A Simple Heart's Desire
Silver stars began to appear as the sun sent it's final rays through the trees about the gazebo. Pinkie Pie's party music could be heard playing a lively tune as Guard ponies and Ponyvillians danced, chattered, and mingled about grand snack tables.
Applejack stood watch at one of them, doling out food and treats to hungry ponies. "Always a pleasure, Bon Bon."
"Applejack, have you seen Twilight? I'm getting a little worried for her." Rarity asked as she approached, Citrus Burst following in her wake.
"Ah haven't seen her, Rarity." Applejack answered, glancing about the crowd. "Ah'll keep an eye out for her though."
"Thank you. She hasn't seemed herself lately." Rarity sighed.
"Ah hope she's okay. Let me get Apple Bloom to watch the snacks, then we'll go find her." Applejack turned, looking for her little sister. Spotting her and the Crusaders dancing with Boldheart, she hollered over to them. "Hey Apple Bloom, could ya spare a minute ta watch the tables?"
The little yellow filly turned to her companions. "C'mon y'all, let's go help!"
As their little group approached the table, Applejack explained what was going on. "Me'n Rarity are gonna go find Twilight. Ah'll only be gone a minute, okay?"
"Sure!" Sweetie Belle replied with a bright smile, then turned to the others. "Maybe we can get our cutie marks as table vendors!"
"Cutie Mark Crusader Table Vendors!" The three fillies chorused, eliciting another smile from Boldheart. For all the troubles going on, it was nice to have friends to spend time with.
Applejack meanwhile wove her way through the press of ponies, craning her head above the crowd trying to spot Twilight Sparkle. She was about to give up and try over by the gazebo when she caught a glimpse of her friend standing alongside Thundercloud, who was engaged in conversation with Filthy Rich.
The two stallions seemed to be sharing an animated conversation, with Thundercloud nudging Twilight just often enough to keep her attention. Seeing the troubled look on her friend's face, Applejack made her way over to the little group.
She suddenly found her way blocked by the burly form of Sgt. Ramrod. The large earth pony regarded her as if looking at an apple slice that had fallen on the ground. "Good evening, miss Applejack."
"Uh, good evenin' there." She stopped, trying to glance over him at Twilight. "If'n ya don't mind, ah need ta get by."
"Ahem, my apologies, miss Applejack. I need to speak to you concerning the requisition of foodstuffs for the continued operation of the unit. I do not wish to delay you, but it is of immediate importance. I must be sure my troops have a meal for the morning." The Sergeant insisted.
"Oh, is that all? Well, I guess we could talk about it fer a minute." Applejack replied. The thought of selling so many apples drawing her attention away. She didn't notice Thundercloud glance in her direction.
* * *
"It was wonderful talking to you Mr. Rich." Thundercloud said with a polite smile. He turned his attention to the lavender filly at his side. "Perhaps you'd like to dance, Twilight?"
"Sure!" Twilight replied, doing her best to smile. He'd been nothing if not a gentlepony, and despite her misgivings, she was going to do her best to return the favor. "I love to dance."
The two of them departed Filthy Rich's company, making their way over to the gazebo. "You know," Thundercloud said with a soft smile, "your brother has been worried about you."
"He has?" Twilight looked up at her date. Had Shining Armor actually confided his feelings in Thundercloud?
"Yeah, that's why he assigned my unit to Ponyville." The white pegasus replied. "He told me that your safety was so important, he wouldn't trust anypony else to watch over you."
Twilight did her best to keep from tearing up as she smiled. "He is a pretty great big brother."
"I know he is, and I told him I would make it my personal duty to protect you. I should have told you sooner, but I didn't want you to think he was babying his little sister." Thundercloud explained, drawing a little closer.
"I… would like to thank you. I had no idea, and I've been a pretty rotten host. I know I said it before, but please accept my apology. You're a pretty great guy." Twilight felt her nervousness disappearing. Maybe he wasn't so bad after all.
"He also mentioned," Thundercloud whispered, letting concern bleed into his voice, "that he was worried that you might be getting lonely."
