• Published 7th Sep 2013
  • 16,570 Views, 1,249 Comments

Courage - scion



Evil has come to the Everfree and Ponyville. The Elements must stand against it... but they will not be alone. The mysterious blue-eyed wolf will aid-or hamper- their efforts to bring harmony back to Equestria.

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Wolf

Applejack woke before dawn, as was necessary all year round. Farm life never stopped. There were chores that needed doing before breakfast.

She kicked her blanket off and headed, bleary-eyed, for the bathroom. She turned the water in the shower for her customary quick rinse, the ice-cold water waking her up before turning warm enough to relax her muscles and soothe her aches.

Fifteen minutes later, Applejack was toweled off, dry, and almost ready to face the day. Opening the door, she left the bathroom just as her brother opened the door to his room. The two siblings exchanged greetings as Applejack headed towards her bedroom and Macintosh entered the now vacated bathroom.

In her room, Applejack grabbed a brush and tamed the frizzy mess her blonde mane and tail had become when she had toweled it off. While she was nowhere near as prissy as her good friend Rarity, and cared relatively little if she had to get it dirty, Applejack was still a mare and took time to maintain her appearance. Idly, she brushed it into an elaborate little coif, as she had seen her Aunt Orange do, and had indeed even done for little Applejack a few times.

She examined herself in the mirror, slipping back into the dignified posture of a Manehatten socialite. The mare in the mirror looked regal almost, noble. Sophisticated. Dignified. She gave a smile and let her hair down, the socialite in the mirror disappearing, replaced with the farmer. As pretty as she looked with her hair like that, with her back straight and her expressions hidden, it wasn’t her. She wasn’t some high-society mare, like her Aunt and Uncle. She was Applejack, farmpony. Rarity and the nobility could keep their fancy hairdos and their etiquette lessons and overpriced food; she had everything she could ever want, right here on the farm.

Applejack brushed her mane and tail until they flowed straight, then tied them off with a pair of hair bands near the ends. Wouldn’t be winning any beauty contests that way, but then, she didn’t care. Farm work didn’t care how beautiful you were, only that you had the strength to do the job. Her mane and tail style was quick, easy to maintain, and wouldn’t get in the way when she was buckin’ or doing her other chores.

Ready for the day, Applejack set her Pappy’s hat on her head and headed out the door. In the hall she met Mac and fell easily into step with the red stallion. Together, the two of them descended the stairs and headed out into the pre-dawn. Stepping off the porch, they split their separate ways and headed off to do their chores.

An hour later, Celestia’s sun now high in the sky, the two siblings returned to the house for breakfast.

Granny Smith, with help from young Applebloom, had prepared a hearty breakfast of eggs, toast, hash browns and hay bacon for the Apple family. Together, the Apple clan, Ponyville branch, sat down at the old dining table for breakfast, plates piled high with food. One quick prayer to Celestia later and the food was disappearing at a prodigious rate.

“Mac, you hear anythin’ last night?” Applejack asked.

Big Macintosh took a big swallow of milk before answering. “Nnnoope.”

“I did Applejack!” Applebloom said excitedly. “I woke up and there was this timberwolf, just howlin’ his heart out somewhere! First I was scared, but then it started to sound like that lullaby you always sing to me when I can’t get to sleep! It was so cool!”

Applejack scowled around her haybacon. So she hadn’t been dreaming last night.

“Mac, I need you to check the fence along th’ Everfree. I heard that howlin’ last night too, an’ I don’t want whatever was doin’ that payin’ us a visit. Betsy an’ the other cows would darn near have heart attacks if some timberwolf up and came near them,” Applejack said with a scowl.

“Okay, AJ,” Big Mac replied before lowering his muzzle back to his plate.

Applejack eyed her younger sister warily. Applebloom was a good Apple, and she knew the dangers of the Everfree better than most, having lived next to it her whole life. That being said, she and her best friends had yet to find their Cutie Marks, and had an alarming tendency to try to find them in the most dangerous ways possible. And if it wasn’t inherently dangerous, they often made it dangerous somehow. This excitement was all well and good, but it was a miracle she and the other Crusaders hadn’t been injured yet; she didn’t want them chasing after something that could actively kill them; they had enough danger as it was.

“Applebloom?” she asked. She waited until her younger sister had swallowed and turned to look at her.

“You remember what I’ve told you ‘bout not goin’ in the Everfree, right?”

“Of course!” she replied, indignant.

