After a time I had gotten used to the new appearances of my two closest friends. Rarity had seemed upset once I told her that her magic looked green to me now. She knew that it wasn't my fault, but I still felt a little bad about it. Even as we walked down back to the fork in the road that we got separated at.
The walk back was awkward and rather uneventful. Keeping my attention on the surrounding area was difficult because every part of my being still wanted to run from my friends. So even though I knew it was my friends I had these conflicting feelings that I had to fight.
Fluttershy stopped her wings flared. I was about to ask what was wrong when she answered before I could ask, "Something's nearby and getting closer."
Instantly Rarity light her horn and got closer to me, her eyes shifting back and forth between the trees. Trusting Fluttershy more than my own senses at this point I got ready for a fight. If I wasn't careful I might injure myself badly if another fight like the last one breaks out.
A hush filled the area as Fluttershy, Rarity, and I stood back to back.
Three shadows jumped out from the bushes and struck. The blinding speed that everything happened at left me completely unable to process what happened. Something hit me before I even knew it was there and Suddenly I was pinned to the ground by the throat.
Looking up, there were a pair of eyes that appeared to have two sets of colors surrounding vertically cut pupils stared down at me. The black looking material looked hardened and battle ready.
"Applejack?" A wave of pain shot through my head as the creature said that name. Great, at least I could still feel that pain.
Feeling the pressure around my neck release a little, an advantage finally showed itself. Acting quickly my hind legs tensed up and I bucked the creature in the abdomen as hard as I could, send the creature flying. Rolling quickly I got back on my hooves. Looking up the creature was holding its stomach in mid flight. Now with a decent chance to see the thing a whole slew of features jumped out at me. The first thing that caught my eye were the thin paper like wings, and the sharp curved horn. The wings seemed to buzz like crazy in such a rapid motion that I wasn't even sure they were actually there. The next things that caught my eye were the dark almost armor like outer shell, the sharp little fangs that poke out just below its upper lip, and the hole filled legs.
“Ow, what'd you do that for?” Stopping in the air and rubbing its stomach in pain. That thing gave me a horrid glare. My mind raced and I lowered my center of gravity to allow for quicker movements. Taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, I exhale from my nose. Aggression flared from the creature's eye as it took notice of the gesture.
“Jackie stop!” The voice that called out to me and got my attention making me completely forget about the fight I was about to engage in. Turning to the source of the voice brought my attention to Rarity, looking at her with confusion for a second she decided to tell me why. “That's Rainbow.”
With a sigh my heart rate began to calm down a little. Turning to the buzzing figure I saw the confused look on Rainbows face. “Sorry Rainbow. I didn't recognize you.”
“How could you not recognize her?” The voice that asked the question sounded familiar but I couldn't seem to place it anywhere, and there was an odd sound that accompanied the voice that I didn't know what it was. The voice sounded creepy with the sound and my curiosity grew, forcing me to turn around.
Earlier I hadn't been paying attention to anything except Rarity, which is probably why I hadn't noticed it before, but there is a skeleton standing right next to her. Caught off guard, I fell back in shock, and started scrambling backward.
“What's Wrong Jackie?” Fluttershy asked. “You look kind of pale.”
My voice was caught deep in my throat. My mind was reeling so fast I didn't know what was going on. I was too focused on the skeleton to even process anything else. It had bleach white bones, a pair of wings, and a horn. An alucorn skeleton standing right next to Rarity, but the worst part were the eye sockets were almost entirely black minus a small glimmer of purple light.
Finally my voice forced itself forward, but it only came out in a small whisper. “s-skeleton. . .”
The reaction from Fluttershy was immediate, but the others seemed to have not heard me. “What was that deary?” Rarity asked as she moved a little closer.
“She sees a skeleton.” Everypony turned to Fluttershy causing her to quickly hide behind her leathery wings.
“Excuse me?” The skeleton asked as it looked at her, or I guess it was looking at her.
“You look like a skeleton to her Twilight.”
