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The arrival of a traveling magician seems to be marked by some strange occurrences in Ponyville.  As these events start to strain the friendships of each pony that holds an Element of Harmony, two ponies start to come closer and closer together.


Out of the Blue

By Ninestempest

The cold air burst forth as Applejack opened the entrance to the stairwell, contrasting the late-summer heat.  The stairs leading to the cellar were a narrow wooden-walled hallway with long wooden steps, as to avoid the chance of ponies losing their balance as they descended down the staircase.  She hadn’t been out long that day, but it was still comforting to be somewhere cool instead of outside, where the sun was constantly beating down on everything.  She walked inside with two bushel baskets hanging over her back full to the brim with apples, and closed the door at the entrance of the stairwell.


It wasn’t actually Applebuck season, when a large majority of the Sweet Apple Acres orchards all across Equestria became ripened and ready to be picked, but some trees would just grow a little bit faster than the rest.  Her brother, Big Macintosh, wasn’t checking the orchard that day, so when Applejack found some trees where the apples just perfectly ripe while doing some pruning, she decided to finish the job herself.  No reason to bother her brother about it, who was at the market in town.


Applejack flipped the light switch on, dimly illuminating the stairwell so that she could see the steps.  She carefully trotted down the stairs, making sure not to drop any of the apples she was carrying with her.  She had cleared about 10 trees, each taking four bins to collect every apple that fell, and was finally getting the last two bins dropped off down below.  At the bottom of the stairs, she opened the larger, heavier wooden doors that revealed the apple cellar that resided below the house, and even part of the orchard.


The cellar was immense, about 50 paces in length and about 60 paces in width, covered from floor to ceiling in wood.  Applejack felt a small tinge of pride as she looked across the room, a vault with wooden supports doting the room that were ten feet tall.  There were several long shelves that stretched the length of the cellar, stacked two-tiers high, each large enough for the bins full of apples that would start to fill them over the next month or so.  Getting the second shelf wasn’t always easy, but small stairs at the end of each shelf that led to a small walkway along the side of each shelf were meant for that.  Right now, only one single row at ground level, at the furthest to the left of the doors she had entered through, was filled with bins of apples.  She slowly walked over to it, the slightly-humid and chilled air brushing her blond mane and orange coat, sapping heat and relaxing the earth pony.  She didn’t go down into the cellars often, but the cooler air always felt good.  She wasn’t so keen on the humidity, but thankfully the air outside was dry, so it felt a little better than it might normally feel.


She laid the bins on the shelf, taking note of how much shelf-space was being taken up.  Only 40 bins that day alone had been collected.  She hadn’t noticed any other trees that looked entirely ready, but she was fine with that.  She had been busy making sure most of the trees had been completely trimmed and kept in check over the past week, and she dearly missed her friends.  She thought about how she hadn’t seen them since Twilight’s birthday party eight days earlier and how much she wanted to be in their company again.  Well, she thought to herself, that was partially a lie.  Ah’ve definitely SEEN them around Ponyville, with Pinkie Pie pickin’ up some apples for the bakery and Fluttershy or Twilight stoppin’ by to get some food, but we haven’t hung out in a good while.  She sighed to herself at the thought of Applejack.  Rainbow Dash has seemed down lately, maybe ah should go see her.


She started walking out of the cellar.  She turned off the lights, closed the doors, proceeded up the stairs, opened the other set of doors at the top, and locked them tight as she emerged into the house.  It was only the early afternoon, so she figured Rainbow Dash was sleeping, taking one of her signature naps.  With Rainbow Dash out of the question, she thought about what she really did want to do that day.  She’d be free the rest of that day and the next two days, since her brother had volunteered to take care of the orchards, which seemed to no longer need the same kind of attention as when they were younger, growing trees.  She didn’t mind free time, but she liked working the farm more.  She got antsy when there wasn’t enough to do, but her brother had seen how hard she was working that week, and volunteered to spend some of his time in the land.  She had begrudgingly agreed to let him work a bit extra, but didn’t realize until then that she was, once again, having trouble keeping herself from work. She knew she had to make herself relax and enjoy friendly company occasionally, and started to silently appreciate what her brother had done.


Even after only having worked for a few hours that morning, she was still sweaty.  The sun had been pretty bright, and it definitely gave her no quarter as she was working the orchard.  She decided she’d quickly take a shower before going into town, needing to clean up a bit.  Taking a right after just emerging from the cellar stairwell, she quickly came to the family bathroom.


It was modest, and if nothing else, white.  White tile, walls, cupboards and counter where the sink was, it looked like a public restroom almost, but one kept much more tidy and clean.  It was probably Applebloom’s doing; cleaning and designing was always her thing.  She took her cowboy hat off, took the hair bands off of her mane and tail, and stepped into the shower, turning a knob and letting the hot water cover her.


She loved being clean.  She was no Rarity, oh Celestia no, even the thought entering her head made her want to gag.  Cleaning up, to her, meant that she would be physically, washing off the dirt and sweat.  It meant she’d be renewed, pepped up and re-energized, mentally ready for a new day’s hard work.  She didn’t spend more than five minutes cleaning up with shampoo and standing in the shower.  Feeling clean, she got out of the shower, quickly tried herself off with a towel, once again lamenting that they didn’t have a hair dryer, which made the process faster and every so easier for most of her back.  Well, guess ah’ll just find one in town later.


She trotted, both jolly in demeanor and happily humming to herself, down the hallway. She traveled past the kitchen, which was both brown with wooden cupboards and green with tiled floor and countertops, and past the family room, made up of a few tables, couches, chair, and other such commodities.  She walked more quietly past her grandmother, asleep in a chair in the family room, and to the front door as she entered the great outdoors.


The warm summer sun met her face, almost piercing when compared to the cool cellar and breezy house.  It shone in the cloudless sky all over the fields, pastures, and buildings, bathing them in warm, yellow light.  She decided that she needed to see Rainbow Dash.  Not just because she was her oldest friend in Ponyville and she would be the easiest to talk to, but because of a few other reasons.  Namely what had happened at Twilight’s birthday party only a week earlier.


It wasn’t until that night that the confident pegasus told everypony, giving the long explanation that stopped the party completely for a time.  She explained what exactly had happened besides the vague details she and Fluttershy had told everypony of what had transpired two months prior to that party.  Rainbow Dash had risked her life to save the shy pegasus, using a Sonic Rainboom to disable an enraged dragon that had vengeance out for Fluttershy.  She had broken a leg and in the forest where they gotten lost, and broken a wing almost in half as well.  Through some magical plant, she had accidentally admitted bottled up, undefined emotions that weren’t even true at the time, causing both of them to go through an emotional roller coaster.  On the night of Twilight Sparkle’s birthday party, Rainbow Dash had admitted that she loved Fluttershy, the emotions then more defined and truly felt.  Fluttershy said she couldn’t see Rainbow Dash the same way.


Applejack wasn’t sure what to think of it.  There was nothing strange about the events, or explaining them.  Applejack was sure, just like the tragic tale of how Rainbow Dash had discovered she like other mares, that she really had been bottling up what happened the few days she was lost in the forest with Fluttershy.  But one small piece of information had been told to the workhorse by Fluttershy the one time she had stopped by for some apples for her animal cares, and it still struck her as odd.  The two still saw each other every day, like one might expect from a couple.


There was some plan going on, and she wanted to figure out what it was.  She couldn’t understand what Rainbow Dash was thinking, and simply planned to ask her herself.  Somewhere in her mind, she had to know why Rainbow Dash was doing what she was doing.




The fork in the dirt-road just down the path from Sweet Apple Acres was a familiar one.  To the left was a dirt road, that eventually turned into a stone path, that lead all the way to Fillydelphia.  It was the general direction where Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash had gotten lost, and it was also the path that lead to the outskirts of Ponyville, which meant finding Rainbow Dash’s cloud house, and Fluttershy’s cabin.  To the right was a hill that winded down, and finally ended at Ponyville’s main square, which included various businesses and city buildings.  Not quite yet needing to head to Ponyville, she veered left, keeping her pace.  Rainbow Dash’s house quickly came into view, and so did the sleeping pegasus.  She was atop a cloud, lying on her stomach, her legs pointing out in every direction.  She was snoring quietly, the cloud unmoving as it hovered ten feet above the ground.


Applejack didn’t feel like being particularly polite, for no particular reason.  “Rainbow!”


Rainbow Dash yawned, rolling ever-so-slowly over as her head poked out from seemingly out of the cloud.  Her rainbow-colored mane, sloppy and unkempt, flipped over, covering half of her face.  She opened her magenta eyes slowly, as her light-blue fur seemed to get lost in the sky of the same color.  “A-applejack?”  She blinked a few times, rubbed them with her hooves, then looked down more intently.  “Oh, hey Applejack.  What time is it...” she yawned again.


Applejack had to withhold some chuckles, seeing how apparently out of whack the pegasus’s sleep schedule was. “It’s a bit past one.  You ready to join us in the world of the livin’?”


Rainbow yawned again.  “Sorry... I’m just waking up...”


“Wait, are you sayin’ this isn’t just another nap of yers?”


She nodded weakly.  “Sort of not.  I did some weather work at six, just clearing about half of the clouds, and then I came down to this cloud and I was sleeping ever since...”


“Tain’t like you to not get much sleep Rainbow.  You normally sleep like a rock.”  Applejack lowered her hat a bit, to block some of the glaring sunlight that was catching her eye as she looked up at the tired pegasus.


Rainbow Dash, finally at least a bit awake, stood up and floated down slowly, landing a few feet from Applejack.  She shook her head a bit as if to break the bonds of sleepiness that held onto her face, and finally responded.  “Fluttershy’s been waking me up every night.”


Applejack, now curious that her intended conversation piece had now come up, now felt slightly concerned that the problem was with Fluttershy.  “How come?”


“She told everypony that we’ve been together every night right?  She’s been having really scary nightmares, and she wanted me to spend time with her.  Unfortunately, this makes getting sleep kind of hard, since she tends to stay up late, wake up, and then sleep for basically the same amount of time again.  It’s been killing my nap schedule, and making my work a bit harder...”


“Why doesn’t she ever go to any other pony?  You’d think she wouldn’t mind seein’ Rarity, who’s basically her best friend...”  Applejack asked, concerned.


Rainbow Dash seemed to have a prepared answer.  “You remember how I told everypony what happened to us?  Out in the forest?”




“Well, we didn’t exactly mention both of the memories we had; the flashbacks.  When I was having those nightmares, it was about my friend from Flight School... Sky Swallower.  And how she fell to the ground after an accident... because I couldn’t perform a Rainboom that day to catch her.“


“We’ve talked about her before Rainbow.  It’s okay.”


Rainbow Dash nodded solemnly, as if holding something back.  “Yeah yeah.”  She cleared her throat.  “Well, okay, the REALLY short of the short of the long of it is that when Fluttershy was a little filly she knew this baby-dragon, much younger than spike, and they were friends.  Then one night, some unicorn had broken into her house, and tried to... kill Fluttershy, and the dragon shielded her, and died instead.”


Applejack nodded.  That seemed pretty bad, but she figured it was even more traumatizing for Fluttershy than she could know.  I hope she wants to talk about it... someday... “So why does she only see you about this?”


“The dreams are really similar to that memory.  Except I’m the one who saved her.  Just like I was the one who defended her against those bullies in Cloudsdale, I come to her rescue, only to die myself...”  Rainbow Dash sighed.  “So every night I’ve been with her, comforting her and telling her I won’t leave her again...”


“Golly, why would she be dreamin’ about somethin’ like that?”  Applejack was only feeling more concerned with her friend.  She was losing her alone-time, her sleeping schedule, spending all the time with a pegasus who she loved, but didn’t love her back.  It must have been tearing apart Rainbow Dash somewhere, she knew the pegasus too well to know she’d take it in stride.


“No idea.  But they’re really scaring her, so I’ve been sticking with her all the time.  Heheh, I don’t... mind at all...” as she finished speaking, glancing to the ground with a sigh.  She looked away from Applejack, as if finding a faraway cloud and locking onto it.  She must be holding back tears.  Ah bet she still loves her...


Finding out why they were spending more time together didn’t give Applejack any solace.  In fact, it only made her more concerned.  Then she had a different feeling.  Some fear in this mysterious feeling.  She looked at the silently sad pegasus in front of her and felt ashamed of her suddenly.  Her mind left her, her thoughts coming to her like a waterfall she couldn’t control, and she started speaking fluidly and loudly, completely unwavering.  She just doesn’t really know what she’s feelin’ yet.  “You love her Rainbow Dash-“


“Maybe I did.”  She interrupted.  “Maybe I was caught up in the moment, and all those thoughts had been cooking in my chest for a while.  Maybe I wanted something more from somepony... but after a few days, it didn’t matter.  I was starting to be scared of... not being there for her – to protect her.  So I have been.  You know she’s cried herself to sleep every night?!” This sudden defensive outrage was catching Applejack off guard as she flinched at the yelled question.


Applejack felt a weight.  A power.  A meaning.  It was an unwieldy thought in her mind that she couldn’t heave or push or rip out.   She feels like she knows what she wants, but she doesn’t know. “Ah don’t mean anythin’ by it.  Ah just don’t want you to force yerself to do something you don’t need or want to do.  Seein’ you all sad and stuff...  It don’t fit you.”  She huffed a bit, calming herself down.  You don’t get mad at a friend when she’s torturin’ herself.  “What ya just described sounds a bit like what some stallions say about the mares they love, and if yer still in love with her, it isn’t fair to you-“


“It doesn’t matter what I want, it’s what she needs!”  Rainbow Dash was still yelling.  Applejack only replied with a hardened look.  The blue pegasus continued again, her voice sputtering but still angry.  “She’s been through tough times Applejack, and I’m not about to let her just sit by and be alone when she wants somepony to be there.  It wouldn’t be fair to her.  She’s put so much faith in me...” her eyes suddenly looked distant.


Neither pony spoke for several moments.  Applejack’s thoughts stewed, unsure of what they were leading her too.  She was more than concerned, she was scared.  She knew enough about Rainbow Dash to see that she was definitely confused and torn up about this as well.  When her friends and loyalty were called into question, she was always defensive.  Applejack didn’t want to see her friend hurt so much.  She had to speak up, tell her what she thought.  She’s wrong, she can’t be doing this to herself, it isn’t right.  “Ah can’t say ah like-“


“You don’t have to LIKE it Applejack.  It’s what I’m doing.”


“Lemme finish Rainbow.”  Suddenly, her mind started to fill with thoughts.  Thoughts of a maddened Rainbow with a poor, crying Fluttershy.  There was no sound.  It overtook her, and she started speaking, barely hearing herself.  She’s just blindin’ herself, she’ll see.  She just doesn’t understand it yet.  ”Ah don’t want ya torturing yourself, but ah know why yer doin’ it, and it’s easy enough to see.  You love her, and you don’t want her to be sad.  And you know what?  That’s fine.  Can you just think about how concerned ah am for you?  That you have to spend all that time with her?  Yer not getting’ anythin’ out of it either.”


“You BETTER not mean what I think you mean-“


I can’t let her do this, what if she just... accidentally... once... and loses her forever?  They end up hurting each other forever?  “Why wouldn’t ah?  Yer a fillyfooler ain’t ya?!  Why wouldn’t ya want to do somethin’?!”


Rainbow Dash moved faster than Applejack had ever seen.  The workhorse felt a hoof to her face, then her whole body hitting the soft dirt on the ground.  She felt a throbbing pain in her nose; it was bleeding.  She didn’t know what was even happening, as if she was in a daze.  She looked up at Rainbow Dash; she saw anger, with streams of tears rolling down her face.  Upon seeing Applejack look up, the pegasus above her kicked her with hind legs, sending the work horse lying on the ground, sprawling several feet.  She landed with a painful thud; her stomach felt like it would make her throw up.  She just coughed.  She couldn’t think, the throbbing pain on her face and her abdomen taking all of her attention.  She heard the words her friend spoke to her.  The pegasus was crying.  The voice was almost shuddering, but something about them stung Applejack.  They left scars in her memory, the words remembered like chiseled in stone.


“I thought you, of all the ponies in Equestria, would understand how I feel.  I trusted you and you were my best friend, but I guess that was all a lie.  We’re done.”


Applejack stared as the sobbing pegasus who flew up to her cloud house, walking inside of it.  The orange earth pony took a hoof and wiped her hose of the moisture she felt.  Blood.  She felt her chest, drawing the hoof back when she pressed where she felt the kick.  Nothing broken, just bruised.  If Rainbow Dash had wanted to hurt her more, she would have.


Applejack got to her feet.  She could stand, and she could walk, so she walked back to Sweet Apple Acres.  The throbbing pain kept her from thinking.  She fell over once, and got back up quickly enough, continuing the short trek back.


Applebloom must have gotten out of school early that day.  She saw Applejack walking up to the property, the farmer’s face stained with a small trickle of blood from her nose.  Applebloom yelled something to her brother, who was in the house.  Applejack sat on a bench at the edge of the property.  They had them scattered around, one near the barn, some near the fence, one near the house.  She’d never sat on one of them before.  They were meant for the parties Pinkie Pie might haphazardly throw there.


Her siblings ran out to meet her.  They looked horrified.  “What happened, AJ?”  Was all the little yellow-and-red filly asked her.


Applejack wiped her face off again.  She shook her head, trying to think.  The pain finally started to ebb, freeing her to think.


“Ya sure ya don’t wanna see a nurse ‘bout this?”  Asked her older brother.


Applejack shook her head.  “Just a bloody nose and a bruised stomach, nothin’ I can’t sleep off.”


“So what happened?!”  Applebloom asked again, the filly concerned deeply for her sister.


“Ah... ah don’t know... ah lost myself... ah just kept thinkin’... ‘don’t let Dash be a Fillyfooler...’” something clicked in her mind, like a key twisting in a lock, and she fainted.

Applejack didn’t spend her free day seeing her friends.  She didn’t leave the farm once she returned, simply deciding to read, sleep, and rest.  She didn’t read often, she basically hadn’t since she was a school filly.  It didn’t suit her.  Big Macintosh was worried just because she hadn’t bothered to ask him if she could work.  Whenever Applejack was stressed or worried, she often would work it off.


                 Applejack didn’t really remember what she was reading.  It was glanced over, read in a rush, the events just a giant haze of general information and events.  Some pony princess had been kidnapped.  A group of knight ponies swore to rescue her, and one by one they died over the journey, each one having their strongest personality trait be their downfall, dying to save the others.  One pony, the last one alive, ends up killing the princess under the influence of some magic spell, and he returns to the kingdom to be branded a traitor.  Applejack didn’t bother with why it was written like that.  She figured there was some meaning or message, but couldn’t be bothered to care about it.  The book hadn’t been terribly long, for some epic journey it was supposed to be.


                 She held herself up in her room until it was time for dinner.  When she was at the dinner table, an awkward silence hung in the air until Applebloom finally broke it, saying what was on everypony’s mind.  “Applejack!”  She cried, “If something is wrong, you can tell us!  You’ve gotten in fights before, it ain’t that bad!”


                 “Applebloom, this ain’t none of yer business.” She replied curtly, which seemed to hurt Applebloom even more.


                 “Please big sis... you’ve been in your room all day... I’m really worried about ya...”


                 Applejack looked at her.  The filly’s big red eyes were staring at her, those big, yearning, almost-sad puppy dog eyes.  Applejack sighed.  “Ah’m yer big sis, those don’t work on me.  Ah had a little argument with a friend and we got really sour about it, nothin’ to fret over.  Ah’ll go work it out tomorrow, first thin’, okay?”


                 That seemed to please everypony well enough; dinner proceeded as usual, and they all started talking like nothing had happened for the rest of that night.  Applejack continued reading the book, realizing it had a sequel when she finished it.  They didn’t have it in their small book collection in the house.  She didn’t want to go to the library to see if Twilight had it.




                 Applejack lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling in silent frustration.  It was dark, she could barely make out the time on her clock in the moonlight.  Two in the mornin’... ah should be up in about five hours and ah ain’t got a wink of sleep...


                 She sighed loudly, her frustration piercing the silent night air that was only filled with the sounds of crickets and the occasional breeze.  She took a pillow and pulled it over her face for a few seconds, then loudly sighed directly into the pillow.  She placed it back behind her head, rolling over on her side now.  She couldn’t think.


                 “Damnit all.” she said to herself.  “What did ah say to Rainbow Dash?  Why don’t ah remember?  Why would she kick me... kick me when ah was down...” she felt the moisture again, on her face, a tingling trail falling over the fur on her cheek.  She had felt it whenever she tried to remember that night, each attempt to remember just as unsuccessful as the previous.  “Why is it makin’ me cry like a little filly?”




                 Her eyes popped open, the light seeming to magnify as it hit her face.  Applejack sprung up from the bed.  That sun is so bright, what time is it!?


                 It was ten in the morning.  She sighed.  That was too late in the morning; she couldn’t see Rainbow Dash then.  No way would she wake her up from a nap either.  She decided she’d just try to do what she did the previous day, while avoiding Rainbow Dash.


                 She got out of bed, brought her clothes with her to the bathroom, took a shower, put them on, and then headed out to Ponyville.  Nopony had been in the house when she left.


                 The trek didn’t last long before something odd happened.  Just after the fork in the path, she was smacked in the face by an envelope.  She cautiously picked it up in her mouth and looked around, expecting some kind of menace or some laughing pony who was playing some kind of prank.  Neither.  She opened up the envelope, taking out what was inside.


                 She read the first line and knew it was an invitation to a Pinkie Pie party.  She scanned the rest of it absentmindedly, noting it was at one in the afternoon, meant to include food for everypony, was to take place at Sugar Cube Corner, and had a guest from outside of Ponyville.


                 Everypony was invited too, she noted near the end of the invitation.


                 At first, she was somewhat excited.  A party would be the best way for her to reconnect with everypony, and she could eat something that wasn’t apple-related (Celestia-bless the fruit, it did get old after more than a week).  Seeing all of her friends would be great, they could play party games, talk, catch up...


                 Her enthusiasm faded as she realized that Rainbow Dash would be there.  She felt her eyes tearing up just thinking the name, but she held them back, closing her eyes and rubbing her forehead slowly with her hoof.  Ah’ll just go apologize to her.  Whatever ah said, it couldn’t be so terrible...


                 Then she realized something else; what if Rainbow Dash told everypony what she had done?  Would she though?  Applejack couldn’t think.  Her heart felt heavy and her throat felt like somepony had stuck a rock in it.  She breathed out, her voice almost hoarse.  Ah’ll just... have to deal with it.  If ah said something that’s makin’ me act like this all the time, it was probably somethin’ terrible and it would probably be best if ah just go tell her ah’m sorry.  Ah just hope she’ll believe me when ah say ah don’t know what ah was sayin’...


                 The party was in about three hours.  Rainbow Dash might just be awake by then, but barely.  The chance of finding her before the party seemed minimal.  Applejack then realized she hadn’t eaten breakfast, and that she was darned hungry.


                 “Sugar Cube Corner it is then!”  She said to herself, trotting off happily.  In her haste, she didn’t see the head of a familiar pink and yellow pegasus poke out from a bush at the side of the path, looking at the farmer as she walked off.  She adjusted her own grip on her collection of twenty or so envelopes that she had between her forehooves, and cautiously flew off towards Rainbow Dash’s cloud home.  She had a warm smile on her face the entire time.




                 Sugar Cube Corner always struck Applejack as a very odd looking building.  Unlike most businesses in Ponyville, which had either a very basic or somewhat stylistic design, it was one of the two or three buildings with a ridiculous appearance.  The roof and parts of the walls all looked to be made out of cookies, streaks of white frosting around the edges and rims of the roof.  Anything that wasn’t brown in some shade or the white of frosting, was a bright magenta or pink, even the windows looking to be tinted when seen from the outside.  It was like a pony-tale house made out of candy, even if it obviously wasn’t.  It smelled strongly of the various cookies, cakes, muffins, and other pastries that were always on sale inside, the sweet smell almost overwhelming.  The invitation to the party had told Applejack that the party was to be held there, and she wanted to find Pinkie Pie before it started.  She’d probably be the most uplifting of her friends to see; her cheery demeanor and playful spirit always lifted everypony’s mood.


