• Published 25th Aug 2012
  • 11,229 Views, 559 Comments

Lost and Found - Cloudy Skies

AJ and FS are lost, trying to get home. Meanwhile Dash struggles to understand what FS means to her.

  • ...

2. Prologue

“Go fish, please,” Fluttershy declared, drawing forth a groan from Rainbow Dash. Pinkie Pie thrust a hoof skywards.

“I win!” the pink pony declared, putting down her measly two cards.

“Yeah. Surprise,” Dash snarked, throwing her own playing cards back onto the middle of the floor. “I don’t know why we bother playing when we know you’re gonna win.”

“Oh come now, don’t be a sore loser,” Rarity chided.

“Nah, you’re right,” Rainbow Dash agreed, smirking and glancing over at Twilight who was still staring at the full two dozen cards she cupped in her hooves. “I only lost a little.”

“I can see you staring, Rainbow, and this is mathematically improbable in the extreme!” Twilight said. “This game is really quite simple!”

Fluttershy couldn’t quite hold back a giggle as the rest of the gang laughed, too. Twilight groaned and set about collecting all the playing cards while the others rose to stand. Outside, through the circular windows of the library, the sun was barely setting. Applejack and Pinkie Pie had supplied both snacks and proper food, too, and it was looking to be a lovely evening.

“Hey, what do you think we should do next?” Twilight asked.

Fluttershy looked about and found that she must’ve addressed her; the others were all over by the table gorging themselves on potato chips and the likes.

“Oh, well, I don’t know,” she admitted. “This is all ever so nice, though. We really need to do this more often.”

And they did. It was amazing how all the worries melted away when surrounded by her best friends. When she got home, she’d take out the trash and the letter with it, and then it would all be done. With luck, she could make herself forget about it for a long while; it wasn’t like she was unhappy. Nothing had changed for the worse. Fluttershy sighed and smiled.

“We do! But, if you don’t have any ideas, I’ll be happy to confer with my checklist,” Twilight declared, up on her hooves in an instant and happily trotting towards the desk where she’d left her vaunted scroll. Fluttershy watched her go and made her way over to the fireplace. Rainbow Dash was spearing marshmallows, and some roasted treats sounded just perfect.

Applejack pursed her lips as she watched Fluttershy take a seat next to Rainbow Dash. The latter of the two companionably wrapped a wing around the other as she spoke too low for her to hear. She certainly seemed okay. Even as she watched, Fluttershy traded words with Dash, blushing and looking away when more colorful mare burst into laughter over something one of them had said. Fluttershy was her regular self, laughing along with them, singing, dancing and talking when the others did. She had no reason to doubt that the pegasus was content.

Just like you couldn’t really tell what kind of pie you had in front of you without looking under the crust.

Applejack snorted at her own thought just then. She had half a mind to swat herself upside the head if she didn’t think she’d come off as more unhinged than the old barn door for doing so. She grabbed another sip of punch, took care to nod her thanks to Pinkie Pie who had made it, and trotted over to join Twilight on the other side of the room.

“What’cha doin’, Twilight?” she asked, peering over the unicorn’s shoulder. The studious mare was of course obsessing about the very same scroll she’d presented them with as they knocked on her door this afternoon.

“Well, we skipped ahead with the card games, so I’m trying to decide whether we should move on to the ghost stories, or if we should backtrack to the s'mores,” Twilight explained, indicating the neat rows of letters and checkboxes.

“Uh-huh,” Applejack nodded, chuckling. Twilight looked up at that, wearing a small frown that wasn’t entirely free of mirth.

“Organization is important,” she said, defending herself from the unspoken comment. “Besides, a tidy mind is very helpful when it comes to magic, too.”

“I’ll bet,” Applejack agreed, holding up a hoof. “Wasn’t going to say anything.”

“No, just thinking it,” Twilight muttered just as Rainbow Dash came to hover overhead, squinting down at Applejack.

“I bet you told her,” Dash accused, folding her forelegs.

Applejack blinked, a grin spreading across her face as she suddenly remembered what Rainbow Dash was referring to. “Actually, I hadn’t, but thanks for the reminder,” she said, smirking.

