Chapter 1: The Apple Standoff
“Do you think I’m a bad pony?” yelled Applejack as she loaded her last bullet into the revolver.
“A’course not sis! You’ve just gotten yourself into a bad situation’s all!” Big Macintosh called back. There was a deafening boom and Applejack threw herself to the ground as a cloud of buckshot reduced a portion of her cover to splinters.
“Well ya see, I’m not so sure about that!” she called back. “Just the other day for example, I met Lucky. You remember Lucky don’t you?”
“Eyup! Good friend of mine.”
“I thought he was a good friend of mine too! He said he’d help me get out of town, but instead the oatmeal brain lead me into an alley and pulled a gun on me! I managed to wrestle it away from him, but I only noticed it wasn’t loaded after I’d pulled the trigger all six times!” There was another boom as Macintosh fired again. Now was Applejack’s chance to get into a better position while he reloaded.
“I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself sis! I reckon I would’ve done the same in your situation! This’d all be a lot easier though if you’d just give yourself up already! If you let me take you in then it could be me who collects the bounty, and when we get this all sorted out you could come on home and everything could be just like it was before this whole mess ever started!”
“Give myself up nothin’! Who puts money before family anyhow?”
“You’re one to talk!” Macintosh yelled back. “As soon as you heard Celestia had put a price on your head you up and left us! It’s been hard work day in and day out to take care of the farm practically by myself! We’re gonna be ruined unless you decide to give up the chase!”
“Oh, I’ve made my decision,” said Applejack as she pressed herself up against the same wall that Big Macintosh was hiding behind.
“Well what in candy apple is it?!”
Checking her gun one more time, she readied herself. She was only going to get once shot at this….
With a lifetime of apple bucking behind her, Applejack kicked the wall of the barn with all her might. The force of the blow sent broken boards flying in all directions. Big Macintosh was thrown to the ground, his shotgun rolling out of reach as Applejack stepped through the hole she had just made. As fast as a rattlesnake, she raised her gun and fired. Not at Big Mac though, but at a bale of hay hanging above them from an old rope. With a solid WHUMP, it landed on top of Big Macintosh, pinning him to the ground.
Macintosh struggled to free himself for a moment, but realized it was a lost cause. “Well sis, looks like you’ve got me right where you want me,” he said blandly.
“No, I want you up an’ helpin’ me to clear my name. You’d understand that if your ears weren’t ringin’ from all the shells you wasted on me!”
“What’r you talkin’ about? Everypony knows that you’re one of them. Why, Princess Celestia even has pictures of you consortin’ with the enemy!”
“I don’t give two bits what she says! I’m yer sister like I’ve always been, and ain’t nothin’ different about me! Everything that everypony’s been sayin’ is a bunch of hooey!”
“What’r you getting at?”
“Lies Macintosh! She made it up because I know something she’s not to keen on me knowin’ and I need you to stop shooting at me so I can get the word out!”
“Well...” said Big Macintosh as he slowly went over the situation in his head, “even though you’ve been shootin’ at me, you never hit me, even though I know you could have… and you are family.”
“Sure as sugar I am. So whaddya say? Are you gonna stay under that bale of hay until somepony else happens along and finds you, or are you gonna help yer kin?”
“I reckon that the second choice suits me more than the first,” he sighed.
“Glad to hear it.”
With Applejack’s help, Macintosh was eventually able to hoist the hay bale off of himself. As he stood back up Applejack reached down and offered him a hoof.
“I’m gonna be in a heap of trouble fer helpin’ you ain’t I?” he asked.
“Eyup,” said Applejack.
“Eyyyup,” he replied.
“First things first. I need to get something from the house,” said Applejack, walking toward the Apple family cottage.
“I’m not sure you’re gonna have much luck with that, sis. After you left, some of Celestia’s guards showed up. They went up to your room and ransacked the place. Didn’t leave much else than the floorboards.”
“Bah, figures. Well, no need to fret. I reckon what I’m looking for is still there. What I’m more worried about is Granny and Apple Bloom. I’d rather not drag them into this if’n I can avoid it.”
“So what’r you gonna do then? They’re sittin’ in the front room waitn’ for me to come back as we speak.”
“Well then it’s on you to keep ‘em distracted until I’m done. I’ll go around back and climb up to my window. Just make sure it’s open for me when I get there.”
“What is it that you’re lookin’ for anyway?”
“That’s none of your business Macintosh.”
“Well if you’d just tell me then I could go get it for you-“
“No Big Mac! I need to get it myself. It’s hard to explain, just… trust me on this alright?”
Macintosh huffed and shook him mane. “I don’t like this.”
Applejack stopped and rested a hoof on Big Macintosh’s shoulder. “Can I trust you brother?” she asked, looking him straight in the eyes. He stared straight back, unflinching.
“Yeah sis, yah can.” They started walking again. “I just don’t understand. Ifn’ yer innocent, then why all the secrecy? No pony’s gonna believe you if you go sneakin’ around like this.”
“Well I don’t need everypony to believe me. Just a couple ponys.”
As they walked, Applejack noticed that Big Macintosh was staying farther away from her than he normally did. She didn’t mention it, but whenever she glanced over at him he was always looking straight ahead with a stern expression on his face. She couldn’t blame him if he was mad. The fact that she was keeping him out of the loop was obvious, but the less he knew the safer he would be. Same with every other pony. After a few more minutes of walking in silence the Apple cottage came into view.
“Now you get in there and do what I ask of ya. I’ll be waiting ‘round back.”
Big Macintosh let out another long sigh and nodded before they split paths.
Applejack snuck around to the side of the house as stealthily as she knew how. As Big Mac entered the front door she heard the creak of somepony getting up from chair, followed by the sound of little hooves running across the floor.
“Big Mac! Are you all right?” exclaimed Apple Bloom’s voice.
“A’course I am. Ain’t nothin’ can hurt me, remember?”
“What about big sis?”
“Big sis? Well….” Macintosh’s voice trailed off. Applejack wished she could be there to comfort Apple Bloom herself, but she had a job to do. Biting her lip, she quietly crept past the window and around to the back of the house.
There had been several occasions when Applejack was younger that she had reason to sneak out of her room, so the path to her window was familiar enough. Without too much trouble she was able to stack a few barrels on top of each other, then use those to jump up and grab on to the roof of the old outhouse. It had given her a scare when several of the nails holding the outhouse in place started coming loose, causing the entire thing to begin falling over with a loud creak, but she managed to scramble on to the top of it before it was too late. Now she was standing parallel with her second story window. Now all she could do was wait for Big Macintosh to show up. After what seemed like ages she heard a small click, and the window slid open. A second later Big Mac’s head appeared.
“Is it clear?” she whispered.
“Clear as it’ll ever be,” he replied.
Applejack made the small jump from the outhouse to the window ledge, but suddenly the old ledge gave way, and Applejack found herself plummeting head first toward the ground.
“Big Mac!” she yelled, as the ground quickly came up to meet her. Just as quickly as she had begun falling however, she stopped. Looking up, she saw Macintosh barely gripping the end of her tail between his teeth.
“Lan sakes sis! Have you been eatin’ iron?” he said as he slowly pulled her back up and through the window.
“Don’t you know it’s rude to mention a lady’s weight?” she said as she landed on the wooden floor. “Why, if you hadn’t just saved my life I’d clock you upside the-“ Applejack suddenly stopped as she stood up. Standing in the doorway of her room, just a few feet behind Big Mac, were Granny Smith and Apple Bloom.
“Big Mac!” Applejack yelled, this time giving him a proper smack on the head, “I thought you said it was clear!”
“Clear as it’ll ever be!” he repeated. “No way I’m just gonna let you waltz in ‘n outta here without lettin’ yer family know!”
“It wouldn’t have mattered anyway missy,” said Granny Smith. “With all the ruckus you were making even a pig with its head in the mud would’ve heard you.”
“Not even plannin’ on tellin’ us goodbye? What a thing to do!” said Apple Bloom, tears starting to form in her eyes.
Applejack looked from one of her family members to the next. “You don’t understand- I thought you- I didn’t want-“
As Apple Bloom started crying, Applejack gave up trying to make excuses. “I’m sorry…” she finally said, falling into a sitting position on the floor. Apple Bloom walked over to her, and she wrapped her arm around her little head in a hug.
“I think it’s about time you explain what’s goin’ on sis,” said Big Macintosh.
“Yer right,” said Applejack, “Yer always right. I don’t know what I was thinking keepin’ secrets from kin. I shoulda known better.”
“Yes you should have,” said Granny Smith. “Now out with it. What’s this all about?”
Releasing Apple Bloom, Applejack walked over to her bed (one of the only things Celestia’s guards had left) and kicked it aside.
“Well…” she said as she began scanning the floorboards. The secret panel was so well hidden that even though she had made it, it still took her a while to find it.
“…It all started…”
Giving the panel a few solid hits to dislodge it, she slid it aside and pulled out an object which she had honestly hoped to never see again.
Applejack held the object up for everyone to see. It was a thick golden necklace that slowly thinned out until it reached a latch on the back. Intricate swirling patterns were engraved on its polished surface. A single large orange gem in the shape of an apple was set in the front of it.
For a moment everyone stared at the necklace without saying a word. The blade of wheat grass that Big Macintosh had been chewing fell out of his mouth.
“Is that… an element of harmony?” asked Apple Bloom.
“Is that why those men came and took your things?” asked Granny Smith.
“You’ve been keepin’ one of the most powerful magic artifacts in Equestria under yer bed?” asked Big Macintosh.
“Sure have. And I think it’s about time I put it to better use.” Applejack quickly took the necklace and fastened it around her neck. There was a quick flash of light and the latch on the back disappeared. “Now,” she continued, “I think it’s about time I fessed up to what’s been going on as of late.”
“It would be much appreciated,” said Macintosh.
“You all remember when I got this don’t cha?”
“Hard to forget something like that,” said Big Mac.
“Heh. Yeah, well ever since then it’s like I’ve had some sorta… sense about when ponies are lyin’, even when I’m not wearing this thing. It makes about as much sense as Pinkie Pie’s twitching, or just Pinkie Pie at all fer that matter, but it’s true.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with that,” said Apple Bloom, “If anypony could be trusted with that power it’d be you big sis.”
“Well that’s mighty kind of you to think so highly of me Apple Bloom, but anypony that’s got somethin’ to hide would be plum angry if they knew about this, and that’s exactly what happened with Celestia.”
“How so?” asked Big Mac.
“I started noticing it a little while after Celestia and Luna went back to Canterlot, when things had settled down. Whenever she’d come to visit, she always had some reason or another, but I could tell she was hidin’ something. Like fer instance, you remember when the town was overrun with those parasprites?”
“You mean the ones that destroyed our entire barn?”
