MLP FiM: Copyright Hasbro
Pony POV belongs to alexwarlorn
Despite the momentous events that had shaken Ponyville to their core in the past few days, everything seemed to finally be calming down in town, something that Fluttershy found herself grateful for. There had been too much oddness going on in the past couple of days that it had seriously made her consider retreating into her cottage until it had blown over if it wasn't for the fact the weirdness seemed to be coming from her own friends! Pinkie Pie had finally woken up and went off as most ponies expected she would, trying to cheer everyone up but now she just seemed...quiet? Fluttershy couldn't put her hoof on it but the pink pony had seemed subdued ever since she had gone to try and cheer Applejack up, looking flat and with an expectant look in her eyes like she was just waiting for something to happen. And, for once, that was the least odd of the changes!
Poor Applejack had gone into the Everfree Forest by herself, without even telling anyone which was simply awful! What if she had gotten hurt or stuck? No one would have known where she was to go and help her!
Hah, like anything bad would happen to your friends. At worse Sparkles would have went crying to her teacher to fix the problem, seriously nothing ever seems to go wrong for you six, came Fluttercruel's voice from the back of the butter-milk pegasus' mind, sounding short and temperamental. Fluttershy's tenant had been more subdued as well recently but she had no explanation for that either. Applejack seemed to be more active then the others though, constantly coming into Ponyville and asking townsfolk if they needed any help around their homes. It didn't take long for the close circle of friends to discover the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 machine that the Apple family had won and the contraption had helped to pick up the slack around the farm rather well! In fact, once it had been fitted into the Apple clan's way of doing things it had freed up a lot of time for either Applejack or Big Macintosh, however it seemed the somber stallion preferred running the machine to keep himself occupied.
Now Applejack was spending most of her time in Ponyville, listlessly drifting from chore to chore as if she didn't know what to do with herself. At first she had been intent upon asking her friends, and anyone else for that matter, about where the machine might have come from but no one really had any idea and eventually Applejack's investigation just ran out of steam. Fluttershy had been more worried about how her friend's Cutie Mark had partially blackened after the trip into the woods, fearing some unknown plant might have done something to her like the poison joke, but the stubborn farm-pony insisted that she felt fine aside from some headaches and it probably had something to do with some curse that Princess Luna had helped lift from her. Fluttershy had been skeptical but Twilight hadn't pressed the matter and the pegasus was sure her friend would have noticed if something was amiss, even if Twilight seemed distracted herself.
Fluttershy stirred from the window and quietly slipped over to her door, nudging open the top half to peek outside, just to find one of her animal friends waiting for her.
“Oh, hello,” she said kindly to the ferret waiting on her door-step, dragging the newspaper behind him. It took just a moment to unhinge the bottom half of the barn door to allow the critter in and give him one of the many treats laying about her rustic home as she carried the newspaper to her table. That had been Rarity's idea after Fluttershy had watched the Cutie Mark Crusaders that one fitful night, the pink-maned Fluttershy had felt it would be improper to just throw out the table after the girls had put all that effort into repairing it but her friend had helped her to see reason about that. Still, seeing the replacement reminded Fluttershy about that night and her mad dash into the Everfree just to end up saving the girls from that naughty cockatrice, it brought a twang of sorrow to the pegasus' heart.
Oh not this again, you spent a whole day crying and feeling sorry for others, wasn't it bad enough I had to sit through it then? Fluttercruel snapped aggressively as Fluttershy nosed through the first couple of pages for any noteworthy stories, wanting to keep abreast of current events. There was all the articles one would expect about the Diamond Dog incident, the upcoming week's weather schedule if there wasn't any unforeseen accidents, and a small story about how a pair of stallion twins had been found on the road from Manehatten claiming their means of locomotion had been stolen by a storm cloud. Something about the last article tickled at the back of Fluttershy's mind but she pushed it away just like she did the paper before gently winging out the window to take care of her animals.
I still don't see why you keep all these stupid animals around, why can't you just let nature take its natural course? came the acidic voice within her own mind, It's not like anyone would miss them! Heck, some other pony would probably start taking care of them.
The pegasus slowed in her flight until she was just hovering in place by the little creek that passed by her property, taking the chance to look down into the clear water. Like most of the time now, she didn't see herself but the angry, gray version of herself she had come to know in the past couple of days. Fluttercruel glared back up at her from her reflection but it looked...off, like it was an after thought and how 'Cruel thought she should be looking at her mother but lacking any real venom behind it.
“Fluttercruel, are you feeling alright yourself?” the butter-milk pegasus abruptly asked, realizing with a start that she had never really considered how the events had affected her other half. The reflection flinched back from the question with a dawning anxiety that was quickly smothered behind a protective wall of anger.
What are you talking about, of course I do! the bitter voice in her mind growled back, fast enough that Fluttershy could tell that something was bothering her tenant, I was made from all of your cruelty remember? All the bitterness at being picked on by the other foals at flight camp, at being laughed at when you tried your hardest, your desire to strike back and make other ponies...
“...hurt,” Fluttershy finished sadly, hearing the barest hint of truth in 'Cruel's claims even if the extent of them rang false. Those brief moments of spite never lasted long before her over-whelmingly kind demeanor asserted itself but even those moments made her tender spirit ache in sympathy despite having never acted on those impulses.
Exactly, that's why I should get the body and you get to...
“...it scared you, didn't it?” came the blunt question, throwing 'Cruel off balance as the dawning light of comprehension came into Fluttershy's eyes, “I mean...when you were in control you were mean and nasty but it was...childish. You were just acting out in the only way you knew how but what we saw down there.”
