The Crusaders glide to a halt in the middle of one of Ponyville's many streets after a somewhat longer, yet significantly less terrifying, journey back.
"So, what now?" Scootaloo asks, panting from the exertion of the return trip, though nowhere near keeling over from exhaustion this time around.
Applebloom opens her mouth to answer, only to frown after a moment's hesitation, "Ah don't actually know. Any ideas, Sweetie Belle?"
"I think we need to find some vamponies first," Sweetie Belle suggests. "After all, we can't hunt them if we don't know where they are."
Scootaloo nods in agreement, winking and wiping her eye as the motion causes a bead of sweat to blur her vision, "That makes sense. How do we find them though? It's not like they're going to be just walking around."
"By investigating," Sweetie Belle replies. "You know, conducting interviews, gathering clues – like detectives, but we're looking for vamponies instead of normal ponies."
"Sounds like a Twilight-approved plan to me," Scootaloo says, her eyes tracking a fast-moving cloud trailing a rainbow, "and I think I know the first pony we should interview."
She waves her hooves at the cloud, "HEY RAINBOW DASH!"
Said cloud stops suddenly, Rainbow Dash's head appearing to one side as she searches for the source of the call – the motion of Scootaloo's flailing hooves quickly drawing her attention. Smiling and returning the wave, Rainbow Dash holds her wings still, allowing gravity to take hold and pull her towards the surface world. An instant before she impacts the ground however, she flaps hard, altering course to instead skim over the grassy road and hurtle towards the Crusaders. At the last possible moment, she plants her hooves, wings locked to her sides as she skids the last several feet to come to a stop just in front of the fillies, striking a pose to stand proudly with her wings spread wide and a cocky grin on her face. A faint breeze follows her arrival, ruffling their manes. Scootaloo squees.
"That was SO! AWESOME!"
Rainbow Dash folds her wings, puffing out her chest a little, "Yeah, I get that a lot. So what's up, little sis?"
A silly grin spreads across Scootaloo's face as a giddy warmth infuses her body, I still can't believe I have an older sister now and she's Rainbow Dash, even if it's not 'official' or whatever yet.
She shuffles her wings, preparing to answer her idol.
Applebloom, however, cuts her off before she even begins to speak, "We were wonderin' if you knew anythin' about the vampony attack last night."
"That? Yeah, everypony's heard about that by now," Rainbow Dash snickers. "I'm surprised I haven't seen Rarity around yet, usually she's all over this kind of thing."
"She's decided to eat all of our ice cream instead," Sweetie Belle grumbles.
Rainbow blinks, "Wait, what?"
Applebloom shrugs, "We asked Twilight about it earlier, and she said that she and Rarity just had some kinda misunderstandin', but in the meantime Rarity's been stress eatin' all the ice cream she can get her hooves on."
"Yeah, and Twilight spaced out for like a minute before she told us there was a misunderstanding," Scootaloo adds. "We were waving our hooves and saying her name and everything, and she just kinda stood there."
Rainbow Dash frowns, faint warning bells going off in the back of her head, "That's… usually not a good sign. Anyway, as for the attack," she shrugs, "there's really not much to tell. Derpy got hurt, so Turner's staying with her in the hospital, and they're keeping the vampony in the hospital too since it also got hurt."
"Wait, that's it?!" Sweetie Belle asks, voice cracking under the weight of her incredulity.
Rainbow Dash nods in agreement, "Yeah, it's pretty underwhelming. I mean, a real live bloodsucker attacks somepony and it's like nopony's even bothered about it. I expected some Guards to show up at least, ya know?"
Scootaloo salutes, followed by Sweetie Belle and Applebloom, "Have no fear, Rainbow Dash, the Cutie Mark Crusaders: Vampony Hunters are here!"
"Heck yeah!" Rainbow Dash laughs, raising a hoof, "C'mon, don't leave me hanging."
They all tap hooves and let out a cheer.
After a few carefree seconds however, Rainbow Dash's smile fades and she sighs, the chains of her responsibilities once more coiling around her mind, "Too bad I have to get back to work, otherwise I'd totally help you guys out."
