• Published 3rd Jan 2013
  • 4,993 Views, 64 Comments

The Signal - Lord Destrustor



Spike does his best to cope after a near-apocalypse.

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8
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Day 84

The morning sun shone silently through the window of the library’s top floor bedroom. Dust quietly danced in the rays while a unicorn slept. Her slow, steady breathing was the only sound to be heard. Soon, however, soft footsteps coming up the stairs broke the silence as a small purple dragon entered the room. He was carrying a crude tray on which sat a simple bowl and a paper cup. Seeing that his friend was still asleep, he briefly considered going back downstairs to let her enjoy her much-needed rest. But then he noticed her ears were already perked up, aware of his presence. She was already awake. He sighed, wishing there was a way he could let her sleep her days away. Why were ponies incapable of the decades of slumber often displayed by dragons? This would make so many lives so much easier.

He set the tray on the ground and picked up a wooden pole lying on a nearby desk. Clearing his throat, he addressed the immobile mare.

“Hey Twilight.”

The unicorn raised her head suddenly, almost jumping to her hooves. Jerking her head around to look at the dragon, a look of joy briefly graced her features before she threw herself at the sturdy iron bars separating them from each other.

“Oh hi Spike!” She said cheerfully between angry snarls.

Pressing her face against the bars and reaching between them with a hoof to try clawing at him despite the distance and the lack of claws, she added “kill you KILL YOU KILL YOU”.

“Still not feeling any better?” He sighed again. “I brought you your favorite cereal and some apple juice.” He pointed at the tray before returning his grip on the pole.

She almost managed to tap her hooves together in an expression of joy but was interrupted by even more desperate attempts to grab the dragon. Between more snarls and a few low, angry growls, she managed to articulate “Oh that’s great SpikILL KILL KILL KILL YOU AND WEAR YOUR BONES I’d love RHAAAAApple juice right now.”

Her horn glowed faintly, the magic gathering at the tip before coalescing into a small, roughly apple-sized piece of purple crystal. The little cone of solid magic then exploded outward, spraying Spike and the walls with dozens of razor-sharp shards. The crystal needles embedded themselves about two inches deep in the strong, aged wood of the treehouse’s walls, but bounced harmlessly on the dragon’s magic-resistant scales. As he observed the deadly projectiles quickly dissolving into an ethereal gas which, in turn, vanished without a trace, Spike was reminded of why this was his burden. No pony could just shrug off these attacks, leaving him the only possible custodian for the unicorn. One of the many reasons for him to do this.

Twilight looked shocked and genuinely sorry for a moment.

“Oh I’m sorrhrlrhlrrlhlr” She gurgled, furiously shaking her head left and right. “I’m sorry Spike! Are you okay?”

He waved a hand dismissively, replying “You know these things can’t hurt me, Twilight. I’m fine. But...”

He paused, turning around to grab a small bottle sitting behind a thick piece of protective metal on a nearby table. “Your magic is coming back. I’ll have to give you some more magikill.”

He opened the bottle, dropping two small brownish-red lumps in the cereal.

She frowned as the milk rapidly turned orange. “Aww but it tastes so baDRAIN YOUR BLOOD AND RIP YOU KILL YOU KILL KILL KILL” She pushed on the bars, trying to shake them, scraping her hind hooves on the floor as she desperately struggled against the unyielding metal.

“I swear I’ll make it up to you at dinner,” Spike said while beginning to push the tray toward Twilight, using the wooden pole to avoid having to get within hoof’s reach of her. He stopped at the halfway point, looking her in the eyes. “Promise me you’ll take it all, okay?”

“Of course I will, KILL YOU Spike. I...” She snarled savagely, trying to squeeze her shoulder through the bars. “...wouldn’t want to actually huRT AND KILL AND MAIM AND KILL YOU KILL YOU KILL EVERYTHING

As the tray remained still, she finally said “I promise”. Mere seconds later she added “TO KILL YOU AND KILL YOU AND KILL YOU DIE

Spike resumed pushing the tray, slowly bringing it to a small open slot at the bottom of the bars. He left it just outside the opening, close enough for Twilight to take it, but in no immediate danger of being trampled or spilled by the violent unicorn.

“I’ll just leave this here, then.” He placed the bottle and the pole back in their respective places. “ I’m going to go now, Twilight. You’re starting to hurt yourself again.” Her only answer was a long, gurgling growl and a bout of violent shaking that left her breathless, but he could see a sort of pained sadness in her expression.

With tears lining her eyes, she watched him turn around and take the first few steps down the stairs. “Spike!” she called. He froze and turned his head to look at her. She continued: “I... I’m so sorry for... for... CLEAVING YOUR SKULL AND CRUSHING YOUR BONES AND KILLING YOU KILL KILL KILL YOU AND DIE” She shut her eyes and turned her head, crying freely. “...for this and for... everything else and I-I’m so sorry I...” She gasped, choking up, unable to continue. Opening her eyes, she promptly resumed throwing herself at the bars while snarling savagely, tears flowing down her face.

Spike looked at her, feeling close to tears as well. He couldn’t show it, though. He simply replied “I know. I understand, Twilight. It’s not your fault.” He wanted to add “I love you”, but he knew that doing so would just make him break down right then and there, and he had to be strong for her. He couldn’t let her see him cry. He took one last look at her raging, crying face before retreating back downstairs.

He could hear Twilight beginning to calm down as soon as she lost sight of him. Well, her rage at least died down immediately. She would surely cry for a while still though. He descended to the library’s main room and sat on his usual chair, one of the few placed around a couple of large, rectangular tables that had been moved there. Neat stacks of paper lined one table, along with a few piles of books and other neatly ordered items. The other table, the one he sat next to, was an utter mess: scraps of paper, opened books and reference guides, quills, ink, an hourglass, a much-used tea set and even a bowl of gems were strewn chaotically around the surface. The whole mess of that table was not only a stark contrast to the neatness of the other table, but to that of the room as a whole. Spike had kept a meticulous cleaning schedule each and every day since... then, even though it was mostly unnecessary now that Twilight herself couldn’t subject the shelves to the storms of her neuroses anymore. He still spent an hour daily making sure everything was in perfect order. He did this so that if, no, when she recovered, she would find her library as pristine as she always liked. He did this to make her proud.

For now, however, he simply took his seat, resting his elbows on the table to clutch his head. A few drops of water splashed down on the varnished wood. He let out a long, pained, stuttering sigh. Those times taking care of Twilight were just so... draining. He just couldn’t seem to get used to seeing her like that, despite the... weeks or months he’d spent doing it. He couldn’t even remember anymore without opening his “diary”. He moved his fingers away from his eyes to look at the large volume sitting in the middle of a wide area devoid of the trash littering the rest of the table.

A “compendium” would more accurately describe the thick, burgundy tome he was faced with. He had written everything in that book, how the world had turned to hell, how the horrors he’d seen had scarred him. The names of those who had died, fled or gone... missing, the day-to-day news and rumors he could hear and a log of recent history were all confined in its pages. But the most important thing, the one true reason he had for filling these pages, the thing he had set out to write this book for before being endlessly sidetracked by all that sanity-preserving trivia, was the research log.

With Twilight Sparkle basically gone, and every other would-be specialist dead or missing, Spike had quickly realised that he was now the one most qualified to find a way to... fix this, somehow. He was smart, he had the library, and he had learned a lot over the years spent with Twilight. If it could be done, he was the closest to finding a solution. He reached forward and grabbed the tome, sliding it closer before opening it. The pages stayed stuck a little, letting only the cover leave them. Spike found himself reading the first page once again.

What happened.

A journal of the event, The Signal, and recent history.

By Spike the dragon

It all happened so fast, a week at most. The Event, as we came to call it. It took us all by surprise. One cool April day, every unicorn in Ponyville and, probably, Equestria, woke up complaining about hearing a persistent, faint buzz. We came to call that buzz “The Signal”. In about a day, the news spread that it was a unicorn-specific problem. The other ponies returned to their lives. The unicorns sought help, crowding the hospital. Princess Celestia’s personal student, Twilight Sparkle, began investigating the phenomenon. After almost two days of fruitless research, most unicorns also returned home to their families, thinking The Signal would simply eventually go away. They were wrong. Fatally wrong.

Spike shivered, as he knew exactly what was to come next. He had written it, after all. He had read it over and over and re-written it again a few times. He knew what words were coming and in what order. A part of him screamed to stop reading, that he did not need a reminder for the words that were to follow. The nightmares were enough. But once again, he kept reading. Once again, he found himself etching the beginning of this nightmare deeper into his soul.

Every town must have had a “patient zero”. The first to fall victim to the effects of The Signal. The very first in Equestria will almost certainly remain a mystery forever, but here in Ponyville, her name was Lyra. Lyra Heartstrings. After most ponies had returned to their normal lives, just as the hospital was returning to its normal traffic and Twilight’s investigation was steadily losing its volunteers, Lyra became our patient zero. The eyewitness reports state that she and her friend Bon-Bon were peacefully walking in the park when, suddenly and without provocation, Lyra stabbed her horn through her friend’s neck. The wound was apparently instantly fatal. Lyra was the first to scream. Her screams drew a crowd of onlookers, whom she immediately proceeded to attack with inconceivable savagery. Throughout it all, she kept screaming “what’s happening to me?” and various other expressions of distress. She ended up killing six innocents and wounding seventeen more before accidentally losing her own life in the struggle.

Spike remembered how he had stumbled upon the scene, drawn in by the screams before anypony could notice him and turn him away. How his nostrils had been assaulted by the smell of blood, how he had noticed the golden crystals sticking everywhere and how a part of him had thought they looked pretty while they melted away. Pushing through the frightened crowd, he had emerged almost face-to-face with Lyra. A misstep, a fumble, a lack of attention or, possibly, a deliberate act had broken her neck. It didn’t matter how; she was dead, her face almost entirely covered in blood except for the twin streaks under her eyes where her tears had washed it off. The first face, one of many, to still haunt the dreams of his too-short nights. And then he had seen the other bodies, scattered around in the bloodstained grass. Some were still moving, groaning and crying from the pain, others lay still as their names were screamed.

A wave of panic swept over the town, the population torn between swamping town hall, the hospital or Twilight with their desperate demands for answers. Nopony had a clue. The whole town was plunged in a sort of daze, awkwardly trying to allocate resources to the many tasks required to return to normalcy. There were wounded to treat, funerals to organize, an investigation to conduct and a frenzied population to keep in check. It was chaos.

