“Big Sis, what did Princess Luna mean by, ‘re-animates dead tissue’?” the small white unicorn filly asked apprehensively, still blinking the sleep from her eyes.
“I’m…I’m not entirely sure, dear,” Rarity replied, mane disheveled to match her mental state. In the five or so minutes that had passed since Luna’s message, Rarity had woken up Sweetie Belle, secured her shop in case of an attack, and freshened up a bit - albeit hastily. Magic bubbled forth from her white horn as she levitated a hairbrush, hoof mirror and several other cosmetic essentials and worked to make herself presentable. “However, the most important thing that you can do right now, darling, is to go pack your things.”
“But Rarity -”
“No. Buts. I simply cannot leave the shop knowing that the two of us are unprepared, should an evacuation order come down from Celestia. Now, run upstairs and finish up. We leave in five minutes.”
“Yes, Big Sis,” Sweetie Belle managed, trying not to let the panic she felt growing in her chest manifest itself in her voice.
All around Carousel Boutique, Ponyville was beginning to come to life. Unicorns were knocking on the doors of earth ponies, hastily waking them from their otherwise peaceful sleep to warn them of Luna’s message as well as the situation at hand. Light switches were flipped, bags were packed and little ones were awoken as gently as possible, the strained - perhaps reluctant - tones of their parents’ voices bringing them to half-consciousness.
All the while, a dark presence stood on the shadows, looking on at the scene coldly. The stallion - name now irrelevant - drooled a viscous mixture of blood and saliva as he stood in the alleyway, alone. His cutie mark, a picture of discarded spectacles, was marred by several bite wounds. It did not make a single bit of difference to the stallion, however; he no longer felt any pain. No, the only emotion - the only drive left in the empty husk of his former self - was an all-encompassing fury, a hatred and rage that boiled within like a toxic sludge. He shambled unnoticed in the nooks and crannies of Ponyville’s architecture, lumbering about from shadow to shadow, just out of view of anypony. He moved away from the center of town; that’s where everypony was gathering, but the raw, bestial urges and desires of his new, altered state seemed to have minds of their own, his body taking him wherever his instinct pleased with little to no argument.
The stallion, having distanced himself from the town center, walked slowly toward a lone cabin on a hill, just at the edge of the Everfree.
Twilight Sparkle, her number one assistant on her back and Owloicious in tow, galloped with all of her might toward Fluttershy’s cabin. She knew that Rarity would more than likely alert the Apple family, and she knew that Pinkie Pie wouldn’t be that difficult to wake - given that she was so close to the center of town, Twilight didn’t doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Cake had already been awoken by good samareitans as well. That only left Rainbow Dash - who, more than likely, was not able to gain access to Ponyville from Cloudsdale - and Fluttershy, all alone at the very edge of the Everfree Forest.
Twilight gulped, trying in earnest to will her pace to quicken.
“Do you think Fluttershy’s gonna be ok, Twilight?” asked the baby dragon, his voice jolting Twilight out of her internal dialogue.
“If I have anything to say about it, yes. Owloicious, do you think you could fly ahead and see whether or not she’s awake already? Be on the lookout for anything unusual, too. I don’t want any surprises when we arrive.”
“Hoo,” Owloicious nodded, as if to say, I’m on it. The owl took to the sky, wings flapping furiously against the cool night air. Twilight and Spike remained silent for a few moments as they made their way toward the cabin, when Spike finally asked,
“I’m not dreaming, am I? This isn’t some sort of…like…really, really intense dream, is it?”
“I’m afraid not, Spike. No, this is as real as it gets - and the situation is most urgent. I’ve only read about the most obscure references regarding the spell that was used -” she motioned with her head to the translucent blue bubble that hung over their heads, “but I don’t even want to begin to think about how much magic it would take to actually cast a spell of this magnitude. This is far, far beyond Celestia’s and Luna’s capabilities combined - and they’re the two most powerful alicorns in all of Equestria! No, they had to have had help…”
A scream rang out in the night. Twilight almost stumbled, instantly recognizing the frightened voice’s owner.
It was none other than Fluttershy.
Applejack, Rarity, all three Cutie Mark Crusaders, as well as Pinkie Pie were huddled together in a small group amongst the larger, still-growing crowd that had begun to gather in the town’s mane square, just outside of the Mayor’s office. The Mayor, usually composed and well-spoken, simply sat on the edge of the steps leading up to her office, mane all out of place and a look on her face that conveyed extreme worry and anxiety. A quiet, yet constant murmur spread through the crowd, sentences more often than not ending with an upward inflection. Some were staring into the sky in a mixture of fear, confusion and amazement at the new addition which hung overhead like an oppressive veil - others were talking amongst themselves in hushed, quick tones. Others still were eyeing their neighbours warily, eyes darting about in a nervous fashion, as if they expected to be accosted by one of these new “infected” ponies that had been the subject of Luna’s mass-message.
