“Aren’t you listening?” accused Fluttershy. “She hurts bunnies!”
She trailed off, seeing the look in Princess Celestia’s eyes.
“I slew her mother, for devouring ponykind,” said Celestia. “She has forgiven me, somehow. I charge you to forgive her in turn, and for myself I will do all in my power to aid her and you.”
At this revelation, Fluttershy gasped. She looked back and forth between the Princess, the griffin, the headless bunnies, her friends, in a flurry of uncertainty.
Applejack took off her hat, bowing her head. “It’s true,” she said. “She tole me once. Hard times.”
“She never told me!” squeaked Rainbow Dash.
“She din’t want to tell,” said Applejack. “I can see why.”
Fluttershy looked again at the incongruous figure of Gilda Griffin: sitting in a strange equipment-cluttered basement, surrounded by the undead results of her known carnivorous appetites, cuddling an earth pony filly who snuggled back with enthralled fervency, and looking up at the imposing form of the alicorn Princess who had just apologized to her.
“I don’t know what to think about this at all,” said Fluttershy helplessly.
Applejack shook herself, and tamped her hat back down onto her head. “You know, Fluttershy? I ‘spect that’s okay. We got stuff to do here and we are all lookin’ at a mighty different world than we got up this mornin’ expectin’ to see. If we’re done with the apologizing I do believe it is time to cure some vamp.”
“Yeah!” cheered Rainbow Dash, doing a loop-de-loop and knocking over the hapless trebuchet.
“Who put a catapult down here?” blinked Applejack. “What’s it even supposed to hit? Anyways, thank goodness we got you here, Fluttershy! It was lookin’ like we were gonna have to send out somepony to get you!”
Fluttershy was still trying to get her bearings. “But why do you need me? I’m not that important. You should try to cure Gilda. And these poor bunnies she ate!” She glowered at Gilda, who cringed away from her.
“You might cure ‘em,” suggested Applejack, “but it may not help all that much, considering.”
“True,” said Fluttershy, pouting. “We have to do something, they’re not happy bunnies at all. I certainly can’t cure them, and I’m very cross with Gilda right now, so why don’t I go back home? You can send for me if you work out how to do it.”
“No!” cried all the Apples, in chorus… even Northern Spy.
Fluttershy cowered back. “I’m sorry! Was I rude? I didn’t mean to be!”
“It ain’t that,” said Applejack. “It’s the townsponies! It’s what they’re doing!”
Princess Celestia’s eyes widened. “Oh, my. Am I reading too much into that? Applejack, what are my little ponies doing now?”
“Only burning up vampires in a fire!” replied Applejack. “Fluttershy, don’t you leave this basement until it’s safe!”
Twilight shook off Trixie and sprang to her hooves. “What is this? What vampires? There’s more?”
Her glance followed Applejack’s, to the little corral of unhappy, annoyed vampire bunnies.
Celestia was just as quick on the uptake. “Oh, my. Gilda Griffin presumably bit these? Did you say the townsponies found some, and knew what they were? They must be resorting to old stories passed on through generations! And of course, sometimes those stories are true.”
Fluttershy’s eyes were huge. “Ponyville is burning up bunnies? VAMPIRE bunnies?”
“And they might not stop there!” insisted Applejack. “So we got to gather all the vamps up an’… HEY! WHOA!”
“Fluttershy! No!” wailed Rainbow Dash, but she was too late. Fluttershy had whirled and fled the basement.
“Go get her, Rainbow!” cried Applejack.
Dash blasted up the stairs and out of the library, but in seconds she was back. “I can’t even see her, she’s gone! She’s really going for it. Do you think she’s rescuing more headless bunnies? One thing about it, there’s no way townsponies can catch her in that mood.”
“We don’t know that,” worried Applejack. “Spy, stay with Gilda! Gilda, you stay as well! Rainbow, can you fly a quick search pattern? She might be searching the Everfree…”
She trailed off. Back down the stairs flew Fluttershy, looking haggard and exhausted, panting with effort.
In her forelegs was cradled a small white form: Angel Bunny.
“Uhhh… All righty then,” said Applejack. She scratched her head. “Good thinkin’.”
“Please tell me everything about all of this,” said Fluttershy. “Do we have to hide down here from now on? I’m good at being very quiet. Will Twilight and Princess Celestia protect us? Who will feed my animals and birds?”
Twilight perked up a little, noticing the order of protecting that had occurred to Fluttershy. “Absolutely! And we’re going to do experiments, and find out how to cure vampirism. Or die trying!”
Fluttershy whinnied in alarm. “Please don’t! There are enough dead things walking around already. Let’s all be nice and gentle and maybe the angry townsponies won’t hate us?”
Gilda nodded. “You said it.”
That got her a hurt glare from Fluttershy. “You’re one to talk! How many more of those poor bunnies did you attack?”
