Chapter 7 Appleoosa
Sunny felt a hoof jabbing him in the side. “Wake up,” came the impatient voice of Willow.
“Ten more minutes,” he moaned, rolling to his other side to put his back to the white mare.
Willow prodded him again. “Take into account how easily I could break your leg.”
“Alright, fine!” He batted her hoof away with annoyance. Sunny opened his eyes, only to be blinded by sunlight. “Ouch, bright.” He closed his eyes hurriedly. Slowly, he opened them again, this time more prepared for the harsh morning light. He sighed at the site of Moon. She had slept using his flank as a pillow, again. He had pushed her off before he had fallen asleep. Of course she would go back to using him as a pillow, no matter what he said.
He nudged her with a forehoof. “Wha?” she asked, still half asleep.
“Didn’t I say you aren’t allowed to do that?” he asked her.
Moon raised her head to gaze at him, her mane disheveled from sleep. Stray stands of blue hair hung in her eyes and around her neck. “Sure you told me I wasn’t allowed to, doesn’t meant I listened.”
“Why do I have to be your pillow?” he grumbled.
She pushed herself up and planted her hooves on his belly. “Because,” she chided. “I know it makes you uncomfortable. Not to mention you make a soft pillow.”
Sunny sat up and looked around, taking in his surroundings. Everything looked different in the early morning light. They had set up camp here in the dark, having decided it would be too hard to descend the ridge at night. The flatlands stretched out ahead and below. The distant spot of Appleoosa could be seen as well. It was much closer than yesterday, but still looked a ways off. They had a good aerial view from the height of the ridge. Next to the town was a rocky outcrop, and from what he could tell, an apple orchard. From here, the trees looked green and healthy. Sunny found this rather surprising. Ever since the infection broke out, there hadn’t been any water. Desert vegetation had been suffering ever since Cloudsdale had stopped sending rainclouds, which was understandable due to the fact that Equestria was in shambles.
Something caught his eye. Smoke. There was smoke. His breath caught in his throat. “You guys!” he exclaimed happily. He pointed a hoof towards the grayish-black smudge above the town. “Look!”
Willow, who had been preparing her barding, looked to where he was pointing. She shrugged and went back to packing. “Already saw that while you were sleeping. That’s half the reason why I woke you up.”
“Killjoy,” Sunny muttered. He turned his back on Willow and gazed hopefully at silhouette of the town in the distance.
Moon trotted up beside him. “Think there are ponies there?” she asked him.
Sunny nodded. “There has to be.” He could hear the sound of the rest of the camp stirring behind him. Dusty was muttering to himself about food. Snowglobe was telling Brick something about the machine gun mounted to his flank. The brown pony had slept with his gear on.
“Hey Snowglobe,” he heard Willow call. “Want to help me out with the strap on my saddlebags?”
“S-sure,” Snowglobe stammered.
Moon leaned up against Sunny. He shot her a look that implied, ‘really?’ Moon shot her own look back. “What?” she asked defensively.
“Why are you so touchy?” he asked her, feeling slightly flustered. She nuzzled the underside of his chin, sending a shiver up his spine.
She flicked him with her tail. “You know exactly why.”
“I’m pretty sure I do.” He looked around awkwardly. “Oh hey, would you look at that,” he said hastily. “Dusty has my saddle ready.”
Moon started to say something in protest but he trotted away before she could finish.
Dusty looked up to see Sunny approaching. “Mornin’ Sunny,” he greeted.
“Morning Dusty,” he replied. “What are you doing over here?”
The light blue Pegasus motioned towards the supplies set out on the rocks. “Sortin’ through my bags.”
Sunny looked at the rows of items and supplies set out on the stone. There was plenty of food and ammo, a couple canteens. He also had just about everything else. “You were carrying all that?” Sunny asked, mildly surprised.
Dusty nodded. He examined his pile of miscellaneous items. He nodded again, as if he were slightly surprised himself. “Ah suppose all of this might have been a little much.” They stood in silence for a minute. “Ah guess I could leave the blender,” Dusty mused after a moment.
Sunny shot him a look. “Why the hay are you carrying around a blender?”
Dusty flapped his wings casually. “Well that’s simple, ah just…” he trailed off, staring at the electric blender. “Ya know, ah don’t reckon ah know.”
“Right,” Sunny said dismissively. “We leave the blender.”
Dusty nodded absently. “Right.” He stared at the pile of supplies a moment longer. “Ah think ah’ll get packed up now. Looks like everypony is fixin’ to leave.”
Sunny left him to his packing. Brick was sitting quietly, looking out over the barren landscape at the rising sun. Willow was sitting next to a very red Snowglobe.
“You’re evil!” Snowglobe whispered venomously to Willow.
Willow got to her hooves and walked forward. She snapped Snowglobe across the muzzle with her crimson tail. “What can I say?” she chided. “I’m Willow. You should know that by now.”
“What’s going on over here?” Sunny asked.
“Nothing really,” Willow’s eyes gleamed. “Snowglobe was just enjoying the scenery.”
“What!?” Snowglobe balked. “No!” she spluttered, searching for words. The gray mare was inventing whole new colors to blush.
“Willow,” Sunny joked in a scolding tone. “If we’re going to be traveling, Snowglobe needs to be sane.”
Willow hung her head in mock sorrow. “I’m sawwy.” She gave Snowglobe a heavy nudge, almost unbalancing the mare. She stumbled sideways to regain her balance. “I won’t do it again… at least not today.”
Sunny laughed; even though he had no idea what was going on. Sunny looked around. There wasn’t really any other pony around to talk to; and he doubted Brick would host an interesting conversation. Moon was still sitting where he had left her, staring out over the sunlit landscape.
Now that he thought about it, this place felt really nice. The sun shone diagonally across the rocks, turning them a bright orange-red. A butte in the distance cast a long shadow across the flat desert floor beyond. Even the weather was nice. Because it was still early in the year, it hadn’t yet gotten too hot. The temperature in the early morning must have been a perfect sixty. He closed his eyes as a cool breeze washed over him. Once again he was overwhelmed by a false sense of tranquility. Right now, there were no zombies. No shooting things. Just six friends camped out on a ridge with a lot of guns. Something redbacks did every weekend.
Sunny headed over to his gear and set to the task of getting ready. The battle saddle proved very difficult to equip on his own. Snowglobe spotted his trifles and trotted over to help him.
“Thanks,” he said as the unicorn mare fastened the straps that sinched the saddle to his back.
“Don’t mention it,” she replied modestly. She circled around to his right and checked the rifle. So far, Sunny liked it better than the old one. He hadn’t had to fire it yet; but he almost wanted to. The sleek black rifle was larger and lighter than his previous one.
“Is everypony ready?” Sunny asked.
“Almost,” Dusty replied, packing another item into one of his seemingly bottomless bags. He made a reach for the blender.
“Dusty,” Sunny said warningly.
He froze. “Oh, right.” He chuckled, going a little red. He moved past the blender and attacked the pile of ammunition.
Moon was still standing where Sunny had left her. He was worried he had done something to offend her. Sunny thought his actions over. He had been rather rude in response to her motions. She had taken him by surprise. He had always known that she had liked him; but he had never thought that she really liked him. The thought was rather uncomfortable.
Snowglobe seemed to take notice to Moon as well. The gray mare trotted over and gave her a hearty nudge. “Come on,” she said. “Get your stuff ready. We’re about to get going.”
