Elsewhere in Ponyville, a purple alicorn sits within her study, her eyes drifting across the words written within a well weathered tome.
"And then in 231 BNM… " Twilight murmurs to herself, a yawn interrupting her reading, "in 231 BNM… the Griffon… clans… "
Despite her best efforts, the words in front of her blur, then fade into nothingness, her eyelids drooping shut while her shoulders slump and her face slowly falls forward towards the musty pages. The instant her nose touches paper however, she jerks awake, rubbing the tiredness from her eyes and glancing around the otherwise unoccupied room.
Her gaze comes to a rest on a small clock hanging on the wall to her right, a wry smile crossing her muzzle, "Well… I guess it is pretty late, even for me."
She yawns again and stands, stretching through the kinks left in her joints from the long reading session, "Yeeeep-ahh, definitely time to get some sleep."
A magical glow engulfs her horn, and with a flash of magic, she vanishes, reappearing in another room only a few inches above her bed. Her legs offer no resistance upon landing, instead crumpling beneath her body to let her fall face first onto her pillow.
Moving as little as possible while keeping her eyes closed, she lifts herself up and slides beneath her blankets, letting out a contented sigh once she slips into their warm embrace, Mmm~ why do I always put this off for so long?
Suddenly, a weight lands on her back, two sets of claws grasping her barrel, "Hoo."
Twilight groans into her pillow, "Not now, Owlowiscious."
"Hoo hoo, hoo!"
"No, I am absolutely not getting back up," Twilight replies. "Whatever it is can wait until morn-ow! Hey!" She shifts just enough to give her nocturnal assistant a sleepy, one-eyed glare, the back of her head stinging from Owlowiscious' peck, "What was that for?"
"Hoo! Hoo!" Owlowiscious responds, insistently gesturing at her bedroom door with his wings.
Twilight sighs loudly, but nevertheless rises from her bed, reigniting her horn, "Fine, I'll go take a look. But this had better be important."
No sooner had she spoken than somepony knocks on the door to her home.
"Princess Twilight!" shouts the unknown pony, pausing briefly before knocking harder.
"Oh for the love of – I'm coming, I'm coming! Geez."
Spike stirs at her words, Twilight going completely still beside his basket, her eyes wide. However, after a few incomprehensible, murmured words, he relaxes, snuggling further into his blanket.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Twilight continues to the first floor of the library and towards the entrance to her house, the knocking resuming just as she reaches the front door. Grinding her teeth, Twilight grasps the doorknob in her magic and throws the door wide open, focusing all her tired frustration at the knocker.
The earth pony who had been knocking flinches, taking an involuntary step backwards, "Err, uhh, sorry for bothering you, Miss Princess Sparkle Twilight ma'am sir ma'am but uhh… but… "
Twilight closes her eyes for a long moment and takes a deep breath, shoving her irritation into a small box in the back of her mind then forcing a smile onto her face, "Sorry about that. Just Twilight is fine, Caramel. Now, what's the problem?"
"What?" Caramel asks, staring at her blankly for a split second before he recalls the purpose of his visit. "Oh! Right! The problem. Well, uh, you see, there was an attack just now at the Whooves' house and-"
"An attack?!" Twilight shouts, all tiredness forgotten. "Why didn't you just say so? Is it the changelings again?"
"Well, no, it's-"
"Discord? I should've known he'd snap eventually, keeping all that chaos bottled up."
"NO! Though actually that's-"
"Well, what happened then?" Twilight asks, tapping her hoof impatiently, "I need to know which backup plan to tell Spike to get!"
The top step to Twilight's bedroom creaks, Spike stretching as he descends the staircase, "Seriously, Twilight? You're making plans with Caramel at this hour? You know he already has a marefriend, right?"
"I am not 'making plans' with Caramel, Spike," Twilight responds, looking over her shoulder at him. "There's been an attack!"
"What?! An attack?!" Spike gasps, "Is it the Changelings again? I can take 'em; I've been practicing my fire breath!"
Twilight opens her mouth to reply, but seizing on the instant of silence, Caramel shouts, "IT'S NOT THE CHANGELINGS! IT'S VAMPONIES!"
Silence follows Caramel's outburst, both Twilight and Spike staring at him. Soon the shock of being shouted at wears off though, and Twilight slumps on the floor, rubbing her temples wearily. Spike, meanwhile, collapses in a fit of laughter, proceeding to roll the rest of the way down the stairs.
"You don't believe me," Caramel states flatly.
"Caramel… vamponies don't exist," Twilight explains as patiently as she can. "And while Thestrals may share certain anatomic similarities, they are much more closely related to ponies than any species of bat. In fact, they are most likely just a nocturnal offshoot of the pegasus family that branched off a long time ago."
