The expansive gardens of Canterlot were gorgeous and filled to bursting with an unimaginable amount of flora and fauna. Everywhere a pony looked they would find a different spectacle. The colours melded and swirled to form a beautiful array of flowers and other colourful plants. Animals of all kinds moved through the trees and across the ground, chattering to each other as they went.
Even now, as heavy rain drenched them, the gardens were still amazing. In fact, the downpour of water added a mysterious, almost mystical effect. Water droplets coated the green of the leaves and dewdropped on the flowers. The sound of the rain as it assaulted the various leaves and branches gave it an eerie, otherworldly feel.
Celestia sat in the garden, surrounded by drenched flowers, thick trees, and the droning sound of the storm. Her fur was soaked, and her grey mane hung heavily, weighed down by the water. Her wings were closed firmly at her sides to protect the delicate feathers.
A few curious animals had occasionally hopped over to her to investigate. Celestia had given some of them a simple passing glance, while others she completely ignored. None of them stayed around for long. Even they, as animals, could see that she wanted to be left alone.
She sighed, staring at the muddy ground beneath her hooves.
Things had been getting better. They really had. The Princess was far from completely recovered, but she had definitely started feeling better.
And then it had happened. Why did it have to happen? It was salt in the wound; a twisting of the knife. Her mood had instantly fallen, and she had been trapped within depression once again.
She lifted her head up and stared at the sky, regarding whatever higher powers may have been up there, beyond her.
"Damn it," she said, barely above a whisper, "why are you making this so hard?"
A tear, lost within the endless cascade of raindrops, fell to the ground.
"Thank ya kindly!"
Applejack smiled brightly and waved a hoof to the stallion who had just purchased a basket of apples. He smiled in return and walked off into town, carrying his bounty.
Applejack sighed contentedly. Business had been excellent today. There hadn't been too many customers so that she was constantly attending to their needs, but when they did show up, they had always bought a fairly substantial amount of her merchandise. This allowed her many extended moments of relaxation.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day in Ponyville. The sun was shining brightly and there were no clouds in the sky above. Applejack could see clouds elsewhere in the distance, but none were within the vicinity of her town. When it came to standing by the stall and selling apples, these were the days she looked forward to the most.
The cheery voice rang out over the mild cacophony of the busy Ponyville market. Applejack turned to look at its source.
"Well, howdy Pinkie Pie! Howdy Fluttershy," she greeted the two approaching ponies.
Pinkie bounded over, full of her usual energy and her poofy mane and tail bouncing behind her. Fluttershy followed at a more reserved pace, although she smiled at Applejack as she approached.
"Howdy!" Pinkie responded as she reached the apple stand, "How's apple selling going today?"
Applejack chuckled. "It's th' perfect kind o' day, working th' stand. Lots o' bits, but also lots o' time in-between customers."
"Sounds awesome!" Pinkie said enthusiastically, "Gotta have fun while you work! And sometimes just relaxing is all the fun you need!"
"Y'all got that right. So, how ya been, Pinkie?"
"Great! I was just walking through the square looking for a tambourine when I saw Fluttershy walking too. And so we decided to walk together because that's a lot less boring. Although, I wouldn't say Ponyville is boring, even if I am just walking through it. But it's less boring by comparison."
Applejack blinked. "Rii'…" she said before turning her attention to the pegasus behind the pink pony. "And how 'bout you, Fluttershy? I haven't seen much o' you lately."
"Oh, um…I'm fine, thank you. I was just taking a walk through town," she responded quietly.
"Well, that's good ta hear," Applejack smiled, "I'd heard ya weren't doin' so well. But it's nice ta see ya out an' about. Ya look like yer feelin' better."
"Oh, I am. I feel much better," Fluttershy said, glancing at the ground, "I'm not perfect yet, but…"
"I knew y'all'd be fine."
"Um, and how about you?" Fluttershy asked, wanting to be polite.
