A Somepony who loves you Story
The coop was empty. That was how she always remembered it. There were no bodies, and no signs of a struggle. Everything was just... gone.
Something shifted, and Rainbow Dash startled awake. Bodies pressed against her sides in the darkness. She leapt to her hooves, and, just like every time before, smacked her head against the layer of cloud hanging just above her. Instinctively she started to cry out, but then bit her lip, cutting off her squeal. She listened carefully, her heart racing, but the noise seemed to have gone unnoticed. Equestria was silent around her.
Once the initial shock was over, Rainbow looked around and tried to assess her situation. The cloud she was on was roughly circular and stretched three or four pony-lengths in every direction. A second cloud of equal size hung directly overhead, leaving barely enough room in between to sit up, let alone stand. Four bodies surrounded her, three adults and one foal lying on her mother’s back. Only the filly appeared to be asleep. The others were awake; while the darkness made it impossible to make out their individual colours, Dash could see their eyes gleaming as they stared at her. She smiled, pointlessly since they couldn’t see her expression, and pulled herself closer to the edge of the cloud.
Her first instinct, absurdly, was to wonder what the time was. A quick glance at the world outside confirmed that this would be impossible to measure. The moon was in the same position it had occupied when she’d shut her eyes, locked in place a third of the way up in the sky. Having grown up in a city that never needed clocks, being unable to keep track of time by the positions of the sun and moon was proving infuriating for Dash. Had she been asleep for an hour? A day? Just a few minutes? It hardly seemed to matter; she always felt just as exhausted every time she woke up. It was only the roaring emptiness in her stomach that convinced her to keep moving.
She still couldn’t get over how quiet it was.
Rainbow shuddered as she peeked over the edge of the cloud. Left untended, most of the cloudfield had drifted upwards into a thin, smoglike haze that cast long and shifting shadows over the landscape, making it difficult for her eyes to adjust. Countless hoof-sized wisps littered the air below. She could make out the leaves and branches of a forest far below, but not much else. Around a hundred pony-lengths away she could see other clouds, double-stacked like the pair she currently lay between. From this far out there was no way of telling if there were any ponies left within the structures... or, for that matter, on top of them.
Back in Cloudsdale, the two-cloud rule was taught to every pegasus foal as soon as they were old enough to fly: during times of danger, push two clouds together and hide between them. The strategy had been developed during the skirmishes with the griffons many hundreds of years ago, and had been used by pegasi ever since. Between the fluffy structures it was possible to ride out storms, invasions, natural disasters... anything. Every pegasus who was raised in a cloud city knew about it. Dash gritted her teeth. Every. Pegasus.
Her stomach growled, interrupting her thoughts. Rainbow Dash shook her head and quietly berated herself for getting distracted. Idly, she rolled a piece of cloud between her hooves and pushed it downward, keeping an eye on it as it vanished into the shadows below. She focused on the cloud pair nearest her. I’ll aim for that one. I haven’t been there yet. She scanned the forest beneath her, nodding as her eyes landed on a darker patch. Right there. That should be a clearing. All I have to do is fly down, and...
Dash shifted uncomfortably, but didn’t move. Despite the coolness of the air beyond the cloud, the fog in her head was refusing to clear. She spread her wings and tugged at the straps of her saddlebags in irritation, trying uselessly to pull them into a more comfortable position. They’d been made for a colt much younger than she was, so the strap tightened painfully around her middle. Worse, they hadn’t been treated to rest on clouds, so she didn’t dare take them off for fear of losing them.
Some movement to her right made her jump. One of the others, the pegasus with the foal on her back, had broken away from the group and crawled next to her. Now that she was closer to the light, Dash could make out a tiny horn poking through the filly’s mane. The sight both awed and terrified her. During the first two days of hopping between clouds Rainbow Dash had met a couple of unicorns using cloud-walking spells. After that, though, it was only pegasi. It wasn’t their fault; re-casting the spell was exhausting, and nopony had expected to be hiding for this long. She’d heard that the cloud-walking spell wore off slowly, over the space of a few hours. First one hoof would plunge through the cloud’s surface, then another, until... She shuddered. Without the support of the larger pegasus beneath her, the unicorn filly would have simply plummeted through the cloud to the ground below. Suddenly, the tightness around Dash’s middle didn’t seem so bad.
If the other mare noticed Dash’s sudden change in demeanor, she didn’t show it. Instead she leaned forward, craning her neck upwards. At all times she kept her wings and tail slightly elevated, to catch the filly just in case she slipped. She must have been in some pain after bearing the burden for so long - had it been days? weeks? Rainbow Dash could no longer tell - but her face only showed determination. With the utmost caution she raised her mouth to the cyan mare’s ear and whispered the first words Rainbow Dash had heard in what seemed like years.