That's a load of bull! I'm no foal and you can't pretend I was just some two-bit prankster! 'Cruel blustered, the reflection stamping her front hooves like an impudent child.
“No, of course not,” Fluttery reassured immediately before her line of thought continued, “But for being cruel you didn't really seem to understand what real cruelty was, so when we went down there. And we...saw what had happened...you saw real cruelty down there.”
“ 'Cruel, you can talk to m-,” 'Shy started to say before she noticed a bright, desperate flash of color from the reeds on the opposite side of stream. At first she paid it no mind, certain it was just a butterfly or bird touching down for a moment but then it came again, beautiful blue and pink against green that just seemed to draw her eye towards the source.
What is that came the sullen question from the depths of her own psyche, prompting the pegasus to hop the stream and poke her muzzle into the reeds to find the cause of the disturbance. As she drew closer, Fluttershy realized the reeds were trembling even more and a warm smile came to her face.
“It's okay little animal, I'm not going to hurt you..My name is Fluttershy and you can ask all the other critters around that I'm very nice, if you're hurt I can help,” as she peered further into the reeds, Fluttershy finally saw what was causing all of the commotion, a pretty blue and pink butterfly lay on it's side atop a particularly sturdy stalk. One of its fragile wings bent at a right angle somewhere in the middle, a wing it frantically beat as it tried to lift off the ground at the pony's approach. It didn't manage to take off, just flop about uselessly.
Don't tell me that you're going to do what I think you are, c'mon! It's just a butterfly! With a broken wing like that it'll never be able to fly again anyway, just leave it out here for the other bugs to find, 'Cruel huffed in dismay as Fluttershy reached out with one hoof to gently lift the terrified insect into the air, her eyes narrowing at the injury.
“Awww, that looks so painful Mr. Butterfly, but no worries I'll have you fixed up as right as rain in no time,” 'Shy cooed to the insect as her wings began to gently flap, carrying her back towards her cottage, “I'll just bring you inside so we can take a look at that peculiar break of yours.”
The normally withdrawn girl's voice had a suspicious tone to it, wondering how the butterfly had managed to get such a perfect break like that. Right away her mind jumped to what she had been doing lately, had 'Cruel carried through on her threat to become the alicorn...?
Wait, you think I did this?! You think I'd go out of my way to torture bugs if I got control of the body?! her inner-passenger proclaimed incredulously once she felt the suspicions beginning to bubble up in the back of the fuchsia-haired pegasus. Hah! Looks like the old man did more damage then just making me. What happened to the forgiving little door-mat willing to forgive anyone of anything?
Fluttershy knew that 'Cruel was just trying to bait her, like she did before the incident but there was no time admonish her mental passenger when the butterfly was in such obvious pain! Quick as a bunny she flew back to her cozy little cottage and prepared a soft, warm bed that was a little too big for an insect but the butterfly didn't seem to mind at all.
“Don't you worry Mr. Butterfly, I'm going to take good care of you and you'll be back to flying in no time,” she reassured gently with a warm smile on her face. There was nothing she could do for the grieving parents of Ponyville at the moment, not anything that would be geuininely helpful anyway, nor was there anything she could do to help the search for Sweetie Belle with Rainbow Dash already on the case. However, here was someone that she could help...
“Spike, do you still have those books on entomology that I asked you about?” Fluttershy asked quietly as she opened the door to the library and stepped inside quickly as she spotted the dragon huffing down the stairs towards her carrying a small stack of books with him.
“I pulled out the ones I could find but it turns out someone borrowed 'Insects & You' and 'Our Friend the Butterfly', I'm going to stop by and drop them off when they're returned,” Spike replied as he put down the stack of books and leaned up against it, giving the pegasus a skeptical look, “Are you sure you want all these books? Don't most butterflies only live a couple of days anyway?”
“Oh I'm very sure! If nothing else I can find out what species of butterfly my patient is, but I'm positive I'll be able to help him get better!” Fluttershy said happily as she began to load the books into her saddle-bags.
Wait, seriously? You're getting all worked up over saving an insect that could have died from old age by the time we get home?! 'Cruel raged as if throwing her front legs up in the air. Fluttershy's mental passenger had been rather volatile since she had begun to take care of her patient, constantly tugging and pulling at her attention whenever she was taking care of the butterfly.
“Hmm...I wish Twilight was here, she would know where it's best to start in all these,” Fluttershy muttered to herself between books, giving 'Cruel the silent treatment for the moment. 'Cruel swore up and down that she hadn't cause any creature any sort of discomfort but Fluttershy couldn't escape the dream-like memories of 'Cruel's actions in the maze and without until Discord had been sealed in stone once more. What if she had lost time at some point during the day? She lived out all by herself in that cottage so there was no one around to notice if she was acting in a peculiar way aside from her animal friends and they were always so understanding about her quirks they might have thought nothing was wrong!
“I sent her a letter, but she said she was going to be awfully busy in Canterlot,” Spike replied as he grabbed a feather duster and set about dusting the surrounding shelves. “She's looking for as much information as she can on mindscapes and the like before trying to help out that no-good Trixie so you're probably on your on with this one.”
“Oh, I understand completely! Twilight has to help out where she can and from what little she's told us, Trixie really needs the help,” Fluttershy said enthuastically as she put the last book into her back. “Thanks for getting these books together for me, have a nice day!”
“Wait!” Spike called out, abruptly dropping the feather duster and rushing over towards Fluttershy with an anxious look in his green eyes. “Have you...heard anything from Rarity? I went by a few times to offer her help with anything she might need, but I never got a chance to actually see her.
“Rarity? Oh...well...I haven't seen her much either. Everyone has just been so busy that we've had no time for our weekly spa visit,” Fluttershy said aloud, touching a hoof to her chin in thought. The last time she had seen Rarity had been...