Twilight glanced between the two of them, from the grinning earth pony to the groaning pegasus, one brow neatly arched. “Excuse me?”

“R.D. here reckons you can fix just about anything with your fancy magic,” Applejack explained, fearing her face would fall off from the way she was smiling.

Rainbow Dash’s cheeks acquired a nice crimson tint of indignation. “I said ‘lots of things’ or something, whatever,” she shot, throwing her hooves up into the air. “I mean, she’s kinda smart, sometimes, that was my point! What, you don’t think Twilight’s smart?”

Applejack’s mouth hung open as she thought about that for a second, and now it was Dash who was grinning. Twilight was quietly blushing, almost forgotten at their side.

“Yeah,” Dash added, smug now. “I mean, I was just saying that Twilight’s cool and all, but if you think she’s as slow as, I don’t know, you—”

“Oh missy, you don’t wanna go there,” Applejack laughed, pointing a dire hoof at her. “All I’m saying is that there ain’t no spell that can fix a problem that’s all in the head!”

“Girls!” Twilight interrupted, face flushed with annoyance more than embarrassment now. “What’s all this about?”

Rainbow Dash landed to perch on the table, neatly avoiding the mess of inkwells and books. “Whoa, it was just a joke, jeez, calm down. And hey, you do know lots of magic. I can admit that, right? Doesn’t make me any less cool.” She stuck her tongue out at Applejack.

The silence stretched on for a little longer than was strictly comfortable. Applejack adjusted her hat and shrugged. “S’just what you heard. I was just thinking about Fluttershy.”

“You’re still on that?” Rainbow Dash groaned. “She’s fine! I asked her just now, five minutes ago, and she said she was fine!”

“I just don’t feel right knowing she might feel down about something,” Applejack admitted. She knew she should heed Rainbow Dash’s words, annoying as though she was being, but old friends or no, the pegasus hadn’t seen Fluttershy earlier in the day when she came knocking. “It’s different this time, I think. Just can’t shake it.”

She’d expected Rainbow Dash to laugh or blow it off again, but Dash seemed content to glower, with the occasional glance over towards the fireplace. Instead, it was Twilight who spoke.

“Magic that deals with the mind is very serious business,” Twilight said, puffing out her cheeks. After a moment, her eyes slid to the side, and Applejack thought she could practically hear the gears shifting inside her friend’s brain. “But—actually, I am compiling a report to Princess Celestia about some simple psychological phenomena. I had the idea after our spa visit. Don’t you always feel better after you’ve had a massage? I mean, not just physically, but you’re happier, too, right?”

“Sure,” Applejack and Rainbow Dash agreed in chorus, the latter with a shrug.

“Well, as I read up on some terms, I was reminded of the placebo effect. Have you ever heard of it?” Twilight asked, her words coming faster and faster, speed growing with her excitement.

“Uh, the sugar pill thing?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Exactly! If you tell a pony something’s going to help—something that doesn’t necessarily do anything—they’ll often actually feel better just because they think they’re supposed to!” Twilight beamed.

“Okay,” Applejack shrugged. “That’s fine and dandy. What about it?”

“Well, uh, I’ve never had the chance to observe it in effect, and it obviously doesn’t work on an informed subject—”

“‘Subject’, is it? I ain’t too sure about this,” Applejack interrupted, frowning.

“Well, that’s my fault, then. It sounds scarier than it really is,” Twilight said. “There’s literally no room for harm because we’re not actually doing anything.”

“Hey, hang on!” Rainbow Dash interrupted with a hiss. “You are not going to experiment on Fluttershy, or whatever you’re saying!”

“It’s not—” Twilight began, but she caught herself, muzzle yawing before she smartly shut it again. “I just—no. Okay,” she sighed. “Sorry. That was a silly idea. I was just thinking of maybe trying to tell Fluttershy I was going to fix it with magic, and then cast some sparkly light spell or something.”

“Oh,” Applejack muttered. “Still don’t really like the idea. Doesn’t feel right, but you really reckon’ it could help?”

