Of Bats and Beginnings

The moon hung low over Equestria, almost dangerously so. The night in the countryside was still and silent, shrinking away from the cruel glare of The Mare in the Moon bearing down upon the world with a cold, steely hatred that, even one thousand years later, struck an instinctive and chilling fear into the hearts of ponies. The countryside had no defense from this chill, and so as they had for that same thousand years, the ponies had all long since retreated into their homes.
The towns fared better; their streetlamps warmed the ponies' hearts, staving off the chill of her glare, so instead she was forced to reach out with cold autumn winds. They swept through the streets, cutting through fur and flesh and straight to the bones of any pony who should be so unfortunate to be caught in them. The winds caught up dead leaves, litter, and dust, funneling them through the narrow streets of Canterlot City like a long, grasping hoof. Reaching, searching, yearning. Through the streets, the squares, finally finding a rest near a young couple in a mighty park.

It was the largest park in all of the Upper Quarter – all of Canterlot, really, which given the caliber of the city's greenery was nothing to turn one's nose up at. In the daytime it was filled with high class families, idling their days away by the many ponds with parks, or playing games. At night, though, the true majesty of the park came alive. The open stretches illuminated as much by fireflies as by the streetlamps, suddenly seeming so small compared to the forests that surrounded them. Those mighty forests, stretching on for what seemed like forever. Nopony dared venture far into them for fear of becoming lost, or running astray of some wild animal – at least, insofar as any animal in Canterlot could truly be said to be wild.

The young couple trotted eagerly along the path, tucked close together to be warmed by each others bodies'. Their breath puffed out into the darkness, and as the clouds of mist danced above their heads it seemed, for a time, as though there were two sets of lovers in the park that night.

"Look!" the mare said, holding out a hoof for a firefly to land on. She stared at it happily, its light illuminating both their faces. "Isn't it pretty?"
"Mhmm!" He leaned in to get a closer look, but the firefly took off, buzzing away lazily and leaving two giggling ponies behind. "Well... I guess it isn't all that friendly."
"Not all pretty things are," the mare said, still watching it buzz away.
"Well... you're awfully friendly."
"W-what?" The mare blushed, looking up at the stallion and then away quickly.
"I said... y-you're pretty," the stallion stammered, flushing bright red, "and friendly. So..." The pair mulled around for a moment, laughing sheepishly and blushing at one another. "Sorry," the stallion said, "I guess that was a bit too so - "
"No," the mare interrupted. "No, it's alright. I, um... thank you. That's... really sweet of you. Thanks."
The pair fell silent, watching the fireflies buzz as their eyes settled on a nearby bug, imagining that it was the one who had landed upon the mare's hoof, and not merely some random insect. They tucked close to each other, watching it drift through the sky like some glowing early snowflake, swinging towards the treeline.
"It's beautiful," the mare said.
"Oh, I don't know... everything. I mean... the firefly... the night... the... the..." She blinked idly, squinting into the night.
"Something wrong?" The stallion looked between her and the bushes, concern creeping across his face. He shivered as a gust of wind cut through him.
"No, I... do you see that?" The mare took a step towards the bush, the stallion following her.
"See what?" he asked, looking over his shoulder. "It's probably just more fireflies."
"I don't think so... it looks different."
Another gust blew through the park, howling like a ghost and rustling the bushes. Suddenly, for just a moment, two pools of light shone out.
"Wh-what was that?" the stallion asked. The mare tucked close to him.
"I... think it was an animal?" she said. "I think those were its eyes..."
"Couldn't be." The stallion swallowed, his voice trembling as though he were trying to convince himself more than the mare. "An animal's eyes wouldn't... glow like that. Do fireflies have colonies?"
"It was low to the ground," the mare said. She inched closer to the bush, unaware of the chill in her bones, or the stallion glancing over his shoulder again. "Maybe it's a cat?"
"Out here?" For some strange reason, he gazed up at the moon, shivering again – and not because of the cold.
"Might have run away from home. Poor thing... it's probably lost and cold... I should take it home. At least for tonight, until I can find it's owner."
"I don't... think that's a good idea," the stallion said. "I think we should get out of here."
"Don't be silly," the mare chided over her shoulder. "It's just a kitty... see, it's even purring." The stallion blinked, inching closer as well. Sure enough, he heard the low rumbling emanating from the bushes. The sound only make his skin crawl more.
"I grew up with cats," he said. "That's not what purring sounds like."
"Oh, sush." The mare giggled. "Don't be such a scardey-cat." She turned back to the bush, creeping in closer. "Here, kitty kitty kitty..."
"Hhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, h-hrrrrrrrrrrrr..."
"There there... I'm not gonna hurt you, I just wanna... wanna..."
The mare was inches away from the eyes now, and she could see them all too clearly. Behind that cold glow there were two fiery orange irises, each cut down the centre by a long, tight feline iris. Unblinking, unmoving... they did not belong to a cat. No cat had eyes this big, bigger than hers.
"Hrrrrrr-heh-hrrrrrrrrrrrr, heh-hrrrrrrrrr..."
"N-nice kitty," she said, her voice trembling.
"Easy," the stallion instructed. "Just... back out of there slowly. Don't say anything, don't make any noises.
"R-right," the mare said, starting to scoot back. "I-I'll just..."
Another pair of eyes opened above her.

Beneath the cruel gaze of The Mare in the Moon, the autumn winds blew. They ran through the narrow streets all at once, as though racing to their destination. Racing to slice, to bite, to seize, they came in, grasping like some terrible claw. A scream rang out in the night, and for just an instant The Mare in the Moon seemed to smile.

