It was morning in Canterlot as the two Royal Sisters were seated inside their castle's dining room for breakfast. Celestia was happily enjoying her meal and thinking about the busy day that she had ahead of her, unaware of the disturbed mood that her sister was in.
"Last night was truly beautiful, Luna. You really outdid yourself."
Celestia looked over at her sister, who seemed to have not heard her compliment. Instead, she appeared to be in deep thought.
"Luna? Does something trouble you?"
Luna snapped out of her train of thought and smiled.
"Oh, it's nothing, Celestia. Just pondering a few things." Luna took hold of her fork in her magical aura and began to eat her breakfast. Celestia took note of Luna's hesitant answer. Her uncomfortable body language. The way her eyes seemed to twitch slightly. She wasn't telling her the full story.
"Sister, if something's on your mind, you don't need to hide it. I'm here to help." Celestia gave her sister an assuring smile. Luna set down her fork. She looked around to make sure there were no eavesdroppers, then turned to give an answer.
"Well...last night, I felt something odd," Luna said. "While I was watching our subjects dream, there was… there was a disturbance. And it was large, and terrifying. It was like… well, it was like a manticore pounding at its cell walls, trying to get free. But the disturbance quieted before I could reach it. Whoever was having the nightmare had woken up."
"And that's what is troubling you?" Celestia asked.
"Not exactly," Luna responded. "I didn't think much of it. Just another pony having a bad nightmare. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, right now I can't shake a feeling of dread. A feeling that something awful has occurred somewhere. I've had this feeling all morning and I believe it may be connected to what I felt last night."
"Hmm," Celestia mused, "It… does sound disturbingly plausible. However, there's no way to tell for sure just yet. Perhaps you should wait to see if the feeling persists? After all, it could very well be just a coincidence. If the feeling continues, then we can look into it further."
Luna nodded in agreement.
"You're right sister. I'll do just that." The two sisters exchanged a smile as they returned to eating their breakfast.
Twilight stared at Winona's corpse in complete shock and horror, unable to scream anymore. Beside her, Applejack was to heartbroken too think of anything to say. She looked at Winona's wide, empty eyes—tears swelling in her own.
"Wh-who could have done this?" Applejack quietly asked as she stared at the corpse. Twilight couldn't find the words to respond. She could only look at the corpse while her mind went a mile a minute thinking about her dream. As the two friends stared at the sight in shock, the horrendous stench of the corpse filled the room.
"Applejack?" Big Macintosh asked as he he slowly made his way down the stairs, being careful to not look at the gruesome sight on the doorstep. "Are y'all alright?"
"We're fine, Big Mac," Applejack said as she looked over at her brother. "Just stay up there with Apple Bloom. We can't let her see..." she looked back at the corpse of her dog and paused. "This."
Big Macintosh nodded and went back up to stay with Apple Bloom. Twilight could faintly hear her asking her brother questions about why she couldn't go downstairs, why she had heard screams and what was wrong.
"This is...sick." Applejack slowly approached the corpse to get a closer look at it. As the stench intensified she had to stop herself from throwing up.
"Whoever did this crushed her head," Applejack said as she looked over the corpse, her body shaking as she fought her emotions to stay strong. "Ah ain't never seen nothing like this. What could bring somepony to do this?"
Applejack looked more closely at Winona's neck. Observing the twists. The laceration. Her hoof strokes lazily behind Winona's ear as if asking her to wake up. "Her neck's broke," AJ croaked. "Back of her head's all messed up." Her voice was flat. Flavorless.
(A smiling creature that refused to be seen)
Twilight blinked the image away as it tried to creep in. She swallowed. "What do you think caused it?"
(It giggles as it slowly applies pressure to the back of Winona's head)
Applejack heaved a sigh as she looked to Twilight sharply. Her green eyes were intensified by the scowl she wore. Suddenly, they shimmered with tears.
"Somethin' heavy," she said tersely.
Twilight jumped as the image of the unknown pony about to crush Winona's skull vividly played in her head. Applejack turned her attention to her friend.
"Twi? Are you alright?"
"Huh?" Twilight blinked and looked over at Applejack.
"You look horrible, sugarcube."
"How can you worry about me when,,," Twilight paused and stopped herself from looking back at the corpse. "When it's your pet that's just been attacked?"
Applejack took another look at Winona. The happy times they'd shared, growing up. Those beautiful brown eyes that lifted Applejack's spirits when she was down. That unconditional love for her owners. All of it. Gone.
Finally, the tears started.
"It's horrible..." Applejack started, "But I can't let it get to me. If Apple Bloom saw me getting emotional, she couldn't handle it. It'll be hard enough breaking the news to her."
Applejack sighed and closed the door so the body was no longer in sight, like closing a curtain after a sorrowful end to the second act of a play.
