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Away (Or, how Zephyr Heights came to be.)

by mica2023

[Note to judges: This story does contain depictions of death and suicide that I believe is mild enough to be rated Teen, but I will leave it to the judges’ discretion. Thanks.]
Away (Or, how Zephyr Heights came to be.)
If you asked ponies in the pegasus city of Zephyr how Fluttershy stays alive, they would all say: irrigation.
If you time traveled three hundred years ago before the start of the Haven Dynasty, Zephyr Heights would not have existed. Instead, you would have seen empty hills and a sprawling city in the desert flats known as Zephyr, inhabited by the few pegasi that remained after Twilight’s fall and the sudden loss of Equestrian magic. And it was irrigation that kept this town alive.
Over twenty deep wells, to be precise, drilled some two or three hundred feet deep into a large aquifer. The only source of water in a desert where every third or fourth year would receive no rain or snow at all. The pinnacle of pegasi ingenuity. Maybe they couldn’t build rain clouds anymore, but turning a desert into a land where water gushed down an artificial river? Close enough.
The pegasi arguably fared the worst when magic disappeared after Twilight’s downfall. Instantly and forcefully evicted from their cloud homes, an outpouring of refugees to majority earth pony and unicorn lands, many bloodied and bones broken from the fall. Tensions between the tribes grew until nearly all pegasi were driven away from the other tribes’ villages.
And the stateless pegasi wandered aimlessly around uninhabited stretches of ground, eyes tilted skyward. After all, how could a once-flying creature not wish to fly? Not just fly, really, but to wish to slip the surly bonds of habitable ground and create life?
To not to be In, but to be Away. That was the deepest instinct all pegasi are born with.
Some of the pegasi thought Away was either the ice cap—it was the same color as clouds after all. Where those ponies went, you can now flawlessly preserved corpses of pegasi who believed so add a little color to an otherwise dreadful landscape. Another group of pegasi thought Away was the highest mountain tops—where the pegasi lay supine with their mouths open and heads tilted back, as if caught midverse in their swan songs.
Or, some pegasi thought Away was the desert.
Away was the desert. Away from water. Away from clouds, for which some pegasi with broken legs and fractured wings now held a deep resentment for. Away from earth ponies. Away from unicorns.
They called their little village Zephyr, for it was on the west side of a tall mountain range, creating a strong rain shadow blocking all moisture carried by the prevailing winds from the east.
But being Away always had its risks.
Sandstorms were a regular occurrence. It was scorching hot in the summer, dry and bitterly cold in the winter. A day of rain so rare, it granted a day off from school. The hills overlooking Zephyr, though, caught just enough moisture from orographic lift to support a landscape of combustible brush that was brown for nine months out of the year.
But if all this land were to be swallowed up in a mountain of sand or consumed in a wildfire, there would be one reminder that this land once saw an impossible civilization flourish.
It was a large banyan tree named Fluttershy.
Legend has it that Fluttershy was the first pony to arrive on the desert land that became Zephyr. Having outlived her friends by millennia thanks to aid of a bizarre chaos curse placed upon her, she lived a lonely, secluded life, with only the far descendant of her pet Angel Bunny to keep her company.
She lived on the ground in Ponyville nearly all her life and never had a penchant for flying, but despite this the earth-pony-majority in her hometown seemed to think it was appropriate to bang on her door at all hours demanding she, a pegasus, leave the “land of Earth ponies.” So she packed her bags and she walked. And walked. And walked. Anywhere to get away from the angry mob chasing her out.
She reached the desert. Her body ill and weak, she was unable to dig deep enough to reach the aquifers. But it was said that she was happy when she made her choice. She hated crowds, and angry crowds even more, and finally, here in the desert flats, she could die in peace as she always wanted. Two thousand and eighty-eight years was enough.
She dropped a few seeds from her old garden in Ponyville into the desert soil, and lay on her side over them, next to Angel Jr.
As was the case her whole life, animals loved her. Scavengers gathered around her in a small crowd in the desert. Her moisture was just enough to allow the small seeds to germinate over where she lay. Until she became like a paralyzed vegetable in the desert, covered in green.