Applejack adjusted her hat. "Well, ya ain't got much time ta be feelin' bad when there's work ta do."
"Yeah," Pinkie chimed in, "There's lots to do at the bakery, and you have to buck the trees and sell the apples."
"Tha's right. I think we've all done well. We've all healed and recovered, wouldn't ya say?"
Fluttershy and Pinkie nodded for a moment, before glancing at each other and sharing an unsure look.
"What?" Applejack enquired, catching this.
"Well, there's…" Fluttershy began, only to be interrupted by a shout from behind them.
The three ponies turned and saw Rainbow Dash land on the road not far from them and trot over. "Wazzup?"
Pinkie instantly smiled and said, "Not much. WAZZAAAP with you?!"
Dash laughed in response. "WAZAAAAAAP wit you?!"
Applejack simply stared. "Uhhhh….you two okay?"
Pinkie giggled. "Of course we are. We're just asking each other what's up."
Applejack opened her mouth to respond, but found no words to adequately portray her incredulity.
Dash snickered. "So, seriously. What's up everypony?"
"Fluttershy and I were walking and we saw Applejack running her stand," Pinkie responded, "so we decided to come over and chat with her."
"Cool, cool," Dash said, turning her attention to the meek pegasus, "Hey Fluttershy! How are you?"
Fluttershy hid behind her mane slightly. "Um, I'm fine. Why does everypony keep asking me specifically?"
"'Cus we were worried about ya, sugarcube," Applejack replied.
"Oh, um…" Fluttershy glanced at her three friends modestly, "Sorry."
Dash chuckled. "Don't worry about it, Fluttershy. We're just glad for you."
"And I just know you're doing awesome, Dashie! I saw that awesome trick you were working on yesterday!" Pinkie exclaimed giddily.
"Ugh, don't remind me of that," Dash responded with irritation, "That trick took like six hours to perfect. I'm still aching from the crashes…"
"Yeah, but I saw it when it was done!" Pinkie continued, "I mean, it didn't look good when you crashed into that apple tree, but then you picked yourself back up and kept going! And then you did it!"
"Hang on, time out," Applejack interrupted, "You crashed into one of mah apple trees? Dang it, Dash, I told ya not ta practice over mah orchards!"
"Forget that," Dash said dismissively, "You saw me crash into the tree and when I finally got it? Those were like two hours apart!"
"Yup!" Pinkie chirped.
"You were watching me for two whole hours?"
"Well, duh! I didn't have anything better to do!"
Dash stared in silence for a moment. "You…I don't…ugh, you're so random…"
Pinkie giggled. "That's me!"
Dash shook her head.
"Funny," Applejack observed, "You work more on your tricks than your actual work, Dash. You do still work as a weather pony, right?"
"Well, yeah, but there hasn't been much for me to do lately. The weather schedule's been calm."
Applejack shrugged. "I guess so. It's just good ta see ya back to yer old self."
"Well, everypony else is back to their old selves, so why not me?"
"Well…" Pinkie said in a subdued voice, "Not everypony."
"Huh? Who do you mean?" Dash responded, intrigued.
"Hello, everypony!!" Rarity's voice cut through the air, interrupting Pinkie Pie. The four heads turned to see their unicorn friend trotting over to them.
"Oh, hello Rarity!" Fluttershy greeted.
"Hello, darling! What a pleasure to see you!" Rarity responded, "I see you're out and about with friends! How wonderful!"
Fluttershy flushed slightly. "Is this going to happen every time I see you girls?"
Rarity was confused, so Applejack explained. "Every one of us has already said how happy we were ta see her out."
"Oh," Rarity replied, "Well, it's still wonderful! How are you all doing on this fabulous day?"
The previous discussions repeated themselves for a third time as Rarity was brought up to date on the conversation.
"Well," she said after everypony had finished speaking, "That's definitely great news! I'm so happy for everypony."
