The storm had come up suddenly. One moment, the sky was clear. Then a breeze started to blow, cold and chilly, a stark contrast to the warm summer afternoon. Then it turned into a squall, carrying with it dark clouds, full of anger. Before the pegasus ponies could organize to do something about it, the rough weather was upon Ponyville, bringing rain down at a sharp angle. Those caught outside found themselves drenched in a matter of moments, and soon everypony had run indoors.
Thankfully, while harsh, the speed of the storm also limited its duration. Only half an hour later, the sky above was once again clearing up, and the last few raindrops sporadically fell to the ground below. Loose branches had been torn from trees, and items that had been left lying about were now scattered all over the area. But that was the worst of it. Nopony's house had been damaged, and somehow there were no injuries either. The citizens of Ponyville stepped outside and got to the business of cleaning up.
With the assistance of Sweetie Belle, Rarity checked the outside of her shop, and found to her relief that none of the windows had even so much as a crack in them, despite of the thumping they had heard while they had huddled inside. Twilight Sparkle was thankful that all of the shutters on the windows of the library had stayed closed. She shuddered to think what kind of damage might have happened to the books if one had flown open and allowed the wind driven rain to get inside.
And out at Sweet Apple Acres, the residents were splitting up to check for any damage to the farm and its crops. "All right, y'all," said Applejack, "here's the plan. Apple Bloom, you check around the house, make sure everything is still where it's supposed t'be. Big MacIntosh, you check out the barn and the crops around it. I'll go check out the orchard." The siblings all broke off and went to check on their assigned tasks.
Applejack had just gotten to the outskirts of the orchard that took up a large part of the family property when a loud "SQUARK!" sound from behind her brought her up short. Turning around, she saw Big MacIntosh galloping towards her in obvious haste. 'This can't be good,' Applejack thought to herself. 'I can't remember the last time I actually saw something that worried my brother enough to get him to break into a gallop like that.'
"AJ," Big MacIntosh said as he stopped in front of his sister, "we have a problem in the barn."
"What is it?" Applejack asked.
"There's a bird in there."
Applejack blinked. "A bird? What, you're all worried about a bird?"
"It ain't no regular bird. This one is bigger than any other I've seen before."
"I still don't see what the problem is, just open the barn door and let it fly out." Applejack said, starting to get exasperated by the lack of common sense her brother was showing.
Big Macintosh sighed. "I think you better come and see for yourself."
"Fine. This better not be some sort of a joke, you hear?"
Big MacIntosh gave Applejack an unamused look. "How often do I pull such things, Applejack? Just come look." He then turned around and started walking back towards the barn. Muttering under her breath, Applejack followed. When they arrived at the barn door, Big MacIntosh turned to his sister and warned, "You may want to stand back a bit." Applejack just rolled her eyes and motioned to her brother to get on with things. Grasping the door handle with his teeth, he tugged it open to reveal a dark barn inside.
"Where's this bird you were…" Applejack started to complain, when she saw the shadows start to shift deeper inside the barn. "What was that?" she asked, an anxious tone to her question. Fighting down a tang of nervousness, not fear thank you very much, Applejack tentatively took a step inside the barn and then another, when something came forward out of the shadows.
"SQUARK!" Applejack and Big MacIntosh both were a good twenty feet away from the barn now, as the largest bird Applejack had ever seen poked its head out into the light.
"I don't believe it." Applejack said in awe. "That there thing is as big as a cottage. I don't see how we're going to get it to come out unless it wants to come out on its own."
"We need to get in there to get our apple baskets. We won't be able to sell any apples if we don't have anything to hold them in." said Big MacIntosh.
"Well then," Applejack said, "I guess we have no choice but to go and get some help."
It had been a busy day for Fluttershy. The storm had been fierce enough that woodland creatures from everywhere had converged on her house for safety from the sudden squall. While animals were usually very well behaved around her, Fluttershy could tell this was above and beyond what her influence usually accomplished. Owls and ferrets were huddling peacefully next to mice and frogs, the only thought on the creature's minds being to keep safe from the elements gone angry.
When the worst of the weather had passed, the animals for the most part left on their own, peacefully in small groups. There were some that were harder to get out of her house though, those who had become scared to the point of being unable to move. These took Fluttershy some time to calm down. She was glad to do so, as it made it much easier for her to forget her own fear of the storm.
After the final stragglers had been sent on their way, Fluttershy went outside to see how much damage had been done. She wasn't too worried about her home, it was sturdily built, but she worried that many of the bird houses and dwellings of smaller animals may have been damaged or even blown away. She was saddened to see that a few birdhouses had been knocked down from where they had previously hung, and one had even been destroyed when the fall from its perch had sent it onto a rock below. Fighting down a lump in her throat at the thought of the poor birds who currently had no place to nest, she started to do what she could to help replace it and repair the birdhouses that she could.
She was gathering up the pieces of the broken birdhouse, hoping she could find somepony with time on their hands to help repair it, when she saw Applejack cross the bridge to her house. With a sad look on her face, Applejack said, "Aw, I'm sorry to see that the storm hit you hard over here too, sugar. Is everything all right?"
"Yes, for the most part." Fluttershy answered. "This is the only one that actually was broken, and I think I have a replacement for it inside."
"Well, why don't you go and grab it then, and I'll gather up the pieces of this one for you?"
