Applejack left the Everfree racing into Ponyville, with the wound on her leg surprisingly cauterized after a minute or so of constant galloping. She had to find Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash as soon as possible to report on her discovery. Despite being incredibly exhausted from the gallop away from what she till couldn’t believe to be Fluttershy, she pressed on to Twilight’s house, not noticing that her leg wound, although freshly scabbed, was turning oddly black.
She sped to Twilight’s house, again knocking down the door to the point of further disrepair. It was a hasty repair on Applejack’s end to fix the door, so it was clear that it couldn’t withhold its own mender.
“Twilight!” Applejack shouted through the empty library, disturbing a sleeping Spike that still couldn’t get any rest. “This is important! I found Fluttershy! I think!”
“Well, what do you mean ‘think?’” Spike queried the frantic pony, beleaguered by other irrelevant and insignificant quandaries. “Did you find her or not?”
“Spike, I don’t think I can tell you about what I saw,” she warned him. “But it’s important that I tell Twilight as soon as possible! So where is she?”
“Twilight said she’d check the lake first,” Spike reported. “The lake is east of Ponyville, and you won’t have to worry about going into the Everfree.”
“Believe me,” Applejack replied as she made her move to exit. “I don’t wanna go back to that forest! Tell Twilight to stay here if she returns!”
“But what about the-” Spike began, but to no avail as Applejack hurriedly galloped out. “- door…”
Applejack had made it to the lake Spike had told her about, and instantly saw Twilight Sparkle, investigating the area for signs of Fluttershy.
“Twilight!” Applejack yelled to her from a distance, gathering her attention before colliding into her, both bodies cascading to the ground. “Twilight! I found something, but I just…”
“Just what?” Twilight answered, annoyed by the fact that the sweaty equine mounting her to the ground had unintentionally pinned her from escaping. “And let me go!”
“Sorry,” Applejack apologetically said, as she lifted herself up to let Twilight breathe and situate herself. “But what happened was… I just can’t believe it.”
“What happened?” Twilight asked, quickly adopting a caring demeanor. “And where was Fluttershy?”
“About Fluttershy,” Applejack began hesitantly. “I don’t know exactly what I saw. Pinkie, Rarity, and I were all in the Everfree, searchin’ for clues to Fluttershy’s disappearance until Pinkie caught a whiff of some stew in the distance somehow. She wandered off into the Everfree away from us, so we chased her down to discover Zecora’s hut, where we got the idea to ask Zecora if she had seen Fluttershy.
“When we arrived there, Zecora didn’t look nor act her normal self. She was... she was incredibly fat. Like she really let herself go, but it looked so… unnatural. Then, she had these black veins comin’ from her head to her face. She had this empty look to her and… She didn’t do no rhyming, Twilight. But then, things became even more weird.
“We saw Fluttershy, and she looked green. Not sick green, mind you, but she had a green look to her. She didn’t look normal. She then assured us that Zecora was fine, but she was eatin’ books! She was eatin’ anything she could get her hooves on! She was daffy in the head, but Fluttershy got us t help pick up all of her stuff she threw on the ground before she wound up eatin’ it. Then, something really bad happened.
“Fluttershy started to turn into this… this blob thing! She had dagger-like claws or something come out of her hooves, and she stabbed Rarity and Pinkie in the head with them! They became lifeless and I sprung to action, only to have Fluttershy throw me out of the hut by growin’ another arm! I galloped for my life until she snared me with one of her claws. I broke free, and this is the result of what happened.”
Applejack finally concluded by showing Twilight her leg, which had bore the damage Fluttershy had done to her, but wrapped-up in a fresh, glistening scab that had a black tinge to it. Twilight was perturbed by the wound enough to slightly believe what Applejack was saying, but she remained incredulous to what she said.
“That sounds impossible, Applejack,” Twilight answered in shock. “I don’t want to say that you were making this up but… This is a lot to take in! Are you sure this legitimately happened?”
“I’m as sure as shootin’, Twilight,” Applejack answered defensively. “I would never make anything up like this!”
“Then we truly only have one option to conclude with,” Twilight answered. “And it’s that Fluttershy is still missing. There’s no way that thing you were talking about could have been Fluttershy.”
“I’m not entirely sure either,” Applejack replied. “But we’re gonna have to call off the search so we can deal with this creature in the Everfree before it gets too late. Do you have any ideas?”
