Under A Luminous Sky

by Jake The Army Guy

Chapter Ten- Rise of The Beast

Under A Luminous Sky


Jake The Army Guy

Chapter Ten: Rise of The Beast

It was late afternoon before they finally got a reply from Bentgrass’s mysterious source. Twilight had spent the rest of the day running every test she could think of on the parasprite, trying to find something about the strange magic that killed it, but so far every test had come back negative or inconclusive. After getting back from his breakfast trip, Bentgrass joined Spike in poring through the library again, trying to find a clue about the symbol. The few times Twilight had come upstairs, she noted that the two worked surprisingly well together, though Spike seemed to avoid the agent's strange eyes.

 Now, Twilight and Bentgrass stood in a large field overlooking Ponyville. The tall grass swayed gently in the breeze, an ocean of light green and brown at their hooves. The descending sun dipped behind a tree to their left, casting long shadows across the field. Twilight did her best to appear casual, but every now and then she couldn’t help but cast a sad gaze at Bentgrass. The letter from Shining had revealed a lot about his odd mind. Eventually, he noticed her glances.

“Ms. Sparkle, you have been giving me the most peculiar looks ever since I returned from breakfast. Something on your mind?”

Your life-changing mistake and your dead wife...

“Oh, uh, just wondering if this pony will be able to help us.” She gave a half-grin.

Bentgrass raised an eyebrow for a moment before turning back to the front. “The professor is Equestria’s foremost expert on ancient Zebrica. If anypony can shed some light on this symbol, it’s him.” He scanned his head back and forth across the empty field. “Though, I admit to being curious as to why we had to meet him way out here.”

“Well,” Twilight said, grateful for the change of topic, “Long-range teleportation is still a new science. It can be very dangerous in enclosed spaces. If the sending unicorn is off by even a little bit, the subject could materialize inside a wall.”

“I see. That would be... most unfortunate.” His ear flicked and he turned his head skyward. “Ah, look who it is.”

Twilight craned her head upwards and saw a rainbow contrail streaking across the blue sky. As she watched, a cyan dot bobbed and weaved between clouds, drawing a pattern with her wake. A small smile graced Twilight’s lips as the dot suddenly darted straight up above them, rocketing towards the heavens.

Twilight's horn glowed, and with a loud pop a spyglass appeared before her. Floating it to her face, she could see the focus in Rainbow’s eyes as she jetted upwards, as well as the wide smile on her face.

Suddenly, Rainbow’s whole body jerked and her wings snapped to her sides. Her momentum carried her up for a few seconds before gravity reclaimed its hold on her and she began to plummet.

“Ms. Sparkle, is that supposed to happen?”

Twilight said nothing as fear gripped her heart with icy fingers. Rainbow was tumbling towards the ground with frightening speed. Her body seemed limp, her limbs flailing in the wind as she spun and twisted. Only her wings appeared to be in control, but they were still locked to her side. Her mane flowed wildly in her face, only briefly concealing the closed eyes and blank face.

“Twilight...” Bentgrass’s ears were flat against his head as the pegasus continued her freefall with no sign of consciousness.

“Come on, Rainbow, come on,” she whispered. As the limp form in her vision fell ever faster, heading right for the large tree on the hill, Twilight’s horn glowed again, this time preparing to catch her unconscious friend.

With only a few dozen lengths to go, Rainbow’s eyes shot open and her grin reappeared. In a show of near super-equine agility, she flipped over mid-air and lashed her wings out, the strain visible on her face as she struggled to arrest her fall. Finally, still traveling at frightening speeds, she landed on a large tree branch. The branch groaned in protest as her weight hit it, bending at an obscene angle before bouncing back. The force flung Rainbow a few lengths into the air before she fell once more. With a mighty thud, she hit the ground on her shoulder, her legs tucked into her body. She rolled several times before hopping up with a flourish and landing on her hooves beside Twilight, her wings standing straight up and a cocky grin on her face.

“Ha, still got it,” she said with a waggle of her eyebrows.

“Oh, my goodness, Rainbow! What happened?”

“What? I’m fine,” she said casually. “That was one of the tricks we used to do in the ‘Bolts. The team would be flying at opposite ends of the stadium and I’d fake being knocked out. I’d fall, the team would race to try and catch me.” Her eyes went wide, and she gestured wildly with her hooves. “They’d just miss me, everypony would be screaming. At the last second, I’d bounce of a cloud and roll to the ground, and the crowd would go insane!” She arched her eyebrow. “You’d know this if you had gone to a few more of my shows like you said you would.”

