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In the club with a bottle of red wine

By: Gabriel LaVedier

        All places, no matter how quaint, saccharine or provincial, had some manner of evening entertainment for the enjoyment of their more mature citizens. Even where it was literally all sparkles and rainbows, there was a place for some downtime; for a dance and a glass of something. Ponyville was no different.

        Ponyville’s own establishment was a squat, brick building with a few of the local candy-like touches to keep it in good standing with the rest of the décor. It was located just on the outskirts along the road leading towards Canterlot. The exterior, despite touches, was very bland, proclaiming only the name, “The Cellar” and offering a single entrance, which was watched by a hefty bouncer when they were open.

        Inside the door was a solid set of steel stairs leading down into a huge, open underground space. A bar was set along the far wall, the DJ booth near the stairs down, tables crowded around the other two walls with the center used as a large dance floor. It was simple, but entertaining. The house DJ was the popular local phenom Vinyl Scratch, known in the business as DJ Pon-3. She played a wide sample of classic remixes, new productions and her own suite of homemade techno.

        It was popular enough to remain open, doing a decent trade on weekday nights with spikes on weekends and holidays. They had occasional celebrity arrivals, such as Princess Luna, who appreciated anything that stayed open all night; Hoity Toity, who was a fan of DJ Pon-3; and Photo Finish, who liked to hide out in small towns now and then.

        It was the kind of place for citified ponies like Twilight Sparkle, who was there often with Pinkie Pie; or Rarity, who took Fluttershy there when it was especially dark and private. Even Rainbow Dash was there, alone. It was not the sort of place one would find a country gal like Applejack.

        “How did yew even get me down here?” Applejack looked around the club, barely able to see anything through the low lights and flashing strobes. It all looked like a sea of shadows with bursts of confusion.

        “It’s not important. You’ve been working hard. And I thought you could use a day off. Doing something other than sleeping under a tree or throwing horseshoes or… Whatever that thing is that Big Macintosh does with the barrel and rope.”

        “Big Macintosh always wanted ta be in the circus. So, we jes let him be and giggle at it. But that’s beside the point. Look at this place! Ah dew not belong here at all. This is fer city ponies.”

        “Aw, come on. Relax. Learn to enjoy it. It’s not so bad really.” Rainbow Dash looked across the small table at Applejack, about the only distinct thing in the room.

        “Well… It ain’t… It ain’t tew bad…”

        “Like ya ordered. Enjoy.” A unicorn in black pleather and studs came along with a tray, on which was a bottle of wine and two glasses. After pouring out a bit for both mares she made her way back to the bar.

        “Oh really now. This? Jes wut kinda mare dew yew think ah am?” Applejack glared hotly at Rainbow Dash, eyeing the dark red liquid suspiciously.

        “Come on! I know you’ve had a few mouthfuls of Granny Smith’s “medicine” and you didn’t shy away from the “cider” at your cousin’s wedding. It’s just merlot. It’ll be fine. Come on, humor me. It might take your mind off of how citified this place it.”

        “Ah don’t know wut yer talkin’ ‘bout. Ah had a touch a th’ vapors and ah needed a bracin’ gulp a Granny’s medcin. An’ that cider wasn’t strong at all. It was a weddin’, after all.” Applejack took on a look of wounded dignity and took the thick glass into her teeth, tilting it until she could get a sip of the liquid. “Well… It’s grapes. Ain’t got nuthin’ on apples but, it’s yer bits. Good ‘nough, I s’pose.”

        Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes a little bit and shook her head a bit. She just took up her own glass and gave a slow sip. She wasn’t really a wine pony. She left that to Rarity, which usually resulted in Fluttershy hauling her home while she sang show tunes off key and talked about haunches. “So… Do you wanna dance? Don’t even start with me, I know you can. You were tearing up the Wild Western Dance AND the Mild Western Dance at the wedding.”

        “Yea, ah can dance at a weddin out on the plain. But this is that kinda city dancin’. What in th’ name a’ apples do ah know ‘bout that sorta thing? All kindsa twistin’ and flailin’ and gyratin’ around like they gots parasprites all over ‘em. T’aint nat’ral and t’aint mah style.”

