• Published 25th Jul 2012
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Under A Luminous Sky - Jake The Army Guy



Twilight and an investigator from Canterlot must catch a killer

  • ...
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Chapter Eleven- The Outlaw Torn

Under A Luminous Sky

by

Jake The Army Guy

Chapter Eleven: The Outlaw Torn


The sun has finally set over Ponyville. Firefly lanterns lined the streets, glowing with gentle brilliance and casting soft shadows across the homes and shops that now lay dormant. A few crickets could be heard chirping away, offering a final song before retreating for the coming winter. The only other sound on Mane Street was the clip clop of hooves.

Twilight approached the library door with a confident swagger in her step. She raised a hoof to push open the heavy door but paused, her ear flicking forward. Beneath the hum of the firefly lantern above the door, muffled voices were just barely audible beyond the door. Curious, she pressed her ear to the door and listened.

"This is... quite fascinating. And you're sure this is accurate?" She immediately recognized Bentgrass's melodious accent.

"Absolutely," said a voice she didn't recognize. It spoke with a Trottingham accent, but the voice sounded... off, somehow; distant, like he was talking from across a field. "Have I ever let you down before?"

A quiet chuckle came from Bentgrass. "I will elect not to answer that."

One eyebrow arched, Twilight pushed in the door, impatient to see who this new voice was. As she entered, her jaw dropped, dumbstruck. Bentgrass stood alone in the main room of the library, a bright green emerald laying on the ground before him. Odd runes glimmered and shifted on its surface. Her breath caught. A blurred, wavy picture, as if projected onto a waterfall, hovered above it. Through the image, the head of a stallion stared directly at her, his piercing blue eyes studying her intently. His mane seemed to shine a brilliant white, even in the dull lighting.

Before she could say a word, Bentgrass cleared his throat loudly. "Thank you, Agent. I'll contact you again should I require more information."

The stallion nodded. "Understood. Oh, and Agrostis, next time lock the door before you use a highly classified device."

Bentgrass nodded and tapped a hoof to the gem. It flashed a brilliant green before growing dark. Sighing quietly, he picked up the emerald and slipped it into his pocket before turning to Twilight.

"Was that—"

"An old friend from Canterlot Intelligence. He is quite a good source of information. Now, if we—"

"No, not that! Was that a long-distance communication gem?" She walked up to him, her eyes wide. "I thought those were just theoretical!"

"They are," he said flatly. "Now, I believe—"

"How did you solve the problem of signal degradation without a massive lattice to boost the power? Does it have a runic battery of some kind?” She frowned, her eyebrow furrowing, and then grinned and clapped her hooves together. “Oh! I bet it taps into natural ley lines to allow—"

"Twilight!"

She jerked as if slapped, looking up into his eyes.

"Murderer on the loose?"

"Oh, right." She grinned sheepishly, then cleared her throat. “Sorry. Hey, where’s Spike?”

Bentgrass turned his head, nodding towards the couch that Spike was sprawled out on, snoring quietly. Twilight shot the dragon a fearful gaze. “I think you can relax,” Bentgrass said, stepping in front of her. “He has been awake for over twenty-four hours.”

Twilight nodded, exhaling deeply. She cleared her throat, her face growing serious. "You’re right. Now, I think I have this whole thing figured out."


"Do you?" Bentgrass said in a low voice, his face neutral and his eyes at the ground.

"Yes! It's so obvious, I can't believe we didn't see it before! Some pony is framing Zecora!"

"Really?"

"I know, it makes perfect sense when you think about it!"

"How so?"

"Well," she began, walking toward a cabinet in the corner, "she's the perfect scapegoat. Most ponies are still a bit skittish around her. They don't know her as well as my friends and I do. It wouldn't take much to convince some that she was a killer." She opened the cabinet, and began digging through the index cards inside.

"What are you doing?"

"Going through the records. If somepony wanted to frame Zecora, they'd need to know about Zebrican culture. I'm seeing if somepony has checked out any books on Zebrica."

"Twilight..."

"Now, I think you should use your 'theoretical' device to contact the R.I.S. Check any library within 50 miles or so."

"No.”

Twilight jerked to a halt and spun to face him. He still sat at the table, his normally hard eyes now gazing at her with disturbing neutrality. "No?" She marched up to him, meeting his eyes. "Then what are you going to do?"