In that instant there was silence, and stillness. It was as though time had stopped, the very forces of nature in shock, unable to comprehend what they were seeing. The second pair of eyes shot out in a blur, a mighty stallion erupting from the bushes. It was he that the eyes belonged to, glowing and slitted like that of a wild cat. His coat was a deep blue-gray, his mane a shade of midnight so deep it was lost against the night sky. Thick muscles bulged beneath his coat, twisting and pounding as he landed with a raw, wild strength. His ears pinned down against his neck as he lowered his head, teeth bared and snarling. The sound was like something from a nightmare: monstrous, yet all too familiar. A hiss, a growl, both at once. The nightmare was only compounded by his jaws, filled to the brim as they were with glistening, needle-sharp fangs.

Another stallion leapt from the bushes as well, every inch the twin of the first, curling around in front of his predecessor. He did not snarl, nor bear his teeth, but he did eye the young couple with a beady, vicious glare. He flared his wings: huge, leathery and black as pitch, like those of a bat. He snarled then, slamming his forehooves against the ground and shaking his head, his wild mane falling in front of his glowing eyes. The first stallion moved back into view, his wings flared as well, beating dangerously.

Back... back... go away...

The young couple was in shock, scrambling back over themselves at the approach of the beastly ponies. The stallion managed to put himself between the mare and the beasts in a meager show of valiance, pawing nervously at the dirt.

"S-stay back!" He shouted, his eyes darting back and forth between the stallions, who had begun to fan out. "D-don't come any closer! I'll use my magic!"

His horn began to glow faintly, the soft green light illuminating the park, and casting a sickly hue over his already sick-looking expression. One of the stallions tilted his head quizzically at this development, beating his wings and taking a sharp step towards the panicked unicorn.

"I said get away!" the unicorn shouted. A nearby stone began to glow, launching itself at the closest beast. It bounced off the stallion's thick, convex muzzle with a hollow thud, and the creature shook it's head. A small trickle of blood ran across his nose, running down his flaring nostril.

The strange bat-pony howled then; a screaming, hissing roar, the wail of the whelp of some abominable orgy of monsters. He beat his wings, stomped the ground, snarled and screamed. He galloped at the couple suddenly, side-stepping another thrown rock with a barely-noticeable twitch, curling around in his approach to hit the couple from the side, his companion doing the same. They charged the ponies down, driving them together with the sheer speed of their approach, covering meters in seconds.

The stallion who had been struck was the first to reach them, blood streaked across his muzzle like war paint and his head held low like a battering ram. True to form he ploughed into the couple, rearing his head madly. The mare was sent flying by the sheer force of the blow, launched into the air as the other bat-pony arrived.

He leaped, leathery wings unfurling and beating powerfully, a loud clap in the relative silence of the night. Time seemed to slow as he took to the air, his slit-eyes set dead on the mare. His jaw opened, teeth glinting white in the moonlight, the eyes of the mare in the moon framed by his maw. Still time slowed for the mare, for the stallion who would be her lover, as her foreleg strayed into the bat-pony's path. His head lashed, his jaw snapped, and the scent of blood washed through the air like a flood for any of those whose noses were acute enough to smell it. The drops of red splashed across the bat-pony's muzzle, staining his fur and teeth as his weight dragged the mare down, ripping along her foreleg. She slammed into the ground, screaming in pain, her mind paralyzed with the fear of death.

"Let go of that mare this instant!"

All heads turned to the source of the noise. On the outskirts of the fray stood a young unicorn stallion, his slate-grey coat accented by the brilliant golden armour of the Royal Guard. He stomped a hoof, holding himself straight and tall for the onlookers.

"I don't know who you ponies are or what you're doing at this time of night, but if you don't step away from that mare this instant, then as a member of the Royal Guard I will exorcise my right to-"

The bat-ponies were not listening. They were frenzied, maddened by the hunt and the scent of blood in the air. Even if they could have understood the noises this strange thing-like-them was uttering, they would not have cared. They bat-pony who had been struck by the stone howled again, flaring his wings wide above his head and digging his hooves into the earth.


He charged on the guardspony, the savage beating of his hooves tearing up the turf beneath him, him twin matching him pace for pace. The guard scarcely had time to react before the bat-ponies were upon him, the heavy hooves knocking him back. He grunted loudly, kicking one bat-pony off of himself just in time to avoid its snapping jaws, only for the hooves of the next to buffet him. The wounded stallion stomped viciously at the ground, snarling and roaring at the guard, who dodged and scrambled away from the earth-shaking strikes.

Our home! Our! You go! We Hunt Kill!

The wounded bat-pony screamed, rearing up to give one last powerful stomp, and it was then that the guard made his move.

He scrambled to his hooves, his horn beginning to glow as the second beast rounded on him for another charge. The light on his horn burst before the bat-pony could touch him, though, covering the strange beast in tiny golden lights. The bat-pony staggered towards him a few times, then dropped.

The wounded stallion stopped his assault for just a moment, staring dumbly at the body of his companion for a moment, before setting his teeth. His stomach boiled, bile threatening to rise up out of his throat and fling itself at the guard. He roared, a mindless, savage sound full of fire and spite, and he lunged.

The guard's horn burst again, the tiny lights covering the wounded pony this time. A strange thickness came over him, like a deep sheet of snow was packed around his limbs. He felt suddenly numb, his mind clouded by a strange fog. His dash turned to a stumble, and he shook his head, blinking. His vision began to blur as he closed in on the guard, and his body felt desperately heavy, as though his skin had been replaced with lead. His legs shook as he took one step, then two, hopelessly snapping his jaws at the guards throat, mere inches away from him. He fell to the ground, darkness creeping into his mind and pulling him down, into the strange embrace of magically-induced sleep.

