Chapter Seventy-Eight: Crimes Against a Mother
Slipping underneath the tent, Fluttershy exhumed a forlorn sigh. Closing her eyes, she made a move to begin her hunt for Pendulum when…
“Wait.” She paused in mid-step, her attention shifting to the filly at her side. “I said if we found any sign of Smokey to contact the others…”
She cast a cursory glance at her surroundings, wondering where the others had gone to search. The mare wasn’t even sure of what to even use as a signal--and instead decided to head back to where they agreed to meet up in an hour’s time.
Having swept through the vicinity of their chosen spots, Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash were congregated at their designated meeting place.
“I looked back there ten times, but I didn’t find him!” Rainbow Dash complained, crossing her forelegs over her chest as she sulked.
“I looked through all the concessions and I didn’t find him either!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed and gobbled down a bag of popcorn in a single gulp.
“Ah didn’t see ‘im by the freak show,” Applejack followed. “And Ah could’ve sworn he would’ve been there.”
“I tried taking a gander around the employees’ section, but I didn’t find anything,” Rarity contributed with a distained sigh.
“I checked the big top again,” Twilight Sparkle spoke up. “I would’ve thought he’d have been the center of attention right away!”
“… I did find him,” Fluttershy barely uttered.
“Whaaa?” Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Rarity said in unison as they, and the remaining mares fixated their attention upon the yellow mare.
“You did?! Where is he?” the lavender alicorn ventured.
“Over with the animals. The ‘dangerous’ ones,” the demure pegasus replied, motioning her wing to the space at her side. “I was helped by this little girl.”
“What little girl?” Applejack queried, arching a brow in confusion.
Matching the farmer’s befuddlement, Fluttershy dropped her gaze to where she expected Terra Cotta to be--only to find that she wasn’t there. Turning her vision behind her, she found the filly slightly poking her head out from underneath the tent. Giving a sigh and a soft smile, she patted the earth next to her with a hoof.
“There, there… It’s all right. These are my friends!”
Terra Cotta emerged… however, she was now carrying what appeared to be a sketch pad that Fluttershy hadn’t seen her carrying before. The mares watched intently as the child came closer, each wondering what she had with her.
“What’s that?” the prism-maned equine inquired.
The filly, gazing up at Rainbow Dash, tossed the sketchbook to the ground and began flipping through the pages--passing over most of the pictures she had drawn and stopped at the ones featuring Smokey. She showed them the first drawing of the dragon looking incredibly upset, bound tightly in chains. Though they were mere drawings, Fluttershy found herself imagining that was truly him--the real Smokey--captured in crayon on the bound parchment, imprisoned, heart rent in twain by grief.
Terra Cotta flipped a page ahead to show a drawing of Pendulum hypnotizing Smokey, the reptilian falling under his mind-altering power. Twilight Sparkle and Rarity found their breaths taken as the dragon’s eyes, once shimmering with life and a bright inner light went dull and glassy. The horror of the brainwashing left the group speechless, but the next drawing emitted a gasp from the lavender-pelted princess.
“Is… Oh my. Oh, stars above…” Twilight Sparkle moaned.
Fluttershy scanned the picture, and, upon acknowledging what was on it, found her own grief doubling tenfold and she doubled over as if she were about to lose her lunch. The picture of Pendulum striking… whipping Smokey was too much for her to bear. Pinkie Pie and Rarity were aghast. Twilight Sparkle appeared to be in a state of disbelief.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash, however, were beside themselves in sheer outrage.
“Why that dirty, double-crossing, low-down SNAKE IN THE GRASS!!!” Applejack hollered, throwing her hat to the earth. “Oooh, when Ah git mah hooves oh him Ah’m gonna BUCK HIS KEISTER UP!! Ooooooh, Ah’m just so spittin’--ARGH!!”
To emphasize her anger, she reared back to smash a nearby crate into splinters, ultimately causing Terra Cotta to cry out in terror and duck behind Fluttershy. Gritting her teeth, the orange-coated mare turned to the filly.
“Where is he?!” she all but shouted. “Where is that yellow-bellied, lying, cheating, cowardly, no-good son of a bi--”
“Applejack, APPLEJACK!” Twilight cried. “Calm down!”
“C’mon, kid! Show us where he is so we can rough him up!” the rainbow-maned equine snorted, grinding her front hooves together as her bright magenta eyes burned with rage.
Terra Cotta shivered, her eyes wide and filled with fear. Whirling around, she galloped away--wanting to get far away from the raging mares.
“Hey, wait!” Rainbow Dash extended a hoof into the child’s direction, but dropped it once she was out of view. “Dang! We gotta go after her if we’re gonna find Pendulum!”
“Ah agree!” Applejack said and proceeded to pursue, but paused at a tug on her tail. Turning her gaze over he shoulder, she cocked a brow in surprise to see Fluttershy holding the end of her tail in her mouth.
