An exhausted grumble escaped Applejack’s lips as she turned herself over, trying to get comfortable. The couch wasn’t exactly the most relaxed place for her to sleep - the ground where she took her nap earlier that day had been a better spot. Ah feel like this darned thing is gonna eat me... is Fluttershy’s bed this darned soft? How can anypony sleep in somethin’ like this!?
She slowly opened her eyes and tilted her head away from the back of the couch, and out towards the room. In the night’s black, she couldn’t make anything out except for vague shapes, so she focused on Fluttershy’s bed. After about a minute, she started to see more, the light from the moon quickly letting her eyes adjust to the darkness. Nothing was out of place; Fluttershy was still breathing quietly in her bed, the covers moving up and down ever so slightly in a constant, untroubled rhythm. Ah’m glad she’s safe... though ah bet anythin’ could wake me up, sleepin’ on this stupid couch...
Applejack shook her head and rolled over onto her back, focusing on what was a featureless ceiling in the dark of the night. Oh, why are ya so ungrateful? It ain’t like she owes ya anything; yer the one that almost... got her... killed.
The thought made a lump in her throat, but the feeling passed quickly. Guess this is why ah don’t like sleepover’s much.
Even as a filly, she never did more than spend afternoons with her friends; staying entire nights was something she had done once, and she hated it ever since. She got no sleep, felt groggy all of the next day, and ended up not being able to do anything the next morning. Of course, it had
been fun, but she barely felt alive the next day. That was no way for a farmer to feel, so she tried to avoid sleepovers as much as possible, and it worked well enough... until Twilight came to Ponyville.
The memories made her giggle, breaking the thin sheet of silence that had been laid over the night. The second sleepover of mah life: spendin’ the night with two friends ah barely know, and we spent all night arguin’ and bein’ mad at each other. Least it ended up bein’ fun; we slept a bit so it wasn’t all bad... though Twilight’s guest bed ain’t the best ah ever been in...
She yawned. Aw hay, ah’m not gonna get any sleep rememberin’ everythin’. Might as well get up for a little bit. Ah feel kinda thirsty...
with that thought, she pulled herself off of the couch, steadying herself on her four hooves. She could barely see still, yet she knew there wasn’t anything on the way from where she had slept to the door, so she made the trip without a second thought.
The stairs were another story; there might be animals that had taken to sleeping there, or there might be nocturnal animals that were there, just waiting to be stepped on. Applejack made her way down the stairs, careful with every falling hoof to not plant it on anything that was of the living. Even in the dark, she could make out most of the stairs and the living room, as well as the vague outlines of animals sleeping in the night. She kept quiet as she descended, and in just another minute, she was down at ground level. Making her way to the kitchen, she made sure to stay as quiet as possible, for all the animals, and especially Fluttershy. She took down a glass and filled it with tap water, taking several swigs and filling it again, not entirely realizing how thirsty she had been until then. Finally done getting her fill, she filled the glass to the brim and, with it held firmly in her mouth, she flipped off the light switch and walked back to the stairs, confidence in her step, knowing that the way was clear. She ascended the stairs and entered into Fluttershy’s room without sound, closing the door behind her.
She surveyed the surroundings again. Nothing had changed; the room appeared as if she had never left. She moved as soundlessly as she could to the couch that was her bed, and took another swig of water before setting it on an end table near the pillow, and just a second later, her head landed on the same pillow. She lay atop her blanket on her make-shift cot, staring into the ceiling. Ah gotta have a plan.
