• Published 24th Mar 2013
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A Hairy Problem - BlueBastard



Strange things are happening with Applejack after a mysterious wolf-like creature attacks her when she looks into the aftermath of another CMC incident.

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Ch.13: Closing In

A Hairy Problem Ch.13 “Closing In”

Everything seemed fine and dandy at the Ponyville train station. The newly arrived train belched steam as the conductor announced it was safe to disembark the passenger coaches. And the passengers did, waiting for their luggage to be offloaded for collection so that they could go on their business. The mail was offloaded as new sacks were loaded on. It was simply hustling and bustling no matter where one looked.

For one individual, this was exactly what he’d wanted. Having slipped into the station the previous night, he’d spent at least a couple of hours holed up in a locked stall in the stallion’s restroom in a rather uncomfortable position so the janitor wouldn’t see his legs on the floor. As it would turn out, there had been no janitor, which annoyed the intruder as he really did want to get into a more comfortable position, but dared not risk it in case somepony else came in. Finally, the time arrived when he heard the early morning crowd outside, when he could get out of the blasted company of his porcelain companion. Nopony on the platform noticed the stallion who exited the restroom and blended right into the crowd, to everypony else he had just been somebody fresh off the train and had really needed to go.

But he was not a newly arrived passenger, despite him choosing to say as such for his cover. He had no luggage to pick up, his only worldly possessions stowed in the satchel he wore aside from one, which was hidden in plain sight. Not like anypony would notice, however; they’d be too busy noticing what kind of pony he was.

His coat was a pale, cream color, contrasting his mane of blended dark brown and olive green coloration but not in a bad way. On his flank was a scroll, half open with a feather quill writing scribbles on it. To all the world around him, he looked the part of a scholar who hailed from the Crystal Empire. He did not appear to be crystallized as his kind were known for, but he had an excuse for that in how the effect only showed when within the range of the Crystal Heart.

Ignoring the stares from passersby ponies, the transplanted pony headed straight for what looked like a hotel of sorts. He didn’t actually need a room to stay in due to previousl arrangements, but the hotel was closer to his objective. It would also be much more comfortable than his other arrangement and the “no-questions-asked” demeanor of most room renters possessed would ensure privacy.

His confidence in that belief was shaken somewhat when he entered the hotel and immediately was met with a raised eyebrow from the older pony manning the desk, probably the innkeeper.

“Well now,” said the innkeeper, visually examining the satchel-wearing oddity before him, “you certainly don’t look like any pony I’ve ever seen before. Where are you from?”

“I am a native of the Crystal Empire, my good sir,” responded the younger pony, approaching the desk.

“Ah! So you’re one of them ‘crystal ponies’ are you?”

“I am, although please don’t ask me to turn translucent, we crystal ponies can’t do that trick outside the Empire.”

“Probably to do with that Crystal Heart or whatever it is that makes that weird aura I’ll bet. Anyway, I bet you’re here for a room.”

“Indeed, although if possible I’d prefer a room with a window looking out onto that forest, the ‘Everfree’, I believe it’s called.”
“Why would you want that?” the innkeeper inquired as he began looking for a room meeting the requirement, “it’s nothing much to look at, just a bunch of tightly packed trees.”

“Up in the Empire, we don’t have dense forests, and I find it something interesting to gaze upon.”

“Whatever floats your boat, I guess.” The innkeeper then placed a key with the number 2 etched into it. “Room two should fit your needs. I do require a deposit of five bits, though, before I can check you in.”

“Not a problem,” answered the pale cream pony as he fished around in his satchel and produced three bit coins, placing them on the table.

The innkeeper took the deposit. “Alright, now I just need you to sign in here.” The innkeeper then produced a rather large and ragged guestbook, which he opened to a page towards the back where the other pony could sign in.

The crystal pony couldn’t help but look over the names of some ponies who had signed in before him; “Wildfire,” “Dainty Dish,” “Twilight Sunburn,” “Sandalwood.”

