• Published 20th Aug 2013
  • 5,812 Views, 581 Comments

A Hairier Problem: Rise of the Furball - BlueBastard

Applejack is back to normal and one of the greatest threats in Equestria's history has finally been laid to rest. But if that's the case, then what's going on with Apple Bloom?

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Ch.3: The Wilds of Whitetail

Rise of the Furball Chapter 3: “The Wilds of Whitetail”

Sandalwood looked at the massive mountain of paperwork lying in front of her and sighed. It was tax season again and this year Princess Luna had made some major changes to several parts of the tax code. It had been stressful enough in convincing Lotus and Aloe to allow the continuation of her aromatherapy though having the spa foot the bill for the various perfumes and scents needed. While the profit margins of Sandalwood’s aromatherapy had been as large as ever, a recent production shortage of several basic scents had driven prices up and had become somewhat hard to acquire, so hard that even with the spa proprietors agreeing to continue sponsoring the aromatherapy the number of sessions had to be reduced and Sandalwood’s salary taken in order to help pay for the materials. Sure, she could always ask her parents for money, they were practically rolling in it after the massive success her father’s debut book had been (although public endorsement from now-Princess Twilight Sparkle probably helped), but she wasn’t a filly anymore and wanted to prove she could handle these rough periods. Plus, it was Saturday, and considering how Derpy Hooves the mailmare always got Saturday and Sunday mixed up it was likely her parents wouldn’t get the letter until Monday.

Of course, right now just trying to balance everything was close to her limit, which wasn’t good since technically she only owned half of the house. The other half belonged to one Lyra Heartstrings, who while Sandalwood could get along with very well, had suspiciously been dodging any inquires towards how she made any money. Sure, she could play the harp like nobody’s business, but there really wasn’t any market for harp players in town. Canterlot on the other hand probably always could use them, but considering Lyra’s obsessions with the mythical creatures known as “humans” the elite would have her ridden out on a rail before she could even audition for a symphony.

“I’m home!” said the mint unicorn in question, her harp case slung over her back. She seemed especially cheery, more so than usual, and contrasted greatly with the glum look on Sandalwood’s face. “Is something wrong, Sandy?”

“No, no, nothing’s wrong, just trying to cope with doing the taxes while being the only working resident of this house. Oh, and because of supply issues my job has taken a hit since several of my basic aroma materials are now more expensive and harder to acquire. Meanwhile, you’re off doing whatever it is that you do that isn’t earning money-“

“You mean like having been on a job search for two months that just ended today because I got one?”

Sandalwood made like she was going to say something, then thought better of it. Lyra just laughed.

“Sandy, I told you before about this. Since it’s not exactly a stable source of income as a freelance harpist, I got a job at Ponyville Instrument Sales and Service to work on fixing string instruments, with tomorrow being my first day of work. This is my house, too, so don’t think I’m trying to put all the support work on your back.”

“Yeah…sorry for jumping to conclusions,” apologized the tan mare. “It’s just that things at the spa have been getting sort of difficult, what with the-“

“I heard,” Lyra interjected. “However, I may have a solution, if only temporary.”

Sandalwood’s eyes widened. “You mean cheaper basic scents?”

“Possibly, depending on what you need. Is it the actual smell you need, or is it some effect the scents have that is more important?”

“I’ll try to explain this in the simplest way that I can…what I need are several basic essential oils, specifically lemon and rhyming thyme oils for their antidepressant effect, some cinnamon-scent incense to provide a moderate setting base for the overall feeling, laughing grass extract lotion for situations where the customer needs help relaxing, and no-aroma vaporizer to assist in the delivery of the smells into the client’s olfactory senses. I can not tell you how hard it is to find vaporizers these days that don’t have a backing scent.”

Lyra took a few moments to try and process the jargon uttered by her flatmate. Failing, she just shook her head and smiled.
“Oh…kay! I’m just going to say I didn’t understand any of that and suggest you go talk to Zecora the next time she’s in town, or just visit her hut in the Everfree if you really need that stuff for less.”

The earth pony pondered that. “Yeah, she is a good alchemist, and if there’s anypony in town who would know of any useable substitutes for my needs it would be her. Although the idea of having to go deep into the Everfree doesn’t exactly sound safe, how Rarity and the others manage to do it all the time is beyond me.”

“Actually, Zecora put up some enchanted totem wards along the path that supposedly protect the path from any dangerous creatures, along with serving as guide marks to avoid the poison joke patches. I can go with you after dinner, if you’d like, since I can do a basic light spell to help see in the dark.”

“Thanks, Lyra. Now, help me with these taxes.”

