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A Witch Among Us
~ Let's Begin! ~
"La la la la..."
Fluttershy placed a flower on her table. It was a decorative sunflower, not a real one, and it was meant only to make her table look pleasant and inviting for her guests. Angel Bunny noticed it was just off-center, and repositioned it just a smidgin. Fluttershy thanked him and happily went about her business.
Then she checked the cabinets.
"Oh, goodness. This is hardly enough food to feed all my guests! Guess I'm going to have to make a quick shopping trip. Watch the house for me Angel!" she said as she got her saddlebag and merrily skipped on out of the house.
At least it was a nice day for an outing. The sun was shining, there were almost no clouds in the sky, and the way the sunlight danced across the trees in the afternoon was almost dazzlingly nostalgic in its recalling of the world as it must have existed long ago, and in some ways still exists today. That was the great thing about the day: it was always there, even when the rest of the world was uncertain and scary, you could count on the sun.
These thoughts in her head, Fluttershy merrily skipped down the path, listening to the song of the birds, the pattering of the squirrels, the sniffing of the dogs...
She turned to look at the dogs, and saw it was actually a pony doing the sniffing. A dusty white pegasus with green mane. And nearby, the pegasus' pet human was up a tree and keeping a lookout as if he expected something.
"Good morning, Surprise, Raydence... what's going on?"
"No time to talk!" Surprise answered quickly, "there's a witch on the loose!"
Raydence jumped down from the tree and said "No sign of anything suspicious. This one must've really covered its tracks."
"Seems so." Surprise stopped sniffing, and looked off into the forest. Without even glancing at Fluttershy, Surprise explained "A witch is a female human who can do magic."
"Oh," Fluttershy half-smiled, "You're trying to catch a little girlfriend for your pet?" Fluttershy at this point couldn't resist fluttering up and scruffling Raydence's mane, "are there gonna be widdle baby Raydence's soon?"
"Ha!" Surprise ha'd, "One of him is already all I can handle. Anyway, you can't tame a witch. Witch's are among the kind of humans that still think they're the superior species. To them, we should be the pets."
"Oh," Fluttershy smiled, "That's just silly!"
"Do you live alone?"
Surprise was looking at her now, and Fluttershy saw that this was a serious, if unexpected, question. "Well... no. I live with my animals."
"What kind of animals?"
"Bunnies, birds, chickens..."
"No good. Get one of your friends to stay with you tonight."
"For safety!" and before anything else could be said, Surprise turned to Raydence and said "We're off!"
And like that, Surprise was off. Raydence took one last glance at the forest and almost acted as if something had caught his interest, before thinking better of it and following Surprise.
Fluttershy walked on slowly, continually wondering "What was that all about?"
Her confusion only increased when she got to Ponyville. The ponies were out doing their routine chores and daily errands, but she noticed mothers all stayed close to their children, big sisters all stayed near their siblings. There was an air of caution and protectiveness all around. It was endearing, but at the same time Fluttershy wondered what brought this about.
There was Applejack's stand, and she saw Apple Bloom was there, even though Applejack didn't usually ask her to help selling apples. Even more confusingly, Miss Cheerilee was there.
"Good afternoon Miss Cheerilee! Applejack!" Fluttershy greeted the teacher as she walked up to the stand. "Umm, pardon me for asking, but isn't today Tuesday?"
"Good afternoon Fluttershy!" the teacher returned the greeting, "And yes it is."
"Then, why aren't these children in school? Is it out already?"
Applejack answered "They didn't have school today. It's been called off, on account of all the attempted kidnappings!"
Fluttershy gasped. "What kidnappings?"
Cheerilee answered "Last night, Sprinkles woke up and saw a stranger in her room. Fortunately she screamed and it scared the stranger off. But then this morning, something cast a net on Apple Bloom, right in broad daylight!"
"Oh dear!" Fluttershy drew a breath. "How terrifying!"
"Luckily I was there to scare the beast off. At least I think it was a beast... But you know... it kind of looked like one of those human creatures. It was wearing a cloak, so I couldn't be sure..."
Fluttershy thoughtfully put a hoof to her cheek. "That's strange. I ran into Surprise just now. She said something about a girl human with magic powers. She called it a 'witch'."