The world was quiet when the Bat-pony woke. The only sound that reached his ears was the soft, steady drip-drip-dripping of water nearby. The stallion's ears twitched, swiveling to the source of the sound. His mouth was desperately dry, and tasted foul, like he had been chewing on dirt.

He got slowly to his hooves, eyes still shut tight. His head felt as though it had been stuffed full of rocks, bulging behind his skull and threatening to burst his head. Even the cut on his nose, before little more than a stinging, now threatened to split open at any moment. He grunted and groaned miserably as he shuffled forward, tottering this way and that as he moved in the direction of the water. It was only when his nose struck something cold and hard that he finally opened his eyes.

Something tall and grey stood before him, stretching straight up and down like the most peculiar sort of tree he had ever seen. It was accompanied by dozens of its kind, surrounding him on all sides. He pressed his head against it, trying to shove it out of the way so he could take his drink, but it would not budge. He snorted, shaking his head and setting his hooves. He butted his head hard against the pole, and received only an even more splitting headache for his troubles. The pole had not moved an inch.

He sat down heavily, rubbing his head with his forehooves and pinning his ears back, swishing his tail sharply back and forth and he groaned. He leaned forward, snorting loudly on the bar.

What is?

He snorted again, irritably this time as he apparently failed to find any satisfactory answer. Instead he got to his hooves once again, setting out to investigate his surroundings as much as he could inside the tiny field of poles. Even above him hung a thick sheet of the strange material, coloured like a cloud that could not decide if it desired to rain or not. He craned his neck, snuffling at it. It, much like the poles that it was attached to, smelled cold and hard. He snorted, turning his attention to the space between poles. Shifting himself sidelong against the cold barrier, he peered out to the dank, quiet world beyond.

Dank, it seemed, was the least of the words that could describe the place. Others were damp, oppressive, dingy and dark. The bat-pony gave no care for the darkness, though; his eyes glowed bright, reflecting what little light there was in the environment and illuminating the strange, foreign world for him. He was in a large place of stone, he recognized that much. The texture of the floor was the same, as was the deep, musty smell that clung to the air. The stones were strange though, unnatural, smashed into tiny sections and piled on top of one another a dozen, a hundred times over. Why any creature would want to do such a thing, much less have the patience, he could not fathom.

Stranger still, his understanding of the environment ended with the rocks. The rest of the place was surrounded by things he couldn't even begin to recognize. Things like the poles that barred his path hung like vines from the walls, bend and curled to interlink with one another and to flex where whatever they were made from could not. More of the poles were set in front of gaps in the walls, housing short, flat planks of wood that protruded from the walls and were draped with rags that appeared, to the bat-pony, like moss. Even the source of the water was peculiar, a large wooden bowl. The wounded stallion didn't even bother trying to discern the purpose of the bowl, instead flopping down against the hard floor of his enclosure, snorting and wrinkling his nose.

Bad place. Bad place.

He sighed heavily, rolling onto his back and staring at the thick sheet of grey above him. The strangeness around him compelled him in a way he could not describe. He wanted to slip past the poles, explore his new environment as much as he could, but to his great frustration, he was stuck. He snorted, glancing idly around the cage to see if he could find any way out.

He swished his tail sharply back and forth as he looked, yawning wide and splaying out his wings, swatting fruitlessly at the air. He paused then, his eyes suddenly snapping straight ahead. His wings swished out, feeling the air around him and swatting at the vast nothing that filed the cage. He rolled sharply onto his belly, jumping up to his hooves and looking wildly. His heart began to beat fast, his eyes darting back and forth in a panic.

"Uhn!" he said sharply, his ears spinning like radio dishes, and he howled softly.

Where us!? Where us!?

He continued to whip his head left and right, spinning in a circle, until he spotted the glint of another cage in the darkness. He dashed over to it, inasmuch as the narrow space allowed him a true dash, nearly butting his head against the poles again.


...Us here.

The second bat-pony lay on his side in the gloom, facing away from his companion. He yawned loudly, stretching out his wings and his limbs, rolling himself onto his back. As he did the scarred stallion could see there was still a faint trace of blood on his muzzle, though it had caked in and dried black around his companion's lips, rather than the crimson red they had been the previous evening.

The stained stallion clambered slowly to his hooves, trotting over to the wall of his own cage and rubbing up against it. He shivered as the ice-cold poles touched his fur, but shook his head and kept rubbing. Us here, us here. No scare.

The scarred pony chuckled: a deep, throaty noise that sounded almost like a growl in itself, and pressed his head against the bars. Not scare. Worry. He smiled at his companion, flaring his nostrils. Us leave, hurt. Us leave, no hunt kill.

No hunt kill, The bloodied pony snorted, shaking his head. Us not hurt. Us fine. Us hunt kill bear. He flicked his tail, turning his nose up at the scarred stallion, who snickered.

Hunt kill bear, us no fly week.

The bloodied stallion snorted again, turning his back on his companion and taking a seat heavily on the ground. Even still, he pressed his back up against the bars as he sulked. The scarred pony stuck his nose through the space between the bars, snuffling cheerfully at his companion's back, who merely waved his wing slowly back and forth, grunting.

The scarred pony shook his head, settling down himself and pressing his own back up against the bars. He yawned, laying his head down on his hooves and staring out at the dark world beyond his bars. The rocks still remained in his head, but they had at least shrunk enough that they no longer threatened to burst out his ears. He sighed, raising his head and dropping it against the floor. A soft ringing sounded, and he paused. Bit by bit, inch by inch, a smile crept into his lips. He lifted his head, dropping it again and producing yet another ringing. His smile widened and he chuckled, lifting his head and dropping it several times until his chin began to grow sore. Then he began lifting his hooves, dropping them against the ground, one after the other in a steady beat.