“How about ‘no way’? And give her some credit, jeez,” Rainbow Dash said, scowling. “We’ve been friends forever, she’d tell me if something bothered her! She probably just got a letter saying her favorite shampoo was out of stock or whatever.”

“Aw, but maybe Fluttershy just needs to be reminded that we really love her!” Pinkie Pie chirped, popping up in the middle of the three ponies. Applejack took an inadvertent step back.

“Gah!” Dash yelled. “Pinkie!”

“I mean, it doesn’t have to be an experiment, even. And it’s not a lie, is it? I mean, we totally do all love her. I love all of you guys, but if we all put on some silly hats and make a game of it, it could be fun, too!”

“What are you all talking about?” Rarity asked, taking up position at the edge of the group. Fearing they might’ve been overheard, Applejack turned around, only to find that Fluttershy was happily and obliviously roasting marshmallows over by the fireplace.

“If you figure it can’t do any harm—” Applejack muttered, but she was entirely overruled by the conversational freight train that was Pinkie Pie.

“Oh, oh, oh! And we could wear the pretty jewelry-thingies too! I know I feel super pretty when I wear mine, and Rarity does too!”

“I’m aware,” Twilight broke in. “And what you don’t seem to realize is that we’re not supposed to use them! Nopony is supposed to know I brought them with me from Canterlot! There’s a lot of not-supposed-to-know regarding the fact that Princess Celestia decided I should keep them here, and when you go walking around wearing them here in Ponyville—”

“Well, it’s hardly my fault my necklace goes so well with my mane,” Rarity scoffed. “Now what were you talking about?”

Fluttershy looked up at a noise. She must’ve dozed off by the soothing warmth of the fireplace. When she opened her eyes, she realized Rainbow Dash was missing. In fact, everypony was over by the other side of the room whispering excitedly, and her marshmallows had long since turned to ash. She winced at the poor treats’ fate and put down her roasting fork. Not wanting to be nosy, she walked over to the snack table diplomatically placed halfway to her friends.

“Nothing!” Rainbow Dash called.

“Um, excuse me?” Fluttershy asked, glancing about the room for somepony—anypony else.

“Uh. What we were doing?” Dash retorted, earning a giggle from Pinkie Pie and a glare from Twilight.

“I— I didn’t ask,” Fluttershy said. “Sorry. Um. I mean, what are you doing?”

“Ooh, ooh, I got this one!” Pinkie Pie called, frantically waving a hoof. “Nothing!” she cheered, throwing a hoof-ful of confetti into the air.

“Okay,” Fluttershy agreed, giggling as she filled half a glass of punch.

She still couldn’t quite believe she’d fallen asleep. She wasn’t tired in the least. It was just so very easy to feel at ease and get comfortable here and now. As she’d sat there next to Rainbow Dash, the safety and warmth was all too seductive. Even as she completed that thought, her friends broke off from their tight little cluster around the desk. Pinkie Pie bounced over to a book-case, retrieving a large volume with as much purpose and direction as Pinkie could ever appear to have. The others set about putting pillows in a circle in the middle of the room where they’d previously played cards.

“So, what are we playing? Or doing?” Fluttershy asked. Apparently, something had happened while she dozed. Pinkie hopped over to stand next to her, putting the large book on the ground with a conspicuous rattle rather than the more familiar thump of literature that Fluttershy would’ve expected.

“We’re casting a spell!” Pinkie explained. “A super-magical awesome feel-better spell that works for everypony, all the time, every time!”

Fluttershy blinked. “Okay?” she asked, looking about for help in interpreting Pinkie Pie.

“It’s, ah, technically more of a ritual, I think,” Twilight commented, levitating the final pillow in place. Six neat mounds in a circle. After a moment’s thought, she switched a purple pillow with a green one so that each pile of pillows had the same color makeup.

“A joint effort,” Rarity added airily, fluffing her mane with a hoof.