Rarity's eyes flashed as she realized what was going on, and at the same time so did Fluttershy and I. “Where's Pinkie?” Rarity asked looking to the skeleton, which I now realized was Twilight.
“Right here.” A low almost monotone voice said right behind me. I jumped probably a foot and spun in the air. Hiding behind Rarity probably wasn't the most grateful of moves, but that's exactly what I ended up doing. Standing right where I was only a moment ago is a pink stallion with long flat tail and mane. He looked sullen and upset, a complete contrast to the colorful balloon cutiemark on his flank.
“Well Jackie?” Rarity asked.
“All I see are a bug like thing with holes in it's legs,” pointing to Rainbow caused a rippling of shock to show on her face. “A skeleton with bone wings, a horn, and dark holes, with small purple sparks, where the eyes are supposed to be.” My hoof migrated to Twilight. “and a kind of creepy stallion.” The last statement seemed to confuse everypony.
“I think Fluttershy and I have some explaining to do about the situation.” Quick to defuse the tension, Rarity spoke with purpose. “But we need to keep moving. I'll explain as we go.”
After a time Rarity and Fluttershy had caught everypony up to date on what was happening. I stayed close to Rarity simply because I felt more comfortable around her than the others. I knew they were still my friends, but they all just made me feel almost scared.
“Wait, everypony.” Fluttershy called out, drawing my attention from the ground to what looked like a cave. Little light was visible in the dark abyss of stone that stood like a glaring monument of despair. “The tracks lead into this cave.”
A light sigh of frustration passed over the rest of the group. Which confused me slightly. “What's the matter with caves?”
“I hate them. That's what.” Rainbow took a step forward, causing me to closer to Rarity unconsciously. The action didn't escape notice as, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that she glanced in my direction. It was only for a second, but I noticed.
Rainbow was looking into the cave with studying eyes. She almost appeared to be deep in thought, her eyes betraying the worry she had. The buzzing of Rainbow's bug like wings was slightly frustrating. Apparently I was seeing her as some type of creature called a Changling, something that they had all fought before. Something from their past that I knew nothing about.
“We gotta go in.” the look on Rainbow's face showed determination and resolve. I was a little taken aback by her words, but I also felt a sense of joy at the fact she was facing a fear she had to help me. No, not me, it was to help her. I had to push those thoughts aside, they weren't going to help me fulfill my promise.
“You don't have to do this Rainbow.” The offer was nothing more to me than giving her a chance to back out and not put herself in harms way. It just didn't feel right having her face her fear on my behalf, especially when I wont be able to thank her after this is all over and done with.
Rainbow quickly rounded on me and got right up in my face. I could see the look in her eyes and the fire that flickered like a bright light that showed no fear. It was a shock to see such a drastic change in her demeanor, to say the least is that it kind of scared me. Wilting like a flower was the best way to describe my actions under her gaze. “I am NOT going to let a stupid cave stop my from helping you App- Jackie! Do I make myself clear?”
Nodding quickly I noticed that everypony was staring at us. Except Rarity, she was holding my in a protective way. “Rainbow she was only trying to be considerate to you and your fear of enclosed spaces.”
Rainbow backed up a little and looked towards the cave. The fear I saw before completely gone now. “AJ-” Pain shot through my head again and I forced myself to keep from reacting to it. “Would have pushed my to face it. Not given me a chance to ditch her. We both pushed each other to the limit and farther still.” The pain started getting more and more intense as she spoke. I couldn't keep from letting out a grunt as she went on.
“She would have taunted me, or even made a bet to push me forward. But she would have never-”
“ENOUGH!” The pain began to dull as silence began to settle. Opening my eye, which I hadn't realized I'd closed, I saw Rainbow being held down in an emerald green aura. Her mouth was being held shut and she was struggling to get free. “Can't you see you're hurting her?!” Rarity yelled.
The stunned looks on everyponies faces, except skeleton Twilight who couldn't make a facial expression, showed shock and slight fear as watched the scene unfold. Rarity moved away from me and took a step towards the now captive Rainbow, who was looking at her with worry in her eyes. “Every time we even speak of the past, or try to use Jackie's other name, we are physically hurting her!”
