• Published 22nd Dec 2011
  • 54,633 Views, 2,326 Comments

Over the Edge and Through the Wood - JarOfHearts



a human gets cut off from his group while traversing a mountain. finds himself in a strange land

  • ...
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A Missed Turn, a Chance Meeting

Chapter 2

A missed turn, a chance meeting

Pre‐read and edited CosmicAfro

*Sigh*

Apple Bloom fiddled with her mane as she stared up into the blue sky, today by all rights should have been great. It was bright and sunny, as it usually was in Ponyville. The birds were twittering a lovely tune, a warm breeze rolled through the park without whipping up dust into anypony's face. And yet, the young pony found herself feeling somewhat downtrodden. She slumped over the park picnic table she was currently seated at. School had ended early that day so she and her friends had planned a picnic, but due to recent events the cheer she normally exuded was nowhere to be found.

"Hey Apple Bloom, you're not lookin' too hot, what's up?" asked Scootaloo inquisitively, taking note her friends apathetic demeanor.

"It's because I burned the sandwiches, isn't it?" Sweetie Belle moped, eyeballing the charcoal black lumps of used‐to‐be‐food.

"Naw, it aint that at all." the farm filly said reassuringly, not wanting to upset her friend. It did surprise her that her friend had managed to so thoroughly overcook food that didn't require any actual cooking.

"Though to be honest, Ah'd like to know how ya managed to pull that one off." She muttered as she poked at her sandwich, which promptly collapsed into a pile of ash.

The purple and cream unicorn blushed, then shrugged, "Well, have you ever heard about toasted sandwiches?" she asked in an embarrassed tone.

"Ohhhhhhhhhh." said Scootaloo and Apple Bloom in unison, putting two and two together. Sweetie Belle and kitchen appliances did not mix well. When they did, the mixture she was working with usually got re‐purposed as wall lacquer.

The three fillies paused for a moment. "What were we talking about again?" asked Apple Bloom, cocking her head to the side, as if trying to roll the answer out from a forgotten corner of her brain.

"I thought we were talking about burnt sandwiches," replied the defeated confectioner, as she watched the breeze pick up the ashy remnants of her friend’s sandwich and carry them off to lands unknown.

"No, before that," the orange pegasus murmured as she scratched her head. "I was asking Apple Bloom if she was alright, she looks kinda down." The orange filly paused before turning to fully address her crusading compatriot.

"How are you anyway?" the winged speed demon turned to the freckled farm pony, returning back to their previous topic.

"Alright, ah guess... It's just that... we're the Cutie Mark Crusaders, right?"

"Right," Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo replied together.

"And we're crusadin' tuh get our cutie marks, right?

"Riiight."

"So how come we haven't got our cutie marks yet, ah' mean we've tried everything!" the young filly cried in frustration, nothing they had tried had been their talent, and she was out of ideas.

"Well, why don't we try scuba diving?" suggested Scootaloo.

"Naw, we did that, remember?" replied Apple Bloom.

"What about rock climbing?" Sweetie Belle chimed.

"We did that too."

"Fishing?"

"Did it."

"Apple Buckin'?"

"Couldn't buck a single apple lose."

"Sky diving?"

"We did that with Dash, remember?"

"Uhhhhh..."

The three little ponies thought as hard as they could, trying to come up with something, anything, to help get their cutie marks. After a minute of silence, Sweetie Belle couldn't take it anymore.

"AAAAGH, I can't think of anything, we've tried everything!" The young filly wailed in dismay.

"We even asked Pinkie Pie about rock farming," fumed Apple boom, stomping her hoof to emphasize her point, "ROCK FARMING!"

The three sat in silence, trying to think of something so they could pursue their cutie marks. After a spell, Scootaloo perked up, "What about that time you got the cutie pox?" she asked Apple Bloom.

"What about it?" she replied gloomily; it had been an embarrassing ordeal for her. She not only lied to everyone, but stole from Zecora as well. While the potion brewing zebra had forgiven her, she still felt horrible about the whole fiasco, and really didn't want to think about it.

"Well you got a bunch of cutie marks, right?" the filly continued.

"Yeah, it is called cutie pox, remember?" they yellow earth pony replied sarcastically, though she was beginning to become curious as to why her friend thought this was so important.

"Well, could one of the cutie marks you got actually be your cutie mark?" the young pegasus pony continued enthusiastically, sensing she might be on to a major breakthrough.

Apple Bloom perked up for a second, but after a moment of thought, slumped down onto the table.

"Naw can't be, if one of them was mah' talent, it would have stayed and ah wouldn't have a blank flank." The young filly turned and gazed at her side, still unadorned by the mark that she so desired.

"Oh, right." Scootaloo slumped in an identical fashion to yellow friend, her last idea was a bust and she couldn't even attempt to summon another. Thinking hard was just not her thing; she'd rather just go with the flow.