"Oh! That's very kind of you. Thank you, Applejack." Fluttershy trotted back into her house, and Applejack paused to take a closer look at what the storm had done to her friend's property. Despite all the weather, it looked okay to her. There were a couple of birdhouses that looked like they could use some straightening up, but like Fluttershy had said, only the birdhouse at her hooves had really suffered too badly. Applejack gathered up all the pieces she could see and put them into a small pile. She had just finished when Fluttershy exited her house with a replacement birdhouse carried in her mouth. Applejack watched as her friend flew up to where she guessed the previous one had been and deftly put the new one in its place.
With her task done, Fluttershy flew down and landed next to Applejack. "It was nice of you to come out and check in on me like this." Fluttershy said. "Is everything okay at your farm?"
"Well," Applejack said with a sigh, "that's part of why I'm out here. We have a bit of a problem with the barn, and…"
"Oh no!" Fluttershy interrupted. "Did it collapse? Was anypony hurt?"
"No, no. Nothing quite like that. We have a bit of a bird problem though. One got into the barn, and it won't leave." said Applejack.
"Shouldn't it just eventually fly away if you leave the door open?" Fluttershy asked confusedly.
Applejack sighed. "You better come and see for yourself, sugar. I didn't believe it myself either when Big MacIntosh told me about it. I'm warning you though, it might startle ya, so brace yourself."
"Startle me?" Fluttershy asked, a nervous edge appearing in her voice.
"Yeah. It's a really big bird."
"Big? Like a raven?"
"Nope, bigger than that."
"Like a hawk?"
Fluttershy paused, try to come up with something bigger than a hawk, and failed. "Just how big is this bird?" she asked, her voice a mixture of disbelief and trepidation.
Applejack sighed. "To be honest, I'm not entirely sure, but it takes up a good portion of the barn."
"Oh. My." Fluttershy froze up, no longer certain that she wanted to help out her friend. "Is, is it doing anything? It isn't attacking anypony, is it?"
"No, no, nothing like that." Applejack gave her friend a big smile. "You know I wouldn't ask you to face something like this if it was openly hostile to others. I'd be looking to get Twilight to see if she could whip something magical up. Although Big MacIntosh did go to get her, just so we could get some information on what we might be facing. I promise you, all its going to do is make some noise, it hasn't tried to leave the barn at all."
"Well, if you're sure…"
"I am. I'll make sure you stay far away from it if you want. I just would appreciate your opinion on what needs to be done to get it to leave. Would you please do that?"
Fluttershy nodded. "I can do that. Okay then, lets go."
A short walk later, the two friends were a short distance away from the barn on Sweet Apple Acres. Apple Bloom came running up to meet them. "Hello Fluttershy!" she said to the pegasus, and then turned to her sister. "Everything is fine with the house, although Granny Smith decided to wait down in the cellar, just in case things take a wrong turn somewhere, and she said I should join her. But I don't wanna, I think I can be of more help up here."
"Well, I think Granny is right on this one, sis." Applejack replied. "I don't think any of us would be able to ta live with ourselves if something funny should happen and you got hurt. Besides, it wouldn't be fair to just leave Granny all alone down there, now would it?"
Apple Bloom sighed. "I guess your right. I was just hoping this might somehow lead to my cutie mark appearing. Although I guess it would have to be a very weird cutie mark for it to involve something like this, wouldn't it?"
"Heh heh, that it would. Now why don't you head on down now, me and Fluttershy are going to take a look and see if we can't solve this thing lickety split, and hopefully you'll only be down in that cellar for just a couple of minutes."
Nodding glumly, Apple Bloom headed back to the house. Applejack turned to Fluttershy and said, "Well, let's go take a look then, shall we? You can stand down the road however far away you think you need to to stay safe, and then I'll see if I can't get that bird to stick its head out for you to look at." Fluttershy nodded, and walked over to the path. Turning and look at the barn, she could see only a short distance into the barn. No lights had been set to help illuminate it yet, and the cloud filled sky kept the sun from shining down.
"Now, you tell me when you're ready!" Applejack called to her. The orange earth pony went and grabbed a lantern and started to turn it on while she waited on her friend. Fluttershy looked again into the barn, and saw the shadows move. All of the shadows move. Deciding that she didn't feel safe, she took a few more steps back. And then a few more. And another half dozen just to be safe. And maybe another couple dozen for good measure…
Having gotten the lantern lit, Applejack turned around and groaned. Fluttershy was gone. Trotting after her friend, and keeping clear of being near the barn entrance as she headed out just to be extra safe, she finally caught up with Fluttershy a couple hundred yards from the barn, and halfway down the hill. "Now dang it, Fluttershy!" Applejack said when she had finally caught up to the pegasus. "How are you going to be able to help me out when you can't even see the blasted thing from out here?"
"Well, you said I should go to where I feel safe…" Fluttershy trailed off, like she wanted to say something, but didn't have the heart to finish her words.
"And?" Applejack asked.
"I still don't feel safe. I saw something move in there! That can't be a bird! It's too huge to be a griffin either! Are you sure it isn't a feathered dragon, or maybe some sort of monster that eats birds really messily, or…"
"Enough of that!" Applejack cut off her friend with a sharp retort, and then a sigh. "Look, do you want to wait until Big MacIntosh and Twilight show up? I admit that I'm a bit spooked by how huge that thing is too, and having the both of them here would make me feel better also." She looked at her friend with a pleading look.
Fluttershy looked at the ground and replied, "Well, if you wouldn't mind?"
