A Side World for a Side World
Dogs in the Night
MLP FiM: Copyright Hasbro
The night was thick and heavy over the sleeping town of Ponyville; most sensible ponies had already headed to bed awhile ago to prepare for their next busy day. Here and there light shined from a window where a night owl lingered into the early hours on some task or another, which meant the brightest point in Ponyville aside from the moon was, of course, the library. After all that had happened with Discord so many ponies were simply trying to forget what had happened to them by throwing themselves into normalcy with such aggressiveness that there was no energy to spare on what had used to be a bustling night life. Those clubs that did open at night were mostly left abandoned for the time being from the lack of customers and subtle, but never stated, fear that if they opened at night then some evil might happen upon them in the dark. Shutters were kept shut, doors normally left unlocked were locked and then had more locks installed, and some ponies went so far as to keep a candle burning by their bedside to chase away the darkness while they fell asleep. It was a silly, irrational fear since the source of it, the draconequus himself, had been imprisoned in stone once more and put back in his place in the Canterlot Gardens while Princess Luna herself kept watch over the kingdom during her night, but tonight it seemed that fear would be justified.
A furrow of dirt bulged upward in the middle of the street before opening up to a dark tunnel, three pairs of yellow eyes shining in the depths of the tunnel, bobbing up and down as they climbed higher and higher until three misshapen canines crawled out under the night sky above and stretched, joints popping and cracking. An unwholesome odor would announce to any pony nearby the presence of the dogs, even if they seemed unaware of the stench themselves.
"Rrrrooo, weses shouldn't be doing this...Weses have Dig Dogses for this kind of thing." The smallest of the canines whimpered aloud, casting a longing look back at the tunnel that lead back towards the underground lair of the Diamond Dogs and their beloved gemstones. Such treasures glittered in the pockets of each dog's vest, sparkling in the moonlight as the three moved quietly towards the closest house.
"Don't start with that whining again! Weses got enough of it from that mule!" Rover growled, giving a shudder at the reminder of that terrible noise. How it had hurt their ears so! Each of them would do anything to keep from having to hear it again, they'd even given up a sizable portion of their hoards to get it away from them the first time! Some of those gems had come from dragon hoards! Did that pony even realize how difficult it was to steal from a dragon's hoard without getting caught or roasted?
"Besides, the top dog said weses had to, are you going to tell him no?" the largest mutt of the three said with a short, barking laugh as he prodded Fido one top of the head with one gnarly finger-tip. Fido gave a disgruntled whine but resorted to sulking as Rover reached into the hole to grab the burlap sacks that had been given to them for this job. After all, there wasn't much time for them to get this job done and they'd have to hurry if they didn't want to be caught by any pony that might be out and wandering the night. So, each taking a couple of sacks, the scruffy Diamond Dogs dispersed around Ponyville, sneaking into what houses they could and emerging from each with a wiggling sack thrown over their muscular shoulders. Poor Fido had to steal a cart to transport his precious cargo, struggling to pull it and muttering under his breath the entire time about how unfair all of this was.
When the three finally gathered at the hole they had dug, there was over a dozen such sacks filled, the Diamond Dogs glancing at each other with more then a hint of unease in their glowing eyes.
"Maybe weses should stop while weses ahead..." Spot rumbled aloud, casting an uneasy glance at their squirming cargo.
"This is gonna make a lot of ponieses angry, what if they come after us?" Fido said anxiously, both of the two looking to Rover for his thoughts on the subject. The dark-furred dog looked just as tense as the other two though, the only difference was that he steeled himself in the face of his comrade's nervousness.
"What is this? We're Diamond Dogs, not mice! Let the ponieses come, they'll be the boss' problem, not ours! Weses did what weses were told to do, no more and no less! Quit belly-aching and hurry! The sun could come up at any moment!" Rover punctuated his words by giving Spot a sharp kick in the behind, knocking the larger canine into the hole while Fido and himself began to lower the sacks down into the tunnel. With each one though, he looked less sure of his own reasoning. Still, orders were orders and they were nothing if not obedient, especially in the face of the top dog's anger should they fail! As they worked, Rover took a long look at Fido, there was something different about the smallest of their pack...it looked like he'd gotten mauled by a bear or something! There were bite marks in his vest, one ear was limp and blooded, and...had the gems been knocked out of his pockets?