Sweetie Belle was the only one still in deep thought, squeezing her eyes shut, as if trying to see into the past. After a few seconds of recalling Apple Bloom's little act, something occurred to her.

"Hey," the miniature unicorn said with a puzzled expression spread across her face, still trying to form the idea in her mind. "Did we ever go to Zecora's place?"

Scootaloo and Apple Bloom raised their eyebrows in unison; they had never been to the mysterious zebra's home together. The misadventures of the little yellow earth pony had led her to Zecora's hut once, but that was a while ago.

"No, not together, why?" inquired the young farm pony, her eyebrow remained at a heightened altitude.

"Remember? After you got cured and sent a letter to the princess, I said you might have a talent for potion making," said Sweetie Belle, recalling that Applejack had dragged her younger sister home. The three of them had originally set off to go to Zecora's house to try to get their cutie marks, but Applejack would have none of it. The Apple family was an honest bunch, and if there was one thing they wouldn't stand for, it was thievery. The farm filly had never said what her punishment was, and neither the orange pegasus nor the cream colored unicorn wanted to find out.

Apple Bloom was upright and smiling from ear to ear in an instant. "That's IT!" she shouted. "That has to be it!"

She began to bounce around the table, happy as can be. "Let's go to Zecora's; she's better at makin' potions than anypony, even Twilight!"

The daisy and rust colored pony dashed off in the direction of the Everfree forest, with her two friends in tow.

"Shouldn't we tell somepony where we're going?" asked Sweetie Belle, remembering the last time they had gone into the Everfree forest without permission before. They had nearly been turned into stone by a cockatrice and the little unicorn had no desire for a repeat encounter.

They all came to a stop. "Yeah, you’re probably right," Apple Bloom admitted, she remembered the last ordeal just as well as her horned compatriot. "But who do we ask?"

The girls thought for a moment, trying to figure out who would let them actually go into the forest.

Scootaloo's face lit up, "We could ask Rainbow Dash!" she cheered, "She'd let us go for sure!"

Sweetie Belle turned to her winged filly friend, "You mean come with us, right?" she corrected while giving her friend a serious look.

"OK, OK, fine we can ask her to come with us." The pegasus relented. It took a moment for her to realize that it would mean they could spend a good portion of the day with her hero. Soon Scootaloo was grinning from ear to ear as she skipped along the road.

As they walked up the road to Ponyville they noticed two of their classmates traveling the other direction, colts named Snips and Snails. "Hey guys, what’s up?" called Scootaloo, as they approached.

The boys broke from their conversation to greet the three fillies coming down the road. Giving the general "Hiya." and "Hi there," respectively.

"Where ya going?" asked Snips.

"We're going to ask Rainbow Dash if she can come with us to Zecora's place," replied the little pegasus pony excitedly.

"Why?" inquired Snails, his face showing he was obviously confused, though it was usually like that half of the time anyway.

"Well, we can't go on our own; I mean it's the Everfree forest," Sweetie Belle explained.

*pthhppb* Snips blew a raspberry, clearly unimpressed. "It's the Everfree, so what?" he laughed in a mocking tone.

"We have been to the Everfree forest by ourselves loads of times, it's no big deal," said Snips, rolling his eyes.

"Yah' mean like the time ya'll got the Ursa to come wreck the town?" Apple Bloom said in a bemused tone.

"Yeah! ...wait, no." He stomped, trying to reassemble his original thought. "What I'm sayin' is that; only babies need someone to go with them into the Everfree forest," he finished with a smirk.

"Ah'm NOT a baby!" the proud earth pony snorted, that last comment touching a nerve.

"Yeah, me neither," Scootaloo added, puffing her chest out in pride. "Come on; let's go to Zecora's."

The orange and purple pegasus ran off in the direction of the Everfree forest, with Apple Bloom right behind her. Sweetie Belle paused for a moment before going after her friends; she had a bad feeling about this.

"Guys, wait for me!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Troy sat across from his backpack, deeply involved in a staring contest with his last MRE.

*gurgle*

It was winning.

"Dammit, FINE!" Troy rose and grabbed the final vestige of food he had. "I'll eat you, ya delicious bastard!" he snarled at the meal.

Unfortunately, he was out of water having used the last of it the previous night. So he was forced to eat the meal uncooked; it wasn't horrible, but not exactly a picnic. Still, it was nutrients and that’s what counted. All morning he had been working on a major project and his mortal needs were interfering with his planning.

He had explored around the rest of the castle, well at least the places he could find access to, even that other building which he had forgone the other night, which had turned out be something like a throne room. Missing a throne of course, but the room still had the same feeling grandeur to it, even in its less than pristine state. When he explored the castle grounds he had found a small river running through the courtyard that was filled with fish. If he could get at them he would be set on food for a while and he had also found a well.

