Twilight’s heart leapt into her throat as the strange creature toppled forward.
“Somepony catch him!” cried Fluttershy, her voice unusually loud.
The unicorn charged her horn and grabbed the creature in her magical grasp. Telekinesis is a singularly useful ability for woah—!
Her knees buckled as a strange magical resonance bounced back at her from the creature, and she very nearly lost her grip on him. Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash hastened over to take up the slack and guide the creature to the ground; the former two because they were closest, and the latter because a pony with Dash’s speed was never far from anything.
“Geez, Twilight, did you skip breakfast or something? You almost dropped the guy!” accused the pegasus.
Never far from anything, except perhaps tact, amended Twilight.
“Now, Dashie,” chided Rarity, “you can hardly blame Twilight. It was a long run here and not all of us are as athletic as you.”
Twilight huffed. “I’m in fine shape, thank you very much. And that wasn’t why I almost dropped him. There’s something… odd about his magical field. When I grabbed him it was like he was slippery. My magic didn’t want to hold onto him.”
Rainbow just snorted and muttered something about ‘excuses,’ but Rarity looked intrigued. “‘Slippery?’” she echoed. “How odd. What exactly do you mean by that?”
“Can ya’ll please not discuss this here?” grunted Applejack as she kept her eyes on the shattered timber wolves. “Ah’d rather not hang around ‘til those doggies wake up.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that, Applejack,” giggled Pinkie, who bounced over to the piles of branches and twigs to prod at them with her hoof. “These stick figures aren’t going anywhere.” She snickered. “Get it? Stick figures?!”
Twilight ignored the joke and trotted over, using her magic to scan the timbers. To her shock, she discovered no magical resonances responding to her touch beyond what was natural to dead wood.
“Whadya mean, they ain’t goin’ nowhere?” asked Applebloom, who started to trot over to join Pinkie Pie. “Ain’t timber wolves darn near indestructible?”
But if there are no magical resonances, then that means he broke the enchantment somehow…
“Applebloom!” shouted the elder farmpony, who jumped forward to grab her sister by the scruff of the neck and haul her away from the battleground. “You get back here, missy!”
If he severed them, does that mean his sword is an artifact?
“But sis! If Pinkie Pie says there’s no danger—
It’s not! It’s just a sword! I mean, the steel looks weird, but that shouldn’t translate to being able to break enchantments like this!
“Ah don’t care what Pinkie Pie said!”
Which means that the creature itself…
“Er, no offense, Pinkie.”
Twilight’s gut did a flip as she scanned the strange being. That’s… that doesn’t make any…
“Eh. None taken.”
I must be reading it wrong…
“Um, Twilight?” came a meek voice. “Shouldn’t you… um… what I mean to say is… don’t you have healing magic?”
“I can’t heal him,” declared Twilight.
That got everypony’s attention. “What?!” exclaimed the others.
“Fluttershy, you know more about medicine than the rest of us; you’ll have to start binding his wounds while we get ready to take him back to town.”
The pegasus’ eyes widened. “Oh my… um… okay… I guess. I’ll have to find some dock leaves for bandages—
“Or you can just use my first aid kit!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie, who shoved an oversized medical kit that she could not possibly have had on her person (if she’d been anypony other than Pinkie Pie) into Fluttershy’s startled hooves.
Applejack blinked. “Why were ya carryin’ that?”
Pinkie Pie looked at the farmer as though she was insane. “Um, in case one of the fillies was hurt, Applejack! Duh!”
Sweetie Belle turned to Twilight. “I don’t get it! Why can’t you heal him! You know lots of magic.”
The lavender unicorn shook her head. “I only know basic first aid magic, and half of it’s specifically attuned to me. But that’s not the problem. My magic can’t heal him. At least, not without serious risk.” She looked down at the strange creature with a mixture of confusion and wonderment. “His magical signature is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, even at Celestia’s school! It’s almost like it’s… not there.”
