• 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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Angels in Disguise

Pound’s hooves settled against the crunchy shingles of a random rooftop. The building was a home business combo, with the shop on the first floor and living space on the second. Most houses in the center of town were like that, and you only got to the solely domestic homes as you reached the edge of town—or the richer neighborhood. It was a symptom of how the town started, Mrs. Cheerilee said once; the Apple Family built their farm, and merchants arrived to trade their goods for quality grub.

‘Speaking of quality grub,’ Pound thought, ‘I think I hear a caramel apple calling my name.’

He wiped his eyes and dried his cheeks. It was embarrassing enough that he was crying at all, but to have anypony see him do it? He’d never live it down. He’d get no sympathy from his friends or his twin sister. He’d get sympathy from his parents, yeah, but that would be even more embarrassing.

‘And then Pumpkin would get in trouble for it and she’d hate me forever.’ Pound grimaced, patting down the mussed-up mane that his mom always said reminded her of chocolate frosting. ‘She’s always mad at me anyways, but…’

He spread his wings and felt warmth run through his fairy strings; the little vessels that brought magic from his heart to his limbs. His magic grabbed the air and lifted him on the wind, carrying him from the rooftop to the street below. The breakfast rush ended about an hour before, so there wasn’t much of a crowd to push through. Pound clomped along at a steady pace, his mind on the treat that was only a bit away.

He set the gold coin on the Sweet Apple Acres market counter. “One caramel apple, please.”

Mrs. Cheerilee leaned over, her signature bright smile shining. “Pound! It’s so good to see you!”

Pound blinked once. “It’s nice to see you, too, Mrs. Cheerilee. I thought Apple Bloom ran the stall today.”

Mrs. Cheerilee waved a hoof, using her other foreleg to take a wrapped apple out of a cooler. “Oh, you know how it is in the off-season. I guess you could call this my summer job; part-time while I look over next year’s curriculum. I need to pull my weight somehow.”

She gave him a close-mouthed smile, which puffed up her cheeks until she was squinting. “I don’t suppose you plan to ruin your supper with this apple, do you?”

“No, Mrs. Cheerilee.” Pound felt a sinking sensation at the thought of going home. His ears drooped before he could get a hold of them. “I… um…”

As Pound watched, a change took over Cheerilee’s face. She smiled as brightly as she ever did, of course, but something happened with her eyes. They grew softer, as if a light behind them shifted from noon to dusk. Her right ear tilted, and her voice grew lower.

“Pound, is something bothering you?”

‘Yes, but how do I say it without getting Pumpkin in trouble or sounding stupid?’ Pound gulped. “I dunno,” he said at last.

Cheerilee shuffled back, making room behind the stall. She held the caramel apple towards him. “Would you like to tell me about your day while you eat?”

Pound shuffled to the far side of the stall. He noted that somepony, most likely Apple Bloom, had scribbled “Employees only” across the wood. He leaned his chin on the countertop. “Sure. Why not?”

He pinched the treat’s stick between his hooves and munched on the fruit. Pitch-perfect. “Pumpkin left early, so I wanted to find her and make sure—and hang out with her. When I found her she was all mopey and told me to go away.”

Cheerilee’s hoof on his shoulder and a gentle smile prompted him onward. He nibbled at the gooey caramel. “I didn’t mean to make her mad at me, but I guess she is. Why does it always feel like I just annoy her?”

“Wait until she’s a teenager,” Cheerilee muttered, just loud enough that he caught it with the tip of his ear. In a voice he was actually meant to hear, she said, “Do you really think she was upset with you, or is there something else bothering her?”

‘Holy cow is there something bothering her.’ “She’s been upset for a couple of days, I guess. One of her friends isn’t feeling well.”

“Hmm.” Cheerilee tapped her chin. “Knowing Pumpkin like I do, I don’t actually think she’s upset with you.”

Pound bit off an especially large bite, filling his cheeks in exactly the way his dad said not to. “Huh?”

