• Published 23rd Aug 2014
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The Wayfarers - TheFictionAddiction



Motley outcasts, dejected mages, and sordid warriors find themselves on a collision course with destiny in this budding epic. Set in an Equestria wounded by Tirek's bout for power, monsters of all shapes and sizes work to destroy a paper thin peace.

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Act 2, Chapter 23: First Blood

The crystal city was a gemstone slowly receding into the throat of the horizon. Though Speira watched its retreat with cold indifference, she couldn’t deny the tiny twist of unease in her chest. How many times had she looked back at the city as she did now? Too many to count. So why was this any different?

Because it feels like the last time, she thought. Speira shook her head. The wind whipping around her and threatened to unravel her neat ponytail.

So what? We only ever stayed for a week or two at the time. And it’s not like we were particularly welcome. Sure, everyone was friendly enough. ‘Yes, sir, Mister Quill’, ‘Thank you, Lady Speira’. Always smiling… but always staring. They may never tell us just how uncomfortable we make them, but their eyes say plenty…

Yet… despite all that, Speira was betrayed by a wave melancholy. This trip to Canterlot would take her farther south than anytime before... to the Equestrian heartland…

A voice cut through the gale, practically yelling. “I’m sorry, but could you come in now? It’s getting cold in here!”

Speira glanced back, but didn’t move just yet. She was currently half way out the window, hooves propped up on the wooden seal and head dipped into the cool morning winds. Before returning to her seat, Speira chanced a glance up ahead. She had to squint to see properly.

The lead carriage was marked by a faint flurry of white powder. Quill was there. He felt so far away in that moment, as if the distance between them was that of a gulf. Speira wanted to hate her father. He had happily went along with Shining Armor’s ridiculous plan of splitting up, despite how dangerous that could be. They were lesser when apart, and it hurt Speira to think that he didn’t think so.

Trust him, Speira begged herself. Trust him as he’s trusting you now...

At last, Speira swallowed her temper and lowered herself back onto the velvet seat. The four other ponies seated with her and the Corporal crowded the opposite end of the compartment, almost as if afraid they might be seated with a wild animal. This amused Speira greatly. She had managed to get a window seat and plenty of legroom without having to say a single word.

Once Speira was situated again, Speckled Band closed the window. The torrent of cold air was severed, but Speira’s skin still prickled with it’s icy touch. She ran a hoof along the length of her neck, relished the cool, silky texture of her fur. What a delicious contrast it was compared to the bubble of warmth inside the compartment. The musky fever made Speira shift under her cloak.

Speckled Band, unphased by her presence, gave the filly an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that. I know that it’s cramped in here, but just give it a couple hours or so. Once we’re a little further south, you can look out the window all you like. We should be in a warmer part of the country then.”

Speira glanced around. She was still rather surprised by how roomy the carriages were. It really was like riding in a locomotive. There were two rows of seats facing each other, both capable of seating three ponies easily.

There was a second compartment adjacent to their own. Six more ponies were seated here. Three were soldiers, the others were civilians. The “nobility”. The idea that those gits were being passed off as nobility almost made Speira sneer.

Speira wasn’t sure who Shining Armor was trying to fool. Sure, the ponies in the other compartment looked like the snobby diplomates she helped escort from the north. They even sounded like them too when they bided the mercenaries a good morning. They weren’t the same ponies, though.

Speira could remember how the priggish stallions reeking of perfume and chewing mints. Today, when they boarded the carriage, all Speira had smelt was cheap wine and makeup.

And after slipping into a puddle of the crap back at the inn, I should know what cheap wine smells like.

Speira pulled her cloak tight, nestling into it like a nest. She spoke for the first time in nearly two hours.

“How long until we’re out of the Northlands?”

Speckled Band had reserved himself to staring through thin crack between the curtain and the window seal. Breaking that focus was like casting a stone into still water. He jumped and looked at Speira as if for the first time.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Speira repeated herself. Her voice drew the attention of the huddled soldiers. The Corporal and the filly missed the brunt of soldier’s shock, which was probably for the best. Speckled Band likely would’ve clouted the slack jawed vacancy from their faces simply because there wasn’t another officer around to do it.

