Chapter Seventy-Nine: Stalemate
Shock pulsing through Twilight Sparkle, she attempted to magik the handkerchief out of the flames--but, as she did, it was already too late. The cloth had already burned up; all that was left was naught but a useless pile of ash.
The rage was loud, and the response was immediate. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were two inches away from Pendulum’s face and most certainly would have given him a double black eye had it not been for the alicorn’s aura holding them back. Rarity was fuming, Pinkie Pie was complaining and wildly flailing her forelegs in the air, Fluttershy just stood shock still, and Applejack and Rainbow Dash--red in their faces, the latter hovering in the air, were throwing out very colorful phrases that would put any sailor to shame.
Pendulum exhumed a triumphant sigh, magically unscrewing the jar of baby food and levitating a spoon over to feed Chenoa. Sure, he just destroyed evidence in front of a princess, with her friends as witnesses, but he cannot be condemned without physical evidence to actually PROVE anything. Not when he had the best lawyers money could buy. At least, that was his thinking.
“You cannot arrest me if you ‘ave noo evidence.”
“AH’M GOING TO HURT YOU AND HURT YOU AND HURT YOU!!” Applejack bellowed while Rainbow Dash spouted out more obscenities.
“Rainbow Dash, Applejack, calm down!” Twilight Sparkle shouted, reeling them both in with her magic. Grunting, she cast a sharp glare at the stallion with an expression that if looks could kill he would’ve been stone dead before he could fall over. “You’re not going to get away with this!”
Pendulum didn’t respond at first, being occupied with spoon feeding the small griffon. His smile returned as a thought crossed his mind. The chick really did love the yellow-furred pegasus and it would be cruel to keep them apart. Plus, he valued her knowledge of animals and she possibly could be more effective in controlling Smokey than him. Twisting his neck to gaze back at the mares, he opened his mouth to speak.
“I will give back the baby under oone coonditioon.”
“A condition?!” the apple farmer snarled.
“What is it?” Fluttershy almost immediately questioned. “Please, I’ll do anything! Just give me my baby back!”
“You, Miss Fluttershy,” he addressed the pegasus. “Take my ‘oof in marriage and travel Equestria with me.”
“WHAT?!” Rainbow Dash exploded, her face scrunching up in outrage as she turned her full attention to her fellow pegasus. “Fluttershy! You can’t marry this creep!”
“Yeah!” Applejack and Pinkie Pie agreed.
“Marry?” Rarity sniffed, as if she had stepped in Diamond Dog dung. Her anger at his suggestion for this was quite through the roof, and it was only now that she, like her farmer and rainbow-maned comrades, seemed ready to pound some literal sense into him.
“… Marry you…?” Fluttershy repeated, the shock clenching her heart. “But… that’s… that’s not fair!”
“Then I suppoose you’ll never see little Chenooa again after we leave. She’ll foorget you ever existed oover time,” he said as he fed the baby another spoonful of the mushy food, which she seemed to really enjoy.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Fluttershy hissed, whirling to Twilight Sparkle. “Twilight! Can’t you do something?! Can’t we go to the authorities and report a kidnapping?!”
“I’ve already goone to the authoorities and reported that this child was loose in the Everfree Foorest. They knoow she’s in prooper hooves noow,” the stallion cut in.
“We can,” Twilight Sparkle replied, choosing not to respond to Pendulum. “If you have the paperwork stating you’re the true, legitimate guardian of Chenoa.”
Silence was the reply the young princess received from her friend.
“… You… DID… fill out forms… didn’t you?”
“I…” Fluttershy began. “I… never submitted any forms. I never applied to actually--”
“Well, what’re we waiting for?” Applejack interrupted. “There’s gotta be an adoption center ‘round here! We can do that right now!”
“I hate to burst your bubble,” Rarity interjected. “But doesn’t an adoption process take at least six weeks?”
“I’ve already filled oout foorms,” said Pendulum, wiping a little bit of baby food off of Chenoa’s beak. “In that time, I’ll be her new guardian. Plus, the public woon’t take kindly to taking a child froom soomepoony who took ‘er in after finding ‘er oout in the wild and giving ‘er back to the mare who loost ‘er.”
“Why you…!” Rainbow Dash seethed, making an attempt to pounce at the stallion, only to be intercepted by the magic bubble of Twilight Sparkle.
“This is a travesty of justice,” the alicorn growled. “I will be looking into this and I will make sure I do what I can to stop this from--”
“I’ll do it,” came the voice of Fluttershy.
There was a pause as befuddlement descended upon the mares.
“… What did you say?” Rarity pressed.
“I’ll do it,” Fluttershy whispered, sounding defeated. Suffering, enraged, but defeated nonetheless. She glared at Pendulum with a deep, shaking anger--an expression that her friends could say that would actually be considered hateful was inscribed upon her visage. “But only on one condition, too.”