“A, ‘feel better’ spell?” Fluttershy asked, seeking the eyes of those of her friends who had yet to offer comment. Rainbow Dash shrugged and flew over to flip open the book, collecting her Element necklace from the inside. Fluttershy vaguely remembered Twilight telling her about the Elements being moved to stay in the library, but she had never given it much thought.

“Yeah, feel better,” Applejack echoed, her green eyes trained on Fluttershy. It looked as if though the farmpony was looking for something, but Fluttershy couldn’t imagine what, so she smiled back at her while she tried to understand exactly what was going on.

“I didn’t know you kept the Elements in the book,” Fluttershy said, giving Twilight a glance.

“Princess Celestia suggested we keep them in Ponyville. Her vaults have a terrible track record, I suppose,” Twilight admitted with a shrug and a frown. “They fit in the book, so why not? It’s not like anypony but us know they’re in there. Though, I’m beginning to wonder about that, too, considering somepony wasted no time taking their necklace for a walk earlier this evening,” she added with a glare at Rarity.

“Perfect match!” Rarity countered in a sing-song voice.

“Come on, Flutters, it’ll be fun!” Pinkie giggled, holding up the necklace that Fluttershy hadn’t worn for so very long now. It was an odd thing, that rose-adorned piece of golden jewelry. It always made her feel strong, sure, but the memories tied to it weren’t all positive. She reluctantly accepted it and put the strangely warm thing around her neck. Her friends were doing the same, necklaces proudly on display, and in Twilight’s case, the tiara resting on top of her head.

“Right,” Twilight said after clearing her throat. “Uh, circle,” she added with a glance over at Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash muttered something to Twilight as she flew past her to take a seat, but whatever it was, it was lost to Fluttershy. The yellow pegasus alighted on a set of pillows between Applejack and Pinkie Pie, trying to keep her quizzical looks to a polite minimum.

“Yes, great, that’s perfect. For the, ah, spell,” Twilight commented once they were all in place. If Rainbow Dash was lacking in enthusiasm, Pinkie Pie made up for it and more. Fluttershy had to wonder if this was all to make Rainbow Dash a little happier, perhaps? She exchanged another glance with Rainbow Dash; the other pegasus was outright frowning, now, though she hid it the second she noticed Fluttershy looking.

“Okay, so, the purpose of this spell—” Twilight began, nudging her tiara back on her head as she levitated over a scroll and a quill both.

“I thought we weren’t doing that whole experiment thinger,” Applejack muttered out of the corner of her mouth.

“The least I can do is log this,” Twilight protested. “But fine, here goes—”

“Wait!” Pinkie Pie blurted. “You can’t! It’s not right! It’s not fancy enough!”

Most of the ponies in the room glared at Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy blinked once, twice, and realized she had lost track of how many times she wondered what she was missing.

“Oh, right,” Twilight agreed, smiling a little too wide. “I forgot the, ah, catalyst,” she hissed, sounding none too pleased about it. “The thing that’ll make this work.”

“Sure!” Pinkie giggled-snorted. “I like it!”

“Yes, I’ll bet,” Twilight sighed. “Rainbow Dash, could you head into the basement and get the, uh, the glittercoal that’s on the table next to the the combi-spectrometer?”

Rainbow Dash stared at Twilight.

“Dark blue thing, table next to machine with lots of lights,” Twilight added, voice flat.

“Right,” Dash snorted, flying off and out of sight, leaving Fluttershy with a beaming Pinkie, a contemplative Rarity, a frowning Twilight and an Applejack who was apparently still looking straight at her.

“Um. Is everything okay with you?” Fluttershy whispered, pinning her ears flat against her head. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but—”

“I’m just fine. I just hope this mumbo-jumbo’s gonna work. Or, I mean, I’m sure it will,” Applejack said, a smile plastered onto her face.

“Oh, okay. That’s... good?” Fluttershy offered.

“There. Sparkle-lump thing. Great. Let’s get this over with so we can get to the ghost stories and have some fun,” Rainbow Dash called, throwing a flat object the size of a hoof towards Twilight. It was a curious name, Fluttershy thought, given that it didn’t really seem to sparkle all that much.

