There was a thud, possibly a door closing.

A slight tremor rippled through the resin-like shell of the cocoon as an eerily familiar thrumming filled the air.

Rose's eyes shot open as she gasped in shock. Her eyes darted around, adjusting to the low light of the room she was in; where was she? There were large heavy pipes in the walls and ceiling alongside several different kinds of wires and cables. A bunker?

"The buh-buh-basement," said a tired voice in the darkness. "We're in thuh-thuh-the basement."

"Mop Up?" she said nervously, "Is that you?"

An annoyed 'tch' echoed off the concrete walls. "Who eh-eh-else?"

"Where are you? What happened? What is this stuff?!" Rose said, beginning to panic.

Mop Up's suddenly shot up in front of her with a large smile on his face. "I'm right here!"

Rose tried to move her head so she could see more of him, but the hard sticky substance of the cocoon held her fast. "Could you get me out of here?"

"Hmmm…" Mop Up said with an exaggerated expression. "Nope! Not yet anyway, you're not quite ripe."

"What? Mop Up, this isn't funny! I-""

"Muh-Miss Tailor! Th-that's not muh-me!" said Mop Up's voice from elsewhere in the room.

"Spoil sport…" 'Mop Up' said with a roll of the eyes.

To Rose's horror the Mop Up in front of her disappeared in a flash of emerald fire. Replacing him was a horrid black shape with glowing cerulean eyes and enormous fangs. The monster grinned and opened its maw, strands of saliva dripping from its mouth. Rose screamed in terror and frantically struggled against the cocoon, despite all her efforts the awful smelling gunk would not budge. The Changeling seemed to unhinge its jaw and open its mouth impossibly wide; it hissed loudly and lunged at her face. Rose's screams shifted into sobs of terror and she squeezed her eyes shut, the monster's rancid breath a hot damp miasma around her head.

"Ah!" the Changeling said with a smile. "There we go! This is getting easier every time I do it! Now you're ready."

"Ready for what?" Rose whimpered.

A digital display snapped on behind the hovering Changeling, it read 17:59:55. Sounds of activating machinery followed as more and more of a large machine became visible, an ovoid machine lit from the inside by a sickly green glow.

The Changeling turned to Rose, it's horrid shape now back lit by a diseased harlequin glow, and smiled. "For the six o'clock news hour! Every little scream counts!"

The display read 17:00:00 and the whirring and buzzing of machines and magic filled the air. The various wires and pipes leading into the oval centerpiece began to glow and shudder as enormous energy raced through them. A high-pitched whine pierced the air and the centerpiece began to radiate poisonous waves of energy. A low throbbing noise went in tandem with the pulses, a low throbbing that sounded disturbingly close to the pounding of a heart.

The Changeling turned toward the machine and spread itself open. An arc of energy blasted forth and arced across its body. Small twisting stands of energy danced across its carapace and seemed to seep into it causing it to swell and grow.

It swung around to face Rose, its formerly blue eyes were now a blazing orange, it grinned widely bearing larger sharper teeth than before. "Be afraid."

(Dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da etc)

DOCTOR WHOOVES

Episode 3

The Nightmare Engine: Part 2

Starring:

The Doctor

Twilight Sparkle

Featuring:

Rose Tailor

Mop Up

The Victor

Dolores

17:50:30

The Doctor and Twilight raced towards a pub, Spike clung to Twilight's back as she galloped.

"Doctor!" Twilight said. "It's almost six already, why are we going there? I have a television at my room!"

"Not the point," The Doctor said. "There's something wrong in Canterlot. Too many off-kilter things happening at once, and too many synchronous elements being implemented too quickly! That and I haven't had a decent basket of chips in half a million years!"

Twilight stopped outside the pub and gestured for Spike to get off, "Spike, I want you to head back to our room, we'll be back in no time."

"But-!" Spike began before being cut off by Twilight.

"Bup!" she exclaimed. "But nothing, this is no place for baby dragons. Now head on home."

"Fine," Spike grumbled as he shuffled down back towards the castle.

