“Scootaloo!” a familiar voice called out, rousing a purple-haired girl. “Scootaloo, angel, it's time to wake up!”
The girl stirred among the blankets. Gently, she brushed a purple lock out of her face with her hand. “Alright mom!” she called back, still groggy. “I'll be down in a minute.” In a lower voice, she added, “I was having such an interesting dream.”
Scootaloo sat up in her bed, arching her back as she stretched. Pressing one heavily tanned fist against her mouth, she muffled a drawn out yawn. She couldn't remember what she had been up to with Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom yesterday, but her entire body ached. A clock on her bedside table ticked away, marking the passage of time.
Rising off the bed to her feet, she plodded over to her bedroom window. Scootaloo gazed out at the farm, taking in her home. Her father was out in the fields, tending to the ponies. One of the mares, Fluttershy, was due to give birth any day now. She watched as he knelt down to brush her mane. Through the open window, she could just make out an appreciative nicker from the mare.
A rumbling from her stomach brought her attention away from the touching scene of animal husbandry. Smiling inwardly, she moved away from the window. As she walked across the room to her door, she caught sight of herself in the full-body mirror that her mother insisted every girl should have. Her pale purple eyes glinted in the morning sun, contrasting with her orange pajamas, on the back of which her mother had jokingly sewn a pair of plush wings. She was deceptively scrawny, as was the norm in her family, which caused her clothes to hang off her, giving a tomboyish appearance. That suited her just fine, though.
Running out into the hallway, she leapt onto the balustrade lining the farmhouse stairs. Uttering a gleeful cry, she slid down the rail, much to the dismay of her frowning mother at the bottom of the stairs. With one final effort, she vaulted over the decorative sphere mounted at the end of the rail, and tucked and rolled to her feet beside her scowling mother.
“I swear, one of these days you're going to break your legs doing that. Where will you be then, hmm?” The indistinct woman chided her daughter. Giving a shake of her head, the woman wandered back into the kitchen. “Go wake your brother. After you've both eaten breakfast and gotten dressed, you're coming into town with me, alright angel?”
“But Mom!” she whined. “I wanted to stay and help Dad! The vet said Fluttershy's due any day now! I wanna be there help; being a vet might be my special talent!”
“But nothing, missy!” her mother retorted, pointing back up the stairs. “I need you and your brother to help carry things. I'm not as spry as I used to be!”
Scootaloo turned away with a huff, and pointedly stomped back up the stairs. Walking to the door opposite of her own bedroom, she wondered if her brother wasn't already awake with his face stuck in one of those hard-to-understand books he always seemed to be reading these days. They filled his head with all sorts of ideas that didn't make much sense to her; stuff about alternate realities, magic, god-like creatures, and other things that would upset the Church of Celestia if they were to find out.
Agitated at having to wake him again, she knocked on the door; to her surprise, the door creaked open slightly at her touch. Not hearing her brother respond, she pushed the door further open and peered in. Beside his bed sat a pile of thick books, stacked neatly in a tower. His nightstand was also covered in thick tomes; his glasses sat neatly upon the book pile. Clearly he'd been to Ms. Twilight's library again. He laid on his bed, unconscious and uncovered, except for a book hiding his face. Only a pair of pajama bottoms seemed to keep him safe from the cold.
Carefully, Scootaloo crept over to his bed, making an effort not to disturb a nearby stack of books that was nearly as tall as his mattress. A bit disappointed at the manner in which her brother fell asleep, she reached out and gently plucked the book off of his face. That was when she caught sight of something odd for a split second; she could have sworn she'd seen a horn of some sort protruding from her brother's forehead, but that was all just a dream, wasn't it?
Shaking her head, she marked his page in the book before placing the tome on his nightstand with the rest. Leaning in close to her big brother, she shouted excitedly, “Goldenrod! It's time to for breakfast.”