It never ceases to amaze me how strange some pony names can be, thought the checking-in pony as he signed his name below Sandalwood’s.

Taking the book back, the innkeeper examined the signature to ensure it was good. “Ah, so your name is Intellectual Pursuit, eh? Interesting, it’s no business of mine but I have to wonder what somepony with a name like that is doing in a backwater town like Ponyville.”

Pursuit just smiled, saying “There is much to be learned in a new place, no matter where one goes, and it is often the case where the least likely of locations will yield the greatest treasures.” But behind that smile was a grinning predator, one who already knew the treasure he wanted was here, soon to be his.
___________________________________________________________________________________
“Ah never thought Ah’d be so glad for a school night in mah life!” declared Applejack to her friends. She’d invited them over to try out a new pie she’d created; the “caramel apple” pie. She’d also invited them over simply so it didn’t look like she’d become something of a shut-in after the whole incident with the dogs or that Lyra and Sandalwood were taking their places as her greatest friends.

“I do apologize, Applejack, I was supposed to be watching Sweetie Belle over the weekend but I was so caught up in a work order that it seemed like a relief my sister was going somewhere else. I didn’t realize it would cause you so much trouble,” Rarity pled.

“Don’t worry about it, Rarity, this whole weekend was like some kinda annoyance after another.” Indeed, starting with the whole incident involving the dogs and her hormones, she’d had to wear her mother’s favorite perfume and be reminded of some bad memories, then she screwed up her attempt at a run at night in wolf form and nearly got caught by the CMC, then after managing to push Granny to spin events so that it looked like a timberwolf or two had tried to raid the farm she ended up being dangerously close to the one individual in the world who was hunting the very thing she’d become, and then the previous night, no timberwolves showed up and in the end all that happened was the CMC and Iron Will shouting various “assertive” slogans all night. Apparently, werewolves also had improved hearing as Applejack learned the hard way as she barely got any sleep, the shouting ringing in her head as if it was coming from a megaphone five inches away from her face.

“It’s possible that the wolves just got scared off by all the shouting,” suggested Fluttershy, who somehow managed to fall asleep in the middle of all the shouting to the surprise of everypony, including herself.

“Or maybe they thought you’d constructed something that when you pulled a lever in a room full of identical levels there would be a tidal wave of lava that spewed from the ground and flooded the entire landscape and existed just to kill them?” said Pinkie Pie, “Or maybe that just works on elephants, I don’t remember.”

“Pinkie, what does Applejack look like; a dwarf?” asked Twilight. “The physical impossibilities of that aside, why would anypony build such a thing in the first place? It sounds like something that could destroy an entire town!”

“To destroy an unending army of angry pachyderms, of course!” Pinkie Pie stated as if it was the most logical thing in the world.

The six friends just sat there, looking at Pinkie Pie with various faces of confusion. Finally, Applejack broke the silence by saying they all should try the caramel apple pie still unmolested in the center of the table. Everypony agreed.

As Applejack had hoped, the pie was delicious. All the taste of a caramel apple, but condensed into the buttery crust of a pie. The rest of her friends agreed the confection was a success and that other ponies would love it as well. But when Applejack got up to bus the table, Rainbow Dash noticed something odd about her athletic rival.

“Hey, AJ, is it just me or is there something…wrong with your cutie mark?”

“Huh?” responded Applejack, turning to look at her bum mark. To a pony, the cutie mark is a very visible declaration of their identity as a pony. It was the mark of their talent, of what made them especially unique among their peers. If something permanent happened to one’s cutie mark, there was no telling of the kind of psychological breakdown that could occur.

But to her credit, Applejack only showed a little bit of reaction when she saw what had happened to her cutie mark. Generally, nothing had actually happened, it was still three bright red apples with two green leaves apiece. However, what was noticeable to her about the mark is that it appeared to have slightly faded, as if it was an old painted sign bleached by the sun. Applejack didn’t know what to make of this, as once attained ponies wore their marks for life. Even trying to save off the fur wouldn’t remove the mark, as it would just reappear when the fur grew back. Marks weren’t also supposed to fade, Granny Smith’s pie cutie mark was still bright as day even though she was older than Ponyville itself.