“Wait!” Fluttershy said, dropping the blonde farmer’s tail. “Didn’t you see you scared her?? Let me go after her.”
“I’ll come with you, darling!” Rarity volunteered. “The poor dear looked positively terrified!”
“Oooh! Let me come, too! I’m great with kids!” Pinkie Pie squealed, bouncing after the two mares.
As the three of them pursued Terra Cotta, Applejack transferred her attention to Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash.
“I guess we wait,” replied Rainbow Dash, pushing out a heavy sigh.
The pegasus, unicorn, and earth pony chased the child across the grounds towards one of the other tents. There were various artists and entertainers--mainly the trapeze duo, the acrobats, and a burly, bearded equine who appeared to be preparing and warming up for feats of strength and skill. Terra Cotta, sobbing, made a direct line for the closest pony--who just happened to be the muscular strong-pony. Coming to a stoppage, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie surveyed the individual, processing the fact that he was even larger than the elder brothers of Applejack and Twilight Sparkle.
“Oh! Um. Excuse us, sir…” the pegasus meekly addressed the bulky pony.
Eyes narrowing in an offended glare, the muscular pony huffed directly at the yellow pony.
“I’m a mare,” she gruffed in a deep, rough, and masculine voice that sounded unfitting for a female.
The sudden shock and bewilderment at this revelation caused all three jaws to drop in unison. Recovering swiftly, Rarity swooped in front of the other two.
“Oh, forgive us, madam! Truly we’re very sorry! We didn’t mean to offend. We’re looking for a young filly who came in here. You haven’t seen her, have you?”
“I thought we were looking for Pendulum,” Pinkie Pie interjected with a confused note in her voice.
The still offended mare stepped aside to reveal Terra Cotta curled up into a ball. Glancing down at her, then to the three mares, she arched her brow in curiosity.
“What did ya need her for?”
“Well, um… we were hoping… she could lead us to Mr. Pendulum,” Fluttershy timidly explained.
“But since you obviously work here as well,” Rarity cut in, “There’s no real reason to bother the poor sweetheart, is there? We wanted to… talk to Mr. Pendulum, you see. You wouldn’t happen to know where he is?”
“All right, c’mon,” she instructed as she trotted towards the exit. As soon as Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash came into view, she glanced back at the strangers at her heels. “Friends of yours?”
“Yes,” Fluttershy affirmed.
“Whoa, nelly,” Applejack spoke up. “Yew look familiar. Is… ain’t that th’ strong-pony?”
“Yup, yup, yup! She’s gonna take us to Pendulum!” Pinkie Pie informed with a wide berth.
Applejack blinked in befuddlement at a certain word the pink mare uttered, staring at the larger pony’s hulky build and the rather luxurious beard.
Rainbow Dash, too, was stunned that this largely-built equine was female, but chose to say nothing.
“Yeah, ‘she’,” the muscular pony snorted. “I ain’t the only mare who has facial hair. It’s a hormonal imbalance.”
“Well, erm, it’s not so much the facial hair…” Applejack started--though, was silenced by a kick to her hindquarters by Rarity, who followed it up with a sharp leer.
“Very well. Thank you for your assistance, miss,” Twilight Sparkle said graciously, accompanied with a warm smile. “Please, if you wouldn’t mind escorting us--we just have some questions for him.”
“Hmph… Make it fast, we got a show starting soon,” she said, as the other three mares fell into step. Nodding to a few other ponies they passed, acknowledged them with a small smile. Before long, they came to a separate car and the mare ceased several feet from it. “That’s where Mr. Pendulum is.”
“Thank you, miss.” Twilight Sparkle issued a smile as the bearded mare left them. Once she was out of view, she addressed her five friends as she mentally prepared herself to the imminent confrontation. “All right. Now all we need to do is knock politely and--”
“PENDULUM!!” Applejack roared. “GIT OUT HERE, YEW TWISTED, BAMBOOZLING SACK OF MANURE!!”
“Or we could just do that…” sighed the lavender alicorn.
“YEAH!! GET YOUR TAIL OUT HERE SO WE CAN KICK IT!!” Rainbow Dash contributed, blowing harshly out of her nostrils.
Seconds later, the door to the car slowly opened to reveal Pendulum holding a familiar baby griffon in a single foreleg.
“May I ‘elp you?”
Fluttershy stepped forth.
“Excuse us, but we wanted--” She paused, her eyes fixating themselves upon the child as recognition fell upon her. “… Chenoa? What in Equestria is SHE doing HERE??”
“Oone oof my emplooyees foound ‘er in the Everfree Foorest,” the stallion answered, gazing down at the calm chick with a warm smile.
“Give her back!” the cyan pegasus demanded.
“Why? You loost ‘er. She was ‘elplessly wandering in the wild where she could ‘ave easily found ‘erself in danger.”