"You could skip work and help us out anyway," Scootaloo suggests hopefully.
Rainbow Dash chuckles, "Sorry squirt, no can do. These clouds aren't going to move themselves and I'm not about to abandon my team during a job for anypony, mysterious vamponies included."
Scootaloo lowers her head, ears drooping as she stares at the ground, "Fine… "
Rainbow Dash tousles her mane, "Hey, you can tell me all about your awesome adventure tomorrow, alright?"
Scootaloo perks up at Rainbow's words and she nods excitedly.
Rainbow Dash smiles, then flexes her wings, "Great, I can't wait to hear about it! I really gotta get back to work though – nopony else on the weather team has ever rounded up clouds faster than me since I joined, and I'm not going to let anypony break my streak. See ya!"
With that, she shoots into the air to resume her assignment, trailing her signature array of colors. The Cutie Mark Crusaders meanwhile watch her speed away before jumping aboard their preferred method of transportation, a new destination in mind.
As soon as the hospital comes into view, Scootaloo abruptly brings her scooter to a stop and jumps into a nearby bush.
Peeking out from beneath her cover, she urgently motions for her passengers to follow, "Girls! Get over here!"
Applebloom and Sweetie Belle look at each other, then over at the rustling bush containing their frantically gesturing friend. Shrugging, they calmly climb out of the wagon and follow her into hiding.
"So, why're we in a bush?" Applebloom asks, peering from their shelter to examine the surrounding area.
Scootaloo scans the road outside their bush, eying every passing pony suspiciously, "I was thinking about what Rainbow Dash said, about how it's weird that nopony seems to care, and she's right. I mean, some ponies here faint from a rabbit stampede; there should be riots in the streets right about now! Even Twilight's just sitting around in her library doing nothing instead of going nuts about science and research like she usually does when new stuff shows up. Something is definitely not right in Ponyville."
Both turn to Sweetie Belle, the filly having somehow managed to become even paler despite her already nearly pure white coat.
"You alright?" Applebloom inquires, raising a hoof to block a branch caught in a stray breeze from poking at her.
"Thralls… " Sweetie Belle whispers. "They're all thralls."
Applebloom again looks out at the many ponies beyond the borders of their bush, then returns her gaze to Sweetie Belle, "They're what now?"
"They're thralls," she repeats. "Powerful vamponies can take control of the minds of normal ponies by looking into their eyes, enthralling them. Once that happens, they're servants to their vampony master until either the vampony is killed, the thrall is purified by solar magic, or the vampony willingly releases them."
Applebloom pats her on the back, "See? This is why you're the vampony expert."
Scootaloo continues watching the ponies outside their bush, "We'll need to sneak into the hospital then. If it already got to Twilight, there's no telling who could be under its control by now."
The trio bide their time until nopony is looking before rushing to another nearby subshrub, a blur of motion and a faint rustle of leaves the only indication of their presence. Peeking from their new hiding place, they wait patiently for the right moment to advance, incrementally approaching their goal over the course of an hour.
"Alright, almost there!" Scootaloo says, examining the final patch of ground separating them from the shrubs lining the west side of the hospital, "Ready, girls?"
"Ready!" Sweetie Belle and Applebloom reply in unison.
They take one last look around to make sure nopony is watching, then make a break for it, galloping as fast as their legs can carry them.
"We made it!" Sweetie Belle declares, grinning broadly as soon as she and her friends burst through the leaves of the shrubbery, "Now we just need to find out where it's hiding and-"
Sweetie Belle's voice is abruptly cut off as she trips over something lying in the bushes.
"Ow… what was that?"
She looks up to see her friends staring at whatever she had tripped over, eyes wide with fear. Following their gaze, she observes a yellow-brown filly lying next to her. A filly with bat wings, tufted ears, and sharp teeth visible inside her slightly open mouth. Sweetie Belle's eyes widen to match the other Crusaders' as she hastily scrambles away from the little vampony. Said vampony stirs, stretches, and opens her eyes, blearily scanning her surroundings for the source of the commotion. Sweetie Belle meanwhile desperately searches for the stake they'd taken from Sweet Apple Acres, to her horror finding nothing but air. Scootaloo and Applebloom likewise reach for the manure and hot sauce they'd procured earlier, only to turn up empty hooved as well. Realization simultaneously strikes the Crusaders like a bolt of chain lightning, three pairs of eyes snapping towards where they'd left the wagon over an hour ago.
