The Proper Care and Feeding of Monsters
Applejack surveyed the damage to her orchards from the Sweet Apple Acres barn, a small, tight frown on her face.
Apples and branches littered the neat, orderly rows of trees, snapped off in the powerful winds of last night’s storm and tossed about the farm like toys. Here and there entire trees lay toppled, their trunks nothing but splintered stumps sticking from the muddy earth. Fresh green leaves formed a soggy wallpaper on the side of the barn, and as they dried slowly fell away to reveal the bright red wood beneath.
High above, incongruous to the destruction on the ground, a brilliant blue sky and shining sun welcomed the new day. Birds flew through the cloudless morning, filling it with cheery songs that did nothing to improve Applejack’s sour mood.
Sure, she thought. Now the weather is good.
A faint rustle of feathers and the thud of hooves striking the ground betrayed the arrival of her friend. She turned and nodded to the cyan pegasus, who wore a stricken expression as she gazed about the orchard.
“It didn’t look this bad from the air,” Rainbow Dash said quietly.
The earth pony shrugged. “It coulda been worse. I thought the roof was gonna come off at one point.”
“We tried to stop it,” Rainbow Dash said with a high, insistent voice. “Everypony on the weather patrol was up there, but…” she trailed off.
“It happens, sug. I know you can’t stop the storms over the Everfree. Nopony can.” She gave the pegasus a friendly jab to the shoulder. “C’mon, let’s see what’s left.”
The damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Of the hundreds of trees in the orchards, less than a dozen had blown over, though several others were so badly damaged they would have to come down. Most of the fallen branches were deadwood and of no consequence, but they occasionally found themselves stepping over leafy boughs laden with fresh, ripe apples.
The sun was well on its way to the zenith when they approached the edge of the farm nearest the Everfree Forest. The damage was most intense here, with nearly every tree in the row down or badly damaged. Applejack sighed at the sight, and even Rainbow Dash was taken aback by the sheer destruction.
“How long will this take to fix?” the pegasus asked, her voice quiet.
“Years,” the earth pony replied tonelessly. “Ah think we cin afford it, but it’ll be a bit tight round here until these regrow. Gonna be some hard work come spring.”
Rainbow Dash wasn’t an expert on hard work, so she kept her counsel. The two moved down the file of ruined trees in silence, until a faint sound broke through the quiet morning air.
“Is that… somepony crying?” Dash asked. She spun in place, her wings beating the air and setting the nearby leaves trembling. Applejack shushed her, and trotted over to one of the fallen trees. The broken crown was the size of a small cabin, speckled with bright red fruits that hung ponderously from the slowly dying branches.
“Hello?” she called. “Is anypony in there?” She stuck her hooves in the branches and pulled them aside. Dark green shadows were visible in the hole she created, and the sound of crying suddenly cut off.
“It sounds like a filly,” Rainbow Dash whispered. She snuck her snout into the branches, and before Applejack could stop her she dove into the tree.
“It’s okay,” Applejack heard her say over the sound of rustling leaves. “We’re going to get you out of here and back to—WAAGHHH!” the soothing tones broke off in a startled shout, followed by a cyan blur as Rainbow Dash blasted out of the tree at close to her top speed. She came to a panting rest behind Applejack, who looked in confusion between her friend and the branches.
“It’s not a filly!” she said, her eyes wide as she peered over Applejack’s back at the tree. “It’s some kind of weird cat…” she trailed off, searching for the right word. “Thing!”
Cat thing? Applejack glanced at the tree. The crying resumed, though softer and more subdued than before. After a moment of indecision, Applejack stuck her head in the branches, searching for the source of the sound.
It wasn’t obvious, at first. The creature was smaller than she expected, and blended easily with the shadows inside the fallen tree. She stared at it for a while before pulling her head back.
“Go grab an apple basket from the barn,” she said to Rainbow Dash, keeping her voice low. After a moment’s thought, she added, “And a lid.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Twilight Sparkle said. She stared at the lidded basket sitting on her library floor. It shook occasionally as the creature within clawed at the sides.
