"Ah don't wanna die."
These simple words were all that Apple Bloom could say. She was trapped and she knew there was no escape. Her back to a huge tree and her eyes glued to the largest and most ferocious looking of the timber wolves surrounding her. She watched as they circled her, slowly getting closer with every pass in front of her. The largest of them crouched low and she closed her eyes. She didn't want to see it happen. Her day flashed before her eyes and she remembered how her day had gone from good to bad to worse.
Apple Bloom was walking along the path to Zecora's. It was starting to get late in the evening but she knew the path by heart and she wasn't worried about getting lost so long as she stayed close to the path. She made it to Zecora's hut without a hitch. The pair of them spent much of the trading stories of family and friends, and making a large variety of potions out of exotic plants that Zecora had gathered in the forest. They both lost track of time and it was well after dark when Apple Bloom decided to leave. Zecora offered to make a bed for Apple Bloom so she could stay the night but Apple Bloom declined.
"Ah know the path like the back of my hoof. Ah'll just hurry as fast as Ah can. Thanks again for letting me come over."
With a smile and a slight nod Zecora bid her farewell. "Hurry quickly little Apple Bloom, for dangerous things come out under the full moon."
Apple Bloom waved goodbye, adjusted her schoolbag, and trotted along the path. She covered the first third of the path like this but something off the path caught her eye. She stopped and move back along the path until she spotted it again. Something was glowing ruby red through the trees. She looked up the path back home then to the light.
"Well... Ah could just take a quick look."
She started moving through the trees getting closer to the light making sure to mark her way with a piece of chalk. She noticed that the light was getting very bright and thought that she was about to discover its source when she ran into a cluster of trees that grew so close together that she could only barely look through the crack between them. When she tried to see what could possibly be making the light all she could see was the light itself. She huffed and started to walk along the wall of trees looking for an opening or gap she could fit through. She came upon a gap after a few moments of walking. She squeezed herself through and was amazed by what she saw.
"Well Ah'll be. It’s a glowing tree."
Indeed it was a tree. Apple Bloom couldn't tell what type of tree it was but it looked just like a full grown tree only it stood barely taller than herself. The leaves moved on their own and with every movement they shimmered and glowed. She walked around the tree studying it. After a few moments she pulled out her notebook from her bag and started drawing the tree and taking notes on what the tree looked like and how it moved on its own.
"Ah bet there are more of these trees in this forest. Maybe if Ah can help Zecora find this tree again we can move it and make an orchard!"
She finished her sketch of the tree and went back through the gap. She looked along the wall of wooden giants both ways and headed back the way she came from but stopped after a couple of minutes of walking. She couldn't remember how many trees she had passed before she found the gap. Panic set in almost immediately as she tried to recall how much foliage she had passed but with no luck. She kept walking around the small grove until she found herself back at the gap.
Now she was panicking into hysteria. She started to run around the cluster until she heard a howl in the distance. This did little to calm her nerves. She started into the woods hoping that she would run into the path but as she started the howls grew louder. Her panic was beyond anything she had ever felt in her life and she sprinted away from the howling.
This only caused the wolves to take notice of her. The noise she made only made it easier to find her and from there it was only all too easy to get her to go where they wanted her. Apple Bloom kept running as hard as her legs could let her. She glanced to her left and saw a timber wolf through the trees. She leaped to the right to try to get away from it but this only made her hit a low laying branch. The limbs of the branch ripped the bow from her hair, but she didn't care. She panicked more due to the stinging that now covered most of her face and upper neck.
One of the pack members came closer to her and took a swipe at her with its mighty claws. Much to its irritation it didn't score a hit on flesh but on the bag she carried. The strike on the bag launched it from the young filly’s back and into a bush. Not that it mattered anyways to the wolves. They had her right where they wanted her. The other pack members put themselves between her and all possible escape routes. The young filly backed up into a tree, her eyes filled with terror.
The Alpha snarled at the pack letting them know that it was going to make the kill. It rounded the filly not breaking eye contact for a second. Much to the Alphas amusement she didn't look away. He lowered himself ready to pounce, she closed her eyes, and he leaped. He was going to eat well. He was about to strike when something caught him by the back of the neck and yanked hard in the opposite direction. The resulting CRACK was like a cannon going off in the clearing.
Applebloom opened her eyes to see the wolf flying through the air. The other wolves were either looking at the Alpha in the air or up into the trees. She couldn't believe what was happening and before she could even process that something saved her another wolf leaped at her. She screamed and ducked closer to the tree. However like the Alpha this wolf also failed to make it to its target. Something white hit the wolf on the back and threw it into a nearby tree hard enough that the branch it hit splintered everywhere. The terrified filly followed the white, for lack of a better word in her mind, rope up into the higher reaches of the trees. Something was moving up among the branches but she couldn't see what it was. The wolves were also focused on the thing moving in the trees, The red maned filly forgotten as they tried to figure out what was attacking them.
Another rope shot out of the trees and hit a wolf on the back. It was lifted off the ground and flung into another wolf nearby. The pair fought each other as they tried to get back to their paws but they didn't get the chance. A much larger rope that ended in a net covered both of them and lifted them both into the high reaches of the tree. The rest of the pack didn't wait to see what the creature above them would do to them and sprinted away into the forest.
Apple Bloom stayed huddled next to the tree hoping that whatever was up there didn't notice her. After a few moments she heard a rustling of some leaves above her head. Fearing that whatever it was would attack her she closed her eyes and tried to huddle as close to the tree as she could. When nothing happened she opened her eyes and saw that her schoolbag had been placed in front of her. She could only stare at it.
"You are safe little one. I shall guide you back to the path leading to your home."
She nearly jumped out of her skin. The voice came from above her, from the top of the tree. The voice was deep and gentle. She looked up trying to find the creature that was talking to her but all she could see was darkness among the leaves.
"What are you? Who are you?"
A rapid series of clicking noises reached her ears. "That doesn't matter. Do you want to go home or do you wish to stay here in the forest?"
The sharp tone from his question told Apple Bloom that whatever this creature was it was short on patience. "Ah wanna go home..."
"Then follow the hanging strands."
She was about to ask him what he meant by 'hanging strands' but then she got her answer. One of the ropes appeared in front of her. She got up, grabbed her bag and looked for another of the ropes. Another dangled a few yards ahead of her. She followed them through the forest silently wondering what could possibly have saved her from a pack of timber wolves and from up in the trees no less. She spotted the path ahead of her and ran to get to it but stopped a few feet away when a thought hit her. 'No one will believe me.' Her hesitation to go onto the path was not missed by her savior.
"What’s wrong? Home is but a short walk away on that path."
She looked up in the direction she thought the voice was coming from. "It's just... nopony will believe me when I tell them about what happened... and I don't know who or what you even are."
Her savior didn't reply, and for a moment she thought that it had simply left. She took a step towards the road when she felt something drop onto her neck. She placed a hoof on her neck to discover what it was and what she found was a strange necklace made from the same material as the ropes that she had seen. She removed the necklace to study it. It looked just like any other cord that would be used for a necklace but was a bright silverish white. Hanging from the cord was a pure white stone in the shape of what looked like a spiders head, but also had the ears of a pony.
"Now please, leave this forest and go home where you can be safe. I might not be there next time to save you if something like this happens again."
Apple Bloom only looked up to the trees with a smile on her face. "Thank you."
Without another word she stepped onto the road and ran home not stopping for a second. From the shadows of the tree tops her savior watched her run home knowing that she would only come back looking to meet it. This fact brought amusement to it, as did the realization that it had dinner waiting in the clearing.
Apple Bloom reached the farmhouse and wasn't surprised to see the lights on in the living room. She walked slowly up to the door bracing herself for the upcoming yelling that was likely to come from her family. She opened the door and entered the house. When the door shut she heard movement coming from the living room. She placed her nag down on the floor and slumped to the floor, the long walk and the excitement of the night quickly catching up to her. Her rump had barely hit the floor before Applejack and Big Macintosh came around the corner.
Applejack was the one to start the yelling. "Apple Bloom! What in tarnation took you so long to get home? It's almost three hours past your curfew and not to mention it's dark out to boot."
Apple Bloom cringed under the assault of concern. "Ah'm sorry. Ah do have a reason though..."
She went on to tell them of leaving Zecora's house ("You should'a stayed the night!"), how she saw the light off the path ("An' you thought it was a good idea to walk over to it?"), how she had sketched the strange glowing plant ("At least she did somethin' creative." "Yer not helping!"), and how she had been chased by the Timberwolves. Her older siblings fell silent as she told them about being chased and how the wolves had knocked her bag off and how they had cornered her. At this point Big Mac went up the stairs and into the bathroom. Applejack moved next to her sister and started inspecting the cuts and scrapes on her.
"And then they leaped at me and a rope shot out of the tree and grabbed the wolf and threw it across the clearing."
Applejack took a step back. "Beg yer pardon?"
"I was saved by a... a thing in the trees. It rescued me from the wolves and led me back to the path. Then it gave me this."
She held up the amulet the creature had given her. Applejack took it and studied it. Her expression turned hard. "Apple Bloom what have we told you about lying like that?"
"Wuh..." Apple Bloom was shocked by the sudden change in her sister's attitude. One moment she was kind and motherly the next she was yelling at her.
"Ah can't believe you would make up a story like that. Of all the things you could have said you went and made up such a ridiculous story."
Apple Bloom pulled away from her sister. "Ah ain't lyin' Ah swear! Ah'm tellin' you the truth. It really happened."
Applejack moved closer. "Apple Bloom stop this right now. Ah don't wanna hear any more of your fibbin'. I thought we raised you better than that."
Apple Bloom took a few more steps in retreat and could feel the tears in her eyes. "Why won't you believe me? Ah ain't lyin'. You have to believe me."
"Apple Bloom please just tell me the tru—"
"Apple Bloom. Come up here now please."
Both of the Apple sisters looked up the stairs to see their brother looking back down at them. Apple Bloom walked up the stairs with a sniffle and stood before her brother. She looked up his towering frame, which seemed all the larger now that she was certain she was about to be yelled at, and wiped her eyes.
His voice was gentle however. "Why don't you go wash up and get ready for bed."
She was about to protest but felt that tempting fate wasn't the best idea at the moment. She walked past him but was stopped when he gave her a gentle hug. She returned it feeling much more relaxed and relieved knowing that he loved her. They finished the embrace and she went into the bathroom. Macintosh turned his attention to the fuming Applejack at the bottom of the stairs.
"Why'd you go and let her get off fer? She was lyin' just to get out of trouble."
Macintosh walked down the stairs and moved over to the backpack Apple Bloom had left next to the door. He picked it up and gave it a quick look over. What caught his attention was the strange fabric like substance that was in three lines in the back of the bag. He placed the bag back down and returned his gaze to his sister.
"Ah didn't 'let her get off.' All Ah did was tell her to wash up."
Applejack grew irritated. "So were just gonna ignore what she just did? She stayed out past when we told her to be back, she came home past curfew, and now she's making up stories about things saving her from wolves!"
Macintosh let out a sigh then walked up to his sister. "Look Applejack, she's tired, frightened, and she got some nasty scrapes on her. Right now she don't need a lecture on what she did wrong. What she needs is her family to be there for her and a good night of sleep. We can worry about if she was lyin' or not tomorrow"
Applejack looked like she was ready to protest but Macintosh raised his hoof to silence her. "When you came home from Manehatten we didn't yell at you or do anything of the sort. Ah know that these are sorta different but when you left Ah was mighty mad at ya, but when you came back all Ah was worried about was if you were okay and happy. Now go up there and help yer sister get cleaned and tuck her into bed."
Applejack stood there for a moment stunned by her older brother. She had never heard him confess how he had felt when she left. She opened her mouth a few time in an attempt to say something but in the end all she did was nod and head up the stairs. Macintosh watched her go up the stairs and shook his head. Sometimes that girl is so stubborn. He went back to the bag and continued his inspection.
Applejack reached the top of the stairs and walked over to the bathroom door but was stopped by the soft sound of sobbing on the other side. She hesitated for a moment then knocked on the door.
"Apple Bloom? Do you mind if Ah help you?"
There was a faint sniffle behind the door. "Alright."
She walked in and saw Apple Bloom trying to hide her teary eyes as she washed a small cut on her leg. Applejack moved closer and picked up a cloth of her own and started to wash her sister's back. Her sister looked up at her and gave a small sniff.
"Are you mad at me?"
Applejack stopped with the cloth in her hoof and looked down into the sad and hurt eyes of her sister. She placed the cloth down and brought her into a loving hug.
"Celestia knows you drive me nuts some days and sometimes Ah get a bit cross at ya but Ah could never stay mad at you."
Apple Bloom returned the hug and buried her head into her sister's coat. "So... do you believe me?"
Applejack sighed. "Right now that isn't important. Let's get you cleaned and into bed. You still have school tomorrow."
Apple Bloom awoke the next morning at the crack of dawn and rose from her bed. She went to to her dresser and reached for the bow she always wore but couldn't find it. She started to search for it when the events of last night caught up with her tired mind. She did however find the small necklace that was given to her. She looked at it for a few moments then put it over her neck. She brushed her mane as best she could and headed down the stairs for breakfast. She was greeted by Granny Smith working at the oven making food, Big Macintosh reading a small book with a picture of a plow on it, and Applejack eating a bowl of cereal.
"Morning Apple Bloom. Ah got yer food all ready right here for ya."
Granny pointed to a chair at the table and placed a plate filled with food down for her. Apple Bloom sat down and started on her food. It was a few seconds later that her sister noticed her missing accessory.
"What happened to yer bow Apple Bloom?"
She reached up to her mane and ran her hoof through it. "I lost it in the forest."
Applejack was about to start criticizing her sibling but Macintosh stopped her. "Then Ah guess you'll just have to go to Rarity's and get a new one."
He got up and went upstairs. A few moments later he returned with a small pouch. He gave it to Apple Bloom. "Here this should cover it."
Apple Bloom gave him a weak smile. "Thanks Big Mac."
He gave her a gentle pat and headed for the front door. Applejack rose from her seat and followed him out. They reached the front yard before Macintosh turned to face her.
"Ah need to go talk to Zecora."
Applejack stood there confused and it must have shown because Macintosh went on without giving her a chance to say anything.
"This is mostly to confirm Apple Bloom's story about going to her hut and not staying the night. Now Ah need you to do the barn chores while Ah'm gone and Ah promise that Ah'll do your barn chores for the next few days. Deal?"
Applejack thought about it for a moment then spat on her hoof and held it up to Macintosh. He did the same and they slapped their hooves together sealing the deal. Macintosh set off down the dirt road while Applejack went back inside to finish her breakfast.
Apple Bloom finished her breakfast quickly and went to grab her bag. She nearly ran into Applejack on the way to the front door.
"Whoa there sugarcube, Ah need to talk to ya real quick."
The pair of them walked into the family room and sat down on the sofa. Applejack tried to give the best reassuring smile she could but she knew by Apple Bloom's worried expression that it wasn't working.
"Ah know that last night Ah was kinda..."
"Worried." Applejack finished. "Ah was worried that you had been hurt or had gotten lost, and Ah also know that last night we didn't finish a certain conversation."
Apple Bloom swallowed visibly. Applejack move closer and tried to give another friendly smile. "But Ah think that we can finish it later tonight. Ah want you to know however, is that Ah love you no matter what."
Apple Bloom gave her a smile. Applejack swept her sister in a tight hug. The younger pony returned the hug with enthusiasm. They broke off the hug after a few seconds as Apple Bloom remembered that she had to get to school.
"Ah'll see you later."
She waved good-bye to her sister as she set off the road toward her school.
Apple Bloom walked along the simple dirt road to school thinking deeply. She should be dead by all accounts, Timber wolves are one of the most aggressive and vicious creatures in all of Everfree Forest but something even stronger than them had attacked the pack that was chasing her and saved her from certain death. She glanced over to the edge of the forest that was off in the distance.
"What was it? Why would it save me?"
She stopped on the road and lifted the white stone necklace up so she could inspect it in the light. She noticed that the stone was somewhat transparent but only when she held it in direct sunlight. When she put it in her shadow it became a more solid white in color.
"What is this made out of anyways?"
She let it drop back down and continued on her way to the school house. She walked along the road while occasionally glancing in the direction of the forest. Why? It attacked the wolves with no real mercy but it willingly went out of its way to save me and get my bag. As she walked along the path she failed to notice the voice calling out to her. It wasn't until a hoof touched her did she realize that she had been joined by Scootaloo.
"Hey what's the matter with you? You look kinda beat up."
Apple Bloom glanced over at her. "It's kinda a long story. Ah'll tell ya after Sweetie joins us."
Scootaloo gave her a quick look over and looked at her friend with a worried look. "Okay. You certain you should be going to school today, I mean you look like you got into a fight with a Timberwolf or something."
Apple Bloom gave Scootaloo a shocked look. Of all the examples she could've chosen. She gave an involuntary shudder and after another moment she started to tear up. Scootaloo stopped walking and noticed this sudden change.
"Whoa, hey! I didn't mean it. I was just joking."
Apple Bloom wiped her eyes and gave Scootaloo a weak attempt of a smile. "It's not that. Let’s find Sweetie then Ah can tell you."
The pair of them made it to the school yard with next to no conversation. Apple Bloom kept looking back to the forest, regardless of the fact it was barely a tree-line at this point. They were joined by Sweetie Belle and they walked over to a secluded patch of the school yard.
"So how did you get all beat up?"
Apple Bloom motioned for them to get closer and she started her story. The pair listened to her story with great interest. She was barely done with leaving Zecora's hut however when the bell rang. The trio rushed into the schoolhouse and took three of the desks in the back of the class.
Scootaloo leaned over to whisper to Apple Bloom. "So then what happened?"
Apple Bloom opened her mouth to continue her story but Cheerilee walked into the room. "Good morning class! Today we'll be talking about..."
Her gaze lingered on Apple Bloom for a moment then looked to the other two crusaders. Her slowed speech only lasted for a second but wasn't missed by the class. "... How tell the difference between their, there, and they're. We will also be going..."
Apple Bloom's attention shifted to the gazes of her fellow classmates. Many of them looked from her to her friends and just simply shrugged and looked back. However there was a few that let their gaze linger for more than a few second. One was Featherweight who was silently asking the question she was trying to answer to her own friends and, much to her misery; the others were Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. Both of them were snickering at her. Apple Bloom lowered her head and tried her best to ignore every pony in the room and listen to the lesson.
The first half of class couldn't have passed any slower for Apple Bloom. By the time the bell rang for recess she was convinced that time had almost stopped. The three crusaders headed over to their secluded spot and took a seat.
"Alright. Now as Ah was saying; I had just left Zecora's and was walking along the path when—"
She stopped when she noticed that their three just became four. Featherweight had joined them and was trying his best to look friendly. "Hey Apple Bloom. I was wondering how you got all... well beat up I guess."
Apple Bloom gave him a small smile. "Sure Ah guess. Why do you wanna know anyways?"
Featherweight took a seat next to Sweetie Belle, the filly herself blushed for some reason, and pointed to all three of them in turn.
"Well when all three of you show up a little worse for wear we really don't think much about it but today you're the only one that's hurt. So I figured that I should check, after all we all did work on the Foal-Free-Press."
The trio nodded in agreement then Apple Bloom cleared her throat. She was unable to continue the story however when a haughty laugh reached their ears.
"Yes why don't you tell us how a blank flank like you got hurt? I bet she was trying to earn her cutie mark in something ridiculous."
The small group turned and let out a collective sigh when they say the pair of fillies heading toward them. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon were walking over being closely followed by the rest of the class. Apple Bloom let out a small groan then nodded.
"Fine. Y'all hear about it anyways in good time."
She told her tale to the class. When she reached the part about the glowing tree there were many 'ooo's' and 'wow's' when she told them of how she had heard the Timberwolves howling many of them shuddered or let out gasps, and when she told them of how she had been chased into a small clearing and had nowhere to run they all looked frightened. She paused for a moment and took a breath. She then told them about how she had been saved and how the thing that had saved her led her out of the forest and warned her not to do something like that again.
The crowd sat in total silence, awed by her story. The silence was broken by a huff. "That's stupid. How could you have been saved by something you couldn't see?"
"Ah don't know. It saved me and here Ah am. Whatever it was gave me this so Ah could have proof."
She held up the stone and many of the schoolpony's moved closer to get a better look. Diamond Tiara however scoffed at it. "It looks like a cheap quartz that you carved yourself. Too bad you didn't get a story telling cutie mark for that one blank flank."
She turned around and left, followed swiftly by Silver Spoon and a few other ponies that merely shrugged and went to do something with what was left of their recess. After a few moments much of the small crowd had dispersed, some saying they believed her, some scoffing like Diamond Tiara, but most had simply walked off. Featherweight stayed with the group however.
He was tapping his hoof to his chin thoughtfully. "So what do you think it was?"
Apple Bloom shrugged. "Ah don't really know. Whatever it was wasn't really friendly. It sounded more annoyed with me then anythin' else."
Featherweight placed his hoof down after a moment of thought. "I know how we can prove you right."
The trio of fillies gave him confused, but interested, stares. He pointed to the forest. "All we have to do is go in there and get a picture of it. Then she won't be able to scoff or laugh at you."
Apple Bloom brightened up. "That's perfect. We could probably get the picture tomorrow. Ah'm kinda in trouble for not being home on time."
She gave a sheepish blush. The rest of the recess of spent with the four of them planning how to get the creature to reveal itself to them. When the bell rang for class the four of them were smiling with barely contained anticipation.
The three crusaders and Featherweight walked into the Carousel Boutique, the bell attached to the door signaling their arrival. The small group were greeted by Rarity wearing her work glasses.
"Hello. Sweetie you should have told me you were planning on having company over, I would have made some snacks for your little group. Oh, and who is this nice young colt you brought with you?"
She gave Featherweight a warm smile. Sweetie blushed and shuffled on her hooves for a second before she answered.
"This is Featherweight. He agreed to help us with something."
Rarity gave her a quick glance then returned her gaze to the colt. "They didn't force you into this did they?"
He gave a small laugh and shook his head. "No Ms. Rarity. I volunteered."
Rarity gave a small sigh. Her attention was transferred to the pony that didn't look herself. She noticed Apple Bloom's condition and lack of bow she always wore.
"Why my dear Apple Bloom, what happened to you? You're missing your bow and look like you got into a fight."
Apple Bloom looked at the other three ponies in the room then looked back to Rarity. She sighed and told Rarity everything she had told the others. Rarity stayed silent the whole story her expression growing more and more worried as it went on. Finally Apple Bloom came to the end.
"And when Ah told Applejack about it she didn't believe me."
Rarity kept quiet for a few second. She gave Apple Bloom a gentle smile and placed her hoof on the young filly's shoulder.
"I can see why she would... doubt your story. It's hard to believe at first glance."
Apple Bloom could feel the tears forming in her eyes once more. "But you believe me right?"
Rarity bit her lip and tried her best to find the best thing to say. "Well... I think you know what you saw and I believe you about that."
Her answer or lack thereof, seemed to make Apple Bloom relax. With that out of the way Rarity decided to address the current crime in the room. She led Apple Bloom up to the small dais that stood in the center of the room surrounded by mirrors.
"Now let’s focus on getting you a bow that will really make your mane pop."
Apple Bloom walked along the road to home adjusting her new bow, a deep green in color, and tried her best to make it sit in her mane just right. It just ain't the same. She sighed defeated and turned off the main road to the path that led to the farm house. She came up on the house and noticed Applejack sitting near the front door looking down the road she had just come from. She looked behind her and noticed a figure walking in the distance.
She waved to Macintosh as he came up the road. Applejack walked next to her and gently nudged her. "Hey, Ah see Rarity got you a nice new bow."
Apple Bloom shrugged. "It ain't the same."
Applejack gave her a quick hug and a loving smile. She watched her sister walk toward the house for a few moments then turned to look back her brother quickly approaching. He came into earshot quickly and she lost no time starting the conversation.
"Apple Bloom is home now. You want to help me with the talk or do you want to sit this one out?"
Macintosh gave her a stern look that made her hesitate. After a second he looked behind her to see where Apple Bloom was.
"Ah think it'd be best if we don't punish her."
"WHAT? She was out alone, after curfew, and made up that ridiculous story—"
"She ain't lyin'."
Applejack stood there confused. "An' pray tell how do you know that?"
He held up his hoof for a second. Applejack followed her brother’s gaze to the approaching younger sibling. Macintosh walked over her and towered over her.
"Apple Bloom Ah'm only gonna ask this once, so Ah expect nothin' but the truth, ya hear?"
She nodded and cowered slightly. He reached down and lifted the necklace so he could get a better look. He studied it for a moment then let it fall back around her neck.
"That story you told yer sis, was every word of that true?"
She nodded. "Yes. Ah would never lie to either of you."
He leaned down and locked eyes with her. They held the gaze for a short eternity before Macintosh sighed and gave her his friendliest smile.
"That's all Ah needed to hear. Go along inside and get yerself a snack. Ah like the new bow."
She gave him a quick hug and dashed into the house. Macintosh faced the elder of his two sisters. She was beside herself in silent fury.
"Mac, that ain't no way to tell if she's telling the truth!"
He nodded. "If that was the only thin' Ah did then Ah would agree with you but fortunately it ain't."
He motioned for her to follow him. They walked around the house toward the field that bordered the forest. Macintosh stopped next to the fence that was used to signal where their land ended and where the forest began and leaned on it chewing on a new wheat stalk he grabbed on the walk over.
"Ah talked to Zecora this mornin' like Ah said Ah would. She was kinda jumpy."
Applejack joined him on the fence. "What was the matter?"
He glanced over at her then looked over to the tree line. "Well she told me that she normally spends her mornin's gatherin' herbs an' such, an' once such thin' she collects are twigs from the Timberwolves. This mornin' however, when she went to gather the twigs from the den the wolves weren't even there. The cave looked abandoned."
Applejack tilted her hat back on her head. "How could she tell?"
He shrugged. "Don't really know but Ah do know that she looked spooked. Timberwolves don't just up and leave a den without a good reason. Also Zecora says that something has been scaring off some of the other creatures in the forest. She couldn't find half of the critters she gathers regents and things from."
Applejack cast a worried look to the forest. "Well that ain't exactly comforting but how exactly does that help Apple Bloom get off scott free from breakin' curfew?"
