Many years ago

Two young fillies trot through the darkness of Everfree forest. Trees tower high above them as they trot. The tops of the trees begin around twenty-five to fifty feet above the earthy floor, the branches molding together to form a massive canopy though which little light can penetrate and reach the sun-deprived ground.

Also native to the forest are many species of wildlife. Ants march across the ground in a single file line carrying chunks of food that, to anypony watching the curious little creatures, must seem like very little, but to the ants the chunks and crumbs require a massive amount of energy. Birds of various species sing in the canopy. Their songs fill the forest both with a sense of unseen beauty and mystery. Every now and then, a pair or two of eyes appears in the underbrush only to vanish moments later.

This is the forest that Honeyshine Meadowdew and Sterling Karat are trotting through. "Sweet Celestia this forest is creepy," Honeyshine says with a shiver. Sterling nods in assent. They trot on in silence for a moment before Sterling asks, "Do you really think there are dragons in this forest? Because that's what Rarity told me back at school yesterday."

"Oh, don't listen to Rarity. She's such a drama-queen. Everypony knows that she makes stuff up so that it sounds more exciting," Honeyshine replies. They both laugh. "Yeah, I bet you're right," Sterling says as he wipes his brow with a foreleg.

Honeyshine is an Earth Pony, only three and a half years old. Her coat is a majestic honey coloring, and her mane is a light green. Her flank is barren of a cutie mark, something that she has been hoping and dreaming of getting for as long as she can remember.

Sterling is also an Earth Pony, at four and a quarter years old. His coat is a silvery-grey, and his mane is black. His flank bears the cutie mark of three gold bars stacked in a pyramid. This came as no shock to anypony, since Sterling's family owns a local jewelry. His family knows more about gems and precious metals than anypony in Ponyville, and some speculated that they were the best in all of Equestria.

A dare, made by an upstart Unicorn, has brought the two fillies into the forest. The exact wording of the bet floats around in Honeyshine's mind as if they had just been spoken. "Go into the forest for three hours, and then come back out. If you're still alive, you win. If you're dead, I win." The stinging insults that had followed Honeyshine's refusal also were fresh in her mind, each word like a sting from a bee or a lash of a whip. Chicken, they called her. Wimp, sissy, and baby were also thrown out there in the chorus of trash talk that had bombarded Honeyshine after she had vehemently refused the unicorn's challenge. If it had not been for Sterling, she would have probably just curled up in a ball on the ground right then and there and cried her eyes out.

"Everypony just calm down!" Sterling had said as he had stepped between Honeyshine and those insulting her. "You going to be a wimp like her, lead-brain?" The unicorn had challenged. Sterling had looked her right in the eye and stared her down. While not particularly big, Sterling could still be imposing when he wanted to, which was rarely. "Why don't you just turn tail and head back home?" Sterling had said. "Why don't the both of you do the bet?" The unicorn had said, softer now than before.

And that was how they had gotten to where they were now, walking through the darkest forest known to Ponyville. "This place just isn't right," Honeyshine mutters. "What'dya mean?" Sterling inquires.

Honeyshine sighs. "I don't know, it's just that… well, being raised on a farm my whole life…" Her voice trails off. "The plants growing on their own isn't right to you," Sterling finishes. Honeyshine bows her head. "Yeah, I suppose," she says softly. "Well, I feel sort of the same way, except with the animals. They, you know, take care of themselves, without pony guidance. It just doesn't feel right." Sterling says as he nuzzles Honeyshine's neck.

They trot on for a few more minutes. "You think we're in far enough?" Honeyshine asks Sterling. He looks around at the foliage. "Yeah, I think so," he says.

There is a faint rustle in the undergrowth not twenty feet from the two fillies. They both turn and stare at the bush, which is still shaking. "You see that?" Honeyshine asks softly. "Yeah. I do." Sterling says. A bush opposite of them shakes as Sterling finishes speaking. Honeyshine gasps in fear and twists.

The mare-to-be squints into the forest. Nothing moves for what feels like an eternity.

Then she sees a figure, almost perfectly blended into the trees. It is tall, and definitely a pony. "It's just another pony," Honeyshine says with a sigh of relief. Sterling's haunches sag as the tension lifts away. Honeyshine stares at the pony in the woods. "What's your name?" she calls as innocently as she can.

The pony takes less than half a step forward, but it is enough. Honeyshine's eyes land upon the face of the pony. She screams and turns to run. She breaks into a gallop, leaving Sterling in the dust. "Honeyshine! Wait!" Sterling yells. He opens his mouth to say something else but his words fall upon deaf ears. Honeyshine is far out of earshot, running blindly into the forest out of fear.

She pauses, gasping and panting. Her tongue hangs out of her mouth as sweat beads on her brow. She looks around her in fear, her equine heart beating rapidly in her chest. "Celestia help me," she mutters between gasps. Her black eyes rapidly dilate and return to normal.

The bush in front of her rustles. Honeyshine screams and backs up, barely catching a glimpse of a white flank with a cutie mark that looks roughly like a circle with lines running through it.

Tendrils of shadow reach out from the forest and wrap themselves around Honeyshine's forelegs. She screams and thrashes. "Sterling! Sterling! Help me!" she screams. There is no reply.

"Sterling is not here anymore," a voice says from what seems like everywhere, "And soon, you shall not be as well." New fear fuels Honeyshine as she thrashes around. "Sterling!" she screams. "Sterling is not coming back," the voice says. The voice is flat, and seems to lack gender.

The tendrils drag Honeyshine into the darkness of the forest. More of the tendrils wrap around the filly's body. They begin to pull in every direction. Honeyshine felt an unusual pain in her body. This pain was not entirely physical: It almost felt like her very soul was being ripped from her body as her limbs were rent in every direction. Honeyshine looks up and sees a blank white pony face. The last thought of the young filly is that she will never get her cutie mark.