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Portraits and Chaos

Chapter Text

In the late hours of a chilly October night, a large and blue-tinted full moon hovered at the apex of the sky, crossing the deep navy cosmos that hung over a quiet city's outskirts. A black, serpentine silhouette raced in the platinum moonlight throughout the sleepy, humble town. Following close behind it were precisely two more silhouettes of human beings, both panting as their legs demanded for them to stop running. They still hounded after the creature with determination, pushing onward as if they wanted to catch the damn thing.

One figure had broader shoulders and blond hair painted with the moon’s liquid silver, a red jacket’s tails billowing out behind them as they kept pressing onward. The other had long brown hair and a sort of azure and hood-less cowl barely flared out past its arms, both of which were barely discernible under the moon's glow. Under one arm, it appeared to be carrying something.

The serpentine thing took a sharp turn into an alley, its pursuers barely keeping up behind inches of its lengthy tail. It continued to race ahead, weaving about between houses tauntingly, eliciting a string of curses from one of its pursuers as it kept getting further and further away.

“Dammit! If only you’d stay still!” complained the first figure, its voice that of a young man.

“Jonathan, I’m getting the feeling that this wasn’t such a good idea after all,” whined the second figure, its voice that of a young woman.

Both figures stopped in their tracks, almost tripping over their own feet as they slowed, their legs aching in pain from abused adrenalin and oxygen levels. The first figure put his hands on his knees and watched as the creature finally vanished from sight.

“For the love of all things in God’s holy name,” started the first figure, his voice sounding rather scornful in tone as he panted between words, “you worry about too much about everything, Charlotte.”

“Wouldn’t you do the same, considering that World War Two ended weeks ago? What if a World War Three started sometime now?” retorted the second figure, standing upright and crossing hers arms. She also panted between words, but not as much as her companion.

Silence held the two for a few moments. “On second thought, I see your point,” replied the first figure, moving his hands off of his knees and standing up to full height. He stood only inches taller than his companion.

“Besides, Jonathan, I could sense that thing has a large amount of chaotic magic. We have no idea what that thing is; however, I can tell it’s worse than Brauner was,” stated the second figure rather matter-of-factly, which caused the first to let off a heavy sigh.

“Please, don’t bring him up,” groaned the first person, walking down the alley with the other following close behind. Soon, he’d been once more running alongside the second into the halo of a street light, revealing both of their forms. He wore a simple black shirt beneath the coat and jeans with brown boots, and glanced around with bangs that overshadowed the whole right side of his face.

“Well, ex-cuuuuuse me for reminiscing!” exclaimed the second person. The cowl she wore had been fastened to her frame with a simple red cloth tied by the ends tightly enough to secure it, but loose enough to be adjustable if needed. A white shirt with very faint grey stripes going vertically downwards was on her torso, and it reached to the waist which’d been adorned with a simple belt. A matching skirt reached to mid-thigh, and a little bit past that were long, blue socks. There were red high-heels on her feet, and under one arm was a simple book with a red cover.

“Charlotte, quit your griping. We have a…” the man, Jonathan, trailed off. He found himself at a loss for words to finish his sentence, especially after he heard the distant sound of something groaning in pain as soon as he had hushed. A frown graced his visage as a result, and his green eyes scanned his surroundings for the cause of the noise.

“Problem to deal with?” Charlotte finished for him, also noticing the sound in the distance. She glanced around in all directions, her blue eyes narrowing a bit from a feeling of growing unease.

“Just where is that sound coming from?” Jonathan murmured under his breath, still darting his head about every which-way he could manage.

Both stopped with their backs against that of the other's. The sound drew closer still, and neither had any idea just where it was coming from. North of their current location? South? They didn’t know; the moonlight barely revealed anything beyond the street light, and it had in fact started to fade. Charlotte glanced up and grumbled something unintelligible as a thick cloud crossed the moon’s path.

Whatever had produced the noise, it drew closer and its groans got louder, and the woman with the book glanced around again. She spotted another wandering form in the darkened distance. “Follow me,” she murmured to her companion as she began to walk to the silhouette so as to avoid scaring its owner. The young man complied, his pace also slowed to a simple walk.

As they walked away from the halo of artificial light, their forms darkened until barely discernible under the soft rays of light the concealed moon managed to pierce the cloud cover with. The sounds of the groaning drew closer as the two kept walking. The silhouette seemed to have taken notice of the man-and-woman duo out and about in the street. It stopped entirely, save for its vocal orchestra of pain, as if beckoning them closer.

Charlotte slowed her pace some more, occasionally stopping to see if anything else had been following behind her heels, a frown on her face the whole time. She could still sense that chaotic magic lingering about, and it sent pricks of pain all across her skin—she didn’t like it one bit. When she stood still for more than a minute or so, trying to figure out where the flow of the energy came from and was going to, Jonathan grabbed her by the wrist and tugged gently. She took notice and resumed walking to the groaning silhouette in the distance.

Eventually, they met with a woman leaning on a wooden stick for support. Her hair was greyed and hung sloppily in front of her shoulders, and she seemed shaken a good bit. Her clothes were wrinkled and haggard, a dull grey dress that extended all the way to the ground and shifted as she once again voiced her agony.

“Confound this back pain I’ve had for the past fifty years!” she complained, her eyes scrunching shut in strain. "Won't give me one little second of comfort or respite!"

“Um, miss?” Jonathan warily asked, tapping the elder on her shoulder to get her attention. “Have you seen a black… thing around town lately?”

The woman looked at him and shook her head, eyes dull and seemingly distant. “No, I can’t say that I have, ” she replied. “Unless you mean my missing cat; she is black with two white stripes," she added with a frown.

Jonathan’s hand rose up and connected with his face, and he groaned as though annoyed. “No, we aren’t looking for a cat. We’re looking for this…” his reply was cut off as Charlotte spoke up.

“Serpentine monster with high amounts of chaotic energy; figuratively and literally speaking, of course,” Charlotte finished for him, putting the book she held all this time to her chest like it was some kind of compacted security blanket.

“I..." the elder paused for a moment, raising a wrinkled brow as she looked at the younger woman, "haven't even seen such a creature. Could you describe it in more detail, please?”

“It was jet-black and I think at least fifteen feet in length. That’s really all I can say, given it was moving fast and gave us the slip,” Charlotte answered with a sigh escaping her lips and a solemn shake of her head.

“What she said,” Jonathan quickly added, shaking his head and letting off another annoyed sigh. The elder began to grin for some reason, and he could not help but raise a brow as he spotted the crone’s lips curling up. "Why are you smiling?" he asked in a level voice.

The elderly lady looked at Charlotte, pointing a finger rather accusingly at her companion at the same time. "Is this man your boyfriend?" she asked rather casually, as if the queried were her grandchiled. "If he is, then I envy you."

Charlotte’s eyes quickly widened, her pupils shrank to pinpricks, and a faint blush had spread on her face. “H-hey! H-he isn’t my boyfriend! W-what evidence do you have to support that outrageous claim?!” she cried, shaking her head frantically as if in utter denial.

Jonathan’s eyes also went wide. “No, we aren’t dating—she’s like my kid sister!” he added, his hand quickly connecting with his face once more and partially obscuring the rosy hue that also adorned his cheeks.

A very flustered Charlotte swiftly snapped her head towards the red-coated man, glaring daggers his way. “For the last time, Jonathan, I am not a child!” she cried in a huff, earning a chuckle from her companion as his hand slid down his visage and he turned to her with a mocking grin.

“Yeah, right,” Jonathan retorted with a huff, casting his own glare at his companion, eyes slightly narrowing and twinkling in mirth and mocking as they locked with her dagger-filled ones. He rose a hand, curled all of his fingers except for one into a fist, and then poked an extended index on the top of her head as if about to drive a point across. “You sure act like one.”

The two looked as if they were about to engage in a ferociously heated debate over whether or not one of them was acting like a child—if the elder didn’t speak up as the glares took on angry twinkles bordering on the murderous sort.

“My, my, that is an interesting book you have there,” the crone chirped, frowning as the glares of the two people eased up.

Charlotte swatted her companion’s hand away with one of her own hands and turned to the elder woman, her glare fading almost immediately. “Th-thank you, I guess. I study a lot,” she sighed, all vestiges of anger and embarrassment fading from her tone.

