The Lamia

by Cold in Gardez

Chapter 1: The Lamia

“Hey. Hey, Rarity!” Sweetie Belle’s high tin-whistle voice reached Rarity through the thin door guarding the Carousel Boutique’s design room. “A monster’s moving in next door.”

“That’s nice, darling.” Rarity nibbled on her lip, entirely without realizing it, as she focused on the strip of Alençon lace beneath her fabric shears. Thin gold wires wove their way through the delicate cloth, and a careless cut could tear them out of alignment, ruining the entire spool. The blades closed a millimeter at a time, snipping each thread in turn, until the lace fell free onto her table.

“I’m going to go say ‘hi’ and maybe help her okay bye sis!”

“Uh huh. You do that.” Rarity was already cutting the next slip of fabric. Snip. Just under four hundred to go.

She heard, distantly, the front door slam, rattling the Boutique’s picture frames like windchimes. Then blessed silence returned, and nothing bothered Rarity for the remainder of the hour.

Snip. Snip.


* * *

When Rarity finally put down the shears, a throbbing headache was well-established behind her horn. She straightened, uncurling her back, and winced as long-locked muscles lining her spine burned in protest. A quiet sound that might have been a grunt escaped her lungs, and she stretched her neck, wincing at the sandy sound of disused joints falling back into alignment.

“Well, let’s never do this again,” she said to nopony in particular, but her eyes were on the workbench, where a thousand strips of lace and trim and ribbon sat in orderly piles. Tomorrow she would begin the task of attaching them to fabric panels, followed by assembling those panels together, and by the end of the week she would have three exquisitely ruffled ball gowns waiting for delivery to Canterlot.

Just thinking about it set her horn to glowing, and a spool of thread on the shelf beside her began to tremble. If she started now, the first one could be halfway done by this evening, which would give her all day tomorrow to start…

No. Before the materials could tempt her any further she walked out of the room and into the kitchen. She let the water run in the sink until it felt ice-cold to her hoof, then filled a glass and downed it in a single pull.

Her headache receded a tad. She smiled.

Through the bay window above the sink, Rarity viewed Ponyville in its late-autumn afternoon splendor. The warm, low sun painted everything yellow and gold. Piles of dry, fallen leaves blew across the cobblestone roads like snow in a blizzard, filling the air with a quiet rustle. Everypony wore a smile as they passed by.

And there, across the street, a moving wagon sat on the curb by Junebug’s old house. Boxes and crates filled it, and as she watched a pair of burly stallions walked out the door, hoisted one onto their backs, and carried it inside.

A flash of color caught her eye, and she saw a sunflower-coated mare leaning out the house’s window, fussing with dirt and flower bulbs in a box planter attached to the sill. The mare scooped out a hole with her hooves, dropped one of the bulbs in, and covered it over with smooth, practiced motions. She seemed to neither notice nor mind the dirt as it smeared on her fetlocks and chest.

New neighbors! Rarity’s smile grew, and she set her glass down to go greet them.

The breeze had a bite to it, just enough to remind ponies that winter lurked around the season’s corner. It tousled her mane, and she spent a moment fussing with it before crossing the street, making a beeline for the mare in the window.

“I say, hello!” Rarity trotted up to the window, careful not to step on any of the dirt spilled below. “Are you by any chance the new owner of this home?”

The mare glanced up as Rarity approached, and she ducked, as though startled by the sudden attention. After a moment, though, a small, shy smile grew on her lips, and she propped her forelegs on the window sill to lean out into the sun. A rich, auburn mane, shot through with lighter highlights, shone like a bird’s plumage and complimented the earthy yellow of her coat.

“I suppose I am,” she said. Her voice held the hint of a faint lisp, doubtlessly the relic of a childhood impediment. “Are you Rarity? Your little sister was just here. Oh, um, I’m Oriole! It’s nice to meet you.”

“Well, Oriole, it’s a pleasure to meet you as well.” Rarity knew a socially awkward pony when she saw one; between Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy, they made up nearly half of of her closest friends. She smiled as warmly as she could and pitched her voice low. “I am indeed Rarity, and that was my sister you met earlier. I hope she wasn’t any bother.”

“Oh, no!” Oriole’s vivid ruby eyes, already two of the largest and most expressive Rarity had ever seen on a pony, widened even further, as though she were frightened by the thought that somepony might bother her. “No, she was very nice. A bit, um, loud, but she helped me unpack a few boxes. And she didn’t break anything that I can’t, um, replace. Oh, I’m being rude, aren’t I? I should come out to speak with you!” And with that she vanished in a yellow flash, leaving Rarity to blink at her sudden absence.

But not for long. A moment later the front door banged open and Oriole emerged.

And kept emerging.

In fact, it took a fair few seconds for her entire body to pass through the door. Just below her ribs, where a normal pony’s barrel would begin, Oriole’s coat thinned and gave way to rank upon rank of armored scales. A snake’s body extended for fifteen feet or more, sparkling brown on top, with bright yellow scutes along her belly, ending in a blunt tip that danced energetically across the lawn as she slithered closer.

