Ten summers have passed.
Fluttershy stepped out of the back door of her cottage into the splendid light of a beautiful midsummer's day, inhaling deeply as she spread her wings to bask in the sun's warmth as it climbed in the east. She smiled benevolently at the bunnies and chipmunks and other assorted little creatures gamboling on her lawn as all of her fine feathered friends filled the air with their cheerful serenade.
It was a special day, and she had a feeling it was going to be a good one.
She paused on her way to the chicken coop at a little hutch, where a white rabbit sat in the doorway chomping greedily on a large, juicy carrot. She spoke to him in a chiding tone. "Take smaller bites, Angel. You'll get a tummy ache if you eat too fast."
The rabbit huffed and dropped the carrot in an elaborate gesture of petty rebellion and scampered down the ramp of his little dwelling. Fluttershy rolled her eyes and leaned down to pick up the half gnawed vegetable by its leafy green stem. "Suit yourself. I'll see if one of the other bunnies would like the rest of this."
She suppressed a chuckle as the little rabbit suddenly wheeled and leapt past her muzzle, form tackling the carrot out of her grasp. He crouched over it possessively and cast her a reproachful glare. With a defiant look on his fuzzy little face he crammed the rest of his breakfast into his mouth, leaving the stem poking out beneath his buck teeth.
Fluttershy tsked and let out a sigh as his ears drooped and his beady eyes grew wide and round. He began to wheeze and pound frantically on the ground with a back leg. He clutched at his throat as his face went from red to purple to blue.
The butter yellow pegasus scooped him up and rapped him deftly on the back with a hoof, which caused the carrot to pop loose like a cork. She gently stroked his head as he coughed and wretched, setting him down on unsteady paws.
Having made sure his breathing had evened out, she gave him a final pat on his little fluffy tail. "I don't tell you these things just to hear myself talk, Angel. Now go get a drink of water and nibble some lettuce, it'll help your throat feel better. Okay?"
The rabbit slouched in defeat and gave her a petulant nod, glaring at the carrot as if it were the cause of his troubles. She gave him a kindly smile as she headed toward the coop. "There's a good bunny. Now I want you to behave yourself while I'm away."
Fluttershy pulled the door open to the sound of agitated clucking, which caused her brow to furrow slightly. Her normally contented chickens seemed highly agitated today.
She took a quick comb count and found that everyone was present and accounted for, and then turned to Henelope, the coop's fore-chicken. "What's got you ladies all worked up this morning?"
She flicked an ear at the reply and cocked an eyebrow. "Really? That must have been some pretty exciting "nothing" to get all your feathers so ruffled."
She looked each of them in the eye with a dubious expression until Elizabeak finally cracked. It was always Elizabeak, the flightiest chicken in the coop. The pale yellow pegasus hadn't even had to kick it up to a level 1 Stare.
Her cackled confession caused Fluttershy's brow to furrow. "Let me get this straight. You're telling me that Celestia came here in the middle of the night and laid a clutch of eggs? That's crazy cluck, Elizabeak. Ponies don't lay eggs."
She ruffled her wings and mustered her patience as the rest of the flock cackled their two bits, their eggshell thin wall of secrecy breached.
With a flick of her tail she took control of the conversation again, stilling their chicken chatter with an upraised wing. "All right, all right. Listen, it's okay. Celestia's my friend, and I'm sure she wouldn't mind you telling me about it, but I'm still not sure I entirely believe it. Where are these eggs?"
Henelope nudged Elizabeak with a pointed glare and caused her fellow hen to meekly hop down from her nest box and lead their pegasus caretaker to the feed sacks she kept stored in the corner. The flighty chicken scampered back to the rest of her sisters as Fluttershy carefully shifted the bags aside.
There in a small pile of straw lay several large, round, whitish grey stones with an angular impression of a gemstone in their surface. They were all about the size of a honeydew melon.
Fluttershy's brow furrowed in puzzlement as she looked them over in the dim sunlight filtering through the chicken wire windows. These clearly weren't eggs. She didn't really know what they might be. Well, they weren't hurting anything being there right now, and she had a busy day ahead of her.
The yellow pegasus replaced the feed sack and turned to her flock with a reassuring smile. "I don't know what this is about, girls. I'll make sure to ask Celestia when I see her tonight. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation."