The boy rolled off the other side of the bed, startled. Peering over the edge of the bed and squinting, he gave her a glare. “I really wish you wouldn't do that.” he groaned. “Have some respect for a person's space!”
“Mom says we have to eat and get dressed.” she replied, blowing a raspberry from the safety of the opposite side of the bed. “We're going into town today!”
“Alright...” Goldenrod grumbled. “I suppose I can return some of these today then.” Then, as if surprised she was still there, he motioned to shoo her. “Well, go on squirt! Get out! I need to get changed.”
Without a second glance, Scootaloo walked out of his room, and back into hers. After shucking her pajamas into her laundry hamper, she rooted through her dresser drawers. Moments later, she settled on cut-off jeans and a sleeveless tee. Knowing her mother wouldn't be pleased if she didn't look presentable, she decided it would be best if she took the time to brush her hair, which was still frizzy and tangled from sleep.
Reaching out for her hairbrush, she nudged it uselessly with her hoof. She pulled back the offending limb in alarm. Staring at her hand in disbelief, the purple-haired girl wondered how she could have mistaken her hand for a hoof. Again, she reached for the brush, this time successfully closing her fingers around the handle.
She never had the opportunity to brush her hair, though. Just when she brought the brush up to her tangled hair, a loud crash shook the house. Without a second thought, she tossed the brush aside, and tore off through the door. When she reached the stairs, she simply leapt over the railing, letting her stubby little wings flutter frantically to slow her fall.
The clatter of her hooves on the wooden floor broke the dead silence that had filled the house. Inside the kitchen, she found two ponies crushed under the pile of debris that had once been a wall. The large crimson stallion had tried to shield the lime pegasus mare with his body, but a pipe had impaled the pair and pinned them firmly to the floor.
The pegasus mare stared at her wistfully through her violet, drywall dusted mane. “Scootaloo, sweetie, run!” the pony implored. “Go get help!”
Scootaloo glanced up at the earth pony, before turning away to wipe the tears from her eyes with a tiny hoof. His neck had been twisted at an unnatural angle, causing his reddish brown mane to hang oddly over his ears. He'd very clearly given his life to save the mare. Could Scootaloo possibly hope to get help in time for the surviving pegasus pony though?
A movement on the other side of the fallen wall broke her thoughts. The source of the movement was incredibly large, and incredibly black. The thing leaned down, peering through the hole, to reveal a huge horned head. It reached through the wall with a massive black hand, tearing more of the wall down in the process, and groped around. Finding the pipe and its pinned victims, the thing licked its lips and grinned. Plucking the impaled ponies off the floor, the monster pulled them back through the wall. It raised its prize to its face.
The pegasus mare called weakly to Scootaloo, “Don't look, baby! Run and -”
The massive horned beast brought the pony shish kebab to its broad mouth. Without a care, it popped the mare's head into its mouth. It closed its lips around her neck and snapped it's jaw shut; the crunch reverberated throughout Scootaloo's soul.
The tiny filly sank to her haunches and pressed her back up against the wall, tears streaming from her eyes. She sobbed uncontrollably as the beast ate the ponies in front of her. As it plucked the last of the pegasus mare off of the pipe, she screamed, “Momma!”
Warren stared at his hands; they were scrubbed raw and clean, yet in his mind they were still covered in blood. The cries of the minotaurs still resounded inside his head. There was the very real possibility that the minotaurs had been unwilling slaves which he simply couldn't ignore. His recklessness had claimed two lives, and he hadn't been able to sleep at all because of it.
After the ordeal the previous night, he'd hauled Scootaloo up to the farmhouse. Compared to what had happened, explaining everything to Big Macintosh was but a small chore, though, after finding out that the northern quadrant of the orchard was ablaze, he didn't much care for the story. He'd simply told Warren to get Scootaloo up to Apple Bloom's bedroom and to stay with her.