The blue mare nodded in reply. She looked out at the scene one more time before turning away. Sunny was surprised to see her face clear, and expression cheery. He had expected her to have been crying, or at least look sad. He had been incredibly blatant.
Dusty took to the air to better examine the surroundings. In the bright sunlight, Sunny could only make out his silhouette.
Dusty pointed with a forehoof to a lower spot on the ridge, in the direction of Appleoosa. “That looks like an easy way down!” he called. “Once we manage to get off this ridge, Appleoosa’ll be no more’n a good hours trot!”
When everypony was ready, they set off. Willow took the semi-dangerous task of leading down the treacherous terrain. On the way up here, Dusty had been leading when a whole section of rock gave way. If he hadn’t of had the ability to fly, he would have been a blue splotch on the rocks below.
Sunny couldn’t help but smile every time he looked at Willow. He still couldn’t get over the fact that she looked like an armored wagon. Almost nothing of her white coat could be seen apart from her head and lower legs. There were six rifles strapped to her saddlebags. They hung lengthwise with her body. Many smaller weapons filled the inner pockets.
Brick was a pretty good sight as well. The chain gun tethered to his right flank was almost too much. The black enamel gleamed in the early morning sunlight. Sunny was glad to have Brick with them. Even a mindless zombie pony would have enough wits about it to be scared of that gun. There was no real way to say for sure, but Sunny guessed that the weapon weighed quite a bit. It was about as long as Brick’s body, with the exception of the barrel sticking out about an extra half a foot past his neck. The thickness of the weapon was a little more than that of a ponies hoof. It held a much more boxy shape as well. The ammo container hung from the side. A belt of gleaming bullets lead to breach.
Sunny had to marvel. It was a really big gun.
He fell in stride behind Willow as they descended the ridge. The white mare led them down a narrow trail on the edge of a sheer drop off. Sunny peered over the edge; it was a good two hundred feet down. This side of the ridge was much steeper than the one they had come up.
Dusty flew lazily at their level, out over the edge of the sharp descent. The pegasus seemed rather cheeky to be a pegasus at the moment.
“Be glad of your wings Dusty!” Sunny called out to him.
“Hey, you got some too,” he replied teasingly.
They reached a level spot and Willow made a motion to stop. They all stopped, glad of the short break. Dusty touched down beside Sunny and furled his wings. He and Willow seemed to be the only ones not winded by the descent.
“No fair,” Snowglobe whined to Willow. “You have your zombie endurance thing so you don’t get tired.”
“I’m also carrying a gun store on my back,” Willow replied, sitting down and causing the arsenal on her back to clatter noisily.
Sunny examined her closely. She hadn’t even broken a sweat. He was surprised at how fast her crimson mane had returned to its original color. The effects of the medical drain-o, as Willow had taken to calling it, had caused her mane to go gray at the base. Since then the hair had grown out an extra inch, leaving a gray streak in her mane.
Another thought stuck him. Willow was about his age. She had had that young-mare glow to her. But she no longer held that appearance. Her eyes looked sunken and dull. Her eye color had somehow managed to turn to a bloody orange. Her white coat didn’t seem to reflect the sun as well as it had that day in Desert Sage.
“What are you looking at?” Willow asked him curiously.
Sunny realized he had been staring openly at the mare and hadn’t even noticed her looking back. “Oh um…” He fought for words. Unable to think of anything, he decided to tell what he had been thinking. “I was just thinking of the way your appearance has changed ever since the first time I saw you.” He hesitated. “You look… older.”
Willow nodded solemnly, her eyes clouded with sadness. “Yeah,” she muttered. “I noticed too.” She looked at the ground. When she looked up, all traces of sadness were gone, to be replaced by her normal cheery aura. “Break’s over,” she declared. “Let’s go.” Willow nudged an indignant Snowglobe to her hooves.
Sunny noticed Moon looking at him funny. It wasn’t an angry look, more of a suspicious and curious kind of look. She hurriedly looked away when she noticed he had caught her eye.
Willow stepped up to the ledge and peered down. “It’s not that far down,” she commented idly. “It’ll just take a while since were climbing down diagonally.” She turned to face them. There was a loud crack as the ledge she was perched on gave way. Willow rolled her eyes and looked up at the sky. “Really?” she said, voice layered with anger and annoyance. The white mare disappeared over the edge of the cliff.
Willow groaned. She silently cursed her luck. She knew that she had fallen. And she knew that she hadn’t landed on a bed of pillows.
Vision still blurring, she looked around.
“Willow!” a voice called from above. Willow turned her head to the voice. She would have stood up had she believed she was in any condition to do so. Instead, she rolled over to her side, having initially landed on her belly. The movement sent a wave of searing pain through her body.
She cringed, fighting back the urge to scream. “Broken ribs?” she wondered to herself.
“Willow!” the urgent voice called again. This time she was able to decipher the voice as Sunny’s.
“I’m okay,” she croaked, not even able to produce more than a whisper. She coughed deep in her throat and spat blood onto the rocks. “Oh yay,” she chuckled dryly. “Internal bleeding? Check.”
She looked back up at the towering cliff face. She had fallen a good two hundred feet. Theoretically, she shouldn’t be alive. If she squinted, four blurry heads could be seen gazing down at her.
A bolt of unprovoked pain shot through her belly, informing her that something inside wasn’t too happy. She, rather painfully, reached back and fished a healing potion from her saddlebag.
She uncorked the bottle with her magic, glad her horn was finally performing well enough to conjure basic magic. Downing the deep purple liquid sent a wave of relief through her body, reducing the sharp jolts of pain to dull throbs. She could feel her ribs slowly lacing back together, the internal wounds healing themselves.
At times like this, she really loved magic. Of course magical healing was still a fairly new technology. It had only been invented by a very clever unicorn about a year ago. But the effect had been booming. The methods and spells had extended to every corner of Equestria in a matter of days. She thought back. Lots of things had changed recently. The creation and mass use of weapons, healing spells and potions, the urbanization of larger cities. It was almost saddening to see the way things were turning out. They were losing what made them ponies, instead enjoying the pleasures of life made easy and enjoyment of everything indoors. It was a good thing some places like Ponyville still shunned it.
When Willow felt the magic had run its course, she rolled onto her belly and placed her hooves gingerly below her. With some effort and much anticipated pain, she managed to push herself to a sitting position. The taste of blood filled her mouth. For some reason, it didn’t seem to bother her.
She jumped as something landed on the rocks beside her. She turned to face it and nearly overbalanced herself. She let out a sigh of relief. It was Dusty. “Don’t do that,” she gasped.
“You okay Willow?” Dusty asked worriedly.
Willow rubbed a slowly healing gash on her flank and winced. “Sort of,” she replied. “I have no idea how I’m not a Willow spot on the rocks. But I certainly can’t say it didn’t hurt.”
“It’s probly’ that zombie thing,” Dusty mused. “Think it like, strengthened your bones too?”
“Must have,” Willow tried her best to hold her forehooves steady.
Dusty cocked his head at her. “You sure you’re okay?” Willow nodded, not wanting to speak in case she were to spit out more blood.
Dusty raised his head upward. “Hey guys!” he bellowed. “She’s alright!”
“You need to get back up there,” Willow told him.
Dusty looked at her. “What about you?”