'Now that that's taken care of, The Doctor's been alone in there for about thirty seconds. So that means…' she heard a coarse exchange of words from inside. '…Damage control.'

The Doctor shouldered the door open and briefly scanned the room. There was an interesting cross-section of manual workers, transients, and general rough-and-tumble types. A large burly jack manned the bar and cast a sideways glance at The Doctor; a raised eyebrow followed a very brief double take before a muted order drew his attention.

The Doctor trotted over to the bar and hopped up onto a stool, "Oi barkeep! One basket of chips for m'self!"

The large donkey snorted and glowered at The Doctor and rumbled, "Kitchen's closed. And no one calls me 'barkeep' if'n they want to keep their teeth."

"Alright," The Doctor said. "So, what should I call you? Florence? You look like a 'Florence' to me. Hello Florence I'm The Doctor, pleased to meet you!"

"It's Gus," The donkey growled. "Grinning Gus, and if you keep this up you're gonna need a doctor pretty quick!"

"Never heard that one before…" The Doctor muttered.

The door flew open and Twilight calmly strode in, "Never mind him Gus, he's with me."

Gus changed his tune and gave a genuine grin, "Hey Sparky, good to see you! I haven't seen you or Shiner in a parasprite's age!"

Twilight hopped up onto the stool next to The Doctor, "Well, I've been in Ponyville and Shining Armor has been heading the Royal Guard. It's good to see that you got through the invasion alright."

Gus shrugged, his smile disappearing. "Eh…well, I'm alive anyway."

" 'Sparky', eh?" The Doctor turned to Twilight, a wry smile on his face. "Been here before?"

"Shining Armor would always take me here when he wanted to celebrate something. Helped him to get away from the stodgy trappings of the guard," Twilight said with a shrug. "Made a few acquaintances."

"Sparky here can knock back the bunny-hugs like no-one I've ever seen!" Gus said with a laugh. "This one time, some fool claimed that unicorns could only lift their body weight! Sparky then lifted everyone in the room clear off the ground and then brought the floor right up to meet 'em! Lifted the whole building!"

"Bunny-hugs?" The Doctor said, looking over at Twilight. "Did you use a liver-fortis spell or something? How are you not dead?!"

"So," Gus said leaning towards Twilight, "what brings you here and, uh, who's the weirdo?"

"Him? That's The Doctor, he's a friend of mine. Say, could you switch on the TV for the six o'clock news? We'd like to catch that news report on the Changelings."

Gus pointed across the room, a large crowd of various patrons huddled around the television as the CNA banner streaked across the screen.

"This is CNA," the announcer said in his familiar baritone.

An attractive news-mare sitting behind a desk turned to the camera and smiled. "Good evening. I'm news anchor Brook Aria and this is the six o'clock report. It has been a week since the attack on Canterlot was successfully repelled, but the ordeal has left more than a few Canterlotians shaken. For the past few days CNA has been diligently researching the Changelings, hoping to rally information to share with the rest of Equestria on this terrible menace. What follows is a basic summary of our research with more detailed reports being scheduled for later in the week. It is our hope here at CNA that the following information will prepare you, the citizens of Equestria, against any further Changeling incursions."

The image on the screen changed to that of the Equestrian flag, it waved in the breeze as heroic-sounding music blared in the background. A soothing male voice sounded over the theme. "For over a millennia Equestria has been a bastion of peace, happiness, and love. No one could have suspected that it was these very things that drew the Changelings in from part unknown. Little is known about them beyond a single immutable fact: they are dangerous, aggressive, and highly intelligent."

Pictures of Changelings attacking and small sounds bites of terrified phone calls filled the air before the voice started again, this time with video clips relevant to the narrative. "Changelings can alter their appearance and voice at will to perfectly mimic any being they see and hear. The only defect in their disguise is their inability to mimic the personality of their hosts. However, this flaw is only noticeable to those familiar with the person being imitated. Beyond intimate knowledge of the host, the possibility of detecting a Changeling is dangerously low.