“Mind if I take a peek in it? I’ll make it quick to avoid wasting your time,” questioned the elderly woman, a faint smile appearing on her face once more.

Charlotte complied, and the woman quickly sifted through the pages before looking at something that caught her eye. She stared at it for a moment or two, and then closed the book before returning it to its rightful owner.

“It was more interesting than I thought. I’ll be on my merry way,” she murmured, hobbling past the duo, grunting in pain as she went.

“I hope your back gets better,” Jonathan called to the woman as she faded away into the distance.

“We’ve wasted enough time as is. Let’s just get this damn show on the road, catch the whatever-it-is, slay it if need be, go home, and take a nap,” Charlotte hissed, eyes narrowing as the words left her mouth.

Jonathan nodded in agreement, and they once more took off running, with his companion taking the lead.

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It felt like hours of running, yet nothing turned up even once as they scurried up and down roads and alleys like bats from hell. No trace of that serpentine thing had been anywhere; the duo came to a stop at an abandoned house, once more panting for breath. There were no lights and the thing had been boarded up at some point to boot.

As soon as she caught her breath, Charlotte glanced at the house, eyes narrowing with alarm shimmering in her irises as prickles of pain shot out across her skin like goosebumps again. “I sense more magical energy coming from there,” she groaned, her voice filled with subtle hints of worry as she gestured to the house for emphasis.

Jonathan turned to the house and hastily walked up the stairs, making a beeline to the sealed front door without pause. He inspected it thoroughly. “Charlotte, you might want to see this,” he sighed.

She quickly ascended the stairs and sighed. Jonathan’s shadow had darkened the door too much for comfort, thus obscuring whatever it had been that he’d found. “Bring out the flashlight,” she groaned. He reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a black flashlight after fumbling for a bit, before turning on the contraption and shining the resulting light at exactly what it was he wanted his supposed 'girlfriend' to see.

There were deep gashes in the aged wood planks that sealed the door, and there were more that spanned the length of the door itself. The marks ran long, as though something had been raked across the uneven surface, with splinters jutting up from the structure’s small wounds. They ran in sets of four, and half of the scratches were bunched closely together, forming sizeable dents that either of the people standing before it could fit their hands in.

“Just what the hell happened here?” Jonathan asked, jerking his gaze to Charlotte with a furrowed brow.

“From the looks of it,” Charlotte paused, putting her free hand on her chin and rubbing thoughtfully, “it seems that the owner was a quadrupedal hybrid that tried and failed to get into this house.” She began to glance around now, and only now noticed more similar markings on the porch itself, and even some on the borders of the sealed windows, all of which were illuminated by the moonlight.

“English? Do you speak it?” Jonathan asked, shaking his head disapprovingly with a frown scrawled onto his face.

Charlotte quickly lowered her head, slumped her shoulders, and groaned in annoyance. “For crying out loud, you remember the dog-like Glasya Labolas? Or how about the manticores? Or the damn spell-casting lion-like Vapula? Those are all quadrupedal hybrids—put at least two creatures together, making sure one of them has four legs, and what do you get?” she growled, quickly straightening her stature with her face hardening into another glare as she turned to her companion.

“Oh. Right. So, a freak of nature then?” Jonathan queried again, raising a brow.

“... More or less,” Charlotte replied, taking another look at the scene before finally noticing a marking that simply didn’t belong with the others: a hoofprint that had been embedded deep into the wood near one of the porch railings.

She knelt down to inspect the anomaly more closely. "What the?" she murmured, tracing a finger along the oddity that stuck out, careful to avoid getting stabbed by a splinter. She got up and then darted around the porch, scanning for anything else that stuck out, staying silent as she found more hoofprints, with the addition of some strange feathers that littered the scene like discarded candy wrappers.

“Just what the hell are we after again, Miss Know-it-All?” Jonathan questioned as the woman kept pacing and inspecting every odd print, feather, and gash in the wood.

“Not just a freak of nature. I think we've found ourselves a monster.” Charlotte scowled, returning to the boarded up door with her eyes locked onto it in a death glare. It had been as if the door itself did something and offended her in the process. "Let's break this door down," she hissed.

Jonathan quickly put the flashlight in his pocket and charged shoulder-first at the door. It didn’t budge an inch. He charged once more, and it still held firm.

“A little help would be nice,” he groaned at last, glancing at his companion in exasperation.

“Right,” Charlotte replied with a nod. Both readied their shoulders, and simultaneously counted to three. After that, they charged at the same time and the door finally fell down, breaking its bonds and dragging them with it into the dark depths of the house.

He pulled out the flashlight again and stepped inside, with Charlotte following close behind. The house had gotten to a point beyond dusty and the air inside went horribly stale, reeking with rot as if mold and bleach were left to intermingle within the walls for four years straight. The duo nearly found themselves gagging but had kept most of their composure, though they coughed as dust assailed their senses and they failed to keep their noses from scrunching at the heavy odor that lingered in the house. They took a few steps, hands flying to cover their mouths and noses when—

—At once and without warning, the door rose up and fit itself back into the frame from which it had been knocked, shattered wood planks and all, the sound of a lock being clicked into place hitting the ears of the intruders shortly after. Both whirled around, scowling at the anomaly.

“Just great. We’re stuck here,” Charlotte complained, clenching her free hand into a fist and stomping her foot angrily.

“It was your bright idea,” Jonathan remarked, rolling his eyes when he received another glare. He shone the flashlight every which-way around the room, finding a couch that had been torn, more smashed pieces of wood, and finally a small corner that contained had a horrible surprise for the two who just waltzed in unannounced.

There in that corner of the room were two dead bodies; one had been an old man who sorely lacked an arm. The other, though disfigured, had been the same old lady that complained about her back. Her neck twisted and her head rested on her shoulder at an unnatural angle, and there had been a worm or two crawling out of her empty eye socket.

The pair’s eyes widened and they found themselves nearly recoiling from shock, with both trying to process what it was that lay before them. They looked at each other and took a deep breath.

“W-what the hell did we just walk into?” Jonathan asked, shaking a bit from the shock of seeing the dead corpses. He could've sworn he met the lady with the bad back not even a few hours ago, and she seemed fine and dandy despite her back pain then. Though seeing the corpse of her now caused the room to start spinning a little.

Charlotte gulped hard, and she managed to recover faster than her companion. “A haunted house," she paused for a moment, glancing back at her friend before turning her attention back to the two corpses present, "and one with posthumous bodies. They’ve been dead for some time. When we get out of this, we’re reporting this to the police.” The woman's breathing had been a tad labored, as if she were trying to avoid screaming.

He turned the flashlight towards another wall, only to meet yet another door that got boarded up, as if it existed solely to flat-out mock him. “This probably wasn’t such a good idea…” he griped, hearing something going on upstairs—it sounded like paper being torn into shreds.

“Thank you, Captain Obvious…” Charlotte whispered in a menacing hiss, also hearing the strange shredding sounds going on above her head. She too turned to the door, which had for some reason removed its wooden binds and opened by itself on rusted, creaking hinges. The pair exchanged glances, and then walked through the blighted doorframe of the house that had them on edge.

With a shaky hand, he shone the flashlight everywhere, seeing that he and the brunette had just entered a kitchen that suffered years of neglect. The walls were peeling and broken shards of glass, most likely from dishes, lay scattered about on the splintering floor. Pieces of a broken table and some chairs also appeared to have been flung around the whole damn room at some point in time. A rusted sink sat on one end, and a small furnace sat not too close to that, caked in rust.

Within the confines of this dandy and likely-abandoned-for-good-reason hellhole, Jonathan eyed a flight of stairs as his flashlight illuminated the steps and railing. Its wooden steps were rotted and coated in dust, splintering and cracking like the rest of the desolate place.

“And already I hate this house,” he complained, carefully moving to the stairs and avoiding all of the bits of table, glass and chair. Charlotte followed just inches behind, silently nodding in agreement and clutching her book tightly.

Jonathan let his hand part from his face and winced as the acrid aroma of rot him him full force again. He pushed the thought of the smell aside and took hold of the rusted, metal railing and slowly climbed the stairs, near-silently cursing his luck because each step groaned and squeaked under his feet in the process.

