A 26-year-old Minnesota native attending college for the second time. With a pen in one hand and a sword in the other, CyborgSamurai cuts his way through writer's block and enemies alike.
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Five Days Later-
Fluttershy paced in her living room as she fanned herself and ground her teeth. She stared out at the early morning sun from her living room window as it beckoned to her, but then quickly looked away. For the last two weeks she'd stayed inside, only going out to feed her chickens, and was beginning to take its toll. The walls inched in closer with every step she took, and it was all she could do not to scream.
She shook her mane as she tapped a hoof on the mahogany floor. I can't take it anymore! I don't want anypony to get hurt, but if I don't get out of here for a while, I'm going to go nuts! I have to go somewhere, have to do something!
Fluttershy had been scared to death about going out again ever since the incident in the fog. She’d seen the looks of heartless menace in Megnii and Spesci's faces, their voices like knives as they rushed at Derpy and the Doctor. She'd been able to stop them in time, yes, but she wasn't about to tempt fate a second time, and so had intentionally kept herself away from other ponies.
Fluttershy’s wings quivered at her sides, and she adjusted them with a sigh. All right. It's not going to anypony much good if I turn into a madmare. I'll go somewhere, but it has to be someplace where there aren’t any other ponies around.
The walls resumed their normal dimensions at this decision, and Fluttershy walked over to a bookshelf in the corner. She pulled out a brown, cloth-covered scrapbook and placed it on the table, opening it and flipping through the pictures one by one.
She stopped on a picture of a swamp with sickly green waters and brown noxious bubbles. The air was filled with a dark haze that, upon closer inspection, was revealed to be swarms of mosquitos, gnats, and flies. Drooping, thin trees with mossy branches dotted the waters, their long, twisting roots reaching far out beyond their base as they sunk into the murky depths.
Fluttershy wrinkled her nose. Not there. Every time I go to Froggy Bottom Bog I spend at least two hours getting the smell out of my mane. Besides, I heard rumors that a hydra has moved in there, and they can be really grouchy.
The next page held a picture of a sparsely wooded countryside with mature, healthy trees and rocky streams. A faint rainbow hung in place over a waterfall, which crashed down from a nearby cliffside. The misty spray drenched a nearby stone bridge with a herd of deer engraved on its side, and trails of smoke could be seen in the distance as a group of ponies made camp a short ways away.
Fluttershy shook her head. I went to Whitetail Wood last month, and there'll be lots of ponies camping around there until the Running of the Leaves. I need something more secluded, and farther away.
An idea came to Fluttershy. She turned the pages for a few moments before stopping on one near the back, which was a picture of a pristine lake larger than the eye could see. Its waters were perfectly still, reflecting the deep azure above like a colossal mirror. The twin skies stretched out to the horizon in perfect parallel, merging so that one couldn't tell where one ended and the other began.
Fluttershy hummed as she remembered the day she'd taken the picture. It's so nice there this time of year. The waters are warm, the berries will be ripe, there'll be nopony out at the island, and it's so much... like... home...
The word plucked a sensitive heartstring. Fluttershy whimpered as she looked up at a different picture on the wall, framed in dry, braided straw. A younger version of herself stood on a spotless golden beach, her wide, innocent eyes sparkling in the fading light of the setting sun. She wore an open-mouthed, joyous smile as she stood between two adult pegasi, the first being a stallion in a green flowered shirt that clashed horribly with his dark peach coat. On her other side was a tall and willowy mare, with a mocha coat and a circlet of flowers on her brow. A mysterious smile was etched on her face, and she draped an extremely long, slender wing around Fluttershy in a loving embrace.
A familiar, dull ache pulsed in the back of Fluttershy’s throat. She bit it back and looked away, but the damage had been done. I guess it really has been crazy lately if I haven't even had time to be homesick. I can’t even remember the last time I saw Mom and Dad, let alone when I got to go home last. I hope they're okay.
Fluttershy grit her teeth and set her nostalgia aside. That settles it—Dragon Turtle Lake it is. It’s far away, nopony goes out to the island, and the therapy will do me good. Ah, but I’m going to have to fly there, and that means…
Fluttershy looked back at her wings. They twitched again as she adjusted a stray feather, causing her entire body to shudder. I was going to have to show them sooner or later. It’s just been so long since I’ve had to explain to anypony, and my nerves keep getting the better of me. I didn’t even have to say anything to Twilight! Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised that she knew right away, smart as she is. I’m just glad she didn’t make a big deal about it.
Fluttershy put the picture book back on the shelf. I don't know if Megnii and Spesci are going to be able to keep up with me. They look pretty strong, but they’re going to have to flap more to get as high up, and that might tire them out, and then they won’t be able to make it all the way, and they'll fall out of the sky and it’ll all be my fault!
Her travel plans were smothered under her apprehension like a repressive blanket. Fluttershy disregarded everything and started to walk upstairs, trying to make alternative plans for the day, but as she took the first step on her staircase, the walls zoomed back in again, leaving her feeling like was trapped in a tiny box.
Fluttershy’s pupils turned to pinpricks as she backed away into the center of the living room and started to turn around in circles. Gotta escape… can’t stay here… gotta get out! I'll just fly a little lower for them, and do a little more flapping! Dragon Turtle Lake’s really pretty when you get above the clouds, but they won’t have to push themselves so hard if I stay a little lower than usual, so that’s a sacrifice I'll have to make.
Fluttershy’s sudden, unnatural movements caused a robin, a badger, and a beaver to come out from various dens nestled around the living room. They tentatively approached her, making sure she was aware of their presence before coming too close.
The badger raised himself on his hind legs. “What’s wrong?”
Fluttershy’s ears twitched, and she stopped and looked down at him. “Inside too long. Thinking about going to Big Lake.”
The beaver to her right slapped his tail on the ground. “Lakes are fun! Go with you?”
Fluttershy shook her head. “Only going for the day. Need to be light.”
His whiskers drooped. “You be safe, at least?”
Fluttershy crouched to be eye level with him. “Don’t worry. Yellow and purple ones go with me.”
More small animals emerged. A porcupine uncurled itself from under the couch. Two opossums climbed down from the top of a high-backed chair. A pair of hedgehogs yawned as they shuffled down the stairs. A herd of bunnies hopped out from the kitchen. Mice, rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, chinchillas, marmots, and prairie dogs all clambered out of a large, multi-storied wooden structure with various crawl holes in it.
Fluttershy was now surrounded by dozens of her animal friends. The house became filled the sounds of chattering, squeaking, and grunting as they voiced continued encouragement., strengthening the quiet voice inside her that was needed to make the hard decisions.
“Go and play!”
“Don't coop yourself up!”
“Stretch your wings!”
“Have some fun!”
Fluttershy felt lighter than air as their voices bolstered her spirits. She closed her eyes and smiled, thanking the Sun and Moon for being so lucky to have so many caring friends.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’ll be back tonight.”
Fluttershy’s head suddenly bobbed as something jumped out of her mane. She opened her eyes and saw Angel on the floor, who looked up at her and made a shooing motion.
Fluttershy wrinkled her brow. “You don't want to come?”
Angel shrugged. “Said you need to be light. I'll slow you down.”
Fluttershy rubbed the spot where he always nestled. It felt cold without him. “You're always with me. I'm used to your weight.”
Angel gyrated his arms. “Don't like flying that far. Almost fell out last time from falling asleep.”
Fluttershy gestured over at a small spool of rope. “I can tie you down.”
Angel motioned towards the other bunnies. “Census coming up. Lots to do.”
Fluttershy gasped as she remembered the upcoming birthing season. “Is Bluebell okay?”
Angel fidgeted. “Due soon. Want to be close.”
Fluttershy bent down and nuzzled his cheek. “It’s fine. I understand.”
Angel hugged her, then went and joined his kin in the kitchen. The group of them waved at her as they hopped out the back door, and left her alone with the rest of the animals.
“All right,” Fluttershy said aloud. “I’ll get all of us fed, and then I’ll pack.”
Twenty minutes later, Fluttershy walked out the back door of her cottage and into the morning sun. The air was hot and thick despite the early hour, and promised that the day would be reminiscent of the months previous. She walked down the sparse stone path that ran past her chicken coop into the woods beyond, and as she did, two shadows flickered from above her. Fluttershy looked up and saw a barn owl and a bald eagle circling above her, descending rapidly and coming in for a landing. She stopped and watched the two birds flare their wings and land on a nearby wooden fence, sinking their talons into the soft bark and giving her nods of greeting.
Fluttershy stared at the owl. “You’re up late.”
The owl gave the sun a look of utmost loathing. “Bad luck hunting.”
Fluttershy drug a hoof on the ground. “Only in Everfree, yes?”