"The nature of the Changeling is a mystery. Their monstrous queen, the Changeling responsible for the attack, claimed that emotions such as love and happiness provide them with some form of nourishment, likely magic-based. Canterlot biologists surmise that the typical modus operandi of the Changeling is to locate a source of love, presumably a couple, and use their abilities to replace one of the couple in order to feed upon the love of the other. This possible pattern was demonstrated during the invasion with Captain Shining Armor and the Changeling Queen. The fate of either member of the hypothetical couple is undoubtedly elimination."

A worried murmur spread throughout the gathered pub patrons, a large earth pony stallion feinting with a muted gasp as the tune of the program changed to a carefully optimistic theme. "In the wake of this disaster it is important that we, the citizens of Canterlot, remain strong. We do this not only for ourselves but all of Equestria, for the nation looks to its capitol for guidance. However, against a duplicitous enemy such as the Changelings that strength must also be tempered with vigilance and knowledge. Tune in at six PM every day until the end of the week for more information regarding the Changeling menace. Until then, be brave, be strong, and be vigilant. One never knows when the Changeling is about."

The next shot switched back to a somewhat shaken Brook Aria who anxiously cleared her throat and forced a smile. "Coming up next…uhhh…I-I mean later at seven: how much does early education effect magical acuity in unicorn foals? The answer may surprise you. Coming up next, the weekly weather schedule with Nimbus Chinook."

The weather schedule carried on as Twilight and The Doctor pulled away from the group. The Doctor leaned in close and muttered, "So, what do you think? See anything?"

"I think I'm starting to see what you mean," Twilight whispered. "There was definitely something weird about that report. It didn't seem to say anything anyone with a bit of sense couldn't have figured out on their own. I'm surprised that it made it on to the air, CNA is usually really good about this sort of thing when it comes to broadcast material."

The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and trilled it in the air for a moment before studying it. "Anything else?"

"No…" Twilight said as she looked over her shoulder. "Why? Are you getting anything?"

"I'm not sure," The Doctor said as he examined his screwdriver. "Whatever I'm detecting could just be residual magic from all the unicorns around here, but it also could be something nefarious."

" 'Nefarious'?"

"Word-A-Day calendar."

"Ah," Twilight looked out at the worried faces in the pub. "So, what's the plan? I get the feeling it's going to be one of those days."

"Don't be too hasty. Like I said, it could be nothing," The Doctor said. "Let's get to the TARDIS, there's some scans I need to run."

"…One never knows when the Changeling is about."

The Changeling laughed and clapped his hooves on the concrete, turning to Rose with his new eyes, "D'you like it? Added that last part in there on a whim. I really think it brings it all together, though."

Rose, having had time to compose herself once more, rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a sadist, making watch as you turn my network into a sensationalist dreck flinging tabloid! If you had just killed me it would have been over with!"

"There you go!" the Changeling cackled. "A defiant spirit produces the best fear once it gets broken!" It fluttered up to her, face-to-face, "Oh, you can denounce my methods but you can't deny the results! Look at the machine, the energy! And this is just a teaser, once I release more in-depth 'information' the resulting fear and panic will make today look like a…much smaller and…less impressive…thing."

"That one got away from you, huh?" Rose said with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah…it did a bit," the Changeling said. "Shut up, I'm hungry."

The Changeling set down on the ground, "Good thing I have a tasty little jenny arranged for dinner. Mmmm-mmm! I do so love Asinian food, really hits the spot!"

"Wuh-what?!" Mop Up exclaimed.

The Changeling rose off the ground and pulled Mop Up's cocoon from the ceiling, it dangled like a piñata as the Changeling turned it to face its prisoner.

"Wuh-well, yuh-yuh-yuh-you see," it said mockingly. "I got myself on good terms with your admirer Dolores. You know, the donkey you like but never talk to? So tonight-while you dangle here helplessly-I will be feasting on her love for…me, actually, since she now knows me better than she ever knew you. Funny, that."

"Yuh-yuh-you muh-monster!" Mop Up shouted. "If you hurt her I'll-"

"You'll what!?" it roared, bearing its fangs. "Yuh-yuh-you'll s-stuh-stuh-stop me? Ha! What, will you mop me to death and rescue the mare you're too terrified to even tuh-tuh-talk to? What does it say about you when the only time you can get a girl is when a love-eating monster takes your place, you pathetic stuttering freak!"

