Spurred Into Action
A My Little Pony/Deadlands crossover story.
(Yes, you read that correctly. Grimdark here!)
The vast expanse of what the ponies of Equestria would call the Appleoosa Plains stretched out for what seemed like infinity. The sun was just over the horizon, beginning to make way for the moon. The sky had a beautiful pink hue to it, and the sun illuminated the clouds from behind, seeming to make them more real than they were.
An apple orchard, and further beyond it, a newly-bustling pony settlement stood out as landmarks in the distance. And while those landmarks will be featured later in our tale, it's not time just yet. No, for the moment, our focus is on the tribe of buffalo living a small ways away from the apple orchard. Under the care of Chief Thunder Hooves, this tribe is a noble and peaceful one. They have lived off of the land for generations, and although there was some animosity between the tribe and their pony neighbors at first, they were able to resolve their differences. All thanks to a chance smidgeon of apple pie. But as is often the case, not everyone was satisfied with the compromise...
Raven stood atop a makeshift platform, ranting to all those who would listen. Most of his tribe simply walked away and shook their heads; violence against others was not in their nature. Even the conflict against the pony-folk settlers had been fought with apple pies, of all things. The same apple pies, ironically, that ended up resolving their dispute. The buffalo agreed to share the land with the settlers, in exchange for a share of the crops and by-products. Whatever twisted motivations drove Raven, they gave him insight enough to know that it wasn't just the pony-folk that occasionally succumbed to greed. He knew that by playing to the latent greed in the hearts of his brethren, he could get them to do nearly anything.
Raven was always a bit odd, even to his friends, and most of the other buffalo had figured his current behavior was simply par for the course. Maybe it was just a shaman thing, they rationalized. Raven's father, a prominent shaman, had theorized that it was because Raven had a closer connection than most shamans to the spirit realm. Despite having scared off most of the crowd with his antics, a few buffalo had stayed, listening intently and trading worried looks. Raven flashed them a crooked smile as he continued his rant.
"My brothers, we have let the apple pies of the pony-folk poison our way of life! We have become fat and complacent! Why should we hunt or forage when we can simply pay a visit to the nearest bakery? The pony-folk may be indirectly turning us into layabouts, but this is but a minor grievance compared to the horrors they have wrought on the land." Now the beginnings of agreement were escaping the mouths of the onlookers. Hesitantly, they began to nod, and Raven knew he would have them with his next point.
"Their wasteful houses mar our once pristine plains, rising like swollen pimples from the earth. Their apple orchard stands in defiance of nature, as if to challenge the wisdom of the Great Spirit. They know they are destroying our ancestral home. Why else would they appease us with their apples?" The small crowd of four buffalo listening was now feeling what they thought was righteous indignation, not knowing that they were being manipulated.
"The greatest insult of all is that they have called us savages! We, who were once proud to live off of nothing but the land. Yes, they may seem to have changed their opinions, but look closely and you will see in their eyes a disdain for us that seeps into everything they do. But fear not, my brothers! I have found a way to clear this...infestation away!" The crowd was eating out of Raven's hoof.
"Run with me tonight, brothers. Tonight, we shall run to the far reaches of the Hunting Grounds and return to this world with an army of our most powerful ancestors! Then, we shall make war on them and finally be rid of them!" He pumped a hoof in the air and let out a war whoop. His four listeners, who were enraptured by his speech, whooped as well and followed him without hesitation.
Chief Thunder Hooves sat in his teepee and sighed wearily. His herd incorrectly thought that he didn't hear Raven's ranting or the cheers of the young braves he'd convinced. He looked at a very old painting on a polished slab of rock and knew what would be coming.
"Oh, Laughing One," he said, gazing intently at the painting. "If only you knew your grandson would be the one to fulfill your prophecy so many years ago. I wonder if you could have stopped it in time? If we had known then the meaning of this..."
The painting depicted both buffalo and odd creatures that weren't quite buffalo. The tribe would later learn that these were ponies, and the Chief and his shamans, including Raven, had originally thought that this painting signified conflict between ponies and buffalo. But only now, as Raven and his supporters ran to the Hunting Grounds, did Thunder Hooves realize the gravity of the portent.
