Thought Without Action
MLP FiM: Copyright Hasbro
Light and awareness swam in and out of Applebloom's grasp, no matter how much she struggled to keep a hold of it, always elusive and taunting her with snippets of memory that floated before her eyes. Being carried back through the tunnels by a harsh grip on the back of her neck, feeling blood trickle from scratches where the Diamond Dog had grabbed hold of her. The tightness of her skin from the way she was being carried as well as the slowly louder din...was that other ponies? It had to be, there was familiar voices nearby that she knew had been coming from the cart before.
"Figures she'd get caught again, that stupid blank-flank can't do anything right!" Diamond Tiara whined from her spot in a corner of the wagon, a mean look in her pretty blue eyes. Now Applebloom knew something was wrong because for a brief moment, she could have sworn that the pink filly looked confused and conflicted, but she'd never known Diamond Tiara to regret anything she'd said before.
"Hey! Leave her alone! Applebloom! Applebloom! Are you okay?" There was a friendly voice!
"S-sweetie...?" Applebloom mumbled, her tongue feeling numb and listless in her mouth.
A loud thud and pain in her side from her being tossed into the cart with the other terrified foals, they had all fallen silent when the Diamond Dog that had captured her arrived. Everything seemed so quiet. Was she back in the cell? No, still wood beneath her.
"B-boss, you found her, weses just about to go looking fors her!" Spot said anxiously, leaping forward like he'd been called to heel, rubbing his shovel-like hands together as he stooped forward, trying to appear smaller then he was.
"Yeah! Weses just making sure...ah...the otherses were locked in nice and...!" Fido squeaked before the well dressed Diamond Dog raised one hand to silence the simpering duo. Both of them looked at each other, expecting the worst to come from their boss' mouth.
"Shut up...Did any others escape?" There was that voice like a bunch of gravel again, even in her drowsy state it made Applebloom's ears hurt to hear it.
"N-nope! J-just that l...one...twoses...threeses...yep! Just that one and Rover wases right after the little pony, promise!" Fido said eagerly, like a puppy hoping it's master would give it some extra scraps...or that it wouldn't get beaten senseless for chewing up a nice pair of slippers.
"Good. Move these pieces of meat to the crypt and I'll start the process." the top dog growled out scornfully, tapping his cane against the stone with one hand while the other reached up to adjust the monocle over his one working eye, "Keep a better eye on them this time, one more escape and you'll be in the same position these foals are."
"Y-yes boss!" they yipped in unison, even if Applebloom could have sworn they turned pale at what their leader had said, or where they getting more colorful? Things were all screwy now, even if she did have a tenuous grasp on consciousness now. It was at that moment that Rover came barreling down the corridor only to come to a screeching halt when he saw who had brought her back, breaking out into a sweat.
"H-hey...Weses have this under control, I swearses!" Rover said quickly, holding up his hands defensively in front of himself before the well-dressed Dog turned to him, striking out to cuff the other Dog across the jaw and send him sprawling unto the stone floor.
"Quiet! I expected better from you Rover! Or maybe I shouldn't, you've been nothing but a disappointment to me so far. Get your pack in line before I have to do it for you, simpering mongrel!" The older dog barked, giving the cowering Rover a swift kick in the side, " I will not fail her because of your incompetence, DO YOU HEAR ME?!"
Each of those last, shouted words was punctuated with another kick until the dark-furred Dog was left curled up and clutching his stomach, silently bearing the pain until his tormentor finally stopped and straightened the lapels of his jacket, readjusted his hat atop his head, and stepped over the trembling body of Rover to leave the way he had come from. With a groan, Rover rose from the ground, clutching his side and turned a sharp glare on the other two Dogs, as if daring them to comment on what had just happened. When neither did, he reached into his vest to pull out a silver dog whistle, calling a duo of Dig Dogs.
"Take the ponieses down to the crypt...Don't let themses out for anything, I don't careses if theyses are dying." He snapped bitterly, trying to regain a small measure of his dignity as the Dig Dogs snapped a salute and began to pull the cart of terrified foals and fillies away further into the new den.
