeless seemed the sort anyone with a shred of commonsense would go out of their way to steer clear of. Hulking bouncers stood outside some of the new establishments, and small groups of hoodlums and bruisers haughtily roamed the streets like they owned the place.
Derpy had already had to go airborne more than once getting out of their way, and every time they passed it was like she wasn’t even there. Not that she took it personally; from what she could tell, they treated anyone not associated with them the same way, and most ponies seemed to shrink in on themselves anytime a group approached, trying their best to make themselves as small and inconspicuous as possible.
She didn’t like it. Not one bit. If these were the kinds of changes Carrot had been referencing earlier, no wonder she’d been hesitant to delve further into it. How had all this happened in just a year? Where had all these ponies come from, and for that matter, why these ponies? Derpy couldn’t begin to imagine how an area of town like this had sprung up in just a little over a year. That sort of thing didn’t just happen, not in a town like Ponyville.
I gotta ask Carrot about… all of whatever this is. I mean, this is just weird. We’ve certainly seen our fair share of strange characters come to town, but this isn’t just one or two new faces, this is a whole new neighborhood! But one that’s as… un-Ponyville, I guess, as one could possibly imagine a place could be. I wonder if– oof!
In a split second, Derpy found herself lying at the bottom of a heap beneath some unknown mass which seemed to have been flung into her. Whatever it was, it was hefty, felt grimy, and stunk of sweat and booze. Struggling to get it off of her, she quickly noticed the mass appeared to be writhing as much as she was, and laughs were coming from somewhere behind her. Finally managing to wriggle out from beneath and raise herself back up, Derpy discovered that the mass in question was a very flushed-looking mule. Despite a small cut over his eye, which appeared fresh, the clearly-tipsy fellow was giggling uncontrollably between hiccups as he vainly tried to roll over and get up. Instead, his legs just clawed at air, and Derpy couldn’t help but think he looked like a giant bug stuck on its back. It’d be kind of funny if she wasn’t so annoyed from being knocked over by him.
Somepony else, however, evidently did find it funny, as howls of laughter continued coming from behind her. Turning around, Derpy spotted two rather sizeable stallions standing in the doorway of a bar she’d been passing by, both of them laughing up a storm, although their attention seemed focused on the still hapless chap lying on the ground.
“Oh yeah, you sure showed us, didn’t ya? Hey, next time you’re seeing three of me, maybe you shouldn’t pick a fight. Bucking jackass.”
The mule in question groaned at that. “Hey… t-told yeh ta stop callin’ me th–hic–that.”
“Oh buck off, haven’t you had enough already?” the seemingly lead stallion returned. “I told ya, I’ll call you and any other mule I see a jackass whenever I feel like it, and some dumb, drunk mule ain’t about to tell me otherwise! Now why don’t you crawl back in some gutter where you belong?”
Oh wow, aren’t you just the nicest fellow?
The two stallions started heading back into the bar when it just came out. “Little early in the day to be getting plastered and starting a bar fight, don’t you think?” The second the words slipped out of her mouth, Derpy knew she’d stepped into something, and a rush of both adrenaline and dread swept over her.
What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?
Both stallions stared incredulously at her for a second, like they were just realizing she was even there. Those incredulous stares, however, quickly became dangerous glares.
OK, you got this. Just… don’t make anything worse than it already is. Defuse, Derpy, defuse.
“The buck you say?” one of the stallions asked, as though daring her to even utter another peep.
Defuse? Come on, is that what you really want?
Derpy didn’t say a word, but she didn’t shrink either. Instead, she just stared right back at them.
If you really wanted to defuse anything, you wouldn’t have said a word. Come on, you want this.
The stallions glanced at one another then back at Derpy. “Hey, what the hay you looking at?” the other asked.
If you wanted to, you could turn them inside out. Chew them up and spit ‘em out. Come on, what are you waiting for? Do it.
Slowly, very deliberately, Derpy took her postal worker cap off and lowered her mailbag to the ground.
One step forward. Two steps. Three steps. She was now mere feet away from them.
“I’m looking at a couple of jack-”
“Oh hey look, the mail’s here! Got anything for me today, Miss Mailmare?” Both Derpy and the thugs snapped out of their tense standoff at that, and turning to her left, Derpy saw a young unicorn mare shuffling through her mailbag. That set off a few alarms in her mind, and Derpy quickly remembered her earlier priorities.
“Hey hey hey, that’s post office property! You can’t just go through my mailbag.”
“OK, OK, sheesh, sorry!” the mare exclaimed, holding her hooves up apologetically. “Say, you look new around here. Want me to show you around?”
Derpy raised an eyebrow, trying to figure out what angle this mare might be coming from. Her thoughts were interrupted, however, by an annoyed snort behind her from one of the stallions she’d been seconds away from picking a fight with.
“Hey Flake, do you mind? We were kinda in the middle of something here. Beat it.”
The unicorn simply made an exaggerated pouty expression in response. “Awww, that’s not very nice. I wonder what my sister would think when I told her just how not nice you are? Wonder if she’d tell Foggy.”
Derpy had no idea what was going on, but whatever was happening, that definitely got a rise out of the lead stallion. His companion, however, nudged him in the side, shaking his head. “C’mon man, let’s just go back inside. Ain’t worth it.”
