"I decided to avoid going through Ponyville after my close call with the Hound, and instead walked around the outskirts of town. What I could see of it was burned away. Fire had swept over the place and devoured all of the buildings. As the mist cleared, I also noticed that Town Hall was no longer reaching into the air.
"I made my way to my cottage, hoping that my animal friends were safe and sound. When I got there, that hope was dashed. My home had not a single creature nearby nor inside. Instead, I opened my front door to a cold and empty home, and as the silent interior stared back at me, I broke down into tears. I was alone.
"When I couldn't cry any more, I slowly walked inside my house and closed the door behind me, shutting myself into darkness, save for a few gaps in the curtains allowing light to come through. I searched the bird houses and mouse holes, and even checked under my bed upstairs, in a fleeting hope that my friends were simply hiding, but I found nothing.
"It was a crushing feeling, realising that I was on my own. The silence in the house was horrible, and it was cold, as if the very life of my little cottage had been sucked out of it, leaving a hollow and empty husk. I was beginning to feel the same way, through loss and fatigue. I didn't know what to do any more, everypony was missing, my animal friends had disappeared, and the place I used to call home was falling apart every where I looked. I clambered onto my bed and rested my head on my pillow, and quietly sobbed myself into an overdue sleep.
"It was approaching sunset when I woke up from a nightmare, I forgot it almost as soon as I woke up. I slid off of my bed and trudged my way downstairs to the kitchen to find some food. Along the way, I picked up and lit a lantern to make up for the dimming light.
"When I came into the kitchen, I noticed that there was a messy stack of paper on the table, I walked over to it, and looked at the sheets sprawled all over the surface. On every page was an inky print from every animal who was living with me before I left. Birds, cats, mice - dozens of prints of all shapes and sizes occupied every single page. And right at the end of the last page, on the bottom, was a bunny's paw print next to a barely-legible initial - Angel.
"Angel had taken charge, and had left this collection of 'signed' papers behind to show that everyone was okay, bless him. A smile crept on my face, and I felt a bit of pride for a moment for him. He was a clever little bunny, and very brave to have took the lead. I really hoped that he was safe, and had managed to get everyone else to safety, wherever that may be.
"I was interrupted by the sound of voices, gruff and with an accent. I blew my lantern out and took a peek outside a window. Coming up the road was the Hound with a couple of Diamond Dogs following him, carrying empty and full sacks of items. One of them pointed at my cottage, and they all started for it.
"I was in danger, I needed to get out, but I needed to take some things with me. I ran over to my cabinets and dropped cans of fruit, apples, and anything else edible into my saddlebags, and swiped my lantern on my way out. I then ran upstairs and grabbed my scarf and my sewing kit, and hastily took some medicine bottles from my bathroom cabinet.
"I froze the moment I heard my front door being tried. It wasn't opening, and a few seconds later I heard a loud crash as the door was kicked down. I ran into my bedroom and tried to hide, but all of the stuff I was carrying meant I couldn't even fit under my bed. I heard the scampering of paws as the rooms downstairs were searched, and the loud thuds and scraping sounds of something, or someone, big coming up the stairs.
"My heart started beating in my ears, and I felt like I couldn't breathe out of fear of being heard. Terrified, I started fumbling around by the nearest window, trying to unlatch it with my shaking hooves. Just as I managed to open the window, the Hound came through the doorway and into the room. We locked eyes, and in less than a second I had leapt out the window with him following behind.
"I was not expecting to be so heavy, so I fell before my wings could catch me. I tumbled on the ground but instantly recovered, breaking into a full gallop. I had lost some things in the fall, making the load lighter, but by now, my wings were too jittery from adrenaline for me to work properly. Instead, I flapped them to push me along as I made a break for the Everfree Forest.
"The Hound was catching up to me, and he was readying his massive claws to strike. I pushed myself harder, running for my life, beginning to reach the edge of Everfree. As I passed the fringe, the Hound slashed after me, cutting a tree branch in one slice. The branch dropped onto his head, and he stopped chasing me to howl out in pain. I kept running, jumping over bushes and fallen trees, my hooves thundering on the ground as I galloped deeper and deeper into the forest until I couldn't run anymore.
"I stopped beside a large tree and hid behind it, hoping that I hadn't been followed. I focused my hearing, listening intently for a few minutes before my heart beats slowed down and I allowed myself to relax. I fell to the ground and took a deep sigh of relief.
"That feeling didn't last long before I realised where I was, and that I had no home to go to. It was starting to get dark, and I didn't want to risk spending a night in the Everfree Forest.
"I started wandering through the forest, not knowing where I was or where I was going. I was lost, and I knew all too well that being lost in the Everfree Forest was a very, very bad thing. Not even my most scary nightmares could do the frightening creatures I knew were living here any justice.
"While I tried to imagine a cross between a Manticore, Cockatrice, Hydra, and a Dragon, I came across a familiar-looking river, and soon knew where I was, or rather, where I could go and stay for the night."
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I'm very thankful for the support I'm receiving. I've never poured so much effort into a project like this. Storytelling and illustrating are not usually things I do, but this project has shown me that there is a first for everything, and that people are enjoying what I'm creating. So thanks to all of you for following the series, giving your feedback, or even just being nice and dropping by as you travel through the vast land of the internet. You're all awesome!
In this scene, I spent far too long trying to get the Hound to look right. Diamond Dogs in general I find to be very hard to draw, and I screwed up over four sketches before I had something I could work with. As a result, I didn't come out with it until a day after it was due, made even later by life conspiring against me. But the result of the time I spent on this piece paid off, I reckon, especially since the Hound (who I've named Spoon) looks much better than his first 'official' appearance in "Staying Hidden", which was my first, and very poor attempt at drawing a Diamond Dog/Hound. It really goes to show how I've improved since I began this project, which only serves to encourage to keep up with.
In the writing, well, the first draft I threw up here was fraught with errors, and I'm surprised nobody called me out on them. I've since improved the excerpt and fixed the issues I spotted. So hopefully it's a smooth read now!
As always, leave your comments in the box below. I really enjoy reading theories, feedback, and general thoughts!