"Oh no, I have wonderful friends here in Ponyville, and there's always Spike." Twilight laughed awkwardly, her stomach turning itself into a knot.
"You're teasing me now." Thundercloud chuckled.
"I… sorry." Twilight smiled, blushing. "I'm just not used to boys."
"Haha, yes. We can be a lot to handle, can't we." He laughed, then lowered his voice seductively. "Then again, even a Lieutenant of the Guard doesn't often get to be seen with such a pretty filly."
Twilight suddenly felt the need to be somewhere else, quickly. All of this was simply too much, she couldn't think, she couldn't even breathe. "I need to get something to drink. Would you like anything?"
Sensing her fear, Thundercloud decided it was time to ease off. "Sure, anything's fine."
"You might regret saying that at one of Pinkie Pie's parties, aheheheh." Twilight's nervousness was starting to draw other ponies' attention. "Let me go get those drinks."
She almost cantered off, weaving through the crowd to escape. Twisting about the tight confines of party guests, she finally slowed as he disappeared amidst the partying ponies. Shaking her mane out, she closed her eyes, drawing a long breath.
"Why am I so afraid of him?" She asked herself.
"Afraid of who?" She looked up, seeing a blue Guard pony looking back at her, his eyes sympathetic.
Twilight's ears drooped as she turned her gaze away. "Nopony. I was just talking to myself."
"Sounds kinda lonely. Would you like somepony else to listen?" Boldheart asked, an understanding smile warming his face.
Twilight felt surprise flood her senses. Somepony to listen? With all of this running around, trying to explain things to Rarity, Spike, and anypony else who would hear her, she had never stopped to consider what it was she really wanted. Words started bubbling up, as if trying to break free. She wanted to explain everything, her thoughts, her feelings, and more than anything, for somepony to listen.
She looked back at Boldheart, half smiling. "Yes, I think I would like that."
* * *
Pinkie Pie was having a wonderful time bounding around the party, talking with all the guests, dancing in her own curious manner, and enjoying all of the good cheer flooding about the area. There was nothing that filled her heart more than happy ponies spending time together!
What was this? Pinkie stopped suddenly, her attention grabbed firmly by a newcomer. Somepony she didn't recognize!? Was it a Guard pony? No, she had seen or met every single one! There was something else about this pony that she couldn't quite put her hoof on. Darting through the crowd as only Pinkie Pie could do, she drew closer to the stranger at the fringe of the celebration.
It was a little grey white filly with sad eyes, staring out over the party longingly. She did not draw any nearer, as if afraid of something. Pinkie decided this new stranger would be easily spooked, so instead of surprising her, the pink pony trotted up in full view, hoping to make a friendly approach.
The newcomer didn't react at all the way Pinkie expected. The pale filly disappeared right before her eyes, as if she had never been, sending an odd twisty knot up her stomach! For a moment, she considered screaming ghost, but then it would ruin the party, and Pinkie really didn't want to do that. Instead, she crept closer, glancing about for signs of the newcomer. Maybe it was some kind of trick, or magic? She would have to investigate.
After several moments, Pinkie Pie decided there would be no finding the ghostly filly this way, so she tried a different tactic. She walked away whistling, her eyes turned towards the trees. As soon as she was out of sight, she peered back through the brush, watching for her mysterious guest.
Right before her eyes, the little white filly seemed to form into existence, and the funny twisty feeling came back. Could this really be a ghost? It seemed like one, but something told Pinkie it was something else entirely. Determined to try again, she slowly emerged from the bushes, giving the strange filly plenty of time to see her.
"Hey!" She called cheerfully, and her heart nearly sank in disappointment as the filly started to vanish again. This time, however, it didn't go all the way away, only sort of, so Pinkie Pie could see through her.
"Wait, it's okay. I'm a friend." The pink pony tried, wishing for all the world that Fluttershy would show up to calm this new filly's nerves. She didn't of course, just Pinkie Pie's luck, but her words did help. The filly slowly grew more visible, peering up at her with wide, frightened sky blue eyes.