“Of course.” The owl stuck out his chest. “Taboo to break agreements. As bad as breaking eggs.”
Her sigh of relief died in her throat as she saw his shrunken stomach. “When was the last time you ate?”
The owl looked away. “Not first time I’ve gone hungry for this long.”
Fluttershy thought for a moment. “You should ask Mr. and Mrs. Bear to get you something.”
The owl lowered his head. “Female is very protective of new cubs. Male is always grumpy. Best to stay away.”
“Say I sent you.” Fluttershy looked out at the Everfree Forest to the east. “They owe me a favor.”
The owl followed her gaze and bobbed his head. “Will do in evening.”
The eagle stared at Fluttershy’s sides with his intense, yellow eyes. “Not flown lately. Afraid to show wings to newcomers?”
Fluttershy flinched as the observation struck true. She gave him a sorrowful look. “Haven’t explained to anypony in a long time.”
“Wings are pretty!” The eagle spread his own. “They will like!”
Fluttershy's stomach quivered as she remembered the looks of shock and dismay she always got. “They’ll stare. Don't like it when ponies stare.”
“Stare because pretty!”
Fluttershy sat on her haunches and stared at the sky. “Stare because different.”
The owl flew over to Fluttershy and perched on her shoulder. “Unless never fly again, delaying the inevitable.”
Fluttershy leaned her head against his soft feathers. “I know. Just nervous.”
“Nerves mean shame.” The owl gave her a gentle squeeze. “Be proud of who you are.”
“We'll come with you,” the eagle said. “Can show them together. Then we all ride thermals!”
Fluttershy smiled. “Going to Dragon Turtle Lake. Want to come?”
The eagle cocked his head. “Too far. Will leave you at boundary of Valley.”
The owl hopped off her shoulder and back onto the fence. “Newcomers go, as well?”
Fluttershy looked around, seeing no sign of Megnii and Spesci. “Going to tell them now. Know where they are?”
The owl puffed out his feathers. “Yes. Can show you.”
She watched him shuffle and click his beak. “Don’t like them?”
“Keep eating the leaves of favorite roost.” The owl stared at her with bloodshot eyes. “Not as much shade now. Haven’t slept well all week.”
Fluttershy got to her hooves. “I’ll talk to them.”
The owl spread his wings. “Follow me.”
He led Fluttershy to an oak tree a few hundred yards away in the center of a nearby field beyond the chicken coop. It was a middle-aged specimen, its gnarled, thick branches filled with ripening acorns and jagged, green leaves. The owl circled the tree once before diving in and disappearing amongst the foliage, and the eagle stayed in the air, doing a lazy circle high above. Fluttershy looked up into the tree and saw Megnii and Spesci perched in the branches, each of them nibbling the nearby leaves.
“Morning!” Megnii waved at her at she approached. “Have you had breakfast?”
Fluttershy nodded. “I just finished.”
“Shame.” Spesci stripped a twig with his lips. “These leaves are nice and tart.”
“Applejack told me the soil in this area is very rich.” Fluttershy bent down and sniffed a daffodil. “All the plants here are really healthy because of it.”
Megnii leaned forward and grabbed another clump. “Maybe I should take some back with me to make a garden.”
Fluttershy watched as the two guards munched on the leaves. “Um, instead of eating just off this tree, do you think you could you choose a few other ones, as well?”
Megnii paused in mid bite. ”Why?”
“A friend of mine sleeps here during the day,” Fluttershy explained. “He’s losing sleep because you’ve eaten so many.”
There was a loud, indignant hoot. Megnii and Spesci turned to see the barn owl glaring at them a few feet away.
Megnii swallowed his mouthful and laughed nervously. “Oops.”
Spesci wiped his mouth and raised a hoof in gesture of apology. “I suppose we went overboard. We were only eating off this tree because it's where we’ve been watching you.”
Megnii jumped off the branch, and glided down to land a few feet away from Fluttershy. “What were you planning on doing today?”
Fluttershy pawed at the ground. “I was thinking about going to a place southeast of here.”
Megnii raised his eyebrows. “Really? What’s it called?”
“Dragon Turtle Lake,” Fluttershy said. “It’s the largest body of freshwater in Equestria.”
“Sounds fun,” Spesci said as he landed next to Megnii. “How far is it?”
Fluttershy's gaze shifted from side to side. “It takes me a few hours, but that’s because I ride the thermals and just soar the entire way.”
Spesci whistled. “There must be a lot of thermals down that way you can do that.”
Fluttershy froze as she saw their expectant faces, the echoes of past laughter ringing in her ears. Her chest tightened, her limbs shook, and she cowered as she started to back away.
There was a hoot and a squawk. Fluttershy looked up into the tree, and saw the owl and eagle waving their wings at her.
“You can do it!”
Fluttershy’s heart swelled in gratitude, and her nervousness melted away. She straightened, gathered her resolve with a shaky breath, and looked back at Megnii and Spesci.
“I have something to show you.”
Megnii blinked. “Eh?”
Here goes. Fluttershy closed her eyes and relaxed her shoulders.
Megnii and Spesci realized that Fluttershy was actually much thinner than she looked, for what they’d mistaken for slightly unkempt fur was actually very fine feathers. Her wings had been tucked underneath her barrel and wrapped around her like a blanket, and her entire frame now shifted as she unfurled them one at a time.
The first and most obvious thing was their size. Each wing started off wide, enveloping Fluttershy’s shoulder and extending all the way down to her knee. They became narrower at the elbow joints, which rested at her flanks, and extended out past her body to twice the distance of her tail. Her feathers were short and round at the shoulders, but then became narrow and pointed at the ends, ending in fine, slotted tips.
Fluttershy rolled her shoulders as she fully released her wings for the first time in a fortnight, and as she did, she felt the beginnings of a terrible, undeniable urge. She tried to resist, but the feeling only intensified. She tried as hard as she could not to give in, but the desire grew to an intolerable level, and with a small groan of pleasure, Fluttershy stretched out her wings to their full span—twice the length of her entire body.
Ah, that feels good… Fluttershy forgot about Megnii and Spesci for a moment as she rid her wings of their accursed stiffness, but she was reminded as she opened her eyes and saw their slack-jawed, wide-eyed faces. The sunlight was filtering through her feathers, creating narrow rays and deep shadows that accentuated her already delicate features, and it was giving her a golden aura that made her look like a divine being sent from on high.
Fluttershy quickly folded her wings normally and looked away. “S-Sorry,” she murmured. “I don't have enough room to stretch in the house.”
Spesci tried, and failed to close his jaw. He slapped himself with a hoof, which had the desired effect, but was still unable to speak for a few seconds.
“Fluttershy...” he finally managed.
“Your wings are huge!” Megnii blurted out.
Spesci shot him a murderous look.
Megnii took note of it, but was unabated. “Well, they are.”
Fluttershy straightened the feathers of her left wing. “Not huge enough, actually.”
The guards slowly turned their heads to her. Spesci stretched out his own wing, which was only a third the size of hers. “Ah... what?”
“They're too short.” Fluttershy kept her attention on what she was doing. “And they're the wrong shape.”
Megnii closed his eyes and put a hoof to his forehead. “Okay, I'm lost. What are you talking about?”
Fluttershy stopped her preening and looked at the two of them. “Have either of you heard of Hoofolulu?”
Spesci furrowed his eyebrows. “The island in the Great Western Ocean?”
Fluttershy nodded. “That's where I'm from. I came here when I was ten to attend Flight School.”
Spesci frowned. “Why? That's thousands of miles from here.”
“Only pegasi are native to Hoofolulu,” Fluttershy explained, “and over the centuries, they’ve developed extremely long, narrow wings so they can cross the ocean. When the island was annexed into Equestria, the natives became couriers to the Kingdom of Antelese, and that’s what almost everypony on the island does for a living.”
Megnii squinted at Fluttershy with an awed, open-mouthed smile. “I've never met anypony from Hoofolulu before. I’d heard that they had exotic wings, but I never thought it was anything like this.”
“Oh, I’m not a very good example,” Fluttershy said. “You see, my mom's a Hoofolulu native, but my dad's from Cloudsdale. They met while he was on vacation, and he wound up moving there so they could get married.”
“So your wings are half and half.” Spesci rubbed his chin. “How much longer are your mom’s wings?”
Fluttershy stretched out her right wing and scratched an itchy spot. “About a third longer, and a lot narrower. I can't soar over the ocean since mine are wide like Dad’s, though—well... okay, I can, just not for thousands of miles.”
Megnii's eyes softened. “Which meant you couldn’t get a job as a courier.”
Fluttershy bowed her head. “Mom and Dad realized there wasn’t going to be any opportunity for me on Hoofolulu, so they arranged for me to be schooled on the mainland, instead. Dad is colthood friends with Rainbow’s father, so I moved in with her family, and went to school in Cloudsdale.”
