"Sticks and stones may break my bones..."
Ditzy was glad to be moving again, even if it was along the ancient route that lead to the shrine. She considered how muted they all were at the moment, but every-pony seemed to be in good spirits after their encounter with the Manticore. Carrot Top herself was a bundle of nerves and energy that couldn't help but make Ditzy grin, to say nothing of the rest of them. In fact, the only pony who wasn't smiling was the matronly Bon-Bon, who was fussing steadily at Carrot Top.
"Do hold STILL, dear!" Bon-Bon ordered, applying another bandage to a scrape along Carrot Top's flank.
"Oh come on ." Carrot complained.
"You don't want these scrapes to get infected, do you young mare?" Bon-Bon asked pointedly, and reminded Ditzy very much of her mother. If Carrot Top had an answer, it melted away as darkness had rather suddenly enveloped them.
"Did I miss the moon setting?" Raindrops asked from somewhere in the darkness.
"Can Nightmare Moon turn off the Moon?" Ditzy asked, trying to hide the quavering in her voice.
"I'm sure there's a rational explanation for " Twilight started, but then one of the ponies let out a shriek! Ditzy was never sure who was the first to scream, but within moments they all were. Their adjusting eyes revealed mysterious shapes in the darkness, claws outstretched towards them, gaping maws hanging open to reveal rows of hideous teeth, and brooding eyes clenched in expressions of pure fury!!
"MONSTERS!!" Ditzy cried out, breaking the moment of panic that had rooted the group to the spot. Ditzy took wing and bolted up the path they had just come down in a blind panic. She had to stay low, her eyes picked out deadly looking claws just over her head, threatening to tear the feathers from her wings. She could hear Raindrops nearby, her panicked wing-beats matching her own, and the pounding of hooves just below that told her the rest were right behind her.
"LYRA!?!" Bon-Bon cried, bursting through their panic, "Where's Lyra?" The group slowed, despite the looming monstrosities about them, each of them craned their necks to try and find where the unicorn had gotten to, worried she'd been separated and and Ditzy didn't want to imagine it. But just as that distasteful thought surfaced, the grey pegasus spotted her.
"THERE!" Ditzy called to the group, pointing back the direction they had just fled from. Sure enough, Lyra stood in the clearing impassively, as if studying one of the monsters.
"Lyra, run!" Carrot Top cried out to her, but Lyra answered by only looking back to where the panicked group of fillies had huddled together with an odd expression.
"There's nothing to be afraid of." She stated flatly.
"B-but " Twilight stammered, "What about the M-monsters?!?"
Lyra looked back at her carefully before answering. "Do you girls trust me?" she asked, pausing to look at each of them in turn. Ditzy found herself unable to answer that, fear still constricting her throat. Worry of those reaching claws over her head caused her to drop to the ground, folding her wings protectively to her sides.
"I-I do." Bon-Bon answered in a shaky voice.
"Then come here. There's nothing to be afraid of." Bon-Bon visibly swallowed, and then started forward. Carrot Top was next, then Raindrops and Twilight. Ditzy swallowed hard, and found her legs almost unwilling to move as she stared at the harsh and terrifying visages around her. However the mare realized that she was also being left behind, and forced herself to catch up. She clenched her eyes shut and leaned slightly on Twilight's flank, letting the unicorn lead her. If Twilight noticed, she never said anything.
When the group finally reached Lyra, the unicorn sat down and looked each of them over. "This is not a Monster." she stated simply. Ditzy managed to pry a single eye open to look, but quickly shut it again when she saw the toothy maw of some dark eyed creature staring back at her.
"T-then what is it?" Carrot Top demanded, "'Cause it sure looks like a monster to me!"
"It's a tree."
"A tree?" Carrot Top asked skeptically.
"A tree." Lyra responded, and proceeded to knock on the side of the Monster, which promptly made a hollow 'THUNK' in response. "It's been made to LOOK like a Monster, I assume to scare some-pony, probably us." Carrot Top inched forward, steadily looking at their "Monster" with a dubious expression. But when she got close enough her eyes widened as she stared into the mouth.
"Whoah! It IS a tree!" she cried, and literally stuck her head in that gaping maw. Ditzy gasped as Carrot Top's head disappeared into the mouth of the beast. A sigh of relief flowed over the group when she removed it moments later, unmolested and still firmly attached to her shoulders. She gave the rest of them a silly grin before settling back on her hooves.
"You alright Ditzy?" came Twilight's soft voice from her shoulder, and the grey mare trembled.
"I I'm alright." Ditzy lied, her stomach still twisted into knots.
"C'mon mares, let's get out of here," Lyra ordered, "Monsters or not, they're still creepy."
"I couldn't agree more." Bon-Bon answered, and nudged Ditzy and Twilight from behind, getting the group moving once more and away from the horrible tree/monsters.
Ditzy was only just starting to calm down as the group pushed on ahead, making some furtive attempts to chat as she tried to shed the last vestiges of fear. They still followed the ancient path, but only found themselves confronted with a new obstacle all too quickly. I wide river stood before them, churning and roiling in a way that made crossing it impossible to any-pony without wings.
"Ditzy," Lyra instructed, "You scout upriver. Raindrops, you scout a bit downriver. Don't go too far, but see if you can spot a bridge or something." Ditzy nodded, and parted ways from the other ponies as she winged her way up-stream. What she found wasn't even close to what she expected, and definitely not what she was looking for.