“Well whatever’s happenen’ around here is comin’ from the Everfree. So I don’t want to hear you an’ your friends have done somethin’ dangerous now, ya hear?”

Applebloom rolled her eyes. “Yes, Applejack.”

Applejack wasn’t completely mollified- Celestia knew those girls did the dumbest things sometimes, looking for their Cutie Marks- but she was at least satisfied Applebloom would give their next little crusade a deeper thought than normal.

Ducking her head back to her meal, the four ponies continued their idle chatter, discussing and assigning various jobs that would need to be done around the farm. Duty was still relatively light, thankfully, which meant that Applejack might actually have time to run around with her friends and figure out this whole mess with the darn twilight. But for now, she still had chores to do.

“All right, ‘Bloom, time to get goin’ to school,” Applejack told her younger sister. “You go’n get ready while Granny an’ I clean up.”

“But I heard they were canceling school today ‘cuz of all the mess yesterday!” Applebloom whined.

“An’ exactly who’d ya hear that from?”

“Scootaloo.”

“Uh huh. Well, yer headin’ in to school anyways, an’ if it’s canceled then you can come on home an’ help Mac an’ I out with our chores.”

“Aww, but me an’ the girls wanted to get some Crusadin’ in after school!”

“Well, you girls can do that too. But I don’t want to hear ‘bout you playin’ hookey from school, ya hear? Now go on, get ready for school,” Applejack nudged.

Applejack began deftly clearing the table as her younger sister headed up the stairs to get ready for the day. A few minutes into hoofwashing the dishes, heavy tromping came down the stairs- Big Mac was off. Applejack stuck her head out of the kitchen.

“You be careful near the Everfree, ya hear?” she told him.

“’Course, AJ,” came his reply. Pausing only to set his yoke around his neck, Big Macintosh headed out the door.

The skittering clatter of much smaller hooves followed a few minutes later, just as Applejack finished washing the dishes. She left the kitchen just as Granny Smith entered- she’d dry and replace the dishes then putter around the house doing the small but important tasks it needed- cleaning sheets, repairing fabrics, dusting- before starting on to lunch, while Applejack and her brother were out working in the field.

“You ready, Bloom?”

“Yep!”

“Well alright then,” Applejack chuckled. Together, the Apple sisters headed out the door and down the road towards the schoolhouse Ms. Cherilee ran, chatting idly with her younger sister as they walked. Fifteen minutes later, Applejack waved goodbye as the school bell rang, standing with the other parents and guardians as they saw their foals off to a good education. Satisfied the youngest Apple was doing her job, Applejack turned and headed into town.

Normally she’d head back to the farm and get working again. Today, though, she had a job in town- she needed to replace the sledgehammer she had broken. At a light trot, she made it to the local hardware store just as he opened his doors.

The proprietor, an older earth pony with spectacles and a greying muzzle by the name of Tool Steel, gave her a friendly smile as she sauntered up to the counter with a new sledge. He knew all the farmers and craftsponies in the area, having served as the local hardware shop owner for nearly two decades now, and gave Applejack a warm welcome.

She left a few minutes later a few bits lighter and a new sledgehammer slung across her withers. Trotting through town, she slung out friendly greetings to the ponies she met, none of her friends, but then she didn’t expect to see any of them right now. Pinkie was working, Rainbow was probably sleeping, Rarity was likely fussing over the dress she saw get ruined, Twilight was probably in a coma after having a studying binge and Fluttershy was hopefully trying to convince her animals that everything was fine and that she didn’t need protecting. Applejack shuddered at that last thought- that manticore had looked right angry.

Applejack pushed the thought from her mind as she left the town and returned to the dirt and grasses of Sweet Apple Acres. The ponies she saw were a bit more apprehensive and wary than usual- three guesses as to why. Still, they were going about their business and acting fairly normally. Likely ready to bolt at the drop of a hat, but still, so long as nopony dropped their hat, everything would be fine.

Applejack nosed open the barn and trotted inside, heading for the tool rack. Setting the new sledgehammer on its pegs, Applejack smiled. One job done. Turning around, Applejack head-

There was something in the barn with her.

Applejack froze.

It wasn’t a conscious thought, but nevertheless Applejack knew somepony else was in the barn with her. Worse, something had put her on edge, and she fought a quick battle to go running out of the barn with the heebie-jeebies.

