Fluttershy walked through the forest, her hooves sloshing through wet patches of mud. Today, there was no rain, though it was still freezing cold. She pulled her jacket tighter and shivered. Her breath formed white clouds in the air, and Fluttershy gritted her teeth every time a fresh new gust of wind hit her face.
As she walked, her mind wandered to the general state of Equestria as of late. Thankfully, the crippling storm over Ponyville had stopped, for the moment at least. Thick fog instead of rain clung to the streets of Ponyville now. Houses that had been destroyed or damaged in the flooding were being re-built by teams brought in from Appleloosa and Manehatton. The hospital in Ponyville now had the ability to get a handle on the massive influx of sick ponies, and many refugees had been able to leave. Supplies ranging from food to blankets were being brought in daily from all over Equestria to help with the relief efforts.
But not everything was good news. Many ponies in the hospital were still very sick, and many still were dying. At least two-dozen bodies had been recovered from houses, dead from either drowning or being crushed by debris. And more numerous still were the empty graves, graves for those whose bodies' had never been recovered. Fluttershy could only wonder how many of those who were missing had met their ends staring into an empty white face as black tendrils ripped them apart.
Over Fluttershy's shoulder was slung a bag, which contained her instructions from Celestia. "Fluttershy," the scroll read, "The spell itself can be completed and cast as-is, but in order to permanently bind the Slender Pony, we must amplify the effects of the spell. To do this, we need the Amulet of Binding, which was broken into separate pieces centuries ago. I hold the chain of the amulet in my care, at Canterlot. I have located the body of the amulet, and am currently working on locating the other two parts. The body is in the ruins of the Castle of the Two Sisters, where Luna and I used to live. Look for a pedestal in the throne room that has chains carved into the stone. The base of the pedestal can be removed, and the amulet part shall be inside. Make haste, Fluttershy. Once this monster learns of our intent, it shall stop at nothing to stop us."
Fluttershy had felt a shiver of fear run down her spine as she read the last few lines of Celestia's letter. She had already faced the Slender Pony before, and had narrowly survived. She was unsure of how her luck would fare if she were to meet it again. Memories of Big Mac's bisected corpse, bits of spine and sinews dangling from exposed muscles flashed before Fluttershy's eyes. She squeezed her eyes tightly closed.
The ruins of the Castle of the Two Sisters loomed over Fluttershy, silhouetted against the dark grey skies. Fluttershy remembered her last trip here, when Twilight had first taken them all to search for the Elements of Harmony. It had been their very first adventure, and they had defeated Nightmare Moon together, using the manifested magic of their combined friendship. It felt like a lifetime ago.
It had routinely crossed Fluttershy's mind that the fates of Twilight and Rainbow Dash, both of whom were under the control of the Slender Pony, were still ambiguous. The binding spell might free them from the Slender Pony's control over them, or they might be left forever enthralled by the monster until they eventually died. Fluttershy refused to entertain this last thought, however. "No," she muttered, "After all we've been through, I am not letting them die like that." Saying the words out loud calmed Fluttershy a little bit, and something that might have passed for courage warmed her a little on the inside. She walked towards the castle at a renewed, brisk pace.
Water pooled between the stones of the castle's throne room. Small drops of water fell from above and splashed against Fluttershy's jacket. She scanned the throne room, looking. "Chains…. Chains," she muttered, her voice softly echoing in the empty hall. The hall was darkly lit, casting large shadows this way and that. Jagged shapes of broken stone loomed in the shadows. The musty smell of neglect and decay assaulted Fluttershy's nose.
She came to a set of pedestals, most of which had fallen over or broken. They were intricately carved, most of them. Some bore scenes of rising suns and moons while some bore images of Luna's banishment millennia ago. There was one pedestal, however, that bore a weathered depiction of chains and a lock. It had broken in half long ago, and the base had fallen over. Fluttershy placed her hooves against the base and pushed inward to no avail. She tried pulling, but the stone wouldn't budge. Fluttershy, panting from the exertion, kicked the base, knocking it slightly to the left.