“You can do it, Rainbow Dash.”
Without another word, the mare sat back. Somehow, even in the darkness, Rainbow Dash could see her smile. The multi-hued pegasus flicked her ear and looked down at the ground, her heart now pounding. There was no time to think. Thinking led to distractions. Distractions led to mistakes. And mistakes...
I’m coming, Fluttershy.
Rainbow Dash dove off the edge.
She raised her wings and brought them down in a sharp, powerful flap, changing the angle of her descent so that she would skim along the top of the treeline instead of crashing through it. Just one flap, barely a whisper of wind in the endless sky, but in her heart she knew that it was enough. Without needing to look back, she could already tell that she was being followed.
They stood on top of the clouds. It had seemed like a blessing at first. Even though the practice was deeply ingrained in the minds of every pegasus old enough to fly, the grim and silent ponies who now ruled the sky never seemed to notice the living beings huddled within the two-tiered structures. Perhaps their intelligence had dropped, or maybe all trace of their former selves was erased completely at the moment of death. For whatever reason, those at rest simply settled down on top of the concealing clouds. So long as the ponies within stayed still and quiet, they could remain safe and hidden until the creatures above moved on.
Except they didn’t move on. They didn’t leave, they didn’t speak, they never even seemed to breathe. They simply stood, waiting. Packed tightly on some clouds, absent on others, their numbers were impossible to count. Once the winds died down to nothing, they didn’t even have to watch the skies. They only had to listen. And at the first sound of a raised voice, the clop of a hoof, even the single beat of a pair of wings... as one, they pounced.
Rainbow Dash curved along the tops of the trees, searching desperately for the clear patch she’d seen earlier. Her ears strained to hear the sounds of wingbeats behind her, but thanks to the roaring in her ears she couldn’t make out anything. Dash grunted in frustration and wished, as she did every time she attempted this, that they would make some noise. Not words, though, that would make them too... real. Too alive. But even a grunt or a groan, a cry like animals made, some bare indication of thought or emotion, that would make her job so much easier. But no. They flew in absolute silence, their speed and numbers invisible to her.
At last, she spotted the clearing she’d noted from above. She banked sharply and braked hard, throwing her body into a tight spiral that deposited her neatly into the space between the trees. Pulling herself almost to a complete halt, she touched down lightly and held her breath, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart. Her ears pricked up, waiting for the sounds of wingbeats above her. There was nothing. Several seconds passed before she allowed herself to exhale. Perfect run as usual, she congratulated herself. Nopony outflies the Rainbow.
Reassuring as it was, Rainbow Dash had no time to enjoy her momentary victory. She began tearing up the ground, flinging grass, weeds, tiny shrubs into her saddlebags - anything edible, anything that would fit. All the while, she kept one ear turned to the sky, ready to take off at the first sign that they’d discovered her landing spot.
Dash froze, a leafy branch halfway to her side. Her ear twitched. Was that... She looked back and forth nervously, but the shadows of the trees around her were utterly impenetrable. She laid the branch down gently and closed her bag, her muscles already tensing up. Once again, she held her breath and tried to ignore her pounding heart. Somewhere, the faintest sound, like hooves on dew-covered grass... or was that her imagination?
Somewhere. Rainbow Dash closed her eyes. I know I heard... there! With blinding speed she turned to the side and bucked out with both hind legs. One hoof met empty air. The other hit something solid with a loud thud, toppling the pegasus off balance. She bounced limberly off her front legs and took to the air, her rapid wingbeats letting her gain height in seconds, only sheer concentration keeping a scream from erupting from her throat.
Rainbow Dash careened through the sky, desperately trying to gain height as quickly as possible. If they weren’t after her before, they definitely were now. There was no time to look back, no time even to think - without the head start of the initial drop, there was absolutely zero room for error. The slightest hesitation, the first hint of a falter, and they would be upon her.
In the darkness, something clipped past her wing. A yelp escaped from Dash’s throat and she put on another burst of speed, clapping her hooves over her mouth. The sky spun above her as she climbed. She’d lost sight of the clouds, only the moon providing any point of reference. She could practically hear the roar of air behind her, feel the hot breath snapping at her ankles. The moonlight was blinding.
The moonlight was blinding.
It had taken her a whole day to reach the cottage. At least, that’s what she’d judged it to be. Between running, hiding, searching for survivors and forming a perimeter at the farm, there simply hadn’t been time to reach the outlying areas of Ponyville. After hour upon hour of crawling through bushes, carefully avoiding the gazes of the ones who watched from on high, the moonlight had been blinding when she’d emerged.