Twilight let out a sheepish chuckle as Bentgrass walked up. “A most impressive display, Ms. Dash. Though I must ask what you’re doing here.”

“Duh, I’m here to help you guys, like yesterday!”

Bentgrass sighed. “I appreciate that, Ms Dash, but I believe we have everything quite in hoof as of now.”

“Hey!” Rainbow snorted. “You wouldn’t have had anything in hoof last night if it weren’t for me! I’m staying. Besides,” she cast a deadly glance at Twilight, “you owe me, remember?”

Twilight smiled. “Yeah, I remember, Dash. But all we’re doing is meeting with a professor from Trotsburg. Bentgrass thinks he can help us identify the symbol we found.”

“Symbol? What symbol?”

“The symbol the killer carved into the victims’ flanks after ordering a swarm of mutated parasprites to devour them alive.”

Rainbow’s eyes went wide before a barely suppressed look of disgust washed over her cyan face. “Uh, you know what? I probably should, um, check in with the weather team. Heh, you two seem to have everything under control. Maybe I should... just... um, what’s going on?” she said, staring at the ground beneath her hooves.

A sharp breeze had picked up, blowing a cascade of leaves of the large tree and creating a whistling sound as it moved between the browning leaves. Twilight followed Dash’s gaze downward and her eyes went wide. The ground was glowing, an eerie blue haze suffusing the brown of the leaves.

Dash!” Twilight’s horn lit up as she telekinetically grabbed Dash. Rainbow let out a loud yelp as she was yanked away in a blur of cyan and lavender. Nearly a second later, a bright flash made all three look away.

When they looked back, a yellow earth pony stood before them, coughing violently. His curly red mane was mussed from the teleport, and a few errant blades of grass stuck out from the top of his head. He appeared to be older; streaks of grey ran through his mane, and there were wrinkles around his blue eyes. Beneath a plaid sweater vest,  his skin was wrinkled, but he seemed fairly solid, hints of firm muscle visible beneath his skin. His cutie mark was a ragged scroll under a magnifying glass.

 His coughing fit continued for a few more moments. Finally, he spat a large ball of phlegm onto the ground and chuckled. “Heh, nothing like a wee bit o’ teleporting to clear out the sinuses, eh?” He shook his head and looked at Bentgrass. “Ah, Benty, my boy! It’s been too long, lad!” He walked up and took the detective in a fierce bear hug. Bentgrass’s eyes went wide under the force of the embrace. Twilight couldn’t help but snicker at the squeaking noise the agent made as he tried to breathe.

“Uh, Twi?” Twilight looked to Rainbow, still caught in her magic field. She smiled sheepishly and released her.

“Indeed, professor,” Bentgrass gasped. Finally, the old stallion released him, and Bentgrass took a deep breath. Straightening his coat, he turned to the two mares. “Twilight, Rainbow, may I present Tornbald Parchment, Professor of Zebrican History, Trotsburg University.”

Twilight nodded politely. “Good afternoon, Professor.”

“Always a good afternoon when ye meet an old friend flanked by two lovely mares,” he answered with a great bow.

Dash’s face held a questioning gaze. “Um, you don’t sound Zebrican.”

“Well, ain’t you just the observant one?” he said with a playful smile. “I’m Scoltish, if’n you can’t tell by the ginger mane and thick brogue!”

“So, how does a Scoltish pony end up studying Zebrica?”

“Ach, who wants to study Scoltland? The weather’s always cold and rainy, the food’s awful, and all the lads walk around in skirts!” he said with a bark of laughter. Twilight just couldn’t hold back an undignified snort at the lame joke. Dash just rolled her eyes.

“Aw, I’m jest joshin’ ya, lass. Don’t get me wrong, ah love my homeland. But there’s jest something about Zebrica. The culture, the traditions.” He leaned in closer, a lewd smile on his lips. “The mares.”

Bentgrass cleared his throat loudly. “Professor, I believe we can spare the ladies the perversion of an old stallion.”

“Oi!” said Parchment. “I’m fifty-seven. I’m not old!”

Rainbow rubbed the back of her neck, looking around. “Uh, yeah, okay. I’m gonna just... go. Twi, keep me posted, ‘kay?” With that, she launched herself upward and flew off.