Rarity took another step forward, causing Rainbow to stop struggling and gulp audibly. “The only reason we could tell her what she saw you as, is because it focuses more on this moment in time. Bringing up the past and what she used to do will only slow us down, and possibly kill her!”
Rainbow was shaking now, the rest of the group didn't dare say a word for fear of getting caught in Rarity's anger. Even from behind I could see the burning yellow flames growing and flaring wildly, her anger acting as a fuel to the embers. “You have to start realizing that you could be speeding up the clock that we have almost no time left on! Now start acting like an adult Rainb-”
Rarity was cut off my a blast of magic bursting between her and rainbow. The flare around her horn dissipated and relieved Rainbow of her confinement. Everypony turned to see where the burst of magic came from. Twilight's horn was aglow with a black corona that made her look more ominous with her skeletal figure. “That's enough Rarity.”
Rainbow quickly moved closer to Twilight, using her as a way to avoid more of Rarity's wrath. “You were going a bit to far.” Twilight said as she flared her skeletal wings in a protective way. Pinkie was standing next to Rainbow he/she looked more upset and was trying to comfort Rainbow who was shaking badly.
Rarity stood without moving, the flames coming from her eyes still burning a bright yellow. Looking around I noticed that Fluttershy was hiding behind me.
“Twilight,” Rarity said her voice was dangerously tense as she spoke, “she was hurting Jackie and possibly could have killed her. I don't think my pointing out that her words were dangerous is that atrocious.”
Twilight didn't budge, “That's maybe true if you were only telling her to stop, but you were using magic to hold her down and frighten her. That's crossing a line Rarity.”
Tension build into the air as the two looked at each other. The atmosphere was palpable enough that you could literally cut into it if you had knife. Something had to be done before somepony did something bad. But, what?
A sudden shock ran through my system. It was sudden and out of no where.
“Jackie?” the soft sound of Fluttershy's voice echoed in the tense atmosphere drawing eyes in our direction. Unable to move, the beating of my heart increased, dizziness began to hit me, and small waves of pain started to pulse from the back of my head. “Jackie! What's wrong?”
The sensation of a hoof touching my back sent a wave of pain crashing through me. Every nerve in my body felt like it was slowly being ripped apart and crushed. Wave after wave of pain pulsed over and over again each one get worse than the last. My senses began to overload causing my body to spasm violently.
A howl of pain escaped my lips as I fell to the ground. My vision blurring for a second. Watching as everypony rushed to my side, my vision began to darken. The rhythm of my heart began to feel wild and erratic, my breaths short and strained. The feeling of having Rarity's magic surround me was the last calming thing that touched me before everything faded to black in a surge of pain.
I was standing in the part of the forest where the attack that started all this happened. But this time something was different about it, I just couldn't put my hoof on it.
Looking up I noticed the sky was visible now, the canopy was wilted and almost completely gone. The sky looked like it was a shattered window just barely keeping itself held together. Each star acted like a point at which a crack could jump to, but the epicenter of the whole thing seemed to be coming from a darkened out black moon with only sliver of light peaking out.
The low growl of a feral beast made its way to my ears, drawing my attention away from the sky. As I turned to the source of the sound a pair of glowing yellow eyes locked on my own. I felt nothing this time, no dread, no paralysis, no fear, nothing.
The sudden movement of the yellow eyes put me on edge. Taking a stance to protect myself, the creature lunged at me with fierce actions. Dodging to the left I just barely missed the outstretched claws that struck at me. Using the momentum of my dodge to turn around quickly on one hoof I quickly faced the shadowy beast.
The shifting black figure seemed to change direction to face me. This time it decided that a frontal assault would fail, so it did something rather unexpected. It dissolved into a mist like state and soaked into the ground. I was momentarily taken aback and had no idea what to do.
That's when the creature stuck, impaling me with a thick gray appendage that shot from the ground with volatile speed. There was no feeling but somehow I knew what had happened. Looking towards my stomach the gray spine that protruded from the ground had hit almost every vital area that it could. But that wasn't the thing that caught my attention the most was the fact that it looked like it was seeping in to body slowly.
