It wasn't until an hour after they had witnessed the incident with Papercraft that Twilight finally managed to get Fluttershy to stop squealing. Whatever it was that had killed him, it had terrified the poor pegasus beyond measure, but for good reason, for even considering what it could have been sent a chill up Twilight’s spine.
During Fluttershy’s uncontrollable crying however, Twilight had also been juggling the task of trying to calm her down, as well as scouting the trees to find a suitable one to sleep in. Of course, sleeping on the forest floor would have been the easier method, but Twilight figured there were several advantages to making a bed in a tree instead. Protection from would-be predators, that one was certain. Whatever was in the sea, there was no way of telling if there wasn’t something equally terrifying lurking in the dark of night. At least being in a tree put them out of immediate harms way, in that scenario, however improbable. Most importantly though, the dense leaves and the darkness above would camouflage them, in the event that anypony were to walk past.
By the time Fluttershy had calmed down, Twilight had settled on a large oak tree, her eyes now adjusted to the darkness. The leaves on the tree itself were dense, and it was tightly packed in among the other oak trees, making an effective camouflage from below. What stood out about this tree was a small cluster of branches near the top. Three thick logs stuck out in a row, providing a strong support for somepony to lie down on. Fluttershy volunteered to go up and inspect the branches, and soon confirmed there was more than enough room to lie down.
The tree was in an idyllic location, being only a few minutes inland from the sea, and less than fifty meters from the river. Twilight needed to go and refill the canteen, so Fluttershy offered to set up a makeshift bed in the branches while she made the quick trip. In the short time taken to get to and from the river, Fluttershy had already carried up Twilight’s saddle pack, hiding it in a small nook where the main log of the tree split off into several branches. She had lay down several clusters of thicker sticks across the gaps between the branches, before covering it with a thick layer of leaves for comfort. Finally, she had put down the large mummy style sleeping bag on the rudimentary mattress, and lying down on it for a strain test. It was reasonably comfortable for what it was, and there was plenty of room for the two of them.
“Amazing,” Twilight said as she hauled herself onto the thick cluster of branches. “You can’t see it at all from down there. This is incredible, Fluttershy.”
“Thanks,” she responded with a blush. “I’m used to sleeping in trees. I used to do this with my dad when I was really young. He always let me help make the bed, too.”
“It’s strong enough to hold us?”
“It should be, I made it just like he taught me.”
“Wow,” Twilight said as she lay down on top of the sleeping bag. “It’s actually really comfy.”
“So, who gets the sleeping bag then?”
Twilight almost laughed at this. “It’s a big enough bag for both of us.”
“Oh,” came the timid reply. “Really?”
“Yep,” Twilight said with a nod. “I’m not going to sleep in there while you freeze to death without one, and I’m happy to bet you wouldn’t want to do the same to me.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. It is pretty cold tonight, too.”
Twilight unzipped the bag, slipping her legs in. She budged over to allow Fluttershy room to slip in as well, before zipping the bag back up. It must have been made to accommodate two, because there was more than enough room for both of them in it.
“Here,” Twilight said, wrapping her forelegs around Fluttershy. “This way we can share body warmth, keep each other nice and cosy.”
“Um, okay,” she responded shyly.
“What’s the matter? Is this making you feel uncomfortable?”
“Oh, sorry,” Twilight said as she let go of Fluttershy.
“Well, when I say kinda, I meant the way you had your leg under me. It was digging into my side a little bit. But it felt warm and nice.”
Twilight smiled as she wrapped her forelegs back around her new friend, being careful not to put one under her. The night air was cold, and the wind was breezy, but in the sturdy oak tree, the two ponies were warm and comfortable. The tree itself was quite sturdy too, barely moving with the wind, only the rustle of the leaves showing that there even was any wind.
“Why didn’t we sleep on the ground? We could have made a fire and everything.”
“Well,” Twilight explained. “We don’t know what animals live in this forest. We saw what that thing in the sea did to Papercraft. I don’t want to take my chances of meeting any land-based kinds of animals like that.”
“And the fire?”