                 Inside, there were various pastries on display, some being free samples (which were given out pretty freely in her experience) and more at the counter and in the windows.  The strongest smell was that of something sweet baking in the oven.  Mrs. Cake stood at the counter, attending to one of the pegasi from the Ponyville weather patrol.  The yellow furred and teal-maned pegasus gave an acknowledging nod as she left the room.  Applejack didn’t really know her, but she had seen her hanging out with Rainbow Dash often enough, and figured the pegasus had also seen her hanging out with her friend before.  She asked Mrs. Cake where Pinkie Pie was, and she said that she was volunteering some of her time in the kitchen to cook, mostly for the party that was to happen later that day.  She directed Applejack to where Pinkie most likely was, giving her a strange warning.


                 “What do you mean Pinkie Pie is a little off?”  Applejack asked, curious.


                 “Well, how do I say this...”  Mrs. Cake looked up in thought.  “She’s been, well, clingy.  She had an hour-long, coherent conversation with me and my husband this morning.  Without us forcing her or anything!  She even told us how she got her cutie mark, it was so bizarre.  Just be nice to her, I don’t want to see her be disappointed before that party later...”


                 “Yeah, about that party.  What is goin’ on exactly?”


                 “You got your invitation already?  That was pretty fast.  Some famous magician from Canterlot has been traveling around Equestria, and she is in Ponyville right now.  She plans to give a show behind the store, and wanted to have a big party to get everypony gathered.  She apparently does this wherever she goes, and she even paid Pinkie Pie handsomely for it...”


                 “That musta been awkward.  Pinkie Pie always throws her parties for free...”  Applejack tried to think of a time when Pinkie Pie might have had a party and then gotten something, anything, in return.  Absolutely nothing came up.


                 As if reading her mind, Mrs. Cake answered after a few seconds, concern showing on her face.  “She uses all of her own money from working here to pay for those parties.  I’m not sure how she does it, she must save up everything and spend it on all of you.”


                 Applejack raised an eyebrow.  “She spends literally all of her money on us and Ponyville?”


                 “Seems that way.  She must really love her friends, I don’t think her room is very decorated even...”


                 Applejack could only shrug.            She knew Pinkie Pie lived in a small loft on the upper floor of the building, but she herself had never actually been inside it.  “Well, ah’ll keep it in mind Mrs. Cake.  Ah’ll just go see her and see what the issue is.  Ah’m sure it’s nothin’.” She gave a small wave, Mrs. Cake waving back as just before attending to another customer, as the farmer headed towards her destination, going to the end of the room and turning to the entrance of the kitchen sitting just behind the gap in the glass counter that might normally be reserved as an area for employees only.


                 Ah hope ah’m not the reason Pinkie Pie is actin’ all weird... oh ah bet Rainbow Dash did tell everypony... ah really wanted to just finish this with her.  She walked into the room hesitantly, taking in the scene before wanting to even move any more.


                 The kitchen seemed a bit busy, with bowls and trays and other such things placed all over the place, probably being used to mix things that needed baking.  In a strange contrast with the rest of the building, almost everything here was green; some plates, all the countertops and cupboards, and even the drapes over the window.  She supposed that the Cakes simply liked green.  After giving the kitchen a thorough look-over, she saw the pink earth pony looking into the fridge at the end of the kitchen.


                 “Howdy, Pinkie Pie!”  Said Applejack, walking towards her slowly.


                 Pinkie Pie poked her head out of the fridge, her poufy magenta main bouncing as she looked to Applejack.  “Oh hey Applejack!  I’ll be with you in oooooone second...” she turned back to the fridge, grabbing something, when her tail and mane all stood on end suddenly and she turned to Applejack, her eyes wide in surprise.  “Applejack!?  Why are you here!?”


                 Applejack sighed.  It seemed they were at least suspicious of her already.  “Ah-ah’m just here to check up on how things are goin’ with the party preparations and stuff...” her voice was quiet, some words almost slurring a bit as she looked down in shame.


                 Pinkie Pie picked up on it instantly.  “Ohnonononono, it isn’t what you think.  Come on, we need to go see Twilight!”  She walked over to Applejack and quickly grabbed one of her forehooves, dragging her out the back door in the kitchen, leading into Ponyville again.


                 “What in tarnation-“


                 “We’ve been really worried about you since yesterday, you silly little filly!”  Pinkie Pie said, walking quickly but calmly still, without jumping around as she usually did.  “Fluttershy told me all about what happened-“


                 Applejack swatted the hoof away, proceeding to walk on her own after Pinkie Pie.  “Why would Fluttershy tell ya ‘bout what happened between me and Rainbow Dash?”


                 Pinkie Pie, no longer holding Applejack’s hoof, had resumed her usual style of walking: making jumps and bounds that were several feet high, but had the same pace as any pony that walked.  She slowed down to fall back to the farmer’s side, explaining the situation.  “Fluttershy thought that what you said might not be the truth, and only intended to hurt Rainbow Dash, and that is pretty suspicious.  After all, anything you said that would hurt Rainbow Dash that much couldn’t be the truth, right?”  She nodded to herself, as if to build her own confidence.  “Fluttershy thinks it might be that meanie who’s after our elements!”  She made an angry face as if to imitate whoever might be their culprit, and this made Applejack chuckle, despite their situation.


                 The Elements of Harmony.  It had been long over a year since that Summer Sun Celebration, where Applejack and her four friends, and their newest friend Twilight Sparkle of Canterlot, had dove into the Everfree Forest.  There they found the Elements of Harmony, Nightmare Moon, and through Twilight and the Elements, removed the spell, curse, or whatever it was that had a hold over the Princess of the Moon.  Applejack figured she was just a regular farm pony until that day.  She thought her place was on the farm, taking care of the orchard, her family, and her friends.  She had thought that since she found her Cutie Mark, but those foundations had been shaken when she found her place as the Element of Honesty.  It surprised her, and she still sometimes resented her position.  Ah’m just a simple earth pony, ah don’t need no magic to do anythin’...


It seemed their time was coming again.  She didn’t want to think about the elements, but how could she not?  It would be dishonest of her not to, considering it seemed like they were in danger.  Though everypony seemed fine for that year, that peace between their group of friends was shaken by Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash vanishing for those few days.  When the two did re-emerge from the forest, safely (though Rainbow Dash still with her broken leg and wing), it seemed to bring peace back to Ponyville, at least for a month.  For that first month, the two seemed more withdrawn, near each other almost always, fearful, and never telling anypony what actually happened.  Applejack had thought that they were just getting along better, or at least keeping each other company in light of the challenging events in the forest.  Then, seemingly out of the blue, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash had alerted everypony to meet at Twilight’s Library.  There they told everypony about what had happened; they had had an “Epiphany” as it was called, where the Element of Harmony they each held had contacted them, speaking to them in some other-worldly place. The elements only brought grave news:  The elements still resided within each of them, and that somepony was trying to take them.  They had tried to take the Element of Loyalty, held by Rainbow Dash.  It was also when Twilight Sparkle had revealed that she knew as well, having already had an Epiphany, but was unsure of whether or not it was something she needed to bother sharing, as it seemed like a half-forgotten dream.  The news seemed beyond them all, especially to Applejack.  The element had no use, and she didn’t even know that she still held it, so the news to her seemed unimportant.


                 Applejack dove further into her own mind as she walked alongside Pinkie Pie, who had since quieted down for the walk.  What happened when a pony lost their element?  The elements themselves didn’t even know, from what the three ponies who had experienced the Epiphanies had said.  She had no idea, and neither did anypony else.  Twilight Sparkle had spent most of the month trying to figure it out with experiments and various magics, and hadn’t been any closer to finding an answer by the time her birthday came around.  Would the pony die?  Would nothing happen?  Maybe some kind of amnesia?   Maybe they’d lose their magic, skill in flying, or maybe some strength if they were an earth pony?  The ideas swirling in Applejack’s head confounded her, as they usually did.  She didn’t know anything about magic or science or any of that fancy stuff, why bother thinking about it when Twilight didn’t know any more than she did?  Pinkie Pie telling Applejack that everypony suspected her as being some kind of target had only served to remind her of the entire situation that she would have just preferred to forget.


                 She glanced to Pinkie Pie as she walked beside her.  She had resumed walking normally again, her face calm and somewhat concerned as she looked straight ahead.  It wasn’t very often that anything but a smile crossed the bubbly-and-often-hyper pink earth pony’s face, and it made Applejack feel a ping of regret ring out in her conscience.  She had basically ignored any discussion her friend wanted to have, instead withdrawing to think about what she hadn’t thought about in days.


                 “So Pinkie Pie...” Applejack started to say, but then she realized where she was, and smacked her own forehead with her hoof.


                 “Hey guys,” Said the indigo-furred and midnight blue-maned unicorn in front of them.  Twilight Sparkle was her name, and being the town Librarian was her game.  “Oh, if Applejack is here, I think I better tell the others.  You guys won’t mind waiting for us in the library, right?”  Twilight motioned for them to enter.  They had arrived at the Ponyville Public Library, and Applejack hadn’t so much as spoken to Pinkie Pie for the duration of the entire walk.


                 The outside of the library always pleased Applejack, even if she didn’t much care for the contents of the building.  It was a huge tree, with various windows and small staircases around its sides, seemingly sprawling all around it.  The library being a big hollowed out tree gave it a natural feeling that made Applejack feel especially comfortable.  She did go to the library often, though, more to visit Twilight than for the books.  She decided she’d look for the sequel to that odd fantasy novel she had read at home, while she was there.


                 “We won’t mind one bit, Twilight.  Ah’m hoping to get as much of this settled as possible today.”  Applejack said, walking into the library.  Pinkie Pie had followed her in, albeit slowly and not like Pinkie Pie at all, who only nodded after Twilight.  The indigo unicorn gave a worried smile as she waved, heading off quickly in the direction of the home of one of their friends.


                 It seemed Spike wasn’t there either; there was a note on the library wall, mentioning how he was in Canterlot for several days to attend to some court business.  It wasn’t odd, but the note had been written a few days earlier, so she figured Twilight kept it there to remind herself that Spike was gone.  In fact, Applejack hadn’t seen Spike at Twilight’s birthday party, and suddenly she wanted to ask her where the baby dragon had been that night.


                 “Applejack...” said Pinkie Pie from behind the farmer.  She turned around quickly to meet the pink pony’s face, which was one of deep thought.  “Do I... am I annoying at all?”


                 Applejack could only blink.  “Well, ah’d be lyin’ if ah didn’t think that you sometimes got a little too hyper for yer own good, but beyond that, not even a might bit annoyin’.”  She smiled back at Pinkie Pie, hoping to get the warm smile from her that she hadn’t seen much of that day.


                 She didn’t get it, but got more of the same thinking expression.  Pinkie Pie sighed.  “Why didn’t you talk with me on the way here?  Was I being too hyper for you?  I can just calm down if you ask me!  I don’t mind one bit!”  She sounded desperate almost.


                 Applejack shook her head.  “That wasn’t it sugarcube, ah was just thinkin’ of what you told me, ‘bout the Elements.  Ah wasn’t really expectin’ that to come up so soon.”


                 Pinkie Pie nodded, smiling again.  “Yeah, it was really unexpected!  I was baking for the Cakes yesterday when Fluttershy SWOOPED in from the back entrance and pulled me out and started talking to me about your argument and that I had to go tell everypony else so I did really quickly and they were all really concerned because they hadn’t seen you in a week so they all were hoping you’d come by today for the party but we weren’t sure if you’d come since Rainbow Dash is coming-“


                 Though relieved that Pinkie Pie seemed fine again, Applejack had to interrupt her friend’s drawn out sentence.  “So Rainbow IS comin’ to the party?”


                 Pinkie Pie nodded energetically.  “She said that she wants to talk to you again and apologize and stuff, since she figures you didn’t mean what you said to her and all because it was like some kind of magic or something that made you say that!”


                 “Pinkie Pie, there’s somethin’ none of y’all realize ‘bout yesterday.”  Applejack looked at Pinkie Pie seriously, and she stopped her bobbing head to return the gaze.  “Ah don’t... really know what ah said...”


                 “Well that’s okay!  I mean you got hurt right afterwards and you were probably all sad and regretful and stuff-“


                 “No, ah mean ah don’t actually remember.  Ah remember wakin’ up Rainbow Dash, talkin’ a little about the dream’s Fluttershy’s been havin-“


                 “What dreams has Fluttershy been having?”  Pinkie Pie said, tilting her head curiously.  “Dawww, I bet Rainbow Dash has been keeping her company through scary nightmares every night, hasn’t she?  Oh that’s soooooo sweet of her-“


                 “Pinkie, they’re dreams where Rainbow Dash dies protectin’ Fluttershy.  Fluttershy is scared out of her wits every night, and that’s why they’ve been together every night.  As soon as Rainbow Dash told me that, the events get kind of hazy until she kicked me.”  Applejack sighed.  From Pinkie Pie’s surprised expression, it was clear that she didn’t know the nature of the two spending every night together.  Did Rainbow Dash really tell me some kind of secret, before everypony else?  The thought made a small well of sadness spring up in Applejack’s mind.  She had told me that after not seein’ much of anypony for a week, and ah threw it back in her face...


                 Pinkie Pie replied in a somewhat quiet voice, seemingly getting more loud and angry.  “That’s... awful. Eugh, why doesn’t anypony tell me these things!?  Why can’t you all just have fun again!?”


                 “Wh-what do ya mean Pinkie Pie?”  Applejack asked, simultaneously surprised and concerned by her friend’s change in mood again.


                 “Ever since that party, almost nopony besides Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash has made an effort to... talk to me...” she said, calm again.  “Seven days of being all alone and stuff... nopony wanted to see me even...”


                 “Well, shoot, ah’m sorry Pinkie Pie.  Ah was busy with the farm all week.”  Applejack felt worse now.  It was rare to see anything but happiness in Pinkie Pie, and that day she had seen a flurry of motions in the span of just several minutes.  It was incredibly disconcerting, and all she wanted was for her friend to be happy again.  “Well, let me be the first to offer up a day spendin’ time with ya!  Today in fact!  After that party, we can hang out a bit, if ya’d like?”


                 Pinke Pie had Applejack in a bear hug, pulling one of her well-known emotional 180s, and seemingly reaching her without actually running across the room.  “Ooooooh, Applejack that would make me so happy!  We’ll have lots of fun today, just wait and see!”  Her voice was filled with excitement again.  Applejack smiled at the sound, yet had a little trouble breathing.


                 “Ah don’t mind one bit sugarcube, but could ya just let me breathe a little... yer hug is a might too tight for mah chest...” Applejack squeezed the words out of her mouth with concerted effort.  Pinkie Pie released her instantly, bouncing around the room like her happy self again.  She idly talked about making various orders and such for the Cakes over the past week to fill the time until their friend’s returned, which only took ten minutes.


                 Each one walked in, waving and smiling happily.  Rarity, a white-unicorn with a long, curled purple mane, walked in first, the most energetic of them all aside from Pinkie Pie.  Fluttershy followed her, then Twilight Sparkle, and finally was Rainbow Dash.  She glanced quickly at Applejack before standing at the opposite end of the room next to Fluttershy.


                 Applejack was the first to speak, after several seconds of what seemed like intentional silence by the group.  “So... why are we all here anyway?”  She couldn’t help but notice that Rainbow Dash had rolled her eyes at the question.


                 Twilight answered first, confidently and loudly.  “Well, with the event fresh in your mind, I wanted to ask you about it.  After all, if this kind of thing happens to all of us, maybe we can realize it when we’re talking.  I don’t mean to interrogate you, but if we get as many details as possible, we can analyze it more.  I also wanted to see if there was some way we could counter-act it, if we figure out what happened exactly.”


                 Applejack nodded.  It didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.  So she told them what she felt during the conversation with Rainbow Dash the previous day.  She narrated what she knew, that specific emotional pressure and accentuated thought in her mind that seemed to take over as she was arguing with Rainbow Dash.  She described her emotions afterwards, being conflicted, knowing what her fear had been, but know remembering what actually transpired.  Applejack had glanced occasionally at Rainbow Dash, who only seemed to get more distant and smaller as the discussion drew on, no doubt feeling both sad and guilty about what she had done, but in Applejack’s own mind, she had already forgiven the blue pegasus.


                 Though various questions had been raised, they were all answered swiftly until Rarity asked a more thorough one.  “Darling, I’d like to know something a little more specific, something I don’t think Twilight noticed.”


                 “Well sure thing sugarcube.”


                 “Do you remember... exactly what Rainbow Dash said before you started forgetting what was happening?”


                 “Ah told ya, it was after she was done explainin’ what dreams Fluttershy was havin’ every night.”


                 “But the actual sentence.  I’m wondering if there was a ‘cause’ for your thoughts to turn the way they did.”


                 Applejack thought back.  The conversation played out almost word-for-word.  She could even imitate the tone, the words and intention so clear in them: “’But they’re really scaring her, so I’ve been sticking with her all the time.  Hehe, I don’t... mind at all...’”


                 Rarity smiled, and clapped her hooves once.  “Well, there’s your problem!”


                 “What?”  Asked Applejack, Twilight, and Rainbow Dash simultaneously.


                 “You described a fear.  A fear of Rainbow Dash being a fillyfooler... sorry dear...” she had glanced at Rainbow Dash who was quietly looking down in shame.  “... a fear that was overwhelming you as soon as you felt it.  I think that magic made you jump to conclusions as soon as you heard that sentence.  It reminded you of exactly how Rainbow Dash felt for Fluttershy, when you didn’t mention it earlier in the conversation, even though you obviously knew about it!”


                 “I’m not sure I see where this is going, Rarity.”  Said Twilight, her expression one of thought.  “But don’t let me stop you!”


                 “I think this ‘outside force’ that is some pony trying to make you do something, doesn’t actually have any idea what you’re thinking about.”  Rarity explained.  “It’s likely that they simply look for any emotion they can drive, and use it to make you do what they want.  They also didn’t know what you were thinking, but when they heard Rainbow Dash’s careful sentence, it seemed to start you down that track of thinking.  I don’t have a single clue about the magic one might use for this, but that’s a job for Twilight.”


                 Applejack understood a little more clearly now.  Indeed, it wasn’t until that sentence that anything about the relationship between Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy was actually spoken by the blue pegasus.  Even Applejack gleamed that much from the explanation; the pony invading only knew what was being told to the pony whose mind they were ‘invading’, but could still feel and manipulate feelings of the pony they were invading.


                 “That’s great and all...” said Rainbow Dash, walking towards Applejack intently, “but that leaves me with one question.  A few actually.  First off, do you want to know what you said to me?”  Her lips were quivering, ever so slightly.


                 “Ah-ah don’t really want to know if it was so bad...”


                 “You accused me of placing myself before Fluttershy.  That I might give into some stupid, sexual urge just because I loved her!”  She was yelling now, but her legs were shaking as well.  “That I might DO something to her in the nights she was spending with me!  You told me that it was only because I was a lesbian that I might do those things!”


                 “Rainbow Dash, please stop getting mad!”  Said Pinkie Pie, defending Applejack quickly.  “She wasn’t herself, she didn’t really mean what she said!”


                 Twilight had moved up to speak, but Rainbow Dash threw up a hoof to silence her.  “Rarity just explained it, the best explanation from anypony in this room.  That pony in your mind may have made you feel certain emotions more and others less, but you still had to have some thoughts in there to speak.”  She took a few steps closer to Applejack, now less than two feet away.  “You already were thinking about that, weren’t you?!  Nopony put that ‘idea’ in your head, you already were thinking about me and Fluttershy!  You already thought that I might do something to her!”


The accusation hadn’t finished hitting everypony’s ears by the time Applejack dashed out of the room.  There were panicked calls from her friends behind her, but she couldn’t make herself stop.  She ran through Ponyville, the path set straight for Sweet Apple Acres.  She smacked into a few ponies in town, and didn’t even apologize.  She arrived barely minutes later, tired from her sprint across town.  She walked once she arrived on her property.  Her mind was flustered and her body was tired.  She didn’t want to think, but her mind wandered anyway.  Guess ah’m runnin’ home again... am ah gonna do this every day now?  Everytime ah can’t confront somethin’, am ah just gonna run?   She walked up to her room and got on top of the comforter on her bed, smashing the pillow over her face in frustration.  She looked to the clock for the time.


She had an hour before the party.  They had been talking in the library for a long time.  She would go; she was obligated now, but she couldn’t face them again, not alone.  She didn’t want to talk to them again until she had a good reason for why she felt this way.


                 She wanted to know why was she unable to accept Rainbow Dash for whom she was, why she was scared of her, and there was no way she could tell her friends that she was scared of what her best friend was, and why in all of her years of knowing her, the fear finally came up to reveal itself now.

A tapping at her closed window brought Applejack out of her thoughts.  What in tarnation?  She hadn’t been home more than five minutes when she heard the sound.  She had fled the library where her friends were, scared and ashamed.


                 Horseapples, if that’s Rainbow Dash I’m in for some yellin’...


                 She slowly walked over to the window and pulled back the curtains.  Fluttershy was standing on the roof just outside of the window, smiling at Applejack.  The farmer opens the window, raising an eyebrow in the process.  “Fluttershy?  What are you doin’ here?”


                 “I just thought we could meet up and talk a bit on our way back to Sugar Cube Corner.  If you don’t mind that is.”  She hadn’t stopped smiling, but now seemed more hopeful, anticipating a certain response.


                 Applejack knew there couldn’t be any anger between them.  Fluttershy was too kind, too nice.  Even if she disagreed, or was angry, there was no way she’d say anything or act like it.  She wouldn’t judge another pony based on just a few of their thoughts.  Applejack hesitantly answered “That would be just fine Fluttershy.  Just wait down by the door and ah’ll be there in a minute, all right sugarcube?”  Fluttershy nodded, flying down from the roof and landing on the ground softly, walking around towards the door.  Applejack took a deep breath.  You don’t know why you feel this way, AJ, but Fluttershy ain’t mad.  You should talk it over with her.  Just talk, slowly and cautiously... and keep it to the truth.


                 She met the pegasus at the entrance a minute later, having taken time to grab an apple to eat.  Applejack was greeted, once again, by her warm smile, and it seemed infectious as the farmer let the corners of her mouth curl upwards a bit too.  They both left the property on hoof, walking slowly down the path towards Ponyville.


                 Neither one spoke for a few minutes.  Applejack decided that she needed to say something.  She shouldn’t be silent around her friends with everything that had happened.  “Fluttershy, ah need yer help.”


                 “What would you like help with?”  Asked Fluttershy, casually.


                 “Ah wanna talk about what Rainbow said.  And how... she’s right.”


                 Fluttershy’s eyes seemed to glow with surprise, but only slightly.  “You... so she was right?”


                 “Ah think she was, but that don’t mean ah should feel this way.  Ah should trust her, she should be mah closest friend and ah should know that she wouldn’t ever, ever do that to anypony, no matter how much she loved them, no matter how much it hurt her to not have that feelin’ returned to her.  Ah... ah feel awful about this Fluttershy.”


                 “W-well I’m sure there’s some reason you think this way Applejack, but I’m still confused.”  Fluttershy obviously hadn’t prepared for this conversation well, but it seemed to Applejack she was prepared to try and steer it somewhere else.  There’s no way the shy pegasus in front of her would just come up and ask to talk without a big reason.  “Why... why do you feel that way towards Rainbow Dash?  Haven’t you known she’s a lesbian for a while?”  Applejack noticed the conversation had taken a turn and went back to her, but she decided to go along with it.


                 “Ah have.  She told me with that same story about Sky Swallower that she told you, and how she realized she was a fillyfooler that day, and how she... lost a dear friend, but this was a long while ago.  Ah never held it against her, and I never mentioned it unless she wanted me to.  She’s always been a little concerned with how other ponies might see her if they found out.”


                 “She… told you about that?”  Fluttershy seemed very surprised.