“Oh, my!” declared Twilight as she got up from her seat and trotted over to examine AJ’s mark, “I’ve never heard of a cutie mark fading. I mean, your mark is still very clear, Applejack, but it’s certainly not as bright as it usually is.

Ah hope this isn’t part of this whole werewolf business, thought the apple farmer as she tried to think of what caused her mark to fade.

“Why don’t you just look up the cause in the library?” asked Rainbow Dash, “or, failing that, just ask the princesses? Celestia is a zillion times older than us, surely she’s heard of this problem before.”

“I guess that’s the only way to address this,” agreed the lavender unicorn. “Syndrome, fever, internal organ failure…it could be anything!”

“Ah’m pretty sure it isn’t that big a deal, girls” said Applejack, trying to divert attention away from the fact she was pretty concerned herself, “maybe Ah just need to wash mah flank and it’ll come back. Ah have been workin’ pretty hard today.”

“If you’re sure, AJ, then we’ll leave it to you to wash up. However, if it does remain like this, or gets worse and fades more, you probably should go to the doctor.”

Applejack nodded and so the six friends went back into chatting about various topics of no real consequence. At the back of her mind, however, AJ couldn’t shake the feeling her cutie mark actually undergoing a physical alteration couldn’t bode anything good for her in the near future.
___________________________________________________________________________________
It was around dinner time at Castle Canterlot, where Princesses Celestia and Luna were enjoying a nice, seven course meal between the two of them, that the letter came.

“Another friendship report, sister?” asked Luna, before taking a bite of alfalfa.

“Doesn’t look like it…” replied Celestia, “it’s from Twilight Sparkle, but it is asking a rather peculiar question; ‘can a pony’s cutie mark fade?’”

“Oh dear, has she gone and done something completely unnatural with magic again like the time you had to personally intervene?”

“I hope not; Twilight would know I expect better of her. No, what’s going on here is she’s probably doing some side research on how cutie marks come about, with those three fillies the ‘Cutie Mark Crusaders’ having nagged her enough to look into it.”

“You know, I wonder why nopony has ever looked into that, whether or not a pony’s cutie mark could fade.”

“Why, Luna, so you can reduce the size of your cutie mark so it doesn’t look like a miasma covering your plot?” said Celestia, smirking.

Luna’s brow furrowed as the battle lines were being drawn, “Well, at my cutie mark is proportionally bigger than yours, I see no need to try and remove part of it. Besides, I would expect ponies to behave better than to stare at my booty.”

“It’s only that way because you’re the younger sister and are still smaller than me.”

“I’d rather have that then a giant, cake-inflated rear that could collide with some poor pony if I was backing up.”

“Are you saying my butt is fat?”

“Only if you’re saying my cutie mark looks like some kind of horrible disease.”

This exchange of semi-hostility went on for several minutes, the duo having left their places at the table and move to the side, ready to engage in a battle on a level closer than just wits.

“I do believe there is only one way to settle this, Luna.”

“At least we can agree on something, Celestia.”

Silence for a few moments, then Luna charged her sister. Unfortunately, the moment she did so she knew she had lost as Celestia merely teleported away. Sliding to a halt, Luna was trying to figure out where Celly could have gone when the sun princess’s voice whispered in her ear;

“Gotcha.”

Luna was powerless to stop Celestia’s assault, her defenses breached and the attack too powerful to resist.

“Stop! S-Stop! HAHAHAHA-Celly please I-HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

“Even after all these years, Luna, I still know your ticklish spots.”

AHAHAHAHA-W-we sur-AHAHAHAHA-render!”

Celestia ceased with the tickling and helped her sister up. The “War of Tickles” had been something the sisters had done since they’d come to the conclusion any real fighting between them would end up destroying something on a massive scale. That had proved true a thousand years ago almost when Celestia had to fight Nightmare Moon. The end result of that was the outright destruction of Castle Everfree, leaving it largely in the ruined state that it remained in up to the present day.

