It was a beautiful day in Equestria. It was not supposed to be. The sun bore down from the heavens on the ground below, mercilessly bathing the grass in a radiant light the greenery did its best to resist. Somewhere beneath the vibrant skin of the plants there was the idea of drought, of dryness. The same was suffering a great tree in Ponyville, trapped immobile beneath a cloudless sky.
Inside the tree was the library of one Twilight Sparkle and also the pony herself. Sprawled out on the floor was Rainbow Dash, as blue as the sky, wings crumpled and broken. Tears streamed down her face. Her head was slumped against the wood floor. It wasn't a good day for flying anyway. Outside, the air was stagnant and it clung to the body and lungs with a malicious persistence.
Twilight lay near her friend, nuzzling her, brushing Dash's mane while Twilight read a book on the floor opposite Dash's side. It was all Twilight could do. They kept painkillers now, this happened so often. Dash had taken a few, but Twilight knew it didn't make the pain go away. Dash was still sobbing, but she'd learned to endure this kind of pain. The medicine helped, but the rest was up to willpower.
It had been a simple thing. Dash had come to Twilight with a radical idea. She wanted Twilight to cast a spell to make Dash able to fly faster. Except the idea wasn't that radical; she'd had ones just like it over and over again for some time now. Twilight had obliged, and the result had ruined Dash's wings. It was the same thing every time. Every single time.
The first time Twilight had crippled her friend, it came with a black hole of guilt and terror. The entire moment had crystallized, occurring in slow motion for everyone, and afterward the episode lasted for weeks. Twilight had languished in self-doubt beyond anything she had experienced before, and she'd been surrounded by the drama of helping friends and accusations. When at least she could finally confront Dash again and look into the other pony's eyes, they confessed their love for one another. That had been odd.
Dash sniffled below her, and Twilight kissed her on the head. She did love her friend, but it was platonic. After the first accident it hadn't seemed that way, though. They'd kissed each other on the lips, passionately. It had been a great release of pent up energy, but almost immediately afterward the feeling faded. The exciting part of love had happened, but then the rest fizzled into non-existence. That was probably good, Twilight thought, because she would never be able to stand Dash's attitude all the time, but it had been beyond unusual. She'd chalked it up to emotions running high, and after all it had been a great relief to see Dash would be okay.
Then it happened again. Just like before, Dash came to Twilight with an idea, and Twilight had crippled her. This time the guilt hit harder. The horror was dulled because she'd dealt with it once before, but what kind of insidious creature did such a thing to her friend two times? Dash went to the hospital again, and Twilight withdrew from the world just as before.
This event, however, Rarity had spent a lot of time with Twilight, trying valiantly to console her friend. Towards the end of everything, conveniently as Dash exited the hospital with a clean bill of health, she and Rarity had also confessed their love. They hadn't just told each other – they'd shown one another how they felt. They'd made love roughly a week after Dash was okay. Then, just like with Dash before, the feelings vanished. Rarity and Twilight could no longer look one another in the eye. In retrospect it seemed wrong. Twilight had been able to re-imagine it as something acceptable, just two friends bonding rather... severely during a rough event in their lives. Twilight was a more logical thinker than Rarity, though.
"Why does this keep happening?" Dash choked, eyes screwed shut.
Twilight didn't know. She felt her back growing hot. She'd forgotten to move Dash away from the windows, and now they'd been lying in the beating sun for too long. Twilight peered outside into the waving heat of the afternoon. It was beautiful out. It had been for days. No, not days. Weeks. Months. Twilight suddenly felt very uneasy. When was the last time it had been cloudy? Twilight couldn't remember.
A sick feeling began to open up underneath her. It was as though some wicked, clawed creature was tickling at the back of her neck. Twilight searched her mind desperately for a memory. It wasn't something one usually noticed, but it had been an awfully long stretch without a change in weather. When had it last rained?
"Twilight?" Dash asked.
Dash was in a pathetic state. Her nose was running, her face was stained, and Twilight's brushing was removing a great deal more hair than it should have. Twilight had noticed the same thing about herself, too. Her fur had been thinning. There was just too much stress anymore.
"Can I have a glass of water?" Dash warbled.
Twilight kissed Dash on the back of the neck and rose, wordlessly. She shut the window behind her, so Dash wouldn't get too hot laying there helplessly. She went to the kitchen and fetched a glass. It was brightly lit in here. The kitchen windows overlooked a long stretch of grass with nothing in it. It was still beautiful out. Butterflies fluttered but didn't land. There were no flowers for them to eat from in that expanse. No weeds either. Just grass. Green grass that held perfectly still because there was no wind.