Spesci nodded. “You and Rainbow are pretty close, then?”
“More than close.” The memories of her adolescence hit Fluttershy in quick, powerful flashes, and her voice dropped to a thick whisper. “Rainbow's my sister in all but blood. Her parents call even me their second daughter. They've done so much for me, and I love them almost as much as my real parents. They're actually the ones who gave me the cottage as a graduation present.”
Megnii did a double take. “They gave you a house?!”
Fluttershy shrugged. “They didn't have a use for it. It'd been sitting vacant ever since a distant family member left it to them, so when I said I wanted to live in Ponyville, they gave me the deed for free.”
Spesci shielded his eyes as the sun shifted. “That was very kind of them. Do you get to go back to Hoofolulu very often?”
Fluttershy's eyes unfocused as she looked to the west. “Mom usually meets up with me in Seaddle, since that's easiest for both of us.”
Megnii followed her gaze westward. “What do you mean?”
A warm gust rose from the east, filling the air with the sound of swishing leaves and creaking branches. “Hoofolulu pegasi have very light bodies, long, narrow, flexible wings, and can even fly in their sleep. I inherited all of those things along with Dad’s wider wingshape, so together, I have a body that's perfect for soaring over land. I can fly for as long as I like so long as there are thermals—well, I have to stop for food, but if I bring some with me...”
Fluttershy opened her wings as the wind picked up, and they snapped taut as they caught the air and pushed her forward. Her hooves brushed the ground as she effortlessly circled once around the tree, the wind carrying her as easily as it would a leaf.
Spesci laughed incredulously. “What's your wingpower?”
“Um, it depends,” Fluttershy said as she landed. “I think I have around two on my own, but since I gain so much lift from the thermals, I wind up going faster the longer I fly. By the time we get to Dragon Turtle Lake, I’ll probably be around eight.”
Megnii began to pace back forth. “So, you're going to be soaring the whole way because the thermals send you up so high, but Spesci and I don't have wings like yours, so that means we’re going to have to flap to get up as high as you. And on top of that, you’re going to have a slow start, but you’re going to be picking up speed as we go, so we’ll have to slow down for you in the beginning, but you’ll eventually outpace us.”
Fluttershy folded her wings and trotted back to them. “It’s also really hard to get going again if I slow down, and I won’t be able to make it all the way if I have to flap the whole time.”
Spesci shook his head. “Megnii and I each have around nine wingpower, and we’re no strangers to a little exertion. We'll also have time to recover in between thermals, so we shouldn't get tired.”
“I'm sorry,” Fluttershy said. “I have this problem with Rainbow, too.”
“We'll be fine,” Megnii said earnestly. “And even if we weren’t, we could just take rests in between. You probably need this, seeing as you haven't left your property in weeks. You've probably started to get cabin fever.”
Fluttershy's eye twitched as she gave them a strained smile.
The three of them embarked for Dragon Turtle Lake a half-hour later, and just as Fluttershy had said, Megnii and Spesci immediately found themselves getting ahead of her with their smaller, more agile wings. They circled around and cut their speed to match hers, letting Fluttershy set the pace from then on. The bald eagle that’d been flying above swooped down to fly beside Fluttershy, and he squawked at her as he came close. She nodded, then turned back to Megnii and Spesci.
“There’s a giant thermal to the northeast!” Her voice was almost lost to the wind. “It should be enough to take us all the way out of the Valley!”
Megnii and Spesci obediently followed her and the eagle as they turned around and flew out past the Ponyville city limits into the wide, verdant hills beyond. They flew in silence for a few minutes, with neither guard seeing or feeling any sign of a disturbance in the air.
Megnii spoke up as they crossed over a large hill partially draped in shadow. “Are you sure there’s a ther—“
Fluttershy and the eagle suddenly ascended high into the heavens, shrinking into a pair of yellow and brown dots as they shot up with astounding force. Megnii and Spesci felt the first tendrils of warm air begin to push them up as well, and they steadied their wings with giddy preparation.
“Oh, boy,” Megnii said with barely contained excitement.
Spesci smirked. “Here we go.”
The two of them entered the thermal and rocketed skyward, the details of the land below blending into vague shapes and colors as they went further into the heavenly realms. Megnii and Spesci angled their wings and began to circle around so that they stayed inside the warm current of air, while Fluttershy did the same, but ascended much faster due to her larger, wider wings better catching the air and flinging her up like a pellet from a slingshot. She quickly reached the top of the thermal and continued to climb, finally leveling out at twenty-five thousand feet, and then looked down to see Megnii and Spesci still only halfway up the thermal. She locked her wings in place and descended to the south, picking up speed as she went, and a few minutes later, Megnii and Spesci reached the top and flapped their wings to get up to her height.
They continued on through the Equius Valley until sparse woodlands came to an abrupt halt at the base of the two massive, craggy, snow-capped mountains. A crack of blue could be seen from a small narrow pass which marked one of the few ways in and out to the world beyond. The three of them flew between and past the ancient sentinels, and as they did, the bald eagle keeping pace with them broke away with a parting shriek.
They continued on to the southeast at a steadily increasing speed, the lush woodlands thickening into proper forests to the west. Rolling hills were to the east, marking the way that Fluttershy had taken several times past. The warm, lingering summer air combined with the slight cloud cover to make perfect weather for thermals, and Fluttershy soon found herself moving at an impressive clip. Megnii and Spesci matched her speed as she continued to accelerate, and they steadily made their way to the south.
A thin line of blue formed on the horizon two hours later. Fluttershy drifted over to Megnii, who saw her approach and tried to hide the beginnings of fatigue etched on his face. She saw, however, and allowed him to hang back so that he could ride in her slipstream.
“Do you want to go to the shore?” Megnii called.
Fluttershy spoke over her shoulder. “There's an island about twenty miles out that I always go to!”
“Twenty miles?!” Megnii shouted over the wind. “That’s going to be a lot of work getting back!”
Fluttershy’s eyes were hidden by her mane, but he could see that she was smiling. “Don’t worry, that won’t be a problem.”
A crosswind blew past, and both of them were forced to steady themselves. “Should try to find one more thermal if it's that far out," Megnii said.
“There's a usually a big one over a hill a few miles before the shore,” Fluttershy said as she moved away.
They continued on for fifteen more minutes, the thin blue line getting wider and wider as they approached. It finally filled their entire field of vision, revealing a lake larger than the two guards had ever seen before.
“Sheesh!” Spesci muttered under his breath. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think we were at the ocean!”
Dragon Turtle Lake stretched out for miles in every direction, so far that even from ten thousand feet up, they couldn’t see the other side. The waters reflected the sky like a crystal-clear, cerulean mirror, and the beaches were a spotless, golden white that glittered in the noonday sun. Fluttershy motioned to a steep hill which had now become noticeable to their right, and as they approached, they felt the onsets of the warm air currents. They entered together and rode the thermal to the top, leveling out at twenty thousand feet.
Fluttershy turned back to Megnii and Spesci as they exited the thermal. “Have either of you flown over a large body of water before?”
“Nothing like this!” Spesci replied.
Fluttershy angled herself towards a small speck of land that was just visible out amidst the endless blue. “We should be high enough that all we need to do is dive. If you overshoot the island, just circle around.”
Megnii was about to ask why, but his question was answered for him as they crossed over the lake's surface. The air became cold and still, and they almost lost their momentum as it abruptly dropped out from under their wings. Fluttershy straightened herself out and dove towards the island, and the two guards followed suit.
Dragon Turtle Island was a mile in diameter and shaped like a wedge. A quarter of it was dedicated to a wide, crescent-shaped sloping beach with blinding white sands, and the rest was covered in sparse, coniferous trees and thin underbrush. The northern side ended in an abrupt cliffside with a shallow, U-shaped sandbar, and the waters all around the island were a light, sparkling azure.
Fluttershy overshot the distance and made a few circles over the island in order to kill her speed. A massive cloud of sand accompanied her as she landed on the beach, and she went into a canter before coming to a complete stop. She folded her wings, took a deep breath, and let the crisp, clean air fill her lungs as the sound of the waves took her back into the memories of her fillyhood.
An aged caw snapped her out of her reverie. Fluttershy looked up, and saw a seagull that was circling her from just overhead.
“Not seen you here in seasons! Homesick again?”
Fluttershy squinted at the gull. His feathers were mottled, he had a grey splotch on his left wing, and one of the talons on his right leg was missing. “Hello, Elder. Afraid so.”
Elder landed on the beach before her and stared at her with his dark, beady eyes. “Always welcome here. How long you stay?”
She looked out at the shore. “Not long, just wanted to stretch wings. Leaving in late afternoon.”
“Need ride back, I assume.”
