SECRETS AND LIES
By Saddlesoap Opera
Part Six: The Second Element
Pegasus foals swarmed above the cloud-street, singing in mocking unison:
“Fluttershy! Fluttershy! Fluttershy can hardly fly!”
Young Fluttershy whimpered and hopped up and down, vainly scrabbling at the air with her front hooves. Her wings felt glued to her sides, unable to even spread.
“C’mon – doncha want yer stupid toy?”
“Heh heh! Yeah! Fly up here and get your patchy rabbit!”
Bit by bit, the school-foals changed into her grown friends – the Earth Ponies and Unicorns sporting enchanted gossamer wings – and her stolen toy slowly wriggled to black-eyed, white-furred life.
“It isn’t natural for a Pegasus to spend so much time grounded, Fluttershy,” said Twilight Sparkle. She tossed Angel to Rarity.
“We’re just trying to help you be normal, darling,” added Rarity. “You should be THANKING us!” She threw Angel to Rainbow Dash.
“You COULD stand to be a little more… Pegasus-like,” said Dash. “I mean, REALLY – how was I supposed to love somepony who’s weird AND crazy?” She underhoofed Angel to Pinkie Pie.
“Yeah!” agreed Pinkie Pie. “Nopony likes a madpony! You’re a mess!” She head-butted Angel to Applejack.
“Yep,” said Applejack, nodding, “she needs work, that’s fer sure. Step one – get a pet that flies!”
Applejack whipped around and tossed Angel over the edge of the clouds.
Fluttershy leaped after him, remembering too late that her wings wouldn’t budge. As she struggled hopelessly to gain some lift, the ground got closer, and closer, and closer…
• • • • • • •
Fluttershy woke up with a fearful gasp, her pulse pounding and a rabbit’s death-shriek echoing in her ears. She blearily tried to spread her wings, but found they were tightly bound inside a padded canvas restraint-girdle.
She crashed into full wakefulness.
She was in a sparse square room with canvas-padded walls and a cushioned floor.
“It’s n-not real. I’m still having a b-bad dream…”
Weak, cloud-muted daylight shone between the thick iron bars set in the window.
“W-Wake up, Fluttershy… Wake up!”
Fluttershy leaped up and charged the room’s heavy wooden door. She reared up and pounded on it with her front hooves.
“WAKE UP! WAKE U-U-U-UP!”
She backed into the middle of the room and fell to her knees.
“P-Please wake up…”
The door opened and a rosy Earth Pony wearing a nurse’s cap and a long blue cardigan the same shade as her eyes trotted in, pushing a small metal cabinet-cart ahead of her. She closed the door.
Fluttershy backed all the way into the far corner of the room and cringed.
“Oh, hay now… don’t be scared,” said the nurse softly. “You must be feeling very confused and anxious, but I promise, the more you try to stay calm, the sooner this will all be over. All right?”
Fluttershy peeked out from between her front legs and the strands of her mane. She shakily nodded.
The nurse smiled a motherly smile. “Good. You’ve just recovered from a sedative spell, so you’re probably pretty thirsty.” She sat down, opened a door on the side of the cart and retrieved a small, covered paper cup with a straw sticking out of it. She held it out between her front hooves and leaned forward to set it down in front of Fluttershy. “Why don’t you try to drink some water, and I’ll brush some of those tangles out of your mane?”
Fluttershy nodded once more and then took a sip; the cold liquid soothed her screamed-raw throat.
The nurse slipped a hoof into a brush-shoe from the cabinet and moved to sit down next to Fluttershy. While Fluttershy slowly finished the water, the nurse gently ran the brush through her pale pink locks. Soon, the tangled mess was well-tamed.
“That’s better,” said the nurse. “Now, I’ve got some other patients to check on, but I’ll be back in a little while. If you feel up to it, I’d like to ask you a few questions then. Does that sound all right?”
Fluttershy nodded and whispered: “Okay.”
The nurse smiled cheerfully, opened the door and then left, pushing the cart ahead of her.
Out in the hallway, she passed by a dark brown Earth Pony stallion wearing a security guard uniform.
“Say, have you lost weight?” he asked. “You look great today!”
The nurse giggled and waved a bashful front hoof. “Oh, go on!”
• • • • • • •
Applejack pinched the neck of the flask between her teeth and tilted her head skyward. The last three swallows of Cousin Calvados’s double-distilled special reserve burned her throat on the way down. She spat out the flask, sending it tumbling into a pile of empty cider jugs. She coughed out a humourless laugh.
The cider shed’s door opened; a bulky male silhouette half-blocked the overcast daylight.
Big Macintosh stood there, big and silent as a mountain, until his eldest sister spoke:
He spat out the stem he’d been chewing. “Ya been in here since last night.”
“O-Oh, s-s-sorry Big Mac,” Applejack slurred from her spot sprawled on the dirt floor, “Didja have another date planned wi’ th’Mayor? Am I in th’way?”
Big Mac narrowed his eyes. “If Granny Smith saw ya like this, she’d peel n’ core ya.”
Applejack chuckled grimly. “After whut happened last night, I’d LET her!”
Big Mac frowned and half-turned away. “She asked after ya, ya know.”
Applejack clumsily pawed at a clay jug of hard cider. “Granny did? Or Apple Bloom?”