It dropped to the ground and began to walk towards the door, a bright green burst of magic consumed it as it assumed Mop Up's form; it looked back at Mop Up and shouted, "It's your first date in a while, so I understand that you're nervous. I'll let you know how it goes."

Its horrible cackling echoed in the concrete room, a sharp clanging sound followed by a click marked its departure. Soon, the only sound in the room was the distant sound of boilers, the eerie pulsing of the machine, and Mop Up's quiet sobbing.

"Mop Up…" Rose said softly. "Hey, c'mon. Don't listen to that thing, it's just trying to get to you."

Mop Up hung his head and looked away, a terrible sadness in his eyes. "It's guh-gonna hurt h-her…"

"Not if we get out of here first," Rose said and looked around. "How long have we been here?"

"Three duh-days," Mop Up said lowly. "It's been using our fuh-forms t-to get its shuh-show on the a-air."

"Three days? " Rose said in shock. "But I remember getting grabbed like it was yesterday! How can it have been three days?"

Mop Up's brow furrowed with effort as he steadied his speech. "Its been wuh-waking you up every eight hours to scu-scare you. Each time it did some magic thuh-hing to make it so you don't remember, suh-something about you being too strong to scare twice."

"But why? Why scare us? Why put all that alarmist garbage out on the airwaves?" Rose said with growing frustration.

"That thing o-over there," Mop Up said, gesturing at the machine with his head. "I-it's hooked it up to the broadcast system. I thu-think it allows the broadcast to c-cuh-carry the fear back to here; a-a-and the muh-muh-machine seems to feed off it. He scu-scared you and me over and over to jump-start it, guh-get it ready fuh-for tonight. Nuh-now it's on, and it's doing something, something bad!"

Rose could feel the prickling sensation on her skin every time the machine pulsed, whatever it was it was electrifying the air. "It runs on fear…hmm."

"Whuh-what?" Mop Up asked.

"Well, it might be nothing," Rose said with a constrained shrug. "But if that thing runs on fear, and it zapped the Changeling with some kind of energy, does that mean the Changeling gets energy from fear now? Because it grew after it got charged, right? Didn't everyone say they got food from love? If the Changeling gets what it needs from fear, it won't have any use for Dolores!"

Mop Up nodded as a hopeful smile spread across his face, it was pure speculation but he hoped it was correct. "Yeah! A-a-and maybe it'll l-l-leave her alone!"

"But then it'll come back here, won't it?" Rose said.

"Doesn't m-matter. S-s-so long as it isn't h-hur-hurting anyone else."

The Victor smiled widely as it exited the basement. With each passing moment it felt power and life surging into it, the engine had done something to it, something incredible. It now felt just as strong and vital as it did while feeding, if this is how it felt now it could hardly imagine how a feast like Dolores would make it feel. There was a niggling little worry in the back of its mind, now that the first broadcast had been made it could expect to hear from those meddling equines in the near future. The psychic flavor of their profiles told it that the Brown Stallion was the more hated and feared creature while the Purple Unicorn was regarded with wary malice. Considering 'her' power, the fact that The Victor had been warned of them at all told it reams of their destructive potential.

'No matter, once I feast I will be more than strong enough to eviscerate those flimsy creatures,' it thought to itself. 'Come this time tomorrow and the engine will be unstoppable and I along with it!'

It exited the building and looked up at it from the courtyard. Over fifty stories of disgusting Equestrian aesthetic, a tower covered with pointless frills and pastel colors. Not that it was complaining; the building made the perfect disguise for the Engine while also possessing the necessary machinery to power it.

"Mop Up!" a familiar voice said over the din of the evening traffic. "Over here!"

It turned and saw Dolores across the plaza, she was wearing what it assumed was supposed to be a nice dress and make up. It smiled its best smile and mimicked the nervous-excited gait of a smitten young stallion; a detail most were only subconsciously aware of at best, but one that unfailingly convinced those that did notice.