Titled "the Reckoning," it depicted both ponies and buffalo. But they weren't fighting, Thunder Hooves realizedthey were being menaced by a threat which was so lightly painted on the stone as to be all but invisible. The creature, in fact, could only be seen by firelight at sunset, if the slab was held a certain way. Thunder Hooves shivered.
"Great Spirit, help us in our time of need..." He contemplated his next course of action as his personal fire crackled, seemingly the only sound for miles.
One Year Later
The sun was high in the sky over Appleoosa, illuminating a bright blue sky and bearing down on the citizens of the bustling settlement. Old codgers sat in rocking chairs, agreeing with each other and nodding. The town salt-drunk stumbled out of the saloon, making noises ranging from slurred threats to dopey laughter. Young couples could be seen strolling through the streets, enjoying the bright day as much as their significant others. But in the shadow of this chipper afternoon lurked something sinister. Fear.
A golden yellow earth pony with a dirty blonde mane practiced his marksmanship on the outskirts of town, firing at empty sarsaparilla bottles resting on an unfinished section of fence. Firearms were a new development in Equestria, and highly controversial. They had made their appearance after several supernatural occurences resulted in the deaths of several ponies. Of course, these occurences were all explained away as creatures wandering out of the Everfree, or wild tales spun by overactive imaginations. And the majority of Equestria believed this. Why would their beloved ruler, or her newly returned sister, suspicious though she may be, lie to her subjects? The ponies that did voice their suspicions publicly were ridiculed and decried as muckrakers. The ponies of Equestria couldn't imagine that their rulers would betray their trust, even if doing so meant keeping a terrible secret from becoming common knowledge.
The earth pony was a good shot with his revolver. Bottle after bottle flew off, breaking either from the bullets or the landings. Sometimes both. A brown, rugged-looking earth pony with a black mane and a handlebar mustache looked on with mixed approval and disapproval. "That's good, Deputy Braeburn," said Sherriff Silver Star. "But," he added, "bottles don't fight back."
Braeburn holstered his pistol and tipped his hat to Silver Star with a sigh. "Ah wish it weren't necessary. It was just a year ago that we was fightin' our battles with pastries...the worst we had to worry about was a sticky coat or a dented pie tin." He chuckled bitterly, remembering better times. "Didja talk to Thunder Hooves?"
Silver Star nodded. "Ayep. He sucessfully identified the...remains." Death was never new to Equestria, but it was nearly always brushed under the rug. The ponies had never suffered the territorial disputes of the dragon lords or the griffon wars of succession. Murder was absolutely unheard of. The rugged brown pony shuddered a bit. "Seems like whatever's doin' all this don't discriminate between buffalo or ponies..."
The two law ponies stood in uncomfortable silence. Even the bustle of the town was muted, given their relative distance from it. A buffalo hymnperhaps a burial rite of some sort, could be heard in the distance, and only just broke the silence. This, combined with the whistling of wind through the plains and around the houses and buildings, gave the area an ethereal quality that was not at all appropriate for the time of day. Deputy Braeburn spoke up first.
"And they've all been happenin' at night, out on the plains?"
Silver Star nodded once again. "Ayep...kinda why I came here, actually..." He cleared his throat, and it was evident that he was about to make a difficult request of his deputy. His friend. The other pony dutifully listened. "It's just me, you, and the local posse ah keep around in case of trouble...normally, ah'd have all of us out on the plains. But we cain't do that tonight. ...And Chief Thunder Hooves is worried there's gonna be another attack--"
"Do you trust him?" Braeburn asked out of genuine curiosity. Silver Star had to give him credithe detected no malice in his subordinate's question. It was very possible that there wasn't a mean bone in Braeburn's body. That would explain his reticence to use his gun as a sign of authority. It also made the old sheriff feel worse about his own shows of force. Equestria was changing just as sure as the Sheriff's dispositions were.