Then, once he made it halfway up the flight, he tripped on a broken step and tumbled forward. In doing so, he accidentally broke a frail wall as his hand connected with it, revealing not the sky outside, but instead another room that would have otherwise stayed hidden.

Charlotte nearly jumped in surprise, wincing as the wall broke loudly, the sound echoing through the house. She coughed as dust swirled and got between her fingers, and blinked a few times to get the residue out of her eyes. “Be more careful next time,” she scolded in a harsh whisper.

Jonathan stood up and rolled his eyes before glancing at his companion. “You check upstairs, and I’ll see what’s in here,” he sighed, pointing the only light source on hand towards the once-hidden room he had unwittingly unveiled.

She simply nodded and ascended the rest of the stairs once he entered the once-hidden room, making sure not to trip on any broken steps along the way. Charlotte eventually found herself in a hallway once she finished the flight after a minute or so, and she saw a bright light—with that damned silhouette she and her friend had been chasing all this time in front of it.

It turned what looked like its disfigured head and saw her, and she swore the thing had horns and an elongated muzzle. Quick as a whip it fled into the light before she could get a better look at it—no, what had been now before her could not have been a light.

It had been some kind of glowing portal that took the shape of a levitating painting with an elaborately-decorated oaken frame. A painting depicting a strange landscape with floating buildings with straw roofs, brown rain coming from pink clouds, orange trees with purple leaves and lampshades in the place of flowers and fruit, a checkerboard backdrop, winged pigs flying in a reddish-pink sky, and other sorts of pure, abstract nonsense in all its tacky glory.

Jonathan ascended the stairs and stopped behind her, opening his mouth to speak, only to close it again upon seeing the strange phenomenon before him. Once more, the two exchanged glances. “I found nothing except a tonic and a spell scroll,” he sighed, reaching into a pocket with a hand and producing two objects that he presented to her. One was a glass flask that contained a strange crimson liquid, and the other a rolled-up piece of parchment that stayed closed thanks to a small, rune-inscribed ribbon.

“What’s a spell scroll doing here in this….” Charlotte’s voice died in her throat as she snatched the spell scroll before she undid the ribbon and looked at the parchment. She quirked a brow at what the paper had, its incantations written in a language best described as swirls and other strange figures—like crude wings, horseshoes, and what she could've sworn had been the head of a unicorn, for starters. “This scroll contains nothing but gibberish,” she sighed, opening her book and putting it between two pages with a heavy sigh.

“You can’t make sense of it?” Jonathan asked, eyes widening like Charlotte grew an extra set of arms from her backside.

“Nada,” Charlotte answered, shaking her head as her companion turned to the painting again. He put the flashlight away in his pocket alongside the flask of liquid, since the damn anomaly radiated a bright enough light to illuminate the scant few features of the hallway, which beheld more boarded-up doors and some small holes in the ceiling.

They began to approach the painting with hesitant footsteps. Immediately, it began warping and swirling, the faint image of a rather equine-shaped skull pulsing about freely in the distortion.

“This is… unlike any magic I’ve sensed before. It’s….” again, Charlotte trailed off, a frown on her face.

“And then there’s this painting itself. If Brauner somehow did this, I’m going to assume that he had way too much to drink and way too much time on his hands when he made this colorful mess,” Jonathan remarked, eyes narrowing as he began trying to make sense of the mess the painting depicted.

“He couldn’t have done this. And even if he did, it no longer contains his magical essence,” Charlotte replied, rubbing her eyes with a hand. “And Jonathan, another reason why I know it’s not Brauner’s work is that the magic signature of the painting is nowhere near what his was—and who’s to say another being couldn’t easily replicate the same kind of magic? The art splashstick mess would be another red flag; the artist here didn’t give a damn about maintaining a consistent look and feel to this piece, whereas Brauner did.”

Hesitantly, they came closer to the painting. The distortion grew more violent as they approached its very frame, the colors and objects within becoming little more than mangled blurs.

“Okay. This is getting stranger by the minute. How the hell do I make sense of this mess? Think about it: monster, old lady, dead bodies… and now this painting is mocking us. Seriously, how the hell do I know exactly what is going on around here?! Dracula was bad enough as is!” Jonathan ranted, holding out his hands before him and waving them in the air in confusion as the rapid-fire remark left his mouth.

“And it was you who told me to quit whining, right?” Charlotte retorted, looking at Jonathan with narrowed eyes.

Jonathan simply groaned in response, his shoulders sagging a bit as the sound left his mouth.

They came even closer to the painting, with the distortion turning so violent all the painting had been at this point was little more than a mess of pure color. In addition to this, the skull that had been admist the swirling and blurring turned a striking blood red, standing out in the mess like a thumbtack in a wall. Charlotte cautiously raised a hand to the painting and began to recite something in an ancient tongue. Her hand came closer and closer as she spoke her incantation, her voice silencing as the very tips of her fingers touched the fine tempora paint.

The painting, as if in response to being touched, emitted a white-hot light and cast it into the hallway. It grew brighter and brighter until it enveloped everything and then dissipated as soon as it had come. And when it vanished, neither Jonathan nor Charlotte stood in front of it.

Chapter Text

Browns and greens darted past them in rapid blurs, nicks and cuts and tears in clothing and skin appearing at a hastening rate. Wood and leaves swatted at them as they descended, wind rushing past their ears and through their hair. The two tried controlling the fall, yet their bodies wouldn’t move; all they could do was shriek in unison as the trees battered them on their way down. Bouncing off here, ricocheting off there, Jonathan and Charlotte tumbled on and on with the grace of a piano rolling down a flight of stairs.

All this wound up culminating in one final thrum from a particularly flexible branch that briefly launched them back up again and enabled them to faceplant in the dirt of a clearing. Both cried out as the dirt gave them the most painful "hello" to their faces that they felt yet, but laid still on the ground when they tried to move only to have pain seize their bodies and render them still. The cherry on the proverbial sundae was the book hitting Charlotte squarely on the head with enough force to give her a concussion for a few hours, bouncing off and landing within reach without cracking her skull or even making her bleed in the process.

Silence lingered for a long time, but a rustling and a soft growl broke it at some indeterminate point and left as it had come. Charlotte turned her head and let it rest on the cheek, vision blurred as tears of pain fought in an attempt to get out. “The painting tilted as I cast the spell… that shouldn’t have been possible,” she groaned weakly, shoulders stiffening for a moment before slumping again. A small sense of relief washed over her as she heard something shift, and through her blurred sight she could make out a red form with a blond top not too far away.

“And it took us a ways off the ground, too. I think it hated us,” Jonathan murmured, nodding his head with a slow gait. He turned to face his companion and added, "Sense anything?"

Charlotte stiffened for a second, grunting as that act only caused more pain to flare throughout her nerves. Still, she pushed it aside for the time being, and tried to get a magical feel for… wherever they were at presently. A creeping sense of dread took hold in her as she realized that she could not sense anything at all.

Which meant that they were likely in danger, and worse yet, powerless to stop it in their current state. "N-no," she whimpered in reply.

Jonathan's brow furrowed, but Charlotte couldn't see it as tears welled up in her eyes. "Joy," he scoffed sarcastically. The sod shifted his arms and tried to force himself to sit up, only to howl in pain and have one hand fly towards his groin when he managed to get a few inches out of the ground. “Oh, Christ, I think the flashlight’s glass broke!” he yelled, the pained outcry sending several birds into a flying frenzy overhead.

Charlotte shifted her arms through sheer force of will and scrambled onto her feet, despite the pain flaring throughout her body. She scooped up the book, raced towards her aching companion and wrapped one of his arms around her shoulder with her free hand all before lifting him up into a kneeling stance.

Grappling his other hand and having that hold her book after fighting with it to get it away from his groin, she cautiously helped him stand on his feet. She shot a glance at their surroundings, immediately finding them dismally dark. “Lovely, we’re still out in the night, and now injured. This is gonna be fun,” she hissed, taking a step forward and wincing as Jonathan mimicked her movement and flinched.

“I heard something; sounded like a bush moving,” Jonathan said in a low tone of voice. Instantly, Charlotte stilled, and her heart thundered in her chest as a faint sound hit her ears. He was right; there was a bush somewhere nearby, and it rustled like no tomorrow. Dread crept in again, now a frantic feeling clawing at the back of her mind, which made her head hurt worse.

