Shylight - Chapter Six - There's Only Me
After searching the Royal Castle for well over an hour, Princess Celestia finally caught up to Luna. Luna was looking up at the stars, lost in thought. Conflicting emotions were wracking her mind.
"Sister?" Celestia asked. "Is everything alright?"
Luna didn't move. "I messed it up, Tia," she said. "I messed it up again. I almost cost three ponies their lives back there."
"It's not your fault, Luna," Celestia started. "Look at the kind of emotional condition Shylight was in. Could you honestly have expected her to be able to remember everything with all of us pressuring her? ...Unintentional of course, but..."
"That doesn't excuse it, Sister, and you know it," Luna said, still looking up toward the stars. "We're Princesses, Celestia. We make hard decisions every single day for Equestria's sake. They should have pushed her harder. I should have pushed harder... You know our past as well as I. You know the kind of decisions we've had to make for the greater good."
"I do remember," Celestia said as she looked down. "For you, it wasn't that long ago, but I still remember every single one. I never took any of those decisions lightly."
"So why couldn't I do it?" Luna pleaded as she turned to face her sister. "This is all my fault! If I hadn't given that zebra the plant merging spell all those years ago, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy would still be here and I wouldn't have nearly killed an innocent pony!"
"Sister..." Celestia started as she moved closer to Luna. "There is another possibility we might have to consider."
"As if it couldn't get any worse," Luna said, sighing.
"Your spell may not even have been responsible for this," Celestia said, flatly. "Remember where the accident first occurred?"
"Everfree..." Luna said almost silently.
"We need to begin our own research into the situation," Celestia said as she put a hoof over her sister's shoulders. "And this time, we need to do it together. There are so many species of flora and fauna in the Everfree Forest that we haven't had a chance to properly research for ourselves. Yes, the zebras do know a lot about the forest, but we know almost nothing despite our old castle being there. Something there could be the culprit."
After a moment lost in thought, Luna looked up at her sister. "You're right," she said. "One of these days, I need to learn to put my past behind me - not just for my sake, but for Equestria's."
"You'll get there," Celestia said. "For now, we should head back downstairs and let the others know what we're planning."
"You go on ahead," Luna said as she turned back to look at the sky. "I still have things that I need to reflect on."
Celestia turned and started back downstairs. She stopped momentarily. "Reflection is fine, little sister, but you don't need to keep beating yourself up over this," she stated. "Nopony down there blames you and neither do I."
"Yes, the beauty of unknowns," Luna sighed. "Everypony should know better, but nopony is to blame when it all goes wrong..."
A week soon passed for everypony involved. Princess Celestia had chosen to tell the girls the truth - they didn't know the cause yet, but they would keep looking. They'd do everything in their power to bring Twilight and Fluttershy back.
Shylight and her friends had all returned to Ponyville, and the new alicorn was faced with a decision - how to approach her life.
She had decided to go about it in the only way she knew - assuming both Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy's work.
"Ah got a bad feelin' about this, sugarcube," Applejack said as she and Big Macintosh moved the last boxes of books from the library to Fluttershy's cottage. "Not that you ain't got the talent for this, but two jobs? Ah ain't gonna pretend to know what goes into managin' a library, but Fluttershy's work with the animals took up most of her days."
"I... I appreciate your concern, Applejack, but I think... I think I can handle this," Shylight meekly replied. "I mean, I do have both Twilight and Fluttershy's memories, so I should be... be able to do both their jobs."
Big Macintosh blushed as he lowered the last box of books off of his back. This did not go unnoticed by the two young mares.
"Spill, bro... you just found somethin' she did cute, didn't you?" Applejack teased.
"...Nope," Big Macintosh replied. His blushing became even more apparent.
"You can tell... tell us..." Shylight said. "We won't laugh or... or anything..."
Big Macintosh grimaced and started to sweat. "It's just..." he started to say.
"Would you just come out with it already?" Applejack said mockingly. "We ain't got all day here."
"Well... uh... it's..." he tried to say.
"He... he really doesn't need to say, Applejack..." Shylight said, trying to get her friend to turn down the heat a little bit.