"Yeah…" Applejack sighed, "It's a beautiful day, and Ponyville looks just like it always has."
Rarity smiled in agreement. "Everypony's back to their old selves."
For the third time, Pinkie and Fluttershy shared an uneasy glance. Applejack again noticed it. "Girls, y'all've been tryin' to say something but keep gettin' interrupted. What is it ya wanna say?"
Fluttershy sighed. "Thank you, Applejack" she said quietly, "Well, you all keep saying that everypony is feeling okay, but…"
"There's definitely still one who isn't," Pinkie said, concluding Fluttershy's sentence.
"Who?" Rarity asked.
"Twilight…" Fluttershy whispered, as if afraid the scholarly unicorn would hear her.
"We haven't seen her in, like, four days," Pinkie chimed in, "In fact, I've only seen her once since Canterlot."
"Four days…sounds about the same fer me," Applejack agreed.
Fluttershy and Rarity both nodded as well.
"She came out to see each of us four days ago," Pinkie observed, "and then nothing!"
"What?" Dash exclaimed incredulously, "Is she still hiding in the basement?"
The four others each gave her a perplexed look.
Dash frowned. "Oh…oops. I wasn't supposed to say that."
"Why?" Rarity pressed, "What's she doing in her basement? Are you telling me that's why we hadn't seen her for ten days straight, and now an additional four days? What's she doing?"
"Well," Dash responded, rubbing the back of her neck, "to be honest…I have no clue."
She was met with flustered expressions.
"I don't know what to say, really. Four days ago, I went to see her. You know, to check up on her. I found her downstairs in the basement and apparently she had been down there since Canterlot."
"But what was she doing?" Rarity repeated her earlier question.
"Well," Dash paused, "I don't know if I should say."
Applejack shook her head. "Rainbow, I think you should tell us. Obviously somethin's up with her, and it's our duty as her friends to help her out if we can. Unless she told you not to tell us, then y'all can tell us."
Dash paused again before stepping closer to the group and speaking. "You all know Twilight has that big TV right?" She was met with four nods. "Well, when I found her down there she was watching a recording of the funeral on it!"
The others responded with shocked expressions.
"And she was freeze-framing it," Dash continued, "and looking really closely at it. She was studying the footage."
The five shared an uneasy glance.
"Did you ask her what exactly she was doing?" Rarity asked.
"Not really, I was too flustered," Dash responded, "Then she asked me what I saw."
"Beg pardon?" Applejack interjected, confused.
"She said, What do you see?" Dash frowned. "Obviously, I didn't see anything, but it seemed like she could see something."
The group gave each other worried looks. "That…doesn't sound good," Rarity spoke.
"And she's been doing that for fourteen days now?" Pinkie asked, troubled.
"Well, Spike said she'd been down there since we all got back," Dash continued, "I mean, I convinced her to go out and spend that one day with you all, but now it looks like she's back."
"Well," Applejack interrupted, "this is all speculation. We don't know fer sure if she's still doin' that."
"But," Fluttershy replied meekly, "if she is still there, then…"
"Then it's definitely something to worry about," Rarity concluded.
The group of friends sat in silence for a moment, contemplating the situation.
"I wish she'd just tell us what she was doing," Pinkie muttered.
"Well, maybe Twilight would tell us if we asked her," Applejack responded.
"Ask me what?"
The five suddenly stiffened and whipped their heads around to look behind them. Standing not far off and well within earshot was the subject of their conversation; Twilight Sparkle. She wore an expression that seemed to be a mix of scepticism and suspicion.
"Oh, hi Twilight!" Dash said nervously, drawing out the second word, "We didn't see you there!"
"Yeah, I noticed," she responded, stepping over to join them.
"Um," Dash faltered, "how are you?"
"Fine. Were you girls talking about me behind my back?"
"No, of course not!" Pinkie suddenly exclaimed, "Why would we do that?"
"We were just," Rarity said before pausing, "thinking about you. Wondering where you've been and what you've been doing."