“Right, well when Celestia showed up she said that a similar thing was happening in Fillydelphia, but it wasn’t. I could tell she was coverin’ up something.”
“Are you saying she sent those things here?” asked Apple Bloom.
“I’m a kindly pony, so I’m gonna give her the benefit of the doubt and say no, but it certainly wasn’t the biggest concern on her mind at the time. It’s been the same every time she came to visit after that. She was just checking on something. Some scheme she had goin’. It wasn’t until her latest visit that I really caught on though.”
“You mean when she came to warn us about the war?” asked Big Macintosh.
“Right again,” said Applejack. “You remember don’t ya Big Mac? She said that there was an invasion; that we needed to be prepared. She would come to town and gather supplies, more than most ponies could spare, but the battle never arrived. It was her last visit when I started asking questions. That was my mistake. I let on that I knew more than I was lettin’ on. She didn’t say anything, but I could see it in her eyes. She knew that she’d been found out, and then the next thing you know I’m one of the bad guys.”
“But who are the bad guys?” asked Apple Bloom.
“You know as much as I do,” replied Applejack. “Supposedly some magical ponies like Celestia that showed up out of nowhere and started cuttn’ a path through Equestria straight for Canterlot. Nothin’ good.”
“Well,” said Big Mac, “what do you plan on doin’ bout it then?”
“Here’s where it gets good,” said Applejack, leaning forward. “I plan on goin’ to Canterlot and finding out exactly what’s going on myself, and if needs be, I plan on stopping Celestia.”
“And how’s a simple earth pony supposed to stop a pony like Celestia?”
“The same way a ‘simple earth pony’ stopped nightmare moon,” said Applejack, tapping on the necklace. For a moment the Apple family exchanged looks of varying degrees of worry, then Big Mac sighed and pressed his hooves into his face.
“What the buck have I gotten myself into?”
“Cheer up Big Mac,” said Applejack, playfully punching Big Mac in the arm. “If everything works out like I’m plannin’ then you’ll be a hero. First things first though. We need to get the other elements on our side.”
“I reckon that makes sense,” said Macintosh. “Who we goin’ after first?”
“First on the list is Twilight Sparkle.”
“Aw now come on sis. You can’t be serious!” exclaimed Macintosh. “Everypony knows she’s Celestia’s number one in Ponyville.”
“Quit yer whinnying Big Mac!” Apple Bloom suddenly yelled as she jumped forward. “Applejack knows what she’s doin’! How can I help?”
“I’m sorry to say this Apple Bloom, but I need you and Granny to stay here.”
“What?! Stay here? Aw come on big sis, not again! You never let me help!”
“I’m sorry sugar cube! But this is big pony business. The less of us rompin’ around the better. Besides, I need somepony to cover my tail if Celestia’s guards show up again. Can you do that for me?”
“I’d rather do something important,” she muttered.
“Now don’t be fussin’,” said Granny Smith. “You said yerself that Applejack knows what she’s doin’. Now come on. Maybe while they’re off we can have some fun for a change. How about I teach you the secret recipe for apple inside-out fritters?”
“The secret recipe?!” Apple Bloom exclaimed as a smile crossed her face. For a split second she caught Applejack’s eye, and it immediately vanished. “I…I guess that’d be alright,” she said, following Granny Smith out of the room.
“Don’t you worry sis!” Applejack called after her, “we’ll have this wrapped up in no time!” As soon as they were out of sight she closed the door and turned to Big Mac.
“I’m supposin’ you don’t plan to just waltz up to Twilights door?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” she replied with a smirk.
To Be Continued…
“I don’t know about this. It seems like a bad idea,” said Macintosh, as he pulled a large cart of hay behind him in which an uncomfortable Applejack was hiding.
“Well I’m sure you’ll learn to stop questioning me eventually, now wheel me into the nearest alley and grab the first pony that walks by like we planned.”
The cart continued to roll along for a few minutes before stopping. Applejack felt a jolt as Big Macintosh disconnected his harness. A few seconds later there was a shout and a familiar voice yelling, “What’s going on?”
“Oh horse feathers,” Applejack muttered to herself. “This oughtta be interesting.” She prepared herself as the voices got closer.
“Now calm down. We just want to talk to ya,” said Big Mac.
“We? We who?”
Applejack suddenly leaped from the cart and landed in front of Big Macintosh and his hostage. “Hey there Lucky!” she said cheerfully.
“Ooooh no. Not this again. Not you too Big Mac. This is- listen Applejack, I can explain about the whole… gun thing.”
“No need Lucky,” she said, pulling her revolver out from the hay. “We’ve just got a few questions for you, then you can go.”
“Oh Celestia. Oooooh Celestia,” he muttered to himself as he unsuccessfully attempted to escape Big Mac’s grip.
“And don’t lie to me. I know when you’re lyin’.”
“You can’t do this!” he exclaimed.
“See? That was a lie right there.”
“I’m on patrol! If I don’t check in soon they’ll get suspicious!”
“Two fer two! You better start gettin’ honest Lucky.” Applejack pulled the hammer back on her gun.
“Wait! You can’t just… shoot me!” he said, struggling harder.
“Somepony’ll hear you!”
Applejack paused for a moment. “You know, Lucky’s got a point.” Lucky breathed a sigh of relief. “Big Mac, hold lucky against the wall. I’m gonna get my brass horseshoes out of the cart.”
“Oh Celestia,” he exclaimed again. “You can’t be serious!” Big Mac unceremoniously lifted Lucky off the ground and held him against the wall of the alley. He kicked feebly a few times, but didn’t manage to accomplish anything. A moment later Applejack reappeared from behind the cart wearing a pair of shiny brass horseshoes on her front hooves. She punched the wall a few times, chipping the bricks.
“Oh Celestia. You were serious.”
“I’d prefer if you’d stop using that name Lucky. In case you’d forgotten, we’re not really on the best terms right now.”
Lucky turned his head and looked Applejack right in the eyes. “I am so sorry. Please don’t hurt me.”
“Calm down Lucky,” said Macintosh. “We ain’t gonna do nothing we don’t have to. Just answer some questions and we’ll let you go.”
“A-alright,” he stammered.
“Glad you feel like cooperatin’,” said Applejack. “Now first off, when’s it your turn to guard Twilight’s house?”
“That’s not part of my job,” he said quickly, eyes darting back and forth. Applejack responded by punching him in the ribs. Not hard enough to break anything, but hard enough that the wind was thoroughly knocked out of him. After he had finished coughing, she continued.
“Now don’t make this hard on yourself Lucky. When’s it your turn?”
“Listen… I don’t want to get involved! I’ve got a family-“ he was cut short as Applejack landed another blow to his torso. This one might have left a bruise.
“Don’t try to sway me with sob stories Lucky. I meant it when I said I know when you’re lyin’.”
“How do you know?” he wheezed, still attempting to catch his breath. Applejack tapped her necklace a few timed, causing it to make a pleasant ringing sound. As soon as Lucky saw it a look of recognition swept over his face. “Is that an element of harmony?”
“Element of honesty to be exact. Now I’m all for lettin’ you speak yer mind, but I want to hear the truth. Y’understand?”
“Good. Now, when’s it your turn?”
“Good! Now when we show up at dawn tomorrow, will you have told anypony about us?”
Applejack hit him square in the stomach this time.
“Oh- cough come on! I just ate!”
“Well if you want to keep it that way you better shape up! If not I’m gonna start using my hind legs.” Applejack kicked backward at the hay cart as a demonstration. When the dust cleared there was a noticeable dent in the metal frame that hadn’t been there before.
“Ooooh Celest-“ Lucky stopped himself.
“Now come on Lucky!” said Big Mac. “We all used to be friends. We wouldn’t be doin’ this if we didn’t have to, but it’s desperate times. Just answer the questions and I’ll let you go. I’ll even help you over to the doctor if you need it.”
Lucky looked back and forth between Big Macintosh and Applejack a few times. “Why are you doing this? What in Equestria is going on?!”
“Like Big Mac said, desperate times. Now, are you going to tell anypony about us?”
Lucky finally quit struggling and hung limply from the wall. “No,” he said flatly.
“Good. See? Not so hard after all. Only a couple more questions to go. Next up, does Twilight have any plans fer catchin’ me?”
Lucky shrugged. “She always has something planned. Other than search parties and patrols I don’t know of anything special. Nopony tells me anything.”
“Well at least we know that much. Last question. Ready?”
Lucky didn’t say anything.
“Why on Equestria did you hold me up with an empty gun anyway?”
“I thought you said I didn’t have to explain that!”
“Well, you got me curious.”
“Well I don’t want to explain it anymore!” Lucky began struggling again, but Big Mac slid him down the wall and looked him straight in the eye.
“Come on now. Don’t be difficult.”
Lucky pried at Big Mac’s arms with what Big Mac could only assumed was all his might, but nothing happened. “…Fine,” he finally said, “but only if you promise to stop hitting me.”
“I promise,” said Applejack, placing a hoof on Luckys shoulder. He flinched.
“It wasn’t an empty gun. There was one bullet in it.”
“One bullet? But I-“
“I know. I guess they don’t call me Lucky for nothing.”
“Why only one bullet?”
“Because I didn’t actually want to shoot you! Before all of this I… gah.” Lucky scowled and turned his head to the side. “I can’t believe I’m telling this to a traitor.”
“She ain’t a traitor,” interjected Big Mac.
“Well, that’s nice,” said Lucky unenthusiastically.
“Go on. Before all of this you what?”
“Before all of this I liked you ok?! I’ve liked you since the day we met. It seemed impossible that you did the things they said you did, and I was hoping that if I could just get a chance to talk to you alone, then things would make sense. I brought the gun just in case. I put one bullet in it on the off chance that the things they said were true, but I could never actually bring myself to shoot you. Apparently the feeling isn’t mutual.” Lucky’s voice dropped as he said the last few words. He kicked at a small rock near his hoof.
Applejack looked down at her front hooves. The same hooves that she had been using to pummel one of her oldest friends with just a few minutes ago. Suddenly she felt a little queasy. She took off the horseshoes and threw them in the cart, then looked over at Big Macintosh.
“Let ‘em go Big Mac.”
Macintosh lowered his arms, but Lucky just continued to stand there like nothing had changed.
“L-listen Lucky…” Applejack began. Lucky didn’t respond. “Just listen, I was- I still am in a bad spot. If I’d known I never would have… you know.”
“No. I get it,” he finally said, his expression remaining neutral. “Is there anything else you want me to do?”
Applejack felt like she should say something, but nothing came to mind, so she just said, “No.”
“Alright. I guess I’ll see you at dawn.” Lucky slowly turned and started to limp away. Big Mac quickly caught up with him.
“Come on buddy. Let’s go get those ribs looked at.”
As Big Mac and Lucky disappeared around the corner, Applejack slumped down behind the hay cart, still trying to sort through what had just happened. After a long time she let out a heavy sigh and banged her head against the cart a few times.