“You found this… thing on your farm after a storm blew in from the forest, and your first thought was to bring it to me?” she continued. She tapped the basket with a hoof, and jumped back when it rumbled in response.
“Ayup,” Applejack said. She and Rainbow Dash were standing in the doorway leading to Twilight’s kitchen, where they could safely observe the unicorn’s progress without actually being near her. “We figured if anypony was smart enough to know what that thing is, it’s you!”
“Well, I’m flattered, I guess,” Twilight said. “But I think this might be more up Fluttershy’s alley. Would one of you mind seeing if she’s home?”
“Ah think she means you, sug,” Applejack whispered to the pegasus. Rainbow Dash was faster, and besides, she wanted to be around in case the creature in the basket suddenly became violent. Dash nodded and trotted out the back.
“Okay, ‘cat thing,’ let’s see what we’ve got here,” Twilight said. She took a deep breath, exhaled, and gently levitated the lid. The basket abruptly stopped shaking, and after a moment a quiet keening sound filled the library.
Applejack trotted up to Twilight, and together they slowly approached the basket. The crying silenced as their shadows fell over the tiny creature curled within.
It was smaller than Twilight expected, barely larger than a housecat. Any similarities to a pet ended at its size, however – the creature was hairless, its smooth hide a dusky grey that blended eerily well with the shadows. Tiny bat-like wings, uselessly small, laid flat against its back. A lion’s tail, as long as the rest of its body, curled around to tuck under the creature’s forepaws.
Most fascinating to the researcher in Twilight was its face. Large, expressive eyes stared up at the ponies, and its mouth – stuffed full of wickedly sharp chisels – was wide open to emit its keening cry.
The two looked down at it for a long while, and eventually it stopped crying, instead curling into a tiny, trembling ball. Having no other ideas, Twilight set the lid back on top of the basket.
“So… any thoughts?” Applejack asked.
“None whatsoever,” Twilight said. She looked thoughtful for a moment, then suddenly brightened. “But that’s what books are for!” She darted over to her shelves, horn glowing as she plucked volumes seemingly at random into the air. They danced around her in merry orbits, forming a literary solar system with her as its sun, until finally she gathered them up into a single stack and returned to Applejack and the basket.
“Let’s see, Euripony’s Bestica Naturalia, definitely,” she read the title off one slim volume and set it aside. “The Field Pony’s Guide to Monstrous Carnivores, hm, maybe.” She set that tome into another pile.
“You have all these books on monsters?” Applejack asked. She nosed the field guide open and flipped through its worn pages, stopping to peer at the graphite illustrations at the top of each entry.
“Not monsters, AJ,” she corrected. “These are scientific works on the animals of Equestria. I’m sure that… whatever-it-is is in here somewhere.”
Nearly an hour passed while Twilight skimmed through her books and Applejack looked at the pictures. The unicorn was going through them for a second time when Rainbow Dash returned, a butter yellow pegasus trailing in her wake.
“Well, there’s the pony we need,” Applejack said. “Thanks for comin’, Fluttershy.”
“Oh, you’re welcome,” she answered. “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. Rainbow Dash said you found a baby animal?” She was already halfway to the basket as she finished, and before anyone could warn her grasped the lid with her mouth and pulled it away. She let out a quiet gasp, and reached into the basket with her hooves.
“Well, aren’t you just the cutest little thing?” she cooed, lifting the creature free of the basket. It mewled quietly and buried its face in her coat, its tiny wings flapping as she hugged it to her breast.
“Er, are you sure that’s safe, Fluttershy?” Twilight said. The pegasus gave her a disappointed look in reply.
“Have you seen one before?” Applejack asked. “We cain’t find anythin’ in these books like it.”
Fluttershy smiled down at the tiny bundle in her hooves, and made silly faces at it before looking up to respond. “Don’t you have a magical bestiary, Twilight?” she asked. “It should be in there.”
Twilight scowled at the books on her desk, and trotted back to her bookcases. She pulled an old, neglected tome from its place on the highest shelf, and opened it in front of her.
“This thing?” she asked, an incredulous note in her voice. “Fluttershy, this covers monsters. Dragons, chimaeras, manticores… are you sure it’s in here?”
