The day began like any other for Fluttershy. She rose from her bed and cheerfully greeted the new day. After grabbing a light breakfast, she fed her animals and checked on the sick ones in her care. When she was satisfied all was well, she curled up on her day bed with a little bit of light reading.
Her gentle heart quivered as her eyes darted across the pages. Despite the romance novel being possibly the lightest and least suggestive in Twilight Sparkle's library, it was still enough to make her feel slightly uncomfortable in a good way.
After reading the steamy novel for what seemed like hours, her stomach growled at her. She decided it was a good time to fix a small lunch.
As she finished eating, she could hear a knock on the door. "Hello? Fluttershy?" a familiar voice called from outside.
Fluttershy meekly went to the front door and peeked through the curtains. "Oh, hello Twilight," she said as she opened her door. "What brings you out here at this time of day?"
"I, ah... I kind of need a favor," Twilight Sparkle said. "Zecora loaned me one of her spellbooks, but I need ingredients from the Everfree Forest for one of the spells."
"Oh, Twilight," Fluttershy meekly inquired, "Is this another one of your magical experiments?"
"Kind of," Twilight sheepishly admitted. "It's actually for a good cause, though."
"You said that when you helped Rainbow Dash out by copying Pinkie Pie's energetic personality onto her own," Fluttershy scolded as she opened the door wider so Twilight could enter. "It took me days to get all the snow out of the chicken coop."
"Yeah, but..." Twilight began to protest as she went inside.
"...And the time you tried giving Rarity a self-styling mane," Fluttershy continued.
"Okay, that wasn't my brightest idea, but..." Twilight continued.
"...And the time the Crusaders came running here in the middle of the night because you accidentally made Spike full-grown while you were dreaming..." Fluttershy went on.
"Geez!" Twilight said. "Okay, okay, I get it. This time's different, though. It's actually a fairly benign spell, a vaccine for Poison Joke. Remember what it did to you?"
"Yes..." Fluttershy meekly admitted as she recalled the unpleasant experience. It took her weeks to convince the stallion who owned the jazz club to go away. "I guess it won't be too bad..."
"It'll be fine," Twilight reassured her friend. "I just need to grab one plant. That's all." She showed Fluttershy the information she had on the plant.
Fluttershy looked tentatively at the notes. "Oh, okay, this one isn't too hard to find. It actually grows pretty close to the entrance," she said as she smiled. "But you must be careful, there's a poisonous plant that grows in the same area that looks almost exactly the same as this one."
"That's why I need your help," Twilight said. "I'm great with books and magic, but I admit I'm not much of a botanist."
"Okay," Fluttershy said. "Let me go give the animals their lunch real quick, then I'll come along." She opened a closet and pulled out a small bag of feed. "Things have started going so much more smoothly since they started selling pre-made animal feed at Sweet Apple Acres."
"I told Applejack that was a great idea months ago, but she didn't want to believe me," Twilight said as she grabbed the bag of feed with her magic. "Let me give you a hoof with that."
"Thanks, Twilight," Fluttershy said as she walked toward the back.
Back at Twilight's Library, Spike was conspiring with Pinkie Pie.
"This is going to be great!" Spike said happily as he started to hang a banner from the ceiling.
"Yep! It'll be the best party ever!" Pinkie Pie said as she grabbed the other side. "The anniversary of the day Twilight hatched you... it's not right not to have a party!"
"You know, Pinkie, you always say that, but then you keep outdoing yourself!" Spike exclaimed as he finished and slid down the ladder. "You good to finish up here while I go grab the others?"
Pinkie nodded to the young dragon as she started working on the other decorations. "Yep, I'm good here," she said. "Just make sure Twilight doesn't come back for about twenty minutes or so. We don't want to ruin her surprise!"
"Sure don't," Spike said as he left. This was going to be perfect...
It took only a few minutes for Fluttershy to find the plant Twilight was looking for, though it was a little deeper in the Everfree than she remembered. Luckily, it was still fairly close to the edge of the forest. "Over here," she softly called.
Twilight went over to Fluttershy's side. "Yes," she said as she inspected the plant, "That's the one. It's just like the notes said."
"How much of it do you need?" Fluttershy asked as she bent down to grab some of the plant.
"Just a couple of flowers should do," Twilight said, smiling. "A little goes a long way with this spell."
Fluttershy bit at the stalks carefully with her teeth, then lifted them gently and put them in Twilight's saddlebag. "Is that it?" she asked.
"Yep," Twilight said. "We can get out of... Fluttershy, did one of your chickens escape again?" Something with the head of a chicken was poking its head over the bushes.
Fluttershy looked over at the creature. "That... that's not a chicken, Twilight," she said as she began to panic. She could feel a familiar feeling.
Twilight noticed the same feeling. She had fallen victim to it once before. She looked back as her hind legs were beginning to turn to stone. "Oh no... Fluttershy, get close to me!" she cried.
Fluttershy didn't have to be told twice as she huddled next to Twilight.
"Next stop, home!" Twilight shouted as she unleashed her teleportation spell...
Spike had managed to get Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow Dash to come to the library. Along with Pinkie Pie, they were hiding. All of the lights were out and the curtains were drawn.
"Think she's gonna show up anytime soon?" Applejack whispered.
"Yeah," Spike replied. "She said she had some big spell to work on, so she would be home as soon as she came back from Fluttershy's."
"Maybe she'll have Fluttershy with her!" Pinkie quietly exclaimed.
"I hope not," Rarity whispered. "Remember when you tried throwing her a surprise party last year?"
"Oh, yeah, I forgot," Pinkie said. "She almost jumped right out of her skin..."
"Which is why we should never prank Fluttershy," Rainbow Dash whispered.
Suddenly, a familiar magic appeared in the center of the room as a teleportation spell resolved.
Pinkie Pie flipped on the lights.
Everypony sprang up and yelled "Surprise!"
The small beige alicorn standing in the center of the room shrieked...
"Surprise!" Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Spike all shouted.
The small beige alicorn in the center of the room shrieked. Instinctively, she darted out of sight and hid beneath the staircase. "I'm sorry," she pleaded. "I... I don't know what is happening..."
"That wasn't Twilight," Pinkie said, confused. "That sounded more like Fluttershy..."
"...But that was Twilight's teleporting spell," Rarity said. "I can tell."
"Did something happen to Twilight?" Spike asked, concerned.
The alicorn curled up into a ball under the stairs. Her mind was full of confusing sensations and memories. She knew all those ponies, yet she didn't. She had an idea of who she was, but she couldn't remember her own name. She knew she had asked... herself to go into the Everfree Forest to look for a plant, and that's where everything got confused.
Rainbow Dash approached the stairs slowly. "Are you alright?" she asked gently.
"I... I'm... Rainbow Dash, is that you?" the alicorn stuttered. "It's so hard to tell right now... Everything is so mixed up."
"Yeah, I'm Rainbow Dash," she said, confused. "Do you have a name?"
"Fluttershy," the alicorn answered quietly, audible only to Dash. "No, wait, I'm Twilight Sparkle... I... I... I don't know..." She screamed in that subdued manner Fluttershy was known for, but there was a hint of growling in the scream as well, as Twilight would do whenever frustrated. "I don't know what I am..."
"This is bad," Dash said as she looked back to the others. "She just said she might be Fluttershy or Twilight... and if she's Twilight, there's no way she's in any shape to figure out what's going on."
Applejack looked over at the alicorn, who somehow managed to become even more hidden as she sensed AJ's glance.
"Okay, guys, who do we know besides Twilight who could figure this out?" Dash asked.
Spike spoke up first. "I could try writing a letter to Princess Celestia," he offered.
"Meantime, Ah could be grabbin' Applebloom." Applejack suggested. "Maybe she learned somethin' from Zecora that could help us here."
"Good idea, but we might need Zecora herself," Rarity said. "No offense, but I'd rather have the teacher over the apprentice."
"It's pretty far to Zecora's," Rainbow Dash said. "I'll go, I can get there quickest. Maybe I can get her to come here."
"It's settled, then," Rarity said. "I'll try to see if I can figure anything out myself. Pinkie Pie could stay here and help me keep the poor thing company."