                 “Just cause… well that’s how she told me she was a, ya know, lesbian and all.”


                 “Hmm.”  Fluttershy seemed to be thinking deeply on some issue, and then she started again.  “So why do you feel somewhat angry or scared of Rainbow Dash?”


                 Applejack stared at the ground in shame as she started her next answer.  “Ah don’t know why ah’m scared of her.  Mah parents always said that it was okay if ah... wanted to see another mare, or even if Big Mac wanted to see stallions.  They meant it too.  Ah know they did.  They said that what we wanted always came first, and the farm always came second...”


                 Fluttershy raised an eyebrow.  “But you love the farm Applejack.  That’s how you got your cutie mark.”


                 Applejack nodded.  “Ah love that farm as much as ah love all of mah friends Fluttershy.  Ah may have loved it more than them, more than mah brother.  Ah’ve dedicated mah life to makin’ this farm be one of the best orchards in the whole country.  Ah’m mighty proud of it too.”  She smiled despite herself.  “Ah can’t think about what would happen if ah lost this farm one day.  If it all just vanished.  Ah’d... well, it’d break me.”


                 “Thanks Applejack.”  Said Fluttershy, smiling too.  “I get it now.”


                 “Get what now?”  Applejack looked at her, completely confused now.  She quickly glanced ahead and saw that Ponyville was still a few minutes down the trail.


                 “I know why you’re so scared of Rainbow Dash being a lesbian, Applejack.”


                 “How could ya know about that!?”  Applejack let her anger get the better of her.  “Even if ya did, that don’t mean that ah should feel this way.  It ain’t fair to Rainbow!  She’s mah best friend!”


                 “Applejack, don’t worry.  I know that... you’re hurt.  Just... next time you see Rainbow Dash, apologize to her, okay?  She’s still pretty hurt too... from yelling at you.”


                 “She’s what?”


                 “When she got angry in the library... we think that wasn’t her being normal either.”


                 Applejack suddenly looked apprehensive.  “Oh no, ya don’t think that pony was messin’ with her now too?”


                 Fluttershy nodded.  “We... we’re pretty sure.  Rainbow Dash doesn’t remember what she said to you Applejack, and she’s been desperate to apologize.”


                 Applejack thought for a few seconds, letting the implications sink in.  If we are ever talkin’ to somepony, no matter where we are, we might start actin’ frantic and scared.  We wouldn’t know it, and the other pony might not know either.  Applejack couldn’t stop herself as a scared look crept on to her face.  “So... how do we fight this Fluttershy?  We can’t even talk to each other without knowing it could turn into somepony getting’ hurt.”


                 “I don’t know either Applejack, but Twilight’s trying to come up with a plan.  She’s looking into making a potion for us too, to maybe help us not be so easily affected by this.  I don’t think she’s coming to the party later.”


                 Applejack nodded.  She understood the situation on some level, but she was scared all the same.  Anypony she might talk to could snap in an instant.  She shivered.  It was like no matter what they did, they couldn’t keep some pony out of their minds.  It was like an invasion of privacy that she couldn’t stop.  “Ah want to talk with Rainbow before the party.  Ah want to... ah need to set this straight.”


                 “She’s still at the library.  Let’s go see her now.”


                 They turned off the main path leading to the center of Ponyville and headed towards the Library, arriving quickly enough.  Inside was Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle.  Twilight was looking over some books on a book stand, almost frantically flipping the pages with magic.  The table next to her had various flasks full of liquds and equipment for handling chemicals and such.  It was all sitting on the table idly, as Twilight hadn’t started any work yet.


                 Rainbow Dash looked up the second they entered, breaking her thoughtful face that had been staring at the ground.  “Hey guys... uhm... let’s go talk in Twilight’s room, so we don’t bother her here...” Fluttershy and Applejack nodded, walking by Twilight and heading up the stairs to Twilight’s room at the opposite end of the library from the entrance.  The indigo unicorn took no notice of them.


                 Now at her room, they closed the door.  Inside of it were three beds, Twilight’s bed, a guest bed and spike’s small bed, a book shelf, and a table with a chair.  It was a large room, and only seemed larger with such few items.  Applejack, finished gazing idly about the room, finally looked to Rainbow Dash.  She was looking at the ground in shame, facing the large window that seemed to make up almost half of the wall of the bedroom.


                 Fluttershy closed the door behind the two quietly.  Applejack looked at the door briefly, then to Rainbow Dash again.  Neither one spoke.  Their gazes always averted, staring at the ground, the wall, the ceiling.  The minutes felt excruciating to Applejack.  She finally looked to Rainbow Dash, who, after several seconds of avoiding her, finally met her gaze as well.  They both gave each other a warm, heartfelt smile.


                 -1 “I... I don’t actually know what came over me, Applejack, but if it was anything as bad as what you said to me, it was pretty bad.  And even if I didn’t actually mean it, it’s still... it’s still real.  So I’m sorry.”


                 “Heh, and here all ah wanted to apologize for was what ah said to you yesterday.”  She nodded, as if to herself.  “Apology accepted Dash, and ah’m sorry about what ah said to you.  You don’t deserve that-“


                 “Applejack, that’s another thing I wanted to talk about.”  Rainbow Dash interrupted the farmer promptly, almost expecting what she had said.  “There’s... there’s a reason I hit you for that.”


                 Even Applejack wasn’t that dense.  “You... you...”


                 Rainbow Dash could only nod.  “I still love Fluttershy.  I really do.  And you were completely right that it does... hurt.  To see her this often.  Sometimes... sometimes I feel like I could...” She wiped at her eyes with a hoof.  “Something about her just makes me... feel terrible and awful at the same time even though I love her and I can’t think about it because it’s that bad and-“


                 Applejack walked forward, stopping the quick words from the pegasi’s mouth.  “Hush now.  Yer the most loyal pony ah know.  Don’t let stupid thoughts yer gettin’ in yer head make you think you’d ever do somethin’ to hurt any of us Dash, okay?  That ain’t you, and you ain’t gonna do it.  You love her, that’s it.  You wish she would love you too.  But she doesn’t.  So you need to tell her that you can’t see her all the time, that she can’t always be with you all the time, because it does hurt you.  She wouldn’t want to be hurtin’ you, Dash.”  She hugged her friend tightly as she finished, catching the cyan mare by surprise yet again.


                 “But... AJ...”


                 “Ah don’t care that you kicked me or anythin’ like that, so you don’t have to apologize for yesterday.  Yer still my best friend, no matter what.”


                 “Right... right, okay.  Thanks Aj.”  The two separated, and Rainbow Dash seemed to have her usual confidence back.  “I just have to... tell her to leave me alone tonight, no problem.  She’s a big, grown mare anyway, she can deal with a few nightmares, right?”



                   “Well I’m glad that’s all done with.  I was really worried about you guys might keep fighting or something!”  Said Pinkie Pie, as she walked next to Applejack, though her walking was more like bouncing.


                 “Heh, you didn’t need to be too worried in the first place Pinkie Pie.  We get into arguments all the time, and we always solve’em pretty quickly,” Applejack said, reassuring her pink companion.


                 “Still that must be awkward and stuff, everypony being all weird and angry and mad all the time!  I couldn’t imagine being angry!  Gosh, it would be like the opposite of being happy or something!”  She started laughing, but stopped suddenly.  “Oh, I wonder what the opposite of laughing is.  Is it shuddering?  Maybe it’s scoffing?  Or guffawing?  How about-“


                 “Pinkie Pie, ah don’t think there’s an opposite of ‘laughing’ really.  Now we got 20 minutes before this party, so let’s get to setting it up okay?” Applejack finished as they reached Sugar Cube Corner.  She had accidentally found Pinkie Pie after leaving the library, and had taken to talking with her on the way back to where the party was to take place.  She had hoped to see why Pinkie was so disconcerted earlier, but it seemed she was back to her regular self now.  Ah just hope that she wasn’t bein’ manipulated bah that darned pony too... why ah don’t know what ah’d do if they made Pinkie cry on us...


                 Inside, the main lobby and dining area where ponies would eat whatever they purchased, was already cleared of tables which had been moved to the back.  All that was left was the counter, which had drapes over it and no food on display, and Rarity and Fluttershy, who were talking in one corner of the room, seemingly about clothing ideas for somepony.  The two earth ponies moved past them, heading to the kitchen, which was a makeshift back-stage area for the guest that evening.


                 A magician huh... that seems like a bit of a coincidence... ah’ll have to keep my eye on her... Applejack thought it was odd.  All of their issues had started only in the last week.  Fluttershy’s dreams, her own anger... it all started so recently.  And then this pony, some kind of famous magician, had spent a week at the inn before asking Pinkie Pie to throw this big party... show... thing?  Applejack had her own suspicions, but she knew that without any idea about magic, and no proof, that she couldn’t very well say anything.


                 As soon as Pinkie Pie and Applejack entered the kitchen, they saw the Magician.  Pinkie Pie had seen her probably several times by now, and was going across the kitchen in her usual bounds to talk to her.


                 Applejack, however, hadn’t seen her before.  The farmer thought she was one of the most stunning ponies she had ever seen.  The magician was a unicorn with dark purple fur, and a long black mane with two different stripes of a somewhat brighter, navy-blue.  Her eyes were a bright, light-blue that weren’t unlike pinkie pie’s eyes, and she wore a long, dark-blue cape.  Her cutie mark wasn’t visible under her clothes, but that didn’t matter to Applejack.  The dark colors of the pony before her seemed so... powerful, regal.  The black and purple seeming to draw light away from the surrounding kitchen, she stood out with a kind of grace that Applejack could only equate with Luna whenever she had been to Ponyville.


                 Having finished speaking to Pinkie Pie, the magician turned to see the farmer looking on at her with unblinking eyes.  She laughed.  “You are Applejack, the pony who runs Sweet Apple Acres branch here in Ponyville, correct?”


                 “Y-yes ma’am.”  Applejack shook herself, as if freeing herself from invisible binds, and walked forward to the magician, presenting a hoof in greeting.  “Sorry ‘bout that, but you’re-“


                 “I am quite different from most ponies, yes.”  She shook the hoof gingerly, her grip soft but still leading the shake.  “Many in Ponyville seem to have brightly colored coats, and maybe a dark mane or an equally bright mane to match, yes?”  Her voice had some tinge of accent that Applejack couldn’t place.  She was still easy to understand so Applejack listened intently.  “In some places in Equestria, it’s quite normal to be born with quite the opposite.  I imagine I look quite exotic around these parts-”


                 “Gosh, ah don’t mean anything by starin’, ma’am.  Ya just... at a glance I coulda mistaken ya for Princess Luna.”


                 She snickered a little.  “You should have seen what your unicorn friend – what is her name, Rarity? – was like when she first saw me.  She was so entranced with my color scheme that she immediately started taking measurements for a gown of some sort.”


                 Applejack chuckled as well.  “That’s Rarity for ya.  But she does have a good eye.  You should let her make somethin’, it would be amazin’.”


                 “I’ll think about it.  Now if you don’t mind, I need to prepare.  I think some things still need to be set up outside, so I’d be grateful if you were to help out that... very energetic pink earth pony out there, would you?”


                 Applejack nodded.  “Sure thing, ma’am.”


                 “Call me Aile.  I can’t stand all that formal ‘ma’am’ stuff, I won’t have any of it.”




                 Most of Ponyville had come out to see the show, and Applejack knew why as soon as it had started.  Her show consisted of telling well known stories and myths with a visual display, a huge illusion for the entire crowd.  Yet for each individual, it was like they were there, watching it play out before them as their point of vision flew into the sky, trailed behind the characters, as if they were a bird or a ghost.  It was an experience she had never felt before, being so entangled in the situation even if she was just an onlooker, not taking action and simply watching as a ghost.  The first story was how the six of them had defeated nightmare moon; Applejack wondered how she had heard the story, but it was exactly correct, from Nightmare Moon appearing in Celestia’s place, down to the speech Twilight Sparkle gave describing everypony’s place as an element of harmony.  The second story she recognized as well; It was the novel she had read at home the previous day.


                 The show itself only lasted about an hour and a half, with the two different stories, yet the party lasted into the evening.  Being held mostly outside, ponies eventually stared wandering in after it had started, and this kept it going for much longer than planned.  Pinkie and Applejack had no problem keeping up with food, having retreated to the kitchen once to start up more confections for the party.  The cakes had taken to serving and making sure everypony was satisfied, and everypony kept themselves happy, even without the show.  Aile seemed more than happy to be the center of attention, answer questions and directing onlookers as if it was a practiced skill.  Idle chatter was shared between the both Pinkie Pie and Applejack whenever they went back to the kitchen, and it was more fun than Applejack had had in a while.  It seemed nopony was acting strange that night either.


                 It was finally over around six o’clock that night, when everypony had finally left except for Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and both Mr. and Mrs. Cake.  They all decided they’d clean up, even if it was only Pinkie’s responsibility; they had helped prepare, so there was no reason not to help clean up.  It didn’t take them long to make significant headway with the help of Rarity’s magic and Rainbow Dash speedily moving anything else.


                 Pinkie Pie was still her happy usual self, even after such a long celebration.  Her grin fell when she heard Applejack say she had to leave.  “Don’t go just yet Applejack!”  Almost everypony had gone home already; both Rarity and Rainbow Dash had already left, and the cakes had nothing left to do outside.  “I, uhm... we need to... you know, clean up the kitchen a little!”


                 Applejack looked past the pink earth pony to the kitchen.  Indeed, it was very messy, with some bowls, pans, spots on the floor, the occasional pile of flour; it was just a wreck.  She sighed.  “Okay but ah’m not washin’ anythin’, ah’m just gonna pick up.”


                 The clean up took ten minutes.


                 “Ah’ve gotta be off now, okay Pinkie Pie?  Ah’ll see you later.”  Applejack was just walking out the front entrance when Pinkie Pie grabbed her tail.  Applejack spun around and gave Pinkie a stern look, but the pink pony recoiled immediately, already cowering on the ground.


                 “P-please don’t go Applejack... please...” she was begging.  Applejack had never heard Pinkie Pie beg before.


                 “What in Equestria is wrong with you Pinkie Pie?”  She filled her voice with as much concern as she could muster.


                 “There’s nothing wrong with me!”  She yelled, which made Applejack take a few steps back.  “I mean, I’m normal... I’m just... just... a little... tense.”  She looked away, almost ashamed to meet the farmer’s gaze.  “I’ve just... I really wanted to spend some time with you today, but we didn’t get to...”


                 Applejack smiled reassuringly, and moved her head to catch Pinkie Pie’s far-off gaze.  “Why don’t we meet up tomorrow, and we can hang out all day.  Ah’d like it if ya told me what has been botherin’ you so much, okay Pinkie Pie?”  Pinkie started to smile again, and Applejack continued.  “Ah’m pretty tired after that party, and all our bakin’ that we were doin’ in here, so ah need to go home and rest up a bit, okay?”  It wasn’t really a lie; she was somewhat tired, and she figured hanging out with Pinkie Pie again after dinner would leave her much more drained than she wanted.


                 Pinkie Pie grinned instantly and hugged Applejack.  “No problem AJ!  I know all kinds of things we can do tomorrow!  I even have the day off again!”  Applejack was already expecting a torrent of words, the list of things they might do the next day, but instead felt Pinkie Pie release her and stand back a few feet away, warmly smiling at her.  Is she already expectin’ me to leave?  Pinkie Pie was acting so drastically different that it appeared to visually upset the Applejack without her even realizing it; Pinkie Pie frowned, almost like she was responding to the farmer’s thoughts


                 Applejack corrected her stance before saying goodbye.  “Ah’ll see ya tomorrow, Sugarcube.”  She quickly exited the store, waving with one hoof as she walked on towards her home.  Pinkie Pie waved from the door, and then turned around and slowly entered the store with what Applejack thought was a solemn face.


                 The town was somewhat darker than she realized.  It was close to half-past six, and being late in the summer meant the sun would be setting sooner.  It was a gradual change every year, but it always took her a long time to notice when the sun would start setting so much later.  The sky was set ablaze, as if a fire had been lit.  Streaks of purple were a haze, Luna’s moon seeming to want to inch its way into the sky and replace the now setting sun.  Everything in Ponyville seemed steeped in the thick, yellow-and-orange light, everything looking monochrome.  She pulled her hat down more over her eyes so she could see past the glaring light-


                 She stopped herself just short of colliding with a pony that was walking by her.  Applejack’s gaze had been wandering so much that she hadn’t noticed a pony crossing the main path out of town, and had almost collided with her side.  Applejack tilted her head.  “Sorry ‘bout that.  Guess mah head was in the clouds.”


                 She noticed it was the magician again.  She had just emerged from the inn, still wearing the same clothes she had earlier.  She tilted her head slightly so that she could see Applejack past the hood.  “Just be a little more careful.”  Her tone was utterly indifferent, most of her face still hidden by the sunlight and the hood.


                 Applejack looked at her puzzled, and hesitated before asking, “Everything all right there?  You seem a might out of it.”


                 “It is as I said.  Be a little more careful.”  Applejack thought she could make out a smirk on Aile’s face when she started again, saying quietly, almost a whisper, “You will be the first to fall.”  The sunlight made her whole body seem like a giant shadow as she continued walking, turning sharply and walking past Applejack down the main path.


                 Applejack brought a hoof across her sweat-covered forehead, as if wiping off solidified tension that had clung to her face.  Her first encounter with Aile had been... refreshing, and comfortable.  She felt on edge now, as if her very presence had been subtly poking at Applejack physically.  It was probably just some magic after effect, after all, she musta been worn out after that show.  But what was that last thing she said?  What the hay was that about?


                 She thought about her suspicions from earlier as she walked home.  If Aile is this pony that’s messin’ with our heads, why would she come out like she just did and say something so... odd?  Surely she wants to hide herself, so she can be near us?  Applejack shook her head.  She must have some kind of plan... she otherwise she would just never show up, she wouldn’t draw any attention to herself... so does she want me thinkin’ about this?  Applejack took one hoof and rubbed her temple with it as she walked, feeling more confused than before, and coming to the same conclusion she did every time: Twilight can figure this out, she knows about magic and potions and all that stuff.  Ah should just stop worryin’ about it.




                 “Applebloom, why don’t you believe yer big sister?” Applejack asked, frustrated.  Just before her bedtime, Applebloom had walked into Applejack’s room to ask her how she was doing.  Five minutes into the conversation, Applebloom started talking about Rainbow Dash.  “We apologized; we made up!  Ah don’t see why you don’t believe me!”


                 “Cause I saw her after the party, sis!”  Applejack gave her an inquisitive look.  “Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were there too you know... but that’s not the point.  After the party, Rainbow Dash... she asked me somethin’ about you...”


                 “What did she ask ya?”


                 “She... asked if you had dated anypony before.  She looked really concerned and sad and stuff too.”  Applebloom looked sad as she answered the question.


                 That... darn Rainbow... Applejack’s face hardened, but kept her voice calm. “What did you tell her?”


                 “The truth.  I don’t know if you’ve dated anypony before.”


                 “That stupid pegasus... she shouldn’t be goin’ behind my back like this.”  Applejack gave a frustrated sigh.  “Ah’ll ask her what this is all about tomorrow.  Ah’m hopin’ this ain’t about a date or somethin’, cause she’s gonna be disappointed...”


                 “What do you mean?”  Applebloom asked, genuinely curious.


                 “Cause ah... you know, don’t like mares like she does.  Ah prefer... colts...” Applejack failed to mince her own words, but Applebloom seemed to fully understand anyway.


                 “So your barn door don’t swing that way?”  She asked, almost giggling.


                 “Don’t talk about it like that Applebloom.”  Applejack said sternly.  “But yeah... that’s... that’s why...” her thoughts caught her off guard as Applebloom walked away, sensing a kind of finality to the discussion.


                 Rainbow Dash... it was all she could do to get herself to her bed and lie down on it.  Ah hope ah’m gettin’ this wrong, because ah don’t want you to be so hurt in such a short time.  Yer strong, but you’ve been through so much... She looked to her clock, noting it was just past 10 PM.  She decided she’d get to bed early, and wake up just as early the next morning.  After all, she had a day scheduled to hang out with Pinkie Pie, and there was no telling what plans they would have for the oncoming day.


                 And so she slept a peaceful dreamless sleep; so made sure the pink-and-yellow pegasus, lying vigilantly on a cloud above the Apple household.  Seeing the farmer fall asleep, she too nodded off, falling asleep atop her cloud soon after.



                 Applejack noticed immediately that nothing was around her, under her, covering her.  When she didn’t feel her blanket or bed, her eyes shot open immediately.  She was met with a hazy orange sky, filtered slightly by a thin layer of clouds.


                 She shot to all four of her hooves, looking around in an angered panic.  What the hay is goin’ on?  She looked down.  Below her was a thick white layer of clouds, but she couldn’t feel them or see through them.  In fact, she wasn’t sure what she felt.  She knew she was standing, but she couldn’t... feel a floor.  It was like she was suspended with some kind of magic.  She glanced around her.  Endlessly, the clouds above and below her stretched on, hiding the orange sky ever so slightly as the horizon went on.  She decided to sit down.  No use standin’ around when there ain’t anywhere to go.


                 She felt a breeze.  It was the first thing she felt in this... place.  She looked back towards where she had felt it, and saw before her an earth pony.  She also had orange fur, green eyes, and her mane was blonde except for a stripe of maroon that ran through it, not unlike the purple that ran through Twilight’s hair.


                 “Applejack is your name, correct?”  The pony said, in a clear cut, regular voice.  Applejack had almost expected to hear the southern, Appleoosan accent that she spoke with.  She looked exactly like the farmer after all.


                 “Right.  And you must be Honesty.  Ah’ve heard a little about these Epiphany thingies already, so just cut to the chase.”


                 “That saves us much time, as we have very little.  Applejack, as you sleep, I am being pulled from you.  Someone is attempting to take me.”  Honestly spoke curtly.


                 “But... hold up a minute.  So somepony wants to take you, okay.  I get that, but... the only way to have one of these Epiphany thingies is for some really strong magic to be cast on me, right?  So...”


                 Honesty nodded.  “Whoever is trying to take me is using the spell NOW.  It is very powerful.”


                 “Th-that’s... kinda bad.  What am ah supposed to do about it?”  Applejack could barely maintain her composure.


                 “Simply stop whoever is trying to take the element.  I do not know the vicinity in which the caster has to be of you, but it cannot be that far; she must be in town.  Do not worry yourself so quickly; at the moment, I am perfectly safe.  You are as well.  Not that I know if anything would even happen to you if I were to be taken.”


                 “But... none of us know who’s doin’ it yet!  We don’t have any idea who this pony might even be!”  Applejack grew more desperate.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but ah definitely got no proof of it...


                 “Then I suggest you never lie over the next day.  Lying has been what has weakened our connection, and lying more will only make it break.”


                 Applejack raised a curious eyebrow.  “But... Ah haven’t been lyin’.  Ah don’t lie to my friends, or anypony.”


                 “That’s not for me to judge or know.  Just make sure to tell the truth and all will be fine.  If you can keep true to your values, and who you are, then nothing shall befall you.”


                 Almost instantly, the body of the mare before her vanished, as if she were a mist being stricken away by a particularly strong wind.  Applejack moved forward instinctively, as if to grab her, but immediately found herself in her bed, in her room, in her house.  She was sitting up, with the same hoof extended.  She shook her head slowly.  It was late, and she had another big day tomorrow.  She rolled back onto her side to try and fall asleep yet again, but thoughts were reeling through her mind.  Ah... ah might be the first pony to have mah element of harmony taken... but ah just want to live on the farm with my family and have good friends... why can’t ah just... have that much?






                 A primal feeling any creature could have when they feel their life is in danger.  Any living being that was concerned with self-preservation could feel fear.  There is a food chain (that Fluttershy monitors very carefully); ponies being attacked isn’t unheard of (though it is very rare and only happens in huge cities like Manehattan); everypony will die someday (she had gotten over that fear long ago).  Applejack had occasionally felt afraid; she had had minor doubts when the 6 of them had fought nightmare moon; the dragon that was taking a nap in Equestria and filling they sky with its smoke was frightening; when Rarity had fallen at the Best Young Fliers competition, Applejack had felt fear for her friend; even the minor conflict between the buffalo and Appleoosa that sparked a battle had worried her, bringing forth some kind of fear for the town’s safety.  But these were passing, brief, brought about by an immediate threat.  She had never been truly afraid for her own life; there wasn’t anything to be afraid of before.  She was strong, had her friends.  She could handle anything.