Willow waved a forehoof dismissively. “I’ll be fine. The healing potion’s taking effect. I’ll meet you at the bottom.”
The pegasus looked skeptical, but nodded. “Alright.” He smiled. “Just no more cliff jumping. Okay?”
“Only if you’re there to catch me,” she said cheekily.
Dusty unfurled his wings and gave her a look. He shot up into the air and began circling back to the others.
Willow let out a long exhale. “Worst luck in Equestria,” she muttered to herself. She looked up and tracked the most prominent route down the cliff face. If she was right, her friends would be reaching the bottom quite a ways to her right. There was no way down at her current location.
Willow didn’t know why she hadn’t noticed this until now. But they were on a plateau. Well, she had been on a plateau. Reaching Appleoosa required dropping down to the flatland. The way from here to Appleoosa was nothing but dry dirt and a few scraggly bushes.
They really needed to get out of the desert. Everything was drying up fast. Very little natural rain water made it this far west.
Willow stood up, wincing slightly. The potion may have fixed her body, but it hadn’t quelled the pain. The landscape here was somewhat level and proved easy for travel. She looked back at her monstrous arsenal. It was a weird feeling carrying all that weight and not having it be too heavy.
She had crushed the scope on one of the rifles in her fall. “Oops,” she muttered.
Willow set off along the edge of the cliff, towards the point where she assumed her friends would be reaching the bottom. She favored the right leg over the left, having hurt it in the fall. The bone may have been broken; but she hadn’t bothered to check before she had downed the potion. It might not have been the best idea; but was done now.
Willow began to hum while she walked. It wasn’t any particular tune. The various pitches and tones modulated with her current pace. She hopped a small trench and tried not to wince. Her stomach growled hungrily at her. Willow wished there was some food in her bags. Dusty had most of the food; and considering Dusty was about two hundred feet above her, food was not an option at this time.
Willow had never handled being bored very well. She would always find little ways to amuse herself. After about ten minutes, she found herself hopping from rock to rock. The goal was not to touch the sand. If she touched the sand, she lost. This had been one of her favorite games as a filly. Her mother had always told her she had the best imagination.
For the first time since the infection broke out, Willow thought about her parents. They lived in Fillydelphia. When Willow had decided she wanted to be a doctor, her parents hadn’t exactly been thrilled. She still remembered her mother’s gasp of terror at the sight of her foal’s crossed syringe and scalpel cutie mark.
Long story short, she had left them when she was old enough to leave. She left to follow her dreams, knowing her parents would never help her with what she wanted. She had trained for a while in Canterlot. But without financial support from her perfect parents, she wasn’t exactly drowning in bits. After a while, one thing led to another, and she wound up in Desert Sage.
Willow hadn’t yet heard any news about Fillydelphia. Honestly, she didn’t want any news. Good, or bad, it would just send her mind reeling.
Her hoof missed the rock she had been aiming for and she landed unsteadily in the dirt. “Damn,” she swore quietly. She rolled her eyes at her own clumsiness and came eye to eye with another pony. She cried out in surprise and backpedaled away from the surprising confrontation. She had been so busy looking at the ground that she hadn’t even noticed the pony she was approaching.
She peered at the pony more closely. It was a yellow unicorn, definitely a zombie. The odd thing was that it wasn’t trying to eat her face. It just stood there, staring blankly at her.
Willow took a cautious step forward. “Hello?” As she had predicted, there was no reply. It just continued to gaze slack jawed at her.
Willow was totally off guard when it sprung at her. She reared up to meet it but the zombie had the benefit of momentum. Willow was pushed over onto her back. Before she could even register what was happening, she was pinned. The yellow unicorn snarled and lunged at her face. She dodged and it got a mouthful of sand. It reared up for another go.
“No fair!” Willow protested. “I wasn’t ready!” She tried to think of a way to defend herself, anything. She had no means of reaching any of her weapons. All her hooves were occupied with keeping the crazed pony from tearing out her throat.
It lunged again and willow felt a sharp pain in her ear. She cried out, feeling blood run down the side of her head. This thing was going to kill her. She had one option… She didn’t like it one bit.
The zombie’s neck was right in front of her face. Willow pushed her head up, ignoring the tearing pain in her right ear, and fastened her teeth in the pony’s throat. With nothing else to do, she bit down hard. The coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. The metallic taste seemed to fuel her passion for freedom and she bit down harder. She jerked her head back and forth, trying to dislodge something vital. There was a meaty crack and more crimson liquid poured from the wound. It filled her eyes and nostrils, running down the sides of her muzzle and face.
Willow relinquished her grip to breathe. She could still feel the hard bite of the teeth in her ear. She lunged again and bit down on the already fatal wound. With as much strength as she could muster, Willow twisted her head to one side. Her efforts were rewarded with a crunch. The monster went limp on top of her. She pushed it off and scrambled to her hooves, gasping for air.
The yellow unicorn lay on the ground, its dead eyes staring blankly. Willow balked at the damage she had done. She had broken its neck with nothing but her jaws. She licked some of the blood from her face. The taste didn’t seem to bother her.
She looked around, then down at the dead pony.
Well, she was hungry.
Willow gasped, horrified at her own thoughts. “No!” she choked. “What in Celestia’s name are you thinking Willow?” She turned tail and ran from the scene, not daring to look back. After a moment, she stopped.
Willow examined herself, chuckling in disbelief. “At least you’re immune,” she told herself. She wiped a foreleg across her face, trying to clean some of the blood form her eyes.
She set off again. For good reasons, she no longer felt the urge to hop rocks. She still was in partial denial about what she had just done. She had just pulled out a pony’s throat and broken its neck with her teeth. She could still feel warm blood running down the right side of her head.
She remembered her ear. Reaching up a hoof, she touched it gingerly. “Ouch,” she gasped. It was definitely torn; she had felt that much.
Willow sighed and dug out another healing potion. She uncorked it and took a small swig. That should be enough for her ear. She returned the bottle and set to walking again. Her ear tingled uncomfortably as the skin was slowly stitched back together.
“Worst luck ever,” she said matter-of-factly to herself for the second time. If she was going to be attacked by surprise again, this time she would be ready. Willow dug in her bag for a moment and pulled out an automatic pistol and holster. She strapped it to her right foreleg for easiest accessibility.
“There,” she said to herself. “No more zombies catching me without a gun from now on.”
She looked up. From here, the shapes of her five companions could be seen. They were almost to the bottom. “It’s gonna’ be fun explaining this one,” she muttered, examining her ruined coat. Willow set off to meet the others at the bottom.
Moon looked over the edge of the narrow path as they descended the cliff face. It wasn’t that far down. But weaving a horizontal path back and forth all the way down took a while.
“Are you sure Willow’s alright?” Moon asked Dusty. “I don’t see her anywhere.”
“She was fine when ah left her,” the pegasus replied. He chuckled. “That is one tough mare. Falls off a cliff, gets up, downs a healin’ potion an’ trots away like she only just tripped.”
Brick kept throwing worried glances over the edge of the cliff. Moon assumed he was looking for Willow. From the point of Willow’s fall on, Moon had been carefully watching her step. She didn’t hold the same endurance as the white mare and might not cope as well with a couple hundred foot drop.
Moon spared a glance at Sunny. She was worried she had been much too persistent.