"We forgot everything in the wagon!" Sweetie Belle screams, "What do we do?!"
Scootaloo jumps at the waking filly, "Get her!"
Sweetie Belle and Applebloom follow her lead, lunging at the vampony. With a startled hiss, the vampony dodges, spreading her wings and taking off into the sky with a couple quick flaps. Unable to change direction midair despite their frantic flailing, the Crusaders collide in a disorganized pile of limbs, manes, and tails. Dazed, they hear a screech immediately followed by another impact as the vampony falls back into the shrub, landing on top of them.
The Crusaders quickly disentangle themselves, pushing the vampony off in the process. Once again standing, they prepare for battle – only to find their target cowering on the ground with her hooves over her eyes.
"W-Who's there?" she asks, her voice quavering as she speaks.
"We're the Cutie Mark Crusaders: Vampony Hunters!" Scootaloo proclaims proudly, puffing out her chest in an imitation of Rainbow Dash.
The cowering filly starts visibly shaking at this, "V-Vampony h-hunters?"
"Hold on girls, this doesn't feel right," Applebloom says, pointing at the filly before them. "Ah mean look, she's absolutely terrified. Heck, she's even cryin'. Are we sure she's actually a vampony?"
The vampony bristles at this, fear forgotten in the face of righteous indignation, "I AM a vampony and I AM NOT crying! The sun just attacked my eyes causing water to come out."
"So you're crying," Sweetie Belle states flatly.
Scootaloo waves her hooves, "Girls! Focus! She just admitted to being a vampony, so we have to get her to de-enthrall everypony, remember?"
Once again united, the three fillies turn to face their vampiric counterpart.
Dawn risks removing her hooves from her stinging eyes to glare at the three ponies opposite her, the shifting speckles of pure sunlight filtering through the imperfect barrier of leaves and branches forcing her to narrow her eyes further.
I am not crying! she thinks angrily, deliberately ignoring the wet streaks running down her face.
The red and yellow one takes a step forward, "So are ya gonna free our friends or what?"
Dawn does her best to cast an annoyed look at the pony despite her eyes being almost completely shut, "What do you mean 'free your friends'?"
The orange pegasus glares back at her, "Don't play dumb with us; we know you've been brainwashing everypony with your vampony mind powers!"
Dawn gapes at her accuser, "I – wait, what? But-"
"You heard me," the pegasus cuts her off. "And we also know that you're using the hospital as your base as you slowly take over the town so that… so you can… uhh… "
"So that you can turn Ponyville into your own personal feeding ground while you build up your strength and amass an undead army of our friends and family with which to conquer all of Equestria!" the white unicorn finishes with a crescendo.
The other two ponies stare at their friend, stunned.
"Wow, Sweetie Belle, that was… dark," the orange one finally remarks.
Dawn stands perfectly still, dumbstruck by the absurdity of the unicorn filly's statement while the earth pony nods in agreement – a split second later her expression suddenly tainted by fear as a realization sets in.
"Wait, that's yer plan?!" she looks, horrified, at Dawn, then at Sweetie Belle, whom she begins to shake rapidly, "Oh my gosh we're DOOMED! DOOOOMED!!!"
"HOOOLD I~T!" Dawn yells above the screaming, interrupting the earth pony's panic attack and drawing all eyes to herself. She glares back at them, daring any of the fillies to start screaming again.
When they are not forthcoming, she continues, "Okay, first off, vamponies do NOT have any weird mind control powers like whatever you're freaking out about. There's no way I could mind control the whole town or anything like that. Second, we can't turn ponies into undead minions. Third, I haven't done anything to any of your friends. Well, unless you're friends with the muffin one, in which case I drank some of her blood. So I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I haven't hurt any of your friends. Fourth-"
"Hold on a second," the pegasus objects. "How can you drink somepony's blood without hurting them? Doesn't that involve, you know, biting? With fangs? Vamponies do have fangs at least, right?"
