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Cherilee's Garden

The entire theatre complex was abuzz with the voices of a hundred excited ponies, as Cheerilee peeked out carefully from behind the curtains hiding the stage. She saw rows upon rows of ponies sitting in the stands or moving between them, talking to each other as they waited or tried to make one last trip to get some food and beverages before the show. She glanced quickly to the left, and saw that the musicians had already set up in the orchestra pits in front of the stage. They’d only be needed for a few scenes, but Cheerilee was still glad to have them.

Seeing such a big crowd gathered there made her a bit nervous, even though this had all been her idea. Almost all of the seats were taken, and Cheerilee knew there were barely enough to accommodate the entire population of Ponyville. The show would be subjected to the scrutiny of a great many pony eyes indeed.

She retreated back behind the curtains, hoping nobody had seen her. She felt that would somehow be unprofessional. Everything seemed to be in order as she inspected the stage for the last time. All the props and the equipment were beautifully made, straight from the hooves of the masters. Cheerilee had only needed to tell them what she needed, and they had provided it without any questions, even though certain items had seemed unnecessary. After all, they didn’t know what she had in mind for this night, while she did. She was quite sure some of their props would make even a professional theater jealous!

The stage was divided into sections, each denoting its supposed location. This way, they didn’t need time or backstage ponies to change the decor after each act, cutting down on the time needed for scene changes. Cheerilee was a big fan of this system as it meant there was one less thing for her to worry about.

She turned back and headed for stage left where her students were busy getting all dressed up. It was a total chaos, with bits and pieces of costumes scattered across the room, as if they were sprinkles on a cupcake. At the centre of this mess were the Cutie Mark Crusaders, as Cheerilee had come to expect. The fact none of them had sprouted a “making trouble”-Cutie Mark yet surprised her more each and every day.

“Hey, that’s my helmet,” Scootaloo told Sweetie Belle accusingly. “Yours is way over there!”

“No, it sure isn’t!” she replied as she lifted the knightly helmet off of her head and held it out for Scootaloo to inspect. “This one has a hole for my horn, see?”

“Are ya’ll sure it ain’t mah helmet?” Apple Bloom interjected as she scratched her head.

“The king wears a crown!” the other two snapped back.

Cheerilee sighed as she quickly threw a glance at her other students. Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara seemed to progress orderly, if slowly, mainly due to how they constantly flourished and admired each other after every article of clothing they put on, and after every single brush of their mane. Snips was, to her great surprise, ready and waiting. The fact that Snails was backstage on tech duty might have had something to do with that, she mused.

She remained confident that they would make it in time, as she had had the great foresight to start them all on preparations much earlier than anypony would have thought necessary. She had come to know this little group throughout the months, and she was prepared for almost anything. Nothing could possibly go wrong today, she had put too much planning and work into all of it to see it fail now. She smiled as she envisioned the peace, quiet, tranquillity and relief she’d feel when this was all over.

“All right students,” she chimed, “Let me just run you through the steps one last time.”

There was much groaning to be heard across the room, but Cheerilee wasn’t taking any chances with this bunch.

“If you still have a part to play, but aren’t needed on set, come back here. If your role is all played out, exit the stage on the other side. You’ll be able to watch the rest of the play from there. That is, if you didn’t see it enough already,” she paused for a moment to ascertain everypony was still listening, and they all nodded.

“If you forget your lines, just improvise or pick up from the point in the script you do recall. If the pony you’re playing with skips some of your lines, don’t try to correct them. Remember, we may notice if somepony doesn’t follow the script, but the audience won’t as long as you keep the dialogue flowing.”

The fillies and Snips nodded again, and Cheerilee smiled at them.

“Good, now get ready. I have to see to the opening of the show, so be ready and on set in no more than ten minutes.”

She walked away as the young ponies got back to it, and Cheerilee thought they seemed to quarrel and delay slightly less this time, though that was probably just her imagination.

The last one she had to check up on was Snails, whom she put backstage due to his absolute inability to do even the most basic of acting; all he’d have to do there was listen for certain cues and then carry out one specific action. She had even written all of that down on a list that was easy enough to follow - even for him. Up to this point he’d done okay during their practices, but you never knew.

She gave him a few reminders, and he reassured her that he wouldn’t let her down - all the while wearing that idiot grin of his. Cheerilee sighed as she went back to the main stage, resigned to the fact that she’d have to leave this one up to fate.

She was pleased to see the other ponies already gathered and in position when she got there, all of them sitting around a U-shaped table, the open end of the table pointing in the direction of the crowd. Apple Bloom was dressed up as someone of royal descent: a shining crown on her head and a regal mantle flowing down from her shoulders. To her right were the remaining two Cutie Mark Crusaders, both dressed in exaggerated versions of knightly armour. Sweetie Belle’s was coloured as white as her own coat, while Scootaloo’s was a bright red. Considering this glaring difference in colour, Cheerilee wondered how they could possibly mistake each other’s helmet for their own, anyway.

Compared to the two ponies on the other side of the table, they looked heroic and chivalrous - which was exactly the idea. Silver Spoon’s costume was pitch black, while Diamond Tiara’s was a deep purple. The style of their costumes was likewise different from the two knights; they both wore something more akin to a courtier’s dress or a diplomat's gown than a warrior's armour. Mean looks were being exchanged all over the table, and Cheerilee couldn’t decide if they were genuinely trying to get into character, or if the natural animosity of the CMC towards the other two fillies was at work here. The only acting pony who wasn’t on set yet was Snips, but then again he wasn’t even in the next scene.

Cheerilee walked over to the left side of the stage and held the curtain aside for herself. The leader of the orchestra immediately spotted her as she emerged next to him, and raised an eyebrow questioningly. She nodded at him and he nodded back, turning his attention towards the musicians - most of whom were friends or family of the actors. Cheerilee slipped back behind the curtains, as she heard the first soft notes float through the air. By the time she was back in the centre of the stage the music had increased in volume and could be heard all throughout the theatre, the conversations slowly dying down as everypony took to their seats.

Cheerilee looked up to see Snails - thankfully in the right spot between the stage lights - waving at her sheepishly. The ushers took their cue from the music, and slowly the lights in the theatre hall died down. The pace of the music increased and the feeling of anticipation intensified, until, suddenly, the curtains slid open a few feet, accompanied by the rolling of drums. She stepped forward past the curtains, as Snails turned on a spotlight and aimed it at her, bathing her in a circle of light as she moved. Despite the curtains being partially open the darkness behind Cheerilee revealed nothing to the audience. The music died down and Cheerilee’s voice took over, ringing out crystal clear throughout the enormous room due to the perfect acoustics.

“Fillies and gentlecolts, it is with great pride that my students and I welcome you to our very own play. They have all worked so hard on this over the past few months, and we hope you will enjoy it as much as we enjoy bringing it to you. Of one thing I am certain: this will be an evening you won’t soon forget,” Cheerilee smiled widely despite herself. Most of this was just the kind of opening she thought everypony would expect, but she was certain that last part would turn out to be all true.

“And now without further ado I am proud to introduce, performed in Ponyville for the first time ever: Reginald the Sly!”

The music exploded again during her last words as she disappeared behind the curtains, following them to the right side of the stage as they slid open behind her. The music died down once again as the spotlight was turned off and then the main stage lights turned on, slowly illuminating the scene.

Cheerilee could hear the play starting while she went down a set of stairs to get underneath the stage. The size of the stage itself was impressive, but the area underneath it was simply amazing. There was plenty of room to install all sorts of devices to spruce up any play, and the stage itself was thick and well-isolated enough that ponies could work down here without disturbing the actors on stage.

She had once started banging a metal pipe against some of the iron stage supports while her students were up on the stage to rehearse, just to see if they’d hear it. They hadn’t.

She made her way in-between the beams supporting the stage and the various props and gadgets that reached down from the stage, heading for the prompt corner. She finally arrived at a few wooden steps, which took her to a level half-way between the stage and the area underneath it, so that only her head peeked up above stage-level. From there she could watch the play from the same side as the audience, without actually being seen by the audience due to the way the prompt corner was built into the stage: from the audience’s point of view it just looked like a slightly raised box.

During some plays a “prompt” would sit here to feed actors their lines if they forgot them, but the dialogue in this one wasn’t overly complicated, and they had never rehearsed with the possibility of a prompt in mind. Cheerilee didn’t think any of them would even realise she was there.

She tried to pick up the thread of the play, since she had obviously missed some of it on her way there. They seemed slightly further along than Cheerilee had expected, but she didn’t know if this was because of them rushing or leaving something out, or if she had just been walking slower than she thought she had been.

She shook her head. It didn’t matter. This scene wasn’t important to her. A grin spread across her face as she sat and watched, and waited for a scene that was.

Apple Bloom slammed her hoof on the table as she dramatically looked first to the left of the table, then to the right.

“All of this is meaningless. We still have to put a stop to this Reginald the Sly, and ah don’t care who does it, or how,” she said, trying her best to keep most of her accent out of her acting. She was perhaps the one with the biggest grasp of the script, simply because she found it easier by far to distance herself from her accent if she stuck purely to her lines. As soon as she drifted from them even a bit, it was all over and the accent was back and in full swing. It sounded very odd out of the mouth of a king, to be sure.

“But my king, I maintain that violence is not the answer,” Silver Spoon declared. “If you would just let your royal advisor and I work on a diplomatic solution, then I am sure that -”

“No!” the king cut her short. “Do you think ah know not what goes on when ah have my back turned? The two of you will stay right here. Sir Lance-a-lot the Brave, ah entrust this task to you. Find this villain and bring him back here, so he may face my judgement,” she decreed as she leaned forward over the table, pointing her hoof at Scootaloo before banging it on the table again.

“Just leave it to me; I’ll bring him back kicking and screaming!” Scootaloo said as she raised a hoof enthusiastically, completely ignoring the script and the lines she should be using. Fortunately it came down to much the same thing, which was probably the only reason the fillies couldn’t hear Cheerilee grinding her teeth all the way out on stage.

Scootaloo got up from the table and bowed down before her king before taking a few steps away from the table and turning around.

The lights went out for a short moment, and when they got turned back on only Scootaloo was still on stage, the King’s table was completely deserted and less lighting was focused on that area than before. In addition to this, Scootaloo was now carrying a white lance around with her, holding it under one of her wings.

The brave knight started walking across the stage, taking roundabout routes around some set props and pieces of decor.

“These are the Wildlands, there is no doubt. So where could that weaselly Reginald be? I heard he’s sly as a fox, and true as that may be, he’ll never outwit the likes of me.”

Speaking thusly Sir Lance-a-lot came up to a part of the stage that quite obviously represented a mountain with a mine entrance leading into it. The backdrop of the decor served as the mountain while the shallow mine entrance was more of a little building on stage, and expertly made.

Suddenly a small hooded figure emerged on the scene, wearing black robes. His face was hidden by the hood, but anyone could deduce it was Snips based on his height and a simple process of elimination.

The new arrival casually strolled down the same path Sir Lance-a-lot was currently utilizing, and it wasn’t long before they crossed paths in front of the mine itself.

“Halt! By order of the king I, Sc- ehem- Sir Lance-a-lot have come to put an end to Reginald the Sly. Are you he?” Scootaloo said perhaps louder than was necessary even during a play.

“Oh no, noble knight. I am but a simple hermit, living in the mountains yonder,” the robed figure replied as he motioned towards the mountains in the distance.

Scootaloo scoffed at this and raised her chin. “A little thing such as you would indeed not have been much of a challenge. You look like you can hardly stand upright during a gentle summer breeze. Now tell me quick, simple soul, if I wish to find this Reginald, where should I go?”

“Ah, you are indeed fortunate, sir knight. The villain you seek has his lair in this very cave,” the little robed pony motioned at the mine entrance with a nod of his head.

“In there, you’re sure of this?” the brave knight asked as she peered inside.

“Of course, would I lie? You might have to leave your lance behind though, a lot of narrow passages down there.”

The filly threw the stranger a few scrutinizing glances, then looked straight at the audience and shrugged. She placed her lance against the rocks outside and approached the entrance. “If I don’t find him in there I’m coming back here to kick your flank!” Scootaloo said, again interpreting the script liberally before heading inside.

As soon as she stepped into the darkness Snips sprang into motion and pulled a rock away to reveal an old-fashioned lever hidden there, not unlike those used to change the direction of train tracks.

“Hey! It’s a dead end in here. What are you playing at?” Scootaloo’s voice came echoing from inside of the mine.

Upon hearing this Snips pulled the lever into a neutral position, and at once a metal gate slammed shut over the entrance to the mine. Scootaloo’s helmed head reappeared in the light as she looked at the metal bars in front of her with fake astonishment, shaking them violently with her hooves. “What is this trickery? Let me out right this instant, or the justice of King Goldencrow shall come down upon your head, be whomever you may!”

The hooded pony let out a diabolical laugh as he approached the metal gate, standing next to it as he addressed the knight, so that he may still roughly be facing the audience as well.

“Be whoever I may? Why, you’re thicker than I thought, you righteous foal. It is of course I, Reginald the Sly,” Snips announced as he drew back the hood to reveal himself.

“Did you think I would not expect one of you to come here eventually, or that I would not recognise the ‘Great’ Sir Lance-a-lot, bravest of all the knights in the realm, when she arrived upon my doorstep? It is your courage that shall now be your undoing,” he continued, followed by more laughter.

Sir Lance-a-lot shook the metal gate some more, and tried to lift it up, but she could not. “You devil! You heathen, you dishonourable wretch! When I get out of here, it’ll be off with your head!”

Reginald the Sly paused for a moment as he put both his hooves on the lever once more. “Then it’s fortunate” he said menacingly, “that you will never get out of there, ever again.”

He pulled down, and suddenly a great rumbling could be heard throughout the theater as the orchestra kicked in with an impressive display of percussive instruments.<

Sir Lance-a-lot, much like the audience, recoiled and looked around fearfully, taking a few steps backwards into the mine and thus disappearing out of sight.

