”CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS POTION BREWERS, YAY!”
By this point in time, the village of Ponyville was used to the deafening trio of screams that suddenly burst out from the CMC-clubhouse. Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo had seemingly thought up yet another plan to discover their talents and thus earn their cutie marks. Their ongoing quest was common knowledge among the villagers. The majority of them had already fallen prey to their different attempts to help them with their jobs and professions. More often than not, the results were disastrous. The young fillies always meant well, though, so the villagers took it in stride.
The crusaders’ plans were mostly harmless, usually taking place within the safe borders of Ponyville. But the fillies' plan today was anything but safe. Today, their quest led them to one of the most dangerous areas in Equestria. The great forest that was located just outside the borders of Ponyville: The Everfree Forest.
“Are you sure about this, Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle asked somewhat nervously. The excitement that had filled her voice during her and her friends’ shout from before was gone without a trace.
“Oh come on! Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts,” the purple-maned pegasus replied, skipping several steps ahead of her two friends. “Potion brewing just HAS to be our talent. We made that love potion during Hearts and Hooves Day perfectly on our first try!”
“First of all, it was a love POISON that almost ruined Miss Cheerliee’s and Big McIntosh’s life!” Apple Bloom replied, the memories of the two ponies’ gross flirting making her gag. “Secondly, while I think potion brewing could be our special talent too, I’m not so sure about searching for ingredients inside the Everfree Forest.”
By this point, the crusaders had arrived near the borders of the forest. None of them could recall how many times the adults have told them to stay away from it by now. Judging by the many nightmarish creatures that dwelled within, their warnings were undoubtedly well-founded. Scootaloo just gave her friends a mock laugh and continued on.
“Hah! We’ve been inside there by ourselves before while visiting Zecora. Besides, it’s not like we’re planning to go that far in. We're just going to get a few pieces of bark, some flowers, and whatever else we find.”
“And how will we ever be able to make potions out of those kinds of things?” Sweetie Belle asked. Scootaloo gave the young unicorn a deadpan look.
“If we could make a love potion out of clouds, rainbows, and pegasus feathers, I’m sure we could make something out of flowers and bark. Especially considering that pretty much anything that comes from Everfree Forest must be special or magical in some way.”
Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom looked over their shoulders towards Ponyville. Both of them were thinking of the same thing: the huge scolding they would receive from their families once they found out where they had been. Apple Bloom’s sister Applejack and Sweetie Belle’s sister Rarity would be especially angry. Still, it wasn't like they were planning on looking for dangerous animals or anything.
“Well, I guess it’ll be all right as long as we stay within eyesight of the village,” Apple Bloom eventually responded. “Maybe we can-“
Her thoughts were instantly interrupted when a huge explosion suddenly rose from the forest. The three fillies watched in shock as a wave of blue, magical energy rushed towards them between the trees. For a few seconds, the whole world turned blue around them. Even the light of the sun was seemingly replaced by this new, dominant color. The echoing thunder could still be heard once the world returned to normal, leaving the crusaders shaking together in a tight embrace. For what must at least have been a few minutes, they simply sat on the grass, petrified. Their eyes focused on the darkness that once again covered the inner forest. They were all expecting something to suddenly rush out and attack them, but silence once again reigned over the area as the last thunder faded away.
The fillies' embrace remained strong for a few more moments before Scootaloo decided that she'd had enough. She broke free from her friends' grip and promptly rushed into the forest.
“Wa… wai… wait!” Sweetie Belle finally managed to force out, her heart still pounding in fear. It was a miracle that none of them had passed out from fright.
“Come on!” Scootaloo yelled back, her voice clearly trembling from a combination of terror and excitement. “Whatever that was, we could be the first to discover it! We could become famous in a day!”
Sweetie Belle still hadn’t recovered enough to move, let alone run after her friend into the most dangerous forest in Equestria. Apple Bloom, however, was seemingly made of sterner stuff as she soon rushed after the pegasus.
“Scootaloo, stop!” she shouted after her friend as she ran. “You said we weren't going to go that far in! Are you even listening?! Hey, Scootaloo!”
