Chapter 1: Sorrow
Nopony could remember a time when it had rained so hard. A raindrop pierced the canopy and fell on Apple Bloom's face. Her eyes burst open. Her blurry vision could only reveal to her that she was laying on her back. Once her sight focused, she immediately realized that she was in the Everfree Forest, and something was moving her. She cocked her head to the right so that her peripheral vision could reveal a brown cloak. Her breathing slowed in relief.
"Zecora! Zecora!" she squealed, but no sound came out. The cloaked pony must have gagged her. Zecora would have never done that to her. At least, she hoped so.
Ambivalent feelings overcame Apple Bloom as she recalled some of the whispers in Ponyville regarding a string of disappearances. Fillies were disappearing left and right and her best friend, Sweetie Belle, was one of them. Maybe this pony would bring her to Sweetie Belle. But she knew this was blind optimism.
The hooded pony carried Apple Bloom uphill for several minutes until it suddenly stopped. There was a small ditch in the forest where the canopy failed to stifle the torrential downpour. The upward slope caused most of the water to spill out of the ditch. The pony bound the filly to this ditch with a rope. Apple Bloom tried to struggle, but to no avail. The hooded pony whispered some unintelligible words. The only phrase Apple Bloom understood was, "I'm sorry."
Applejack couldn't sleep again. It was two days since Apple Bloom went missing and a day since Sweetie Belle was found drowned -- killed by the newly proclaimed Ponigami Killer. Applejack stepped outside to get some fresh air when she found a letter. It began:
When the ponies returned from Canterlot
All their foals were gone.
They searched and called for them,
They cried and begged,
But it was all to no avail.
The foals have never been seen again.
Applejack was too honest a pony for denial. Lying to herself would only take away the precious hours she had to save Apple Bloom. This authorless letter was from the Ponigami Killer. The Ponigami killer had her sister. He had Apple Bloom. The rain seemed to pound harder on the deck's canopy. With her left hoof, she turned the letter over to see if the sender had left any further information. To her surprise, there was a photograph with a message marked in pen under it. It read: "If you want to find your filly, you must start at the beginning." Another cryptic message.
She then closely examined the picture. There was a sign with a train on it in the foreground and a town in the background. Applejack removed the tape that bound the picture to the letter to take a closer look. As she did this, a piece of paper fell onto the ground from behind the photograph. She reached for the ticket which was positioned dangerously close to a crack in her house's deck. It was a ticket for a train locker with the characters "D-16" printed on it. Immediately, Applejack understood the photograph: it was the Appleloosan train station! Applejack stared out into the horizon. It was hard to tell the time of day during the wet season, especially this wet season, but Applejack guessed that the time was around six in the morning. The first train to Appleloosa would be in an hour. She had plenty of time to catch it. She tucked the ticket under her hat, and then wrapped one of the rain ponchos that either Granny Smith or Big Macintosh left on the deck around her.
Applejack leaped from the deck and slammed her hooves into a mud puddle and began a canter. The mud splattered all over her poncho. Applejack mused on how Rarity would react had she been in this situation. Applejack's amusement turned to gloom and self-revulsion. Rarity had lost Sweetie Belle, and unless Applejack did something, she would lose her Apple Bloom. But she was doing something. She was following a trail laid out to her by a psychotic killer that would probably kill her. This whole ordeal was likely a wild-goose chase, but talking to the local guard got her nowhere. As her legs followed their pre-determined path towards the town of Ponyville, her mind wandered and she recalled the events that led to Apple Bloom's abduction.
It was two days ago. For the first time in the wet season of this Spring, the rain had stopped. Granny Smith had ordered Applejack to take Apple Bloom to the local park to keep her mind off of Sweetie Belle going missing. Admittedly, Applejack needed to get out of her house, as well. Perhaps some fresh air and exercise would help her insomnia. Applejack had not slept well for three days, and was beginning to suffer the effects of sleep deprivation. Apple Bloom said nothing on the way to the park. Applejack was never very good at making small talk, so she just made occasional glances at her sister. Apple Bloom just stared at the ground, looking miserable. Without saying a word, the two reached the park. There were swings and slides and a see-saw. Those would keep her mind off of Sweetie Belle. At least for a little while.
"Hey, Apple Bloom. What do ya wanna do?" questioned Applejack with an attempt at sincere enthusiasm.
"I don't care...let's just do, y'know, whatever," sighed Apple Bloom. Applejack expected this response, but she tried to retain her positive demeanor.
"How 'bout we play on the swings? You'd like that, wouldn't ya?" persuaded Applejack, nudging her sister towards the old, rusty swing set.
"I guess..." complied Apple Bloom. Applejack nodded and forced a smile. The pair shifted themselves towards the swing set. Apple Bloom climbed onto the one open swing. Two other fillies were there alone.
"Do you want me to push ya?" condescended Applejack as she raised an eyebrow. Apple Bloom's depression overshadowed her self-consciousness.
"Well, all right," complied Applejack. Apple Bloom gripped onto the lower area of the swing's chains as Applejack placed her hooves on the upper parts of the chains and pulled back while standing on her two hind legs. As she released here grip, Apple Bloom launched forward and then back again. Maintaining the rhythm of the oscillation, she pushed Apple Bloom again just as the swing was about to switch directions. Applejack perpetuated this motion for several minutes, until exhaustion overtook her and she abruptly stopped. Apple Bloom was annoyed at the sudden stop, but the time the two spent together brought a smile to her face.
"Uh..hey, Apple Bloom. Y'wanna go play on the slide for a little bit? I'll be watching from that bench over there," appealed Applejack. Apple Bloom nodded and proceeded to carry out her sister's request. Applejack meandered her way towards the bench. The sleep deprivation was making her hallucinate. As she stumbled along the mud-sodden grass, she saw black figures wandering around her peripheral vision. She reminded herself that they weren't there. As she laid her body onto the bench and tucked her head under her cowboy hat, she justified her negligence. Apple Bloom would be fine. She would only take a short nap.
Applejack woke up. How long had she slept? She glanced around, but she couldn't find her sister. Where was Apple Bloom?
"Apple Bloom?" she called out. No response. She began to panic. She called out again in the other direction, but to the same result. She screamed at the top of her lungs, "APPLE BLOOM!?" Again, no response. Frantically, she searched the swing set and the see saw and slides and every inch of grass and mud for her sister. In the corner of the fenced park, she found Apple Bloom's ribbon. It was torn. Apple Bloom would never leave her ribbon in such a state. But maybe she ran back to the barn. Applejack had to try. How could she have been so negligent? Applejack could only blame herself.
Applejack tied her sister's ribbon around her right front leg. Afterwards, Applejack galloped her way back to the farm. The clouds had begun to condense again indicating a return of the rain. On the porch of the barn lurked Granny Smith and Big Macintosh.
"Have any of y'all seen Apple Bloom?" interrogated Applejack. The long gallop and the loss of her sister had left her face flustered. She breathed heavily, trying to catch her breath.
"No, she was supposed to be with you!" replied Granny Smith. Just the response she feared. She gasped for breath as she shot into a gallop once again. She first searched Apple Bloom's room, then every inch of her house. She hollered her name in every room she entered. No luck. Before her family could chastise her negligence, Applejack shot out of the house again to make her way for the Ponyville guard. The sky resumed its downpour. In response, Applejack pressed down upon her hat. There was something there. Applejack slowed to a trot to look at her hat.
Inside her hat was a small, white origami bird. Applejack was incredulous. This wasn't here earlier. Fear shivered down Applejack's spine. Could the Ponigami Killer have taken Apple Bloom away during her blackout? No, it's impossible. She could only have been asleep for an hour or so.
A scarier thought stopped Applejack right in her tracks. Applejack's insomnia had only gotten worse since the abductions started happening four weeks earlier, at the start of the wet season. Only since then had she suffered from blackouts and hallucinations. Maybe she created this origami figure. Maybe she was the Ponigami Killer. No, no. That was ridiculous. She didn't know how to make fancy origami figures. More importantly, why would she put Apple Bloom's life in danger? Apple Bloom meant more to her than anypony else. Applejack shook off these thoughts and headed again towards the Ponyville guard office.
Upon reaching the guard office, a secretary instructed Applejack to wait for an appointment with the guard captain. Applejack waited in one of the lounge chairs for about twenty minutes when the secretary called for Applejack to carry out her appointment. Much to Applejack's surprise, in the captain's office sat a certain purple-coated unicorn.
"Twilight! I'm so glad to see you! What are you doing here?" asked Applejack as she reached in to hug her friend.
"Applejack, what brings you here? Princess Celestia assigned me, her most trusted student, the task of leading the Ponyville guard for as long as it takes to find the alleged Ponigami Killer that is rampaging Ponyville," responded Twilight Sparkle after she returned Applejack's hug.
"Uh...on that topic. I can't find Apple Bloom. I was just at the park and then she just... well... vanished!"
"Oh, Applejack! How could that have happened? Weren't you watching her?" questioned Twilight.
"Well, ya see...I was watching Apple Bloom. She was feelin' mighty sad after the news about Sweetie Belle. So I took her to the park n' played with her on the swings. Then..well..uh..ya see I've been sufferin' from a bad case of insomnia lately. I haven't really slept in days. So I thought I'd just... well... take a nap. When I woke up, she was gone, n' she had left this," answered Applejack. As she heard herself trying to excuse her negligence, her eyes began to tear up, but she prevented herself from crying. Crying wouldn't get her anywhere. She then untied Apple Bloom's ribbon and hooved it to Twilight.
"I see. Well, we all will do our best to find Apple Bloom. How long ago did you lose your sister?" asked Twilight as she eyed Apple Bloom's ribbon. She nodded to Applejack, indicating that she should keep the ribbon to herself. Applejack proceeded to retie the ribbon around her front right leg so as to remind her of her sister.
"Let's see...I reckon I fell asleep about three hours ago and I slept for about an hour. It's now 7 in the evenin', so anywhere from about four to five o' clock today."
"Why didn't you come to the guard immediately? It's not that long a trot from here to the park."
"Well...I uh first checked the whole park like five times. Then I went home and checked every room in the barn. No Apple Bloom. Then I came immediately here. I'm sorry.."
"Don't blame yourself, Applejack. I understand," consoled Twilight.
"There's also this one more thing..." whispered Applejack as she took a deep breath. From under her cowboy hat she retrieved the origami figure and showed it to Twilight, who immediately took it from her. "I found it under my hat after Apple Bloom went missing. I swear it wasn't there before. D'ya...d'ya think it's the...well...the Ponigami Killer?"
"It's a possibility. And if it is, then we only have about five days to find Apple Bloom."
Five days. She did some mental calculations as she stepped into Ponyville. She had spent that evening and the next day crying to herself in self-pity. This morning she received the letter from the Ponigami killer, so she had at most four days now to save her sister. Twilight and the local guard haven't provided any clues as to the whereabouts of either the Ponigami killer or Apple Bloom. She had to save Apple Bloom herself. The trail to the train station was just a short trip now, just past Pinkie Pie's house.
"I can't believe you woke me up at six in the morning, Twilight! This better be important," complained the blue pegasus, Rainbow Dash, to her unicorn friend as the two entered a restricted zone near the train tracks. The area was surrounded by armed members of the Ponyville guard.
"This is important, Rainbow. Surely you've heard of the recent abductions and murders of fillies, haven't you? You do know that Sweetie Belle, Rarity's sister was murdered, and Apple Bloom, Applejack's sister, was recently fillynapped?" accused Twilight Sparkle. She gave the guard clearance for herself and Rainbow Dash before resuming her explanation. "Rainbow, you're the most athletic and loyal pony I know. You're also a pegasus. While the murders by the alleged Ponigami Killer have all occurred within Ponyville, which leads me to suspect that the murderer resides in Ponyville, we do not know if we can get information from other towns, perhaps even towns in the sky like Cloudsdale."
"Fine...I'll do what I can to save Apple Bloom and catch this Ponigami Killer," acquiesced Rainbow. "What can you tell me about the killer and the killings?"
"I can tell you almost nothing about the killer," explained Twilight as they approached the tent where the guard stored the body of Sweetie Belle for investigation. Twilight gestured to Rainbow that she shouldn't enter the tent just yet, as she had to explain the situation. Twilight summoned a pen and paper for Rainbow with her horn, hinting that she should take notes. "We don't know if he's a mare or a colt. Additionally, we don't know where he's an earth pony, pegasus, or unicorn. All we do know is that he's an extremely thorough serial killer. He generally doesn't leave any clues for us to follow.
What we can extrapolate about him come from his killings and his modus operandi. There have been six murders and seven abductions --we believe Apple Bloom to still be alive -- during the past four weeks, since the rain season began. All of the victims were cutie-mark-less fillies. Whenever we find a body, it is near some train tracks and the pony is usually only about six hours dead. When we hear a report that sounds like it could be related to the Ponigami Killer, we check the train tracks thoroughly, but we have yet to find a victim alive. The bodies of the fillies are usually found dead five days after the family of the victim informs us of the abduction. This leads us to believe that the Ponigami Killer moves the filly after the pony dies so as to cover up the location of his murders. The murdered fillies are usually found with imprints, possibly from rope around their limbs, indicating that the fillies were bound prior to being murdered. We haven't been given the authority to perform autopsies on the bodies, so we don't know exactly the method of murder, but the lack of any physical marks besides the non-lethal rope imprints leads me to believe that the Ponigami Killer drowned his victims. Most peculiarly is the way we find the fillies. All of the fillies have been found with a small origami figure in their right hoof and an orchid on their chests."
Once Rainbow Dash had finished taking her notes and stuffed them under her wing for safekeeping, Twilight beckoned Rainbow to follow her into the tent containing the body of Sweetie Belle. Rainbow Dash knew she wasn't going to enjoy the sight, but nothing could have prepared her for what she saw. Sweetie Belle's head was cocked a little to the left and was lying on her back and her mouth gaped wide open. Her eyes remained wide open and the eyes themselves appeared to be bulging out of their sockets. Like Twilight explained, there was a white orchid on her chest and what appeared to be a brown origami dog in her right hoof. Rainbow Dash approached the body. She placed her hoof on Sweetie Belle's limb to inspect it. Her body was cold and clammy. Rainbow Dash looked at the marks around her limbs when she created a hypothesis.
"Twilight, I just thought of something. Think about this. The fillies are always found with rope marks around their limbs and appear to be drowned. Now, the murders have only occurred during this wet season, right? And with the murders usually taking about five days, perhaps the Ponigami Killer binds the filly in some area and lets the rainwater drown the filly," suggested Rainbow Dash. Twilight looked quite impressed.
"Well done, Rainbow Dash! I'm glad I chose you to be my assistant," praised Twilight as she clapped her hooves together. Twilight blushed in reaction to her own unprofessional demeanor. "I think we should get out of this tent and search outside."
Rainbow Dash obeyed her orders and began to search the premises. So as to not disturb the evidence, she flapped her wings and took to the air, so as to maintain a low hover over the area. After several minutes of finding nothing, Rainbow had begun to become impatient. The deluge had soaked her mane and coat. She began to wonder whether all the guards in the area were more harm than help, as they could be trampling over the evidence. Suddenly, she found a few smudges in the mud leading towards the tent.
"Hey Twilight, I need you over here to illuminate something!" called out Rainbow Dash. Twilight complied and upon reaching Rainbow's position used her horn to light up the area. The light revealed smudged out hoofsteps leading from the train tracks to the Everfree Forest.
"All right! These prints are smudged out, I assume by the killer to prevent him from being tracked, but I'm pretty sure they're hoofprints. I think the Ponigami Killer hides his victims in the Everfree Forest during the days between the victim's abduction and death," explained Rainbow.
"It's a lead, but the Everfree Forest is so large that we're probably no closer to finding Apple Bloom than we were before," expressed Twilight. "I'll put some guards in and around the Everfree Forest and see what we can do. Rainbow, you're dismissed for now. I need to go talk to Rarity about authorizing an autopsy of her sister. I'll see you later."
Pinkie Pie had woken up early that morning, at six thirty. Sugarcube Corner didn't need her attendance for another two hours. She laid her head on her pillow, when she heard a voice. Somepony's out there Pinkie. He's looking for you. Pinkie Pie sprung up in response.
"Who's there? Huh? HUH!?" she cried out. The voice didn't answer. She walked over to the light, switched it on, and then scanned the room. Nothing was there. She told herself that she was imagining the voice. She crashed onto her bed again, trying to go to sleep even with the light on. The voice spoke again. Just because you're imagining it doesn't mean it's not real. Pinkie Pie gave up on trying to go to sleep. Surely, the voice would only speak to her when she was defenseless. She kicked herself out of bed and sprung herself towards the mirror. Her hair ballooned into their usual curls. You're always defenseless, Pinkie Pie.
"Get out of my head! Get out of my head!" she pleaded to the voice. The voice took no heed of her complaints and responded. The Ponigami Killer's taking your friends. He murdered Sweetie Belle. He's going to murder Apple Bloom. Who's to say he won't kill the rest of your friend? And you? Pinkie Pie understood. The voice was her paranoia. The last time it spoke to her came when she thought she had lost all her friends. I'm glad you understand Pinkie. You may want me out of your head, but for now, I am your only real friend. That's not true. I trust all of my friends with my life. That trust may get you killed. Pinkie Pie couldn't accept this, so she tried to clear her mind. The stared out the window of her room. It was raining still. Perhaps a nice walk under the patters of the rain would clear her head. She found her umbrella-hat stationed next to her desk by her alligator, Gummy. She kissed her alligator goodbye, fastened the headgear around her head and quietly left her house.
As she stepped out of her house, she saw a strange cloaked pony in the distance. Maybe it's the Ponigami Killer, Pinkie. You better watch out. Pinkie Pie shook her head in response. The spinning of her umbrella produced strange sounds and the rain hit it. This distracted Pinkie for enough time to shrug off the voice in her head. She squinted her eyes to see what the figure was. All she could make out was some form of cloak and a cowboy hat. Applejack! She ran up to greet her friend, disregarding the mental trauma she experienced after the loss of Apple Bloom.
"HI APPLEJACK!" shouted Pinkie Pie. Applejack jumped up in surprise.
"Oh...uh....hi Pinkie. What are you doin' up so early?" questioned Applejack.
"Well, you know. I had a bit of trouble sleeping following the recent events," stated Pinkie as she tried to avoid the specifics regarding both the loss of Apple Bloom and her own mental problems. Applejack responded by staring at the ground.
"Oh...yeah...I can rela--"
"So what are YOU doing?" interrupted Pinkie Pie. "Are you planning on going to Appleloosa to collect something from the Ponigami Killer so that you can save Apple Bloom?"
"I...uh...err...well," stuttered Applejack. She sighed in resignation. "How did you know?"
"Just a guess!" lied Pinkie Pie. Applejack looked up at Pinkie Pie and raised her eyebrow. Pinkie Pie took a deep breath. "Well okay, it wasn't entirely a guess. You see, I know how you lost Apple Bloom recently. I remember when Mr. and Mrs. Cake, the ponies I work for at Sugarcube Corner, had their filly abducted. They said they had to go to Fillydelphia to retrieve something. I know you're going to the train station because the train is right by my house. And I know that the first train that leaves is at seven in the morning to Appleoosa!" Applejack looked incredulous.
"Well, I..I guess I can't argue with that logic," sighed Applejack.
"Well then, can I help you find Apple Bloom. Huh? Huh? Can I?" begged Pinkie.
"I don't know...this'll probably be really dangerous," thought Applejack. "But...I guess I can trust you more than anypony. And I can use all the help I can get.
"Okay, let's do it," cheered Pinkie Pie. "I'll make sure you find Apple Bloom."
The two shook hooves and made their way to the Ponyville train station.
Fluttershy knocked on the door to Twilight Sparkle's house. She hoped Twilight would answer quickly. Fluttershy hadn't worn any rain clothes, so she was getting soaked. She knocked again, but she didn't knock any louder than she had the first time. She didn't want to intrude on the important business to which Twilight was attending. A few seconds later the door creaked open. It was Twilight's baby dragon, Spike.
"Oh Fluttershy, you look like you enjoyed waiting," remarked Spike. Fluttershy assumed the sarcasm was an attempt to lighten the mood. "Do you wanna come in?" Fluttershy said nothing but still entered the abode. Fluttershy searched the room, but she couldn't find Twilight Sparkle.
"Umm... I don't mean to intrude, but where's Twilight?" asked Fluttershy.
"Oh, she's down stairs working. She said she'll be up in a few minutes," responded Spike. Fluttershy began to shiver in response to her wetness. "You look cold, Fluttershy. Do you want me to get you a towel or a hot drink?"
"No, no. I'm... fine," answered Fluttershy. Her voice trailed off towards the end.
"Your loss, sister," shot back Spike. The pegasus and the dragon waited in silence until the door to the basement swung open.
"Oh hi, Fluttershy. Are you ready to go to Rarity's?" spoke Twilight Sparkle as she left her basement. "I need to do some legal procedures with Rarity, so I'm glad you could come along."
"Oh... um... okay," replied Fluttershy. The two left without saying any further words.
The door to Rarity's house was still open. Rarity was expecting guests. Fluttershy and Twilight peeked into the house, but Rarity wasn't there.
"Rarity, are you there?" Twilight called out. In response to the inquiry, Fluttershy heard only sobs. She assumed that they were from Rarity, so the two ponies nodded and headed into her house and up the steps. The door to Rarity's room was closed, but the door to Sweetie Belle's room was open, and there stood Rarity weeping.
"Oh... hey Rarity," spoke Twilight. Rarity did not respond. "Fluttershy and myself, we came to see how you were doing."
"How do you think I'm doing?" sobbed Rarity.