"Oh," Twilight responded, glancing around, "Is that all?"
The others nodded and Applejack spoke up. "We're just all a li'l worried about ya. We haven't been seein' much o' ya."
"I see. Well, I'm here now, aren't I? I've just been a little busy, that's all," she replied, defensively.
"Whoa there, sugarcube, nopony's mad at'cha. We just tend ta get concerned when the five'a us only see you once in fourteen days."
"Oh, well don't worry about me," Twilight said dismissively, "I'm fine, honest. I'm just a little caught up in studying something."
"Studyin' what?" Applejack enquired.
Twilight sighed, this being the third time she had been asked that question. "It's nothing important, really…"
"Darling, it must be important if you've been spending two weeks examining it," Rarity offered.
"Well, I mean…" Twilight backpedalled, "It sorta is important, but…well, I really don't know yet. That's why I'm studying it. Look, if it turns out to be important, I'll let you all know. But seriously, don't worry about me. I'm fine."
Twilight's statement carried with it a feeling of finality, and none of her friends decided to press the issue. The six sat in uneasy silence for nearly a full minute.
"Hey!" Dash suddenly spoke up after struggling to think of a new topic of conversation, "Did you all hear about that nut up in Canterlot?"
"Oh, that unicorn named Night Wish? Oh yes, it's such an outrageous story!" Rarity replied.
"Is that what his name was? Gee, it's not surprising then, is it?" Pinkie joined in.
"Such a mean thing to do…" Fluttershy softly replied.
"Wait," Twilight cut in, holding up her hoof, "Stop. What are you all talking about?"
"My goodness, Twilight, you really have been isolating yourself too much. You haven't heard?" Rarity said in surprise. Twilight shook her head in response.
"Well, as you probably know, Celestia holds an open court every day, where ponies can come and ask her questions, or request the government's assistance in something," Rarity began telling the tale.
Twilight nodded. It was a time honoured tradition of the Princess and she had recently started doing it again since the grim events of two weeks ago.
"Yeah," Pinkie picked up, "so yesterday, this dark blue unicorn named Night Wish came into her court all excited about something!"
Rarity glanced at Pinkie, slightly miffed at having been interrupted, but continued speaking. "Right, so he ran right up to the Princess and the first thing he said was, She's alive!!"
Twilight's eyes widened in surprise.
"The Princess was visibly shocked, and asked him to explain himself, but he was way too excited and couldn't really speak clearly. Some ponies believe he was mentally challenged but, mind you, that's speculation."
"Wow…" Twilight muttered, "What happened next?"
"Well, Celestia tried to calm him down and get him to make sense, but he kept saying things like Trust me and It's true! Eventually, Celestia had him thrown out. Open court was cancelled for the rest of the day and there wasn't one today either. I think the whole event has dug up some of her earlier depression."
"Shoot, that jus' ain't right," Applejack commented, "Whether he was goin' on some crazy conspiracy, or if he was pullin' some hoax. Either way, it's just awful."
Twilight stood still, processing this information. "Really?" she asked incredulously, "That's pretty wild. And you said it upset the Princess?"
Rarity nodded. "I think it really upset her. Poor darling. That is most definitely not the kind of thing you need to hear when trying to get over a tragedy."
Twilight also nodded, glancing away, deep in thought.
"I just can't believe somepony would do something like that…" Fluttershy said sadly.
"I know, right?" Dash responded, "What kind of nerve does he have to come up with a claim like that? It's pretty hard to deny who was sitting that coffin…I mean we all saw her!"
Four of the other ponies voiced their agreement, albeit quietly due to the touchy subject. However, Twilight didn't answer.
"Found 'em, Twilight," came the voice of Spike as he approached the group carrying two large glass bottles.
"Oh," Twilight replied, turning her attention to him. She levitated the bottles from him and thanked him.
"Listen everypony," she spoke as she turned to her friends, "I gotta go. Got something important to do. Nice talking to you all. Bye!"