He said nothing for a moment. There was no joy in his eyes, just a cold, business-like gaze. "I am going to go to the Everfree Forest and bring Ms. Zecora in for questioning." His tone left no room for argument.

Twilight glared at him. "I already told you, Zecora is innocent."

"Pray tell, on what do you base this hypothesis?"

"On the fact that I know my friends! Zecora is a gentle pony. She couldn't have done this!" she said with a loud stomp of her hoof.

Bentgrass leaned forward, his forelegs resting in the table. "Tell me, how well do you really know her?"

"What do you-"

"What do you know about her family?"

Twilight opened her mouth to defend her friend, but nothing came out. Her brow furrowed, her eyes darting back and forth as she tried to think of something, anything about Zecora’s family. After a moment, she spoke quietly. "W-Well, it never came up."

Bentgrass flicked an ear and snorted. "Oh, come now, Ms. Sparkle. In almost ten years of friendship, it never came up?"

“Well—"

"Never came up?" He leaned forward in his chair, eying Twilight intently. "Or perhaps every time it did, she would cleverly deflect and change the subject?"

Silence descended in the library, the only sounds being the ticking of an old grandfather clock in the corner.

"I... Well, she..."

"It doesn't surprise me, really." He stood from the chair, pacing thoughtfully around it, his hoof steps muffled by a multi-colored rug. "I mean, if I had the kind of trauma that she did in my childhood, I'd avoid it as well."

For as much as she wanted him to be wrong, Twilight couldn't hold back her curiosity. "What kind of trauma?"

Bentgrass stopped and faced her, his eyes cold and businesslike. "Witnessing her father murder her mother."

More silence. Twilight's jaw hung slack, her eyes wide. She tried to say something, but no words came out.

Bentgrass nodded. "My thoughts exactly." He continued to pace around the table in the center of the room, though he kept his eyes locked on Twilight. "She was five at the time. Her father was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. One day he had a psychotic break and killed his wife while Zecora watched. Would you care to know how he did it?" He didn't give Twilight a chance to respond, stepping towards her, all the while maintaining his cold gaze. "A single stab wound. To her heart, with a long, curved blade. Does that ring any bells?" He gave a grim chuckle. "Family heirloom from her father, indeed."

Twilight shook her head. “No. Just because something bad happened in her past doesn’t mean she’s a cold-blooded killer!”

“I am not saying she is a cold-blooded killer. You know as well as I do, Miss Sparkle, that mental disease and defects can easily be passed from one generation to the next.”

“Oh, so now she’s crazy?” she scoffed, turning towards the basement. “You’re grasping at straws.”

Bentgrass followed her as she stepped down the stairs to the lab. “No, you are denying the evidence that is right in front of your face!”

“You have no evidence!”

“Don’t I? You saw how negatively she reacted when I pressed her about her past while we were in her hut.”

Twilight stopped in front of the large computer, spinning around to glare at Bentgrass. “You just said it was traumatic! It’s no wonder she didn’t want to think about it!”

“There’s more than that, if you would open your eyes. Did you not see how dishevelled she appeared when she came by this morning? And when I asked about her family, she began to stutter and her eye twitched.”

Twilight let out a wry laugh. “Oh, so now you’re determining her guilt based on the fact that her eye itched?” She pushed past him and walked towards the domed device that held the parasprite. “I’m not listening to this anymore! I have work to do.”

Bentgrass marched next to the device, glaring hard at her. “Running away will not make what I have said any less true, Ms. Sparkle! What are you doing?”

“I’m running more tests on the parasprite.”

“Oh, now who’s grasping at straws? You yourself said there were no more tests you could run that would tell us anything!”

She didn’t look up, keeping a steely gaze on the machine.“Well, anything is better than standing here, listening to this... this lunacy!”

“This is not lunacy! This is logical deduction based on rational observation of the facts!” He reared up and placed his hooves over Twilight’s, stopping her from activating the machine

Unshaken, Twilight leaned towards him, craning her head to bore her gaze directly into his. “Deduction?! This is nothing but conjecture! You’re seeing things where there isn’t anything to see!”

Twilight could feel his breath on her face, but Bentgrass didn’t back down. “Face it, Ms. Sparkle. Every single piece of evidence we have points directly at Zecora!” He narrowed his eyes at her. “You are simply too blinded by your emotions to see that!”

“The evidence is circumstantial at best! You would see that if you weren’t so cold and heartless! What’s wrong with emotions, anyway?”

