• Published 15th Sep 2018
  • 1,372 Views, 90 Comments

Fire & Rain: Applejack and the Queen of Knives - Limbo Theorem

The fate of the world hangs in the balance and its potential savior is a mysterious figure known only as The Queen of Knives. But who is she? That's what Applejack has to find out.

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A Heart of Stone Can Turn to Clay



A woman in camouflage woke up, ignoring the aches and pains of where she’d slept – on her desk. There were so many people that were in worse condition than she was, that she could afford to deal with this. A young woman – the kind of young woman she was once – in military camouflage came in with a tray of food. It took a few more minutes before she realized that the girl had probably just barely graduated high school – literally the kind of sweet young thing the woman had been once, and certainly not the kind of person that should’ve been in uniform.

The war didn’t give us much choice, however, the major’s thoughts reminded her.

The private, unaware of her commander’s stream of consciousness, set the tray on her superior officer’s desk. “Ma’am, I grabbed you some breakfast from the chow tent. Also, the colonel would like to see you when you get a chance.”

“Thank you, Private,” came the grateful response. A second later, she remembered to append that with, “Dismissed.”

As the private left, she walked over to the mirror to make herself presentable, making sure her own uniform wasn’t too wrinkled. She re-tied her hair into a bun, then made sure her oak leaves were on straight; they were so new they still tended to slide around on the clasps. The girl she had once been looked at the visage of Maj. Fluttershy, US Army Medical Corps. She was long past the days when she’d been an idealistic young teacher ready to usher on the future of the world. That seemed like a broken dream now, a dream shattered that day five years ago when the Others came and in the span of days reduced eight billion lives on Earth to maybe a tenth of that. Since that day, there were no more science teachers with idealistic dreams or anything of the sort. There was only the militaries of the world and a desperate struggle for survival. There was no time to hope for the future, just the immediacy of now. Not for love (she hadn’t seen her husband in weeks), or birthdays (her thirtieth had passed two weeks ago without fanfare) or celebrations (her birthday gift from the colonel had been a fast-tracked promotion).

Nothing left of what had made humanity grow, not since that fateful day five years before.

Sure that she was now presentable, she walked back to her desk, quickly ate her food, then retrieved her gunbelt and sidearm. While they were mandatory at virtually all times, she liked to take them off when she was in her office. It reminded her of the person she was long ago, long before the Others…

...long before she betrayed a friend.

A short walk later, she arrived at the headquarters of the 4th Infantry Division. After the prerequisite salutes, she was finally directed to the conference room where the colonel was. “Maj. Fluttershy reporting as ordered, sir,” she said as she entered.

A man a decade older than her with two-tone blue hair and lightly-tanned skin gave her a smile as he looked up from his digital chart table. “Fluttershy, come in! Have you had anything to eat?”

“Thank you, sir, but I already did before coming over.” She relaxed in his presence, feeling better. There was an old Army saying that a commander was a father to his troops, but when it came to Col. Spearhead, he tended to be more of an older brother type. He had lost his wife and children in Chicago back during the Decimation and it had only been years of hard living that had brought him around to a semblance of his old self.

“I bet you’re wondering what I called you in here for,” he began. “We got a call from the brass; they’re going to execute an operation of vital importance – a humanitarian mission back to Canterlot. Since you’re a Canterlot native, I’ll need your advice. I’ll also need you to select some of your personnel for this mission, as well as an officer you recommend to lead them.”

“Canterlot?” The name felt like ancient history to her, a time long forgotten in the past. She’d lost so much that day and she tried to forget it.

“We just received this bit of intel this morning.” He looked at her. “This stays secret, understood?” She nodded and he went over to his desk and pressed a button on a projector. In the center of the room, a blue field of light was thrown against the wall as Button Mash’s message was played for the pair on hand. Fluttershy watched with vague interest until one particular name came up.

“Sweetie Belle?” Fluttershy gasped.

“You know her?” Spearhead asked.