"Rover, are youses...?"
"Alright girls, we need to spread out and look for clues! An entire den of Diamond Dogs doesn't just pack up and disappear without leaving some trace of where they went!" Twilight finally said once she had gotten over the surprise of finding an empty cave where there was supposed to be a thriving community of kidnapping canines. Each of the others nodded and spread out around the cave to try and find some clue about where their prey had gone or why they'd taken the foals. Applejack and Rarity both began a furious sweep of the complex, hoping against hope that their sisters might have been left behind as Twilight began to pace back and forth in the main chamber.
Think Twilight, think! This is just another puzzle to be solved and then everypony will be back, safe and sound, in their homes. Why would the Diamond Dogs do this? What use could they have for taking a bunch of young ponies? They only grabbed Rarity because of her gem-finding spell and to do manual labor for them, but foals and fillies probably can't do either of those things! It's not like they'd kidnap foals to raise them as their own, that only happens in stories! Twilight thought to herself, picking up a stick with her telekinesis to begin sketching out her thoughts as they came to her.
Now, what uses could Diamond Dogs have for...?
"Hey, what's Twilight doing?" Rainbow Dash's voice cut through her thoughts like a knife.
"I'm not sure, it looks like she's trying to think this through." Fluttershy said softly, even as her posture changed to something more feline and confident.
"Really? Do I look like that when I'm thinking?"
"No, you don't look half as smar...eep." Fluttershy turned vivid crimson, sinking down to the ground.
"Half as what?"
"Uh...intent. I said intent."
If they can't be used for labor or to find gems then that leave servitude or...I guess food but I can't remember any incidents of Diamond Dogs eatin...
"What do you think that drawing is for?"
"Why are you asking me? Twilight's the one drawing it, ask her!"
"Oh, I could neve....alright, fine then chicken!"
So if the Dogs aren't using them for labor, servitude, or as food...then what? What does that leave...
"Hey Twilight, what are you drawing?" Fluttershy asked curiously, leaning over the unicorn's shoulder to get a better look at the dirt diagram on the ground before the unicorn snapped her head around with a large smile on her face.
"Can I help you with something?" Twilight said through gritted teeth, her diagram was nothing but a bunch of doodles and lines because of the constant interruptions!
"Eeh!" All at once Fluttershy's body locked up and she fell over unto her back, much like goats did.
"Uh...wow...yeah actually, do you need any help?" Rainbow Dash asked bluntly, staring in surprise at Twilight as the unicorn sighed.
"I suppose so, could you and Fluttershy check out that cauldron?" Twilight asked, mostly just to get the two out of her mane. For all their many virtues, Twilight just needed a quiet moment to think and both of them had been behaving so oddly lately. First Rainbow Dash asking to talk to her by herself before she had went to heal Trixie and now the sudden mood swings with Fluttershy...
"Sure! C'mon Fluttergoat." Rainbow Dash teased as she flapped by, holding Fluttershy by her tail as she winged over towards the cauldron before finally setting down beside it, peering up and over the edge. Almost immiedetely her nose crinkled up and the cyan pegasus went green in the face, "Oh, nasty, what is this?! Smells like someone stewed dragon sweat with hydra musk and poured it all over a pile of rotten hay!"
She backed up quickly, covering her nose to try and stifle the stench, only then noticing the various clay jays and jugs stashed behind the cauldron. It looked like these were the ingredients used to make that Celestia-awful solution in the cauldron, so she leaned closer once she spotted the peculiar, and familiar writing on them.
Behind her, Fluttershy went limp and pulled herself up off the ground, giving herself a rub of the head before casting an irritated look at Rainbow Dash.
"I'll show you who's a goat..." the yellow pegasus mumbled to herself, covering her nose with one hoof while the other dipped itself in the cooling sludge inside of the cauldron. It tickled a bit, but didn't seem particularly dangerous.
"Hey Rainbow Dash?"
"Yeah? Ghhk! What the hay?! Fluttershy!" Rainbow sputtered and shook her head as the sludge was smeared across her nose, before a feeling of being light-headed sweeps over the pegasus and she swayed back and forth, "OooOOhhh...everything's spinnninnnnhhhh..."