Macintosh gave her a look of faint amusement. "The reason Ah didn't get back as soon as Ah thought Ah would was because I met Miss Fluttershy on the road coming out of the forest."
Applejack gave him a confused look. "What does that have to do with—”
"She was almost frantic. She was worried about a family of warthogs that visit her once a week to get cleaned or somethin' along those lines. They didn't show up today either. That's the second family of animals that went missing."
Applejack was trying to figure out where he was going with this but stayed silent knowing that he would tell her. He was never one for suspense nor was he ever this talkative.
He looked over at her and she could see the worried look in her eyes. "She asked me if Ah had seen them in the forest. Ah told her Ah hadn't and she started to really freak out. Ah tried muh best to calm her done and after a few minutes I managed to get her somewhat normal. She then told me that she really worried about her animals because they’d been actin' up somewhat fierce."
He switched the wheat stalk to the other side of his mouth and turned his gaze to the farm. "Some of her animals have gone missing and almost every animal she has won't go near the forest. Ah almost didn' believe her but when Ah saw that bunny of hers it confirmed every word. The poor thing would go within twenty yards of the trees."
Applejack noticed the deeply troubled look that was quickly replacing the worried look he had previously had. She didn't like it at all and it made her uneasy.
He sighed. "Both Zecora an' Miss Fluttershy think somethin' is going on in that forest. Somethin' has made a home there an' it's driving off the competition. We both know that Timberwolves ain't the kind of critters to run from a fight. From what Apple Bloom told us this thing is strong enough to not only face a pack of them but win as well. It could have easily killed her as well but it didn't."
Applejack looked back at the forest which had suddenly looked much more intimidating. She knew that everything that Big Mac had said was true. Timberwolves never ran from a fight. They would hunt anything that entered their territory regardless of what it was. If Apple Bloom was telling the truth then not only was there a new and much more terrifying creature in the forest but it was sentient as well.
"It saved her. Why?"
Macintosh looked over at his sister and followed her gaze to the forest. "Ah wish Ah knew."
Apple Bloom was running along the road leading to the forest thinking about the words of advice her sister had given her. Don't go into the forest alone. If you wanna visit Zecora ask me or yer brother to take you or Ah guess you could go with a group of friends so long as you stay on the path. Apple Bloom couldn't find a reason to disagree with her sisters words but that wasn't what bothered her. It was the tone in which they had been said. Applejack had sounded worried about something.
Apple Bloom's thoughts were drifted off when she saw her friends waiting for her. "Sorry Ah'm late. Applejack was insistin' on givin' me advice."
Apple Bloom stopped running as she reached the trio at the edge of the Everfree Forest. She took a moment to catch her breath. Scootaloo was sitting on her scooter and glanced over to her.
"Well at least you showed up. For a moment we were thinking about going home."
Apple Bloom glanced over to Sweetie Belle and Featherweight. Sweetie was shuffling on her hooves and was looking everywhere but at Featherweight. The colt was looking up the path that led into the forest. Apple Bloom took a deep breath then addressed the trio.
"Alrighty then, any ideas on how to do this?"
The others looked at each other and then collectively shrugged. Apple Bloom tapped her chin as she tried to think of something. Her thoughts were interrupted by Scootaloo.
"Well, all we need to do is try to get close to where you met it. So do you know where that spot was?"
Apple Bloom shook her head. "Ah have no clue... but Ah think Ah know how to get there."
The four of the young ponies started into the forest. They wandered on the path following Apple Bloom until she came to a stop. She was studying a tree closely. After a second she walked to the other side of the tree and let out an exclamation of success.
"Aha! I found it."
The others walked around to look at her. Sweetie was the first to voice her confusion. "Found what?"
Apple Bloom pointed to the tree. "When Ah out here alone Ah used chalk to mark the trees so Ah wouldn't get lost. Ah guess Ah didn't really need them though. We can follow them to the glowing tree Ah saw and from there we can figure something out."
The others nodded and agreed with that plan. They set off into the bowels of the forest. They spent close to half an hour going from marked tree to marked tree until they came across the circle of trees. Apple Bloom led the group around the trees until they found the opening. She walked into the clearing and gazed upon the tree. It was exactly the same as the night she first laid eyes on it. The others walked into the clearing and were speechless at the strange plant before them.
"How is it glowing like that?"
Apple Bloom looked over to Scootaloo. "Ah don't really know. Whatever it is it's really pretty."
The others agreed and they slowly approached the tree. Apple Bloom noticed that as she moved closer that the movement of the leaves shifted away from herself and her friends. She inched closer and reached out with her hoof.
She returned. Amusing.
The large creature watched the small group of ponies walk along the path. He listened to them as he moved from branch to branch above them in the trees. They stopped after a moment and studied a tree on the side of the path. The red maned one he had saved mentioned something about marking the tree. She then said something about not needing them but he became more interested in her due to the cloth she wore in her mane.
I recognize that pattern.
He shifted in the tree and leaped to the east. His motion through the trees was a smooth motion born of a life time of practice. The motion of landing, balancing on the branch, preparing the next leap, and making the leap a single fluid motion without flaw. He moved swiftly then came to a stop after only half a minute. He glanced down and spotted a bright red cloth hanging in a low lying branch.
He dropped down and gently picked up the cloth. He inspected it and could smell her scent on the cloth well before he brought it close to his face. Pretty color. She must have owned this a long time. Her scent is heavy on this cloth. He leaped back into the trees and headed back to the ponies. He returned to the tree they had inspected and found that they had moved on. Not surprising. The youth never stay still. He considered going to the ground and tracking them but when he heard them off in the distance he moved through the trees to them. They make so much noise and yet they search for me. How could they ever expect to find prey like this if the prey can hear them coming from a mile away?
"Ah don't really know. Whatever it is it's really pretty."
He froze on the branch. They couldn't have found it. He leaped to another tree then gazed through into the clearing with the glowing tree. He was impressed that they had found it. it had taken him almost a month of searching to locate it and these foals find it in one day. His attitude quickly became alarmed when he spotted the red maned one reaching out for the tree.
"You shall not touch it!"
Apple Bloom felt something grab hold of her flanks and tail. She had only a second to register this fact before it quickly yanks on her and pulled her backwards away from the tree. The pull forced her into a sitting position and the next thing her mind register was a small shock wave and a soft *THUMP*. Her friends screamed and she whipped around to see why they had. What she saw made her blood run cold.
It was huge, larger than even her brother. It was wider than her brother as well and due to living on the farm with Macintosh she could tell that it was all muscle. The first thing she noticed after that fact was that it had a thick coat made of coarse looking hairs. It had hooves like a pony, the basic body structure of one, and even had the ears but that's where the similarities stopped. In place of a tail it had an abdomen that looked at home on a large spider. If the abdomen wasn't the first indication that is was insectoid then the four claw tipped limbs and the pincers on its face were. What really terrified Apple Bloom were the eyes, two large black emotionless eyes that stared right at her and six much smaller ones around them.
The creature approached the other three ponies. Featherweight panicked and did the first thing that came to mind. He took a picture. The bulb flashed and the creature let out an unholy noise, something between a scream and a hiss.
Its small claws pawed at its eyes as it aimless stumbled around the clearing blinded by the flash. Scootaloo was the next one to overcome her fear. She grabbed Sweetie and shook her.
"Come on! We need to get out of here!"
Sweetie was knocked out of her paralyzed state. She looked at Scootaloo then over to Featherweight. "We can't leave Apple Bloom behind! She's still behind that thing."
The three of them tried to get around the creature but when they started moving it uncovered its eyes and swiftly pounced on them. All three of them were pinned beneath its claws.
It looked back to the red maned pony that was still sitting on the ground. He let go of the three foals on the ground and faced her. It could see the terror in her eyes. He bent low so as to get to eye level and looked her in the eyes.
"Greetings little one. I shall not harm you or your friends."
A flicker of recognition passed into her fear filled eyes. "A-Are you the thing that saved me?"
It nodded. "Yes. I saved you from the Timberwolves. You didn't heed my warning."
Her fear was ebbing away but her ears stayed pinned to her head. "I wanted to see you again. My sister wouldn't believe me."
It stood up to its full height. "Fair enough. I have something of yours"
It turned slightly to the side and tilted its body so its abdomen was aimed in the air. If Apple Bloom wasn't scared near speechless she would have found the sight hilarious. A silverish white strand shot out without a noise and hit something in the branches above. After a second the creature did a shook its abdomen and the strand started to come back. The strand coiled on the floor behind the creature and formed a small pile of silverish white with a hint of familiar red.
Her fear forgotten Apple Bloom dashed over to the pile and removed the cloth. "My bow!"
She immediately removed the green one she was wearing and started to put on the red. While she was joyfully distracted the creature turned his attention to the trio that was huddling in the leaves. It's glance passed over each of them in turn then focused on the white one with a poofy mane.
"What sort of spell was that flash, an attempt to blind me?"
He moved closer menacingly. The colt of the group jumped up and put himself between the creature and Sweetie. "Don't come any closer!"
The creature let out an amused chuckle as the colts voice cracked in fear. "You really think a colt as tiny and skinny as you can stop me? No, my interest is in the source of that flash. Namely the filly."
Sweetie let out a terrified squeak. Featherweight however stood his ground. "It wasn't her. It was this."
He held up the camera. The creature moved over and took the device out of Featherweights hoof before he had time to react. It held the device up so all eight of its eyes could study it.
"This little box? What form of magic is this?"
Featherweight recovered from the shock and his first instinct was to reach for his property. He reached for it but quickly stopped himself when he realized what he was trying to take his camera back from. His motion wasn't missed by the creature. Much to Featherweights surprise it gave the camera back to him.
Featherweight stood there slightly confused. "What? You mean right now?"
It nodded at him. He sat there trying to decide what to take a picture of. He came to a decision and aimed the camera at Sweetie.
Sweetie looked over at him. "What?"
He lowered it for a moment. "Can I get a smile for this one please?"
She stood up slowly and gave him a shaky smile. Featherweight looked over at the creature. "One second please."
Featherweight walked over to Sweetie and started whispering to her. The creature looked over to Scootaloo. She had gotten up and brushed the leaves off herself.
"Is he always like this or is this just because of me?"
To her credit Scootaloo merely shrugged. It took her a moment to realize that she had been addressed by the creature that a moment ago had pinned her to the floor. She gave it a shaky smile as it gave her a scanning look. It considered asking another question but was interrupted by a light touch on his side. He looked over and noticed Featherweight standing there.
"Okay. Ready Sweetie?"
It looked over at the unicorn. She gave a tentative nod then gave a smile to the pegasus standing next to it. What a pretty smile. This pegasus better make his move before another pony does. He winced as the bulb flashed. He let out a low hiss. Featherweight moved away fearing he had done something to anger the large creature.
"How does this box of light work? What is its purpose?"
The skinny colt held the up the camera. "Well I don't really know how it works but it's meant to capture images so you can look at things even when you can't get to them. Cool things, pretty things..."
The final statement caused him to blush. The creature failed to care for the young colts obvious flirting and kept his eyes locked on the camera.
"Interesting. So what do you call objects like this one?"
Featherweight shook his head to clear his thoughts. "Well this is called a camera but I guess other stuff like this would be called technology."
The giant spider like creature looked over at Sweetie. "So can you use magic or has this 'technology' made magic obsolete?"
Sweetie shuffled on her hooves with a slight frown. "No it’s just... I'm not good with magic."
The creature was about to ask her something when Apple Bloom tapped it on the leg. Apple Bloom looked up at the creature and motioned for it to come lower to the ground. It did as she asked.
"What exactly are ya?"
It looked at the small group and saw the mingled looks of curiosity and fear. "My kind has been called many things over the centuries. Dark Crawlers, Forest Nightmares, and the Unholy Spawn of the Moon..."
It noticed that the looks of fear growing with every passing word. It let out a sigh and lay down on the ground to try and show that it was friendly.
"But the most common name given to my people is Arachnapony."
The small group looked at each other then back to the arachnapony. Sweetie Asked the question that was on all of their minds.
"What's your name?"
It stayed silent for a moment. Sweetie shuffled closer when it didn't answer. It flexed its four smaller limbs then cleared its throat.
"I haven't had a name for a long time. Most of my kind simply know me by my duty given to me by my Matriarch. I was given an honor that many of the males of my brood would do anything to have."
Scootaloo gave a small cough. "And what... um well I guess I mean are you a stallion or a mare?"
Apple Bloom looked offended. "Oh Celestia! Scootaloo you don't just ask a pony... arachnapony what gender they are!"
The arachnapony shrugged. "I would be called a stallion by your standards."
Sweetie Belle tilted her head. "Ooh and what was that duty you were given?"
"I have been known to my people as Guardian."
The group went silent as they thought about what that could possibly mean. However Apple Bloom decided to say something else that was on her mind.
"Why did you save me?"
"You needed help. I provided that help."
Apple Bloom looked like she was about to ask something else but was cut off by Scootaloo. "So why are you here in the forest? I mean we've been in here plenty and we never saw you before."
He pointed to the glowing tree with one of his small claws. "It. My duty has always been to watch over it and protect it."
The smaller ponies gazed at it in wonder. Once more Sweetie voiced the group’s thoughts. "What is it?"
Guardian scratched his chin with a claw. "My kind called it the 'Tree of Life' but I call it 'Arbor Lunae'."
He noticed the slightly confused looks. He almost got annoyed by it but the looks of interest that mingled with the confusion amused him.
"It's 'Tree of the Moon' in ancient Equestrian. I heard the term and thought it fit better. This tree is made from both an ordinary tree and the pure power of Lunar magic." He turned to Apple Bloom. "Touching it is both an offense to my people and extremely dangerous. It would most likely have killed you if you had touched it with even a single hair."
Apple Bloom swallowed and gave him a shaky grin. "Ah guess you saved me twice now. Thanks."
He scratched behind his ear in mild irritation. "Your safety wasn't my concern this time. I was worried about the tree. I haven't been able to protect it since the Matriarch went missing and now that it's back I will do anything to protect it."
Apple Bloom walked over to him and gave him a hug. "Thank ya anyways."
The feeling of her legs wrapping around his neck brought two reactions from the group. The other three ponies gasped slightly out of fear that Guardian might attack or hurt her. The touch of the filly brought out a strange emotion in Guardian. He hadn't been in contact with another creature in a way even close to this intimate in many years. He found himself relaxing in the embrace. Much to Apple Bloom's surprise he used his claws to hug her back.
They pulled apart and farm filly sat down on the ground. Featherweight broke the small silence that followed from the embrace.
"You said that you haven't been able to protect it since your mattar-arch—"
"Matriarch." Guardian corrected. "She went missing a long time ago and when she did the first tree died. I was unable to save it and since then I have been searching for this one."
The group fell silent once more. Apple Bloom moved closer to Featherweight so she could whisper to him. "Do you think the picture you got will do?"
Featherweight was looking at Sweetie Belle with a dreamy expression. "I don't think I got her good side..."
He let out a dreamy sigh. Apple Bloom faced hoofed and gave hit a light punch on the leg. "Not her, him. Should we get another picture with him or will the one you got do?"
He gave her a sour look. "Well I don't think I got a good one. Might need two or three more."
Guardian noticed their whisperings. "What is it that you need?"
Apple Bloom and Featherweight jumped. Apple Bloom gave him a small bashful smile. "Ah was wondering if you would let us get a picture of you."
He glanced over to Featherweight then to the camera. "I... suppose that would be alright."
He rose to his hooves and faced the small colt. The colt fumbled with the camera then aimed it at Guardian. A bright flash blinded him and he let out another, but much quieter screech of irritation. Small orbs of light danced in his eyes and he found himself regretting even letting them stay in the forest for this long.
The terrified voice reached his ears. "Sorry! I didn't mean to hurt you."
Guardian rubbed his eyes until the small balls of light disappeared and the forest came back into focus. After a moment he looked over to the small colt.
The colt looked at the camera for a moment then back up to Guardian with an embarrassed smile. "Can I take another?"
Guardian’s deep voice became much colder than it already was. "No. All four of you have overstayed your welcome in this sacred place and this camera has injured me twice today. Now all of you leave this forest."
His voice had a strong commanding tone that none of the ponies wanted to defy. They all stood and headed for to opening in the trees except for Apple Bloom. She walked over to him and looked him in his largest eyes.
"Will Ah be able to visit you again?"
He looked down at her and noticed the pleading look she had. "I will consider it. Now please leave this forest and spend your time with your friends and family."
She gave him a quick smile then ran over to her friends. They exited the circle of trees and followed the chalk marks back to the main path. It wasn't until they reached the path that any of them spoke.
Scootaloo looked back in the direction of the circle of trees. "Well he wasn't very friendly was he? I mean the guy could have at least tried to be nice."
Apple Bloom looked back at Scootaloo. "Well Ah think he was just mad about me almost touching the tree. He did say it was sacred."
Featherweight turned to the others and held up the camera. "At least we have the pictures to show the others."
All four of them were suddenly yanked backwards by strands of the silver web from Guardian. He flicked his abdomen and the strands spun all four ponies around so that they faced him once more.
His voice dripped with venom that chilled the blood of the ponies. "You plan to do what?"
"T-To show t-them to everypony," Featherweight stammered. The large arachnapony leaned down to look at him at eye level. When he spoke it was with a much sweeter voice that made the groups blood run even colder.
"I'm really glad you want to share me with your friends, I really am, but I'm so tired from a long day and I don't think you would want me to be disturbed when I'm tired. Do you?"
The group shook their heads. He gave them what passed for a smile. Much to their terror they saw long fangs. "Good. And you wouldn't want anypony to get lost in the forest and get hurt now would you?"
More shaking of heads. "See? None of us would want that. So if you would do me the tiny, little favor of not telling anypony about me that would be great. You can keep the photos but please keep them to yourself and if you do that..." He paused for a moment then sighed. "I'll let you visit me if you want to. Deal?"
The group brightened at the idea. Apple Bloom was the first to come out of her fear induced state of silence. With a shaky voice she spoke. "What about family that we already told you about?"
He looked at her with a cold gaze. "Only your family? Fine but no others. Now please go home."
Without wasting another moment he leaped high into the air and vanished into the air. The four ponies looked to each other and silently agreed not to talk until they left the forest. They made their way out of the forest and went a fair distance before any of them spoke. Featherweight was the one to break the silence.
"Are we really going to keep this a secret? I think we should still show them the photos."
Apple Bloom glanced back to the forest then to the colt. "Ah think it would be best if we honored that agreement. He ain't exactly the type of pony to get mad. Besides we promised and Applejack always tells to never break a promise."
Featherweight stood his ground. "We went in there for pictures and if we don't get evidence then all of us will be laughed at by Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. We have more than enough proof here to prove you right."
Scootaloo approached Featherweight threateningly. "If you show those pictures to anypony I'll clean your clock."
Featherweight took a step back. "Come on. We need to show the town these photos. Look at what happened with Zecora, she became best friends with the town. I'm certain that Guardian will become accepted in enough time."
Scootaloo took another step forward. "Were not showing those photos. We made a promise."
Featherweight flapped open his wings ready to take off. "You gonna try and stop me?"
the purple maned pegasus nearly launched herself at him but she was stopped by the other two fillies. After a moment of struggling Sweetie whispered to both of the fillies beside her.
"Let me handle this."
She walked over to Featherweight and gave him a sweet smile. "May I talk to you for a second in private?"
The skinny pegasus looked confused but nodded his head. Sweetie led him a little ways so that they were out of ear shot of Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. The pair of fillies on the road watched as the others talked.
"Can ya hear what their saying?"
The orange pegasus shook her head. "No but I bet it won't work. If he won't listen to reason or threats then what will he listen to?"
The sat there for a moment then watched as the pair walked back with smiles on their faces. Featherweight walked up to them and his ears pinned to his head.
"Sorry about all of that. I promise I won't show these photos to anypony. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."
He crossed his eye then placed his hoof over his eye. With a smile he turned to Sweetie. "I can get these pics done by tomorrow if I can get home fast enough."
Sweetie nodded and gave him a small wave. The skinny colt took off half running and half flying towards the town. The other two fillies turned to Sweetie with disbelief written on their faces.
Apple Bloom picked her jaw off the ground to speak. "What did you say to him?"
In a perfect impression of her sister she answered. "A lady has her secrets."
Guardian watched the young ponies from the treetops of the forest. When they stopped on the road he noticed that they seemed to be debating something. He dropped to the ground and swiftly entered the overgrown field that flanked the road. He stayed low to the ground and used his heightened sense of smell and hearing to get near the ponies without being spotted. He drew closer to them making sure that he kept his body close to the ground.
He drew near and heard something that sounded like a scuffle. At first he wondered if they had started fighting each other but after a moment he heard the voice of the white one.
"Let me handle this."
He didn’t see what happened next so he crouched lower to the ground and slowly advanced so that he could see through the tall grasses.
The white one spoke again. "May I talk to you for a second in private?"
He found a small gap in the grass and spotted the unicorn and pegasus colt. Both walked over to the side of the road. They stopped a fair distance away from their friends, and stood close to where Guardian was hiding.
The pegasus spoke in an almost pleading tone. "I can't just hide the photos from everypony. We'll get made fun of if we don't show them!"
The unicorn moved closer to the colt. "What if I made a deal with you? Would that change your mind?"
The colt raised an eyebrow at her. "What kind of deal are you talking about?"
The unicorn shuffled on her hooves for a moment then took a breath. "I was thinking that ...m-maybe I could model for you."
Guardian watched with amusement as a blush came over the colts face. His amusement only grew as the pegasus tried to speak in a calm voice. He failed miserably.
"What? You want to model for me... why?"
More shuffling of hooves. "I've had a crush on you for a while now... I was hoping that this could be a chance to get to know you better."
A small silence followed. The colt walked closer to the unicorn. "I've had a crush on you too. So this would be a date?"
She nodded and looked him in the eyes. "Only if you promise not to show those photos."
The pegasus moved closer to her. "I think I can agree with that. So does this mean were special someponies now?"
The unicorn nodded. If Guardian had the ability to, he would have rolled his eyes in the same fashion as the ponies he had seen. Instead he mimicked the head motion and started to slink back to the forest. His curiosty sated, he was now certain that they would keep him a secret from all but the most trustworthy of ponies. He made it back to the tree line and quickly ascended up the trees back into the comforting darkness. Moving quickly amongst branches he returned to the clearing that was home to the Arbor Lunae. He landed on the forest floor with a soft thump and started to circle the tree.
It's been to long since I last had a chance to communicate with such young creatures. Annoyances all of them. He tilted his head to the side and felt a series of pops and cracks. He did the same on the other side then returned his gaze to the softly swaying tree. She nearly touched it. She could have killed herself... not that she knew about the danger it posed to her. Still the youth should learn to never mess with things they don't understand. He stopped circling the tree and shifted his attention to the opening in the circle. He made his way over to it and squeezed his way through. It would be best if I made sure they can't come wandering back whenever they feel like. He followed the path they had made through the fallen leaves to the first of the marked trees. He used a clawed limb to wipe away the chalk then started walking toward the next tree.
They did have the open mind to accept me at face value. Interesting but sad. They too will hate me in the end like all the others of their kind. He reached another tree and began wiping it clean of the chalk. He walked through the forest. I haven't walked this much in years. I also haven't been in touch with the ponies as well. I should check up on their culture to see if they have changed. He reached yet another tree, wiped it clean and began walking again. He spotted the next tree and the road next to it. Wipeing the chalk off and starting to remove the now white powdery stain on his own limb.
He was ready to leap into the tree he had just cleaned when he heard hooves on the path. Only one set and too heavy to be one of the foals. He grabbed hold of the trunk with all of his limbs and quickly ascended up to just below the first branch and looked to the path. From the brush some ten yards away from the tree he was now hanging in, emerged a creature he didn't recognize. It was tall and lithe like a mare but stripped and wore strange rings about its neck, left foreleg and in its ears.
Who is this? Not a pony, the scent is wrong, as is the body shape. Sentient though. He watched as it walked along the edge of the path ,its eyes scanning the underbrush, searching for something. He followed the interesting creature for a few minutes before it stopped and headed into the brush. He leaped from the side he was sitting in to the other and watched it as it picked a bright orange plant from a tree it was growing on. Herbalist. Highly intelligent to do such a job in a forest such as this.
He moved onto another branch, as he did so one of his hoofs landed on a dead limb causing it to snap and fall to the forest floor below. It landed in a bush beneath the tree causing a noticeable *Foowmp* on the ground. The creature he was observing turned around quickly and looked for the source of the noise. Not spotting any, it spoke in a deep soothing tone.
"Who is there unseen, sneaking up on me during my routine?"
Female and a rhymer... very interesting. Silence was all that answered the female below him. She let out a small sigh.
"A small creature must have passed, so much noise for one that moves so fast."
He recognized the tone in her second verse. Barely contained panic. She was trying to calm her shot nerves by convincing herself that the noise was caused by something harmless. He felt a sudden wave of pleasure as the hunter within knew that this was the best kind of prey. The panicked prey made mistakes and mistakes lead to capture. He crouched low in the tree and his vision narrowed on her. She moved with a quickened pace back to the path all the while looking around to make sure nothing was near her. The hunter in Guardian could only watch her with amusement. They never look up. He moved slowly through the tree and watched her walk onto the path. The dark voice within him was now screaming at his mind, demanding that the hunt begin. We swore never to eat ponies but this isn't one. He shook his head. NO. She may not be a pony in scent but if she is part pony then she cannot be harmed.
She started up the path at a fast pace, almost cantering through the forest. If the hunter in Guardian was only barely contained before then now it was having no trouble taking over. The sight of her almost fleeing in panic made his mind snap and the hunter took over. His vision tunneled on her and he lowered himself so that he was hanging on the trunks of the tree and leaped to the next tree making sure to land heavy so he could create noise.
The loud *thud* he made on the tree reached the creature beneath him. She turned around quickly to scan the path and all the surrounding foliage. Instinct told him to wait but the hunter wasn't listening to that. This was for the thrill now. He slammed his fore-hooves into the tree causing it to splinter and let out a crack like a lightning bolt. If she was frightened before she was terrified now. She sprinted up the path. Now she'll die tired. He leaped from trunk to the branches of another tree so he could keep her in sight. Leaping from tree to tree he lost all notions of stealth and subtlety he had before. He wanted her scared; so that when she was in his web she wouldn't have the strength or hope to fight him off.
