The grey pegasus was perched on a mound in a clearing enjoying her sandwich and the lush green that sung with the wind and the chirp of birds and insects. It was a still early afternoon and the sun was blissfully radiant over the cloudless afternoon skies. It was then, halfway into her sandwich, she was disturbed by a panicked rustling in the brush ahead of her.
A disoriented doe staggered into sight lost for space, and mind, as it tripped over a bush and plummeted to the ground. The pegasus quickly packed her remaining lunch and rushed to inspect. She poked and turned the doe's head, hoping for a response, when suddenly it cried:
"A monster attacked me!"
"What monster?" the pegasus asked, not sure what to believe considering the Annual Wildlife Report, 'Forest Friends' Scouting Society', issue #42, would have begged to differ as this was the safest forest in Equestria.
"A monster attacked me," the doe repeated.
The pegasus tried to make sense of the situation. The doe appeared completely unharmed, if panic-stricken, but there had to be some way to find out for sure. She noticed then the red seeping through the grass under the doe's down-facing side and an unpleasant odour was reeking from it. Not sure if consent was at this point important, the pegasus shifted the doe over to look at its origin.
The pegasus recoiled from both sight and scent, as a clearly infected puncture wound came to sight. It was too clean to be caused by accident, too precise for an animal with fangs or claws. But it was definitely a wound intended to kill.
"What did this?" the pegasus asked desperately.
"A sp..." the doe tried, "... monster," it finished after many failed attempts to form a whole sentence again.
Barely a moment after the chaos of the injured doe running into the clearing, the pegasus, who just a moment ago had tried to nurse it back to health, was met with a chilling breeze of wicked omens coming from behind her. The wind carried the sound of rattling chain, a single pair of heavy steps, and a mechanical breathing unlike anything living; one entity, breathing like two. It stopped only a step or so away from her, and she dared not look behind herself.
The doe's eye's flashed open and she opened her mouth, but she could only gasp for air. The final push beyond her threshold, the pegasus tried to take flight.
A voice echoed down the back of the pegasus' head. It crept down her spine, down every limb; itching every nerve with the sensation as if ice cold water was being thrown upon her. She stopped as if frozen in place. She cried to herself as her body disobeyed her every desire. She just wanted to fly away.
Look at me.
Against her will, the pegasus turned around. She tried to keep her eyes closed, but slavishly they pulled open. A spindly, spider-like monstrosity, a viny figure with slender limbs and a wide, capped head with vicious mandibles, and a prominent exoskeleton armouring its body. It gazed with its eyes grey as death into hers, then read every dimension of her being without moving an inch out of its place.
The pegasus felt her body obeying again, and she took flight without thought. She never wanted to go back there. She wanted to go home, and forget that she had ever seen that thing. That monster.
--- Earlier ---
It was a scorching morning without clouds that plagued this Highway Dog spotter to no end, as he awaited a sizeable, rob-worthy carriage to show up on the road. He would have preferred waiting in the shadowed forest behind him, if his occasionally returning supervisor had not threatened to tan his hide if he did. Barely a bird chirped. It was almost as if they were offended by his presence. He could not believe he had not yet died from the heat since arriving at his post in the early morning - as a thought, it would have been a preferable change.
It was then his fellow spotter crept out from the forest behind him and hissed: "Itch, I've got something!"
"Finally," he complained.
They nimbly manoeuvred the vegetation not to make a sound as they arrived at the edge of a high cliff over a chasm.
"There's nothing here, Tick," Itch whispered.
"There, below," Tick informed.
Itch peeked over the edge to a catwalk below where a pony trod with a beaked passenger on its back. "Never seen a pony do that before..." Itch commented.
"A good spot, no? Look, she's loaded!" Tick hissed enthusiastically.
"What have we got?" a booming voice asked from behind the two spotters.
The supervisor, Scratch, a strong, stout dog, walked in on the two spotters discussion, almost giving them away.
"Hush!" Itch cried as he gestured covering Scratch's mouth, "you don't want to give us away!"
Scratch looked down at their find and said very decidedly: "A pony and a griffon, we'll get 'em quick and easy. Those bags gotta be full of loot."
They sped up the cliff edge and slid down the cliff, blocking the exit to the catwalk. There they stood ground until the pony, revealed to be enormous in size, arrived to meet them.
"Cough up the goods, or we'll take 'em by force!" Scratch threatened.