“Oh yes,” Fluttershy responded. She touched the creature’s tiny nose with her own, provoking a delighted cry. “It’s a gargoyle.”
A loud thump filled the room as Twilight lost her magical grip on the book. It bounced and fell open to an entry on sea serpents and their hazards.
“You brought a GARGOYLE into my library?!” she shouted at Applejack, whose attention was torn between the suddenly loud unicorn and the tiny creature in Fluttershy’s hooves.
“A what?” Rainbow Dash asked. She crept closer to Fluttershy, her wings flared and trembling with alarm.
“A what?” Applejack seconded.
“Shhh,” Fluttershy gently berated them. “You’re scaring him.”
“Scaring him? What about us!” Twilight hissed, nevertheless keeping her voice down. “Fluttershy, those are dangerous!” She picked up the basket and lid with her magic, ready to snatch the beast from the pegasus’ grasp.
“Dangerous? Sweet!” Rainbow Dash edged her way to Fluttershy’s side, and peered down at the gargoyle. Its long fingers were curled in the pegasus’ pink mane for support, while its head rotated fully around to regard the three ponies.
“Are you sure, sug?” Applejack asked. “It don’t look so bad.”
“Everything looks cute and harmless as a baby,” Twilight said. She grabbed the bestiary off the floor and flipped through its pages. “Until one day you wake up with this thing.” She levitated the open book over to Applejack. Rainbow Dash floated over her shoulder to read.
The illustrated creature was startling. It was taller than a pony, even when hunched over nearly double. Wings larger than any pegasus’ stretched high into the air. A pair of curved horns swept back from its brow, and curled into wickedly sharp tips angled to tear apart its foes. Dragon-like claws rested uneasily atop the stone blocks placed beneath the monster by the artist.
“Oh,” Applejack said, quietly. Rainbow Dash stared at the drawing, her eyes wide.
“They’re not dangerous,” Fluttershy said. “If you’re nice to them, that is.” She smiled down at the gargoyle cradled in her hooves, and rubbed its nose again with hers. “Who’s nice? You’re nice!” The tiny creature squealed and batted at her snout.
Twilight recoiled. “Fluttershy, don’t let it near your face!” Her voice was an octave higher than normal. “Look at those teeth!” Fluttershy ignored her advice.
Rainbow Dash snuck closer. “So do they eat ponies, or something?” she asked. The gargoyle turned its head to sniff at the cyan pegasus, and let out a quiet bird-like whistle.
Fluttershy gently set the creature on the library floor, then lay down next to it. “Oh, no, they would never eat ponies,” she said. The creature crawled up onto her back and began exploring her mane. She giggled as its tiny paws tickled her coat. “They’re lithovores. They eat stones.”
“Like dragons?” Applejack asked. “D’ya think Spike’d have anything he could eat?”
Fluttershy tilted her head slightly, either in thought or because the gargoyle was hanging from her mane. “Maybe, I suppose,” she said. “You could ask if he has any soapstone or gypsum. Something soft.”
“No. We’re not feeding him,” Twilight said. “We’re going to put him in the basket and take him back to the forest. Right, girls?” She looked expectantly at Applejack and Rainbow Dash.
The two shared a glance. Fluttershy gazed up at them from the floor, the tiny creature held lovingly between her hooves.
It wasn’t a hard decision to make.
“That’s so cool!” Rainbow Dash whispered. She fed another amber pebble to the creature and watched, fascinated, as it crunched the tiny stone to pieces with its teeth.
The gargoyle had grown braver as the hours passed. After an initial meal confiscated from Spike’s leftover baby food, it explored the library, crawling across the floor and up the walls. Its claws, though tiny, provided it with enough grip to scale any surface, and even to hang from the ceiling. Eventually it grew tired and returned to the floor, where it found Rainbow Dash waiting with more stony treats.
“So do ya reckon it came from the Everfree?” Applejack asked. She lay between Rainbow Dash and Twilight, and occasionally reached out with a hoof to stroke the gargoyle’s back.