Though, to be more exact, he found what had been a well. A stone column had fallen on top of it and the metal roof had sealed it the well below it shut. On the upside, that probably meant that nothing had crawled in and died, so most likely the water was safe to drink. On the down side, there was no way for him to get at it, so he would have to use the river as his primary source of water for the time being. He had filled his Camel‐back, but the purifying tablet was still dissolving and would take another half hour. His finite supply of tablets and the scarcity of an accessible spring brought the hiker to the conclusion that water was too precious for cooking at the moment.

He had been trying to push another pillar over, hoping it would knock the other column and roof off the well, unfortunately he couldn't quite get enough leverage. The column was clearly timeworn and unstable, so he reasoned if he got a rope around the top and gave it a good tug the column would collapse.

The problem: he had no rope.

However, there was an abundance of ivy growing down the sides of the towers, and he had a plan to put them to good use.

Satisfied with his 'meal', Troy retrieved a large stone from the other side of the room, it had fit neatly in his backpack and he began the long walk to the tower. While passing the majority of his belongings, which had been strewn about on the floor, Troy began to think about his plan.

Despite what most people think, ivy doesn't just hang, its roots attach themselves to rock, wood, whatever they can to secure themselves in place. Troy discovered this fact when he had tried to pull some of it off the side of the tower from the bottom up, while he had got some off, the rest wasn’t coming loose anytime soon and he wasn't getting the length he needed. So he decided to try to bring it from the top down, if he tied the ivy to the rock and threw it off the tower, the stone would pull the ivy down to the ground and Troy could pull it the rest of the way off. Probably.

Troy stopped to catch his breath; he had made it halfway up the staircase and was exhausted, and was sweating through the back of his t‐shirt. He peeled the backpack off and set it next to him as he slumped down on the spiral staircase to rest. Trouble was, finding a comfy spot on a spiral staircase was not exactly an easy task. Troy began shifting his body, trying to find a good position.

As luck, or lack thereof, would have it, Trouble was feeling lonely today, so he had brought his brother, Misfortune, with him. This particular misfortune was that the backpack had been so well lubricated by Troy's back sweat, it began to slip off the stair it was on. Troy, realizing his work was about to go to waste, lunged for the pack.

"NO!"

Unfortunately, Troy in his quest for an appropriate posture for stair napping was perched in a rather awkward angle, and was in no position to stop his bag. To his horror he began to slip along with the bag, which had fallen down three steps and was beginning to pick up speed. He decided to cut his losses and let the bag fall, at least then he would be healthy enough to bring it back up. He told his hand to let go and his hand happily obliged. The strap wrapped around his wrist, however, was less cooperative. Troy began to slide down the stairs, and while it was not nearly as bad as falling down a flight, it wasn’t much better. Troy began his horizontal decent down the stone spiral staircase, having no trouble voicing his displeasure.




|"Fuck!"
|---------"OW!"
|-------------------"God"
|------------------------------"Shit!"|
|-------------------"Damnit!"------|
|--------- "FUUcK!"-----------------|
|"Gah!"------------------------------|
|--------- "Ow!"---------------------|
|------------------- "oW!"-----------|
|------------------------------ "Shit!"|
|------------------- "Ow!"-----------|
|---------"Shit!"---------------------|
|"Fuck!"-----------------------------|
|--------- "OW!"---------------------|
|-------------------"Shit!"-----------|
|------------------------------"Shit!"|
|------------------- "Shit!"----------|
|--------- "ow"----------------------|
|"ow!"-------------------------------|
|--------- "OW!"--------------------|
|-------------------"OW!"-----------|
|------------------------------"OW!"|
|------------------- "SHIT!"---------|
|--------- "Shit."--------------------|
|"Shit."------------------------------|
|--------- "Shit."--------------------|
|------------------- "Shit."----------|
|------------------------------"Shit."|
|-------------------"Shit."
|--------- "Shit."
|"Shit."
|--------- "Shit."
|---------------- “...Fuuuuuuuck."
Troy skidded to a stop at the bottom of the staircase. After deducing he hadn't (by some token miracle) broken any of his ribs, he decided to lay there for a moment, as he had just found the comfy position he was previously looking for.

Mental Log: Day two

Weather: sunny with clouds rolling in from the east.

Temperature: a balmy 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bullshit levels: Sisyphean and rising.

"Fantastic."

Troy gathered himself up and began to climb up the stairs once more. He mentally cursed every step, his whole body feeling sore. After a long trek accompanied by a long string of particularly creative swears in regards to every conceivable act of violence and vengeance that could be carried out on a single set of stairs, he finally reached the apex of the tower. Once inside, he set down his burden, far, far away from the door so the bag would no longer fall prey to the foul plots of gravity.

Troy removed his shirt to do a proper inspection of the damages; his chest looked like someone has spray painted stripes on him, his bruises crisscrossing each other in a rather confusing pattern.

"Great, if I run into a zebra he's going to think I'm his long lost cousin." He grumbled as he went to inspect the ivy.