                 Now, she was afraid.  She was more afraid than she had ever been.  She couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen if the element was taken from her; the elements were connected to their souls, their bodies, or their minds or something.  She knew somehow that ripping something like that from somepony would be anything but harmless, and she couldn’t think of what might happen if her family was suddenly without her, her friends left without her.  Be it death, a coma, memory loss, some internal... function being lost, anything bad happening, she didn’t know, but all she knew was that she had to be there for her family, for her friends, and that she had to stop it from happening so she could always be there, to be the most dependable pony possible.


                 She avoided meeting her sister, brother, or grandmother that morning, leaving a note to say she was seeing her friends in town.  If even one were to ask if ah was okay... ah’d have to tell them everythin’.  Ah can’t do that, ah have to see Twilight.  Ah’m sure she can help me out of this mess.







                 Applejack detested the very action of not telling the truth.  If somepony asks, say what you think.  Why not?  If it hurts them, they learn from it.  If they don’t want to hear it, why did they ask?  If they don’t agree, what does it matter if everypony agrees with something?  Lying didn’t get anypony anywhere, and it certainly never got Applejack ahead in life.  She avoided lying as best she could, only occasionally taking to it to avoid her friends getting incredibly angry, or to avoid spoiling something for a friend (though Pinkie Pie did get a little out-of-shape about her surprise birthday party last year...).


                 Walking down the path towards town, she thought about what her element told her, during her brief Epiphany.  So she’s usin’ the spell now.  So... what does that even mean?  Applejack sighed in frustration.  She didn’t know nearly enough about magic to know what that meant.  She had to see Twilight, the only pony who might have an idea of what was going on.


                 She reached the library after several uneventful minutes.  Upon reaching the door, she knocked, and found Twilight opening it only second later.  It was only nine in the morning, and Applejack hadn’t even expected her to be awake.  Twilight stood before her with a disheveled mane, tired eyes, and an almost lazy stance that made her look like she would fall on her rump, asleep, at any moment.  She met the farmer with surprise.  “Oh, Applejack!  I didn’t expect anypony to be coming by this morning.”


                 “It... it wasn’t in my plans either.  But we need to talk a bit.”


                 “Come in, come in.  I’ve been examining some of my notes for a while, and haven’t really found anything, and was taking a break when you knocked.”  She stepped back and motioned for the farmer to come in.  Applejack obliged, closing the door behind her.  Twilight then suddenly became aware of how she looked.  “Oh, gosh I look awful!  I’m sorry I couldn’t be... more presentable.”


                 “Now don’t go all Rarity on me; gettin’ a little messy just means you’ve been workin’ hard.  Even ah can see that Twi.”  Indeed, it was more than obvious from the state of the library; the equipment that had been unused yesterday now sat dirty, some with liquid still and others empty, scorched and even one or two broken ones.  Books were strewn about the room, most open.  Pages upon pages of notes lay across a stand Twilight had set up near the table.  While it looked messy, Applejack could somehow sense an order to the room.


                 “I’ve... I’ve been very busy trying to figure out the kind of magic we’re dealing with.”  Twilight levitated some of her notes over in front of her face, flipping through them as she spoke to Applejack, eyes scanning the pages continuously.  “I haven’t really found a lot.  There isn’t much magic that deals directly with feelings or emotions that I can find.”


                 “That’s what ah’m here for, Twi.”  The unicorn raised an eyebrow.  “Ah… ah had an Epiphany last night.  And honesty told me that whoever’s messin’ with us is after… me.  Ah’m next.”  Applejack looked down, as if defeated.


                 Twilight’s face became a rare mix of surprise and worry.  “Okay so how… what… augh, I need more to go on than that.  What else did honesty say?”


                 “She said that ah have to… not lie today.  If ah lie again, whoever’s doin’ this may… take Honesty.”  Applejack shivered.  “Do you have any idea what happens if we lose our elements?”


                 Twilight seemed to recover her own composure quickly.  “As I said, I haven’t really found out anything.  There’s so little research into the elements.  Before us, they were just what everypony thought they were before I came to Ponyville; and old mare’s tale, something that isn’t real.  So no research was made into them and their nature.  We should be thankful the elements know as much as they do.”  She moved all of her notes back to the stand, save for one solitary page.  “I have one single lead into whoever might be trying to manipulate us.  And it’s this.”  She looked to a window sill, and levitated over a certain potted plant.  It was an odd yellow color, leafy with a single, several-inches high stem, and the odor, which while sitting in the room before, now took full reign over Applejack’s senses as it was brought closer.  It smelled rotten or decaying.


                 “What in tarnation is this thin’, Twilight?  It smells awful.”


                 Twilight nodded.  “This is a kind of magical plant.  The scent it gives off is some kind of deterrent, but it seems to only smell that bad to ponies.  Animals like it just fine.”  She set it on the table.  “I don’t know its name, and it’s not listed in the Supernatural’s book, but Fluttershy knew about it, and so did Trixie-“


                 “Where has she been anyway?  Ah haven’t seen her since she came home with you on your birthday.”  Applejack suddenly recalled how surprised everypony had been to discover that, since saving Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash by teleporting them several miles out of the forest they had been lost in, that Trixie had lost her ability to perform magic.  The overly-powerful teleport had placed Trixie into a coma, and when she awoke, she hadn’t had any magical ability to speak of.  Twilight, sympathetic and somewhat proud that the once arrogant and show-off unicorn had reformed somewhat, offered to take her in, and help her get her magic back.  Beyond this, Applejack had absolutely no idea what Trixie was really doing in Ponyville.  She hadn’t seen her while bringing the cart into town, and nopony had even talked about her.  She almost missed her.


                 “She’s off to Fillydelphia again, to report on her findings on this plant, which was the original reason she was coming to Ponyville anyway.  She left about five days ago and should be back tomorrow.  But that’s not important; this plant is the same one that Fluttershy gave Rainbow Dash while they were lost in the forest.”


                 Applejack’s memory seemed foggy for some reason.  “Plant?  What plant?  Ah’m not really followin’ ya here, Twi.”


                 Twilight sighed.  She must be back to her usual self, if she’s annoyed bah mah lack of knowledge on this stuff again, Applejack thought to herself.  “When Rainbow Dash was hurt, Fluttershy found this plant, and mistakenly thinking it was medical in nature, she gave it to her.  Instead of healing some of her internal wounds, it, for lack of better words, made Rainbow fall in love with her.  The plant takes whatever feeling the pony is feeling at a moment, such as fear, sadness, anger, happiness, or maybe in her case, companionship or friendship or gratitude, and amplifies it to almost ridiculous levels.  Afterwards, because of the magical and foreign nature of the plant’s effect, the mind doesn’t remember what happened.  At all.  It’s like they miss entire hours or days of their life, a targeted permanent amnesia.  It’s not even retrograde, which means the pony will never remember what happened.”


                 “So… gosh, that seems sort of similar to what’s goin’ on now, isn’t it?”  Applejack connected the dots much better than Twilight could have hoped for.  She clapped her hooves together in a sign of happiness.


                 “That’s precisely it, Applejack.  If I can study the magical effects this plant has, maybe I can imitate that effect with a spell, and with that, we can devise some kind of counter-spell.”  Her face grew serious instantly, making Applejack step back in surprise.  “Until then, Applejack, you’re in danger.  I think it might be best if you tried to avoid everypony today.  You can’t tell a lie if no one asks you anything, right?”


                 “So… you want me to just stay here and not talk to anypony?”


                 “Except me?  Pretty much.  I won’t ask you anything remotely invading, if I ask anything at all.  I know it’s… boring, and kind of extreme, but it’s the best way we have of fighting this.”  Twilight set the plant back on the window sill and walked back to her stand, re-arranging her notes.


                 Applejack’s eyes narrowed.  “Ah’m not doin’ that Twilight.”


                 “Why not?  Do you want to risk something happening to you?”  Twilight didn’t even bother to turn around to answer.


                 “Ah don’t know if you’ve been payin’ much attention, but Pinkie Pie’s been really off recently.  She’s scarin’ me, and keeps wantin’ to see me.  I couldn’t see her much yesterday, and that shook her up bad.  Ah said ah’d see her today, and ah’m not about to break a promise; that’s as bad as a lie in mah book.”  Applejack slammed a hoof on the ground in frustration.


                 The indigo unicorn shrugged.  “It’s just Pinkie, AJ, I’m sure she’ll be fine after a day to think it over or something.  You know how weird she can be sometimes.”


                 “Twilight, she almost broke down sobbin’!  No, I’m goin’ to see her today, because she needs a friend to be with her.  Ah promised I’d see her today, so I’m gonna keep that promise.”  Applejack knew she was being stubborn, but something also made her want to snap at Twilight for judging their friend so quickly.


                 “She wanted to see you?  Not to be rude, but you two don’t... talk often.  Why would she want to see you?”  Twilight was both genuinely curious and incredulous.


                 Applejack sighed.  “Ah don’t know, but she said that she’s been really lonely, and she keeps wantin’ to see me, so ah’m gonna oblige her.  She needs to talk to somepony, and ah’ve got to be that pony.”


                 The unicorn bit her lip.  “But what if something happens to you, AJ?”


                 “Nothin’ should happen, because ah’ll be doin’ what ah always do: tellin’ the truth.”




                 Applejack swiftly closed the library door behind her, and started trotting off towards Sugar Cube Corner.  Time to go see Pinkie, she thought.


                 It was just past ten; she had spent nearly an hour in the library, talking with Twilight about the nature of the situation.  While unable to find out who was using the magic, or how to stop it, Twilight took it upon herself to elaborate on some things for Applejack, for her to keep in mind as she ventured into town.


                 “Honesty said that the spell was being cast right now.  That probably means it’s a channeling spell; it means to maintain that spell, he or she has to be focused on the spell, and probably can’t do anything else at all.  That means most everypony should be normal today, so long as manipulating our emotions took concentration or casting a different spell in the first place.  Now, if you get asked an awkward question that you for some reason can’t answer truthfully, then you should try and deflect it, or just out-right say that you don’t want to answer it.  Also, don’t say CAN’T, or EVER, so on and so forth.  In general, just avoid absolutes say MOSTLY or PROBABLY more often.  I know it’s probably not how you’re used to talking, but you’re just going to have to try.  Though, I’m pretty sure if you don’t actually know the answer to something, you can give it your best shot; not knowing something has never been the same as lying.  I would also avoid halve truths; just say exactly what you mean, or try and do whatever I mentioned.”


                 She arrived at Sugar Cube Corner in minutes.  Being as brief as possible, she asked Mrs. Cake, who was running the register again, where Pinkie Pie was.  According to Mrs. Cake, Pinkie Pie hadn’t even left her room that day, so that’s where she still was.  She wasn’t even sure if she had woken up yet that day; she seemed especially troubled by that fact.


                 “Pinkie Pie wakes up almost every day around six or seven, even on days she has off, to plan for parties early in the morning before going to see her friends during the day if she isn’t working.”  Mrs. Cake shook her head.  “She’s been so odd lately... and she won’t tell us what’s wrong.  I’m worried sick about the poor dearie...”


                 “Ah think she just needs a shoulder to lean on, somepony she trusts more than anypony else.  She asked me to see her today, so maybe she’ll tell me what’s causin’ her so much grief.”  Applejack smiled reassuringly.  “Ah am Ponyville’s most dependable pony after all.  Ah’ll do my best to cheer her up!”  With those last words, she headed to the staircase that lead up to Pinkie Pie’s loft above the apartment.


                 Climbing the stairs slowly, Applejack began to feel somewhat apprehensive.  She’s... she’s borderline bawlin’ her eyes out and thinkin’ nopony likes her anymore... what in Equestria could be such a big deal that she’d think that?  She shook her head.  No, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big deal or not, because it’s a big deal to her.  So ah’ve got to work through it with her, whether or not ah even understand what’s goin’ on.


                 It only took moments to climb the stairs and reach a hallway, leading to the Pinkie Pie’s room.  The door was bright pink, with a regular bronze door knob.  It wasn’t marked otherwise, but somehow Applejack figured that there wasn’t a need to mark the door, since the cakes lived elsewhere.  She took a deep breath, steeling herself as she turned the knob and pushed open the door.  The room was dim, the only light source being a solitary lamp atop a desk.  Applejack’s eyes took a second to adjust to the room, and it took her another second to find Pinkie Pie.


                 She sat on a chair, in front of an impressively pink vanity, looking at the doorway, and Applejack.  Her eyes were boring into the farmer as if her vision was a streak of sunlight cutting through pure blackness.  Her hair was deflated, straightened, hanging down against her fur, and her face was solemn, except for those eyes.  Those staring, intruding eyes almost looked to swallow up the farmer as she met the impenetrable gaze.  When Pinkemina spoke, her voice was quiet, and her words spoken and enunciated perfectly.  “Hello Applejack.  I was really worried I wouldn’t see you, my best friend today, like you promised, but here you are.  I’m glad you came.”


                 “I-It’s no problem, sugarcube.  Ah said ah’d be here today, so here ah am.”


                 Applejack slowly closed the door behind her, leaving her alone with the dejected baker’s apprentice.

Applejack took in more of her surroundings as an awkward silence hung between the two earth ponies, Pinkemina giving her a harsh glare as the farmer tried to avoid her eyes.  It was as Mrs. Cake had said; the room was not very decorated beyond basic furniture.  A bed, a table, some clothing hung up in her closet, some chairs, and the previously seen desk and vanity.  There was a door at the opposite side of the room that led to a small balcony on the roof of the building.  The room itself was tidy; nothing rested on the table, the only sign of disturbance were the sheets of her bed, which looked to be kicked to its base.  The walls, while dim from the lack of light, were noticeably tan.  There was also a grey stone fireplace that seemed out of place not only on the second floor, but by Pinkie Pie’s standards.  She must not have had much choice in decoration, but it’s a pretty nice place to live...


Even two minutes later, neither pony had spoken when Applejack’s vision finally found the pink mare once again.  It was still that same intense glare that threatened to see into the farmer’s very soul.  The Applejack had trouble thinking, unable to look away from the baker’s face.  She’s not acting like Pinkie Pie, what’s going on here?  She’s kind of... creepy.  She kept her eyes focused on the pony before her, but the look was so strong that she felt like she had to back down, as if she was being pushed back.


Pinkemina broke the silence, which to Applejack, seemed to literally shatter like a vase hitting the floor.  “So what do you think of my mane?”  She asked.  Her expression had changed from that penetrating glare to the faintest of smiles.  Though it took a few seconds for Applejack to even realize she had been spoken too, the change in atmosphere was enough to lift an almost physical weight off of Applejack’s shoulders.


It… looks cute?  Is that the word ah want, really?  Somethin’ about it is just cleaner, more formal, more... dignified.  “It suits ya.”  Applejack gave a half smile.  “Normally yer mane’s a big mess, but ah really like it like that, all straight and such.”


Pinkemina chuckled despite herself.  “It is really messy normally, isn’t it?  All poofy and stuff...”


“Is that how it always is?  Ah’ve never really seen yer hair done any other way…”  Applejack was genuinely curious, to a degree.  She and Rainbow Dash were the only two ponies of the group that didn’t like fashion, while Pinkie Pie was not adverse to such “girly nonsense” like hair or clothes, even if she never talked about it much and didn’t busy herself with it.  The farmer knew that she needed idle conversation so she could steer it towards Pinkie’s problems, instead of just asking out right.


Pinkemina shook her head.  “When I lived on the farm - my family’s rock farm - my hair was always like this.  Neat.  Cut short.  Straight and simple.  My parents never said it, but I know they wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”  Pinkemina looked as if she was recalling painful memories.  “But... somehow... it all changed that moment I learned how to smile.  What happiness and joy was.  When I saw that Sonic Rainboom and got my cutie mark, everything changed.”


Applejack nodded.  She knew exactly what Pinkie Pie was talking about; the day each of them earned their cutie marks had been incredibly important to all of them, and they all owed it to Rainbow Dash.  By performing a Sonic Rainboom, the cyan pegasus had set off events or thoughts in all five of them that led to each of the other five in their group earning their cutie marks either right then, or within a day of that Rainboom.  Of course, none of them had known that.  As far as the six ponies had known, they all just earned their cutie marks by discovering who they were, as per the regular ritual, but when they all had been at an impromptu gathering at Sugar Cube Corner several months ago, and heard how Rainbow Dash got her cutie mark as she explained it to the trio of fillies that made up the Cutie Mark Crusaders, it made perfect sense.  They had all seen the same beautiful rainbow and felt that same powerful explosion.  Since that day on, a certain kinship between the six of them had formed, leading to be stronger friendships between all of them.


Pinkemina continued again, brining Applejack out of her thoughts and memories.  “Since then, my hair’s always been really messy unless I straighten it like I did this morning.  And even then, it musses itself up overnight anyway.”


“So why’d ya decide to fix it today?”  Asked Applejack.


Pinkemina turned away before answering.  “I thought I... would want to look nice before you came over, is all.  I mean, you’re the only pony who has really wanted to talk to me... in a while.  I tried talking with Twilight last night, after the party, even checking out a book, but she... kind of blew me off.”


Applejack raised an eyebrow.  Twilight didn’t mention that… “What did she say?”


“She said she was busy figuring out what is going on with all this elements of harmony stuff.  So I just… found the book, and left her to it.  We wouldn’t want silly, random Pinkie Pie to get in the way, would we?”


“Ya talked to anypony else lately?”  Applejack asked, ignoring the rhetorical question and becoming more concerned for the pink mare by the minute.


She nodded.  “After you left, I tried talking with everypony.  Rainbow Dash said she needed to talk to Fluttershy, Rarity had an order to fill... I guess nopony wants to talk to me.  I’m ‘too annoying.’”


“Ya know that isn’t true Pinkie Pie.”  Applejack walked forward and put a hoof on Pinkie’s shoulder.  The pink mare didn’t acknowledge it.  “We’ve just been busy lately.  There’s lotsa stuff goin’ on.  Ya musta had fun at the party last night, right?”


“Well yeah!”  She said, some of her energy returning to her voice.  “There was so much good food and everypony looked so happy and the show was amazing!  It was the most fun I’ve had in days!”


“Yeah, so cheer up Pinkie!  Ya know we’ll have time for you when we have time.  We can’t always just see you whenever we want-”


“You can, apparently!”  Pinkemina said, a pointing an accusatory hoof at the farmer, making her take a few steps back.  “You’re the only one!  You’ve always been one of the only ones to listen…”


“What about Dash, Pinkie?  Ya two’ve been great friends, especially since that one time Gilda showed up.”  Applejack decided she had to be firm.  Being quiet and hesitant wouldn’t help the already quiet-and-hesitant Pinkie Pie she was trying to bring out of some sudden depression.  “Dash wouldn’t ignore ya, or anythin’ like that; she’s been having lots of problems lately, so has Fluttershy.  Ya know they’ve been through a lot.”


“What about Twilight and Rarity?”  Pinkemina asked.  “Twilight wasn’t busy until all this stealing-the-elements stuff started going on.  Rarity doesn’t have any excuse that she’s told me.”


“Ah can’t speak for them, but they must have had good reasons.”  Applejack sighed.  “Ya know we wouldn’t avoid ya, Pinkie Pie.  Don’t you remember your Birthday last year?  We only wanna look out for your best interests!”


She glared at Applejack.  “Right.  The day even you lied to me.”


“It was for a surprise party, Pinkie Pie!”


“That doesn’t matter!”  She yelled.  “You still lied to me!  That was the first time I’ve even seen you lie before.  I didn’t think it was possible.”


Applejack kept her tone firm.  “That was just a little white lie, Pinkie.  Ah’d never lie to hurt ya.  None of us would.”


Pinkemina sighed to herself, a smile creeping onto her lips.  Applejack raised an eyebrow in response, but the baker’s apprentice didn’t seem to care.  “I guess it really doesn’t matter…” she got down from her chair, and opened a drawer in her vanity.  “Oh Applejack.  Look at me…” she took something out of the drawer; Applejack saw a glimmer of a necklace she had just pulled out, wrapped around her hoof.  “Arguing with you… when I can just show you the cause of my troubles.”  She turned to face the farmer.  Her foreboding glare had returned.  “When I can show you what I’ve been through.”


Applejack stood still as Pinkemina approached her, knocking off her hat.  She yelped in surprise as the pink pony placed the necklace around her neck.  Pinkemina backed off a few steps to let Applejack examine the jewel.  The chain looked golden, and the singular jewel that made up the necklace was small, white, and shaped just like the balloons that were Pinkie’s cutie mark, the outline in gold as well.  “What the hay is this?”


“Something I got in the mail a week ago.  It looked like my cutie mark and was addressed to me, so I took it.  I wore it for a few days.”  She laughed.  It didn’t comfort Applejack in the slightest.   “At first, I thought it was a gift.  I get those sometimes- you know, for the parties I throw for everypony- but you know, I don’t think anypony ever noticed me wearing it.  Here.”  Pinkemina lead Applejack to her bed, making the farmer sit down on it.


“What’s goin’ on Pinkie?”  Pinkemina pressed her hoof against the necklace just as Applejack finished.  A light flickered from it, and Applejack fell against the covers of the bed with a peaceful snore.


Pinkemina decided to wait thirty seconds.  After all, she had done the math.  She knew what that necklace was capable of, and knew that anything longer than that might drastically hurt her friend.  She just wished to give Applejack a taste.


You didn’t need to wear this all the time…


But you did.  And that’s what caused all this.  You didn’t know what was happening.  It isn’t your fault.


What does it matter whose fault it is?  That… sickening piece of jewelry taught you things.  You’ve seen the future.  Seen what your friends do.


Those aren’t real, though!  Those visions are fake!


Who says?  Those visions seem to capture a few adventures pretty well… if they’re fake, they know your friends better than you do still…


That isn’t true!  They wouldn’t leave me…


So what are they doing now?


Thirty seconds.  She quickly awoke Applejack by shaking the farmer from her slumber.  It was a magical sleep, but it was easy to bring somepony out of it.


Applejack woke up with a start, bringing herself upright instantly.  Her face was full of panic, and when her eyes found the baker, she brought desperate hooves around her.  “Pinkie!  How long did ya leave me in there!?”


“Just thirty seconds Applejack.”


“Thirty… no… Pinkie, that was a whole day!  Ah kept waitin’ to get out, and it just kept goin’… blazes, it’ll take some time to forget that…”


“What did you see, Applejack?”


The farmer closed her eyes, as if recalling a distant memory.  “Ah saw… I’m not really sure.  A funeral for ya was part of it.”


Pinkemina was unperturbed.  “Yeah.  What after that?”


“Everypony talkin’ afterwards.  Twilight, Dash, Rarity… all of us.  It was clear that nopony seemed to care that you were gone, ‘cept me.  Ah kept bringin’ it up, and everypony even laughed.”  She shook her head slowly.  “These… they can’t be visions of the future.  Ah don’t believe it.”


“Yet, Applejack, what else can they be?”


“What… what do ya mean what else can they be?!  They could be fake!  They could be anything but the truth!”


“I’ve seen more in these visions than you could believe Applejack!”  Pinkemina yelled.  “Every night, even after I accidentally pressed it and figured out it was giving me those… visions, I would still see them.  I see everypony’s future… all of you having your fun, being friends without me.  I’m just some ghost in the night sky, watching as you all go on with your lives…”


Applejack could feel some anger boiling up from the naivety of her friend, but she tried to keep it down as she spoke.  “Ah hate to argue this Pinkie… but what does any of this matter?  They’re just dumb, made-up visions of all o’ us.  Just because ya see a funeral for yerself and nopony cares, doesn’t mean we really would.  Yer our best friend, Pinkie!”