“Well, when some ponies get upset…” Cheerilee tilted her head back. A shadow of a frown crossed her muzzle. “It get really easy to say and do things we don’t mean. I know that Pumpkin loves you, Pound, so I don’t think she meant to hurt you on purpose.”

Pound snorted. “If we don’t mean things, then why do we say them?”

“Well, any other time, we could actually think about it and realize that what we’re saying isn’t true.” Cheerilee nibbled her lower lip. “But when we’re upset, it gets harder to remember all the things we like about the person.”

She looked both ways down the street. She let out a small nod and leaned in close. “Can you keep a secret?”

Pumpkin nodded, his chin dripping with apple juice.

“Sometimes, my sister and I fight.”

Pound blinked. His left ear tilted down as he lowered his eyebrows. “What? But you’re one of the nicest ponies I know!”

Cheerilee shut her eyes in a sage nod. “Truer words have not been spoken, but the fact remains. Sometimes we even yell at each other.”

Pound took a moment to imagine Cheerilee shouting, her magenta face growing a nice shade of purple. He couldn’t decide if it was silly or scary.

“But we still love each other.” Cheerilee tapped Pound on the nose. “The trick is to apologize and make up afterwards. The trick is to remember that we still love each other very much.”

Pound looked down at his now-sticky hooves. “But what if she doesn’t want to make up?”

“In your situation…” Cheerilee stood up and brushed dust from her coat. She gestured towards an incoming pony. “Just keep being the nice boy I know you are, and she’ll come around. Don’t let it get to you, Pound. Some people just need to be left alone for a while.”

She grinned wide at her latest customer. “Hello, Scuttlebutt! Can I interest you in some apple-related products today?”

Pound sucked on his hoof. ‘I guess I shouldn’t have bugged Pumpkin when she was upset. But I want to do something! I wanna help her feel better! But it didn’t work. But, but, but, but, but…’

“Thank you, Mrs. Cheerilee,” he said, spreading his wings for takeoff. She gave him a smile and returned to her customer.

Pound glided lazily over Ponyville, giving the other pegasi a wide berth. He could go home and play with his younger siblings, or he could head for the park to hang out with Lackadaisy, or he could see if Scootaloo was doing any awesome tricks…

He sighed. ‘Or I can fly over and beat my head against the brick wall of Pumpkin’s mood. No thanks.’

He sailed towards the opposite end of the park, where Lackadaisy and a few other pegasus foals were pushing the recess equipment to the limit.

***

Pumpkin lay on her back, all four legs hanging in the air, as she savored her sour mood. She frowned and stared into the middle distance, daring it to come any closer. She held her own little corner of darkness in the birdsong-filled, sun-kissed day.

Lyra’s lyre did its best to drag her out of her funk, but it was a losing battle.

Voices came from across the field. Pumpkin focused on the ponies, straining her ears to listen. A unicorn mare had approached Lyra, and was speaking to her in a chipper voice. Too chipper for Pumpkin’s liking.

Lyra replied, her magic never halting on its course through the strings of her instrument. A happy grin—too happy, of course—broke out across her face. She finished her melody and set about packing up her lyre.

Pumpkin narrowed her eyes to bring the other mare into focus. It was a familiar face, but not one she’d spoken with much: Ribbon Wishes, the local plumber. Ribbon must have noticed she was being watched, because her head turned in Pumpkin’s direction.

‘If she’s smart,’ Pumpkin thought, ‘she’ll just move right along.’

Ribbon Wishes walked towards Pumpkin’s bastion of blueness.

‘Yep. She’s an idiot.’ Pumpkin rolled her eyes. She briefly considered pretending that she was asleep, but didn’t actually think it would work. She could just stay silent and rude, but…

‘She doesn’t really deserve that, does she?’

“Hello, Miss Cake!” Ribbon Wishes said. She kinda looked pretty without the overalls and grease stains, Pumpkin mused, with a curly blue mane and silky pink coat. “Just thought I should let you know that the fountains are in perfect working order again, ready for wish-making.”