"Prolly not a good idea," Applejack said. "As skittish as that filly is, Pinkie may be the last thing she needs. No offense, Pinkie."
"None taken," Pinkie said, smiling. "I know I'm a little of an acquired taste."
"I don't have to go anywhere to send the letter," Spike said as he was in the process of writing it out. "I'll help Rarity out here."
"Pinkie, go with Applejack," Rainbow Dash decided. "If Applebloom is with her little friends, you might need to keep them occupied while we get her here."
"Will do!" Pinkie said as she bounced over to Applejack.
"You should go ahead and get moving, Dash," Rarity said. "You will need all the daylight you can get."
"Right," Dash said. "Let's move!"
It only took a few minutes for Applejack and Pinkie Pie to reach Sweet Apple Acres.
"You keep up awful fast considerin' all you do is bounce," Applejack observed. She had been in a full gallop since leaving the library.
"Never question an all-dessert diet!" Pinkie said, laughing. "I'm starting to get tired though."
"Proteins," Applejack snarkily replied. "Gotta keep some balance."
Big Macintosh looked up as the two young mares ran up to him. They had interrupted him taking a rest break. "Somethin' wrong, sis?" he asked.
"You could say that," Applejack said. "You seen Applebloom about?"
"Eeyup, but she ain't here now," he said as he got up. "One of her friends came by a little bit ago an' said somethin' about some new thread. Ah think they went to Rarity's."
"Dang," AJ said. "Come on, Pinkie, Ah don't think this here's gonna be as easy as Ah thought." She went back into a full-speed gallop again. "Thanks, bro!"
"Yeah, thanks a lot, big guy," Pinkie said, smiling, as she resumed bouncing after Applejack.
"Mmm-hmm," Big Macintosh said as he went back to work.
Princess Celestia was walking to her chambers after finishing yet another excruciating day of court. "Still want this job, Sister?" she said.
"Ugh. Not after our nephew's outburst," Luna said as she followed her sister. "All he ever does anymore is whine about that one mare at the last Gala."
"Personally, I figure it would be good for him to get knocked down a few more pegs," Celestia said, laughing. "I might have to have a word with his father."
"Don't try it," Luna warned. "He makes Blueblood seem like the perfect gentlecolt by comparison."
Celestia stopped for a moment and shuddered. "Ooooh, scary thought," she said. "Don't do that to me!"
"Sorry," Luna said.
A magical letter soon appeared in front of the Princesses.
Celestia opened it up with her magic and took a look at it. She soon frowned.
"Celly?" Luna asked. "What is it?"
"There's been an accident. I'm needed in Ponyville right away," Celestia said. "Could you put the sun away for me tonight, please?"
"Of course," Luna said.
Celestia ran back towards the throne room as quickly as her majestic legs would allow.
Once her sister was out of sight, Luna picked up the letter and read it.
Dear Princess Celestia,
This is Spike writing. Something has happened here at the library. It may involve Twilight Sparkle. There's a small alicorn here who is claiming to be both her and one of our other friends, Fluttershy. Could you please take a look?
"Oh, dear," Princess Luna thought. "I know that magic... it's old magic I traded to the zebras long ago!"
"Sister, wait!" Luna shouted as she ran after Celestia.
Rainbow Dash flew deftly through the Everfree Forest. As long as the sun was still out, she could fly at a fast enough speed and still see the obstacles in her path. She had to hurry, though. She was close to Zecora's hut, but there was still the matter of getting back out of the forest before nightfall.
"Spike, you shoulda asked the Princess if she could keep the sun up a little longer," Dash muttered as she continued to evade the natural obstacles at somewhat unsafe speeds.
It took another ten minutes or so, but Dash finally made it to the hut. She landed and knocked on the door. "Hey, Zecora, you home? It's Rainbow Dash. I need your help."
A groan could be heard from inside. "Dash, if it's help you seek, you could have picked a better week..." Zecora said, weakly.
"I'm sorry... it's an emergency. It's about Twilight," Dash said apologetically.
"Did she botch another incantation? I warned that girl about bad information," Zecora said as she struggled to reach the door.
Dash laid her eyes upon a Zecora that was a few shades more green than usual. "Whoa... what happened to you?" she asked as she covered her face with her hoof.
"Just an annoying autumn flu," Zecora said as she motioned for Dash to come in. "Be thankful ponies can't get it too."
Dash breathed a sigh of relief as she walked in. "Remember that book of spells you loaned Twilight last week?" she asked, getting straight to the point.
"Yes... I remember that tome. Did she misplace it somewhere in her home?"
"No... though the book was missing," Dash mentioned. "She was looking for a plant for one of the spells, and I think she tried to teleport home for some reason... then something weird happened."
"She traveled through space and time? I hope the book was elsewhere, child," Zecora said, shocked.
"Okay, that was a poor rhyme," Dash quipped.
Zecora laughed between coughs. "Considering how badly I'm under the weather, I'm lucky I can still string words together."
"Fair enough..." Dash said. "So, do you think the book might have had something to do with it?"
"To be certain, mine eyes must see, the result of Twilight's catastrophe," Zecora said as she packed a few books into her saddlebag. "Let us be off, making haste. At night, we don't want to be in this place."
"Need a lift?" Dash offered.
"It would be far safer to walk, than to risk a crash in the dark," Zecora said, declining the offer. She began the trek through the forest to Ponyville.
Dash wasn't far behind.
The alicorn was still hiding underneath the stairs. She was sobbing quietly, but hadn't said a word since Dash and the others left.
"The poor dear's so frightened," Rarity observed.
"If she really is both Twilight and Fluttershy, it must be painful for her," Spike said softly.
"How so?" Rarity asked.
"Well, we've seen how timid Fluttershy can be," Spike said. "The thing is, Twilight isn't exactly social either. If she's both of them, she must be scared out of her mind just by existing."
"If only there was a way to get her to open up," Rarity sighed. "The others are trying to get all the expertise here they can find, but the only one who can tell us what really happened is hiding in that corner."
Suddenly Spike had an idea as he remembered back to when he and Twilight first met Fluttershy. "Rarity, could you go into the kitchen for a few minutes?" he asked. "I'm going to try something."
"Sure," Rarity said. "I could probably use some tea or something anyway. Do you want any?" she asked as she turned toward the kitchen.
"I'm good," Spike said. "I had an entire plate of aquamarines earlier. Our little friend might want one, though, so just keep an ear out."
"Indeed," Rarity said as she disappeared into Twilight's kitchen.
Spike crept up to the little beige alicorn. "It's safe. It's just the two of us now."
"No..." the alicorn wept. "It feels like three. You, me... but it feels like someone else is watching."
"It's just us, Twilight," Spike said as he crept closer, very careful not to frighten the alicorn. "Are... are you scared of other ponies right now?"
"I... I don't feel like Twilight," the alicorn said softly. "I don't exactly feel like Fluttershy either, but I know I'm both of them. I don't even know what to call myself." She began to weep again.
"There, there, don't cry," Spike said as he reached very slowly to wrap the alicorn in a hug. "Want me to figure out a name for you then? How about Fluttersparkle?"
The alicorn pouted. "That just sounds weird, Spike..."
"Well..." the dragon paused as he thought about it for a moment. "Shylight, perhaps?"
"Shylight... Shylight? I... I think that'd be okay," she said. "Shylight. Yeah. I'm Shylight."
"Cool, Shylight," Spike said as he slowly let go of the hug. "I have to go tell Rarity what's going on."
Shylight cringed. "Is... is she going to come back in here?"
"Well, this is the center of the library," Spike said sadly. "Hey, why don't you go upstairs and wait for me? That way you don't have to see Rarity until you're ready, and the others won't scare you when they come back. Is that okay?"
"I... I think that'd work..." Shylight said as she slowly emerged from her hiding spot. She took a quick glance around, then ran up the stairs as fast as her legs would carry her.
Spike sighed as he turned to go into the kitchen. This was going to take a lot of work...
"Wait up, Applejack!" Pinkie Pie panted as her bouncing slowed to a series of delayed hops. "Time out! I gotta catch my breath!"
Applejack slowed her frantic gallop to a slow trot. "Ah told you... proteins," she gently mocked. "That there all-sugar diet ain't good for you."