Without another word, Rainbow Dash fell to the ground, snoring quietly even as the shocked look on Fluttershy's face turn to an even more shocked one.
"Oh what is it now?!" Twilight turned around from the increasingly complex diagram of Diamond Dog economics, or how she theorized they worked, only to find Rainbow Dash passed out on the floor with some green goo splashed over her nose while Fluttershy frantically fanned her with her wings, "...I guess we know how they managed to get the foals out of Ponyville without anyone hearing them now."
"Look, she's waking up!"
"Applebloom, hey, Applebloom! Are you there?"
Orange-red eyes blinked once or twice before they blearily opened to see the face of numerous foals crowding around her...not that they had much choice, there just wasn't enough room to spread out in the back of the wagon.
"Uggh...Ah think so...Feels like somepony dropped n'anvil on mah head!" Applebloom replied as she slowly got up, regretting the decision immediately when it felt like the world was spinning all around her and she was forced to sit back down.
"Did you at least manage to tell somepony where we are?" Diamond demanded nastily, as if she already knew the answer to the question. Course she thought she did, but Applebloom had learned a while ago that what Diamond thought and what was didn't always line up. Still, seeing how they were all stuck in the same situation it seemed like it'd be better for everypony in the cage if Diamond Tiara didn't start whining about her predicament again.
"No, but Ah coulda swore Ah heard somepony talking to someone..." Applebloom said, putting a hoof to her head to help with the pounding, "Ah bet somepony is down here tryin' to save us right now!"
"You're the only ponieses down here, now quit talking." the harsh growl came from the right of the cart, where Rover limped alongside of it with one hand on his side, each breath a pained wheeze. It almost looked as if he'd broken something, but from what.
"Well Ah know what Ah heard!" the yellow filly said defiantly, sticking her tongue out at the Dog, secretly hoping to goad him into opening the cage door again so she could try running again, "...Hey, where's that big scary fella?"
*BANG!* Rover's free hand slammed hard against the side of the cage, bending the rusty bars inward as several of the foals and fillies shrieked and crowded over to the other side of the cart away from danger. Only Applebloom and Diamond Tiara really stayed where they were at, the latter looking intently at the Diamond Dog with one ear cocked, as if listening to something that only she could hear. Applebloom, for her part, glared right back at Rover before something off seemed to tickle in the back of her head.
"Where's Sweetie Belle at?" Applebloom asked aloud, quickly looking over all the ponies in the cart, feeling a twinge of worry when she didn't see that familiar purple and pink mane among the crowd. Just to make sure, she looked again before a frown came to her face.
"S-Sweethie Belle?" Twist's lisp was actually a little comforting, a touch of nice, safe home in this dark hole in the ground, "I hafn'th seen her ath all..."
"But Ah heard her just...hey! You! Here boy! C'mere! Get over here! Ah gotta...ask...ya...!" Applebloom grunted out, straining to reach through the bars, waving one hoof at the wincing Rover to try and get the Dog's attention. Rover was doing his best to ignore the annoying little pony, hoping against hopes that this one would just shut up and sit down.
"Oh come on! Ya ain't got to be impolite to me just cause ya kidnapped me! What happened to Sweetie Belle? Ya know, little white unicorn, she's sisters with Rarity! ...Ah know that you know Rarity, Applejack told me all about how ya'll kidnapped her!"
Rover could feel his temper beginning to boil over, but he managed to keep a lid on it...
"I bet he doesn't know." came Diamond Tiara's 'sweet' voice, the one she used when she tormented the other foals, right before twisting the verbal knife in, "Just ask the big one Applebloom, he's probably the one that's really in charge anyway."
"MAYBE SHE WAS TAKEN TO THE KITCHEN WITH ALL THE OTHER NOISY PONIESES!" Rover roared into the cage, grabbing hold of the bars to press his ugly face right up against them, sending Applebloom scooting back in surprise at the fury in the Dog's eyes. Only as the words sunk in did a pit open up in Applebloom's belly, while a secret smile came to Diamond Tiara's face.