Fluttershy nodded. “Can you ask the Master?”
Elder made a coughing noise that suspiciously sounded like a chuckle. “Will send word. Lucky I'm in good mood.”
She winced. “Don't mean to bother. Can find messenger instead.”
The Elder Gull raised a wing. “Only kidding, wouldn't leave you stranded. I’ve business with him, anyway.”
He took off again, circling around her once before ascending back into the sky. “Expect word soon.”
Spesci landed just as the gull flew off to the west. He sailed past Fluttershy, and flared his wings as he came to a skidding halt on the beach.
“Nice place,” Spesci said as he took in the island. The sands of the beach were fine and smooth, and the shrubs beneath the trees were laden with ripe, plump berries.
Fluttershy nodded vigorously. “Isn’t it great?!”
Spesci folded his wings. “Not that I mind, but why’d you want to come out here instead of staying at the shore?”
Fluttershy reached up and turned his head towards the water in reply. “What do you see?”
Spesci shielded his eyes as he stared out into the vast expanse. “Nothing. I can’t even see the shore.”
Fluttershy beamed. “Exactly.”
Megnii shot by them in a yellow blur. He flew out over the water, tucked in his wings, and dove into the water with a sploosh. He stuck his head out a moment later, exuberantly motioning for them to follow suit.
Fluttershy squeed. She took a running leap into the surf, then swam over to Megnii and began splashing him with her hooves. He laughed and splashed her back, and before long the two of them were chasing each other like a pair of schoolyard foals.
Spesci snorted. “That didn't take long.”
Fluttershy stopped and looked back at Spesci. “You too! The water's great!”
Spesci shook his head and lay down on the soft sand. “I'm not a fan of the water.”
“I'll drag you in here if I have to!” Megnii’s soaked mane completely covered his face, making him look like a piece of seaweed.
Spesci sneered and crossed his hooves. “Please. You couldn't even move me an inch.”
“Wanna bet?!” Megnii started to head for the shore.
A devious smirk crept up on Spesci’s lips. He waited until Megnii was waist-deep in the water, then without warning, he sprang to his hooves and charged towards his partner at full gallop.
“Ah, horseapples.” Megnii tried to dodge incoming assault, but his movements were hampered by his awkward position in the shallows. Spesci spread his wings and leaped out over the water, catching his partner and pinning his wings to his sides. Megnii yelped and flailed helplessly in Spesci's grip as the two of them flew up into the air and out over the water, and there was a sense of vertigo as they went into a sharp incline.
“Spesci!” Megnii yelled as they went upside down. “Don't you dare!”
Spesci chuckled evilly. “I hope this water's deep.”
They finished the loop and dove straight down, plummeting towards the water at dizzying speed. Spesci released his captive at the last second and spread his wings, pulling out of the dive and flying harmlessly away while Megnii hit the water with a painful splat! Spesci cackled like a maniac as he flew away, and watched as Megnii emerged a few seconds later.
“I'll get you for that one!” Megnii yelled, shaking a hoof at his assailant.
Spesci rose higher into the air and flew back around in response. He stopped above Megnii and began to spin around like a violet corkscrew.
Megnii gasped. “Oh, no...”
“CANNONBALL!” Spesci blasted down to the water and hit with the force of a depth charge, creating a massive wave that swallowed Megnii and sent him crashing back onto the shore.
Spesci surfaced and burst into more evil laughter as he saw Megnii getting to his hooves and shaking himself off like a dog.
“You'd do well to fear me!” Spesci taunted.
Megnii calmly wiped his mane out of his eyes and stared at his partner with steely glint in his eye.
“Of course you realize this means war.”
Spesci raised his forehooves in open challenge.
“That was fun!”
They both turned to see Fluttershy flying in from the direction of the lake. She landed on the water, then tucked in her legs and folded her wings at her sides. “The wave you made sent me really far out! It was just like surfing at home!”
They both blinked as Fluttershy sat on the water like a bird.
“Are you... floating like that?” Spesci swam over and examined her.
Fluttershy answered with an odd smile. “You should do it again!”
Megnii flew over and whispered in Spesci’s ear. “Whoever sends her out the farthest wins.”
Spesci's grin returned.
Fluttershy spent the next two hours being the judge for Megnii and Spesci as they did cannonballs in the water. She determined who was winning by riding the waves as far as she could out into the lake, and the competitive spirit of the two guards caused them to try harder and harder to one-up each other. It was now Megnii’s turn, and he hovered above as he prepared to dive. He zoomed up in a quick burst, then turned around and blasted towards the water. He tucked in all four of his legs at the last second, and the force of his impact created a wave over twenty feet high. Fluttershy braced herself as it approached, getting swept up and quickly ascending to the top. She steadied herself and rode out for five hundred feet before it tapered off enough that she fell out of its wake.
Fluttershy turned to see how far she had gone. It looked close to the other times, so she closed one eye and held up a hoof to see if it completely covered the island. That was a really good one! Looks like Spesci is still winning with those corkscrews of his, though. I think Megnii needs to tuck in his wings more—
Fluttershy felt something brush one of her back hooves. She jumped, and turned to see a dark shape below her. She took a breath, then stuck her head underwater to see what it was.
A small, dark green turtle swam below her, his expression impassive as his thick, hexagonal shell glistened in the dim rays. “Never seen a pony ride waves like you.”
Fluttershy smiled. “Not many can. Not around here, anyway.” She pointed up to the surface, and went up for air.
The turtle followed suit and poked its head above the water. He waited for her to regain her breath before speaking again. “Elder Gull has spoken with the Master. Will come for you in two hours.”
Fluttershy tensed. “He’s coming himself?!”
“Wishes to see you,” the turtle said. “Master likes news.”
Fluttershy looked back towards the island where the waves from Megnii's latest cannonball still rippled outward. “Does he know I have guests?”
The turtle grunted. “Not that it matters... but yes.”
Fluttershy tucked her legs back in as she sat on the water. “He's not mad, is he?”
“Master does not know anger,” the turtle replied. “Even if he did, churning of waters is no grievance.”
Fluttershy relaxed. “Give him my thanks.”
“Can give them yourself when he comes,” the turtle said as he swam away. “Be ready.”
Fluttershy spread her wings and flew the short distance back to the island. She found Megnii and Spesci waiting for her on the shore, and Megnii ran over to her as she landed.
“How was that?” he asked eagerly.
Flutterhy giggled. “Spesci still has you beat with that first spinning cannonball he did.”
Spesci tilted his head. “I'm gonna have water in my ears for a week from that one.”
Megnii laid down on the beach and spread out his wings. “Eh, I think I'm done. I hate flying with wet feathers, so I wanna be dry by the time we leave.”
Fluttershy nodded and sat down across from him so she could fully extend her own. Her own feathers were waterproof, but she wasn't about to miss out on an excuse to sunbathe.
Spesci remained standing for a moment as his eyes roamed over her impressive wingspan, but he then went over to sit down a few pony lengths away from Megnii and cleared his throat. “Fluttershy, have you been hiding your wings because you were afraid we'd make fun of you?”
Fluttershy’s ears drooped. “It’s just that, well... I haven't had to explain this to anypony since I've moved to Ponyville, and even then, either Rainbow or Derpy have had to be there for me to work up my courage.”
“You don't have anything to be ashamed of.” Megnii was building a small hill out of sand as he spoke.
Fluttershy rested her head on her hooves. “It’s not easy being different. I’ve always been really self-conscious about my wings, and it hasn’t helped that I've always been a weak flier. On Hoofolulu, I got teased because my wings were too small. When I came here, it was because they were too big. Rainbow stopped it when she could, but she couldn't be there all the time because she’s a year older than me. It was really bad for a while, but I eventually managed to find some help.”
Megnii paused and looked up at her. “From who?”
Fluttershy took a moment to collect her thoughts. “It happened about ten years ago. I was being teased because I was having trouble with vertical take-offs, and I was getting really upset about it. Rainbow saw what was happening, and challenged the ponies doing it to a race. They agreed, but when they took off, I was standing too close to the starting line, and the turbulence made me fall out of Cloudsdale.”
Megnii's eyes widened. “Were you all right?!”
Fluttershy looked up at him through her eyelashes. “I was fine, but the bigger problem was that I'd never been on the ground before. I landed in a meadow, panicked and confused, and I wasn’t strong enough to fly back up to the city on my own. I didn’t know what to do, and I was just about to curl into a ball and cry...”
She smiled softly. “...and that's when the animals found me.”
“Was this how you discovered that you can speak Sylvan?” Spesci asked.
Fluttershly blinked at the strange word. “Sylvan?”
Spesci dug a small groove in the sand. “Animal Speech, The Voice of Nature, Beast-Tongue... it’s the name of the language of the wild creatures.”
