Action Without Thought
MLP FiM: Copyright Hasbro
"How in t'hay did sumthin' like this happen? Rarity, Ah thought ya went and made amends with those dogs!" Applejack burst out, unable to keep from pacing back and forth in front of the door, she didn't want to sit here and do nothing! Her little sister had been taken by a punch of pony-slaving canines and it was her big sister's job to go and save her! After what she'd seen when she looked into the Truth and heard from Applebloom herself about what had happened in Sunnytown, she knew that her little sister must be scared out of her wits at being stolen away in the middle of the night! Applejack knew she could trust Applebloom to be brave, especially for the others who had been taken, but it still rankled that she wasn't out there looking for her right now!
"Gaah! Get down from there! Don't touch that! Hold still miserable little ponieses" Fido growled as he chased after one of the prisoners on all fours, feeling like a complete fool as he chased after the little blob of yellow and red that was currently eluding him.
"Get back here! When I's catch youses...!" Fido ineffectively threatened, pausing to shake one fore-paw at the filly who skidded to a halt to cast a wary look at her captor.
"Ya got to catch me first! Ah bet ya can't either!" Applebloom taunted, sticking her tongue out at the Diamond Dog, bolting at the last second for the other side of the cell when the Diamond Dog dove at her! With a loud thwack the small canine smacked into the rock wall and fell to the ground, taking a couple seconds before he stood back up, "Hah! That's what ya get for pickin' on little fillies!"
The chase continued even as Rover and Spot stood outside the door, looking in and snickering a bit to themselves as they watched Fido try, and fail, to catch the elusive filly who seemed more then up to the task of humiliating the Diamond Dog at the same time.
"Why don't we help him?" Spot chuckled at one attempt that ended with Applebloom bouncing off of Fido's back to launch herself unto the other side of the chamber, landing daintily and turning back with a mischievous grin on her face.
"Are you's kidding? The last filly bit me when I triedses to pull her out of the cell. I say weses let Fido do it." Rover said with just a hint of disgust as he rubbed his sore paw, and Spot could only nod at the sage wisdom of the other Dog's idea.
"Me? You think this is my fault?! I was nothing but the very picture of politeness and fairness with them the last time we spoke! Need I remind you that Sweetie Belle is missing too? You aren't the only one who's missing her sister!" Rarity declared with a bit of a huff, glaring daggers at the other mare from across the room. Even with the early alarm and rapid response to figure out just what in Tartarus was going on, the fashionista still looked as fabulous as she always did, somehow managing to make a fluffy pink bathrobe work. To her friends though, they could tell that Rarity was just as upset as they all were, a tightly wrapped coil of cold fury hidden just beneath a calm facade waiting for the right prompting to explode forth. Ever since Celestia had sent a veritable battalion of therapists to Ponyville to deal with the worst of Discord's damage, the unicorn had been left without much work to do aside from rescinding orders for hideous dresses put in on the Day of Chaos or spending time with her little sister.
All of them who had been able to had gathered at the library to talk about what had happened before Twilight had decided it was best to hold the meeting elsewhere, stating Spike was busy re-shelving books and didn't want to be distracted. Applejack had given the purple unicorn a telling look at that, but hadn't said anything else about the matter. In the end, there was only two ponies who hadn't been able to join the group discussion about what to do. Pinkie Pie was still sleeping off the effects of her weeks-long parties at Sugarcube Corner while Rainbow Dash had quickly been conscripted into flying through the town to get a head count of how many colts, fillies, and foals were missing to compare with the information at the Mayor's office. At this point in time, everypony and their mother was worried their young had been abducted without them knowing and the resulting frenzy of ponies demanding action be taken was just piling stress on the frantic ponies working just to get an accurate picture of the situation!
"Oh dear, oh no, they must be so scared! The poor foals stuck with those big mean dogs, we need to do something!" Fluttershy squeaked out, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Of all of them, it had taken Fluttershy the longest to hear what had happened since she had been keeping watch over Pinkie Pie for the past couple of days after the pink party pony had been cut off from caffeine and lapsed into her sleep-coma. They were all worried about their friend, but she had the Cakes to look after her and this matter was affecting them all!
"This just doesn't make any sense, why would Diamond Dogs kidnap a bunch of foals? They can't be used for work and bits don't mean anything to them, all they want are gemstones and most ponies don't have many of those so ransom is out of the question." Twilight mumbled to herself, rubbing a hoof against her chin, "What's more, they have to realize that ponies are going to come looking for them. Not just look for them either, we know where their den is!"
