Fluttershy took a deep breath as she looked up at the vine-covered entrance to the cave and tightened her grip on the fairy lantern in her mouth. You've been here a thousand times, Fluttershy, she thought to herself. You know it better than your own house. Her eyes fixed on the soft green leaves of the vines covering the opening. It was silly to think of those vines coming alive and wrapping around you and choking the life from you as you struggled uselessly against them and
She shook her head fiercely, nearly dropping the lantern. No, she was not going to be afraid this time. She was not going to think of horrible things coming out of the dark to grab her and drain her blood with wickedly sharp probosci and feed her desiccated body to their chitinous spawn. She was not going to think of slipping on a rock and breaking all of her legs and getting trapped down there and being unable to move and dying slowly of infection and starvation, alone. She wasn't going to let the rustling leaves behind her make her think of some hungry animal licking its chops and wondering if she'd make a good meal. She was not going to let her imagination get the best of Wait.
Fluttershy lifted her head and looked quickly around. Nothing was lurking in the bushes, or in the grass around them. There were only fish in the small stream leading into the cave, and those weren't scary at all. It was too late for bats, which were too cute to be scary. Just her imagination playing more tricks on her again.
She stamped her hoof, lowered her head, grit her teeth, and stomped into the cave's opening. This was getting ridiculous. She was going to enjoy a nice, quiet bath by herself in her favorite spot if she had to blindfold herself. She swatted aside the vines with a contemptuous sniff and shuffled past them, quietly proud of herself for asserting her dominance over the leafy menace.
Outside, a pair of scaly eyes broke the water of the sluggishly moving stream and watched the young pony's pink tail disappear into the gloom. The thing let out a quiet, reptilian hiss, then sank back below the water, its eyes gleaming.
Fluttershy's hooves splashed quietly in the burbling stream as she walked through the entrance to her secret cave. The chamber was immense, vaulting up high enough that the lantern's light couldn't reach the ceiling. Stalactites loomed like giant stone fingers reaching for their brothers on the ground. Fey light from the lantern bounced off of the delicate, fan-like sheets of flowstone that covered the walls and bounded down from the ceiling in silent waterfalls of stone. Below the entrance was a small pool filled with tiny cave fish. She gingerly stepped down, careful not to step on any, and trotted up to the shore of a huge lake.
"Let there be
" she murmured, setting the fairy lantern down on a large, glowing mushroom. As the magic in the copper bottom connected with the spongy cap, a silent pulse went through the fungus and shot along a trail of mycelium leading into the heart of the chamber; a giant crystal column covered in more of the luminescent fungus. The fungus' light flared as the pulse from the fairy lantern hit it, causing the strands that shot through the column to intensify their glow. The crystals bent and refracted the light in all directions and colors, lighting up the whole chamber in cornucopia of gentle, phosphorescent light that made the cave's thin coating of mineral-saturated water glisten. "
Fluttershy sighed dreamily at the spectacle. The water of the lake reflected everything almost perfectly, with only the smallest ripple marring its glass-like surface. She dipped a hoof into the water with a shiver. It was exactly the right temperature; delightfully cool but not cold. She smiled as a cave fish swam up to nibble experimentally at it and gently shooed it away with a gesture. Time for her to get ready.
She plucked a bottle from the crook of her wing and popped it open. Clear oil drizzled out over her feathers as she waved the little bottle around and then placed it next to her lantern. A few minutes of careful preening with her teeth and muzzle and her wings were completely waterproofed. Now, she was ready for her bath. She stood, took a deep breath, spread her wings wide, and slid gracefully forward into the water.
Even as a filly she'd always loved the water. She would spend hours in the tub, splashing happily and chasing bubbles and showing off how squishy and wet her mane was to mom before waving her head around and getting water all over the bathroom. She hated soap, so her mane would stick out in all directions unless mom was there to scrub her, which was always her least favorite part of bath time. That would all be made up for a minute afterward, though, as she was then left to play for however long she wanted. The bathroom floor was almost always soaked after her baths.
When she was older, she was allowed to play in the stream behind their house and graduated from chasing bubbles and surprising rubber ducks to chasing fish and turtles and surprising wading birds, who always took her playful bumps with good humor. She learned to hold her breath forever, and how to use her wings to help her swim.
Fluttershy opened her eyes and shook off the nostalgic haze. This wasn't the time. She opened her wings and held them loosely at her sides, shoulder muscles flexing as she pushed them against the water in slow, graceful undulations. Her legs trailed behind her and rippled in time with her shoulders, while her stomach clenched and relaxed, propelling her through the water like a dolphin. She turned a lazy arc around the base of the glowing crystal column, turned herself around so that her back hooves were against one of its facets, and then pushed off into the yawning abyss of the lake.