Applejack winced. She pulled the jug close and tipped it on its side, cradling it like an infant. “I got nothin’ ta say ta Miss Carrot Top an’ her judgin’ ways,” she mumbled self-pityingly. “Starin’ at me wi’ those… those EYES o’ hers…” Her face creased from the effort of stifling a sob.
Big Mac sat down. “Whut happened, Jackie?”
Applejack half-smiled as tears wet her flushed cheeks. “Y’ain’t called me that since I was smaller’n Apple Bloom is now.”
“Y’ain’t cried in fronta me since then, neither.”
“F-Fluttershy…” Applejack swallowed down a fresh sob. “She… she was – I was so sure she was – but then she… w-we had no choice…” She squeezed the jug tighter and gritted her teeth. “Oh, Celestia! What’ve we done?”
Big Macintosh stood up and then ducked down to grab the jug’s neck in his jaws; Applejack gripped harder. Big Mac wrenched sideways in an upward arc, effortlessly hurling Applejack up and onto his back. The jug fell to the ground.
“OOF! Hay! L-Lemme down, ya big buckin’… dang! ‘M d-dizzy…” Applejack’s eyes rolled up and then closed. She sagged bonelessly, hanging over Big Mac’s withers like an orange saddle.
Big Mac sighed morosely and then turned to trot back to the farmhouse.
The rhythm of his stride half-roused his sister; she squinted at the finely-tailored dark cloth covering his torso and muttered:
“…Shewt… thass’ a nice suit…”
• • • • • • •
The pink-maned white Earth Pony did a slow pass by a few of Carousel Boutique’s many mirrors. Her eyes glittered like diamonds as she took in the lines of her newly conjured scarlet-accented white dress.
“Oh, my! It’s BEAUTIFUL! And it’s so functional! It has pockets for pencils and thermometers, and even a loop to hang my st–”
“To hang your stethoscope from, yes,” said Rarity distractedly. “You’ll be the best-dressed nurse in the whole hospital.” She sighed.
“I can’t believe how great I look!” the nurse continued, heedless of Rarity’s apathy. “And not a moment too soon, either! Nurse Sweetheart’s been looking really fit and trim lately – I’m sure she has her sights set on Doctor Stable, the two-timing hussy! Just because she’s got a little trouble at home, it doesn’t give her the right to move in on one of the only eligible bachelors in town! He should be mine! MINE!”
“Mm-hm,” said Rarity by reflex. She magicked on her red catseye reading glasses and then started attaching a series of small gemstones to the dress’s hemline.
“And as if that isn’t enough competition, now there’s a SUPERMODEL at the hospital! I ask you – what’s a mare to do?”
Rarity paused and looked over the top edge of her glasses. “…Did you say a supermodel?”
The nurse nodded. “Well, former supermodel. It’s sad, honestly. She’s in the psych ward – her friends brought her in last night. Pretty seriously disturbed, I hear. It’s a shame to see them fall like that. After all, barely a year ago, she was Photo Finish’s favourite!”
The remaining gems clattered to the floor.
• • • • • • •
By the time the nurse returned with her cart, Fluttershy’s pulse had slowed to something approaching a survivable rhythm, and the walls had ceased closing in on her. Nevertheless, the frigid threat of panic still flowed inside her like rushing rapids beneath thin ice.
“Hello again,” said the nurse, her words as soft and round-edged as her bun-tied purple mane. “I’d like to ask you some questions now, all right?”
The nurse took out a printing-press-made form and spread it flat on top of the cart, and then readied a quill and inkwell. She picked up the quill between her teeth and jotted down a few details. Setting the pen back in the well, she spoke:
“Just for the form’s sake, would you please tell me your name?”
Fluttershy dipped her head, half-hiding her face with her mane. “I’m Fluttershy.”
“Good. Do you know where you are?”
“I’m at P-Ponyville Urgent Care…” Fluttershy’s soft voice grew softer still. “… in the mental ward.”
“Yes. Can you tell me who rules Equestria?”
“Princess Celestia… and Her sister, Princess Luna.”
“Thank you. You’re doing well.” The nurse took the quill and ticked some boxes on the form. “So, tell me: how are you feeling?”
“Um, I… I…” Fluttershy swallowed. “I’m s-so scared! I can’t STAND places like this! It b-barely even seems real! It’s like a NIGHTMARE! LIKE MY WORST NIGHTMARE!” She gasped for breath.
“It’s all right,” said the nurse reassuringly, “nopony here means you any harm.”
She picked up the quill again and wrote:
Patient exhibits feelings of dissociation,
Fluttershy looked away, hiding behind her mane once more. “I know, but I shouldn’t be here. Twilight thinks I’m crazy, but I’m not.” She turned back to face the nurse and bent into a pleading crouch. “P-Please… I have to get out of here! This is all wrong! I’m not crazy! You have to believe me!”
“We don’t use labels like that here,” said the nurse. “Nopony here is any different from the ones outside. They just need a little help to feel better, is all.” The nurse added another note:
“Now, what about Twilight?” the nurse continued. “You say she mistakenly thinks you’re… unwell. Why would she think that?”
Fluttershy shifted uncomfortably. “It’s… I think it’s because of my mother. She had Cutie Mark Decay.” Her lower lip quivered. “She died.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” said the nurse.
and has a family history of mental illness (CMDD).
She craned her neck to the side for a moment. “Your Cutie Mark seems clear at the moment. Have you ever had any flare-ups of fraying or speckling, or seen a drop in your talent at… butterfly collecting?”
