• Published 24th Jan 2016
  • 2,016 Views, 104 Comments

If You Weren't Afraid - MyHobby



Discord's illness is tearing him apart. He must join Fluttershy and two young stowaways on a journey to his birthplace in order to find the cure.

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A Word to the Wise

Luna flicked her horn, and a portal was opened. She stepped through, followed closely by Mi Amore Cadenza. Tartarus loomed around them, dark and craggy, dim and gray.

Cadence wrinkled her snout. “Last time I was in here, we were prisoners.”

“Not the most happy of returns, no.” Luna spread her wings slightly. She felt goose bumps rise on her skin in the chilly air. “Rest assured, it is not us who wear the chains this time.”

They travelled through the cavernous tunnels, passing shadowy creatures and malignant terrors, all secured behind bars. Luna felt her hackles prickle every time a leering eye blinked at her. Some of the beasts had been prisoners since before the founding of Equestria, forgotten by all save for the warden that kept them.

A bony hand grasped Luna’s ankle. She gave the creature a cold, calm look. It was a gaunt—nearly skeletal—ape-like being, with glowing red eyes and dripping fangs. “Come close and let Munchy taste…”

“I would rather not.” Luna shook the creature free. She trotted on, doing everything in her power to keep from curling into a ball and shrieking. ‘I will most certainly be taking a long, warm, bubbly bath when I get home,’ she thought.

Cadence’s hooves clattered against the stone floor as she hurried to catch up. “What in the name of all things beautiful and good in the world was that?

“I… believe it is called a morlock. A distant relative of the yahoos.” Luna clicked her tongue. “Just as ill-mannered and thrice as bloodthirsty.”

“And…” Cadence scrunched her muzzle. “Immortal?”

“Well, dearest Munchy over there isn’t dead yet, is he?” Princess Luna shone a light down a dark hallway and found it empty, much to her relief. “I think the infirmary is that way. We should hurry.”

“Hurry up and leave; that’s what we need to do.” Cadence kept her wings tight against her sides. A many-tentacled mollusk reached through the bars of its cell, only to be halted by a slap. “Have you told Aunt Celestia about the attack?”

“Ah, no.” Luna unrolled a map from beneath her wing. She twisted it sideways before turning down another corridor. “I felt it prudent to withhold a report until we had something to report.”

Cadence rolled her eyes. “Luna. Luna, Luna, Luna. How many times are we going to have the same conversation about you two being open? We can’t help each other unless we’re in the know. Does Celestia even know we’re here right now?”

“Unless she has suddenly developed the gift of omniscience,” Luna said, “I would think not.”

“You’re a humongous hypocrite, you know that?” Cadence glared at an impossibly ugly squid-monster. It skittered to the far side of its cage and cowered. “Give me one reason—one darn good, really good reason—that you couldn’t tell Celestia. Just the one.”

Luna stopped before a strong, studded, iron double-door. She folded the map and hid it among her feathers. She gave Cadence a deep sigh. “Because she would have wanted to do something about it. Personally.”

Cadence frowned, her forehead wrinkling.

Luna smiled. “The old mare is going to work herself to death one day if I do not step in now and again.”

Cadence put her hoof on the door handle and gave it a turn. “Be careful you don’t follow her example.”

Luna’s smile turned sideways as she watched her adoptive niece stride into the infirmary. If Celestia didn’t know about Tirek yet, she would soon. She wasn’t a mare who was kept in the dark easily. ‘She will probably have a few pointed questions when we return,’ she thought. ‘Once she wakes up from her rest. The Creator only knows I shall have need of her counsel.’

Tirek lay on an L-shaped bed, his body strapped down with ropes strong enough to anchor seafaring vessels. They shimmered faintly, having been enchanted to have an extra iota of unbreakability. His black coat was a patchwork mess of singed hair and ashes, while his red skin was a sea of welts. He ground his teeth and looked her way.

“Princesses.” He snarled and kicked his hooves. The ropes held him still. “Micromanagers, it seems, with your hooves in everything. Have you come to laugh at me? Or perhaps you wish to add to my injuries.”

“A tempting offer, centaur.” Luna loomed over him, spreading her wings and darkening the room just enough to give herself an air of authority. Her star-sparkled mane shimmered around her head. “But I have not come to bring harm. I have, ironically enough, come to your aid.”

“That is a new one.” His feeble muscles strained. “I don’t suppose you have any intention of setting me free?”

“I would sooner invite Sombra to a tea party.”