“I knew her older sister back in high school,” Fluttershy said, though she chose not to elaborate further. She thought about it for a second more before saying, “Sir, request permission to go on this mission.”

“Denied,” Spearhead said immediately. “I need my most capable doctor here, and that’s you.”

“Sir, she knows me. And if we’re trying to make inroads with this Button Mash guy, having someone who knows Sweetie Belle taking personal care of her might get our foot in the door. Besides, those people might need a doctor, and as you said, I’m the best you have.”

Spearhead was silent for the longest time before adding, “You’re not field capable.” Fluttershy was just about to protest when he added, “But you bring up a point: if we can get this militia on our side, maybe we can take Canterlot back. I guess it’s worth a shot.”

“I agree. Anything else I should know, sir?”

He nodded. “Yes, check back in a couple of days; I’ll have more information on Monday. And that should do it for the first thing.”

“The first, Colonel?”

“Well, there is something else I think you might be interested in,” he said as he walked to the closet door and opened it.

Fluttershy gasped in shock. Then she lost all military decorum and rushed into her husband’s arms, kissing him passionately.

With a warm smile and a bit of hidden envy, Spearhead voiced, “Take off until Monday, Major. That’s an order.” He then stepped out of the room to give them some privacy.

“Flash!” she cooed when they finally came up for breath. “How?”

“I tried to get here in time for your birthday,” Cpt. Flash Sentry, US Army, told her, “but then I got dragged back to assist with the evacuation of Paris.” He looked at her sadly as he recalled the location where they’d had their honeymoon. “It’s gone now. The Louvre, the Arc d’ Triomphe, the Tower…. There’s nothing left but memories.”

“But I have you still,” she said, kissing him again. “Those memories will be alive so long as we are.”

He smiled at that. “And I plan to live to see the end of this war. And speaking of which,” he said, looking at her rank pins, “Made major, I see. I knew you would outrank me the moment you got into that medical program.”

“Yes,” she replied as she put her arms around his neck. “And as your superior officer, I have orders for you. I expect you to take me out to dinner in town, then back to my apartment and make love to me until we’re both exhausted. And I expect those orders to be followed to the letter, is that clear, Captain?”

In response, he swept her off her feet and said, “I’ll do my best, ma’am.”

Ponyville was a small town in Oklahoma that the 4th Infantry Division had relocated to after the destruction of Fort Cloudsdale. A small place known mainly for its apple farms and the fact that Interstate 40 ran a few miles to the south, it had somehow managed to survive untouched by the war. Still, half the population ran for their lives, and since then, the Army had taken over almost all of the abandoned buildings in town. Thus, Ponyville had survived, and was now even slowly growing as it was becoming more of a military town than the orchard paradise it had once been.

Dinner that night had been at one of the few restaurants still remaining in the “Armytown” side of Ponyville, a little Italian place called Bella Note. Granted, it was a glorified pizza joint that had crappy Italian food and the beer was watered down, but the dessert was okay. Plus, the person who ran it, a woman by the name of Chablis, was friendly enough.

But that wasn’t the point: for the first time in weeks, Fluttershy got to spend unadulterated time with the man she loved, and they lived that small segment of their lives for all it was worth. The night got even better after dinner as they took a walk in the moonlight and sat by the small lake, looking at the moon floating over the waters and remembering the better times they had, holding hands and acting like foolish children a decade younger than they actually were.

And now they laid in each other’s arms, sweaty and spent, just the two of them. Lying there, his arm draped over her breasts, Fluttershy could feel the intimate closeness of him and despite everything, she could forget just for a second that there was a fight for humanity on.

Flash was first to speak, breaking that metaphorical spell. “So, we’re going back to Canterlot,” he stated with the same reluctance she felt. “Are you ready?”

“You’re going?” she asked with surprise.

“Sorta. My mission is to provide security for the humanitarian mission going there, but I didn’t know that you would be in charge. I guess at this point, worrying about fraternization regs is pointless, or the Colonel would’ve put a stop to it.”

