Twilight Sparkle was having a glorious day. She was finally able to complete her pleasure reading of “Lord of the Foals,” which turned out to be quite the stellar read to her. Spike had finished cleaning the library, and by that, he had finally organized all the books, which was a week-long project for him, as well as scrubbing every nook and cranny of the establishment from the ever-pertinent problem of accumulating dust. Broken out into an impressive sweat from an arduous amount of work, Spike had taken it upon himself to slumber in his bed for the rest of the day, giving Twilight much peace and quiet she felt that she deserved.
“What can I read today?” Twilight said to herself, curious as to how the rest of her day will turn out. She began to sift through the books with her eyes, making a careful noticed to what books she had already read and those that she hasn’t. “There’s the Harry Pony series… Hmm… there’s ‘To Make Peace with a Mocking Bird,’ but that sounds boring right now. I wonder if Spike had picked up any new books-”
Twilight was then interrupted by a series of loud bangs pounding against her door. The heavy beatings of the door sounded like a hoof, and through the hollow door arose enough noise to alarm Spike, who had not even been asleep for more than thirty minutes, much to Twilight’s disdain.
“GAH!” Spike shouted, nearly jumping out of his bed, only to hurl himself forward. His voice was at that point slightly masked by croaks due to sleep. “Don’t worry, Twilight! I’ve got it!”
Before Twilight could even react properly, or even for Spike to reach the door in time, the door had burst open, clapping against the wall nearby in a loud, thunderous slam. In the threshold of the doorframe stood a distraught Applejack, who was panting and sweating profusely. She had then galloped towards Twilight, ready to dispel her woes to the surprised pony.
“Twilight!” she yelled, galloping towards her as fast as she could. “You’ve got to help me!”
“What’s wrong, Applejack?” Twilight responded, carefully avoiding Applejack but still staying in her proximity while sounding slightly annoyed. “And what’s wrong that would warrant you breaking down my door?”
As she had said her last sentence, her door had then fallen to the floor, creating a thunderous slam that rattled every loose object in the room, causing some trinkets of sorts to fall to the ground, with some smashing or simply breaking from their steep plummet.
“It’s really important, I assure ya!” Applejack said in between panting, holding herself up by gripping a nearby table for support. “When Fluttershy and me went to the Everfree to release that there horde of butterflies, she ended up missing and such! I tried lookin’ for her, but she was nowhere to be found!”
Twilight Sparkle expressed such a small amount of concern, being that she would be the one to think rationally in a situation like this, and because of the fact that she was more preoccupied with the removal of her door to really immerse herself within Applejack’s plight.
“Did you check her house?” Twilight replied curtly, sounding stiff and cold with her speech. “She might have wandered there, given that she lives the closest to the forest than we do.”
“Why would I…” Applejack thought to herself, realizing that there was a gem of truth in what Twilight said. “But… she disappeared on me about fifteen minutes or so when we were leaving the Everfree! I had lost track of her! She couldn’t have just slipped to her house immediately after that!”
“Well,” Twilight began, clearing her throat afterward to make herself sound more knowledgeable than Applejack. “When you were traveling with Fluttershy and you ‘lost track of her,” she could have gotten so scared that she retreated from the forest to her house.”
“That sounds preposterous!” Applejack retorted, alarming Twilight. “There’s no way she could have easily slipped back to her house!”
“But did you bother to look?” Twilight snapped back, still thinking about her dismantled door. “Always check in the least likely of places before you make random assumptions.”
“Random assumptions?” Applejack questioned her, feeling voice reach a higher tone at how cold Twilight was sounding. She had observed that both Twilight’s eyes and mind were fixated on the broken door and planned her next words accordingly. “Twilight, about the door: I’m sorry I accidentally broke it, and I promise I’ll fix it later. But can ya just help me out by helping me find Fluttershy?”
Twilight then felt a wave of slight relief wash over her. She knew that Applejack was honest enough to not make temporarily pleasing lies up to get what she wants, so she knew that her door would be fixed. She then felt that she was being too shallow about Fluttershy missing and quickly turned supportive in Applejack’s favor.