“Really?” Fluttershy said. “I never knew there was a name for it! I just thought I could communicate with the animals on a different level!”
“It's a rare gift,” Spesci said fervently. “There are spells that can do the same thing, but there’ve only a few ponies in history that’ve been able to speak it naturally.”
Fluttershy sat up and helped pile sand on Megnii’s hill. “It was one of the happiest times of my life when I realized I could do it, and I spent that whole day learning the names and faces of all the animals. The land dwellers all wanted me to come and play with them, and the fliers wanted to show me where all the best thermals were. When I told them I couldn’t fly very well and was stuck on the ground, they introduced me to a bird that had wings like to mine. That’s how I met Mr. Eagle.”
Megnii flattened the top of the sand mound. “Was that the same one who with us earlier?”
Fluttershy nodded. “He’s very nice. He knows all the good spots to soar in the Valley, and he taught me how to ride the thermals and get back up to Cloudsdale.”
Her face then fell as she looked away. “In the meantime, though, Rainbow had gone frantic looking for me. She felt terrible over what’d happened, and got really depressed even though I told her I didn’t blame her for it. She was having some other issues at the time, too, so that didn’t help, but she eventually got over it.”
Fluttershy watched as Megnii molded the sides of the hill into parapets. “I told my teachers I’d found a special tutor, and so they let me go down to the ground every day to learn from Mr. Eagle. Cloudsdale’s schools are fine and all, but there was only so much they could teach me because my wings are so different, and they understood that. Thanks to Mr. Eagle I got teased less and less, and by my freshman year the other ponies finally left me alone... which was great for Rainbow.”
“Rainbow?” Spesci echoed. “Why not for you?”
Fluttershy sighed. “She was only staying in school because she felt like she needed to watch out for me. I tried to tell her I was fine, but she wouldn’t listen, no matter what I said. I went to her parents about it, and together, we came up with an idea for how to convince her.”
“What’d you do?” Megnii asked.
Fluttershy coughed. “I-I, um... asked her to come with me when I went go visit my m-mom at the coast.”
Spesci suppressed a snicker. “How’d that turn out?’
Fluttershy tried not to blush as her voice became quieter. “Well, you see… Rainbow’s always been very competitive, but she’d never flown for very long periods of time before, and since long-distance flying is what I’m sort of... built for, her parents said we, um… shouldn’t fly together. Instead, we should make it… into a race.”
Megnii stopped building the sand castle and looked at her, a smirk forming on his face. “Who won?”
“She did,” Fluttershy said immediately.
Spesci narrowed his eyes as he watched her wings twitch. “How long did it take you?”
“A-A day and a half,” Fluttershy managed. “Rainbow did it in sprints with long rests in between, and I went the whole way without stopping. We landed in Seaddle about ten minutes apart.”
Both the guards were now staring at her. “How fast were you going at the end?” Spesci asked.
Fluttershy shrugged. “I didn’t have any way to measure it. The cone I had going was pretty narrow, though.”
Spesci whistled. “You might’ve beaten her if you’d gone a little farther.”
Fluttershy started to carve a moat around Megnii’s sand castle. “You haven’t met Rainbow yet, so you don’t know how much she hates to lose. I know she would’ve just pushed herself harder to beat me, and then she might’ve gotten hurt. Her wings were really sore afterwards as it was, so I’m glad we stopped when we did.”
Megnii picked out some rocks to place on the top of the castle. “What’d she say when you landed?”
“Nothing.” Fluttershy picked up a nearby shell and examined it. “Nothing at all. That’s the first, and only time I’ve ever seen her speechless. It was a good, though, because during the flight, I’d finally found the right words to say. I told her I understood why she felt the way she did, but she shouldn’t compare me to herself because it was preventing her from seeing that I’d become strong in a different way. I didn’t want her to be miserable for my sake, especially when I didn’t need her to take care of me anymore, so she should not worry about me so much and go and live her own life.”
“Was it enough to convince her?” Spesci asked.
The faintest hint of a smile played on Fluttershy’s lips. “Yes, but I think what really got her was that I wasn’t tired at all when she could barely stand.”
Megnii chuckled. “You two sound just like me and Cyclone.”
Fluttershy snapped out of her reverie and turned to him. “Cyclone?”
Megnii’s laughter was cut short, and he quickly jerked his head up to stare wide-eyed at the sky. “Oh, um… never mind!”
Fluttershy raised her chin and tried to see his face. “Is that a friend of yours?”
Megnii cast a pleading look to Spesci, who rested his head on a hoof and looked at him with false, innocent eyes.
Megnii gulped. “N-No, actually… Cyclone’s my twin brother.”
Fluttershy gasped. “You have a twin?! Fraternal, or Identical?”
“Oh.” Fluttershy slumped back down. “So he looks nothing like you.”
Megnii got up and stretched. “Not even close. You wouldn’t even know we’re brothers unless we told you.”
“Is he in the military, too?” Fluttershy asked.
“No,” Megnii replied casually. “This life wasn't for him. Besides, he'd already gotten a job at the weather factory.”
Fluttershy furrowed her eyebrows. “I didn't know Las Pegasus had a weather factory.”
Megnii gritted his teeth. “W-Well, ah…”
“It's not a very big one,” Spesci cut in. “The locals have it in case they need extra rain. The city's in the middle of a desert, after all.”
Fluttershy turned to him. “Do you have any family that work there?”
Spesci shook his head. “My father's a scientist who studies the weather patterns of the region. His lab is by the nearby mountains. My mother's retired, but she used to be a ranger. She and her crew were sent out to rescue ponies that got lost in the desert.”
Fluttershy’s lips parted. “That sounds dangerous. Does that happen a lot?”
“Unfortunately.” Spesci began to build a bridge over the moat of the sand castle. “Las Pegasus is very popular with tourists, and all it takes is a little liquid courage for somepony to think they can go off on their own. She usually got to them in time, but every so often...”
Fluttershy put a hoof to her mouth. “That's awful!”
Spesci exhaled out his nose. “Mom’s exact words are, ‘Everypony gets warned when they come in. There are signs everywhere. If you ignore all of that, you get what you deserve.’”
‘Get what you deserve?’ How could anypony say such a thing? Why wouldn’t you want to help ponies that get lost out in the desert?! A chill ran through Fluttershy that had nothing to do with the weather. “That's so… cold.”
Spesci sighed. “She wasn’t always like that. When she started, she was driven to save anypony who got lost out there. Over time though, watching the same mistake get made over and over caused her to lose faith in what she was doing. She slowly turned bitter and jaded, and the worst part of it was that she didn’t even realize it was happening... at least, not until somepony died in her arms and it didn’t even make her flinch.”
The bottom of Fluttershy’s stomach dropped out. Oh, my… to have to see anypony suffer like that, let alone his mother? How horrible!
A gentle light appeared in Fluttershy’s heart. It was pure and soothing, and it spread out from her core to make her feel as though she were floating on air. A dim pink light appeared in the depths of her pupils, and she got up and walked over to Spesci.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “That must have been awful for you... and your father, as well.”
Spesci suddenly jerked his head, as if he were trying to ward something off. He made a motion to get up, but Fluttershy was already standing in front of him. His eyes reluctantly crept up to meet hers, and as their gazes met, the faint pink light in her eyes became reflected in his.
“It was a wake-up call.” Spesci relaxed and spoke in a softer, more earnest tone. “Mom realized how detached she’d become, and anypony who’s become that numb to the loss of life like that isn’t cut out for public service. She turned in her badge, and helps Dad out with his research now.”
How awful, to do something for so long and to try so hard, only to have it drain you so much that you can’t do it anymore. And then how that must’ve in turn hurt his family, too. Fluttershy went over to his side and laid down beside him. “Do you think she’ll ever get better?”
Spesci didn’t seem to mind her closeness anymore. He absentmindedly poked the side of the castle, and made a hoof-shaped doorframe. “Even if she could, I doubt she’d want to. The numbness can be a blessing, you know. It’s better than drowning in your own sorrow, and prevents you from dwelling on things beyond your control.”
I don't believe that. You'll never heal if you just keep repressing your memories, and just shutting yourself off isn’t the answer, either. You need to face your demons at some point, and the longer you hold off on it, the worse it’ll be. I understand that ponies do what's necessary to continue on when you’re surrounded by terrible things, though. I just wish I knew how to help with that. Then maybe I could help him and his mother.
The light in Fluttershy’s eyes grew brighter, and spread out to fill her irises. She put a hoof on Spesci’s shoulder.
…or remembering those you’ve killed.
The light in her eyes died. Fluttershy recoiled and backed away from Spesci like he were made of something vile.
“What did you say?!”
For a split second, Spesci’s face contorted and his breath caught in his chest. He rolled away in an exaggerated fashion, and knocked over the sand castle as he looked all around. “Did something startle you?”