Troy moved to the balcony to get find the source of the ivy, and to his surprise, it seemed that it was growing from what appeared to be an ancient windowsill planter. The whole balcony felt a little rickety, and with his current luck he did not want to test the structural integrity. So, removing the rock from his backpack, he gave it an experimental toss onto the jutting structure. Upon crashing onto the floor the stone bounced a single time, the whole balcony immediately broke off, plummeting to the ground at an alarming speed.

The vines of ivy were stripped completely off the side of the tower, till about halfway down. The ivy had slowed the free falling piece of architecture enough that roots began to catch. The masonry was almost to the ground when a large cluster of vines finally halted the platforms decent, the only problem was the cluster was on the left side. The previously plummeting balcony took a hard left out of Troy's field of vision. While he couldn't see the balcony anymore, he could definitely hear the resounding crash of its final stop on the way down.

*CAATHKOOOSH!*

"Oh shit."

Troy was flying down the stairs, he wasn't an expert in archeology, but he was fairly sure that were certain sounds you did not want to hear at a ruin site. Especially if you are on the top of a tower with questionable stability. He had a inkling that 'caaathcoosh' was near the top of the list when it came to "Bad Signs".

He made his way to the courtyard, not sure what to expect. He got a pleasant surprise, the first one since arriving in this strange land in fact. The ex‐balcony along with a column and the roof of the well, were embedded in one of the crumbling walls that ran alongside the courtyard. The ivy wrapped masonry had apparently worked as a makeshift wrecking ball, clearing the rubble and leaving the well mostly intact.

Troy raised his head to the noon sky, with the sun over him and began to laugh; he finally had a bit of luck in the most random way possible. In his joy, Troy began to dance around the well, also he started to sing tunelessly.

♪ Oh HE‐HE‐ELLLLL YEAH! NANANA‐NANA CAN'T TOUCH THIS!♪

After he exhausted himself he flopped on the ground, still smiling a goofy grin and began to take stock of what he had left to do.

Returning to his work, he tore down one of the lengthy vines and began stripping the leaves off with his knife. It took him a moment, but soon he realized that he had never once considered that the ivy might have been poisonous. He shrugged, seeing as he wasn't feeling any pain from the ivy, he was probably in the clear.

Finally, Troy had a long piece of vine; he attached a pot from his mess kit and gave the newly christened rope a good tug. The knot felt fairly strong, all that time in scouts was definitely paying off. Satisfied, he slowly lowered the pot into the well. Eventually he could hear the splash and feel the rope slacken slightly. After a moment he felt the line go taught once more, and he began to reel his prize in.

He grabbed the pot and inspected its contents, for a moment he could have sworn it was empty, but realized that it was full of crystal clear water. Troy took a small sip, and then downed the whole pot; the water was perfect, heavenly even.

Troy sat and looked at the relocated balcony; there were still a lot vines, and it would be a shame to waste them. He paused for a moment, his thoughts turning to the rotting tree that was currently serving as his bridge to the outside world. After a moment of thought a grin slowly spread across his face; today was going to be a good day.

Thank you, Boy Scouts of America.

Troy began pulling down vines; he would need a very long and very strong rope for what he had in mind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The three fillies had been traveling through the Everfree forest for half an hour, and still couldn't seem to find Zecora's hut. The trail was becoming more overgrown by the minute, and Scootaloo was losing what little patience she had.

"UUUGH, why aren't we there yet!" she shouted as the trio stopped in the middle of a clearing.

"Ah thought you knew where ya'll were going," replied Apple Bloom.

"ME! I was following you!" the young pegasus's face began to show signs of panic. They could be out there for days and no one would find them.

"Uh... guys?" Sweetie Belle asked tentatively. “Where’d the trail go?

Scootaloo and Apple Bloom whirled around, the clearing surrounded them on all sides, it was impossible to see where they had entered.

"Oh no, no no no no." the orange filly was desperately turning in circles trying to find the path they had come through.

The girls huddled together; the forest seemed to become more threatening by the moment: the trees seemed taller, and the grass longer, the snakes‐

"SNAKE!" screamed the young unicorn. Pointing at a large python was hanging from the branches of a nearby tree.

Snake meanwhile had been sunning himself and shot up at the sound of his name. He turned to see three little ponies squealing and wailing under his napping branch. Snake, rather put out that his peaceful rest had been disturbed, hissed at the tiny creatures, who promptly fled.

Snake settled back into a comfortable position, he bet Dave didn't have put up with this kind of shit, being cute and cuddly really didn't encourage that kind of reaction. He had made an acquaintance of the rabbit a couple weeks ago on Poker Night. He would get together with his friends Badger and Porcupine, and the four of them would hang out on Sundays and would usually just shoot the shit and play poker. It was nice to just ditch the whole rat race every once in a while, Snake thought as he drifted off into dreamland.

The girls bolted through a final bush before flopping on the ground, completely exhausted by their exodus/screaming.