Fluttershy’s eyes tightened. “Yes, once. But it was just a little bit! And I got better!” Her brows knitted. Her voice dropped in volume. “…Um, and my Special Talent is taking care of animals.”
The nurse nodded. “Ah, I see. My mistake.”
Atypical CM presentation. Previous CMDD episode(s?) – now in partial remission.
“So you’re fond of all animals, then?”
Fluttershy’s tension softened somewhat. “Ah, yes! I love animals! Bunnies and birds and bears – anything, really! Angel Bunny is one of my best friends.” She gasped. “Oh, my! He must be so worried about me! You have to send somepony to my cottage outside of town to make sure all the animals are all right!”
“You live alone?”
Fluttershy shook her head. “No, no, there’s Angel and the other bunnies, and the Mouse family, the seal and otter, the goat, the kitties… Oh! And the chickens and the other birds have lived with me for a LONG time… well, except for Mister Cardinal, but he’s new–”
The nurse cut in. “But no other Ponies? Just the pets?”
Fluttershy frowned. “Um, well… no.”
Living in severe social withdrawal, with concurrent animal hoarding.
“I’ll be sure to send somepony ‘round to make sure your pets are okay.”
Fluttershy sighed in relief. “Thank goodness! Once I get out, I’ll explain everything to them. Angel said just the other day that I should spend more time with some of the animals.”
The nurse raised an eyebrow. “Angel said that?”
… and paracusia.
“Thank you for being so open with me,” said the nurse. “I’ll report to the doctor, and he’ll review your situation. If there’s been a mistake he’ll know it, you’ll see.”
Fluttershy’s eyes shone. A surge of emotion reduced her voice to a hoarse squeak. “Oh, thank you! Thank you so much!”
The nurse smiled widely. “Think nothing of it.”
• • • • • • •
Spike wrung his tail in his claws. He looked up at Twilight over the edge of his sunglasses.
“So it was like before? When she chained me up?”
Twilight Sparkle looked away, turning her gaze on the pile of ashes in her bedroom’s fireplace.
“Something like that. She needed help we couldn’t give her, and she was scared to get it. So we had to do what was best for her, even–”
“Even if she screamed and cried and begged you not to?”
Twilight turned back to face her assistant; his sad-eyed stare made her wince.
“Y-You heard, even from upstairs, huh?” Twilight sat down and sighed. “Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing. It’s so h-hard.”
Spike frowned. “This is it, isn’t it? This is the bad thing you wanted to tell me about before.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. She looked away again, unwilling meet the little Dragon’s gaze. “I… w-we...”
Spike slowly nodded. “It’s okay. I understand. This must have been really tough to deal with.”
Twilight hung her head. She imagined coarse Draconequus fur scraping against her side, a leonine paw patting her back, and a purring voice that said: Ohhh, now don’t be ashamed. It’s not your fault he misunderstood. It’s for the best. He’s a baby – he isn’t old enough to hear what a terrible thing his ‘mommy’ did…
Scaly warmth on her opposite side snapped Twilight out of her self-punishing reverie.
Spike was hugging her.
“I understand,” he said once more. “You don’t have to feel bad. It’s like when you told me not to eat all that ice cream. You’re always looking out for us.”
“Th-Thank you, Spike!” The effort of keeping her voice from trembling was almost too much for Twilight to bear; the little Dragon’s words felt like razor-wire squeezing her heart.
“Hay!” Rainbow Dash called up from the main floor. “Somepony’s at the door!”
Twilight ran a foreleg across her damp eyes and sniffled. “I’ll be r-right down!”
She trotted down with Spike scampering along behind her.
Dash opened the door; Twilight and Spike froze at the bottom of the stairs.
An elegant white Unicorn was standing in the open door, her jewel-studded saddlebags hanging off-kilter on her back and her face locked in a cold, furious scowl that seemed to rob her of colour and life.
“Uh-oh…” Rainbow Dash backed away, her wings drooping.
Rarity stepped inside, trotting slowly but purposefully toward Twilight. She ignited her horn.
“W-We had no choice!” said Twilight. “Try not to overreact, Rarity, please! You weren’t there! You don’t know what she did!”
With a flare from her horn, Rarity whipped an immaculately-sewn dark blue dress out of her saddlebags. She held it in midair before Twilight’s face. Her horn flared brighter, and the dress glowed from its seams for a moment before bursting like a balloon, sending shreds of singed cloth scattering to every corner of the room. Spike dived for cover.
Twilight winced. “I’m sorry! I am! But I’m trying to stop DISCORD from getting free! I was going to tell y–”
A wave of pale blue magic slapped Twilight across the face.
She staggered, sat, and then brought a hoof up to her reddening cheek.
Rarity stared her down without a word. A moment later, she turned up her nose, spun on her hooves, and trotted back out the door.
“Rarity! Wait!” Spike ran after her, his brows knitting in worry.
Twilight took a shaky breath. “Thanks for the help,” she said.
Rainbow Dash sagged. “Sh-She knew Fluttershy even better than I did,” she whispered without looking up. “What was I supposed to say?”
Twilight scowled and hopped to her hooves. “Stop talking like she isn’t coming back! Fluttershy is going to be fine! She’s getting HELP!”
Dash’s wings spread in agitation. Her eyes shone. “But it’s Fluttershy, Twilight! FLUTTERSHY! And we locked her up like some madpony!”
Twilight rounded on Dash, staring her down, and shouted: “She IS a madpony!”
