"Are you three going to be alright if I leave to gather some firewood? I don't think I'll be able to sleep after what just happened." Shining Armor asked Starlight, Twilight and Spike. They had all been focusing on avoiding conversation about the Pampered Panzy or Garotte Wire, but Shining finally decided to stop lollygagging around while waiting for daylight.
"I'm sure we'll be fine." Starlight replied after looking to Twilight, whom was staring at Garotte Wire's absently twitching body that was passed out nearby. "Well, eventually." Starlight added lightly.
Shining looked unconvinced for a moment before realizing that not only was his sister an Alicorn, but Starlight was alluded to be the most powerful unicorn in Equestria by Twilight as well. On top of that, Spike was there. Baby dragons are useful, right? "If anything happens, just holler or do something flashy to drawn my attention." Shining offered, lighting his horn with magic so that he wouldn't trip over any forest brush or branches.
Starlight gave a very exaggerated, mocking salute to Shining. "Yes'ah!" She cheered in her best over-the-top Trottingham accent.
Shining smiled and rolled his eyes before stowing himself to investigate the nearby forest for anything useful, slowly watching out for tripping hazards or more of those terrifying plants laying in wait for him.
Meanwhile, back at the camp, Starlight was beginning to grow concerned for Twilight's fixation on Garotte. "Are you alright, Twilight?" she asked, jabbing Sparkle in the side of her ribs with a pointed hoof. She received no reply. "Twi~light." She singsonged, moving in front of the Princess and waving a hoof across her field of vision. "Yoo~hoo, Friendship Princess."
Twilight looked like she was about to say something, but instead shifted into a more comfortable position of 'Garotte Observation' on the forest floor with a look of deep concentration on her face and mutterings under her breath.
Starlight sighed in boredom. "Great, she's gone full nerd."
Twilight's ear twitched in response.
"Guess I'll just have to wander on over to the Pampered Panzy to take a look at it ~myself~." She called like a siren to Twilight, further agitating her. "Wouldn't want anypony else to ~eat the flower~ before I do!"
"DON'T EAT THE FLOWER!" Twilight screamed, startling some nearby wildlife that had come to investigate the ponies interacting in the moonlight.
"There you are!" Starlight announced in a foal-speaking voice. "We've missed you, Sparkle flank!" She added sarcastically.
Twilight looked around as if exiting a trance. "Wait, where's Shining Armor?" She finally asked.
Starlight waved a hoof in Shining's last known vague direction of travel. "Somewhere that way, I think. He'll be fine."
"He'll be fine!?" Twilight panicked, rising swiftly from her prone position and marching towards Starlight. "FINE!?" She yelled. "There's strange evil flowers all over the place and you let him go off alone because he'd be FINE!?"
Spike was covering his ears at this point, having nothing useful to add to the conversation as usual.
"What, that flower is going to be so scary that the Captain of the Royal Guard and King of the Crystal Empire can't handle them?" Starlight defensively replied. "Even Garotte dealt with one, and she only uses telekinesis!"
"Did you completely forget about whatever spell she cast to kill the thing!?"
Twilight and Starlight were now pressed against each other, Twilight's habitual lack of personal space awareness coming to the forefront of the situation in a time of stress. This caused Starlight to shove against Twilight's chest in an effort to gain some sort of air that wasn't contaminated with Sparkle Breath.
"I didn't forget, but I don't think that was magic!" Starlight retorted, having gained some much needed space. "Since when does anypony chant something when they cast a spell?"
"I don't know what that was, but this isn't the time to go wandering off in every direction! We need to find Shining Armor and figure out how to wake up Garotte." Twilight responded with determination.
Twilight and Starlight's ear twitched at the same time, a sound from the forest alerting them to danger before they could register what happened.
"Uh, guys?" Spike nervously asked, "You hear anything?"
The two shared a look at each other before forming up flank to flank and slowly moving in a circle near the center of the encampment. "I don't know, but you need to find someplace to hide, Spike." Starlight said, focused on her mental list of spells for whatever situation would present itself.
Then, a rustling of leaves came from nearby, causing the ponies to shift their horns towards the possible assailant.
