• Published 9th May 2012
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The Night That Never Ended - BronyCray



Twilight and Rainbow find themselves in a world where Nightmare Moon was victorious

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4. Rainbows and Butterflies

Fluttershy grabbed the bucket in front of her with her teeth, pulling it forward before retching loudly into it. The mess in the half full bucket looked and smelled like mushrooms, all that she had eaten for weeks. Her eyes and nose ran as her stomach tightened again, pouring more of its contents forth. Some mushrooms weren’t edible at all, and finding which ones were and were not was a painful process of trial and error for everypony.

As her stomach finally calmed, she raised her head. The walls of her cottage were lined with dozens of mushroom specimens that had begun growing recently in the forest. Her friends from Ponyville needed a varied number of nutrients, and Fluttershy prayed that enough types of these fungi were edible to fully replace their lost crops.

She reached up and took down another bottle, popping the bite-sized stem into her mouth. She refused to abandon her friends again, whether it was leaving them to fight Nightmare Mon alone or the slow death of starvation.



Rainbow Dash circled high in the air, scanning the forest lazily. The stars were fading, and more than half the sky was empty of any light at all. It looked like someone was slowly closing their eye, dropping a veil across the sky an inch at a time. She turned to make her way back to Zecora’s hut, remembering the warning Fluttershy had given her. “Be back by the end of the night,” she had said, “or you are sure to get lost. Fires that could normally be seen for miles can barely be seen a hundred yards away, so it’s better to just get some rest inside. Nopony else could search for us then, so it’s safe to sleep.”

Dash listened to the wind in her ears and felt it whip through her mane. She had volunteered for patrol after Spike had returned, knowing that him, Twilight, and Fluttershy were going to talk strategy and catch up. Twilight would formulate a plan, she knew, and they would be ok, but Dash felt so useless next to her. Sure, Rainbow Dash had saved Twilight’s life once already, but only Twilight could try to figure out how to get them home. Twilight was the brains behind their survival, Dash was just along for the ride.

She grit her teeth and grimaced. On top of all that, she was bored! She had been patrolling for over an hour after hearing of the threat of the Shadowbolts, but hadn’t seen another living soul in the skies. For all that they had been talked up, they seemed to be completely absent from this part of Equestria.

She began to lower herself below the tree line, knowing Zecora’s hut was invisible from above. As she drew closer to the boughs of the trees, the smell of rot grew stronger and stronger. Fluttershy said she would stop noticing it after awhile, but the stench of rotted plant matter was so strong that Dash doubted that. And the sight! The ground was covered with black and splintered boughs that had fallen off the trees, and all the leaves themselves had long since fallen and decomposed. The ground was a pulpy mess of decay, and what trees still stood were soggy and rotted. The decomposed matter on the ground formed a kind of sludge, giving the entire Everfree Forest the appearance of a disgusting swamp. The only things to grow were mushrooms and other fungi, and in some places mushroom caps nearly as high as the trees themselves had sprung up. Dash maneuvered around a tree to reveal a grove of hundreds of ankle high mushrooms that emitted a pale blue light, nearly invisible in the moonlight. It was beautiful in its own way, Dash conceded: life springing up out of death, nature adapting to the harshest of conditions.

Not everything had adapted so well, of course. Besides the trees, the animals had all disappeared. No birds sang, no crickets chirped, only maggots and ants survived to feast on the rot. Except for the wind and the soft chewing of rotted wood in places, the night was silent.

She dove beneath a collapsed tree that creaked in the tailwind behind her. Dash pulled up and alighted on the ground, trying not to think of what she was stepping in. Just ahead of her, Zecora’s hut lay as the only light nearby, the illumination from the fire pit inside spilling out of the windows. Dash walked over and wiped her feet, pushing open the door and stepping inside.

The inside was just how Dash had left it, Nurse Redheart was simmering more stew by the fire while Spike sat and spoke to Twilight, Zecora, and Fluttershy. Dash could hear snippets of what Fluttershy had already told them, and assumed that Spike was telling his own version of the story. She sighed and walked over to join them, not even bothering to interrupt and report that the skies were still clear. Why wouldn’t they be clear? Zecora’s hut was too deep in the forest to stumble on by hoof, and it was invisible beneath the tangle of tree limbs from above. She sat down next to Twilight, who leaned over to talk to her.