Twilight, stumped, had sent a letter to the princess. She was convinced, and utterly terrified of being right, that the incident might have something to do with The Signal. She had asked if the princess knew anything that could help her, either from trusty ancient texts or from recent developments elsewhere.

If the unknown, untraceable and omnipresent Signal wasn’t enough, If the fact that half a dozen ponies had just died that very day hadn’t completely convinced Twilight that something was really, really wrong, The princess’ answer cemented that truth in everypony’s mind. It consisted of no more than seven simple words, hastily scrawled on a torn, ragged piece of parchment.

STAY in ponyville

DON’T come to canterlot

No punctuation, no capitalization, the note seemed to have been written with great force borne from either fear or anger. Even more unusual, it hadn’t been written with the usual ink and quill, but rather with what seemed like a crude piece of charcoal. And, to add to the general horror, small, dark brown splotches peppered most of the surface of the note. When they had looked toward Canterlot, they swore they could see smoke coming from its white towers.

There were those who believed that it was over, somehow. They refused to accept that such madness could ever repeat itself, that nopony would ever be crazy enough to go on another massacre like it. But then other unicorns started succumbing to the affliction, one by one. They shouldn’t have gathered in the hospital. The rubble that was once the Ponyville hospital...

The page ended there, but the memories kept flowing in Spike’s head, reminding him of the day Ponyville had turned into a war zone. He didn’t need to turn the page. Trying to force his mind away from the memories, he looked up to the top of the book to sift through the many bookmarks he had left in there. He chose the furthest one and opened his large journal to the latest entry. It was dated from three days ago, simply stating:

Possibly electromagnetic in nature, scheduled and organized a test at earliest convenience.

He took his quill, dipped it in ink and began writing a new entry. After writing the current date, he added, on the same line; “84 days since the event”. He remembered now. Nearly three months of this. Three months that felt like an eternity separated him from the days of laughter he used to enjoy. Had he even smiled once in those three months? He doubted it. There was nothing left to smile about. Laughter was dead.

He shook his head and resumed writing what he had come down here to write in the first place.

Subject Twilight Sparkle (intact) has yet to show signs of building a tolerance to magikill. With enough resources, it could become a reliable method of facilitating the handling of afflicted unicorns, possibly becoming a replacement for current procedures. Need to inquire as to the possibility of mass-production. Meanwhile, all afflicted subjects (intact or not) have yet to show any sign of behavioral recovery.

It was so hard to write. Not because of the subject matter, well, not entirely. It was just so hard to find the right words, the right intonation, the “professional” tone. Spike wanted this account to be a serious work, not the scribbles of an infant. He wanted it to look like somepony as brilliant as Twilight herself had written it. He wanted to make her proud. But it was still so hard. He’d spent almost forty minutes on this simple paragraph alone. It wasn’t even the first time he had transcribed the whole book anew, ashamed of his mistakes, his childish tone, the entire pages he had crossed out or ripped away entirely. He had learned so much in the recent months, obsessively reading every book about science or magic he could find in his search for new avenues of research, and then spending hours formulating hypotheses, testing what he could before reporting his findings in the research log. He’d often spend hours just writing, flipping through his dictionary to find the right words, mulling entire paragraphs in his head for hours before daring to commit them to paper.

He often felt this was slowly driving him insane.

But if it could help her, he didn’t care.

He closed the book, pushed it back exactly where it had been resting, and buried his face in his hands once again. He took a few deep breaths, listening to the crushing silence that had fallen on Ponyville since the event. After a few minutes, quiet hoofsteps could be heard approaching from outside. He was already shuffling his way to the door by the time the pony on the other side began knocking. He knew well in advance who it was. There weren’t many left who ever wanted to come near the library.

He let Rarity step in with a simple “hi”, holding the door wide while she struggled with the unusual and large cargo on her back. After closing the door, he helped her undo the straps that were holding the three heavy rolls of metal above her saddlebags, letting them fall loudly to the floor.

“Oh thank you darling, they were really starting to get awfully heavy.”

She rolled her shoulders to get rid of the discomfort. Spike pushed the rolls into a corner of the room before grimly returning to his seat.

“So... How is she?”

“Like usual.” Spike winced as his mind immediately associated the list of symptoms he had written somewhere in the compendium with the words he had spoken about Twilight. A part of his mind had come to see her as merely a case study, an anonymous typical patient. He hated this.

1: Unnatural aggression directed at any and all life forms, with the sole exception being other afflicted unicorns exclusively.

She tried to kill everything.

2: Overall behavior reminiscent of a wounded or cornered predator, including growls and other animalistic vocalizations.

She couldn’t even make complete sentences most of the time.

3: Complete loss of the instinct of self-preservation in the presence of “prey”. The afflicted would enter a burning house to attack the occupants.

She hurt herself, continually, on those bars.

4: The spontaneous discovery of a new spell, consisting of an explosive volley of shards of solidified magic, emanating from the tip of their horn. This is their main method of attack and is used almost exclusively at the expense of any other forms of magic. Using any other spell becomes an extremely rare occurrence.

She had only used another spell once since becoming afflicted.

5: An increased sexual drive, especially in the presence of other afflicted unicorns.

He tried not to think about this one. Why would it even do that?

6: Wanderlust. Unrestrained afflicted unicorns are prone to cover vast distances aimlessly, increasing their chances of stumbling upon “prey”.

She wanted to get out. Every day she would ask him. Every day he just had to crush her hopes, reminding her that she was a danger to everyone. She sometimes tried to convince him that she could control herself, that she just wanted to walk in the sun for a while. But he just couldn’t risk it. He had to say no. Maybe he could commission a pen for her, an enclosure where she could walk somewhat freely, but even that was a risk.

He shook his head as Rarity began to speak again:

“Well in any case, I finally got it done. You wouldn’t believe how much more expensive copper has become those past few months.” She pointed her head at the rolls. “Now it may not really be my area of expertise, but I still managed to weave the strands in what I hope will be adequate for whatever you need this for. In fact, I’m even thinking that with just a little more refinement, this mesh could be simply gorgeous; imagine all the shimmering, supple designs I could make with this material! It-”

“Rarity that’s enough!” Spike snapped at her suddenly while in the act of inspecting the rolls of fine copper mesh. She stood back, startled by his outburst. She could have been mad about it, but one look at the dragon’s weary, tired eyes made her reconsider. He was under so much pressure. It was only normal to act that way. She took a deep breath and let it slide.

“Oh I almost forgot.” She said, awkwardly fumbling with the strap of her saddlebag, finally succeeding in taking out a small bottle of pills with her mouth. She placed it on the table before continuing: “I met Fluttershy on my way here. She said she’d be too busy to visit this morning so she gave me the sedatives for Twilight. She said that crushing two or three in her food should be enough to knock her out for a few hours. She’ll be here this afternoon for the weekly check-up, though.”

“Yeah, great.” He grumbled, hopping back on his seat. He just stared ahead, vaguely aware that he probably should have been doing something at that moment. Probably one of those useless, meaningless formalities that were expected when entertaining company. But why should he? Why pretend that everything was still normal, why even bother? Being polite was just one of those stupid fragments of the past he’d given up lately. There were things far more important in life now.

Rarity stepped closer to the dragon, taking note of just how tired he looked.

“Maybe you should take some too sometimes. You look so dreadfully exhausted, dear.”

“No.”

“But darling, just look at yours-”

“I can’t afford to sleep!” He spun around to face her. “She needs me! There are so many things I have to do, so many things I have to think about! I just can’t let myself waste my time with sleep!”

“Oh my poor dear” She rose on her hind legs to wrap him in a hug. “You’ve grown so much lately. Too much. It just breaks my heart to see you like this, my little Spikey-wikey.”

He went limp for a moment, savoring the embrace. Just a few months ago, he would have died for this. Just a few months ago he was just a child. A hug from Rarity, his dearest hope , his dream, his goal. He would’ve done anything for her, anything to make her do just what she was doing right now. He relaxed, feeling her warmth, her soft coat, her arms around him. But he couldn’t enjoy it as much as he would have been able to before all hell broke loose in Equestria. His goal had changed since then. His dreams now only revolved around Twilight’s recovery. There was only room for one hope in his heart. This embrace, this hug just wasn’t important anymore. There were better things to think about than a stupid childhood crush. He had realised that a while ago. Rarity paused for a while, breathing deeply, before speaking again:

“You shouldn’t do this to yourself, Spike.”

He tensed up slightly, opening his mouth to speak, but the mare didn’t let him.

“I mean you’re so young! And you just bury yourself under all these responsibilities instead of taking the time to live your foalho- I mean your childhood. Don’t you think you could take just a little break, a short... vacation of sorts?”

He pushed her away, anger flashing in his eyes.

“And what would I do? Where would I go? Half of this town burned to the ground and it’s been weeks since we heard any news from anywhere else! You want me to just go outside and walk around? Walk to where? There’s nothing in this town left to see that I haven’t seen bathed in blood! Do you know what I see when I walk in the streets? I see all the places where somepony died! I remember them all and where they were just lying and bleeding! I’m not wasting my childhood here; it’s already been robbed from me! What I do needs to be done, and it needs to be done now!”

She had slowly backed away from his rage but hadn’t changed her mind:

“But you need to rest too! I can see how this is all just eating you up from inside! You need to sleep, you need to rest, you need to clear your mind of all of this! You need a break, Spike! This cannot be good for you!”

“I don’t care! She needs me! I’m doing this for her! She needs help way more than I do, and I’m not going to abandon my family like you did yours! When’s the last time you visited her?”

“Spike...” She said, faintly shaking her head, an expression of stupor overcoming her features. She clearly didn’t like where this conversation was going, silently begging him to stop there before he said the kind of words she dreaded to hear. She tried to quell the storm before it washed over her, tried to close the subject. “Please don’t bring her into this, you know she’s gone feral. She doesn’t even recognise her own name anymore!”

“So?”

“I think we both know she won’t be... coming back.”

He pointed his finger at her, his anger showing as involuntary tremors in his digit.

“You don’t know that! You can’t know! That’s exactly the problem here: we have no idea what we’re up against! THAT’S why I’m doing this! I work my tail to the bone every single damn day just so we can understand how this Discord-sucking Signal works, BECAUSE THAT’S THE ONLY WAY WE WILL EVER STOP IT! What are you going to tell her when I fix this and she asks why you weren’t there?”

She backed away from the small dragon, tears welling up in her eyes. He had dropped to the ground, advancing on her in his fury.