Gilda cringed. “Uhh…”
All stopped, as Angel Bunny hopped out of Fluttershy’s embrace. He’d spotted the corral, and hopped over to see what it was.
“Oh gosh!” said Twilight breathlessly. “Brace yourselves, everypony! I think he may be preparing to command them all. Trixie, get ready to form up with me in case we need to meld and put up a protective force field!”
Celestia blinked. “But, we had not been aware the influence extended to thralls of thralls of thralls. Are you sure?”
Twilight waved a hoof frantically. Angel was climbing onto a box, to see into the corral better.
His ears went back in alarm, and his little eyes widened. One, then another of the headless vampire bunnies turned as if sensing his presence.
The ponies watched in silence as the nearest headless bunny flipped Angel off, and returned to trying to climb the walls of its prison.
Angel stuck out his tongue, and hopped back to snuggle with Fluttershy.
“I don’t think he counts as their boss,” said Applejack. “Leastways, if he is they jes’ fired his ass. Do you think we can get more of ‘em before the townsponies burn ‘em?”
“Mayhap it is time,” said Princess Celestia, “to gather as many of them as we can find. Fluttershy, I would rather you stay here where it’s safe…”
“Yes please,” said Fluttershy quickly.
“But I can certainly take to the air and search,” said Princess Celestia, “and perhaps it will have a desirable effect on the mood of the town to witness their Princess doing that.” She glanced at Twilight, uncertain how her suggestion would be taken.
“I came through the Everfree Forest,” volunteered Gilda. “And it seems like they’re trying to find me, so they might be coming from there. But I don’t know whether they get lost more easily without a head.”
“Trixie?” said Twilight. “We might not be able to fly, but unicorn magic can carry a dead bunny and we can run. We’ll join you, Princess!”
“Woohoo!” cheered Rainbow Dash. “Count me in! We’ll find all the bunnies, Fluttershy, guaranteed!”
“Me too!” insisted Northern Spy, and the other ponies fell silent.
“Spy, honey?” said Applejack. “You’re a vampire. Shouldn’t you stay here with Gilda?”
Northern Spy’s expression was serious. Her ears were laid back in concern, and her little tail flicked. “Nuh-uh. Mom? I watched them burn up one of our monster bunnies. I watched it burn up into ashes.” She gulped. “I know Gilda is safe now. I jes’ have to help you. We gotta get all the bunnies in here where we can protect them.”
Rainbow’s eyes glistened. “Aw, kiddo.” She thought hard for a moment. “I know you’re fast, but that might not be enough. What if you get trapped somehow?”
“I won’t!” vowed Northern Spy.
“Wait, wait, hear me out. Will you agree to cover the plains out between Ponyville and Fillydelphia?” demanded Rainbow Dash.
Spy blinked. “Why?”
“Because that’s a big area that will take both of us to cover,” explained Dash, “and because it’s open. That way, even if angry pony mobs do get you and they have fire, I’ll have line of sight. And you’ll have room to run away very fast.” She gave a dangerous grin. “And if I see anypony trying to hurt you, they’re not going to have anything for long.”
Slowly, Northern Spy’s grin matched Rainbow Dash’s. “You got a deal!”
“I will search the Everfree Forest!” declaimed Princess Celestia. “And do a fly-over of Ponyville, so they can see me. Twilight Sparkle, are we ready?”
Twilight stamped a hoof. “Applejack, you cover Sweet Apple Acres, you know it better than anypony. Trixie, head up by Whitetail Woods. I’ll cover the northwest out by Froggy Bottom Bog. Uh… are you able to carry these safely, Applejack? The Princess and I can use magic but you can’t, and if they originate in the Everfree we might see more of them.”
Applejack blinked. “Oh. Right. They ain’t zombies, after all. Are they?”
“Well, how were you carrying them?” said Twilight.
Applejack’s ears were back. “Uhh… by the paw? Real gentle-like?”
Twilight’s jaw dropped. “In your MOUTH?”
“How else?” retorted Applejack. “All right. Dashie, how about we just locate the buggers if we can? Trixie, you mind swappin’ places? I will hunt the Whitetail Woods. You go and look around Sweet Apple Acres, and y’all unicorns and such kin carry the vampbunnies without risk of bitin’ em. In retrospect that there is surely a thing, ain’t it?” She looked a little sick.
“We’ll give you a magical checkup when we get back,” promised Twilight.
“Yep,” said Applejack. “You do that. All right, ponies… move out!”
The little corral was nearly overflowing with bunnies… at least, when they climbed on top of each other in efforts to clear the makeshift fence.
The bunny pyramids were probably the most effective, but Trixie would just boop the top bunny in the chest with her hoof and smirk as the tower fell over in a bloody, fluffy pile.
“You’re enjoying that!” accused Twilight.
“Trixie is sorry,” said Trixie hastily. “Do you need help testing the ponies?”