Cadence spread her wings and put a little volume into her voice. “Last night, you were a victim of assault in one of the most secure prisons in the entire world. Your attacker left no trace that it was even here. This is not a thing that happens.”

Luna nodded. “We are here to listen to your first-hoof account of the story, and learn the identity of the creature that injured you.”

Tirek sneered. “Why should I help you?”

Luna shrugged. “Perhaps because if the attacker could do it once, it stands to reason that they could do it again. I would like to prevent that, if at all possible.”

Cadence turned her eyes to the ceiling. “Unless you enjoy having the snot kicked out of you. You do have a history of that.”

“Cadence, please,” Luna said. “Do not make fun of the deposed tyrant. It is not civil.”

“It seems I’m in good company.” Tirek lay his ears flat against his scalp. “Very well. I shall tell you what I know. In exchange for certain… privileges.”

Luna wrinkled her nose. She stomped a hoof and leaned close. “You lost access to any privileges the instant you turned the old kingdoms to rubble and ruin. How many people died because of you? No. There will be no concessions.”

Tirek bared his fangs. “How many people have died due to your actions, High Princess of Equestria? How many murders did Nightmare Moon commit in her short, short rule?”

Luna folded her wings against her back. She turned away from the table. “Come, Cadenza. We are leaving. I did not come here to be lectured on bygone days.”

“If you leave,” Tirek said, “you will lose your best chance to catch an attacker who could leave me in bed rest.”

Luna held her smirk in check. She was close to unleashing a monologue. Tirek couldn’t help himself. “I believe that if I wish to catch him, I merely need to wait for him to return to Tartarus and finish the job.”

“You are mistaken,” Tirek snarled. “He already has what he came for.”

‘Now we are getting somewhere.’ Luna raised an eyebrow. “To embarrass you in front of your peers? To leave you a writhing husk on the floor? To make your already ugly features—”

“They stole my power!” Tirek roared. “They stole the Rainbow of Darkness from me!”

Cadence lit her horn. A small whisper of a voice jumped straight from her lips to Luna’s ear. “So the magic scans were correct. He no longer has access to his greatest power.

No chatter until we leave,” Luna whispered back. “Never interrupt a villain’s monologue unless it’s with an arrow to the forehead.

Luna flicked a hoof at Tirek, turning her nose up. “You were hardly a challenge even with the ability to eat magic. All it took was one solid friendship to leave you a gnarled husk—”

“I destroyed Equestria!” Tirek thrashed beneath his bonds. “I should have slain you and your sister!”

“But you did not.” Luna flicked her tail, gazing around the room as though she held no interest in the conversation. It was a fairly well-stocked medical room, she saw, pony-sized tongue depressors and all. The doctor had spread salve over Tirek’s wounds a few hours before, and would return soon enough. “Still, this is not the first time you have been pushed around by those deemed weaker than you.”

Tirek growled deep within his chest. His snarl turned gleeful. “I see what you are doing. You are trying to make me slip up and reveal something. It will not work. I am far too wise for that.”

“I can see that you are flowing with an overabundance of wisdom, Tirek.” Luna picked up a cotton ball and stared at it. Her ears turned toward the centaur. “That’s why you hide the identity of your attacker from us.”

The centaur drummed his fingers. His beady eyes examined the younger princess from hooves to crown. “See reason, Cadenza. You know you won’t get anything out of me without… boons.”

“Please, tell me your requests,” Luna said. “I am in need of a good laugh.”

Tirek pouted. He angled his head to face her. “First, I want a soundproofing spell over the Smooze’s cell.”

“Impossible, for the same reason we cannot put one over yours.” Luna sat down beside the table. “If we cannot hear you screaming, we cannot help you when something goes wrong. The earplugs will have to do.”

Tirek squinted at her. He clenched his jaw. “Second, I want to be able to request meals.”

“Indeed?” Luna hopped to her hooves and skipped to Cadence’s side. “Oh, how darling! Perhaps with fine china and silk napkins? Caviar and shrimp? I shall immediately hire a Maître d’Tartarus to wait on you hand and hoof!”

She bumped her hip against Cadence’s. “He really is a sweetheart once you get to know him.”

Cadence’s mouth hung open as she watched Luna prance. Her eyebrows came close together. Her lips curled. Her ears hung askew.

Tirek’s face trembled as rage boiled over. “Third, I want—”

“A real softy!” Luna continued. “A delicate flower who must be babied!”