Pinkie Pie bounced up in the air and seized it in her mouth before gently depositing it in the exact middle of the circle. Twilight muttered something about pentagrams almost too low for Fluttershy to hear.

“Yay! Do it! Cast the spell!” Pinkie said, planting her rump back down on the pillows.

“Right, the spell,” Twilight said.

Twilight sighed inwardly, hardly even paying attention anymore. It was amazing how many silly things you got roped into when you had some magical talent. What was amazing, in fact, was that Pinkie Pie was only the source of half of those inane, half-baked plans. This particular little faux ritual was the brainchild of no less than four ponies. Five if she included herself—and she kind of had to, given that she couldn’t quite quell her curiosity.

Closing her eyes, Twilight lazily started rifling through all the spells at her disposal. She had to admit that the ‘catalyst’ was a nice touch. As much as it galled her every time Pinkie Pie supplied unintended and effortless genius, the choice of glittercoal had been her own idea. When touched by light, the blackish material would reflect it in a myriad of colors one wouldn’t expect from something so dark.

At an impatient little noise from her side, Twilight settled for the most basic of light spells; she still took some pride in how she could make the majority of it radiate from the coal instead of her own horn, though. Casting her mind inwards, she felt the magic well up within her, training it on the dark blue object that Pinkie had placed in the center of the circle. One of these days, she should really look into a stronger light spell that was more mutable.

Her magic was wrested from her grasp. In the space of a second, something wrenched the source of Twilight’s magic from her with a tremendous yank, like pulling a leg straight out of its socket.

Twilight opened her mouth to scream, to make a noise, anything, but the world was spinning and her voice was lost. Opening her eyes made no difference; there was nothing coherent to see, neither colour nor darkness. Before she even had a chance to try to interpret what she saw and what she didn’t, it was over. With a dull thud, she impacted on something, and vision returned to her along with a pain spreading through her entire body. Her horn, her magic, her very being throbbed like a sore muscle.

Just because her sight was back did not mean that sense was restored. All around her, the dying afternoon sunlight played across moss-covered walls, ancient pillars and broken stained-glass windows. Loose overgrowth swayed idly in the wind, and in the distance, the familiar yet alien sounds of the Everfree Forest. While she hadn’t the faintest clue as to how she had gotten here, she recognized the place easily enough from that one journey last year.

The chamber of the Elements.

Before her were the empty stone arms of the old construct that had once held the spheres they had thought were the Elements. Twilight shook her head slowly from side to side.

“Twilight, what did you do?” It took a moment before Twilight could connect the thin, shaky voice to Rarity. The white unicorn stood not far off, looking every bit as surprised and bewildered as Twilight felt.

“I—I didn’t do anything,” Twilight protested, her heart still racing. “At least, I didn’t mean to do anything.” The fashionista must have picked up the panic in her voice; Rarity nodded once and stepped closer to cross necks with Twilight.

“If you say so, dear. I believe you, of course,” Rarity said. “You have no idea how we got here?”

Twilight closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she thought. There was absolutely nothing in her experience or in the considerable mental library of spells and magical theory she wielded that explained this. At length, she drew back and shook her head, feeling cold to the bone.

“Right. We should see about finding the others,” Rarity suggested. “And then, a way home.”

“I can get us home with a simple teleportation spell,” Twilight said. “I still feel a little, uh, woozy, but I’m sure I can pull that off. We might have to jump to Zecora’s place first, then home, but I think I can manage. You don’t feel... dizzy?”

Rarity tilted her head. “No? A little, ah, unsettled, perhaps? More with every second I don’t know where the others are, mind you.”

“Right,” Twilight agreed. “Let just, er, not split up, okay?”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Rarity said as they set off towards the stairs that led down and out from the chamber. “Curious. The Elements seem to be missing, too.”

A glance and a questing hoof confirmed that the tiara was gone, just like Rarity’s necklace. Twilight upped her pace. This little detail did nothing to calm her.

Rainbow Dash rubbed her head. One second she was trying to hide a yawn behind a hoof while waiting for the others to finish their stupid little game, the next, she was sitting on top of a stack of magazines in what appeared to be the cider cellar of a cloud-home. All around her, the walls were dense cloud-stuff multiple layers thick; the kind you only really saw in homes in central Cloudsdale.