"We understand how you feel, Rarity," consoled Fluttershy.
"Do you truly understand how I feel? Have you ever lost the most important pony in your life? Have you ever felt so helpless?" returned Rarity.
"I suppose... I suppose I don't," replied Fluttershy. A peculiar letter appeared in the corner. She walked over to see what it was.
"I know this is hard for you, Rarity," began Twilight. She took a deep breath. "But I need you to give me the authority to perform an autopsy on Sweetie Belle's body. Any information we receive can help us get closer to finding the pony that took Sweetie Belle."
"Fine, I don't care anymore," answered Rarity, much to Twilight's surprise. As she did this, Fluttershy read the cryptic letter. She turned the letter over to find a picture of a train station. Rarity sighed and began to speak again. "Nothing anypony does will bring back Sweetie Belle, though."
"Thank you so much for your understanding," spoke Twilight. "Now, I'm very sorry, but I really have to get back to my work. Fluttershy, you don't mind staying with Rarity, do you?"
"No... I don't mind," responded Fluttershy. She waited for Twilight to leave the house before she began to speak to Rarity. "Rarity, I know you don't want to be bothered now, but... You know Apple Bloom's gone. Twilight is amazing, but there's just so much she can do. If you, you know, help me, maybe we can save her." Rarity said nothing. Fluttershy started again. "Please Rarity, if you help me, we can avenge Sweetie Belle. We can end these murders." Rarity looked up to Fluttershy with tears in her eyes.
"Fine, Fluttershy. I'll help you. I'm just glad I have you here as a friend."
Pinkie Pie hadn't heard Applejack say a word for the first two hours of the train ride to Appleloosa. While Princess Celestia's regime ensured that every train in Equestria would arrive on time, Pinkie Pie knew that the next four hours were to be unpleasant. Pinkie rested her head on her right hoof, and took a brief glance in the direction of her friend before returning to the ever-so-exciting routine of looking at her posterior hooves and crossing her eyes to make it seem like she had two additional appendages. As she stared at Applejack, she saw no frown on the pony and no tears from her eyes. The pony laid her head on the window, but her open eyes indicated that she was awake. She gazed out the window at the rain as if already dead. What was she thinking? What would she do if she couldn't save Apple Bloom? Pinkie Pie knew she shouldn't have those thoughts. She'd do everything in her power to save Apple Bloom from the Ponigami Killer. She'd do everything she could to save Applejack from herself if she must.
An unwanted friend returned. How do you know you're not just helping her kill more fillies? Pinkie Pie jerked her head away from Applejack's direction and squinted her eyes to attempt to clear her mind. It didn't work. Think about it, Pinkie. Nopony has ever saved her filly from the killer. Maybe this whole scheme is an elaborate endeavor to shift blame off of herself. No, that's just plain silly. Applejack's honest, perhaps too honest. Pinkie Pie remembered the trouble Applejack had in thinking of an excuse to not attend her alligator's after-birthday party. The memory almost made Pinkie Pie laugh, but Pinkie held the laugh in, so as to not bother Applejack's concentration. You're living in a fantasy, Pinkie. The real world's not so pure.
The voice in her head stopped talking to her. She was alone again in a cabin without light. It was nine in the morning, but the rain clouds blocked out the sun, so it was difficult to see much of what was around her. To her left was the shape of a box on the wall. Pinkie was curious to know what was inside the box for the duration of the train ride. In her haste to join Applejack on her adventure, the only thing she had brought with her was her umbrella-hat. Trying her hardest to not make a sound, she got out of her seat to look at the box. Upon closer inspection, she saw a white plus-sign on the container -- a first aid kit. She detached the first aid kit from the side of the cabin wall and went back to sit down with Applejack.
"What'd'ya do that for?" mumbled Applejack without shifting her eyes away from the window. Pinkie Pie jumped in surprise.
"Well... I thought... because we were chasing after a dangerous criminal, there was a strong likelihood somepony would get hurt. I'm sure this train won't need this first aid kit as much as us."
"Good thinkin'," responded Applejack. Neither pony spoke again for the remaining four hours.
The two ponies reached Appleloosa train station at around one in the afternoon. Applejack hid the stolen first aid kit in her rain poncho to avoid suspicion. Pinkie showed the subway ticket to one of the train conductors and the conductor showed them to the basement of the train station where the lockers were. Pinkie Pie and Applejack followed the straight path until they found the D section. Sixteen lockers down the section was the locker D-16.
"Well, here goes nothin'," sighed Applejack. She turned the subway ticket over to find the combination right 37, left 13, right 25. Applejack turned the lock right three times and then entered the locker combination. Applejack held her breath as she tried to open the locker, but to her relief, she pulled the door open. Inside, there was a small white box. Pinkie Pie pulled it out of the locker only to discover that the container was substantially heavier than she had expected. She proceeded to rattle the box. She heard the sounds of papers bustling and the thumping of another object.
"Pinkie, we shouldn't open this in public. We'd better find somewhere private," whispered Applejack. Pinkie Pie nodded. The ponies trotted out of the train station and headed south from Appleloosa until they found an area by a large cactus by an overarching cliff. Pinkie Pie scanned the area around her, and then signaled to Applejack that the area was clear of anypony else. The two found a dry spot under the cliff, where Applejack finally opened the white box.
Inside the box were five origami figures, a letter, a picture, and a revolver. The five origami figures were a bear, a butterfly, a lizard, and shark, and a rat all marked with the numbers one through five respectively. The figures and the letter gave a faint glow as if enchanted. Applejack inspected the gun to discover that it had it was a fully-loaded six-cylinder revolver. She removed the revolver from the box and concealed it in a pocket in her poncho. The photograph showed Apple Bloom bound to a ditch that was slowly filling with water. Pinkie Pie was now certain that the Ponigami Killer had taken Apple Bloom. She looked over at Applejack and was surprised to see that she didn't flinch. She just continued to look at the objects the serial killer left for her. She took out the letter to examine it. It read:
Are you prepared to prove your worth?
You, alone, must feel pain to save the pony you love.
Complete the trials and you will find the way to your filly.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
"I think those blank spaces are directions to get to Apple Bloom... but, why is he doing this?" Pinkie asked Applejack. Applejack kept staring at the paper, entranced.
"I don't know, Pinkie. I jus' don't know. I think he's testing me," responded Applejack. She proceeded to pick up the origami figure marked with number one -- the bear. She began to unfold the figure, and as she did, the magical glow radiated from the paper as it had done earlier. The figure revealed another message:
Are you prepared to show your courage to save your filly?
Take this figure and the letter to the buffalo stampeding ground.
Applejack folded both the letter and the trial in half and placed it in the pocket of her poncho next to her revolver. She then pulled the first aid kit off her back and handed it to Pinkie Pie.
"You stay here with the box n' the first aid kit," spoke Applejack.
"You can't be serious!" protested Pinkie. Applejack had already began to make her way towards the stampeding grounds by Appleloosa. She turned her head around to look at Pinkie Pie for the first time since the journey started.
"I don't wanna take any risks, Pinkie... n' I don't want to see you get hurt."
Twilight Sparkle laid down the chest on the side of the wall of an abandoned house in Ponyville. The unicorn looked both ways, ensuring that the only ponies in the area were herself and her pegasus friend, Rainbow Dash. She did not want to cause a stir, and did not want anypony but the Ponyville Guard to know of the operation. Twilight opened the chest before Rainbow revealing two pistols, two holsters, and a box of bullets. She loaded the pistol with bullets, strapped the holster around her back leg, and placed the pistol into the holster. Rainbow Dash did the same. Twilight placed the bullet box in one of the pockets of her belt.
"Have you ever used one of the these before?" joked Twilight Sparkle. Rainbow Dash did not laugh.
"No, and I never want to," stated Rainbow. Twilight was shocked. She had not expected such a frank response from Rainbow. "Hopefully, the pony won't be home while we search the house."
"Fine, but if we do encounter this pony, I'll let you play the good pony, Rainbow. There is absolutely no way I can be nice to a disgusting individual like this pony. After I read her profile, I still don't understand how they let this pony return to her regular job. This is our number one suspect, so we'd better be thorough in the search," explained Twilight. Without another word and leaving the empty chest by the abandoned house, the two walked across the street and knocked on the door of the suspected criminal's house. Without hearing an answer, Twilight knocked on the door a second and third time, but they still heard no response. Twilight tried to turn the doorknob, but it was locked.
"Rainbow Dash, would you kindly open the door?" goaded Twilight. Rainbow Dash smirked, took several steps backwards, and launched herself forward at the door, breaking open the door. Twilight and Rainbow Dash entered the house only to find that it was empty, not only of ponies, but of most household objects. The living room had no couch or pictures on the wall. The only remarkable point of the living room was that the wall paper was peeling off the walls. Twilight closed and locked the door behind her.
"Well, now we know that the suspect in question is impoverished," began Twilight. "Rainbow Dash, let's split up. You should search the kitchen, while I search the bedroom and bathroom. We have reason to suspect that the Ponigami Killer is using drugs on these fillies, so look for any suspicious looking medicine." Rainbow Dash agreed to this with a nod of her head. Twilight first headed into the bedroom, where there was a small, untidy bed, a wardrobe, and a closet. Twilight began by searching under the bed, then she searched each drawer of the wardrobe, and then she searched the pony's entire closet. Much to Twilight's chagrin, she found nothing interesting.
"Have you found anything, Rainbow?" Twilight called out.
"Not a thing. How about you, Twilight?"
"Negative," responded Twilight as she walked towards the bathroom. There she found something of interest, a medicine cabinet. She opened the cabinet and scanned through all the boxes and tubes and containers. She found painkillers, cold medicine, and antibiotics, but nothing either illegal or potentially dangerous. Just as Twilight was about to give up on the investigation, she heard a rattle from the living room. Twilight cantered to the living room to find a panic-stricken Rainbow Dash and, in the doorway, the Ponyville school teacher, Cheerilee.
"What the hay are you doing in my house!?" screamed Cheerilee.
"W-we're with the... um... we're with the Ponyville Guard," stuttered Rainbow Dash. Rainbow's timidity reminded Twilight of Fluttershy. What was wrong with her? "We have... um... reason to suspect you were involved in an... um... a criminal offense. W-w-we have a s-search warrant to look through this... uh... your house."
"Like Nightmare Moon you are. Are you burglars? I'm armed!" retorted the pink-coated pony. Twilight's patience was running out. She had to act.
"Look here, Cheerilee. I read your file. I know what you did to those foals four years ago. We know you're the Ponigami killer. If you come clean now, we'll let you live," pushed Twilight. The former rage of the earth pony turned into a panic. She now looked very much like her comrade.
"How do you-- I have changed! The law department said I was okay. Please, I beg of you. I didn't do anything," Cheerilee pleaded.
"Criminals like that don't change! Your morals know no bounds. One day you were touching foals in the wrong places; the next day you were drowning them in water," shot Twilight again.
"Please... please, you don't know how much I've suffered," sobbed Cheerilee. Tears were now pouring from her eyes.
"Too little for what you've done," snarked Twilight. Cheerilee's eyes twitched.
"Just get out, get out, please... GET OUT NOW!!" roared Cheerilee. She suddenly pulled a revolver from her jacket and aimed it at Twilight. Twilight was too shocked to respond. Just in the nick of time, Rainbow Dash appeared to have regained her composure and lunged herself towards the barrel of the gun. She bit the side of the gun with her teeth so as to direct the gun away from either of the ponies. The two rolled over onto one another and wrestled for control of the handgun. Cheerilee managed to pull the trigger with her hoof, which shot a bullet into the ceiling. Once Twilight recovered from her shock, she removed her pistol from the holster, aimed for Cheerilee's head, and put her hoof on the trigger.
"Twilight, no!" begged Rainbow. Twilight wasn't going to let her friend die. She pulled the trigger. Cheerilee collapsed backward into a pool of her own blood, bone, and brain tissue.
It was two in the afternoon when Fluttershy and Rarity stood on the steps of Sugarcube Corner. Fluttershy had learned very little from what Rarity had told her about the Ponigami Killer's abduction of Sweetie Belle. Rarity had left Sweetie Belle to go play with the other Cutie Mark Crusaders so that she could have some time to work on her dresses. When Sweetie Belle did not return for supper, she ran to the guard office to inform Twilight Sparkle of the event. Two days later, in the early morning, she received a cryptic letter with a photograph that she did not understand. Four days after that, Sweetie Belle's corpse appeared by a train track. Fluttershy turned to her companion. Her unkempt hair made Fluttershy come to believe that Rarity had not brushed her hair for the twelfth time today. Fluttershy thought she saw tears in her eyes, but the rain was just pouring on her blank gaze onto the candy cane shaped doorway. Fluttershy knew this trip would be difficult for her friend, but perhaps Rarity could share her pain with Mr. and Mrs. Cake. She turned the knob of the door, pushed it open, and entered the shop. Rarity followed behind.
"Oh, hi girls," greeted Mr. Cake with a sincere attempt at chipperness. He tried to keep his eyes on Fluttershy to avoid a conversation with Rarity. Mrs. Cake entered the room with a cake in her hooves. "Have either of you seen Pinkie Pie? She didn't come to work today."
"No, Mr. Cake," began Rarity. Fluttershy was surprised to hear Rarity speak. "We haven't seen her today."
"Oh... well, thanks for the help. Could I interest either of you in some baked goods today?"
"I'm afraid we're not here to buy anything," responded Rarity. She sighed. Fluttershy thought that she could see her eyes quiver. "We're her to talk about your daughter, Cheese Cake." Mrs. Cake placed the cake on the shop counter, then took some brownies and beckoned Fluttershy and Rarity to come into the dining room. Mr. Cake turned the 'open' sign on the shop window over, changing it to 'closed,' then followed the three mares into the dining room.
"Please, I insist, have a brownie," offered Mrs. Cake. She placed the brownie plate on the table and the four ponies sat in their chairs. Fluttershy assumed that nopony wanted to get caught up in pleasantries, so she took the brownie without initially declining the offer. The three other followed suit and took a brownie. "Little Cheesie was such a good filly, she never did anything wrong..."
"Oh, Mrs. Cake, I know how you feel. I loved my Sweetie Belle so much. She never... she never did anything that warranted what happened to her," comforted Rarity. She got up from her seat and wrapped her hooves around Mrs. Cake. Once they released each other from their embrace, Fluttershy felt that she had to return to business.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cake, you know that Princess Celestia has selected our friend Twilight Sparkle to lead the Ponigami Killer case, right?" asked Fluttershy. Both of the Cake's nodded. "Well... the murders have affected both myself and especially Rarity personally. That's why we're doing everything we can to help our friend." Mrs. Cake took a tissue to her eye.
"So... what do you want to know?" returned Mr. Cake.
"Just tell us everything you went through. Take your time, dear," encouraged Rarity.
"Well it all started about two weeks ago. It was a Tuesday and my husband and I, we had to go to Manehattan for the day so that we could purchase the necessary ingredients. Our little Cheesie, she had to go to school that day. We knew our daughter was too young to be by herself, but we needed these ingredients, and I couldn't carry all the ingredients alone. We thought she'd be all right by herself, but when we returned, we-- she wasn't anywhere... W-we went to the guard but they told us it was likely t-the Ponigami Killer," she explained. She began to tear up again, so Mr. Cake continued from where his wife left off.
"Two days later, we found this enigmatic letter on the steps of our house," informed Mr. Cake. He searched his jacket pocket for a folded-up piece of paper. It was the same letter Rarity had received. It had the same six-letter poem, but a different photograph on the back.
"This is the same letter I had received!" exclaimed Rarity. Both of the Cake's were in awe. "I had no idea what it meant though..."
"I had just traveled to Fillydelphia the week prior, so I immediately recognized the train station in the photograph. Behind the photograph, I found a locker ticket. That day, I rode the train to Fillydelphia and found the locker I was told to find. Inside I found this strange white box..." continued Mr. Cake. He nodded to his wife. His wife cantered up stairs and a few moments later came down with the aforementioned white box. He opened the box to reveal a plain piece of paper, five paper origami figures, and a revolver. The origami figures were a rat, a cat, a shark, a rabbit, and a snake. "It is so strange," recommenced Mr. Cake. "There used to be words on these pieces of paper. They emitted a strange glow from them..."
"I see," interjected Rarity. "The killer must have used enchanted ink. You can get the ink in the cities, but in a small town like Ponyville, the only pony I know of with access to this ink is Twilight Sparkle. The killer must have gotten his materials from outside Ponyville. The closest city that would have the ink is Fillydelphia."
"Good thinking, Rarity," praised Fluttershy. "Mr. Cake, please continue..."
"Thank you, Fluttershy. I was confused by the enigmatic words of the killer. The letter said that I had to complete trials to find our Cheesie. At the bottom of the letter were five lines of blank spaces. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't turn the information in to the guard, because I thought the-they wouldn't be able to find my daughter... but then... well, you know." Rarity placed her hoof on Mr. Cake's arm to comfort him. Mrs. Cake hugged Rarity again, and they all proceeded to bring a downpour of tears. Fluttershy didn't know what she should do. She wasn't in the same position, so she just waited again for everypony to finish grieving.
"Mr. and Mrs. Cake, I'm sorry to ask so much of you, but would you let us take the things you just showed us?" proposed Fluttershy. "I know it won't bring you much solace, but we can help take down the Ponigami Killer... and maybe save Applejack's sister. We'll give the evidence straight to the Ponyville Guard once we're done inspecting it."
"Please do," answered Mrs. Cake. "It doesn't remind me of what a beautiful filly Cheesie was, but of what terrible parents we were..."
At three in the afternoon, Applejack had reached the buffaloes' stampeding ground. She cocked her head upwards, above the Appleloosan apple trees, to see the gathering buffaloes prepare their charge. The chieftain held up his horn. In a few moments the chief would blow the horn, and the buffaloes would swoop down the small path designated to them by the Appleloosans. It was then that Applejack felt a strange vibration coming from her coat pocket. She took out the unfolded origami bear to see that the words on the paper had changed.
The First Trial:
Canter against the flow of the buffalo for the entire length of the stampede.
Survive, and you will receive the first letters for the directions.
Applejack's jaw dropped. Was this why no one before had ever saved their filly from the Ponigami Killer? To her knowledge, though, no other pony besides the fillies had died. Perhaps the ponies were too afraid to do the trials. Applejack wasn't going to be afraid, but Applejack didn't want to think of what the next trials held in store for her. She stuffed the unfolded sheet of paper back into the pocket of her poncho.
The chieftain blew his horn. The gathered buffaloes began their onrush. Applejack knew she had to begin, but her legs wouldn't move. She, too was afraid, but if she didn't move, she'd never find Apple Bloom. Applejack, closed her eyes, leaned her legs back, and thrust herself forward into a canter. She opened her eyes again to see that the buffalo were still far away. She would have to maintain her canter against the will of her body. As the two points closed in for impact, she saw, among the apple trees, her sister. She knew she her insomnia was creating these illusions. Her mind was beckoning her back to safety. If she turned back now, she could live happily again with her sister among the apple trees. Applejack shook her head, and turned her head back up to the buffalo. Applejack would collide in just a few more seconds.
Some of the buffaloes at the front of the pack tried to swerve away from Applejack to avoid collision, but Applejack knew that the slight slope of the terrain would make evasion almost impossible. There must have been dozens of buffalo ahead of her. Applejack couldn't back out now, for the face of the head of the pack, the chieftain was only hooves away. The chieftain veered himself away from Applejack to which Applejack responded by bearing to the other direction, to the left. As Applejack had predicted, the buffalo were unable to completely turn themselves away from her. Applejack was lighter and nimbler, so she would have to do the majority of the movement, but her upward canter impeded her swiftness.
She had successfully zigzagged herself through the first few buffaloes, but a particularly large buffalo smashed part of his body against the right shoulder of Applejack. Applejack knew that the buffalo did not break her shoulder bone and that the collision would have only left a bruise, but she instinctively turned her head to check her front leg. In the split-second she took away from watching the path, she guaranteed a second catastrophe. She turned her head forwards to find another buffalo mere inches away from impact. She tried to turn to the right, but one of the horns of the buffalo pierced itself into Applejack's left front leg. Before she could scream, she slammed her ribs onto the other's skull.
Applejack gasped for breath, but she had to keep moving. She ripped her leg out of the horn of the buffalo, climbed on top of the buffalo's head with her entire body, and leaped forward into an empty space in front of her. Her whole front body writhed in pain, so she used her hind legs to spring herself forward. Within a second, she had shrugged off the pain and had almost regained her initial speed. Luckily, the buffalo had finally begun to slow down in recognition of her presence. She steered herself away from the last few buffaloes with relative ease.
The trial was over. She felt a repetition of the vibration she had felt earlier. She checked her coat pocket again to find that the unfolded origami figure was blank. The magic must have worn off now that she had completed her task. She looked at the letter the killer had sent, and the some of the blanks under the message began to fill with letters. It now read:
_ t _ _ _ _ _ t _ t _ _ _ _ n _ _ _ _ c _ _ _ _ _ _ h _ _ _ v e _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ r _ _ t _ _ _ _ _ _ _ u _ _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ c _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ r
_ _ _ d _ _ _ _ t _ _ _ _ _ _ _ o u _ _ m _ _ _ _ _ u _ _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ _ d _ _ _ r _ _ _ _ _ e _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ t _ _ _ _ _ n c _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ d _ _ _ _
H _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ _ _ t _ f _ _ _ _ _ l _ _ _ _ m _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ n _ _ _ _ c _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Applejack intended to sigh in relief, but the sigh turned out to be an excruciating wheeze. As the adrenaline her body produced wore off, the pain returned to her body. She had likely broken a good number of her ribs. The gash on her right leg began to gush blood. Applejack shook the contents from her poncho, stuffed the revolver, the letter and, and the origami paper into her cowboy hat, and then tied the poncho around her arm to serve as a makeshift tourniquet. She didn't want to ruin the remnant of Apple Bloom that she carried on her, so she untied the ribbon from her right leg and retied it around her left. The bleeding slowed substantially, though she knew that the rain would soak her on the way back to Pinkie Pie. She also realized that she had eaten nothing the entire day. She trotted over to one of the apple trees and picked a ripe apple. She sunk her teeth into it.
