Under A Luminous Sky
Jake The Army Guy
Chapter Twelve: The Frayed Ends of Sanity
Twilight and Bentgrass raced through the Everfree Forest as fast as they dared, which was much slower than Twilight wanted. The thick canopy prevented the moonlight from penetrating, meaning the only respite from the dark shadows threatening to swallow them was the dull glow from her horn. Dodging fallen trees and low-hanging branches was difficult enough; doing so by horn-light while at a dead sprint was all but impossible. Bentgrass's slight limp wasn't making it any easier, either.
What seemed like ages ago she and Bentgrass ran past Sheriff Shackle and Deputy Bale. Though they were a few minutes behind them to start, they found Shackle huffing and wheezing shortly after they entered the forest proper. With an empathetic glance at Bale, they ran past them towards Zecora's hut, ignoring the panting cries of protest from the fat sheriff.
Finally, the pair slowed as they smelled the telling scent of exotic spices and herbs, signaling they were close. Bentgrass placed a hoof over his lips and made a shush sound, then pointed to Twilight’s horn and shaking his head. Twilight nodded and cut off her magic, plunging the woods back into darkness. Turning back to the front, Bentgrass crouched low an began to creep forward, Twilight beside him.
Twilight was amazed that the tall stallion made so little noise while moving through the sea of dead leaves. His gangly limbs moved with an otherworldly precision, landing in dry grass and leaves without a sound. Twilight did her best to emulate his movements, but the guilt gnawing at her made her steps clumsy and loud. Finally, she turned to Bentgrass.
The agent shot her a withering glare, once more placing a firm hoof before his muzzle.
Twilight was undeterred, the guilt weighing too heavily on her. "I'm sorry about earlier."
Bentgrass sighed. "Think nothing of it, Ms. Sparkle," he whispered. "You're a scientist, not a war mage. Combat magic isn't something easily grasped."
Twilight rolled her eyes. “No, I meant—"
“I know what you meant, Twilight, and it’s all right.”
"That was way out of line, bringing up your wife like that. I was just so angry."
Bentgrass sighed. "Let not your heart be troubled, Twilight. Old wounds, improperly healed, require very little salt."
Twilight nodded and turned her head forward, ducking slightly to dodge a low branch. The spicy smell was growing stronger, but she couldn't hear any of the usual signs of life from the hut, or the surrounding area: no quiet explosions from mixing concoctions, no melodious humming, nothing. All of this only added to her worry for her friend.
"I still can't believe it," she whispered as she gingerly hopped to the left to avoid a patch of poison ivy. "I mean, I've known Zecora for years! She's never shown signs of being... unstable."
"I was getting to that before we were... interrupted." His voice was low, business-like. "After her father killed his wife, he was committed to a Zebrican mental institution. Having visited one on a case a few years ago, I can tell you they are... not pleasant places.” He shuddered slightly before continuing. “Three weeks ago, he committed suicide in his cell. I believe this is what caused Zecora's break from reality."
"Still. She came to help us! She wanted to stop this. Why would she do that?"
Bentgrass sighed. "It would seem to be further evidence of her instability. Think about it," he said, ducking closer to her to speak lower, "the professor said the word Mbwun is a way of referring to one’s self. My guess is her rational mind could not face what she had done, so it made up a story about some ancient Zebrican demon, which she called the Mbwun. Subconsciously, she knew what it meant. The story set, she came to us for help in stopping the demon, not realizing what—"
Twilight jumped as a loud crash came from beyond the tree line. Bentgrass jerked to a halt, holding a hoof out to stop Twilight. He crouched down after a moment, inching forward until the tree hut came into view. Twilight crept up beside him as he knelt before a fallen log, and peeked her head up to look.
The upper canopy of the forest was still thick; only a few faint slivers of moonlight scattered down on the tree hut. Dark shadows extended from the tree like wispy tendrils of blackness reaching outward. A faint orange flicker from the windows was the only other light visible. The placement and color reminded Twilight of the gleaming eyes of a predator. The masks that hung from the branches glared at her, snarling faces painted in shadow from the sparse light. Several had fallen to the ground, the ropes torn as if some pony had ripped them down in rage.
Twilight strained to see any sign of Zecora. The dim glow flickered and danced in the windows, casting angry shadows barely visible in the dark ground. A flash of movement passed in a window. Twilight instinctively ducked down, though she cursed herself under her breath. Here was one of her closest friends, obviously in need of help, and she was jumping like a foal.
