• 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.

  • ...

4. Lost

Sleep was a fitful thing. Between the chill and the hard surface, Fluttershy had wondered if she would ever manage to fall asleep at all. The only comfort was the warmth of Applejack pressed close to her side. If she were to be honest with herself, she was the one doing the pressing herself, drawing her close with her wing until her muscles hurt. Idly, she wished that Applejack was the one who had the wings to offer, but it was a selfish thought, wishing for another’s wing to wrap around her body.

When Applejack began snoring softly, Fluttershy was glad for the almost laughably normal sound, and that was the last she remembered until her eyes snapped open again. She hardly felt rested at all, and it was still raining, albeit as little more than a drizzle now. While the wind was gone as far as she could hear, the water lapped at her hooves, threatening their little sanctuary.

She had hoped to wake up safe and snug in her bed, but of course this wasn’t a bad dream; it just had all the makings of one. Rather than sharp and warm sunlight streaming in through her bedroom window, the light that spilled from the top of the stairs was dull and muted.

“You awake yet?” Applejack whispered. Fluttershy brought a foreleg to rub at her own eyes as she nodded.

“Yes, sorry, did I oversleep?”

Applejack chuckled. It was a low and quiet sound, and indeed, it seemed as if neither of them were willing to break the tentative hush that had settled. “I don’t think that hardly matters today. Me being late for my farm chores ain’t exactly our biggest problem now.”

“Oh. I guess not,” Fluttershy admitted. She tried to laugh, but it never amounted to much more than a smile. Applejack slipped off the stone slab and into the chest-high water, tail held high.

“Wish it were, though,” she said, wading towards the stairs.

Fluttershy followed, leaping up into the air and sailing over to land on the lowest steps of the stairs that were still dry, ready to offer Applejack a hoof in getting out as she approached. Side by side, the two ponies ascended back up into the ruins and under the open sky, only to find that very little had changed.

It seemed that Applejack shared her disappointment, both of them pausing when they once more stood in the broken ruin of the large building. The wind was indeed gone, and the light drizzle was hardly an impediment. Perhaps it was a second bout with the ridiculous notion that they could somehow wake up. The question returned.

“What do we do?” Fluttershy asked, nibbling her lower lip.

“Well. First off,” Applejack said, reaching over to nab the hat off of Fluttershy’s head and back onto her own. “I always think better with my hat on, so there’s that.”

Fluttershy nodded. She’d almost forgotten she was wearing it. “Okay,” she said, stifling a little giggle. “It was very nice of you, though.”

“Sure,” Applejack affirmed with a lopsided grin, setting course through the main room of the crumbling village hall and back onto the grassy expanse that had swallowed the town up. A minute passed in silence as the two companions walked.

Underhoof here, it was evident that this had once been a main thoroughfare of some sort. They’d missed a lot in last night’s dash for shelter; the grass was uneven, growing between ever-widening cracks in the cobblestones that must’ve been laid hundreds or thousands of years in the past.

“Well, that’s different,” Applejack remarked. Fluttershy followed her eyes to a large circle of low stones nearby. It didn’t look much like the ravaged ruins that made up the majority of the area. Instead, it was a deliberate formation of flat slabs placed in a circle that remained unbroken, save for a few chipped corners. Applejack was already making her way through and into their midst, and Fluttershy hurried to catch up, wringing her hooves as she hovered overhead.

Upon the stone slabs, crude ponies and symbols were made nigh-eternal by chipping at the stone rather than covering it in something so fleeting as paint. Fluttershy touched down next to one of the small obelisks and brushed aside the wet grass, revealing more images going all the way down to the base of the stone.

“A storybook?” Applejack commented, her snout mere inches away from another one of the slabs. “Guess it was a bit much hoping for a map,” she added with a bark of laughter.

Fluttershy nodded. It was of course the truth. She didn’t want to think about it, but it was hard not to remember what she had seen yesterday. “Actually, about that,” she said, licking her lips. Applejack made a small noise, but kept inspecting the stones, not even looking up.

“There’s nothing—I mean, I didn’t see anything up there that made sense. I thought maybe I’d see the Dragonspike, or maybe even Mount Canterlot, but we don’t even know where we are, do we?” Fluttershy said.