“And… what would that be?” Pendulum tentatively asked, surprised that she actually gave in.
“You let Smokey go free,” she said, tears in her eyes. “You go right down there this minute, you… you… snap him out of what spell you have him under, you get those chains off him and you let him walk free. It’s me or him, Pendulum. I won’t let you have both of us.”
The stallion hesitated. Set him free? Maybe he… No. He shook his head. He couldn’t do that. He was the main draw of his circus. Where would the future of his employees be when his rare animals died from old age and his fortune somehow was lost? How would they survive? Would they survive? Dragons lived for many generations. With him as a permanent attraction, he was certain they would be secure for many years to come.
“Noo cann do, darling. ‘e’s my main attractioon.” The stallion shook his head again. “Besides, you’re in noo poositioon to be making demands.”
Fluttershy trembled with barely suppressed rage.
“You’re… an evil… evil pony…” she breathed with contempt.
This struck Pendulum hard. All acts that would be considered evil really began after he met Smokey. At least his employees didn’t think of him in such a manner, he mentally reassured himself as he resumed feeding Chenoa.
“Oonce you get to knoow me, you’ll think ootherwise. After all, we’re getting married. You’ll ‘ave plenty oof time to get to knoow me.”
“This is ridiculous!” Twilight Sparkle exclaimed. “I’m getting SICK of your attitude, Pendulum! You’re seriously pushing my buttons here. Do you have ANY idea who you’re dealing with?!”
“Equestria’s newest princess and oour coountry’s herooes. Oof course I knoow,” he replied, not even looking back at them.
“Twilight, please!” Fluttershy spoke up, placing a hoof upon her shoulder. “Stop! Think about this! What would Princess Celestia say if she were here??”
Twilight Sparkle opened her mouth to argue with the stallion, but slowly closed it. Without saying anything else, she merely turned around.
“Wait… Twilight, where--Are we givin’ up just like that?!” Applejack sputtered.
“No,” she responded, directing herself to the doorway. “Not by a long shot.”
“But where are you going?” Fluttershy queried.
“To the authorities to do what I do best. To do some research!” The mare spun back around, facing Pendulum. “You and your caravan are to remain here until I say otherwise, that’s a royal order!”
“You are oonly wasting your time, Princess Twilight. The poolice already knoow little Chenooa and Smookey are ‘ere. I repoorted them.”
‘And made a generoous doonatioon to the families oof the members oof their staff who ‘ad been wounded oor killed oon the joob,’ he mentally added.
Twilight Sparkle ignored him, hopped out of the car, and walked off with her friends at her heels.
“Twilight…” Fluttershy piped up. “Twilight, what are we going to do?”
“We’ll think of something,” she replied. “We’ll… Why… why don’t we go see this show, anyway? Maybe something will come to us there.”
Rainbow Dash pumped her wings faster to speed up enough to position herself above the princess, a devious glint in her eyes.
“Maybe we can spring Smokey later tonight.”
Coming to a cessation, Twilight Sparkle turned to the cyan pegasus, narrowing her eyes.
“Rainbow Dash, I’m shocked and appalled at you. What you’re suggesting is nothing short of criminalizing. It’s dastardly, it’s underhooved, and it’s absolutely petty.” There was a brief elapse. “I know you want to help… and, if circumstances were different, I’d be inclined to agree, but… we can’t risk this, without being possibly branded criminals ourselves.”
“But yer a princess, ain’tcha?” Applejack butted in. “Couldn’t ya just, Ah dunno, give Pendulum a royal order to surrender Smokey over to yer custody for the safety of Equestria?”
“And Chenoa?” Twilight Sparkle countered. “What about her?”
“Can’t you order him to give her up, too?” the sky blue pegasus pressed, even more distraught.
“His paperwork is in order. And, well, Fluttershy… I’m sorry, I know you have an affinity with animals and you trust Angel completely… but leaving a defenseless child in the care of a bunny WAS a pretty boneheaded thing to do.”
Fluttershy felt, and looked, as if Twilight Sparkle had just punched her in the gut. Her entire world was being torn into shreds…
“I very well could… but to do so would be rather… well, I’m afraid that would react fairly poorly, especially when viewed from a cut-and-dry perspective. He’s well within his rights. Legally, there’s really nothing I can do without arousing suspicion.”
“BUCK suspicion!!” Applejack snapped. “We’re doing what’s RIGHT!”
“No,” Fluttershy sighed. “… She’s… They’re right. I should’ve put in the forms sooner. And I should’ve waited for the Cakes to come home. Perhaps… perhaps I don’t deserve to have her, but I refuse to let that… that… evil excuse of a pony take my daughter away from me!”
“Darling, you seriously can’t be--” Rarity began, but was cut off.