When that old mutt was taken away by the Dawn Guard, 'Cruel prompted in a huff.
“Well I'm sure she's doing just fine, she's just really anxious about where Sweetie Belle is,” the buttermilk colored pegasus reassured the young dragon. “I wouldn't worry too much about her, Rarity always locks herself down under pressure so she can focus on the task at hand.”
“Oh...well if you're sure,” Spike said doubtfully, worry clear on his face about the condition of his crush. It wasn't like he didn't already give his all to make Rarity happy, this was a time that she needed lifted up out of her own mood before panic set in...or that's how Fluttershy imagined Spike thought of it anyway. Before any of the three could dwell on it any more Fluttershy hurried out of the library and began to make her way back towards her cottage on the edge of the Everfree Forest.
How can you understand the egghead trying to help that useless showboat? 'Cruel demanded while they passed back through Ponyville. Every now and then a pegasus went zipping through the air up above them, torn between the search for the missing filly and the weather duties that helped keep Ponyville spinning. She showed up the ponies you call your friends and it's because of her bragging that those two dunces lured an Ursa Minor into town to start wreaking the place. If it was up to me, I'd just leave her to the work the Old Man did to her, she deserves it!
“ 'Cruel!” Fluttershy gasped aloud, drawing the attention of several other ponies before she flushed scarlet and took to the air to make less of a scene while she talked with 'Cruel. From up in the air she had a better view of Ponyville anyway, spotting familiar shapes among the streets below with ease. How could she miss Applejack's hat as the farmer pony took a lazy nap in the middle of the day? And there was Pinkie, or Pinkamena as the pink pony insisted she should be called now, talking to a depressed looking Berry Punch. She seemed subdued, for Pinkie, but still quite animated and it was only when Pinkamena stopped her wild gesturing that Berry gave a weak smile. “Every pony needs help, it's just...”
The kind thing to do? Yeah, I get it, your a warm and fuzzy soul that loves all living creatures. Blah, blah, blah. 'Cruel responded back sarcastically as they flew out of Ponyville and neared the edge of the forest. And here I thought that you would be a bit less sappy after the whole kidnapping thing. How's your philosophy explain that, huh?
No answer, huh? Didn't think so, cause your stupid 'every one is kind and understanding' view point can't explain what happened down there. It can't explain a lot of things, even the ones you take for granted. 'Everyone is nice'? 'Always help a pony out'? 'Nature is kind'? That's a worse joke then Pinkie's stupid pranks!
“Pinkie's pranks aren't stupid! They make ponies smile and feel happy,” Fluttershy snapped back angrily cutting off her passenger's speech, tilting her wings to begin gliding down towards the ground at a swift space. “What is this really about Fluttercruel? You've been sulking ever sense you fought the Diamond Dogs and I thought you would have enjoyed that!”
I did! came the defensive reply.
“Then what's the problem? You used to at least just talk to me before, but these days the only times you talk to me is to make some sort of snide comment,” Fluttershy said, heat beginning to leak into her tone. She had been putting up with 'Cruel's oddly passive aggression for the past few days but that last crack at Pinkamena's expense was really too much! “What is it? Did you think you'd have more control after all of that? Do you wish we got into more fights? What is it?”
.... 'Cruel managed to mutter something, too softly for Fluttershy to make out at first.
“What was that?”
...it wasn't what I hoped. The fighting I mean...finding out what happened. I was all set to tear into you for keeping such a huge secret from the parents of the colts and fillies but once I saw what happened...what was the point? It was just so meaningless. 'Cruel mumbled, leaving Fluttershy in stunned silence for a moment as she recovered from that shock of that statement.
“Well...cruelty is often pointless,” Fluttershy started, feeling light-hearted at this seeming break-through with 'Cruel before the other pegasus cut her off.
Oh get over yourself nancy, that's not what I meant and you know it, 'Cruel snapped before Fluttershy could continue. Being mean can be fun and hilarious. Showing how stupid some other pony is? Playing pranks? Picking about their little insecurities? It's great fun! What we saw was just...something else.
Where was the fun there? Where was the...the showmanship or even...enjoyment in what they were doing? None of the Dogs seemed on board with what they were doing and the mutt in charge was just...crazy! He wasn't enjoying it at all, just...feeding that corpse with a pulse. Those missing ponies were tormented for...what? Responsibility? Familiar concern? Love? Those aren't reasons to be cruel! They're reasons to...to...try and fix an injured butterfly's wing or ignore how brutal nature is! Cruel stated, growing more and more animated as her confusion spilled out where Fluttershy could hear it. They weren't just cruel for cruelty's sake, he thought he was accomplishing something with it. Like that was how he could show his love and that's just...messed up. Being mean is supposed to be a laugh riot, a way to let off steam and have some fun at another pony's expense not...for that.
Fluttershy was left in stunned silence in the face of 'Cruel's revelation, finally gliding down far enough that her hooves touched ground and she landed.
It goes against everything the Old Man was for too, he left you guys something to at least know how much you lost, so you guys might be able to build yourselves back up in time. You still had something. That Dog and his corpse bride took everything the parents had they...destroyed them, maybe this town. It was just so...pointless and heartless. 'Cruel finally finished as her tone turned melancholic towards the end of her reasoning. In the aftermath there was an almost expectant silence as if 'Cruel was waiting for something. Well...? Aren't you going to get all preachy on me?
It was certainly something Fluttershy wished she could have done, to think of just the right words to say that would prove to 'Cruel that she shouldn't be so...well...mean to others but she couldn't think of them. Instead she was...well...impressed by 'Cruel's reasoning, even if she didn't totally agree with it. Her hoof-falls felt heavy as they carried her and 'Cruel towards the door to her cottage as Fluttershy struggled to find the words she was looking for. Finally, she responded in a slow, measured tone as if figuring out her own thoughts even as she spoke.