But the chicken coop was empty. The fences had been torn down, roughly, as though in a great hurry. No sounds emanated from the cottage itself; the little house was dark and silent. The door hung loosely off one of its hinges.
And Fluttershy was gone.
Rainbow Dash blinked. No. She gritted her teeth. In the space of a single wingbeat, countless thoughts rushed through the pegasus’ mind. I survived the first attack without a scratch. I outraced a stampede while carrying three fillies. I pulled off the first ever sonic rainboom! She raised her forelegs in front of her and beat her wings even harder. And as long as one of my friends is out there, none of these freaks can even dream of outflying me!
Suddenly, everything seemed clearer. She felt her heart rate slow, and her wings fell into a less frantic and more natural pattern. Speed came naturally, effortlessly. She leveled out and pulled herself into a wide curve, not daring to risk a spiral for fear of colliding with one of her pursuers. A quick scan of the sky revealed that she was already above the cloud she’d been aiming for. Can’t go there right away, she decided. Without the head start that she was used to, she couldn’t risk leading them directly to her next hiding spot. Need to give myself some space first. She grinned. How about routine number six?
With just the slightest twitch of her wings, Rainbow Dash pushed herself upwards and looped into a wide somersault ending with her facing directly towards the ground. She fell into a tight corkscrew, leaving a multi-hued streak of light in her wake. This then led into another flip, narrowly dodging several smokelike wisps as she pulled herself back up through the sky. The pegasus’ smile widened as she went through her entire repertoire, performing unending loops and twists at breakneck speeds. If not for the grimness of the situation, it would be easy to pretend that she was simply going through some late-night flight practice.
A dull ache in the mare’s stomach reminded her that she still needed to land. She slowed a little and looked around, easily locating the pair of clouds she’d been aiming for. Awesome. Now I’ll just swoop down, and- Something brushed past her tail. Dash gulped and dove sharply. “Oh, come on!” she muttered aloud, though her words were lost on the rush of air. Instinctively she tried to look behind her, but winced as the turn of her head caused her to lose speed. Focus! she chided herself. Just don’t think about what’s going to happen if they-
Too late. She’d thought about it.
Oh, ponyfeathers. Dash looked around desperately, ignoring the chill of fear that was once again working its way up her spine. I just need one break. Something, anything...
There! Around halfway between the remaining cloud layer and the ground, the moonlight glinted off a tiny spot of whiteness. It was the puff of cloud she’d dropped earlier, still making its way slowly downwards. It was tiny, not even the size of her head, but it would do. She’d performed more complex tricks using less. Well, not successfully, but the physics of it had always made sense in her head.
Gritting her teeth, Dash banked sharply and dove, pointing her hooves directly at the little puff that was her salvation. She felt a chill run down her belly as she skimmed over something directly beneath her, but quickly shrugged the feeling off. She flapped more and more quickly, pushing herself downwards at a speed that would leave most pegasi dizzy. The dot of whiteness wavered as she approached it, shifting in and out of focus. She narrowed her eyes and tried to keep steady. Come on... come on...
With a decisive whumph Rainbow Dash collided with the cloud and ricocheted off of it, blasting the condensed water into vapor and changing her direction by ninety degrees in an instant. She rocketed upwards as the forces behind her continued downwards, unable to match her shift in trajectory. Rainbow Dash twirled in midair and took a moment to orient herself before locking on to the cloud she'd selected earlier and diving towards it. She circled around it once, throwing her wings open to slow her down, before slipping neatly between the cracks and landing on the lower cloud with the faintest sigh. Instantly she crouched down and looked back, preparing to launch herself out again if her pursuers were right behind her.
There was nothing. The sky was completely empty.
Back in the darkness, Dash stared a few seconds longer before lowering herself to a crawling position and squinting towards the structure's interior. This cloud pair was smaller than the one she'd left, maybe only four or five pony-lengths across at its longest point. From somewhere in the middle, a pair of bright blue eyes flicked open. She froze and raised her wings, bracing herself to take off again, then relaxed as the other pony nodded to her before sinking back down again.
Dash approached the figure. This pony was another pegasus; to her disappointment, a stallion. Again, within the clouds there wasn't enough light to make out his colours, but from his outline she could see that he was clearly starving. Not a large pony to begin with, ribs now stuck out clearly across his chest, and his movements were weak as he tried to bring himself to his hooves. Dash smiled sympathetically and reached for one of her bags.