“Sure we do. Look up, you see the sun,” Applejack murmured. “Well, we will once the clouds clear. That’s a start.”

“And then?” Fluttershy asked

Applejack finally looked up at her then, and when those green eyes trained on hers, they were unguarded for a fraction of a second. Before she put on her well-worn, casual smile, Fluttershy saw it. The same fear she felt. Applejack didn’t have any idea either, and she was probably just as scared as she was. A chill went down her spine and wormed its way all the way down to the bottoms of her hooves.

“Dunno,” Applejack said in that same disaffected, nonchalant manner, adjusting her hat while she peered up into the sky. “Don’t help much thinking about it, does it?”

Fluttershy drew breath and exhaled through her nose. She had long since made peace with the fact that she was, at times, perhaps a little more timid than most other ponies, and she didn’t expect she could just decide to change on the spot. A small shudder ran through her as she recalled how well that attempt had gone.

What she could do was square her shoulders and do her best. Even if she had problems believing in herself sometimes, that was what her friends always told her to do, and that would have to suffice. She needed to show Applejack that she could trust her to pull her weight and do her best. She closed her eyes as memories threatened at that thought. Wherever Rainbow Dash was, she knew that she, at least, believed in her. Maybe it was unfair to single her out among all her friends like that, but it helped. Fluttershy stretched her wings and wracked her brain.

“Actually, I think these can help us after all,” Fluttershy suggested. Buoyed by the thought of her oldest friend’s faith in her, it felt natural to take to the air. Lifting off, she spun in a slow circle as she hung in the air, briefly scanning the tablets all whilst thinking.

“You reckon?” Applejack asked, arching a brow. “How so?”

“Well, these two are empty,” she said, indicating two blank slabs of stone, side by side. “And the gap is larger between them and the rest. Maybe it is just a story, but they seem connected. Maybe it can tell us where we are? It seems to start here,” she suggested, indicating the one on the other side of the gap.

“Might be something familiar,” Applejack agreed, though she sounded rather more skeptical.

Fluttershy nodded, landing by that very slab and brushing the grass aside to reveal the full scene. Near the top, two very carefully etched symbols adorned the stone; an octagon and a rectangle with a degree of polish that seemed entirely at odds with the rest of the artwork. The two symbols had unmarred, polished edges, and sat in the company of cracked and crude stick-ponies. Below, a crowd of these simple ponies stood, facing the symbols.

“Maybe the lines below are the ocean?” Fluttershy murmured, recalling what she had seen far to the south. “Or are they just, um, earth?”

“No horns and no wings on them,” Applejack remarked, sidling up to her. “Suppose that means they’re all earth ponies. That, or whomever made this was feelin’ very lazy.”

Fluttershy nodded and moved on to the next stone. There, the stick-ponies toiled in fields, pulling ploughs and sowing crops. Above were markings that could only mean clouds bearing rain and jagged scars of lightning. A simple circle hid behind the clouds.

“Well, I guess it’s not a very happy story at least. This doesn’t look good at all,” Fluttershy muttered. She imagined that if the little ponies were detailed enough to have faces, they’d all be sad, weighed down by the cruel weather.

“Well, if that’s the sun behind the clouds, that means the thing back there,” Applejack pointed to the octagon on the previous slab. “Ain’t the sun at least. And what’s up with the square thinger? A box? Is the moon s’posed to be a square? They’ve got to be something else.”

Having no answer for that, Fluttershy made to move on, but Applejack was faster. The orange mare was already at the next slab, parting the still-moist grass curtains to reveal another slice of the story. There, the ponies still toiled in the fields, but amongst them, one pony stood out.

“Well, I’ll be,” the farmpony said, leaning closer to the pony with scratches that clearly marked her as having wings and a horn both. Around her stood a throng of earth ponies in a tight circle, but the scene was otherwise unchanged. The clouds still hung low.

“Huh, they’re bowing before her?” Applejack asked, tilting her head.

“Oh. Um, I just assumed that she was kind of... coming out of the circle, like a flower blooming,” Fluttershy admitted. “I’m sure you’re right, though.”

“Probably something like that, anyway. You reckon that’s one of the princesses?”

Fluttershy reached out to trace a rent of lightning with a hoof. “Maybe? I mean, who else could it be? Lots of stories have Princess Celestia or Princess Luna in them.” Despite her own words, despite how tempting it was to pretend there was something familiar about the images, the gulf between here and home only seemed to widen.