"What in Equestria is that noise?"

The scarred pony jumped as the noise came, scrambling to his hooves. His companion looked over his shoulder to the source of the sound as well, his ears tilting back and his eyes narrowing. The stallions shared a snort, and the scarred pony trotted carefully towards the source of the outcry.

It had come from a gap in the rock, filled by a thick plank of wood. A small sliver of light shone out from beneath it, cut by long shadows cast by two sets of hooves, apparently doing some sort of dance on the other side of the door. Muffled grunts and shouts that the stallion couldn't understand came through, echoing faintly about the room.

"I said, what was that noise?"

"What exactly makes you think that that noise has anything to do with you, Sir?"

"Doesn't it?"

"It doesn't matter. Civilians aren't allowed into the cells unless they've been arrested or are posting bail for another pony."

"Well then perhaps I wish to post bail. What then?"

"For whom?"

"Perhaps it is for those creatures I have heard are being kept here?"

"What makes you think that they're even up for bail?"

There was a silence, as though the voices had reached an impasse, or at the very least one was taking the time to glower at the other. Indeed, so potent was the spite that it seemed to radiate through the door, causing even the shadows to shrink away. When the voices returned one had turned soft, but not the sort of soft that puts one at ease. Rather, it was the sort of softness that makes one cringe, that makes one prefer loudness.

"Nothing, of course... Which is good. Believe it or not, my good stallion, I'm here to help you."

"Right. Well I've got a lot of paperwork to do with these things, so unless you'd like to help me with that, then I suggest-"

"In fact, I'm here to help you avoid a lot more paperwork."

There was another silence, more pondering this time. The air of spite seemed to have receded, replaced by an air of cautiousness. "Avoid paperwork?"

"Oh yes. A good deal of hassle, as well. Lawsuits are always such a bother for everypony involved, especially for the losing party..."

"Alright, back up. What lawsuit? Why would I be involved in a lawsuit?"

"Well, a mare was injured because the royal guard failed to act in time. From what I understand, she's none too pleased about it. Of course it's frivolous, but it can stick if the judge believes that the creatures aren't being taken care of properly... It would look terrible for the Royal Guard. Absolutely damning for whoever was liable in the suit, as well."

"And... you think this mare wants to sue m – the Royal Guards?"

"I am a lawyer, my good stallion... why else would I be here? But I am not a shark. I have a heart. If I can prove that you're taking care of these things properly, then this whole issue will just disappear, no trouble to you at all. Of course, I need to see them to ensure it."

There was another silence, the caution slipping even further away and into the realm of fear, so potent the scarred pony could almost smell it. He leaned down, putting his head against the floor of his cage and craning his head, trying to get a view beneath the door across the room. The shadows of hooves began to move, coming to stand in front of the door. There was a thick, heavy clunk, and the door began to swing open.

The speakers stepped through: a pair of stallions. Leading them was a slate grey unicorn, a vest of chainmail draped around his shoulders and a gold-plated helmet hovering by his side. His face had a sunken, weary look to it, as though he had spent every moment of the past day and night running hither and thither over this errand and that, run ragged by the demands of events he had never before seen. Clearly, the conversation had not improved his disposition; concern played at his brows, blending into a slight furrow of frustration in a beautiful duet of sullenness. The stained bat-pony's ears pinned back as the guard approached, and a soft growl rolled out of his throat. The scarred pony stared at the guard as well, and though he did not growl he could not find himself blaming his companion. A fire boiled in his own belly as he saw the guard, smelled him. Even the timbre of the armoured pony's voice brought memories back. It was he, in their home, who had stepped in to protect the trespassers the bat-ponies had fought to chase off. It was he who had put the scarred bat-pony and his companion to sleep.

The guard grunted quietly, hardly bothering to recognize the presence of the bat-ponies. The furrow of his brow deepened however, just slightly, and he stood aside for the stallion who trailed behind: Tall, slender and standing stock upright, he seemed to glide across the floor. His coat was a glossy silver hue, his mane a pristine alabaster to compliment. It was tied back tight, a ponytail that curled back on itself to tie at the top, the middle hanging down in a loop not unlike a noose. His expression was calm, almost serene, spoiled only by the hint of a smirk playing on his lips as his eyes drifted slowly from the guard to the walls of the room, and finally to the two bat-ponies, in their cages, in the centre of the room. His smile faded.

His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly, gazing back and forth between the bat-ponies in a cold, watchful glance. He surveyed them calculatingly, only his ears twitching as he stood, straight and tall as any of the bars that made up the bat ponies cages. He raised an eyebrow.

"So," he said, lingering on the word like an epithet, some ugly curse, "these are the... 'bat-ponies'." His had been the soft voice, there was no doubt. That same dangerous softness was present now. The hackles rose up on the scarred pony's neck, hearing a warning clear as day.

"I suppose," the guard said, rubbing his neck and rolling his shoulders slowly. "I'm not sure I'd called them anything-ponies. They seem a lot closer to animals than ponies, least in terms of how they act."

"Oh?" the silver stallion asked. "Please, do go on. This may be important for the suit."

The guard shrugged. "Well, first thing I did when I got to the scene was tell the things to stand down – we're legally obligated to give them the chance to comply before we resort to force. They didn't act like they even understood, though. The moment they saw me they... screamed, I guess. I don't know what else to call it. Then they charged me, so I put them out with a sleeping spell. I think one of them was going for my throat..." he shook his head, sighing. "Didn't move like anypony I've ever seen, anyhow. Ran a heck of a lot faster than any guard I've seen run, and that's saying something. Closer to flying, but they never left ground."