Applejack's eyes narrowed. "Yeah, that Surprise has been actin' loopy ever since she heard about this. 'Course, Surprise has acted loopy as long as we've known 'er."
Miss Cheerilee asked, "You don't think Surprise is involved in this, do you?"
And then all the sudden two bits fell onto Applejack's counter and a furless hand grabbed an apple. The hand raised the apple up to Raydence's mouth, where he took a bite, swallowed, and kept on eating.
Miss Cheerilee suddenly felt ashamed, and said "Oh, I didn't mean to say anything untoward..."
Raydence gave the school teacher a huh? look, but seemed to quickly figure out her meaning and said "Oh, no, it's all right. Heck, a crazy old pony and a creature you've never seen before come to town, all the sudden something tries to get your kids, heck I'd suspect me too if I didn't know better." Raydence took another bite of the apple, and wiped his lip.
Apple Bloom smiled as she came around to Raydence's front. She stood and put her forehooves on Raydence's knee and said "Yeah, I heard you took on ten Diamond Dogs all by yerself! I bet you could beat up that old witch, couldn't ya Ray-dayunce?" Apple Bloom pronounced his name with a dialect. Fluttershy had to blush a bit, for she was the only one who witnessed anything Raydence had done on his journey into the underground and, while she didn't recall actually witnessing any fights, the story must've come from her anyhow.
Raydence didn't answer immediately since he was finishing his apple, but when he dropped the completely-eaten thing to the ground he said "Nah, I'm more like a pack mule. Surprise is the real fighter."
And speaking of the devil, at just that moment Surprise poked out of the Library door and called out "Hey Raydence, come'ere! I found something!" The human pet didn't waste another word before setting out. Apple Bloom watched him go and asked Applejack "Can I go with 'im? It's only to the library."
Fluttershy added "I'll go too. I've gotten kind of curious."
"All right," Applejack agreed, "But you be careful, and Apple Bloom, don't you go anywhere by yerself!"
"All right!" Apple Bloom called back, for she was halfway to the library by the time Applejack finished talking.
And what was Surprise's big discovery? As Apple Bloom and Fluttershy got to the door, they heard Twilight Sparkle saying "I swear, I've been through my library hundreds of times and I've never seen any book like this!"
"You wouldn't have," Surprise was telling her, and now Fluttershy and Apple Bloom could see they were discussing a black leather book that they had placed on a small table in the center of the room. Surprise said "This is the Ars Witchika, created by black magic and filled with the secrets of human sorcery. Whenever a witch moves into town, the first thing they do is hit up the local libraries, and if there's not already an Ars Witchika there, they'll put one there. It's sort of their way of marking territory."
Twilight Sparkle looked at the back of the front-cover, where she could see there was what looked like some certificate, written out in handwriting that was clear and legible, and seemed to come from a refined hand, but something about it creeped her out. It said "Hereby let it be known that this community is claimed hunting-grounds by the witch known as Glaire, who follows the ways of..." Twilight Sparkle couldn't pronounce the last part.
Surprise said "Well, we know the witch's name at least."
Apple Bloom piped "Glaire? That's a silly name. And to think I was scared of her!"
Surprise let a smile appear on her face for a moment.
Twilight Sparkle flipped through the pages of the book, and said "Still, nice of her to give this to me. I'm always interested in collecting books on magic..." and then she stopped and Fluttershy saw a look of absolute astonishment on Twilight Sparkle's face. "This... this is horrible! I don't want this book anymore! Take it away!" and the purple unicorn turned away, cringed and covered her eyes as if that would erase the memory of what they had just seen. Apple Bloom was trying hard to get on the table and look but she just wasn't big enough.
Fluttershy glanced at Surprise, who was just sitting there with an expression that said she knew what Twilight had just seen even without seeing it herself. It spoke of a dark familiarity with the subject. Flutters herself had the feeling that she'd be better off not knowing, but even so... even so...
She could not resist taking a peak.
What she saw was a hand-drawn, black and white illustration with an explicit level of detail. It depicted a pony, chained to a stone slab, now nothing more than a mutilated corpse whose blood only partially covered a demonic symbol underneath. Off to one side, a human in ragged garb stood on its knees and held its arms to the sky. There was an almost supernatural energy to the depiction, as if by looking at it, Fluttershy was making herself a part of it. She could almost imagine herself as the hapless pony chained to the stone...
