* * *
Fluttershy raised her hoof with nervous trepidation, hovering inches away from the cottage door. She wanted to knock. She was driven to knock. Every waking moment of this new day had compelled her, against all fear and uncertainty, to bring her to this very point. Yet she hesitated. Seconds became minutes as she stood before the cottage, fighting against the doubt that shackled her limbs as surely as forged chain. Still, she struggled. Every day of her life bore the oppressive weight of timidity. Every inaction, every overwhelming feeling of inadequacy, only served to underscore that meek subservience. That the breadth of adventure and depths of joy; every fleeting opportunity for glory wrought triumphantly from an indifferent world; could only be glimpsed from afar. Only tasted by an insatiable palate. The albatross of obsequiousness that hung heavily over her soul bore a persistently depressing and bleak ultimatum. The very magnitude of her happiness could only be measured in meager portions, humbly accepted as an animal that only knew freedom within range of its leash.
She breathed deeply, steadying herself. The journey that began from her home this morning would not simply end here. She raised her hoof, even as her mind tried to conjure any rational excuse to abstain. To postpone. To go her separate way. In the span of seconds, she faced a million reasons not to continue forth. A burning pit of anger welled deeply within her, spiteful and mocking of who she was. Shy. Tame. Fearful. Her eyes stung with the faintest glistening of tears as she rebelled against that very nature. The fire in her trembling belly grew as a roaring furnace within her mind, forging her resolve, and empowering her with the forceful impetus of an errant locomotive. It was just enough.
Beyond the door was a pony unlike any that she had even known. The complete polar opposite to her. Forceful, yet reserved. Belligerently confident. A way with words that simply made her knees tremble. A patchy brown and white coat that screamed undaunted pride in the face of imperfection. A pony that she had never met; who was everything that she was not.
She hesitated for one final moment. It was foolish at best, and futile at worst. The raging torrent of hormonally fueled romance roared like a river within her, but rational arguments and pessimistic logic stood stubborn as boulders jutting from a stream bed. It really was absurd to think that even if all went well, her life would be satiated. That meeting the living embodiment of all that she secretly yearned for would somehow complete her.
Fluttershy sighed, but looked up suddenly; her jaw set with renewed determination.
If she failed, so be it. The courage to simply try was all that she wished for now. In doing so, she would complete herself. Her hoof raised towards the door, with renewed and unwavering purpose.
Just as her hoof connected firmly against the door, there was a sudden, shrill, shriek. A comically high-pitched squeal from the direction of the library. Fluttershy looked back in surprise.
The door was abruptly yanked open from inside.
“Treeeeennnnt!” shouted Laurie, as he shot from the cottage like a missile, the sash of his royal uniform only vaguely in place around his neck.
What happened next took place faster than either pony could comprehend. A short sharp smack, followed by a smattering of stars.
As Fluttershy’s vision cleared, she looked up to see another equally stunned pony just inches from her nose. The loose gravel of the road pressed firmly into her back, as the brown and white haired pony pressed warmly against her belly. Two heartbeats hammering just inches away, but miles apart.
“Oh, my, I am so sorry, Miss. Terribly sorry about that, really. Bit of a rush here.”
“Anyways, the name’s Laurie. Officer Laurie I mean. Er, Lancaster actually. Again, terribly sorry about that. Feeling okay there, I hope? Yes? Anyways, my apologies again. Was right in the middle of carrying out my duties... Er, ongoing mission in service to the crown of Canterlot. Long story there. Very important duties. Afraid I can’t stop to chat and tell you all about it. Highly secretive actually. Shouldn’t be talking about it all, come to think of it. And it’s quite urgent I must say! Thanks for understanding. Oh... Um. My apologies. I should probably get off you, perhaps?”
“Right then, there we go,” Laurie stammered as he untangled his legs from Fluttershy’s shocked supine body. “Anyways, sorry about all that again, but I must really be going. Ahh.. It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss...?”
“Miss Fluttershy. An honor and a pleasure to meet you. Anyways! I, um.. have to meet up with someone. Right now actually. Sorry about everything there. These sort of accidents do happen. I do hope there are no hard feelings. Or concussions, or broken bones, for that matter. Ahh... Hope to see you again soon. At some point in time that isn’t this one in particular. So, yeah. See you later then, of course. Um... Goodbye!”
Laurie turned and took off with a start, coming to a full gallop in a matter of hoofsteps. He stopped suddenly, skidding to a less than abrupt halt.
He turned to look back at Fluttershy, as she laid still on her back, breathing heavily.
“You have a very nice mane!” he blurted out. “Very nice, really.”
She rolled her head back to look, but Laurie was already sprinting away.
A smile began to slowly spread across her face. An upwelling sense of satisfaction that surged to the very extremities of her sore and tender body. It hadn’t gone exactly as she planned, but she wouldn’t trade that for the world now.
“You did it, Fluttershy,” she whispered to herself.
She rose unsteadily, still tingling from her small victory and still aching from the violent collision. Grey dust and dirt matted her bright yellow fur and feathers. A shower was needed... A very cold shower. She bit her lip gently as her eyes closed, playing back through the indelible memories of the past minutes.
The soft staccato of Laurie’s hooves tickled her perked ears, barely audible over the horizon of the gently rolling meadows. She began to trot in that direction, all rational compunction rolled aside like the broken boulders of a bursting dam.