"I see," the lawyer said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. He began to walk around the cages, weaving in and out between them in a figure eight, inspecting the scarred pony first, then the stained pony, then the scarred pony again. "So you believe they're animals, then?"

"Possible," the guard said. "Course, they could have always just been strung up on something. One way or another, just the look of them..."

"Indeed," the silver stallion responded. "They don't look like any sort of pegasus I've ever seen. One would presume that after standing and listening to us talk all this time if they could understand us, they'd have thrown in their two bits." He stopped, leaning up to one of the cages. "You... stallion. Can you understand me?"

The scarred pony, to whom he had spoken, simply blinked. Not only did he not understand any of the noises this strange thing-like-him was making, he barely even understood what it was. He tilted his head, snorting at the creature. The lawyer sneered, turning sharply away from the cage.

"Nothing," he scoffed. "Probably not a single thought in those heads of theirs. Gods only know why they look like ponies, but they certainly aren't. So!" he turned sharply to the guard, causing the weary stallion to jump faintly, shaking his head. "What exactly are you planning on doing about these things?"

"I... well, that's just what I was trying to figure out when you arrived. If they're ponies then we need to find out if the mare wants to press charges – stallion as well. Assault is an offense, but if she wasn't seriously injured then it comes down to them, really. If they aren't, then... well, that's a bit more complicated." He sat down, sighing wearily and rubbing his eyes.

"Conventional wisdom says set 'em back in the woods where they came from, but they already snuck out once and we all know how that went. We could relocate them to a different habitat, but I'm not sure we know what their habitat is. Same goes for sticking them in a zoo. Not to mention just me taking these things back here has apparently kicked up such a fuss I'm nearly drowning in media reports. I've been getting calls all morning from tinfoil hat-wearing nutjobs telling me that these things are aliens from another planet, or time travelers, or mutants!" He scoffed, sighing heavily. "Truth of the matter is, I haven't got any clue what I'm going to do with these -"

"Kill them."

The guard blinked slowly, turning to stare at the lawyer. The silver stallion's face had been growing steadily darker and darker as the guard had spoken, very nearly literally. His expression was foul and dire, not a hint of humour in his features. The scarred pony sat up. Though he could not understand the words, he could feel the fury and bile that the lawyer was exuding in waves.

"Kill them," the lawyer repeated. "What does it matter? They're just animals, it won't matter if they're gone. Look at the things, do you honestly believe that anypony will be missing them?"

"Well," the guard said softly, "maybe not, but even still, we can't just kill them."

"And why not, pray tell? Those things are savage beasts, we hardly have any obligation to protect them, if they'd be as willing to take a bite out of a pony as look at them. Heck, we'd be doing the forest a favour if we killed them. That's a lifetime worth of rabbits and deer they don't kill thank to you putting them down. More of the animals ponies actually like to go around." His head was hanging lower now, less straight, and his ponytail was hanging over his shoulder. He began to move, stalking around the caged stallions and staring at them, his gaze so cold that frost almost seemed to form on the bars of their cages. "Why does it even matter?" he asked. "They're just animals.

The guard rubbed his neck again, getting to his hooves and following the lawyer. "Because," he said. "It isn't right. I mean, it's always a better option to rehabilitate if possible when dealing with criminals. We don't have the death sentence for that very reason."

"But these aren't criminals," the lawyer said pointedly, "they're animals. Are we going to enforce our laws on them as well? Press charges on them for assault? And what do we do if the mare decides to press charges after all? Are we going to fine them? Make them do community service?"

"No... look," the guard said, shaking his head. "Look, we're working on this, alright? Lawyer or no, lawsuit or no, you're still a civilian. It's not any of your concern what we're doing with these creatures -"

"They put my cousin in the hospital!" he snapped, turning on the guard. "This is precisely my concern, and I will see justice done to these things, pony or not!"

"And pony or not we'll ensure that this is taken care of," the guard said, pumping out his chest and setting his face into a look of determination. "That is the responsibility of the Royal Guard, sir. If you are so concerned about the state of your cousin, than I suggest that you go and see her in the hospital."

The lawyer snorted, laughing curtly. "The guards do justice," he sneered. He leaned in, prodding the guard's chest and smirking like a child with a secret. "Listen, the guards make arrests. The lawyers are the one's who really decide what justice is." He turned again, stalking up the cage of the bloodied stallion and glowering fiercely at him. The scarred bat-pony stood up in his cage, trotting to the bars and eying the lawyer carefully. A hint of a growl rose in his throat, the scent of a rival predator in the air.

"I decide justice," the silver stallion said, sneering. "If I see to it, you could live or die..." He leaned in, snarling furiously at the bat-pony. "And I will see you die!"

The scarred pony roared, snarling and snapping behind the bars, trying to scare off the lawyer. He bared his fangs, beat his wings savagely, slammed his hooves against the bars, anything to divert the lawyers attentions away from his companion. His heart thudded in his chest, a sickly feeling washing over him at the thought of the lawyer doing anything to hurt the bloodied pony. He roared again, the sickly feeling turning rapidly to fuel for the burning furnace in his gut, the head spreading rapidly into his shoulders and face. The silver stallion gave his own snarl, his horn coming alive with a golden light.

All at once the scarred stallion felt his furs bristle, and they began to glow. His body became almost numb, tingling all over as he felt himself begin to shift. It was as though gravity was changing, his weight becoming meaningless as a great weight pulled him further and further to the side. Suddenly the weight intensified a dozen times over, dragging him bodily through the air and slamming him into the bars of his cage.