"I get it, I get it. I'll order something with soybeans next time I'm eating out," Pinkie said. "Just wait up, please..."
"'Kay," Applejack said as she stopped. "We're here anyway." They'd arrived at the Carousel Boutique. The doors were locked.
"Sweetie Belle? You home?" Pinkie Pie called out as she knocked on the door.
There was no response.
"Dang it," Applejack said. "They must be at their lil' clubhouse. Let's hoof it!" She launched back into a swift gallop.
"This isn't fun anymore," Pinkie pouted as she tried to run after her friend.
"This is bad, Rarity," Spike said as he prepared to grab a tray with two glasses of tea on it. "Even if we get Zecora, Princess Celestia or anyone else here, the poor girl is traumatized! I doubt she'll let anypony near her..."
"She let you come close, though," Rarity said, trying to reassure the young dragon. "It's a start. We can build on it."
"I just don't know," Spike said sadly. "She's so much like Twilight and yet... I can't help thinking my Twilight is gone..."
Rarity's horn glowed as she grabbed the tray out of Spike's hands and levitated it to the counter. She then beckoned for him to come closer.
Spike ran over to Rarity and hugged her as all his emotions and tears just flowed out. They were like that for several minutes.
"There, there," Rarity finally said. "Princess Celestia will be here soon and hopefully Zecora won't be far behind. We'll get to the bottom of this. We'll get them back."
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. A weak scream could be heard from upstairs.
Spike sniffled. "I should go keep Shylight company while you fill the Princess in on what we know." He grabbed the tray.
"Are you going to be okay?" Rarity asked as she walked to the door. "This whole thing isn't exactly easy on you either."
"I'm the only one she trusts right now," Spike said, sadly. "It has to be me..." He disappeared upstairs.
Rarity opened the door. "Ah, Princess Celestia," she said, bowing as she opened the door but not looking outside. "I'm glad you could come help us." She then looked up and froze.
It was Princess Luna. "Sorry to disappoint you, but I might have more of a clue about this than my sister," she said. "May I enter?"
"Ah... ah, of course Your Highness!" Rarity said as she practically stumbled over herself to back up. "Do come in!"
Luna waved to the two Royal Guards who brought her into Ponyville. "Please, maintain your watch but stay outside," she told them. "This is a very delicate situation and your presence inside may cause a disturbance."
"Yes, Princess," they said as they pulled the chariot aside the library, then took up positions near the door.
"Princess, Rainbow Dash may be bringing Zecora here," Rarity said. "You might want to let them know to let her approach without any problems. Applejack may also return with her little sister, who happens to be Zecora's apprentice."
"Did you hear that?" Luna asked the two guards. "If you see a blue pegasus traveling with a zebra, or two earth pony fillies, one wearing a hat, please do not bar them entry."
"Understood," the guards said as they stood watch.
"There," Luna said. "We should have all the privacy we need while we try to get to the bottom of this. Where's this little alicorn at?"
"Shylight's upstairs with Spike," Rarity said. "Before you go and see her, though, I should tell you what to expect..."
"Horseapples!" Dash cried as she ran toward the outer edge of the Everfree Forest. She had Zecora riding on her back, and a small, but very angry hydra giving chase.
"Run straight and true, Rainbow Dash!" Zecora cried. "I may be able to make this beast crash!" She grabbed a potion from her saddlebag with her teeth, and in one fluid motion, uncorked it and sent it flying at the hydra.
As the glass vial shattered against the creature's hide, a cloud of steam rose up into all eight of the creature's nostrils. It continued its pursuit.
"Uh, any time now, Zecora!" Dash shouted as she tried to keep them ahead of the creature. Her endurance was at its limit. She would have lasted much longer if she could have flown away.
"Just keep your eyes ahead!" Zecora shouted as she ducked her head underneath a low-hanging branch. "This creature's chase is at an end!"
Without warning, one of the hydra's heads began to attack the others. The confusion forced the creature to halt its chase. Then another head started attacking the others. Within seconds, all four of its heads were going after each other.
"I'm glad that worked, Zee..." Dash said as her pace slowed and she fought to catch her breath. "I hit the wall..."
"That's not it! Just keep running, Dash! Poison spores drift in from the grass!" Zecora said, trying to urge Dash on.
"Poison? Oh, no..." Dash said as she started to stumble and cough. "What do I do?"
"Just keep going, my friend. We're almost at the patch's end," Zecora said. She hopped off of Dash's back, hoping that lightening her load would let her go just a few extra steps.
Dash continued to run on as she and Zecora reached the end of the Everfree Forest. "I gotta stop for a sec," she panted. "That was too much..."
"Take a second to breathe, just make it brief," Zecora warned. "Time is short for your friends, indeed."
"Ugh," Dash spat. "I guess rest can wait for a few minutes." She struggled back to her hooves, then started running toward the Library.
Shylight was hiding in the upstairs closet, sipping her tea. "Th-thank you, Spike... You didn't have to do this for me," she timidly said.
"I'd do the same for any of my friends," Spike said. He was trying to keep his own emotions hidden.
"Spike? Shylight?" a voice called from downstairs. "It's Princess Luna. May I come upstairs?"
Shylight squeaked as her horn began to glow weakly. She started to become transparent.
"It's going to be okay, Shylight," Spike said as he held her gently. "Luna's a good friend of ours. She came to try to see what happened to you, but she has to take a look at you first, okay?"
"I... I..." Shylight tried to say, but she was too scared to speak. She nodded her head as she wished for the whole ordeal to be over.
"Come up, it's okay," Spike said at a normal tone of voice. He opened the door to the closet slightly so Princess Luna could find them. As Luna came closer, he called out to her. "Wasn't Princess Celestia supposed to come?"
"She will be by after sunset if she's still needed," Luna said softly. "I fear I may have an idea of what did this. Can you come out for a second so I can see you in the light, Shylight?"
"It's okay," Spike said as Shylight unconsciously tried to become invisible again.
"I'm scared," Shylight said almost silently.
"Please," Spike said. "Do it for me?"
Shylight squeaked as she got up and took a couple of steps into the light. She was indeed an alicorn, at least in the physical sense, though unlike the Princesses her horn was of a normal size. She had a coat that appeared to sit at a point in coloring between Fluttershy's yellow and Twilight Sparkle's lavender. Her eyes were the same way, an alluring cobalt blue. Her mane and tail were mostly pink, with an indigo stripe. While her mane was styled like Fluttershy's, her tail was a dead ringer for Twilight's. Even her cutie mark was a combination of the two, a single pink butterfly encircled by several small stars.
"Thank you, Shylight, I've seen what I needed to see," Luna said, smiling as she backed away.
Shylight sank back into the closet and became semi-invisible again.
"Spike, would you mind staying with Shylight while I talk with Rarity and send my sister a message?" Luna asked quietly.
Spike just nodded as he held the transparent Shylight.
Luna headed back downstairs. Just as she turned into the kitchen, there was knocking on the door. "It's definitely the spell I was thinking of," she said to Rarity who was opening the door. "I gave it to a zebra mage over a thousand years ago to help them grow hardier plants. I think his name was Sandstone..."
Zecora spoke up as she came in the door. "I know what caused this if Sandstone's involved. After you met him, his hate evolved."
"How do you mean, Zecora?" Rarity asked, puzzled.
"The book Twilight borrowed from my home, a curse was placed upon that tome" Zecora began. "Sandstone blamed your kind for his poisoned corn, so the curse twists the magic from a pony's horn. When Twilight used her transit spell, it trapped her in an imaginative hell."
"Wait... he cursed the book Twilight borrowed, and her spell triggered it?" Luna said, trying to understand. "Why? You mentioned poisoned corn, but the spell itself was harmless!"
"Indeed it was, but that's not the point," Zecora said. "His folly left the result spoiled. Yet instead of taking his rightful blame, his hatred grew instead of his shame."
"What did the spell do in the first place?" Rarity asked.
"It was a spell meant to combine two things and create a hybrid that had the best traits of both," Luna said. "A long time back, the zebra lands were struggling against a great drought. They came to us for help. I gave them the spell and an ear of corn... but Sandstone must have used the spell to combine the corn with a poisonous plant!"
