Things were finally starting to get back to normal around Ponyville, and they put out a warrant for Gilda's arrest. Apparently she had tried to brush it off as a joke, but judging from her previous encounter, everypony knew better. Those who watched her send Scootaloo flying decided that, while she did wind up safe in the end, Gilda's actions could have easily lead to the death of the filly, so they decided to put a stop to it. Scootaloo said she had just gotten lucky, but her friends knew better. When they were alone, Applebloom was the first to speak up.
"Ok, so what REALLY happened in the forest? From a toss like that you shoulda at least had a couple scrapes, but you look like you've never been better." She said.
"And the forest is full of monsters, I mean, I know you can't fly, so how did you avoid them?" Sweetie Belle said in her extremely high voice.
"Well, alright you guys, I'm not really supposed to talk about it but, I can't lie to you. So can you keep a secret?" The orange pegasus asked. The pair nodded.
"Alright, well, when I woke up my head didn't hurt, although I clearly remember going head first into a tree. I don't know what happened there, but when I woke up, I started looking around and I was..." Her voice trailed off. "I got lost. When I did, I sat down by a tree and tried thinking of what to do."
"Ya cried, didn't cha?" Applebloom was not the most sensitive of children.
"I did not! Anyway, I started thinking of what to do, when I heard a voice. I couldn't see it, but it seemed friendly enough. It introduced itself as, 'The local forest monster'. Now, I was pretty scared at first, but once I figured if it was gonna eat me, it woulda already done it, so we started talkin. Turns out he's actually really nice, although it seems he doesn't get out much, cuz he didn't know what I was, where we were, anything! He didn't even know about magic."
"Really?" Squeaked the unicorn crusader. "I mean, he lives in the Everfree forest, how does he not know about magic?"
"That's the thing, he was also talking weird, saying things like 'everyone' instead of 'everypony' It makes me think that he's not from around here. Anyway, he decided to help me get out of the forest cuz it was gettin dark, when I got attacked by timberwolves!
"What'd ya do?" Asked Applebloom, clearly getting excited.
"I didn't do anything, something wearing a black cloak dropped out of a tree and fought em all by himself! He was wearing a hood so I couldn't see what his face looked like, but he killed both of em in an instant. I found out his names Nightshade. Apparently he had a run in with the plant that he doesn't like to talk about. That's when you guys showed up with Rainbow Dash and the rest and took me home. I didn't want to tell anypony else about him, because I didn't think it would be a good idea if anypony else knew I was hanging out with a monster. He agreed that that would probably be best."
"I don't know." Said Sweetie Belle. "He seems to nice to be a monster. Maybe he wears that hood because he's just really ugly and was called a monster by everypony else."
"He seems more like some kind of hero ta me." Applebloom piped in. "Maybe he wears the hood to hide his identity!"
"I don't know about that Applebloom, what I do know is now I just GOTTA see what's under that hood." Scootaloo added.
Then the three in unison shouted. "CUTIE MARK CRUSADER MONSTER CATCHERS!"
After finishing his meal, Nightshade sighed at the pitifully small amount of food that he had left. He couldn't eat most of the things the native animals ate, and he was still in the process of discovering which plants were edible and which were not. Partly wishing he had asked Scootaloo to bring him some food, and partly knowing it was better that she didn't risk herself for his sake, he decided that it was too late now to find anything other than fish, so he climbed up a tree, and slept for the first time in a long time, letting his mind wander.
"Ahh!" Nightshade shouted. As soon as he was asleep, he automatically lowered his mental barrier which he had been keeping up to avoid intrusion by a certain annoying entity, and he found himself face to face with a teal unicorn, in the middle of the forest dreamscape.
"Well hi there. I'm Lyra, sorry I didn't give an introduction earlier, but I was kind of excited at the thought of talking with a real live human! I was kind of depressed after my project failed, and then I didn't get to see you for a long time because you kept shutting me out. Why would you do that, it was kind of rude...." She went on and on. Three things had changed. First, he could now see the annoying creature that persisted in invading his mind. Second, he now knew that this thing's name was Lyra. Third, it was more annoying than ever.