The shower would have to wait.
* * *
Trent ran. His adrenaline-fueled foray left Laurie struggling to catch up. The bounding strides of the alien visitor looked completely bizarre and unnatural, yet carried him surprisingly fast.
“Trent!” Laurie shouted in alarm.
“Oh! Hey!” he shouted back over his shoulder.
“What happened! Why are you running?”
“Beees! I hate bees!”
“What? Are you serious? Oh for the love of Celestia’s flank, would you stop already!”
The two slowed to a jog, and then to a meandering shuffle.
“What the hell was that all about!” Laurie demanded.
Trent bent over with his hands on his knees, gulping air as he tried to recover his voice.
“Best bees, my ass!” he swore.
“What about them?”
“Just got swarmed by a whole hive. Angry little bastards. Some little cowgirl pony got the bright idea to turn around and kick the side of the library - which happens to be a giant tree, mind you! Bees, bees everywhere, and here we are! Gah!”
“That tree is a library? Damn, I knew it looked kind of funny in the dark. Who the hell would build something like that?”
“Don’t know, don’t care. Just.. Ugh... I HATE BEES.”
Trent stopped for a moment, looking introspective.
“Except bumblebees, maybe.”
“Because they taste like fruit juice.”
“Motorcycle. Open helmet.”
“Oh for the love of pay and hay, I get it! Eating things is your answer to everything! When in doubt, you just cram it down your snout. No wait, that doesn’t really make sense. Aaaghh! Just what were you doing out this morning anyways?”
Laurie drew a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let out a long measured sigh. A martial trance to tame the seething rage that boiled in his gut.
“I see. Now let me get this straight. You couldn’t sleep, so you decided to go out for a stroll this morning. Maybe swing out for breakfast while you’re at it, and then pay a visit to a certain prancing purple pony, hmm? Does that sound about right?”
Trent nodded. “Stopped to check the mail, too.”
Laurie’s eye twitched.
“Did it ever occur to you, that maybe... Just maybe, you could have TOLD ME FIRST!”
“I’m supposed to be guarding you! Not to mention being your guide, concierge, crowd control, and whatever the hell else Celestia only knows. It’s not like I just woke up one day with half my tail shoved up my arse thinking, ‘oh, gee - today might be a GREAT rutting day to play bodyguard to some carnivorous two-legged jackass!’ No! It’s my job! I take it seriously, and I need you to remember that! Just... Just don’t sneak off like that again. Please. I was worried this morning. Not just about what might happen if you had managed to get yourself killed in some spectacular manner, or accidentally started a riot because every damned pony in Ponyville decided they wanted to be first in line for some sort of alien autograph. And not just because that would be really rather difficult to explain to not just one, but TWO living celestial goddesses, slash commanders in chief, slash royal Princesses, slash signers of my paycheck... Who have both specifically instructed me, in particular, in no uncertain terms, to NOT FUCK THIS UP in exactly the manner I previously described!”
Laurie stopped to catch his breath. “But most of all, because I was worried about you. Really.”
“Mmm. You’re right, actually. And you do have my apologies. Although I do have to wonder, what exactly would I need to be guarded from, around here.”
“Beats the hay out of me. Never can be sure about that sort of thing, though.”
“Say... Did you say you met some pony dressed like a cowgirl earlier?”
“Ahh, yes. Why?”
“Hmm. No reason.”
* * *
“Ah think that’s the last one, Twi,” Applejack said, as she pushed the thick tome back into place on the shelf. “Really sorry about that, earlier.”
“It’s okay. You don’t need to blame yourself”
“I know, I know. Don’t know why I get all a flustered around him. Really ought to keep a level head, but ah keep thinking back to that night in the forest. Ever since, it’s just... Well it’s hard to describe. Reckon he probably saved my life and all, but there’s just more to it.”
“Well, it’s like he knows me. Like he knows me better than I know myself some days. And more than that, it felt like he honestly cared about me deep down enough that I’d be an ungrateful whelp to not see that, and show how I feel about it in return.”
“How you feel about him, you mean?”
Applejack sighed, shaking her head at the ground. “Yeah. Just like that. And the first chance I get, I make myself out to be the biggest donkey derriere in all the history books.”
“I...” Twilight began.
“Please promise you wont tell nopony what I just said, Twi. Please.”
“I will. You have my word, as a friend. But I wanted to tell you something,” she looked around before leaning in close. “You’re not the only pony that’s come close to dying from terminal embarrassment around him.”
“Wha... Who would that be?”
“Promise you won’t tell?”
“Cross my heart, sugarcube.”
Twilight leaned back, rolling her eyes and blushing.
“Do I want to know?”
She shook her head. “You really don’t want to know.”
“Ah huh... I’ll take your word on that. Don’t suppose it’s anything like my little faux pas of the century?”
“No... No, no. Nothing quite like that,” she giggled. “But I don’t know if it’s better or worse!”
A momentary silence ensued, as the lull in the conversation left them glancing awkwardly around the living room.
“You know, I’m starting to notice that he seems to act completely different to everypony he meets...” Twilight trailed off.
“Sorta like one of them color changing lizards?”
“A chameleon, yeah. Like he changes how he acts to match anypony’s personality. Or tells them exactly what they’re most interested to hear.”
“Like a spy...”
“What?” Twilight’s voice fell to a whisper. “Do you really think that?”