Applejack would have none of it. "It's fine, Shylight... he's just nervous is all. How's he ever gonna find him a mare if he can't even say what's on his mind?"
"It'sthestuttering," Macintosh blurted out quickly, before he could cover his mouth with his forehoof.
Now it was Shylight's turn to blush. "Eep," was all the meek alicorn could say.
"Ah'll be..." Applejack said. "Well, why didn't you just say so in the first place?"
Big Macintosh looked down. "Ah didn't wanna say anything... it's just... Ah kind of like you, Shylight..."
"I... I... wow..." Shylight started to say. "I'm flattered, Big Macintosh, but... but I barely even know me right now. I... I'm just not ready yet."
That caused Big Macintosh to sulk. "Ah understand..." he said, slightly hurt. He started to walk back to Sweet Apple Acres.
"No... no... It's not you..." Shylight said as her fragile emotions began to crash on her. "Why...?"
Applejack embraced her friend. "It's ok, hon. He doesn't like to come out with how he's feelin' about another pony. Ah'll have a talk with him. We'll sort it out."
"But..." Shylight tried to say as she started to weep.
"It's okay," Applejack said reassuringly.
"It's not... not okay," Shylight said. "There's another reason I... I don't want a relationship right now... even though I do... kinda like him... it's just... just that neither Fluttershy or Twilight felt anything like that for him and... and what if the Princesses are able to split me back apart? What if... if I did get to know him better and I was just... just gone one day?"
Applejack sighed. What she was about to say was what she honestly thought, but that didn't make it any easier - especially with her holding on to a very fragile Shylight.
"You can't dwell on that, sugarcube," she said. "You gotta live in the now."
Shylight sniffled. "But..."
"No buts," Applejack said. "Ah miss Fluttershy an' Twilight, an' Ah know you're both of them but not quite either. Right now there's only you. You gotta make your own life, not just do what you think they'd do."
"I... it's... oh!" Shylight said as she quickly darted into the cottage and locked the door. She quickly ran up to Fluttershy's bed and started crying her eyes out.
"Dang it..." Applejack sighed. She tried in vain to get Shylight to open the door, but to no avail. After a few minutes, she went back toward Sweet Apple Acres to talk to Big Macintosh. She was just hoping she didn't lose a friend in the process.
A couple of days later, Applejack and Rainbow Dash were sharing a day off in the park. This usually meant that they were turning the park into their own private little racecourse.
Surely enough, the two were sprinting along on one of the walking paths. Other ponies were just trying to get out of the way.
"She took it that bad, huh?" Dash asked as she tried to surge ahead.
"Yep... Ah didn't wanna say it, but Ah felt Ah had to," Applejack replied as she desperately clung to her lead. "Macintosh was devastated last night. Ah tried to explain why Shylight was scared to even consider it, but you know how hard it is to get through to a colt in love."
"Don't you know it!" Dash cried as she adeptly dodged a power walker and assumed the lead. "Sometimes a guy just don't know when to quit... it's hard to chase them off!"
"Naw, Rainbow, Ah don't mean the usual lecherous trash," Applejack said as she hurdled a trash can somepony had knocked over in an attempt to get off the path. "He's honestly fallen for her. Ah tried explainin' why it might end in heartbreak but he don't care..."
"Maybe it's not that different, then..." Dash mused as she tried to hang on to the lead. They were both rapidly approaching their predetermined finish line.
"Way different, RD... the stallions chasin' you don't take the hint til ya' buck 'em in the jaw," Applejack said as she put everything she had into retaking the lead. "Mac does respect her wishes an' he'll give her space. It's still hurtin' him though."
The two competitive young mares crossed their finish line tied. The rest of the park-goers were relieved that their weekly exercise session had concluded.
"Dang it, tied again," Applejack sighed. "One'a these days, Ah'm gonna beat you..."
"Keep dreaming!" Dash shouted, smiling. "All of that aside, though..."
"Yep," Applejack said. "We gotta make sure we're there for Shylight. She's gonna need us 'til she feels right in her own skin."
"I'll see how she's doing a little later on," Dash said as she turned to leave. "Same time next week?"
"You wanna lose that badly, Rainbow? You're on," Applejack gloated.