With a swift motion, Bentgrass shoved the table away, the metal wheels squeaking loudly before it crashed against the wall. “Emotions get ponies killed!” he roared.

“Oh, why, because that’s what happened to Skylight?”

Even as the words left her mouth, she regretted them. Bentgrass’s whole body tensed, his eyes going wide. In the harsh light of the lab, his serpentine eye seemed to burn with an angry glow. A slight tremor began to work its way down his body, his left forehoof tapping at the wooden floor. His jaw was tight; Twilight could almost hear the grinding of his teeth.

She took a step back. "B-Bentgrass, I—"

"It seems you have been—" he paused, his lips pursing— "doing your research on me, Ms. Sparkle. That is to be commended," he said with a curt nod, turning to face the glowing computer screen.

Twilight shrunk back further. "Oh, Agent Bentgrass, I'm—"

"I made a mistake. My wife paid the price." He leaned forward, resting his hooves on the table. He spoke in a low tone, pain seeping through his voice. "I allowed the cries of a foal to override my sense of duty. Because of that, my wife is dead, along with many other ponies."

The whirring of cooling fans and clicks of the computer were deafeningly loud in the silence. Twilight took a single step forward, lifting a hoof to place on the agent's shoulder, but her confidence failed as she approached. Anything she could think of to say seemed hollow, meaningless platitudes that would only insult the agent further.

After a moment, Bentgrass turned to face her. His eyes were once again disturbingly neutral. "So you see, Ms. Sparkle, I can not, and I shall not, let feeling and emotion cloud my judgement. I follow logic; pure, unyielding logic. I would think a scientist like yourself would appreciate that."

They held each other’s gazes for a moment, then before Twilight could stop herself, she spoke. "I said yes."

"What?"

"The teaching position in Canterlot. I accepted as soon as the Princess asked."

Bentgrass shot her a perplexed look. She plopped down on her haunches, eyes on the floor beneath her. "I was scared, of course. But I knew it made logical sense. I know I'm... I'm a genius. I know all the material, and the Princess vouched for me, so why shouldn't I?

"We didn't tell anypony at first. Princess Celestia wanted it to be a surprise. Heh, one of her little pranks. Not even my family knew. So, Celestia sent me the material, and I started making lesson plans."

She frowned. "Then I started worrying about extra credit assignments, labs, field trips, professional speakers, exams, a grading schedule. I couldn't stop. I had to make everything perfect. This would be the first time in my life where I was the one grading. Other ponies lives were in my hooves.” She stood up and walked over to the computer, a blank glaze over her eyes.

“I’d been obsessed before, but this was different. I couldn’t sleep through the night, I barely ate. All I could think about was impressing the students I’d have, living up to my ‘expectations,’” she said with a grim chuckle.

“It came to a head when Spike took a short holiday in Canterlot. Without him to keep me in check, I just couldn’t stop.” She slowly turned to face Bentgrass. Her eyes were slightly damp by this point; even the agent’s face had softened somewhat. “For five days I didn’t eat or sleep. Spike came home and found me collapsed on the kitchen floor. I was in the hospital for two days being treated for malnutrition and exhaustion.” She looked away from him, her forehoof pawing into the wooden floor. “Celestia found out, of course. She said that I should leave it alone for a while, but the offer was open if I ever wanted it.”

Bentgrass nodded slowly, taking a few tentative steps towards her. “You see, Ms. Sparkle? You let your feelings overwhelm you, and it almost killed you.”

She jerked her head back to face him. The green glow from the computer reflected vividly off his eye. “No, don’t you get it? I should have listened to my instincts in the first place! Logically, it made sense, but I didn’t feel ready. I ignored my feelings and it almost killed me.

“I know some of the facts point to Zecora, but it doesn’t feel right. You asked for my help on this case. I said yes because, initially, I didn’t trust you. In the past few days, I’ve learned that your logic is unparalleled, but you’ve closed off your heart.”

As he shot her a confused glance, she sighed and stepped closer to him. "Look, Bentgrass, I get it. Really, I do! I used to think just like you; the heart just gets in the way, focus on the facts." She slowly placed a hoof on his shoulder. He flinched under the contact, turning his mismatched eyes to her. "But Celestia sent me here to learn how to listen to my heart over my head, and I've seen such amazing things in the past ten years. I've felt joy I never knew, and I’ve learned more than I did my whole life before I came here.”