“Why didn’t they write? Didn’t these ponies have letters?” Fluttershy asked just as the thought hit her. “Why is it a picture book without words?”

“Haven’t got a clue, sugarcube, but you might wanna have a look at this. You know the Hearth’s Warming play?” Applejack called from over by the next stone. Fluttershy trotted over to stand side by side with her. A small gasp escaped her before she could cover her mouth with a hoof.

Indeed, the next scene seemed very familiar with that classic old play in mind. On the hard stone were etched a myriad of ponies, separated into three distinct groups. On the top left, winged ponies jealously hid behind them a small collection of clouds free of rain and lightning. To their right, an assembly of unicorns guarded sun and moon, and below these two groups stood the earth ponies, surrounded by symbols that indicated various foods.

Applejack and Fluttershy exchanged glances.

“How long ago was this all? This ain’t a story. This is history,” Applejack said, speaking very slowly, each word carefully enunciated.

“I didn’t take any history classes,” Fluttershy replied, her gaze slipping to find her own forehooves. “But Equestria is thousands of years old. If this was before then, back before its founding, before the princesses started raising the sun and the moon...”

“Then we got a heck of a long road ahead of us,” Applejack finished before Fluttershy could say any more. Idly chewing on her own cheek, she walked up to the next slab and bent the grass away, stepping on the stalks so they’d lie flat. She stared past the stone, sightless eyes no longer looking at the images, but beyond them. She could feel Fluttershy’s gaze on the back of her head, seeking her attention, but she refused to acknowledge it. They’d find a way out of this. A way home.

“There’s three of them,” Fluttershy said, at length.

“What’s that?”

“There are three alicorns, but, um, there aren’t three princesses,” Fluttershy said, brow knit in confusion. “This is all wrong. The princesses are special, aren’t they? But Cadance isn’t that much older than us, and none of the other alicorns I’ve ever seen were, either. And I know I’ve seen these symbols before.”

Applejack shook her head to clear it, squinting as she finally took in the images. The scene was the same as the previous slab, but with a few additions. Each group was headed by a winged and horned alicorn pony, and in the centre of the circle lay grains and clouds. Behind each of the groups were two symbols; the earth ponies still had their octagon and rectangle, the unicorns boasted a star and a diamond, and the pegasi guarded a rhombus and a triangle. It all seemed awfully familiar, but it took a moment before Applejack remembered where she’d seen them before.

“The Elements,” Applejack said. “There’s six of the shapes, right? I think they’re the same ones as we found on those old stones back in the castle, way back when. At least some of them are.”

Fluttershy nodded, but frowned still. “I don’t understand. Princess Celestia said she and Princess Luna found the elements back when they fought Discord. And, um, Princess Celestia used them again—”

“Against Nightmare Moon, yeah. Maybe these ain’t the princesses,” Applejack agreed. “Let’s just move on, I wanna know what happens next.”

The next slab showed the same circle of ponies, and a very similar scene yet again, except this time, each group had their heads turned away from each other. The alicorns now lay down in the centre, heads low to the ground. The geometrical symbols, whatever they were, were gone.

“I guess it didn’t go so well,” Fluttershy said, swallowing. “Maybe they’re just resting?”

Applejack had her doubts, but didn’t much feel like ruining Fluttershy’s hopes. As one, they made for the next slab. There, the other ponies were gone, and the earth ponies all lay down close together as the clouds returned. It didn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out exactly what the angry faces and the scary shapes in the clouds were meant to represent.

“Windigoes,” Fluttershy said, her voice low and hushed.

“And no more alicorns,” Applejack remarked, poking the stone. “Wonder what that’s all about.”

Fluttershy shook her head and hurried over to the the next stone, and Applejack followed. What had started as idle curiosity had become a mad dash through history. On the final stony page of the tale, the earth ponies walked in a long line, the sun hidden behind the roiling clouds at their backs. Above them, in the center of the slate, a narrow, broken rectangle was etched, but it was hard to say what the shape was meant to represent.

“Ain’t exactly how the tale goes, but it’s close enough,” Applejack said as she inspected the last two slates, confirming they were indeed completely blank. “Except for the whole deal with the princesses and all.”

