“Soooo…” crooned Pinkie, “I spy, with my inner eye, something… frosted!”
“Unless I miss my guess,” said Rock Candy, her colt, “that would be the cupcakes you promised to give us if we played this game with you.”
“Played this game?” squeaked Pinkie, affronted. “Game? This is no game, Rock! We don’t need a Marble Pie to give us creepy dire warnings about scary things in Ponyville! We can make creepy dire warnings ourselves! Now focus. I know you have Pinkie Sense too. Northern Spy, you can concentrate too, in case it helps or something.”
“Everything you do’s like a game,” protested Rock Candy, his ears laid back. “Even when you come up with creepy dire warnings it’s like a game to you! Please don’t be mad, Mom? I didn’t mean anything wrong.”
“Rock!” cried Pinkie. “For your information, buster, sometimes things are serious! Haven’t you ever seen me look serious? You can’t miss it, my mane goes all straight and everything about life is way less bouncy and fun!”
“But Mom!” wailed Rock. “Why are you playing a game, and having me play it too, in order to get serious and not-fun? How’s that supposed to help, or even make sense?”
“BECAUSE…” yelled Pinkie, and then she froze in place, not finishing her sentence, and her mane floofed out a little extra in pure shock.
He was right, of course. He didn’t understand all of it, though as an inheritor of Pinkie Sense he’d better learn… but as usual, little Rock had seen through to an important truth. Sometimes things got very serious and scary and un-fun in Ponyville, and all her floof left her, and her mane hung straight and lank.
And at those times, she either raved pure Pinkie Sense without knowing what she was saying, or she struggled through like any other pony, all her bounce seemingly lost forever, and completely unable to do anything funny and playful and reality-defying.
At all costs, she couldn’t let that happen to her. She had to get to the bottom of what in Ponyville was turning evil, because she’d been picking up hints as well. The foundation of things felt unstable. Some terrible change was going to happen, and she was involved somehow, and there was no time.
But, she had to make it fun, or at least funny, lest she lose her strangest abilities just when they were needed most.
So, Pinkie smiled.
“That’s exactly right!” she told Rock. “Thank you for reminding me. So, here we are, the amazing Rock Lobster, the Green Streak, and your faithful Ponka Poe…”
“You said Pooka Pong!” accused Northern Spy.
Pinkie gave her a look. “It has to be different every time, Green Streak, that’s the gag! Okay?”
“I can’t think up different ways to say Poogy Pom every time I have to say Poggle Poo,” complained Northern Spy.
“Do the best you can,” encouraged Pinkie, “you’re doing great. Rock! Focus. It’s your turn. I spy with my inner eye, something…”
Rock grimaced, concentrating. “Something like… a granny goat?”
Pinkie blinked. “A granny goat?”
“Yeah,” said Rock, his little ears showing perplexity. “Good feelings and a scraggly little old yellow goat. Looks like one, sort of bony and angular, what I could even see of it. It’s… nice? That’s all I could get.”
“You mean that’s all you could GOAT!” teased Pinkie.
“Will you get on with it!” wailed Northern Spy. “I already got a Granny. Technic’ly a great-granny. Go ahead and find out something useful!”
Pinkie felt her Sense stir within her, a great quietness lurking ready to burst forth into fey understanding. She stuck her tongue out at Northern Spy, who pouted.
“I would be happy to, Green Streak,” she said. “By all means. Ready? I spy, with my inner eye, someth…”
“What? What?” cried Rock Candy, eagerly. “You got one!”
“No, she just spaced out!” accused Northern Spy. “Look, she’s just staring! That or you farted, she’s making a yucky face!”
“I did not!”
“Did too! That or she’s just being cranky at me when it’s her who said I have to be here even though I can’t do your dumb spooky stuff!”
“It’s important superhero business, Green Streak!”
“Yeah well it’s important superhero business I can’t DO so what’s the stupid point?”
“It is not either a stupid point! It’s a very special thing that can only be done by our fellow superhero Poinka Pee!”
“That’s a stupid name, AND it’s a stupid point and this is a stupid meeting!” accused Northern Spy.
While the kids argued, Pinkie Pie stared, fighting for control, most of all fighting to keep hold of that vital touch of laughter that kept receding, mockingly… for the Sense didn’t lie to her, but it also didn’t explain.
And she hadn’t, she really hadn’t expected a horribly clear glimpse of Fluttershy, her beloved and be-lost Fluttershy snarling in hideous rage, fully in vampire form, her eerie pink eyes glowing from under savagely glaring brows.
And most of all, she hadn’t expected the vision of her Fluttershy unleashing some kind of vampire attack fueled by an amount of rage that seemed impossible for one creature to produce… and, with this beam of hate, burning alive some hapless victim, burning them until they screamed and died. It didn’t look that much like a pony, blackened in flames, though the basic form was right. It screamed like a pony, though, like a pony subject to unthinkable agony, as if the vampire attack was burning from the inside out.
And it did stop, when there was nothing left to burn.
Fluttershy was going to kill. She would fly into a rage, and murder some hapless victim with force that seemed beyond even what a scary vampire could produce… in a way that horrified Pinkie Pie to the core of her being. There was no question about it. It would happen.
She twitched, still staring, as another wisp of Sense reached out to communicate to her one last detail, and it was about her relation to that event.
A part of her would be destroyed forever. She would see it all. She would never be the same.