“Not at the moment,” Twilight answered, sounding defeated. She then grew more confident with a sudden epiphany. “But we can get Celestia to help us out.”
“Well, couldn’t we just get the town authorities on this one?” Applejack asked. “I mean, do we have to resort botherin’ the Princess about this?”
“If what you’re saying is true,” Twilight pressed on. “Then we’re going to have to call upon her aide. I can’t see the town dealing with a destructive force like this.”
“How will we contact her then?”
“Simple: we’ll just write a letter to her. She responds with the utmost promptness when I write to her.”
“Before we do, we need to alert the town.”
“And tell the townsponies that there’s a blob Fluttershy roaming about? What if they find the real Fluttershy? Then what will they do?”
“You’re right,” Applejack answered, dejected. “We can only pray to Celestia that she answers our call before it reaches Ponyville.”
“We can at least warn the mayor ahead of time,” Twilight concluded. “We’ll her to brace the town for an imminent… blob attack, or something.”
“I’ll go warn the town while you write the letter,” Applejack commanded with confidence. “Then we’ll meet-up at the library to see if she responded.”
Applejack had then galloped away from Twilight, dead-set on completing her mission. Twilight stood where she was, contemplating how she’d perform her actions.
Where’s Rainbow Dash? she asked herself. I hope she’s alright, but now’s not the time to find her. I’m sure she’ll just go to Cloudsdale or the library or something.
She then galloped away from the lake, determined to have Spike write the most important letter she’d ever made him write before.
Dear Princess Celestia,
We are on the brink of disaster. Ponyville has been invaded by a pernicious, elusive creature that has assumed the form of one of my friends: Fluttershy. My friend Applejack was in the forest finding Fluttershy after she accidentally lost track of her, and she, along with my friends Pinkie Pie and Rarity, were attacked by this creature. This creature had manipulated Zecora to be a mindless automaton of sorts, ravenously consuming everything in her hut while the creature looking like Fluttershy attack Rarity and Pinkie Pie, leaving Applejack to escape.
We, the town of Ponyville, including myself, urge you to address your attention towards this matter. We feel that we cannot take on this force alone, what with three of our friends already missing. Please respond with the utmost of promptness, your highness.
Your faithful student,
“Wow, this all really happened?” Spike asked Twilight as he read the letter aloud to her. “This seems so unreal! Is Rarity okay?”
“I don’t know, Spike,” Twilight replied agitatedly. “But we need to send that letter now!”
“Alright!” Spike snapped. He had not been taking the situation seriously, as his mind was wrapped around other things, like the condition of Rarity, and the safety of Rarity.
Spike then held the letter above his face, one claw grasping it gingerly. He then blew a puff of air directed at the letter, which was a cloud of green fire, which instantly disintegrated the letter.
“It’s sent,” Spike said, suddenly becoming more worried. “I just hope Rarity is okay.”
“Would you stop obsessing over Rarity?” Twilight barked at Spike, scaring him. “Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie are also missing, and Applejack was attacked by that thing! Can you at least show some compassion towards them as well?”
She stood before Spike in an aggressive pose, clearly intimidating him. She was huffing and puffing, snorting reminiscent of a bull. Clearly she was infuriated with Spike’s behavior.
“I’m sorry, Twilight!” Spike cried. “Just don’t be mad at me!”
The little baby dragon had then curled up to Twilight’s hooves, hugging her leg in desperation to avoid her wrath. Twilight then regained her senses and become level-headed again, losing her aggressiveness and began to pet the frightened dragon.
“It’s alright, Spike,” she said in a soothing, caring tone. “I’m just really worried about my friends. Our friends. Note that there is a destructive force ready to take over Ponyville.”
“I’m sorry,” Spike said, sniffling and crying. “I’m just so worried about the others, but mostly Rarity.”
Twilight began to pet the sniveling dragon but was interrupted by the slamming of her hastily-rebuilt door and the subsequent collapse of said door. It was the third time that day that her door was damaged like that. From the outside came pouring in a worried Applejack and an annoyed Rainbow Dash.
“What’s going on, Twilight?” Rainbow Dash asked her, levitating in the air in front of all three of them and crossing her arms, agitated. “Applejack just forced me to come here with no results of Fluttershy being found.”
“Rainbow Dash, I brought you here for a good reason!” Applejack said defiantly. “What we have to tell you is of great importance!”
“Make it quick,” Rainbow scoffed. “I’m still cutting into my flight hours to go find Fluttershy.”