Twilight shook her head. “Nope. Applejack, first you, then we check out Fluttershy for that thaumic absence. I can handle it, Trixie, so go ahead and play with the bunnies. I guess it keeps them occupied.”
Applejack’s ears flattened as Twilight’s horn nestled against her mane, pressing gently against her forehead. “Why am I gettin’ flashbacks of amorous unicorns?”
“Sh,” said Twilight. “It’s just proximity. I’ve had some training. Just relax…”
“You were pretty dern snuggly even without training!” protested Applejack. Behind her, Rainbow Dash cracked up, and Princess Celestia blushed.
“Sh! All done,” said Twilight. “Congratulations! You’re not a vampire.”
“I din’t feel like no vampire,” said Applejack.
“Well, now we know. Fluttershy! Science awaits,” said Twilight. “I don’t think you need to take off the fake mane for this.”
Fluttershy’s face went pink to match her mane extensions. “Hmph! Very thoughtful, Twilight. Does it tickle, or hurt?”
“Felt like a big nothin’ to me,” suggested Applejack. “You go ahead now.”
Twilight bent her head, and Fluttershy’s eyes nervously tracked the lavender horn as it pressed her forehead. Her nervousness didn’t improve much from then on. Twilight began to frown and make faces.
“Eep!” squeaked Fluttershy. A faint scintillation of magic coated Twilight’s horn. It did, apparently, tickle.
“Okay, what did you do?” demanded Twilight, looking up.
“You’re a vampire,” accused Twilight. “You’ve got the same area of thaumic blank as the other vampires. But those wavelengths are coming in as interference! How is that even possible? And it’s a more complicated pattern than just what’s missing from your own magic!”
“Steady, Twi,” urged Applejack, but neither she nor any other pony had an explanation.
However, Zecora was smiling.
“You speak of interference as if it would make her ill. I’m pleased to see my gift to her supports our darling still!”
Twilight turned. “You know what this is, Zecora? What’s happening here?”
“I cannot cure her vampire-ness, nor can I make her whole,” admitted Zecora. “But, all the same, our zebra ways can yet preserve her soul.”
“Her what?” demanded Twilight.
“It seems your goal’s to find her soul,” said Zecora. “Not hard to do: look before you!”
Twilight stared at Fluttershy again, who backed away skittishly.
“Listen,” said Twilight. “Fluttershy, and the other vampires, are missing a part of their pony magic. It’s a fairly high thaumic bandwidth sometimes associated with compassion and generosity, and it’s all perfectly scientific. I’m not sure it’s useful to get into… woo-woo spooky zebra theology. Didn’t you say once you kept ancestors in masks, even though they’re clearly just cultural studies and house decorations?”
Zecora’s nostrils flared in outrage. “I helped our vampire more than you—pretty purple pony-poo!”
As Rainbow Dash cracked up again and fell over with a flutter of wings, Princess Celestia cleared her throat. “Please do not argue! Twilight Sparkle, do I understand you correctly? Fluttershy too lacks these thaumic energies, but you sense them nearby?”
“But they’re not attached!” explained Twilight. “It’s like there’s a fracture, an absence. But they’re around here somewhere!”
Zecora snorted, but subsided at a glance from Fluttershy who said, “I’ll explain it to them, Zecora. And thank you, all over again.”
“Please do!” said Twilight. “This is news to me.”
“Zecora says she’s caught my soul, just like in those masks they make,” said Fluttershy. “She put it in, um, you know. My mane. That’s why I can look like a pony mare again when I wear it and the tail. It is so very comforting! I feel better, and I don’t even look like a vampire so long as I keep the mane and tail on. Maybe I don’t deserve to feel like a pony, but it really does help me a lot.”
Twilight’s mind was clearly whirring. “So, these areas of thaumic absence: they’re not simply the burning out of the energies. They actually separate from the pony and go somewhere…”
“Or the bunny!” suggested Applejack, her ears perked up with interest.
“And Zecora caught yours!” finished Twilight. “And stuck it in a wig and gave it back to you!”
Fluttershy blushed and scowled at the same time. “They’re extensions! I still have a mane. It’s not as nice as my real one, it’s scruffier and won’t flow properly but it does still exist!”
“Same difference,” said Twilight dismissively. “Wow! So we can go looking for the energies, and… what if we can graft them back into the pony again? Maybe that’s the cure we’ve been looking for! We can cure all the vampires with unicorn magic!”
“Woo!” cheered Rainbow Dash. “I knew you could figure it out, Twi!”
Twilight turned to confront Fluttershy again. “Why are your energies distorted? Do they get changed when they get stuck in a wig, or did they start to wear out and not fit as well? There’s a sort of echo interference effect that’s not part of the missing pattern at all, what’s that?”