“Sorry, sorry,” Oriole said as she came to a stop. She fretted with her hooves, rubbing them together against her chest, and her gaze darted around the lawn before finally settling on Rarity. Upright, she ‘stood’ nearly a full head taller than Big Macintosh, though if she were to put her hooves on the ground she would seem no larger than any other unicorn mare, minus the lengthy snake’s body.

“I don’t, um, talk to ponies much,” she continued. “It’s a thing, a thing I’m trying to get better at.”

“Oh, well, that’s quite alright.” Rarity’s mouth ran on social autopilot even as her brain struggled to catch up with the situation. “I must say, your scales are absolutely beautiful. And what, ah, if you don’t mind my asking… well, what are you?”

“It’s okay, ponies ask me that a lot.” She spun around, her body coiling into a great loop beneath her. “I’m a lamia.”

“Oh.” Rarity’s heart slowly climbed out of her throat and back into her chest where it belonged. “That is fascinating. I don’t think there are any other, ah, lamias in Ponyville.”

Now that they were closer, Rarity could see why Oriole’s eyes seemed so large -- she had no visible eyelids. Instead, every few heartbeats a white membrane flicked across her eyes, there and gone, so fast she might have imagined it.

Oriole nodded. “There’s not many of us in this part of the world. In fact, I’ve never seen another one of me.”

That sounded terribly lonely. Rarity felt her smile start to slip and schooled it back into place. “Well, if you’re looking for friends, I’m sure you’ll find plenty here. What brings you to Ponyville, though? I love this town dearly, but it is a tad off the beaten path.”

Oriole froze. Not in the sense a pony might freeze, merely stopping and holding still. With Oriole it was an almost supernatural act, a stillness akin to a statue, painted lifelike colors. Not even her mane or the tufts atop her ears blew in the breeze.

It didn’t take long for the resulting silence to grow awkward. “I’m sorry, is that impertinent of me?” Rarity said. “If you would rather not discuss...”

Oriole drew in a breath, and the illusion broke. “No, no, I’m sorry. It’s just, um…” She took another breath, and another. Her hooves worried at each other again, and a glisten of sweat appeared in her coat. When she continued it was sotto voce, a whisper barely above the breeze. “It’s okay. It’s okay. You can do this, Oriole.”

She cleared her throat, then continued, louder. “The truth is, Rarity, I’m trying to get away from some bad influences. You see, I’m an addict.”

“Oh. Oh!” Rarity stepped forward without thinking, reaching up to rest her hoof atop Oriole’s. “Darling, listen to me. You’ve come to the right place. The ponies here are the friendliest, most supportive people I have ever known. Whatever your issues are, we will help you without judgement or censure.”

A smile grew on Oriole’s face as Rarity spoke, more confident than the shy things she had hidden behind before. The needle tips of fangs glittered against her lips.

“Your sister said the same thing,” she said. “Not, um, quite as eloquently, but mostly the same. I really think this is the town for me, Rarity.”

“It is, darling, I can feel it.” Rarely had Rarity been more certain of her own words. Something like destiny or fate was at work here, for this poor mare in need to move in across the street from the Element of Generosity. A heady, joyful feeling built in her chest; the remaining faint shadows of fear over Oriole’s monstrous appearance vanished like smoke in the breeze.

“I knew Ponyville was perfect,” Oriole said. She clasped Rarity’s hoof and held it against her chest. “As soon as I heard how few stallions there were here, I knew I’d found the right place.”

Rarity considered that statement.

Finally, she gave up. “I’m sorry, stallions? Why does that matter?”

“Oh.” Oriole ducked her head, suddenly shy again. “Stallions. I’m addicted to them.”

“You’re… addicted to stallions?”

Oriole nodded.

Parts of that made sense to Rarity. Other parts did not. “I see… If you don’t mind my asking, how exactly are you addicted to them?”

Oriole blushed but didn’t hesitate to answer. “I eat them. All lamias do.”

Rarity nodded. “And when you say ‘eat,’ I assume that’s actually a…” she glanced around to make sure nopony was too close, then lowered her voice. “A, ah, sexual euphemism?”

Oriole shook her head. “No. I mean, yes, we do usually have sex. But then I eat them.”

“You physically devour them?”

Oriole nodded.

“But now you want to stop?”

“More than anything! I realized I’ve been living a destructive lifestyle, always chasing after my next stallion without realizing I was hurting myself and my friends. So I quit, and I’ve been clean for almost nine months now.”

“Well, darling, I admire your spirit,” Rarity said. “And I think you’ve come to the right place. Ponyville has a long history of accepting people who have made mistakes and are trying to do better. So don’t worry about your past, and know that you will always have at least one friend.”

Oriole’s eyes began to water as Rarity spoke, and her lip trembled. “Really? You don’t care about my, uh, issues?”

“I should think not. Why, we’ve all made mistakes! I don’t see how yours are any worse than mine, as long as you’re trying to improve.”

Oriole could contain herself no longer. She threw her arms wide and wrapped them around Rarity in a firm hug. The rest of her body followed, coiling around Rarity’s barrel and legs like an anaconda, squeezing the breath from her lungs.

“Oh, Rarity!” she said. “I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship!”

Rarity wheezed in reply.

But she was pretty happy, too.

* * *

Twilight Sparkle was, as per her custom, reading in the library when Rarity arrived.