“No, Twi. Not him. Least I don’t think so.”
“Some other pony?”
“I ain’t namin names just yet. Not especially if I don’t know the whole picture. Look - daylight’s a wastin outside, and as much as I’d like to spend the rest of the day hiding under a blanket with a tub of chocolate marshmallow swirl ice cream...”
“Oh god I love that flavor.”
“...Yeah. Me too Twi. But I’ve gotta get back to the farm and start catchin up on the work there.”
“But before I go, promise me this. If some pony comes up and starts askin you about the big fella, powerful magic, or any sorta thing where they seem to know the answer before they’re askin the question... Let me know. Okay?
“Well, okay. Who is it?”
Applejack sighed. “Do you remember what I said about me meeting the big fella in the forest? How nopony saw that ‘cept the Princess herself?”
“A grey pony named Raines. He knew. He didn’t say it outright, but he knew!”
“Well, he could have been part of the search party.”
“Celestia’s guards cordoned that off. I never saw anypony from the search party make it over to where we were. Now Twi, I know I’m not the best with math an all, but would you mind calculatin the probability that this Raines feller just happened to be taking a stroll through the Everfree forest that time of the evening, and just so happened to end up close enough to see me and the big fella together?”
“Um...” Twilight shifted her eyes upwards as she started to multiply numbers in her head.
“It’s a rhetorical question, Twilight. Ain’t a snowball’s chance in July that he’d just be there by accident.”
“Wait a second. Do you mean where he had Sweetie Belle, or where he found you?”
“Where he found me.”
“Urrgh.. this is making my head hurt. How did Trent know where to find you in the first place?”
“Huh? Is that his name?”
“Yes. How did he know where to come and find you? You were about a mile away from Sweetie Belle!”
Applejack went slightly pale. The sickening snap of the gardener’s leaves played back through her mind.
“A whole mile away?”
“Oh sweet gravy... I ain’t feeling so good right now, Twi.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense. If Trent knew where to find you, how did this Raines pony know where to find Trent?”
The two were silent for some time, as they pondered a rather unsettling question.
“Think I best be going, before my head starts to spin worse than it already is.”
“Okay. Um, Applejack?”
“When did he get there? Were you anywhere near that gardener plant when he showed up?”
Applejack’s ears twitched erratically as she responded with a lengthy silence.
“See ya around Twi...”
* * *
“You ready to do this?”
“Been ready all morning! This is gonna be the best!”
“I know! It’s gonna be Sooo Awesome!”
Rainbow Dash traced an arc in the dirt with one light blue hoof, followed by a second line that corkscrewed around until it met up with the other end of the arc.
“Just so we’re clear. This is where you get released, and this is where I pick you up.”
“Yep!” Scootaloo nodded with excitement.
“Then we break into the next routine,” she said while drawing a set of parabolic arcs, one inside of the other. “This smaller arc is you, and I’ll be taking the longer route.”
“Lets do it!”
* * *
“Ehh. So, what were you planning to do today?”
“Back to see Twilight, perhaps? Was she using that.. ah.. ring, this morning?”
“Nope. I imagine she’s tempted to try it though.”
“We should head back that direction, although the town is probably awake by now. Most of them haven’t seen or met you before, so I don’t know how they’re going to handle you strolling around in broad daylight.”
“I get mixed reactions. You know that place next to the cottage, where we had breakfast the other day? Sugarcube Corner I think it’s called. The owners of the place could barely move when I went in there by myself. Had their eyes glued to me the whole time. Even worse when I started talking, and they realized that I could understand everything they were saying to each other.”
“Can’t hardly blame them. It’s not every day that something from another star walks into your establishment with an empty stomach.”
“Yeah, I can imagine that would feel, oh great devourer of helpless tasty creatures. Wait a second. Another star?”
“Those tiny little things that only come out at night?”
“Urghh... Long story; explain later.”
“Anyways, good thing that other pony was there. Pinkie Pie, I believe.”
“That shrill pink maniac? Oh gods, are you still in full possession of your sanity?”
“Hmm? She seems all right to me. Very polite and rather charming individual, with a great sense of humor.”
“Charming?” Laurie nearly choked on the word.
“Yeah. We hit it off pretty well. She’s rather bright too. It’s like the two of us practically think on the same wavelength.”
“You mean like a caffeine fueled chipmunk in a broken hamster wheel?”
Trent shrugged. “Yeah, sorta.”
“Oh gods... No wonder that ring sends ponies into catatonic shock when they try to peer into your brain.”
“Mm, yeah,” Trent said as he casually glanced across the field, and back to Laurie.
“Very nice pony anyways. Oh, you’re going to find this interesting!”
Trent pulled a small irregular metal disk from his pocket. A cast iron cookie with high carbon steel chips.
“What the blazes? Where did that come from?”
“I told you she was nice. Turns out, she had some blacksmith make these, because she thought I was made out of metal. And by logical extension, that I would probably eat metal as well!”
“Oh what? That has got to be the stupidest...”
“Well I thought it was pretty ingenious. Even if it was completely wrong. And it was nice of her, after all.”
“I... I have no words for this. So she just gave it to you anyways?”
“Well, she did try to see if I was going to eat it first. Can’t blame her for trying to experiment. I took it anyways, and told her I’d save it for later.”
“Oh, you tricky bastard!” Laurie chortled.