“Thanks,” Pumpkin muttered, trying to add a little lightness to her voice. It didn’t come across. “Neato.”

Ribbon’s smile deflated. She rubbed her knee. “Wish taking a while to come true, huh?”

“It was a stupid wish, anyway.” Pumpkin rolled onto her belly and glowered at a passing ladybug. “It doesn’t even matter.”

Ribbon blew a breath through her lips. She sat down just outside of Pumpkin’s bubble of gloom. “It looks like it matters a lot.”

“I don’t even care.” Pumpkin shifted herself so that she faced away from the older unicorn. “Whatever.”

There was a shuffle of hooves on pavement as Ribbon stood back up. “Sometimes wishes take a long time to come true. Sometimes they never come true. Sometimes they don’t come true the way you think they will.”

She walked away, looking over her shoulder. Her eyes met Pumpkin’s. “Sometimes, wishes don’t come true unless we do something about them.”

Pumpkin scowled. She took Chewie’s neck in her mouth and chewed like a timberwolf taking down whatever timberwolves ate. ‘What’s that supposed to mean? What does she know about what I wished? What does she know about wishes? Stupid fairy-godmother wannabe. Stupid Discord.’

Discord probably wouldn’t even remember that he was a big butt to her.

Pumpkin growled and flopped onto her back to stare at the cloudless sky. Lyra headed for town, taking her songs with her. The park became a hollow space of tweeting birds and chirping frogs.

She sat up, Chewie dangling from her lips. ‘Discord’s a big butt, but it’s mostly because he’s sick, right? If he wasn’t sick, he would have to be nice.’ Her eyes turned up to watch a squirrel hop from branch to branch. ‘And if I was the one who cured, him, he’d have to be nice to me.’

She stood up and tossed Chewie into her saddlebag. ‘But Discord isn’t like ponies—regular medicine won’t work on him. The cure would have to be something big, and powerful, and magical… And who’s the most magical pony I know?’

She ran through the woods, taking the quickest path into town. There was one building that was visible from every part of Ponyville, just because of how stinking tall and blue it was. It was the home of the most magical pony in the city and maybe all of Equestria: Princess Twilight Sparkle. If she didn’t know something that could cure Discord, she could find one.

She plowed past ponies in the roadway, skipping through legs and dodging wagon wheels. A few shouts followed her, but she outran them one by one. She bypassed most of the business by taking the back roads, and soon found herself at the steps to the castle.

Right behind a certain butter-yellow pegasus.

Pumpkin nearly screamed. What was it about today that made Fluttershy keep showing up? This wasn’t coincidence, this was the universe actively teasing her. She hunkered down behind a market stall and watched.

Fluttershy was accompanied by Spike, who lugged enough books to tire out two full-grown stallions. They hustled to the door, gave a brief nod to the guards, and slipped inside.

“I don’t suppose you’d be interested in buyin’ some yellow cherries?”

Pumpkin Cake looked over her shoulder with a glare. The pony running the stall plastered a grin onto his face. “Imported straight from Jubilee Farms!”

“Yeah, no. Hush up.” Pumpkin examined the guards. Getting past them would require great cunning, and a meticulously planned approach. The one on the right especially—a purple crystal pony with a jagged scar running across his chest—looked crafty enough to see through the slightest falsehood.

Pumpkin practiced fluttering her eyelids in the cutest way she knew possible. She fluffed out her mane and pulled her lips back in an innocent, saccharine smile. She scrambled as fast as her legs could carry her and stumbled to a stop right in front of the massive stallion. “Excuse me, mister!”

The guard shifted. His scar had the appearance of a chip cut through a gemstone. “Yes? Can I help you with something, citizen?”

‘Who does this guy think he is? The Power Ponies? Who calls people “Citizen”?’ “I borrowed a magic book from Princess Twilight!” She made sure to add a squeak to the first half of Twilight’s name. “Would you let me through so I can return it?”

