Prologue - The Unnatural Storm
The Books and Branches Library
Present Day - May 12 - 0.43AM
To say that Twilight Sparkle was having trouble sleeping would be a vast understatement; akin to saying Pinkie Pie was particularly fond of parties. The howling winds from outside, occasionally broken by a crash of thunder, made it practically impossible for the purple unicorn to doze off. She glared at her window, wishing the storm would at least be a little quieter, before lowering her gaze to the basket near her bed. Spike, true to form, seemed to be having no trouble sleeping, scratching his stomach before rolling over and starting to snore.
"Dragons really can sleep through everything," Twilight sighed, trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice as she wished she could do the same. Two hours the massive storm had been raging, and it didn't look like it was going to let up any time soon. She rolled onto her front, jamming the pillow over her head in an attempt to block out the sound.
It didn't work, only muffling the racket slightly. The wind outside seemed to take that as a challenge, howling louder and louder. Twilight gave up, hurling the pillow at the window as she sat up. Didn't do anything to help with the storm, but it did make her feel slightly better. Why had the pegasus scheduled a storm at this time of night? She couldn't remember seeing anypony doing any preparations for it earlier and she was fairly certain there wasn't supposed to be a thunderstorm for another few days anyway; although she hadn't exactly been paying too much attention to the weather plans recently, having been caught up helping Rarity in the run up to a fashion show in Manehatten.
It had been exhausting work, simply dealing with the increasingly worked-up unicorn's perfectionism, so some sleep was much needed. But, of course, that wasn't going to happen while this stupid storm was raging. Her bed covers followed her pillow as ammunition at the window as she rolled out of bed and headed back down into the library. She made it half way down the stairs before realising she'd been trying to sneak down quietly so as not to wake Spike, something rendered pointless by the fact he was snoring louder than the storm.
"Hope he doesn't end up sending his blanket to the Princess again," she sighed, "how you doing with the book sorting, Owloysius?"
"Hoo," the owl in question replied from his perch.
"You, who else would I be-" Twilight stopped in mid sentence, rubbing at the bridge of her snout with a hoof. Spike's silly habit was catching on; that or the exhaustion was really starting to get to her. "Never mind, you have any idea where I put the weather schedule?"
The Unicorn guessed that meant yes, as the owl promptly flew over to her desk and started shuffling around scrolls. Eventually he found the right one amongst all the fabric and material guides gathered for Rarity and flew it over, perching on her head as she unrolled it, the two of them reading down the list.
"See, clear skies tonight!" Twilight gestured at the offending line, "I knew something was weird."
"Exactly. Who could possibly make a rainstorm this size-" she paused, suddenly realising the absence of a sound she should be hearing, telekinetically ripping open the curtains of the library to look outside. The winds were still howling, but there was no pitter-patter of rain against her window. Not a cloud in the night sky. The lightning just seemed to be appearing out of nowhere, "and just how did it take me so long to notice that?" Two hours. Two hours she had laid in bed glaring at her windows and she hadn't noticed there was no rain.
That ruled out a pegasus' involvement. The Ponyville weather team's abilities were certainly impressive, but even they needed clouds to make lightning. Twilight stared up at the sky, the stars and moon momentarily hidden by a flash of lightning that speared through the sky.
"That's impossible," the unicorn took a step back from the window, eyes wide, "that's completely impossible."
"Hoo," Owloysius seemed to agree, ruffling his feathers as the thunder roared.
"I don't think that's magic. A spell to create this size would leave ambient magic and I can't feel any in the air." Not to mention that even magical lightning spells, like those used by Princess Luna or Trixie, all involved creating clouds. Twilight quickly ran through every spell she knew involving manipulating the weather and nothing seemed to fit. "Just what is this?"
There was another flash of lightning illuminating the night sky, letting her see the silhouettes of pegasi that were investigating themselves, all trying to avoid being blown away in the wind or struck by the alien lightning. They didn't seem to know where to begin, any more than she did. How could you clear away a thunderstorm when there were no clouds to move?
"Owloysius, find every book and scroll you can on weather phenomenons and manipulation. Wake Spike up if you have to, actually," there was an idea... Twilight flipped the weather report's parchment over, quickly scribbling some notes on the back for the baby dragon, "make sure he sends a note to the Princess, I don't think this has anything to do with Discord but we can't risk it." It didn't seem quite chaotic enough to be the petrified monster, but Twilight daren't chance it just incase he had managed to free himself and was out for revenge. Best to have someone check.
"Hoo," the feathered assistant took the parchment and flew off towards her bedroom. Not even Spike could sleep through a persistent owl, although he would certainly try.
"Thanks! I'll be back in a bit," she called after him, before heading towards her front door. She was not looking forward to this.
