• Published 11th Nov 2012
  • 18,256 Views, 263 Comments

Just Human - Lightless Void

There is a reason why there are no humans in Equestria. Allow me to show you why.

  • ...

The Coming Storm

Just Human, Chapter 3: The Coming Storm

Twilight moved through Ponyville, not quite running, but a definite haste in her step as she made her way in the direction of Fluttershy’s cottage. There was this foreboding sense of dread eating away at her, though she hadn’t a clue what she could expect.

Was I right before? Is it some kind of illness? And if it is, how far has it spread? What does it do to the victims? If it’s a curse, who cast it, and why? I know there’s something wrong with Ponyville, but what? I’ve never read about anything that can cause these symptoms! And why do I keep seeing things?... Am I hallucinating? Is there something wrong with me too? Or is it something else?

Twilight shivered in a cold breeze, before realising she shouldn’t be feeling a cold breeze at all. The weather patrol made sure the weather in Ponyville was managed carefully, and today should be warm and sunny. As she began to pay more attention to the sensation of cold, she began to realise it wasn’t the weather, but her. Thin droplets of sweat were starting to form on her brow, not from exhaustion, but from anxiety. There was something in the air that was putting her on edge. It was almost like her instincts were telling her that there was a predator nearby, and that she needed to tread carefully.

Making her even more anxious was the town itself. Everything had grown silent, despite the time of day, like everypony in town could feel something was brewing and wisely stayed at home.

She carefully made her way through town, always seemingly driven to avoid large open spaces and stick to the alleys that led behind the houses in Ponyville. It wasn’t long before she started hearing some sort of commotion coming from the center square. She hurried her pace, unsure of what was going on, though as she approached, more voices began to sound. One of them was Fluttershy. She broke into a sprint, heading for the source of the voices.

“Fluttershy! Fluttershy, where are you!?” she called out, completely forgetting about that unexplainable fear that had kept her in the shadows of the town as she tried to reach Fluttershy as soon as possible. She broke into the open, nearly hitting a closed market stand on her way, and saw Fluttershy, crouching down defensively in the middle of a crowd of ponies.

“Quick, stop her! She’s going to get away!”

Twilight barely hesitated as she charged up, her horn glowing fiercely as she gathered raw magical power. She didn’t intend to cast a spell, merely to cast as much force as was necessary to protect Fluttershy from her assailants.

“Hey! Leave her alone! I’m warning you!” she called out. One member of the group, a yellow coated stallion, turned to face her. To her surprise, there was a massive bruise over his eye, that barely allowed it to open.

The crowd immediately exploded into chaos as a yellow flash darted from one side to the next, ponies practically flying out of the circle with bruises, cuts, even gashes on their bodies. It took only moments for most members of the group to end up on the ground or running away in terror. In the center of the battlefield stood Fluttershy, a snarl on her face that Twilight didn’t think the gentle pegasus would’ve ever been able to muster, steam practically shooting out of her nostrils with every breath.

“F-Fluttershy?” Twilight asked, but failed to raise her volume above a whisper. The glow of her horn had died down as she tried to comprehend what she saw happening. She hardly recognized her own friend, who was stomping around in anger, her attention so fixated on the crowd that had tried to restrain her that she failed to even notice Twilight there.

“So, had enough, huh!?” Fluttershy shouted, making her victims on the ground flinch.

“Please, we didn’t mean it. Just let us go,” one of the wounded pleaded. Fluttershy’s reaction was immediate. She paced to the one who talked back, pure fire blazing in her eyes.

“You didn’t mean it? You didn’t mean it!? Is that what you thought when you shoved me out of the way in the street!?” Fluttershy responded viciously, stomping one of her hooves on the ground, making the mare whimper. “Or is that what you thought a few days ago when you cut in line when I was waiting to do my groceries!?” she growled at another mare, who feebly covered her head with her hooves.

No! You all had this coming! Everypony had this coming for a long time!” she shouted at the top of her lungs. Her wings began to beat, lifting her up into the air. “I’m sick of everypony treating me like thin air! All of this is your fault! And now... I’m going to make sure everypony learns that Fluttershy is nopony’s doormat!”

Her gaze focussed on the one who talked back to her first. Her upper lip twitched, baring her teeth, as she shifted her body and began to dive.

