Chapter 6 – The Element of Kindness
"Well?" said Applejack, running out of patience. "Ya gonna write the letter or ain't ya?"
"I'll do it," said Twilight, her voice panicked. "I just need a quill and paper, right?" She used her horn to lift a blank parchment and a quill from the desk. "Let's see. 'Today I learned that a true friend will always support you.'"
She didn't get a chance to write a second sentence before Applejack pushed the paper away from her. "Now hold on, Twilight," she said. "Don't you need to address it first?"
Twilight swallowed. "Address?" she stuttered.
"Yeah, you silly filly," interjected Pinkie Pie. "Address means you write the name of the pony you're sending it to."
"I know what it means," said Twilight resentfully. She raised the quill to the paper again, but didn't write. She stared at the paper nervously, then at Applejack, then at the paper again. Beginning to sweat, she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to think of a way out.
"Here's a hint," said Applejack, growing tired. "She more or less raised you."
Taking a guess, Twilight began writing. "Dear Mom," she said, dictating as she wrote.
Applejack grabbed the paper with her teeth and threw it to the ground. "Wrong answer," she said. She pushed her face up against Twilight, forcing the smaller unicorn back. "Who. Are. You?" she asked, saying each word with as much anger as she could muster. "Because you sure as hay ain't Twilight Sparkle."
Twilight trembled, but this time Applejack felt little remorse. "Answer me," Applejack ordered.
The unicorn looked up into the earth pony's green eyes. "I am Twilight Sparkle," she said, but the voice was lacking resolve, almost uncertain of its own conviction. "I swear to you, I'm Twilight."
"Liar," spat Applejack, and behind her a book toppled off the shelf and hit the floor. Nopony save Fluttershy noticed it.
"Applejack," Fluttershy cautioned, but she was again unheard.
"I'm not her," said Twilight. "But I am Twilight. Just not your Twilight."
"And what in tarnation is that supposed to mean?"
Outside, lightning flashed. Pinkie Pie felt a light breeze against her fur, and she looked for the open window.
"What did you do with the real Twilight?" Rainbow Dash asked, finally convinced.
Twilight shook her head. "I think," she began, but she couldn't finish. She was beginning to feel overwhelmed. A burning sensation lit up her gut, a familiar feeling she knew to well. "I think," she said again, struggling to get the words out. "I think you should go away. Please."
Applejack shook her head. "That ain't happening. So spill. You still look like Twilight, and I don't want to mess up that familiar face. But I will, for her."
"No," Twilight breathed as Applejack and Rainbow Dash forced her into the corner. She felt as if she was suffocating. "Please."
"Um... guys?" said Pinkie Pie, as a vase behind her melted into slag. The wind was stronger now, tangling Pinkie Pie's mane into knots. Frames on the wall began to swing violently. "Guys," she shouted, although she only succeeded in catching Fluttershy's attention. "All the doors and windows are closed, so where's the wind from?"
Applejack, undeterred, grabbed Twilight on the shoulder. The sharp sound of electric discharge lanced into everypony's ears, and a second later, Applejack was dazed and head-first on the floor on the other side of the room.
Twilight began to levitate off of the ground, the wind curling around her, forming a protective sphere that flashed every color of the rainbow. Her horn began to emit a blinding light that rode on the air currents and leaped around the room. Furniture disappeared, or shrunk, or turned into rabbits.
Applejack struggled to her hooves. "Twilight, stop that!" she called.
Twilight wanted to. It was painful to endure, the magic forcing its way out through every orifice. Her eyes squeezed shut, and when they reopened they glowed an intense violet that brought agony to her eyelids.
Applejack tried to approach Twilight again, but was tossed against the back wall the instant she raised a hoof. A sickening crack resounded through the room, and Applejack didn't try to stand again.
The other ponies backed up slowly, aided by the harsh wind that was forcing them away from Twilight. Rainbow Dash began to feel incredibly hot underneath her mane. A bolt of lightening leaped from Twilight's horn, striking a doorknob and letting off a shower of sparks.
Twilight resigned and hung her head, no longer trying to fight the energy that was rippling across her body. She didn't want this to happen, but there was nothing she could do. The howling wind drowned out every sound, and Twilight felt herself sinking into a murky blackness. Then, one noise managed to break through the maelstrom, and she heard it clearly.