“Y-you can talk?” One stallion asked stupidly. The helmet clutched between his hooves slipped as the carriage rocked suddenly. It clattered noisily to the cherrywood floor.

The stallion --a private, according to the rank engraved into his armor-- flushed when five sets of eyes settled heavily upon him.

Speckled Band’s easy demeanor flashed hot. “Of course she can talk. What, did you think she was mute?”

“I-I mean… um…” The private glanced over to his mates, but found no support there. They had all taken up an uncanny interest their own helms.

The Private had to wipe away a bead of sweat. The Corporal’s glare was bad enough, but the filly’s even gaze bore through him like a drill bit.

“Y-yeah, I did. Heh. M-my mistake.”

They stared at the Private for a moment longe. By the time Speckled Band resumed his conversation with Speira, the blood rushing to the Private’s face felt like acid. One of the soldiers seated opposite of him hid a snigger behind her hoof. The Private would’ve brained her with his helmet if the damn thing hadn’t rolled underneath their seat.

“It’ll be about four hours,” said Speckled Band, then reconsidered. “Five, now that you got me thinking. Then another three afterwords.”

Eight hours on the road didn’t sound too daunting. Speira had become more than accustomed to long trips. It was the thought of having to stay cooped up with these goons that made her want to chew nails.

I need a hobby. Papa is always at his sketchbook… maybe I should get one too...

Thankfully, now that Speira had the Corporal’s attention, she had been itching to ask since they boarded for their journey.

Speira nodded to the sheathed sword cradled in the crook of Speckled Band’s foreleg. “May I see your sword?”

After a moment, Speira added the word Quill had been trying so hard to beat into her vocabulary.

“Please?”

This surprised Speckled Band. “You… you want to see my sword?”

Speira nodded. Speckled Band glanced away nervously. His armor felt heavy under the weight of so many eyes.

Shifted into the sword into his hooves, Speckled Band finally gave the filly a curt nod. “Sure... I guess that’s alright.”

The sword was passed carefully between them. The current stretch of road was littered with potholes, and it seemed that the whole carriage had become one shifting womb. Speira was careful. Once safely in her grasp, she ran a hoof along its gem studded sheath.

Speira’s first impression of the instrument was, why, it’s almost jewelry.

It took only a moment’s inspection for her to realize her mistake. Yes, the ivy like scrollwork racing up from the tip of the sheath -scrollwork that mimicked the design on Speckled Band’s royal armor- appeared gaudy with it’s flecks of gemstones here and there. But something about the sword seemed to thrum between her hooves.

Speira closed her eyes and focused what little magic she had. A faint, mossy ball of magic coalesced at the tip of her underdeveloped horn. This was one of the only spells Speira had ever been able to learn, and it cost great effort for her to cast it. Her brow furrowed.

With eyes shut, there was no way for Speira to see Speckled Band’s worried expression. He rose slightly in his seat, readying himself to reach out and snatch the sword.

The Corporal asked timidly, “What are you doing?”

“Just curious about it's make.”

Though this short answer didn't seem to placate Speckled, he remained still.

From the looks of it, Speira had taken the sheath to be made from a baser metal. Probably gold. She now saw that she had been wrong. It was steel alright, tempered to the density of a shield.

Still holding the spell, Speira slowly drew the sword from its sheath. She only brought it a quarter of the way out. Her eyes and her spell had both captured a wonder.

Hovering just above the hilt, engraved almost lovingly into the ivory steel, was the tiny depiction of a smiling alicorn. With both wings and arms stretched to either side of her, the beautiful caricature appeared to be offered the filly a hug.

Speira didn’t need to be a full blooded Equestrian to recognize a depiction of the princess Celestia. The benevolent princess had been a near mythical figure, seeming to haunt the halls of the Crystal Palace in so many dazzling portraits.

But seeing the princess here, in cold steel, affecting the filly so profoundly. From the glimpse of a cutie mark peeking around both flanks to the swirling vortex of her mane, the attention to detail was absurd.

Wonders didn’t stop there, however. Speira’s spell continued to whisper knowledge into the back of her mind.

Iced steel, she thought. Just like my wings. A great conduit for enchantment.