Starting with you!

Twilight couldn’t believe it. Not only had Fluttershy hurt several ponies, with physical violence no less, she was now going to take it even further in the most horrible way imaginable. All of that, over something so small. Twilight had no time to consider why Fluttershy was doing this, only that she had to stop her before she took this too far.

“Fluttershy, stop! You can’t do this!” Twilight shouted, but Fluttershy didn’t respond. In fact, her dive only seemed to increase in speed. Her intended victim screamed and closed her eyes, shielding her face with her hooves. Twilight realised that, at this rate, she wasn’t just going to injure somepony. She was striking to kill.

Dear Celestia, what is she doing?! I can’t let this happen!

Twilight’s horn glowed brightly as she used her magic to reach out, taking a firm hold of Fluttershy. She pulled with all her might, trying to slow down her descent as much as possible, until she could feel Fluttershy slowing down and coming to a halt entirely, just out of reach of the mare she tried to attack. The mare slowly opened her eyes, only to see Fluttershy suspended just inches in front of her, breathing like a wild animal.

Fluttershy began to scream wordlessly, wildly thrashing about within Twilight’s magical grasp, but unable to get within reach of anything to vent her rage on. Her hooves kicked and lashed out, trying to hit something, anything.

Twilight got closer to Fluttershy, who didn’t cease her struggles for a second.

“Fluttershy! You have to calm down!” she said, but Fluttershy hardly responded. She just began to struggle even more, straining Twilight’s ability to hold her in place. She felt herself panicking even more when she realised she wouldn’t be able to hold her forever.

She won’t even listen to me! How will I ever be able to calm her down if she won’t listen!? She hurt all these ponies! What if she’ll go after me next!? I can’t... I can’t help her like this!

Before her very eyes, Twilight saw a change coming over Fluttershy. Small embers seemed trapped within her mane, burning and smouldering. The air around her seemed to distort, as though great heat came from her body, while her eyes turned to orbs of burning green fire. Her voice echoed, making it sound like it came from some large monster rather than from the pegasus she thought she knew so well.

“Please, Fluttershy. You have to snap out of it. This isn’t you!” she begged and pleaded, her eyes stinging with tears at how powerless she felt. She was watching Fluttershy slip away right before her eyes, and could do nothing to stop it. A choked sob escaped her throat, causing her concentration to falter momentarily. To her horror, she realised her grip on Fluttershy had loosened too much. If she lashed out now, Fluttershy could hit her.

Twilight waited, but Fluttershy didn’t move. She simply hung there, in mid-air, her trying to maintain her snarl as best she could, until it began to fade away. It wasn’t long before Fluttershy gave Twilight a curious look, rather than an angry one, as though she had become confused by something.

“T-Twilight?... What’s going on?”

“Fluttershy!” Twilight exclaimed happily. She didn’t know how, but she managed to reach her. Her joy quickly faded, however, as she saw Fluttershy looking around herself with a lack of comprehension. She hardly seemed to recognize the scene that lay before her, until she made eye contact with one of those she had savagely beaten, still curled up on the ground in fear.

Fluttershy gasped as realisation seemed to dawn, hyperventilating as she struggled weakly against the magic that held her in place.

“T-Twilight, what did I do!?” she sobbed, completely unable to grasp the horrors she had inflicted. Twilight knew that Fluttershy wouldn’t ever harm another living soul. She couldn’t imagine how horrible it must’ve been for her. Twilight slowly brought her to the ground, taking Fluttershy in an embrace.

“Shh, it’s okay. This isn’t your fault,” she said to Fluttershy, who held onto her with all her might, crying into her mane.

A cold fear gripped Twilight, for now she knew that what she had been seeing up till now weren’t just visions. They were real.

Alex stumbled across a branch, cursing and swearing as he went. The forest had not been kind to him. His clothes were ripped in some places, and his skin stung where thorns had dug into him. He was growing tired, but despite the state of his body, his psyche was in far worse condition. He kept looking back, expecting to see yellow eyes emerging from the dense vegetation behind him at any second, fully convinced he was being followed. He was right.