She heard it first, the soft hiss of steady breathing. It was coming from the far corner of the barn, where there should have been nothing but straw. Reviewing her memories of when she came in, she found something out of place- something black.

Applejack turned as quietly as she could. It was all she could do to put her hooves to her mouth to stifle the startled expletive.

Lying in the corner on a bed of straw, curled and looking rather peaceful, was a black flesh-and-blood wolf.

Oh… my… stars…

Applejack backed out of the barn as quietly as she could, her eyes never leaving the wolf. She shut the barn door, wincing at the squeaking that now seemed as loud as… well, Rainbow Dash’s Sonic Rainboom.

She then put a wood plank through the door, once again making a makeshift lock to keep a creature at bay. Then she took off towards the Everfree fence as fast as her hooves could carry her.

---

The wolf woke slowly. It was easily the most, and best, sleep he had had in days now, and his body was enjoying it. He gave a mighty yawn before flopping back over onto the straw and closing his eyes again.

The wolf’s shadow stirred, then jumped. The wolf’s shadow stretched off the wolf, before forming into a small, dark imp creature. Only the bright yellow and red eye held any color other than black, yet the frown on the creature’s face was unmistakable.

It said something in a strange language, stubby little arms on its hips.

The wolf burrowed further into the warm straw.

The creature seemed to go into a rant before throwing its little arms up in exasperation. The wolf flicked an ear but gave no other sign it had heard. Frustrated, the shadow creature grabbed a paw.

The creature tried to coerce the wolf up, punctuating each word with a pull.

Annoyed and not getting the sleep he had envisioned, the wolf let out a huff and pulled his paw away from the shadow creature, rolling onto his belly and getting to his paws. He turned to face the shadow creature, annoyed blue eyes meeting annoyed red/yellow eye. The shadow creature defiantly put its stubby little arms back on her hips.

The little shadow imp gave a few satisfied sounds, then it literally jumped at the wolf’s paws, becoming nothing more than an ordinary shadow once more.

The wolf let out another mighty yawn, then splayed his legs forward and backwards in a great stretch, working out the kinks in his muscles. Shaking his head one final time to clear the cobwebs, he headed for the barn doors.

He tried to nose them open, but they wouldn’t budge. Figuring more force was needed, he threw himself against the doors, sinew and muscle straining. A small crack appeared, which he stuck his nose through.

The wet nose was roughly pushed back inside. The wolf caught a glance of red fur before the door was slammed shut, drawing a startled yelp when it pinched his nose slightly.

Growling slightly, the wolf backed up, then ran at the door, bashing it with his shoulder. He could hear wood splintering, but it didn’t open yet.

Backing up, he ran again, bashing the wooden door. This time though, it didn’t yield. The wolf snorted as he ignored the pain in his shoulder- looks like he wasn’t getting out that way.

Still, this wasn’t exactly a prison. It was a barn. There had to be another way out.

---

Applejack galloped like her life depended on it. At this point though, it didn’t- her brother’s depended on it. And the cows, and pigs and chickens and all the other animals on the farm. Having a wolf prowling around, even if it was still locked in the barn, just wasn’t a good thing.

Behind her, falling slowly but steadily behind, was a very tired Twilight, a pink pony with a HUGE smile on her face, and a vengeance-seeking Rarity. If there had been more time, Applejack would have gotten Fluttershy too, but she didn’t want to leave that wolf on her farm any longer than she had to; of course, nopony could get to Rainbow’s house where the layabout was likely still sleeping.

There was something going on here, and that wolf was part of it, no doubt about it now. When Pinkie had told Princess Celestia about the wolf, Applejack had thought her even crazier than normal. Pinkie might be able to do the impossible, but seeing things? Lying? That just wasn’t Pinkie Pie. Personally, Applejack suspected stress- Celestia knows how she acted under stress, maybe Pinkie’s reaction was to conjure up stuff she could laugh at (Pinkamena aside- that wasn’t stress so much as feeling abandoned). It would certainly explain her first reaction to the trees in the forest when they were heading to defeat Nightmare Moon.

But the wolf… half way to getting Big Mac, before she went for the girls, Applejack realized just what she had inadvertently dropped at her hooves. The wolf was real. Pinkie’s wolf was real.

And if half of what Pinkie said was true, it knew what was going on around here.

That meant that if they could capture it, maybe Fluttershy could work her animal charms and they could figure out what this whole mess was about.