Twilight bit her lip, unsure of her next action. She looked into his eyes and gently placed her hoof on his cheek. "What's the use of knowing everything if you feel nothing?"

Bentgrass said nothing, though he relaxed under her touch. The two sat for a moment before he turned his head away from her. "T-Twilight, I—"

A series of shrill beeps came from behind them. Turning quickly, Twilight saw a flashing message on the computer screen. She hurried over to it and began punching in commands, the clacks echoing off the oak walls.

Bentgrass eased up behind her. “What is it?”

“The computer finished its analysis of the parasprite,” she said, her hooves flying across the keyboard as her eyes darted back and forth, reading the flickering display. All the emotion from before had drained from her voice, replaced by a scientist's zeal. Bentgrass glanced towards the screen, but he couldn’t understand the advanced symbols and words that danced across the screen.

In an instant, Twilight’s hooves froze in place above the keyboard. A loud gasp issued from her as her ears splayed against her head, her tail frozen in place behind her. “No,” she muttered, her breathing becoming ragged and upset.

Bentgrass looked down at her. “Ms. Sparkle, what is it?”

“No, no it can’t be,” she whispered, seemingly to herself.

In a rush of movement, Bentgrass grabbed her shoulder and turned her to face him. His eyes were deadly serious. “Twilight, what does it say?”

Twilight’s mouth opened and shut a few times, her mouth disobeying her mind’s command to speak. When she finally found the words, they came out as barely a whisper. “The... the magic that mutated the parasprite. It’s... Zebrican.”

The word hung in the air for an eternity, seeming to echo across the oak walls and various scientific regalia strewn across the lab. Bentgrass held her gaze for a few more seconds them opened his mouth to speak.

A bloodcurdling scream from above them cut him off. They shared a quizzical glance before turning and racing up the stairs. As they ran through the basement door, Twilight nearly galloped over Spike, who stood waiting in the middle of the hall, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

"Twi, what was th—"

Another cry pierced the air, though this one made all three of them cringe. It was a feral, wailing cry, the high pitch making Spike grasp his sensitive draconic ears. When the echoes finally died, Spike turned towards the door. "Never mind. What was that?"

The three raced to the front door as Twilight threw it open. Stepping outside, they were greeted by the serene streets of Ponyville. They glanced around, but nothing moved, the road in front of the library eerily quiet. Even the air seemed stale and dead. Twilight stepped out onto the road, straining her eyes and ears to see something—anything—out of the ordinary, but nothing stood out on the moonlit street. Stopping next to a house across from the library, she turned back to the others. "Maybe it was ju—"

"Look out!"

At Bentgrass's words, Twilight reacted faster than she thought possible. She leaped back just in time to avoid a dark mass rocketing through the space she had just occupied. The thing landed on the ground next to her with a wet slap. Twilight turned around and a sharp gasp of horror left her.

A black pegasus with an snow white mane lay in the ground. His left wing was ruined, the exposed bone glistening faintly in the moonlight, the appendage itself hanging limply by a few thick shreds of flesh. His legs convulsed, his eyes wide as dinner plates. A series of strangled wheezes came as he tried to breathe through a ragged hole in his neck. He looked at Twilight, a pleading, pained look in his eyes.

Twilight ran up to the stallion and knelt by his side. Looking him over, she barely suppressed a gag as the metallic stench of blood assaulted her nostrils. With a grimace, her horn lit up and a lavendar glow enveloped his neck. The pegasus gasped loudly and moved to get up, but she held him still. “Take it easy. That should seal your airway for now, but we need to ge—”

The shrieking howl came again, this time sounding very close. Twilight whipped around and froze.

Of all the things Twilight had seen over the years—hydras, manticores, even Discord—none had looked quite as... wrong as what stood before her. It was at least twice as tall as Bentgrass, but where the agent was thin and lithe, the abomination that glared at them had a torso that bulged with unnatural muscle. Its arms and legs were similarly built, ending with three vicious claws. Two wiry limbs snaked out from its sides, segmented like an ant’s and ending in wicked points. Its skin was a patchwork of soft white fur and a dark, chitinous carapace that looked wet under the moonlight.

