Silence filled the air as a pegasus pony zipped through the clouds, clad in a lighter, silvery version of the normal armor worn by the Royal Guard. It shimmered unnaturally bright in the moonlight, as if it bore a bright, blue sheen to it....no, it was not silver armor. It was custom-made. A custom-made request by a pony that used to play tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Ursas. So of course, his armor was enchanted both to look like the shimmering, made-up metal of Mithril, and it was also enchanted to decrease wind resistance around him. He was the fastest Royal Messenger, on-call for when the Princesses needed messages sent to areas of Equestria that didn't have a focus point, like when Spike stayed with Twilight in Ponyville. He was Wind Strider.
Thanks to his armor and his exceptional flying speed, he reached Ponyville long before Princess Celestia's carriage ever would, those more powerful Pegasi built to haul loads and stand guard against what little threat the castle could ever befall. Then again, these days one could only wonder what kind of threat could ever get close enough to the castle to ever be a threat to begin with, the natural protection of it being located on a mountainside more than enough to hamper anything short of a long-range bombardment, if even that could hit the castle hard enough.
The messenger wasn't stupid, and he had attended last year's Best Young Flyer's Competition, wanting to see for himself what kind of talent was up-and-coming in the world. He couldn't believe a weather pony in Ponyville could move faster than he could in his armor, if she really wanted to! Her legendary Sonic Rainboom proved that more than anything else. Thus, her place was his first stop, him landing with a silent but quick grace, the clouds making his landing more than just a padded stop. "Rainbow Dash! A message, from a Royal Messenger!" he called out loudly to her, trying to make sure she would at least wake up enough to open the door. He had maybe half an hour to get them all gathered before the Princess and her cargo arrived.
Rainbow Dash uh'ed and mumbled a few incoherent things to herself while she was startled awake, the loud voice outside of her cloud home not exactly very subtle in its intentions. She grumbled and nonchalantly fwumped out of bed onto barely-bracing legs, knees bent while her head hung low to what passed as ground inside of her home, shaking left and right a few times to clear her drowsiness from her consciousness. "Heywhuzzat? Huh? YEAH?" she called out, her voice slowly picking up as she became more aware and woke up more. "Yeah, I'm comin'! I'm comin', sheesh...." she said, only uttering her words at the end while making her way downstairs with a single jump through a hole she opened, the second shout getting her full attention this time. She stepped outside and looked to Wind Strider, eyeing his armor and quirking a brow. "Whoa....shiny."
Strider just chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, custom-made....anyways," he said, clearing his throat a little and standing tall, more professional. "Official message from Princess Celestia herself. She wants all of the Elements of Harmony to meet in Twilight's Library. Arrangements have already been made to have Twilight and Spike replace the librarian currently volunteering for the job," he explained, nodding his head to her. "On a personal note, I wish to ask for your assistance in gathering them, the aforementioned will be arriving shortly."
Rainbow Dash blinked her eyes a few times and stared at the guard for a moment. Then, she grinned and jumped once in excitement. "Whoo! Twilight's comin' back, ALRIGHT! That must mean her studies are all done, right? That's great! We've been wanting to go and visit, but we figured, yanno....don't wanna disturb her. We know how she gets when her nose is buried in her books."
Wind Strider retained his composure despite her excitement, nodding his head. He wouldn't dare speak ill of Twilight, but after what he'd seen from a distance and what he'd heard just before he was sent out....he was afraid to be anywhere near her. He jumped up and spread his wings, beating them to gain some altitude while looking down to her. "Well, help me gather the Elements then! Tell ya what: if I gather Rarity and Pinkie Pie before YOU gather Applejack and Fluttershy, then you buy me a free dinner...." he said, a sly smirk rising up in the corner of his lips while he looked down at her.
Dash blinked a few times, spreading her wings and lifting up to be more eye-level with the messenger, staring at him for a moment. "....Okay, and WHEN I win?" she asked, staring the other pegasus down with her forelegs crossed over each other, the ever-confident femme grinning as if she were already triumphant in their little race.
Strider hah'ed and shrugged his shoulders at her. "Then I treat you to dinner, what else? Whoever wins names the time and place," he said simply, casually, a very confident smile gracing his lips, the smug male flipping over once and looking her in the eyes. "You ready? Think you can handle it?"