“Who’s a stupid pony?” she said to herself. “You is, Applejack.”
Big Mac didn’t come back until late that night. As soon as Applejack saw him she climbed to her feet and ran over.
“Where have you been this whole time?” she demanded.
“Been spendin’ some time with Lucky. He’s a frail one. Turns out you actually did crack one of his ribs, not to mention broke his stupid little heart. You should have heard him. Everything he said about you was practically poetry.”
“Listen Big Mac. I didn’t know alright? If’n I had I would’ve gone easier on ‘im!”
“Well it don’t matter now does it? You got what you were after and everything’s goin’ accordin’ to plan, right sis?”
“Don’t you use that tone with me! I’m sorry for what I did, but there’s more at stake here than some silly pony’s heart!”
“How long have you known Lucky?” asked Big Mac.
“Ever since I was a filly….”
“You ever think about holdin’ him up against a wall and breaking his ribs back then?”
“A’course not Macintosh! How dare you even suggest such a thing!”
“Well what’s changed sis?” Macintosh demanded. Applejack paused, caught off guard by the sudden intensity in his voice.
“I… I don’t know! Everything going to manure is part of it though! You said it yerself! Desperate times….”
Even to Applejack this sounded like a weak excuse. Big Mac planted his hooves and gave her a stern look. “You’ve known Lucky so long that he’s practically kin. I trusted that you knew what you were doin’, but if you can treat a friend as good as him like you just did, how can I trust you to do anything right?”
“It needed to be done!”
“No it didn’t.”
“Well I thought it needed to be done! What do you want from me Macintosh?!”
“I want you to promise me on Grandpa Smith’s grave that you’ll get yer priorities straight! What yer doing isn’t a game Applejack. If yer doing all this just because you got a grudge against Celestia, and not for all the good ponies like Lucky who don’t know any better, then I’ll put a stop to your plans right now! Don’t think I won’t!”
“I…” Applejack suddenly felt very small in the presence of her big brother, “I promise Big Macintosh. Yer right. What I did was wrong. I swear on Grandpa Smith’s grave that I will never stoop so low again.”
In the swish of a tail Big Mac’s expression changed. His eyes became warmer and he was smiling again. “That’s all I needed ta hear.” He opened a small saddlebag that he had brought with him and pulled something out of it that had been carefully wrapped in paper.
“I brought you a sandwich. I’m guessing you’re pretty hungry after waitin’ here all day.”
“Well, I had hay.”
“I’m guessing you’ll like this more.” Big Mac tossed the sandwich over and she quickly tore off the wrapper.
“Lilacs!” she exclaimed. “How did you know those were my favorite?”
“Don’t thank me. Lucky’s the one who suggested ‘em.”
“Lucky? Oh… well I’ll have to thank him next time he… next time I see him.” She quickly bit into the sandwich to cover up her smile. “This is delicious!” she said through mouthfuls of petals. “It’s got pollendaise sauce and everything!”
Big Macintosh laughed. “Well make sure to savor it. Depending on how things go come mornin’, you may not get a chance at another one for a while. Now get back in your hidin’ spot. I’ll make sure no pony disturbs you and your sandwich.”
“Mmrmph!” called Applejack as she crawled back into the pile of hay. She found comfort in the thought that if tomorrow was going to be anything like this sandwich, then it was going to be great.
To Be Continued…
Applejack woke to the faint sound of rooster’s crowing in the distance. “Well, we haven’t been caught yet, so I guess we’re off to a good start,” she mumbled, stretching. It wasn’t until after her stretch that she realized the cart was moving.
Making sure her tail wasn’t sticking out, she carefully peeked through the hay. “Please tell me that’s you pulling the cart Big Mac,” she whispered.
“Keep quiet,” Big Mac responded. “We’re in the middle of town. We’ve still got a ways to go until the library.”
“Ok. Good. Let me know when we get there.”
“Will do,” Big Mac replied in a somewhat sarcastic tone. Like there was any other option.
A short while later the cart came to a halt. “We’re here,” whispered Big Mac, “but… I don’t know what it is. Something don’t feel right.”
“Is Lucky there?”
“Well wheel us over!” The cart moved a short distance before Big Mac spoke again.
“Say… is Twilight in?”
“Yes… but she’s been up all night… studying. Maybe you could come back another time?” There was a pause in the conversation.
“Well I don’t know Lucky. I’ve got some pretty important news for her. Are you sure she couldn’t bother getting up for it?”
“Well…” said Lucky nervously, “well if it can’t wait, then I suppose I could let you in.”
“That’d be right kindly of you Lucky. Where should I put my cart?”
“Your cart? Right. Um… bring it around back.”
As the cart started moving Applejack started worrying. Something was wrong for sure, but she didn’t know what to do. After going down a shallow incline the cart stopped again at what Applejack could only assume was the back door.
“You can just set it down here Macintosh. And… make sure to put your shoes on before going in.”
“Put my shoes on?” Big Mac said confusedly as he unhooked the cart.
“Just in case….” Lucky practically squeaked the last part. A moment later Applejack heard him unlock the back door.
“Thanks again Lucky,” said Big Mac. “Don’t let us- er, me disturb you anymore.” Applejack heard Lucky turn to leave, and knew this might be her last chance to make amends. She poked her head out from under the pile of hay.
“Lucky!” she whispered.
“A-hah!” he yelped. He didn’t turn around to face her, but he stopped walking. Applejack noticed that there was a bandage wrapped around his torso, and felt a ping of guilt.
“I’m sorry… and… thank you.”
Lucky made a sound somewhere between a nervous whinny and a laugh. “Just… make sure to put your shoes on,” he said again, then nervously added, “hind legs,” under his breath before quickly walking away.
“Ok. It’s all clear,” said Big Mac a moment later.
“Alright. Just give me a sec,” Applejack replied.
“What’r you doin’ sis?” Big Mac exclaimed, nervously looking around.
“Just puttin’ my shoes on,” she said as she jumped from the cart, landing with a loud clop thanks to her brass horseshoes.
“What- oh, is that what he was on about? You can’t wear those inside sis! They’re too loud. They’ll give us away.”
“Did you hear lucky? Somethin’ fishy is happening, and I’m not about to ignore advice from a good friend on the matter. Let’s just do what we gotta do.”
“Fine,” said Big Mac as he opened the door and the crept inside, “but if we get caught, don’t go blamin’ me. I warned- whoa!”
At almost the exact moment the two of them stepped inside there was a flash of light. All that Applejack caught was Big Mac flying straight up into the air, and then a loud metallic bang before everything went dark.
“Big Mac!” she shouted. “What’s goin’ on? Who turned out the lights?” She took a step forward, but immediately bumped into a cold metal wall.
“Don’t bother trying to escape!” yelled Twilight’s muffled voice. “That box is magically sealed. I worked out the spell myself.”
“Konsarn it Twilight! I don’t care if it’s magically baked into a cake! Let me out of here right now!” Applejack gave the box a swift kick, but only managed to dent it. Something she wouldn’t have been able to pull off if it weren’t for the horseshoes absorbing most of the impact. A moment later the dent began reversing itself.
“Impressive!” Twilight’s voice called again. “It looks like I made it just the right strength. Now all I need to do is wait for the princess’s carriage to arrive and Ponyville will be saved!”
“This isn’t how you treat friends Twilight!” yelled Applejack as she gave the box a few more kicks, to no avail. “Stupid magic… you alright Big Mac?”
“Eyup!” came his muffled response.
“Not how you treat friends?” said Twilight, now obviously closer to the box. “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed Applejack, but by now I’m kind of an expert on friendship, and I think committing treason is a perfectly good reason to lock a friend in a magical box!”
“You sound kind of loopy Twilight!” called Applejack. “Are you all right?”
“Loopy doesn’t even begin to describe it! Ever since you betrayed the kingdom I have been working nonstop to capture you! I can’t even remember the last time I’ve actually gotten a full night’s sleep! That all changed last night though. Ponies started saying that Big Macintosh was in town. I thought that was odd, so I sent some of the pegusi to investigate. They followed Big Macintosh from a safe distance and saw him enter an alley, and as luck would have it, you were there too! I knew it was only a matter of time before you showed up, so I built a trap! I told all the guards that if Big Mac showed up, they should have him enter the back door. At first I wasn’t sure if it would work, but then it did! As soon as the carriage arrives to whisk you away I. Can. Finally. Rest.”
“Hey sister?” yelled Big Mac.
“You remember how I said you should never hurt friends?”
“Well, right side. Hard.”
“What are you ponies talking abou-“ was all that Twilight said before the side of the box dented out from the force of Applejack’s kick, connecting solidly with her face. She stumbled backwards, smashing into a bookshelf before crumpling into a heap on the floor.
“What… just happened?” she stammered as she lost consciousness. The wall of the box that Applejack had kicked fell to the ground. Applejack stepped out just in time to see Big Mac floating in the air upside down with a faint magical aura around him. A second later it disappeared and he came tumbling on to the rest of the box, causing it to collapse.
“Well, that wasn’t how I expected thing to go,” he muttered as he climbed to his feet, rubbing a sore spot on his back.
“You can say that again. Thanks for the heads up by the way.”
“T’weren’t nothin’,” he replied as he walked over and nudged Twilight with his foot. She made a woozy sighing sound, but didn’t move.
“Well what do you suppose we should do with this one?” he asked Applejack.
“I think I’ve got an idea,” replied Applejack. “Let’s hope it works.”
It was a few hours later that Twilight came back around. The first thing she noticed was that somepony had tied up spike. He was sitting in the corner of his room with a wad of cloth stuffed into his mouth. The second thing she noticed was that she had a horrible headache.
“Ow! My head…” she muttered.
“’Bout time you woke up,” said Applejack’s voice from somewhere off to the side.
“Why… why is everything upside-down?”
“Only one thing’s upside down. You.”
“Why am I upside-down?”
“So you can’t do magic.”
Suddenly Applejack walked into view. “You need to concentrate to do magic right?”
“So if you’re distracted by a headache, then that’ll make doing magic all the more harder right?”
“It makes it all the more difficult, yes.”
“And what better way to cause a headache then by hanging somepony upside down?” Applejack tapped on Twilight’s skull a few times, which to Twilight felt like somepony was smashing together a pair of symbols next to her ears.
“Ah! Please don’t do that again.”
“Mighty sorry,” said Applejack, turning and walking a short ways away.
“I never took you for much of a thinker Applejack, but I guess you proved me wrong.”
“Just a little down-on-the-farm ingenuity is all, but I would like to prove you wrong if you give me a chance.”
“What are you talking about Applejack?”
“I’m talkin’ about me convincing you that I’m not a traitor.”