Sunny was a strange one. Before the infection, stallions had been all over her. She hadn’t wanted a single thing to do with any of them though. Somehow, she always managed to attract the wrong crowd. So now, she finally meets somepony she really likes. Then a zombie infestation breaks out and they both manage to end up in the same place. Good right? Turns out that particular stallion doesn’t want a single thing to do with her. She almost couldn’t even call him a stallion. He was still so young and innocent it was unbearable.
Moon silently cursed her trifles. Right now, this was the last thing she needed to be thinking about. Not getting eaten by zombie ponies was a little higher on the to do list.
“I am so tired of climbing things,” Sunny said aloud. “Those flatlands are looking really nice right about now.”
“I would like to get out of the desert,” Snowglobe added. “We aren’t even in the heat of summer yet. It’s just going to keep getting hotter from here.
Moon jumped down a small ledge. From here, the narrow trail doubled back, still leading down. They continued along the new route for a while.
“Hey everypony!” a distant voice called.
Moon stopped. So did Snowglobe, Sunny, and Brick. Dusty remained hovering above.
Snowglobe peered over the edge. “Willow, is that you!?”
Moon looked over the edge as well. About a hundred feet down, a pony stood looking up at them.
“No!” the mare called. “It’s the mailmare with your monthly subscription of ‘Stop asking stupid questions or Willow’s gonna’ come up there and buck the snot out of you!'”
“It’s Willow,” Sunny said matter-of-factly.
“How are you doing down there!?” Moon asked.
“Pretty good!” the mare replied. “You totally missed the party! I don’t recommend taking the express elevator thought. It’s a bit bumpy!”
“We’ll be down in a minute!” Snowglobe yelled in response.
“Feel free to jump! I’ll catch you!” Moon couldn’t see the white mare’s face. But she could guess Willow was smiling.
Snowglobe nickered. “I think I’ll pass on that one!”
They continued on along the ridge. Willow trotted below them. Sunny threw a glance down at her as they walked. “I swear,” he said quietly. “She’s the only one keeping us all from going completely insane.”
Moon frowned. “Why’s that?”
Sunny searched for a good explanation. “Because,” he finally answered. “She’s just so cheerful. But it’s not that kind of silly really annoying cheerfulness. It’s like she’s mean, but she’s nice. If that makes sense.” He paused. “Her sarcasm makes things funny.”
Moon nodded. “Yeah, I can see how that makes sense.”
Dusty hovered low overhead. “Yeah, she’s like that old curmudgeon down the street with the box of candy.”
Moon rolled her eyes at him. “Dusty, that didn’t make any sense.”
The pegasus shrugged and returned to circling above.
The group finally reached a spot where they could hop down the last few stones. Willow trotted up to meet them at the bottom.
Snowglobe let out a little squeal of terror. “What happened?” she gasped.
Moon balked at Willow. The used-to-be-white mare’s face was stained blood-red, along with her underbelly. Her whole front and forelegs were stained as well. A fresh pink scar ran along her ear.
Willow shrugged. “Got in a fight.”
“With what?” Dusty asked dumbstruck. “Were you tryin’ to drink a bucket of paint?”
She rolled her eyes. “No, a zombie tried to eat me.”
Moon pointed a hoof at the red-stained mare. “That still doesn’t explain the blood.”
“I ate it back,” she replied simply. She wiped a forehoof across her cheek, but only succeeded in smearing the blood further across her face.
Snowglobe approached Willow and looked the mare over sternly. “No word games,” she said insistently. “Just tell us what happened.”
Willow groaned. “Fine mom.” Snowglobe reached out a hoof but Willow batted it away. “Don’t touch me,” she warned. “The blood is contagious.” Snowglobe took a quick step back. Willow began her explanation. “A zombie jumped on me and pinned me on my back. It wouldn’t let me up so I bit its throat out.”
Moon would have taken the mare’s words as a joke had her face not been so serious. “You bit a zombie’s throat out?” Moon asked disbelievingly.
Willow nodded proudly. “Yep, snapped its neck with my teeth.”
Snowglobe gagged and hung her head hurriedly. Sunny cringed. “Okay Willow, that’s enough,” he said, sounding rather sick.
“What?” she asked defensively. “You were the ones who asked.”
Snowglobe shook her head slowly. “Willow, you’re crazy.”
Willow smiled. “Snowglobe, I swear if I wasn’t covered in blood right now that would turn you into a zombie, I would jump on you.”
Snowglobe rubbed her chin. “Now I’m kinna’ glad you’re covered in blood.”
They set off, walking towards the distant shape of Appleoosa.
“Tell you what,” Willow said to Snowglobe. “You find me a pair of sunglasses and I’ll make sure not to break anything when I jump on you.”
“Sounds fair,” the mare replied skeptically.
Willow looked over at Dusty. “I’m hungry,” she declared. “Got anything to eat?”
Dusty nodded. “Sure,” he reached back and dug through one of his bags for a moment. He emerged with a can of cooked carrots. He held it out to Willow, who took it thankfully.
“Wait? You’re actually hungry?” Moon asked. “Even after eating a zombie pony?”
Willow shot her a look. “I didn’t eat it. I just killed it with my teeth.” She turned to Dusty. “Can opener?”
The pegasus shook his head.
“Really,” Willow drawled. “You’re carrying a whole thrift store on your back… and you don’t have a can opener in there?”
Dusty opened his mouth the reply but she waved a hoof at him. “Never mind.” Willow levitated the can up to her mouth and bit into it. “One shecind,” she slurred. She set the can down on the ground and clasped it in her front hooves. She then took the can in her jaws and bit down. The top half of the can crunched. Willow pulled and the upper half came free. She spat it on the ground and levitated the now open can by her side.
“There,” she said happily, starting forward again.
Initially, Moon would have been surprised by the display. But Willow did so many crazy things now that tearing open a metal can with her teeth seemed fairly normal.
“A little hungry there?” Dusty prodded.
Willow smiled menacingly at him. “I can eat you if you’d like.” The mare spoke jokingly, the tone of her voice resurging them that she would never dream of it. But Moon couldn’t help a small shudder at the sight of the mare covered head to hoof in blood. Willow levitated a carrot to her mouth and munched it happily.
“So your magic works again?” Moon asked.
“A little,” Willow replied around a carrot. She swallowed. “I can levitate light things, but nothing heavy yet.” She finished off the can and tossed it aside. The crimson glow of her horn faded away.
Moon frowned. “Is that normal?”
Willow turned to look at her. “Is what normal?”
“Well, most ponies’ magic matches the color of their eyes. Your magic is the same color as your mane.”
Willow squinted. “What? No it’s not. My magic’s white. See” She levitated a small stone from the ground and brought it up to her face. Her eyes widened at the sight of the crimson glow and she absently dropped the stone. “Well, that’s new.”
Moon felt sorry for the mare. Willow wore a look of sad confusion. “Did it mutate with the virus?”
Willow shrugged. “Don’t know, but apparently my magic’s red now.”
Moon could tell that Willow was greatly unnerved. Her face was contorted awkwardly as if she were trying not to cry.
Sunny motioned ahead. “We’re almost there.”
Willow looked down at her coat. “I really need to wash,” she said flatly.
“What, you’re concerned about looks right now?” he teased.
Moon drove her knee into his side. “Not now,” she hissed.
Dusty shot her a resilient look, but nodded.