“I... it’s just that... it just feels so... useless. It doesn’t help anyone and it’s so... so painful to see her like this, you-”

“She’s still your Celestia-damned sister! I’m still here for Twilight, because I haven’t given up! If there’s one chance, just one in a million that she can come back to us, you should be there for her! Who cares that she’s given up on herself? You have no right to do the same! How dare you, you selfish jerk?!”

His voice had risen to a scream by then, cutting off any attempt to interrupt him. Rarity looked around the room, speechless and with tears flowing freely from her eyes, avoiding Spike’s accusing glare. “I... I...”

“Get out of here. You disgust me.” He was shaking, breathing heavily and shedding tears of his own.

His tone left no room for arguments; this conversation was over. It would have been foolish to even try. Rarity simply ran out of the library without so much as a glance towards the dragon until he could no longer see her.

He fell to his knees, crying and punching the floor. “Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!” he yelled, punctuating his curses with his fists. “I’m just a kid! I’m just a stupid clueless damned kid! Why do I have to endure this? Why am I stuck doing this? Why am I the one who had to say these things? Why?! Celestia-damn it WHY?”

He limped to the floor, burying his face in his arms as he wept.

“I’m so tired of this crap...”

He lay there, immobile, giving in to his despair. The minutes ticked by and he just let them, completely apathetic. He didn’t move a muscle, simply closing his eyes to shut out the world.





...




“Hi Spike!”

He looked up to see Twilight standing in front of him, towering over his prone form. He jumped to his feet, noticing it was dark outside. How had he missed so much time? But more importantly:

“Twilight? How did you get down here?”

The unicorn simply smiled as wide as possible before answering “Shenanigans. Also I invited some friends over.”

She pointed a hoof. Looking behind, Spike saw Lyra, the mint-green unicorn staring at him with her blood-soaked, tear-streamed face stuck in an expression of horror. Behind her stood several other unicorns, all sharing the same terrified gaze.

“Come on everypony, why the long face? Aren’t you happy to see Spike?”

Prompted by Twilight’s question, Lyra put her hooves to her face, pulling it off and revealing it to be a mask. With a panicked cry, Spike backed away from what was hidden underneath: Lyra’s true face was perfectly clean except for the twin streaks of blood constantly leaking from her empty eye sockets. In their depths shone two beads of glowing red light as she smiled at him. The other unicorns removed their masks in unison, casting their menacing glares in the rapidly darkening room.

Spike turned around to flee, only to nearly collide with Twilight. She had stepped closer to him and removed her own mask, showing how her red globes almost filled their cavities entirely. They were huge, bathing Spike in their ominous glow. Her grin was even wider somehow.

“I have something I want to show you, Spike.”

She turned sideways a little, wiggling her unusually large belly.

“I’m pregnant! Isn’t this wonderful? When I finally give birth to my sweet little filly we’ll have so much fun killing everything together!”

She clapped her hooves as Spike desperately looked for a place to run, somewhere to hide, or, failing that, something to say. How had she escaped? What happened? How and when and where did all these unicorns come from? His eyes scanned all around him, finding only that he was surrounded on all sides. There was Lyra, and Rarity, and Sweetie Belle, and Snips, Snails, Donut Joe, Trixie, even Twilight’s parents and her brother, all looking at him with those empty, scary eyes. Behind them were even more glowing pairs of orbs, and beyond those he could only see darkness.

“Which means...” Twilight continued, “that she’ll become my number one assistant at killing things, and that’s a problem because I can’t have two number one assistants, now can I? I’ll have to get rid of one. Hehehehe heh... Hold him tight, guys! This’ll be fun!”

The unicorns pounced on him, quickly pinning him to a wall while Twilight took a few steps back. He struggled, finding his voice as his fear surpassed his speechlessness.

“No! Twilight, you can’t do this! Don’t you love me? What are you doing? Please, stop! You don’t really want to do this, right? I know you’re not a monster! That’s just The Signal speaking! Stop this! You can fight it! Please! PLEASE DON’T DO IT TWILIGHT!"

He couldn’t break free of the unicorns’ grip, struggling fruitlessly against foes that were much bigger and more numerous than him. He started to cry at his helplessness, and from the fear rapidly growing in him.

“Hold his head” was Twilight’s only answer, spoken through her unmoving grin as she started running towards him. Hooves came from all sides, encircling his head in a deathly iron grip. She was approaching fast, too fast to stop even if she had wanted to. With a smile and a light giggle, she lowered her head, aiming her horn at his throat. With a final scream of terror, Spike felt her head slam into his body, hard enough to send the unicorn’s mane flying in his face. As he smelled the familiar yet so distant scent of her indigo strands, his mouth filled with his own blood, choking and drowning out his last scream.



“AAAAAAAAAHHHHH!”

Spike trashed wildly on the floor, writhing around in his fight against imaginary foes. As his senses came back to him, he looked around, panicked, only to see that he was truly and safely alone. He curled into a tight ball, hugging his tail and sobbing in fear. The sun still shone brightly outside, and the usual silence was still present as ever. He hadn’t slept for very long.

Rocking back and forth on the floor, he slowly regained control of himself.

Those nightmares. Those damn nightmares. They were another major part of the reasons why he slept so little nowadays. Every night brought horrors he just couldn’t bear to see. Every time he closed his eyes meant another trip to the hell of his subconscious. It was enough to drive even the once-lazy dragon to insomnia. It was not out of a sense of duty alone that he spent twenty hours awake each day.

But it was still all about Twilight. He had wondered just why he was doing this, why he had to suffer the misery of taking care of the unicorn even as her own friends told him he should stop. His nightmare had reminded him.

He did this because he had chosen to do this. He endured the pain now so that one day she might be cured, and he could finally hug her once more. He did this in the hopes that he might one day dream of her as the kindly bookish unicorn he’d grown up with, not as the murderous psychopath she always was in his nightmares.

No, this wasn’t a stroke of bad luck or a twist of fate. This wasn’t something that just happened to him. When it had begun, and in the following months, he could have run away. He could have abandoned everything and everyone. He still could. It wasn’t like the unicorns were as dangerous to him as to anypony else. Run to the mountains, find other dragons and live the rest of his life among his kind like a coward.

No. He would stay here and do this.

Spike’s expression set in his newfound determination. Once again, he did this for her. She needed his help, and nothing would stop him from doing just that. She could still be saved. He couldn’t run from that fact, that hope.

He swiftly got back up on his feet and checked the clock. It was almost noon. He picked up the bottle of pills Rarity had brought over and walked to the kitchen. After taking a short moment to decide, he prepared a simple daisy sandwich. He opened the bottle and took out three pills, one of which he cut in two to put half back in the bottle. Rarity had said two or three would suffice, so he compromised with two and a half instead of choosing either option. He crushed the pills between his claws and mixed them in the mayonnaise. He also poured out a glass of water and placed the meal on a tray similar to the one he’d used in the morning.

Walking back to the main room, he set the tray down on one of the tables and went to the bookshelves. He picked three books he thought she might want to read and tucked them under his arm before picking the tray back up.

He paused when he reached the stairs. Three books. The average of what Twilight could read in an entire week now. With the medication, the lack of sleep, the guilt and the mindset imposed to her by The Signal, she just wasn’t even anywhere close to her usual reading speed. If she had been, she could have handled the research. Left alone, locked up in her lab, making everything right again like she’d always done. He sighed. He had tried once to let her help. Her lack of magic had forced her to attempt mouth-writing for her notes, and her sloppy failures at that had only worsened her already deteriorated mental state to the point of near-uselessness. Spike had made more progress in those few months than he would have expected her to make in a year.

Spike grunted in irritation. What use was there in dwelling on the what-ifs and could-bes ? Twilight could not find a solution to this. She was part of the problem. A victim of the problem.

He mentally braced himself and climbed the stairs, announcing his arrival gently, but with enough force that he could be sure to have been heard.

“Twilight, I’m coming up!”

“No… wait!”

He reached the top of the stairs and saw Twilight sitting on her bed, hunched over and sweating lightly. From the smell, he could easily guess what she’d been up to. As she was wiping her hoof on the sheets, she looked his way and immediately lunged at him, crossing the distance between her bed and the bars in a single leap. She slammed into the bars and fell to the ground in a heap, letting out a small grunt of pain before scrambling back upright to resume her useless attempts to reach him.

“Spike! I told you to warn me when you’re abk-k-k-k-KILL KILL KILL YOU SUFFER when you’re about to come upstairs!”

“Sorry Twilight. I brought you your lunch.”

He put the tray and the books down on the floor before picking up the pole again. On the same table where the magikill rested was a small iron hook, which he grabbed and screwed in on one end of the pole. Using the hook, he reached for the various objects strewn around Twilight’s cell.

She watched from the corner of her eye as the empty tray from her breakfast was swiftly pulled away from her. Her mad growls filled the air, but she remained otherwise silent. Then Spike started working on the small pile of books she had read over the week, carefully sliding them across the room until he could pick them up safely. Lastly, he inserted the hook in a small metal ring welded on the side of Twilight’s waste bucket to drag it towards him.

Then he unscrewed the hook and pushed the new books near the unicorn’s cage, within hoof’s reach of the captive. The new food followed soon after.

“I put sedatives in the sandwich so you should finish it fast once you start eating it, before it knocks you out. Fluttershy is coming later today to check up on you.”

“Tell her I said hi, please. “ Twilight’s expression fell and her ears drooped between her angry snarls. “We haven’t spokILL KILL HER AND CRACK HER BONES AND KILL YOU spoken in weeks…”

“I’m sure she misses you too, Twilight. She’s just very busy with the clinic.”

The unicorn was pushing on the bars, trying to pry them apart with her bare hooves. She grunted loudly, the sound slowly turning into an enraged, raucous scream.

“Why do I want to KILL YOU KILL KILL YOU AND HURT you so much and wh-why did it feel so good when I KILLED them KILL THEM KILL THEM KILL YOU DEATH TO YOU

She choked on her words as she shed tears, trying to say what she wanted to say through the things she was actually screaming. Her hooves were shaking despite their tight grip on the cold metal.

“Spike, what did that Signal do to me? KILL BREAK YOUR LEGS What happened to me? Why am I like this? Why am I KILLING YOU ALL FOREVER

Her eyes fixated on the little dragon through the distortion her tears brought.

“Why am I a monster?”

“NO!”

She blinked, almost flinching when the dragon shouted at her. Her attempts to grab him grew slightly more frantic as he instinctively took a step forward in his anger.