After a moment, Bentgrass tapped her shoulder. "All right. You wait here, I'll go."
As he moved to rise, Twilight yanked him back down by his coat. "No, I'm going first."
"Twilight, it’s too dangerous. I can not allow—"
"No!" she hissed. "That's my friend in there. I don't care what she's done. If your right, then she's not dangerous, she's sick." She cast a glance to the hut before turning back to him. "I'm going in there and helping my friend, understand?"
Bentgrass chewed on her words for a moment before sighing. "Very well, Twilight." She stood, but he held her in place. "Now remember, she likely has no memory of committing these deeds. Trying to confront her with this will only confuse her further.” He lifted his head to cast another glance at the dark hut. “Try and convince her to come with us to Ponyville, and we will get her the help she needs.”
Twilight nodded and stood up. Taking one final breath to steady her tattered nerves, she stepped from the shadows and began her approach to the dark hut. Now that she had a clear view, her tail froze behind her, and her ears splayed hard against her head. Several of the jars from the trees were broken, their contents splattered on the tree, shards of ceramic laying around the gnarled roots. Scratch marks and hoof prints dotted the trunk, as well.
The grim situation weighed heavily on Twilight with every step she took; her legs felt like they had lead weights attached. Zecora had been a dear friend for almost a decade, and in that time she was nothing but a gentle, humble equine. After the stumbles of their first meeting, she had become more and more welcome in the small town. Her dazzling story-telling abilities made her irreplaceable during Nightmare Night, and she had come to the elementary school numerous times to teach lessons about nature, medicine and history.
Twilight shook her head, steeling herself as she approached the hut. She stood beneath one of the windows carved into the trunk, and reared up on her hind legs to peer inside. The flickering glow came from a dying fire in the middle of the floor, tossing ghostly shadows in the already dark room. The caldron that usually hung above it was knocked over. Beyond the shimmering shadows, she could see no movement, so she eased down and walked to the door.
She raised a hoof to knock, but stopped. What do I say? ‘Hey, Zecora, my friend thinks your a deranged lunatic. Want to come to the library for some tea?’ She huffed, annoyed by her own nervousness. This was one of her best friends. Setting her shoulders, she brought her hoof down on the door. A quiet “eep” escaped when it swung open under the force of the gentle knock. Despite her mental coaching, her tailed flicked behind her as she gingerly stepped into the hut.
“Zecora?” she said, her voice sounding more shaky than she had hoped. “It’s Twilight. I just wan—” She jerked to a halt, feeling icy dread overcome her, and she turned back to the door. “Bentgrass, come here!”
The words had barely left her mouth when the agent strode next to her. “Oh, my.”
The room was poorly illuminated by the dim embers of the fire and the bright glow of Twilight’s horn, but what they could see was chaos. Nearly all of the relics that had hung from the walls, obviously precious artifacts from her home, were strewn about the floor. The large tribal mask Bentgrass had asked about the last time they were there was smashed into several large pieces, and the tiny fertility statue was broken in half. All of the many jars of potions and cure-alls were broken and leaking on the dirt floor of the hut.
Twilight shuffled over to the back wall. Bathed in lavender light, scratches and pock marks marred the walls. It looked like a feral animal had tried to claw its way out. Even the shelves themselves were torn down and scattered, littering the floor.
“Twilight, shine some light over here.”
She turned to where Bentgrass knelt, on the bottom side of the overturned kettle. Walking over, she leaned her head down to shine more light on the pool of liquid he was investigating. She squinted, trying to identify it, but its color was obscured by the purple light. It seemed viscous and thick, and gleamed brightly under her light. Her tail froze behind her as the realization hit. “Is... is that...”
Bentgrass gingerly touched a hoof to the pool, raising it to his nose. He inhaled deeply and grimaced. “Blood,” he said, still looking at his hoof. “Still fresh.”
Twilight’s knees turned to jelly and she sank to the ground. “So, is she...”
“Most likely not. Judging by the amount of blood, she is probably still alive.” He scanned the room, idly glancing about as Twilight got back to her hooves and stood by his side.
She, too, looked around and took in the destruction around her. “What happened in here?”
“Nothing good,” he said flatly. “Perhaps one of her chimeras turned on her.”
Twilight opened her mouth to protest his words, but as she continued to scan the hut, she couldn’t find the words to fight him. The claw marks, the smashed shelves, broken artifacts. It all fits, if she really...