He turned to leave, but the still-fuming stallion didn’t budge, staring daggers at the mare now flashing a cheeky smile. “Don’t you dare forget how damn lucky you are to be Firecracker’s sister,” he spat venomously. “Anyone else talked to me like you do, their face would be buried in the mud beneath my hoof, and that’s just for starters. You best pray you’re never one of ‘em.” With that, he turned and slunk back inside with his partner.
Derpy carefully watched both stallions retreat back inside, making sure they were gone for good, before retrieving her items she’d set down. “Uh, thanks for that… whatever you just did back there, Miss, er, Flake was it?” she asked the oddly unfazed mare.
The mare smiled back at her. “Snowflake. Er, just Snowflake, no need for all that ‘Miss’ nonsense, never been a fan.”
Snowflake, eh? Well you certainly look the part between your ice blue mane and white coat. Even got a snowflake cutie mark to go with it. Very interesting hooves though; bottom half of the coat is the same ice blue shade as your mane. Never seen that before.
“And it’s no problem, happy to help a newcomer who didn’t know any better!” Derpy blushed a bit at that, but quickly shrugged it off.
“Oh, I’m not exactly a newcomer. I lived here long before anyone in this part of town did, I’ve just been… gone a while.”
“Well I ain’t ever seen ya till today. How long a while?” Snowflake asked.
“Oh… a year. Maybe a bit more,” Derpy replied.
“Wow, that sure is a while!” Snowflake remarked. “So what brings you back, er…?”
“Derpy. Derpy Hooves. But, just Derpy’s fine. And I guess you could say I was feeling homesick, is all. Quiet place like Ponyville, it grows on ya after a while.”
“I know what you mean,” Snowflake agreed. “I haven’t even been here that long, but there is something real special about this place you can’t help but notice. Though I imagine it wasn’t quite like this when you left, huh?”
“How’d you know?” Derpy asked.
“Well it just stands to reason,” Snowflake explained. “I mean, most of us in this part of town came here in the past year. My sister and I came about ten months ago ourselves, straight from Baltimare.”
Baltimare? That’s strange, don’t know too many ponies around here who came from big cities like that.
“Baltimare, huh? That’s quite a ways away. What brought you out here, if I might ask?”
“Oh, you know, word got out that business was hopping here, that sort of thing,” Snowflake disclosed. “Come on, I’ll tell you more while I show you around. I gotta grab a bite anyway before my lunch break ends.”
“Wait, you were serious about that?” Derpy asked in a surprised voice. Snowflake readily nodded.
“Sure. I mean, you’re gonna be doing deliveries around here regularly, right? Well, you gotta get to know the neighborhood, now, don’t ya. Sooner you do that, the better.”
Derpy liked this mare already, impressed by her generous offer, especially given how young she looked.
“Alright, sounds like a plan, but only if you’re sure. Lead the way, Snowflake!”
“With pleasure,” she said.
For some time, both mares wandered about the district with Snowflake leading the way. It was a bit slow-going, but Derpy dropped off mail and packages when she could, all while Snowflake helpfully explained who lived where and what certain establishments were, information which Derpy dutifully made note of and mentally tucked away in the back of her mind. While they hardly hit the entire neighborhood, it was still a good start and would make navigating the place much easier for Derpy going forward. After stopping at a tiny eatery nearby where Snowflake grabbed a bite to eat, the two mares continued onward, Snowflake taking bites of her eggplant panini between sentences.
“So tell me, where exactly did everyone around here come from?” Derpy asked. “Cause I gotta tell ya, we never saw a population boost like this around here before I left.”
“Oh, all over. Manehattan, Fillydelphia, Baltimare, lots of big city ponies like my sis and I.”
Strange, very strange. Why the hay have so many urban dwellers been coming all the way out here?
Not noticing Derpy’s furrowed brow, Snowflake continued. “Yeah, certainly been a big change from the city, but we’re doing alright. I kinda like how wide and open everything is. And the green, oh gosh, everything’s so green! No concrete jungle around here, that’s for sure. Anyways, here we are, Midnight’s Delight!”
They both came to a halt outside one of the new establishments Derpy had spied earlier. From what she could tell, it appeared to be a bar or nightclub of some sort, and compared to some of the others she’d seen so far it was one of the more agreeable looking ones. The building’s façade itself resembled for the most part the typical cottage design so prominent around Ponyville, impressive considering some of the South Side buildings looked like they’d been thrown together in five minutes, much less had any actual thought put into their design. The sole, noteworthy deviation from the standard Ponyville design was the great, glowing, magenta neon sign on the front of the building which read in flowing script ‘Midnight’s Delight.’
“Um… OK, uh, why are we here?” Derpy asked.
“Duh! I told you I was on my lunch break. Well, this is where I work,” Snowflake replied matter-of-factly.
“Ohhhhh, I see,” Derpy acknowledged. “Well, I better be going the–”
“Oh no, please, come in, I insist!” Snowflake pleaded. “You just have to meet Midnight. Trust me, you won’t regret it, you’ll have a hay of a lot easier time getting to know the South Side once you meet her. Besides, you can drop off some of your mail with the girls inside, I’m sure you’ve got something in there for at least a few of them.”