“No, I’m sorry,” Twilight said. “I’ll go help you find Fluttershy. It’s practically part of my responsibilities as a friend. But we’ll have to check her house first, just to see if she is actually there or not.”
“Alright, Twilight!” Applejack hollered in a satisfied tone. “To Fluttershy’s home!”
As they both were galloping out of there, Twilight made sure to tell Spike to set up a temporary barricade to serve as a new door. Silently, Spike knew of his assignment and made a signal for Twilight to leave.
After a short trip to Fluttershy’s house, what with Applejack speeding past Twilight and arriving to their destination before she could catch up, they began to investigate to see if she really was home. Applejack readied her hoof to pound on the door before being slightly restrained by a nervous Twilight Sparkle.
“Don’t,” Twilight began, holding back a power much greater than hers to the surprise of both of them. “Remember what happened to my door?”
“Right,” Applejack replied, readying her hoof in a more relaxed way to instead knock on her door. “I’m just so nervous. I feel so bad for abandonin’ her and such.”
With some heavy thuds on Fluttershy’s door, much softer than what she did to Twilight’s door, however, Applejack prepared a proper signal for the possibly-dormant Fluttershy. However, after the sounds of animals chirping, barking, and any other noises one would find at a domesticated zoo, and the passing of a few moments, Fluttershy was indeed not home.
“See?” Applejack cried, to a slightly concerned Twilight Sparkle. “I told you she wasn’t home! She’s still lost in the Everfree!”
“Applejack,” Twilight replied in a slightly annoyed tone. “Maybe she’s so scared that she’s not answering the door?”
“Then we’re gonna have to make our way in there!” Applejack replied defiantly. She readied herself to break down the door in desperation, but was simply held back by the surprisingly formidable magical powers of Twilight Sparkle.
“You can’t just break her door down!” Twilight yelled at the bewildered Applejack. “On a further note, stop breaking down doors!”
“Then how would you open the door, Twilight?” Applejack responded in a defensive tone.
As Applejack spoke, Twilight carefully exchanged places with Applejack and her, so that she was in front of the door. With a slight bow of her head and a noticeable aura of magic erupting from her horn, Twilight swiftly yet gracefully opened the locked door, making Applejack feel like a fool.
“Sometimes you just have to be diplomatic with your actions,” Twilight chimed in with a light condescending attitude. “Even with inanimate objects. Nothing has to be approached with a swift hoof to the-”
“You just committed a breakin’ and enterin’ there, Twilight,” Applejack replied in a cold fashion, sounding matter-of-fact to the now surprised and slightly embarrassed Twilight. “You just broke the law.”
“You were gong to, too!” Twilight yelled at her, anxious and embarrassed at the sudden realization of her follies. “Argh! Let’s just see if she’s there!”
And so, in tandem, they crept into Fluttershy’s surprisingly dark house, teeming with the many small creatures she would tend to. The animals were restless, what with the house being dark and such, and that there was a significant absence of their master in the abode. Applejack and Twilight searched the house for any presence of Fluttershy, but to no avail. Nothing was disturbed from its original places, save for the animals longing for their caretaker, and the pair quickly quelled their quandaries to avoid the noise levels of the home increasing to attention by the authorities.
After a friendly exit from the duo to calm the animals one final time, Twilight then carefully locked the door with magic from the outside, a feat that Applejack was perplexed to see.
“See?” Applejack quickly exclaimed, making Twilight jump from the sudden boom of her voice. “Fluttershy’s not there! She’s still in the Everfree!”
“You know that she could be somewhere in Ponyville, right?” Twilight asked. “We could just check in with Rainbow Dash, Rarity, or Pinkie Pie, as those would be some of the only ponies she’d go to.”
“Or she could be in the forest,” Applejack repeated herself, much to Twilight’s disdain. “Still lost and-”
“Now wait a minute,” Twilight interrupted, shortly after receiving a stroke of inspiration. “She could actually be somewhere near the forest. Just not in the forest, mind you, but somewhere where there would be other animals; woodland creatures to tend to and such. We’ve seen her tending to animals in the past as a way for her to escape from her troubles.”