Suddenly there was a loud crash, as a cloud of smoke or dust erupted from the mine. Once it cleared out and the music died down, the audience could see the entrance of the cave again, but the opening behind the metal gate was now blocked by what appeared to be a wall of stone and rubble.

Snips simply took the lance the knight had left behind between his teeth and walked off, as the stage lights gradually died down and the curtains closed.

The audience remained silent for a moment, surprised by the sudden development but then suddenly started talking amongst themselves about the events of the play so far. The only one who seemed to have anything bad to say about it was Rainbow Dash, who thought it was pure folly to kill off the character of the “most talented actor in the group” so soon.

Cheerilee left her place in the prompt’s corner and went back under the stage. She headed in the direction of a faint banging noise, towards the part directly under the mine.

She couldn’t help smiling at the thought that everything she had worked for all these months was finally about to pay off, and memories of how it all started involuntarily flooded her mind.

“And that’s how Equestria was made,” Cheerilee concluded her little history lesson. She turned away from the blackboard to face the class, and was at once struck by how eerily unfamiliar this scene still was.

Ever since the board had decided to change up the groups and put her in charge of the fillies and foals who needed some ‘extra attention’, things had been taking a turn for the worst. She was used to seeing students off at the end of the year and welcoming new ones back in the beginning of the next, of course. But despite that, getting a new group assigned to her out of the blue just didn’t feel quite right.

Especially not this group, Cheerilee thought as she gritted her teeth in pure frustration.

It became at once clear that no filly or foal in the room had actually been listening to a word she had said, as per usual. Instead Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were having a hushed conversation, while Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara seemed to be more inclined to admiring each other’s jewelry instead of concentrating on the lesson at hand.

In the back row, Snips and Snails were laughing at something that could only ever be amusing to the likes of them.

A smile suddenly crept onto Cheerilee’s face as she noticed there was, in fact, one single filly who seemed to be paying attention.

“Oh Apple Bloom? Would you mind explaining the importance of the day-night cycle to your less attentive classmates?” Cheerilee asked as cheerfully as she could manage.

To her great surprise and even greater annoyance, Apple Bloom seemed to veer up at the mention of her name, looking around the room somewhat panicky. “Oh… ummm…Yea, yea I s’pose ah can... ehhmmm... lessee here now...” Apple Bloom said as she scratched her head.

“Night an’ day are important... Because... Because if there were only one or th’other, either Luna or Celestia would be very sad,” she concluded with a smile, raising a hoof in a ‘That’s it, right?’ gesture.

Cheerilee gritted her teeth once again. Of course. The one filly who had been paying attention hadn’t understood a word she’d said.

As Cheerilee opened her mouth to formulate a chastising response, Scootaloo suddenly loudly interjected “That’s stupid! Really, who could ever come up with a reason as ridiculous as that?” she pointed a hoof towards Apple Bloom.

“Ah don’t see you comin’ up with a better answer either. Ah bet you don’t even know what you’re talking about!” Apple Bloom retorted just as loudly as she crossed her hooves in front of her chest.

“Oh yeah? Why did I get a better grade on that last test then?”

“We all know you cheated!” “Did not!” “Did so!” “Did NOT!” “DID SO! “DI-“

“GIRLS!” Cheerilee shouted. “This is neither the time nor the place to hold such pointless debates! You’re here to learn and pay attention. And that goes for all of you, yes you too Diamond Tiara, don’t look so surprised!”

She paused one moment as she met the gaze of every filly and foal in turn, as they were finally quiet for once. “I’d have thought the topic of today’s class would be exceedingly interesting to young ponies who, like you all, witnessed Princess Luna’s return, a major historical event that shed much light on our country’s history and origins.”

“Oh yeah!” Apple Bloom chimed in. “She was stuck on the moon for a thousand years, right?”

“The moon?” Scootaloo snorted. “That’s impossible. Not even Rainbow Dash could fly that high! Besides, what would she eat for a thousand years? The moon doesn’t exactly look grassy from where I’m standing.”

At this Apple Bloom remained uncharacteristically silent, as she pondered the question. “She could just eat cheese, right? The moon’s made of the stuff!”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes as she planted her own hoof against her forehead. “The moon is not made of cheese!” “Oh it is so!”

“Ehem,” came a more serene voice from beside the two as Sweetie Belle moved her head closer to the pair. “I’m sorry Apple Bloom, but I have to agree with Scootaloo here. The moon can’t be made out of cheese.”

By this point the other fillies and foals had pretty much reverted to their own activities again, as Cheerilee stood softly bumping her head into the blackboard, completely at a loss about what in the hay she could do to get through to these ponies.

She stopped doing so as she heard Sweetie Belle’s calm voice, and her ears roe up as she listened. Perhaps one of them, at least, had some sense in her yet!

“It can’t be made out of cheese,” Sweetie Belle stated confidently, “because if it was, Luna’d have eaten a huge hole in it by now.”

“Oh yeah!” Apple Bloom said as comprehension dawned in her eyes. “Ah s’pose that makes sense.”

“NO!” Cheerilee screamed as she turned around. “It does not! It does not make any sense at all! The moon isn’t made out of cheese because, ugh, you know what… Forget it. Class dismissed! You all have the rest of the day off. Go!” She pointed wildly at the door, not trusting herself to be able to keep calm in the company of these impossible foals and fillies for even a moment longer. She thought she might start breaking things if this went on.

All of the foals and fillies in the classroom quickly got up from their desks, nearly galloping for the door.

“What’s up with her?” Scootaloo asked as soon as they got out of the room, but when they were still well within earshot of Cheerilee.

“Meh, Ah dun’ even know” Apple Bloom said as she shrugged. They suddenly heard the tell-tale sound of glass shattering against something coming from the classroom behind them. They both looked back over their shoulder, then looked at each other, shrugged, and continued on their way.

Cheerilee paced up and down the length and width of her living room relentlessly. Pieces of splintered wood covered the floor, starting at where her table had been and trailing all the way into the kitchen, where you could just make out the rough outline of what had been one of the table’s legs. Shards of porcelain and hardened clay were sprinkled around, and the place just generally looked like a hurricane had swept through it. Or two.

Cheerilee stopped her pacing around for a moment, but only so she could aim a few well-placed kicks at the remaining pieces of furniture in the room. “Why?!? Why can’t I get these ponies to BEHAVE!” she screeched in frustration.

And this, in fact, lay at the very centre of the issue. Ever since she earned her Cutie mark, she had been able to bring out the best in ponies and watch them blossom, watch them grow. Yet here were a bunch of foals and fillies she’d been working on for over six months, and they hadn’t learned anything. Not a single thing!

It ate at her confidence and kept her up at night. She lay twisting and turning as she wondered if she was losing her edge, if she had lost her gift. She spend countless hours at the library Twilight Sparkle tended to, under the guise of looking for reading material that might interest her students. When Twilight noted she was looking at a lot of books covering the subject of Cutie Marks, Cheerilee told her she was interested in alleviating the concerns three of her pupils had, the self-proclaimed Cutie Mark Crusaders.

But this was not true; the real reason was the one question constantly on Cheerilee’s mind: Can a Cutie Mark be mistaken? Is it possible that I never was as good at teaching as I thought I was? That I simply had easy foals and fillies to work with before? Or if a Cutie Mark is accurate at the time it manifests, can it perhaps grow inaccurate over time?

These questions and many more like it slowly pushed Cheerilee down into the shadowy land of depression. She found her patience wearing increasingly thin and lost faith in herself more and more. She found it hard to get up each morning and harder still to bring herself to return to the classroom where she knew they would be waiting, to turn another day into a living hell.

For the last few nights she had been lying awake in bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what it would be like to just let it all go. At times like that she would sometimes tilt her head to look at the glimmering steel of the knife she had put on her nightstand, just in case she ever found the brief moment of courage she needed to, to…

Cheerilee walked over to the huge standing mirror in a corner of her living room, which surprisingly remained intact. She looked at the reflection of her Cutie Mark in the mirror. Those faces, those smiling faces seemed to laugh at her, mock her, belittle her for ever having had the audacity think that she was good at something, good at anything…

“NO!” Cheerilee yelled for the umpteenth time that day as she bucked her hind legs hard at the mirror, her hooves shattering it into a thousand pieces which joined the mess on the floor.

Cheerilee’s eyes twitched slightly as she panted and stared out of her window, into her wild and overgrown garden. Normally it’d be filled with beautiful flowers and neatly trimmed at this time of the year, but with her ever increasing moments of depression and lethargy, not to mention all the trips to the library, she had not been able to tend to her garden as well as she would have liked. Vines and weeds choked the budding flowers she had planted long before, suffocating them and slowly squeezing the life out of their growth.

She stared first at the garden and then at her Cutie Mark, before staring at the garden once more. And suddenly it all became clear to her, it all made sense. It was not that she wasn’t a good teacher, oh no! She had a gift, a great gift, she had always had it, and she hadn’t lost it. She would never lose it.

But her garden, her class… was overgrown by vines and weeds. Weeds that had to be purged from it, if flowers were ever to bloom again. Vines that had to be cut and removed at the root, if she were to take her responsibilities as a teacher seriously.

She quietly sat staring out of her window as night fell, the stars and the moon barely illuminating the darkness enough for her to see.

She thought about what she should do next, what she could do. She realized the plans she was making were for the best and would eventually “save” more lives than they would ruin. But some ponies, most notably the families of the weeds she had identified, might not look at this the same way. They wouldn’t be able to comprehend the truth of the matter in the way she did.

So she’d need to be subtle. She needed to be crafty. And yet, something inside of her didn’t want this all to go down quietly in the night.

She desired a show. She desired spectacle. She desired to show everyone in Ponyville once and for all what a great teacher she, Cheerilee, was and to show them she could deal with any problem that might occur during their fillies and foals’ education. Even if the filly or foal in question was the problem.

She struggled with these seemingly contradictory goals for a while, before finally receiving yet another epiphany, another glorious idea.

“I think…” she whispered quietly in the dark as she slowly grasped the knife from the nearby nightstand and held it up in the light of the moon. "It’s time for another school play..."

Suddenly she started giggling, all her fears, doubts and other dark emotions burst forth into a vortex of madness, as she snatched up a picture frame from the desk next to her. The picture it contained had been taken just earlier that month; it was the obligatory 'Teacher with Her Class' photograph they made every year. She took it out of the frame.

She then quickly lit one of the candles in the room, surprised that she still had one that wasn’t too broken. As the little flame lit up the room carefully held the picture in it. The flame burned brighter and started to consume the picture, licking at the hooves of the foals and fillies who’s image was captured on it. And for the first time in six months, Cheerilee just couldn’t stop smiling.

Scootaloo took a few steps backwards into the darkness and acted surprised preparing for the trapdoor to open underneath her.

She dropped down with great agility as the floor disappeared from underneath her and landed in a sort of metal cage a few feet lower. A cloud of dust was blown out of the mine entrance above her as a metal press came down to fill the mine and cover the entrance. Scootaloo knew that for the audience it wouldn’t look metallic at all, as they had decorated it on the outside with what would appear to be stones and rocks to them.

“Ow!” she grimaced as she landed, the bars on the bottom of the cage biting into her hooves. She looked down and frowned. There used to be a large piece of wood covering the bottom of the metal cage, but it was nowhere to be found. There was a great, round plastic tub underneath the cage, which Scootaloo couldn’t remember seeing before either.

Then again, she mused, if it was already there while the wooden platform was still here, she naturally wouldn’t have seen it.

She quickly tugged at a few key strings in her outfit with her teeth, undoing the knots in them one by one. Since these knots kept the entire thing together it wasn’t long before she could simply shake it off. It all looked very cool, but it sure was uncomfortable to move around in.

She could just leave the outfit in here for now. After all, she wasn’t able to go back to the dressing room until the show was over, and she sure wasn’t dragging it around with her.

She reached out for the cage door and attempted to push it open with her hoof, but to her great surprise it wouldn’t budge this time. She pushed against it for a while and then threw her shoulder into it, which she instantly regretted, but still it would not open.

Turning around she bucked her hind legs at the door in an attempt to force open the lock, but she may as well not have bothered. All she ended up doing was sending some banging noise echoing throughout the area.

“Dumb door! If I find out who locked this thing I’m going to...” she hissed in frustration, when suddenly Cheerilee emerged from the darkness, Scootaloo’s head about level with hers for once.

Cheerilee simply smiled at the filly as she approached the cage, not saying a single word.

“Miss Cheerilee! I wasn’t going to say anything bad, honest! Just that I’m going to be... very upset with the pony who locked the door, that’s all,” she said sheepishly. At least Cheerilee would probably be able to get her out of there.

The orange filly started to feel somewhat uncomfortable as her teacher just stood there unmoving, her features still obscured by the darkness that reigned supreme under the stage.

“Oh I get it! Haha! It was a joke! That’s great Miss Cheerilee; you obviously haven’t lost your touch for pranks yet! Now euh... could you please let me out?” the young filly asked pleadingly, not sure what to make of the mare’s strange behaviour.

Cheerilee nodded enthusiastically as she stepped forward and a wide toothy grin split her face.

Something about the look in her teacher’s eyes shocked Scootaloo deeply; it felt as if she saw nothing but hatred and contempt in those big, green globes. Cheerilee reached out for a lever on the wall and pulled it down slightly, and suddenly the mass of metal above Scootaloo’s head started to inch its way down toward her at a steady pace.

The little filly suddenly didn’t feel comfortable in the cage anymore, and she let out a little squeal of terror. “Wait! What’s going on, please stop! This isn’t funny anymore, Miss Cheerilee! I want to get out! Let me out!”

Cheerilee brought her face close to the cage to stare at Scootaloo, relishing in the terror she was inflicting upon one of the little monsters that had tormented her so. “I thought you wanted to get out of the cage? This’ll get you out, you little weed. Just watch.”