“I...think I understand what you mean,” Fluttershy began, “I don't...um...agree necessarily with being mean to others just for your own happiness, but I can see how what happened in the tomb would be...upsetting?”
“But Fluttercruel, that is cruelty to the victims. It doesn't make sense, they don't understand why you did it and even if they do they won't necessarily accept it your reasons for it. No matter your intentions, they don't matter to the pony affected by it. Do you think Rex...um...bringing his wife back was worth all the pain he caused doing it?”
“And is it worth hurting ponies just to feel good yourself?”
“...Maybe that's just something to think about while I tend to our patient,” Fluttershy said gently as she stepped inside of their home and unpacked her bag to begin feeding the little butterfly before sitting down for some serious study time! She had barely gotten inside the door when Angel hopped over to begin angrily stamping one foot on the ground.
“Ohhh, sorry Angel-bunny but I can't play right now, I have to get some reading down,” Fluttershy apologized profusely as she loaded up an eyedropper full of sugar water, missing when Angel hopped over to his empty food bowl and began to gesticulate wildly at it.
Two Days Later
“There you go Mr. Butterfly, I've replaced the splint and given you a fresh bed of flowers to sleep on,” Fluttershy said softly so as not to disturb the sleeping insect from it's rest, having just patched on a new splint from a few toothpicks and pieces of silk that she had borrowed from an old dress she no longer wore. There were dark bags under her eyes from having spent the entire night constructing the extremely fragile splint and for the past few hours she had been listening to 'Cruel snoring in the back of her mind. It had taken five attempts to get the silk and toothpicks set up just right and bind them to the butterfly's wing. Two of those attempts had been ruined when 'Cruel had managed to wrest control from her for a moment and bolt for the door, screaming how she couldn't take this anymore but it was finally done! Finally done and Fluttershy could finally go to sleep, secure in the knowledge that she had down her best work in helping her patient. The butter-milk pegasus stumbled towards the warmth and comfort of her own bed, ready to just fall into the fluffy warmth and drift off into sleep.
She had barely gotten to flop on to the bed before she could feel a stirring in the back of her mind.
Alright Fluttergoat, time to get up and face the day! came the decidedly too cheerful voice. At no other moment did Fluttershy ever consider 'Cruel to be the tormentor that Twilight had told her about on the Day of Discord then she did at that moment. Aww, love you too 'Shy, now it's time to get up and go! There's caffeine to drink and breakfast to eat, no time to lay down sleepy head.
“Fluttercruel...please...I just got to bed...I...Need...Sleep...” Fluttershy moaned out, squeezing her eyes shut and trying to will 'Cruel back to sleep. “Just a few hours and I'll get up, I promise.”
Aww, was someone up too late playing insect doctor? 'Cruel said with a faux sweet tone, her voice like a stick prodding at the back of Fluttershy's mind. Well tough, you have other animals to be taking care of too at the very least if you won't do anything more exciting. So c'mon! Up and at'em!
“Nnnn...I wish I was the only one in my head,” Fluttershy groaned as she pushed herself up off her bed and stumbled towards the kitchen, setting out to acquire something caffeinated long enough to get something done.
This wouldn't be a problem if you'd just let me take the reigns, you could sleep while I got stuff done, your just suffering from mental exhaustion right now anyway, 'Cruel groused once she had gotten Fluttershy up and moving. You don't still think I broke the stupid bug's wings, do you?
“Someone broke the butterfly's wing,” Fluttershy said stubbornly as put the tea pot on the stove, slumping down at her table and planting her face on the table-top, already beginning to drift off to sleep once more. The more she had worked on her patient, the more she believed it was the result of foul play. “And you're the only person I know who'd do something so...”
“Exactly,” Fluttershy sighed. She knew she was being unreasonable and that the only way to begin showing 'Cruel how to coexist with others was to show the other her trust and give her some responsibility but...It was more difficult then she had thought! She couldn't think of a single other person, still in Ponyville anyway, that would harm a creature as innocent as a butterfly besides Fluttercruel.
Your mistrust wounds me...okay, not really. Still I think you're wasting your time, according to your reading that thing should have keeled over from old age already, 'Cruel snorted disinterestedly as the tea pot began to whistle and Fluttershy dragged herself over to pour herself a steaming cup of tea. You haven't taken a bath in the past couple days, your flowers need watering, and I think Angel has lead a militia of animals to raid your neighbors' vegetable gardens all while you play around with an elderly bug.
“What? Angel would never! And I know, but the more I take care of Mr. Butterfly the stronger he looks, I'm the only thing keeping him going at this point,” Fluttershy explained slowly as she steeped her tea bag in the tea. “I couldn't have it on my conscience if I stopped and it died...”
Oh, that's rich! 'Cruel snorted, a bitter tone creeping into her voice.
“...what do you mean?”
Your freaking out over the death of a single bug but you went and killed my sisters without a second thought, it's like the worst joke ever told!
“Your sisters?! But I...” Fluttershy stammered, spit-taking her first sip of tea across the top of her dining room table.
What? You didn't think of that? And why not? The Old Man made me an entirely new personality, why wouldn't Angry Pie, Liarjack, Rarigreed, Traitor Dash, and Twilight Tragedy be ones too?
“What...but we...but I..! I don't think the Elements can even kill something!” Fluttershy stammered out as she fumbled around for a towel to mop up the mess that she had accidentally made. “B-besides, how would you have survived then?”