"When's a Diamond Dog ever been accused of bein' smart? Ah don't know why they've gone and done this, but Ah'm fully plannin' on getting mah kin back an' makin' them pay for takin' her in the first place!" Applejack snorted, continuing to wear a path in the floor as she looked out the door to the ponies frantically running back and forth trying to figure out if their foal had been one of the missing and, if not, to hide them away before they could be taken. It was sheer havoc out there and so soon after Discord's re-imprisonment...it was enough to make a pony wonder if the draconequus had something to do with this, if Applejack didn't already know better.
"Well they may not be smart, but they are cunning...I can't think of anything they stand to gain from doing this and their culture is based around always gaining something, usually for nothing! Don't trade when you can steal. Don't work if you can get someone else to do it. Don't talk it out if you can force them to listen. It's barbaric but it has it's own logic to it that you can use to gauge what a Diamond Dog pack will do! All they do is try to gather up treasure and favors with the least amount of work until they can use it to forge their own pack and start the process all over again, it's an endless cycle to accumulate the most 'wealth' possible. They know the parents and guards will be after them in no time and they had trouble handling six mares and a baby dragon! According to the teachings of Tiny the Large-Bark, what they've done is against everything the modern Diamond Dogs believe in, they're accumulating a cosmic debt that has no chance for profit!" Twilight rambled on, lost in her train of thought for the moment until she realized that the other three were staring at her with dumbfounded expressions on their faces.
"...What? Somepony had to find out more about them after the last time! Besides, I'd been meaning to read Dog Whisper's Treaty on Subterranean Canines after I finished Obscure Unicorn History 101." The unicorn gave a sheepish smile, blushing lightly at expressions on her friend's faces before coughing and plowing ahead, "Anyway...they knew which houses had foals too! This looks like a planned raid but Diamond Dogs and ponies haven't had any conflict in almost a hundred years! They've been content to dig up gems underground and only er...grab the occasional pony to 'help' with the work, nothing as large scale as this. Something just isn't right girls..."
As ominous as what Twilight had said was, there wasn't any time to dwell on the matter before a rainbow colored blur skidded to a halt by the rest of the group, panting from exertion with sweat dripping off of her. Rainbow Dash took a couple moments to catch her breath before speaking up.
"Hah...hah...I think we have everypony accounted for...there's fifteen colts and fillies missing from around town. Same story at...hah...every...hah...house. The Dogs got in...sneaked up to the kid's room and...whew...stole the colt or filly before leaving. Most of the houses don't even look broken into and...hah..it's just like your house Applejack, nopony remembers hearing a fight. It's almost like the children went willingly." the pegasus panted out, turning around as an orange pegasus filly with a purple mane walked in behind her. Scootaloo had the watery eyed look of a filly who had been crying recently and with all that had happened, nopony had to guess why she had been. There was more then just worry on her face though, fear lurked in her purple eyes as she stuck close to Rainbow Dash as if fearing the she might be grabbed right then and there, for her part Rainbow Dash opened up one wing to drape over the squirt's back as if to reassure her.
"Oh Scootaloo! At least you're safe!" Fluttershy said with a sigh of relief, rushing up to the little tom-boy and enfolding her in a hug that had Scootaloo squirming out of the other pegasus' grasp as fast as she could!
"L-let go Fluttershy! I'm alright, really!" Scootaloo protested, trying to escape Fluttershy's death grip to no avail, the look of fear on her face replaced by one of panic when Fluttershy's tight grip got a little too tight, "H-help...can't...breath!"
"A'right Fluttershy, ya squeeze her any harder an' she's likely to pop!" Applejack chuckled, reaching out to gently pry the two pegasi apart from one another, "'bout time ya got here Rainbow! We didn't want to head off to the Diamond Dog's den until we had everypony here! Well...except for Pinkie anyway, best let that one sleep fer now."
"Poor thing, I don't even know how she'd react to this news after everything that's already happened." Rarity said a bit sadly, reflexively biting down on her bottom lip before looking up at her friends. "Still, there's no point in dawdling here anymore, we need to find those Dogs and give them a piece of our minds!"
"Alright! Let's go get those kids back!"
"A-aahh do I have to com....Hmph! Yeah, lets teach them a lesson for messing with ponies!" Fluttershy said rather aggressively, drawing a look of surprise from her friends. For a brief moment they had a group flash-back to how the discorded Fluttershy had acted, but of all the ponies in their little group, Fluttershy seemed the most at ease with what had happened so she must be feeling up to the task. None of them noticed the transition from the yellow pegasus shrinking away from the door to standing up boldly, other matters were weighing on their minds at the moment.