Dash lifted a hoof, inspecting the top magazine of the stack she inadvertently perched upon. “Playmare,” she read aloud, frowning. “Former Wonderbolt shows all. Center page fold-out.”

Rolling her eyes, Dash glanced about the remainder of the room. Stairs up, hole in the clouds to her side, and a small pink dot far below.

“Oh, horseapples!” Dash breathed, launching herself through the pony-shaped hole. She flapped her wings with all of her might and stretched her hooves out as she chased after the distant pink shape that grew by the second. A quick backwards glance confirmed her suspicions—the belly of Cloudsdale receded as the rainbow trail behind her grew in strength.

“Hiiii, Dashie!” Pinkie called as Rainbow Dash drew near, predictably enough neither screaming nor flailing. The pink earth pony was idly browsing a magazine. Dash drew up alongside her, her relief coming out as an exasperated groan.

“Next time you do that, let me know, okay? That could’ve been dangerous!” Dash chided.

“Sure! Next time I do what, though?” Pinkie giggled, throwing the magazine over her shoulder. The colorful pages scattered like so much confetti, the glossy paper pegasi given flight.

“I don’t know, whatever that was?” Dash asked, shrugging. “Or was it Twilight?”

“Oh I have no idea, but let’s do it again sometime,” Pinkie concluded, though her grin was short-lived. “Wait, where are all the other girls?”

Rainbow Dash traced Pinkie’s gaze as if either of them would spot more falling ponies any minute. All that was visible above was the vague shapes of Cloudsdale far in the distance and an otherwise clear blue sky. Dash licked her lips.

“I dunno.”

“They’re probably back at Twi’s eating all the candy, then. Wait, they could be eating all the candy! We gotta go back!” Pinkie cried, finally launching into something more like the flailing one would expect given the way the ground was closing on them.

“Right,” Rainbow Dash giggled, swooping in under Pinkie Pie. “Let’s go rescue the candy.”

Fluttershy reluctantly cracked one eye open, then the other. There had been a terribly confusing something, a lack of sound and color both. Now, in the wake of whatever had happened, there was nothing but a faint chill and terrible, near-complete darkness. She swallowed, the lump creeping down her throat with painful slowness. Somehow, she suspected that even panicking would be very, very futile.

The ground under her belly was cold and unyielding, and what little noise she made as she struggled to stand echoed. Not too far off, she could see a small sliver of fading daylight, but even that seemed a weak and meager thing.

“Uh, hello?”

Fluttershy cringed and hid behind her own tail. She hadn’t spoken, but there was something familiar about the twang of that oddly distorted voice.

“A-Applejack?” Fluttershy said, the words but a hoarse whisper. Even as she spoke her name, that very same earth pony stepped into view. In the darkness, her coat was grey and she was almost just a shadow, but there was something reassuring about the very casual way in which she brushed off her hat.

“Yep. Uh, don’t s’pose you’ve seen the others, huh?” Applejack asked. Her voice was perhaps a little more quiet than usual, too. Fluttershy shook her head and perked up her ears. Beyond their voices, nothing could be heard.

Belatedly realizing Applejack might’ve missed that she’d shaken her head by way of reply, Fluttershy added, “No, um, only you. Where are we?”

“Girls? Anypony else around?” Applejack yelled.

Fluttershy cringed at the sudden noise, and apparently, she wasn’t the only one. At Applejack’s call, a tremendous cacophony of flapping wings and sharp squawks responded from above and all around them. They were harsh sounds, belonging to no bird Fluttershy had ever heard before, but nothing they could see moved.

Applejack and Fluttershy exchanged glances in the darkness. If Fluttershy hadn’t been scared before, the way Applejack’s eyes slowly widened sealed the deal. Green pools reflected the sliver of light that let them see each other, and in them, Fluttershy saw her own thoughts mirrored.

“I don’t think we’re in Ponyville no more, at least,” Applejack muttered.