Speira slid the sword back into its sheath. She became painfully aware of the full, open faces in her peripheral vision. The soldiers were craning their necks to try and catch a glimpse… but a glimpse of what? The buds of roses on Speckled Band’s face answered that question.

“This is a good weapon,” Speira said, passing the sword back. Speckled Band took it, but gave only a nod to the complement. He was embarrassingly flustered.

They rode in silene for ten minutes or so. It was only when the soldiers appeared to have grown bored with the other two ponies that Speckled Band felt the courage to voice his own bit of curiosity.

“So could I… possibly see your’s?”

Curled up comfortable into her robe, Speira was getting ready to drift off. She looked up now, but didn’t seem to comprehend what Speckled Band meant.

“Your wings,” Speckled Band said timidly. “I haven’t heard much about them, except that they’re… pretty effective.”

With a forced chuckle, he added, “What enchanted weapon isn’t, though, am I right? I… I hope I’m not imposing.”

The chuckle died instantly, along with the Corporal’s curiosity. Speira stared at him with the wide, lucid eyes of a feral animal peeking out through steel bars. She spoke only one word.

“No.”

A pistol shot couldn’t have been more abrupt. Suddenly the cabin was cramped despite its wide seats. Speckled Band shrugged off the chills racing along his hide, and even managed a wan smile.

“That’s too bad, but I can understand. Wrong place, wrong time and all that. I-”

But he saw there was no point in continuing. Speira had turned herself away from him, burrowing deeper into that sweeping black cloak of her’s.

A quick glance to the other soldiers in the cabin, and each of them glanced away in a hurry. Speckled Band shook his head, then leaned back into his seat. It wouldn’t be long before the hand rocking the great cradle they rode in lulled him to a doze. He only hoped he could sleep through the entire trip.

****

Just the day before, the sun had seemed so lush with life. But now… it was as cold as grey fluorescence twinkling off of a rusty coin. Little Whisper looked up from her half empty basket -any other day it would’ve been half full. She stared dumbly at that bright bastard. It was hard to see him through the thick canopy of leaves overhead, but Whisper had found a gap the size of a kick back.

Nearby, Grimes grunted as he hauled a basket of his own up and into their cart. He needed a second to catch his breath before hopping down from the splintered wood. Sweat flew from his mane as he landed on soft earth.

Grimes trotted around the cart, then froze when he caught sight of the mare. Whisper stood like a statue. With her unbraided mane spilling over her cheeks and that forlorn expression awash in sunlight, Little Whisper had the look of some woeful madonna.

Grimes would’ve been taken back by her appearance if not for the unfilled basket at her hooves…

“Whisper?” Funny enough, Grimes’s voice came out as its own little whisper. When she didn’t stir, Grimes spoke louder.

“Hey, Whisper! You hear me?”

Little Whisper didn’t answer him right away. She blinked around at him slowly, as if waking from sleep. Dull green eyes stared through Grimes. It was a second and a half before Whisper’s gaze gained any consistency.

“The hay’s wrong with you, Whisper? You’ve been plodding along all morning, looking as if someone took a crap on your birthday cake.”

If he sounded angry, it was only because of how badly Whisper’s zombie like state frightened him.

“If you’re sick or something, maybe you should take the day off. It’s better for you to clock off early then get half the farm hands sick. You can just tell Granny. She’s reasonable.” Begrudgingly, he added, “Mostly.”

Whisper brushed back her mane. The days where she didn’t fix her mane into braids were rare and far between… but they did exist. Given her peculiar condition, Whisper could’ve fixed this in an instant. Normally she chose not to because of how terribly lazy it made her feel. Today, however, Whisper simply forgot that she could.

“I’m not sick.”

Grimes studied her. “Alright. If you’re not sick, then what’s got you moving at a crawl?”

“It’s…” Whisper’s thoughts churned sluggishly. “It’s hard to explain, Grimes. It’s one of my friends-”

She broke off when Grimes came towards her and started to fill her basket. There were plenty of apples to collect. The few trees that Whisper had bucked must’ve been practically slouching from the weight of so many apples.

“Don’t do that, please.”

Embarrement, the first true emotion Whisper had shown all morning, flared hotly in her cheeks. “I’m sorry I’ve been so darn slow.”