To their relief and disappointment, it was Shining Armor. "What happened? I was barely gone for five minutes!"
Starlight pointed to Twilight. "I got her to wake up." She replied with mild annoyance.
"She was going to eat the flower!" Twilight protested.
"I was not! I only said that so you would stop being in your weird trance."
"Twilight, Starlight. It's fine. We're all okay, nothing happened. Just take a deep breath, and let's sort this out." Shining said in a calm tone, motioning with a hoof to relax.
Twilight took Shining's advice, taking deep breaths. Starlight snorted and decided to move next to Garotte and lay down on her log-couch. Garotte was still snoring loudly, shifting around a bit and nearly falling sideways before her tail balanced her body subconsciously.
"Does she always sleep like that?" Starlight asked, pointing to Garotte.
"As far as I know. This is the first time I've seen her sleep." Twilight mentioned, her previous alarm having been warded off. "It's kind of strange, now that I look at it." she added with a furrowed brow and upraised ears of interest.
"Really? I thought you were wondering how she slept like that the entire time you were staring at her." Spike replied.
"You used to sleep like that when you were little." Shining commented.
"What? N-no I didn't!" Twilight blushed with concern that Shining might not be trying to tease her, and actually be speaking the truth.
"Don't we have something better to worry about than how Garotte is sleeping?" Spike asked with a pointed claw in question.
The three conscious ponies then looked to Spike before remembering that there were more important things to discuss at the moment.
"So..." Shining began. "Who wants to talk about Garotte's special brand of crazy magic?"
"The fact that it's in a language I've never heard?" Twilight added.
"Or that it transformed a fire axe into black crystal?" Starlight contributed.
"Or that she passed out immediately after casting it?" Spike mentioned.
"What about the flower?"
"Or the black, purple and green magic arcing around her horn?"
"Okay, okay. We have questions." Shining mediated. "I don't think we're going to get any answers or make any progress with our mission until we wake up Garotte."
The three ponies and dragon then looked to Garotte's sleeping form.
"Is it just me, or does her clothing never get anything more than dust on it no matter what she does?" Spike commented.
Starlight and Twilight both looked to Spike. Starlight with annoyance at deviating from the subject that they had just agreed to talking about, and Twilight with interest.
"What do you mean, Spike?" Twilight asked while moving towards Garotte.
"Well, It just seemed weird to me is all. She's gone through the same forest as the rest of us, slept in the dirt like the rest of us, and fought a plant monster. Her clothes look like they just came out of a wash!" Spike explained. Now Starlight and Shining's interest was taken.
"Why is that so strange?" Shining asked.
"Well, it only leaves a few explanations. One of them being that she's just really good at taking care of her clothes..." Twilight offered, and received impatient looks of disbelief at that theory. "Or, she knows how to enchant things."
"Enchant?" Starlight asked.
This surprised Twilight. "Really? I thought you of all ponies would have at least read something about enchanting."
Starlight shook her head. "Didn't really find anything in my studies while I was in that town stealing cutie-marks." She smiled abashedly.
"Right..." Twilight sighed. "Well, I've only read a few very old tomes about the subject. Most of them were in Zebrecan, so I wasn't able to learn all that much from them and I abandoned the subject altogether to research more practical spells like teleportation."
"What does enchanting do?" Spike asked.
"Well, all I know is that it cam imbue an item with a spell, sometimes permanently."
"So... she enchanted her clothing with a 'keep it clean' spell?" He asked.
Starlight snorted. "Wow, a cleaning spell on clothing. Super effective use of potential." she snarked.
"Why does her clothing matter? Enchanting seems fine and everything, but we have a mission to get to and I don't see clean clothing helping us get there." Shining pointed out.
"Well, Garotte already knows spells we've never heard of or seen, and now she's probably enchanting her clothing for fun it seems. I'm just worrying about how much of her actions were carried out from borrowing Pinkie Pie's 'powers'..." She grumbled, not believing her party pony friend had anything of the sort, "...And how much of them were actually spells that she knew."
"Which is all the reason we should wake her up, right?" Spike asked, moving towards Garotte's hind hoof with an outstretched claw.