Well… no shit!
“Mom?” said Rock Candy, abandoning the argument with Spy. “Are you okay, Mom? Tell me what you saw.”
Pinkie stared, in a kind of frozen horror, at… Fluttershy’s own foal, as well as hers.
“That’ll do, Snowy Hocks!” insisted Apple Bloom, stamping a hoof.
“Oh?” retorted Snowy. “Easy for you to say! I’m tellin’ you, that thing could end up turning on us. Ah don’t trust them magical things that ain’t properly a pony at all.”
“Applejack says she won’t! That ain’t what we’re discussin’, dammit.”
“That’s right, she won’t,” said Applejack. “Now we might try to keep Ponyville from gettin’ out of control when the Kirin’s around, maybe we want to be careful around her so’s not to confuse her, but all the same there’s no call for such crazy talk.”
She shied away, as Apple Bloom had turned on her, fillyish face sour. Bloom had picked up circles under the eyes as she drove herself and the farm to new heights of productivity and efficiency. Those daunting eyes now took Applejack in.
“Crazy talk, y’say?” said Apple Bloom. “I feel the same, but to me, it’s this Kirin talkin’ about evil. We don’t allow evil in these parts. Just ponies, which I grant you, them’s sometimes obstreperous. And given to slackin’ and shirking!”
Applejack chuckled, but her little sister wasn’t letting her off the hook that easily, and kept going.
“Big sister, she’s screwing up the damn farm! My farm ponies are all distracted. This is not helping farm business!”
“But, Apple Bloom,” suggested Applejack, “she’s huntin’ down a problem of some kind! She’s also huntin’ down a pony dicking, but I guess our boys are too nervous…”
“She’s evil!” swore Snowy Hocks. “Mark my words, she’s gonna start killin’ ponies, and here we sit like lumps, jawing about it!”
“She ain’t!” insisted Applejack. “She ain’t even gonna hurt our more what you may call unusual ponies, at least if I got anything to say about it…”
“Stop,” ordered Apple Bloom, and the two desisted. Apple Bloom glowered at them. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. It don’t matter a damn to me if Miss Hina is a wicked bad creature, or huntin’ of wicked bad creatures. That’s no concern of ours. What we’re gonna do is like when the timberwolves git extra fierce, wantin’ to drag off pony folk an’ put the bodies around their trees as fertilizer? You remember those times? We’ll do that. Buddy system. No magic, nothin’ spooky, pure earth pony discipline. Got it?”
Applejack scuffed the dirt with a forehoof. “Sure we do.”
Apple Bloom relaxed, and even smiled. “Of course y’do, Applejack. The first time I saw the earth pony buddy system, it was you leadin’ us. Remember that? And it worked, too, and it’ll work for us now.”
Applejack’s eye glinted. “Sure I remember. I ain’t quite out to pasture yet, little sister.”
Apple Bloom’s smile hardened. “I might ‘a said it’ll work for me, big sister. I was bein’ nice. Just in case you’re wondering who’s making the arrangements.”
At that, Applejack sighed. “Sure. Dang it, Apple Bloom… all right. You know I did arrange all that? Ain’t you ever heard of a straw boss? Must you keep me so outta the loop?”
“My straw boss is Oakback,” said Apple Bloom. “You know that. And you’re a lil’ too interested in this Kirin’s fancies. I tole you, it ain’t no concern of ours. Farm business needs doing.”
“You don’t have me doing it,” suggested Applejack. “Northern Spy’s so big now, ain’t like I got so much mommy duties, I kin spare some time to help with the ponies.”
“Nope,” said Apple Bloom. “I’m assigning you Rainbow Dash as a buddy.”
Applejack blinked in astonishment. “You think I need to go around protectin’ Rainbow Dash? Really?”
Apple Bloom’s eye glinted in amusement, and the corner of her mouth turned up. “I ain’t completely heartless, nor yet unobservant. Protect each other as y’please, even if it’s in mighty personal ways. You can protect each others’ hoo-has, when you’re not endangering them, that is. The rest of you will be teamed up with each other to protect in less pers’nal ways!”
Snowy Hocks glanced around at silent Hollyhock, at Silver, at Fern Gully and the other farm ponies. Even Dursaa was present, studying the proceedings solemnly.
“The Kirin comes, and apprehension climbs,” he said. “I have some verses that would suit these times…”
“Nope!” said Apple Bloom decidedly. “Your rhymin’ ain’t gonna be required of you this evening. We’re assigning you all to buddies and you’re getting back to work, hear me? I’ll let you go off tonight, it’s getting dark, but tomorrow morning you all show up bright and early with your buddies and we’ll have no more of this shirkin’ crap!”
Applejack made a face. “All righty then. And you don’t need me for this work? Nor as a straw boss? Dang it, Apple Bloom. Me an’ Rainbow Dash, we’re nothin’ like as busy with Northern Spy as we used to be, but you’re not bringing me back onto farm duties!”
“You can help Granny Smith take care of the house?” suggested Apple Bloom. “You can learn fancy mathematics from Diamond Tiara? I’m sure she’d like help with them books and things.”
Applejack shuddered. “Aw hell no. Listen here, kin I take on a special assignment? Ain’t exactly farm related, but all the same it might be something me and Rainbow can do for ya.”