"And he blamed ponies for it instead of himself, so when he wrote that book, he wove a curse into it that would trigger whenever unicorn magic was used near it..." Rarity said. "Zecora, why would you keep such a vile thing in your possession?"
"I honestly hoped the tale was a lie," Zecora said. "Obviously, the blame is mine. Through space, I told her not to blink, but in a panic, one does not think."
"We don't blame you, Zecora... we just need you to help figure out a way to fix it," Rainbow Dash said.
"That I shall do, but we must work fast - the time for reversal will not long last," Zecora said regretfully as she coughed.
"I'll help you, Zecora. You're obviously ill and this whole mess is my fault as well," Luna said. "I gave that spell to him in the first place."
Zecora and Luna walked together into the main part of the library as Rainbow Dash went upstairs to deliver the news.
"Sis, wait! What's the big hurry?" Applebloom cried as Applejack was carrying her to Twilight Sparkle's library.
"Somethin's happened to Twilight an' Fluttershy," Applejack said as she panted for breath while in a gallop. "Ah figured since you was helpin' Zecora out, that you might be able to help us out."
"Oh no..." Applebloom said. "They gonna be okay?"
"Ah hope so, lil' sis, Ah truly hope so..." Applejack said. The sun was setting as Applejack dashed past Quills and Sofas.
Pinkie Pie was struggling at this point to even maintain anything faster than a power walk. "I guess... we're lucky the... Crusaders were at... the school, huh?" she said as she desperately tried to keep pace with her friend.
"Somepony's lookin' out for us today," Applejack said as Twilight's library was within sight.
Zecora and Luna were both trying to work together on a counter for the hybridization spell. Complicating matters, they were faced with a ticking clock and no documentation remaining on the spell itself. Luna was having to work from memory alone, and Zecora was working off of information passed down through generations of perceived gossip.
Still, as the sun was setting, they were making tangible progress. Zecora's potions were no longer exploding and Luna's incantations were no longer killing the test plants she was trying to separate. Both knew they were very close.
Meantime, Rainbow Dash was upstairs trying to talk to Shylight. "Please, Shylight, it's important," she pleaded as Shylight tried to sink from sight.
"But... I didn't... I didn't..." Shylight tried to say. As much as she knew what she wanted to say, it was as though her fear was keeping her words from making the trek from her brain to her mouth.
"Didn't what?" Dash asked. She felt like she was speaking to the air, with as much helpful feedback as Shylight was providing.
"Zecora... she did warn Twilight... ugh! She warned me about the spellbook..." Shylight forced herself to say. Her confusion over her very sense of self was making it hard for her to assist herself. Even coherent thought seemed out of her reach. The part of her that was Twilight was finding it hard to work against the unfamiliar sense of fear. The part of her that was Fluttershy couldn't even make the words she was thinking make sense.
"Yeah, she told us that already," Dash said. "Did you have the book when you went to Fluttershy's?"
"Dash, I..." Shylight began before crying. "I... I'm scared to say..."
"Why, Shy?" Dash asked. She unconsciously used her pet name for Fluttershy.
The damage was done, though. Shylight let her head fall into her forehooves as she began crying.
Back downstairs, Luna finally made a breakthrough. "That was it!" she cried triumphantly. "That was the spell!"
"Great work, Moon Princess," Zecora said, working through her fatigue. "But we're still faced with our greatest test."
"Yes... yes, I know," Luna said. "Plants and ponies are two way different things, and we'll only have one chance at this. If we make a mistake, we risk losing Twilight and Fluttershy forever, as well as Shylight."
"Perhaps it would be best for all, if Shylight were allowed to make the call?" Zecora asked.
"I've seen her, Zecora," Luna said. "She's a complete wreck. As separate ponies, each could at least function. It's like the worst of the flaws of each are crippling Shylight."
"You are just worried she'll actually say yes," Zecora observed as she mixed another potion. "Speak the truth to me - confess."
"I know what the spell was meant to do," Luna said. "We're not just dealing with a magical accident up there. We're dealing with a new life. She has her own rights. I'm worried about asking her to choose suicide to bring Twilight and Fluttershy back. I don't want to force her either... that'd be murder."
"It is a tough call we must make. I too think this weight is hard to take," Zecora said. "If it is nothing we do, then not one do we condemn but two."
"I know... sunset is coming, at least," Luna sighed. "Maybe my sister will help make this choice clearer for me."
"We have enough time for you to reflect," Zecora said. "Work through your emotional conflict."
"If that's Zebra for 'get some tea,' I think that's the best idea I've heard today," Luna sighed as she walked over to the kitchen. "Want some?"
"A relaxing drink? Perhaps I will," Zecora said as she joined Luna. "Its calming effect should fit the bill."
"Exactly," Luna said. "You know, this could be the start of a great friendship..."
Princess Celestia finished putting the sun away and started raising the moon. She was hesistant to let Princess Luna go to Ponyville in her stead, but she could sense her sister felt she had some personal demons to overcome, and the fewer of those she had to struggle with, the better.
Still, the tone of Spike's earlier letter left her with a nagging feeling that all was not what it seemed. When Luna sent her a second letter saying she knew the problem, her doubts increased somewhat.
As she completed her task of raising the moon, she called to one of her assistants. "Scribe?"
An aged grey unicorn stallion with a scroll and quill for a cutie mark soon walked into the throne room. "Princess Celestia? What can I do for you tonight?"
"Please let the guards know that night court has been cancelled for today," Celestia said as she tied the last loose end. "My sister is dealing with an urgent personal matter in Ponyville, and I must leave now to join her."
"As you wish, Highness," Scribe said as he bowed and left to relay the news to the guards.
"Thank you, old friend," Celestia said as she walked over to the balcony. She opened the window and was soon soaring through the air.
"Hey! We're home!" Pinkie Pie called out as she, Applejack and Applebloom entered Twilight's Library.
"We're in the kitchen," Rarity called out. "Did you find Applebloom?"
"Ah came as quick as Ah could," Applebloom said, not exactly lying. Riding on her sister's back certainly wasn't the slowest way to cross town.
Zecora coughed as the three earth ponies got into the kitchen. "Ah, my young friend, welcome! Your assistance tonight will be no burden."
"Yeah, my big sis told me everythin' that happened," Applebloom said. "Is there anythin' Ah can do to help?"
"Little one, indeed there is," Zecora said, smiling. "Please help Dash allay the new one's fears."
"Okay!" Applebloom said.
"They're upstairs," Rarity said. "Be careful, though. She's still very confused."
"Gotcha, Rarity," the young filly responded as she headed for the stairs.
"Her heart is in the right place for sure," Zecora said. "But I've done most of the work for her."
"Dash? Hello?" Applebloom asked quietly as she climbed the stairs.
"I'm up here," Dash whispered loudly.
Shylight had finished crying and was finally starting to feel a little better. "Come on up," she said softly.
Applebloom turned toward the closet and saw Dash holding Shylight gently. Spike was asleep on a nearby pile of towels. "Are you okay, ah... um..." she asked as she struggled to figure out what to call the timid alicorn.
"Shy... Shylight," she offered. "Other than feeling like I'm going to explode from panic... I... I think I'm okay, considering everything that's happened."
"Wow," Applebloom said as she knelt next to Dash and Shylight. "What's it like? I've never met two ponies in one body before."
"That's just it," Shylight said. "I... I don't feel like two ponies. I mean, I... I can remember being Twilight Sparkle. I can remember being Fluttershy. I know what each were like... I'm starting to figure out what I'm like. I feel like parts of both of them have been tossed in a cotton candy machine and... and I came out."
"How so?" Dash asked, still holding onto the timid alicorn.
"The... the stuttering, for one," Shylight said as Twilight's analytical mind finally began to make its way to the surface. "Neither of us stuttered... Twilight never did, and Fluttershy would... would just kind of go silent."
"I did notice that," Dash conceded. "I thought it was unusual."
"There's other things," Shylight said. "Sunflower sandwiches. Both Twilight and Fluttershy loved them. Right now the... the thought of one is making my stomach do back... backflips."
"How's your magic? Or your flying?" Applebloom asked curiously.