He had left the safety of the tree sometime ago. The moment he dropped to the forest floor, still carrying the heavy branch in one hand, he knew the wooden wolves were still around, though they made no attempt at him again. They kept their distance, though the occasional rustle or the sound of one of them picking up some speed just behind him had made it clear they had no intention on just letting him go. He didn’t know exactly what they were waiting for, but he could guess they were waiting for him to slip, or stumble, or let his guard down one way or the other.

My life back home might not have been that great, but anything would be better than this hell. No food, no water, no shelter, and now no rest either. Fuck... I’m going to die out here.

No! Pull yourself together! I’m not going to let those bastards eat me! I’ll fight those fuckers with my bare hands if I have to! I’m not going to die out here!

Alex leaned his weight on the branch, panting slightly as he gave his muscles some rest, before looking back over his shoulder. He could see the faint outline of another wolf moving through the bushes, before it disappeared into the shadows. He had lost track of how long he had been walking, but the light was getting dimmer. The canopy overhead made it hard to see why though. He stumbled further ahead, using the branch as a walking stick in an effort to keep the strain off of his legs, absolutely determined to keep moving no matter what.

His resolve broke when he heard a thunder strike, the sound very close. He moved further, breaking through the treeline into a clearing, only to see his worst fears coming true in the sky above. Dark clouds gathered on one end of the horizon, slowly creeping their way towards him. Rain was coming soon, and he knew it would be the death of him. He was no survivalist, but he knew that in these clothes, even if the wolves wouldn’t get him, the rain would. Much to Alex’s relief, the clearing also revealed a chance for him to escape a death by hypothermia. A cave, set into the side of an overgrown hill.

Another branch snapped not far behind him.

That cave is my only hope if I don’t want to freeze to death out here. But if I go in there, I won’t have anywhere to go. I’ll be trapped... And that’s just what those bastards are waiting for.

Alex knew that he didn’t really have a choice. His pursuers didn’t look like creatures that would be bothered very much by rain, but he would, and if he slipped somewhere and got stuck or broke his leg, he’d be even more helpless than if they cornered him inside that cave. With a deep sigh, he resigned himself to his fate as he walked to the cave entrance.

The opening was just under half-again his height, allowing him to get in easily, though it was only broad enough to let in two people at once, at best. It wasn’t very deep, but it could protect him from sight and from the rain. That was most important.

He walked into the cave, every step kicking up a bit of dust. A few spiderwebs blocked his way, but they weren’t much of a barrier. The ground was littered with small pebbles, all smooth and even, as though some unknown force had cleaned them of all imperfection and swept them into the cave. Alex spotted something glinting in the fading light streaming into the cave. He dared to hope that perhaps he had come across some trash, a lost tool, anything that would indicate there was civilisation nearby.

He reached down, his fingers finding the shiny object and closing around it. He felt a sharp edge. Is it a knife? he wondered. When he held it in the light, he was again disappointed. It was nothing more than a piece of flint from a rock that had been cut perfectly in twain, the edge sharp, but otherwise merely a product of the elements.

He looked back at the entrance. He guessed he’d have about five to eight paces between himself and the entrance, more than enough to see anything coming.

Guess I’m not gonna find a better place to catch my breath, but what if those wolves show up? I won’t be able to get out.

His gaze wandered to the branch he still carried with him, and the sharp flint in his free hand.

At least this time, I’ll be able to prepare.

Putting the flint to the end of the branch, he cut away a thin strip of wood. He repeated the process, over and over, a sharp tip slowly forming at the end. The vegetation around the cave rustled occasionally, while the sound of thunder crept ever closer.

Twilight and Fluttershy just left the outskirts of Ponyville. She and Fluttershy had helped the injured to the hospital and made sure they were all alright, but it hadn’t done either of them much good, especially Fluttershy. She just stared at the ground as she followed Twilight, a miserable expression on her face, giving no sign that she’d ever forgive herself for what she did. Twilight had told her several times already that it wasn’t her fault, that there was something wrong with everypony, but even so, Fluttershy wasn’t the type of pony who just forgets that something like this ever happened. Twilight didn’t dare think about the long-term effects, whether Fluttershy would get in trouble for this, or whether the damage that had been done could even be repaired.

I just have to focus on making sure everypony is alright. That’s what’s most important right now. I have to get all my friends together, write Princess Celestia and then... And then...