“You are NOT a monster! You’re sick and you need help, But YOU ARE NOT A MONSTER! I didn’t spend three months caring for a monster! I spent them caring for Twilight Sparkle, my best friend, the closest thing I have to a mother, and the pony I care the most about!”

His voice wavered as tears rolled off his cheeks, his lips and hands trembling as he still pointed a finger at her.

“Don’t you dare give up, Twilight. Don’t you dare… do this to me. You can’t… do… this. Please.”

He turned away, balling his fists as he tried to will his emotions to silence. He picked up the reeking bucket and made for the stairs.

“I’ll go and empty this. Just… just eat please. I’ll be back later.”

He went back downstairs and got to work on his duties. He emptied the bucket and cleaned it a little and then swept some dust out of the library. He did this almost mechanically, years of habit taking over and leaving his mind to wander. What she’d said had terrified him. Not the words themselves, but the things they meant for him and for her. Sure, with the horrifying things she had done to this town, and the fact that she was still capable of starting again if Spike made even a tiny mistake in how he handled her, many survivors considered her a monster. He could understand that.

But hearing her say it like that, as if she had given up or was on the verge of doing so, as if she had accepted her fate as the most terrifying mass-murderer Ponyville had ever known, had made him more terrified than he had ever been. A deep, almost existential dread, a terror like he had never known. If she gave up, if she stopped hoping, and let her last shards of sanity slip away like so many others had done, what would he do? What would he do if the only reason he was still here just gave up and let herself go? He hadn’t stayed here for an empty violent husk, he had stayed here for the unicorn that was trapped inside. She couldn’t just let herself go mad and leave him here alone, with no one to care for. She had no right.

She was his only damned reason to even live! Without her, all this work, all this pain would have been for nothing! There was no point in this existence if not to search for a way to cure her and bring her back to normal. There was nothing else left in this world worth doing anything for.

He realised he’d been pacing uselessly around the room for a good ten minutes without doing anything else. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, and tried to take his mind off of these feelings by thinking about what else he had to do at the moment. He decided to give Twilight a few more minutes to make sure she was fully asleep, and instead went to the kitchen to get some food himself. He wasn’t really hungry, as his insomnia had basically dulled him to the usual signals of his body, but he knew he had to keep himself alive.

He ate his dull meal as fast as possible, like the chore it was. He didn’t even enjoy food, lately. He didn’t enjoy anything at all lately. What was the point in having fun anyway? He’d only feel guilty about not being able to share it with Twilight.
No. Twilight first, fun later.

He swallowed his last mouthful and went back to the main room. He picked up the heavy copper rolls and dragged them near the stairs to her room. After rummaging through a closet, he added a few tools to the awaiting pile. He’d need those for his experiment. He paused to listen, trying to see if he could hear any sound coming from the room above. Nothing.
He quietly climbed the stairs to find the unicorn lying flat on her belly, next to the tray she had successfully emptied.

“Twilight?”

No answer. He picked up the pole again and, approaching carefully, reached out to poke her gently in the ribs. The small push made her limp body roll slightly to the side. Watching intently, he soon noticed the slight, regular inflation of her chest. She was sleeping, not dead.

He hesitated for a moment before dropping the pole and reaching for a key hanging behind the lead shield for the magikill bottle. A door was, by its very nature, a weak point in any wall, so they’d installed the one to Twilight’s cell on the side, so as to prevent her from bashing it open whenever a visitor showed up at the top of the stairs. He quickly opened it, his heart racing faster and faster as he approached the lavender mare. This was dangerous. What if she woke up? What if she was faking it somehow? What if his touch roused her from her sleep? No, she wouldn’t. She couldn’t possibly wake up, or display such cunning and guile. She was incapable of anything but the most mindless aggression. If she had been awake, she would also have been charging at him relentlessly.

Spike gently scooped up her head with both arms, raising it to his shoulders, letting it rest there behind his ear. He wrapped his arms around her neck, stroking her mane as he pressed the unconscious unicorn into a hug. The dragon’s tears stained her coat as he rocked back and forth, silently crying in the warmth of the embrace only he could feel.

“I miss you Twilight” he whispered in her mane. “I miss you so much.”

After another minute or so, he finally lowered her back to the floor. He stepped out of the cage, locked it, and headed for the stairs, pausing to pick up the books he’d forgotten to bring back downstairs in his earlier anger. After putting them back in their proper place on the shelves, he began moving the pile of materials upstairs. The rolls alone took a few minutes, as he had to painstakingly drag them one by one, one step at a time, since they weighed more than him. The ladder was a little easier, and the hammer, nails and wire cutters were no problem at all.

He immediately set to work wrapping Twilight’s cell with the copper mesh, starting with the ceiling, the far wall and the floor, since those were the three sides where it had to be installed inside. He couldn’t take any risks, and spending any amount of time in the cell with Twilight -even unconscious as she was- was a major risk. Even that hug had been borderline stupid.

It was back-breaking work, especially on the ceiling, and it took him almost half an hour for each side. The floor nearly took the most time, as he had to stop in the middle to slowly and carefully roll Twilight over to the side he’d already done before continuing. After a solid hour of cutting and hammering, he was finally able to exit the cage and lock it tightly, restoring the safe containment of the most dangerous unicorn in Ponyville.

He sat outside the cage, catching his breath while watching the mare sleep.

How harmless she looked.

Just like those times where he could sleep at the foot of her bed, feeling so secure. Like those long-gone nights when he could sleep at all.

Working had taken his mind away from those thoughts and, noticing them coming back, he stood up to get back to it. Just as he was picking up the hammer, he heard a knock at the door. A loud, harsh knock. As it was unlikely to be Fluttershy, he wondered who it could be while making his way downstairs. He left the hammer on a table and opened the door to reveal Applejack. The orange mare stepped in, quickly followed by Fluttershy.

“Applejack? What are you doing here?”

The earth pony walked to the middle of the room before turning around. Her trademark hat was absent and instead she wore a simple headband. A crossbow was strapped to her back and she adjusted it with a roll of her shoulders while answering.

“Oh ah’m fine, thanks fer askin',” she replied, obvious sarcasm in her voice. “And since yer wonderin’, Ah’m here ‘cause Fluttershy had to go in the everfree and ah’m not about to let’er go in there alone. Ah just decided to tag along a little longer.”

The pegasus, who was still near the door, took one step forward with a nod.

“Oh, yes. I asked her to come, actually. The forest is very scary, even more than before, now that Zecora put all those, um, traps for the unicorns.” She shivered lightly, rattling her saddlebags.” And, well, I wanted to make sure you had enough magikill, so I had to, um, visit her."

She rummaged through her bags to take out a small satchel, which she delicately put on the nearest table.

“Ah’m tellin’ ya, that zebra got some crazy ideas from that place she came from. Some of them traps are downright disturbin’.”

Spike took the satchel, quietly thanking Fluttershy while Applejack spoke.

“Maybe she went insane too, what with that whole stayin’-in-the-forest thing of hers. She’d be much safer here. On the other hoof, after seeing those contraptions she made, ah’m not sure I’d be comfortable with her in town.”

Applejack rubbed the remains of her left ear. Even after two whole months, her scars were still extremely visible: the entire left side of her face was covered in dozens of hairless streaks of pink skin. Only three quarters of her ear were still there, and what did remain was ravaged by three large holes. It was as if a red-hot rake had been scraped across her skull.

An awkward silence set in. Applejack’s words left little room for small talk or meaningful reply. After a moment, Fluttershy spoke up, with barely more than a whisper.

“So, um, how… how is she doing?”

She was looking at the stairs to the upper floor.

“I mixed two and a half of those pills with her food,” Spike said, “and she ate it about an hour ago. She’s out cold.”

“Oh, uh… good.”

The shy pegasus gave no indication of even beginning to move forward.

“Aren’t you coming?” The dragon was already at the base of the staircase, his foot on the first step.

“Oh, yes. Sure. Right away.”

She was still stuck in place, not moving a muscle, sinking further behind her mane with each second she felt her friends waiting for her. She began to tremble lightly. After exchanging a brief look of concern with Spike, Applejack gently came up to her and put a comforting hoof to her shoulder.

“Now don’t worry, sugarcube. Ah’m right here with ya, Ah’ll protect ya.” She stroked her friend’s mane gently, soothing the frightened mare.

“Besides,” Spike chimed in, “I gave her her dose of magikill this morning, and I never forget to lock the door, AND she’s asleep. There’s nothing to worry about, Fluttershy. She’s harmless right now.”

“Oh, okay.”

With just a little prod from Applejack, Fluttershy slowly forced herself to take a few steps. Once she had started, her walk became easier. With the comforting presence of her friend at her side and the dragon acting as a forward scout, she finally managed to walk up the stairs.

Spike had gone ahead to make sure everything was still in order in the former librarian’s room. The two mares found him standing near the iron bars, a reassuring smile on his lips despite being within hoof’s reach of the unicorn.

“See? She’s totally harmless.”

And, indeed, the lavender unicorn was still sound asleep, breathing softly without any other movement. She hadn’t moved an inch from where Spike had left her. She was even in the same position he had left her in.

“Oh. If you say so.” The scared pegasus took slow, hesitant steps forward. Her sense of duty eventually overcame her fear as Spike unlocked the door to allow her to step inside the cage, with Twilight. It wasn’t like it was the first time she had to do this, and nothing bad had ever happened the last times. Besides, Applejack was still there, ready to spring into action at the slightest provocation.

The scarred farmer was observing the scene with an air of severe attentiveness, switching to an expression she hoped conveyed tender reassurance whenever Fluttershy fearfully glanced her way. She was standing stock-still, tensed at the sight of her friend entering the proverbial lion’s den. She was ready for anything, but still tried to seem relaxed so as not to upset the pegasus any further.

Spike had entered the cell too, both for moral support and to stealthily nudge the mare forward a little faster. He also double-checked his earlier work to make sure it was done properly.

Finally, Fluttershy reached the drugged unicorn and hesitantly, fearfully poked her friend with her hoof. She stepped back, trembling under her mane with her eyes closed. After noticing that she wasn’t dead and that, actually, Twilight hadn’t even reacted to her touch, she found the courage to be convinced that she was safe. She got back up to her hooves and approached the unicorn with a bit more confidence.

Weeks of habit then set in. She dropped her saddlebags and took out a doctor’s bag from them. She picked out a few medical tools and began examining her friend. As she did so, she asked Spike questions about how he took care of the unicorn. Did he feed her enough protein? Fiber? Anything unusual lately? How about hygiene? What kind of exercise did she get?