She got to her haunches and let her hind legs dangle over the side of the couch, and took the glass of water in both of her hooves to take another drink. First things first: stay with Fluttershy in the mornin’, then go find somepony else to watch her. If somepony wants to hurt her, they might just come back soon as ah’m gone. Ah’d ask Dash but that’s a bad idea right now... Pinkie’s outta the question... ah guess that leaves Twilight or Rarity. Rarity should be able to do it; Fluttershy’s her best friend... and ah’m pretty sure ah’ve seen her practicin’ with a bow and arrow before... So after ah deal with that... it’s Pinkie. Maybe she’ll be feelin’ better... or maybe she’ll be broodin’ again. There’s so much wrong with her that ah’m not sure what to say or do... comfort her? Argue with her? Bring her around and get her to talk with everypony else? And what the hay was it that Mrs. Cake told me? That her sister died last year? What if she really had to deal with that all alone? But ah can’t just ask her about it. That might hurt even more... Then there’s somepony tryin’ to take the Elements of Harmony from us. That pony... they can make us all emotional, and we don’t remember a lick of it. They’ve made Dash and me get pretty mad but... but has she done it to anypony else? Pinkie still seemed like Pinkie... somehow. When all this is goin’ down and that pony named Aile comes around, some kinda travelin’ magician, and she up and tells me, “You will be the first to fall,” that’s gotta mean she’s connected somehow! For somepony to take our elements of harmony, Aile has to make us act like the opposites of the elements, right? Which means we gotta be alive, and not dead. She attacked Fluttershy and almost killed her... so ah guess that means one thin’: somepony else is doin’ this.
The conclusion was far from comforting; it only meant that two unicorns were out to get her and her group of friends, and one of them was willing to use force and extreme measures to get results immediately. Ah know who she is... ah can get her arrested, or somethin’. Ah can stop her from doin’ anything else to hurt us. So who’s the other one doin’ this to us?
A burst of blue light filled the room for a split second, so quick that the farmer’s pupils couldn’t even respond. It broke her train of thought, and by instinct she bolted upright to attention. She saw something new in the room: a unicorn at the foot of Fluttershy’s bed, carefully examining the still sleeping pegasus. Applejack had a good idea who it was.
She got off the couch and moved behind the unicorn without making a sound, intending to at least observe if she was going to do anything to the pegasus.
“This... this is for Equestria...” Applejack heard the mysterious pony speak. The intruder had whispered into the air, and the farmer was unsure if she was talking to herself, or to Fluttershy, or even to Applejack. “Just know... if there wasn’t another way, I wouldn’t be doing this...” Applejack then saw the unicorn raise her right hoof, and saw the knife in her grip, ready to strike down on the still sleeping pegasus.
Applejack didn’t think, she only reacted. She leapt – from behind the magician and to her side – in a single bound. She landed on her fore-hooves and bucked the unicorn as hard as she could. There was a resounding crack as her hooves connected with the unicorn’s shoulder and foreleg, and she was sent tumbling into the far wall. Taking the time earned by knocking the intruder away, Applejack ran to the entrance of the bedroom and flipped on the light switch.
The world lit up, both Applejack and the unicorn closing their eyes and raising hooves to block the light that threatened to temporarily blind them. Applejack moved to Fluttershy’s side, nudging her and talking to her. “Fluttershy! Fluttershy, get up!” She yelled, urgency more than apparent in her voice.
The caretaker stirred, turning over to face the farmer. “A-Applejack? What time is it...”
“It’s still night, but look.” She pointed with a hoof. Fluttershy turned her head, and squealed in sudden fear.
“That’s her!” Fluttershy called out, jumping out of bed and cowering behind the farmer in one swift motion. “She’s the one who attacked me!”
The unicorn known as Aile lay in a heap at the opposite side of the room. She hit the wall back first, and was just starting to come around after the unexpected attack. She yelped as she accidentally put down her right foreleg, snapping it back up from obvious pain. She brought it against her chest, cradling it with her left hoof. Did ah break her leg or somethin’? Ah did hit her pretty hard...
“Hey!” Applejack called out, “what the hell do ya think yer doin’?”
Aile looked up from her right leg towards the farmer, and said, plain annoyance in her voice, “How... it’s you,” she murmured, pain hinted in her voice, “When did you get here?”
Applejack ignored her question, not at all satisfied with the answer, and turned to the cowering pegasus behind her. “Fluttershy, go downstairs and get some rope.”
“R-Rope?” Fluttershy didn’t move, repeating the word with confusion.
“We’re gonna make sure she can’t go anywhere.”
Aile coughed then winced in pain. She was tied up against one of Fluttershy’s dining table chairs on the ground floor of the house. With a pained scowl on her face, she looked at the two mares at the opposite of her. Fluttershy was shaking in fear, and Applejack was trying to think of how to deal with the intruder. Ah could just go get Colgate... ah’m sure she’d know what to do, bein’ the only police officer in town... do we have a jail even? Crime ain’t common at all in Ponyville...