Tirek shut his eyes tight. “I want a blasted—!”

“I am certain that we could import some vases from Giraffrica, to beautify your cell some.”

“I want your head on a silver platter!

“Does wittle Tiwek want his booboos kissed?”

“You will get nothing!” Tirek screamed. “Nothing! You will have nothing to help you when the Unseelie come for you!”

Luna smiled wide. She slapped a hoof against Tirek’s wrinkled shoulder. “There. Was that so difficult? That is all we wanted to know.”

Tirek’s face fell. His stare could have bored a hole in her head. “I hate you. So much.”

Luna patted his cheek. “I hate you, too, honey.”

She took a step back to survey his injuries. She allowed herself a satisfied smirk. “Was there anything else you wished to share?”

Tirek’s teeth ground together. “For peat’s sake. A candy bar. That’s all I ask. Apparently.”

Luna brought her eyes to the craggy, rounded-out ceiling. She tapped a hoof to her chin, then rubbed her cheek, and finally nodded. “Cadence, do you suppose it would be alright to give the mangy creature some sweeties?”

Cadence snapped her mouth shut. She shook her head and brushed her mane back. “Uh. I, um, guess if giving him candy will make him do what we want…”

Tirek’s face went blank. His eyes tilted back, the speed of his thoughts mirrored by his twitching ears. His lips parted, revealing drool-soaked fangs. “The Fae that assaulted me, his name had something to do with eggs. He said that they had already chosen another creature to give the Rainbow of Darkness to.”

Luna felt the mirth evaporate from her face, replaced with cold stone. She leaned against the table. “Did he say who?”

Tirek rubbed the tips of his fingers together. “No. No, he didn’t so much as leave a clue.”

Luna stepped back, eyes locked on Tirek’s. “I will send somepony to find out just what candy bars this information was worth. In the meantime…”

Her horn flared as she opened the door behind her. A short, pudgy diamond dog lumbered in, pulling a rubber glove over his paw. His coat was long and shaggy, flowing over his eyes. Hair hung from his muzzle like a massive, white moustache.

Luna bowed her head. “Doctor Methuselah. You may tend to the prisoner now.”

“Good. Time to change poultice.” The diamond dog doctor made a slow journey to the counter, where his instruments of healthcare waited. “This patient noisy. Very stupid. I don’t like him.”

Tirek sputtered. “I should not have to endure your prattling—”

“Shut up or I take temperature.”

Tirek remained very, very quiet.

Luna tilted her horn towards Cadence, a smile on her lips but iron in her voice. “Shall we?”

Cadence lowered her eyebrows, taking Luna in. She shifted her gaze to Tirek before speaking. “By your leave.”

They shut the door behind them. They walked back the way they came, headed for the portal to Canterlot Castle. A hideous screech echoed through Tartarus, somewhere in the bowels of the cavernous prison.

“I don’t like it,” Cadence said. “We found out what we came here for, but I still feel like we’re missing something.”

“I will concern myself with that…” Luna swallowed hard. “Right after I process the fact that the Unseelie Court of Fae has struck again.”

“It is kinda a big deal.” Cadence shuddered. “Do you want me to tell Aunt Celestia?”

“Be my guest.” Luna rubbed her forehead. “Did you know that Spike still suffers from nightmares after their last attack?”

“Twilight said something about it, yeah.” Cadence licked her lips. She angled away from a cell with an especially nasty smell. “Luna… how are we supposed to fight something that isn’t flesh and blood?”

Luna touched a hoof to the wall. Etchings were carved into the stone, depicting the marble spires of Canterlot in its prime. She lit her horn, and the lines glowed to match. The magic flowed around the stone until it was hidden behind a sparkling window into the city itself.

She extended a wing to rest it against Cadence’s shoulder. “The same way we always have. To fight the incorporeal, we must use weapons that are not physical. Weapons such as Kindness, Generosity, Honesty, Loyalty, Laughter, and just a hint of Magic.”

Cadence stepped through the portal. She lifted a wry eyebrow. “Never mind the friendship lasers?”

“Friendship lasers are, of course, very welcome.” Luna laughed. “When the time comes, I intend to make full use of them.”

***

Fluttershy took a seat in the back row of the auditorium. The folding chair squeaked beneath her with every movement. Ponies milled all around, ranging from good friends to complete strangers. Fluttershy returned friendly waves and smiled at anypony who made eye contact.