The pony did not reply, nor act, upon this statement, so Scratch took a bold step forward and flexed his muscles, compelling Tick to follow suit, despite being the thinnest of the three.
The griffon leaned forward and scanned its three adversaries intently, but said nothing.
"Why's nothing happening?" Itch whispered.
Suddenly the griffon tapped the pony on the side and the pony took two steps forward and gave the dogs a disapproving frown.
"I wanna go now," Tick whispered.
"Shut it," Scratch ordered, "we jump 'em on three..."
"Doesn't sound like a good idea," Itch protested.
"There's more of us, two..."
"But it's such a thin playing ground," Tick pleaded.
"We're more agile than 'em, one..."
Scratch charged off, skipped along the wall and jumped for the griffon. Figuring his strength would best serve to take out the clawed opponent, he hoped his two spotters would at least keep the pony still. But neither did the griffon flinch from his assailant, nor had Scratch's fellows aided in his assault. He was alone.
"I've got him, boys, now go for it!" Scratch ordered as he grabbed the griffon's feathers... which were only on one side, and only on the right shoulder, not attached to a wing, for this griffon had none.
"Get off! That ain't a griffon! It's a fake!!" Tick warned.
"Abort, abort! Scratch! Get off, now!" Itch yelled.
Scratch barely turned his head to the side before a cold sensation overtook him. His eyes turned down to find he had been stabbed by a knife, clutched by a thin, leathery talon. His whole body felt empty, yet exploding with sensations he had never felt before. No doubt a poisoned blade. It was pain unlike any he had ever inflicted upon others. And it became dark.
The false-griffon threw aside the heavy dog without a care and kicked the false-pony on the side and rode past the two spotters, soon to disappear out of sight.
"Ohmygoodness-ohmygoodness-ohmygoodness-" Tick kept repeating as he stretched his face.
Itch ran up to investigate the condition of his supervisor, who laid unresponsive where he had landed. "Dead..." he said.
"I dunno what happened to him, but Scratch is cold! I mean, no, he's still warm but, look!" Itch explained and pulled Scratch's tongue out of his mouth, stretched it, and let it fall clumsily to the ground and not back into the mouth.
"Oh fie, oh fie! The boss will kill us! His only brother! Oh fie!" Tick cried and started hammering the cliff wall with his paws. "Dead. We are deader than dead!"
The air, which had felt so unbearably warm before was now cold as ice. Itch began to freeze in the presence of the dog corpse that had been left for them.
"You tell me what you saw Derpy, and this time make sense," Rainbow Dash demanded.
"Um, ah, the thin thingie that attacked me, well never attacked me, that did something - the monster, oh, y'know - it was terrible!"
"And the doe?"
"I don't know, I left her!" Derpy cried.
"We'll get your friend back, don't you worry. Team Beta, take left, Team Gamma, take right! On the double!"
The pegasi squadron, comprised of any pegasus Rainbow Dash had managed to recruit on the fly, split up in their three previously designated groups and charged down into the opening Derpy had led them back to, against her will. The earth cratered under the pegasi's hooves as Derpy was still struggling with her cowardice to even land.
"C'mon now, Beta, perimeter! Gamma, scout and find the doe! Alpha, await Gamma's alarm and be ready to strike, on mark!" Rainbow Dash commanded and pointed to each group as she assigned their orders, "Mark!" she finished and team Beta and Gamma took to their positions.
"I don't wanna land, Rainbow Dash!" Derpy pleaded.
"On the ground, missy! You have more talking to do. While Gamma looks for your friend I need to know more about your monster, so speak up."
Rainbow Dash was not in a foul mood, but certainly taking her role seriously. Frighteningly so.
Derpy panicked and gave her description in an incoherent, sentence, to which Rainbow Dash cocked her head.
"What...?" Rainbow Dash uttered.
"Aiee, uh, this tall, long, slender and really, really scary, wicked evil thing," Derpy said and waved her hooves.
"I'll make sure to look for that 'wicked' part... now, tell me Der-..."
"Ma'am, uh, I mean Miss, look at this!" Thunderlane called and pointed.
"What have we he-... wow, sweet mercy!" Rainbow Dash yelped as she observed the ground.
"What?" Derpy asked.
"Stay back, missy," Rainbow Dash ordered, "you don't wanna know. Thunderlane, Popper, investigate."
