Among the most common questions to ever reach Fluttershy's ears was this: How was it that the most sensitive pony in town took so much joy in dealing with the most rebellious of animals? And given how she raised the rebellious but charming Angel Bunny each day, such a question wasn't without reason. Working with any other creature was effortless in comparison, the thought of something being just as uncooperative as Angel dismissed as ridiculous.
At least Angel was seemingly gentler today, yawning and rolling back and forth.
All that was on Fluttershy's agenda for the day involved feeding her animals and possibly spending some time with Rarity at the spa, the latter always a treat for aching muscles. No visitors were stopping by and begging her for advice on raising animals; no salesponies were trying to trick her into getting something she didn't need; no crises were alluded to by Twilight. Everything was just as she wanted. Her humble cottage, the furniture and walls sparkling clean, was the perfect setting for such a moment.
With a relaxed sigh, Fluttershy made a beeline toward the couch, meandering around the small table before her and taking in the different paintings adorning the walls. She gazed at the plush cushions, then toward the nearest window where her animal friends played with each other.
A knocking sound reached her ears without warning. Fluttershy shuddered, eyes widened. A freezing sensation coursed through her spine. Nopony was supposed to visit today, and Fleetfoot wasn't supposed to chat with her about what pet she'd want until next week. With a series of deep breaths, Fluttershy pondered what kind of conflict awaited her. Most troubles began the same way as far as she was concerned; a knock on the door got it rolling.
Fluttershy crept toward the front door, the knocking intensifying and louder than ever. She gently poked the frame, the door creeping open as the familiar sight of a cheery, pink pony came into view. Her curled mane and infectious smile were telltale signs that it was Pinkie Pie standing before her. Why Pinkie wanted to see her now of all times was a mystery.
"Hiya, Fluttershy!" Pinkie blurted out, Fluttershy leaning away from her in response. Giggling, Pinkie then stretched her foreleg and inched closer to Fluttershy, careful not to bump into her. "I hope I'm not interrupting ya, because I really, really need your help and I'm super-duper busy today! I mean, I'd totally go, but I'm needed to help throw an amazing party for one of Dashie's friends!"
Fluttershy took a deep breath, straightening her posture and whipping her tail a moment later. "Um, how can I help you?" she asked, twiddling her mane. Knowing Pinkie, her request probably involved something energetic or sociable. Fluttershy's throat tightened a little as she thought about what awaited her, but at least confronting a towering dragon again was out of the question.
"There's a problem with a critter on my family's rock farm!" Pinkie stepped back and flailed her forelegs about, pupils shrunk. "Limestone just sent me a letter! There's this big, weird lizard-thing making it harder for her and the others to do their farming! And working with rocks and minerals is what keeps them afloat!"
"A lizard-like creature?" Fluttershy rubbed her muzzle. The combination of Pinkie's description and the locale seemed familiar; Fluttershy couldn't help herself from cracking the faintest of smiles. Perhaps Pinkie's request was shaping up to be something exhilarating, just so long as Pinkie's family was polite. "You're referring to the Rock Lizard, right?"
Pinkie cocked her head, arching an eyebrow. "What's a Rock Lizard? Is that some kind of drink?"
"Not at all." Fluttershy shook her head. She stepped out of the comfort of her cottage and into the outside world, a slight breeze tickling her cheeks. Inches away from Pinkie, Fluttershy then wrapped her forelegs around her friend's shoulders. "The Rock Lizard is a large, harmless animal that dwells in caves. Its back is made of plate-like armor."
Pinkie's eyes shifted to Fluttershy, the former's expression tautened. "That's nice and all, but there's no time to waste. I already told ya why taking care of that big ol' lizard is important. And nopony's better with animals than you." In a flash, Pinkie assumed a bright smile once again, nudging Fluttershy's shoulder. "So please help me out, okay?"
Without hesitating, Fluttershy nodded. "Of course I'll help out." She stepped an inch away from Pinkie and placed a hoof to her chest. "I promise to have the Rock Lizard off of the farm as quickly as possible." With a quick breath, Fluttershy turned around and closed the cottage's front door. "Where should I meet you when I'm done?"
"The usual!" When dealing with Pinkie and meeting spots, this almost always meant Sugarcube Corner.
Fluttershy nodded. "Alright, I'll see you there. Um, I hope you won't mind if I take some time, right?" She crossed her forelegs, chest tightening. While meeting a Rock Lizard sounded nice and all, letting down her friend was something that would've pierced her heart. And despite her expertise, dealing with a creature for the first time was always tough. "If I take longer than a day, would that be bad? I don't know how it'll go."