Normally the princess preferred to sit in pools of sunlight cast through the library’s crystal windows. But, she had discovered to her dismay during her first winter in the new castle, the advancing season instead directed the sun’s rays onto the shelves and walls, not onto the floor. They were still quite pretty and contributed to the castle’s majestic appearance, but she couldn’t sit in them and read.

Today’s attempt at a solution involved an enchanted mirror that slowly tracked across the wall, reflecting the sunlight onto her reading desk. It wasn’t working out as well as she hoped; the mirror seemed to catch all the sun’s light but none of its warmth. A fireplace, like the old library had in its main room, would solve that problem nicely, but alas…

So distracted by these thoughts was Twilight Sparkle that she didn’t notice Rarity’s arrival until the mare sat down at the desk beside her. Her faint scent, of fresh cotton and floral perfume, teased Twilight out of her reminiscence and back into the present.

“Sorry Rarity, I didn’t hear you come in,” she said, putting her book down. “What brings you by today?”

“Why, Twilight, must I be here for something? Can’t I stop by simply to say ‘hello’ to a friend?”

Twilight blinked. “Oh, you can. Um, hello.”

Rarity seemed to sigh under her breath. “Hello, Twilight. Anyway, I was hoping you could help me find a book.”

Twilight grinned. “A book! Yes, we can do that here! What kind of book would you like?” She jumped to her hooves, ready to race off and find the shelf in question.

“Hm, anything about addictions. And how to overcome them. For regular ponies, that is, not a medical textbook or anything.”

Twilight froze. Her mind locked, caught on that single word, and spun around and around it like an electron in an atom’s lowest energy level. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she gasped in a deep breath.

“Oh, Rarity!” She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the startled unicorn in a tight hug. “Listen to me. We are here for you, okay? Whatever it is, we will help you get through this. We’re your friends and we will be with you no matter what.”

Rarity gawked at her, then pushed her away with a scowl. “What? No, not for me! It’s for a friend.”

“A friend. Right, of course.” Twilight stepped closer and sat beside Rarity, wrapping one foreleg around her shoulders to draw her in, and gently patting her mane with the other. “For a ‘friend’, then. Okay. This is fine. We can do this. What sort of problem is your ‘friend’ having?”

Rarity tried to wriggle free but gave soon gave up. “Oh, for the love of Celestia. Twilight, listen to me. My friend’s name is Oriole, she just moved to Ponyville, and she’s addicted to stallions. Oh, also she’s a lamia.”

Twilight stopped to consider that, her hoof still resting on Rarity’s mane.

“Run that by me again?”

Rarity finally disengaged herself with a huff. “She’s a lamia. It’s like a snake-pony thing. Anyway, she just moved here and she’s recovering from an addiction to stallions. I was hoping you might have a book or two with helpful information, so I could support her.”

“A… lamia, you said?”

“Yes. Am I not being clear?”

“No, I mean, you are, but… wait here a moment.” Twilight stood and walked over to the reference shelf to find the ‘La-Li’ volume of the encyclopaedia. She returned with it, set it open on the desk, and started rifling through the pages. “A lamia.”


Twilight found the entry. It was headlined with a graphite sketch of monstrous snake bearing the head and shoulders of a crazed mare, all perched atop a pile of artistically rendered bones. She spun the book around to face Rarity. “One of these?”

Rarity’s muzzle folded with wrinkles. “Well, I suppose, though this artist seems to have taken some liberties in her description. When you meet Oriole, Twilight, I’m sure you’ll agree that she’s nothing like this. Why, her temperament reminds me of Fluttershy.”

“Rarity, lamias are monsters. They eat ponies.”

“Yes, she’s trying to stop, though. She said she hasn’t eaten a stallion in almost a year.”

Twilight was silent for a while. The enchanted mirror on the wall whirred quietly, redirecting the sunlight onto their table. It was the loudest sound in the library.

“You’re serious,” Twilight finally said.

“I should think so, darling. And I dare say if you knew Oriole you’d understand why. She’s one of the sweetest mares I’ve ever met.”

“But she eats stallions.”

Ate stallions. Now she doesn’t, and with our help she never will again.”

Twilight closed the encyclopaedia and pushed it away. “Rarity, you can’t just undo stuff like that. Lamias don’t eat ponies because they’re bad, they do it because it’s their nature. That’s why we call them monsters, and we don’t let them live in our towns.

“Mhm. And what about draconequuses who happen to be spirits of chaos? What do we do when they decide to change?”

“Well, um,” Twilight frowned. “We…”

“We let them live with Fluttershy. And what do we do with former cult leaders who nearly destroy the future with irresponsible, power-mad time travel spells?”

“Hey, that’s a special case!”

“Oh, yes, a very special case. Tell me, where is your special student? Still asleep? Up late after another personal study session with the Princess of Friendship?”

Twilight tried and failed to control the blush exploding across her face. “That’s not… It doesn’t matter what…”

“Listen, Twilight.” Rarity set a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “I’m not judging anything you do with Starlight. All I’m asking is to have the same chance with Oriole that we’ve given to so many other reformed villains. You said that it’s in a lamia’s nature to eat ponies, but how do we know that for sure? Has anypony ever tried to help one stop?”

Twilight frowned. “Not that I’m aware of, but… I don’t know, Rarity. This seems risky.”