“Neither of us can fight; your crotch hurts, and somehow, that painting drained me of all my mana,” Charlotte begrudgingly sighed, her tone hushed as a frown graced her features. “Let’s hope that whatever’s nearby ignores us.”

“You heard the screaming from over here, Harry?” a voice asked from somewhere nearby, followed by a growl from some kind of creature. “Two near-hairless monkeys in clothes? Red and blue?” the voice asked again, and once more, another growl came in reply. The wounded duo shared a glance, and Charlotte had a brow quirked while Jonathan boasted a small but tight frown.

Upon glancing forward, the woman groaned and squinted her eyes as a bright light made itself known where there hadn’t been one before. She could barely make out two figures hiding behind the glow of burning yellow; one had been a bear-like creature, and the other she could’ve sworn had wings.

Letting her eyes adjust, she found her brow shooting up again as a small, yellow, flying horse-like creature floated before her and her friend with a lantern around its neck. A pink mane hung past her withers, ending in a small curl, and bright blue-green eyes stared up at her with concern alight, further accentuated by the near-blinding gleam of the lantern.

The creature scanned them head to toe, and front hooves flew to its face as it gaped in horror. “Oh, my, you two are badly hurt!” it exclaimed in a hushed but distinctly feminine tone, irises and pupils shrinking rapidly. Charlotte opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off before she could even begin as the flying thing went on, “You two shouldn’t be out in the Everfree Forest at night! Oh, thank goodness my friend Harry found you!”

“I was about to ask where we were,” Charlotte grunted, letting a reluctant sigh escape her lips. “Listen, miss… pegasus, my friend here suffered a hit to the pelvis and can’t walk very well.” She faltered for a bit when a foot tried to slide out from beneath her, and Jonathan lurched dangerously close to the creature with a grunt as a result. Struggling for another moment, she pulled him back to his feet with all of her might and readjusted her grip on him. “You have anything that can help me lift him?”

“My friend Harry can help with that; don’t worry, he’s a gentle soul,” the pegasus affirmed with a nod. The bear moved forward and scooped Jonathan off his feet with ease whilst separating him and the book from Charlotte, cradling him in one foreleg without breaking a sweat. “Follow me to my cottage; you two look worse for wear,” the creature said, turning around and flying through the bushes cautiously.

Reluctantly, Charlotte stumbled forward, pain continually shooting up her legs and along her spine as she followed the pegasus. The bear followed closely behind her, and soon all four had disappeared into the thicket of wood. It was a long, silent and grueling walk that felt as if it lasted for hours on end, with exhaustion gradually sinking its deadly fangs into the weary woman the whole time. Eventually, she fell on her knees as her legs finally gave out, body aching and trembling as she tried to keep her eyes open.

The bear scooped her up and cradled her with its other foreleg, letting off a soft growl as it followed the pegasus with the wounded people in tow. The last thing Charlotte saw while she had still been conscious was the pegasus turning to her with a small, gentle smile on her face as a bleary building came into view.

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Charlotte groggily awoke some indeterminate expanse of time later, sitting up and rubbing her eyes with a hand. The sunlight’s rays didn’t hit her face, yet it had still been bright, and she could swear that half of the place she found herself in was much more blurry than the painting that sent her and Jonathan flying.

She glanced around, finding herself in a bed that wasn’t her own, with plush butterfly-patterned quilts and a pillow and two nearby windows, one round in shape and the other ornately decorated. A fireplace was erected nearby, and at the foot of the bed rested a closed chest. A vase stood on a nearby nightstand along with some kind of bleary red object, and there were exposed support beams overhead that sported bird nests and vines.

“Where am I?” Charlotte groaned, blinking dazedly to clear her half-foggy vision before a cold and gentle breeze caressed her body. She looked down when the feeling of wind touching her registered seconds later, and her face broke out in brilliant crimson; half-bloodied bandages covered her breasts and many parts of her arms. The only article of clothing that remained on her body had been the cowl and the red cloth holding it to her frame, and those had somehow escaped the battering of the trees largely unscathed.

Her arms shot to cover her semi-exposed chest, and her blush deepened as she heard a man groan very close to her. Averting her eyes one way, she found Jonathan sitting up right next to her, also covered in bandages and with little more than his red jacket on. The sod glanced this way and that, and his eyes fell on her in the span of a moment. She locked eyes with him for two seconds before jerking her head in the other direction.

“Look down, at your own body,” Charlotte blurted out after spluttering incoherently for another few seconds. Her companion did as she instructed, and his eyes went wide near-instantly.

“Ah, great, we’re both… almost naked,” Jonathan groaned, reaching forward and flinging the quilt off with a hand. More bandages covered their groins and legs, with no visible sign of undergarments anywhere. “Scratch that, we’re completely naked.”

“And there goes our last shred of dignity. At least whoever bandaged us covered our junk up and kept… whatever injuries we have out of the elements. If Stella and Loretta were here right now, I think they’d have a conniption.” Charlotte nodded with a huff. She turned to her companion-turned-bedfellow and asked, “You still have my spellbook, right?”

“No. It’s…” Jonathan paused mid-reply to glance around, and spotted the book on the nightstand with the vase. He gestured to it with a hand and finished his answer, “Right next to you, by the vase.”

Charlotte turned to it and reached out to it. She'd just picked up the crimson leatherbound stack of paper with one hand when she heard the sound of hooves hitting wood. Her head snapped towards the foot of the bed, and coming right up to it was the same pegasus from the night before, though now she had a white box with a red cross tied to her neck instead of a lantern. “Um, are you two alright? You’ve both been passed out for twelve hours,” she spoke.

“Miss, where are we again?” Charlotte asked, using her free hand to gesture around the room. “And did you… strip and bandage us?”

“You’re in my house, and yes. You two had some pretty nasty wounds all over, especially on your… private spots. I couldn’t leave them out in the open and risk infection. I’m washing the rest of your clothes; they got stained in blood,” the pegasus answered, flapping her wings and lifting herself gently into the air. She hovered closer to them and, when she got in range, extended her hoof out to them in a friendly gesture. “I’m Fluttershy, by the way.”

The two people exchanged a glance, before each shook the hoof that’d been offered to them. “So, what happened? How did you two get all those cuts and bruises?” Fluttershy asked, noticing a very hard frown creasing Jonathan’s brow.

“Me and Charlotte chased something; something big and funny-looking... and really fast. It ditched us after a while, and we found an old house with a painting. So we entered the painting, and it decided to prank us by sending us up in the air through the trees into the sky, and we fell back down again face-first in dirt. That’s the whole mess, and we were taught how to fly, long story short,” he answered, sighing afterwards.

“A painting that pranks those who enter it? Oh dear, that’s terrible,” Fluttershy murmured, eyes widening as she lifted her forehooves to the box wrapped to her neck. She took it off, set it on the bed within reach of her guests, and then darted past them and the nightstand and towards the windows. “Stay put; I’m going to get one of my friends. She’ll know what to do about this.” Charlotte opened her mouth to speak, but before she could utter a word, Fluttershy opened a window with her front hooves and raced out into the sky like a bullet.

“That was… interesting,” Jonathan sighed, lowering his head and letting his shoulders slump.

“Indeed,” Charlotte groaned, raising her book and letting the cover collide with her forehead. She lowered said book and laid back down, her head flopping against a pillow. “Do you suppose Fluttershy just meant ‘stay in bed’ or ‘stay in this house,’ Jonathan?”

“Dunno; she didn’t elaborate which we could do other than staying,” Jonathan said as he shrugged, also throwing himself back down onto the bed. “I’m just glad my gonads don’t hurt anymore, or the rest of me, for that matter. I suppose we should just stay in bed for a while; wouldn’t want to give the horse who wrapped us a scare.”

“My mana’s still drained dry, which means I can’t heal anything. Staying in bed sounds like a good idea to me,” Charlotte sighed before going wide-eyed at the implications of her own remark. She sat bolt upright, turned to Jonathan, and waved her hands defensively as she added, “N-not in that way! Th-the church would have my head i-if I lost my virginity!”

Jonathan dryly laughed, turning to Charlotte with nothing short of amusement glimmering in his eyes in spite of the situation. “And besides, our junk’s still wrapped. Even if both of us wanted to do that, I doubt anything good would come out of it. The church won't stick you on a pike. Chill.”

