Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 120

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Chapter 120

On the way to Fluttershy’s, I make a mental note to check back on those games later when nobody’s around. If I can reverse-engineer the setup, I’ll be able to figure out what they’re trying to pull... Until then though, there’s a petting zoo.

We walk along the road again, and I’m getting a bit tired of seeing couples and triples necking by the side of the road. Anne and Myrna are even scootching closer, likely to get as far from the sheer amount of gushing going on.

Finally, we’re approaching the location for the Petting Zoo, when something catches my eye. A few flashes of light and little bleeps and bloops from the edge of my vision grabs my attention. I stop in place when I realize there’s an entire arcade set up in the middle of a clearing, several young ponies already engaged with things like pong -two player, even- something like Pac-Man, a game like Arkanoids, and some sort of Asteroids knock-off. I see a lack of fighting games or beat-’em-ups... but I guess they have to get their video games a bit more advanced.

I hear a cry of frustration, and a little brown colt slams his head onto the console of a Galaga-style game, the game-over message flashing.

I chuckle. “Hey kid, having some trouble? Let me show you how to play a game.” The kid scoots over and I move the stool off to the side, being tall enough to reach the controls sitting down. I have to kneel a bit, but it works out. The controls are pretty intuitive, though the top of the joystick is more flat than I’m used to. The main ‘ship’ is an alicorn, firing little laser-beams from its horn. A horde of changelings are the enemy, but the sounds are almost identical to Galaga.

Hammering the buttons and twitching the joystick back and forth, I clear wave after wave of enemies. Several times, I find myself sweating, and dealing with the tendency of the Changelings to steal my ship and force me to swap to another alicorn -this one a different color scheme- results in several minor profanities being thrown at the screen, though I end with a small triangle of Alicorns blasting the hell out of a changeling swarm in the end, as they only get swapped out, instead of how Galaga did it, but the three-way spread shot I get from having all three of my lives out at once is very much welcome.

Finally, though, I’m taken down by a Changeling taking up the space of four, and I’m unable to destroy it before it barrels right through my formation, knocking off all three lives in a single attack. I let out a sigh, and lean back as my score flashes on the screen. I put in my name, and it shows me I’d gotten the new highest score, at 1,400,030 points. A half-million points ahead of the next highest, I see that the top nine slots after me are filled with either ‘BM’ or ‘NI’ for the initials. The little colt seems really impressed.

“Eh, not my best ever, but not bad after not playing for a few years. Let me know when you guys invent the N64.” With that I take my leave, walking through the crowd of ponies.

“Wait, the what?” is the last thing I hear from the little colt before I get over to the petting zoo, where Anne is practically covered in rabbits, weasels, baby birds of all descriptions, and more than a few foals. the sheer amount of fluffy and adorable in that pile is threatening to give me diabetes, but I can resist. Inoculations from the CMC have hardened me to such assaults.

Myrna, however, is currently hosting a mere two ponies, one of which is an adult mare with a caduceus symbol for a cutie-mark. The other is a foal, who is being hugged by one of Myrna’s hair-snakes, and being utterly snuggly-adorable about it.

I figure I’ll leave the girls to enjoy themselves and look for something to do. Then I see a rabbit who seems to be giving everyone the stink-eye, especially to anyone who tries petting him. It takes me a minute to recognize him as that asshole rabbit who Fluttershy gave the most ill-fitting name possible to.

I recall the first time I met him and feel like kicking him all the way into the Everfree... but then I’d have to explain. Deciding it would be against my better judgement, I leave the rabbit alone.

That said, I don’t see Fluttershy anywhere... isn’t she supposed to be running the Petting Zoo? I decide to ask Prick. That’s a much better name for the stupid rabbit. “Hey furball, you seen Flutters around? Isn’t she in charge?”

The rabbit actually looks relieved to see me, which makes me worry. The rabbit begins pantomiming a series of events that I cannot decipher, given that it’s probably being done at least twice as fast as normal. Still, Prick seems to be pointing towards a narrow alley nearby, which I see has a couple of guys hanging out and playing a card game outside it.

