Friendly Uncle Presents,
In association with Sweet Apple Acres,
A My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Fanfiction Event...
A baker's dozen of dim, guttering candles arranged around the edge of the table were the only light in the oppressively dark basement. They did not illuminate the robed figures that sat around the table so much as add textures to the shadows beneath their hoods, making it that much more impossible to make out faces. In the gloom cast by the candles they looked slowly about the table at one another, waiting for the meeting to begin. At the appropriate time their leader rose onto two legs and raised their hooves as if for silence.
"Brothers and sisters," intoned the leader, "has the sacred portal been secured against all interlopers?"
"Yeah, I locked the door."
There was a long, chilly silence.
"Uh, I mean, yes the portal has been sealed, oh grandmaster."
"I told you lot, this has to be done right."
"There's traditions we've got to follow, you understand."
"Have the bones been cast?"
"Aye, and the proper incantations said upon them."
"The orbs of divine antiquity appropriately spun?"
"Sure thi- ah, I mean, they have been spun most correctly, oh grandmaster."
"The circle has been drawn about our den of sin so that its darkness may not be detected by the prying eyes of the doubtful?"
Several of the robes shifted awkwardly.
"… really? Seriously you guys."
"I'm sorry, I'll get right on it."
Beneath one of the hoods came a sparkling green luminescence, and a yellowed stub of chalk was levitated off the table. The rest of the robed figures sat in embarrassed silence as their unfortunate compatriot used the chalk to scratch a double circle of runic script around the perimeter of the room.
"That's really the most important part, I should think," muttered one of the hoods, "casting the bones, we could really go without that, and it's always possible to squeak by without the orbs and all, but I feel the circle that protects us from interlopers is rather the most critical ritual we could perform. That's all I'm saying."
"Your opinion is noted," the grandmaster said wearily.
"S'not like I'm the only one who forgets the chores," muttered the hood with the chalk, "someone, I'm not naming names, hasn't touched the dishes for a week. I'm surprised we're not ridden with botulism."
"You try washing dishes with hooves."
"Perhaps you two could... try attending a clandeshtine meeting... and not bicker about... about dishes," said a third hood, who was listing very slightly to one side.
"… are you hamme- I mean, have you been partaking of an excess of the fruit of the vine?" the grandmaster asked.
"… is anyone taking this seriously at all?" the grandmaster sighed.
Another hood, easily the tallest, raised one hoof.
"Thank you, that helps. Really it does. Now has the bloody circle been inscribed?"
"Oh, was I supposed to pour blood on it?"
"Just sit down."
The hooded figures settled back in. Their leader spread their hooves.
"My brothers and sisters, the time has come to put our plan into motion."
This was met with a chorus of yeas, hoofstomping, and one "eeyup!" from the assembled brethren. The grandmaster indulged in a high-pitched and more than slightly maniacal giggle.
"All of our secret plots are on the very cusp of coming to fruition. Our patience will be rewarded at last! And Princess Celestia will never see it coming."
An indeterminate length of time in the near future found said princess snuggled into bed, wings fluttering ever so slightly as she breathed, and a contented smile firmly on her muzzle. For all of her great power, immortal lifespan, and the enormous responsibility of running a country populated entirely by ponies, Princess Celestia retained her sanity in great part by maintaining an enjoyment in the simplest of life's pleasures. The previous day had been a difficult one, filled with politics and complicated magics, and she knew that the next day promised only more of the same. But at this particular moment her bed was warm and soft, her stomach was full of tasty salad, and there was nothing else for her to worry about until sunrise but getting a well-earned night's rest.
Equestria was at peace, her people were slumbering happily, and Celestia was looking forward to continuing a dream she'd had the night before that involved several of her guards and an economy sized jar of peanut butter. Everything was right with the world.
Celestia's eyes jerked open in shock as she felt something cold and slippery land across her face. Stuttering in surprise she reared back in bed, tossing aside the blankets, and shook the offending whatever it was off of her head. It landed on the mattress with a dull thud.