Applejack drew a breath. “Let us go and help that Kirin find her lurkin’ evil. That way, if she’s thinkin’ of a certain pony who’s a little special in certain ways, why we can be there and talk to her and stop her from doin’ something rash. And, if she really has found some kinda evil in our town we don’t know about, well… sucks to be that evil, is all I can say! Between me, Dashie and Hina, we’ll give it a real whippin’! How about it?”
Apple Bloom studied her big sister. Behind her, Fern Gully gawked in amazement, and Snowy Hocks and Hollyhock both stared at her with big, wide, shocked eyes.
“You, Rainbow, and th’ Kirin?” said Apple Bloom. “Hunting the evil, makin’ sure it ain’t our Fluttershy she’s after, and stayin’ out of our way as we do the dang farm work?”
“Yeah,” said Applejack. “How’s that sound?”
“Do it,” said Apple Bloom, and turned away to address the farm ponies and assign them buddies.
“I got my buddy right here!” squeaked Snowy Hocks, and grabbed Hollyhock. “Quick, we got to get to buddy practice!”
Hollyhock’s ears were back, and he was trembling all over… but before he could even react, Snowy was dragging him off. They disappeared behind the barn, and were lost to sight.
“Whatever,” said Apple Bloom. “Dursaa, you’re buddies with Knothole. Silver, you’re with Fern Gully. No, don’t argue! I don’t care if he fell off a ladder and landed on you. You should’ve been paying attention.”
“He knocked a bucket off a ladder!” complained Silver. “That’s what landed on me!”
“Don’t make no difference,” maintained Apple Bloom.
“It was a paint bucket!”
“At least it got you to bathe,” said Apple Bloom. “Dammit, Silver…”
As Apple Bloom scolded her recalcitrant farmponies, and Dursaa led off Knothole to receive an epic rhyme about Kirin and the need to avoid them, Applejack headed out, figuring to locate either Rainbow Dash, or the Kirin. Neither presented themselves.
At least with the Kirin on hand, thought Applejack, any real evil would turn and run just as fast as it could!
“Mom!” yelled Rock Candy. “Snap out of it!” He shook Pinkie, and turned to Northern Spy. “Help me with her!”
“With what?” said Spy, her eyes wide. “Rock, she’s just being weird. Pinkie Pie is always weird. What’s different about this time?”
“It’s different!” protested Rock. “If you can help me drag her to, I don’t know, some other grown-up…”
With a resounding crash, Rainbow Dash burst through the window without opening it. She bounced off the floor, and jumped to her hooves, staring at Pinkie even as Pinkie stared at nothing. “Pinkie Pie! I hoped I’d find you!”
Northern Spy hadn’t even flinched. “Here you go, Rock. My Mom’s here. Now what?”
Rock turned to Dash. “Help! Help us with Mom, Rainbow Dash!”
“Oh my gosh,” said Dash. “What’s she doing, Rock?”
“Being really weird, and something’s the matter with her!”
“Oh, great,” moaned Dash, “just what we need…”
“Big deal!” snorted Northern Spy. “What else is new? What’s the problem, Mom? Whatever it is we’ll solve it, or fix it, or kick its ass, okay?”
Dash turned to her unimpressed filly. “No, you don’t understand. There’s something in town called a Kirin, and it’s searching for wrong stuff, and when Pinkie gets too crazy I’m worried she might come off as wrong…”
“It wants to HURT Mom?” squeaked Rock Candy, dismayed.
“We don’t know!” cried Dash. “We’ve got to get Pinkie acting more normal before the Kirin runs into her!” She began to pace rapidly in a little whirling circle, and then… “Eep!”
Northern Spy had seized her tail, with all the authority her other Mom Applejack could’ve used. Her eyes met Rainbow’s. When Mom had stopped whirling in a panic, Spy spat out the prismatic tail and spoke. “Hey, stop it. First of all, we’re not going to let anything hurt Pinkie. She’s one of us superheroes! Right, Rock?”
“Uh, right,” said Rock, still fretful.
“And besides that,” insisted Spy, “Pinkie has weird super powers of her own! She was just using them. She has these two modes, right Rock? If her mane is straight and just dangles, she raves creepy stuff and doesn’t know what she’s saying. And if her mane is foofy, then nothing in Equestria can hurt her!”
Dash glanced at Pinkie. Pinkie stared at nothing, trembling, her mane seeming to quiver with the desire to give up its floofiness and hang straight. Dash gulped. “Um…”
“And look!” said Spy. “I don’t know what she’s seeing, but her mane’s still floofy!”
Rainbow Dash looked over her old friend, her heart wrung by Pinkie’s obvious agony. “It’s not gonna last. She needs a hug! Pinkie, we’re here for ya! What’s wrong?”
“Oh,” said Northern Spy dismissively. “Well in that case it’s easy. Wait until she snaps. Then you can hug her, and her mane will hang all straight, and she’ll start telling us everything and won’t even know what she’s saying!”
The words fell on Pinkie Pie’s ears.
Her body convulsed, churned through several crazy and unnatural forms, and seemed to burst outward, inflating like a balloon while her mane foofed so hard it took up three times as much space as usual. Dash and Rock and Spy cringed back in alarm…
Pinkie Pie was standing there, foofy mane and all, smiling at them as if they were the happiest sight she could ever possibly see. There was nothing alarming about her other than the terrifying gleam in her eyes, far too wide and starey, and the smile that was more of a rictus grin.
