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Heart of Loyalty

by PonyAmorous

Chapter 1: Prologue

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Slow, methodical hoofsteps struck against the cobblestone street, echoing a steady beat through the late morning air as Fluttershy made her way to the Ponyville library. It was a familiar route, one she had traveled many times before, but now the trip was overcast by a unique shadow of unease and anxiety.

Fluttershy was no stranger to fear and anxiety, and had become intimately familiar with the thousand different shades and subtle sub-varieties. She had become something of a connoisseur of fear. There was the fear of heights, fear of the dark, fear of dragons, the numerous flavors of social anxiety, and many more. Today’s course was a hearty blend of social confrontation and the fear of the unknown, stemming from the package hanging from a string in her teeth. A package she was currently delivering to Twilight. A package whose mysterious contents she had puzzled over for the last three days since finding them in the woods.

* * *

“Alright everypony, listen up!” Rainbow Dash barked at her team of emergency response pegasi. “First of all, great job getting the forest fire contained and extinguished. You all put Hoofington's response team to shame. No time to pat yourselves on the back yet though. We still need to do a standard search of the area to determine the most likely cause of the fire. Fluttershy here is our local ecological expert, and is here to examine what we've determined to be ground zero.”

A faint, barely audible “hello” squeaked out from the butter yellow pony hiding behind Rainbow Dash.

“Now I want this done right. I don't want to get chewed out by some Canterlot bigwig and have to drag everypony back out here again because one of you can't handle a standard sweep. Flitter, Cloudchaser, you're with me in the sky. Okay everypony, let's get started.”

With that, the pegasi split up and began to comb the forest, leaving Fluttershy behind to examine the charred and twisted wreckage. The partial remains of some currently unidentified animal tracks littered the area. That was why she had been dragged along as an expert on local wildlife.

As she shuffled about the piles of ash and charred splinters, Fluttershy attempted to make sense of the scene. Even with her expert eyes, details were hard to come by. What the fire and ash hadn't disturbed, the runoff from the rainwater used to put out the flames had smeared into a muddy mess. In addition, some of the more careless members of the group had left their hoofprints scattered all over her workspace.

At least one set of tracks was easy to identify. The deep impressions indicated that it was something very heavy, and a few bits of burnt stinger confirmed that it must have been a manticore. There were several smaller sets of tracks, at least three, maybe more, significantly smaller and all from the same kind of animal. None of the prints were in good condition, but a few partial samples looked to be canine in origin. Probably timber wolves.

It would make sense since they tend to move in packs.

Turning to the splintered base of what was once a large tree, Fluttershy saw something that made her stomach turn. Blood. It was burnt black, useless to anypony who may have wanted to take a sample for lab analysis, but still unmistakably recognizable as blood. There had obviously been some kind of fight here, but the wound must not have been that serious. A deep wound would have left far more than the few scattered drops that littered the ground. Fluttershy had patched up her animal friends' injuries enough times to tell the difference between shallow and deep cuts.

Rainbow Dash dropped out of the sky and trotted up beside her. “Hey Fluttershy, what have you got for me?”

“Well, there was a manticore here. A couple of other animals too. Timber wolves I think, but I'm not sure. Whatever they were, there was a big fight.”

“Some fighting animals, got it. Keep up the good work and let me know if you find anything else.” Rainbow Dash took off like a rocket, shooting through the canopy once again to coordinate with the other teams.

Fluttershy looked back towards the ground.

Something here just didn't seem to make sense. Timber wolves didn't have blood like other creatures. Being made of wood, they just bled sap. That left the manticore, but a creature that large should bleed a lot more, especially with the exertion of a fight with multiple opponents.

It was possible that it was just a very minor scratch, but it seemed unlikely. Even something as powerful as a manticore wouldn’t escape a fight with a pack of timber wolves without some injuries. And timber wolves made very large injuries. Maybe she was wrong in her assumption that they were timber wolves.

Or maybe there was something else here.

Circling the area again, she ascended a slight slope to find a path to the east where the tracks looked a bit more intact. There was at least enough directionality to determine that this was where the smaller creatures had entered the area from.

Following the trail a little further, she was rewarded with a set of undamaged tracks that confirmed her timber wolf hypothesis. She also noticed a clear set of hoof prints along the trail. She was about to dismiss them as belonging to another member of the pegasi team when she noticed the spacing. Whoever this pony was, they had been running at top speed. The surrounding wolf tracks gave a good guess at to why.

Turning around and following back a bit, Fluttershy expected them to become lost in the mess of hoofprints from the other pegasi at ground zero. Instead, the tracks came to an abrupt stop just a short distance off from the big mess, right next to a very pronounced manticore print. Fluttershy wrinkled her nose in confusion.

