The sun was bright, the sky was clear. And one orange earth pony cursed its betrayal. The cheery weather was counter to her own outlook. One which she thought she shared with her best friend, Rainbow Dash. It appeared that even the director of the local weather service could not alter the weather schedule at the last-minute.
Applejack trotted through downtown Ponyville. Her mind was on the events of the previous day. Her best friend had lost her brother. She was still having trouble processing it. Applejack thought for a minute: What if she lost her brother? She couldn't take it, and quickly wiped the thought from her mind.
But to Twilight it was not a hypothetical. It was real. She found it unlikely the unicorn could even get out of bed. How could she? Applejack's hooves carried her through the town, directed by some unknown force.
As she passed through an intersection, a small yellow and pink blur entered her field of view. The farmpony stopped in her tracks and turned to see a small outdoor cafe, down one of the many side streets, and at one of the tables, a very familiar friend.
She trotted down the road, watching the butter yellow pegasus slowly sip from a small teacup.
"Hey, Fluttershy," she said, approaching the young mare. "Whatcha doin'?"
"Oh, good morning Applejack," she replied. "I was just waiting for Rainbow Dash, we were going to meet up for breakfast this morning. But I think she's running a little late."
"Oh, well, mind if I join ya?" the farmer asked. Trotting around the barricade.
"Um... well..." Fluttershy tried to explain as her friend approached the table again. "It's just... it was supposed to be just the two of us."
"Oh..." She was slightly confused, before a light came on in her eyes. "OH!" she exclaimed. "Well, um... uh..." She started to scratch the back of her neck. "I gotta say: This is a surprise."
Fluttershy tilted her head in confusion. "I'm sorry?"
"Oh, no, Fluttershy, it's your life, you can live it as you wish. I'm your friend, I'm not gonna judge."
The pegasus was completely lost.
"I mean I always had my suspicions about Rainbow, but... never took you for... um... anyway..." Applejack tried to push past the awkwardness with a nervous giggle. Swallowing hard, she continued. "Well, I can leave once she arrives, give you some alone time." She gave another nervous giggle.
"I'm just... can we talk?"
"Okay..." Fluttershy was hesitant. But was not going to object.
Applejack sat in the chair across from her friend, and sitting on the table before her, sat a small, leather-bound book. "What's this?" she asked, reaching for the tome.
"NO!" the mare screamed, grabbing her book before Applejack could lay a hoof on it.
"Um... you alright sugarcube?"
"Um... yes, I just..." Her eyes darted back and forth. "You see... I wanna... Um... Rainbow Dash! I wanted to give this to Rainbow Dash!"
"My hooves are clean Fluttershy," she said with a chuckle. "I wasn't gonna dirty it."
"I know, it's just... um." It was impossible for Fluttershy to explain. Not without revealing her best friend's secret. And she knew that could never happen. "You wanted to talk?"
Applejack went along. "Yeah, um..." she put a hoof to her chin, and slowly lowered it. "Twilight. How's she doin'?"
"Oh..." Fluttershy responded. "I haven't seen her since last night. She was still in bed."
"You know how to cheer her up?"
The pegasus released a sigh. "Not exactly."
"Well, we have to do somethin'. I don't think she's gonna come back on her own."
Fluttershy shuffled her forehooves.
"Aren't you good at this kinda stuff?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, you managed to talk down a fire breathin' dragon."
"That wasn't a pony, that was a dragon. And... well... I don't think yelling at Twilight and giving her The Stare is going to help."
"The only other pony I can think of is Pinkie, and she's probably a bit too direct for this situation."
"Where is Pinkie Pie?"
"I explained to her that she needs to stay away from Twilight for the next couple of days. I'm pretty sure she understood."
A rapid series of knocks came from the front door of the Ponyville Library. A drowsy young dragon slowly pattered toward it. "Okay, okay," he said. "I'm coming."
He swung the door open, revealing an empty stoop. Spike scratched his head in confusion.
"SURPRISE!!!" Came a scream from behind him. The noise propelled him forward.
He rolled around, and rubbed the pain in his head away, saying, "Pinkie, what the hell!?"
"Sorry, Spike!" the joyous pony exclaimed. "I just wanted to throw Twilight a surprise party, and wanted to practice my Surprise scream!" She pulled out a small horn from behind her back, and got ready to scream again. "SURPRI-" But was suddenly stopped by a purple claw wrapping itself around her lips.
"Pinkie," Spike explained, releasing his claw. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"Why not!? She needs cheering up, and nothing cheers somepony up like a Pinkie Pie party."
"This is a little different, Pinkie."
She put a hoof to her chin, and said, "Applejack said the same thing, but she didn't say 'why.'"
"You didn't ask?"
"I did, but she didn't say 'why.'"
"She didn't say anything?"
"No, she said something, she just didn't say 'why.'"
They stood in silence for a few seconds.
