Things That Go South in the Night
"What a beautiful day to spend outside... and in such good company," Rarity mused as she took another sip of her cider. The glass was soon finished.
“Why yes, Big Macintosh, I'd love another glass of your delightful hard apple cider. Mmm, yes.”
She could feel herself already growing tipsy from the drink, but she didn't care. Something about the handsome stallion's company made her forget about her worries, made her loosen up a little. Soon enough he came back with another drink, placing it in front of the smiling unicorn, nodding his head slightly.
“Such a gentlecolt.”
There was something about the gentle quiet type that Rarity found... intriguing. She could feel herself blushing a little at the thought.
“Thank you," Rarity said, lifting the glass to her lips. “I was just wondering about somet-” She was cut short by a rude act, making her spill her drink.
“Clop clop," Big Mac said as he slapped his hooves against the unicorn's rump.
“Big Macintosh!” , Rarity yelped, her face reddening. “That is no way to treat a lady! Why I should-”
Rarity stirred awake in her bed. She was disappointed to wake up from such a nice dream, even if it had turned sour at the end. She could still feel herself blushing a little as a wistful sigh escaped her lips. As she glanced at the clock, the hour hand of which was nearing three, her ears perked up slightly.
There it was again. Something, or somepony was moving downstairs. At first she thought it was just Opal wreaking some midnight havoc all over the expensive furniture, as the grumpy little feline was wont to do, but at a quick glance she found the cat sleeping contently in it's cot. Rarity felt her heart begin to race as she quietly slipped out of bed and began to walk downstairs.
The crime rate in Equestria was near zero, as a pony with a ski mask or a crowbar for a cutie mark was hardly inconspicuous, but burglaries still happened from time to time. Those sort of things happened more frequently in big cities like Canterlot or Manehattan, but even in little old Ponyville it wasn't something completely unheard of. These thoughts filled her head as she descended into her shop, all the while quietly berating herself for not taking something heavy with which to defend herself.
The door to the boutique was cracked ajar and a small coffee table had tumbled over, no doubt making one of the noises that had awoken her. A quick burst of magic lit up the room, revealing a trail of muddy hoofprints leading from the door to the upturned table and then to a small quivering form of a filly, seemingly struggling hard to stay on it's hooves.
“Sweetie Belle!" Rarity screamed as the light shone brighter on her little sister.
The small unicorn turned to look at Rarity, panting heavily and her eyes wide. For a while they just stood there staring at each other, until the filly suddenly collapsed in a heap. Rarity lunged to her side, a second too late actually catch the filly before she hit the floor. Her horn erupted with magical light as she took a closer look at the filly laying at her hooves.
“Mud... twigs in her mane... snail... blood. Oh heavens.” Rarity could feel her heart begin to beat it's way up her throat.
Sweetie Belle's coat was tattered with mud and other grime, she was covered in scrapes and bruises and a nasty looking cut running down her side practically shone against her pale coat, although thankfully it seemed to have mostly stopped bleeding on it's own. There was probably much more that Rarity missed, but she had seen enough. The sound of miscellaneous items falling on the floor, some breaking, could be heard from the back room as Rarity rummaged the room with her, now rather unwieldy, magic, trying to find her first aid kit. After a few moments a white bag marked with a red cross levitated out of the back room, landing beside the two with a muted thump.
The wound was bandaged quickly. It was neither neat nor professional by any standard, but it was the best the shocked unicorn could do and as such would have to do. She was shocked at how cold Sweetie Belle felt. Her eyes drifted briefly to the corner of the room where a luxurious divan stood. Despite it's appearance the piece of furniture had a way of blending in with it surrounding, often so much that even Rarity herself forgot it was even there. After a beat she pulled the whole thing next to them with a burst of magic, laying her sister down on it and wrapping her tightly in a blanket. At least she looked relatively comfortable now.
The elder unicorn paced back and forth on the shop floor, stopping every once in a while to listen to her sister's heavy, but steady, breathing.
“Of all the worst things that could happen... What do I do what do I do what do I do...” She glanced at the filly lying on the divan and a something sparked in her mind. She needed help. As did Sweetie Belle.
“Sweetie, I'll be right back. Just... don't go anywhere.” With that she was out, not even bothering to throw a coat on before leaving.
The streets of Ponyville were all quiet at this hour, save for the galloping of a certain unicorn racing trough the town. The night was actually beautiful, the air was crisp and the skies were clear save for a few wisps of cloud making their way across the full moon hanging lazily in the sky. Rarity didn't really have any time to take any of that in as she quickly found herself at the foot of the town's library.
She knocked on the door, but there was no answer. She knocked again, hard enough to make the door give in a little, but there was still no answer. She was ready to try and buck the door down, even though she was almost certain she wouldn't be able to do much damage. Then the lights came on suddenly and the door opened, revealing a drowsy looking Twilight standing in the frame.
“Rarity. Do you know what time it is? I had just gotten to sleep and...” She drifted off. “Is something wrong?" she continued, tilting her head in concern.
“It's dreadful, simply dreadful!" the white unicorn cried.
“What. What has happened? Rarity?”
“Sweetie Belle's been hurt. I didn't know what to do, so I came here. You have to help me. Please Twilight. I don't know what to do!”
Twilight wasn't quite sure what to make of it all. Truth be told she was still half asleep and Rarity had spoken awfully fast. She also wasn't sure if this was just Rarity being, well, Rarity and overreacting. It was sometimes hard to be sure when she was hysterical like this. Still, what she had said sounded serious.
“Alright Rarity. Lead the way.”
The interior of Carousel Boutique was dark. Rarity ran in and Twilight could hear her stumble over something and mutter something about how she “would need to find a new place for that table.” She flipped the light switch as she walked in.
“Where is-," Twilight started but stopped as she saw her friend crouching beside the divan near the center of the room, stroking her sister's mane. “Oh.”
Twilight pulled the blanket aside and took a quick look at the filly. Sweetie's breathing had calmed down by now but she still wouldn't wake up. Apart from the cuts and scrapes and what was hiding beneath the hastily thrown together bandage she couldn't see anything too wrong. That didn't mean that there wasn't anything wrong beneath the surface, however.
“Oh my. What happened? And how?" Twilight asked.
Rarity shook her head. “I don't know. I just don't-”. She stopped and turned to look at Twilight for a brief moment. “I don't know! She was supposed to be asleep in her room. I have no idea what happened to her.” She began to sob quietly.
Twilight laid a hoof on her friends back in an attempt to calm her down.
“It doesn't matter. We have to get her to the hospital. I can't see anything too wrong about her, but then again I'm not a doctor. There might be something else... internal injuries, concussion, that sort of thing.” She regretted saying the last part almost immediately.