“I apologize for insulting your cutie mark, Luna.”

“And I apologize for calling your plot fat.”

The two royals hugged in a rare display of sisterly love, one not bound by the rules and regulations of monarchy. The moment was quickly ruined, however, when one of the royal staffers cleared his throat to get his lieges’ attention.
“Your majesties, are you done with supper?”

“Ah, no, Prix Fixe, Luna and I are still eating. We just got…caught up in a sister moment.”

“Very well then, please continue to enjoy your supper.”
___________________________________________________________________________________
Twilight was frantically looking through all the books on pony healthcare and the like, books flying every which way but in such as fashion that they landed perfectly and were not damaged. Even when in a crisis, Twilight Sparkle was not one to try and damage perfectly good books if she could help it.

“Spike, have you found anything yet?”

“No, can’t say that I-HOLD ON!” replied the young dragon, hefting up a large book with a section he thought relevant on the current page, “Oh, wait, sorry. False alarm. This is just about what happens if your mane and tail start turning white.”

AAAARRRGHHH! There has to be something in here about cutie marks fading, certainly a higher probability of that being something ponies know more about than dragons!”

It was around that time there was a knock at the library door.

Twilight emerged from a giant pile of books, saying “I wonder who that could be this late at night…Applejack maybe? Spike, can you-“

“Yeah, yeah, I got it.”

Spike reached the door, opening it to find a pale cream pony with a strange mane coloration waiting outside.

The strange pony spoke up, “Ah, is this the Golden Oaks Library?”

“It is, can I help you with something?” said Spike, flatly. He’d not been in a good mood, what with having to do a library-wide search for something once again.

“I’m looking for a Miss Twilight Sparkle, is she in at the moment?”

“She might be in, is your business with her of extreme importance?”

“Well, no, but-“

*SLAM*

The rudely rejected pony fought the urge to unleash his true power and utterly destroy the offending door, but before he got a chance to do so it opened again. This time, a purple unicorn with a two-tone pink/purple streak in her mane appeared behind it.

“I apologize for Spike, he’s a bit worked up due to me being kind of hard on him for a research project I’m working on.”

“I’m sorry for interrupting, but I was wondering if I could chat with you, scholar to scholar. I mean, I’m presuming you’re the one and only Twilight Sparkle, protégé’ of Princess Celestia herself, am I right?”

Twilight couldn’t help but blush a little at how well this other pony knew her. “Yes, I am Twilight Sparkle. And you are…?”

The stallion stuck out his hoof, “Intellectual Pursuit. I’m from the Crystal Empire, but I have come down here to Ponyville to see what I can learn outside of the Frozen North.”

“You’re a crystal pony?”

“Indeed, I-WHOA!”

Pursuit found himself drawn into the library by Twilight’s telekinesis, being put down at a table in a room just off of the main library.

“Spike, can you go make some tea for our guest here?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.”

Twilight then hurriedly set up the table before sitting down herself; “So, Mr. Pursuit, what do you want to know about Equestria proper? I’m sure you still have lots of questions since the Crystal Empire has been out of the loop of history for the past thousand years. And then you can tell me all about what the empire was like before Sombra got it all screwed up!”

“Indeed, I do have a lot of questions, and I will try to answer yours to the best of my ability, but first I must ask what the deal is about all these medical texts strewn about.” Intellectual gestured to the pile of books clearly visible just outside the kitchen.

“Oh, those, well…I’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong with one of my friends, she’s got this strange…thing going on and none of the books seem to detail what it is.”

Pursuit cocked his head to one side, “Oh? I happen to know some details about obscure medical conditions. Perhaps I can be of assistance there.”

“I’d rather not have to explain it, but since none of the books seem to have any information…okay, have you ever heard of a pony that has their cutie mark start fading, like it’s an old painted sign left in the sun too long?”

The crystal pony cocked an eyebrow, showing some sign of recognition of the description, “Actually, yes, I have. How long has your friend had this problem?”