It walked up to Dolores and said, "Dolores! Hey. Hi. Umm…so, uh, where do you want to go?"

"Oh well, you know…" Dolores said, trailing off.

It could tell that she wanted to say 'my place' but wouldn't due to propriety or some such, and it knew it couldn't push the matter lest it jeopardize the purity of its food source. Not that it mattered; all it needed was a few hours in her general proximity to get what it needed, so it said "How about the fancy place down the street? The Méchant Loup?"

"Yeah! That sounds great! I hear they have a really good salad bar!"

"Sounds great! Let's go!" The Victor said with a grin, everything was going according to plan.

The inside of the TARDIS thrummed softly as The Doctor scurried to and fro, examining bits of data and pulling various levers.

Twilight tapped her hoof against the metal plating. "Doctor, are you don't have anything for me to do?"

"Yep."

"And you don't need any help?"

"Nope."

She scratched her chin with her hoof. "So you're sure that you definitely don't have anything for me to not do? Or do you not want me to do nothing?"

"Ye-n-uhh…" The Doctor looked up from the console and sighed. "Monitor the recorded transmission waves while I cycle through the TARDIS's database."

Twilight beamed and raced over to the console. She eagerly began to read the data, two separate graphs side by side. "So, what am I looking for?"

"Any correlation you can find," The Doctor said distractedly. "I'm swapping through certain kinds of carrier signals in the database, specifically the kind that can receive as well as transmit."

Twilight looked down at the screen, the graph on the bottom remained unchanging as the top display cycled through graphs at a rapid pace, switching out ones that didn't match. Her eyes darted up to The Doctor; he had a strange look on his face, if Twilight didn't know better she'd say it was fear.

"Doctor? Are you alright?"

His head snapped up and he locked a briefly icy gaze on her, she felt a chill run up her spine before his expression softened and he donned a thin smile. "Yes…yes, of course. I'm fine, just fine. Nope, nothing wrong here. Nothing whatsoever."

"Doctor," Twilight said sternly. "I haven't seen you in a month, but don't think for a second that I can't tell when something is wrong."

The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Oh? Well then, go ahead and tell me just what you think is wrong."

Twilight blinked, now she knew something was gnawing at him. "Well, your attitude stinks for one! Ever since this afternoon you've been standoffish and hostile! You're usually gung-ho about going off to find the answer to any little mystery that pops up, but with this one it's like you don't even want to believe that there's anything wrong! If I didn't know any better, I'd say you're…scared."
The Doctor blinked in astonishment. "I am not scared!"

"Oh no?"

"No! I'm just…" The Doctor sighed and shook his head.

"Just?" Twilight said. "Just what?"

"I don't want to talk about it," The Doctor said.

Twilight gave an annoyed grunt and turned back to the screen, "Fine! Be that-" the control panel trilled as a match was found. "Doctor!"

"I see it…" The Doctor said disappointedly. "Sometimes I hate being right all the time."

"What? What is it?" Twilight walked over to The Doctor and looked at his screen.

"An undulating semi-subspace carrier pulse, it piggybacks on the transmission waves of the broadcast and focuses itself onto a certain part of the brain," The Doctor explained. "In this case the amygdala…damn."

"That part is responsible for emotions, right?" Twilight said.

"Yes and, perhaps more relevant to this case, the emotion of fear. This particular wave is designed to make a sort of circuit, a connection between the amygdalas of the watchers and…"

Twilight turned to The Doctor. "And what?"

The Doctor's expression began to transform into something more familiar. "Don't know, but considering the nature of the broadcasts and the specificity of the carrier wave I'd have to say nothing good! Odious even!"

"Word a day calendar?" Twilight said with a smirk, he was enjoying this despite himself.

"Nah, I can sense carrier waves, had a bit of a bad taste in my brain since the transmission." The Doctor grinned widely as he ran to the opposite side of the console and yanked on some levers. "Game face on, Twilight! We're going to pay CNA little visit!"

"…And that's when Miss Rose said 'I don't care about your deadlines, just broadcast the video!' Can you believe that?" Dolores said from across the table.