“Where... are... we now?" Scootaloo panted, she usually was riding her scooter if she was going that fast.

"We're lost," moaned Sweetie Belle, who was in the process of massaging her aching muscles.

Apple Bloom was still buzzing from the run; earth ponies didn't tire as easily as other ponies do. She quickly surveyed the surrounding area. They were in another clearing, alone and deep in the Everfree forest.

"It... it's gonna be alright," the farm filly assured her friends, "all we gotta' do is find the trail again."

The pegasus pony turned to her friend with a quizzical look, "and how are we going to do that? We don't know where we are."

"Why don't we take turns looking for the trail?" The earth pony suggested as she turned to Sweetie Belle, who was nodding enthusiastically.

"Maybe we can get our pathfinder cutie marks!" she cheered.

The yellow earth pony watched her friends carefully, to her relief they seemed to be cheering up. They proceeded to search for the trail that would lead them home, Scootaloo insisting she go first. After following her for an hour and a half with no results, Apple Bloom took her turn; at first she tried to look for anything that might point back the way they came, like a broken branch or a familiar looking stone. After two hours they were still lost, so Sweetie Belle took the lead. While they failed to find their way back, they did in fact find a river.

"Did we cross a river before?" said a bemused orange and purple pegasus, raising an eyebrow. "Seriously, we can’t get any more lost than this."

The yellow farm filly looked around the river looking for a sign or a bridge, something that might point to a trail. She saw nothing of the sort, just more trees, grass, and water.

She signed, "We just need teh' figure out where we are, we didn't cross anything on the way here, so Ponyville ain't across this river." Apple Bloom glared at the offending body of water.

"Maybe it's the stream that goes by Fluttershy's house?" Sweetie Belle asked tentatively.

The yellow ears of her friend perked up and she started to bounce around her with a wide grin.

"THAT'S IT! THAT'S IT! Ah'll bet you ANYTHING that's it!" she exclaimed, ecstatic that they could finally make their way home. This whole ordeal was getting to be too much for her, she was tired from walking for hours and finding nothing.

However Scootaloo looked around with worry, it was getting dark and clouds were forming overhead. She shuddered, moving clouds were as unnatural as it could get for her, any pegasus pony alive knew about the Everfree's moving clouds. There were rumors that the clouds weren’t clouds at all, but were the souls of the pegasi who got lost in the forest, forever shrouded in an eternal fog as they searched for a way home, only to never find it.

She shook herself, trying to dislodge the images of ghostly ponies from her mind.

Get a grip! What would Rainbow Dash do?

She stomped her hoof.

Rainbow dash would never be scared!

"We should get going‐"

As soon as she had spoken, a giant monster rose out of the water. The creature had huge claws like a dragon and a body like a snake. The creature shook the water from its eyes to stare at the three terrified fillies.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"

The girls screamed, clinging to one another in a huddle. Each one certain that this was the last moment they would share together.

"WHY hellooo there!" said a friendly sounding voice.

"AAAAAAaaagh‐huh?"

The fillies looked up to the source of the voice; it was the monster. He was smiling down at them. The creature bent lower to greet the children, apparently unfazed by their terror.

"What in Equestria are you doing all the way out here?" He asked with a sincerely concerned look.

"Uhh... " The Crusaders looked at each other with the same 'what the hay' expression. After a moment Sweetie Belle finally spoke.

"We're... kinda lost," she mumbled sheepishly.

"REALLY lost," added Scootaloo "You wouldn't happen to know the way back to Ponyville, would you?" A hint of desperation crept into her voice. The girls looked at the serpent with pleading eyes, as if this could be their only hope of getting home. That hope was promptly smashed when the river dweller shook his head somberly.

"Sorry dears, I don't know about much beyond this river, but I'll certainly help you the best I can. I do happen to owe some ponies a great deal of thanks."

The three stared at the giant sea monster in confusion, wondering what kind of pony had come this way before.

"What do ya' mean?" Inquired Apple Bloom. If he can't tell us where Ponyville is, maybe he knows somepony who does.

The serpent then began a long winded tale of how one day his precious mustache was horribly damaged by a (very tacky) wisp of smoke, and how a group of ponies had come along and took the time to fix his prized facial hair.

"A white and purple pony, with a fabulous mane if I do say so myself, cut off her own tail to repair my beloved mustache." The large creature indicated to the discolored portion of hair. As the girls examined the deep hues of the hair, Sweetie Belle recognized it almost immediately.

"That's Rarity's tail!" Her voice betrayed her surprise, Rarity loved her tail and would spend hours upon hours grooming it, the mini‐corn couldn't imagine her sister ever parting with it. After she spoke the beast paused for a moment, lost in thought.

"Now that you mention it, I think one of those other ponies called her that," he mused, after a moment's contemplation he turned his attention to the filly. "How do you know of her?"

"She's my sister." The young girl smiled with pride.