“Are you okay, Pinkie Pie?” asked Rainbow.
“I am absolutely splenderrific!” vowed Pinkie. “Thank you so much for asking!”
“Are you sure?” pressed Rainbow. “There anything you want to talk about? What was bothering you, just then?”
“Nothing!” beamed Pinkie, her teeth grinding slightly.
Rock and Spy had picked up on the tone of things, and were studying Pinkie with some concern.
“Guys?” said Dash. “Give us some space. Let me talk to her.”
Without a word of argument, the two kids bolted upstairs, their little hoofbeats convincingly seeming to recede out of hearing range. Dash nodded, satisfied, and turned to her old friend.
“Look, I know you have your moments, Pinkie Pie,” she said. “Remember? I’ve been there for you when it was pretty bad. That surprise birthday party we had for you? And then there are other times, and I know you try your best, but you know what you’re getting wrong? You’re not talking to ponies. When you get this upset, you’re not talking to ponies…”
“I’m not upset!” declared Pinkie. It would’ve been more convincing, if not declared through gritted teeth and that horrible grin.
“Shyeah right,” snorted Rainbow. She hugged Pinkie, who didn’t respond. She sighed, and continued arguing. “Listen, Pinkie, I have been through some shit because I wouldn’t talk to ponies, at times when I should have. Okay? It got really bad sometimes. It hurt so bad, and I hurt others because I did stuff rather than try to say what seemed impossible to say, but we got through it, and I learned. Now I don’t have to lose Applejack because even when stuff is real difficult, I talk about it. I’m raising Northern Spy to talk about stuff too…”
Pinkie twitched, at the mention of Spy, and the raising of foals. She grinned harder, her mind creaking under the strain. She couldn’t possibly tell Rock about what Fluttershy would do, much less that she herself would be ruined by the events. He’d have nothing, he’d be lost, she refused adamantly to give in to the reality. Dumb reality! Stupid Sense!
“Pinkie?” prodded Rainbow Dash. “Do you hear me?”
…and if she gave in to the horror of it, thought Pinkie, she’d lose her bounce and wouldn’t be able to pop out of teacups or appear in mirrors AND she’d be blurting out the whole horrible truth to everypony, including Rock. She remembered the time she and Fluttershy thought Applejack had been murdered. She’d wandered into town raving the whole way, her mane hanging straight, unable to do anything but issue dire warnings. This time, it was so much worse, if she let herself go there…
“Pinkie!” yelled Dash, shaking her. “Snap out of it!”
Pinkie Pie blinked cutely, and looked straight at Rainbow.
“I’m good!” she chirped.
Rainbow gazed back, knowing she wasn’t, she so very wasn’t…
…and then Pinkie Pie was bouncing away out the door, off all four hooves, with odd little poingy sounds coming from nowhere in particular. Dash could only stare after her. At such times, Pinkie could bounce faster than Rainbow could fly. Pinkie could appear places without travelling to them. Pinkie could appear in things and scare other ponies senseless, and never once explain what she wanted… apart from the rages over things like breaking a Pinkie Promise, which had brave ponies like Applejack taking cover at the mere suggestion of such a Pinkie scenario. And then she was gone.
Rainbow Dash couldn’t begin to guess what a Kirin would make of such shenanigans, but doubted it would go over well.
The kids thundered down the stairs. “Did you talk to her?” pleaded Rock.
“Yeah, I kind of did,” said Rainbow. She wore a comically big frown, and her ear twitched.
“What do we do?” begged Rock.
Rainbow Dash set her jaw. “I’ll tell you what, Rock Candy. It’s getting late. You stay home, stay here, and you, Spy, you’re coming home with me, and I’m going to go find Pinkie and tell her to go home and sleep on it. Okay? I don’t know what’s bothering her, but I want her safe at home. That means you should help, Rock! Once I get her back, have her read you a story or play a game or something…”
“Not I-spy-with-my-inner-eye!” protested Rock. “That’s what started all the trouble!”
“Then something else,” insisted Dash. “Understand? I’m going to send her right home and she’ll feel better in the morning. You’ll feel better too! And if you can get her to talk, so much the better, but she might have to sleep it off first. Me and Spy are going to go fetch her, because she’s not doing awesome. Come on, Spy! I mean Green Streak!”
Rock Candy was an obedient little pony, playful but well-meaning. He also trusted his extended family, including Spy’s moms, so he nodded and sat down to wait, watching Dash and Spy head off on their mission.
Northern Spy wasn’t, so even before they’d got out the door, she was arguing.
“She is too! She’s part of our superhero team, Mom, and she’s clearly using her creepy powers!”
“That’s just what I’m afraid of, Spy,” said Dash.
“What’s to be afraid of?” objected Spy. “Maybe you need to appreciate the Pingle Pong more.”
“The what now?”
Pinkie Pie wandered over toward Sweet Apple Acres. Something told her it was important. She told herself it’d be a good idea to warn the Apples about Fluttershy somehow. In a nice way, maybe? Perhaps there wouldn’t be so much murder and death if she had Applejack lasso the vampony and tie her to something? She had to come up with a way to suggest it that was fun and cheery. Everything had to be fun, or else the creepy raving would come and her hair would hang lank and she’d lose her best powers, the ones she didn’t really understand…
Pinkie stumbled. She looked down.