"Not at all. Like I said, I don't want to force you to do anything. C'mon, let's go head back around to the house this way, that way you won't have to look inside the barn." Applejack led Fluttershy back to the front door, and together they waited. After half an hour filled with idle small talk, they saw Big MacIntosh make his way back towards the house, followed by Twilight Sparkle and Spike, who was pulling a small wagon carrying books.
"Hello girls!" Twilight said when she got close to enough to talk with having to yell. "Town was just a mess, we would have been here sooner, but they needed Big MacIntosh to help pull away some fallen trees from where they had landed. That gave me a chance to gather up some books that might help us out once we get a look at whatever it is you have in your barn." She turned to Fluttershy. "So, do you have any idea what it might be?"
"Um, well I, um…" Fluttershy stammered.
"We haven't taken a gander at it yet." Applejack said. "We thought it might be just a tad bit safer to wait for the two of you before doing anything. No sense in taking a risk twice, right?" Fluttershy smiled appreciatively at Applejack for covering for her.
"Sounds good to me." Twilight said. "You have any ideas on what you want to do?"
"Well," said Applejack, "I was thinking me and Big Macintosh could stand on either side of the barn door with some lanterns to help shine in some light, while the two of you stand back a ways to be safe, and get a better view of what we have in there."
"Sounds good to me." Twilight said. "Everypony ready?"
"E-yup!" replied Big MacIntosh.
"As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose." Fluttershy admitted.
With that, the four ponies got into place, while Spike stayed back with the wagon full of books. Applejack ran around the back of the barn while Big MacIntosh moseyed up to the near side of the door and grabbed a lantern handle in his mouth. Applejack appeared on the far side and did the same, and with nods to each other, the two siblings ducked their heads inside, placed the lanterns down quickly and got out of the way when a very loud "SQUAAAAAARK!" roared from the depths of the barn.
From where they stood, with Fluttershy standing behind Twilight and peeking over her shoulder, the other two ponies could now see better into the barn. They saw a large bird, standing between two thirds and three quarters of the way to the rafters of the barn's roof tall. It waved a wing and bobbed its head up and down while making loud noises.
Twilight looked in shock. Big MacIntosh had said it was a large bird, but she was expecting something only as big as herself, not something that was over fifteen feet tall! After the initial shock wore off, she was able to start studying it and looked for clues to identify what it could be. As far as Twilight could tell, it really was just a bird; with its plain brown plumage, there were no other features that would distinguish it from being some sort of sparrow, except for its extreme height. "Interesting." She murmured, trying to think which of the books she had brought, if any of them, might be able to give her some more information.
"It's hurt." Twilight turned her head around to see a concerned Fluttershy finally step out from behind her and slowly walk forward.
"What do you mean?" Twilight asked softly, not wanting to derail Fluttershy now that she finally seemed to be in a mood to act. She had seen this happen before, the encounter with the manticore from their first adventure together coming readily to mind, and knew to stand back and not get in Fluttershy's way when she was like this.
"See how it's only waving one wing around? Birds will usually wave both if they can in an effort to scare off others in a a situation like this. The way it tries to act aggressive but doesn't move, like bobbing its head. How it stays there even though it could escape any perceived threats that we might be. I'm certain its wing is injured somehow." Fluttershy explained as she continued to walk forward slowly, and when she got close enough, started to call soothingly to the bird. "It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to take a look and see if I can help you out."
Applejack and Big MacIntosh stayed out of sight, but both got ready to move in case they needed save Fluttershy. Twilight stood still, not wanting to be a distraction as Fluttershy got closer and closer, but instead ran through the various magics she had at her command, discarding many but keeping a few in mind in case things turned sour. The bird continued to issue large cries at the advancing pegasus, and for a moment Twilight thought that Fluttershy wouldn't be able to reach the creature. But finally, Fluttershy's persistence wore it down, and she entered the barn.
After what felt like an eternity to the other ponies, the squarks finally turned into chirps and tweets, although of a deeper and louder quality than they were used to hearing from regular songbirds. From her vantage point, Twilight could see that the giant bird seemed to have finally settled down. Moving slowly, she carefully walked up to the barn door to get a better look at what was happening.
Thinking back on previous adventures with the bashful pegasus pony, she realized she should have foreseen her friend being able to calm the creature and gain its trust, but it still amazed her at how quickly Fluttershy was able to perform such feats. She edged next to Applejack, who was also watching the proceedings inside the barn. "So, what do we do now?" Twilight quietly asked her farming friend.
"I don't know." Applejack's voice was filled with awe. "I'm just hoping that she can convince it to leave peacefully, so we can put all of this behind us."
"Fluttershy said she thought the thing might be hurt. "said Twilight. "I think she said its wing might be injured. If it is, I don't know if it will be able to leave."
Applejack's face took on a frustrated look. "Well, we can't have it stay in the barn. Where will we store the apples? How are supposed to get to the tools and equipment we need to keep everything working around here?"
Twilight shrugged. "I honestly don't know. I'm hoping Fluttershy can tell us more shortly, but I'm afraid of calling out to her. I don't know how well she has that thing calmed down."
After what seemed like hours, even though the sun barely moved across the cloud filled sky, Fluttershy came walking back out of the barn. "I was right." she said softly as she came up to her friends. "Its wing looks to be hurt, maybe even broken. I think that's why it's in there. It may be the only place around where it can hide while it heals."
"Just what the hay does something like that have to hide from?" Applejack asked. "The only thing that comes to my mind that could look at it as a meal would be an adult dragon."