It was, in fact, a fish. A herring, to be precise.
"What in the name of all that is hooved and winged is this thing doing here?" she fairly shrieked, casting about the room for any explanation. There was nopony else there to provide, but as she looked around she did catch a few remaining wisps of sparkling green flame as they swiftly faded from sight. The princess' eyes narrowed.
That explained where the fish had come from. That didn't explain why her favorite student's assistant had thought it prudent to send her a herring when he had to know she would be trying to sleep.
On the tail end of this thought another flash of emerald fire appeared above Celestia's head, and a small scroll was deposited in front of her. It was slightly different from Twilight Sparkle's usual missives, lacking a seal and generally looking rather slapped together. Celestia nudged it open with a hoof and saw that the message on it was badly scribbled, as if in great haste.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Please forgive our interruption of your evening, but it comes to my attention that Spike has sent you a fish. Please don't blame him, it was entirely an accident caused by my friend Pinkie Pie playing a prank on Spike as he helped my other friend Fluttershy feed her animal friends. He was so startled by her rendition of what she calls a "Pony Horror Picture Show" (I don't know and found it best not to ask) that he accidentally flamed one of the fish he was supposed to be giving to an otter. I am so sorry, and Spike and Pinkie are as well.
-Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle
P.S. Fluttershy says you can keep the fish
Celestia stared at the scroll for a long moment, blinking owlishly.
"I don't even want to know," she muttered at last, using Twilight Sparkle's note to wrap up the red-scaled fish and tossing it to one side. Her bed now devoid of dead sea life, she flopped back down onto it and once again sought the haven of dreamland.
"Rainbow Dash, have you noticed anything... weird about Pinkie Pie lately?"
"Ah mean more so than usual."
"Well... now that you mention it... she's been a little less... bubbly? She's still bouncing around at random and throwing parties, but she's been kind of low-key about it."
"Like she don't have as much energy as usual?"
"Yeah! Maybe she's sick?"
"Ah dunno sugarcube, she don't seem tired to me, more like she's kinna holdin' somethin' back."
"… that's incredibly creepy for some reason."
Princess Celestia awoke earlier than she intended to, and in a foul temper. The smell of Spike's herring had gotten into her pillow the previous night, and she had dreamed of being trapped beneath the ocean, surrounded by horrifying sea creatures that resembled disfigured ponies with fins and sinuous tails. They had made horrible noises that rang in her ears even as she rose, groaning, from her bed and stumbled onto her hooves.
It took a moment, but she was able to orient herself enough to travel to the castle's observatory and raise the sun from its nightly slumber. Her servants, bless them, noted her mood and stayed carefully out of her mane until she'd had a chance to tend to her morning ablutions. The hot water working its way through her coat went a long way towards restoring her sanity. Thank her for earth ponies and their ingenuity- Celestia's magic could do almost everything, but she'd have never survived a thousand years without plumbing.
Feeling refreshed, Celestia stepped out of the shower, delicately flicking excess water from each hoof as she did so, and trotted towards the bathroom door, wondering what was for breakfast.
Celestia's eyes slowly widened in mounting horror as she turned towards the mirror. Fogged as it was, she couldn't make out a great deal of detail, but she could make out her own silhouette. Her back, her wings, her mane, and, well, most of her, was stained bright crimson.
It had been a very long time since Princess Celestia had felt the need to scream in unholy terror. She could feel it building up in her chest for nearly a minute before she spread her wings so wide her pinions hurt, shut her eyes tight, took a deep breath, and...
Something made of paper hit her in the head.
Celestia opened her eyes back up and looked down as the scroll, smudged with red, fell to the floor and rolled up against her hoof. Whimpering softly, she managed to unroll it without smearing the message.
Oh my gosh Princess Celestia I am so sorry I don't even know how it happened we were in the barn and then Winona knocked over a ladder and then the screaming and Spike with the hiccups out of NOWHERE I am so, so sorry. We're all so sorry. I promise it won't happen again.