Charlotte sighed, relaxed, and laid back down again. “So...“ she began, turning her head to the side to glance at her companion, “you think we’ll find the creature that gave us the slip in this place?”

“‘This place’ isn’t the least bit of what that damn whackjob of a painting made it out to be; the house isn’t flying, and I can see trees with green leaves instead of purple leaves,” Jonathan retorted, glancing out a window from where he lay. Even with the limited amount of scenery the window provided, the two could see the leaves were indeed green and not purple.

He went on with a snort, “You might as well be asking me to find Eric’s soul and tell him I want to marry both his daughters. Or find Vincent and tell him that I'd like to marry a nun.”

That managed to get a giggle out of Charlotte. “Just be glad Stella wasn’t here to hear you say that; she’d have knocked your head clean off your shoulders,” she replied, a grin breaking out on her face. She frowned, though, as another thought hit her. "I find Fluttershy a bit... strange, as it were. I mean, it wasn't too often we ran into talking creatures that weren't human, and she definitely fits in that category. Now that I dwell on it..." She paused and turned to look at her wrappings. "How'd she even bandage us to begin with? I mean… hooves aren't the most manageable things in the world… certainly not flexible, either..."

"Well, we've definitely ran into weirder things. For us, this isn't a first. At least she didn't outright kill us while we were out cold," Jonathan retorted, firmly and solemnly shaking his head. "I'm starting to wonder if there are other horses that talk... wherever it is that we're at now."

"You're right about that. Did you see those butterflies on her hips as she spread her wings and flew out the window?" Charlotte asked, turning to her friend as he shot a glance at her and nodded.

"I wonder why she had those butterflies on her body. Or why she was pink and yellow," Jonathan sighed, nodding once more.

~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~

“Wait, what?” a purple alicorn asked as she trotted in a street, a brow arched up high.

“Two… bipedal creatures appeared in the Everfree Forest last night, and one of them told me that a painting sent them here,” Fluttershy explained, sighing as she went along. “They’re in my house, and have gotten some nasty injuries. I wrapped them up and told them to stay put.”

The alicorn’s horn lit up, and she stopped in her tracks. Fluttershy stopped next to her, concern alight in her eyes. “I’ll teleport us to your house and ask them a few questions. Is there anything you found odd about the creatures, aside from the fact one of them brought up a mysterious painting?” she asked, frowning.

“No, unless you count a book with a red cover one of them had on their person, Twilight. As I trotted up the stairs, I heard one of them call it a spellbook,” Fluttershy answered, shaking her head.

Twilight nodded. "And what do they look like?" she warily queried.

"One has blond hair, and the other has brown hair. They seemed friendly though, if… cautious," Fluttershy replied. Twilight nodded again, and in a flash of violet light, they were gone from the streets.

Chapter Text

A noise that sounded like a mixture between a 'pop' and a ‘poof’ echoed throughout the house, gracing the ears of the bandaged duo. Both sat bolt upright once more, one with another frown on his face and the other with a brow quirked. “What was that?” Jonathan asked, shooting a glance at Charlotte.

Charlotte shrugged and shook her head, her eyes wide. “Beats me; I couldn’t tell you if that was a burst of mana or a kettle expelling steam to save my life right now,” she answered in an exasperated tone.

“Whatever that painting did to you, it did to you good,” Jonathan muttered, raising a hand and running it through his bangs. He paused, turning back to the foot of the bed as the sounds of hooves hitting wood echoed into the room, gradually getting louder in volume. He whipped his head around and spotted a flight of stairs to the side, from which Fluttershy emerged, and this time she wasn’t alone—a purple alicorn had stepped into the room not long after she did.

Twilight turned to the two with a level look on her face. “Are you... humans?" she asked warily, and Jonathan and Charlotte nodded their heads to answer. "Well, whoever you two are, you have some explaining to do,” she said simply, brow furrowing slightly. "Who are you two, and how did you end up in the Everfree Forest?"

Charlotte and Jonathan exchanged a glance as Twilight demanded an explanation, but the sound of a hoof impatiently tapping on hard wood like a drumming finger caused them to glance back to her.

With a cough that belied her understandable wariness, Charlotte began in a tight voice, "I'll summarize the whole thing in a nutshell: in order, I'm Charlotte, and the man next to me is Jonathan. We found a magic painting and I recited a spell to let us... enter it, so to speak. Next thing we know, we're badly wounded and in the middle of a dark forest."

Jonathan continued for his companion, fists briefly clenching as he spoke, "That's when Fluttershy found us, after we barely dragged ourselves to our feet. An animal she had with her—I think it was a bear, but I'm still not sure of that—carried us as we both went straight into la-la land. Then we woke up here, in this room, and were told to stay put."

Twilight slowly nodded, an eyebrow raised all the while. "Uh-huh," she sighed skeptically, "and why'd you enter the painting?"

"We were... following a long, serpent-like thing that radiated so much chaotic energy I'd been under the impression that it could affect entire continents on a drastic scale. I couldn't get a good look at it, because it constantly moved and eventually ditched us. We barely found it as it entered the painting before we did," Charlotte replied, briefly grimacing at the thought.

"That sort of thing's dangerous," Twilight groaned, flaring her wings and waving a hoof dismissively. "Why did you feel the need to follow it, if you felt that much energy?"

"Long story short: we're hunters, and that thing—whatever in hell it was—was a monster. If I were to go on some random guess, I'd think that it was really a vampire that decided to screw with us," Jonathan answered simply, punctuating his response with a huff.

As soon as he finished speaking, a thick silence blanketed the room and held for a few long, tense minutes that felt like hours on end. Twilight stared at him, and he stared back; both man and pony held unblinking gazes. One donned slightly narrowed eyes; the other had irises twinkling with some kind of spark.

Finally, though, Twilight broke the silence with a voice laced in disbelief, "You're... vampire hunters?"

"Technically speaking, yes, but we aren't just limited to vampires. Werewolves, chimeras that can chant curses, zombies, ghosts—those and a vast number of other things are fair game for us, so to say," Charlotte answered, noticing the mare's spread wings betraying a flinch. "And no, small equines with horns and wings aren't on that list, so long as they don't give us incentive to initiate combat."

Twilight relaxed a little, closing her wings as she fixed her gaze towards the woman. "Do you... er, kill without reason?" she asked tentatively.

Jonathan shook his head. "No, but we have had..." He stopped as Charlotte rose a hand and waved it within his peripheral sight, signaling for him to stop.

"We've had near-instances of slipping up, which would have ended badly if we followed said slipping up to a T. Almost attacked a benevolent ghost and two mind-controlled women once, and that was all in the span of a single night, amidst a myriad of other hectic shenanigans," Charlotte sighed. "Let's just say we needed a nice, long nap after that mess got sorted out."

"That sounds horrible," Fluttershy finally spoke, her voice near-silent.

Charlotte turned to Fluttershy and blinked with wide eyes. "Beg your pardon? I'm sorry, I couldn't hear a word you said," she murmured.

Twilight scooted closer to Fluttershy with shuffling hooves and wrapped a foreleg around her companion's neck. She shot the humans a rather sly grin as she said, "Now if you'll excuse us, me and my friend need to have a little chat downstairs. Stay put, you two." With that, her horn flared up and in a flash of violet light, the two were gone.

The two exchanged another glance. "I am starting to think the horse with the horn just used magic," Jonathan groaned in exasperation.

"Frankly, given the situation, I am quite jealous if that's the case," Charlotte huffed, frowning. She crossed her arms in a pout as she went on, "Though, I do wonder... how was she able to do it without using a spellbook?"

Jonathan shrugged and shook his head. "You tell me," he replied.

Charlotte made to move off of the bed, hesitating for a few seconds before letting her bandaged feet touch the wood. She stood up and walked to the open window to peer outside, her gaze vacant as she surveyed the woodland beyond. "Something doesn't feel right; it's calm and serene outside, and I can hear birds chirping. Still... I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong," she said to nobody in particular.

Jonathan also got out of the bed from the opposite side and weaved around it before finding himself standing next to his friend. "A gut feeling, I take it?" he asked.

Charlotte nodded rather slowly, as if not really noticing that Jonathan stood next to her. "Something along those lines," she admitted simply, letting her arms rest on the open windowsill. A hand gripped her shoulder, and only then did she pry her attention away from the calm outside to her friend.