"I don't know." Fluttershy said. "But it's scared of something. Maybe it's just lost, the storm was strong enough to have maybe pushed it a long distance, and it hurt itself trying to get free?" She hung her head. "I just don't know, I'm sorry."
Applejack shook her head. "Don't be, Fluttershy. I'm just more amazed that something so huge has any reason to be afraid. Do you think you might be able to convince it to leave the barn, for a short while if nothing else so that me and Big MacIntosh can be able to get our stuff out of there so we can keep the farm going while it recuperates?"
"I don't know, but I don't think it will hurt to try." Fluttershy looked back in at the bird, who had now hunkered down in the back. "I don't think we can just call it out, I think we're going to have to try to lure it out with some food, maybe. I'm not certain what it eats though."
"Well," said Twilight, "I think now would be a good time for me to go look through the books I brought, and see if I can find out anything from them."
"I guess we can try to make a trail for it to follow with some apples." Applejack said as she watched Twilight head over to Spike. "I would imagine that enough were knocked from the trees by the storm that getting enough in one place to entice it to come out shouldn't be too difficult. We'll have to be quick though," she said to Big MacIntosh, who had walked on over slowly. "If it decides to run back in after its done eating, I don't want to be trapped in there with it. Who knows what it might do in a panic?"
"We could always try closing the barn up." Big MacIntosh suggested. "Although I think that, if it really wanted to, it wouldn't have any problem getting back inside just by breaking down the door."
"No!" protested Fluttershy. "Don't lock the poor thing out!"
"I wasn't really suggesting it." Big MacIntosh said. "Just more along the lines of making sure we had considered every option is all." He looked back at the bird. "If it is hurt, will it let us help it?"
"I think I can convince it to let us do that, but it make take some time." Fluttershy said, mollified that Big MacIntosh wasn't really wanting to lock the bird out of the barn. "If we get it out here eating food, I can get a much better look at it, I think. That will give me a better idea of what is wrong."
"Okay then." Applejack said. "Fluttershy, why don't you go help Twilight look through her books, me and Big MacIntosh will go and gather up some apples." Seeing that the other ponies had no complaints with the plan, they headed off to work on their tasks.
Over the next thirty minutes, Applejack and Big MacIntosh were joined by an eager Apple Bloom and the three siblings had gathered a large number of apples that had fallen during the storm. "It won't hurt the farm too much if that thing eats them all." Said Applejack. "They're not ripe enough to sell for a good price, not too mention some are a bit dinged up by the weather and the fall." The three were soon joined by Twilight, Spike and Fluttershy. "So, you find out what that thing is? Besides way too big for my comfort?" Applejack asked.
Twilight nodded. "From what I could find," she said as she levitated an open book in front of everyone to see a picture very closely matching the bird in the barn, "what we have here is called a roc."
Applejack squinted her eyes at the picture. "That's funny, it looks more like a bird to me than a stone."
Twilight sighed. "No, I mean that the bird is called a roc. It isn't actually a rock."
"Ooooh. Kind of like how a loon isn't really crazy?" Applejack asked.
"Actually, it all depends on the loon. Some of them are a little bit unbalanced." Fluttershy said.
"Anyway," Twilight interrupted, hoping to stop things before they got too far out of hoof, "rocs can grow to be almost a hundred feet tall, so the one we have here is really small. It's very likely a young one, barely old enough to be out on its own." The gathered ponies stopped to try to imagine a hundred foot tall bird. "So, maybe we should keep an eye out for its mother, although the book doesn't say if they stay with their parents for long or not."
"Well then, we better do our best to get this situation fixed before it decides to put on a growth spurt then." Applejack said. "We got enough apples here I think to hopefully keep it occupied for a couple of minutes. Do we want to try to do anything beyond us rushing in to get stuff from the barn while you ponies try to see if it's hurt, and how badly it might be if it is?" When nopony voiced any ideas or suggestions, Applejack said, "All right then, let's do this."
Applejack and Big MacIntosh got in position near the entrance to the barn, while Fluttershy walked in and tried to coax out the roc by herself. After a minute or so, she came back out alone. "It's still very calm, but it doesn't want to come out even with my encouraging it. We'll have to try the apples."
Twilight used her magic, and laid down a trail of fruit starting from inside the barn out to the huge pile of apples a good fifty feet away. Fluttershy went back in to try to help some more.
"See how tasty these apples are?" Fluttershy said, reaching down to nibble one herself. "Mmmm. Delicious. I bet you're really hungry too, aren't you Little Roc?"
Applejack looked at Big MacIntosh. "Did she just name that thing?" she asked in disbelief.
"E-yup." her brother replied.
The giant bird tentatively reached down and picked up the apple that Fluttershy had nibbled on with the tip of its beak. Tilting its head back, it swallowed the apple whole. After a brief moment where the ponies held their breath, the bird made a happy cooing sound, and then hopped forward to pick up the next apple. With Fluttershy at its side, giving it words of encouragement, it made its way slowly out of the barn and towards the large pile of apples.
Waiting for the roc to be closer to the apple pile than to the barn, Applejack, Big MacIntosh and Twilight all dashed into the barn. Applejack pointed out several items for Twilight to carry with her magic while she loaded up her brother with as many baskets as he could carry without them falling over. In less than two minutes they all were carrying as much as they safely could, and crept back out of the barn, thankful that Fluttershy seemed to have the giant bird's attention completely occupied.