Sweetie Belle sat for a few seconds and watched her friends disappear within the shadow of the trees, Apple Bloom's yells growing more and more distant as the two of them ran further in. Realizing that she was being left behind, she shook her head fiercely before pursuing them as well.
There weren't many things that could distract Applejack from her daily apple bucking. Sweet Apple Acres was the most massive piece of land in all of Ponyville, and even with the help of her brother Big McIntosh, it would take several weeks of hard work to get every single apple down from every single tree. While she was more than willing to put work aside to help out her friends or come to the Ponyville's aid when it was in danger, she knew how important it was to her family to make sure that the apples were harvested properly. Thus, she wouldn't let anything but the most dire or shocking events to break her attention.
Thus, it wasn't surprising when Applejack froze mid-buck as a giant pillar of blue light erupted from the Everfree Forest. She stood for about a minute and watched the scene in front of her unfold, an activity soon joined by Big McIntosh as he came running from the farm to check on her. He was about to shake his sister out of her temporary shock when he realised what direction the explosion had come from.
“Sis’?” he began.
“Apple Bloom and her friends’ clubhouse is in that direction, isn’t it?”
Applejack stared at her brother briefly before understanding what he had meant.
“Oh nelly, I better check if they’re all right!” she exclaimed before rushing away in the clubhouse’s direction. They better not get any adventurous ideas from all this.
Several miles away, a certain princess of the night woke up from her slumber in Canterlot as she felt the world seemingly shake from a huge burst of magic. For a moment, Princess Luna just laid still, trying to comprehend what had just transpired, before throwing herself out her bed. She slammed open the doors to her bedchambers, scaring the guards outside half to death. They weren’t used to see her awake during daytime, let alone rushing out like she was chased by Discord himself. Using her magic, she detected her sister’s presence on the dining hall balcony. Apparently, she had been in the middle of her dinner. Once Luna arrived, she found Celestia looking out towards Ponyville, where a huge cloud of dust was seen erupting from the Everfree Forest.
“Sister, what was… where did it…” Luna tried to ask in confusion. Celestia was briefly startled by her sister’s presence before once again turning her focus towards the forest with a serious expression.
“I don’t know, Luna. But I have a feeling that Equestria is in for some new experiences.”
Luna could see a smile starting to grow on Celestia’s face. In contrast to her own worries, Celestia seemed to be almost thrilled about the situation. Contemplating her inability to understand her sister sometimes, she turned towards the forest as well.
“New things aren’t always good things, big sister...”
"I said WAIT!" Apple Bloom shouted as she made a latch-ditch effort to jump at Scootaloo after finally catching up to her. The effort paid off as she managed to knock the pegasus to the ground, finally putting an end to her friend's running.
"Ow!" Scootaloo exclaimed as she rubbed her head. "Was that really necessary?!"
"It wouldn't have been if you just listened to me and stopped on your own!" Apple Bloom answered with a noticeable amount of irritation. Behind her, Sweetie Belle finally caught up with the two, but she was too busy panting in exhaustion to contribute anything to the conversation.
"Why are you so worked up for? I know where we're... going..." Scootaloo trailed off as she realized that she, in fact, had no idea where they were. The vegetation around them was so tightly grown that barely any sunlight made it past the trees' crowns to light up the fillies' surroundings. Scootaloo offered her friends a sheepish smile, which Apple Bloom answered with a facehoof.
"Hehe, whoops," the pegasus laughed nervously. "But hey, it's no problem! I'm sure we can find our way back. Miss Cheerilee said something about following your own hoofprints when-"
A shadow suddenly dashed between the trees in front of her, and her words came to a grinding halt as she began to look around the area. Her sudden behavior was quickly noted by her friends.
"What... are you..." Sweetie forced out between breaths, finally able to actually talk after her rush.
