A mad pony, he writes stories about pretty pastel ponies. English enthusiast and student of myth, he has attained Wordsmith Level 36
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Pinkie Pie poked her perplexed head from under the pile of prickly pine boughs. She blinked bleary eyes at the bright sunshine that filtered from the dense canopy above. At first, she could not remember why she was under a pile of pine branches. It definitely wasn’t a party. She brushed a few green needles from her face and mane. Blinking some more seemed to help situate her in these unfamiliar surroundings. It was morning. That meant the rain had stopped some time last night. Which would explain the other ponies lying around her.
Other ponies? She shifted a few of the boughs around, counting. Seven ponies, no wait, not just seven ponies, but rather seven bronies. Her eyes darted from flank to flank looking for a cutie mark. None. The pink pony sat down, brushing more pine needles from her coat. That still didn’t explain the pine branches. Think, Pinkie Pie, think. She pondered. She listened. The forest was quiet, it smelled of fresh rain, wet earth, and the thick, acrid scent of walnuts. The trees. She peered at the rough bark of the massive trunks. Walnuts... and pines. She furrowed her brow, something about that was familiar, nope, lost it. Her eyes darted around again. The forest floor had little to no vegetation close to the ground. Every inch of the ground was covered in brown needles and wide, dead leaves. Pieces of walnut husks littered the carpet of old needles, staining the mottled brown with oily black splotches.
Pinkie Pie ducked her head, eyes shifting side to side. “Uh, what?”
“Seattle, it looks like the forests around Seattle.” A deep red unicorn sat next to Pinkie. His black, red-streaked mane was disheveled, several pieces of forest debris stuck to it. He looked at everything with a bored expression, coldly categorizing and memorizing everything he saw. On his right cheek, he sported two gashes that were already scabbing over.
This didn’t make any sense. He shouldn’t have heard her, he shouldn’t have been able to see her. She didn’t want to be seen, but he was talking to her. Pinkie shifted slightly, turning slowly to one side. Usually, if she turned just the right way, ponies would lose--
The red unicorn’s slate grey eyes snapped to the side, locking onto her movements. “Do you know where we are?” he asked in the same even voice as before.
Pinkie pursed her lips, her powers were gone. “Walnuts.” she said.
The red pony blinked. “Yeah...”
“Somewhere in the Everfree.” She said. A few walnuts fell from the trees above, hollow thumps sounding as they hit the padded forest floor. She jumped to her hooves, snapping several of the pine boughs around her. “That too?!” She hadn’t gotten so much as a tingle from her tail. “Ugh, this is gonna be a long day.” She turned to the red unicorn, Lexicon, and gave him a big good-morning grin.
Immediately his expression softened as the beginnings of a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. Come on, Pinkie thought, smile. She poured more mental energy into her grin, begging silently for a smile. Ever so slowly, Lexicon’s mouth stretched a little more. Come on, just a little more...
“Well hey! Looks like the sun finally came out!” Another brony woke up.
Lexicon’s eyes flicked to the side, the smile died. Pinkie could almost hear its tiny cry for help as it vanished. Her ear twitched; stating the obvious was her job. She’d have to bring her A game if she wanted to stay ahead of these bronies. The smile killer was a tall, light blue pegasus, Silver Lining. At his exclamation over the obvious presence of the sun, the other ponies stirred from their sleep. Pinkie hopped out of the pile of branches to survey the forest. She needed to keep moving, no telling what might happen with her powers gone. Oh yes, there was no way she was going to let that get her down. She wasn’t about to let Pinkamena out of the bright and happy cage she had made, no sir-ree.
She hopped around to one particular tree. It wasn’t any different from the others, except for the fact that she had picked it out. Lexicon and Silver Lining watched her, she liked the attention but Lexicon was starting to creep her out a bit. No. That’s mean. He wasn’t creepy, he was... uh, creepy. Oh, candy canes.
She tapped a hoof to the tree, nodding at the sound it produced as if discerning some deep truth from it before moving quickly to the next tree. She made as if to tap this one too, but at the last moment decided to listen first to the roots. All the while, her eyes darted around constantly searching for anything that might hint at where they were. Pinkie knew by now that they had to be in the Everfree somewhere, only wild trees made that distinctive thump. She was also thinking. Thinking faster than she ever thought in her life, and that was saying something because she usually ate quite a bit of sugar. Hmmm, the sugar. When her currently ingested supply ran out... that’s going to be quite the slump. She blinked, snapped her head up and quickly went to another tree. This wasn’t the time to be worrying over the imminent crash, she was going to get all of them home before then. She tapped the tree, yup, definitely wild.
“Good news everypony!” she announced.
Every head turned to her. “You know where we are?” a rosy colored pegasus mare with cream colored hair, Ribbon, asked, her eyes growing wide. No doubt she thought Pinkie had deduced such from merely tapping on trees.
“Well of course, silly!” Pinkie replied with a giggle. “We’re in a forest!” She let out a little guffaw at the look on Ribbon’s face. “But that’s not the good news. The good news is that we’re in the Everfree forest, so we can’t be too far from home. Oh, and the timberwolves have already moved out of this area, so we should be good for day or two.” She punctuated the end of her speech with another smile. Aha! That was why they were under the pine branches last night, everypony knows that pine boughs fool a timberwolf’s nose. Another mystery successfully solved.
“Sooo...” Spearmint, a flaxen coated pegasus with a bright green mane, said while looking around at the ancient trees with a skeptical frown. “If we’re in the Everfree, could we see the camp from here?”
“Hmmm,” Pinkie scrunched up her face in thought, “it’s worth a try I guess. Who wants to fly up there and see what he can see?”
“I will!” Spearmint spread his wings wide and got ready to launch himself into the air.
“Not so fast green-locks!” Silver Lining galloped forward and stomped on Spearmint’s tail just as he jumped into the air.
Spearmint yelped in surprise as his launch was abruptly aborted. “Gah! What the hay was that for, Silver?”
Silver snickered. “Heh, so that really does work, go figure.” Spearmint shot a ‘ya don’t say’ look at him. “Anyway, you know what Rainbow Dash said about rookie fliers. No first timers--”
“--can fly without a third timer, yeah yeah I know. But you are in C wing, Azure and Shadowflash are with me in D wing. Nopony here has flown more than once, well except for Ribbon I guess.” He flapped his wings and yanked his tail out from under Silver’s hoof. “So, Ribbon, you wanna take me up? Really, Rainbow Dash would never know we broke the rules anyway.”