'Yes. I know. I was there.' The Victor thought to itself. "Well, she's been under a lot of stress."

"For what?" she said as she took another bite of her salad. "Did you see that program? What a bunch of tripe! But the ratings are through the roof, so I guess that's why I'm still in editing!"

'Tripe?!' The Victor crushed an olive pit between his mandibles. "Were you here when the Changelings attacked?"

Dolores cleared her throat and said, "Uhh…No, actually, I was out of town meeting family…why?"

"Well, it was pretty effective for those of us that were!" it snapped, before catching itself. "Sorry, it's still a bit of a touchy subject for me, I got cornered by a bunch of them in a diner…"

"Oh I'm so sorry. I wasn't thinking," Dolores said as she reached across the table to pat him on the hoof.

The Victor put on its best smile and said, "No, no it's okay. I shouldn't be so touchy, you couldn't have known. So let's just put it behind us…dessert?"

"No thanks, I'm trying to cut back," Dolores said as her aura shifted to that of shame.

"How about we split one?" The Victor cooed. "Too much restraint is bad for the soul."

She mulled it over for a moment before nodding. "Okay, I'm sure it won't count if we split it."

The Victor smiled wider as her aura shifted away from the poisonous blue of shame and back to familiar and delectable pink. It closed its eyes and quietly inhaled, waiting for that familiar rush of energy.

Waiting.

Waiting…

It blinked in confusion. What was wrong? Why wasn't it working?

Dolores looked across the table at the confounded imposter, a gentle smile on her face. "So, what do you want to get?"

"Huh?" it muttered, still lost in confusion. "What?"

"What do you want to get…for dessert?" she said with a shrug.

The Victor shot to its feet, a forced smile on its face. "Excuse me for a second, will you?"

It quickly scurried away, its head darting back and forth as it looked for a restroom. All around it were the formerly familiar auras or passion, affection, love both platonic and romantic, but none of them felt right anymore. There was no pull, no withering sensation to prompt a feeding; its attraction towards them was now out of habit rather than necessity. Something was wrong, something was very wrong.

It burst into the stallion's bathroom and stopped in front of a mirror. It willed the door locked and dropped its glamour, carefully examining itself in the mirror. It was larger than before, bulkier about the shoulders, neck, and haunches, and its carapace was no longer the dull leathery padding of before but rather a hard shiny shell. Its eyes were the most marked change; instead of the standard blue they were now a terrible and alien orange, the color of fire.

The door to one of the stalls swung open and a portly older unicorn came waddling out. "You may want to steer clear of this stall for the next few houuuaAAAAGH!"

A youngish stallion with a deep brown coat swung around to face him, an expertly crafted look of surprise on 'his' face. "What? What is it?!"

The round green unicorn blinked and shook his head as he stammered, "I-I-I'm sorry! I just, uh, I just thought I saw…something."

The Victor let out a relived sigh. "You scared me for a second there! Man! You okay there?"

The unicorn leaned against the stall, he was hyperventilating slightly, 'Yeah, just give me a second. That blasted news program has me seeing Changelings in the bloody bathroom!"

"Yeah, well, that's just the thing, isn't it?" it said with a false look of worry. "Changelings can be anywhere, anyone, you gotta be careful but how can you be with such a menace roaming around?"

A deep green aura came rolling off the fat unicorn and a familiar yearning filled The Victor. It stepped forward and placed a comforting hoof on the unicorn's shoulder, instantly devouring the aura. "Be careful now, okay? You can't be scaring yourself like that."

"You're right," he said with an uncertain nod. "Sorry I gave you such a start. I'll be off now."

The Victor willed the door unlocked and the unicorn left, whereupon The Victor immediately locked the door again and released a breath of charged excitement. 'What was that? Did I just feed? But that's wrong, that wasn't love! That was fear! How did I…oh…oh no.' It looked at its body, examining its hooves. 'I've changed; the Engine must have changed me somehow! What am I?! Am I still a Changeling?'

"No…" it looked back up at itself in the mirror, its brow furrowing. "I'm no Changeling, not anymore. I have a title, both in honor and in and of myself, I am The Victor."