She noted the exact moment where the guard’s stern demeanor fell away. He pressed his lips together, his eyes sparkling like pearls. “I’m sorry, but the princess is very busy right now. You’ll have to come back later.”

‘Darn. He means it, too.’ Pumpkin pouted and looked at her hooves. “But I promised I’d give it back.”

She lifted her ears, as if an idea had just occurred to her. “Hay, I know! I just saw Mr. Spike go in! Maybe I can give the book to him?”

The guard furrowed his glistening brow. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea either. Why don’t you give the book to me, and I can make sure it gets to the princess.”

Pumpkin drew back and clutched her saddlebags to her chest. “I can’t do that! What if you’re a robber?

The other guard, a pegasus mare whose coat was disguised by her armor’s enchantment, burst out laughing. “Yeah, Coldstone!” she guffawed. “What if you’re a big, bad robber?”

Pumpkin almost snorted, but managed to stay in character. “Please, Mr. Coldstone?”

Coldstone sighed and pushed the door open. “If you get in any trouble I can always blame it on my partner.”

“Hay!”

“Thank you mister royal guard, sir!” Pumpkin trotted into the castle like she owned it. “Maybe you aren’t a robber!”

“Nicest thing anybody’s said to me all day!” he shouted as the door slammed shut.

Pumpkin Cake craned her neck back. She’d been in Princess Twilight’s castle before, but it always looked amazing. The high-vaulted ceiling was flawless crystal, having been grown rather than carved. The flooring was polished until she could see her face in it. The windows were made from triangular, multihued crystal shards. “Wow.”

She snapped her mouth shut. She could hear voices further down the hall. She crept forth, keeping to the wall and ducking behind random tables whenever she could. The crystal shimmered from within with the Fires of Friendship, warming the otherwise cold surface. ‘I don’t have time for sight-seeing. I’ve got a draconequus to cure.’

The central room of the castle was the map room. The Cutie Map was deactivated, leaving a blank, blue-colored table surrounded by seven thrones. The voices came from a corridor to the left, which angled downward. Seeing nopony nearby, Pumpkin galloped her way through the hall.

She’d never been to this part of the castle before. School field trips had avoided it, and any other time she’d seen Twilight was in the map room and library. She had an inkling that she knew where the road was headed, though: Princess Twilight’s private laboratory.

She rounded the final corner and found that she was completely right. Massive machines chugged out information. Work benches lay scattered with all sorts of trinkets, baubles, and tools. Potions bubbled and elixirs hissed. In the center of it all stood a lavender alicorn. A cloud of scrolls and pens flew around her, each making a different note on her experiment’s progress.

Pumpkin’s knees jiggled and a silly smile scrawled across her face. ‘That’s so awesome.’

“I’ve long suspected there was more to Discord’s disease,” Princess Twilight said, “but never had the evidence to support my supposition.” The purple gemstone hanging from her neck glimmered as she spoke. She hovered a vial before her face and studied the contents. “From your description of the mind and body breaking down, it sounds a little like a sort of… um… Chaos-Induced Dementia.”

Pumpkin spotted Fluttershy nestled in a chair a short distance away. The pegasus hid behind her flowing mane. “That sounds bad.”

“It is.” Twilight Sparkle poured the liquid into a bottle. The coloration shifted from green to clear. “Hmm. There isn’t much in the way of cures to dementia. It’s a serious roadblock we have yet to overcome. About all we can do is hold it back with memory enhancers.”

Fluttershy slumped in her chair. “I figured as much. Oh, Twilight, I have no idea what I’m going to do! There’s nothing I can think of. I just feel so… stupid and helpless.”

“You’re not stupid, and you’re not helpless.” Twilight set down her swarm of notes and flapped over to Fluttershy. She gave the pegasus a strong hug. “We’ll think of something, okay? Even if we can’t fix it right away, there’s gotta be something we can do.”

“Okay,” Fluttershy whispered.

Pumpkin scooted beneath a table while they weren’t looking. A few of the books Spike had been carrying lay just over her head. She lit her horn, picked one off the top of the pile, and slid it to her waiting hooves. Super Naturals. Lame.

