Chapter 1: Bloody Prologue
"Ah, fuck me—AGH!"
A hoof smashed into my face and for a brief moment, I blacked out, regaining consciousness only once I'd crashed to the ground on my side, cradling my bleeding muzzle with my own hooves. The pain, oh God, the pain….If I didn't know any better I'd swear she'd me hit with a sledgehammer….
"Ah keep tellin' ya, sugarcube, ya keep leavin' yer left side open like that and this'll all be over quicker than it takes Apple Bloom to make them apple fritters ya love so much."
Applejack smiled down at my pathetic figure with a demented kind of understanding. She understood my agony very well; she just didn't care.
"Ya got five seconds to get yer stuff together 'fore I grind yer face to the dirt."
Knowing this earth ponies words held true, that was all the motivation I needed before I was struggling to stand, my legs wobbling unsteadily. The right side of my face was throbbing relentlessly, swelling no doubt; I could feel the tears coming but held them at bay by blinking furiously. It took a moment but I was soon on all fours, my chest heaving, tail between my hind legs.
I wasn't scared.
I just hated pain and for the past couple hours or so it's all the orange earth pony before me saw fit to give out: nice, heaping helpings of pure unfiltered pain, delivered through a series of hoof-strikes and kicks that more often than not left me flat on the ground. My gunmetal silver coat was dented in areas, superseded by purpling bruises that stuck out like little blisters. With my left eye swollen shut, I felt like one big sore that lanced a vomit-worthy sting to my brain with each pulse.
"See? Ah knew ya had it in ya!" Applejack praised, flashing me a smile of white teeth. Noticeably, and much to my chagrin, her pelt was spotless, not a single scratch to be found anywhere. It pissed me off to a new degree but honestly, there was nothing I could do except grit my teeth, dust myself off, and try again. She must have sensed my renewed commitment to bring her harm for she giggled—a noise that sounded strangely odd coming from the hardened pony—and spread her forelegs slightly, lowering her head. "Now that's what Ah like to see. Good ol' fashioned dedication. Now...here we go!"
She merely twitched and vanished from view. Sucking my teeth, I'd only begun to step back when she reappeared in front of me, grinning with an evil flair before she rammed her forehead into mine with an explosion of blood.
I reared back on my hindlegs, howling as I felt trickles of hot, sticky liquid cascade down my face. It leaked into my eyes causing further agony, but I looked past it in time to see Applejack drop low, swinging out her leg. She clipped me hard in the shin and I thudded to the ground.
Balls of white light exploded in front of my eyes, mixing almost nauseatingly with the gash in my skull. It was splurging blood and I pressed a hoof to it, sucking my mouth in against the scream begging to be set free.
"Hun," she called out to me with small sigh, "ya gotta pick yerself up. This is takin' far too long fer you to get the basics down pat. Now I done promised the princess that I'd have ya up to speed by the end of the week but it's been three days! Are ya tryin' to make me out to be a liar there, huh?" She laughed and in my mind I could picture her giving me a very edgy, very sinister smile. "Well, sure as the sunshine will rise tomorrow, I, Applejack, have never told a lie, and I ain't 'bout to start now!"
She slammed a hoof into my throat, gagging me.
"Now git up."
The princess of the night Luna had already moved the moon into its proper place by the time Applejack called our session quits. Groaning and struggling to keep conscious in the night air, I was laid flat out on my back, limbs fully spread. My coat glistened with both blood and well-earned sweat, and it was perhaps this that caused Applejack to place a hoof over my chest. It was a light touch, nothing too crushing—
"Ya'll still with me?" she asked.
I nodded and she laughed into the night, moving her hoof in soothing circles over my chest.
"Alrigh', you pass fer today. Whenever ya get feelin' back in yer legs, hoof it to bed and we'll pick it up tomorrow. If ya can't make it back to the barn...well, a bit of campin' ain't never hurt nopony."
It was easy to interpret her words to mean 'if you can't drag yourself back then enjoy camping'.
All too soon, I heard her trotting away, just as carefree as a log in the current, until only the silence of the whistling winds was my company. Oddly, when I was sure I was alone I began to laugh; it was more of a haggard cough than anything but I knew what it was and that's all that mattered. My left eye was completely useless now, just a swollen lump of purple flesh while the gash in my forehead pricked every once and again with a dull pain.