“Maybe, but the rules are there for a good reason.” Ribbon said gently. “Flying is different here than it was on Earth, but sure, I’d be happy to ta-AH!” She cried out as she tried to spread her wings, one of them spasming as it hung at a grotesque angle.
Everypony jumped at the painful shout. Ribbon fell to her knees, inhaling with a sharp hiss. Azure Clouds, a corduroy blue pegasus stallion, rushed to her side, seeming to suddenly appear. “Just hold still, Ribbon. Don’t move it.” He eased her down to the ground. Pinkie and the others inched their way closer.
Lexicon grimaced as he leaned forward for a better look. “That looks dislocated. We could... pop it back in, I think.”
Pinkie flinched at Ribbon’s contorted expression. “How do we do that?” she asked, just barely keeping the edge out of her voice. She hated seeing others in pain.
Lexicon shifted his hooves, “I have only ever seen it done once, and that was for a human arm. I’ve seen diagrams of various types of wings and I assume that pegasus wings are similar. No matter what I do, it’s gonna hurt, a lot.” He gave an uncertain glance at Ribbon’s twitching wing.
“Mmm! I think... you should, aaagh! Try... at least. I can’t... feel my foreleg now.” Ribbon gasped and shuddered her way through her words, a few tears collecting at the corners of her eyes. “P-please.”
“Alright... uh, Azure, can you hold on to her foreleg, keep it straight. Ah, Silver, put your hoof on her back right there, between her wings, perfect.” Lexicon chewed his lower lip as he placed his own hooves gently in front and behind her stricken wing. “Um, Pinkie... Can you hold onto her head? If she jerks around at the wrong time, it could make it worse. I think a pretty important nerve is getting pinched so when we do this, she’ll reflex.”
Pinkie nodded and hugged Ribbon’s head to her chest. She wiped away a tear from the pegasus’ face. “Everything’s gonna be fine,” she whispered into the mare’s ear.
“Okay,” Lexicon uttered in a shaky voice, “on the count of three, Silver, I need you to put all of your weight on that hoof. Ready, Ribbon?” She nodded sharply into Pinkie’s chest. Lexicon looked over at Silver Lining. “Alright, one... two... three.” Silver threw all of his weight behind his hoof as Lexicon shifted his hooves at exactly the same moment, guiding the joint back into position. Ribbon screamed. Muffled as it was by Pinkie, it still echoed through the trees before Ribbon’s voice collapsed into a series of gasps.
Pinkie stroked Ribbon’s mane. “Well, that was fun.... Um, Silver and Spearmint, could you be super-duper awesome and break Dashie’s rules real quick?”
Silver shrugged and Spearmint hoofed at the ground. “Yeah, we can be quick. Ready Spearmint?” The two pegasi launched themselves into the air, leaving those on the ground awash in small gusts of wind. Ribbon caught her breath and finally pulled her head away from Pinkie’s grasp.
“That was... where did you learn how to do that, Lexicon?” she winced at her wing as she folded it tight against her body.
Pinkie left an ear open to the conversation, but Radiant Star had caught her attention so she started to hop her way over to him.
“I, uh, read a lot.” He shifted under her scrutiny.
“You learned that from a book?” There was a hint of a laugh in her voice.
“Uh, yeah. I-I spent a lot of time just learning... stuff.” Lexicon mumbled.
Ribbon giggled, then hissed sharply, “Ooh, ‘kay I can’t laugh for a while. Well I sure am glad you did Lexicon.” Pinkie turned just in time to catch Ribbon placing a quick kiss on Lexicon’s cheek. “Thanks.” Pinkie giggled to herself at the grin that blossomed on the red unicorn’s face.
“What was that, Azure? Feeling left out, hmmm?” Ribbon trotted over to the blushing blue pegasus and planted a kiss on his cheek as well.
Radiant Star sat with his back to all of them, staring out into the dappled shadows of the forest. Pinkie decided not to jump on him, her original intention, and instead plopped herself down next to the silent unicorn. “Do you think it looks like a saddle?” She asked the forest, but if Radiant Star answered, that would be okay.
He blinked, his eyes focusing on the ground in front of him. “Uuuh, no?”
Pinkie adopted a sly smile. “That’s too bad, the last stallion who thought the forest looked like a saddle got a kiss.”
Radiant snorted and stirred some of the dead pine needles around. “Ha! Lucky guy then.” He once again stared off into the distance.
Pinkie studied him a little closer; it was the perfect time to do so, for he was completely oblivious to her. She suddenly noticed something; there were a lot of blue bronies. Not blue as in down in the dumps, though there seemed to be quite a few of those too. Idly, she wondered if they were blue because if they were green they would die… She giggled. That was silly.
“Have you ever lost something you never knew you had, Pinkie?” Radiant Star asked under his breath.
She eyed the unicorn. If there was one thing that these bronies were good at, it was being totally random. “Sure! I’ve lost lots of things that weren’t ever mine. Like a few weeks ago, I lost Dashie’s favorite Wonderbolts poster, and one of Twilight’s quills, oh and I borrowed a pair of scissors from Rarity but Gummy dropped them down the sink.”
“What?” Radiant turned to her, arching an eyebrow.
“I know! It makes no sense to me either, why did Gummy think that sinks liked scissors? He was right; I never was able to get the scissors to come out.”
“No, no, no. What are you talking about?” He scratched his head with a hoof.
“I dunno, what were you talking about?” She batted her eyes at him in a practiced expression of innocence.
“I, uh, don’t know either, I guess....” He let out an exasperated sigh, frowning at the pile of brown needles he had made.
Pinkie got up and stood in front of him. She stretched her neck as far as she could, squinting into his eyes. He shied away from her slightly but he didn’t break eye contact or try to leave. Of course, it was there. Or more importantly it wasn’t there. He had brilliant cyan eyes, deep like the color of a clear winter morning sky, but not nearly as cold. If she looked hard enough, she could see the forest reflected in his eyes, but not herself. This fact nestled in the back of her head, fostering an unease that she could not shake. In some ways she wished she didn’t notice these sorts of things.