Dash shrank back, but held Twilight’s gaze.
“She turned on us!” Twilight continued. “On ME! She hid that doll here just to torment me, and she was making another at her cottage! Whether on her own or because of Discord, she could have cost us EVERYTHING! We did what we HAD to do!”
Dash gritted her teeth. “I don’t care! It was WRONG!”
Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Dash…” her voice dropped to an iron-hard whisper. “Are you on my side, or not?”
Dash stared back for a long, tense, silent moment.
And then she looked away.
“…I’m with you,” she muttered gloomily. “No matter what.”
“Good. I knew Rarity would be upset, but she’ll understand when Fluttershy recovers. She’ll u-understand…” Twilight swallowed down the lump tightening her throat. “We’re almost through this,” she continued. “We just have to tell Pinkie, and then all the loose ends are taken care of. Once Pinkie knows, I can finally get some rest.”
• • • • • • •
“N-No… NO! It’s not true! You can’t do this! I’m not crazy! I’M NOT CRAZY!”
Two Earth Pony orderly-stallions struggled to hold Fluttershy down as she thrashed and screamed.
“Let me out! LET ME OU-UU-UU-UT!”
“Please, Fluttershy!” urged Doctor Stable. “You’re only making things worse for yourself!”
He ignited his horn and narrowed his eyes.
The doctor’s threatening stare stripped Fluttershy of the remaining shreds of her composure. Her cries fragmented into incoherent sobs as the orderlies buckled her into more thorough restraints.
The pink nurse at the doctor’s side sighed sadly and slowly shook her head. “Try to understand, Fluttershy,” she said, “we only want to help you get well.”
“I’m very sorry it’s come to this,” added the doctor. “You will only be restrained to the extent that you present a danger to yourself or others. If you can control yourself, the bindings will be taken off. Understand?”
Fluttershy whimpered despairingly.
The doctor took a final look at Fluttershy’s file and then trotted out of the room, followed by the orderlies.
The nurse trotted closer to Fluttershy and knelt down.
“I’m so sorry,” she said softly. “I did everything I could. But it wasn’t up to me.”
“P-Plee’v…” Fluttershy slurred around the bit and bridle strapped to her head, “Hhl’f mhh…”
The nurse gently stroked Fluttershy’s canvas-wrapped back.
“Shh… there, there. I know. You don’t belong here.”
Fluttershy craned her neck to get a clear view of the nurse. Her wide sea-green eyes welled up with fresh tears. “Hhl’f…”
The nurse looked to and fro, ensuring the coast was clear, and then leaned in to hug the trembling Pegasus.
“I will. I’ll help you. Rest for now – later on, I’ll come back and set you free. I promise.”
Even if the bit hadn’t all but muted her, Fluttershy had no words to express her thanks. She leaned into the nurse’s hug like a newborn foal in her mother’s embrace.
• • • • • • •
Pinkie Pie bounded out from Sugarcube Corner’s kitchen, her face a patchwork of flour, batter stains and bruises.
“Hi Twilight! Hi Dashie!” she waved cheerfully. “Mister and Missus Cake are taking the twins clothes shopping, so I’m minding the shop!”
Twilight Sparkle shifted uncomfortably. “W-We wanted to talk to you, Pinkie.”
“Well, you see, last night, something… happened… to Fluttershy.”
Pinkie Pie tilted her head. Her ears flapped. Her tail jerked backward like an uncoiling spring. “Whaddya mean, Twilight? Was it something FUN?”
Rainbow Dash winced. “No. It w–”
Pinkie’s eyes repeatedly winked flicker-quick in opposite rhythm. “OOH! Did she get a new pet? Is it an ostrich? I hear they can run really fast!”
Twilight frowned. “No, nothing like that. If you’ll just–”
Pinkie juddered to and fro as her whole body suffered a lock-legged spasm. The vibration shook the flour and batter off of her. “Nothing like an ostrich?” She pondered for a split second, and then gasped. “An ALLIGATOR! Woo-hoo! Gummy’s gonna have a friend to play with!”
“For Celestia’s sake!” Dash sat down and turned away. “There’s no pet, Pinkie!”
Confusion settled across Pinkie’s face like falling confetti. “But if it wasn’t a pet, then what happened to her? Was it a party?” Her lips curled in a minor pout. “Aww, I hope it wasn’t a party! I hate missing parties!”
Twilight shuddered. The insomnia-ravaged muscles in her shoulders and neck tensed, the stress creeping up to her jaw and making the almost-faded slap-mark on her cheek ache. Finally, she fixed her stance, groaned in frustration, and bellowed:
“NO, Pinkie! NO PARTY! Fluttershy betrayed us all to DISCORD, and so I had her put in an ASYLUM, Okay? Do you hear me? FLUTTERSHY WENT INSANE, AND I LOCKED HER UP!”
Twilight stood, straight-legged and shaking with fury, gasping for breath.
Rainbow Dash cringed in shame.
Pinkie stared in silent shock. “B-B-But…I don’t get it!” Her pale blue eyes swelled with feeling. “You said the other day that n-nothing scary was going on! You Pinkie-Promised! How did this happen so fast?”
Twilight sighed ruefully. “It didn’t all happen last night. I know I promised, and I’m sorry about that, but I only said that because I didn’t want you to overreact! You’re always so… unpredictable, and I had so much to deal with, I couldn’t…” Twilight trailed off.