"What happened to you?" he asked curiously, trying not to laugh at how haggard Fido looked.
"I's don't want to talks about it." Fido barked out sullenly.
Bleary green eyes reluctantly opened before the crack of dawn, an old habit ingrained in the very fiber of an old hand at farm work, as Applejack stirred from her bed and pushed back the covers. A wide yawn stretched her face as the farm-pony climbed out of her warm, cozy bed and pulled the covers back into place enough that it could pass for being made. She clopped over to her mirror and set to work pulling her blonde mane back into it's bottom-heavy pony tail, leaving the only thing remaining her trusty hat! Plopping it right unto her head, Applejack grinned at the freckled face looking back at her in the mirror, shaking off the last remnants of sleep.
"Heh, lookin' mighty good, not t'toot mah own horn!" the mare said proudly as she did one last glance over herself before knocking open the door to her room and trotting down to the kitchen to help Granny Smith with fixing breakfast for the rest of the family. Big Macintosh would already be out in the fields running water and slop to the pigs before he'd' sit down to eat and Applebloom was the only one allowed to sleep in since she was young and had school during the week. So it was only once the smell of Granny's special bran-oatmeal and eggs filled the air that Applejack went to the bottom of the stairs to holler up for the youngest of the Apple family.
"Applebloom! Time t'get up lazy bones! You got books to read and seeds to plant!" Applejack shouted before returning to the table to enjoy some of her oatmeal before looking about. Something seemed just the tiniest bit off, like she was missing something. Her hooves seemed the tiniest bit cold, but it was still spring so...that was it! Winona! The farm-pony cast a quick look around the kitchen for the friendly dog but couldn't spot her anywhere, "Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing her this morning either. Hey Granny, have you seen Winona anywhere?"
"H-huh? Winooona?" She squinted, smacking her lips for a moment, deep in thought, "Hmm... can' say I have, Sweetieapple. She musta ran on out with Big Macintosh when he trotted out...Ah'm sure as sugar she'll be back inside any moment though." the elderly pony mumbled around a mouthful of applesauce, smiling cheerfully as she finished up the bowl and tottered over to the sink to put her dishes in. Every day was busy at Sweet Apple Acres, with every pony having to pull their own weight...which included a young filly who still hadn't gotten out of bed!
"Applebloom, get yer backside outta bed! Ya got chores t'do before y'head off t'school! Don't be makin' me come up there! " Applejack hollered up the stairs again, in a bit of a huff when she got no response. Ever since that incident with the poison joke, Applebloom had become more and more willing to ignore what her big sister had to tell her. Guess seeing her big sister small enough to fit inside of a tea cup would damage the older sibling authority that Applejack had, but before she could follow through on her threat to forcibly eject Applebloom from her bed the front door slammed open as Big Macintosh came into the house. The big stallion came right into the kitchen, carrying something on his back that he solemnly lowered down unto the ground. At first, Applejack couldn't tell what it was with all the mud and leaves stuck to it; wasn't until the ball of fur uncurled itself and laid down on the wood floor of the house that she could pick out the bright brown eyes. How couldn't she recognize them? They greeted her almost every morning when she woke up!
"Winona!" Applejack said with a gasp, rushing over to her beloved dog with a look of worry on her face, "Big Macintosh, what in tarnation happened?!"
"I found'er out by the pig pens. Looks like she done got herself inna fight, with a badger or a mean skunk. " the big stallion said plainly, "I guess she won though, didn' see no sign of the varmint that did it to 'er. Don' seem so bad, Ah'll drop 'er off at the vet when Ah'm in town." Applejack gave a distracted nod as she stroked Winona's head, prompting the dog to wag it's tail as if to show her pride at fighting the intruder. It was only this close that Applejack could tell how her brother figured that her dog might have fought a skunk, there was a mighty fierce stink coming from Winona that Applejack knew hadn't been there the night before! That scent seemed familiar somehow and Applejack's mouth turned down in a frown as she tried to remember why she thought she knew it or why it worried her so.