Radiant chuckled a weak and uncomfortable laugh. “Um, Pinkie?” His ears folded flat against his head.
She blinked and realized that she had been leaning forward, to the point that she was balanced on her front hooves, her hind legs up in the air. He had sunk backward into an awkward position, on the verge of falling flat on his back. Slowly, she pivoted back, her hooves landing with a soft rustle. “Y’know what?” she asked him. He straightened his back and shook his head. “You’ll find what you’re looking for, Starsky.”
His mouth instantly broke into a lopsided grin. “Starsky, huh? Is there a Hutch around?”
There he goes, being random. “Why? Do you have some dishes to put in it?”
“Haha! Nevermind. Why did you call me Starsky?”
“‘Cuz calling you ‘Radiant Star’ all the time makes me sound like a stuffed Canterlot pony. And I can’t just call you ‘Radiant’ either.... That makes you sound like a knight or something.” She cocked her head to the side and crossed her eyes, she found this was the best way to illustrate the idea.
He laughed again, whether at the idea or her face she didn’t care, so long as he laughed. “I wouldn’t mind being a knight,” he mused.
“Well, you should talk to Princess Luna. Then, you could be a twice knight!” She bubbled with giggles.
“Snkkkkt! Yeah, then I would be the night knight light.” He summoned some magic to his horn, casting a pinprick of light at the tip of it. It wasn’t that funny but they laughed anyway. It was subdued and mostly giggles, but laughing all the same.
“Wassat?” Lexicon asked nopony in particular. “Shhh! Hey, anypony else hearing what I’m hearing?” This time he was clearly addressing the ponies gathered around the withering pine branches.
Pinkie stifled her giggling in time to hear... something. It sounded like a cross between crackling leaves and the pealing of a bell. Whatever it was, it was getting louder. Louder means closer and loud things are usually bad in the Everfree. Other noises started to filter through the trees. Was it, yelling?
“Hide!” A thin voice managed to punch its way through the increasing volume of the crackling bell.
Ribbon squinted in the direction that the voice, and the strange noise, came from. “Was that... Spearmint?”
Nopony had the chance to answer, for the canopy exploded in a shower of twigs and leaves as a flaxen streak came hurtling into their little clearing. Spearmint’s hooves carved four deep ravines into the forest floor as he recovered from his maniac dive. “Hide! Hide, quick!” he yelled. Even before he skidded to a halt, he tried to fling himself at the nearest bush.
“What?! Where’s Sil--Oof!” Shadowflash disappeared in the middle of his query as a blue blur swept him off of his hooves.
“What in the hay is going on?!” Ribbon had to shout over the deafening sound. Lexicon was galloping back and forth across the clearing, looking for a place to hide. Azure Clouds practically danced where he stood, unable to decide on where to go. Shadowflash and Silver Lining were a tangled mess of flailing hooves. Pinkie Pie and Radiant Star glanced at each other, mirrored expressions of consternation.
Spearmint emerged from his hiding place long enough to shout, “Phoenix!”
The angry red glow of phoenix fire blossomed to Pinkie’s left, the legendary bird’s fearsome cry made the hair of her coat stand on end. “Don’t hide! RUN!” Pinkie bellowed before promptly taking her own advice, setting off at a dead gallop. She streaked between a startled Ribbon and a hiding Spearmint. She glanced back only to see if they followed her.
Forest foliage slapped savagely at her legs and face almost as if the Everfree were trying to slow her down. She pushed through the flora, determined not to meet the angry phoenix. The heat of the winged terror’s wrath beat at her back, spurring even more panicked speed out of her legs. A shadow loomed over the forest as a new sound made its way to her ears through the rush of wind and the roaring flames of phoenix wings. Water. An idea burst into her head like a confetti party favor. “Everypony! Keep up and follow me!” She angled the path of their desperate bid at escape towards what she hoped was a waterfall and not a cliff. Deftly dodging through the trees she dared only to look behind to make sure her terrified friends were indeed keeping up.
The phoenix was growing more irate with every furlong they ran. Several times it swooped over the group, swooping in as close as it could in an attempt to burn them all to ash. But by some benevolent bouts of brilliant luck, every time it tried, the phoenix had to swerve away from its quarry or collide with a conifer or risk getting walloped by walnuts. The sound of rushing water was music to Pinkie’s ears. Just a little further, and they could be safe.
Her lungs were burning, she could feel her strength waning as lather started to show through her coat. From the lack of frightened whinnies and the heavy panting behind her, the bronies were faring worse than she. The forest began to thin, she could see a sparkle or two flash among the darker shadows. So close. Without warning, the trees vanished and Pinkie found herself galloping on coarse gravel and blinking in bright sunlight. Their rumps were really cooked now. If there wasn’t a waterfall or cave or something they could hide in, that phoenix was going to torch them all like so many wicker ponies. Pinkie breathed a little prayer as she caught sight of a waterfall to her right, just around a small bend in the shallow river.
She charged into the river, throwing water into the air with her hooves. The phoenix bellowed an almost triumphant cry as they barreled into the open space of the wide river. The others splashed into the river behind her, tossing more spray above them as they labored to keep up. Time and time again, the phoenix dove at them, screeching at the water as it foiled its attempts at burning them. It veered off in vexation emitting frustrated squawks. By now the bronies saw where she was headed, seeing the reaction their splashing got from the fiery bird, they could put two and two together. They all dug deep, pushing for even more speed. Just a few more yards...
Pinkie braced herself as she jumped through the sheet of falling water. It very nearly shoved her face into the ground as she galloped into it, spluttering and choking. She dug her hooves into the loose gravel just in time, the solid stone of the outcropping was only a few feet behind the waterfall. So much for hiding in a cave. The little sanctuary was soon filled with wet and wheezing ponies, but they had only a moment’s respite. The sound of the roaring phoenix shook the ground beneath their hooves. Angry hissing issued from the waterfall as steam swirled into their refuge, it wasn’t going to give up so easy.
“What is it doing?” Shadowflash panted, scooting farther away from the aquatic barrier.
“I think... it’s trying to get in!” Lexicon backed against the stone, pulling his hooves out of the suddenly hot pool of water.