With a heavy sigh, the unicorn had no other choice but to put her things down and walk over to Sandalwood to assist in the war against numbers.

At the same time, Cheerilee and Autumn Crisp had gathered their classes on a brisk weekend afternoon for a highly unusual event. While the Ponyville education system normally didn’t fund field trips in general, this was an exception. The rare Screaming Mynah, a bird of mythical beauty that was seen only a few times every decade, had been confirmed through various sources to be making a nest in the Whitetail Woods. So, with a rare occasion for the students to see something beyond the borders of the small town, all the kids in school had been dragged away from their weekend plans so they could hike around to stare at birds.

“This is going to be so boring!” Scootaloo grumbled. “So it doesn’t like to come around here a lot, big deal. Phoenixes are even rarer in that they don’t naturally come around here period and I don’t remember this big a deal being made about Philomena at any time Princess Celestia brings her to visit Ponyville!”

“I don’t know, maybe it could be fun!” Sweetie optimistically suggested. “Plus, we could even get our cutie marks in Obscure Bird Watching!”

Apple Bloom nickered. “Honestly, Ah’d rather prefer to have a cutie mark about cheese makin’ than bird watchin’, since at least cheese makin’ involves activity and not starin’ at birds all day.”

“At least you don’t need to wear that walking device thingy anymore, right?” squeaked the tiny unicorn Crusader. Indeed, against everypony’s expectations, it had only taken a few days for Apple Bloom’s stitch to completely heal up and grow over with fur, as if it had never happened.

“It’s a good thing Ah don’t need it anymore, too. That little clacking noise it made? Ah was probably gonna throw it out mah bedroom window it was getting’ so annoy-“

Suddenly, she perked her ears up and snapped her head around to look right at Diamond Tiara, who was behind the CMC. Although both Apple Bloom and Diamond Tiara were ordered by both their families to stay as far apart as possible, with the adult chaperones of the trip (mostly the parents of attending students) aware of this, it was clear from the shock on DT’s face that Apple Bloom happened to look straight at her in the middle of some rude comment, before the brat turned away in order to save face and pretend it never happened.

“Ah swear, Ah’m gonna git that no-good pony someday…” muttered Apple Bloom.

“Er, you okay?” Scootaloo and Sweetie simultaneously asked; both could have sworn their earth pony friend had just growled.

“Wha? Yeah, Ah’m fine. But for some reason Ah thought Ah could hear Tiara tryin’ to make fun of me again.”

“Seriously, Apple Bloom, just let that go. She’s not worth the effort, even if she doesn’t seem to get off our backs about us being blank flanks,” said Scootaloo.

“Yeah!” chimed in Sweetie. “Plus, how could you have even heard her? I can’t tell what the two ponies in front of me are saying and I’m just behind them!”

“Ah…Ah don’t know, honestly. Maybe it were her voice?”

“Point” said Scootaloo. “We all could pick that voice from a crowd of millions by now.”

And so the educational nature walk continued, much to the chagrin of the students. To the credit of Cheerilee and Crisp, they did their best to make it all interesting, but it was a struggle against young minds who wanted to play hoofball more than learn about why this tree was not the same as that one, etc.

Eventually, and mercifully, the sun began to set just as the group reached the campsite. With speed that the tired assemblage of hikers wouldn’t appear capable of, a small village of tents popped up instantly in the clearing as kids went off to play hoofball or socialize, and adults could take a break from watching over the kids.

However, in one particular tent, the CMC were still getting their beds ready. The only three-pony group of the entire expedition, the trio of fillies was rather crowded, but they didn’t mind. After all, it was all for one and one for all, or at least that’s what they’d read in some book at some point during their never ending quest for their elusive cutie marks. However, for one particular filly, that did not extend to sharing the contents of her sleeping bag container.

“C’mon, Scoot, we gotta lay out your sleepin’ bag so we can figure out how to fit everythin’ in here,” Apple Bloom said, trying not to laugh as she knew exactly what was going on.

“Uh, no, I don’t need to get it out. I don’t even know why I brought it, actually, I can just sleep on the ground just fine!” the flustered filly replied. Unfortunately for Scoot, Sweetie Belle had snuck behind her and in one fell swoop undid the restraining cord on the sleeping bag holder. Instantly, the pegasus’s bag shot out into the middle of the tent due to how poorly packed it had been, and so was exposed the reason for Scootaloo’s furious blush that had appeared just as fast. Her sleeping bag, along with a matching pillow, was a light pink color with little purple hearts all over them.

“Ah have to admit, Ah wasn’t expectin’ that to come out!” snickered Apple Bloom. “Seriously, why do you even have that?!”