“Speaking of Fluttershy,” Twilight said. “How did you alert Rainbow Dash, Applejack?”
“It was simple, really,” Applejack responded. “She just so happened to be in Ponyville and-”
“Can we get to the point already?” Rainbow cut in, clearly ticked off. “Just tell me what’s going on?”
“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight began. “Brace yourself for this, for this will be a lot to take in. Fluttershy has been fillynapped and taken somewhere we don’t know by a creature that is assuming her form. The creature, according to Applejack, is a blob sort-of creature, so we can rule out any Changelings in the scenario. Buy anyways, this creature has assumed the identity of Fluttershy and has fillynapped Rarity and Pinkie Pie, as well as attacking Applejack who managed to escape in time.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Rainbow asked. “A blob monster that looks like Fluttershy is attacking our friends?”
“Yes,” Twilight responded with a straight face. “And I’ve just written a letter to Princess Celestia about the matter. We should be getting a response soon en-”
Twilight was subsequently interrupted by the sounds of Spike lightly belching. He had relinquished control of Twilight’s leg to sit up straight and focus himself on burping. He then let out a fiery belch, green fire erupting from his mouth as a scroll dropped from it, perfectly intact.
“That’s a response from the Princess!” Applejack pointed out in jubilation. “Quick! Open it up and read what she said!”
Twilight immediately went for the scroll and opened it. Much to her dismay, there were only two words printed on the scroll, in which it said “Look outside.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Rainbow Dash questioned them. “Did Celestia herself find your story to be that outrageous?”
Ignoring Rainbow Dash, Twilight and Applejack immediately bolted outside to find a chariot manned by two Pegasi, both clad in royal armor tied to the chariot. They looked like they were disgruntled, as they were quietly panting from a fast trip of sorts.
“Excuse me,” Twilight addressed one of the royal guards. “But where you sent by Princess Celestia?”
“Yes,” one of the Pegasi grunted. “She said it was an emergency, but she never instructed us to alert you. She said that you had ‘gotten the memo.’”
“We did alright,” Twilight replied, nearing the chariot. “And I assume you’re taking us to Canterlot now?”
“Yeah,” the other guard answered. “But she requested only for two to come. That being that the chariot can only fit two ponies.”
“Applejack, it’d be best if you’d come along,” Twilight addressed Applejack. “You’ve had the most experience facing the horror, so you can give her a first-pony account of the incident yourself.”
“That sounds like a plan!” Applejack answered in confidence as she boarded the chariot with Twilight. “Rainbow Dash, it’s best that you help get the word out, too. Tell every pony you see to keep an eye out for the monster!”
“I can do that,” Rainbow Dash answered, saluting as she flew off, along with the two guardsponies manning the chariot at almost lightning-fast speeds off to Canterlot.
The two ponies eventually made it to the royal castle and to Celestia’s throne room, ready to present their case. They were ushered in by royal guards into the room, where Celestia sat on her throne looking concerned.
“Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia commanded the purple unicorn, whom her, along with Applejack, subsequently halted and bowed in her presence. “Please tell me that whatever you said in your letter isn’t true.”
“I would never lie to you, Princess,” Twilight replied defensively. “This matter is serious. Ask Applejack: she’s had a first-hand experience with the creature.”
And so, Applejack had told what she told to Twilight to Celestia, who had listened to Applejack with a stern but open ear. Finally, Applejack emulated the last thing she had done with her findings to Twilight by showing Celestia her leg, which to all of their surprise, had grown increasingly black. Tiny veins had erupted from the spot where Fluttershy had gripped her leg, reminiscent to the veins on Zecora’s head. Celestia had a look of horror wash over her face as she stared into Applejack’s wound.
“It cannot be…” Celestia said to herself quietly. “It’s actually back.”
“What’s back, Princess?” Twilight Applejack asked, oblivious to what Celestia had to say.
Celestia had left her throne and went to inspect Applejack’s leg closer. She examined it and, much to her dismay confirmed her fears.
“Twilight, Applejack,” she stated to both of them with a terrifyingly powerful presence. “The Hive has returned to Equestria.”
“Beg yer pardon?” Applejack inquired, confused. “What do ya mean by ‘the Hive?’”