Twilight wondered how Dash was, and her thoughts became plastered on her friend. Dash needed her, but not just that. Twilight needed Dash too. She could feel it swelling up in her chest. She wanted to go to Dash and kiss her all over. She wanted to tell Dash she'd be okay and that Twilight was sorry, and that... and that...
Twilight's glass hit the floor, exploding with the force of impact. Twilight followed soon after, dropping to her knees. Her right foreleg came down on a wicked shard jutting up from the floor, but Twilight didn't care. She cried. She didn't know what else to do. She wanted to go home. She was home. She wanted to go back to when she was young and still lived with her parents, when life still made sense. Twilight was tired of having feelings.
It didn't use to be like this. Back in Canterlot she used to daydream about stallions she knew. When she talked to a guy she liked she stuttered and acted nervous, which was his cue that he was doing well. Even making small talk with a boy she liked was a challenge. But her friends? From square one she'd been able to talk to her friends. She'd never daydreamed about them. She'd never stuttered or worried too much what they thought of her hair. So why?
Over time she'd come to feel stupid and impulsive. It didn't make any sense. Why did she keep casting spells that hurt her friends? She always considered the consequences before doing anything. She was meticulous about it! She'd known every time that a failed spell would hurt Dash, but she just kept casting them, and Dash just kept asking. And for what? So she could fly faster? It was important to Dash, but Twilight knew just how trivial it really was. She knew better!
Twilight needed comfort, and she thought of Dash, who was alone in the other room with parts of her body in ruined shambles. Dash needed more comfort than Twilight did. Twilight came to her feet. Her leg was bleeding profusely, but she merely brushed the glass away and fetched another cup for Dash. She filled it with water, then brought it back to the living room.
With the windows closed the room was dim. Dash rose her head from the floor, but she didn't comment about the crash from the kitchen, the tear streaks on Twilight's face, or Twilight's bleeding leg. She just stared, distantly, the old sparkle in her eye dim and glossy. She had the look of a beaten dog who'd learned to hold still and suffer through her cosmic punishment. It saved more energy than fighting.
Twilight laid next to her and helped her drink. Watching Dash, she didn't feel that same sense of worship that she did for stallions. The shape of the jaw, the curve of the neck, the wave of the hair. Twilight read a lot of romance novels, and she was very good at romanticizing the qualities of a male, even if she didn't talk about it much. She couldn't do that with Dash. She just didn't see the same things, but still. She needed Dash. She didn't know what it was, but her heart simply reached out, or was being pushed out. It was a moment of clarity being smothered by a damp plastic bag of desire.
"Dash," Twilight said urgently. "When you're all better you-"
Twilight hesitated. She wanted to tell Dash to get away. To escape. She didn't need to keep coming over to see Twilight. It was dangerous. She loved her friend. She loved her very much right now. She didn't want to see Dash keep getting hurt.
However, Twilight had once read a philosophical anecdote about love. It proposed that the god of love was born of rape from his parents, Poverty and Desire. Love wandered the streets with nothing, not a scrap to his name, but connived to get anything he could dig his claws into. Love wanted, Love was envious, and Love would use any situation to his advantage. Love altered Twilight's warning.
"We need to get away from here," Twilight led. "Away from Ponyville."
She'd meant to say that something was wrong. It had been a beautiful day for too long. Dash needed to know. She needed to warn everybody. But the words became stuck in her throat. It sounded crazy. Dash brought her face close to Twilight. Her breath was ragged, and she gazed at her friend. The look in Dash's eyes was ambivalent. Tired, confused, incredulous.
Twilight leaned forward and kissed Dash. She kissed her on the lips. Dash did not refuse. Energy passed between them. Then, when the kiss broke, they stared into each other. There was another step.
"I love you," Twilight breathed, hearing the words before thinking them.
Dash pulled away. She laid her head on the floor, defeated. The moment passed, and the feelings dissipated into the stagnant air. Twilight knew they weren't gone. They were only waiting there. They didn't circulate. They didn't move. They just hung above them, clinging to the walls and the books until someone breathed it in again. They didn't care who actually loved what or how love came to be. It just existed.
The feelings were replaced by guilt. Guilt because she'd taken advantage of her friend's condition. Guilt because she and Dash both knew it wasn't true; there wasn't any love. Guilt because somehow, Twilight knew that she needed to escape from here and all her friends, and she'd tried to take Dash with her. She'd only keep hurting Dash. It was a kind of selfishness a pony only endures with love.