“Quiet!” Scootaloo hissed back. Her friends noticed the serious expression on her face, something they nearly never saw her wearing. Scootaloo was looking all around her now, the sound of footsteps around them now audible when her friends were silenced. It didn't take long before several green eyes suddenly revealed themselves in the shadows. Growls and even an occasional howl could be heard as canine-like wood creatures revealed themselves.
"Timberwolves!" Apple Bloom shouted in terror. Sweetie Belle let out a loud scream and hugged her friends in a desperate attempt to calm herself. Granny Smith’s tales of the mysterious and vicious creatures had become a legend among her classmates after the old mare had told them her story during Family Appreciation Day. While her story at school had sounded exciting and adventurous, Granny Smith told Apple Bloom in detail afterwards about how dangerous the creatures actually were. If she had not managed to find and clang a couple of metal pots together all those years ago, the wolves would've caught and devoured her for sure.
"Y-Y-You wouldn't happen to have a pot or two with you, AB?" Scootaloo stammered. It wasn't common for her friends to see her scared like this, but nopony had any intention of making fun of her this time.
"Great... J-Just great."
The wolves walked around them in circles, closing the gap between them and the fillies slowly but surely. All the while, they were snarling and biting at each other, as if they were arguing over who would make the first launch. The fillies knew there was no way out, and thus they simply tightened their embrace and closed their eyes while waiting for the wolves to make their move.
One of the wolves finally broke free from the rest of the pack. It rushed towards the fillies and leaped into the air in order to pounce on its meal.
Deep within the forest, in a giant cloud of dust and smoke, a brave jackalope approached the giant crater that had suddenly appeared next to its nest. While the rest of its family ran away in fright, the horned rabbit had been left behind in the chaos, and was now the only animal left in the whole area. While it had spent the last few minutes shaking behind a rock, a strange feeling of curiosity began to take hold of its mind. Curiosity was soon followed by courage, and it was now slowly making its way to the site.
Taking short, quiet steps, the jackalope finally reached its target. Looking over the edge of the crater, it tried its best to see through the heavy layer of dust that was still swirling around in its center. Thinking that it could barely make out a shadow of something hidden within, it prepared to slide down and take a closer look.
What it did instead was to spin around with perked-up ears as terrified screams were heard echoing past him. His startled reaction only lasted half a second before it remembered its current plan. But as it turned back to the crater to proceed down its slope, it found that such an action was no longer necessary. The bottom of the crater was now fully visible, the dust suddenly blown away from it as if pushed back by a sudden, powerful movement.
As for whatever had laid hidden within, the jackalope never learned. The crater was empty, its previous inhabitant gone without a trace.
A loud crack sounded throughout the area. As the three fillies closed their eyes in fear, the wolf that had pounced at them suddenly exploded in shards of wood. The branches that made up its body flew through the air, one of them embedding itself into a nearby tree, nearly piercing itself through the entire trunk. It took a moment for the wolves to realize what had just happened, looking around at the pieces of their fallen comrade in surprise before turning their attention back toward the fillies. Instead of growling in anger however, the whole pack was instantly silenced.
Still shaking, the three fillies opened their eyes to see what had delayed their certain demise. What they saw made all of them let out a unified gasp.
A canine-like, bipedal creature was standing in front of them. Its fur was colored blue, tan, and black, and it had some kind of appendages on the back of its head that almost seemed to float in midair. Its chest and the backs of its paws featured what looked like metal spikes. Its eyes were closed for some reason, and judging by its stance, it seemed like it had punched the attacking wolf straight in the face as it charged. There were many questions on the fillies' minds as they watched it. What was it? Where had it come from? How did it manage to make its way past the wolves without them noticing? Did it really just punch a timberwolf in the face so hard that it exploded?
A second gasp was suddenly let out by Sweetie Belle, making her friends break away their stare at the creature to look at her. Lifting a hoof, she pointed them back in the direction of the creature, pin-pointing trails of red liquid that was running down its torso and limbs. It was injured, and grievously so. Regardless, it stood defiantly in front of the entire pack of timberwolves, keeping all of them at bay with its mere presence.