Rainbow didn't need much more goading than that, but he kept on pressing the buttons, and with a little huff she turned away from him, aiming herself in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres. "Oh, you are ON!" she said, hunching down and readying herself for a rather impromptu race in the middle of the night. But then, she peeked over her shoulder. "Oh, by the way? Nice to see ya again, 'Wind Whiner'."
Strider snorted in a bit of indignation at that old name. Flight school, of course she'd remember him, why wouldn't she? He certainly remembered her, the classmate too cool for finishing school, and still proving that it was one of her better decisions in life. He had his back turned to her, ready to take off as well, more towards the residential area of Ponyville rather than the outskirts. "BITE ME, 'Rainbow Crash'!" With that exchange, the two old classmates were off like a pair of rockets!
With the combined speed and activity of Rainbow Dash and Wind Strider, it had only taken around ten minutes to get everyone together at the library, mostly because they all shared a combined excitement in finally getting to see Twilight again and spend time with her, after such a long time apart. "Ooh! I think I hear 'em! Why didn't you get here sooner so I could get a party going, huh?!" Pinkie asked with a certain amount of exasperation, looking in Wind Strider's direction. He just cleared his throat. "It's not my place to say, ma'am."
Even Rainbow Dash had been a bit confused by Strider's silence, normally he was the really talkative type....even when she did beat him in a race, as was always expected. They hadn't discussed the terms of her reward yet, but she was sure that could wait until later. For now, she had a friend to welcome home, and she could hear hooves clopping against the ground outside while the wheels of a carriage landed not moments after.
"Ooh, I think she's here~!" Rarity said with accentuated, theatrical excitement, all of them waiting to practically pounce on their long-overdue friend, this reunion one worth remembering....but when the library door swung open, Pinkie Pie, in her usual over-eagerness to see the surprised smile on someone's face, found herself only staring at a horn. A purple horn. Twilight's horn. "Twilight? Why are you staring at the....uh....?" Pinkie started to ask, but when she lowered her head to get a good look at her friend, even she lost her smile. She'd never seen that kind of expression on the lavender Unicorn's face.
Twilight slowly lifted her head, she was in surprise, yes, but she also wasn't entirely here. The entire ride over was spent in near-silence, her mind a-buzz with thought, and at the same time, she was thinking of nothing at all. Her mind was staying occupied by spinning its wheels, that was the only way she could describe it, the only thing tangible within her thoughts being what she felt right now, felt the entire ride over: fear, and hate.
She couldn't rationalize it, and that scared her. She had harmed her teacher greatly, and hated her, thus she feared retribution. Her anger and frustration with her workload made her lose control and lash out, and she hated herself for her weak, puny willpower. She hated herself for being weak. She was afraid of herself because she was weak, and might hurt somepony else. She feared her irrational hatred, because it made her want to lash out more, because it felt good to lash out, to harm and break, rip and tear. Two emotions, both stabbing at her psyche the entire ride over, only fended off by the soothing words of the wounded Celestia. "Why....why are you all here....?" she asked, her voice throaty and quiet, as if she may start crying all over again if she dared to break the stunned silence any further.
Pinkie slowly got out of the way, looking to her friend with a concerned gaze while she passed by, followed in suit by her teacher, who still hadn't patched herself up. Spike was the last one in, and he looked to them all. Only Wind Strider bowed as Her Majesty entered, the others looking at her with shocked expressions, staring at the slightly bloodied wound on the Princess's side, her face swollen in different areas, her lip bloody and cut. Rainbow Dash silently glared at Wind Strider, who didn't dare meet her gaze, he knew she was looking in his direction, he knew that she knew that he already knew all about this. He was going to catch hell from her, and there was no reason to unnerve himself with a very volatile staring contest.
Twilight cautiously met their gazes while moving forward, her cheeks stained with dried tears, the fur visibly matted in a thin trail down to her chin on each cheek. Her expression never changed even when Rarity reached out to her. The chance of Rarity laying even a hoof on her startled her, and she edged away quickly, like a twitch reflex to get away, her eyes locked with Rarity's for a moment, widening further in an irrational fear of her, like she was someone she didn't know, or a monstrosity reaching out. She didn't want to be touched. She didn't want them looking at her either, but she made no motion to ask or even make them leave. She felt broken, shattered, and physically weak. She made her way past them with faltering steps, her footing unsure. She almost fell over when she started to make her way up the stairs to her room, or at least the equivalent to a room, Celestia following her up.