Spike answered, slightly amazed at how fast Fluttershy had adjusted to being the only doctor in town. When the entire hospital staff - except the ones who had no doubt been murdered by their unicorn “patients”- died in the collapse of the building, the quiet yellow mare found herself the only pony left in the village with any sort of medical background. Despite only ever working with animals, she suddenly had to aid dozens upon dozens of wounded ponies. She had borrowed every book about pony physiology and medicine to be found in the library and had treated the injured as best she could. The first month had been absolutely terrible. With so many ponies to take care of and so much medical supplies lost in the hospital, and only one barely-trained doctor, a good third of all her patients had wound up dead. She herself almost died of exhaustion. She had worked without rest until her friends had to tie her down to sleep.

Any mention of that month still made her a bit unstable. But with the efforts to scavenge the ruins of the hospital, the dwindling stream of new injuries and the quick installation of a makeshift yet effective medical clinic, things had eventually settled down enough for her to actually sleep at night.

Not nearly enough, though, as she fought to suppress a yawn from time to time.

“Okay, I’m done.” Spike quickly locked the cage door after Fluttershy stepped out, stuffing her tools back in her saddlebags.

“So, how is she?” The small dragon was looking around the room, absent-mindedly wondering where he’d left his hammer.

“Well, she has the usual bruises from slamming on the bars all the time, and she chipped a tooth a little. Other than that, she’s perfectly healthy. Oh, but maybe a little more exercise would be good for her. I mean, if you can think of a way…”

“Well I was thinking about maybe having a pen or something built outside so she could have a place to run at least, but I don’t know, it seems risky.”

Applejack had been silent all this time, staring at nothing ever since Fluttershy had stepped out of danger. When she noticed the timid silence that usually followed Fluttershy’s awkward conversations, she snapped back to attention.

“So are we done here? Fluttershy prob’ly needs to go back to the clinic or somethin’.”

“Oh, no, not at all,” the shy pony replied, “it’s actually a very slow day compared to what I usually go through. Just a bit of a rush this morning, that’s all. That’s why I had time to go see Zecora today.”

“Yeah,” the dragon joined in, “don’t you want to talk to her? You could help me with this experiment while we wait for her to wake up.”

The orange mare glanced at the limp unicorn before huffing out:

“ Tsh, fine. What do ah need to do?”

Both ponies and the dragon set to work. The two mares unfurled the rolls of copper mesh while Spike went downstairs to fetch his hammer. The ponies would hold the metal in place, allowing the dragon to affix it to the walls much more easily.

The afternoon sun was slowly making the room uncomfortably hot, aided by the physical labor performed inside. Even the open window didn’t make much of a difference, as it only brought more hot summer air. By the time they were done, nearly an hour later, all three workers had begun to work up a sweat. As Twilight slowly began to stir, Spike re-checked to confirm that the unicorn’s cell was fully wrapped in copper mesh, before completing the work by running grounding wires downstairs and outside. He stopped by the kitchen to take three glasses of water on his way back up.

Both mares were thankful, and they drank the water while watching their unicorn friend slowly coming back to her senses.

She lifted her head, swaying wildly and smacking her lips in a daze. Her eyes struggled to open, barely reaching the halfway point at their best. She groaned and let a long, tired “uuugh” escape her throat. She looked blearily around the room, grunting when she saw her friends. She immediately began crawling towards them with great effort. Upon reaching the bars, she weakly slipped a hoof between them before taking a moment to recover from the exertion. Laying on her side, she limply reached for them with weak hooves, occasionally scratching the metal mesh. They had taken care to install it far away enough from the cage that she wouldn’t puncture it. Her hooves sporadically made high-pitched grating sounds on the copper, like quickly opening a zipper.

Her usual snarls were no more than mere grunts, but were enough to send the yellow pegasus hiding behind Applejack.

“So, Twilight, how are you feeling?” asked Spike.

“Uuuuunnnngh… tired…”

“Applejack and Fluttershy helped me with this experiment while you slept” He waved his hand at the copper cage they’d just installed.

“Oh, nice… Kill… hi girls.”

Spike turned to the two mares, awaiting their response. Neither seemed too eager to speak; Fluttershy hid behind Applejack, who in turn looked lost in thought, staring vaguely at a spot somewhere over Twilight’s body. A faint frown showed on her face. She blinked, grunted and shook her head a little.

“Hey.”

From behind her came the quiet squeak of Fluttershy’s answer, seemingly prompted by Applejack’s own reluctant greeting.

Uh… hello Twilight…

She hadn’t looked up or even peeked from behind the orange farmer, choosing instead to simply cower in a quivering ball, shaking more vigorously after the unicorn had said “kill”.

A dull silence fell on the group, each waiting, hoping one of the others would say something. Fluttershy was too terrified to speak, shrinking even further behind Applejack when Twilight finally found the strength to sit upright again. The farmpony still looked away from the unicorn, her frown deepening as she seemed to fight a sudden twitch, an involuntary contraction around her eyes. Twilight’s fruitless attempts at grabbing grew increasingly energetic while her mind tried to find something both mundane and meaningful to say to her friends. Spike glanced at each in turn, hoping for any one of the ponies to break the silence at last. This… didn’t exactly meet any criteria one would base a description of “friendly reunion” on.

“So..” Twilight started, “Spike, what is this DEATH KILL KILL DISMEMBERexperiment about?”

She tried to look around her cell to inspect the new layer of her cage, but her head kept whipping back to stare and snarl at her friends.

“Well I figured that The Signal might be electromagnetic, so I wanted to see if it could be blocked by this faraday cage or if it was magical or something. Do… do you still hear it?”

Twilight closed her eyes, concentrating for a moment. The Signal had been so constant, so omnipresent in her life for the past few months that she had gotten used to it. She could barely notice it most of the time, and had just as much trouble noticing its absence. She stayed focused for a while, to make sure she wasn’t jumping to hasty conclusion, but her expression betrayed her joy. Her smile grew wider, even through her angry snarls and gritting of teeth. She eventually opened her eyes.

“No, I don’t! I can’t hear KILL KILL BLOOD DEATH DIE it anymore! This is wonderful, Spike! HUG ME SO I CAN KILL YOU YOU LITTLE PIECE OF SHIT

Twilight had regained enough of her strength to finally stand back up, and her murderous struggle was almost smothered completely by the awkward and clumsy celebratory dance she attempted. Spike, prompted by his own joy and Twilight’s demand, actually took a step forward towards the unicorn before catching himself and turning around to hug Applejack instead. Fluttershy dared a peek from her corner behind the farmer, but the orange pony seemed more confused than anything. Her frown deepened slightly, and she cleared her throat.

“Hate to interrupt y’all, but how is this helpin’? She’s still a few apples short of a full bushel, If y’know what ah mean. Wasn’t this s’posed to block The Signal and make ’er sane again?”

The dragon let go of her, dropping back to the floor with a frown.

“No, I never said it would cure her. But it could stop other unicorns from becoming afflicted in the first place.”

“Don’t we already have a way t’do that?

Spike was about to answer, but Twilight cut him off with her own reply.

“No. Don’t you DIE SLOWLY AND PISS BLOOD get it? This is even better! We could RRHHHAHHh raise new generations of unicorns with both their sanity and their magic, insteeeARH KILL YOU AND THEM AND KILL IN POOLS OF BLOOD AND SHATTERED BONES instead of de-horning them! Instead of CRIPPLING THEM like Rarity and the others…”

Spike felt his spirits drop along with Twilight’s. It was disgusting to think that this once unbelievably heinous crime had become a necessary survival measure. To see all these innocents denied such a vital part of themselves, a tool most of them had used all their lives. Who had even figured out this could work? Who had found out that hornless unicorns stopped hearing The Signal? Who in their right mind had tried it first? Had it been an accident or a deliberate act? Had somepony simply lashed out, in fear or anger, robbing a poor innocent of the very thing that made them themselves, hoping to reduce a unicorn to a broken mess that couldn’t be broken further? If the Signal turned unicorns to monsters, why not just make them stop being unicorns before it happened?

Was it really so simple? Was this really the only way?

The only reason Twilight still had hers was because her friends had agreed that if they were to rob her of magic, they might as well just kill her outright. It was her very life, and they had done everything to help her keep it, even after the affliction took hold of her. This cage and the magikill were the results.

But could Rarity’s sanity have been preserved without turning her horn into the dried, yellowed stump that marred her beauty and robbed her of her skill and her talent?

The depressing silence lingered for a while, every soul in the room reminded of some of the things they had done, willingly or not, in those days of chaos.

Applejack looked at Twilight, winced, and turned away. She frowned, obviously debating something internally, before shaking her head. She closed her eyes, pressing them shut with force, licking her lips to relieve the sudden dryness in her throat, before turning around to face Spike.

“So,” she said with obviously forced nonchalance, “do ya think you’ll need her for more o’them’s experiments?”

“Uh? …err, no? Well at least I don’t think so. I don’t really have anything else planned at the moment. I haven’t thought of anything else yet… but… what are you getting at?”

“Well, ah’ve been thinkin’, Ya’know, that she might be livin’ a pretty miserable life right now, what with bein’ trapped here alone and drugged an’ everythin’, right, sugarcube?”

Twilight cautiously nodded with a growl, still reaching for them with her hooves, occasionally shouting her involuntary threats.

“So”, Applejack continued, “If ya say ya don’t really need her anymore, maybe it’s time we finally gave her some peace, y’know, maybe it’s time to, uh, end her misery.”

“Applejack! You can’t be serious?” The little dragon instinctively took a step forward, planting himself between her and Twilight.

“What if ah am?” She pointed at the unicorn. “jus’ look at “er! Does she look happy to ya?” Her eyes met Twilight’s, and she asked her “Are ya happy, Twilight? Is this life really worth it? Do ya really, really want to stay alive like this, wakin’ up every mornin’ to this?” She swept her hoof over Spike, encompassing the entirety of the lavender unicorn’s prison in a single, desolately short gesture. “Is this really even a life at all?”

Spike shook his head in horror, staring at the orange pony’s mouth as it spewed those inconceivable words. She couldn’t be serious. This was a joke. A sick, cruel joke, but still just that; a joke, right? The honest, courageous mare could simply not be proposing what she said she was proposing. This just couldn’t be happ-

“No, I’m not. I’m not happy. I WANT TO KILL YOU WHERE YOU STAND AND FLAY YOUR SKIN AND BATHE IN YOUR BLOOD AND KILL YOU KILL YOU can’t possibly be happy like this.”