Twilight reached behind to scratch the back of her neck, “I don’t actually know, I only learned of it today when she had me and the rest of our friends over to try out her new pie recipe.”

Hmmm, I do like pie, thought Pursuit, thinking of the treat he hadn’t partaken of in so long, but I have to keep my eyes on the prize here. There will be plenty of time for pie later.

“Okay, I think I know what your friend has. It’s something called ‘Cutie Mark Mange’.”

“I’ve never heard of that before!”

“Sure you have, it’s actually something close to dandruff. It’s extremely rare, probably genetic but research can’t track down enough cases to study it. Regardless, what is known about it is that as a pony sheds their fur coat, the cutie mark doesn’t grow back as fast in the fur. Thus, it looks like it’s fading. In reality, it will be restored to full clarity a day or two later as the mark grows back. It’s nothing major at all, really.”

“Fascinating!” declared Twilight, who had somehow produced parchment and was jotting down notes with her quill, “Applejack will be happy to hear that!”

“Applejack?”

“Oh, yeah, she’s the friend of mine who apparently has ‘Cutie Mark Mange’ going on. It should be a relief to her to learn it’s not another hapless event she ended up in, what with the dog chasing and the whole deal with The Meatery…”

Interesting, so her name is Applejack thought Pursuit as Twilight went on a long list of things Applejack had dealt with in the past few months. It amused him to no end that while he could see the truth clear as day, the supposed “student of the princess” was completely blind to it. That will be fixed in due time, of course, he thought, but like pie, dealing with her can wait.

“Okay, so now that you’ve answered one of my questions fully, it’s your turn to ask. Seriously, anything you want to know about the Crystal Empire, just ask away.”

He swore Twilight’s mouth made a squee noise as she whipped out a different parchment sheet. This one being long. Very, very long. “I may have one or two questions,” the unicorn said nonchalantly, “but this shouldn’t take long at all!”
___________________________________________________________________________________
“This won’t take long at all!” mock-whined Pursuit as he shambled off back to the hotel. He was seriously in a bad mood, having completely misjudged the favored student of Celestia. The “one or two” questions had taken several hours to answer. While he in turn had learned about what happened to Equestria in the “thousand years” he’d been gone (yeah, like he’d been stupid enough to still be in the Empire when it went bye-bye with Sombra’s first defeat), he had to admit to himself this was a low point for him as he’d learned nothing that could make his objectives be achievable more easily, namely because he actually had known all that crap to begin with. In fact, his secondary goal was becoming even less attractive instead, but the driving reason for that one went beyond a purple unicorn mare who didn’t shut the hay up.

But his mood began to improve once he was safely behind the door to Room 02. Almost instantly came off the satchel, care being taken to not damage the items inside it. Then came the locket. That precious locket that she’d gotten enchanted with the disguise spell for him so many years ago.

As the spell deactivated, returning him to his true form, he tried not to let a tear fall for his beloved. He reached over with a morphing hoof to retrieve the old photo from within the satchel. The only visual reminder of his dearly departed, the one who had stayed by him so willingly. Before that bitch Celestia took her away in some demented act of “justice” that was wholly uncalled for.

His rage building, he worked it back under control before taking note that he was back to his normal form, his true form. He walked over to the mirror to examine himself. Gone was the pretentious Crystal Pony known as “Intellectual Pursuit,” for that was merely a cheap disguise afforded by the locket. But here, here stood the true beast from within. His coat a thick layer of dark brown fur, his mane and tail a messy two-toned tangle of dark greens and his eyes a piercing yellow. On his flank, there was no stupid scroll and quill suggesting “intelligence” or some crap like that, but from a distance it appeared he had no cutie mark at all. Only close examination would reveal the remnants of what could only be a red-colored wolf paw, the mark of a true hunter.

In the mirror, the pony cracked a menacing grin of sharp teeth. He was finally back in play, back on the hunt. And it was only a matter of time before the prey was all his.