Fluttershy cowered away with an eep. “I don’t know! I promise I really don’t know, don’t be angry? It just makes me feel better, I don’t know anything about it!”
Twilight whirled. “Well then. Zecora! How do you do this? How do you catch their energies and stick them in masks and things? You may be able to save the lives of vampires and vampire victims everywhere if we can do this on a large scale.”
Zecora regarded her with faint scorn and great patience, clearly considering her answer but not volunteering it.
“I said…” began Twilight impatiently.
“If you wish to shelter souls, you will need some useful goals,” said Zecora. “Do not rush and fret and squeal. Learn to wait, to breathe, to feel.”
Twilight blinked. “Well, that’s a start. To translate from zebronic a little, I think we’re talking about calming the psychic and thaumic energies, though what breathing has to do with thinking is anypony’s guess.”
Zecora’s eyes widened, and then she visibly forced herself to be calm and placid once more. “When mind and heart are calm and still, that is when you turn your will to what lures your spirit friend: a candle of a special blend. Melt wax that no taint perturbs, infuse with the secret herbs… light it, while you calmly do your incantation firm and true…”
As she spoke, her voice grew more portentuous and mystical with each word.
Twilight Sparkle’s did not follow suit. “Can we dispense with the voodoo spooky business?” she objected. “I’m sure it’s a lot of fun but we’re wasting valuable time.”
Zecora twitched. “Valued what, sparkle butt?” she retorted, frostily.
“Well, we have a pegasus, an earth pony foal, a griffin and a pile of dead bunnies. It’s a big pile of dead bunnies. Can you recite calm incantations real quick?”
Zecora’s ears were laid back hard in outrage, and her nostrils were flared, yet still she contained any outburst. Fluttershy’s sympathetic look probably helped. After a moment, Zecora did speak, as calm as ever.
“My business is, indeed, my own. The evidence of it is shown in Fluttershy’s fine tail and mane. Compared to that, what use your brain?”
Twilight bridled. “It’s lots of use, you’ll see! If you could do this with mumbo jumbo I can certainly do it with unicorn magic, probably quicker and better, and for your information we ARE all trying to do essentially the same thing…”
She trailed off. A gentle hoof was restraining her, before she could advance on Zecora whilst arguing every step of the way. It was well thought of, for she could see Zecora smirking at her discomfiture. It was also Princess Celestia’s hoof, and that fact was unavoidably distracting, for it seemed an awfully tender and personal touch as if the Princess was trying to gather her into an embrace.
“Twilight,” urged the Princess, “why don’t we do it her way and you study that? We might learn something. If it works, we can worry about making the process more efficient later.”
Twilight took a moment to catch her breath, for being touched by Celestia had left her wide-eyed and quivery. She blushed, looked down at her hooves in embarrassment: behind her, Rainbow Dash snickered merrily, having witnessed a telltale mare-ly reaction that had nothing to do with vampires or incantations.
“Fine,” said Twilight truculently. “How do we know if it works? What happens? By that I mean, what testable thing can we observe if we get a soul, or whatever it really is in scientific terms? Do they cast a chill, or blow out candles or something?”
Zecora was smiling, which irritated Twilight. The zebra mare said, “It’s spirit form, but all the same you’ll see it stir the candle flame. Don’t sulk, dear Twilight, come with me and we’ll go to my hut and see about infusing candle glow with things you’d neither guess nor know…”
Her indulgent smile dimmed, as Twilight shook off Celestia’s gentle hoof and confronted her.
“Wormwood,” declared Twilight Sparkle, challengingly. “And not just wormwood. Essence of wormwood sap gathered during the full moon.”
Zecora’s eyes widened, and her ears went back. “How do you know this?”
“Aha!” grinned Twilight. “Got you! You didn’t even rhyme that time!”
Zecora shook herself. “Forgive that blight: I meant no slight. This is a shock. Please, Twilight, talk!”
Twilight’s smile was all delightful mischief. “I bet you think I’ve been spying on you, huh? To know something like that? Wait, wait, let me try again. Goldenrod. And you’d better not tell me you need lots of it, because it’s bad for you and will make you feel terrible.”
Zecora gulped. “Nay, just the tiniest little bit: to use a large amount of it is dangerous, that much is true. Who told these secret things to you?”
“Am I wrong?” demanded Twilight. She stopped, staring into space. “Wait, wait… also, you have to hit the cider, don’t you? I bet part of it is getting drunk. Not seriously drunk, but tipsy.”
Zecora stared at her, jaw dangling. She reeled it in, and gulped, seemingly not daring to blink. She glanced at Fluttershy, and she spoke.
“Please tell me how you know these things, Twilight Sparkle. Such power is dangerous in those not prepared for the responsibility.”
On either side, a trusted pony moved closer: for Twilight, Princess Celestia made her presence known. For Zecora, it was Fluttershy who drew near, sensing the seriousness of the moment in the intimacy of non-rhymed speech from the zebra mare.