The most terrifying feature was the thing's head. Two beady eyes, dark black with tiny blood red pupils, sat before a long, tubular muzzle that had dagger-like teeth jutting out at wild angles, giving the creature a crocodile-like appearance. A black button nose dotted the end, and a strange cut ran along the upper length. As Twilight watched in sickening horror, the beast’s mouth split open along the cut, the lower jaw staying in place while the two upper halves opened up and out, revealing a long forked tongue.

The beast howled once more, rattling Twilight down to her very soul, and charged forward, moving with a loping gait. Twilight looked down to the injured pegasus, her horn glowing again. In a purple flash, the stallion vanished, Twilight hoping he would be alive when he rematerialized on the other side of the library. She turned back to see the monster now only a few lengths away. A sickening musk, like rotted meat, washed over her. Her horn glowed as she prepared to teleport herself away, the beast lunging with its impossible muzzle opened wide.

Before Twilight could activate the spell, a flying shoulder from Bentgrass sent the creature hurtling to the side. The force of the blow sent it flying into a nearby building, smashing through the large window with a terrific crash. Bentgrass gracefully landed on his hooves a few lengths away. He didn’t move, planting his hooves firmly on the ground. A loud roar came from inside the building and the wall exploded, the thing lunging outside and racing towards Bentgrass.

Twilight could feel the vibrations from the monster’s foot falls in her bones as it leaped once more, its claws raised to cleave Bentgrass in two. With his trademark speed, Bentgrass rolled onto his back just in time to see it sail over him. He thrust his hind legs upward, delivering a vicious double-buck to its midsection. It let out a howl of pain, rolling on the ground before crashing into a small collection of garbage cans. Lashing out with a claw, the beast knocked the metal cans away, sending them flying as it spun around to glare at him again. It let out a low growl, rivulets of viscous drool falling to the ground.

Bentgrass bent his forelegs slightly, his left hoof moving ahead of his right, assuming what Twilight guessed was a fighting stance. He lowered his head, his eyes locked on the thing with burning focus. This time, the beast did not charge, instead stomping towards the agent with deadly intent. The ground shook as it moved, and its claws left deep gouges in the cobblestone streets. By the time it was only a few hooflengths away, it towered over him, its hot saliva dripping down onto the ground. It howled once more and swiped at Bentgrass with a wickedly curved claw. Moving with almost frightening fluidity, he reared up his forelegs to block the strike, twisting his body to drive the paw into the ground. As the paw struck dirt, he kicked up his hind legs and delivered a series of lightning quick bucks to its face. Twilight could see several of the thing’s jagged teeth flying from its mouth as it shrieked in pain.

Suddenly, one of its wiry limbs curled around to strike at Bentgrass. At the last moment, he saw the incoming arm and jerked his body to the side. Bentgrass let out a cry of pain as a jagged red cut tore across his left hindleg. Seizing the moment, the beast lashed out with one of its claws, this time connecting with his chest. He grunted in pain as he tumbled a few lengths down the road, rolling several times before spinning around to get back on his hooves.

The beast was already upon him, both forelegs raised to smash Bentgrass. He tucked his legs in and rolled underneath it. This seemed to catch the monster off-guard for a moment, and Bentgrass made the best of it. Once more on his back, he wrapped all four of his legs around one of its hind legs, his knees facing opposite ways. With a loud grunt and a jerked movement, he drove his limbs in opposite directions.

The creature howled in agony as its left hind leg was broken, a small piece of snapped bone piercing its carapace. To Twilight’s horror, however, the move seemed to take a lot out of Bentgrass. He had no time to react when one of its mighty paws grabbed him by the neck, slamming him down hard against the ground. Strangled cries came from the bound agent, his hind legs continuing to kick at it. The blows impacted hard chitin and the thing seemed not to notice. It growled once more and opened its twisted maw, ready to devour Bentgrass. His eyes were steady, glaring back coldly as the beast raised its head up and dove down.

Whump!

An annoyed bark came from the beast as a mail box enveloped in a lavender mist bounced off its head. Whipping around, it snarled at Twilight, who stood across the road glaring at it. “Get away from him!” Her face was twisted in determination, but her trembling hooves betrayed her fear. It screamed out again and turned to face her, casually throwing Bentgrass aside. He hit the ground hard and groaned in pain.

Twilight stared at the thing as she picked up a large rock on the side of the road. Howling in fury, it took off towards her, awkwardly limping on its broken hind leg. Twilight stood firm and launched the heavy rock. Her blood ran cold as the thing batted it out of the air without even slowing down.