Scootaloo’s brave facade finally broke, as tears started streaming down her face. “No! You ca-can’t do th-this! Everypony will kn-know... th-they’ll find out! Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle will come look for me, and...”

“HAH!” Cheerilee interrupted the frantic filly as she burst into genuine laughter. “Ahahaha! You foal; those friends of yours are next. And as for the others... You let me worry about that, ok? You have different problems,” Cheerilee nodded up at the wall of iron still inching down. There was now less than half the original amount of space left between it and the bottom of the cage.

“NO!” the little filly screamed as she lifted her front legs above her head, pushing up against the metal threatening to crush her against the bottom of the cage. The press protested with some metallic screeching noises and shuddered for a moment, and then almost came to a complete halt.

With the machine pushing down on her and her pushing up to halt its progress, the pressure on the hooves that remained on the bottom bars of the cage was immense. She whimpered as the thin, rectangular metal strips slowly started to crack her hooves, but she didn’t dare move for fear of being crushed.

The machine did not relent and the cracks in her hooves grew wider and wider, making her pant with pain as Cheerilee stood and watched.

Finally she let out a scream as her hooves broke and the thin bars got driven up into her flesh, blood slowly starting to boil up around the metal and dripping down into the tub underneath. Scootaloo bit down onto her lip as she panted from the immense pain that washed over her when the blunt bars broke her skin, tearing and pulling at her flesh.

“Please... p-please...stop... please, I’ll... unghh... I’ll... be... good... I swear!” she managed to get out between the gasps for air and the cries of pain that otherwise escaped her mouth.

“Eight months, EIGHT MONTHS!” the mare suddenly screeched out in fury, abruptly switching over from laughter to anger in the blink of an eye. “That’s how much time you had to show a glimmer of intelligence, and you failed!” In a fit of rage Cheerilee pulled down the lever a bit more, and the metal press instantly started to push down even harder, trying to crush Scootaloo even faster.

“For the good of all the flowers in the world, weeds like you must GO!”

Scootaloo tried to cry out as the metal bars were instantly pushed through the fleshy parts of her hooves, the metal grinding angrily to a halt against the bones in her legs, but instead of screams all that came out of her mouth was a disgusting gurgling sound, followed by waves of bile and vomit as the unearthly pain turned her stomach and nearly made her black out on the spot. The only thing keeping her conscious being the copious amounts of adrenaline her body was pumping into her system, in a desperate attempt to try and survive the ordeal.

The foul and sour substance splattered all over the floor of the cage and dribble down Scootaloo’s body from her mouth, joining the streams of blood as they tumbled into the tub below.

Cheerilee took a few quick steps back as the vomiting started, to avoid getting any of it on her hooves. That’d be simply distasteful. The machine continued pushing Scootaloo down, she now had to bend slightly forward as she began hysterically pushing up with her shoulders and head as well, grinding her hooves even more into the metal below even as her legs violently shook, unable to take the pressure much longer.

The bars of the cage floor ground against her bare bones and they slowly began to crack. Scootaloo screamed in wordless terror, pain and hysteria once more, her mind filled only with the red hot feeling of pain emanating not only from her heavily mutilated hooves, but also from the rest of her body. Her throat was raw and damaged from all the screaming and vomiting, blood dripping out of the corners of her mouth, and her upper legs, shoulders and neck were all feeling the strain from pushing up against the metal.

Suddenly the strain became too much for her little pony legs, as the bones in her hooves snapped. The metal strips shot up through her legs as the metal plate pushed her down, cleaving through her young, soft flesh like butter and splitting her overstressed bones clean in two. The new pain, a hundred times worse than all the pain that had come before, send her into a new fit of vomiting, but all that would come out was a puddle of blood that she spat all over herself.

Her body couldn’t handle the sensory overload and she teetered on the brink of a black out, but every new bone that snapped pulled her right back out of the sweet embrace of darkness, and the blunt metal bar shot through her so fast now that she hardly had any time to fall unconscious at all.

Blood splattered down into the tub, where the red liquid had pooled into a lake together with various other bodily fluids, with more of it leaking out of Scootaloo’s legs as if she were an opened bottle of tomato juice someone was holding upside down.

The room swam before her eyes and she was too weak to continue screaming, her forelegs started to give out and would soon drop down as she started to lose consciousness in earnest.

Then suddenly, after what seemed to Scootaloo as a century after the metal had broken through her first bone(although it was in reality only a few moments) the metal plate actually stopped pressing down and actually lifted a little bit as Cheerilee pushed the lever up, an insane look of glee on her face.

Scootaloo, now unable to brace her weakened body against anything as the metal plate slid out of reach, tumbled backwards onto the bottom of the cage. The metal bars were still stuck halfway up her legs, holding them in place. Her weakened legs couldn’t handle the strain as she toppled backwards into a physically impossible position, and with a horrendous scream and torrents of blood Scootaloo’s leg simply snapped off in the middle, muscles and ligaments simply tearing off of the bone as it broke right around the split point the metal bars had created.

She had thought the worst pain had been over, for the second time in a few minute she was proven wrong: there was a pain worse than what she had been going through, and this was it.

Looking shakily down her body at the mangled remains of her legs that was still attached, as well as the little bloody stumps sticking up above the cage’s floor, almost made her barf blood all over herself again, but she simply didn’t seem to have any in her anymore.

Her body had grown pale due to the copious amounts of blood she had lost and was still losing, and she’d probably die within the next few minutes even if a fully-equipped medical team appeared on the scene right then and there.

Cheerilee stood with her left hoof on the lever, panting heavily and shaking with pure excitement, completely unable to keep the ecstasy she felt at her twisted dreams finally coming true out of her voice as she spoke. “Any last words, my little weed?”

Scootaloo could hardly hear her through the ungodly amounts of pain she was feeling, as death started to wrap her in his cold embrace. Her body had lost so much fluid by now that she didn’t even manage to cry as she thought about what she’d like to say to Rainbow Dash, like being sorry that she’d never grow up to be the flyer Rainbow Dash thought she could be. Instead all that came out of her mouth was a low gurgling, and another pool of blood.

“I guess not. WHO’D WANT TO HEAR IT ANYWAY?” Cheerily yelled almost hysterically as she pulled the lever completely down.

The little filly saw the metal plate storm down at her like a battering ram, her body too weak for a bigger reaction than her feeble attempt to raise her front hooves to shield her head.

With a sickening crash the machine pounded down into the filly, driving her entire body into the bars below.

The crash was so sickeningly loud that even Cheerilee closed turned her head away for a moment and brought up a hoof protectively.

She could feel warm blood splatter against her face and body before she opened an eye tentatively. The metal construction now filled the entire cage, and Scootaloo was nowhere to be found. Blood spatters could be seen in a wide radius around the cage, and the same red liquid dripped down the side of the tub to make puddles on the floor. With her legs shaking in excitement, Cheerilee approached the tub, taking care not to step into any of the puddles.

For a moment she just stared down into the sanguine lake, amazed that there had been so much... stuff packed into the tiny filly’s body. Various chunks of flesh and bone floated around in the grotesque sea, as if they were tiny boats. Cheerilee angled her head to look at the bottom of the cage, and saw little bits and pieces of Scootaloo still trapped between the metal plate and the bars of the cage as well, but apart from those and the huge scarlet stain on the metal no sign of the filly ever having been in the cage remained.

Cheerilee licked her lips while surveying the scene once more, but suddenly stopped as the bitter taste of iron entered her mouth. She had forgotten she got the stuff all over herself but it tasted surprisingly... good.

This must be what they mean when they say vengeance tastes sweet, Cheerilee mused as she licked her lips and cheeks clean.

She spotted Scootaloo’s eyes floating around in the lake of blood, staring up unseeingly at the ceiling. She couldn’t help but crack up and laugh hysterically, even as she went to get cleaned up. Even long after she got the very last spatters of blood out of her coat, the visible ones anyway, she just couldn’t stop. She hadn’t seen something this amusing all year!

Cheerilee finally got back to her spot in the prompt’s corner, still giddy with excitement. She stared at the stage without really seeing it, and it took her a few moments to notice that she hadn’t started paying attention to the play at all yet, she was still just savouring Scootaloo’s last moments in her mind’s eye.

She shook her head a few times to get a grip, and focused on the stage in front of her. Once she did that it didn’t take her long to figure out what scene they were currently on and Cheerilee had to suppress another rush of excitement as she realised her next playtime wasn’t all that far off.

She saw Silver Spoon (in her black noble’s outfit) and Diamond Tiara (in the dark-purple gown of the Royal Advisor) approach the cottage of Reginald the Sly. Based on where this scene fit into the story, that meant Cheerilee had missed the scenes involving Lance-a-lot’s broken lance being delivered back to the Royal Court, as well as the ones where the king decided who to send next.

Cheerilee didn’t mind having missed these at all. They didn’t interest her, she only cared about what was to come next.

The pink mare was quite proud of the set pieces that together formed Reginald’s cottage, considering them to be very nicely made. Instead of an actual closed-off building, only the back wall and the left wall had been put into place, giving the audience a clean view of the building’s interior.

She didn’t want to aggrandize her own work, but she was quite proud of the way in which she’d made this all fit together through her plans and instructions.

“... With care and caution, my dear Diamas,” the grey filly with the silver mane said. “That’s the only way to deal with a pony like him... if you want to harbour any hope of coming out on top, that is.”

The white and purple maned filly nodded thoughtfully. “But of course Silver Tongue, I am well aware... And of course in our case, even more thoughtfulness is required... We’re not simply telling him to stand down, after all...”

The two ponies exchanged a grin as they walked down the path towards Reginald’s front door, which was placed in the wall on the right side of his house. Of course, the wall itself hadn’t been built on stage, but the audience got the basic idea behind it easy enough.

The two fillies nodded back and forth in front of the door, until Silver Tongue finally leaned forward with a sigh and knocked on the door.

The audience could see a small door open at the back of Reginald’s house, as the antagonist himself stepped through it into his living room, carrying a teapot which he put down onto the table in the centre of the room, next to three cups that were already there. “Visitors at this hour of night? I wonder who it could be,” the villain said louder than was perhaps needed, with a 4th-wall breaking wink at the audience.

He strolled over to the door and opened it, but he left the door chain in place. “Yes?” he asked while peeping through the small opening he had created, “I wasn’t expecting any visitors today!”

“Forget the pleasantries, Reginald dear...” the silver-maned filly said.

“... We know you know who we are,” Diamas finished the sentence for her companion.

Reginald’s frown was clearly visible even to the people in the back of the theatre “Then why knock? Surely you don’t believe I’d let you in just so you could apprehend me?”

The pair of fillies laughed. “Apprehend you? No my dear you have this all wrong, we don’t want to apprehend you...”

“We want to work with you...” “To take care of the king...” “Once and for all.”

The fillies remained silent for a moment before Diamas added. “We know you’re a reasonable guy, Reginald... This will be beneficial to you as well.”

Reginald closed the door and took the chain off before opening it once more, fully this time. “Alright, come in,” he said as he walked to the table in the middle of the room. He grabbed the teapot that stood there by the ear, carefully pouring tea into the three cups on the table. “Let’s hear what you have to say then,” he said as he started sipping from one of the cups.

The other two gathered around the table as well, each in front of one of the other two cups, which they stared at with suspicion. “How exactly do we know you haven’t poisoned these?” Silver Tongue demanded to know.

“How do you know I didn’t poison the tea I prepared without knowing you’d come and that I’m drinking myself?” Reginald mockingly replied.

The other two seemed to relax at this train of thought, sipping their tea slowly. It had been a rather long trip, and as ladies of style they did enjoy their daily cup of tea.

Diamas opened her mouth to start negotiations, when she suddenly fell silent and stared at the cups on the table. Three cups. “If you didn’t know we were coming, why are there thr-” she started, before pressing a hoof up against her head as she took an unsteady step back from the table.

“Oh stars! You... you did poison us! But... you drank... how?” Silver said shakily as she sank to her knees.

“It was in the cups, not in the tea,” Snips descried as he took another sip.

The two fillies were swaying about theatrically now, until Diamas suddenly blurted out. “Wait... my head... It was REALLY poisoned!” before both she and Silver toppled over onto the ground.

“Ehh... yes... I erm... really poisoned it?” Snips said in confusion. That wasn’t in the script!

He walked over to a metal ring in the floor and grabbed it between his teeth, pulling it up to reveal a trapdoor.

He dragged the perfectly still fillies to the trapdoor one at a time, throwing them into the hole before closing it again. “And there they’ll rot... Reginald doesn’t deal with traitors, they’re too... traitorous,” he mused as he exited the stage through the door in the back of his house, the stage lights slowly going out.

By the time the curtains closed and the lights above the audience went on to signal the half-show break, Cheerilee was already long gone from her seat in the prompt’s corner, making her way to an unknown destination under the stage...

Silver Spoon woke up feeling groggy, her senses still blurred by whatever it was that had been in those tea cups. She was vaguely aware of a well-lit circular room, with lots of metallic objects casting the glimmer of reflections everywhere.

She tried moving her head but found, to her great shock and surprise, that she could not. The sudden panic she felt helped clear her senses in a matter of moments, and her sight quickly returned to her. She was shocked when she found she could not move her legs, except for the front left one, which she could move slightly. It felt as if some metallic bands anchored them to the ground, and something was likewise keeping her eyes open.

The taste of iron filled her mouth as well, since it was being held open by some sort of metal cylinder. Her tongue rested inside of the cylinder and she could move it about freely, a fact she capitalised on as she explored the inside. It wasn’t solid by any means, it felt more like a frame that held a basic cylindrical shape, but she couldn’t bite down onto it or spit it out, no matter how hard she tried. Attempts at moving her body proved pointless as well, apart from the bands around her hooves and whatever was keeping her head in place, something was pulling her up around her middle, so she couldn’t slouch down either.