A few of the younger wolves started to back away from the creature, the consequence of their friend’s last attack still fresh in their mind. Their retreat was soon halted by a sharp bark from their pack leader, who growled furiously at the blue creature before letting out loud howl. One by one, the other wolves began to join in with their own howls, and soon enough, the entire pack was in on it.
It was then that all of them, much to the fillies shock and disbelief, started to glow green. Their bodies slowly shattered into pieces as their branches began to attach themselves to the pack leader. Even a few stumps and old trees floated in over the fillies' heads as the monstrosity in front of the blue creature continuously grew in size. Giants claws dug themselves into the earth as they sunk deeper and deeper down into the soil from their owner's weight.
Once it was all over, the fillies didn't even dare to gulp as the now giant timberwolf let out a thundering roar. Its sickening breath came out of its mouth in a trail of dark green smoke, packing the punch of a powerful, stinking gust of wind. Drops of nectar dropped from its fangs as its lowered its head to look at the surely horrified expression on the creature's face.
But the creature was almost completely expressionless. In fact, it hadn't even opened its eyes to look at the spectacle in front of it. The wolf's eyes widened in surprise before a hateful growl escaped its throat. However, a trained ear would've noticed that there was more than fury behind the growl. There was a second feeling as well, a feeling that soon became appearent for everyone present.
The petrified fillies suddenly took notice of how dust on the ground began to blow away from the mysterious creature. Rocks in the area were shaking from an unexplainable force, and little by little, the creature started glowing in a blue, flame-like light. Compared to the green light that had surrounded the wolves before, this one was far more forceful. The very air seemed to vibrate, and the tree branches were rustling loudly.
The giant wolf had at first stood still as it watched the scene before it. But as its surroundings began to shake and shiver more and more, it began to take a few, anxious steps back. As it backed further and further away, the second feeling that had been present behind its growl took shape in its eyes. Its steps became unbalanced, nearly making the monster fall over in now completely appearent terror.
After what felt like an eternity, it all stopped. The light around the creature suddenly went out, and the rocks ceased their unnatural shaking on the ground. The blowing dust froze in midair as time itself seemed to stop in the suddenly tranquil area. And yet the creature now seemed more terrifying to the wolf than ever before. It opened its eyes, and a brief, yellow light glowed from them. Once it faded, a pair of red-colored lenses were revealed. The appendages on its head fell as whatever force that kept them floating seemingly left. It looked at the timberwolf like a dragon disdainfully regarding a small fly before burning it to a crisp.
The simple word echoed throughout the area like a commanding order from Princess Celestia herself. The wolf wasted no time, letting out a loud whimper as it made a heel turn and ran for its life.
Before long, the forest was quiet once more, save for the sound of the fillies’ shaking breaths. The creature stared after the fleeing wolf for a minute or two, making sure that it wouldn’t suddenly come running back. It eventually turned its head toward the fillies behind him, who were staring at him with hanging jaws.
“Are you girls all right?”
The fillies were unsure where the voice came from. The creature’s mouth hadn’t moved in sync with the voice. Instead, it was just panting rather heavily. But the way it looked at them implied that it was indeed it’s voice, as if it spoke inside their very minds. With her friends still seemingly unable to talk, Sweetie Belle braced herself.
“Y-Yeah… I think we’re okay. Thank-”
“APPLE BLOOM! SWEETIE BELLE! SCOOTALOO!” a sudden voice could be heard behind them. Apple Bloom instantly recognized it as her sister Applejack, and she was happier than ever in her life to hear it.
“You know that person?” the voice asked inside Apple Bloom’s head. She turned around to see the creature looking at her curiously, having noticed her happy reaction upon hearing the shout.
“Yes, that’s my sister Applejack,” Apple Bloom replied. It was obvious that she was overjoyed to hear her sister’s voice.
The creature smiled back, taking the fillies by surprise. They had not expected such a friendly emotion from something that had scared away an entire pack of timberwolves by simply staring at them.
“Good… you’ll be fine then…” it replied, sounding relieved. It then fell over on the ground, finally letting its wounds get the better of it.
To be continued…