A series of hurried hoof steps came from behind them. They turned to see Sheriff Shackle leaning against the door frame, gasping loudly as sweat poured from his chubby face. “Ponyville... Sheriff’s... Dep... Department!” he gasped.
Bentgrass glared at him for only a second before continuing his scan of the hut. "How nice of you to join us, Sheriff." A shuffling of hooves and Deputy Bale appeared in the doorway, huffing slightly.
The fat pony wiped the sweat off his brow and stared at Bentgrass. "How dare you! I told you before, Ponyville is my town, and I will make any arrests! Don’t think that shiny gold badge means you can waltz in and do my job!”
Twilight ignored his indignant rant, looking around the hut for signs of her friend. Suddenly, her ear flicked, angling towards a pile of rubble in the corner. Turning her body, she peered into the mass of shadow. "Shh!"
"Miss Sparkle, how dare you—"
"Shut up!" she hissed.
Shackle opened his mouth, but a cold glare from Bentgrass silenced him. He tip-hoofed to Twilight. "What is it, Ms. Sparkle?"
She said nothing, merely inclining her head towards the darkness. The purple glow from her horn showed a pile of debris near the wall of the hut. A large plank of wood, most likely from a table, leaned against the pile, resembling a door. Bentgrass turned his head slightly, angling his ear towards the pile, and then he heard it: a quiet, raspy breathing, along with an occasional grunt.
With a thought, Twilight reached out her magic and grabbed the board, slowly easing it away. The obstruction removed, she refocused her horn to light the shadows. A small cry came as she looked.
There, beneath what looked like a miniature hut made of rubble, sat Zecora, though she was barely recognizable. Several long, jagged cuts ran down her angular muzzle, lines of dried blood staining her coat. Blood slowly dripped from her ears, where it looked like somepony had ripped her earrings out. Her forelegs were curled underneath her twitching body, her hindlegs slightly bent like a cat ready to pounce.
The worst part, and what sent a jolt of pity racing through Twilight’s heart, were her eyes. Both were bloodshot to the point that her irises were almost completely red, and her pupils were barely visible pinpricks. Both eyes darted back and forth at a frenzied pace, dancing between the four ponies before her.
Twilight took a hesitant step towards Zecora. With a shuddering breath, she knelt down and reached a hoof out towards her friend. "Z-Zecora?” The zebra's whole body jerked at the slow movement, her wild eyes focusing on Twilight. "I-It's me, Twilight. Are you... what happened here?"
Zecora canted her head, quirking her eyebrows. Her shuddering breath seemed to match the twitching of her body, but she gave no other indication that she heard Twilight. Now that she was closer, Twilight could see more tiny scratches dotting her striped coat. Peering down, the one forehoof that she could see was torn and cracked. Somewhere in the back of her mind, the pieces fell into place as she turned her head once more to the destruction around her. She... she did this...
“Twilight,” Bentgrass said in a hushed voice behind her, “very slowly, step away.”
She shook her head, turning back to face her shaking friend. “No. I’m not leaving h—”
“Twilight!” he said more forcefully. “The dagger is missing.”
Slowly, she turned her head to Bentgrass, who motioned to the one shelf in the entire hut that was still on the well. She looked to see the brass stand that once held the ceremonial knife now empty. Inhaling sharply, she turned back to Zecora and looked down. She had just enough time to recognize a bejeweled gold bangle around Zecora’s hidden foreleg before she was roughly pushed aside.
“That’s enough of this!” Sheriff Shackle stomped a forehoof, glaring at Zecora. “Ms. Zecora, you are under arrest for the the mur—"
It almost happened too fast for Twilight to register. With a feral shriek, Zecora exploded from the pile of rubble towards the sheriff, brandishing the dagger. Shackle barely had time to cry out when the blade sank into his chest with a wet crunch. He fell to the ground, Zecora landing on top of him.
"Sheriff!" Deputy Bale rushed towards the fallen pony. As she neared, Zecora whipped he head around and snarled. She lunged backwards with both her legs, bucking Bale square in the jaw. She flew back and hit the wall with a thunderous crash before falling limply to the ground.
With a sickening pop, Zecora pulled the blade from Shackle's chest, causing him to cry out once more as blood poured from the gaping wound. She rose to her bloody hooves and turned to face Bentgrass and Twilight. The wild look in her bloodshot eyes remained, and a small amount of white-ish spittle dripped from her mouth as she growled at them.