Realising she wouldn’t get out of this predicament on her own, she looked around the room as best she could. The first thing she noticed was a grotesque machine, a mess of metallic arms, wheels and various tools which extended from a central black box. It seemed to be on rails, and Silver noted some of these rails ran towards her as well, but she couldn’t look down to see where they ended.

As she wasn’t able to determine the machine’s use or function, she quickly lost interest.

It was then that she finally saw Diamond Tiara, a few meters to the right of the machine and trapped in much the same way she was. That is to say, her hooves had been attached to the ground with metal clamps and she had a leather band around her middle as well, which was attached to the ceiling with chains.

She also wasn’t wearing her costume anymore, which made Silver realise she couldn’t feel hers on her body either.

On top of all this there also appeared to be a glass wall all around Tiara, with her standing at the centre of the glass cylinder. It seemed like the whole construction could be lifted up out of its place by a few chains connected to the top of the glass wall, as it only reached half-way up to the ceiling.

Spoon also spotted several tubes and hoses opening into the cylinder, but nothing seemed to be coming out of them. For now.

Her head was fixed to look in the grey filly’s direction, and freaky little metal clamps held her eyes open as well. She didn’t appear to have anything in her mouth though, and Silver Spoon didn’t think she was even awake yet.

Spoon’s eyes slowly started drying out, but before the sensation could become unbearable some kind of liquid dripped down into her eyes, moistening them up. Silver shuddered to think about what reasons anyone could have to strap her into so elaborate a device, but she managed to keep her calm.

It was possible they had accidentally been poisoned and this was a high-tech medical facility, after all. She didn’t really believe it herself, but the thought did keep her from screaming right there and then. The thought AND the thing in her mouth, she was forced to admit.

Right then Diamond Tiara woke up, and she did not seem to possess Silver Spoon’s calm disposition.. She immediately shrieked when she found out she was being held immobile in a glass bowl, until her eyes fell on the grey filly a few meters away from her.

“Silver Spoon! What’s going on, where are we? Get me out!” she cried. Silver tried to respond, but her reply of “Ahwduhn knuwuh! Chulm dawn!” wasn’t of much use to Diamond.

“Finally awake, I see,” said a calm voice, accompanied by hoofsteps, as Cheerilee stepped into the room. Diamond immediately started calling out for her help, but Cheerilee paid her no heed. She seemed far more interested in Spoon, and the machine in the middle.

“So let’s get started, shall we?” she said as she walked right in-between the two fillies, pulling down a lever on the machine’s right side.

At once it zoomed to life, little lights flickering on all around it as metallic arms swung down and moved into place.

Cheerilee walked over to the grey filly, who was now positively terrified, and whispered into her ear. “You have no idea how much research and measuring you up went into this! But I got it all right, you’ll see...”

“Wuh dhu youh mhun?” the filly asked in confusion, but Cheerilee simply shook her head and smiled as she took a few steps back. “Oh, and if you feel around with that free leg of yours, you should find a button... Just hold it down if you’ve had enough. But I warn you, your friend won’t like it,” Cheerilee said, giggling girlishly at the end of the sentence.

Spoon tried to follow her teacher with her gaze, being both utterly confused and terrified at the same time, but Cheerilee quickly disappeared from her narrow field of vision.

Her attention was suddenly grabbed by the strange device in the centre of the room, as it started rolling towards her. At first the silver filly just watched in bewilderment, until she spotted one of the robotic arms lifting a metal needle up to the same height as her left eye, keeping it there as it advanced.

If her eyelids weren’t already artificially being held open, her eyes would’ve grown wide with fear when she realised what was about to happen here. “Whuuht! Dhuhn dhuh eht! Ghket muh ouh!” she begged, getting more spit out of her mouth than intelligible words.

She saw the tip of the needle slowly come closer to her eye, as she tried to wrestle free of her bonds. She came to the same conclusion she had before: she’d never get free on her own. She wracked her brain for a way out as she started to panic, until she suddenly remembered Cheer’s words.

She felt around with her left hoof, and sure enough she bumped into a slightly elevated point on the floor: the button! Without hesitation she pushed down onto it, and the needle came to an immediate halt about five centimeters from her face. She sighed in relief, that had been a lot easier than she expected. Maybe it was a test and now that she had passed it Cheerilee would...

She never got to finish her train of thought as Diamond Tiara’s terrifying scream pierced her eardrums. Looking past the machine with her right eye, Spoon focused her gaze on the glass tank Diamond Tiara was in.

Some kind of clear liquid was now flowing into the tank from various pipes and hoses on the side, and it was slowly spreading over the floor. Silver Spoon quickly drew the connection between her pressing the button, the machine stopping and the liquid starting to fill up the tank, but compared to her losing an eye she thought Diamond could afford to get wet for a while.

The light-pink filly didn’t seem to agree, as she screamed fearfully. “Spoon! Help, get me out of here!”

Spoon rolled her eyes (as best she could) at this. And what could she do to help anyway?

The level of the “water” in the tank kept rising, and as it finally got high enough to touch the bottom of Diamond’s legs, Silver Spoon realised her mistake. She watched in horror as her friend screamed in pain, a cloud of red blood diffusing into the clear liquid as it ate away at the filly’s flesh. What Spoon had assumed to be water was obviously acid of some description, and it was a safe bet that Diamond had smelled that ages ago.

The corrosive liquid continued to pour into the glass tank, chunks of flesh already coming loose from just above Diamond’s hooves as they got soaked in it. The white of bone became visible quickly and Tiara screamed and begged for Cheerilee or Spoon(or anypony really) to please make it stop.

“Do you like it? They use that stuff to clean carcases, you know... get some nice skeletons to display in the classroom,” Silver heard her teacher say from behind her.

She reluctantly looked at the needle still suspended in the air in front of her and took a deep breath.

Summoning all of her courage and with tears rolling out of the corner of her eyes, Silver Spoon slowly slid her hoof off of the button.

At once the machine buzzed to life again, and the flow of acid into the glass tank stopped. Diamond Tiara shrieked heartbreakingly for a while longer, before dying down to sobbing as the last piece of flesh touching the voracious liquid got melted right off of her bones.

She had nothing but bone left up to two centimeter from her hoof up, and a small stream of blood was flowing down into the acid from the frayed and disfigured stump of meat just above it. The scarlet clouds that floated around in the vicious liquid vanished quickly as well, apparently no more resistant to the corrosion than Diamond’s flesh was.

Spoon’s lips trembled as the needle approached her eye, filling more and more of her field of vision.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity, it finally reached it’s destination. The silver filly felt the pressure on her eye increase for a moment, before the needle suddenly popped in and pain exploded inside of her head.

She let out an unintelligible, garbled scream as pain receptors she never imagined existed bombarded her mind with warning signals, telling her something was wrong, not knowing or caring that she was powerless to do anything about it. The left side of her vision first coloured red and then suddenly winked out, as half of her world darkened forever. Silver Spoon momentarily forgot her pain, as she wondered why she had never realised how much her sight meant to her, until now.

Agony once again washed over her as two little hooks sprung up out of the tip of the needle, anchoring themselves into her eyeball. The needle started to spin around, and Silver almost started throwing up right there as she felt her eye start to turn with it. Her hoarse cries echoed throughout the room as the device spun it’s appendage around faster and faster, winding her optical nerves up like a bored child would a piece of string.

The painful sensory overload was too much for the little filly to bear, and shame got added to her torment as she lost control of her bladder.

The needle suddenly drew back, taking her eye with it as she felt warm blood drip down her cheek. She wanted to scream and push her hoof up against her now empty socket, but her stomach protested so much that she needed all her will to not throw up all over herself, and even her left leg was too restricted to get her hoof up all the way.

She panted heavily into the metal cylinder as sweat dripped off of her body and the machine drew slightly, holding up the skewered eye that had once belonged to her like a trophy. At that point Silver Spoon noticed Diamond Tiara looking at her from the corner of her eye, and her friend looked even more sick to the stomach than she was feeling herself. But the silver filly saw yet another emotion in the pink filly’s eyes: hope and gratefulness.

She reminded herself that her suffering may yet save her friend, as perhaps Cheerilee would let Tiara go if she just persevered. She built up an iron fortress of resolve, which melted like ice before the sun as she saw the machine draw closer once more. This time it had replaced the arm with the needle in favour of one with four sharp blades, coming together into a tip like some kind of drill.

The menacing contraption started to spin around at high speeds, accompanied by a low buzzing noise, as it drew ever nearer. It didn’t take Silver Spoon long to figure out it wasn’t aimed at her remaining eye this time, though with only one eye left she found it somewhat hard to determine it’s trajectory at first.

Suddenly she swallowed as best she could as it dawned on her, and the reason for the cylinder in her mouth became chillingly clear.

She hesitated for a moment, but just before the blades entered her mouth, she pressed down onto the button again.

At once she could hear Diamond’s scream as the very first drops that flowed out of the pipes already raised the level of vitriol enough to contact with her soft, tender flesh, starting the suffering of the pink filly all over again.

“SILVER SPOON! SILVER SPOON!” she cried, apparently in too much pain to think of anything better.

Silver Spoon cried clear tears from her right eye and bloody ones from her socket, as she sobbed. “Uhm sohwuh... uhm sohwuh...” over and over, shaking in disgust at her own perceived cowardice.

But as Diamond’s flesh slowly got consumed by the clear liquid, it became clear that Cheerilee had a few more tricks up her sleeve. A loud banging noise announced the arrival of four small, but heavy, balls which came rolling through as of yet unused pipes, only to plummet down into the bath of acid below.

The deceptively innocent looking liquid splashed up around them, raining down upon the purple and white maned pony from every direction.

Small drops fell down onto her back, melting holes through her coat and skin, leaving tiny bloody craters behind as a sort of grotesque parody of a lunar landscape. At the same time, a bigger wave of the stuff crashed into her right flank, her Cutie Mark melting away as the vitriol dug into her, bloody blisters boiling up around the edges of the wounds.

She instantly felt an extreme burning sensation on her left shoulder as well, but by far the worst was the splash that hit her right in the face.

She shrieked like a banshee as the stuff burned through her right cheek, exposing muscles and white bones and offering a view of the inside of her mouth. In a matter of minutes her appearance changed from that of a cute filly into that of a monster, with half her face missing and the rest of her body covered in bloody blisters, craters and sores, not quite unlike how some ponies might picture a zombie. In addition to that, the acid had kept melting away the flesh from her legs as well, having reached up to just under her knees now.

Silver Spoon couldn’t bear it any longer and pulled her hoof off of the button, determined to never press it down ever again, no matter what the cost.

She swallowed back her fear as the blades started spinning again and approached her. She had liked the name of her character in the play, Silver Tongue, as that was exactly how she viewed herself. She had always thought she had a knack for using words to suit her own purpose, and would perhaps have gone far in the diplomacy business, or something like that, one day. She thought it likely that Cheerilee knew about this as well, and didn’t doubt that this was all some sort of sick joke to her.

She couldn’t understand her teacher’s reasons or motivations, and in just a few idle seconds, she’d never be able to ask anymore. “Whuh?!?” she tried screaming out, but no answer ever came as the blades passed her lips.

A maelstrom of cuts and slices rained down upon the tip of her tongue, as the blades tore into it... Hot blood filled her mouth, slipped down her throat and dripped down her chin as she tried to scream, but she only managed to produce a disgusting, wet gurgling noise from the back of her throat. Her body shook and her one remaining eye rolled back in her head, as the knives continued their bloody work.

They advanced slowly, and to Spoon it seemed slower still as she experienced pain of such a magnitude that the loss of her eye paled in comparison. Bit by bit her tongue got shredded, and the remaining stump of it flailed around wildly as she tried to keep it out of reach, but the blades were everywhere by now.

Suddenly the machine stopped and pulled back, having made minced meat out of the very last part of Silver’s tongue.

The searing needles that had been poking around in her mouth turned into an intense but monotonous pain, which was only broken by the pounding sensation she felt where her tongue had once been.

Even in her dazed and sickened state, she felt the acute need to breathe as the blood that had flown down her throat threatened to drown her. With a hacking cough and a surge of energy born from desperation, she managed to force the blood up and out of her throat, making it spill out of her mouth and cascade down her body like a waterfall.

With the stabbing sensation in her empty socket and the pounding in her mouth, Spoon could barely think straight anymore. It was as if pain had become her only reality, and it blocked everything else out. She tried to speak but could produce only a low guttural sound, which would’ve made her envious of Diamond’s constant moans and sobs were she still able to consciously register it all.

Cheerilee noticed the lack of resistance in Silver and was thoroughly disappointed. Sure, the crying and the sounds she made were amusing, but it wasn’t quite what she had been hoping for. Scootaloo had put up a better fight than this!

She walked over to the machine and turned it off, moving to the side of the room to pick up a small bag of tools she had left there, just in case. No matter how well she had calibrated all of these machines, Cheerilee harboured no illusions: when it finally came down to it, she could only count on herself for to get the job done right.

She took out a hammer and a chisel and put them down next to the now only semi-conscious Silver Spoon. In the absence of any digits, such as the ones the gryphons had, ponies had had to find a different way to hold the chisel in place as they swung the hammer. The solution came in the form of a metal shoe, which extended past the hoof and had a hole in the tip, which could hold the chisel in place. Typically, a chisel and a shoe were made in such a way that the thicker part at the end of the chisel (where the hammer hit) couldn’t fit through the hole.

Cheerilee slipped on the heavy shoe and put the chisel through the hole with her teeth, before grabbing hold of the hammer in the same way. She positioned the chisel carefully, aiming it right above the filly’s right hoof, just under the metal band holding her right leg in place. With a great swing she brought the hammer down, driving the tip of the chisel into the filly’s leg, scraping up against her hoof from above.