Hmph...whatever. Doesn't change how you're constantly trying to act like the kindest pony in all of Equestria but you'll have a damn bear over for a back massage while there's chickens, rabbits, and every other fuzzy and weak animal around at the same time. You do know that bears eat other animals right? Or that your beloved vulture eats dead animals? Sometimes they don't wait you know! 'Cruel said with a voice like a knife, rage burning through the despondence that had settled over 'Cruel since their talk the other day. And 'Cruel was just getting started too, she could feel the other mare winding up for something...climatic, powerful...something that would change the world around them! However that was when she, no...that's when they felt something sharp jab into the center of their minds, like a hot shard of glass.
“Aaaaaaaahhh!” Fluttershy screamed out, flopping over on to her side as Angel Bunny came loping in, looking to see what his mare was screaming about with a concerned look on his face.
Everfree is how it always was. Even during the daylight it was a fortress unto itself of wild trees and nature that did not bend to the will of ponies. How did that zebra witch doctor survive day to day in this death trap? Even with my inner ear apparently doing cartwheels stands I somehow manage to land without crashing. Maybe that's why they say don't drink and fly.
I entered Everfree, a couple of the trees try getting in my way. I'm Not afraid. Not in the least. I was a monster after all. This is where I belonged. But other much more normal living things lived here too. And I sensed them, I felt them, and these senses led me to what I needed to show her before I let myself fall back into that black ocean that I was really just a part of anyway.
We observed a small herd of deer in Everfree. Yes, deer. After all, Everfree was home to more than just parasprites and endless hordes of predators. Nature didn't work that way. You couldn't have an overwhelming number of predators without their numbers imploding from lack of prey. And I felt it, it was going to happen, -right now!-
A pack of wolves ambushed the deer. The herd fled, leaving the weak to die on account of being the slowest. The wolves tore into them. Of course the weaklings tried to flee too or fight back, this was their survival too. And the deer managed to kick one inexperienced wolf in the side, I may or may not have heard the sound of bones breaking. Eventually the stragglers go down in a mass of blood stained claws and fangs. The wolves didn't notice or didn't bother with us. Just to be on the safe side I stayed off the ground and downwind.
"Take a good look Fluttershy."
She's crying, and thus I'm crying too. "This is wrong."
"It's wrong for the wolves to want to survive?"
"It's wrong they should have to do this to survive."
"Would you say this is cruel?"
A male wolf carries one of his kills with him. We follow it at a distance. We lose track of time. But eventually the male wolf returns to its den, and brings its kill to a litter of wolf pups around their mother. The father tears apart the kill for the larger ones to take small bites. The mother gorges herself, then vomits it back up, which the smaller pups quickly eat up.
"Would you call them big bad wolves for killing innocent deer? Or would you call them loving parents?" I ask simply.
"I ... I ... I never said wolves were evil."
"I didn't ask if you thought they were evil. I asked if you thought it was wrong for them to follow what was their nature. This is kind isn't it? The way the mother and father sacrifice for the next generation?"
I glanced up, feeling the sense again guiding me. And Flutter's lips quiver ... seeing a mother bird rip off parts of its own flesh to feed its fledglings.
I know this is all too coincidental. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear Everfree itself was guiding me in this lesson. Everfree itself wanted its point of view known.
I landed a safe distance away from the wolves and dug in the dirt with my hooves between two trees and a number of saplings. "Take a look Fluttershy. Tell me what you see."
"I see tree roots."
"From more than one tree?"
"Do you think these trees are trying to be friends?"
" ... No."
"Then, if time was to be sped up, and we could see these roots grow. What do you think we'd see?"
"We'd ... we'd see ... we'd see the roots struggling with each other, fighting with each other, each tree determined to outgrow and crowd the others out."
"Plants are living beings too. They live and die, and you eat them to survive. Why're they less than the animal you care about? Because they don't have a face? Cause they don't sing?"
"P-plants don't feel pain. They don't feel afraid or happy. They just are."
"Then why do you try to save a tree if it's being eaten alive by a swarm of black beetles? Or is it the black beetles who aren't alive? Why do you feel sad if you fall to save it? Why do you say to it you're sorry? And if a pony had no heart, that pony wouldn't be alive then? Or if they had no childhood? Or they had never experienced the world they were therefore not really a pony or even a living thing? I guess we agree there at least. I should know from personal experience."
"Please Flutter' …" Fluttershy sniffed. "Say whatever you want, but don't say that about yourself! You were unique and precious the moment you existed!"
"I don't exist."
I rebury the roots and let my senses carry me where they will.
Right near the edge of Everfree almost, there is a burrow of rabbits. "I think, this is the burrow that Angel came from." Fluttershy says unsure. I don't know why, but I don't feel any satisfaction now at hearing her unsure and small, if anything I feel small.
I say nothing, I feel what's about to happen next. I steel myself to make sure Fluttershy can't look away.
Two male rabbits with a doe nearby hop up to each other. Then they leap at each other, teeth and little short claws bared. They snarl, they bite, they claw at each other, I resist Fluttershy's efforts to close her eyes or turn her head. "Take a good hard long look Fluttershy. This is what rabbits naturally do to claim a mate. There is no debate, no long term romantic rivalries. The males simply kill each other and the doe goes with the last one living and she doesn't mind in the least."
Fluttershy began to feel dizzy so I did too, but I kept my eyes focused. "These aren't random alien creatures Fluttershy, this is nature!"
"I know! I KNOW! BUT-BUT-I've never-I've-" We hiccuped. "I've never seen it before. I never thought it was … THIS VICIOUS!"