Twilight was rooted to the ground. Her brain was still trying to process what she just witnessed when Zecora charged at her, screaming loudly. As she neared she raised the dagger high, the sheriff's blood still dripping from the blade, all Twilight could see were the frenzied eyes of her friend, and the bloodlust in them.
Zecora brought the blade down towards Twilight when a white hoof deflected her foreleg. The force of the blow jerked Zecora to the side just in time to see Bentgrass's other hoof flying at her face. With a dull crunch and a howl of pain, Zecora reeled back, clutching her snout. Bentgrass leaped on her, tackling her to the ground.
Zecora roared in anger and tried to bring the knife to bear, but Bentgrass turned to his side on top of her and pinned her forelegs to the ground. Grunting loudly against the struggling zebra, he managed to wiggle the manacle towards the end of her wrist.
Sensing his plan, Twilight's horn glowed and she yanked the blade off Zecora's arm, flinging it to the side. Zecora yelled again and reached her head up to Bentgrass's. Her mouth found his right cheek and bit down hard. Bentgrass screamed and tried to get away, but Zecora's jaw was clenched tight. Warm blood began to trickle down his face. With a desperate cry, he rammed his elbow into her gut. She gasped loudly and released him, and he rolled away.
As Zecora gathered her breath, Twilight’s horn glowed once more. A layer of purple light spread across Zecora’s midsection. Immediately, she began to struggle against the restraint. Twilight squinted in effort; the telekinetic blanket was just enough to keep her down, but she kept it light enough so she didn’t hurt her.
Her hoof steps were light as she knelt behind the groaning zebra. "Zecora, please stop!" She cautiously reached a hoof to her shoulder. "You're not well. You need help. Please let us—"
Zecora whipped her head around to face her, sending droplets of spittle flying. Twilight looked briefly into her eyes; all the warmth was gone, replaced by blind fury. With a primal scream that made Twilight's ears ring, Zecora bucked both her hind legs back.
The blow connected with Twilight's chin, sending her spinning back toward the wall. Sharp pain registered in her mind, but was soon replaced by numbness and an all-consuming drowsiness. She struggled to her knees, but the world spun wildly around her and she fell back to her side.
Raising her head briefly, trying to see through the growing blackness, she vaguely heard some pony call her name. She opened her mouth to respond, but only a muted groan escaped as she laid her head back down and the darkness consumed her.
Swirling darkness and muted sounds.
Somewhere far off in the miasma, somepony talking.
In the distance, a faint point of light.
The inky blackness surrounded her, thick ooze seeking to drag her into oblivion.
Surging her strength, she pushed hard against the consuming black, reaching for the light as the voices grew louder and more distinct.
“—en almost a day, an’ she sti—”
The heavy accent gave her hope, and she pushed as hard as she could against the dark, the light enveloping her.
* * *
With a heavy groan, Twilight opened her eyes, only to close them immediately under the harsh assault of light. The ground beneath her felt soft, inviting, a slight warmth from below beckoning her back to sleep. She groaned once more and moved to sit upright, but a gentle hoof eased her back down.
“Whoa, easy there, sugarcube. Ya took a nasty blow t’ the head.”
“Ngh, A... Applejack?” She opened her eyes again, this time slowly. The world came into focus, revealing her friend standing by her side.
“Last time I checked,” she said with a soft grin.
“Where am I?"
“Ponyville General." Twilight turned and saw Rainbow standing on the other side. Rainbow reached a hoof to Twilight’s foreleg. “Bright Eyes over there brought you in last night,” she said, nodding her head towards a couch along the far wall.
With a grunt of effort, she sat upright, pushing past Applejack’s hoof and took in her surroundings. The dull florescent lights of the hospital bathed the muted grey walls in cold light. A small machine next to her beeped softly in rhythm with her heartbeat, long wires connected to pads on her chest. A large window to her right revealed a large field bathed in late afternoon light, gold rays of sunlight bouncing off of browned grass.
Turning her head back, she saw Bentgrass laying on the couch. His normally immaculate suit was wrinkled and stained, and his mane was ragged, a far cry from its usual coiffured state. A large bandage covered his right cheek, a tiny spot of red in the middle.
"Are you okay?" she said, her voice thick with concern.