Derpy waffled at that idea. She really didn’t need a distraction like this right now, especially not today of all days. However, a glance at the town clock tower allayed her nerves somewhat, showing she still had plenty of time to spare. With a shrug, she turned back to Snowflake. “Oh what the hay, sure, why not?”
Entering inside, Derpy was swiftly taken aback by what she saw. If the sign outside was one thing, the stark contrast between the interior and exterior design was a whole other matter altogether. As opposed to the building’s folksy façade, soft, violet lighting darkly lit the inside of Midnight’s Delight, adding at once both an inviting warmth and sensuous edge to the atmosphere. A neat and very well-stocked bar, along with some empty tables, dominated one half of the main floor, while the other half largely consisted of a dance floor and thrust stage. The couple of burlesque poles dotting the stage did not escape the attentive mare’s notice.
Ah, I see, it’s that kind of club. Interesting. I wonder if that means Snowflake’s a… huh, interesting.
From the top of a flight of stairs behind the bar, a silky voice called out, “Snowflake, dear, who’ve you brought with you into our lovely establishment today, hmmm?”
An earth pony mare descended the stairs towards the two. She was considerably older than either Derpy or Snowflake, possibly in the twilight of her midlife, but she was strikingly good-looking for her age. Her coat was the same violet hue as the lighting inside, she had a wavy, stylish magenta mane and tail, and a simple, silver chain necklace complimented both nicely. But it was really her comportment from whence her allurement truly resonated; she wholly carried herself in a way which Derpy could only describe as elegantly inviting. It reminded her of the polished movements Rarity typically displayed about town, but like the club itself, there was a voluptuous air to it all, as though she were silently insisting, “Come hither, if you dare.”
Sauntering up to the two, she flashed a warm smile at Derpy. “Hello, dear. Welcome to Midnight’s Delight, where delight is your right. I’m the owner of this den of a million pleasures, Midnight Marvel. What can I do for you?”
Tearing her gaze away from wandering about the club, Derpy replied, “Oh, uh, sorry. I’m just here to drop off some mail. Oh, but where are my manners? I’m Derpy, Derpy Hooves.”
“Derpy Hooves? Now where have I heard tha- oh yes, of course, you’re Cloud’s friend!”
Of course she knows Cloud. I can only imagine how much time she’s spent at a place like this. But hey, I suppose it’s a good thing if it has her seal of approval… maybe. She does have pretty high standards after all, won’t go to just any old sketchy place. Well, most of the time anyways.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome, it’s so good to finally meet you! Any friend of Cloud’s is a friend of mine. I must say, however, you’re a bit more toned than I’d imagined you’d be.” Midnight’s eyes drifted to her backside, eliciting a fierce blush from Derpy. Something about an older mare commenting on her derriere seemed even stranger than one of her best friends doing so on a regular basis. Maybe she was just used to it by now with Cloud; now there was a worrying thought.
“Yeah… well, anyways, Snowflake here got me out of a bit of a jam and has been kind enough to show me around a bit. Most everything south of the Smith River wasn’t here last time I was in town, you see.”
Midnight nodded understandingly. “Of course, of course, a most marvelous idea indeed, Snowflake!” she said approvingly. “I always encourage my employees to be good neighbors. After all, it’s important making a good impression and keeping up appearances in a small town like this.”
“Wow, that’s very candid of you,” Derpy admitted, to which Midnight simply shrugged.
“I’m a businessmare my dear, and I make no apologies about it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d want to be a good neighbor wherever I lived no matter what, but a mare in my position can’t ignore the incentives for being one either. Happy neighbors mean happy customers and more of ‘em. That’s the type of business model I will always get behind.”
“Seems it works out for ya pretty well,” Derpy said. “You’ve got a really nice place here. At least, I think it is, but I could be wrong since I don’t go to that many clubs and bars. And wow, sorry, I hope that did not sound insulting in any way.”
Luckily, Midnight just laughed it off, waving a reassuring hoof. “Oh my dear, think nothing of it. In my line of work, you quickly get used to patrons who’ve never been to a place like this, especially in a town like Ponyville. You’re hardly the first nervous mare I’ve ever had in my establishment. Now then, as long as you’re here, would you care for a drink?”
Derpy shook her head. “No thanks, it’s a bit early for me, especially considering I’m still on the clock. Speaking of which, do you know which of your employees are in right now? I’m a mailmare, and Snowflake thought it might be a good idea for me to drop some of my mail off to whoever’s in right now.”
“Certainly! Snowflake, be a dear and fetch this week’s work schedule from my office.” Snowflake trotted up the stairs, leaving Derpy alone with Midnight. “Sure I can’t tempt you with a drink on the house? I make a mean daiquiri.”
“That’s really nice of you, but I’ll have to take you up on it some other time,” Derpy maintained. “I haven’t technically landed this job yet and need to be on my best behavior today. Hopefully if I do well enough, you’ll be seeing a lot more of me around here.”
“Well that’s a relief. The postal service has been awfully shoddy on this side of the river to date,” Midnight groused. “Not that I entirely blame them for that. Things are, in a word, chaotic around here, to say the least.”