Silver Spoon, who had been apathetically floating in a sea of pain until now, suddenly let out a piercing (if garbled) shriek as her remaining eye flew wide open. More of her blood started spilling onto the floor, and Cheerilee grinned as best she could while holding the hammer. Just above the hoof was one of the most sensitive spots in the pony body, which was why the hoof protected it so well in the first place.

She drew the hammer back and slammed it down again and again, driving the thin metal rod further in with every swing. The yelps and cries from the filly excited her further and further, and she began to have trouble keeping the hammer in her mouth because her body trembled so much.

With a last mighty swing the tip of the chisel suddenly emerged from the other side of the filly’s hoof, as the poor thing whimpered in pain and her blood stained the floor in multiple places.

With a sudden rush of inspiration Cheerilee swung the hammer down again, this time aiming not for the thicker bulge at the end, but simply for the side of the chisel as the metal rod stuck horizontally in the filly’s leg.

The blow pushed the rod down against her hoof, which, already not attached to the leg anymore in the middle, simply broke off, leaving only a bloody stump with some scattered fragments of hoof still attached.

The filly let out a gurgling cry of pain as her eye rolled back in its socket, and then suddenly fell silent.

Cheerilee frowned as she dropped the hammer and brought her head level with Spoon’s. The little wretch had fainted.

“Oh come on, not now! It’s only starting to get fun,” she screamed in frustration as she swung a hoof at the filly’s head, hitting her right in the face. There wasn’t even the tiniest response, and the purple mare sighed.

She quickly started undoing all the bindings that held Silver Spoon in place, the filly falling into a pool of her own blood as she slipped off the last ones. Cheer grabbed the filly by her hair and started dragging her to the side of the room, leaving a wide red smudge trailing behind her victim.

A portion of the floor had been slightly lowered here, leaving a small depressed circle in the ground, which had been outside of the fillies’ field of vision so far.

Nonchalantly she threw the filly into the circle, not particularly caring how she landed. She fell down in a crumpled heap in the centre, and remained there motionlessly except for the slight heaving of her chest with every breath.

Cheerilee then made her way to the glass tank, staring straight into Diamond’s eyes, not completely sure the filly still had the use of her right eye, the acid having taken heavy a toll on that side of her face.

“W...Wi-Will... you... l-le...let me... go?” the filly managed to say hoarsely, obviously nearing the end of her strength.

Cheerilee smiled her kindest smile. “But of course I’ll let you go... and Silver Spoon as well... But only if you can reach her.” She broke into a grin as she walked to the wall next to the glass cylinder, and pulled down one of the levers there.

At once several holes opened in the floor inside of the glass walls, draining away the clear vitriol. Once it was mostly gone, she pulled another lever and the glass circle got lifted up off the ground, until there was enough space underneath it for a pony to walk upright. At the same time, the filly’s bindings automatically released her, and she crashed down to the floor from a small height. Her legs, bare bones up to her knees, couldn’t support her weight and snapped in two, sharp fragments of bone jumping away as the pitiful remnants of her lower legs fell away to the sides.

As luck would have it, the sharp shard of her right leg instead buried itself in Diamond’s side as she fell onto it, and for the umpteenth time that evening Tiara howled in pain even while trying to overcome the shock of breaking all her legs at once.

As the little stumps she had left hit the ground the small layer of acid still there started biting into her stomach, but that pain paled in comparison to what Diamond Tiara had already been through so far, and she paid it almost no heed as she tried to bite back the agony she was already in.

“So just get to your friend, and you’re both out of here. Who knows, there might even be unicorn doctors good enough to fix you up?” the teacher pony chuckled malignantly.

Tiara tried to get up, but as soon as she attempted to rest any weight on the jagged shards of bone now sticking out of her considerably shortened legs she fell right back down again, panting more heavily than a mare in labour. Even if she hadn’t been in pain, it wouldn’t have been easy to balance on the stumps of the bones at all.

For a moment she thought of giving up right then and there, but she was instantly reminded of the bravery her friend had shown every time she refused to push down the button any longer.

She owed it to her to at least try.

It was a few meters to the pit in the ground, so the light pink filly started to lift her little legs over her head, trying to drag her body forward.

Every time she did this she felt like she was about to faint from the pain, but she pressed on and persevered, to save herself and her friend. Cheerilee watched with giddy excitement, taunting the filly every step of the way. “Hey, almost there! What’s taking you so long, come on, up the pace,” she said, laughing.

The filly ignored her as best she could, and finally reached the circular pit in the ground. She tried to carefully lower herself into it, but slipped and fell on her side, driving the bone shard still deeper into her side. She winced and groaned as she dragged herself to the center of the circle, putting the stumps of her front legs around Silver Spoon in a clumsy hug. “Oh, Spoon...” she just managed to say.

“D-Duhmun Thrr?” the grey filly managed to whisper as she slowly opened an eye.

The other pony tried to smile at her friend, but the result was grotesque at best. “We...we’ll be okay... she’ll let ... us go... I... r...reached you.”

“Yeah, about that,” came Cheerilee’s cold voice as she pulled down yet another lever. “I lied.”

Both of the fillies looked up as they heard a rumbling noise coming from a pipe above them, and as they saw a familiar clear liquid gush down they realized they wouldn’t get to see anything else, ever again.

Cheerilee had trouble focusing as she ponderously walked towards the backstage area. Echoes of her ‘session’ with the two fillies still bounced around her head, and she revelled in them.

The start of that session had been everything she had hoped for, but the middle part had left much to be desired. The ending, however, had made up for all of that. And how! She didn’t know where they’d found the energy or the willpower, but those last screams, the thrashing of their bodies as their flesh melted away, it had all just been so... exhilarating.

Cheerilee trembled and shook just remembering it. She attempted to walk in a straight line but she just couldn’t quite pull it off. Analyzing her own feelings, she realised the sensations rushing through her body weren’t unlike those she’d felt during one of the many sexual escapades she’d taken part in during her wilder years.

A little voice at the back of her conscious mind said she ought to be disturbed by this notion, but the dominant part of her psyche was adamant that it was completely normal. After all, those fillies had done unto her a great injustice, and she was doing the entire community a favour by removing their toxic influence from the world. It was natural to feel good about a job well done.

It took the mare a few moments to realise she’d stopped walking and was now leaning heavily against a nearby stage wall for support as she panted, drops of sweat running down her body. Taking a deep breath she finally regained her composure, and took off to round the last corner separating her from her destination. Almost at once she spotted the only pony working in the backstage area, Snails.

The aquamarine maned colt with the golden coat was oblivious to her presence, preoccupied as he was by the task of untangling several ropes from a knot.

Seeing him there gave Cheerilee mixed feelings about it all. On one hand he was probably one of the least disruptive pupils in her class. Sure he was an utter moron, but at least he had the decency not to interrupt her constantly.

On the other hand, his blatant lack of intelligence gave him an innocent demeanor that Cheerilee would’ve loved to break... But the play could only be so long, and there simply wasn’t always enough time for her to do the things she really wanted to do. With a sigh she shook her head, resigning herself to her original plans for him. It’d be over far too fast for her tastes, but at least she’d found some way of connecting him to the events of the play, even back here.

“Oh Snails,” she called out sweetly, “I think it’s time for you to get into position!”

The aquamarine maned colt looked around in confusion. “Oh, hey Miss Cheerilee!” he said dorkily, “Eeeuhhh, the ropes got stuck and I was just...” he began, only to be cut off by Cheerilee as she started pushing him gently in the direction opposite to the one she’d come from.

“Now now, Snails. You know full well what I told you: after the break you need to hold the rope on the X,” she said slowly, pronunciating every word extra carefully.

“The rope on the X!” Snails echoed. Just a few meters ahead somepony had indeed chalked a big white X on the stage floor, and a long, sturdy looking rope hung down from the ceiling right above it.

Snails went to stand on the mark without any hesitation, and took the end of the rope between his teeth. Cheerilee nodded approvingly at him, and his chest swelled up with pride. It almost made Cheerilee feel bad. Almost, but not quite.

She put her ear against the thick wall separating the stage from the backstage area, trying to listen in on the scene. She could barely make out two ponies talking to each other and even though she couldn’t understand what they were saying, it did give her a rough idea of the current situation on stage.

For the umpteenth time she had to chastise herself for drawing out her fun too long, or revelling in the aftermath of it, as she realised she only got here in the nick of time. If she kept this up, she’d mess up sooner or later, and she knew it. She made a mental note to adhere to her schedule more rigorously from there on out, comforted by the fact that she’d gotten almost half way through the show without any major incidents.

She closed her eyes as she listened to the vibrations reaching her through the wall, her imagination creating the scene inside of her head. She saw Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom quarrel about what they should do next, she saw the King shoot down every single idea her last remaining knight came up with and she saw her finally fulminating that enough was enough, that she needed a good night’s rest to mull it over.

She witnessed the King curse the sun for still being so high in the sky, felt her reach for a rope that disappeared somewhere in the darkness above the stage, watched her pull it down with all her might...

And then the sun fell from the sky. As it descended the technician pony in the box above the tribunes doused most of the lights and the orchestra started playing loudly as the King’s Lament began. Cheerilee threw her eyes open as soon as she heard the first notes, her gaze shooting up instantly.

The world seemed to slow down to a crawl as the mare saw a huge spotlight, the “sun” come crashing down from the ceiling, exactly above the X she had planted. The golden coated colt had spotted it as well, and he tugged on the rope in his mouth desperately, wondering why it didn’t work this time, why it didn’t allow him to gently let the spotlight down, like it had before. His only conscious thought concerned not letting his teacher - and everypony else - down during those crucial moments and so he kept on trying the rope. But it wouldn’t budge, and the spotlight did not slow down.

Then, moments before impact, both Cheerilee and Snails lowered their gaze and looked each other in the eye. Cheerilee mouthed the words “Goodbye” and broke into a smile, but the actual words itself were lost in the rush of the music.

Snails just stared at her in confusion. Why? Why was she smiling? Why was she just standing there? Why wasn’t she - WHAM!

The spotlight crashed down onto the colt, small pieces of glass scattering over the floor and flying off into the air as the music hit a crescendo. To Cheerilee it looked like a slow-motion explosion of tiny, shiny crystals erupted around the younger pony, temporarily hiding him from her eyes. The combination of the orchestral music and the sudden cloud of tiny glass splinters was simply too much for Cheerilee’s “romantic soul” to bear, and she shed a single tear at the beauty of it all.

The world finally kicked back into its usual gear as the tiny pieces of glass clattered onto the floor and the orchestra stopped playing. Finally she could admire the fruits of her labour in the form of Snails’ broken body lying underneath the huge spotlight, most of it having been crushed from the middle down.

Even his upper torso had hundreds of tiny cuts and lacerations all over it, even though he didn’t get directly hit by the falling object there. His normally golden coat was soaked red in many places already.

Cheerilee took a few steps forward to admire the way a small pool of blood flowed between the many fragments of glass on the floor, the wannabe-crystals themselves crunching noisily under her hooves.

As she got closer to the spotlight she started noticing the smell of burned flesh impregnating the air, and the air itself seemed to get warmer with every step she took as well.

She walked around to the other side of the spotlight, and finally realised why.

The mare had known that spotlights got very hot of course, but she hadn’t expected the thing to retain the heat quite this long. Snails’ entire backside was covered in blisters, singed flesh and smoldering fur, and she noticed it was still spreading.

With a high-pitched hissing sound a patch of fur on Snails’ back suddenly ignited, the small flame dancing around playfully on the pony’s back. Cheerilee looked at it with fascination, but did not dare get any closer. She was already uncomfortably warm where she was standing, a meter or two away.

The teaching pony gasped in shock as Snails groaned and slowly opened an eye, looking around shakily, clearly still dazed. “Miss Cheerilee? I... eeuhhh... I can’t feel my legs... And what smells? I- “ he said, as he craned his neck around to look over his shoulder.

He immediately saw the small, but growing, flame and even he was smart enough to link it to the horrid smell that was assailing his nostrils.

“Fire! Fire! Miss Cheerilee, Fire!” he yelled as he tried to crawl away, thrashing his upper body around wildly in an effort to get loose.

Because he was trapped underneath the spotlight, and with his hind legs out of order, the situation was hopeless from the outset. All he did with his erratic movements was fan the flames on even more.

In a matter of seconds various little flames were dancing around his body, and he screamed as their hot tongues licked his tender flesh. More blisters and boils appeared around the fires, as they consumed everything within reach.

The flames grew and grew, pulling more and more of his body into their deadly embrace, eager to feast now that they had been set loose upon him.

“YEEAAAAGGGHHHH!” the golden pony cried out as the ember tendrils quickly spread over to his face, his vision immediately taken up almost entirely by the voracious flames.

The pain was excruciating, as if thousands of little critters were gnawing on him with hungering teeth and all water was being drawn from his body at the same time.

Cheerilee watched on in awe as the spectacle unfolded before her eyes. She hadn’t expected a show at this stage of her plan, but there it was and it was... breathtaking. She noted how several fires were already burning out, leaving his body charred black, cracks and fissures appearing in his dried out flesh as Snails desperately thrashed about.

He started hitting himself in the face with his hooves, trying his best to put out the flames burning there. Every hit left deep imprints in his weakened, boiling meat, but the flames would not be conquered.

At most they retreated for a single second, only to come back with a vengeance.

Snails screamed in agony once again and panted with the effort as his life flashed before his eyes, loss of blood competing with the fire to see which one of them could kill him first. In the end the fire won out as superheated air invaded the colt’s lungs, singing him on the inside as his screams stopped. He wheezed for air, every breath he attempted to take like a thousand daggers forced down his throat.

His vision started to get blurry and black spots sprung up everywhere. Suddenly, by chance, the flames moved away for a moment, and he could barely make out Cheerilee, just standing there, watching... and was she... laughing?