Which, I have to say, clashes rather utterly with the rest of what’s happening around town. I’ve already seen a few stallions getting together today, so it’s not a particularly secretive thing. I narrow my eyes when I see that they’re just throwing down cards, and watching the street with shifty eyes.

Ponies suck at being inconspicuous.

I return my gaze to Prick. “Either she went into the alley and something happened, or you’ve got a problem with those guys who are awful at being discreet. Which is it?” I think for a moment. “One stomp for Fluttershy’s in trouble, two for you just hate their guts for some reason.”

The rabbit stomps once, then holds for a moment and stomps twice.

“Both huh? Eh, fine.” I head over to the stallions. “Hey, I’m looking for Fluttershy. Have either of you seen her?” I idly thumb the sword at my side making sure they can see I’ve got it on me.

Both of the stallions stop and look at each other, holding off talking for several seconds. I quirk my eyebrow, and they start talking. “Er, yeah! She, uh, went thataway!” he says, pointing one direction, as his partner points in another. Seriously, ponies suck at subterfuge.

“Well, as long as she’s accounted for. Hey, wanna deal me in? What are the stakes at the moment?”

“Uh... a few bits?” the stallion says, grinning nervously, his eyes shifting one way and another. And, right in front of me, he nudges the other guy, who immediately says ‘oh!’ and throws a few bits on the ground. I feel like I should take the time to find all the would-be criminals of Equestria and teach them some basic points. Like not being obvious when you’re lying.

I sigh. “It’s obvious you two are horrible criminals. Now tell me where ‘Shy is, or I find out which of you has the more flammable tail.” I summon some flames into my palm and stare at them. “Well?”

Both ponies pull their tails up protectively into their grasp and start babbling, gesturing vaguely at the alleyway.

“-I didn’t think-” “-He does this every year-” “Didn’t want to take a ‘no’-” “-she’s just so pretty!” “Please don’t ruin my tail!”

I roll my eyes. “It seems you misheard me. I asked for where she is, not why. One more chance or I give you both a very hot haircut.”

The ponies flinch and point in unison at the alley, cowering under their hooves. I can see them peeking out from under their hooves as I walk by, stalking into the dark alley. I’m just in time to see Fluttershy, backed against a wall marking the dead-end of the blind alley. A larger stallion is standing over her, and he’s saying something in a low voice. It’s a voice that makes me want to take a shower or twelve.

“I’ve said before, I don’t want to hear a ‘no’. You’ve been pretty evasive these last few years, but I think you can find it in you to say ‘yes’ now, can’t you?” Fluttershy just hides under her mane, cowering in utter fear.

I walk up behind the stallion. “I think I deserve an explanation, or I’m going to assume you’re attempting to rape my friend.” I draw my sword and hold the blade to his neck.

While he does freeze in place, he doesn’t turn. “Pfah, I am not so uncultured as to... force myself upon this fine lady.” the stallion raises his head a little, and I see a glowing horn just before the Crack! of a teleportation spell echoes through the blind alley.

The Unicorn looks arrogantly assured of himself as he turns to face me, though much of that arrogance drains away when he sees I’m not just some guard or armed civilian.

“This is none of your business! This lady, a ‘friend’ of yours,” he sneers the word ‘friend’ like it’s a slur, “was just about to tell me how she’s going to begin courting me. Isn’t that right?” he hissed the last words at Fluttershy, who only retreats further under her mane, shaking and shivering. “See? Nothing illegal.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so. I recall you mentioning her saying that she said no before. Also, you’ll find bending your words doesn’t work on me. Now give me a reason to not use your neck as a whittling stone.”

“I- your threats hold no water here! I am a citizen of Equestria, and I have done nothing illegal! She has yet to refuse me, only to evade me. I shall have what is rightfully mine!” Wow, he stinks of cliche bad-guy.

“And if that’s your attitude, then I’ll be happy to oblige. Take what you deserve.” I ball up a fist and punch him in the face. “I don’t care if you’re princess Celestia herself, I’d still slice you up and wring your goddamn neck for trying to force-” I’m cut off with an ‘oof!’ of pain as Fluttershy cannonballs into me, holding me tightly and crying. She’s bawling her eyes out, and I pat her awkwardly with the hand that isn’t holding my Sword.