"Looks like we have a plan then! Scootaloo, you stay here with Mr. and Mrs. Cake to keep an eye on Pinkie while we're gone. If all goes well, we'll have every missing pony back by nightfall!" It was a bold claim, but how couldn't Twilight be confident? The last time they'd dealt with the Diamond Dogs, they'd surrendered to their own captive! All they had to do was find the cave Rarity had used to get down to their underground den and they'd sort this problem out, one way or the other!
It didn't take long at all for the five to find their way back to the rocky field that Rarity usually traveled to in order to re-stock on gem supplies and the sight was the same as always. An array of neatly ordered holes where the unicorn had detected a cache of gems as well as several thoughtfully placed X's that marked the location of future treasures should Rarity need to re-supply in a pinch. There was still even the hole in the ground where all of them had first encountered the Diamond Dogs! After all, they hadn't bothered to fill it in when they had to pull those carts full of gems out from the cave, but looking down into it now, each of the five hesitated for just a moment.
"Hmph, ain't there some way we could just lure'em out into t'open?" Applejack asked dubiously, squinting down into the dark depths to make sure no stone-furred canines were watching them from hiding this time. Last thing they needed was to tussle with the Dogs before finding out where they had taken the foals after all. Instead the five began to carefully pick their way down the steep slope in single file, silent as the only light to guide them turned out to come from Twilight and Rarity's horns. All the way down, the five could remember their original trip down this tunnel, even if it had been a bit more painful the first time when they'd been pulled along on their stomachs. Except for Pinkie, she'd seemed more then happy with the ride and if they listened carefully, they could almost hear her going 'Weeeeeeeeeee!'.
Remembering the excitable pink pony reminded them of the dangerous state of exhaustion she had driven herself into and there was little talking among the friends as they walked. It was only a matter of time until they came to the small cavern that branched out in every which way, a veritable maze of passage ways that could easily get a pony lost for weeks at a time if they didn't know where to go.
"Good heavens, I don't know how I didn't realize how dreary it was down here! To think I thought about staying for a time when the Diamond Dogs were hosting me!" Rarity said to herself, looking around with an unhappy gaze and keeping one hoof off of the ground, "I must have been out of my mind!"
"G-uhh...I don't know how they can live down here period." Rainbow Dash shuddered, "There's no room to fly and you can't even see the sky, who'd want to live down here?"
"They would. For them, an underground den spells safety. There aren't many places that welcome Diamond Dogs openly and an adult dragon will raze a Diamond Dog den on principle if they find one, the Dogs are notorious for sneaking into a sleeping dragon's cave to make off with their hoards." Twilight said softly, trying not to speak too loudly considering the echo in the tunnels. If possible, they wanted to come upon the dog's by surprise since it would give them a chance to observe the kidnappers and see what they were all about. Of course, if Applejack or Rarity spotted their missing sisters then Twilight had no illusions about keeping them from charging in to kick plot and take names. Despite the danger the young ponies were in, none of them seemed terribly concerned about getting their kin back. They'd dealt with Diamond Dogs before after all.
"Aaaahhhhhh! Get away from me you horrible mutt!" Diamond Tiara shrieked at the small Diamond Dog when he went to grab her, the ear-piercing noise forcing Fido to grab hold of his ears and whine in pain. Oh sweet gems it was worse then that noise that Miss Rarity had made! Ever since the pink filly had woken up, she'd been shrieking at her captors like a bat, favoring her rear left leg as she harangued them mercilessly
"Be QUIET pony, please!" Fido begged, backing up towards the cell door. Oh no, he'd had enough of this, it was time for him to take a break and for the other...where was Rover and Spot?!
"Be quiet? Be quiet?! Do you have any idea who you're talking to? My father owns Barnyard Bargains, which makes him the richest and most powerful pony in Ponyville, and when he finds out you've taken his precious little princess you are going to be in such trouble!" the pink pony shouted at the cowering Diamond Dog, limping angrily towards him from where she'd been sitting in the cell.
For their part, Rover and Spot stood almost twenty feet down the corridor, covering their ears with their paws, just barely able to hear that ungodly shrieking, with serene looks on their faces.
"See? Told you Fido should do it." Rover said wisely, earning him a quizzical look from Spot.
"Can't hearses you, what did you say?" Spot asked loudly, earning an equally perplexed look from the slightly smaller Diamond Dog and a shrug to indicate he hadn't understood a single word of what the other had said.
"And let me tell you another thing...!"
"Nooooooooooooooooooo!" came the howl of dismay from the locked cell.