The colt let out a dry rasping sound as the flames suddenly blew back into his face, his eyesight giving out as the orange tongues dug in. If he had had any strength left he might have screamed the moment his eyes popped and melted away, flames immediately claiming his now empty eye sockets for themselves and licking the inside of his skull, but he was already too far gone.

Cheerilee coughed and sneezed a few times - the smell had gotten too much even for her tastes - but she continued watching as the lifeless husk formerly known as Snails burned out. A little voice at the back of her head asked her if she oughtn’t find some water, in case anything else caught on fire, but she was too mesmerised by the flames to care at this point.

She finally snapped out of her fascination when the last of the flames died, leaving only a blackened form roughly reminiscent of a pony in its wake.

Panic hit her like a truck when she realised what she had just done. She’d drifted from her schedule, mere moments after she’d promised herself not to do just that!

She mentally hit herself over the head as she wracked her brain trying to remember where she was supposed to have gone instead of staring at the pretty fire, and the answer calmed her down quite a bit. She’d only have to skip leaving Snips’ costume for the final scene, which was different from the one he’d been wearing so far, in the right place for him. She shrugged, he could probably find it himself this one time. He knew where she kept it, it wouldn’t be a problem.

She laughed softly as she went down some stairs to get beneath the stage and then headed for the prompt’s corner.

For a moment there she’d thought she’d really messed up. But there were only three left to go now, and she was still firmly in control. Nothing would go wrong tonight. Nothing at all.

Cheerilee settled into the Prompt’s Corner for the third time that night. Her stomach rumbled and her throat was quite dry. In hindsight, she should probably have put some popcorn and water here, but it was far too late for that now.

With a sigh she turned her attention to the stage and just let her mind wander to the rhythm of the story for a while.

“NO! My decision is final, you will have to go,” the King screamed at Sir Altruis, who returned his indignant glances with worried looks.

“But my King, the royal guard, they...”

“Are needed to defend the capital. With tensions rising in the east, we have no men to spare. You know this, Altruis. I trust in your capabilities. You will not fail me, like the others have, for if you do... I’ll have to accept this cretin’s challenge myself,” the King sighed, the weight of the situation suddenly pressing heavily upon his shoulders.

Altruis, seeing his king’s troubles etched on his face, fell silent and simply nodded. Without a further word the knight turned around and walked away, leaving the confines of the royal court to head down Reginald’s part of the stage.

The two fillies played their part so well, it was easy to forget they were playing at all, even for Cheer. Apple Bloom had shown an almost single minded dedication to the script, and knowing it as thoroughly as she did obviously allowed her to concentrate on other aspects of acting, the words just came on their own.

Sweetie Belle had been a bit less diligent, but she possessed a way with words and vocalisation that almost made her a natural actor, although Cheerilee ventured a guess that singing was probably more her style. It was somewhat ironic that they’d both find their end doing something they were at least moderately competent at, while they were otherwise pretty much a waste of space, but Cheerilee was careful not to equate a single useful skill to being a worthwhile individual.

The play fell into a familiar pattern by this point, Sir Altruis being the third attempt to finally put a stop to Reginald the Sly.

Sweetie Belle, like the other three before her, started to make her way to the other side of the stage, although she clearly wasn’t aiming to get to the mountain Scootaloo had disappeared into, or the house the other two fillies had found. Instead she resolutely headed for a forest at the far end of the stage, that is to say, to the few cardboard trees that together gave the impression of a forest.

She, of course, quickly reached her destination, and as the lights above that part of the stage were turned on it became clear somepony was already waiting for Sir Altruis there. The audience wasn’t very surprised when it became clear it was Reginald once again, but the bear trap around one of his back legs, which he couldn’t seem to get out of, was certainly an unforeseen twist.

The knight approached carefully, but Reginald inevitably picked up on his hoofsteps before too long, and craned his neck to look around.

“Well, well... seems at least one of us is in luck today. The great knight arriving during the villain’s finest hour... You must be thrilled,” he said bitterly, while wincing slightly.

Altruis said nothing for a few moments. “Are you hurt?” he finally asked.

The villainous pony laughed and shook his head, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Oh no! This thing is very comfortable, in fact.”

“I’ll get you out” the knight responded as he stepped forward, “but if you make one strange move...”

He never got to finish his sentence as suddenly something caught around his hindlegs and the world flipped upside down. Before the knight realised what was happening, he was hanging down from a nearby tree by his hooves.

Well, Cheerilee knew the rope was connected to the ceiling, not the trees, but the audience likely wouldn’t think of that.

“Hey! Let me down!”

Reginald cackled maniacally as he opened the clamp around his leg, revealing it to be an impressive looking fake, but nothing more than that.

He casually strolled over to the captured knight and mockingly gave him a little push, making Sweetie Belle swing around slightly. “Ah, dear Sir Altruis, is it not? Not one for skulking about, are we? You’d have to be quite good not to be spotted by me, anyway... And that legendary kindness, who knew it’d get you in the position you are in now?” he laughed again, giving the knight another push to keep him swinging.

“If you know what’s good for you, Reginald, you’ll come with me. The king is fed up, and whatever his next move may be, you’ll probably not like it if you stick around here,” Altruis replied, holding on to as much dignity as he could while upside down and swinging around.

“I’ve heard the same tale spun twice before, good stallion. I’m quite sick of it by now, so if you don’t mind... This’ll be goodbye. Say hello to the beasts of the underworld for me,” the Sly sneered as he pulled one of the omnipresent hidden levers behind the tree. The floor opened and the rope was released all at once, sending the filly screaming down an now open hatch in the floor, as the lights faded and Reginald disappeared off scene...

Sweetie Belle saw floor approach rapidly, and panic coiled around her like a snake. Weren’t there supposed to be a few mattresses he- With a thud she hit the ground, and as she lay there motionlessly she didn’t have think about anything for a while.

When she came to she was in a dimly lit room, lying on a table of some description. She felt a nasty bump on her head throb painfully to the rhythm of her heartbeat, but when she tried to touch it with one of her hooves, she realised her front legs were tied above her head with rope, while her hind legs were bound on the other side.

The ropes were basically keeping her stretched out as much as possible, and it was more than a little uncomfortable. It also felt as if the table had a large hole in it, right underneath the middle of her back, but she couldn’t for the life of her figure out why.

Her first thought was that she had probably hit her head harder than she’d thought, and that this was all hallucination, or some sort of dream. But if it was, it was a mighty convincing one at that...

She tried looking around the room, but as there was only one single, weak lamp right above her, she couldn’t see much.

Suddenly she imagined seeing something move in the shadows, a shape that broke the monotony of immobile shadows with a deeper kind of darkness. “ somepony t-there?” the filly said shakily. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo had told her more than a few scary stories during their camping trips, and an unnerving amount of them started off just like this...

She sighed in relief as Cheerilee stepped into the little circle of light. “Oh, teach! I hit my head and I don’t know where we are, so could you please?” she begged, nodding her head towards the ropes.

Her white skin grew even paler than usual when she realised Cheerilee was carrying a hammer in her mouth. She didn’t know why that freaked her out all of a sudden, but there was something in Cheerilee’s eyes... “Euh, Miss?” she squeaked weakly. Cheer’s only response was to lift up one of her hooves, revealing her to be wearing another one of those special workpony shoes, not unlike the one she’d used to hold the chisel. This one had a far smaller hole though, and the circle wasn’t completely closed off. It was designed to hold nails, while still being able to slip the shoe off the nail(through the opening) once the job was almost done.

“What are you-” Sweetie Belle began, but she cut herself off with a scream as Cheerilee let her actions speak for her, hammering a nail diagonally into the filly’s right hoof and through her heel until it got stuck in the wooden table below her.

She felt a trickle of warm blood coat the nail and bit her lip as she struggled to keep calm, for she knew simply attempting to pull her hoof away now would cause even more damage, and more importantly, pain. Not that the ropes currently offered her much freedom of movement, but she didn’t want to take any risks.

With tears in her eyes she tried pleading with Cheerilee again, completely bewildered by this recent chain of events, her mind racing to figure out what was going on, how she could wake up from this nightmare...

“Ple... please... stop... What have I-?” the filly whimpered. Cheerilee just smiled sweetly as best she could with a hammer between her teeth as she prepared another nail, this time putting it in place against the filly’s other hind hoof. The mare looked Sweetie Belle in the eyes intently for a moment, making sure she knew exactly what was coming for her.

Sweetie Belle whimpered and swallowed back a new birst of tears, before crying out: “No! Help! SIS! RARITY! ANYPONY!”

But nopony replied, let alone came to her rescue, as Cheerilee hammered down for the second time driving the nail through the filly’s left hoof and into the table with just a few well aimed blows.

Sweetie Belle squeaked in pain as she tried her best to keep still, the necessity of remaining still weighing down upon her as heavily as the pain itself. She kinda understood the concept behind “walking it off” a lot better now, as she’d have given anything to be able to do just that.

She sobbed as Cheerilee ducked down to retrieve another nail, walking around to the other side of the table.

“No... please... no...” the white coated filly sobbed, letting out a desperate cry as Cheerilee started nailing one of her front legs down, before quickly doing the same with the other one as well.

Sweetie Belle could feel pain radiating through each one of her legs, but for her tormentor it still wasn’t enough. Unaffected by the filly’s crying and pleading, she continued on and drove a second nail through each of the filly’s legs, this time straight through the ankle just above the hooves themselves.

Little pools of blood started to form around her hooves, flowing off the edge of the table and dripping down to the ground lazily. In the heat of the moment Cheerilee dropped the hammer and tentatively held her tongue underneath one of the little streams, savouring the taste of Sweetie Belle’s warm blood as it dripped into her mouth. It tasted even better than Scootaloo’s had, perhaps because it hadn’t had as much time to cool down yet.

The filly was still crying softly as Cheerilee rummaged about, retrieving one of several matches she had stored in the room. She struck it against the nearby wall and bowed her head down to light a fire underneath a metal cylinder that reached up from just above the floor to the table itself, connected to the table in the spot where Sweetie Belle had felt a hole in the wood earlier. The little bits of wood and tinder the mare had prepared for this occasion caught on fire quickly and continued burning nicely, smoke circling up to hang just underneath the ceiling.

Cheerilee looked up at it, but wasn’t too worried. The room was badly ventilated, but it was a small fire and she wouldn’t need it that much longer in any case.

A minute or two passed, Cheerilee just mesmerised by the small flames as she waited, thinking of the fun she’d had with Snails earlier.

The white filly slowly stopped crying, sniffling pathetically as she looked at Cheerilee with teary eyes, confused by the mare’s actions, but hopeful that this pause meant she was reconsidering keeping her there against her will.

“Please... Miss... If you l...let me go I’ll... I won’t...t-tell... anypony, I pro-promise!” she managed to say with a trembling lip, but again Cheerilee neglected to respond. Suddenly Sweetie Belle became aware of a panicked squeaking noise coming from somewhere in the room. The sound increased in intensity steadily, until it sounded like a great many rats were fearing for their life somewhere, even though that didn’t seem to make any sense...

She had some trouble locating the source of the noise, until she suddenly realised it came from right underneath the table, from the thing Cheerilee was staring at but which she could not see.

As her teacher stepped closer to the table she mentally recoiled, but the mare simply leaned in and reached underneath the table itself, grabbing hold of a metal plate at the top of the cylinder with her teeth and pulling it out, removing the last barrier between the cylinder and the hole underneath Sweetie in doing so.

The squeaking quickly escalated to unprecedented levels, but still Sweetie Belle couldn’t make head nor tail of it. What did rats have to do with a metal pl-

Suddenly the filly gasped and her eyes grew wide with fear as she felt dozens of little claws scratch at her back, as the entrapped rats surged up from the overheated cylinder to find a way to escape the flames.

Even in their frenzied state they recognised the difference in hardness between their metal prison and the filly’s tender flesh, and they were fully prepared to put some effort into creating a way out if it meant living to squeak another day.

Many mouths and claws worked together as they started to gnaw and tear at the filly’s back, her terrified screams of pain not managing to extract any mercy from the swarm of vermin.

She tried arching up her back to lift it out of their reach, which would also have set them free, but with her body stretched to its limit and held firmly in place by the rope and nails she couldn’t even lift it a tenth of an inch.

The rats quickly ripped away patches of her coat and skin, relentlessly going on to gnaw at her flesh. The filly screamed as she thrashed her head about from side to side, unable to do anything else as the rats started to devour her alive, piece by piece.

Like a well-oiled digging implement they ripped and tugged at her muscles and ligaments, tearing out sinews and arteries both as they pushed onwards. Several of them came face to face with her spine, but decided to simply gnaw around it when it proved to be a nut too hard to crack. After all, they were aiming to break free and didn’t have a bone to pick with any of the elements that made up Sweetie’s body in particular.

The filly herself shrieked like a banshee, foam appearing on her mouth as her muscles convulsed and her body thrashed about as much as it could, which is to say not much at all. Regardless of that she still moved enough for the nails to pull at the wounds they had inflicted on her, causing the holes to become larger and bleed even more profusely.

But this, although painful, was only the least of her troubles as the rats’ combined efforts finally broke through layers of skin and muscle and they erupted into her abdominal cavity, clawing up past her intestines or, in some cases, simply gnawing through.

The unpleasant and torturous feeling soon turned Sweetie green with nausea as her stomach buckled and she vomited, partially managing to spray it next to her on the table, but some of it getting onto herself as she could only barely lift her head to aim it away.

The ensuing screams were music to Cheer’s ears, and when copious amounts of blood started streaming out of the bottom of the metal cylinder, falling down into the fire with a hiss, her legs got all wobbly with excitement.

As the rats continued to bite and claw their way through Sweetie Belle, her screaming slowly shifted to a wet gurgling noise. With every passing second more of her internal organs got ripped to shreds as the disoriented rats tried to find a way out. A few of them stayed right on target as they started advancing on the upper part of the filly’s abdomen, opposite to the point where they had entered.