“Oh.” She was quiet for a few seconds – wondering whether this was the real reason the Colonel was reluctant to let her go on the mission – before she asked, “Do you remember Sweetie Belle?”

“Rarity’s little sister? Not really; I barely remember Rarity aside from the fact that she had a crush on me.” Flash paused, as if in thought. “But that guy, Button Mash? I remember him clearly.”

Fluttershy sat up, looking at Flash. “You knew him?”

“Yeah. One time, Rover tried to steal Button’s phone and I stopped it. Maybe he’s appreciative or maybe it set him in the direction of being an anti-government militiaman. I don’t know.”

“At least he’s on our side,” Fluttershy mused.

“No hon,” he told her. “He’s fighting a common enemy. That doesn’t mean he’s on the same side. I can only hope his words about Sweetie Belle being pregnant are true, and that he’s more focused on getting her to safety than getting us in his gunsights.” Fluttershy suddenly went silent and Flash asked, “What did I say?”

She looked at him with sad eyes. “Do you remember our plans the weekend Decimation happened?”

“I do. We were going to go away for the weekend, just you and me, why?”

Fluttershy got out of bed, her taut nude body glistening in the moonlight streaming through the window. As she ran her hands down her torso, she said, “That weekend I was going to tell you that I wanted to start a family.”

The following Monday, Fluttershy notified her subordinate that she’d be working on a special assignment until further notice. Her XO, Cheer Belle, took it in stride and said she’d hold the unit together until Fluttershy got back. It didn’t help, however, that she was to take a company’s worth of medics.

From there, she reported to Spearhead, who told her she had the next two weeks for her and her subordinates to do nothing but re-familiarize themselves with being soldiers and not just medical practitioners. It was going to be hard and arduous, but a necessary task nonetheless.

“And I’ll need you to be ready, Fluttershy,” Spearhead told her. “When I told you this mission was high priority, I didn’t realize how serious this is. We just got the call from the Mountain, and this mission has been given top priority. So much so, in fact, that if it wasn’t for the fact that we can’t spare the manpower, you wouldn’t be going – I would.”

Both junior officers understood the severity of that statement. “How much hotter are we talking, sir?” Flash asked him.

“The President has authorized the use of the SEALs for this operation,” Spearhead explained. “A group from SEAL Team SIX.”

The moment he said that, even Fluttershy understood what that meant. Over the past five years, the special operations community had thrown themselves into the worst of the fighting against the Others, and the number of casualties was immense. So oftentimes, the special warfare operators were the best of the best, and in a war where being a special operator of any service was likely to get you dead by your next breath, SEAL Team SIX stood at the pinnacle of that special warfare group. So sending troops from that group underscored just how serious the task was.

“Anything else I should be aware of, sir?” Flash asked him.

Spearhead nodded. “Make sure that you have your best people training your wife and her personnel,” he said, gesturing to Fluttershy. “I’m sure you want to make sure that she comes out of this alive.” A sad look crossed his eyes as he added, “You never know how much it will hit you when there’s not even bodies to bury.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Flash said, “I know Flutters is special, in ways I can’t even explain. And I know she can do incredible things when she puts her mind to it. It’s part of the reason I fell in love with her.”

Fluttershy in the past would’ve hidden behind her hair and turned twenty shades of red at the attention. But the woman now just gave her husband a loving smile, then turned back to the colonel. “Personally, I think I got the better half of the deal,” she said with a grin.

“Okay, you two, you’re making me jealous. Now get out of here; I’ve got work to do and you’ve got some refresher courses to teach our medics, Captain. Dismissed.”

As they departed the building, she said, “Okay, I’m going to round up my team and you do the same with yours. How do you want to handle this?”

“How do I want to handle this?” Flash asked. “Hon, you’re the one in command here. You outrank me, remember?”