"I... I'm not sure yet," Shylight said. "I'm kind of scared to try to fly, even though I should know how, and my... my magic feels weaker somehow. I kinda did the... the invisibility spell by accident because all I wanted to do was disappear."
"But you're an alicorn now," Dash said. "Shouldn't you be better at both?"
"You'd... you'd think that, but no," Shylight said. "I'm not an actual alicorn. I... I don't have the strength of an earth pony like the Princesses do. I'm just... just a hybrid of a pegasus and a unicorn, and I think even those traits are diluted."
"Weird," Dash and Applebloom both said as most of the words Shylight used were outside both of their vocabularies.
Applebloom spoke up. "You owe me an apple juice!"
"Yeah, I guess I do," Dash said.
All three erupted into laughter.
Another hour passed before Luna and Zecora felt confident enough to attempt the complex reversal spell. They had reached the point where living plant hybrids remained alive even after being split back into their component parts. Zecora had already went down to the basement to start preparing for the ritual.
"Shylight?" Luna called. "Could you come down here, please?"
Shylight, with Applebloom and Dash's encouragement, came downstairs.
"Wow," Luna said. "If I were that pretty, I wouldn't want to hide it."
"Th.. thank you," Shylight said very quietly. "Are... are you ready to try to get me back to normal?"
Shylight's statement gave Luna pause. "What did you say?" she asked quietly.
"I... I asked if you were ready to try to get me back to normal," Shylight said, confused.
"You said 'me,'" Luna observed.
"Yes?" Shylight said.
"I... I wasn't expecting this," Luna said. "I'm not sure I can do this."
"What? Why?" Shylight asked. "I... I want to be Fluttershy and Twilight again."
Celestia knocked on the door. "Sister? Are you there?" she asked.
"Yes... please come in," Luna said, sighing. "I need your counsel. You can head back upstairs for a few more minutes, Shylight, I need to discuss something with my sister."
"Okay..." Shylight said as she went back up the stairs. She stopped at the top of the stairs and listened to the conversation.
"What's wrong, sister?" Celestia asked as Shylight departed.
"I'm scared, sis," Luna confessed. "This isn't just a magical accident. If I try to reverse the spell now, I'd be killing somepony."
"I see..." Celestia said. "But if you don't do this, then everyone here will lose two of their friends. Even you."
"I know, I know..." Luna said as she ran to the nearest wall and put her head against it. "I... I don't know what to do."
"What does she want?" Celestia asked, referring to Shylight.
"She said she wanted to go through with it," Luna sighed. "She's willing!"
"So then, doesn't that make the choice easier?" Celestia asked.
"I can't..." Luna cried.
Celestia went over to her sister and hugged her gently. "You can't do what?"
"I can't ask her to commit suicide to bring Twilight and Fluttershy back," Luna said as she wept. "She's her own pony. She doesn't refer to herself as Fluttershy or Twilight... I don't think she even thinks of herself as either. I don't want to kill her."
"Pr... Princess?" Shylight asked as she walked up behind the Princesses. "Respectfully..." She recoiled as Luna and Celestia turned back to face her.
"Don't be afraid, my faithful student," Celestia reflexively replied. "Speak your mind."
"That... that's just it, Princess," Shylight said. "I'm... I'm not your faithful student. The ponies here are my friends, but... but I'm not. I want to do what's right for them. I want to do what's right for Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy. They deserve a chance to live. They deserve to be with their friends."
"You understand what you're saying, correct?" Celestia asked.
"I understand..." Shylight said. "I'm... I'm not changing my mind on this."
"Are you really doing it for them?" Luna asked, still unsure. "Are you willing to do this because you feel you shouldn't exist?"
"No... no, Princess," Shylight said softly. "I believe... I believe I have every right to exist, except that it denies two others their lives and everyone present their friends. I'm ready."
"I'll get Zecora," Luna said. "I'm still not sure this is right, though..."
"The sad thing is, sister, there is no right choice here," Celestia said. "This brave young mare has made her decision, though. We must respect it."
A few minutes later, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Pinkie Pie came into the main part of the library.
"You don't have to do this," Rarity said. "Surely there's another way to do this..."
"Yeah, if you're just doin' this for our sake, you don't have to," Applejack said. Her normally tough exterior was cracking and she was sobbing.
"I... I have to," Shylight said quietly, looking away. "I have to do this for me, too. If I didn't have Twlight and Fluttershy's memories, it wouldn't be this hard for me, but I know those two better than anypony here... and I know they'd do the same for me if they could."
Pinkie was letting the tears flow. "Awwww... I didn't even get a chance to get to know you, Shylight! We don't even get enough time to throw you a 'Welcome to Ponyville' party?"
"If... if it helps, you already have," Shylight said. "You're all here. This... this place looks like it's fit for a party. You even surprised me..."
Dash was doing the best of the four at not letting her emotions show. "You're brave, you know that, Shylight?" she said.
Shylight blushed. "Dash... I'm not brave... I... I don't even know how I'm managing to keep it together," she said. "Every fiber of my being is telling me to go back to the closet and hide forever."
"Yeah, well... I couldn't do this if it were me, so that makes you a better pony than me," Dash said as she snatched Shylight into a hug. "I'm glad I got the chance to know you..."
"We all are, even though it was brief," Rarity said.
"If it helps, you'll be with us all the time," Applejack said. "Ah know you'll be in my heart."
"Ditto that!" Pinkie said, trying to regain her composure.
"I'm... I'm glad I got the chance to know you... again..." Shylight said. "I guess all... all that's left to say is goodbye..."
They all embraced in the center of the room. Even Dash began to cry.
"...Goodbye... and see you in a few minutes," Shylight said as she went down to the basement where Luna and Zecora were waiting.
Celestia was sitting upstairs, watching the sky. She could sympathize with her sister. She could also understand Shylight's wishes. It didn't make any of it easier, which is why she chose to remain in Twilight's bedroom instead of joining her sister and Zecora in the basement.
"Truly, you are a brave soul, Shylight," Celestia said softly as she closed her eyes and turned her head away from the sky.
When she opened her eyes, she was looking directly at a book atop a bookcase at an angle only she was tall enough to see. The writing on the cover was ancient Zebra.
Celestia's jaw dropped. "Oh no," she said. "Oh no! If the book is here, then... then..." She grabbed the book with her teeth and ran down to the basement.
Shylight stood in the center of a magical circle. She looked down at the potion.
"Drink that first, it will start the spell," Zecora said. "When Luna does her part, all will end well."
"I hope so," Luna sighed.
Shylight tried to focus her magic on the vial. Zecora had told her earlier that by doing so, her magic would activate the mixture. It was hard for her, but she finally managed to lift it to her lips and drink the contents.
"...I'm sorry, Shylight," Luna said as her horn began to glow.
Shylight began to levitate as Luna's spell started taking effect. Soon, she began glowing.
Celestia busted down the basement door. "Wait!" she said as she threw the book to Zecora, who had stepped aside.
"The book? It is here? Luna! We're making a mistake, I fear!" Zecora cried as she looked down at it.
"It's too late!" Luna cried. "I can't stop now..."
Smoke soon began to rise from Shylight, and a blinding light filled the room...
"Good... Ah was kinda worried about her," Applejack said.
Shylight began to open her eyes. She was in Twlight Sparkle's bed back in Ponyville. Aside from hurting a little, she didn't feel any different than before the separation spell was attempted. That made her panic. "Oh no... oh no... I'm still me... what happened?" she cried.
"Our friends are gone forever because of you!" Pinkie yelled to the shaken filly, her faded body showing all the outward signs of rage. "FORRRREVVVVERRRR!!!"
"It... It's not my fault..." Shylight cried. "It's not my... my fault the spell failed..."
"Don't care," a visibly faded Rainbow Dash said from the corner. "You lied. You led us all to believe you had the book when you were created. Not like it matters, though..." She was clutching a small cloud protectively. "I didn't need Twilight or Fluttershy anyway. I have Cloudsdayle."
"Good riddance!" Rarity said as she was occupied with a very large rock. It was almost as though she was speaking to it instead of her friend. "That's just one less mean pony to try to steal you away from me..."
"Don't listen to them," Applejack said. "Ah'm not mad at you. Ah'm just glad you're safe." She then curled her lip and looked away as she revealed an axe to Shylight. "Yep... ain't mad at all..."