"Let's just relax a little. Besides, that purple winged horse owes us an answer as to where in the hell we are," Jonathan said simply, letting a small smile spread on his face.

Charlotte smiled back, "I doubt that the equines actually went downstairs. Maybe we should explore the house a bit; my legs nearly fell asleep from all that sitting and lying in bed."

Jonathan's grin widened. "If the horses are downstairs, let's hope they don't rattle our ears off," he replied, retracting his hand and walking to the stairs.

Charlotte followed suit, and the two descended to find themselves in a quaint living room with a fireplace, a few sofas and chairs, pictures hanging on the walls, and bird cages here and there. All of this was accentuated by a nice square rug on the center of the hardwood floor, woven in soothing green hues.

On one of the sofas sat a small, white rabbit that glared at the duo, with one paw pointing upwards at an angle. The two took no notice of the critter at first, until they glanced at everything else the room had to offer.

"Is it me, or does the rabbit hate us?" Jonathan asked, gesturing to the critter. The rabbit's glare only hardened as it hopped off the sofa and bounded towards them, whereupon Charlotte noticed something being clutched in its paws as it ran.

The critter jumped and managed to perch itself on the railing in a single bound, almost shoving the thing it held into Charlotte's hands. "What the—a piece of folded paper?" she uttered as she jumped and nearly bumped into the opposite wall, hands trying to grasp at the paper with the grace of flailing chicken wings.

"What's it say?" Jonathan asked, a brow quirking as his companion finally managed to grip the damn thing, and he watched as she steadied herself before beginning to unfold it.

Charlotte stared at the paper for a moment and groaned, "Joy, it's got the same gobbledygook as the spell scroll we found in the abandoned house." She turned to the rabbit and handed back the paper with an exasperated sigh. "Sorry, but I cannot read it. It's not a language I know."

The rabbit proceeded to scowl and slam a paw onto its forehead, chittering something unintelligible in the process. Upon removing the appendage from its face, it chattered angrily, face hardening still as it pointed its limb up the flight of stairs.

Jonathan stared at the rabbit for a second before he doubled over laughing. "O-oh lord, we're getting bossed around by a rabbit!" he howled, hunched over as the cackling fit rocked his body.

Charlotte held a hand over her mouth and giggled into it, her words partially muffled as her body trembled with her own growing fit, "This is so damn adorable I don't know what to make of it anymore."

The bunny kept on scowling and jabbered on in a louder tone of voice, as if it began to cuss the two humans ten different ways to Sunday. It waved its pointing limb at the stairs, eyes gleaming red as anger brilliantly blossomed on its face. The duo left and filed down into another room once their laughter had ceased, finding themselves in a quaint kitchen filled to the brim with all sorts of foodstuffs. There were bags of birdseed, some baskets of fish, bread, canned goods; you name it, the place had been absolutely stocked.

Jonathan let off a low whistle upon seeing just how full the pantry cupboards and shelves and whatnot were. "Damn, just how big is Fluttershy's family?" he asked, turning to Charlotte as the sound of a door opening and closing filled the room.

"Pretty massive, and it seems they have a lot of pets too. Don't ask me for rough estimates," Charlotte answered after echoing her companion's whistle. A loud thumping sound tore her attention away from the goods and towards the living room, and instantly her pupils shrank as a wobbly smile splayed on her face. "Uh, Jonathan..."

"What?" Jonathan asked, whirling around and instantly donning a similar expression at what now stood before him and his friend. "A bear... let's hope he doesn't maul us."

The bear scoffed and grabbed the duo, lifting them and holding them by the waists under its arms, all the while keeping them facing towards its back. Charlotte instantly spotted the white bunny from before, now perched on a sofa, sending a wicked grin her way. "Great, the rabbit had a posse," she grumbled.

"I'm not going to ask," Jonathan bemoaned just as the bear turned around, narrowly missing getting clocked by the doorframe to the kitchen. "Hey, you big hairball, watch where you turn!" he snarled angrily, trying to glare at the beast's face from his current position. The bear shrugged and dragged the two upstairs with startling ease, culminating in it throwing them onto the bed in a way that Charlotte found herself piled on by her friend in a very awkward position.

"This is beyond inappropriate! Next time, don't throw him onto me while my back's turned, you lug!" Charlotte hissed at the bear as she shoved Jonathan off, shooting the beast a glare that got coupled with a raging blush.

The bear snarled, ending whatever it wanted to convey to Charlotte with a huff before marching back downstairs. Jonathan sat up on the bed, frowning with an equally reddened face. "Please tell me the bear didn't make it feel like I straight-up took you," he grumbled, fists clenching.

"Unfortunately, the bear did just that. Personally, I feel violated now," Charlotte replied, shifting so she could sit on her knees upon the quilted mattress. Her blush faded as she continued, "Well, now we know what the pegasus and... winged unicorn meant by 'stay put.'"

"True." Jonathan nodded, his flush fading. He blinked upon hearing a chirp, and turned to the still-open window to find that an assortment of birds had taken residence upon the sill. Among them were a falcon, a bluejay, and a raven. "I think they're staring at us," he groaned, and when his friend turned to him, he gestured to the birds.

"Great, we're getting watched in every room like a bunch of thieves," Charlotte bemoaned, her head dropping as she saw the birds. "All we did was leave the room to see the rest of the house better."

The raven cawed once, and instantly, the rest of the bird posse began squawking in unison. The avians prattled on and on in birdspeak, which only resulted in the humans sending them annoyed glares in response. The fowl kept babbling for a few minutes longer, until a violet flash of light flared in the room and diminished as fast as it had come. Twilight and Fluttershy were, once again, in the room, and the latter darted to the humans with an unreadable look on her face.

"Angel told me you two left the bed and strayed to the kitchen. Is it true?" she asked.

"Yeah, we went downstairs. A bunny handed me a note scrawled in complete gibberish, and after that, a bear carried us up here and made it look like..." Charlotte trailed off, her cheeks once again reddening, "like me and my friend were mating."

Fluttershy momentarily gaped. "I'll talk with Harry about that later; you two should've known better than to leave bed when you're still hurt. I was hoping you could read the note I left for you if you did leave the room and got spotted by my bunny," she sighed.

"Whatever language is on that paper, I'm gonna need a translator for. What is up with the horseshoes, unicorn heads, and wings? It looks like pure gibberish to me!" Charlotte exclaimed defensively, her face still quite red.

"Fluttershy, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this isn't the first time we left bed with bloodied bandages. To be honest, it's far from the first," Jonathan sighed, shaking his head. "Heck, the night before we found the painting and wound up here, I got into a rather hectic fistfight with someone that tried to stab me and Charlotte."

"Hold up," Twilight interjected with a hoof raised, garnering the attention of all as she spoke, birds included. "You're saying that A: you can't read Equestrian, and B: you've been attacked just days ago?"

"Yeah. The guy who decided to try and stick a knife in us managed to get me above my left elbow." Jonathan nodded, gesturing to an area on his left forearm. He then pried off the wrappings with one hand, revealing a healing but nasty wound that scarred the flesh. The area around the scab was a fading red, with several little scars surrounding it, making the whole area looked like he did something that left him with welts after.

"So... the horseshoes, wings, and unicorn heads... are..." Charlotte trailed off, looking at Twilight as she connected the dots in her head. Her eyes lit up in revelation, and she hastily fumbled for her spellbook before opening the blasted thing and frantically turning the pages, only stopping to pry out the scroll from the abandoned house. "You're telling me that this scroll's in your language?" she asked, rolling it up and handing it to Fluttershy, who in turn flew back and forked it over to Twilight.

The scroll was embraced in a soft violet aura, opening and hovering in front of Twilight's face. She read it for a bit before turning her attention to the woman who procured the parchment. "This is a transformation spell; how in the hay did you get this?" she asked with a level look.

"We found it in the same place we found the painting at," Jonathan replied simply, shrugging his shoulders. "Don't ask me what it was doing there; I have no idea, either."

"A transformation spell?" Charlotte murmured, blinking. "What's it turn the caster into? Or is it one of those that the caster can use to transform something else?"