“Isn’t this great, Rainbow Dash? All our friends are ok! Tomorrow night, Spike can take us to the refugee camp where everyone is living, and we can finally see everyone!” Twilight’s face was one of pure joy, and Dash chose her next words carefully to avoid bursting the young mare’s bubble.

“Twilight, I need to talk to you. I can’t shake this feeling that something just doesn’t add up here. Why aren’t Fluttershy and Zecora with the others? And Fluttershy seems so…jaded. I don’t know, it just feel wrong.” Dash stared at the ground, knowing that she was coming off as a little paranoid.

Twilight cocked her head, giving Dash a questioning look. “They said they needed to be out here to harvest the mushrooms for food, right? And It’s been ten months since Nightmare Moon attacked, I’m impressed that Fluttershy has dealt with it so well.” She turned back towards the dragon, who hadn’t noticed their low conversation over the sound of his own voice. “And Spike seems to be doing well, too. He was really shaken after I disappeared, but apparently Rarity took him under her hoof and he’s been staying with the refugees and helping where he can.” She continued listening to the dragon tell his tale, and Dash sighed under her breath. <i>Something</i> was up here, but Dash’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her stomach growling. As if on cue, Nurse Redheart brought over a tray filled with bowls of stew, which everyone gladly took part in. Spike’s bowl was filled with some small rocks that Dash didn’t recognize, and she took a big slurp of her own meal.

Ugh, she thought, this gets worse and worse every time I eat it. Most of the stew was textureless, fungus making for poor boiling material. Small chunks of other material were even chewy, adding to the disgust of the gruel. Dash could have killed for some hay and oats, but she dejectedly settled for the meal in front of her.

Spike finished his story and Twilight began asking him questions. As the two began to catch up more, Fluttershy stood and walked to the window once again. Dash watched her with interest, recognizing that she was deep in thought. Whatever’s going on here, I want some straight answers. And that pony knows something she isn’t letting on. Dash stood and walked over to Fluttershy’s side. When the yellow pegasus didn’t notice her immediately, Dash coughed politely.

“Oh! Oh, Rainbow Dash, sorry, I didn’t notice you there. Uh, can I help you with something?” She smiled at her friend, her sheepish side coming out after being surprised.

“Yea, I think so Fluttershy.” Dash looked over at Twilight and Spike talking together, reunited at last. Zecora was meditating on the other side of the hut, deep in her own world. “Can we step outside for a minute? I don’t want to disturb the others.”

Fluttershy nodded and the two walked outside. Far enough to be out of earshot from the others, she turned to Fluttershy angrily. “Ok, listen up! Something else is going on here and I’m tired of sneaking around trying to solve our problems. You’re going to tell me what you and Zecora are up to, and you’re going to tell me now!”

Fluttershy took a step backward, surprised. “R-Rainbow Dash! We’ve been helping and feeding you for a full day! I’m your friend, why would I hide something from you?” The yellow pegasus looked genuinely hurt, and for moment Rainbow Dash lost her anger. But then she finally put her hoof on what had been bothering her, and grinned evilly at Fluttershy.

“Fluttershy, I’ve been flying over this forest all night, and for every tree that has died three more mushrooms have popped up. So why do you need to be all the way out <i>here</i> to harvest them for food?”

The yellow pegasus looked taken aback and swallowed nervously. “Rainbow Dash, please, stop. There’s…there is something else, but if I show you, will you promise not to tell Twilight?”

Rainbow Dash weighed her own curiosity against her ties of loyalty to Twilight, and shook her head. “No, I can’t make that promise. If it’s something that she should know, I will tell her. And if you don’t tell me, I’ll…I’ll tell her about this conversation, and we’ll make you tell us together!”

Fluttershy looked down to the ground, contemplating. Rainbow Dash could see her face laden with shame, but after a few moments she spoke up, her voice sterner than Dash had ever heard it. “No, Rainbow Dash. You, well the other you, saved my life, so I trust you to make your own judgment. But if you won’t promise not to tell Twilight, I can’t show you anything. Please, just accept our hospitality and leave with Spike tomorrow night.”