Dawn bares her teeth at them in a predatory grin, "Yup."
"Cool… " the orange one murmurs. Her friends appear much less impressed however, flinching away from the razor sharp teeth. Dawn pretends to snap at them, giggling as they scramble backwards.
"'Cool' is not the word Ah would use for that, Scootaloo," the earth pony mutters.
"Yeah, more like 'creepy'. And how can you possibly not hurt anypony when you bite them with teeth like," Sweetie Belle shivers, "those?”
"Well, see," Dawn lifts her upper lip to reveal one of her canines, "these aren't my full grown fangs. They'll be a lot longer when they come in, so I'll be able to feed without taking a chunk out of anypony, but that won't happen until I get my cutie mark."
She looks away sheepishly, scuffing the ground with a hoof, "Which… I don't have. So until then I have to hunt wi-"
"Wait wait wait," Scootaloo interrupts again, focusing on Dawn's flank. "You don't have your cutie mark?"
Dawn's ears droop dejectedly, "No… "
"Neither do we!" Scootaloo eagerly shows her own blank flank to Dawn, "You should totally become a Cutie Mark Crusader!"
"Now hold on just a minute," the earth filly interjects. "Ya can't just go and invite random ponies without consultin' with the rest of us."
"Oh come on, Applebloom, it'll be so awesome!" Scootaloo counters, practically vibrating with excitement.
Applebloom knits her eyebrows, clearly not convinced, "Ah dunno… Ah mean, we just met her like five minutes ago."
"And she drinks pony blood."
"Well duh, she's a vampony."
"And she's got teeth like a timberwolf."
"Applebloom. She is a vampony."
"Does none of that bother you at all?"
"Well… she hasn't tried to attack us or mind control us or turn us into undead abominations, so she's clearly not evil," Sweetie Belle interrupts to inject some of her own reasoning. "So I think we should give her a chance."
"Ah suppose yer right," Applebloom relents, cracking a small smile which quickly grows into a large one. "Everypony deserves a chance, even the creepy bloodsucking ones."
Scootaloo pumps her hoof, "Yes!"
The three fillies face their new potential recruit grinning widely, all fear now long since forgotten.
Scootaloo hops in place, buzzing her wings, "Well? Will you join?"
Dawn eyes the fillies, wary of their sudden shift in demeanor, "Uhm… I'm not saying no, but I mean, what even is a 'Cutie Mark Crusader'?"
"Well, ya see… uh… " Applebloom pauses, perplexion followed by embarrassment. "Ya know, Ah don't think we ever actually introduced ourselves. Ah'm Applebloom."
"I'm Sweetie Belle."
"And we're," they pause for dramatic effect, "THE CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS!! YAY!!!"
Dawn winces at the fresh bout of shouting, a faint headache making itself known, "OK, that's great, but what do you actually do?" She pauses, "Oh, and I'm Dawn."
"We come up with ideas for things that it would be awesome to have a special talent for, then we go try them out together to see if we get our cutie marks in them!" Scootaloo answers, still hopping, "We've tried bowling, pillow testing, critter sitting, potion making… all sorts of things!"
Dawn cocks an eyebrow, "Like vampony hunting?"
Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle collectively wince.
"Yeah… about that, we kind of thought that vamponies were evil undead monsters and ya'll were set on takin' over Ponyville," Applebloom admits sheepishly.
"That's ridiculous," Dawn says, rolling her eyes before looking at them hopefully. "Do you really think you can help me get my cutie mark though? I've been trying to find my special talent for ages, but nothing ever seems to fit."
"Ah don't know," Applebloom replies, placing an encouraging hoof on her shoulder, "but what Ah do know is that it'll be a lot more fun tryin' to find it with some friends."
Dawn nibbles her bottom lip, many long and arduous years of practice allowing her to do so without drawing blood, "I guess that'd be nice. There aren't a whole lot of other vamponies living around here besides my family, so I've never had any friends my age before."
"It's settled then!" Scootaloo proclaims, "Welcome Dawn, to the Cutie Mark Crusaders!"