“Do you think so?" Rarity gasped.
“I... like I said, I'm not a doctor so I wouldn't know," Twilight said, thinking about how to best calm her friend down. “I'm sure she's going to be just fine, but we still need get her proper care to be sure.” She looked her obviously shaken friend in the eyes and made a reassuring smile. She received a sad one in return. “Come on, I'll carry her.”
The emergency room was quiet, as was usual. Ponyville was a peaceful place, after all, save for the occasional disaster destroying most of the town, but those only happened every once in a while.
Nurse Redheart always found the night shifts to be the dullest and this time was no exception. She had been dozing off behind her front desk for the past couple of hours now, only being dragged back to the waking world by the prospect of being fired should she get caught sleeping on the job. She had been resting her eyes again when she heard the front doors slam open. She blinked her eyes a couple of times and as they adjusted to the light once more she was greeted by two unicorn mares staring at her, the other one of them carrying some sort of bundle on her back.
“How can I help you?" she asked, shaking her head and blinking her eyes again in an attempt to rid herself of the remnants of sleep. That almost never worked and this time was no exception. A yawn escaped her lips.
“We've got an injured filly here. She needs help," Twilight said. She had added a precisely calculated amount of urgency to her tone to get the nurse's attention. It seemed to have worked.
The nurse blinked again and realized that the bundle was actually a young filly wrapped in a blanket. Her head rested against Twilight's neck, a little bit of drool dripping from her mouth onto the purple coat. The nurse walked up from behind her desk to take a closer look. The filly was clearly injured and unconscious, but seemed to be breathing steadily, at least.
“Oh the poor dear. Let's get you some help," the nurse said. She turned her head away and called for the doctor. When hoofsteps started to echo from the corridor, she turned back to the two unicorns. “What happened to her?”
“I don't know. I found her like this. Just please help her!" Rarity cried.
“You're right, that doesn't really matter right now," the nurse said, turning to look back at the filly. “Let's get you treated first.”
“I can't believe they wouldn't let me be there with her," Rarity pouted.
They had been sitting in the waiting area for quite some time now. Sweetie Belle had been taken somewhere in the back and the two unicorns had been told to wait in the brightly lit reception room. Twilight had done her best to keep her friend's mind occupied, but it was a losing battle. There was little else to talk about and the sterile room gave few distractions. A fake potted plant stood in the far corner of the room, a few rows of benches occupied the center and a bookshelf on the left wall housed a pile of stale magazines, some of which were over ten years old.
“They need their peace to do their work. It's nothing personal," Twilight said eventually after letting her mind wander for a while.
“But what if she wakes up? Think about how scared she'll be!”
“We'll see her soon enough," Twilight said, glancing into the corridor. A smile crept on her face. “See, there's the nurse now.”
Rarity stood up and galloped towards the nurse at full speed, coming to a halt only inches away after skidding on the slippery floor. The nurse gave her a slight smile and opened her mouth to speak, but didn't get a chance to.
“How is she? Please tell me she's going to be alright. Please!" Rarity pleaded.
The nurse nodded and couldn't help but smile a little wider. “We still have to run some tests, but really that's just a precaution. From the looks of it's nothing too serious. There's some cuts and bruising and she's received a bump to her head, but again nothing too bad. She seems to have passed out from simple exhaustion and should be just fine after a few days of rest.”
“Oh thank heavens," Rarity said, feeling her chest lighten suddenly. “Can we see her now?”
“Certainly. Room nine. Mind you, though, she's still unconscious.” The nurse paused, then added, almost as an afterthought: ”Now, are you sure you don't know what happened to her? Anything at all? Because some of her injuries look like they are the result of fighting with somepony or... some thing. If you know anything it could be important.”
The nurse made a questioning look at the white unicorn. It wasn't an accusing stare by any means, but still made Rarity feel a little uncomfortable. She shook her head in response.
“When will she wake up?" Twilight interjected. A somewhat scary thought had suddenly popped to her head, but she thought it was best to keep it to herself for now. She'd know when Sweetie was awake.
“Should be soon now. Like I said, there's nothing physically wrong. Now, if you'll excuse me...”
Sweetie Belle looked comfortable in her bed. Her coat and mane had been cleaned and the cuts were bandaged over neatly. Rarity sat down beside her bed and stroked her sister's front leg gently. At first her expression was one of worry, but lightened quickly. She pulled a hairbrush seemingly out of nowhere and began brushing Sweetie Belle's mane. After a moment she noticed the worried expression still looming on Twilight's face.
“Twilight? Is something the matter?”
Twilight shook her head. “No, it's just...” She trailed off and continued only when the white unicorn tilted her head at her. “I just got a somewhat scary thought. I was wondering about Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. You know Sweetie Belle and those two do everything together, and...”
“You don't think that...?”
“No, no. It's just me being worried over nothing, I'm sure. I'm certain Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are both at home right now asleep in their beds and that there is a completely rational, non-scary and certainly not life-threatening explanation to all of this.”
As soon as she finished the door of the room slammed open. A pink blur zoomed in before either of them could react.
“Pinchy knee!" Pinkie yelped.
“Oh horse apples," Twilight cursed.
“Pinkie Pie, what are you doing here?" Rarity asked, having recovered from the shock of Pinkie suddenly bursting in.
“I woke up to my knee feeling pinchy. At first I thought it was just a cramp or something, but then it wouldn't stop and I knew it was my Pinkie Sense telling me something scary was going to happen and then I came here.” Pinkie took a deep breath. “What happened to her?”
Rarity shook her head limply. When she remained silent Twilight spoke up.
“We're not sure. She stumbled into the Carousel Boutique like this. It's all a mystery really...” She fell silent for a while and continued when she saw the worried look in Pinkie's eyes. “The doctor said that she is going to be fine, though. She just needs to rest for a few days and... uh, Pinkie? Is your knee still pinchy?”
The pink pony lifted her front leg an inch of the ground wiggled it back and forth a little.
“Ow. It is," she said.
“That's what I was afraid you'd say," Twilight said. Her mind was racing for an explanation, but she kept always arriving to the same conclusion.
“But that doesn't make any sense!" Rarity cried. “Sweetie Belle is going to be alright. The scary bit is over... right?”
Twilight was pacing back and forth. She was clearly thinking hard about something.
“Either it makes no sense at all, or it makes perfect sense. I hope I'm wrong here, but did Sweetie have her Crusader's cape with her when you found her?”
“No, why would she have?" Rarity said with a puzzled look on her face.