Twilight looked up from the book resting in front of her. Although still wary of the creature, she calmed down after it had gone several minutes without maiming anypony, and by the time Rainbow Dash began feeding it pebbles she felt a bit silly for her earlier hysterics. Still, she kept a first aid kit open at her side as a silent warning and protest.
“We have to assume so,” she said. “Gargoyles normally live around castles, and there’s that old castle in the center of the forest. He must’ve gotten lost in the storm, or simply blown here.”
“Oh you poor little thing,” Fluttershy said. She lowered her head to the floor and allowed the gargoyle to nuzzle her cheek. “All alone in those woods! That must’ve been very frightening.”
“Well, now that the storm’s over, hopefully it will be able to find its parents,” Twilight said. “We can drop it back in the forest tomorrow.”
Fluttershy gasped quietly. “Twilight, no! What if it can’t find its parents? What if it…” she trailed off, her huge eyes brimming with tears.
“Jeez, Twi,” Rainbow Dash said. “Isn’t that a little harsh?” Applejack nodded in silent agreement.
“No,” Twilight said, setting her hoof down firmly. “Just because it’s playful doesn’t mean it’s safe. This isn’t a bunny, or a ferret, or a turtle. It’s a gargoyle – a monster. If we let it stay here it will get used to being around ponies.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Maybe that will make it nice!”
“Did you see the picture, Rainbow Dash?” Twilight retorted. “The literature is very clear: it’s dangerous. It may be cute and harmless today, but what about in ten years, when it decides to wander back into Ponyville? Somepony might get hurt. Or worse.”
Rainbow Dash was about to respond when a yellow hoof lightly touched her shoulder. She looked over at Fluttershy, surprise written on her face.
“It’s okay, Rainbow Dash,” the pegasus said. “Twilight’s right. He’s a wild animal and it wouldn’t be fair to keep him like a pet. I’ll take him back to the forest in the morning.” She sighed quietly and nuzzled the creature again. It cooed in delight, oblivious to the conversation around it.
Fluttershy politely declined the offers of assistance from the other ponies. The gargoyle was light and clung easily to her back, interfering with her flying not at all. She was more familiar with the Everfree than anyone in Ponyville but Zecora, and by flying she could avoid most of the ground-level hazards of the forest.
The perpetual fog that smothered the Everfree Forest was lighter than usual, allowing the occasional beam of sunlight to pierce through to the ground. The weak light cast dappled shadows on the earth far below. Quiet stillness reigned over the early morning, broken by the occasional shaking of trees and branches as something large moved through the woods. Flocks of birds broke from the canopy as the trees swayed beneath them, searching for safer and more stables places to roost.
The castle was unchanged from when she last visited. Only a few upright portions remained, the rest either scattered or buried beneath a thousand years of forest growth. She circled the ruins several times, searching for any sign of life, and finally alighted on an exposed stone outcropping that looked like it might have sheltered a family of gargoyles at one point.
“Okay little one, here we go,” she said softly to the bundle clinging to her mane. She lowered herself to the stones and gently pushed him off her back. The gargoyle sniffed at the stones, then looked up at her questioningly.
“See? You’re home now,” she said. It mewled quietly.
“I’m sure your parents are worried sick about you,” she suggested. “They’ll be sooo happy to see you safe again.”
The gargoyle looked around the desolate ruins. It crawled over the stones, as if searching for something, but quickly returned to her side.
“Go on.” She gave it a gentle nudge with her nose. It squeaked in protest.
“I’m… I’m sure you’ll be just fine here,” she said, stepping away. “I’m sorry, but this is best for everyone.” The gargoyle followed until she lifted into the air. She flew in a slow circle around the outcropping, and began the long flight back to Ponyville.
A tiny wail broke the silence of the forest, wrenching her heart. She sighed and turned back to the castle.
“Now, this is only for a few days, until we find your parents.”
The gargoyle chirruped.
“And we can’t let anypony else know you’re here. They might misunderstand.”
The gargoyle cooed and attempted to burrow into her mane again.
“Especially Twilight,” Fluttershy said. She managed to extract the gargoyle from her hair and set it on the table in her kitchen. “Twilight’s a good pony, but sometimes she’s not as understanding as she could be.” The pegasus winced as she spoke. “Oh, you can’t tell her I said that.”