"Don't worry, Fluttershy!" Pinkie bounced toward Fluttershy and patted her on the back. The latter's muscles loosened a tad as her faint smile returned to her. "I totally promise that things are gonna be just fine! Limestone might get a teensy bit testy, but that's just who she is." She paused briefly. "Oh, and I know you'll get along great with Marble! And you've already met Maud! Lastly, if you meet my parents, they're also kinda bossy. But like Limestone, they mean well!"
"Um, I hope nopony gets upset."
Pinkie's tail wiggled, chuckles leaving her lips. "Relax." She playfully waved her hoof. "Even if they push ya around, they'll be all smiles by the time everything's done!" She leaned closer to Fluttershy's ear and whispered, "And don't tell Limestone this, but part of me thinks she's softer than she seems."
Bobbing her head once again, Fluttershy stretched her wings a bit. "Well, I hope that's the case." She trotted past Pinkie and gently waved at her friend, a mixture of excitement and anxiety wrapping around her body. "Goodbye, Pinkie." Fluttershy cracked a wider smile. "I'll be back soon."
"Goodbye, Fluttershy!" Pinkie cheered. "Have fun!"
With short steps, Fluttershy brought her attention to the world before her, admiring nature's beauty. She always enjoyed how sunlight peeked through the treetops and onto the ground below, the glowing rays seemingly magical, and the rivers and flowers were always a treat, especially for aspiring photographers if previous outings told her anything. And while the rock farm was guaranteed to lack the color of her cottage and its surroundings, meeting Pinkie's family might've been more enjoyable than she could've predicted.
Of course, it also had the possibility of being a disaster.
Some ponies never realized how massive and diverse Equestria was until they ventured out of their comfort zones.
Despite visiting a vast array of locales throughout her life, Fluttershy couldn't help herself from feeling that the world around the rock farm was more devoid of color than anywhere else in the world. And it wasn't as though the moments from her trip toward the rock farm suggested a gradual decrease in color; it was bright and cheerful as usual before turning into a gray, dreary field.
Nevertheless, there were still plenty of rivers and shacks nearby the rock farm that gave the place some semblance of life. Yet Fluttershy kept biting her lip as she trudged forward, unsure of what to expect. No amount of preparation would've helped, the prospect turning Fluttershy's coat pale at the thought. Interacting with new faces was always a struggle, even if she had grown so much since venturing out into the world more often. And dealing with a creature for the first time wasn't always simple.
At least her previous first attempts when dealing with new environments turned out decently. They were eventful at times, Fluttershy's first foray regarding tropical environments consisting of moments she wished she could've forgotten, but things more often than not worked out in the end. And with this being her first steps into a landscape composed of rocks, rocks, and more rocks, similarly embarrassing incidents that frightened her to the core were more possible than ever.
Fluttershy hadn't uttered a peep ever since she began her trek from the train station to the rock farm. It wasn't as though there was anything nearby for her to admire. Aside from the occasional swishing that came from the rivers, Fluttershy's deep breaths were all that gave her company. But soon enough, she noticed a sign off in the distance, a tall barn and some grayish hills right behind it.
With her wings twitching nonstop, Fluttershy lifted herself off the ground and hovered toward the sign. She gazed up at the wooden plank, its dilapidated form swaying to and fro against a slight breeze. Already, she knew that cleanliness was not the Pie family's greatest priority.
"Pie Family Rock Farm," Fluttershy read, eyes glued to the sign. "I thought it'd look a lot different."
"So you're Pinkamena's friend, huh?" a voice called out. "About time you made it."
Shuddering, Fluttershy quickly landed and straightened her posture. She focused on a grayish mare approaching her, the latter's yellowish eyes seemingly staring into her soul. And if the somewhat strained expression she wore told Fluttershy anything, it was that the mare's identity was undoubtedly Limestone Pie. Said pony's cutie mark being a lime alongside a pair of stones narrowed it down as well; Fluttershy pondered just what Limestone's special talents might've been.
"Yes, but my friends and I call her Pinkie," Fluttershy murmured, forelegs crossed. "But you can call her Pinkamena if you want."