Some of the other rats were clueless though as they kept going around in circles or started off in completely wrong ways, digging horizontal tunnels of gore through Sweetie Belle.

As one of the rats tore through her diaphragm the filly’s breathing became shallow and troubled, and Cheerilee started taking up bets with herself as to what would kill the filly first: loss of blood or the inevitable destruction of some vital organ or the other.

It wasn’t long after that that the filly’s stomach started to bulge out, before suddenly a blood-soaked rat tore away the last patch of skin with his sharp claws, and poked his head out of her stomach.

To Cheerilee, the small, furry critter was the most adorable thing she’d seen in quite some time, especially the way it looked around the room with curious eyes. It clawed its way fully out of Sweetie Belle’s warm entrails and made its way down her quivering body and off the table, soon followed by a dozen of his brethren as they all fled their meaty container and scurried off into the darkness.

The pale filly’s body convulsed so wildly with shock that not even the ropes were enough to hold her down anymore. She thrashed and shook against her bindings as a stream of blood flowed out of her mouth and down her chin, nails ripping through her flesh or simply getting pulled out of the table altogether.

After a few violent seconds, during which most of the rats escaped, all of the nails had ripped either through her flesh or her hoof, or both, but the filly was already too far gone to notice or care. Her body convulsed one last time as she let out a horrifying choking sound and then the filly, finally, passed away.

In the ensuing silence the only thing that could still be heard was the dripping of blood and Cheerilee’s heavy panting, since the blood flowing out of the cylinder had long since extinguished the crackling flames the mare had lit earlier.

A few moments passed during which Cheerilee tried to control the trembling of her body, until suddenly a soft squeaking noise could be heard. The reason for Sweetie’s choking sounds towards the end became at once apparent as her mouth opened, one of the rats forcing his way out of her throat and climbing past her teeth to freedom. Cheerilee burst at once into hysterical laughter, still in the throes of hilarity when she took the stairs back up to get to the fillies and colt’s dressing area.

All the way up there only one question was on her mind: Why had no comedian ever thought of this before? Death was simply hysterical!

Cheerilee made her way through the backstage area, albeit a good distance away from the whole Snails’ thing, and headed for the dressing room. After that scene with Sweetie Belle, two soliloquy scenes followed, one with Reginald and then another with the king. Since she took her sweet time, that first one had almost certainly ended already, but as the mare passed a few corridors leading up to the stage itself she thought she could still hear Apple Bloom’s voice on stage.

If she hurried she might still be able to assist Snips in finding his costume for the last scene, if he was indeed as dumb as he looked and hadn’t been able to find it on his own yet. As she rounded a corner something crashed into her at high speed, causing her to stumble back a few steps as the air got slammed out of her lungs.

She looked down when she got her bearings, and saw Snips sitting there on his plot, shaking his head to dispel the dizziness that set on due to the crash. “Snips! What are you doing here, and not even in costume! You need to get ready for the last scene,” she said by way of a reprimand.

The cyan colt with the ochre mane looked hugely relieved to see his teacher, and he immediately scrambled to his feet, tears in the corner of his eyes as he started talking.

“Oh Miss Cherrilee! It’s terrible!” he yelled out. “I was looking for my costume and I couldn’t find it so I went looking for you and I couldn’t find you, but but... I found Snails and... and...”

He took a huge breath at this point, obviously struggling to get the words out. “... and he’s dead...”

Cheerilee’s world grinded to a halt with those words, cold sweat breaking out across her forehead as she felt the slightest hint of panic rise up from her stomach like bile. She’d strayed from her schedule, and she’d just found out what that would come to cost her.

Her mind worked frantically to figure out a way to minimize the damage caused, to somehow soothe the colt enough so that her plans could go through, but no easy solution presented itself.

Snips, on the other hand, seemed to pull himself together, turning around and taking a few steps. “Come on!” he called back to her. “We can’t continue the play now, we’ve got to tell the others!”

Cheerilee felt a block of ice drop into her stomach as the cyan colt galloped off. No! If he reached anypony else, he would...

With a sudden burst of speed that’d have dazzled even Rainbow Dash she rushed forward, catching up to the younger pony in mere seconds. In one fluid movement she slipped from a full gallop into a full-blown karate kick, focusing all her kinetic energy in a single hoof. Snips got hit good in the side, so good in fact that the kick send him crashing into a nearby wall, at the bottom of which he fell down in a crumpled heap.

Cheerilee silently thanked Rainbow Dash for all the times she’d come to give the kids some karate lessons, some of it had obviously stuck in her head over the years.

Before the colt could do more than roll onto his back, Cheer descended upon him like a hawk, keeping him down with one hoof as she started beating him in the face with the other, in the throes of blind rage.

Here was one who stood between her and reaching her goal, and she could think of nothing but removing him from her path right away, no matter the cost.

Snips feebly tried to defend himself, but he was a lot smaller than the mare, not to mention a unicorn while she had all the physical prowess of an earth pony to fall back on. The beating continued mercilessly, Snips’ face swelling up and blood running out of his nose and down from the places where she broke through his skin.

In an act of desperation the subconscious part of his mind reached out to magical reserves he didn’t even think he had and his horn started to glow green with power. All of a sudden a wave of arcane energy zipped past Cheerilee’s head, leaving a long, thin cut stretching the length of her cheek. The fuchsia coloured mare gasped in surprise as blood started trickling down from the wound, which wasn’t all that serious, although it did sting a little.

Her gaze dropped down to the colt’s cutie mark, and she realised she should’ve seen this coming. His speciality obviously involved cutting of some kind, and apparently he wasn’t restricted to the use of scissors.

A subtle change in the aura around the horn warned Cheerilee that another spell was about to be flung at her, so with no other options in mind she raised her hoof before ramming it down to dish out another punch. Only this time she didn’t aim for Snips face, but for the horn itself. As she hit her target the colt’s head jerked back and he groaned as the horn tugged at his skull, the spell discharging into the wall behind him instead of its intended target. The magical light around the horn flickered for a moment before coming back in force, and Cheerilee just knew the next spell was already on its way.

She once again started raining down punches, now aiming all of them at the horn, spells exploding against the walls, ceiling and floor left and right, sending tiny pieces of rubble flying everywhere.

At first the colt took the beating like a stallion, but as the mare hit the same spot time and time again, it became increasingly difficult for him to fight back against the pain that was rising in his skull. All of a sudden little cracks started to appear in the horn, until one final strike from Cheerilee broke it clear off.

When that happened, magic exploded into the room, throwing Cheerilee off the colt and making her slide several meters over the floor, until she came to a halt a few meters away from Snips.

The magical feedback seemed to have been a lot worse for the cyan pony himself, as he lay witlessly on the floor.

Scrambling to her hooves, the fuchsia mare picked up Snips’ horn when she passed it on the way to his motionless form, clutching it between her front hooves like a dagger as she kneeled over him. With a moments hesitation, she rammed the horn down straight into his chest. As the blood welled up underneath Cheer’s hands and spattered everywhere, the colt’s eyes shot open and he stared first at his chest, and then at her. “Why?” he managed to whisper hoarsely as life fled from his body.

Cheerilee didn’t bother to answer his question, simply pulling the horn out of his body and ramming it back into his chest a few times for good measure, until he stopped moving altogether.

Cheerilee panted heavily (from actual physical exertion this time) as she rolled off of Snips’ corpse, trying to catch her breath as she just lay on the cold floor. Killing him like this had been quite exhilarating in its own right, even if it did all end rather fast.

She licked over her own cheek, sampling her own blood for the first time and finding it not altogether unpleasant, even if it did feel a bit strange.

She was glad she’d been able to try this “struggle for survival” approach at least once though, even if her original plan for Apple Bloom and him had been a thousand times more elegant...

The realisation suddenly hit her with sickening force: her plans for Snips and Apple Bloom! The plan required both of them to maneuver each other into the right places, and even after that the next few steps also required interaction between them. Now that Snips was gone, it couldn’t possibly work.

And that was the least of her troubles, the play still had one scene to go, and Snips was supposed to be in it. The mare began thinking up countless new plans on the spot, but she rejected all of them out of hand for being too ridiculous, too short-sighted, too dangerous, too... risky. She began to fear the situation was hopeless, that she had finally maneuvered herself into a corner she could not escape from.

To keep the audience in the dark, the final scene had to go through without a hitch, so someone had to go out there to play against Apple Bloom. With nopony else left from the original cast, she could only count on herself.

She’d have to improvise and it probably would not work, but it was the best shot she had. The only shot she had.

She quickly galloped towards the dressing area and headed in the backroom, wiping the blood off of herself with a rag before opening the chest that held Reginald’s final costume. It was way too small for her of course, but it included a particularly dashing brooch she could use as a fastener.

Cheerilee quickly picked up the brooch and continued on towards the back of the room, where several bolts of cloth lay stashed. She chose a black piece that was just large enough to fit around her body, and swung over her back, using the brooch as a clasp in her neck to end up with something vaguely reminiscent of a hooded cloak.

It wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny but since the audience would only see her from far away, it just might do. At least she hoped so. As a finishing touch she slid a knife she found on a nearby shelf through the fabric, improvising some manner of sheath so that the blade rested against her chest, relatively hidden.

The mare then dashed off in the direction of the stage, realising she had no time left to waste. She brought up a mental map of the building on the fly, to figure out exactly where she had to go. For the next scene, Reginald was supposed to emerge out of a mountain cave after the king had climbed up that mountain, to meet his challenge.

Knowing that, Cheerilee rounded a turn and rushed up a flight of stairs, emerging at last into the dark “cave” at the top of the mountain. From here she could see the audience, but she was quite sure the darkness still hid her from them.

Judging from the fact that Apple Bloom was nowhere in sight, she had made it in time. She quietly congratulated herself over this accomplishment, as she took a few moments to catch her breath and rest up, fearing that she may soon need the energy. It only took her a minute to start hearing the filly’s voice coming closer, and pretty soon after that she came into view, having made her way up the mountain slope. She was wearing relatively simple attire compared to the royal mantle from earlier. She had a sheathed toy sword with her, attached to her side where she could easily reach for the pommel with her teeth.

“Reginald! I have come to face your challenge, come out and fight like a stallion!” King Goldencrown roared, looking around defiantly. Cheerilee took one deep breath and hid her face a bit deeper under the hood, even though she wasn’t sure why. It wouldn’t fool anyone, or not for very long at least.

Swallowing back her fear she stepped out of the cave and onto the highest point of the stage. The mountain summit was located several meters above the mine Scootaloo had disappeared into earlier, but as it was placed all the way to the back of the stage even the ponies occupying the front rows could still see the actors up there relatively easily.

Cheerilee could hear the crowd talking and whispering to each other as she stepped out of the shadows, they were obviously wondering what in the hay she was doing up there on the stage. Apple Bloom herself was even more confused, as she had expected to see Snips there, not her teacher.

“Miss Cheerilee, why are you-” she began to say quietly.

“I see you have come, oh brave King, and I applaud your bravery. As a token of my respect, I shall face you here in my one true form. Up ‘till now Witchcraft and Sorcery have hidden me from your eyes, but no longer. Tonight we fight an honest battle,” Cheerilee’s voice boomed through the complex, easily going over Apple Bloom’s.

The explanation sounded tacky even to her own ears, but it was the best she’d been able to come up with at such short notice. In a sudden moment of inspiration she gave Apple Bloom a conspirator's wink, praying the filly would play along. Whatever the filly had assumed Cheer meant by it, she suddenly grinned and nodded eagerly, as if to say “Oh, I got it!”.

“Oh fiend! Ah knew there was more afoot when you bested mah most trusted advisors. Witchcraft, this explains a lot indeed!” the King responded, Apple Bloom’s accent playing up slightly as they strayed from the original script, but the fuchsia mare couldn’t have cared less at that point, so relieved was she to see the other pony playing along with her ruse.

“Well then, let us dance,” she cried out as she reached her right hoof under her cloak to draw the knife, keeping three hooves on the floor as she pointed the blade at her ‘opponent’.

The filly in turn took the pommel of her toy sword between her teeth and assumed a combative stance. The sword was far too big for her to carry it in a hoof, as Cheerilee did with her knife, so for her this was the only option. That alone made the odds heavily favour the mare, and on top of that one of them was wielding a real knife while the other one had only a mostly harmless plastic toy.

The entire fighting scene had been carefully choreographed, so Apple Bloom naturally stuck to her predetermined moves, and she expected Cheerilee to play by the book as well. Cheerilee would certainly have been capable of doing so, had she been so inclined, since she was the one who planned out the entire thing.

She was, however, extremely anxious to get it all over with quickly.

As soon as Apple Bloom advanced, Cheerilee stepped forward as well, intentionally allowing herself to get within reach of the filly’s sword. Instead of parrying Apple Bloom’s swing with her dagger as the filly expected, she jerked her head back to dodge it, confusing the hay out of the Apple Bloom and throwing her balance off completely.

The fuchsia mare quickly followed up with an attack of her own, which left a nasty cut over the filly’s left cheek, almost the twin of the cut Cheerilee still hid under her hood. Apple Bloom let out a sharp cry, more out of surprise than out of pain, as she stumbled backwards. She looked at the red liquid dripping down the tip of the knife, and then at Cheerilee, who stared back coldly from underneath the hood.

“Wait, is that a rea-” she began saying, the words muffled by the pommel in her mouth, but Cheerilee didn’t at all feel like letting down the pressure now and simply rushed forward.

Apple Bloom panicked and swung her sword, hitting Cheerilee right in the face in the process.

Cheerilee almost lost her balance as her head got slammed to the side, but somehow she managed to turn the movement into an 180 degrees spin, bucking her hind legs at the filly.

She hit her right in the chest, and the sheer force of the blow send the little one flying across the stage, until she landed roughly on her back a meter or two away.