Fluttershy looked at the sky and how low the stars were. The moon had long since passed out of sight, and one of the light-emitting mushrooms at their feet gave as much illumination as the remaining stars. “It’s too late anyway; the forest will be pitch black soon. Let’s both just get some rest, and we can talk about it more tomorrow night.”

“But we’re leaving tomorrow-“

“Please, Rainbow Dash.” Dash caught herself and looked at her friend’s face, quelling her infuriation for a moment. There was nothing hidden in them now, all of Fluttershy’s pain and pleading was there on the surface. Something was tearing her friend apart, and Dash didn’t have the heart to push the matter. Sighing, Rainbow Dash lowered her head. “Ok Fluttershy, and I’m sorry. I know you would never hurt us, I just…It was somepony not being completely honest with me that got me into this in the first place, and I think I have some stuff I still need to sort out.”


______________________________________



High above and many miles away, a pony in a black and purple uniform flew through the air, carefully scanning the ground below. The bars on her flank marked her as captain, and the report from her soldiers gave her a clear idea of the hut’s location. A faint static noise in the back of her head clued her in to what was about to happen, and sure enough a voice began booming between her ears.

CAPTAIN, THIS IS HER ROYAL MAJETY’S ELITE-

“I know who it is! You can stop yelling!” The pegasus spoke out loud, even though she knew she didn’t have to.

Captain, you are accused of withholding vital information from the Royal Guard, report back to Canterlot immediately to explain yourself.

“I don’t report to you, you boisterous mare! You can take your fancy titles and-“

Captain, may I remind you that I speak with the authority of Her Majesty, and you are ordered, on her behalf, to report back immediately.

The captain grimaced and weighed her own curiosity against her sense of duty. With a huff of anger, she turned around and headed back towards Canterlot.


______________________________________



Dash rolled around on her mat, unable to sleep. She knew she was just getting in Fluttershy’s way, and she trusted her friend, but she hated not knowing what was going on. She could make good on her threat to tell Twilight, but what good would that do? Poor Fluttershy would be so torn apart between her two friends, and something about betraying one friend for the other didn’t sit well with Dash. No, she would wait until she had something to actually tell before she said anything.

She lay on her back and tried to clear her mind. She listened to the utter silence of the hut and darkness that lay over them all. The fire had been extinguished and the windows covered, not that there was any light to let in anyway. The mockery of day was far darker than night and Dash wondered if she would be able to see the fire even if it had been burning. Closing her eyes tight, she tried to listen for the pop or sizzle of embers, more out of boredom than any actual interest.

Creeak

It was soft, and not the sound of a fire. Dash certainly would have missed it if she hadn’t been listening so intently, but as soon as she heard it her ears picked up even further. Hoofsteps, growing fainter, and a slight sucking sound. Someone had left the hut and was walking through the gunk outside!

Dash carefully rose to her feet and contemplated waking Twilight. No, she thought, if it’s nothing then I’ll just look like even more of a foal. Useless and paranoid, Twilight sure will love having me around then.

Dash hovered silently across the floor and felt for the door, which had been left slightly ajar. She closed it behind her, stepping outside. Complete darkness surrounded her, except for…was that a light? She gingerly walked forward a few feet, wincing as her hoofs began to pick up the rotted plant matter beneath her. Yes, just a few feet away had been one of those glowing mushrooms, right where she and Fluttershy had talked earlier! Dash knew they weren’t particularly bright, but it should have been visible from farther away than that. Standing just beside the mushroom, she could just barely see another blue glow a bit farther away. And another, just beyond that! Travelling one mushroom at a time, Dash made her way through the woods.

More than a few times, Dash though she had gotten lost or that the trail simply stopped cold, but after moving around a bit and changing her viewpoint, there was always another mushroom just barely in sight of the last one. Trotting over to yet another, at least the 50th so far, she heard the first sound she’d heard since the creak of the door. It sounded like a…a bird? No, that was crazy. But there it was again, a bird chirping. Intrigued, dash trotted through the gloom, following both the mushrooms and the sound of birdsong. As she got further, other sounds began to flicker in. There was a moo, and some faint clucking. The sounds became clearer and clearer until the mushrooms finally stopped, but Dash rose a few feet into the air and followed the sound slowly, coming around a final tree to see a long, stable-like building filled with light. Through the heavy darkness it seemed dim, but Dash knew by this point that the building could be on fire and still seem barely lit. She flew up to a window and gazed inside.