        “Come on. Just try it. I promise you, no weird moves. We’ll just… Be cool. Move like you want. If you don’t like it, you can sit back down. I’ll even order you cider.”

        “Well…” Applejack considered, while taking another sip of the wine. It wasn’t SO bad of an idea. “Fahn. Let’s get this craziness over with. Ah swear, Dash, ah have no idea how yew get me into this.”

        Rainbow Dash fluttered behind Applejack as she walked away from the table to the very fringe of the dance floor, avoiding the crush of bodies that occupied the center. While she was in the air, she signaled over at DJ Pon-3, to activate the favor that had cost her a surprisingly small amount of bits. After getting a nod from the unicorn, Rainbow Dash landed and started to move with the modest techno track that was playing. “Just… Get loose. Move your head and sort of bounce a bit.”

        Just as Applejack started to move as instructed, albeit awkwardly, the music abruptly stopped and switched over to a new track without any announcement. “Wut the hay? Wut’s goin’ on here? Rainbow Dash is this yer..?”

        “Shh. Just go with it. Come on. You’ll love it. I promise.” Rainbow Dash tried to just casually continue dancing, doing her best to look innocent.

        The introduction to the song was inoffensive enough, and had a beat that was not too difficult to follow. The first intelligible words, which said something about a blonde, actually stopped Applejack in her moves, her eyes trained on a smiling Rainbow Dash. Just seconds later, the words stuck a distinctly different note, putting a scowl on her face and a hard look in her eyes. “Why yew… Yew disgustin’… Let me outta this…”

        “Wait! Applejack, Applejack…” Rainbow Dash quickly got in front of Applejack, hooves on her chest. “Please, please, PLEASE! It’s just the song! I promised you it’ll be alright. Trust me please… I just…”

        “Yew…” Applejack seethed as the song went on, but soothed her rage as she saw Rainbow Dash beg, actually beg. She was pleading in fact, with huge eyes. “Tell me what’s so…”

        “Here it is…” Rainbow Dash perked up her ears and looked at their table, which also drew Applejack’s gaze. Red wine, in music and real life. “I’m you’re best friend…” Rainbow Dash said, quietly, just enough to be heard, echoing a certain portion of the song, while the rest continued on without her.

        Applejack moved through her full suite of emotions, unable to settle on which one she felt more. Anger, shock and sorrow were most prominent. “Yew take me home raght this minute. No more, Dash. Yew’ve been a pain in mah pastern a time or two. But damn it, Dash… Yew ain’t ever been CRUEL! Ah’ll never take yew anywheres again.”

        Rainbow Dash looked down for a moment, thinking about accepting defeat. Then she did something stupid, as was her normal specialty. She pressed her front to Applejack’s front, to hold her in place, just gently swaying to the music that was still going on. “No. I’m staying. I’m not giving up. I’ll make you believe me.”

        Applejack glared daggers at Rainbow Dash, her hoof eager to leave a print across her face. Every fiber of her country-grown being was screaming at her to crush the city-born pony for her insolence. But instead, she looked to the side. “Yew think ah’ll believe yew?”

        Rather than answer, Rainbow Dash just continued to move her body, pressing against the unresisting Applejack while the music continued. She had been planning it for weeks, ever since she realized what it meant to be invited to everything she had been. Every detail, every step, depended on her continuing. She even started to mouth along with the music, holding back any comment while she moved her head closer to Applejack’s head, mouth right against her ear. Applejack could hear, clearly, it wasn’t just the song that said, “So happy I could die.”

Bad News Apple

By: Gabriel LaVedier

        Out in the wilds of Equestria, amid the dusty badlands and monotonous prairies, these sat the frontier pony town of Appleloosa, built beside a river and connected to the outside world by, among other things, the great pony railway. It was a decent town, of cheery western folk, quite peaceful thanks to the resolution of conflict with their neighbors, the buffalo. Nothing much happened, and they liked it that way.

        One unassuming day, a one-horse shay thundered into town out of the dusty distance, pulled along by an eager red pony with speckles all over his face and a paintbrush mark on his flank. Sitting in the shay itself was a very unassuming-looking pony with a light caramel coat, slick-looking black mane and tail, wearing a ruffled shirt with French cuffs and apple-shaped cufflinks, a black waistcoat, an open black coat, and black lace at his throat holding the shirt top closed. On his flank was a cut apple, red on the outside, with a mix of swirled, sickly greens on the inside.