“Heh,” Trent’s eyes glanced across the field again, then back to Laurie. “Say, whatever you do, keep talking. Keep looking at me.”
“Keep talking. Don’t turn around.”
“We’re being watched.”
“Ohh... Right, then. Hate it when that happens. So tell me, Trent, how many, how far away?”
“Can’t tell. If it comes to that though, get behind me. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.”
“We’re not that far out of town. Probably should try to make a break for it. Lot harder to murder someone in public.”
“You’d be surprised...”
“That’s not what I wanted to hear!”
“Hold on a second.”
Trent’s hand rose into the air, his fingers tapping at invisible buttons. He waved his palm around ever so slightly in a series of confusing gestures, before curling up his fist with one index finger pointing straight out.
“What’s that supposed to do?”
“Vertical Launch System with clustered anti-personnel munitions. It’s armed now.”
“I point, it shoots. Things go boom.”
“Oh... That sounds kind of cool actually. Um, what are you waiting for?”
“Making damned sure before I use it. There’s a saying, you know. ‘Friendly fire isn’t’. I’ve got no idea who’s back there.”
“...I see your point.”
“Lets try to get out of here. Slowly. Are you ready?”
“On three, we both start walking to town. Stay behind me. Count thirty paces, then you stop to tell me something, got it? I’ll turn around and see if we’re being followed.”
“Okay. One... Two...”
There was a tremendous explosion.
* * *
Twilight’s soft slippers padded against the carved wooden staircase as she carried her tea to the upper floor of the library. She sprawled over the edge of her bed, shuffling her hind legs around until they were evenly covered by the warm fuzzy bathrobe.
The library wouldn’t open until Noon. She was going to enjoy this next half hour all to herself. She sipped from the steaming tea mug, as she eyed the piles of letters that littered her bedroom.
“Down to business,” she sighed.
The first letter floated up before her, chosen randomly from the loose pile.
My Dear and Faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.
Have you seen my copy of the “Canterlot Royal College Handbook of Alchemy and Magic”, Edition 332? The only one I have here is from a few centuries back. Really wish you were here, because the Canterlot Library leaves something to be desired in comparison to your organizational skills.
My Dear and Faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.
I must sincerely apologize regarding the sudden deluge of mail. Much has been written in the past days and nights since the encounter with our visitor. I trust that you can follow this correspondence in the proper chronological sequence, as I imagine that by the sheer volume, it has likely become a sizable pile in the corner of your room.
Please offer my thanks and condolences to Spike for delivering these letters. Our line of communication bears great importance in light of recent events.
I apologize in advance if any other letters get mixed in among more pressing topics. Again, our filing system here is a bit turn-of-the-few-centuries-ago. I hope your meetings with our guest are productive and enlightening.
The crisp white scroll joined the first. The foundation of a growing parchment pyramid. A new scroll hovered before her, musty yellow parchment that she unfurled delicately. Princess Luna’s writing desk appeared to have been left untouched for some time as well.
KNOW THAT IT HATH BEEN MANY LUNAR CYCLES SINCE OUR LAST CORRESPONDENCE. AS SUCH, I WISH TO REPEAT MY PREVIOUS INQUIRY AS TO WHETHER THE PONYVILLE LIBRARY HATH AVAILABLE A COPY OF “JOHN CANTER AND THE PLANET OF MARES”. IT WOULD BE MOST PLEASING TO OBTAIN THIS AT THE EARLIEST CONVENIENCE.
THE COVER ART IS SIMPLY AMAZING AS WELL, WOULDN’S’T THOU AGREE?
Twilight rubbed her forehead, still feeling the stentorian voice ringing in her ears with the subtle impetus of a hurricane.
Dearest Twilight Sparkle,
Have I ever told you how much you’ve grown over the last summer? I can hardly conceal my envy at the supple curvaceous shape of your flank. The way it flexes as you trot can only be summarized in a single word, one which scarcely conveys the full depth of the meaning it is meant to express.
“NEXT!!!!” she screamed.
WE ARE PLEASED TO HAVE YOUR FORMIDABLE SKILLS TO AID US IN THE ONGOING STUDY AND WELCOMING OF OUR VISITOR. KNOW WELL THAT WE PLACE OUR UTMOST FAITH IN THINE ABLE HOOVES.
IT APPEARS THAT OTHERS HAVE EXPRESSED INTEREST IN YOUR WORK AS WELL. I HAVE BEEN APPROACHED BY A JOURNALIST WHO WRITES FOR THE NORTHERN LANSHIRE READER, WHICH I CAN ONLY PRESUME TO BE A THRIVING COMMUNITY THAT HATH COME TO BE DURING THE TIME OF MY ABSENCE.
HE IS AN INTERESTING FELLOW WHO’S UNDERSTANDING OF POLITICS AND HISTORY SEEM TO BELIE THE MODEST ACCUMULATION OF HIS YEARS. PERHAPS I CAN ARRANGE FOR HIM TO MEET WITH YOU AT SOME TIME OF YOUR CHOOSING.
FARE THEE WELL.
Dearest Twilight Sparkle,
I have some good news! Recently, I have been reading through a book that describes numerous therapeutic exercises. I know. I am the Princess of Equestria and all, but sometimes even a Princess needs to relax, and mentally refresh one’s self.