A sob escaped her lips. Spike turned around to see her tears trickling to the floor already. When he turned back to the orange farmer, he saw, for a split second, a fleeting smile creasing her lips. A short smile, buried under a mask of grim determination in the blink of an eye, almost too fast to see.

A triumphant smile.

“Maybe it’s time to let it go, sugarcube. Ah jus’ want to do what’s best for ya.”

“LIAR!”

Applejack jumped back, startled by the dragon’s sudden scream mere inches from her ears. Her surprise shifted to irritation as she took note of just which word had been thrown in her face.

“You callin’ me a liar?”

“I AM! You don’t want what’s best for her! You just want to kill her! You just want revenge!”

Applejack fumed, her face contorting to an angry scowl. Angry at being called a liar, angry at being found out, angry at him for being right.

“SHE MURDERED MAH DAMN SISTER!”

She turned around to pick up her crossbow. When she turned back, Spike held his arms out, trying to shield Twilight from the farmer’s fury.

“GET OUT OF MAH WAY!”

She shoved him away with a backhoofed slap to the face, sending him sprawling under a table as she knelt down on her hind legs. It was an awkward pose, though weeks of practice had made her somewhat used to it. It steadied her stance and freed her front legs to hold and aim the weapon. The bolt was already set, and she pointed it at the unicorn’s face, close enough to scratch the copper mesh.

Through her snarls and with eyes dilated by fear, Twilight could only plead:

“Applejack! You know I’m sorry! I KILL YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS never wanted to do it! It wasn’t me! I didn’t want to I WANTED TO KILL AND I LOVED IT THE SMELL OF BLOOD IS SO SWEET to KILL anypony! I’m sorry! A thousand times I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m-“

“It doesn’t matter! Ya can never apologise enough! This ain’t som’thin’ you can fix with ‘Ah’m sorry’! Ya killed her!” Her eyes watered over, her anger being replaced by a pained sorrow. “She’ll never get her cutie mark like she wanted, she’ll never grow up to live a happy life on the farm, She’ll never get married an’ have foals of her own. She… she’ll never hug me again an’ tell me ah’m the best sister ever.” Her tears flowed down her face, dripping to the floor. “ SHE’S DEAD! She’s dead an’ ya killed her!”

The sharp metal point of the bolt made a high-pitched scratching sound as it wavered across the copper screen. Applejack was swaying, shaking under the weight of the tension, the hurricane of rage and sorrow in her mind.

“Every time ah see yer face ah wonder if it hurt, if she suffered, if she-“

“I don’t think it did. It was quick. I POPPED HER HEAD LIKE A CHERRY PLUCKED IT CLEAN OFF HER NECK BLASTED HER BRAIN ON THE WALLS KILLED HER AND IT-“

The unicorn clamped a hoof over her mouth, briefly, horrified by her own words. She soon resumed trying to squeeze through the bars, a look of panicked horror, of terrified regret etched on her features. Applejack’s breathing became irregular and shallow as the words sunk in. They had never let her see the body. They had never told her what had been done to her sister, just that she was dead. Her imagination took over despite herself, throwing vivid images of her little sister’s cruel, brutal demise in her mind. She let out a long, mindless scream, dropping her weapon to clutch her head. She collapsed in a heap on the floor, breathing heavily for a few seconds.

Then she rose, picking up her crossbow again. She wasn’t crying anymore.

“Ah’ve tried, Twilight. Ah swear ah tried. But this… this ain’t somethin’ ah can forgive” She raised the weapon again, aimed it between Twilight’s eyes.

Spike was slowly coming back to his senses. He sat up, bringing a careful hand to his sore cheek. He saw Applejack, pointing her crossbow at his oldest friend. Fluttershy was nowhere to be seen. Either she had reached new pinnacles of hiding or she had simply fled when the screaming started.

This was it. There was nothing he could do for Twilight. He couldn’t possibly win in a fight with Applejack, and he saw no other way to stop her. He thought he was used to feeling helpless, when each new day was as hopeless as the next, but it had never hit him as hard as that very moment. There was literally nothing he could do to stop this. Twilight would die, and all the work he had done in those past months, the work he had done for her, would be wasted. She would be gone, and he would be left alone and worthless, alone and useless.

As helpless, useless, worthless as he was now.

He tried to plead, but only managed three syllables before breaking down into sobs, then all-out bawling. He was just a child! He was only a stupid, powerless child! This was too much for him! This whole day had been a disaster, just like all the ones before it, and every other one to come! He wasn’t ready, he wasn’t old enough to deal-

“The pon- the monster what did this to mah sister needs to die, Twilight. Ah’m just sorry ya have to go down with it.”

Spike’s heart stopped. He could see Applejack’s hoof slowly tightening around the trigger. He could see she still hesitated. What was she waiting for? Didn’t she want to do this?

She was struggling, reluctant to pull the trigger. Twilight was a monster! But she was her friend! But she killed little Apple Bloom! But it wasn’t her fault! She still did it! She’s just a victim too! Then end her suffering! No, Help her!

Maybe if she just slowly pressed, pulled that trigger gently, until it decided to spring by itself and take her by surprise, maybe she wouldn’t have to feel so guilty. It would be an accident. She wouldn’t really have meant to shoot her friend in the face! It would have just happened!

The air grew heavy. With the sweat of Twilight’s body, struggling against bars that would not yield, exerting itself uselessly against obstacles it couldn’t overcome, wasting energy as it frenzied despite its owner’s wishes. With Spike’s sweat, his cold, panicked secretions pooling in the ridges of his scales as he watched his only true friend, his only family, about to meet the same fate she had dispensed to so many others. With Applejack’s, as her whole body wept, as if it tried to keep in tune with her emotional turmoil and her two eyes simply weren’t enough for the tears she wanted to shed. With the moist summer air, thick and oppressive in the hottest part of the afternoon. With the glass of water that Fluttershy hadn’t finished, spilled as she later fled, its contents slowly seeping in the wooden floor creating a dark, damp carpet.

The air grew heavy with tension, with purpose.

Applejack held her breath, blinked once and then stared, locking eyes with the friend she was about to murder. Her hoof squeezed tighter. Spike could see the little hook beginning to retract, sliding down.

…plejack!

The string quivered. It was tight, immobile enough that the minuscule friction of the hook sent visible tremors along its twin lengths.

Spike! Applejack-I mean Captain Applejack!

Applejack’s ears turned sideways, backwards, scanning instinctively. Hadn’t she heard her name? Spike turned to look at the stairway. A voice came from outside, quickly increasing in volume as its owner apparently galloped towards them.

“Captain Applejack! Alert!”

The library’s front door was slammed open and hooves were heard scrambling around the room. A young, feminine voice called once more, and was soon heard climbing the stairs at full speed.

Scootaloo burst in the room, panting heavily. Her head bowed down as she tried to catch her breath enough to speak.

“Captain!” she gasped, “A… uni… a unicorn!”

She finally raised her head, meeting the gaze of the three other occupants of the room as the rest of her sentence escaped her lips.

“Coming… from… the… west…”

Her wings fluttered in confusion. Why was everyone staring at her? Why was the captain pointing her weapon at her supposed friend? Why was Spike bruised and why was everypony crying?

Applejack exchanged a quick glance with Spike. Murdering her friend was one thing, but in front of an audience? In front of an innocent child? Two innocent children, actually? Would she really go that far?

Even for the revenge her sister deserved so much?

Her grip loosened as she looked back at Twilight, before turning away with a grimace. She slung the weapon back on her shoulders and returned to a more natural quadruped stance.

“Show us where.”

“Us?”

The farmer glared at the dragon.

“Last ah heard, you got a job to do when we get ‘visitors’ too, ya’know.” She turned away and headed for the stairs. Without looking back, she added “Now forget what just happened and come with me.”

“You really expect me to-“

Applejacks whipped her head back to stare at him with almost as much fury as she had directed at Twilight moments ago.

“Ah said forget it.

And she was gone, down the stairs. After a hesitant glance at Spike, curious but worried, Scootaloo followed.

He took a moment to wipe away his lingering tears. Yes, he had to go, but he didn’t want to leave Twilight alone after what had just happened. What if it was a ruse of some sort? What if Applejack waited for him to be distracted before sneaking back here to finish the job, away from prying eyes?

He’d just have to come back before her.

He stepped forward, heading for the stairs.

“Spike!”

He turned around to see Twilight clutching the bars, her face scrunched up in concentration.

“Spike I love you! I love you like my own son! No matter what else I say, no matter what I do, never ever forget that! I love you and I’m sorry for everything! I’LL K- I love and I trust you! I know you’ll D- make everything better! Never ever give up AND DI- on anypony! Even if I don’t make it you have to keep going! I’LL MURDE- Promise me you’ll fix this one day and we can be DEAD happy together again! I’ll always love ynnnngggggGGGHHHHRAAAAAAAAH’LL KILL YOU AND RIP YOUR FACE APART AND EAT YOUR BEATING HEART WHILE YOU BLEED TO DEATH AND DIE AND STAB YOU WITH YOUR OWN BONES KILL IN PAIN AND BLOOD AND DEATH AAARGHRgRbgrgRGR KILL EVERYTHING KILL YOU LET ME KILL YOU YOU’LL help me go back to normal again won’t you Spike?"

She’d blurted that out as fast as she could, trying to spit out as many untainted words as possible before her irresistible urges twisted them again.

Spike didn’t know how to respond. Was it a lie to agree with her wish, when he had so little faith in it himself? Could he really fix this? Could he do it before losing Twilight? He had come so close today, so very close to losing her, like stepping over the abyss and barely managing to cling on to the edge with only one hand. This wouldn’t be the last time, either. Would he always be there for her? Would he even be able to save her then, unlike today?

If he couldn’t, would he find the strength to continue?

She strained against the bars, grunting and growling and crying. He stepped back, retreating to the stairs. There was nothing to answer to that. Her pleas could only be answered with lies and obscene optimism or the awful, awful truth. She probably didn’t expect answers anyways. She had danced with death just seconds prior. She might have simply wanted to say those words while she still could, to leave nothing unsaid in case she never found another chance to speak.

“I… I love you too, Twilight.”

There. He’d said it. Finally. He ran down the stairs before his mind could catch on to exactly how much he meant it, as it would surely have left him a sobbing wreck, debilitated by the crushing truth of those words. No being in the world was more precious to him than her. He had to keep going. For her. Everything for her, forever.