“Yes,” she said with a lascivious grin, “but I can’t exactly order several hours of vertical pushups in the nude with you, can I?” He laughed and she got her point across. “Get a training regimen together, and we’ll start at 1000 hours. That work?”

“1000 hours – roger that, Major.”

Fluttershy had always thought herself to be in decent shape. A long way from the days when she struggled to run a mile, having to keep with others during PE. Since her semi-involuntary commission into the Army, she’d had to keep up with military regulations, and that meant physical fitness standards. She often wondered if the girl she was five years ago would look upon the woman she was now with mild envy; she was in far better shape than she’d been when she was twenty-five, nevermind when she was in high school.

Of course, that was before she’d opted to go run up the hill with 1st Lt. Sweet Bolt, a friend of hers assigned to the Headquarters Company. Now she felt like she did back when she was a student in Canterlot High, barely able to keep up with the others and only passing because of the friends she had at the time.

“Wow, Fluttershy, you are out of shape,” teased Bolt. The two reached the top of Evergreen Hill, a mere 1.5 mile run from the base of the village.

The woman stumbled over to the bench and collapsed in it. “Tell me about it. And to think I used to be worse than this.” Bolt passed over her water bottle and the older woman nearly drank it in one draft.

“Easy on the drinking, Major. We still have to get down the hill, you know.”

“No, you can carry my corpse down, Lieutenant,” she gasped. “And no, you can’t have my husband – I want him entombed with me whether he’s dead or not.” Both women laughed at the gallows humor.

They sat there for the longest time, watching the birds dart in and out of the tree, watching another infantry company run by, before Bolt asked, “You ever seen an Octo before?”

Fluttershy nodded. “I remember seeing one during Decimation. I was giving my class a test at the time, and then these black-and-teal cephalopod-like creatures with six eyes rained down from a giant tear in the sky. And the moment they reached the ground, they pulled out their weapons and started firing at everyone and everything. My boss, a woman named Cheerilee, was killed instantly; I think one of my friends, a fellow teacher named Derpy Hooves, was killed as well. But one or the other of them pushed me to the ground and so I got away, because I played dead.” Fluttershy was silent after that. “Shortly after that, we had to evacuate Canterlot and due to the urgency of the situation, any police officer who met the physical fitness standards was automatically drafted into the Army, and after a quick familiarization, Flash was assigned to the 4th Infantry. The rest of us civilians were pretty much left to our own devices at the refugee camp being built in Apple Corners, but when they found out what my degree was in, they offered me a commission if I’d go do a year of medical training to be a doctor. At the time, we were just realizing how badly we’d been hit, so we weren’t sure if I would be needed, but I said yes because I wanted to help. I studied for a year with a retired doctor who was a military vet and he taught me how to take my knowledge and training and reapply them. After that, I was assigned to the 10th CSH before we became permanently attached to the 4th Infantry. What about you?”

Bolt took a drink before she began. “Military brat. We were stationed in Germany and I’d already been approved for a commission to West Point. The Others hit Kaiserslautern with everything they had and pretty much destroyed the military community there. Most of us were evacuated from KMC immediately, and since I had already been tracked towards West Point, I had special classes set up there to finish up my high schooling before I started the Academy proper.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your family.”

“Yeah, but at least my kid brother survived. He and his family live in Omaha.” She chuckled. “When I was a kid, I remember reading somewhere that Omaha was the 44th largest city in the country. Now, it’s number ten.” She got back up to her feet. “Well, let’s get down the hill and we can work on weapons familiarization. I know you’ve trained on the basics, but I doubt you’ve kept up on them other than your pistol, haven’t you?” When Fluttershy shook her head, Bolt nodded sagely. “So this afternoon you and I can get some practice in so you don’t look bad in front of your medics.”

“I’d...rather not, Boltie. I’m somewhat of a pacifist when it comes to these things, plus I’m a firm believer in the Hippocratic Oath and the Geneva Conventions.”