Twilight set her head down over Dash's. Twilight was sorry. A normal life was all a typical pony was cut out to have. Applejack normally worked all day on her farm. Her little family was barely enough to keep the big orchard going, and she worked herself to the bone. Nowadays Applebloom would run away from home, and the Apples would be at wits end trying to find her. For a while now, horrible things just kept happening to Applejack. Somehow they kept the farm going, but AJ looked tired these days, like she didn't have much more time left in her.
Things for Pinkie had been the worst. Normally chipper and able to shrug off any hardship, she'd recently been diagnosed with diabetes. Not only that, but she was putting on bipolar displays more often, and she had a tendency to lash out at others. Pinkie no longer had time to throw parties and cheer everyone up – she spent too much time grappling with her own problems.
Rarity had fared well enough, but she was suffering too. Just like Twilight, everyone in town was becoming aware of her strange love affairs. She would become deeply infatuated with someone, spend a great deal of time securing the climactic part of the romance, and then would lose interest thereafter. Twilight had even caught wind of her doing some sordid things with Spike that Rarity should know better for. And then there had been those serial assault cases which all seemed to involve her somehow, though thankfully that was now just a painful memory.
And every step of the way, the weather had been beautiful. The sun shone on the unprotected earth day in and day out. And everything had a sort of narrative. The type of thing that normally doesn't happen in real life. Events were dramatic and occurred with timing. Things that should have been luck simply weren't. They could almost be accounted for.
Just as now. Twilight and Dash had confessed love to one another. The door to the tree house swung open as Spike barged inside, trailed by a doctor and the humid, stalling air from outside.
"There she is," Spike said, pointing.
There would have been urgency, but this just kept happening. Twilight and her friends were among the most miserable ponies in Ponyville. Twilight stepped away from Dash, rising to her feet, only now feeling the splitting pain caused by her wounded leg.
The doctor approached, followed close behind by two ponies with a stretcher.
"She'll be alright," the doctor told Twilight as his compatriots lifted the blue pony.
And that was how it went. The story was over. Twilight had hurt her friend. There'd been emotions and a lot of stress. The stress was killing them. Then, in the turmoil of the moment, they'd kissed each other and Twilight had professed love. Conveniently, the doctors showed up afterward.
"That's a nasty cut," observed the doctor, taking note of Twilight's leg.
"It's fine," Twilight replied.
She engaged eye contact with the doctor for a moment. She wanted to tell him. She wanted to ask, but something kept the words from coming out.
"Yes?" the doctor asked, patiently.
"I was just wondering," Twilight managed. "Do you remember the last time it rained around here?"
The doctor scratched his chin and rolled his eyes back in thought.
"It's been dry around here for an awful long while," he admitted. Then, cheerily, "But I'm sure the weather teams are cooking up a good storm as we speak!"
Twilight nodded. Was it worth it to send a letter to the princess? If she had noticed, surely she'd have done something about it already. Maybe Twilight was going crazy. Too much stress too often. Twilight needed a break. She needed to get away from Ponyville.
"Really, though, I don't see how you can think of the weather at a time like this," the doctor scolded. "You really must stop trying these magical experiments on your friends."
The accusation made Twilight feel small. It made her feel stupid. A stupid pony would cast dangerous spells on her friends for no reason. A stupid pony cast spells that backfired and did untold damage.
"I didn't even want to cast the spells in the first place," Twilight replied woodenly. She didn't know why she felt compelled to defend herself.
"Well, you shouldn't be so easily persuaded by your friend's begging," the doctor reprimanded. "Honestly, she doesn't know the consequences as well as you!"
Twilight nodded, vacantly. The doctor took Rainbow Dash and left. Twilight stood in the doorway. Heat flowed in through the passageway. There was no wind.
"Uh, Twilight?" Spike asked, tugging at Twilight's tail.
"What, Spike?" Twilight responded, changing attention.
"Nothing," Spike smiled, putting his hands up defensively. "Just wondering if you're okay. You're kind of just standing there."
"I'm fine, Spike," Twilight stamped.
"Okay!" Spike agreed desperately.
Twilight turned back to the doorway. There weren't any birds in the sky. No clouds. Nothing. Another primordial shiver gripped her body. It was wrong. It was all wrong.
"So, you're not going to lock yourself up in the house again all week, are you?" Spike asked, holding up his index finger.