The two pegasi darted off into the woods and Rainbow Dash shooed Derpy away from the sight that had caught their attention.
"Rainbow!" Thunderlane's voice called.
A loud high-pitched cry mixed with another, deep, commanding yell from some other individual echoed over the tree from where Thunderlane and Popper had run off.
"Alpha, that's the signal, GO!" Rainbow Dash yelled and took flight, followed by Team Beta and her own Team Alpha.
Derpy was left alone, but despite the circumstances, she felt unsafe away from the immediate danger. Against orders, she inspected the grounds Rainbow Dash had kept her from and saw a deep red, partially coagulated trail over the grass. She knew well what it was, this had been the exact spot the doe had been left on. It was her blood, leading into the forest. Another loud cry came from the treetops, this time a frustrated one, from Rainbow Dash.
Derpy ran into the forest and followed the trail but ran straight into Thunderlane, who was guarding that very opening.
"And now what's she doing here?!" Rainbow Dash roared, "Thunderlane, get her out of here! Silverspeed, goodness, hold it in next time, as if it wasn't disgusting enough! Thunderlane, uh, and Shanks, take Derpy away, now!"
"What's going on?" Derpy tried, but Thunderlane pushed her back, and Shanks held his wings out to block the view.
Being led back to the clearing, Thunderlane and Shanks started giving Derpy light explanations on less-unsettling details of the events that had transpired.
"We found your monster... and we may have scared it off," Thunderlane started.
"Though, Blue Hoof took a hit in the process," Shanks added.
"Who's Blue Hood?" Derpy asked. "And what about the doe?"
"Blue Hoof is in the Ponyville Young Free Flyers' team, with me," Shanks explained, "You don't know her."
"And, um, the doe," Thunderlane started.
"No, leave that out," Shanks advised whilst giving him a stern look and nodding towards Derpy.
As they arrived back at the first clearing, Derpy gave every edge a careful look to ensure the monster had not retreated to her location.
"Don't bother, he retreated to the east," Shanks assured, "I guess we'll just wait until they bring Blue Hoof over."
Derpy walked up to the root of the mound and laid down. She looked upward to it and noticed that her saddlebag, that she had forgotten there, had been stolen.
Time passed and the other pegasi returned to the scene. Rainbow Dash was quick to split Team Gamma into half and had them patrol in shifts, patrolling to see if they could not spot the monster's movement.
"Ok, so here's the situation: Blue Hoof's wing and leg are busted and she's unconscious, because life's hard sometimes," Rainbow Dash explained, "now none of us are a doctor, so do not touch her," she continued as she moved Blue Hoof around into recovery position, "and make sure to listen and look for any sign of her recovery, at a moderate distance," she finished without moving an inch.
Rainbow Dash hastily dug away at the grass to get to the earth below until she had a decent canvas to work on.
"So, what do we do, just wait it out here?" a pegasus asked.
"Give me a second," Rainbow Dash dismissed as she drew in the earth, "okay, here we go." Rainbow Dash called every pony over but asked all the same every pony to keep their distance from Blue Hoof. "We are here, and these are three more clearings in our proximity," she said and pointed to the map she had drawn, "seeing as that thing is hiding from us right now it's impossible to tell what it will do next."
"Is it gone?" Derpy asked.
"It's hard to say," Rainbow Dash replied impatiently, "plus, he's hiding from us, right; Hyde, that's what we'll call him, any objections?"
Every pony shook their head.
"Great, so Hyde, just letting that sink in, was sent off south-east, so well away from us. Keep in mind that this is north," Rainbow Dash continued and drew a long arrow northwards, "so it will be north-west of here we have to go if we want to find Ponyville, got it?" Rainbow Dash finished by drawing a longer line towards Ponyville.
Every pony nodded.
"Good, now, Team Beta, split up. Half of you will scout around for good grub, the others... find a good river and report back."
"And what of Hyde?" a pegasus asked.
"You've got your lungs, don't you, Cloudette? Scream as loud as you can."
Team Beta split up and ran into the woods.
"Team Alpha, keep a relatively safe distance away from the edges, but look out for intruders," Rainbow Dash ordered and sat down. "If we're lucky, Blue Hoof wakes up soon," she turned to Derpy, "I'm sorry about your friend, okay? We were just too late."
Somehow that came as no surprise to Derpy.