Chapter Three - Fly Over
The run to Fluttershy's cottage seemed to take an eternity. The burden of the task, of the story she was bringing to her quietest friend weighed heavily in her mind, and no matter what she did, she could not remove the image of Pinkie Pie's slack-jawed and motionless face from her vision. It seemed to follow her all the way there.
As she rounded the corner that led to clearing in which the tree-cottage stood, Twilight slowed down to gentle trot so she could compose her thoughts into a manner that would make her less likely to ramble, and in turn scare the kind-hearted pony more than she needed to. She also noticed, as she entered the serenity of the glade, that the sound that was haunting the town was less audible out here, almost being covered entirely by the lighter sounds of the wildlife that flourished here. Almost, but not quite.
Fortunately, Fluttershy was already outside, working in her chicken pen, gathering them around her for their breakfast.
Breakfast... Yet another thing that has slipped entirely past me this morning Twilight thought as she slowly approached her friend, though if ever she had felt less-inclined to eat, she could not think of a better occasion. With the gate of the pen ever closer, Twilight slowed more to a walk and tried to think of a way to begin. She didn't have to.
"Oh, good morning Twilight, and how are you today?" Fluttershy's calm voice, the one beacon of normality she had been presented with on this daunting day, danced gracefully towards her as the yellow and pink Pegasus saw her approach.
"Not good, Fluttershy, I come with horrible news..." She watched Fluttershy's eyes widen and hoped, prayed, that she wouldn't bolt.
"What's wrong? Is everypony ok?" Fluttershy asked, concern not so much creeping into her voice as pouncing upon it and ringing the life from it. A normal response for her, but still not good.
"Most of them are" Twilight began a little clumsily. She shook her head and tried again. "No, nopony is fine, it's terrible, something has happened at the Town Hall, and I need you to come with me... We might be the only ones who can stop it" she watched Fluttershy's eyes drop, her head turn away in a cower, but much to her surprise, Fluttershy looked back again resolutely.
"I see" she replied, sounding like she was doing her best to control herself. "Is it something to do with that strange sound?" Twilight perked up a little at this.
"Yes, yes it is, has it not concerned you yet? I know it's not so loud here but..." she trailed off into timidity, leaving Fluttershy to respond.
"I thought it was strange, but out here by the forest I hear a lot of strange noises, so it didn't immediately worry me... But if you're saying it's in town, then..." she shook her head and the resolute look appeared again on the quieter pony. Twilight felt a moment of vertigo at this weird switch in roles, Fluttershy was usually the one lost for words and Twilight had none of the answers.
"You're taking this well" she posited, expecting the Pegasus to revert.
"Well, we get things like this so often that I think I might be growing used to it" Fluttershy explained with a sheepish grin. This, though odd, was certainly a help.
"Yes, but no, nothing like this has ever happened to us before... Look..." Twilight tried again to get her thoughts in order. "You need to come with me to Sugarcube Corner; Princess Celestia is waiting for us there, and hopefully the others too. We need you" that about covered it.
"OK, I'm not sure what I could do to help, but I'll try anything if it's as bad as you make it sound" Fluttershy said as she hopped over the fence of the pen, wings unfurled in a graceful glide, and stood before her friend. "You look really worried, but I'm ready if you are" Twilight nodded and smiled a little, Fluttershy's courage in the face of the unseen horror waiting for them at town helped to renew her resolve. She only wondered how long it would last for either of them once they got there.
Returning to town seemed to be quicker than leaving it, but all the way back Twilight could see that Fluttershy was making a strong effort to remain as brave as she had been. A light sheen had come into her eyes and her wings trembled gently against her sides as she ran, but they were almost at Sugarcube Corner, and Twilight wondered if Celestia might have uncovered anything new in her absence.
When they entered the store, Applejack, Rarity and Rainbow Dash were already there, along with Spike and Celestia, both of whom looked very concerned, and a very upset Mr Cake. He paced around the store nervously absently checking stock, all the while making a visible effort to not look out the window at his stationary wife.
"Ah, Twilight and Fluttershy, you're back" Celestia said as they entered. "Please, come to your friends" they did as they were told and Applejack gave a reassuring nuzzle to Twilight as they stood beside one another.
"Are you alrigh' sugarcube? You look exhausted" she asked soothingly. Twilight nodded.