There was nothing for it. If there was the slightest chance that the storm was magical, then she'd need a closer look than what she could spot through her windows. The purple unicorn braced herself as she unlatched the bolt, having to push with her magic to open the door with the wind fighting her every step of the way. Her ears flat against her head, mane and tail being blown about and eyes closed against the tide, she nearly found herself blown off of her feet under the sheer force of the gale. She barely heard the library door slam shut behind her. Digging her hooves in, Twilight managed to look around. The wind was certainly causing some damage with branches, plants, bits of masonry and what looked suspiciously like an entire market stall blowing down the street and nearly bowling over a couple of pegasi that were taking cover from the lightning by staying low. And the lightning, well... There was a flash from above, Twilight's head snapping up just in time to see one of the pegasus get hit by a bolt and drop out of the sky, crashing into the ground in front of her. Even with her mane and tail singed, spiky and smoking from the bolt, she was still unmistakable even from a distance as Twilight ran towards her as though the wind wasn't even there.
"Rainbow! Are you okay?"
"Hi Twilight," the dazed pegasus responded, looking up at her unicorn friend in confusion, "why are there three of you?"
"You're on fire!"
"I am?" Her eyes shot back into focus as she quickly ruffled her mane, putting out the smouldering part. "Did I get it?"
"Let me check," Twilight smiled, glad to see her friend wasn't badly hurt, although she stopped smiling after she touched the technicolour pegasus and got a shock of her own, both of them now smoking and twitching.
Present Day - May 12th - 0.52AM
Fluttershy whimpered at the thunder and bright flashes coming through her windows despite the curtains. She sat in the centre of her sitting room, surrounded by a variety of her critters that didn't have dens of their own to take shelter in. Angel Bunny tapped his foot, frowning at the bat flittering around above his head, screeching with every boom from outside. At least the hawks, falcons and other birds were being relatively quiet; perching on whatever they could find and waiting for things to settle.
"I don't like this, Angel, it feels wrong," Fluttershy squeaked out eventually, whimpering and taking a step back at a particularly large flash of lightning. The bunny looked up at the timid pastel pegasus, seemingly rolling his eyes even as the bat finally decided to land, on Fluttershy's head. "Oh, hello friend," she stopped shivering and managed a small smile as she talked to the tiny critter, "I'm sorry if I was worrying you. I'm sure Rainbow Dash and the ot-"
Whatever she had been about to say was lost under a crash far, far louder than any of the others. It barely sounded like lightning, as though massively distorted somehow. The entire cottage shook from the sheer force and the light was like looking into the sun even through the thick cotton curtains. Just as suddenly as it happened, it stopped. Angel raised his paws from his ears, shaking his head to clear it from the ringing, before turning to look to his left. Only to find empty space and a very confused bat where Fluttershy had been only half a second earlier. He looked around, frowning again when he spotted a pale rose coloured tail sticking out from under a wardrobe.
The panicky pegasus soon left her hiding place, however, when she found out it was where a hedgehog had been waiting out the storm.
"Sorry Prickles," she apologised to the critter in question, brushing some of his namesake off of her snout, before catching the look that Angel was shooting her from over by the window. He pointed outside, she stared back blankly. He tapped on the glass impatiently, narrowing his eyes, she didn't budge. He ran over and physically pushed her over to the window and was, after a little coaxing, eventually able to get her to look outside.
Out on the path outside her garden, leading from the Everfree Forest, was the prone form of a pony. One that had not been there when she had ventured out to rescue her critters two hours earlier. A flash of lightning lit up the area, letting her see the chestnut coat and mane, and the massive scorch marks on the ground the pony was lying on. The earth around the pony was charred black, any grass or flowers burnt to a crisp, the mark at least ten meters across. Fluttershy's eyes widened at the sight, glancing down at Angel for only a moment before flying for the door. She was about to throw it open without a second thought when there was a tug on her tail.
"Not now Angel, I need to go help this-" the bunny leapt onto her back and plonked a helmet down on her head.
Fluttershy stopped, turning around as something else was thrown around her middle, only to find Angel tying a knot on a long piece of rope that had been one of Applejack's lassos. The other end was being tied to the wardrobe by some of the other critters, the tiny bat hanging off of the rope and giving a cheery wave towards her with its wing. Angel hopped off of her back and pointed her towards the door, never changing his expression from that of resigned annoyance as she stopped to wave back at the critters before swinging her door open. A flash of lightning and the roaring gale made her hesitate for only a moment, but the sight of the pony all alone out there let her bite back the squeak and step out into the storm.
It was far stronger than it had been when she'd braved it two hours earlier. The pegasus was lighter than most ponies and was nearly swept off of her feet, having to flap her wings frantically just to stay in place. There was a tug on the rope around her middle, silent encouragement from her animal friends, Fluttershy digging her hooves in and starting the seemingly-long trek out to the pony. There was still no movement from the stranger, she couldn't even see if he was breathing. Several loose branches shot over her head, a few of the smaller ones bouncing off of the helmet Angel had given her. She flinched but kept on moving steadily closer, stepping into the blackened circle around the prone pony.