Fluttershy stared blankly at him. “I-I thought that… did you j-just say something about… k-killing ponies?”
Spesci’s eyes narrowed. “My mother never killed anypony. She lost her heart, not her work ethic. She saved more lives in her last year on the team than most others do in their entire career; it’s just that she couldn’t see the faces of those she saved anymore.”
What? I wasn’t talking about his mo—Fluttershy shook her head. Am I hearing things? I could’ve sworn he just said… his lips weren’t moving, though. Maybe it was just the wind? She waved a hoof. “I didn’t mean your mother, I thought I… never mind.”
Megnii, who’d been watching the entire scene from several feet away, wiped the sweat from his brow and cleared his throat. “S-So Fluttershy, is there anything to eat on this island besides leaves and grass?”
Fluttershy forced herself to focus on his question and turned to him. “Yes, actually. There are some gooseberry bushes here. Have you ever had those?”
Megnii pursed his lips. “I’ve never even heard of them.”
Fluttershy walked towards the woods. “You’re in for a treat, then!”
Megnii looked back at Spesci before following her. Spesci was rubbing his head, but he nodded and motioned for him to go ahead.
The three of them spent the next hour walking around the island, munching on the leaves of the various trees, picking out berries that were ripe on the bushes, and relaxing in the shade. Fluttershy brought them up to the cliffside of the island and showed them the sandbar below. They were considering going down, but after seeing the playful grin beginning to twitch on Spesci’s lips, they thought better of it. Afterwards, they headed back towards the beach at Fluttershy’s request, and they now walked together through the pathless wood.
Fluttershy turned to Megnii as a thought struck her. “You never finished telling me about your brother.”
Megnii had been kicking a rock along the ground, and he whiffed at the mention of his sibling. “N-No, I guess I didn’t. Well, where to start? Like I said, we’re twins, but since we’re fraternal, we’ve never looked alike. He was really small and weak when we were born, and most of his foalhood was spent at the doctor because he was sick all the time. It carried on into Flight School, and he got picked on a lot for it. I wasn’t gonna stand by and let that happen, though, so it led to a lot of trouble.”
I never really thought about what bullying must be like for boys. I suppose it’d be a little different. Fluttershy bit her lip. “I’m sorry.”
Not wanting to go back for the rock, Megnii settled for a stray stick instead. “I didn't want to fight, but some of our classmates were bullies that didn't back down. I didn't always win, but everypony learned real quick that I gave just as much as I got, so most of them stayed away.”
That really does sound like me and Rainbow… well, except for the fighting part. None of the boys wanted to hit a girl, even if the girl started the fights half the time. Fluttershy snagged some berries from a nearby bush as they walked. “I never understood why bullies have to single out the weak. Do you know why that is?”
“There isn’t any one reason,” Megnii replied. “Some ponies are just angry, and are looking for something to take it out on. Others are cruel because they’ve been cruelly treated themselves. And in rare occasions, you get ones that are just plain bad.” Megnii suddenly laughed. “Regardless, though, it wasn’t a problem for very long.”
Fluttershy cocked her head. “What do you mean?”
Megnii’s stick clattered just ahead of them as he spoke. “Cyclone was really weak when we were young, but in our freshman year, he grew out of it… literally. He suddenly shot up like a weed, and filled out like he'd gone to the gym every day. He’s twice my size now, and can whoop me with all four of his hooves tied.”
So his body kicked into overdrive to make up for lost time. Hehe, I’ll bet that was an interesting role reversal. Fluttershy munched on the berries as she watched him kick the stick. “So what’d you do?”
Megnii picked up the stick, set it at his side, and did a mock salute. “To quote Blair: ‘Old habits die hard.’ I couldn't help but feel like I still needed to watch out for him, so I stayed at his side, and made sure nopony gave him any guff.”
“Despite that it was like a chihuahua guarding a mastiff,” Spesci said to Fluttershy. “Seriously, I met his brother once. The dude's a giant.”
Megnii chuckled and threw the stick away. “Cyclone got a job at the weather factory after Flight School. I was about to apply too, but before I could, he sat me down and had a talk. It wasn’t easy for him since he’s never been one for sentimental stuff, but the gist of what he said was, ‘Bro, I’m grateful for what you did for me in the past, but you don’t need to look out fo rme anymore. I’ll be fine, so go live your own life.”
Familiar, indeed. “Did you listen?” Fluttershy asked.
“Not at first,” Megnii admitted. “It wasn’t because I didn’t believe him though, I just didn’t know what else to do with my life. I'd spent so long being the watchful ‘older brother’ that it was in my blood, and if Cykes didn’t need me anymore, then, well...I decided I’d find others that did. The military seemed like the best way to do that, so I joined up the next day.”
“Hooray for making life-altering decisions on a whim,” Spesci remarked wryly.
Megnii snorted. “I’ll admit I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it, but I don’t regret the decision. I believe that what we do is for the sake of protecting the things we love, and I haven’t lost sight of that.”
I never thought about it that way! I always thought that the military was just there for big scary ponies to go and fight because that’s what they liked to do. Well, there are probably ponies that join for that, but from what Megnii’s saying, maybe those ponies are in the minority.
They walked out from under the trees and back onto the beach. “What'd your family think?” Fluttershy asked.
Megnii cringed. “Mom and Dad weren't too keen on the idea, and it didn't help that it kinda did it out of the blue. They came around, though. Cykes wasn't surprised at all. In fact, when I told him, he just smiled and said, ‘I figured that’s what you’d do. You've always been a nice guy.'”
Spesci rolled his eyes. “A little too nice, perhaps.”
“Give it some time,” Megnii replied cryptically. “You might start to see things my way.”
Speci smirked. “I think I’m starting to.”
Fluttershy looked at the two guards as they laughed. She realized that she was enjoying their company, which was something she never thought would happen when she’d heard about this whole ordeal. She thought she’d get a pair of gruff, angry ponies that frowned all the time, not these nice, relaxed, friendly stallions that joked around like old friends. There was no hint of the darkness or menace she’d seen two weeks ago, and if she didn’t know better, she wouldn’t even think they were the same ponies.
Fluttershy felt a pang of guilt as she turned back to look at her wings. What was I so worried about? They didn’t make fun of me, and it’s my fault they stared because I hid them for so long. We’re all adults now, and I have to remember that this isn’t Flight School anymore.
Megnii turned to her. “I assume you wanted to come back to the beach so we can leave. What’s the plan? You said getting back wouldn't be a problem.”
Fluttershy gasped. Oh, no! I forgot to tell them, and he’ll be here any minute! She looked out at the calm waters, which showed no sign of disturbance or movement. “A friend of mine is coming to pick us up soon. We need to get into the air!”
“A friend?” Spesci echoed. “How's he going to get here?”
“He's going to carry us,” Fluttershy said in a rushed voice. “He’s a—”
“Carry?” Megii laughed. “What, is he a sea monster or something?”
The three of them stumbled as a deep, ominous rumbling came from just off the coast. Fluttershy spread her wings and quickly went up as high as she could.
“Get up here, quick!”
The rumbling increased, and the water began to ripple. The color drained from the two guards faces as a set of waves over twice their height sped towards the shore. They both jumped into the air just in time to watch the frothing walls of water submerge the entire beach.
Fluttershy winced as she saw Megnii and Spesci’s panicked expressions. “It’s okay!” she yelled over the noise. She pointed out at the disturbance in the lake. “It’s just my friend!”
Megnii was completely rigid, save for his wings, and he stared at the spot she‘d indicated. “What is that?!”
Fluttershy smiled as the waves grew even bigger. “It’s called Dragon Turtle Lake for a reason.”
A colossal turtle emerged from the depths. It had a wide, streamlined shell with jagged, blade-like protrusions on either side, and his long neck ended in a triangular head with a crest on top like a sail. His mouth was a jagged beak; toothless, but lined with serrated edges made for ripping and tearing. His flippers ended in grey, honed talons, and a long, spiny tail extended out from his back. He was over three hundred feet long from nose to tail, and almost half as wide.
The turtle glanced at the island, then looked up to the sky. He located the three ponies and stared at them with clear, ancient eyes.
Fluttershy clapped her hooves and flew out to the creature. She swooped out in front of its head, and hugged the very edge of his snout.
“Hello Master,” she said. “It's good to see you again.”
The Master of the Lake made a low, happy hum, almost inaudible to her ears. “Always have I felt the winds of change at your back, little one. It’s been less than a year since you last visited my shores, yet in that time, you've changed the world.”
Fluttershy went over to hover before his left eye. “You heard about the Elements?”
The Master nodded, which caused another set of waves to crash against the shore. “My ears go farther than you might think. You're to be commended for the part you played in restoring Princess Luna.”