"I know that, Twilight," Caramel sighs, his patience beginning to wear thin as well. "Half the town could probably tell you that word for word by now."
"Well if you already know that, then why are you here telling me about vamponies?!" Twilight demands exasperatedly.
"Because this time it really is a vampony!" Caramel insists, "And you know how I know?"
"By all means, enlighten me," Twilight deadpans.
Caramel gestures at his mouth, "Her teeth. They're all pointy, and she's got two fangs that are bigger and even pointier. And she did something to Derpy too – we can't get her to wake up, even with a whole batch of Pinkie-baked muffins!"
Twilight blinks a couple times, Caramel's final sentence giving her pause, then gives in with another sigh, "…Fine, I'll take a look. But if this turns out to be another Thestral, you're going to be the one babysitting Discord the next time he decides to stop by Ponyville."
Caramel gulps, paling slightly, but nods, "I'm sure."
Twilight frowns as they approach the Whooves' house, a group gathered outside large enough to block most of the street, ponies nervously milling about and whispering along with the occasional hoof pointing to a broken window on the second floor.
"There you are, darling!" a familiar voice calls out from the crowd, "Whatever took you so long to arrive?"
Twilight looks towards the source of the voice, surprise with a hint of frustration playing across her expression, "Rarity?"
"Yes?" Rarity asks as she approaches, frowning slightly at Twilight's bedraggled state, "Is something the matter?"
"No, nothing at all," Twilight replies sarcastically. "At least as long as you don't count getting dragged out in the middle of the night to deal with a supposed 'vampony' again."
"Now Twilight, I know there have been a lot of false alarms, especially recently, but-" Rarity winces under Twilight's accusatory glare, "But! This time it's the real deal; you have my word."
"Well, where is this 'vampony' of yours then?" Twilight queries.
"Oh, she's not here anymore," Rarity replies as she turns away, looking back after hearing a dull thump to see Twilight facehoofing with the ground. "She's… um, Twilight? What are you doing?"
Twilight mumbles incoherently into the earth, Rarity watching with a mixture of confusion and concern. Eventually she glances at Caramel, who simply shrugs. After a solid minute, Twilight finally raises her head.
"Anyway, as I was saying," Rarity continues, "the vampony is no longer here. She was rather badly injured, and was taken to the hospital along with Derpy."
Upon hearing this, Twilight's horn begins to glow. A couple seconds and a flash of purple later, the trio becomes a pair, Rarity and Caramel left staring at the empty space Twilight had recently occupied.
"So… " Caramel says, looking to Rarity after a moment, "should we… also go to the hospital? Or… ?"
Rarity taps her chin, "Hmm, I suppose we-"
"Hey!" a pony calls out, the crowd previously standing outside the Whooves' broken window now rapidly encircling them, "What did Princess Twilight say?"
"Is Ponyville safe?"
"Is it under attack?"
"Can I have the muffins Derpy didn't eat?"
"What's going on?!"
"Will Derpy be okay?"
Rarity attempts to back away, only to find herself already hemmed in, "Oh dear."
Twilight, meanwhile, reappears in front of the Ponyville hospital, the tired irritation embedded in her eyes broadcasting her intention to put her current problems to bed as quickly as possible, and to then follow them there as well very soon after.
Upon entering the interior of the hospital, Twilight looks around, observing the unusual number of ponies crowding the reception area, many of whom are whispering and casting nervous glances at the double doors leading to the patient rooms. The murmuring ceases for a brief moment when the assembled ponies notice her presence, then continues even more energetically than before, many now gesturing furtively towards her as well.
"Oh, hello, Twilight," a soft voice speaks up from directly behind her, Twilight starting in surprise. Turning, she sees Fluttershy fidgeting only a few steps behind her.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," the yellow pegasus adds, doing her best to hide behind her pink mane.
Twilight lets out yet another large sigh, "You didn't scare me, Fluttershy, I just… wasn't expecting to see you here tonight. Why are you here, anyway?"
"Nurse Redheart asked me to help her look at the batpony that was injured," Fluttershy answers, leaving the sanctuary of her mane as she steps forward. "She isn't very knowledgeable about bats, and since I look after regular bats, she thought that I might be able to help."
Twilight allows a weary grin to grow upon her muzzle, relief seeping through her mind, "So you agree that the injured pony is just an ordinary Thestral and not a vampony? You have no idea how good it feels to hear somepony else say that, Fluttershy."
Fluttershy's eyes widen and she stumbles backwards, bumping into the wall, "V-V-Vampony? They want me to help treat a vampony? Oh… I don't know, Twilight. What if they bite me? I already turned into a vampire fruit bat, I don't want to turn into a vampire pony bat!"