P.S. It's paint.
Celestia stared at the scroll for a long moment. Then she sat down, folded her wings, and started to cry like a filly.
"Tea's ready," Fluttershy announced quietly as she carried a tray loaded down with cups and kettle to her kitchen table. Twilight Sparkle clapped her hooves as the pegasus used her wings to deftly maneuver the tray onto the table, and then used her magic to assist in placing the various dishes in front of them.
"It all looks wonderful Fluttershy, thanks again for inviting me over. I've only ever had tea with Rarity before now, and all she ever wants to talk about is gossip."
"Don't mention it," Fluttershy replied with a small smile, "It's nice to have company over once in a while. ...um, do you think we should let Angel out of the cookie jar now?"
The aforementioned jar, which had been tied shut with a few lengths of twine, rattled around on the counter.
"Are you still bleeding?" asked Twilight as she poured two cups of tea.
"Let me check... no, it's all scabbed over now."
"Maybe give him five more minutes."
They sipped their tea and munched on biscuits and chatted for a little while. Twilight told Fluttershy about a book she'd been reading on animal behavior and was unsurprised to find that much of the information in it was more or less wrong. Fluttershy very quietly informed Twilight about the minutiae of raising chickens and of her difficulty with turning the eggs over to Pinkie Pie (she felt so bad for the unborn baby chicks, but she really liked cake). Eventually Angel was released from his cookie jar prison and fled the room to plot unholy vengeance.
Spike walked into the room while they were discussing the possibility of Applejack and Rainbow Dash crushing on each other (Fluttershy was sure there was something going on but Twilight thought it was more likely to be one-sided). He opened his mouth to speak and instead sneezed, shooting a jet of green flame into the air.
"Spike!" Twilight yelped as she and Fluttershy ducked, the latter squealing in terror and hiding underneath the table. "Be careful with that!"
"Sorry Twilight," the baby dragon replied, wiping his nose. "I've just been sneezing like crazy ever since Sugarcube Corner. I dunno why."
"Are you sick?" Fluttershy meekly inquired from beneath the table.
"I dunno. I don't feel sick, I've just been... uh oh, uuuUUUUURP!"
Spike let out a belch that rattled the teacups and produced a smaller curl of sparkly green fire, which quickly resolved itself into a sealed scroll. Twilight perked up as it landed on the table in front of her, and Fluttershy emerged with a look of curiosity on her face.
"Oooh, a letter from Princess Celestia. Maybe that was it?"
"Could have gotten something backed up, maybe? I dunno. Want me to read it?"
"I'll do it myself for once," Twilight giggled, unrolling the scroll and levitating it in front of her with her magic. Her eyes slowly narrowed as she read, and her mouth formed an intense scowl. After a few moments she began to read out loud.
To My Faithful Student Twilight Sparkle,
First of all, please know that I am always happy and grateful to be your mentor and that I do look forward to your reports and observations. Having a means of near instantaneous communication with you is a blessing and a privilege, and it is always with the greatest anticipation that I receive your letters.
That being said, I think you need to have a word with Spike regarding his use of a sacred magical bond. I can appreciate that accidents happen, and even the occasional prank is not inappropriate. However, just now while attempting to perform a complex spell requiring a great deal of focus and concentration I was very nearly concussed by what I am going to call a large rubber device of an intimate nature. Do be so kind as to inform Spike that if something like this happens one more time I am going to turn him into a suitcase.
Your Teacher, Princess Celestia
P.S. I'm keeping it.
Spike had the expression of a condemned man. Twilight was livid.
"Spike, what... how..."
"I didn't mean to! I've just been, you know, sneezing! I didn't even know I'd sent anything!"
"How do you burn something to ash and send it through a magical conduit without even realizing you're doing it Spike? And where in the wide world of Equestria did you find a 'large rubber device of an intimate nature'?"