"Of course ah trust him. Me and him, we're a lot alike. We just want what's best for us. All of usponies, buffalo, an' everyhing in between. Now, ah don't buy into that mumbo jumbo. Or ah didn't, at first. But ah tell ya, that old buffalo, he's got the knowin' of a lot of things. So if he says somethin', sure, ah take it with a grain of salt." He shot a glance towards the salt saloon with a smirk. "But ah give him a lot more credit than most other folks." His answer seemed to satisfy Braeburn, and Silver Star continued.
"Now...I hate havin' to ask you this, but...we're stretched out real thin right now. Them bandits have been attackin' the ghostrock mine again, and the miners want more guards...Coaltrain thinks that somepony's been tamperin' with the railroad, and to top that off, there's some loon that keeps comin' into town and rustlin' up all the cattle, tryin' to get em to stampede. I done asked them if they saw anything, but ah can't get a straight answer out of 'em, they's so scared. So...that leaves the plains. And ah hate to admit it, but we need at least one good shot out there."
Braeburn was always happy to help. His expression changed to one of gentle curiosity. "Can ah ask why?"
Silver Star smiled wanly. This was the kind of pony that could keep Equestria from going up in flames, he thought. Smart enough to ask questions, caring enough to ask the right ones. As before, there was no bad attitude in his tone. It didn't make his response any easier.
"Me and Thunder Hooves...we think...we know this ain't no bandits that's doin' this. The ponies around town, they think it's just some sick bastards, or one of them cults that's sprung up. Nopony...nopony's capable of that. And we're worried if it ain't stopped...it's gonna get bored of finger food and move on to the main course."
Braeburn stifled a gulp and hoofed the dirt. "The buffalo...or the town....or somewhere else," he said, understanding.
"Ayep," said the sheriff grimly. "We both know me and you are the best shots in town. Now, we can send some of the posse to scare off whatever's rustlin' the cattle. Ah hope. The miners requested me personally to guard the mine shaft along with a few of the posse. That leaves two to go check out the railroad...and then there's just one left...it's hard fer me to send any one pony out there, and ah really hope the old chief is wrong about this. But if he ain't, there's only one pony besides me that can stop it..." Or at least slow it down, he thought with a pang of guilt in his heart. "and that's you, Braeburn."
Braeburn swelled with pride at Silver Star's compliment, and that, in turn, dealt the old sheriff an even greater injury. "Ah'd do anything if it meant ah could help them folks sleep safe at night...ah'll do it."
The sheriff didn't know if he should be relieved or overcome with guilt. He could very well be sending his brave deputy to his death. He prayed to the Princesses it wasn't so. He excused himself with a tip of his hat and went back to town to plan out the evening. Not long after that, Braeburn returned to town, as well.
Like a certain pink pony, Braeburn firmly believed that sweets could solve many of life's problems, if not all. He wasn't sure what he wanted, but he knew he could find nearly anything in the town's general store. Run by a unicorn named Chuckwagon, it offered a variety of items from maps to survival tools like trench spades, to the sweets Braeburn found himself currently craving. He trotted up to the entrance and went inside.
Chuckwagon gave him a merhcant's smile and with a broad hoof gesture, said, "Howdy, Deputy Braeburn! What can ah do ya fer?" Braeburn nodded to the salespony and made a beeline for the toffee after taking in his surroundings for a bit. He grabbed a hoof-full and placed them on the counter. The unicorn cast a spell on them to determine their weight and thus their price--these were homemade candies, and each one would be a little heavier or lighter than another. Chuckwagon told Braeburn the price, and the deputy happily paid and ate them right there. As he ate, the merchant made small talk. "Heard anything about Shaker?"
Braeburn paused. "Morton Shaker? The pony what owns the salt saloon?" Chuckwagon nodded. "His wife says he's on vacation."
"You believe her?"
The deputy thought for a moment. It was an odd question, but as a matter of fact, he didn't. Was Appleoosa so fast-paced as to make its residents long for vacation? And even if it was, why wouldn't Morton take his wife with him? "Ah'll go talk to her, now that ya mention it. Thanks, Chuckwagon." He tipped his hat, trotting outside and across the street to the salt saloon.