"Alright girls, this is it. We do this nice and easy at first. Rarity, they know you the best so you go in first with Rainbow Dash, see if they won't listen to reason." Twilight whispered as the five crouched behind the large out-cropping that separated them from the opening to the Diamond Dog's den. Inside they could hear the creaking of a rusty wheel, likely belonging to one of the carts the Dogs used to haul their gems around while a veritable miasma of stink emanated from the opening that had Fluttershy covering her nose. "Rainbow, if they do anything funny then you zip through and try to find the fillies and colts while Applejack and I keep the exit clear. Fluttershy..."
"I'm going with Rainbow Dash." Fluttershy said boldly, looking ready to charge through the door herself.
"What?!" Came the cry of surprise from the other four, even as Fluttershy's pupils shrunk and she abruptly gave a loud squeak of surprise herself.
"U-um I mean...I stay back here and make sure no one comes up from behind, because that's safe and not nearly as scary, right?" the yellow pegasus asked in a trembling voice and after a moment of stunned silence, Twilight gave a wordless nod before she found the presence of mind to clear her throat and speak again.
"Yeah, that's a much better idea. So everypony knows what their job is?" She asked, getting four nods in return, "Then let's go!"
Twilight and Applejack crept out from behind the outcropping, sneaking closer to the entrance before signaling for Rarity and Rainbow Dash to move forward. This close, that smell was thick and heavy in the air, but they could hear more as well, like the gravely noise of what could only be Diamond Dog voices in the distance and the clatter of...was that horseshoes? Now in position, Twilight stuck her head out of hiding and signaled the other two ponies to take the lead. Rarity, for her part, seemed to melt into the role with ease and strode forward with poise and dignity while Rainbow Dash puffed her chest out and flared her wings to seem more intimidating then normal.
"Helllllloooo? Is anyone home? It's me, Miss Rarity! I was hoping to speak with Rover again!" Rarity called out as she entered the den. The call repeated a few times in the air before silence fell in the cavern, leaving Twilight and Applejack all but biting their hooves in anticipation before they heard Rainbow Dash's voice.
"Hey guys, get in here, you have to see this!"
With side-long glances at one another, the two quickly crept into the cavern to see what Rainbow Dash and Rarity had found...
"Hee-yah!" Applebloom shouted as she thrashed in Fido's grasp, giving her captor a solid kick to the gut that bent the poor Dog over double, eyes bulging out of his head as he gasped in pain. Seeing her chance, the filly broke free from his grip and galloped down the dungeon corridor, right between Spot's legs but not before stepping down hard enough on the Diamond Dog's left paw that she was sure she'd hobbled the brute! She wasn't the only foal around either, the Dogs had brought out a caged cart that they had begun to load their captives into one at a time, but it wasn't until the small one had been loading in Snips that Applebloom had seen her chance for escape!
"Ow! Stop that!" Spot hollered, hopping up and down on his injured foot as the stubborn filly made her chance for freedom and fled down the corridor, hearing the noise of Rover's scraggly nails on stone as the leader of that little Pack took off in pursuit!
"Get back here blank flank! Don't just leave us here!" Diamond Tiara screamed after the fleeing filly, sticking her head petulantly out of the bars of the cage, just in time for Fido to finally take the crown off of her head. "HEY!"
"Applebloom, go get help!" another of the captured ponies called out to her, the encouragement giving her an additional burst of speed, "Find Twilight and her friends!"
"Idiots! Weses can't let any of these ponies escape! After her!" Rover hissed out as he ran after the escapee, chasing the filly down the rough hewn stone corridors, the only light coming from the sputtering torches or the luminescent glow from the eyes of Diamond Dogs. Rover knew the tunnels better then Applebloom and was hardier as well, but the filly had the advantage in her small size, speed, and head-start that she used to pull ahead of the other Diamond Dog and skid to a halt in a slightly darker cave.
This'll be the perfect place to hide! Applebloom thought to herself as she looked around for a good hiding spot, quickly slipping behind a trio of wooden barrels that looked as if they stored water. Not a moment too soon either, because she had no sooner finished climbing behind them that she heard the noise of Rover's claws on the stone and saw the large shadow of Diamond Dog standing in the entrance to the cave. His sickly green eyes seemed to glow in the dim light of the cave and his head twisted back and forth with suspicion, nose twitching as he tried to sniff out his prey. For the first time since she had escaped, Applebloom realized that she was shaking in fear. All he had to do was look over towards the barrels and he'd undoubtedly see the red-maned filly hiding behind them and too late did Applebloom realize there wasn't anyplace else to run in this room. She'd trapped herself in this little room and if she was found now, there was nothing she could do to keep Rover from throwing her into the cage with the other foals. Without the pounding rush of adrenaline in her veins and facing one of the larger Diamond Dogs, Applebloom could feel the fear beginning to creep up her spine, setting her teeth on edge.