Pinkie’s mane and tail were sagging like deflating balloons, drooping into lifeless poker-straight locks.
“Y-you… on p-purpose?… No, no-no-no… th-the whole time… T-T-Twilight… y-you… I… I…”
Pinkie’s pupils shrank. Some inner light flickered and dimmed within her; her hind legs quivered and then gave out, and she sat down heavily.
From somewhere far in the distance came the sound of glass cracking, and with it Pinkie froze as still as a statue.
After a long moment, Twilight took a hesitant step toward the motionless Earth Pony.
Rainbow Dash approached her as well, gently nudging her with a hoof. “Pinkie? Are you okay? Say something!”
Pinkie made no response. Her glassy blue eyes stared at nothing. Her shallow breathing barely shifted her chest.
Dash shook her harder, and shouted in her face: “SNAP OUT OF IT PINKIE! WAKE UP!”
Pinkie didn’t even blink.
Rainbow Dash turned to face Twilight. “What did you do?” She stomped closer. “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
Twilight stumbled backward. “I didn’t…! You saw! She wouldn’t listen! I wasn’t trying to–”
Dash scowled. “Rarity’s never gonna forgive us, Applejack ran away so fast last night that she’s probably back in Dodge by now, Fluttershy’s locked up, and now P-Pinkie…” She paused, willing her voice to un-crack. “How is all this supposed to keep Discord from getting out, huh? HOW?”
Outside, thunder rumbled.
Twilight cringed. “I KNOW it’s my fault, all right? I know it is! I should have gotten Fluttershy help a long time ago! But when she’s better, everypony will understand. Without her, we’re all feeling less kind. Discord… did a lot of damage.”
Dash growled in irritation. “WHAT damage? Some dolls? You keep talking like everything’s a big crisis, but YOU’RE the only one acting strange! Other than some two-bit crook and a little cruddy weather-work, this town’s doing FINE! Why was Fluttershy such a big threat? What has Discord even–”
“HE MADE ME KILL SOMEPONY!”
Twilight was nose-to-nose with Dash, close enough for her scream to blow back the Pegasus’s mane.
Dash backed away, her eyes wide. “Wh-What…?”
Twilight’s stare was nearly as vacant as Pinkie’s as the confession spilled out of her like blood from a wound.
“He m-made me kill somepony. H-He sent a twisted Pony to torture me and taunt me over and over and over, so I cornered her in the b-basement and I… I killed her with magic! I BURNED HER ALIVE, Rainbow Dash!”
For days the secret had been tearing at Twilight’s insides like a squirming lamprey, but now that she’d unleashed it, she realized that the truth had done nothing to ease her mind. The guilt and pain and shame were all still there. If anything, being exposed to the light had only put them in sharper relief.
Dash’s nose wrinkled. Her upper lip curled. “Y-You… that smell in the library – you said Spike burned a book again! But it was…” Dash staggered; her stomach clenched. “Oh, Celestia, I’m gonna…!”
She raced into the kitchen.
Twilight followed, keeping back a respectful distance as Dash coughed and spat into the sink.
“She made me do it, Dash! You have to believe me! What she said… what she did… she knew I’d do it! She WANTED me to! She was insane! It was all part of Discord’s plan!”
Dash shot Twilight an icy sidelong glare. “Don’t you think I know that?”
It was Twilight’s turn to stare. “What?”
Dash turned and dropped back down onto all fours. “I believe you. I KNOW you’d never mean to do something like that, Twilight. All of us know that.” Dash narrowed her eyes. “What makes me sick is… you lied anyway.”
Realization spilled across Twilight’s face. “No… Dash, no!”
Dash advanced, driving Twilight back into the bakery’s main room.
“You wouldn’t even trust your best friends to believe you! Or help protect you! Or… or protect PONYVILLE!”
With every stomp forward, Dash’s voice grew louder and fiercer.
“After everything we’ve been though, after you got proven right in Canterlot, you lied to me. You bucking LIED to me! You made me feel like a LOSER! You told me that I was the weak link, when YOU were the one who messed up! So I grounded myself and stayed up night after night trying to prove that I wasn’t gonna fail you! You made me swear over it! You made me swear on my WINGS! FOR A LIE!”
Twilight shrank back farther still. Tears wet her cheeks. “I’m s-sorry! Don’t do this! Don’t turn on me, Rainbow! Please! Don’t you see? We’re letting him win! This is what he wants!”
Dash stepped closer still, looming over Twilight. “Yeah? Well, I want a friend who’s worth being loyal to.”
She turned and plodded toward the bakery’s front door.
“Rainbow Dash… p-please…” Twilight whimpered. “You swore on your wings! If you leave…”
Dash paused; so Twilight had done some research. “Yeah… I know.”
She trotted out into the grey, gloomy beginning of another rain shower, her head hanging low and her wings hanging limp and ignored at her sides. The weak, filtered daylight washed out her colourful mane and tail, and made her blue hide look pale and sickly.
Pinkie Pie sat where she was, still motionless. Twilight’s shuddering, weeping form reflected in the Earth Pony’s wide, staring eyes.
• • • • • • •
Splashes and shouts echoed out from Sweet Apple Acres’ barn.
Applejack gasped for breath as Big Macintosh lifted her head back out of the water-filled apple tub. Her loose mane hung pale and limp over her face.
“T-Try n’ sober me up all ya w-want,” she sputtered, “b-but I ain’t gonna see ‘er.”