Come dawn, Big Macintosh was still out there, doing his best to help the weather patrol contain the blaze. In addition to the sounds of a makeshift firebreak being made, alarm bells could be heard ringing all the way from Ponyville since midnight. Rainbow Dash was out there too; her rainbow contrail could be seen zipping in and out of the firebreak with what looked like a fine mist of water following close behind. Warren had to give it to the Weather Patrol, they were no fire brigade, but their pony ingenuity was something special.
Warren glanced out the window as the last flame vanished from the orchard canopy. At that same instant, a piercing shriek jerked his attention away from the fire-control efforts. On the bed, Scootaloo was sitting bolt upright, her eyes wide with terror, screaming for all she was worth. Tears were streaming from the corners of her eyes.
In seconds he was on the bed with her, pulling her into a hug. “It's alright, Scootaloo. You're fine!” he whispered into her ear. Snaking his fingers through her mane, he patted her head comfortingly. “They can't hurt you any more.” He choked on his next words. “The minotaurs can't hurt anypony any more.”
The orange filly stopped screaming and Warren thanked his stars that Granny Smith was visiting relatives out in Appleloosa. She still seemed pretty dazed. Squirming out of his grasp, Scootaloo plunked herself back down on the bed, adopting her bravest face. Even then, she still had the air of a scared little girl about her. Everything but her outward attitude cried to him that she needed someone to be there for her.
She began to blush after catching his gaze, and quickly averted it again. “Um... Sorry about the screaming.” she mumbled, thoroughly embarrassed. “I was having a real good dream but then...” She wiped a foreleg across her eyes, and shook her head.
Gently, Warren put two fingers under her chin, and gently guided her gaze back to him. While putting on a brave smile of his own, he asked softly, “Do you wanna talk about it?” A big part of him demanded he tell her to stay put, and then go after Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, but the nurturing part in him overrode it with the need to make sure Scootaloo was safe in body and mind. “You know I'll listen.”
In response, the little pegasus let out an appreciative laugh before sidling up beside him. Placing her head against his ribs, Scootaloo eased herself under his armpit to allow him to put his arm around her. “I was dreaming about my family,” she spoke after some thought. There was a certain tone in her voice that sounded as though she was still a bit confused from her sudden transition from sleep to wakefulness. “We were all living in a farmhouse just like Apple Bloom's; Mom and Dad were there!” She let out an amused giggle; the feminine sort she'd never express in front of others, he thought. “You were there too, like a big brother! We were all people, just like you, living happily together!”
“I bet you looked cute.” Warren laughed, before tousling her mane.
“It was kind of weird. It all felt right, but then I started getting glimpses of things; your horn, and then my hooves...” She trailed off, struggling with her words. “There was a crash in the kitchen. I went running down to investigate and suddenly I was just an itty-bitty filly...” She choked back a sob. “I-I watched my parents get eaten by a giant horned beast with big hands!”
“Oh, Scootaloo!” He hugged her close to his side. “That was all just a dream because of the minotaurs.”
“No it wasn't,” she sobbed. “Not entirely...” She pulled away and moved to the foot of the bed. “Mom and Dad were really eaten by a giant monster when I was just a filly. It was a minotaur that had gone crazy from living in the Everfree... I froze up last night just like I did back then. I'm just a useless little filly who can't even fly or protect her friends!”
“Scootaloo!” he spoke in a firm, sobering voice. Sliding across the bed, he placed a hand on her back. “You aren’t supposed to be protecting your friends from monsters, not yet. The only thing you should be protecting yourselves from at your age is bullies! Leave monster fighting to the grown-ups and enjoy your childhood while you can. You can't blame yourself for what happened last night any more than you can for what happened to your parents!”
“If you want to blame anybody, blame me.” Warren sighed, and then retracted his hand from the filly's back. “I was supposed to be watching over you, and the fact of the matter is that I got you all into this mess. You don't want me as a brother!”