“I knew you wouldn’t believe me.  I didn’t believe them at first either… until I did a little research.”  She slipped her head under her bed, and brought out a book.  It was fairly large; the baker’s apprentice had trouble lifting it to the bed, and when it landed, Applejack was almost thrown off.  She lowered herself from the bed anyway, and watched as Pinkemina went through the pages.  Applejack hadn’t seen the title, but she saw the section header that Pinkemina stopped at: “Physiology of the modern Pony.”


“Some of those visions… they show me the future.  Show me a future in a few hundred years.  Long past when we would be alive.”


The farmer raised an eyebrow.  “All right…”


She flipped a page, then another, then brought a hoof to the text she read aloud to the farmer.  “The life-span of a Unicorn Pony, Pegasus Pony, or Earth Pony is decided by… blah blah blah… here we go.  There’s a section here, and I’m going to read some of it.  Listen closely.


“’In recent years, another possible factor related to the lifespan of ponies has been revealed in several studies: the amount of magic in a pony determines part of their lifespan; it is one reason that Unicorns and Pegasi have had longer life spans than Earth Ponies, as duly noted time and time again through-out the centuries.  The Unicorn’s magic that lets them manipulate things with their will and Pegasus magic that lets them harness and control the elements, all have a significant impact on life span; to a lesser degree, the magical connection that Earth Ponies have to the environment also improve their lifespan, though it is still significant.  All of these things have a positive effect on the lifespan of a pony.  Magic is also by far the strongest factor in determining lifespan: without it, scientists estimate that a pony may only live for close to 20-30 years.  Yet, the current average life span as of PoLB (Post-Luna Banishment) 998 for the regular Unicorn or Pegasus pony is almost 80 years of age, regardless of gender, and 70 for that of the regular Earth Pony.’”


Pinkemina closed the book swiftly.  She turned an uncharacteristically soft look to Applejack before she spoke. “Applejack, tell me something.


“How long do you think you, I, and all of our friends will live?”


Applejack cringed.  She knew being an Earth Pony meant she would be among the earliest of her friends to pass on… but it was an inevitability she learned to deal with even as a teenager.  Ponies were as they were, and she couldn’t hope to change it, but that didn’t mean she liked being reminded of it.  Rainbow Dash was her best friend after all, and even as a foal, she had been friends with non-Earth Ponies.  She swallowed before answering, “Ah’d guess with what the averages say.  You and ah… maybe around 70ish.  The rest of us… 80s.  Especially Twilight.  But what does this have to do with anything?”


“You don’t get it, do you?  Of course not.”  She sighed.  “Let me piece it together for you.  Let’s say that jewel isn’t really giving me visions of the future.  Here’s what it could be doing: it came with visions inside of it so that anything could be played out for me to see, or it takes my memories and runs with what I know of my friends, and generates visions.”


Applejack sighed.  She didn’t want to sit there and discuss a stupid jewel, but she decided to go along with the pink mare anyway.  “Okay, so sayin’ this is true, and assumin’ that ah know anythin’ about magic in the first place, that latter idea sounds a lot easier and safer.  That way, the pony wouldn’t have to know the ponies she’s targettin’, and it looks best to the pony wearin’ it.”


“Right.  The visions would only be based on what I know, right?”


“Right… I don’t get what you’re hinting at, Pinkie Pie.  What does this have to do with that lifespan stuff?”


“If I’m being shown visions of the future as I know it, why would it show me visions of things a hundred years in the future?  We won’t be alive that long.”


“Yeah.  So it’s fake.”


She kicked at the ground in obvious frustration.  “Some of those visions were several hundred years later.  Maybe more.  If I don’t think we’ll live that long, why would it show us that?”


“Ya tell me, miss know-it-all.”  Wow, never thought ah’d call anypony but Twilight that…


“I looked it up earlier.  Just in the past few hours, Applejack, before you got here.  Each of us embodies an Element of Harmony… which is ‘the strongest magic known to Ponydom.’  What do you think having that in your body does… for your magic levels?”


Applejack’s eyes went wide.  “It could mean… we live for a really long time.”  She swallowed.  Is she right though?  Hundreds and hundreds of years?  Ah’d out-live… everypony ah ever knew.  Mah entire family…  Ah better get to Twilight on this later.


“I’ve seen so many hours of visions in that stupid thing, Applejack.  It knows our friends well.  Too well.  It isn’t just pre-constructed visions, and they aren’t based on what I know since I just pieced together that we’ll live for centuries, this morning.  It’s giving real visions, Applejack.  Visions of… me dying… and absolutely nopony but you caring!”


“Oh, landsakes Pinkie Pie, you ain’t gonna die!”  Applejack huffed in annoyance.  “It’s just a dumb vision.  They were all dumb visions.  Even… even if somethin’ happened, why would ah be the only pony to care, Pinkie Pie?  Ah wouldn’t be, we’d all care.  Heck, that just proves that it ain’t real anyway.”


Pinkemina looked to the farmer, her face not a glare of anger, but a faraway look of sorrow.  “Fine.  I believe you Applejack.  I believe you, because if I don’t, and I wouldn’t know what to believe.”  She looked to a clock in her room.  Applejack followed her gaze.  It was just past noon.  “Applejack… can you promise me something?”


“Of course, sugarcube.”


“Don’t… don’t ever forget me.”  Her voice was weak, almost regretful.


“What the hay does that mean?”


“Exactly what it means.  Don’t think too hard on it.”  She motioned to the door.  “Just come back here again tomorrow at the same time, okay?  I’m tired of this.  Of you.”  Pinkie had returned to her angry self from a sympathetic side before Applejack could take advantage of it.


“Hmph.  Fine.”  Applejack walked to the door, and as she opened it, she glanced back at the pink pony.  She was sitting on her haunches, her legs dangling over the side of the bed.  She was looking up towards the ceiling.  Applejack couldn’t read her face.


“Pinkie,” Applejack said with some concern, “You sure you’re okay?”


“I never said I was okay, Applejack.  We can talk more tomorrow.  I have some thinking to do right now, is all.”




Applejack didn’t even make it down the stairs when Mrs. Cake quickly asked how she was doing.  “Is everything all right, darling?  We heard some yelling up there…”


“Everythin’’s fine, Mrs. Cake.  Pinkie’s just a bit emotional is all.”


“Well, I’m glad you’re both okay.”  She sighed with relief.  “She does get like this sometimes, though.  Always worrisome.”


“Whaddya mean, ‘like this?’”


“Her hair straight, doesn’t talk with anypony, ornery, that sort of thing.  It happens when she gets depressed or gets some sad news.  I remember when it happened almost a year ago today, actually.”


Applejack couldn’t recall anything specific from this time last year, and pressed on it.  “What happened?”


“Pinkie didn’t tell us why, but she locked herself up in her room for three entire days.  We could hear sobbing, but she kept it to herself.  On the fourth day, she burst out, all peppy as she usually does, and tells us really nonchalantly that one of her sisters had been in an accident and died.”


“What!?”  Applejack’s jaw almost hit the floor.  “She didn’t tell any of us!  Ah don’t even remember when she was gone for three days straight… golly, that’s beyond awful.”


Mrs. Cake shook her head, still obviously worried.  “She must run herself ragged or something, keeping that all to herself.  Even if all you’re doing is listening, just be there for her, okay?  She loves us like her parents, but how often does a child tell their parents things like this?”


“You can depend on me, Mrs. Cake.  Ah swear, ah won’t let her down.”




High noon.  At least, that’s what her cousin Braeburn would call it.  Exactly 12:00, when the sun was at its highest point, and also it’s warmest.  It was humid too; even through her fur, the damp air clung to her skin, leaving her no comfort as she forced her mind to concentrate on the warm sunlight instead on the humidity.  The sky was cloudless, and she suspected Rainbow Dash was the cause.  Ah hope she’s sorted everythin’ out with Fluttershy.  After ah get some lunch, ah’ll go check up on her.  Applejack headed to the closest diner, getting a quick sandwich and glass of apple juice to satisfy what hunger she had, no matter how meager.


Pinkie Pie… what are ya doin’ to yourself?  Why can’t ya just talk to us?  We’re all yer friends… no.  Ah’ll trust ya.  Ya wanted to talk, and we did.  Even if all it did was leave me more confused… ah can tell it helped ya a little.  Ah just gotta keep playin’ counselor and everythin’ will turn out fine.


Applejack thought back on Pinkie Pie’s implications during her meal.  The idea of living so much longer than everypony around her made her shiver.  Livin’ and continuin’ on with everypony you know… dyin’, except for all six of us.  Ah can’t imagine that.  Maybe ah’ll run it by Twilight sometime… ah just hope it isn’t true.


Her sandwich wasn’t very appetizing.




The trek to Rainbow Dash’s cloud home was quick and easy.  Even in the hot and humid air, her own hat blocked enough of the sun to keep her vision clear.  Only several minutes after finishing her sandwich and leaving, she came upon the cyan mare’s floating house in the sky.


She was surprised to find that Rainbow Dash wasn’t napping.  She was hovering around her house, seemingly inspecting parts of it with a hardened gaze.  She would be flying slow circles around her house, stop, puff a few clouds or rip some out, and then continue the slow circle around it.


“Rainbow!”  Applejack called out.  “Can ya spare a few minutes to talk?”


“Sure thing AJ!  Just lemme fix this a little bit…”  She stopped at the landing of her house, the circular area around the front entrance.  She brought her two forehooves against it, smoothing it as she followed its circular edge.  The landing was probably only a foot thick, and close to seven feet in diameter, which was enough cloud to support a pegasus easily.  When she finished, she swooped down and landed in front of Applejack, a light smile on her face.  “What’s up?”


“What were ya doin’ up there?”  Applejack asked, purely curious.  “Ah hardly ever see ya mess with your house like that.”


“Oh.  Just fixing up some parts of it after… some stuff happened.  All this hot weather makes the clouds a little easier to break up, so I figured now would be a good time to, you know, spruce it up a bit.”


“Not to say yer a Rarity now, but ya ain’t normally one to, ya know, fuss over those kinda thin’s.  What’s on your mind?”


“After last night?  Tons, AJ.  I…”  Rainbow Dash looked up to the sky, as if recalling something.  “I asked Fluttershy to leave last night.  That kind of turned into me kicking her out.”


“Kicking her out?  Fluttershy?!”  Applejack was appalled.  Sure, ah can see Fluttershy being insistent on staying… but Rainbow Dash forcing her out?


“Yeah.  It took me a few hours to get to where I could ask Fluttershy to leave, as she was still hanging out with me at my house.  It… she looked hurt…”


“Ah… know this is a bad time to ask, but you’re sure she doesn’t love you?”


Rainbow Dash winced.  “She said she doesn’t.  She almost insists on it.  She just wants to take care of me.  Make sure I’m okay.  Ever since we got back from the forest, she’s been scared for me, we both know that.  It’s like… she thinks she needs to be depended on.  If that makes any sense.”


Applejack brought a hoof to her chin in thought.  “That’s kinda scary, and not all too surprisin’ either.  Ya were the first… pony she ever really cared for, it was all animals before.  Maybe she’s just that worried about you.”


“I don’t think that’s it, Applejack.  She was almost possessed; you weren’t there for it.  When I asked her to leave, she got… angry.  She almost hit me.  She yelled once.  Then she came to her senses and left, crying.  I… I was so stunned that I didn’t follow her.”


“You don’t think somepony…”  Applejack brought a hoof to her head, moving it in circles to signify a pony gone crazy.


Rainbow Dash shook her head.  “No.  Do you remember the Gala?”


“When she yelled at all the animals?  Ya think that happened again?”


“Probably.  She got over it pretty fast though, but she felt bad after it then, and she probably feels kinda bad now…” the cyan mare turned her head towards town, looking anxious.


Applejack sighed.  Ah’ve been mediator all day, might as well be mediator again.  “Should I go talk to her?”


Rainbow Dash took a second to respond, lost in her thoughts.  “What?”  She turned to the farmer and blinked a few times.  “Oh.  Uh, probably.  I would, but… I’m not sure she wants to see me, and I’m not sure I can see her without… you know.”


The farmer sighed again.  “Right.  I’ll hop to it.”  She turned and started walking to town, before Rainbow Dash flew over and landed in front of her.  “What now?”


“You okay, AJ?  You seem out of it.”


“Just a bit tired,” Applejack replied with a yawn.


“A bit tired?  You keep sighing, you’re walking at about half your normal pace and yawning and it’s like one pm.  You sleep at all?”


“Why are you so concerned?”


Rainbow Dash turned away quickly.  “I-I just am.”


Somehow, Rainbow Dash’s stutter made Applejack remember the previous night.  “Hey, that reminds me.  Applebloom told me you asked her a weird question yesterday.”


“O-oh yeah, I guess I did.  Ehehe.”  Her chuckle was nervous.


“Why did you wanna know if ah’d ever been seein’ anypony before?”


“Right.  Uhhhhh…” Rainbow Dash gave an awkward smile to the farmer before sighing, resigned.  “Guess I’ll stop being subtle about it.”


“So why did you wanna know?”  Applejack asked again.


Rainbow Dash swallowed.  “This is really awkward to say straight up, you know?”


“Out with it, Dash.”


“Fine.  I wanna know if you like mares or not.”  Rainbow Dash looked away, clearly embarrassed from having posing the question so openly.  Still looking away, she continued, “So do you?”


Applejack’s mouth twisted in thought.  “Ah… well, ah ain’t dated anypony, never really cared for it.  Always workin’ the farm.”  She finally shrugged.  “Ah got no idea.”


Rainbow Dash was dumbfounded.  “What?”


“Just what ah said Dash.  Ah don’t got a clue.  Never thought about it, and ah… ah only have what my parent’s told me on the subject.  They weren’t… ya know, ‘keen’ on the idea that their kids might be... like that, but they said they weren’t against what our heart wanted.”  Applejack raised an eyebrow at her cyan friend.  “Ya askin’ about me for some reason?”


“No, actually… I’m more worried about myself.”  She motioned for Applejack to follow her off the path.  Walking maybe 10 or so yards over a hill, Rainbow Dash sat on her haunches, ready to talk.  Applejack did the same, ready to listen.  “Look… I can tell you anything, right?”


“We’ve already been over this Dash.  ‘Course ya can.”  Applejack couldn’t stop from looking worried.  Ah just hope it ain’t as big a deal as before…


“Okay.  Well, it has to do with… the fact that I… you know, fell in love with Fluttershy in the first place.  I put a lot of thought into it after you and I apologized, and… I realized something that kind of scares me.”


“What’s on your mind?”


“I… I totally didn’t expect falling for Fluttershy.  Ever.  I was always so scared of falling for anypony because of… you know, Sky Swallower.  Even after I… recovered from her death, I still had a set distance that I always had between other ponies and me.  That’s why Gilda was my only friend before Ponyville.  She had already been my friend, and we were so competitive and short tempered that we kept others out of our group pretty easily.  But in Ponyville, and going on all these adventures with all of you…”


“Ya opened up again.  Even ah can see where this is goin’.”  Applejack nodded.  “Even after Fluttershy said no, yer worried somethin’ might come up, again, between you and another friend.”


Rainbow Dash nodded.  “Right.  I’m just making sure… that I’m not setting myself up for heart break again.  I don’t know if my body can take it.”  She fell on her back, letting her hooves hit the soft grass of the hill as she sighed with relief.  “Whew.  It’s kind of weird to have to explain all that.  It feels good though, getting it off my chest and stuff.  I don’t normally put so much thought into that kinda stuff.”


“You don’t put much thought into anythin’ you do, Dash.”  Applejack chided, chuckling to herself.


“Haha.  You’re a real comedian, Applejack.”  Rainbow Dash’s voice was dripping in sarcasm.  “So, I can count on you to be a ‘maybe?’  That’s reassuring.”


“Ah’ll tell ya as soon as ah figure it out, sugarcube.”


“You’d just tell somepony that?  That easily?”


“Why not?  Ah am who ah am.  Shouldn’t matter what gender ah like, right?”


Rainbow Dash looked up into the sky.  Applejack tried her best to read her face.  She thought it was a combination of relief, contemplation, and maybe even happiness.  “Right.  It shouldn’t matter…”


Applejack yawned again.  Why am ah so tired?  Ah haven’t even been up that long… time for a nap.  She decided to gingerly walk over to the shade of a nearby tree, lying down on her back and pulling her hat over her face to block out glimpses of sunlight that the swaying leaves would let land on her face.  She felt her motivation to walk into Ponyville sucked right out of her by her surroundings, an open field with short, vivid green grass, and a solitary tree.


“Hey.”  Rainbow Dash walked over to her a few seconds later.  “What are you doing?”


Applejack raised her hat a little and opened one eye, meeting the pegasus’s curious look.  “Takin’ a nap.  What’s it look like?”


“You never take naps.”


“Guess ah am now.”


Applejack closed her eyes, but never heard the sound of her friend’s hooves as she left.  The farmer opened and eye and saw that Rainbow Dash had decided to lay down on her stomach, legs sprawled out in an attempt to sleep, only a few feet away.


She kept an eye on the cyan mare for almost a minute before the pegasus finally opened an eye and asked, “What is it Applejack?”


The farmer chuckled, closing her eye and pulling the hat back over her face.  “Nothin’.  Wake me up when ya wake up, Sugarcube.”

About time ah set my priorities straight, Applejack thought to herself.


She had awoken slowly from her nap and decided not to disturb the quietly snoring Rainbow Dash beside her.  Looking at the sun, she took a guess that about an hour or two had passed and thus, decided it was the perfect nap.  She didn’t take them very often, but she tried to keep them short.  She didn’t like that feeling of being half asleep when she woke up; it generally meant that she wouldn’t work well on the farm, so she tried to rely on a good night’s sleep as often as possible.


Ah bet bein’ in one o’ them Epiphany thin’s don’t mean much for sleep…


It never slipped her mind once that entire day so far, that she was in danger.  One lie would mean… she still didn’t know.  It would mean she no longer possessed the element of Honesty – yet she felt that she was in absolutely no danger.


Lyin’ ain’t what ah do.  It just isn’t… but ah did once, she was right.  It was just for a party…


Pinkie Pie was worse off than she thought; she remembered the last time the baker had her hair straight and a less than appreciative mood.  On Pinkie’s previous birthday, the five of them had all attempted to throw her a surprise party, but it seemed the pink pony had completely forgotten, wanting to throw a “after birthday party” for her pet.  This put all of her friends into an awkward position – instead of Rainbow Dash simply dropping by and picking up Pinkie when they planned to have her party, they ended up having to sneak around and avoid the pink mare most of the day, and even made up excuses as to why they couldn’t meet with her for her party.  She remembered how stupid she felt when she made her excuse to the pink pony; that she had to pick apples.  Applejack bucked apples, and already had all she needed to collect that day since she had started at the bright and early hour of six AM, in order to be free for the rest of the day.  It was all she had at the time, so the excuse had just fallen out of her mouth.


It had been worse when later, they were setting up the party, and Pinkie Pie caught Rainbow Dash in town with saddle bags full of decorations.  The four of them were in the barn, waiting for the cyan pegasus, when they saw her being chased by the pink earth pony.  Rainbow Dash escaped into the barn only to have Pinkie knocking at its front door.  Applejack answered the ‘knocking,’ giving another excuse to explain what was going on inside the barn.  This they had planned, so applejack simply told Pinkie that they were performing construction.  With accompanying sound effect from the four hiding ponies, they managed to convince her that nothing of consequence was going on inside of the barn.


She may have been right that ah was lyin’… but it was better than ruinin’ a party for her.  She’s not in the right state o’ mind… those visions are messin’ with her.


The vision looked real, felt real.  Her friends had felt too real, that much was for sure; something hadn’t been right, but she couldn’t think of anything she had seen or felt that hadn’t been real.  Even her family… reacted how she thought they would.  That was… must be the magic messin’ with me.  It don’t matter what ah saw, because ah’d believe anythin’ comin’ out of that.


Not only that, but to the farmer, an entire day had passed in the span of thirty seconds, and that much alone scared her.  If Pinkie’s been havin’ those all night… golly, how many days is she experiencin’ just trying to sleep?  Forced to live all those days, and then they weren’t even real… is she sleepin’?  Why hasn’t she looked for anypony to help her-


She has been.  Twilight’s been busy, and so has everypony else.  Darn it, maybe ah should see if she’s really okay again… why didn’t ah see this before!?


The cyan pegasus next to her stirred, interrupting the farmer’s thoughts with a loud yawn as she stretched her forelegs.  Applejack opened one eye amidst her thoughts, seeing her friend lazily get to her feet.  She opened each eye slowly and saw that Applejack was already awake.  “How long you been up?”  She asked, still groggy from her sleep.


Applejack chuckled.  Rainbow Dash had slept almost thirty minutes longer than the farmer.  Getting to her own hooves quickly, the orange mare answered, “Not too long.  Figured ya’d need the sleep more than me, so ah didn’t wanna bother ya.”


Rainbow Dash extended her wings, stretching them a bit, then lifted off a few feet, taking to hovering over to the farmer instead of walking.  “I’m gonna go look for some stray clouds.  Flying right after a nap wakes me up fast.”


“Just gonna go work on your own time?”  Applejack responded with a raised eyebrow.


The pegasus nodded.  “Well, it’s good flying practice just before I start doing the real stuff.”  She flew a few feet higher, just outside of the tree’s reach, then stopped.  She turned around and asked, “What are you gonna do with yet another day off?”


Despite everything Applejack had to think about, she already had an answer.  She had no way of solving most of the problems she had in front of her, not right away... but there was one thing she could do, and that was to help out a friend.  “Ah’m gonna go see Fluttershy.”




The usual air of serenity met Applejack as she approached Fluttershy’s cottage.  It was a small ways off from Ponyville, being only a couple hundred feet from the Everfree Forest, yet it still had its connection to the town.  The path leading up to the cottage was surrounded by a grassy meadow and animal dens for all the kinds of animals the butter-yellow pegasus took care of.  The cottage itself looked like a house designed to look like a tree; the walls were all wooden, and the roofing covered entirely by tree leaves.  The simple browns and bright greens were all the colors in the area, and it gave a feeling that nature itself had built the house, and landscaped the area, when in reality it had been heavily added on to and changed by Fluttershy’s hard work.  She took it upon herself to take care of animals around the area (some pets of other ponies, some wild woodland creatures) without so much as making a job out of it.  Various entrances were located all around the cottage for the animals, ranging from mouse holes to bird houses that actually lead inside.


Applejack stood hesitant, yards away from the front door.  She had let her mind wander the entire walk over from where she had taken her nap, and hadn’t bothered to think about what to say.  Well, why should ah be bothered with that?  All ah gotta do is tell the truth.  Get her to explain what’s goin’ on, and we can mend this right up.  Ah’m tired of all this fightin’.


She walked up to the front door and brought up a hoof, knocking quietly.  She knew Fluttershy was easy to startle sometimes, and if she was distressed, being loud would make it harder for the pegasus to want to answer.


There wasn’t an answer.  She knocked again, slightly louder this time.  There was still nothing.  She tried the door handle, and it opened easily.  “Fluttershy?”  She called out, hoping for an answer, but receiving none.  Ah wouldn’t figure Fluttershy to be one for lockin’ her door anyway.


She poked her head inside.  The living room was dark, but she could make out some of the furniture; bookshelves, a table with some chairs, a couch, a fire place, as well as a spiral staircase and the entrance to the kitchen at the far side of the room.  She opened the door all the way, letting sunlight into the room.  Been a long time since ah’ve been in here... she thought as she took a second to examine her surroundings.  The same natural browns and greens, as well as the occasional pink in cushions and the wall paper, all gave the room a feel of being inspired by nature – even if Applejack had no idea where she was and had woken up in the room, she would have thought it perfect for the shy pegasus.  There were several animals inside, but they scattered as she looked around.  It ain’t right goin’ into her house without her permission, but ah’m just lookin’ for her, so no harm in jus’ takin’ a peek…


She took a few hesitant steps into the room, closing the door behind her.  Sure that nopony was in the room, she decided to check the kitchen and bathroom, and again found nopony.  “Fluttershy, are ya here?”  She called again.  Yet again without an answer, she decided to go upstairs and check the bedroom.  Maybe she’s just takin’ a nap… and she’s a heavy sleeper.  Sure.