He stepped out of the library and locked the door behind him. He turned around in time to see Applejack dismissing Scootaloo, ordering her to go back to her post. The filly obeyed without a word, galloping away between a few ruined houses.

He approached the orange farmer, still wary. She had changed so much in those three months. It wasn’t just the scars, either. With so fewer mouths to feed, she’d had no choice but to cut back on apple production and turn to a more important vocation: protecting what was left of the town. With her newfound free time, she had organised volunteers into the Ponyville militia, with her as its captain. The position, and the responsibilities that came with it, had made her colder and harsher.

To the point of killing her own best friend? Maybe. She definitely wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Twilight anymore if he had anything to say about it, though.

She turned to face him when he got closer.

“It’s comin’ straight at Ponyville from the west. Y’all know the drill, let’s go.”

Spike frowned at her use of ‘it’. This was a pony she was talking about, not an animal.

“Yeah, yeah. I distract him or her while you sneak around. You have your sedative bolts with you?”

“Yeah, let’s just get goin’.”

She turned around and headed west at a brisk pace. Spike followed, through the ruined streets of Ponyville.

Many houses had been demolished in the fighting, chopped to pieces by the unicorns’ crystal blasts, but most of the destruction had come from the terrible fire that had swept the town, unhindered in the panic. The survivors had moved to the few intact houses, only needing to rebuild about twenty residences out of the hundreds that had been destroyed. The rest had been left in crumbled piles, simply cleared off the roads to make room to pass between the blackened mounds.

They walked silently, the tension of recent events not yet fully dissipated. Spike couldn’t help thinking back to what Applejack had almost done. The murderous intent in her expression, all the spite and pain in her voice when she had yelled. She would have done it eventually. He’d have to go thank Scootaloo one day. Offer her a gift, maybe? What would she even want?

Rainbow Dash.

Scootaloo idolized her.

His gaze wandered north, towards Canterlot. The city still stood, either relatively intact or simply too far to make the damage visible to the naked eye. Since the days still passed, it was only logical to assume at least one princess was still alive, but why had they never responded since that last bloody note three months ago? What could possibly make an all-powerful goddess incapable of answering a simple letter? The Signal? Sure The Signal affected unicorns through their horns, but was it really strong enough to corrupt even the princesses? Spike shuddered at the thought of what these two, with their insanely powerful magic, could do in Twilight’s state. Finding a cure would be absolutely crucial.

When the princess went silent, after the situation in Ponyville had calmed down a little, they’d tried sending scouts to assess what was wrong in Canterlot. None of them ever came back. Eventually Rainbow Dash herself had volunteered. It took her a while to convince her friends, but they finally agreed. After all, she was, well, Rainbow Dash. She’d seen worse. Besides, she would fly high and be very careful, and she promised to not take any risks, and retreat at the first sign of danger.

Four days later, she still hadn’t come back.

Applejack, Rarity, and a few other volunteers headed out to look for her. They came back with two less ponies than they had gone with. They had apparently run into what they called a pack of afflicted unicorns, barely escaping with their lives. Applejack had taken a blast close to the face, tearing off her hat and giving her those scars in exchange. It was a miracle that she even survived, and an even bigger one that she hadn’t lost her eye.

Nopony else tried to leave the town since then. A few travelers wandered into Ponyville from time to time, haggard and exhausted, and they all said the same thing: it was like this everywhere. Except, in some towns, the unicorns had won the impromptu war.

At least Ponyville hadn’t been completely destroyed or abandoned. They had devised ways to survive and rebuild. It helped that there hadn’t been many unicorns in town to begin with. Their smaller numbers had made them more manageable.

As if on cue, town hall came into view just around a bend. In its basement were kept the afflicted unicorns, in recently-built cells. They were cared for until such time when help would come, or a better way to contain them was found. Twilight was kept apart from them due to the immense threat she posed by having the potential to escape, easily compounding the risks posed by the others. If she were to breach her cell, at least there was no chance that she would accidentally release the other unicorns if she did so in her library, alone.

A single pony walked out the door, much to Spike’s surprise. It was Rarity. He unknowingly slowed his pace to observe her.

She trudged out of the building, head hung low. Her eyes were noticeably red, even at a distance. She never looked up, keeping her gaze on her hooves as she walked slowly towards her boutique, visible in the distance ahead over the rubble of a few crumbled houses. The formerly-horned unicorn disappeared from view without noticing Spike or Applejack.

He sighed. His harsh words had come through to her, though he regretted them somewhat. Convincing her to make herself go through this pain was mean-spirited, in hindsight. She had only tried to help, after all.

He looked back in front of him to see Applejack hadn’t waited for him. He broke into a light jog to try to catch up, but he had already lost sight of her.

A cloud drifted in front of the sun, momentarily blocking its heat while Spike hurried forth. There weren’t many pegasi left to regulate the weather. Most of those who had survived the initial event had fled back to their cloud cities. The last traveler to wander into town had apparently heard rumors that they had begun moving the cities around, using them as aerial fortresses from which they organized raids to scavenge or steal food. Spike didn’t much know what to make of that. He had yet to see any evidence of this.

In the meantime, he was simply thankful for the shade.

He slowed down after the cloud passed. He doubted he would be able to catch up to her. She had probably decided to run ahead to get into position. When unicorns wandered into Ponyville, his job was to draw their attention while members of the militia snuck around to neutralize them without exposing themselves to the deadly magic blasts. Applejack needed to be hidden before the unicorn even came in range.

Or maybe she had turned around to go take care of Twilight?

No. She had duties, and the safety of Ponyville was well above her own grudges. She of all ponies wouldn’t be foolish enough to forget that.

He kept walking west, the sun creeping down towards the horizon in front of him. The streets were deserted. The few that should still have been out had certainly been alerted now. If a unicorn couldn’t see you, it couldn’t try to hurt you. The standard response to a unicorn alert was to simply hide while the militia took care of the problem.

After a few more moments, he got to the entrance of the cemetery. It lay on a gentle slope on the west-most side of town, deliberately built there to always face the sunset as a way to add a touch of beauty to the final rest of the deceased. It was still bright at the moment, the stones casting their growing shadows on the meandering paths strewn about the grounds.

A lot of residents had been added to the resting place recently.

The unicorn was coming from the west, and cutting straight through the graveyard was the fastest path to intercepting him or her. Spike hurried forward, as he didn’t want to have the fight take place here. It would have been sorely disrespectful.

Better get to that unicorn before he or she got there.

As he walked along the main path, the “old” part of the cemetery lay to his right; the old tombs and graves and occasional crypts arranged in their chaotic, organic fashion, each one added wherever any suitably peaceful spot lay to be chosen by the families of their occupants. For those so inclined to appreciate the serenity of such a place, it could almost feel like a beautiful shaded meadow in the middle of a park, where guests came to nap or meditate, each new arrival settling peacefully in their chosen spot and, one at a time, over the years, harden and fossilize in the soothing tranquility.

To his left were the hundred or so new graves dug three months ago. Rows of simple stone pillars about as tall as the young dragon, bearing a name on their side and a low-relief carving of a cutie mark on the top end. They didn’t have the peace of the other side of the path. They had been erected with efficiency in mind, to let the vast quantities of burials be done as fast and painlessly as possible. It had been a dark week.

A small monument to the first six victims stood guard before the field of tombs. It was a simple stone, dark and smooth, rising up from a round gravel patch encircled by smaller white stones.

It paled in comparison to the statue that had been placed in the center of the cemetery. That one was much taller than Spike, reaching the approximate height of an adult pony standing on its hind legs and raising its forelegs to the sky. It was smooth as well, having been completed less than a month ago. It hadn’t had time to erode or get stained with dirt, and showed no signs of the effects of weather yet.

The statue stood as a reminder of the pony buried at its foot, but Spike had seen her die. He could never forget.







He runs. Through the streets, looking for Twilight. How could she just attack him like that? She just snapped, suddenly, started screaming and shooting razor crystals everywhere. He got hit by a blast. The shards didn’t hurt him, somehow. They felt more like rubber than anything else, but they still carried him, threw him against a wall with their sheer impact. They then continued their course, slicing through the wood and stone of the wall and, judging from the short pained screams, through the ponies who hid behind.

And then the house collapsed on him. He woke up under the rubble just a minute ago, next to a pool of blood seeping out of the ruined house.

He dug his way out, miraculously unhurt by the debris, and now he is running.

He has to find Twilight. There has to be something he can do!

He sticks close to the walls to avoid being trampled by the stampeding crowds. They are running too, trying to flee the sudden danger. They are screaming, some are crying, and they have obviously no idea what to do or where to go. The whole town is in a blind panic.

He follows the screams, fighting the flow to get to whatever the most ponies are running from. He swears he heard her voice.
He reaches the market square.

There she is!

“Twilight!”

Ponies are running everywhere. They are trying to get away from her, to get to safety, but the chaos isn’t helping. There is already a staggering amount of bodies on the ground. more ponies are constantly pouring in, fleeing from some other distant danger only to come face to face with Twilight.

Fortunately for them, she is too focused on another pony to attack them. Unfortunately for her, she knows that pony well.

“Pinkie get away from me! I’m dangerous! Please run away I don’t want to HURT YOU

“ Nuh-uh. I can’t do that, Twilight! Not until everypony else is safe!”

“No! Run! Please Pinkie don’t let me KILL YOU AND HURT AND SHRED YOU

The pink baker is surprisingly nimble, dancing and jumping and cartwheeling to attract the unicorn’s attention, to draw her aggression away from the frightened ponies running around. Every volley of deadly crystals is dodged, and every attempt to aim at somepony else is blocked by confetti and streamers and even a blast of the party cannon.

Twilight’s involuntary rage seems to be growing, her movements becoming more and more frantic by the second, her screams louder and more threatening. Whatever is making her attack her friends is not content with misses.

Spike steps forward, unsure of what to do. What use can he be in this nightmarish situation? He tries calling her name, but she apparently doesn’t notice. Her horn lights up again and again, forming large chunks of exploding crystal. The shards are at least as long as Spike is tall. They are the biggest ones he’s seen yet.

Just as he reaches her, as he’s about to place his hand on her shoulder while she’s looking away, hoping his touch will help calm her down, hoping he can help her in any way, she conjures another ball of death and somehow teleports before unleashing it.

Where she used to be now only air is left, letting him see what she was looking at. For just a second, he sees Pinkie Pie looking at him, standing up on her hind legs to wave the other two in the air. Then he notices the flash of light behind her and the four lavender legs suddenly appearing behind her own. She arcs her back instinctively as the mass of crystal stabs at her spine, her eyes widening as she realizes.