“That's not true.” It was Big Macintosh who spoke from the doorway. His fur and mane were streaked with soot and mud. “It's a mighty brave thing ya did, regardless of whether or not it was yer mess they got dragged into. Ya gave it yer best to take care of them like kin, and that's what bein' a big brother is about; bein' there for them! That's what yer doin' now!”
Gazing at Big Macintosh, Warren managed a laugh. “Mac',” he said knowingly. “You're a better man than I am.”
“Ah don't rightly know what ya mean by that,” Big Macintosh said after some thought. “... but Ah'll take it as a compliment.”
Rising up from the bed Warren looked back down to Scootaloo, who was looking up at him expectantly. “Scootaloo, I know that it's probably a trap, but I'm going after Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom.” he said softly. “They're in a lot of danger, and it's my responsibility to get them out of it, even if it is a trap. I need you to stay behind, with Big Macintosh here, and pass on a warning to the others: 'Morrigan may be controlling ponies. Keep your wits about you.' You think you can remember that?”
Scootaloo frowned and looked like she wanted to say something, but only nodded. “I don't want to lose you, Scootaloo.” he almost whispered. “That's why I need you to stay here.”
Warren strode out the door, past Big Macintosh, and made for the stairs. The sound of heavy hoof-falls behind him indicated that Big Macintosh was close on his heels. Warren turned to face the stallion and almost fell over when he bumped into him.
“There's somethin' else ya ought to know.” Big Mac said plainly. “Apple Bloom an' Sweetie Belle weren't the only ones abducted last night. Weather Patrol was talkin' about how if it weren't for the fire, they could be off searchin' for a bunch of fillies and colts gone missin'. Ah'm not a gamblin’ pony, but Ah reckon the two might be related.”
Warren stared at the crimson stallion for a moment, letting the words sink in. Damn right they're related... But why the other fillies and colts? “Thanks, Mac'.” he said, offering the stallion his hand. To his surprise, Big Macintosh obliged, and the two shook.
As he was about to turn and run, a poke from the stallion's hoof caught his attention. “One more thing,” the stallion said, biting his lower lip. “Bring Apple Bloom home safe, ya hear?”
“I will...” Warren nodded. Without a second glance back, he took off down the stairs and out the door. From there, he made off west for the Everfree.
Scootaloo watched from the bedroom window as an unmistakably royal carriage banked and came in for a landing in front of the farmhouse. The draft pegasi leading the carriage through its descent, she noted, were not the standard gilded Royal Guard, but instead were instead of same cadre that had accompanied Princess Luna to Ponyville on Nightmare Night. Even the carriage matched the dark theme; instead of whites and golds with a sun crest, it was charcoal gray and steel-blue with a crescent moon emblazoned on the front of it.
Watching anxiously, she stared through the window as Big Macintosh approached the carriage and waited patiently for the occupants to depart. Even Rainbow Dash had broken off from the clean-up efforts where the clubhouse once stood in the orchard. The first two out of the carriage were Applejack and Rarity. Scootaloo couldn't hear Big Macintosh's voice, but it was clear by Rarity's sorrowful and panicked reaction that he just broke the news. Applejack, in stark contrast to Rarity, simply tilted her stetson forward to cover her eyes, and gritted her teeth; at this distance the orange filly thought she could just make out tears streaming down the straw-maned pony's cheeks.
Pinkie and Fluttershy had come out in the middle of the whole ordeal, and were quick to comfort Rarity. The one pony Scootaloo hadn't seen yet was the one she needed to speak to the most. Goldenrod had given her a message to pass on to Twilight Sparkle, and she wanted to prove that she wasn't useless. She stared longingly at the carriage for what seemed like forever; even the others down below turned to stare at it.
When Twilight's face finally did appear in the carriage doorway, Scootaloo hurried out of Apple Bloom's bedroom. Running as fast as her tiny hooves could carry her, she bounced through a gap in the crowd and landed at the bottom of the carriage steps, causing Twilight to rear back in alarm.