“Yes, I shall be fine.” He tenderly touched his hoof to the bandage, wincing slightly. “The wound required several stitches, but it’s no matter. Besides,” he said, a small smile on his face as he looked into Twilight’s eyes, “Captain Anvil once told me that, ‘chicks dig scars.’”
“Shoot, Twi, I wish I coulda seen ‘im! Th’ doctor told me he came in here bleedin’, limpin’, an’ draggin’ four ponies by his teeth!” Applejack looked to Bentgrass, a warm smile on her face. “Ya ever get tired of being a secret agent, we could use ya on th’ farm.”
Twilight gasped as the memories of the previous night flooded back to her. “The sheriff! Is... is he...”
“Still in surgery,” Bentgrass said, rising from his seat and walking to the bed. “Under the care of Doctor Well.” He let out a grim chuckle. “Were I in a more jovial mood, I would point out the delicious irony in that.”
She slowly nodded, letting out a small breath she didn’t realize she had held. While the fat stallion may be one of the most despicable ponies she’d ever met, she was still glad he was alive. “And Hay Bale?”
“Deputy Bale escaped with merely a fractured jaw. She’ll be drinking her meals for a few weeks, but she will be fine.” He cast an even gaze at Rainbow. “It appears you won’t be getting much... action, on your date, Ms. Dash.”
“Shh!” She glared at him before casting an innocent gaze and a toothy smile to Applejack.
“Uh, what’d ya mean, her da—”
All four turned to see Spike standing in the doorway, a tray of drinks in his claws. The tray fell with a loud crash as he lunged towards Twilight and enveloped her in a tight hug, earning a loud groan from her. “Oh, Twi, I was so worried! They didn’t know when you were going to wake up, and I was afra—”
A muffled snicker from behind him made him stop and turn around. Rainbow held a hoof to her face, not quite holding in her laughter, and Applejack wore a warm smile. Quickly, he released his hold on Twilight, stepping away from the bed and running a claw over his head spines, clearing his throat. “Erm, I mean, uh... Glad you’re okay.” He grinned sheepishly.
Twilight smiled at him, laid back down and winced, the sudden movement sending a wave of dull pain and nausea through her. Rubbing her brow, she saw a large basket on the table next to her bed. Cookies, cupcakes, and brownies of all shapes and sizes overflowed from it, leaving a sea of crumbs and fallen treats beneath. She smiled. “I take it Pinkie was here?”
Applejack laughed. “Yep. All of us were here at some point. We finally decided to take turns watchin’ over ya til ya woke up.” She frowned, looking at the clock on the wall. “Come t’ think of it, Rarity an’ Pinkie shoulda been here by now.” She shook her head. “Ah, well, yer awake now, so I guess it don’t matter anyhow.”
Twilight nodded slowly, her mind adrift. Her memories of the previous night were still muddy, a blurry pool of shadows and pain. One memory, however, was burned into her mind.
Her eyes, staring at me...
A brief moment of silence followed. The three ponies and adolescent dragon nervously looked away. The quiet sound of hooves pawing at the ground and a scaly tail tapping a hesitant beat echoed in the small room.
Finally, Bentgrass cleared his throat. “Downstairs, in custody. I managed to subdue her last night, but only just. Since then she has been...”
“I want to see her.”
“Twi, you’ve... we’ve all been through a lot.” Dash laid a comforting hoof on her foreleg. “I think we should all just go home and rest.”
“No,” she replied, shaking her head slowly to avoid the dull pain. “I want to see her.”
“Ms. Sparkle, you’re really in no condition to—”
Before Bentgrass could finish, Twilight threw the sheet off of her. With a loud groan, she rotated her prostrate body to the side, her hind legs dangling over the edge of the hospital bed. She started to lean forward when a slight wave of nausea hit her. Before she could fall back, Spike leaned in and gently touched a claw to her back, propping her up. She looked over at him with a thankful smile. With Spike carefully guiding her, she eased off of the bed and stood to her hooves. A dull pain throbbed in the back of her skull, but she screwed her eyes shut and waited for it to pass. A few moments later, she opened her eyes and stared resolutely at Bentgrass.
“Take me to her.”
The trip down to the basement was quick. Rainbow and Applejack lead the way with Spike staying next to Twilight to support her. Bentgrass walked behind them, eerily silent the whole trip. They walked down a flight of stairs that Rainbow and Twilight quickly recognized. When they reached the bottom and walked down the cold hallway, Twilight made a concerted effort to not gaze down the adjacent hall to the morgue.