Something touched her shoulder. Fluttershy shrieked and ducked under the table. Surprise looked down at her and said "It's just me." For some reason, hearing the friendly voice of a fellow pony helped ease Fluttershy's tensions somewhat. Surprise made a soft smile, and told Fluttershy "Sorry you saw that."
Fluttershy now realized how silly she looked, hiding under that small table. She got out from under it and sat, trying her best not to look at that awful, awful book. "Do witches... do that?"
Surprise nodded unhappily, "That's how they get their power. You see, many demon lords have grudges against ponykind that go back to the dawn of our existence. So they offer pony-hating humans magical power in exchange for pony sacrifices."
"Oh... poor children."
"Yeah... children..." Surprise allowed her head to drop, and it seemed to Fluttershy that the white pegasus' forehooves had tensed up. In fact, she could just about swear that Surprise was beginning to radiate an aura. But this suddenly ended when Surprise next spoke: "I wish I had been there. This whole thing would be over by now if I was."
Fluttershy's ears drooped at the thought of how many poor ponies must've been offered just so one selfish human could have magical powers. Fear and sadness came through her, but also a little bit of anger. For a moment, Fluttershy had a wistful fantasy of finding this witch and showing it who was boss. Of course, Fluttershy knew that in reality, she'd probably run away.
Surprise held her head high and began to sniff the air. "My witch-sniffer nose is getting something. Seems fainter over here, but if I go toward this window..." Surprise, Fluttershy and even Twilight all looked at the same time and--yes! There was a cloaked figure climbing in the window! Surprise wasted no time leaping at it. Twilight Sparkle, galvanized by the sudden action, got up and ran out the front door, then made for the scene of the struggle. Raydence climbed out another window just to the side.
It looked to Fluttershy like they had the witch cornered. She hoped so, and she longed to go out and see for herself, but Fluttershy's nervous nature had set in and she found herself unwilling to move from where she sat. So she had to follow the battle entirely from sound and what fleeting glimpses she could catch from the window.
Something banged into the outside wall, and then there was a hiss and mist filled the air. Fluttershy could swear she heard a whoosh sound. All these things were clearly supernatural, for the mist went away completely in ten seconds flat. Only now did Fluttershy have the courage to come to the window and look out, and ask "Did you catch her?"
Then she gasped: Twilight Sparkle and Surprise both looked like they had taken some good hits. Surprise was somehow able to sit up, but she had to help Twilight to her feet. Fluttershy jumped out the window and offered to be of service. Only Raydence looked unscathed.
Raydence knelt down in front of Twilight, and asked "Can you walk? Do you need me to carry you?"
Even though the unicorn tumbled a bit, she righted herself and said "I'm fine. I've been through worse." Raydence nodded and stood, and walked beside the unicorn until they got back into the library. Then he left her and went to read the Ars Witchika.
Surprise coughed once to clear her throat, and told Fluttershy "She got away. But I think we scared her, at least. She must've seen how old I was and you two cringing, and figured we were helpless. But this is the second time this witch has attacked in broad daylight, and approached a group rather than a lone pony. She must be getting desperate."
"I think I know why." Raydence said. "According to this book, the demon with the unpronouncable name requires a sacrifice once every 121 day period. This witch is probably close to her deadline."
Surprise cast a worried glance at Twilight and then at Fluttershy. "That means she'll pull out all the stops. Spread the word: No pony sleeps alone tonight."
A thought was in the back of Fluttershy's mind, a gnawing notion that she was forgetting something. Then she heard Surprise say something about company, and it triggered a memory in Fluttershy's head:
"Oh dear! That's right, I'm expecting guests! Oh, well, good luck catching that witch I'll see you later I really must be going goodbye!"
Quick as she could, Fluttershy went back to Applejack's stand, hastily bought and payed for some apples and flew home. She had her table prepared by the time her two guests arrived.
It was a pleasant little tea party. Pinkie Pie messed with Angel Bunny a few times while Rarity made pleasant conversation as she always did. The two were so cheerful that Fluttershy managed to completely forget the witch and the events at the library.
Then Rarity looked out the window and said "Well, it's getting late. I'm afraid I must be heading home. Take care!"