"Don't you snarl at me you animal," the lawyer seethed. "You're lucky I don't kill you both right here!" He smirked, trotting over to the fallen stallion's cage and leaning in, chuckling. "But no, that is not for me to do. I'm going to be on my way soon, and you two will get what's coming to you. And you," he added, spinning on the guard, "can expect that lawsuit to come en force. You'll be lucky if you can salvage a career as a mall security guard when I'm finished with you!" He spun around, storming for the door and declaring loudly for all to hear: "I'll see the beasts that hurt my cousin dead, and the gods help anypony who should get in my way!"

The door to the guardhouse swung open, slamming against the wall loudly. "Alright, where are they!?"

The speaker was a small, gaunt unicorn mare. There were heavy bags beneath her eyes, turning her olive green coat a sickly hue around them, and her muddy brown mane was wild and askew. If it were not for the glint of determination in her eyes, gleaming out from the sunken orbs, she would have looked dreadfully ill. As it was she looked as though she had leapt straight from her bed and made for the guardhouse, only pausing just long enough to hastily pack the saddlebags that she wore. They had been stuffed so full that they nearly covered the large T-shape emblazoned on her flank, loose papers poking out and swaying two and fro in the breeze that came in from the street, keeping time with the pen she still clutched between her teeth like a sword.

The guard groaned loudly, cantering around the still-furious lawyer to greet the mare, who was currently striding through the mess that was the front lobby, apparently uncaring of the state of the place. In fact, she did not seem to notice. She continued to stride onwards as the guard stepped into her path.
"Do you have business here, ma'am?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied curtly, hardly pausing.
"And that is?"
"None of your business." She set her eyes upon the door at the back of the lobby, changing her trajectory for it. The guard faltered slightly, but puffed out his chest weakly, and stood in her way.
"Do you have permission to go back there, ma'am?"
"No." The mare barely broke stride, stepping around him with such vitriol that one could almost hear the unspoken "you idiot". The guard blinked silently, staring into the place where she no longer was, before turning around slowly.
"Ma'am - "
"Look," the mare turned sharply on her back hoof, "do you know who I am?"
"Um, no, but - "
"Erinaceidae. And no, you haven't heard of me, so don't lie. You'd remember my name." Her horn lit up, floating a large, thick book with her name emblazoned across the top out of her saddlebags and dumping it on the desk, waking the sleeping guard with a start. "I am the foremost zoological scholar in Canterlot, and I do not need yourpermission," she jabbed the guard's chest, "to do my job. Quite frankly you should have come to me first. I shouldn't have hadto hear about this from some stallion in the gutter, but I did, and now I'm going to see them before some idiotdecides they're best dead!"

The guard groaned loudly, dropping his face against a nearby desk in exhaustion. "I'm afraid you're too late, ma'am."

"What!?" Erin shouted, her already irritable expression slipping into one of outright fury. "Who's the moron that -"

The guard jerked his hoof in the direction of the cells, sending the tiny unicorn storming furiously inside, muttering oaths and epithets under her breath. As she stepped inside the cells, however, she paused. Her expression because almost venomous.

"Oh," she said. "It's you. What are you doing here, Jewel?"

The lawyer in question raised an eyebrow, his glower falling away even as Erin's grew. "I might ask the same of you, miss Smiles," he said.

"Don't call me that," Erin said tartly. "Answer the question. What the hell are you doing here?" She paused, rolling her eyes. "Oh, wait, don't tell me: You're the one who thinks that these creatures should be dead, aren't you?"

"They should be, and they will be," Jewel replied, flicking his head to centre his ponytail once again. Erin sighed sourly, rubbing his eyes.

"Oh, of course," she said, "This is exactly what you'd do. So how rich was the victim, then? How much is she paying you to do all this?"

"The Victim was my cousin, Summer," Jewel said. Erin paused, blinking.

"Misty?" she asked. Jewel nodded. Erin sighed, shaking her head. Her expression softened, a look of sadness and concern overcoming her. "Damn. She was the only one of you morons who was decent. Is she alright?"

"Seven stitches in her foreleg. The doctor says that she'll be fine, but that doesn't change the fact that she was attacked by two wild animals."

"And that" Erin said, her sour expression returning just as fast as it had left, "Doesn't mean you have any right to kill the animals that did it."

"Don't have the right?" Jewel asked, scoffing. "How do I not have the right? That's what you do with wild animals that hurt ponies, you put them down!"

"Not if I have anything to say about it you don't," Erin snapped at the lawyer. "And besides, these aren't just animals, Jewel. Do you know what kind of animals these are?"

"No," Jewel said, rolling his eyes. "Please, madam, enlighten me with your mighty mind."

"Exactly!" Erin said, stomping and ignoring the stallion's biting sarcasm. "If there was any documented species of animal that looked this similar to a pony, you'd know about it! But you don't – because these are a new species of animal, one that's hidden under our noses for who knows how long! We have no guarantee that we can find another example of the species. We need to study them!"

"We need to get rid of them, you empty-headed mare!" Jewel shouted. "These things are a danger to everypony around them!"

"Oh really?" she asked, an edge that could carve through the densest skulls to her voice, "Is that why they're in cages loaned to you from the Canterlot Zoo? The ones designed for transporting lions and tigers?"

Jewel grunted, leaning in. His voice took on that same soft, dangerous quality, though the hardness did not fade from his expression at all. "Spare me your attempts at being clever, Miss Smiles. Regardless of your opinions on the matter, I am well within my rights to lobby for these animals to be killed, and I intend to do so. As I was saying before you so rudely barged in on us, I will see justice done, and anypony who should stand in my way shall rue doing so.