Big Mac stepped back. The rolled-up sleeves of his charcoal-grey suit-coat were damp and darkened. “If what ya did th’other night was so bad, doncha think she deserves an explanation?”
Applejack rounded on her brother.
“THERE AIN’T ONE!” she sat down and cradled her sodden head in her front hooves. “I tied up the meekest n’ mildest Pony I know with my own lasso, an’ watched her get locked up like a mad dog! She was screamin’ fer help – SCREAMIN’ fer it! – an’ I just did as I was told!”
She leaned over the water-tub and stared down at her reflection.
“Twilight made sense at the time. I didn’t wanna run from the truth again. I thought she was doin’ the right thing. I thought WE were. But then C-Carrot was there, starin’ at me, and Fluttershy was still cryin’ even though Twilight put ‘er out, and I wondered if I saw what I wanted ta see ‘cause I was still carryin’ a grudge over what happened with Dash, and…”
She slapped at the water’s surface with a hoof and turned away.
“I ain’t denyin’ the truth – I know what I did. I just can’t LIVE with it!”
Big Mac let a lengthy silence play out between them before replying. “The Applejack I know wouldn’t give up n’ crawl into a bottle instead o’ dealin’ with her troubles.”
Applejack sighed. “Then I guess the Applejack you know ain’t around no more.” Her voice was as dull and hollow as a rotted-out apple tree. She got to her hooves and plodded toward the open barn door.
Big Mac scowled and stomped a broad front hoof. “Dang it, Jackie! Y’ain’t a foal anymore! Ponies depend on ya! I depend on ya! Ya can’t just–” Big Mac moved to follow her, but her icy backward glare stopped him in his tracks.
“You come after me again, Big Brother,” she warned, “an’ I swear ta Celestia I will kick the apples offa yer hide or die tryin’.”
Big Mac stayed where he was, his head hung low.
Applejack trotted away.
Big Mac shuddered, gritted his teeth, and then let out a furious shout as he lashed out with a rear leg.
The barn’s wall cracked all the way up to the hayloft.
• • • • • • •
Fluttershy jerked awake at the sound of a knock on her room door. She tried to stand, but her restraints hobbled her and stopped her from moving more than half a pace forward.
The door opened, and the pink nurse – her savior – trotted inside, pushing a meal cart. She tapped the door closed behind her with a rear hoof.
“I’m sorry I took so long,” said the nurse softly. “I had to make sure the coast was clear.”
Fluttershy mumbled wordlessly around her bit.
“Oh, here – let me help,” replied the nurse.
She knelt down and gingerly unbuckled Fluttershy’s bit and bridle, freeing the Pegasus’s head.
Fluttershy flexed her jaw and licked her lips. “Th-thank you,” she whispered. “For everything.”
“It’s no more than you deserve,” said the nurse. She stood and turned back to the meal cart. “Now, first thing’s first. You need to get something in that tummy.”
She picked up a meal tray and set it down in front of Fluttershy. A small bowl of applesauce and a paper cup of juice with a straw flanked a plate covered by a spread-out napkin. The nurse ducked down and pulled the cloth away.
The paper plate was piled high with lush, ripe, red berries. Their sickly-sweet, spicy scent was already filling the air.
“I can’t eat that!” said Fluttershy fearfully. “That’s P–”
“Yup! Palfrey’s Nightshade,” said the nurse with a nod. Her voice rose in pitch slightly as she spoke. “The guard couldn’t tell them from wild cherries, the silly goose!”
“B-But it’s poison!” said Fluttershy. Her lower lip quivered. “I don’t understand! You said you were going to let me out!”
“I said I was gonna set you free.” The nurse giggled a cheery giggle punctuated by a snort.
Fluttershy drew back in fright. “Y-You aren’t Nurse Sweetheart. You never were! Who are you?”
The nurse giggled again. “Ooh! You’re pretty sharp for a Barehoof!”
She pulled out a bobby pin, letting her white-streaked purple mane erupt into a riot of frizzy tangles. She blinked several times and a pair of thin blue-glass lenses dropped to the floor, revealing dark purple eyes as swirled as pulled taffy. She shrugged out of her cardigan, exposing a screw and baseball marking her flanks.
When she spoke again, her voice was a clownish sing-song over an edge of menace, as friendly as a polka-dotted butcher knife.
“Hello Fluttershy!” she said with a cheery wave. “My name’s Topsy Turvy. I run the Joke Shop here in Ponyville, and this time… the joke’s on YOU.”
Fluttershy stared. “J-Joke? This was all a JOKE?” Outrage and relief battled in her voice.
Topsy retrieved a propeller beanie from the cart and perched it on her head. “Huh? OH! No, no, no – not a JOKE-joke. I mean, sure, I tricked you and Twilight pretty hard, and it’s pretty funny, but yeah you’re still one bucked Buzzard. You’re never getting outta here!” She giggled again.
Fluttershy scowled. “I… I’ll tell on you! I’ll tell them this was your fault! I’ll tell them you tried to poison me!”
“Eenope,” said Topsy, momentarily mimicking Big Macintosh. “You’re a madpony – and nopony believes a madpony. So, nope – you’re gonna sit there and eat your berries, and then you’re gonna die!”
Topsy Turvy gave a grin so broad it squeaked.
• • • • • • •
Twilight Sparkle trotted slowly down the muddy street, her horn dimly glowing as she magicked along the small red wagon carrying Pinkie Pie behind her.