As he approached the saloon, he listened to the various sounds coming from behind the double doors. Joplin, the pianist, was going wild on his piano, playing a lively ragtime piece. The sound of rowdy conversations about choice mares or questionable poker hands drifted out, as well. Accenting all of this was the occasional clink of a mug of sarsaparilla, meaning that Little Mac, the bartender, was hard at work today. All of these sounds died out when Braeburn trotted through the double doors. The saloon patrons glanced around nervously, as if looking for escape routes. Braeburn never came in here. Even when Sheriff Silver Star came in, it was usually because he was "takin' care of business."
Even though he wouldn't normally associate with most of the ponies here save for a few local business owners and Joplin, he still felt like he needed to earn their trust somehow. After all, how could a lawpony protect those who didn't trust him? He moved further into the saloon. "Now, listen, y'all," he said. "Ah ain't here to spoil nopony's fun. Y'all just get back to what y'all was doin', ya hear?" He backed up his kind words with a look of encouragement, but the patrons weren't convinced. With a sigh, he trotted over to the bar. "Barkeep?"
Little Mac, a diminutive bearded earth pony, sat behind the bar cleaning a glass. He responded, his thick Manehattan accent a far cry from the southern accents Braeburn was so used to. "What'll it be, pally? Salt? Sarsaparilla? We got other stuff, too, ya know." He motioned to a chalkboard behind him listing several beverages Braeburn had never heard of and a few he had.
Braeburn scratched his chin, then shrugged, although mentally he was cursing himself--what he was about to do would hurt his wallet something fierce. "How 'bout a round of Sarsaparilla fer everypony?" The dead silence meant that the patrons could hear what Braeburn had asked of Little Mac, and they murmured--perhaps excitedly amongst themselves. Little Mac nodded and got to work filling glasses and passing them out. When he had finished, the room was still silent. His expression hardened.
"Hey, you bums! Why don'tcha have some common courtesy and give the guy some thanks, for cripes sake?" That was all it took. The room filled with applause, cheers, and shouts, and soon enough was back to its original dull roar.
"Thanks, partner!" Braeburn's expression was one of relief, although he was certain he'd feel the sting in a moment. "How much do ah owe ya?"
"Ah, forget about it. It was worth it to see those mugs shut up for once." He motioned to a particularly rough-looking crowd--Braeburn noticed a few of them pulled the train that ran nearby. They looked a lot different without their uniforms.
Braeburn blanched. "But that'll cost ya--" Little Mac raised a hoof.
"What Morton--err, I guess it's just Miss Shaker now...what she don't know ain't gonna hurt her, yeah? I'll just say we lost a barrel somehow. Happens all the time, really."
The deputy frowned. Dishonesty from a member of his family, directly or indirectly, was nearly sacriledge. But he had heard stories about Little Mac--enough to know that you definitely wanted him on your side. "Uhm...thank ya?" The bartender simply nodded. "Say, y'know where ah could find Miss Shaker?" Little Mac motioned to a staircase in the back. "Thanks again," said Braeburn as he headed up the stairs, taking his hat off.
Braeburn was taken aback by how much more quiet the living quarters were. All the various sounds from below were muted almost to the point of silence, just loud enough to remind anypony here that there was a business downstairs. He didn't know the Shakers, but he wondered if they had perhaps had the place built this way to remind them that they had a place to run. He spotted a large, comfortable looking chair with an earth pony mare in it. Miss Serafina Shaker sat silently, staring out of a window. "Miss Shaker?"
"Ah'm Deputy Braeburn...ah wanted to ask ya some questions about yer husband, if'n that's alright."
The mare sighed. After a delay, she spoke up. "Yes, that's fine. Please, come closer, I'd prefer not to have to raise my voice right now." Her tone carried a sort of guarded neutrality. Braeburn hung his hat on a coat rack near the staircase and trotted towards Miss Shaker. She didn't turn to face him, but he could see her reflection in the window. Her coat was a pale white, and her grey mane was done up in a bun. Her eyes were a faded green, and it was obvious that she had been crying.