"Well... I did sneeze while I was exploring... and it went under Fluttershy's bed..."
They stared at each other for a long moment, then turned apprehensively toward their hostess. Fluttershy was beet red and catatonic. Twilight sighed.
"Gather up as many cute animals as you can find, Spike, it's going to take some doing to get her out of this one."
"I'm on it!"
The door to Princess Celestia's chambers slowly drifted open, propelled by a hesitant nudge from her magic. The princess' horn, and then the princess herself, gradually edged through the portal long enough for her to quickly look around, and then she ducked back out of the doorway.
After another moment Celestia took a single hesitant step into the room, repeatedly looking up at the ceiling as she did so. She took another step and then, after several more moments, galloped swiftly into the room, slamming the door behind her.
Celestia let out a relieved sigh and sank down onto the cushion in the middle of her floor, completely exhausted. She'd spent the last night with her sister out of desperation, and while she hadn't been bothered by any additional errant missives from Spike, she'd discovered that Luna had extremely animate dreams. She'd lost count of the number of times she'd been hooved in the kidneys, and she'd awoken sometime around four thirty with the smaller alicorn slobbering in her ear and moaning about how much she wanted Antonio Bridelas' "throbbing stallionhood". She hadn't gotten much sleep.
The light curling of smoke manifested with a barely perceptible noise, but Celestia's ears twitched, and a heartbeat later she was up against the wall, staring in unmitigated horror as the sparkling green smoke manifested just above the middle of the room. It took a bit longer than it usually did, the smoke cloud growing unusually large until, with a thudding noise that was deafening in the otherwise quiet room, a pony hit the floor in a tangle of limbs. A puddle of red started to form underneath the body, which remained quite still.
Eyes wide and mouth gaping in horror, Princess Celestia stepped forward and examined the corpse. It wasn't fresh, the smell of rotting meat wafting off of it and preventing her from getting close enough to examine it minutely. Most of the pony's fur was gone, and its skin was a sickly green. The hide had been worn off in a number of places, leaving muscle and bone hideously visible. The pony might have been handsome in life, but now his jaws were agape, teeth and tongue protruding horribly from his muzzle, and the eyes were bloodshot and bulging, rolled back into the pony's head until only the whites were visible. There was a large, ragged hole through the pony's head, but it was fresh, and clearly not the wound that had killed him.
And there was a scroll pinned to his flank.
It took Celestia a few tries to get her trembling horn to spark right and telekinetically unfurl the scroll. The writing was difficult to read, as it had apparently been written in a hurry, and there were more than a few disturbing looking stains on the paper, but she eventually made it out.
Princess I am so sorry I have failed you the disease spread before we even understood what was happening and when the dead rose to feast upon us I was not ready. Pinkie Pie was one of the first to go and Fluttershy is still missing I fear the worst, Applejack has been inconsolable since Big McIntosh was killed. We're holed up in Rarity's boutique for the moment, but it's only a matter of time until the shambling hordes break through and consume us. For the good of all of Equestria, you have to destroy Ponyville now while you still can before the infection spreads. Don't worry about me.
A single tear traced the curve of Celestia's cheek and fell, sparkling like a diamond, to the floor. Then the princess' eyes narrowed, and her mouth settled into a hard line. When she spoke it was only softly, but the words caused the floor to tremble with their power.
"This will not stand."
Princess Celestia's wings spread with a noise like a thunderclap, and with a bound she was on the balcony outside her window. With another she was in the sky, and the air was torn asunder as she took off towards Ponyville like a bullet from a gun.
"I don't think this is going at all how we planned, guys."
"It wasn't supposed to be like this! I didn't want to hurt anypony! But they're roaming the streets now and everypony is scared and..."
"The grandmaster's leading them around and pointing out new ponies to attack! I say it's all gone way too far!"
"Well that's just too bad isn't it!"