“Twilight? We’re here,” she could hear Fluttershy say. She hadn’t exactly been watching where she had been going, but it seemed they had already arrived at Fluttershy’s cottage. The curtains were closed, all the birdhouses and other shelters empty, as though every animal had fled. The place now stood in an ominous silence, casting a dark shadow upon the pair as they made their way to the front door.

“So Rainbow Dash wanted to stay with you for the night? Did she say why?”

“No, she just said she didn’t feel too well, and would be a lot more comfortable if she had somepony close. You said there was something wrong with Ponyville. You don’t think she has it too, do you?” Fluttershy asked as that deeply sad expression of hers grew more anxious. It was clear she didn’t like the idea of having left her potentially sick friend all alone.

“Only one way to find out,” Twilight said as she knocked on the front door. There was no reply. Fluttershy shot Twilight a fearful look. With a little hesitation, the pegasus walked up to the door and pushed it open.

The lights within the house were out, making the only part of the house that was visible the tiny stretch that lay within the strand of light coming in through the front door. A spitting sound could be heard.

“Rainbow Dash?” Twilight asked as she lit her horn up with magic to cast light into the house. She gasped in pure horror at what she saw. Bloody blue feathers lay scattered thinly around the house, with in a corner the shaking form of Rainbow Dash could be seen. Her wings looked torn, the way her feathers were disheveled, all stained with red droplets. Her hooves were on her head, cradling herself, as she slowly rocked back and forth, sobbing.

Twilight’s jaw fell open. Not even in her worst nightmares could she have imagined that she’d find Dash in this state. A sob could be heard from her right. It was Fluttershy, who looked as though she was on the verge of crying again, one hoof covering her mouth.

“R-Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy called out, her voice breaking up.

“I tried, Fluttershy,” Dash said weakly as she tried to get up. “Everypony looks up to me! Everypony knows that when things go wrong, Rainbow Dash will be there to save the day! But what if I can’t!? What if I fail!? I can’t let that happen! I can’t disappoint everypony like that! The only way I can stop that from happening is by making sure that nopony will look up to me anymore! There’s something wrong with Ponyville right now, and I can’t do anything about it! And I... I can’t be the one to let everypony down!”

Rainbow Dash stood trembling, tears dripping from her chin as she clenched her eyes shut. Twilight’s mind began to fill with memories of what happened to Fluttershy, driving her to act. She could not let such a thing happen again.

“Dash, you have to stay calm. There’s something wrong with us,” she said as she walked towards Dash as carefully as she could. The rainbow-maned pegasus recoiled at the sound of her hoofsteps.

“No, don’t get any closer! I can still stop this, I have too!” she cried out as she spread her tattered wings. She brought her head around to her wing, bit down, and pulled. A single bloodied blue feather floated gently to the ground. Dash erupted in tears as she looked at the feather, completely lost in pain and grief.

“Dash! Stop!” Twilight yelled as she ran through the cottage.

I have to stop her! I don’t know what’s wrong, but I can’t let her hurt herself like this! Oh Celestia, the feathers! They’re everywhere! How long has she been doing this!? I have to stop her!

She tackled Rainbow Dash to the ground right as she wanted to reach for another feather, pinning her forehooves down with her own. She knew Dash was a lot stronger than she was, but though Dash struggled, her limbs didn’t seem to have any strength behind them. She looked up at Twilight with pleading eyes, gritting her teeth together as every breath came out agonizingly forced.

“Let me go! I have to do this, Twilight!”

Twilight saw her vision growing misty, her lips trembling as she held back sobs. Dash had hurt herself so much, and she hadn’t been in time to stop her. She couldn’t help but think what would happen if this had already spread too far, destroying countless lives in the process, as she felt her whole world falling apart around her.

What if this happens to me as well? I’ll end up as a useless wreck, unable to save myself, let alone my friends! What if there is no cure? What if this just keeps spreading, further and further? How do I stop this!?

Suddenly, Twilight noticed a change in Rainbow Dash. The colours seemed to fade from her coat, her breathing became steady, and her eyes starting darting around the room wildly.

“Dash? What’s wrong!?” she asked, but she didn’t respond. Their shadows around them seemed to grow deeper and darker as she watched. Voices began to speak, though she did not recognize them.