"Now, I'm not going to hurt you, I promise. I just need to get a look at your wing. I want to help you." Fluttershy said. "Could you try to lift it up for me, please?" With a chirp, it tried to do so, but could only get it up a short ways before it had to stop because of pain. "Oh dear, that isn't good at all, is it? Okay, you can put it back down now, Little Roc." The bird did so, and then returned to finishing off the pile of apples in front of it. Apple Bloom watched from behind a tree a good distance away, looking very uncomfortable being even that close to something that was so huge.
Finally, the roc had its fill of apples, and headed back into the barn. The other ponies all came running up to Fluttershy. "It isn't good." said Fluttershy. "That wing is broken, although not too badly. If it takes as long to heal as a regular sized bird, it will take anywhere from a couple of weeks to maybe a month or so."
"A month? Does that mean we're going to have to feed that thing for that long?" Applejack asked. "I don't know if we can afford to feed it for a week, let alone a couple of months! If it ate that many apples in just one meal," she said, gesturing at the now vastly reduced pile that the roc had eaten from, "it could strip all of the trees from Sweet Apple Acres in that length of time!"
"I'll talk to the Mayor about this." Twilight said. "I'm sure she can help us out somehow." Turning to Fluttershy she asked, "Is there anything that we can do to help it heal faster? Would a splint help at all?"
"I don't know." Fluttershy admitted. "I don't even know if I can get it to agree to wear one, but I'm willing to try."
"That's all we can do at this point. Try." Twilight said. "I don't suppose you guys have anything here at the farm that we could use as a splint, do you?" She asked the Apple family members.
"Well, we do keep a large supply of boards around, for repairs and the like." Applejack said. "I don't know what you want to use to keep them in place though."
"There's some rope in the barn." Big MacIntosh said. "We could use that."
Twilight nodded. "I'll go talk to the Mayor right away then, and also see what I can find in the library too. Maybe I can find out some more about rocs, now that I know what to look for. Fluttershy, would you please help me get the splint on it? I think I could do it quickly and gently with my magic, but you're the one it seems to trust, I don't think I would want to try to put a splint on it without you there."
"Of course I will!" Fluttershy said. "I'll need to go back to my house to make sure all of the animals are okay, but I'll be back to spend the night with Little Roc. I bet he's very scared right now, being in a strange place with all of us around it. If I can get him comfortable enough to fall asleep tonight, that should go a long ways to making sure he'll be calmer for the rest of the time that he spends here."
After saying their goodbyes, the ponies headed their separate ways. An hour later, Fluttershy returned to the barn with a pillow and blanket carried on her back. Applejack met her outside. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, Fluttershy. Thank you very much for going out of your way to do this."
"I'm glad to." said Fluttershy. "I remember my first night in my house, it was very scary for me. Every time the wind blew and made a branch creak, or some animal that I wasn't familiar with made a sound, I would freeze up in fear. But I finally settled in, a big part because of all the animal friends that I had made, like Angel Bunny. So, I'm going to return the favor tonight for Little Roc, help him get the sleep he needs so that he can heal faster."
"Well, that's mighty kind of you, Fluttershy. We'll make sure you both have something to eat when morning comes, and let us know if you anything, you hear?"
"I will, thank you Applejack." Fluttershy headed into the barn and made herself comfortable next to the bird on the side that had the healthy wing. As the sun set outside, Fluttershy started to sing to it, and after just a short time, the bird was fast asleep.
The next morning, Applejack was amazed to see several several carts of various kinds of fruits and vegetables being brought up to her farm first thing in the morning. The procession was being led by the Mayor and Twilight.
"When Twilight explained to me the situation you were in, I knew just what to do to help you." The Mayor said. "Quite a few ponies had some crops damaged by that storm yesterday, so it was rather easy to get donations to help feed your visitor. Speaking of which, I don't suppose it would be okay for me to take a quick peek at it? I'm curious to see if it really is as big as Twilight says it is."
"Well, I don't see how it could hurt for you to stick your head in real quiet like, just be careful not to make any loud noises. Fluttershy spent the night with it, but I don't want to risk it getting startled and hurting anypony." Said Applejack.
"Oh, I fully understand. I just think it will be easier for me to explain to everypony else just what is happening here if I can tell them that I saw it with my own eyes."
"Sounds reasonable to me, Mayor. And thank you very much for all the food you brought, it means a lot to us."
The Mayor smiled at Applejack. "After all that you have done for Ponyville, everypony was happy to chip in and help you. So don't you worry, we'll do what we can to help you out."
The procession headed up to the barn. Applejack peeked in through the open barn door first, and then motioned for the others to quietly take a look. Inside, they saw that the roc was still sleeping, and had put its healthy wing over Fluttershy, who was curled up next to the giant bird and was also still sound asleep. After they got an eyeful, they silently backed away.
"Well, I guess we can wait a bit before we get down to business." Twilight said with a smile. The group ate breakfast together, and just as they were finishing up, Fluttershy stuck her head out from the barn.
"Oh, hello." She said. "Little Roc seems to be a bit hungry, I think if we did like last time, get him out of the barn to eat, it will be easier to get a splint on his wing," Fluttershy looked at the wagons of food. "Oh, my! You sure got an awful lot of food in such a short amount of time."
"The residents of Ponyville are always happy to help one of their own." The Mayor said with pride. "What do you want us to do with it?"