Twilight didn’t acknowledge Rainbow. She simply stared at the professor, her brow furrowed in thought. Suddenly, she jerked her head up. “Wait a minute. Tornbald Parchment... didn’t you used to work at Princess Celestia’s school?”

Parchment beamed. “Aye! I was the Under-Professor of Zebrican History.”

“I remember reading about you in the paper. Weren’t you fired?”

A loud bark of laughter made Twilight blink. “Ach, no, I wasn’t fired! I quit that place!”

“Um, you quit Her Majesty’s school?”

“Aye! Too many rules and regulations. It’s all political up there, isn’t it? Besides, who wants to work up there with a bunch of stuck up, snooty unicorns?” His eyes widened. “Eh, heh-heh. No offense, ma’am.”

“None taken,” she deadpanned. “I’m pretty sure I read they fired you.”

“Wouldn't surprise me. Probably a story cooked up by the Board ot Regents to save face.” He scowled, but a jovial smile set on his lips. “Well, the lot of them can kiss my cutie mark! I love me new job. Sure, it’s not as flashy as Her Majesty’s, but I got my own lecture hall, lots of field work, and plenty of students to teach.”

“You know, Ms. Sparkle here was offered a position at Her Majesty’s school,” Bentgrass said, looking directly at Twilight.

“Oh, really, now? Well, congratulations, lass!” He gave her a wide grin.

Twilight blushed. “Um, actually, I turned down the position.”

Parchment seemed to tense. “Oh. Y-You... turned down, a position in Canterlot?” Twilight nodded. “Well, that’s... interesting.” He smiled at her once more, though his lips were very tight. Twilight began pawing at the ground, looking to Bentgrass.

After a brief period of awkward silence, Bentgrass clear his throat. “Professor, might we get down to business?”

Parchment shook his head. “Oh, um, aye. So, where’s this parchment you're wanting Parchment to look at?”

Bentgrass pulled the drawing out of his coat, offering it to him. “We’re absolutely stuck on the meaning of this symbol. A local zebra mare, Zecora, said it looked to be of Zebrican descent, but was... unclear as to its meaning.”

“Well then,” he said, taking the paper, “let’s have a look, shall we?” He reached into his saddlebag and produced a thin pair of glasses, setting them on his snout as he walked over to the tree. Leaning against the old oak, he held the paper up to his face, studying it intently. After several moments of thought, his eyes widened. “Oh, my. Is this... oh, it is! Benty, lad, where did you say you found this?”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, would you mind? It’d really help if I could see the original.”

Bentgrass frowned. “That would be... difficult. Rest assured that my depiction is accurate down to the slightest details.

“O... kay, then. Well,” he said, clearing his throat, “what you’ve got here is an ancient Zebrican spirit ward. I’ve not seen this particular symbol before, but it matches others I have.”

Bentgrass leaned in to look at the paper again. “A spirit ward?”

“Aye. Judging by the shadings around the crescent, I’d put it about, oh, the mid-Zelan Dynasty.”

At this, Twilight gasped. “Wait, the Zelan Dynasty? But, that was over three thousand years Pre-Banishment!”

Parchment nodded. “Aye, like I said, ancient.”

“And what was its meaning, Professor?”

The old stallion began pacing around the tree, his head held high as if he were giving a lecture. “Well, you have to understand, lad. Everypony knows that Equestria was a mighty different place before the reign of the Sisters. That goes doubley for areas around Equestria, especially Zebrica. Things like robbery, rape, even cold-blooded murder were all but common.” Twilight gulped, a visible chill running down her body. Parchment nodded. “Aye, not a very good time to be around.”

Bentgrass nodded in understanding. “I see. And the symbol?”

“Well, when a Zebrican bandit would kill another, he would carve this symbol on the victim’s flank, believing it would prevent the spirit from returning to seek vengeance.”

A quiet descended across the field. Twilight looked to Bentgrass. He seemed to be taking in what he heard, his brow furrowed in thought and his left forehoof idly playing with a long blade of grass.

“Tell me, Professor, would it be uncommon for a pony to never have heard of this?”

Parchment bellowed in laughter, leaning his bulk against the tree so hard that another shower of dying leaves fell to the ground. “That’s a good one, lad! Tell me, Benty, how many ponies do you know that know something about Pre-Celestial Equestria, let alone Zebrica? Besides,” he said, flicking his ear to dislodge a fallen leaf, “most records of that time period were destroyed when the Royal Archives burned during the War of the Night.”