“You can’t just sit there and tell me that you’re doing this because you not trying to overthrow Celestia. Too many signs point to treason. Why just the other day one of Celestias reports-“
“Enough about Celestia!” yelled Applejack.
“Ow!” said Twilight. “Please no yelling. My head really is killing me.”
Applejack sighed. “Fine. No yellin’, but you listen to me. I’m not the one who’s doing something wrong here. I’m the one bein’ wronged, and I need your help to find out the reason behind it.”
“My help? Why do you need my help? You seem to have things pretty under control from where I’m standing, or… hanging.”
“Because,” said Applejack, getting up and walking back over to Twilight, “you’ve got one of these.” She pointed at her necklace.
“Why are you wearing that?”
“Cause I might need to be usin’ it soon.”
“Using it for what?” asked Twilight. “The only thing the elements of harmony are good for is to…” Applejack smiled as she watched Twilight put one and one together.
“Are you… are you planning on banishing Celestia?!”
“Only if I need to, and I’ll need your help to pull it off.”
“Well good luck with that! There’s no way I’m helping you do something so… evil!”
“It’s not evil Twilight! It’s necessary. Celestia herself did it to her own sister back in the day.”
“I know she did, but she had reasons! Luna was dangerous! If she hadn’t done it then the world would have been covered in darkness forever!”
“And if we don’t stop Celestia then somethin’ equally bad might happen now.”
“Are you crazy?!” Twilight yelled, then winced as her head began throbbing.
“You asked me that same question the day we got these elements, and my answer hasn’t changed. No I ain’t. I was given the element of honesty for a reason Twilight, so you need to trust me when I tell you that somethin’s wrong with Celestia.”
“How do you know that?” demanded Twilight.
“Cause the powers that the element of honesty gave me told me so.”
“Those necklaces don’t have any powers!” yelled Twilight in frustration.
“Don’t have any- is your head full of dust Twilight? Of course they do!”
“Fine. I will. Tell me anything and I can tell you if you’re lying one hundred and ten percent of the time.”
“Fine,” replied Twilight. “I’m a big blue rabbit from the moon.”
“Try and make it a little harder than that Twi.”
“Alright… when I was growing up I had a pet rabbit names cuddles.”
“That you did.”
“I also had a duck named Ursala.”
“That you didn’t.”
“I graduated at the top of my class in magical arts.”
Twilight suddenly scowled. “I- Yes I did! You’re wrong.”
“You can’t fool me Twilight. I mean, think about it. You’ve got the element of magic. Can you really deny that since you got it you’ve become more magically inclined than you were before?”
“That’s because I’ve been practicing.”
“It’s because you’ve been given a little extra help.”
“Who cares what the reason is?! I’m Celestia’s most prized pupil! I owe her everything, and I’m not going to help you banish her into… the sun, or wherever she’d go!”
“I need your help Twilight!”
“You can’t make me do anything!” Twilight wailed. Her horn started glowing and she begun to swing herself back and forth, but her throbbing head really was preventing her from focusing. All she managed to do was hit her head against a table and knock over a vase before she had tired herself out. The whole time Applejack didn’t make a move to stop her.
“I know you want to help Celestia,” said Applejack, “but whatever’s going on with her might affect the entire land of Equestria. Having these elements gives us a responsibility. Now you can decide whatever you want, but sooner or later it’s going to come down to choosin’ between your mentor, or everypony else. Cut her down Macintosh.” The rope holding twilight suddenly came loose and she fell heavily onto her bed. She looked up to see a somber-faced Big Macintosh looking down at her.
“Have you been standing there the whole time?” she asked.
“It’s up to you Twilight,” said Applejack. “Somethin’s wrong more than just this supposed war we’ve all been hearin’ about. I know it. An’ if we don’t do something there’s no tellin’ what’ll happened. If you’ve got yer heart set on turnin’ me in then I won’t stop you.”
Twilight was silent for a moment. “Do you really mean it?” she finally asked.
“Sure do, sugar cube.”
There was a long silence. A mural of expressions passed over Twilight’s face as she thought through all the possibilities. After swallowing hard, she finally spoke.
“Alright,” she said very matter-of-factly, “then I’m turning you in.”
As soon as she had said this she stood up from her bed and walked out of the room. Big Mac watched in shock as this happened. He looked over at the door that Twilight had exited through, then back to the bed, then over at Applejack.
“What in apple orchard are you doin’? You’re not just gonna let her turn you in after all this are ya? Wait, why’re you smiling?”
It was true. As soon as Twilight has gotten up Applejack had started smiling ear to ear. “Don’t you worry Macintosh.”
“Don’t worry?! She’s goin’ to turn you in Applejack!”
“No she ain’t.”
“Well she said she was!” Big Mac exclaimed.
“Well, she was lyin’.”
“How… are you sure Applejack?”
“Oh I’m sure. Give it a few minutes and she’ll be back.”
After a short while, just like Applejack had predicted, Twilight came back into the room looking humbled. “I just had to make sure,” she said before walking over to Applejack. She just stood there for a moment, then suddenly bursting into tears. Applejack jumped up as Twilight wrapped her arms around her and continued sobbing.
“Woah there Twilight! It’s alright!” said Applejack in surprise.
“Oh, it’s not alright though!” said Twilight. “You’re right Applejack, something is wrong with Celestia! I’ve seen it in her letters since the beginning. Her plans aren’t war plans. She never mentions anything about fighting, just collecting supplies from… from everywhere! I’ve wanted to deny it, but you’re right. There’s something else going on that she’s not telling me. Lately she hasn’t been responding to any of my letters! Why wouldn’t she trust me? What’s so important that she would need to keep it from her prized pupil?”
“That’s what we want to find out sugar, now pull yourself together; we’ve got work to do.”
“What…” Twilight sniffed, “what are you going to do to her?”
“Once we’ve gathered the rest of the gang we’re gonna head to Canterlot. Once we’re there the first thing were gonna do is talk. Just talk. See if we can’t work somethin’ out, alright?”
“OK,” said Twilight. “I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
“Mrphmlr,” said Spike, who was still awkwardly tied up and gagged in the corner.
“Oh. Right,” said Applejack, walking over and quickly pulling the rag out of his mouth. “Now, what was that?”
“I said it’s about time somepony finally convinced her. I’ve been telling her that for days!”
“Well it’s good to know there’s somepony around here with a lick of sense,” said Applejack.
“So what now?” asked Big Macintosh.
“Now we need to convince the others,” replied Applejack, “but that should be easy with Twilight’s help.”
“What do you want to me to do?” asked Twilight, drying her eyes.
“I need you to send a message out. Get the other four over here, and tell em’ to bring their elements.”
“Ok,” said Twilight, “I can do that. Spike, take a note….”
To Be Continued…
It wasn’t until late that night that the rest of the holders of the Elements of Harmony showed up. First came Pinkie Pie (with snacks), then Rarity. Next was Rainbow Dash, then hours later Fluttershy. Apparently she had hidden her necklace in an animal den and lost track of it. Once everyone was gathered Twilight began the meeting.
“Thank you for coming everypony, and thank you for bringing the Elements of Harmony. What I’m about to tell you all is very important, and-“
“Question!” said Rainbow Dash, raising her hoof. “Why is Big Mac here?”
“I was getting to that,” said Twilight.
“Oh!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie. “Is it a surprise?”
“Well, sort of,” said Twilight.
“Oh!” exclaimed Pinkie again. “Is it somepony’s birthday? I love surprise birthday parties!”
“You didn’t bring us here for a birthday party did you Twilight?” asked Rarity. “We’re in a time of war after all. Aren’t there more important things to worry about?”
“Everypony please!” yelled Twilight. “Just listen! Something is happening in Canterlot. Something bad. I’ve called you all here because something needs to be done about it, and I can’t do it alone.”
“Why, what’s wrong darling?” asked Rarity.
“It has to do with the war, and in order to solve it we may need to use the elements of harmony.”
“Oh my,” Fluttershy said softly. “It sounds serious.”
“It is,” responded Twilight.
“Well sorry to burst your bubble,” said Rainbow Dash, “but not all of the elements are here. We’re still missing a particular orange traitor, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“I have noticed,” said Twilight nervously, “so, without further ado…” she looked over at Macintosh, and he nodded, then stomped on the floor in a rhythmic pattern. A few seconds later the basement door swung open and Applejack stepped into view.
“Howdy y'all,” she said, smiling meekly.
Rainbow Dash was the first to respond. Before Applejack had a chance to say anything else, Dash had plowed into her, knocking her to the ground.
“Quick Fluttershy! Get her legs!” she yelled.
“Oh my goodness!” squeaked Fluttershy as she flew over and squeamishly attempted to grab a hold of Applejack’s flailing limbs. Rarity and Pinkie began moving to help, but Macintosh intervened. He pushed Fluttershy to the side and pried Rainbow Dash off of Applejack.
“Please everypony!” yelled Twilight, “calm down!” taking a moment to focus, Twilight cast a spell. At first everyone seemed to slow down, then, as if carried on a light breeze, they floated back to where they had been originally standing. All except for Rainbow Dash that is, who was still trying to fight free of Macintosh.
“Let me go!” she yelled. “Let me at the traitor!”
“She’s not a traitor!” exclaimed Twilight exasperatedly. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!”
“That’s right!” said Applejack. “I’ve been framed.”
“Not a traitor huh?” said Rainbow Dash. “Well what do you call somepony who abandons their friends? Huh?! I know what I call them!”
“I didn’t want to abandon anypony Dash! I had to. I was being hunted. Not even Big Mac trusted me with all the rumors spreading around!”
“WELL I WOULD HAVE!” yelled Rainbow Dash, tears filling her eyes. “I would have trusted you no matter what….”
“Aw, Rainbow…” said Applejack.
“No!” she yelled, doubling her attempts to break Macintosh’s grip. “It’s too late to apologize! You said you would help me with my tricks! You said we would be friends no matter what! Aargh!”
Suddenly Rainbow Dash swung her head back, hitting Macintosh right in the nose. He let out a surprised neigh and stumbled backwards, losing his grip on her. As soon as she was free she charged Applejack again, knocking her off her feet and pinning her to the ground. The others could only stare in shock.
“Do you know how long I’ve been searching for you?” yelled Rainbow Dash, now openly crying. “Months! Every day! You must have seen me! Where were you?! The Everfree Forest? The mountains? You had to have seen me! I searched everywhere!”
“I… I know Rainbow. I did see you, but I thought you were workin’ for the princess! I couldn’t let you find me. Not even-“ Applejack was interrupted as Rainbow Dash’s hoof hit her hard across the face. Macintosh stepped forward, but Applejack raised a hoof to stop him. He looked at her curiously, but obeyed nonetheless.
“You should have known better!” screamed Rainbow Dash, breathing heavily. “I was so worried. I had dreams. Dreams about what might have happened to you….”