She gave a horrible twitch, mastering herself by desperate force of will.
“Yeah,” she said, staring into the dead, shocked eyes, “that’s not very fun at all…”
A tearing noise split the night. In no more than a second, Pinkie Pie was joined by Rainbow Dash from the air, and Northern Spy over the ground. They’d blasted straight through trees and bushes to reach her, hearing her scream. They, too, stared.
The corpse of Fern Gully, farm pony, stared back at them. A little trickle of blood dripped down his neck.
“Oh, fuck,” breathed Rainbow Dash.
Pinkie twitched. She twitched again. “…la la laaa…” she sang to herself, weakly.
“Did you see what did this, Pinkie?” asked Rainbow Dash. Then, she cringed back, for that grin kept getting more disturbing.
“Maybe!” said Pinkie Pie brightly, and she began to bounce off in her carefree way.
Rainbow whimpered. She felt Spy cowering against her. As much as Northern Spy liked how freaky her fellow superhero was, she still was only a small filly and her nerves could only take so much.
“Pinkie!” yelled Rainbow, watching her recede. “Go home to Rock!”
“Nope!” called Pinkie, and continued to bounce away cheerfully. Rainbow watched her go, then heard hoofbeats approaching from behind. She whirled.
Apple Bloom, Applejack, and Hina the Kirin galloped up, looking grim. “Who screamed?” demanded Applejack.
“Is it too late for me to scream?” responded Dash. She tried to smile, but it didn’t hold together, and then Applejack was hugging her… and then, Applejack gave a little shriek and tried to jump back while still hugging Rainbow. She’d seen Fern Gully.
“Oh no way,” breathed Apple Bloom, her eyes pits of horror. “No fucking way…”
Dash summoned all her willpower, and spoke up, in hopes of soothing the filly. “It’s okay, Apple Bloom, don’t look, we’ll keep you safe from the…”
“ROLL CALL!” screamed Apple Bloom, at the top of her lungs. “RIGHT now! All farm ponies, here, NOW! Roll call!”
Dash fell back, startled, and hugged Applejack. It seemed the Apple Boss Mare thing ran deep. She glanced at Hina, the Kirin. Her delicate ears were back, her slender hocks trembled.
Apple Bloom wouldn’t shut up. She ran in circles, yelling. “ROLL call! Every damn pony within earshot, come to me! Ah am not jokin’ nor jestin’! NOW!”
As if like magic, ponies began to materialize out of the darkness. Oakback. Dursaa. Knothole. Snowy Hocks appeared, took one look at the scene, and cringed back in horror, seeming to understand right away what had happened.
“SNOWY HOCKS!” screamed Apple Bloom. “HERE, NOW!”
Snowy stepped forward on trembling legs, eyes wide and fixed on Hina, not daring to disobey Apple Bloom’s direct order. His ears were laid back so hard they were plastered against his skull. He stayed absolutely silent, just stared and stared like the Kirin was a demon about to eat him.
“ALL y’all line up here right now! Count off! Who’s here?” demanded Apple Bloom.
Oakback gulped. “Me, you, Applejack… Rainbow Dash, lil’ Spy, Snowy, Dursaa, Knothole. Silver ain’t here, nor Hollyhock. That there’s Fern Gully. Daid.”
“Damn right he is,” retorted Apple Bloom. “Ah am concerned about the well being of them as is living. We gotta find Silver, this is his buddy. Who’s seen Silver?”
Nopony responded. Apple Bloom bared her teeth in a snarl of pain. “Dammit! All right. All right. Applejack, you ain’t gonna like this, but… who’s seen Fluttershy?”
“Can’t be Fluttershy,” said Applejack weakly.
“Who is Fluttershy?” cried Hina. She swayed, as if feeling very dizzy and sick.
“It AIN’T Fluttershy!” yelled Applejack. “It ain’t! It’s some other vampire. Who else could be a vampire? Hina, kin you check for vampires?”
Snowy Hocks keened, quietly, behind Dursaa. The Kirin didn’t respond, seemed not to hear. Her face was dreadful, and her body seemed all scales and luminescent waves of mane and fetlock.
Northern Spy was very pale. She clung to Rainbow’s leg, but her little voice chimed in bravely: “Gilda’s not a vampire anymore. I’m not a vampire anymore. Fluttershy’s nice, she’s a good vampire, like we were good vampires, we didn’t hurt anypony, we were good vampires…”
“Somepony else,” said Rainbow. “Who else? Shy bit Gilda, but she didn’t mean it. My kid bit Gilda. Maybe if somepony bit Fluttershy?” She glanced quickly at Dursaa, but he stood impassive and solemn.
“Another… good vampire? Who made some bad choices?” squeaked Northern Spy. Dash felt her trembling.
“No,” said Rainbow Dash, looking into Fern Gully’s lifeless eyes. “No, Spy. It was a bad vampire.”
Northern Spy had never been daunted by anything. But, Northern Spy had never looked on death before. She kept staring at Fern Gully, and then she slunk around, up against Rainbow’s side, and without prompting Rainbow Dash knew what to do. A cerulean blue wing came down gently over her trembling foal, and Dash protected her Northern Spy for the time being, until she was again able to cope.
Applejack nodded, approvingly. She was very pale as well. “Shit,” she said. “Can’t be Fluttershy, I swear it can’t. An’ Gilda’s better. Somepony else that bit Fluttershy, you think?”