Without a moment for response, she turned and began to trot away. Her five friends all stared after her, confused.
"Spike, you coming?" she called over her shoulder.
"Um…I'll catch up to you, all right?" Spike replied.
"Well don't be long, I still need your help," she said as she galloped quickly in the direction of the library.
"Well…that was mighty strange," Applejack observed.
"So what else is new?" Spike muttered dryly.
"She sure seemed to be in a hurry to get out of here," Fluttershy noticed.
"I'm still surprised she came outside today," Spike said, "Was she talking to you girls about her, um, project?"
The five mares shared a glance. "No," Rarity responded, "but we certainly were."
"I guess Rainbow Dash told you what she saw in the basement," Spike presumed. He was met with a series of nods. "I gotta say, everypony, I'm really starting to get worried about her," he continued.
"She doesn't seem to want to talk about it," Pinkie remarked, "I mean, I'm sure whatever it is that's bugging her, we can all help her out."
Spike just shook his head. "I dunno girls," he groaned, "I just hope it all works out. I gotta go, though. Just…help me keep an eye on her. I'm afraid something's gonna happen…"
Spike waved to his friends and turned to follow Twilight's path to the library.
When he was gone, Fluttershy turned to her friends and said, "What are we going to do girls?"
Applejack shrugged. "Not much we can do right now, sugarcube. We just gotta wait 'n see what happens."
Three loud knocks fell upon the wooden door.
"Hello? Anyone home?" Twilight's voice called into the building.
The door to Zecora's hut opened and the enigmatic zebra stood in the doorway smiling. "Ah, Twilight! You are finally here. I was wondering when you would appear," she greeted in her familiar rhyming style of speech.
Twilight smiled and stepped through the threshold into Zecora's exotically decorated house. The various masks, trinkets and containers of unknown liquids had once frightened her, but she had since grown used to them. It almost made Twilight laugh when she thought back to the days when she had thought of Zecora as an Evil Enchantress.
"Thank you for coming with such great speed. I trust you have brought me what I need," Zecora said as the two moved to the centre of the room.
"Yeah, I've got them right here," Twilight replied as she used her magic to retrieve two glass bottles from her saddlebags. Inside each of them was a swirling, restless flame. One was green and the other was dark blue. Carrying them carefully, she brought them over to one of the shelves full of other containers.
"Ah, excellent! A young dragon's flame. Wildly dancing and uneasy to tame. Containing powers and mysterious force, it carries its cargo along its course."
"Yup. It moves stuff," Twilight said absent-mindedly as she once again found herself examining the various potions and liquids.
"Thank you again for this generous donation. Perhaps now I can create a potion of transportation. You're certain it's all right if I accept this gift? I would hate for you to succumb to erroneous thrift," Zecora continued.
"Oh, it's no problem at all," Twilight responded pleasantly, "It's not like a dragon's flame is a closely guarded secret. I'm sure unicorns have studied it before." As Twilight spoke, her eyes fell upon an otherwise non-noteworthy bottle of blue liquid. It was labelled only with an insignia of the moon.
"So green is for She who presides over day, and blue for the one sadly taken away?" Zecora enquired.
Twilight frowned. Zecora's question, combined with thoughts stirred up by the moon symbol, made her feel uncomfortable. She sat in thought for a few moments.
"Twilight? Are you all right?" Zecora asked concernedly.
"Oh, I'm sorry Zecora. Yes that's correct," she responded.
Zecora gazed at her thoughtfully. "Something is clearly troubling your mind," she spoke, "Something frustrating, and it's being confined."
"Sorry," Twilight muttered, glancing at the ground, "I've been very busy lately, and there's a lot on my mind. I've been," she paused, "studying something."
"Tell me, young Twilight, what fills your thoughts?" Zecora said, stepping towards the young unicorn, "It is quite clear to see that you're very distraught."