Twilight gave a gentle chuckle. “Do me a favor. Imagine you’re a bloodthirsty pony, hunting down other ponies in an arena. You have most of the supplies, and almost all the other ponies are relying on the most basic survival methods to keep themselves warm and alive. What do you look out for at night?”
“Well, I’d look out for…”
“Yeah,” Twilight said, chuckling again. “Exactly.”
Apple Cloud woke with a start as he felt a hoof being brought down on his mouth. Not hard enough to cause him harm, but enough to wake him up and keep anything he could say to a quiet muffle. Big Mac was stood above him, gesturing to his own mouth.
“Shh,” he mouthed as he removed his hoof from Apple Cloud’s mouth.
He sat up slowly, his back still aching, as Big Mac backed away slightly. He was clueless as to why he’d been woken so suddenly, and told to hush. The crickets chirped in the distance, and the fire crackled with the same gentle warmth as before. But Big Mac looked spooked, and there was currently no particular explanation as to why.
The quiet was interrupted by a distant twig snap from behind them. They both turned to face the snap, as Blueblood stepped into view, brandishing a menacing looking sword.
“It makes me wonder why you two buffoons ran away from us in the first place,” he said, stepping forward with a grin. “I mean, starting a fire is like shouting “I’m right here, come kill me!” as loud as you can.”
“Did you really expect us not to find you?” Rarity asked as she stepped into view behind them. She walked with a distinctive limp, and her head was heavily bandaged. Despite her injuries, she was stood with a bow, arrow notched and ready to fire at a moments notice.
“I don’t think they’re the brightest pair, guys,” Pinkie Pie said, cutting her way through a thick bush with a machete, a few feet over from Rarity, effectively surrounding Apple Cloud and Big Mac.
“What do you think ‘cuz?” asked Big Mac, leaning in to whisper.
Apple Cloud gulped. He was growing less certain of his survival chances by the second. It took him a few moments to look around at the three ponies blocking the pair in, before he grudgingly accepted the inevitable. He leaned in to whisper back in Big Mac’s ear. “Go down fighting?”
The larger stallion nodded, before replying. “T’was a mighty fine pleasure making ‘yer acquaintance, Apple Cloud.”
“And you, Big McIntosh.”
Blueblood charged in to attack Big Mac whilst Pinkie Pie went for Apple Cloud. She swung her machete wildly, looking more like an attempt to intimidate than anything. Apple Cloud was quick to duck, but he moaned as his spine took a dislike to the rapid motion. Pinkie Pie quickly noticed this, and while he was still ducked, brought the handle of the machete down hard on the center of his back. He collapsed in a pile, and before he’d even had the chance to groan at the pain, Pinkie stabbed the machete violently down on the back of his neck. The blade went straight through cleanly, the cannon sounding as she yanked it back out again, before sitting back to watch the still ongoing battle between Big Mac and Blueblood.
Big Mac was surprisingly nimble for such a large stallion, being quick to dodge most of Blueblood’s clumsy lunges, deflecting the rest. Each time he deflected, he was able to use the momentum to get in close to his opponent, and delivered several painful kicks to his upper body. They stayed in combat for several minutes, Blueblood consistently failing to get a decent stab in, with Big Mac being simply too nimble for any of the shots to hit. It was only by blind luck that the fight turned around, as Big Mac stumbled on the uneven ground as Blueblood swung, causing him to nick the earth pony's shoulder.
“Hah,” Blueblood said with swagger, overly proud over his minor accomplishment. “How do you like them apples?”
The cheap shot sparked rage within Big Mac. Berry Punch, Applejack, and now Apple Cloud were dead, and here was some arrogant unicorn from District 1, mocking that fact. This was not something he’d stand for, and so he immediately switched from the defensive to the offensive in his furor.
He charged forward as Blueblood stabbed at him. He jumped to the side, grabbing hold of the hilt of the sword, before twisting it from his opponent’s hooves and thrusting it into his stomach at full force. Blueblood groaned in agony as he fell backwards, ending up lying on his side with the blade skewering him like a kebab.