“That's reassuring, but it doesn't prove anything though. She could easily have lost it," Twilight said. She lifted Sweetie Belle's chin up gently and noticed some light chafing around her neck. She shook her head, not quite sure if it meant anything.
“You don't think that she was out crusading again?" Rarity asked.
“No, but we have to be sure. You stay here with Sweetie Belle for when she wakes up. She'll need you by her side and she'll be able to tell you what happened. Pinkie and I'll go check up on the other two. Don't worry, I'm sure everything is fine. Come on Pinkie, we have to get to the bottom of this.”
By the time they were back outside the moon had already made it's way across the sky and started it's descent. The night wasn't over yet, however, and it was still a few hours left until sunrise. The fall was coming fast, the Running of the Leaves just a few days away now. As such the air was cool and damp and the two ponies found their breath fuming with a silvery glow in the pale light.
“I'll head on over to Sweet Apple Acres to check up on Apple Bloom. I really don't even know where Scootaloo lives, but somehow I bet you do... so you go there. We'll meet up back at the hospital when we've found out just what, if anything, has been going on here.”
Pinkie simply nodded in response and the two went their separate ways.
The walk to Sweet Apple Acres felt longer than usual. She wanted to run, but every time she broke into a gallop Twilight started feeling silly and had to slow down. After all there was probably nothing wrong and she was already thinking how embarrassed she would be for bothering the Apple family over nothing. The night certainly had no sinister quality about it, everything was calm save for the tiny voice in the back of her mind making her feel uneasy. Finally she gave in to it's demand and broke into a gallop, running the rest of the way, arriving at the front door of the farm house sweating and out of breath. The knock on the door echoed through the quiet night, making Twilight feel sure she had awoken everyone in the house. After a minute the lights came on, first upstairs and by the time the lights downstairs came on Twilight could hear lazy hoofsteps and quiet muttering from the inside. The door swung open. Even this early in the morning Applejack had her trademark hat on, even if it seemed to rest a little awkwardly against her frazzled mane.
“Twi? What the hay are ya doing here this early. I have to be up and bucking in a couple of hours," the farmer said, wiping her eyes at the same time.
“Sorry to bother you, but I just needed to know something. Is Apple Bloom home?”
“'Course she is!" Applejack grunted. “Where else would she be?”
“Could you please go and check for me? It's important.”
Applejack gave a perplexed look toward the purple unicorn. She looked tired, but beyond that her face was about as serious as it could be. “Is something wrong?" Applejack asked.
“I don't know. I'll tell you once you've checked on Apple Bloom.”
The farmpony grew concerned after Twilight's cryptic answer. She turned around without saying a word and walked wearily up the staircase. Twilight took the opportunity and invited herself in. She could hear Applejack walking upstairs and knocking on the door, then a quiet creak as it opened. Her voice came out muffled through the floor:
“What in tarnation?”
Twilight felt a knot begin to form in her stomach as Applejack raced back downstairs.
“She's not in her bed! All there was were a bunch of pillows under the covers. Now just what the hay is goin' on round here Twi?” Her voice was colored with a deep shade of alarm.
“Oh no," Twilight said. She was looking at the floor, her mind racing. She would have probably stayed that way if she hadn't been prompted again by her friend.
“Twi? What's goin' on?”
“I take it that her crusader's cape wasn't there in her room either?”
“I didn't really look, but I can check if it'll help.”
“You can do that, although I think I already know the answer. But first I think you should go wake Big Macintosh up. I'm afraid Apple Bloom and Scootaloo might be in deep trouble.”
Applejack checked her sister's room again and found Apple Bloom's cape to be missing along with the filly, leaving no question about why she had snuck out into the night. The question of where she had gone still remained, however, and to that they had no answers. As the three of them galloped back to the hospital, Twilight explained just what had happened. That was done quickly as there really wasn't much else to tell, other than that how Sweetie Belle had come home injured and barely standing. Fear was growing heavy on their hearts by the time they arrived at the front doors.
After a gentle knock a faint voice came from within the room number nine, urging them to enter. Inside they found Rarity and Pinkie already waiting for them.
“I take it that Scootaloo wasn't home either?" Twilight asked.
Pinkie let her head hang and shook it limply. “There was no one there. Her parents must be out of town again. They do that a lot.”
“And Sweetie Belle hasn't woken up yet?" Twilight asked turning to Rarity. The white unicorn just shook her head.
“Great. We have two fillies missing and the only one who has any idea where they might be isn't awake to tell us. Just great.” Twilight let an frustrated snort escape her, even though she hadn't intended to.
“Well wake her up then!" Applejack grunted and took a few brisk steps towards Sweetie Belle, only to be stopped by Big Mac's hoof pressing hard against her chest. The stallion shook his head at her.
A tense silence fell into the room. Twilight took the opportunity to speak.
“Applejack, I know you must be concerned for Apple Bloom, but Sweetie Belle is unconscious. She won't wake up no matter how hard you try. She'll only wake up when she is ready to do so. In the mean time, however...” Twilight stopped to give a serious look at both Rarity and Applejack before she continued. “Do either of you have any idea what they might have been up to? Anything?”
The air hung heavy with cold tension. Rarity stood still for a moment, thinking, but then just shook her head again. Tears were welling up in her eyes and her voice cracked slightly when she spoke:
“I don't have any idea. I guess Sweetie seemed a little excited when I sent her off to bed, but I just though it was just over something they were going to do tomorrow. I'm sorry.”
“It's alright. Applejack?”
The farm pony rubbed her chin for a long while. It seemed that she was almost ready to give up when something suddenly sparked in her mind. “We'll, it's prolly nothing, but Fluttershy came over the other day. She said that some of her chickens had turned up missing during the night again. I think Apple Bloom overheard that, 'cause she was asking me later about what I thought it was... Y'all don't think that they tried to go after them, do you?”
“It's the only lead we've got so far," Twilight said. She scratched the back of her neck nervously. “It wouldn't be the first time either...”
“An' here I thought they had learned their lesson the last time," the farmer said. “I guess we better head on over there then.”
“Who- who is it? Please come back in the morning.” A timid voice spoke from the other side of the door. Applejack grunted with displeasure but was quickly silenced by a hard glance from her big brother.
“Fluttershy, it's me, Twilight, and some others. We just want to talk to you really quick. Please open the door.”
The distinct sound of a deadbolt being undone could be heard, followed by the rattle of a security chain as it came loose from it's socket as well. The door creaked ajar just a little, revealing a yellow pegasus staring out from the crack. Her gaze met Twilight's and the door opened wider.
“Oh, hello Twilight. And Pinkie. And Big Macintosh... and Applejack... umm, what's this about? It's so early.”