After a few moment, I look up and see that the unicorn has already left, only a few drops of blood from when I’d hit him showing he was here at all. Fuckin’ teleporters...

“Alright ‘Shy, you’re okay now. If he shows up again, let me know and I’ll deal with him. Do you know his name so I can find him?”

‘Shy shudders once, still clinging to me. “H- his name is Sh-shallow Image. He’s been following me since my time as a model.” She squeaks out a sob. “He s-scares me.”

Model? She used to be... wow, that’s certainly out of character for her. “Well don’t worry. You won’t be having any more trouble with him. If he comes back, you let me know, okay? I don’t know if it counts the same here, but I’d call what just happened ‘attempted rape’ and I’ve dealt with enough rapists for one lifetime.”

‘Shy just nods and stays latched on to me, and she explains that he’d been showing up every Hearts and Hooves day to try ‘convincing’ her to join his herd. She’d given him the slip a few times, and convinced him that she only visited Ponyville that one time of the year. She’d never gone to the Guard because she was afraid he might try to get her declared ‘unfit’, whatever that means, for any number of reasons. He apparently owns a large number of psychiatric hospitals, which worries me. It seems a large amount of the major functions of this country are owned by petty nobles, each one trying to outdo the others. I’ll need to ask Rarity to help me untangle this one; I want to get to the bottom of this and stop this ‘Shallow Image’ guy for good.

But so far he’s right and he’s done nothing truly wrong aside from pestering/terrorizing Fluttershy. I’ll have to take care of this next time he makes a move. Or at least wait a while for this to cool off before looking for him.

Myrna finds me and ‘Shy after about half an hour, popping out of the street. She’s about to say something, probably chew me out for leaving her and Anne, until she sees Fluttershy’s tear-streaked face. The pegasus seems to have fallen asleep.

“Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. But if you hear anything about some guy named Shallow Image, you let me know, okay?” Myrna nods, and offers to take her back to her cottage. After handing off the pegasus, I sigh and lean against the alley wall again. After a moment, I go back out, and look for Anne. No reason to stop today’s plans. Though if I see that unicorn again, I’m putting whatever I’m doing on pause to chase him down.

After a while, Myrna and I decide we should have the concert now as none of us can offer any more ideas, and Anne seem to just agree with whatever we say. I’m going to have to help her with that.

Either way, when we get back to the town hall’s stage, it doesn’t take long for ponies to realize there’s going to be an unscheduled show. I decide to start now and let the crowd get bigger as I play. I figure I’ll start with a general high-energy party-starter.

I strum the Lyre and the sound of drums start up and then I begin singing.

More than half the ponies are bouncing and singing along, enjoying themselves. The other half are at least bouncing their heads, so that’s fine. There’s a small fringe of ponies on the outside of the concert that don’t seem impressed.

Well, this isn’t a concert for stuck-up party-poopers. I start playing wildly as I hit the guitar solo, and everyone seems to be enjoying it. Those in the crowd that is.

Many of the members of the crowd are shouting along the with the last part of the song, with more than a few groups of ponies being closer to each other than strictly necessary.

I label the song a success and move on to the next, announcing it as ‘why I have a problem with polygamy.’ It starts off light and the sudden change to somber music intrigues the audience.

None of the ponies seem to understand, and several look downright disgusted. There’s a pretty large number that look like they’re getting ready to leave by the time I’ve reach about two-thirds of the way through the song.

“Well excuse me for having a different view of your culture!” I sigh and move on to another song. “This next one is a bit... strange. Hope you guys don’t mind Alice Cooper.”

At the sound of a much more upbeat tune, the ponies seem satiated... but then I start singing. With the proof that attempted rape is a thing here, I’m sure stalkers aren’t new to this place either, but I’m not entirely sure how well received it will be.

There’s a large amount of ponies looking disapproving, mostly the stallions. More than a few aren’t so much disgusted as the last song brought, but rather look somewhat uncomfortable.