"Weeell... lemme do something right quick before I try it out; I have to be sure of something," Twilight sighed begrudgingly, flaring her wings and flying to the duo. Her horn glowed, and a violet aura embraced them as she eyed them head to toe. It vanished from Jonathan's form in the span of a moment, but held Charlotte for three minutes longer before dissipating just the same.

"Have you found anything, Twilight?" Fluttershy asked, eyes fixed on the alicorn as she flew back down to land on the floor.

"Yeah; there's a weak mana flow with Jonathan, and a strong but out-of-whack flow with Charlotte. The mana they have is... not in tune here; basically, they can't access it, if they could before," Twilight answered with a frown, before said frown morphed into a triumphant smirk. "However, with this transformation spell, I believe that should rectify the situation so we can... analyze these two a little more closely."

The two humans exchanged wide-eyed glances and gulped simultaneously. Whatever Twilight had planned for them, it probably wasn't pretty. They felt the aura embracing them again, and let off whines of protest as every single wrapping came off and exposed their wounds and everything else to the world. Their wounds healed ever so slightly before a blinding flash of light embraced them entirely, lifting them into the air while they began flailing about.

"S-something's growing out of my forehead!" Charlotte shrieked in pain, eyes screwed shut as her entire body began to ache spontaneously.

"M-my back's itching like crazy! Make it stop already!" Jonathan complained, curled into a ball with his arms frantically reaching around in a vain attempt to get at his backside. Both felt strange, and their nerves flared in renewed agony as their bodies morphed and morphed, the world but a spinning violet blur as bones popped and cracked.

Twilight's brow started producing sweat as she channeled the magic into the spell she cast, seeing nothing but two human silhouettes flail in panic as things grew, changed, transformed by pure arcane force. Steadily, but surely, she felt their natural waves of mana begin to resonate with the humans once more in harmony as they had been molded further still. More magic seized them, keeping them still for a few seconds before forcing them to take on an all-fours stance mid-air.

By the time the spell ended, the duo had flopped back down onto the bed, now a dark red pegasus and a pale blue unicorn with sweat coating their foreheads and tears prickling at the corners of their scrunched eyes. They struggled to catch their breath, their garments clinging to their new bodies, and they laid on that bed for a long while.

Fluttershy looked at them worriedly prior to jerking her gaze towards Twilight as she asked, "Was it really necessary to transform them against their will?"

"Unfortunately, yes. I'd recommend they'd stay put for a few days longer, until their new... and hopefully temporary forms stop aching and their mana returns to normal. Let me know if Charlotte has any magic surges while she recovers, because frankly, I have no clue what kind of spells she even knows," Twilight answered, turning to her friend and drawing a heavy sigh as she frowned. "If you can, coax them back to sleep; they're gonna need to rest off the pain of the spell. I didn't expect it to actually hurt them... but I suppose that I gotta reap what I sow."

"I... is it over now?" Charlotte asked in a shuddering, rasping, wheezing tone of voice. Not once did she open her eyes, as though fearing the violet light would deprive her of her eyesight yet again.

Fluttershy flew to the two and hovered near the human-turned-unicorn. "Yes, it's over now. Just try to get some rest," she cooed in a soft voice, faintly smiling as her guest gave a very weak nod. She carefully used her hooves to position them on the bed and grabbed the quilt with her teeth before tossing it over their prone forms, letting it fall just shy of their chins. Soon, the transformed humans drifted off to sleep, briefly shuddering as the last vestiges of pain gave way to a dull sense of numbness.

Chapter Text

"Ungh… I'm getting a sense of damn déjà vu," Charlotte grumbled as she woke up, once more sitting in Fluttershy's bed. When she made to rub her face with her hand, she stopped and glanced at her appendage, slowly going wide-eyed as she took in the sight of a pale blue hoof where her hand should've been. She scrambled out of bed, kicking the quilt off it in the process, before landing on all fours. She wasted little time hastily examining the rest of her body, noting an open spellbook with a pentagram on its pages plastered onto both of her hips.

"Oh... that's what the spell I handed the winged unicorn did to me..." she groaned, grimacing at the thought. "Though I could really do without that… image plastered to my rear."

She shot a glance at where Jonathan still lay, noticing that he too had changed. "Lovely, we're both equines. But... why does he have wings?" she mused aloud, seeing the feathered anomaly twitch as the man-turned-stallion mumbled something about scrambled eggs in his sleep. She crawled back onto the bed, mentally noting that her hooves somehow had a firm grip on the sheets, and slinked towards her companion to shake him awake.

"Five more minutes," Jonathan grumbled, turning onto his side as a hoof shook his shoulder. Charlotte immediately snarled in exasperation, and used both of her front hooves to shake his withers with renewed vigor. He sat up after the shaking persisted for a moment longer, mumbling, "Alright, I'm up, I'm up."

"Jonathan, we're horses now," Charlotte said simply, her tone icy. "And you have wings."

"G-guh?" Jonathan moaned as he turned his gaze to the mare sitting next to him. He then looked at his own body, then back at Charlotte with a hardening visage. "I blame you for this," he grumbled.

"Not my fault I can't read the equines' written language," Charlotte hissed defensively, crossing her forelegs in a pouting manner.

"But you handed the scroll to Fluttershy so the horned pegasus could cast it! It's still your fault!" Jonathan retorted, eyes narrowing to slits.

"Had I known she wanted to experiment on us, I wouldn't have done so! And it was you who found the scroll in the first place! How is this my fault, exactly?" Charlotte replied, her eyes also narrowing.

"But it was your idea to go after that snake-thing! It's all your fault, Charlotte!" Jonathan retorted, brow furrowing. His newly-formed wings spread wide in a threatening display.

Charlotte's horn began sparkling with a red light as her face turned crimson. "Well, excuse me, but weren't you the one who convinced me to do so in the first place?!" she hissed.

And that was all it took; the powder keg lit up and was set to detonate. The two really began to vehemently argue for several minutes on end about whose fault it was in regards to the fact that they were in this mess to begin with. This left them completely unaware of Fluttershy trotting up the stairs and to them amidst their own quibbling. In fact, it wasn't until the yellow pegasus grabbed them both by the tails and tugged tightly did they cease their bout of bickering, turn in unison, and then notice her presence.

"I take it you two aren't taking the transformation well?" Fluttershy asked rhetorically, and she didn't have to wait long for an answer.

"No!" Jonathan and Charlotte answered rather loudly in unison, both with veins cropping up on their foreheads as their joined proclamation made the house shake a little. They saw Fluttershy flinch at their volume, and turned away with heavy sighs with a horn's light fading and a folding pair of wings. Their heads hung low, even as the two felt a hoof touch their withers.

"It's alright; I understand all too well," Fluttershy spoke in a soothing voice, frowning when the two failed to make eye contact with her a second time. She sighed heavily and flew out of the room, going out the front door before finding herself on a trodden dirt path. "Maybe I should get Twilight to talk to them. But they seemed pretty mad... should I leave them alone?" she mused aloud, to none in particular.

She hadn't even taken one step forward when she heard a nearby blast that shook the very house itself. Glancing up at her two-story home, she spotted a thick layer of smoke coming from one of the windows, as well as finding herself hearing a long string of curses coming from both Jonathan and Charlotte. Her eyes widened and she rushed back into the house and up the stairs to find a peculiar sight as the smoke cleared.

"Oh my, why are you two covered in black soot?" Fluttershy asked in alarm, coughing between words as some of the leftover smog got into her lungs.

"Charlotte... her horn glowed... and then I swear, it exploded," Jonathan replied, hacking violently as he spoke.

"My head... hurts so much," Charlotte groaned, a hoof hovering over her mouth as she wheezed.

"Oh no... this is bad," Fluttershy mumbled, eyes still wide. "Stay put; I'll have to get Twilight again."

~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~-—-~

Fluttershy and Twilight were in a massive crystalline room, with shelves hewn of rocks that boasted all sorts of books. The two stood on a rug, and Fluttershy spent several minutes on end explaining to Twilight what happened this time, from the arguing all the way to the vehement explosion.

"She tried casting a spell, and it backfired?" Twilight gaped at her friend, eyes wide and pupils naught but pinpricks as she struggled to process what she was just told.

"There was a thick cloud of smoke. I think she might've had a magic surge. You did say her mana was out of control and not connected with her," Fluttershy replied in a quiet voice. "We have to get back to them quickly; I can only hope she didn't have another surge while I went to get you."