“Or, it’s trying to cook us...” Ribbon groaned.
Pinkie could see the phoenix swooping back and forth on the other side of their pitiful wall of water, blasting the ground and the fall itself with flame. A few tongues of the mystical fire licked at the edges of the water, the stones round about taking on a reddish glow. The air was heavy and hot, much worse than a sauna ever was. Spearmint and Silver Lining looked to be on the verge of passing out; Pinkie felt light headed herself. The tolling bell of phoenix magic filled her ears, the pall of steam suffocating her. She never thought that it would end this way, at least she had hoped there would have been more cake involved.
She caught something blue moving in the corner of her eye. Radiant Star glowered at the waterfall, his eyes moving back and forth and a hoof tapping in time. What was he doing? Was he counting? Things weren’t making a whole lot of sense. The steam was melting every thought her tired brain tried to make. One, two, tap, tap, tap. One, two, tap, tap, tap. The blue unicorn squared his shoulders, pale magic beginning to coalesce around his horn. Pinkie flung out a hoof one second too late. Radiant reared up and with a mighty bellow, charged through the waterfall.
It was as if the sun itself fell from the sky to land in front of their hiding place. Light so bright, Pinkie could swear it was actually hitting her with a palpable force. It consumed everything, the sound of the rushing water, the steam, the cries of the phoenix. The world ceased to be. How long it lasted, there was no telling but when it finally left, the silence rang in her ears, like the silence after a storm.
“Starsky?” A shaky whisper escaped her lips. Nothing. Not even the phoenix made a sound any longer. Perhaps it was gone.
Pinkie cautiously placed a hoof into the pool of rippling water only to find it cold. Without a second thought, she pushed through the waterfall again and almost tripped over Radiant Star’s inert form. He laid on his side, the locks of his cobalt and black mane swaying serenely in the river’s soft current. She gave him only a cursory look-over before scanning the skies and surrounding area for the phoenix. Satisfied that it was gone, and baffled at the fact, Pinkie turned back to Radiant. He breathed still, always a good sign, but he didn’t wake at her prods. She picked up his head with her hooves, holding his mouth and nose up and away from the water. “It’s safe! C’mon everypony!”
One by one, the bronies emerged from the waterfall. Pinkie jerked her head, “Hey, Shadowflash, Azure come ‘ere.”
As they plodded over to her, Spearmint sighed and knelt into the river, eventually assuming the same position Radiant was currently in. He had some scorch marks maring his light coat and a red patchy burn on his neck. “Look,” he sighed at Silver, “I said I was sorry alright? It’s not like I wanted to fall out of the sky y’know.”
Silver splashed some water on Spearmint’s face. “Yeah, but you could’ve at least tried to keep your cool, but no, you had to freak out and wake up a flippin’ phoenix..”
“Okay, Mr. perfect-flyer.” Spearmint spat. “Next time I’m randomly falling I’ll be sure to aim for your--”
“Hey! Knock it off, you two.” Ribbon limped over to the ruffled pegasi. “It was nopony’s fault, we should just be glad Radiant Star was here to save our flanks. So stuff it.”
“Is he okay?” Azure asked, stooping to look closer at Radiant’s face.
“I have no idea, but I think we should at least get his head out of the river.” Pinkie said, shifting the dead weight in her hooves, her foreleg was starting to itch.
“Okay, but I don’t think I have the strength to lift him.” Shadowflash hung his head, his onyx coat shimmered in the sun with the heaving of his chest from their desperate run.
“Me neither.” Azure said dully. “How ‘bout we just spin ‘im around. Move his head up on the bank there.” He thrust his chin out at the side of the river.
“Okay... just be careful.” Pinkie sidled over to let Azure get in front. Her leg itched so bad it felt like it was on fire. The two stallions positioned themselves and ducked their heads. Azure was next to Pinkie by Radiant’s head, Shadowflash was at Radiant’s back on the opposite side. Once he was situated, Pinkie laid his head gently on the gravel, wishing she had something to put under him.
She looked him over again, just to be sure he was alright, and her heart almost stopped, her breath was sucked from her lungs in an astonished gasp. Seeming to glitter in the light and shimmers of the river was a cutie mark on Radiant’s flank. A two-tone starburst of white and royal blue with eight points, a golden circlet woven over and under the thin shafts, adorned his coat. Azure and Shadowflash jumped at her gasp, frantically searching the sky.
“What is it?! Did you see the phoenix? It’s not coming back is it?” Azure backed stepped towards the waterfall.
“Starsky got his cutie mark!” Pinkie exclaimed jumping up and prancing around the unconscious unicorn. “Hehehehehe! This calls for a PARTY!” She stopped in her froliking, “Hmm, as soon as we get home, but A PARTY!!” She absent mindedly rubbed at her foreleg with a hoof. “Don’t you see what this means? Starsky found the thing he didn’t lose in the first place! Silly brony! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”
Azure and Shadowflash just stared at her. Ribbon came over, cocked her head to the side and squinted at Radiant. “That can’t be right...”
Lexicon joined her, “Yeah, that’s not his cutie mark. Can those change, Pinkie?”
Soon they were all crowded around Radiant, Pinkie scratched furiously at her foreleg. “No silly, those don’t change.... What is with this--” She finally looked down at her leg to find it covered in the strangest stuff she had ever seen. It looked like jelly. Golden, shining jelly. It was all over her hoof as well, little blue streamers of lazy smoke coming off of it. “WhAA!” she yelped and jumped into the river, scrubbing at the glittering liquid. The water hissed and skittered on her leg and hoof like oil in a hot pan. The golden substance hardened as it came into contact with the cold river water and turned a chalky white as it fell from her coat, dissolving into the stream.
Shadowflash sat down heavily, splashing into the river. “Okay, I have no idea what is going on anymore. Can somepony explain this?”
“Hey! Lookit this!” Lexicon was peering at Radiant’s horn. “There’s a crack, right there, see it? That can’t be good. Anypony have something to cover it up with?”
“No. So, does that means he’s got a concussion or something? What do you do for those?” Silver asked.
“Why are you lookin’ at me?”
“Well, I thought you’d know, y’know. You knew how to fix Ribbon’s wing....”