Rarity gasped and very nearly fainted. The rest looked shocked. All except for Rainbow, who hovered with an expression that suggested that she didn’t understand, but didn’t want to admit it. “So, for all of us non-eggheads here, that’s weird becaaaause…”
“All creatures have magical signatures, Rainbow,” snapped Twilight with a roll of her eyes. “Even non-sapient ones. But if he has one, it’s so remote that I can’t detect it. But whatever it is, I was barely able to grip him because of it.” She gestured to the piles of firewood. “And then there’re the timber wolves! Pinkie was, inexplicably, right!”
“Yuppers!” beamed Pinkie.
“They really are dead!” continued Twilight. “As in, for good. Usually it takes high-level magic to permanently kill a timber wolf, but somehow this… thing did it with a non-magical sword! If I try to use my magic on him, I could make it worse!”
The other ponies stared at her in silence, all except for Fluttershy, who was too busy working, and Applejack, whom the pegasus had conscripted into helping. It was Scootaloo who broke the silence. “So what are we gonna do then, Twilight? I mean, we’re not gonna… he’s not gonna…” tears welled up in the filly’s eyes.
Twilight rested her hoof on the little pegasus’ head. “Not if we can help it,” she replied with more confidence than she felt. “Pinkie Pie, get some long branches and thick leaves to make a stretcher.”
“Yes, sir, ma’am, sir!” saluted the earth pony before shooting off.
“Rarity, keep an eye on the fillies and watch the forest in case anything else shows up.”
The alabaster unicorn hugged Sweetie Belle close and nodded. “Of course, darling.”
“Rainbow Dash, I need you to listen to me very carefully, because there’s a detailed message you need to give and I didn’t think to bring quill and ink.” Rather than making a snide remark about Twilight Sparkle, of all ponies, being caught without writing implements, the pegasus nodded solemnly. “You need to go back to Ponyville and tell the hospital to prep for surgery on a Class III anomaly. Tell them they’ll need The Works. Blood replicators, Zebrican herbs, everything. And make sure they grab Zecora’s notes. With her out of town, they’re the best chance we have of identifying him.”
Dash gave a confident smile. “I’m on it! Be back in a—
“I’m not finished,” interrupted Twilight and catching the pegasus’ tail with her magic. “Once you’ve alerted the hospital, go to the library and tell Spike to send a message to Princess Celestia telling her what happened and what you told the hospital. Maybe she knows what the creature is and has specialists she can send. Okay?” Rainbow hovered like a dog with a treat balanced on its nose, waiting for its master’s permission to eat it. “Now you can go.”
The explosion of speed rocked Twilight back on her heels and almost toppled her over. A few seconds later she hear the telltale boom of the rainbow pegasus’ signature move. Well, at least we have the fastest messenger in the world, she thought as she turned back to the others. Pinkie Pie had found two reasonably long poles and was tying a sheet between them; Twilight knew better than to question where she’d gotten the sheet. Rarity was watching the forest with one eye and the fillies with the other; the children were all on the verge of crying as they stared at their savior, and were peppering an overwhelmed Rarity with questions about his condition. Fluttershy and Applejack were nearly done binding his wounds, and at this point if Twilight tried to help she would only be in the way.
Which left her with nothing to do but stare at their visitor and ponder what sort of creature he might be.
He was tall, about twice the height of the average pony, with the build of a large primate. His body was covered by a long, hooded black robe of coarse material with an eight-pointed white cross decorating the center. A corded rope served as a belt and rough sandals shod his feet. There was a satchel of some sort slung over his shoulder, which by some ill chance had done little to protect him from the wolves’ claws.
The creature had little hair to speak of, only a thick shock of grey-white hair that might have once been brown atop his head and a full beard of the same color. His skin was weathered to the point of appearing craggy, and scars could be seen on his face and on his gnarled hands. Though Twilight hated to guess, she felt confident in supposing that he was quite old. Yet for all that, despite the blood loss and unconsciousness, the hand that gripped the sword had locked around it like a vice. Even in his broken state, he gave off a sense of power and purpose, waiting to be awoken. There was a presence about him; one that struck her as familiar, though she could not put her hoof on it.
Her reverie was broken when Pinkie looked up and saluted with her odd blend of the martial and the comedic. “One stretcher, ready to go, Cap’n!
