• Published 22nd Jul 2012
  • 25,007 Views, 1,143 Comments

A Dream of Dawn - Starsong



What if Luna won against Twilight? What happens when Discord comes back?

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Refuge for Wolves

Rainbow Dash

Rainbow Dash laid back upon a broad oak branch and stared up through the leaves. Sun and shadow weaved through the clouds, bringing warmth to even the high altitude of the Unicorn Mountains. She closed her eyes for a moment and exhaled, barely noticing the swoop of wings as a pegasus landed nearby.

“Not sleeping on the job, are you?” asked Spitfire.

“I wouldn't dream of it,” said Rainbow Dash, although she certainly felt the temptation. She righted herself and smiled at the mare. “Feeling the sun again just reminds me of the way things used to be.”

“I know,” Spitfire admitted. “We still have no idea where the princess is, though. Or Nightmare Moon. And this Discord...”

“I don't trust him.”

“Not a bit.” Spitfire smiled and glided up to a nearby branch. “I take it from your little break that your patrol went well?”

“It's perfectly safe up here,” said Rainbow Dash. “Only a few birds and squirrels, that sort of thing. No ponies. No dragons. The turret is clear, too.”

“Let's take a look, then,” said Spitfire.

Rainbow Dash stretched and felt a wave of sore heat creep up her wings. She never would pass up a chance to fly with the Wonderbolts, and they flew a lot. Day and night, every waking moment, for what had to have been days. She couldn't tell anymore. Before Nightmare Moon took over, day and night proceeded with such precision. With Discord, time seemed to change on a whim. A 'day' could last a few minutes or well beyond its normal span. The night was no different.

Even so, Equestria endured. Mops of foliage, yellowed and decayed, now ran with veins of emerald. When the night came it brought chill, not frost. Birds and creatures that had left, anticipating a long winter, now settled back into the trees and hills.

And all of this could be seen from the turret, a ring of carved stone left tucked in the mountain for hundreds of years. Spitfire and Rainbow Dash peered over the edge of the summit and saw the valley sprawl beneath them. Verdant fields and orchards gave way in places to new hills, or dips, or inexplicable checkerboard roads. The descent of chaos had been slow, but it continued to spread outwards from the distant castle. Clouds of every color dotted the skyline, and the occasional downpour of what could not have been water lilted towards the ground—or up towards the sky, depending where you looked.

Cloudsdale had somehow gone unscathed, though Rainbow Dash hardly recognized it against a landscape so twisted from its original form.

Spitfire turned around and beckoned her away from the edge. “Be careful not to draw attention from anypony, even from here. This place will do for a time. If Discord does not know we are here, he will not bother us. Out of sight, out of mind.”

The rainbow-maned pegasus scanned the horizon. “We should be out there. Helping ponies.”

“We are helping, Rainbow.” Spitfire sighed. “But all that will be for nothing if one of us gets caught.”

Rainbow Dash stomped her hooves. “Then why are we skulking around in the background, hiding in the shadows? Princess Celestia must need help, or she would be back right now to make things right.”

“Rainbow.” Spitfire spoke with such intensity that the fiery filly wilted a little. “I won't tell you again. The princess can take care of herself. And if she couldn't, where would you look for her? The ponies of Cloudsdale need a safe harbor and we are going to give it to them. You can either help, or go on your wild gull chase.”

Rainbow Dash sighed. For all her loathing of being lectured, she knew Spitfire was right. Maybe I am being too rash, but... I just hate the thought of Celestia in peril.

Silence brought her some calm. She scanned the ever-shifting horizon again and then dropped back down beside Spitfire. “It's going to get worse, isn't it?”

“I do not know how far this will spread, but we need to move as many pegasi away from Canterlot as we can,” said Spitfire. “The long-term well being of Equestria may depend on it. If Discord should ever bore of playing king, everypony will need us to take over again. Nightmare Moon may have tied our hooves before, but we were unprepared for her arrival. This time will be different.”

“What are we going to do?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“What nopony has done in hundreds of years,” said Spitfire, tugging her goggles down. “We're going to move Cloudsdale.”

Fluttershy

Fluttershy took tea with Zecora, as had become a daily ritual. This time they worked in a bit of mint that she had found on one of her treks into the forest. The first time being in the zebra's hut had frightened her—she had wards and charms, and beyond that masks of beasts and of ponies alike, hallmarks of her homeland. Now they made her feel at home.