“My cousin was a chiropractor, so that was just lucky. I dunno if there is anything we can do for a concussion, I mean, right here right now.”
“How ‘bout burns. Can you fix those?” Spearmint winced as he turned his neck. “This kills,”
“Stick your neck in the water.” Ribbon suggested.
“I was just doing that--”
“Well, keep doing it.” Lexicon interjected. “I don’t know if aloe vera even exists in Equestria and there’s nothing else you can do anyhow.”
Spearmint sighed and laid down in the river again, grumbling under his breath.
Pinkie rubbed the last of the strange liquid from her leg. She stood bolt upright, there was a tingle just between her shoulders, left ear twitching... a combo? She spun around in a quick circle, trying to get a look at her back. No golden glowing jelly. The tingle and twitch came again. Something, was watching them. She shot a glance at the bronies gathered around Radiant, they argued quietly, pointing at his new cutie mark. They weren’t looking at her, in fact, they seemed to have forgotten all about her. Could it be?
There was only one way to find out. Slowly, carefully, she picked up her hooves and walked out of the river. She fixed in her mind the desire to not be seen, she imagined the bronies not looking in her direction. Her hooves crunched on the gravel, not even so much as a twitch of an ear from them. With a devious smile she hopped right past Shadowflash, even brushing up against his tail, no reaction. As much as she loved being the center of attention, there was something magical about going unnoticed. The tingle and twitch fired again, this time with a shudder. Hmm, that’s strange, something seeing from far away? She couldn’t tell if the watcher was good or bad, as convenient as that would be. That wasn’t how her powers worked.
She ventured into the woods once again, staying close to the edge so that she could keep an eye on the bronies who were still talking around their sleeping fellow. A little something tasty for everypony probably wouldn’t go amiss. The Everfree may be dangerous and wild, but it had some delicious secrets. In no time at all she located a few morsels: a blue mushroom, several of the more common red and brown mushrooms, but best of all she found a patch of sempresuckle flowers. She found herself thankful for the time she had spent with Fluttershy in the forest, looking for interesting things to try in her experimental desserts. Even if those desserts were better off forgotten.
The bronies were exactly where she left them, if engaged in a new activity. They had all given up on trying to understand Radiant’s ‘new’ cutie mark as they put it, and instead were in varying stages of exhaustion. All of them but Lexicon and Radiant were sprawled out in the river, apparently asleep or very close to it. Lexicon laid by Radiant, a pile of random things in front of him, fiddling with something in his magic. Pinkie snuck up on the entranced unicorn, if hopping her way to her target could be considered sneaking.
Before revealing herself, she took a moment to watch him. He had assembled an array of things: several twigs, a few different leaves, a collection smooth river stones and what looked like a piece of black glass. The black glass, or stone, whatever it was, sat under Radiant’s horn. She shifted her position to get a better look. From a tiny fissure in Radiant’s horn flowed a thin trickle of the golden liquid that she had gotten on her leg earlier. Lexicon levitated a twig over to the black stone and carefully dipped the end of it into the little pool of glimmering gold. As soon as it touched, the twig burst into flame, startling Lexicon and Pinkie both.
“Well, that’s good to know,” Lexicon muttered as he tossed the smoldering stick into the river.
“I’d say,” Pinkie remarked.
Lexicon jerked at the sound of her voice, a stone that had been in his telekinetic grasp flew out over the river, splashing down next to Silver Lining and making him wake with a snort. Lexicon blinked up at Pinkie, “Where-- how... no, when--?”
“Oh around, and I hopped most of the way but yeah, the whole time.” She smiled at him and ruffled his mane with a hoof. “Hey everypony! How does brunch sound?” she called out to the ponies lying in the river. They all lifted their heads, turning slightly confused faces to her.
Finally, Ribbon got to her hooves and shook some of the water from her coat and mane. “Sounds good to me.”
Lexicon stood up and tapped Pinkie’s shoulder. “What are we going to do about Radiant? He hasn’t moved a muscle and that crack in his horn is leaking this stuff...”
Pinkie picked up the sempresuckle flower she had brought back from the patch; she had a hunch. It was a strange flower, one that she had thought was a weed before Fluttershy taught her otherwise. It looked a bit like a clover flower, but with long, bright orange petals on the top like honeysuckle. She bit into the side of the flower, sweet nectar seemed to flood her mouth, making her jaw ache with the goodness of it all. Sometimes, it was better than candy, it almost was candy. The smell of the sempresuckle permeated the air, an enchanting mix of vanilla, honey and what seemed like a hundred wildflowers all in one. Lexicon swallowed, no doubt finding his mouth watering at the delicious scent. The others lifted their noses to the breeze, catching the perfume.
Ribbon trotted over, still limping slightly, slack jawed and a little misty eyed. “What is that? Please tell me you have more of those.”
Pinkie winked at her as the other pegasi came closer. “Thish, mmmm, ish shempreshuckle,” she smacked her lips as she tried to keep the succulent nectar in her mouth, savoring its flavor. “But... ish better for more szan jusht eaching.” She finally swallowed the heavenly snack, “Mmmmm. Watch this.” With the stem of the half-eaten blossom in her mouth, she carefully held it over Radiant’s horn. A few drops of the flower’s nectar fell onto the fissure. On contact, it hissed and spittled before turning a pale blue color. The trickle of quickened gold stopped. Unceremoniously, Pinkie moved on to phase two of operation ‘wakey, wakey sleepy head’ and shoved the flower into Radiant’s nose.
Radiant’s nose twitched, his lips quivered and his face scrunched. At the last possible moment, she removed the flower as Radiant inhaled through clenched teeth. With a mighty sneeze, Radiant shuddered back to life, flailing his hooves. “No! Gack-hah! Stay back!” He cracked one eye, taking a tentative peek at the world. Upon seeing the familiar faces, he relaxed. Almost like a deflating balloon, a sigh left him. “Oh, well I guess this means everything’s okay then?”
Everypony gathered around him again. Lexicon helped Radiant to his hooves just so that he could struggle to keep his hoofing as he received enthusiastic pats on the back from his grateful peers. “Woah, hey! What’s all this for?”
“Dude, don’t even try to play it down. That... that took some real guts.” Silver Lining shook Radiant’s shoulder vigorously.