Spike stood in front of the staircase at the bottom, turning to face everyone while they gathered around to try to go up after them. They were all curious, stunned, and worried about their friend, but Spike stopped them by standing firm and holding out his hands. "Look....just give her some time, alright?" Spike said, his normally more firm voice sounding soft and subdued. "I'll explain what happened, but....we should wait until Princess Celestia's gotten her settled down."
She was shaking again by the time she'd made it to the top of the stairs, acutely aware of Princess Celestia's eyes on her all the way. She couldn't escape it, couldn't get away from the staring. The condescending glare, the disgust that the Princess had for her. Her head hung low as she gravitated towards her bed, as if it were calling to her, demanding her to come and lay down. She felt the need, she just wanted to curl up and disappear. Get away from all of their stares. All of their eyes....especially Princess Celestia's. "I'm sorry, Princess...." she whispered, her entire body starting to tremble again, slowly looking to the Princess again, her eyes locked in that terrified expression.
"Shh, Twilight....stop apologizing," she whispered to her, gently sliding the covers out from underneath her, gently covering the lavender unicorn up. "B-but I-" she tried to start, but Celestia was having none of it. A hoof gently touched the tip of her nose, Celestia smiling a little. "Don't....don't put yourself through any more of this. What you need is rest," she said, smiling through all of the injuries her face had taken, all of them marring her normally pristine and beautiful complexion, some blood even managing to stain that billowing, pastel-colored mane of hers. "Now, just stay here, with your friends....you can write to me when you're ready."
With that, Twilight just sat up and watched with a mix of dismay and guilt as Celestia turned and favored her right side more, her left being too sore from that table breaking over her body to bear very much of her weight it seemed. Twilight's mind swam with a multitude of excuses, questions, and concerns for the whole situation that she had caused. Ultimately, her weakened and guilty mind could only come to one conclusion. 'I'm not going to be her student anymore....she's leaving me here in Ponyville. I'll never be allowed to finish my studies now!' she thought, slowly laying herself down in her bed and closing her eyes, her teeth clenched as silent, choked sobs accompanied freshly-flowing tears.
Spike in the short time they were upstairs had explained as much as he could, the girls listening while Wind Strider stood off to the side, by the doorway. If that girl did what she did again, he didn't want to be anywhere near the blast radius. "....So that's when I ran out of the room, and everything started going crazy. Then Princess Celestia and Princess Luna-" he said, his voice suddenly being cut off by Celestia's gentle, but firm overtone. "She had a breakdown. Please, you're her friends....watch over her. Do what I cannot," she said, walking past them, a look of dejection in her eyes while she went for the door. "This is my fault to begin with."
After Princess Celestia left, everyone except Rainbow Dash rushed upstairs, almost barrelling over Spike in the process. She flew up to get a look at Twilight, face buried in her pillow, quietly sobbing to herself while the others gathered around her, and her attention suddenly turned in Wind Strider's direction. She hovered over to him, inches away from his face, her teeth clenched in a menacing display while she glared into his eyes. "You. Me. Outside. NOW."
Celestia saw Rainbow Dash and her sister's courier arguing as she left on her chariot, silently wondering if she'd done the right thing. Was this appropriate, leaving such a volatile potential for destruction in the care of ponies that knew no better? No, most likely not....but she certainly couldn't fix this. Her only solution would be to shut the lid on the matter by sealing her magic away. She saw the instability in her student's eyes, the fear, the emotions twisting her up inside like a tornado of darkness. She'd been ripped asunder by the stress she herself imposed, and Celestia did nothing to stop it. She simply believed her student to be infallible and let her be, her kind nature this time working against somepony she cared for very much.
"THE HELL WAS THAT?!" Rainbow Dash shouted at him, once they were outside, looking as if she were about to bull-rush him. "H-hey, haven't you ever heard of 'don't shoot the messenger'?!" Strider responded quickly, taking a step back. Every time he stepped back, she stepped forward, staying in the slightly unnerved colt's face the entire time. "You could've told us. You could've WARNED us, you jerk!" she shouted, knocking heads with him for a moment, staring him in the eyes and giving him a firm shove. "So what the hell?!"