“Major, the Genevas don’t apply to extraterrestrial combat, and you know it. And the Hippocratic Oath means ‘first do no harm’ to your patients, not to those trying to kill them.” Bolt sighed. “I understand your concerns, Flutters, I really do, but….”


The younger woman opted for a different tack. “Mind if I tell you about my fiancé?” The older woman nodded, and Bolt began. “I met Brass Flare during my first year in the Academy. We weren’t supposed to date while there, but … he and I kinda got around that,” she giggled. “We grew closer over the years, and just as we were assigned to our first units, we got engaged. I was over the moon, because I was with the man I loved, and nothing was going to go wrong!

“Except that it did. On our first mission, we headed towards Seattle, or what was left of it. The plan was a focused effort to try to regain the area, then help the Canadians as we moved north towards Alaska. At least that was the plan. Instead, we got hit hard by the Octos, and their thrust vaporized the portion of the forest he was hiding in. I didn’t even have a body to bury. We were so stomped that our unit got disbanded and I was sent to work with the 4th Infantry.” Bolt sighed. “Did I ever mention that your husband has the same eyes as my Brass did? Makes me go all fuzzy in the good places.”

“Yes, my husband,” Fluttershy reminded her with mock-possessiveness.

“Eh, wouldn’t worry about it. There’s this guy in Charlie Company I’ve got my eye on anyway. But I’m serious about what I said. If you’re going with us, you need to know how to use a weapon, because there may come a time when pulling the trigger may be the only way to save your husband’s life – or any of our lives.”

That night, sleeping in her husband’s arms, she dreamed.

Teenage Fluttershy sat by the statue, dejected. It was the week before she would leave for college, and she hadn’t bothered to say goodbye to her former friends. Some that she was still friendly with, like Tree Hugger and Lyra Heartstrings, were definites. But not those she’d once been truly close to.

Not those she’d once shared magical adventures with.

And now that Sunset was gone, it was as though people were forgetting that magic had ever existed. And if that wasn’t enough, she remembered what Twilight had told them the last time she had seen them, after they had explained why she would never hear from Sunset again.

“I’m never opening the portal again,” was Twilight’s response. “I thought humanity was like us. I was wrong.” Still, she insisted that Fluttershy keep the book. “Prove to me that I wasn’t, Fluttershy.”

That had been the week before graduation. Fluttershy herself had tried the portal, but it was gone now and nothing was left but marble. Even Sunset’s old journal seemed to turn into nothing but a regular journal after that day.

And Fluttershy was here, for some inexplicable reason, holding the book to her as if it was a talisman. I’m so sorry, Sunset, she thought, squeezing the book closer and tears forming in her closed eyes. You didn’t deserve what we did to you and I can never apologize enough.

“You’ve apologized too much as is.”

Fluttershy’s eyes immediately opened. She tried to wake up Flash, but he wouldn’t stir.

“Wow, never thought you two would get together. I knew Rarity had her eye on him, but…well, I’m happy for you two.”

Fluttershy turned her head in the direction of the voice, and in the darkness of her apartment a glowing being sat in a chair by her table.

“Sunset?” the woman voiced as she got out of bed.

The glowing girl frowned. “Do you mind getting dressed? Granted, I know what girl parts look like, but I’d rather…well, you get the idea,” Sunset said with a smile. “Although you do look good for your age. Frankly, you look like you have the kind of physique I’d expect on Rainbow.” Sunset snapped her fingers and a t-shirt and sweatpants appeared on Fluttershy. Sunset read the t-shirt and smiled. “Army? That’s surprising.”

Fluttershy went over and hugged her old friend, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she sobbed, holding her friend for all she was worth. “I was cruel and unfair to you!”

“It’s okay,” Sunset said. “I got over it.” That was not enough for Fluttershy, who continued to hold her friend for the longest time, crying hysterically and refusing to let go. Finally, Sunset replied, “I’m not going anywhere, Flutters. Not after I did all this to come talk to you.”