The gargoyle tilted its head at her.
“Now then, you need a name,” she said. “How about… Flappy?” The gargoyle blinked in response.
“No? Then how about… Angel! Angel Gargoyle!” she frowned after she spoke. “No, that’s silly Fluttershy. Besides, Angel Bunny wouldn’t like it.”
The pegasus puttered around her home as she thought, looking for any food that might be edible for a gargoyle. Aside from some gravel for the fish tanks, there was nothing immediately at hand.
“I guess we’ll have to go rock hunting later,” she said. “There are some shale deposits near the river you might like.” She turned around to find the gargoyle fast asleep on the kitchen table, its dusky grey skin blending easily with the soft shadows of her home.
She smiled and tiptoed over to the creature. Its chest rose and fell in a slow, steady rhythm.
“Shale,” she whispered. “That’s not a bad name. Welcome home, Shale.”
The rose tint of dawn filled the cool morning when Fluttershy woke. She was momentarily perplexed by the unusual weight resting against her side, but a quick glance revealed it to be Shale’s tiny, sleeping form. His wings fluttered occasionally as he dreamed, gently tickling her belly.
She remained motionless for a while. There was no shortage of animals in her cottage, but most preferred their own roosts or dens or beds. Few were willing to spend the night with her, and it was an unusual experience, much like she imagined it was to have a foal.
Eventually he woke, either due to hunger or the warm touch of her breath on his bare skin. He yawned hugely, showing off an impressive array of teeth, and looked up at her, a quiet whistle emerging from his throat.
“Hello little one,” she said. “Hungry?”
He rose to his feet and stretched like a cat, his forelegs extended out in front of him. His tiny claws caught in the tight weave of her blankets, and together they spent a moment untangling him before her favorite sheets could be shredded. He flapped his wings a few times to warm them, then peered up into her face, his large eyes wide and shining in the dim light.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said.
Most of the fog that drifted from the forest every morning burned away by the time the two emerged from Fluttershy’s home. The grass was still dewy beneath her hooves, and she took care to step around the dozens of gauzy spiderwebs strewn about her yard, their multitudinous strands rendered thick and cloudy with mist. Shale clung to her back, his tiny fingers wrapped around her mane for balance. She spoke as she walked, and he was a good listener.
“Now, gargoyles are very strong and tough,” she told him. “So I can’t believe anything bad happened to your parents. If we keep checking the castle in the forest, I’m sure eventually we’ll find them.”
He mrrrr’d in agreement.
“But we’re not in any real hurry, right?” she asked. “You’re a growing boy, and it’s more important that we get you enough food!”
He declined to answer, instead climbing up her mane onto her head. She tolerated this for a few minutes until her neck began to ache, and carefully tilted her head back until he was forced to climb down.
There were several streams within easy walking distance of Fluttershy’s home. She headed to the nearest one, a quick brook that twisted and turned through the forest and carved several tall bluffs from its banks. The water was low, a result of a dry summer, and she floated easily down from the edge of the bluffs to the rocky stream bed, which was dry except for a thin trickle near its center.
Shale hopped off her back onto the rocks. He ignored most of the round, polished riverstones, and darted straight to a large limestone boulder partially exposed by the running water. Tiny fossil shells dotted the white, chalky stone, which yielded easily to his impossibly hard claws and teeth. Within moments he chewed a groove into the rock, sending powdery dust into the air and giving his dusky skin a comical sugar-like coating. Fluttershy giggled at the sight.
“Oh my, you must have been hungry,” she said. He flapped his wings, and went back to chewing on the stone.
She let him continue his meal while she walked around, stopping occasionally to pick up a piece of shale or sandstone in her mouth and drop it in her saddlebags. Though they felt incredibly hard in her teeth, the relatively soft stones would make good snacks for the gargoyle.
After a few minutes of scavenging her saddlebags were heavy and jingled like wind chimes. She turned back to the limestone boulder.
“Okay Shale, let’s head back…” she trailed off. The gargoyle was gone.
“Shale?” she said. “Shale?”