Applejack was brought out of her thoughts by Aile, who looked to the farmer and asked, “So... are you going to turn me in?” Ah would prefer to beat ya to a pulp... but ah need to know some stuff first.
“Ah’d rather figure out what yer doin’.”
“What are you, stupid? I’m trying to kill Fluttershy,” Aile answered, more annoyed than anything else.
“And why do ya wanna do that?”
“Because I need to.”
“See, that’s what confuses me about this whole mess. What ya said to me the night ya gave yer performance... ‘the first to fall...’ what was that all about?”
“Oh.” Aile said, relieved. “I said that to you because if you weren’t thinking about it, you probably wouldn’t have your Element of Harmony right now.”
The fact that Aile knew about the Elements of Harmony and the danger the farmer and her friends were in only made her more suspicious in Applejack’s eyes. “So... were ya tryin’ to take it?”
Aile looked at the farmer, as if baffled by her very comment. “What kind of question is that?! If I was after them, why would I tell you? Heck, why would I be attacking you?” She shook her head, her best replacement for what Applejack gathered would have been a facehoof. “No, I’m trying to prevent somepony else from taking them!”
Fluttershy raised a hoof, stopping Aile from continuing. She turned to Applejack and, in a voice quiet enough that Aile couldn’t hear, said, “We haven’t told anypony else about this, right? How does she know somepony’s trying to take the Elements?”
“Maybe she’s workin’ with them Fluttershy,” Applejack said, “maybe it’s her takin’ them, or maybe she’s really tryin’ to stop them. That’s why ah’m interrogatin’ her.” She turned to the yellow pegasus and asked, “are ya all right, though?”
“She’s the pony that attacked ya, right? Are... are ya okay with her bein’ right there?”
Fluttershy looked over to the dark unicorn, and Applejack followed her gaze. Aile was examining the room critically, her head going back and forth between various points with sudden, precise movements, like a bird.
The caretaker nodded. “I-I’m okay... I don’t think she wants to hurt me again.”
“What makes ya say that?” Applejack tilted her head in curiosity.
“Well... you know, she can
use her magic to get out of that chair, right?” Fluttershy rubbed her forehead with a hoof, in reference to Aile’s horn. “Or attack me? But she hasn’t. I think she... wants to talk.”
“She don’t sound like it,” Applejack huffed, “ah bet she’d try to hurt ya the second she gets free.”
Fluttershy didn’t answer, turning half-way to look at the intruder. Applejack examined the unicorn’s face and found the same uninterested expression looking back at her captors. “Okay,” started Applejack, “so ya were tryin’ to protect our Elements from bein’ taken?”
“That’s right.” Aile answered.
“So why do ya have to attack us? Why can’t ya help us find whoever is doin’ this?”
“I’ve never been able to find out who’s doing it,” Aile answered. “Even with my abilities, I can’t figure out who they are.”
“So... ya’ve searched for them in Ponyville?” Applejack asked.
Aile paused, then answered, “Just about. And failing that, I had to take matters into my own hooves.”
“So ya tried to kill one of us!?” Applejack yelled. “Fluttershy is one of mah best friends, yer lucky that ah haven’t-“
“If even one of your Elements of Harmony is taken, you doom all of Equestria!” Ailed yelled in response. “I can’t take that risk! So I... I had to do something!”
“What do ya mean, ‘doom all of Equestria?’” Applejack asked, unconvinced of the intruder’s motives.
Aile grunted. “If one of your Elements of Harmony is taken... Equestria is lost. I’ve seen the future-“
“Oh, not you too!” Applejack interrupted the unicorn with a frustrated yell. “First Pinkie gets these dumb visions, now you?”
Aile’s eyes went wide. “Pinkie Pie? Visions? What are you talking about?”
Fluttershy also looked to Applejack in confusion, and she explained. “Pinke got some kind of necklace, and ever since she got it, she gets these terrible visions of the future where... bad things happen to her.”
“That... I need to see that necklace.” Aile’s expression was stern.
The change in tone of their guest piqued Applejack’s curiosity. “What? Why?”