She gestured a hoof toward the doorway. "Now if you don't mind, I'd like to take some of your extras with me when I go to the trading post, please. Why don't you all go outside and look for grubs while I gather them, okay?"
With that, the gaggle of chickens rushed outside in a scattering of feathers, leaving Fluttershy alone to pluck a basketful of eggs from their nests with a pensive look on her face.
A short time later, Fluttershy was airborne, flying above the treetops with her little cart trailing behind her over the rolling hills and thickets of Equestria's wild, thinly settled interior. Grassy plains and the occasional lake passed beneath her hooves as she galloped through the air.
Here and there, modest farmsteads dotted the landscape, self sufficient little enclaves of independently minded ponies who favored their solitude over the hustle and bustle of the thickly settled coast. None dared come as close to the sprawling wilderness as she did.
A look of concern settled on Fluttershy's face as she spotted a pony picking their way along one of the sparse trails that she herself had shunned in favor of flying. Just seeing a land bound pony traveling alone out here was unusual, but it was even more so because the stranger was heading away from the Saddle Lake trading post, which was the only oasis of civilization on the highway from Canterville to Los Pegasus reachable without wings. In fact, if Fluttershy didn't know better, she'd think the stray pony was headed toward the Everfree Forest.
Today was turning from a special day into a downright strange one.
As Fluttershy drifted down for a landing, she got a better look at the stranger. She was a lavender mare with a dark violet mane and tail adorned with streaks of pink and purple. The soft yellow pegasus couldn't see her face behind a large, rustling, heavily annotated map, but the gleam of livid purple magic suffusing the rustling parchment and the tip of a spiral horn poking over its edge told her it was a unicorn. The stranger wore a pith helmet, and was laden with a large pack and heavy saddlebags.
The cart rattled a bit as the pegasus mare touched down, causing the unusual wayfarer to absently flick an ear, but otherwise she walked straight ahead with her nose buried in her map, seemingly quite oblivious to her surroundings. Fluttershy cleared her throat pointedly, but even this didn't stop the unicorn's progress.
When they were a mere hoof and a half apart the butter yellow pegasus spoke up. "Excuse me, ma'am? You really should look where you're going out here in the wilderness."
This produced a violent reaction on the part of the stranger, who let out a whoop of alarm and reared up and stumbled backwards on her hind legs. Fluttershy tensed in alarm, unable to help in time as the unicorn was pulled off balance by her heavy packs and toppled onto her back with a crunch. There she lay struggling like an overturned turtle, her hooves flailing helplessly as her pith helmet bounced down the trail with a hollow clatter.
Fluttershy shrugged out of her cart's harness and was quickly at the upended mare's side. "Oh dear! I'm so sorry I startled you! Let me help you up."
She hooked fetlocks with the stranger and pulled her up into a sitting position. The unicorn was about Fluttershy's age, give or take a year, with violet eyes that were currently spinning with dizziness as little white stars orbited her head.
The strange mare shook her head to clear it and met the yellow pegasus' gaze with a look of embarrassment tinging her cheeks slightly pink. "I'm sorry. I didn't expect to meet anypony out here."
An expression at once wistful and a bit cagey flitted across her lavender features. "Well, not entirely, I mean..."
A bright smile appeared on her face as she extended a hoof. "I'm Twilight Sparkle, from Canterville."
She received a perfunctory hoof shake in return. "Fluttershy."
After an awkward lull, the pegasus mare cocked her head inquisitively with a neutral expression on her face. "You're a long way from home, Miz. Sparkle. Are you lost?"
The lavender unicorn pawed at the rustling map laying on the trail at her hooves. "Um... not... exactly?"
Fluttershy rustled her wings and flicked an ear. "Well, there's nothing out here but scrub and trees. If you keep going the way you're going, you'll wind up in the Everfree Forest. And believe me, nopony wants to go there."
Twilight Sparkle's ears laid back as she climbed to her hooves, grunting a bit under the weight of her traveling kit. "That's not an accurate statement. The Everfree Forest is precisely where I'm headed."
She craned her neck to look past her saddle bags with her horn sparking to life. Her errant pith helmet rose from among the stones on the path and floated over in a cloud of magic to settle itself back on her head.
The unicorn flinched back with a mild start as she turned to face Fluttershy's steady, aquamarine gaze flashing beneath a furrowed brow. "I don't mean to poke my snout into anypony else's business, but I couldn't be any more serious when I say that nopony wants to go there, and that means you too, Miz. Sparkle."