"You mean cruel?" I was decidedly feeling ill now and so was she. Our eyes were red from crying. I wanted to end this now. Slip back into the black ocean, become one with it and leave her here, lesson learned. But I felt the senses pulling at me again. I felt the urge, no, the -need- to show her one last thing, one last truth. And my senses guided me to our last part of the lesson.
"Only one last thing Fluttershy." I promise.
It's a spider and her web. "If a spider doesn't catch the butterflies, the spider dies slowly from starvation: and ... aren't a spider's webs as beautiful as a butterflies' wings? Wait ..." I realize the real lesson my senses drew me here for Fluttershy to see. "You're about to see the final truth of nature Fluttershy. Nothing after this I promise."
The big fat spider huddled near an egg sack that was large, thick and heavy. And before our eyes, the first of the baby spiders forced their way out followed by dozens of its siblings. The mother spider didn't run, didn't flee, didn't leave. If anything she calmly scurried on her web closer to them. And before Fluttershy's eyes, patiently allowed her own babies to eat her alive. The hatchlings using their new-found strength to spin parachutes and flew away from the now empty web. Fluttershy said absolutely nothing. Thought absolutely nothing. Almost like she was a piece of the void instead of me.
Then I let her have it with both hooves.
"Compassion? Empathy towards species outside your own? Ethics? Morals? Laws? Those are things CIVILIZATION invented! You ponies brought them into being when you decided 'I will care about more than whether I live and reproduce.' You decided some things were greater then your own life! You decided some things were greater than passing off GENETIC legacies. You learned what love was when Celestia taught you how to care about something other than your DNA. The natural world? When did you last see parasprites and cockatrices have political debates? Nature's balance doesn't TOLERATE kindness Flutter-girl. The sick and hurt you care for? You go AGAINST nature's will when you step in and tend to them and heal them. They're SUPPOSED to die to make way for the superior survivors. But because you have an empathy sphere larger than the sun, you step in, you CHEAT Fluttershy, you break Darwin The Dragon's law and allow the 'weak' to thrive not making room for the 'strong.' Kindness goes AGAINST nature Fluttershy, you're as unnatural as me!”
'Cruel's vision swam as the vision ended and the two returned back to themselves, picking the body up off the ground and shaking her head to clear the last couple of angry pulses from their brain before Fluttershy took control back and stood up on unsteady hooves. Horror and anger warred in the pegasus' brain in the aftermath of those visions, heart pounding a mile a minute as she struggled to regain composure of herself.
...What was that?! 'Cruel was the first one to recover, sounding just as winded as Fluttershy actually was, confirming that they had both seen the same thing at the same time. Those horrible images and the terrible things that 'Cruel had said, they stirred a deep, dark pit at the core of Fluttershy's being. Their minds began to ache once more, Fluttershy steadying herself with one hoof on her table while ever-concerned and somewhat gungy looking Angel Bunny pressed a cool wash cloth to her forehead.
“I..I don't know, you saw it too?” Fluttershy panted, feeling like a black claw had grabbed hold of her heart, inky blackness seeping through her veins as her legs and wings began to tremble violently. Cold...she felt so cold! Angel gave a little shriek and began to tug furiously on her mane, trying to get her attention about something but...he was such a silly little rabbit, he didn't even know how unfair the world was. How little bunnies like him were born and what he would have to do if he ever wanted a family of his own! If only he didn't have too, if someone would just make the world a little safer...a little more fair...
Oh no, Flutter-Girl, you can't be serious, can you? This is not the time for this, we just had a stroke or something and oh-ohhh...I'm feeling woozy...are you feeling woozy? 'Cruel said groggily as the pain started again, a throbbing at the back of their collective skull except...this time it didn't feel as harsh. It wasn't so much pain as it was a pressure building up that needed release before it exploded out of them.
A terrible scene of violence between a great, scaly beast and a horde of smaller predators, viciously going at one another with tooth and nail, horn and tail. Five other ponies stood beside her, gawking at the violence with various expressions of dismay or shock...not her. She looked at a scene of primal nature at it's finest, two different species fighting each other to the point of maiming to defend their territory, their land that they shared with their mates and little families. Simplicity in violent motion. They fought not because they wanted to, because one side had given the other some insult or over gaudy gems that didn't have any value except what was given to them...they fought because they had to for their survival.
There wasn't hatred in it. No true, lasting anger. No bile that would fester from generation to generation. This wasn't a battle or a war, it was animals fighting for the survival of themselves and those they cared about. Whoever won wouldn't go after the remaining losers out of spite, they would simply go their separate ways with no grudge for what had happened. In other situations they would even meet peacefully, passing by each other with quiet respect for the abilities of the other, the larger predator would have no qualms about leaving left-overs of it's own meals behind so long as it got it's fill first. The smaller predators kept to a different area of the forest and, in their numbers, ended up driving prey towards the larger normally.
Even this fight would end with one side retreating to lick their wounds. It was simply that at this particular time and place, in these particular circumstances...they were compelled by their instincts to fight against one another. As her friends gagged or looked away, Fluttershy stared at the scene with rapt attention, paying attention to every detail of this rare scene of nature's fury in action.
“Nature is so fascinating...”
“Hah...hah...hah...is...that all of it...?” Fluttershy panted out, picking herself up off the floor once more with a swirly-eyed look on her face, utterly confused by what had just happened. Both sets of memories clashed against one another like opposing panes of glass that had smashed together and broken into a spray of shards in their mind. Both of them conflicted with what Fluttershy felt was true about herself and how she viewed nature.
