Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 163

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Chapter 163

I’m about ten minutes from ponyville, no more, when I see smoke above the town. Thick plumes rise from a large portion of the visible building, and firelight keeps the bottoms of the clouds a disturbingly cheery orange-red. Tiny specks of color, presumably pegasi, are pushing normal rainclouds into place.

This is the exact opposite of a day that can’t be ruined. I get the engineer to slow down the train a bit and I stay on the ‘cruising’ train until I deem the speed safe enough to jump off from and make my way to Ponyville at my own speed. That fire does not look like it’s going to go out very soon.

Hopefully, the fire is the only problem. I continue on through the town and notice that there was definitely a fight. Like, demon-tier fight. It’s almost worse than my collateral damage.

I follow the debris and smashed remains of roads, eventually finding where the source had rested. And stopped. A rail-thin creature, like a human, but with a cow-skull for a head, lays in mostly one piece across a swath of destruction. One of its arms is gone, large burns around the stump, and both of its legs are gone from the knees down.

“Woah...” I look around for any others and I see Clark, who I assume is the one who stopped the rampage. “Hey, these guys have a nasty habit of getting up, you might wanna-”

Clark doesn’t seem to hear me, but he leans closer to the beast and, his demonic claws sharpening, he slices a couple of large gashes in the creature’s stomach like a five-pronged scalpel. “Uh.” Clark reaches into on of the gashes and yanks out some organs. “Yeah... that’ll... that’ll do it for sure, pal... good job. Gonna throw up now...”

He looks up at my voice, blinking a few times dazedly. “A- Anthony? Oh, g- good. I need some heh- help.” I see that half his face is coated in blood, a veritable waterfall of the stuff over one eye. The dark, near-black fluid is also spilling from his chest, and I have to take a second look to realize that he has a huge split under his ribcage. It’s like a sword or huge claw stabbed him through there.

“Woah, don’t move. I’m gonna go get... someone.” I turn to rush to get some sort of hospital staff out here, but I hear a sickening sound, like what you’d hear in a movie when someone’s being eaten by zombies. Y’know, when a bone or something breaks with a somewhat squishy sound. I turn around, and see he’s digging a demonic talon into his own ribcage.

“W-wait. I- I need h- help. Please. C- c- come here.” His voice is ragged, and he’s twitching slightly.

“I...” Okay, can’t-

I forcibly empty my stomach violently and fall to my knees and my head feels like it’s trying to force my brain into joining my stomach.

Once the feeling passes, I feel a lot better, but still rather queasy. I’m still mostly on my knees, but I step a bit closer. “Wh- Whaddya need me to do?”

“Pu- put hand- here. H- here!” He grabs my hand, placing it on the side of his now-split ribcage. “N- now pull!”

Sure, why the heck not? I pull with whatever force my jelly-like muscles can muster, my mind way too foggy to argue with anything.

Once his ribcage is open, I can see his organs clearly. I hear a high-pitched, rather disturbed giggle. Wonder who that was. Still, his heart is messed up. I think whatever stabbed him went into his heart. Sure enough, his demonic arm, razor-sharp claws flexing, snakes in and cleanly severs the heart completely. With spastic, jerking movements, he grabs some sort of blackish, ribbed organ, thin hooks and tendrils reaching from the thing as it slowly pulses.

Clark tosses into his chest, and reaches in to tear out something else, and I find myself too fascinated to react. The thing he put into his chest is reaching, gripping his lungs and knitting those barbed tendrils into them. Spiked fibers worm into the muscle of his chest, and he throws another organ into his chest cavity, shaking hand connecting the part to something else. His demon arm, strangely steady and calm, severs damaged meat with obvious care and replaces it with pieces from the demon. I blink, and realize that his arm was going... but he’s passed out. The arm grabs my hand and drags it back to his chest, makes me put pressure. Then, it puts pressure on the other side.

It’s weird, like a dream, but the arm and I push his chest closed, and thin tendrils worm up and form ‘sutures’ to seal the wound.

Then, I twitch, and know no more. Nothing but...

Pain. Darkness. Shouting.

Lights. Crying. Rest.