"Mmmm... I sure do love me some apples."
The sun was about to set when Pinkie Pie noticed a figure in the distance staggering towards the fire she had just started under the overhanging cliff. As Pinkie trotted into the rain to greet Applejack, she slowly started to notice that not all was right. First, she noticed that Applejack was limping on one of her legs, then she noticed that her entire front right leg was covered in blood. Without allowing Applejack to refuse help, as was her wont, Pinkie Pie lifted Applejack's body over her back and carried her back to the fire. She untied the bloodied rain poncho from Applejack's right leg and laid it out before the rain so that the blood would wash off.
"What in Equestria happened to you?" wondered Pinkie Pie as she opened up the first aid kid to find an antiseptic.
"The... the killer made me run... 'gainst a pack of buffaloes. At least he's a pony... of his word... he ga'e me... a clue t'git to Apple Bloom."
"Hmmm... that's strange. When I was run over by buffaloes, I didn't get hurt," pondered Pinkie Pie, thinking back to the conflict she incited between the Buffaloes and the Appleloosans. Applejack made a movement with her eyebrows that told her that she should stop talking about that. Pinkie found a bottle of rubbing alcohol and poured some of the contents onto a cotton tissue before returning the rubbing alcohol to its kit. "Now, I won't lie, Applejack. This is going to sting like horse apples." She gently rubbed the tissue along the gash on Applejack's leg. Applejack winced in pain. She then dug through the first aid kit for the bandages. She ripped about a yard of it off, then spun it around half of Applejack's wounded leg.
"Okey-dokey-lokey! I know you don't feel too good, but you should be much better now. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Some... o' ma ribs... are broken," groaned Applejack. "There any... painkillers in... that box?" Pinkie Pie fished through the kit to find a bottle of oxycodone pills. She unscrewed the bottle and stuffed the pill into Applejack's mouth. As Applejack swallowed the pill, Pinkie attempted to return the bottle to the kit.
"Wait... Pinkie. Could'ya put those pills in my poncho?" whispered Applejack. Within the minute, Applejack had already sounded better. "Also... in my hat. Mind puttin' the gun and the letter from the killer in my coat, too?"
"Fine, but you'd better be careful with these pills. Don't take too many of them," warned Pinkie. She removed Applejack's hat from her head, and dropped the contents onto the desert floor. She then took the revolver, the oxycodone pills, and the letter and placed them in the coat pocket of Applejack's poncho. The blood was slowly starting to come off of the coat. "You'd better rest here for a while, Applejack."
"Nah, I'll be fine. Apple Bloom can't wait, so neither can I, Pinkie," responded Applejack with her recovered voice. "Just unfold the butterfly origami figure and show me what it says, then put it in my coat pocket, please." Pinkie Pie did just that.
Are you prepared to suffer to save your filly?
Take this figure and the letter to the cave just to the north of Fillydelphia.
"Fillydelphia," explained Applejack as Pinkie placed the unfolded Butterfly figure into Applejack's coat pocket. "That's just by Ponyville. It'll be another six hours to get there. If we head to the train station now, we can probably get the last train that's goes there. Could'ya help me back to Appleloosa, Pinkie?" Pinkie Pie nodded and smiled at her friend. She placed the unfolded bear figure into the white box with the other figures. She stuffed all the loose contents she used to help Applejack back into the first aid kid, then she balanced both boxes on her back. Pinkie Pie lifted Applejack up, so that Applejack could lean on her on the trot back to the Appleloosan train station. Pinkie Pie left the fire she had started to burn itself out, then pulled the rain poncho over herself and her friend. They began their slow trek back.
Rarity opened the door to her room with Fluttershy following closely behind her. Rarity set the white box on her desk, opened it, and turned it over so that all the contents -- the gun, the five origami figures, the blank letter, and the poem -- fell before her. She didn't want to be in her house for it reminded her too much of Sweetie Belle. Unfortunately, her kindly intentions earlier probably got the best of her. She had offered to return to her own house assuming that Fluttershy would provide a counteroffer of returning to her abode. In retrospect, it was silly of her to think that Fluttershy would have thought that way. She knew that Fluttershy would have agreed to it so as to avoid the uncomfortable situation. She turned to Fluttershy only to realize that her lengthy thought had left her friend standing still and without the will to speak up. She needed to get to work, so she channeled her horn and brought two seats before her desk. The two sat down.
"Why do you think the killer gave a gun to the Cake family, Fluttershy?" asked Rarity, knowing that Fluttershy wouldn't speak first.
"Perhaps," pondered Fluttershy. She scratched her head for a few moments. "It's a long shot, but maybe... um... maybe he wanted..."
"Yes, Fluttershy?" interrupted Rarity. She felt that Fluttershy was having difficulty expressing the words in present company.
"Maybe the... killer, he wanted the pony to... you know... take he-his own life," stuttered Fluttershy. Rarity knew that Fluttershy intended to say 'her,' but switched the word to 'his.' Rarity dared not look to her right at Fluttershy, for she knew that her eyes would wonder to the rope on her bed. Just a day prior, that rope was a noose.
"It's possible," responded Rarity before her pause confirmed Fluttershy's suspicions. "Now, Mr. Cake said that the letter originally told him to complete trials if he wanted Cheese Cake back. Why would the killer allow the filly to be saved?"
"Hmmm..." pondered Fluttershy. She appeared more comfortable with this question, but she paused for a long time again. She hated when Fluttershy paused, because when she paused, she always started think to herself. Rarity hated herself for not being brave enough to chase after the Ponigami Killer like Mr. and Mrs. Cake. Just a few hours ago, this thought would have brought tears to her eyes, but she couldn't cry anymore. It was as if she couldn't feel emotion. Fluttershy resumed her hypothesis. "The killer has avoided the guard for four weeks now. He's gotten away with multiple accounts of murder. He's a psychopath, but I don't think he's stupid. I think we have to think like a killer, Rarity."
"Are you saying that the killer had an intention?"
"Exactly. Let's look at his idiosyncrasies," began Fluttershy. "I've been talking to Twilight. She said she could tell me that the victims are found with and orchid and origami figure. Because you both received letters, I'm going to guess the killer had a package for both of you. She also told me that she thought the killer drowned the victims in rainwater. What's the meaning of all this?"
"Maybe... maybe the killer doesn't want to kill the fillies. It's possible he wants to punish the families. Perhaps the orchid and the figures are gifts."
"That's a possibility. But why would he punish the families? You never did anything wrong. Neither did Applejack."
"I don't know," thought Rarity. "I don't want to think about it anymore. Twilight should still be around. Would you mind taking the evidence we found to her? I really need to lie down."
"Okay," answered Fluttershy. "I'll do that. We're going to go see Twilight tomorrow. Are you going to come along?"
"I will," responded Rarity. "Just one last question: do you know where Applejack or Pinkie Pie are?"
"I can't say that I do."
"That's so strange... I won't suspect anything of Applejack, and I know she's our friend, but Pinkie is a little bit unstable," asserted Rarity. "And... and she's the only one closely connected to three of the murders..."
"Please, Rarity. I know you're distressed, but I don't want to think that one of our friends would do such a thing," rebutted Fluttershy. "If we're going to suspect our friends, why not suspect Twilight? She's the only one we know with access to the magical ink that enchanted the notes that the Cakes were referring to. She would also be the reason that the guard has been so slow to find the killer."
"I guess you're right. It would be silly to suspect one of our friends, Fluttershy."
Rainbow Dash avoided Twilight Sparkle during the length of the Ponyville Guard's investigation of Cheerilee's death. Twilight had explained and Rainbow confirmed that the suspect had attempted to open fire on them, and despite attempts to restrain the suspect, Cheerilee remained hostile. Twilight said she had to take Cheerilee's life to protect the life of Rainbow Dash and herself. After the investigation confirmed that necessity of the measure, the guard took the body of Cheerilee, and Rainbow Dash and Twilight continued their sweep of Cheerilee's house. The search still found no confirmation regarding Cheerilee's guilt or innocence, but a lack of any object that related to the killer's modus operandi suggested that the late school teacher was uninvolved with the murders. On the return trip to the station, Twilight finally approached Rainbow.
"Look, I know I made a mistake, Rainbow," began Twilight. Rainbow didn't want to hear it. "I didn't want to kill her. Really. I did it because I didn't want to see you die."
"You know I had the situation under control, Twilight!" snapped Rainbow. "When Cheerilee fired her revolver because her hoof was on the trigger. There was no way she could have pulled the hammer back to fire another round!" Twilight stopped in her steps and Rainbow did the same. Rainbow knew that despite all of Twilight's intelligence, she failed to think clearly during life-and-death situations. Rainbow, on the other hand, was a pony of action. At least, she thought she was. Why did she freeze up like that earlier?
"I-I'm sorry, Rainbow," confessed Twilight. "I thought I had the situation under control with all these murders when Princess Celestia put me in charge. The fact is, when we failed to find connecting our number one suspect to the killer, I couldn't think straight."
"Do you want me to be blunt with you, Twilight?"
"Before we raided her house, you told me you didn't want to play nice with Cheerilee. I think, somewhere inside your head, even though you knew she wasn't going to kill anypony, you wanted to prove to the world that she was still dangerous. You wanted to kill her. I think the power's gone to your head, Twilight," snarled Rainbow. She expected her condemnation to dishoof Twilight, but the effect was quite the reverse.
"You want to know why I chose you over the other ponies?" shouted Twilight. It was a rhetorical question, but Rainbow Dash still wanted to answer 'no' to see her reaction. Twilight answered her own question before Rainbow got a chance to respond. "I thought you were a pony that could get things done and not question my authority. You have shown me that you are incapable of doing either!" Twilight and Rainbow were both breathing heavily and Twilight was flushed. Rainbow decided she was the pony that had to give in for there to be peace between them.
"Look, Twilight. I think we both messed up back there. I think we both thought we could do everything-- I think we both wanted to be heroes," sighed Rainbow. Twilight tried to smile in admission of her own guilt.
"I guess you're right, Rainbow... but, it's just that Sweetie Belle got killed... and Apple Bloom might as well."
"We'll get Apple Bloom, Twilight."
"Thanks. You can go home if you want, Rainbow. I'll be at the guard station for a little bit. We have to meet up pretty early tomorrow."
At one in the morning, the train arrived at Fillydelphia station. The narcotics must have caused Applejack to pass out, which Pinkie thought was likely to be in the benefit of Applejack's short-term health considering her insomnia. Conveniently, Fillydelphia was a city where the ponies closed down and started up early, so there were very few ponies around. In many ways, it was closer to a small town than a big city. Pinkie carried Applejack over her shoulders until she found an alley with nopony around. She covered Applejack's rain poncho over both herself and Applejack, fastened her umbrella-hat to Applejack's head so that she wouldn't get wet, and then quickly fell asleep.
The sun wasn't even up when the hustle and bustle of the city awoke Pinkie Pie. She turned to her companion to find that she was still fast asleep. Pinkie Pie would have to wake her up soon so that she could complete the second trial. She shivered a little. Was she cold from fear of what Applejack had to face next? Was she afraid of her inability to help her with it? Or was she just cold from the fact that she had slept on a wet surface with nothing to cover her head from the downpour for hours? Pinkie Pie peeled the poncho off of her, then tucked Applejack in with it, then walked out of the alleyway. Applejack would be fine for a few minutes.
She needed to do more to help Applejack. She needed to help her find the killer. Pinkie Pie put her hoof to her temple and mulled over everything she knew about the killer. She remembered a guard telling the Cake's that their daughter was found dead with an origami figure and an orchid. She also knew that the killer must have used some form of magic ink to enchant the figures and the letter she sent Applejack. Ponyville ponies generally didn't grow orchids on their farms, and there were no flower markets in Ponyville due to the number of farms around it. There weren't many unicorns in Ponyville either, so there weren't any magic shops in Ponyville. Fillydelphia was the closest city to Ponyville and likely had flower and magic shops, so the killer likely came here to get his supplies. The shop ponies might have kept records of the purchasers. If she found somepony that bought both the magical ink and orchids, she would have a suspect.
She found a map of the city by the train station. She found that the cave Applejack was searching for was just a few blocks to the left of the alleyway. Pinkie Pie's incomprehensible intuition managed to find a magic shop with an exotic flower shop a block away within a few seconds. She would only have enough time to see one of the shops before having to return to Applejack. She was likely to find more information by searching the magic shop for clues and she would have enough time to go to the flower shop after she tended to Applejack's wounds a second time. She trotted her way to the magic shop.
Pinkie Pie stepped inside the magic shop. There were numerous magical objects floating through the store such as crystal balls, self-sweeping brooms, magic potions, and spell books. At the counter of the store was a middle-aged unicorn. He smiled up at her. She would need to think of an excuse to get the information.
"My dear, you're soaked. May I help you at all?"
"Hello there," announced Pinkie. "My name is Diane Brownie and I am working under Twilight Sparkle and the Ponyville Guard."
"Oh, I see. Is there anything I could help you with?"
"Possibly," responded Pinkie. "Do you sell magical ink here?"
"Yes, we're the only shop in Fillydelphia that sells it. Why?"
"That's good to hear," understated Pinkie. "We have recently discovered that a serial killer may use your magical ink as part of his M.O. If you could provide us with a list of the people that purchased your ink, it would be very useful in tracking the killer."
"Sure, I would love to help you. Just give me a second to find it," answered the unicorn. Pinkie Pie waited while the pony searched the other room for his records. A minute later, the unicorn returned and handed the forms to Pinkie. "It is a pleasure to serve you, Miss Brownie."
"Thank you, sir," said Pinkie as she left the shop. She was surprised at how easy it was to get the information and amazed that she even managed to find the shop that sold the ink on the first try. On the way back to Applejack, she skimmed through the list of names. Once she reached the letter 'S', she found a name that alarmed her:
83. Sarsaparilla Sherbet
84. Giggles Smacks
85. Twilight Sparkle
86. Candy Topsy-turvy
Pinkie Pie realized that she hadn't had anything sweet in days. Then, she looked at the names again to find her friend, Twilight Sparkle, on the list. Was it possible that Twilight was the killer? Pinkie Pie dismissed this idea because she knew that Twilight needed the ink to contact Princess Celestia. More importantly, she knew that Twilight would never kill anypony. When she arrived at Applejack's alley, Pinkie Pie found that her friend was still fast asleep. Pinkie Pie leaned her back against the alley wall. She would wake Applejack up in an hour.
At six in the morning, Fluttershy led Rarity into the Ponyville Guard station. Before them was Twilight Sparkle glancing over a report, Rainbow Dash hovering back and forth, and the deputy chieftain of the guard station tapping his hoof. Within a few minutes, Twilight jerked her head upward and jumped backward at the sight of her two friends.
"Oh, hi Fluttershy," greeted Twilight. She took a slight pause. "Hey there, Rarity."
"Hi, Twilight," returned Fluttershy. "We came to see how the investigation was going."
"We've just successfully completed the autopsy," Twilight stuttered again, but avoided looking at Rarity. "We uh...this is the Sweetie Belle's autopsy report."
"What did it say?" demanded Rarity.
"Sweetie Belle was subjected to a heavy dose of an illegal drug. It's usually called amnesiocaine. It's a drug that causes ponies to immediately suffer short term memory loss. It also causes severe drowsiness. The drug is rare and very expensive."
"Well that proves Cheerilee's innocence, Twilight. Cheerilee was broke," snarled Rainbow Dash.
"W-what happened to Cheerilee?" asked Fluttershy. Fluttershy always thought Cheerilee was such a nice pony.
"I..I don't want to talk about it," stumbled Twilight.
"Twilight blundered," answered Rainbow Dash. "Cheerilee was our prime suspect as the Ponigami killer, but we couldn't find anything tying her to the case. She tried to shoot us, and Twilight had to put her down."
"Yes... that's a rather, um, blunt way of putting it," added Twilight. "Anyway, we don't know of anypony in Ponyville who would have such a drug. I must stress that it is a very rare drug."
"Well... this will be hard to explain," sighed the deputy chieftain. He looked around the room at all the ponies, then sat in his chair. "When I was chieftain, before Celestia had Twilight oversee the department, Celestia told us to ignore any crimes related to a certain group. They mostly did small crimes, mostly drug smugglin'. The group's led by the Wonderbolts."
"What did you say?" gasped Rainbow Dash.
"It's true. When the Wonderbolt's started out, they were a clean business. But then they started dealin' in drugs, because they weren't getting paid enough by Celestia. Mostly performance enhancin' drugs and steroids. They started growin' a bigger underground- err... overground operation. They're pretty much the only major drug dealing crime organization now because Celestia refuses to crack down on 'em. She says we need them around to increase morale, but we know they do more than just drug dealin'. If you want to find a drug that rare, you'd better look into them. I'm sure the killer has been dealin' with them. I'll take the heat from Her Majesty."
"Confound it..." uttered Rainbow. Fluttershy could see rage boiling in her friend's heart. "I'm going after them!"
"Not alone you're not," shot back Twilight. "I'll conjure up a spell that'll let me walk on the clouds of Cloudsdale and come with you."
"I'd prefer it if you'd let me do this alone," complained Rainbow Dash. "I don't want to see a repeat of yesterday."
"The Wonderbolts haven't been reported murderin' anypony," interjected the deputy chieftain. "But I really advise against goin' against 'em alone. You don't know what you might be facin'."
"Hmmm... how about Fluttershy? She can fly," proposed Rainbow. Fluttershy did not want to get involved in this operation, but she wanted to help her friends.
"I-I'll...I'll go," stuttered Fluttershy.
"I'm not going to just let you two go alone," announced Rarity. "If Twilight can conjure up that spell for me, I'll aid you two as well. These ruffians are part of the reason why Sweetie Belle was taken away from me."
"Very well," sighed Twilight. "I'll let you three go. I have work I have to do anyway. I'd suggest you give us a day to prepare the crackdown. Tomorrow at noon you should see the Wonderbolts."
"But," stumbled Fluttershy. "But Apple Bloom..."
"We'll have enough time to save her, Fluttershy," comforted Twilight. "I'm sure by tomorrow, we'll have all the information we need to finally end these murders once and for all." Fluttershy wasn't so sure.
When Applejack awoke the sun had broken through the rain clouds, indicating that it was morning. How long had she slept? Pinkie was hovering over her, shaking her. Applejack had something on her head.
"Pinkie...what time is it?"
"It's seven in the morning, sleepyhead," responded Pinkie Pie with what Applejack assumed was a sincere attempt to lighten the mood. Applejack soon realized that had slept for twelve hours.
"Oh hay-seed!" shouted Applejack as she wrapped the rain poncho around her body. She removed Pinkie's umbrella hat from her head and tossed it to her. The narcotic pill must have caused her to pass out. "I'm running out of time, Pinkie! Sorry, no time to talk! Do you know where the cave is?"
"Just turn left from here and keep heading straight!" Pinkie shouted back. Applejack cantered out onto the street, and followed Pinkie Pie's directions. Within a few minutes she had reached the outskirts of the cave. She felt a movement from the unfolded origami butterfly figure in the poncho pocket. She fished it out with her hoof to find that it now read:
The Second Trial:
The butterflies follow the light.
You must bring some of that light back with you.
Unlike the first task, which was straightforward in its demands, this trial description was quite cryptic. What did the Ponigami Killer mean? She entered the cave and immediately began to cough. Something poisonous was in the air. The movement in her broken ribs incited the pain from the previous task. Unfortunately, Applejack could not take the pills now. She didn't want to pass out again -- not now. She searched the cave, keeping her head low in response to the poisonous gas. The cave was so dark that she could hardly see anything. Eventually, she stumbled upon a painting on the floor. It was a painting of a butterfly. She looked just ahead of the butterfly to find more butterfly paintings. She followed them until the butterflies stopped at a small hole -- just small enough for Applejack to fit her body -- in the cave. The cave rumbled, and more of the poisonous gases poured out. Clearly the killer wanted Applejack to enter the hole. Applejack thought of the cave, the gas, and the butterflies. Something just was not adding up, but Applejack couldn't place her hoof on it. She crouched down and began to crawl through the hole.
The frequent shaking must have caused the tunnel to become less safe than it once was. As she crawled through the shaft, jagged rocks ripped through Applejack's poncho, coat, and skin. On top of that, as she crawled deeper into the shaft, the poisonous gas grew stronger. But Applejack persevered. Without any light, she continued on blindly, groaning as she cut her body and coughing blood in the presence of the gas. She eventually hit her head on a wall. She reached her front legs on both sides revealing that there was a path on each side. Where could Applejack go now? She's come too far in to turn back.
The cave shook again. From her right side came a brief flash of light and more of what appeared to be smoke. She coughed up more blood. Then, suddenly, for some reason, she thought of Fluttershy and her fear of dragons. Then, it all made sense to Applejack. She had to follow the light along the path until she found a dragon, and then bring some of the light back with her. What did the second part mean? She shuddered as she realized it. The killer wants her to steal the dragon's treasure. The difficult task had just turned impossible, but Applejack couldn't live without Apple Bloom. She had to complete the trial. She turned right and continued onwards.