They all look up to you.

Twilight tried to look around the room, but her eyes seemed locked on Dash, unable to tear themselves away. Dash’s outline became hazy now, indistinct yet constantly moving, like a cloud of pure electrical energy.

This is your fault.

“Who’s there!? Please, stop this!” Twilight called out, though the voice didn’t respond. More voices began to echo around her, all seemingly originating from Rainbow Dash’s incoherent form, each louder and more vicious than the last.

Your friends are not well.

They will look up to you to save them, like they always do.

And you will fail before their very eyes.

They will lose heart, for you are the weak link in the chain.

You will drag them all down with you.

For a moment, Twilight could have sworn, to her horror, that they were not alone. Countless eyes stared at her from within the darkness, as the voices grew in intensity.

They will be destroyed, all because of you!

Blackness struck her as though a heavy weight had hit her on her head. She could feel herself falling, before all her senses left her entirely.

“Twilight! Please wake up! I’m so sorry!”

Twilight opened her eyes, one after another, finding Dash and Fluttershy looking down on her. She was on the ground it seemed, though she could hardly remember how she got there.

“W-what happened?” she asked a little weakly, as though the force that drove her unconscious hadn’t been dispelled entirely yet.

“You fainted, for no reason! One moment you’re holding me down, trying to stop me from making the biggest mistake of my life, then suddenly you tipped over and fell. We were so worried about you!” Dash said. She hugged Twilight fiercely, who started to gasp for breath with how tightly she was being held. From her view over Rainbow’s shoulder, she could see her wings. They were a rather ugly sight now, the feathers missing in some places, making her wonder if Dash could fly at all anymore.

“Your wings...”

“Don’t worry about my wings! The feathers will grow back. The first thing we gotta do now is get you to a hospital!”

Dash was already lifting Twilight up. She briefly wondered if Dash planned to carry her the whole way to the hospital, but she already decided it wouldn’t come that far.

“No Dash, stop! I’m fine!” she said as she pushed herself out of Dash’s grasp. She landed on her hooves as she broke free, but her footing was unsteady. Her legs didn’t seem to carry her weight as well as they had, but she was too determined to let herself fall. There was no way she would give in to whatever was draining her strength until this was over. She could see the way Fluttershy and Dash were looking at her. They were mortified with fear as they saw her struggling to just stay upright, but she couldn’t let them stop her here. Not before everypony else was safe.

“Twilight, please! You’re not okay! You just fell over and passed out!”

A commotion from outside drew their attention. A heavily panting Rarity, followed by Pinkie Pie, came into the cottage. She looked like she’d just run a marathon and took the long way back home.

“It’s...” she huffed as she tried to catch her breath, “Applejack.”

Twilight felt the adrenaline rushing through her body as the shock hit her. Applejack, the last of her friends she had to reach, and something had happened to her. Strength, fueled by panic, drove her forward. She ran to Rarity, grabbing her by her shoulders.

“What’s wrong with Applejack!?”

“She’s gone! She left the farm a few hours ago and nopony’s seen her since!”

Alex examined his handiwork in the fading light falling into the cave. He had sharpened the wood to a fine tip. It wasn’t much of a spear, but it was the best he’d get if he would have to defend himself. Somewhere deep down, he hoped it wouldn’t come that far.

Again, the sound of thunder rumbled outside, but despite its increasing frequency and the gloominess of the air outside, Alex hadn’t seen nor heard a single drop of rain fall yet. It was starting to become a little disturbing, more so than the fact that the wolves seemed to have left.

A deep growl came from just outside the cave.

Alex got up immediately, pointing his spear at the entrance to the cave. There was nothing there yet, but already he could see the tip of his weapon shaking. He tried to breathe, but his breath got caught in the back of his throat, as cold sweat started to break out on his palms.

He was convinced he wouldn’t survive. There were too many of them, and even if he had a decent weapon, he wasn’t a soldier. He was hopelessly out of his league, and the only thing that kept him standing at all was a sheer determination not to lay down and die without a fight.

The first pair of yellow eyes appears at the entrance to the cave, almost appearing like glowing lights against the dark background that was the sky.

I... I can’t let it end like this.