“That sounds… reasonable,” Applejack replied hesitantly. “But I still think we should check the forest!”
“We could just set up two search parties to find her,” Twilight proposed. “One group to search the many places near Ponyville that would house small animals, and one group to investigate where you left Fluttershy in the Everfree.”
“That sounds like a great plan!” Applejack replied in sheer happiness. “But who will go to which groups?”
It had been settled as to who would have to go to the Everfree to find Fluttershy, and Applejack made her way to reclaim her while accompanied by Rarity and Pinkie Pie, a very unlikely trio. Applejack led the trek, going through the forest the same way she had previously entered, with a bouncing Pinkie Pie and a concerned Rarity, constantly checking the ground as to not accidentally step in any mud.
“Fluttershy?” Pinkie yelled into the forest. “Where are you hiding? It’s your friends, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Rarity!”
“I doubt that she’d actually respond to you if she never responded to Applejack the first time, darling,” Rarity chimed in, paying half of her attention to the ground she treaded upon. “Really, I don’t know why we didn’t get the whole town involved.”
“Twilight helped me realize that this isn’t too big of a deal,” Applejack replied, commanding a clear path through the forest. “So we won’t call upon the townsponies until we absolutely need to.”
“But she could have been fillynapped or worse,” Rarity countered with, almost emulating the same amount of fear in Applejack’s voice prior. “And how much of the Everfree did you check before you recruited us?”
“I had only checked this area,” Applejack solemnly stated. “But she couldn’t have gone too far. She is Fluttershy, ya know.”
Suddenly, Pinkie Pie stopped bouncing and stood in place where she was bouncing, letting Rarity get in front of her. Her ears had perked up and she was sniffing the air, delighted by the scent it was carrying.
“Hey, do you smell that?” she exclaimed, surprising the other two ponies. “It smells like… stew!”
Rarity and Applejack were confused by what she had said. To reassure themselves, they sniffed vacantly into the air, hoping to hone in on a trace of the stew Pinkie Pie was talking about, but they couldn’t trace any of it.
“Um, Pinkie, are ya okay?” Applejack asked in a confused manner, directing her full attention to her. “We still have to find Fluttershy.”
“I know, but the stew,” Pinkie trailed off, following the scent. “It smells so good!”
Pinkie Pie was almost levitating to the location of the supposed stew, wandering at an accelerated pace into the forest to locate it, much to the confusion of her forlorn friends.
“Since when has Pinkie Pie been the one to think with her stomach?” Rarity asked coldly. “And does she know where she is going?”
“I don’t know,” Applejack replied in annoyance. “But she needs to get back to us before she winds up getting’ lost, too!”
Applejack quickly galloped after Pinkie, while Rarity was left to carefully trot to keep up with them to avoid getting dirty.
“Wait for me!” Rarity yelled to the almost-disappearing Applejack.
Pinkie had eventually bounced to the source of the scent, drawing near Zecora’s hut. Seeing her hut, Pinkie Pie immediately stopped right in the middle of her tracks, allowing Applejack to catch up with her. Pinkie’s ears pricked up, as she lifted her arm to have her hoof twitch, much to her dismay: she knew something “scary” was about to occur.
Applejack finally caught up with Pinkie Pie, getting in front of her path as to stop her from moving forward somehow.
“Pinkie, what did I say about leaving the group?” Applejack scolded Pinkie Pie, panting from the amount of galloping she had put her through. “If Fluttershy could get lost so easily, you could too!”
“I said to wait!” Rarity yelled from a distance, traversing the forest carefully but quickly. She ended up becoming filthier than Applejack did, despite the amount of attention she put into her traveling. “I had to gallop in this forest. Do you realize how dirty and sweaty that made me?”
“Well, you can blame Pinkie for that!” Applejack retaliated. “She wandered off and-”
“Shh!” Pinkie Pie interrupted, commanding both of their silence. “Something strange is going on at Zecora’s house! I can feel it!”