“If those visions... and thereby that necklace... are making Pinkie so upset, then whoever gave it to her probably is the one wanting to take the elements. I can track who gave it to her with a spell I know. Please... just... you have to get it for me!”
“Hold on now,” Applejack said, “Now yer willin’ to help us without hurtin’ us? How can ah trust ya?”
“If I find that pony, then we don’t have to worry about... this. None of this. It’ll be over, Applejack,” Aile explained. After pausing for a few seconds, she looked down in shame and started again. “Look... I’m... I’m just...” She paused again.
“I don’t know any other way to help!” Her frustation was more to herself than at Applejack. “Will you please listen to what I have to say?”
Applejack sighed. “Fine.”
Aile sighed in relief. “Thank you... okay... how do I start this... have you seen my cutie mark?”
“Ah got a glimpse of it while we were draggin’ ya down here. Some kind of funky eye, right?”
“Yes, it’s an eye you commonly see on Tarot cards. You know, fortune telling stuff. I got my cutie mark when I found my special talent: Scrying.”
“No, Scrying,” Fluttershy corrected, finally speaking up after being silent for so long. “It’s, uh, a kind of magic that lets you see visions of the past, future, or present, of... well, as far as I can tell, anything. I get the feeling Twilight wouldn’t believe in it though... she thinks it’s the same kind of magic as curses, I think.” Why does Fluttershy even know about that kinda stuff?
Before Applejack could respond, Aile continued her explanation. “That’s right. That’s why I was so surprised when Applejack kicked me upstairs... I had looked into the room already, and saw nopony but Fluttershy.”
“Ah don’t buy it,” Applejack said suddenly. “If ya never looked in the room, then ya still woulda been surprised by me. Ya woulda never seen me.”
“Hmm... that’s true...” Aile looked up in thought. “Okay, so I can’t prove it, but please! All I have to do is see that necklace! I mean, it’s only causing her trouble, right? Just bring it to me, and we can get this all sorted out. I can scry where it’s been and who had it before. Then we’ll know what’s going on!” Her voice seemed more hopeful for some reason.
“Well, sorry, but ah ain’t about to take somethin’ of Pinkie’s and give it to you.” Applejack said, a finality hangin’ in the air. “’Specially when ah still don’t trust ya neither.”
Aile sighed. “Then if you won’t help me, I’ll go find somepony who will.” She then glared at Fluttershy, who almost fell back out of shock. “Fluttershy... I want to say you’re safe after this. That we can... stop whoever’s doing this. But if things go wrong... just know that I won’t hesitate to try again, if I truly need to.”
Applejack slammed her hoof on table and yelled, “You do not get to threaten my-“ before she could finish, Aile’s horn lit up, and she teleported faster than either pony could react. The ropes that were around her fell to the floor in a heap. The chair was intact, the teleport clearly only bringing herself.
Applejack looked to Fluttershy, who was looking pale, her eyes wide. Her breathing was quiet, but even Applejack could hear how fast it was. “Fluttershy?”
“Wh-what should we do, Applejack? She really is... still after me...”
“Ah think we should get some rest. It’s still a few hours ‘till sun up.”
Fluttershy nodded, and the two headed back up to the bedroom, Applejack leading the way. The farmer opened the door, peered inside, and after finding nothing, she let Fluttershy inside. The pegasus got into bed, and soon afterwards, when Applejack was sure she had fallen asleep, she walked over to the couch and laid herself down as well, hoping to get some meager rest. Ah just don’t get it... what could be causin’ her so much trouble that she’s willin’ to kill an innocent pony like Fluttershy?
“A-Applejack, where are we going!?” Fluttershy asked while trying to keep up with the Farmer’s fast walking pace.
“To see Twilight,” she answered.
“Because she’ll know what to do.”
The two were walking towards Ponyville, away from Fluttershy’s cottage. It was several hours after the attack, already late in the morning. The two mares made sure to attend to all the animals, and told them that somepony else would be coming by to take care of them, and that Fluttershy might be gone for a few days.
For the caretaker’s safety, Applejack decided two things: Firstly, that if Fluttershy was living that far away from the town, she would be in grave danger. The second thing was that no matter where she was, she would need somepony to watch her, which would be easier to do if she was in town.