The creature beamed, "Well, I owe your sister a great debt! It's only natural that I lend you a claw, miss...?" He motioned to the filly.

"Sweetie Belle," replied the young pony with a slight bow, "and these are my friends: Scootaloo and Apple Bloom." she motioned to her friends by pointing her hoof.

"It's a pleasure to meet you all, my name is Steven Magnet." He said while taking a deep bow, sending a slight swell across the shore. "How can I be of service?"

"Do you know if there is any way to find a road back to Ponyville, maybe somepon‐ I mean somebody you might know?" the cream unicorn asked with hint of hope in her voice.

Steven shook his head. "I'm truly sorry, but I don't know of anyone who could lead you back." The sea serpent paused for a moment, and then noticed the sun was beginning to approach the mountain line. It would only be fifteen minutes at most before it would begin to dip below the horizon. "I think it's best you girls find some place to rest." He motioned to the west. "The sun is going to set soon, and just a whole cavalcade of just dreadful creatures come out at night."

The girls looked up at Steven. "But, where are we going to stay? We don't have any place to go, and I don't wanna sleep outside." Sweetie Belle said in her best 'troubled maiden' tone that she had been practicing after listening to her sister.

The sea (river?) serpent thought for a moment, then his features brightened. "You don't have to," he said sweeping up the girls onto a length of his scaly body. "There is a castle not too far from here, it's abandoned but I bet it's safer than anywhere else in the forest."

He lifted them so they could see the towers of the ruins, which had been obscured by the trees, it was fairly close and they didn't have any other options.

Steven set the three fillies on the bank of the river. None of the girls liked the idea of getting farther away from Ponyville, but the sun was setting and the fillies didn't dare risk an encounter with anything that called the night home. So they set off as fast as they could, shouting their thanks as they ran to what was likely to be their only safe haven.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Troy slumped onto his back, it had taken forever but the first part of his project was finally done. At his feet lay a tightly braided rope: the rope was made of three braided smaller ropes that in turn were made with three braided vines. In short, there were a lot of braids. The strength of the vines had amazed him, he knew that certain species of ivy had amazing strength, but this was ridiculous. He was unable to pull even one vine apart and when he had tested its strength, and a braid of three vines could hold his weight with little trouble.

Still, he had big plans for the rope, which had gotten quite long. He had tied large knots in the rope, spacing them out every few feet. It was an important feature for what he had in mind. He whistled a merry tune, today had been a good day; he had uncovered the well and caught some fish with an impromptu net made from one of his shirts. They had been difficult to clean; he had only done it once when he was at scout camp. After mangling the first one, he had managed to clean the last two fish rather well and were roasting on the fire. Now that dinner was cooking and rope was done he could finally rest. Troy went outside to double check his length, he had no desire for surprises tomorrow.

Troy trudged outside; thunder rolled through the forest as lightning in the distance lit up the sky, it was to be a stormy night. Closing the door behind him, he made his way to a sturdy tree near the edge of the ravine. The impromptu bridge he had made with the other tree was only a few feet away, which was all the better for what he had in mind.

Let's get this over and done with, I got fish to get back to.

He checked the distances again, and while he could only eyeball it, the chasm didn't seem too wide for the rope. He was about to turn away when he heard a noise in the distance, it sounded like the breaking of twigs and ruffling of leaves. Something was coming this way! Troy began to panic, if whatever was coming was anything like any of the other creatures he had seen in his short time in this place he was seriously screwed. He looked at the tree standing next to him.

"Fuck it."

Troy scrambled up the trunk of the tree like his ancestors did many, many generations ago. He didn't know what to expect, but he was going to see it before it saw him and that was for DAMN sure. While the castle would make a solid defense for a while, it was full of enough holes that anything that wanted in was getting in.

He hunkered down into the tree, trying to make as little noise as possible.

Let's see what our new arrival looks like.

Troy unsheathed his hunting knife, preparing to give whatever monstrosity that appeared a nasty surprise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Apple Bloom and the girls pushed their way through their brush. They had made good time, but it was starting to get dark.

"ARRG! Are we there yet?" Scootaloo's ire was getting the best of her.

"Yah! I found it! OVER HERE!" Shouted Sweetie Belle, her head poking through the foliage.

The three piled through the bushes and stood before the castle. They stared in awe of the giant structure, it didn't look this big from the riverbed. There was a sense of grandness that each filly could practically taste. Scootaloo went to the ancient rope bridge, lifting one of the severed ropes with her hoof. The old material creaked as it bent, "We're not crossing this bridge anytime soon," the pegasus said with a huff.

Examining a downed tree that spanned the chasm, Apple Bloom called out. "Hey, we might just be able to use this tuh' git across this canyon."

Scootaloo hopped onto the log, it was pretty solid for a dead tree. "Good find, lets get inside, it could start raining any second."