“Rainbow Dash?” said Applejack softly.
“What!” Rainbow Dash yelled back, grabbing Applejack by the necklace with one hoof and raising the other to strike again. “What are you gonna to say to me?!”
“You’re right Dash. I never should have doubted you. Blame my applebuckin’ brain for not realizing how good of a friend you really were. I’m sorry to say, but I wasn’t as good a friend to you as you were to me. I’m not gonna pretend to know what you’re going through, but I don’t want no bad blood between us, so you do what you need to do, and afterwards we’ll be friends again, no matter what. I promise.” Applejack closed her eyes and swallowed, preparing for however many blows were to come.
For a long time Rainbow Dash didn’t move. Tears poured down her face. Her raised hoof trembled with anger. Her jaw was locked in a grimace of pure hatred as her heart attempted to pound its way out of her chest. Everyone stared at the two of them, fearing what would come next. Then, very slowly, Rainbow Dash lowered her hoof. She squeezed her eyes shut, and with one final quick movement, pushed Applejack to the ground.
“You’re not even worth it… traitor,” she said as she turned around and started walking back toward the group. “Why don’t you just leave? We don’t want you here anyway.” Rainbow Dash opened her wings and started to fly away, but before anyone else could move, Applejack was back on her feet. She ran over to Rainbow Dash and grabbed her tail between her teeth, pulling her back to the ground, then spun her around to face her.
“What’r you-“ said Rainbow Dash, as Applejack embraced her in a hug. To everyone’s surprise (including Rainbow Dash’s) Rainbow Dash found herself hugging back. Instead of tears of rage, tears of joy now poured down her face. She was sobbing so strongly that she couldn’t hold herself up, and she fell to her knees. Applejack followed her.
“You’ve got quite the right hook there,” said Applejack jokingly as she patted Rainbow Dash on the back.
“I’m sorry Applejack! I’m so sorry…” was the only thing that Rainbow could manage to say between sobs.
“Now you don’t need to apologize fer nothin’ ya hear me? You ain’t done nothin’ wrong. Not one thing.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” said Fluttershy, walking over and nuzzling her head into Rainbow Dash’s neck. Soon everyone had gathered around the shaken blue pegasus, giving words of kindness and comfort. By the time things had calmed down everyone was emotionally exhausted. It was decided that they would discuss what needed to be done in the morning, but for now everypony should get some rest. Twilight gathered all the blankets and pillows she could find, and soon everyone had fallen fast asleep. For the first time since Applejack left, Rainbow Dash had pleasant dreams.
The next morning everyone was awakened by a bright flash of green light and the smell of burning sulfur.
“Spike? What’s going on?” asked Twilight, still trying to wake up.
“It’s a letter from Celestia!” he said, unrolling the scroll that had appeared moments before. “Oh no, it says the carriage is on its way!”
“What carriage?” asked Pinkie Pie, hopping out of bed.
“The carriage that was supposed to pick up Applejack! Oh, I’d completely forgotten!”
“Lan sakes Twilight!” exclaimed Applejack. “You planned on keeping me locked in that box for this long?”
“I wasn’t thinking clearly! They’ll be here any minute! Oh what are we going to do?”
“Panic?” squeaked Fluttershy.
“We can’t let ‘em take Applejack!” said Rainbow Dash. “Quick! Where can we hide her before they get here?”
“Why don’t we hide her in the bakery? Nopony ever looks there!” suggested Pinkie Pie.
“Oh don’t be silly Pinkie,” said Rarity. “The town is absolutely swarming with ponies wanting the bounty on poor Applejack! She would be mobbed the moment we left. Why don’t we make her a disguise? I might be able to whip something up in time.”
“No no no,” said Twilight. “There has to be a better solution. Something that won’t draw attention to us.”
“Why don’t you just take the carriage to Canterlot?” said Big Macintosh, who up to this point had been thinking the situation through carefully.
“Are you crazy?” said Twilight. “They’ll arrest Applejack on sight!”
“And then what?” asked Macintosh. “Take her to Celestia? With all of you there you could plead a pretty darn good case I reckon, and if not you still got all the elements.”
“Wait, we’re trying to get to Canterlot?” asked Rainbow Dash.
“Arg. Yes,” said Applejack, hopping to her feet. “Ok everypony, listen up! For a long time now I’ve been noticing something strange going on with Celestia. This supposed war and puttin’ a bounty on me are just the latest oddities. I’m tryin’ to get to Canterlot so we can do what needs to be done to get to the bottom of this and correct whatever wrongs are being wronged.”
“Oooooh, sounds exciting!” said Pinkie Pie, hopping up and down.
“Now I don’t know what all y’all are wantin’ to do, but I second Big Mac’s plan. It’s a free ride to Canterlot, and once we get there maybe things will start fallin’ into place. Whaddya say? You with me?”
“You know it!” said Rainbow Dash, back flipping into the air.
“Ok!” said Pinkie Pie happily.
“Of course Darling,” said Rarity.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Fluttershy.
“Fluttershy is too,” said Rainbow Dash.
“Oh…ok then,” she replied.
“Well, I guess that’s the plan then,” said Twilight. “Whatever happens from this point on, stay together. We need to be ready for anything. Spike, you take care of things while we’re gone.”
“Sure thing Twilight…” said Spike in a worried tone.
As everyone prepared for the arrival of the carriage, Applejack turned to Big Macintosh.
“I noticed that you weren’t including yourself in our little group when you were talkin’ about going to Canterlot. You stayin’ here?”
“Eyup. I’ve done what I can, but the farm needs me.”
“You make sure that Granny and little sis stay safe.”
Everyone’s eyes turned to the windows as the carriage rushed by. It circled the tree a few times before landing in the street out front.
“Looks like this is it,” said Applejack, standing up tall. “Don’t you worry brother. I won’t be gone long, and when I come back, we’ll run the farm together.”
As Twilight opened the door and the group began to exit the library, Big Macintosh turned to look Applejack straight in the face, then said, to her great surprise, “I thought the element of honesty couldn’t lie.”
“Wha? Whaddya mean by callin’ me a liar?” said Applejack, averting her gaze.
“It don’t take magic to know somepony’s lying when you know ‘em as well as I know you sis.”
Applejack let out a long sigh. “You’ve always been smarter than you let on big brother,” she said, giving him a playful shove. “I don’t get it though. Why’d you help me do all of this if you knew? Aren’t you mad at me?”
“Oh I’m mad alright, but you’re my kin. More importantly, I know that you’re doing this fer the right reason. It’ll be hard work without you, but it’ll get done.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand how you can be so strong Macintosh,” she said, giving him one last hug.
“Heh,” he laughed. “If t’weren’t for ponies like you sis, I’d be nothin’ at all. Now get goin’ or you’ll miss your ride.”
“Yeah. Yeah of course,” She said, wiping a tear from her eye. “Oh, and one more thing. Mind escortin’ me to the carriage?”
“Why o’course not,” he said, wrapping his sister’s arm around his.
“No, not like that, like this.” Applejack stepped in front of Big Macintosh and held both of her hooves behind her back.
“You want me to escort you out there like a pris’ner?” asked Macintosh.
“I reckon this way you can take credit like you were talkin’ bout back on the farm.”
“Now come on sis.”
“Just do it Big Mac,” Applejack said insistently. “It was a good idea. This way nopony will suspect you of nothin’.”
“Well,” He said, lowering his ears slightly, “alright sis, but you just know I feel right awful for this.”
As they stepped outside, Applejack was greeted by a chorus of angry voices. She looked around at the crowd that had gathered and saw several of her friends among it. A half eaten tomato suddenly soared through the air directly at her, but moments before it hit, Rainbow Dash swooped down and knocked it to the ground.
“Be quiet!” Applejack heard her yelling as she flew by. “She’s a better pony than any of you!”
“Thanks Rainbow,” she said under her breath as an angry looking guard walked up and locked a pair of thick steel manacles on all four of her legs. She awkwardly stumbled into dark the carriage, followed closely by all of her friends. Big Mac stopped at the door.
“One more thing,” said Applejack, turning to face Big Mac. “If you see Lucky… just let him know that I think of him the same, OK?”
Big Mac gave her a quick nod. “I love you sis,” he said, not giving away any sign of emotion in front of the crowd.
“You’re the best brother a pony could ask for,” said Applejack as the guard shut the door.
The carriage only waited a few second before in took off, spiraling back into the air toward its destination. As it tilted slightly to the side, Applejack caught a glimpse of Ponyville out the window. Far below her was the town she grew up in. In the distance was her farm that she had worked so hard to protect, and walking by himself down the dirt road was a small red dot she recognized as her big brother. She teared up a bit, but she tried to hold it back in front of her friends. She was going to miss all of it.
To Be Continued…
Chapter 5: Departure
It didn’t take long for the carriage to reach Canterlot. When the Pegasus ponies that were pulling the carriage touched down they unhooked themselves from the harnesses and came around to unlock the doors. A moment later Applejack and her friends stepped out into the light. What they saw in front of them wasn’t what any of them were expecting.
Instead of the rows of armed guards and angry looking citizens, there was only one white earth pony. He had an expertly groomed black mane, and a cutie mark in the shape of a crown decorated his flank. As the rest of the group exited the carriage, one guard walked up to Applejack and unlocked her manacles.
“What the- why are you freein’ me?” asked Applejack. The guard didn’t respond. He simply threw the manacles into the carriage, closed the door, and reattached himself to the harness along with the other guard pony. The white pony gave them a quick nod before they flew away.
“Um…hello,” said Applejack awkwardly. The white pony didn’t respond.
“I’m Applejack. The princess put a bounty on me a while back.” The white pony just continued to stare at her. “I’ve been caught,” she added. Still no response. He simply looked over each pony individually, pausing briefly on each of their necklaces.
“I was hopin’ to plead my case in front of Princess Celestia. Before dark if possible.” The white pony just kept standing there. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally spoke.
“Greetings, holders of the elements of harmony. Please come with me. There are several important events that need to be brought to your attention.” His voice was soft and smooth, but also had a commanding undertone to it. Something about it seemed dangerous.
“Now wait just a minute,” said Applejack, trying to sound just as tough. “We came here to find out the truth about this so called ‘war’, and we’re not goin’ anywhere until we get answers. Now where’s Princess Celestia?”
“War?” said the white pony, raising an eyebrow. “There is no war. You will see the princess when the time comes. This I promise, but not until you understand the situation.” Without another word he turned around and began walking away. Applejack couldn’t tell if he was lying. Exchanging confused looks, the group slowly began following the white pony down the long path toward the castle.
As the group of ponies walked through Canterlot, the ominous silence gave them all an uneasy feeling. Suddenly a gust of wind passed by and Fluttershy let out a loud yelp. The white pony looked back toward her and raised an eyebrow.
“Are you alright Fluttershy?” he asked.