She smiled as she corkscrewed slowly downward, enjoying the way the water slid through her fur. This was so much better than flying. There was no fear of the ground so far below rushing up to meet her, or sudden winds carrying her off. There was no knowing she was only being carried by her small wings or worrying about her clumsy hooves catching on a cloud and sending her tumbling to her doom. The water buoyed her up and held her with a gentle pressure, like a soft hug. There was an almost weightless feeling, being in the water. Her fears didn't hang on her heart like little lead weights. They hung serenely in the water, just like her. This must be how earth ponies felt all the time never far from the ground, always safe.
She shook her head quickly. She was not going to think like that again. She snapped her wings closed and shot downward into the deeps of the lake, chasing down a beam of light. It flickered as something, probably a big fish, swam above her. She ignored it, concentrating on following the shaft down. It stopped inside of a crevice in the rock that sparkled with hundreds of tiny gems. If only the other pegasi could see how beautiful it was down here, instead of being stuck in the clouds all day. Of course they'd never follow her down here. A pegasus was meant for the clouds, the sky. For flying. Not
not grubbing like a badger and swimming under the earth like that huge fish that was following her.
She shook her head again, harder this time. Why did it always come back to this? Why couldn't she enjoy herself, even down here? She pressed her head against the hard edges of the crevice until it began to hurt. The thoughts just wouldn't go away. That little voice telling her that she had to fly, that it was what pegasi were supposed to do, was getting louder. Well, so what if she never flew more than a dozen feet up? What if she never flew again?! Then the others would leave her alone and that horrible little voice would finally shut up and let her swim in peace.
Suddenly, the pressure of the water closed in tighter around her, trying to crush her. The gentle hug became a cold fist and those little leaden fears sank to the bottom. She pushed away from the crevice and beat her wings frantically, hooves clawing at the water as she tried to swim to the surface.
Too many minutes later, she broke the surface and gasped a deep lungful of air. Her hair spread out in a fan of pink as she sank back down and stared miserably out at her secret place. "Th-this is a-all wrong
" she mewed, paddling slowly back to shore.
She collapsed in a shivering heap on the sand and buried her face in her hooves. Why couldn't she enjoy herself? Why couldn't she just be normal, like other pegasi? All they could think about was flying, and she was terrified of going above the treetops. She sat up and scrubbed angrily at her face. "It's these stupid wings. If I never had them then I'd never have to--" Snarling, she bit at the base of her wings only to jerk away when her teeth nicked the skin. "I, I can't do it," she sniffed, curling her wings in close to her sides.
The light from the lantern flickered as something walked in front of it.
what was nibbling on her leg? That fish couldn't climb out of the water, so how could there be something had followed her into the cave.
She turned her head and found a pair of bright purple eyes staring up at her. The short, blunt snout below them opened and hissed at her, then bit her gently on the nose and hopped backward, playfully wiggling a scaly tail. Too stunned to pull away, she stared at the little green alligator that was stomping its tiny feet like it was ready to pounce.
The alligator squeaked at her and trotted up to nip at her nose.
"How did you get down here?"
Gummy answered by rolling over onto her pink tail and chewing on it.
"You followed me? But how did you get out? I thought Pinkie Pie never let you out of the house." She reached down and scooped up the tiny gator in her forelegs, a tiny smile on her muzzle as he tried to chew on her hoof. "You're hungry, aren't you?" She patted his scaly tummy and then shuffled to her hooves. "Let's go find Pinkie and get you something to eat."
With a loud squeak, Gummy leapt out of Fluttershy's grip and snatched her lantern in his mouth. "Oh, Gummy! Please don't" Gummy yanked the lantern away from the mushroom pedestal and scurried toward the wall. The light from the fungus flickered and faded, throwing the cave into deep shadow. "Oh dear, please come back with that!"
Gummy's claws scrabbled on pebbles as he ran around a pillar, Fluttershy close on his heels. "I need that, Gummy! Please put it down!" He turned his head and squawked at her, then sprinted for the lake. Fluttershy lowered her head and spread her wings. "No you don't, you naughty little gator." A smile crept onto her face as she jumped over him with a snap of her wings. She came down a half-step in front of him and planted her hooves. "Gotcha!" Gummy scrambled to stop, but wound up wedged between her forelegs. Fluttershy quickly lifted him under his arms and mushed her nose against his. "You have been a very naughty reptile, Gummy. Now drop the lantern like a good boy." She couldn't help but smile as he opened his mouth and let the lantern fall to the floor. "Thank you."
Fluttershy hugged him close; her face in the scales of his head, his head snuggled into her dripping mane. Gummy wiggled into her chest with a happy little hiss and nipped her cheek. "Thank you..."