Applejack followed the light of the dragon's flame until she found the dragon's treasure trove. To her fortune, the dragon was sleeping, but she knew that it would wake up once it smelled that some of its treasure had gone. She checked her body. There were numerous cuts on her underbelly and sides, her poncho was almost completely destroyed, but somehow the magic papers were undamaged. Applejack couldn't let the pain bother her. Apple Bloom couldn't wait for her to cry over a few small wounds. She tiphoofed by the dragon, and grabbed the nearest piece of treasure, a sapphire necklace. The dragon remained asleep. She placed it around her neck. The dragon's eye burst open.
The dragon shot a torrent of flame at Applejack, but Applejack thought she had dodged most of it with a quick jump to the right. Applejack made a cantering leap into the hole she had just exited. Luckily, Applejack had memorized the route back to the cave. Applejack crawled as fast as she could and turned at the first branch just before the dragon could spew its flame into the tunnel. The dragon kept breathing fire into the tunnel, and the cave became a furnace. It was then that Applejack grew aware of a small light from her posterior. Her left flank and her tail were on fire. She slammed flank against the wall of the cave, but the wall had a sharp stone on it. The stone pierced her flank, but Applejack ripped her flank right out of the wall without even wincing. She then used her back right leg to pound her tail against the wall of the cave. Her light went out, but she was no longer burning. However, the temperature of the cave continued to rise. She needed to get out.
She pushed herself though the cave's tunnel, ignoring the blades of stone that pierced her skin. Just then, she saw a streak of light at the end of the tunnel. Only a few more hooves. The temperature was getting unbearable. The hot stone seared Applejack's body and some of her coat began to rip from her skin. She placed her hooves on the outskirts of the tunnel and pulled her whole body out. She sprung herself into a canter and got out of the cave within a few seconds. The rain was soothing to her burnt skin. Before the adrenaline wore off, she pulled out the oxycodone bottle, unscrewed it, and shoved four pills into her mouth. She screwed the cap back onto the bottle, and then shoved it back into the pocket of her now black and shredded coat. She hadn't felt the magic from the letter, but she pulled it out anyway. Miraculously, the letter was not burnt. New letters appeared on the letter. It now read:
_ t _ r t _ _ t _ t _ _ _ _ n _ _ _ _ c _ _ _ _ _ _ h _ _ _ v e _ _ _ e _ _ _ _ r _ _ t _ _ _ _ _ _ _ u _ _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ S _ _ _ _ c _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ r
_ e _ d _ _ _ _ t _ _ _ _ _ _ _ o u _ _ m _ l _ _ _ u _ _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ _ d _ _ _ r _ _ _ _ _ e _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ t _ _ _ _ _ n c _ _ _ _ s _ _ _ d _ _ _ _
H _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ _ _ t _ f _ _ _ h _ l _ _ _ _ m _ _ _ _ _ n _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ n _ _ _ _ c _ _ _ _ _ n c _
Applejack had won the battle. She stuffed the letter in her coat pocket. Now she just had to make it back to Pinkie Pie before she passed out.
It was nine in the morning. The sunlight finally began to show through the downpour onto the cityscape. Pinkie Pie heard hoofsteps hitting the sidewalk as often as she heard the pulses of raindrops. She leaned against the side of the alley with her front legs crossed and her back right hoof tapping in the rhythm of her environment. Pinkie felt trapped between past and present. She wanted to see Applejack again, for the anxiety of the present was killing her -- she needed to know that her friend was alive. Yet she did not want to see her friend in pain again. What had the killer done to Applejack this time? She shuddered at the thought. She jumped as a black-cloaked figure collapsed before her.
Pinkie Pie approached the unrecognizable pony. Upon closer inspection, she realized that the pony standing before her was an ash-covered Applejack. Pinkie Pie was almost relieved because Applejack, at first, looked to be in fairly good shape, albeit dirty. Pinkie Pie dismissed this sentiment as Applejack moaned some unintelligible words and then coughed up blood. Immediately, Pinkie Pie responded by pulling off Applejack's dirtied and tattered poncho. She gasped at the sight. Dozens of lacerations and blisters spread across her appendages. Half of her tail was burnt off. A cauterized gash now obscured the cutie mark on her left flank. Surprisingly, Apple Bloom's ribbon, which Applejack had tied around her front left leg, remained pristine. Pinkie Pie then searched through Applejack's coat pocket to find that the killer's letter remained in good condition -- and now with new letters. Pinkie Pie returned the letter to its proper place in Applejack's coat pocket and pulled out the oxycodone bottle. The bottle felt slightly lighter than it had just a few hours ago.
"Applejack, how many of these did you take?"
"Erughh... fooour..." responded Applejack with an upward inflection on 'four,' so that her answer sounded more like a question.
"Applejack! I need to take you to the hospital!"
"Uaghh... nooo..." mumbled Applejack. "Ap... puh Bloo'..."
"Oh, fine. Have it your way," conceded Pinkie Pie as she returned the pill bottle to Applejack's poncho. "I'll just have to take super-good care of you! But don't you take any more of those pills! Even if they don't kill you, you'll get addicted." Her eyes immediately drew themselves to Applejack's sapphire necklace. "Ooooooh, Rarity would love that! How'd you get it? Hmmmmmm?"
"Dra..." started Applejack. She coughed up more blood. Pinkie responded by opening the first aid kit and pulling out some antiseptic and bandages for Applejack's cuts. "Dray...gun..."
"You stole the dragon's treasure? No wonder you're in such bad shape!" joked Pinkie as she poured rubbing alcohol onto a cotton cloth and began to massage Applejack's flesh wounds. Pinkie doubted that Applejack felt anything in her drugged state, so it came as little surprise to her that Applejack didn't flinch as the alcohol came in contact with her skin.
"Read..." groaned Applejack. "Liz...ud..."
"As soon as I'm done tending to your limbs!" replied Pinkie. She ripped off four lengths of bandage with her teeth and then wrapped them around each of Applejack's legs. She pulled out the white box from under the first aid kit, and removed the lizard figure. She unfolded the origami paper and read the message:
Are you prepared to make a sacrifice to save your filly?
Take this figure and the letter to the abandoned house at 18 Chestnut Lane, Fillydelphia.
"AJ, you really need to stop this..." Pinkie couldn't maintain her guise of optimism. She didn't like the sound of the word 'sacrifice.' Applejack couldn't play the hero anymore, or else she might die. "Please... I'm sure Twilight will save Apple Bloom."
"No... Pinkie," returned Applejack. Her determination made her words more coherent. "I... cin't... take... the chance." Pinkie Pie couldn't argue with her. Twilight had failed to save the previously abducted fillies. Maybe Twilight wants those fillies to die, Pinkie. Her name was on that list you read. Pinkie Pie scratched her head with her hoof. Twilight was her friend. Twilight wouldn't hurt a fly. She continued tending to Applejack to get her mind off the subject. As she ripped off another length of bandage with her teeth, she sighed. She had never felt so helpless before. She couldn't save Apple Bloom and she couldn't find the Ponigami Killer. That job was up to her friends. All she could do was help Applejack. She pulled the length of bandage around Applejack's left flank, then returned all the first aid materials to the kit. She placed the unfolded origami lizard into Applejack's poncho and laid the coat on her wounded friend.
"I know you just slept, Applejack, but you should really get some more rest," insisted Pinkie Pie. Applejack stretched her cheeks to produce a smile.
It was a slow day for Twilight at four in the afternoon. She evened her paperwork by tapping it before her on the desk. She was demoralized at the lack of any new leads regarding the Ponigami Killer. It just seemed that every few days another filly would show up dead and there was nothing she could have done to stop it. She looked forward to seeing if Rainbow Dash and the others would find anything from the crackdown of the Wonderbolts. Twilight Sparkle put her face in her hooves as she remembered how Rainbow excluded her from the mission. She deserved it though. If she had thought clearer yesterday, nopony would have died. Twilight wondered how Rainbow must feel upon the discovery that the idols in her dreams were lowlifes in reality. Surprisingly, this thought made Twilight feel a little bit better. Twilight shouldn't have tried to take her friend's thunder for a mission to which she's committing so much. The door swung open, shocking both herself and her baby dragon assistant, Spike.
"Howdy, Twilight..." spoke Big Macintosh, Applejack's brother as he entered the door. "Granny Smith and myself, we've jus' been wonderin'. How's the investigation into Apple Bloom goin'?"
"Well," responded Twilight. "We haven't found her yet... unfortunately, we're fairly certain now that Apple Bloom is in the hooves of the Ponigami Killer. However, we just found some very important news. I'm afraid details of our mission are strictly classified, but I can safely say that we'll have the information we need to find Apple Bloom by tomorrow."
"Thank you, miss Twilight," sighed Big Macintosh. Twilight assumed that Big Macintosh had come to terms with the abduction of his sister. "Jus' one last thing. Have you seen Applejack?"
"I am afraid not. That's very odd. I'll keep on the lookout for her."
"Well, alright then. Again, thank you for all your help," answered Big Macintosh as he left the room. Once Twilight was certain that Big Macintosh had left the station, she turned to her assistant.
"Spike, please tell me I'm crazy--"
"Twilight, you're crazy," snarked Spike.
"Shut up, Spike," continued Twilight. "Look, Applejack went missing after Apple Bloom went missing."
"Oh no," interjected Spike. "You are not going to suspect one of your friends, are you?"
"This is serious Spike! Nopony else went missing after their filly was abducted. Also, Applejack was the only pony to have shown me an origami figure after Apple Bloom was abducted. Once I found this out, I asked all of the other family members whether they had received anything after their filly was abducted. Every single one of them said that they had not."
"Well, maybe they didn't want to be suspected of the crime? Why would Applejack leave evidence if she were the killer? Why would Applejack try to kill her own sister? Why would Applejack try to kill anypony?"
"I... I don't know Spike. We're dealing with a psychotic individual though, so we can't expect her to think straight. If Applejack were the killer --"
"There is no way Applejack could be the killer, Twilight. Applejack's too honest to keep a secret for this long," cut Spike. Spike's counterclaim, to Twilight's surprise, corroborated Twilight's suspicions. Perhaps the presentation of the figure was her confession of the crime. Twilight still didn't understand why her friend would attempt to fillynap and murder her own sister. Then, Twilight had an idea.
"Spike, I have a hypothesis. It's possible that the killer has a split personality. I would never suspect that anypony in Ponyville would do such a crime and have a stable mind. Yet, the murderer is too good as she has hidden almost all the evidence from us."
"Yeah, I guess you're right there, Twilight."
"That's why I think we should find Applejack. Even if Applejack were to be the killer, I think, or at least I hope, she hasn't intentionally killed those fillies."
"Fine, I guess I won't argue with you, Twilight," conceded Spike.
"Very well. Get your pen and paper, Spike. Tell the guard in Ponyville and the nearby cities of Hoofington and Fillydelphia to be on the lookout for an orange-coated earth pony with a blonde mane, a cutie mark with three red apples, and a brown cowboy hat. Tell them her name is Applejack and if somepony spots her, I'll find her and talk to her posthaste."
At eight in the evening, the diurnal city began to slow down. Applejack looked practically comatose in her drug-induced sleep, but her normal breathing pattern indicated to Pinkie Pie that she was still healthy and not in need of medical assistance. She inspected her injured friend. The rain had washed the smoke off of the poncho, returning its color to its previous color of yellow. The hole in the poncho allowed some water to leak onto Applejack, so Applejack's coat returned to its usual orange color. Pinkie assumed that Applejack would be fine without attendance for an hour while she did some investigating. Pinkie took her umbrella-hat and list of suspects with her.
When she had arrived at the exotic flower shop, nopony was around. Pinkie assumed that it must have been close to closing time. When she arrived at the counter, she jumped in surprise at the pony at the counter: Nurse Redheart, the pony who took care of Pinkie Pie and the other ponies that ate Applejack's baked bads.
"Nurse Redheart!? What are you doing here?" inquired Pinkie Pie. "I thought you were a nurse."
"Oh, Pinkie! It's so nice to see you," began Nurse Redheart. "I got laid off from the Ponyville Hospital, because times are tough economically. It's kinda ironic, really, with the situation Ponyville is in. Anyway, I had some family members that work here, so I'm working here now. Anyway, what brings you here? I was just about to close up for the night."
"Oh, I... uh... was just wondering. You sell orchids here right? I was just wondering if you could show me the list of ponies who bought them recently..."
"Chasing after the Ponigami Killer, are we?" returned Nurse Redheart. There was something eerie about the way she asked the question. "Well, I suppose I have some files downstairs. Follow me." Nurse Redheart locked the door of the store, turned out the light, and switched the store sign to 'closed.' She opened the door to the basement and trotted her way downstairs. Pinkie Pie hesitated at first. Something felt very suspicious, but Pinkie Pie followed her nonetheless. As Pinkie entered the basement, Nurse Redheart fished a key from her pocket and locked the basement door.
"You know, Pinkie, you really shouldn't go digging into Equestria's underground."
"Wh..what do you mean?"
"But now that you are here, Pinkie, I see that you'll be quite a good subject," whispered Nurse Redheart. Pinkie Pie cantered to the basement door and tried in vain to open it while Nurse Redheart powered up an electric saw in the corner.
"You see, Pinkie, there are so many good ponies out there dying because they need organs. You don't realize this, but your body can save so very many lives. Ever since I got this job as a flower seller, I've been looking for ways to... help ponies and keep my medical skills sharp. I'm afraid I don't have any surgical tools, so I'll just have to make do with some power tools. Now, please, don't make this operation difficult for me," spoke Nurse Redheart. Her nonchalance terrified Pinkie almost as much as the very act itself. Redheart picked the power saw with her teeth and began to close in on Pinkie Pie. Pinkie, in response, tried to canter past Nurse Redheart to grab one of her other tools, but Redheart cut into Pinkie's dash and slashed at her. Pinkie jumped in reaction, but Nurse Redheart managed to rip through the skin of Pinkie's back left leg. Pinkie's blood and body fell on the floor.
Pinkie Pie crawled backwards as Redheart tiphooved herself towards Pinkie. Pinkie knew this was the end for her. She gulped as Redheart encroached on her neck with the saw. Then, Pinkie saw an opportunity when Redheart's underbelly came over her legs. Pinkie kicked Redheart in the stomach with her right leg causing Redheat to fall backwards and spit the power saw from her mouth. Pinkie caught the saw between her two hooves and thrust herself towards Redheart. Pinkie ignored the searing pain from her leg as she rammed the electric saw into Redheart's throat. Within a few seconds, Redheart’s body stopped moving. Pinkie ripped Redheart's shirt from her corpse, removed the keys from the shirt, and tied it around her back left leg to stop the bleeding.
As Pinkie's heart rate slowed to what would be considered normal for Pinkie with all the sugar she consumed on a daily basis, she looked around the room. There was a mirror, a shelf with power tools, and some filing cabinets. She trotted over to the filing cabinets, and with her Pinkie intuition, found the list of ponies who had bought orchids from the exotic plant store. She matched up the list of names and, to her relief, did not find Twilight on the list. She did, however, find a name that appeared on both lists: Sarsaparilla Sherbet. Who was Sarsaparilla Sherbet? She knew everypony in Ponyville, but never met anypony named Sarsaparilla Sherbet.
I think you know exactly who Sarsaparilla Sherbet is, Pinkie. The voice came from the mirror in the basement. Perhaps the blood loss was making her delirious? Pinkie walked over to the mirror to see none other than herself with the mane of her fillyhood grinning devilishly. Pinkie patted her mane to ensure that it was still in its balloon-like curls. What did it mean? You know what it means, Pinkie. We're Sarsaparilla. We're the Ponigami Killer. Pinkie refused to believe it. But, deep within Pinkie's heart, it made sense. Perhaps the name was intended to be a hint to Pinkie. Her other self might have used those words because both words implied something sugary. Exactly, Pinkie. You can't escape your fate. Pinkie shoved her hooves in her ears to drown out her inner voice. It couldn't be true. She'd never hurt anypony. Really Pinkie? You've forgotten so soon? Pinkie shook her head, then unlocked the basement door and ran out of the flower store to get back to Applejack.
At midnight, Applejack awoke. Her whole body ached, but she knew she couldn't take any more painkillers, for she knew the potential side effects. Her surroundings blended and shifted itself around her. Despite her previous task, her body was cold and shivering. She looked over to her companion to see her friend huddled in the corner shaking with eyes wide open. What was wrong with her? She didn't want to know.
"Uhh... Pinkie? I'm gonna go... uh... do the next trial. You gonna be all right while I'm gone?" asked Applejack. Pinkie Pie responded with a brief nod and then continued her shaking. Applejack would talk to her later. She trotted to the train station to find a map of the city of Fillydelphia. Once she found the location of 18 Chestnut Lane, she planned her way to get there.
Within thirty minutes, she had found 18 Chestnut Lane. Wooden planks covered each window of the house and 'condemned' signs littered the lawn. From across the street, she saw a suspicious-looking guard pony that she was certain was watching her. He turned away a few seconds later, so Applejack continued her business without a second thought. She walked up to the house and turned the doorknob. The door was unlocked, so she stepped inside. Nopony was around, but the house looked like it would fall apart any minute. Mold grew on every wall. As she entered the living room, she felt the usual vibration from the unfolded figure. She pulled out the lizard's paper and read the words:
The Third Trial:
Use the tools in the living room and kitchen to cut off one quarter of one of your hooves.
This includes part of the coffin bone. You have five minutes.
For the first time since the beginning of her journey, Applejack was in denial. She knew the Ponigami Killer was serious, but she didn't want to believe it. She could accept somepony taking part of her hoof from her, but she had to take it from herself. A voice in her head spoke to her. You didn't honestly think you would come out of this alive, did you? Applejack sighed as she placed the letter on a table at the center of the room with its time ticking away. She scanned the living room and found a bone saw, a hatchet, and a piece of wood. She placed these three tools on the table. You know you can make all the pain go away. Just take the pills. Applejack refused. On the off chance that Applejack came out of all this alive, she didn't want to become addicted to oxycodone. Besides, it was unlikely the drugs would kick in before she began the process.
She looked inside the kitchen to find a branding iron, a kitchen knife, and a stove. She turned on the stove and heated the branding iron until it was red hot. She would use the branding iron to cauterize the wound after the amputation. She took these materials and placed them on the table in the living room. She pulled a chair before the table. She had decided to further cripple her front right leg, as the encounter with the buffaloes had already left it weak and difficult to use. She untied Apple Bloom's ribbon from her left leg and tied it around her right leg to cut the blood circulation to it. She placed the piece of wood between her teeth and bit down on it to distract her. Applejack placed her right hoof on the table and rested the bone saw on the heel of the hoof about an inch in from the left side. She took a deep breath.
The first cuts into her leg were painless, for she had no nerves in her hoof, but the grinding noise caused her body to shiver. It was the eye of the storm. You can turn back now, Applejack. Applejack closed her eyes. She needed to save Apple Bloom. Her hoof wasn't worth her sister's life. She finally reached the tissue under her hoof. Her heart pounded. She looked at the time on the paper -- three minutes left. She pulled the saw backwards and tore the tissue. A searing pain burst through her leg and blood splattered onto Applejack's face. She screamed as she bit down onto the wooden plank. Applejack closed her eyes and focused on the beating of her heart. She ripped the saw through her tissue to the beating of her heart.
She finally hit the bone. Her eyes burst open to see her blood pouring onto the table. She felt lightheaded. Color drained from her eyes. She couldn't faint now with Apple Bloom's life on the line. She slammed her head on the table to focus. Her hoof was on fire, but she persevered. As the saw's teeth bit through her bone marrow, her teeth almost broke the wood in her mouth. Finally, she broke through her bone, but her amputation was not complete. She opened her eyes again, pulled the blood soaked saw from her hoof and placed the saw just above her hoof, but on the side. She began cutting into her skin. The beating of her heart, the pain, and the ringing in her ears drowned out her screams. Applejack pulled the saw back and forth. When the two incisions met, a chunk of her appendage freed itself from her body fell onto the table.
She opened her eyes to see a storm of blood pour from her leg like the rain from outside. She needed to cauterize the wound. Applejack picked up the branding iron with her hoof and pressed down on the wound. Her screams broke through the sound barrier caused by the pain and echoed through her head. Her leg writhed, but the iron wouldn't relinquish its grasp. After ten seconds, Applejack pulled the branding iron off her wound. Though blood no longer sprinkled from her hoof, tears poured from Applejack's eyes. She spit the wood from her mouth. It was over. She watched the letters from the origami paper vanish. She stuffed the blank paper into her coat and then took out the letter to read the new directions:
_ t _ r t _ _ t _ t _ _ _ _ n t r a _ c _ _ _ _ _ _ h _ _ _ v e _ f _ e _ _ _ _ r e s t _ _ _ o _ _ _ u _ _ _ b e _ o _ _ _ S _ _ a _ c _ _ _ _ _ o r _ _ r
_ e _ d _ _ _ _ t _ _ _ _ _ _ _ o u _ _ m _ l _ _ _ u _ _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ _ d _ _ _ r _ _ _ _ _ e e _ _ _ _ _ _ _ t _ _ b r _ n c _ _ _ _ s _ _ _ d _ _ _ _
H _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ _ _ t _ f _ _ _ h _ l _ _ _ _ m _ _ _ _ _ n _ _ _ _ _ o _ _ _ _ n _ _ _ _ c _ e a r _ n c _
Applejack returned the letter to its proper place in her poncho pocket next to her revolver. There was now a charred stump where part of her hoof once was. She looked at Apple Bloom's ribbon and saw that no blood had splattered onto it. She held her crippled leg up against her chest and limped back towards Pinkie Pie.