"Ah'll have Big Mac bury her in a bit. Ah guess I'll have to tell Apple Bloom what's going on too." More tears rolled down Applejack's face. "What Ah just don't understand is WHY somepony would do this? Were they just some sort of sicko who gets a kick out of hurting animals?"
"What if it was someone trying to send a message to us? Maybe somepony who has something against us? But what could we have done that would make somepony do something like this?" Applejack sighed as she looked up at the staircase. "Ah have to talk to Big Mac and Granny about this. We'll get to the bottom of this one way or another." Applejack returned her gaze to Twilight and hugged her. "You should head on home and try to take your mind of things. I'm mighty sorry that you've had to see all this, Twi."
"Don't apologize, Applejack," Twilight said. "If anything, I'm sorry this all had to happen."
Applejack nodded and began to make her way up the stairs. "Ah got to go take care of Apple Bloom. Ah'll see you tomorrow when Rarity gets back from Canterlot." Applejack trotted up the stairs and out of sight.
Twilight stood still for a moment, unable to move as the picture of Winona's corpse was still fresh in her mind. The smell of the body was still lingering and its putrid stench made Twilight gag. However, once she realized that things were likely about to get emotional for the Apple family, she found the strength to make her way out the back door and towards the library. As Twilight left the Apple house, she heard the quiet sobs of a filly who'd just learned she'd lost a good friend.
After what seemed like hours, Twilight finally found herself back at the library. During the walk back, her mind spun like a machine out of control. She couldn't get the grotesque image of Winona's deformed corpse out of her head. Thinking about the pain her friend must be going through, seeing her beloved pet dead in such a horrible way, tore Twilight to pieces. Most of all, she couldn't stop thinking about her dream.
"It can't just be a coincidence," she said to herself. "A nightmare THAT vivid followed by Winona turning up dead the next day?"
Once she made her way inside Spike soon came to greet her from upstairs.
"It's about time you got back," Spike said as he came downstairs. "I was starting to get wor-"
Spike paused as he saw the look of dread on Twilight's face.
"Twilight, you look like you've seen a ghost or something. You ok?"
"No, Spike. I'm far from ok." Twilight fought the urge to break out in tears. "When I went to Sweet Apple Acres today, Winona..."
"What about Winona?" Spike asked.
"She...she was brutally killed."
"What?" Spike asked in shock.
"When I got there she was perfectly ok, but then she just suddenly disappeared out of the blue later. Just as Applejack and I were about to go look for her, we found her dead on her doorstep. It-" Twilight gagged as the image of Winona's gruesome corpse returned to her mind. "It was horrible."
Spike opened his mouth to respond, but seemed to be too much in shock to say anything.
"What's worse is that she looked exactly how she ended up in my nightmare last night," Twilight added.
"Wait a second," Spike argued, "In your dream, you said that Winona was killed when she wandered into Everfree forest."
He turned to see that Twilight had gone to a row of books and began to rifle through some of them. "Yes, yes, she was," said Twilight in a quick whisper, "But that doesn't mean she couldn't have been killed, then dropped off at Applejack's doorstep." She dropped the book she was browsing, then moved to the next one.
"But you don't even know how she died," Spike said.
Twilight looked to Spike as she shelved another book. "Did I have to? Spike, I had a dream in which Winona was ABOUT to be brutally killed, then I woke up and saw the ending to the dream." She looked to her bookcase in frustration, then snorted.
At a loss for much else, Spike asked, "What are you doing?"
A few seconds passed before Twilight turned around and looked at Spike with her "all business" face and answered with an "all-business" tone. "I'm looking for a book on dreams. Interpretations of dreams. Anything related to this."
Spike breathed deep and rubbed his forehead. "You're obsessing again. I thought we just got over that."
Before Spike could react, Twilight was only an inch away from his face and glaring. "What, are you just gonna say this is some kind of coincidence?! Spike, I had a dream that came true! And I don't know what it means!"
A loud crack and a flash of magenta, and Twilight was at the top of the stairs. "Did my dream predict the future?!" Another flash, and Twilight was on her bed. "Does somepony really have it out for the Apple family?!" Spike blinked as she teleported one more time, this time appearing in front of him again. "A violent act has been committed right here in the most peaceful corner of Equestria, and I had a dream about it before it even happened!"
As she walked towards Spike, he shrunk away and found himself being backed against a wall. "This is SERIOUS!" Twilight shouted, her voice a terrified shriek. "The gravity of this is, is, is INSANE, that's what it is! You're just going to tell me that this is all just some big coincidence, even when all the facts are staring you in the FACE?!"
Twilight panted as she felt sweat rolling down her body. She wiped at her brow, then looked down to Spike. In her tirade, she hadn't noticed how wide his eyes had become. He looked... terrified. Twilight facehoofed at her own outburst, then drew her assistant in for a reassuring hug. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I-I... didn't mean to raise my voice like that."