But I must say that it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. The act of carrying so many thoughts in one’s head can exert a terrible strain on one’s facilities. Fortunately, I have found a chapter in this book that describes the act of writing letters to convey your deepest feelings, and simply not sending them. It is quite brilliant, I must say. You should try it sometime too!
Just make sure those letters never get sent! Ha ha.
Your mentor and friend,
The sound of one hoof smacking a forehead could be heard throughout the library.
“Next...” she sighed.
While we’re on the subject of my previous letter, don’t forget to ask him how they calculate casualty figures in Mega Deaths per initial incident versus post-attack casualties due to radioactive fallout, lack of medical care for injured, and subsequent periods of logistical and societal breakdown as it relates to levels of urban population density.
I know this is not a subject to be broached lightly, and I can agree with his reluctance to discuss such matters. As terrible as it may be to learn, I am compelled to have more information, than to remain blissfully ignorant.
If my choice of words are not entirely familiar to you at this point, they will be soon enough. In but a brief moment, I have learned of many great and terrible things that exist in the world outside of our own.
Use the ring. I implore of you to learn as much as you can from him. As I write this with an unsteady quill, know that I understand the gravity of your undertaking, and the implication that for better or worse, that this may be an irreversibly defining point in your life.
For this, I can never truly express the depth of my gratitude, nor will I ever forgive myself for forcing you along this path before your time. You are an adult now. I can imagine that you have not considered yourself as a filly for some while, but allow me to state that from my perspective, perched atop a veritable mountain of lifetimes, this is where the joyful innocence of childhood ends, and the sobering responsibility of adulthood begins.
Twilight furled the letter, and shakily placed it upon the growing pile.
Her eyes squeezed shut as she opened the next letter before her. She peeked slightly to see the familiar bold strokes of Luna’s hoofwriting.
I HAVE RECENTLY RECEIVED AN ANONYMOUS CORRESPONDENCE THAT HAS DESCRIBED A FORTUNATE TURN OF EVENTS FOR A FAMILY OF PONIES THROUGH ANECDOTAL CIRCUMSTANCE. THE CHANGE OF FORTUNE, AS DESCRIBED, IS ATTRIBUTABLE TO THE FORWARDING OF THIS CORRESPONDENCE TO FIFTEEN OF ONE’S CLOSEST FRIENDS, IN THAT DOING SO WOULD GRANT THE SENDER OF THE LETTERS GOOD LUCK AND FAIR FORTUNE. AS SUCH, I DO HOPE TO SEE YOU BENEFIT FROM THIS SUDDEN WINDFALL AS WELL. I KNOW NOT WHAT SORCERY ALLOWS THIS TO HAPPEN, BUT SURELY YOUR STUDY INTO THE MAGIC OF FRIENDSHIP MAY SHED LIGHT UNTO THE UNDERPINNING NATURE OF THIS AMAZING PROSPECT.
PER INSTRUCTION, I AM TO SEND FIFTEEN COPIES OF THIS LETTER TO MY FRIENDS. AS SUCH, I CAN ONLY THINK OF YOU, MY SISTER, AND CAPTAIN DORNIER, TO WHOM I HAVE SENT FIVE COPIES EACH. I HOPE THEY FIND YOU WELL!
From within the confines of the library, a muffled scream could be heard through a thick goose down pillow. It sounded vaguely like “idiots!”
Dearest Twilight Sparkle
If my sister asks you for that “John Canter and the Planet of Mares” book again...
I am completely serious. I’ve read the pages where her bookmarks are kept. That is, when she even reads at all, instead of staring at the “art” on the cover . And don’t even ask how I know which parts she seems to enjoy the most.
If you need me, I will be gouging my eyes out with various kitchen utensils.
You have my thanks.
I don’t know where that book is right now, but if she ever returns it, color me surprised if some of the pages aren’t stuck together.
Wash your hooves.
Twilight rolled her eyes and flicked the letter towards the growing organized pile.
“Gods... What’s next?”
dearest twilight sparkle
you asked me if the ring always bears the truth
i said yes
i pray to what gods ruled this land since before equestria arose that i am wrong
keep applejack safe
Twilight stared for a moment. It was Luna’s writing. Concise yet cryptic, but a pale shadow of her bold assertive voice.
“Keep Applejack safe,” Twilight whispered softly. She shivered, thinking back to how Luna had recoiled away from the antechamber doors.
What did she see?
The scroll slowly furled itself, and set atop the pile of read letters.
Another letter at random presented itself.
Dearest Twilight Sparkle
As I write this with trembling hooves, I am overwhelmed with the sensations the day brings to us. Just us two. The brilliant rays of sunlight cast their glow over our land. The morning dew clings to the grass, and fights for purchase within our prickled fur. In the chilled air, our heaving breath bursts forth as plumes of steam, laden heavily with our musky aromas...
“Oh god!” Twilight shouted, rearing her head away from the letter. She leaned back for a closer look.
...the bit fits snugly behind your teeth, and I pull gently upon the reigns. Tugging firmly as I thrust...
“OH GOD!” Twilight leapt from the bed, huddling beside it. She peered cautiously over the edge, to see the letter still floating mid-air, suspended with a slight glow of magic.
She stared for several moments longer, breathing heavily. Her eyes narrowed at the tawdy prose from across the bed. Slowly she stood, regarding the letter with a fiercely judicious and disapproving gaze.