Fluttershy was standing in the center of a long room, two large pails of mushrooms beside her. Dozens of animals flocked around her, and Dash saw her smiling like she hadn’t seen since before Twilight had teleported them here. Surrounded by her animal friends, Fluttershy could go back to her old self, and it showed through brilliantly.

Dash sighed and dropped down from the window, sitting on the cold dirt beside the building. Her mistrust had led her to her friend’s personal retreat, a private place where she could go and collect her thoughts. Rainbow Dash was reminded of her own home, a place nobody could get to unless they had wings. For the first time, she considered how hard the death of the Everfree Forest must have hit Fluttershy, who lived to take care of all the animals that roamed free in and around that place. She must have saved as many as she could here, she thought, and fed them the same mushrooms that the ponies have been living off of. Suspicion crept back into her mind. But that’s not a secret she would hide from Twilight, why-

The sound of hoofsteps came over Rainbow Dash, and she launched herself into the air and landed on the roof of the building. Crouching low, she watched Fluttershy come around the corner and pass by her previous hiding spot, followed by a rabbit. “Just this way, little bunny. I found a nice big carrot for you, even after all this time. It was so big, I couldn’t even carry it!” The rabbit hopped along excitedly, stopping occasionally to nuzzle Fluttershy’s leg. The two walked off into the woods, with Dash flying silently behind.

She didn’t have to fly far, as Fluttershy stopped by another group of blue mushrooms. Saying something to the critter, the rabbit hopped onto the stump and looked at Fluttershy expectantly. Dash crept in closer, careful to stay out of sight of both of them. Suddenly, a horrified expression crossed the bunnies face, and it shriveled in terror. With Fluttershy’s back to her though, Rainbow Dash couldn’t see what was going on. Fluttershy bent down and grabbed something in her mouth, which she brought up and used to deftly tie the rabbit.

Rope, thought Rainbow Dash. Why would she need to tie the rabbit with- oh Celestia!

Fluttershy bent down again and came back up with a knife. In the dim light of the nearby mushrooms, Dash could see it had been used before by the caked blood spattering the blade. Throwing herself out of the bush by reflex more than conscious thought, she charged headlong at Fluttershy, who turned just in time to yelp in surprise as the angry face of her friend crashed into hers. The two pegasi tumbled into the darkness and separated, both coming to their feet quickly.

“Rainbow Dash, what are you doing here? How did you-? Look, let me explain this.” Fluttershy backed up, afraid of her furiously advancing friend.

“What? I suppose it isn’t what it looks like? You weren’t about to murder that poor animal?” Dash’s nostrils flared as her wings rose, barely keeping herself from charging her friend again.

Fluttershy backpaddled madly as Dash advanced faster, looking at Dash with tear filled eyes. “No, I mean yes, I mean, I was going to kill him. But only because I have to.”

Dash tried to calm down, but it was difficult. She really, desperately wanted there to be an explanation for this, but righteous fury compelled her to attack Fluttershy now. “Ok, fine, you have one chance. Tell me what you were doing, and maybe we can talk this over.” She stopped her advance, but her wings still trembled with rage.

“Rainbow Dash, please, you need to understand. This isn’t your world of sun and bright skies, we have to make hard decisions here.”

“This isn’t an explanation, that’s an excuse. Get to the point!”

Fluttershy was openly crying now, and began talking between sobs. “After the- the first few weeks of night, all the food began to run out. Ponyville was cu-cut off from trade, and its citizens weren’t allowed to travel any- where else because they kept us four safe. People began dying of starvation, and it wasn’t until we were desperate enough to try anything that we found th-the mushrooms. B-but they weren’t enough, ponies weren’t meant to eat just mushrooms, and the nutrients that we normally got from crops like beans were still mi-missing from our diet.” The dirt beneath Fluttershy was turning to mud underneath her tears, and she sat down uncaring for the mess. “Animals started dying, and one day I saw a dog…eating a dead rabbit.”

Dash’s stomach dropped as she halted. “Oh no. No no no Fluttershy you didn’t! You killed them for food?!