I wake up slowly, not really feeling up to moving. I don’t feel hurt but... very drained. I look around and I see Pinkie laying on the side of my hospital bed. I also note that a bed is large enough to fit me for once.

“Uhhhh, wha’ happen?”

“Huh? Oh, Anthony! you’re okay!” Pinkie immediately attempts to void that statement by hugging me hard enough my ribs hurt.

Ribs... hurt...

I cringe and try to pry Pinkie off of me. “Too hard...”

“Oh, you had just collapsed and there was a puddle of puke and you were face-down in it and there was blood everywhere and some of it was really yucky and made part of my fur fall out, but I dragged you out and made sure you’re alright and gave you the Breath of Life even though the EMTs said it wasn’t necessary and then Clark spat up a bunch of blood, and stopped breathing weird and then we brought him here and I brought you here myself and got you all checked in and even cleaned you up and changed you into a spare set of clothes so you wouldn’t feel icky when you wake up and I’m so glad you only were out for about four or five hours I’m not sure which and-” I put a hand over her muzzle and she quiets.

“Oooooookay, I got... some of that. Still tired... gimme a sec.” I rub my eyes and focus on staying somewhat upright. I don’t know how long it is, but I feel awake enough to carry a conversation, though not exactly with Pinkie. “Okay, what happened? Slowly.”

“Oh, uhm... well, you went somewhere, and while you were gone, a huge wave of frost appeared in the square, and froze a bunch of stuff! Then, this tall, thin guy, like a human but with a weird head -I think it was a demon!- made this weird howling noise. Well, Clark was nearby, and I heard him call it a Windigo, but that’s silly, because Windigos are all gone now, and that didn’t even look like the windigos in the books! Anyways, then Clark goes all firey, but there’s this big long lightning bolt coming out of his hand, but it’s all wavey, and it went whip-kizzzxxcxkczxck!” she makes whipping motions with her foreleg, “And then he uses it like a laser whip and goes all cra-koosh! And he hits the demon with it, and then they fought! Clark kept setting things on fire, and the demon kept away from it, which is weird, because I thought demons loved fire, but then the demon hits Clark, but pulls him into the air, and Clark screams, and it was totally scary, but I kept watching in case I could help, but I was feeling really icky, like the time I ate Baked Bads.” She stops for a moment, then remembers where she was going with that. “Oh! And then Clark used his lightning-bolt whip and whipped the demon, and it burned the arm off, and the demon made this screechy noise. The screechy-noise hurt my ears. But Clark stood back up, and kept fighting, and the demon kept hitting him, but he was hitting the demon too, and it was pow! Slash!” Pinkie makes jabbing and punching motions with every sound effect, “Ker-bop! Stabbity-slash! Finally, Clark does this thing where he screamed, and this big spear of real bright light that really hurt to look at went out, and then the demon had a hole in its head, and it fell over, and then Clark fell over, and then you showed up a little bit later, and then I didn’t get to see what happened because the paramedics were in the way!”

That was actually pretty slow for Pinkie. Wait... “Wendigo... Canadian cryptid... cow-head, ice powers... hate fire.”

“Uhm... I guess? But Windigoes are like anti-changelings that feed on hate and war, and make ice everywhere instead of using green fire to do stuff!”

“Wrong creature. Wendigo. E, not I. Human monster.” I pause. “Jus’ forget it. Tell you about it later. How’s Clark?”

“He’s, uhm, in the really-intensive care ward. I’m not allowed in there, ‘cuz I’m not family. I think you might count, though.” Pinke says, trying to cheer me up.

“No blood relation, but most definitely an honorary family member. Gonna go see him.”

“Okie-dokie. I’ll help you get up, you were really out of it, Anthony. I mean, you were covered in blood up to your elbows!” Pinkie shudders visibly, her face a touch green.

“Hey, not my blood at least. Right?”

“Not a scratch on you, Anthony! I made extra sure!” Pinkie assures me, giving me a quick nuzzle.