Braeburn cleared his throat and attempted to get through his questions as calmly and kindly as he could. He could see this pony was hurting, and felt obligated to let her know that somepony could and would help. "Ma'am...where is yer husband?"
"I wish I knew..." She silently heaved, holding back a sob. She couldn't keep a sniffle from escaping.
"He ain't on vacation, is he, ma'am?"
A sniffle. "No..."
Braeburn sighed. He knew he could open the floodgates at any moment, regardless of how innocuous his questions might be. It was simply how these things went. His tone was still one of gentle kindness. "When didja last see him?"
The mare took a faltering breath, as if bracing herself for a terrifying leap. Then she began to openly weep. "Oh, Deputy, it's been terrible without him...I loved that stallion..." Braeburn let her get out all of her pent-up stress. He was a pony of few words, but he could always infer meaning from his surroundings. It was why Silver Star deputized him. He was the investigator to the sherrif's enforcer. The deputy could tell that the mare had been struggling to keep up appearances. Her fine attire and makeup (now streaked) seemed as if they didn't really belong on her, like costume jewelery on something that is genuinely nice. When the worst of the tears were over, she continued. "I last...saw him a week ago...it all started at the beginning of this month. He came home beaten and with a terrible wound...he wouldn't let me look at it, and insisted it looked worse than it was. He wouldn't go to the doctor either, and I...suppose in some way, he was right. At least physically..."
Braeburn listened intently. When she drifted off, he posed her another question. "What do ya mean, 'physically'?"
Miss Shaker sighed once more. "He started acting completely different. His mane and coat would become disheveled, he had no care for organization...he would get furious with the most simple things! Why...the day he left, he almost..."
Braeburn's expression turned grim. "Almost hit you, didn't he?"
Miss Shaker nodded slowly and sadly. "Oh, Celestia...I want my husband back! You must believe me, Deputy. Morton would never in a thousand years raise his hoof against me. Aside from the occasional rowdy patron downstairs, he never even made violent actions against other ponies! He was a true gentlecolt...you and he would have gotten along so well..." She trailed off once again.
Braeburn could see in her reflection the face of a hopelessly lost pony. He spoke up with a firm stomp of his hoof. "No, ma'am. We will get along, because ah'm gonna find him. And ah'm gonna bring him back here safe and sound, and he's gonna get all the help he needs, medical or otherwise."
The sorrowful pony before him turned to face him, and in her eyes was a spark of hope. "Bless you, Deputy Braeburn...you actually believe that, don't you?"
"Ah know it." He placed a supportive hoof on her shoulder gently. "Now, you get yourself cleaned up. You don't need to worry no more. Ah'm gonna do everything ah can to help you and yer husband. No more tears, ya hear?" She nodded, closing her eyes. "Alright, ah'm gonna go now." He made his way towards the staircase, grabbing his hat from the coat rack. "Celestia Bless," he said, tipping his hat and heading downstairs.
A few of the saloon patrons said thanks to him once again as he trotted through the saloon and back outside. As soon as he made it into the street, he was accosted by a small but fierce looking buffalo girl wearing a headband and feather.
"I have been looking for you," said Little Strongheart.
Braeburn hoofed the dirt and blushed. A girl? Looking for him? Little Strongheart giggled. Braeburn clutched his hat with one hoof, trying to pull it over his eyes. In his best tough voice, he replied, "What fer?"
"Not for the reasons you suspect," she said, "but I am flattered. Although..."
She smiled. "My tribe is having a celebration to honor the anniversary of my father's birth. Would you like to come?"
"Um..." Braeburn hoofed the dirt once more. Oh, why not? He looked up at the buffalo girl with a goofy smile. "Sounds like fun," he said. "Was that whatcha wanted?"
She smiled brightly for a moment, but the smile faded and left a frown in its wake. "No," she said. "I...overheard that you would be hunting a powerful creature tonight."
"Ya mean you was eavesdroppin' on me an' the sheriff," he said neutrally, the deep red finally fading from his cheeks.
"Call it what you will," she replied. "I...we would help if we could, but this is all we can spare." She produced a bottle of herbs with a string tied around the neck, making a necklace.
"What is it?" He took the bottle, turning it over in a hoof.