The length of the stream was empty, though she knew his grayish skin would blend easily with the rocky streambed. She tried to listen for any of the wide variety of sounds he seemed able to make, but only the silence of the forest greeted her.
“Shaaaale…” she called. “Are you hiding?”
She floated up to the top of the bluff, and gazed into the forest. The dim verdant shadows of the Everfree blocked her sight after just a few yards. She took a tentative step toward the trees, ready to venture deeper in search of her new friend, when the dry leaves to her left rustled, and the gargoyle bounced out of the brush.
“Shale!” she said. “There you are. Don’t scare your momma like that!”
The gargoyle ducked its head and let out a low trill, though its remorse was short lived. He padded, catlike, through the grass and jumped onto her back. He buried his face in her mane, and she decided to forgive him.
“Come on,” she whispered. “Let’s go home.”
The weeks passed for Fluttershy in their usual way, though the addition of Shale to her household required a few changes. Most of the fellow animals sharing her home adapted to the gargoyle’s presence easily enough. Only Angel Bunny seemed annoyed by the addition, but Shale’s friendly demeanor eventually won the rabbit over.
Her friends were a more difficult matter. Shale possessed a disconcerting ability to escape from rooms or hutches, so it was no use to lock him away while company was visiting. Instead Fluttershy spent more time at her friends’ homes, giving them the odd impression that she was more sociable than usual.
As summer edged into fall the gargoyle spent more of his time outdoors, digging up rocks in her yard and testing them for edibility. Most of these he discarded as too hard, and as a result he and Fluttershy continued their regular trips into the forest in search of softer rocks. For treats she purchased semiprecious stones like amber and coral from the markets in Ponyville.
“Darling, why are you wasting your bits on this… dross?” Rarity asked, to the great annoyance of the shopkeeper whose wares they were perusing. She levitated a small moonstone into the air, inspecting it critically before putting it back in its tray with an almost audible disdain.
“Oh, well, I like the, um, color on these,” Fluttershy said. She nosed a few bits across the counter to the merchant, a tan earth pony with a trio of rubies for his cutie mark. The stallion passed a small bag filled with stones to the pegasus, and gave Rarity a smirk.
Rarity graced him with a dark look as they trotted away, but Fluttershy’s hesitant stabs at conversation quickly recaptured her attention. By the time they reached the spa for their weekly appointment, the gemstones were completely gone from the unicorn’s mind.
The morning air had a definite bite to it as Fluttershy landed at the castle in the center of the Everfree Forest. Many of the trees had lost their leaves to the encroaching fall, but a few stubbornly hung on to their foliage.
Shale hopped from her back as soon as they landed, his wings buzzing furiously in a partially successful attempt to float to the stones. He was larger than when they had first met; his skin was darker and firmer, and his teeth could handle harder rocks like feldspar. The two tiny buds above his eyes were beginning to grow into actual horns, though it would be years before they posed a danger to anypony, or so she told herself.
They had visited the castle at least once a week for the past several months. At first Fluttershy hoped to find his parents searching for him, though with each trip that feeling had fallen further away. Now she dreaded the idea, and each trip was filled with foreboding that was relieved only when they began the flight home.
This visit seemed like every other. The empty castle was as desolate as always. The wildlife of the Everfree seemed to avoid the place, and given its history Fluttershy could not blame them for doing so. She sighed quietly.
“Shale, I’ve been thinking,” she said. “It’s getting colder, and that means it’s more dangerous… yes, dangerous. So maybe we should stop coming here every week?” It was a weak excuse even to her ears. She waited for his response. None came.
He was gone again, she realized. He was doing this more and more often. It no longer caused her to panic, but every time a small worm of worry burrowed into her heart. He was still such a tiny gargoyle, not yet ready for the world. She couldn’t bear the thought of one day accidentally leaving him alone, like his parents had.
She waited for a while, to see if he would return. When he didn’t she began her usual search, taking to the air and circling above the ruins while calling his name. She reached the edge of the forest and began to circle back inward when a loud chirrup reached her ears. Shale was on the ground below her, jumping into the air and flapping his wings in a poor attempt to fly.