("Nice job my little pony, that's what we call 'weakness' in my business! Keep listening close and you'll be out of here in no time...")
"Sweetie Belle...ya gotta be okay!" Applebloom whispered to herself as tears leaped unbidden into her eyes, worried about what could have happened to her friend...
"...and then she said 'oatmeal, are you cra...', hey! I think she's waking up!"
"Pinkie...? Aren't you...?" Rose-colored eyes blinked open in shut, trying to bring the image above her into view. That sounded like something Pinkie would sa...oh. It was just Twilight talking to the others. How long had she been out?
"Pinkie? Oh dear, maybe that potion damaged her memory. I'm Twilight, Rainbow. Twwwwiiiillliiiiiiiggghhhhhtttt." the unicorn said slowly, pointing at herself with a big cheesy grin on her face.
"I know who you are! Just heard...never mind, what happened to me?" Rainbow asked irritably as she got up and shook her head. Applejack, Rarity, and Twilight all hovered anxiously around her, trying to make sure that she was feeling alright while Fluttershy lingered further back, scuffing one hoof on the ground while her pink bangs obscured her face.
"Well somepony dabbed that knock-out potion over your nose." Twilight said sternly, doing her very best 'Princess Celestia' impression in a reproachful look at Fluttershy, "Then you were knocked out for a little while. We were starting to get worried you weren't going to wake up today!"
"Ugghhh, well I did, nothing can keep me down for long...did you guys find anything out?" Rainbow asked, trying to divert the attention away from herself and Fluttershy. She didn't know what had gotten into her, but Rainbow wasn't going to interrogate the shy pony right now where everypony's presence would just make her clam up in her shell. Plus it'd probably embarrass her like nothing else and despite how odd it was that Fluttershy would do that, the cyn pegasus didn't like to hurt her friend's feelings.
"Not much, just these tacky jars that had been stored behind the cauldron." Rarity said distastefully, nudging one of the containers with one hoof before letting it rock back unto it's clay base, "Applejack and I searched the rest of the tunnels, but we couldn't find anything else. All we can say for certain is they packed up in a hurry and left even faster. I don't want to be the suspicious one, but I'd almost say they knew we were coming!"
"Can't rightly say they were wrong, after all ain't like we'd let them foalnap and get away with it." Applejack chipped in, looking calmer then Rainbow Dash remembered her before she'd passed out. It seemed that actually doing something had helped to clear her head and get her focused on the matter at hand. If anything, she seemed even more determined though. "Even if we were 'nclined to lettem go, Ah know the Princesses wouldn't be! The guards are probably already in Ponyville!"
"What is it Twi?"
"I could have sworn I've seen this script before." Twilight said softly, brow furrowed as she examined one of the vases that had been used to store ingredients for the mixture in the cauldron, "It's not on all of them, but some of these bottles look really familiar!"
"You think somepony has been giving the Diamond Dogs ingredients?" Rarity mused aloud, giving the vase by her another distasteful look, as if she expected it to spit a snake out at her.
"...Not somepony...some zebra!" Twilight exclaimed as a lantern flicked on in her head, reminding her of just where she'd seen these earthen ware containers before! How could she have forgotten? How many times had she gone to see Zecora lately trying to make sure the zebra was alright after the Day of Chaos? Seeing if she had any herbal concoctions to help Trixie's physical condition?
"What?!" All four shouted at once, nearly blowing Twilight off her feet.
"You can't be serious!"
"There's ain't no way Zecora would help out these varmint!"
"Applejack's right, she may have a gaudy sense of home decoration, but she's no foalnapper!"
"Oh dear, I mean, what if...these are her containers though!"
"I'm not accusing Zecora girls, but if she might have some answers about what's going on then we need to check out this lead!" Twilight shouted over the barrage of questions, quickly bringing silence from her other friends as they were forced, unwillingly, to agree.
"Does...does this mean we're going into the E-E-E-E-E-Everfree Fore...?"
"Oh no, somepony grab...!"
"...Fluttershy. This is going to be a long walk, isn't it?"