I opened my good eye, sweeping the area once. Earlier, Applejack had led me to this barren plain situated just on the edge of the Everfree Forest; it consisted of nothing but tightly packed-earth, perfect for backbreaking wrestling and sparring, which is what this day had been all about. From the word "Go" Applejack had been on me with surprising agility I'd have never thought possible of the earth pony; she flitted in and out my vision like a spark of orange light, delivering blow after blow, many times drawing blood and downing me with one hit.
I...this was all my fault. I had been given a choice. To either accept this, or pass it on to somepony else. Back then, I'd been stupid, too blinded by the phantasmagorical process of what was happening to even consider saying no. But now, as I lay there with my body feeling like one big bruise about to burst, I was having some serious second thoughts….
Maybe I shoulda just stayed my happy plot home, I thought dejectedly, groaning when I realized I was using pony-speak. I hated pony speak, with a passion even. If I was home, I would be safe, I wouldn't be starving, I...I…
I wouldn't be here having the time of my life.
Moving was out of the question for about the next hour or so—I couldn't feel my arms or legs—so I lay there in the dark, praying to Celestia that no ravenous creature came lurking from the forest less than a few meters to my side; I'd be nothing more than a free meal, all laid out nice and pretty like a picnic.
The very idea made me green and I found myself struggling despite the inevitable. No way in hay was I going to be some monster's chew-toy! Buck that!
I'd only managed to lift my head when something firm pressed itself to my temple. At once, my brain began rocketing off images of timber wolves—but then I heard a soothing, "Sssh, now. Don't go strugglin' so hard, you'll ruin yer muscles that way, ya lunk head."
Through the blood encrusted onto my eyelashes I stared up into Applejack's smiling face, hardly daring to believe that she'd actually come back for me. I was so sure that she was just a hallucination on the verge of vanishing that I fell still again, watching curiously as she set down a small basket that she'd brought with her. I half expected her to pull out a nail and hammer and get to work finishing me off, but was slightly surprised when she pulled out a small bowl full of rectangular apple pies, at least four of them.
"Big Mac reminded me that ya'll ain't eat nothin' all day," she remarked simply, setting it down next to my head. "Ah started to just leave it be but then figured Celestia wouldn't be none to pleased with me if Ah let ya die cuzza somethin' like that. So…."
She motioned once more at the basket of before standing again. I stared at the morsels, confused out of my skull how hallucinations were able to give off such mouthwatering scents—my stomach instantly began growling, just about ready to sprout its own pair of hooves if I didn't move.
Suddenly, a warm gust of breath was next to my ear and I tensed, ignoring the shooting pain it caused my battered body when Applejack whispered, "Ya'll better enjoy them apple pies. Ah made 'em myself."
For the love of me I couldn't explain why my face began to glow hot, hot and red. When Applejack straightened up, she stared down at my embarrassed form for only a moment before giggling to herself and taking off again, this time at a full gallop that put her as nothing but an orange speck in the distance in no time.
An owl hooted hungrily in the distance. I'd never killed an owl before but I figured if one came flying by trying to grab up my pie then I might just find out if I could. Gritting my teeth, I flipped my body on its side using swinging momentum. My lips were less than an inch from the container and I stuck out a tongue, unnerved at how long it was at first before deciding it didn't matter. I wrapped it around the first pastry tart, nearly blanking out at the crisp flavor that exploded into my mouth.
It was so flaky, so sweet, and covered in a light juice that I couldn't penetrate but eagerly licked off the outer layer before taking my first bite. I chewed hastily and swallowed, literally able to feel the only piece of food I'd eaten all day slide down my esophagus where it landed with a tingling plunk in my empty stomach.
Oh God...what in the hay did she make these with? Crack?
Almost before I could start laughing I suddenly remembered her words: "Ya'll better enjoy them apple pies. Ah made 'em myself."
My brain instantly decoded that message but my stomach and libido were too eager to care at the moment. I devoured all the pies in less than a minute and rolled again onto my back, content for the moment and full.
Life had a funny way of pushing itself in your way, even if you weren't paying attention or you were and just decided to ignore it. Life always found a way to spice things up for better or for worse. And at the moment, I was having a hard time differentiating between the two. No more than a week ago I had been just a regular human, nothing special about me whatsoever, other than my ability to take pain. Why? Well, in order to tell you that story, I've got to start at the beginning.
The beginning of our Summons.