Testing the filly's nerves, Pinkie tried getting closer again. This time the filly stayed visible, for the mist part. Hopeful, she tried talking again. "What's your name?"
"Ze- Zephyr." The filly answered, her voice cracking.
"Hello Zephyr, my name's Pinkie Pie." Pinkie answered with a smile, keeping her voice level. "I've never seen you around here before. Are you new?"
"I don't know…" Zephyr answered, her voice barely a whisper.
* * *
Rainbow Dash was in a mood. She was so upset with Wildfire she had refused to attend the party. Sitting on her cloud, she watched from above as happy stallions and mares danced to the rhythm of some catchy beat. It didn't matter to her, she was way too cool to hang with those stupid Guard ponies anyway!
Letting out a long huff, she rolled over into the cool fluff of the cloud. For several long moments she considered just napping, but found herself too anxious to lie still. Tossing and turning, she finally settled deep within the cloud's soft layers.
"Uuuh, this is so boring!" She moaned to herself. "Isn't there anything do do today?"
Her attention was suddenly grabbed when she noticed the big, white pegasus gliding low into a tree near the snack table. "What's he up to?"
Deciding to abandon her position, Rainbow Dash glided silently down to the tree in question. Her curiosity perked, she peered amongst the branches, spying out her quarry, Thundercloud. He crouched on a branch, looking down at the party. Rainbow drifted lower, peering around the tree to see what had caught the Lieutenant's attention.
"Huh? Why is he spying on Twilight?" Rainbow whispered under her breath, spotting her friend sitting with a Guard pony she didn't recognize. The two of them were chatting amicably.
The tree rustled heavily as Thundercloud departed the tree, gliding towards the edge of the party. Rainbow Dash decided to follow him, only sparing a quick glance back at Twilight.
"This is getting weird." She said to herself, her brow furrowed in suspicion.
It took the rainbow maned pegasus a minute to locate her target. He was talking softly with Wildfire, who was listening with rapt attention. Rainbow Dash crept closer, hoping to overhear what was going on.
"-make sure to keep the fire from getting too big. We don't want to do any permanent damage, just keep the Guard on their toes. There's no telling when our enemies might appear." Thundercloud commanded, his voice still hushed.
"Yes sir!" Wildfire sounded far too excited by what he was told for it to be good.
They were gonna set a fire!? Why would they want to damage anything? Deciding enough was enough, Rainbow Dash got up to confront the Guard Lieutenant. There was no way he was going to get away with-
She never even saw the blow fall. Everything went black as she felt the ground rush up to meet her. At the edge of unconsciousness, she registered voices whispering. "She was spying, sir. I will interrogate her personally."
"Very well. We can't have a civilian interfering."
* * *
"I just don't know how I feel about him." Twilight sighed. "I mean, Thundercloud is a nice pony and all, but some part of me doesn't, I don't know, trust him I guess. I feel afraid, like he's going to try and hurt me."
Boldheart sat unmoving for a while, shifting his head from side to side as he mulled over what Twilight had told him. Finally, he spoke. "It sounds like he's trying to be your friend, but he doesn't want to wait for you to accept his friendship."
"Do you think he wants something from me?" Twilight asked, a little surprised. "What could I possibly do for him?"
Boldheart blushed a little, then cleared his throat. "Well, there are several things, I guess. He's told you how your brother wants him close to you. Have you asked the Captain, I mean Shining Armor about it?"
"Well, no. Not really. He was so busy I barely got to say hello when he came through town." Twilight paused to think. "I'm sure he would have said something about all this if he were so worried."
"Maybe there is another reason, or perhaps he was too rushed. I don't want to tell you that Thundercloud is lying, especially since we don't know if it's true or not." Boldheart hastened to add.
"You're right, I can't jump to conclusions. Maybe he is just a nice pony who wants to get to know me better."
"I'm sure he wouldn't be the first." Twilight's new friend remarked cheekily.
"Hey, don't you start too! One stallion at a time please!" Twilight joked, then both of them rolled over in a fit of giggles.