“It's not as crazy as you might think,” said the Zebra as she drew the aromatic beverage from the pot. “Would you like some sugar in your drink?”

“Oh, yes, please,” said Fluttershy. The heat of the fire and the leafy smell of the tea calmed her with each breath. She tipped her cup up and took a silent, deliberate sip. “It's lovely, Zecora. But do you think it will do the trick? My poor babies just haven't been the same ever since, well... you know.”

Zecora nodded and glanced out the window. New fences and pens filled the narrow forest yard, clipping around trees and the remains of some trees they'd unfortunately had to move. They'd worked quickly to move the animals in Fluttershy's care over, but many did not escape the worst of the burgeoning chaos.

Rabbits stood on legs like stilts. Her chickens had been turned every color of the rainbow, and their feathers turned to glass, or springs. She had to quarantine poor Elizabeak, whose feathers had gotten a permanent glaze reminiscent of kettle corn. The ferrets looked like hedgehogs and the hedgehogs looked like ferrets. Most of the birds couldn't fly, but the snakes could, so she had to keep a careful eye on them all.

“Have faith in this old Zebra, friend. All their troubles are at an end... no matter what ails you, I always have a special brew.”

Fluttershy drank her tea. It did make her feel a lot better. Even being in Ponyville made her feel strange, wrong, starting with the hooves. Then it got into her ears. She was beginning to fear something horrible was going to change in her.

Satisfied that the tea was safe (and delicious), the pegasus poured some of the brew onto a saucer and offered it to an unfortunately tall Angel. “Drink up, now. You'll be all better soon.”

The long-legged bunny gave her a look, and Fluttershy smiled and looked back. Their exchanged went rapidly and with no more gesture than their locked eyes, bits like I'm not going to drink that, and yes you are, boy, and fine, but only because I look ridiculous. In the end, the bunny lapped up the tea and after a few good mouthfuls, a few sparks of magic discharged around him. His legs shortened, his ears perked up, and he returned to normal.

Satisfied, Angel reclaimed his throne on Fluttershy's back and stole a carrot from the table.

“Will we have enough for all of them? I just feel so bad... if I had not abandoned them there...”

Zecora poured her own cup and then poured a bucket of water into her pot. “There was nothing you could do, and they would be in trouble if not for you. With this tea, you need only drink a drop to make the crazy magic stop.”

Fluttershy nodded. It calmed her knowing that her animal friends would be fine, but something about the Everfree still bothered her. “Why is it safe here, anyway? I mean, it's not safe safe, but it's different. The forest is always changing, but it doesn't effect anyone living here. The magic isn't spreading from Ponyville or anything...”

That gave Zecora pause. She threw a few more leaves into the pot and gave it a stir. “Some say it is old and some say it is cursed, but nopony knows which is true or which is first. Ancient magic crawls 'round earth and sky, although I cannot tell you why. Though this forest always changes faces, things are always in their places. The way may change but the path will remain. What you have seen, you can see again.”

“Which is why you built your home in one of these places?” Fluttershy paced to the edge of the hut. Come to think of it, neither of us ever seemed to have any trouble getting to Ponyville and back.

The zebra chuckled and murmured something over the tea. Fluttershy was never sure if it was just for habit, or if there was magic in her words, but she was not about to question the mare who brought her Angel back to normal.

“That is why I live here, yes, and do not mind a friendly guest. The wild wood has much to give you, there are just a few quirks to get used to.”

“Oh, yes,” said Fluttershy. “The beasts are big and tough but most of them haven't been so bad. The timber wolves have been nice enough to keep an eye on the chickens for me. It's not like they eat birds. They're just wood! That'd be just silly.”

Zecora shook her head and sampled the tea from her spoon, and then added a fine, earthy smelling dust. “That may be so, but there are still things to fear. Not long ago there lurked a shadow here.”

The tips of Fluttershy's wings straightened and she had to squirm to keep them wings from lifting. The last time she'd seen a shadow in the forest, it'd done everything it could to kill her and her friends. And then it took over Equestria, and... “A shadow? Was it purple and smokey with a bad attitude? Where was it?”