‘I’m going to need a whole day to myself to recover from this,’ she thought, taking in gentle, deep breaths. Laughter from the far side of the room caught her attention. Spike and Apple Bloom were going over the previous meeting’s minutes, but from the looks of things, they weren’t paying much attention to the notes. Fluttershy tilted her head and giggled.

“Fluttershy!”

“Yipe!”

A hoof landed on Fluttershy’s shoulder. She craned her neck to get a glimpse of the pony, and let out a sigh when she saw a layered, colorful mane. The sensation of touch turned from horrifying to comforting. “Hello, Rainbow Dash! I didn’t know you were going to be here.”

Rainbow Dash took a step back and spread her wings to their full length. She hopped a half-meter into the air and hovered beside Fluttershy’s seat. “I was in the neighborhood. Figured I ought to be here to see Ponyville become an honest-to-goodness city. See my best friends. That sort of thing. I think I’m more surprised to see you come out of your shell.”

Fluttershy shook her head lightly. “I’ll be fine, so long as the shell is still there to go back to.” She turned around in her seat and placed her hoof on the backrest. “I wanted to support the town. But mostly Applejack. I think she needs us here.”

Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her head. “Yeah, don’t I know it. Do you think she’ll make a speech or let Twilight handle it?”

“Whichever one, I’ll be leading the applause.” Fluttershy felt her cheeks heat up. “I hope.”

“I’ll be right there with you.” Rainbow Dash glanced to the pegasus-specific bleachers bolted to the ceiling. A couple ponies pointed at her, their expressions ranging between disbelieving and ecstatic. “I’m gonna sit with the Cloudsdale refugees tonight. You’re welcome to join us. I think. Maybe. It’ll be cool if you’re with me.”

“I think I’ll stay down here, thank you.” Fluttershy sucked in her lips. She followed a pony with her eyes as they flew around the auditorium. “I wouldn’t even know what to say.”

“That’s fair.” Rainbow Dash brushed her cheek against Fluttershy’s. “One last thing before I head up: I was gonna have a few of the old weather team buddies over for a movie tonight. I just got a new projector installed, so it’s gonna be pretty wicked. Wanna come? I mean, I understand if you’re gonna be too worn out, but—”

“Oh, no! I’d love to!” Fluttershy hopped, fluttering her wings. “Who’s coming?”

“Cloudkicker, Thunderlane, Fluffy Clouds, Sassaflash, Raindrops…” Rainbow Dash tried and failed to contain her grin. “And I think I can convince Bulk Biceps to come, if you’re lucky.”

Fluttershy bit her bottom lip, holding in a giggle. “It sounds wonderful, Dash. I’ll see you then.”

“Yep!” Rainbow Dash shot up with a single stroke of her wings, leaving Fluttershy’s mane flowing in the breeze.

Fluttershy plopped back onto her seat, a small smile etched onto her features. ‘That’ll be fun,’ she thought. ‘Good, simple fun. No worlds to save. No villains to fight. Just me, Dash, and a few friends. I almost feel like singing aloud. Almost.’

She pony-watched for a while, taking stock of who showed up for the town meeting. The usual suspects were there, from business ponies like Filthy Rich and Silver Spoon Sr., to long-time citizens like Matilda, to a few conscious youngsters like Dinky Do. Beyond them, the announcement of Ponyville becoming a nationally-recognized city had drawn in a larger crowd, most of whom Fluttershy couldn’t recognize. It was nothing near the full population, but it was a good portion.

‘And…’ Fluttershy sighed. ‘Yep. There she is. Oh, Merry.’

The former Mayor of Ponyville, Merry Mare, walked down the middle aisle surrounded by her supporters. They filled up a row in the center of the room, waiting quietly for the meeting to start. Fluttershy thought about greeting Merry, but then thought better of it. She wasn’t in the mood for an argument; and that’s all that would come of it.

A hush fell over the room as Twilight Sparkle walked onto the stage, carrying the Equestrian Flag in a bubble of telekinesis. She set it into a slot in the floor and nodded to the doorway. Applejack trotted into view, tightening her cravat and brushing down her mane.

A herald, dressed in a ridiculously poofy outfit and holding a horn larger than her body, gasped before shouting across the seats. “H’announcing Her Honor, Lord Mayor H’Applejack of Ponyville!”

Applejack cleared her throat. “All rise for the Pledge to the Equestrian Flag.”

Fluttershy stood and placed her right hoof over her heart. She locked her eyes on the flag and spoke in time with everyone else.