Applejack and Rarity turned their attention from each other to what was behind them, which turned out to be Zecora’s hut. They, however, didn’t feel anything bad about to happen.
“What’s so wrong about her hut, sugarcube?” Applejack asked Pinkie. “We’ve already settled our differences and-”
“No, no, no, no, no!” Pinkie interrupted yet again, putting her hoof to Applejack’s mouth to quiet her. “My Pinkie sense: something is telling me that something is wrong in Zecora’s hut!”
“And how would you be able to know, Pinkie?” Rarity chimed in, utterly baffled at what Pinkie had to say. “And, if you did know, then what is going on there, then?”
“Bad stuff!” Pinkie replied in a semi-frightened tone. “Scary stuff, to be specific! I don’t know exactly what is going on in there, but my Pinkie senses never fail me. Something bad is about to happen.”
“Nonsense, Pinkie,” Applejack concluded, dismissing all that Pinkie had said. “What’s so bad about entering Zecora’s hut? She could tell us if she’s seen Fluttershy or not.”
“Or maybe Fluttershy is residing there right now,” Rarity added. “And maybe a bath if we have time. I am ridiculously filthy that it’s blasphemous act against my very character!”
The two ponies then proceeded to trot to Zecora’s hut, yearning for knowledge pertaining to Fluttershy, much to Pinkie’s dismay. Pinkie tried to warn them, but Applejack and Rarity were caught up in irrelevant and overbearing banter to pay attention to her. She begrudgingly followed the two blind ponies to the hut, where they politely knocked on the door before peering into any of the hut’s windows.
“Zecora?” Applejack politely yelled through the door while knocking in tandem, but only loud enough to address her. “Are ya home?”
They could only here shuffling going on in the hut and, with the sounds of a heavy liquid of sorts hitting the ground and some unknown heavy hooves pounding through the hut, the three ponies outside finally got their wish of requesting Zecora’s attention. Although, they could hardly believe that it was Zecora.
What had appeared before them was barely a zebra that remotely resembled Zecora, but they knew it was her. The pony before them was an over-bloated zebra, looking like Zecora was covered in fat from head to hoof. She looked like she would keel over at any moment from the amount of girth she had to lug around with her. Her hooves were shaking violently from it all, and she had a green tinge to her that was unnatural.
Her face was no less mortifying. The three ponies noticed that Zecora’s temples were damaged earlier, but they had scabbed-up, noticing that the fresh sores surrounding the sides of her head were glistening. The main attraction, however, was the fact that Zecora had thin, black, pulsating veins of sorts tracking from the top of her head down to her eyes. They resembled arrows of sorts, but they were inconsistent in pattern as most of them started in a thick base from the top until splitting off to the bottom of her face in a narrow path. They had trickled down her face, eerily pulsing like they were pumping something. In addition, her vacant, dead eyes staring at them weren’t helping paint a healthy picture of Zecora neither.
“Hello, fellow ponies,” Zecora said in a dead, blank tone. She was also slightly drooling, barely closing her mouth, looking like she wanted to chew on something. “How can I help you three?”
The three ponies were so taken aback by her hideous appearance that they didn’t bother catching the fact that Zecora didn’t rhyme her last sentences.
“I told you this would be sc-sc-sc-scary!” Pinkie whispered, trembling in fear of what as to come. Her hoof was violently shaking as well.
“Quiet, Pinkie!” Rarity whispered back, hoping for Zecora not to hear them. “That’s awfully read of you to say!”
“Beg yer pardon, Miss Zecora,” Applejack began, addressing her cordially, despite her trepidations at the moment. “But we were wonderin’ if you’d seen our friend Fluttershy at all. She got lost in the woods and-”
“Oh, I’m right here!” Fluttershy squeaked from the hut, trying her best to address them. “Thanks goodness you three are here!”
“Come in,” Zecora demanded in her blank tone, proceeding to move out of their way to reenter the hut.