At one in the morning, Applejack hobbled herself before Pinkie. For the hour or so that Applejack was absent, Pinkie Pie shook herself in fear, staring at the ever-bending shadow on the wall. She shifted her gaze to the orange pony. With the exception of Applejack holding her right hoof against her chest, Applejack looked fine at first glance. Pinkie looked closer at the hoof to see that there was charred skin where hoof should have been.
"What did the killer make you do this time?" asked Pinkie flatly.
"He... he made me cut off part of my hoof. I burnt the wound closed, but could you disinfect it and wrap it up?"
"Yeah, sure, Applejack," answered Pinkie as she ripped out a length of bandage, some antiseptic, and a cotton tissue. She rubbed the antiseptic against the closed wound, then proceeded to wrap it in bandages. "How many of those pills did you take?"
"You're one tough pony," remarked Pinkie as she pulled the bandages tightly around the wound. Applejack tried to step on it, but winced in pain in response. Applejack returned to holding her leg against her chest.
"Now Applejack," began Pinkie Pie as she put the medical supplies back in their rightful spot. "I know we've been together since the beginning of this adventure, but I fear I must leave you."
"Pinkie... I'm fine with yer choice... but... are you feeling okay?"
"No, Applejack. No I am not. And that is why I can't stay with you."
"But, wait, Pinkie!" called out Applejack as Pinkie had already begun trotting out of the alley. Pinkie Pie had made up her mind. She couldn't put Applejack or Apple Bloom in any more danger. She turned around one last time to speak to her friend.
"Applejack, I'm sorry that I have to do this to you. Maybe, one day, you'll meet the real Pinkie." returned Pinkie Pie. She turned her head and walked out onto the streets of Fillydelphia. She needed to find out who Sarsaparilla Sherbet was. She needed to find out who Pinkie Pie was.
For the first time since Applejack had lost Apple Bloom, Applejack was alone. There was no one left to help her out and cheer her up after she risked her life and limb to save her sister. What did Pinkie Pie mean? Why did she run out on her so abruptly? I think you know exactly the reason, Applejack. The voice was a needle trickling down her spine. It was impossible. Pinkie Pie had helped Applejack through the trials. Why would she have spent days helping Applejack save Apple Bloom after intentionally trying to kill her? Have you ever met a pony as unstable as Pinkie Pie, Applejack? Maybe she doesn't know what she's doing. Applejack didn't want to think about it, nor did she want to think about the next trial, but she had to. Just as she opened the box to unfold the shark figure, a voice echoed through the alleyway.
"So there you are, Applejack," stated Twilight as she entered the alleyway. On Twilight's back stood her baby dragon, Spike. There was a chilling air in Twilight's voice. "What's happened to you?"
"Errr... uh... I can't say," answered Applejack as she tried to hide her wounds under her cloak. "Umm... what are you doing here?"
"We were looking for you Applejack. We sent a message to the Equstrian Guard in Hoofington, Ponyville, and Fillydelphia to look for you."
"Oh... um... that was unnecessary, Twilight. I... uh... am fine," lied Applejack, albeit poorly. Applejack could see that Twilight had taken interest in her white box. It is possible that she caught a glimpse of the origami figures when she opened it.
"Can I see what's in that box, Applejack? It could help us save Apple Bloom," persuaded Twilight. How did she know that Applejack's box was going to help her save Apple Bloom? Was Twilight guessing? Applejack gulped when she came to the conclusion. Twilight must think that she is the Ponigami Killer.
"I... I can't show you what's in the box."
"Oh, Applejack. I really think you should, and you should also come back to Ponyville with us and talk with me at the station," pressed Twilight. This confirmed Applejack's fears. She couldn't leave Apple Bloom to her fate. If Twilight took Applejack in and put her in a holding cell for a trial, Applejack would lose the precious moments she had to save Apple Bloom. She needed to get away from Twilight. Applejack placed her crippled hoof on the ground and placed the partially opened white box between her teeth. She had to abandon the med kit for now. As she turned away from Twilight to spring into a canter, Twilight responded.
"GUARDS! SEIZE HER!" shouted Twilight. On the side of the alley that Applejack was facing, two armored pegasus guards appeared before her. They spread their wings to impede Applejack, but Applejack, with a cantering start, leaped over the two pegasi and kicked one of the pegasi with her hind legs before landing on her front hooves. In mid air, she could have sworn something fell out of the white box. The landing shot a sharp pain up her front right leg, but Applejack remained in her canter. Applejack turned her head to see the other ponies. Their disorientation provided Applejack with the time to escape.
Applejack found herself hiding next to a dumpster by a bakery. She watched the guard pegasus pass her by and then took a deep breath. She would be safe for a few minutes. She opened up the white box to find that the shark and rat figure were still there. She unfolded the shark figure and read its message:
Are you prepared to kill somepony to save your filly?
Take this figure and the letter to 82 Trotter's Avenue, Hoofington.
Hoofington was just on the other side of Ponyville. She stuffed the unfolded shark figure into her poncho, and began to sneak her way out of Fillydelphia.
"I can't believe we lost her," sighed Twilight Sparkle after the guard pegasi reported that the search for Applejack had failed.
"I can't believe Applejack..." confessed Spike, who still sat in his usual spot on Twilight's posterior. "I guess... I guess you were right, Twilight."
"At least we didn't turn up empty-hooved," responded Twilight as she pulled out a piece of paper with creases on it. "It flew from Applejack's white box when she fled from us." Twilight began to follow the folds until, after a few tries, the creased paper turned into an origami bear.
"Wow... I guess... I guess there's really no way around it now," said Spike. Twilight's former focus turned into despair. Her friend, her most honest compatriot was a serial killer. The whole situation still baffled Twilight, but at least Twilight knew what to do and how she would have a chance to save Apple Bloom.
"Spike," began Twilight. "Once we return to Ponyville, I will need you to write a letter to all the guard ponies in Hoofington, Ponyville, and Fillydelphia informing them to tighten security. I will then work on enchanting a horn, so that it's sound can be heard for miles. We will order that pegasus ponies monitor every entrance into the Everfree Forest. If one of them sees Applejack, he or she will blow the horn and try to monitor the direction of Applejack for as long as possible. Once the horn is blown, every guard pony in the respective town will go after Applejack. If we're lucky, she'll take us to Apple Bloom, so that we can save her. We want to keep the operation fairly localized and undercover for now, because I don't want to kill Applejack. I'm not sure she's in the right mind, so it would be best if we could capture her alive."
It was almost noon and Rarity was on the outskirts of Ponyville, under the sky city of Cloudsdale. Rarity had began preparing the hot air balloon to take her to Cloudsdale with her friends Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. Rarity had gone with the other two to see Twilight earlier in the day so that Twilight could cast her spell on Rarity that would allow her to walk on the clouds. While the three ponies were with Twilight, she informed them that they had made a breakthrough on the identity of the killer, but that the Wonderbolts crackdown would be necessary in finding the current whereabouts of the killer, the killer's base of operations, and the location of Apple Bloom -- all of which were unknown to Twilight or the Equestrian Guard. Twilight had also told them that the identity of their prime suspect could only be revealed to members of the Equestrian Guard, because Twilight wanted the operation to be covert, so even Rainbow Dash was clueless. Twilight did inform the three that the prime suspect was an earth pony, so the Wonderbolts must sell their drugs to Applejack at some neutral zone on the surface. As the hot air balloon was readying, Fluttershy was mulling over her supplies.
"Let's see... bandages, painkillers, antiseptic, saline, smelling salts, gloves, gauze pads, scissors, tweezers, syringes, cotton swabs..." muttered Fluttershy to herself. She turned her head to Rarity, and gave a short note of surprise. "Oh Rarity, I wanted to give you something." She took out some sort of pocket knife and hooved it to Rarity. "I generally use this for surgery when I'm tending to the woodland critters, but I want you to have it. I know Rainbow's armed, but I still want you to have it just in case."
"Oh, well... thank you, Fluttershy, though I truly hope I will not have to use it," responded Rarity as she turned to look at the knife, and then hid it in the pocket of her coat. It was a dreadful day, and she assumed the temperature would only get worse at a higher elevation. She turned to Rainbow. She looked like she was in a foul mood. Rarity could understand why -- she had just learned that her heroes were nothing but scoundrels. Rarity thought it would be best to avoid speaking to her. Once the hot air balloon was ready, Rarity lifted off to Cloudsdale with her two pegasus friends fluttering beside her.
Rarity pressed one hoof onto the cloud to find it to be as firm as the ground. The three ponies walked over the clouds of Cloudsdale until they found the residence of the Wonderbolts. It was so strange for Rarity to be outside and not have the suffer the incessant deluge. The ponies entered the building and eventually came before the Wonderbolts and a few other unknown pegasi.
"Well... if it isn't the best young flyer in Equestria, Rainbow Dash," began Soarin'. There was an unnerving amount of coolness in his voice. It was then that Rarity realized that one of the Wonderbolts was missing -- Spitfire. "What brings you back to Cloudsdale?"
"Official business," answered Rainbow. She appeared to be shaking, but not from her fanfillyish excitement caused by her proximity to her fallen idols. "Where's Spitfire?"
"She, too, is out on official business. Is there anything you need her for?"
"Not her specifically," Rainbow Dash answered. Her voice was unusually cold, as if not her own. "I'm just wondering... have you engaged in any business with any sketchy ponies?"
"What kind of business are you suggesting we engaged in?"
"Are you familiar with the Ponigami Killer?"
"The serial killer in Ponyville?" returned Soarin'. "Well, of course I've heard of the pony. Why do you ask?"
"We have... evidence... that the Wonderbolts may have engaged with the serial killer. I am with the Equestrian Guard... and... and I know what the Wonderbolts are up to... under the cover of an entertainment group. If you are willing to provide information on the killer, the Equestrian Guard is willing to forget your petty crimes," explained Rainbow Dash. Rarity could see that Rainbow Dash was hovering her hoof over her pistol holster. Soarin' made a motion, and the unaffiliated pegasi began to encircle the three ponies.
"You three really shouldn't be sniffing into areas you know nothing about," announced Soarin'. Rarity heard a loud smashing sound and jerked her head to Rainbow Dash. One of the pegasi had hit Rainbow Dash with a blunt object, knocking her unconscious. Another smash brought Fluttershy to the floor. Rarity shifted her hoof into her pocket to fish out the knife, but before she could act, Rarity felt a dull pain in her neck, then fell forward.
When Rainbow Dash woke up, her head was spinning. Her surroundings swayed backwards and forwards in her head. She could feel water pouring on her body -- she must be back on the ground, because Cloudsdale was above the rain clouds. She felt the back of her neck to find a bruise, but nothing rest couldn't heal. She felt along her holster to discover that the Wonderbolt's hadn't disarmed her -- she still had her revolver. As her eyes focused, she realized that she was in a large wooden box with water pouring in, much more water than she would have expected from the rain. Where was she? She glanced around the room to find an unconscious Fluttershy and, to her horror, an unconscious Rarity, whose body appeared to be stuck in a jagged hole in the floor. She ran to her unicorn friend and began to shake her.
"Rarity! Fluttershy! You need to wake up!" Rainbow shouted. At her words, the unicorn and the other pegasus awoke, and, within a few moments became aware of their surroundings. Rainbow tried to pull Rarity out of the hole in the floor, but to no avail. She was stuck.
"Wh-what happened!?" gasped Rarity.
"The Wonderbolts must have put you in this hole, Rarity, but Fluttershy and me, we're gonna get you out, okay?"
"Rarity!" squealed Fluttershy as she trotted over to help her friend. Her quick movements caused the box to sway. Where were they? "Do you have the knife I gave you? We can cut you out of there if you give it to us." Rarity dug through all of her pockets, but could not find anything.
"I... I must have lost it when the Wonderbolts knocked me out!"
"Horse apples!" exclaimed Rainbow. She searched around their wooden prison to find some sort of way out. Her eyes found a broken plank in the wall. "Fluttershy, help me rip out that plank. We need to be careful not to cause the structure to sway! We'll be able to get Rarity out from the other side!" The two pegasi tiphooved to the plank and slowly ripped it from the wall, giving the pegasi just enough room to squeeze out.
"Please, please, help me!" screamed Rarity.
"Don't worry, Rarity. We'll do everything we can," consoled Fluttershy.
"Yeah, we're not going abandon our friend," affirmed Rainbow. As Rainbow pushed herself through the hole, she found herself in thin air. She flapped her wings to maintain her balance. Fluttershy followed the same routine. Rainbow Dash inspected her surroundings. The wooden cage was about ten hooves from the top of a waterfall. A few ropes tied to the rocks at the top of the waterfall held the cage aloft. She could see the bottom of the waterfall and realized that Rarity was suspended a couple hundred hooves in the air. To Rainbow Dash's greater horror, the strain on the ropes was too much. They were beginning to snap.
"We need to save Rarity, Rainbow!" squeaked Fluttershy. Her voice was barely audible over the thunder of the rushing water, but Rainbow understood. The two pegasi flew to the underside of the cage and, collectively, attempted to pull Rarity out. No luck. The wood was too strong and wasn't giving in.
"Fluttershy, you stay here and keep on trying to pull Rarity out. I'll go to the ropes and see if I can try something... anything," instructed Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy nodded, but she could see tears coming out of her eyes. The situation was turning grim. Rainbow's eyes, too, began to quiver. Before reaching the peak of the waterfall, Rainbow peered through the hole to speak to her friend. "Rarity, don't worry, we'll get you out. I... I promise!"
"I'm not worried, Rainbow. You saved my life before and you will do it again," responded Rarity. The calmness and trust in her voice ripped the tears from Rainbow Dash's eyes as she floated away from Rarity. Rainbow looked at the ropes connecting the cage to the waterfall and Rarity to the world. They would break in moments. Rainbow clasped all four of her hooves around one of the ropes and held the rope in her teeth. The cage was far too heavy for Rainbow to lift. A few seconds later, the ropes ripped from the summit. Rainbow tried to hold on, but the weight was too much. The rope slid from her grasp, leaving Rarity in free fall. Rainbow dived downwards after the wooden cage. As Rainbow stared downwards, she saw that Fluttershy had managed to dodge the falling cage just in time.
"RARITY!!" Rainbow screamed as she flew after her friend. Within a few seconds, the cage hit the water and sunk to the bottom of the lake. Rainbow stopped in midair, hovering over the surface of the lake, before diving in after her friend. The cage was several hooves under the water. Rainbow dug herself into the hole that she and Fluttershy had ripped out. A cloud of blood obscured Rainbow's vision. Rainbow swam up to her fallen friend. She made no movement with her eyes or her body. It couldn't be. Rainbow didn't want to believe it. Rainbow gave Rarity one last hug before ascending to the surface.
Rainbow climbed out of the lake and onto the ground. She looked up at the waterfall, and saw Fluttershy come hover down. She was in tears.
"Rainbow... i-is... is Rarity..." stuttered Fluttershy as she flew over to embrace Rainbow. Rainbow nodded. She couldn't admit it with words.
"Rarity... s-she believed in me... to the end," confessed Rainbow as she broke into a sob in Fluttershy's arms. "Fl-Fluttershy... can you t-tell the others... I-I just can't." Rainbow understood the acceptance of her request as she felt Fluttershy's head move up and down. Rainbow couldn't look at Fluttershy now.
"W-well... at... at least Rarity's with Sweetie Belle now..."
"Y-yeah," answered Rainbow Dash, but Rainbow Dash knew in her heart that she wasn't going to let this go. She was going to find Spitfire and make sure that she never had to see another one of her friends die.
It was two in the afternoon. Pinkie Pie had arrived in Ponyville just two hours earlier in search of the name Sarsaparilla Sherbet. She had checked the mayor's office's records to discover that Sarsaparilla Sherbet was a pony who died just outside of Ponyville fifteen years prior and was buried in the Ponyville graveyard. The records said nothing more of the pony, much to Pinkie's dismay. It probably wouldn't bring her any closer to finding Apple Bloom, but she had a feeling in her gut that she would find something if she went to see Sarsaparilla's grave. Or maybe the feeling in her gut was just hunger. Just as Pinkie was about to make way towards the graveyard, she saw a familiar figure hovering in the horizon. It was Fluttershy -- and she was weeping.
"Fluttershy! What's wrong? Did Rainbow play a mean trick on you?" consoled Pinkie as she approached the pegasus. Fluttershy shook her head. "Well... come on, you can tell me. What's wrong?"
"Rar..." sobbed Fluttershy as she dived into Pinkie's front legs.
"What happened to Rarity, Fluttershy?"
"Rar...Rarity... she's," gasped Fluttershy. Pinkie saw that she couldn't make out the words. Pinkie refused to believe the worst could have happened. Pinkie's denial turned to rage. She grabbed Fluttershy by the waist and shook her.
"Tell me what happened to Rarity, Fluttershy!?" demanded Pinkie. Fluttershy squeaked.
"She's... dead," whispered Fluttershy. Reality hadn't caught up with Pinkie. The confirmation only enflamed Pinkie's heart.
"Tell me!" shrieked Pinkie Pie. "Tell me exactly what happened!"
"She, R-rainbow, and I... we went to the W-wonderbolts to f-find information," recalled Fluttershy. "B-but it was a t-trap... we got l-locked in a cage a-and R-rarity got stuck and we tried, but... we couldn't save her." Pinkie Pie melted. She relinquished her grasp of Fluttershy. It was real.
"Just... stay away from me, Fluttershy," warned Pinkie as she turned her head away. "I need time... to myself."
"A-are you s-sure, Pinkie? I'm... I'm always here for a friend."
"I just need some time to myself, Fluttershy," responded Pinkie. Her voice was unusually cool. "If you want to know what I'm going through, just meet me at the graveyard in an hour."
"A-anything, Pinkie," returned Fluttershy. "I'm g-gonna go see Twilight now." The pegasus hovered away leaving Pinkie alone. She huddled herself into a corner by a shop. Her friend's presence was the only thing tying Pinkie Pie to the last remnant of her sanity. Her vision began to blur and all she could hear was the sound of her heartbeat. She glanced through the nearby shop window only to see herself with straight hair once again. She brushed her hoof against the side of her mane to see that, this time, her hair truly had deflated. Pinkie Pie crawled into a dark corner by the store, away from all the potential murderers. She needed to talk with her one true friend. The one pony that would never betray her.
Your friends are dying, one by one, Pinkie.
Oh yes, what are we to do about that?
There's only one thing we can do, Pinkie.
Yes, we must go find out who Sarsaparilla was. There's no need to worry about dead ponies.
But we must fear the living, Pinkie.
The Ponigami Killer could be anypony. But now that I've come to terms with you, I've learned to love you. There's no way you would ever hurt anypony.
Don't be so silly, Pinkie. We're perfectly capable of killing ponies. And they deserve it.
What do you mean? I don't want to hurt anypony! I killed that pony because I had to!
Ponies spend too much time trying to separate 'wants' and 'needs,' Pinkie. In reality they're the same things. If you really want to hurt somepony, you need to hurt somepony. Everypony is inferior to us, Pinkie.
No! No! I'm not you. I want you to leave me alone.
But who'll be your friend when we've killed all your friends, Pinkie?
Please stop! Get out of my head! I love my friends more than you could possibly imagine!
Fine, Pinkie. I'll leave you to suffer reality. But when you want to live in a fantasy, I'll always be here. I'm your friend that will never betray you.
Pinkie Pie opened her eyes. She was lying on the ground with her legs crossed against her chest. She turned her head to the reflection in the shop window to confirm that her hair had reverted to the blandness of her fillyhood. She wanted to think that it was all a dream and she would wake up to find Rarity and Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom all happily smiling at her. But this was reality. Dreams would only bring her closer to her 'other' self. Rarity was dead, but Apple Bloom was still alive. She could save Apple Bloom.
Twilight was enchanting her quill so that it would spin in the air before her. There was nothing for her to do but wait for Rainbow Dash and the others to return with their report. Twilight turned her head to her baby dragon assistant to see that he was sleeping on the job. Even in these uncertain times, Twilight could sympathize with Spike, for she had forced him to stay up all night with her to do paperwork. Twilight could go a day without sleep, but Spike needed his rest. Twilight leaned back in her chair to relax herself, but she couldn't stand the anxiety. She needed to know that her friends were okay. The door burst open.
"Fluttershy!" greeted Twilight. "How did the investigat-- wait... why are you crying? What happened?" Fluttershy closed her wings and fell to the ground. She was hiding her eyes with her hoof, but Twilight could see through this guise.
"I-it... it was a trap. The-the Wonderbolts knocked us out... and they... and R-rarity's... dead," stuttered Fluttershy. Twilight was incredulous.
"You're not serious, are you... are you, Fluttershy?" asked Twilight. This was all some kind of bad joke. Fluttershy shook her head. Twilight turned to Spike and saw that he must have awoken when Fluttershy entered the room. He ran up to hug the pegasus pony. Twilight didn't know what to do. She had expected deaths. She had seen friends die before. But this was Rarity.
"Are you and Rainbow," began Spike. Twilight could see that he was trying to lighten the conversation. "Are you two okay?"
"Y-yes... we're fine... Rainbow told me to t-that she was g-going to find Spitfire for i-information..." answered Fluttershy. Twilight turned to look at her desk. Had the recent events hardened her this much to reality? Fluttershy could cry over the loss of Rarity, but Twilight needed to act. Twilight needed to make sure that she could prevent further deaths, even if that meant killing Applejack. What was happening to Equestria?
"Rarity... she would have given her life to save you two," consoled Spike. Twilight could hear that he was beginning to tear up. "She was t-the nicest pony I ever met..."
"Y-yeah..." spoke Fluttershy. "Twilight... do you want to be left alone?"
"Yes, please," answered Twilight. She didn't mean to sound so harsh, but she couldn't help it. "Spike, you should go with Fluttershy for a little bit. I need some time to myself."