The lavender mare swallowed hard and shuffled back a step as the pegasus' eyes bored into her. "It's terribly dangerous. There are creatures in there that are best left alone."
Twilight Sparkle rallied, her violet eyes glittering as she faced the piercing stare with a slight upward canting of her muzzle. "Like the White Mare, for example?"
Fluttershy blinked, her ears swiveling back as she took a step back herself. "Um... What?"
The faintest hint of a smirk drew back the corner of Twilight Sparkle's mouth. "You're a local, right?"
The pale yellow pegasus ruffled her wings uncomfortably. "M-maybe I am..."
A bit more of a smirk, coupled with an intense gleam appearing in the lavender mare's eyes. "Surely you've heard the old pony tales, then. A giant white mare with the wings of a pegasus and the horn of a unicorn who haunts the depths of the old forest."
The smirk became an avid grin. "Or maybe you've even seen her."
Fluttershy lashed her tail and pursed her lips, trying to maintain an even demeanor. "The White Mare is a myth, Miz. Sparkle. She doesn't exist like they say in the legends."
The unicorn's whole body tensed, and the pegasus mare felt herself nervously recoiling from the young mare's manic glare. "She HAS to exist!" She wheeled and jabbed a hoof toward the sun. "And THAT is the proof, plain as day!"
Twilight Sparkle began to advance on Fluttershy, who seized up, torn between fleeing from a mare who was clearly a few bunnies short of a warren and interposing between her and what the yellow pegasus knew for a fact really did dwell in the depths of the Everfree.
The unicorn's voice took on a stridently pedantic edge. "How does the sun rise every day and the moon rise every night? Huh?"
Fluttershy gave a nervous shrug. "I don't know. They... they just do."
The lavender mare snorted. "Right, and the clouds just move on the wind and drop rain all on their own. That's rich coming from somepony like you. "
The pegasus ruffled her wings nervously as Twilight Sparkle pressed her case. "You have to have seen the Hearth's Warming story sometime, right? Unicorns used to do it, thousands of years ago."
Fluttershy blew a loose strand of her mane out of her eyes. "The Hearth's Warming pageant is for little foals. It's... nice, but it's just a story."
Twilight Sparkle shrugged out from under her load and started fishing through one of her laden panniers. "There's no such thing as just a story, Buttershy was it? Here's an even more telling story."
She pulled a weathered tome emblazoned with a stylized unicorn head out and started flipping through it with her magic. Her attitude had shifted from confrontational to eagerly discursive. "Look! Look at this!"
She floated the book up before the bemused pegasus' face, reciting the text accompanying the pictures as if she knew it by heart. "Once upon a time in the magical land of Equestria, there were two regal sisters who ruled together and created harmony for all the land. To do this, the eldest used her unicorn powers to raise the sun at dawn. The younger brought out the moon to begin the night."
She snapped the book shut, narrowly missing Fluttershy's snout. "But things broke down. The younger sister got jealous and tried to take over, vowing to shroud the world in eternal night. They fought. The elder sister used some kind of super powerful ancient magical device called the Elements of Harmony to banish her sister forever to the moon. Then she vanished without a trace not long after."
Twilight Sparkle gave a casual shrug, as if what she was saying was perfectly obvious. "Records are pretty dodgy from the times before the Republic was founded, but you'd think somepony would have taken over such an important task. But in all the records in all the archives there just isn't any mention of a unicorn or group of unicorns doing that particular job. For all the arguing and politics around the Constitutional Convention, there's not a single line of in all that legal boilerplate about who gets to make the sun and moon come up."
Fluttershy softly cleared her throat and pawed at the ground, her gaze flicking in the direction of her cottage and the Everfree. "W-well, supposing somepony like that did exist, and I'm not saying they do, then I don't think they'd want anypony bothering them, especially on the longest day of the year when they'd probably be really busy." She nodded pointedly over her shoulder toward her cart. "And... um... speaking of being busy. I really should be going, and you should too. Not to the Everfree forest, though."
Twilight Sparkle's eyes narrowed in a searching look as she stowed her tome back in her saddlebags. "Why do I get the feeling that you're hiding something..?"