Pinkie Pie - usually a bright, cheerful avatar of laughter - was uncharacteristically silent; pensive, almost. Applejack too, normally a strong speaker and a bit of a leader merely stared down at the ground, the reality of the situation beginning to sink in and take effect. We’re cut off, she thought to herself. If what Princess Luna said was true, then we’re really cut off. Applejack wanted nothing more than for Rainbow Dash to be present amongst them, but that appeared to be an impossibility; at least, for the time being, anyhow. There was no doubt a similar (or identical) bubble encompassing Cloudsdale as well, leaving Rainbow with no way to join her friends. Damn it, Applejack… the orange earth pony thought to herself, brow furrowed in frustration and perhaps a bit of nervousness, there’s just gotta be something that you can do. The very beginnings of an idea began to take place in her brain, but her thoughts were soon interrupted by the combined sounds of surprised gasps and shouts of concern and fear.
The crowd parted to reveal a badly wounded colt stumbling toward the center of town, shoulder and flank bleeding heavily from what appeared to be a -
- “He’s been bitten!” Applebloom cried, eyes shrinking to little pinpricks. Her strained voice rang out clearly in the crisp, cold evening air as ponies began to panic, some running about aimlessly, others headed for nearby buildings and unoccupied stands in the marketplace for cover. The three ponies and three fillies took off in the general direction of Sugarcube corner, before hearing a gurgled, almost pathetic whine and a plea for help that stopped them dead in their tracks.
“Please…p-please help me…” the colt managed to say before collapsing to the ground, chest heaving and a considerable amount of blood beginning to pool beneath him, staining his light brown coat a muddy, earthier colour. Sweetie Belle and Applebloom turned their heads while Scootaloo looked on in horror, body frozen in place by the amount of blood. Save for the occasional nosebleed and one particular scooter incident that scuffed her knees a bit, the orange Pegasus filly had never seen that amount of blood before. Eyes watering, she could only stand and watch as the colt bled to death before her.
“Hold on, dear!” a refined, cultured voice said from behind her. Scootaloo was shaken from her daze by the sights and sounds of Rarity dashing over to the mortally wounded colt, magic already working at levitating several articles of clothing out of her white saddlebags.
Rarity - using two designer sweaters and a few scarves - applied as much pressure to the gushing bite wounds as she could, but blood still continued to seep through the fabric as they became engorged in the colt’s deep, maroon essence while he cried out in pain.
“Applejack! HELP ME!” Rarity shouted, spurring the farm pony to dash to her side and take over caring to the colt’s flank wounds. While Rarity was not nearly as prissy or girly as she may have acted, she simply did not have the strength and musculature that Applejack had, garnered from years and years of physical work on the apple farm. She managed to stop the bleeding, but the wound which Rarity was tending to proved to be too deep to remedy without urgent medical attention. Both ponies knew that Nurse Redheart could be anywhere, so there was little chance -
- “Guys! Guys! I found Nurse Redheart!” a shrill, bright voice belonging to a certain pink party pony said. Applejack and Rarity turned their heads in the direction of the sound, and sure enough, there was Pinkie Pie, bouncing up and down happily as Nurse Redheart, adorned in a nurse’s gown and carrying a black bag containing medical equipment galloped steadily beside her.
“Oh - oh my goodness, I…need to…catch my-” Nurse Redheart managed to pant, lungs taking in huge gulps of air in an attempt to soothe her screaming, overworked muscles. She had run clear to the other side of town on suspicion that she would need her medical supplies as soon as she had first seen the colt, and had run all the way back in mere minutes.
“Thank Celestia you’re here!” Rarity managed, straining to speak in the even tones everypony had been accustomed to hearing from her. “The bleeding, I can’t stop it-”
“You’ve done wonderfully, Rarity - but I need to you move aside now so I can see to him, ok?”
“Is he going to be-”
“Certainly not if we stand around here and keep talking,” she said, her voice becoming stern and eyes hardening in resolve. “Now, if you would please-”
“Of course, of course,” Rarity interjected, coming to her hooves and trotting quickly away from the fast-fading colt, still badly bleeding on the cold cobblestone.
Nurse Redheart opened up the medical bag and brought out various supplies - gauze, medical tape, sutures and the like - but she knew in the back of her mind that the colt was far beyond saving, especially on the street in this fashion instead of in a proper medical facility. She worked feverishly and managed to stop the bleeding, but it was already too late - the colt had just breathed his last, his eyes going dark and deader than the rest of him. Nurse Redheart hung her head while the Cutie Mark Crusaders looked on and silently wept in a queer combination of sadness, grief and terror-induced shock. Rarity looked away, partially blaming herself for not being strong enough to save the colt - Applejack, in a way emulating Scootaloo’s expression not five minutes earlier, could do little more than stare at the scene, eyes glazed over in a sort of stupor.
“I’m sorry, there was nothing I could do-OOOO-” Nurse Redheart shrieked as she heard a stirring and a shuffling of hooves behind her as the freshly dead corpse twitched and began to get to its feet, eyes glowing a diabolic red and teeth bared. Redheart began to back away, but she was too slow - the infected colt lunged and managed to grab her hoof, knocking her off balance and sending her crashing to the hard stone with a sickening thud!