She ascended the stairs to the door quickly, and came to the door, but found something odd: there was a pale blue glow emanating from beneath the door.  Somethin’ about that ain’t right! She swung the door open with her mouth.


Upon opening the door, she was assaulted through sound and light; what had been a pale blue glow exploded like a shining star, so bright that she was blinded for a few seconds, making the farmer shield her eyes out of safety.  The sound of a screaming pony shattered the veil of silence over the household, the terrified wails filling the farmer’s ears as she used her hooves to block the light from her eyes.  It felt like minutes before she could even register that the light had died down to a pale glow once again, and the quiet sound of moving air became the cabin’s ambience.


She opened her eyes cautiously and found a both peculiar and troubling scene: Fluttershy lay in bed, on her side and facing away from the door way, a transparent sphere of the pale blue light surrounding the pegasus completely.  She was perfectly audible now, and Applejack heard her whimpering quietly, as if being troubled in her sleep by nightmares.  At the foot of the bed stood a blue unicorn with a silvery white mane, in a purple robe and wizard hat with wild, white woven stars with seemingly no order.  She stood, leaning forward with eyes closed in concentration, and had what looked like a trail of blue light and mist was emanating from her hat and reaching to the sphere that surrounded Fluttershy.


Applejack recognized her instantly.  “Trixie!?”  She yelled, but the unicorn mare didn’t move.  “What are ya doin’ to Fluttershy!?”


Trixie opened one eye and looked at the farmer and gave her stern reply.  “Do not interfere, Applejack!”


“The hay ah won’t!”  Applejack yelled back, growing more angry by the second.  “Tell me what you’re doin’ before ah buck you across this room!”


Trixie couldn’t respond; one of her hooves slipped, the mare focusing on righting her stance instead of responding to Applejack, obviously pouring every ounce of energy and concentration she had into the spell.  Applejack looked to Fluttershy, then back to Trixie, hesitating.  It looks like she’s hurtin’ Fluttershy… but… there’s no reason Fluttershy would be in bed at this time of day.  She took a few tentative steps closer, and heard the pegasus.  She wasn’t just talking in her sleep, but she was more whimpering – she sounded as if she was in great pain, even Applejack could hear that.  She saw the magic from Trixie brighten a second, the pulse making its way to the sphere, and with it came a yelp from the pegasus.  That’s it!  Nothin’s so important that she can’t just stop and tell me what’s goin’ on!


She took off full sprint towards the blue unicorn, readying her hind legs for a quick and powerful kick.  As she swung around for the buck Trixie’s side, the unicorn stopped whatever she was channeling, and turned to face her, her horn lighting up as her body became covered in the same blue light.  Applejack’s bucked hard, her legs connecting and sending Trixie flying into the wall on the far side of the room.  She slammed into the wall, leaving a cracked outline of her form as she fell to the floor, the light then fading from around her body, as if a mist were.  Applejack stared down at the magician as she stood at the edge of the bed where the unicorn had stood just seconds earlier.


As Trixie got back to her feet at a pace that telegraphed the difficulty of her task, Applejack called out to her.  “Now tell me what you were doin’ with Fluttershy!?”


I was saving her!”  Trixie’s virulent scream startled the farmer, rendering her unable to react to the unicorn’s next move: her horn glowed again, and Applejack felt her body be surrounded by a force, as if she were wrapped up tightly in a straight jacket, though her hooves were still extended.  Her body started floating up to the ceiling, a similar force pushing her up from below.  Unable to move her limbs, or even her head, she slowly floated up until her head tapped the ceiling, the force pushing her up then stopping, leaving the farmer hanging in the air like gaudy, pony-shaped chandelier.


Trixie’s horn stopped glowing, and she ran over to her care, whose cries had grown slightly louder.  Ah’ve never seen Twilight do magic like this… all ah can do is move mah eyes and mouth.  What in tarnation did she do?


Trixie turned Fluttershy over, and started the same spell she had been casting when Applejack burst into the room earlier.  From this angle, the farmer saw exactly what she had been talking about: part of Fluttershy’s bed was soaked in blood, and the pegasus herself had been wounded.  She saw a large, red opening in the left side of her chest.  Blood was falling out much faster than it should from anypony, staining her coat as it fell to the mattress and the floor.  The caretaker was now whimpering and crying quietly from pain, yet somehow still unconscious


“Wha-What happened to her?”  Applejack said, her voice barely above a whisper.


“Quiet… mending her wound…” Trixie grunted, still concentrating on the spell at hand.


Applejack shut herself up, watching helplessly as her friend’s wounded cries penetrated her conscience like needles to the heart.  Ah… ah messed up big time… ah just hope she’ll be okay.  After about a minute, the bleeding became noticeably slower, and after ten, the wound started closing up as the blood stopped completely; skin started becoming visible where the gash had been earlier and blood was even being taken out of her coat.  Once the wound was sealed, Trixie’s magic ended and she collapsed from exhaustion, the line of light from her horn snapping like a thin and tightly held rope.  Gathering herself up again, she flicked her head at Applejack, and in a flash of magical light, the farmer fell to the floor.  She scrambled to her hooves and ran up next to Fluttershy.  The pegasus had grown quiet, and was now sleeping silently on the bed, which was still stained maroon from her wound.


She looked at Trixie, who was examining where the injury had once been, a soft glow emanating from her horn in the shape of a cone, moving along Fluttershy’s body.  “Is… is she gonna be okay?”


“Trixie believes...” she paused, and shook her head in bewilderment. “ I mean, I believe she will be just fine.  She’s lost a lot of blood, but not enough to require a transfusion or threaten her life.  She’ll need lots of rest, and won’t be able to do anything too strenuous.”  The unicorn then stopped her spell and turned to Applejack, her face one of seething rage.  She slapped the farmer across the face as she yelled, “What the hell were you thinking!?  Fluttershy was mortally wounded when I started this!  If you had actually managed to knock me out or delay me for another couple of minutes, she might not be alive right now!”


Applejack felt as if her heart being ripped out of her chest – she couldn’t begin to think how she, or anypony else, might react if one of their friends died.  Let alone Fluttershy, the sweetest and kindest pony of all of Ponyville.  She took a few steps back, looking down in shame, her voice barely above a whisper.  “Ah… Ah just thought… she was in danger and ya were hurtin’ her… so ah… ah just wanted…”


Trixie snorted.  “Why would you think I was hurting her at all?  Is she not a friend?”


Applejack thought briefly on Trixie; though she had not known her well, not having more than a few conversations with her, she really didn’t have any reason to think she was dangerous.  Ah really should be a bit more trustin’…  ”You’re right Trixie.  Ah’m sorry, ah was just… startled, is all.  Ah just thought-“


“Well, it isn’t important.”  Trixie interrupted her with a wave of the hoof.  “While you’re here, perhaps you can make yourself useful; we should clean up the room.”  She motioned with a hoof to the now maroon bed, the once white and pristine sheets now tainted with blood, and to the red pool on the floor, just below where Fluttershy was currently sleeping.


Applejack nodded, but was hesitant to cooperate.  “Do you know what hurt Fluttershy?  And why are you still in Ponyville?  Twilight said you were in Fillydelphia.”


Trixie sighed, shaking her head.  “Please, Applejack, keep your priorities straight.”  She stopped messing with the bed, and walked over to Applejack.  “You have a simple decision, farmer: you can interrogate me on why I have not been entirely truthful to Twilight Sparkle for the better part of a week, or you may ignore the aftermath of Fluttershy being assaulted.”


Applejack’s jaw dropped.  “She was attacked by another pony?”


Trixie chose to blow off her question, giving out orders. “I’ll go find something to clean this up with, you watch her.”  She walked to the bedroom door and then turned her head to speak once more before going downstairs.  “All will be explained in due time, Applejack.  For now, focus on your friend.”




Time passed fairly quickly after they cleaned up the room, the bedroom now looking perfectly clean as the pegasus slept as sound as she ever had.  Applejack and Trixie walked downstairs, the farmer electing to cook for the two of them as they wait for the pegasus to wake up.


One salad-with-caramelized-apple later, Applejack was watching some birds flying around the room when Trixie spoke up.  “I get the feeling you have some questions for me.  I suppose I’m obligated to answer them, in my unique position.”


Applejack snorted.  Livin’ with Twilight hasn’t done much to her arrogance... “What happened to Fluttershy?”


Trixie nodded.  “An easy one.  I was returning from another of my ventures into the Everfree Forest,” She paused, and raised a hoof for the question that Applejack was about to ask, silencing the earth pony.  “I shall explain later.  Anyway, I was returning to Fluttershy’s cottage when I saw her talking to another unicorn just outside her door, on the small bridge.  I had not seen this unicorn in Ponyville previously.  She had very dark fur, and a dark mane as well, so dark she might as well have been all black.”  Trixie paused to ask, “Do you know who this unicorn might be?”


“Ah have a good idea, yeah,” Applejack answered.  That’s gotta be Aile.  Ah got some words for her the next time ah see her…


“I suppose you’ll know who to avoid or press charges against then.  Continuing on, they were talking, and the unicorn started yelling at Fluttershy.  She was so scared that she started backing up away from this strange pony.  The unicorn suddenly tried to kick Fluttershy a few times, but missed each time.  In a panic, Fluttershy attempted to fly over and past her, probably to Ponyville.  In response, the unicorn used some kind of magic to jump higher and faster than I’ve ever seen to shoot upwards and stab Fluttershy through the chest with her horn.”  Applejack gasped at this, but Trixie continued unabated.  “Fluttershy tumbled to the ground, screaming in pain.  The unicorn panicked and looked around, then cast some kind of spell, which I wasn’t aware of until I arrived at the scene.  She darted off into town right after that, and that was when I ran over to help Fluttershy.”  She shook her head to herself.  “I noticed that the ground’s blood had been cleaned up completely and Fluttershy was bleeding very slowly.  It appears she may not have truly wanted to harm her, but ended up doing such anyway.”


Applejack thought for a moment.  “How long until she was in her room and you were healin’ her?”


“I levitated her in through the window as I ran up to her bedroom through her house.  I guess it had been close to five or seven minutes since she I started casting, and you came in,” Trixie answered.


“Well, ah didn’t see or hear any of this, and it’s a pretty clear path from town to Fluttershy’s.”


“Maybe she cast some kind of spell to make it a scene that was hard to see from a distance, so she wouldn’t be spotted here.  Maybe she ran off of the path.”  Trixie seemed bored in her responses.


Applejack shook her head again.  “It’s confusin’ though...”


Trixie raised an eyebrow.  “What is?”


“She left a pegasus, wounded and bleeding to death, on the ground, and didn’t bother to get help, despite helpin’ herself.”  Applejack brought a hoof to her chin.  “Ah’ve seen accidental unicorn attacks before.  They aren’t rare.  Ponies are really understandin’ about them – it comes with bein’ a unicorn.  Why was she so scared?”


“Ask her when you find her, but I don’t really know.  Now, is that all?”


“Well, no.  Ah’d like to know why ya’ve been lyin’ to Twilight about what you’ve been doin’.  She said you were gone to Fillydelphia.  But ya’ve been stayin’ in Ponyville, at Fluttershy’s even?”


Trixie got up, completely ignoring the question.  “Let’s check up on her then.”  She walked past the farmer and started heading up the stairs.


Applejack watched her walk up the stairs, feeling more confused than ever.  If that unicorn that attacked Fluttershy was Aile… well, why would she attack her?  Fluttershy sure didn’t sound like she was trying to hurt her… and what use is it to her hurtin’ somepony who has an Element of Harmony?  If Fluttershy had died, would she be able to still take it?  That’s when Applejack felt something click.


Unless she isn’t the pony who’s been after us.




The pegasus was still sleeping soundly as the two mares entered the room.  Trixie mentioned quietly that she not be asleep much longer, her magic only keeping her asleep as long as it took to heal and not much past that, so the two of them decided to wait it out in the room.  They went to the far side of the room, near the only window, opening it to let in the breeze of fresh air that wasn’t in the stuffy room previously, and sat down on pair of chairs.


They exchanged small talk as they waited – the farmer talking about the farm, business, and family, while Trixie related her ventures to the farmer.  Little had changed from the last time the magician related her tales, though with the two being alone for the first time, she elaborated further than she had when she was at Twilight’s birthday party almost two weeks ago: after being driven out of Ponyville (which hadn’t been the first time she was run out of a city or town), she decided to try real magical work.  Taking up housing with her parents in Canterlot, her initial attempt was entertainment, but none of her routines were considered good enough, and it took her too long to learn new ones that were more complicated; all she was good at was small transmutations and larger illusions.  With that, she decided to try working in laboratories, taking on manual labor with her magic as a kind of intern.  After a while, her magical ability had begun to be noticed, and they asked her to help a few chemists for a day.  Her ability to transmute small samples so quickly and effortlessly, as well as manipulating heat, simple teleportation and levitation that were some of the strongest they had ever seen, made her invaluable to them.


Her position wasn’t one anypony ever thought of before; freelance magical assistant.  She didn’t always understand what she was doing, but having such solid skill in magic didn’t mean she had to understand every reaction she catalyzed.  She wasn’t entirely happy with the job – it garnered no attention, but it paid well enough.  She started taking on larger projects, and her name was becoming slightly well known.  This was about the time she had come to Ponyville; out to research the effects of a certain magical plant, the same one Twilight was studying about its effects on memory and emotions, she had accidentally found Fluttershy in the forest.


Applejack knew that story well enough.  “Flutteshy was lucky to find you.  Ah still think about what might have happened to Dash if ya hadn’t decided to go look for that darned plant.”


“There isn’t much to think about; she would have died of blood loss.”  Her expression of indifference struck the farmer.  “I don’t mince words, farmer.  Rainbow Dash basically preformed a Sonic Rainboom into the ground.  No amount of cushioning will prevent injury.  What you can do is blame that plant she thought would cure Rainbow Dash.  If Fluttershy hadn’t given that to her, she may not have had such an overreaction to after its effects wore off, and they may have reached Ponyville in a few days and had no issues.”


Applejack took in a comfortable sigh, leaning back against the chair, a pleasant smile now on her face.  “Ya know, that plant seems tied up in a lot of things, don’t it?”


“What does that mean?”  Trixie asked, completely clueless.


“Dash almost dies cause of that darned plant.  Ya find her and save her cause of that darned plant.  Does it even have a darned name?”


“Not that I’m aware of.”  Trixie brought a hoof to her chin in thought.  “I’m actually one of the first ponies to participate in research about its effects.  It’s known, but… well, I can’t recall a name.  If Twilight is studying it, I’m sure she’ll come up with a suitable name.  As much as I can’t stand her, she’s quite intelligent.”  Her expression hardened again.  “Now, I don’t quite understand; the plant is related to ‘a lot of things?’ Besides what happened in the greater area of Whitetail Wood?”


“Somepony has been messin’ with the six of us, makin’ emotions flare up and stuff.  Twilight thinks it’s similar to that stupid thing.”


“You’re in danger?”  Trixie was leaning forward now, deeply interested.


Did Fluttershy really not mention it?  Well, actually, now that ah think about it, she’s been with Dash most of the time… “Somepony wants to take the elements of harmony from us.”


Trixie raised an eyebrow.  “Aren’t those locked up in Canterlot?”


She would know about Nightmare Moon and Discord, wouldn’t she?  News must be pretty big everywhere but here… “Ah don’t know the specifics, but we’re still the only ponies that can use ‘em.  Part of us must still be connected to ‘em somehow, because sometimes we get visions about somepony threatening to take them.”


Applejack then imparted to Trixie the details of their Epiphanies, and then what she knew about what the others had experienced as well.  The cloudy area, how the element-pony would suddenly appear before them, their voice and tones even; wise, powerful, but brief and strict.  The large amount of magic they required, and what caused them to occur: somepony trying to take the element when the corrupted pony was at her weakest.  Once the farmer had finished explaining, Trixie sat in silence for a few minutes, pondering.  Applejack had left out her conjecture about the traveling magician, Aile, being her number one suspect, especially with this attack on Fluttershy, considering how counterproductive it seemed to her goal.


After a few more peacefully silent minutes between the two mares, they heard an exhausted yawn come from Fluttershy’s bed.  Both heads turned instantly to see the pegasus now sitting up, stretching her forelegs, and even unfolding her wings to flap them a few times, loosening them up.  Applejack and Trixie got out of their chairs, walking over to the pegasus.  The magician cleared her throat to get Fluttershy’s attention, who turned around instantly, wide eyed in surprise.  “H-Hello uh, Applejack, Trixie..”  She said, still surprised.


“You feelin’ better sugarcube?”


“J-Just a little tired.  But… what’s going on?”  She looked up in thought.  “I don’t remember… what happened...”


Applejack was cut off before she could even start by Trixie’s explanation.  “I saved you after you were attacked by that unicorn, and she happened upon you while you were passed out.”  She sneered at Applejack, causing her to lower her gaze ever so slightly.  “Are you all right?  You aren’t in pain right now are you?”


“Oh no, I’m just, y-you know, tired, a little dizzy.  If I lost a lot of blood, then th-that’s expected.  I’m okay, really.  Thank you for the help, Trixie.”


“Do ya need anythin’, sugarcube?”  Applejack asked quickly, before the unicorn could respond.  The farmer received another glare for her effort.


Fluttershy thought for a second before answering, “Well, now that you mention it, I am kind of hungry…”


“Well, then lemme go and make ya somethin’ real quick.  Trixie knew ya’d be tired, and since ah interrupted her, ah figure ah should try and make it up to ya.”


Fluttershy tilted her head in curiosity.  “Since you did what?”


Applejack was about to speak up as Trixie raised a hoof to silence her.  “I’ll explain everything that happened after you passed out, Fluttershy.  Let’s let Applejack do her thing.”


Fluttershy nodded.  Applejack started to head towards the door, but caught the pegasus’s weak smile aimed at the farmer.  “I’m glad to know you’ll always be there, Applejack.”


The farmer smiled back.  “Ah’m Ponyville’s most dependable pony.   Would ya expect any less?”

Making the soup took her a little longer than she had expected, but it had come out tasting spectacular; it wasn’t apples, but tomato soup wasn’t a challenge for the farmer.  As she readied a tray with the soup, some toast, and a glass of water, she heard the bedroom door open.  She walked out of the kitchen to see Trixie going down the stairs.


The unicorn noticed the farmer as she reached the bottom of the staircase.  Her expression turned into a relaxed smile as she explained Fluttershy’s condition. “She’s perfectly healthy, as I guessed; the wound has mended up quite fine, though without any fur currently covering the wound.  She just has some low blood sugar from that blood loss.  Food and rest will be all she needs… and if you’d be so kind, I’d like a request of you.”


“Sure thin’,” Applejack responded cheerfully.


“I recommend you spend the night with her.”  Trixie’s face turned stern in an instant.  “I’m worried the pony that attacked her might come back, and I can’t stay the night.”


Applejack nodded.  She knew that, from Trixie’s “testimony” earlier, that it didn’t look like she had “planned” to attack Fluttershy; yet, the fact that she wasn’t provoked into attacking the meekest of ponies meant that maybe, for some reason, getting rid of Fluttershy was this pony’s best option.  “Ah’ll keep her safe Trixie, but where do you have to go?”


“Into the Everfree Forest.  I do not have time to explain.  Perhaps we will the next time we meet.  Good luck.”


Applejack watched the magician leave, and decided against thinking about her.  The farmer instead decided to care for Fluttershy first and foremost; she retrieved the tray from the kitchen and went up the spiral staircase and into Fluttershy’s room.


Fluttershy was still in her bed and sitting upright, while still mostly under the covers.  She turned to meet the farmer as she entered the room.  Applejack noticed that she looked a little worried as she spoke. “Oh, hi Applejack,” she said, looking around aimlessly, her gaze drifting around and fixating on various pieces of furniture in the room for a few seconds before continuing, “Is Trixie gone?”


Applejack nodded, unable to talk properly with the tray in her mouth.  At her response, Fluttershy started outright sobbing, the pegasus barely staying upright on the bed, her face falling forward into her hooves.  The orange mare was so startled by her friend’s sudden change that she almost dropped the tray.  She managed to keep her composure and slowly set it down on a chair near her instead before rushing up to the weeping pegasus.  “F-Fluttershy?  What’s the matter?  Did soemthin’ happen?!  Are ya hurt?!”


Fluttershy brought up her head a few inches, looking up to Applejack with desperate eyes.  The farmer saw her mouth quiver, opening just the smallest way before she burst into another set of sobs and brought her head down into her hooves again.


Applejack hadn’t the faintest clue how to respond.  She didn’t expect Fluttershy to suddenly burst out crying, no matter how meek the earth pony thought her friend was.  She did know that she couldn’t leave her alone in her distressed state; Fluttershy wasn’t the strongest pony she knew, that much was for sure, but she could stand up for her friends, and Applejack wasn’t about to walk away when her friend needed her.


Applejack slowly went around to the other side of the bed and got onto it, sitting right next to Fluttershy.  After a few seconds, Fluttershy looked at her curiously as she tilted her head without taking it away from her hooves.  The farmer then took her into a sudden hug, squeezing the pegasus tightly.  “Fluttershy… ya don’t have to worry about anythin’ right now, okay?  Nopony’s gonna hurt you…”


Fluttershy weakly brought her own hooves around the farmer, crying into her friend’s mane.  “B-But Applejack... for the s-second time in my life... somepony’s tried... to kill me.  Why... why would they do that?”


Applejack wanted to approach the subject delicately, but she had no idea what to say besides the plain and simple truth: There are just evil ponies out there who would step over anypony in their way to get what they want.  Yet even she had trouble saying this, despite knowing that Fluttershy was an adult who should be able to handle this.  She knew these kinds of things, but Applejack wanted to be comforting.  Ah can’t mince words, but ah can still say somethin’...


“Fluttershy,” she said, pulling herself out of the hug to looking Fluttershy’s large, tear-filled eyes, “ah hate to say it, but it needs to be said.”  Even with tears still slowly leaking from her eyes, the pegasus managed a confused, curious expression.  “There are all kinds of ponies, Fluttershy.  Good, kind, generous, bad, violent, selfish, all kinds.  These ponies will just do what comes natural to them.  You take care of animals, and ah take care of the farm and mah family.  Some ponies lie and cheat, and others attack ponies.”


“But why attack me?”  Fluttershy said, almost pleading with the farmer, as if she could change how the world worked.  “What have I ever done to anypony?  Why do there have to be ponies that want to do bad things like... what she did to me...”


Applejack closed her eyes, as if thinking in great detail about how to respond, yet she answered quickly, “Nature.”


“Nature?”  Fluttershy repeated, extremely confused.


“Yeah, nature.”  Applejack moved herself to Fluttershy’s side of the bed, sitting next to her as she let her hind legs dangle over the side of the bed.  “This might be a bit hard to explain… but there isn’t exactly a reason, so to speak.  See, there’s nothin’ decidin’ that somewhere today, somepony is gonna go and attack somepony else.  There’s nothin’ decidin’ that somewhere, an earthquake will hit a city so hard that buildin’s fall and ponies get hurt.  There’s nothin’ sayin’ ‘today, ah think that this nice, kind pony should die.’  Bad thin’s happen to good ponies because that’s just in the nature of bad ponies, and they’ll do what’s natural to them.”


Fluttershy was in rapt attention the entire time, wide eyed as she stared at the farmer, and after a few seconds, her gaze moved downward, towards away from her comforter and friend.  Applejack cleared her throat and started again.  “Look, that was a really roundabout way of me sayin’ that there isn’t really a reason.  Ya didn’t do anything to deserve what happened to ya, Fluttershy.  Nopony deserves bein’ hurt like that.  So what ah want you to do,” she took a hoof to Fluttershy’s chin, moving her face up to meet her own, “is chin up.  Know that whoever that pony was, that yer friends will make sure she doesn’t ever hurt ya again.”