“We’ll just have to make sure to do this right, then. Now, do you think you have any books on addictions to stallions?”

* * *

It turned out the library had an extensive selection of books on addiction, including Breaking the Cycle: The 12-Step Process to Stop Eating Stallions. Rarity set her copy on the kitchen table and chanced a glance out the bay window at Oriole’s house. The moving wagons were long gone, and the boxes were emptied and set out on the curb for collection.

Three incomplete dresses waited in the next room, begging for her attention. Instead she walked out the door and crossed the street to Oriole’s home.

“Coming!” Oriole’s voice responded to Rarity’s knock, and a moment later the door opened to reveal the lamia. Her mane was pulled back, tied in a kerchief, and she held a feather duster in one hoof. “Oh, Rarity! Please, come in, I’m just tidying the place up.”

“Actually, I was wondering if you were free this afternoon,” Rarity said. She wiped her hooves on the snake-themed welcome mat and stepped inside. “I have something of a tradition where I take my friends to the Ponyville spa to relax and primp, and this afternoon they happen to have a half-off special.”

“Oh!” Oriole fretted with her hooves. “Now? You think they’ll, um, let me in? Like this?”

“I should hope so, darling. They let Rainbow Dash in, after all.”

The trip across town was uneventful. A few ponies stopped and stared at Oriole, but apparently Rarity’s presence at her side was enough to reassure them that, no, this was not some dangerous monster escaped from the Everfree. The few stallions they encountered stared at the lamia with interest, but Oriole’s shy demeanor, downcast eyes, and Rarity’s scowl were enough to discourage them from coming any closer.

There were few spa customers at this time of day, one reason for the half-price special. The spa ponies escorted them back into the baths without once commenting on Oriole’s odd dimensions. Soon they were secure in a steaming wood tub, curtained by rising mist, kept company only by the burble of water in the pipes.

“This… this is nice,” Oriole said. She lay half in the tub, long coils of her snake’s body winding under the water and draped over the sides. There wasn’t enough space in the tub for all of her to fit at once.

“Isn’t it?” Rarity reclined against the tub wall until only the tips of her ears and snout protruded from the roiling water’s surface. “Have you ever been to a spa before?”

“No. I mean, I used to live in a river, but it’s not quite the same.”

“Was it a nice river, at least?”

“Oh, yes, I thought so. The water was deep but not too fast, and there were plenty of rocks along the banks to sun myself on. The stallions from the little village down the way would come and sing to me, and join me on the rocks, and then…” She trailed off with a sigh. “Well, that’s why I’m here. I needed to get away from that. Also, the townsponies there chased me away with pitchforks and torches.”

“Well, not everypony can be as understanding as we are here,” Rarity said. “You know, we don’t even have a pitchforks and torches store? It closed a few years back.”

They lapsed into silence again, content to let the hot water penetrate their muscles, easing away the stress of the day. The moist heat seemed to work its way into Rarity’s bones, chasing away the incipient chill of the lurking winter, and for a moment she considered never leaving, simply moving her boutique to the spa and doing all her sewing from these warm baths.

A sigh finally roused her some time later. The bath shifted as Oriole propped herself up and slithered out of the tub. The water level dropped precipitously as her huge bulk departed, and Rarity found herself sitting in water only up to her waist.

“Sorry, sorry, starting to overheat a bit.” Oriole ran her hooves through her mane, wringing the water from it. “What’s next?”

“Just a massage. The half-price package doesn’t include a hooficure, sadly.” Rarity climbed out of the tub and stood over the metal grates while she dripped. “If you’ve never had one, I think you’ll enjoy it.”

Soon enough they were splayed out on mats in the massage room. Several mats, in Oriole’s case. Aloe kneaded her hooves against Rarity’s shoulders while Lotus ran an orbital waxer along Oriole’s scales, leaving them gleaming in the dim spa light.

“This… this is nice, Rarity,” Oriole said. The orbital waxer added a faint harmonic to her voice, as though she were speaking into a fan. “You know, I’ve never had anypony treat me like this. Like… like a friend.”

“Never, darling?”

“No.” She sighed. “Even the stallions I knew, everything was so transactional with them. We would have sex, and then I would eat them. There wasn’t any real feeling there, and I could never tell if they were interested in me, or merely enthralled by the subtle glamours I unconsciously weave just through the act of being.”

“So said every mare ever.” Rarity turned her head to let Aloe work on the other side of her neck. “I’m afraid I haven’t had much more luck in that respect.”

“What? I thought you must have your pick of the stallions. They should be flocking over you!”

“Ah, well, it’s a bit more difficult than that without the spells. Especially in this town.”

“Oh. Oh.” A sly look overtook Oriole’s face, and the upper half of her body slithered closer to Rarity. “Would you like some help with that? I can teach you the spells, Rarity. You’ll draw the stallions like flies to honey, and when you’re done with them their insides will be soft and creamy and delicious and you’ll be able to--”

“No! No, ah, that’s quite alright,” Rarity said. “Remember, darling, we’re not eating stallions anymore. Not even a little.”

Oriole bit her lip and looked away. “Sorry, sorry. You’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry, I just… habits, you know.”

“Say nothing of it, dear.” Rarity patted Oriole’s shoulder. “One day at a time, remember?”