Limestone gently waved a hoof at Fluttershy. "It's fine," she said. "A lot of ponies call her Pinkie nowadays." She inched closer to Fluttershy and cracked the faintest of smirks. "Don't know if she told you this, but she was born as Pinkamena Diane Pie. It was only after she began working as a party pony that she changed her name." Pausing, Limestone then cleared her throat, brow sagging a bit. "But enough about the history lesson."
"Um, you're Limestone, right?" Fluttershy twiddled her mane, the intimidating eye contact Limestone gave her pricking her nerves. "I've met Maud, but I've never seen you or Marble before." Her cheeks warmed up a little. "I don't want to offend you or Marble, so I just wanted to make sure."
"Yeah, Limestone's the name." Flicking her tail, Limestone trotted away from Fluttershy, soon freezing in place for a brief second. "And you're Fluttershy. Pinkamena already told me about you, so let's save the formalities until after we've dealt with this Rock Lizard."
"Of course." Fluttershy caught up to Limestone, the two then strolling alongside each other. "But if you don't mind me asking, why is the Rock Lizard here? I've heard that they usually settle within mountains and caves, not farms like yours. Is there something special about this farm?"
"Annoyingly, that specialty might be why the Rock Lizard's here." Limestone's muzzle scrunched up, lips curled into a frown. "Holder's Boulder is this farm's pride and joy, and it's a rule that nopony is allowed to touch it. The relic stands tall and has been with the Pie family for generations."
Fluttershy nodded. "Sounds important."
"Understatement of the century." Limestone then lifted her foreleg up and pointed to her left. "Anyway, I keep the farm running for the most part. But when you've got annoying creatures like that Rock Lizard getting too close to Holder's Boulder, I feel like I'm gonna faint at any moment."
"Have you tried getting it to move?"
Limestone bobbed her head. A sigh left her mouth. "We've tried almost everything. That's why we wrote to Pinkamena, who then referred us to you."
While pressing the issue more was undoubtedly going to frustrate Limestone, the fire in her eyes telling Fluttershy all she needed to know about the mare, asking for specific details was necessary, whether she liked it or not. Working with the Breezies and Discord were important lessons for Fluttershy when it came to reaching a solution; absolute kindness only got her so far.
"Um, what did you try?" Fluttershy muttered. "I'm sorry, but just shouting at it isn't going to solve things."
"We've tried tracing its steps," Limestone replied. "The Rock Lizard loves leaves from fir trees, though using trails of food to lure it away from the farm didn't work out so well. And yes, I've tried yelling at it to step away from Holder's Boulder, but that isn't working." Limestone grumbled for a brief moment, head hung low. She sighed and then stared at Fluttershy once again. "But if Pinkamena's right, you should be able to solve this right away."
Chills ran across Fluttershy's spine. While she told Pinkie that the problem would've been quickly resolved, there was still a tightness gripping her chest that suggested the dilemma would've been anything but simple. "Well, I've never worked with Rock Lizards before, but I'll try my best."
"Your best had better work."
Soon enough, Holder's Boulder was right before Fluttershy and Limestone, its smooth surface and gray color commanding attention. Even if it was a rock devoid of any pizazz, Fluttershy couldn't help herself from admiring how polished it was, almost looking like a mirror. The way it stood by its lonesome even exuded a palpable aura. It was no wonder why Limestone and her family adored that boulder so much.
Standing to the right of Holder's Boulder was none other than Marble Pie, her legs trembling as she stared unblinkingly at what resided nearby. A monstrous, lizard-like creature with plated armor on its back stared at Holder's Boulder with half-opened eyelids. Its arms were tucked close to its chest, reclining like a pony trying to get some sleep. The creature must've been as large as Fluttershy's cottage, if not larger. And as the lizard stretched its neck toward the sky, it yawned and stretched its jaw to where it could've swallowed somepony whole. Even its apparent lack of teeth wasn't enough to prevent Fluttershy from shivering.
"Oh, dear," said Fluttershy, inching closer to the Rock Lizard. "Um, this is much bigger than I was expecting. And it's drowsier than I anticipated, too." She rubbed the back of her neck, gazing into the lizard's beady eyes. "Limestone, I think moving it out of the farm is going to take longer than planned."
"How so?" asked Limestone.
"It doesn't seem energetic, but I don't want to disturb it." Catching up to Marble, Fluttershy further scrutinized the Rock Lizard, noting its features and coupling them with what she read about prior to meeting the Pie sisters. While the Rock Lizard was never known for its enthusiasm, this one with its consistent yawning and refusal to budge made Rainbow Dash's napping sessions seem downright peppy in comparison. How it managed to climb over to the rock farm from the distant mountains seemed more unbelievable as Fluttershy thought about it.