Twilight could hear the heartbeats of the timid pegasus from where she stood. She felt bad for her and would have liked to calm her down a little before breaking the news, but there simply wasn't time for that.
“Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are missing and we just wanted to ask if you had seen or heard anything that might tell us where they've gone.” Upon hearing that the pegasus went pale.
“Oh no... I- I thought I heard something earlier, but I was too afraid to look. You see, some of my chickens have gone missing and I... I was afraid to look. I- I probably should have...”
“I know, and it's alright. You couldn't have known.” Twilight put her leg on the pegasus's shoulder, in a vain attempt to stop her from shaking. “But you don't know anything about what might have happened?”
Fluttershy was about to speak when Applejack yelled something. While the others had been standing at the door, she had wandered off to the chicken coop. Now that she had their attention she spoke again.
“Y'all better come and take a look at this.”
As they walked up they could immediately see what Applejack had meant. The ground was covered in hoof prints, three distinct tracks going all the way around the fenced off area and the surroundings. Their fears came into reality as their eyes followed the tracks. There was no question about where they had gone now.
“Oh horse apples. Will they ever learn," Applejack said, digging her front hoof into the ground.
“Fluttershy, there is no time to waste now," Twilight said with new-found urgency in her voice. “Go get Rainbow Dash as fast as you can. You two will be our eyes in the sky. In the meantime we'll gather some supplies and then wait for you here. We won't go in ahead of you, so please hurry.”
The pegasus nodded her head, gulped and then took off faster than the others had ever seen her.
The grueling minutes seemed to drag on forever. The group managed find the supplies they needed in Fluttershy's cottage, namely a first aid kit, a few lengths of rope and a couple of blankets. After they had all that they needed, the group found itself following the little hoof prints and drifting closer and closer to the edge of the Everfree Forest. By the time they got there the sun had already started coming up in the eastern horizon and with it the tension was mounting.
“What time did Sweetie Belle come home last night?" Applejack asked. She was growing more impatient by the minute and it started to show. Her tone was hard as stone.
“Some time after three, I think. Rarity woke me up at half past," Twilight answered.
“That means that they've been in there for at least, uh... at least...” Applejack trailed off as she tried to do the math.
“Three hours," Big Macintosh cut in. Applejack gave him an icy glare.
“I was just about to say that. And they've probably been there for much longer than that. Who knows what might have happened in that time? We have to get going. Now!”
Luckily they didn't have to wait any longer, as at the same time Pinkie spotted the telltale rainbow contrail of Rainbow Dash tear across the sky. Behind her they could also see the yellow and pink form of Fluttershy making it's way towards them, obviously lagging far behind but still keeping up a brisk pace. In a minute they had both landed and caught their breath.
“Fluttershy told my all about it. You follow the tracks on the ground while we scout ahead and keep a lookout for trouble.” Rainbow said, taking in a deep breath after finishing. She was still a little out of breath, and she thought that maybe flying at top speed hadn't been one of the best ideas right after getting out of bed.
“Alright. Let's get going.”
A quiet cough caught Rarity's attention. Her gaze had been wandering all around the room just as her thoughts had, but now her attention snapped back to Sweetie Belle. The little filly stirred beneath her covers and brought a hoof to her face, rubbing her forehead. She let out a whimper. Rarity pulled herself closer and laid a hoof against her side.
“Sweetie, are you awake?" she asked.
Sweetie's eyes flew open and turned to look at her sister's hoof laying against her side. She let out an alarmed whimper and shrunk back under the covers, burying her head into her hooves. She was shaking.
“Sweetie? It's alright, it's just me, Rarity. You're safe now," the white unicorn said as she circled around the bed. She laid her head down against the mattress, next to her sister's. “Sweetie Belle... please open your eyes and look at me. It's alright.”
The shocked filly took a quick peek at her sister from behind her hooves, but quickly shut her eyes again. She was sniffling now and her breathing had turned somewhat ragged. Rarity tried to stroke her leg gently, but the filly kept pulling away. She was at a loss for words. This wasn't going at all like she had expected and a new dread filled her heart. What ever it was that had happened, it must have been something much more horrible than she had imagined. After a few moments she was cut away from her thoughts as Sweetie suddenly lunged at her, wrapping her hooves tightly around her neck. The filly buried her face into her sister's shoulder and cried.
They stayed locked in that embrace for the longest time, but eventually Sweetie started to calm down. She pulled away and looked at her big sister, still holding onto her tightly. Rarity had a faint smile, albeit a worried one, on her face and her eyes gazed at Sweetie Belle lovingly.
“Are you in pain? Do you want me to ask the nurse to bring you some medicine?”
Sweetie shook her head slightly and let out a sniffle. It was obvious that she was sore all over, but she tried to put on a brave face. Rarity smiled at her.
“You're such a brave little pony... It's alright Sweetie. You're safe now," she said, nuzzling her sister's neck. “Do you think you can tell me what happened? I promise that what ever it is I won't get mad at you.”
Sweetie's eyes widened slightly and her breathing grew more erratic. Rarity was afraid that she was going to start crying again, but then Sweetie spoke, her voice barely above a whisper.
“We...," she started. “We went into the forest.” She stopped and let out a heart wrenching whimper. Rarity hugged her tighter.
“It's alright. Just tell me what happened. I won't be mad. I promise.”
Sweetie took a moment to regain her composure and continued.
“Apple Bloom overheard Fluttershy and Applejack talking about how some of her chickens had gone missing a few days ago... When she told Scootaloo she got really excited. She said that it was a 'real mystery for a change' and one that 'needed solving'. She was sure we'd get our cutie marks this time. You know, for being detectives...”
A small smile crept up on her face, but quickly disappeared as she broke down into a series of quiet sobs.
“So we snuck out and met up at Fluttershy's cottage. We found some tracks that led to the forest and... We were going to be really careful this time, honest! And we were, but then that... thing sneaked up on us. It happened so fast, we couldn't do anything. It slammed me against a rock. It had black scales and really big fangs and sharp claws and... I guess I blacked out for a while, because the next thing I remember was... it was dragging them away. They were screaming, I think. I-”
She stopped suddenly and tugged Rarity tighter against herself.
“Then I ran, even though it hurt really bad. I got out of the forest and.... I don't remember anything after that. What if they are hurt, or dead? It's all my fault!”
Sweetie broke down crying again, even louder this time. There was little Rarity could do, except hold the filly tight and try to calm her.
“Everything is going to be alright, Sweetie. They are already out there looking for them and they will find them. It's not your fault.” Her words did little to reassure the crying filly.
