SUMMARY: A real forest fire, not a dragon.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own My Little Pony or any of the characters, and I'm not making any money from this story.
A/N: Route Venusa won a fic prize in a livejournal contest. She requested My Little Pony. I warned her that I write angst. The more brutal, the better. I don't do cutie marks. She kindly took all this into consideration and then informed me that she was willing to wait until I'd watched enough episodes of My Little Pony to write fic. So here you go, my dear. I hope you enjoy reading this half as much as I enjoyed watching My Little Pony episodes one through thirteen.
Major beta thanks to Rowan Darkstar, who I think is the only person in the world who could accept the phrase "pony angst" without even blinking.
Fluttershy and Firelight
"Dear Princess Celestia," began Twilight Sparkle. She paused. Her reports were part of her daily routine. Items to be checked off the checklists. Items that Twilight Sparkle could always accomplish. She was a good student, and she learned something about friendship through every day of her life in Ponyville. So, I learned to listen to my friends. No good. She had learned that lesson ages ago. Today she had listened – she'd sounded the alert immediately and then forced everypony else into silence so Fluttershy could make herself heard. I learned how to respond to emergencies. That wasn't really a lesson about friendship. Also, whether or not Twilight Sparkle had learned anything about emergencies in the past, she hadn't learned anything about emergencies today. I learned that magic doesn't solve everything. But Spike always complained about how little she was willing to use her magic. It had been hard enough for Twilight Sparkle to learn that she could keep her magic and her friends who didn't happen to have magic and they didn't mind. She didn't have to learn its limitations. "I learned that slumber party campouts aren't nearly as much fun as normal slumber parties," she said out loud.
Spike was asleep anyway. His head rested on the blackened trunk of a tree, and the pen and scroll dangled from his left and right hands respectively.
It didn't matter; Twilight Sparkle didn't have anything productive to say to Princess Celestia, and the "report" item would have to remain unchecked tonight. She carefully eased the pen and scroll out of Spike's hands and stowed them in her backpack, then laid the backpack on a not-too-charred patch of grass next to the tree and put Spike on top of it. For all the times she'd tucked her baby dragon in – whether he'd admit it or not – this was the first time she'd done it with no bed, no blankets, and no way home. At least not in the dark. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy could scout the way back as soon as the sun rose.
Rainbow Dash was sleeping as far up a tree as she could hope to stay secure. Applejack was curled up on the ground below. Twilight Sparkle nudged Applejack from behind. Not enough to wake her, just enough to push her out of range should Rainbow Dash have miscalculated the security of the scorched upper branches. Pinkie Pie and Rarity were sharing one of Rarity's accessory blankets while curled up on a significantly-more-charred patch of grass than Spike's. They were rather too far away from the others for Twilight Sparkle's comfort, but the patches of not-completely-destroyed forest were too far apart for Twilight Sparkle's comfort.
The blanket was smaller than even one pony. It didn't cover huge mats in Rarity's mane and tail. Rarity was too exhausted to whine about her hair.
Idly, Twilight Sparkle wondered if she should rummage in Rarity's backpack for another of those accessories. Preferably a really warm one. For ponies used to comfortable libraries and piles of blankets, the woods were so cold.
Fluttershy. Fluttershy was nowhere to be seen.
Twilight Sparkle took one last long look around the makeshift camp.
Would she write, "Dear Princess Celestia, I learned that I should wake up my friends before galloping where angels fear to tread," or, "Dear Princess Celestia, I learned that waking up exhausted ponies only leads to stupid fights between Applejack and Rarity while nothing gets done."
Dear Princess Celestia, I learned that I need to keep track of my friends when they aren't loud enough to make me pay attention to them and Pinkie Pie isn't the only pony I should listen to.
Dear Princess Celestia, can you make it be this morning again? I'm afraid this whole day is spiraling into a mess nobody will be able to clean up.
Twilight Sparkle used magic to light her horn like a very big firefly. Then, calling Fluttershy's name, she galloped into the ruined woods.
The smoke cloud was familiar. A couple of the little ponies started running around town in large circles talking about dragons, and Mayor Flitter Flutter made a point of announcing that she hoped that 'certain ponies' could persuade sleepy dragons to find more convenient napping locations once more.