The gentle warmth in Fluttershy’s heart flickered again as she remembered the glimpse of intense loneliness and blinding pain she’d seen on Nightmare Moon’s face. “She... just seemed so sad and lonely. When I saw her, I wanted to help her so much! She’d been alone for so long already, I knew I had to do something for her.”
“Such is the nature of the power you wie—” the Master stopped. He sniffed the air, then leaned his gargantuan head forward. “I sense that the Element of Kindness has left its mark on you. Are you aware of this?”
Fluttershy backed away so that she could see his entire head. “Maybe that’s what Twilight meant. She’s the Bearer of Magic, and she said that my friends and I are the only ones who can use Elements now.”
His eyes widened. “This Twilight didn’t say why?”
“That’s all Princess Celestia told her.” Fluttershy raised a hoof to her chin. “She seemed to accept it, but we’re all still a little confused. I think Twilight's trying to figure out more, but I haven’t asked her about it lately.”
The waves crashing against the shore ceased as The Master lowered his gaze to the water. After a minute, he looked back up at Fluttershy. “Celestia is good and wise. If she hasn't spoken more of this, I shall respect that.”
Fluttershy’s wings were starting to ache, and she flapped a little harder to stay hovering in place. “Are you saying she isn't telling us something? I was afraid to ask more.”
The Master raised a claw out of the water. “I admit I’m not well-versed in the specifics of the Elements of Harmony. All I know is that they’re ancient pieces of magic, and their power is tied to the balance of all things. Celestia didn’t have a… hoof, in their creation, but she knows more about their nature than most. It’s possible I’m mistaken.”
Fluttershy perched gratefully on one of his talons. “Will you tell me your thoughts, Master?”
A deep rumbling resounded through the air as the Master chuckled. “I don't want to sow the seeds of doubt. There are many possibilities, and my suspicions are just that, nothing more. You must always remember to trust and respect your elders, little one, and just as I am to you, Celestia is to me.”
The Master then raised his head to Megnii and Spesci, who hadn’t moved from their spot in the air. “I was under the impression your species only took one mate at a time. Do the ponies of the sea have different breeding customs?”
Fluttershy turned bright red. “It's not like that! They’re ponies in service of the Princess. She sent them and several others to protect me and my friends.”
The Master blinked. “From what?”
“She said somepony might try to hurt us as a way to get at herself or Luna.”
The Master huffed, and watched as Megnii and Spesci were blown slightly to the left a few seconds later. “Celestia isn’t the only one keeping watch over the state of the world. Gildsedale is at peace, and the beasts of the Great Southern Rainforest no longer stray from their lairs. The Zhevra Flatlands has been stable since Celestia created the Watusati four hundred years ago, and their greatest problem is whether or not railways will be allowed to traverse the Mamardhi. The Dromardians keep their ancient feud within their borders, Tarandus is silent, Drakkenridge is as divided as it has always been, and Antelese keeps to itself. The greatest threat to the world lies in the Changeling Wastes, but time has yet to reveal what Prin—Queen Chrysalis, will do now that Silverwing has passed. And as for Equestria, there hasn’t been so much an harbinger of anarchy within our borders in centuries, and there hasn’t been any inclination that anyone is going to threaten us.”
Fluttershy leaned forward. “Master...”
“I wonder...” The Master swam forward, and came directly underneath Megnii and Spesci. They jerked and became unbalanced in midair as he approached, but didn’t fly away. The Master squinted at them, and a green light appeared in his eyes. He stared unblinking for several seconds, but gave no indication of his thoughts.
“You say these two were sent by Celestia?” He finally said.
Fluttershy nodded. “Twilight showed us a letter written by Princess Luna herself asking us to agree to them being here.”
The Master was silent for a long time. “I see... well then, I suppose I shouldn't keep you waiting any longer. You’ve a long flight back to the Equius Valley, after all. Tell them to fly onto my back, and I’ll take all of you to shore.”
“Oh… um, okay.” Fluttershy left the Master’s claw, flew onto his back, and waved at Megnii and Spesci.
“Come on down!”
It took a few more moments of encouragement and reassurance that they weren’t going to be devoured, crushed, or drowned, but they finally obeyed. The Master began to move upon feeling their weight, and headed out into the lake towards the shore.
Spesci folded his wings and walked over to Fluttershy, who was adjusting her feathers.
“Why was he staring at us?” Spesci asked in a low voice. “I saw that his eyes were glowing. Was he casting a spell or something?”
Fluttershy cleared her throat. “He said he was curious about something.”
Spesci suppressed a nervous twitch. “Did he say what?”
Fluttershy’s eyes flickered to the Master’s head. “No, he didn't.”
The minutes dragged by as the Master continued on at a leisurely pace towards the shore. Fluttershy sat to the side and watched the Master’s giant claw as it rose and fell out of the water. Megnii was sitting beside her, and craned his head over the side, shuddering as he saw the ominous foaming waters twenty feet below.
“This was fun,” Megnii said. “Aside from getting the horseapples scared out of us by your friend here. Do you travel to other places often?”
Fluttershy adjusted her mane so that she could see him. “I normally travel all around the Equius Valley. I have animal friends all over that I check up with to see how they’re doing.”
Spesci walked up from behind them and sat down. “Then why haven’t you gone to see them?”
Fluttershy looked behind them to watch the Master’s tail maneuver through the waters like a rudder. “Because of what happened in the fog. I’ve been afraid something like that will happen again.”
“That was just an innocent mistake,” Megnii insisted. “Can’t you explain who we are to your animal friends?”
Fluttershy shook her head. “Some of them are territorial, and only let me in because they know my scent. You’d have to wait on the fringe, and even if I vouch for you, they might attack anyway because they don’t like ponies aside from me. I’ve tried to stay around the cottage so that you and everypony else would be safe, but it wound up driving me stir-crazy! That’s why I had to get out.”
“You shouldn’t be disrupting your life trying to make our jobs easier.” Spesci wiggled a leg that was starting to get a cramp. “That’s actually a contradiction of our orders.”
Fluttershy’s breath caught in her chest. “It is?”
Megnii nodded. “We're not supposed to interfere with your activities, unless you ask. If you keep going out of your way like this, we’ll get in trouble.”
Fluttershy gritted her teeth and put her hooves on her head. Even by doing nothing I mess up! I really can't do anything right! Living my life normally will put everypony in danger, but if I do nothing, my animal friends won’t get the care they need, and Megnii and Spesci will get in trouble! I can’t stay inside anymore like I have been! I want to help others with their burdens, not become one myself! I don’t know what to do!
“I JUST WANT TO HELP EVERYPONY!” Fluttershy closed her eyes and slammed her hooves on the Master’s back.
The Element of Kindness awoke with a flash. It surged forth and filled her body with a gentle warmth, and her Aura of Kindness manifested as a thickness in the air that emanated from her entire body. Megnii and Spesci jolted as the top layer of their mental defenses were brushed away, and Fluttershy suddenly heard whispered voices in her mind that weren’t her own.
Did Grovi’s shield just break?! Why would it—oh, that’s not good…
So she IS in stage two! This isn’t good, we aren’t ready for this!
What’s happening to you, child?!
Fluttershy opened her eyes, which were half-filled with shining pink light. Megnii and Spesci winced as she looked at them.
“What’s going on?!” she demanded in an echoing voice. “Why am I hearing your voices in my head?!”
Megnii facehooved. Blair’s gonna kill us.
We have to calm her down before she hurts herself! Spesci rushed towards her.
Fluttershy backed away from him, and her back hooves scraped the air as she realized she was on the edge of the Master’s shell. She forgot herself in her panic, and her wings snapped to her sides.
“Stay away!” she said in a shrill yelp.
The Element of Kindness flared even stronger in response. Fluttershy reared, and she felt a sharp throbbing in her head. The light in her eyes shone like lanterns on a moonless night, and then slowly began to creep out to completely fill her eyes.
Fluttershy’s voice was like a harmonious choir as she spread her wings and screamed to the sky.
“WHAT’S GOING ON?!”
Sleep, little one.
The Element of Kindness flickered and went dormant again. Fluttershy collapsed forward onto the Master’s shell, and then curled into a ball, fast asleep.
There was a silence, interrupted only by Fluttershy’s peaceful snoring. Megnii and Spesci stared open-mouthed at her unconscious form, not even noticing that The Master had stopped swimming. They did notice, however, when he tilted his head back to them, and spoke in the language of ponies.
“Come before me, beings of magic.”
Megnii and Spesci jerked at the address. They looked at each other for a moment, but then did as they were asked. Their wings twitched as they hovered before the Master’s gargantuan, emerald eyes, but they gave no other indication of their feelings.
“Do I need to enlighten you of your situation?” the Master asked in a calm, neutral tone.