“If it is them,” Fluttershy added. “The play didn’t mention them either, you know.”

“Well, sure. We best get moving anyways,” Applejack suggested, peering up at where the sun was poking through the dispersing clouds. She hadn’t even noticed when the light rain had stopped.

Fluttershy didn’t seem quite as convinced. The demure pegasus was licking her lips and glancing about, as if there was some hidden way out, an alternative. “You mean we’re going to follow the road?”

“Well, unless you were joking when you said there was a road?” Applejack asked, arching an eyebrow as she started walking in the general direction of the rising sun.

“Well, it might have been a road, yes,” Fluttershy agreed, taking wing to fly at her side. “But we don’t know—”

“We know it’s the road our—well, my ancestors walked,” Applejack corrected herself, chuckling. “And if it’s a road that’s survived this long, that’s gotta count for something. It’s right there in the stuff on the rocks. They migrated this way. What’re you thinkin’? Sitting around waiting for a magical way home?”

“No!” Fluttershy protested, her cheeks tinted red as she stammered. “It’s just, I mean—I don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know anything!”

Applejack halted and watched as the pegasus fell silent. Of course she would be scared. She was scared witless herself, even if she’d never admit as much. It just wouldn’t get them anywhere.

“I got us into this mess, and I’ll get us out of it, too, you see if I don’t. We can head off into some random forest or some mountains we don’t know squat about, or we can follow the road. I vote for the road.”

Fluttershy sighed and nodded, slumping even as her wings held her aloft. When no further protests came, the two moved on, and with every step, every wingbeat, the sun shone brighter as the cloud-cover above broke and scattered. The grass glistened with dew in the sunlight, and Applejack’s coat was well and truly drenched an hour later when they finally stepped out of the ancient landscape of ruins, trading the soft earth and broken stones for what Fluttershy had pegged for a road.

They halted together. Outside the lost townscape, the earth was criss-crossed with barely-visible furrows—remnants of an old irrigation system, Applejack assumed. More than this, though, they were given pause by the road that shot off to the east, straight like an arrow.

“I’d have expected it to be more, uh, well, overgrown. Less road-y,” Applejack admitted, peering down at the slightly sunken dirt road. Neither cobbled nor paved, and no wider than two carts, it stretched on as if though it had been aimed for the sun itself. It was all too easy to imagine she could make out cart tracks if she squinted.

“It didn’t look like this when I saw it earlier,” Fluttershy said, landing gingerly at her side. The pegasus seemed almost fearful to touch it, reaching out with a single hoof to poke at the dirt from the roadside. Applejack shrugged and hopped down; the drop was less than half a stride.

“Well, stuff looks different from afar, don’t it?” Applejack asked. “Might be you got a bit of dirt in your eye or something, and they could’ve, I don’t know, salted it?”

“For thousands and thousands of years?” Fluttershy asked, finally falling into step next to Applejack.

“Special salts, sure, or magic,” Applejack suggested, breaking into a brisk canter. Fluttershy hurried to keep pace, her brow still knit in a frown.

“Magic? These were just earth ponies!”

Applejack couldn’t quite hold back her laughter. “Land sakes, Fluttershy, we’ve got a good road to walk, why’re you so eager to try to make it go away?”

Fluttershy smartly closed her mouth, fixing her eyes on the ground, but it didn’t take very long before she giggled, unable to hold it back. “Sorry,” she said. “I guess it’s nice.”

The road they followed took no offense. All through the morning they trotted, Fluttershy occasionally taking wing when the wind was favorable, but otherwise keeping up better than Applejack would’ve expected her to. She’d either be neck and neck with Applejack, or soaring a few paces above her head, never once falling behind.

“You okay?” Applejack asked, glancing over at her. Fluttershy merely nodded and kept her head down as she kept moving, but she she was obviously labouring hard. “We can slow down a bit if you want,” Applejack added a moment later, but all she got in reply was a resolute shake of Fluttershy’s head.

The two of them made good speed, hooves thundering along and kicking up earth all the while until the sun stood high in the sky. Fluttershy hadn’t said a single word, but when Applejack’s stomach rumbled ominously, she figured it was a good an excuse to take a break as any; it was obvious Fluttershy would work herself to death if they didn’t stop. Gradually, Applejack slowed down their pace until they came to a halt.