From his vantage point he spotted a growing source of light in the distance. A small hut of some kind came into view. He let out a low growl and moved swiftly ahead of the fleeing creature. A feeling of pure adrenaline came over the hunter as he prepared himself for the capture. She ran towards the hut and even from up in the tree he could hear the sigh of relief that escaped her lips. She slowed down and took a moment to stop and catch her breath. Guardian steadied himself and waited for her to begin moving again.
All the better. Now I get to break her hope. She started walking towards the safety of her hut. She was almost beneath him when he shot out the web to capture her. She was stunned for a moment but that didn’t last long, because the next moment the hunter pulled. She was lifted into the air screaming but was silenced when she saw what was lifting her into the darkness of the trees. Her eyes widened in terror and started to thrash in the web that held her. The hunter gave her no time to attempt escape. He moved swiftly around her, cocooning her in web leaving only her head and neck exposed.
KILL. FEAST. He closed the gap to her neck. It was so inviting to take a bite and he needed to accept that invite. He was so close. Her scent filled his nostrils and he could see the sweat beading on her neck. He was so close now.
He froze an inch away from her neck with his fangs bared. He had heard that tone before from a small filly. It was a tone that was lost of all hope, a voice that spoke of having nothing left but a small glimmer of hope, barely even a spark in a world of darkness. His mind slowly cleared from the murderous hunger that had consumed him. He slowly drew back and looked her in the eyes. She was silently sobbing in the cocoon, her eyes closed as she awaited the end. When it didn't come she slowly opened her eyes. The fear in her eyes made him retreat into the shadows leaving her hanging there.
"Please, let me go, great creature I do not know. Undo these webs that bind me, please show me mercy."
For a moment there was no movement from within the trees. She looked at the shadows for a long time hoping that the creature that had captured her would let her go, but as the moment wore on she realized that it wasn't going to. She closed her eyes again and waited for the creature to finish the job. However she felt a sudden falling sensation and opened her eyes to see that the ground was now getting closer to her. She braced for impact with the ground but it never came. She felt her back gently touch the ground and felt something move over her stripping away the web.
She quickly got out of the remaining strands and sprinted for the hut. Guardian watched her as she ran, his mind in a cold shock. I nearly killed a living soul. I almost consumed her. He launched himself into the trees and leaped away from the path. He didn't know how long nor how far he had traveled but when he finally came to a stop he was in tree on the edge of a large lake.
He dropped down to the waterside and splashed the icy water onto his face. I lost control. I nearly became the monster they called me. I nearly killed her, an innocent mare that had done nothing wrong other than walk on that path. He dipped his head under the water and shook it as hard as he could. He was frightened by his own actions. He never came that close to killing before, and it shook him to his core.
If that was one of the foals... He smacked himself hard. NO. I would never harm a child. He sat down half submerged in the water. But I nearly ate the mare. If I had done the deed how many more would I have to kill before I stopped caring how old they were? He splashed his face again. He didn't want to think about that. He wouldn't do that ever, and yet he had come so close to breaking an oath he had taken so long ago.
He lifted himself from the chilled waters and headed back into the forest. He found his way back to the circle of trees after an hour of aimlessly wandering through the forest. He landed near the glowing tree and sat down to watch the endless motion of the leaves. His mind went blissfully blank for what felt like hours as he let the light wash over him, but his mind refused to let him relax so easily. His thoughts turned to the foals that had invaded the sacred ground he had sworn to protect.
What if this day was meant to bring me back to the society that rejected me so long ago? He closed his eyes and sighed, but found himself thinking along that line much more. What if this was some sort of fate? What if all that had happened over the past few days all meant something more significant?
"I suppose a visit to the young one wouldn't hurt."
Apple Bloom sat in the living room of the Apple family home with a book open in front of her. She had returned home roughly an hour before sundown and was now working on some of her homework. Applejack almost yelled at her again but Big Mac arrived home a few seconds later from working in the fields and was rubbing his neck and upper back. Both of his sisters helped him in removing the yoke he always wore.
"Rough work today."
Applejack started rubbing his shoulders as he flopped down onto the sofa. "Well we knew the south field would be bad. Nopony has worked that field in years but that's why we bought it."
Macintosh let out a sigh and adjusted himself so he was more comfortable. He grumbled wordlessly as his sister worked his muscles into a relaxed state. Apple Bloom walked over to the side of the sofa armrest that Macintosh's head was laying on.
With a cute amount of concern she looked into his tired emerald eyes. "You gonna be alright?"
He nodded as best he could without lifting his head. "Eeyup. Ah'll be fine." He let out a low moan as his sister found a really tight knot in his back. "What did you do today?"
His younger sister smiled at him. "Well Ah went into the forest to—"
Applejack pressed hard on a knot in Macintosh's back which caused him to let out a gasp. Applejack however was almost standing on her brother. "You did what?! Ah thought Ah told you not to go in there alone."
"Ah didn't! Sweetie and Scootaloo came with, oh and so did Featherweight." The younger Apple sister whined. "We went in there so we could get a picture to show you."
Macintosh let out another sharp gasp as Applejack stood up on the sofa, with her front hooves digging into his back. "Applejack do you—"
Ignoring her brother under her she continued. "Cause the four of you are old enough to take care of yerselves? None of ya are that careful and what if one of ya got hurt? What about their families?"
Apple Bloom backed away a few steps but stood her ground verbally. "Nothin' dangerous happened! We followed the path and found the glowin' tree. Then we met him and he gave me my bow. He calls himself Guardian."
Applejack's face went from concerned to annoyed. "Apple Bloom Ah've had enough of this silly story of yours and Ah—"
With a voice like thunder the brother of the arguing sisters intervened. "ENOUGH!" He sat up throwing Applejack onto her rump on the couch. Apple Bloom scrambled away several steps. He looked between the pair with his normally passive face filled with annoyance.
He turned to the elder of the pair. "We talked about this. Let her tell the whole story before you cut her off." He turned to the younger sister his expression softer but still slightly annoyed. "Ah would like you to tell us if you’re going into the forest for the next few weeks. It's not safe to go in there without us knowin'."
The younger Apple nodded. "Okay but we were safe. Guardian didn't hurt us."
One of Macintosh's eyebrows rose. Apple Bloom caught the hint. "Guardian. He was the thing that saved me in the forest. He stopped me from touching the glowing tree. He said something about it being made of magic or somethin'."
Macintosh glanced over to see Applejack scowling and fuming silently on the couch. Macintosh considered trying to get her to lighten up but couldn't due to the elderly voice of their grandmother.
"Yall alright down there? I heard yellin'."
Applejack beat her siblings to the punch. "We're alright. Just havin' a conversation. Go back to sleep granny."
"Alrighty then. You three play nice."
They waited a moment until they were all certain that Granny Smith was back in bed. Applejack went back to fuming on the couch. Macintosh looked back at his youngest sister.
"It... he talked to you?"
The young Apple nodded. "He talked to us and told us his name. He even let us take a picture of him."
A snort of frustration came from the couch. Applejack rose from her seat and walked over to her siblings. "Then let's see it. Ah can't put any faith in this Guardian character of yers if Ah never see him. So where’s the photo?"
Apple Bloom's gaze fell. "Featherweight is still making it."
Applejack let out an annoyed sigh and walked over to the stairs. "Ah'm going to bed."
Mac watched her for a moment then let out his own tired sigh. He flopped back onto the couch and motioned for Apple Bloom to join him. She walked over and was quickly snatched up by the large hooves of her brother. Then he started tickling her, playfully fighting each other with tickles until they both were out of breath from laughing or giggling too much. They sat there on the couch cuddling together watching the fire in the fireplace crackle and burn merrily. Winona walked into the room and curled up into a ball near the fire.
The younger Apple looked up at her red brother. "You believe me right?"
Macintosh looked down at her and saw the worried expression she was wearing. I hate when she gives me those puppy dog eyes. He looked from her eyes to the amulet she was wearing then back to her eyes.
"Well... yea Ah believe ya. Yer story is sorta... out there but Ah know that you would never lie to me or yer sister or Granny. Plus that trinket of yers is pretty solid evidence."
Apple Bloom felt a wave of affection for her brother and hugged his as tightly as she could. Her brother returned the hug and rolled over to his stomach.
"Could ya finish the job yer sister was supposed to do? I'll buy you somethin' nice."
Apple Bloom jumped up on his back and started to rub his back. "You already bought me a new bow." She gave him another hug then focused on his shoulders. A minute of silence followed before she spoke again.
"Why won't Applejack believe me?"
Her brother turned his head so he could look at her with one eye. He let out another sigh. "Yer sister has always been a stubborn one. She always has been and always will be. Yer just like her, but at least you listen to me."
He let out a chuckle. When he noticed that his joke didn't dent the mood of his sister he reached behind himself as best he could and touched her hoof.
"She'll come around when she sees that picture. Tell me everythin' that happened in the forest."
Apple Bloom smiled and started telling him everything, starting with leaving the house to meet the others. Apple Bloom rubbed his shoulders and back as best she could while she told the story. She went into as much detail about what Guardian looked like as she could remember. Macintosh stopped her for a moment.
"So what yer saying is that it looked like a giant spider and a pony... well Ah' can't say Ah've heard stranger than that."
Apple Bloom playfully hit him. "Let me finish my story." She was nearly finished with her tale when a loud *THUMP* came from above them. It caused both of them to jump.
Apple Bloom looked up at the ceiling. "What in tarnation was that?"
Macintosh shrugged. "Maybe Applejack fell out of bed again."
Apple Bloom looked back down to her brother that was also her seat. "Again?"
He shifted himself and the younger Apple hopped off of his back until he was on his back. She jumped back onto him but was on his chest this time. "Ah never told ya that story?"
Her answer was her shaking her head. He smiled wickedly. "Oh, yer gonna love this one—"
He never got a chance to start as the irritated voice of their sister reached them from up the stairs. "What are you two doing down there? Cut that racket out."
Macintosh looked at Apple Bloom with a raised eyebrow. "Us? The noise came from upstairs. We've just been talkin'. What have you been doing?"
Applejack descended the stairs. "Ah was about to sleep and Ah didn't make any noise. Granny couldn't have made it either. She’s out like a log."
The three of them looked at one another for a moment. Apple Bloom voiced the thought that ran through all of their minds.
"Well if we didn't make the noise in the house then who did?"
Macintosh glanced over at Winona and felt his blood run cold from what he saw. She was huddled in the corner with her standing on end and whimpering. He lifted his sister off his chest and placed her on the couch. He rose from the couch and headed to the door.
"Ah'm gonna check the yard out. Stay here."
Both of his sisters were alarmed by the sudden shift in his tone. He wasn't talking in his normal lazing tone. He was talking like a soldier on patrol. He opened the door and stepped outside, looking around slowly. He walked into the yard and looked over to the orchards then over to the path leading into the trees, stopping for a moment when he heard something from behind him. He looked back to the house but didn't notice anything out of place aside from his sisters ignoring his order by standing in the doorway watching him.
"Look whoever ya are Ah'm just letting you know, you better announce yerself or you'll be in a heap of trouble. This is the wrong farm to steal from!"
A deep voice came from every direction. "I did not come to steal."
Macintosh froze in his spot his heart beating rapidly now. He had never heard such a voice. He noticed movement next to him. He looked quickly thinking that it might be the trespasser but instead it was Apple Bloom wearing a smile.
She was looking around the yard and focused on the trees. "Guardian! Where are you?"
The voice reached them and once again it sounded from everywhere at once. "I am here in the shadows. I will show myself only when your family promises to remain calm. As you know my appearance is... frightening."
Macintosh took a step closer to his sister and glanced over to see Applejack still standing in the doorway. She was scared but trying her best to hide it. Apple Bloom looked up at her brother.
"He's friendly. He won't hurt us."
He looked down at his sister and lowered his head to whisper to her. "This is the thing that saved you?"
She nodded with her puppy dog eyes. "Yea. He's really nice."
Macintosh sighed and looked up to see Applejack looking at him. He shrugged and motioned for her to come over. She tentatively left the door way and almost ran over to the pair. She made sure she was within whispering range before she spoke.
"I don't trust it. What kind of critter doesn't show its face?"
Apple Bloom stamped her hoof on the ground. "He's friendly! He's done nothing wrong! Please just meet him. Please?"
She gave both of them the puppy eyes. Macintosh gave Applejack a small smile as if to say 'Why not?' Applejack let out an aggravated groan then nodded. Apple Bloom jumped in place.
She looked to the orchards. "They said yes!"
The voice came from behind the group. "I heard."
All three Apples whipped around and were greeted by the sight of Guardian standing at his full, and rather imposing, height. The reactions of the three ponies nearly made him smile. Nearly. But the look of absolute terror on the mares face had him worried she would attack him or go running to town screaming.
He his gaze fell on the yellow blur of fur that was running at him. The filly on the other claw... Apple Bloom reached him and wrapped her hooves around his large leg. She looked up and gave him a heartwarming smile. He was certain she was about to say hello but he turned his attention to the stallion approaching them.
Much to his surprise the stallion spoke in a rather calm voice. "Yer Guardian Ah reckon?"
Maybe it's his defense mechanism. Guardian studied the impressive stallion before him. The red farmpony was almost as tall as himself, give or take a head, and was nearly as wide. He could tell that this farm pony was no stranger to harsh work. He nodded at the question.
"I am. You are her... father?"
Apple Bloom giggled beneath him. The sound of his sister’s enjoyment put confidence in Macintosh. To his credit he wasn't nearly as scared as he should have been, but due to his sister telling him what Guardian looked like he had expected something far more gruesome than the creature in front of him.
"Brother. Ah'm her older brother." He looked into the largest pair of eyes. "My name is Macintosh but everypony calls me Big Macintosh."
Guardian couldn't help but like the stallion in front of him. Something about the way he spoke and how he controlled himself even when faced with a creature nightmares were made from told him that this was a stallion to be trusted.
"A pleasure to meet you. I take it that you are her sister then?"
Being addressed by the monster knocked Applejack out of the terror induced silence. She let out an ear piercing scream and started scrambling backwards. She stopped after she hit a tree but continued to paw at the ground creating small trenches with her hooves. Much to Guardian’s amusement the tree started to tilt due to her pressing on it. Macintosh rushed over to her and started trying to calm her down.
Macintosh grabbed her on the shoulder and forced her to look at him. "It’s alright! He ain't gonna hurt us. Applejack calm down!"
She was sputtering incoherently. "It-that... how!"
Guardian watched with amusement until he felt the filly next to him tugging at his coarse fur. He looked down.
Apple Bloom was looking at him curiously. "How come you came to visit? You said I could visit you but you acted like you didn't want company."
He glanced up at the older Apples. Applejack had stopped trying to knock the tree over in her terror but hadn't moved from her spot. Her eyes were glued to him filled with fear on a primal level.
"I gave some thought to your visit. I came to the conclusion that I required more social interaction. It will be for the betterment of myself and allow me to fulfill my mission to a much more satisfactory level."
The confusion on the filly's face made him reconsider his answer. "I've decided that I need to make a... friend, so I can be a better Arachnapony."
The filly's face brightened and she gave him another hug. "Yay! We are gonna have so much fun! You could help us get our cutie mark, ooo, or you could help us make the clubhouse bigger with your webs..."
Guardian let his attention shift to the older pair of ponies by the tree. Macintosh was still trying to calm his sister down. Guardian watched them for a moment then looked back down at the filly who was chatting away beneath him. He moved a claw up to his lips to silence her.
"She's reacting rather... badly to my presence."
Apple Bloom looked over to her sister. "Ah've never seen her as scared as this. Mad, sure, but never scared."
Guardian reached down and light tapped the filly with a claw. "Go talk to her. She needs you to help her."
Apple Bloom nodded and ran over to her sister. Guardian looked up and studied the stars while he waited. Apple Bloom walked over to her sister and brother. Applejack was no longer staring at Guardian and was now looking at Macintosh. She was still muttering incoherently.
The youngest of the Apples gently touched the frightened mare. "Applejack it's alright. He won't hurt you—"
"Won't hurt me!? It could kill us in a heartbeat!" She screamed hysterically. Both of her siblings jumped backwards at the sudden outburst.
Apple Bloom took a step closer to her sister. "He won't. He's nice."
Applejack looked back to the creature, which was still looking up at the stars. "How! How could you possibly believe that!"
Apple Bloom did the first thing she thought of, the one thing that her family always did when she was scared or upset. She hugged her sister. Applejack tensed up for a moment then relaxed in the young filly's embrace. Her rapid breathing came under control and she slowly returned to a calmer state of mind.
"He saved my life. If he wanted to harm me he could have let me been eaten by those wolves." The red maned filly looked into her sister’s eyes. "Please just give him a chance. For me."
Applejack focused on the bright, begging eyes of her sister. Ah can do this. Ah need to do this. She nodded and slowly rose to her hooves. She tried her best to keep her legs from shaking as she slowly made her way over to the yard. Apple Bloom moved close to her sister and placed her hoof on her. Applejack looked at her again and smiled. She had her family to support her.
They were now within a mere hoofful of feet from the creature. Apple Bloom left Applejack's side and walked next to Guardian. She lightly tapped his leg. His gaze stayed on the stars.
"Hello there. I hope my presence hasn't frightened you."
Applejack didn't know if she should laugh at the almost forced innocence in the way it talked or to smack it for the joke it had made at her expense. She chose the former and let out a weak chuckle.
"Ah'm mighty sorry for the way Ah reacted. Ah hope Ah didn't hurt your feelin's with all the screamin'."
The massive visitor shrugged. "You are not the first to react in such a way. I am called Guardian. I hope that Apple Bloom informed you of me. She has visited me twice in the past few days."
He turned his gaze to the three Apple's near him. His gaze paused on Applejack for a moment longer than the others then returned to the stars. Macintosh looked up as well in curiosity of why he was so focused on the sky. Apple Bloom tapped his leg again.
"So what do you wanna do? I mean you came here because you wanted a friend and friends do stuff together."
Macintosh and Applejack spoke in perfect unison. "He wants what now?"
Guardian looked back down to the farm ponies. "I have come to the conclusion that in order to better protect the Arbor Lunae..." He was met with two blank looks. He was about to give them a simpler answer but was cut off by the stallion.
A look of sudden understanding came to Macintosh. "Oh, the glowin' tree!"
Guardian nodded then turned his gaze to Applejack. “You are the sister that didn't believe Apple Bloom correct? or are there more of you that haven't arrived yet?"
She shook her head. "Nah there ain't more of us. Well there is Granny Smith but Ah think she's still sleeping. Though Ah guess with all my screamin' she might be awake now... and yes Ah'm her sister." She turned to the younger sibling. "Ah'm sorry for not believin' ya. Ah should have trusted you."
Apple Bloom ran over to her sister and leaped into a hug. "Ah forgive you. You were just worried about me was all."
Guardian rolled his head in annoyance. I forgot how emotional ponies were. This better work or this was a waste of my time and a risk to the tree. He cleared his throat. The pair of hugging sisters looked at him.
"I don't have all night. I must return to the forest soon and I wished to get your blessing before I left."
Macintosh's gaze returned from the sky. "Blessin' for what?"
He cast his gaze to the oldest of the farmers. "I wish to visit Apple Bloom and yourselves once a week or more. I feel that I must do this so I can better interact with others that pass through the forest. If you allow me to that is."
Applejack seemed skeptical. "And how exactly will we help you with that?"
He lowered himself so he could appear less massive and intimidating to the group. "She can inform me of the happenings of the local populace. I have fallen out of touch with the modern ponies and I feel that you three would be able to bring me back in touch."
Apple Bloom looked from her sister to her brother. Macintosh motioned for both of them to follow him. "We'll be right back in a moment."
Guardian looked to the stars once more. "Take the time you need."
Macintosh led his sisters a few yards away and stopped them. "Apple Bloom are you certain he won't hurt any of us?"
She nodded. "He's friendly. Kinda weird, but friendly! All he needs is a friend to help him."
Macintosh sighed, the long and tiring day catching up to him quickly. He looked to Applejack. "Ah see no reason why he can't visit. So long as he doesn' do anythin' dangerous Ah suppose we could help him."
The mare looked to the Arachnapony then to her brother. "Ah don't know. Somethin' about how he talks makes me nervous."
Macintosh let out another sigh. "Ah ain't sayin' that we invite him to live with us or nothin' but all Ah'm saying is that he can talk with us every now and then. Besides he could be useful on the farm. An extra set of hooves never hurts."
The farm mare looked from the calm but tired eyes of her brother to the pleading eyes of her sister. With a final glance at Guardian she let out her own defeated sigh. "Alright. He can visit but if he tries to do anythin' funny Ah'll buck him into next week or die tryin'."
Apple Bloom ran over to her sister and gave her another quick hug. "Ah promise he'll be good. We should go get Granny and let her meet him too!" She made no more than a foot when Macintosh plucked her from the ground. She was lifted through the air and was placed back on the ground facing her sister.
"Hold up there sugarcube. Ah think we should wait to introduce Granny to him for a little while. She ain't as young as she used to be and her heart ain't to strong. We should take our time with that."
Apple Bloom pouted a little as Applejack looked to Macintosh for support. He nodded in agreement. "Now Ah want you to inside and headed to bed. Ah will handle the rest of this." Both of his sisters opened their mouths to protest. "No arguments. Ah'll let him know that he's allowed to visit. Now both of you go."
Both of the younger Apples started walking back to the farm house. Apple Bloom waved to Guardian and yawned on her way there. Macintosh walked next to the Arachnapony who was now waving to Apple Bloom with his claws.
"Here's the terms to the deal. You scratch our back, we'll scratch yours." Guardian looked to the stallion nearby. He was really starting to like this farmer. Straight to the point. He felt something close to respect form for this stallion. Close but not quite there.
"I can agree to that but what type of backscratching will I be doing?"
Macintosh glanced up to the stars. "Nothin' much. Some help on the farm, watchin' Apple Bloom so she doesn't get hurt, and occasionally answering a question or two. Stuff like that."
Guardian tilted his head to the side. "And what questions do you want to ask of me?"
Macintosh looked him in the eyes, the largest one at least. "I can tell when someone is dodgin' a question. You dodged Applejack's question pretty well."
The still tilted head was all he got. Macintosh steeled himself. "Why do you need to be friends with us?"
Guardian looked into the tired but strong eyes of the crimson farmer. "I wish to avoid confrontations with your kind and I believe that by learning of your modern ways I can better avoid you and keep the tree safe."
Macintosh stared at the creature for a moment then decided that it was a good enough answer. "Fair enough. Ah hope that this works for you but Ah will give you this warnin' right now. If you harm my sister Ah will hunt you down, even if it's the last thing Ah do. Got it?"
Guardian smiled, showing him his fangs. "I wouldn't have it any other way. Farewell Macintosh. I shall see you again on a fairer morrow."
Macintosh watched as he leaped into the trees and vanished in the branches. Macintosh walked into the house, turned off the living room lights and headed to his room. He collapsed onto his bed and rubbed at his jaw. He felt that the last half hour he had talked more than he had ever talked in his life. That and he had just given his blessing to a giant creature that looked more spider than pony so that it could be friends with his sisters and himself.
"Rough work today."
Sweetie Belle walked along one of the market streets towards Sugarcube Corner to meet up with Featherweight. They had agreed to meet there with Scootaloo then head out to Sweet Apple Acres. She made her way up the crowded street occasionally waving to a familiar face and stopping to say hello. Her mind was focused on the colt she had made a deal with. She wasn't exactly truthful with the young colt. She liked him, sure, but she wasn't exactly in love with him. Maybe I shouldn't have agreed to be his special somepony. What if I don't like him and we end up having to stay together forever? The thought sent a slight chill down her spine.
She spotted the gingerbread like building up ahead. She was almost to the main street when she spotted Featherweight and an earth pony stallion walking with him. Featherweight looked anxious to be near the stallion. She walked closer while she studied the deep sea green stallion with a brown mane that was buzzed short. At first she had no idea who this stallion could be, but when she spotted the roll of film that made his cutie mark she realized that this was Featherweights father.
She waved to the pair as she drew within ear shot. "Hi Featherweight! Is this your father?"
The stallion nodded. "Nice to meet you. You would be Sweetie Belle right? My boy here talks about you often." He leaned in with a playful smile. "You might want to be careful. I think he has a crush on you."
Sweetie glanced over at Featherweight who was blushing deeply. "Daaad, stop that."
The stallion walked over to his son and ruffled his hair playfully. Featherweight tried his best to stop his father from messing with his mane but instead ended up laughing as he and his father wrestled for a moment. Sweetie giggled as they wrestled. After a moment the older stallion stood back up and glanced at Sweetie.
He gave her another friendly grin. "Feather told me that you two were going to meet up with some friends today. I'll get out of your mane in a moment but before I do would you like something from the bakery? My treat."
Sweetie lost no time in making her request. "OH! Can I get a dozen of the super chocolate cookies?"
Sweetie almost started salivating as she thought of those baked miracles of chocolate. Her large smile made the stallion chuckle. "No problem." He turned to his son. "What about you?"
Featherweight took a moment to think then looked up at his father with a sheepish smile. "Can I have three vanilla cupcakes?"
The stallion gently patted the colt on his shoulder. "Of course champ. I'll be back in a few minutes."
He headed into the store but not before he stopped and winked at the young pair. "You love birds stay right here and stay out of trouble."
Sweetie felt her cheeks go red as some of the surrounding ponies looked over and giggled at them. Featherweight tried his best not to blush but failed as his cheeks turned a bright crimson. He pointed to a nearby table and they walked over to it as they both tried to ignore the gazes of all of the curious ponies. Sweetie kept her gaze down until she heard Featherweight mumbling to himself. She looked up from the table and saw that he was digging into a saddle bag she had failed to notice. I guess I was too busy focusing on his dad...
He pulled a folder out of the bag and slid it across the table to her. "Here are the photos. Like I promised I didn't show them to anypony, not even my dad."
She opened the folder and felt a sudden wave of excitement as she thought about how this must look just like those spy films she had seen. She barely suppressed the smile and looked at the photos.
The first was slightly blurred and looked like it was taken while he was lying on his side. She held it up so he could see it. "Was this the one you took that blinded him?"
He nodded and quickly grabbed her hoof and lowered it so the photo was face down. "Careful, we don't want any other pony from seeing them."
They stayed there for a second with their hooves together. Sweetie pulled her hoof away, feeling her cheeks growing warm once more, and saw that the colt across from her was also blushing deeply. She looked back down at the photos and tried her best to look busy. I should talk to him.