Setting her shoulders, her horn glowed as she charged the one offensive spell she knew. With a loud grunt, a beam of blinding light lanced towards the creature, but her aim was off. The tight beam grazed its side, a dark line of singed fur the only damage. It continued to race for her, its gaping maw open as it howled with blood lust. She furrowed her brow and charged for another shot, but it was too late; the monster lunged at her, claws outstretched. Twilight rolled to the side, but let out a cry as the tip of one claw hit home, a jagged red cut slashing across on her left shoulder.

She grimaced, feeling blood ooze from the angry cut. She moved to scramble to her hooves when a giant paw slammed down beside her. The creature stood in front of her, drool falling from its gaping maw and landing in her face. She gagged as the thing’s hot, fetid breath overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see the end.

An earth-shaking roar came from in front of her, even deeper in pitch than the monster’s cry. She flinched, awaiting the stabbing pain of those jagged teeth, but it never came. Instead, a wave of searing heat and the overwhelming stench of burning fur and flesh washed over her. She whipped her head around, gagging over the dirt. Slowly, she opened her eyes and gasped.

The beast was retreating, its paws clawing madly at its deformed face as gouts of green flame seared its flesh. Beside Twilight stood Spike, standing at his full height, with his shoulders just above her head. His arms were outstretched, claws bared and flexing, the moonlight glinting off the razor-sharp tips. Strong plumes of smoke poured from his nostrils as a raging green glow danced from between his bared teeth.

Don’t touch her!” he growled in a voice lower than she could have ever imagined coming from his throat. The beast seemed to regard him for a moment, before its high-pitched wail echoed once more and it launched itself towards him. Spike bellowed in draconic rage, the volume rattling Twilight’s bones. Small wisps of green flame licking out from his mouth and around his muzzle as he charged toward it.

They ran at each other with frightening speed. The beast raised its claw to swipe at the raging dragon, but hit nothing but air. In a show of agility Twilight had never seen, Spike bent his sinewy legs and leaped, twirling around to land on its back. His claws dug into its flesh, piercing deep into its chitinous armor. With another loud roar, he dove his face down and bit the back of its neck. Teeth sharp enough to chew through diamonds sank into its hide, earning a pained wail as the thing flailed its limbs, trying desperately to dislodge him. The creature lashed out at him with one of its spear-like limbs, but the sharp tip glanced off of Spike’s diamond-hard scales.

Spike bit down harder, eliciting another howl of pain from the monster. A spurt of brackish blood oozed from Spikes mouth when the creature suddenly fell backward, landing on top of him. With speed it hadn’t shown before, it rolled over and grabbed Spike with one of its massive paws. Spike let out another angry growl, lashing out with his sharp claws, but the monster endured the pain. A loud roar, and it lifted him up and launched him towards a nearby house.

Spike!” Twilight could only watch in horror as her friend and brother was sent crashing through the house, obliterating the wall. The monster roared triumphantly and lumbered over towards where he landed.

After a few seconds, Spike stood up from the rubble, clutching his head and groaning. He shook his head and looked up to the the beast’s raised paw racing towards him. He threw his arms up to block the blow, but jumped slightly when the paw bounced off a translucent purple wall. The monster let out a howl of frustration and continued to beat on the shield. Spike shot a glance to Twilight who stood behind the creature, horn aglow, straining with effort. Every time the beast hit the shimmering wall, she grunted loudly.

“Thanks!” he shouted, and inhaled deeply. Twilight saw him prepare and dropped the shield in between the creature’s punches. With another primal roar, a gout of green fire lanced towards the monster. It recoiled and roared again, clawing at its face.

Spike capitalized on the distraction. Cutting off the blaze, he lunged forward and grabbed one of the things legs. The beast growled at him and lashed out with its chitinous limbs, battering the dragons midsection. Another roar of draconic rage and Spike jerked himself to the side, flinging the behemoth towards the house he’d just destroyed. It squealed as it landed, already turning to get back up, but Spike was faster. He darted to its side and grabbed the limb that had been savaging him. Gripping it with both claws, he dove his face down and bit as hard as he could. Even with the chitin armor, the limb snapped like a twig under his crushing jaws.

The beast lay on its side, howling in agony as its limb was ripped from his back. It turned its head to snap at Spike, but a white blur rushed to meet its face. Bentgrass slid on his side at blinding speeds, driving both his hind legs into the monster’s jaw. Several more teeth were flung from its mouth, and its head fell limply to the ground.