Shylight screamed as Applejack swung the axe at her head.
She woke up screaming in Princess Luna's bed in Canterlot. She was sweating and the panic in her eyes was so clearly visible it could be seen by a blind pony.
"Applebloom!" Applejack cried. "She's been havin' another one'a them dreams! Get a potion from Zecora's bag!"
"Oh no, not again... Ah'm on it, sis," Applebloom said from the next room over.
"Shhh... shhh... go back to sleep, Shylight... you ain't outta the woods yet," Applejack said as she wiped the sweat from Shylight's face.
"You..." Shylight said, still partially in the nightmare. Her sensations were being twisted into delusions. All she could see was the lying corruption of her friend created months earlier by the malevolent Discord. "You... you tried to kill me... why?"
"Wha?" Applejack said, stunned. "Girl, Ah ain't tried to do anythin'a the sort..."
"Get... off of me!" Shylight yelled. She somehow summoned the strength to buck Applejack away from her, then tried to get out of bed. "It's not my fault! I didn't lie!"
Applebloom came running in. "Ah got the potion, sis!" she said.
Princess Celestia was right behind her. "I heard you call your sister," she said quickly. "Is she having another nightmare?"
"Dang girl tried to buck my head clean off! "Applejack said as she rubbed her jaw. "It's gettin' worse. Ah don't think Ah can handle her."
"It's not my fault!" Shylight repeated, now screaming. She was lost within one of Fluttershy's rage states, but backed by the magic of Twilight Sparkle's rage transformations. Instead of changing outwardly like Twilight however, it gave her a surge of strength not unlike a high-potency shot of adrenaline.
"I have her," Celestia said as she wrapped Shylight in a field of magic to immobilize her body. "Quickly, Applebloom... the potion!"
Applebloom quickly maneuvered up to Shylight's face and poured the potion down her mouth.
"I... I didn't... lie..." Shylight said, struggling as the potion quickly kicked in and she returned to sleep.
Celestia gently lowered her into bed. "Perhaps I should take over watch," she offered.
"Ah still don't know what she was on about," Applejack said. "Nopony's at fault..."
"C'mon, sis" Applebloom said as she left. Applejack held onto her for support.
"I'm not sure either," Celestia said as she kept watch on the ailing Shylight.
Shylight's friends and Princess Luna were gathered in one of the Royal Palace's smaller kitchens. At most times it would be used by Celestia's aides, but they had commandeered it due to its proximity to Luna's room.
"You? Killing her? That's rich! You break down into tears if you kill a worm by accident in your apple orchard!" Rainbow Dash said, laughing so hard that she almost spilled her tea.
"Nopony's s'posed to know 'bout that!" Applejack shouted as she held a small bag of ice to her jaw. "Don't change the fact she said it though... Ah don't get it."
"Nightmares... they don't often make sense to those of us who are awake," Luna said, staring out a window. "But to her, they're as real as everything out here... but nowhere near as nice."
"What's that mean, Princess?" Pinkie said as she poked her head out of the icebox. Her face was covered with icing.
"It means she still has a lot of issues to work through," Luna clarified. "My guess is she feels guilty because the separation spell didn't work."
"Didn't think of it that way," Applejack sighed. "She's prolly holdin' herself responsible for Twi an' Fluttershy not bein' back."
"But we don't blame her... right?" Pinkie said, half-muffled by the cake she was devouring. She still felt drained from bouncing around Ponyville trying to find Applebloom.
"Ah sure don't," Applejack said. "Ah don't even blame her for buckin' me in the jaw. She don't know what she's doin' right now."
"How long did Zecora say she might be feeling the effects of that potion again?" Dash asked.
"She didn't even know, Dash" Luna sighed, continuing to face the window. "She'd never made one like it before."
"If only we would have known," Rarity said, stirring a cup of tea with her magic. "The poor thing wouldn't have to be going through this."
"Yeah... if only..." Dash said. Part of her felt she should have pressed Shylight harder for the truth. The other part was scared she wouldn't have tried at all if she had...
It was a few days later. Pinkie Pie was watching over Shylight. She had been talking to Shylight the entire time, hoping that even in her fitful sleep, she'd know her friends wanted her to get better. Even after Shylight inadvertently gave her a black eye, she refused to leave her fallen friend's side.
Suddenly, Shylight began to stir. It didn't seem like a nightmare this time. It was much more peaceful.
"Shylight?" Pinkie asked softly. "Are you okay?"
"...Did... did somepony get the number of that piano that hit me?" Shylight weakly asked as she opened her eyes.
"Nope," Pinkie said in mock disappointment. "It was a safe!"
"That explains it..." Shylight said as she turned to look out the window. "We... we're in Canterlot..." she meekly observed.
"Yep..." Pinkie said, softly. The tone soon turned to a shout. "Princess! Guys! She's awaaaaaake!"
Shylight hid under her blanket, shocked by Pinkie's loud shout.
Soon, Princess Celestia and Rainbow Dash galloped in. Applejack wasn't far behind, though still slightly wobbly from earlier.
"Come on out of there, your friends want to see you!" Pinkie said as she pulled the blanket away.
Nothing was underneath... nothing that could be seen, anyway. Shylight's presence was betrayed by an indentation in the sheets.
"Shylight... knock it off, okay?" Dash said.
"At least her magic works," Celestia joked as Shylight ceased her invisibility spell.
As soon as Shylight was visible, Rainbow Dash snatched her up into a hug. "We were worried about you," she said. "Do you feel okay?"
"You... you were worried about... about me?" Shylight asked as her eyes began to puff up with tears.
"We sure were, silly filly!" Pinkie said as she joined in the hug. "You're our friend! That's what friends do when one isn't okay."
"She's right, Shylight," Applejack said. "We even kept watch on you to make sure you didn't go and get worse on us. Ah got the wounds to show for it," she said as she pointed to the bruise on her jaw.
"Oooh, yeah, I got one too!" Pinkie said as she proudly showed off her black eye.
"I... I did that? Now I know I'm... I'm not worthy of being your friend," Shylight cried. "I'm still... still here and the others... the others are gone... because of me... and I hurt you too?"
"That's not true, Shylight," Dash said. "It's partially my fault also."
Luna walked into the room.
"But... but I didn't say anything when you asked about the book," Shylight said through tears.
"I didn't push hard enough," Dash said. "I was scared. You're so fragile... even more so than Fluttershy is, and I was scared if I pushed the issue, you'd never trust any of us..."
Luna turned right back around and left.
"I... Dash... I don't think I'm the one you should apologize to..." Shylight said. She was the only one who had seen Luna walk in and out of the room. "Luna didn't look okay..."
"I'll go talk to my sister," Celestia said as she went off after Luna.
"Princess... wait!" Shylight shouted as best as her tiny voice would allow.
"Yes?" Celestia asked.
"She... she went the other way..." Shylight pointed out.
Luna didn't move. "I messed it up, Tia," she said. "I messed it up again. I almost cost three ponies their lives back there."
"It's not your fault, Luna," Celestia started. "Look at the kind of emotional condition Shylight was in. Could you honestly have expected her to be able to remember everything with all of us pressuring her? ...Unintentional of course, but..."
"That doesn't excuse it, Sister, and you know it," Luna said, still looking up toward the stars. "We're Princesses, Celestia. We make hard decisions every single day for Equestria's sake. They should have pushed her harder. I should have pushed harder... You know our past as well as I. You know the kind of decisions we've had to make for the greater good."
"I do remember," Celestia said as she looked down. "For you, it wasn't that long ago, but I still remember every single one. I never took any of those decisions lightly."
"So why couldn't I do it?" Luna pleaded as she turned to face her sister. "This is all my fault! If I hadn't given that zebra the plant merging spell all those years ago, Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy would still be here and I wouldn't have nearly killed an innocent pony!"
"Sister..." Celestia started as she moved closer to Luna. "There is another possibility we might have to consider."
"As if it couldn't get any worse," Luna said, sighing.
"Your spell may not even have been responsible for this," Celestia said, flatly. "Remember where the accident first occurred?"
"Everfree..." Luna said almost silently.