She struggled to focus her eyes, to see what was going on around her. To her complete shock, while Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were forced up against the wall, trying to survive the winds that were now beginning to topple bookshelves and fling them in any direction, Fluttershy was anchored. Her body bent forward and her wings folded inward as tightly as they could, Fluttershy was the only static element of the shifting chaos that was once the library.
"Twilight," she said again, not shouting but no longer in her usual whimper. "You don't have to do this."
Twilight tried to figure out what to do, how to explain that Fluttershy was wrong, that whatever happened was going to happen. She opened her mouth to talk, but the only sounds she made were screams.
A change had settled over Fluttershy. Hearing the scream, the pegasus flinched, but she then strengthened her resolve and pushed against the wind. She no longer seemed afraid; her fear had been replaced with a serene calmness. Twilight looked into Fluttershy's eyes and saw the empathy within them.
"You can stop this," said Fluttershy, taking another step forward. "If you have enough power to do this, you have enough to turn it off."
Twilight scowled, tears streaming down her face. She never understood ponies who would risk themselves for ponies like her. She didn't deserve their compassion. She was worthless, an outcast, a mistake. Everything and everypony she touched turned to ashes, in some cases literally, even when they could have avoided it simply by walking away. Twilight looked at Fluttershy again, seeing another pony within her, the last pony who had flown too close to the sun and gotten burnt. The memory of the other pony, the golden-maned pegasus, burned brightly in her mind, and Twilight knew it would kill her to watch it happen all over again.
Fluttershy, having closed the distance, wrapped Twilight in a hug. "You can do this," she said, whispering words of encouragement. "It's okay now. Everything's going to be okay." Twilight could feel Fluttershy's muscles as they tensed and locked up. The electricity was now arcing directly between them, and their pain was shared. Yet Fluttershy refused to let go or make even the quietest sound to show that she was hurting. Instead she only whispered. "I'm here for you. Everything will be okay." Fluttershy wiped a tear off of Twilight's face and smiled. "Feel free to cry on my shoulder, alright?"
Twilight buried her muzzle in Fluttershy's mane and cried harder than she ever had in her life.
The storm began to die down, and Pinkie stopped shivering.
Rainbow Dash approached the embracing ponies, confused and feeling somewhat scornful towards Fluttershy's treacherous behavior. "Fluttershy, what are you..." she began, but she froze when she saw Fluttershy narrow her eyes, the beginning of a stare.
"No," said Fluttershy, the assertion in her voice unusual and unsettling for Rainbow Dash to hear. Then it softened. "Can you check on Applejack, please?" Rainbow nodded silently and trotted over to Applejack, who was beginning to moan and lift her head.
"What in blazes," muttered Applejack as she tried to understand what had happened to her. She tried to stand, but cried out at a sharp pain in one of her hind legs.
"Thank Celestia," Rainbow Dash breathed. "I think she's okay," she called to the rest of the ponies. "Well, all things considered."
Pinkie Pie galloped toward Fluttershy before bouncing in circles around her. "You did it!" she cried. "You did it!"
"Did what?" asked Applejack, still somewhat dazed.
"Fluttershy saved Ponyville!" shouted Pinkie Pie, celebratorily and emphatically. "I was giving Gummy a bath when my eyes started twitching and hooves started itching and I started getting shivery all over, like when I eat to much candy only I hadn't eaten any candy in at least an hour so I went to see Fluttershy because I knew it was my Pinkie Pie sense saying something really bad was about to happen to Ponyville and Fluttershy was the only pony who could stop it in time even though she's not very tough but I told her this and I told her that it was here because I just knew that Twilight would be involved just like she always is whenever my Pinkie Pie sense is tingling and I was right again and Twilight started to go *WHOOSH* and then Fluttershy hugged her because that's what she does and she's so nice to everypony and then everything went back to normal and I was thinking about how maybe I could throw another party to cheer everypony up like the surprise one we were going to do for Twilight- sorry, Twilight- but we couldn't because she wasn't home and we didn't know why but that was okay because I still had leftover cupcakes and streamers and that banner that was for Rainbow Dash until I erased part of it and put Twilight's name in which looks kind of funny because it's longer to write so it didn't really fit on the banner but nopony noticed so I figured it was okay." She paused and inhaled for ten seconds. "And then Fluttershy saved Ponyville!" she shouted.
