Ponyville could not have asked for a better Nightmare Night. With the appearance of Princess Luna, to the sheer amount of joy she brought the young fillies and colts, Big Macintosh couldn't be happier.
His only regret was not be able to meet the princess in person. His cart ride duties had taken up his entire night, and while he won't deny he liked the attention some of the mares were giving him, he did wish he could have seen little Applebloom running about in her costume. He sincerely hoped Applejack would stop her from eating a lot of candy.
His cart was starting to get a little heavier with each trip. He had reached the end of the route, and decided to call it quits for the night.
“Sorry girls, but ride's over,” He said. A few disappointed groans came from his passengers, before they disembark. Big Mac unhitched the cart from himself, as he cantered alongside the group to reunite with the rest of the festivities. A strange scent drifted by.
“So, Big Mac. Have any plans for the rest of the night?” Nurse Redheart asked. Her question was indeed innocent, given her tone. The other mares giggled amongst themselves, hearing a devious undertone that wasn't really there. Big Mac looked at the other mares, raising an eyebrow. Raindrops and Cherry Berry looked away innocently, while Cloud kicker challenged the stare.
“Well, first I need to find mah sisters,” Big Mac said dismissively, turning his attention to the direction of the rest of the town, all gathered around the games and talked with the Princess of the Night. Big Mac made a mental note to introduce himself before night's end, as the six of them made their way back into town.
It wasn't long before the group went on their merry way, leaving just Big Mac and Redheart in search of the rest of the apple family. Ponyville was quite alive in the dark, with festive lanterns littering the town from rooftop to street corner. Eager fillies and colts dashed from one door to another, hoping the ponies were still home and not already at the festival itself.
Princess Luna was in sight, as well as the mass of ponies she had gathered. Now in the town proper, The red stallion basked in the scent of the multitude of sweets, and the occasional perfume that dressed a passing mare. As they absorbed into the crowd, Big Mac caught sight of the Scarecrow his sister was disguised as.
“Applejack!” He called. The orange mare turned her head away from the apple bobbing tub, before trotting up to him.
“Howdy, Mac. Your cart rides over?”
“Eeyup.” Big Mac looked to either side of his sister. “Where's Applebloom?”
“She's with her friends. Pinkie Pie was leading a herd of foals all through town.”
Big Mac looked at her incredulously. “Where are they now?”
Applejack bumped her hoof into his side. “Oh, don't be so paranoid, Mac. They're fine! The only thing she needs to worry about is an upset stomach.”
Big Mac whipped his head around. A strange smell rushing by, and leaving as soon as it came. “Did ya smell that?”
“Smell what?” Redheart asked, reappearing out from the crowd. Big Mac unconsciously took another sniff, and the smell of sweets returned.
“Well howdy, Nurse Redheart! I'm liking the Pirate outfit,” Applejack complimented.
“Why thank you, Applejack. Your Scarecrow actually looks rather comfy.”
“Oh, it is. Straw can feel real nice if you pack it up tight,” Applejack stated, idly pressing against the puff on her chest.
“Do you mind if I borrow your brother for a second?” Redheart suddenly asked, before she began cantering away, not waiting for an answer.
Raising eyebrows at each other in confusion, Big Mac opted to follow her. The nurse and farmer find themselves somewhat secluded from the rest of the crowd.
“Listen Mac, about the other day...” She started, hoping he would catch the hint.
Big Mac was distracted, his nose raised to the air before he came crashing back down to earth. “Wha...? Oh yeah. Look, Ms. Redheart. Think nothing of it. It was a mistake. No harm done.”
“Does it have to be a mistake...?” She mumbled to herself, looking away from him.
Big Mac continued to scan the town for Pinkie Pie and whatever little group she was leading. There were plenty of ponies up and about. He saw Raindrops chatting with Cloud Kicker near the punch, Carrot Top and others chatting with the Princess, and Ditzy Doo trying land a spider on the web. Caramel was having fun with Cherry Berry at the dance, Raindrops was cantering slowly towards the edge of town, and the Cakes were trying their best at the pumpkin catapult.
Still there was no sign of her little sister anywhere.
“Is everything alright Mac?” Redheart finally asked, seeming rather sheepish all of a sudden.
“Yeah, I just need to find Applebloom,” Big Mac stated, as he began cantering towards the stage.
“You really care about her, don't you?” Redheart was close behind him.
“Of course, she's practically mah--” Big Mac halted his words, as he caught a glimpse of Cheerilee galloping towards Applejack.
Concern and fear took over. “That can't be good. C'mon!”
The two of them raced back to his sister. As they drew closer, Mac could hear shortened breaths, and whimpering.
Cheerilee was speaking frantically to Applejack. Big Mac noticed the Cutie Mark Crusaders right next to her, and paranoia escalated with the absence of Applebloom.
“What's goin' on!?” He shouted, finally upon the group.
“We can't find Applebloom!” Cheerilee cried. “Go on girls, tell him what you told me.”