After a few moments Rarity could feel her sister starting to calm down. All that the filly had been through that night had left her drained. Slowly her grip weakened and her body went limp as she fell asleep against Rarity's shoulder. She tucked her sister back into her bed and watched her sleep peacefully for a moment, all the while thinking what she should do next. She knew now just what had happened and she had to get the word out to her friends, somehow. She left the room quietly and started walking to the lobby. There her eyes fixed onto a gray pegasus mare making her way towards the doors.
“Ditzy!" she yelled just as the pegasus was about to leave.
The gray pegasus turned to look into her general direction. Her eyes were struggling to find their focus for a while and by the time she could see straight again Rarity had already walked up to her.
“Oh, hello Rarity. I was just doing my morning rounds," the pegasus said, tapping at her plump saddlebags. “I'm surprised to see you here. Has something happened?" Ditzy asked, concern creeping into her voice.
“I'm afraid I don't have the time to explain it all, Ditzy. But I need to ask you to do a favor for me. Can you do that, please?”
“Of course. What do you need?”
“Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are lost in the Everfree Forest. If you fly to Fluttershy's cottage you should find Twilight and others there, if they haven't gone into the forest already. I need you to warn them that there's some kind of dangerous creature on the loose in the forest. Something with black scales, sharp claws and fangs, and it moves quietly. It attacked Apple Bloom and Scootaloo last night and dragged them off somewhere. After you've done that I want you to fly over to the city hall and tell the mayor what has happened so they can organize a proper search party. Can you do that?”
Ditzy gave her a salute and slid her saddlebags off. “Of course," she said. Then she was off and Rarity watched her take to the sky.
As she got back, the door to Sweetie Belle's room hang open and she could hear somepony talking. Rarity recognized the voice as belonging to nurse Redheart, who sounded like she was trying to comfort someone.
“Look, there she is now," the nurse said in an upbeat tone as Rarity stepped into the room.
Sweetie was sitting up on her bed, her front hooves crossed across her chest. She was rocking back and forth slightly and her eyes were fixed right in front of her.
“We'll, I'll leave you two be," the nurse said, giving Rarity a meaningful nod as she left the room. Rarity walked up to the bed.
“Sweetie, what's the matter? Did you have a bad dream?”
Sweetie Belle sniffled in response. “Y- yes.”
Rarity gave the little unicorn a hug and then told her to lie back down. As she looked at her little sister a thought crossed her mind. The bed wasn't very large, but it could probably fit both of them comfortably enough.
“Scoot over a little," she said. Sweetie Belle gave her a puzzled look, but did as she was told. Rarity lied down beside her, placing her leg across her chest, gently pulling her closer.
“You need your rest and we can't have you having nightmares, now can we. I'll be right here. I won't go anywhere, I promise. Let's try to get some sleep now, shall we?”
Rarity gave her sister a gentle nuzzle. There was no answer as the filly had already started drifting back into sleep. Soon Rarity felt her own eyelids grow heavy as well.
“Honestly, if I had known this would happen I'd have made a thermos full of coffee before going to bed last night," Twilight said with a mock yawn. Her attempt at lightening the mood went largely unnoticed.
They had been following the tracks for some time and were well within the Everfree proper now. Even though the sun was already rising into the sky, the forest itself was still almost as dark as at night, mostly due to the thick canopy. The same green roof made it hard to stay in contact with the two pegasi flying overhead from time to time, but that didn't concern them too much. Fluttershy was flying low, just above the tree tops so they could still talk even if they couldn't see each other, while Rainbow Dash kept watch above, looking for trouble further ahead. So far there had been none and if anything the forest seemed almost serene. It would have been all too easy to forget about the dangers that lurked in the shadows. Twilight wondered if that was just what had happened, shuddering at the thought.
“Honestly, Twi, I can't understand how you can stomach that swill. Always gives me the trots," Applejack said after a moment of silence.
“Oooh, I love coffee, but I can't drink it no more because the doctor said if I do my heart might explode," Pinkie cut in. The others turned to look at her, not quite sure if she was exaggerating or not, and if so, to what degree.
Twilight shook her head and turned back to Applejack.
“I thought you'd appreciate a cup of coffee in the morning. What with how early you have to get up and everything," she said, surprised.
“Yeah, well, I actually try to do my sleeping during the night, thank you very much. Unlike some...”
Twilight wasn't quite sure what to make of her friend's reply, and decided it was best to let the conversation just drop there. She did understand why her friend seemed to be so on the edge, after all. The last thing she wanted was for things to turn sour between them.
They didn't have to keep up idle conversation for long anyway. Something up ahead caught their attention.
“Is that...?" somepony said.
“It is," another answered.
There was something caught on the tip of a low hanging tree branch. It was deep red in colour and sparkled with gold as it swayed in the breeze.
“This is Sweetie Belle's cape alright. Or what's left of it anyways," Applejack said as she held the ruined garment. She tucked the cape into her saddlebag and turned her head up towards the sky. “Fluttershy! Can either of you see anything up ahead?”
“There's a clearing up ahead and a small hill coming up soon after that. Other than that, no," came the answer.
“Be on guard everyone," Twilight said. Her head swayed from left to right a couple of times, surveying the surrounding area. “We must be getting close now. There's no telling what we might be up against”.
A quiet whimper could be heard from above the tree tops as the group continued onward.
There was a collective gasp as they entered a small clearing in the woods. Large boulders jutted out of the ground with thick bushes growing amidst them. The signs of struggle were all too clear. The ground was tattered with frantic hoofprints and skid marks and some of the vegetation had been torn up as well. There were claw prints everywhere, made by some unknown creature. They were too small to be made by a dragon, at least a full grown one, and their shape was wrong. Twilight didn't recognize them from any of her books.
Another piece of Sweetie Belle's cape was caught in one of the bushes next to a large stone, flapping lazily with the wind. From the clearing wide drag marks led deeper in to the forest, in the direction of the hill the two pegasi had spotted minutes earlier.
“Now just what the hay happened here?" Big Mac muttered to himself as he eyed the scene. The others stopped dead in their tracks and stood there in shock. For some of them this was the longest sentence they had ever heard the red stallion speak. Bic Mac gave them a surprised look.
“Ah can talk just fine ya know. Ah just don't need ta most of the time.” He turned back to face the forest. “Eeyup.”
“I don't like the looks of this. At all. Come on, let's get going," Twilight said.
These new tracks were much easier to follow. The dragging marks were wide and the clawprints running in the middle of them cut deep into the ground. It didn't take them long to arrive at the foot of the hill, where they found some sort of a cave. The tracks led into the darkness.
“Apple Bloom! Are you in there?" Applejack shouted into the darkness.
“AJ?" came the quiet response. It was Apple Bloom. No other sounds could be heard from the cave.