The pegasus froze. She glanced at the other pony, who was still staring eagerly at her saddlebags, apparently having heard nothing. Slowly, she peered skyward. The sound had come from above them. She waited with bated breath, privately wondering if it had been her imagination, and listened intently for any further sound. They sat in absolute stillness for a full minute before Dash finished the grab for her saddlebags and silently pulled out her bounty.
It was a discouraging run. In her haste much of what she'd grabbed was inedible, either rotted from lack of sunlight or more earth than plant. She let the dirt run down through her hooves, which travelled down and passed soundlessly through the cloud, and picked hungrily at the bits of grass and leaves that remained. At last she discovered a leafy tuft that seemed more filling than the others and passed it to the stallion, who accepted it gladly. As he began to chew ravenously, she leaned down and whispered the words she'd repeated countless times over the many days before.
"Have you seen Fluttershy?"
The stallion was too weak to give a full answer. He only shook his head, looking up sorrowfully before continuing his frantic chewing. Dash sighed and resumed digging in her bags, hoping to find something to quell the roaring in her stomach.
There was no food left in the cottage.
Dash could tell as soon as she walked in that it had been cleaned out. It wouldn't have taken long; Fluttershy's animal friends were dependent on her, but they weren't stupid. With a group effort, they would have been able to carry all the supplies they needed in a single trip. To where, exactly, was another question. The dark ones seemed to be everywhere, and the endless night had only compounded the problems in the Everfree Forest... though that, too, seemed to have fallen silent. They would have been stuck between a rock and a dead place, and Dash privately doubted that such a group would have made it very far.
And as for Fluttershy herself? She would have taken to the clouds. She must have. Sure, she would have made sure her animal friends were safe first, or at least stuck by them until there were none left, but then she would have flown to the clouds and hidden safely. There was no other explanation. It was in her blood. Throughout their years of flight school they had performed the exercise dozens, no, hundreds of times. After they met at the camp during their first year, they'd usually done it together. Things like that didn't fade over time.
Dash slowly crushed a dirt clod between her hooves. She barely noticed as precious strands of grass were ground into a fine paste. She wouldn't forget. We prepared for this all our lives. She's out there, somewhere. She wouldn't abandon m-
Something on the edge of hearing caught Dash's attention. She looked up, carelessly letting the dirt clod fall away from her. The other pegasus looked up as well, but didn't get to his hooves. Silently, Dash pulled herself to her knees and crawled to the edge of the cloud, trying to locate the source of the sound.
As the seconds wore on, the sound became louder and more distinct. It was coming from somewhere not too far away, carrying well on the empty air. It sounded like a faint sniffing or high-pitched breathing, like somepony was trying to hold in a sneeze. Dash's eyes focused on another cloud. With mounting horror she realized the noise was coming from the cloud she’d left just minutes ago, the one holding three pegasi and the filly unicorn. With that in mind, the pitch and intensity of the sound started to make sense: the foal was crying.
Dash found herself sinking lower into the cloud beneath her, desperately holding in a cry of her own. “Don’t do it, kid,” she pleaded under her breath. The noise only grew louder, breaking into distinct, heart-rending sobbing. “Please, kid,” Dash whispered, as though her words could carry across the distance between them. “Please. You have to be quiet.”
As the sobbing continued, other sounds joined it from every direction: the faint rustling of feathers, hoofsteps on cloud tops, faint sounds of movement only audible to ears accustomed to absolute silence. Countless pairs of eyes were turning, locking on to the source of the sound. Rainbow Dash slid a little lower and gnawed anxiously on her hoof. Why now? she thought. She’s lasted this long already. Why would she start crying now? An unpleasant thought crept up on her. Is this because I left? Without noticing, Dash desperately shook her head. No. I’ve been cloud-hopping for ages. She must have seen that. She must have known I wasn’t coming back. She must have. She must have!
Taking deep breaths, the cyan pony focused all her attention on the clouds across the sky. She knew that the other ponies would be doing all they could to quiet the filly down, for their sake as well as hers. She concentrated hard, hearing her own thoughts in the mother mare’s whispered voice. Please, calm down, she would say. Everything’s going to be okay. I know you’re hungry, and I know it’s scary, but we all have to be quiet now. So long as we’re together, everything will be okay.
Slowly, painfully, the muffled sobs began to die down. Dash sighed in relief. She could almost picture what the mother must be doing; cradling the filly in her forelegs, whispering sweet assurances to her, smothering her tears with love and kisses. It was a soothing, heartwarming image, and Rainbow Dash found herself almost smiling before a high-pitched cry snapped her back to reality.
“Rainbow Da- Aaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!”