        The younger pony skidded to a halt, panting heavily as the shay reached the center of town. He turned around to shoot a sharp, confident look at the passenger in the shay. “Ha! I told ya, mister. Ah made it all the way here and never had to stop once. And fast! Hows about that?”

        The dapper stallion gracefully stepped down from the shay, smiling a supremely confident smile that was smothered beneath a humble expression, while also retrieving and securing a set of saddlebags onto his back. “I’ve gotta admit, kid, you were right. You said you could get to Appleloosa and you were right. I guess you can head back home and brag to all your friends about how you showed up the slick river-rider. Good work.”

        “That’s right! Sorry to do it to ya, mister, but I gots me a reputation to protect. Ah’ll go tell ‘em all rahght now!” With an excited stomp of his hooves, the young pony dashed off in the direction he had come.

        The stallion watched the young colt run off, the confident smile spreading back over his snout. “You’ve got a ways to go before you’re a match for me, kid.” That said, he looked around the town and located the Salt Block, their local gathering place and entertainment hall.

        The inside of the place was exactly what could be expected from an Equestrian establishment: the distressed wood was smoothed and polished to a splinter-less consistency; it was less bright than the exterior yet all the shadows were lighter than to be expected in a truly enclosed environment; the floor was clean and well-kept, with only a scattering of dust; and in general, there was no air of menace, desperation, dejection or misery.

        The new arrival clopped up to the bar, past serious, mustachioed stallions slouching around tables and working on small blocks of pressed, common salt. At the bar, he tapped a hoof on the wooden surface and called, “Sea salt, extra grainy. There ought to still be barnacles on it.”

        While the bartender went to fill the order, a familiar figure clopped up behind the new arrival. “Never seen yew in town before, stranger. Got some fancy duds on yew. Rahght fancy. Looks like the type them riverboat men wear. Don’t suppose that means anythin’. Do it?” All eyes went to the speaker, a few heads leaning close to whisper. It was Sheriff Silverstar, his badge on prominent display, his moustache looking extra-shiny.

        The stranger at the bar never looked back. He just watched as a plate was set before him, set with crystals of salt flecked with dark particles; presumably, bits of seaweed. “Why Sheriff… That’s a rather… Vague accusation. I mean, I’ve been up and down the river a time or two. A few rivers, actually.” The stranger leaned down and took a long, slow lick of the salt, then reached around behind and extracted a small bag from one saddlebag, which jingled when it hit the bar top. “Over the ocean, and down a few roads. Dunno what my clothes have to do with anything like that. Just what ARE you saying, sheriff?”

        “Now, ah ain’t sayin’ much of anythin’, stranger. But ah AM sayin’ this. This is a decent town. We’re decent folk here in Appleloosa. Hard workin’, honest, earthy-type folk. We don’t need folk comin’ ‘round and disruptin’ our good ways with all kinds of wrong thinkin’.” The sheriff narrowed his eyes at the back of the stranger’s head, leaning forward a bit. “But ah find it curious. Yew didn’t look back, but yew knew ah was the sheriff. Jes who are yew and what're yew doin’ in Appleloosa?”

        “You folks seem mighty unfriendly in town, if you cross-examine your visitors like this. But I’m not the type to make too much of that. In fact, sheriff, I’m here to see a relative. I’m sure he’ll find me sooner or…”

        “Wha? Is that yew, cousin Bad…” Braeburn, who had just entered the Salt Block, noticed Silverstar there only a second after starting to call out. “…Inage. Cousin Badinage? Jes wut are yew doin’ out this way?”

        “Ahhh, dear cousin Braeburn. Just the pony I wanted to see.” The alleged Badinage turned and smiled to the cream stallion, nodding his head. “Please, come join me at the bar. Sorry, sheriff, but I must talk with my cousin. Family business, you understand?”

        Silverstar looked hard at Braeburn as he clopped down to the bar. “So… I take it this… Stranger is kin o’ yers, Braeburn? Never heard a mention of no cousin Badinage.”

        “He ain’t around often. World traveler, y’know? Probly jes got back from somewhere excitin’ and wants to share some talk. Ain’t that right cousin?” Braeburn smiled, with a strained look, to his relative, who was mildly licking his salt.