The robed figures turned slowly to see their leader standing in the doorway, smiling at them. It was not a nice smile. It was far too wide, and there was blood on it. The grandmaster's coat, once a festive shade of pink, had gone pale and slightly green, and her mane was matted with blood. Her eyes were bloodshot and staring, one of them turning slowly in its socket as she stared at them with the other. She smelled like death.
"You all knew it was going to end up like this, my little ponies! We all knew what was going to happen! It's too late for cold hooves now, you've got to keep your eye on the prize!"
The pony twisted her neck until her head was almost hanging upside down and cackled maniacally. Then the ragged tail hanging behind her twitched, and she looked upwards in glee. A noise like the air howling filled the skies far above.
"She's here," whispered zombie Pinkie Pie.
Princess Celestia didn't bother to slow her descent. Cobblestones shattered beneath her hooves as she landed in the middle of Ponyville square, blasting a crater into the street with the force of her arrival. The town was deserted. All was quiet.
Quiet as a grave.
Celestia thought she remembered where the boutique was located from the last time she'd been here. Frowning, glancing about constantly for any sign of life, she cantered nervously down the streets towards her destination. As she approached, she finally saw something move. A pony staggered out of an alley and began shambling towards her.
The pony had been a mint green unicorn with a striped white mane and tail, and the remains of a harp-shaped cutie mark were still visible on her torn flank. Now she was emaciated and pale, blood dribbling over sharpened teeth and bulging lips, her eyes sunken and staring. She didn't seem to be looking at anything in particular at first, but then she happened to glance Celestia's way, and the bloodshot white eyes locked onto her, and the mouth gaped wider in horrible glee.
Celestia felt her blood run cold as the pony began stumbling over her own hooves in her rush, and out of that hideous mouth came a gurgling cough that was barely recognizable as speech.
Celestria reared, but before she could react a pie flew into her field of vision and collided with the zombie pony's head, collapsing it to the ground. Whirling, Celestia saw the door to a large ornately decorated building cracking open, and in the doorway stood a bedraggled and weary Twilight Sparkle.
Celestia almost knocked Twlight off her hooves with the force of her embrace but she was clinging to her too tightly to let her fall. She nuzzled the little unicorn and held her close, crying in relief.
"Oh I was so worried! I'm so glad you're alright!"
"Princess... you... you shouldn't have come..."
Celestia blinked, and realized that her student was trying to drag her inside the boutique. She looked down and saw Twilight's eyes wide and her ears flattened backwards in terror.
"They've heard the noise, they're coming! You have to come inside, if they caught you I'd never forgive myself!"
Celestia allowed herself to be pulled inside, and almost immediately a number of other ponies started shoving large pieces of furniture in front of the door. The boutique was crowded with ponies, many of them cradling pies or crying fitfully. On the other side of the room a white unicorn with a purple mane that Celestia recognized as Twilight's friend Rarity, the bearer of the spirit of generosity, was attempting to console a blond orange earth pony and a sky blue pegasus with a rainbow mane. Spike was hugging a small yellow pony with red hair who was staring miserably at the ground.
"Who's coming, Twilight? What's going on?"
"You'll be able to see for yourself in a moment," said Mr. Cake grimly. "Here they come."
They arrived in ones and twos at first, then quickly multiplied, filling the square with jagged teeth and jerking movements, vomiting blood and staring, always staring. The hordes of shambling undead clogged the streets.
"Bonbon told us what she could before the sickness took her," Twilight explained quietly, "it's some kind of magic, I think. A necrotic curse that spreads like a virus. If they bite you and the infection gets into your bloodstream you succumb within a few hours, and then your body animates and you become one of them."
"But why?" Celestia asked as an enormous undead stallion with a patchy red coat slammed himself into one of the windows, blood smearing off of his apple-shaped flank mark.
"Some kind of cult, I think. I don't know if they realized what they were doing until after it happened... but we know who started it..."