“What would you have me do?!” the pegasus yelled, causing the alabaster unicorn to take a step back in astonishment. “Give up my BABY?! No, I don’t want to do that! I don’t WANT to marry Pendulum, but at LEAST this way I can make sure Chenoa still has me in her life AND I can still…” Her voice faltered, beginning to crack. “I can still… get to see Smokey…”
“But, Fluttershy!” Rainbow Dash interjected. “We can’t split up!”
Fluttershy heavily exhaled on a forlorn sigh.
“… Would… No, I don’t want to do that, either… I really don’t have a choice, girls. I… I’m sorry!”
“What if Equestria’s in trouble again? We can’t save Equestria without you!” the rainbow-haired equine attempted to reason.
“Then what WOULD you HAVE me DO, Rainbow Dash?!” Fluttershy raised her voice again. “I am NOT leaving my CHILD!”
“What’s more important? Chenoa or the fate of Equestria?”
Applejack let out a sigh.
“I agree with Fluttershy!” Pinkie Pie spoke up. “You don’t know what she feels like!”
“And you do?” Rarity scoffed.
“That baby is her life!” the pink mare protested. “She’s acting like Mr. and Mrs. Cake when Pound and Pumpkin got lost one time! I’d feel the same way about Chenoa, I feel the same way about them!” She then turned to Applejack. “YOU’D feel the same way about Apple Bloom!”
“Yeh,” Applejack confirmed. “But Apple Bloom’s not a baby!”
“And the Cakes aren’t YOUR foals,” Rarity reminded.
“They’re just as good as!” Pinkie Pie retorted, incensed.
“But they’re not--” Rarity attempted to protest again, only to be silenced by Pinkie Pie’s glare. It was hard enough to argue with her under normal circumstances, and she wasn’t going to press her luck… especially if it involved getting physical. That job belonged to Applejack and Rainbow Dash.
Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes.
“Regardless of what Pinkie thinks, that still doesn’t solve our issue.”
“You can’t leave us,” Rainbow Dash said, growing even more agitated. “If Equestria falls into chaos again, think how safe it’ll be for Chenoa!”
A shudder coursed through Fluttershy, tears beginning to spear from her eyes. Sighing, Rarity sidled up to the mare to slip a foreleg around her shoulders and draw her into a comforting embrace.
“Don’t cry, Fluttershy, we’ll think of something. Let’s… let’s go get something to eat,” the fashionista recommended.
“Let’s catch the show, too!” Pinkie Pie suggested. “We can eat popcorn and watch the acrobats and the trapeze artists--”
“I can see Smokey,” Fluttershy realized. “… Yes. Why don’t we?”
Applejack was not too certain about this idea.
“Ah… Ah’m… Ah’m not sure that’s such a good idea, darlin’… Maybe--”
“I want to see Smokey,” the pale yellow mare said firmly, voice breaking. “I don’t care what Pendulum did to him, I…”
“Shhh, darling,” Rarity crooned, nuzzling the side of Fluttershy’s head. “Don’t you worry, we’ll go see the show.”
“Yeah! You look like you seriously need some cheering up!” Pinkie Pie commented, earning her a disapproving stare from Rarity for her bluntness.
Rainbow Dash sighed, her vexation dying down as she fluttered over to the tent to peer underneath it, observing that the stands reserved for the audience were filling up.
“We better get our seats fast. It looks like they can’t fit many more ponies.”
“All right, let’s go then,” Twilight Sparkle said, leading the group around the big top and over towards the main entrance. Issuing the ticket master standing at the front her warmest, friendliest smile, she levitated a coin purse from her saddlebag. “Six tickets, please.”
As she hovered the coin purse before her to pay, a question burned within her mind. While she could flex her royal authority, she didn’t want to overstep her boundaries. She wondered, vaguely, what Pendulum would request if she were to offer to compensate him for his animals…
“You got it!” the ticket master cheerfully chirped, wearing a jovial grin of his own as he retrieved the tickets. “Say… aren’t you Princess Twilight Sparkle?”
“Why, yes, I certainly am!” She offered a quick polite bow. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“The pleasure’s all mine! Please, enjoy the show!” he said as he handed over the tickets.
“We certainly will.”
Enveloping the tickets in her aura of magic, she bestowed each one to her friends as they made their way inside. Each mare giving the head stallion their ticket respectively, they were allowed inside. Twilight Sparkle took point and led them to empty spaces a few rows away from the front in the middle stands. Fluttershy sat next to the alicorn, with Rainbow Dash to her other side. Applejack seated herself behind her with Rarity to her left, behind Fluttershy, while Pinkie Pie was positioned behind Twilight Sparkle.
The show began with Pendulum in the spotlight, dead center to greet his guests and introduce the performers as they filed in, starting with the clowns.
Putting out his cigarette, the lead clown dubbed Chuckles--though his expression appeared anything but happy until he forced a wide grin--led Stormy Skies and Terra Cotta into the ring to begin their routine.