The butter yellow pegasus failed to stop herself from wincing, but rallied back with a stern glare. "L-listen, I don't really care about all of your made up stories and silly old myths."
She wavered a bit at the hurt look that washed across the unicorn mare's face. "I mean, I can tell they're really important to you."
Fluttershy drew herself up with a rustle of her wings, asserting herself like she'd been taught by a certain somepony she was definitely not going to mention right now. "But honestly they're not worth losing your life over. I can't in good conscience let you go anywhere near the Everfree forest. I hate to threaten ponies, but I've got a friend who's a Ranger, and if you don't head back to the trading post and then go home I'm gonna go get her and then you'll really be sorry."
Twilight Sparkle hung her head and pulled her pith helmet off with her hooves. "You seem like a nice pony for somebody so obtuse, Flutterbye, which is why I am sorry... About THIS!"
With a surge of magic the helmet launched from her hooves and flew straight at the startled pegasus mare's face, enveloping her vision in darkness with a THOOMP and sending her reeling back onto her bottom. Her ears swiveled wildly as she heard the sound of galloping hooves clatter past.
Fluttershy flapped her wings as she struggled with her fore hooves to pull the pith helmet off of her face. It came loose with a pop, and she wheeled to see the fleeing unicorn racing up the path as fast as her hooves could carry her under the unbalanced load of her half donned pack and saddlebags.
The pale yellow pegasus brought her hoof to her mouth as she watched the distant figure trip and tumble down the gentle slope leading into a thicket that Fluttershy knew was the home to an extensive colony of..
"YAAIIAAH! SNAKES! SNAAAAKES!"
The frantic unicorn came stumbling out of the brush backwards, leaving her luggage hopelessly tangled among the stinging nettles and burr plants. Fluttershy winced as the panicked mare collided solidly with a birch tree, shaking the branches and dislodging a rather large nest of...
The pegasus mare watched in horror as Twilight Sparkle thrashed and twirled and staggered in little circles desperately trying to shake the beehive off the tip of her horn as its angry denizens swarmed around her with a vengeance.
She careened over a fallen log and rolled rump over teakettle into a large burrow among the roots of an oak tree. A cloud of brownish green stench wafted into the air, while a family of skunks made an indignant but unhurried exit from their underground home. A wail of disgust and dismay echoed from the depths of the reeking hole. "AUUUUGH! IT SMELLS SO BAD IT HUUURRRRTS!"
Fluttershy brought a hoof to her face and hung her head with a sigh.
Twilight Sparkle sat dejectedly in a washtub by the stream that ran past Fluttershy's house, croup deep in tomato soup as the gentle pegasus poured another can down her mane, neck, withers, and back. Her hide was crisscrossed with scratches and scrapes and dotted with angrily puckered welts from a fusillade of bee stings. She winced and let out a little sob as Fluttershy gripped a long handled scrub brush in her teeth and started to work it across her back in a tight circular motion.
The pale yellow mare spoke softly out of the side of her mouth, her voice made slightly nasal by the clothespin pinching her nostrils shut. "I'm sorry if it hurts, Miz. Sparkle, but the scent just won't come out if you don't scrub it vigorously. I've got a nice salve for your bee stings, and it should make your other cuts and scrapes feel better too."
The lavender unicorn slouched a bit lower with her dripping bangs hanging over her eyes. Her voice came low and miserable. "I guess you think I'm just the stupidest pony you ever met."
Fluttershy kept scrubbing patiently, replying in an even tone of voice. "Not at all. You seem like a very intelligent pony."
She cleared her throat softly as she adjusted her grip on the scrub brush and came around the washtub to face her. "I'm really hoping you're smart enough to realize that the trouble you got into on the trail back there is nothing compared to what could happen to you in the Everfree Forest."
Twilight Sparkle seemed to deflate even further as she averted her gaze and spoke in a wretched, tiny voice. "Okay... You win... I'll go home."
Fluttershy recoiled as she saw tears begin to roll down the unicorn's cheeks and plip plop into the tomato soup. She pawed at the ground uncomfortably, the urge to hug the miserable little pony in front of her conflicting strongly with the urge not to reek of skunk and tomato, especially today, of all days. "Um... If you don't mind my asking... Why is it so important to you to find the White Mare anyway?"
The lavender mare dragged a foreleg across her snout with a sniffle and met her rescuer's gaze with tearful eyes. "It's my calling. Finding out answers... solving mysteries... discovering the truth."