Willow continued. “I used to work at a hospital.” Every line was spoken in monotone. “Trust me; I know how hard it is to get blood out of your mane, or your coat.
“Willow,” Sunny said idly. “Sometimes, I just don’t get you.”
She shot him a halfhearted smile. “Good, you shouldn’t.”
The silhouette of Appleoosa loomed ahead. “Not too far now,” Sunny said cheerfully.
Their hopes were steadily growing. Appleoosa did in fact look inhabited. Smoke rose from the center of town and a barrier appeared to have been constructed around the small settlement. From their angle, train tracks could be seen running into town from the left, and out at the other end.
“I think we might be in luck,” Snowglobe said, peering at the constructed barrier.
Most of the area around the town were flatlands, dry and cracked form the continual heat and lack of water. Grass had once grown in this area, but without the springtime rain, it had all died off. A large apple orchard sat off to one side. A barrier had also been constructed around that, although not nearly as large as the one around the town.
Sunny idly kicked a small stone, sending it skittering across the cracked earth. The ground shook. Sunny froze. He looked at the stone curiously. Cautiously, he stepped forward and kicked the stone again. The ground beneath him shook.
Moon stopped to look at him curiously. “Are you doing that?” she looked at the rock, her expression unreadable.
“I-I’m not sure,” Sunny replied, dumbstruck.
“Sunny,” Dusty said quietly. “Stop lookin’ at the pebble, and look to the right.”
Sunny looked up and gasped; the others portrayed their surprise in multiple different articulations.
Four, very large shapes were rapidly closing in on them. A cloud of dust trailed in their wake.
“W-what’s that?” Sunny asked fearfully.
Dusty squinted at the monstrous shapes. “Ah’m pretty sure those are buffalo.”
Willow observed nervously. “You know,” she commented idly. “I really don’t like the way they’re running at us.” She chuckled but trailed off to a worried groan.
Sunny heard the metallic click of Brick readying his machine gun.
Snowglobe folded her ears. “Were shooting them, aren’t we?”
Dusty nodded solemnly. “Yep.”
Moon undid the strap holding the shotgun to her side and readied it beside her, the weapon encased in her magical blue haze.
Sunny took the bit of his battle saddle and flicked the safety. He silently pleaded for the massive animals to feign off. But, like anything he silently pleaded for, it didn’t really happen.
Now that the buffalo were in view, Sunny could make out their features. The lead buffalo’s thick brown coat was matted and black in whole splotches with what Sunny could only assume was dried blood. Its mouth hung open and drool swung like strands of rope as it gaped at them. The monster’s tombstone-like teeth could be seen through its drawn lips. Large, bloodshot eyes gleamed hungrily at the group. The other three shared the same appearance.
“Oh for Celestia’s sake!” Dusty bellowed over their pounding hooves. “The damned things are zombies!”
Sunny was the first to fire. The sight of the monsters closing in on him was terrifying. His rifle discharged and the round struck the beast square in the front. To his dismay, the buffalo wasn’t even phased. He fired again, still to no effect.
Dusty opened fire with Valediction. Moon lowered her shotgun and instead pulled out a pistol. Sunny fought the urge to hold his ears as Brick opened up with his machine gun.
The sheer amount of overwhelming gunfire took its toll the beast. It staggered and tumbled to the dirt.
Sunny would have cheered, had there not been three more. He turned to see Willow let loose with an automatic pistol, one of her better presents from the gun store. Her grip held firm and almost every bullet struck its mark. The left buffalo fell back and shook its head, having taken a generous amount of lead to the skull.
Brick strafed the other two with heavy machine gun fire. Willow nudged Sunny forcibly. “Run,” she insisted. “Run for the town.”
“Come on!” Sunny yelled, drawing everypony’s attention. Dusty shot him a quick look and nodded. He unfurled his wings and flew up to a safe distance. The pegasus fired down on the buffalo from above.
Sunny turned and ran for the wooden barrier of Appleoosa. Willow ran to his left and Moon right behind. Brick released his barrage of gunfire and turned to follow. Snowglobe ran beside him. The gray mare was attempting to check the load on the stallion’s chaingun as they ran.
“I didn’t even know buffalo could get infected,” Willow breathed heavily.
Sunny looked back at the behemoths trailing them. “Apparently they can.”
Sunny was beginning to pant. The fortified walls of Appleoosa suddenly looked a lot further away.
“They’re gaining!” Moon yelled worriedly.
Sunny looked over at Willow. Her face portrayed both anger and fear. Suddenly, her eyes lit up. The white mare reached back and dug in one of her saddlebags. A moment later, she emerged with a round piece of metal about the size of an apple.
“What’s that?” Sunny asked her.
Willow levitated the thing in front of her and pulled a small metal pin on the side. “Thing that goes boom,” she answered. She tossed it on the ground behind them. “The box said grenades,” she clarified.
“What do those do?” Before Willow could reply his question was answered. The grenade detonated directly below the left buffalo. The mangled creature tumbled to the ground in a mist of blood and fur. The radius of the blast also managed to reach the beast in the middle and its right legs were shredded. It crashed as well.
That only left one.
Dusty flew down to match Willow’s pace. “Nice job!” he jeered.
They were close enough to the town now for Sunny to see shapes moving atop the barrier. Another ten seconds and they’d be there. A surge of excitement shot through him at the sight. There were ponies there.
The buffalo trailing them howled angrily. There was a problem. Snowglobe was falling back and the buffalo had its eyes fixed on her.
Willow looked back and her eyes widened worriedly. The white mare planted her forehooves and skidded to a stop.
Sunny continued running, fear compelling to keep going. He looked back. “Willow!” he called. “What are you doing?”
She ignored him. Instead, she fell in place beside Brick, her smaller legs moving rapidly to match his long gait. “Keep running,” she instructed. The brown stallion nodded, looking determinedly ahead. Willow spared a glance at Snowglobe. The gray mare stumbled and nearly fell. She obviously didn’t have much of endurance for running.
Willow motioned for Brick to fall back and the two of them let Snowglobe overtake them. The beast was near feet from them. Its mouth salivated in eager expectation.
Sunny looked on in horror. He wanted to help but his legs continued to carry him forward.
Willow and Brick exchanged a glance. Then the white mare did something nopony had been expecting. She sprung into the air and landed on Brick’s back.
Moon balked. “What’s she doing?” she asked Sunny in awe.
Willow balanced precariously on the stallion’s back. She planted her feet against the machine gun and sprung from Brick’s back to the buffalo.
“She’s insane!” Sunny exclaimed.
“Leave her alone!” Willow bellowed angrily from the back of the beast. She brought her hooves down on the monster’s back.
It growled and tried to buck her off but Willow entangled her hooves in its thick fur and held strong.
Sunny was forced to stop when they reached the barrier of Appleoosa. A large wooden gate loomed ahead of them.
Moon, Snowglobe, and Brick stopped by his side and turned to watch Willow. Dusty hovered nearby, looking worried.
Willow undid the strap for her saddlebags and they were hurled from her back to land on the ground a few feet away from the entrance. The mare was now only wearing her hospital barding. The monster bucked again and Willow flopped down onto its head, still clinging to its matted fur.
Sunny wanted to help. But he couldn’t shoot for fear of hitting Willow.
“Do something!” Snowglobe said frantically.
Sunny took the bit in his mouth and aimed the rifle. Willow jumped in and out of his line of fire. There was no way he could make a shot.