"Bye-bye!" Pinkie bounced out the door, with Rarity following soon after. The whole time, Fluttershy waved a farewell to them. Then she glanced out the window to admire the stars.
Oh gosh! Fluttershy immediately realized the mistake she had made. She opened the front door and began to call out, but already she had lost sight of her two guests. Nothing for it, she simply had to go after... but it was so dark! And the way that tree blew in the wind just didn't look right! What if that witch was right outside her door?
The thought scared Fluttershy so much that she immediately closed and locked the door. She pulled the blinds on all the windows, and still not trusting that she was protected enough, hid below a table. "Oh, Angel!" she said when she saw the rabbit giving her an awkward glance, "What should I do? Surprise said not to sleep alone tonight. I could go and stay with Twilight or Rainbow Dash, but then who would protect you? But if I don't go, who will protect me?"
Angel blinked slowly, hopped closer to Fluttershy and nuzzled into her cheek. Fluttershy smiled. "Thanks, Angel."
This would work, this would be how she'd pass the night: huddled under a table with her best friend. It wasn't a bad plan, she told herself. After all, the witch probably didn't even know about her and her little cottage. She's probably still in town. Hey, maybe Surprise already captured her! Wouldn't that be wonderful? Even if the Witch was loose, she'd never get past the front door.
Or would she?
Fluttershy realized then that a creature that can do magic would have no need to fear locks. After all, Twilight Sparkle could do that teleport thing. What if this witch could too? "This isn't going to work," she told Angel as she crawled out from under the table, and she explained her thoughts to the rabbit, concluding with "I know! Maybe we can try some psychological warfare! Turn off all the lamps!"
And between the two of them, Angel and Fluttershy had turned off every light in the house in record time.
"Now," the pony said as much to herself as to the bunny, "I'm going to do the part that scares me most..."
And she opened the door, stepped outside and yelled back "I'm going to to Rarity's now! I'll be there all night, with Rarity! And her three big, tough older brothers!" There, if there were any witches around they had to have heard that. So Fluttershy quickly stepped back inside and locked the door. "Good, now she'll think the house is abandoned and leave us alone!" As an added bonus, she'll probably think Rarity actually had big, tough older brothers, too.
Next came the hardest part of all: Fluttershy would have to spend the entire night in the dark. She hated it, but she couldn't afford to light a candle, and give away that somepony was still home. Fluttershy could barely see, except for the moonlight coming in from the kitchen window...
Oh gosh! There was a curtain she forgot to close! But she couldn't do it now--that would give the game away! For that matter, if the witch had good night-vision, she'd still see the bright yellow pegasus huddling on the floor...
"Oh, where should I hide?"
Angel Bunny tapped with his foot, and with his ear pointed up the stairs.
"Oh, you're right!" Fluttershy whispered, "She can't possibly fly!" Fluttershy herself could, but she was so used to walking that she didn't even think of using her wings as she crept up the stairs and to the bedroom above. This was the same bedroom she had let the Cutie Mark Crusaders sleep in during that one night where they'd had a run-in with a cockatrice, and as soon as Fluttershy reached it, she saw a problem:
Moonlight shone directly on the bed. If she slept there, she was as good as announcing her presence. And yet Fluttershy didn't want to close the blind. Her logical reason was because it would be a sudden change that gave away the still-inhabited nature of the house. Her actual reason was because she wanted there to be some light in the room to see by.
Fluttershy took a gulp, and crept across the moonlit area to the corner on the other side of the bed. There. Now she was facing out, and there was no way any witch could sneak up on her!
Fluttershy tensed as a shadow passed by the window, and she resisted the urge to squeal. The shadow passed again, and this time Flutters felt relief: she could see by its outline that it was just some nightbird making its rounds. Years of living among animals had taught her to recognize their shadows.
What was that little white... oh, it was only Angel Bunny, coming to join her. Another shadow passed just as Angel came hopping across the moonlight, but Fluttershy felt sure it was just that same nightbird. The bunny hopped into her loving hooves.
A dark corner is not comfortable, but if it would keep them safe, Fluttershy could do it. She sat there for a long time, keeping an eye out, but slowly her eyes began to droop. At first, she resisted sleep by telling herself she needed to keep watch. But as time wore on and nothing happened, the sleep argued back, and soon she shut her eyes and was off in dreamland. There were no witches or demons or scary things here, it was just her, her friends, and her animals..