Featherweight seemed to be thinking along the same line. "I, uh, was thinking about the modeling..."
Sweetie looked up. She rubbed the back of her neck. "Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that..."
Featherweight smiled back at her. "Great! I was thinking about—"
She reached across the table and silenced the colt. "I don't want to be your special somepony."
She winced as she finished the sentence. What made her feel worse was the shocked look on Featherweights face.
"What... but you said—"
Sweetie nodded. "I know but I've been thinking. I do like you but I don't know if I feel the same way as you do. I mean I don’t know if how I feel is like just friendship or you know the whole special somepony thing."
She bit her lip and felt her heart sink as she watched his face fall, his expression hurt. She reached across the table to touch his hoof gently. He looked into her eyes as she gave him the kindest smile she had ever given in her life.
"I do want to be your friend though, and I'm really looking forward to modeling for you."
He gave a weak smile. "Really? You want to model for me even though you don't wanna be my special somepony?"
She nodded. "I still want to be friends with you and I made a promise. Who knows, this might be how I earn my cutie mark." She blushed for a moment. "And you did kinda save me from Guardian when he thought I blinded him."
The smile on the colts face grew more confident. "Hehe... I guess I kinda did."
Sweetie patted his hoof. "I guess that makes you my hero."
The colts face grew redder. He glanced off to the side and his red face started to grow pale. "Crap here comes my dad!"
They scrambled to put all of the photos back into the folder. Featherweight grabbed the folder and tried to stuff it back into his saddlebag but couldn't get it in when his father walked up to the table.
His father placed a small bag in front of Sweetie while he watched his son. "What you two looking at?"
Sweetie looked at Featherweight with a panicked glance. She wanted to tell him not to show him the photos but knew that if she did his father would want to see them. Featherweight pushed the folder in all the way.
He looked up at his father and tried his best to look like nothing had happened. "Uh, nothing. Just talking about stuff."
His father gave him a half amused smile. "Then may I look at that nothing you put into your bag?"
The colt shifted in his chair and glanced off to the side. "It's kinda private..."
His father placed the cupcakes his son had wanted down on the table. His voice took a stern tone. "Son, I'm asking nicely. Please show me."
Featherweight looked ready to say no but his father gave him a stern look. His father held out his hoof and gestured for him to give it to him. "Now."
Defeated and with no way to avoid showing him the pictures he pulled out the folder and gave it to his father. He cast his eyes to the ground as his father opened the folder. Sweetie started to feel sweat form on her forehead as she tried to think of something to stop the stallion, but her mind went blank and refused to work. The one time I need it to work fast it stops! She watched as he looked into the open folder and down at the photos.
The stallions eyes widened and his eyebrows rose. He looked from his son to Sweetie and back. He looked back down at the photos once more then closed the folder after clearing his throat. He gave the folder back to his son. He looked his son in the eyes and spoke in the lighthearted tone he had used before when he had teased his son.
"I expect to see her over for dinner sometime." He looked at the now confused Sweetie. "Well I have to get going now. I'm betting his mother wants me home to clean the attic or something. It was nice to meet you Sweetie Belle."
She watched as the stallion walked away from the young pair of ponies. "Bye mister... Featherweights dad."
He gave a soft chuckle. "Just call me Evergreen. Stay safe you two and don't get into any trouble." He gave them a playful wink then set off down the street. Sweetie looked at Featherweight, who was wiping his forehead and sighing.
She glanced back to Evergreen. "He seems rather happy for a pony that just saw a monster."
Featherweight let out a small chuckle. "That's because he didn't."
Sweetie turned to see Featherweight grinning mischievously as he took a quick look inside the folder. "What do you mean he didn’t? He looked in the folder!"
He shook his head. "No. He didn't. He looked at this folder."
He reached into his bag and pulled out another folder. He passed the folder he just produced to Sweetie so she could look inside of it. She opened it and saw all of the photos of Guardian. The confusion on her face mixed with the relief she felt. However her curiosity wasn't satisfied.
She looked back up at the smiling colt. "Then what photos did he look at?"
His smile was quickly becoming embarrassed. He mumbled for a moment. Sweetie reached for the folder but missed it as Featherweight brought it to his chest.
He looked off to the side. "It's nothing. You would think I'm weird or something."
Sweetie huffed. "Oh come on! Let me see please? I promise I won't laugh or think you're weird."
Featherweight looked at her and saw that she was giving him a genuine smile. He sighed and looked down at the folder. He sighed and held it out so she could grab it. She took it from him gently and opened it. Inside were pictures of her. From the looks of it they were an assortment of photos he had taken over the past year they had known each other. A few of them were from when she had worked at the Foal Free Press but the one that caught her eye was one in the middle. She placed the folder down and looked at it.
She felt her cheeks grow warm. "This is from the forest... I look so pretty in this."
The colt looked her in the eyes. "You're always pretty."
A pair of voices reached them from a nearby table. "Dwaaa!"
The young pair looked over to see a mint green unicorn and a beige earth pony sitting at a table, both of them looking at them with amused smiles. They were resting their heads on their hooves.
The earth pony looked at the unicorn sitting next to her. "Aren't they just the cutest?"
The unicorn nodded and let out a dreamy sigh. "Young love."
Sweetie and Featherweight both hid their faces as both of their them turned bright red. Sweetie was certain that she had never been more embarrassed in her life. She cast a quick glance to Featherweight and saw that he was a bright shade of red.
A voice from behind Sweetie made her jump. "What are you two blushing about?"
The embarrassed pair looked at Scootaloo then at each other. They spoke together without meaning to. "Nothing!"
This response only made the pair next to them laugh. Sweetie and Featherweight quickly gathered up their stuff and started to head in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres with a confused Scootaloo in tow.
Sweetie grabbed Scootaloo by the leg. “Come on let’s get going!”
The unicorn from the table next to them watched them walk up the road. She turned to the earth mare next to her. With a sigh she looked at her marefriend. "Bon Bon, I want one."
Bon Bon let out a small groan. "We've talked about this. Our house isn't big enough for— is that Zecora?"
The pair watched a rather frazzled looking zebra move through the street at a brisk canter. She kept looking around the village, mostly to the roof tops and the alleyways. She had only one destination in mind: the Golden Oaks Library. She moved up the street narrowly dodging a pair of ponies carrying shopping bags and spotted the library.
She made it to the door and started knocking on the door rapidly. Her voice cracking with barely contained panic. "Twilight I must speak with you please, there is something unholy within the trees!"
She kept banging on the door until she heard the latch of the door click. She pushed her way into the library, knocking the small purple dragon over as she made her way to the purple unicorn walking down the stairs.
She ran up the stairs and grabbed Twilight Sparkle by the shoulders. "You must help me and write your teacher, I have been attacked by an unholy creature."
Twilight tried her best to pry the tight grip of the zebra off of her shoulder. "Zecora, stop shaking me!" She grabbed the frantic zebra's hooves and held them so she would stop shaking her. Zecora placed her hooves back on the ground and started to pace in a small circle.
Her voice was hoarse. "You must write her now and with haste, for we are in grave danger from the beast I have faced."
She looked to the door then back to the purple pair. Twilight walked next to her and gently placed her hoof on her shoulder. Now that Twilight could get a better look at the zebra she could see that her eyes were bloodshot and had heavy bags under them.
In a soft voice Zecora spoke once more, cutting off Twilight's question. "Strands like silk that wouldn't break, strength that can make the world quake. Within its eyes burns nothing but hate, by its claws has ended many fates. Like a plague it spreads death, fear it and draw your last breath."
Zecora stopped her pacing and started softly chanting in a strange language that Twilight had never heard. "Die wilde diere van die baie oë dood alles in sy pad, vlug voor hom en bid jy ontsnap sy toorn."
Zecora sat on the floor and started crying. Twilight stood there watching the bizarre sight as a strange feeling of fear filled her mind while the foreign words rang in her ears. Something about the tone in which Zeocra had said them. It was almost like a nursery rhyme but had a much darker tone. She walked over to Zecora and sat down next to her and gently hugged her.
Zecora latched onto her and sobbed to her shoulder. "Tell me everything that happened."
Between sobs Zecora told her everything that happened in her rhyming way. Twilight felt her blood run cold when she described the creature that attacked her. Zecora regained control of herself and was given tissues by Spike, she thanked him with a weak smile.
She wiped her eyes as she tried her best to keep her voice calm. "I haven't slept since the attack, in fear that it would come back. So once more I beg you tell Celestia of my plight, so that I can return to my home without fright."
Twilight nodded and glanced over to see Spike already running to a nearby desk. "I'll do everything I can. You can sleep here until the forest is safe again." Zecora opened her mouth to protest but Twilight shook her head. "I can't let you go back into that forest knowing that you would be scared or possibly harmed. I have a guest bed in my room. Go lie down and get some sleep, by the time you wake up Celestia should have responded."
Twilight gave Zecora a reassuring smile and a hug. Zecora returned it with tears forming in her eyes. "Thank you."
She slowly rose from the ground and made her way up the stairs. The purple unicorn followed her just in case she needed anything. Zecora laid down on the bed and fell asleep almost instantly. Twilight pulled the blanket over her and quietly left the room. She was halfway down the stairs when she spotted Spike at the bottom with a worried look on his face.
Spike held the quill up but hesitated. "What do you think attacked her?"
Twilight looked back up the stairs to the shut door. "I don't know. I've never even read about something that would look close to what she described. Hopefully Celestia will have the answer."
Spike nodded but the worry on his face didn't diminished. "And if she doesn't?"
Twilight looked back at him. "We'll deal with that if we have to. Now let's fill out this letter. Dear Princess Celestia..."
"These look amazing! If we ever get a chance to show them to anypony we'll become famous or something!" Scootaloo looked through the photos as the trio of young ponies walked along the road to Sweet Apple Acres. Sweetie Belle and Featherweight had spent nearly the entire trip trying their best to avoid eye contact but failed miserably almost every five minutes or so. Scootaloo got tired of that quickly and started trying to get them to spill the beans on what they were blushing about.
"Nothing!" It was the same answer she got every time and it was always answered by the pair. This only served to cause more blushing. After several tries, all of which were failures, she had asked if she could see the photos. Now they were walking along the road looking at the photos.
They reached the edge of the farm as the path began to be lined with trees to their right. They quickly packed the photos away and set off down the small road that lead to the Apple family home.
Scootaloo looked to the pair of ponies. "Will you two please just tell me why Lyra and Bon Bon were giggling at you? Please, this will drive me nuts if I don't find out."
Sweetie was shaking her head rapidly. "NO! We won't tell you. It's nothing!"
The orange pegasus looked at Featherweight and saw that he was nodding to what Sweetie had said. She let out a frustrated groan but was then struck with inspiration.
She smiled wickedly but spoke in an innocent voice. "If you don't tell me I'll just have to ask them myself next time I see them. Maybe I'll see them later today."
Both of the white ponies grabbed Scootaloo by the shoulders. "NO!"
They glanced of each other and let go of the pegasus, blushing harder than they had during the entire walk. Scootaloo looked between the pair of them. "Then just tell me!"
Sweetie looked at Featherweight with a sorry look. She turned to Scootaloo and told her about how Evergreen had been teasing them and how Lyra and Bon Bon had commented on their conversation. She made sure not to mention what either of them had said and told her about the close call they had with Evergreen almost finding the photos. She made sure not to mention what the substitute photos were. Scootaloo slowly started to grin and was fighting to keep herself from laughing,
She finally let herself go when Sweetie finished. "You two? A couple?" She doubled over in laughter. After several moments she regained control of herself. "That's priceless!"
Scootaloo missed the hurt look on Featherweights face and the embarrassed one on Sweetie's. She never got the chance to when Apple Bloom ran up to them, an excited look on her face. She paused for only a moment when she saw the looks on her friends faces then shrugged to herself.
Her voice was bubbling with excitement. "Guess what happened last night!"
She quickly told them about how Guardian had visited her and the family in the night and how he wanted to visit once a week. They others quickly became as excited as Apple Bloom.
Sweetie was the only one to have any questions. "So he wants to make friends because it will help him protect the tree? How does that work?"
Apple Bloom shrugged again and motioned for them to walk with her. "Ah have no idea but if that means we get to be friends with him and get to see him more often than Ah'm alright with it."
Sweetie tilted her slightly to the side. "And Applejack is okay with that? I mean if she freaked out that badly I would think she would be against the idea."
Apple Bloom nodded. "Well we kinda had to convince her that he wouldn't harm any of us. Once she gets to know him she'll find out that he's friendly."
Sweetie Belle smiled and gave a small excited jump. "We’re going to be friends with an arachnapony!"
Featherweight gave Apple Bloom the folder with the photos of Guardian in it. "We should show him these. He did want to know how my camera worked and this would show him what I meant."
Apple Bloom took a quick look through the photos. She smiled up at the photographer. "Ah agree. Ah bet he would love to see these but we should wait until a little later to go show him these. Ah think he only comes out at night."
The four of them agreed to wait for a few hours before they would venture back into the forest. They spent their time playing games and brainstorming ideas on how Sweetie, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo could earn their cutie marks.
The last rays of sunlight filtered through the leaves of the Everfree Forest into a small cluster of trees. The tops of these trees were covered in what looked like the webs of several hundreds of spiders, but in truth had been made by only one creature. The very creature that was standing amongst the webs, suspended high above the ground. Guardian was crouching on the webs, his legs spread far so that his weight was spread out on the webs to reduce stress on the mighty strands. His body was lowered so that his first joint was at a ninety degree angle to his body. His claw tipped limbs were stretched out to full length and the tips were pressed together.
Guardian had stayed in this stance for hours, and in those hours he had spent standing still thousands of his neighbors had taken the opportunity to turn his immobile body into their new home. His body was covered with a small legion of spiders and in turn nearly every portion of his body was covered in webs of his smaller kin. The feeling of thousands of tiny limbs pulling and pushing his fur all across his body was like a form of background noise for him.
The only sign that he was still alive was when he flicked his ears to prevent a more adventurous spider from making its home in the inner part of his ear. His mandibles also prevented any of the smaller arachnids from attempting to make his nostrils their home as well by swatting them away or picking them up and tossing them onto the web he was standing on.
His gaze was fixed on nothing; he merely gazed off into the darkness of the deep forest as his mind drifted to anything he felt was worth his time to think about. At this current moment it was focused on the feeling of all the smaller kin crawling over his carapace. When he was younger he would have never let them get within a foot of himself, and when he had discovered that his webbing seemed to attract the small creatures to him, it made him feel that his privacy would always be invaded. For a while in his youth he had attempted to not make webs, or at least not make a nest for himself out of the webs, but after almost a year he found that making a nest of webs was better and he eventually grew used to the arachnids that would flock to his webs.
His thoughts turned from the spiders around him and on him to just one that was slowly crawling up the side of his neck. He noted the feeling of its legs digging into his coarse coat. For a moment he thought it was another one headed for the inside of his ear but it turned off and settled itself on the outside of his ear. As it started spinning its web Guardians mind drifted off to the first time he had attempted to make a home in this forest. He had found a small glade within the trees that would have been perfect for him to make a nest in. However the neighbor killed the deal.
When he had begun making his nest he had heard a horrifying sound coming from the river. He investigated the source of the wretched noise and discovered that the source was a sea serpent that had made its home in the middle of a river. He had wanted to solve the issue permanently but the odds of him securing a meal now were next to nothing. The first issue was the fact that the serpent lived in the water, a habitat that he couldn’t hunt in. The second issue was that his webs wouldn't work under the water and would be nearly impossible to hit the serpent if it submerged. The final issue he had was that he didn't really care for the taste of sea serpent flesh.
How does a sea serpent make a home in a river and how the hell does it find enough food?
In the end he was forced to abandon the glade and search for a new place to make a nest. He found the small cluster he now called home and settled down. It took no less than a week for all of the tiny neighbors to move in and join him. He had found it rather amusing that the smaller spiders were the only creatures that tolerated his presence and even embraced him as one of their own. Something none of the ponies he had met in a long time had done for him.
Better off alone anyways. Others get in the way and end up causing more harm than good. He let out an angry snort that caused some of the spiders to scurry over his body. Ponies have been nothing but useless fear filled wretches since the first time I met them in this shape. He twitched his ears in anger. His mind was filled the images of a bright green unicorn mare he had known. His anger faded and his body relaxed as he recalled her gentle curves and the way her voice seemed to float through the air. I have never known a sweeter mare, or one filled with more hatred. His posture regained the statue like quality he had had a few moments prior as he remembered her face when she had seen him in his current monstrous form.
Her last words to him floated through his mind and he let out a growl filled with just as much pain as sorrow. "You can't be the stallion I fell in love with, he wasn't an abomination!" He looked up towards the treetops and shifted his carapace slightly causing a slight shower of spiders onto the webs beneath him. They talked of love and tolerance to us and what did they do? They slaughtered us the moment their princess's backs were turned. And yet they called us the monsters? He laughed bitterly and let out a small sigh. But am I any better than they were? I nearly killed an innocent creature merely because she wasn't a pony. Maybe I've been alive and alone a little too long. Another bitter laugh. He looked off to his right as a pair of voices reached him.
Thinking of annoyances... He shook his body and stretched his limbs to rid his body of the spiders. He shifted along one of the larger strands of web to the tree and followed the voices through the forest. He lost track of how long he followed the sound of the ponies but knew that they were far closer to the trail than to either his resting place or the Arbor Lunae. He wondered for a moment if they were truly in here for him or if they had gotten lost.
His answer came when he realized that the pair, the unicorn filly and the pegasus filly, were arguing. The pegasus's voice reached him up in the tree tops.
"We should have stayed on the path, but no. You just had to go looking at a stupid flower!"
The unicorn looked at her friend and yelled back. "Well if you hadn't insisted on trying to earn your 'forest guide' cutie mark we wouldn't have gotten lost!"
Guardian almost laughed as the unicorns voice squeaked in her anger. The massive creature decided that he didn't really care to see the rest of this argument and descended down the tree and landed next to them. The pair of them let out scared screams as he towered over them.
His voice was annoyed. "I see that your visit earlier this week wasn't enough for you two. I assume that the other pair is off somewhere just as lost as you two?"
They nodded and cowered before him. He sighed. Spare them of my anger, they haven't done anything to earn it... yet. "Very well. I will lead you two out of the forest after we have located the other foals."
The ponies looked at each other, then nodded. "Okay..."
The trio walked through the forest for a minute but their progress was halted when Guardian heard the fillies screaming behind him. He turned and noticed that they were staring at his head.
The unicorn was the one to speak. "You h-have a..."
He noticed some movement near his ear. The spider that had settled there somehow managed to keep a grip on him as he jumped through the trees. He lowered his head so he could pick up the spider with his claws. At first he thought they were just over reacting to the spider but when he noticed the size of it he gave them and the spider some credit. For the fillies he gave them credit for not screaming louder and for the spider he was impressed at the size of it. He judged that it was at least two to two and a half inches in leg-span and roughly two inches in body length.
He held the spider so the girls could look at it. "This is nothing to be afraid of. Your fear of it is pointless." He placed the spider onto a nearby tree and watched it climb up the tree at a rather rapid pace. "Shall we continue or do you feel the need to be frightened by something just as harmless?"
The young fillies glanced at each other then shook their heads. "Good. Now come along you two."
The resumed walking through the forest and once again Guardian found his progress stopped, but this time it was by the voice of the pegasus rather than screams of fear.
"Wait up! We don't want to get lost again!"
He looked back and noticed that they had fallen a few yards behind him. His brisk walking pace was almost equal to their sprints. He let out an annoyed growl and waited for them to join him. He gave them a moment to catch their breaths.
He noticed the looks they were giving him, a mixture of slight exhaustion and amusement. They find this amusing? That's almost adorable. Almost. The orange one looked at him once she had caught her breath.
"You must really want us gone if you're moving so fast." She let out a small chuckle. He recognized the feeble attempt at a joke. He motioned for them to continue walking. He set his pace to match theirs and found that it was almost agonizingly slow. They walked through the forest in silence as Guardian tried to locate the other young ponies that were wandering through the forest. His ears flicked in whatever direction seemed the most likely for the younger ponies to be in. This would be much faster if I was in the trees.
The silence was broken by the unicorn’s voice. "We brought the photos to show you."
He glanced down at the white pony. "The what?"
She moved some of her mane out of her eyes. "The photos. Remember the camera?" His tilting head was all she got in reply. "The little box that blinded you?" He nodded and let out a small hiss like sound. "We brought the photos that we took of you last time. They came out really well."
He slowed to a halt and looked down at the small ponies. "Interesting. I assume the male carries these 'photos'?"
The unicorn nodded. "Featherweight. He's got them in his saddlebag. He's really good with a camera."
Guardian let out a low hum then turned to look at the orange one. "I can assume that only you four and Apple Blooms family know of my presence in this forest?"
The pegasus nodded. "We didn't tell anypony... but why is it you don't want us to? You could live in Ponyville with us and have lots of friends."
Guardian sighed. "You are young. You see the world in a hope filled light and rightfully so. Ones as young as you are willing to explore the world over to find a meaning in life and to find your talents." He paused briefly to let them absorb his words. "All ponies are like this when they are young, but as time wears on they forget the joy of exploring the world and themselves. They grow cold to different things and want nothing to change in their lives." Another pause. "I have seen this many times over my long life. In time they all feared us and saw us as nothing more than monsters. Only the youth can see us for what we are."
He looked off to his right, the vague direction of the Arbor Lunae. "I have always been better off alone."
Sweetie took a step closer and placed her hoof on Guardians leg. "But you don't have to be..."
He looked down at the small unicorn. "Yes I do. Time has taught me that others merely get in the way of keeping the tree safe. I have lived alone this long without contact and I shall continue to do so for a long time." He clicked his pincers. "Now I shall hear no more questions until we have located your friends."
His stern and annoyed tone told them that the conversation was over. Guardian gave the pair a quick look then glanced off into the forest. "We won't be able to find them at such a slow pace." He bent low and lowered his shoulder to the pair. "Hop on quickly. The sooner I have you four out of this forest the sooner I can have some peace."
They quickly climbed onto his back and tentatively held onto him. He turned to them. "Make sure you don't sit on any other passengers."
For a moment they panicked and frantically looked around his body for any more spiders but after a moment they realized that there was a hint of a joking tone to his voice. This made both of the fillies relax as they held onto him. He had turned his head away from them before they realized this and started moving through the forest at his own pace. He moved through the trees swiftly and with a grace that neither of the fillies on his back had ever seen a pony, or any creature on foot, have.
They cut through the forest at this pace for close to five minutes before the silence was broken again by Sweetie. "Guardian?"
He turned his head so he could look at her with half of his eyes. "What?"
She swallowed and steeled herself as his annoyed tone was still present. "I know you said that you didn't want any more questions but I was wondering. Are you mad at us?"
His pace slowed for a fraction of a second. His pace returned to normal. "Have you ever met a pony that wouldn't stop bothering you no matter how much you wanted them to stop?"
Sweetie nodded then realized what he was insinuating with the question. Her ears flattened. "We bother you?"
For a brief moment he considered telling her yes but the hurt look in her eyes and the flattened ears made him stop. "Well... in a way, but you also amuse me because of the you keep coming into a dangerous forest just to visit me." He gave them something resembling a smile. His ears twitched as he noticed a sudden noise coming from his left. He turned suddenly and headed towards the pair of voices in the distance.
He heard a pair of voices cry *Whoa!* from his back as two pairs of hooves wrapped around his carapace to make sure they didn't fall off. They moved through the forest underbrush as the only noise being the sound of Guardians hooves crushing the leaves of smaller plants. Slowly as they drew closer Sweetie and Scootaloo heard the voices of their friends.
The voice of Apple Bloom was the first of the two that became clear. "We should go tell my sister and brother. They could help us find them."
Her voice was filled with barely contained panic. Featherweight's voice reached the trio as they drew closer. "I think we should keep looking for Guardian. He could find them really quickly."
Guardian walked through a small bush and spotted the pair of panicking ponies. "No need. I already found them."
Apple Bloom and Featherweight jumped slightly at his sudden appearance but their fright ended as they rushed over to their friends that were hopping off of Guardians back. The trio of fillies shared a hug and Featherweight stood off to the side awkwardly. He stood there rocking on his hooves as he waited but a moment later he felt three pairs of hooves drag him into a giggling pile.
Guardian watched them and rolled his head in annoyance once more. "Is that enough hugging for you or should we waste more time?"
The small group pulled apart and all looked up at his irritated expression. He motioned with his claws for them to follow him. Featherweight looked at him slightly saddened and confused.
He started rummaging through his saddlebag. "But we brought you something to show you..." He turned to Sweetie and Scootaloo. "Did you tell him about the photos?"
Sweetie nodded and looked up at the massive form of the arachnapony. "You do want to see them right?"
Her eyes grew large and a small frown grew on her face. Guardian knew exactly what she was doing. She's really good at this. Clever girl. His own curiosity and the undeniably cute pony in front of him overrode the more negative feelings that he had for the group.
He gave a resigned sigh. "Fine. Show me these 'photos.' I suppose this will be amusing."
Featherweight pulled out a folder and took a quick glance inside. He gave a small smile and lifted it up for Guardian to look through. He took the folder and spent almost five minutes looking over the folder with a foal-like curiosity.
Featherweight’s voice brought him back to the current moment. "Are you okay?"
He looked down at the colt. “I am fine. What is this thing I am holding?”
The pegasus looked at him for a moment, unsure to whether he was joking or not. “It’s a folder. Haven’t you ever seen one before?”
Guardian looked back to the folder and opened it. “No.“ He lifted one of the pictures up so that he could study it. “Interesting. Does everypony have the ability to make these?”
Featherweight shook his head. “Some ponies don’t own cameras but they do pay others to take photos for them.”
He closed the folder and gave it back to the colt. “Now that we have gotten that over with I will take you to the edge of the forest.” He clicked his pincers loudly to silence any protests they might have had. “You will return to your homes and stay there for the rest of this night. I wish to have some peace for the next few days and I’m certain that your caretakers wouldn’t be comfortable knowing that you have been coming into the forest.” His irritated voice silenced any complaints.
He started to walk through the undergrowth towards the path in the forest, stopping only for a second to make sure they were following him. The young ponies followed him with their ears pinned to their heads. In complete silence they walked through the forest and reached the path in the forest.