The beast reared up and Willow was thrown up into the air. She reached the peak of her ascent and fell back towards the monsters open maw. Willow yelled profanities as she fell. The beast caught the white mare in its jaws and shook her like a dog would a chew toy.
“Shoot it!” Willow bellowed as the creature shook her. “Celestia damn it shoot the damn thing!”
Sunny had to try. He took careful aim and fired. Somehow, his aim held true. He was rewarded with a meaty thwack.
The buffalo opened its mouth in a painful bellow. Willow fell from its mouth and flopped down on the ground. She picked herself up and ran towards them. The buffalo stumbled, momentarily losing interest in the six ponies in front of it.
Sunny gasped as Willow came into view. The mare was covered with even more blood than before. Drool and mucus layered her coat and barding. The buffalo’s teeth had done numbers on her. Several large gashes ran the length of her body and her belly had distended on one side.
“Are you okay?” Sunny asked.
“No!” she replied. “Duck!” the mare ran directly at him and tackled him to the ground. The others obeyed her words and got down.
Sunny shrugged Willow off. “Shouldn’t we be running?”
Willow shook her head, face contorted in pain. “No.”
Sunny looked back to the buffalo in time to see it disappear. There was a muffled poof and a blossom of fire appeared in the buffalo’s belly. Blood and fur filled the air as the creature popped like a water balloon. There was a loud cheer from the barrier above.
“Thanks Willow,” Sunny said sarcastically. “You got blood all over me.”
The mare groaned. She spit out six grenade pins, her saliva mixed with blood. “Brick,” she choked. “Get me a healing potion.”
Brick nodded and headed over to her discarded barding.
“That was one heck of a show!” a female voice called from the Appleoosa barrier. “You ponies sent that Barreler straight to the moon!”
“You could say that,” Willow muttered, looking blankly at the grenade pins. She reached back and prodded the side of her belly. She gasped and hurriedly pulled her hoof away from the distended section. “Broken ribs,” she breathed. “Horseapples I’m torn up.”
Brick returned with a healing potion and presented it to Willow. The mare downed the purple potion and exhaled deeply. “A potion isn’t going to fix this,” she said worriedly.
“You all okay?” the female voice called.
Sunny looked up to spot the owner of the voice. A turquoise earth pony mare looked down at them. She sported a red headband and was fashioned with a long, dark brown mane and tail. She wore the red cloth around her head, but under her mane so that it was barely visible. It split her mane in the back, half of it running over, half of it running under.
“Sorry to hear about your friend,” she said idly.
Dusty cocked his head at her. “What do ya’ mean?”
The turquoise mare pointed a hoof at Willow, who was now sprawled on her side. “That mare got mangled. She’s gonna’ turn pretty soon.”
“Oh, no,” Sunny clarified. “She’s immune.”
The pony squinted down at them. “Say what now?”
Sunny returned her gaze. “Me and her are immune. I’ve been bitten once and Willow has too. But that was over a month ago.”
The turquoise mare held a puzzled expression, suggesting she didn’t believe a word he said. “I’ve never heard of a pony being immune.” She brought forth a rifle. “I’m having trouble believing you. The last ponies we let in here who said they were immune turned. That little mishap cost us five good ponies.”
Snowglobe stepped forward. “What kind of rifle is that?” she asked the turquoise mare.
Two other ponies came into view, flanking the mare they had been speaking with. She whispered something to them and they disappeared from sight. “Just a varmint rifle,” the mare replied. “Why do you need to know?”
Snowglobe flicked her tail. “Oh, well that can’t work too well for buffalo.”
Sunny looked down at Willow worriedly. The gashes on her flank had begun to stich themselves together. But the mare didn’t look in any better shape. Brick sat next to her. The stallion watched as Willow took a painful breath.
The turquoise mare glared down at Snowglobe. “What are you getting at?”
Snowglobe dropped the act. “Look,” she stated. “I take it you’re the leader of this settlement; and if all you have is a varmint rifle then everypony else is probably just as ragtag as you are for weapons. You need protection. You need guns. If you haven’t noticed, we have a lot of guns.” She looked triumphantly up at the mare. “Not to mention a Mare-60 Equestrian chaingun.”
Sunny watched as the mare on the barrier fought a silent battle with herself. Finally, she turned back. “Open the gate!” she yelled. “But keep your weapons trained. I still don’t trust them!”
The heavy wooden gate swung open. If a pony was careful, you could fit a wagon through the opening.
Brick nudged Willow to her hooves. The mare wobbled, but managed to stand. Surprisingly, she picked up her barding and re-slung it on her back. They entered the town and the door to the barrier was immediately closed behind them.
The town wasn’t very big. A dirt road ran down the middle and two story buildings stretched along its length on both sides. Wagons sat outside some shops, but didn’t appear to be in use. The road stretched on ahead before meeting another in a T. A large red clock tower sprouted from the ground midway through the town. Train tracks ran down the center of the town’s side road. About midway in the road, a pile of what appeared to be bodies burned. Putrid brown smoke rose into the air from the charring pile.
Ten ponies flanked their group, five on either side, firearms at the ready. The turquoise mare descended a staircase from the wooden barrier and trotted up to meet them. She addressed them in a formal tone. “Okay, I want all your weapons on the ground.”
Sunny looked around skeptically at their assortment of armaments. “Uh—” he started awkwardly. Willow cut him off.
The injured mare leveled her gaze with that of the turquoise earth pony. Willow’s expression was filled with such condescending criticism that Sunny was surprised fire wasn’t shooting from her eyes. “Do you really…” She paused for effect. “Want me to take my guns off?” She coughed and spat a blood clot into the dirt.
The instructing mare looked over Willow, then to the rest of the group. Her jaw lowered a small bit. “Never mind,” she stated. The mare didn’t look too comfortable with the six armed ponies in front of her.
“Don’t worry,” Willow reassured on a cheerier note. Her voice still rasped and every breath made her wince. “There are zombies everywhere. Do you really think we’d start shooting the first ponies we’ve seen for weeks?”
The turquoise mare shook her head. “You’d be surprised.” She rapidly changed topics. “I’m Sage by the way,” she said in a more friendly tone. “And I’m in charge of this settlement, more or less.” She looked over Willow. “I’d shake your hoof but…”
“I understand,” Willow added helpfully.
“Nice to meet ya’ Sage,” Dusty said cheerfully. Sage shot him a nod and smile. Sunny could swear he saw the pegasus blush.
“I don’t mean to be hostile,” Sage said slowly. “But about this mare.” She motioned towards Willow, who was now sitting down.
“Willow,” the white mare filled in for herself.
Sage nodded again. “Right, about Willow. I just saw her climb out of one of those thing’s mouth.”
“Is it the blood?” Willow asked semi-seriously. “Because it’s not all mine. My coat’s normally white.”
Sage ignored her statement. “I don’t believe any of this immune nonsense. I’ve seen enough ponies get bit to know they’re as good as dead in a day or two, sometimes hours.”
Sunny heard the slide of a rifle bolt. He looked around frantically, taking stance to put himself between Willow and the armed ponies.
Sage held up a hoof. “Hold your weapons,” she said, a hint of annoyance in her voice.
Moon stepped forward. “Look, we told you she’s immune.”
Sage stood her ground. “I’m not taking any chances.”