Suddenly there was a clang! Fluttershy and Angel Bunny both immediately darted awake and listened. There it came again, and it sounded like the chicken coop! Flutters and Angel both ran to the window and looked out, and it didn't take them long to see what the commotion was:
A fox had gotten into the chicken coup.
"Oooooooh," Fluttershy grunted in frustration, and without thinking she flew out the window and into the pen, where she caught the fox's tail beneath her hoof. "Now wait just a minute Mister Fox! I gave you food just this morning! What gives you the right to come in here and steal one of my chickens?"
Mister Fox looked up at her with the most pleading of eyes, pointed at chickens with one hand and rubbing his belly and licking his lips with another.
"You're still hungry, is that it?"
The fox nodded excitedly.
"Even so, you should just ask instead of trying to steal. As it happens I've got some dog kibble. Right in that shed. You can have some of that. It's supposed to taste just like chicken and be even more healthy and nutritious. Now go have some of that and leave my chickens alone!"
The fox looked at the shed, and nodded agreeably. Fluttershy let up his tail and the fox ran to the shed, and she could hear the creature busily eating that dog kibble. Seconds later he came out, gave Fluttershy a big smile, and was gone. Flutters smiled at her chickens and softly cooed "It's okay, he's gone now. Everybody go back to bed!" The chickens willingly herded back into their coup, and Fluttershy made sure to secure the place so as to not have any more unexpected nightly visitors.
She sighed. "Another job well done. My chickens are safe..."
And then it finally occured to Fluttershy that she was outside, and the full moon was highlighting her presence for the entire world to see.
"Oh my gosh!" Fluttershy quickly flew back in the bedroom window, back to her safe, dark corner. "Oh, I hope the witch didn't see or hear any of that."
Downstairs, something fell over, and Fluttershy whispered "What was that?"
Angel Bunny looked at the stairs, glanced at Fluttershy, then hopped down to check, even though Fluttershy whispered "Angel, come back!"
The bunny was out of sight, and Fluttershy couldn't help looking at the top of the steps, waiting for him to return. Five minutes passed, then ten, and still Angel did not come. That worried the little yellow pegasus. It worried her a lot.
There was only one thing for it: she had to risk the journey downstairs. Fluttershy crept low across the room, double-checked the window to make sure there were no witches watching. Then she crept down the stairs, almost like a weasel the way she moved so gracefully. When she reached the bottom she looked left, looked right, and then looked up.
Somehow, Angel had gotten himself locked in a birdcage.
"Oh, Angel!" Fluttershy flew up and opened the cage, "What are you doing up here?"
Almost from the moment he saw her, Angel jumped up and down and waved his hands and ears. Fluttershy knew he was trying to say something, but what?
She finally got the message when the bag came down over her head.
Don't think for a minute that Fluttershy didn't kick and scream from the minute she was bagged and all through the journey, a journey through which she could not tell where she was going, but it seemed certain that the witch was taking her deeper into the Everfree Forest. If nothing else, Fluttershy could clearly hear the sound of brush and snapping twigs beneath a pair of feet.
She struggled, she bounced around, and she screamed until her screamer wore out. Fluttershy didn't know if the bag muffled her or what, but she was going to try. Now that push had come to shove, she wasn't going to give up without a fight.
The air was starting to get stale in that bag when finally she was dumped onto a stone slab. For a flashing moment Fluttershy thought this would be her chance, and jumped to her hooves. But before she could run, chains flew from all sides, wrapping themselves around her and binding her down tightly. Fluttershy fell on her side, her face toward the witch who she now saw devoid of cloak: It was a human woman all right, with silver hair and an extremely frail build, all dressed in rags and tatters. If Raydence was young, then this woman looked middle-aged.
Fluttershy didn't need to see the whole scene to know what was going on: she remembered the picture in the book all too well. She knew what the witch meant by running a whetstone against that ceremonial knife. At the edge of the stone slab, fires were lit, and the warmth was not at all comfortable.
What was the witch's name? Glaze? Glam? Glaire? That was it: "Glaire!" Fluttershy called out. "Why are you doing this?"
Glaire looked amused at the yellow pegasus, and not once did she stop sharpening the knife. "You know my name, don't you? Then you should also know what this is about. You've read my Ars Witchika."