The ponies had then trotted into Zecora’s hut to find it an utter mess, with books that had obvious bite marks in them, a cauldron of stew tipped over that flooded the room, and a various other belongings of Zecora strewn across the floor of her hut, broken and bitten into. They had then witnessed Zecora mindlessly eating a book for no reason, trying her best to rend the book to shreds in her mouth to properly consume it. With her aggressive book devouring, the three saw that Zecora was missing a lot of teeth, just now witnessing her mouth being coated with blood from the missing teeth.
“Sorry about Zecora,” Fluttershy apologized to the three. “But she hasn’t been acting like her usual self lately.”
“What in the hay happened to her?” Applejack whispered to Fluttershy, speaking for Rarity and Pinkie Pie as well. “And why aren’t you stopping her?”
“Well,” Fluttershy began. “I trotted into her house after you abandoned me in the woods, and she was there to save me. But something was troubling her, and I’ve been recuperating from the traumatic experience I had since I got here.”
“Are you okay, Fluttershy?” Rarity asked in a caring manner. “More importantly, however, will Zecora be okay?”
“I’m sure she will,” Fluttershy answered. “Depressed ponies usually overeat, anyways.”
“But not like this!” Pinkie exclaimed, surprisingly not arousing the attention of Zecora, who had successfully eaten the pages from the book she was chewing on and proceeded to eat the many baubles and knick-knacks that were abandoned on her floor. “Something’s fishy, Fluttershy! My Pinkie senses told me so!”
“Nothing’s that wrong at all,” Fluttershy replied reassuringly. “But we can help her out with this mess. Help me pick up these books, girls?”
With a silent and reluctant but assistive nod from the three of them, they had all began to pick up the trash that had consumed Zecora’s floor. Rarity and Applejack were slightly content with the work, but Pinkie was too preoccupied by her trembling hoof. She knew something bad would happen, but she didn’t have the faintest clue as to what it would be.
Silently, Fluttershy abused this moment of the ponies being distracted as she properly cemented herself to the ground, preparing herself to do to the three ponies before her that she did to Zecora. She concentrated to turn her hooves into the long, dagger-like appendages from before, and she silently neared them towards the heads of the two closest ponies to her: Rarity and Pinkie Pie.
She then quickly slid her fingers through the temples of the two, unsuspecting ponies, having them shriek from the pain to have Applejack be alerted to what was going on. By the time Applejack addressed the noises she heard from Rarity and Pinkie, Fluttershy had already made her way to their brains, bypassing their skulls with ease and being able to instill parts of the ooze into them.
The ooze then dispersed itself two ways through Fluttershy’s fingers to Pinkie’s and Rarity’s bodies, instructing Fluttershy to concentrate on stopping Applejack from hindering Pinkie’s and Rarity’s assimilations. Applejack was taken aback by the hideously abhorrent appendages shooting from Fluttershy’s hooves, but she eventually snapped out of her stupor to instinctively sever the bonds from Fluttershy to the others. Fluttershy saw this and quickly retaliated by forming a large arm of sorts from her back, hurting her in the process. The arm drained a bit of Fluttershy’s size to make it larger, but the arm she had created from herself was suitable to swat away Applejack, in which she focused hard enough to do so.
Applejack had been swatted outside of the hut through a window of the hut, thrown into a dead patch of grass to witness the horrors unfolding inside. Fluttershy then focused the arm she had created to emulate the dagger-like appendages she had created from her hooves and charged them at Applejack.
Quickly recuperating from being launched, Applejack started to gallop away from the tendrils, seeing the tendrils get smaller and smaller the further she galloped. Before Fluttershy had lost sight of Applejack, she managed to snare Applejack by the hoof, tripping her from her gallop and latching onto her right leg. She focused her appendages to become barbed so she could lock herself into Applejack’s leg, and started to pull her towards the hut. Applejack had grabbed a tree, gritting her teeth in pain as she tried to pull herself free from the snare.