“It…it was something my parents got me a long time ago…before we moved to Ponyville and I decided I was going to be cool as Rainbow Dash. I accidently grabbed it instead of the Iron Mare one I meant to bring, which stinks because it’s really cool and not at all girly like this one.”

“Hey, if it will make you feel better, we can trade sleepin’ bags,” Apple Bloom suggested, gesturing to her own bag which was already set up. Unlike the massively girly style of Scootaloo’s, the young farmer’s bag was simply colored candy red on the outside, with an inside and pillow appearing a warm golden yellow.

“Yeah, or you can take mine!” chimed in Sweetie Belle, totally oblivious to the reactions of her friends upon that suggestion. The cause of the revulsion was that while Scootaloo’s bag was slightly embarrassing, Sweetie Belle had developed some kind of fanaticism with Sapphire Shores that was reflected in her choice of sleeping arrangement. The sleeping bag was covered with lithographed images of the pony pop star along with the main colors of fabric being chosen to match. In all honesty it was outlandishly garish and Scootaloo would sooner be caught dead in the bag she’d actually brought than even consider sleeping under images of Sapphire Shores.

“Er, thanks Sweetie, but I think I’ll swap with Apple Bloom.”

Deep in the Everfree, the old hollowed-out husk of a tree glowed with light. Surrounding it were various hanging bottles of different shapes and colors, while over what appeared to be a doorframe was a tribal mask of some sort. It was enough to make any pony scared, especially after having to traverse a path through the Everfree in near-darkness.

“U-uh, yeah, that’s Zecora’s hut,” Lyra stammered, horn aglow with a light spell.

“You okay, girl?” Sandalwood inquired, her back bearing her saddlebags which were full of various oils and scented materials that, hopefully, Zecora could duplicate.

“I-I’m f-f-fine! Just…j-just never been o-out here before. In the dark. Ever.”

“Uh-huh. C’mon, we’ll be okay inside.” Sandalwood trotted forward as if nothing was bothering her.

“H-how are you n-not freaking o-out?”

The earth pony rolled her eyes. “Lyra, you and I, along with a few other ponies and a minotaur, drove the first two long-distance motor vehicles in Equestria straight into an oncoming werewolf. And I don’t remember seeing you this scared when we were all in the open in front of said werewolf. Heck, that Sable Loam or whatever his name was? I’d honestly walk up to Nightmare Moon and punch her in the face sooner than have to even look at him again. Or, rather, smell him, since he clearly didn’t know the first thing about hygiene!” That got a laugh out of Lyra, which helped her relax a little. She followed Sandalwood up to the door, where Sandy knocked. “Hello, anybody home?”

“Just a minute!” said a voice from inside, and moments later a lock could be heard being undone, whereupon the door opened and there before the ponies stood the zebra alchemist they’d come to find.

“Oh, hello, please come inside. I apologize for it being a little messy in here but I normally don’t expect visitors at this hour, especially not during the middle of the weekend.” Zecora beckoned for the duo to enter, which they did. The inside of the hut looked more or less exactly what the outside implied. It was a hollowed out tree, with racks and shelves full of potions and ingredients lining most of the walls. Along the ceiling hung ropes to which were attached even more potions, which reflected rather pretty colors in the candlelight. There was a bubbling cauldron in the middle of the one-room hut as some sort of centerpiece, which set the tone for the entire residence as being mostly dedicated to Zecora’s profession. There was little in the way of personal decoration outside of what appeared to be more masks of the design aesthetic natural to Zecora’s homeland and a hammock bed tucked away in a corner.

“Very…cozy place you have here!” commented Lyra, slowly warming up to the odd yet inviting atmosphere. She then noticed the cauldron was bubbling profusely. “Hey, what kind of potion do you have brewing?”

“That’s not a potion, it’s just some soup I had going for dinner” answered the Zebra, who suddenly had a bowl in her hoof and started to ladle out some of her concoction into it. It appeared to have the consistency of bog slime, which made Lyra cringe and back up slightly.

“Oh, don’t you dare try that, Miss ‘I wanted to try a double bacon cheeseburger because I felt like it’!” chided Sandalwood, trying not to remember the horrid monstrosity that Lyra had secretly been keeping in the fridge.

Zecora wasn’t sure what to make of the sudden comparison of her traditional Zebrabwean Lentil and Herb Stew to some greasy consumable from The Meatery, since as far as she was concerned her mother’s stew recipe was still as delicious as it always had been. It sort of sounded like an insult, but at the same time it seemed more directed at the unicorn instead of the meal. “Um, am I missing something here?”

"Uh...you're not rhyming," Lyra suddenly noticed, ignoring the earth pony in turning to the zebra. "You're always rhyming. Is something wrong?"