“Don’t know about you, but I need something to eat,” Applejack declared, trying to steady her breathing. Fluttershy, for her part, hung her head and breathed heavily. Her wings dragged along the ground and rivulets of sweat made their way down her face as she followed Applejack onto the side of the road.

“At least we won’t be starving,” Applejack remarked with a dry chuckle as she surveyed the grasses by the roadside. She nudged some of the taller stalks aside and bent low to the ground. “Ain’t no restaurant, but it’ll do. Rain should’ve filled up some of the ditches that’re around, too.”

“We’ve hardly moved,” Fluttershy said. Applejack poked her head up from her meal-to-be, finding Fluttershy hovering right above the road. “I mean, the hills. I—I thought...”

“We ain’t gonna get anywhere in a day, sugar,” Applejack sighed. “Stop thinkin’ bout it, okay? Eat, please. If you ain’t eaten since the party either, you must be starving, too.”

Fluttershy gave her a long look, and whatever went on behind those eyes, Applejack couldn’t tell. Eventually the pegasus gave her a resigned nod and soared over to land close by, the two ponies eating in silence far more pregnant than the last. When Fluttershy again spoke, she was sitting in the grass nearby, her mane and tail both splayed out on the ground.

“It’s not your fault, you know,” she said, barely audible.

Applejack chewed, swallowed and snorted, all in short order.

“I mean, you said that you had gotten us into this, but you haven’t done—” Fluttershy explained, but Applejack cut her off, holding up a hoof.

“I know what I said, and that’s because I meant it. You probably think this is all Twilight’s fault or something.”

Fluttershy paled. “No! I don’t, I mean, I don’t blame anypony! I just thought you might blame her—” her eyes went wide. “Not—not that I think you should, or that you’re somepony who would, but—”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Just stop,” she barked, and to Fluttershy’s credit, she did.

“I’d love to blame Twi, and yeah, sure, I ain’t too fond of using magic for everything down to cleaning your snout,” she muttered. “But I ain’t trying my hardest to be unreasonable, and it ain’t her fault.”

Fluttershy didn’t look convinced, and Applejack couldn’t blame her. Still, she couldn’t make herself spell it out for her pegasus friend, either. It was ridiculous, but for once, the one thing that wouldn’t come was the truth. That she had been the one to start this whole hare-brained scheme. The spell might not have been her idea directly, but she’d caused all this. Without her, Fluttershy would be safe and sound back in her cottage.

She just couldn’t tell her. No matter how long the road before them stretched on, even the smallest lie was a burden, but she’d have to shoulder it. Carry it, and put all her efforts into making sure they got back home safe.

Applejack adjusted her hat and glanced over her shoulder while she waited for Fluttershy to say whatever it was she had to say to that. Fluttershy had been right, of course. They had hardly moved. With the land being as flat as it was, they could still see the very tops of the silos far behind them, and ahead, the hills seemed just as distant as they had been when they got on the road.


“Okay what?” Applejack asked, poking at the grass.

“It’s not Twilight’s fault. That’s okay, but I still don’t blame you. I don’t blame anypony, really,” she said, smiling. “We just need to get home, right?”

Applejack sighed and nodded. She didn’t tell her why they’d gone along with her idea, Pinkie’s game, Twilight’s spell—whichever. She just nodded, deciding that she suddenly wasn’t hungry after all.

“Right. So what was in the letter, then?” she asked.

Fluttershy lay her ears flat and fidgeted, clearly taken aback by what she thought was a change of topic. “Um, it was from my parents. They couldn’t make it to the wedding after all,” she managed.

There was more to it, of course. Fluttershy’s gaze was flighty and she shifted her weight. You didn’t exactly have to be the Element of Honesty to notice these things. It was equally obvious that Fluttershy didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.

“Well, that’s stupid of them,” Applejack muttered noncommittally.

Fluttershy nodded and slumped. “I really hope the others are okay. I mean, I hope they’re home and safe, and not in some scary, far-away place, too. They must be so very, very worried.”

“I bet they’re fine,” Applejack said, gesturing to a nearly completely overgrown channel nearby. “Drink up, and we’ll get moving again. Worrying and blaming won’t get us anywhere. Think you can still run?”

Fluttershy pursed her lips, squared her jaw and nodded.