Scootaloo was the one who spoke up. “We were with Pinkie Pie, making our last rounds around Ponyville. There were only a few of us left, once Pipsqueak had to go to bed. Pinkie was leading us back to town when--”
Sweetie Belle interrupted. “When we started smelling this weird smell! It smelt kinda... kinda like...”
Big Mac froze, as a shiver cascaded down the length of his spine. “Like burnt hair...”
“Yes! Like somepony accidentally burned their mane or something!” Sweetie shouted.
“When Cheerilee came to pick us up, we noticed Applebloom was gone!” Scootaloo finished.
Overwhelming panic enveloped the red stallion, and he could see it was consuming Applejack as well.
“Where were you guys when Cheerilee picked you up?” Applejack asked, speaking a thousand words a minute.
“We were near Fluttershy's cottage,” Cheerilee stated, trying her best to keep herself calm.
Fluttershy's cottage, near the Everfree Forest. The mere thought shook Big Mac to his core. “We need to go. Now.”
Redheart stepped in. “I'm coming with. If she's hurt--”
“Don't even finish that sentence,” Mac said, with rather a threatening tone.
Without another word, the group quickly galloped off in the direction of Fluttershy's isolated home. Big Mac's heart raced, as he led the mares and fillies away from the town, the night getting increasingly darker.
Glancing at the night sky, Big Mac noted tonight was a new moon. Maybe that's why she could be here, he mused, no moon to raise. The thought only distracted him slightly, and his nose was caressed by the scent of a singed mane.
The distressed group came upon the cottage like a train, almost trampling the ground beneath their hooves. As they came upon the door, Big Mac stepped aside to let Applejack knock, deciding the face of a friend would ease Fluttershy.
Out of the corner of his eye, Big Mac spotted the yellow pegasus in question, trotting in a field in the distance, in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres.
Without a word, he charged. Galloping off in search of answers he hoped Fluttershy would have.
“Hey! Mac!” Applejack shouted. “Where ya goin'!?”
The group's attention was diverted from the stallion, as Fluttershy slowly opened the door.
* * *
Mac's muzzle was assaulted by the odd odor, almost in full force as he approached the trepid pegasus. He noticed it had changed. The smell of burning hair was now mixed with some other strange scent. Something akin to dried blood.
He was only a short ways away from her, as she passed under the shadow of a tree. He was almost directly upon her, as the odor grew stronger and stronger, burning his eyes. The shade from the tree had covered the pegasus entirely, as she limped her way across the field. Big Mac opened his mouth to speak, but the stench grew palpable, his stomach threatening to vomit. It was impossible to see under the shade, as he outreached his hoof to the very faint line of her frame.
His hoof met nothing but air, as his eyes cleared. The odor had vanished, as did the timid mare. He shifted his gaze, before trotting around the trees a few times, to ensure she wasn't hiding.
Fluttershy was nowhere to be found.
“Macintosh!” He heard Applejack call from afar. Turning to face them, he could make out the shapes of the three mares. Applejack quickly pulled her brother into a hug, as Cheerilee and Redheart came to a stop. “Why did y'all just run off like that?”
Big Mac struggled to find the words, as he tried to piece together what he just saw.
“We found Applebloom,” Redheart said, obviously relieved. “She went to Fluttershy's when she got lost.”
Big Mac's sigh seemed to shake to earth for the mares. The tension is his body still tightened, absolutely confused with what he saw. His fear continued the climb the longer he stood there.
“It's very late. Fluttershy is letting us spend the night at her place,” Cheerilee said,as he began to trot back to the cottage. Big Mac followed, on shaking hooves.
The stallion followed the four mares in shock. There was no real way he could wrap his head around it, even thinking that his mind was simply playing tricks on him didn't seem a satisfying answer.
He was broken from his terrified thinking by the sight of the cottage. The group strode inside, and came across Fluttershy setting up makeshift beds for everyone. Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and (thankfully) Applebloom were fast sleep on the couch, curled into little balls of fur.
Big Mac was absolutely exhausted, more mentally than anything else. With a final good night, Fluttershy left the group as she went upstairs. All Big Mac needed was a corner to rest his head on. With the mares finally decided where to rest for the slight remainder of the evening. Applejack slept with the fillies, Cheerilee slept next to the table, and Redheart opted to sleep next to Big Mac himself.
He sighed. Everything was fine now. Everyone was safe and sound, and he could finally put this rather disturbing night behind him...
...Mac woke in a jolt. Rubbing his eyes, he could feel Redheart's breath on his shoulder. He took a look outside, seeing it was just before Celestia's dawn.
He unconsciously began to survey the room. Applejack still rested with all three fillies next to the couch, Redheart rested herself against him, and Cheerilee was sharing her blanket with Berry Punch. His eyes began to close once more, as sleep wished him back home. Everything was perfectly--
Big Mac's gaze shot towards Berry Punch, her back to him. Big Mac Breath began to shake, as she lifted her head, turning her gaze towards him.
He suddenly became aware of the scent of burning hair...