“Right.” She smiled at Rarity. “One day at a time, with my friends.”

* * *

Winter slowly overtook the town during the next few weeks. It started with a light dusting of snow that left white lines in the spaces between the cobblestones on the road outside Twilight’s castle. Ponies began to wear scarves, then coats and boots to ward off the chill. Even the pegasi, normally immune to winter’s bite, put on earmuffs, though Twilight suspected that was more to fit in with the rest of the town than due to any real need to stay warm.

Despite her partially reptillian nature, Oriole seemed to relish being outside. Whenever Twilight saw Rarity, it was always with the lamia in tow, the two of them laughing and conniving. They attended Pinkie Pie’s welcome party together, the first party in Twilight’s memory that didn’t feature any stallions. It was a more subdued affair than normal, perhaps because most ponies viewed Pinkie’s parties as an opportunity to engage with the opposite sex, and when one entire half of the sexual field was too afraid to attend, the normal party dynamic was undone.

Twilight hadn’t minded. She went with Starlight Glimmer. They had a pretty good time.

But now she was perched on her balcony, viewing the town below. The crystal rail (and, for that matter, the floors, the walls, the bathtubs, kitchen counters and every other solid surface) was ice cold to the touch now that winter had arrived, and her order of plush throw rugs couldn’t arrive fast enough.

Her bed was still nice and warm, she mused. She could go back there and snuggle beneath the covers, and wait a few hours until the sun had a chance to chase away the chill, and then she could do her princessy things.

But, no. Duty called, and for now duty meant leaning on her ice-cold rail, waving to the occasional pony in the street while she surveyed her domain.

She could see, distantly, the penanted spire of the Carousel Boutique near the center of town. And there was Sweetie Belle, traipsing about in the snow. Oriole was with her, clumsily packing snowballs with her hooves and engaging in a one-sided war with the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

A stallion passed nearby, and Oriole ducked away. She hid behind the Boutique until he was gone, then reemerged to toss snowballs again.

“You okay, Twilight?” Spike stepped up beside her. A warm mug of cocoa steamed in his claws. “You looked kinda stare-y there.”

She sighed. “I’m fine, Spike. I just feel like I’m watching a friend make a mistake, and there’s nothing I can do to help her.”

“Did Rainbow Dash screw the weather up again? I thought it wasn’t supposed to snow for a few more days.”

“No, no, though I do think she messed that up.” Twilight glanced up at the low, heavy clouds being maneuvered into place by flocks of pegasi. “I’m worried about Rarity.”

“Oh. Because of the lamia?”

“Yes. She’s dangerous. A monster. And not, like, a metaphorical monster who’s really just a bad pony. She is a literal monster.”

“Aren’t dragons monsters, too?”

Twilight winced. “Technically, yes. Which is why I’m letting Rarity do this. After all, you’re my wonderful little guy.” She leaned down to brush his spines with her muzzle.

He blushed at the contact. “You know, she doesn’t seem all that bad. Very quiet and shy. It took her, like, an hour before she would even stay in the room with me at the Boutique.”

Twilight frowned. “You were with her?”

“Yeah, I was helping Rarity. You know, like I do almost every minute I’m not with you?”

“And the lamia was there?” A cold well of fear began to bubble up within Twilight’s chest.

“Uh, yeah?”

“Oh no. Oh no no no.” Twilight danced away from the rail. “No! Spike, you can’t be around her.”

“What? Why?”

“Because she’s a lamia, and you’re a stallion! Well, not really, but… Okay, come here.” With that Twilight snatched Spike up with her magic and trotted inside to the bedroom. She hopped up on the covers and hugged him close to her chest, just like when he was a little hatchling afraid of the dark.

She patted his spines soothingly. “Listen, Spike, there are some things I need to tell you about. Maybe I should have earlier, or maybe mom and dad should have, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“Uh, Twilight…” Spike tried and failed to squirm free from her grasp.

“We need to talk about about the, ah, birds and the bees. Oh, and the lamias. The birds and the bees and the lamias.”

“Oh no. No no.” Spike clawed at the sheets in an attempt to escape. “No, we don’t have to do this.”

“Now, Spike, it’s natural to be embarrassed about this, but it’s important.” Twilight tightened her grip to keep him from escaping. “As you grow from a colt to a stallion, you’ll notice some changes to your body. And you’ll start noticing fillies more, too, and how they’re different from you.”

“Is this about you and Starlight Glimmer? Because we all know about that already.”

“So, you’ll notice they’re different,” Twilight continued. “And, you know, birds and bees… actually that’s kind of a weird metaphor now that I think about it. Their methods of reproduction are completely different from ponies. Or dragons. Anyway, ah, you’ll start noticing fillies, and… gosh, I think I have some books on this. Anyway, these urges you’re feeling are completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Twilight, please stop. I’m literally going to die if you don’t stop.”

“So, these urges aren’t bad. They’re not bad at all, unless they’re about lamias, in which case they are incredibly bad.” Twilight squeezed him again. “Lamias, Spike. You might feel attracted to lamias, because that’s normal, but it’s bad, because they’ll eat you. Oh, you’d be like a snack to her. She’d eat you like popcorn.”

“Rarity said Oriole doesn’t do that anymore.”