At last, the woman released her embrace and looked at her youthful friend. Despite the golden aura, Sunset was still a teenager. “Why….?” the woman asked.

“I’m not ready to discuss that just yet,” Sunset told her. “However, I’m here because of you, Flutters.”

“Why me? And why are you still a teenager?” The answer came to her instantly. “Oh. This is a dream, isn’t it? This…this is a dream, and being here with your ex-boyfriend, my husband, is making me remember all the things I’d put aside.”

“If that’s what you want to think, that’s your call, Flutters,” Sunset told her. “But that’s not the point. The point is, well, to quote that old movie, ‘We need to get the band back together.’ We need to save the world, one last time.”

“I’m not sure we can,” Fluttershy admitted. “I don’t ever say it aloud, but…the day before Decimation, we had eight billion people on Earth. Now, they believe that we have 800 million, and even that might be a stretch. Humanity was murdered, and compared to that, what can we do?”

Sunset looked at her. “Do you remember what my favorite song was?” Fluttershy shook her head; after all, it had been a dozen years ago and very little music was being made nowadays, so keeping track of people’s tastes from years bygone was pointless.

Sunset chuckled at that and said, “You guys – Rarity especially – used to give me grief because I’d listen to the Classic Rock station; KSHZ 99.1”

That immediately made Fluttershy remember. “Oh, now I remember! 99.1 KSHZ – ‘The Only Rock That Matters!’ You used to be into a lot of 70s music, but I never knew why.”

“It was the only thing that played on the broken radio in the warehouse I lived in before I went to live with Applejack’s family,” Sunset explained. “But that’s not the point. What I meant was, do you remember my favorite song? Because if you do, you’ll know.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will, in time. But what’s truly important right now is…I need you to find the others, Fluttershy. I need you to find them and bring them together. We can save the world before it’s too late, but we need to come together.”

“But…how? I don’t know where they are or even if they’re alive, Sunset! We lost touch after you left and I don’t know about how they feel, but I grew to hate and resent them for what we did to you! I don’t even know where to begin!”

“Find my old journal. I’ll be able to speak to you through that.”

“But….” Fluttershy was going to say something, when Sunset raised her face to meet hers.

“I’m not asking the Fluttershy I knew back then. I know she wouldn’t have done it. I’m asking the woman I see now and hoping she remembers our friendship enough to do so.” Sunset smiled. “Maybe then you can get rid of that guilt you’ve been carrying for so long, and you won’t have to name your daughter after me to assuage it.”

“How did…?”

“Because you were the most likely to do so, thus it was an educated guess,” Sunset said. “But I need you to get the journal. That’s the first step. In time, everything else will follow.”

Fluttershy sat up with a shock, blinking her eyes. That was one hell of a dream. She saw the early rays of the sun stream into the apartment, and the clock said she had to get up in anyway. That was almost a dream I couldn’t take. I thought I’d….

The alarm went off, and as it did, the radio on the old clock went off. It was set to play the radio, in this case KLTM 102.7 – “Oklahoma’s Freedom Station”. It was a station that pretty much played whatever they wanted, because they were the only radio station left in this part of the state. At the moment, a song came on and it made her pause:

“You can do magic,
You can have anything that you desire
Magic – and you know
You’re the one that can put out the fire

“You know darn well
When you cast your spell you will get your way
When you hypnotize with your eyes
A heart of stone can turn to clay”

Tears welled in Fluttershy’s eyes. She’d forgotten – she’d put so much away, put so much of it because she wanted to forget. But in doing so, she violated the Hippocratic Oath – to do no harm. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t taken said vow at the time; she’d violated it with someone she’d cared so much about.

She looked at her sleeping husband, then to her uniform.

I took an oath to do no harm and I took an oath to protect the innocent. I failed on both counts, she told herself. But I’m not going to fail again!

If anyone had looked at the woman, they would’ve seen the brief corona of green flame that flickered around her.

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