Fluttershy seemed stunned. “Wh-What to do? Why don’t we just try and find Aile and-“
Applejack interrupted the pegasus, dismissive of her worries. “Ah get the feelin’ she don’t want to talk anymore, at least not to us.”
“I-I was gonna say... take her to the police...”
“Ah still wanna see Twilight first.”
Fluttershy replied with her own firmness. “But why?”
“Ah wanna ask her about that cryin’ thin’.”
“You mean Scrying...”
“Why do you wanna know about that?”
Applejack stopped, noticing that the Ponyville library had just come into view. She turned around to her friend. “Fluttershy, how much have ya thought about what Aile said?”
Fluttershy stopped a few feet back behind the farmer and answered, “Well, I haven’t really been thinking about it... I was more scared of what she said just before she teleported...”
Applejack sighed. Fluttershy could see the worry on her face. “Look... ah don’t... ah don’t know if anythin’ she’s said’s true but... even ah can see that she isn’t some psycho-murderer or somethin’. She really believes that killin’ a pony like you will fix somethin’...”
“And maybe she’s just plain crazy... but what if there’s some truth to what she thinks is goin’ on?”
Fluttershy swallowed some of her nervousness. “W-What will you do if... if Twilight says... it’s possible?”
“Then... maybe we’ll talk to Aile again and listen to everythin’ she says... but... but ah can’t think straight right now. So ah wanna talk to Twilight, okay?”
“S-Sure Applejack. That’s... that’s okay. Twilight always knows what to do.”
Applejack nodded slowly, and continued walking towards Ponyville once again. Right, Twilight always knows what to do... unlike me.
Applejack knocked in the front door of the Ponyville library. With Fluttershy next to her, looking as stressed as Applejack might have expected, they waited. Ah don’t know what to do Twilight... please say ya’ve found somethin’... anythin’...
Twilight opened the door after an anxious minute of waiting. Applejack figured she was sleeping, as her hair was disheveled. “Oh, hi Apple- Ooooh dear,” she started to greet, her eyes going wide as she noticed Fluttershy. “Why, uh, hello there girls! Fluttershy and Applejack, ahahaha... what can I do for you?” Well... ah sure didn’t expect her to be nervous...
“We need to talk Twilight.”
“Right, talking! Right, we can do that... uhm...” she looked around, her gaze going to and fro faster than Applejack could follow.
“It’s okay Twilight, let them in,” called a voice from inside. Twilight looked behind her, nodded after a few seconds, and then looked back to her two friends at the door.
“Promise you girls won’t freak out,” she asked, looking them both straight in the eye. She’s definitely serious...
Fluttershy seemed more worried for the librarian. “Uhm... is something the matter, Twilight?”
“Don’t dodge the question,” she replied quickly. “I’m going to let you in. Just promise you won’t freak out, all right?”
“I-I’ll try not to... but, uhm, is everything okay? You look a little worried.”
“Yes, yes it is. And now that you’re here... I am sort of worried.” The unicorn stepped back from the door, letting in her two friends.
Applejack took a look around the library. Books were scattered about as usual. Equipment for what the farmer guessed were some kind of experiments, were strewn about on one table closer to the front door. There wasn’t anything else that was noticeable about the room, except who was occupying it.
“Hello, Applejack,” said Aile, who was sitting at a table in the dead center of the library. She took a sip from her glass, and set it down on the table.
Applejack’s jaw dropped. “A-Aile!?”
Fluttershy cried out in fear, recognizing who was in the room instantly. She jumped behind the farmer, shaking. Twilight walked past the two, nodding to herself. “That went... a lot better than I thought it would.” She walked until she was about halfway between her two friends and the black furred unicorn. “Okay, you both know Aile already and-“
“Of course we know her! She tried to kill Fluttershy!” Applejack yelled in anger.
Twilight nodded. “Yes, right, she told me about last night-“
“It w-wasn’t just last night... it was yesterday...” Fluttershy mumbled. Applejack moved to her side, nodding to the pegasus to reassure her. “Aile... d-did you t-tell her what you r-really did?” Every word stumbled out of her mouth in a heap, but she was understandable.