“Well fine! If you guys hate things being different, you can take your closed minds and jump in a lake! For those who are accepting of others, then you can stay.” I fold my arms and watch as the crowd decides what to do.

Well more than two-thirds leave in response to my proclamation, and the remainder look distinctly uncomfortable. Well, the songs were a bit harsh. Maybe I should lay off the love songs for a bit.

After a moment, though, I see a teetering stack of fillies, each of the little group distinct. On top of the group is Sweetie Belle, her hoof raised and an eager smile on her face.

“You have a request, or you wanna join me for something a little better?”

In her squeaky voice, Sweetie Belle shouts for something ‘Hopeful’.

“Hmm. How about you guys just come up here and we can do a song together?” I see Scoots holding up Sweetie and I get an idea. If I can get such a strong reaction from music, I might have a way to help the kid with her idolizing issues.

The fillies rush up to the stage gleefully and I start playing. The song will be much different than the others, but I guess that’s a good thing right now. I make my decision of what to play and I begin.

Somehow a mystical force, most likely Harmony, seems to have read my mind and made Scootaloo the main singer. The other three doing background singing, and I’m merely the music. I just hope Scoots is paying attention to what she’s singing.

The little ponies all sing their little hearts out, Scootaloo buzzing her wings excitedly and achieving temporary lift-off every now and then. Sweetie’s hitting some impressively low notes, considering her normally higher range. Guess Harmony did something about that.

The song finished, the ponies in the crowd seem to appreciate this song a lot more, getting a few cheers. Yeah, okay, save the dark music for a different species. I feel a tug on my pant leg and look down. I see Sweetie looking up at me, and gesturing for me to lean down. When she gets close to my ear, she asks if I have any ‘happier’ love songs she could dedicate to someone who might be in the crowd. Heh, little girl’s got a crush, that’s adorable. Well, I guess it can’t hurt.

I stand back up and just start playing the much more romantic song.

Sweetie takes the lead for the song immediately, her voice carrying out to the crowd with a strength I haven’t heard in it before. A look of serene joy fills her expression, her singing bringing a sense of peace, joy, and exhilaration to everyone assembled. Scoots and Applebloom are sitting off to the side, grinning at Sweetie, and give each other a hoof-bump.

I decide that now it should be time to wrap this thing up. “Alright everybody. I’ve got one more song for you all. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoy where it came from.”

I strum the Lyre and receive the sounds of an electric guitar before I begin singing. The notes spill forth from the instrument, and the words do the same from my mouth. The ponies still attending all start to smile and move with the song, good cheer fully restored. Several of the couples and triples still in attendance start dancing together, while the ones who had shown up in singles start grouping up.

I continue singing and strumming the Lyre quickly as I end. “That’s the Power of Looooooooooove...” After a moment of the music having quieted, I realize how much I miss those movies. Eh, maybe the ponies will have something similar made later on. Still, nothing can beat Back to the Future.

The ponies are cheering wildly and hugging each other as I walk off stage, feeling very worn out. For some reason, the ‘happier’ songs drain me a lot more. No idea why.

A couple of ponies stick around after the concert, but most wander off to be with their partners. The CMC are giggling and tussling off to the side, and I’m utterly unprepared to be grabbed around the shoulders by an immense pair of claws, and lifted high.

I swear, that yell was manly, and there’s no amount of evidence you can present that will change my mind on this. Thankfully, my reaction to this was to start heating up and look around. I say thankfully about the heating part, because Anne is resistant to heat, and it’s her carrying me, with no apparent difficulty flying while doing so.

Laughing, I just relax as she gives me a flight around the town, finally stopping with plonking onto a cloud. Even though I start to sink through immediately, Anne can sit on it just fine, and she has a large, slightly glowy blanket set up on the cloud. The blanket doesn’t fall through, and makes the whole thing feel like a really soft bed.

Anne looks a bit unsure of herself, covering her face with a wing. “So... can we talk?” Next Chapter: Chapter 121 Estimated time remaining: 17 Hours, 42 Minutes

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