Rainbow Dash loomed, too, but mostly because of the ‘hit the cider’ part.
Twilight looked into Zecora’s alarmed, concerned eyes, and came clean. “I don’t know all of it, Zecora. I’m guessing. I’m doing well, huh? I don’t mean to frighten you. It seems you must be upset to not be rhyming: you seem so serious.”
“I am,” said Zecora. “I am afraid you will steal pony souls and not know how to care for them.”
“How about I tell you my train of thought?” said Twilight. “Princess, you can tell me if I’m way off base. Zecora, let me know how close I am to the truth.”
The shaken zebra mare nodded. “Our thoughts, perhaps, we can exchange. Your power’s marvellous and strange.” She kept staring at Twilight as if expecting her to do a trick.
“Okay,” said Twilight, taking a breath. “I’m guessing wormwood because it contains antagonists for brain receptors. That sounds bad, but it means you might have neurons firing more easily, and I’m guessing you go into sort of an altered state so I was trying to think of herbs and compounds that would mess with your mind. Ethanol as found in cider might condition that somewhat and help prevent you from getting a dangerous dose. Actually, that was the easy one, goldenrod was more of a long shot. It occurred to me that the benzofuran ketones in goldenrod damage a pony by causing small foci of skeletal muscle degeneration and necrosis. And call me crazy, but what if you guys were cranking up your zebra magic and needed to produce tiny bits of necrosis actually in the spellcaster to catch a stray magic emanation that is actually let loose by what is, pardon me for saying it, a dead body?”
A roomful of ponies stared at her, dumbfounded.
“Does that mean we get to drink some cider now?” asked Rainbow Dash.
She squeaked, as Applejack pounced her and sat on her.
“Your words seem to be clever ones,” said Zecora carefully. “Is this a thing that you have done?”
“Oh, no!” said Twilight. “I was just running my brain! Because, um… you didn’t seem very respectful.”
Zecora tactfully didn’t point out that this disrespect had been mutual. “Your brain runs quick and wild and free! This is miraculous to me. You’ll never see this zebra scorn the genius of a unicorn!”
Twilight smiled and blushed, and blushed worse when Princess Celestia cuddled her briefly with one mighty alabaster wing. “Aw! But the thing is, Zecora, I just guessed some of your material components. Am I right that it takes a toll on the caster? That you have to recover afterward?”
Zecora nodded. “Indeed it does, Miss Sparkle. It’s far from feeling nice.” She nuzzled Fluttershy. “The benefit, however, is worth the highest price.”
“Well, maybe I can help with that!” offered Twilight. “My hunch is that you’re probably still using more goldenrod than you need. If you need loci of death and necrosis within the caster, it almost certainly is no more than a catalyst. You could have almost arbitrarily little damage. I strongly recommend we try this with only the slightest traces of goldenrod. Among other things, we’ve got a foal present.”
“Hey!” objected Northern Spy.
“Sorry, a filly,” corrected Twilight.
Applejack blinked. “Jes’ a moment. You’re about to try a thing for curing Spy and returning her to life?”
“Yes we are,” said Twilight, “and the last thing we want to do is give her loci of death and necrosis in her body, she’s still just a kid!”
Twilight blinked. Everypony was staring at her again.
“Uh, Twi?” said Rainbow Dash. “What the heck are you talking about? She’s already a dead kid. If you can bring her to life again I think we can put up with whatever you think is gonna happen!”
“Dang straight,” said Applejack. “Do it!”
“Can I…” began Rainbow.
“Nope,” replied Applejack firmly.
“You don’t even know what I was going to ask!”
“Wanna bet?” quipped Applejack wryly, and Rainbow subsided with a flutter of cerulean wings.
Zecora lifted her head. “We shall work mighty magics, Twilight, between me and you! Accompany me to my hut and we will soon begin to brew!” She began to trot up the stairs and out of the basement.
“Nope!” said Twilight.
Zecora froze. “Why do you say nope? Surely there is hope?”
Twilight had the ‘I’m an amazing unicorn and this is my lab’ smile going again. “I mean, don’t bother going to your hut. Have you even looked around this place? I could hook you up to an electrothaumigram in two minutes. I have every single material component you’ll need, right here.”
Zecora stared. “Moon-harvested wormwood? Goldenrod extract? Cider?”
“Yep!” said Twilight.
“YOU have extra…”
“Shush, Dashie,” said Applejack warningly. “First things first!”
Zecora shook herself. “Left and right hoofed clover? Beeswax? Wick of woven splinters from the north side of a willow tree felled by thunderbolt?”
“Did she say Wonderbolt?” said Rainbow Dash.
“Nope,” said Applejack.
“Oh,” said Dash. “Cos you know if they were flying at top speed and went into a tree, it would TOTALLY fell that…”
“Shush, Dashie,” said Applejack.