Twilight laid her head on the grass, staring up at the blue Guard pony, who's body was stretched away from her, his horn nearly touching hers. "Oh, and thank you, Boldheart."
He smiled back at her.
Suddenly a commotion broke over the grounds! Ponies were shouting, and the sound of a signal trumpet could be heard in the distance. Rising swiftly to his hooves, Boldheart looked out over the panicked crowd, trying to spot the problem.
"I need to go, they're calling for the Guard." He said, looking over at Twilight.
"Wait, can I help?" Not about to be left behind, she rose to her hooves.
"I don't know, but from the sound of it something has happened. If you're coming, you best hurry." They both broke into a trot, dashing through the throng of startled ponies. The rest of the Guard came running too, and as they approached the western border of Ponyville, nearly the entire Century had formed.
Thundercloud came cantering up, yelling orders as he did. "There's a fire near the Everfree Forest, and Sgt. Ramrod spotted some changelings in the area! Sgt. Burst, take a detachment and sweep the town! Advise anypony out on the street to get to their homes! Wildfire, gather up the other pegasus and make scouting runs over the nearby region! I want to know where those changelings are at! If you spot Sgt. Ramrod's group, get a report back to me immediately!"
He paused in front of Boldheart and Twilight, his expression grim. "Twilight, I need you to go home!"
"But-" She began to protest.
"No, I won't hear of it. Your brother charged me with your safety, and I will not fail him." Thundercloud snapped. "Go."
Twilight felt her emotions go to war with her logic, but finally sense won out. She turned away, trotting back into Ponyville, but didn't head home. Even if he were in charge, she was determined to at the very least help everypony get to safety.
"Boldheart, I want you to join the firefighting team." Thundercloud said, regarding the smaller stallion. "We can't let the blaze reach Ponyville, at any cost."
* * *
As soon as the shouting started, Pinkie Pie's new friend vanished again, much to her dismay. She had just been making some headway, when somepony had to go and spook the filly! What was worse, now the party was getting ruined! How were they all supposed to have fun with everypony panicking like this?
Looking about, she spotted Applejack, who was trying to corral the upset party guests and hustle them back home. "Hey, Applejack! What's happening!?"
"Ah heard somepony yellin' about a fire over by the Everfree Forest." Applejack replied as she gestured for ponies to head into town.
"Well that's just great! Don't they know they shouldn't be playing with fire? Somepony could get burned!" Pinkie replied with a frown.
Applejack shook her head, unable to follow Pinkie's logic. There were more important things to do right now. "C'mon ev'rypony, keep 'er movin'."
The redoubtable earth pony didn't even notice the pale little filly following Pinkie Pie, who was staring at all the ponies as they herded back into Ponyville. Feeling that odd twisty something in her tummy again, the pink earth pony glanced around. So the mystery filly was still here somewhere!
"The game's not over yet." Pinkie whispered to herself. "I'm not sure why, but that little filly needs my help, and I'm gonna do it!"
Pinkie Pie continued to aid Applejack as they guided their worried friends. Twilight showed up shortly after and began organizing the groups to help them stop milling about. Soon the gazebo's grounds became quiet, leaving party supplies strewn everywhere.
Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo poked their heads out from behind a table knocked on it's side, still rattled from the night's events. They joined up with Applejack, who walked them home.
Twilight was left standing amidst the ruined party, staring off at the glowing firelight, her heart filled with conflict. Pinkie Pie paused to watch her for a long moment, her brow furrowed with worry for her friend, but something told her that Twilight needed time to think right now, so Pinkie left her be.
Sudden weariness gripped the usually energetic pony, slowing her steps as she returned to Sugar Cube Corner. As she nuzzled the door aside, she felt that twist again. Glancing back, Pinkie saw the little white filly, Zephyr. Smiling back at her, Pinkie gestured inside. "C'mon Zephyr, you look like you need somewhere to sleep. You can be my guest tonight."
Zephyr looked startled, then slowly smiled. "Um… thank you, Pinkie Pie."