“I had no choice…” she muttered to herself. “He could have gotten free! I’d do ANYTHING to stop that from happening!”
Twilight passed by the Ponyville Post Office. Ditzy Doo and The Doctor trotted out onto the front steps, their gaits stiff with tension. Dtizy’s gold-and-white dress swished to and fro as she moved.
“WHY wu’n I get it?” she shouted at him. “WHY? ’Cuz I’m so derpy? ‘Cuz I can’t think so good?” She scowled, her nose crinkling. “I think about LOTS of stuff! I… I think about YOU!” Furious tears welled up in her skewed eyes.
“That’s not it! It isn’t!” The Doctor looked away. “I’m only trying to keep you safe!”
She growled in frustration. “I don’ WANNA be safe! I want… I…” She gritted her teeth. “I WAIT TRUE!” She briefly struggled to spread her wings under her dress before giving up and galloping off.
“Ditzy! Wait!” The Doctor galloped after her.
Twilight trotted on.
“They’ll forgive me,” she said to herself. “They’ll understand. Fluttershy will come back just like she was, and Rarity will be so h-happy. AJ will see that it had to be done, and Dash will come around once she cools off.” She looked over her shoulder; her eyes stung. “And you can host the party, Pinkie! It’ll be s-so much fun!”
A clay jug smashed through a home’s front window and cracked on the street behind Pinkie’s wagon. Foamy hard cider spilled out and mingled with the mud.
Cheerilee trotted out into the rain, another two jugs hanging from a thin net slung over her beautiful dress.
“I have had ENOUGH of watching you throw your life away!” she said grimly. “We’re family, Berry, and I’m not going to let you keep doing this!”
Berry Punch slid into view on her belly, her fine dress wrinkling as she clung to one of Cheerilee’s hind legs. “D-DON’T!” she wailed. “I NEED IT!”
Cheerilee turned to face her. “No, your FOAL needs her MOTHER!”
Berry Punch hid her face with her front hooves and sobbed.
Twilight trotted on. Rain soaked her mane and tail. She shivered.
“Even if I’m a murderer, I can’t let Discord destroy Equestria. Seeing the world like that… being ALONE like that… it was the worst moment of my life. I couldn’t let it happen again. They’ll understand that – they’ll HAVE to! We’re the Elements of Harmony!”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders trotted out from behind a pile of hay-bales, sporting freshly-donned new dresses and posing proudly. Scootaloo’s happy expression soon wilted, however, as her wings flexed under the smooth back of her purple dress.
“Hay! How’m I supposed to…” She scowled. “…Oh. Now I get it. That’s great, Sweetie Belle. Real nice.” She snorted derisively.
Sweetie Belle tilted her head in confusion. “Huh? What do you mean?”
“Yeah, like you don’t know! There are no wing-slits in this dress, JERK!” Scootaloo lunged forward and shoved Sweetie Belle, leaving a muddy hoofprint on her green outfit.
Sweetie Belle stumbled. “Hay! Watch it!”
Scootaloo advanced on the staggering Unicorn. “G-Great joke! ‘What’s the point? It’s not like she NEEDS her wings for anything!’ ”
Sweetie Belle cringed; her eyes shone. “Th-That’s not true! I didn’t know! I was just trying to be NICE!”
Apple Bloom hopped over to stand between the two.
“Awright, enough! Stop it, you two! Yer bickerin’ is drivin’ me crazy!”
“Stop taking her side!” shouted Scootaloo. “It’s hard enough tryin’ to lose all this weight without you two ganging up on me!”
Sweetie Belle narrowed her teary eyes. “Maybe you wouldn’t be so h-heavy if your head wasn’t so full of ROCKS!”
Scootaloo growled furiously and dived past Apple Bloom to tackle Sweetie Belle.
“GRRR! I SAID, STOP IT!” Apple Bloom pushed up the sleeves of her scarlet dress and then jumped into the fray. The three little Ponies kicked and shouted and bit and shoved, the damp mud coating their colourful outfits.
Twilight trotted on. Suddenly, she tripped on a loose cobble. She yelped in alarm and fell into a mud puddle.
As she groaned and magicked the mud off of herself, she finally took proper stock of her surroundings; the realization was infinitely more chilling than the rain soaking her hide.
Ponyville’s cheerful chatter and carefree songs had been replaced by shouted arguments, screamed accusations and despairing sobs.
Everywhere, hooves stomped in anger and spattered mud up hides darkened by disquiet. Windows and doors slammed. Foals cried. Thunder rumbled.
A Pegasus stallion raced past, chased by an angry Earth Pony mob.
Among the countless clear raindrops, a solitary opaque, brown, candy-sweet droplet landed on Twilight’s cheek and slid down to her lips.
She wiped away the drop and then looked down at her own front hooves, finally seeing how dull and grey they had become.
Twilight Sparkle’s eyes widened, her pupils shrank and her ears drooped as she softly whispered:
“Oh, p-please… no!”
• • • • • • •
Fluttershy narrowed her eyes. “I w-would never, EVER do something like that!”
Topsy waved a front hoof in a tsk-tsk gesture.
“Ah-ah-ah! Don’t be so hasty, Flutters. Pretty soon, you’re gonna realize that me offering you a way out is a lot kinder than you think. Y’see, I didn’t even PLAN for you to end up in here in the first place – this was all Twilight! I watched her, and gave her a few little nudges, and then the next thing I knew she just up and tossed you in the looney bin! Your little Screwhead pal messed up reee-ee-ee-aa-aa-al bad.”