Bentgrass looked up and level a cool gaze at him. “And, what about a zebra?”

“Hm.” Parchment rubbed his chin with a hoof. “Eh, no, not really. As I said, it’s very old, and not a time in history that many wish to dwell on. Uh, well...”

“Well what, Professor?”

He shook his head. “No, it’s nothing.”

Twilight stepped closer to him. “Please, Professor Parchment, anything would help at this point.”

Parchment looked between them for a moment before sighing. “Well, this Zebrican mare friend of yours. Tell me, does she speak in rhyme and have a picture of the sun for a cutie mark?”

Bentgrass’s ears perked up. “Yes on both counts.”

“Would you happen to know how many rays are coming out of the sun?”

Twilight thought for a moment before Bentgrass spoke. “Eleven.”[

At this, Parchment sighed again and sat down, grunting slightly as his old body settled on the dry grass beneath the tree. He rubbed his brow with a hoof before looking up at Bentgrass. “Lad, I don't want to be getting somepony in trouble.”

Bentgrass leaned down, his eyes firm. “Professor, this is a murder investigation.”

Twilight walked over to him and sat down next to him. “Professor, why is her cutie mark important?”

He sighed once more. “Well, you see it’s not a cutie mark. Zebras are like donkeys or cattle, they don’t get cutie marks. It’s a tribal inscription, means she’s a shaman. That’s why she speaks like that. In Zebrican culture, it’s seen as a mark of enlightenment. All shamans, artisans, and village elders speak in rhyme. The eleven rays from the sun means she’s a master level shaman. Most likely, she started studying Zebrican magic around the same age that you did, lass.”

Bentgrass stood straight. “So, she should have recognized it.”

“Oi!” Parchment stood up, walking right up to Bentgrass. “I didn’t say that! Don’t be putting words in my muzzle like that, lad! Besides, I said I haven't seen this particular symbol before."

"But she should at the very least be able to recognize it as a spirit ward, yes?"

Before Parchment could answer, Twilight stepped in front of Bentgrass, glaring hard at the agent. "Stop! If Zecora said she's never seen it before, then she hasn't. I told you to stop accusing my—”

"I am not accusing, Ms. Sparkle. I am asking questions to better form a hypothesis. I would think that you of all ponies would appreciate that." He turned back to Parchment, his eyes neutral. "One more question, Professor. Does the word 'Mbwun' mean anything to you?"

"Hm, Mbwun." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment before shaking his head. "The word rings a bell, but I can't tell you why. The double consonant and the long 'u' sound means it's probably a Zinzi word."


"Oh, eh, they're one of the Southernmost herds in Zebrica. If it is, it's not surprising that I've not heard it. They're a wee bit... secretive. I'll look into it, though."

Bentgrass nodded curtly. "So, she lied about that as well..."

"Oh, now hold on just a minute!" Twilight stamped a hoof in front of him. "Just because this pony hasn't heard of some ancient legend doesn't mean that Zecora is a killer!"

"It could mean a great deal, Ms. Sparkle, and if I were you, I'd—"

A sharp buzzing sound interrupted him. Twilight cocked an eyebrow as the agent stiffened and tapped at something in his coat. Bentgrass cleared his throat. "Well, thank you for all your help, Professor. Would you mind terribly staying local for a few days? I might find need of your expertise again."

"Sure thing, boyo. I'm on a bit of a sabbatical anyway."

He nodded. "Thank you. I'm sorry, but there is something I need to handle. Ms. Sparkle, I shall meet you at the library shortly. Professor, it was good to see you again." With that, he turned and cantered away, his long strides allowing him to leave the large field before either of them had a chance to ask questions.

Twilight stood rooted to the spot, the fetlock-high grass tickling her as it blew in the soft breeze, but she barely noticed. Her eyes were narrowed, a harsh gaze level at the fleeing Bentgrass, his shrinking form backlit by the almost setting sun. How dare he?! She had already warned him about that. She'd known Zecora for almost a decade now, she knew she wasn't capable of such horror as they saw in the morgue.

A gentle tap on the shoulder shook her from her thoughts. Parchment stood next to her, a sympathetic look in his wizened eyes. "Well, there he goes. Um, are you all right, lass?"

"No, I'm not. I've already told him that none of my friends could have done this. Hay, he's met some of them, but I feel like all he ever sees is suspects. How can he be so... cold?"