"As good as I can be, considering..." she looked up at Rainbow Dash, who hovered just above Rarity.
"They told me as much as they could when they found me; I had just got back from a trip to Cloudsdale, so I had no idea until they found me..."
"Well, hopefully we can tell you all more than we knew before" Twilight replied. She looked at Fluttershy, who was looking around with a mystified look on her face.
"Wait a minute" she asked, her old timidity returning. "Where is Pinkie Pie?" the other ponies exchanged quick, silent glances that left the burden of breaking the news to her up to Twilight.
"She's out there, in the square, with the others... Fluttershy, there's something very wrong with Equestria right now, something has appeared out there, by the Town Hall, and Pinkie is caught in it" Fluttershy's eyes began to swim more shimmer at this and she took two timid steps back.
"Oh no..." she said in a barely audible whisper.
"Something indeed" Celestia said, speaking up and drawing all their attention. "From my investigations so far, I have determined that some sort of tear has occurred. It is only visible from certain angles from what I can tell, and those ponies unfortunate enough to see it directly have been put into some sort of trance. They can't stop staring at it. Twilight here was good enough to have contacted me about it, and I think that between us we can fix it, or at the very least understand it" she looked over each of the ponies one by one, lingering a little longer on her student. "Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, right now I need your help determining the range of this thing. Together, the three of us are going to fly up over it to see if it is visible from any other angles" this elicited a quiet yelp from one of them, but with the never ending sound still coursing through the building, Twilight could not be sure which one.
"Twilight, you and the others will stay below us in case something goes wrong. It shouldn't affect us if we only look at it from our peripheral vision, I determined that earlier, as long as we don't look at it full-on we won't be caught in it" Twilight confirmed this with a nod. "Once we know this, we will begin to find a way to free the ponies caught in its trance, I believe we can do this by cocooning it in something, completely blocking off any viewpoint of it. After that, it'll be a matter of informing everypony about what we know. Then Twilight and I will begin to find out what caused it" she turned her attention this time to Spike.
"I would like you to send a message to Canterlot. I want as many of our guards as we can spare to be stationed here and keep everypony away from it. Shining Armour will be able to decide what is best once you give him the news" Twilight's eyes widened. Did she really want to get her brother involved? Celestia thought it prudent, but she didn't know him as well as Twilight did. He would want to be here, on the front line so to speak, and Twilight didn't want to put him in danger.
"But Princess is there not another way to..."
"No Twilight, I'm afraid only the royal guard will do here. We need ponies with presence to keep everypony at bay, we don't want any more events like the one that is already happening" she stood and made her way to the door. "Does everypony know what they are doing?" she asked them. Their response was slow, but positive. Even Rainbow Dash was a little tentative, her usual boisterous attitude softened in the light of the situation's severity. "Good, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, if you will come with me, I will explain our routes to you. Twilight Sparkle, Applejack and Rarity, if you'd station yourselves around the square in preparation, I would appreciate it very much" Together they approached the door, stopping only when Mr Cake finally spoke up.
"Please, help my wife..." he said timidly. "I'll do what I can to help also, but I doubt it'll be much..." Twilight approach the grieving store owner and gave him a reassuring smile.
"Don't worry, we'll do everything in our power, for now you need to stay here with your foals, they will need their father until their mother can return" there was no change in his face, but his tense body loosened a little at her words.
"Thank you everypony..." he said with a slight bow of his head and turned away, walking into the deeper rooms of the store to attend to his offspring. When he was gone, the others left also.
The task was a simple enough one for Rainbow Dash to follow, but some nagging worry kept eating at her as she followed the Princess's instructions and prepared to take off. She wouldn't pretend to know what was going on, it was all already far beyond her capacity to understand, but she knew the importance of her part, and she was more than willing to do whatever she could to help her friends. This did not stop her from maintaining a lingering glance at Pinkie Pie as she took a brief run into her flight.
Together, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Princess Celestia flew above the crowd of entranced ponies, making careful loops out over the unaware ponies, behind and over the Town Hall and specifically near the second floor balcony. Their job was to look and try not to take the same flight-path twice, ensuring as much of the upward angles of the anomaly could be seen as possible.