Twilight was thinking. “Yes, yes, yes in spite of Rainbow Dash, yes and yes, yes… Zecora, I’m willing to bet I can take a piece of willow and weave it into splinters and it’ll work. Yes.”
Zecora blinked. “Twilight, we must use a wick that’s taken quite a jolt. Has your willow had at least one wonder of a bolt?”
“Okay, NOW she’s just messing with me…” objected Rainbow Dash.
“Sh!” said Applejack, and gave her a little kiss.
“I’ll hit it with a magic discharge and ground it to something,” said Twilight. “It might not be a lightning bolt but it’ll break down barriers to thaumic energy and that’s got to be the reason for that condition. How about it?”
Zecora considered the idea. “That, I’ll buy. Worth a try!”
The two went off together to rummage through Twilight’s piles of stuff.
Zecora turned to address the onlookers. “If we wish the souls for sure, we must also use a lure! Please consider, before we start, what attracts the pony’s heart.” She directed a loving glance to Fluttershy, and then resumed rummaging through Twilight’s boxes of junk.
Applejack scratched her head. “Huh. Come again?”
Zecora turned. “Souls don’t die with mortal form. Flung into the thankless storm of nothingness, they seek a home. Finding none, they sadly roam far and wide for comfort’s sake: lost and unable to shake the scent of doom that hunts them down, the ocean in which they will drown.” She shuddered, and turned to hunting through boxes with even more determination.
Rainbow gasped. “Spy’s soul’s gonna DROWN?”
“We gotta find it, I guess!” said Applejack. “Or we gotta lure it?”
“What about mine?” squawked Gilda. “Shit! We have to go find it before it drowns? Where the fuck is it supposed to be anyway?”
Applejack thought hard. “She said, what attracts that pony’s heart. I reckon it’s the same for griffins. You’re super bent outta shape over Fluttershy. You figure your soul’s hangin’ around Fluttershy?”
Zecora turned. “That for which she’d strive, were she still alive!”
“Aha!” cried Twilight. “Here goes…”
A bright flash of light burst forth, leaving a smell of charred willow and the scent of melting beeswax, odd odors wafting forth from where the zebra and unicorn frantically worked.
“While she was alive,” said Applejack. “While she was alive…” Her eyes widened. “Uhhh… I know one thing Gilda sure did like while she was alive.”
“Twilight, do you have your magic bit handy?” called Dash.
“Are you crazy?” yelled Twilight. “Shut up and let us work!”
Applejack had gone pale. “Rainbow, not in front of Spy!”
“Yeah, well, do you want results or don’t you?” retorted Dash. “This part is serious, in case you didn’t notice!”
Gilda’s eyes were wide. “It’s not a bad idea. I remember the old days, Dash. Maybe you don’t even need a bit.” She winced, shaking her head. “I’m trying to get past the feelings about Fluttershy. Those are all vampire stuff… well, mostly? You know, Dash, if Fluttershy’s soul ran to Zecora, that’s not such a crazy idea. My soul might be hangin’ out between your legs.”
“Watch it!” scolded Applejack.
“Or yours!” added Gilda, hastily.
“It would,” sniffed Fluttershy. “Try to avoid setting Rainbow Dash’s vagina on fire with the candle, okay?”
Dash’s eyes were wide. “Do you think I ought to try clopping… WITH the candle?”
“Oh, for pony’s sake!” snorted Applejack. She led Spy away. “C’mon, we’re gonna hang out here for a while and think of what your soul might go to. Don’t pay them no mind, please.”
Zecora had turned her head again, while Twilight worked on the candle. “Though the idea is clever and sly, probably sensible, well worth a try, PLEASE don’t mix soul-candle with her marehood. The soul might get stuck to her pussy for good!”
“You mean like in flight school?” said Gilda.
Dash grinned. “Exactly! I always thought it was weird you could totally forget about me and be all into Fluttershy just like that. Now we know the truth! Griffin bait, coming right up!” Her hoof darted back between her legs and began to fiddle.
“Dang it, you wacked out pleasure horse!” cursed Applejack.
“You got it!” chirped Dash cheerfully. “It’s a calling!” A faint wet noise met the air as the pegasus’s body began to respond to her eager will.
Spy blinked. “Why do I smell wrestling?”
“Never you mind,” gruffed Applejack. “Talk to me about the kinda stuff you wanted th’ most. And don’t pay no attention to the mare behind the curtain.” She lifted her head. “Put up a dang curtain, will ya?”
Twilight’s horn lit. A curtain floated over, tactfully concealing Rainbow Dash. if not her happy moaning.
“And now she sounds like bedtime!” objected Spy. Princess Celestia desperately tried to suppress giggles.
“Shush!” said Applejack, blushing. “All right, Spy, what kin we use? Never mind them. We’re talkin’ about you. Favorite snacks or somethin’? Cozy snuggles for a cute lil’ Apple filly?”