Twilight turned to Aile. “What did you do before last night?”
She sighed, putting down her cup after taking yet another sip. “I... I did try to murder Fluttershy... yesterday afternoon.”
” Twilight yelled, her horn already starting to alight with magic.
Applejack noticed Aile’s face grow pale. “N-No, wait, I can expl- ah!” Her body was quickly enveloped in a purple glow, lifted and thrown towards Twilight. The indigo unicorn stopped Aile’s movement just a few inches from her own face, as if she had slammed into an invisible wall. The student’s face was angry, and the magician’s frozen in fear.
“P-P-Please, I-I made a mistake!” Aile was pleading. Applejack could hardly believe how fiercely Twilight reacted, and was frozen on the spot.
“You’ve been lying to me all morning!” Twilight yelled, voice full of rage. “Who knows what else you might have done and didn’t tell me about!”
“I-I promise, I’ll explain everything, please! Just let me down!” Without warning, she fell to the ground. She landed on her stomach with a thud, coughing from the force of the impact.
Fluttershy ran past Applejack and up to Aile, looking her over. “A-Are you okay?”
“Fluttershy!” Twilight pulled her back with a tug on her tail. “What are you doing? She wants to kill you!”
Fluttershy shook her head. “She was just... confused... I’m sure she didn’t really mean what she did.”
Aile kept her gaze away from the shy pegasus, refusing her help as she got to all... three of her hooves. She was still keeping off of her right foreleg. “You know I really do want to kill you, right? Why are you helping me?“
“Y-You’re injured! When Applejack kicked you, I heard-“
“I’m trying to kill you!” Aile yelled, wincing even as she walked back to the table, keeping her injured leg off of the ground. “Don’t worry about your enemies... I’ve had worse anyway...”
“So why are ya talkin’ with Twilight?” Applejack walked past the pegasus towards Aile, finally getting out of her frozen state. “Why are ya here after what ya did this mornin’!?”
Aile raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you remember what I said?” Applejack nodded. “I was talking with Twilight because we were making a plan.”
Twilight chimed in to confirm the dark pony’s claim. “She came in a little over an hour ago, and we were discussing how to make sure Fluttershy could stay safe... especially from whoever wants to take her Element of Harmony. That’s why I... well, I’m still mad!” She turned to throw a glance of pure malice at the dark unicorn, who cringed upon seeing it. “What did you do to Fluttershy that’s so bad you couldn’t tell me!?”
Fluttershy chimed in with the clarification. “Oh... uhm... she stabbed me, actually.”
Fluttershy nodded. “And... uhm... It’s fine. So if we could just-“
“Are you okay!?” Twilight rushed up to Fluttershy, moving her tail or mane out of the way to examine her. Though she found the spot on her chest where some fur hadn’t quite grown back, she saw no other indications of harm. “You aren’t wearing any bandages. How come you aren’t injured?”
“W-Well... I’m okay because Trixie healed me.” When she saw Twilight’s confusion, she clarified, “Oh, Trixie... uhm, she isn’t in Fillydelphia. She’s been staying at my house, actually.”
“Wha?” Twilight brought both hooves to her forehead, shaking her head in obvious frustration. “Okay! Okay! I have a new plan!” With her horn alight, she cast a spell onto Aile, lifting her and firmly holding her in place so she couldn’t move. “You there – with all this going on, I can’t trust you, so I’m going to hang you up there. You shouldn’t be able to use magic, but if I even see your horn light up, I swear to Celestia...” Twilight took a deep breath, letting her anger dissipate. “You two,” she ushered over Applejack and Fluttershy with a motion of the forehoof, “Can you please explain what’s going on right now? With all that’s been going on, I’m pretty confused right now.”
Applejack and Fluttershy nodded. Ah’m willin’ to help Twilight... but please, please say, after all of this, that ya know what to do. Please say you can solve all of this, so we can put it all behind us. Ah’m so tired of all this worryin’, this frettin’ over somepony we can’t see and are only half sure even exists... just... do what ya always do Twilight. Ya know the most about all this magic that’s messin’ with us... just find somethin’t to stop this damned pony from messin’ with our lives!