Twilight let out a long groan as she trotted across her lab. “I think the first place to start is with a few proven techniques, though I doubt they’ve been tested for a draconequus physiology. Still, I think we’re at the point where nothing we do can hurt our chances.”

Fluttershy lay her ears back and whimpered.

“I didn’t mean it quite like that.” Twilight pulled a fresh page out of her pile and drew her pen across it. “I can contact the dean of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns and see if she can’t refer me to any specialists.”

Pumpkin shoved the book aside and pulled a new tome from the bottom of the pile. ‘Grimoire Alicorn? I don’t even know how to pronounce that. Next.’

“Other than that…” Twilight cast her friend a soft look. “You’re the most—I guess I wanna say ‘medically inclined’—of the six of us. Do you have any thoughts?”

Fluttershy leaned her foreleg on the table, shifting the books. Pumpkin pressed herself back to keep out of sight. “Not really. Just faint little feelings. Nothing scientific.”

“If Pinkie’s taught me anything, it’s that I don’t understand everything yet.” Twilight rested her wing across Fluttershy’s shoulders. “What sort of feelings?”

“When Spike and I were researching…” Fluttershy shrugged, swishing her hoof across her coat. “The one thing that kept popping up was the Garden of Elysium. It’s… said that the draconequus species first appeared there. There this itch in the back of my mind telling me it’s important.”

Twilight brought her eyebrows together. She paced beside Fluttershy, chewing the tip of her mane. “The garden is a folk tale. A collection of folk tales, really, that date back to the First Age. Earliest recorded history, if ‘word of mouth’ can count as a record. It’s all hearsay and myth.”

They were turned away. Pumpkin swiped another book, this one titled Elysium and the Tree of Life. Pumpkin gave it a double-take. ‘Eli… see um? This is what they’re talking about. Maybe I can see something they don’t?’

Twilight rubbed the side of her head. “They don’t even agree on much. Sometimes it’s the draconequuses that own the garden, sometimes it’s the fairies. Sometimes it’s closed off to mortals, sometimes they’re freely welcome.”

As Pumpkin scanned, she had to agree with Twilight’s thoughts. None of the stories linked together; they all had a different hero, and a different antagonist. They might as well have taken place in different worlds. One pony sought the Tree of Life, while another bartered her firstborn for a set of golden apples, while a third hid within the garden to escape imprisonment. It just kept going.

Twilight’s head popped up. She narrowed her eyes at Fluttershy. “Was there anything specific that stood out to you about the stories? Anything that consistently drew your eye?”

‘That’d be hard to believe,’ Pumpkin thought. “The only thing that gets mentioned more than once is the—” She focused on an illustration. Three mystical creatures stood around the Tree of Life, each holding a golden apple. A pony knelt before them, its hoof reached out, begging.

“I don’t know, Twilight.” Fluttershy spread her wings with a sigh. “Every time I think I know the answer, I second-guess myself.”

Pumpkin read back. The pony’s daughter was ill to the point of death. The only thing that could save her was a legendary apple that could mend the body and strengthen the mind. The pony journeyed to Elysium to find a cure.

‘A cure.’

“A cure!”

She slapped her hoof over her mouth. Fluttershy leaped into the air, while Twilight snapped her head towards Pumpkin’s hiding spot. The table moved in a strong telekinetic field.

Pumpkin lay bared to the world, surrounded by three books and a rubber chicken. She waved. “Haaay, Princess Twilight. Fancy seeing you here?”

“Pumpkin Cake.” Twilight brought a hoof to her necklace. “To what do I owe the honor of your visit to my private laboratory? Twilight Time doesn’t start up again until next Saturday.”

“It doesn’t?” Pumpkin backed away and rubbed the back of her neck. “Gee. Ooh. My whole calendar is messed up now. I guess I’ll just have to come back then. Sorry about the whole ‘invasion of your privacy’ thing. Lips are totally sealed. Glued, cemented, the whole works.”