“Yeah,” said Rainbow Dash distractedly. “If sh… gahh!”
Her wings sprang up bolt erect. Her eyes flew wide. Beside her, Northern Spy whimpered, and Rainbow quickly lowered her wings to shelter her foal again, but she stared at Applejack like a mare possessed.
“We watched him do it,” she said. “Applejack. We know who it is. We watched him do it.”
“Ah don’t…” began Applejack, and blinked. “Whoa. That night! That awful night. The gangbang, that stinkin’ pegasus gangbang! All cause Fluttershy wanted to be jes’ wrecked by a passel of stallions! Apple Bloom, I tole you, they shouldn’ta done it…”
“Never mind that,” ordered Apple Bloom. “Are you tellin’ me you ponies know who it is? Ain’t nothin’ but farm ponies on that colorful occasion! If it was one of us, then who?”
Applejack thought. “Hell of a night. Dursaa! Show your mouth!” she demanded. “I saw you nip her! Prove you ain’t sportin’ bloody fangs!”
Dursaa blinked, and opened his mouth. He bared his teeth, and they were normal zebra teeth, with no fangs at all. Behind him, Snowy Hocks cowered.
“Well, it ain’t him,” said Applejack. “I know he bit Fluttershy’s butt, guess he got a gentle touch.”
“That dreadful fate will not on me befall,” said Dursaa. “We’re gentler still with bites… or not at all.”
Applejack nodded. “That’s good, you be dang careful, got it? I guess you’ve figured out you can’t bite Fluttershy nohow, even if she wants it. Well, if it ain’t him, and we saw him bite her rump, then who was it? Rainbow, you sounded so sure.”
“Look around,” rasped Rainbow Dash. “If you were a pegasus, you’d know. I’ll never forget it.”
“Spit it out, dang it,” demanded Apple Bloom.
“Gladly,” said Dash. “Hollyhock. Fuckin’ Hollyhock. I’ll never forget the way he went after her wing. You’re not a pegasus, and we all forgot right afterwards, but still! He knew better. That was ugly. He seriously did her wing as hard as he could. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything so kinky and sick as the way he went after that wing, and him not really caring about her at all.” She shuddered.
“Ohhhh…” said Applejack, remembering.
“Oh yeah,” said Dash darkly. “He was always kinda mean, him and Silver, the two herders. The whole thing was exciting at the time even when it got out of control, but I didn’t know what it meant, just that it was so out there. And then we all got so distracted when she turned into the vampire, and nopony was thinking about what would happen if you bit a vampire. I still remember the way he bit her wing, really bore down, worried it. It was crazy. At the time I could only watch Fluttershy flipping out. We didn’t know, then. And look around! Where is he now? It’s him! It has to be fuckin’ Hollyhock!”
Apple Bloom’s jaw dangled. She reeled it in. “You mean, all this time… I thought he was pissy about taking orders from a young mare! All glowering and keeping his mouth tight shut, like we ain’t worth a friendly word. You mean…”
“Yeah!” said Dash.
“Who else has bitten Shy’s wing?” demanded Applejack. “You’d notice more than most, you bein’ a pegasus and all!”
Dash flinched. She stared off into the darkness, where Pinkie had gone. Fluttershy had foaled at least once with Pinkie doing her wings. Pinkie was acting really strange, even for Pinkie. Pinkie seemed to have normal teeth, but then Pinkie could seem like anything she wanted. Dash gulped. “Pretty sure it’s Hollyhock.”
“But if…” began Applejack, and then she, too, flinched. She was looking at where Spy’s tail poked out from under Dash’s wing, and put two and two together, remembering Rock Candy. “Uh. Lordy, do I hope it’s just Hollyhock…”
“I gotta talk to her,” muttered Rainbow Dash. “GOT to talk to her now.”
As the two older mares fretted, Apple Bloom stamped the ground loudly with a forehoof. “All right! First things first. Look around you! We’re gonna protect our farm ponies, and we’re gonna stick with the buddy system, and y’all keep a sharp eye out for Hollyhock! If you can, take him alive, we’ll have the Kirin breathe on him or somethin’ to check if he’s an evil monster or not. Or of course if he tries to suck out all your blood, that’s a bad fuckin’ sign right there. So capturing the bugger might take some doing.”
Applejack nodded. Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth and growled “Right!”
“Don’t let our farm ponies go into the shadows alone!” continued Apple Bloom. “Careful going under them trees, in case a vampire jumps on ya from concealment! Keep an eye out, this time it’s an extra bad one! Rainbow Dash, Applejack, now we seriously have a job for you. You kin search Ponyville for the vampire. Go carefully! Hey, short stuff, Spy! Are you part of this? I’m thinkin’ my sister might want you staying home, but you’re fast and you may understand vampires better on account of you WERE one.”
Northern Spy peeked out from under Rainbow’s wing. Her lower lip was sticking out, and trembling, but she met Apple Bloom’s sharp eye, thought to herself, and nodded. “Can I search too?”
“Stay well back,” ordered Apple Bloom. “You’re fast enough that he ain’t nohow catchin’ you, but I do not want you snuck up on. Stay safe!”
Spy nodded. Applejack’s and Rainbow’s eyes were troubled, but they didn’t argue. They knew how true that was. As long as Northern Spy was alert, no vampire would catch her.