Fluttershy nodded, the pegasus still looking somewhat distracted.  “Thanks Applejack.  You… you always know just what to say.”  As she looked up to smile, her stomach grumbled loudly, interrupting any further thoughts either pony could have on the matter.  There was a moment of silence, and then Fluttershy started to chuckle.  “My, I didn’t notice it before, but I’m actually really hungry!”


Applejack laughed.  “Trixie knew ya would be, so ah made some soup while ya’ll were up here talkin’.”  She got off the bed, heading over to the tray of soup that was still sitting on a chair near the entrance to the bedroom.  The soup wasn’t as hot as it was when she brought it up, but it was still pleasantly warm, from what she could tell by quickly taking a big whiff of it.  She brought it over to the pegasus, placing it on her lap.


Fluttershy gave the soup a sideways glance.  “You made something that wasn’t apples?”


Applejack groaned as she placed the soup over Fluttershy’s lap.  “No, Fluttershy, not everythin’ ah make has apples in it!”  Applejack’s indignation made the pegasus chuckle again.  “Believe it or not, ah actually know how to cook.”


“I’m sure it’s good Applejack, I was just surprised is all.”  She took a spoonful of the soup, letting the liquid glide over her tongue slowly and swallowing it slowly as she studied the taste.  “Wow, Applejack, that really is good!”


“Granny’s old recipe.  She always made it for us when we… were tired of apples.”  Fluttershy didn’t respond to Applejack’s attempt at humor, intent on finishing the soup as fast as possible, taking large spoonfuls of soup, barely pausing to touch her water or the toast.  She musta been really hungry…


In a few minutes, Fluttershy had finished the soup.  Her face brimming with happiness, she looked to Applejack, who barely had enough time to retrieve a chair for herself.  Her jaw was dropped as she sat opposite of the pegasus.  “Fluttershy, ya ate that faster’n anypony ah’ve ever seen eat in mah life.”


“I-I was hungry… and it was really good…”  Her voice turned quiet and she blushed out of embarrassment.


Applejack figured she was self conscious of having acted so differently around her friend.  “Don’t fret none, sugarcube; it means yer already startin’ to feel better.”  Applejack got out of her chair.  “There’s still some more sittin’ on the heat in the kitchen.  Ya need another bowl?”  Fluttershy nodded quickly, still somewhat embarrassed.  “Well then, gimme a minute, and ah’ll be back with another bowl for ya, lickety split.”


Applejack took the tray in her mouth and headed towards the door, glad her friend was already feeling better, mentally and physically.  She didn’t hear Fluttershy whisper to herself as the farmer exited the room, “thanks Applejack.  Thanks for always being there.”




They spent the afternoon in each other’s company, Fluttershy finishing her second bowl at a much slower pace as she conversed with Applejack. The farmer decided that she would avoid what were probably sore subjects to the caretaker: Rainbow Dash.  She figured that the pegasus had enough on her mind with being attacked earlier that day, so Applejack made due with small talk: asking Fluttershy about her animals, and in turn talking about her own ventures with the farm.


As the evening started rolling around, Applejack decided to ask Fluttershy if she was well enough to walk around, and if she needed any help caring for the animals.  In response, the pegasus slid out of bed, standing on all four of her hooves quite easily.  Giving an affirming nod, the two headed downstairs to see to her chores, mostly caring for and feeding animals.  For the first time all evening, Angel Bunny appeared, not remotely worried for the pegasus, but still quite demanding that he receive a carrot.


Both ponies split up duties evenly, finishing Fluttershy’s chores wasn’t a problem; she had already done most of them that morning, before the attack, so it was laid back enough for the still-recovering pegasus to accomplish her tasks without issue.  Applejack had no problem either, despite the animals being somewhat wary of a new pony giving them their food.


When they were finished, Fluttershy opted to make some tea for the two of them, and they decided to relax for a while in Fluttershy’s living room, sitting around her coffee table.


It was then that Fluttershy posed an odd question.  “Would you... like to go for a walk?  Out to the outskirts of the Everfree Forest?”


Applejack looked at her with a raised eyebrow.  “Why would ya wanna do that?”


“Well, we’ve only been outside to feed the animals, and, you know, I don’t really like being cooped up all day, even if it is with a good friend.”


Applejack shook her head.  “Ah can sympathize with ya Fluttershy, but ah’m here to protect ya from that pony.  What if she comes to attack us?  The Everfree Forest might be the only place we can run.”


Fluttershy moved forward with a certain urgency as she responded immediately, “I know Applejack, but I need this right now.  You’re here to protect me aren’t you?”


“Well yeah, but-“


“Then you just have to come with me, and everything will be all right!  I promise!”


The pegasus sudden assertiveness struck Applejack as odd.  She sighed, knowing in her mind that as much as she wanted to keep her friend safe, that it was doubtful anything would happen.  What right do ah have to refuse her somethin’ so simple as walkin’?  “Fine,” she said, disheartened, “Just promise me two things, okay?


“Anything! It’s the least I can do with all you’ve done for me today!”


“First promise that if we so much as see a monster from that forest or a dark-furred unicorn, that we’ll turn around and ya’ll fly away if they get too close, and  ya won’t freeze up on me like ya did when we had to go get that nappin’ dragon out of Equestria.”


Fluttershy blushed as she recalled the incident, and she nodded to Applejack.  “That’s no problem,” she responded, “but what’s the other promise?”


“Is it okay if ah ask what Trixie’s been doin’?”


The yellow pegasus raised an eyebrow.  “That’s fine.  She... wants to keep it a secret, but since you’ve seen her, you might as well know.  As long as you don’t tell anypony else, okay?”


“Ah won’t until she does.”  Applejack got off of her chair, motioning with a hoof for Fluttershy to follow her.  “Well, let’s go then!”  Applejack headed for the door, and turned to see a dumbfounded Fluttershy just staring at her.  She coughed, which brought the pegasus out of her staggered state.  She got off of her couch and walked swiftly to meet the earth pony.


This place still gives me the creeps, no matter how many times we go in, the farmer thought, looking down at the path that led to the forest.  The simple light-brown dirt path with tall, grassy fields on either side shifted instantly into a wide and wild path with gnarled trees and ominous flowers on either side.  They took a right, along another dirt path that was just feet away from the trees that made up the seemingly wall-like appearance of the forest.


Applejack’s thoughts strayed as they walked along the path, Fluttershy seeming to understand the comfortable silence between them.  Nopony in mah lifetime’s ever been hurt in here, unless the six of us count as getting’ hurt, the farmer thought.  Is this place really so dangerous?  She shook her head to herself, falling a few steps behind the pegasus to draw less attention to herself.  No, of course it’s dangerous.  We’ve found manticores, a hydra, a cockatrice, even a dragon in this forest.  It’s dangerous… but just being outside of it should be safe enough, right?  Fluttershy’s lived out here as long as ah’ve known her… she knows the dangers.




“Wah!”  The farmer leaped yards into the air out of pure surprise, barely managing to land on all four hooves.  She looked to Fluttershy, only to see her giggle.  Applejack cleared her throat before speaking, “Sorry, ya just… startled me a bit.”


“I can see that.”  Fluttershy smiled warmly as she asked, “What were you doing?”


“Thinkin’,” she responded.  She started walking again, a slightly brisker pace than they had earlier.


Fluttershy matched it with little effort, walking alongside the farmer.  “About what?”




She frowned.  “It’s fine if you don’t want to talk about it.”


The orange mare shook her head.  “No, that ain’t it.  Mah mind’s just swimmin’ with all this… ‘new information,’ ah suppose.”


“What do you mean?”  Fluttershy asked, attempting to be helpful.  “Do you need to talk about anything?”


“Well... ah never said what ah came over here for, did ah?”


“No, but I didn’t think it mattered.  You came, you helped Trixie after... a little misunderstanding, and now you’re protecting me!”  She met Applejack’s eyes with a curious glance.  “What did you need, Applejack?”


Ah wanted to ask ya why ya were so upset about Dash askin’ ya leave her alone, even for just one dang night.  Applejack’s thoughts were so abrupt that she almost stopped walking.  She resumed her pace in a second, her friend no noticing her pause.  No, that’s just… why ah came over here, right?  ah can ask about somethin’ else…


“Is something the matter, Applejack?”  Fluttershy noticed how distracted Applejack was.


Now it was unavoidable.  No, she thought, attempting to be stern with herself, just say what ya really wanna say, and it’ll be okay.


Applejack took a deep breath, bracing herself as she asked, “The original reason ah came over here was to see how you were doing.”


“What do you mean?”  Fluttershy’s expression turned worried.


“Well… Dash told me what happened last night.”


“O-Oh… she did…” Fluttershy looked away in shame.  “I… could we please-“


“Ah’m sorry if ya don’t wanna talk about it.  Forget ah asked; how about we start with somethin’… not so personal.”  Fluttershy nodded while still looking away, and Applejack continued.  “Why don’t ya tell me what Trixie’s been doing, like we talked about earlier?”


Fluttershy nodded again, and started looking more comfortable immediately.  Guess she really is okay… ah was worried she might start ballin’ again… “Trixie… she’s been in the Everfree Forest trying to regain her magic.”


Applejack nodded.  “Well, it looks like she’s been successful…”


“She hasn’t... exactly been successful, actually,” Fluttershy clarified.


“What?”  Applejack came to a halt.  “Fluttershy, her magic is what saved ya today!  She used it to keep me floatin’ up to the ceilin’ so ah couldn’t stop her!


Fluttershy turned and nodded, stopping as well.  “What she used today... wasn’t her magic exactly.  It’s a different kind of magic.”


“What does that mean?  Isn’t all magic the same?”


Fluttershy shook her head, and quietly cleared her throat, readying an explanation.  “Well, uh, how she explained it, not really.  Unicorn magic is just them making things happen around them, like moving things through the air or changing it into something else.  They can also use their magic to do whatever it is their special talent is, like how Rarity always uses it to do all of her work in her shop.”


“Ah guess the only time ah’ve seen her use her hooves is when she’s usin’ a sewing machine... and that’s only ‘cause it’s faster than magic.”


Fluttershy nodded.  “There are other kinds of magic beyond those, though.”  Fluttershy’s expression turned cheerful.  “Pegasi and Earth Ponies have magic too.”


Applejack raised an eyebrow.  “Yer tellin’ me ah got magic?”


Fluttershy nodded again, her excitement building for some reason.  “You should know that Applejack; do you ever have to check your apples by going up to the tree and looking at the fruit to know that they’re ready?”


“Ah’ve never had to do that a day in mah life.”


“That’s an Earth Pony’s magic.  It’s a connection to the earth that’s so strong, that they have an instinct about their surroundings.  Pegasi have magic too: it lets them manipulate water and wind in all kinds of ways.  I’m sure you can figure out how they use this magic most of the time.”


“Helps them control the weather.”  Applejack nodded to herself.  “But ah don’t get it; if those are the kinds of magic, then what is Trixie learnin’ in the Everfree Forest?”


“It’s the same kind of magic she used today.  It’s a kind of magic that exists in nature.”


“The magic of nature?  But ya just said that was what Earth ponies had, right?”


“Well... not really.  As Trixie explained it, Earth Ponies just have a connection to nature.  You understand it better than anypony else.  What Trixie does is manipulate nature to do her own bidding.”


Applejack nodded, and the two continued a brisk pace down the dirt path once again.  She thought for almost a minute, and Fluttershy waited patiently for her to respond.  She seemed happy, as far as Applejack could tell, humming to herself.  Ah bet she’s glad to tell somepony about this, instead of keepin’ it to herself all this time.  Ah know she doesn’t like secrets.


Applejack spoke again, just as the two reached a designated turning point in their path.  “What’s got ya so excited anyway?”


The pegasus blushed.  “O-Oh, well, uh, I never really get to talk about this, and since she’s told me, I’ve really wanted to get it off my chest... but I kinda think it’s interesting too.”


Just as ah thought.  “Ah got another question, Fluttershy.”


“What is it Applejack?”


“Why is Trixie keepin’ what she’s doin’ a secret?”


Fluttershy thought for a few seconds before answering, “Learning this magic will make Trixie what she says is called an ‘Elementalist.’  That’s what you call a pony who’s learning what she’s learning.  She said that she found a book explaining it in Twilight’s library, and that using it can help strengthen a unicorn’s magic.  That’s why she’s in the Everfree Forest: that is where nature’s magic is at its strongest.”  Fluttershy sighed and continued, “But... it’s forbidden.  There are dangers involved in learning all of that.”


“What kind of dangers?”  Applejack was starting to get more worried for Trixie the more she heard about what she was doing.


“Dangerous to her.  She said that, according to what she had read, being an Elementalist is controlling the four primal energies that make up magic in the natural world: Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind magic.  She only wants to learn Water and Wind magic, because those are tamer; Wind just moves thing at her will and can change the weather, whereas Water magic is medical magic, and what she used to save me earlier.  Earth and Fire magic are powerful magics, meant to hurt and destroy.  She wants to avoid them, but she has to learn all four, or learn none of it at all.”


“That didn’t answer my question Flutteshy.  What’s so dangerous about it?”


“That magic... it can be very powerful.  Fire magic can cause eruptions of lava beneath her target, or Earth magic could bring an avalanche of boulders down on somepony.”


“Trixie ain’t dumb enough to do that!” Applejack shouted.  Fluttershy backed up a little as Applejack went on.  “Sure, she can be a little short tempered sometimes, and maybe she could get down off her high horse, but she isn’t gonna go around attackin’ ponies!”


“R-Right...”  Fluttershy nodded to herself.  “It’s just... there isn’t a lot known about Elemental magic.  She says... there’s a chance using it might make her less like herself.  She isn’t sure how though.  All she’s read about it is from Twilight’s books-“


“Ya said that a few times.  So she read it all in a book at the Library?”


“Y-Yeah.  If she hadn’t read about it, she might still be in Ponyville right now.”


Applejack shook her head.  “Okay, that’s in the past ah guess, and it’s a good thin’ she’s learnin’ this magic, or ya wouldn’t be here right now.  Just... are ya sure she’s okay?”


“I’m never sure Applejack.  But I haven’t seen herself hurt yet, so I think she’s okay.”  The two came upon Fluttershy’s home, the walk seeming to have passed by in an instant.  “I hope she’s okay...”




It was well into nightfall when they arrived.  Angel noticed Fluttershy’s mood, even looking to Applejack with what she thought was a questioning look.  All she could respond with was a shrug.


The two seemed unable to talk to each other; Applejack would give a concerned glance, and Fluttershy would reply with indifference or solemnity.  More than an hour passed, Applejack not entirely keeping track of the time.  Her mind preoccupied her the entire time, the farmer’s thoughts coming to her far faster than she could process them.  Fluttershy always fusses over us if we’re doin’ something she thinks is dangerous… why doesn’t she try and stop Trixie?  Why does she think Trixie is safe?  Ah just don’t get it… but then, is there anythin’ for me to get?


Ah can understand Trixie riskin’ herself for magic.  Ah’d risk myself for mah family, and it probably means just as much to her.  But… she seemed so off today.  Ah just don’t get it.  Applejack’s thoughts were interrupted by Fluttershy coming out of the bathroom, fresh from just having taken a shower.  No, that ain’t important; ah can think about that later.  Remember Applejack: somepony wants Fluttershy dead.  There’s no way in heck yer gonna let anypony hurt her.


Applejack decided to pose a question to Fluttershy, their first words spoken since they returned to the caretaker’s home. “Fluttershy, ah’m supposed to...” while her tone was calm and helpful, Fluttershy was still surprised enough to freeze up.  Applejack saw her friend’s reaction, and waited a second for her to calm down before resuming, “…to be protectin’ ya.”  Fluttershy looked at her curiously, much to the farmer’s relief.  “Do ya want me sleepin’ down here in the livin’ room, or up in yer room?”


Fluttershy thought for a moment.  Applejack couldn’t tell if it was about what they talked about, or about what she had just asked, but she responded soon enough, “Uhm… I guess in my room.  If she really wanted to hurt me, she could teleport in…” she looked upwards, both towards her room, and in thought.  “You don’t think she’ll really try again, will she?”


“Ah don’t know, and ah don’t want to take any chances.”


“Okay, well, uhm, I’m gonna go get ready for bed.  I’ll set something up on a couch I have up there…”


“Thanks, sugarcube.”


“I-It’s no problem Applejack.  You’re just looking out for my best interests… thank you.”


Applejack nodded.  “Hey, remember that yer the one in danger.  Ah’m just doin’ my duty.”


“Huh?”  All Fluttershy could do was blink.  “Duty?  Applejack, you don’t have any kind of duties to me.  You volunteered for this.”


“Well... yeah...” Applejack suddenly felt self-conscious of her position.  “Ah just... ah kinda feel like ah failed ya today Fluttershy.  Ah feel like ah’m not doin’ anypony any good.”


“I-I don’t understand, Applejack.”  Fluttershy approached her friend, who only back up toward the stairs.


“It’s just... all this dumb... stupid... crap that we’ve all been goin’ through!” Applejack yelled out, some of her anger surfacing.  “You and Dash have been fussy, Dash and ah got real mad at each other, Pinkie’s been so alone that she wanted to see me and only me today just so she had somepony to talk to, and now ya’ve been attacked, and almost died!”


There was a pause.  At the farmer’s shout, even the animals were quiet, watching the two.  Applejack was in a corner near the stairs, and Fluttershy was in the middle of the room.  Ah’m so darned stupid... why am ah tellin’ her all this crud?


“W-Well... it’s just like you said, isn’t it?”


Fluttershy’s question broke the chains of silence around the room, giving Applejack enough momentary courage to look up to the caretaker.  “What?”


“A-Applejack…” Fluttershy walked forward, placing a hoof on Applejack’s face.  The farmer turned to the shy pegasus with a confused expression, only to meet a reassuring smile.  “You told me just earlier today... that some ponies just do bad things.  You can’t help it when they do it... but that doesn’t mean ponies can’t try and stop it.”


“Ah-ah still don’t understand Fluttershy.  Ah haven’t stopped anypony.  If anythin’, ah keep messin’ up.”


“You haven’t messed up, not once Applejack.”  Fluttershy shook her head.  “You’ve done a lot for everypony!  You... you helped Rainbow Dash up from out of a slump, and you’ve been keeping me company all day when I needed it the most.”


“But ah can’t stop whoever attacked ya... ah can’t stop whoever wants to take the elements...”


“You can’t stop everypony, Applejack.  You can only do the best with what you have.”  Fluttershy cleared her throat and chuckled.  “So chin up.”


This made Applejack laugh a bit as well, and with that last line, the mood of the entire cabin brightened up.  “Thanks Fluttershy.  Ya seem to know what yer talkin’ about too.”


She kept on smiling as she went up the stairwell past Applejack.  “It wasn’t a problem at all, really.  I’ll go make a place for you to sleep on the couch, okay?  I’m pretty tired, so I’ll just go to bed when I’m done.  Just come up whenever you want to.”


Applejack nodded.  “Goodnight Fluttershy.


“Goodnight Applejack.”

An exhausted grumble escaped Applejack’s lips as she turned herself over, trying to get comfortable.  The couch wasn’t exactly the most relaxed place for her to sleep - the ground where she took her nap earlier that day had been a better spot.  Ah feel like this darned thing is gonna eat me... is Fluttershy’s bed this darned soft?  How can anypony sleep in somethin’ like this!?


She slowly opened her eyes and tilted her head away from the back of the couch, and out towards the room.  In the night’s black, she couldn’t make anything out except for vague shapes, so she focused on Fluttershy’s bed.  After about a minute, she started to see more, the light from the moon quickly letting her eyes adjust to the darkness.  Nothing was out of place; Fluttershy was still breathing quietly in her bed, the covers moving up and down ever so slightly in a constant, untroubled rhythm.  Ah’m glad she’s safe... though ah bet anythin’ could wake me up, sleepin’ on this stupid couch...


Applejack shook her head and rolled over onto her back, focusing on what was a featureless ceiling in the dark of the night.  Oh, why are ya so ungrateful?  It ain’t like she owes ya anything; yer the one that almost... got her... killed.  The thought made a lump in her throat, but the feeling passed quickly.  Guess this is why ah don’t like sleepover’s much.


Even as a filly, she never did more than spend afternoons with her friends; staying entire nights was something she had done once, and she hated it ever since.  She got no sleep, felt groggy all of the next day, and ended up not being able to do anything the next morning.  Of course, it had been fun, but she barely felt alive the next day.  That was no way for a farmer to feel, so she tried to avoid sleepovers as much as possible, and it worked well enough... until Twilight came to Ponyville.


The memories made her giggle, breaking the thin sheet of silence that had been laid over the night.  The second sleepover of mah life: spendin’ the night with two friends ah barely know, and we spent all night arguin’ and bein’ mad at each other.  Least it ended up bein’ fun; we slept a bit so it wasn’t all bad... though Twilight’s guest bed ain’t the best ah ever been in...


She yawned.  Aw hay, ah’m not gonna get any sleep rememberin’ everythin’.  Might as well get up for a little bit.  Ah feel kinda thirsty... with that thought, she pulled herself off of the couch, steadying herself on her four hooves.  She could barely see still, yet she knew there wasn’t anything on the way from where she had slept to the door, so she made the trip without a second thought.


The stairs were another story; there might be animals that had taken to sleeping there, or there might be nocturnal animals that were there, just waiting to be stepped on.  Applejack made her way down the stairs, careful with every falling hoof to not plant it on anything that was of the living.  Even in the dark, she could make out most of the stairs and the living room, as well as the vague outlines of animals sleeping in the night.  She kept quiet as she descended, and in just another minute, she was down at ground level.  Making her way to the kitchen, she made sure to stay as quiet as possible, for all the animals, and especially Fluttershy.  She took down a glass and filled it with tap water, taking several swigs and filling it again, not entirely realizing how thirsty she had been until then.  Finally done getting her fill, she filled the glass to the brim and, with it held firmly in her mouth, she flipped off the light switch and walked back to the stairs, confidence in her step, knowing that the way was clear.  She ascended the stairs and entered into Fluttershy’s room without sound, closing the door behind her.


She surveyed the surroundings again.  Nothing had changed; the room appeared as if she had never left.  She moved as soundlessly as she could to the couch that was her bed, and took another swig of water before setting it on an end table near the pillow, and just a second later, her head landed on the same pillow.  She lay atop her blanket on her make-shift cot, staring into the ceiling.


Ah gotta have a plan.  She got to her haunches and let her hind legs dangle over the side of the couch, and took the glass of water in both of her hooves to take another drink.


First things first: stay with Fluttershy in the mornin’, then go find somepony else to watch her.  If somepony wants to hurt her, they might just come back soon as ah’m gone.  Ah’d ask Dash but that’s a bad idea right now... Pinkie’s outta the question... ah guess that leaves Twilight or Rarity.  Rarity should be able to do it; Fluttershy’s her best friend... and ah’m pretty sure ah’ve seen her practicin’ with a bow and arrow before...


So after ah deal with that... it’s Pinkie.  Maybe she’ll be feelin’ better... or maybe she’ll be broodin’ again.  There’s so much wrong with her that ah’m not sure what to say or do... comfort her?  Argue with her?  Bring her around and get her to talk with everypony else?  And what the hay was it that Mrs. Cake told me?  That her sister died last year?  What if she really had to deal with that all alone?  But ah can’t just ask her about it.  That might hurt even more...


Then there’s somepony tryin’ to take the Elements of Harmony from us.  That pony... they can make us all emotional, and we don’t remember a lick of it.  They’ve made Dash and me get pretty mad but... but has she done it to anypony else?  Pinkie still seemed like Pinkie... somehow.  When all this is goin’ down and that pony named Aile comes around, some kinda travelin’ magician, and she up and tells me, “You will be the first to fall,” that’s gotta mean she’s connected somehow!


For somepony to take our elements of harmony, Aile has to make us act like the opposites of the elements, right?  Which means we gotta be alive, and not dead.  She attacked Fluttershy and almost killed her... so ah guess that means one thin’: somepony else is doin’ this.