"So, any wise ideas?" Limestone blurted out. In the blink of an eye, she then approached Marble and gently tapped her on the shoulder. "And Marble, I know you've got your own ideas, but it's best that the expert does this. None of us have worked with a Rock Lizard, remember? I'm not letting you get hurt this time."
"Mm-hmm," Marble replied, nodding. "But Limestone, you know that was a long time ago. And I know what Pinkie said, but I just know that my plan will work out." She turned away from the lizard and to Limestone, the pair assuming eye contact. "Come on, Limestone. I'm only bringing this up because I'm positive it'll work."
Limestone sighed once again. "There's just no stopping you, huh?" She feigned a chuckle, tail whipping about briefly. "No wonder we're always expecting something ambitious when you speak up." Playfully patting Marble's head, Limestone swiftly grabbed her sister's hoof and tugged her away from the Rock Lizard. "And just because the Rock Lizard's lazy doesn't mean I'm letting you just get close to it without thinking."
Marble gently kicked the air and then brought her attention to Fluttershy. A soft smile adorned the former's visage, though her lips remained pursed as not a word left them. Glancing back to Limestone, Marble then nudged away from the Rock Lizard, shyly watching the creature from a safe distance.
"Alright, Fluttershy," Limestone continued. Scowling, she pointed at the Rock Lizard. "Help me get this lizard off of the farm."
Fluttershy took a deep breath. Flapping her wings, she ascended a little and flew toward the lizard's head. While she already was familiar with the creature's appearance, there was something chilling about being close to its beady eyes. But if there was one thing she learned during her studies on creatures such as the Rock Lizard, it was that they always meandered somewhere for a reason.
"Um, excuse me," Fluttershy whispered, making her way toward the beast's ears. "Could you please find somewhere else to nap? Us little ponies need to take care of this rock farm, and even though you must be tired from a long walk, that boulder you're next to is fragile." She pressed her hooves together. And as the lizard budged a little, Fluttershy couldn't help herself from cracking a smile. "I can help you find somewhere nice to sleep. It'll be more comfortable than this rock farm, too."
The Rock Lizard raised its head, licking its lips shortly after. It then froze in place, Fluttershy's wings still flapping as she hoped for the animal to accept her request. And despite hovering in place for about a minute, not once had Fluttershy seen the lizard's muscles twinge. It was as though she conversed with a statue. Fluttershy blushed at the thought. She then flew toward the lizard's tail, gently touching its rugged, warm body. Not even that produced any noticeable effect.
"You've got to be kidding me," Limestone grunted. Placing a hoof to her face, she groaned. Limestone's head rose as she trotted toward the mountainous creature, the mare's legs trembling for a split-second. "Talking to it is definitely out of the question. Any other ideas, Fluttershy?"
Fluttershy nodded in an instant, though her cheeks tautened. "Just one," she murmured, descending back to the ground. Upon touching the rough soil, she made a beeline toward Limestone, the mare's frown enough to poke her nerves at the sight. "Um, sorry for not getting it right the first time. I thought it'd listen since Rock Lizards understand speech."
Chuckling nervously, Limestone's cheeks flushed. "That's good to know." She glanced over to where Marble stood, then back to Fluttershy. "Anyway, talking to it and baiting it with leaves won't work, remember?" Limestone inched closer to Fluttershy. "So what else is out there that might work? It's not like we can forcibly drag it back to the mountains."
"Doing that would be rude and dangerous." Fluttershy twiddled her mane. Raising her head, she brought her attention back to the Rock Lizard and the mountains in the background. "Maybe we just need to figure out where it's headed. The Rock Lizard doesn't migrate from what I've heard." She rubbed her muzzle, pausing for a few seconds. While the mountains seemed distant, there was likely something of value for the creature nearby. It wasn't Holder's Boulder or any of the rocks; most of those would've been swallowed if that was the case, though pebbles only consisted of a small fraction of its diet. Further studies about the rock farm were needed.
Much to Fluttershy's relief, learning about each and every corner of the rock farm only required asking Limestone or Marble about it. However, the former was probably close to bursting a vein and the latter was somehow shyer than her by miles. Forcing either of them into something seemingly mundane sounded downright ridiculous at face value, especially when Holder's Boulder and the farm were on the line. But Fluttershy knew that if she was going to understand the Rock Lizard's route, she needed to understand the farm and its surroundings first.