"Damnit, I can't even get some piece and quiet in my own mind today! Will you PLEASE shut up for a minute." He begged. Lyra was kind of upset at being spoken to so profanely, ponies are not used to swearing after all, but are aware of it. Her excitement at finally being able to talk to the human she had lost contact with months ago was just too great for her to ignore, but she didn't want to get blocked out again. so she tried asking something sensible.
"The first time I talked to you, you couldn't see me, but, now you can. Does that mean you're asleep?" Lyra asked.
"Yes, yes it does, but what's it to you?" Nightshade replied.
"Well, since you've been blocking me out for a while, and you needed to be awake to do that, I kind of figured humans didn't need sleep at all." She said with a meek voice.
"Human's do need sleep, I'm just.....unique. I can hold off sleep for as long as I want, but it'll start to wear on my nerves. Just like a certain intruder is right now. By the way, how ARE you doing this, telepathy of some kind?" He said with a tone meaning that he obviously meant he was annoyed at her.
"I guess." She said. "It just happens when I'm asleep. I don't know why it just keeps going back to you though. What did you mean when you said that you were unique?" She pryed.
"I don't really consider myself to be a human anymore. With what I'm capable of, and the way most humans act compared to myself, we're just too different." he explained.
Realizing he had said too much, and that the teal unicorn was getting ready to barrage him with questions about what he meant by that, Nightshade forced himself awake, blocking off his mind again. This left the now distraught Lyra floating in her own mind, rather annoyed that she wasn't able to get any 'real' answers out of him, and now he probably wouldn't sleep for a long time again, knowing that she would be waiting for him.
"I WILL get you." Lyra said to herself, before waking up to start the new day.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders, (that's a mouthful, so from now on I'll just say CMC) Spent the next 3 days preparing for their 'monster hunt' gathering all manner of nets, ropes, chains, and the like. Sweetie Belle wanted to bring medieval torture equipment, (where the heck did she even get that?) but Scootaloo advised against it. Nightshade was friendly, they didn't want to hurt him. That and he was strong, they didn't want to tick him off.
"Alright CMC! Let's go see what's under that hood!" Scootaloo said, taking charge as the three headed off into the forest towards Zecora's place, hoping to find their prey.
Meanwhile, Nightshade had just finished eating a fish...again. The lack of fruit was starting to wear on him. Sure he had found some berries, but he needed vitamin C badly, in absurd quantities preferably. He felt that he could probably eat a dozen or so lemons if he could find them. That's when he saw it. Lying on the ground, a perfectly round, unspoiled bright and juicy....
"APPLE!" He shouted, and ran towards it like it was his last chance of survival. He took a huge bite out of it, the apple juice running down his chin. He ate the whole thing in two bites, savouring it. That's when he saw a net come down over his head. He didn't care. If he was getting kidnapped, at least they would have apples.
"Got him!" cried a familiar voice as the hood was pulled off of his head. Surprisingly enough, these were not kidnappers looking to catch a strange animal, but Scootaloo and two of her friends who had come to save her 3 days prior.
"Huh? Scootaloo, what are you doing here. The forest is way too dangerous! And who are your friends? Who cares! You have apples!" Said Nightshade to the confused filly. What she looked upon was not some ugly or horribly maimed creature. He was somewhat beautiful in a way, with his smooth skin, other than the fact that his cheeks were sunken in.
"You're starving, aren't you?" Scootaloo said with a sullen tone. Nightshade finally realized that his hood had been pulled off, and the three were looking at him with faces that expressed only worry and sadness.
"Yeah, I kind of am." He said, returning the feelings brought forth by the group. "I can't eat the same thing ponies eat, for the most part anyway. A lot of things in the forest are poisonous, and I'm still figuring out what I can and can't eat. I've been running low on vitamin C, and some other key nutrients. I just can't find enough of the right types of food in this forest." Applebloom passed him another apple, which he ate with vigor.