Her heart was beating faster than it ever had before and the sound of her blood rushing in her ears covered all other noises beneath it. Applejack could feel her limbs grow tense. Twilight saw what was about to happen.
“AJ, wait!" she shouted, but it was too late.
“I'm coming!" Applejack yelled and darted off into the darkness before anyone could do anything. Her hoofsteps echoed loudly, breaking the silence of the cave.
Pinkie yelped at a sudden pain in her knee.
Twilight slapped herself in the face, then motioned the others to follow her as her horn erupted in a white glow, illuminating the opening of the cave. The two pegasi remained in the air, keeping watch. Just as the group entered the cave, Rainbow Dash noticed a gray form flying towards them.
“Ditzy? What are you doing here?" Fluttershy asked in surprise.
The mailmare was way out of breath and had to take a moment to calm down before speaking, lest she faint and fall. Before she had the chance to say anything a cry of pain echoed from the cave.
“AJ! Be careful! That thing is still in here," Apple Bloom shouted from somewhere deeper in the darkness.
Applejack felt something brush against her side. Before she could react there was a quiet hiss. Next thing she knew a sharp pain shot through her shoulder and two claws tightened around her neck. She yelled in surprise and pain and trashed wildly from side to side. It worked and the grip of the claws weakened and they slipped off, leaving thin red streaks on her neck. A thump could be heard as the creature that had attacked her dropped to the stone floor of the cavern. Applejack reacted quickly and bucked the darkness, her left hind leg connecting. There was a sickening crunch followed by a blood curdling shriek, both followed by the sound of claws rapping hard against the stone floor. The surprise made Twilight's magic flutter momentarily and they only caught a glimpse of the creature as it hurried past them back to the opening. The three pegasi caught a glimpse of the creature as well, as it quickly ran out only to disappear amidst the undergrowth. Rainbow Dash shot after the creature, but returned only moments later. What ever it had been, it was gone.
“Applejack! Are you alright?" Twilight shouted as she galloped up to the earth pony. The others followed close behind.
“That dang critter bit me!" Applejack grunted, but then let out a small chuckle. “But I think I taught that thing a lesson as well. Never mess with an Apple.”
“That looks nasty," Twilight said, looking at the two circular wounds about an inch apart on her friend's shoulder. Applejack turned her head to take a look herself.
“That ain't too bad. Doesn't really even hurt anymore or nothing.” She turned her head back forward. “Apple Bloom! Where are you? Are you alright?”
The answer came from somewhere near. “My leg kind of hurts, but I'm alright," she yelled back. Her voice shrunk as she continued: “But Scootaloo is really sick.”
“Where are you? I can't see you," Applejack shouted again.
“There's a big rock near the wall. There's a hole behind it. We're here. We're going to need help getting out, though.”
The others raced to the rock and began pulling the two fillies out. By this time Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash had entered the cave as well, flying past Twilight without saying a word. Twilight would have ran up to the rock to help the others, but something had caught her eye. It shone bright against the gray rock floor of the cave. A sharp fang, almost two inches long and made of the whitest bone, gleaming in the magical light. It had come off during the struggle. Twilight picked the fang up with her magic and as she examined it closer a look of terror spread across her face.
It was hollow.
By the time Twilight walked up to the others they had already managed to get the two fillies out. Apple Bloom was leaning against her big sister, hanging her left front leg in the air. The limb seemed somewhat mangled and was stained with already dried blood. There were some other more minor cuts and scrapes, but apart from those and the shock the filly seemed to be fine. Twilight's eyes wandered for a moment, searching for Scootaloo until she found Fluttershy kneeling beside her, prodding gently at the filly. She could immediately see something was horribly wrong. The filly wasn't moving. She knelt down beside her and took a quick look, shuddering at the sight.
The filly was lying limply on her side. She had received her own share of cuts and scrapes and some of the feathers on her wings were broken or missing altogether. Apart from those relatively minor injuries Twilight could quickly see something much more sinister had happened. Scootaloo's coat was covered in cold sweat and the sides of her mouth and front legs were stained with vomit. She was shivering constantly and every once in a while her muscles would jerk unnaturally. Her breathing was ragged and erratic, as was her heartbeat. On her left shoulder were two circular punctures, about an inch apart, and two deep gashes that ran down from those wounds. Twilight felt a cold knot tighten in her stomach as she looked first at the filly, then at Applejack. To her relief the orange mare seemed to be fine, at least for now.
“Rainbow Dash," Twilight spoke up and all eyes turned on her. “You're the fastest flier. I'm afraid Scootaloo has been poisoned, and she needs help right now. Can you fly her to the hospital?” The last part sounded more like an order than an honest question.
There was a collective gasp. “Poisoned!?”
“I'm afraid so. Look at what I found," Twilight said, levitating the fang in front of the crowd. It gleamed menacingly in the light. “It's hollow.” She gulped at the last words.
Pinkie was extending her hoof, trying to touch the fang. Twilight pulled it high into the air. “No, don't touch it. It could be very dangerous.”
“Poisoned? Are you sure now?" Applejack asked, trying to cover the concern in her voice. Her concern wasn't just for Scootaloo's sake anymore.
“The symptoms all fit. I'm sorry," Twilight answered as she started wrapping the filly in a blanket. When she was done she levitated her off the ground and towards Rainbow Dash.
Rainbow reared up on her hind legs, flapping her wings lazily to keep her balance. She took the sick filly into her front legs and turned to look at Twilight, with a questioning look on her face.
“There may not be much time left, Dash," Twilight said with urgency welling up behind every word. “Take her to the hospital, and tell them what has happened. I just hope that we aren't too late.”
Dash only nodded in response and darted off, the flapping of her wings echoing in the cave long after she was gone. After Dash had left Twilight turned her attention to Applejack. She was nuzzling her little sister and Twilight felt bad for breaking the moment, but she knew she had to.
“Applejack," she started. The farm pony turned to look at her. “How are you feeling?”
“I'm fine. I already said it doesn't even hurt or nothin'.” The orange mare dug her hoof at the ground halfheartedly.
“Are you sure?”
“Well... it actually feels kind of, uh, tingly, now that you should mention it. And I think my leg's fallen asleep...," she said quietly. “But there's nothing wrong with me!" she added after a brief pause.
“Applejack, I think you should lie down now. The faster your heart beats the faster it's going to spread.”
“Ah'l carry ya, sis," Big Macintosh said.
Applejack shot him with a dirty look. “I can walk just fine on my own, thank you very much! There's nothing wrong with me!”
“Quit being so stubborn, sis. Even if there really is nothin' wrong, do ya really wanna take that chance?" Bic Mac shot back at her and sat down on his haunches.