"So!" Pinkie said, holding up a box overflowing with streamers. "Party!?"
"Pinkie Pie?" said a voice from behind the mare.
Pinkie turned around rapidly, obliviously knocking Spike across the room with her tail. "Twilight," she screamed, running toward her best friend. She yelled "SURPRISE!!!" and put a party horn in her mouth, before Twilight levitated it away.
"What's going on?" the unicorn asked.
"I was going to throw you a huge party to cheer you up!" she said with a smile.
Twilight stared at the earth pony, blinked several times, before finally releasing a small smile and grabbing the mare in a tight embrace. "Thanks Pinkie, I'm glad to know you cared." Twilight then pushed her friend away, and held her at leg's-length. "But... um..." Pinkie saw the water accumulate in her eyes. "Not right now. It's not the best time."
"Oh... Okay," she responded.
"Perhaps when I get back," Twilight explained, placing the noisemaker in her friend's mouth.
"'Back'!?" she exclaimed through her teeth. "Where are you going!?"
Twilight wiped the moisture from her eyes and explained. "Oh, I'm heading back to Canterlot for a few days."
"OO!" Pinkie reacted, as her friend started to cross the room. "Can I come!?"
"No," she replied, not even turning to look at her friend. "Not yet. Spike, just remember to-"
"Don't worry Twilight," the dragon said, holding up both claws. "I practically run this library even when you're here. I'll be fine."
"Okay," she said with a nod. Pinkie suddenly noticed the unicorn's saddlebag, on her back, already packed and bulging. Some of the contents were peeking out the top in an uncharacteristically unorganized fashion. She sat there and continued to watch the scene play out in stunned silence.
Twilight closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then rubbed her eyes again. "Um... tell the others I'm sorry I couldn't give a proper goodbye, and that..." she rubbed an eye, and swallowed hard. "...and that I'll see them at the funeral."
"You know you can catch a later train, Twilight."
"I don't want to."
Without another word, Twilight left the library, leaving the door open as she trotted away.
"Come on, Fluttershy!" Applejack explained. "I always thought you were the insightful one."
"Um... Well... I think we just need to give her time."
"Time... waitin'... it's not somethin' I'm good with," the farmer explained. "In my experience, waitin' too long means things just get worse."
She remained silent.
"I have to do somethin'."
"Hey, Fluttershy!" A voice came from above. The two mares saw their rainbow-haired friend float down to the cafe. "Applejack!" she continued, as her hooves touched down. "What's up!?"
"Oh," the earth pony got to her hooves. "Nothing much. I have things to do, so I'll just... leave you two alone then."
Just as she was about to leave, the humble mare stopped her. "Oh, Applejack," she said. "Go see Twilight. Offer anything she might need. If she remembers how much you care, it might help."
The earth pony gave a small, pensive smile. "Yeah... it might. Thanks Fluttershy."
As she galloped off, Rainbow watched with a raised eyebrow. "You didn't... tell her... did you?"
"What?" Fluttershy was shocked. "I-I didn't! I swear!"
Rainbow raised a hoof to silence her friend. "I know! I believe you Fluttershy, I just... had to ask."
As Rainbow sat down, a purple earth pony trotted by and asked for their order.
"Just get me the usual, Silver," Rainbow said.
The mare put a hoof to her head and nodded quickly before trotting off.
"So, sorry I'm late," the blue mare explained. "Busy morning."
Rainbow looked at her friend's chest. "So, what's that?"
Fluttershy noticed she was looking at the book that was still in her hooves. "Oh... um... I thought... well that is... I figured we could try a little test."
Fluttershy nodded. "After what you told me last night, I thought... well..."
Rainbow knew exactly where this was going. She released a sigh, before continuing in a hushed tone. "You want me to channel somepony you knew. Right?"
A redness came to the yellow mare's face. "I'm sorry."
"Fluttershy, the reason we don't tell ponies about our powers, is so they don't keep asking us to use them."
"But... I thought..."
"Yeah, well... The thing is... It's not always fun."
"Oh... okay." The mare hung her head, dejected.
The two were interrupted as their server dropped off Rainbow Dash's order: A Strawberry Hayshake; and a large double-decker club sandwich, loaded with lettuce, hay, tomatoes, daffodils, cucumbers, dandelions, and garnished with rose petals, with a side of hay fries.
Fluttershy returned to her teacup, and nervously sipped it.
Rainbow quickly took her first bite. "So," she said, between chews. "Who is it?"
Her companion looked up. "Huh?"
She leaned in. "The pony you want me to summon."
"Oh, it's my... my grandmother."
"I thought you never lost anyone."
"Oh... she died before I was born." Her wings quivered. "In fact it was a few days before I was born." She showed her friend the book. "This was her journal. She wrote in it every day. You said you could use something like this..."
Rainbow dropped her sandwich. "A book eh? Hmm..." She put a hoof to her chin. "Well, Fluttershy, I'd love to.