Twilight turned to face her, but her hooves slipped on something on the ground and she lost her balance. She artfully sidestepped to keep from tumbling and glanced down at what had caused the problem. A few loose papers littered the ground, all with the exotic language of Zecora's native tongue written all over them.
"It's probably nothing, Zecora," Twilight replied after she had sustained her balance, her eyes briefly lingering on the papers, "It's just something odd I noticed, and I'm looking into it. Once I figure it out, I'll let everyone know what it is."
Twilight lifted her gaze from the ground and turned it forward. Black and white stripes filled her vision. Zecora was suddenly uncomfortably close and staring intently. Twilight couldn't help but yelp lightly in surprise.
"You are not being completely honest, Twilight," Zecora spoke slowly, "Of the past few weeks, this has been your highlight. Studying hard and hiding away, why is it that you do not want to say?"
Twilight unconsciously found herself backing up. Despite all of her stereotypical thoughts and initial impressions having faded away, a small part of her still found the zebra intimidating.
"I-I…" she stammered, "I don't want to say anything just in case it turns out to be false. I want to have all the facts and data first."
Zecora stepped forward after her. Her gaze was intense, but it was not malicious. Rather, it was imploring. "Twilight, do not misinterpret this exchange, but I must say you are acting quite strange."
Twilight shifted her eyes around the room and took another step back. Her rump connected forcibly with the shelves behind her, disturbing the countless potions and containers upon it. She glanced quickly behind her to see if any of them were falling.
"Ah!" she exclaimed as she reached out with her magic and caught three glass containers before they could tumble from their places upon the shelf. "Sorry!" she said quickly as she ensured that the containers remained in their proper place.
"Twilight, beware! Do take care!"
As if to punctuate the point, the air was filled with the harsh sound of breaking glass. Twilight winced and glanced downward to see what had fallen. With a frown, she saw that it was the bottle of blue flame she had delivered not two minutes ago. The glass bottle sat shattered on the floor, and the flames were dancing along the ground.
Twilight groaned. "Darn…Sorry, Zecora." Twilight took a quick moment to ensure that nothing else would fall, before returning her attention to the misfortune that had just occurred.
"Sorry," she repeated, "I'll go get another bottle right away."
"Don't fret Twilight, it was not your fault," Zecora responded, "No need to dress your wound with salt. The damage caused was really quite small, and I thank you for letting nothing else fall."
Twilight didn't respond. She was staring at the flames on the ground. Slowly they flowed along like spilt water. Within moments, they reached the pile of papers she had nearly slipped on a moment earlier.
The unicorn watched as the flames surrounded the papers rapidly and began to burn them. The hungry flames devoured the papers within seconds and turned to blue smoke, which rose up and was swept out the open window into the air outside.
Twilight stared at the window, even as the smoke disappeared from sight, eyes wide. Zecora followed her gaze.
"Well, there go my notes on White Devil's Flower," Zecora said forlornly, "I can see now the dragon fire's power. I suppose there is not much I can do, for out of the window, the papers flew."
The logical, polite side of Twilight's brain told her to apologize immediately for Zecora's lost notes, but her mind was busy dealing with a million other thoughts. The spectacle she had just witnessed left her speechless.
"Twilight Sparkle? You seem quite hushed. I can rewrite the notes, do not feel crushed."
Twilight shook her head, storing away her thoughts to deal with later. "Sorry, Zecora, I gotta go. Like, right now. I promise I'll get you more blue fire. Bye!" Without even waiting for a reply, Twilight bolted out the door of the hut and rushed back towards Ponyville.
A very confused and concerned zebra sat staring after her wake. Her desire for blue dragon fire and her mild irritation at having lost her notes forgotten. "Something is troubling that pony intensely. She seems to focus on strange things immensely."
Zecora shook her head, and stepped over to close the door that Twilight had left open in her rush. "Whatever it is, I hope she'll be well. Maybe later she'll have a great story to tell."