Apple Bloom gathered her courage. "Are you mad at us?"
Guardian kept looking forward. "Yes. You have put not only yourself but these three in danger. If I hadn't found them they might have been killed by a monster much less forgiving than I." He turned his head so he could look at the group, his voice brimming with rage. "You have disturbed me more than once in the past three days, trespassed on sacred ground, and you nearly committed the offense of touching the Arbor Lunae, which would have killed you!" His voice lowered but was still filled with rage. "This is why I never liked foals."
He started mumbling darkly to himself and looked ahead of himself. The group of ponies exchanged scared glances and they fell back a little so they could whisper to each other. Sweetie's eyes were watering up and Featherweight looked shocked. Scootaloo was fuming and was giving Guardian an angry glare. Apple Bloom was also staring at the arachnapony but her gaze wasn't angry or sad. It was confused, she had no idea why he was acting this way or why he was so upset that they wanted to visit him and get to know him.
Apple Bloom was lost in thought and failed to notice that Guardian had stopped walking. She ran into his leg and bounced back onto the forest floor. This in turn caused Scootaloo to trip over her then Sweetie and Featherweight tripped over her. The group struggled for a moment to disentangle themselves from each other.
Guardian looked down at the pile of foals, his voice was forced into a calmer state. "Here is the path. Now travel home and stay out of this forest unless you are guided by an adult or by me." He turned to Apple Bloom. "I shall visit you tomorrow at sundown." He looked at the entire group. "I would like to see you all again at that time, if you would like, but until then stay out of the forest."
They slowly picked themselves up off the forest floor and noticed that they were indeed on the path through the forest. They looked around for a moment, and Apple Bloom looked to Guardian but discovered that Guardian was no longer on the path with them.
She looked up to the trees and let out a sigh. She motioned for her friends to join her as she walked up the road. "Come on. We might as well get headed home."
Hours had passed. Hours since he had practically thrown the small ponies out of the forest. He had spent a fair amount of time afterwards fuming in the trees. Now, however, he was sitting on the top of a particularly tall tree, gazing up at the moon. Maybe I was rather... tough on them. He sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck with his claws.
They were reckless and had gotten lost. They had no regard for their own lives... but maybe they thought I would find them like I had before and protect them. He clicked his pincers as the thought gave him a sudden feeling of guilt. Maybe they were trusting me to protect them and now I may have shattered that trust... He shook his head. It doesn't matter. They are only an means to a end. Relationships only prove to cause pain to myself and them. Worthless emotional connections.
He studied the moon for a moment. For over a thousand years it bore a series of craters that resembled a mare but little more than a few years ago that mare disappeared wiping the moon clean. Yet another thing restored by time, and yet... we have lost almost everything we had. He closed his eyes and sighed once more. He reopened them and descended down the trees towards his nest. He reached a tall branch above the web floor and started spinning a cocoon of web for him to sleep in.
He had discovered shortly after that his webs attracted the spiders that loved to make their homes on him that they didn’t have the common decency to only do this while he was awake. His solution was simple. He would make a cocoon around himself, a weave tight enough so that his smaller kin couldn't get in but loose enough for it to be breathable. His first attempts had taken place far from his nest and as he grew more confident in his weave he moved closer to the main nest. It took him nearly four hours to accomplish a simple goal of making a hanging resting place.
He lowered himself over the center of the webbed floor and closed the cocoon. His mind slowly started winding down as he grew comfortable. The last thing that filtered through his mind was the hurt look Apple Bloom had given up to the trees. Means to a end... means to a end.
Bronze Hoof made his way through the streets of the capital city of Canterlot. He looked at the passing ponies, seeing them smile and wave to him as he passed. He managed to catch a lot of eyes, but that was normal. He was in full Night Legion armor, the polished silver shining proudly on his chest and head. His jet black coat made the armor stand out all the more, making him a striking and intimidating figure. He returned the smiles with his own as he made his way to a small mansion. He stopped and inspected the new plaque on the small wall forming the border of the grounds.
The Silver Family. He passed the plaque as his smile started growing larger. The mansion located on the grounds was new, still under construction, but the family was rather old. This current generation was the twelfth in the line. He walked through the construction searching for a certain mare.
He came upon the small garden in the back and spotted the unicorn. He called out to her and watched as her deep blue mane bounced as she walked to him. He was entranced by the sight as the midday sun played off her mane. She planted a gentle kiss on his cheek.
Her voice was like silk. "I missed you. I'll miss you when you go." She moved close to him and placed her head on his shoulder. "Please don't go. I've heard the stories and..."
She trailed off as she hugged him. He returned the hug tightly and removed his helmet. His bronze colored mane fell free from the helmet and he looked down at the mare.
He placed a kiss on her forehead and wiped her teary sapphire eyes. "You know I can't stay. I made an oath to defend all of Equestria and that means you as well. I promise I'll come back."
She looked up and wiped her bright green coat free of any stray tears. "I know but I still want you to stay."
He kissed her on the lips. "I love you. I'll come back unharmed, the same as always."
She pulled away from Bronze Hoof and her loving gaze became one of terror. She backed away and started to scream but he never heard her. He looked down saw that his coat was becoming longer and from his chest protruded small claws. He felt a sudden pulling on his chest and back as he was slowly being dragged backwards. He reached for the mare that only a moment ago was holding him close but saw that she was smiling sadistically and gathering energy into her horn. The next thing he knew he was hit square in the chest by a searing blue ball of energy and was tossed into the black void.
Guardian awoke from his slumber and rubbed his eyes. He paused for a moment and looked at his claws. Same as every other night then... He opened the cocoon and watched a small shower of spider fall to the webs below. He dismantled the cocoon and landed on the webbed floor. He walked around the web until he found the thinnest part. He placed the now blanket like webs down on the floor and wove the strands together. He glanced up to the hanging branches and spotted other cocoons hanging from the tree. Each of them had their own occupant, creatures that he had captured but hadn't the time nor appetite to consume them at the moment of their demise. He looked back to his work and focused on it for now. Not like they won't be there when I get back. I'm thinking I’ll try the Timberwolf for dinner tonight.
Satisfied with his work he climbed up the trees until he reached the top. He glanced to the sky and spotted Celestia's sun close to the noon position. He knew he was going to have a long day ahead of him. He sighed and went down into the tree. He turned and leaped through the trees. He came to a stop ,after moving through the trees for roughly ten minutes, above a large web very similar to his own nest. It was one of the many traps he had set throughout the forest.
He lowered himself down onto the webs and inspected the trap for any worthwhile catches. A few smaller birds were tangled in the webs but the larger of the spiders that had turned this webbing into their homes had already turned them into meals.
What caught his attention was a rather large crow that was struggling in the webs at the moment. He approached it and looked at it for a moment, a look of boredom passing over his otherwise passive face. Another crow for breakfast? I was hoping for something... juicer. His motion was a blur as he quickly bit the crow and injected it with his venom. The bird struggled for a moment then grew limp. Guardian licked his lips. Still, only the first part of today's meals. He bared his fangs and began his meal.
Guardian spat out a small bone as he leaped up to the trees. He had plenty of other traps to check and he had a feeling he was going to need his energy when he went to the Apple farm.
The purple dragon watched with a mixture of amusement and worry as his friend paced back and forth inside the library. She had been doing this for the past hour and he was starting to think that she was going to ruin the floor again. She had been doing this since she had returned home from a small visit with Mayor Mare about the Nightmare Night festival that was quickly coming up.
"Why hasn't she responded yet? This has to be at least somewhat important. I mean a creature that attacks ponies could be very dangerous and needs to be dealt with quickly." She stopped pacing and glanced over to Spike. "What could be keeping her?"
Spike tapped his chin with his claw for a moment. "Well... maybe she's busy. I do remember you said something about Germaney and Equestria having meetings. Maybe that's what she's doing." He gave her a shaky smile. "Besides, it's only been a day. She's probably working on a solu—"*BUUURP*
A small puff of green flame erupted from the young dragon’s mouth and formed a sealed scroll. The scroll hung in the air for a moment before Twilight grabbed it with her telekinesis. She opened it in an instant and started reading it.
My dearest Twilight,
It is with the deepest regret that I have to tell you that I am unable to help your friend at this time. With the political talks with Germaney and Saddle Arabia in full swing I am unable to address this issue in person and with the Royal Guard busy with the Nightmare Night preparations I will be unable to send any of them to Ponyville to investigate. However I will be able to assist Zecora after the holiday ends. Until that time I must ask that you act with extreme caution as this creature sounds very dangerous and may be something ancient. I'm sending a tome for you to study in case my fears are correct. I'm sorry I can't be more helpful than this. Please stay safe.
Your mentor and friend,
Twilight re-read the letter and flipped it over. "What tome?" A belch louder that the one that produced the scroll in front of her answered her question. A loud *Thump* came from behind her. She turned around and spotted a massive tome materializing on the floor in front of the dragon. "Oh... that's where it is. Well I guess I better get reading."
Spike gave a small groan and pointed to the letter. "What's that for?"
Twilight gave him the letter to read as she read the title of the book but stopped for a moment as she realized that it wasn't in Equestrian. She tapped her hoof on her chin for a moment as she tried to recall where she had seen the strange runes on the tome. Her attention returned to the dragon as he finished reading the scroll.
He glanced up at Twilight then to the tome in front of him. "I think you should tell the others about this before you start reading that. We both know how you get absorbed into your studying."
Twilight nodded. "Agreed. Besides after a quick talk with the others I can crack into this book and see what it is that Celestia was worried about."
Spike gave her a small smile. "Alright. Well we better get going then."
Twilight shook her head and pointed to a nearby book case. "I need you to stay here and gather all the books we have on rune translation." She noticed the grimace on Spikes face as he started walking over to the bookcase. She walked over to him and gave him a quick nuzzle. "This is for Zecora. She needs us to help her."
He sighed. "I know. The sooner we figure this out the sooner things can go back to normal, well as normal as things get around here."
They shared a small round of giggles as Twilight gathered the scroll from Celestia and left the library. Spike watched the door close and turned to the large bookcase. "Well... I guess I should start."
Twilight was walking along the road towards Sweet Apple Acres. She had just finished telling all of her friends of what happened to Zecora, except Applejack, and now she was on her way there. The reactions of her friends so far were pretty much what she could have expected. Rainbow Dash had wanted to go into the forest and hunt the creature down, Rarity told her that she hoped that Celestia would resolve the issue immediately after Nightmare Night, Pinkie... well she was Pinkie. She had been bouncing around the Sugarcube Corner, cooking and humming as she did, while Twilight tried her best to talk to her. Fluttershy's reaction was just as expected as well.
"Maybe it was frightened. Frightened animals always lash out." She had said. Twilight could understand that but she was still going to stay cautious just in case the creature was aggressive. When she had made that point to Fluttershy she had responded with a question she hadn't thought of. "If it's a dangerous monster of some kind then why didn't it harm Zecora?"
Twilight thought about that question and she couldn't come up with an answer for it. If it was dangerous and could potentially harm ponies then why didn't it harm Zecora? Maybe it was just scared and Zecora startled it... but nothing that has ever lived in that forest has ever looked anything like what Zecora described. She let out a small sigh and pushed the question out of her mind. She had better things to do than waste her time thinking about why it had spared Zecora when she didn't even know what the creature was.
She reached the edge of the Apple orchard and headed into the trees, listening for the sound of any apple bucking or other farm work that was being carried out by her friend. She turned when she heard the unmistakable sound of hooves hitting trunk. She headed towards the sound and found her friend Applejack hard at work.
Applejack noticed her in the middle of a kick. The farm pony's hooves hit the tree with a powerful *Whump* as she smiled at Twilight. "Well, howdy there Twilight. What brings you all the way out here to the farm?"
"Well I'm here because of something that happened to Zecora."
The farmpony looked at her with a worried look. "Is she alright?"
Twilight nodded and told Applejack the full story that Zecora had told her. As she told the story she noticed that Applejack's face paled. She finished talking as Applejack took a step backwards towards the tree. "And Celestia says we need to be cautious if we go near or in the forest. Zecora will be staying with me until we can figure out what it was that attacked her." She paused for a moment as Applejack looked towards the forest with a deeply disturbed look. "Are you okay?"
Applejack bit her lip as she tried to think of what to say. Telling Twilight about Guardian could lead to trouble and that could cause him to never see Apple Bloom. If Apple Bloom ever found out then she would become very angry with her, or worse it could permanently damage their relationship. Also if what Apple Bloom had told her of what Guardian could do was true, then nothing short of the alicorn sisters could protect her if he became angry. But if he's hurting ponies I can't just stay silent.
Applejack swallowed as she came to a decision. "What if Ah told ya that Ah might happen to know the creature in question... possibly."
Twilight's confused tilting of her head was all Applejack got in response. Applejack pressed on. "What Ah meant is that Ah know a creature that sounds very similar to the one you described to me."
Twilight took a step forward excitement and eagerness showing on her face. "Really? Could you bring me to it so I can find out what it is?" Her voice gained a more studious tone. "Whatever this creature is it must be huge and have a massive diet..."
She trailed off once she noticed the still worried look on the farmers face. Applejack bit her lip again and took a deep breath. "Ah can show you what he," She caught herself just in time. "Uh... it looks like. Just... come back here at sunset and Ah can show you but Ah need you to promise to listen to me and do whatever Ah tell you, okay?"
Twilight nodded. "Anything to get to the bottom of this. We will be safe right?"
Applejack nodded. "We'll be safe. Now run along now, you have some readin' you need to do."
Twilight gave another nod and started trotting back towards the road leaving Applejack alone with her thoughts. Ah hope this works out or this will go south so fast. She gave the forest another look and let out a worried sigh.
Twilight let out a small grunt as she adjusted the saddle bag on her back. She had read the tome inside front to back and had found it more frustrating than helpful, and each monster described in the tome was more terrifying than the last and a vast majority of them sounded very close to the description Zecora had given her. She shuddered as some of the stories of the monsters past through her mind.
Some burned their victims before eating them whole, others only ate the bones of their still living victims and the worst were the creative ones such as the monster simply known as the Screaming Death, a monster that when it screamed the heads of ponies would burst and it would feast on their blood from the stump of the poor victims neck. Fortunately for Twilight that creature was filed in the section simply labeled as 'Proven False.' However there monsters just as horrifying listed in the 'Unknown' and 'Possibly Extinct' sections that made her shiver.
Hopefully Applejack can show me what we are dealing with. This is the perfect opportunity to expand scientific knowledge if it happens to be one of them labeled 'Unknown.' She let out a small squeal of excitement. She would become famous, not that she wasn't already but this wasn't the type of fame she normally got when she and her friends save Equestria. This was academic fame, fame that came from being a scientist. I could write my own book. I could become a well-respected member of the scientific community. A giggle fit for Rarity slipped from her lips as she was struck with the single greatest achievement she could think of.
"I could get my own shelf in the Royal Library!"
The thought that she would be forever immortalized in a library gave Twilight a burst of energy and made the heavy tome feel all the lighter. She came upon the gate to Apple Farm and was greeted by the sight of Applejack standing there looking up at the darkening sky.
"Applejack!" She called out with an excited tone that caused her voice to rise slightly. She cleared her throat. "I'm ready to see what this creature is. Shall we get going?"
Applejack gave her a small nod. "Ah'm ready but Ah need you to promise me somethin'."
Twilight nodded. "Anything."
The farm pony let out a small sigh. "Ah need you to stay quiet and do exactly what Ah tell you."
Twilight was about to protest but was silenced by the farmers hoof on her mouth. "Ah’m serious. This creature isn't something to mess with. If this gets out of hoof we may be in a heap o'trouble"
Twilight gave a small nod. "Okay."
Applejack gave Twilight a stern looking over then gave her friend a small smile and a nod. "Alrighty then. Follow me and keep quiet."
The mares set off into the Apple Farm in silence. Applejack was in the lead occasionally glancing back at Twilight to make sure she was keeping up. Unfortunately for Applejack Twilight couldn't keep her excitement to herself.
"What does it look like?"
Applejack turned to her friend. "Big. Kinda scary."
Twilight gave her a small slightly annoyed smile. "How big?"
Applejack tapped her chin as they walked. "Well taller than Macintosh and wider them him to. He's a big one."
Applejack drew in a sharp breath when she realized that she let slip Guardian's gender. "He? How do you know its gender?"
Applejack cursed herself inwardly for not thinking before she spoke. "Ah just do. When you see him you'll be able to tell as well. Now no more talkin'. We’re getting close to where he is."
Twilight stopped for a moment before she continued following her friend. She had never know for Applejack to dodge a question so quickly and with impatience in her voice. As they walked Twilight couldn't help but feel that something wasn't right. Applejack said we were getting close to where it is but it’s supposed to be inside the forest. Why are we walking deeper into the orchard? Twilight opened her mouth to ask Applejack that very question when something grabbed her back leg.
Something pulled her up into the air and into the trees as a deep booming voice came from all around her. "I see it runs in the family to piss me off."
Twilight started struggling in the hold of whatever was around her leg when something wrapped around her other hind leg. She started screaming but that lasted for only a moment before a white cloth covered her mouth. The voice continued in its irritated tone.
"First you trespass on sacred ground, an offense I would normally kill the offender of but spared the foals. Then your youth tramples through the forest making life both difficult and annoying for myself. To top it all my dinner turned out to be nothing more than sticks and wood!"
The voice grew from the irritated tone to one of fury. "And now you have the gall to bring this mare here to show me off to? Like some kind of prize animal? Explain yourself NOW!"
His voice became a roar of anger. Twilight could see almost nothing from up in the tree she had been hoisted in but she could clearly see Applejack staring up into the tree roughly a few feet to Twilight's left. Twilight looked over in the same direction but could only see a dark shadow.
Applejack's voice was as brave as she was stubborn. "She's here to figure out if your what attacked our friend!"
The shadow moved slightly. "I have attacked no pony within the forest."
Applejack took a step closer to the tree. "Our friend Zecora was attacked by something. The way Twilight described the attack sounded just like how you attacked the Timber wolves. She's here to make sure that you didn't attack her. Guardian please tell me you didn't."
The shadow, which Twilight gathered was called Guardian, shifted in the tree once more. Guardian’s voice was much calmer and even a little worried. "Zecora? Mare covered in stripes?"
Applejack nodded. "That's her."
His voice grew softer and Twilight got the sudden image of a colt being scolded by an angry mother. "I have had a run in with this Zecora."
Applejack's eyes widened in fear. "You attacked her?"
Guardian’s voice became defensive. "I didn't mean to scare her as I did. I... mistook her for another type of creature. I let her go as soon as I realized my mistake. I assure you that I had no intention of killing or harming her."
Twilight felt the gag that kept her silent be removed from her mouth as the shadow called Guardian moved around her in a blur of movement. She watched the ground come closer as she was lowered to the ground. Applejack helped her to her hooves as the things that bound her legs came loose.
Guardian spoke from above the mares. "Leave us Applejack. I wish to speak to this unicorn alone."
Applejack looked up into the tree with a look of anger. "You attack my friend in the forest then attack my friend here and then you expect me to just leave her here with you alone?"
Twilight looked at her friend and was surprised to see that she was staring up into the tree determined. Twilight placed her hoof on Applejack's shoulder. Applejack looked at her for a moment then let out a small sigh.
Applejack looked back up at the tree. "Promise to me that you won't hurt her."
The shadow shifted in the tree. "You have my word. She shall not come to any harm. I simply wish to speak to her."
Applejack looked from the tree to Twilight. Twilight gave the farmer a confident nod. Applejack walked closer to her and whispered in her ear.
"If he gives you trouble, blast him with your magic."
Twilight gave her friend a shaky smile. "It shouldn't come to that."
With one last look up at the shadowy tree Applejack nodded and walked off towards the house leaving Twilight and Guardian alone. Twilight shuffled where she stood but felt that something was off. Something wasn't where it should be. She looked at her back and saw that the saddle bag was missing. She began to look around frantically, but froze when she heard Guardian talking above her.
"I'm impressed. Last time I bothered to check a book they had moved on from Old Equestrian runes. You must be very well read to understand any of this."
Twilight felt a small wave of pride and relief mingle with her fear of this creature hiding in the shadows. "Thank you... I guess." She paused for a moment as she thought about the compliment. "Wait... You can read that?"
Guardian’s voice reached her ears sounding almost prideful. "Ego loquor is pariter." [I speak it as well.]
Twilight was stunned for a moment before her mind kicked into student mode and translated his words. "But that's impossible. Nopony has spoken that in several generations. It's been a dead language for nearly eight hundred years!"
A deep chuckle reached her from the trees. "Vos intelligitis me?" [You understand me?]
Twilight stood there for a moment as her brain worked hard to translate for her. She nodded and cleared her throat. "Sum studuit quatuordecim linguarum quatenus." [I have studied over fourteen languages so far.]
The voice shifted in tone to something Twilight could almost call respect. "Gravem. Quis se non inveni tempora lingua loquor. Quid hic agis?" [Impressive. I haven't met another who could speak this tongue in a long time. Why are you here?]
Twilight looked around at the shadows in the tree trying to find the creature and her book. "Applejack vobis iam dixi." [Applejack already told you that.]
"Ilia meum irritum fidem ipso introducet te hic. Hic audire volo rationem." [She has broken my trust by bringing you here. I want you to hear your reason for being here.]
Twilight tried to think as he talked much more rapidly. She swallowed as she finished placing the words. "Quare?" [Why?]
Guardian's deep voice came from directly behind her now. "Because I want to why you would risk yourself to see a monster."
Twilight leaped away from him as she screamed. When she turned around her scream stopped dead in her throat as she gazed into the black featureless eyes. She scrambled away from his towering form as he began to read aloud from the book he was holding.
"Arachnapony. Status: Unknown but believed to be merely a myth. The Arachnapony is said to be the spawn of fear and darkness. The main belief is that they were created by Nightmare Moon to be her enforcers of her nocturnal rule..."
He paused for a moment and stared silently at the book. Twilight however was staring at him in absolute terror. This thing had surprised her and was now reading her book. When he paused she got the distinct impression that something on the page had either surprised him or angered him but she couldn't tell which.
She continued for him. "The Arachnaponies are born hunters and never lose sight of their prey. Like the spiders they so closely resemble they prefer ambushing their victims rather than stalking or hunting them. They are massive creatures that are twice the size of an average pony, in size, speed, and strength. They are nocturnal to the extreme and hate the sun for it burns their eyes and weakens them. They are a savage race and can devour close to three times their weight in..."
She swallowed hard when she noticed something very close to a scowl pass over Guardians features. Afraid that everything she was about to say was true she paused. Guardian looked at her and waited for her to continue. She found that she was shaking now when she spoke.
"...flesh of their victims. They kill their prey by injecting them with an incurable poison that liquefies the internal organs of the captured creature, much in the same way a spider does. The only way to find one is during the day when they are asleep and weakened by the sun’s rays. They can be found in huge webs that are as strong as steel and while they sleep one has to stab them in the heart with a blade forged on the longest day on the year."
Guardian closed the book and took a step towards her. "Finish the rest of it."
Twilight swallowed again and tried her best not to collapse. "There is very little evidence to suggest such a fearsome creature has or ever could exist. The evidence provided has long been under scrutiny due lack of consistency. Many of the claimed pieces of an Arachnaponies carapace have been proven to be from the Giant Red Widow spider. Sightings have been claimed throughout the years of the legends creation but as of the last two hundred years none have been made and the legend has slipped into obscurity. For more on the eating, mating, and hunting habits of this creature please refer to section—"
She was silenced by Guardian when he approached her mid recital. By the time she had realized he was in front of her she was nearly done. She let out a small squeal of fright but stood her ground as he held out the book to her.
His tone was amused. "Do you believe such a legend is true?"
She took the tome back and held it like it was her child. She glanced around and noticed that the saddle bag had somehow been placed beside her. She quickly put the book back into the protective bag.
She looked into the eyes of the massive creature in front of her. "I never put much stock into legends and mares tales."
He tilted his head to the side. "And now?"
She gave a small smile hoping that it would make Guardian less imposing to her. It didn't. "Hard to ignore the evidence in front of me, isn't it."
He nodded. "And now I ask you again. Why is it you came out here with nothing but a book when I could have been any number of horrible creatures that would have killed you the moment they saw you."
Twilight stood there staring into those featureless eyes as she tried to think of the answer. Her first thought was that she had wanted to keep Zecora and the rest of Ponyville safe but when that thought passed through her mind a tiny voice at the back of her head told her that it wasn't. She came out here for another reason.
"I... I wanted to know the truth. I wanted to discover what you were because I wanted to keep my friends safe and to know the truth."
Guardian straightened his head again and his lips pulled into a smile. "I'm starting to enjoy you ponies again. It is an honor to meet you miss..."
"Twilight Sparkle." She finished for him. He bowed a little at her name.
"Miss Twilight Sparkle. I shall answer some questions if you wish but not tonight. I have promised some foals that I would 'play tag' with them." He paused for a moment and looked Twilight over. "If you think it is possible tell Zecora that of what you have seen tonight and let her know that I am truly sorry for what I did."
Without waiting to hear Twilight's response Guardian leaped back up into the trees leaving a rather shocked and curious Twilight behind in the darkness of early night.
Twilight stood in the growing darkness for a moment before she picked up the saddlebag next to her. For the briefest of moments she wondered if everything that had happened was real or just a dream. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a filly laughing, she looked in the direction of the sound and started walking towards it. She had only been walking for a few seconds when she ran into Applejack. Literally.
The farm pony picked herself off the ground. "Ugh... sorry about that Twilight."
Twilight got back up off the ground and checked the bag with the tome. "It's alright. Why were you walking this way anyways? I thought you would be up at the house."
Applejack shook her head. "Ah came looking for you after Guardian returned and started talkin' and playin' with the youngin's. Ah got a little worried that you weren't with him so Ah came lookin'. He didn't hurt ya did he?"
The unicorn shook her head and quickly told Applejack about her and Guardian’s conversation. Applejack's eyes widened as the term Arachnapony entered Twilight's story. She had heard the term somewhere before but she couldn't quite recall where. When Twilight finished Applejack was tapping her chin in thought.
The orange pony looked at her friend. "Arachnapony... Ah know Ah've heard that somewhere before. Did you know what an Arachnapony was before tonight?"