Dash clapped her hooves over her mouth as the filly’s desperate shout turned into a shriek of pure terror. She stared, eyes bulging, as a tiny dot fell from the cloud and tumbled towards the ground below, the unicorn’s cry rapidly becoming more distant as she fell. Something moved in the darkness. There was no time to think, no time to react. The filly’s scream was cut off long before she hit the ground.
Rainbow Dash backed away. She clawed at her throat, struggling to breathe, and at the same time trying to strangle the scream making its way out of her. Her rear legs bumped against the stallion behind her, who looked up in fear and confusion. She wanted to shake him, slap him, shout into his face until he understood the horror she’d just witnessed.
She dropped her foal.
The pegasus clutched at her head, the impossible thought ringing between her ears louder than a dragon’s roar. She clamped her lips tightly together, only allowing short, ragged breaths through her nose. No way. She wouldn’t. She... she couldn’t! It must have been one of the others. It must have! Suddenly she lunged for the gap between the clouds and retched, dry-heaving painfully over the side. In that moment she no longer cared how much noise she made, but the tightness in her throat kept her mercifully silent.
Aside from Rainbow Dash’s forced breathing, Equestria’s sky was quiet once again. The blue mare stared in horror at the clouds across from her, watching desperately for any sign of movement from within the structure. There was none. Once again, her thoughts raced uncontrollably. How were they staying so still after such an event? Were the other two having to hold the mother down, clamping her mouth shut with their hooves to keep her from screaming? Or were they all sitting calmly, still unmoving, uncaring of anypony’s fate but their own?
Numbing minutes passed. Rainbow Dash found her breath becoming more regular, more from exhaustion than any calming effect. She stared up again at the clouds in the distance, but couldn’t seem to focus on them. “How can you stay so quiet?” she breathed, her words disappearing noiselessly into the night.
It was a useless question. She already knew. It was the same way she’d stayed quiet when she’d gone up to the bedroom.
The kitchen was just as bare of supplies as the front room. The stacks of animal feed were either gone or completely emptied, not even a crumb left on the floor. A number of cooking utensils had been left behind, but with no clear idea of how long it would take to get back, Dash didn’t try to carry any of these on her own. There was no sign of life anywhere, but, encouragingly, no sign of death either. She was just about to start searching for a trail outside when, on a whim, she decided to do a quick sweep upstairs as well.
Rainbow Dash beat her wings gently to hover up the stairs; even in such a familiar environment, she didn’t want to risk breaking the silence with a creaky floorboard. She landed gingerly on the rug at the top, noting grimly that Fluttershy’s favorite vase had been knocked over. With a sad smile, she leaned down to pick it up. That’s when she saw that the bedroom door was open.
The window over the bed had been broken. Moonlight spilled in, casting much of the room in a pale, ethereal glow. Rainbow Dash could make out the unruly bedsheets, the fallen picture frames, the cracked and splintered writing desk. And, facing away from her, the silhouette of a pegasus. Standing. Waiting. Not even breathing.
Dash remained silent. She left the vase where it was and turned away, tip-hoofing away to the window opposite and slipping away into the night. Because she knew, without having to guess, that this was the very pony who had broken into her friend’s house, and driven her and the animals out. It was the only explanation. And staying just a second longer, going into the light of the bedroom, letting the apparition turn to face her, would have been the worst thing she could have possibly done. It would mean that she would never see Fluttershy ever again.
The pegasus sat back, defeated. She sighed. The darkness of the cloud soothed her. There was no point in questioning anything. She knew exactly how the world was.
Fluttershy was out there, somewhere, hiding between the clouds just like she’d been taught. There was no other answer. And that wasn’t all. The rush in the sky was the mother leaping down to catch her filly before she hit the ground. And other pegasi were learning how to make it to the ground and back, so starvation wouldn’t be a problem. And the defenses at the farm had held, and Pinkie Pie had led the rest of Ponyville to Hoofington in safety. And somewhere, all the animals were safe, and Canterlot had never really burned, and some day, some day very soon, the sun would rise once again.
Things worked out for the best. That was just the way the world worked. Anything else wasn’t worth thinking about. Thinking led to distractions. Distractions led to mistakes. And mistakes... mistakes led to more things to think about.
Numbly, Rainbow Dash finished combing through her saddlebags for sustenance. Aside from a pair of decaying dandelions, there was nothing else worth consuming. Her stomach growled angrily at being taunted with such a pitiful snack, making the stallion beside her look up in alarm. Dash sighed and emptied the last crumbs of earth from her bags. She pulled herself to the cloud’s edge and looked down. There’s another empty patch, she noted, nodding at the forest below. I’ll find another cloud on my way up. Without another thought, she took a deep breath and hurled herself over the edge.
I’m coming, Fluttershy.