“Scootaloo, what is the-” Twilight Sparkle began.
“Twilight! Twilight!” Scootaloo shouted. “It's important! Goldenrod said he wanted me to pass on message! He said -”
“Goldenrod?!” Twilight exclaimed, stepping down from the carriage. “Where is he? Why isn't he here?”
“Minotaurs came to take me, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle!” the pegasus filly exclaimed. “He stopped two of them, but they still managed to take Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom! He said -”
“Stopped?” Twilight shouted, panicked. “How?!”
“Minotaur shish kebab.” Rainbow Dash said pointedly. “It was pretty gruesome, even for me; the smell was terrible. We found them after the fire had gotten to them, so we don't know what tribe they were from. All we know is they came for every filly and colt in the village. The weather patrol could have tracked the rest of them down but they set the orchard on fire.”
Twilight began pacing back and forward, looking increasingly disheveled with each step. The look was frighteningly similar to one she'd worn the day she'd enchanted a doll in an attempt to find a friendship lesson, only it seemed far worse to Scootaloo; it was grim and sober. “No, no no... That is not good. If he keeps using magic, he'll-”
“Twilight Sparkle!” a regal shout carried from inside the the carriage. Scootaloo turned her head to face the door, and to her surprise Princess Luna herself had accompanied Twilight's party of five back to Ponyville. “Such things are not for the ears of foals.” The Princess motioned toward Scootaloo with one hoof. Turning to Scootaloo, Princess Luna said, “Trouble not your mind, little one; Goldenrod will be fine.”
Scootaloo didn't buy it. Twilight seemed genuinely anxious about something... but what? Then she recalled the message he wanted her to pass on. “Princess Luna, Twilight... Before Goldenrod went after Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle he told me to tell you something important!” She made sure she wasn't going to be interrupted before continuing. “He said 'Morrigan could be controlling ponies,' and to 'keep your wits about you.' I think he meant that because of the minotaurs, she could also have control over ponies too.”
“Thank you, Scootaloo.” Twilight said with a weary smile. “It was very good of you to pass on this message. What we have to discuss now... It isn't something for you to hear.”
Big Macintosh had come up behind Scootaloo, and placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Ah reckon ya ought to go back inside.” he said softly to the filly. “Let the big ponies talk.”
It wasn't fair. Goldenrod was her friend too. If something bad was going to happen to him if he kept using magic, she had a right to know; he was like a brother to her! Scootaloo walked slowly towards the farmhouse, watching the group through the corner of the eye. When everypony turned their attention away from the orange filly, she dove into a bush.
From there, she could hear everything everypony said. Princes Luna held out a jewel-encrusted box, and from it Twilight withdrew and distributed the Elements of Harmony. Then the unicorn mare began to speak, “Girls, we can't expect Goldenrod to solve all of this. Rather, if he does anything in an attempt to stop Morrigan, he'll die. The only thing keeping him alive is the very limited magical energy he expends each time he does something.”
The words stuck in Scootaloo's head. Goldenrod will die if he keeps using magic? But he was going after their friends, and she didn't doubt he'd use every bit to save them and the others. If he died, who would be there - really be there - for her? For the first time since her parents died, she didn’t feel alone when she was with him. She fought back the tears that were threatening to spill down her chubby filly cheeks.
He had to be warned, she realized solemnly. He was the closest thing she had to a brother she would ever have. Sure, he asked her to stay behind, but a good sister wouldn’t in good conscience let her brother go off to die because he doesn’t know he’s secretly killing himself, right? Scootaloo latched onto that thought. She needed something to believe in; she needed him to believe in, but to do that, she’d need to believe in herself.
“I'll show them all that I'm not some useless little filly who can't fly!” she muttered, taking off in the direction of the Everfree forest. “I'll show them all that I can rise above the rest!”
Have a blog post.