Applejack said that this time she'd herd the dragon away like it was another of her cattle dogs. Rarity said that this time she'd pack a stylish hat for Applejack to truly impress the dragon. Pinkie Pie said that she wanted a stylish hat. Applejack said the dragon wasn't going to care how anypony was dressed, and would Rarity stop all her fussing. Rarity pointed out that dragons weren't dogs and were much bigger than ponies so the dragon would have to be willing to move and that better dressed ponies were more persuasive. Pinkie Pie said she really really really wanted a stylish hat like Applejack's, only pink.
Twilight Sparkle wondered if she could leave the lot of them behind and just take Fluttershy up the mountain to deal with the dragon in peace.
But the smoke was wrong after all. Heavier. Darker. Coming from the wrong angle.
"Fluttershy! Fluttershy!" Twilight Sparkle was dangerously close to panicking. She didn't panic. She was the pony who went around with her clipboard choreographing everypony else into pattern. She didn't run aimlessly through broken logs and blackened stumps, kicking the remnants of pinecones every which way.
She wasn't running aimlessly now. She was retracing the ponies' earlier ragged progress through the woods, back when the flames were chasing them so that even the slowest among them – who was Twilight Sparkle herself – had run faster than Rainbow Dash in the derby. She fanned out, following the path of broken branches and trampled leaves, and kept her horn lit. She remembered to look up frequently since Fluttershy could fly. But as the stars relentlessly marched on and the woods remained stubbornly silent, Twilight Sparkle could not deny that she was afraid.
"Um, excuse me?"
The voice had been like an insect biting at Twilight Sparkle's ear, but she mentally slapped herself in the head when she realized that it was Fluttershy, and that Fluttershy was trying to tell her something important. Hadn't she just been in trouble for ignoring Pinkie Pie who had understood the infestation from the beginning but been unable to get anypony to pay attention to her? At least this time Twilight Sparkle could pay attention while it still mattered. "What is it?"
"I don't think that's a dragon. I think that's a forest fire."
"You're sure," Twilight Sparkle said, but it was a formality and nothing more. Without waiting to hear Fluttershy's response, she yelled, "Rainbow Dash! Can you and the other Pegasus Ponies make it rain?"
"Well, that's not going to impress the dragon with our excellent coolness."
"No dragon! Forest fire!"
"No dragon to impress! Forest fire that way! Rainstorm please!"
There were still puddles, the remains of the spectacular downpour the Pegasus Ponies had produced. Earlier that day the Pegasus Ponies had all created a virtual wall of water from the sky to protect their homes. They had hesitated to venture more deeply into the woods, however, and only Rainbow Dash and her five friends crossed the woods completely. The fire had evaporated the standing water around Twilight Sparkle and the others' makeshift camp, but here, where the fire had torn through and burned out more quickly, there was more water.
No matter what else had happened that day, she and the others were still alive. Ponyville was still intact. And the fires no longer carved up the woods like some demented cookie cutter slicing through dough.
Twilight Sparkle skidded into a particularly deep puddle. A broken branch lodged into the earth scraped its way down her side. Her horn landed in the water. There was a sizzling sound as the magic flickered and the light went out.
She really couldn't solve this one.
Think. She had to think. Where was the 'find your way home after a nightmare day in the woods' checklist? Mediate stupid disagreements between competent ponies who had very different ideas about the best ways to do things, check. Organize defense of home, check. Rescue innocent woodland creatures farther out from Ponyville, check. Run like heck, check. Twilight Sparkle's chest still felt odd, like there was some of the fire lodged within it. She was more tired than she had been when she'd stayed up three solid days writing a paper for Princess Celestia back in her old life.
Her horn would not relight.
She had to keep moving.
Eventually she forced one hoof in front of the other. Her progress was hindered by the darkness, but the moon was full and high enough to see by once her eyes adjusted. She kept calling out, "Fluttershy, Fluttershy!" Her voice was hoarse.
And when she started to cry from exhaustion and pain and fear, she refused to let any of those tears creep into her voice. She had to keep calling. Most of all, she had to keep moving.