“Mhmm,” Midnight nodded, producing a glass and bottle of whiskey from behind the bar and pouring herself a drink. “This part of town is hot right now. In some ways, too hot. You got some folks like me who just want to make an honest living, but then there’s a whole mess of scoundrels around here who’ll do anything to make a bit. And I do mean anything.”
If they’re anything like those jerks earlier, I can see how that’d be a problem.
Derpy grabbed a seat at the bar while Midnight slowly sipped her drink. A few minutes later, a commotion came from upstairs and Snowflake shortly emerged with some papers and something else rather unexpected held aloft in her telekinetic magic.
“Well, well, well, look what I found scrounging around your office, Midnight,” she announced, smirking as a small pegasus colt squirmed in the grasp of her magic.
“Lemme go, c’mon, lemme go!” the colt protested.
“No doubt trying to find your secret stash of sweets, as usual,” she said, chuckling.
Midnight snorted and Derpy couldn’t hold back a laugh either at the ridiculous sight. “Yours?” she asked.
“Nah, Firecracker’s, Snowflake’s older sister,” Midnight replied. “Oh Silver, Silver, Silver, what in Equestria am I going to do with you?” The colt ceased his struggling momentarily to grin sheepishly at Midnight with the most endearing smile he could muster.
“Uh, let me go and not tell mom about this?” he suggested.
“Oh you are such a treat sometimes,” Midnight said.
“So you’ll do it?” he asked hopefully.
“Yeah, no,” Midnight said, shaking her head. “Although I could be convinced to see your side of things if, say, you sweetened the deal for me.”
The colt bit his lip, in deep thought. “Ummm… would you let me go and not tell mom for a hug?” Midnight rolled her eyes. “A really, really big hug?”
“Tell you what. You Pinkie promise to help your mom with chores around your place more, and I won’t tell. Sound fair?”
“Awww sheesh, do I have to?” Midnight and Snowflake nodded in unison, and the colt groaned in exasperation, finally conceding as only an outmaneuvered colt could. “Fine.”
“Go on,” Midnight pressed.
“I promise to help mom around the house more. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” he grumbled, going through the motion familiar to ponies all over Ponyville.
“Good boy. And remember, if you break it, she’ll know,” Midnight warned forebodingly. “Alright Snowflake, you can drop him.” Snowflake released her nephew from her magical grasp and he promptly scampered off, no doubt searching for new mischief to get up to as befit a colt his age. Derpy chuckled at the conclusion of the exchange.
“You know about Pinkie promises?”
“I’m surprised you even have to ask,” Midnight remarked. “After all, you’ve known Pinkie longer than I have. First thing I learned about this town after the name was that there is no escaping that crazy filly. I’m actually rather worried by the fact that ninety-percent of her behavior doesn’t even faze me anymore. Anyway, here’s today’s work schedule.”
“Thanks.” Derpy scanned the schedule and removed whatever mail she could. As she was doing so, the now-unfettered colt trotted up to where she was sitting.
After a moment, he suddenly asked, “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Silver, rude! Where are your manners?” Snowflake exclaimed, scolding her nephew. Derpy, however, wasn’t fazed in the slightest, and was actually rather pleased with his observation.
Alright, good, must be crossing the eyes pretty well if he noticed. Celestia bless colts and their inability to keep their big mouths shut.
Waving a placating hoof, Derpy said, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it. Truth be told they’ve been like that for as long as I can remember. Kinda what a lot of ponies know me for around here. Don’t worry, though, I can see just fine.”
Snowflake nodded. “Alright, if you say so, but that still doesn’t excuse you, mister,” she said, still scowling at Silver. “When your mom gets here we’re gonna have a nice, long chat about picking your words carefully.”
“Aw c’mon, aunty, we have a deal!” Silver protested, but Snowflake simply chuckled.
“I don’t recall our deal covering every way you get yourself in trouble,” she slyly remarked.
That drew a rather adorable pout from Silver. “So where’s your mom work anyway?” Derpy asked, still sorting through mail.
“Oh she’s not at work. She’s probably with her friend,” Silver answered.
“Her friend, huh. Who’s that?”
Midnight let out an annoyed grunt and, out of the corner of her eye, Derpy noticed her pouring herself another drink with a very noticeable grimace fixed on her face. “Yeah, friend, now there’s a word for it,” she muttered to herself.
Her curiosity piqued, Derpy decided to press Silver to learn more. “What kind of a friend is this Mister Foggy, huh, Silver?”
“Well, he’s OK, I guess,” Silver replied. “He’s real nice to mommy and gets me and her all sorts of nice things. But Miss Midnight doesn’t seem to like him too much.”
Midnight snorted indignantly. “I never said I didn’t like him,” she said defensively.
“But I hear you and mommy yelling about him a lot,” Silver countered.
“Silver, why don’t you go back upstairs and finish your homework befo– oh, well speak of the devil, look who’s back!” she remarked. Glancing over her shoulder, Derpy espied a pegasus entering the club. She was a beautiful mare, with the same bright orange coat as Silver had, but also a curly and well-kempt mane and tail with fiery orange and ruby red streaks. She seemed positively radiant, and it wasn’t just her looks that made it so; bedecked in very expensive-looking jewelry, she exuded a carefree confidence as she strode towards the group.