Twilight glared at the little dragon.
"Stay here," Twilight demanded. "Wash the floors. Get rid of the dust. Put some fans up and get the air circulating around here, for crying out loud!" She snapped at him.
"Get some fans?" Spike asked, taken aback. "But why? It's not that warm. Now's not really the time of year."
"Just do it, Spike!" Twilight ordered, pitching near a shriek.
She stomped out.
"H-hey! Where are you going?" Spike called after her.
"Going for a walk!" Twilight shouted.
It started off as a walk. She picked a direction. She knew where she was going. She knew where she had to be. She passed other ponies on the street, but paid them no mind, shoving them aside if they were not obliging enough to move on their own. Twilight neared the outskirts of town and kept going.
Something tugged at the back of her mind. A longing. She'd felt it before.
What about Dash? a voice asked.
Twilight shook her head. There was nothing about Dash. What about her?
You love her! She needs to know! You need to show her!
Twilight snorted. She'd shown her. She'd shown her time and time again, but the feeling never stayed for either of them. It wasn't love. None of it was real. Just stagnating madness that pervaded the whole town.
Rarity, the voice suggested. You and Rarity love one another. You shared a moment! You spoke with your bodies! You need to overcome your guilt and make amends!
Twilight picked up into a trot. She was plodding over lush, green grass now. It crunched as she trampled it.
Pinkie! the voice protested. She's at her lowest point. She can't enjoy any of the things she loves. She needs a friend now, more than ever! You can't leave her behind.
Twilight entered a jog. Pinkie was already gone. The friend she had was gone. Her heart wrenched. An overwhelming force tugged back at her. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes.
You love her! She needs to know you love her so she can get better! the voice asserted, feeling it was making some ground.
"No," Twilight replied to the flat, beautiful day.
She went from jogging to running. The wind picked up past her ears and mane as she forced it to make way with her body.
Surely you can't leave them all behind! You love Applejack! Fluttershy! Big Macintosh!
Visions came to Twilight. She saw herself pinning AJ to the floor of the barn, pressing her into they hay as they locked in an embrace. They kissed, and Twilight could smell AJ's breath. Then she was with Mac. He was gently kissing her on the nape of the neck while she giggled. He'd laid out a bed of flowers. She didn't know where they were together. She could smell Fluttershy's perfume as they nuzzled and stole kisses from one another, pecking on the cheeks like playful cherubs.
"No, no, no, no, NO!" Twilight cried.
She entered a full gallop. She couldn't see where she was going, but she knew she'd started in the right direction. It couldn't be much further!
A dragon! the voice flung madly. A dragon will attack and kill the whole town, and you will not be here to save them!
She saw the biggest, blackest, most eldritch of horrors swoop down from the sky. It gobbled up Applejack, who she loved, Rainbow Dash, who she loved, Pinkie, Rarity, Spike – everyone! It set fire to the town. The flames licked high, burning even at the fluffy clouds above. The clouds that just weren't there!
Twilight was sprinting now. She was already panting, and her lungs began to ache. Her legs burned. Still, she had to make it!
No! the voice snarled.
It tried now for envy. She saw Fluttershy and AJ dabbing kisses at one another in front of her. Mac in the thrall of passion with Rarity, buried inside her, in the same bed of flowers he had just prepared for Twilight. Twilight wanted to stop it. She wanted to hurt them and teach them a lesson. How dare they stab her in the back like this? But it was all fake! There was nothing there!
Twilight ignored it. She just focused all her frustration and strangled emotions in one direction, hurtling at top speed where she needed to go, like an arrow with nothing to follow but its trajectory. If she tripped now or hit something, she'd break a leg, or worse, her neck. But she had to go. This was it! She knew it now! She had to get away!
Twilight's sight blackened into serene nothingness. Then, fuzzily, the fog faded away. She hadn't been able to maintain her sprint. She tried, but she'd slowed down to a steady run now. She was in the trees. The foliage was deep. Ferns brushed against her sides. Twilight slowed further to a jog, but kept moving. She'd guessed. She knew it was all wrong. But she'd guessed right.
Deep in the Everfree, the wild things lived. Animals took care of themselves, plants grew on their own, and here the leaves blew in the wind. There was shade, and small lives competed with larger ones to survive. It was full of things where the patterns weren't already set, where the terrain was not already known. Here, Twilight had to find her own patterns, and she'd escaped. She felt water trickle onto her tired, burning back.
Somewhere over the Everfree, it rained.