“Thanks. Anyways, gonna go see how Clark’s doing.” I get vague, sped-up directions from Pinkie and follow them as best I can. Soon enough I encounter some doctor-looking types outside a room and talking. On of them sees me and the discussion seems to change if I should be let in. I sigh and figure I’m allowed to check in on my best friend. I walk past them and head in, spotting Clark rather quickly. “Dude... you look messed up. Oh wait... you’ve always looked like that. Maybe you should get some plastic surgery for that thing on your face. Or just your face.”

Clark turns towards me, a huge gash along the right side of his face stitched up with thin twine or thread. He doesn’t look amused.

“Come on man, where’s the return fire about how you still managed to get a girlfriend?”

He shakes his head, his expression lightening, but only a little. “Sorry. Very hungry. Need food, very badly. Can’t... can’t fix without materials. Like a house, needs wood to fix. I need food, meat or similar.” Well, we’re back to broken cave-speak.

I return to the doctors who’re peeking in the door, one seeming to take notes. “Got any meat? He needs food.”

“We don’t know what that would do to him! We did a diagnostic check, and he’s got no stomach! There’s just this big lump of cartilage and gristle!” One of the doctors expostulates, waving one of his hooves in exasperation. “He doesn’t have a real heart anymore, just a mass of bone, cartilage, and an eye! Inside his chest! What’s the point?!”

“The point is he’s risked his life to save you guys, he’s my friend, and he said he wants meat. There’s three good reasons. If you continue to argue, I’m just gonna get some myself.”

“But we don’t know if that could give him infections, poison him, or just leave a lump of undigested food in his torso, rotting!”

“You also don’t know that that wouldn’t happen. Maybe it doesn’t look like a stomach but still does the same thing. Besides, with the new information I gathered earlier, I doubt he’ll quite be eating the meat.”

The collection of doctors give me a terrified batch of looks, ranging from actual terror to undisguised disgust.

I shake my head and leave. “As unorthodox as the situation may be, you should still try things. Like taking his advice on what he wants. Doing nothing at all could make things worse too.”

Off to get something for him to... Idunno, graft onto his body? I guess this explains where the arm comes from. Oh well. I head to Meistro’s place and order a whole turkey. Not sure how much he needs, but this should be enough. I inform the griffon chef that it doesn’t have to be cooked, figuring if ripped-out organs work, the turkey being cooked would take time for no reason.

I get an odd look, but I pay for it and take the pink, headless ovoid of meat back to the hospital, getting some rather more-weird-than-normal looks along the way.

I bring it to Clark’s room, and he looks at it, smiling slightly. “Thanks... this new wendigo stomach can work almost anything, if I’m right.” he then grabs the turkey, and tears off a leg, his mouth splitting open like a graboid’s to swallow the leg whole.

“So I take it that’s the explanation for the arm. You don’t morph as you rank up... you rank up by killing higher-ups and replacing your parts with their ‘better equipment’. Am I on track so far?”

He finishes swallowing the second leg. “Not quite. That’s one way, but the usual method is getting ‘gifts’ from superiors. A living part will regrow if only parts are taken. Full arm can grow back a hand used to replace a minions. Mine just came from someone who had more than half their body replaced by then. Not sure how much, exactly, lots of the parts looked too human.” He tears out a chunk of bone and meat from the center of the turkey, and simply drops it into his gullet.

“Still, You’re basically doing the organic equivalent of a robot pulling parts of another robot to fix itself. Like a grotesque, demonic Wall-E.”

“I- think it’s a little-” *gulp* “-little different. I can explain later. Can you get me another of these, I’m still hungry. Oh, and thanks for the surgery back there. Not sure where this heart came from originally, but I needed it.”

“Apparently it’s one of those ‘alive’ things. So it just... attaches itself to you when ‘replaced’? Like, a guaranteed-success organ transplant?”

“Yeah. And that’s part of my hypothesis. I’ll explain more back at the library when they let me out. Wendigo-clanners have powerful regen, and this stomach’s the furnace for that.” A flash of my hand, pulling open his chest, rushes across my vision.

I cringe, the blood in my hands feeling like it’s crawling. “Yeah, anyway, if you want some emergency surgery, I may not be the first to volunteer. Still not into the whole ‘reach into guys chest and push ribs aside’ thing.”