Apple Bloom took a deep breath. “Right!” she said, and turned. “Now, it’s our lucky day. We got us a real live Kirin evil-hunter right here in town, an’ here she is. Miss Hina-rin, good to have ya!”
Hina seemed nearly lost in a storm of protective scales flickering across her body, lost amidst the flurrying iridescent magic mane. She swayed, staring back at Apple Bloom in what seemed like disbelief.
Apple Bloom advanced on her. “First of all, we’re gonna use you to sense out the monster, on account of you must be sensing a whole mess o’ evil in these parts. Poor Fern Gully! Now you can help us avenge him! You are sensin’ the evil, right?”
“So much…” breathed Hina-rin, wobbling on her cloven hooves. “It’s surrounding me…”
“Good!” said Apple Bloom. “You gotta go around with Applejack and Rainbow Dash, they’ll be your scouts. When they find him, it’s your judgement call: if you think we kin capture him, we kin go for a cure. We do that, here in Ponyville. My lil’ niece caught a dose of vampires and from what I’m told, our unicorns fixed her up good with some help from Zecora. If it is ol’ Hollyhock, we might be able to get him back, though I don’t know if he’ll thank us. Somethin’ went wrong with that boy if he turned on his own friends. That’s Fern Gully there. Hollyhock knew him.”
Hina-rin’s nostrils flared. She bared her teeth, as if in pain. “The miasma of evil… so strong, so nearby… it has fed, it devoured this pony’s soul. It is much stronger…”
“Maybe it’s too late to talk about cures, then,” said Apple Bloom. “All right! Again, use your judgement. We’re countin’ on you, Miss Kirin. All my farm ponies is at your disposal, and you got Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and lil’ Spy as scouts. I expect you to also help keep them safe, and then when you do find jerkface asshole Hollyhock, assumin’ it’s him, I want you to smite the fuck out of him before he can hurt your scouts. Got that? And then… HEY!”
Apple Bloom’s yell was to no avail. The Kirin, Hina-rin, tottered. Her eyes rolled up. She collapsed, where she stood, in a curiously light sprawl of slim elegant limbs and a riot of glowing mane, tailtuft and fetlocks.
All hell broke loose. Ponies reared, whinnying, panicking, turning to flee.
“HOLD IT!” yelled Apple Bloom. “STOP!”
By the time they’d controlled the panic, they’d lost Knothole. Dursaa had charged off, but not in the direction Knothole had gone: his loyalties lay elsewhere, and he’d run straight back to Fluttershy’s cottage. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Spy hadn’t budged. Oakback stood loyally by Apple Bloom, his mighty legs shaking, but refusing to abandon her. Snowy Hocks cringed well back, his eyes taking in everything, studying all the ponies, and always returning to the unconscious form of the Kirin. He looked deeply shocked, like he hadn’t bargained on her doing that.
“Snowy!” yelled Apple Bloom.
“MM?” grunted Snowy, his eyes rolling in sudden panic.
“You get a new buddy,” said Apple Bloom. “Don’t you approach Hollyhock, it’s too dangerous. That is an order, don’t you cross me!”
Snowy’s eyes widened. “Mm hm,” he said, carefully. He nodded, grim-faced, and stamped the ground with a forehoof, tossing his mane.
“Damn right,” said Applejack. “You’re lucky he din’t attack you. If he din’t kill you outright, this Kirin here woulda smelled it on you, an’ lit you right up with her fancy horn. Don’t even think about trying to talk to Hollyhock, you ain’t nearly fast enough to get away if he tried to getcha.”
Snowy glowered, insulted, kicking the dirt. “Mm.”
“So that’s present company accounted for,” said Apple Bloom. “We best wait until morning for the scouts to get to work. Seems to me vampire hunting in the night is about the dumbest thing ever…”
“Uh, Apple Bloom?” said Applejack.
“Present company’s a-conked out,” said Applejack, gesturing with a hoof at Hina-rin. “What are we supposed to do about that?”
Apple Bloom scratched her head with a hoof. “Dunno. You sure this critter’s the big evil-hunter? Seems to me she was advertised as bein’ death on evil things. We got death, sure enough, but I don’t see her bringin’ it.”
“We need to get Fern Gully a proper burial,” said Applejack.
“Is he gonna turn into a vampire?” asked Apple Bloom. “He’s dead right enough, but we know from Fluttershy that they don’t mind it much.”
Oakback prodded him, even as Applejack called out, “Ah wouldn’t!”
“I think he’s proper dead, poor fella,” said Oakback. “Din’t the Kirin say, the monster ate his soul? Got stronger? I don’t think we’ve seen this before. Snowy, didn’t you tell us once that the vampire can eat up its victims, not just turn them to thralls?”
Snowy nodded, still looking grim. “Mm-hm.”
Apple Bloom looked back and forth among those remaining. “So here’s the situation. We got us a wild vampire that may or may not be Hollyhock, though I’m guessin’ that’s our vamp. Rainbow says she saw him biting Fluttershy’s wing real fierce, and I got no reason to doubt it, though if I’d known, I tell you… never mind. We got a scouting team, but had best wait until morning, when Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Northern Spy can cover the ground more safely. We got a buddy system that ain’t worth a crap because damn ponies lose their minds and panic and run off however they please, and we got a big damn hero Kirin magic-pony who gits th’ vapors and passes out on us.”