“There he is, there’s my little Silver Sunrise!” she exclaimed, scooping Silver up into her hooves. While he squirmed in her grip as any colt his age would in the “embarrassingly” public embrace of his mother, she held fast and showered kisses upon his cheeks and silver mane as only a mother who didn’t care how much she was embarrassing her son in front of others could.
“Mom, stop it! Bleh, you’re getting cooties all over me, what if my friends walk in? Mom! Mom!!!” Finally relenting her grip upon him, Silver wriggled out of his mother’s grasp and rubbed his cheeks with a hoof in disgust, as if he were trying to wipe some foul substance from them. His mother in turn dug through a saddlebag resting on her back, eventually producing what appeared to be some sort of superhero toy.
“Look what mommy got you, sweetie.” Silver’s eyes lit up and he quickly got over his mother’s overt displays of affection.
“Woah, is that the new Mistress Mare-velous action figure complete with limited edition lasso?”
“The one and only.”
“Awesome!!!” Silver bounced up to grab it, but his mother kept it just out of his reach.
“Ah, ah, ah, first things first, young stallion. Is your homework done yet?” she asked.
“Well… kinda,” Silver sheepishly replied.
“Kinda?” A skeptical, raised eyebrow was all Silver needed to see to know his mom wasn’t buying it for a second.
“Ugh, fine, I’ll go do it. Then can I play?” he asked sullenly.
“Of course, sweetie. Now run along, and don’t just fill in whatever, really do your homework. Remember, I’ll know if you weren’t trying,” she warned. Silver dragged himself upstairs, but as soon as he was out of sight, Midnight snickered.
“Nice going, hon, you’re getting pretty good at the whole ‘parental-bargaining’ thing,” she remarked.
“Thanks. Figure I might be able to get him to eat all his dinner tonight too if I play my cards right,” she said half-jokingly. Turning to Derpy, the mare’s eyes widened in recognition.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Firecracker, terribly sorry for not noticing you earlier!”
“Derpy Hooves,” Derpy replied. “And no worries, your kid’s more important than little ol’ me. I’m just your friendly neighborhood mailmare. Well, hopefully will be, at least. Anyways, nice to meet you, Firecracker!”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Firecracker assured her. “A mailmare you say, how nice. So what brings you down here today, if I might ask?”
“Your sister brought Derpy by to get to know the neighborhood,” Midnight explained.
“Oh, you know Snowflake? Wonderful. And clearly you already met Midnight and my little bundle of joy, Silver, as well.”
“You got it,” Derpy nodded in affirmation. “Say, that’s a beautiful pearl necklace you got there, where’d you get that?”
Firecracker waved a hoof but blushed bashfully. “You like it? My Foggy just gave it to me today over lunch. Can you believe it? Must’ve cost him a fortune.” At the mere mention of Foggy, Midnight’s mood immediately darkened and she huffed, which did not escape either Derpy or Firecracker’s notice.
“Everything alright, Midnight?” Derpy asked.
“Yeah, of course, fine,” she curtly replied.
Firecracker seemed to ignore her entirely and kept going from where she’d left off, though with the slightest bit of edge in her own voice now. “Yes, Foggy’s been very good to Silver and I since we got together, very good indeed, and I love him for it.”
Midnight snorted and absentmindedly took yet another sip of her rapidly shrinking drink, drawing a heated glare from Firecracker.
Well sounds like somebody doesn’t agree with that assessment. Wonder if Midnight’s just jealous, or if she doesn’t like this Foggy fella. And if she doesn’t like him, why doesn’t she?
Just as Firecracker was about to respond to Midnight’s very evident disdain, a new voice spoke up from the front of the club, one which Derpy recognized, much to her surprise. “Well hello, Miss Hooves, fancy seeing you here!” All three mares turned to find none other than Time Turner.
“Oh, hi Time. What are you doing here?” Derpy asked.
“I could ask you the same thing,” he said matter-of-factly.
She shrugged as nonchalantly as she could, though her face turned the slightest tint of red given the particular location he’d found her in. “Oh, just getting to know the neighborhood while doing some deliveries, you know how it goes.”
“Oh, you’re a mailmare?”
“Was. Trying to get my old job back and it turns out they could use an extra hoof to help with the South Side, so, here I am. Figured I’d give my hooves a bit of a break and get to know some of the folks around here. Speaking of which, Time, this is Midnight Marvel and Firecracker.” Both mares smiled and Midnight stepped out from behind the bar to greet Time.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’m Midnight Marvel, owner of this fine establishment. Now, who might you be, handsome, and what can I do for you?” she said whilst batting her eyes, her voice smooth as Appleloosan whiskey.
For his part, Time just smirked. “Oh, you’re not gonna like it,” he assured her, producing his badge and eliciting a scowl from Midnight.
“You’re a cop! Hold on a minute, I run a perfectly legitimate business here,” she contended defensively.
Time waved a hoof, returning his badge to his saddlebag. “Relax, relax, I’m not vice. I don’t even think this town has a vice squad to be honest. I’m a detective, ma’am, and new in town. I’ll be doing a lot of work in the South Side and like Miss Hooves over there, I thought it’d be apt to explore around and get to know some of the ponies living here. My chief, Commissioner Gust, assured me that your club was a good place to start. As I recall, his exact words were, and I quote, ‘Midnight’s a decent sort, and certainly the first mare you’d want to get to know over there.’ So that’s why I’m here, ma’am; I want to do right by Ponyville’s residents, all of them, and that means getting to know you and the South Side. Would you be so kind, then, to indulge some questions of mine?”