She rolled sideways on her right flank to show the yellow pegasus her left cutie mark: a magnifying glass over a bright pink star burst. "Ever since I was a little filly I've been fascinated with unexplained phenomena of all kinds."
The earlier gleam she'd had in her eye returned a little as she settled back onto her haunches. "There's magic out there, Fluttershy, and not just the mundane little dweomers and cantrips we use in our humdrum daily lives. There are treasures and miracles hiding just outside our field of vision that would take our breath away if we only dared to look. There are forces at work that we can't begin to understand, and won't as long as ponies just keep their snouts in the grass and never look beyond the next mouthful."
She bobbed her horn toward the sun, rising towards its noon time zenith. "Who or What's been raising the sun and moon for a thousand years is one of biggest mysteries out there. To solve it would be... well... it would be amazing."
The sodden mare's face fell as she slouched petulantly and looked away, muttering to herself. "And then maybe my friends and colleagues wouldn't tease me anymore about being 'obsessed' or 'a loony'." Her ears drooped miserably as she looked down at the constellation of welts running down her side. "I hear it all the time, and it hurts. It hurts worse than any of these stings ever could."
Fluttershy bit her lip uncertainly as the unicorn let out a mournful sigh that stuttered into a soft sob. "And they're all gonna have a good laugh when I come back empty hooved... again, with nothing but bandages and a lingering odor to show for it."
The yellow pegasus cast a glance over her shoulder at the expanse of the Everfree looming at the far edge of her back yard. She leaned forward, and spoke to her despondent guest in a low, urgent voice. "Miz. Sparkle... Can I call you Twilight?"
When the lavender unicorn nodded she continued. "Twilight listen. I'm... I'm going to let you in on a secret, but I need you to make me a promise."
Twilight Sparkle's ears perked at the mention of secrets, and she craned her neck forward with bated breath. "O-okay."
Fluttershy set aside the scrub brush and placed her hooves on the edge of the tub, her gaze so clear and stern that a shiver ran up the unicorn mare's spine. "I know what it's like to be laughed at, for a lot of reasons including nopony believing what you're telling them and thinking you made it all up, but I need you to swear that you won't tell anypony else what I'm going to tell you."
Twilight gave a halting nod. "All... all right. I promise."
With a brief nod of acceptance, her pegasus rescuer leaned further forward. "Well, I'm really sorry about it, but I was kind of fibbing when I said that the White Mare doesn't exist. I have seen her."
The breath caught in Twilight Sparkle's throat, a look of rapt attention spreading across her face. "What... what is she like?"
Fluttershy rubbed her foreleg with a hoof as she ruffled her wings self consciously and looked away. "Beautiful... And sad... Elusive when she wants to be... Its honestly amazing how somepony as big as a barn door who kind of glows in the dark can move so fast and disappear so suddenly. If you happen to look her in the eyes... well... it's kind of like what you said earlier about deep, ancient magic. Its like you're standing on a windswept hilltop and the horizon is looking back at you."
As she gravely met Twilight's gaze, she saw that her unicorn confidant was tearing up again, but a smile was blooming on the lavender mare's muzzle. She surged forward in the wash tub with the soup sloshing around her haunches, and threw her forelegs around Fluttershy's withers, pulling her into a tight, squishy, tomato and skunk scented hug that made the pale yellow pegasus let out a squeak and gag a little before she realized the unicorn mare was trembling.
Twilight whispered in a voice thick with emotion. "F-fluttershy... Th-thank you..."
Fluttershy nodded and gently patted her newfound friend on the back, feeling that uncanny deep connection she'd felt all those years ago well up inside her.
They disengaged finally when the pegasus mare couldn't take the smell any longer and pried her guest's hooves loose by levering her wings open. She swallowed hard to keep from throwing up a little in her mouth as she looked down at the tomato soup staining her pale, butter yellow chest and shoulders. "D-don't mention it."
With a shaky laugh, Twilight made a zipping motion across her lips. "I won't. I promise."
Fluttershy gave a perfunctory nod, and accepted a freshly opened can of tomato soup from Angel, who stood at the ready with a clothespin on his twitchy little nose and a can opener in his paws. Twilight shuddered in discomfort as the thick red soup got dumped over her horn and ran in rivulets down her muzzle and drooping ears.
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.