My hind legs weren't responding to what I wanted them to do, my guess was that my spine was spit in two now. Every part of my mind was screaming at me that this was it, there was nothing left for me to do. In that moment I knew the end of my life had come, and I accepted it without remorse.
But there was one thing that hit me, a single line that gave a glimmer of hope that things would work out. “One day left huh?” A gentle breeze ruffled my mane, causing me to look up toward the cracked sky as new and more threatening cracks appeared. “I've only had about three days since Luna warned me. Now I have one day to get you home, and I will not fail.”
Opening my eyes to the sight of cool gray and dripping water, instantly I knew where I was. Gently sitting up the surroundings of the cave filled my sights, only Rarity was sitting next to me and she was actually asleep. Her mane pulled back and tied, the flow locks carefully caressing her cheek as she breathes light pushed and pulled her barrel in and out. In the end I decided that she needed to be woken up.
Shaking her carefully she groaned as her consciousness fluttered back from the abyss of dreams and sleep. Eyes fluttering as she looked around and for a moment appeared confused, when she noticed I was staring at her, I found myself coiled in a hug.
“Oh Jackie your awake.” I heard her breath catching in her throat as she pulled away from the embrace. “Your cold. . .”
Not knowing how to respond, I just lifted Rarity's hooves off my shoulders. Placing them carefully on the blanket that had been covering me only a moment ago, I reached out and placed my hoof on her cheek.
No warmth or feeling what so ever. “Jackie?” Looking up to her eyes I saw the deep seated worry that shone in there. But I wasn't able to understand why she looked that way, I couldn't comprehend the worry she had. “Jackie, you're scaring me darling.”
Pulling my hoof away I looked around the cave noticing that it looked rather barren of others. Everything was being absorbed in my mind like a sponge soaking up water, every little detail was getting caught up in my sight and carefully woven into a series of scenarios in my mind. Questions drew forth and I couldn't help but ask them. “Where are the others? Are we the only ones in this cave? Have you or the others found out anything new about the creature that stole my memories? Is there-”
I was cut off by Rarity as she put a hoof over my mouth. She was looking at me as if I was a stranger, like she didn't even know me. Slowly her mouth opened and closed as she tried to form the right words. “Um, the others are in the cave with us, searching for anything of use, while at the same time trying to find out if the creature is actually still here of not. They should be back any minute now.”
Just as Rarity finished her sentence, I heard the clatter of hooves approaching. Not a few seconds later a skeleton turned around the corner with a changeling, Fluttershy, and a pink stallion. As they all came to a stop Fluttershy was the one who looked most confused out of all of them. “Hello.” I said.
“App-er, Jackie you're up?” Twilight said as the clatter of bones came in clicks with every word. Nodding at her I looked her in the eye sockets.
“What did you find?”
She probably was as shocked as the others did by my direct question. “Uh, well yes and no.”
“So you found something your not sure about, or just have yet to explore the whole cave yet because of lack of time.” Placing my hoof to my chin I thought about the general size of the cave and the shape of it so far. It was clear the the whole thing had been carved out a large creature that had claws. The markings I could see on the walls combined with the almost uniform shape with only some varying bumps in the face. It was the only conclusion I could think of that made sense.
“Well I can at least guess this is a creature made cave. But it's to large to be the one we've been following. But that also means the there may be multiple path ways. I'm just going to guess that's why you're being vague.”
Everypony looked at me in a strange way. “Uh, yeah . . . How did you-?” Twilight was cut off as I explained my reasoning behind how I figured everything out.
Silence stretched out as Everypony looked at me. The first to break the silence was Rarity, “Jackie you're acting differently. What happened?”
Drawing in a breath that was used to help me speak longer I looked her in the eyes. “I have progressed to the last stage. I can't feel anything anymore Rarity. Nothing physical, and nothing emotionally. We have to finish this before tomorrow comes.”
The shock of hearing this sent Everypony into a panic.