“Stop,” Willow interjected. Exasperation layered her voice. “For the love of Celestia, lock me in a cage if you have to. Please, just let me wash all the blood off me; and let me rest.” She motioned towards her left flank, which was awkwardly shaped. A section near the lower part of her belly bulged sickeningly. “I’m guessing I broke four ribs. Not to mention I severely injured something internal because I’m bloated like a dead animal.”
Sage thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “I have too much of a heart to shoot you, so we’ll make a compromise.” She addressed a brown earth pony. “Take her to wash up. But keep an eye on her. If I’m not there by the time she’s done then take her to the jailhouse.” She turned back to Willow. “And please, take off the guns before we put you in the cell.”
Willow faked a thoughtful expression. “I’ll think about it.”
After the earth pony led Willow away, Sage turned to the remaining five group members. “Is she always that intimidating?” the turquoise mare asked.
Sunny nodded. “Most of the time.” He noticed Sage kept throwing quick, nervous glances at Brick, who continued to stare her down.
Sage looked them all over one more time. She let out a masked chuckle before turning towards the rest of the town. The mare started forward and motioned for them to follow her.
“You all don’t mind staying in the same house do you?” she asked as they walked down the main road.
They all stated their indifference.
Sage reached an old wooden building near the T in the road and held it open for them. The five of them shuffled in. Sage followed them in and closed the door behind her.
Sunny looked around the room. It was actually quite nice. The floor was made of brown wooden planks, the same with the ceiling and walls. The only exception was that the walls were painted a sandy yellow. In the very center of the room was a large couch. A quilt covered most of the floor. From here, Sunny could see two doorways to different parts of the house and a staircase leading to the upper levels.
Sage cleared her throat loudly. “Before you settle in,” she said cautiously. “I’m going to have to ask all of you to strip off your barding. I need to check you all for bites.”
They all complied. Dusty hesitated for a moment but eventually began to undo his straps as well. They piled their assorted gear in the middle of the floor. Sunny slipped out of his saddle and rifle and added it to the pile, which was becoming surprisingly large.
Sage checked Brick first. The stallion looked out of place without the machine gun or metal cases on his flanks. The turquoise mare delicately circled Brick’s large frame, checking every inch of his body.
She approved of Brick and moved onto Snowglobe, then Moon. Sage moved for Dusty next and the pegasus shuffled his hooves awkwardly. Now he was definitely going red. Sage circled around to his back and lifted his sandy brown tail away to view his back legs. Dusty looked around awkwardly, trying not to make eye contact with any of them. Sage moved around to his other side and peeked under his belly.
The mare jumped and rather quickly finished the inspection. “No bites,” she declared. She threw a glance as Dusty and both of them flushed. “Moving on,” she stated awkwardly. She gave her head a quick shake and moved on to check Sunny.
He couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as the mare examined his every inch. Sage stopped and peered closer at his left foreleg. “What’s this?” she asked.
Sunny looked at the spot she had mentioned. It was his old bite wound. The flesh was bubbled slightly and held a lighter hue than the surrounding skin. The orange hair had since grown back around the bite, but not as thick as the rest of the hair on his lower leg.
There was no excuse to be thought of so he told the truth. “It’s an old bite wound,” he told her.
Sage shot him a look. “Old?”
“I got it about a month and a half ago, back when the initial infection broke out.” Sage balked at him. “I told you, I’m immune.”
The turquoise mare was dumbstruck. “I’ve never seen a pony live long enough for a bite wound to heal before.”
Sunny rolled his eyes, feeling annoyance for what felt like the first time in months. “Because you haven’t met me. I haven’t met any other immune pony either. Except for Willow, but she gained her immunity medically.” He looked around for their good-humored companion before he remembered that she was somewhere locked in a jail cell.
Sage’s eyes lit up like a foal’s on Hearth’s Warming Eve. “You found a cure?”
Sunny motioned for Moon to take over. He didn’t know too much about this medical stuff. That was Moon and Willow’s thing.
“Not exactly a cure,” Moon clarified. “It’s an experimental antibiotic, incredibly dangerous. Willow almost killed herself the second time she took it. Also—”
Sunny shook his head vigorously. Moon had almost told Sage about how Willow had bonded with the virus. In their current situation, that probably wouldn’t have been the best course of action.
“She also what?” sage insisted.
“She also… lost her hair color for a few weeks,” Moon improvised quickly.
“When was this mare bit?” Sage asked.
Sunny wished the mare would leave them be. She was getting rather prying. “Same day as me,” he answered.
“Look,” Snowglobe interjected. “Are we like, playing twenty questions or something?”
Sage didn’t reply. She just backed up, surveying the five ponies with barely suppressed awe. “You’re a rather peculiar group,” she finally stated.
Now it was Sunny’s turn to be curious. “Why’s that?”
Sage rolled her eyes. “Well for one, two of you are pegasi.”
Dusty, who had decided to stop being red, cocked his head. “Is that anything special?”
The townspony nodded. “Most of the pegasus ponies have either turned or been killed. For some reason they’re a whole lot more susceptible to this virus thing than unicorns and earth ponies.
Dusty looked genuinely surprised. “Well that’s a bit of a shock,” he muttered.
Sunny looked around. A thought struck him. This was the first time he had seen Dusty and Snowglobe without their barding. This was also the first chance he had to glimpse his two friends’ cutie marks. Dusty’s cutie mark was a steam piston. Snowglobe’s mark was an adjustable wrench crossed with a blue bolt of electricity.
The door behind them opened and a pink unicorn mare poked her head in. “Sage,” she said urgently. The turquoise mare turned her attention to the new arrival. “There’s three fliers coming pretty close to the town. We’re all getting a little worried.”
Sage nodded. “Keep an eye on them. I’ll be there in a minute.” She turned to address the group in the house. “Hope you settle in nicely. I’m gonna’ go deal with whatever it is outside then go see your friend Willow. And I urge you to stay inside for now. It’s the smartest thing to do for the time being. Some of the ponies aren’t too friendly.”
She turned to leave. “Thanks,” Sunny called after her.
“Don’t mention it,” she shot back. The door closed and the mare was gone.
The room fell into an awkward silence. Dusty stared at the spot where Sage had disappeared. “Pegasus ponies die better than other ponies,” he muttered.
“Come on,” Snowglobe said cheerfully. “We made it! Let’s go get set up.”
Moon drug her barding out of the pile. “I call the top floor with Sunny.” She shot him a peculiar look.
Sunny looked awkwardly around the room. Dusty caught his eye. The pegasus smiled and nodded encouragingly.
“What? No!” Sunny protested. Dusty snickered.
Moon stalked up to Sunny and nudged him. “Let’s go get washed up. We’re both covered with blood and dirt.”
“Do these houses even have running water?” Sunny asked.
Dusty answered. “Yeah, ah visited here once. All the houses have runnin’ water. There’s a water tower somewhere around here. No hot water though."
“Come on,” she insisted. “You can help wash the spots I can’t reach.”
Sunny flushed. Dusty just snickered. Moon was making a scene in front of the whole group just to embarrass him. Thank Celestia Willow wasn’t here or he wouldn’t ever hear the end of it.
Sunny couldn’t bear it any longer. He gave. “Fine,” he groaned. “But only your back.”
He went away to wash up with a very triumphant looking Moon.
Willow scrubbed vigorously at her forelegs, trying to wash out the crimson stains.