"Aw, don't you go an'fret at all, Winona. Big Macintosh'll drop you off with th'vet today, and ah'll see you again when ah go t'get Applebloom from school." Applejack said to the brown-and-white dog, smiling finally as she straightened up. "Ah think ah'll go take a look around an'see iffin' ah can't find th'critter that did this... might need t'go fetch Flutter t'help 'em out."
With that, Applejack straightened her hat, grabbed some rope, and headed out towards the pig pen's to see if she could spot the critter that had tussled with Winona. It was unusual for some varmint to go and pick a fight with a dog and she still couldn't shake the sensation that she'd smelled that musty odor before. Still, it only took a couple of minutes for her to get to the barn and find where Big Macintosh had found Winona with those big old hoof-prints of his to lead the way. Almost immediately though Applejack could tell something was wrong, it looked as if Winona had gone to hide in one of the pig pens after her fight, but the marks in the mud from Big Macintosh swinging open were fresh while there was another mark for the gate swinging the other way. Winona was a talented rodeo dog, but she couldn't open gates, so who had let her in and closed the gate behind her.
"What the hay is going on here?" Applejack muttered to herself, reaching one hoof up to rub her head as she peered intently all around, eyes watering from how strong the smell was here. It must have been a skunk because she couldn't remember anything else around the farm that smelled that bad! That's when something glittering in the muddy hay caught Applejack's eye and she stepped closer to get a better look at them.
"Eh? Gems? Who'd leave gems layin' around in a pig pen? For tha'matter, who found gems at Sweet Apple Acres!?" Rarity had been to the farm on more then one occasion, and she'd never mentioned anything about hidden gem deposits hidden under the top soil! Only then did Applejack notice the dog tracks...not Winona's, they were as familiar to her as her own hoof-prints, these ones were deeper and all the weight seemed to settle on the back of the pad as if the dog was standing...up...right.
Just like that, all of the right pieces seemed to click together in Applejack's head, and she wished they hadn't. Winona getting into a fight, dog tracks, gems, and that smell. The farm-pony ran back to the house as fast as she could, just as Granny Smith made it to her rocking chair, making it spin about wildly and leave the elderly mare disoriented and whirly-eyed. Applejack bolted up the stairs, taking them two at a time until she was at the top and zooming down the hallway to Applebloom's door. She hadn't felt like this since her sister had brewed up that potion of her's and infected herself with the Cutie Pox or learned about her trip to Sunnytown!
"Applebloom! Open up the door this instant! Applebloom? Applebloom! If ya don't open it up, Ah'm gonna kick it open!" A moment later and Applejack proved true to her word, forcing the door open with a thunderous CRACK that knocked the innocent door right off it's hinges and flat on to the floor so the terrified Applejack could rush in, frantically looking about for her little sister as that smell hit her nose like a charging unicorn and nearly bowled her over! There was her sister's vanity and the big red bow she wore every day, maybe she just hadn't woke up yet! Applejack crossed over to the lump on the bed and yanked back the covers, praying to Celestia, Luna, and Cadance that she saw the curled up form of her little sister beneath the covers before being scolded for bursting in like this.
The only thing on the bed was a sack of flower with a smiley face painted on it.
Applebloom was gone.
All across Ponyville the story was the same, missing colts, fillies, and foals who had been stolen right out of their beds; nothing left but a tossed over room, some decoy left behind to delay discovery, and the terrible smell that most ponies in Ponyville had never been exposed to before. Dog tracks lead from each of the targeted houses to a patch of recently dug-up dirt in the center of town and no pony had a clue about what had happened except for six. The Diamond Dogs had come and they had left with Ponyville's young.