Zecora's face flushed in embarrassment, a rare sight. "I, uh, walked into some poison joke yesterday," she admitted sheepishly. "Now I can't rhyme. I was about to make some of the antidote for myself, just before you two arrived. So what can I do for you?"

“Oh, um, yes, you see my friend Sandalwood here is an aromatherapist, but recently-“

Sandalwood motioned for Lyra to stop. “Thanks, Lyra, but I think I can explain my own problems.” Having noticed Zecora’s ears perk up slightly upon the mention of aromatherapy as her profession, the earth pony undid the clasp on her saddlebags and pulled out some of the vials within. “Anyway, due to recent issues with my supplier, several of my most important essential oils and materials have become both more expensive and harder to find. Lyra said I should come to you to see if you could provide what I need in a more efficient manner.”

Putting her spoon down, Zecora took one of the vials in Sandalwood’s hooves and opened it, smelling the small amount of fluid still inside.

"Laughing Grass extract? Unusual, but certainly not out of my expertise. I sense you need more than just that, however, so if you could explain just what you need in as much detail as possible, I can try to see what I can do for you."

The next ten minutes saw Sandalwood going through a very detailed explanation of every single oil, aroma, and other needed materials for aromatherapy in such detail it got to the point Lyra became convinced it was some other language entirely her flatmate was speaking. Zecora, on the other hand, seemed to understand every word Sandalwood said perfectly, nodding her head occasionally or raising an eyebrow to what she thought was something unexpected.

“So, yeah, that’s everything I need. I understand if a lot of that sounded too difficult, but if you can even make just one of those I will be more than willing to pay you for the supply,” panted Sandalwood, evidently having not taken enough breaths during her spoken laundry list of aromatherapy goodness.

"Quite the contrary, Miss Sandalwood. Many of those things of which you spoke of I can make for you easily, and those which are not of my skill set I probably can find an alternative I can make which will have the same effect."

“Oh!” said a surprised Sandalwood, relieved that this solution was more beneficial than she’d thought. “That’s fantastic!”

"However," continued Zecora, causing Sandalwood’s grin to fall somewhat, "In order for me to best help you in making these things, I will need more than just your word for what they do to ponies in your care. So, if it is not too much trouble, I would like to experience one of your aromatherapy sessions, time and materials permitting of course."

“Uh, yeah, that’s not too much trouble at all!” Sandalwood chirped happily, although really it was going to be a load of trouble. Lotus and Aloe are not going to be happy about the Spa footing the bill for my stuff if I’m giving out free Aromatherapy, thought the now slightly panicking aromatherapist, so here’s hoping Zecora somehow is on the V.I.P. list…

Back at Whitetail Woods, the camp had split back into the two classes of Cheerilee and Autumn Crisp. While Crisp’s class went off to study nighttime fauna, Cheerilee was taking the chance to educate her captive audience about nighttime flora. She seemed so knowledgeable about the subject that some students wondered if her cutie mark was more related to flowers in the literal sense as opposed to the metaphorical sense she constantly explained it to be.

“Ugh. I thought we came out here to see some kind of rare bird, not stare at mushrooms and moss” complained Scootaloo, deciding mushrooms and other fungi were in fact not as awesome as the bats the other class must have been seeing.

Sweetie Belle was, as always, of the more upbeat opinion. “I don’t know, the night lilies look cool with how they light up, don’t they?”

Apple Bloom, who also was normally more positively opinionated, was uncharacteristically dour in her comment; “Yeah, sure, I guess, but…ahh come on…” She appeared to be slightly drowsy, with one hoof scratching her other foreleg perpetually.

“You okay?” asked the Pegasus, attention now drawn to the needs of her friend. Sweetie Belle, in turn, walked over to her earthly counterpart, who promptly leaned on Sweetie and started scratching harder.

“Ah’m not sure…Ah’ve got this itch all over me that won’t go away, and mah head is startin’ to hurt somethin’ fierce…”

“What’s going on over here?” Cheerilee suddenly asked as she approached the trio, who had not been paying much attention to their surroundings.

“Apple Bloom says she doesn’t feel well,” Sweetie said, motioning with a little side nod of her head to her yellow counterpart. Sure enough, Apple Bloom appeared to be genuinely brought down by something, maybe an allergy to a plant here in the woods but not at Sweet Apple Acres. Plus, Cheerilee was all too familiar with the CMC’s occasional attempt to get out of school by feigning sickness, which generally involved them feigning several fatal afflictions at once, but never something that would require subtlety like a mere headache.

