• Published 25th Aug 2012
  • 10,436 Views, 561 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.

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3. Lost

“Um, girls? Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy called, but it was no use. If Applejack’s shout had done nothing to draw forth any of their friends from the dark corners of whatever place they found themselves in, her trembling voice would surely do even less. Her heartbeats came ever faster, and the chill of the place was suddenly felt twice as keen. She re-settled her wings and let her eyes roam the area again. Applejack was doing the same, but twice as boldly, moving in a small circle around where Fluttershy stood.

As her sight adjusted to the darkness, Fluttershy slowly began to make out details—or rather, the lack of them. Underneath her hooves was a bare and relatively smooth stone floor, and not far off, walls of stone. This was no cave, but a large building.

“Where are we?” Fluttershy repeated, instantly regretting saying it. It was stupid, but she couldn’t help herself.

Applejack stopped her pacing and turned towards her. Rather than repeat herself, stating what was obvious—that she didn’t know either—Applejack merely sighed and moved a little closer. Fluttershy was glad for the touch when Applejack crossed necks with her and brought up a foreleg to hug her.

“I ain’t got a clue, and I hope this is some great big prank, but standing around won’t change much. I’m gonna go see what’s outside.”

With those words, Applejack left her and made for the light that could be twenty paces or twenty thousand paces away. Fluttershy squeaked a wordless protest and instantly made to follow. Whatever lay out there, whatever the crack, portal or doorway held, it couldn’t be worse than being left alone in the darkness.

As it turned out, the faint light spilled forth from a wide crack in the foundation of the circular structure, and the building itself wasn’t nearly as large as Fluttershy had thought; the light was playing tricks on her. It couldn’t be much bigger than the library tree in Ponyville. When the two ponies stuck their heads through the door-sized gap, Fluttershy’s heart sank.

Beyond, ruins and fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Immediately outside, dilapidated stone buildings reeled with great wounds suffered in an ongoing battle with time. Every single ceiling and wall lay collapsed and overgrown by grass that looked to go past a pony’s shoulder, the whole area a mess of stone blocks reclaimed by nature. Bird droppings marred the outer walls of the tubular structure they peered out from, leaving a faint, acrid smell, and large nests perched atop the taller parts of the ruins. To the last nest, they were all silent and abandoned, the only sound being the rustle of wind shifting the grass.

Further out, there was little to see but fields of grass. Flat as the ground was, it was hard to see far, but it was enough. Fluttershy slowly sank down to sit in the gap between the darkness that had made her uneasy and the outside that left her terrified and lost at the same time.

“A silo,” Applejack said, nodding to herself. Fluttershy barely registered the words, looking up at her in confusion.

“A—a what?”

“This here. It’s a silo,” Applejack repeated, tapping the cracked masonry and craning her neck to look out and up. “I’ve got no idea how in all things good they actually got the grain or whatever in, but I bet it’s all topside.”

Fluttershy nodded once, then twice more, each movement as empty and pointless as the last. For lack of anything to do, she looked to her friend. Applejack was a little hunched over, as if she couldn’t quite get comfortable where she stood.

“Are you cold, too?” Fluttershy asked, realizing that even here out in the sun, or what was left of it, it was a lot colder than she had expected.

Applejack raised a brow as she opened her mouth, but hesitated. After a second, she deflated. “Yeah. A bit.”

There was of course a second question that none of them seemed to want to ask, but Applejack answered it all the same. What do we do?

“Right. Let’s see what’s what and all that stuff, then,” Applejack suggested, slipping out past Fluttershy. Fluttershy followed before she lost the blonde tail in the sea of pale yellow grass.

Sea was an apt enough word. Well outside, the cold evening wind tugged at their manes and set the endless expanse of dry late-summer grass rippling. Nearby, three more silos rose high into the air, a few scraps of yellow paint clinging to their otherwise bare exteriors. Beyond these giants, not a single collection of rock and mortar was even remotely complete. At a second glance, “structures” or even “ruins” was too generous for these piles of rock.

