Act I - Part 5: The Storm
Fluttershy was exhausted as she returned to her house, the sun setting and painting the world around her a soft and warm russet. She had spent the better part of the afternoon attempting to rebuild a groundhog burrow that had been flooded after the most recent rain. She made a mental note to talk to the Weather Agency at the next chance she got. The rain was important, Fluttershy knew, but there had to be a way to go about it that didn't involve evicting woodland creatures from their homes. A strong breeze whistled through the trees, and the noise seemed louder in the silent twilight hours.
There was something off about the weather, thought Fluttershy. Every part of the weather had to serve a purpose. The strong winds would just cause damage and scare little fillies, and there wasn't much reason for the flying crew to let it happen, not when the wind could be redirected to flow around Ponyville. At least, Fluttershy assumed it could; she'd left her weather training after it became clear that she didn't belong there, and she wasn't getting any less accident-prone. Another gust hit, and she closed her wings, which she had left unfurled without thinking. Some days she forgot she even had them until they got caught on something.
Fluttershy crossed the threshold, her eyes beginning to droop. As she removed the scarf she had been wearing, she considered what to do about Applejack and Twilight. Nothing, was the obvious answer. Whatever was going on between them would sort itself out in time, and Fluttershy had no desire to be a part of it. She stumbled onto her bed and was soon in a deep enough sleep that she could not to hear the moaning of the wind as it began to gain strength.
A rock hit her window. "Hey, Fluttershy!" called a voice, quieted by the walls of the house. After a minute, another rock hit, and the voice repeated itself. Fluttershy, dead to the rest of the world, didn't respond.
A few minutes passed, and then Fluttershy felt the warm touch of a hoof disturb her from her sleep. The hoof quickly became an entire equestrian body that wrapped Fluttershy in a suffocating hug. The pegasus pony opened her eyes and stared into a pair of large unmistakably blue eyes.
"Pinkie Pie!" she cried, confused and feeling quite violated.
Pinkie Pie began rubbing her face in Fluttershy's mane. "I never realized you were so soft," murmured Pinkie Pie happily, and Fluttershy pushed her friend away.
"What do you want?" asked Fluttershy. "How on Equestria did you even get in here?" She was fairly certain she had locked the door.
Pinkie Pie pounced on top of her friend again and brought her face inches away from Fluttershy's. She brought a hoof to her mouth and forced the air between her teeth, indicating silence. "Listen," she said.
Fluttershy tried, but all she could hear was the sound of wind through the trees. "I don't hear anything, Pinkie Pie," she said. "It's just a storm."
"No," cried Pinkie Pie. "It's not just a storm. Ever since it started, I've been waiting for my ears to go flat and my tail to frizz, but they haven't!"
Fluttershy didn't understand. "So?" she asked.
"So that's my Pinkie Sense for huge storms," explained Pinkie Pie. "And even though this one's a doozy, I'm not getting anything."
Fluttershy, still exhausted, turned away from Pinkie Pie. "Well your Pinkie Sense can't be going off all the time," she said, trying to spin the conversation in a way that was likely to get Pinkie Pie off of her. Their proximity was making her very uncomfortable.
Pinkie Pie shook her head. "But my Pinkie Sense is doing stuff," she said. "Just different stuff. My eyes are twitching and my hooves itch and that means that something really bad is about to happen and you're the only pony who can stop it."
Fluttershy tried her best to keep her voice level in the face of Pinkie's ridiculously specific Pinkie Sense. She had never exploded at one of her friends before, and she wanted to keep it that way. After all, if she exploded once, what would stop her from doing it again? "Pinkie Pie, you're so random," Fluttershy began to say, but she was interrupted by the sound of a wooden wheel impacting the side of the house. She quickly pulled herself upright, banging her head into Pinkie Pie's.
"The chickens!" she cried, seeming to not notice the collision. "Rainbow Dash was helping me patch up one of the walls in the coop, but we left a giant hole in it." She envisioned the chickens blowing away in the fierce wind. "Help me, Pinkie Pie. Please, I mean, if it's not too much trouble
Pinkie saluted her friend. "Okie Smokes, Fluttershy!" she said, and the pair ran out into the storm. To Fluttershy's surprise, there was still no rain, but the wind was even stronger than before. The ponies struggled against the wind until they reached the gate surrounding the coop, but as they turned the corner, the new direction of the wind bowled them over. Fluttershy gritted her teeth and stood up, pressing onward. Inside the coop, the chickens were running around crazily, startled by the storm. The pegasus grabbed one by the neck and carried it back into the house with Pinkie Pie following behind her, a second chicken in between her jaws. Pinkie Pie closed the door as they both released their chickens, panting heavily.
"Two down, twenty eight to go," breathed Fluttershy.