Fluttershy cowers against the wall, hooves over her head.
Twilight moves forward, placing a reassuring hoof on her friend's shoulder, "Come on, Fluttershy, do you know how many false alarms there have been about 'vamponies' ever since Princess Luna returned and the Thestrals started to reintegrate into Equestrian society?"
Fluttershy nods mutely.
"Exactly. This is just another false alarm; there's nothing we need to worry about at all," Twilight states resolutely.
"Y-You're sure?" Fluttershy asks nervously.
Twilight smiles, "Positive. Now, let's go take a look at the patient, shall we?"
"O-Okay," Fluttershy replies as she gets to her hooves, following Twilight over to the receptionist's desk.
The receptionist looks up when Twilight clears her throat, exhaustion clearly apparent on her face combined with a spark of interest.
"Head on in," she says, gesturing to the double doors to her left. "Nurse Redheart is with the vamp-I mean patient in room 138."
With a nod and a quiet thanks, the two mares continue further into the hospital.
The chatter behind them cuts out abruptly as soon as the doors close, the deserted hall taking on something of an eerie quality – its unnatural silence and cleanliness amplified by the bleached white walls and tiled floor. Periodically placed flowers and pieces of art do little to dispel the heavy atmosphere, the aura of mystery in the dead of night making even such mundane decorations seem potentially sinister. Fluttershy hesitates, her eyes darting around the empty space while Twilight walks forward, unperturbed by the sound of her own echoing hoofsteps.
102… 104… 106… 108… she counts off in her head as she moves past the dark and empty rooms.
Approaching room 126 however, she sees light emanating from within. She glances inside as she passes, stopping when she recognizes the occupants. Fluttershy, who had been following closely behind her, bumps into Twilight with a surprised squeak.
"Um… is something wrong, Twilight?" Fluttershy asks tentatively, walking around her friend to look into the room as well, "Oh."
"You go ahead," Twilight says, her eyes flitting to Fluttershy before looking back into the room. "I'd like to talk with Time Turner about what happened, and see if there's anything I can do to help Derpy."
Fluttershy nods and cautiously continues on, Twilight meanwhile taking a calming breath and entering the room.
Time Turner tenses as he turns towards the Twilight-opened door, his burgeoning indignation at the intrusion quickly replaced by tired, worried smile and a glimmer of hope.
"Princess Twilight! I wasn't expecting you to be, well, here," he says, gesturing at the room.
Twilight returns the smile, "To be fair, I wasn't expecting to be here either."
They share a small laugh, however their eyes soon wander back to the unconscious mare lying in the room with them.
"So? Do you know what's wrong with her? Do you know how to cure her?" Time Turner asks, cautious optimism tingeing his words.
"I'm sorry," Twilight replies, shaking her head, "I don't. In fact, I'm still trying to catch up on what exactly happened. Everypony keeps going on about how it's 'vamponies' and other nonsense-"
"It was a vampony," Time Turner interrupts her, surprising Twilight with the surety in which he states it.
Twilight takes a deep breath, choosing her words carefully, "Turner, I know what it might have looked like, but-"
"I know what a Thestral looks like, Twilight, and believe me, this wasn't one of them," Time Turner interjects. Seeing Twilight open her mouth again, he quickly continues, "And I'm not talking about whatever they're treating down the hall, either."
"You're not?" Twilight frowns, "Alright, why don't you just tell me the whole story, so I don't have to keep feeling my way around what's going on like I'm half blind."
Time Turner nods, "I first woke up when I heard a window slam. I thought it had just been left unlocked and the wind had taken it. I heard Derpy get up to close it, and I started dozing back to sleep. Nothing happened for a bit, I was about to fall back asleep, and then I heard a noise from Derpy's room. I got up to see if she was alright; you know how she has a tendency to break things – you remember the Flying Bed incident."
Twilight snorts, "How can I forget? She somehow, while sleepwalking, managed to throw your entire alicorn size bed through your window – and a chunk of the wall – then flew down to where it had landed in the street and went right back to sleep. Rainbow even spent the next few weeks trying to convince her to hoof-wrestle Bulk Biceps until I convinced her to drop it."
"Heh, yeah, which is why we sleep in different rooms most of the time now too. Anyway," Time Turner continues, "I was honestly more worried about the room than her until I heard what sounded like somepony in pain. I ran out of my room, saw that her door was wide open, and heard a crash from inside. Then when I entered, I saw him. The one they have here was struggling to get up, looking like she had a broken leg, while he was just standing there opposite me with Derpy in-between us."