Fluttershy cleared her throat, shivering as though a blizzard swirled past. "Um, Limestone," she whispered. "I know this is going to seem weird, but I need to ask for something important."
"If you've got a question, just ask," said Limestone.
"Well, I was hoping that either you or Marble could show me around the farm." Fluttershy's wings twitched. And as she noticed Limestone raising her brow, Fluttershy's cheeks warmed up in the blink of an eye. "I know about the problem, but I need to know if there's anything the Rock Lizard might want."
Marble made her way to Fluttershy, keeping her gaze locked onto the lizard. "We don't have time for that," she muttered. "It might mess with Holder's Boulder or ruin the farm if we take too long." She shuddered, stepping back and then playing with her mane. "We can't risk anything like that.
"Precisely," Limestone said, nodding. "And why would you ask about touring the farm at a time like this?" She spread her forelegs out, eyes widened. "We need solutions, and there's no time to take a stroll and think." A sigh left Limestone's lips. "So tell me, other than Holder's Boulder and these rocks, what might a Rock Lizard want that's here?"
"That's where the tour comes in," said Fluttershy. Her breathing picked up. She knew Limestone and Marble would've deemed her suggestion to be absurd, yet even predicting the outcome stung a little. How she hadn't trembled in fear or shed some tears was a miracle based on how she saw herself. "So could you—um—please do a quick one if that's okay? When I find something that fits, we'll rush back here."
Limestone sighed once more, flicking her tail as she trotted past Fluttershy. "Fine, I can give you a tour." She glanced behind her shoulder and stared at Marble. "Marble, can you do me a solid and look after Holder's Boulder? Whatever you do, don't let that lizard damage it. And if it does anything like that, tell me immediately."
Marble bobbed her head. "Mm-hmm."
"Also, if you must do your idea while I'm gone, make sure it doesn't mess with Holder's Boulder."
Motioning to Fluttershy, Limestone then resumed trotting forward, the latter following close behind a second later. While much of the rock farm consisted of flat, gray landscapes and scattered pebbles, there were a few shacks and features off in the distance that gave it character. But despite Fluttershy feeling confident that one of the locales housed something the Rock Lizard might've been interested in, a sensation pricking her nerves cast doubt nonetheless.
For Limestone and Marble's sake, Fluttershy hoped the tour wasn't too lengthy.
There was something calming about strolling across a flat landscape, taking in the surroundings, even if they were mostly static. Fluttershy hadn't noticed any tension gripping her muscles throughout the journey, though she still took notice of the landscape's different features whilst pondering what the Rock Lizard might've wanted. It wasn't the most exciting thing out there, but whatever got her closer to the solution was welcome.
However, there was just one problem.
Among the twenty minutes Fluttershy spent following Limestone, listening to the latter explain the different regions and their overall importance to the rock farm, everything was still characterized by gray rocks, soil, and the occasional tree. While the river that carved through the earth was visible from where the two ponies were, Limestone mentioning how some rare minerals rested near the water, the Rock Lizard could've easily avoided the rock farm if a drink was what it desired. And Fluttershy knew that the species was observant, hence its large, imposing eyes. Then again, perhaps that lizard wasn't the brightest of its kind.
Fluttershy couldn't help herself from releasing a soft sigh. There must've been something nearby that the creature wanted; anything else wouldn't have made sense. But given how Limestone merely stood still with a blank expression, perhaps there was something out there she missed. Fluttershy needed answers; pricking Limestone's nerves with a question might've been a necessary consequence.
Taking a deep breath, Fluttershy inched closer to Limestone. The two then stood right beside each other, Limestone turning to Fluttershy and assuming eye contact. However, Limestone's face had a softness to it, lacking the ferocity it often exuded. Such a visage earned a puzzled expression from Fluttershy as she crept back.
"The rock farm isn't the prettiest place in the world," Limestone confessed. She crossed her forelegs. "However, our work is important. The different areas are home to all kinds of minerals, all of them special in their own way. It's not a pretty business, but I still love this rock farm." She feigned a chuckle. "I understand if that last part doesn't make sense."
"It makes perfect sense," said Fluttershy. Flapping her wings, she hovered an inch above the ground and placed her hooves on her chest. "Everypony has something they hold dear. It doesn't matter what it looks like." She slowly approached Limestone, glancing behind her shoulder for a moment before bringing her focus back to the mare. "I have a garden where I take care of all kinds of critters."