Twilight smoothed down his ruffled spines with a hoof. “Rarity means well, Spike, but she doesn’t have you to look out for.”

“Yeah, but, have you even met her yet, Twilight? I don’t think she could hurt a fly. A male or a female fly.”

Twilight frowned. She had, in fact, met Oriole at her welcome party, and her impression had been of a larger, flightless version of Fluttershy. It was hard to imagine somepony like that luring stallions to a secluded river island, mating with them, and then devouring them in a fit of post-coital bliss.

“I know she seems safe now, Spike, but she hasn’t always been,” she said. “It’s to her credit that she’s trying to stop, but that doesn’t mean we should be completely careless around her. I don’t want you spending any time alone with her.”

“What about Rarity? Rarity’s alone with her all the time.”

“Rarity’s a big filly. She can watch out for herself.”

* * *

Rarity was alone with Oriole when she realized something: she was hungry.

This was hardly an earth shattering revelation. It was nearing lunch time, and they’d been in the Boutique’s dressing room for more than an hour, chatting merrily while Rarity attempted to fit Oriole with a variety of half-shawls and half-chemises suited for her half-pony body. She hadn’t yet devised any fashions for the snake half of Oriole’s body that didn’t ultimately reduce to a gigantic sock, so she was sticking with what she knew.

“Well, I think that’s enough for now,” Rarity said. She slid the cotton slip off from Oriole’s shoulders and draped it back on the fabric rack. “Could I interest you in some lunch? Perhaps that little cafe on Bridle Street?”

“Oh, that sounds nice. Could we get some cocoa? If you don’t mind, that is.”

“Not at all, not at all.” Rarity snagged a warm wool coat in her magic and slipped it around her forelegs, then trotted out the door with Oriole at her heels.

There were several inches of fresh snow on the cobblestones, the remainder of last night’s storm. It was the first real snowfall of the year, and the slush quickly froze into her fetlocks, caking them with ice. Oriole didn’t seem to mind the cold; her snake’s body glided across the snow, leaving curved contours in its wake.

“So, are you feeling settled in here, yet?” Rarity asked. “Does Ponyville feel like home?”

“I think so. Though, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I feel homesick for my old river.” She sighed, her shoulders drooping. “I didn’t think I would ever miss it, especially in the winter. The surface always froze and I would have to spend all morning trying to break it open, and of course no stallions wanted to visit when my nest had a foot of snow in it. Or they would come wearing all sorts of coats and boots and scarves and how are you supposed to eat that, really?”

“Did you always eat them? Didn’t you ever just enjoy their company?”

“Oh, lots of times! In fact, I usually let them go. Just because you’re addicted to something doesn’t mean you always have to do it. And every time I let one leave I told myself, ‘See, Oriole? You’re not an addict, you can stop any time you want.’ But it was always a lie, eventually I’d go on a bender and wake up with half a stallion in my nest, unable to remember how I got there. Finally, I knew I had to run away if I wanted to recover.”

“That’s very brave of you, darling. Most ponies I know aren’t strong enough to admit when they have a problem.” They reached the cafe, and despite the cold Rarity opted for an outdoor seat. It wasn’t worth the risk of being stuck inside with a stallion.

“Oh, it’s not strength. It’s just… I knew I’d hit bottom. It wasn’t until my situation was so dark that I realized I had to change.” Oriole coiled most of her bulk beneath the table and peered at the menu. “What about you, Rarity? I’ve met a lot of mares in my life, but they usually get angry and chase me away. Why did you want to help?”

“Well, darling, I am the Element of Generosity. But, if I’m being honest… well, I’ve told you I don’t have much luck with stallions, right? When I heard about your problem, I knew we had something in common.”

Oriole froze. “You, um, you eat stallions too?”

“Ha, I should be so lucky. No, Oriole, my problem is the opposite. I just… I can never seem to find the right one. The perfect one. My prince.

Oriole pondered that for a moment, and then frowned. “It occurs to me that our problems might compound each others. If I am always avoiding stallions, and you are my friend, then you’ll have to avoid stallions too, won’t you? Then you’ll never find your prince.”

“Oh, posh.” Rarity waved a hoof. “Darling, let me worry about me. Besides, if I ever find a stallion for myself, he won’t be attracted to you, obviously. He’ll be quite safe.”

“Um.” Oriole’s eyes danced around the cafe. “That, um… okay. If you think so.”

“I absolutely do. Now, then, Hearthswarming is coming up, and the whole town turns out to celebrate it. I think this will be a good chance for you to interact with a larger group of ponies. Get to know them.”

“There will, uh, be some stallions there, though, won’t there?”

“Well, yes. But don’t worry, I’ll be right by your side. I’ll make sure nothing bad happens.”

“Okay, Rarity.” Oriole smiled. “I trust you.”

* * *

The whole town turned out for the annual Hearthswarming festival. This year, Miss Cheerilee’s class put on the traditional Hearthswarming pageant, and the townsponies sat through it with stiff grins, wincing at each flubbed line, and clapping with unmitigated enthusiasm when it finally ended.