From that green, more green grew from that—over many seasons, their taproots digging deeper and deeper into the dry desert soil, until—
And what was once the resting place of Fluttershy became a tree—a single banyan tree, to be exact, flourished in this little oasis.
Other pegasi that eventually stumbled upon this desert land stopped to take a rest in Fluttershy’s sprawling canopy, where they were joined by lizards, foxes, and rodents who had discovered Fluttershy’s shade.
And the motto of the new city of Zephyr would be:
Technology conquers all.
Maybe pegasi could not fly or build rainbows, but technology brought them damn close to it.
Better equipped with drilling equipment looted from the Earth pony lands, these pegasi quickly found the abundant aquifers that Fluttershy took decades to reach with a taproot. They planted large cropfields, irrigated by the aquifers. They used the abundant sunshine as a source of electricity for air conditioning and refrigeration. As later generations settled in the desert, some even evolved downy wings, without waterproof flight feathers, as flight was impossible without magic, protection from rain was unnecessary, and the lighter downy wings allowed for better heat regulation.
It was a lifestyle perfectly designed for the new generation of magicless pegasi, with the help of technology—dependent on technology.
And technology conquers all but one thing.
Remember those brush-covered hills? The pegasi didn’t. Having lived a life in the clouds, they knew little of plant biology and the mechanisms of wildfires. Fluttershy would have known—they say she was an expert in earthly flora and fauna.
In fact, it was said the day before the wildfires started, the leaves of Fluttershy twisted to an angle to admit sunlight, as if telling all the pegasi resting under the shade—
Go Away.
Stronger than usual winds were blowing down the hill in the weeks prior. As they rolled down the brush-covered mountain, the air grew hotter and drier. The sun was unrelenting.
One spark from a rare lightning strike—
—and the mountain erupted.
“Lava!” Many pegasi mistakenly proclaimed, as the smoke settled over the village and the sky turned red in noon.
“It’s the unicorns! They’ve set the mountain alight!”
“The earth ponies! They’ve cursed us by unearthing magma from below!” Some exclaimed in anger.
There was no time for emergency meetings to discuss what was happening. Why it was happening. There was no time to stay In.
It was time to go Away.
The peagsi flew—running with their wings outstretched by instinct, but without flight magic this really did nothing but increase their air resistance and offset their center of gravity.
Technology conquers all but one thing. But that thing was not wildfires. It was instinct.
“Fluttershy! Save the tree! Save Fluttershy!” One young pegasus foal exclaimed, before being whisked away by her mother clutching a bloated briefcase.
The foal looked back.
Fluttershy stood motionless. She used to be afraid—stage fright, crippling social anxiety. But not anymore. She faced the fiery mountain and her leaves flat and facing outward, as if gently closing her eyes. If death happened once, she could take it again.
She took it again.
By a miracle, the majority of the population of Zephyr made it out alive. Some ponies decided to return to the charred remains of the city, but after seeing the silhouettes of other sobbing ponies next to what was left of their family room, some other pegasi didn’t even bother to look back.
Most of the pegasi agreed Fluttershy was gone. She blended into the landscape. Ash black on ash black. They quietly mourned the loss of their town and sang a few dirges around her charred remains.
Technology didn’t conquer instinct.
And the one greatest instinct Pegasi had was to go Away.
Pegasi knew how to go Away. When the air grew turbulent around Cloudsdale, they would simply move to a calmer spot, until the storm reached there and they would move again. Because pegasi knew how to go Away, they would not be defeated by the destruction of the home they were In.
They would rebuild. They would clear all the brush that led to their past demise. Settle on only the rockiest topography with no combustible vegetation. Build all buildings in fire resistant steel, concrete, glass. And it would be called the Mountains Above Zephyr—Zephyr Heights.
But in the ruins of the abandoned Zephyr, Fluttershy was listening to the songs of the pegasi. Her taproot buried deep underground, unaffected by the fire, reached up and sprouted a new colorful seedling. A speck of the most vibrant shade of green, reminding the lost traveler of the metropolis that was once here.