"Thanks, these are really great. These are the best apples I've ever tasted, and I'm not just saying that because I'm hungry." Nightshade ate another five apples before they finally ran out. He was thankful for the fruit, and was feeling better already.
"So, are you going to introduce me to your friends?" he inquired.
"This is Sweetie Belle, she lives with her sister Rarity, the dress maker." Scootaloo said, pointing to the unicorn. "And this is Applebloom, she lives over on the Apple family orchard, and together, we're the CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS!" they yelled the last part together.
"The what now?" Nightshade asked, genuinely confused.
"We're crusadin to find out special talent, and earn out cutie marks!" Applebloom spoke up, no longer afraid of the thing that was a giant compared to her.
"Again, your what now?" he said, even more confused.
"Our cutie marks!" Sweetie Belle finally opened up. "When we find our special talent, what we're meant to do in the world, it'll appear, that way everypony will know what we're good at."
"Okay, I get it, kind of. I guess it's like a tattoo, except instead of having it drawn on, it comes automatically." He said, finally grasping the concept.
"Something like that." Scootaloo replied.
"Well, I don't think I'll ever get one, since I'm not a pony, but if I did get one, I guess it would be for survival. I've been living in these woods now for, months. I've kind of lost track of the time. I was on the run for a few months before that, but I don't really wanna talk about it." he said in a quiet tone.
"Why were you on the run?" Applebloom questioned, her curiosity insatiable. "Did ya do somethin bad?"
"I thought I said I didn't want to talk about it?" His protest was met only by puppy dog eyes from the entire group.
"Nice try, I'm immune to that trick, but since you did give me apples, I'll tell you. No, I didn't do anything bad, I was on the run because I'm different. I can do things that other members of my species can't. They got jealous, and tried to hurt me, I ended up having to fight back. One thing lead to another, and I ended up having to run away from my entire society. Then I ended up here somehow. Since I answered your question, now you have to tell me more about yourselves. Do you have any other friends who are going to try and catch me?" He said jokingly.
"Well, there is Zecora, although I don't think she'll try to catch you. She's a zebra who lives in the forest and speaks only in rhymes. She stays out here because most of the folk in town are afraid of her, and there's more ingredients here in the forest to make her potion...." Applebloom was cut off from a growl coming out of a nearby bush. Two manticores leapt out from the bushes and began to circle the group.
Nightshade got really pissed off. His conversation with his new friends had been interrupted, he hated manticores to begin with, and now there were two very hungry ones standing in front of him. The last one he was barely able to put to sleep, and it had been running for a good half hour after him. The more physically fit something was, the more stamina it would have, and there was a maximum rate that it could be drained at, unless he got in physical contact with it. He couldn't run and leave the three fillies to their fates, he would have to fight. Nightshade was NOT looking forward to this.
"Get behind me now and stay close. Here's the problem. I can handle one at a time, but this time there's two, and I also have to protect you. So here's the plan. While I deal with the one on the left, you three do everything you can to stay behind the one on the right. It won't be able to get you if you're behind it. Once I've dealt with mine, I'll take care of yours. It's not a very good plan, seeing as how it puts you three in danger, but it's all we've got, are you ready?" He said in the most calming tone he could.
"Nope." Said the trio.
"Well, too bad, because here they come!"
Nightshade dove at his target, catching it off guard while Applebloom ran to the right of theirs and Scootaloo dove between them both, but Sweetie Bell just stood there, frozen in fear. The manticore didn't seem to notice the two dive around him, and were dead focused on the little unicorn that stayed. Nightshade had hopped onto his manticores back, grabbing it's tail and forcing it into the animal's spine, bright green venom seeping from the wound. With his opponent down he turned to the other, and saw Sweetie Belle still sitting there.
"RUN!" He shouted. But it was too late, the manticore brought it's tail down. The frightened unicorn closed her eyes, waiting for the strike. It never came. She opened her eyes to see Nightshade standing over her, the poisonous tip of the manticore's tail sticking into the back of his right shoulder, and a look of absolute fury on his face. Using his good arm, he pulled the tail out of his body, spun around and drove his knife into the manticore's eye. The creature howled in pain, and as it thrashed about, Nightshade brought up his foot, and drove it into the knife handle, forcing it in further, burying it in the creatures brain.