Strider clenched his teeth, feeling a bit indignant about the sudden shove. "What, you think I thought it was my place to talk about what happened? I wasn't there! I don't have anything to do with anypony except you, Dash! All I have is second-hand rumors and orders to gather you all up in the library, what was I going to say?! 'Oh, I heard your friend Twilight went nuts and almost destroyed a section of the castle'? Yeah, I can only IMAGINE how well that would've gone over!"
She didn't want to admit it, but he was right. She made several attempts to give some kind of retort, her mouth opening and closing in what she at first thought were good shots at him, but finally she just slumped in defeat and lowered her head, looking away from him. "You could've at least warned me, you mule," she grumbled, turning away and letting out a small breath. "Look, I'll meet you back at my place....by the way, tomorrow, dinner, I won the race, yadda-yadda," she said, casually muttering the last part to him, the colt pegasus just watching her head back inside with a sigh. He spread his wings and left them to be with Twilight for the night, the lights in the library never turning off until morning.
As the light shone through the windows of the tree-turned-library, Twilight quietly roused from her slumber, still feeling as shiftless and as weak as the day before. Her sleep was broken and unendingly short, no decent amount of it felt like enough. She continually forgot things that her friends kept having to remind her about, and a smile was rarely seen on her grim visage. Another day spent with another friend, another day listening to their false joy at having her back. That was what she felt it was, anyways, waking up to seeing Applejack already at the library, tending to another breakfast with Spike's help.
It had gone on like this for an entire week, her friends cycling themselves and their times with her every day as if standing guard over a prisoner, or keeping watch over her while she was on her death bed. It irritated her, immensely. She didn't know why, any other time she would enjoy their company, but every day, their presence just angered her. She hated herself, she hated them, she hated them being around so much. She hated them for their kindness because she felt like she was being pitied, doted upon like a helpless child. 'Hate?' she thought, stopping herself for a moment, in the middle of breakfast, barely paying any attention to what Applejack was saying about her farmwork, just idly chewing and nibbling at her alfalfa leaves, not feeling particularly hungry despite not having eaten anything substantial the majority of the week, her loss of weight more than enough proof of that. 'Do I really hate them?'
That question weighed on her until she noticed someone step in through the front door, her eyes turning from the table to the yellow-furred pegasus that had walked in, packs and all, apparently she'd brought quite a few things with her today. Board games, more than likely, probably more Chess. That was so Fluttershy, using all of her unofficial studies in various types of medicine, even what little she knew of psychology, to know how to help a depressed friend who had simply shut down. Twilight hadn't even touched a book since coming back, and the few people that came in to borrow books dealt with Spike instead of her, in fact many of them preferred it.
Often times Twilight's mood was on a hair trigger, her anger an unstable boiling cauldron barely hidden under a frown and a gaze of indifference, as if she could tear into someone at any moment just as much as she could randomly give them a hug. She was unreadable, and that was how she wanted it. She didn't want them to see what she was feeling. Bottle it up, hide it, contain the anger and frustration....
"Twilight? Twilight, did you hear me? It's your move," Fluttershy said, waving a hoof in front of her face, that same usual serene smile crossing her lips. Applejack was still downstairs, cleaning up breakfast with Spike. 'When did I get here?' Twilight wondered, her lack of memory of even moving from one place to the next causing more irritation. That was all every day seemed to be. Building amounts of deeper and deeper levels of irritation, for more and more trivial things. Even now, just sitting here, with their usual Chess game, she was annoyed by the presence of her friends. She wasn't tolerating it today, feeling a pressure deep down that was urging her to do something she didn't want to do. "Can you please just leave me alone today?" she tried to ask in as gentle a voice as she could, her eyes keeping their gaze down towards the ground.
Fluttershy wasn't surprised, but she couldn't help but feel a little upset by the request. "Really? Are you sure Twilight?" she asked, which only made the lavender Unicorn grimace a little. "I mean, maybe we could just go for a walk if you're feeling cooped up in here," she said, smiling still at her friend, despite the twisting lips that were forming a worse and worse frown on Twilight's lips.