"I do not know what the word for it is in your language. But...the creature you are fighting, we suspect it has a curse upon it."
"A curse? Ah thought there wasn't no such thing," said the deputy. Being an earth pony, he wasn't so sure, but he was fairly certain he had heard it somewhere.
"Perhaps that was true a year ago, but with the return of the spirits comes the return of..." She trailed off. Braeburn was more than ready to listen, but she stopped herself. "You would not understand. And even if you did, it would take to long to explain," she said, before Braeburn could interject. "Promise me this. If the creature draws blood, eat as much of this herb as you can."
"Ah promise," said Braeburn. He removed his hat briefly and slipped the necklace around his neck. There was a rather serious silence between the two, even as the hustle and bustle of the settlement went on around them. Small town though it was, its citizens always found something to do.
Braeburn broke the silence first, wanting to ease the tension. "Ah'll see you at yer daddy's party," he said. Little Strongheart giggled and nodded. She headed back towards the buffalo...was it an encampment? An area? A town? Braeburn shrugged and watched the buffalo girl depart before heading to his house to get ready for the 'hunt' he was supposedly going on.
Later that night, the various ponies of Appleoosa's ragtag law enforcement community were spread across the settlement and the surrounding area. They all wished they could have help from their buffalo neighbors, but knew in their hearts that even the buffalo were suffering. It was as if some malignant being was sharpening its claws and looming over the world, ready to feast.
Braeburn shivered, more from nerves than cold. He had convinced himself to wear his leather duster; partly because it would provide protection from a sneak attack, but mostly because he thought it looked durn cool. He let out a weary chuckle. After all, he had to find some sort of humor in this situation.
He had set himself up a nice little camp. Just big enough to provide him shelter, not large enough to draw attention, and as a bonus, it rested atop a little plateau that overlooked the plains below. The moonlight, which he noted was lovely, illuminated everything in its own special way. The stars twinkled. With a sigh, Braeburn thought to himself that were it not for the...thing lurking tonight, it would be beautiful out.
But then, was there any guarantee that this thing would show up at all? The Chief and the Sheriff were wise, but their word wasn't the end-all, be-all. The mutual friendship between the buffalo and the ponies was proof enough of that. Perhaps, Braeburn hoped, he could simply watch an uneventful evening in peace. No bandits, robbers, spooks, or anything.
For a while, he was right. Time crawled on, and it seemed as if hours passed. The relatively young buck hadn't thought to bring a watch or any sort of timepiece, and he always considered himself a patient pony. But this? It was either ridiculous or a great relief. He found himself torn between wishing for action and wishing for an uneventful night. He looked around anxiously, even looked up. He saw the moon at the apex of its path through the stars. "Well, that sure is purty," he mumbled to himself.
He was torn from his reverie by an unnatural howl. With a jump, he extinguished his campfire quickly and flattened himself to the ground, crawling to the edge of the plateau. He held his hat, as much out of fear as a desire for it not to be blown near his quarry by the wind. As he finally reached the edge of the plateau, his forehead was damp with sweat, and he fought the urge to allow his forehooves to shake in quiet fear.
A truly amazing, terryfing, even monstrous sight greeted him. An enormous hunched form sat like a predator over some crumpled object. It seemed as if the creature was lording over it...was it eating something? The moonlight seemed to bend and twist around it, as if it was being drawn in. Braeburn took out a pair of binoculars to get a closer look.
He saw hair, lots of hair. It was short, bristly, and if he had to describe it in just one word...he decided 'wild' was the best descriptor. Not just of the coat, but of the beast in general. As a little colt, Braeburn had both been terrified and fascinated by stories of the Everfree forest. A place where nature ran wild, 'ever free' of the maintenance and ordered routines of the pegasi--of all ponies, really. This beast was like something straight out of one of those stories. Everything about it defied the pony's knowledge of nature. It was big, vicious-looking, constantly tensed up and ready for a fight. And yet somehow, there was a feral quickness, even a brutal grace to its movements.