Her head turned to each side. Her ears pricked up, listening for any sounds within the library. She checked her clock. Fifteen minutes until Noon.
Swiftly she jumped back onto the bed, flattening the scroll against the headboard. Her eyes darted back and forth fervishly. She bit her lip at one paragraph, and let her jaw drop at the next.
It was three minutes until Noon.
Twilight’s breath came in fast shallow puffs. The letter was nearing it’s end, and she could not be torn away.
Just then, a loud terrible explosion thundered overhead. Twilight leaped in alarm, impaling the parchment with her horn, and punching through the thin wooden headboard behind it.
The meticulously stacked pyramid of scrolls tumbled into an incoherent mess, intermingling with the other indistinguishable letters that had not yet been read.
Overhead, a rainbow hued shock wave could be seen spreading across the bright blue sky. Residents of Ponyville looked on in awe, and the whole town briefly experienced a moment of near silence.
A moment of silence, cut short by an enraged scream from the Ponyville Library, in a language that would have left Captain Laurie awestruck.
* * *
Laurie and Trent threw themselves to the ground as the shockwave rattled their lungs and rang within their ears.
“What did you do!”
“Nothing! That wasn’t me!”
“Flaming slit trench barbecue! What the hell was it, then!”
“Look! Over there!”
They stared upwards at the spreading rainbow colored ring that blotted out the sky.
Overhead, a blue streak released a brownish orange dot. A tiny juvenile pegasus beat her wings against the thin rarefied air as she arced across the sky on a ballistic trajectory. The faster blue pegasus sailed around the arc in a tight loop, fighting centripetal acceleration through the constant hard turn. The two met again in a shallow dive, before sharply executing a Split-S maneuver.
“Ohhh, wow... Wait! What about that pony that followed us? Trent!”
“It’s all right,” he said, as his finger curled back into his fist. He waved his hand through another series of gestures. “VLS disarmed. I don’t think she’s after us.”
“She? It’s a she? And what do you mean she’s not after us?”
“I think she’s after you.”
“What! Wait, what color is she. Pink? Is she pink? Tell me!”
“Oh god, oh god, oh god...”
“Pink and yellow? Ohhh... Hey, that sounds familiar. Yes. Ah... Fluffer... Flutter... Fluttersomething!”
“Ehh. Ran into her once.”
The blue and orange pegasii screamed overhead, just above the treetop level.
“Whoooa... ho, ho, hoo! Did you see that!”
Trent nodded. “Not bad.”
“Freaking amazing! She’d run rings around some of the palace guards, lemme tell you. Oh! Forgot to mention. We can all stand down now! False alarm there. Everything is under control. Threat level has returned to condition four.”
“Who are you talking to?”
“Ahh... Well just you, I guess. Anyways. Glad that’s all over. Good work everyone!”
Trent rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“It’s Lancaster actually... Hey!”
The two pegasii rocketed straight into the air, trailing a stream of condensed vapor behind them.
“Oooh, this is gonna be good. Oh, wait a minute! I think I recognize that blue one!”
“They both look familiar to me too.”
“Wait, what now? When did you meet them?”
“Once at Sugarcube Corner, and once back in the forest.”
The light blue pegasus raced down from the top of her arc, deftly grabbing hold of the younger pegasus as they swooped into level flight. Laurie stood on his hind hooves, whistling and waving at the two, who rolled in acknowledgement as they passed overhead.
“Did you see that? Did you see that!” Laurie shouted as he tracked the flying duo.
Trent’s attention was elsewhere. A bright yellow and pink pegasus had taken to the air, straining her wings as she attempted to speed past the sky where Laurie had been looking moments ago. She attempted to roll in a tight spiral, but her legs flung outward from the sudden angular acceleration, tumbling her body into an end-over-end spin. She attempted to recover with a panicked flapping of her wings, but to no avail. Trent watched as she slowly arced into the treeline, disappearing in a shower of leaves and small branches.
“Naah, think I missed it.”
“Well, they just landed. Wanna go meet her?”
“Be with you in a minute. Going to take a quick stroll into the woods over there.”
“Ahh. The call of nature. No worries there. I’ll be waiting. Anyways! Hey! Hey, you there! Remember me from the forest the other night? Name’s Captain Lancaster, Imperial Canterlot Guard. Lemme just say that was absolutely brilliant flying! Brilliant!”
* * *
Fluttershy lay still within a webbing of branches. The epicenter of surprise and terror to the many birds and squirrels that had occupied the leafy boughs just moments prior.
Her muscles were tender and her bones were sore, but her pride had been completely eviscerated. Tears slowly dripped from her eyes, falling far and fast to the compost rich forest floor below.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid...” she sobbed.
Her thoughts raced. Half of them urged her to reconsider. To eschew adventure. To live the life that she was cut out for. The other half jeered loudly in her mind, “I told you so!”
The sound of footsteps approached, suddenly drawing her attention.
“Um, Hello?” a voice called from below.
She froze for a moment, not sure how to respond.
“Oh. Hello,” she softly spoke after some hesitation.
“Are you okay? That looked like it hurt.”
“I... I’m fine.”
“You don’t sound fine. Can I help you down from there?”
“That’s very nice, and I appreciate the offer, but I can get down by myself. I just.. need a minute.”
“I have all the time in the world.”