"We need to begin our own research into the situation," Celestia said as she put a hoof over her sister's shoulders. "And this time, we need to do it together. There are so many species of flora and fauna in the Everfree Forest that we haven't had a chance to properly research for ourselves. Yes, the zebras do know a lot about the forest, but we know almost nothing despite our old castle being there. Something there could be the culprit."
After a moment lost in thought, Luna looked up at her sister. "You're right," she said. "One of these days, I need to learn to put my past behind me - not just for my sake, but for Equestria's."
"You'll get there," Celestia said. "For now, we should head back downstairs and let the others know what we're planning."
"You go on ahead," Luna said as she turned back to look at the sky. "I still have things that I need to reflect on."
Celestia turned and started back downstairs. She stopped momentarily. "Reflection is fine, little sister, but you don't need to keep beating yourself up over this," she stated. "Nopony down there blames you and neither do I."
"Yes, the beauty of unknowns," Luna sighed. "Everypony should know better, but nopony is to blame when it all goes wrong..."
A week soon passed for everypony involved. Princess Celestia had chosen to tell the girls the truth - they didn't know the cause yet, but they would keep looking. They'd do everything in their power to bring Twilight and Fluttershy back.
Shylight and her friends had all returned to Ponyville, and the new alicorn was faced with a decision - how to approach her life.
She had decided to go about it in the only way she knew - assuming both Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy's work.
"Ah got a bad feelin' about this, sugarcube," Applejack said as she and Big Macintosh moved the last boxes of books from the library to Fluttershy's cottage. "Not that you ain't got the talent for this, but two jobs? Ah ain't gonna pretend to know what goes into managin' a library, but Fluttershy's work with the animals took up most of her days."
"I... I appreciate your concern, Applejack, but I think... I think I can handle this," Shylight meekly replied. "I mean, I do have both Twilight and Fluttershy's memories, so I should be... be able to do both their jobs."
Big Macintosh blushed as he lowered the last box of books off of his back. This did not go unnoticed by the two young mares.
"Spill, bro... you just found somethin' she did cute, didn't you?" Applejack teased.
"...Nope," Big Macintosh replied. His blushing became even more apparent.
"You can tell... tell us..." Shylight said. "We won't laugh or... or anything..."
Big Macintosh grimaced and started to sweat. "It's just..." he started to say.
"Would you just come out with it already?" Applejack said mockingly. "We ain't got all day here."
"Well... uh... it's..." he tried to say.
"He... he really doesn't need to say, Applejack..." Shylight said, trying to get her friend to turn down the heat a little bit.
Applejack would have none of it. "It's fine, Shylight... he's just nervous is all. How's he ever gonna find him a mare if he can't even say what's on his mind?"
"It'sthestuttering," Macintosh blurted out quickly, before he could cover his mouth with his forehoof.
Now it was Shylight's turn to blush. "Eep," was all the meek alicorn could say.
"Ah'll be..." Applejack said. "Well, why didn't you just say so in the first place?"
Big Macintosh looked down. "Ah didn't wanna say anything... it's just... Ah kind of like you, Shylight..."
"I... I... wow..." Shylight started to say. "I'm flattered, Big Macintosh, but... but I barely even know me right now. I... I'm just not ready yet."
That caused Big Macintosh to sulk. "Ah understand..." he said, slightly hurt. He started to walk back to Sweet Apple Acres.
"No... no... It's not you..." Shylight said as her fragile emotions began to crash on her. "Why...?"
Applejack embraced her friend. "It's ok, hon. He doesn't like to come out with how he's feelin' about another pony. Ah'll have a talk with him. We'll sort it out."
"But..." Shylight tried to say as she started to weep.
"It's okay," Applejack said reassuringly.
"It's not... not okay," Shylight said. "There's another reason I... I don't want a relationship right now... even though I do... kinda like him... it's just... just that neither Fluttershy or Twilight felt anything like that for him and... and what if the Princesses are able to split me back apart? What if... if I did get to know him better and I was just... just gone one day?"
Applejack sighed. What she was about to say was what she honestly thought, but that didn't make it any easier - especially with her holding on to a very fragile Shylight.
"You can't dwell on that, sugarcube," she said. "You gotta live in the now."
Shylight sniffled. "But..."
"No buts," Applejack said. "Ah miss Fluttershy an' Twilight, an' Ah know you're both of them but not quite either. Right now there's only you. You gotta make your own life, not just do what you think they'd do."
"I... it's... oh!" Shylight said as she quickly darted into the cottage and locked the door. She quickly ran up to Fluttershy's bed and started crying her eyes out.
"Dang it..." Applejack sighed. She tried in vain to get Shylight to open the door, but to no avail. After a few minutes, she went back toward Sweet Apple Acres to talk to Big Macintosh. She was just hoping she didn't lose a friend in the process.
A couple of days later, Applejack and Rainbow Dash were sharing a day off in the park. This usually meant that they were turning the park into their own private little racecourse.
Surely enough, the two were sprinting along on one of the walking paths. Other ponies were just trying to get out of the way.
"She took it that bad, huh?" Dash asked as she tried to surge ahead.
"Yep... Ah didn't wanna say it, but Ah felt Ah had to," Applejack replied as she desperately clung to her lead. "Macintosh was devastated last night. Ah tried to explain why Shylight was scared to even consider it, but you know how hard it is to get through to a colt in love."
"Don't you know it!" Dash cried as she adeptly dodged a power walker and assumed the lead. "Sometimes a guy just don't know when to quit... it's hard to chase them off!"
"Naw, Rainbow, Ah don't mean the usual lecherous trash," Applejack said as she hurdled a trash can somepony had knocked over in an attempt to get off the path. "He's honestly fallen for her. Ah tried explainin' why it might end in heartbreak but he don't care..."
"Maybe it's not that different, then..." Dash mused as she tried to hang on to the lead. They were both rapidly approaching their predetermined finish line.
"Way different, RD... the stallions chasin' you don't take the hint til ya' buck 'em in the jaw," Applejack said as she put everything she had into retaking the lead. "Mac does respect her wishes an' he'll give her space. It's still hurtin' him though."
The two competitive young mares crossed their finish line tied. The rest of the park-goers were relieved that their weekly exercise session had concluded.
A month passed by for all involved. The Princesses had been spending their time scouring the Everfree when they had any spare time at all. They had tested hundreds of plants, insects and various other substances found there to see if any were the cause.
None had proved to be the cause.
"This is frustrating," Princess Celestia said as she picked yet another flower. "There are literally millions of things in this forest between flora and fauna... add other substances such as blood or excretions, and that number just skyrockets. I never thought I'd ever have cause to say this in my lifetime, but this may be a lost cause."
"Sister... we cannot simply give up," Princess Luna said. "We have two ponies depending on us... three if you consider Shylight herself. You've never given up in your life on anything. This would be a horrible time to pick up that bad habit."
"You may be right..." Celestia said, though her confidence that they would find the missing piece of the puzzle was waning. Sighing, she picked up another specimen. "We should head back to the castle for the day and test these things we've found, see if any of them are the cause."
Luna sighed. "Okay, Sister... but that doesn't mean we're giving up, right?"
"Would you really search this place for all eternity, looking for one needle among all this hay?" Celestia said, partially equating the current situation to an old metaphor.
"As far as either of us know, we do have eternity to search," Luna said, "but Shylight doesn't. We must continue."
"Then we'll be back out here at the same time tomorrow," Celestia sighed as she leaped up into the sky.
Luna sighed. "I know this is starting to wear on you, Sister... but we can't stop now," she thought as she too leaped into the air, dodging tree branches and indigenous birds until she reached the open sky.
Shylight was going about her daily routine in Ponyville. Having spent the morning sorting books with Angel and Spike, she was heading to the Carousel Boutique to meet up with Rarity for their weekly spa trip. While they had mutually agreed to put it off until Shylight felt ready to resume the activity, Shylight was ready to try to get some normality back into her life.
As she arrived at the Boutique, she knocked on the door... then freaked out from the noise.
There was no response - nopony was responding... it was complete silence. She couldn't even hear the clopping of hooves against floor.
She knocked again. There was no response this time either. "Rar-Rarity?" she squeaked. "Are you there? It's Shylight... I-I'm here for our weekly spa trip..."