“The Hive,” Celestia began. “Was a dangerous assortment of creatures gathered from the forest manifested into one amorphous being. It was a creature that could take the form of anything it wanted, and was composed of all of the entities it consumed. The Hive part of it is the collection of tortured souls used to serve this being. It consumes others to add to its twisted form and uses the minds of its consumed to add to its growing Hive. It only exists to consume the living. To amalgamate anything with a pulse to its design.”
“An amorphous entity like that?” Twilight questioned Celestia. “How do you know what this thing is simply by looking at Applejack’s leg?”
“Long ago, before any of you were to even exist,” Celestia began. “Indescribable amounts of time ago, Princess Luna, and I had imprisoned Discord in his stone prison using the Elements of Harmony. Discord knew that he’d be defeated, so he created the hive, a near-spitting image of himself to wreak havoc once he had been imprisoned. The creature he created, however, did not take on the form of Discord, but it shared the same properties of a chimera like Discord did.
“It was created to spite us. In Discord’s vision, he had made it to try to prove the faults of harmony and unity by creating the Hive to assimilate every pony it came across. Unlike what it did to Zecora, the Hive simply engulfed any pony it saw, breaking down their physical forms to add to its amorphous form. The body of its victims would not be destroyed, but it would be consumed by the Hive. For every pony it consumed, it grew larger.
“It originated in the Everfree, feasting off of natural vegetation to proliferate its form to terrorize the neighboring cities. It then attacked an ancient city that ceases to exist to this day because of the Hive. Twilight, in your studies, if you’ve heard of Trotsdow and its ‘mysterious disappearance,’ it was because of the Hive. Trotsdow existed on the grounds of where modern day Ponyville resides.
“When the Hive arrived to Trotsdow, it was a more aggressive force than how you explained how it is today. It entered the town, slithering out of any pony’s vision, until it assaulted its first victim; victim number zero: the one to add to its twisted image. It then began to then aggressively consume other ponies, becoming much faster than any pony could outgallop it due to the energy it obtained from feasting on the bodies of whom it consumed. Eventually, it devoured all life within the confines of Trotsdow, engaging in total war, where it even drew all the nutrients from the soil of the city, making it uninhabitable. Its main objective was to simply desiccate and absorb all life until all of where it resided were lifeless.
“Eventually, Princess Luna and I managed to reach Trotsdow due to a report from the royal guards about a disturbance south of Canterlot, but it was too late to save the town. Luna and I tried using the Elements of Harmony on it, using our combined might to our fullest potential. But we only managed to leave a dent within the enormous entity. It was clear that we couldn’t risk releasing Discord from his stone imprisonment to ask him how to rid of the monstrosity, so we turned to one of Equestria’s other ruling party for aide: Chrysalis.
“You two remember fighting the Changelings in Canterlot not too long ago, thwarting the evil Chrysalis’s plans to dominate Equestria. Back then, she wasn’t so evil. Equestria was ruled by her as well, but she didn’t appear before you in her malformed form with shapeshifting capabilities. Princess Chrysalis was charged with the emotional side of ponies, helping them always stay content, as Luna and I were charged with tending to the moon and sun, respectively. We had called upon her aid for the Hive because Luna and I could take care of Discord because we were bound together with the Elements of Harmony.
“All three of us created a perfect unity of power, which had resonated with the Elements somehow, as Chrysalis was a missing key of sorts. We had assembled to take down the Hive, as massive as it was, and we unleashed our hidden might against the scourge. It was near the point of crippled pacifism that it sought to take one of us down with it. Princess Chrysalis had not paid attention to the Hive and it engulfed her, leaving Princess Luna and I to deal with the Hive before it consumed Chrysalis.
“We had managed to contain the Hive in a protected ward that kept the Hive stunted from growth, effectively shrinking it down to the size of a bauble, a common knick-knack, if you will. When we had rescued Princess Chrysalis, however, she was malformed from the Hive. It had tried to consume her at a dangerously fast pace that she was left emaciated and damaged. She was an alicorn, so she stabilized, despite the amount of her missing because of the Hive. Her skin had become brittle because of it, turning black like you saw before, which was a phenomenon not even Luna or I could decipher.
“Before Luna and I locked the Hive in a secret cavern in the Everfree, bound with a protective spell that prevented it from ever escaping, Chrysalis was furious at her new form. She was somehow not healing because of the damage the Hive did to her, so she remained in her broken-looking state despite the plethora of treatments we gave her. She had blamed us for her new form saying that we didn’t warn her about the Hive surprise engulfing her when, in reality, we had no knowledge of what this thing could even do. She eventually disbanded from the kingdom and started her own regime in the outskirts of Equestria, where nopony resides. How she acquired her shapeshifting powers is beyond my knowledge.”