“Oh! You… you know my name?”
“Of course,” was all he said.
“Oh…” replied Fluttershy. “Yes. I’m fine… um… what’s your name?”
The white pony suddenly stopped, looking surprised. “My name?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just thought- you don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to.”
The white pony didn’t speak for a moment, then turned toward them and said, “You may call me Conquest,” before turning back around and beginning to walk again.
“That’s a nice name,” said Fluttershy, practically to herself.
“So what is it that we need to know?” asked Twilight. Conquest cleared his throat, then began to speak.
“Long ago there were four guardians who watched over Equestria, making sure that no harm came to it. From these four guardians, two children were born. One as bright as the sun, and one as dark as night.”
“Oh! Oh! I bet I know who they were!” said Pinkie Pie as she jumped up and down.
“Shush!” said Twilight, clamping Pinkie’s mouth shut.
Conquest smiled slightly. “Pinkie Pie is correct. These two children are who you know as Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. They were chosen to watch over Equestria when the guardians departed. In order to help them maintain peace they were given special gifts. You know these gifts as the elements of harmony.”
As Conquest continued, his mouth slowly curled down into a frown. “Sadly these gifts were abused. After all that the guardians had taught their children, they rebelled. The elements were misused, and as punishment the connection between the elements of harmony and the children of the guardians was severed. An unbalance came to Equestria, and in the confusion the elements were forgotten. It wasn’t until just recently that they were rediscovered.”
“That’s amazing!” said Twilight, “But what do you mean the connection was ‘severed’?”
“When Princess Celestia used the elements of harmony to imprison her sister, she acted out of desperation in an attempt to prevent her sister from doing the same to her. The guardians knew this, and took that power away in order to prevent it from being abused in such a manner again. Celestia tried to regain what she had lost, but she could not. She, who had once been known as a child of the guardians, simply became a princess, only able to perform the tasks necessary of her. Luna was equally punished, and if it weren’t for the direct intervention of the guardians, she would still be imprisoned.”
“Still imprisoned?” asked Twilight.
“Without the guardians, Luna would never have been able to escape the moon.”
“The stars will aid in her escape… now I understand!” said Twilight. “But why did the guardians wait so long to free her?”
“As with all magic, there are rules. The guardians could not intervene until the spell had run its course. Even after all that time, the magic that had caused Luna to be twisted into Nightmare Moon remained intact. There was nothing the guardians could do for her, and if it weren’t for your intervention on the night that she destroyed the elements of harmony, it would have been the end.”
“The end of what?” asked Rainbow Dash.
“Simply put, everything. When the elements were destroyed there would have been no force in Equestria able to stop Nightmare Moon, but ancient magic such as the elements tend to be… resourceful in the face of oblivion. At the last moment they acquired new forms. I believe you referred to them as ‘the spirits of the elements of harmony’, didn’t you Twilight?”
“That’s right. When Nightmare Moon smashed the orbs… I saw my friends and it just came to me.”
“Well, although your actions were noble, and it may have prevented the inevitable for a time, there were consequences for such use of the elements as well.”
At last they reached the large doors of the castle. They were slightly ajar. The seven of them squeezed through the opening one by one until all of them were inside. As twilight entered the castle she found it an eerie contrast to how she had remembered it. The soft red rugs that covered the floor were now dirtied and torn. The large banners that had once displayed Canterlot’s sun and moon symbol were missing, but what disturbed her most was how dark it was. Never in her life had she ever imagined that Celestia’s castle could be so dark. Just like the city outside, the castle seemed to be abandoned.
“Where is everypony?” asked Rainbow Dash.
“They’ve all gone,” said Conquest.
“Gone where?” asked Pinkie Pie. This time Conquest didn’t say anything.
“Where’s Princess Celestia?” Twilight asked.
“In the throne room,” Conquest calmly responded.
“I-I need to see her!” Twilight demanded.
“You will see the princess when the time comes. Please listen, what I tell you now concerns you directly.” All the ponies stared at Conquest in silence. All except for Twilight, who continued to anxiously look around the main hall with tears in her eyes.
“When the elements of harmony became part of you, they were no longer controlled by the guardians. This could not be allowed. An ancient magic such as this was never meant to be used by mortal ponies. The guardians decided that the holders of the elements of harmony needed to be stopped before the unspeakable occurred.”
“Stopped how?” asked Applejack, but Conquest ignored her.
“Not long ago the guardians returned to Equestria with the intent of finding and removing the elements of harmony forever, but once again, their children rebelled. Using what limited power they had, they held off the guardians. They knew that they only had a short amount of time however. They spread word to their followers of coming war. They evacuated their great cities to protect their citizens from the imminent attack, and they gathered supplies in hopes that the ponies who relied on them would survive even after they were gone.”
“No! Stop!” yelled Twilight suddenly. “Please stop! Please don’t say what I think you going to say.” Conquest glanced at Twilight with pity in his eyes, but he continued nonetheless.
“Several months ago the guardians arrived in Canterlot. In an attempt to weaken the elements, a bounty was placed on you, Applejack, and distrust spread through the hearts of the surrounding ponies. The plan was to eliminate the elements one by one, but it seems that the guardians misjudged your character, and despite their efforts, the elements remained infallibly bound to each other. When news that the elements were gathering together reached Canterlot, the princesses attempted one last time to stop the guardian’s plans. The last stand was held here in this very room only a few days ago.”
“No… Princess,” Twilight wept.
“Please come with me,” said Conquest solemnly. Applejack helped up the still sobbing Twilight and the six of them slowly followed the white pony further into the castle. They walked down a long hall and came to a thick wooden door. As they approached, it swung open, revealing the throne room inside.
Three ponies stood in the room. A crimson colored male earth pony stood in the center of the group. He was even larger than Big Macintosh, and had a fiery red mane. A cutie mark in the shape of a large sword decorated his flank. To the right of that pony stood a black, female pegasus with a bronze mane, who’s cutie mark was a set of weighing scales. On the opposite of the red pony was a female unicorn of such a pale shade of yellow that her fur almost seemed transparent. Her mane was only slightly darker than her coat. She had a cutie mark in the shape of a scythe. Conquest nuzzled her lovingly as he walked over and joined the group.
A single beam of light fell from the ceiling and illuminated two wooden coffins in the center of the throne room a short distance behind the four ponies. One larger than the other. They were surrounded by mountains of flowers that ranged so much in color and shape that it seemed as if they had been plucked from every corner of Equestria. The aroma was staggeringly beautiful.
“We four are the guardians,” said Conquest, standing proudly. “These were our children. In an attempt to protect you, they fought against us, and in order to preserve Equestria, we were forced to kill them.” As the six ponies took in the dismal scene, even Pinkie Pie could only stand silently and stare, tears rimming her eyes.
“I know what you are feeling,” said Conquest. “For what it is worth, I’m truly sorry such pain must be brought upon you.”
“Why’d you do this?” asked Applejack. “We could have… worked somethin’ out. I just wanted to do what was right. I never….” Her gaze snapped over to Conquest. “It didn’t have to come to this!” Suddenly Applejack’s voice cracked and she fell to her knees. “I thought she was tryin’ to hurt us! I didn’t understand. Oh Celestia! Why didn’t you tell us?” Teardrops began to fall from her eyes. Her friends all stared in shock. This was the first time any of them had seen Applejack cry.
“If we hadn’t acted then you might have used the elements,” said Conquest. “It simply couldn’t be allowed. None of us know what would occur if they were used when not under our control.” He would have continued, but the pale unicorn raised a hoof to silence him.
The pale pony standing next to Conquest stepped forward, a look of pure grief covering her face. She knelt down in front of Applejack and lifted her chin. “Young pony, full of regret. Please don’t cry. Although your most beloved ones have departed, it is not the end. For I can see beyond this short life to which you are bound, and that place which seems so far away to you; so unreachable, is closer than you think.” The pale pony stood up tall as her horn began to glow.
“What… what’re you doin’?” asked Applejack weakly. The glowing grew brighter and brighter, then all at once the room filled with sparkling light.
Suddenly it seemed eerily quiet. The six ponies watched in shock and confusion as their bodies fell to the floor of the throne room. It seemed to happen in slow motion, without making any sound. They quickly glanced around at each other, not knowing what to think.
“What’s going on?” said Applejack, looking toward the pale pony. The large red pony answered instead.
“You were too great of a threat. Without the elements, balance can be maintained in Equestria.”
“Without the elements....”
It took a moment for the words to sink in.
“Oh no. No no no please no!” pleaded Applejack. She looked around at her friends. They all seemed to be feeling the same way she did. She looked over at Conquest, who attempted to smile comfortingly at her.
“I-I want to go home! Please let me go home!” she begged.
“You are home,” the pale pony responded softly.
“No!” rainbow Dash suddenly yelled. “They’re our lives! You can’t just… just take them! Who are you to decide that?”
“We are the guardians,” replied the large red pony angrily. “We do what we must to keep Equestria safe. Do not question us. You have no say in the matter.”
“Oh yeah? How’s this for my say?””
Rainbow Dash suddenly shot through the air. As she approached the red pony she whirled around, bringing her hind legs forward and kicking him directly in the jaw. The other ponies watched in surprise as the red pony hardly flinched. Faster than it seemed like he would be able, he grabbed Rainbow Dash out of the air and slammed her onto the ground.
“Do not anger me little girl!” he yelled.
“Let our friend go!” yelled the group, as they charged forward. Suddenly there was a flash of light. Five glowing cords jumped from each of the ponies’ necklaces to the others, forming a shimmering, prismatic web. As the cords burst from Rainbow’s necklace, the red pony yelled and stumbled back, clutching at his hoof. As soon as she was free, Rainbow Dash was back in the air. The red pony neighed menacingly and stomped his hooves as the group approached.
“Stop this foalishness,” Conquest said very loudly. His voice was so unquestioningly commanding that the ponies actually stopped. Even Rainbow Dash quickly floated back to the ground, looking slightly ashamed. The red pony, still looking angry, walked back to his place in the group nonetheless. When everyone had calmed down, he continued.
“It would appear that even here, the elements retain their power,” he said calmly. “A power which has only been strengthened by the bonds of friendship between you. One that somehow even manages to hold back the powers of death.”
“What do you mean?” asked Twilight.
“Look and see for yourself,” Conquest replied, motioning behind the ponies.
As the ponies turned around they saw their six bodies lying where they had been before. It was still the dark silent room, the same red carpets, the same stone walls. It was a morbid scene overall, but nothing that gave any explanation to Conquest’s statement. Then suddenly Twilight’s leg twitched.
Twilight let out a gasp as she watched her body move without her in it, but the more the ponies watched, the more signs of life they noticed. Rainbow Dash’s body clenching its jaw. Applejack’s shallow breathing. Rarity’s tail swishing back and forth ever so slightly that its movement could have been mistaken for a slight breeze. It was undeniable. They were still alive.