"Alright... Twilight. I guess... I guess I'll see you around..." said Spike as he escorted Fluttershy out the door. Once Twilight heard the door close, she got out her quill and a piece of paper. The Wonderbolts raid was a trap. Somepony knew about the operation and warned them ahead of time. Could Applejack somehow have been involved in this scheme? What was happening to Equestria?
Twilight was unnerved by stoicism surrounding her friend's death, but she knew her mission was greater than friendship. If Twilight had to forego ever having friends to protect as many ponies as possible, she would do as she must. Rarity was a good friend, but she was only one pony. Applejack was a good friend, but Twilight knew she did something unforgiveable. Twilight had to treat her the same way she treated the other scum she dealt with.
Again, she wondered what was happening to Equestria. Why now were the evils of ponykind showing their faces? Was this a test for Twilight to see how she would respond? Twilight understood now that friendship entitled loyalty to a figure other than the highest authority, and she would not allow her friendship to cloud her judgment. It was then that Twilight realized what she must do. It was Twilight's duty to put an end to crime in Equestria. Apple Bloom's survival was now more important than it had been before. Saving Apple Bloom would be a symbol to all of Equestria that Twilight Sparkle would bring a brighter future to Equestria by any means necessary. Twilight got out her quill, ink, and paper to write to Celestia.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Under the current circumstances that we are facing, I find that it is imperative to place Equestria under martial law and that I be given full control over Equestria's peacekeeping forces. I have just lost a dear friend, and I am fairly certain that another former friend of mine is somehow involved in the recent murders taking place in Equestria. I had recently planned for my operation to be covert, but it seems now that the entire underground of Equestria is showing its true face. We need to take all necessary measures to stop this at once. We need every guard in Equestria armed and searching for Applejack. We need the Wonderbolts to be put to an end. We need to restore peace by any means necessary.
Your faithful student,
Twilight chuckled at her continued reverence for Princess Celestia. Had it not been for Celestia's forgiving nature, the Wonderbolts would never have grown to be the crime organization they were today and, as such, Rarity would still be alive. Celestia, too, was wrong about the importance of friendship. Twilight functioned perfectly without her friends before, and now, in such extreme circumstances, Twilight realized that she never needed friends. Perhaps a lesser pony needed somepony to entrust, but Twilight was no normal pony. She was a pony that had to make the difficult decisions.
Fluttershy had kept her promise to Pinkie Pie and arrived at the Ponyville graveyard at three in the afternoon. What was it that Pinkie Pie was trying to find? She scanned the graveyard in search of her friend, and eventually found a pink-coated pony with a straight pink mane searching through graves, to which Fluttershy recognized as Pinkie Pie. It was possible that the downpour had soaked Pinkie Pie's mane, thus straightening it. Fluttershy approached her friend and tapped her on the shoulder with her hoof.
"Is that you, Fluttershy?" responded Pinkie without turning to Fluttershy. Pinkie's cold response shocked Fluttershy.
"U-uh... yeah," muttered Fluttershy. "How a-are you holding up?"
"I don't know," answered Pinkie without changing her tone of voice. Pinkie's reaction disturbed Fluttershy, so she thought it would be best if she changed the subject.
"Ummm... what are you looking for?"
"The grave of Sarsaparilla Sherbet."
"That's strange... I've never heard of her."
"She died fifteen years ago apparently," began Pinkie Pie. She had yet to even look at Fluttershy, choosing instead to glance at the names of the ponies' graves as she trotted along. "You still lived in Cloudsdale then, so I'd doubt you would have known her. What's strange is that I never knew her."
"O-oh... I'm sorry. I-is there anything I can do to help?"
"Help me look through these graves for Sarsaparilla Sherbet," said Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy said no further words and helped Pinkie search through the graves. The rain and fog in the graveyard haunted Fluttershy as she searched through the names. After a few minutes of aimlessly searching through the names on gravestones, she turned her head up to see Pinkie Pie standing next to a grave with somepony. Fluttershy hovered over to the grave to see the name 'Sarsaparilla Sherbet' written on the first line of the stone. The second line had the words 'Kept alive by her mother, father, and sister.' Fluttershy turned to the other pony to realize that it was the groundskeeper that she had met at the Grand Galloping Gala just a few months prior. What was he doing here?
"Oh, hello mister," greeted Fluttershy. The groundskeeper jolted, but Pinkie Pie remained stationary. "I'm sorry for scaring you, but I thought you worked in Canterlot. What are you doing here in Ponyville?"
"Oh my," began the groundskeeper. "You startled me, but now I remember seeing your face. Well, it's really a sad story, but I came here to see this poor pony. I used to work in Ponyville, you see, and... I'm sorta the reason for this poor pony's death. The recent filly murders around these parts made me want to come back... and pay my dues."
"Sir," spoke Pinkie Pie, turning her head from Sarsaparilla's grave. "Would you mind telling us what happened?"
"Well... I can't tell you everything," began the old earth pony. "Some things I just can't talk about... I learned most of what I know from this filly's mother, but with current... err... state, I don't know what is fact and what is fiction... but I can tell you the basic story. I was once in love with a dazzling and talented unicorn named Strawberry Sherbet about... oh... fifteen years ago. She was quite a bit younger than me, and she wasn't from Ponyville. I was surprised that she would go for a pony like me. She didn't talk about herself much, and I had no idea that she was married with two fillies until this tragic accident. One day, we were going on a date in Ponyville, and one of the fillies told us that her sister was in trouble. Strawberry... I think she was embarrassed that she was in an affair, so she denied that she knew this little filly. I really was confused at the time. It turned out that this filly was her daughter and she was warning us about her sister. Well... it turned out that her sister, Sarsaparilla here, got herself trapped in Froggy Bottom Bog and drowned. It was the wet season, you see, so the bog was flooded. So... after that, me and Strawberry, we broke up. Strawberry's husband apparently knew of the affair and the two got a divorce. It's really... eerie... and I don't want to talk about it, because I don't know much. After the accident and the divorce, Strawberry went to the mental hospital in Fillydelphia. It's so strange... she never told me the name of her other daughter. She now... she seems to deny the existence of her. I don't remember much about the filly, because my mind's gettin' fuzzy with my age and Strawberry kept on trying to block her from my vision, but all I remember was her cryin' out 'Mommy' so many times. It's really... really sad. I really... can't talk about Strawberry. You can't get a straight sentence out of her now..."
"Thank you for sharing your story," said Pinkie Pie. Now, for the first time, Pinkie Pie turned her face to Fluttershy. The two began to shift themselves away from the graveyard. "Fluttershy, I need to go to that mental hospital."
"Why? Do you want me to come along?"
"I'm sorry, Fluttershy, but what I need to do is dangerous. I'm going after the Ponigami Killer, and I think that the killer is Strawberry Sherbet's other daughter."
"How do you know, Pinkie?"
"I did some research in Fillydelphia. The name that I found was Sarsaparilla Sherbet, a dead filly. From what I heard from the Cakes with their filly, the abducted filly is drowned in rainwater, like Sarsaparilla Sherbet."
"But how do you know the killer didn't just use the name of a filly that died that way?"
"I know it's a long shot, Fluttershy," answered Pinkie Pie. "But it's all I have. Applejack and Rainbow and Twilight are all trying to save Apple Bloom, and I want to save her, too."
"But what can I do?" complained Fluttershy. "I was there with Rainbow... a-and Rarity."
"I'm sorry, Fluttershy, but I just have to do this without you. I don't want to see another one of my friends die," said Pinkie Pie as she galloped away. Fluttershy looked down at the ground as the downpour left her mane and coat soaked. Twilight was the head of the Ponyville Guard. Rainbow Dash was searching for Spitfire for information. Pinkie Pie was searching for information from the Ponigami Killer's family. But Fluttershy was doing nothing.
"I must do something," whispered Fluttershy under her breath.
At four in the afternoon, in Cloudsdale, Rainbow Dash found her target, Spitfire, shaking in her own cowardice behind a building. Was this the hero Rainbow Dash once worshipped? Rainbow pulled Spitfire up against the wall and whipped her pistol against Spitfire's face before dropping her to the ground. As Spitfire screamed in pain, Rainbow Dash cackled. While the feeling of acceleration once brought Rainbow pleasure, after the betrayal and murder of her friend, the only pleasure Rainbow felt came from righteous vengeance.
"Now, Spitfire," antagonized Rainbow as she lifted Spitfire before her by her collar. "You're going to answer some questions and every time you lie..." Rainbow removed all but one bullet from her six-bullet chamber. "I'm going to spin the cylinder, aim it at a non-vital part of your body, and pull the trigger."
"Please," begged Spitfire, her face bloodied. "I-I don't know anything!" Rainbow spun the chamber of her revolver and pointed it at Spitfire's back left leg. When Rainbow pulled the trigger, the revolver clicked, but no bullet escaped the barrel. "Okay... please, just don't hurt me Rainbow. What do you want?" Rainbow Dash dropped Spitfire to the ground again, reloaded her revolver, and then began the interrogation.
"Now, Spitfire. First question: are you and the Wonderbolts criminal scum that pose as an entertainment group?"
"I don't know what--" answered Spitfire, but as Rainbow put her hoof to her gun, Spitfire immediately changed her answer. "Yes, yes we are!"
"Good. At least you admit it. Next question: why weren't you with the Wonderbolts when we attempted to raid and interrogate you?"
"I... I was off doing a drug deal!" confessed Spitfire. Rainbow Dash pulled out her gun. Her answer wasn't acceptable. Spitfire began to cry. "Please, please... it's the honest truth. Don't hurt me!"
"Fine," responded Rainbow Dash with a smirk. Perhaps Twilight was right, even though she wouldn't admit it. Causing pain to criminals was fun. "Then tell me this: the Wonderbolts had extra muscle when we raided your business. You set up a trap. Who told you ahead of time that we were planning on raiding you?"
"I-it... was just addressed as the Ponigami Killer," sighed Spitfire. The only pony that knew about the operation was the Ponyville Guard. The Ponigami Killer was somepony associated with the Ponyville Guard -- that would explain why the Ponyville Guard was so slow to get any evidence. The Ponigami Killer must be using her knowledge of investigations to destroy evidence.
"Do you have the letter with you?"
"N-no. We always burn our letters from her. And even if we did, the guard is finally cracking down on us as we speak. T-that's why I'm hiding here."
"You're such a coward," insulted Rainbow Dash. "But at least you admit that you deal with the Ponigami Killer. Do you know anything about her? Why haven't you reported to the Cloudsdale Guard about her?"
"S-She never meets any of us face-to-face in our building. I-I've personally never seen her. We're afraid of her -- we're afraid for our fillies. Because we don't know who she is or anything about her, she blackmails us. She knows the things we do outside of just drug dealing. She says she'll report our crimes to Celestia if we don't give in to her demands. S-she seems to know about what we do outside of drug dealing..."
"I take it she wants you to sell her amnesiocaine, an expensive and rare drug, on the cheap?"
"Y-yeah. That's primarily what she wants."
"Now, you said you two never meet in your building. Where do you do your drug deals? You must have some neutral drug trading zone, right?"
"Yeah, it's in this underground cellar about a mile west of Ponyville... Whenever she wants to buy the amnesiocaine... we send somepony off the clouds who's unaffiliated with the Wonderbolts to do the deal with the killer in pony... We don't want anypony in the Wonderbolts getting killed by her..."
"Good. You're breaking easier than I imagined you would," remarked Rainbow Dash. "Next question: besides keeping you around as a drug source, was there any other reason that the Ponigami Killer warned you about the raid?"
"S-she said that she needed you three ponies out of the picture. She said to scare you three with the wooden cage so as to not draw attention."
"One of my friends died from that cage of yours."
"P-please," cried Spitfire. "We didn't intend to kill anypony! Honestly!" Rainbow Dash began to look over the evidence she received. The Ponigami Killer was a female member of the Ponyville Guard most likely. The Ponigami Killer wanted to get Rainbow, Fluttershy, and Rarity out of the picture without killing them. Could it possibly be? Was Twilight the killer all along? Something didn't add up. Twilight most likely ordered to bring the Wonderbolts to justice after Rarity's murder. Why would the Twilight, if she were the killer, purposefully cut off her access to the drug? It didn't make sense.
"One last question, Spitfire," Rainbow Dash hissed as she glared down at the bloodied pegasus. "When was one of your ponies you hired going to see the Ponigami Killer next?"
"The next planned visit was going to be... eleven this evening. We gave this kid the shipment of drugs a day ago, so the deal is still likely going on...," responded Spitfire. This would be very convenient for Rainbow Dash. She would have enough time to see Twilight Sparkle before her confrontation with the Ponigami Killer. Rainbow was also relieved to know that the pony sent to perform the drug deal was not a member of the Wonderbolts. If the drug dealer was just some thug, Rainbow would have to deal with the criminal, but it meant that the killer would still likely meet at the neutral zone to get the drugs. If the Wonderbolts themselves directly dealt their drugs with the killer, the killer would likely not go to the neutral zone, as the killer knew about the operation and the demise of the Wonderbolts. As Rainbow Dash was thinking over the her newfound evidence, Spitfire spoke up again. "So... am I free... to go?"
"Absolutely not. You're going to rot in jail like the rest of the scum you worked with," snapped Rainbow Dash. At this remark, Spitfire ripped out her wings and attempted to flee the scene. Without a second thought, Rainbow Dash pulled her handgun from its holster and shot Spitfire in the leg. Spitfire fell onto the solid surface of the clouds as blood ran from her leg. Rainbow would have to bring this excuse for a pegasus to the Cloudsdale Guard before continuing her mission.
At seven in the evening, Applejack slipped through the alleyways of the village of Hoofington. Hoofington was a village substantially larger than Ponyville, but cities like Fillydelphia and Manehattan dwarfed it. The cover of darkness, rain, and fog allowed Applejack to skim along the streets, out of the sight of the Equestrian Guard. Countless numbers of guard ponies were patrolling the village with full suits of armor and rifles. She had never seen the guard like this. The ponies had to be looking for Applejack. Did Twilight really think that Applejack was the Ponigami Killer?
As Applejack searched the village for Trotter's Avenue, her body and limbs moaned in pain. It was not the agony that she had felt during the trials, but Applejack felt that her body was giving up. It was as if all the pains she had felt in the previous trials had scarred Applejack's spirit. She had tortured herself for Apple Bloom's sake, but now Applejack thought of the Shark figure's message: 'Are you prepared to kill somepony to save your filly?' Every other message was cryptic, but Applejack couldn't think of any way that the message could be metaphorical, especially considering the fact that the Ponigami Killer had provided Applejack with a gun. Was Applejack prepared to kill somepony? No, she wasn't, but she had to for Apple Bloom's sake.
After several minutes of searching, Applejack found Trotter's Avenue, and within a minute, found the house at eighty-two. It was a two-story building that Applejack imagined an upper-middle class pony would reside in. She scanned the perimeter to see that there were no armed guards around her, then she walked up the steps of the house and felt the expected vibration in her poncho. She looked inside her pocket -- she had discarded the white box and the blank pieces of paper on her way to Hoofington -- and pulled out the unfolded sharked figure. It had the shortest and most straight-forward text yet:
The Fourth Trial:
The message extinguished Applejack's hopes that the killer wanted Applejack to commit murder in a metaphorical sense. Applejack took a second glance at the name on the slip of paper. Was it possible that the pony the killer wanted Applejack to kill was the Trixie Applejack had met several months prior? Admittedly, Applejack never liked Trixie -- she was a pompous fraud, but she didn't deserve death. Why was the killer making Applejack do these terrible acts for Apple Bloom? Applejack loved her sister and despised Trixie, but Applejack couldn't justify taking somepony's life to save another's. Yet she had to.
Applejack returned the paper to her poncho pocket, and pulled out the revolver. She felt the cold steel in her hoof. The machine alienated her from the deed she was about to commit. She steadied the pistol with her crippled hoof and placed her other hoof on the trigger and held the pistol out before her. All she would have to do is point the gun at Trixie and shoot -- one motion of her hoof. She stood before Trixie's door with her hoof hovering on the door. Just get it over with, Applejack. Applejack rapped the door.
Applejack placed the revolver before her, and turned her head to the side. She didn't want to meet her victim's face. The floor began to spin and blur around her. She could hear hoofsteps approach the door. Her heart began to pound. The door swung open. Just shoot, Applejack! Her hoof froze.
"What can the great and power-- y-you!?? W-What do you want from me!?" begged Trixie. Applejack just stood in her place, holding the revolver in front of her. She couldn't do it. Trixie used this moment to summon a rope to bind Applejack. Applejack broke from her trance as the rope snaked around her body and thrust herself against Trixie. For the first time, with both ponies in midair, Applejack looked at the unicorn's face. Her eyes showed only terror.
The two ponies landed on the floor of Trixie's living room. Applejack stood up and aimed the revolver right between Trixie's eyes. Trixie, in her shock, could no longer control her magic, so the rope fell flat on the ground. The grounded unicorn backed herself against the wall.
"Y-you're Applejack, right?"
"U-um... yeah... We met once before," answered Applejack.
"W-what do you want with me? I thought you only killed fillies..."
"Every guard pony, t-they're all looking f-for you. Y-you're the Ponigami Killer," stuttered Trixie. As Applejack held the revolver against Trixie, the trial made sense to Applejack. The killer was trying to make Applejack become like him. He was forcing Applejack to take the life of somepony. Yet, Applejack had to kill Trixie for Apple Bloom's sake. It was justified, but Applejack still couldn't pull the trigger. "L-look, I know I'm a fraud, b-but please. Spare my life." Applejack stared at the unicorn. She may done things that were wrong, but she wasn't a bad pony. Applejack stared down at the barrel of her gun and at her mutilated hoof. Just kill Trixie for Apple Bloom's sake. Yet, Applejack couldn't. She was able to cut off part of her own hoof, but she couldn't take a life, even if it meant risking her own sister's life.
"I ain't a murderer!!" Applejack screamed as she shoved the revolver into her mouth and galloped out of the house. She looked at the shark figure. Before fading to blank it said one word: Coward. Applejack looked in vain at the letter that the killer had sent, hoping that the trial was all a test to see if Applejack would make the moral decision, but no new letters appeared in the blank spaces. She stuffed the papers and the firearm into her pocket and leaped into a gallop again.
Applejack was a mile away from the town of Hoofington. She wanted to get away from the guards and her own failure. She lied down by a tree and laid out the rat figure, the letter, and the revolver before her. Applejack looked at the blank spaces and was able to make out a few of the words, namely 'Everfree Forest' and 'Sugarcube Corner.' It was possible that if Applejack was successful with the final trial, she could decipher the way to get to Apple Bloom. Apple Bloom still had a chance of survival, however slim. Applejack opened the cylinder of the revolver and let all but one bullet fall to the ground. Applejack could only take one pony's life now. She unfolded the rat figure and read its message.
It was eight at night. The black clouds blocked out every modicum of light in Ponyville. The rain poured upon Rainbow Dash even harder than it had before. At this rate, Apple Bloom had only mere hours to live. If only the pegasi had control over the weather in the Everfree Forest, Apple Bloom would have more time. Rainbow scanned the town and saw that the entire guard was patrolling through the streets fully armed. They almost never wore more than basic body armor. What was happening? Any one of these guard ponies could be the Ponigami Killer. Trust none of them. Rainbow Dash needed to find Twilight to see what she had found out in her investigations, but Rainbow couldn't tell Twilight about her plan to confront the killer. If the killer overheard the discussion or learned about it from Twilight, she may choose to not go to the neutral zone. Rainbow Dash couldn't ask for back-up from the Ponyville Guard and would have to face the killer alone. Before Rainbow reached the Ponyville Guard station, she bumped into her pegasus friend, Fluttershy.
"Oh, hey, Fluttershy..."
"Hi, Rainbow Dash. Did you find Spitfire?"
"Yeah, I did," answered Rainbow Dash. She turned to all the armed guard ponies, then looked back at Fluttershy. "Why are all the ponies here so heavily armed?"
"Umm...," sighed Fluttershy. "Twilight says she... she has evidence that Applejack... th-that she's the killer. Twilight s-said that the guard will alert Ponyville and other towns if they spot Applejack." Rainbow Dash knew that Applejack couldn't be the killer, as she was missing when the Wonderbolt crackdown began, but Rainbow Dash couldn't provide the evidence that would support Applejack now. Rainbow Dash beckoned Fluttershy to come to a corner, out of earshot from the guards ponies.
"Look, Fluttershy. I need you to be quiet and not tell anypony what I'm telling you until I say so, okay?"
"Applejack can't be the killer. I learned from Spitfire that the Wonderbolts received a warning ahead of time from the Ponigami Killer that that we would be investigating them, meaning that somepony in the guard is the Ponigami Killer. Applejack went missing at the time so she couldn't be the killer."
"But why can't I tell Twilight this?"
"The killer was going to do a drug deal later tonight, and I'm going to face her alone and force her to give Apple Bloom's location. If either of us told Twilight that the Ponigami Killer warned the Wonderbolts of the crackdown, Twilight would investigate everypony that was involved with the Wonderbolts operation, and we'd lose what little time we have to save Apple Bloom..."
"O-okay. Are you going to be... um... okay by yourself?"
"I think I should be able to hold out on my own... but," gulped Rainbow Dash. She could see Fluttershy biting her lip. "If I can't find the Ponigami Killer, I don't think Apple Bloom will survive. My guess is that she only has a few hours left, but if I don't come back... I need you to tell Celestia -- you can't trust Twilight -- to investigate everypony involved with the Ponyville Guard and that Applejack is innocent, okay?"