The two ponies glared at one another for seemingly ages, the spite and fury charging the air between them, crackling with electricity and heat. It was Erin who broke the glare first, turning on her heel and trotting through the door to the lobby. Jewel followed after her, a smug grin on his face as he prepared to bid her adieu, but he instead came into the lobby to see Erin standing before the guard.

"You!" She declared, jabbing her hoof accusingly at the weary stallion, who barely looked up.

"What." the guard asked.

"What are you planning on doing with those creatures?" Erin demanded, jabbing her hoof again. The guard groaned so loud it was nearly a scream, slamming his hooves down on the desk before him.

"I don't gods-damned know!" He shouted, surprising Erin and Jewel both with his ferocity. His eyes burned with a weary madness, the fury that only a pony deprived of his bed for far too long understands. His shoulders heaved as he lay into the mare.

"I have been working on figuring out something to do with these damned things all damned night, and the last thing I need is a pair of civilians arguing about what I should be doing with these things for me! Maybe I'll give them to the zoo! Maybe I'll set them back in the forest! Maybe I'll give them up to the university to dissect them!"

"If you give those creatures to the zoo or the university then they'll just come to me to study them," Erin declared, recovering from her shock. " So cut out the middle stallion. Give those ponies to me!"

"To you?" the guard asked, leaning back in his chair and running his hoof through his mane. "You're a civilian! I'd be flayed alive if I gave them over to you!"

"I am not a civilian!" Erin said sharply, "I am a scientist! I have all the necessary licenses to house exotic animals, I can take perfect care of these things, then you don't have to worry a bit about what happens to them anymore!"

"No!" The guard groaned, burying his face in his hooves. "Gods dammit, no, I cannot do that! Honestly, I've half a mind now to just kill them like the lawyer wants to get rid of them for good!"

"You can't kill them!" Erin shouted, her voice breaking sharply as she threw her hooves up on the desk. Her eyes had gone wide, her mane falling even further askew as her breathing quickened. "They're still – do you have ANY idea how valuable these things could be!?"

The guard threw up his forelegs. "No, I don't!" he shouted back, slamming his hoof on the desk, "And gods' sake, I don't care! I don't care why all you ponies seem to want these things so damned bad. But if I give them over to you, and they get out, or you get hurt, then guess who gets the blame!?"

"Then sign ownership over to me!" Erin shouted. "Or whatever the hell you do! If they're my property, then they're my problem, right? I get the blame for whatever happens with them, none of it goes to you. You don't decide if they live or die anymore, I do! Come one, there has to be something!"
"Oh, great, so give me MORE blasted paperwork to do! Fantastic!"
"I'll do all the paperwork," Erin insisted. She threw off her saddlebags, discarding the pen, and leaned over the desk until her nose was inches away from the guard's. "All of it! Every last paper! Look, I'll do anything! They're... you have no idea what we could lose if you kill them now! You cannot! Kill! These! Ponies!"
A mighty hoof swung down, crashing into the desk with such resounding force that the varnish of the wood flew up in chips, causing Erin to jump back.

"FIFTEEN!" the guard roared, the force of his voice nearly toppling the tiny mare. She blinked, staring at him.
"Fifteen," the stallion repeated. He spoke through clenched teeth, slowly lifting up his quivering hoof to tap the desktop. "I have spent all damn morning dealing with this whole stupid incident, and you are not the first pony to come in here telling me what I should be doing with these things, and quite frankly? I do not give a damn what happens to them anymore. So you have fifteen words. Fifteen words to convince me to give them to you, then you get the hell out of my office. Got it?"
For the briefest of moments a look of fear flashed across Erin's face before being replaced by one of distaste and frustration, and she glared at the stallion. She tapped her hoof rapidly against the floor as she looked back and forth for a moment, shifting her jaw as though she had forgotten that the pen was no longer there to waggle back and forth, and she groaned.
"You'll receive credit for the discovery," she said.
"Don't care about that," he grunted, leaning back in his chair. "You've got nine words left."
"I'll do the paperwork!"
"Already offered that. Liabilities waived. Five words."
Erin jumped back up on the desk, screaming in the guard's face. "For fucking science!"
"I don't give two shits for science!" he roared back. "Try harder! Two words!"
The two were silent. Erin fumed, her shoulders heaving as she breathed through clenched teeth. Her eyes were squeezed shut, awaiting the stallion's final word to shoo her out of the office. It never came. She slowly opened her eyes, peeking out at the guard, who was staring back with a cocked eyebrow.
"What?" he asked.
"I... I said blank check," Erin repeated. She paused for a moment, breathing heavily, before her horn lit up. A checkbook came flying out of her saddlebags, plopping itself on the desk as she looked around the room for her discarded check."I-I'll pay for them. Name your price." She levitated the recovered pen over the checkbook, staring dead into the guard's eyes. "I pay, we do the paperwork, exchange legally. They aren't your problem, the department gets a boost in bits – which you get the credit for. Gimme a number."
The guard peered at her, his eyes slowly drifting down to the open checkbook.
"... 2,000 bits," he said. "Each."
"Done," Erin answered hurriedly, but the guard raised his hoof.
"3,000 each," he said slowly. Erin growled, her shoulders shaking with frustration, but she nodded tightly.
"Final offer?" she asked.
"Final offer," the guard agreed. Erin nodded sharply, scrawling the number hastily on the top check and tearing it off.
"3,000 bits apiece," she said as she slid the check across the desk. "Made out to the royal guards." She sighed happily, lowering herself onto her elbows and letting her mane drape over the desk, hiding her mad grin. "You made the right decision. Science will thank you."
"You still gonna credit me?" He chuckled, a deep, throaty sound.
"Fuck you," Erin said, laughing weakly. "You'll get your credit."