“How’s this possible?” asked Applejack. “I thought you… I thought we….”
“I cannot answer you honestly Applejack,” said Conquest. “Perhaps the spell was weakened by your powers, or perhaps the elements themselves are attempting to hold you in the realm of the living. Whatever the cause, I’m afraid that the rules have changed, and what happens next is up to you.”
“Well I don’t know about all of you, but I want to live!” said Rainbow Dash.
“That would be nice,” added Fluttershy.
“It is not as simple as that,” said Conquest. “The elements are still as great of a risk to the world as ever before, at least when their forces are combined. Of this new arrangement there are only two courses of actions that we, as the guardians, can take. If you try to return, then we will try to stop you. Either we win, and none of you return, or you win, and Equestria is left without its guardians, helpless against whatever threats will come to it in the future.”
“I don’t like the sound of that at all,” said Applejack. “What’s option two?”
“The second option may be more difficult than the first,” he said with a hint of worry. “We can allow you to go back peacefully, but we cannot allow all of the elements to exist in one realm. If you choose to return home, then a sacrifice must be made. One of you must stay behind.”
These words stuck the ponies like a sledgehammer. Either fight a battle that was impossible to win, or willingly leave a friend to die. For a long time they were silent, not knowing what to do or say. Fluttershy let out a small sob.
“Please,” said the pale pony. “There isn’t much time.”
Applejack looked back at her friends. They looked scared and confused. She looked past them at their bodies, which were becoming stronger by the second. Mustering up all the courage she could, she turned to face the four ponies in front of her.
“Applejack no!” yelled Rainbow Dash.
“Now hush Rainbow,” Applejack replied. “I was never plannin’ on going back anyway. At least not with you all. It’s… it’s fer the greater good. You know this as much as I do. Now go on guardians. You do your thing.”
“Such a brave soul,” said the pale pony, “but this is not up to us. You must decide to stay, and your friends must let you go.”
“Now what does that mean?” asked Applejack. The pale pony gazed down solemnly at the glowing cords tying the six ponies together.
“Oh…” said Applejack. This was going to be harder than she thought.
Applejack turned and walked up to Fluttershy first. She stood up tall and strong, took a deep breath, but couldn’t find any words to say. Fluttershy looked at her sadly. Tears started filling both of their eyes. Suddenly Fluttershy stepped forward and nuzzled Applejack lovingly. Her initiative surprised Applejack, and she let out an unexpected laugh before nuzzling her back.
“Aw Fluttershy,” she said, no longer trying to hold back the tears.
“I’ll miss you Applejack. Ever so much.”
“I’ll miss you too sweetie.”
When Fluttershy finally stepped back she was openly crying as well, but there was a smile on her face. The glowing cord connecting her to Applejack silently flickered out of existence. Next Applejack walked up to Rarity.
“Oh Applejack,” Rarity immediately began. “This can’t be what you want. Not really. It can’t be! I know you and I have had our differences, but it’s nothing that we couldn’t work out if you were to come back. Why I was even thinking of making a line of clothing specifically for farmers. Extra sturdy for hard work, but still fashionable! I would need your help of course-“
“Rarity,” said Applejack, cutting her off. “Please, don’t try and convince me to change my mind. I admit this ain’t the ideal situation, but it’s somethin’ I’ve gotta do. For my friends, my family, all of Equestria even. You wouldn’t want to keep me from doing something so important would you?”
“Oh, I suppose not,” said Rarity, “but imagine all the good that would come if you did decide-“
Applejack cut her off with a look. After a moment of silence Rarity’s ears dropped and she started crying as well.
“Oh I know,” she said as she wiped her eyes. “I know. But how could somepony as brave and strong and daring and… and wise as you die when some silly pony like me should be allowed to live? That hardly seems fair does it?” she laughed nervously, then let out a small yelp when Applejack suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes.
“Don’t you ever put yourself down like that again,” said Applejack, much to the surprise of Rarity. “You’re just as brave and strong and everything else as me. I don’t want you thinking that you’re… deservin’ to live less than me fer some reason. I agree that we might be different in a lot of ways, but there hasn’t been one time ever that you let me down when I needed help. You’ve always been a friend to me. I want you to remember that alright? I want you to remember our friendship for what it was.”
“Oh Applejack,” cried Rarity, falling forward and embracing her in a hug. “What was our friendship?”
As Rarity let Applejack go, the cord between them disappeared. “And it always will be,” she said. Applejack gave her a confident nod before moving on to Pinkie Pie.
“Pinkie Pie…” she began.
“It’s OK. I understand,” said Pinkie Pie cheerfully.
“You… do?” asked Applejack in surprise.
“Yeah!” she replied. “It’s kind of like… a party. Parties are super fun, and sometimes they last a really long time, but…other times they don’t. What’s important is to make sure that no matter how long it lasts, that it’s the funnest it can be! It’s sad when a party ends, but even afterwards, ponies will remember it for how fun it was, and with a party as fun as you Applejack? I don’t think anyone will ever forget it.”
“Heh. Well I reckon that’s about right Pinkie,” said Applejack. “Thank you.”
Pinkie Pie gave Applejack a big smile and placed her hoof on her nose. “Honk…” she said softly as the cord between them disappeared.
Next Applejack approached Twilight. “Well Twilight. What do you think about all of this?” Applejack expected a longwinded speech about magic and alternative methods and whatnot, but once again she was surprised.
“I don’t know what to think anymore,” was all Twilight said as she stared at the ground.
“Don’t know? Now those are words I never thought I’d hear you say sugar cube!”
“How could I know? Celestia’s gone. Luna’s gone. And now you? The most logical pony I’ve ever met deciding to sacrifice herself? What about the Big Mac? What about the farm? What’s going to happen to the world without you?”
“I don’t rightly know,” said Applejack honestly, “but I do know that I’ve got friends like you to help it get done right. The way I see it, there’s all sorts of things that we ponies don’t understand, that we never will understand. Sometimes that’s a scary notion, but no matter what situation we find ourselves in, deep down we know what’s right and what’s wrong, and if we trust in whatever that is, we’ll live well. I’m doin’ what I know is right, and I’m guessing that you know it too, don’t you?”
Applejack saw tears falling from Twilight’s eyes as she meekly said, “Yes.”
“Look at me Twilight,” said Applejack.
“I… I can’t....”
Applejack reached down and lifted Twilight’s chin. “Please…” she said, resisting slightly, but not stopping her. As soon as Twilight saw Applejack’s face she broke down in uncontrollable sobs and fell to her knees.
“I’m sorry!” she screamed, covering her face with her hooves. “There must be some other way! Why can’t I think of a better way?!”
“Twilight!” said Applejack, falling to the floors and draping a hoof over the shaking pony. “Listen to me Twilight.”
“No no no…” she sobbed. Applejack reached down and turned Twilight’s face toward her again. This time she resisted in earnest, but Applejack held her in place.
“Listen!” said Applejack strongly. Twilight quit struggling, but she started crying even harder.
“It’s not about the right way of doin’ things! It’s about doin’ what’s right!”
“I don’t understand!”
“Well understand this,” continued Applejack, leaning forward and making sure she had Twilight’s complete attention. “If this had gone any other way; if’n we all arrived in that carriage and were greeted by a shooting squad, then I would have jumped in front of you, or if I was sentenced to life in prison, I would have gone peacefully. Heck, if you’d gotten a paper cut that wouldn’t stop bleedin I’d have given you every last drop of blood I had.’”
“Because I’ve always been willin’ to die for my friends.”
Twilight was so shocked by this statement that she stopped crying mid-sob.
“Like I said,” Applejack repeated quietly, “it’s about doin’ what’s right.” She let Twilight go.
“Applejack?” said Twilight.
“Are things going to be alright without you?”
“Everything’s gonna be just fine Twilight. You’ll see.”
The cord between them disappeared as Twilight let out a shaky sigh.
Lastly Applejack walked up to Rainbow Dash. This was going to be the most difficult of all.
“Don’t waste your little speech on me,” said Rainbow Dash, looking angry. “I get what’s going on, and I know what I’m gonna do.”
“What are you gonna do Rainbow?”
“I’m staying here with you.”
“You what?!” exclaimed Applejack. “No you’re not!”
“What are you gonna to do Applejack? Hold me down until I come back to life?”
“If’n I have to….”
“Well it won’t stop me!” yelled Rainbow Dash, taking a defensive stance. “Try it and I’ll… I’ll just… come back.”
“Rainbow Dash!” Applejack yelled, understanding what she was implying. “How dare you even think such a thing!”
“I’m not going to let you leave me again!” Rainbow Dash screamed, tears once again rolling down her cheeks. “The first time, when you went into hiding, I wished that I’d stopped you, that I’d gone with you, anything other than what I’d done! But it didn’t matter, because I was a coward, and… and I’ve regretted it.”
“I’m doing this fer you Dash! I’m doing this-“
“You’re doing this because you have to! Because they’re making you!” Dash motioned toward the four guardians. “I don’t care what you think. I’m not leaving you alone again. Not for anything.”
“You’re talkin’ crazy Rainbow! What about yer dreams? What about the Wonderbolts? You’re just gonna give all that up so we can be… death buddies?”
“Don’t say it like that!” Yelled Rainbow Dash with more intensity than Applejack had ever heard. “This is the hardest decision I’ve ever made! I’m doing this for you. You’ve always been willing to die for your friends huh? Well me too. Forget all of my stupid dreams! Who cares about the Wonderbolts? I’m not going to let you die alone! I’m not… what the?” Suddenly Rainbow Dash looked past Applejack, her expression changing from grim determination, to one of awe.
“Don’t you get all up in a fuss little lady!” said a strange voice from behind Applejack. Something about it seemed familiar, but Applejack couldn’t remember where she had heard it before. As she turned around to see who it was, her mouth dropped to the floor.
“Grandpa Smith? Wh-what are you doing here?”
“Just checking up on my favorite granddaughter!” he laughed. “Heard she was having a hard time.”
“I don’t understand…” Applejack muttered. “Is… everypony here?”
“Everypony that matters!” said Grandpa Smith, nudging Applejack jokingly with his elbow. Suddenly a door made of light opened up and more ponies began stepping into the room. Applejack didn’t recognize many of them, but her friends seemed to. Every one of their expressions changed from mourning to joy as they recognized a familiar face.
Fluttershy ran over and nuzzled an older male pony with a short mane that matched hers in color. Rarity bowed before a very old pony that had a dignified look about him, who returned the gesture. Rainbow Dash was tackled to the ground by a bright purple pegasus who then proceeded to rustle her hair mercilessly, Rainbow Dash laughing all the time, and Pinkie Pie was smiling ear to ear as she leaned down and touched noses with a little pink colt that was hardly older than Apple Bloom.