At least, that’s how it felt to Rarity. Oriole’s enjoyment didn’t seem faked at all -- she gawked at the crudely painted backdrops, cowered at Rarity’s side when the ‘windigo’ (actually Winona wearing fabric wings and a few old bells) ran barking around the stage, and cheered loudly when the three tribes finally put aside their differences and founded modern Equestria.

“Wow, it’s… wow.” Oriole smiled broadly, not caring that she displayed an eel’s array of wicked needle teeth to the world. “That was amazing, Rarity!”

“Well, it was… nice,” Rarity allowed. “They forgot a few lines, but the overall effect was laudable.”

There’d been more than a few dropped lines; halfway through the play Chancellor Puddinghead simply went silent and stared out at the crowd before running off the stage in tears. Fortunately, Smart Cookie picked up most of her role and the foals muddled through the play’s climax in more-or-less the correct order.

“And your sister, she did so well as the queen!”

“Princess. Princess Platinum,” Rarity said. “And she did, didn’t she? Ah, but you can tell her that later. For now, we have a festival to attend!”

The festival began as soon as the crowd spilled out of the play. The entire Ponyville town square was set aside for the purpose, filled with vendors selling snacks and treats and chintzy tourist knick-knacks. An entire square block was dedicated to various caramel-dipped fruits; mostly apples and carrots, but also beets, celery, daisies and even caramel-dipped pumpkins for the adventurous eater.

Rarity’s appetite wasn’t so large as that, so she went with the caramel radishes. Oriole simply poured herself a cup of liquid caramel and sipped at it while they walked through the crowd.

They found Rainbow Dash at the ring toss. She squinted, drew back her arm, and let fly. The hoop bounced against the rod and clattered to the ground.

“Aaaand that’s another miss for the lovely young miss,” the carnival barker, a mustachioed green stallion, said. “Try your luck again? Five more for a dozen bits?”

Rainbow scowled at the fallen ring. “Ugh, no. I’m out. Rarity, Oriole, you wanna try? I think it’s impossible.”

“Mm, I’ll pass,” Rarity said. “Oriole?”

Oriole glanced at the carnival barker, ducked behind her mug of caramel, and shook her head. “Um, no thank you.”

“Right, of course.” Rarity gave the stallion an apologetic smile. “Perhaps later. Come along, girls.”

They fell into stride, with Oriole in the center. She and Rainbow Dash struck up an easy conversation while Rarity kept an eye out for stallions who wandered too close. So engaged was she in this hunt that finally running into Twilight Sparkle’s booth came as a complete surprise.

“Hi girls! Enjoying the festival so far?” Twilight said. She sat behind a broad table covered with books of every style and subject. Overhead, a bright purple banner proudly announced the Ponyville Public Library Amnesty Day, during which any overdue book could be returned without fee.

“Meh,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Oh, it’s fine,” said Rarity.

“It’s wonderful!” Oriole’s statement burst from her like a cannon-shot. She bounced up and down and spun around, winding her coils around Rarity and Rainbow Dash. “This… the food, the play, the ponies… It’s so amazing! How do you do it all?”

“Lots of practice. Also checklists.” Twilight started to frown at Oriole, but seemed to catch herself. “And how have you been, Oriole? No… problems?”

Oriole shook her head. “No, nothing of the sort. My friends have been very helpful.”

Rarity couldn’t help the smile that spread on her face. “Oh, it’s our pleasure, darling. Why, reforming villains is practically what we do here. I mean, not that you’re a villain, of course. But, well, you made some mistakes and now we’re helping you get better! I’m helping you get better! And how wonderful is that, Twilight?”

A tiny frown marred Twilight’s features. “It’s wonderful, Rarity.”

“Yes, wonderful. In fact, perhaps we should write Princess Celestia and tell her just how--oof! Oh, excuse me!” She stopped and turned to the stallion who had just bumped her.

“Oh my, I’m so sorry!” Thunderlane said. “I wasn’t looking where I was going!”

Another stallion, Pokey Pierce, appeared beside him. “Thunder, be more careful! Look, now you’ve got caramel all over your chest!”

Thanderlane looked down at his chest, where sticky caramel from Rarity’s radish now stained his dark coat. He pawed at it with a foreleg, but only managed to smear it around.

“No, silly, you’ll just get it everywhere that way,” Pokey said. “You have to blot it. Like this.”

“Ugh, no, that’s not working either,” Thunderlane said. “Now it’s on you too!”

Pokey frowned. “You’re right. Maybe if I try licking it off?” He leaned forward, his tongue extended, and began nibbling at Thunderlane’s coat.

“Whoa,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Um,” said Rarity.

Oriole was silent. She stared at the two, eyes wide.

“Are… are there any foals watching this?” Twilight said.

“This is no use,” Thunderlane said. “You’re just messing up my coat. Maybe if we tried washing it out?”

“Hmm…” Pokey dug through his saddlebags. “I have some meat tenderizer.”

“Try that.”

Pokey pulled out a small glass bottle and dapped a few drops of sharp, sweet-smelling fluid onto Thunderlane’s coat. Then he poured out a bit more, and finally simply upended the bottle onto his friend, using his hooves to massage the fluid into his coat. The stallion’s muscles, exposed beneath his damp fur, rippled in the cool air as he shivered.

“Twilight, I take it back. This festival is awesome,” Rainbow said.

“Um,” Rarity said.