"What!?" Her ears popped up. "Really?"
"Sure," she said, taking another bite. "Assuming I can."
Fluttershy's eyes went wide. "But I thought you said..."
"Well, she died so long ago. She might have moved on."
The yellow pegasus was confused. "Um... 'moved on'?"
"Yeah, we can't contact just any soul. Some move on to some point beyond. Somewhere even we can't get to." She took another bite before continuing. "And even if I can summon her, she might not take it well."
"Wha-what do you mean?"
"Well, she's been dead for decades. Stuck in that void. To be pulled back to life so unexpectedly, it's pretty shocking. Not to mention we'd have to explain how we did it."
Fluttershy nodded. It took the pegasus quite a while to fully understand everything. They wouldn't have that much time with her grandmother.
It felt so unusual, seeing her best friend talk about the afterlife as casually as she would talk about recent weather operations. But this was what she did. Rainbow Dash talked to the dead. It was normal for her. Just because Fluttershy found it strange, doesn't mean everypony did.
Rainbow Dash finished her sandwich, and pointed to the hay fries. "You want these? Ah, forget it." She held out a hoof. "Silver." The purple pony was only a few feet away. Her attention was caught. "Box?"
Silver waved the mare down before returning to her other customers.
"So," the weatherpony leaned back, and started sipping on her shake. "You got a place we could do this? It'd have to be quiet, and secluded. Can't have anypony asking questions."
Fluttershy was about to answer, but was quickly interrupted.
"There's your cottage, though you do have a lot of animals. They might not take it well"
"I-I know a place."
Far outside the town limits, next to a wide open field, on the edge of the Everfree Forrest, a small cabin stood. It was dark, and many windows were cracked or broken. It hadn't been properly maintained in a long time.
Rainbow raised an eyebrow.
"Why do I get the feeling this is gonna cause more problems than it's worth?" the medium asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Even buildings can be used as touchstones."
Fluttershy quickly dove into her head. Touchstones. The objects used by Rainbows to summon specific spirits. Like the book Fluttershy held in her saddlebag.
Rainbow pointed to the abode in question. "This one looks pretty old and... does anypony live here?"
"I don't think so. I've been here a few times. I even left a note to the owners but it was left untouched."
The caretaker trotted toward the cabin, her friend following close. "Sometimes I'm out here helping the animals. The Castor family has a dam not far from here, and their little yearling Bucky gets into a lot of trouble. I always tell him to be more careful, but I don't think he'll ever listen." Fluttershy smiled at the nostalgia. "But this far out, it's sorta comforting to have a home away from home like this."
They approached the front door.
"This is your 'home away from home'?" she asked.
"It's cozy," her friend joyously rebutted.
Rainbow carefully lifted a hoof. She closed her eyes, her lips started to move and she slowly lowered her hoof onto the doorknob.
Rainbow's hoof made contact, her head tilted, her ears twitched. She removed her hoof and said, "Yeah, let's not." She trotted away.
Panic rose in Fluttershy's mind. "What? What is it? Is this place haunted?" She exclaimed.
"No. Well... sorta. But it's perfectly harmless! Just... I don't think we should do this inside. Not if the floorboards are touchstones." She looked over the grassy plains before her. "We should just do it out here, this'll be fine."
"Well, she'll take over your body. Right? What if she runs off?"
"That's what the mantras are for," she said with a reassuring smile.
As Rainbow sat down, Fluttershy dug out her grandmother's journal. She threw it on the ground before her friend. "Ready?"
"Yeah, but listen, Fluttershy."
The yellow mare looked up.
"Thanks for taking me seriously."
"Oh, well, about that-"
"You actually don't believe me and you want me to prove it first by asking questions only your grandmother would know."
"How'd you know?"
"Why else would you pick a book?"
Fluttershy started to nervously rub her foreleg.
"Yeah, mom asked dad to do the same thing."
"So," Rainbow said, cracking her hooves and closing her eyes. "Let's do this." And with a smile, she placed her hoof squarely on the journal's cover.
"She's gone!?" Applejack exclaimed. "Without a word!?"
"She's gone to Canterlot to prepare for the funeral," Spike explained in a droning monotone as he swept the library floor. "She said she wanted to go alone, and she wanted to leave as soon as possible. We'll see her in a few days."
"Pinkie scared her off didn't she!?"
"What!?" the pink mare exclaimed in shock.
"NO!" The dragon threw up his claws. "Look, she planned this last night, she's going to Canterlot to help with the funeral. We'll see her there this weekend."
Applejack trotted up to him. "Did she look alright to you?"
"She looked sad," Pinkie interrupted.
Spike merely pointed at the baker, saying, "What she said." He returned to his sweeping. "I don't know if she's going to be okay, but I do know there's not much we can do about it."
Applejack dropped her rump on the library floor as her face fell.
"You alright?" the dragon asked.
"Got a broom?"