The next few things happened in quick succession. A strong wind gusted up. Braeburn felt a sharp pain in his flank as the wind passed a hot coal over the left side of his body. He resisted the urge to cry out, but lost his focus and dropped his binoculars. They hit the area below with a clatter. The beast instantly stopped and wheeled around. Braeburn didn't need binoculars to know that the object it was obsessing over was the mutilated corpse of a pony. The moonlight showed it in perfect, cold clarity.
The beast had spotted...no, it went further than that. It seemed like the beast sensed Braeburn up on the hill, and it moved like nothing he'd ever seen before. A second and it was halfway to him. Braeburn was fast. He had his gun out, and as the beast--a giant wolf!--crested the hill, Braeburn fired three shots, each which hit the beast in the chest. It collapsed, motionless and eerily silent in the moonlight. The pony caught his breath, and with much trepidation approached the fallen creature. Something wasn't right...as if to say that there was anything right about this enormous wolf at all. But still, Braeburn noticed an oddly discolored patch on the wolf's left leg. A wound? Disease? Perhaps the cause of its large size, lack of communication, and aggressive behavior?
He edged closer and discovered with horror that it was something much worse. A distorted image of a salt shaker emptying its contents. This thing had once been a pony--the same pony which had mysteriously disappeared from his own business a month or so ago. Braeburn had never known him...Morton Shaker was his name. His establishment wasn't the sort of place a pony like Braeburn would frequent. But Braeburn shed a single tear, nonetheless. Nopony deserved to be turned into such a creature as this. A savage killer thinking only of its next meal. A predator, he thought with a shudder.
Braeburn turned his back on the huddled form of the creature, and removed his hat as a gesture of whatever respect he could spare. It ended up being the last mistake of his life. As he put his hat back on, he heard...ragged breathing. In and out. In and out. Paralyzed with fear, he turned around as quickly as he could. He had plenty of practice shooting, but no experience doing the real thing. It was exactly as the sheriff had feared. Morton was upon him now. Braeburn reached for his gun lightning fast, but Morton batted it aside with a spiteful swipe of his claw. Braeburn turned to run but Morton grabbed his duster with a claw and used it to throw the earth pony to the ground.
If Braeburn could just...reach..his gun...Contempt for every aspect of the beast's being flowed through Braeburn. It had killed ponies and buffalo, and now it was going to get away with one more. No, it wasn't Morton. It had perverted everything Morton was, turning him into a savage mockery. The thing that controlled Morton was probably laughing, in whatever way its bestial form could manage. The earth pony grasped in vain for his gun; it seemed miles away. Was his vision playing tricks on him?
It was too late. Braeburn felt an odd warmth around his neck, not even realizing the size of the wound. He did the only thing he could in his state-- he reached for the herbs around his neck and emptied the bottle into his mouth. He noted with dark humor that they tasted quite good. Whatever medicinal properties they had were taking effect. A cold, cleansing chill ran up and down his body. He thought to himself that at least he had managed to do that right. But the one thought always constant in his mind was: I can't die yet. I won't die yet.
The creature raised its claw once more, but stopped. Perhaps it was the small scrap of pony still left within its feral body. Perhaps it could only stay out for so long. Or perhaps it was the brilliant silver arrow protruding through its neck. It howled in pain and tried to run, but all of the fight had been taken out of it.
The creature shrank and contorted to reveal the battered, beaten form of Morton Shaker. A peaceful expression was on his face as the realization that he could hurt nothing else came to him. His vision fading, Braeburn didn't know whether to breathe relief for Morton's soul or to condemn it to the barren wastes of the moon. Why had things become so complicated?
"Braeburn!" A set of soft hooves made their way over to the downed pony. Braeburn looked up to find the tensed form of Little Strongheart standing over him, with a finely made buffalo longbow on her back. With the feathers in her mane, or what passed for a mane, and her fierce expression, Braeburn thought that she looked...kinda purty. He smiled, but was soon frowning.
"Ah'm c-cold," he said. He was beginning to shiver and convulse. He closed his eyes with a grimace. His last thoughts were, "Ah cain't die. Not yet." Little did he know that death would soon be the least of his worries....
End of Prologue