Please tell me those weren't visions of the future, 'Cruel groaned, having taken the brunt of the second...vision? What's more she couldn't escape a chilling realization that had begun the moment she had begun watching that scene. Where had she been? 'Cruel hadn't even been able to feel a trace of herself in that memory's(?) version of Fluttershy, but what did that mean? Had 'Cruel been exorcised like some sort of possessing ghost? Had she been...killed? It hadn't been like the first vision when she had felt a great black pit yawning open before her, like she was about to sink down into nothingness without a helping hoof she knew that no one was willing to give her. 'cause both of those were pretty weird and...urpfh.
Fluttershy couldn't escape the sensation that 'Cruel was trying her hardest to throw up in the back of her mind, but she felt more...numb then anything. It was true that those scenes had both been frightening and, in their own way, terrible to look at but there was an air of truth to them both. She didn't like that the wolves had to kill the deer, and be killed by them, in order to feed themselves and their cubs, or that trees had to fight for minerals and moisture in order to thrive. It wasn't right...but the spider reminded her of something else.
Nature was savage but there was beauty in it. The mother spider could have left her eggs at any time and they probably would have been pretty safe from being destroyed, she never had to sacrifice herself to feed her babies.
She chose to protect her eggs until they hatched and choose not to fight her children when they devoured her. The spider had given up it's own life in order to ensure the life of it's children, there was no greater self-sacrifice that Fluttershy could think of. She didn't know if it was out of love or not, but every instinct told her that any animal, big or small, would rather fight and flee then allow that to happen to them and in the process possibly kill their own young! Was that not kindness? Not as she understood it but...wasn't this the same problem that 'Cruel had but a few days ago?
So many things conflicted with both of the images, her own experiences especially! How many times had she invited Harry over for tea? And not a single time had he done anything as brutish as killing one of her animals, even when he had the chance to. What about when she fed the otters fish and the birds worms? It wasn't kind, but it was a fact of life.
“The world isn't kind...we choose to make it kind,” Flutters murmured softly as Angel was able to press the wash cloth to her head once more; she felt hot and fevered now, as if she had somehow managed to catch a cold during the moments between those terrifying visions. Finally the pegasus sat down heavily at the edge of her dining room table and gulped down her cooling tea in one long swallow. Afterwards, despite the unpleasant images it churned up, Fluttershy got herself a big, heaping glass of chocolate milk.
She spent the day in a daze, moving from chore to chore as if her mind wasn't truly behind it...and it wasn't, she was mulling over her own words as she cleaned her home, got some more foodstuffs, and attended to her patient. The butterfly was looking stronger and stronger, she was certain that any day now it would take flight and her job would be done!
It wasn't this day though and a bewildered Fluttershy was left to prepare to turn in, finally for a bit of rest before the next day despite Angel's best efforts to get her attention. It seemed so odd that he wanted to play all the time now, he was usually more picky about his grooming too, she was beginning to think that...
Something is wrong, 'Cruel asserted abruptly, breaking out of her own trance as if she had been asleep all day, just riding alongside Fluttershy's daily routine but not voicing her opinion on any of it.
“What do you mean?” Fluttershy asked drowsily as she climbed beneath the covers and pulled them up to her chin. It felt good to finally climb into bed and rest her weary eyes after her healing efforts and chores through out the day, ready to simply rest. Something she had been denied in the process of caring for her patient.
There's something wrong with that butterfly...and there's something wrong with you too! 'Cruel asserted gruffly, pushing her way to the fore front and forcing the pegasus' eyes open to keep her from simply going to sleep just yet. You aren't taking care of your other animals Fluttergoat, I wasn't joking about Angel leading attacks on your neighbors for food. And when was the last time you checked on your chickens?
“Huh? Oh, I'm sure I feed them just....mhm...was it yesterday?” Fluttershy yawned.
No, no it was not yesterday, it was three days ago! I know you're worried about that butterfly but all this strange stuff only started happening once it showed up including our little 'episode' this morning. What's gotten into you? 'Cruel demanded as she fought Fluttershy's natural desire to just go to sleep after staying awake for a few days straight. It had already begun to wear on the poor mare but she had been able to weather the stress.
“Nothing, I was just....” Fluttershy paused to yawn, patting her mouth with one hoof, “...mhm...trying to do right. I can't just let it suffer...or die we...I was already...”
“...I was already too late to save the foals, I can't stand to think I let something else die too...” Fluttershy admitted, feeling as if a weight had been lifted off of her chest.
...But Fluttershy, you can't keep this butterfly dying and you're killing yourself and your little animal buddies just to take care of a single animal. Even I know that you're aren't particularly susceptible to tunnel vision, 'Cruel argued vehemently as she struggled weakly to assume direct control of the body, but it felt like she was swimming through molasses with how tired Fluttershy and the body was!
“But...I can, I know I can! All I have to do is keep attending to it, you've seen how much healthier it's been getting with each day,” Fluttershy protested back.
Yeah, I have! And from all that studying you forced on us you should know that shouldn't be happening! Do you even hear yourself? You have to help it? You know you can help it? You know it should already be dead!
Fluttershy had to admit that 'Cruel had a good point...but she was just so sleepy, after being awake for so long she just wanted to get some sleep.
“...yous got a point...but we'll talk in the morning, mmkay?” Fluttershy mumbled.
...Alright, but in the morning we need to have a serious talk, 'Cruel finally conceded, ceasing her attempts to take control to all both of them to get some much needed sleep, which fell over them swiftly with the moon shining brightly out the window...
The moonlight cast Fluttershy's in stark relief on that cloudless night, allowing even ponies with the worst night vision to be able to make out the cluttered details of the room. Fluttershy slept peacefully in her bed, fluffy down comforter pulled all the way up to her chin to keep her warm and snug. Angel had pulled his bed up to the foot of his owner's own bed and had curled up within it among a pile of pilfered produce he had procured throughout the course of the day. Most of the animals downstairs slept peacefully as well and in fact it seemed that only a single one did not, the blue and pink butterfly. It fluttered it's wings helplessly within it's splints at the lack of attention that it was receiving, it's formerly bright and vivid colors beginning to dwindle to a morose gray color though there was no one around to see it.