“Well, Apple Bloom, if you’re really feeling that bad, then you can go back to your tent. Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, you should go with her as well since you’re her tent mates,” the school mare ordered.

“Yes, ma’am!” the trio said, one less enthusiastically than the others. They paid no mind to the sea of jealous looks as they got to leave early, but Apple Bloom truly didn’t appear to be feeling well. She was half-stumbling all over the place, often needing one of her friends to keep her going the right direction and not hit something. This was extremely odd, since only a few hours ago she was as energetic as anypony.

“Ugh, is it just me or did it just get hotter all of a sudden?” asked Apple Bloom in a half-daze.

“Uh, no, temperature doesn’t feel like it changed. If anything, it should be cooler since there isn’t a cloud in the sky to keep heat in as in the greenhouse effect,” Scootaloo explained.

“When did you become such an expert in weather phenomen…penomeno…things?” inquired Sweetie Belle.

“Uh, hello? Pegasus?” replied the orange filly, flaring her wings for emphasis. “I may not be able to fly, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a special affinity for the weather like everpony else who has wings. Plus, my parents do train weather teams so I tend to overhear that kind of stuff whenever they do get to be home.”


Now having reached the tent, the trio zipped themselves inside and bunkered down. However, almost immediately Apple Bloom went over and opened the back window of the tent, giving a perfect view of the night sky. The full moon shone down into the tent, bathing the little Apple in a column of moonlight.

“Apple Bloom, can we please zip that up?” asked Scootaloo, shielding her eyes. “It’s going to make it hard to sleep for me and probably Sweetie, but most certainly…Hey! Are you even paying attention?”

But Apple Bloom did not respond. In fact, she just stared up at the full moon as if in a trance. Sweetie, having taken notice, waved her hoof in front of the yellow filly’s face but got no reaction.

“This…this could be bad…” said Sweetie, although both unicorn and Pegasus didn’t understand what was going on. At least not until the earth filly suddenly tensed up and fell to the ground on her side.

“It…it burns!” gasped Apple Bloom, clearly trying to hold back from screaming about something but beginning to writhe around in what had to be excruciating pain. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle tried to comfort their friend, but a sudden thrash of the downed filly sent Scootaloo leaping over to Sweetie Belle. What they bore witness too was a horror that no mortal eyes should have seen, made only worse by it being their friend who was suffering.

With tears in her eyes and biting down hard on her lip, Apple Bloom began to change. What had originally started out as just some resistant itch that wouldn’t go away and a bad headache had now turned into a full-on sensation that every single part of her body was at the heart of a raging wildfire. While it only lasted a minute or two, to the three fillies in the tent it lasted for ages. Mercifully, at least at first, the pain seemed to subside and Apple Bloom was able to at least sit upright on her haunches.

“A-Apple Bloom?” asked a scared Sweetie, “Are y-you alright?”

“Ah…Ah don’t kn-oh…oh no no NO NO!“ Apple Bloom shouted as her tone went from confusion to horror as she felt a weird sensation at the base of her hooves. Looking down at them, she found little fleshy nubs starting to pop out of her hooves. She didn’t need to wait for the rest of the changes to know exactly what she was becoming, but as if in response to her revelation the strange feeling suddenly erupted all over her body before her front hooves – now more or less paws at this stage – had even finished changing. When it hit her muzzle she had to clamp her eyes closed and try not to scream from whatever feeling she was going through. Unfortunately, she failed.

“MMMMMMMMMYYYYYNNNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Wailed the poor filly through a muzzle now slightly longer and filled with slightly sharper teeth, before collapsing on the ground again and panting heavily, tears flowing from her eyes.

Needless to say, what had just happened to Apple Bloom would forever go down in the minds of Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo as “the scariest s#!& they’d ever seen” even when compared to what would happen later as a result of Apple Bloom’s transformation. At least in the future, they would have some future knowledge of what a transformation was like.

But of more concern was the sound of approaching adults and student campers, having just heard the screaming. The two fully conscious Crusaders looked at each other, then Apple Bloom, then at each other again. They were alone, Apple Bloom had seemingly transformed into some kind of dog creature in an extremely painful manner, and there were other ponies approaching the tent rapidly. Even though they had no idea of the thing Apple Bloom had just become, it still looked like her somewhat, which in the minds of the fillies meant she must still be Apple Bloom, and as her fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders it was up to Scoot and Sweetie to protect her from the adults. Except as the two kept looking between each other and the semi-conscious form of Apple Bloom, they had no idea on how they were actually going to do that.

Author's Note:

The working title for this chapter was "Werewolves of Whitetail" to parody the song "Werewolves of London", but since there is really just ONE werewolf in the whole chapter, the change seemed appropriate.