"You don't have to apologize," Spike said as he began to relax. "I can't imagine how crazy all this has to be for you. I don't blame you for wanting to look more into it."
"But that doesn't give me the right to yell at my friend," Twilight replied as she embraced the baby dragon. "Please forgive me."
"Don't worry about it," Spike said as he broke the hug. "Listen, it was stupid of me to just try to blow off this whole thing like it was nothing. Take your time and do what you need to do. If there's anything I can do to help, you know I'm more than happy to do it."
Twilight gave Spike a warm smile. "Thank you, Spike. I appreciate it." She made her way back over to the last book she had been browsing before she snapped at her assistant. She grabbed the book with her magical aura and brought it over to a stand where she could read it. "If you don't mind, I'd it would be a big help if you could help gather books that could give me information about all of this. Anything about dreams, premonitions, and the like."
"I'm on it," Spike said as he rushed off to find all the books in the library that could help Twilight. In the meantime, the purple unicorn focused her attention on her current book, making sure not to miss a single detail, less she miss something of importance. As she read, Spike brought books that he felt were of use to Twilight, so that she could continue to the next one once she finished the one she was reading. Twilight was thorough as she read, not stopping until she noticed that the bright sky outside had turned dark.
"...Oh, my! How long have I been at this?"
"Hours," Spike responded as Twilight looked back to see her tired assistant sitting at the table behind her. "And you've just barely put a dent into all those books I brought you."
Twilight looked at her stack of books and was shocked to see that Spike was right. Due to taking her time with each book she had studied, there was still a hefty pile of literature left for her to read.
"So did you find anything out yet?" Spike asked. "Anything that might help explain the connection between your dream and what happened today?"
"Not yet," she replied. "There's been plenty on nightmares but nothing so far that could connect mine with what happened to Winona. I still have a lot of research to do."
Spike yawned as he got off his seat and made his way over to Twilight. "Well, there's no way you can do much more reading without some rest. You look exhausted."
Twilight's jaw dropped as she stared at Spike in disbelief.
"You don't really expect me to go to sleep again after last night, do you?"
"I know you don't want to," Spike replied. "I don't blame you. But if you tire yourself out, you won't even be able to focus on your research. You'd just feel miserable."
"I'll fell a lot worse if I have another nightmare like last night, though," Twilight said bluntly.
Spike let out another yawn. He looked his friend in the eye and saw the fear in her eyes. Sleep was the last thing she was going to want after the day she had had.
"Ok, Twilight. I understand if you want to pass on the sleep tonight. I'll be asleep upstairs. If you need me, don't be afraid to come get me."
Spike shared a hug with Twilight, then began making his way to the stairs.
"Thanks for all your help today, Spike," Twilight said as he reached the top of the stairs. "It means a lot to me."
Spike flashed a smile at Twilight before yawning again and making his way to bed. Soon enough Twilight could hear his snoring coming from upstairs. She turned her attention back to the books.
"Alright, no falling asleep. Just focus on reading and you'll be fine."
Twilight began to pick up where she had left off on her current book, but it was a few mere minutes before she let out a yawn and started to feel the toll that the day's events had taken on her. The shock of what happened at Sweet Apple Acres, coupled with the hours of studying had brought Twilight to such exhaustion that she felt her eyes slowly closing. They were just about fully shut when she snapped them open and shook her head.
"No, I can't go to sleep. Not after last night." Twilight fought as hard as she could to stay awake. She turned her attention to her book and forced herself to read and pushed all thoughts of sleep out of her mind. For a while it seemed to work, but it wasn't long before the thought of sleep reared its ugly head again. The thought of a cup of warm coffee popped into her mind, but she couldn't find the energy to get up from her seat.
"Got to...stay...awake." Twilight gave her best efforts to keep herself from drifting off, but the exhaustion was too much. Each attempt to stay awake didn't last long as her eyelids continued to droop, getting ever so closer to closing shut. The ever stalking temptation of sleep had her in its jaws and after one last failed attempt to force her eyes open, it gave a ferocious bite that forced Twilight into a deep slumber.
The night was dark and cold in Canterlot, with hardly any sound being made. The streets were empty, with most ponies inside of their homes by now, long asleep. Street lights provided light out on the streets, but the alleyways between the various buildings were still pitch black. Inside a long alleyway was a lone unconscious stallion. Unicorn. White pelt. Blue mane. Nice clothes. The monocle he usually wore had found its way onto the alley street and his usually clean suit was wrinkled and dirty.
"Ugh, where am I?" the stallion said as he came to, rubbing his head as he suddenly felt a sharp pain that had felt as if his head had been split in half. He looked up and saw darkness, with only a small amount of light seeping through from the end of the alleyway. He looked down and noticed that he was lying down on a pile of garbage bags.