"Gah," she muttered as she slid the base out of its position, "Why can't things ever be simple?" The base fell away and clattered to the floor. Fluttershy winced at the sudden noise. She reached into the base of the pedestal and pulled out a polished wood box. She ran a hoof along the wood, and nearly placed it in her bag before temptation got the better of her. Fluttershy hesitated for a moment before opening the box.
The Amulet's body was a dark onyx, set in a bed of red velvet. It glinted in the faint light of the hall, looking like a piece of polished obsidian. There were two oval-shaped gaps in the center of the amulet where Fluttershy imagined more parts would go. At the bottom of the amulet was a keyhole, carved into the onyx. The amulet had a striking beauty to it. Fluttershy turned it a little bit, so as to catch the light betterm and found herself staring at the reflection of Twilight Sparkle.
The magical blast caught Fluttershy in the back and sent her flying. She tucked the amulet close to her chest and smashed into the hard stone walls of the castle. The ariw as driven from her lungs, and she could only wheeze. She staggered to her knees, reeling, and Rash slammed into her ribcage. Fluttershy felt the world go grey. She couldn't even suck in air. Her head cracked against the stone wall.
Fluttershy slumped to the ground, loosely holding the amulet. She coughed, and blood splattered onto the stones. Dash descended again, and punched Fluttershy square in the jaw. Fluttershy was lifted into the air from the force of the punch, and then lifted into the air by Twilight's magic. Fluttershy was lifted up, up, up, and then dropped. She slammed into the ground and was still.
Everything hurt. Her vision alternated between red and black, and the iron taste of blood filled her mouth. Fluttershy weakly looked up and saw Twilight lowering her glowing horn at her. "T-T-Twilight," she muttered as the magical bolt flew at her. Fluttershy managed to roll herself out of the way and slumped against a wall, the amulet pressed to her chest.
The magical bolt hit the stones and richocheted, bouncing off the walls for a moment before hitting Twilight in the face. The pale, unseeing eyes of Twilight grew wide and she staggered back. Dash looked on from above, eyeing the still form of Fluttershy.
Twilight placed her face in her hooves and rubbed her eyes. When she looked up, the cloudiness in her eyes had lifted. She staggered and braced herself against a wall. She clutched her forehead. "F-F-Fluttershy?" Twilight asked weakly, her voice full of pain and confusion. Fluttershy whimpered in reply. She could barely breathe. Every time she sucked in air, it brought blinding flashes of pain.
Twilight looked up at Dash, who was still staring blankly at Fluttershy. Her mind began to cloud over again. She looked at Fluttershy, and lowered her horn.
Fluttershy was dimly away of a pinching feeling all over her body. Her vision was gorwing steadily foggier, but she could tell that something had changed. The hard stones of the castle had been replaced by damp earth. The smells of decaying plants replaced the musty smell of the castle.
A figure was approaching Fluttershy, but through the fog Fluttershy couldn't make out who it is. Or maybe there was no fog, and it was Fluttershy's vision that was failing. As her eyes closed, she heard the figure say, "What are you doing out here, Fluttershy? In this weather, the worst thing to do would be to fly."
It was seething. The yellow pegasus had escaped Its thralls once again. The unicorn had been briefly relieved of Its control and teleported the pegasus away. It was starting to wonder why it was proving such a task just to kill one timid pegasus. But, It was nothing if not crafty. There were other plans to be set in motion.
She stared into the mirror, her mane in her face. Her breathing was ragged, wheezy, but she did not pay it any mind. She stared absently into the sink, deep in thought.
And somehow, she found it within herself to start laughing.
It was all so very funny, wasn't it? Everybody was so serious nowadays. Everybody was all doom and gloom, matching the rain. Why couldn't ponies have a little fun? The white pony with the funny voice had been the funniest pony she had ever spoken to, and that was saying a lot. Fluttershy was the worst of them all. She's always so serious, so scared. She just needs to learn to lighten up.
"She just needs to learn to smile," said Pinkamena Diane Pie as she placed the blade of the kitchen knife against the tip of her mouth. She just needed to smile.
All everyone needs to do.