The task took the ponies almost an hour, but when they were finally done, Fluttershy's home was blanketed in the feathers of the thirty chickens that were now running freely throughout the house. Fluttershy watched as one of them leaped off the top of the stairs, descending erratically until it landed on a vase in the corner, knocking it over and smashing it.
"Is this it?" Fluttershy asked Pinkie Pie. "Are your Pinkie Senses done now?" The pegasus looked over at her friend and noticed that Pinkie's eyes were twitching painfully, and she was running one of her hooves maddeningly over the carpet.
"N-nuh-uh," said Pinkie Pie, and she began to stutter. "I-it's just g-getting w-w-worse," she said. "S-someth-thing really r-really b-b-bad is ab-bout to happen."
Fluttershy's wings began to flare in whatever amount of frustration she could manage, but they immediately dropped when she realized how terrified she was. As crazy as her friend was, Fluttershy still trusted Pinkie Pie. If Pinkie said that something bad was about to happen, that was enough to scare Fluttershy speechless.
Actually, Fluttershy realized, there were many things that could scare her speechless. But the visible terror in Pinkie's twitching eyes was worse than any of them.
"What do we do?" asked Fluttershy with trepidation.
Applejack dug through the contents of Twilight's bureau, looking for something, anything that would prove that Twilight was hiding something. After each drawer revealed nothing worthwhile, she carefully closed it and moved on to the next one. If Twilight and Spike were sleeping on the floor above her, Applejack wanted to make sure they didn't wake up.
The drawers were mostly empty, containing the clothes Twilight wore on special occasions, allowing Applejack to be able to quickly search through them. The earth pony quickly grew frustrated with the profitless ordeal.
Applejack opened the bottom drawer, and her composure changed instantly. She knew she had hit the jackpot. A dress had been thrown on top of a rectangular object in a failed attempt to hide it. Applejack pushed the dress aside and removed the book. It bore no title on its koskin cover, yet its edges hung limp where Applejack was not holding it. The book had seen much use; Applejack didn't hesitate to use it again.
The words in the book were written in a neat cursive script that Applejack recognized as Twilight's. This was her diary, Applejack realized. She skimmed through the pages until the dates became more recent. Most of the writing included technical details of Twilight's experiments or mundane personal details that Applejack didn't have much taste for, although she made a mental note to never let a certain stallion learn about a particularly steamy passage around the halfway mark. The passages continued until about a week before the present day, at which point they abruptly stopped. The last passage was as uninteresting as the rest of them, musing about Pinkie Pie's attitudes after their failed surprise party, and no amount of scrutiny by Applejack gave any clues as to what could cause the sudden change in Twilight's behavior.
Frustrated, Applejack kicked the book into the corner. She wondered where Rainbow Dash was, hoping the multicolored mare was taking the Cutie Mark Crusaders back to the farm and not getting them into more trouble. Applejack knew that for some reason or another, it wasn't going to be that easy. She turned to look over the rest of the room and discovered a teary eyed Twilight Sparkle staring at her.
" muttered Applejack.
Seconds passed, and neither pony spoke. Then, when Applejack realized that for the first time since the fiasco began they were finally alone, she spoke.
"Well, Missy," she said. "Ah guess it's just you an' me here."
"What are you doing?" Twilight asked, and Applejack heard the hysteria in her voice.
"Ah want the truth," said Applejack coldly. "Ah won't take nothin' else, so just fess up, 'cuz nopony's here to judge you but me."
As she finished, Rainbow Dash stuck her head through the ceiling. "There's nothing in the floorboards," she announced, before the thin wooden ceiling gave way and she tumbled to the floor. Seconds later, Pinkie Pie kicked open the door leading to the library, and Fluttershy awkwardly stumbled in behind her, her head hung low.
"Um, excuse me, sorry," mumbled Fluttershy. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
Applejack glared at Fluttershy and bared her teeth. "'Twilight' here's fixin to spill the beans, so back off. I'm not lettin' her get away."
Fluttershy squeaked and backed into the corner.
"Applejack," said Pinkie, with a cautionary tone, "You'd know what Rarity would say if she were here."
"Well she ain't, is she?" snapped Applejack. "And ah'm not gonna to stop until ah get answers. Twilight's been lying to us. In fact, ah don't even believe she's really her. Ah ain't even goin' to call her Twilight no more." She began to advance toward the purple mare threateningly.
Rainbow Dash watched the encounter, filled with uncertainty and mixed feelings. Applejack had become a truly frightening force, and Rainbow doubted that a single pony there wasn't completely terrified. Her pulse increased rapidly, and she felt as if her heart was about to jump out of her throat. She looked at Twilight nervously, tears now pooling around the unicorn's eyes.