Without any further words, Applejack set course across what may have once in the past been a street, making for a low rectangle of stones, an outline of a structure. Fluttershy followed the silently bobbing hat, frowning as she cast a backwards glance. They were making a trail, and it felt a little mean to be trampling the grass—to be disturbing.

The feeling didn’t go away as she passed through what must’ve been a doorway in its time, now but a gap in the ancient stones. The grass grew freely inside except for a in a few spots where fallen stones lay, and a small pit marked a cellar that had been collapsed or filled. Applejack hopped atop a lonely stone and craned her neck, turning on the spot.

“Shoot, still can’t see anything,” Applejack muttered, inspecting a nearby, taller stack of stones. She tested her footing and looked as if though she was about to make a leap.

“I could always fly up,” Fluttershy suggested, scratching a knee with a hoof. Truth be told, she didn’t want to—not even a little bit. The sky above was irregularly dotted with untended clouds, and it was rapidly getting dark. While it would be the work of minutes to fly up and have a peek, every feather on her body told her the clouds would only darken further. You didn’t have to be a seasoned weatherpony to tell it was going to rain.

“Ah. Yeah, that would make things a bit easier,” Applejack admitted, leaping down from her perch. “Don’t suppose you could take me up as well?”

Fluttershy spread her wings and looked away. “Maybe? I mean, I think, maybe, if I—”

“A ‘no’ works fine,” Applejack said, shaking her head. She was smiling ever so faintly. “No sense in wearing yourself out unless we need to, right? Just head on up there’n tell me what you see. ‘Atta girl.”

Nodding briskly, Fluttershy took to the air. She’d never had Rainbow Dash’s raw strength—or indeed, much muscle at all—but with practiced and efficient wingbeats she described a large circle upwards. The ruins dropped away slowly but surely, swallowed by the vast expanse of grass. She didn’t dare fly too high, stopping well short of the low clouds, reluctant to lose sight of Applejack. Hovering at perhaps twice the height of the silos was quite enough to tell her what she feared. Nothing looked familiar.

Still, that wasn’t terribly useful information to bring back to Applejack. Fluttershy shook her head. Immediately below, the ruins were vast, easily twice the size of Ponyville. Beyond the faint geometric shapes that told the tale of a city lost, there was only one thing that stood out nearby. On the far side of the town, a far larger building loomed, one that seemed to have fared slightly better.

Outside of the town, the grass was even taller. Furrows that might once have been brooks or rivers criss-crossed the level plains. In one direction, opposite of the setting sun, a line the nature of which Fluttershy couldn’t quite ascertain stole off away from the city and towards the horizon.

The strange and new horizon. Fluttershy almost didn’t want to look at it again. Somepony had stolen away the frightening yet familiar border of the Everfree Forest, the mountains upon which Canterlot rested and the Whitetail Woods all, and in their stead given her landmarks that meant nothing to her.

The road, if that was what it was, disappeared behind rolling hills, and the hills themselves hid all but the tips of tall and foreboding mountains that disappeared into the clouds. Behind her—to the south, if they were still in a place where the sun set in the west—the plains terminated in an expanse of blue-green waters that glittered and exulted in the failing daylight. Still turning around in a slow circle, Fluttershy saw the last rays of the sun swallowed up by a vast and dark forest, and to the north, more trees and plains led up to more mountains.

Fluttershy dipped her head and let gravity take her back to the ground. The wind was picking up, buffeting her as she circled to land next Applejack. The orange mare herself stood where Fluttershy had left her, a hoof on her head to hold her hat in place.

“I think we should better get to cover,” Applejack called, even as Fluttershy landed in the tall grass with a rustle. “Find anything?”

“Maybe,” Fluttershy said, her voice all but lost on the wind. “I mean, I don’t know what, but there’s a big building. It might be safer to head to the silos.”

Applejack shook her head. “Can’t be much worse than these silos can it? Might be there’s something useful there, and I don’t want to waste a full day getting nowhere.”