Time Turner's gaze grows distant, the memory playing out in his mind's eye, "I froze, I just… froze. There was just something so wrong about him. I don't know how else to put it. Physically he looked normal enough, right up until you realize ponies don't have glowing red eyes and fangs going down past their chin. Not that that wasn't weird, but he just… it just… it was wrong, very very wrong."
Time Turner stops speaking again, eyes unfocused and panting slightly. Twilight reaches out and puts a hoof on his shoulder, giving him a reassuring smile, "It's going to be alright. You're both safe, and I'm sure the nurses will be able to wake Derpy up once they've had a little time."
Time Turner nods jerkily, taking a quivering breath and pressing on, "Then that thing hissed at me. I don't know what happened after that. The world just got kind of hazy and the next thing I knew I was standing in front of a broken window, the mare unconscious on the ground outside and the other pony just gone."
He pauses, looking at his wife before staring at the floor, "After that, I went and tried to wake her, but… " he gestures helplessly at the mare on the hospital bed, "I couldn't. I tried shaking her, yelling, a kiss… everything. I even pulled out a half dozen banana-strawberry cheesecake muffins, Derpy's favorite, but she didn't even twitch."
Time Turner looks back up at Twilight, his eyes hopeful but also pleading, "You will be able to help her, right? The nurses examined her and are doing some tests and the results aren't back yet but they said they couldn't see anything overtly wrong with her and I just… I don't… " he trails off, blinking rapidly and staring at the floor again.
"Turner, look at me," Twilight states, an unusual air of command in her voice. Time Turner meets her eyes, surprise interrupting his blinking long enough to allow a few stray tears to run down his face.
"Dang it," he mutters, wiping them away before returning his gaze to Twilight.
"We will find out what's wrong with Derpy," Twilight promises, keeping her voice firm and level despite the uncertainty swirling in her gut. "You have my word as a Princess of Equestria."
Time Turner's lips wobble at her words, and in one swift motion he closes the gap between them to hug Twilight tightly – an action which she returns wholeheartedly.
"S-Sorry," Time Turner stutters, releasing the hug and stepping back after a long minute. "I'm probably not supposed to do that, what with you being a princess and all now."
"Don't worry about it," Twilight replies, smiling broadly at him. "Honestly I wish ponies would act a bit more at ease around me. I was just an ordinary unicorn until not that long ago, after all."
Time Turner snorts at that, Ordinary unicorn my flank.
"If you don't mind me asking though," Twilight says, returning to the matter at hoof, "what did you mean earlier when you said the nurses hadn't found anything overtly wrong with her?"
"Oh, well, they found nothing wrong except for what looked like a bite mark on one of her legs," Time Turner explains, "but it was completely healed. If it was venomous, it would have most likely affected her days ago. It could have infected her with some kind of disease, but 'suddenly puts the victim into a deep sleep and nothing else' isn't like any disease they had ever heard of."
Twilight eyes the sleeping mare curiously, "Do you mind if I have a look?"
"Not at all," Time Turner replies, moving to the bed and shifting the blanket off of Derpy's left hind leg. He points to a spot on her thigh, "It's right here."
Twilight looks at where he indicates, not seeing anything at first glance. Looking closer though, she notices two small circles where the hairs are thinner and shorter, revealing recently healed skin beneath, The nurses were right, it really doesn't look recent. If it hadn't been pointed out to me, I probably would have missed it entirely.
Lowering her horn to the pair of healed wounds, Twilight closes her eyes and focuses, her horn glowing weakly. As soon as her horn touches Derpy's leg, her senses expand, the pegasus' natural magical energy appearing in her mind's eye as clearly as the mare herself did to her physical eyes. Nothing unusual stands out. Twilight scrunches her eyes tighter, focusing further on the location of bite mark. Still nothing. Then, just as she is about to release the spell, something brushes on the edges of her perception. Focusing on the sensation's origin like a laser, she narrows down its location, pushing her spell to the limit in the hope of discovering something more. It does her little good, however – the leftover blemish on Derpy's aura fading beyond her ability to detect it even as she watches. Sighing, she releases the spell and opens her eyes.
"Anything?" Time Turner asks eagerly.
Twilight sits down and looks over at him, "Yes and no. I was able to detect some kind of magic on the wound, but it was too faint for me to do much of anything besides sense its existence."
Time Turner's expression falls, "Oh."
"I'm sorry, I wish I could say more than that," Twilight apologizes. "Once the tests come back, they should shed some more light on what happened."
Time Turner nods mutely, anxiety clear on his face.
"Don't worry," Twilight says encouragingly. "I'll inform the nurses of what I've found, and with the results from the tests we'll have a much clearer picture of what's going on."
With that, Twilight excuses herself, leaving Time Turner and Derpy to continue her journey to room 138, newfound curiosity quickening her steps.