“Sure, go right ahead. But you can work and talk at the same time, can’t you?”

He gingerly picked up an apple and plopped it in her basket. Grimes was smiling sardonically.

“You haven’t had any problem doing it before. Besides, we really do need to catch up some. Only got an hour or so till lunch, I think. What were you saying about your friend?”

Little Whisper gathered a few apples, and her thoughts along with them. Anxiety and caution were at war within her like a pair of tangled snakes. Anyone could have seen it in her eyes. Thankfully, Grimes only had a view of Whisper’s backside at the moment.

Grimes began to wonder if Whisper wasn’t going to continue. After they had both collected more than half of the apples in their vicinity, Whisper dropped the last apple into her wicker basket. She spoke finally, but without turning to Grimes.

“One of my friends is gone.”

Grimes blinked, bewildered. “Gone? Gone as in…”

Whisper nodded. “Missing. Just… gone. Another friend found his room empty this morning. No note, no nothing. His bed hadn’t even been laid in it… it was just as neat as he leaves it every morning.”

Whisper turned to Grimes at last. He was stricken by the sad confusion on her face.

“That’s… huh-” Grimes ran a hoof through his tangle of mane. “-not what I was expecting. Have you guys… er… have you guys talked to somepony? I don’t know who-”

He broke off when Whisper picked up her basket and made for the cart. Grimes watched after her for a moment before following. Speaking seemed to be easier when he didn’t have to see how upset she was.

Whisper climbed up into the old cart, unconscious of all its creaking and complaining.

“My other friend is going to look around town today. Said that Midnight might’ve just decided to take stroll or… or something. If we don’t hear anything soon, I think we might go to city hall.”

Grimes waited till she had joined him before asking, “Midnight? I take it that’s the missing friend?”

Whisper nodded. “Midnight Dreary.”

There was a flicker of recognition in Grimes’s face, but it was gone in an instant. He cocked his head sideways, thinking.

“That name sounds kind of familiar.”

“Pretty sure I’ve mentioned him before,” said she. “As much as I talk, I’ve had to mention him at least once.”

“Maybe,” Grimes said, though he sounded doubtful. “Guess that’s likely. I probably just forgot. So, what makes you think that this Midnight fella really didn’t go for a walk or something?”

Whisper sighed and dropped down onto the hard pack of earth beneath them. Her back rested against the carts ancient wood.

“Just feels that way. Midnight is a strange guy, and he does strange things from time to time but… well, let’s just say he isn’t the kind of pony to just go wandering off on his own.”

One could only wonder what Whisper might think if she had ever spied Midnight creeping in on one of his late night strolls.

Grimes stepped forward and joined Whisper in the dust. “I don’t know, sounds a little like my mom. She was pretty odd herself. Every now and then, she’d get up early in the morning and catch a train out of town. She would never tell anypony that she was going or how long she’d be. Sometimes she was gone for a day, maybe two, but she always came back.”

Whisper raised an eyebrow. “Really? She would just leave out of the blue?”

“Yep.”

“Where was she going?”

Grimes smiled faintly, that strange childhood memory still fresh and rip in his head.

“My brother followed her once. Turns out she was taking trips up to Canterlot. Tracked her to some cafe where he found her dressed as a maid, sipping coffee and reading trashy poetry.”

Grimes couldn’t help but laugh before continuing. “All ponies are strange, Whisper, and they do strange things. I’m certain your friend’s okay, and I’m sure he’ll be back around sooner rather than later.”

“You sound so certain of yourself,” Whisper said, smiling.

She wasn’t sure why, but the picture of Midnight reading Hearts Across Detrot while wearing a frilly Prance maid outfit wouldn’t leave her mind.

“I have reason to. I’ve lived in Ponyville for most of my life, and it isn’t the kind of place where ponies just mysteriously go missing. You’re not going to find him in a ditch somewhere. Even with the way things have been the past six months or so, it’s still a small town at heart. That’s what everypony loves so much about this place.”

Whisper remained silent for a moment. She watched the canopy of leaves overhead sway rhythmically to a surging breeze. It was possible for her to sense all of the upturned brows cooling themselves on that cool wind. What an oddly comforting imagine it was.

