Update! 28th December, 2012: Completely redrew Fluttershy and remade the animation, and improved the story excerpt below!
I was being chased in a land of shadows of purple night-light. Everywhere I ran, my pursuer was close behind, waiting for me to make a mistake so that it could catch me. Desperately, I swung around corners and weaved blindly in the dim light, never seeming to put any extra distance between me and the creature chasing me. I looked up to the sky, only to see it shrouded in purple and black haze, and further blocked off by solid forms of tree branches and other objects blending with the smothering hues of the mist. I could hear it gaining on me, it's own steps growing louder and louder, until I could swear I could hear it cackling in triumph to itself. I galloped faster than I ever thought my legs could manage, and darted down paths I barely registered. I made a mistake.
I ran into a wall, and frantically I looked around for a way around or over. I was in a cul-de-sac, and dead end, and the 'sky' was thicker with threatening shapes looming just above the low ceiling. The only way out was back the way I came, right into the path of my pursuer. On cue, its laughter crept up my spine and froze me where I stood. It had won, and now it was savouring the moment.
Slowly, I turned around, and stared into a mass of swirling smoke and shadows, and watched in terror as the sickly black and purple mist gave way to the silhouette of a tall pony chortling at me as cowered against the wall behind me. The laughter took on a more feminine tone as the silhouette turned into an Alicorn unlike one I had seen before. Her empty eye sockets narrowed into a look of satisfaction, staring straight through me as she approached - smoke and swirling appendages emanating from her.
In an otherworldly voice, she spoke to me. "You may have got away the first time, little Fluttershy. But I will have you yet!" She declared as a tendril slowly reached forward, carrying a large, purple orb. I stared at it, and watched the stone sphere crystallise into a clear ball. Inside I could see the tiny silhouettes of ponies hopelessly floating around, and as the shadow pony reached the orb closer to me, I felt it trying to pull me from very bones and ensnare me, too. The pony silhouette waved a second tendril over the orb, and the scene changed to show a silhouette of a Pegasus who beared my Cutie Mark. "One day, Fluttershy, I will get you," She hissed. "One day, you will give in to hopelessness, and then I will trap you forever."
The shadowy Alicorn motioned the orb away from me, and leant in towards me. I turned my head away to avoid looking into the void space where her eyes should have been. In a low, intimidating voice, she finally said: "But until then, feel free to run away - I very much enjoy this chase, and no matter how far you go, I'll always be right here." She tapped me on the side of my head, emphasising every syllable; "Inside your head."
My eyelids shot open as I was thrown out of the nightmare, yet the image of the Alicorn stayed in my vision much longer than it should have. My neck bolted upright and refused to move for a few moments while the dream faded away. Gradually, my breaths fell into a calmer rhythm, and I blinked out of my blank stare. I rose up onto my hooves and stretched my legs while taking deep, generous breaths, and I forced my tense wings open and waved them around to loosen them up. A simple, happy melody began to escape me as I started to hum, helping myself take my mind off what I had just seen.
My post-nightmare ritual was second nature to me, and had been since I was a tiny filly - when my parents taught me it. Back in those days, I was afraid to even sleep, I was terrified of possibly having a nightmare, and I would avoid sleeping for as long as I could manage. Eventually, my mother convinced me that getting up and taking a walk around my room and having some water would help me get over a nightmare quickly. Dad moved his chair into my room and, for a couple of weeks, would read me a story and sleep in his chair, just in case I woke up. I stopped being afraid of sleeping after that, and some nightmares suddenly ceased to frighten me anymore. I guess you could say that was the first fear I ever got over.
I trotted around the large Throne Room, and stopped at my saddlebags to take long drink from my canteen. I replaced the cap and hung the canteen strap from my neck, and looked out of one of the windows. It was still night, and even though I was sure I had slept for several hours, I couldn't tell how long it was until dawn - nothing seemed right in the sky. Even the stars seemed to be changing formation each time I looked up at them
A chilled breeze came through the room, and I sat beside my saddlebags and considered trying to go back to sleep. I stared out the window again, slightly expecting to see that the stars had arranged themselves into an answer, and gazed upon the vast space sprinkled with twinkling, peaceful glimmers.
I had to get to Canterlot, and I had to prepare myself for the trip. I knew that the spare canteen in my saddlebags was empty, and I shook the canteen I was carrying to hear the water sloshing around inside, and noted that I was running of water in that one, too. On cue, my stomach grumbled, and as I took an apple out of my saddlebags, I checked to make sure I had enough food to go on and that I had enough medical supplies for emergencies. My hasty gathering of supplies before fleeing my home had given me enough food for a few days, I had some painkillers and cold medicine, and I still had a roll of bandage that I hadn't used yet. I gave finding Zecora's hut a thought, but I decided against it. I had spent far too long getting as far as Ponyville, and I had to reach Canterlot as soon as possible, my friends needed me and they would be worried about me, I couldn't keep them waiting any longer than I had to.
I took a large bite out of my apple, the echo in the Throne Room making my ear twitch, and I carried my thoughts over to the route I would take to Canterlot. Flying straight up the mountain was out of the question. While the weather in Canterlot was pleasant, with only strong gusts around the city being a minor concern for airship pilots and Pegasi alike, the winds further beneath city could be surprisingly strong as it raced around the hills and through the valleys Canterlot overlooked. And with the weather becoming as unpredictable as it was, the winds would no doubt be much harsher.
There were two other options, the road that allowed carriages and wagons to reach Canterlot, or the rail road from Ponyville to the city. On the one hoof, the rail road was quicker - even on hoof, but it also travelled up the side of the mountain that would be worst hit by strong winds. On the other hoof, the road was the safest route available, but was also the longest one to take.
It wasn't a hard decision to make; safety first. I would take the road.
My mind made up, I finished off the last few bites of my apple, and tossed the core out the window. I put my saddlebags on, and lit my lantern to guide me back to the front door of the Castle. I wasn't going to sleep, and I wasn't going to wait for dawn. I needed to get a head start to find water, and to get to the foot of the mountain Canterlot wrapped itself around as soon as possible.
I slowly opened the giant door and peered outside, checking to see if the coast was clear. After narrowly avoiding the Timberwolves earlier, I was wary of them still being nearby, lying in wait. I shone my lantern outside, and to my relief, no pairs of eyes reflected the light back to me. I blew the lantern out and left it on the floor in case I had to come back, and slipped outside between the two ancient doors, closing them behind me with a rumbling clunk.
Wasting no time, I unfurled my wings and fluttered into the air, safely above the trees. Now that I knew I wasn't being followed by the Diamond Dogs, and wasn't trapped under the thick brush of the trees, I felt it was safe to fly out of Everfree. I planned to head for Canterlot and make a stop for water near a river along the way.
Regardless of the nightmare I had, I wasn't going to let myself fall into hopelessness. I promised myself that I wouldn't let my friends down, I owed it to them to be brave and to not give up. The nightmares could be as terrible as my mind could conjure up for all I cared, because, like I had learned when I was a filly, nightmares couldn't hurt me.
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Updated this piece for the upcoming chapter of Survivor Shy on Fimfiction. I feel that I must update older pieces because I've improved pretty dramatically over the past year that anything older than four months is in great danger of not being up to my standards anymore. And since I must put my best foot forward with the fanfic's presentation, really old artwork cannot be allowed to be in the fic in the state that I left them.
There is still the other 'followup' picture that went with the original upload of this, but I'm not updating that one because it isn't going to be used in the fic. The story excerpt from it is simply going to be adapted, rewrote, and worked into the chapter on its own.