What Do We Do Now?
It was dark in the staging area of the Carousel Boutique. The only light in the room was a warm dancing orange flicker a lavender scented candle Rarity managed to find. It's scent did little to calm tension building in the room. Twilight could see the hope drain from her friend's faces as she told them about what happened to Spike and Shining Armor. It was the first time she talked about it. Her voice was strained with tears as she struggled through it. At one point Fluttershy's warm hands found her's in the dark. The way her soft thumbs worked circles on the back of Twilight's hand was soothing, it helped her gain her composure through the rest of her story. When she finished Rarity was the first to speak. “So that's that, I suppose.” Twilight knew there was nothing else to be said, she'd heard the the rest of their stories and it all boiled to the same thing.
Big Mac was forced to lock Granny Smith in the basement to keep her from going after Apple Bloom. After the banging on the cellar door drove them from Sweet Apple Acres, they found Braeburn throwing up in the bushes on the road towards Ponyville. Applejack stood guard, keeping an eye out for another one of the crazed ponies that tried to attack them. Big Mac filled them in on what happened back at the farm, it had been a sobering experience for the both of them. They decided that despite their concern, they were going to have to go back to Ponyville and try to help everypony they could get out of the city.
The small group came across Fluttershy first, she'd been trapped in her house by a group of infected animals, throwing themselves against the door trying to get at her. If it hadn't been for Applejack's courage and quick wit, she devised a plan to act as bait leading the animals away. It gave Big Mac enough time to break through the door and rescue her.
Afterwards the Apple familycame across Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo. Rainbow Dash managed to get the little filly away from a particularly vicious group of ponies at the festival grounds, but to get them trapped on the roof of the school. They'd managed to to make enough noise to draw more to them stranding them on he rooftop. Big Mac and Applejack worked together to corral the infected ponies into the school house, locking them inside.
Shortly after that was when Rarity and Sweetie Belle found them. The pair already managed to secure the Carousel Boutique and were trying to find survivors, giving them a safe place to hide and rest. Applejack had been the first to go out, she wanted to look for Twilight, Spike, and Shining Armor. While Braeburn offered to go after Pinkie and Maude Pie.
Applejack and Twilight had been back for almost and hour and for some reason the other three hadn't returned yet, it made Applejack nervous and agitated. When she tried to go after them, Big Mac was forced to restrain her. Now she paced back and forth by the window, glancing through the gap in the curtains, waiting for them to come back. From the look on her face, Twilight could tell that she was concerned.
“I sure am sorry about Shining Armor...” Apple Bloom kept her voice hushed, her accent was thicker from the whispering. “...and Spike. I hope we find a way to stop this thing.”
Twilight offered a nod. “I hope so too, sweetie.” She pulled the little filly close, feeling the heat of her small body's warmth against her side. It had been colder in the room than she'd expected it to be, her fingers were still quivering, frozen to the touch. More than likely it was just her nerves getting the better of her than the actual chill in the air, either way it was nice to have the extra heat from the hug.
“I brought some blankets from the closet upstairs, darlings. There's not many, but if we huddle together, we should be able to make it work.” Rarity's voice sang out like a holy chorus in the quiet room. There was a strength in her that Twilight hadn't seen in a very long time, it amazed her that she could not only be so calm in such stressful times, but look so beautiful doing it. Rarity put a blanket around Big Mac's shoulders, who in turn invited Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle to join him in the warmth. When the little filly crawled away Twilight immediately missed the warmth.
Rarity offered a blanket to Twilight. “Here you go, dear, maybe you can coral that wild mare pacing at the window.” There was a playful hint in her voice that earned her the scoff she so desperately wanted from Applejack. The pair shared an easy smile before Applejack went back to the worried scowl on her face. Rarity hunkered down on the floor sharing her blanket with Fluttershy, who more than eager to rest her head against Rarity's shoulder. Rainbow Dash, who was still fuming from her botched rescue attempt, joined them as well.
“This is bull...” Rainbow Dash stopped short her thought when she saw three sets of curious eyes peer out from under Big Mac's blanket. “I mean, we should be out there with them, instead of sitting on our thumbs in here.” Applejack turned away from the window to shoot a glance at the angry Pegasus.