"Well, I think it may be for the best if we don't let him see all of the food right away. I don't want him to get sick from eating too much. I'm hoping that I can get him to come out without a trail of food this time too. So, I guess you could get one of the carts down there a ways," Fluttershy pointed to where they had set up the pile of apples yesterday, "and get the splint ready down there too, and we can try to um..."
Twilight chuckled. "I was thinking of saying 'kill two birds with one stone', but that doesn't have quite the right feel for what we're about to do, on a couple of different levels. I understand what you mean though."
The ponies got everything in place. Big MacIntosh drug some boards from the stockpile down to where the other ponies had pulled the food cart that was to be the bird's breakfast, while the other two carts were taken around to the far side of the house. Twilight got in place, with a set of notes she had written down last night about how to make a splint for a wing. Applejack got ready to head into the barn to grab the rope as soon as Fluttershy and the roc were out, and the rest stood a ways back, not wanting to interfere with anything.
Finally, after a few minutes of cajoling, Fluttershy was able to get the bird to cautiously leave the barn. When it saw another pile of food waiting for it, it was more willing to come outside, and soon Applejack was able to go into the barn and grab the rope for the splint.
"Let's wait for him to finish eating, please." Fluttershy said. "I think for now it's more important for it to be fully fed than it is for us to try to get a splint on it." The others readily deferred to Fluttershy, in part to put off the possibility that they might anger the massive creature. Fluttershy spent the time talking to the bird as it ate. It seemed more than willing to eat the fruits and the corn, but seemed to avoid the other vegetables until they were all that was left.
At last, Fluttershy was able to convince it to raise its injured wing. "Please, Little Roc, if you let us do this, it will help you get better faster, and then you can fly again sooner." Finally, Fluttershy nodded at Twilight, who used her magic to construct a splint. It was touch and go for a moment when Twilight had the boards come into contact with the injured wing, but Fluttershy was able to convince the bird to stay still, and soon Twilight had the splint finished. The roc tested it out a couple of times by lifting the injured wing up and down a little, and in the end seemed to accept it.
"Oh, Little Roc, I'm so happy for you!" Fluttershy said to the bird, who responded with happy sounds of its own. "Now we just need to make sure you stay comfortable so you can heal quickly!" After another minute of pecking at what was left in the cart, the giant bird made its way back into the barn, and Fluttershy trotted over to her friends.
"Well, that seemed to go pretty well." Twilight said. "Do you have any idea on how long it is going to take for it to heal?"
Fluttershy shook her head sadly. "A lot will come down to how well it is fed, and how comfortable it is. At least, with it in the barn, it won't have to worry about being spotted by any predators, so that should help it keep calm and not aggravate the injury. But I really don't know how long it is going to take."
Applejack frowned at the amount of food that the bird had eaten. "Please tell me that that thing only needs to eat once a day."
"I couldn't find much about rocs in the books in the library. They're a fairly rare creature, it seems." said Twilight.
"Well, most birds eat throughout the day, eating what they can when they can." Said Fluttershy. "However, this is mostly because of the fact they have to hunt for bugs or seeds or berries. Since we're feeding it all it can eat, and it isn't exerting itself, it may not need more than one big meal a day. I did think of something else we need to take care of though."
"What's that?" asked Applejack.
"We need to figure out a way to get it some water. Would it be possible to get that from however you water your crops here on the farm?" asked Fluttershy.
"Well, we usually depend on the weather for that, and since the pegasus ponies control that it's usually pretty dependable too. But I imagine we can work something out. Maybe get a tub or something next to the barn, and get some pegasi to empty out some rain clouds into it?"
"That should work well." said Fluttershy. "It could also use that to bathe itself. Anyway, I need to go back to my house, and see how all of my other animal friends are doing. I'm sure Angel had his hands full with all of the others last night."
"Sounds good to me, sugar. You go and do that. I reckon Little Roc there isn't going to do much else than take it easy?"
"I think that is all that will happen too, as long as he isn't bothered by anypony."
"Don't you worry none about that. I mean, what pony in their right mind would want to go and possibly aggravate a bird that big?" asked Applejack.
From off to one side, they heard a filly say, "I'm telling you, this could be the perfect chance to see if taking care of wild creatures is what are cutie marks are about!"
Applejack hung her head and sighed. "Right. I'll go get those youngsters set straight." Turning to see Apple Bloom and her two friends off to one side, slowly sneaking towards the barn, Applejack yelled at them, "Stop right there, missies! That there ain't no place for the likes of you!"
"Oh, c'mon!" protested Scootaloo. "You have to go and let us help it get better! We can get up to it, and help get it's bones all set nice and perfect, and…"
"No, no, and NO!" admonished Applejack as she got up to them and started to pull them away from the barn. "Now, why don't you three come with me, and I'll explain to you in great detail all the ways that such a half baked plan could go wrong…"
The Mayor came up to Twilight and Fluttershy. "Well, we're all going to go back to town now. If there's anything else we can do to help that you think of, please let us know, okay?"
"We most certainly will, Mayor." Twilight said. With that, the ponies all went their separate ways and got their regular daily routines started.
Big MacIntosh managed to find a suitable container that would hold water without leaking, and he dragged it over to the barn. Rainbow Dash was persuaded to keep it full with rainwater, something she didn't mind doing when she realized she would get to look at the roc whenever she did so. Fluttershy ended up spending around half of her time at her place, and the other half at the barn with Little Roc. For his part, the giant bird seemed to be quite patient when left alone, and always in a happy mood when Fluttershy came by to visit.