As if at a signal, the ranks of the undead parted, and she walked, twitching, towards them, eyes wide and bulging, mouth bent into a grinning rictus.
"Twiiiiiiliiiiight..." Pinkie Pie moaned, "Open the door Twilight! It's okay, all we wanna do is eat your brains!"
The other zombies agreed, taking up a moaning chorus about how much they desired to ingest gray matter.
"We're not unreasonable, I mean, nopony's gonna eat your eyes!"
In the corner, Rainbow Dash started sobbing fitfully. Rarity tried to soothe her, stroking a hoof gently through her mane. Applejack looked up and saw zombie Pinkie bouncing up and down, and she smiled a little, sadly.
"That Pinkie. Undead and lovin' it. I just wish I knew why she did it. It ain't like the world was so bad that a horde of brain-eatin' zombies were gonna fix everything. And so soon after Winter Wrap Up, too. It was just about time to get... plantin'..."
The earth pony's eyes slowly widened. She turned to Rarity's desk and saw the off the wall calendar lying on one side, forgotten. Rarity wouldn't have torn off the page today yet, there hadn't been time to think about it with all the horror.
The calendar still said March 31st.
"Oh no..." Applejack groaned, "she wouldn't..."
Ignoring Twilight's pleas, Princess Celestia threw the furniture barricading the door aside with a few sweeps of her horn and slammed the boutique's great double doors aside with a blast of her magic. Outside the zombie ponies paused briefly, staring as Celestia emerged before them, wings spread wide, shining like the sun.
"Your taint will not spread throughout all of Equestria!" Princess Celestia declared, a golden glow running up and down the length of her fluted horn.
"Yes it will!" Pinkie Pie giggled maniacally.
"No! I forbid it!"
"You can't stop the taint from spreading!"
"I can and I will!"
"SUBMIT YOURSELF TO THE TAINT!"
Celestia shook her head and pointed her blazing horn at the giggling zombie.
"I will cleanse you from Equestria with fire," she growled.
Zombie Pie stared at her for a long moment, as if in entranced. Then she edged closer to the princess, teeth shining like blades in the magical light.
"Well, I only have one thing to say to that," she hissed.
Reaching up with one hoof, she pulled out her false teeth and scraped the makeup off of one half of her face.
Princess Celestia gaped. Twilight Sparkle stared. The ponies in the boutique felt their jaws drop to the floor with shock.
The zombies began to laugh. Vinyl Scratch and Berry Punch leaned on Big McIntosh as they cackled hysterically, the bigger pony shaking their frames with his guffaws. Dr. Whooves was lying on the ground with all four hooves in the air, cackling weakly. The makeup started coming off and the prosthetics fell to the ground.
Pinkie Pie was bouncing over Princess Celestia in great bounding arcs, giggling insanely.
"We pranked you we pranked you! I can't believe it actually worked! At first everyone was all 'Nuh uh Pinkie it'll never work' but I was all 'Uh huh it'll work for sure!' and then we started having our meetings and we planned all of this out and it was so much fun! And all the tricks I used to make Spike sneeze worked perfectly and nopony noticed that the bodies were all just props and and and... the look on your face is just ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS oh my gosh it all paid off I am having the time of my life! This was my greatest achievement EVER!"
She finally alighted next to Twilight Sparkle. The purple unicorn slowly turned to stare at her in something approaching awe.
"So what did you guys think?" asked Pinkie.
"You'll let her out of the dungeon eventually, right?" asked Rainbow Dash.
"Eventually," said Celestia.
"And Big McIntosh ought to recover from all the buckin's ah gave him in time for this year's harvest," said Applejack.
"What I still don't understand," said Spike, "is where Fluttershy got to?"
Fluttershy was in Cloudsdale patronizing a small specialty shop run by a pony with a cutie mark that looked like a censor bar.
"But that thing should have lasted twenty years," said the shop owner as Fluttershy wrote down the specifications of her order. "Why would you need another one so soon?"
"I don't want to talk about it."