"A monster of a problem."
"I thought you'd abandoned us." Ditzy said softly to her friend after long minutes of walking.
"What? I'd never do that!!" Raindrops answered sharply, making the grey mare blush and dip her head.
"We all did dear." Bon-Bon interjected, "When we didn't see you we thought maybe you panicked."
"Nah, I couldn't do that. I just ." And Raindrops blushed slightly herself, "I guess I should have said something."
"Everything worked out in the end." Twilight noted with a smile, "And I for one thank you for doing it."
"Yeah, I wouldn't have made it in time." Ditzy noted softly. But something was bothering her; why hadn't Twilight warned them about the landslide? Curious, she slowed down a little to fall in step with the unicorn. Twilight, for her part, only glanced and lowered her head a bit as if she expected this.
"What happened?" Ditzy asked gently, keeping her voice low so the others wouldn't hear, "Couldn't you have warned us about "
"I didn't remember it," Twilight answered in a strangled voice, "Only after it happened and was over did I get a sense of Déjà vu and remembered how it happened in the dream. Before then I only remembered scattered images and feelings...." Ditzy's stomach clenched in a knot at that revelation, and what it meant for their quest.
A roar shook the forest and cut off any further discussion. Six heads were up and on swivels, looking for the source of the noise. A shiver ran through Ditzy as she finally saw the silhouette ahead of them exactly where they needed to go.
"Manticore!" Lyra cried out, just as the thing pounced. Five ponies scattered while Carrot Top hunkered down under the swipe of one huge claw, coming up with a mule kick to it's jaw before bouncing back out of the way of its stinger.
"Come at me!!" She yelled at the Manticore, rearing back on her hind legs.
"Ditzy!!" Raindrops called, and she dove at the Manticore. Ditzy swallowed the lump in her throat as she realized what Raindrops had in mind, and dove in after her. They were far from a precision team, but they did know how to work together, and the two began to spin about the Manticore in opposite directions. Ditzy had to close her eyes, she'd never flown that fast before!! She could feel Raindrops' wing near her, almost brushing tips as they spun crazily about the Manticore. Then she was suddenly flying in a different way, a shot from his tail that sent each of them crashing to the ground in a matched pair of furrows. Ditzy's head was spinning, but she heard Raindrops "tag out" to Bon-Bon.
Ditzy cleared her head and was surprised to see the heavyset matron had rushed the Manticore. She was, for the moment, holding her own as she threw her weight around. She had actually bullied the Manticore back several steps and managed get in close enough to loop a leg over it's neck, grasping it in a headlock that looked far from friendly. But the Manticore was much larger then she was, and it would be only a matter of time
"Listen!" Carrot Top hissed, and the rest looked to her, "I'm gonna to get in there and mix it up. I'll lead him off and you guys can get by that monster."
"But what about you?" Twilight asked softly, the fear evident in her voice.
"Don't worry about me."
"No " Lyra started.
"You don't have a choice. Now GO!" she yelled, nimbly dodging the incoming figure of Bon-Bon hurtling into the rest of the group, knocking them down like ten-pins.
"Carrot!!!" Twilight yelled, but it was too late. Carrot Top had already leapt in, delivering a high kick to the side of the Manticore's flank, starting to lead him off the path. Ditzy could see Raindrops start to try and fly after her .
"No." a voice told her, she thought it was Lyra, as someone bit down on Raindrops' tail to stop her, "We have to respect her wishes and her sacrifice. Move!!" It was only because of Lyra's prompting that the ponies managed to move past the clearing. They fought between the sudden sadness over the sacrifice, and the intense desire to stop it. A screaming roar several moments later from the Manticore told them that the latter option was no longer available. They ran headlong into the thicket, heads down, eyes blinded with tears before exhaustion finally caused them to stumble and fall in a heap of bodies.
The five ponies untangled themselves, but they weren't the same in that moment. A dark cloud seemed to hover over their heads, and no one seemed willing to talk. But a brief meeting of the eyes between Twilight and Ditzy told the grey pegasus exactly what she feared. Without ALL of them, this quest was meaningless. Ditzy didn't understand, but Twilight did, and that's all that mattered.
"Hey girls, miss me?"
Every head snapped up to see Carrot Top standing there, looking mighty pleased with herself. Aside from some bruises and scratches, she seemed none the worse for wear. Of course the group promptly added a whole new series of bruises, as she was collectively pounce-hugged with a happy cry.
"What happened?" Some-pony finally managed to ask.
"Honestly I thought I'd be dead." Carrot top answered simply enough, picking herself up and brushing some of the leaves out of her pelt, "But I was going down fighting! A left and a right and a kick and a slash " the pony pantomimed, and somehow managed to convey both parts of the fight all by herself.
"Finally he had me." Carrot wrapped up, "So I just closed my eyes and waited for it to happen. But he stopped, I'm not sure why. It was like he realized something and we ended up staring at each other for like ever. Then he just holds up his paw, like it'd explain everything."
"So what was it?" Lyra asked curiously.
"A thorn. The big guy had a thorn wedged in his paw so deep it was driving him crazy."
"So that big roar at the end we heard " Ditzy realized, the look of understanding spreading through the group.
"Yup, he really let out a bellow when I pulled that out. After that, he was like a big kitten." She noted with a smile.
"You were really going to sacrifice your life for us?" Twilight asked Carrot Top softly.
"Sure. I had to protect my friends."