It was a dragon, of a sort. He was long and serpent like, with pristine purple scales and sporting a rather fancy hairstyle of orange and yellow hair. He had a long twirled mustache from one side of his snout while the other seemed blunted as though it had been chopped off. Ditzy at least found the source of the river's problem, since it was the caterwauling and thrashing from this serpent-like dragon that made it impassible.
"Did you find something Ditzy?" Twilight called from below, and she turned to see the other ponies had caught up with her. Had she just been staring that long?
"Sort of " She answered, "But it's I'm really not sure how to describe it. Have a look." The ponies looked at each other for a moment in confusion, then moved forward to have a look. They each stared with open astonishment at the odd sight Ditzy had discovered. Several minutes passed before any of them thought to move past that spot.
"Are you alright?" Raindrops asked, pushing forward to hover in sight of the dragon. Ditzy moved to follow, as did the rest of them, into the open where the dragon could see them.
"No I am NOT okay!!" the dragon emoted, "Just look at my Moustache!!" Ditzy groaned to herself and covered her face with a hoof. THIS was the problem?
"That's IT?!?" Carrot Top cried.
"Now now dear, can't you see it's important to him?" Ditzy was caught off-guard by this vocal addition, and peeked out from under her hoof. Bon-Bon had broken from the group and trotted up to the edge of the water and looked up at the dragon, "It's alright dear, tell Bon-Bon what happened and we'll see what we can do to help."
"Well okay." The dragon sniffed, and lowered his head to the shore where he could look the smaller pony in the eyes, "I was just sitting here, minding my own business, when this tacky little cloud of purple smoke just whisked past me and tore half of my beloved mustache clean off, and now I look simply HORRID!!" The serpentine dragon emphasized this by throwing his head back so far it almost circled all the way around to his back, which Ditzy's back ache just considering.
"Oh my, that 'Tacky Cloud' certainly did a hack job to your lovely Moustache, didn't it?" she tsked and reached out to touch the blunted tip when the dragon brought his head back to the riverbank.
"Oh I know, I know!! Now I look absolutely HIDEOUS!!" the dragon cried melodramatically.
"Oh you poor dear," Bon-bon answered, and her brow furrowed in thought, "I think perhaps we might be able to do something. It wouldn't be quite as grand, but it would be perfectly prepared to grow back every bit as magnificent as it ever was."
"It thought she was just a cook?" Ditzy overheard Carrot Top ask Lyra, who responded with a shrug.
"First things first dear," Bon-Bon continued, "Do you have something to cut with?"
"WHAT!?!" The dragon recoiled, "You CANNOT take the rest of my fabulous moustache!!"
"I'm not going to take it dear," She answered soothingly, "But we will need to trim it slightly."
"But but "
"I do want to help, but only if you'll let me."
"Well ." The dragon hesitated, sniffling as he looked down at the pony before him. Finally he relented, and lowered his head to the riverbank in front of Bon-Bon, who responded by stroking his nose lightly before moving to pick up the tendril of the moustache half he still possessed. She moved to pull the tip of this over to the side that had been so cruelly chopped off and matched the tip up to the blunted edge.
"Twilight, could you give me a hand?" Bon-Bon asked, and Twilight trotted over. For a moment the lavender unicorn looked confused at what Bon-Bon asked of her, but Ditzy wasn't close enough to overhear. Twilight seemed to get it soon enough though, and with a focused look of concentration, her horn began to glow.
To Ditzy it seemed like Twilight was having to concentrate quite intensely on what she was doing, but the effect was evident. The tip of the moustache was starting to merge with the blunted edge of the cut side, until it formed one strange looking loop of hair, which the dragon looked at cirously.
"Now then dear," Bon-Bon said as she smiled comfortingly at the dragon, "I need something to trim this with. If this goes as I planned you'll have yourself a nicely grown moustache again, if not quite as grand as it was before. But with a little bit of care, it'll grow right back in no time!"
"Maybe one of these will work?" The dragon offered, sitting up a bit as he handed her one of his shed scales, "They work wonderfully to trim and shape my moustache and coiffure."
"Perfect! Now hold still." She told the dragon as she took the scale in her mouth. The dragon covered his eyes with a moan as Bon-Bon drew the scale sharply downward, through the hanging loop of hair that formed his moustache. She set down the scale when done, leaving the dragon with a pair of frazzled moustache tips in need of some primping. The dragon carefully pried his hands off his face to look over the handiwork.
"Oh? OH! It's almost good as new!!" he cried happily, scooping up the scale and immediately beginning to try and trim and shape his precious moustache.
"It's not perfect," Bon-Bon said, "but I'm sure you can get it in shape in no-time. Give it a few weeks, and it'll be good as new. Solves your problem quite nicely, don't you think, dear?"
"Oh I do, I DO!!" the dragon gushed.
"Hey look! The river's crossable here!!" Carrot Top called, and Ditzy couldn't help but shake her head at the purple dragon. Said dragon was so engrossed in primping his moustache that he was no longer churning the river with his trashing, nor did he notice the group of ponies slip away.
"I have got to ask, Bon-Bon," Ditzy asked as they crossed, those that couldn't fly splashing through the wide but shallow river, "What in Celestia's name made you think of doing that?"
The heavyset mare answered with a knowing smile, "Sometimes you just have to show a little kindness."