“Heh, it might take guts, but it just shows I have no brains. That was probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done....” Radiant put a hoof gingerly to his head.
“You saved our lives back there. Dumb or not, that was brave.” Ribbon deliberately stepped up to Radiant, got up on the tips of her hooves, and planted a very firm kiss on his lips.
Pinkie tossed the half-eaten flower into the river. She was going to have to do something about Ribbon and this habit of hers, she couldn’t have all of the colts suffering from mild apoplexy. After all, that was her job.
“Alright, everypony!” Pinkie called out, rudely breaking up Ribbon and Radiant. “Who wants something tasty? Follow me!” She hopped off, back to the cool shadows of the Everfree.
Now that they weren’t running in terror, the forest seemed a lot more picturesque. The tall walnuts filtered the sunlight through an ephemeral green canopy, shafts of light shifted and danced on the ground as the leaves and branches moved with the gentle breeze. She led them a little deeper into the wood to a shaded glen through which flowed a tiny tributary to the shallow river they had left. The air was close and pleasantly warm, the trace scents of rain still lingered in the shaded places beneath the trees.
“Here we are.” Pinkie gestured grandly to the glen, sweeping her hoof across their view. Several patches of the slightly pinkish leaves unique to the sempresuckle grew along the path of the little stream. Each patch sported an abundance of blossoms, more than enough for each of them to have their fill. She spun on a hoof to block their paths to the mouth-watering morsels, “BUT whatever you do don’t. Eat. The leaves.” She fixed each of them with a single staring eye.
Shadowflash glanced at the patches apprehensively. “Why? Are they poisonous?”
Pinkie snorted, “No. They just taste awful. And they will make you puff up like a balloon. You’ll get bigger and bigger and bigger until you explode! KABOOM!” She reared up on her hind legs and spread her forehooves out violently illustrating the gruesome fate.
They all wore masks of horror at this very disproportionate consequence to eating the leaves. All except for Spearmint, who snickered. “Ha! Whatever you do, don’t eat them twice.”
Azure chortled. “Can you do that? Can yo--ouch! Hey!” Shadowflash kicked Azure in the shin.
“Not now, not ever. That was old when it started,” the black pegasus muttered.
Pinkie shook her head at their randomness. “No, they just taste really bad, trust me, you don’t want to eat them. Or make an Everfree Green Sorbet either, that might actually make you explode. Anyway, dig in!”
Each cantered over to a patch and started picking out the bright orange and purple blossoms from the pink-tinged patches.The ponies munched contentedly on the exotic treats and Pinkie could feel the tension of the group melt into the glen. Neither the tingle nor the twitch returned, whoever was watching them earlier was gone now. All was not well in the forest; it was far too quiet. Though she projected an air of complacency, Pinkie scanned the trees, looking for danger, her gaze not resting on any one spot for long. Her ears swiveled constantly, sifting through the silence for even a hint of something untoward. No birds chirped in the boughs overhead, no woodland creatures scampered through the dappled shadows. Even for the Everfree, this wasn’t right.
SNAP! The crisp whip crack of green wood breaking shattered the silence and summoned the tension back. Everypony froze where they stood. Soft rustling, like something being dragged across the ground sounded above the glen, coming from the ridge to Pinkie’s left. She turned her head very slowly from the ridge back to the petrified bronies, putting her hoof to her lips. A few of them took tentative steps towards her, but she waved them back, motioning for them to stay put while she started to climb the low ridge. Not for the first time, she wondered what it was like for other ponies when she decided she didn’t want to be seen. Did she suddenly disappear to them? Or was it like fading away? Well, she thought, that was just salt in the cake.
Confident in her newly restored powers of invisibility, the preposterous pink pony crested the small rise. The rustling faded, as if it were moving away from her. She picked her way through the root-riddled and uneven ground, still keeping a sharp eye out. Others may not be able to see her, but if they bumped into her, they would know that at least something was there. If anything nasty happened upon her before she happened upon it... well, she just wasn’t going to let that happen. Unseen, like a pink wind, she drifted through the ancient and silent sentinels of the forest, following the mysterious rustling. She hadn’t ventured more than twenty sceptres before holding witness to perhaps the most adorable and confusing thing she had ever seen.
Ponies, five of them, were dragging a freshly cut branch. It took all five to drag the medium sized piece of lumber, for they were all only a little larger than her own hoof. What was more, they all flew with delicate wings of multiple colors, not unlike the many butterflies that inhabited Equestria. Their coats were also of many pastel colors ranging from a pearlescent white to a silken lavender. They labored to move the branch, many times their size, even a few inches, its smaller branches and leaves catching on the rough forest floor. At her present safe distance, she could not hear if they spoke or made much noise at all over the shifting and scraping of the branch.
Everything seemed safe enough, and they didn’t look like they were getting anywhere any time soon, so Pinkie turned and trotted back to the edge of the glen. “Pssst! Hey! Up here.” she whispered to the skittish bronies. They predictably jumped at her hissing. “Follow me, you have got to see this. C’mon!”
She lead them, quiet as possible, back to where she had found the miniature flying ponies. Sure enough, the five butterfly-winged ponies were still struggling with the branch, attempting to haul it out of a snarl of vine weeds. Pinkie motioned to the bronies to get low and walk slow, they were going in for a closer look. It seemed that the bronies had no idea what they were looking at. They squinted at the little creatures with several degrees of alternating astonishment, disbelief, and confusion. It wasn’t until they came within seven or eight sceptres that the inevitable happened, but from an unlikely source.
The squee of a delighted pony ruptured the still forest air as it escaped from Radiant Star. “Oh my god, that’s adorable,” he breathed.
Five tiny screams answered Radiant’s assessment of the scene. The butterfly ponies dropped the branch and sped off much faster than seemed possible for such fragile looking wings.
Shadowflash tsked at Radiant. “Way to go, you scared ‘em off.”
“What were they?” Ribbon mumbled. “Besides adorable, that is. Have you ever seen something like that, Pinkie?”
“Shh!” Pinkie held up a hoof. Soft, almost inaudible grunts came from the discarded branch. A few of the leaves twitched and jumped at one end. She advanced on the shaking branch, the bronies crowding around her. A little voice trembled from under the shaking leaves.