The other three shared a look before gathering around Garotte in agreement.
"So. How do we wake her up? Shake her?" Starlight asked.
Twilight carefully stretched a forehoof out, poking Garotte in the chest.
She sneezed in response.
Recoiling, Twilight quickly withdrew her hoof. "Well!" She set her hoof down. "I didn't expect that." She calmly stated.
"I think she's allergic to friendship, Twilight." Shining joked.
"Ha, ha." Twilight playfully replied.
Another airy explosion of sound, followed by a loud impact.
"Wait, did she just sneeze out something?" Twilight asked, returning her focus to Garotte in concern.
"Um, everypony?" Spike muttered nervously.
"Twilight... I don't think that was Garotte." Starlight added nervously as well, backing away from Garotte.
Shining was looking around, which drew Twilight's attention.
"Everypony, make a shield!" Shining ordered, his own shield being overlapped by Twilight's and Starlight's. The three of them made a triangle around Garotte, facing outwards. Spike was hiding in the center along with Garotte whom was still soundly asleep.
"Did anypony hear where that came from?" Starlight asked, her eyes nervously flicking around.
Something then impacted Shining's shield and splintered off. "This direction!" Shining shouted.
Twilight's and Starlight's shield both rippled from separate impacts. "Mine too!" they both announced in unison.
"Form up closer!" Shining ordered, the three of them slowly backpedaling. "Form a single dome shield!"
Shining dropped his own shield for a split second, switching to a larger and more protective dome around the five of them. Twilight and Starlight then dropped their own shields and added their concentration and magic to Shining's own, emboldening and fortifying it.
"Okay... so what now?!" Twilight loudly asked over the humming of the shield.
"Spike, wake up Garotte!" Shining quickly ordered, diverting some attention from the shield spell to come up with a plan. "Does anypony see what's attacking us?"
All of them squinted, only to see shifting figures in the shadows that darted from tree to tree with impossible agility. "I can't get a good look!" Twilight replied.
"They're moving way too fast!" Starlight agreed.
Meanwhile, Spike was frantically shaking Garotte in an attempt to wake her up. He was about to resort to slapping her in the face with his claw when he felt a building pressure in his stomach.
"Oh come on, not now!" He complained, holding his mouth.
"What is it?" Shining asked in concern, redoubling his efforts to maintain the shield that was now being peppered by sharp thin objects from their speedy assailants.
Spike then belched, a letter falling out of the dragon flames and anticlimactically plopping on the ground. "Letter." He groaned.
"Read it!" Twilight urged.
"Seriously, right now?!" Spike asked in bafflement.
"Just do it!"
Spike rolled his eyes while scratching past the official looking seal on the scroll and unraveled it in his claws. "Ahem."
Spike then read aloud:
Dear Princess Twilight Sparkle,
Be sure to watch where you travel carefully and pack lots of food, blankets and water for your trip.
With warm regards,
He then hucked the scroll past the shield at the last position of the blurry monster that was attacking them. "Thanks, Celestia! I would never have thought of that!" He roared with annoyance and disbelief.
*Clak-Crakkakakak* sounded the shield as more objects pelted the the group. A small pile of the things were beginning to form around the dome shield. They looked like four inch long spikes, an inch in diameter and sharpened to a lethal point.
"Uh, everypony? You really need to keep that shield going as long as it takes!" Spike urged, redoubling his own efforts to wake Garotte. His methodology involved viciously shaking her head as much as possible while bouncing on her chest with all his might and tugging her ears. Thankfully, this proved to be effective when Spike was thrown off of a wildly flailing Garotte Wire when she returned to consciousness.
"Aaaah!" Garotte yelped in fear, sitting bolt upright and looking around in confusion. "What the hay is going on!?"
"You're finally awake!" Starlight strained. "Get this thing to leave us alone!"
Garotte's brow furrowed in confusion as she took in her surroundings, spotting the figure with pink eyes that had been darting all around them. She looked around for her axe and found it far out of reach, embedded in the slain Pampered Panzy. "Alright," Garotte loudly announced, standing upright. "I don't know what this is going to do, but hold onto your flanks!"