The only real problem with having Little Roc on the farm was just how much food he ate. There weren't any more large donations available from the rest of the town, although they did try to give what they could when they could. Still, the majority of the food that the bird ate had to come from the trees and crops there on Sweet Apple Acres. "I tell you," Applejack confided to her brother one day, "if that thing isn't able to leave after a month or so we're going to be in a gigantic world of hurt for having anything left to sell to keep the farm going."
Big MacIntosh nodded his head. "I wish you were wrong, sis. But that's the way it looks to me too."
After a couple of weeks had passed, Fluttershy did daily check ups on the wing of Little Roc, looking to see if the splint could come off. At around the three week mark, Fluttershy came up to Applejack with a big smile on her face.
"I think it's finally time to remove the splint, and get a closer look at how fully healed that wing is."
"Well, that's some of the best news I've heard in a long time. Let me go and get Twilight, and you get Little Roc outside and ready." said Applejack.
A short while later, Applejack had returned with Twilight and Rainbow Dash. "Hey, I really want to see what it looks like when something that big flies." Rainbow Dash said. "And this may be the only chance I get where I don't have to worry about being eaten in the process!"
Using her magic, Twilight slowly and carefully removed the splint from Little Roc's wing. As soon as the boards and rope had floated away, the bird flexed his wing up slowly. To everypony's relief, Little Roc was able to lift it up as high as his other wing, but the bird didn't seem to want to try to fly right away.
"I bet I know why." Said Rainbow Dash. "I bet he needs to get that wing into shape, get it strong enough to carry its weight." She turned to Fluttershy. "You want me to help out Little Roc get some exercise?"
"Oh, I would greatly appreciate it, Rainbow Dash. Thank you!" said Fluttershy.
"Okay, Little Roc! You set to start getting the wing ready for flying?" Rainbow Dash asked the giant bird.
"All right!" Rainbow Dash got in front of the giant bird. "Just copy what I do! We'll start slow, and if you start to get tired, you stop, okay? The one thing we don't want to do is overwork the wing, that could make things take longer in the long run."
Rainbow Dash slowly led Little Roc through a series of wing lifts, making sure to give both wings some exercise. After a good twenty minutes, Rainbow Dash brought it to a stop. "I think that's enough for now. I'll come back and we can do some more later, okay?" Little Roc squarked in agreement.
The next couple of days held a similar pattern, with Rainbow Dash helping Little Roc get his wing strength up. Fluttershy joined in too that afternoon, and by the second day Scootaloo had joined in also, partly to be around the pegasus she idolized, and partly just to have a chance to be around the roc. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle watched their friend from the side, shouting out encouragement to everyone involved.
On the afternoon of the third day of the workouts, Little Roc only stretched for the first few minutes and then stopped. "What's the matter?" Fluttershy asked. Instead of giving any sort of a vocal reply, Little Roc just looked up at the sky instead. "Oh! Oh my! Everypony, get back, I think he wants to see if he can fly on his own."
Seeing the other ponies back off from where they were working, Applejack and Big MacIntosh rushed over to join them. After checking to make sure he had room for his wings, Little Roc started trotting down the road, flapping his wings hard. The ponies followed behind him, cheering him on, and just when they though he might run out of room on the road, he finally got his feet off of the ground and started flying. He didn't go far though, just a short ways out, and then turned back and landed in front of the barn again. The ponies all galloped back to him, smiles on their faces.
"So, what now then?" Applejack asked. "Just one or two more nights so it can get more of its strength back, and then it leaves?"
"Sounds about right to me." Rainbow Dash replied. "I can't believe its been three weeks since Little Roc first showed up! Only feels like its been a couple of days to me!"
Applejack chuckled. "Well, I must have all those extra days you're missing then, because it feels like the guy has been hanging out in our barn forever at times. He grows on you, but I have to admit I won't be completely broken up over him leaving. We just simply can't keep him fed too much longer."
Fluttershy had stopped walking when the possibility of Little Roc leaving had been brought up, and she watched her friends move away from her. Apple Bloom noticed what had happened and came back to her and asked, "What's wrong Fluttershy? You don't seem very happy."
"Well, I am happy." She said. "It's good that Little Roc is going to be able to go home soon. I'm sure he has friends out there worrying about him. I'm just… I'm going to really miss him when he leaves, that's all."
Apple Bloom and Fluttershy walked silently back towards the barn a ways behind the rest of the ponies. "Well," said Apple Bloom after a short pause, "Sure he has to leave, but nothing will stop him from being able to come back and visit, right? Or maybe you can go visit him?"
Fluttershy nodded slowly and smiled at the filly. "You're right, Apple Bloom. Thank you for pointing that out. And I need to cheer up, I don't want Little Roc to get upset at me being sad. He might decide to stay here, and while you and your family have been fantastic in helping him, even I can see that the trees don't have as many apples on them as they usually do. He needs to be able to go and find what he normally eats, out there, wherever he comes from."
Still, Fluttershy walked with a heavy heart back to the barn, and instead of spending her usual time with the huge bird, she left early, while everypony else was still talking about how great it was that Little Roc was able to fly again.
She was just about back to her house when she heard Rainbow Dash yell down at her from above. "Hey! What's wrong, Fluttershy?"
Fluttershy tried to put up a brave front for her pegasus friend, but instead found herself breaking down into sniffles with a couple of tears running down her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash, but I'm just going to miss Little Roc so much!" Fluttershy went up to Rainbow Dash and started to sob into her shoulder.