“There is no one in this room that believes that more than me, but right now that's not an option. If we go out there, we'd be causing more harm then good. The best thing we can do is wait for them to return and come up with a plan to fix this thing.” Even though she was trying to keep her voice down, Applejack's voice boomed loud enough to cause Fluttershy to jump.
Big Mac gave her a short hush. “Easy sis, we don't wanna draw attention to ourselves, that won't help them none either.” It had been the first time Big Mac had really spoken aloud since he and Applejack got into it. Now he wore a stern look in his green eyes, one that told Twilight he was battling with something behind those big green eyes. Something that he wasn't quite ready to talk about.
Applejack didn't respond, she just turned turned her attention back to the window. Twilight moved up behind her draping the blanket across her shoulders, Applejack jolted looking back over her shoulders. Her eyebrows softening, her lips curved into a smile. “Nah sugar, you don't have to do that. I'm plenty warm enough.” Twilight could tell by her resilience to return the blanket that she was happy to have it now.
“Applejack, stop playing the tough girl role, you can keep warm while being on the watch.” Twilight whispered as she moved to stand next to her friend. “I'm sure only a few pony's will call you a wuss.”
Applejack snorted a laugh. “Keep that up and you can have it back.” Twilight held up her hand giving her head a firm shake. To her surprise Applejack brought the blanket around her shoulders, forcing them to huddle together. Twilight was glad for the body heat as well as the company, anything that would stay the looming shiver. There was an odd smell of spicy cider, leather, and a soft hint of sweat. But beneath it all was the natural smell of her friend. It was the same natural scent of the whole Apple family, there home was fragrant with it. Sweet and spicy like apple pie, but more wrangled and pure.
When Applejack spoke it startled Twilight out of the looming thoughts about the scent of the Apple family, a warmth came to her cheeks. “So Discord's behind all this, huh?” It dawned on her that this was the first time anyone mentioned the one who was behind this whole cursed affair. Although it seemed like no one was really that surprised at the discovery, except for Fluttershy, knowing that her friend had betrayed them cut her deeply.
“Yeah, to him this is some kind of game where he's teaching us the value of friendship. It just doesn't make any sense.” The thought of Discord's chiding voice left a bitter taste in her mouth.
The feeling drifted away when she felt Applejack's forehead pressed tightly to hers. “Well Sugar Cube, if I know us, which I do. We'll have this licked in no time and things will be back to normal before you know it.”
Just then a shadow passed by the window, it was moving so fast Applejack could barely make it out. It was followed by two more shadows moving just as quickly. “Ah hell, they're back.” Applejack whispered darting out from under the warmth and safety of the blanket.
With a wide legged jump of a track star, she managed to clear Rarity and Fluttershy with little effort as she passed by into the main room. Big Mac was already on his feet following behind her. The three little fillies hurried to the back of the room, hiding behind Twilight. It had been exactly what Big Mac told them to do earlier in the evening. Twilight could hear the door open and the fumbling sound of hooves across the wooden floor followed by the sound the door closing and locking. No one spoke, all that could be heard was exhausted panting of the three newcomers.
Pinkie and Maude were the first ones through the door, they clung to each other as if they'd been out in an ice storm. Maude lips were drawn tight and her eyes were wider than normal, while Pinkie didn't crack a smile, she didn't even look up from her sister's face. Braeburn stepped through the door clutching his side. Twilight's first concern was that he'd been bit. The worry must have been physically apparent because Applejack held her hand up. “He's alright, he's just got a stitch in his side.” A wave of relief washed through her, it was so strong that she almost fell back against the fillies.
“Holy crap y'all, it's bad out there.” Braeburn grunted flopping down on the floor next to the candle. Big Mac wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. Seeing the gesture urged Twilight to do the same for the two Pie girls. Neither of them spoke, they just huddled together. Shuttering words whispered from Maude were lost to everyone other than Pinkie, who was rubbing her younger sister's shoulders.
Applejack knelt next to her cousin, looking deeply into his eyes. “Just how bad is it?” Before Braeburn even spoke, the look on his face gave everything away. As Twilight feared, the sickness had spread to an epidemic proportions. The look had been strong enough to push Applejack back onto her butt in front of him. She rested her elbows on her knees, her hands clutching either side of her head.
The room stayed quiet for a moment before Applejack gave a sharp inhale. “That bad huh.” Applejack took her hat off, her golden hair falling around her head. When she sighed it rivaled that of a weary old construction worker finishing his thirteen hour shift. She dropped her hands leaving her elbows perched on her knees, her hat clutched in one hand dangling between her legs.