Twilight shook her head. "No. Which really surprised me when I read the tome Celestia sent me because I read a lot on myths and legends throughout Equestria when I was younger but I never came acro—"
Applejack gasped in sudden realization. "That's where ah heard it! Ah remember my Pa tellin' me stories about naughty colts and fillies bein' gobbled up by big monsters and one of them was a spider pony."
She noticed the slightly irritated look on Twilight's face and gave a cheesy smile before muttering a quick apology "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt ya."
Twilight shrugged. "It's not a big deal. Dash does it all the time and so does Pinkie now that I think about it." Twilight and Applejack shared a small laugh and Twilight adjusted the bag on her back. "So shall we go see what Guardian and the kids are up to?"
Applejack nodded and the pair set off towards the sound of laughter and screams of joy. They reached a small clearing in the woods and spotted the young fillies and Guardian being chased by Featherweight. Applejack and Twilight noticed Big Macintosh and Granny Smith sitting near one of the trees. The mares walked over to the pair and sat down with them.
Macintosh glanced over at Twilight. "Howdy miss Twilight. You seem to be rather calm for just meetin' Guardian."
Twilight placed the saddle bag down, which gave a none too subtle *Thump* as it hit the ground, and rubbed the back of her neck. "I'm surprised I'm not running and screaming right now. I guess I'm just more interested in learning what he is and how he got here than being scared."
Macintosh moved closer to her and started rubbing her shoulders. "Bag sounded pretty heavy. Do you mind if Ah work the tension out?"
Twilight felt herself relaxing under the large and surprisingly gentle hooves of the stallion. "Not at all..." Twilight's eyes closed for a moment as the stallion worked her muscles into a much needed, relaxed state. Her eyes opened again as she remembered something that suddenly entered her mind. "Big Mac?"
The stallion continued the massage. "Eeyup?"
Twilight let out a small sigh as Macintosh found a knot in her shoulder. "I seemed to have misplaced my Smarty Pants doll and as I recall you were the last pony to have it when I... well, 'misused' a 'want-it, need-it' spell. Do you know where it might be?"
Macintosh slowed his massage for a moment, making Twilight regret asking the question but a second later he resumed his work. "Eeyup. Ah have it up at the house. Ah take it you want it back?"
Twilight nodded. "Yes please, but that can wait. A little to the left please."
While Twilight and Macintosh had their small conversation Applejack and Granny Smith were having a very different talk. Applejack settled down next to her grandmother and spotted the picnic basket filled with food and a few thermoses.
"Granny, shouldn't you be asleep right now?"
The aged mare looked at her granddaughter. "Yes but when Apple Bloom told me she and her friends were goin’ up to meet this here Guardian feller I wanted to meet him."
Applejack looked at her grandmother quizzically. "They just told you what they were doin'?"
Granny Smith shook her head. "I had to bribe them a little with muh special apple and caramel cookies."
Applejack reached into the basket and pulled out some of the cookies. She had a rather fond spot for her grandmothers cooking. "And you were alright with them meeting a monster larger than Big Mac?"
The older mare let out a small chuckle. "At first Ah thought that the whole spider pony thing was them playing a game. I mean really a spider pony in the forest? Then I met the big lug and discovered that they were literal when they said 'A spider pony in the forest!'"
Applejack gave her grandmother a deadpanned look. "And you just accepted him like he was nothin’ out of the ordinary."
Granny chuckled a little. "Nah. I had myself a small freakout like you did. I screamed and hollered and ran about. I even did it like this." She took in a deep breath and yelled with all her might. "THERE'S SPIDERS IN THE FEREST!"
Her shout cause Applejack, Twilight, and Macintosh to jump. However the group of ponies running around all stopped and Guardian looked over at the aged mare.
He shouted back. "Can I help you?"
The old mare shouted back at him. "Round up them youngin's and bring them over here for some grub!"
Guardian did just that. He shot web out and captured all four of the young ponies. He loaded them all onto his back and walked over to the four older ponies. He deposited the young ones down and undid the webbing. He had a difficult time with Sweetie Belle due to her constant giggling.
She reached up and tried to stop his small claws. "Stop it that tickles!"
Guardian continued untying her despite her protests. Once she was standing however he used his claws to tickle her until she was rolling in the grass with a tear running down her cheek from laughing so hard. It took the Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Featherweight jumping on Guardian to 'save' Sweetie. The instant Sweetie was back on her hooves was the same that she joined the dogpile on Guardian.
A few moments of the young ponies and Guardian playing passed before Granny Smith managed to drag them away from the fun with the offer of food. The group of ponies gathered around the basket, grabbing the surprisingly warm baked goods and cups to fill with the warm cider that was within the thermoses. Applejack noticed that Guardian was standing off to the side watching the group.
Applejack nudged her sister. "Hey, why don't you bring Guardian somethin' to eat? He looks hungry to me."
Apple Bloom looked over at Guardian then gave her sister a quick nod. "Okay, d’ya think he'll want some cookies?"
Applejack glanced over Guardian as well and noticed that his gaze had turned to the stars. She gave her sister a smile. "He'll love 'em."
Apple Bloom grabbed a few extra snacks and walked over to the now sitting Guardian. She poked him to get his attention. He glanced down at her.
"Can I help you Apple Bloom?"
She nodded and held out some of the food. "You looked kinda hungry so I brought you some food. It's really good."
He took the food she held out and looked at it for a few moments. "What is it?"
Apple Bloom giggled at him and pointed to the different types as she described them. "That's corn bread, those are cookies, that's a slice of cake and obviously that one’s an apple."
Guardian sniffed the small collection of baked goods. He found the scent to be rather pleasant and that alone helped ease the disappointment he had felt from the failed meal that was the timberwolves. He took a bite of what Apple Bloom had called cake. He was met with a heavenly taste with a faint hint of something he hadn't tasted in a long life.
"I taste... cinnamon. I haven't tasted this since I was..."
Apple Bloom noticed that Guardians eyes glazed over and his claws lowered from his mouth. "Since you were what?"
Guardian shook his head. "Nothing. It doesn't matter. Thank you for the food. I shall have to visit more often if this is what I can expect to eat."
Apple Bloom's face brightened up at the mention of more visits. "Really? Ah'll make sure you have whatever you want when you come over."
As Guardian let out a low chuckle he and Apple Bloom were joined by the rest of the younger ponies. Almost an hour passed as the group of ponies and their guest talked and ate. Soon the younger ponies had trouble keeping their eyes open. Applejack insisted that Apple Blooms friends head home but they protested saying that they had told their parents that they were spending the night.
Applejack bit her lip as she glanced at Featherweight. "You too?" The pegasus nodded. "Well... Ah know that the girls like to sleep in the clubhouse but Ah don't know if that's a good idea."
Guardian stood up with the sleeping Sweetie Belle on his back as well as the soon to be asleep Scootaloo. "Don't worry. I'll watch over them." He picked up Featherweight and Apple Bloom. "Besides you look tired as well. Get some rest."
Applejack would have argued but she noticed out of the corner of her eye that Macintosh and Twilight were walking off towards the house together with Granny Smith a little ahead of them. "Well if the family is fine with it then Ah guess Ah am too. Just keep 'em out of trouble."
With a single nod Guardian began walking off toward the clubhouse as Applejack headed for her own home.
Twilight looked around the room that Macintosh called his own. She was almost shocked at the lack of any personal items in the room. The only one she could see were the doll on his bed and the small group of photos sitting on his night stand.
Twilight walked over to one of the photos and picked it up carefully. In the photo was four ponies, two adult ponies, a colt and a foal. She recognized the small colt standing in front of the two older ponies as a much younger Macintosh. He was smiling and waving to the camera. She saw the small foal in the stallion’s legs and recognized the straw yellow mane.
The stallion looked over at her with the Smarty Pants doll in his mouth. "Eeyup?"
She glanced over at him then back to the photo. "Are these your parents?"
He nodded and walked next to her. He took the picture from her gently and placed it back down on the night stand. He gave the doll to her and cleared his throat. "Well, Miss Twilight Ah see you have two choices right now given the hour of the night. Ah could walk you home or you could stay the night."
Twilight stood there confused for a moment as she wondered briefly which option Big Mac would like her to say. She came back to her senses quickly once she realized that Big Mac was waiting for her to answer.
She glanced up at him and blushed when she saw how close he was standing to her. "I do have to get home. I do run the library after all. So I guess a nice walk with you would be welcome."
Twilight adjusted the saddlebag but then felt the weight lift from her back. She once more looked at Macintosh and saw that he placed the bag on his back. She gave him a questioning look.
He noticed the look and gave her a polite nod. "Bag looked heavy. A mare as nice as you shouldn' have to carry a heavy bag."
Twilight felt her cheeks warm and she was certain that they were a bright shade of red. She turned on the spot and headed out of the room in hope that Macintosh hadn't seen her blushing. They left the house and reached the path to the road without speaking another word.
They reached the road when Twilight spoke up, her voice cautious. "I was wondering if I could ask you something?"
Macintosh glanced over at her with a raised eyebrow. Twilight took that as a sign to continue. "When was that photo taken? I didn't see Apple Bloom in the picture but the mare looked pregnant."
Macintosh let out a long sigh and looked up at the moon. "'Bout a month or two after Ah got my cutie mark. Roughly three months after that Ma gave birth to Apple Bloom."
The stallion stopped walking and let out another sigh. Twilight walked next to him and placed her hoof on his shoulder. "Was that when you lost your mother?"
He shook his head. "Enope. Apple Bloom was four months old when Pa got sick. There was nothin' we could do for him but he never stopped workin'. Kept saying that he needed to work to make sure Applejack and Ah didn't have to. When he passed Ma got depressed. She lost her energy and rarely smiled."
Twilight felt the shoulder shudder and for a moment, she thought he was cold but when she looked at his face she could see tears in his eyes.
Macintosh continued his voice steadily but pained. "Ma went west to visit one of her sisters. She was gone a month before we got the news. She had passed away in her sleep, doctor said she died of a broken heart. My aunt moved in with us for almost a year after that. They helped with Apple Bloom and mourned with us."
He took in a ragged breath and Twilight moved even closer to him to comfort the large stallion. He continued as his voice broke a little.
"That was when Applejack and Ah got to spend a lot of time with Breaburn. He was our first real friend after everything that happened. He could make Applejack and Ah smile when nopony could." A large sniff sounded through the night air "After they left it was me and Granny to take care of Apple Bloom and Applejack. Then Applejack left for Manehatten."
Macintosh lowered his head to the ground and took a few breathes as he tried to steady himself. Twilight brought his head up so she could look into his deep green eyes. She hugged the stallion and he hugged her back tightly. She was surprised at how willing he was at opening up to her but as the hug drew on she pushed that aside as she felt his breath on her neck and upper back.
She pulled away slightly. "That must have hurt when she left... but she came back and found that her home was with you, Apple Bloom, and Granny Smith. She loves that farm more than anything in all of Equestria."
The stallion smiled as he wiped the tears from his eyes. "Ah know she does. She reminds me of Pa some days. Ah see so much of him in her, both in attitude and in her love. Heck Apple Bloom is even starting to look like Ma did."
Macintosh cleared his throat and sniffed a few more times. He wiped his eyes one last time before he stood at his full height. "Ah'm sorry 'bout that. Ah'm bringin' ya home and here Ah am rambling 'bout myself and crying like a colt."
Twilight gave him a small smile. "It's alright. It just means you love you family. I know that they love you just as much and your friends love you as well."
Twilight blushed as she finished when Macintosh looked at her. "Thank you. Let’s get goin' then. It's well past one and Ah think we both have some work to do tomorrow."
They walked along the road once more much closer to each other this time and as they did Twilight's brain just wouldn't let her focus on the simple pleasure of being with this stallion. Her mind was busy wondering why he had opened up to her so quickly and willingly. Maybe seeing Guardian made him worry for his family. I do remember Rarity telling me something about a story Apple Bloom had told her, well I guess it wasn't a story.
She moved closer and laid her head on his shoulder. Macintosh slowed down for a moment as he looked at Twilight. She sighed as her mind slowed down and she was able to just simply feel the warmth of his fur and hear the pulse of his heart. The lavender unicorn let out a content sigh and shifted her body ever closer to his as her eyes slowly but surely closed.
Macintosh felt a sensation in his stomach that he had never experienced before. He was certain that there was an expression for what he was feeling but he couldn't find it as his mind went blissfully calm. He could feel her warm, gentle breath on his coat and when he looked at her face he saw that she looked peaceful. He couldn't help but smile at the sight of this mare, whom Applejack had once described as 'A pain in the keister', that was now smiling because she was with him.
They reached the town soon enough and only a short while after that they came upon the Library. Its windows were dark suggesting that the two current inhabitants had gone to bed some time ago. The pair reached the door and looked at each other in the pale moonlight.
Twilight used her magic to lift the saddle bag from Macintosh's back. "Thank you for walking me home. I guess I'll see around sometime..."
She was looking at the ground when she spoke and gave a quick glance at Macintosh when she finished. She could see that he was biting his lip. He gave her a small nod.
"Eeyup. Take care."
He was turning to leave when she was struck with a simple but brilliant idea. She called out to him. "Big Mac, wait."
He stopped and turned to her. She came up to him and placed the doll on his back. He opened his mouth to ask her something but never got the chance when she kissed him on the lips. His brain went numb for a moment and all he could do was stand there shocked. Next moment his mind flipped back into 'working' mode and he returned the kiss.
Twilight broke the kiss breathless and noticed the almost disappointed look on Macintosh's face. She felt the disappointment as well. She didn’t want to break the kiss but the lack of oxygen overrode her pleasure. She gave him a small smile. "Hold onto Smarty Pants for me, okay?"
Macintosh could only nod and stare that the unicorn in front of him. "Ahbohwha?"
Twilight felt her cheeks grow redder and redder the more Macintosh stared at him. She started to panic. Crap! Was that too forward, did I misread his body language? This is what I get for reading those romance novels Rarity gave me. Oh no now he probably thinks I'm a— For the second time that night the taste of Big Macintosh's lips were on her own as he kissed her again. She melted into the kiss and they stood there embracing each other with both their hooves and tongues.
After a what seemed like a year in each other’s embrace they pulled apart, their hearts racing and breathless. Twilight smiled up at Macintosh as she slowly moved away.
She whispered softly, not wanting to break the peaceful moment. "You could stay the night if you wanted."
Macintosh nuzzled her and placed small kisses on her neck. "Ah don't think Ah should. Ah have to help out on the farm tomorrow." He saw the pleading look in Twilight's eyes and felt his resolve fade quickly. He gave her a small smile. "Ah guess I could stay till morning."
Twilight led him into the library and they climbed the stairs in the darkness. They reached the top of the stairs and instead of entering the bedroom Twilight slept in they headed down the short hall to another room. At the end was the guest room. Twilight was forced to stop when Macintosh nudged her.
She looked over at him. "What?"
He whispered hoarsely to her. "I thought the bedroom was at the top of the stairs."
She shook her head and whispered back. "It is but Zecora and Spike are sleeping in my room and I decided to give Zecora some privacy by giving her my bed. I’ve been sleeping in the guest room."
Twilight opened the guest room door and walked in. Macintosh followed and gave the room a quick glance. From what he could see from the moonlight pouring into the room from the skylight there was a desk laden with books and a small chest next to it. Apart from those small details he could only guess what filled the rest of the room. He took a few steps into the room as the door shut behind him.
A small, soft light filled the room. Macintosh looked over and noticed that Twilight had used her magic to light a candle and was lighting another when he glanced over at her. She lit a few more and settled on the bed and gave him a sheepish smile.
He walked over to the side of the bed. "Ah thought you needed to work in the library tomorrow."
She blushed. "I do but I was hoping that we could talk some more. Get to know each other a little more."
Macintosh got on the bed and Twilight snuggled close to him, resting her head on his shoulder. "What do ya want to know?"
And so they talked. Time passed by unmarked by either pony as they talked about family, friends, the town and its ponies, and finally books. They were both impressed at the others readings and found that they both loved the same kind of novels. As the night wore on Macintosh watched as the mare slowly became more and more tired until she fell asleep while lying in his shoulder. Her breathing was light and the smile on her face content with the world.
"Good night Twilight." With those words he blew out the candles and pulled the blanket over them and fell into a blissful sleep.
Guardian looked at the clubhouse nestled deep in the farmland of Sweet Apple Acres then to the group of young ponies resting on his back. The clubhouse wasn't hard to find as he had gotten some mumbled instructions from Apple Bloom. He made his way up to the single room and he took a look around. It was a simple room with a few decorations and a small collection of furniture.
He looked around and spotted a small chest in the corner of the small room. He made his way over to it and opened it. Inside was exactly what he was looking for. A small collection of blankets and pillows were inside. He pulled them out and placed the pillows down on the rug. He deposited Featherweight and Sweetie Belle to one of the pillows and covered them both with a blanket. He placed the now sleeping Scootaloo down at another of the pillows and was about to place Apple Bloom beside her when Apple Bloom hugged his neck.
"Ah don't wanna sleep on the floor. Ah wanna..." She stopped to yawn. "...wanna sleep next to you."
He turned and looked at the filly on his back. "You would be more comfortable with your friend."
She shook her head and snuggled deeper into his coat on his back. "Ah'm comfortable right here with my friend."
Guardian stood there for a moment and felt his heart tighten a little. She thought of him as a friend? When did this happen? He looked at her for a moment and watched as her breathing deepened. She was already falling into a deep sleep and moving her would both annoy her and wake her.
He placed a blanket over the orange pegasus then placed the last one he held onto the filly on his back. He settled down on the floor and focused his eyes on a hoof made painting of a blue pegasus as his mind began to drift. Before he could really think of anything Apple Bloom spoke softly from his back.
He looked at the filly. She still had her eyes closed. "Yes Apple Bloom?"
She rolled onto her side and got more comfortable on his back. "Am Ah your friend?"
He nodded. "Yes. You are my friend. A very tired friend of a very old Arachnapony."
Apple Bloom smiled, her eyes opening slightly. "And the others... are they your friends too?"
He nodded once more. "Yes."
"Are there others like you? Arachnaponies?"
Guardian sighed and looked at the other three ponies, all of them fast asleep. "A long time ago yes. I don't know if there are many of us now but I do know of a few that are still around."
Apple Bloom wrapped herself in the blanket a little more. "Are they your friends too?"
He remained silent for a long moment then answered her in a tired tone. "Yes. They are my friends."
Apple Bloom closed her eyes and snuggled against the larger creature. "I bet they're as nice as you." She let out a long yawn. "Good night."
Guardian glanced out the window and saw the reflection of the moon in a distant pond. "A good night indeed."
Apple Bloom drifted off to sleep as Guardian began looking around the room, studying every detail. Time seemed to blur away as he gazed at the room. At some point deep into the night Scootaloo awoke with a startle. She threw the blanket off of herself in panic and was gasping for breath. She looked around the room for a moment and when her gaze fell on Guardian she jumped in fright.
She took a moment to catch her breath. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
Guardian continued to look at her unblinkingly. "You didn't wake me. I'm nocturnal." He saw her confusion. "I sleep during the day and I am awake in the night."
The filly nodded in understanding. "Oh... like a bat."
Guardian nodded and focused his attention on the scent coming from the orange pegasus. "You smell of fear. You had a bad dream?"
She nodded but remained silent as her gaze shifted away from his. "It's nothing. Just a stupid dream."
He gave a small snort. "Dreams often tell us many things we normally think of during our waking hours. Please tell me your dream."
She kept looking at the ground. "I was a clown."
Guardian tilted his head. "A what?"
She looked up at him surprised. "You know a clown. Funny wigs, big shoes, wear lots of bells, and stuff like that."
"Ahh, a jester or a harlequin. I see."
Scootaloo gave him a weird look for a moment. "Yeah... one of those, and I had my cutie mark and everything. I went to school and all my friends were really happy for me but then Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle got mad and told me they didn't want to be my friend. They said we promised to earn our marks together and I broke that promise." Tears began to form in her eyes. "They made fun of me for having a talent and a cutie mark."
Guardian got up slowly, careful not to awake the sleeping pony on his back and moved next to the small filly. He sat down next to her on the rug. "It was just a dream."
She hugged him and cried softly into his coat. "I know but it still hurt."
Guardian hugged the small filly back with his claws. "It's alright. You will earn your cutie mark in time. Just be patient and find a thing you have a passion for."
Scootaloo released her grip and looked up at the unblinking eyes. "I've heard that before but still...” she looked at her bare flank “No cutie mark."
Guardian nodded. "And one day you will be giving that advice to your own fillies and colts. It is advice as old as the cutie mark itself." He lowered his head so that it was at the orange pony's eye level. "When you earn your mark your friends will not abandon you. They will be happy for you, congratulate you, and maybe even cry for you. You three have formed a strong bond and it will not break over something as simple as earning your mark first."
Scootaloo smiled weakly at him. "Really?"
He nodded. "Yes. Now get some rest. You might need a lot of energy when you earn your cutie mark."
The filly looked over to see Sweetie Belle and Featherweight cuddling under their blanket. Sweetie had her legs wrapped around the colt and her head was resting on his chest. Her mane puffed back and forth with each breath from the colt and they both wore content smiles.
The orange filly looked at Guardian with an almost embarrassed look. "C-can I sleep next to you? Please?"
Guardian remained silent for a moment which made the filly took as a no. She began to readjust the pillow when she shuffled closer to the rug. "Fine. If it will help you sleep better."
Scootaloo grabbed the blanket and pillow and moved next to the larger creature. Guardian shifted himself so that he was laying on his stomach and his side was open for the filly to sleep against. The filly settled in next to him and snuggled closely into his surprisingly soft belly fur.
As the filly got comfortable next to him Guardian felt something he had not felt in a long time. He felt his heart warm at the sight of the sleeping ponies and felt a connection to them. He was feeling a kinship with them, the likes of which he hadn’t felt in many long years. He tucked the blanket around the pegasus that was quickly falling asleep.
A good night indeed.
A warm scent reached Twilight's nose as the warm rays of Celestia's sun landed upon her face. She turned over in the bed and stretched out. She felt the crisp, cool sheets against her fur and realized that she was lying in her bed alone. She opened her eyes slowly and looked around the guest room. The light came in from the skylight at just the right angle to strike the pillows. Twilight shifted from the bed and moved in front of the small mirror resting on top of the drawer.
Wow, my mane is a mess. She began to brush her mane as she recalled the night before. She had spent the night talking with Big Macintosh and they had fallen asleep together in the same bed! She blushed as the memory of the kisses they had shared came back. He had tasted sweet, not like apples as she would have thought but still sweet like a fruit. She couldn't place the taste but knew that it was unique to the stallion.
A knock came from the door and the stallion that was on her mind spoke from behind it. "Twilight? You awake?"
Twilight placed the brush down and looked at the door as a smile spread across her face. "Yeah, you can come in."
The red stallion entered the room with a tray balanced on his back and a warm, gentle smile on his face. "Ah thought you might like breakfast in bed, but Ah guess since yer not in bed..."
Twilight walked up to the stallion and kissed him on the cheek. "That's really thoughtful of you. We can still eat it on the bed."
She used her magic to lift the tray from Macintosh's back and flicked her tail so it playfully smacked the stallion. Macintosh walked behind her and wrapped her in a tight hug. She tried to protest but she found that his lips were much more worthy of her attention. They broke the kiss after a few moments, each of them blushing, and settled down on the bed with their meal.
Twilight looked at the contents of the tray and was surprised to see French toast, a small pile of muffins, milk, apple juice, and a small bowl of grapes and strawberries. She looked at the stallion after she took a small sniff and realized that both the toast and muffins were fresh.
"I didn't know you could cook."
Mac smiled amused at the wonder in her eyes. "When you live in a household of mares and one of them is Granny Smith, you learn how to cook pretty well."
Twilight smiled and used her magic to pick up a grape. "Maybe you could teach me a little."
Macintosh nodded and picked up a muffin. Twilight popped the grape into her mouth as she watched the stallion. He looked around the room as he took bites of the muffin. The mare couldn't help but find the way the morning sun bounced off of him to be both breathtaking and undeniably sexy. She picked up another grape then looked at him.
With a smile she shifted closer to the stallion. "Mac."
He looked over at the mare and noticed the look in her eyes. "Eeyup?"
She placed the grape on his lips and let it rest there. Macintosh took the hint and let the grape fall into his mouth. He chewed and smiled at the lavender mare that was moving close to him. She lifted another grape and placed it at his lips. Once again he ate the grape and she placed another at his lips. However when he opened his mouth to eat it Twilight lifted it away. Macintosh sat there confused for a moment then saw that she had it floating in front of her own lips.
She was smiling slyly. "Well? Come and get it."
Macintosh instantly saw where this was going and he didn't care. He leaned forward as Twilight bit the grape and held it in between her teeth. He closed the distance with his lips and the grape quickly became forgotten as they began a passionate (and grape flavored) kiss. Twilight used her magic and moved the tray of food to the nightstand as Macintosh pushed her gently onto her back, their lips still locked in a loving embrace.
Macintosh broke the embrace as he looked down at the violet eyes of the unicorn that stared back into his lovingly.
She smiled up at him and shifted her body a little. "Yes Macintosh?"
Macintosh leaned down and gave her a small peck on the cheek. "Ah know that this is kinda sudden, but Ah was hoping that we could do somethin' romantic soon. Like a date or somethin'."
Twilight kissed the large stallion on the nose and smiled up at him. "I would really like that, but for now I think we have something a little more important to focus on."
Before Macintosh could think Twilight pressed her lips to his. Macintosh ran his hoof through her mane as he kissed her back with the same passion that she was giving him. Macintosh could feel her breath mingle with his own and all his mind could focus on was the sweet aftertaste of the grape and the feeling of her tongue on his.
A voice of a young dragon reached them from the hallway. "Twilight? Hey, you awake yet?"
Twilight broke the kiss with a slight groan. She looked at Macintosh for a moment and gave him a small smile. "I guess we'll just have to pick up on this on our date." She looked at the door way and shouted out to the dragon. "Yeah I'm awake, just stretching a little."
Much to the mare's embarrassment Spike walked into the frame. "Well Zecora wanted to..."
He stopped the moment he saw Big Mac. The young dragon looked from the stallion to the now equally red faced mare on the bed then smirked at them. "Stretching, huh?... so that's the code word for 'sloppy makeouts?'"