Twilight nodded and her horn began glowing. In a flash of violet light, the two vanished and reappeared in the bedroom-turned-sick-bay. She witnessed the duo fervently wiping the black soot off of themselves and each other with their hooves, which only sent the dark residue everywhere else in the process. "I see you two need a bath," she said in a wry voice, which caused them to stop trying to slap the dust off of each other and turn towards her.

"Yeah, we know. Thanks, Captain Obvious," Jonathan replied in a snappish tone, eyes narrowing low as he spoke.

"Nevermind that; I'd like to know what the hell caused my forehead to explode!" Charlotte growled, her face set in a scowl. Her tone caused the alicorn to grimace for a moment, and she coughed nervously for another.

"You... you had a magic surge. Your mana's still out of control, especially since you're now a unicorn. That's why your forehead exploded; your mana literally had no other way to get out," Twilight explained, donning a lopsided smile that wobbled as her lower jaw trembled.

Charlotte weakly groaned and rose a hoof to rub her temples with it, her nose wrinkling as the horn attached to her forehead began glowing soft red in color. Her face set in concentration, ears instinctively flattening against her head as pain throbbed through her cranium. She soon relented, face relaxing as the glow of the pointed spire ceased.

Jonathan eyed his companion warily, involuntarily flinching before relaxing when the soft red aura faded. He blinked when a violet flash erupted from the corner of his eye, briefly shooting Twilight a glance before diverting his attention back to Charlotte to find some kind of small ring clamping around the base of her horn. The ring, seemingly fashioned of some kind of steel with intricate symbols carved into it, glowed white for a second prior to becoming as pale a blue as the horn it snugly wrapped around. "The hell?" he asked, jerking his gaze to Twilight once again.

"I just put a magic inhibitor on her horn. It should keep her surges in check," Twilight answered, her horn glowing brilliantly. An aura grasped the two ponies on the bed, and both began making more noises of dissent.

"Um, Twilight, what are you doing?" Fluttershy asked, looking at her friend with a brow raised. She blinked when the same aura that gripped her guests took hold of her form too.

"Teleporting us all back to my place. I think that Starlight will love to talk with these two," Twilight replied with a cheeky grin on her face. Jonathan and Charlotte started protesting some more, only barely getting to actually raising their voices when a bright light enveloped their vision. They felt their bodies hurtling at alarming speeds before stopping abruptly in the span of seconds, and before long they found themselves in a crystalline hallway lined with green doors and dangling gems on either side.

The eyes of the two spun about in their sockets as their bodies ached, ducks circled their heads, and their forms swayed like blades of grass caught in a breeze. They immediately collapsed and sprawled onto the floor, weakly groaning as though they were launched through a painting all over again.

"I see they can't handle teleportation well," Twilight sighed, grabbing the two with another aura that radiated from her horn and picking them up effortlessly. She turned to one of the doors and trotted to it, pushing it open with a hoof to find a bedchamber whose bed was fitted with crystal instead of wood. Sitting in a nearby chair, reading a scroll of some sort sat a pinkish-coated unicorn mare with persian blue eyes, and a purple mane that curled with noticeable highlights of turquoise. "Starlight Glimmer, I need you for a moment," she stated.

Starlight Glimmer turned to Twilight and set the scroll down on a nearby nightstand, hopping out of the chair and trotting over. "Um, who are those two ponies? I don't think I've seen them in Ponyville before," she remarked, gesturing to Jonathan and Charlotte with a hoof.

"I'm not—" Charlotte began, but was silenced as Fluttershy stepped beneath her levitating frame and thrust a hoof in front of her mouth. She then sent Charlotte a rigid, strange look, sighing when she merely mewled in pain.

Fluttershy lifted her hoof higher and trotted to Jonathan on three legs, brushing aside the tails of his coat and some of his wing feathers before removing some dust and eying both sets of hips. On his side, a blade and a whip intertwined to form a crude cross of sorts, the latter weapon's tail coiling around like a snake. "Whip Strike and Sacred Tome," she said to Starlight. "They just arrived last night, and they're very tired."

"Tired?" Starlight asked, a brow shooting up. "They look like they've taken a tumble through a chimney to me."

"Strike tried flying and lost control, and he landed in an ash trough," Fluttershy replied with a nod. "And Tome was there, too."

By now, Charlotte gained enough clarity back to perceive where Fluttershy was going with this, and decided to more or less play along. "And then he crashed into me after trying to fly again. One of his wings got sprained," she grumbled.

"My everything hurts," Jonathan murmured indignantly.

"Uhuh," Starlight murmured with a slow nod of her head. She turned to Twilight. "Do you want me to watch them for a bit?"

"Actually, I was going to put them in the next room over. I just wanted to let you know they were here first," Twilight replied with a small smile. With that, she cantered exactly one room over and opened the door, half-flinging and half-dragging the two ponies to rest on the bed inside. She shut the door behind her, but not before Fluttershy slipped into the room. Twilight and Starlight chattered amiably in the hall outside, though the noises faded in tandem with hooves clicking on crystal.

"I have to ask," Charlotte began with a grunt, "where'd you come up with those names? Did you make them up off the top of your head?"

"I looked at your cutie marks," Fluttershy replied simply, tottering over when her guest rose her head and made an inquisitive noise at the words 'cutie mark.' She joined them on the bed, and pointed a hoof at the pictures on their hips. Both of the visitors followed the yellow limb, though Jonathan briefly gained a vexed look on his face before Fluttershy moved his coat again to reveal his cutie mark once more.

"And… why do we have these… cutie marks?" Charlotte murmured, eyes darting between her mark and Jonathan's.

"All ponies have them, once they find their special talent. I guess Twilight's spell recognized your skills and choreographed cutie marks suiting you two. Or something like that," Fluttershy answered, smiling.

Charlotte went wide-eyed. "Speaking of spells, where's my spellbook?" she asked, turning to Fluttershy. She relaxed when she spread one of her wings, revealing that she somehow cradled the book with the damned thing. She slumped on the bed again, turning to Jonathan as he spread his wings and flapped them once, pushing aside the thought of where and how Fluttershy obtained her book for the time being.

"You're in no condition to be flying yet," Fluttershy chastised in a soft tone, only to be met with a huff.

"I'm not trying to fly," Jonathan snapped defensively, eyes narrowing as he spoke. "I'm just trying to figure out how my damn wings work."

"Oh. I'm sorry," Fluttershy mumbled, smiling when Jonathan nodded to her and flapped his wings again.

Charlotte abruptly sat up, jerking her gaze to Fluttershy so fast she let off a squeal of surprise. "Are… ponies here named after their talents or something?" she asked, sporting a glint in her eyes that suggested something had clicked into her head a little late.

"Usually, yes, but not always," Fluttershy replied with a nod. "I know a filly named Scootaloo, but her cutie mark doesn't relate to things that scoot, if you get the idea. I merely came up with your… monikers so nopony else will ask you two a question too many."

"Wait, did something happen?" Charlotte persisted, a puzzled frown on her face.

"No, no, it's just how it tends to work here. Aside from you two appearing in the Everfree Forest, nothing much has happened," Fluttershy answered, tilting her head. "Though, I'm starting to think that the fact that you two arrived might not be all that coincidental."

Jonathan and Charlotte exchanged another glance, then turned back to the only other pony presently with them. "Is it alright if we walked around a bit? My arms and legs are going asleep," the former sighed, wings flapping for the third time that day.

"Go ahead, just be careful. It's not like I'm stopping you from trotting about," Fluttershy answered with a sigh. Under her watch, the two crept out of the bed, though they promptly fumbled and faceplanted within two steps on unstable, uncooperative legs. That did little to stop them; they simply got up again and tried taking another few steps around the room they'd been more or less unceremoniously thrown into.

Though after a few minutes of this new routine, Jonathan sighed and spread his wings as he got off the floor after he fell for the upteempth time. After another few steps, though, this did little to actually help him keep balance. "You two are doing really well for having been transformed into ponies. Keep it up, and you could be gracefully cantering at the end of the day," Fluttershy encouraged, smiling as the duo got up yet again.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence…" Charlotte grumbled, spreading her hooves out a little after she managed to stand. All this accomplished was her hooves slipping out from under her, and she landed on the floor belly-first.