“What happened to you two?” Rarity asked the two sisters, looking at them from across the flickering candlelight.
Pinkie swallowed hard, burying her face into Maude's hair, she wasn't willing to speak about what happened. “The twins got sick.” Maude explain, her monotone voice didn't reflect the emotion in her eyes. “When Mrs. Cake went to check on them, she got bit. Later on she bit Mr. Cake. Then they call came after us.” Maude kissed Pinkie Pies' temple and pulled her close. She didn't say anything else, instead she lifted a small rock, she had nestled in her hand, giving it a kiss. Then she held it out to Pinkie Pie, who gave it a kiss as well.
“Shoot! Those folks had these two backed in a corner in their room. If I hadn't come along when I did, they'd be done for.” Braeburn finally chimed in, his breathing back to normal.
Applejack filled Braeburn and the Pies in on what had happened with Discord and Twilight. Everything involved in this little game of friendship, about finding his home, and the game of riddles. When she finished, the room went quiet. No one spoke for a very long time.
“Well!” Rainbow Dash finally broke the silence in the room. “We can't just sit her on our hooves until the same thing happening out there happens in here.”
Fluttershy looked out from the safety of Rarity's shoulder and long hair “So what should we do?” Everyone looked up from the solemn thoughts, casting glances around the room.
“We have no other choice I'm afraid. We'll just have to go into the Everfree Forest and find where Discord's hiding.” Twilight tucked her hands behind her back, not feeling particularly confident. “I'm not one to play any of his games, but he kinda has us over a barrel.” Applejack hissed, sliding her hat back on top her head.
“So, let me get this straight. We're going to run a parade through this town now chocked full of them infected ponies, then we're gonna run foolishly headlong into the deepest darkest woods in all of Equestria, in the the crazy hopes of just maybe, maybe we're gonna find that asshole Discord's house.” Braeburn tipped his hat back, his mouth slack jawed.
Applejack pursed her lips and nodded. Big Mac grunted a “Eyup.” There were soon joined by a few other agreeing words, until it seemed like everyone was in agreement.
Twilight shifted her weight from one hoof to the other, contemplating their options then she shook her head. “We don't have any other options.”
“Well, then you can count me in.” Braeburn sighed, scratching his hairline with his hat.
“We could split up?” Rainbow Dash started, but was cut off by Pinkie Pie.
“Yeah right, haven't you ever seen a horror movie before, we split up...we die.”
“I agree, separating would surely be the doom of us.” Maude added, before going back to cuddling her rock.
“I have an...” Apple Bloom started, but Fluttershy chimed in.
“I for one wouldn't mind staying here. Maybe this will all just blow over.”
Rarity nodded. “Perhaps we could stay here and act as a beacon to all the other remaining ponies out there.”
“Guys...” Apple Bloom tried to say again.
“And then what, die of starvation.” Applejack grunted, rolling her eyes.
“Well, I don't see you coming up with any good ideas Appleslack-er.” Rainbow Dash was goading her into a fight, in the hopes that it may break the ever building tension in the group.
“Shut up!” Big Mac boomed, there was no way none of the infected outside missed hearing it. Applejack opened her mouth to scold him for being too loud, but stopped once he glared at her. “Now y'all need to listen up, Apple Bloom had a right good idea and y'all are talking over her. Shut up and listen.”
Twilight looked down at the small filly, who was growing uneasy beneath the stares from all the other ponies in the room. “Go on, hon. Let's hear what you have to say.”
“I was kinda thinking we could ask Zecora. She lives in the Everfree Forest, she might know where Discord lives.” Apple Bloom tossed her hair in an attempt to cool the heat rushing to her cheeks.
“That's...actually is a good idea.” Applejack took the words out of Twilight's mouth.
“Yes, I agree.” Twilight smiled at the ingenuity of the youngest Apple. “Alright everypony, I think we have a pretty good idea going. Start gathering as much useful stuff as you can carry, we're heading out in fifteen minutes.” Twilight watched as Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle embraced Apple Bloom. She listened to their whispered admiration for her great idea. Twilight relaxed in the thought that they actually had some semblance of a plan worked out. Even if it was a long shot, it still felt better than just flailing around in the dark with no direction.