"I don't know..." the two fillies turned to their cream colored friend, her voice had carried a note concern. "Doesn't something kinda seem off?"

"Whatd'ya mean?" the orange pegasus had a bit of an edge in her voice; she didn't want to stay out under those freaky moving clouds any longer than she had too.

"Well, look carefully, the tree didn't fall on its own." She picked up a wood chip in her mouth, it was obvious to her something had brought the tree down. What was strange was that it hadn't been pushed or kicked over, but that it had been hacked away at. Nothing Sweetie Belle could think of did that, and she had the sneaking suspicion that an animal didn't do it either. However, her friends were less than concerned. Apple Bloom at least looked like she cared, but Scootaloo was clearly not all that worried.

"So what, here the clouds move on their own, maybe trees need help falling over or something." She trotted down the log towards the castle, making sure to keep her footing. The young filly turned to her friends, "You guys coming or not?"

"Ah think we should cross one at a time, safety an' all that." Apple Bloom called back, not wanting to test the structural integrity of the improvised bridge.

Her winged friend shrugged, "Whatever." The filly turned and began to make her way across the log.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Troy had thought he had lost the ability to be surprised by this point. Nope. Just when he finally expected some horrible monster to come through the brush...

...He got a Technicolor midget horse.

Go figure.

On the bright side I know what's going on now.

The young man nodded to himself.

God is fucking with me for his own amusement.

Obviously there was more to it than that, but that was the best explanation he had at the moment. He returned his attention‐oh Lord there was another one.

Troy's view had been obscured by the leaves of the tree, his only clear view was of the area below him. The newest arrival leapt from the log onto the ground next to the first one. The first one had violet colored mane and a darkish orange coat, and wings.

Yup, God hates me. Only explanation.

Moving on, the newest arrival had a red mane a light yellow coat and... a bow? There was a red ribbon tied in a bow near the back of its head.

Wait, that’s good.
THAT'S REALLY FUCKING GOOD!
Obviously a horse can't tie a knot, which means someone with fingers DID.
Which means somebody owns those critters.
And if I can find him I can finally get my explanation for this fucked up world!

Things were looking up, Troy was a man with a plan. He watched as the two tiny creatures bleated at something Troy couldn't see. After a moment, ANOTHER little horse popped into view. This particular one had a light purple and cream colored mane with cream fur. Troy examined the features of the... horn. This thing had a fucking horn.

So... a mini unicorn, how quaint.

These things defied any common knowledge of any horse animal he knew outside of a pony and even ponies weren't this small. These ponies were the size of a large dog, about three feet tall.

The cluster of cuteness approached the castle door; the cream colored one grabbed the rusted handle in its mouth and pulled. The door would not budge. Troy allowed himself a small chuckle, the door needed to be pushed in, and it was definitely too heavy for the little ponies. The tiny creatures all took turns trying to yank the door open, all to no avail. After a moment of heavy panting they started bleating and mewling at one another.

Wait, are they...

The realization hit Troy like a ton of bricks; they were talking to one another.

You know, you'd think I'd be used to this kind of shit after the giant bear. But NO.

After a moment of conversation they sat in silence, in what Troy could only assume was thought.

Troy weighted his options: he could follow them stealthily or reveal himself. Seeing as they had come here they must know their way around the forest. However, if they slept out here, which was a growing possibility, it would mean that if he wanted to follow them without their knowledge, it would require him to sleep in the tree. A sharp breeze blew through his shirt, sending a cascade of chills up Troy's spine.

Fuck that noise. I'm sleeping inside.

Troy sheathed his knife and readied himself to leave his perch.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Apple Bloom's ears snapped up, her ears had grown sensitive over her years on the farm. One of the most important things a farmer had was 'The Sense' as Granny Smith called it. A good farmer could hear her crops calling in distress when varmints were preying on them.

...and a bad farmer would go hungry.

She had heard movement coming from a nearby tree. The farm pony didn't even need to look; she could feel something watching her. With a shudder she leaned forward and whispered to her friends, whose heads were still lowered in pensive postures.

"Girls, don't make any sudden movements."

The two little ponies turned their attention to their friend. Her expression was one of grave seriousness. They watched as she slowly turned back to look at something only she seemed to see.

"What's up?" Scootaloo asked softly, but her tone was uncharacteristic high pitched.

"Ah' think somethin' is in that tree over there," the farm filly turned back to her friends, "and Ah' think it's watch'n us."

She froze as a rustle and a thump announced the arrival of their former spectator. The girl's eyes were glued to her, she looked from Scootaloo to Sweetie Belle and saw the two of them share a glance. Apple Bloom drew a deep breath and slowly turned to face the new creature. As she did, she could almost feel the girls shifting their gazes in the same direction.

The monster was on all fours, and seemed to be hunched over from its landing. Its head turned up and it stared right her, she felt like the creature was inspecting every corner of her being. The monsters eyes flicked from her to her friends, examining each of them. The young filly felt like she couldn't breathe, she couldn't move. The terror that had run through her had locked her entire body in place. She had never seen any creature even remotely like this ever before.