Its legs twitched angrily as Spike jumped off of its back, breathing heavily. He stared down at the bizarre creature, smoke still seeping from his mouth and his clenched fists shaking. Spitting its foul-tasting blood from his mouth, he knelt down and helped Bentgrass to his hooves. “You alright?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” he said, though he seemed to be favoring his left side over his right. The two looked wearily at the abomination before them, now still save for the rise and fall of its muscled chest.

Now that the loud sounds of battle were quiet, a small crowd of ponies had gathered around the street, some hanging out of doors of homes that lined the road. All were shaking with fear at the monstrous thing that lay on the ground.

“Spike!”

Spike spun around just in time to see Twilight leap at him, wrapping her hooves around him in a fierce hug, which he returned eagerly. The two embraced for a moment before separating, Twilight taking in the shape of her adopted brother. A small scratch on his left side was the only indication he had been in a fight, save for the traces of ichorous blood trailing from his mouth. “Are you okay?”

Spike let out a dry laugh. “I’ll be fine.” He grimaced and spat loudly. “Though my taste buds may never recover.” He craned his head and pointed towards the angry cut on her shoulder. “Are you all right?”

Twilight nodded, though she winced when she gingerly touched a hoof to the cut. Slowly, both of them looked down at the unconscious thing before them. “What is it?”

“Most likely, another Mbwun chimera,” Bentgrass said. He looked over the deformed creature with contempt. “One too dangerous to be allowed to live.” As he spoke, he knelt down and wrapped his forelegs around its neck. Twilight stepped forward to protest as his shoulders tensed, preparing to snap its neck.

Stop!”

All three turned at the new voice. Limping down the street towards them was Fluttershy, though she looked horrible. A long gash ran down her side, and a large wound on her left foreleg made her wince every time she stepped. Before Twilight could speak, Fluttershy lunged towards the beast, knocking away Bentgrass’s hooves and embracing the creature in a maternal hug.

“Fluttershy, get away from the monster!” Twilight cried.

Tears streaming down her face, Fluttershy looked up at her. “He’s not a monster! He’s my friend!”

Twilight shot her a puzzling glance before looking again at the thing. Slowly, she once more took in its features: the black, button-like nose; the long, floppy ears that hung limp from its head; the beady eyes; the tufts of white fur. Realization slowly dawned on her, and her jaw went slack. Her eyes darted between her friend, and the barely recognizable creature she had known for years. “F-F-Fluttershy, is... is that...”

Fluttershy nodded slowly, running a hoof lovingly across the thing’s long muzzle. “Angel Bunny,” she whispered through her sobs.

Twilight had to take a step back. She had known Angel since she arrived in Ponyville. Sure, he seemed to have an attitude problem, sometimes being even more obstinate than Spike, but the tiny bunny loved Fluttershy unconditionally. His protectiveness of his owner and friend was infamous in the small town. Now, laying on the street, the animal no longer seemed horrifying or terrible. It seemed... sad, pathetic, tragic.

As slowly as she could, Twilight walked towards Fluttershy. Still casting a wary gaze at the hulking Angel every now and then, she knelt down at her side. “Fluttershy, what happened?”

Fluttershy never took her eyes off of Angel, still gently stroking his monstrous muzzle. “W-We had just finished with t-t-the last patient when A—Angel f-fell down and started screaming. He... He,” she paused as a wracking sob hit her, “He c-changed and attacked me.” She looked to Twilight with a pleading gaze. “Oh, I know he didn’t m-m-mean to! It must have been... h-her...”

At this, Bentgrass stepped towards them, a cold look in his eye. “Her? Her who?”

Fluttershy said nothing at first, merely sobbing and shaking her head. Finally, she looked away and spoke softly. “I... I saw her. Just outside t-t-the Everfree, right b-before Angel... right before. It... it was—”

“What’s going on he— by the Goddesses!”

The ponies whipped around to see Sheriff Shackle and Deputy Bale standing on the other end of the street. Shackle was staring at the fallen rabbit, abject terror plastered on his chubby features. He took a few steps forward, tripping on a cobble stone that was knocked loose during the fight. Carefully pacing around it, he looked from the beast to Bentgrass and Twilight. “W-What is that thing?”