Fluttershy blew a frizzled tuft of pink mane from her face, as she slowly positioned herself to stand on the thicker branches below. Her hooves offered a merely tenuous grip upon the thin bark. Getting down was becoming much more difficult than she had anticipated, and there was very little room to attempt to spread her wings. She shifted her weight slightly, reaching one hoof for the next branch below.
The bark slipped from the branch, sending her rear hoof flying out from under her. She tumbled through the mesh of thinner sticks and twigs with a frightened squeal, racing towards the unforgiving ground.
Just before she struck, a set of arms wrapped around her body. She collided heavily with Trent, as he fell backwards with the weight of one terrified pink and yellow pegasus on top of him.
“Oh my, are you all right?” Fluttershy gasped. “Oh, its you! And you speak! I couldn’t be sure when I followed you earlier. I mean, when I saw you earlier! Ohh...”
“Oh, right. I should probably get off of you. I’m sorry.”
Trent tried to sit up, sending pain shooting through his back where he had landed on a knotted tree root. He hissed as he moved, with his teeth bared.
Fluttershy’s eyes went wide as she backed away slowly.
“Arghh... Wait. Don’t go. You don’t need to be afraid. I don’t bite.”
She paused, still eyeing him with apprehension.
“You really shouldn’t sneak up on people like that. You actually had us a little scared,” Trent groaned as he propped his back against the base of the tree. “Why were you following us, if I might ask?”
“I had you scared? Oh my. I don’t look scary to you, do I? I’m sorry. You don’t need to be frightened though. I’m really nice.”
“Likewise,” Trent groaned.
“Umm...” The pink and yellow pegasus averted her gaze momentarily, brushing one forehoof through the leafy soil. “I’m sorry about following you before.”
“Were you following me, by chance?”
“Oh, no. Not at all. Well, actually, yes. Just a little bit. But it’s for something else. It’s not important right now.”
“Some pony in uniform, rather?”
Fluttershy squeaked. Her face erupted with a gleeful smile, before disappearing into wide-eyed shocked embarrassment.
“Oh, well. Eep! I mean... Ohh...”
The ‘Morse Code’ series of nervous squeaks and gasps told Trent everything.
“Have you tried to talk to him?”
The squeaking rose in pitch and tempo.
“I see... Would you like to go talk to him?”
She gasped for breath, shaking her head side to side as she peered out from behind the smooth locks of pink mane.
“Still working up to it?”
She nodded weakly.
“Is that why you tried to fly past us earlier? To, ah... Introduce yourself?”
Fluttershy looked down meekly. “Not really.”
“To show off in front of us?”
An imperceptible nod conveyed her response.
“Sort of like that other blue pony? Er... pegasus. The one that Laurie is talking to right now?”
Fluttershy’s head jerked up, eyes level with Trent.
“You know, I’ve heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But somehow, I don’t think that’s what you had in mind.”
“No.” she softly growled.
“Do you know her by chance? That blue pegasus with a the rainbow hair. It’s really quite dashing on her.”
“Ahh. Are you good friends with her?”
“Yes...” she spoke through gritted teeth.
“Hmmm...” Trent furrowed his brow, as he contemplated the seething ball of barely contained rage before him.
“You’re not mad at her, are you?”
“Well, no... I’m...”
“You’re mad at yourself?”
Fluttershy marched forward several steps, placing her nose within inches of Trent’s. Her wide eyes had narrowed to angry slits, each pupil gleamed with the polish and precision of an interstellar warship’s laser collimator.
“Yes,” she hissed.
“Mmm. But you don’t want to be like her, though? Am I right? You want to keep being yourself, but you want yourself to be something... Something more. Something you can be proud of.”
“But you cant.”
The glare returned at full intensity.
“Or... At least you think you can’t.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because I already know the answer.”
The human and pegasus stared at each other for an interminable time.
“You know... I could teach you to fly.”
Fluttershy’s face screwed into a visage of incredulous annoyance. She hopped up, flapping her wings gently as she hovered in front of Trent.
He pretended not to notice.
“Can you fly? I don’t see any wings.”
“Don’t need em.”
“Then why are you wasting my time?”
Fluttershy dropped to the ground, and turned to leave.
“She can fly pretty fast, right?”
“Her name is Rainbow Dash. And yes, she can.”
“I can make you go faster.”
She paused, mid-stride.
“Higher. Farther. Longer...”
“She’s the fastest flier in Equestria!”
“Yes. For now.”
“The light of day would have trouble keeping up.”
She turned again to face Trent, staring with exasperation.
“You can’t be serious.”
“You’re quite right. I shall only be exactly as serious as you are willing to be, which is to say, not at all right now.”
Trent leaned forward from the tree, standing up and turning back to the field.
“But the offer stands. You know where to find me. Hard to miss, and all that.”
Fluttershy watched as he strode off. She shook her head and began marching home.
* * *
“Oh, hey! There you are! Took you long enough.”
“Good to see you too.”
“So, anyways! Had a great meeting with that pegasus we saw. Really hit it off. She goes by the name of Rainbow Dash. How cool is that?”
“Mmm. Pretty cool, I suppose. Is she still here?”
“Nah, took off a few minutes ago. Her and the orange filly too. Real chip off the block, that one is. Bet she could melt the ears off a drill stallion when she grows up. Feisty and fearless.”
“Anyways, while you were out doing god knows what, we got to know each other a bit. Says she’s been trying out for the Wonderbolts team. Lifelong ambition of hers there. Gotta admire that sort of commitment.”