“We’ve stopped the bleeding, I think,” announced Fluttershy a moment later with much less gusto. “At least, he’s not in danger of bleeding out anymore but, well, we should still get him to the hospital immediately. I’m not a doctor.”
Twilight nodded. “Of course. Applejack and Pinkie will carry the stretcher while Rarity and I watch the woods for any other timber wolves.” Or any predators that might smell the blood. “Fluttershy, you hover above the stretcher and keep an eye on his vitals. Let’s get him on there.”
Between the five of them they managed to hoist the patient onto the stretcher without jolting him, after which they set off at as brisk a pace as they dared. They trotted largely in silence, with only the occasional direction or warning about a tree root or other tripping hazard breaking the quiet. Even Pinkie Pie was subdued. The three fillies walked in the middle of the party, near the stretcher itself, with none of their usual spirit. They kept looking up at the creature with worried frowns on their faces. Every so often, one of the three would open her mouth to say something, only to remain silent. Twilight found herself running through a mental checklist of known magical traits, hoping to come across something in her mind’s elaborate filing system that she’d missed earlier. She came up empty.
“He’s going to be fine,” stated Scootaloo confidently.
The others’ gazes jerked to the young pegasus.
“I mean, he’s so cool right?” expounded the filly. “And somepony, er, somebody who can fight off five timber wolves and win doesn’t just… well… er…”
Her confidence wavered and her lip quivered, but Applebloom came to her rescue. “Yeah! He ran in with ‘is sword and was all, Zam! Pow! Swoosh! Like one o’ Spike’s superhero comics!”
“He was like a knight from a fairy tale!” gushed Sweetie Belle. “He waved his sword and told the wolves he wasn’t going to let them hurt us! And the hero of the story can’t… he won’t...”
“Leave!” supplied Scootaloo. “He’s too awesome to leave!”
“Yeah!” piped the other two.
“Well, where are our manners, girls?” asked Sweetie Belle. “We haven’t even introduced ourselves yet!”
Applebloom facehooved. “Consarn it! Yer right! Well, Ah’m Applebloom! An’ this here’s Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. And we’re—"
“The Cutie Mark Crusaders!” they chorused.
“And these are our sisters and their friends. That’s my big sister Rarity, she’s really good at making pretty dresses. That’s Applejack, she’s super honest…”
As the three fillies jabbered away at the unconscious being, Twilight knew that the odds that he could hear them were remote. Moreover, she knew that he was unlikely to ever hear them. Whatever kind of creature he is, he seems to be quite old. And I imagine that means his body doesn’t heal as well as it used to. He might not be bleeding now, but he lost a lot of blood, and we have no way of knowing how much he can afford to lose. The blood replicator might not even work on him, since it’s magical in nature and he seems to unconsciously repel magic. And his wounds could still get infected, and we don’t know if our medicines will even work on his kind. There are so many things that could go wrong! And they just talk to him as though everything’s going to be alright…
The unicorn cast a glance at her other friends, and it became clear that they knew as well as she did how this was likely to end. Pinkie, in the lead position on the stretcher, had experienced a rapid deflation of her mane over the last few minutes. Applejack, in the rear position, was trying to avoid looking at the three fillies; every time she failed, the farmpony swallowed hard, as though choking down whatever she wanted to say. Rarity was trying to put on a brave face, but whenever she glanced at her sister a sob would threaten to escape. Fluttershy, oddly enough, looked the most composed. But perhaps that’s because she’s become accustomed to tending mortally wounded creatures. One by one, Twilight met each of their gazes, and an unspoken exchange passed between them. She knew the creature’s odds of survival. They all did.
But none of them had the heart to say anything.