Pinkie Pie gasped in disbelief as Big Mac turned to face her. She backed away in panic as he stepped slowly forward. She dropped her machete as she fell backwards over Apple Cloud’s corpse, shuffling backwards in a terrified panic.
“You killed my cousin,” he said coldly. “And y’all were responsible for killing mah' other cousin, and mah' friend.”
“Please, it wasn’t me, I didn’t…”
“QUIET!” he shouted at her, tired of hearing any more. “Y’all as a group killed them. It don’t matter one ‘lil bit to me which one of you ‘ah kill.”
“Ahem,” said a voice coming from behind him.
Big Mac turned to face Rarity, having completely forgotten she was there, or that she had the bow and arrow. She released the arrow she had notched earlier, which flew silently and instantly, striking Big Mac directly in the throat. He fell backwards over Apple Cloud’s body, nearly crushing Pinkie Pie as he fell. He shuddered violently for a few moments, choking on his own blood, before eventually going limp, and the cannon finally fired.
Manners were pushed to the back of the priorities list as Pinkie and Rarity dashed over to check on Blueblood. He was alive, but he still had the sword driven deep into his abdomen, going all the way in to the hilt, the blade sticking out for several inches the other side.
Rarity began to cry, but Pinkie was surprisingly focused about the whole thing.
“Calm down,” she said reassuringly, turning to face her. “I know first aid. Just get back to base camp as fast as you can and get help.”
Rarity nodded, and began to hobble away as Pinkie moved in closer to Blueblood, not daring to remove the sword just yet. She went about a series of inspections, talking aloud as she did so.
“Pulse is good… Breathing rate is normal… No pupil dilation… Hmm. This puts me in a tough situation, Blueblood.”
Even in his broken state, he managed to whisper a “Why?”
“Well,” Pinkie explained. “I think you’re fine. The sword seems to have missed your vital organs, so you’re gonna live. But, the issue with that is, those wounds are gonna take a while to heal. And if you’re letting them heal, you won’t be able to fight.”
Blueblood was becoming increasingly scared. Though Pinkie’s voice was consistently calm, her face was taking on a more maniacal expression with every word she spoke.
“If you can’t fight, you’re not gonna be of any help. If anything, you’re just gonna become a hindrance,” she continued as she placed a hoof over his throat, beginning to press down hard. “And we can’t have you being a hindrance.”
Blueblood somehow found the strength to push her away in his fit of panic, but she responded by angrily walking back over to him, and twisting the sword aggressively in its wound. Blueblood gave a blood curdling scream as she let go of the sword, and put her hoof back over his throat.
“I’m trying to help you!” she exclaimed. “It’s either this, or days of pain as your wounds heal. We can’t protect you while you heal, so its either you die quickly now, or you die later after days of pain.”
Even with her hoof on his throat, he still managed to say just a couple of words. “You’re… crazy…”
Pinkie just smiled at him, with a look that could almost be mistaken for pity as she pressed down harder. “Many ponies have told me that before. They call me crazy because I supposedly say crazy stuff. But I don’t, see? I say truthful stuff that nopony dare else say, because it’s the truth, and the truth is crazy. And nopony wants to hear the truth, because they can’t accept crazy stuff, even if the crazy stuff is true.”
Her pitied expression turned angry as she began to shout at him.
“I accept the truth, and they call me crazy! I embrace the truth, and they call me crazy! I try and preach the truth to everypony else, and they have the nerve to call me crazy!”
She then leaned in closer as she saw Blueblood beginning to lose the battle of clinging desperately to his last dregs of life, whispering in his ear angrily.
“You know what I think? I think they can’t accept me, because they can’t accept the truth. And the truth is, life is crazy. I’m the only sane pony left, Blueblood. Everypony else is crazy.”
She stood up when she heard the distant boom of the cannon, satisfied with her work. She couldn’t save him, she’d tell them. His artery had been severed, she’d say. There was nothing anypony could do, she convinced herself.
“You see Blueblood,” she said, as she turned away to make her way back to camp. “When you’re the only sane pony left, everypony else just sees you as the only insane one.”