"But... but it said you have 121 days!"
"I did... 120 days ago. At midnight tonight it'll be the 121st. I thank you for offering yourself to me, that my power might continue awhile longer."
"But... please don't! I have animals to take care of!"
Glaire smiled, "Oh, those chickens? They were your undoing, you know. You almost had me, pretending your house was abandoned, but I had my doubts. One fox tossed in a chicken coup later, though..."
Glaire put the knife down now, and began a low chant. Fluttershy tried to keep her talking, hoping against hope that maybe she could distract her long enough for help to come. "You... you knew about that?" she asked. But it was no use: Glaire did not stop chanting. That seemed to be the witch's entire world at the moment. Fluttershy knew time was running out, but what to do? No matter how tightly she pulled on the chains, it seemed like it was never enough.
And what was Glaire doing? Running her hands through a pot of water, for whatever reason. Fluttershy didn't understand the ceremonial things that this witch was doing. She didn't need to understand. She only knew she didn't want to be here.
"Please!" Fluttershy pleaded one last time, "Please let me go!"
But the witch did not stop chanting, stop doing her ceremonial preparations. Finally, the moment Fluttershy most feared had come: Glaire picked up the knife again, and came upon the stone slab. Like a machine, emotionless, still chanting that weird chant. Fluttershy knew it was time to say goodbye.
And then suddenly, some brown thing jumped on Glaire's face, and began scratching her all up! It only took Fluttershy a second to realize it was a flying squirrel, and it also only took a second for Glaire to rip it away. The bloodstained smears only highlighted how angry the witch looked at the interruption.
Glaire made to throw the squirrel with all her might, but before she could, something bit her leg. It was a fox--no, the same fox from earlier, now fat from all the dog kibble, but he wasn't about to let that hamper his mobility. Birds came. Night-hawks swooped down at the witch, while smaller birds landed and pecked at her.
Angel Bunny was there too, trying desperately to release Fluttershy from her chains. The little white rabbit pulled and pulled, but he couldn't seem to create any slack.
Then a dusty white hoof scooted him aside, and said "Here, let me." Fluttershy winced as Surprise pulled back her hoof, by all rights looking like she would throw a punch. And punch she did--at a link in the chain. Surprise pulled away, and Fluttershy could see that the link looked unharmed... until it cracked. And cracked some more, and again, until it fell apart as just little metal specks of sand. And then another wonder: the rest of the chain began to crack, until suddenly the thing that had held Flutters unable to escape her fate was, itself, nothing but little silver-looking specks of sand on a rock.
Fluttershy came to her hooves, and asked "How did you do that?"
"You know what they say, 'a chain is only as strong as its weakest link'." With a smirk, Surprise turned and looked at the witch, still being assaulted by forest creatures. "What do you think, Fluttershy? Minus ten points for form?"
"Huh?" Fluttershy didn't understand the question at first, but when she glanced Glaire's way a second time, she too shared a smirk. "Oh, definitely. Minus twenty points for animal abuse!"
And then Glaire flashed, and the flash temporarily stunned the animals. Fluttershy and Surprise only just managed to cover their eyes and save themselves from any lasting disorientation, but still the witch was upon them.
Glaire grabbed Fluttershy by the neck, and jeered "That's cocky, coming from a pony whose life was in my hands just a second ago!" And then Glaire picked Fluttershy up and threw her, hard, at the back of the stone slab. Then Glaire turned and readied to fire a magic bolt at Surprise.
Surprise stood there, and smiled.
Glaire smiled too. "So, you're in a hurry to be sacrificed? Very--"
Glaire might have finished that phrase and her bolt-spell if a yellow pegasus hadn't sped through the air and assaulted her from the side. Glaire fell to the ground, the entire side of her body scratched against hard rocks. If she had any beauty left, it was now lost to the harshness of battle.
Surprise jeered, "Lack of situational awareness. Minus five points!"
"Bad breath!" Fluttershy pointed out, "Another five points!"
A gutteral growl escaped Glaire's lungs as she got up, and turned to them in all her battle-tarnished un-glory. Her one hand covered an eye socket that was bleeding profusely, while Glaire's other hand contained two glowing objects. With a pair of quick swipes she tossed the object, one at Fluttershy and the other at Surprise. Fluttershy took to the air to avoid the magical explosion, while Surprise jumped to the side.