Once his rage was gone, he felt agonizing pain moving down his arm. This was no nerotoxin, it let the prey feel ever painful moment of it's death. But this also meant that he had time to act, and he thought quickly. Drawing his other knife, he quickly slit his right wrist. The three ponies looked shocked.
"That hit really close to my heart. Luckily, the poison went in an artery instead of a vein, so instead of going right to my heart, killing me, it's traveling down my arm." The now duller green venom shot out of the wound on his wrist, splattering on the ground.
"I'm not safe yet. Most of the venom is out, but there is still some residual traces, and now I have another problem. This wound had to be big to get all the poison out, but now I'm in danger of bleeding to death. Scootaloo, tear a piece off of my cloak would ya?" Simply following the command, she ripped a touch piece of the trench coat off in her mouth, while Sweetie Belle still sat there, frozen, and starting to cry.
"Okay, now tie it here, above my arm, to stop the bleeding. Make sure it's tight, yes, just like that. There. Instead of having minutes, I have about a half hour left now. Hopefully enough time to get me to a doctor or something." He said.
"Ponyville is too far away, we'll never make it! But, Zecora's is close. She could probably heal that wound right up, An I'm sure she's got some antivenom!"
"Good thinking, let's g...Sweetie Belle?" She was absolutely bawling now. "Hey, what's the matter."
"It's me, I'm useless. If I had just done what you said, you wouldn't have gotten hurt trying to protect me, and now you're gonna die because of me, all because I was too afraid." She sobbed.
"Hey, listen, you are not useless. You just haven't found what you're good at yet. I'm the one who's good at surviving dangerous situations, not you three. Besides, I told you that it wasn't a good plan, even if you had moved it still could have happened. There's no use worrying about it now. All we can do is do the best we can with what we've got. Only reason I wasn't afraid is because I've done this kind of thing before. First time I got in a situation like that I froze up too. Now let's get to Zecora's before I really do d..." With this, Nightshade passed out from the combined effect of the venom, and the lack of blood.
Sure, he could have passed his injuries on to the forest, but it wouldn't have done much good. The poison was still in his system, and if it damaged his brain, he wasn't sure if he could undo it, even with his powers. If he had left the last manticore alive, then maybe he could have given the damage to it, but then it would still be a danger to the others. He didn't even think of passing his injuries to the girls. After a long time spent in darkness, he once again found himself face to face with the teal unicorn.
"Don't say a single word." He said angrily. "I'm a little busy right now trying not to die."
"How's that going for you?" Lyra mocked.
"Not well, seeing as how I'm unconscious. Stupid poison.
"Not well, as you can see, I passed out from my injuries. Stupid poison. Lost way to much blood too." Nightshade was much to tired to argue with his psychic tormentor.
"What the hay have you been doing to get that bent out of shape?" She asked with a mixture of fear and curiosity.
"Just playing hero to a bunch of kids. I couldn't let them die, but did I have to go and get myself killed over it? I'm way too used to being able to heal myself. Kinda sucks that I can't do it now. Judging by the fact that I'm talking to you, means you must be asleep." He said thoughtfully.
"That's right, but what does that matter?" Lyra asked inquisitively.
"It means that unless you suffer from narcolepsy, it's night time and I've been out for a couple hours. Which means that I'm not going to die. If I was, It would have happened within a half hour after I passed out. Looked like those three pulled it off." He smirked. "oh, look at that, I guess it's time for me to wake up."
"No wait I have more questions." Lyra tried to interrupt. "Blast, he did it again!"
Nightshade awoke on a hard wooden floor. Apparently the three fillies had succeeded in carrying, or dragging him, to this Zecora's place. He opened his eyes weakly to see a Zebra standing over him, wearing jewelry that looked like it was from some African tribe.
"You are lucky those three brought you here soon, had they not hurried, it would have meant your doom."