“You know, Grimes,” Whisper said at last, “I figured there was more to you than grunts and complaints. Talking to you like this is nice.”

She laughed and added, “You’d better be carefully, though, or I might just start to think you’re actually a good guy.”

Grimes stood and brushed the leaves from his backside. He produced a scowl, but Whisper could see that it was mostly show.

“Yeah, well… don’t get used to it. I just got tired of you dragging your tail. We got work to do, and it’s my backside if it’s not done. Granny would never believe that you were the one slacking off.”

Whisper gave him a wide smile. It was obvious that she wasn’t going to be her usually chipper self, but it seemed as if a couples of pounds of fret lifted away with that smile. Grimes felt a tingling at the base of his neck and a sticky warmth in his extremities. He didn’t care much for either sensation.

Grimes grunted and moved towards the front of the cart.

“Better move your flank,” he called back. “If you’re not in the cart by the time I’m hitched up, I’m leaving you!”

Whisper giggled, then almost looked disgusted with herself. It felt almost sinful to laugh. Her thoughts drifted to Midnight, to Alabaster who would surely have combed through a quarter of Ponyville by now, and lastly to her own dull feelings.

Grimes is probably right, but… but why do I have this feeling… this feeling that everything's gone rotten here?

She couldn’t say why. All Whisper could do was stand and get back to work.

****

Whisper started to come around. She still felt as if she was trudging through a bog of murky confusion. Grimes’s kindly prodding only reinforced this peculiar feeling, but at least it kept Whisper from slowing. When Granny’s voice rolled out and over the orchard, signaling lunchtime, Whisper’s and Grimes’s cart had just been filled up to its brim.

A close one, Grimes thought, now riding shotgun. He swayed with the cart over the uneven ground.

I really don’t think Granny would mind much if we came back with our wagon half full... but Big Mac? Not in a million years.

A few other teams had made it back already and were currently digging into their meals on the front lawn. Whisper watched these ponies as she approached, noting how mechanically they appeared to eat. There was none of the relish in the act as there had been before. The farm ponies chomped rapidly on buttered biscuits, pausing only to glance periodically at the orchard. The smell of apprehension in air was sour to Whisper’s nose. She tried her best to ignore it.

There was a small line of wagons not far from the Apple’s house. Whisper parked theirs to one end, added another link to the chain. Grimes hopped down and trotted up to Whisper. He helped unhitch her from the cart, working almost methodically.

Grimes glanced up from the assortment of straps to gander at the milling farmhands. The line to the food wagon was probably a third of its usually size. Grimes saw that there were some ponies who only sat and watched as one or two other co-workers eat.

“Looks like you’re not the only feeling down today,” Grimes said absently. “Looks like half the farm lost its appetite. By the sun and moon, you’d have thought somepony died from the look of them all.”

Whisper gave a sigh of relief as she shrugged off the harness. She looked first at the ponies on their break, then back to Grimes.

“They’re probably still thinking about the other day,” Little Whisper said quietly. “Can’t say I blame them. It was a bit… eerie.”

Grimes rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. Some of these have lived through the strangest events in Ponyville history. You’d think it would take more than a couple of screaming fruitcakes and a cranky dog to make everypony lose their cookies.”

The two plodded towards the slow churning line of ponies. A few seated on the grass gave the pair a slight nod as they passed.

“If ponies are going to be spooked by just that, imagine how frightened they’d be if I said that I saw a conga line of manticores shuffling about town last night. Its idiocy!”

Grimes carried on this way, but Whisper’s thoughts had already began to shift. Her friends were never out of mind for long. She didn’t want to dwell on them, but it seemed what Whisper wanted had no say in the matter.

Whisper and Grimes waded into the crowd. Little Whisper was looking forward to having a word with Granny Smith, if for only a moment. She was thinking that she might actually ask Granny for the rest of the day off after all. Two ponies could cover a lot of ground. And besides, she had the itching sensation that Alabaster was going to get up to something if he spent enough time by himself.

Little Whisper would never get to have that conversation with Granny Smith. Far off, to the orchards deepest stretches, a flock of birds rose like a column of smoke. No one saw omen of things to come. They did hear what followed it, however.