Shining, Starlight, Spike and Twilight all looked with confusion at Garotte, whose horn now began to crackle with the dark magic she had used previous. Her eyes were shut, yet small strands of purple were escaping from the sides of them. A chill crawled up Twilight's spine as she remembered King Sombra's eyes in the Crystal Empire and sincerely hoped that it was just a random theory that had crossed her mind regarding the source of Garotte's magic.
The inside of the dome shield quickly began to swirl with a thick black fog, tiny sparks of green and purple arcing between the ground and the shield itself, causing it to expand steadily outwards. The constant hum of the shield now intensified, becoming a high pitched whine as more of Garotte's magic poured into the dome shield that was sustained by the others.
"Do you think it's working?!" Shining called over the maelstrom of magic.
"I don't even know what's happening!" Twilight shouted back.
"Make it stop!" Spike pitifully cried, hunkering down beneath Garotte.
Garotte then opened her eyes again, their Iris' becoming red with a green background in addition to the tip of her horn color shifting a red and scorched black near the base. She was straining immensely under the pressure of the spell she was casting, her legs wobbling as she attempted to remain upright.
What Garotte yelled next took everypony off guard.
"Nopony expects the Evil Inquisition, Hahaha!" she cackled madly, a final burst of null-light striking the top of the dome shield and causing it to expand with explosive force outwards. Everypony's horns were overloaded by the feedback from this, but the resulting blast was enough to level the forest in a large circle around them. Splintered trees and hurled underbrush were send flying in every direction as a sweeping wall of dark magic annihilated anything it came into contact with from sheer force alone.
This feat was not without cost, however. Garotte was once again rendered unconscious and flopped down on the floor, her face in the dirt and kicking up tiny huffs of dust. Her horn was now a black scorch mark where it had once been a concrete grey, and the last wisps of dark magic left her eyes.
"Is everypony okay?" Shining asked, attempting to stand too fast and falling back onto his flank. "I mean, aside from the obvious?" he added with a groan.
"I think that dark magic needs to go home for today. Too much wizardy." Starlight babbled, her head slightly spinning as she tried to hold it in place.
"I second that motion, carry forward to trial. Dark magic is bad for my headcase." Twilight tiredly added, trying to sit upright.
"Uhg, I think I'm gonna be sick." Spike groaned, holding his stomach.
"Another letter?" Shining asked, still sitting down and taking deep breaths.
"No..." Spike clutched his stomach and doubled over. "Too much... dark... guh..." He trailed off, curling into a ball.
Shining looked down to Garotte, whom was passed out again like before. "That really can't be healthy." He commented, dragging himself nearer to the mare. "You still alive?" He asked, poking her muzzle.
He didn't get a reply, but he could feel hot air coming from her nose. That was a good sign!
"Twilight, do you see that thing that was attacking us anymore?" Starlight asked, pushing the front of her body up from the ground and looking around tiredly.
Twilight responded by flopping on her back. "Don't caaare. I'm never going to be anywhere near dark magic ever again after this..." she groaned.
Garotte snorted in her sleep, her leg slightly twitching.
"I'm surprised that we weren't affected as badly as Garotte was from that spell. We were all boosting the strength of the shield, and apparently anything else that decided to latch itself onto the spell matrix of it as well." Twilight mentioned, rolling over onto her side to get a better look at Garotte, Shining, Spike and Starlight.
"Think we won?" Spike asked, his claws crossed.
Everypony collectively held their breath, listening closely for any sound that would announce victory or defeat.
"Hissssss! A loud scratchy voice cried out in the distance.
Twilight tried to push herself off of the ground and failed miserably. "Nope..." She pouted, attempting again to stand.
"Come on, We've got to get ready for it to come back!" Shining urged them, also straining.
"Why won't the sun come up already!?" Starlight complained, leaning on Garotte's body for support. "It feels like we've been fighting this thing for eternity!"
Then, everypony's attention was drawn to the sound of scratching, scraping, chittering and hissing drawing closer. Their heads all shifted to view whatever monstrosity had been chasing and attacking them, coming face to face with the glowing pink eyes.