Twilight had stopped following the speech after the first occurrence of the words "Pinkie Pie Sense."
"Pinkie Sense?" she asked Fluttershy.
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "It's a thing," she said.
"But that doesn't..." began Twilight.
Rainbow cut her off. "Don't start this again," she muttered. "It was bad enough the first time."
Applejack frowned. "Where's Apple Bloom?" she asked Rainbow Dash.
"Upstairs, huddled in a little wooden box with her friends. Some ponies don't know how to handle a storm."
Applejack smiled, relieved that her sister hadn't been caught in the storm, while Fluttershy stared into Twilight's familiar, alien eyes, trying to figure out what to do next.
"You don't have to do this," said Twilight as Fluttershy helped her across the threshold and into the house.
"What else could I do?" asked Fluttershy. "I think the others are going to start being a little nicer to you, but having you sleep in Twilight's house was where Applejack drew the line."
Twilight didn't blame her. "I mean, I can find some other place to spend the night," she said.
"You need to be comfortable," said Fluttershy. "And I think Applejack wants you under a watchful eye." As she spoke, Angel hopped onto the table from his bed, pointing two claws first at his own eyes and then at Twilight's.
Twilight tried to laugh, but found she couldn't. The sight of Applejack being so abusive and cruel made Twilight never want to laugh again. It wasn't every day that a pony got attacked by her only friend. Angel hopped onto Twilight's back, but she did nothing to force the rabbit off.
"There's only one bed," explained Fluttershy. "Upstairs, on the right. I can sleep on the couch."
"No." That was the one service Twilight could give, her one reparation, even though she knew it wouldn't be enough. "I've already stolen one life. I'm not going to start taking yours. I'll take the couch, and that's that."
Fluttershy nodded, understanding. She started up the staircase, but stopped when she heard Twilight's voice calling to her.
"One question," said Twilight. "Her and Applejack. Were they good friends?"
"I guess so," said Fluttershy. "I don't know about Twilight; she was always so private. But Applejack cared about her a lot."
Twilight smiled, a small bit of warmth and hope flowing into her. "Good night, then," she said.
"Good night," repeated Fluttershy. She entered her bedroom and realized that sleeping in her own bed wasn't going to work, since it was now inhabited by two and a half dozen sleeping chickens. She wandered back out into the hall and saw that Twilight hadn't taken the couch but instead had made a nest on the rug with a sheet. Feeling sorry for the stranger that looked like her friend, Fluttershy descended the stairs and laid down beside her.
"I thought you hated me," said Twilight coldly.
Fluttershy was shocked for a moment, and heart melted in pity. "Hate is a strong word," she said softly.
"No it's not." said Twilight. "If it was, it wouldn't be used so often. Now answer, do you hate me?"
Fluttershy was tempted to answer immediately, but she stopped herself. If Twilight wanted an honest, heartfelt answer, she would get one. "I don't know," Fluttershy admitted at last. "You've done some really bad things. I'm scared to think of what you did with Twilight. But I also know that tomorrow we're going to work together to get her back."
"Do they hate me?" Twilight asked.
"I guess we'll find out tomorrow," said Fluttershy.
Twilight, satisfied by this answer, fell asleep.
Before Fluttershy joined her, she noticed that the weather outside was calmer than she had ever seen before in Ponyville.
The next morning, Rarity was preparing to open up her shop when she heard a knock at her door. Rainbow Dash was waiting anxiously when she opened it. "Everypony's meeting at the library," she explained curtly before she took Rarity around the neck and dragged her out of the shop. "Shop can wait," she said when Rarity tried to protest.
Rarity followed her across the Ponyville to the back entrance of the library. As they entered, she saw the mess that had been left by the previous night's encounter. Shelves were overturned and entire tables were on their sides. Fluttershy was comforting an incredibly sobered Twilight while Pinkie Pie adjusted a cast on Applejack's leg.
Rarity tried to piece together what had happened, but couldn't. "Goodness, what is this?" she asked Rainbow Dash.
Rainbow looked at Rarity. "It's the end of the beginning," she said.