The jagged mass of razor-sharp crystal explodes forward.

And Twilight screams.








Spike’s stomach churned at the memory of how he was right in front of the blast, and how he was screaming when it hit him.

He would never, not in his most peaceful dreams, or even after centuries of blissful happiness, forget the taste of pony blood. He knew this would haunt him forever. And the way she often screamed Pinkie’s name at night, he knew Twilight would likewise never forget what she had done to one of her best friends.

That teleport spell had been the only single time he had seen an afflicted unicorn use normal magic since this had begun.

He looked back up at the statue; three large balloons on which rode an almost life-sized statue of Pinkie, smiling innocently.

"Here lies Pinkamena Diane Pie, ‘Pinkie Pie’, Element of laughter and heroine of Equestria.”He recited from the plaque affixed to the monument. “She died as a true hero; protecting the world from a dear friend, a task as noble as it was difficult. Many owe her their lives.

He almost laughed. His breath came out as a choked snort. Dying as a hero? What a joke. Heroes shouldn’t die convulsing in a pool of their own blood, crying like foals as they cradle their spilled organs. “Mommy? …Mommy I’m scared” aren’t the last words of a hero. He’d seen enough death lately to know that death was never heroic. You could be a hero in life, but everypony died the same: weak, helpless and terrified.

AhaaaaaaaaAAARGH!

Spike stood up immediately, almost jumping. Oh no. He had gotten distracted. He looked up, facing west, just in time to see a small bluish form galloping towards him over a nearby hill.

He started running in that direction. He hoped to at least clear the cemetery before entering the confrontation.

As he and the unicorn got closer and closer, he quickly reviewed his key tactics: keep your distance, let them shoot at you, don’t let them grab you, exhaust them while the militia picks them off. The usual strategy.

When they got close enough, he immediately recognized the unicorn.

He knew that mare. Her cloak was tattered, her hat was mostly gone, her light blue coat was stained and dirty, and her mane had certainly seen better days.

“Trixie? What are you doing here?”

REVENGE” She simply howled.

As soon as she was within range of him, she shot her blast of crystal. The daggers, as long as Spike’s arms, once again bounced off his scales as if proximity to him turned them into rubber. She continued charging at him.

“Hello, little DRAgon, where is Twilight sPAAAAAaarkle?”

“What do you want with her?”

“To kILL Her, and stop this maaaAHhdness of mine, of course.”

She lunged at him and he dodged somewhat easily, as she was still out of breath from her run.

“What are you talking about?”

“This madness, this urge to kILL AND DESTROY Everything and anyone can only be the result of the twofold humiliation she infliCTED ON Me. What else but being cheated out of her rightful glory could send the great and poweRFUUUURHL TRIxie in such a state of BLOODLUST I LUST TO KILL AND MAKE EVERYTHING SUFFER For the indignation I’ve SUFFERED twice already! I mean, I thought I was okay with it, but apparently the great and pp-pppwaAAARRGHRHRHRH was just lying to herself!”

She blasted him again with another volley of shards, this time from close enough that the attack did not disperse fully before reaching him. The impact disturbed his balance momentarily, and the unicorn seized the occasion to once again lunge at him. He barely dodged this time, passing close enough that her hoof tapped his arm.

“You’re wrong! This isn’t about Twilight! This happened to every unicorn in Equestria! It’s The Signal making you do this!”

She turned around to face him again, fury in her eyes. She started circling him, Growling and snarling just like Twilight.

“Of course this is about Twilight Spark-k-k-K-K-KILLe! I can’t conceive of anything else that would send me in such a state of maaaarHAAARHARHADness than the kind of abject failure she subjected me to! RAAAAH!”

Her sudden dash in his direction almost caught Spike by surprise, but he dodged yet again.

“Once I finally KILL HER BEAT HER UP FOR HOURS AND WATCH HER BLEED my rage will be appeased at last and I’ll be free TO KILL SOME MORE KILL MORE VICTIMS TASTE THEIR WOUNDS free at last to return to my normal life!”

She sent another blast of deadly magic towards the dragon. The spray shattered an old nearby tombstone. Spike hadn’t gotten away from the cemetery in time.

The little dragon didn’t quite know how to respond. He had never seen this particular coping strategy.

When the trauma of their actions was too much to bear, most afflicted unicorns simply went “feral”, giving up their reason and conscience, effectively becoming wild animals. Maybe their deeds were enough to convince them that they had somehow truly become savage beasts, or it was simply easier to accept the new behavior and surrender to the mad rage. After all, who would blame a wolf for eating its prey? Mindless animals don’t have to feel the guilt of their actions. Maybe it was easier to take refuge in a small corner of their mind and let The Signal have its way.

But Trixie wasn’t like that. She seemed mostly lucid, but had apparently embraced the murderous drive while also rejecting the responsibility of it on her only true rival.

That was a first.

“NO! That’s just The Signal talking! I know you’re still in there, Trixie! I know you don’t really hate Twilight! We can still help you!”

“Help me? HELP me? I DON’T want you to help me! AhahahAHAHAHARHH Please IF YOU WANT TO help me JUST LET ME KILL YOU AND EVERYONE YOU LOVE

She charged again, and he dodged again, but this time the blue unicorn stopped just after missing him, close enough to buck him in the back. He fell on his face, momentarily stunned by the pain. It wasn’t a powerful kick, as she was still just a unicorn and not a strong and sturdy earth pony, but it was enough to bring him down. He didn’t have time to get back up before she was on him, flipping him over to come face to face. She snarled victoriously, sending another burst of crystal at point-blank range.

He tried to break free of her grasp, but she was still bigger and a little stronger than him. She held him with one hoof as she struck him with the other. He was soon bleeding from his mouth and nose.

Where in tartarus was Applejack? This was the time to strike! Why was Trixie still conscious, yet to be stung by the sedative dart? Had the farmer really betrayed him? Sent him to get killed by the intruding unicorn while she returned to complete the deed she had almost done?

That congenital bastard yokel!

He started using his claws on the former showmare’s legs, gouging thin strips of skin away in his desperate attempts to free himself. She kept punching him.

“That HURTS you little son of ahahahahAHAHARGH I’ll KILL YOU AND TIE YOUR SKIN AROUND MY NECK LIKE A SCARF and I just know this will DEVASTATE Her so much she will just BEG ME TO KILL HER and I’ll be simply so happy to oblige and once she’s DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD A ROTTING CORPSE IN THE TRENCHES I will finally be released from this NIGHTMARE in my head and-“

*Twang*

Trixie’s eyes widened, her hoof freezing in mid-air as her left ear began twitching relentlessly. There was something stuck in her ear, but it was not a leaf or an insect, easily removed with a simple flick. Her tongue also found itself exploring the contours of a foreign object. Her eyes looked down with great effort, fixating for just a second on the sharp wooden shaft protruding from her mouth.

The unicorn coughed once, twice, spraying some blood on the young dragon. Her eyes rolled back and she collapsed on him, pinning him down under her twitching body.

Spike heard a clicking noise to his right. Turning his head, he saw Applejack drop down from the thick foliage of a nearby tree. In her mouth she held her crossbow, cocked and ready to fire again. The orange mare quickly and wordlessly closed the distance to the two combatants, a grim expression on her face. Her eyes were clear, focused, but terrifyingly empty. She wasted no time at all in turning around to buck the unicorn off of Spike. The small dragon was sent tumbling away as well from the force of the strike. When he next opened his eyes he saw the scarred farmpony stepping over him on her way to the blue unicorn. She crouched next to her, adopting her firing position to aim her second bolt directly at the convulsing showmare’s temple.

And shot again.

The unicorn was wracked with a final spasm, and went limp and still.

Spike sat up, confused. Applejack slowly got down on her rump, sitting next to the fresh cadaver. She was staring at it, eyes half-lidded and a blank expression on her face. She absent-mindedly put her weapon away, returning it to its place on her back.

What in the world had just happened? Had Applejack just murdered in cold blood? Had she lost the sedative bolt somewhere? Or did she simply decide not to use it? Why in tartarus would she do that?

She spoke as the young dragon was rising to his feet, apprehensive and confused.

“Why?” she correctly guessed the most pressing question in his head. Her voice was as flat as her expression as she kept staring at the unicorn’s corpse. “…Ah’ve had it with unicorns, that’s why.

“They took the hat mah pa gave me, they took half o’mah face, they took mah business. Ah could live with that. But then they went an’ took mah friends and mah sister." She swallowed painfully, her voice on the verge of cracking, but her face remained as still as stone. "Ah don’t even care anymore that it ain’t really their fault.

“… ah won’t let’em hurt anypony else.”

Her face was bathed in the glow of the nearly setting sun, casting heavy shadows around her barely-blinking, unmoving eyes. Her smooth scars almost glistened in the light. She was still staring at her victim blankly. She nudged the body with a hoof, checking to make sure it was well and truly dead.

“Ah won’t hurt Twilight, not for now at least. But y’all better watch her real carefully.”

She got up and started walking away without even a glance in his direction. She stopped after a few steps to add:

“And ya better watch yerself too.”

Spike watched her go, vaguely aware that she had just threatened him and Twilight after literally murdering another pony. She was serious. As he looked down at his hands and saw them covered in blood, he found that he simply could not care at the moment. He had already been sad, furious, scared, furious again, utterly terrified, and furious once more, all in the very same day. He was drained of all emotion. He looked at Trixie and found no pity for her. He looked back at Applejack, walking away ever further, and could find no sympathy for her grief or fear from her words.

She had merely stated facts.

He simply couldn’t care anymore. Let the world burn and everypony with it, let the oceans dry and the mountains crumble, he would not care. There was only one thing to keep him going anymore, when everything else was stripped away. The last spark of will in his mind, the last breath in his husk.

Like any other day before, and every day to come, he put one foot in front of the other and started walking forward.
Mechanically, with only one single drive to do so, he marched on, going back home to return to his task and duty. Never stop, never give up, never let her down. No matter what. He would not have kept on living without that imperative.

In the light of the setting sun, he went back to take care of Twilight.

To do everything for her.

For Twilight.

Author's Note:

Holy woah that took way too long to finish. And not only because it ended up taking a lot more words than I would have anticipated.
This is the most words I've poured into a single thing ever.

And in the end, I still feel it might've come out a little corny or cheesy, or uh, hammy? The point is, I fear it might invoke feelings of narm for some.

I do hope it is enjoyable nonetheless.

Thank you for reading.