Midnight seemed to struggle internally for a moment but finally gave a sharp nod, downing the last of the drink she still held. “Alright, alright, we can talk. Gust’s been pretty good to us, so if he sent you, I guess you must be okay. Let’s go back to my office. It was nice meeting you Derpy, sorry I have to cut our visit short.”
“No worries, I gotta get back to my deliveries anyway. Thanks for letting me rest my hooves here, and I hope to see you around. Same to you, Firecracker, and tell your sister I said thanks, she’ll know what for. Have a good day, everypony!” Springing from her seat, Derpy trotted for the exit, giving one last, friendly wave to the others as she left.
“A good day to you as well, Miss Hooves!” Time called.
“Time, please, seriously, nopony calls me ‘Miss Hooves’,” Derpy lightheartedly pressed, giggling.
Now it was Time’s turn to blush. “Er, of course Miss– I mean, Derpy. Have a nice day, yes, you do that now and I’m… gonna try to stop being a total spaz and come off as something resembling professional at the very least. I hope.” His ear’s flattened in embarrassment as Derpy left Midnight’s Delight still laughing, but Midnight seemed to enjoy his loss of composure.
“Oh don’t be so formal, detective, I’m certainly not. Come on then, step into my office. I’ll tell you what’s what and who’s who around here.”
“Sure I can’t interest you in some carnations?” Lily asked.
“How about fuchsia, it’s got quite a kick to it!” Daisy offered.
“Nah, I’m good.”
“Marigolds, we’ve got plenty of marigolds!” Roseluck emphasized.
“Girls, I told you, I’m fine!” Carrot Top insisted in annoyance to the trio of sisters, despite knowing she’d immediately regret it.
“Oh, this is a disaster, a disaster!”
“Simply awful, awful, awful!”
“Whatever shall we do?”
The mares swiftly descended into a panic around Carrot’s vegetable stand while she just stood there, an unamused, stony expression etched upon her face.
Dear Celestia, why me? Why did I ever set up shop so close to the Flower sisters? Every time these girls have some extra flowers they always, always insist I buy some before anypony else since I’m right next door. And every time I say no, they do this!
In a last ditch effort to calm down the mares ever-so-prone to hysterics, Carrot suddenly blurted out, “Uh, I could use some sage if you’ve got some.”
“We’re all out of sage!” Lily moaned, and her sisters promptly renewed their wailing as well.
“Oh for Pete’s sake, girls, it’s just a little bit of overstock, it’s not the end of the world! Sheesh, get a hold of yourself,” she demanded. The sisters calmed down, but glared angrily at Carrot.
“Well, I never,” Daisy huffed. “There’s no need to lose your cool like that, Carrot. If you’re having a bad day, just tell us. Come on, girls, we don’t need this drama.” The three stomped away, leaving a bewildered Carrot who just stood behind her stand straight as an arrow, one of her eyes now twitching involuntarily.
I just… I… what? You know what, buck it, I’m packing up. Been a long day, I’ve got a shift at the Hay Burger in a few hours, and I do not need any more of that, thank you very much.
Carrot hastily began packing her unsold produce into a cart next to her stand, in no mood to put up with anypony else’s shenanigans for the day even though she knew that’s exactly what awaited her later that evening. Just as she was loading her last bucket of carrots, something slammed into her with what felt like the force of a hurricane. Two hooves wrapped around her trunk and hoisted her into the air, squeezing her as tight as a boa constrictor.
While she overcame her shock at what she could only assume was an assault, a voice cried out, “Carrot, I got it, I got it Carrot! I got it! I got it!”
Recognizing the exuberant voice, Carrot barely managed to gasp out, “Derpy… put… me down. Can’t… can’t breathe.” Getting a hold of herself, Derpy gently released her friend and set her back down on solid ground.
After taking a few gulps of precious air, Carrot moaned, “Ohhhhh, my poor ribs.”
“Heheh, sorry about that, guess I got a bit carried away,” a sheepish Derpy said.
Carrot waved a dismissive hoof. “Forget it. Now, what’s all this then? What exactly did you get?”
Derpy perked up once more, practically bouncing where she stood. “The job, I got the job!” It took a moment to register with Carrot, but as she processed what Derpy was telling her, her eyes widened.
“Wait, seriously? When?”
“Not five minutes ago! You’re looking at Ponyville’s newest-former-but-now-rehired mailmare. You should have seen the look on Postmark’s face when I got back with two hours to spare, it was priceless! I don’t think I’ve ever seen any pony’s jaw drop so low, he could barely even get a word out. I doubt he thought anyone could deliver all that mail in one day, but I did it, I did it, I did it! Hey, where’re you going?”
“Wait here,” Carrot said. Without another word, she left her loaded cart with Derpy and headed straight for the Hay Burger adjacent to the marketplace. About ten seconds after she trotted inside, an earsplitting, jubilant, “I QUIT!!!” rang out, drowning out all commotion in the marketplace and drawing more than a few concerned and curious gazes.