There was still no response.
Shylight looked over to the window. All the lights were out, and then she noticed the "Closed" sign. "Oh... she must be g-gone already..." She turned to go to the spa to see if Rarity had already went on her own.
Both Princesses coughed as yet another test of the materials from the Everfree blew up in their faces. Their plan was to take flowers that did not appear in the Everfree - specifically, two types whose only relation was that they were both flowers - and teleporting them with various substances from the Everfree Forest.
None of the experiments had yielded a hybrid as of yet. Some of them survived the teleport... but most would end up resulting in something catastrophic.
"Well, it's not leaves of Poison Joke," Celestia said, laughing nervously.
"There's only manticore saliva left from today's samples," Luna deadpanned as she magically cleared the soot from her face. She waved an attendant over, then whispered to him. He left in a hurry.
"What was that about?" Celestia asked, her mood lightening from earlier.
"I had the servant fetch us some antidote from the Royal Infirmary," Luna said. "Poison Joke likes to play tricks on ponies who touch it, remember? We must be careful in case its ashes can have the same effect."
"True," Celestia said. "It would be tragic if you ended up shrunken to the size of a field mouse."
"Or if your tongue became so large that you couldn't speak, Sister," Luna said, glancing slyly at her sister.
"Or if your voice ended up really deep like this," Celestia said, her voice acquiring a false deepness with the last two words.
"As if our little ponies don't fear me enough," Luna said, yawning. "But they'd fear you more if your hair ended up so overgrown that you looked like a monster."
Celestia shrieked slightly. "Don't even joke like that, Sister, or you might end up with a limp horn!"
Luna laughed. "Better that than having your wings upside down so you couldn't fly properly!"
Both Royal Sisters enjoyed a good, long laugh.
After a few minutes, Celestia blinked and looked to her sister. "We should go fetch the antidote ourselves."
Luna wiped her eyes - she had laughed so hard that she was crying. "Yes... it has taken entirely too long."
Eventually, the attendant returned with the antidote. After the Sisters each took some of it, they both got up and finished the last experiment.
The result? Nothing.
Luna yawned. "Perhaps we should resume this after a quick rest..."
Celestia looked down at the table. "Go ahead... I'll get a nap later tonight after I put the sun away."
Luna took a quick look at her sister as she left. "I'll be checking to be sure you do. We're not even close to done yet..."
It took a few minutes, but Shylight managed to reach the spa. As she was about to go inside, though, Rarity walked out with a pinkish-purplish earth pony with a cutie mark of a strawberry and a bundle of grapes following her.
Rarity's mood crashed as she saw her friend. "Oh... oh dear, Shylight?" she stammered. "I... was today our normal spa day? I figured..."
Shylight sighed. "No... no, I understand, Rarity... I kind of fig-figured you wouldn't want to stop going just because I wasn't feeling up to it... but who's the new pony?"
"Ah... this?" Rarity said, nervously. "This is... ah... Berry Punch. She accompanied me this week because she was interested in a... a complete makeover for an upcoming event and I... well, I can make outfits for her and the like, but... there are so many aspects of beauty that are better handled at the spa..."
Shylight just looked at Rarity. "It's okay... really... I-I'm not angry or anything..." Her eyes were saying something completely different, though. "I...I should probably head back to the cottage... the books won't s-sort themselves..." She turned and started walking away.
"No... no, you don't have to leave!" Rarity shouted, but Shylight broke into a run as she spoke. Sobbing could be heard in the distance before she got too far away to hear.
"...What was that about?" Berry Punch asked as she approached Rarity.
"I... oh, I... I think I let down a friend..." Rarity said, on the verge of tears. "I... I forgot today was normally our spa day..."
"Eh, the makeover can wait a few hours, Miss Rarity," Berry said. "I've got to get a couple of other things set up anyway before this thing can happen... go check on your friend."
Rarity smiled back at her customer. "Oh, thank you so much for your understanding! I promise you, though, we'll get that makeover finished today!" She ran off in pursuit of Shylight.
The sound of hooves striking apple tree could be heard as far away as the dirt path near Sweet Apple Acres.
"Yeah, hit it again!" Rainbow Dash cried as she watched from a cloud overhead.
Applejack looked up, annoyed, at the blue pegasus. "Or... y'know, you could come on down and help me just a little bit. Y'know Mac ain't been himself lately, an' we're fallin' behind bad."
Rainbow Dash thought about it for a second. "What's in it for me, though, AJ?"
Applejack groaned. "How 'bout a five-second head-start next time we race in the park?" She blinked, and when her eyes opened back up, Rainbow Dash was gone and the sound of hooves cracking against another apple tree reverberated through Sweet Apple Acres.
Rainbow Dash was standing underneath an apple tree surrounded by baskets of fallen apples. "Deal," she said, her smile stretching widely. "Ten seconds if I clear what's left before you do!"
"Oh, you're on," Applejack said, smiling back, "but if Ah finish 'fore you do, Ah get the head start instead!"
"Done and done!" Rainbow Dash said as her hooves struck another apple tree.
A shriek could be heard from the front gate as Dash's hooves struck the tree.
"What was that?" Applejack asked.
"Dunno," Rainbow Dash said. "Wanna go check?"
"So you can get that head start easier?" Applejack said. "Not a chance in..."
There was another shriek as Applejack's hooves struck the tree.
Both Applejack and Rainbow Dash sighed. "We'll both check," they said at the same time.
When they arrived at the gate, they saw a shaking and sobbing Shylight curled up on the other side with her hooves over her ears.
"Bit for your thoughts," Applejack said softly.
Shylight looked up at Rainbow Dash and Applejack with tear-filled eyes. "I... I'm sorry... I was hoping th-that Macintosh would be here but... but then it got so noisy and..."
"It's okay... I didn't realize AJ was being so loud," Rainbow Dash said.
"Me?" Applejack said, feigning surprise. "When you bucked that one tree, you coulda woke the dead, RD!"
"Mine wasn't that loud!" Rainbow Dash protested. "When you were bucking all those trees, it sounded like a war zone!"
"Uh... I-I'll just go..." Shylight said as she turned to leave.
"Nah, you ain't gotta go an' do that, girl," Applejack said. "You know how competitive me an' Rainbow are an' all, remember?"
"She should remember... I'm still sore that we tied for last in the Running of the Leaves," Rainbow Dash said, though her tone suggested she wasn't really that angry.
"C'mon, we'll let Mac know you're here," Applejack said as she opened the gate. "Come on in, girl."
"Oh...ok... if that's fine with y-you..." Shylight said as she slowly walked into the Acres.
Rarity arrived at Fluttershy's, now Shylight's cottage a few moments later. She knocked on the door gently. "Shylight? Shylight, are you there?"
The door soon opened, and Spike responded, tiredly, "Huh? Rarity? She went off a couple hours ago to go see you..."
"You mean she didn't come back?" Rarity said, shocked. "I... we had a little misunderstanding in town today, and I wanted to apologize..."
Spike sighed. "What upset her this time?"
"I..." Rarity began. "I forgot that today was our spa day, so I went there today with a client... she must have gotten upset because I forgot..."
Spike thought for a moment. "Maybe you should go check with the others. Usually, if she gets upset around here, she'll go to Rainbow Dash's place or something until she gets her head back together. It's been pretty rough lately ever since the Macintosh thing."
"Macintosh... thing?" Rarity asked. "By Celestia, I'm really out of the loop, aren't I?"
Spike shrugged. "Everything's so strange around here lately. Living with an owl was hard enough to get used to, but it's hard to get any kind of sleep here with all of Fluttershy's animals around..."
Rarity sighed. "I suppose I'll just check with them, then... thank you, Spike. By the way, I have to acquire some more gems in a few days... do you think you could come along with me to dig them up?"
Spike looked to Rarity. "I want to... but I'll have to ask Shylight first. She needs me now more than ever..."
"I understand... hopefully she can give you up for a couple of hours..." Rarity said as she turned back down the path.
"Rarity, wait!" Spike called out. "I... I miss seeing you around... I hope you and Shylight patch things up."
Rarity gently dabbed a tissue in her eye to clear out a tear. "I hope so too, Spike... I hope so too..." She went on down the path to go check with her friends...