It was almost an accident when Twilight Sparkle at last found her friend. She'd been looking upwards into the trees and into the night sky – although it was very unlikely that Fluttershy would still be flying under her own power after all this time – but she hadn't been looking up the steep banks, or around the rocks that lodged themselves here and there, so much more prominent without the tree covering. At the top of one stack of such rocks that looked far more precarious than they would have with bushes and shrubs anchoring them in place, Fluttershy half-sat half-stood. Her mouth was open, but no sound came out.
Fluttershy gave a tremendous push with her hooves, but remained in place. Relief and terror mixed in her eyes. She opened her mouth. It looked like she was screaming, but no sound emerged.
"I can't fly! And I don't think I can climb that without knocking it all down!"
More terrified not-sounds.
Think, Twilight Sparkle. Fluttershy was obviously not thinking about anything besides the fact she was trapped. Twilight Sparkle couldn't climb or fly up. Fluttershy couldn't move. So long as the rocks stayed in place, both ponies were stuck. So Twilight Sparkle would change the rocks. "I'm going to use magic to lift that off your foot!," she called. "Can you fly? Don't try to answer that. Just hold still!"
The relief in Fluttershy's eyes was supplanted immediately by raw terror, but she did stop thrashing.
If Twilight Sparkle had been home in the library with Spike watching, she just might have managed to lift something as big as the rock holding Fluttershy in place. If she was in an emergency with a cranky Ursa Minor chasing all her friends, she could lift something much larger. She could turn a water tower into a baby bottle. So would that strength work when it was an emergency but she was too exhausted even to keep her horn lit? One way to find out…
"On three! One, two," and on 'two,' Twilight Sparkle simultaneously sent the rock on top of Fluttershy's foot in one direction and the rock that Fluttershy had been trapped against in another direction. Twilight Sparkle held the rocks aloft and moving longer than she probably had to, but she wanted to ensure that when she did drop them, they'd be far from other possibly cascade-causing boulders.
Fluttershy's wings started to move. She didn't fly so much as stumbled to the edge of the ledge, jumped, and glided in a lopsided fashion to Twilight Sparkle's side, but that was good enough. Fluttershy's mouth moved furiously and silently.
What reasons could Fluttershy have for not talking? Perhaps her chest was still sore from the fire. But then once again Twilight Sparkle mentally slapped herself. Fluttershy had been screaming for hours, desperately attempting to get some pony's attention. Her voice was gone. It would come back once she had managed to rest enough.
"Don't try to talk yet," Twilight Sparkle said in her best teacher voice. "Point to what happened."
Fluttershy was shaking too hard to point to anything.
Twilight Sparkle caught a glimpse of bird feathers on the ground. "There were nests in the trees, weren't there? And you tried to rescue the baby birds and then the rocks trapped you. And we were running too fast to hear you."
Earlier, the ponies had been running for their lives for the first time in their lives. They had all run and run run until the rain at last completely put out the fire then immediately collapsed where they stood. No pony had abandoned Fluttershy. In fact, Twilight Sparkle realized the others couldn't have been too far behind her, even if she hadn't woken them. "Come on back," she told Fluttershy. "Everypony is worried about you."
Twilight Sparkle craned her eyes into the distance, and sure enough, she caught the familiar flash of Rainbow Dash's tail, a long way off in the dark. "Over here! I found her!" she called.
Fluttershy nodded and turned in the direction Twilight Sparkle was facing, but she still seemed unable to move.
The tears on Twilight Sparkle's own face weren't yet dry. She hopped back a little bit. "Were the baby birds safe?" she asked as gently as she could.
Fluttershy nodded again. A ghost of a smile flashed across her eyes, although her teeth were chattering too much to allow it to go any further.
On impulse, Twilight Sparkle pressed against her friend, trying to get her a little bit warmer. "It must have been awful," she said without meaning to. Her own tears hadn't stopped.
Fluttershy stopped struggling and lay her head across Twilight Sparkle's neck. Twilight Sparkle stood as still as she could. Absorbing the shaking, and desperately wishing she could rewrite the day.
Dear Princess Celestia, today I learned that not all lessons are for me. And I learned there are things I can't fix.