Ponyville General, Ponyville
Nurse Redheart sipped her coffee in her office on the second floor of the hospital, letting the sweet nectar of the drink soothe her spirit. It wasn’t even one o’clock, and it had already been a long day. Carrot Top had come in with a broken forehoof at six in the morning, courtesy of a gopher hole that she’d missed while tending her crops. Redheart had barely finished setting the bone when Rumble had come in with a suspected concussion because he’d been sleep flying and Thunderlane had insisted on him getting it checked. The young colt had been fine, but it was fortunate that his older brother had come in with him because Redheart had noticed the telltale signs of Glass-Eye, a common but irritating malady that frequently dogged weather ponies. After getting Thunderlane a prescription for antibiotics, she’d been accosted by the ‘Flower Triplets,’ who were convinced that they’d contracted a deadly plague from their produce and…
With a contented sigh she buried her muzzle in her cup. It had been a long morning, but that was alright. She loved her town, and she loved her job, tiring as it could be at times. But I got through the morning just fine, and the afternoon’s shaping up to be a light shift. So, barring any unforeseen complications, I should be just fin—
A cyan blue pegasus impacted her window like an oversized bird. “Mother of Celestia!” howled Redheart, tipping over backwards in her chair and sending her precious coffee everywhere. There was the sound of her window being ripped open and a cyan-and-rainbow blur swept into her office, hauling her unceremoniously into the air with two strong forelegs. The nurse instantly recognized her assailant. “Rainbow Dash, what the bu—
Redheart stared at Rainbow Dash like a deer caught in the light, her mind taking the massive data transfer with some difficulty. A lesser being might have failed to comprehend at all. Fortunately, Redheart lived in a town with Pinkie Pie, so once her brain got over its initial confusion and replaced the Rainbow Dash Protocol with the Pinkie Pie Contingency it was able to sort out the relevant information and organize it into the appropriate categories. This done, the Emergency Procedures kicked in, opened the folder labelled ‘Anomalies and Treatments Thereof, Class III,’ and created a Plan of Action based on the information found therein. She communicated this fact to Rainbow Dash in a manner selected for its efficiency rather than its linguistic aesthetic.
The pegasus beamed. “’KthanksgreatgottatellSpike!” Without further ceremony she dropped the astonished nurse and vanished through the window in a rainbow blur.
Redheart landed heavily on her rump, blinking away the cobwebs in her mind. Without conscious thought she rose to her feet and galloped into the hospital, following the directives of the Plan of Action while the rest of her Conscious Thought struggled to catch up. Since it had been left severely in the wake of events, she had already rounded up Dr. Stable and the rest of the prep team before Conscious Thought came panting up to join the Plan of Action in the present. This resulted in her shouting to a half-empty operating room, “You owe me a fresh bucking cup of coffee, Rainbow Dash!”
Golden Oaks Library, Ponyville
Spike eagerly turned the pages of his comic book. He’d been waiting four months for this issue to come out and finally reveal the Jester’s true origin! The Killer Joke, had been one of the most anticipated installments of the Batmare lore, and he eagerly devoured every page. With Twilight hanging out with the girls all morning, he’d be free to read it without any interrupt—
A cyan blue pegasus impacted his window like an oversized bird. In his shock he belched a belly-full of green fire and sent The Killer Joke to Celestia. “Sweet Luna’s wings!”
Great Priory St. Gilles, Provencal, Commandry of the Knights of St. John
Friar Jacques entered the chapel in a daze. He did not recall coming here. In fact, the last thing he remembered was…
…how did I come to be here?
There was a faint buzzing in his ears as from distant conversation, but he couldn’t make anything out. Deeper into the chapel he caught sight of Prior Methuselah, who was seated next to a hooded figure cloaked in white. At first he was aghast that a man sit with his head covered in a church, but the anger quickly abated when he understood why. It is a woman who sits there. Thus, her head is covered. He did not know how he knew this, but it did not seem relevant.
The faint buzzing of conversation grew louder.
Not knowing what else to do, Jacques walked deeper into the chapel. As he walked, he found himself limping. He realized that he was in great pain, as though he’d been cut deeply by many swords. The pain increased with each step. By the time he reached the pew that the Prior and the strange woman occupied, he could barely stand. Still, he genuflected towards the tabernacle before taking his seat. “Greetings, old one,” the priest managed in spite of his aching chest.
“Welcome, my son,” creaked the elderly prior, who looked over with a warm smile. “It would seem that I have been granted to aid you further in your journey.” The woman said nothing, but stared forward, her face masked by a veil.