“We have the candle!” called Twilight. “Lighting it, now!”
A strange smell filled the air, and the corners of the room seemed to go darker. Uncanny energies seemed to throng and pervade the basement space.
Zecora cried out, “Praise the Elders, we succeed! This will answer to our need! Now, which vampire suffers worst? Who shall be the one that’s first?”
The candle blew out.
“Damn it!” cursed Twilight. “I was sure that was gonna stay lit! Just a moment.” Her horn glowed, and the candle flickered to life again.
Applejack turned to Spy, ignoring the Dashian sounds from behind the curtain. “Come on, honey. We gotta find the thing you can’t resist. Maybe my special Apple Brown Betty? Or… I’m not sure I can bring ‘winning a race’ in here, but if I gave Dashie a smack and got her to run a few laps with us? Prob’ly be an improvement over what she is doin’ ta be honest…”
“Mom?” said Northern Spy. “I feel funny.”
“Aw, dear Celestia,” moaned Applejack.
“Yes?” said Princess Celestia.
“No, I meant…”
The fumes thickened.
“Now we’ve got this candle lit!” exulted Twilight. “Okay! Trixie, with me, let’s magemeld! We’re going to try to graft stray thaumic energy back into a vampire and cure it. So which one do we do first?”
The candle blew out again.
“Mom?” said Northern Spy. “It’s even worse! Except…” she frowned, wrinkling her forehead. “It feels good? Warm?”
As Twilight re-lit the candle, Trixie’s eyes widened. “Could it be?” she breathed.
“Okay, we’d better get a move on,” called Twilight, but then Trixie shushed her.
“Trixie wonders how certain spirits would feel,” said Trixie Lulamoon, “if we do the griffin FIRST!”
The candle not only blew out, but got knocked across the room and fell into the corral of dead bunnies.
All eyes widened.
“GOT her!” cried Trixie. “Miss Rainbow Dash, continue your own efforts. We have lured the soul of the mad little earth pony filly!”
“Eeee!” cried Applejack, hugging Spy. “Git ready!”
Twilight’s horn lit, and she grabbed the candle with it, and lit the wick one more time. “Okay! No more blowing the candle out! Because Northern Spy, Applejack’s and Rainbow Dash’s foal…”
“Filly!” yelled Spy, and the candle blew out for a fourth time.
“Quit it!” ordered Twilight, wild-eyed. “Crazy kid! You’re gonna be the first ever cured, happy now? Leave the candle ON in case we need it. I don’t know how this works. Trixie, with me!”
The two unicorns concentrated. Zecora frowned.
“You’ve done so well,” she scolded, “why don’t you know? These energies must gently flow!”
Twilight bared her teeth, making a little whinny of effort. Trixie squeezed her eyes shut, straining. Their horns’ glow merged and surrounded Northern Spy, who lifted into the air, wide-eyed.
“You cannot force this, stupid horses!” raged Zecora. “Fool! Dunce! Relax at once!”
Then, she backed away, for Princess Celestia had loomed before her, bending over the straining unicorns.
“Let me help,” she said: and her voice held the peace of eternity, beyond the concerns of mortal ponies.
Princess Celestia leaned over, and cuddled both Twilight and Trixie to her in her large, majestic wings. She shut her eyes, and her own horn lit, with a softer glow that merged with that of the frantic unicorns.
Everything seemed to go quiet and gentle.
Northern Spy’s whole body flashed in the color of the merged magic, and she gasped. Her eyes were wide, staring out at the world in shock.
“Mom!” she squeaked.
Celestia lowered her head, and the magic aura died away, though Twilight continued to support Spy. She wobbled. “Did it work?” she said. She concentrated, and her eyes widened. “Oh, wow!”
Trixie squeed. “Mistress! You did it! We did it! We cured her!”
A huge smile spread across Spy’s face. “I’m alive! I’m, like, a real live pony! YAHOO! Put me down!”
She began to kick in midair, and hastily Twilight dropped the levitation spell, and dropped the excited filly.
“Yaaah!” squealed Spy sharply, hitting the floor with a wham. “Ow! Ow ow ow!” She raised a hoof. It dangled, bent in the wrong place.
“Aw, horseapples!” cursed Applejack, but she couldn’t stop grinning. “Well, Northern Spy! I guess this time you best get fixed up the earth pony way, huh?”
Rainbow Dash had dropped her soul-luring efforts and burst through the curtain the instant she’d heard what was happening. She couldn’t stop grinning either. “My baby!”
Spy gave her a stern look. “No wrestling right now! My hoof is f… messed up.”
“I won’t, I promise,” said Dash. She was wobbling with relief, but also from her determined efforts to clop herself senseless for Science and Griffin.