She landed beside him and they shared a nuzzle. “Now Shale,” she said quietly as he rubbed his face against her neck. “You know it worries momma when you do that.” He chirped and half-climbed, half-flew onto her back.
“So, it’s agreed, we’ll only come once a month,” she said. He tilted his head. She chose to interpret that as agreement, and together they returned to Ponyville.
The first snow came early that year. Shale spent the entire day outside chasing snowflakes, pouncing on them with his claws and trying to stuff them into his mouth before they melted. He didn’t have much success, Fluttershy noted, though his antics brought a smile to her face.
The kittenish behavior was unusual. As he grew larger Shale also grew less playful. He remained friendly and could always be relied upon to cuddle up beside her in bed, but his wonder at the world was more contained, his demeanor more restrained.
Lately he had started imitating a statue. After a particularly large meal he would literally freeze in place, every bit of movement ceasing for minutes at a time. Even his breathing stopped, until she called his name and he broke from his pose.
He was doing that now, she noticed. The snow accumulated on his still form, building into a thin layer that deepened his resemblance to a sculpture. Was this why gargoyles were associated with castles? she wondered. What possible purpose did it serve?
She pondered as he sat, and realized how little she knew about gargoyles. How fast did they grow? Did their behavior change? When did they start families? All unknowns.
“Shale,” she whispered, so quiet she barely heard herself. He broke from his quiescence and bounced through the snow toward her waiting arms. The shared a hug, and trotted back inside.
“Fluttershy! Come in!” Twilight Sparkle greeted her friend with delight, and dragged the pegasus through the door before any more warm air could escape outside.
“Hello Twilight,” Fluttershy said. “I hope I’m not bothering you.”
“Nonsense,” the librarian said. “It was getting a bit lonely here. Everypony’s staying inside because of the weather, I guess. Would you like some tea?”
“Oh, no thank you. I’m actually here for a book.”
Twilight blinked, then beamed. “A book? That’s wonderful! Spike, Spike! Somepony wants a book!”
A faint cheering sound could be heard from upstairs.
“Do you know how long it’s been since anypony actually checked out a book?” Twilight asked. She bounced over to the bookshelves, as excited as Pinkie Pie. “I was starting to wonder why this town even had a library. Now, what book did you need?”
“Um, well, I was thinking…” she trailed off, blushing.
Twilight leaned forward. “Yes? Yes?!”
“Well, do you remember that gargoyle Applejack found last summer?”
Twilight blinked. There was a long pause.
“I do,” she said slowly. “Why?”
“Um, well, with all this snow and cold, I was worried about him being all alone out in the forest. Do you think the magical bestiary would say if it’s safe for him?”
Twilight resisted rolling her eyes. “Fluttershy, that’s very kind of you, but I’m sure he’ll be fine out there. Still, if it will make you feel better…” She levitated the worn book from the top shelf and floated it over to the pegasus, who grasped it between her teeth.
“Fank foo,” she mumbled around the book. Twilight chuckled and held the door open for her friend, then went and warmed up some tea to take off the chill.
Fluttershy waited until Shale was curled up beside her, asleep, before opening the book.
In retrospect there was no need to be so secretive. The gargoyle had no idea what books were, and he certainly couldn’t read. But the thought of reading in front of him seemed impolite. She resolved to try reading him some bedtime stories later, to make it up to him.
The entry on gargoyles was short. Although fearsome, they rarely troubled ponies, and tended to keep to themselves even when they lived atop crowded castles. With a diet of rocks, and skin that grew stonelike as they aged, they had little to fear from ponies or any other predators.
That much Fluttershy already knew. She turned the page to the section on gargoyle behavior.
They laid eggs, which surprised her. Only the mother gargoyle tended to the young. Within weeks the newborn gargoyles were mobile, independent, and left the nest to start their own life. They did not form extended families.
Fluttershy stopped and read that paragraph again. And again.
She remembered the first time Shale vanished. How every time she ventured out with him he wandered away, and took more and more time to return.
She read the paragraph again. The words grew blurry as tears built up in her eyes.
Fluttershy cried herself to sleep.