They stood there for a second, Applejack with a brow raised while Fluttershy took in the words. Did Applejack want her to lead? Of course, she was the one who knew where they were going, so it only made sense, but at the same time, she rather felt like going back to where they knew they had a safe hiding place—

“Which way is it?” the farmpony added, tapping her hoof. Just like that, the world made sense again. She’d only wanted to know where to go; Applejack galloped off the moment Fluttershy pointed in the general direction of the large building. Fluttershy followed as quick as she could, her mane a mess as it blew into her face. She had no desire to take flight again with the harsh winds about, jumping to cross the very same hurdles Applejack did, leaping rubble and berm alike as they cut through the stone and grass maze.

The weather certainly didn’t get any better. While she had little experience with uncontrolled weather, Fluttershy couldn’t help but glance skywards as the clear but dark blue above was replaced with a sullen grey. She suspected she kept looking for pegasi that weren’t there. It was impossible to tell how long they’d spent galloping in silence, weaving between fallen stones, but when the building she’d earlier spotted came into view, the first raindrops began to fall.

“This it?” Applejack yelled, slowing down to a trot and indicating the ruin with a flick of her head. If there was disappointment in her voice, Fluttershy had to admit she shared it. A few stone columns stretched ten, maybe fifteen paces into the air in the centre of the hollowed-out building, but only two walls still stood, along with a portion of a staircase along one of those walls. Everything else was gone. It reminded Fluttershy of a doll-house that had taken a tumble down a set of stairs.

“I’m sorry,” Fluttershy replied as they came up on the worn, smoothed stone stairs that led onto the building—such as it were. At the very least, the floor was relatively intact, but there was little shelter to be found from the rain. Perhaps having come to the same conclusion, Applejack halted in the doorless portal.

“Maybe we can hunker down under the stairs,” she suggested, pointing towards a nook, a corner roofed by the decaying stone stairs. Neither of them moved.

“Um,” Fluttershy offered. “Maybe that’s not such a good idea. Part of the stair’s fallen down.”

“There’s that, I s’pose. A rock to the head wouldn’t improve on things none,” Applejack grumbled, pulling her hat further down on her head. Fluttershy brushed her now wet and clinging mane from her face; the rain was getting heavier every second, larger drops hammering down on the pair and the ruin they inspected whilst ever-stronger winds tore at them.

Fluttershy dug at the ground with a hoof as she spoke, straining to be heard over the howling gale. “I’m sorry. Maybe we should have stayed after all. Maybe—maybe we should head back to the place we came from? Back to the silos?” she quickly amended, wishing she hadn’t said that. More than anything, she wanted to go home, but she was trying to quell that very useless little thought, keep it as small as possible. She glanced over at Applejack, and indeed, the earth pony mare at her side looked like she was thinking the same thing.

“Yeah, but I don’t like the idea of bein’ stranded out there if this is gonna get any worse,” Applejack cautioned. “Let’s spread out. There might be somethin’ here. Anything.”

Applejack watched as Fluttershy nodded and dutifully trotted off into one of the rooms sketched by the threadbare stonework. Resolving to do her part just like her friend, Applejack picked her way between a set of columns and kept her eyes open. Much rather that than to mull over the why and how of things. Especially when most of the questions came back to point at her.

Giving a great big snort, Applejack spat, as if she could spit that line of thinking out along with it.

The building must’ve been some sort of village hall or gathering place. While that didn’t matter much, the fact that it had a solid stone floor did. No big cracks, no vegetation. She grinned as she finally spotted what she had been looking for over in a corner. “Fluttershy!” she called. “Get on over here, I found something!”

It didn’t take long before Fluttershy peered around a corner. The poor pegasus’ mane was plastered to her head and withers, and her long, pink tail dragged along the ground.

“Cellar,” Applejack explained, indicating the nearby hole. Even in the deepening darkness it was plain that a set of well-used but still functional stone stairs led down into the earth. Applejack slowly trod closer, peering down over the rim.

“It’s... very dark,” Fluttershy said.

“Very dark,” Applejack murmured, repeating the obvious. “Well. I’ll go first then, ‘less ya mind.”

Fluttershy shook her head, which was just as well because Applejack had already begun descending. One hoof in front of the other, she took another few steps before pausing to let her eyes adjust. It didn’t help much. After another set of steps she stopped again, tensing up when she felt something bump against her hindquarters.