Rainbow Dash just stared at Fluttershy for a moment, with a 'Do I really have to be the one to deal with this?' look on her face, and then draped a foreleg over Fluttershy's shoulder. "C'mon, Fluttershy." She said to her friend, trying to sound cheerful. "Don't be so down! Just think how much fun it will be to fly with Little Roc tomorrow! And I'm sure you'll see him again down the road, right?"
"That's just it though!" wailed Fluttershy. "Can you remember ever seeing a roc before?"
"Well, now that you mention it, no I haven't." Rainbow Dash admitted.
"So they must live a long ways away then." Fluttershy said. "It was a big storm that brought him here, so it probably blew him a long long ways before he ended up on the Apple family farm. If Ponyville was anywhere even close to where rocs live, we'd know more about them than we do, so I'm sure once Little Roc leaves, we'll, we'll never see him again."
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Well, that may be true, but think about all the friends Little Roc has here now. If you made friends in a distant place, you'd do your best to keep in touch with them when you could, right?" Seeing Fluttershy nod, Rainbow Dash continued, "So, he may not be able to show up that often, but even if its only once every year or so, that's better than never seeing the guy again, right?"
Fluttershy finally stopped crying, and gave Rainbow Dash a small smile. "You're right. Thank you for cheering me up."
"Hey, that's what friends do, right? We're there for each other! Speaking of which, I think Little Roc was a little upset that you left without saying goodbye to him like you usually do."
"Oh my! You're right, that was rather rude of me. I'll head back right now." In her haste, Fluttershy actually took to the sky to get back to the farm faster. When she arrived at the barn, she heard a loud squark of joy when her roc friend saw her. Fluttershy trotted up to the bird and leaned against its foot.
"I'm sorry I left like that, Little Roc!" she said. "I'm just feeling a little sad about you leaving is all. I'm come to really appreciate how good of a friend you are, and just the thought of you leaving hurt. You'll try to come back and visit us from time to time, right?"
"SQUARK!" Little Roc said, bobbing his head happily.
"Good." Fluttershy said, staying with the roc for a while before saying goodbye and heading back to her house.
The next day lots of ponies came to see Little Roc leave. Everyone brought some food for him, and Applejack was relieved that it meant one less meal that her family's farm would have to provide to the creature. Others had brought flags and banners, and a small group of pegasi had gathered, led by Rainbow Dash, to be the aerial escort for Little Roc. To Twilight Sparkle, it had the feeling of a parade, one full of excitement and happiness. As the Mayor explained to her on the way over, "Who knows when we'll ever get to see something like this again. Nopony wants to miss out on the chance."
After Little Roc had finished his meal, he walked down to the road, which was the only area nearby where he could get a long enough stretch of land to build up enough speed to make a running start, and was a bit startled to see so many ponies waiting for him. Fluttershy flew up to his head though, and was able to comfort him to where he was soon ready to try to take off. After stretching his wings, and with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy leading the way, Little Roc finally started his run, and in even less time than it had taken him yesterday, he was soon up and in the air, flying in circles to the cheers of the ponies below.
Giving one last squark to the ponies below, he then flew higher and higher, until he finally took off in the direction of the Everfree Forest. The assembled ponies watched in amazement at how fast it flew once it got moving and soon, despite how large it was, the roc slowly faded to just a small dot in the sky and then finally disappeared from sight. The crowd below dispersed, and Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash landed to meet the rest of their friends down below.
Fluttershy stood a bit off to the side of the others, watching in the direction that Little Roc had left in, and the others gave her some space. Finally, Twilight walked over to her. "Are you doing okay, Fluttershy?" she asked her friend.
With a smile, Fluttershy turned and faced the purple unicorn. "Yes, I am, thank you Twilight. I'm going to miss Little Roc, even though I didn't know him for all that long. But like Rainbow Dash told me, I'm better off for having gotten the chance to know him, than I would have been if I had never gotten to be his friend."
Twilight nodded. "That's true. And who knows? We may get to see him again someday down the road again too. That will be something to look forward to, don't you think?" She looked back at the rest of her friends. "C'mon, lets go join the others. I'm sure you have some stories to tell the rest of us about him that we don't know yet, and we'd love to hear them." With that, the two turned and walked towards the others and as a group they all headed towards the barn, to better remember their friend.
Inside, they found Big MacIntosh working on straightening up the mess that the barn had turned into from having a large bird live in it for almost a month. Seeing the others enter, he walked over to the side and picked up a large brown feather in his mouth by its shaft and brought it over to Fluttershy. "He didn't leave too much of a mess here, but he did leave this behind, I thought you might like to have it." The feather was easily five feet long.
"Oh! Thank you very much, yes, I would like to have that! It would be wonderful to have to help me remember him by. I can put it next to the one that Philomena gave me." Fluttershy said. Big MacIntosh laid it down on the ground by Fluttershy's hooves and then stepped back. Fluttershy tried to pick it up, but found it a bit unwieldy due to how big it was. Putting it back down, she asked the red stallion, "Would you mind carrying it over to my house later on, please?"
"I'd be happy to." Big MacIntosh replied.
Apple Bloom came walking in with a tray in her mouth, carrying several bottles of apple cider with straws in them. Soon, everypony had a bottle in front of them and was seated in a circle, listening to Fluttershy as she told some stories about their friend who had recently left to go back home.