What ponies there were at Apple Bloom’s food wagon chatted merrily while in the company of Granny Smith. The old mare made it hard not to. Anyone and everyone who passed by got an earful.

Whisper and Grimes had moved halfway up the line when the babble about them was muted by a sudden shriek of horror. All conversation stopped.

Gooseflesh prickled up the necks of swiveling heads. A pond of wide eyes and twitching ears began to shift uneasily. The shrill wail of terror had sounded almost familiar.

The only person who got any say on the matter was a young buck standing next to Granny Smith. He didn’t notice how the buttered biscuit had slipped off his plate, nor did he notice the dentures that fell from Granny’s slack jaws. What he did notice was the pillar of migrating birds over the orchard.

“What the flying buck is that?”

The stallion was answered almost at once. The cry came again, only now it was clearer... and this time it was not alone. Others cried along with it, seeming to harmonize. It was like hearing a chorus of the damned. Hackles rose in a wave.

Granny Smith was the first to come to her senses. She whirled around. Big Mac had only meant to grab a biscuit before going off to see on the other teams in the orchard. Seeing the wildfire in Granny’s gaze confused the large stallion even more.

“How many we still got out there, Big Mac?” Granny asked, her fragile voice cracked with panic. “Six? Eight?”

The butter biscuit stuck out from the massive stallion’s mouth like a pacifier. It quivered. Neurons misfired, and any train of thought was derailed.

The biscuit tumbled to the ground as Big Mac tried to answer. The words never came. What did was the sound of screaming ponies and pounding hooves.

Ponies began pouring out of the treeline. They raced as if their manes were on fire and their tails were catching.

It became painfully clear why all this felt so familiar. Leading the exodus from the apple orchard were those infamous dullards. Seeing the two brothers filled every heart with burning dread.

Able and Fable were battered, dirty, and covered from head to hoof in tiny scratches. It was as if they had taken a spin cycle through a thick set of brambles. The ponies screaming and fleeing after them looked no better. A tiny trickle of blood ran down the face of one mare, started from a nub that had once been an ear.

Other than their injuries, every single one of them shared that same look of mad horror.

“Killer timber!” Able yelled, then repeated the two words like a war chant. “Killer timber! Killer timber! Killer tim-”

That’s when he tripped. Hoof tied, Able’s chant turned into the screech as he went face first into the dirt. Fable didn’t even notice. He went on as Able was left to spit out clots of bloody dirt.

Whisper knew what came next. The sour smell in the air thickened as fear turned to panic. It was almost enough to make her wretch.

Little Whisper braced herself as the crowd began to churn. Ponies bumped and collided into one another, turning the once calm gathering into a mosh pit.

Whisper braced herself as a stallion knocked her aside, almost sending her sprawling. Grimes was barely visible through the thicket of bodies. He was fighting to stay on his hooves, but appeared to losing.

The wave pool of equine bodies only held for a few seconds. It didn’t take long for them to take flight when the orchard opened its maw and gave a bloody roar.

The cry was that of some primordial beast. It was as if twisting tree trunks and grinding boulders had lent their voices together to deafen the world itself. The sound made Whisper’s eardrums ache.

With the crowd broken, another thirty bodies joined the exodus. As fast they could flee, however, none of them were quick enough. They had all just turned tail when the treeline exploded into a spray of splinters and leaves.

Able tried to get to his hooves, but the wobbly jelly legs beneath him hardly heard his cursing and urging. His fury and fear was voiced in one last cry as he fell back into the dirt.

Able’s eyes, which had been screwed shut with effort, opened as a shadow fell over. There was only second for Able to marvel at the dark cloud of destruction above him.

Death fell like hail. Slab-like paws came down on Able’s back. There came a snap as loud as a pistol shot.

Little Whisper, a statue amidst the chaos, watched in horror as the massive creature fell upon Able. The stallion threw his head back. From the big O of shock and pain writ upon his face, Whisper guessed that the snapping had been the stallion’s spine.

Able’s misery would not last for long at least. With his throat exposed, the beast atop his back lowered itself. Arrowhead teeth sank into Able’s tender flesh. With one quick movement, the pony’s throat was torn to bloody ribbons.