She then summoned a hidden burst of vigor and pulled herself past the tree she was holding, straining Fluttershy’s tendril and forcing it to retreat to its master. Applejack seized the moment of opportunity and galloped away, tearing up from the pain of her now bleeding leg and the fact that she had abandoned her friends. She also couldn’t piece together if that was actually Fluttershy or not, but she had more important things running through her head, which provided the inspiration to gallop as fast as she could through the pain.
Meanwhile, the severely energy-crippled Fluttershy was alarmed that she couldn’t get Applejack. She could barely keep her fingers inside Rarity’s and Pinkie Pie’s heads, but she proceeded to do so to the limit of her abilities. She knew that the process would be over soon, so she retracted her defeated arm to sprout a new one, one for excavating minerals from the rich soil outside of Zecora’s hut. She then commenced with extracting nutrients from the ground as she let the ooze do the assimilation itself.
Rarity and Pinkie felt that they were alone, staring off into an infinite void. They had found themselves in the situation Zecora was in, with their minds transported to Fluttershy’s body, the host of the hive. They were together, but they could not see each other, strangely enough.
“Rarity?” Pinkie cried in utter terror. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know, Pinkie,” Rarity responded with a feeling of dread. “But something happened to me. I was cleaning up the books from the ground and I felt this sharp pain in my head. Afterwards, I blacked out.”
“Same here,” Pinkie replied. “But I just don’t know what happened!”
Their banter was immediately interrupted by the ooze, which had managed to communicate with the both of them, just like it did to Zecora.
“We welcome you two the hive, Pinkie Pie and Rarity,” it addressed them, echoing into the infinite void they were in. “And we surely have plans for you two.”
“Who’s ‘we?’” Rarity called out into the dark. “And how do you know out names?”
“We have access to both of your minds,” the ooze nonchalantly stated. “And we know exactly who you two are.”
“What are you going to do to us?” Pinkie shrieked. “And what did you mean by ‘plans?’”
“Your purposes have been determined,” the ooze responded. “It was a fast endeavor, really. And what we’ll do to you is none of your concern.”
“Believe us, it is a part of our concern!” Rarity yelled defiantly at the ooze.
“You’re starting to get on our nerves, Rarity,” the ooze angrily shot out, intimidating Rarity and Pinkie. “We have half the intention to make you a feeding slave like the zebra!”
“Wait, Zecora…” Pinkie started, utterly confused by the situation. “What exactly has happened to Zecora?”
“You will know soon,” the ooze answered. “But not now. It is time to know of your fates. We have scoured your memories, both of you, and we know that you have clashed with our creator and defeated him. You are well-renowned in Ponyville for your endeavors.”
“You mean, our battle with-” Pinkie interrupted before getting interrupted as well.
“Yes!” the ooze shouted, the two ponies trembling in fear. “We know. But you will only speak when we want you to. Anyways, we have concluded what roles you two will fill in our reconstruction of the hive.”
“Hive?” the two ponies asked in unison.
“You are now a part of the hive,” the ooze begrudgingly responded with. “You are now a part of an interconnected community of other species into the assimilation of a glorious amorphous entity! And with assimilation of the hive comes the task of reprogramming your inert bodies.
“Naturally, we would let the host turn your bodies into feeding slaves like the zebra, but you two have earned much respect within your community to be wasted as food. You, Pinkie, will serve the glorious role of the prophet, in which you will recruit others to become feeding slaves like Zecora. And you, Rarity, will be re-purposed as the Instiller, in which you will spread our entity through other ponies, to weaken their judgment and serve the hive!”
“What makes you think we’d let you do that?” Rarity yelled in defiance, with Pinkie trembling from being severely disturbed by what the ooze had said.
“Simple: right now, you’re already in the host’s mind, amalgamated into the hive. Your bodies are receiving bits and pieces of our ooze entity, becoming our slaves in our master plan. Right now, they are golems, waiting to be reprogrammed into our vision. You both really don’t have a say in any of this, so the last words we shall leave you before we attend to the host is that you will serve to hive always. You will enjoy living within the hive. You will grow to love the hive, and your physical forms will perfect our vision.”