Parchment sighed. "He wasn’t always like that. See, I'm an old friend of the family. Known Benty since he was but a wee colt. His parents and his brother died in a fire when he was around ten. Poor thing didn't even have his cutie mark yet. After that he was a bit more... logical than most ponies. But ever since, well..."

"His wife died?"

Parchment's shoulders sagged. "Oh, you know about that? Aye, ever since Skylight, he's been so focused on the evils of the world, always looking for the worst in ponies from the moment he meets them. I've told him that's no way t' live. If he only focuses on finding the things ponies hide, he'll end up missing out on the things right in front of him. I fear it'll be the end of him someday."

"Well, I kind of understand that. I love logic and facts more than most ponies, but even I know they can only take you so far. True wisdom comes from fact tempered by emotion, and my emotions tell me he's wrong about Zecora."

"Twilight," Parchment said as he turned to face the tree, "look, I don’t know exactly what's going on here, and something tells me I don't want to. But, while Benty can get a bit... focused, we'll say, his instincts are usually spot on. Are you sure your friends couldn't be involved?"

Twilight sighed and turned to face the setting sun. The question played on her mind, racing around like a Wonderbolt derby. As much as she hated it, she could see the logic in Bentgrass's argument. There were a lot of clues piling up, most pointing towards Zecora. Maybe...

She focused more on the sky, taking in the multi-hued tones of sunset. Slowly, a warm smile spread across her face. The burnt oranges, bright yellows, and light pinks; they reminded her of her friends, of all the adventures and hardships they'd faced over the past years. The lessons she’d learned. The warm smile turned into a confident one as she turned back to Parchment.

"Yes, I am. I may not know as much about his kind of thing as Bentgrass, but I know an awful lot about friendship. You have to trust your friends, and trust yourself that you know them." Her eyes set on the old pony, resolution set on her face. "I know that Zecora couldn't have done this."

Parchment regarded her for a moment, then nodded, a slight smile on his face. "Well, I hope you're right, for both your sakes. Well," he said, adjusting his saddlebags, "I suppose I'll head to the local inn, get myself a room. I brought a few books I think may help. I'll also contact a few of my colleagues, see if I can’t find more about this symbol or that ‘Mbwun’ word. I'll let you know if I find anything."

Twilight nodded. "Thank you very much for your help, Professor."

"Well, anything for a lovely mare and an old friend!" he said with a bow. Twilight nodded her head as he walked away. After several steps, he stopped, turning back to her.

“Oi, Twilight?”


“Watch out for you and your friends. There’s dangerous things ahoof.”

She nodded once more. As Parchment walked away, Twilight sat down on the soft grass, enjoying the view for a moment. Ponyville absolutely glowed in the waning sunlight. Windows reflected the sun back at her, giving the impression of hundreds of tiny eyes winking. Ponies could be seen closing their shops and heading home for the day. All in all, the town exuded the calm serenity that made her fall in love with it in the first place.

The calm, however, refused to come to Twilight as she sat and thought. I don’t care what Bentgrass says. Zecora can’t be behind this! True, she didn’t know every single detail about the reclusive zebra, but Twilight liked to think she was a good judge of character. There was too much control behind Zecora’s eyes, too much wisdom and gentleness to allow for the thought that she could slaughter innocent ponies.

Suddenly, Twilight gasped. Of course! Oh, it’s so obvious, why didn’t I see it before?

All but leaping to her hooves, she took off at a full gallop towards Ponyville.

“Angel Bunny, could you please get me another roll of gauze?”

The tiny rabbit snapped a quick salute before hopping across the floor of the cottage, heading for the medicine cabinet. After a few moments, he returned with the gauze in his mouth, placing it next to Fluttershy.

“Thank you, honey.” Turning back to her patient, she carefully wrapped the wolf’s foreleg in another layer before setting it with some tape. She smiled warmly at the injured creature laying on the rug in the middle of her living room.

“There you go, sweety. Now, make sure you take it easy on that leg. The wound wasn’t very deep, but it could have been worse. Honestly, what were you thinking going after that buck all by yourself?”

The wolf whined quietly, turning his head in shame and letting out a few mewling cries. Fluttershy chuckled. “Oh, that’s silly! You know your mate loves you. You don’t need to risk your life to impress her.” He hung his head, his tail drooping between his legs. “Now, I want you to stay out of the hunt for the next week at least. Let the rest of the pack bring the food back to you, okay?”

