Sorry for being tardy with my postings, but live has thrown some curve balls. Several of my roommates have come down with some nasty form of crud several days before Further Confusion, and I am fighting a rearguard action to keep from getting it myself. So enough with my whining and back to Applebloom's plight. I hope to post all the remaining parts of this dream arc over the next couple of days.
Twilight Sparkle shook her head and tried to focus on the problem confronting her in my Equestria dreamscape. The potion that Zecora had concocted definitely had put her back on her hooves but Twilight was starting to wonder if there were any going to be any long term effects from the noxious brew that the zebra alchemist had forgotten to tell her. Everything in her vision was too sharply in focus, edges of things were too crisp. Every color was too bright as if some artist had used too much pigment to create a painting. Her mouth still had the acrid, bitter, metallic taste of Zecora's brew that she had barely consumed. Her throat was hoarse from her screaming on the kitchen table of the Apple homestead. [link]
Doctor Strong Heart had eventually put an oven mitt in her mouth for her to use a bit and to muffle the worst of her screams. The whole thing was now like the remnant of some feverish nightmare. She knew the pain was still there but potion made it so she didn't care.
Once the procedure was over Doctor Strong Heart had turned his attention to Cpl. Stone. The doctor thought that if they got the corporal back to Canterlot they might be able to save his left eye. A quick flurry letters were sent by Spike to various locations. One requesting a sky chariot to evacuate the corporal. Another requesting more guards from Canterlot to assist in the search. An update report went to the Royal Sisters, and as soon as possible a flyer would take one to the Mayor of Ponyville warning her about the fugitive Applebloom.
Lt. Silverwing had been informed almost immediately by Sgt. Wind Whisper of what had happened inside. The pegasi shooters were instructed that they were clear to shoot and kill the filly on sight if the suspect did not immediately comply with their orders. Captain Sharp Horn informed Twilight that within two hours their would be a platoon of fliers arriving and two squads of earth pony fusiliers to assist with the hunt. All railroad stations in the area would be under surveillance along with all roads leading out of Ponyville.
Twilight thanked the Captain but she was certain that the deception had not traveled far since she had shared a form of mental bonding with the monster she could now still sense hints of its unhealthy resonance. She was certain it was still somewhere on the farmlands of the Apple family. Either it was hoping to return and finish her off, or was too weakened by the fight to immediately travel.
At Captain Sharp Horn's request Big Mac was able to produce a recent survey map of Sweet Apple Acres. Rolling it out on parlor floor the Captain, Applejack and Twilight quickly planned there immediate search for the creature with the immediately available forces. The search would initially entail the farm/ barn then Twilight's forces would steadily expand the perimeter of the search. If Applebloom had not been found within a couple hours then Captain would have the additional forces to expand to an even wider area. Of course Twilight hoped it would be over before then because Zecora's potion would begin to fail by then. At that point she would have to surrender immediate control of the hunt to the Captain. With a plan in mind orders began to go out.
Applejack was heading out the front door when Twilight stopped her.
"AJ, can we talk for a moment?"
"Sure Twi, whatcha got on your mind?" Asked the yellow-orange mare.
Celestia's star pupil closed her eyes. Both to organize her thought and because in her current condition the color Applejack's coat and mane were practically giving her a headache.
"AJ, I think you already know that the Deception does not like being in contact with you, but it is more than that." Slowly Twilight opened her eyes violet eyes and stared at Applejack. "AJ it is terrified of you. It fears not me, it only considers me a worthy target. It sees the Royal Sisters as formidable foes but has no dread for them. But you strike fear in it. It doesn't understand how you can have power over it, and that scares it like nothing else in this world."
Twilight looked into earth pony's emerald green eyes. "And I think I know why now, but if we are going to use you to your full potential against it we have to keep it here on Sweet Apple Acres. Let me tell you my theory."
Over the next few minutes Twilight spelled out her theory to Applejack and how the earth pony fitted into her strategy.
The Deception had materialized in one of the orchards on the edge of Sweet Apple Acres. After a couple seconds of getting its bearings it began to plan its next step. It still wanted Twilight but it had to get her away from Applejack. It was much stronger from even the little it had drawn from Twilight but it did not want to tangle with that blasted earth pony again. Through the hazy, smoky grey sky it could see the pegasi fliers searching the outlying buildings of Sweet Apple Acres. They were a nuisance but it had ways of avoiding their detection, and even if it was detected it was confident it deal with them. Heck maybe it would pick of a couple of them and feed on them to. Not nearly as satisfying as a unicorn but still tasty. It was at this moment that its train thought was interrupted by the sounds of other ponies approaching Sweet Apple Acres.
Scootaloo and Sweetie Bell had wanted to come out and visit Sweet Apple Acres for several days but the weather had hampered their efforts, but today the snows had cleared enough that they felt like making another attempt. Although they were confused by the weather today.
Scootaloo pegasus pony weather sense was telling her that the hazy air that stunk their eyes was not any kind weather she could think of. And what was with this stuff falling from the sky. It wasn't snow in fact it was turning everything a dirty gray color. It looked like ash, but Scootaloo had never heard of a fire so huge as to blanket the sky like this. Very strange.
Sweetie Bell didn't like the air today. It made her nose and eyes burn, and she was certain that Rarity would be horrified by what all this ash was doing to the cheerful fuchsia spats she'd given her little sister. Wrapping the end of her lavender scarf around her face kept the worst of the smoke out of her nose.