“A creation of the pony that has been killing your citizens!” Bentgrass announced in a voice much louder than was needed. A series of murmurs came from the slowly growing herd of ponies, their eyes shifting from Bentgrass, the monster, and Shackle.

The sheriff snorted indignantly, though his eyes were darting back and forth, a light sheen of sweat appearing on his rotund brow. “N-Now, I’ve told you, Mister Bentgrass,” he said, though he looked to the displeased crowd instead of the agent, “there is no k—”

With a few long trots, Bentgrass was brow to brow with Shackle, leaning his head down to glare at the sheriff. “I have had enough of your incompetence! You shut up and let me do my job!” Shackle gulped, his knees shaking as he nodded pitifully.

Bentgrass turned sharply and walked to Fluttershy. “Now, Ms. Fluttershy, you must tell me. Who did you see?” Fluttershy didn’t acknowledge him, merely sobbing and continuing to stroke Angel’s chitinous hide. Annoyed, Bentgrass knelt down and took her by the shoulder, whipping her to face him. “Who?!”

She gulped, her eyes still puffy from the tears. Finally, she closed her eyes and hung her head, her tail going limp behind her. “Zecora,” she whispered.

A collective gasp came from the amassed ponies, but none were as loud as the one from Twilight. “Fluttershy,” she said, throwing Bentgrass’s hooves off of her and gently turning her friend to face her, “are you sure?

She could see in her eyes the disbelief, but Fluttershy slowly nodded her head, her ears flat against her head. “Y-Yes. She look just like she did w-when we first saw her. T-T-The brown cloak, the glowing yellow eyes.” Her gazed hardened somewhat, though sadness still shone through the anger. “I saw her, Twilight. She... she did this to Angel.”

“Miss Twilight, Benty!”

Twilight spun around to see Professor Parchment, gasping as he ran towards her. He skidded to a halt at the sights before him. “What in the name of all the lochs is that thing?”

“Apparently, a victim of the Mbwun I told you about,” Bentgrass said, still eying Fluttershy. He finally turned to the old stallion. “What are you doing here, Professor?”

He said nothing, his jaw slack as he stared at the fallen creature.

Professor!”

Parchment jerked his head up, shaking his head.”Oh, uh, well I did a bit of studying on that words ye asked me about. Turns out it is an ancient Zinzi word.”

Bentgrass narrowed his eyes. “So, you found mention of this Mbwun legend?”

He shook his head. “No, lad. There’s no such thing. Benty,” he said, his voice thick with worry, “it means ‘self’ in old Zinzi.’”

Bentgrass shot him a puzzled glance before his eye went wide. “Of course. Twi—”

“Of course! Zecora!” Twilight spun to see Shackle rubbing his chin with a hoof, facing the crowd. “She’s the only pony who could have done such a... a terrible thing! Well, fear not, Ponyville,” he said, puffing out his chest and taking on a dramatic pose. “I, Sheriff Bound Shackle, will go and arrest this... this criminal myself, right now! I will see justice done!” he yelled with a flourish. Several ponies cheered, though most just eyed him skeptically.

Bentgrass stood, staring at Shackle through narrowed eyes. “We are coming with you.” He then stepped past Shackle, not waiting for a response.

“Absolutely not! This is my town, and I—”

Bentgrass jerked to a halt and spun to face him. The moonlight reflected from his slitted eye, glaring at the fat pony. “You are welcome to try and stop me, good sir.”

Once again, Shackle gulped, though he held his ground, digging into the road with his hoof. “V-Very well. Come on, Deputy Bale!” With that, he turned and ran towards the edge of town, Bale taking shaky steps to catch up.

Twilight stood, walking over to Spike, who was still rubbing his tongue with his hand, spitting and gagging. “Spike, you stay here with Fluttershy and...” she turned and cast a sad glance at the monster on the ground, “Angel. If he starts to get violent...”

Spike nodded. “Got it. You be careful.”

With that, he reached over and gave her one more tight hug. She returned it, then pushed him away and trotted up to Bentgrass. The agent turned to face here, his eyes now as impassive as ever.

Now do you believe me?” He then turned and began running after Shackle and Bale.

She glared hard at him, though in her heart she could not muster the anger she wished she could feel. Though she still could not believe it, she could not deny what her friend had saw. Without another sound, she galloped after him, leaving behind the crowd of ponies still staring at the yellow pegasus that sat on the ground crying, and the beast that had once been her dear friend.