Twilight smiled sheepishly as Macintosh got off the bed. Macintosh looked as calm as he always did as he turned to the still blushing mare. "Ah'll figure somethin' out fer us to do for a date. Ah'll send Apple Bloom or Applejack over with the details if Ah can't make it."
He leaned forward and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. Twilight blushed a little more at the showing of affection, not because of the action, but because the audience was snickering at them. Macintosh turned and walked next to the snickering dragon.
Spike looked up at the stallion and gave him a small thumb’s up. "Next time leave a horseshoe on the door knob."
Macintosh looked at the dragon for a moment confused. "The heck does that mean?"
Spike shrugged. "I dunno. I heard some of Twilight's classmates mention that in Canterlot one time. I think it's something to show you want some private time with your fillyfriend."
Macintosh looked at the young dragon for a moment when the implications that went over the dragons head hit him in the face. He felt his cheeks warm a little and shook his head. "Eenope."
Macintosh walked out into the hallway leaving Twilight with Spike. The dragon looked at the unicorn with a small knowing smile. Twilight sat up in the bed and grew annoyed by the smile very quickly. "What?"
Spike shrugged, but the smiled stayed irritating. "Nothing. I'm just surprised you like them BIG is all."
"Spike, that's not very funny."
Spike leaned against the doorway. "So will this be something that happens constantly or was this a one time fling, because if you’re getting breakfast in bed at least you could get the stallion to make me some as well."
Twilight tossed a pillow at him that knocked him off his feet. "It's not like that!"
Spike got back up chuckling. "Twilight, I know it's not. You've been my friend for how long? And you think I would assume you would do something like that?"
Spike grabbed the pillow and tossed it back at the mare. She caught it with her magic and placed it down next to her on the bed. Her embarrassment returned in a sudden rush of color to her cheeks.
"Sorry Spike. I really do like him and I don't want to hear stuff like that. I wouldn't take advantage of a pony like that, in any situation."
The purple dragon hopped on the bed next to Twilight. "That's good. If he makes you happy then I'm happy for you. You're practically my sister and I want you to be happy." He paused for the moment then decided to ruin the touching moment. "Granted, you're my older annoying pony sister who's a little crazy most of the time."
Twilight lunged across the bed and began to tickle the tiny dragon with an almost frenzied smile. "ANNOYING?"
The two of them wrestled on the bed for minutes, each of them gaining the advantage and tickling each other until they couldn't breathe. They lay on the bed catching their breath when a small cough came from the doorway. They looked up and saw Zecora standing in the doorway with a small smile on her face.
"I see you are awake and filled with mirth, I trust you discovered the creature of terrifying girth?"
Twilight’s face turned grim for a moment, thinking that Zecora had seen Big Mac leave, and had drawn some... racey... conclusions.
Twilight rose off the bed and walked towards the zebra. "I did."
Zecora face brightened with hope. "What is this mighty beast, who upon my flesh it nearly did feast?"
Twilight motioned for the pair to follow her as she brought the large tome out of the saddle bag. "It's called an Arachnapony and it's a he. They are a very old race of creatures that are supposed to be a legend but, well... after what I saw and talked to I can safely say that they are real, or at least he is."
The small group reached the main library and sat down around on of the small tables. Twilight opened the book and flipped to the page with the Arachnapony entry. "He says that most of that isn't true but that's not important right now." Twilight looked over at Zecora. "He told me to tell you that he's sorry. He made a mistake and wishes for you to forgive him."
Zecora looked at Twilight for a moment then her face changed from the one of surprise to an almost offended look.
"If this apology has been made in good faith, then let him come and speak it to my face."
Twilight and Spike stood there for a moment stunned at her words. Twilight shook her head for a moment then spoke in disbelief. "You want him to apologize in person? The creature that nearly killed you and made you flee your home to come here in search of help?"
Zecora nodded. "If I am to return to my home unafraid, then to me personally this apology must be made. To face this beast shall banish all fear, and I shall shed no more worried tears."
Twilight nodded as she realized her friend’s point. She wanted to face Guardian so that her fear of him would be erased. "Okay. I'll tell him that you want to meet him. From what I’ve seen and from what Applejack has told me he's—"
Spike looked up from the book. "Applejack? Wait, she knows about this Arachnapony as well?"
Twilight nodded. "The entire Apple family seems to have met him. Appaerently he saved Apple Bloom from Timber Wolves and from there she kept going back into the forest to talk to him. He calls himself “Guardian” for some reason and only operates during the night."
Spike rubbed his chin in thought. "So Zecora is going to have to meet him in the dark forest by herself? Seems kinda sketchy to me."
Zecora waved her hoof dismissivly. "A spider uses surprise as a weapon on those unsuspecting, but now I know, so no venom shall he be injecting."
Twilight nodded. "And you won't be alone. I'll go with you and make sure you have support the entire time. I'll talk to him tonight and see if he's willing to meet you here. If not then we'll head into the forest tomorrow."
Zecora nodded and looked at the picture of the Arachnapony. The large looking creature had a small filly in its mouth and a screaming mare under its hoof. Zecora swallowed and hoped that this image was nothing more than an artist’s overactive imagination.
On the small deck of a club house nestled in the farmland of Sweet Apple Acres sat a most unusual pair. Guardian and Sweetie Belle were watching the sunrise together. The Arachnapony looked down at the small filly that had awoken early in the morning and had run out onto the deck. Guardian had seen the look on her face when she realized that she had spent the night curled up next to the young colt. At first it was kind and almost embarrassed then turned to shock and fear. She had run out the door which prompted Guardian to place Apple Bloom down next to Scootaloo and follow the filly to make sure she didn't get hurt.
He found her sitting in the corner of the deck looking out over the darken farmland. He sat down next to her and looked at her. She returned the look then continued to gaze over the farm.
"Sorry about waking you up."
He lowered himself so that he was lying down at eye level with the filly. "I was already awake."
Sweetie blushed a little and looked at him. Her look alone was all the question she needed to ask. Guardian nodded and tilted his head a little. "Why would you run away from a colt you have confessed your affection for?"
Sweetie shuffled a little uncomfortable for a moment. As she did Guardian suddenly understood and his voice grew stern. "You lied to him. You don't care for him at all, or not in the way he does about you."
She shook her head. "No. I do like him and maybe in the same way but... I just don't know."
"Don't know what?"
Her head and ears drooped. "I don't know if I'm ready to find my special somepony yet. I mean what if he's not the one? I'll be stuck with him for the rest of my life."
Guardian remained silent then did something that Sweetie had never heard from him. He was laughing softly at her. He did this for a few moments then took a breath to calm himself. "My poor child, that's not how it works. If you two fall out of love you can just go your separate ways. You are not bound to each other forever."
Sweetie looked up at Guardian her face brightening. "Really? So if it doesn't work we can go back to being friends instead."
Guardian nodded. "Of course. Not everypony finds their true love the first time, and those that do are very lucky."
Sweetie Belle's eyes filled with hope. "I... guess I can give him a chance."
Guardian nodded. "You should also give him the truth as well. Tell him how you feel, let him know that you're scared and he can help you with that. Be honest with him this time."
Sweetie's ears splayed in embarrassment. "Okay."
Sweetie moved closer to Guardian as a cool morning breeze rolled over them. Guardian wrapped around her and held her close for a moment. He sat there for a moment as a living blanket for the filly before she spoke to him.
"You know a lot about love and stuff like that don't you? Did you ever have a special somepony?"
Guardian closed all eight of his eyes and gave her a pained sigh. Moments stretched out as he remained silent. Sweetie almost pulled away in fear that she had made him mad at her when he spoke very softly.
"Yes. I did love a mare once. A very long time ago."
Sweetie looked up at him and noticed that his eyes were closed. "Was she nice?"
Guardian nodded. "For a time. Then I saw her true nature and things changed between us, much for the better."
Sweetie glanced back at the club house and moved away from Guardian. The Arachnapony followed her gaze and noticed that Featherweight was rubbing his eyes and walking towards them. Guardian rose from his spot and began to walk off stating that he had spotted somepony he wanted to talk to. As he walked away he heard the younger ponies talk.
"Hey, Featherweight. I need to talk to you."
"Oh… sure. What’s up?"
Guardian almost considered staying nearby to listen but decided that the young ponies privacy was of much greater importance. He walked off into the orchards and climbed up one of the larger trees. He settled in and turned towards the still rising sun. Its warm rays struck his coat and warmed it but had the opposite effect on his mind and heart.
He closed his eyes and knew that the images in his mind would only bother him if he didn't let them flow at that moment. The face of the mare from his dream arose, her wonderful blue mane, the entrancing sapphire eyes, and a coat that truly attested to the family name of Silver. The next thing that rushed to his mind was a memory of her lips on his own and the taste of peaches they had shared on a mountain side.
Second time she has entered my mind since I have met these foals. Perhaps I'm growing sentimental in my old age.
The Arachnapony let out a long sigh as the image of the mare forced its way back into the forefront of his mind and smiled at him. He opened his eyes and moved lower down the tree and picked one of the larger apples near him. The mare in his mind’s eye was leaning forward. He brought the apple to his lips and took a bite. The mare was within inches of his face now and he could almost feel her warm breath on his muzzle. Guardian chewed the apple slowly as the mare in his mind faded away.
The old Arachnapony's head fell a little as he swallowed. Why do I care so much about something that happened so long ago? It's dead and should stay that way. He blinked slowly and felt his chest tighten a little. Maybe I should be dead with it... I could have easily let myself die a long time ago and yet my duty has kept me alive. His expression and heart hardened as he took another, almost vicious bite of the apple. He had survived this long without the need of a mare. And I shall stay alive until my duty ends.
Guardian slumped down in the tree and remained there for an hour or so as the sun rose. He decided to check on the younger ponies and moved down the tree to the ground. He walked back to the club house and spotted Featherweight and Sweetie Belle sitting together with their tails wrapped around each other’s and the filly's head resting on the colt’s shoulder.
Guardian made his presence known by giving them a small grunt. The pair pulled away from each other and looked over at him. He could see them both blushing in the morning light. "Go and wake up your friends. I need to head back into the forest and I can't leave the four of you alone out here."
The pair nodded and headed into the clubhouse. A few minutes later the four young ponies walked out, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo looked very grumpy that they had been woken so early. The five of them began walking towards the farmhouse in silence. Guardian noticed that Featherweight and Sweetie kept glancing at each other and blushing. The simple action made him wonder what exactly they had said when they had talked, but the thoughts were forced from his mind when the form of Big Mac came out from the trees and waved to the group.
"Y'all better head on up to the house quick if you want some breakfast. Granny made plenty of pancakes for you but Applejack might eat them all."
The younger ponies raced to the house at the mention of food, leaving Big Macintosh and Guardian behind. Macintosh shrugged with a small smile on his face and began walking into the orchards. Guardian followed him as his path was heading in the same direction. Macintosh noticed this and nodded at him.
"Ain't gettin' breakfast?"
Guardian shook his head. "I'll eat later." Guardian took a small sniff of the air and caught the strong scent of lavender. The scent of a pony of the same color. "You spent the night with the unicorn?"
Macintosh merely nodded. Guardian tilted his head to the side. "No wonder her scent is all over you. Are you two courting?"
Macintosh shrugged. "Ah don't really know. Last night was nice but Ah wouldn't call it datin' just yet. First time Ah spent the night at a mare's place and we didn't... you know."
Guardian head remained tilted to the side. Macintosh got the strong mental image of Winona doing the same thing. Guardian spoke with mild curiosity. "This is a normal thing for mares to take stallions home for... mating out of marriage?"
Macintosh shook his head and adjusted the large yoke he had on. "Not strictly speakin'. There are a few mares like that but not many in town. Twilight ain't that type of mare though and Ah try not to do things like that."
"And you trust her when she does something like that?"
Macintosh rubbed his chin for a moment. "She is my sister’s friend so Ah guess Ah do." He paused for a moment then gave Guardian a quizzical look. "Why? Don't you?"
"No. I don't trust any pony."
Macintosh stood there stunned at the blunt comment. "Why not?"
Guardian looked at the red stallion for a moment then up at the sky. "Because everypony I have met has betrayed my trust. It's only a matter of time before the rest of you do so as well. Applejack has already done so by telling Twilight Sparkle of my existence and I haven’t even given it to her yet. The rest of you are coming dangerously close to angering me."
Macintosh felt annoyance at the matter of fact tone. "And how exactly have the rest of us done anything to break your trust or even to make us not earn it?"
Guardian looked at Macintosh and the farmpony could swear he was smiling. "My dear stallion, your wording implies that you ever had it. No, none of you have my trust." He paused for a moment and shook his head. "I misspoke. Apple Bloom has my trust. She annoys me beyond anything a pony has in a long time but it's all in the name of curiosity."
Macintosh stood there and tried his best to soak in Guardians words. "So... what about the rest of us?"
Guardian tilted his head and sighed. "I have already told you. None of you have earned my trust, especially the unicorn Twilight Sparkle. I make it a point not to trust her kind."
Macintosh may have had trouble keeping up with everything else but at the mention of 'her kind' he found himself getting angry. "Her kind?"
Guardian nodded once. "Unicorns. They have proven to be rather cold blooded to my kind. There is a reason you haven't heard of my kind before Macintosh. I don't trust her until she proves herself worthy of it. Now I must get going. Those foals have driven me to exhaustion, I can't understand how you deal with them."
With that, Guardian turned and began to walk away. He stopped after a few yards and turned back to the stallion that was staring at him. "Also tell Twilight that if she wants to talk to me she will need Apple Bloom to guide her to me in the forest. Good morning Macintosh."
Macintosh stood there confused on how to feel about the massive creature walking away. The red stallion had no idea if he should be angry at him or to be confused at the almost random mood changes he was showing. He chose to hold his judgment until he could talk to Guardian more.
Apple Bloom glanced over at the bouncing mare next to her and shook her head in partial embarrassment. Twilight was jumping around in excitement like a foal on Hearth’s Warming Eve. Twilight was jumping at every little sight and sound as if she was expecting Guardian was going to walk out from a shrub.
Apple Bloom looked down at the small necklace that she was wearing and was still as amazed by it as she was the first time she had worn it. The stone softly glowed in the dim light like the full moon through a thin cloud. Apple Bloom had spent most of her day studying the strange stone that it seemed to be made out of but every time she thought of a stone she would realize that they didn't glow. So was this a rare type of stone that only Guardian could find, or was is magic that made the unknown stone glow?
“So how close are we?”
Apple Bloom looked over at the unicorn and saw the nervous smile on her face. “Well… Ah think we might be pretty close. “
“Actually I have been following you two for a few minutes now.”
Both of the ponies jumped at the deep voice that suddenly sounded. However they both reacted differently after the initial shock wore off. Twilight began looking around to locate Guardian with a surprised look. Apple Bloom merely looked up with a smile as she spotted her friend.
Hanging upside down above the pair was Guardian. His unblinking gaze was towards Apple Bloom as he lowered himself to the ground. As he flipped himself on the web he was hanging from Twilight noticed him and leaped back in shock. Touching down on the forest floor Guardian received a hug from Apple Bloom.
“It is good to see you Apple Bloom. I trust that you are doing well?”
The young filly nodded and gestured to the still rather startled Twilight. “Ah’m doing fine. Twilight wanted to talk to you though.”
Guardian glanced over at Twilight for a moment before taking a few step over to her. “I hope that my apology was accepted.”
Twilight looked at him then at the hanging strand of web. “Uhh…” She shook her head and focused on Guardian. “Right. Zecora didn’t accept the apology as it was.”
Guardian’s ears pinned. “I’m sorry to hear that. Why didn’t she accept?”
Twilight gave him a small smirk. “Because she wants you to apologize to her in person.”
Apple Bloom looked between the two confused as Guardian let out a deep chuckle. “She wishes for me to apologize to her. The monster that almost…” He glanced over at Apple Bloom for a moment. “… Harmed her” He finished lamely “She has more courage than any pony I’ve met in quite a while.” He nudged Apple Bloom gently. “With a small exception.”
Apple Bloom gave a small giggle but her cheer faded as she thought about what the exchange between Guardian and Twilight meant. She tried to ask about it but Twilight cut her off.
“So she was wondering if you would be willing to go to the library and talk to her. I think it would be best done tonight so that she can return to her home.”
Guardian nodded. “Very well. What does this Library look like?”
Twilight stood there stunned. She was expecting him to argue or just flat out deny going into town. Instead he was accepting the offer and willing to head into the town without a second thought.
“Oh… Well it’s a large tree building that has a balcony and a sign with a book on it. Should be really easy to find.”
Apple Bloom walked between the older pony and Guardian and tapped Guardian’s leg. The large creature looked down at her with mild amusement.
“What did you mean you nearly hurt Zecora? When did this happen?”
Guardian glanced up at Twilight for a moment. “A moment of privacy please.”
It wasn’t a question. It was an order and Twilight was more than willing to obey it. She walked down the forest trail and left the filly with Guardian. Guardian waited until she was completely out of earshot before he spoke.
“I want to say something before I tell you what happened. I have been alone for a very long time with no contact with ponies.” He paused for a moment and sighed. “During that time I began to embrace my more… basic nature.”
Apple stood there silent and looked at him. Guardian continued. “I have come to terms with what it means to be an Arachnapony. Unfortunately one of those terms is that I have an urge to consume…”
“Consume what?” The filly looked into the eyes of the larger creature and saw that his face gained a worried look.
“Meat. Like the giant spiders that were my forerunners, my kind has a hunger for flesh and hunting.”
Apple Bloom’s eyes widened and she took a step away from Guardian. “You… you eat meat?”
Guardian could hear the fear in her voice and see it in her eyes. He nodded and sat on the ground. “Yes. My kind eat meat just like the wolves, eagles, and other carnivores in Equestria, but I have sworn never to eat or kill a pony… but I had failed to hold that urge in check and I attacked Zecora. I nearly did something unforgivable.”
Guardian lowered his head and closed his eyes. “I lost myself in a moment of weakness. If you fear and hate me now, I understand. I will hold no grudge against you if you choose to never see me again.”
Apple Bloom stood there for a moment looking at the larger creature and saw something in the low light. Somehow he looked old, older than any creature ever should. The fact that he ate meat terrified her. Only monsters and evil creatures ate meat. Yet she couldn’t see him doing that. His voice was filled with genuine pain from his actions and he looked miserable.
She took a few cautious steps towards him and tapped his shoulder. Guardian reopened his eyes and looked at her.
“I don’t hate you. Will you promise never to attack a pony like that again?” Guardian nodded. Apple Bloom smiled at him and continued. “Promise to protect Zecora like you do me.”
Guardian smiled at the filly and gave her a tiny bow of his head. “I promise to never harm any pony and to protect you and Zecora with my life.”
Apple Bloom smile at him and hugged him tightly. Much to her surprise he returned the hug with his clawed limbs. They finished the hug and glanced over to see Twilight smiling at them. Guardian rose quickly and walked over to her.
“I have to talk to Zecora now. She is at the Library right now?” Twilight nodded. “I shall head there now then. Our conversation should only last an hour or so and I feel that it would be best if it was private between myself and the zebra. Feel free to watch over Apple Bloom.”
Guardian set off through the forest at a speed that left Twilight bewildered. This was the second time in less than two days that she watched Guardian move at such speeds. She sat there amazed at the speed of such a large creature. A minute past before she realized that she had promised to be there with Zecora when Guardian talked to her. Something told her that interrupting their conversation wasn’t the wisest of options.
She looked over at Apple Bloom and gave her a small smile. “So… What about this tree you told me about?”
A waxing moon hung over the sleeping town of Ponyville as the large form of Guardian moved through a nearby field. He had only one objective in his mind and it was to get to the tree building that housed a zebra at the moment. Through the grasses that had grown wide for years moved the shadowed form that stopped just before the edge of the field and crouched low to the ground. Guardian gazed upon the darkened homes and buildings that lay peacefully in the night, unknowing of creature of legend moving nearby.
Guardian's ears twitched back and forth as he listened for any ponies that may have been walking during such a wonderful nights. After standing still for a moment the large creature made his way onto the open street and up to the two story building. He reached the wall and stopped when he heard the sound of a couple talking. He was about to place his hooves on the walls when he heard the voices clearly.
A female voice reached him. "I love you, you know that right?"
Another mare responded. "I know you do. You tell me everyday and you know what? I love you too."
A soft giggle reached Guardians ears and he froze. The pair continued as he just stood there listening. The first mare spoke again.
"I wanna tell you something Bonny. I really do love you with my soul. I know that sometimes we fight but even we do I still love you. I'm sorry I've been pushing for us to adopt. I've just been thinking that having a foal could bring us closer but now I think that just sharing a night like this one is all I need."
Guardian couldn't hear the other mare respond as he shook his head to remove the image of a beautiful mare smiling when he had said something similar to her. He placed his front hooves on the wall and used his claws to feel the wall. A perfect surface to climb. Guardian lifted himself off the ground and up the wall. Within a moment he was on the roof of the building looking over the town from a better perspective.
A soft voice filled his mind as he stood there motionless. "I love you too. Please tell me that we will never be apart."
Guardian spoke in a whisper and closed his eyes. "Always my love. You will always be with me in my heart."
The silver face swam before his mind's eyes and smiled at him. He could almost feel the warmth of a fire that had burned nearby in the cozy little home that he had once owned. It was nothing compared to the mansion that the mare had lived in but she had said that she liked the simplicity of his small home. The mare rolled over and hugged him close, her body rubbing against his own in a seductive way.
"You always know what to say."
Guardian reopened his eyes and looked up to the night sky. "If I did we wouldn't have lost what we had."
The dark furred creature moved to the edge of the roof and leaped to the nearby roof. He landed noiselessly and continued. His motion was but a blur that only the most well trained night watch could spot and his hooves made not so much as a light thump as he landed. He had crossed several buildings in only a matter of a minute before he heard the voice of a mare on the street. He stopped and moved to the edge of the building to inspect this voice.
A pink mare was walking the street below with a puzzled look on her face. She held one hoof up to her face. "Tingly hoof," She shook her mane. "Floppy mane," She sat down then stood back up. "Bouncy bum... My pinkie sense just isn't making sense tonight."
The mare looked around then shrugged. She moved off down the street while shaking her head every few steps. Guardian watched her go for a while wondering if she was the town crazy or that she was merely sleep walking. He pushed the thought from his mind and spotted the library off a few buildings away.
He reached the building standing next to the tree library and spotted a balcony on the upper boughs of the tree. He took a small start and leaped of the roof and landed silently on the wooden surface. He looked around the street and the nearby buildings to check that he had moved unseen. He spotted the pink mare again at the far end of the street watched her as she walked in a small circle for a moment.
Guardian turned around and walked to the balcony door. He opened it slowly and silently as he walked into the room beyond. He paused as the sound of a small creature's heavy breathing met is ears. He scanned the darkened room and spotted a small basket near the foot of the bed. He moved close to the basket and caught the strong scent of brimstone.
Guardian growled. "A dragon."
He looked down at the basket and spotted a purple form of a baby dragon. Guardian stared at the tiny form for a moment before he leaned down and placed the small blanket over the dragon and tucked it in.
Interesting. Wonder how it got here at such a young age... no matter I'm not here for the dragon. I'm here for Zecora.
He looked around the room and spotted the door. He moved to it silently and opened the door slowly, as to not awake the sleeping creature behind him. He quickly stepped out of the room and silently shut the door. A dim light came from behind him from the lower level. Guardian made his way down the nearby stairs until her could spot the source of the light. Motion near the center of the room caught his eye and he stopped.
Sitting in the center of the room was the zebra he was looking for. He tilted his head to the side as he looked at her. She was balanced on a small bamboo head first with her legs folded in. She was humming gently as she balanced there with her eyes closed. Guardian looked at her for a moment as a strong scent reached his nose. It was a relaxing smell he couldn't quite describe but he knew what it was.
Incense. She's meditating. Interesting creature this Zecora. He spotted a trio of candles resting in bowls that were spread around her in a triangle.
Guardian moved back up the stairs a little and placed his hoof on the side of the wall. He lifted himself off the stairs and onto the wall of the tree. He moved up swiftly until he came into contact with the ceiling then transferred himself to ringed surface. For a moment he hung there and looked down at the zebra as he wondered why she was meditating. He mentally shrugged and moved along the surface until he was almost directly over her.
For a moment he looked down at her and the image brought the vivid memory of when he first learned to walk along surfaces like this. It had been a strange sensation to look at the world upside down and when he had first done so he thought that all the blood would rush to his head. However he had discovered that his anatomy prevented this after spending an hour on a ceiling in his youth.
The zebra below made a small adjustment that brought Guardian back to the tree building. He crouched close to the ceiling and began to make a sturdy anchor of web. Once that was complete he slowly lowered himself down until his head was even with hers. They were barely a foot apart now that he was hanging from a web. For the briefest moment he thought she was going to open her eyes and scream but she remained immobile where she was. Guardian placed his legs on the strand and watched her in silence.
Guardian studied the details of the mare at such a close proximity. She looked older than all the other mares he had met but granted that number only included Applejack and Twilight. Her features were well defined and fuller than those of the younger mare but her face was still smooth. He began to wonder just how old she was but moved on to the rest of her striped body. She was fit, her body looking as if it had been sculpted from stone, and she had to be seeing that she was maintaining her balance on a pole while standing on her head.
Guardian looked at the rings for a moment. He knew that they had to be a zebra custom of some kind as he had never seen a pony wear anything like them before, but for what he could only speculate. Minutes passed in silence as he hung there. He closed his eyes for a second and let out a soft breath.
The voice of Zecora shattered the silence. "If it was on me you wanted to sneak, then a better entrance you should seek."
Guardian let out a low chuckle. "Was it my breathing or the creek of the wood when I began my descent?"
Zecora slowly opened her eyes. Her gaze shifted to the left to see the form of a rather amused Guardian hanging from the ceiling. She froze for a moment and took a deep breath.
"It was your breathing however soft, now what is holding you aloft?"
Guardian looked at the web then back to the surprisingly calm zebra. "Web. I must say, hearing that you wanted me to apologize face to face was rather interesting. Not many that are attacked by a monster tend to want to see it again."
She gave him a small nod then rebalanced herself. "If I was to live with you near, then I must learn to defeat my fear."
Guardian nodded. "Interesting indeed. Very well then, to the meat of this matter."
Guardian dropped to the floor without making a noise and lowered himself in a deep bow. "I humble myself before you Zecora. I have committed a crime against you and for that I can never be sorry enough. I seek your forgiveness for my horrendous actions towards you."