“What is all this?” asked Applejack. The pale pony answered her.
“Rainbow Dash’s sorrow was that of a friend fearing that she had doomed a loved one to solitude, locked away in darkness eternal. With such loyalty as hers, there was no way to convince her other than showing her the light. Now go, speak with her again. Give her solace.”
Applejack gave the pale pony a grateful look, and she smiled in return. As she walked back over to Rainbow Dash, she could see that her entire complexion had changed. There was no more look of fierce competition in her eyes. Her smile was real. Over all she just seemed… lighter. As Applejack got closer Rainbow Dash and her friend got to their feet.
“Who’s your friend?” asked Applejack.
“This is Gumball,” said Rainbow.
“But everyone calls me Ricochet,” the purple pegasus chimed in.
“We were good buddies back when I lived in Cloudsdale.”
“Well it’s nice to meet you Ricochet.”
“Right back at ya!” Ricochet replied.
“Back to the matter at hoof though, Rainbow. You still plannin’ on stayin’?”
“Staying?” said Ricochet, looking confused, “wait, can you go back?”
“Well, yeah. Kind of,” replied Rainbow.
“Oh wow! That is so awesome!” replied Ricochet. “What are you going to do when you get back? Are there any cool tricks you’re working on? Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Ricochet!” exclaimed Rainbow Dash, looking embarrassed.
“Well,” said Applejack, “I’m not sure Dash has told you, but she’s a pretty famous flyer now. She even won a flying contest not too long ago. Got to spend the entire day with the Wonderbolts as a reward.”
“The Wonderbolts?!” yelled Ricochet, jumping off the floor and touching the ceiling of the entryway with her hooves before coming back down. “That’s too crazy! You’ve got to tell me how that all ends up.”
“Heh. I… I guess I could do that.”
Applejack smiled. “That’s right. Now you go on Rainbow. We’ll see you when we see you.”
A tear came to Rainbow Dash’s eye as she looked at all the ponies in the room, but she didn’t seem to notice. “OK,” she said. “Sounds good Applejack. I’ll see you guys around.” The cord connecting her to Applejack finally disappeared.
As the five ponies walked over to their bodies, a voice that they all recognized filled the room.
“I hope you weren’t planning on leaving without saying goodbye to me as well!” it laughed. The door of light grew to almost twice its size as the pony that was connected to the voice stepped through, followed by her little sister. All the ponies, including the guardians, bowed in respect. Before them stood the Princesses Luna and Celestia.
“Oh, you silly ponies. There’s no need for that anymore,” Celestia said kindly. All the ponies rose, and Twilight, unable to contain herself anymore, ran forward and wrapped her hooves around her greatest teacher.
“Twilight Sparkle, how are you?”
“I missed you so much!” Twilight exclaimed. Celestia chuckled quietly and wrapped a hoof around Twilight as well.
“What will happen now?” asked Twilight, almost desperately. “Who will raise the sun and moon now that you’re gone?”
“With us gone, the world will change,” said Celestia. “Many things that you once needed to take care of will begin to take care of themselves, and the sun and moon will rise and set on their own from now on.”
“Oh Princess! I’m scared!”
The Princess laughed. “You have nothing to fear Twilight. You and your friends are the bravest ponies I’ve ever known. I doubt there is any force in all of Equestria that you couldn’t handle. Now, before you go, would you like to give me your final report?”
Twilight took a step back and looked up at Celestia with a smile. “Yes Princess. Of course.”
“Wonderful,” she replied. “Tell me what you have learned.”
“Dear Princess Celestia,” she began, “I’ve learned so many important lessons. I’ve learned to trust in your friends, and to trust in yourself. I’ve learned the meaning of loyalty, and what it means to do what’s right, even if it seems hard. The most important thing I’ve learned however is this. No matter what happens, no matter what situation life puts you in, no matter how bad it seems, don’t give up, because there’s always something good to look forward to in the end.”
“My dearest student, Twilight Sparkle,” said Celestia in a royal tone, “you’ve made me so proud.”
“Thank you Princess.”
A soft glow filled the room, and suddenly the five ponies were gone. Applejack watched as their bodies awoke, looking around blearily. Slowly all but one of them got to their feet. After a short time of consoling each other, the ponies turned and silently walked out of the room.
A sudden feeling of loss hit Applejack. For the first time in her life she felt completely helpless. Unsure of what was to come, what she should do. She had very literally left her entire life behind, and now she stared into eternity, not even the beat of her own heart to accompany her. Her legs became wobbly, and for a second she thought she might faint, but the voice of Grandpa Smith pulled her back.
“What’s wrong?” asked Grandpa Smith, patting Applejack on the back. “You look so glum!”
“It’s just… well I thought that this would be a lot… different is all.”
“Is that all?” he laughed. “Well let me tell you, there ain’t nothin’ better! If you want the honest truth, it’s not so different from before. Why just the other day, me and my buddy Prancer had a race around the entire town! I beat ‘em by a country mile, and now he has to wear a bow in his mane fer the next week!” Grandpa Smith slapped his knee and burst into a fit of laughter.
“Heh heh,” Applejack laughed awkwardly. “That does sound kind of funny.”
“That’s the spirit! Now come on. There’s a whole mess of ponies you should meet!”
“Yeah. Yeah OK. Just let me take care of one thing quick and I’ll catch up with ya.”
“Okie dokie kiddo!” said Grandpa Smith, trotting out the door. Applejack turned back toward the four guardians.
“What’s gonna happen’ now?” she asked.
“Do not worry,” said Conquest. “We will return your friends to their homes safely, and make sure your body is given a burial of the highest honor.”
“Alright. That… that sounds fine,” said Applejack, turning to leave, but something else occurred to her, and she spun back around. “There’s something else I’ve gotta know,” she said.
“Of course,” said Conquest. “Ask us anything.”
“Can I see Big Mac again?”
“All things come to an end,” said Conquest. “You will see him again in time.”
“I know that. I know. What I mean is, is it possible fer me to see Big Macintosh just one more time, like, right now? In any way whatsoever? I just want to let him know I’m alright.”
“You may visit him at any time, dear Applejack,” said the pale pony. “Although it may not be the same as you think.”
“Well I’ll take whatever I can get,” she said confidently.
“Then go,” said Conquest. Suddenly a door made of light opened up in front of Applejack. Without wasting any time she jumped through. Almost instantly she found herself standing on Apple acres. Big Mac was in front of her, pulling a plow through the hard dirt.
“Big Mac!” Applejack called. “Big Mac, it’s me Applejack!”
Big Macintosh’s ears twitched. He looked around confusedly.
“Big Mac. I’m glad I found you. You won’t believe who I just talked to! It was Grandpa Smith, in the flesh! Well… in the sumthin’, but you get the idea.”
A strange look came over Macintosh’s face as he unhooked himself from the plow and turned toward Applejack.
“Is… is somepony there?” he called, taking a few step forward.
“It’s me big bro. Yer… yer sister.” Big Mac took another step forward, passing right through Applejack. A noticeable shiver ran down his spine. Applejack understood now. She took a step back so she was looking him in the face again.
“Don’t you worry about me Big Mac,” she said strongly. “Things are gonna be just fine. Trust you me on that one. And don’t you worry about yerself neither. I know you’re gonna do a good job, and I’ll do what I can from this end to keep things runnin’ smoothly. Now you get back to work. You got family countin’ on you after all!”
Applejack wrapped her arms around Macintosh’s neck in a mock-hug. For a second she could almost feel him. Suddenly he let out a loud neigh. She stepped back to see a tear fall from his eye.
“Aw, now what’s this about?” he said shakily as he wiped it away. For a moment his gaze moved over to the towers of Canterlot in the distance, then down to the ground. A few more drops fell, but he gave his entire body a rough shake and was able to get a hold of himself. He slowly walked over to the plow and reattached it to his harness, then started pulling it through the field.
“I love ya sis,” he said quietly.
“Love you too big brother,” she replied. The glowing door opened up again, and Applejack heard the cheering and laughing of friends and family that she had once thought long gone. She stepped into the light.
It wasn’t too long after Applejack and her friends had headed to Canterlot that they returned with four strange ponies. One black, one white, one red, and one yellow. Applejack herself was nowhere to be seen. They had held a meeting at the town hall that night. They said that Equestria was a free land, thanks to the sacrifice of their beloved leaders and one equally brave pony. The war was over, and now it was up to them to decide what path the world would take. At first ponies were confused. Things changed. The clouds started moving on their own. Plants would grow up wherever they pleased, but the four strange ponies stayed long enough to help them through it all, before one day departing. A statue was built in the center of Ponyville, in memory of the one brave pony. It was a masterpiece. No detail was spared. Built by the best in Equestria.
As big Mac set down the water buckets he’d been carrying with a grunt, he looked out across the green fields of apple acres and thought to himself that is was about time he paid the memorial another visit. An hour or so later he walked up to its base in the center of Ponyville and looked up at the stone depiction of his sister. A gold necklace with an orange gem adorned its neck, now just a simple, but memorable piece of jewelry. It was so lifelike that it almost felt like she was there with him. A large bronze plaque below the statue read this:
Here lies Ponyville’s most cherished citizen, who through her efforts, changed the world as we know it for the better.
Her name was Applejack. A pony unlike any other. She was a hard worker, and a friend to all she met. In a time of war she never gave up on what she knew was right. Thanks to what can only be described as a “delightful stubbornness”, the life of every pony in Equestria was undeniably improved. Enjoy the rest you are now given. You’ve earned it.
For a long while Big Macintosh stood in silence, just thinking. He was so lost in thought that he hardly noticed when another pony walked up next to him.
“Evening Macintosh,” said the pony.
“Evnin’,” replied Big Mac. “How’s the wife?”
“She’s lovely, as always.”
“And the baby?”
“It’s gonna be a boy.”
“Hah,” Big Mac laughed, “lucky as ever. It’s another girl fer me.”
“Well, girls aren’t all that bad,” said the pony, smiling. He reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a sprig of lilacs, placing it gently on the base of the statue.
Big Mac’s ear twitched as a raindrop landed on it. He looked up to see storm clouds rolling in from the east. He would never get used to this naturally occurring weather.
“Speakin’ of girls, I should get back to the family. Don’t want to be late for dinner. You fancy comin’ along? It’s apple pie night.”
“Thanks for the offer Macintosh, but I think I’ll stay here for a little while.”
“Alright. I’ll see you around Lucky. Take care.”
As Big Mac walked down the long road leading to the Apple family cabin, he got to trotting. The smell of his wife’s home cooking wafted by on the breeze. Off in the distance he could see Apple Bloom sitting on the porch with his two daughters, Honeycrisp and Santana. A moment later his wife, Cally, leaned out the window and waved. He waved back.
Big Macintosh loved apples.