Fluttershy shuffled toward the imposing castle in the distance. Atop her back, an owl cooed quietly, struggling to stay awake in the early morning sun. As Owlowiscious finally gave up and drifted off to sleep, Fluttershy heard the bright chirping of other birds just waking up around her. Their cheerful greetings of a glorious new day echoed throughout Ponyville, spreading a gentle warmth for all to hear.
After giving Owlowiscious a checkup the night before, she was on her way to visit Twilight and return her pet. Fluttershy greatly enjoyed these simple opportunities to help her friends. Such a simple task hardly felt like a chore at all, for she got to spend time getting to know an animal friend she did not know nearly well enough. Even more importantly, by keeping a pet happy and healthy, she could foster greater enjoyment in the relationship for both the animal and the pony. That alone made her work worthwhile.
Eventually Fluttershy reached the entrance to Twilight’s new home. Secretly, Fluttershy had preferred Twilight’s previous abode, a simple tree that had balanced utility with natural aesthetic. This crystal castle, while quite grand, still felt rather imposing and impersonal to her. Fluttershy supposed that such a magnificent dwelling befitted a princess, and she would never dream of voicing her dissatisfaction to Twilight, but Fluttershy did not quite feel comfortable in Twilight’s new home. It just felt so…cold.
Fluttershy knocked on the front door. The loud clang reverberated through distant hallways inside, startling her so much that she almost turned and fled. But Fluttershy waited patiently, expecting to see Twilight emerge at any moment.
Minutes passed, and there was no answer. Reluctantly, Fluttershy quietly tapped on the door again. Maybe nopony had heard her the first time.
Again, she stood there for a rather long time.
Again, nopony came to open the door.
“Well, um, maybe I’ll just, um, come back another time, when it’s more convenient,” Fluttershy murmured as she turned away. She daintily retraced her path down the golden front steps of the castle, treading so lightly that her hoofs did not make a sound. She had just reached the bottom of the stairs when the door behind her flew open with a sudden crash.
“Help!” a panicked Spike screamed from the entryway.
“Eep!” Fluttershy quickly zipped to the side and ducked behind the front stairs’ banister. Cautiously, she peeked over the railing to see a confused and fatigued baby dragon looking frantically around.
“Hello?” Spike panted. After twisting his head this way and that in a vain attempt to locate who had just knocked, Spike glanced down in dejection. He turned to head back inside.
“Um excuse me?” Fluttershy poked her head above the banister and addressed Spike.
“What?” Spike whipped around in excitement, but his face fell when he saw who it was. “Oh, hi Fluttershy,” he said with little enthusiasm.
“If it’s a bad time, I can come back next month,” Fluttershy replied as she stepped out from her hiding spot and stood in front of Spike.
“No, it’s alright,” Spike said. “Good to see you, Owlowiscious.” Stirring from his slumber, the owl hooted happily and flew into the comforting darkness of the castle.
“What’s wrong, Spike?” Fluttershy asked, concerned.
“Well, you see,” Spike began, “I can’t seem to find Twilight. While I was taking a bath last night, I thought I heard her come back from visiting Zecora, and later I heard an explosion come from her room.”
“Explosion?” Fluttershy trembled slightly. “Is she alright?”
“It was probably just another spell she was working on,” Spike responded casually.
“But you can’t find her now?” Fluttershy gently probed.
“Yeah, I woke up this morning and didn’t see her anywhere around the castle.” Spike froze for a second as a disturbing realization hit him. “You don’t think she exploded, did you?”
Fluttershy gave a small gasp of horror. “That…that can’t have been what happened, can it?”
“I’m not sure.” Spike’s eyes widened in panic. “I just know that there was an explosion last night, and when I went to check on Twilight, I was chased through the castle by a spooky ghost, and then I hid in my room until morning and didn’t even notice that Twilight had exploded!”
Fluttershy trembled. In her panic, she could only eek out a single, terrifying word that Spike had mentioned so offhandedly: “Ghost?”
“Oh, yeah,” Spike calmed down as he nonchalantly recalled his experience from the previous night. “A spooky shadow followed me around, breathing down my neck and tapping me on the shoulder. Of course, I wasn’t scared at all, but it was still a bit strange.”
“Um,” Fluttershy interjected, “if it was a ghost, how was it able to, um, tap you on the shoulder?”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Spike pondered this for a moment. “Hey, I guess it couldn’t have been a ghost. It must have just been some strange pony wandering the castle at night.”
Spike paused, satisfied. For a several protracted seconds, his last statement hung in the air, dispelling their timid uncertainty with a reassuring fact. There was nothing to be scared of: there was no ghost, and Twilight probably had not exploded, either. Everything could be explained by the presence of this very real, very mysterious, very unknown pony.
“Wait,” Fluttershy spoke up. “There was somepony else in the castle?”
“Well, I suppose so,” Spike said. “Just somepony who I never got a good look at, who didn’t seem to belong there, and who went out of their way to scare me off…” Spike leapt in surprise, waving his arms frantically. “There was somepony in the castle! And now Twilight’s gone! Somepony kidnapped Twilight!”
Fluttershy had reached her limit. Ghosts, she could handle, barely, and having Pinkie Pie for a friend had given her quite a familiarity with explosions of all sorts. But the thought of a pony taking somepony else against their will, that was too much for her. Fluttershy took off running, hurrying back toward her cottage where she could be safe among her animal friends. She galloped as fast as she could, tuning out the bustle of the town around her as she fled. Head down, she vaguely registered the startled exclamations of ponies as she rushed by. But she paid them no heed. All her thoughts focused on making it back to her home as quickly as she could, where she could be safe and she could hide and she stay inside until next spring and…
Fluttershy careened straight into another pony. The baskets that pony had been carrying went flying, sending projectiles flying every which way. Fluttershy landed hard on the ground as the splats of fruit hitting the ground echoed around her. Not daring to look up, Fluttershy curled up on the ground as she tried to mumble out some sort of apology.
The other pony walked over to her and picked her up off the dirt. “I’m mighty sorry about that, Fluttershy. I didn’t see you barreling along over there. Y’all aren’t hurt, are you?”
Fluttershy shook her head.
“That’s good to hear. But I’ve gotta ask why you’re runnin’ so fast. Everythin’ alright?”
“It’s, um, well,” Fluttershy whispered timidly, “I was just talking to Spike, and he said that, um, that maybe it’s possible that Twilight might have been, um, kidnapped.” Fluttershy swallowed.
“What?” came the incredulous reply. “Twilight’s been kidnapped?”
Fluttershy nodded. “She disappeared last night, and Spike mentioned he saw an intruder in the castle, so it seems as though Twilight has been, well…” she trailed off meekly.
Fluttershy nodded again.
“Then we’d best get goin’, Fluttershy.” Applejack narrowed her eyes in determination. “We’ve got a criminal to catch.”