Prologue

The Clopping Dead — Intro

An apple slowly rolled along the streets of Ponyville, navigating the various obstacles in its path, guided by a gust of wind. Stopping occasionally it finally came to a permanent halt into an overturned cart, its contents spilled over the side as it had no doubt been abandoned in haste. A distant clattering of wood on wood broke the wind’s sole presence in the town’s streets, moving in time with each gust of wind.

The shutters of Sugar Cube Corner clattered as well, louder than most due to their weight, and joined the deserted sounds of the town. Inside the once bright and alive bakery, overturned tables and counter-tops strewn with ingredients and several articles of clothing.  Several sets of cake and pastry cutting tools lay about; the sheen from their metal showing the slightest hint of tarnish, not bad considering how much time had passed.

A stray wind blew through the broken out windows and pushed a stray spoon from the main serving counter, it tumbled to the ground, a normal clattering sound was instead replaced with a metal clank as it bounced off the handle of a knife and landed near the pony’s head it was in.

A distant shuffling grew slightly louder, the back door opening after a few moments of silence. Four metal hoof gauntlets clacked to the floor, moving cautiously, keeping to the shadows of the dimly lit bakery.  Applejack looked around quickly as she wandered in, her gamboge coat became more apparent, along with a set of saddlebags. Dusty and rough looking, she crept in and noticed the dead bodies of the owners behind the counter. She paid it no mind, her expression  locked in a determined way on the door to the back rooms. A quick adjustment to her Stetson and she stepped over the Cakes and into the kitchen.

The same disarray was present in there as was in the bakery, mixers and serving tools cluttered about. Frosting caked about on the center baking table, no doubt they were in the middle of making something when it happened.  AJ looked about the room, stepping lightly and minding the utensils about the floor, not wanting to make any more noise than need be, lest she attract attention.  She came to a set of cupboards and opened them, standing up on her hind legs and peering inside. Cans of ingredients were on the right but thankfully, there were more useful on the left. Preserves and canned vegetables were among the prized goods she began to collect, checking expiration dates on them as she went along. She moved to another cupboard and found less useful products this time but took what she could, turning and shutting the cupboards out of habit.

As she turned to look on the other side of the room, her eyes widened as a sudden realization her and she turned back, reopened the last set of cupboards and grabbed a can opener, closing them again.

“Knew I’d forget something..” she thought to herself, turning to the other side of the room now. She searched high and low throughout the kitchen, and after exhausting her search for anything useful, she turned and headed out, her caution returning as she stepped back over the bodies and headed towards the door she crept in through. As she made it to the door frame, she stopped a noise catching her ears. It was one she knew, at least, from what she could hear. It sounded like somepony taking a nice big bite out of an apple.

It was distant, soft at first, then it stopped as quickly as it started. It would start again after a second. Turning her head slowly towards the open front door,  AJ’s expression widened a bit and then her eyes squinted to try and see through the sunlight peering in as dusk was nearing. She couldn’t quite make it out, and against her better judgment, she moved towards the front door, her metal clicking softly on the floor as she kept down, peering out the door as she came to it.

It was against everything she’d learned in the past few months regarding what she was doing now. In fact she’d have to have her head full of applesauce to do this. That’s what her rational side was saying. Not rational, survival.

The other side, the compassionate side, said it might be someone alive still, holding out, savaging, she could take them back with her. That side was slowly disappearing each week she ventured out. One day it might be gone entirely. That was a fear and a comfort at the same conflicting moment.

AJ peered her head out and saw the overturned applecart in the middle of the street, and saw a blank flank sticking out, its tail swaying a bit as the crunching sound came from behind, it. Apples moved and rolled behind the unknown pony, another crunch and slurping sounded and AJ decided to chance it.

She trotted out a bit faster than her normal sneaking and looked left and right, up and down the lonely streets of Ponyville, turning to look straight ahead, she finally spoke.

“Hey…” she spoke softly, out of habit from her encounters, but then cleared her throat a bit and tried again. “Hey there…” she said a bit firmer.

The crunching stopped and the tail stopped, and then it slowly rose its head and turned towards AJ’s voice, more apples toppling and rolling to the side as it did. She slowly trotted closer to the back of the overturned cart.

“Y’all need to say something back…” AJ said, stopping as she noticed nothing was spoken back to her, a bad sign when coupled with the fact whoever it was didn’t run. Silence was all she got, and a slow turn still in progress made her step back once. “Please say something..” she thought to herself.

As the smaller pony turned to face Applejack, the other pony it was eating came into focus, AJ’s eyes sagging disappointment and a intake of air silently followed, and then she took a step back from the cart. It began apparent immediately the apples were just witnesses to pony she’d been talking to, who had been eating the remains of the poor soul who’d owned the cart. The head had been crushed in, keeping him from coming back to life.

A lime blank flanked, one who hadn’t even matured enough to gain their cutie mark, made its turn complete, staggering on its legs to stay stable as it peered at Applejack, it’s eyes fluid filled and devoid of life. Slack jawed, it’s head tilted to the right slightly, it’s neck unable to hold the heads weight due to some sort of life ending injury to it. Decay had taken away the soft tissue of the young girl’s lips and some of it under her left eye. It stood there, a low growl coming from it as it seemed to lock onto AJ as a food source. Fur flaked off as it staggered towards her once more, bumping into the cart’s sides and throwing it a bit off balance.

AJ stood there, staring back at it, having not  said a word since the flesh eating filly had turned to her. She had thought they’d gotten all the kids out. Applejack’s mind raced inside the track of it’s own confliction as she tried to think who this was, she wasn’t easy to recognize. She swore she’d gotten everyone of her little sister’s friends out herself, and Applebloom was safely locked behind Cloudsdale’s Quarantine. It couldn’t be any of them, who was it? If only it wasn’t decay at the—

DECAY!

AJ snapped out of her mental prison and her expression locked back onto her determined stare, sizing up the moment as the pony staggered almost into biting range of her. It growled again and opened it’s mouth wider, it’s teeth half gone. AJ’s back legs snapped back one at a time, each with a distinctive metal scraping sound coming from the metal shoes she was wearing. A split second later she turned in a flash and used the same strength in her backkick she’d use to knock apples from their tree back at her old home. A wet connecting sound rather then bark-on-hoof sounded as she closed her eyes, trying to forget what it meant, her hat flying off and landing on the ground.

Silence, then a series of thuds as dead weight hit the ground and another apple rolled past, behind AJ now as she turned from her attack on the zombie pony.  She opened her eyes, the sight in front of her taking it’s toll on her emotionally, but she knew better then to let any of it audibly out. Where there was one, more were bound to be within earshot. No matter how often she had to do this, it was still unsettling to take anything’s life, let alone another pony’s.

She picked up her hat and put it back on, turning towards the end of town and walked slowly, eyes locked back on the horizon. “Gotta get these back to everyone, don’t have time to think about anything else..” she thought to herself as she left the outskirts of Ponyville and headed towards the railroad tracks, starting her long trek back to the others, alone with only her own thoughts.

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