“I pledge allegiance to my flag
From the bottom of my heart
And to the kingdom it represents
Of which I am a part

“I pledge myself to Harmony
To friendship’s shining light
And thank Celestia for the sun
And Luna for the night”

A gray pony beside her coughed behind his hoof. He placed a black boater hat atop his head and took the seat next to hers, adjusting his red tie. Fluttershy sat, keeping her eyes forward, a blush burning her cheeks. ‘When did he get there? Why did he have to take the seat right next to mine? I should move. No, that would be rude.’

She kept her wings close by her side her hooves on her lap. She swung her ears forward and focused on Applejack as she talked.

She spoke softly and quickly, downplaying Ponyville’s new status and focusing on her hopes that the new citizens would continue to feel welcome. That they would be able to consider the city their home. She had barely spoken for five minutes before she sat down, allowing Spike to take center stage.

The young dragon read off the previous meeting’s minutes. Aside from yet another reconfiguration of the town’s road budget, there wasn’t much to report.

The vote for Ponyville to become a city was cast and passed, nearly unanimously.

Applejack cracked her back. She and Fluttershy met gazes briefly, during which Fluttershy saw a hefty dose of apprehension.

“We would now like to open up the floor to anypony who has a concern,” Applejack said, her voice heavy, “so that we may discuss it in a public forum.”

Merry Mare stood up and raised a hoof. Applejack glanced desperately around the room for somepony else to call on.

“Um…” Applejack pointed at a street musician. “Lyra! What can I help you with?”

The mint-coated unicorn shook her golden lyre. “When are the fountains going to come back on? I’ve run out of good places to play, and if I can’t play, I can’t earn a living!”

Applejack wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. “I’ll let Miss Wishes handle this question—if you would?”

Ribbon Wishes sent Lyra a wide smile. “Don’t worry, Miss Heartstrings! I’ve found the issue and should have the pipes cleaned out by the end of the week.”

“Cool.” Lyra sat down and crossed her forelegs.

Fluttershy turned her attention to Merry, who remained still, waiting patiently for Applejack to run out of excuses. ‘It isn’t fair, Merry,’ Fluttershy thought. ‘Applejack’s doing as well as any of us would.’

Sweetie Belle asked when the next talent show would be held; the answer was autumn. Cloudkicker made a public complaint about the “addle-brained” weather team she was given to work with. A pony Fluttershy didn’t recognize asked what was being done about the rising crime rate. The guard barracks being built on the south side of town would help with that.

The only speaker left was Merry.

Applejack laid her ears against her mane. “Miss Merry Mare, what is your current complaint against my administration?”

Merry tapped her glasses, pushing them further up her snout. She leaned on the back of the chair in front of her, raising her above the crowd. Her grayed mane bounced in time with her head movements. “People of Ponyville, much has been said about how I feel about Applejack’s policies. You know what you believe. You have heard enough to make a decision for yourselves whether you agree with her or not. Therefore, her handling of the budget is not what I wish to talk about today.”

She gave the room a long, slow look, hovering on Fluttershy for an almost unnoticeable instant. “Over the past year, Equestria has seen more pain, and suffered more injury, than it has experienced in many decades. First, there was the attempt on Princess Celestia’s and Princess Twilight’s lives. Then, Cloudsdale itself was torn apart by a vicious attack. Now, there are rumors that a criminal from another world lives among us.”

Fluttershy rubbed her hooves together, waiting for the other horseshoe to drop.

“Truth be told,” Merry said, “I respect Lord Mayor Applejack a great deal for how she has handled these trying times. How she opened up Ponyville as a place of refuge for our Cloudsdale brothers and sisters. How she works day and night to make Ponyville a better city. How she stands tall, proud, and steadfast through it all.”

Fluttershy felt her shoulders relax. ‘Maybe I was being too harsh on her. She just wants—’

“But mark my words, Ponyville.” Merry walked into the aisle, putting herself in the center of the auditorium. “The greatest tragedy is not that these events took place, but that they were completely preventable!

Fluttershy’s eyebrows shot up. Her ears fell. She felt her jaw clench against her will. ‘No. No, no. Merry, don’t you dare. Don’t you dare accuse Discord—’

“Discord could have stopped all this before it began.” Merry turned her face towards the bleachers. “He could have prevented Cloudsdale from crumbling. He could have saved the princesses from their injuries. But instead, he sits in his windmill doing nothing. All his powers, all his abilities, and he hides away with the excuse that he is ill.”