“Sorry,” Fluttershy murmured, rubbing her snout. Applejack shrugged.

“It ain’t gonna get much better than this,” Applejack said, though her words were made a lie even as she spoke. Further down and ahead, she could see a glow, something so fragile and faint it would’ve been lost were there any other source of light.

“What’s that?” Fluttershy asked, evidently having noticed the very same thing.

“Beats me,” Applejack admitted, pushing ahead into the darkness until she hit the bottom of the stairs with a splash. She sighed, halting only for a second before she resumed questing for that elusive light. “Great. ‘Course the place is wet.”

“Well, at least it’s not raining in here, and the wind is gone, too,” Fluttershy suggested, the pegasus little more than a whisper of a shadow at her side, not half as real as the sound of her hooves sloshing through the water.

“Yeah, well—” Applejack began, but the frustration was short-lived. Of course Fluttershy was right. She snorted. “There’s that.”

The light seemed to grow stronger as they approached. At first, Applejack had thought it was just the two of them getting closer, but when they drew near the far wall of the room where it waited, it was plain that it wasn’t quite that simple. She hadn’t even been able to see the walls at all they entered the room, but now the simple stonework was on full display, and a small, pale blue crystal was embedded in the stone. Applejack reached out to touch it, ignoring the faint noise of protest Fluttershy made.

No sooner had she touched it when the crystal brightened further, and Applejack smiled appreciatively while she took a step back. Having proper light helped, but it would be a gross exaggeration to call the room cozy. The floor of the chamber was covered in an inch of water and one of the walls bulged inwards, masonry scattered across the floor. On closer inspection, it became obvious that the floor wasn’t quite even, further adding to the mess; the water was twice as deep by the stairs as it was over by the crystal. That was it. That was what they had. A wet stone room with shoddy lighting. Shelter, but not comfort.

“You know, if this is some prank or a joke or whatever, it stopped being funny just about now,” Applejack said.

“I really don’t think this was ever funny,” Fluttershy admitted, the bedraggled pegasus’ head hanging low. Crossing the short distance to the nearby debris she lay atop a large and flat stone by the ruined wall. It was the only dry surface in the room of any size. Applejack approached, resting her forelegs atop the very same stone, and her head atop her forelegs again.

“Well, I’m with you there, sugarcube. Given a choice, I’d prefer s'mores to this,” she muttered. “Looks like you went’n dropped your Element doohickey somewhere, too.”

“Actually, we didn’t have them when we came here,” Fluttershy said, glancing down at her own bare neck. “I don’t know why. I wonder what happened,” she mused. “Something must have gone very wrong with Twilight’s spell.”

“Mh, something like that,” Applejack murmured. She would’ve loved to say something more, to blame Twilight’s magic, but it dribbled out of her muzzle unspoken and stuck to her like a cloying film, weighing her down. She knew well enough that it was her fault as well as Twilight’s. “Hey, scoot over.”

“Oh, sorry,” Fluttershy replied, doing just that, letting Applejack atop the stone with her. It was uneven, cold and hard, and the surface barely fit the two of them, but it was dry. Sometimes you took what you could get. Sometimes what you got was a small appreciation for a cold stone under your belly.

“Are you still cold?” Fluttershy asked.

“A bit,” Applejack admitted, shrugging. “Ain’t nothing’ll hurt me.” The very second the words had left her lips, there was a rustle of feathers. A second later, she felt a light weight settle over her back as Fluttershy spread one of her damp wings to cover her. The pegasus glanced over at her, those big teal eyes shining in the pale light from the crystal as she smiled.

Sometimes, you got a little more, too. Applejack smiled back and reached up to nudge her hat off its perch, putting it atop Fluttershy’s head.

“Trade ya,” she whispered, leaning against Fluttershy and resting her own head against hers. “Guess it’s good night, though,” she muttered, closing her eyes.

“Good night,” Fluttershy replied, and they spoke no more. The steady dripping of water by the stairs, the drumming of rain outside, and the steady breathing of two ponies was all that was left.