“My…journey, Father?” Jacques’ head felt muddied, as though drugged. Why am I in such pain? Who is that strange woman in white? His ear twitched. And from where does this buzz of conversation come?
Methuselah nodded patiently. “Your journey. You mission.” He gave a sympathetic smile. “You seem to have gotten lost.”
“I- I’m sorry, Father, I just…” he ran a hand through his hair. “I just don’t remember…”
The Prior chuckled. “There is no shame in it, my old friend. It is easy to become lost in a foreign land. But when you are lost, finding your way is as simple as finding the truth.” He took Jacques’ hand in his own and, to the friar’s shock, the old man’s grip was far stronger than he remembered. “You fear the deception of the Enemy, and that is right for you to fear. But you are a priest, Jacques; to discern truth from lies is an authority given to you, that you might protect your flock and yourself.”
The buzz of conversation grew louder, as though the speakers were in the room with him. It was the voices of children, animated with passion and alight with eagerness.
“You must seek the truth my son,” Methuselah emphasized. He took Jacques’ hand and pulled it over towards the white-clad woman. “For the one who seeks, finds.” Using the friar’s hand, Methuselah removed the woman’s veil. Jacques felt his heart skip as he found himself face to face with the orange-coated pony from the forest. He heard a child’s voice announce her name, sounding as though she spoke right into his ear: “Applejack.”
Jacques twisted and groaned, his eyes feeling leaden and his body wracked with torment. But I’ve felt far worse pains than this. All around him he heard the buzzing of conversation as the three children… no, the three fillies, chattered away. He was bouncing along as though he was being carried in a stretcher, and all around him was the clatter of hooves. Wonderful, he thought. I had hoped for a moment that I’d dreamt the whole thing. But it seems I really am borne along by talking ponies, unicorns, and pegasi, through a land touched either by God or by the devil. So the question is, do they carry me as a Samaritan bore the dying man, or as the Philistines bore Samson? He did not feel as though he’d been bound, but he did feel the presence of bandages. Perhaps they seek to heal me out of gratitude for saving the little ones. Or perhaps this is intended to lull me into submission. The Enemy is crafty, after all. But my head still feels muddied, and God alone knows how long I shall remain awake. I’ve lost so much blood…tis a miracle I’m awake at all. Knowing his time was limited and resolving to wonder passively no longer, he set out to observe his surroundings. Letting his eyes open in slits, he caught sight of a blurry world of dark greens and browns interrupted by pastel splashes of color, and one orange shade in particular. ‘Applejack.’
Though he’d tried to be subtle in his movements, he was apparently not subtle enough. “Oh, oh my,” came the voice of the meek pegasus from before. “Um, girls, I think he’s awake.”
Instantly he felt eight pairs of eyes boring into him. “What?!” came the ear-shattering cry in his ear from an overly perky voice that was uncomfortably near his head. “He’s awake! And I haven’t even had time to plan a ‘Happy-You’re-Not-Dead-Thanks-For-Saving-The-Fillies-Party!’”
A ‘Happy-You’re-What-The-How-Now?’ His addled brain began to ache.
“He’s awake!” chirped the high-pitched filly.
“Awesome!” shouted the raspy one into his already assaulted eardrums.
“Yer our hero!” added the accented one in a mercifully softer tone.
The lavender unicorn stepped into view. “Girls, please. Let’s give him some space. He’s obviously very disoriented.”
She seems kind enough, thought the priest, but then, looks can be deceiving.
“Sorry, Twilight,” mumbled the three fillies as they pulled back.
It would not be outside the devil’s capability to masquerade as the pure and the innocent just to lead me astray.
“Hello? Sir?” asked the unicorn, who was apparently called ‘Twilight.’
Perhaps some witch turned innocent children into animals! If so, I must find out who is responsible and put an end to this!
“Can you hear us?”
Even if everyone here is merely a victim, I may hold them to their word and find answers! I need to find the truth! His eyes settled on the orange pony. One way or the other.
“Applejack,” he mumbled, his voice hoarse and weak.
The hat-wearing pony blinked. “Did he just say mah name?”
Jacques nodded. He beckoned her over. “Come… please,” he rasped.