"Thanks, Fluttershy," whispered Rainbow Dash. "Just make sure not to tell anypony anything about what I just said. We will probably be able to find the Ponigami Killer within the next week or so based on the evidence I got from Spitfire, but if we want to save Apple Bloom, I need to confront the killer tonight."
"O... okay. W-what are you going to do now?"
"I'm gonna go see Twilight and see if I can make her trust Applejack... even if I can't show her any proof," responded Rainbow Dash. She gave Fluttershy a nod of her head and turned away from the pegasus. Once she reached the Ponyville Guard station, she entered Twilight's office to find her unicorn friend with a disheveled mane and a twitching grin. What was wrong with her?
"Uh... hey, Twilight... how are you holdin' up?"
"Oh, just fine," answered Twilight Sparkle. The way she emphasized that last word disturbed Rainbow Dash. "I now know that our best friend Applejack was the Ponigami Killer all along, and I have to do everything in my power to stop her..." The unicorn was deranged. Had she really given in to her belief that Applejack was the killer? But then, deep within Rainbow's heart, she could sympathize with Twilight's paranoia. One of the reasons Rainbow couldn't trust Twilight with the evidence, in addition to the fear that she would prevent the killer from attending Rainbow Dash's trap tonight, was that even if Rainbow Dash made Twilight promise to keep the evidence to herself for a day, Rainbow feared that the unicorn was the killer. Rainbow Dash was just as paranoid as Twilight, but she had to be. Apple Bloom's life was counting on it. Rainbow would have to try to convince her some other way.
"Twilight... Applejack is our friend. And Apple Bloom was fillynapped. How do you--"
"I caught her with a box containing origami figures and she tried to flee from us when we asked her to come to the station with us, she resisted arrest," responded Twilight. Rainbow Dash was confused. She knew Applejack couldn't be the killer, so why did this event happen?
"Maybe Applejack's trying to save Apple Bloom and she couldn't come with you or else she'd lose Apple Bloom?"
"That still doesn't explain the origami figures, Rainbow. Face it, whether we like it or not, Applejack is our prime suspect. I have pegasus guards watching every entrance to the Everfree Forest. When somepony sees Applejack, she'll blow an enchanted horn. Also, we're investigating into the Wonderbolts as well considering what happened..."
"Uh, yeah... h-how are you holding up, Twilight?"
"It is unfortunate," began Twilight Sparkle. There was no emotion in Twilight's voice. "But Rarity was only one pony. Unless I can change Equestria, more ponies will die..."
"How can you..." snapped Rainbow Dash. Contempt built in Rainbow's heart at Twilight's callousness. "Rarity and Applejack are our friends, Twilight! Now you're treating them like they're... they're nothing..."
"I don't need friends, Rainbow Dash. What I'm doing is what's best for Equestria," returned Twilight. Even if Twilight wasn't the killer, she was starting to sound like her. Had she forgotten everything Princess Celestia had wanted her to learn. Rainbow Dash couldn't control herself anymore. She lunged at Twilight Sparkle and threw her hoof into the unicorn's face. Twilight fell backwards with a red mark on her cheek.
"Get the hay out, now, before I have you arrested."
"Fine, but don't come galloping back to me when you find out Applejack isn't the killer..."
At nine in the evening, Pinkie Pie had returned to Fillydelphia and found herself in the Fillydelphian Mental Health Center. The lobby was quiet and overly sanitized. It was devoid of any real life or love. Pinkie wondered if the patients were treated the same way -- as items rather than living ponies. Pinkie shuddered at the thought that she might be destined for the same fate. But Pinkie, you'll always have me to be by your side. Pinkie tried to ignore the voice in her head and approached the receptionist, a middle-aged unicorn.
"Hi there, my name is Diane Sherbet," lied Pinkie. "I am a family member of Strawberry Sherbet. Is she here?"
"Oh, yes," answered the receptionist. "It's so nice of you to see her. Too few ponies come and see her. She's down and on your right in room eleven." Pinkie Pie followed the unicorn's orders and found room eleven. The room was much like the lobby, with only a few creature comforts that distinguished the room from a prison. Strawberry Sherbet's desk stood out, however. Upon it lied the newspaper, The Equestria Daily, and several origami figures. It all but confirmed a connection between Strawberry Sherbet and the Ponigami Killer, but Pinkie Pie found something quite confusing when she turned her head to the elderly Strawberry. Pinkie Pie had clearly remembered that Strawberry was a unicorn, but before her lied, in a bed, an earth pony.
"Oh... is it time for my food yet?" groaned the elderly pony.
"Umm... no," answered Pinkie. "I am here to talk about your daughter."
"The food here is never very good. I always ask you to improve it, but you never do," complained Strawberry incoherently.
"I'm here to talk to you about your daughter."
"Oh... Sarsaparilla was such a nice filly... she and her sister used to play and play together..."
"Yes, good. What was Sarsaparilla's sister's name?"
"Sarsaparilla was a wonderful unicorn," droned Strawberry. "She was always my favorite. I suppose I should have never married to the pony I did though... the other ponies always give you strange looks when you do what I did... but I never liked unicorns... so pompous and aloof. But then I found a nice earth pony... he was so sweet..." Pinkie Pie was getting nowhere. The pony at the graveyard had told her that Strawberry ignored the existence of Sarsaparilla's sister. Sarsaparilla picked up the newspaper. On the front page was the caption: 'The Ponigami Killer Strikes Again.' She showed it to Strawberry.
"Strawberry, this pony is Sarsaparilla's sister and your daughter. What is her name?"
"I had one daughter... Sarsaparilla was such a nice pony... but really... it was my fault she died..." rambled Strawberry. Pinkie Pie didn't want to become like this, a pony unable to communicate, a pony living in the past. But Pinkie Pie, if you live in the past, you won't have to live in fear of the future. Pinkie put down the newspaper and picked up an origami crane.
"Strawberry, does this remind you of anything?"
"Oh... my daughters loved making origami figures. It was funny... because where we lived they had never seen any animals or plants. But they planted orchids all the time -- they loved orchids. And they folded origami figures. Sarsaparilla's favorite was a dog and her sister's favorite was a rabbit," recalled Strawberry. Pinkie Pie turned to the origami figures again. There was no origami rabbit on the table, but there was origami paper and an origami instruction manual. Pinkie Pie turned to the page with the rabbit, and folded the origami paper into a rabbit, then showed it to Strawberry.
"Strawberry, does this bring you back any memories?" asked Pinkie Pie. Strawberry's eyes widened and put her hooves to her head. She looked like she was in pain. Pinkie Pie didn't want to live in the past, for she could never forget what happened. But Pinkie... The future wasn't determined yet. Apple Bloom was still alive. Pinkie could make a better future. Pinkie, just let it go. We can be happy together. Pinkie Pie refused to let her fears and pain be her only existence. Pinkie had to continue to fight for Sweetie Belle and Rarity, but most importantly for Apple Bloom. But we can always be with Rarity and Sweetie Belle. Pinkie couldn't do anything for Rarity and her sister now, but she could save Apple Bloom. After a pause of silence, Strawberry began to speak.
"Please... it brings me back such painful memories... and it's all my fault... all my fault... she tortured me..." cried Strawberry. It was just then that the light of the room shown on Strawberry's face. On her forehead, there was a prominent scar. The killer must have removed her mother's horn.
"Strawberry, did your daughter remove your horn?"
"Sh-She said that it was my punishment... for letting Sarsaparilla die... and it's true... I never told anypony she did it... because it's my fault..."
"Please Strawberry, if you tell me who your other daughter is... I can make the pain go away. She's causing pain to many other ponies. I know it will be hard for you, but you must tell me who she is."
"Will... will the memories go away?" asked Strawberry. Pinkie Pie could lie to this answer, but she knew she had to be honest, for both Strawberry's and her own sake.
"No, Strawberry, your bad memories won't go away. They will be with you forever. But if you help me, if you tell me her name, you can make a better future," answered Pinkie Pie. The pony looked at the blanket covering her body, then beckoned Pinkie Pie to come closer. She whispered the name into Pinkie's ear.
It was almost eleven in the evening when Rainbow Dash opened the door to the cellar. It was mostly empty except for a table in the center and a nervous-looking pegasus with a bag over his back. Rainbow assumed this was the drug dealer the Wonderbolts had hired. Upon closer inspection, Rainbow realized that it was the bully from her childhood, Dumbbell.
"R-Rainbow Cr-Dash... y-you're t-the--"
"No, I'm not, but the killer will be coming later," answered Rainbow Dash. She ripped the bag of drugs from the pegasus. "Look, I'm going to give you a second chance. The Wonderbolts are no more. You don't want to turn to crime. Now get lost before I have to turn you in."
"Y-yeah, of course Rainbow Dash!" answered Dumbbell. He immediately escaped from the premises. That affair was easier than Rainbow Dash had expected. She stood behind the table and readied the pistol before her and aimed it at the door. The table would serve as cover for her. When the killer entered the cellar, she would fall into her trap. Rainbow would then torture the killer for Apple Bloom's location like she had done to Spitfire. Torture, Rainbow? Did the Wonderbolt's betrayal leave you this jaded? What was Rainbow Dash becoming? She began to shake and the pistol in front of her swayed. She would never admit it, but she suffered from frequent nervous breakdowns. She always put up a tough exterior, but deep inside she was terrified of failure. The ambivalent feelings of hatred and fear pervaded her mind. How different was Rainbow Dash from Twilight -- from the Ponigami Killer herself? She was acting extreme to save Apple Bloom. She couldn't save Rarity, but she could save Apple Bloom. Her dreams had become a lie and she couldn't trust her friends, but if she could save Apple Bloom, she would have a purpose.
All Rainbow could do now was wait. Rainbow Dash hoped that the Ponigami Killer would not realize that Rainbow could not kill her if she wanted to save Apple Bloom. What if the killer was prepared for an ambush? Rainbow Dash had to stop doubting herself. Rainbow Dash hated waiting, because it only exacerbated her anxiety. Rainbow attempted to close her mind and think only of the plan.
The door swung open. The veiled Ponigami Killer kicked open the door with a gun in her hoof. Rainbow Dash aimed for the killer's left side and pulled the trigger. At the same time, the killer shot her revolver. Both ponies attempted to dodge the bullet, but the killer's bullet hit Rainbow Dash's left shoulder, knocking the revolver out of her hoof, and Rainbow's bullet hit the killer's left side, puncturing her cloak. The killer was still armed, so Rainbow Dash jumped over the table and threw herself against the killer's body, smashing her against the wall. The force of the thrust knocked the Ponigami Killer's gun out of her hoof.
The Ponigami Killer pulled out a second weapon, a pocket knife, and slashed Rainbow Dash along her right cheek. As the blood fell from her body, Rainbow Dash relented, and the killer kicked her to the ground. The killer walked up to her with the blade in front of her. The blood loss and the anxiety made Rainbow Dash's blood pressure drop. Color drained from her vision. She was going to die. The killer's blade was mere inches away from her body. Her functional front right leg searched aimlessly for something. It found her pistol. She pulled the hammer back and aimed it at the killer's head, though her hooves were shaking.
"Don't come any closer or I'll shoot, you pile of hay-seed," warned Rainbow Dash. The Ponigami Killer turned the other way and fled the cellar. Rainbow Dash wanted to follow her, but she couldn't. The blood loss would make her faint any second now. She found herself crawling to the evidence that the killer had left behind. Next to the shredded pieces of cloak and the killer's blood were the last pieces to the puzzle. The weakness, blood loss, anxiety, and incredulity left Rainbow Dash unconscious on the floor.
It was fifteen years ago. A young pegasus and her older unicorn sister, Sarsaparilla, were peering over the black rain clouds near Cloudsdale. The sister's unicorn mother had provided Sarsaparilla Sherbet with lovely butterfly-like wings before leaving to go to the surface, as she was doing almost daily for the past few months. Just a few weeks into their mother's routine, the pony sisters' pegasus father began drinking heavily and abusing them. The two sister's needed to get away from their father.
"Oh, come on, we need to go see what's on the surface and what Mom is doing," urged Sarsaparilla.
"I don't know, sis. It's raining heavily on the surface, and we don't know what's down there."
"Oh, come on. Would you rather we stay with Dad and have him beat us? We need to get out and find our cutie marks!"
"But... we haven't been able to fly successfully yet..." complained the pegasus. The older sister rolled her eyes, then grabbed her sister's hooves and the two ponies jumped off the clouds. The pegasus screamed. For the first time ever, they had experienced rain. The two ponies tried to flap their wings, but they couldn't prevent their fall. The chaos ripped the two sisters from each other just before they collided with the ground. For the first time ever, the filly pegasus was on the surface. She looked around to see a flooded bog, a place that she would later know as Froggy Bottom Bog, but she couldn't find her sister. She looked and looked, and eventually found her in the bog, her enchanted wings torn apart, with her head stretching to stay above the water.
"Sarsa, what's wrong?" the pegasus called out.
"My... my foot's stuck..." moaned Sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla was too far into the bog for the pegasus to reach and the pegasus filly couldn't fly yet. She needed to get help. She needed to find her mother.
"I'll go get Mom, Sarsa!" called out the pegasus. The filly cantered as fast as her little legs could, and eventually found a town on the surface. She searched through the town only to find her mother kissing an earth pony. Why was she doing this? It didn't matter. She had to save her sister.
"Mommy! Mommy! It's Sarsa. You need to help!"
"Hmmm..." answered her mother. Her voice was shaky. "I'm sorry, little filly, but I'm not your mother."
"Please Mommy! Mommy! Help, please..."
"No, I don't know you. I'm sorry..." answered her mother. The unicorn mother placed herself directly between the earth pony and her daughter. She clearly didn't want to admit to the earth pony that she had children. There was nothing the pegasus could do. She galloped through town, but she couldn't find anypony else and Sarsaparilla was running out of time. She found her way back to the flooded bog. Sarsaparilla's head was now fully emerged under water, and she was struggling for breaths.
"Sarsa! I tried getting mommy, but she wouldn't come... she wouldn't come..." cried the pegasus pony. With Sarsaparilla's last ounce of strength, she peered above the water's surface to say her last words to her sister.
"It's okay... I don't blame you, Fluttershy."
Fluttershy recalled the memory that changed her life, the memory that she never told to any of her friends, as she entered her cottage at midnight. She had lied to her friends that she had only been to surface just before she received her cutie mark. In truth, she had that one terrible experience where she visited the surface three years prior to receiving her butterfly cutie mark. She turned her head to her pet bunny, Angel. For the past month, the rabbit had not given his usual contemptuous glances. He only shivered in fear, knowing the secrets Fluttershy held with her.
She sat at her desk with a waste bin to her side. She poured kerosene into the waste bin. On her desk was the Cake's origami box and both their and Rarity's church letters. She threw these items into the bin, and ignited them with a match. The Cake's, Rarity, and Applejack were the only ponies to keep the letters. She needed to dispose of any evidence of her crimes. The first four ponies whose fillies Fluttershy had abducted chose to simply throw away the letters and not even act on them. It made the evidence easier to dispose of, admittedly. She had to lie and steal to get the Cakes' and Rarity's evidence. Perhaps they had not thought that Fluttershy, the Ponigami Killer, would have abducted their ponies? They clearly had no real care for their fillies. And even then, neither Rarity or the Cake's chose to act on her messages. Only Applejack was worthy... mostly. Fluttershy was saddened by Applejack's unwillingness to kill somepony. Was Trixie's life really worth Apple Bloom's?
When it became clear to Fluttershy that the first five ponies were unworthy of keeping their fillies' lives, Fluttershy had to turn to the best ponies in Equestria, her friends. She had originally planned special trials for Rarity, but when Rarity showed that she was too selfish to sacrifice herself for Sweetie Belle's sake, she gave Applejack Rarity's trials. The first four trials she gave to Applejack mimicked the adventures and lessons the six friends had encountered. The bear trial represented the Appleloosan conflict; the butterfly trial reflected their ordeal with the dragon; the lizard trial corresponded to Rarity's sacrifice of her hair to the sea serpent; and the murder of Trixie represented the ponies' efforts to destroy Trixie's boasts. Perhaps she had left too big a clue in the second trial. She learned from a miner that the cave was once a mine, but ponies stopped mining their when they discovered that a dragon lived in the cave. The miner showed Fluttershy the mine shaft and told her that if somepony followed the smoke and light, he would find the dragon's lair. Fluttershy could only paint the butterfly paintings up to shaft. When she had heard the cave tremble, she recalled her fears of dragons. As Fluttershy looked at her three-butterfly cutie mark, she thought it was ironic that Applejack would have to face a dragon in the butterfly trial.
Naturally, Fluttershy did everything in her power to throw off the Ponyville Guard. She knew that Applejack's honesty would be a fault, so she gave her an origami figure when she abducted Apple Bloom. As Fluttershy had hoped, Twilight went after the wrong pony. Then, the raid of the Wonderbolts, her drug source, and Rarity's potential knowledge of what Fluttershy was doing had both proven irksome. Fortunately, Rarity's desire to attend the raid was convenient for Fluttershy. Fluttershy assumed that she would have to forfeit her amnesiocaine source, but she had a plan. Besides, she would still be able to abduct fillies without the drug. The plan would throw the Equestrian Guard into chaos, get rid of Rarity, and help Fluttershy remain off the radar. She stared at her blood stained pocket knife. It had not only the blood of Rainbow Dash, but the blood of her best friend Rarity.
After Twilight sent Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy to raid the Wonderbolts, Fluttershy had sent a letter to the Wonderbolts. It had read:
The Wonderbolts are getting raided tonight. Be sure to bring back-up and lure the three ponies into a trap. I need you to scare off these ponies, not kill them. Killing them would draw too much attention onto yourselves. I need you around as a drug source and I assume you would like to not go to jail. You need to knock them out and place them in the wooden cage you use to scare off ponies that know too much about the Wonderbolts' underground actions.
-- The Ponigami Killer
On the day of the raid, Fluttershy had made sure to pack smelling salts. She gave the pocket knife to Rarity so as not to draw attention on to herself. If Rainbow Dash knew Fluttershy had the knife, she would not have been able to carry out her plan. When the Wonderbolts knocked the three ponies out, the smelling salts awoke Fluttershy in the cage. She took back the pocket knife she had given Rarity, cut out a jagged wooden hole in the cage, and dropped Rarity in it. She then used the knife to break a plank and get out of the cage. The cage was not intended to kill ponies, but Fluttershy needed it to do that. She hovered up to the peak of the waterfall and partially cut through the ropes connecting the cage to the waterfall before returning to the cage, hiding her pocket knife in her med kit, and pretending to be unconscious.
Fluttershy's plan to get Rarity out of the picture worked perfectly, and, like she had expected, Twilight focused much of her effort onto getting rid of the Wonderbolts considering what happened to her friend. Fluttershy's plan had thrown the Equestrian Guard into chaos and off her case as they would not have suspected somepony to put herself in direct danger as Fluttershy did, but there was one flaw she didn't expect and one mistake she didn't see coming that she should have. The flaw that she didn't see coming was Spitfire's absence. The mistake that she should have foreseen was that the Wonderbolts would inform the guard that the Ponigami Killer had warned them about the raid. With this information, the Equestrian Guard would investigate into everypony involved in the initial raid, including Fluttershy. Fluttershy didn't want this. Furthermore, Rainbow Dash was going to get information from Spitfire. Rainbow knew too much as well.
Fluttershy was put into an even greater conundrum when she found out that Pinkie Pie had learned about her mother, Strawberry Sherbet. Luckily, her mother's condition almost guaranteed that Pinkie wouldn't be able to get information out of her, but Fluttershy couldn't be sure. However, Fluttershy wouldn't be able to covertly kill her mother or Pinkie Pie, as both actions would draw attention to herself. Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, was a greater threat. When Rainbow Dash came to talk to her and told her what she had found from Spitfire, Fluttershy had no choice. Rainbow Dash had evidence that the guard did not have at the moment, and if the Ponigami Killer didn't meet Rainbow Dash at the drug trading ground, Rainbow might have grown suspicious of Fluttershy. Fluttershy had to kill Rainbow Dash, but she failed and her plan backfired on her. Fluttershy glanced at her bloodied left wing. Rainbow Dash's bullet pierced through her wing and into her tail. Fluttershy must have left some feathers and mane hair. Furthermore, Pinkie Pie possibly knew that she was the Ponigami Killer. Both of her friends were threats, and needed to be dealt with.
As Fluttershy glanced at her bloodied pocket knife, she recalled her repressed memories once again. After Sarsaparilla died and her father divorced her mother, she was left with her mother in Cloudsdale. Her mother was to blame for Sarsaparilla's death. Fluttershy felt that the proper punishment would be to remove her mother's horn so that she would have to live with her earth pony boyfriend on the surface. When the Cloudsdale Guard found out that Strawberry lost her horn, Fluttershy's mother blamed herself for the accident, leaving her in a mental hospital and Fluttershy in foster care. Three years later, Fluttershy returned to the surface by accident and discovered the woodland critters and nature. These things pacified Fluttershy's hatred, for the animals brought Fluttershy back to the days when she would make origami figures with her sister. But her new found love would not last forever.
The Grand Galloping Gala, three months prior, the day that she thought would be the best day of her life, brought back her hisequinothropy. First, she saw the pony that ruined her life, the groundskeeper in the Canterlot mall. If it weren't for that pony, her father wouldn't have become a drunk, her mother wouldn't have cheated, and Sarsaparilla would still be alive. Then, the animals, the things Fluttershy put all her love into, they refused to return her love. Was her scream, 'you're going to love me!' a scream for the affection of the animals, or the love that she always wanted from her family? It was two months later than Fluttershy assumed the role of the Ponigami Killer, tasking ponies that failed to look after their younger fillies, like her mother had done unto Sarsaparilla, the trials to see if they could prove their worth. Only Applejack had come close, but she, too had failed.