Whisper hardly saw the blood, or the gaping hole. Whisper didn’t even see the corpse of the stallion who had offered her his lunch a few days ago. The only thing that made any sense in Whisper’s reality was the monster.

Clots of moss and vines clung to a mountain of knotted wood. Wood creaked noisily as the thing turned its bloody maw up to her. Through stained grin, Whisper saw stone teeth honed to a suicidal point. The beast did indeed resemble a wolf, though Whisper was too frightened to tally the comparisons.

It wasn’t seeing all those teeth that frightened Whisper the most, nor was it the way it leered hungrily towards her. Curds of black icor were bubbling around its grinning maw. Little Whisper even saw the same crud crusting around its iridescent eyes.

It’s like some of the animals back at the marshes… it looks... rabid?

Other figures could be seen stalking through the remains of the treeline. Their stature was unmistakable. A dozen green eyes gleamed in the gloom.

The Timber Wolves sprang, quick as greased lightning. The one in lead found pony flesh before the mass of ponies had even made it to the dirt road leading back to town.

Little Whisper still hadn’t moved. She watched as blood and dust flew. A brief commation to her left drew Whisper’s attention. Big Macintosh had thrown Granny Smith over one large shoulder and was currently making a beeline for their house. The filly, Applebloom, ran frantic cycles around her brother.

The old mare cupped a hoof around her mouth a shrieked, “Get to the house, you fools! To the house! You’ll lead ‘em into town!”

But Granny Smith’s failing voice was overridden. The wolves tore into the fleeing crowd of ponies, and brought with them shrieks of pain and terror.

Whisper looked away from the bloody carnage. Cold rivulets of fear coursed through body as she turned back to the timber wolf standing over Able her. It was regarding her with murderous curiosity. When it moved it do so slowly, always staying close to the ground.

There was little more than twenty feet between her and the timberwolf, but Whisper wasn’t sure if that meant much to the beast. One leap could probably cut through the distance in an instant.

And here I am like a goose on an archery range, Whisper thought. Gods, had I really thought this day couldn’t get worse.

The strange unreality of it all finally begin to melt away. It did so when she felt a pair of shaking hooves took hold of her neck and pulled. If it weren’t for the wide gate of her stance, Whisper probably would’ve been yanked off her hooves.

Whisper swung her head around, and the cold cycles in her belly bloomed into icebergs. Not for her, however, but for her would be rescuer.

“The actual heck are you doing!” Grimes screamed.

He tried to give Whisper another pull, but no avail. Whisper held her ground easily. Grimes’s strength had faded as quickly as it had came.

“No,” Whisper breathed, then after a second, added, “Get to the house, Grimes. It’s safe.”

“You’re coming with me!” Grimes was hysterically now. Seeing their death drawing closer, he redoubled his efforts.

“Celestia damn you, Whisper, don’t be stupid!”

Whisper snarled and shoved Grimes aside. He was sent to his flank with a grunt. Grimes stared down for a second at his shaking hooves, before looking up to her. His eyes were doleful and vacant. This was the prey finally giving into the inevitable.

Whisper turned from him… turned to the timberwolf. It was closer now, and Whisper was certain it would leap upon her within a matter of seconds. Yet, it remained where it was, hunkered close to the ground. Those ghostly green eyes watched her. Waiting.

It wants me to run, Whisper decided. It wants a chase.

This thought did more than steady Little Whisper... it angered her.

“We use to trap and brain gators back home,” Whisper said suddenly, not entirely sure why she was speaking aloud. “And here I thought was done with all that mess.”

The only response the timberwolf gave was a slight shimmy of its hindquarters. It was like a cat ready to pounce.

Whisper smiled wanly. What she did next should’ve been hard for her. The years of caution, nearly half of her twenty-four years of life, were thrown away with only a single thought.

It wasn’t Alabaster who broke cover this time.

Grimes watched their doom with utter dismay, certain that his young life had come to its abrupt end. It was in the acceptance of the enitivable that a wonder happened.

Grimes’s frowning features were suddenly highlighted by a green iridescences. His dismay melted into astonishment. Whisper stood, wreathed in flames of deep viridian. Before Grimes’s eyes, Little Whisper began to change.

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