“She mighta choked on too much evil,” suggested Applejack. “It proper makes my head spin, even. Poor Fern Gully!”
“That she might,” agreed Apple Bloom. “Don’t you start!”
“Naw,” said Applejack, grimly. “Somethin’s gonna pay. This ain’t no time to be fussy an’ fancy. We’re gonna kick some vamp.” She snorted. “Fluttershy’s gonna shit lil’ vampy-apples. Let’s not tell her.”
“Nope,” said Apple Bloom. “I agree she ain’t what you call directly responsible for this, but we’re not having her try to reform the mean ol’ fucker. I am not inclined to be merciful with Mister Hollyhock, if he’s the one that done it. This is farm pony business. He’s one of ours.”
“Present company’s accounted for,” said Applejack, “but several of our ponies already run off. Do we go out and hunt for them?”
Apple Bloom brooded over this suggestion. “No. Ponies gotta run. If they’re really frightened, they might be going too fast to catch. You know our farm ponies. Can you imagine tryin’ to bite one while they run as fast as they can?”
“Let ‘em run?” said Applejack. “How far?”
“Far’s good!” retorted Apple Bloom. “We can always go find them when this is all over! If they’re not ready to take discipline, I want them well out of town! We got us a live vampire, I mean a dead vampire but lively and hungry, lurking around trying to eat ponies. I don’t know what kicked this off all of a sudden, but we’re in for it now. We got to get this Kirin back in workin’ order.”
They gazed at the hapless heap of Hina, still comatose, a look of tragic dismay on her unconscious face. It seemed that even out cold, the miasma of evil still troubled her.
“How you reckon we do that?” asked Applejack.
“Dunno,” said Apple Bloom. “Think it’s safe to poke her?”
“I don’t think so,” said Oakback. “You might get zapped with magic or something.”
Apple Bloom made a face. “Figures. Oakback, I suggest me and you watch over her, even if it takes all night. The rest of y’all, try going to bed. Lock all them shutters and don’t open the doors for no pointy-toothed assholes.”
“I’m stayin’,” said Applejack.
“Figures,” said Apple Bloom. She trotted over, reared, and hugged Applejack… hard.
“I’m staying too!” said Rainbow Dash.
“Course you are. I’d hug you too, but Spy’s asleep under your wing,” said Apple Bloom.
Dash blinked, and looked. She glanced back, her eyes moist.
“We’ll sleep in shifts,” ordered Apple Bloom, “right here. Right here by Fern Gully, poor Fern Gully. Close his eyes, will you, Oakback? We’ll pay him better respects tomorrow. Also, go tell Granny once you’ve done that. She might come join us out here, in fact I bet she will, and that’s good: we can protect her as well. We kin make plans, too. Maybe the first plan is, how to get that Kirin workin’ again.”
Applejack considered this. “She came out here for farm pony fuckin’. Maybe we can settle her down by showin’ her a good time? This ain’t a good time, but you know what I mean. I would be honored to try and relax the lil’ darling with some…”
“Whoa, whoa,” said Rainbow. “She freaks out about magic bits, I saw it. She didn’t faint that time, but she nearly did.”
They looked, together, at the stricken Kirin.
“She ain’t the toughest evil-fightin’ magicpony, I’ll say that,” said Applejack.
“She’s kind of young,” said Dash, “maybe she’s never fought evil before? She really looked overwhelmed. Like, just the leftover evil from Hollyhock murdering Fern Gully wiped her out. I don’t even know what she’d do if she confronted Hollyhock.”
“Faint, maybe?” said Applejack.
“Dang it!” objected Apple Bloom. “You don’t know that. It’s easier to fight something than to fight a lot of scary nothing. Here’s what we’ll do. Big Macintosh is prob’ly the most famous studpony in all Ponyville, less’n you count Braeburn. We’ll give her Big Macintosh, who’s real gentle and quiet and warm-hearted, and he’s gonna straighten the Kirin out. Heck, he don’t even have to be fuckin’ the whole time. Ain’t nothin’ half so comforting as Big Macintosh snuggling you and singing lullabies, and I know that for a fact bein’ his own little sister. This Kirin can have whatever she wants, so long as she toughens up and helps us fight our evil. ‘Cos we sure do have us some evil!”
There was a pause, as they studied Hina’s prostrate form.
“What if she can’t?” asked Rainbow Dash. “It’s possible to be very awesome and also very scared. What if she can’t do it?”
Apple Bloom stared at the fallen Kirin. She sagged a little. “She ain’t no Apple mare, I’ll tell you that. All the Apples are a lot braver. Even some of the farm ponies are pretty brave, compared to this. Even old and useless farm ponies kin be brave: look at Snowy Hocks, he din’t run away, he’s jes’ settin’ here without a word of complaint, watching and listening to our plans like a good farm pony. I don’t know, Rainbow Dash. I jes’ know she’s supposed to be an evil-hunter. And we’d better have plans.”
“So, what the heck do we do?” said Rainbow Dash, striving for bravado and achieving a certain amount of it. “Do we band together and hunt for whatever did this, without her? Do we send off for a replacement Kirin that doesn’t blow her fuses in a crisis? Or do we, like, panic like flower ponies and just get out of town?”
“I’m gittin’,” mumbled Snowy Hocks, looking at the fallen Kirin, and he scowled… tight-lipped.