Applejack muttered something under her breath, but did as she was told. As she got on her brother's back, she spoke up again.
“What about Apple Bloom here? You don't actually expect her to walk on that leg of-”
“I'll carry her," Pinkie interrupted her. She smiled and lay down on the ground. “It's no problem. Come on Apple Bloom.”
Twilight turned to look at Fluttershy, who was just about as mortified as was to be expected. “Fluttershy, I think I should head on over to Zecora's. She might have a cure, or at least know something that might help us. Could you come along with me, just in case?”
Fluttershy nodded in response and the group left the cave, splitting up and going their separate ways.
The four ponies had made good time and were halfway back to town when Applejack suddenly spoke up. “Let me down”.
Big Macintosh turned his head to look at his sister. “Ah said I ain't going to let ya walk, sis. I meant that.”
“It's not that," Applejack said. “I... I think I'm going to be sick.”
“Hang in there kid. We're almost there.”
Rainbow Dash was hugging the little filly tight against her chest. She had been making idle conversation through the whole trip, even if it had been rather one sided, with Rainbow doing all the talking. The rainbow maned pegasus didn't really care though, since talking helped keep her mind off of the more unpleasant thoughts. Every once in a while Scootaloo stirred in her grip, almost as if just to give some indication that she was still fighting.
“That's the spirit kiddo. You can't give up now. You've still got a long road ahead of you if you're going to be as awesome as me," Rainbow said. She could feel the wind ripping tears from her eyes, staining her cheeks.
As they entered the town Rainbow started dropping to a lower altitude. There were already ponies roaming the streets making their way to work, completely oblivious to what had happened in the night. Rainbow noticed some of them giving puzzled looks her way. She wondered whether she should say something or not, but decided against it. After a minute of flying over the town they arrived at the hospital. Rainbow butted the door open with her head, still hovering a feet off the ground as she made her way into the lobby.
“Somepony, help! I've got a sick filly here!" she shouted.
There were a few other ponies waiting in the reception area and their heads turned to look at the source of the sudden noise. Some even stood up, but then stopped, not really knowing what to do. Nurse Redheart galloped out of the back room.
“Oh dear. What happened to her?" she asked after giving the filly a brief look over.
“She was bitten by some... thing. Twilight said she's been poisoned. Please tell me there's something you can do," Rainbow pleaded.
“Yes, of course. We have some general anti-venom, that's used for snake bites and...," The nurse trailed off as she took a closer look at the wounds on Scootaloo's shoulder. “Oh dear.”
“Yeah, whatever that thing was it sure wasn't some garden snake... Don't just stand there, do something!”
The nurse snapped out of her sudden shock. She had never seen a bite like that before. “Yes, of course. We'll do our best. DOCTOR!”
Before Scootaloo was taken away to be treated, Rainbow gave the filly a little nuzzle.
“You're going to be alright kid, just hang in there.” Then she blinked her eyes a couple of times, trying to suppress the tears welling up in them and turned back to the nurse.
“You're going to have some more patients coming in soon. Apple Bloom has hurt her leg and Applejack got bitten herself.” Rainbow shuddered at the thought of what that could mean.
Rainbow wasn't quite sure what she was going to do next. As much as she would have liked to stay and wait for news about Scootaloo, she knew that her friends might still need her help. Just as she was about to turn around and leave another thought crossed her mind, however. Rarity would probably like to know what had happened. She walked up to the reception desk and asked where the white unicorn was. Moments later she found herself staring at the door. She was in a daze and couldn't remember whether she had knocked already or not, but soon a voice from withing the room asked her to enter.
“Shh. Sweetie Belle is asleep," Rarity said, looking up from the bed. The lights in the room had been dimmed down and it took her a moment to see who was standing in the door frame. “Oh, Rainbow Dash. Do you... um, do you have any news?”
Rainbow took a few steps into the room, the door creaking shut behind her. “Uh, yeah. We found them and...," she trailed off, trying to find the right way to break the news.
Rarity's eyes grew wide in alarm. “And? Are they...?”
“Well, Apple Bloom has hurt her leg, but she's fine. Scootaloo... uh. Scootaloo wasn't so lucky," Rainbow said digging her hoof at the floor. She could hear Rarity gasp, and added quickly: “She's alive, but she's in a really bad way. That thing bit her and she's been, uh, poisoned. I just flew her in here. The others are on their way right now... yeah.”
“Oh dear. But she is going to be alright, right?" Rarity asked, her heart trying to beat it's way out of her chest.
“They are taking care of her, but honestly? I-, I don't know. But I hope so. I hope so.” There was a tense moment of silence before Rainbow Dash continued: “Thanks for sending Derpy to warn us, by the way.”
“Ditzy," Rarity corrected.
“Right, Ditzy. I keep forgetting. Anyway... she was a little late though and Applejack got bitten too.” She could hear Rarity gasp again, but didn't really know what to say this time.
“I probably shouldn't have said that just now," she thought and fell quiet for a while.
“I...," she started again. “I should probably go now and see if they need any help. I just wanted to get you up to speed on what's been going on. Say hello to Sweetie Belle for me when she wakes up.”
Neither said anything after that and Rainbow left the room quietly. Rarity found herself hugging her sister tighter, more for her own comfort than anything else this time. The unicorn filly stirred a little and let out a sigh. A small smile crept up on her face as she felt her sister still holding her, just as she had promised.
“Was someone here?" she asked. Her voice had turned a little hoarse, probably from running in the cold night air. Her forehead felt a little warm too.
Rarity let out a slight sniffle. “Oh, that was just Rainbow Dash dear. They found your friends. They are going to be alright.” At that moment she was glad her element wasn't honesty. Then again she wasn't really lying, just stretching the truth a little. Somehow it still felt wrong, though. She found herself sniffling again.
“Rarity? Are you crying?”
“No. Well, yes. A little. But it's alright, darling. I just love you so very much.”
“I love you too," Sweetie Belle said. She turned around and hugged her big sister.
Rarity couldn't help but smile at the thought that it was her little sister comforting her now, and not the other way around.
“What would I do if I ever lost her?”
Zecora's hut was coming up ahead. Twilight and Fluttershy had wandered around for a while, as they had been in a part of the forest neither of them had ever been to before, but eventually they found the path leading to the zebra's house. Twilight picked up the pace and Fluttershy followed her, hovering a few feet off the ground and constantly looking around worriedly.
“Please be home," Twilight said under her breath as she raised her hoof to knock on the door. To her surprise the door swung open before she had the chance to.
“Twilight, Fluttershy. To which I own this visit?