Shining tried to cast another spell, but his horn sparked uselessly and caused him to wince. Starlight attempted to hurl something at the monster in vain, as the twig she had managed to find ended up glancing off of its side. Twilight tried to shove it away with telekinesis, yet it stood firm and as if nothing had happened to it. Spike even tried to immolate it, to no effect.
It simply stood there, observing all of them.
For some reason, the creature had decided that it didn't want to finish them all off. Twilight took the opportunity to mentally catalogue everything she could see in the moon's waning glow.
Slightly larger than a pony, possibly female if the figure is anything to go by. A mixture of chitinous shell, plant matter and bark for its outer layer. Eyes are amethyst in color on closer inspection and hold no pupils. They're very similar to changeling eyes, now that I think about it. Twilight thought. No visible wings, yet a horn is present. Moving upwards, the creature's mane seems to be alive. Several vine-looking appendages are swirling around its head like a gorgon from Minos. Overall, this creature seems to be largely plant based. Its mane is both the living vines and a mixture of leaves and flower petals. The tail is similar, with more living vines swirling aimlessly around 'her'. Do the vines have a mind of their own, or are they like a limb to the creature? The hooves look to be moss, possibly to absorb water? Coloration is largely shades of green and deep red. Dark green body, darker hooves, Mane shifting from rose red in the back to various shades of green along the leaves of its remaining mane and tail. The tail itself has a single section of rose coloration.
While Twilight was busy brandishing her inner scientist and taking notes, it slowly advanced towards Shining Armor. For his part, Shining was attempting to shuffle backwards towards Garotte in a protective way. "Get back!" Shining barked in warning.
The creature stopped then, one of its hooves was even raised mid-step before it reversed and stood its ground.
"Wait, that actually worked?" Starlight asked incredulously after shielding her face from what she had expected to be imminent doom.
"It can understand us!?" Twilight cheered excitedly, her previous fear about the creature soon vanishing in a cloud of academic possibilities. "Can you talk?" She asked urgently.
The creature replied by performing what could best be described as an attempt at a smile. Two sets of vicious looking thorns occupied the space where one would normally expect teeth. Its face even attempted to contort in an appropriate manner to express happyness, but the hardened outer layer only allowed it to have a rictus grin that set everypony on edge.
"Oookay, never mind!" Twilight replied after she had recovered. "Umm..." Twilight was at a loss for words. What should she say to a new form of life that could probably understand her?
"Hey, plant pony. Why aren't you trying to kill us?" Starlight asked, still using Garotte's body like a sandbag.
"Starlight!" Twilight anxiously snapped, returning a nervous smile to the plant monster before realizing her mistake, as the monster smiled back again. She spoke from the corner of her mouth towards Starlight. "Don't antagonize the killing-machine plant-monster!"
The plant's head shifted sideways as if confused to Twilight.
"Okay, this is getting really weird." Spike confessed. "This thing was trying to hurt us like... a minute ago. What gives?"
"You're complaining that we're not being horribly injured or killed by this... pony?" Shining asked incredulously, forcing himself to call whatever the thing in front of him was, a pony.
"Somepony wake up Garotte again..." Starlight sighed in defeat. "I can't take much more of this 'dark magic' any longer."
Spike made an effort towards that goal, shaking Garotte's hind hoof. He received another sneeze in reply. "Seriously?" he grumbled.
He then turned his attention from Garotte back towards the plant pony, and found himself face to face with the glowing eyes of the creature with it's mouth wide open, nearly as large as his face was tall. "Aaaah!" he screamed, falling backwards onto his rump next to Garotte.
Then the plant monster's expression changed and its smile went away. It edged itself closer to Spike, whom was attempting to climb over Garotte and away from the thing.
"Don't let it eat me!" He cried, scrambling atop Garotte.
Twilight was about to cast a stun spell on the creature when it stopped moving and looked directly at her. She quickly let the spell that was charging in her horn die out in the hopes that it would leave her alone. To her surprise, she was right. No sooner did the magic dissipate than did the Plant's focus shift once more to Garotte and Spike.
"Shiny, I have an idea!" Twilight whispered over-loudly.
"What is it?" Shining replied in equal manner.
"Don't use magic!"