Fluttershy looked at the kerosene tanks behind her and came up with a plan. She would no longer be able to continue her quest to find the perfect brother or sister or father or mother in Equestria, but she had a plan to escape. Applejack, regardless of how she fared in the last trial, would likely go to the Everfree Forest. At that time, the watch ponies would sound the alarm. That would likely alert Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie to come to Applejack's cause. She would then murder the ponies, burn her house down to fake her death, and gallop away to Mexicolt.
Are you prepared to give your life to save your filly?
Head to the abandoned shed by Froggy Bottom Bog eight miles south of Ponyville.
There was no way to escape it. Applejack held the unfolded rat figure before her as she had dozens of times on the way to her destination. She stared at the white-painted shed superimposed onto the field. The was a light coming from the shed -- the only light for miles. Applejack turned her head to the downpour and the rain clouds. Their gloom blocked out all light except the light from the shed. The light was not a glimmer of hope for Applejack but for her sister, Apple Bloom.
Applejack approached the shed to find a golden pocket watch with a chain on the knob of the shed door. The hands of the watch stopped at eleven o' clock. Applejack, despite her fatigue, had not lost track of time. She knew it was roughly one in the morning. The rain had picked up yesterday, so Applejack knew that she had less time to save her sister than she had originally hoped. Apple Bloom had, at most, a couple of hours to live before the rainwater drowned her. Applejack turned the watch over to find that there was a cover on the other side. Applejack clicked open the other side of the pocket watch to reveal a compass and a key. The key must be the key to the abandoned shed. Then, Applejack saw the words on the origami paper change. Applejack could guess what the next trial entailed, but she read ahead:
The Final Trial:
Inside this shed there is a venomous snake. Its neurotoxin will kill you in exactly one hour.
If you let the snake bite you, you will receive the last letters to the directions to Apple Bloom.
If you gallop, you will have enough time to save her and say goodbye before dying.
Applejack was not terrified. She was not shocked. She was not worried. The confirmation only put down in words what Applejack knew she would face since she first read the rat figure's message. Truly, Applejack always assumed this would be the last trial, but she never could have guessed how easily she would accepted it. She glanced over at the bulge in her poncho where her revolver slept. She had left one bullet in the cylinder for herself if she could not save Apple Bloom. Applejack had one hour to live now. She had never expected that her last minutes on the world would feel so ambivalent. The world around her was in chaos, but Applejack had only focus. Yet, Equestria had a future, and Applejack only had the present. Applejack could not live without Apple Bloom. If fortune was on her side, she hoped that Apple Bloom could live without her sister.
This thought brought all the despair that she had originally expected. Could Apple Bloom live without Applejack? She had just lost her best friend and now she was going to lose her big sister. She had Scootaloo and Big Macintosh and Granny Smith, though. Apple Bloom would have a hard life, but she would have a life. She looked at Apple Bloom's ribbon and then at the sapphire necklace. They would be gifts for her sister. The Apple family never had much and the necklace would look nice on her. Applejack had no choice. The path of cowardice would kill both sisters, while the path of courage would kill Applejack and give Apple Bloom a chance, however slim, to survive. She had to fulfill the trial.
She took the key from the pocket watch and inserted it into the key slot of the doorknob and turned it. She opened the door. The interior of the shed was monochrome white, with the glow of the candle illuminating the room. She looked down at the floor to see numerous rat skeletons and, in the center, the black serpent. It did not approach her. It stood there, waiting. Applejack had to approach death. Applejack had no fear. She extended her crippled and mutilated hoof before the snake. The bringer of death was not vicious, but elegant. It sunk its fangs into Applejack's leg, then released its grip. There was no pain in the attack. Applejack turned away from her murderer, closed the door, and winded the pocket watch. At midnight on the watch, she would meet oblivion.
She looked at the letter as the new letters appeared in the blank spaces, hoping that she could figure out a way to get to Apple Bloom:
S t _ r t _ a t _ t _ e _ e n t r a _ c e _ t o _ _ h e _ E v e _ f r e _ _ F _ r e s t _ f r o m _ j u _ t _ b e _ o n d _ S _ g a _ c _ b e _ C o r _ e r
H e _ d _ n o _ t h _ f o _ _ f o u _ _ m i l e _ _ u n t i _ _ y o u _ f _ n d _ a _ r _ d _ t r e e _ w i t h _ i t _ _ b r _ n c h _ s _ s a w _ d _ o _ f
H e _ d _ _ o _ t h _ _ s t _ f _ r _ h _ l f _ a _ m _ l e _ _ n t i l _ y o u _ f _ n d _ a _ c l e a r _ n c e
Applejack could finally understand most of the directions. She had to travel four miles from the entrance to the Everfree Forest closest to Sugarcube Corner until she found a branchless red tree. Her heart sank when she found a problem. When she reached the tree, she didn't know whether she should head northwest, northeast, southwest, or southeast for half a mile. Applejack doubted that she had a chance to check all the directions, considering her time restraint, but Apple Bloom at least had a chance of survival. Applejack galloped as fast as she could. She did not have a brighter future ahead of her. She would never see morning. Her life would end in cold, darkness, and rain.
Pinkie Pie had cantered the entire way from Fillydelphia back to Ponyville. She now stood in front of her old friend Fluttershy's cottage. She smashed her hoof on the door. No answer. Fortunately for Pinkie, Fluttershy was likely not home. She tried to open the door, but, as she had expected, it was locked. Pinkie Pie took several steps backwards, and, in a galloping start, threw herself into Fluttershy's abode. Before Pinkie Pie stood Fluttershy's pet, Angel. He initially looked surprised, but then relieved. Was he happy to see somepony other than Fluttershy? Did he know what his caretaker was doing? Pinkie Pie closed the door behind her.
Pinkie Pie needed to find Apple Bloom's location, and she only hoped that Fluttershy's house held the information. As she searched the room, something unusual caught her eye behind Fluttershy's desk: four tanks of kerosene. What was Fluttershy planning? She searched through the living room and ultimately came upon Fluttershy's closet. Pinkie Pie glanced inside to see all the dresses the six had worn at the Grand Galloping Gala. A shiver rippled through Pinkie Pie's spine as she saw Rarity's dress -- the dress Fluttershy had sewn for her friend. Now, Rarity was dead and Fluttershy was a monster. She found a strange lump in Rarity's dress. Pinkie Pie felt the lump and found that Fluttershy had sewn a key into Rarity's dress. Pinkie knew it was a disservice to her fallen friend, but she tore open Rarity's dress with her teeth and fished out the key. She searched the back of the closet and eventually stumbled upon a key hole. Pinkie Pie inserted the key into the key hole, turned it, and opened the door to a secret room. She closed the closet door behind her.
The room was dimly lit. Pinkie placed the closet key on the table before her. On said table were numerous orchids growing and dozens of origami figures. Pinkie Pie also found the magic ink Fluttershy had purchased next to numerous sheets of paper. She searched the room for evidence of Apple Bloom's location. She found the number six in tally marks on the side of the room. Below that, there was a single sheet of paper stapled to the wall. Pinkie Pie ripped it off and read it:
Apple Bloom's Location
Start at the entrance to the Everfree Forest from just beyond Sugarcube Corner.
Head north for four miles until you find a red tree with its branches sawed off.
Head northwest for half a mile until you find a clearance.
Finally, before Pinkie, were the directions to Apple Bloom's survival. She folded up the directions and hid it under the shirt that she used as a makeshift tourniquet. Just as Pinkie was trying to get out of the secret room, the front door swung open.
"Hmmmm... the door is unlocked. I wonder who could be here? I'd better check my closet..." spoke a familiar voice. Her tone was no longer soft and unimposing, but shrill. Pinkie Pie had nowhere to run. All she heard was the tapping of hoofsteps, the drawing of a blade, and then the pushing of a door. Before Pinkie Pie stood, with a pocket knife in her hoof, her old friend, Fluttershy -- the Ponigami Killer. Pinkie Pie huddled in fear. "Oh, Pinkie, I see you've found out my little secret..."
"Why are you doing this!?" screamed out the earth pony.
"Oh, you would never understand, Pinkie. You came from a loving family..."
"My childhood was awful, Fluttershy! I grew up on a rock farm. What are you trying to prove?"
"Like I expected," whispered Fluttershy. The pegasus approached the earth pony with a demonic grin."You would never understand..."
"What are you... what are you going to d-do...?" gulped Pinkie Pie, fearing the worst.
"Oh, I'm going to kill you," answered Fluttershy nonchalantly. Who was this monster? This was not the timid pegasus Pinkie Pie knew. "But you see, I can't enjoy the pleasure of murdering you myself, like I plan to do with dear Rainbow Dash... You're going to be much more useful to me. You see, if I were to just murder every last one of you, I would be um... very suspicious..." Fluttershy nodded her head condescendingly as she imitated her former self. "But you see, I'm going to burn you alive along with my house! Your body will be so burnt that nopony would recognize you and assume that you're me!"
"B-but... you're a pegasus..."
"I'm glad you brought that up, Pinkie..." The Ponigami Killer hovered the pocket knife over Pinkie Pie's trembling back. "I'm going to make two gashes in your back so that it looks like the Ponigami Killer ripped off your wings!! What kind of crazed lunatic would do that to a pegasus!? And you want to know what the best part is, Pinkie?"
"Awwww... that's too bad. I'll tell you anyway..." The Ponigami Killer pressed her face up against Pinkie's, staring the pink pony right in the eyes before continuing. "Because you'll be 'missing', and I -- and by I, I mean you -- will be dead, history will know you as the Ponigami Killer. They'll see you as the psychotic filly-murderer, while I canter freely in Mexicolt... Now, if you'll excuse me, I must attend to Applejack." As Fluttershy raised the pocket knife over Pinkie Pie's shoulders, Pinkie Pie glued her eyes shut. The pegasus lashed Pinkie Pie's back twice with her knife. Pinkie Pie screamed as the searing pain ripped from her shoulders to her spine, but Fluttershy took no heed. Pinkie Pie heard her pick up a key, leave the room, and lock the closet door. Pinkie opened her eyes and turned her head. Her back was covered in blood with two rips right around her shoulder blades. Pinkie Pie leaped to the locked door and banged on it, but Fluttershy ignored it and moved a heavy object in front of the closet door to further prevent Pinkie's escape. Pinkie could hear the pegasus pouring kerosene all along the house. Fluttershy struck a match and the house ignited. Fumes poured into the secret room from the cracks under the door. Pinkie Pie screamed and kicked, but there was no way out.
Rainbow Dash had awoken from her collapse and arrived at Fluttershy's house just in the nick of time. She could see the yellow pegasus floating in the distance. If Rainbow Dash followed her at a safe distance, Fluttershy could lead Rainbow Dash to Apple Bloom. Just then, Fluttershy's cottage burst into flames and Rainbow Dash heard somepony screech at the top of her lungs. Rainbow Dash didn't know what to do. If she followed Fluttershy, she would forfeit the other pony's life, and vice versa. The pony in the burning building screamed again. Against better judgment, Rainbow Dash broke open the door to Fluttershy's cottage to find the entire inside of the house burning.
"Is anypony in here!?" Rainbow Dash called out.
"R-rainbow... i-is that you..." coughed the voice Rainbow Dash immediately recognized as Pinkie Pie.
"Pinkie!? Where are you!?"
"B-behind... Fluttershy's closet..." answered Pinkie Pie. Rainbow scanned the house and found Fluttershy's closet with a burning desk in front of it. This must be the closet Pinkie was talking about. Rainbow Dash flew up to the ceiling and lunged her front hooves at the desk, causing it to collapse. With the obstruction out of the way, she backed up and then propelled herself against the closet door, shattering the door to pieces. Inside the room, she found a blood-soaked Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash carried the earth pony over her back and exited the room.
"Wait... Rainbow... save... Angel..." groaned Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash had too little time to argue. She saw the white rabbit huddling on top of a burning couch. Rainbow Dash whipped towards the rabbit and picked him up with her left hoof. As Rainbow was making a dash for the exit, the building's support beam came crashing down upon the three of them. With a quick halt, Rainbow Dash narrowly dodged incineration. After the beam hit the ground, Rainbow Dash and the others flew out of Fluttershy's crumbling abode. Rainbow Dash released her grasp on Angel and, with a nod, the rabbit returned to the wild.
"Pinkie Pie... are you all right? What happened to you?"
"I know, Pinkie. I found out, too..." cut Rainbow Dash so that Pinkie Pie wouldn't have to speak. Rainbow Dash gently placed the bloodied earth pony onto the ground on her side, but Pinkie Pie was stubborn and stood on her hooves. She then pulled out a note that was hiding under some cloth on her leg, unfolded it, and showed it to Rainbow.
"It's... how you get to... Apple Bloom," explained Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash read and quickly memorized the note. Then, a horn blared throughout all of Ponyville.
"Pinkie... that's the horn that means Applejack's been spotted in the Everfree Forest. You wait here. I'll go after her and help her..."
"No... I'll be fine. I'll go... help her. You... go try... to talk to... Twilight... then help..."
"Are you sure, Pinkie?"
"I'm sure... Pinkie sense..." joked Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash knew that she was lying, but she couldn't argue with Pinkie. As the earth pony sprung into a mad dash towards the Everfree Forest, which surprised Rainbow Dash considering Pinkie's condition, the pegasus jolted towards Ponyville. She soon found Twilight, Spike, and three other armed guard ponies preparing their operation.
"Twilight!" screamed Rainbow Dash. "It's not Applej-"
"Get out of my face, Rainbow Dash. I don't want to hear it," replied the unicorn. "Applejack just headed into the Everfree Forest. It all but proves she's the killer."
"It's Fluttershy, Twilight!"
"That's absurd, Rainbow! Now get the hay out before I make you get out!" roared Twilight. Twilight wouldn't listen and Rainbow Dash was running out of time to save Apple Bloom. She had to act on her own accord. Rainbow Dash ripped open her wings and shot herself into the Everfree Forest.
Pinkie Pie had chased Applejack for miles now, always just unable to catch up with the orange mare. She ignored the profuse amounts of blood that leaked from around her shoulder blades and the blade-like pains that followed every hoofstep. Pinkie Pie started to feel lightheaded, but she had to persevere. Suddenly, she saw Applejack stop dead in her tracks -- it was at the branchless red tree. As Pinkie Pie finally reached her friend, she found Applejack shaking.
"Applejack... what's wrong?"
"Pinkie!?" replied Applejack. Applejack looked Pinkie's ripped flesh, but made no mention of it. She glanced at a pocket watch. "Pinkie... I only have eight minutes n' I don't know where to go..."
"Northwest for half a mile!" shot back Pinkie. "Trust me!" Without a word or gesture, Applejack heeded Pinkie's advice and headed northwest. Pinkie Pie had to stay behind to make sure that Twilight didn't do anything stupid. She looked at her back to see that her entire coat was sodden with blood.
Applejack climbed through the vines of the Everfree Forest. She looked at her pocket watch again: six minutes left. She saw the trees around her bend and blur. Finally, she found the clearance. In the clearance was a ditch with her sister and before her, to her surprise, hovered Fluttershy.
"Well done, Applejack," greeted Fluttershy. "You were the only pony that could do it... mostly. You weren't able to kill somepony, but you were willing and able to give your life to save Apple Bloom. I'm proud of you. Apple Bloom is right over there."
"Y-yer the... Ponigami Killer? You killed all those fillies?"
"I did not intend to. I was looking for the perfect family -- the one I never had. Poor Rarity failed, but you succeeded," answered Fluttershy. Applejack didn't care about that anymore. The only thing Applejack cared about was Apple Bloom. She approached her little sister to find that she was submerged in water. If she was still alive, she didn't have much time left. As Applejack untied the ropes binding Apple Bloom, Applejack heard the unsheathing of a blade and saw a shadow looming over herself.
"Hold it right there, Fluttershy!"
Rainbow Dash aimed her pistol at Fluttershy's head. The yellow pegasus reacted by throwing her knife directly at Rainbow Dash. As Rainbow Dash was pulling the trigger, the knife lodged itself just above Rainbow Dash's left hoof. The pistol jerked out of Rainbow Dash's hoof and fell somewhere in the forest outside of the clearance. Rainbow Dash didn't want to risk retrieving her pistol, so she ripped the knife out of her leg with her teeth. Simultaneously, both pegasi fanned out their wings. Rainbow Dash charged towards the Ponigami Killer, wrapped her legs around her body, and launched her into the night sky.
Applejack had finally unbound her sister. She pulled her out of her watery prison and laid her before Applejack. She wasn't breathing. Her eyes were swollen and red. Applejack looked at the watch to see that she had three minutes left to save her sister. Applejack pressed her hooves against her sister's chest several times then breathed into her mouth. Apple Bloom couldn't die...
"Please, Apple Bloom... please..."
Pinkie Pie was losing blood fast. Her vision was beginning to tunnel. She couldn't think straight. She heard hoofsteps and saw a purple unicorn with a purple dragon on her back and three other ponies before her.
"Pinkie Pie!? What happened to you!?" asked Twilight Sparkle.
"Flu'ershy... she's... the killer..." mumbled Pinkie Pie. Twilight Sparkle's pupils opened wide. "Not... A-ul...jack."
"Everypony! Hold your fire!" cried out the unicorn. She focused the magic in her horn. Something that felt like a warm blanket covered her ruined back. Pinkie Pie suddenly was starting to feel better and understand her surroundings. "You're going to be alright, Pinkie. I got'cha..."
"Everypony, look!" yelled Spike, pointing his finger to the sky. Pinkie Pie jerked her head upwards.
The two pegasi ripped through the sky above the tree tops. Rainbow Dash, while holding on to her opponent, kept on trying to push the knife in her mouth towards Fluttershy's neck, but Fluttershy was pushing back with strength that Rainbow had not expected. Suddenly, Fluttershy released one of her legs from Rainbow Dash's grip and kicked Rainbow in the stomach. The sharp pain forced open Rainbow Dash's jaw and relaxed her grip on Fluttershy, releasing the pocket knife. With great dexterity, Fluttershy caught the knife between her two hooves and slashed the blade across Rainbow Dash's chest. Blood trickled onto her underbelly as she spun backwards, away from Fluttershy. Then Fluttershy threw the stunned Rainbow Dash against the peak of a nearby tree. Fluttershy placed the edge of the blade against Rainbow Dash's neck and gave her one last maniacal grin. Rainbow Dash looked down upon the clearance.
Applejack was crying as she compressed Apple Bloom's chest once more. Finally, Applejack heard Apple Bloom give a cough of life. Apple Bloom opened her eyes to see her sister. Applejack looked at her watch -- just one minute left. The filly opened her mouth to breath normally.
"Hey, Apple Bloom..." Applejack didn't know how to start. She untied Apple Bloom's ribbon from her right and removed the sapphire necklace from around her head and presented them before her sister. "Th-these are yours... Apple Bloom." Applejack didn't know what to say as tears flowed from her eyes onto her sister.
"Applejack... what's wrong...?"
"Y-you be a good little filly for Big Macintosh and Granny Smith, o-okay? Your sister w-will always love you... no matter what..." cried Applejack as she reached forward to embrace her sister one last time. She then turned her eyes to the pocket watch. It was thirty seconds after the time that she was supposed to die. Why wasn't she dead? Applejack didn't feel any worse than she normally did. Applejack thought about the situation. If Fluttershy had tried to kill Applejack even though she would have died in minutes, then the snake must not have been venomous. She wasn't going to die. She looked to Apple Bloom, then to the sky and the rain. Something caught her eye. "Apple Bloom... don't worry. Your big sister's gonna be all right. She just has to take care of some business..." Applejack, once again, found herself in a dilemma with a clear answer, but one she did not want to accept. She reached inside her poncho.
"It was so much fun killing Rarity, Rainbow Dash..." revealed Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash tried to struggle, but to no avail. The blade against her neck prevented any movement. Rainbow Dash looked to her side, to the floor of the Everfree Forest so many hooves down. This would be her grave. "But not as fun as it will be to kill you..."
"You...you're not Fluttershy..."
"What was that, Rainbow Crash? You miss the old, pathetic, timid little pegasus?"
"What... are you getting... out of this...?"
"Like you would underst--" A gunshot disrupted Fluttershy's provocation. A bullet landed in Fluttershy's left arm, causing her to lose control of the knife. Rainbow Dash caught it with her front right hoof. Now in control of the blade, Rainbow Dash pressed the blade against Fluttershy's skin.
"I'll give you one last chance, Fluttershy. Turn yourself in, and I'll let you live."
"The pegasus.. you knew died before you even knew her... Rainbow Dash. I don't care... if I live anymore. Nopony... deserves to live," lamented Fluttershy. With a swift downward motion, the pegasus lost her left wing. Rainbow Dash spun upwards and kicked the yellow pegasus down to the Everfree Forest floor. The Ponigami Killer was no more.
Applejack held her sister in her crippled leg as she began her trek out of the forest. Apple Bloom, with her ribbon once again fastened around her hair and the sapphire necklace along her neck, turned her head up to see the blue pegasus, Rainbow Dash, glide down to the earth to walk with them. When the three ponies reached the branchless red tree marker, they found their friends, Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, and Spike standing before them. Twilight had successfully restored Pinkie Pie back to her former strength and sought Applejack's forgiveness. Pinkie Pie's hair had returned to its balloon-like curls, and she was smiling. The six friends knew that the future would not be as bright as the past, but they would continue and they would make the best out of what they had. They had days and days to cry over the ponies that had lost their lives, but not this moment. For at this moment, when Apple Bloom was safely with her sister, love reunited the once torn friends, and as the last rain drop fell over the Everfree Forest, they were triumphant.