'But what of my former meal-to-be?' it mulled this over for less than a second. 'Feh! Of what use is she to me now? …Then again…Mop Up seems to be very protective of her, that alone makes her worth my special attentions. Heh.'

It exited the bathroom and made its way back to its table, it amused itself with thoughts of Mop Up's impotent rage and humiliation once it recounts its conquests to him in lurid detail. It cast an inattentive gaze over the field of auras before it, a mere few minutes ago it had found it to be such an alluring and appetizing sight, but now a new food had been sampled the special pink of love now seemed…different.

It paused.

There had been no room for speculation before; to contemplate love was to feel an overwhelming desire to feed. But now, with its needs focused elsewhere, it suddenly realized that it knew next to nothing about the actual emotional state itself. What is love? Something you eat? Not anymore. Is it happiness? Yes and no; it has the blinding white of happiness as a component, but not a whole. Is it desire? Again, the pale red of attachment and the bright crimson of lust mixes with the glowing white of happiness to form a somewhat pinkish hue, but not the pinkish hue. Despite these component parts being readily identifiable, their simple mixture did not form love. Its former prey had not simply been happy and desirous of their company; there was another component, a mysterious keystone that made that special glow.

It sat down at its table and looked across at Dolores, she looked up and smiled. "Hey! I hope you don't mind that I ordered the dessert. We're having a chocolate éclair. Is that okay?"

"Yes of course!" it said before leaning in. "Dolores…"

"Yes, Mop Up?"

It paused, knowing full well how strange this whole 'what is love' thing could sound if not phrased exactly right. "I just want to say that I'm no expert on…relationships. If I say or do something odd-"

Dolores smiled and waved her hoof. "Mop Up, it's fine! You haven't said anything strange, in fact you've been very charming."

"It's just that for all my life I've watched people date and such. I've always just sort of seen it as a strange and confusing thing that I would never or could never be a part of."

"Because of your stutter?" Dolores said quietly.

"…Yes…because of that." The Victor was working with its own experience in addition to the more genuine feelings of Mop Up. "I've watched people form relationships, fall in love, and get married. I've read about it in books but I've never really understood it. It's like I've been an outsider looking in."

Dolores smiled broadly and nodded. "Don't worry Mop Up, now that you have more confidence I'm sure you'll be learning a lot in the next few days. Who knows…I might even give you a lesson or two…"

"Thank you Dolores! I'm…" The Victor said as a familiar purple unicorn and a brown stallion raced by the restaurant window. "…Sorry, but I have to go!"

"What? Mop Up…"

"Uhh…here," The Victor said, hurriedly throwing a hundred bits down onto the table. "This should cover everything including the tip and your cab fare! I'm really sorry about all this, but I just remembered that I need to rotate out the cleaning solution for all the floor cleaners!"

Dolores blinked in confusion as it scurried around her. "But-"

"Biohazard! Very dangerous!" The Victor shouted as it bolted out the door. "I'll make it up to you later!"

Dolores sat in bewilderment and watched as The Victor streaked by the window.

She turned to look at the chocolate éclair that had been placed on her table and sighed, "Waste not want not…"

The Victor quietly tailed the two threats as they entered the building; they were too caught up in their own theories and excitement to notice the pony in the janitor's outfit. They stopped and waited at the elevator.

It strolled up behind them, "So, where are you two headed?"

The Brown Stallion turned and locked his eyes on it, a brief electric sensation raced up its spine. Its heart began to race.

"Floor 95," he said with a broad infectious grin. "Yourself?"

"Boiler level," The Victor said, perfectly maintaining its composure. "I guess I'll just take the stairs then."

The stallion nodded and bid a small farewell as he entered the elevator with his friend.

'They're going to see Miss Tailor,' it thought to itself. 'No other reason for them to go up there.'

It trotted over to the other elevator and selected the boiler room. Once the elevator had descended The Victor forced its way out and onto the roof. It looked up and narrowed its eyes; a flash of green light revealed its true form and it began to flex its powerful wings. It blasted off and shot up through the elevator shaft. 'See you there.'