She shivered as the walked past the cold stone walls of the basement. Breathing in through her nose, she could smell... nothing—not the pleasant scent of potpourri from the lobby, nor the stark antiseptic of the patient rooms. Down here the air seemed stale, like there was something that even the wind refused to carry. The harsh, indirect light of naked bulbs hung every few feet did very little to assuage her nerves. There were no windows down here, which made the fur on the back of her neck stand on end. Even the morgue had a window! What could possibly be worse than that?
After a few more lengths, they finally rounded a corner that showed a large door marking the end of the hallway. Twilight couldn’t fight a shudder as she stared at the imposing door. Unlike upstairs, where each door had one simple lock built into the knob, this one didn’t even have a knob. In the very center of the door sat a thick metal wheel connected to four large, heavy-looking bars, each spanning the length of the door and locking into place along the wall on each side. Above it hung a sign: Psychiatric Ward. Authorized ponies only.
On the left wall was a large pane of sturdy glass, behind which stood a unicorn wearing hospital whites. Bentgrass walked up to the window and pressed his badge against the glass. The unicorn studied it for a moment, then stared at Bentgrass before nodding and lighting his horn. Twilight jumped as the four bars on the door retracted from the wall with a thunderous clang. Slowly, the door swung open and the five of them walked inside.
Sterile was the only word Twilight could think of to describe the hallway they found themselves in. The floor tiles, the ceiling, even the walls were blindingly white, so much so that it almost hurt to look at them. The floor wasn’t waxed like the lobby, but there wasn’t a single scuff that she could see. Warm light diffused form above. She looked up, squinting at the lights. A slight tingling in her horn confirmed what she thought; the lights were thaumatic, not electric. She thought about it and it made sense; every aspect of the hall seemed to be aimed at exuding a calming effect. Given the patients held here, it was probably a good idea.
The hallway was wide enough that all four ponies and Spike walked side by side and still had room to move. Situated on the walls, about every ten lengths or so, a large window sat next to a sturdy-looking door, similarly secured to the one they just walked through. Curiosity getting the better of her, Twilight edged to the side and peeked in one of the windows.
The floors and walls of the cell were padded all the way around. The only break in the plush padding was the window itself. In the middle of the large room sat a blue mare. Her grey mane was wild and ragged, like she hadn’t bathed in days. The mare lay on the ground on her side, a slight line of drool falling from her mouth and collecting in a puddle beneath her. She looked to the window and saw Twilight. In an instant, she leaped from the ground and rushed to the window, placing her forehooves on the window and sticking her tongue out. Twilight yelped and jumped back, staring at her. It took her a moment to realize that she was panting like a dog.
“Yes, Screw Loose is one of our more... fun patients here.”
Twilight tore her eyes from the window and saw a cream-coated unicorn mare with a blue mane, tied neatly into a ponytail. She wore a white doctor’s coat, and a clipboard hovered in the air next to her. “I’m Doctor Stitch, and you shouldn’t be out of bed, Doctor Sparkle.”
Twilight fidgeted a little, still not used to her official title. “I feel fine, Doctor. We wanted to pay a visit to Zecora.”
Doctor Stitch’s face fell, and her eyes scanned between the group before she sighed heavily. “I don’t think that would be wise. Ms. Zecora is... not well.”
“Please, Doc.” Applejack stepped forward, offering a warm look at the doctor. “She’s our friend. I know she’s in a bad way at th’ moment, but we’d be much obliged if we could jest talk to her fer a minute.” The rest of the group nodded their agreements except for Bentgrass, who silently looked at the ground beneath his hooves.
Doctor Stitch floated her clipboard back to a holder on the wall and sighed again. “That’s the problem. She’s... not in a talking mood at the moment.” She looked up and saw the looks of confusion on their faces. “Very well. Follow me.”
The group continued down the gleaming white hallway. Twilight tried to avoid looking at the many windows lining the hallway, looking straight down at the ground, but she couldn’t help a few glances. In one, a purple stallion paced around in circles, apparently yelling at somepony who wasn't there. Another showed a elderly mare pressed against the glass, a murderous glare in her eyes. In the next window, a young stallion with a wild mane sat calmly in the middle of the room, smiling widely at Twilight. His eyes were wide open, and a slight twitch danced on the corner of his mouth. Twilight shuddered and turned her eyes back to the floor.