The guard laughed just as weakly. "Hurray," he said sarcastically. "At least I've finally got these things out of my mane."

The little scientist leaned back in her chair, sighing weakly, an enormous grin splayed across her face. She relaxed so much is seemed as though she were going to melt through the chair – at least until Jewel approached her. He had apparently spent the duration of Erin's argument with the guard tidying himself up, as he had returned to the image of a perfect lawyer: Prim, tidy, and upright, his coat and mane pristine and impossibly arranged.

"Miss Smiles." he said tartly. Erin sighed, throwing her foreleg over her eyes.

"Oh right, you exist," she said. "What do you want, Jewel? I'm trying to bask in how amazing I am."

Jewel allowed himself a small smirk, reaching up to brush a speck of dust off his shoulder. "Indeed," he said. "That was clever, officially purchasing them. I had thought the Smiles family was famously tight-pursed, but apparently I was wrong."

"Not buying every little trinket you think it's pretty tends to build up a savings account," Erin said, waving flippantly. "We can afford to throw money around when it counts."

"And lucky for you," the lawyer said, nodding. "If I were you, I would prepare to be inspected. I believe your home, your exotic animals license and your university degree should cover it, but I think I'll throw in your credit history just for fun." He paused to let the mare groan savagely, his expression darkening once more. "You've put me off for the moment, Smiles, but you haven't stopped me. In the least. I intend to see justice done to those things."

"Yes, yes, rue the day, you've told me once," Erin said weakly. "Please go away. I'm basking."

"Very well," Jewel said, nodding. He left the guardhouse without another word, leaving Erin behind. She rose weakly from the chair, trotting back into the cells to her newly-purchased bat-ponies. The scarred stallion stared at her, tilting his head faintly while his companion growled. Erin sighed, shaking her head.

To call the afternoon long would be an understatement akin to calling the ocean damp. Erin had been made to slog through veritable mountains of paperwork regarding the animals: liability waivers, checks on her license to keep large animals, transferal of ownership (somewhat complicated by the fact that it was first necessary to designate that the bat-ponies actually belonged to the guards in the first place), and many, many more strange process foreign to everypony but the bureaucrats hiding deep within the cockles of the palace.
Still, the worst of it was over. The bat-ponies had been delivered to her home during the afternoon, awaking to find themselves in a now much larger cage, full of strange, tree-like structures. The Scarred pony climbed upon one now, snuffling at the strange material that comprised the branch beneath his hooves, nibbling at the strange, tough leaves.

He snorted, peering through the boughs and branches out into the strange world beyond: A wide room filled to the brim with dozens of devices he could not begin to comprehend. There, in the centre of it all, was just one more thing he could not comprehend, a thing like him. A tiny creature, with no wings and a spike upon its head, but a thing like him nevertheless. She was slumped weakly into the large, cushy chair in her lab, sagging over the arms as though she were melting. She rubbed her eyes, stretching and sighing as she peered out the window, into the sunset.

He watched her carefully for a long time, his eyes never once leaving her. She stared into their portion of the room, a strange, knowing sort of smile on her face. Finally, he felt that he could not hide up in the treetops anymore. He had been up there almost since he had awoke, observing in silence, though she still seemed aware of him somehow. In the end, though, he needed to see her closer. There was something about her that compelled him so, something he could not put his finger on.

He leaped down from the branch, his wings snapping out to slow his descent as he came upon the ground, lading softly on the large, plush cushion that he had awoken on. His companion was there as well, muzzle cleaned of blood, twitching his ears in acknowledgment as the scarred stallion landed. His eyes somehow managed to be cool and warm at the same time, the faint glow from the reflective film inside them making them glow as he watched Erin, unblinking, his eyes never wavering. The scarred pony sat with him, and together they watched the mare. She yawned widely, stifling it with a hoof, and stared back at the cage.

The scarred pony continued to stare, locking eyes with the mare as though in a challenge, defying her to scrutinize him as hard as he scrutinized her. Unlike his companion though, he eyed her with great interest. He too yawned, showing off his long fangs, and Erin laughed. She pushed herself out of her chair, plodding across the room. The Scarred pony stood as well, trotting over to the bars to get a better look.
"You guys have probably had a long day too, huh?" she asked, taking a seat in front of the cage. The bat-pony tilted his head quizzically, mimicking her. She smiled. "'Course, I guess you could just be waking up now. Nocturnal, and all that. Mmm... you have no idea how much I'm looking forward to being able to get a good look at you..." She smiled, a strangely sweet and earnest smile melting away her blunt exterior. "You two are amazing..."

The scarred pony tilted his head, eyes narrowing as he tried to understand the noises. The two grey things-like-him had spoken far too fast for him to understand, all the noises blended together. This one, however, spoke much slower, much clearer. The noises meant something, he knew, but he could not understand for the life of him what. The mare giggled.

"Yes, you," she said. She yawned again, stretching far enough to crack her back. "Mmm... but tomorrow... tomorrow." She smiled one last time before trotting away from the cage to the door, turning to look back over her shoulder. "Goodnight, you two," she said, flicking off the light switch. The scarred pony shook his head as night fell in an instant, the mare disappearing into one last vanishing sliver of light. The night was complete then, the bat ponies left in the darkness to consider her final words.

The scarred pony took a seat beside his companion, his ears flicking softly. He ran those final sounds through his head over and over, considering what they meant to the mare. He turned to his companion finally, wiggling his ears.

"Gaow, oan," he growled, settling down.
"Gurff," the other bat pony grunted, laying his head over his hooves and looking away.