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    “And so Cinnamon Spring found her friend, but she was not the same. She had eyes that glowed red in the dark, and when the moonlight fell on her wings, they were jagged and sharp. She looked at Cinnamon and said, ‘My, what big, juicy apples you have.'”

    “Oh, my pony, no. She worked so hard to grow those apples!”

    Her face half-hidden in shadow from her flashlight’s glow, Zipp gave her sister an eerie little smile.

    “That’s right, Pipp. She’s coming for those apples. You don’t have any apples, do you?”

    Pipp clutched the blanket bonnet wrapped around her head even tighter.

    “No!” she squeaked. “I don’t even like apples, Zipp. You know that.”

    “But does Midnight Streak know that?”

    Pipp’s eyes grew large.

    “She’s not real, and neither are bat ponies. It’s just a story. You can’t fool me.”

    “All stories have to come from somewhere, Sis. Maybe this one is real.”

    “Stop trying to scare me!”

    Zipp chuckled. “Why? Aren’t you the one who wanted a spooky story? I’m just the narrator, Pipp, this was all your idea. You wanted to be scared.”

    “I wanted you to read the story, not try to scare me on purpose. Quit teasing me and keep going.”

    Zipp rolled her eyes. She continued reading, and as she did, her sister nestled against her side to read along with her.

    “‘All your apples belong to me now,’ said Midnight, licking her lips and revealing fangs. ‘Give them to me now, Cinnamon, or I will take them by force.’

    “‘No, Midnight, this isn’t the real you!’ shouted Cinnamon. ‘You have to fight it! You’re more than an apple thief! I know you!’

    “But Midnight wasn’t listening. She’d already vanished in a puff of black smoke. When Cinnamon heard her voice again, it was from right behind her.

    “‘I’m not the friend you once knew. Search your heart, you know it’s true.'”

    Zipp paused when soft hooves gently squeezed her. She smiled.

    “Cinnamon gasped and spun around just as Midnight leapt for her favorite apple tree. She tried to give chase, but her hoof snagged on a root. ‘No, my Fujis!’ she screamed as Midnight clambered up her tree, higher and higher until—”

    A thunderclap cracked the air, and Pipp shrieked. The sound of pounding rain followed, battered against the windows by a faint, wailing wind.

    Zipp’s smile grew. Her wing had been unfurled by frantic hooves, turned into another layer of fluffy concealment.

    “…And here we see the rare Pink-Crested Warbler, building her nest using whatever she can find.”

    Pipp merely scoffed, unperturbed in her efforts.

    “A touchy species, they’re easily startled by loud noises, but only ones that are non-musical. Scientists are still baffled.”

    “Not as baffled as they are by the world’s leading expert on getting off track,” Pipp muttered. “Poor Cinnamon is about to witness an apple massacre by her vampony friend, Zipp. Focus!”

    “C’mon, she’ll be fine.”

    “Her livelihood won’t be. That’s almost worse!”

    Zipp smirked. She used her stolen wing to playfully press her sister—and her cocoon of blankets—into her side all the tighter.

    “You seem awfully worried about all these apples. You sure you’re not hiding your own stash somewhere, princess?”

    “If I was, you’d be the last to know about it,” Pipp giggled, breaking free from a face full of feathers. “Besides, it’s not vamponies I have to worry about, is it? I’ve seen how you leave the fridge after your late night snacks.”

    “Hey, don’t hate on the carbo loading. I’ve gotta improve my track times if I’m ever gonna beat Zoom.”

    “Who carbo loads at two in the morning?”

    “Ponies who do runs in the afternoon and at night because they’re up late, anyway. It’s about consistency and routine, Pipp. You do it, too. I just exercise and do track instead of fussing over my mane or doing choir at school.”

    Pipp groaned, but settled against her sister’s coat anyway. Zipp’s wing shifted to better fit around her.

    “First of all, it’s not fussing.”

    “It’s fussing.”

    “Second of all, now you’ve gotten me off track.”

    “How tragic.”

    “For Cinnamon Spring, maybe.”