"Good heavens, what did I do last night?"
The stallion tried to pick himself up from the ground, but this caused the pain in his head to intensify. The agony was too much for him and he collapsed back into the garbage.
"Gah! Why does my head feel like it's about to burst?"
The stallion held his head as the pain seemed to grow worse with each passing second. He looked up and tried to look around to see if there was anypony who could help him get up. He tried to use a simple light spell to light up the alleyway, but his attempt to use magic made the pain increase tenfold.
"Ah!" The pony rolled on his side as he held his head, the pain from his attempt at magic being almost unbearable. He gritted his teeth and kicked the ground as he struggled to make the pain go away.
"Now, now, now, dear, it wouldn't be very wise to try and use magic."
The stallion looked up. He was sure he had just heard a voice, but the darkness was too intense for him to see anypony. The voice was harsh. Distorted. A chill ran down his spine at the sound of the voice, its wickedness and warped malice freezing him in place. The pain in his head kept him from flight, throbbing and aching as if it were being squeezed by a vice.
"Hello?" the pony asked. "Who's there? Do you know what happened to me and how I got in this dreadful place?"
"Why, of course I know how you got here, darling. I brought you here myself, after all," the same voice replied, sounding more cruel and menacing. The stallion's eyes grew wide as he felt yet another chill run down his spine.
"What do you mean? Who are you?"
"That's hardly important. What IS important is that I know you, Fancy Pants."
Fancy Pants felt his heart sink into his stomach as the unknown pony spoke his name. He didn't know why he was in so much pain or what this pony wanted from him, but he didn't want to stick around to find out. He began to scream out for help, but suddenly felt the pain in his head return, twice as intense as the last time. He convulsed on the floor as he was forced to endure the pain. He looked up and saw a small light pointing directly at his head, coming from what must have been the horn of the other pony.
"Come now, darling, don't do something stupid like that. Your head is already sore enough after what I did to your horn. You wouldn't want to tempt me to make it worse, now would you?"
"My horn?" Fancy Pants asked. "Wh-what did you do to it?"
"See for yourself," the voice said with a chuckle. Fancy Pants heard the pony place an object on the ground and kick it over to him. He looked down at the object. It was white and pointy with a sloppy looking cut at the base of it.
It was his horn.
"Dear Celestia..." Fancy Pants felt the top of his head where his horn was supposed to be, expecting to feel it and for this to be some sort of sick prank. However, he felt nothing but a small jagged stub. He looked back down in horror. They began to chuckle as they watched Fancy Pants kick away his horn in terror and cower away from them.
"I don't think it takes a detective to tell you where the source of your head pains come from," the voice said as Fancy Pants tried his best to scoot away from it.
"Why would you do such a horrible thing?" Fancy Pants asked as he began to feel sweat poor down his head. "What have I done to you to deserve this?"
"Oh, nothing at all, dear," the pony replied with a laugh. "But you being able to use magic would cause me far too much trouble for what I want to do with you."
"W-what do you want to do with me?" he asked as his heart slammed against his chest.
Rather than answer, the pony simply began to laugh. Their horn lit up and Fancy Pants felt his head throb.
"Please stop!" Fancy Pants felt tears run down his face as the pain got worse and worse. He rolled around on the ground, trying to endure the pain as it felt like more and more pressure was being applied to it.
"Lovely spell, isn't it? Certainly not one that you can learn from a book at your average library." The glow coming from the pony's horn intensified and the pain intensified with it. He was only able to let out a small squeak of agony as he was overwhelmed by the feeling. He wanted to try and fight back, but every move he made caused the effects of the pony's magic to grow worse. Soon enough, he felt himself cowering on the floor, almost passed out from the pain.
"Please. I'll give you anything you want," Fancy Pants begged once he was finally able to find the strength to speak. "Money, jewels, clothes, you name it. Just, please… stop… stop, please…"
The pony chuckled and simply began to use their spell once again. Fancy Pants clenched his teeth as the pain made tears roll down his face. Then, while still keeping their spell going, the pony began to walk up to the stallion.
Fancy Pants scooted away from his attacker, fearing what else they would do when they got close enough. However, a wall at the end of the alleyway blocked his path, trapping him. The pony slowly made their way over to him and leaned down, letting the light from their horn reveal their identity. His eyes grew wide as he recognized the pony. She was a unicorn. White coat, purple mane, and three gems for a cutie mark. It was Rarity, a pony that he had became good friends with not long ago.
Rarity chuckled and looked at Fancy Pants with a sinister smile on her face.
"Oh, poor dear. You look dreadful. Come here, give mamma a kiss."
A single scream was all that could be heard from the alleyway in Canterlot, followed by an eerie silence.