“And I told her how I felt about that. Really impressed, that is to say. And it’s true. Not just me sprinkling out compliments like birdseed. Guess she saw how sincere I was, and next thing ya know, there was a bit of the back n forth. Got mushy enough to make that orange filly nearly gag! Hah! Know I was that way at her age. She called me some things that I haven’t heard since the academy! Now that filly’s got some spirit!”
“Is there a point to this?”
“Yeah! Yeah, I was just getting to that. So while you were out, we got to talking, and one thing lead to another. And I sorta popped the question.”
“And... Well, she said she’s gonna think about it. Definitely interested though. You know how it is. Big decision and all that. I mean, here’s me. Grizzled old Royal Canterlot guardspony Captain. Veteran. War hero... Someday, maybe. And her. Just getting into her prime. Whole life ahead of her. Just brings a tear to my eye imagining the two of us growing old, seeing the world, building up a solid career.
“Ohh, and there’s a bonus too!”
“Uhh... Well, It’s... It’s a bonus. Typically a lump monetary sum on top of a regular paycheck. Usually handed out for exceptional performance, or on a regular yearly cycle.”
“No, no. What’s the bonus supposed to be?”
“Ohh. Ahh, I’d have to look it up. Tends to change up every few years. I think it starts at about three hundred bits for the first recruitment, and then goes up in twenty-five bit increments from there for additional recruits.”
Trent’s jaw hung open for a moment.
“I know! Right?” Laurie squealed with excitement. “Then I think its another hundred on top of that for picking up someone who’s got the aptitude to fast track to officer academy. She’s a right shoe-in for that. Oh, and you know what else? There’s a thirty bit per month stipend for recruitment duties, and that lasts half a year right there!”
“Do you like her?”
“Uhh, well... She seems pretty allright. Wouldn’t mind joining her for a brew sometime when she gets old enough for that sorta thing. Probably have to wait a while anyways, otherwise it’d seem like fraternizing - and I wouldn’t want her to get in trouble over that. Gotta keep it professional, you know.”
“Ahh... Yes, of course. For a minute there is sounded like...”
“Ohhh! Ohhh, no, no, no. Not exactly my kinda type for... well, that. I mean she’s great and all, but I don’t think I could handle a twenty-four slash seven stream of whatever she’s full of. I mean, you know me, right?”
“I mean I’m generally the quiet type. Like to read a lot, generally keep my nose clean. Sorta shy sometimes too. Not really that good at dealing with other ponies.”
“Never would have guessed that.”
“So, you know... I’d probably do better with someone that was kinda like that. Quiet, demure... Just a bit of an assertive streak. Hard to find somepony like that though. I probably wouldn’t know though, even if I smacked right into their flank.”
“Eh, what’s that now? You’ve got that ‘I’m thinking up some bastardly scheme’ sort of look on your face again.”
“Oh, it’s not that, I assure you. I was just about to head over to the forest again for a bit.”
“Again? Already? And is that really the face you make when you... Nevermind. Nevermind. Don’t wanna know. Um, you gonna meet me back here when you’re done?”
“Where to afterwards, then?”
* * *
The afternoon sun beat down upon the grassy clearing. From either side, one pony and one human entered, striding forth at a slow deliberate pace.
They did not turn.
They did not look at each other.
They stopped in the middle of the clearing, separated by a mere arms length.
There was a period of silence for some time, as they regarded each other. Words were not needed to convey what was said.
Eventually, one of them spoke.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“It won’t be easy.”
The yellow pony nodded.
“It will require, in no uncertain terms; courage, commitment, and perseverance.”
Fluttershy’s head drooped like a wilted rose.
“But I’m not brave like that.”
Trent kneeled before her.
“You wouldn’t have come back, if that was true. Keep your chin up.”
A genuine smile began to creep over her face.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because I see potential in you. I feel that you have the proper drive to do something great with your life. But it’s not a matter of showing you how. It’s a matter of showing that you can.”
“Thank you. But, why?”
“I like to help.”
“Oh.” Her smile brightened perceptibly. “I love helping others too.”
“That’s wonderful, actually. In fact, you’ve given me an idea.”
“Oh? What kind of idea?”
“A good one. Something better than just teaching you how to fly fast.”
“But... I thought that’s what you wanted to show me?”
“That goes without saying. But there’s something more now. Something more important than just teaching you to show off.”
She looked up expectantly, yet puzzled.
She nodded firmly.
“One more thing, I forgot to mention. I’m Trent.”
“I’m Fluttershy. Oooh. That reminds me! I was asked to invite you to a party next week.”
“Ahh. Who’s it for?”
“It’s for you,” she beamed. “My friends are putting it together. We wanted to show you that you’re welcome here, and that we’re all very very excited too meet you.”
“Ahhh. Next week, you say?”
“Perfect. That gives us more than enough time.”
She gasped slightly.
“You mean that you could show me how to fly really really fast before the party takes place?”
“Of course! As long as you’re willing to keep up.”
Fluttershy nodded with excitement.
“When do we start?”
“We already have. But we have some preparations to make first, so it will be a little while before we’re ready to begin. Need to gather some supplies, make you a suit, and start your training regimen.”
“Ohh... I thought you said we would be ready by the end of the week.”
“I have all the time in the world. Remember?”
* * *