Rainbow Dash took the middle of the three flight-paths, and so was always the one closest to the anomaly during their sweep of the balcony. Though so far she could see nothing, she did notice a strange difficulty in flying near it. The air around the Town Hall felt heavy, like flying through something akin to water rather than air, and each time she neared the front of the Hall a strange wind began to buffet her body, simultaneously trying to push her away and pull her in. During the first few paths this took her by surprise, the strange bracketed feeling causing her wings to twist at odd angles and her usually perfect glide to rock and involuntarily lose height. She let out a loud cry of surprise, which the Princess heard and addressed.
"What's the matter Rainbow Dash, do you see anything?" she had asked, stopping to hover behind the Hall after their first loop, a look of concern across her face.
"No, I don't see anything, but this air... It's not right..." she replied, sheepishly, inwardly hating the admission of difficulty in her usually skilful flying.
"I know, but we must carry on, don't let it affect you, nothing will hurt you so long as we are all here together" at this she had turned to Fluttershy, who was just circling behind the Hall at this moment. "Are you alright, Fluttershy?" The yellow pegasus had lowered her head.
"I'm... I'm scared, but I'm ok. It's just, I'm not usually the best flyer, and this seems harder than usual..." The princess nodded.
"That's ok; we're all scared, just pay attention to your heading and look for anything out of the ordinary"
"You mean besides that crowd of ponies all staring at us?" Rainbow Dash said instinctively and cringed at her rudeness. If the princess had cared, she didn't show it.
"If we can ascertain that this anomaly is no cause for concern for those above it, then we might be a step closer to rescuing the others. Now come on, this won't take long if we're cautious and work together" and with that said she resumed her flight, though Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy lingered.
"I... I don't like seeing them like that..." Fluttershy said, rubbing the tips of her hooves together sheepishly as she did. Rainbow Dash sighed empathetically and flew to rest a friendly hoof on her friend's shoulder.
"I know, neither do I, especially with Pinkie there, but as the princess said, we'll be done here soon, and then she and Twilight can work out how to stop this... thing" her words of encouragement seemed to offer a little bit of support to the shy pegasus, and through that a little more courage to herself. Fluttershy looked at her.
"I know, then let's go" she said and took off without waiting for a response. Rainbow Dash watched her as she disappeared behind the Hall once more before resuming her own flight.
In all their work took about ten minutes and the whole time Twilight could not stop sneaking glances into the crowd. She wished she wouldn't, preferring to watch the positive work being undertaken by her flying friends, but it was not enough.
My friends... we're working on it, just hold on... she thought to herself between making mental checklists of her own tasks. After this she would resume her research, armed with the new understand that Celestia and the pegasi would bring her, and perhaps that would be enough to put them on the right track. She didn't wholly believe it, but she held on to the hope all the same.
When at last her friends and tutor landed gracefully in front of her, she breathed a sigh of relief. They were safe at least, meaning the anomaly had not taken any new victims since its initial prey. She walked first to Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.
"What did you find?" she asked them. Fluttershy looked away from the crowd while Rainbow Dash looked at her resolutely.
"There is nothing up there. Whatever it is, it just disturbs the air" Twilight turned to her tutor.
"It's safe from above - relatively speaking - so we don't need to worry about anypony being caught from above, however we will need to make sure that nopony flies over, it's still dangerous" she looked at her two flying subjects with pride. "Thank you, both of you, for your brave work. None of us knew what kind of risks we were taking, but I'm glad you didn't let it stop you" again, Twilight marvelled at Fluttershy's remaining bravery. When had the pegasus become so able? She felt a strong ball of pride build up within her for her yellow friend.
"Now what, Princess?" she asked, spying Applejack and Rarity approaching them from behind Celestia.
"Now we can resume your research. I will return to contact my librarians in Canterlot to bring to us every book they have on this and similar subjects and together we shall see what we can learn. The guards should have gotten my letter by now as well, so your brother will be gathering them in preparation, so we shall return to you together" she looked over the five ponies before her with a sad but resolute eye. "In the meantime, I want all of you to rest, perhaps you can find the Mayor and inform her of what we now know, we could use everypony at our disposal"
"Of course" Twilight replied, also looking at her friends, but specifically looking at the gap where one pony was not. "How long do you think this will take?" she asked tentatively.
"I will be back within the hour, barring no complications. Please, rest, get something to eat, you all look so tired and we need you to be at your best" she unfurled her glorious white wings and waved them at her guards. "I will be back in an hour. Good luck, everypony" she said nobly, and took off once again into the dangerous skies of Ponyville.