Glaire somehow produced two more of the explosives, which she continued attacking Surprise with, and all the while, she laughed. "Ha ha!" she jeered crazedly, "In all my years I've never seen your kind put up such a fight! THIS IS FUN! I think I'll only attack adults from now on!"
Fluttershy glared darkly at Glaire, and slowly came back down to Earth. "You mean... every pony you've sacrificed has been...?"
"A weak, helpless child?" Surprise finished the question, and the anger in her voice was unmistakable.
"Of course!" Glaire answered crazedly even as she prepared another spell.
But she didn't get a chance to cast it. Within a second Fluttershy was choke-holding her from behind, while Surprise gave the witch's little stomach a two-hoofed pounding, followed by a backwards double-hind-leg buck. The witch fell to the ground, and Fluttershy put her hoof down on the witch's head.
"That's minus eighty points," Fluttershy growled, "and I don't like this game anymore!"
Fluttershy didn't even try to control herself when she began pushing down on the witch's head, as hard as she could. She cast a glance at Surprise, thinking--perhaps hoping--that the dusty white pegasus would do something, say something, to prevent her from taking another creature's life. Somewhere in her heart of hearts, Fluttershy didn't feel like this was right. But this witch was beyond anything and everything she knew. She existed outside of unconventional rules.
It appeared Surprise felt the same way, for she only sat there and watched, and did nothing to try and stop Fluttershy.
In fact, the only one who tried to save the witch, was the witch herself.
In desperation she pushed Fluttershy with a hand full of fire, and threw sand in Surprise's eyes. Then the witch was on her feet, and ran off into the dark of the woods. Fluttershy took to all fours and was about to chase after her.
Then, Surprise called out "Hey Glaire, you forgot something!"
Fluttershy was almost on the witch when Surprise called out, and both she and the witch turned and looked back. Surprise sat calmly, her forehoof resting atop a stone that looked like any other, except that it glowed with supernatural energy, its light radiating the colors of a dark-hued rainbow.
Surprise tapped the stone, which agitated the witch. "This is a Contract Stone," said the dusty pegasus, "the symbol of an agreement between a human and a demon. You know what happens if I destroy the Contract Stone, don't you?"
"That's impossible!" Glaire declared.
"Do it, Surprise!" Fluttershy shouted back.
And that was that: Surprise struck the stone just as she had struck the chain, and the stone cracked and became little tiny flecks of dust. The magic disappeared completely. Glaire cried out in mental agony and despair and fell to her knees, clutching at the sky as if she thought some greater power could save her yet. And then, all at once, Glaire's skin dried out, her body began to fall apart. Her skin, her organs, her bones, all calcified and became just sand, fragmented to be blown away on the wind. Within seconds, Glaire the Witch was no more.
"What happened?" Fluttershy fluttered back to the ground.
Surprise came to Fluttershy's side, put a hoof around the yellow pegasus. She payed only a glance at the dust that had been Ponyville's most recent terror, and told Fluttershy "She was so old, the demon's magic must've been the only thing that kept her going."
"Ohmigosh..." Fluttershy turned her head away, buried it in Surprise's chest. "We... I... I almost crushed her head in! Does that make me a bad pony? Does it?"
Surprise didn't say anything just yet, but she did stroke Fluttershy's mane with her hoof. Fluttershy supposed she should thank Surprise for that, but she couldn't. She didn't quite know why, but all the sudden she was crying.
And then she felt another hand upon her. Or rather, a paw. A squirrel nuzzled up to her cheek, and birds nested on her head. Fluttershy gradually became aware of the songs animals sing in the night, and it felt for once that normality was returning. Then... she stopped crying.
As Fluttershy lit a candle in her cottage, she asked "By the way, how did you find me so fast?"
Surprise wiped her hooves on the mat, said "Thank a duck for that."
"Yep. It came and got my attention, made me follow it. Then other animals came along. I arrived just in time to see that squirrel attack Glaire." Surprise lay down. "The animals around here must really like you."
"Well, yeah, I guess so," Fluttershy smiled, her commune with animals being one of the few conceits she allowed herself. "Are you hurt?"
"Not really. You?"
"I feel fine."