Twilight and Applejack were amazed at the plethora of knowledge Celestia had to offer. They had learned so much from that conversation, but they ultimately did not have their question answered.
“But what does it have to do with my leg?” Applejack finally asked. “You said something about my leg.”
Celestia then looked extremely concerned, as if she had forgotten something so major.
“I forgot about your leg!” Celestia exclaimed, balancing Applejack in the air with magic to bring Applejack to her. “We have to mend it, quickly!”
“What’s with the hastiness, yer highness?” Applejack asked the concerned queen. “It’s just a flesh wound an’ such.”
Much to every pony’s surprise, the black veins that surrounded her wound had increased in size, and her entire leg was turning green. Applejack saw her leg for herself and gasped.
“I got gangrene already?” Applejack asked, alarmed. “I didn’t know that stuff took hold so quickly!”
“It’s nothing as simple as gangrene,” Celestia stated, worriedly. “It’s the hive! It has infected you!”
“But how?” Applejack asked in shock. “How could I be infected by it?”
“Remember what you told me about Zecora and your fight with the Fluttershy-imposing creature?” Celestia asked, remembering her best on how to deal with the wound. “That creature infected you with a part of the Hive! It’s the same thing it did to Zecora if what you were saying is true. Now hold still.”
Applejack obediently didn’t move a single muscle, as she braced herself for what Celestia was about to do. With a spark of magic erupting from her horn and a nod of her head, Celestia had aimed her horn at the wound and instilled an enigmatic spell in an effort to cleanse the Hive infection. Much to her surprise, it did nothing.
“I can’t eradicate it from you, Applejack,” Celestia said solemnly. “I’m going to have to cleanse it the other way: I have to accept it into my system.”
“Princess!” Twilight shrieked. “You can’t do that! We can’t afford you to put yourself in that kind of-”
“My faithful student,” Celestia said reassuringly. “It is only a bit of the Hive. I am powerful enough to reject it until it withers and dies inside of me. But Applejack here cannot stave it off like I can.”
And so, with a selfless bow of her head, she repeated her last action and, with an instant flash of light, Applejack’s leg was restored anew. She was then lowered to the ground slowly by Celestia, who looked a bit beleaguered by the experience. Celestia’s eyes were vacant and she was stumbling slightly, only to recuperate as a normal Celestia.
“It’s not as strong as it was before,” Celestia said confidently. “So it was easy to contain. I just don’t know how long it will last inside of me, but it cannot corrupt me.”
“I don’t know how that there magic works like so,” Applejack chimed in. “But I’m mighty thankful for you helping me and such, yer highness.”
“Now’s not the time for pleasantries, you two,” Celestia sternly addressed them both. “We have to deal with this problem ourselves. I will contact Luna and then we will make our way to Ponyville. Princess Cadence can serve in my place until this is over.”
Two ponies seemed to shamble out of the Everfree. Upon identification, it was revealed to be that these ponies were indeed Pinkie Pie and Rarity, two familiar faces in Ponyville. No pony really took too much of a studious observation of the two of them, save for the fact that they saw them. Emerging from the forest like that could only signal to them that they were looking for the missing Fluttershy, which the townsponies were well-aware of the situation thanks to Applejack. Unfortunately, due to a lack of information, Applejack did not warn the town of the other two threats.
Pinkie Pie and Rarity stood at the entrance of the Everfree, observing from the near-outskirts the town. They had been changed, from a close-up examination. They both had vacant stares to them, as their eyes were both empty and desolate of life. The both of them had bore ostensibly visible black veins, coursing from the top of their heads to the bottom of their snouts. Their skin had revealed to be dried up for some reason, which their skin was somehow becoming visible, as other black veins similar to what had appeared on their heads were forming at random parts of their bodies, with hair from their coats missing in patches. They were both quickly losing their manes somehow, but they didn’t seem to care.
“Where shall we strike first, Pinkie Pie?” Rarity asked the pink pony, less sounding like her signature eloquent accent and more so a forced monotone.
“We can begin the harvest at Sugarcube corner,” Pinkie Pie droned, answering Rarity’s question. “We shall be victorious.”
Without emotion, they silently trotted into the town, ready to instill the glorious Hive to the unsuspecting population.