Topsy held Fluttershy’s chin in both front hooves and stared her down. Fluttershy squirmed in disgust.
“And putting you in here was just the tip of the iceberg! The way things are going, pretty soon folks are gonna WISH they had the chance I’m giving you. ‘Cause, ya see…”
EVERYPONY OUGHT TO BE AFRAID
(To the tune of the ‘Everybody Ought to Have a Maid’ by Stephen Sondheim)
(Opens door and trots through the halls, attracting the patients’ attention)
Everypony ought to be afraid.
Everypony ought to have a creeping fear,
Everypony ought to have a seeping fear –
To keep ‘em awake at night!
Everypony ought to be afraid,
Everypony ought to feel just terrible,
Until it gets, unbearable,
And frightening-er than fright!
(Hops to and fro to the beat)
Oh, oh, won’t it be simply splendid,
When the whole world has ended,
And Chaos prevails?
(A guard-stallion gallops up, drawn by the noise)
Oh, oh, won’t He be truly frightful,
(Ambushes guard as he turns a corner, kicking him
hard enough to make his head crack the opposite wall)
(tone low and menacing) Doing in.
Everypony ought to be afraid,
Scared to be alone when all the lights get low
(Flicks a switch, halls turn dim and shadow-filled)
Because that’s when He comes, you know!
You’ll never forget the sight:
(Returns to Fluttershy)
(Between Beats) He’ll be…
Shattering all the windows,
(Musses Fluttershy’s mane)
Scattering all the Buzzards,
Brightening all the landscapes,
(Shoves open shutters on barred window, scaring away perched birds)
Frightening all your pet birds,
Keepin’ ‘em all awake…
(Turns, rears up, spreads front hooves wide)
(Shivering, apprehensive, and slightly pale)
[THREE NEARBY MENTAL PATIENTS]
[PATIENTS, TOPSY TURVY]
(All dance in unison, Topsy leads and Patients back-up)
Everypony ought to be afraid,
Everypony ought to kiss their flank good-bye,
Because Discord’s the kind of guy
To never forget a slight!
(Flitting past other patients, leaving each terrified)
Oh, oh, won't it be just delicious,
Watching as things get vicious,
Once He gets out?
Oh, oh, won’t Twily be delightful,
(Slides a hoof across her throat, tone low and menacing)
Everypony ought to be afraid,
‘Cause the Lord of Chaos will be drawing nigh,
So you’d best prepare to die,
While I laugh at your plight:
(Between beats) He’ll be…
Saddening up the gigglers,
(Takes plush toy from Laughing Patient, who bursts into tears)
Maddening up the level-heads
(Throws toy at Orderly losing control of the growing mayhem; he cackles hysterically)
De-powering all the Twinklers,
(Flicks a Unicorn patient’s horn, messing up attempt to undo restraints)
(Beat; sly sidelong glance at the audience as Fluttershy cowers in the background)
…the flowerbeds --
Keepin’ you all awake… at night!
(Cringing, even more frightened and paler still)
[THREE OTHER MENTAL PATIENTS]
[PATIENTS, TOPSY TURVY]
[TOPSY TURVY, NEW BACKUP PATIENTS]
(Dancing through halls, kicking open still more doors)
Everypony ought to be afraid,
Cuz His Lordship isn’t the forgiving sort,
In fact he’s one to make a sport,
Of putting wrong what went right!
(Retrieves terrified, straitjacketed and gagged patient
and dances with him on hind legs)
He’s gonna make you suffer,
If you don’t like it – tough! You’re
All on your own.
[NEW BACKUP PATIENTS, TOPSY TURVY]
(All four grab, swing and toss bound patient up and out of view)
Oh, oh, won’t He be so creative?
(Rises into view in background, pleadingly hopeful)
(Patient crashes down on top of Fluttershy; Topsy grins at audience)
[NEW BACKUP PATIENTS, TOPSY TURVY]
Everypony ought to be afraid.
No amount o’ necklaces will save the day –
In fact, I think it’s safe to say,
There won’t even be a fight!
(Between Beats) He’ll be…
Chasin’ you while you’re runnin’,
Doin’ the Moon and Sun in,
Racin’ to turn you ashen,
An’ ruin your only passion,
[BACKUP PATIENTS, TOPSY TURVY]
(Topsy Turvy and Backup Patients dance forward toward the front entrance;
Fluttershy struggles against her restraints and begs far in the background)
Keepin’ you all awake… at night!
(Fluttershy: Don’t do this!)
(Fluttershy: Somepony help me!)
(Fluttershy, at the window, totally hysterical and turning grey: DON’T LEAVE ME IN HERE!)
(Topsy and Patients burst out through the front doors; Long note for finale)
(Topsy Turvy trots off toward downtown Ponyville, giggling;
Crisis in Hospital is degenerating into a riot)
As the sounds of screams, cries, breaking glass and hooves pounding on hides echoed through the halls, Fluttershy added screams of her own to the din. She wailed and strained against her bindings until her joints burned and her wings threatened to dislocate.
Finally, she sagged and then flopped down onto the padded floor, panting and sobbing. She swallowed hard, took a slow, deep breath…
…and then closed her mouth around the bunch of berries on her meal tray.
TO BE CONCLUDED