Shining and Starlight both blinked in disbelief at Twilight.
"Are you serious!?" Starlight loudly whispered. "Look at this thing!" She motioned to the slowly creeping plant thing with both of her hooves.
"Trust me!" Twilight insisted. She then stood up and struck the ground once with her hoof.
The plant monster whipped around instantly towards Twilight, its face an expression of attempted confusion. Twilight extended a hoof towards the plant thing, causing everypony and dragon else to flinch in fear.
"Come on, I won't hurt you!" She cooed, coaxing the thing closer to her. "Come on!" she urged in an embarrassingly sweet voice. "Who's a good plant monster?" She waved her hooves towards her own chest with a smile on her face. "You are! Yes you are!"
"What is Twilight doing?" Shining whispered to Starlight.
"I haven't the foggiest idea." Starlight replied.
The plant monster was now nearly on top of Twilight, what passed for its muzzle within poking range of Twilight. "Come here, planty! Come on!"
"Planty?" Spike scoffed. "That's what you decided to call it?"
Twilight flashed a look of annoyance to Spike, which promptly shut him up for the moment.
"We aren't keeping this thing, are we? It literally was trying to kill us not five minutes ago!" Starlight protested.
"We also don't know why it isn't attacking us right now. We can't let it stay with us or it might turn on us at the last moment!" Shining agreed.
"I think its kind of cute." Spike mentioned non-chalantly, not expecting the reaction of all ponies present and including the Plant to look at him with absolute confusion. "What? She has pointy teeth, I have pointy teeth. She has some strange hide that protected her from whatever Garotte's spell was, and I have dragon scales."
"Stop... while... ahead..." Garotte grumbled from her position before the snoring took her once more.
"Yeah... way too much information there, Spike." Shining added.
"I mean, if you want to go out with the crazy plant pony that tried to kill us, be my guest. Just don't get me mixed up in all of it." Starlight piled on, causing Spike to flush.
"It wasn't like that!" He insisted.
"Sure it wasn't." Shining winked at him conspiratorially.
As if to save Spike from further embarassment, the first few rays of sunlight then struck everybeing directly in their eyeballs and caused them to cry out in both pain and surprise.
"Finally!" Starlight cheered. "Praise the Sun!"
"Don't let Luna hear you say that." Shining warned.
"Stuff Luna's Moon!" Starlight replied, sticking a tongue out at Shining and melting on top of Garotte, resting her chin on the grey mare's side.
Twilight refrained from rejoicing, as her attention was entirely focused on the Plant pony in front of her.
It was directly facing the sun, the vines on its head having all pointed themselves towards the solar body. The plant's hooves were spread wide at their base, and it stared unblinkingly directly into the sun. Then, its body began to convulse.
"Uh... Everypony?" Twilight nervously grabbed everypony's attention. "The plant is doing weird things."
They all then observed the plant pony's shaking and shivering with growing concern.
"What is it doing?" Shining asked.
"Plant-ing..." Garotte commented, shifting in her sleep.
"Oh come on, I know you're awake!" Starlight growled, smacking Garotte with a hoof on her horn.
"Aaaah!" Garotte complained in pain, holding her horn. "Why would you do something like that!?" She cried.
"Explain what's going on!" Starlight demanded, pointing to the plant pony.
Nursing her now aching horn, Garotte looked at the plant pony. "Well..." She began, "She's doing plant things."
"Plant things?" Spike asked.
"Absorbing sunlight?" Garotte pointed out as if painfully obvious.
"Do you know why?" Twilight asked.
After a pause of silence, all gathered looked to the Amethyst eyed plant monster. With a final shudder, it stretched its back and popped off what looked like half shell, half tree bark. This soon revealed a pair of Green and red wings that buzzed experimentally a few times before the plant looked horrifically (Excited) smiled at them.
"It can FLY!?" Spike yelled in complete resignation. "That's it! I'm done!" He announced, and began trudging his way off immediately.
"Spike? Where are you going?" Twilight asked in surprise.
"But what about-"
"Nope! I'm done! Good luck, Twilight!"
"Too far away! Can't hear you!"
"Caaaan't Hear youuu!"