"Pinkamena told me about that." Limestone began trotting forward, Fluttershy following close behind. "It's just that you haven't said much when I explained the farm's regions. I was wondering if you had second thoughts and wanted to get back to Holder's Boulder. So just tell me if you'd rather get back to the lizard."
Fluttershy shook her head. "I'm not asking that. It's just that I'm looking for something the Rock Lizard might like." She scanned the environment once again, yet the world was still gray and littered with rocks and pebbles. And with the occasional tree not sprouting a single leaf, knowing if it was right for the lizard was virtually impossible.
"There's not much a lizard would like here." Limestone shrugged. "We could always try giving it some water from the river. That's the only thing it might be looking for other than a nap." She glanced to the right and squinted at the river. "Other than that, I don't know what it'd want."
"But if it wanted a drink, it wouldn't have crossed the farm." Fluttershy cocked her head. "I mean, that's what I've read, so maybe you're right." She caught her breath, legs twitching briefly. "If it came from the mountains, it'd just march to the closest source of water. Rock Lizards don't like complicating things."
Limestone pursed her lips. "Then what else might it want?"
"Don't worry, it won't hurt Holder's Boulder."
Exhaling, Limestone wiped her forehead and cracked a smile. "I hope that's the case." She flicked her tail, cheeks still tautened a little. "See, Holder's Boulder has gone through a lot ever since our ancestors first found it. It's been a symbol of the Pie family since then, representing the highs and lows of rock farming. Because of this, I can't stand the thought of anything bad happening to it." She paused, eyes shifting toward Fluttershy. "Well, there's one exception I'd make."
Fluttershy leaned closer to Limestone. While it was apparent just how much the mare adored Holder's Boulder and what it meant for the rock farm, the fact that there was something even Limestone placed above it struck a chord with Fluttershy. Even Pinkie hastily reminded her not to touch the massive boulder before embarking on her trip.
"Um, what is it?" Fluttershy whispered.
Limestone's smile widened an inch. "I'd do anything to help my family, even if sacrificing Holder's Boulder was the only option." She rolled her shoulders, turning to where Holder's Boulder sat, and made a beeline toward it. As before, Fluttershy followed Limestone. "This farm means everything to the family. We've kept it going for generations. And sometimes, there have been moments where we've had to make tough choices."
"What kind of choices?"
"The winter months can get rough for the farm. Snowstorms have passed through here before, the temperatures dropping below zero." As Limestone took a quick breath, Fluttershy shivered at the thought of temperatures that chilling. Anything lower might've been enough to turn her into a block of ice. "When the weather gets bad enough, I sometimes have to decide whether we keep farming or stay inside."
"That does sound tough." Fluttershy twiddled her mane. "It sounds scary, too."
"And you're wondering what this has to do with Holder's Boulder, right?"
Fluttershy nodded; no words escaped her mouth.
Limestone cleared her throat. "Since Holder's Boulder sits nearby a cliff that houses lots of minerals, it might fall down and break if we're not careful. That's why everypony here keeps a close eye on it when they can. And if we're stuck in a cottage, that's not always easy." Sighing, she placed a hoof to her chest. "If anypony might get hurt looking after Holder's Boulder, I put that aside until it's safe again."
In an instant, Fluttershy's body warmed up again. She donned a bright smile. "That's a brave, kind thing for you to do."
Bushing, Limestone slipped a chuckle. "Thanks." Her head swiveled about as she surveyed the farm, returning to Fluttershy a second later. "I'll readily admit, it's not often I open up to ponies outside my family. Pinkamena has always said that I'm a softy at heart, even if I try shrugging it off."
"That reminds me of a friend of mine." Fluttershy snickered. "She's obsessed with looking cool."
"Maybe I should meet—"
"Wait!" Fluttershy stretched a hoof out. Before her was none other than Marble desperately pushing against the Rock Lizard, teeth clenched as both of them hadn't budged an inch. Much to Fluttershy's relief, the Rock Lizard's expression was as lazy as ever, likely not even noticing Marble's presence.
However, if it noticed Marble disturbing its rest, what followed would've been haunting. While Rock Lizards were docile most of the time, they'd flail about if their territory was threatened or if they assumed something was trying to gnaw on them to no avail, the latter often due to creatures confusing their armor-like scales for eggs. And a Rock Lizard often couldn't tell the difference between an animal latching its teeth onto it and a young mare pushing against its thigh.