There was no shelter from the wind or flying debris now that she had left her garden, her wings having to flap frantically just to keep her standing. She was doubly thankful for the helmet helping keeping her mane out of her eyes as she trudged onwards. Fluttershy let loose a breath she didn't know she'd been holding when she was close enough to see that the pony was still breathing. A stallion earth pony, he didn't look much older than her or her friends. Fluttershy leaned closer, prodding the strange pony with a hoof. No response, he seemed completely unconscious.
"Um, excuse me?" She spoke, only to find the storm drowned out anything she said. Not even Rainbow or Applejack at their most boisterous would have had a chance of being heard, much less Fluttershy. So much for trying to wake him. Ducking under another bit of debris, what appeared to be part of the fence of her chicken coop, she hauled the brown pony onto her back and started back towards her house.
While her passenger meant she couldn't use her wings, his added weight did help stop her being blown around by the gale. Although it was still very slow going, having to stop every few paces to prevent him from slipping off. Thankfully Angel and the other critters were able to help, all tugging on the rope and helping her haul her cargo back to her door without too much trouble. Steeling herself, barely flinching at the lightning striking the ground behind her as she focused solely on the door in front of her, Fluttershy practically raced the last few meters and finally came skidding to a halt in her living room. Her bird friends lifted the strange pony off of her back, freeing her to help Angel shut the door against the gale, and set him down on her couch.
Fluttershy paused as the door finally gave in the fight and clicked shut once more, realising just what she'd gone and done. Running out into one of the biggest storms she'd ever seen without thinking. Reaching up and slowly removing the helmet from her head, she stared at it for a moment, musing over all the ways she could have been hurt doing something so stupidly dangerous. Angel tapped her on the side, snapping her out of it and returning her attention to the pony she'd gone out there to rescue in the first place. Trotting up to the still-unconscious stallion, she prodded him again. "Um, hello. I'm really sorry, but, please wake up?"
Still no sign of the stallion waking any time soon, which meant no chance of finding out how he ended up outside her garden. She found herself glancing the earth pony over, looking for any sign of injuries. Nothing, no scorch marks, no bruises, only a light covering of dirt and dust gave any sign he'd been out in the storm at all. But still something bothered her, something she was missing. But what? This called for a more thorough approach. She glanced back at Angel to ask him for her first aid kit when she spotted Prickles the hedgehog and two of her squirrel friends were already on the case, pushing the red and white box in from the kitchen despite the fact it was bigger and heavier than the three of them combined.
"Oh, thank you. Please don't trouble yourselves anymore, I'll take it from here," the pegasus lifted the box and placed it on a table beside the couch. Popping open the lid, barely flinching now as another flash of lightning lit up the room, she rummaged for a moment and pulled out one of the stethoscopes that appeared during the CMCs sleepover when they had tried to play doctor on her furniture.
She was about to check his heartbeat, leaning in and slowly moving a foreleg out of the way, when she spotted something out of the corner of her eye as his tail shifted when he was moved. Or, more precisely, she spotted the lack of something. The chestnut fur suddenly stood out far more than even Rainbow Dash's mane would have, the stethoscope almost slipping off as she bolted upright with a muted eep. Angel and the other critters all backed up a step, looking as alarmed as the pegasus as she finally spotted what had been bugging her about him. His flank was just as brown as the rest of him, no different colour or pattern. Somehow, someway, he had no cutie mark.
Was that even possible? The stallion was at least her age, if not older, and yet he had no marking at all. That didn't make any sense! Fluttershy herself had been quite late in receiving her cutie mark but she'd never heard of someone remaining a blank flank into adulthood. That settled it, there was definitely something very, very wrong with this pony even if he didn't look hurt. Was this some strange sickness like the Cutie Pox that Applebloom had come down with before?
"Oh, you poor thing," Fluttershy mumbled, readjusting her stethoscope as she dropped back down on her haunches. Unfortunately, if he was sick, there was no way she'd be able to get him to the hospital while the storm was still raging. She would have do to the best she could until it calmed down enough to get help.
With newfound resolve, the pegasus not noticing Angel rolling his eyes behind her, she shuffled forward and placed the end of the stethoscope against the stallion's chest.
"Hmm?" She tilted her head. His heartbeat seemed strong and steady but it still sounded strange, as though there was an echo. She shifted the diaphragm of the stethoscope, closing her eyes and trying to block out the storm to focus. There was definitely an echo, a double heartbeat, it almost sounded like... she shifted again, towards the other side of the stallion's chest, when her own heart seemed to stop cold and the medical device clattered to the ground. Her feathers bristled as the critters behind her reacted in alarm, Angel bounding forward and looking up at her questioningly. She didn't look down at the bunny, staring at the stallion's chest in a combination of shock, fear and amazement as she was finally able to voice what she'd heard, "he has two hearts."
Just who was this pony?