Oh just go away! Princesses, I've never been much for prayin' but if you could do something, anything, to help I'd greatly appreciate it! Applebloom desperately thought to herself, clasping her hooves together like Granny Smith had showed her for her bedtime prayers, even as the Dog's shadow fell over the barrels. This was it! He was going to look over and see her and that would be it! She'd never see her family again unless they managed to find her on their own! The filly could feel the dog's putrid breath in the space between the barrels as he leaned down, snuffling at the ground to find the source of the scent he was following, warm and humid on her coat; making her want to gag from the smell of rancid meat and marrow.
Something cracked in the hall and Rover's ears snapped up, the sinister Dog quickly slipping back to the entrance and leaning out with his ears in the air. After another moment the noise came again, thankfully, and the dark-coated Dog dashed down the hall with an eerie howl echoing from his lips as he scrambled in pursuit after where he thought Applebloom had went. The seconds seem to take forever to tick by, the only noise the pounding of her own heart as Applebloom waited to see if her pursuer came back for her. As she strained her ears for some sign of Rover's return...she heard something far better!
Voices! And one of them was a pony voice, she was sure of it! The filly's heart soared and an unfettered smile broke out over her face. Applejack and her friends had found her! The smallest Apple sneaked out from her hiding place behind the barrels and crept to the doorway, listening intently for just a moment before trotting around the corner and into the corridor. To think she'd been worried about never going home again! Why when she saw Applejack they'd both laugh at how silly she'd...
"Oof! Hey, watch were yer..." Applebloom fell silent as she felt the soft cotton on her face and backed up a couple of steps quickly, reddish-orange eyes widening at what they saw. It was the tallest Dog she'd ever seen before and by far the most menacing of them. Thick muscle bunched beneath steel-gray fur in powerful fore-limbs used to tear through dirt and stone, neatly trimmed nails looking all the more for claws because of it leaving scratches in the floor as their owner clenched at the ground. He looked to be dressed in the finest Canterlot fashions, a handsome looking suit draped over the hideous body underneath as if to hide it's ugliness from the world. One hand held a black lacquered cane in it's grasp, the head piece a solid gold pony with a gag in it's mouth, while the other lightly held a dainty looking handkerchief that seemed to have never seen a single day's use. A daper looking top hat was carefully held beneath the same arm, even as Applebloom's gaze went up to his face. She'd never seen anything quite as mean as that Dog's face, not outside of her nightmares or Sunnytown, it was a mess of scars and still healing wounds that told of a history of violence and horror, one eyes glassy white and useless while the other was hidden behind the reflective glare of a monocle. One ear had been chewed down to a stub from one fight or many while one long claw mark ran through his ruined eye and lip, forcing it into a terrifying grimace that exposed jagged yellow teeth, a couple of which had been capped in gemstones.
She was shaking again, her tail drooping down to the floor as her eyes went large.
"You're not going anywhere my little pony." The dog's voice was like an barrel of gravel being turned around and round, a throaty growl that promised that the smell of blood on his breath was not his own. Applebloom could feel her body acting on it's own accord, backing up until her hindquarters reached the stone wall and there was no place left to run as he backed her into the corner. His fancy hat was moved to the same hand as his cane before he reached out towards her with that handkerchief, "Not for a long time..."
"APPLEJAacc....!" The filly's voice fell to a whisper and then silence as the handkerchief was pressed over her mouth and nose, filling her nose with the smell of something sour and it tasted like she'd swallowed a mouthful of bits. The last thing she remembered as she slumped into the black abyss of unconsciousness was the feeling of being picked up by the scruff of her neck, being carried back the way she had come.
"It's...empty?" Twilight said aloud as she looked over the abandoned cavern. There wasn't any sign that the canines they'd come in search of had lived in the cave in the longest time. A simple water wheel turned with the aid of water streaming down from the surface, used as a simple mechanism to move a belt along that dumped the smallest amounts of gravel in a growing pile at the end of the conveyor belt. Each of the ponies, even Fluttershy who had reluctantly come in as well, looked about the cave in dismay for some sign of the foals they'd come in search of.
Metal dinged against stone in the far corner where a quartet of horseshoes dangled on rope above a medieval looking cauldron that still frothed over with smoke from whatever contents might be within it, the source of the foul stench in the air and at the homes of the stolen colts and fillies. The cavern was cold and alarming in how empty it was, just the scraps left behind by the Dogs being the only indication that anything had once called this place home. Heck, their own tracks were still in the dirt and dust on the cavern floor!
"Where in Tartarus did the Dogs go?!" Rainbow finally shouted at the ceiling, a question that echoed off the walls to come back at them as a ghostly reflection.