“Oh, Great Kilnlik, have mercy! What a fate, what a fate!”
Pinkie could only assume it came from one of the little ponies. It wasn’t high pitched or reedy as she would have expected from something so small, just a normal voice--a very tiny, normal voice. Like Fluttershy’s, come to think of it. Gingerly, she brushed aside a few of the leaves to reveal a little emerald pony with wings patterned after malachite. The poor thing trembled where she lay, an offshoot of the branch pinning her hind leg to the massive root of a nearby tree. She had to be a she, Pinkie just knew these things.
“Please! Don’t squish me! I promise, if you let me go, I’ll be a good pony, a good pony!” The little pony had her hooves over her head, her face hidden in a mane of long, wispy lavender hair. She trembled, head to tail, little sniffles and whimpers fluttering the gossamer locks of her mane.
“Aww, don’t be scared.” Pinkie cooed. “Here, let me help you.”
The terrified little creature responded with a fit of hysterics, thrashing under the branch in a desperate attempt to free herself. Pinkie shook her head as she moved her hoof to lift the branch. The emerald pony saw the movement and curled up into a defensive ball, wailing incoherently.
“Aww, why is it so scared?” Ribbon asked.
“Oh, I dunno, maybe because it’s trapped under a branch and surrounded by several ponies a hundred times its size. ‘Cuz, that’s not unusual at all.” Azure Clouds offered in a flat voice.
Ribbon clipped him with her wing. Azure stuck his tongue out at her.
Suddenly, the little pony stopped wailing and took a tentative peek through her mane at the larger ponies around her with a striking auburn eye. Upon seeing that she was still alive and freed from the abandoned lumber, a gasp quivered through her little frame. “You--you didn’t squish me. You s-saved me?” Her bright auburn eyes widened in shock as she looked at the bronies. “And... and you speak like the Great Kilnlik...”
The bronies looked at each other quizzically. “We sound like the great who now?” Silver asked the little pony.
She looked taken aback by the question, sitting up and tossing her mane. “The Great Overlord Kilnlik is master of these woods. Surely, you knew this.”
The group of ponies shook their heads. “Never heard of the guy,” Spearmint informed her.
The emerald hoof-sized pony ducked her head and addressed Pinkie. “Esteemed pink one, by what name may I call thee?”
Pinkie furrowed her brow at the strange honoraries being directed at her. “Uh, I’m Pinkie Pie. What’s your name?”
“Pinkie Pie,” she breathed, giving her wings a small flutter. “My name, Great One?” Pinkie nodded her head with a smile at the little pony. “I am called Syglia, Great One.”
“Syglia, that’s an unusual name. You can just call me Pinkie, if you like.”
Syglia bowed her head, “As you wish Gre-ah, Pinkie. You may call me by another name, if you don’t like Syglia. What name wouldst thou have me use?”
Pinkie was flabbergasted. something didn’t feel right here. “No, no. I like your name, Syglia. It’s very pretty.” She settled on the ground next to the root upon which Syglia sat.
The little pony looked almost disappointed. “If Pinkie says so, so it is. This name was given me by the Great Overlord Kilnlik, but if thou wisheth me to use it still...”
“Um, Syglia,” Lexicon said uncertainly. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you?”
Syglia looked to Pinkie, as if for permission to speak to the red unicorn. Pinkie nodded her head. “I don’t know if I understand your question, friend of Pinkie.”
“Like,” Silver butted in, “we are, uh, bronies--I guess. And I’m a pegasus, he’s a unicorn,” he jerked his head towards Lexicon, “And Pinkie is an earthpony.”
Syglia frowned in thought, rubbing her chin with a hoof. “I’m not sure if my kind has a name, friend of Pinkie. If we had one, if has long been forgotten. The Great Overlord Kilnlik simply calls us his. He has never given us a name.”
“OOh! I know what wat to call ‘em.” Spearmint exclaimed with a grin. “Pixonies. Y’know, ‘cuz they’re like pixies, only ponies.”
Silver Lining gave a snort, leaning up against Spearmint. “That is probably the dumbest name I’ve ever heard... of all time.”
Spearmint shoved him off. “I don’t hear you coming up with anything, Silver Butt.” he growled.
“No... I think Lilliponies would fit better.” Lexicon offered somewhat airily.
“Lilliponies? But they don’t look anything like flowers, ya dolt.” Azure sneered.
Lexicon rolled his eyes at the corderoy pegasus. “You obviously have no culture, swine. Gulliver’s Travels, c’mon. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Gulliver and his adventures on the island of Lilliput.”
“Well, maybe I was spending my time doing something other than being gullible on flower island.” Azure retorted.
“Hey, I think it’s a good name. It’s a lot better than Pixonies anyway.” Ribbon defended Lexicon with a sour stare at Azure.
“What? Really Ribbon? How could you not like Pixonies? That’s like your favorite thing, smashing ideas together and stuff. You gotta admit, they look a lot more like Tinkerbell than little midget people.” Spearmint raised an eyebrow at Lexicon.
“Was Tinkerbell a pixie, or a fairy? I can’t remember...” Shadowflash pursed his lips.
“Yeah, she was a pixie. They used pixie dust to get to Neverland.” Radiant answered with a nod.
“Hahaha! You aren’t actually going along with that are you Radiant?” Lexicon said incredulously. “They don’t have pixie dust. They’re ponies for crying out loud! They just so happen to have unusual wings.”
“That’s not the point, Lex. The point is that Pixonies makes more sense than what ever it was you said.” Spearmint waved a hoof at the unicorn with a dismissive air.
An exasperated growl rose in Lexicon’s throat. But before he had a chance to fling a rebuttal at Spearmint, Pinkie interrupted them.
“They are Butterponies.” Pinkie declared. The bronies were all speechless. Pinkie could almost see the gears grinding in their heads.
“Why?” Shadowflash finally asked.
“Because I like butter.” She replied. There was no more need for further explanation.
Pinkie turned back to Syglia, who was cowering on the root, her hooves once again over her head. “So, Syglia,” Pinkie said gently. “Who is this Great Overlord Kilnlik?”