Finally, they arrived at the end of the hallway, Doctor Stitch motioning to the window on the left side. Rainbow and Applejack immediately rushed to the window, though Twilight hesitated. In her mind’s eye, she could still see the look of unfiltered anger, the primal hate in Zecora’s eyes. It wasn’t something she was eager to see again.
A loud gasp from Spike shook the memories from her. He was next to Dash and AJ, though he was crouched slightly so he could see. Bentgrass stood against the opposite wall, still examining his hooves. Twilight stepped towards him. “You’re not going to look?”
“I’ve seen it,” he said quietly.
Turning away from him, she took a deep breath and stepped to the window, squeezing between Applejack and Spike. She gasped as she looked in. Zecora was pacing along the back wall of the cell. All four of her hooves were encased in odd-looking shoes that ran all the way up to her knees, several buckles running up the side. The ends of each were tipped with thick padding. Her face was obscured by a large muzzle, a cage of thick metal bars and straps that went around her head. The ground she paced on had smudges of red, and when Twilight looked harder she could see many of the scratches and cuts on her coat were still bleeding.
Rainbow whipped back and glared at Doctor Stitch. “Why haven’t you treated her wounds?”
“She wouldn’t let us get close enough! We treated a few when she was unconscious after Agent Bentgrass brought her in, but as soon as she woke up, she began fighting and kicking anypony who got near her.”
Twilight shook her head. “Well, can’t you sedate her?”
“Again, we tried. I’ve pumped enough Thorazine in her to kill a manticore.” She trotted up to the window and gazed in, running a hoof through her hair. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. She should be comatose! I’m going to give her another hour, then I’m going to have to anesthetize her.”
Slowly, Twilight looked back to the window. Zecora still paced along the wall, giving no indication that she had seen them. “Can she hear us?”
“No. There’s a soundproofing spell around all the cells.”
“Can you please lower it? I’d like to talk to her.”
The doctor scuffed her hoof along the ground. “Doctor Sparkle, that’s not a good id—”
“Please,” she interrupted. “Lower it. I want to talk to my friend.”
Doctor Stitch looked between the group and sighed. “Very well. But I don’t think you’re going to like what you hear.” Her horn glowed briefly and a quiet pop came from the window.
At once, Twilight could hear a quiet grunting from inside the room. Zecora was breathing heavily, but made no other sound. Twilight cleared her throat. “Zecora? It’s Twilight. Can you—”
As soon as she began talking, Zecora whipped her head up, glaring at the group of ponies. Her eyes narrowed, and with a furious shriek, she lunged towards the window. Spittle flew from her mouth as she screamed. She didn’t slow down as she approached, and with a final leap, she rammed her head into the strong glass, leaving a stain of sweat and blood. All three mares and Spike jumped back, Applejack letting out a loud yelp. Zecora was knocked back from the impact, but immediately jumped to her hooves and charged the window again, this time beating her forehooves against the glass.
“Zecora, it’s us.” Rainbow’s voice was almost drowned out by Zecora’s howls or fury, though Twilight could hear the tremble in her voice as she spoke. “It’s Rainbow Dash and Applejack, remember?”
Zecora didn’t let up, continuing to pound her hooves on the window as she screamed in rage. Twilight looked at her face and saw the same look as before; no more wisdom, no kindness, just rage: pure, unfiltered hatred. “P-Put it back up.”
“Doctor Sparkle, I told y—”
“Stop calling me that!” She glared at the doctor, even as tears began to fall from her eyes. “Just put it back up.”
Doctor Stitch sighed and lit her horn. Another quiet pop and the screams cut off, though they could still hear a dull thumping as Zecora kept assaulting the glass.
Twilight stood in the middle of the spacious hallway, looking at nothing but the ground beneath her. Spike cautiously walked up to her and put an arm around her shoulder, but Twilight shrugged him off. “I want to go home.”
Applejack walked up to her and nodded. “Sure thing, sugarcube.” She turned to look at Doctor Stitch. “She okay to leave, Doc?”
“Well, there was no severe damage. I’d like to keep her for another day for observation, but it appears she has good friends to keep an eye on her,” she said with a small smile. “Doc— Ms. Sparkle, if you start to feel ill, please come right back, okay?”
Twilight was already walking down the hallway, still not looking up. “I already feel ill,” she whispered as she walked away, the muted thumps against the glass sounding like thunder in her head.