        “Nah. Nothing to tell, cousin. This is very personal.” The dapper Badinage shot a look to Silverstar that was quite stunning in its force. “Very private. As I said, this is family business. Strictly between kinfolk. But I guess kin means nothing in your… Good, earthy, honest town.”

        Silverstar snorted sharply and glared daggers down at Badinage. But after a moment more of posturing, the mustachioed pony turned slowly around and started clopping away. “Don’t let me catch yew doin’ anything questionable in this town.”

        “Don’t worry, sheriff, you won’t catch me doing anything in this town.”

        Once the sheriff was out of the establishment, the smile dropped from Braeburn’s face, replaced with a look of utter disbelief. “Cousin Bad Apple jes wut are yew doin’ here? If he’d a knowed who you was…”

        Bad Apple shook his head while he licked again at his fancy salt. “Impossible. I never usually come out in this direction. And anypony who’d know of me here wouldn’t be talking to the sheriff. And the ponies they might talk to would steer well clear of a town with law and order. Stop worrying so much, cousin. I’ve got news.”

        “Jes wut sorta news would bring yew all the out here? ‘Family business’ yew say. But wut sorta family business? I already seen cousin Applejack. She was fine. Little high strung but fine. She didn’t say nuthin’ ‘bout no family matters.”

        “It’s a bit of a brand new wrinkle. You might want to get yourself a plate of salt for this one, cousin.”

        “If yew say so.” Braeburn called out, “I’ll have what he’s havin’!”

        “What? No! Do I look like I’m made of bits? I can’t keep buying salt like this.”

        Braeburn sighed, as though internally considering something, before he motioned his head toward a table of gruff ponies. “They’ve got a poker game ready to go anytime.”

        “Give me a moment, then.” Braeburn was left at the bar, looking down at one hoof while Bad Apple walked to the table with the alleged card players. Alittle more that a few minutes later, he returned with a bag of bits which he tossed onto the bar. “He’ll have what I’m having.”

        “What kept yew, cousin?”

        “They didn’t want to accept my good word in lieu of bits. I wore them down.”

        The bartender deposited another plate of fancy salt in front of Braeburn, who now looked concerned over at Bad Apple. “So, what is this new family news? Yew got me curious.”

        Bad Apple licked at his salt a little more, gathering his thoughts and avoiding looking at Braeburn. “Well, I just thought I’d be the one to tell you before the news filtered up though more official channels, if it ever did. I wanted to… I suppose congratulate you. You’ve joined a very rare group.”

        “And jes wut group is that?” Braeburn had no clue what his cousin meant. He seldom did. He just mildly licked his salt, somewhat impressed by the surprising amount of flavor in it.

        “Why my good cousin… Granny Smith has moved you onto the Apple family wall of shame.”

        Braeburn left his tongue on the salt while his head pulled up, wide eyes staring disbelievingly at Bad Apple. “Wuuuuut?”

        “That’s what I have been told. It is a very rarified atmosphere. As far as I have been told, prior to this I had been the sole occupant. It’s so wonderful to no longer be alone in that. Though, I am quite sorry for what extremes it took to render me not so alone.”

        “Ah… Ah don’t even… How did this happen? And how do yew even know? Granny Smith would skin yew alive if she caught you anywheres NEAR Ponyville.”

        “There are advantages to being a favorite uncle. I may be in Granny’s ill favor, but Applejack is very much allowed to be there. And she sends me letters, that filter their way to me, to inform me of the things that go on. And now, she has told me of your new status.”

        “But… But WHY?”

        “Cousin… You may be living out here and you may put on the trappings and the affectation of a western naïf, but you are not, in any sense, stupid. You know our dear and beloved Hun of an arch-Matriarch. I’m certain you know quite well why you are now equus non grata.”

        Braeburn bit his lower lip, eyes casting downwards as he quivered for a short moment. “Little Strongheart…” He whispered, through a thick, rough throat.

        Bad Apple was back to casually licking at his salt, looking almost disturbingly blasé and unconcerned. “That’s right. Our warm, caring and nurturing over-lady has made you a pariah in our clan because of your love.”