If they could capture it. Applejack was confident she and her trusty rope could do it, but she was taking no chances- if that wolf escaped, the cows could very well throw a fit and go on another stampede, not to mention terrifying all the other animals around the farm. But her friends could stop it, even if they were missing two.

Applejack left the others in the dust when she saw Big Mac bracing the barn doors.

“Mac! What happened?!”

“It tried t’ get out.”

Applejack nodded in concern as the rest of the group caught up.

“Where is that creature?!” Rarity demanded, fire in her eyes.

“In the barn. Now, hold on there Rares,” Applejack said, stepping between Rarity and the barn door. “We’re not here to kill ‘im.”

“Of course not! We’re going to throw him a party!” Pinkie exclaimed, throwing streamers into the air. “A great, big, “Thanks for Saving Ponyville!” party! There’ll be cake, and Pin the Tail on the Pony, and-“

Applejack shut Pinkie’s mouth with a hoof.

“No, Pinkie, not a party. We’re here to capture this critter so we can figure out jus’ what’s goin’ on around here. An’ that means it has to be alive, Rarity.”

Rarity turned her nose up. “Of course, dear, I know that. I simply intend to register my… displeasure… with the beast for having ruined some of my finest work!”

Applejack rolled her eyes again before grabbing her trusty rope off her back.

“Right. Everypony ready?”

There were two yesses and one yes that turned into a yawn. Poor Twilight had been up all night researching, and it showed in the bags under her eyes. But she was still on her hooves and awake, if barely. Even if she was being dragged along to search for something she didn’t think was real.

Rope at the ready, Applejack signaled her brother. He stepped back, allowing them to see the plank- it had splintered and bent, but not quite broke. One good hit would do it though. Twilight and Rarity readied themselves, horns aglow.

Applejack twirled her rope, ready for an angry wolf to come barreling out, then gave Mac the signal.

In one smooth motion, Mac ripped the door open, splintering the wooden makeshift lock.

Nothing came barreling out at them. Only the sights and smells of a normal barn greeted them. Applejack frowned.

She poked her head cautiously around the door. Nothing was there, thought the ladder to the loft was open. Strange.

“Well Applejack? Where is this wolf?” Rarity asked.

Big Mac poked his head in the barn too. “It was here a few minutes ago,” he told them.

The sound of splintering wood drew their attention up to the loft of the barn, where the loft doors on the far end had just been slammed open. Applejack gasped and started forward.

She made it to the bottom of the ladder in time to hear the scrabbling of claws on the wooden floor, and saw a dark shape through the cracks in the wood.

Applejack tore out of the barn.

“Mac, don’t let it get near the cows!” she shouted as she tore around the side. Startled, he nevertheless complied and took off towards the shelter where the cows were. As she rounded the barn corner, she saw a black shape barreling off.

“C’mon girls, we got a wolf t’ catch!”

The four took off after the wolf. It was more than a little strange for them- the only wolves in the Everfree were made of wood, not flesh-and-blood. There were differences, differences that became apparent very quickly.

It was fast as a thief. Put the timberwolves of the forest to shame, and just about every pony Applejack knew too. The only one she could think of that could keep up was Rainbow Dash- Applejack regretted not trying to find the rainbow-haired mare now. The ground-bound group slowly but steadily fell behind as they chased the black wolf through the Acres towards the Everfree.

It didn’t even pause as it jumped over the fence and vanished into the forest.

“Horseapples!” she swore as she dropped to a walk. Behind her, Rarity and Twilight greedily sucked in air. Pinkie… well, Pinkie bounced around like she hadn’t just run across Sweet Apple Acres.

“I… will… never… do… something like that… ever again!” Rarity declared. “Just look at my coat, all covered in dirt and sweat...”

“The wolf is real,” Twilight’s voice cut through Rarity’s complaints. “And it’s not a timberwolf.”

“Ah told ya that…”

“I know, Applejack, but seeing is believing,” Twilight continued. She looked absolutely terrible, her mane and tail frizzy and mussed, with large bags under her eyes and now covered in dirt and sweat. But her eyes were lit with an inner fire.

“We have to have Fluttershy talk to it. I’ll keep researching, but that wolf… if what Pinkie says is true, that wolf could tell us everything.”

Author's Note:

Well, nearly fifty likes and no dislikes? Guess I must be doing something right.

For everyone who read this story, I hope you enjoyed it. To the 57 people who have favorited me at the time of this writing, thank you. I'm glad to see that people enjoy my humble story enough that they want to make it a part of their collection.