It had only a single tuft of short hair on the top of its head to serve as a mane. Its forelegs had a sparse covering of fur, though fur was not quite right. While there was plenty of hair she could see mostly skin and the fur seemed to thin out as it got closer to the main body. The monsters forelegs ended in strange alien appendages, five on each leg instead of a single hoof. Parts of the creatures 'hoof' looked kind of like the claw of a baby dragon she knew, but it was very different. There were no scales at all and no claws on the end. They just... ended, like part of it was missing. On the top of the end of each not‐claws there was a hard carapace that she couldn't even begin to describe.

Its face was strangely flat with a small piece of flesh just jutting out of the front. It had strange rounded ears sticking out from either side of its head. But what disturbed Apple Bloom the most was the look the creature had in its eyes. The blue eyes didn't seem like that of a pony or a predator, rather something in between.

Then it did something none of the fillies would have ever expected, it slowly eased up onto its back legs. Moving with a deliberate slowness, it straightened its body until it was completely vertical, and stood. Apple Bloom could hear Sweetie Belle gasp, it was taller than Big Mac now and suddenly seemed a lot bigger. Now that it was standing upright some things became more immediately apparent. The monster was clothed. A light green shirt covered its upper most portion, but the bottom half was covered with a light brown material that split down the middle to loosely cover its hind legs. Pockets of all sizes adorned the outside of the strange garment, who knew what it had in there or why it needed so many. The back legs ended in some strange brown device that looked like one of Rarity's corsets. Sweetie Belle had explained the garment to her a week ago, it was designed to scrunch down somepony so they could fit in a dress. But these looked like they had some other purpose; maybe it was what allowed it to stand upright.

There was a piece of thick material circling the creature’s middle and seemed to hold two things in place. One was a small axe that fit snugly to its side; the other was a lot more troubling. Apple Bloom couldn't be sure from the strange design adorning the handle but the rest of the shape, while hidden, looked a lot like a kitchen knife she had seen her sister use. Applejack had told her that knives were very dangerous and you could easily hurt yourself, unlike the apple cutters they normally used when making pies. Where had it got all of these things? They didn't look pony made.

The creature seemed to pause a moment, staring at fillies. It looked like it was taking in every detail from the top of their ears to the tips of their tails. Then it took a step forward. The girls scooted back, pressing their backs against the large metal doors. Fear still held their tongues, they couldn't scream, couldn't speak, they couldn't even beg for their lives. The creature took slow heavy strides, slowly approaching the three terrified fillies. It came forward until it was right on top of them, staring down, and suddenly it seemed ten times larger than it had originally. It lifted both of its large not‐claws and stretched them forward.

"Applejack," Apple Bloom heard herself whisper, as if saying her sister’s name would summon her to drive the monster away.

It brought its not‐claws to rest on the large metal door behind them, it was still staring down at them as it loomed over the three girls. Then suddenly it turned its attention to the large doors, giving the ancient metal a push. Apple Bloom could feel the door slide out from behind her, as she and the other girls fell through the threshold. The creature strode over the fillies and made its way towards the center of the dark hall. As her eyes started to adjust to the dim lighting she could feel the rising of hope in her chest, they might just survive this encounter yet!

----------------------------------------------------

The problem with quotes on the internet, is that you can never tell if they are genuine or not.
—Benjamin Franklin


Editor's note: Hey everypony, what's up? If you see something that I missed PLEASE point it out in the comments or shoot Jarofhearts (or myself so I can know about it!) a pm so he can fix it. I'm not going to lie, this had to go through a lot of checking and it's a long chapter (31 pages in Microsoft Word...yeeeeeeeeeah) so if I missed something I wouldn't be surprised. But I tried my best to catch as many as possible (there was this one error where he accidentally called Troy a piece of elaborate fabric.) I hope you enjoyed this chapter as much as I enjoyed editing it!

Authors note: instead of awkward it was Jacquard (a fancy piece of cloth). That is why you need to actually pay attention when using spell check. Sorry for taking so long to update, there was a lot conspiring against me; with the holidays, Skyrim, LoZ: Skyward Sword (ridiculously good game) and school starting back up, I had a lot to deal with. Also I don't usually write dialogue, especially for someone else's character. It really tripped me up, but in the end I felt I grew as a writer. Hopefully my next update wont take as long, but with school coming back into full swing that might not be possible. Still I thank my faithful readers, it does my heart good to know I can brighten someones day with my inane ramblings.

I'll try to be better about updates, but still expect these to come out once in a blue moon.

Author's Note:

If anyone is wondering why I made the ASCII tower of cursing, that was what it was supposed to look like, but without all the extra bits. For some reason the formatting didn't carry over the way I wanted. Don't know when that went away, but this feels like an improvement.