"Please just get out," she said simply, her voice in a lower tone as Applejack came up the stairs, looking over to them with a smile. "Well y'all, I'm headin' on outta here....hey, Twi? Everythin' alright?" she asked, starting to approach them, but she was quickly interrupted by being....well, promptly ignored and cut off by Fluttershy, who seemed to gain a more assertive tone, despite being one of the most tame in the room.
She stayed still in her seat, looking to Twilight sternly while she spoke. "Twilight, you know I can't just leave you here like this. You shouldn't be left alone!" she stated, which made Twilight grit her teeth more and sit up straighter. "Just shut up and get out, PLEASE?" she said in a more threatening tone, glaring at Fluttershy now, that anger locked away starting to show itself, her unable to help it at this point. She felt like she was breaking again, but in a smaller way, as if the little bit of headway she'd made in pulling herself back together was falling apart in the face of such a daunting amount of negative emotion.
"Uh, Fluttershy? Maybe we should, uh, let Twi have some time to herself fer now," Applejack said, hoping to at least diffuse the situation enough to make the look in Twilight's eyes go away. She'd seen that look before, not with such....ferocity, but it meant nothing good, by any means. Fluttershy didn't budge.
"No, I'm not leaving. I'm not going to just let Twilight sit here and be-" she continued to say, still keeping her eyes locked with her further angered friend, Spike starting to fidget downstairs as he saw Twilight tensing more on her side of the Chess board. "GET OUT of my home!" she demanded, catching Applejack by surprise. "Whoa-hey now! C'mon now Twi, ah know yer not feelin' real nice or nothin', but ya don't gotta yell at us."
Twilight slitted her eyes at AJ for a moment. "Shut up and get out. I said I want to be left alone and I mean it," she growled out, turning her gaze towards Fluttershy now. "I asked you as nicely as I can right now, so please leave....!" she hissed out at the overly kind pegasus, but Fluttershy sat quietly, staring Twilight down. "No. I'm not going anywhere."
The lavender Unicorn was shaking now, that urge within her growing with every passing second. She looked like she was trying to speak, but words weren't coming out, just air, her head turning this way and that as if she were saying 'no' to something, but her eyes never shifting away from Fluttershy's gaze as a burning fury started to overtake her. She couldn't stop it, and it was either let it happen, or force it down, and whatever it was, it was persuading her in silence to let it out.
With a swift movement, the Chess board had inadvertently been knocked out of the way, a forehoof swinging forward and across the small table it had been sitting on, the small stump table making for very little distance for her to reach before she connected with the side of Fluttershy's head. "GET OUT, damn it!" she cried out, gritting her teeth more and letting out a held-in breath, panting heatedly and glaring at her friend, who was now on the floor, her eyes closed and cringing in pain while Applejack watched in shock. "Fluttershy! Twi, what in tarnation's-"
Applejack was cut off once again by Fluttershy, who quickly got to her feet. "Stop!" she called out. Twilight looked at her in surprise just the same as Applejack did, that anger inside of her seeming to completely leave her when she saw her friend getting back up, though most of it left her when her hoof impacted with her friend's face. Fluttershy just looked to her with a content smile, the pain in her face ignored, for now. "Do you feel better now, Twilight?"
Pain. That hurt. She had caused pain, and it felt good for the moment, but now, it hurt. Her friend hurt, and thus so did she. She caused it, and was transfixed upon it, staring into Fluttershy's eyes, or rather, her face in general. Her own thoughts were chewing away at her. It could have been worse, she could have summoned her magic and crushed her with her bed. She could have thrown her headfirst out of the window and she could have broken something, unable to catch herself in time. She could have-
A hug. Warmth. She snapped out of her thoughts with a blink, her transfixed stare and gleaming eyes brimming with tears, waiting to descend, disappearing as she felt the pegasus wrap her forelegs around Twilight's shoulders and just hug her. "It's okay Twilight. I forgive you."
She recognized the pain she felt, at that point, and she gently hugged her friend in return, Applejack still not entirely sure what had just happened. Fluttershy gets decked, and she hugs the pony that decked her? That didn't make a lick of sense to someone like her, but then, she was a very straightforward kind of pony. She quietly left the two, heading downstairs while Twilight felt herself beginning to break down again, silent tears soaking into her friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Fluttershy....I don't know what's wrong with me!"
"You're just angry Twilight. It happens to the best of us."