Carrot immediately reappeared, trotting back over to Derpy with quite the bounce in her step. “Wow, that felt even better than I’d fantasized it would,” she remarked, sounding as though a great load had been lifted from her shoulders.
“Been waiting to do that for a while, huh?” Derpy said, grinning.
“Derpy, you don’t even know. Thank you, though, so very much. You have no idea how much I needed that. Come on, let’s go home, I’ll fix us up something real nice for dinner,” Carrot promised, strapping her cart’s harness to her trunk before the two started making their way back to their cottage. “So you had a pretty good day, I imagine, yes?”
“Yes indeed,” Derpy said, beaming. “Oh it’s good to be back. I’ll have to tell you all about it over dinner. And you’ll have to tell me about the South Side.”
Carrot raised a curious eyebrow. “Why?”
“Well I’ll be working there, I mean, that’s why Postmark rehired me. With all the new ponies in town, he needs more hooves to carry the extra work load. But I’d be lying if I said that were the only reason.”
“It’s not?” Carrot wondered, and Derpy shook her head but said nothing for a few minutes, as though contemplating where to go next with this conversation. “Well go on, spit it out,” Carrot finally urged.
“It’s just… something you said the other day, when I got back. You mentioned there being lots of new faces around town, but also lots of new problems. I think after seeing the South Side, I know what you meant by that, at least somewhat. There’s something definitely… off about that place.”
“But why do you want to know more?”
“I don’t know,” Derpy admitted. “I met some ponies who live there. There’s some good ones over there, no doubt about it, but there’s more than a few bad eggs, as well. There’s also a… I don’t know, an air of foreboding about the whole place. Most of the ponies I saw over there seemed to be trying to stay inconspicuous as possible, and those who didn’t seemed to be making sure the rest stayed that way. It just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like a place ponies want to live.”
Carrot didn’t say anything for a while but gave a small nod. “Well you’re not exactly wrong,” she finally said. “Ask any decent folk around here, I’m sure they’d tell you one and all that that place is bad news. But that still doesn’t tell me why you want to know more.”
Derpy simply shrugged. “I just… it just bugs me, OK? Doesn’t sit right. I’ve just got to know more so I can, I don’t know… I just want to know more, that’s all. It’s our home, and it wasn’t like this when I left. I need to know what happened, how it happened.”
Carrot frowned, but also nodded in understanding. “Alright, I hear you. I’ll tell you what I can over dinner. I owe you that much for restoring a little bit of my sanity and helping me quit that awful job.”
They arrived at their cottage a few minutes later when Derpy suddenly put a hoof to her forehead. “Oh horsefeathers, I completely forgot! I gotta go see someone, Carrot, I won’t be long. Mind getting started on dinner without me?”
Her friend shook her head rather emphatically. “Oh, trust me, I wasn’t planning on letting you anywhere near my kitchen! Even if you’d spent a hundred years in the mountains, I don’t think I would; I’ve seen what you do to food, my dear.”
“Har har, very funny.”
“Go on, do what you gotta do,” Carrot said. “Oh, and tell her I said hi.”
Derpy smiled softly. “Thanks Carrot, will do.”
“Hey. Long time no see, right? Well, not really I guess. I mean, I know you’re always with me, but it’s… it’s different being back here, ya know? I’m sure you’d understand.”
A cool, early spring breeze blew past Derpy atop the hill she stood upon, nipping her coat just the tiniest bit. The sole shelter afforded to her was a single, mature apple tree, its buds on the verge of blooming any day now, as they had for the past eighteen years.
“Things are going pretty well. Got my job back, connected with some old friends, made some new ones. Carrot says hi, by the way. All in all, things are really good.”
For a second, Derpy almost believed it. Almost managed to convince herself that things were just fine. Almost.
“Well… no, that’s not true. Nothing’s terrible, but, something feels wrong still. Some of it’s home, for sure, there’s definitely something going on around here. I don’t know what, but it stinks. It’s not just that, though. It’s me, too. I can’t pretend the last year didn’t happen, can’t live a lie and just try to get back to the way things were. That’s not enough anymore, not now, not after everything. Maybe that’s why I want to know what’s wrong around here. Maybe I think I can help. If I can, who am I not to? You wouldn’t hold back if there was a way you could help someone. Not your style, never was. So why should I? How can I?”
Derpy sat upon her haunches in deep contemplation, the sun just beginning to steadily lower as evening drew ever nearer. Ponies were retiring to their homes for the evening or out and about grabbing a bite to eat, though noticeably the South Side itself appeared to be becoming more animated. She ignored that though for the time being, soaking up the abundance of peace and quiet she so enjoyed every time she visited. Finally, taking a deep breath, she let out a sedate sigh.
“I think I’m past the point where I can see a situation like this going on and do nothing. And I’m actually OK with that. In fact there’s… a flame inside. It’s been growing, and I know it. I tempered it for a little bit while I got home and got things straightened out here, but it’s still there, and it’s not going away. Seeing this, now, what’s going on at home, it’s going to grow again, I just know it. I can’t fight it, and I don’t want to. But I can’t let it consume me. I can’t just feed it, I’ve got to control it. Let it fuel my drive, not destroy me.”