“I had no choice, Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy screamed, shrinking into a ball on the ground “I had no choice! I didn’t kill them at first; I only took the ones that had already died. But not all other animals can survive on mushrooms either. Ponies were dying, and it became obvious that waiting for animals that would surely die anyway to pass away naturally was costing unnecessary lives.” Fluttershy’s tears subsided, and her eyes hardened at her memories. “I killed them, Rainbow Dash. I killed the animals to save the ponies because I had to. But the worst part, Rainbow Dash? I don’t regret it.”

For a minute, the only sounds were the wind and Fluttershy’s stifled sobs. Dash’s blood ran cold, her ears filled with the beating of her own heart. She simply couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Fluttershy loved animals, probably more than she loved most ponies. As if reading her thoughts, Fluttershy spoke up again.

“It’s funny you should show up again, actually. You’re the one who originally gave me the courage to do this. When you sacrificed yourself, I learned that sometimes you need to put the survival of others above yourself. If you could die to save four friends, then I knew I could kill to save a whole town.”

Dash found her voice at last, and spoke softly to the dirt-spattered Fluttershy. “No, those aren’t the same thing. What you’re doing is wrong, Fluttershy! There are cows in there, and they can talk just like us! And you kill them too?!”

“You may look at me as a monster, even the ponies I’m saving probably do, but as long as I live, I will help the ponies of my town however I can.” Her eyes continued to water, but her voice remained strong. “I know you can’t understand, but please try. I know you Rainbow Dash, I watched you die for me, and I know you’d make the same choice.”

Rainbow Dash leapt forward, coming snout to snout with Fluttershy. “I would never do something like this. You’re a monster, Fluttershy, more insane than Pinkie Pie. I won’t let you harm one more animal, not as long as I live. “

“Then you’d kill everypony, Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy stood and walked over to a pile of muck on the ground and drove her snout in. After a moment, she resurfaced with the knife that she had dropped when Rainbow Dash tackled her and walked over to the other pony. Dropping it in front of her, she looked into the blue pegasus’ eyes. “Rainbow Dash, in your world this would never happen. Celestia would come and save us or a new type of plant would be found. But in my world, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. It is either them, or us.” She raised her neck and kicked the knife towards the puzzled Rainbow Dash. “While I live, I will feed these ponies. I can’t make you understand with words, so I have to offer you the same choice I made. If your sense of morals is stronger than your loyalty to your friends, then kill me now. ”

Rainbow Dash froze, but only for a moment as desperation drove her to speak. “Fluttershy, no, I need to stop you and you know that. Please, don’t throw your life away for this.” Rainbow Dash just wanted a moment to think, to make sense of everything. But everything was moving too fast, and Fluttershy was relentless. “You aren’t the Fluttershy I know, you’re a mockery of everything she stood for. I will kill you if it means ending this madness.”

“I’ve been killing my friends for months, if you want to kill me I won’t stop you. But this isn’t about me, Rainbow Dash, this is about Ponyville. I do this so nopony else has to, will you kill them all by stopping me?”

Dash stood horrified, feeling like she was in a nightmare. She bent down to pick up the knife, but she was trembling to hard that her teeth couldn’t close around the handle. Finally picking it up, she faced Fluttershy, who was still holding her head up to expose her neck. She looked down her nose at Dash, but Rainbow Dash couldn’t tell if she was glaring or pleading. Grimacing, she stepped forward.

Her flanks heaved with every breath, quickening as she drew closer. Her eyes focused on the exposed neck as horror and vengeance surged through her mind. She drew back her head and paused. This is where Twilight comes rushing out of the woods, she thought. Or where Celestia comes down and stops me or a loud noise distracts us both. This is where a compromise is reached, and the problem is sidestepped.

But nothing happened.

Dash sobbed and dropped the knife before collapsing herself beside it. All the shock, anger, and frustration from the last five days came rushing out of her, spilling onto the ground as her tears and into the darkness as her cries. Fluttershy walked over and sat down next to the sobbing pegasus. She nuzzled Dash softly, who recoiled for a moment but then gave in and dropped her head onto Fluttershy’s shoulder. For a long time, the two sat together and cried, one loudly and the other softly.

As Dash’s tears began to subside, Fluttershy stood and picked up the knife. Rainbow Dash didn’t blink as she moved out of sight, nor did she flinch as she heard the final shriek of the terrified rabbit.