Fluttershy felt it was only right to serve her guest some late-night snacks, which Surprise ate willingly. Fluttershy herself gracefully nibbled an apple that she had left from earlier. After swallowing a bite, she asked "Out of curiosity, where is Raydence?"
"Left him to guard the town." Surprise said between nibbles. "I should go get him. We have to leave soon."
Surprise took one last nibble, "Well, I'm only here because my witch-sniffer nose sniffed a witch. Now that there's no witch, I need to move on."
Fluttershy's ears drooped and her heart sank. "But... I barely got to know you! At least let me give you some reward!"
"Don't, please." Surprise held up a hoof. "There's only one reward I want, and you can't give it to me. I have to get it myself... the next time I see a witch."
Fluttershy paused for a second, silently moved next to the dusty pegasus and lay down, "Umm... if you don't mind me asking...?"
Surprise stared off into space and rested her head. As the silence wore on, Fluttershy started to figure that Surprise was going to keep her secret. But then Surprise answered silently "I want to be young again." Was there a note of sadness in the green-maned pegasus voice? Fluttershy softly put a hoof on her, which the other took as a prompt: "When I was your age, I was faster, stronger, healthier. You saw me break that chain? Well I could do things a million times more amazing. I could fly. And if I become young again, I might... I might..."
Surprise sighed. "But there's only one way to do that. That's to eat a witch's hair."
What surprised Fluttershy most was what she felt when she heard that: Fluttershy felt nothing at all. Not terror, not astonishment, not disgust, not any of the half-a-dozen things she thought she should feel. The only thing she felt, was like stroking Surprise's mane and saying "Oh."
Fluttershy gathered her friends outside Twilight's library the next day, and told them all the story of the witch's defeat, and of Surprise's departure. Fluttershy argued with herself about whether to mention the reason Surprise was leaving, but finally decided that these were her friends, and she didn't keep secrets from them. Surprise had not informed anypony else of her plans--she was simply gone the next day, and she took her human with her.
Pinkie Pie beat the ground, "That meanie! Least she could do is let me see that man-thing one last time!"
Rarity sighed, "I guess it couldn't be helped, but the least she could've done is let me come with her!"
"Come with her?" Twilight Sparkle cocked an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Well I want to be young again too!"
Everypony looked at Rarity and smiled. Dash tried hard to hold back her laughter, but it was Rarity herself who broke the first chuckle. If nothing else, the friends had another thing to joke about.
All the sudden a great singing welled up and came ever closer, a huge shape shambled closer and closer, and as it came the ponies could see it was two shapes, one holding the other!
And as they danced closer, Raydence and Surprise sang "From the land of light he comes for the sake of all our souls, he is here, our Ulllltraaaaamaaaaaan!" With a final "Yeah!" Surprise departed Raydence's arms and greeted the sixlet of friends: "Hey, I'm back!"
"Surprise!" Fluttershy greeted her, "This... this is... well... a surprise! I thought you were off to find another witch?"
"Well that's the thing! Just as I was leaving, my witch-sniffer nose sniffed another witch!"
"Oh, dear!" Fluttershy replied.
"That's not possible!" Twilight Sparkle complained, "I checked just a few minutes ago, the Ars Witchika is gone!"
"Then the witch hasn't set up shop here. It's possible this one may even pass us by. But I'm staying until I know for sure."
"Great to have you back!" Rainbow Dash patted Surprise's back. "But next time you go witch-hunting, take us with you. After all, we want some of that hair too!"
"Rainbow Dash!" Fluttershy cried out and glanced at Surprise, expecting any minute to see the dusty pegasus glare at her in anger. But that never happened. All Surprise did was yuck it up with the rest of the ponies. And Fluttershy was able to comfortably join in.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Wow, we had a real scare down here! This thing called a "Witch" almost got Fluttershy! It made me realize this world is a lot more complicated than I first thought, and there's a lot of scary stuff out there that I'm probably not prepared to deal with. At the same time, it fills me with hope: To hear Surprise say it, Fluttershy basically beat the witch all by herself. It makes me think that maybe, underneath it all, we're all actually strong enough to deal with life's challenges. At least I hope so. I'd hate to think what would happen if we're not.
Your faithful student,
Ultraman theme (C) Eiji Tsuyabara. The lyrics are based on my own (loose) translation of the Japanese original.