Marble trudged over to Fluttershy, the former rubbing her own mane. She kept still once the two were mere inches away from her, crossing her legs once everypony reconvened with each other. A sigh left her lips, though both Fluttershy and Limestone assumed worried expressions.
"You could've been seriously hurt," said Fluttershy, staring right into Marble's eyes. "Please don't scare me like that, okay?"
Marble slowly nodded, cheeks flushed. "Mm-hmm."
"And are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Marble whispered. "I thought forcing it awake would've done the trick. That was my idea before you got here." She sighed once again, eyes shimmering. "Sorry, everypony." Sniffling, she blinked and stepped back. "I should've asked before doing that."
"It's fine, Marble." Limestone approached her sister, gently wrapping her forelegs around the gray mare. "We've been over this before. Don't do anything risky until you talk to somepony else." She glanced over to Fluttershy. "I didn't even realize she was doing that. Thanks for warning my sister."
"It's not a problem," Fluttershy responded. She went up to Marble and gently rubbed the mare's back. "The good thing is that everypony's safe."
The trio all nodded in unison.
"Since that's obviously out of the question, what now?" asked Limestone. She adopted a puzzled expression. "It's not like we have many options left." Releasing Marble from her hug, Limestone inched closer to Fluttershy. "Since we've exhausted everything else, maybe we should give it some water."
Fluttershy slowly nodded. "That's true," she muttered. "I'll first need a large bucket for the water. Rock Lizards are known for drinking lots of water in single sittings, so a little bottle or jar won't work." Fluttershy swiveled her head to a nearby cottage, squinting at the surprisingly clean structure. "Does your home have any large buckets?"
"Of course we've got plenty of buckets." Waving a hoof at Marble, Limestone then trotted forward with her sister tagging along. Fluttershy soon joined the pair, the three making a beeline over to the cottage. "When you're working with all kinds of minerals, you'd be crazy to work without something to carry them."
"Mm-hmm," Marble added. She sped up, trotting right beside Fluttershy. "I'm not as strong as Maud or Limestone, so having one helps out a lot."
"And will they hold enough water?" asked Fluttershy. She glanced over to Limestone and then back to Marble. "I'd hate to break them or have the water leak out."
"We'll be fine," said Limestone. With a slight smirk, she patted Fluttershy's shoulder. "Just don't do anything reckless with them."
Upon arriving at the wooden cottage, Limestone lifted her hoof up and knocked on the door. Clacks rang in the air. And before anypony even had a chance to move an inch, the door creaked open, a gray mare wearing a frock standing on the other side of the doorway. Fluttershy recognized the mare's emotionless stare, the telltale sign of Maud Pie.
"Hello," Maud murmured, her expression unchanging. Her eyes shifted over to Fluttershy. "How's Pinkie?"
Fluttershy crossed her forelegs. "Pinkie is doing wonderfully," she replied. Taking a deep breath, she inched closer to Maud and assumed eye contact. "Um, if you don't mind, we need to borrow the largest buckets on the farm." She pressed her hooves together, warmth bundling in her cheeks. "We've tried everything to move the Rock Lizard, and giving it some water is the last option left."
Maud nodded without hesitating. "You can use the buckets." She brought her focus to Limestone and Marble. "If my sisters are both okay with it, then there's no need to ask. I'll help if you need it." Pausing, Maud blinked and stepped back. "Just don't overfill the bucket. They're old, so they might break if you're not careful."
"Thank you so much, Maud."
Trotting back into the cottage, Maud disappeared from Fluttershy's sight, the latter inching away from the cottage. Both Marble and Limestone kept their gazes glued to the wooden walls, though aside from the occasional cracks and signs of wear, nothing about the planks stood out. And while Fluttershy wished she could've asked why Maud had such a monotone voice and a peculiar personality, doing so would've been rude. And rudeness was almost always to be avoided.
Maud returned with a pair of large buckets, Fluttershy cracking a smile at the sight. Both were plenty when it came to caring for something like a Rock Lizard, at least from what the books claimed. And in the blink of an eye, Maud stepped outside and slammed the door shut. She trudged past the trio and focused on the nearby river.
"We'll need to do this as a team," said Maud. "These get heavy the more that is inside of them."
Limestone bobbed her head. "That goes without saying," she deadpanned. Her eyes shifted back over to Fluttershy, the latter's spine freezing for a brief moment. "I don't know how strong you are, but I'm expecting a helping hoof. Maud and I will do most of the work, so you and Marble can keep it steady."