Twilight nodded. “You’re still holding my books, Pumpkin.”

“Er—” Pumpkin glanced at the three textbooks held in a bubble of her own blue magic. “Well, you see, these are actually from the public library, so anypony can borrow them—”

“Not this one,” Twilight said, neatly slipping the Grimoire Alicorn out of Pumpkin’s grasp. She focused until the book disappeared in a flash—shunted off to Nowhere, her extra-dimensional holding cell. “And I would appreciate honesty, Pumpkin. Why are you here?”

Pumpkin winced. She scuffed her hoof across the floor. ‘Might as well rip the bandage off.’ “I wanted to see if you knew how to help Discord. I think he’ll stop being a butt if he gets healed. Maybe kinda.”

Twilight nodded slowly. “From the sound of your outburst, it seems you found something. Would you share it with us?”

Pumpkin flipped through the pages of Elysium. She stuck a hoof out at the begging pony. “It says here that golden apples are, like, super-awesome at healing and stuff. It can stop a pony from dying, even. Maybe Fluttershy needs to go to Elysium to get a golden apple for Discord?”

She bowed her head. “It’s the only thing that’s mentioned in all the stories.”

Fluttershy pressed her hoof against her mouth. She laid her other hoof on Pumpkin’s back. “Oh, sweetie. Golden apples are just a myth.”

Twilight Sparkle looked from Pumpkin, to Fluttershy, and back again. She tilted her head, wrinkling her muzzle. “Some myths are worth believing in.”

She strutted through the lab, picking up little odds and ends and setting them in their appointed places. “We should speak with Discord about the garden and see if he remembers anything. Maybe there’s some epic poem or another about somepony’s journey to find an apple. Something to help us locate something that’s been lost for several millennia.”

Twilight spread her wings and lifted a regal foreleg. “Don’t worry, everypony. I have a feeling that everything is going to be just fine.”

Pumpkin lowered her ears to her scalp. She could hear Spike running at full speed down the hallway, his draconic breaths heating the air. “You just had to say it, didn’t you, Twilight?”

“Say what?” Princess Twilight met Spike halfway down the hall. He leaned over, his hands on his knees, trying desperately to catch his breath. Twilight rested her hoof on his shoulder. “What’s wrong, Spike?”

“Message… Luna…” He gasped, holding a sheet of paper in the air. “Important… Bad guys…”

Twilight took the note and scanned it. Her face grew a brighter shade of purple. Her frown etched itself deep into her face. Her hackles rose.

Fluttershy sat down and shook her head. “Do I even want to know?”

“Not especially,” Twilight said. “Tirek escaped.”

***

Luna let a grin take control of her face as the portal activated. A very special pony stepped into Tartarus from her home in Ponyville. “Princess Twilight. Welcome to the madhouse.”

Twilight Sparkle grumbled under her breath. She gave Luna a quick squeeze of a hug. “How are things?”

“For one, it is very good to hear your voice again.” Luna’s grin became savage. “And for another, it is nice to return to the good old days of kicking copious amounts of buttocks.”

Tartarus looked like battlefield. Royal Guards marched in time through the halls. Legions of troops soared through the cavernous rooms. Unicorns cast every type of tracking spell imaginable.

“We locked down the portals, save for the one you just came through.” Luna gestured at the ceiling with her horn. “Unless the monsters are able to dig through several miles of solid stone, they are effectively trapped. The problem is keeping them all corralled.”

Twilight nodded, taking notes as Luna talked. “Who were the escapees?”

“Besides Tirek, just one other.” Luna extended a wing and led Twilight through the bowels of Tartarus. At least one shadow-monster shied away from their presence. “A morlock with the self-given name of Munchy. A pathetic little thing with a taste for sapient flesh.”

Twilight shuddered. “That is disgusting!”

“It is not as bad as it could seem.” Luna opened a door and brought them into a well-lit cave. Tables scattered around the floor, holding maps of the prison and arrangements of figurines. Stonewall, Captain of the Canterlot Guard, saluted.