        Braeburn was quiet, for a long, long while, wavering eyes shining. He was on the verge of tears, one hoof tapping irregularly on the ground in frustration. “Ah cain’t… Ah cain’t believe she’d dew this ta me. Ah’m a good pony. Ah work hard, ah dew all the good ah can in this town. Applejack was happy with me. She… It must be wrong…”

        Bad Apple chuckled softly, looking over at his cousin. “Wrong, indeed. It’s as wrong as anything can be. But it is not incorrect. Applejack wouldn’t lie to me. Not about this. I know it doesn’t seem like it… But I am sorry. I’m very sorry. You don’t deserve this. Not over this. You’re not wrong. I admire you. Being honest about feelings. In my life, I find that can be a… Distinct disadvantage. But you, you can wear your heart on your hoof. And Granny Smith has no right to punish you like this.”

        Braeburn was silent a while longer. Tears slowly started to fall from his eyes, in defiance of his strong, Western look, splattering over his plate of salt. “No. She ain’t rahght. Ah don’t deserve this kinda disrespectin’ from that woman. Ah cain’t help how ah feel. Ah love Little Strongheart. She loves me. We’re gettin’ hitched and that’s the end of it. Ah don’t care what Granny Smith thinks of it. But… If she don’t lahk me, the whole Apple clan don’t lahk me. Gonna be a powerful small weddin’.”

        “Hey, you’ll have me, if possible. Applejack will be here, in spirit, most likely. She probably won’t be able to tell her friends. But look on the bright side.” Bad Apple motioned his head, indicating the general surroundings. “You have all of these supposedly fine and upstanding ponies in this allegedly friendly little town. They’ll be there. To say nothing of her family. No, don’t despair, cousin. You’ll be fine.”

        It took Braeburn a bit of time, but he finally bent down to lick at his salt again, lapping up his own tears along with the imported product. “You know, cousin… This jes tastes odd. Is that what the ocean is like? Ah don’t think its worth all them bits.”

        “That’s sort of the scam, isn’t it? It’s an acquired taste. I suppose I’m used to it after a time or two on the sea. But its been said to be the best. So never mind personal preference, you’ve gotta pay full price. At times, I suppose, I envy marketing geniuses that came up with a way to steal bits legally.”

        “Best be quiet with that kinda talk…”

        “It was just an observ…” Bad Apple looked over at the group of poker players he had fleeced, who were talking amongst themselves and looking over the deck that had been used. “Well, time to be off. Cousin, it was good to see you, and I’ll be in touch. Applejack should be sending you a letter soon, be sure to hide it from our kin.” With that, Bad Apple was up and out, prior to a loud clamoring from the taken group.

        Despite the fact that there was only one exit from the place, and most of the stallions were keeping an eye on him, Bad Apple managed to simply melt away into the surroundings and slip off to parts unknown.

        It didn’t take very long for Sheriff Silverstar to arrive, having heard stirrings of the ruckus almost the instant it began. He strode through the Salt Block with grand purpose, eyes focused very directly on Braeburn from the moment he entered. “Well… There seems to be a bit of a fracas going on in here. And your kin seems to have left. There wouldn’t happen to be some connection in that, would here Braeburn?”

        “Ah cain’t rightly say, sheriff. Ah jes needed a talk with mah kin. Very important. Found out about a change to mah guest list. Sorry ah cain’t help ya.” Braeburn licked at his plate of salt, briefly pondering what he could do with Bad Apple’s own share of pricey product. “After all, he told ya. Yew wouldn’t catch him doing anythin’ in this town.”

        Silverstar regarded Braeburn with a suspicious, downward glance, head tilting up slowly as he considered lowering the boom on his townsman. “Nothing tew be done ‘bout it, I s’pose. A rogue like that’ll be long gone and won’t be fool enough to come back.” The sheriff turned to walk away, but paused, and looked back at Braeburn. “Ah’d ask ‘bout your strange kinfolk, but ah spect ah’d jes be askin’ ‘bout the wrong kin.”

        “Ah spect yew’re rahght, sheriff.” Braeburn smiled just a touch, and licked animatedly at his salt, in a slightly better mood.

        “Good day tew yew, Braeburn. Oh, and congratulations on yer comin' nuptials. Ah looks forward to officiatin’ yer happy union.”