I take it this is not a social call, is it?”
“No, I'm afraid it's not, Zecora. We have a big problem and if you can't help then I don't know who can.” Twilight let out a sigh as she stepped in. She opened her saddlebag and levitated out the sharp fang that had caused them so much grief. “Do you know what this is?”
Zecora took a quick look at the fang hanging in the air in front of her and her expression grew darker. “Where did you get this?”
“Our friend Scootaloo was bitten by this horrible... creature. Then Applejack got bit too... the fang came off in the fight," Fluttershy said. “Scootaloo is very sick," she added, her head hanging low.
“I should expect so, if she has felt the kiss of Mother Darkness...
Oh my, this is quite the mess," Zecora mused.
She lifted her hoof under the fang and Twilight allowed it to fall. Zecora dropped the fang into a mortar and began grinding it down vigorously. Twilight and Fluttershy fell quiet. They sat down and allowed the zebra to work in peace. She was slowly adding in other ingredients and after a few minutes of mixing a small quantity of thin, shiny white paste was poured out of the mortar into a vial.
“Not many know this, but it is true,
with little help, the poison can be the cure”
As the zebra finished her little rhyme she handed the vial over to Twilight, closing it gently into her hooves. She then shook her head and looked Twilight deep into the eyes as she continued:
“But now, with two friend's lives at stake,
a heavy choice is yours to make...”
Twilight looked at the vial, then back at Zecora. Her voice shook.
“There's only enough for one, is there?”
It wasn't really even a question.
The zebra only nodded solemnly in response.
“There there, sis. Just let it all out. You'll feel better," Big Macintosh said, stroking his sister's back.
They had just come to the edge of the town. The sun was already shining brightly and the streets had started to fill up with ponies going about their daily business. Curious and worried eyes had started to turn towards them the moment they had walked in.
Applejack wiped her mouth and spat on the ground. “That's what you said the last two times. I haven't ever felt this sick in my life!”
Her legs wouldn't stop shaking and sweat was pouring down her face, blurring her vision. That was probably a good thing, as the light hurt her eyes. She lifted her head up to look at the small crowd that had started to gather around them.
“What are y'all looking at? I'm fine," she said as she got back on her brother's back.
She turned to look at her sister who was laying flat against Pinkie's back. Both of them were dead quiet and Pinkie's mane seemed to have lost half it's usual volume. Apple Bloom was looking at her sister with deep worry in her eyes. Applejack's tone softened.
“Don't worry about me, sugarcube. I'll be alright," she said, forcing a smile. It came out as more of a cringe though.
She wanted to say more, but she was too drained. Her eyes fell shut.
Twilight and Fluttershy arrived back at the hospital after what had felt like an eternity. Twilight could feel the small vial pressing hard against her side from her saddlebag. It had seemed to grow heavier with each passing step.
Applejack and Scootaloo were sharing a room, Scootaloo's bed nearest to the door. The nurse was leaning over her, apparently taking her temperature. She shook her head. The two mares stopped for a while to look at the filly. She was pale and barely moving any more, her breathing was light and erratic. Every once in a while there was a weak twitch from under the covers, but apart from that the filly seemed... they had to turn away, it was too painful to see her like that.
They walked to the back of the room, where Applejack was. Her brother was sitting at her side, quiet as was usual for him. Applejack was shivering and sweat ran down her face, such as it had with Scootaloo the last time they had seen her. Her eyes wandered over to the two mares that had entered the room, fighting for a while to find their focus.
“Applejack...," Twilight started but the words clung to the back of her throat.
“Good to see y'all again," Applejack said weakly. “Did ya see Zecora?”
Twilight forced a smile and pulled out the small vial. “We did. This is the cure, but...”
“That seems awful little," Applejack said. To everyone's surprise she let out a weak chuckle. She already knew what was coming next.
“It is...," Twilight started again. She had to fight to make the words come out. “She needed the fang for it, but there wasn't enough for... both... of you...” Her voice trailed off.
“Give it to her.” Applejack's words were backed by the steely determination in her eyes. “She needs it more.”
“Give it to her. The doctor said that since I'm so much bigger an' stronger than her I might pull through on my own. But I know Scootaloo doesn't have a chance without help. Ah couldn't live with myself if I got to live and she didn't.”
“Applejack... are you sure you want this?" Twilight asked.
Fluttershy broke down in tears.
“Now you're just stalling for time, Twi! Give her the darned medicine!" Applejack shouted in response and cringed in pain. After the worst had passed she continued, much softer this time.
“I-” Tears started flowing down her cheeks, dripping down onto the sheets. “I feel like my insides are turning to soup, and I'm scared. I honestly am, Twi. But I know what I'm doing... and if you don't realize that I wouldn't have it any other way, well, then I guess you don't know me very well at all. But I think you do.”
Applejack sighed. Twilight had never heard her voice shake the way it did when she continued:
“If this is to be it, then this is it. I have no regrets. And I won't have her life on my conscience, I won't live with that kind of regret. Now get to it!”
Fluttershy just sat in the corner and sobbed. Twilight nodded and walked back to Scootaloo's bed. The filly stirred a little as she removed the bandages covering the two punctures. The area around them had turned to a deep purple. She let out a heavy sigh as she undid the cap on the vial and poured it's contents into the wounds, just as Zecora had told her to do. She was surprised to see that the paste had turned into a fine powder. The filly whimpered and shook slightly as the powerful medicine seeped it's way deeper into the wound, then she fell still.
Twilight let the empty vial drop to the floor. It shattered with the impact. She broke down in tears.
Now they only had to wait.
Scootaloo coughed. Every movement she made sent liquid fire coursing through her veins, or at least it felt that way. Other than that she didn't feel much at all. There was no pain, and she was comfortable. She opened her eyes slowly. At first she didn't actually see anything but blurred shapes of light and shadows. Slowly the world started drifting back into focus.
“She's waking up," a voice came from her side.
“Was that Sweetie Belle?”
Scootaloo turned her head slightly and gave her eyes a few moments to focus again. She saw two fillies laying against the side of the bed. A weak smile spread on her face. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, her best friends. She was so happy to see them. They were smiling too. But something seemed off...
“Have they been crying?”
Apple Bloom certainly had, and still was. Scootaloo's eyes lingered on her friend. She had a cast on her leg. That had to be it. She was hurt.
But that still didn't explain Sweetie Belle...
“Hey guys. What's up?" Scootaloo whispered.
The two fillies didn't say anything. Instead, they pulled their friend in for a tight hug that seemed to last forever.
Thank you for reading, whoever you might be.
Yours in love and tolerance,
Disclaimer: Rainbow Dash is best pony.