The crowd murmured. Ponies leaned to whisper to their neighbors. A diamond dog growled in the back of his throat. The Cloudsdale refugees were the loudest of all, some of them with tears in their eyes.

Fluttershy’s chest tightened. She ground her hoof into her seat. ‘Merry, stop. Merry.’

Applejack sighed. “Merry, I don’t rightly know that that’s entirely fair.”

“I am not asking for much, Lord Mayor Applejack.” Merry spoke each word with venom, her voice shaking. “I just ask that Discord steps forward and takes responsibility. For once in his life. And moves to make things better.”

Fluttershy shut her eyes. Her heart hammered in her ears. Her tail thrashed behind her.

“I want Discord,” Merry said, “to actually do his job!”

“Excuse me!”

With the force of a hammer strike, every eye in the room turned to Fluttershy. She stood on her chair, her wings flared. Her knees knocked as she lowered her face. “I have something I need to say.”

Applejack stood up a little taller. She gave Fluttershy a small smile. “Go on, sugarcube. Say your piece.”

Fluttershy swallowed. She shivered from the tips of her hooves. “W—well, D-Discord is sick.”

“Yes, Fluttershy, dear.” Merry Mare let out a strong exhale through her nose. “That’s what he told us.”

“B-but…” A prickling sensation danced across Fluttershy’s back. Her lungs burned. “But…”

“What matters are Discord’s actions!” Merry turned away to address the other side of the room. “He let these horrible things happen to us!”

“No he didn’t!” Fluttershy shouted. “Would we expect Ribbon Wishes to work on the fountains if her leg was broken? Would we expect Apple Bloom to applebuck if she had a fever? Did you expect Celestia to raise the sun while she was recovering from the attack? No! Nopony would ask that of any of them! It would be wrong to ask that of anyone!”

She felt the tips of her hooves tingle with energy. Her feathers released magic into the air that carried her upward. She looked down at Merry with a powerful stare. “Now Discord, who lives to have an audience, is too sick to leave his own home! Why do you expect him to fight your wars for you?”

Somewhere across the room, Pokey Pierce dropped a pin.

Fluttershy’s heart caught in her throat. She looked across a sea of stunned faces, all looking at her, all judging her. She sank back down to her chair and huddled into a ball.

A clatter came from the bleachers. Rainbow Dash pounded her hooves against the metal seat. “Woo-hoo! Go, Fluttershy! You’re so totally awesome! Woo!”

Fluttershy’s stomach lurched. She leaped over the back of her chair and charged out of the room. She slammed shoulder-first into a wall before thundering down the hallway towards the little mares’ room. She pushed past a very confused earth pony, kicked open a stall door, and leaned over the toilet.

When it was over, she slumped to the floor and rested her cheek against the cool, marbled wall. She shut her eyes tight to hold back her tears, but damp streams rolled down her cheeks all the same.

The door opened behind her. Soft hoof steps made way for her stall, followed by soft words. “Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy wiped her nose. She sniffled and said nothing.

Merry Mare peered around the corner. She rubbed her temples. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you, I just…”

She leaned against the door of the stall. “I’m an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot,” Fluttershy whispered. “You’re just scared.”

Merry removed her spectacles and wiped them down. “I guess that makes two of us, huh?”

Rainbow Dash burst into the bathroom in a flurry of feathers. She zipped right up to Merry and jabbed her in the chest. “Hay! Vamoose, jerkface! Leave Fluttershy—”

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy snapped.

Rainbow Dash’s ears shot up. She sent a glance Fluttershy’s way. “Huh?”

“It’s alright.” Fluttershy wiped off her mouth with a tissue. She separated Merry and Rainbow with a wing. “She’s fine. I’ll see later, okay?”

Rainbow glared at Merry Mare, who gave as good as she got. Dash pointed at her eyes, pointed at Merry, and then zipped into the hallway.

“And don’t be mad at Rainbow, either.” Fluttershy eased past Merry, who stood rooted to the spot. “You know she means well. She just wants to protect me.”

Fluttershy faced Merry. She searched the older mare’s face. The former mayor’s eyes jumped to the ground. Her ears twitched between facing forward and falling to the sides. She clenched her jaw, hissing through her teeth.

“I know,” Merry said.

“And I need to protect Discord.” Fluttershy lowered her head to meet Merry’s gaze. “He is receiving the best care I can give him. He wants to get better. He wants to help. He promised he would.”