The Deception watched them from the trees. A very young pegasi, and a very young unicorn filly. Oh that one would be tasty treat. It thought about taking both out, but suddenly hit upon how to make a little bit of misdirection. It took only a few seconds to return Applebloom's appearance to the filly's normal self. Slowly it stepped from behind the tree it standing and hailed the two fillies.
"Sweetie Bell! Scootaloo! What brings you out here today?"
Scootaloo looked at Sweetie Bell. Well this was a pleasant surprise. Scootaloo had been a bit scared of coming out to Sweet Apple Acres after her last close encounter with Applebloom, but Sweetie Bell talked her into it. However today their butter yellow filly friend seemed to be in good spirits.
"Well." Said Sweetie Bell. "We were coming out to see how you were doing. It's been a while since we last saw you." Scootaloo just nodded her head in agreement with Sweetie Bell. At this point she was letting the unicorn filly do the talking.
Applebloom got this sad expression on her face and she pawed the snow with a front hoof for a couple of seconds.
"That's real sweet of you all. Especially since I've not been nice to you all lately. I'm really sorry about that and I've been wanting to make it up to both of you."
"Really!" Exclaimed Scootaloo. "That's great! Girls the Cutie Mark Crusaders are back in action again!"
"Good." Thought the Deception. It double checked that the annoying filly Applebloom wasn't going to try and blurt anything out all the sudden, but she seemed to be unconscious. Now step two. "Yeah." said the earth pony "I've been planning a "Let's be friends again party" out at our clubhouse. I have finished most of the preparations and was going to head into town today to find you. But now I don't have to. However there is a basket of ribbons I dun left up at the house on the dining room table. Scootaloo do mind going to get it while Sweetie Bell and head over to clubhouse and finish up some thing there?"
"No problem Applebloom!" Said the orange pegasus filly. "I'll run up there and be back in a jiffy!" With that the she tore off up the road through the snow and past the farm gate up the road toward the farmhouse.
Applebloom watched them go then turned and looked at Sweetie Bell. "Now step three." thought the Deception. "Sweetie we're going to have to take a different route to the clubhouse. All this snow and wind has made for some pretty deep snow drifts but I know path that I'll get us there."
With that headed off in a direction opposite of the clubhouse.
Scootaloo was about half way up to the house when suddenly two pegasus ponies in plate armor swooped down from the sky and came to a hover about fifty feet from her and twelve feet off the ground. The little filly would've found their demonstration of skill fascinating except that one of the ponies was obviously pointing a weapon at her. Four barrels loomed at her as one of the pegasi raised its right front leg and kept it leveled at her. The other pegasi a mare in golden plate armor addressed her in an ominous voice.
"Halt! Don't move! Identify yourself!" The second flier addressing her did not have the strange barrel weapons but she did have two long curved blades attached to her front hooves.
"Um, hello. My name is Scootaloo. I'm visiting Sweet Apple Acres to see a friend of mine." Replied the filly with a meek voice.
"Sweet Apple Acres is off limits at this time! For your own safety please return to your home and stay there." Said the mare in a terse voice.
"Huh? What?" This made no sense at all thought the little orange filly. "But Applebloom just told me to come up the farmhouse and get something for her."
The guard mare dropped her jaw for a second, then regained her composure. "What did you just say."
The next few minutes were very chaotic for Scootaloo. Upon saying she had just spoken with Applebloom the guard mare quickly grabbed a whistle that was hanging around her neck by a lanyard and blew three long sharp notes. Within a few seconds the sky seemed to be filled with armored guard pegasi. Scootaloo quickly discovered that Applebloom was wanted for apparently some kind of crime that the guards would not elaborate on.
Almost as quickly a group of unicorn guards along with Twilight, Applejack, Petina, Zecora, Myself and Big Mac came galloping up. Even to a young filly Scootaloo could tell that everypony here was very agitated by her encounter with Applebloom although they did not say why. Even Scootaloo couldn't help but notice that Twilight had been recently injured and had a odd look in her eyes. It was a queer feverish intensity. Quickly the little filly retold her encounter with Applebloom when she got to the part about leaving Sweetie Bell with the earth filly Twilight got a horrified look on her face.
"She said that they were going to the clubhouse. Captain! Send some of your troops over to clubhouse check it out now!"
Petina interrupted Twilight's order giving. "Twilight! This is too easy. The Deception must have known that Scootaloo would been stopped by the guards, and then she'd tell us this information." Petina trotted over to Scootaloo who was growing more confused and scared by the second. She lowered her head and softly spoke to the orange filly.
"Scootaloo dear, where did you meet Applebloom? Can you show us exactly where it was? Please." The little filly swallowed and then silently nodded her head.
It took only a minute or so to reach the spot where Scootaloo had left Sweetie Bell with Applebloom. Big Mac had thrown the little filly over his back so we could make better time. As Petina feared there were two sets of hoofprints heading off into the orchards. In the opposite direction of the clubhouse. Twilight stared at the tracks for a second or two then spoke.
"Captain I still want you to send a couple of fliers over to check out the clubhouse. Just in case. Big Mac take Scootaloo back up to the house where she'll be safe. The rest of you follow me." With that she cantered off into the orchard.
To be continued.