“You got the missive I sent you about Tirek’s magic situation?” Luna asked.

“Oh, yes.” Twilight gave her a shy grin. “I may have silently cheered. Just a little.”

“I will consider it a boon that we do not have to worry about the centaur taking control of Equestria once more.” Luna sat before the largest table and gestured to a seat on the far side. Once Twilight was situated, she picked up a figure in her magic. “We have an issue with the prisoners. It is an ongoing riot. Every time we capture a creature, two more get set free by its fellow inmates. It is madness, Twilight, and it must stop. We need every available pony tracking these creatures down before they find a way to escape en masse.”

Twilight looked over the map of Tartarus. As Luna watched, she saw her friend’s heart fall. “But…” Twilight gritted her teeth. “That means…”

Her chin slumped to the map. She let out a huff. “I don’t have time for a prison break. Discord is going nuts, Luna.”

Terrifying images of the Crown Prince of Chaos at work flew through Luna’s mind. Singing crocodiles, slimy trees, smelly grass. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head. “The sort of nuts that requires a friendship laser to the head?”

“No… Not yet.” Twilight Sparkle leaned on her hoof. Various little bits of plastic stood around her, standing in for various troops or known monsters. “He’s losing his memory, though, and the end of that makes me think he might revert.”

Luna folded her hooves. “If I may, Twilight…”

Twilight focused on her.

Luna bowed her head in respect. “Discord is a very powerful individual. But then, so are we. He is not currently a danger to others. Tartarus is.” She swept a wing around the room. “If the riot continues, many, many ponies and other beings will get hurt. If we are to stop it, it requires our full attention.”

Twilight covered her head with both forelegs. “So Discord is a priority, but Tartarus has to be a higher one.”

“Pretty much.” Luna smirked. “You are our only hope, princess.”

“Don’t call me that,” Twilight groaned. “It makes me feel important. Important ponies don’t get to have fun and make their own decisions.”

“Sometimes, our decisions are the only ones that matter.” Luna lifted a hoof and signaled for a pony to bring them refreshments. “That’s the long and the short of it. Shall we set about taking back Tartarus?”

Twilight drew herself up. She set her jaw firm. “I need to tell Fluttershy, first.”

***

Fluttershy read over Twilight’s letter for the dozenth time. Called away on princess duties. Again. This time, right in the middle of a crisis.

Angel Bunny sat in the middle of her back, massaging her slowly, as though he was kneading dough. He eyed the note and scowled. He blew a raspberry for good measure.

Fluttershy couldn’t exactly blame him. ‘What rotten luck. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to Discord.’

Her couch was cozy, as usual. Her cottage was secure and safe, as always. Her animals friends were ready to help, as ever.

‘To help with what?’ Fluttershy thought. “There’s nothing we can do.”

Fluttershy thoughts were mercifully interrupted by a knock at her door. She slid across the floor, almost too exhausted to walk. It was more self-consciousness than confidence that lead her to stand before opening the door.

Rainbow Dash stood on her doormat, her saddlebags bulging at her sides. The rainbow-maned pegasus kicked the dirt, refusing to meet Fluttershy’s gaze. “So, I wanted to say goodbye before I headed back to Cloudsdale. I volunteered to help with the rebuilding efforts, so… Hi. Bye.”

She almost raised her eyes, but turned away at the last second. “So, I guess Discord is really bad, huh?”

Fluttershy bobbed her head, unwilling to commit to anything else.

“I wish I could help you.” Rainbow flicked her mane. “But I can’t.”

Her voice cracked. She pulled Fluttershy into a hug and backed away just as quickly. “J-just don’t give up hope, okay?” Rainbow said. “Just keep on hoping and maybe things ’ll work out. There’s still time for Discord, right?”

“I don’t know,” Fluttershy said.

“No? No, I guess not.” Rainbow Dash spread her wings, but didn’t take off. “What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know.” Fluttershy blew a whisper, her mane dancing in a chilly breeze from the east. “I just don’t know.”