The filly took a deep breath, a stinging pain in her chest alerting her to the fact that all was not well, and she didn’t seem to be able to draw in as much air as usual, either. She realised Cheerilee had probably broken some of her ribs, and still felt dazed from the landing too.

Her teacher however wasted no time and descended upon the fallen Apple Bloom like a vulture, ramming the knife through her right shoulder and into the wooden floor below, effectively pinning her down.

The filly held back a shriek of pain and swung her sword again, hitting Cheerilee in the head once more. It barely phased the mare although it did piss her off. All of a sudden she brought her head down and headbutted the filly brutally, hoping to knock her out. That was exactly what happened as Apple Bloom’s eyes rolled back in her head.

Suddenly becoming acutely aware of the audience staring up at her, Cheerilee remembered her last lines, the words traditionally spoken at the end of a Reginald play, even though she’d have to change it up a bit.

She clutched her head, as if she had been fatally wounded by that last blow and then spoke dramatically.

“Oh, what cruel fate, now we both must die! But I implore you all, stallions and mares never to forget Reginald... the Sly...” and then she allowed herself to fall to the floor, remaining there motionlessly.

She’d never understood those words herself, or what moral lesson they were supposed to convey, but they got the job done. The technician got the cue and the curtains started to close, as the audience started to stomping their hooves down onto the floor and cheered to show their approval.

The play had been, on the whole, pretty well done, and the curious alternate ending did add that certain something something. Not to mention, that last fighting scene had been gorgeous, it didn’t look like they were just pretending at all!

With relief Cheerilee saw the curtain finally close completely, hiding the stage from the audience’s sight. She’d spread the word that the fillies and herself would have to start breaking down the stage props and cleaning up the backstage area right away, since some other group from Canterlot needed the building later that week. That meant nobody was expecting them back home any time soon.

She threw a glance at the unconscious filly next to her, who still had the knife embedded in her shoulder, and smiled.

She had all the time she needed to figure out something new for this one now. All the time in the world.

Apple Bloom, in her half-awake state, suddenly felt a cold glass being pressed against her lips. She instinctively opened her mouth to drink, quickly swallowing what she believed to be water. It only took her a few sips to realise, even in her groggy state, that what she was drinking wasn’t water at all.

For one, it had a sort of metallic aftertaste, and for another there were small bits and pieces in it that sort of resembled...

At once she was wide awake, coughing and spitting out the last of the fluid in her mouth. She’d been bound to some sort of wooden table with leather straps. She saw Cheerilee standing next to her, holding a glass filled with a red liquid, grinning wickedly at her. “Mmmm, I thought you liked it. Scootaloo made it herself, you know... She really... poured herself into it, you could say.”

The mare cackled maniacally as horror flashed across the filly’s face. “Scootaloo... You... Ah...”

“Killed her? Oh yes, ‘fraid so. She was the first to go, you know. And you... you’re the last,” the mare said, feeling uncharacteristically chatty.

The filly turned pale. “You killed... all of ‘em?”

“Oh goodness no!" she replied, grinning as relief spread over the filly’s face. “I didn’t kill Snails, that was all you... the way you made that spotlight, or sun if you wish, fall down on him... Glorious.”

Tears filled Apple Bloom’s eyes as the realisation hit her that all of her friends were gone, and that her fate wasn’t likely to be any different. “W...why?” she managed to let out as Cheerilee picked up a knife and held it up to the light appraisingly.

“Why? Because you all deserve it. Each and everyone of you is a blight upon this land, a weed in my garden, and it’s time to end it,” the mare said coldly as she positioned herself at the end of the table, near the filly’s hind legs. “So shall we?”

Slowly and carefully the mare made an incision above the filly’s hoof, cutting neatly around the circumference of her leg.

Apple Bloom tried to squirm, but the leather straps effectively held her in place as they dug into her skin. Cheerilee slipped the knife under her skin, carefully cutting the skin loose from the filly’s flesh. The pain this caused was immense, but the filly clenched her teeth and refused to acknowledge it, every bit as stubborn as her sister was, not wanting to give Cheerilee the pleasure of hearing her scream.

Cheerilee obviously thought she cut enough for now, as she took hold of the flap of skin she cut loose with her teeth. Slowly she pulled it up the filly’s legs, ripping more skin off as she went, flaying the filly alive. Despite her brave effort, this was simply too much for anypony to endure quietly, and Apple Bloom’s scream rang out throughout the empty complex. Cheer continued making new incisions every time she accidentally tore the skin completely off, and then continued the flaying from there. Pretty soon half of the filly’s leg was a bloody heap of bare flesh, every little twitch going through the exposed muscles an agonizing experience, blood dropping from everywhere.

But still Cheer showed no sign of stopping, as she continued cutting and flaying, slowly moving up.

Eventually the filly’s entire leg was a disgusting, skinless mess. Cheerilee sadistically breathed out on it for a while, making Apple Bloom shiver in pain. A little light sparkled in Cheer’s eyes as she bowed down and extended her tongue, slowly dragging it all the way from the filly’s hoof up to her flank. For a moment the mare thought the screams that followed would deafen her permanently, before she pulled her tongue back into her mouth and savoured the taste.

“Mmmm... you’re quite good, want a taste?” she whispered in the filly’s ear.

“B...buck...y-you... “ the Cutie Mark Crusader managed to stammer. Cheerilee laughed, amused by Apple Bloom’s defiant nature. This one may be able to take some punishment yet!

She diligently started cutting up the filly’s other leg, making a long incision across the length of the leg this time, pulling the skin off towards the side instead of upwards. The filly still tried to resist and keep up appearances, but she slowly started sobbing and shivering as the pain became too much to bear, her breathing becoming ragged and her skin turning pale as her vividly scarlet blood coated the floor.

As she gained more confidence with a knife her movements started to become quicker, and in one fluid motion she first cut the skin from the filly’s left flank, and then moved right over to cut off the skin on the right.

She picked up the two pieces of skin with her teeth and held them up before the filly, before tossing them aside. “Saw those? That’s where your Cutie Mark would’ve been... if you had one. You never will now. Guess your ‘crusading’ days are over.”

This realisation finally did with the pain hadn’t been able to do: it shattered the filly’s last vestiges of resistance. From one moment to the next she started to cry loudly, her body shaking wildly, using up way more energy on all that than she should. Cheer started cutting out strips of skin on the filly’s chest, until the word “Weed” was spelled out there.

By now the filly had lost enough blood and wasted enough energy that her responses started to become sluggish, ruining some of Cheerilee’s fun. She tried poking the knife into a few pressure points, but her reaction was so underwhelming that Cheer shrugged and decided to call it quits.

She undid the leather straps and pulled a tub out from under the table, exactly the same one she had squeezed Scootaloo out into earlier... and Scootaloo was still there.

Not wanting to simply wait until Apple Bloom bled out, the mare pulled her off the table by her hair, dropping her straight into the tub.

The blood and pieces of gore suddenly surrounding her stung on her bare flesh, and she let out a soft hiss.

As Apple Bloom took in the scent of the blood and saw an eye drifting slowly by, she suddenly realised just what she’d been dropped in. This notion seemed to renew her strength as she scrambled to get out of the tub, but Cheerilee would have none of it. She grabbed the filly by the hair with a hoof and forced her down into the pool of blood, keeping her mouth and nostrils under.

The filly screamed, swallowing mouthfuls of Scootaloo in the process as she thrashed her legs about wildly, splattering the contents of the tub everywhere. Air bubbled up from her mouth, but Cheerilee kept her there firmly, ecstatic to see the filly’s struggling die down slowly. As Apple Bloom’s lungs started to burn more, she involuntarily tried to breath anyway, filling her lungs with blood and gore.

After a last erratic twitch of one of her legs, Apple Bloom remained motionless. The fuchsia coloured mare waited a few more seconds, before finally releasing the filly. Apple Bloom’s mutilated body just kept laying still in the pool of blood that had once been Scootaloo, and Cheerilee knew her task had finally come to an end. All that was left was simply clean-up.

She sat back and cried tears of joy, overcome with emotion as she realised she might finally get her life back on the rails now, with a new class next year, a class of nice fillies and colts, instead of the monsters she had had.

She felt proud to have played her part in making Equestria a better place, proud to have protected the future generations from poisonous influences that would have hampered their growth, which in turn would have hampered others... The consequences would’ve been quite dire, to say the least.

Humming a cheerful tune she went to get cleaned up once again, and then went over to her stash of flammable liquids.

It’d take some time by herself, but she’d get the job done. She felt like she was walking on clouds, nothing would stop her now!

Fire sprung up all around her, stopping her right in her tracks. She realised too late she had no thought this through. She’d spread flammable stuff everywhere and then lit a few fires in different places, but she had underestimated the speed at which the flames would spread.

And now she was here, not too far from the exit, but unable to proceed due to the problem she herself had created.

She backed off into the center of the room, as far away from the flames as possible, but as soon as she got there she already had to jump out of the way of a burning crossbeam, which only barely missed her. Various patches of fur on her body were already singed from flames she just barely dodged, and soot and ash covered her from tip to hoof.

Smoke started to fill the room and Cheerilee felt herself slowly suffocating as every breath she took drew some more of it into her lungs.

As her breathing became troubled she laughed softly, wonder if her day of liberation would also be the day she died. She consoled herself that a noble death after having completed her mission was still infinitely better than the life she had been living before, in a world where those colts and fillies were still alive.

Just as she started to think the situation was hopeless, a burst of purple light exploded from the exit ahead, wood splintering in the explosion.

Surprisingly, the blast seemed to have sucked the life out of most of the flames between her and the exit, so summoning the last of her strength Cheerilee made a beeline for the exit.

As she got closer she could hear voices talking to each other urgently, worry thick in their voices.

“Do it again, Twi, do it again!”

“Eugh. I... that took a lot out of me, I don’t think this is the best way to...”

Cheerilee burst out of the burning building, smoke trailing behind her as she collapsed on the grass just outside of the theater complex. Immediately several ponies rushed forward to help her, and as she looked up she saw Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy standing around here, with concerned looks in their eyes.

“Are you ok? Where are the children? I teleported us all here as soon as we saw the smoke,” Twilight said, the other five nodding.

Cheerilee opened her mouth, her voice hoarse and crackling from the smoke as she spoke.

“They... inside... fire... No idea... how...” she said, but the effort took a lot out of her.

“Shoot! We can’t wait, we need to get them, now!” Rainbow Dash cried out.

“Just wait,” the purple mare replied calmly “I can see other ponies crossing the river already, pretty soon w-”

But Rainbow Dash didn’t listen. Utilising her trademark speed she dashed through all of the flames and disappeared into the building, quickly followed by Rarity and Applejack, who were both yelling the names of their respective little sisters.

“Wh-wh...what now?” Fluttershy said shakily, as she and Pinkie Pie waited for Twilight’s direction.

“Form a bucket line!” the unicorn commanded, the other two ponies quickly dashing off in the direction of the river to organise the other ponies in one long line.

As the first buckets got passed to the front and thrown in the fire, both Cheerilee and Twi could see the effort was in vain. The water didn’t seem to make any different as bucket after bucket was thrown onto the flames, yet they just kept getting bigger and hotter. From where she lay on the ground, Cheerilee suspected that any evidence against her might already be long lost, but she wasn’t willing to take the bet.

Suddenly the purple pony seemed to get fed up with waiting and worrying about her friends, and an idea came to her. She called upon her magical reserves, straining herself to the maximum as her horn began to glow more and more.

Ponies watched on in awe as a purple trail of light sprang up between the river and the theater and the river started to alter it’s course.

In a matter of seconds a wall of water suddenly rushed forward at the theater walls, crushing everything in its path. Cheerilee was hit by a rush of panic, this just might be enough to put out the fire!

She shouldn’t have worried. Although the unleashed fury of the river did indeed put an end to the flames, it also washed away the weakened theater building itself, smashing it all against the ground. As Twilight, exhausted, stopped applying her magical might to it, the water of the river started to recede, dragging a lot of rubble and the like with it.

Twilight looked around the disaster area fearfully for a few moments, but breathed a sigh of relief as her three friends climbed from between the rubble, battered, bruised and a little singed, but otherwise ok.

But the fillies and colts they’d been looking for were nowhere in sight. Twilight threw a few questioning glances at her friends, but they all shaked their heads as tears filled their eyes. Nobody had managed to find any of them in the inferno. As the reality of the situation hit them, their emotions got the best of them as they let go of their tears.

They were quickly joined by the weakened Cheerilee, who shed tears of pure relief.

A week or two had passed since the incident, and a lot had happened. Several investigations had looked into the cause of the fire, but the fire itself and the water that followed had destroyed anything that could’ve given the investigators even the slightest clue.

Cheerilee always looked confused and heartbroken whenever she got questioned, claiming she was taking care of something on the other side of the complex when the fire broke out. Although someponies wondered if this couldn’t be considered some form of negligence, no official complaints against her were filed.

The cleaning effort had been ongoing for an entire week, and even now bits and pieces of rubble still turned up here and there.

During the weekend following the “disaster” a joined burial ceremony was held for all the fillies and colts who died at once, although all of the caskets had been filled with stone and belongings of the dead, since none of the bodies had been found.

Everypony got very emotional, including Cheerilee, who cried tears of joy as her struggle finally came to an end. A lot of ponies came to tell her that “It was ok.” and “Things would be alright.” or that “It wasn’t your fault.”

Cheerilee constantly had to take care not to accidentally respond to these in the wrong way, so she was quite relieved when it was finally over.

And so two weeks passed.

Cheerilee grunted and moaned, sweating profusely in the warmth of the sun. It had taken her a lot of effort, and she’d certainly be sore in the morning. But she didn’t care. She’d finally done it.

She took a few steps back to admire her work, and marveled at the perfect state her garden was, once again, in. There and then she made a solemn vow, a sacred pact with herself.

“I, Cheerilee, will never let any weeds take over my garden, ever again.”

Scarlet Harvest.

Credited to Unahim 
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