Flutteshy grit her teeth. Her eyes narrowed, a frighteningly familiar surge of anger she hadn’t felt in a long while began to build up in her core. It was one thing to kidnap her friend, it was another thing to beat him, but knowing that he also had her daughter in his slimy hold…
Without fully realizing what she was doing, her anger briefly occluding her judgment, she turned the full power of her Stare directly at him.
“Give. Me. My. Baby,” she ordered him.
A wave of discomfiture crashed over Pendulum as he stared into those rage-laden eyes. The fact that such a seemingly demure pony could even possess such inner strength was pushing him closer to caving in and handing over the baby. Before he could, he ripped his vision from her and directed himself further into his car towards a table where a jar of expensive-looking baby food sat.
“I doon’t think soo,” he waveringly said, trying ever so hard to mask just how much he had been perturbed. “If you’ll excuse me… I was aboout to feed the wee oone.”
Chenoa was absolutely quiet in Pendulum’s foreleg, unafraid of the pony holding her. In fact, she seemed content. This surprised Fluttershy--alarmed, actually.
“You hypnotized her…” she murmured, almost under her breath. “Just like you hypnotized Smokey…”
The stallion was shocked that Fluttershy found out that he cast a spell upon the dragon. However, she was wrong about Chenoa. He had done nothing to her but feed her, change her diapers, play with her, and show her off to his audiences since she seemed to love the attention.
He chuckled as he turned around to face the mares.
“I ‘aven’t doone anything to ‘er but care foor ‘er.”
Grinning at the yellow pegasus, the white chick squealed.
“Chenoa! Sweetie!” Without warning, the pegasus darted into the car, her forelegs stretched out as if to take her. “Come to Mommy, honey!”
Pendulum cocked a brow, half-turning to retain some distance between Fluttershy and Chenoa.
“You call yourself a moom after letting this child get away?”
“And you dare to think you’re any better?” Rarity challenged. “At least Fluttershy left Chenoa in the care of a professional babysitter! It wasn’t her fault he or she didn’t do their job properly!”
This struck Fluttershy hard, causing the rosy-maned mare to shrink back. As the unicorn shifted her attention to her friend, she took notice of this.
“… You… DID… leave Chenoa in the proper care of somepony responsible… didn’t you, darling?”
“I… had left her with Angel. She was sleeping when we left… He assured me he had everything handled until the Cakes got there!” Fluttershy defensively replied.
“Well, I fed ‘er, gave ‘er a place to sleep, changed ‘er diapers myself, kept my eye on ‘er,” he stated as he turned back to the table.
Fluttershy sniffled with a hard stare, mentally berating and questioning herself why she didn’t wait for the Cakes… She had been so worried about losing Smokey, that she was certain Chenoa would be fine with Angel until they eventually DID return home and find her note… That, and the rabbit had been showing that he was growing more and more capable, and was convinced that nothing would go wrong.
“He’s right… I should have waited for the Cakes. Or brought her with us, or--”
“Don’t beat yourself up about it, sugarcube,” Applejack cut in. “He’s just lying through his teeth! Ah bet he kidnapped yer baby while yew were out and is just playin’ ya like a harp!”
“Yeah, you big meanie mean-pants! Give Chenoa back right now!” Pinkie Pie hissed.
“I am noot lying. Just ask any oone oof my employees. They’ll tell you the same thing,” he assured, setting Chenoa down on the table and reaching for the baby food.
“Grrr…” the farmer growled. “This yellowbellied snake’s smarmy attitude is really getting on my nerves. Twilight, can’t you do anything about this?!”
Twilight Sparkle snorted, pushing past her friends.
“Regardless of how you got Chenoa into your… temporary custody, we want some answers.” Levitating the sketchbook, she opened it in front of Pendulum. “What is all this about?! I demand an explanation at once!”
Pendulum’s eyes snapped open wide at the drawing of Smokey, his stomach clenching and his breast brimming with remorse. With every second he remained silent, he realized he was digging himself in deeper. Clearing his throat, he put on his best composed visage.
“Soometimes you ‘ave to resoort to… moore roough treatment to tame a wild creature," he replied, masking his shock and regret as he scanned the remaining drawings. He knew they wouldn’t buy it, but it was the best he could think of, and likely would be thinking of better explanations he could have used later.
Like Pendulum had predicted, the mares weren’t convinced.
“Horse apples,” Twilight Sparkle said. Magiking out the handkerchief that had been tested, she also threw it before the stallion. “We had this tested and found the blood on this is from a fish. You were never bitten at all!”
She narrowed her eyes.
“You convinced a docile, completely innocent citizen of biting you, proceeded to imprison him, brainwashed him, and physically abused him! Pendulum, you have better give me one good reason why I shouldn’t arrest you right here and now.”
A panic shot through Pendulum, but kept his facial expression the same as if he wasn’t in the least bit fazed. Without even thinking, he picked up the cloth with his magic… and tossed it right into the built-in fireplace where the hungry flames proceeded to burn it.
“… Y… you ‘ave noothing against me.”