Fluttershy turned the sink on and splashed water on her face. She dried with a paper towel. “I hate it when my friends fight. Can’t you choose something else to be the cornerstone of your reelection?”

Merry pressed her hooves together. Her tight muscles relaxed. Her chest expanded with a calming breath. “Yes. But... I can’t promise that it’ll be something you’ll like.”

Fluttershy frowned. “I guess that’s too much to ask nowadays, isn’t it?”

Before Merry could say another word, she flew through the halls and out the front door, leaving City Hall far behind.

***

Fluttershy tiptoed across Rainbow Dash’s porch. The night was warm, but a cloudy sky hid the light of the moon. Warmth spilled from the windows of the cloud mansion, alongside muted conversation. The trickling rainbow-fall to the right of the entrance dissipated halfway to the ground below.

She sucked in a breath, let it out slowly, and knocked.

The door was answered by a blonde mare in her ninth month of pregnancy. She wrapped her forelegs around Fluttershy’s neck and held her close. “Och! Ye gave us all a fright, lass! Are ye well?”

“I’m alright, Cloudkicker.” Fluttershy sighed and patted the mare on the back. “I need to speak with Rainbow Dash.”

“Ye’ll have a time findin’ her, an’ nae mistake.” Cloudkicker eased herself away one step at a time, a hoof on her belly. “She an’ Bulk Biceps went flittin’ around the town lookin’ for ye after ye disappeared from the meetin’. Where’ve ye been?”

Fluttershy winced. “J-just walking around, I guess. I didn’t want to talk to anypony.”

“Dinnae fret, sweeting.” Cloudkicker wrapped a wing around Fluttershy’s shoulders and pulled her into the cloudhouse. “We’ll let Rainbow Dash know ye’re safe. In the meantime, ye can eat somethin’. Dash has oodles of fritters if’n it pleases ye.”

“Um…” Fluttershy decided not to say anything. She allowed herself to be dragged around, towards Rainbow Dash’s rec room. Several couches and chairs, enchanted to sit atop clouds, circled around a projector screen. A table full of snack foods sat off to the side, hounded by Thunderlane and Fluffy Clouds. The projector clicked as it rolled through its film, a synchronized soundtrack playing over it.

For the first time in recorded history, pony and griffon armed forces are collaborating in the defense of the Saddle Arabian border—

Sassaflash leaned her head against the back of a couch. “The least Dash could have done was put the movie on before she left. I can’t take much more of these news reels.”

Raindrops’ head popped out from behind a headrest. “You left just before it got good, Fluttershy. Between you and Merry, the whole town got split right down the middle! It was awesome!”

Fluttershy hid behind her mane as her face burned. It hurt just to look at anybody. ‘I started an argument? That’s awful.’

Cloudkicker slapped Raindrops on the back of the head with her wing. “How dare ye burden the poor lass with such talk?”

Raindrops squinted. “Hay, I’m just saying—”

“An’ I’m just sayin’ ye should put a cork in yer mouth afore I shove one up yer—”

“Darling,” Thunderlane said, “mind the baby.”

Clouckicker shot Thunderlane a pointed glare. She patted her belly, then turned back to Raindrops. “Keep yer smarmy thoughts tae yerself, Drizzle.”

“Please stop fighting,” Fluttershy whispered. She brushed her mane from her eyes. “I don’t want anypony to fight.”

Cloudkickers’ ears fell back. “Aye, lass. Dinnae mind me; I’m just runnin’ on hormones.”

She took Fluttershy’s hoof and tugged her into the air. “Perhaps now’s nae the time for small-talk. Come along, we’ll let Dash and Bulk know ye’re here.”

“Okay.” Fluttershy followed Cloudkicker’s lead through the sprawling hallways and airways of Rainbow’s home. Most of it was familiar to Fluttershy—the core of the home remained unchanged from the time it was first built—but much of it was the product of Dash playing around with the architecture. There were trophy rooms, guest rooms, bathrooms, even something of a shrine for her Wonderbolts memorabilia. Fluttershy spied Tank the Tortoise snoozing in his terrarium, fuzzy slippers over his wrinkled feet.

Cloudkicker stepped onto a balcony, at the very top of the mansion. The clouds made shushing noises beneath their hooves. She grinned and sucked in a greedy breath. “Bein’ this high up reminds me of home in the mountains. Nary a spec of ground beneath yer hooves. Naught but rocks and clouds as far as the eyes can see.”

Fluttershy leaned on the railing. Ponyville was still awake, glittering with little lights from windows and street lamps. “It’s very pretty, Cloudkicker.”