Applejack looked in confusion at Twilight, who just shrugged. How does a pony shrug? What an oddly human gesture. Applejack herself also shrugged and the caravan made a quick stop. Somehow this ‘Applejack’ managed to unhitch herself from the stretcher and transfer the weight onto Twilight’s waiting shoulders. She used her teeth and hooves as I would use my hands! he thought with mixed amazement and horror as they began moving again. Either this is some Faerie in disguise, the work of some witch, or some unexpected action of God! The pony made her way over to his side. Her emerald eyes were huge, far larger than a normal pony’s, and filled with concern and sorrow. But why? And is it real, or some trickery? “What is it, sugarcube?”
If there is a devil in this one, it may attempt to run when I begin. I must hold her close, to keep her here and to keep the others from overhearing. She approached on my right side, so I must release my sword to do it. He felt his exhaustion beckon him back to the land of slumber and forced it down with an iron will. Holy God, give me strength and safeguard me! Before the pony could react, he poured his remaining strength into his arm and grasped her by the back of neck, pulling her close so that they were eye-to-eye. In the Latin tongue, he began the prayers of command, that any demons present might have no power, and so that he might know the truth. “<Lord Jesus Christ…>” he whispered.
Applejack honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when the strange creature beckoned her over. She wasn’t even sure how he knew her name, though she reasoned that perhaps more of the Crusaders’ speech had gotten through than anypony would have guessed. She tipped her hat back respectfully when she reached him. “What is it, sugercube?”
She didn’t see him move. One moment he was lying there, looking like he was on death’s door, and the next his hand was clenched around the back of her neck and yanking her head close so that her vision was filled with his piercing, icy-blue eyes. She almost yelped, though from shock rather than pain. He hadn’t hurt her at all, but his grip was like that of a vice. Before she could process what had happened and consider escaping, he began to whisper, speaking as one with authority. Like Celestia, a detached part of her supplied. “Iesus Christus Dominus…” he began.
Though he continued on for some time, those were the only words that she managed to process. An’ I didn’t even understand that! It sounds kinda like that fancy talk from Prance, but I don’t speak that neither! She glanced at Twilight for support, but the unicorn was keeping her eyes forward, either unable to hear the whisper or too focused on getting the creature to the hospital to divide her attention. For Applejack’s part, it was all she could do not to try to duck out of his grip as she was pulled along with him. Her survival instincts told her to escape but, for whatever reason, she didn’t. Perhaps she was mesmerized by the oddity of the moment, or perhaps it was because she didn’t want to hurt the creature that had saved her sister’s life. But she didn’t dare move away. Ah only wish Ah knew what he was sayin,’ she lamented. An awful thought occurred to her. O, Celestia, Ah hope it ain’t a last will an’ testament! Not in front o’ Applebloom! Not after what he did fer her!
Then, after what might have been minutes or seconds, he stopped. His hand trembled, and he released her. But his eyes did not turn away. If anything, he looked more intense. “What is your name?” he asked in accented Ponish.
Applejack blinked. Didn’t he just call me over by mah…? “Applejack,” she answered automatically.
“And have you always been a pony?”
Have Ah always been a— “O’ course I have!” What kind of silly—
“Is there a witch or demon or any sort of devilry in these parts?”
“Um, er, not any that Ah’m aware of, but—
He asked several more questions of the same nature, all concerning how she’d come to be, whether or not there were spirits or curses at play, where she had come from, and like matters. While his questions were too quiet for the others to hear, Applejack’s responses certainly weren’t, and her friends’ stares became increasingly astonished with each passing moment. For her part, the befuddled earth pony simply answered as best as she could, but towards the end she saw the creature’s head swaying back and forth as though he were about to lose consciousness again. Having answered so many questions of his, she tried to ask one of her own. “Um, beggin’ yer pardon, sir, but, what in the hay is goin’ on?”
The creature sagged back against the stretcher and his eyes rolled heavenwards. He opened his mouth to respond and she leaned in to hear, hoping for some clarity. “Je ne sais pas. Demandez à Dieu,” he breathed. At which point he passed out.