“Well, you know…” Rainbow Dash grinned. Her eyes didn’t quite match the rest of her face. “If you get into a tight spot, just ask yourself ‘What Would Rainbow Dash Do?’ That’s WWRD… D. Totally awesome and unique motivational exercise.”

Fluttershy’s shoulders went limp. She rested her side against the door frame.

“Hay.” Rainbow Dash reached out and touched Fluttershy’s cheek. “Have I ever steered you wrong before?”

Fluttershy managed a giggle. “Do you want me to answer that honestly?”

“Heck no.” Rainbow Dash shook her head. She held her forelegs wide. “Come here. Real hug this time.”

Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash squeezed each other tight, holding on until their emotion was spent. Dash waved a goodbye as she sailed off into the sky, leaving Fluttershy to her own devices.

‘I guess I’m hungry,’ Fluttershy thought. She trotted to the kitchen and went about whipping up a meal for herself. Carrots and potatoes were chopped up and tossed in a pot alongside broth. The stew simmered as she stirred. ‘“What Would Rainbow Dash Do?” Now that’s a scary question. Charge in head-first and clobber whatever villain was in her way. That’s what she’d do.’

A sip told her that it was coming along nicely, but needed a little pizzazz. A couple herbs and a twist of pepper would do the broth good. ‘Rainbow can do things without being afraid. She can do things even when she’s afraid. But me? It’s hard. It’s always been hard, and it’ll always be hard.’

Angel Bunny tapped his foot. Fluttershy glanced his way. “No, Angel. I fed you and everybody else an hour ago. You had a nice salad, and this stew wouldn’t be good for your tummy.”

Angel clearly didn’t believe her, but hopped off all the same. She smiled and watched his fluffy tail bounce behind him.

Fluttershy set her table with a single bowl, a single spoon, and a single napkin. Stew was ladled into her dish. She pulled a book off the shelf and held it open with one hoof while the other hoof held her spoon. She read as she ate, the same as she did most every night.

She rolled her eyes. ‘Come on, Kabuki, you know he loves you. Just kiss him already. You’ve been going through this same story for five volumes now. You literally have nothing to worry about…’

She let the spoon sink into her dish. She stared at the book with a frown. ‘You’re afraid, but what would happen if you weren’t?’

Her house grew quiet. Soft bunny snores slipped in from the other room. The last light of the sunset shimmered through the back window.

She licked her spoon dry and looked at her reflection. A rounded, silly face looked back. “What would happen if you did it anyways?”

She kicked up a slice of carrot and mashed it between her teeth. ‘What Would Rainbow Dash Do? She’d do what’s right, even if she was scared out of her wits. Should I do what Rainbow Dash would do done zippity dop wow?’

Fluttershy snickered. “Suddenly I’m singing scat.”

She hopped from her seat to scribble a quick note. Next Ponytones Song: What Would Rainbow Dash Doh Wop Diddy Doo? Discuss with Sweetie Belle.

She grabbed a Sweet Apple Acres apple from a sack she kept in the kitchen, rounding out supper with fruit. She bit deep and slurped up the juice before it could dirty her coat. She stared at the red apple, which matched perfectly with the sky outside.

‘Rainbow Dash would get that apple.’ Fluttershy looked into the sunset as it burned distant clouds over the Undiscovered West. ‘She would get that apple and save Discord before Twilight ever got back from her mission.’

She stared at the apple with as much determination as she could muster. She brought it to her mouth with a decisive chomp.

‘I’ll get that cure, Discord,’ she thought, ‘even if it’s the last thing I ever do.’

Night fell over Ponyville. Its citizens went to sleep, or headed for the Keen Bean, or started up evening hobbies, or visited friends. In one little corner of the city, on the very edge of its outskirts, a butter-yellow pegasus softly serenaded her animal charges from the bottom of her heart.

“Dooby do zoot dee da wah… Dippidy dot zara doo dun doo… Wah wah haha doradda dee…”

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