Looking to either side of the path, a slight reflection caught the corner of her eye. Sitting in a bush, somewhat damaged by the fire but still mostly intact, was what looked like a very strange pair of goggles with a few light specks of blood on them. Though the blood concerned her, she saw something else that immediately caught her attention. When taken in combination with the specks of blood, it caused a momentary rush of panic to wash over her. Caught in the cinches on one of the straps, were a few strands of very familiar lavender and pink hair. Twilight's hair.

Twilight had been here? Was this her blood? Was she hurt?! Or worse?! No. Fluttershy had just seen her this morning. Yesterday had been spent putting out the fire and by the time it was completely extinguished, Rainbow Dash had judged that they didn't have enough daylight left to begin a proper search until the following day. Fluttershy had made a quick visit to Twilight's house that morning to see if Twilight wanted her to pick up any rare herbs while she was in the Everfree forest, and Twilight had been there, excitedly working on some project. Whatever it was, Twilight had been eager to get back to it, and had sent Fluttershy on her way rather quickly.

Still, Twilight had been here, running from timber wolves, getting batted about by a manticore. Did she have something to do with the fire as well?

A shout in the distance tore Fluttershy out of her contemplation. She quickly turned and ran back to the meeting area to find Blossomforth and Thunderlane wildly gesticulating and shouting something about a cave.

“One at a time! Slow down!” Rainbow Dash attempted to calm the two frantic pegasi. “Now, what is this about a cave?” The next word out of Thunderlane's mouth made Fluttershy's wings clench involuntarily.

“DRAGON! There's a big angry dragon in a cave a little ways to the north!”

“You saw a dragon?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Well we didn't exactly see it,” Blossomforth added, “but we heard it from the edge of the cave! It seems to be staying inside, but it's really angry about something!”

“Angry dragon huh? Fluttershy, you said there was a fight here right? Could a dragon breathe enough fire to set off this blaze?”

“Oh, a dragon could easily do that. But-

“Alright looks like this mystery is solved then. Good job everypony.”

But there are no dragon tracks around this area.” Fluttershy's meek comment went unnoticed as the pegasi packed up and headed home. She knew she should speak up and say something, at least mention the goggles she had found, but something stopped her. Part of it was her natural shyness, but there was something else as well.

Twilight hadn't told anypony she was going into the forest alone. She must have had a good reason right? Still, she had to tell somepony didn't she? But would she be getting Twilight in trouble? Would Twilight be angry with her?

Fluttershy didn't know what to do. Soon her indecision made the choice for her. The last of the pegasi had dispersed, leaving her to carry the troubling contents of her saddlebag home. There she would fret over them for the next three days until she finally decided to return them to their owner.

* * *

Apprehension growing with every step, Fluttershy now approached the library. She stopped a few paces in front of the door and tried to get her nerves under control. Despite how nervous she was, it was far from the worst she had experienced. It was nothing compared to another trip she had made to the library one night. She recalled with a smile how well that particular night had turned out. The smile quickly turned into a frown as later, less pleasant, memories came to mind. She shook the memories out of her head, getting back to the task at hoof.

“Hello, Twilight. Umm, I found this the other day. I think you may have lost it.” Taking another deep breath and picking up the string with her teeth once again, she took the last intimidating steps up to the door, extended a hoof to knock, and paused. She could hear a frustrated voice coming from the other side of the door. It sounded like Rainbow Dash. She didn't want to interrupt, so she decided to wait.

Even though she had never been one for eavesdropping, the sounds coming through the door awakened the curiosity within her. Fluttershy soon found herself peeking just above the bottom edge of a side window.

She saw Twilight and Rainbow Dash standing together, Rainbow looking like she was trying to say something. Fluttershy still couldn't hear what was being said, but that didn't matter as she was quickly overcome by the shock of seeing Rainbow Dash lunge forward to kiss Twilight. A deep, passionate kiss that seemed to go on forever. Fluttershy's eyes widened in shock, then her vision blurred as tears began to fill them and an old scar on her heart that she had thought healed tore itself open.

She turned and flew away as fast as she could, completely forgetting about the small package she had dropped into the bush.

Author's Notes:

Well I decided to actually sit down and at least write the prologue. It's going to be a while longer until more proper chapters are produced. Cadence and Shining Armor may play an important role in getting the plot rolling but there are a few key details I'm waiting on season 3 canon for before committing anything. When I wrote Tomorrow, I knew how I was going to end it before I started writing. For this, I really have no idea past a certain point. Really, I've just got a few cool scene ideas and themes I want to cover and have to figure out how to get from point A to point B in a way that feels organic. This chapter is brought to you courtesy of the fantastic proofreading and editing skills of SerenityViewer who is introducing me to the world of proper formatting. You may recall that I mentioned before that he is also writing his own alternate sequel called "Where the Gentle Wing Rests". I'm tempted to designate him my official proofreader/editor (something I sorely need). That would be interesting as I also have final review editing privileges on his story.

Next Chapter: Chapter 1 Estimated time remaining: 9 Hours, 58 Minutes
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