Zecora got down from the pole after a moment and stared at the creature. Here was this truly monstrous creature in size and appearance bowing before her as if she was royalty and begging her forgiveness. She didn't know what to say or do for a moment but stare.
She took a step closer to the lowered creature. "You are forgiven with words of such elegance, now please tell me of your genesis."
Guardian stood back up to his imposing height. "If you wish. I am Guardian, Chosen of the Matron and Defender of the Tree of Light. I have recently become friends with a filly of the name Apple Bloom, a mutual friend as she has said."
Zecora nodded. Quickly they began to tell each other of the events of their life since they began to interact with ponies of Ponyville. Close to an hour had pasted while they talked.
"So Guardian before you came to these lands, maybe your origins you could expand?"
Guardian looked at her for a moment as she took a small sip of tea she had made for herself as they had talked. For a moment he wondered if he should avoid telling her the truth like he had with Apple Bloom on his origins. She's older... and understands what it means to live a lonely life away from ones kin. He sighed and looked out the nearby window.
"I may not look it but I am old. Older than many of the living creatures in the forest and beyond its boundaries. For many years I wandered across this world without a purpose aside from surviving until the return of the Tree. Long before you were born my people lived in these lands but now they have been scattered far. Maybe they have made a new home for themselves, or maybe they have long died off and I'm merely a living relic of such times."
He turned to see Zecora looking at him with concern in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but stopped when a bright light erupted from the window. The pair moved to the window to locate its source. They could see a pillar of light reaching up to the sky. The pillar of light connected with the moon and it went from a crescent to full instantly.
Guardian moved to the door in a moment. "Stay here and tend to the dragon. I have my own issue to deal with. Another night we will finish this conversation."
With that the door to the library slammed shut as Guardian raced towards the forest.
"Ah don't know Twilight, Guardian didn't really like it when we were near it the first time."
Apple Bloom glanced over at the unicorn next to her. Twilight was looking at the trees around her as they walked through the forest. They had started heading into the forest a few minutes after Guardian had left them alone on the forest path. Apple Bloom had been perfectly happy with leading Twilight to the tree but was now having second thoughts.
"Ah think we should wait until he comes back. He wasn't that happy when me and the other crusaders went to look at the tree."
Twilight stopped walking and looked at the filly. "I don't think he would mind if we just looked at it for a little bit. I just want to see what you were talking about. Just one quick look then we can head back to the farm."
Apple Bloom sighed a little and started walking again along the path. Twilight followed the filly in silence, her gaze on the trees around them. The sound of night birds and other creatures of the night reached her ears as they walked amoung the trees.
"This way. You sure we should do this?"
Twilight nodded. "Of course. We are just going to look at it. Nothing dangerous in just looking."
Apple Bloom caught sight of the light from the tree. "This way." She muttered under her breath. "Ah still think we need should wait."
They walked off the trial into the trees towards the light. They soon reached the wall of trees that circled the grove. Twilight stopped walking as she looked at the trees.
"Are we close?"
Apple Bloom looked back to see Twilight looking up the trees. She looked up as well and noticed that the trees seemed to stretch up into the very sky.
"Yeah. We just need to get on the other side of these trees. Come on, Ah don't want to stay out here all night."
Twilight nodded. "Okay."
The pair walked around the wall of trees. Apple Bloom stopped when she reached the small gap and saw that it had been sealed off with massive webbing.
"Ah guess we should wait for him or try tomorrow."
For a brief moment Apple Bloom thought that Twilight was going to agree but the next moment shattered that little hope. Twilight's horn began to glow and the web was pulled off the trees and formed a small ball that she placed next to the opening.
"There we go. Let's take a look at that tree then."
Apple Bloom let out a tired sigh and walked through the small gap. Twilight followed her and let out a soft gasp as she spotted the tree. The soft white light filled the grove and a gentle breeze moved across the pair of ponies as they looked upon the tree. Apple Bloom sat down next to the entrance to the grove as Twilight started to walk around the tree in a wide circle.
"Don't get near it. Guardian said not to touch it because it's sacred to him and his people. He said it would have killed me when I tried to touch it."
Twilight looked over at the filly. She smiled and nodded but she hadn't really listened to her. Of course he would say something like that. Just scaring her so it won't be touched. She looked at the tree up and down, studying every detail she could as she finished her first pass of the tree.
Twilight stopped for a moment and tapped her chin. "How could something like this be created? It would need a source of magic somewhere to keep it alight but what sort of source."
She took a few steps closer and scanned the base of the tree. She heard the concerned voice of the filly behind her. "Don't! He got mad at me when Ah got near it. We looked at it, can we please leave now?"
Twilight glanced over at the filly. "In a moment. I just want to get a closer look. We'll leave in a moment."
Twilight circled the tree again but stopped roughly two thirds of the way around. She noticed that the tree was smooth, almost like it had been made out of glass. She took another step closer to the tree and stopped just out of hoof reach. She heard Apple Bloom from behind her.
Twilight moved closer and reached out to touch the surface. Her hoof was almost in contact when the tree began to glow brighter. Apple Bloom watched in horror and began to run towards the unicorn the moment she realized what had happened the moment the tree lit up. The sounds of the forest around them, the bugs chirping, the birds of the night, and even the sound of animals moving nearby instantly stopped and the amulet Guardian had given her began to glow as well.
Apple Bloom had opened her mouth the stop the lavender pony but was to late. Twilight's hoof touched the surface of the tree and held it there for a small moment. Her hoof felt the pressure of touching the tree but she couldn't feel it. It was just pressure. She brought her hoof back and noticed that where she had touched the tree had turned purple. She looked at the bottom of her hoof to see if the tree had turned her hoof white but was slightly disappointed when she saw that it was still its normal shade.
Twilight turned to the yellow filly. "See nothing wrong with touc—"
In an instant the grove exploded in both motion and sound. A white lightning bolt shot out and connected with Twilights horn. At the same moment a blinding pillar of light shot into the sky. Twilight screamed in shock and tried to use magic to shield herself and Apple Bloom but to her horror the beam of energy prevented this. She began to shake her head in hope of disconnecting the beam as a sudden whirlwind filled the grove, churning the leaves into a perfect sphere with the tree in the center.
Apple Bloom was almost to her friend when the wind began. With a force stronger than any she had ever felt she was picked up off the ground and tossed through the air around the tree. She nearly made a full circle before she was tossed outside the whirlwind and crashed at the base of a tree. With the wind knocked out of her and her back and her hind-legs hurting she could only watch as more beams of energy connected to Twilight. Some connected to her legs, chest, and one connected to the tip of her tail.
Once the final energy tendril connected with her body the leaves stopped moving but the roar of the wind continued. The leaves began to fall apart, ripped into a thousand parts then reconstructed as the most terrifying thing Apple Bloom had heard reached her ears: The agonized scream of Twilight as she began to flail in the air. The tendrils of energy began to slowly lift her into the air.
"Twilight!" Apple Bloom screamed as she tried to get up but her legs just couldn't seem to find purchase on the damp earth. After a moment she stood up and rushed towards the sphere of leaves but when she made it to the sphere she crashed into what felt like a solid wall. She scramble to get back up and tried again to find the same invisible barrier keeping her from helping Twilight.
"Twilight! Please Twilight teleport away!"
The yellow filly tried to force her way pasted the wall of air but couldn't move an inch. She looked around frantically but felt helpless. Twilight was going to die and there was nothing she could do to help her. "SOMEPONY PLEASE!"
Her call was answered in the form of a deep roar from above her. She looked up and spotted the large form of Guardian diving through the air and moved through the sphere. His descent was slowed only for a moment when he tackled Twilight in the air and pulled her out of the grasp of most of the beams. They hit the ground with a forceful impact.
Guardian was a blur of motion the next moment as he moved his body directly between Twilight and the tree. This simple action broke the connection the beams had with Twilight and for a moment hung in the air then they latched onto Guardian. Apple Bloom watched as the second they all were connected to him he threw Twilight out of the sphere of wind and stood up.
The large creature made his way to the base of the tree and braced himself there as the roar of the wind picked up to a deafening level. Guardian stood there as black smoke began to rise off his coat and he merely stood there as the wind whipped leaves around him. Just as the wind roared its loudest it all stopped. The noise was gone, the leaves fell to the ground and the tendrils of energy moved back to the tree. The small purple spot on the tree faded back to white.
Apple Bloom slumped to the ground as she watched the large creature stand there with smoke rising off of him. The sharp stench of burnt fur reached her and nearly caused her to gag at how strong it was. As the smoke slowly rose off of Guardian she became aware that his chin had fallen on his neck and something was dripping out of his mouth.
She was rooted to the spot when another smell reached her nose. It was a mixture of two distinct scents. The first was close to that of when she had smushed a bug on her hoof and made the mistake of sniffing it. The second was unmistakeable. Blood. Guardian gave a small cough and a moment later spat a mouth full of the ichor and blood mixture onto the ground.
Guardian then turned and locked eyes with her. He slowly started walking across the small gap between then, pausing only for a moment to spit another mouthful of blood off to the side. His stride was heavy and his hooves dragged on the ground. His voice was rough and barely above a whisper.
Apple Bloom could only look up into the now icy cold eyes. "Twi-Twilight wanted to see the tree and Ah lead her here. She touched the tree but Ah tried to stop her. She wouldn't listen to me but Ah tried to stop her, Ah really did!"
Guardian shifted his icy gaze to the small heap that was Twilight. He didn't even look back at crying filly as he began to move towards the unicorn.
"Stay there. I'll deal with you in a moment."
Guardian walked over to Twilight and spoke in a rough voice. "Get up. Now."
Twilight merely lay there for a moment. Guardian growled at her and grabbed her roughly and lifted her head up off the ground.
"You're not dead so get up."
Twilight's eyes flicked open as he dropped her head back to the ground. She slowly stood up but her shaking limbs made it hard. She nearly fell twice but managed to stand up again. This only lasted for a moment as she doubled over and became reacquainted with her dinner.
She looked up at Guardian as tears began to stream down her cheeks. "Than—"
"Don't. You have defiled sacred ground, broke several laws of my people, took advantage of myself and Apple Bloom, and nearly killed yourself in the process. You have taken what little faith I had in your kind and shattered it without a single thought of your actions."
Twilight slowly backed away from Guardian as his voice gained a deadly quality. "I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "No, you're not. You blundered into something without caring at all until it bit you in the ass. Your kind has always done this thinking that they can conquer anything they want to because they have a horn on their head. You know nothing of this tree, its origins, or even why my people revere it. Get out."
"I'm sorry, please give me another chance."
Guardian closed the gap and locked eyes with her, his eyes alight with pure malice. "Get. Out. You've lost that right the moment you set foot in this grove. I should punish you as the laws of my people demand but I'm choosing to spare you of that. Get out of this forest and never return to this grove or I will revoke this mercy."
Twilight could only stand there. "Please, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—"
His voice was almost as deafening as the very wind the tree had made. Twilight closed her eyes and in a moment was gone, only a flash and the smell of ozone to signal that she had been standing there. Guardian stood there for a moment, spat out another glob of blood at where Twilight had been standing then turned to look at a terrified Apple Bloom.
He walked over to her slowly. He stopped just in front of her and looked down at her cowering form. Apple Bloom closed her eyes and braced herself, expecting his anger. However she never felt it. Instead Guardian picked her up and began to pick the bits of dirt and leaf out of her mane and coat with his four claw tipped limbs.
She opened her eyes and looked up at his now passive face. "Ah'm sorry! A never should have lead her here. Please be mad at me, not her. It's my fault!"
Guardian continued to clean her for a moment. When he spoke it was in a soft voice, softer than she had ever heard him speak.
"I am mad at you. More so than you would ever believe. However I know that you didn't do this out of malice, rather to be a good friend."
He sighed for a moment then turned his head to the side and spat out another mouth full of blood. "Twilight has betrayed me more than I can tolerate from any pony. I can forgive you but not her. She has broken a sacred law of my people and for that she can never again come near this place."
Apple Bloom stopped him from picking the leaves from her mane. He looked down to see her watery eyes. "But it wasn't her fault, Ah'm to blame. I should be the one you yelled at not her."
Guardian finished cleaning the filly by picking out a whole leaf that was sitting on her bow. He looked down at her then sighed.
"You want to know why I can forgive you?"
The yellow filly nodded. Guardian lightly tapped the amulet on her chest. "That. It's designed to show if the wearer is trustworthy and honest with its creator. If you had lead her here for selfish reasons then it would have shattered, and I know you tried to stop her because the amulet's eyes are glowing. You have done everything in your power to protect my trust and the tree. For that I thank you."
Apple Bloom looked down at the amulet as Guardian shifted her from his forelegs to his back. "Really? You still trust me after Ah did something like this?"
Guardian nodded and moved towards the gap in the trees, his stride much slower than normal and with a hint of a limp. "Yes. The amulet never lies and by the looks of it you haven't lied to me yet either."
Apple Bloom held the gift in her hooves for a moment. "Did you make this for me after you saved me?"
Guardian shook his head. "No. I was wearing it at the time."
Guardian stopped outside the circle of trees and sealed it again with web. "To protect it in case I wanted to give it to somepony I trusted."
The filly studied it for a moment. "Ah'm not the first to have this am Ah?"
Guardian shook his head. "No, you are its first and only owner."
Apple Bloom tapped the back of his neck which made him stop and look at her. She wiped her eyes before she spoke. "Was this supposed to be for somepony else?"
Guardian sighed deeply and nodded. He stayed silent which prompted the next question he knew would follow. "Who was it for?"
Guardian looked ahead and began to walk towards the forest path. "Somepony I used to know. Let's get you home."
Apple Bloom let the amulet fall down to her chest. "It was for your special somepony wasn't it?"
Guardian stopped walking and looked up to the tree tops. "Yes. I had made it for her and was planing on giving it to her."
Guardian stared up to the hidden sky and remained silent. Apple Bloom waited for a moment. "Guardian what happened to her?"
The large creature started walking once more and spoke in a hoarse whisper. "I lost her in the worst way. She has long since been dead and I would like to leave this subject alone. You need to get home and must retire for the night as well."
Apple Bloom sat down on Guardians back. "Ah lost my mom and dad when I was younger. Ah understand the pain of losing ponies you love."
Guardian looked back at the pony and sighed. Not in the way I have.
The night was almost always boring for Princess Luna. Beautiful yes, but boring due to her duties. She would love for nothing more than to fly out on her nights and spend her time under the wondrous stars she had placed there every night. She sighed a little and looked at the small pile of scrolls that covered her study desk.
If only I could have a few more hours of night to finish this all.
Luna sighed a little and moved onto the first scroll of the night. She opened it up and looked at it. Another request from the farming league to increase rain fall. She began to look for the most recent weather report and schedules from Cloudsdale when a sudden feeling of warmth radiate from her horn through her body.
"What in the... I haven't felt a surge of Lunar magic like that since..."
Her train of thought was derailed as the captain of the Night Guard came into the room.
"Your Majesty, there is something for you from the Astronomers League. They claim it was urgent."
She rose from the desk and the guard held out the letter to her. She looked at the guard for a moment and smiled at him.
"Thank you Sammael. I hope this wasn't an inconvenience to you. As I understand it, you have a lot of work to do."
The midnight colored stallion shook his head and motioned to the balcony. "Not at all, aside from a few minor preparations for Nightmare Night, besides they sent this over once it was spotted."
The lunar princess moved to the windowed doors that led to a small balcony. She opened the doors and stepped out to see a bright pillar of silver light reaching out into the sky and connected to the moon. The princesses’ eyes widened as she gazed upon the pillar.
"That can't be... could it have..."
"Your Majesty, permission to speak freely."
Luna turned to see the Night Guard captain looking up into the sky his eyes focused on the moon above. "Granted."
"That's from the direction of the Everfree Forest. Does this mean it’s regrown?"
Luna shook her head and watched as the pillar of light grew dimmer and faded away. The moon went from its full status back to the waxing form she had made it take at the beginning of the night. As the moon began moving across the sky Luna sighed.
"I don't know. There are so many relics from the past that have yet to be found, it could be a number of things that could have been found or used. Even if it is then finding it would be hard and very dangerous."
The guard moved next to the princess and looked up into the sky. "Do you think that... well...?”
The princess shook her head. "You know as well as I do that it can't happen. They have been gone for centuries. They are a legend just like Nightmare Moon is."
Luna noticed a small look of disappointment pass over the features of her captain. She cleared her throat to get his attention.
"Perhaps this will need to be looked into. How many nights till Nightmare Night?"
The stallion looked at princess and noticed the small smile on her face. "Three nights, Your Majesty."
The princess nodded and looked out towards the distant forest. "I think I shall require your presence on my trip to Ponyville this year."
The guard nodded and bowed low to the princess. Luna watched as the guard left the balcony then returned her attention to the moon.
"This has proven to be an interesting night after all."
Luna returned to her desk and opened the small scroll from the Astronomers League. It was a small hoof written note rather than the official document she was expecting.
Dear Princess Luna,
I'm certain that you must be expecting a report from my superiors but, as always, they tend to take a long time to make a decision. My name is Nova and I'm an apprentice in the League. I've spotted a strange phenomenon tonight...
Luna rolled her eyes. Of course you did. I think half the kingdom has tonight. She almost tossed the scroll aside, but felt that she should at least finish the letter. With a small sigh she resumed reading.
...near the Red Spider Nebula. Several stars appeared near within it and dramatically changed the appearance of the Nebula. I don't know if any of my peers or superiors have noticed it due to the event concerning the moon but I was hoping you could tell me if this change was intentional or was brought on by the pillar of light.
What? This can't be correct. I would have known...The princess of the night moved back to the balcony and focused her sight on a small cluster of stars. She enhanced her sight to focus in on the stars and spotted several little white stars that she hadn't placed there at the beginning of the night.
"How did that... when did that..."
Luna looked at the features of the Spider nebula as it returned to an old shape that it had held when she first created it, a formation that was changed by her sister because of the pain it brought her when she looked upon it. The formation now undoubtedly looked like a creature from legends long forgotten.
"Nightmare Night will prove to be very interesting this year."
Silver Lining was bored. He had been stuck in the tiny room he was sitting in for close to three hours watching a small bronze bowl. The bowl itself was unimpressive, if anything it was sub-par in terms of craftsponyship, but what it could do was why it needed watching. It was a node along a magical communications network and scrolls or letters that would appear in it were of the highest priority, or so the young unicorn stallion had been told.
"This is so bucking pointless. Why does this thing need to be shoved into a broom closet anyways? Why can't we have it in the main study or somewhere with real chairs?"
He shuffled on the small crate he was sitting on and sighed as he grew slightly annoyed. This sucks. I'm too old for this neophyte stuff. I'm old enough for something more important than this. Heck I would even take training over this.
The stallion shook the mane on his name that gave him his namesake. The hairs shimmered and reflected off the brass bowl. He reached over to a small plate that sat on a nearby crate to eat his favorite food, cheesy bread.
"At least I have this to keep me from starving."
He chuckled at his own little joke and took a bite from the bread. He chewed in silence as he looked back at the bowl. It was the same as it always was. Plain, brass, and boring. Silver Lining sighed and leaned up against the wall. The minutes seemed to stretch on into hours as he sat there waiting for anything to happen.
He reached for the bread again when a dark blue flame erupted in the bowl. The sudden appearance of the flames made the stallion jumped and watched the flames as they faded away and a scroll was left in their place. Silver Lining sat there for a moment stunned that a scroll had appeared. It wasn't that he hadn't seen a scroll come through before but they never came in at such a late hour.
He picked it up and slowly unraveled it. He could tell that it was quickly written by someone of a noble stature due to the neatness of the letter. He quickly read through the letter.
To my Lord Silver,
As you have no doubt noticed there has been a rather peculiar incident involving the moon. The source of this disturbance is still unknown however I think it may be connected to the information I have come by. Rumors have been moving around town that something has moved into the local forest and even some of the foals have claimed to see it and come into contact with it. These stories seemed like the imaginary tales that foals would make up but I have seen signs that the tales may be true. Animals have gone missing, the local population of cows claim they have seen a creature moving on the farm and now the lunar anomaly have convinced me that these stories may indeed be true. I have included a picture of the foals that claim to have met the creature and I await your orders.
Brother Rich, Ponyville.
Silver Lining stood there for a moment then shook his head as he realized he had to deliver the scroll. He scrambled out of the tiny closet into the well cared for halls of the mansion that the small closet was a part of. He moved onto the deep blue carpet and moved up the hall and through a small doorway, moving into a small sitting room. He crossed the sitting room into a smaller hall and move to his left. He passed a few paintings and took a small breath.
Just give them the letter then leave. It should be easy.
He stopped before a set of large oaken doors that were the entrance to a study. He took another breath to steady himself and knocked on the doors. He vaguely became aware that the noise from behind the doors stopped as a moment later they opened and a young mare with bright blue eyes and a sea green coat greeted him.
"The masters asked not to be disturbed tonight."
Silver swallowed. "I have a message for the grand master. It's urgent."
The maid sighed. "Stay right here." The mare turned around and walked back into the room. Silver Lining could hear hushed talking then the maid returned. "The master will see you now."
The silver stallion moved into the small study to see a trio of ponies sitting in high-backed chairs facing the fires. Two of the chairs were angled so that the ponies sitting in them could look at the fire and at the door with a simple turn of the head. The chair between them was set so that the back was to the door.
A deep voice reached the silver stallion. "You have a message for me? Where from?"
Silver Lining cleared his throat softly. "From Brother Rich in Ponyville."
He moved the scroll to the leg-rest of the chair. The pegasus of deep green to the left of the armchair scoffed. "Ponyville? That little backwater of a town? What could possibly be important eno—?”
The green pegasus stopped as the stallion in the center chair lifted his hoof. The room fell dead silent, save for the fire crackling away. The stallion read the scroll then moved forward a little. Silver could only make out a silhouette of the side of the stallions face.
His powerful voice spoke again. "Leave us."
Silver Lining turned to leave but the voice reached him once more. "Not you. The rest of you, leave us. I have a matter to attend to with the young stallion."
Silver turned around to see the older stallions bowing to the silhouetted stallion before leaving. The remaining stallion looked to the maid and waved her over.
"Darling give the young lad some refreshment before you..." The stallion leaned over and whispered to the maid in a hushed voice. The maid blushed in the firelight then nodded. Silver Lining stood there for a moment unable to think of what to say or do. He had never been allowed to stay in this room alone with the Grand Master.
"Take a seat. You must be tired from watching the bowl for the night."
The young stallion moved to the side of the chair and sat down. The chair was comfortable and the perfect distance from the fire to stay warm but not get to hot. The maid walked next to the chair Silver Lining sat down in and gave him a glass filled with an amber liquid.
"Will that be all master?"
Silver couldn't tell who she was talking to until he noticed her looking at him. "Uh, yes. I'm fine. Thank you."
The maid bowed to them both then walked out of the room. The door to the small study closed, leaving the two stallions alone. Silver Lining looked at the older stallion and studied him for a moment. The light of the flickering fire danced on the bright silverish-white coat and the gold colored mane seemed to shimmer. The stallion looked over and locked his dark blue eyes on the younger pony.
"Never thank the help. They are paid to work not to be our friends."
"Sorry." A slight pause, "I didn't mean to interrupt your meeting, they looked important."
"They were just leaving. They had a concern about something Fancy Pants was doing. I have no quarrels with him, in fact I even enjoy his parties, but I won't act against his want to build another orphanage in the kingdom."
Silver Lining nodded. "I see. So why did I need to stay?"
The older unicorn took a sip from his own glass and looked down at the scroll. "I think that you have earned the right to prove yourself to me and the rest of our order. You will one day lead them and I need to know that our families’ legacy is in safe hooves. Your hooves."
The older unicorn downed the rest of his amber liquid and moved in his chair so that he could relax while looking at the younger pony. Silver Lining swallowed then looked at the drink in his hoof.
"You should drink that. That's thirty five year old scotch. I can't put that back in the bottle."
Silver Lining gave a small nod then placed the drink to his lips. The amber liquid moved passed his lips and down his throat, burning a path and leaving a bitter taste. The young unicorn swallowed it all then gave a small cough as the aftertaste of the liquid filled his mouth.
Silver Lining looked up to see the older stallion rolling his eyes. "So... what exactly am I doing to earn this?"
The older pony rose from his chair and moved to the desk near the window of the room. "You will be attending to the claims made by Brother Rich and investigating the incident with the moon that happened tonight. He believes the two are linked and so do I. That's why I'm sending you to Ponyville to talk with the locals and gather more information. This may be nothing but if it turns out to be something worthwhile I think you should be the one to uncover it."
The younger unicorn sat up in his chair. "What? Ponyville? Where am I supposed to stay? A small town like that surely won't have a hotel good enough for long term use."
The older unicorn nodded. "The son of Silver Tongue would never stay in such a lowly place as a simple hotel. I'm sending to stay with Brother Rich. He owns a mansion in the town and should have more than enough room to accommodate you. You will have all the resources he can provide, as well as a servant I will be sending with you."
Silver Lining gave his father a small bow. "Thank you father, I promise not to disappoint you, but what if I fail?"
Silver Tongue turned to his son with a grim look. "You won't, or you will never set hoof in this home again. Get a night of sleep, but make sure you gather all you need tonight. You set off in the morning." He handed the picture from the scroll to his son. “Make sure you speak with these three. They may have stumbled onto something worth our interest.”
The young stallion bowed to his elder and left the study. Silver Tongue watched the door close for a moment then opened a drawer of his desk. That boy will do fine; he has the entire Silver family legacy depending on it. Needs to learn how to properly treat his lessers though.
The silver coated stallion placed a scroll on the desk and began to write on it. Orders to Brother Rich and well wishes to his daughter, more of a simple politeness rather than genuine concern. He finished the letter with his signature and reached for a small stamp. A moment passed as he pulled out a small box of magicked wax that was always in a liquid state until applied to paper or parchment, and dipped the stamp in it. He pressed the stamp on the bottom of the paper with a tiny seal.
Good. Maybe we can find out if this is worth more of our focus. He took a final look at the seal and smiled. The wax had hardened into a crossbow bolt with sun in the background. The words that circled the image was more than that to him. They were the name of the elite protectors of Equestria. The Children of the Rising Sun, hunters of nightmares and evil.