Whatever happens, I want you to know that I’m not going to throw away everything you gave me. But I won’t watch my home struggle against something I might be able to help with. I won’t do nothing if it needs me. It needed you, and you laid down your life for it. If it comes to it, Celestia forbid, I’d be willing to do the same, but I won’t let it come to that. I’ll be better than this, whatever it is that’s infested my home. I’ll be better than it and anything else that gets thrown my way. I can be better than it, and I will, because anything less than my best is unacceptable. I’m not there yet, but I will be. I’ve just gotta be patient, watch, learn, prepare, and act. Yeah… that ought to do it.”
For a while longer she sat in deep thought, considering her next course of action. She could visualize the roadmap before her, what she needed to do, but what lay at the end of it was still a mystery. It would come to her, though, she was sure of it, in due time it would come. She just had to find it.
“Love you mom, good talking with you. Hope the stars shine bright tonight, for ya.” Taking one last, long look at her headstone, Derpy turned and slowly descended the hill where her mother still rested, the sun just dipping below the horizon as she reached the bottom. Letting out a contented sigh, she slowly walked back home, relishing the time she had along the way to be alone with her thoughts.
Cold. It was so cold, and dark. The groggy mare wondered if her eyes were even open as she tried to figure out where she was, so impenetrable was the darkness. How had she gotten here, she wondered? The last thing she remembered was packing her bags to leave town before everything went dark.
She lifted herself up to try and better regain her bearings, but the sound of metal chains scraping against stone dispelled that notion. Lifting her hooves, she quickly realized her hind legs were shackled and chained to the floor, and that sent a wave of panic crashing over her. Someone had brought her here, she realized, and whoever they were they wanted her to stay put.
Still trying to comprehend what was happening to her, her breath caught in her chest when the sound of hoofsteps on stone suddenly pealed out in the darkness and grabbed her full attention. The steps grew louder and louder, clearly drawing nearer, and she backed away from them as far as her chains would allow. Then, just when it seemed they were mere feet away, the steps came to a grinding halt.
For a moment there was nothing but the sounds of her breathing. She couldn’t hear anything, anything at all in front of her. Finally, unsure what else to do, she quietly whispered, “H-hello. Is someone there? Please, I… whatever you want, I’ll give you whatever I can, just please don’t hurt me. I… please. Please, let me go. Why am I here? What… what did I do?”
Silence. Nothing but silence. That in and of itself was almost unbearable. Whatever happened next, she just wanted to know, needed to know at this point who was doing this to her, why. Everything unknown was just as bad as the situation she was in, and even more unnerving. But she dared not speak again, just as fearful of what might happen if she did. It seemed whoever was before her figured this out and soon decided to break the oppressive silence instead.
“I wonder… are you afraid?”
“Wh-what? Of course I am!” she said somewhat indignantly, shocked that was even a question. Her captor, however, chuckled at her response before falling silent once more. He didn’t stay silent for long.
“No. No, you’re not afraid. Not yet,” he assured her. “What you’re feeling is merely a base, animal instinct that so many others in your exact situation would also feel. But you’re not really afraid.”
She had no idea what he meant by that, but most certainly dreaded finding out.
“No, my dear, we need to peel layer upon layer of your psyche to get to that, I’m afraid,” he said. “Though I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t looking forward to it.”
The mare started pulling at her chains as hard as she could, hoping beyond hope that by some miracle they might break and she might escape this nightmare. When that didn’t work, she braced herself for the final blow, squeezing her eyes shut, but nothing came. Nothing save for a small puff of air directly in front of her face.
She blinked rapidly. She couldn’t understand why nothing had happened. The darkness and silence were all she could sense, but she knew, she just knew that he was still there as well.
Then, a near imperceptible scratching in the back of her mind. She barely noticed it, but she did catch it nonetheless. Something… something moving in the deepest, darkest recesses of her subconscious. A glow came, but it didn’t really pierce the darkness. Rather, it seemed to come from her, spreading, threatening to engulf her, and as it spread so too did a burning sensation.
She looked down at her hooves and to her terror saw them bathed in flames. No, not just them. Everything. Everything flames. Her coat, her mane, tail, and wings, all aflame, all burning, all pain.
“Oh gosh… oh gosh, it’s everywhere!” she screamed. “No please, stop! Make it stop! It hurts, it hurts so much! The burning, the flames, please, please, please mister, put them out. Someone, anyone, please, make it stop! No no no no no, Celestia please, nooooo!!! Help me!!!”
She thrashed on the floor, but nothing took them away. They climbed higher, and higher, and higher and soon it seemed the whole room was aflame, but the darkness remained. An entire room filled to the brim with darkness and fire and her screams.
Her captor watched her display silently, breathing in deeply as she began to writhe and wail. “Hmmm… pyrophobia, I see. Fascinating.”
He closed his eyes, soaking in the sound of her screams. Even as her voice became hoarse, still she cried for help, for release, for death. But nothing came except a never-ending cascade of terror.
“Just kill me, please! Make it all go away, I don’t care how! Please! Please! Please!!!”
He smiled at the music to his ears. A beautiful, wonderful harmony of horror. Taking another deep breath, he shuddered in ecstasy, finally uttering, “Thank you, my dear, thank you. This has all been very educational, and your fear is absolutely… delicious.”