The stallion had taken her to a bathhouse. Apparently, the houses didn’t have individual washrooms. Right now, she was the only one here.
She had asked Sage about the whole water issue. Turns out, the town had a natural well underneath it the size of Canterlot, according to her sources. ‘Why do you think the apple orchard’s still here?’ had been her reply.
Willow looked down at the section of her distended belly and prodded it gingerly. The swelling had since subsided after she had taken the potion. Little did the others know, she had been purposefully lying on her injured side to hold her ribs aligned while the potion did its work. The last thing she needed right now was for her ribs to heal up all crooked.
She never wanted to see another buffalo again. Those things had nasty teeth.
Her attention was grabbed by a pony loudly clearing their throat. Willow turned to see Sage observing her. “Oh good, you’re here,” Willow said cheerfully. “You can help me scrub my back.”
Sage contorted her face and reared her head back. “No thanks,” she said repulsively.
Willow shrugged and went back to scrubbing. “Suit yourself.”
“So I was speaking with your friends,” Sage started. “I noticed the orange one, Sunny I think his name was. Either way, he stated that both of you were immune. When I checked him, I found an old bite mark on his leg. He said he was bitten the same day as you. So I figured if you were telling the truth…”
“I’d have an old one too,” Willow finished.
Sage nodded. “May I check?”
“Sure.” Willow returned the brush she had been using to the bucket of red water. “It’s on my back, right behind the neck joint.”
A little cautiously, sage approached Willow. With tentative hooves, she parted the hair on the white mare’s back to reveal the wound. Teeth marks still remained, although dull and faded, it was definitely a bite.
Sage stepped back. “Well tie me to a rock and tell me to swim, you two really are immune.”
Willow nodded and went back to bathing. “Yep.” She wasn’t really in the mood for talking right now.
“I have one more question,” Sage insisted. “I saw you gulp a healing potion. Don’t those normally remove scars too?”
Willow nodded again. “Normally. The virus has effects that counteract any form of magic. Next time if you’re gonna’ let ponies in. If one of 'em’s a unicorn that can’t conjure any magic, they’re infected.”
Sage raised her eyebrows. “That’s useful to know.” She stood silently for a minute, creating an awkward silence while Willow continued her attempts at cleansing her coat. “So… about that jail cell thing,” Sage said idly. “You can forget about that. You’re fine to go with your friends.”
Willow turned and fixed her gaze on the turquoise mare. “Thanks,” she replied. Willow held the gaze a moment longer before returning to her fruitless task.
Sage turned to leave.
Sage walked the road through the center of town. Ponies greeted her cheerfully as she passed. She only returned the gestures halfheartedly.
She couldn’t get over that white mare. Something about her made Sage’s coat crawl. Something wasn’t right about Willow.
She suppressed a shudder. When sage had met Willow’s gaze, she had nearly been petrified. Sage had never seen eyes like that before.
Willow’s eyes were blood orange. Sage thought of a way to describe blood orange to herself. The color was like a mix of yellow and crimson. Like blood mixed into a bucket of yellow paint, but only stirred halfway so that wisps of crimson and yellow stood out from the patchy orange-ish mixture.
It was like her eyes had been yellow; but blood ran through them on the surface. Eyes were not supposed to look like that.
Sage reached the end of the street and climbed a staircase to the top of the barrier.
She heaved a long sigh and looked out over the barren desert landscape. The sun hung low in the sky, casting a lengthily shadow from even the smallest bushes.
“How’s it going Sage?” a female voice asked.
Sage turned to see the owner of the voice, a deep blue pegasus mare with a mane and tail so dark red that it could be almost portrayed as black.
“Hey Jade,” she replied with a heavy breath. “It’s going fine.”
Jade raised an eyebrow at her. “Doesn’t sound like it. What’s wrong?”
Sage heaved another sigh. Jade was the only pony she could really talk to. “I’m just worried about how this is all going to go. How did I end up being the leader of these ponies?” She hung her head. “Honestly, I used to be a caterer back in Canterlot. I’m not cut out for this.”
Jade unfurled a wing and hung it over Sage’s back, pulling the turquoise mare into a close embrace. “Look, Sage,” she started, her voice reflecting compassion. “I haven’t known you very long. But you sure as hay don’t remind me of some wedding planner or waiter. You took control when things were bad. When Braeburn and Silverstar left with their group of followers, you stepped up and took the roll of leader.”
Sage recalled the event. She had fled Canterlot in the heat of the whole mess and arrived at Appleoosa with the infection right on her tail. When she had approached the town, the townsponies had been in the act of constructing a wooden barrier. Back then, it had only been three or four feet tall. With her improvements, it was now up to six.
In the time of crisis, two ponies had stepped up and taken unofficial control of the town. Their names had been Braeburn and Sheriff Silverstar. They had run the town well. But two or so weeks later they caught wind of an REA outpost up north. They were all for it; but some of the townsponies had wanted to stay. ‘It’s safe here,’ was the argument. ‘Why would we leave?’
Sage herself had been one of the protesters. But the two leaders insisted, and so did about half the town. They were out ruled. So both the leaders and about half the town left with most of the weapons and supplies.
After that, the town had been left in complete shambles. That was when she had stepped up and took charge. With nopony else to turn to, the remaining townsfolk took her opinion without protest or thought and she quickly fell into the position of leader.
“I know,” Sage replied broodingly. “Sometimes… sometimes I just wish I hadn’t.”
Jade shot her a stern look and spoke determinedly. “These ponies need you. You’re the only thing holding them together. You can’t give up on them now.”
Sage smiled. “Thanks lieutenant,” she joked.
Jade rolled her eyes. “I told you not to call me that.”
Sage frowned. “Well why not? I already feed everything I do through you. You’re my best mare.”
Now it was Jade’s turn to smile. “Easy with the flattery there.” She trailed off awkwardly at Sage’s face and hurriedly changed topics. “So what do you think of our new arrivals?”
Sage shook her head slowly. “Odd.”
Jade tilted her head. “Odd? Is that it?”
Sage nodded. “Yeah, odd. For one, the white mare is crazy. The big brown one with the big gun won’t stop staring me down. And that blue pegasus stallion blushes every time he looks at me. Two of them say they’re immune to the virus and I actually believe them. The only normal ones are that blue unicorn and the gray one. But I think the gray one is swayed. She won’t stop looking at me like she wants me in bed. I don’t dare turn my backside to her.” She paused. “Yeah,” Sage murmured eventually. “One odd group.”
Jade seemed impartial. “All those guns they were carrying could prove useful.”
Sage murmured her agreement. She turned and shot Jade a small smile. “You can take your wing of my back now.”
Jade blushed and hurriedly lifter her wing from the turquoise mare’s back. “Sorry,” she murmured awkwardly, shuffling her hooves. “So that thing you’ve been worrying about,” she improvised, changing topics. “About the well eventually drying up with this drought. Then what?”
Sage heaved a sigh. “I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see."
<= As normal, A big thanks To Turtle for helping me work out a few flaws here and there
<= A gaint thanks to those forty or so of you that actually read this. I think I write this more for myself than for you ponies. :P
<= Oh and, I was curious as to what you all think so far. Name your favorite charecter in the comments please. Trust me, I really do want to know.
<= If it makes you feel any better, I have been neglecting Wrong Hospital to take the time to write this.