“Aye. But nae without purpose.” Cloudkicker touched a wooden pipe hanging from her neck. A round knob sat on the end, beside a long, narrow sheet of metal. “This here is me Da’s boatswain’s call. He was a sailor, ye ken. Spent months away from home at a time, he did, but always came back. Always made things special for us and Mum.”

She snickered. “An’ that last one’s probably why I ended up with fourteen siblings.”

She blew through the pipe. Three notes sang out over the city, and could be heard clear to Sweet Apple Acres. Two pegasi rose above the rooftops, one with a many-colored mane, the other bulging with muscles. They made a bee-line for the cloudmansion.

Fluttershy rose to meet them. “I’m sorry. I just had to be alone.”

Before she could say anything else, Rainbow Dash hugged her tight. Fluttershy returned the embrace, a sting in her eyes.

Rainbow Dash put her hooves on Fluttershy’s shoulders. “What you did was really brave, you know that? I’m proud of you.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I was awful. I said things I shouldn’t have. There had to be a better way to say it. There had to be somepony who could say it better.”

“Mizz Fluttershy,” Bulk said, “even if there was a better pony to say something, they weren’t there. But you were, so it worked out.”

Cloudkicker rolled her eyes. “It’s always exercise with ye, innit?”

“Funny.” Bulk rested a hoof on Fluttershy’s back. “The fact is that before you said something, Discord didn’t have any supporters. Now, who knows? Maybe something will change.”

Fluttershy nodded. She settled down on the balcony beside Cloudkicker. “Rainbow Dash, the only reason I came was to tell you I couldn’t… um… come.”

“Ye came to say ye cannae come.” Cloudkicker bumped her hip against Fluttershy’s. “Ye really are a silly filly, sweeting.”

“Oh, hay, that’s cool.” Rainbow Dash’s ears drooped. “I kinda figured after what happened. You heading home?”

Fluttershy smiled softly. “Yeah.”

Bulk Biceps puffed his chest out. “I’ll walk you home to make sure you get there s—”

“Actually—” Rainbow Dash nudged him aside with an elbow. “—I’ll walk you home, Fluttershy. There… there’s something I ought to tell you.”

Clouckicker snickered as she watched Bulk’s face deflate. “Come along, Casanova. Mayhaps ye’ll be in luck an’ me husband will save ye some of the buffet.”

Fluttershy floated into the air to make room on the balcony. She hugged herself tight and gave him a wink. “Thank you very much for the kind offer.”

Bulk grinned. He and Cloudkicker flew into the house, leaving Fluttershy and Dash alone.

Rainbow Dash spent most of the flight in silence. The edge of Whitetail Wood wasn’t far; just a couple of minutes away. Fluttershy’s animal friends had already tucked themselves in for the night, save for the nocturnals, which pranced around in the shadows.

Fluttershy touched down on her welcome mat. She sucked her lips in and looked up at Dash. “What was it you wanted to tell me?”

Rainbow Dash rubbed her hooves together. She glanced this way and that, avoiding Fluttershy’s gaze. “Well… you see…”

Fluttershy rose up with a single down-stroke. She nuzzled Rainbow’s neck. “You know that you can come to me with anything, right? It’ll be okay. We can work through it.”

“I know, but it’s not about me.” Rainbow Dash let out a frustrated moan. “You remember last year, when Scootaloo and I went to Cloudsdale?”

“Oh, yes.” Fluttershy put a hoof over her mouth. “Is Scootaloo—?”

“She’s fine. It’s not her.” Rainbow Dash flew back and forth, pacing above Fluttershy’s garden. “But around that time I had a… talk with Discord. About a lot of things. He’s…”

Rainbow Dash sank to the dirt. She hung her head, letting her mane fall loose. “He’s not telling you the whole truth. He’s a lot sicker than you think.”

Fluttershy felt her heart plummet. She thumped to the ground and took Rainbow’s hoof. “What? What’s wrong?”

Rainbow Dash licked her dry lips. “I woulda told you sooner, but I was giving him the chance to tell you himself. But—but cuss it, you deserve to know! After everything you’ve done for him? You deserve that much.”

Fluttershy held her breath, her eyes locked with Rainbow Dash’s. She pushed everything else out of her mind, intent only on her friend’s words.

Rainbow Dash leaned over to rest her forehead against Fluttershy’s. She spoke with a hissing voice. “I think… I think Discord is losing his memory.”

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