Fluttershy clenched her teeth, nodding back at Limestone soon after. "I'll do my best."
The four ponies arrived at the river after a minute or so of trotting, Fluttershy's muscles already tightening. At least the cool breeze which swirled around her was comforting, as was the rustling sounds the river made. Even the water itself had some beauty, its crystal clear surface commanding Fluttershy's attention. Maybe this was what the Rock Lizard truly wanted all along.
Maud gently placed the bucket down, Limestone and Marble lowering it into the river. The group froze in place as though time had stopped.
A cold sweat cascaded down Fluttershy's forehead. She took a deep breath. "That should be enough," she said, heartbeats filling her ears. And as the trio lifted the bucket, Fluttershy rushing in to help them, the tenseness in her body dissipated. "Please let me know if it's too much. We can return some back to the river if you want."
"This is fine," Maud replied.
"This had better work," Limestone added.
Marble quickly nodded, legs quivering. "Mm-hmm."
The four mares crawled toward the Rock Lizard, the creature sitting as lazily as ever. Aches covered Fluttershy's back, both Marble and Limestone shaking whereas Maud kept chugging along. And as much as Fluttershy wished she could've just sat on the sidelines, there was no backing down. Limestone, Marble, and Maud needed her just as much as she needed them. Such a thought kept her upright, even as her body willed her to collapse onto the ground.
After what felt like an eternity, the four arrived back at where the Rock Lizard was, Fluttershy unable to hide her enthusiasm as the finish line was within sight. All she had to do was avoid collapsing, not exactly the easiest task for a flimsier pony like herself. The pale but smiling expressions Marble and Limestone wore suggested a similar story for them.
At last, everypony froze in place, Maud helping the other three in placing the bucket down. When it was all said and done, Fluttershy felt as though she could breathe once more, the weight of the world finally off of her shoulders. She immediately turned to the three Pie sisters and cracked a smirk, her acquaintances following suit.
"We did it," Fluttershy said as a matter of fact. She wiped her forehead. "Is everypony okay?"
Limestone nodded, panting. "I'm fine," she murmured.
The other two nodded.
Fluttershy stretched her wings and stepped away from the lizard. "Well, here's—"
In a flash, the Rock Lizard stuck its tongue out and charged its head at the bucket. And before anypony had a chance of speaking another word, the water vanished like a mirage. The lizard burped and then licked its lips. Its creaky joints were even audible, the lizard's neck swaying from left to right. And after a few seconds of stretches, the colossal creature leaned toward the four, everypony but Maud stepping back.
Sweat dripped down Fluttershy's forehead. Each second felt like an hour. Yet she noticed a slight smile adorning the Rock Lizard, its eyes brighter than ever. The creature then gently licked Fluttershy's cheek like a puppy, the latter donning a bright grin in response. The Rock Lizard then nudged away from the mares, slowly turning around and marching back to the mountains with its head raised.
Once the lizard was a few meters away from the group, everypony breathed a sigh of relief. At long last, the problem with the Rock Lizard appeared to be resolved. And as a bonus, both the Pie sisters and the lizard were certainly ending the day with bright visages of their own.
Marble's eyes widened to the size of saucers. "That's amazing!" she gasped.
"I agree," said Fluttershy. She placed a hoof to her chest whilst watching the Rock Lizard make its trek back home. "It's not often you get to see such a wonderful creature. I'm glad I got the chance to experience it with you." She blinked, twisting her head back to the Pie sisters. "Thanks for helping out, everypony."
"We should be thanking you," said Limestone. She took a deep breath, wiping her forehead as she continued panting. "None of this would've been possible without your help."
"You're welcome." Fluttershy's wings twitched momentarily. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"I think we'll be fine."
"Well, I guess this is goodbye." Fluttershy took to the air once again, hovering slightly above the earth as she waved at the three Pie sisters. "Goodbye, everypony. Please let me know if there's anything else I can help with. It was an honor meeting and working with all of you."
"Goodbye, Fluttershy," the trio responded in unison, all of them waving a hoof.
As Fluttershy began her journey back to the train station and ultimately back to Ponyville, she couldn't help herself from wearing the brightest smile to grace her visage in ages. While it wasn't the happiest moment in her life, there was something heartwarming about helping others that few activities couldn't beat. And not only had she met a new creature, she made some new friends along the way.
Fluttershy was proud of herself; her friends were likely to be proud of her when they heard the news.