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~Princess Luna

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Post in forum #1905 - An ongoing MLP Roleplay Thread, Rated PG-13.

“Pickle Barrel!”

Hearing his name, the grey earth pony set down the crate he’d been lifting and turned. His black mane needed cutting, but it wasn’t quite long enough to stop him from seeing the scrawny yellow earth pony trotting toward him. More of a stagger than a trot, and his panting had a nasty wheeze. He wore the kind of shirt you wore when you worked in an office, complete with pocket protector. Eyes made tiny by the thick lenses of his glasses darted left and right. Pickle Barrel didn’t have to look around to know they’d have an audience. Hauling things was boring work, and Kumquat looked more out of place here than a banana in a stack of coconuts.

Kumquat detoured around a big net bag crammed with fat coils of rope. No airship hovered over the warehouse roof, but one was scheduled to arrive in an hour. Nothing but a cargo box under a big envelope, with little propellers stuck on like an afterthought. Then the team of earth ponies who had hauled all this stuff up to the roof would get to load it into the airship for hauling up to Aura.

Pickle Barrel hadn’t seen his brother-in-law much since they’d hauled an unconscious earth pony out north of the city and left him locked inside a secluded little cottage. Since the whole city didn’t know about that, Pickle knew that Kumquat hadn’t told his wife. Cracker Barrel was a sweet mare, but she wasn’t the brightest candle in the chandelier and she couldn’t keep a secret for love nor money.

“Morning.” Pickle said. Kumquat skidded to a halt and wheezed at him. Pickle picked up the much smaller stallion and sat him on the crate. Then he handed over his canteen.

Kumquat took a gulp but sputtered on the second mouthful. Didn’t quite spit it back in the canteen. After a puff-cheeked moment of uncertainty, he opted to swallow rather than spit. Pickle decided not to make the obvious joke. Kumquat smacked his lips with a grimace. “What is that? Booze?”

“Lemonade.” Pickle said. “Ah don’t drink at work.”

“You’re supposed to add, uh, sugar.”

“Ah like it sour.” Pickle took the canteen back and wiped the mouth off with a clean handkerchief before replacing it in his shoulder-bag.

Kumquat seemed to remember why he was here. That look of mild panic returned. Not that it took a lot to make him panic. “Listen, Barrel. Are you going to go hear Luna’s speech?”

Looking out over the warehouse rooftops, which were all the same height because even taller ones weren’t legal, Pickle focused on one about four streets to the west. Princess Luna stood on top of one of the little shack-like structures that capped a stairwell. Or maybe she didn’t. There were Lunas all over Shadowville this morning and up in Aura too. Nopony seemed to really know if Luna was in lots of places at once or they were some kind of illusion. Whatever it was, ponies had already started to gather. “Ah reckon so.”

“She can walk in our dreams.” Kumquat said. “I bet she could look you in the eye and know every bad thing you ever did.”

Pickle considered that quite a leap. He didn’t know much about magic, so maybe there was a reason that the first ability made the second likely. “Your point?”

“Don’t we have something to hide?” Kumquat emphasized that with a lot of eyebrow waggling.

“Ah think not going looks more suspicious. Ah think running around in a panic when everypony else is saying calm like Luna asked looks suspicious. Ah think there are gonna be ponies in the crowds with blacker crimes and blacker hearts than us. Ah think fear of being caught is making you do stupid things, and ah think that you being stupid is the number-one thing that might get us caught. So shut up and calm down.”

Kumquat stared at him with his jaw slack. Pickle rarely strung that many sentences together. He just never felt the need to chatter on and on. The skinny stallion pushed his glasses up. They slid right back down. “You’re right. I…” He trailed off and bit his lip. Giving a little snort and head-shake, he slipped off the crate. He spoke, seeming to think about the words before letting them out. “We can’t do anything if she knows. So…we should act as if she doesn’t. If we panic and act guilty, ponies might start wondering why. Start digging.”

“Yep.”

Kumquat hung his head. “I’m a moron.”

Pickle patted his brother-in-law on the back. “Nope. Just scared. Now go on. Be with Cracker for the big speech.”

“Okay. Thanks, Barrel.” He trotted away, looking as if he actually was calming down.

Pickle Barrel lifted the crate up onto his back and carried it over to the pile near the middle of the warehouse roof. This wasn’t his regular job: he didn’t have one. He hired on wherever somepony needed extra strong backs. Living cheap as a bachelor meant he could afford to do that. Variety in his work was more important to him than a reliable paycheck. Besides, some of the jobs he did weren’t the kind a pony could declare on a tax return. Being paid cash for all his odd jobs made it easier to hide that some of his bits were ill-gotten.

Still, he was a hard worker who earned his day’s pay, and that meant places that hired him once would hire him again. He knew a lot of these warehouse rats by sight and some of them by name. As he set down the crate, Brick sauntered over. The pale green earth pony had a brick-red mane, matching eyes, and muscles like a professional bodybuilder. He was a nice guy, if you didn’t make fun of his lisp. Few ponies ever did that to his face. Those that did got their faces rearranged. “Who wath that, Barrel? Your accountant?” This little gem got some appreciative chuckles from others in earshot. These weren’t ponies with enough money to need a minder.

“Brother in law.” Barrel said.

Brick gave him a concerned look. “You pithed?”

“Nope, not angry at all.”

“Not pithed off, pithed.” Brick gestured, tipping up an invisible bottle, then went cross-eyed.

Pickle pulled out his canteen and held it out. Brick started to say something, shrugged, and took it. He gave a sniff, then took a sip. Then sucked his lips into his mouth in an epic pucker. Much merriment from the onlookers. “Hnnnynnaug.” He gave it back. “What ith that?”

“Sugar-free lemonade.” Pickle said. He wiped the mouth off and put the canteen away.

Brick waited, and he should have known better. Finally he gave up waiting for Pickle Barrel to volunteer information. “The little colt theemed upthet.”

“His wife’s pregnant. And cranky.” Very true. Cracker Barrel had thrown a snow globe at him the last time he came around, for no reason that Pickle was able to see.

“Hah.” Brick gave him a thump on the back that was probably going to bruise. “I hear that. My wife’s thisther was a nightmare when she wath pregnant.”

“Ah hope your wife ain’t one, when it’s her turn.”

“Thankth. Gonna watch Luna with uth?”

Pickle considered it. Refusing might insult them, and he had no pressing reason to refuse. “Yup.”

“I think hithory is gonna be made today.” Brick said. Much solemn nodding from the other workers.

Pickle looked of toward the nearest Luna again. His gut said Brick was right. This had to be something big. Pickle had a few ideas about what, but he didn’t see much reason to share them. “Yup.”