“Hooray!” cheered Fluttershy. “The unicorns and the Princess will save everypony!”
“What about me over here?!” yelled Gilda.
Twilight and Trixie stared at each other.
“Do you think Rainbow Dash’s vagina attracted Gilda’s soul yet?” said Twilight.
“Just look at it!” replied Trixie.
They didn’t have to look for long. Dash was facing her mate and kid, but her hindquarters were facing the unicorns and griffin, and Dash’s vagina was a disaster in a lube factory with a dose of heat-induced swelling. And Gilda wore the same haunted, charmed look that Spy’d worn when she felt her soul near her.
“Link up, Trixie!” ordered Twilight. “That soul’s gotta be right around here! In fact it’s gonna be right there!”
“Relax your cares, you silly mares!” pleaded Zecora. “Is not your goal to soothe a soul?”
Princess Celestia turned to regard her. “I’m sorry. It is their nature to strive. Perhaps it’s easier for me to understand your ways: I have had to seek calm about many things, even in the face of strong feeling. Until my little ponies can summon up the meditative calm of a zebra shaman, I will help them make the connection.”
She turned to enfold Twilight and Trixie in her wings again, and bowed her head in concentration. The magic glow enveloped Gilda.
The result was not quite what anyone had expected.
Gilda screamed. She flung her talons up to cover her face. She writhed, trying to evade some kind of attack, but there was nothing near her, nothing at all. The ponies scrambled away, Spy hopping on three legs, pressing up against the walls in attempts to get clear of the freaked-out griffin.
And all the while, Gilda squalled, and something invisible pummeled her… but instead of invisible blows punishing her, it seemed like damage just came into existence for no reason. She cried, her face all beaten up, feathers disheveled, shoulders bruised.
And as she curled up trying to ward off the damage… a bite mark clearly and visibly came into existence on her hind paw.
Gilda sagged, breathing hard, but alive: no longer a vampire griffin.
Rainbow Dash couldn’t stop staring at Gilda’s hind leg. “Hey, kid. Does that look familiar to you?”
Northern Spy, holding her foreleg in the air, gaped at the wrecked griffin. “Whoa! That’s right where I bit her, back when all this started. It came back! But I didn’t do all that other stuff, Mom, I swear I didn’t!”
Fluttershy whimpered, “Twilight, something went wrong! You hurt her!” She began to rush forward to comfort the stricken Gilda, but then Gilda lifted her head and looked right at Fluttershy, and Applejack, and Rainbow Dash.
There was no mistaking it. She bore exactly, exactly the same injuries she’d long since vampirically healed, back when she’d jumped a pegasus guard and Fluttershy had beaten the living crap out of her: beaten the life out of her, to be accurate.
They could even see the bite mark Fluttershy had left on her shoulder, that nopony had thought to remark upon at the time.
Gilda’s expression was unreadable, thanks to her pain and her injuries. She just panted, hanging in there, tough like any griffin and not letting a severe beating get her down.
They heard a sob. They turned again. Twilight Sparkle had eyes only for Fluttershy.
Trixie and Princess Celestia stared at Twilight in horror as Twilight began to weep and then crumpled to the floor in despair.
Gilda was going to need medical help, but Fluttershy was not going to be cured of vampirism at all, ever. She had endured unimaginable punishment in her vampiric form, everything from repeated and desired damage by Dursaa to aggressive farm pony gangbanging to the fight with Gilda, a fullgrown griffin, right up to being impaled through the heart by a mad alicorn Princess’s last act as an alicorn.
Those who knew all of vampire Fluttershy’s secrets knew that, if she were to re-take every act of violence that had marked her, there wouldn’t even be enough left for a decent burial.
Fluttershy’s lip quivered. Just as Twilight had stared at her, she now regarded Twilight Sparkle: her horn, in particular. Perhaps not the innocent little unicorn horn, but rather what once had been there. All could see Fluttershy remembering what had happened to her, how it had felt, what it would mean to be restored to her mortal form.
She went very pale.
“I thought this day might come,” said Fluttershy in a small voice. She gulped, and looked around. “I love you all. Thank you for so much… Take care of Angel. Zecora, take care of Angel for me.”
As ponies, zebra and Princess looked on in horror, Fluttershy stepped forward. Twilight looked up, racked with guilt, and Fluttershy’s nose nuzzled hers. The gentle vampegasus spoke.
“It’s for the best. You’ve known the risks all along, I could tell. I didn’t fool you for a moment, and now here we are. Please understand I would rather this be from you than an angry, burny mob. It’s okay, Twilight. I forgive you. And what’s done is done…”
Twilight shook her head desperately. Gilda, nearby, watched through narrowed, bludgeoned eyes. Fluttershy glanced at her too, then seemed to grow more certain.
“It’s time, Twilight,” she said. “Do it.”
Her eyes widened at a flicker of motion, and then Gilda was on her.