“Pull out, actually. I spat up a few earlier, ate them first.”

“And the ponies say my imagination is disturbing. Anyway, I’ll see about getting another bird for you. Hopefully you’ll be better soon enough.”

“Oh, I think I’m mostly better already. Insane regen, remember? They can’t replace organs, though, so go for the head or burn ‘em if you come across them. Unlike most, they prefer cold, and can’t stand fire. My clan almost wiped them out once.”

“So yeah, just a more twisted version of the Canadian cryptid. Gotcha.” I make a mental note of that and leave the hospital. I hope he’s gonna get cut some slack.

“Hey! Where’s that monster, Anthony? I wanna give him a piece ah mah mind!” AJ’s shout catches me entirely off-guard, and she’s right next to the entrance to the hospital. She also looks pissed as hell.

“If you mean the Wendigo, it’s dead. Next time you wanna take a crack at a demon, get there faster than Clark or me.”

“No, I’m talkin’ ‘bout the monster you just carried a sacrificial bird to! I heard ‘bout what that thing was doin’, rummaging through that demon fer spare parts! It ain’t natural, and it ain’t normal!” AJ says, getting up in my face and jabbing a hoof painfully at my chest.

“Listen, the definition of ‘natural’ differs from one society to another. If you spent-”

“The only thing Ah’m gonna spend is a few minutes kickin’ it t’ the pastures beyond! That thing’s goin’ t’ Tartarus where it belongs!”

I stare down at Applejack. “You better rethink those plans quick. You send my friend to hell, and I make you follow him.”

“That ain’t yer friend, Anthony! That lyin’ piece of scum’s just usin’ ya!”

“Haven’t I explained I’ve heard that crap before? You just can’t accept him because you think he’s a freak!”

“Ah don’t think, ah know!”

“You’re going to regret saying that, Applejack. Take it back. Now.”

“Ah ain’t gonna revoke the truth just ‘cuz it bothers you Anthony. I’m tryin’ ta help you.” The orange earth pony braces her legs, her expression determined. “Now. Where’s that monster hidin’ at?”

I warned her. “The enemy of my friend is my enemy.” I grab the back of AJ’s head and knee her in the jaw. “You want to fight him, go through me first, bitch.”

She takes it like a pro, though, and lashes out with a foreleg. My own leg buckles from the hit, and pain explodes from my knee. “Y’all ‘re gonna need to hit a lot harder’n that. Big Mac hits harder by accident.” She throws a second hoof at me, but I grab it, push it aside, and take a heavily compressed lump of coal and slam it into the side of her skull like a rock.

“I do hit harder.” I stand up rather painfully. Deciding against using my leg at all, I cover myself in a crawling charge.

Applejack rushes at me, and I brace for another low jab. Instead, her forehoof comes down, and she flips around, coiling like a spring, or a cat mid-turn. Then, I’m flying, and it takes the distance down the hill to realize she just put two hooves into my head.

Shakily, I stand up. I begin heading back towards the ‘battlefield’ in front of the hospital. “I’m not going to let anyone hurt my friend!”

I walk up the little hill, which feels like a pair of mountains to my damaged knee. I pull out more coal. I wait for Applejack to try knocking me down again. She charges like last time. I think she says something, but I’m not sure what it is. Doesn’t matter.

Going intangible, she ‘misses’ and falls over. I push her to the ground and bind her legs like I did with Bombshell. One more bit of coal is fashioned into a blade and put to the pony’s neck. “Give me one reason.”

AJ, tears in her eyes, growls up at me. “Anthony. C- can’t you see? He’s made ya into a monster too. All- all monsters...” she hangs her head, sniffling a little.

“What I see is someone who sees monsters as anything she doesn’t understand, and won’t give them a chance, all she does is hate and never accepts. People like you are a cancer on society...” I can’t do it though. I remove the bands and the blade dissolves. “Breathe. And know that you do so because I’m not a monster.”

With that, I limp away back to the hospital. I probably need to be checked in again. Also, linoleum is awful comfy. Next Chapter: Chapter 164 Estimated time remaining: 9 Hours, 29 Minutes

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