“This morning... on the road from Ponyville.” Zecora thought, and itched her forehead as if trying to dig up the memory. “Past the fox trees and golem hill... at the stream we parted ways.” She shuddered and jammed her spoon deep into the cauldron. “To the north... wherever it goes, I hope it stays.”

As Fluttershy imagined the shape of the shadow worming through the forest, her wings flared up. It had sheared cliffs beneath her friends and set monsters upon them. And now it was doing something terrible again. For a moment she fell out of her body, into that mind of darkness, and she heard the crying of fillies and the crackle of distant laughter.

The chill tore her in two, one part of her mind scattered to the past and the other in the future. Nightmare Moon stood between them, wings raised, laughing. Darkness eclipsed the land in Fluttershy's mind and it felt as if night had settled upon Equestria once more. The vision burrowed into her head until it felt like bursting and she let a cry of fury. A future that she refuted unfolded before her, and she lay helpless before it.

No, I will not fall again.

And as if possessed, she burst from the table and threw open the door. Had she not seen her chickens there, she would have left without a word. Instead, she spared Zecora a few through gritted teeth. “Take care of my babies. I need to go.”

Zecora looked up and cried out. “Fluttershy, wait! You cannot...”

But she was out of earshot in seconds. Angel clung to the back of her neck as she dived through the trees. When the path was good she galloped and when it gave way to roots and moss and creeks, she took to wing.

Not far from the hut she caught sight of a timber wolf skulking about. She tagged the wolf on the shoulder in passing and it turned to follow her, racing through the underbrush as if it were open plains.

“We are looking for a shadow, Birch Bite,” she said.

The timber wolf howled for the hunt. Though the sun shone bright, less and less of it filtered through the high trees. Shadows lurked everywhere, but the true shadow, the nightmare, could lurk anywhere. Birch lifted her nose and must have picked up some sort of scent, because she tore off ahead.

Fluttershy's rage drove her fast enough to keep up with the sylvan beast. Faster and faster they went. She ducked a branch, bobbed over a tree, and flapped her wings, with Angel still clinging tightly to her.

Then she saw it and grew cold, as if she had fallen into a high cloud of snow. A slip of smoke and shade, dark as night, wove through the trees. She darted, and it seemed to sense her because it moved faster.

In the back of her mind she could hear crying, feel a deep sorrow that she did not understand. The sympathy tugged at her anger and twisted it into confusion. The trees grew thicker and thicker together until her beating wings brushed at bark on every flap, until she finally broke into open air.

The ground dropped steeply, moss into grass. A sudden wind knocked her back as she darted into blue sky. Birch Bite jumped neatly from the top of the ledge and onto a branch overlooking a forest valley.

She only let her attention on the shadow falter for a moment, but it was enough time for it to skitter away. She landed near the bottom of the slope and panted to catch her breath.

At first her gaze roamed in an attempt to find the shadow again, but at every turn she only found serenity. Blue skies and scattered clouds drifted overhead. Sprawling fields teemed with life, green and white and wild rainbows sprawling about streams and waterfalls. Hills rolled up from hills until they met the cliffs at either side, or faded into the trees on either end of the valley.

Then Angel hopped from her back and gave a sniff. He jumped into a patch of honey clover and nibbled at the buds.

“Did you know about this place?” Fluttershy asked, looking to the timber wolf. Birch let a yawn and a whine and sat beside her.

Yes, she thought, maybe all of the creatures here know of it.

How such place filled with serenity and splendour could exist so close to a cursed castle ruin remained beyond her. Just being there, though, she knew that it was a good place. A safe place. It came to her in the smell of flowers and each lung-filling breath. A refuge in the Everfree, not just for her, but for the animals of the forest, and the animals of Equestria, and any creature in need of sanctuary.

The shadow moved beyond her grasp, and now she had not the heart to follow it. Her fury and desperation faded into memory, though haunted her even as she lay amongst the dandelions. If I had caught Nightmare Moon, what would I do? Hurt her? What would that solve?

As if sensing her thoughts, Angel abandoned the clover and returned to her side. The two burrowed down into a nest of dandelion down. She let her muscles go slack and closed her eyes. Evil passed through the valley and she knew, somehow, she would not see it again. The tension left her hooves as she scraped at the ground, banishing thoughts of raising them to strike another pony.

Oh, Fluttershy... maybe you need this sanctuary too.