Spesci, despite the circumstances, couldn’t help but laugh. “Alone with a giant, angry monster in the heart of his realm, with no means of escape and a lot of explaining to do? I think we've got the gist.”
“You’re correct in all your assessments but one.” the Master raised his chin. “I'm not angry. I've known Celestia long enough to feel her influence in this. I also know her well enough to recognize her spellwork in you two, even if she did a good job hiding it this time. I don’t like it when she hides things from her own subjects and performs actions under false pretense, but I also know that she only does it in the most delicate of situations.”
The Master narrowed his eyes. “Such as when lives hang in the balance.”
Megnii hung his head. “Great One, you called us beings of magic. Do you know what we are?”
The Master studied them for a moment and clicked his beak. “You look to be constructs inhabiting a living vessel, although I've never seen anything as advanced as this. I don't particularly care for the specifics.”
Spesci shrugged. “It’s a long story, anyway.”
“I imagine so.” The Master focused on Spesci. “Is your host the one in peril?”
Spesci nodded. “His name is Horizon. The magic that binds us to him is about to fail, and if it does, he’ll die, and we’ll cease to be.”
“And what does this have to do with Fluttershy?”
Megnii raised his head. “We need her help. Celestia told us that the Elements of Harmony are the only thing that might restore our bond.”
The Master blinked. “Might?”
Both of the guard’s expressions turned somber. “Or... it’ll just restore Horizon to his original state,” Spesci said. “If that happens, we’ll be destroyed."
“Who or what will make that decision?” The Master asked.
“The Elements themselves.” Megnii motioned to Fluttershy. “We’ve been told that their power and function is determined by the natural balance of the world. The only limitation is that they can’t kill. Problem is, not even Celestia can tell if we’re alive.”
The Master’s eyes once again became filled with emerald light, and Megnii and Spesci felt a tingling that swept across them from nose to tail. It ceased, and the Master made a derisive snort. “I can’t, either. I sense life in both of you, but it’s faint, and incomplete. I assume that’s your host? “
Megni bit his lip. “Yeah. He… hasn’t been whole since the accident. He’ll be saved regardless of what the Elements decide, though.”
The Master lowered his head so that his chin was in the water. “That poses another question, though. If you need Fluttershy's help, why did Celestia send you to guard her?”
“Not guard,” Spesci corrected. “Watch.”
“Watch for what?”
Spesci gulped. “I think you already know.”
The Master looked back at Fluttershy. She was still fast asleep with her head tucked underneath a wing. “That surge... it didn’t just leave its mark, did it? The Element of Kindness dwells within her now.”
Spesci looked out at the waves. “We’re under orders. If you want to know more, you'll have to contact Her Majesty.”
“I might do just that,” the Master said with a short laugh. “It seems more has happened than I thought.”
“I'm sorry we can't tell you anything else,” Megnii said.
“Underlings can't be blamed for doing what they're told,” the Master replied. “Answer me this, though. Is Fluttershy truly in any danger?”
Megnii straightened. “Only from herself. As you might have guessed, this wasn’t supposed to happen. I promise you we're doing everything we can to keep her safe.”
A deep, amused sound echoed through the cold air. “It seems she's affected you rather strongly. Very well, I’ll practice what I preach. Celestia hasn't steered the country wrong in a millennium, and she's had plenty opportunity for mistakes. If she hasn't told Fluttershy of what she's become, then I'll assume there's a good reason.”
Spesci shook his head. “It's too late. We're going to have to explain it now, and then she'll tell the others. None of them are supposed to know yet.”
“Then I shall make her forget.” There was a swirling sound, and a green haze surrounded Fluttershy that hovered above her head. It narrowed into a thin trail, and entered one ear before exiting the other. A second later, it dissipated into the air.
“There,” the Master said. “I've modified her memory so that she thinks she fell asleep on the way back to shore.”
Both Megnii and Spesci lowered their heads. “Thank you, Great One.”
The Master raised his chin. “I don't do this lightly. You must take great care from now on.”
Megnii cringed. “Her power is still growing. We've been keeping our distance and had mental shields cast on us so that we wouldn’t trigger her Telepathy, but she just shattered them without even trying. If we upset her again, she'll hear more than our surface thoughts.”
“I can provide you with a stronger shield than the one you had.” The Master focused on both of them. “You’ll need it if you’re to be in close proximity to her at all times.”
The green haze reappeared. It surrounded both Megnii and Spesci, then entered their ears just as it had Fluttershy’s. This time though, it didn’t come back out, and the guards twitched as it felt like a hard thick shell formed around their brains.
“We’re in your debt even more, it seems.” Spesci relaxed as the magic took hold. “I'm just glad Fluttershy’s not a bad pony. Her powers have the potential to do terrible things... especially the one she hasn’t developed yet.”
Megnii shuddered in agreement.
“Such things are contradictory to her nature,” the Master replied. “Kindness is the act of being considerate and helpful to others. In order to do so, one must know the right thing to say, and how they can help. In regards to your debt, I’ll find a way to have you repay me. And if the Elements do indeed destroy you, then I’ll simply collect from your host.”
Fluttershy shifted and muttered something in her sleep.
“She’ll wake soon,” the Master said. “Get on my back.”
Megnii and Spesci obeyed, and the Master began to swim forward again. The waters sped past them at a faster rate, and the shore became visible a few minutes later.
“Know this, constructs,” the Master said over his shoulder. “I trust Celestia, and so in turn I’ll trust you, but the one whom you ‘guard’ is precious to me. I keep close watch on those I care for, and my influence isn’t limited to this lake. No matter whether she walks the land, soars in the sky, or swims in the sea, Fluttershy is never alone.”
The Master turned back to them with the cold, focused eyes of a predator.
“And neither are you.”
“Oww…” Fluttershy moaned as she poked her head out from her wing. “Master, your shell is really hard. I think I hit my head a few times.”
“My apologies, little one. It’s been a while since I’ve carried any creatures, and I’m out of practice with smooth swimming.”
Fluttershy jumped as she saw the approaching shore. “Wow, we’re almost back already? I must've been more tired than I thought!”
Spesci helped her to her hooves. “It's fine. There's not much to do while your friend ferries us across, so we figured we'd just let you sleep.”
Fluttershy rubbed her head and stretched. “Were you talking about something when I drifted off?”
“Not to you,” Spesci said. “I was discussing possible alibis with Megnii for how we could be in plain sight instead of shadowing you. That way, we wouldn't have a misunderstanding like we did before.”
Fluttershy nodded. “That would help a lot. Did you come up with anything?”
Megnii scratched his cheek. “We could say we’re here to learn Sylvan so that we can help you take care of the local animals.”
Spesci shook his head. “Not much chance of that. It’s not something that can be learned.”
“Not through normal means, anyway.”
Fluttershy looked over. “Master?”
“If it will help you, I can imbue them with the ability to hear the Voice of Nature for a time.”
Fluttershy’s jaw dropped. “You can really do that?! For how long?”
“Three months,” the Master said. “If they’re still with you after that, they’ll need to return so I can renew the spell.”
Fluttershy squeed and danced in place. “Oh, this is so exciting! I can introduce them to all my friends, and they can help me when I go outside of Ponyville, and I can say they're learning from me, and I won't have to worry because the animals will see that they can talk to them too and—“
All three of them stumbled as the Master shook with laughter. “Calm yourself. I'm happy to help you, but are you sure you wish to share your gift so freely?”
Fluttershy smiled. “I've always wished that there was somepony else that could do what I can! This is like a dream come true for me!”
“Very well. Tell them of my offer.”
Fluttershy turned back to Megnii and Spesci, who were staring at her quizzically. “Master says he can cast a spell on you that'll let you understand the animals like I can! Do you want him to do it?”
They both blinked several times. “Sure!” Megnii said simply. “It'd certainly make things easier for everypony.”
There was a watery sensation in the back of their heads and inside their ears as the Master cast the spell. Megnii and Spesci were unsure it’d worked at first, but then they were scared out of their wits when a passing otter chittered a greeting to them. They spent the remaining time coming up with an explanation to give to everypony.
Ten minutes later, the Master halted before the shore. The three of them disembarked, and said their farewells. The Master then turned and dove back into the deeps, his long spiny tail the last to disappear with a mighty splash. Fluttershy then turned to Megnii and Spesci, and saw that they were staring wide-eyed at a nearby flock of seagulls on the beach. The loud cacophony of cawing was like a group of loud children playing and screaming during recess.
“There's so many...” Spesci murmured.
Megnii rubbed his ear and turned to Fluttershy. “How do you deal with this all the time?!”
Fluttershy giggled and walked off the beach, heading for a nearby hill she used for takeoff. “Same way you tune out voices anywhere else. You'll get used to it.”