It bashed it's splinted wing against the window sill, again and again to shake off the silk bindings that Fluttershy had placed on them earlier that day, flopping on to it's front and back repeatedly in it's attempts to shatter the bandages and splint that had been especially constructed for it with such love and care. The butterfly should have irrevocably smashed it's wing as well but it seemed heedless of this danger and was only concerned with it's own freedom. Once the splint had been removed the butterfly slowly flexed it's wings, both of them, until both of them stood up straight in the air. With the tiniest flutter the small insect took to the air and quiet as moonlight flitted up the stairs to the second story of the cottage and into Fluttershy's bedroom. There it almost darted across the room, as if worried it would be spotted before it alighted atop a birdhouse hanging from the ceiling of the room, the peculiar insect shuddering as a cloud began to form around it's body in a thick cloud until it streamed across the ceiling to hover above the slumbering body of the Element of Kindness.
Angel shivered in his sleep as he felt the raw, seething hatred filling the room as his dreams of kingship over an entire garden kingdom were replaced by nightmares of being pursued by dogs and wolves.
'Cruel's dream of crude and mean pranks against unsuspecting rubes turned to her worst fears, of becoming nothing...of no one wanting her, needing her around. Of facing the full wrath of the Elements of Harmony just to be turned to stone like her 'father' had.
A pair of serpentine eyes formed in the cloud to gaze down pensively at the sleeping form of Fluttershy in her bed, a single dark tendril rubbing across a metaphorical chin. The entity within the cloud puzzled on how it should deal with this little pegasus, a mare who had not only managed to resist Discord's mind games but now put her own schemes into jeopardy...but not through her own actions.
“I'm going to grant your wish Fluttershy,” a low, feminine voice called from within the depths of the cloud. “I'm going to give you the gift of solitude and free you from the lingering curse of the draconequus.
A small wisp of the cloud broke off from the whole and quickly condensed itself down into the shape of a single butterfly that alighted upon Fluttershy's nose without a single noise. Once it had landed it began to flutter it's wings, prompting the pony to take a sharp breath in as she prepared to sneeze....just for the butterfly to disappear in a flurry of dark motes and disappear within Fluttershy's open mouth. She jerked in her sleep and finished her sneeze, but otherwise she continued to sleep on and smiled to herself as she rolled over on to her side.
“Oh Rush...you're so bold...” Fluttershy murmured in her sleep with a dreamy smile on her face, “but I'm not that kind of mare...”
The cloud almost seemed to chuckle before it disappeared back within the body of the injured butterfly, it's host quickly taking wing back down to it's former resting place and resting in it's 'bed'. It glowed briefly as it's wings snapped out of position once more until it's make-shift splint re-arranged itself around the injured limb as it's color returned to it's body. Unseen by all, one of the butterflies of Fluttershy's cutie mark began to darken until it had turned completely black...
Applejack was woken from her nap in the park by the sounds of commotion through out all of the town, lifting her pa's hat up to it's normal position as she blinked the sleep from her eyes. Almost at once she could feel another headache coming on but the stubborn earth pony ignored it for the moment as she climbed to her hooves and began to trot down the hill to see just what in tarnation was going on! Part of her indignation was for falling asleep in the park like she had when she had only intended for a quick bit of shut-eye, but she studiously avoided facing that truth for the moment. There wasn't nearly as much work as there used to be on the farm with that Super Speedy Cider Squeezy contraption and she had found herself with an abundance of free time with which to enjoy her hobbies.
What she had quickly discovered was that she really didn't have hobbies outside of farm work, finding herself in some doldrums on just how to spend her newly freed up time since no pony really seemed to need any help either. Still she had plenty of time to work through her own feelings and come to terms with what had happened...enough so that she didn't feel like crying when she saw another foal anyway. Once she got back to the streets of Ponyville, the farm mare quickly grabbed one of the ponies rushing towards the edge of town.
“Wooh, pardner. What's the big rush? Ya'd think the Princess was coming to town or sumthin!” Applejack asked in a friendly tone of voice.
“Haven't you heard?” the stallion said excitedly as he pulled away to gallop full speed towards the edge of the town by the Everfree Forest. “They've been found!”
“...who's been found?” Applejack asked dumbly, rubbing a hoof through her mane as she trotted after the rest of the crowd, trying to pick out bits and pieces of what other ponies were saying. There wasn't much to go on, but she heard just one word that sent her pulse pumping a mile a minute. She broke out into a trot as she followed the crowd toward the edge of Ponyville, blood pounding through her veins.
“..isn't it great...?!”
“...the princesses must have done something!”
Applejack's pace quickened once more into a full out gallop, carrying Applejack through the crowd at a break-neck pace even as a blind, nervous hope began to take hold of her heart. There was no way what they had said could be true, should be true! Part of her hoped that she had misheard after all that she had been through, just out of concern for what she had seen and experienced herself since then.
Applejack's breath came hard and fast in her ears as she pushed to the front of the pack and pushed herself harder and harder towards the line of confused guard ponies standing by the edge of the forest with a small crowd of other figures.
It can't be, it can't be! Princesses, please don't be tauntin' me like this! This is cruel what yer doin'! Applejack argued in her mind as she saw the flashes of color that made her heart ache. Oh sweet heavens to Betsy, it can't be!
“Applejack, Applejack Ah'm over here!” a cheerful voice called out from the line of guards, pushing her way to the front to wave energetically at the on-rushing orange earth pony.