Oriole seemed to shiver. Despite the freezing air, sweat broke on her coat.

“Why are you carrying around meat tenderizer?” Twilight asked. “In fact, why do you even own meat tenderizer?”

“It’s no use, Pokey,” Thunderlane said. He wiped at his chest again, then sighed. “I need to go take a bath or something.”

“It’s okay, man. I’ll help you,” Pokey said.

“Hey, Thunderlane, yo, I’ve got a shower,” Rainbow said. “Just say the word.”

But if the two heard her offer, they ignored it. They walked away, huddled together for warmth. The scent of meat tenderizer and caramel lingered in their wake.

“Well, um.” Rarity looked down at her radish. “That was odd.”

“Yeah, odd and hot,” Rainbow said. She still stared after them, a wistful look on her face.

“Let’s stick with odd,” Twilight said. She shook her head, then looked at Oriole. “Oriole, are you alright? You’re shivering.”

“I’m, um...” Oriole rubbed her hooves together. She trembled, and a long, forked tongue poked out from between her jaws. “I, uh… I need to go!”

And with that she spun and raced away, vanishing into the crowd.

* * *

It was dark when a loud banging on the Boutique door roused Rarity from sleep. Sleet ticked against the windowpanes, and for a groggy moment she could not remember where she was, or why the sheets tangled around her legs like snakes.

“Ugh… one moment! I said one moment!” Rarity tumbled out of bed and down the stairs. The clock above her mantle read well past midnight, and her scowl was harsh enough to strip paint from the walls. She flung open the door and shouted, “This had better be good!”

Oriole stood there, shivering, huddled beneath a blanket. Her eyes were red and puffy, and as soon as the door opened she flung herself on Rarity, wrapping her arms and tail around the startled mare.

“Rarity! Oh, Rarity!” She bawled into Rarity’s coat. “I… I… I f-fell off the wagon!”

“What?” Rarity blinked. “What? You fell… Oh. Oh! Ooooh… Oh. Um, uh… let’s come out of the cold.”

She pulled Oriole inside and shut the door, blocking out the frigid air. The lamia huddled at the foot of the couch, sniffling.

“Now, when you say you, ah, fell off the wagon, you mean…” Rarity cleared her throat. “You know?”

Oriole nodded.

“Okay, okay. This is fine.” Rarity took a deep breath. “This, um, stallion. Is he, uh… you know?”

Oriole shook her head.

“Okay, don’t worry.” Rarity trotted in a quick circle. “You’re not in trouble. Well, no, you probably are in trouble. A lot of trouble, actually. Okay, listen. There’s a river in the Everfree a few miles north of here…”

* * *

Rarity was seated at a table outside her favorite little cafe, nursing a hot cocoa, when Twilight Sparkle arrived.

Her friend pulled out the chair beside her and sat without a word. For a long while they stared at the ponies streaming by.

Finally, Rarity could take the silence no more. “Here to gloat?”

Twilight shook her head. “Nope.”

“Arrest me as an accomplice?”

“Technically, no crime has been committed. Oriole is a monster and monsters, by their nature, do monstrous things. We can certainly defend our town from her, but we can no more prosecute her for seducing and trying to eat a stallion than we could prosecute a mosquito for sucking somepony’s blood.”

Rarity sighed. “It’s my fault, though. I helped her.”

“Hey.” Twilight put a hoof on Rarity’s back. “You tried to help her stop being a monster. And maybe someday she’ll succeed. I mean, lamias pretty much live forever, so who knows? Your heart was in the right place, and that’s what matters.”

“Then why does it feel like I failed?”

“Well, I mean, things could’ve ended better. But the doctors say Time Turner will fine. In fact, they say he might not have made it if you didn’t get the doctors so quickly.”

Rarity set her chin on the table. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Twilight. All the other villains we fixed don’t end up trying to eat ponies.”

“I don’t think she’s a villain,” Twilight said. “Not really. A monster, yes, but she’s not evil or cruel. She seemed very nice, actually. You know, when she isn’t eating ponies.”

“Still, poor Time Turner. He’ll be angry with me for sure.”

“Well, don’t feel too bad for him. He had to know he was taking his chances with her. And the doctors say his new throat will be virtually indistinguishable from the old one.”

“That’s good, that’s good. I guess that just leaves Oriole, then. She was pretty upset when I last saw her.”

“Mm.” Twilight stole a sip from Rarity’s cocoa. “Any word from her, by the way?”

“I got a letter this morning. Remember that river serpent we met in the Everfree? She’s living with him. Apparently they get along pretty well.”

“That’s good. And, hey, no stallions to tempt her in the Everfree, right?”

Rarity contemplated the table’s wood grain. “No. Do you suppose there’s some lesson here, Twilight? What would you tell Celestia about this whole disaster?”

“Well, um… Uh, Dear Princess Celestia, today I learned that no matter how hard you try at any particular venture, there will be setbacks. Ponies can’t change overnight, and it’s not your fault if other people fail, as long as you do your best. Also, don’t have sex with lamias because they’ll try to eat you afterward.”

Rarity was quiet while she considered that. The rest of the town streamed by, unnoticing.

“I guess that’ll have to do,” she said, standing. “And I’ve got some dresses to finish. Tea, later?”

Twilight smiled. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

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