Then came the spark. It was a feeling Rainbow had felt only a couple times before in the past. The room lit up around her, and Twilight was no longer Twilight. In her place sat Fluttershy, or what Fluttershy looked like when she was younger. Applejack had been replaced by one of the jock ponies from Flight School, the brown pegasus with the basketball cutie mark. The image only lasted a second, and when it faded, Rainbow Dash knew exactly what to do.
"No," she said sternly, stepping between Applejack and Twilight. "I'm not going to let you hurt her."
"Outta the way, Rainbow Dash," said Applejack, the anger in her voice rising. "Ah'm tellin' you, this ain't Twilight."
Applejack froze. It was a question she should have known was going to be asked, but it didn't prepare her for when it actually was. "Pardon?" she said, her voice now quieter and much higher.
"You heard me," said Rainbow Dash, walking forward until her face was directly in front of Applejack's. "Prove it. Really, Applejack, I don't know what's gotten into you these past few days, but I'm not going to stand back and make Twilight deal with your craziness."
Applejack attempted to rush past Rainbow, but the strong pegasus barely managed to hold her back. "Why don't y'all trust me?" screeched Applejack.
Pinkie Pie bounded forward, joining Rainbow Dash. "W-why won't you trust Twilight? What's she d-done?" she said, still stuttering a bit.
"Well..." Applejack tried to think of an answer.
"Applejack," whinnied Pinkie Pie. "You need to listen to your f-friends. Otherwise you can lose them, f-forever."
"But that's what ah'm trying to say!" screamed Applejack, frustrated.
"No, you're not," said Rainbow Dash. "The only pony you're willing to listen to is yourself."
Applejack wanted to protest. She wanted to knock some sense into her friends, literally if she had to. She needed them to see things the way she saw them. But after she opened her mouth, she closed it again. What could she say? Nothing she wanted to say would convince them, but it took her a moment of silence to realize why. It wasn't evidence. Nothing she said, or could say, would ever hold up in a formal argument. She couldn't prove that Twilight was hiding something. It was just something she knew. Now, feeling weighed down by Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash's accusatory stares, Applejack asked a question she hadn't even considered before then.
What if she was wrong? What if Twilight was acting strange because she was hurt or upset, and all Applejack was doing was yelling and making things worse? Applejack repeated the encounter in her head, trying to look at things from Twilight's perspective, and suddenly she felt like a monster. She hung her head, trying desperately not to look at anypony.
"Ah'm sorry, Dashie" she murmured softly.
Rainbow Dash's expression didn't change. "I'm not the pony you need to be apologizing to, Applejack," she said.
Applejack knew it. She raised her head and looked across the room at Twilight. The unicorn was heaving quickly, scared out of her mind. Was she really that bad? Applejack wondered. She stood slowly and cautiously approached her friend. "Look here, sugarcube," she said, and Twilight flinched. "I don't mean no harm," she continued. "ah never did. I just want you to know that you've got friends that'll try to help you. And we'll stand by you, no matter what."
Twilight looked into Applejack's eyes, suspicious. "No matter what?" she echoed.
Applejack nodded. "Yup, no matter what. Ah meant well, sugarcube, but ah guess ah got a little lost along the way. Ah stopped thinking about you. And nopony can decide what's best for her friends, especially if she doesn't even listen to them. And for that ah'm really, truly sorry."
The storm that had been fiercely blowing outside calmed a little.
Applejack turned away from everypony else in the room, so none of them could see the smirk that had appeared on her face. It was the widest she had smiled all week. "Ah guess ah learned my lesson, Twilight," she said, her voice sounding genuinely remorseful. Then she lifted her head and turned, pretending she had just been struck with a bright idea. "Ya know, you could include this in yer next friendship report!"
"See?" squealed Pinkie Pie as she began hopping up and down. "Now we're friends again, like Odysseus and Achilles."
"Who?" said Owlowiscious, having awoken from his perch.
"That... could be a good idea," said Twilight, struggling to find the right words to say in the aftermath.
Applejack stood tall, a proud grin plastered onto her face. "In fact," she suggested, "why don't ya write it right now?"
"Is now really a good time?" asked Rainbow Dash skeptically.
"You shouldn't push her like that," said Fluttershy, but she was too quiet for any of the other ponies to hear her.
Pinkie Pie frowned, beginning to understand what Applejack was getting at. Applejack's behavior left a bad taste in her mouth, but she kept quiet, curious to see what would happen next.
Twilight stared blankly at Applejack, and her breathing began to quicken again. Outside, the storm increased in intensity. "Now?" she asked.
Applejack nodded. "Of course now," she said. "You should do it while it's still fresh in our minds." She paused and leaned inward. "Unless, of course, ya don't know how."