“Why yes, I think I would like some more,” Rarity said. “You’re so lucky to have an assistant who can brew such delicate teas.”
Twilight Sparkle waved a hoof. “Well, he’s not my number one assistant for nothing.” She paused, thinking. “Though his tea seems much better when you’re around, for some reason.”
“You’re probably just imagining it,” Rarity said. “It’s not like my presence alone makes everything better.” She preened.
“Mhm,” Twilight responded neutrally. They shared another sip, enjoying the quiet of the library.
“So,” Rarity eventually said. “Did you think of any ideas for your Winter Solstice dress?”
Twilight nodded. “I did! Something better than my original gala dress.” They shared an uncomfortable moment of silence. “Much better. I was thinking something subdued, with turquoise and opals.”
“Turquoise? Really dear? All the gems in the world, and you choose turquoise and opals? You’re as bad as Fluttershy sometimes.”
Twilight blinked. “As bad as Fluttershy? What do you mean?”
Rarity took another sip. “Oh, well, I shouldn’t speak about another pony behind their back.” She waited for all of two seconds before continuing. “But anyway, she’s been buying all sorts of cheap gemstones in the market. Says she likes their color. The poor dear. To think she actually had a career as a model!”
“Wait, she was buying gemstones?”
Rarity nodded. “Cheap gemstones, dear.”
Twilight pondered that for a while. Eventually she glanced at her bookshelf, where a book was missing from the top row, and sighed.
She had a visit to make.
The knifing winter wind shoved at her. It kicked up loose, powdery snow, forming a white curtain that blocked the trees. Her house, though only yards away, seemed part of another world. All else was lost in the blizzard that blew from the Everfree.
“Shale!” Fluttershy cried again. Her voice caught, and she stifled a sob. “Momma has rocks for you!” She dumped out her saddlebags, creating a huge mess of semiprecious stones that glimmered with unnatural color against the snow.
“I have t-topaz!” she called. “And s-some garnets! You love garnets!” The forest around her remained still except for the swirling winds.
“Shale! Please come back, it’s so cold, and…” she trailed off. Ahead of her, at the edge of the woods, the bushes stirred. Shale stepped out to regard her. She shuddered in relief. Today wasn’t the day.
“There you are,” she said. “Look, momma has rocks…” The gargoyle stared at her silently.
She gulped. “C’mon, Shale. Let’s go back inside.”
They looked at each other for a while. He was still as a statue; she trembled. Eventually he turned, and without a sound vanished into the snowbound forest.
She was still crying when Twilight found her an hour later. The snow had caked over her wings, and she shivered even as she sobbed. The pile of gems at her feet shone through the faint layer of powder.
Twilight didn’t interrupt. She regarded the pegasus’s miserable, hunched figured, and the pile of stones at her feet. The lecture she was prepared to deliver vanished from her mind, and she sat beside her friend in the snow.
Eventually Fluttershy’s sobs trailed off. She drew a quaking breath, and raised her head.
“Twilight?” she whispered.
“Do you… do you ever think our parents miss us?”
The lavender unicorn was silent for a while as she thought. She remembered her parents’ joy at her acceptance to Celestia’s school for gifted unicorns. She remembered their tears as she moved to the castle. She remembered the packages they sent, and how slow she was to respond, if she bothered to reply at all.
She closed her eyes and thought of all the letters she had sent to Princess Celestia -- a mountain of parchment, dwarfing the pitiful few she sent her mother and father. She wondered why she had never asked herself that question before.
“Yeah,” she finally said. “I think they do.”
Dear Princess Celestia,
I’m sorry I haven’t written more. It’s been a slow winter in Ponyville; unlike Canterlot, things tend to shut down here once the snows arrive. The weather has us all looking forward to the Solstice.
Rather than include my latest report in this letter, I intend to deliver it in person. Once the weather clears a bit I plan to visit Canterlot and spend some time with my parents. I’ll be sure to visit the castle as well, and we can discuss my findings over tea.
Your Faithful Student,
Enjoy this? Try some of Cold in Gardez’s other pony stories:
Michael Bay Presents: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Revenge of the Unicorn God Slayer: Part 3: Flight of the Cyber-Pegasus