    “You’re still on about that?” Zipp chuckled. Closing the book in front of her and pushing it aside, she guided her sister’s head beneath her own before resting her chin on it. “Give it a rest, Pipp.”

    “Why should I? How can you stop at the tensest part? Quit hugging me and keep reading!”

    “You started hugging me first, I’m just making use of these blankets you’re wearing. Look, you’re obviously a few rants away from passing out, Sis. I know you. I’m not gonna get to the best part of the story just for you to miss it.”

    “I am not going to pass out.”

    Zipp said nothing. For a time, the rain quietly pattered away at the window. When Pipp yawned, Zipp’s eyebrow peaked.

    “…Fine, maybe I’m getting a little tired.”

    “More than a little; I can barely move.”

    “Okay, I’m clingy when I’m tired, I get it! All of my pillows are way over there, what do you want from me?”

    Zipp’s smirk was back.

    “You remember what mom likes to say about you every chance she gets, right? Like at that dinner party last week with all those business ponies?”

    “Ugh, you just cannot give that a rest, can you?”

    “‘No need for a cat when Cloudpuff and my little Pipp are all the hugs I can handle!'”

    “Zipp, if you’re just gonna be a pest and not read, I’m gonna kick you out.”

    “Oh yeah?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Who’d protect you from vamponies and stray lightning bolts, then?”

    “I can go find Cloudpuff. He’ll at least hug me without the annoying commentary.”

    “Maybe, but you’ll have to go to mom’s room to get him. What is that, two dark and empty hallways away or three?”

    “…”

    “But hey, look on the bright side. Maybe you’ll run into Midnight Streak on the way, and she can tell you how that story ends.”

    Another long pause. Zipp eventually laughed, and an irate hoof prodded her.

    “…I was gonna say I’d come find you if I heard screaming.”

    “Oh sure, nice save. Rest assured, if you hear me screaming, you’ll have to deal with worse things than vamponies. Mom will get there first, and once she’s finished with Midnight, she’ll come after you.”

    “Me? What for?”

    “For letting me wander around the palace unsupervised at night, duh.” Pipp stretched out and hummed contentedly. Her sister’s chin rose then fell again upon her finish.

    “I read you your story and spent time with you like mom wanted, that counts for something. Plus it wouldn’t be my fault that you went and wandered off because you’d rather hug the dog.”

    “Yeah, but she wouldn’t see it that way. She loves ‘protective big sister Zipp’ just as much as she loves ‘her little Pipp.’”

    Curling her lower hooves and tail, Zipp let out a defeated sigh as she encircled her sister in a half-moon before growing still again.

    “I guess you’re right. Maybe we should both skip out on the wandering, tonight.”

    Pipp cocked a brow and smirked as she looked upwards. “Until you go raid the fridge later, anyway.”

    “Not likely to happen with you clinging to me like this.”

    “Well, that’s true,” Pipp sang, pressing her cheek into the folds of the mattress. Her eyes lidded and heavy, she grabbed her sister’s forehoof and pulled it against herself. “Now my big sister pillow isn’t going anywhere~”

    Zipp scoffed softly, smiling. “Yeah, I guess I’m not. Doomed to lightning duty all night by a simple leg lock. Don’t worry though, I’ll wriggle myself out once you’re asleep. It is about time for a run and a snack, and I gotta be diligent with my schedule this week. Zoom just began guard training, so she’s been even more regimented than usual. I can’t afford to fall behind and—”

    A sudden, soft snoring interrupted Zipp’s remark. She stopped mid-thought and shook her head. Her sister’s head had fallen limp against her forehoof.

    “And there it is. What did I say, Pipp? A few rants.”

    Yawning herself, Zipp looked to the window, where the rain trailed down the pane in droves. Every so often, a flash would pierce through the cloud cover, illuminating a distant patch of sky. It held her attention for a time as she counted off the seconds before each subdued rumble. Before long, though, a rumble that didn’t come from outside met her ears.

    Zipp turned to the door. Her brows furrowed.

    “…I wonder how many carbs are in an apple…”

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