The newly dubbed Butterpony slowly straightened. “H-he is our protector, Great Pinkie. Long ago he saved the... butterponies, from a terrible fate. He has been keeping us safe for many generations, but...” She fidgeted on the root, seeming to struggle with her words.
“But what? Is there something wrong?”
“The Great Overlord Kilnlik says that he protects us from... the giants. You.” Syglia flinched at the last word, as if she were expecting Pinkie to hit her.
This made no sense. Sure they were bigger than the butterponies but why would this Kilnlik need to protect them. “What else does Kilnlik say?”
Syglia took a shuddering breath. “He says that the giants want only to smash and destroy anything smaller than they. He is the only one who can keep us safe because he is not small and has great power. I-I do not like him, Great Pinkie.” As soon as she admitted this, Syglia’s hooves flew to her mouth, a gasp of horror sailing between them as she sank to the root. “Oh no! what have I done? I’ve spoken ill of the Great Overlord!” She shook uncontrollably, her eyes darting all over the forest. “He will know... and he will banish me! Or worse, he’ll take my wings...” she moaned. At this point she broke down completely, sobbing pathetically into her forelegs.
“What? Who does this Kilnlik think he is?” Radiant spat under his breath. “Why doesn’t ‘e show his ugly face so I can punch him in the nose,” he growled.
“SYGLIA!” A booming voice bounced through the trees. The leaves shifted as if in response to the strange voice.
The forest fell silent once again. Syglia trembled even more, and whimpered, “He comes. He comes!” Suddenly she jumped up and tugged at the branch as if trying to make it fall on her again. “You must hide, Great Pinkie, and your friends. He will hurt you if he finds you here. Please hide!” She panted and groaned as she tried to move the branch. “He- he m-mustn’t know you are here, ugh!” She strained at the branch, tugging on it with all her might. “Go! Run away! Hide!”
“SYGLIA!” Again the terrible voice rolled through the forest like thunder. Much closer than it was before. The bronies shifted their hooves, a few of them whickering nervously.
“What are you doing, Syglia?” Pinkie was on her hooves, trying to look in all directions at once.
“I will distract him! Put it on me as it was before. Make haste, Great One!” The little pony plead with Pinkie, finally prostrating herself on the root.
“But, what about you? What will he do?” Pinkie could feel a lump rising in her throat, her stomach sinking with dread.
“No time! No time, Great One! I will be fine, worry not.” She shifted her eyes, tears of frustration welling in them. “Please, hide, Pinkie, I will come find you later and tell you everything you wish to know, just please...”
With an uncertain moan, Pinkie placed the branch over the little butterpony once again. “Be careful, Syglia.” She turned tail and galloped over to where the bronies hid in a thick copse of aspen, several sceptres from where they had found Syglia. Crashing and rustlings came from behind her.
“SYGLIA!” That dreadful voice slammed into her back, spurring her into the copse.
“I’m here, Great Kilnlik!” Syglia’s soft voice called to the monstrous bellows.
Through the underbrush stomped a strange and repulsive creature. Pinkie and the others recoiled at the site from their hiding place. The plants bent away from his odd clothing, indeed they seemed to not want to touch or impede him in anyway.
He wore a vest of what looked to be several large leaves sewn together over a shimmering white shirt tucked into voluminous trousers of a curious brown fabric. On his feet were boots that looked to be made from a grey wood, or a strange stone, it was hard to tell. He walked upright on two legs, like the creatures she had seen through the golden doorway, though not as tall. He had a wide face with a large mouth over which dominated a bulbous nose. Sunken slightly in his skull were two beady, malevolent eyes that glared with disdain at everything he peered. Two long, pointed ears poked out of his wiry brown hair that grew from his head in wavy patterns. Draped down his back was a translucent cape, fastened around his thick neck by a fine silver chain.
“Syglia,” he rumbled, “where are they?” His beady eyes shifted about as he cracked his knuckles ominously. “I can smell their stink in the air.”
“Wh-who, Great Kilnlik?” Syglia was lost to their sight under the branch.
“The giants, little one. The others came to me straight away, but you... you did not return.”
“I-I am t-tr-trapped, Great Kilnlik. P-please save me, Great Kilnlik!”
The so called Great Kilnlik bent to lift the branch from off of the emerald butter pony. He straightened and held out one large and calloused hand. Syglia fearfully stepped into his hand. He closed his fingers around her, producing a little grunt and whimper from the tiny pony. she fluttered her wings momentarily then went perfectly still. He lifted her to eye level peering at her from the deep caves of his eyes.
“Where did the giants go, Syglia?” His voice was like stone grinding on stone or the deep rumbles of distant thunder.
Syglia gasped in his grip. “They... they are not here, Great Kilnlik. They r-ran away. They heard thy voice and in terror ran from thy power, Great Kilnlik.”
“Hmmph. Indeed.” Kilnlik grunted as he released Syglia from his grasp. The poor pony took in deep breaths, no doubt convinced she had only just escaped a terrible punishment. She fluttered from his hand hovering before him. “Come, Syglia. We must return.” He turned with a flourish of his cloak.
“Yes, Great Kilnlik.” Syglia muttered.
“You are not to venture out from the village for three days, Syglia. Understand?” Kilnlik growled. He started to walk back the way he had come, the plants and even the trees bending away from his path.
“Yes, Great Kilnlik.” Syglia chanced one last glance at the forest behind, perhaps hoping for a glimpse of the other ponies, before fluttering after the lumbering form of Kilnlik.
Pinkie and the bronies allowed for several minutes to pass before tentatively emerging from the aspen. “What was that thing?” Pinkie whispered mostly to herself.
“It was ugly,” Spearmint said.
“I think it was a troll. He looked like he had been lifted from a fantasy book. Definitely a troll.” Lexicon said with a disbelieving shake of his head.
Pinkie frowned. “I don’t like trolls,” she informed them.
“Heh, join the club.” Shadowflash muttered.
Silent the forest stayed, as if in fear of the troll and catching his ire. Pinkie seethed silently. How dare this Kilnlik do these things? How dare he lord over the poor, defenseless butterponies with fear and threats. Anger, pure and hot, seized her heart as her imagination conjured scenes of countless little butterponies slaving for the contemptible Kilnlik. That troll was going down, Pinkie Pie style.