At this, the wolf jumped up, but yelped loudly as he tried to put pressure on his injured leg. She looked him right in the eye. “I don’t care what the other boys think. You need time to heal, understand?” she said firmly.

He whined once more, then nodded and limped towards the door. Fluttershy smiled warmly and waved. As the wolf left, she walked over to the window and watched him rejoin the waiting pack outside. A few of the wolves playfully nipped at his leg, only to be chased away by a snarling bite. They all turned back to the window and barked happily before turning and running back to the woods.

“Well, Angel, that was the last patient for the day, I think.” She looked down at the white bunny at her hooves. “Now, how about we go make some carrot stew?” Angel’s eyes brightened and he nodded, his long ears flopping back and forth before he turned and hopped towards the kitchen.

Fluttershy giggled and turned back towards the window. The Everfree was quickly disappearing in shadow, the sun now almost completely set. In the waning light, the forest seemed to lose a bit of its foreboding, looking almost pleasant. Only those who lived near it knew better, and Fluttershy wouldn’t dare walk into it at night. Still, though, she couldn’t help but admire the beauty of the woods. Long shadows snaked out from the treeline, dark fingers reaching out towards the cottage. The sound of nocturnal animals beginning their day drifted through the open window, creating a pleasing symphony to her ears. A light breeze carried the scent of dying leaves. Fluttershy inhaled deeply, drinking in the smells of nature.

She turned to walk to the kitchen when a sudden movement caught her eye. Gazing hard at the wall of shadow, a shape began to emerge. Instinctively, she ducked down, a quiet “Eep” escaping her lips. After a few moments, she gathered her courage and slinked back to her hooves. A figure stood at the edge of the woodline. She could tell it was a pony, but the brown cloak it wore prevented her from getting a good look at its face. She squinted, trying to identify this stranger, when two glowing lights appeared. As she watched, two yellow orbs lit up underneath the pony’s hood. For a moment, a feeling of recognition hit her. Wait, is that—

A cacophony of shrill cries snapped her back to reality. Jerking back, a wave of chaos flew past her. Birds of all colors were screaming in panic, dashing for the open window. Fluttershy held up her hooves, trying to calm the frightened birds. “What’s wrong, babies? Why are y—” In mid-sentence, she looked down at the floor, and her eyes went wide.

Standing in the middle of the room was Angel, but something seemed off. He wasn’t just standing still; he seemed frozen in mid-step, his left hindpaw hanging in the air. Fluttershy took a step towards him, but jerked to a halt suddenly. The tiny rabbit began to shake, not a normal movement, but rather like his whole body was vibrating. It started in his ears, but soon spread to his whole body.

“A-A-Angel? Honey, what’s wr—”

In an instant, the spell was broken, and Angel fell to the ground. A piercing screech echoed in the small cottage as Angel began writhing in pain, clutching his head. The scream only got louder as his limbs spasmed hard, sending his tiny body flopping like a fish out of water. As she watched in horror, Angel began to claw at his head, tiny flecks of blood falling to the ground around him. Fluttershy ran over to the convulsing rabbit. When she reached his side, his hind leg lashed out at her. A shrill cry left her as the force of the blow launched her back, impacting the wall with a harsh crack.

Finally, with one last massive twitch, Angel lay still on his belly, his white fur stained with his own blood and more flowing from dozens of scratches on his head. With a loud groan, Fluttershy lift herself to her hooves and looked at him. Through her tear-clouded eyes, she saw his chest rise and fall, a tiny sense of relief flooding her body. The feeling died quickly when another sound came from the prone rabbit: no longer a high-pitch scream of pain, but a low growl, angry and feral.

Fluttershy instinctively took a step back as Angel’s torso began to pulse and writhe like a balloon filling and deflating. His limbs began to ripple, accompanied by a series of sickening squelches, like sinew tearing and grinding. With another low moan, he pushed himself to his knees, staring at the ground. A line of drool fell from his mouth. He reached a paw up, and Fluttershy yelped as he slammed it down on the floor with enough force to crack the wood—but that wasn’t what filled her with abject terror. As the limb hit the ground, it seemed to stretch and lengthen, a horrible crack sounding as it hit.

Shaking harder than she ever had before, she took a tentative step towards her pet and dear friend. “Angel?” she whispered.

At the sound of her voice, Angel let out a primal howl and raised his head to look at her, drool dripping from his large fangs and his blood-red eyes glowing.