The conclusion was far from comforting; it only meant that two unicorns were out to get her and her group of friends, and one of them was willing to use force and extreme measures to get results immediately.  Ah know who she is... ah can get her arrested, or somethin’.  Ah can stop her from doin’ anything else to hurt us.


So who’s the other one doin’ this to us?


A burst of blue light filled the room for a split second, so quick that the farmer’s pupils couldn’t even respond.  It broke her train of thought, and by instinct she bolted upright to attention.  She saw something new in the room: a unicorn at the foot of Fluttershy’s bed, carefully examining the still sleeping pegasus.  Applejack had a good idea who it was.


She got off the couch and moved behind the unicorn without making a sound, intending to at least observe if she was going to do anything to the pegasus.


“This... this is for Equestria...” Applejack heard the mysterious pony speak.  The intruder had whispered into the air, and the farmer was unsure if she was talking to herself, or to Fluttershy, or even to Applejack.  “Just know... if there wasn’t another way, I wouldn’t be doing this...”  Applejack then saw the unicorn raise her right hoof, and saw the knife in her grip, ready to strike down on the still sleeping pegasus.


Applejack didn’t think, she only reacted.  She leapt – from behind the magician and to her side – in a single bound.  She landed on her fore-hooves and bucked the unicorn as hard as she could.  There was a resounding crack as her hooves connected with the unicorn’s shoulder and foreleg, and she was sent tumbling into the far wall.  Taking the time earned by knocking the intruder away, Applejack ran to the entrance of the bedroom and flipped on the light switch.


The world lit up, both Applejack and the unicorn closing their eyes and raising hooves to block the light that threatened to temporarily blind them.  Applejack moved to Fluttershy’s side, nudging her and talking to her.  “Fluttershy!  Fluttershy, get up!”  She yelled, urgency more than apparent in her voice.


The caretaker stirred, turning over to face the farmer.  “A-Applejack?  What time is it...”


“It’s still night, but look.”  She pointed with a hoof.  Fluttershy turned her head, and squealed in sudden fear.


“That’s her!”  Fluttershy called out, jumping out of bed and cowering behind the farmer in one swift motion.  “She’s the one who attacked me!”


The unicorn known as Aile lay in a heap at the opposite side of the room.  She hit the wall back first, and was just starting to come around after the unexpected attack.  She yelped as she accidentally put down her right foreleg, snapping it back up from obvious pain.  She brought it against her chest, cradling it with her left hoof.  Did ah break her leg or somethin’?  Ah did hit her pretty hard...


“Hey!”  Applejack called out, “what the hell do ya think yer doin’?”


Aile looked up from her right leg towards the farmer, and said, plain annoyance in her voice, “How... it’s you,” she murmured, pain hinted in her voice, “When did you get here?”


Applejack ignored her question, not at all satisfied with the answer, and turned to the cowering pegasus behind her.  “Fluttershy, go downstairs and get some rope.”


“R-Rope?”  Fluttershy didn’t move, repeating the word with confusion.


“We’re gonna make sure she can’t go anywhere.”




Aile coughed then winced in pain.  She was tied up against one of Fluttershy’s dining table chairs on the ground floor of the house.  With a pained scowl on her face, she looked at the two mares at the opposite of her.  Fluttershy was shaking in fear, and Applejack was trying to think of how to deal with the intruder.  Ah could just go get Colgate... ah’m sure she’d know what to do, bein’ the only police officer in town... do we have a jail even?  Crime ain’t common at all in Ponyville...


  Applejack was brought out of her thoughts by Aile, who looked to the farmer and asked, “So... are you going to turn me in?”


Ah would prefer to beat ya to a pulp... but ah need to know some stuff first.  “Ah’d rather figure out what yer doin’.”


“What are you, stupid?  I’m trying to kill Fluttershy,” Aile answered, more annoyed than anything else.


“And why do ya wanna do that?”


“Because I need to.”


“See, that’s what confuses me about this whole mess.  What ya said to me the night ya gave yer performance... ‘the first to fall...’ what was that all about?”


“Oh.” Aile said, relieved.  “I said that to you because if you weren’t thinking about it, you probably wouldn’t have your Element of Harmony right now.”


The fact that Aile knew about the Elements of Harmony and the danger the farmer and her friends were in only made her more suspicious in Applejack’s eyes.  “So... were ya tryin’ to take it?”


Aile looked at the farmer, as if baffled by her very comment.  “What kind of question is that?!  If I was after them, why would I tell you?  Heck, why would I be attacking you?”  She shook her head, her best replacement for what Applejack gathered would have been a facehoof.  “No, I’m trying to prevent somepony else from taking them!”


Fluttershy raised a hoof, stopping Aile from continuing.  She turned to Applejack and, in a voice quiet enough that Aile couldn’t hear, said, “We haven’t told anypony else about this, right?  How does she know somepony’s trying to take the Elements?”


“Maybe she’s workin’ with them Fluttershy,” Applejack said, “maybe it’s her takin’ them, or maybe she’s really tryin’ to stop them.  That’s why ah’m interrogatin’ her.”  She turned to the yellow pegasus and asked, “are ya all right, though?”




“She’s the pony that attacked ya, right?  Are... are ya okay with her bein’ right there?”


Fluttershy looked over to the dark unicorn, and Applejack followed her gaze.  Aile was examining the room critically, her head going back and forth between various points with sudden, precise movements, like a bird.


The caretaker nodded.  “I-I’m okay... I don’t think she wants to hurt me again.”


“What makes ya say that?”  Applejack tilted her head in curiosity.


“Well... you know, she can use her magic to get out of that chair, right?”  Fluttershy rubbed her forehead with a hoof, in reference to Aile’s horn.  “Or attack me?  But she hasn’t.  I think she... wants to talk.”


“She don’t sound like it,” Applejack huffed, “ah bet she’d try to hurt ya the second she gets free.”


Fluttershy didn’t answer, turning half-way to look at the intruder.  Applejack examined the unicorn’s face and found the same uninterested expression looking back at her captors.  “Okay,” started Applejack, “so ya were tryin’ to protect our Elements from bein’ taken?”


“That’s right.”  Aile answered.


“So why do ya have to attack us?  Why can’t ya help us find whoever is doin’ this?”


“I’ve never been able to find out who’s doing it,” Aile answered.  “Even with my abilities, I can’t figure out who they are.”


“So... ya’ve searched for them in Ponyville?”  Applejack asked.


Aile paused, then answered, “Just about.  And failing that, I had to take matters into my own hooves.”


“So ya tried to kill one of us!?”  Applejack yelled.  “Fluttershy is one of mah best friends, yer lucky that ah haven’t-“


“If even one of your Elements of Harmony is taken, you doom all of Equestria!”  Ailed yelled in response.  “I can’t take that risk!  So I... I had to do something!”


“What do ya mean, ‘doom all of Equestria?’”  Applejack asked, unconvinced of the intruder’s motives.


Aile grunted.  “If one of your Elements of Harmony is taken... Equestria is lost.  I’ve seen the future-“


“Oh, not you too!”  Applejack interrupted the unicorn with a frustrated yell.  “First Pinkie gets these dumb visions, now you?”


Aile’s eyes went wide.  “Pinkie Pie?  Visions?  What are you talking about?”


Fluttershy also looked to Applejack in confusion, and she explained.  “Pinke got some kind of necklace, and ever since she got it, she gets these terrible visions of the future where... bad things happen to her.”


“That... I need to see that necklace.”  Aile’s expression was stern.


The change in tone of their guest piqued Applejack’s curiosity.  “What?  Why?”


“If those visions... and thereby that necklace... are making Pinkie so upset, then whoever gave it to her probably is the one wanting to take the elements.  I can track who gave it to her with a spell I know.  Please... just... you have to get it for me!”


“Hold on now,” Applejack said, “Now yer willin’ to help us without hurtin’ us?  How can ah trust ya?”


“If I find that pony, then we don’t have to worry about... this.  None of this.  It’ll be over, Applejack,” Aile explained.  After pausing for a few seconds, she looked down in shame and started again.  “Look... I’m... I’m just...” She paused again.




“I don’t know any other way to help!”  Her frustation was more to herself than at Applejack.  “Will you please listen to what I have to say?”


Applejack sighed.  “Fine.”


Aile sighed in relief.  “Thank you... okay... how do I start this... have you seen my cutie mark?”


“Ah got a glimpse of it while we were draggin’ ya down here.  Some kind of funky eye, right?”


“Yes, it’s an eye you commonly see on Tarot cards.  You know, fortune telling stuff.  I got my cutie mark when I found my special talent: Scrying.”




“No, Scrying,” Fluttershy corrected, finally speaking up after being silent for so long.  “It’s, uh, a kind of magic that lets you see visions of the past, future, or present, of... well, as far as I can tell, anything.  I get the feeling Twilight wouldn’t believe in it though... she thinks it’s the same kind of magic as curses, I think.”


Why does Fluttershy even know about that kinda stuff?  Before Applejack could respond, Aile continued her explanation.  “That’s right.  That’s why I was so surprised when Applejack kicked me upstairs... I had looked into the room already, and saw nopony but Fluttershy.”


“Ah don’t buy it,” Applejack said suddenly.  “If ya never looked in the room, then ya still woulda been surprised by me.  Ya woulda never seen me.”


“Hmm... that’s true...”  Aile looked up in thought.  “Okay, so I can’t prove it, but please!  All I have to do is see that necklace!  I mean, it’s only causing her trouble, right?  Just bring it to me, and we can get this all sorted out.  I can scry where it’s been and who had it before.  Then we’ll know what’s going on!”  Her voice seemed more hopeful for some reason.


“Well, sorry, but ah ain’t about to take somethin’ of Pinkie’s and give it to you.”  Applejack said, a finality hangin’ in the air.  “’Specially when ah still don’t trust ya neither.”


Aile sighed.  “Then if you won’t help me, I’ll go find somepony who will.”  She then glared at Fluttershy, who almost fell back out of shock.  “Fluttershy... I want to say you’re safe after this.  That we can... stop whoever’s doing this.  But if things go wrong... just know that I won’t hesitate to try again, if I truly need to.”


Applejack slammed her hoof on table and yelled, “You do not get to threaten my-“ before she could finish, Aile’s horn lit up, and she teleported faster than either pony could react.  The ropes that were around her fell to the floor in a heap.  The chair was intact, the teleport clearly only bringing herself.


Applejack looked to Fluttershy, who was looking pale, her eyes wide.  Her breathing was quiet, but even Applejack could hear how fast it was.  “Fluttershy?”


“Wh-what should we do, Applejack?  She really is... still after me...”


“Ah think we should get some rest.  It’s still a few hours ‘till sun up.”


Fluttershy nodded, and the two headed back up to the bedroom, Applejack leading the way.  The farmer opened the door, peered inside, and after finding nothing, she let Fluttershy inside.  The pegasus got into bed, and soon afterwards, when Applejack was sure she had fallen asleep, she walked over to the couch and laid herself down as well, hoping to get some meager rest.


Ah just don’t get it... what could be causin’ her so much trouble that she’s willin’ to kill an innocent pony like Fluttershy?




“A-Applejack, where are we going!?”  Fluttershy asked while trying to keep up with the Farmer’s fast walking pace.


“To see Twilight,” she answered.


 “Why Twilight?”


“Because she’ll know what to do.”


The two were walking towards Ponyville, away from Fluttershy’s cottage.  It was several hours after the attack, already late in the morning.  The two mares made sure to attend to all the animals, and told them that somepony else would be coming by to take care of them, and that Fluttershy might be gone for a few days.


For the caretaker’s safety, Applejack decided two things: Firstly, that if Fluttershy was living that far away from the town, she would be in grave danger. The second thing was that no matter where she was, she would need somepony to watch her, which would be easier to do if she was in town.


Fluttershy seemed stunned.  “Wh-What to do?  Why don’t we just try and find Aile and-“


Applejack interrupted the pegasus, dismissive of her worries.  “Ah get the feelin’ she don’t want to talk anymore, at least not to us.”


“I-I was gonna say... take her to the police...”


“Ah still wanna see Twilight first.”


Fluttershy replied with her own firmness.  “But why?”


“Ah wanna ask her about that cryin’ thin’.”


“You mean Scrying...”


“Right, that.”


“Why do you wanna know about that?”


Applejack stopped, noticing that the Ponyville library had just come into view.  She turned around to her friend.  “Fluttershy, how much have ya thought about what Aile said?”


Fluttershy stopped a few feet back behind the farmer and answered, “Well, I haven’t really been thinking about it... I was more scared of what she said just before she teleported...”


Applejack sighed.  Fluttershy could see the worry on her face.  “Look... ah don’t... ah don’t know if anythin’ she’s said’s true but... even ah can see that she isn’t some psycho-murderer or somethin’.  She really believes that killin’ a pony like you will fix somethin’...”




“And maybe she’s just plain crazy... but what if there’s some truth to what she thinks is goin’ on?”


Fluttershy swallowed some of her nervousness.  “W-What will you do if... if Twilight says... it’s possible?”


“Then... maybe we’ll talk to Aile again and listen to everythin’ she says... but... but ah can’t think straight right now.  So ah wanna talk to Twilight, okay?”


“S-Sure Applejack.  That’s... that’s okay.  Twilight always knows what to do.”


Applejack nodded slowly, and continued walking towards Ponyville once again.  Right, Twilight always knows what to do... unlike me.




Applejack knocked in the front door of the Ponyville library.  With Fluttershy next to her, looking as stressed as Applejack might have expected, they waited.  Ah don’t know what to do Twilight... please say ya’ve found somethin’... anythin’...


Twilight opened the door after an anxious minute of waiting.  Applejack figured she was sleeping, as her hair was disheveled.  “Oh, hi Apple- Ooooh dear,” she started to greet, her eyes going wide as she noticed Fluttershy.  “Why, uh, hello there girls!  Fluttershy and Applejack, ahahaha... what can I do for you?”


Well... ah sure didn’t expect her to be nervous... “We need to talk Twilight.”


“Right, talking!  Right, we can do that... uhm...” she looked around, her gaze going to and fro faster than Applejack could follow.


“It’s okay Twilight, let them in,” called a voice from inside.  Twilight looked behind her, nodded after a few seconds, and then looked back to her two friends at the door.


“Promise you girls won’t freak out,” she asked, looking them both straight in the eye.


She’s definitely serious... “Ah promise.”


Fluttershy seemed more worried for the librarian.  “Uhm... is something the matter, Twilight?”


“Don’t dodge the question,” she replied quickly.  “I’m going to let you in.  Just promise you won’t freak out, all right?”


“I-I’ll try not to... but, uhm, is everything okay?  You look a little worried.”


“Yes, yes it is.  And now that you’re here... I am sort of worried.”  The unicorn stepped back from the door, letting in her two friends.


Applejack took a look around the library.  Books were scattered about as usual.  Equipment for what the farmer guessed were some kind of experiments, were strewn about on one table closer to the front door.  There wasn’t anything else that was noticeable about the room, except who was occupying it.


“Hello, Applejack,” said Aile, who was sitting at a table in the dead center of the library.  She took a sip from her glass, and set it down on the table.


Applejack’s jaw dropped.  “A-Aile!?”


Fluttershy cried out in fear, recognizing who was in the room instantly.  She jumped behind the farmer, shaking.  Twilight walked past the two, nodding to herself.  “That went... a lot better than I thought it would.”  She walked until she was about halfway between her two friends and the black furred unicorn.  “Okay, you both know Aile already and-“


“Of course we know her!  She tried to kill Fluttershy!”  Applejack yelled in anger.


Twilight nodded.  “Yes, right, she told me about last night-“


“It w-wasn’t just last night... it was yesterday...” Fluttershy mumbled.  Applejack moved to her side, nodding to the pegasus to reassure her.  “Aile... d-did you t-tell her what you r-really did?”  Every word stumbled out of her mouth in a heap, but she was understandable.


Twilight turned to Aile.  “What did you do before last night?”


She sighed, putting down her cup after taking yet another sip.  “I... I did try to murder Fluttershy... yesterday afternoon.”


What!?” Twilight yelled, her horn already starting to alight with magic.


Applejack noticed Aile’s face grow pale.  “N-No, wait, I can expl- ah!”  Her body was quickly enveloped in a purple glow, lifted and thrown towards Twilight.  The indigo unicorn stopped Aile’s movement just a few inches from her own face, as if she had slammed into an invisible wall.  The student’s face was angry, and the magician’s frozen in fear.


“P-P-Please, I-I made a mistake!”  Aile was pleading.  Applejack could hardly believe how fiercely Twilight reacted, and was frozen on the spot.


“You’ve been lying to me all morning!”  Twilight yelled, voice full of rage.  “Who knows what else you might have done and didn’t tell me about!”


“I-I promise, I’ll explain everything, please!  Just let me down!”  Without warning, she fell to the ground.  She landed on her stomach with a thud, coughing from the force of the impact.


Fluttershy ran past Applejack and up to Aile, looking her over.  “A-Are you okay?”


“Fluttershy!”  Twilight pulled her back with a tug on her tail.  “What are you doing?  She wants to kill you!”


Fluttershy shook her head.  “She was just... confused... I’m sure she didn’t really mean what she did.”


Aile kept her gaze away from the shy pegasus, refusing her help as she got to all... three of her hooves.  She was still keeping off of her right foreleg.  “You know I really do want to kill you, right?  Why are you helping me?“


“Y-You’re injured!  When Applejack kicked you, I heard-“


“I’m trying to kill you!”  Aile yelled, wincing even as she walked back to the table, keeping her injured leg off of the ground.  “Don’t worry about your enemies... I’ve had worse anyway...”


“So why are ya talkin’ with Twilight?”  Applejack walked past the pegasus towards Aile, finally getting out of her frozen state.  “Why are ya here after what ya did this mornin’!?”


Aile raised an eyebrow.  “Don’t you remember what I said?”  Applejack nodded.  “I was talking with Twilight because we were making a plan.”


Twilight chimed in to confirm the dark pony’s claim.  “She came in a little over an hour ago, and we were discussing how to make sure Fluttershy could stay safe... especially from whoever wants to take her Element of Harmony.  That’s why I... well, I’m still mad!”  She turned to throw a glance of pure malice at the dark unicorn, who cringed upon seeing it.  “What did you do to Fluttershy that’s so bad you couldn’t tell me!?”


Fluttershy chimed in with the clarification.  “Oh... uhm... she stabbed me, actually.”




Fluttershy nodded.  “And... uhm... It’s fine.  So if we could just-“


“Are you okay!?”  Twilight rushed up to Fluttershy, moving her tail or mane out of the way to examine her.  Though she found the spot on her chest where some fur hadn’t quite grown back, she saw no other indications of harm.  “You aren’t wearing any bandages.  How come you aren’t injured?”


“W-Well... I’m okay because Trixie healed me.”  When she saw Twilight’s confusion, she clarified, “Oh, Trixie... uhm, she isn’t in Fillydelphia.  She’s been staying at my house, actually.”


“Wha?”  Twilight brought both hooves to her forehead, shaking her head in obvious frustration.  “Okay!  Okay!  I have a new plan!”  With her horn alight, she cast a spell onto Aile, lifting her and firmly holding her in place so she couldn’t move.  “You there – with all this going on, I can’t trust you, so I’m going to hang you up there.  You shouldn’t be able to use magic, but if I even see your horn light up, I swear to Celestia...” Twilight took a deep breath, letting her anger dissipate.  “You two,” she ushered over Applejack and Fluttershy with a motion of the forehoof, “Can you please explain what’s going on right now?  With all that’s been going on, I’m pretty confused right now.”


Applejack and Fluttershy nodded.  Ah’m willin’ to help Twilight... but please, please say, after all of this, that ya know what to do.  Please say you can solve all of this, so we can put it all behind us.  Ah’m so tired of all this worryin’, this frettin’ over somepony we can’t see and are only half sure even exists... just... do what ya always do Twilight.  Ya know the most about all this magic that’s messin’ with us... just find somethin’t to stop this damned pony from messin’ with our lives!

It took Twilight seconds to rearrange the library.  Using her magic, she shoved aside tables and chairs, leaving one in the middle of the room so the three mares could talk with Aile.  The dark unicorn was floating in the middle of the room, only able to move her head while her limbs floated aimlessly, as if captive in their own personal bubbles.


For the next hour or so, Fluttershy explained as much as she knew about Trixie.  The day the magician arrived (which was apparently the same day she left the library), what her goal was (to learn Elemental magic to regain her normal unicorn magic), and how she returned to help Fluttershy, which is how Applejack found out she was still in Ponyville.  Then, both the farmer and the pegasus explained each encounter with Aile – when Applejack saw her two days prior and received her cryptic warning, each attack on Fluttershy, everything either one could think of.  Details of the previous night were especially talked about as it seemed to interest the young unicorn the most.


Once they had finished, Twilight looked between her two friends and Aile, her expression one of deep thought.  A few minutes into an awkward silence, she broke it by saying, “Trixie is just being Trixie.  I believe that the problem is Aile.”


The unicorn looked down at Twilight with a curious expression, who was still floating several feet above the ground.  Applejack looked up at her, and instead of a resentful expression, she only appeared to be mildly annoyed, frowning with discomfort from being unable to move her limbs of her own accord.  Applejack sneered at her, and Aile responded by quickly averting her gaze.


Twilight flicked her head, and with a flash of magic, released Aile from her aerial prison, the dark unicorn landing in a heap on the floor.  “Ack, you could have g-given me some w-warning,” Aile said, somewhat angry.  “I could have landed on my bad leg!”


The student ignored her.  “You came to the library this morning and said you were in the wrong, but you lied about what you had really done.  I think that’s almost unforgiveable.  What you attempted on Fluttershy,” she motioned to the now-alert pegasus with a hoof, “I think, is unforgiveable.  You could have waited for something to happen... especially with this scrying ability of yours.  But...”


Aile brushed herself off and looked at Twilight inquisitively.  “Yes?”


“I also don’t think that you’re a very bad pony.  You didn’t have to see somepony about some alternate solution.  You could have just tried again.  So I think that you must have truly believed what you were doing, to be the right thing–”


“What did ya just say, Twilight?”


The violet unicorn looked to Applejack, who glowered at the purple unicorn.  Twilight winced at her friend’s harsh gaze.  “I’m just saying that I understand her position...”


Applejack’s eyes narrowed even further.  “Ya can understand needin’ to kill somepony?  Is that what yer sayin’ Twilight?”


“Applejack, I–”


“Self defense is one thin’ Twilight...”  Applejack stepped back from the table, suddenly feeling an anger rise in her that she wanted to let out.  “Ah couldn’t shame a pony for protectin’ herself... but claimin’ to see the future and decidin’ that killing an innocent pony is the only way to deal with it?”


“That isn’t what I–”


“So what did ya mean?”


“Are you going to let me finish?”  Twilight asked, her voice rising.  Applejack said nothing, staring down the unicorn, and the student said with a huff, “Applejack... all I’m trying to say is that I can see the logic she was using and understand it.  It’s bad, and horrible, but I see where she’s coming from.  That’s all.”


The now-freed unicorn coughed.  Once all eyes were on her, she said, “Look, I’m glad you think so highly of me–”


“Don’t ya even think about makin’ any wise cracks!” Applejack yelled, “Ya should be happy we haven’t turned ya in yet for what ya did to Fluttershy.”


Aile shrugged.  “What I’ve done is illegal, but at the time, it was the only solution.”


“That’s all she’s wanted to say, Applejack,” Twilight explained.  “She thought that it was the only thing she could do–”


“Oh, is that all?”  Applejack yelled, interrupting the student another time.  “Oh, yes, ah see the future and ah can tell ya that the only damned solution is to kill a perfectly innocent pony.  No, ah’m sorry that ah don’t ‘subscribe’ to yer beliefs, and that ah don’t think it’s ever a good idea to kill some pony.  Ah’m done with this.”  The farmer turned around and went out the library’s front door, ignoring both Fluttershy and Twilight’s calls as she stormed off.




Only thing she could do... ponyfeathers.


Applejack found herself lying down under the shade of a tree.  She was well within both walking and viewing distance of the library, but she didn’t care.  She just needed time to herself to think.


How can killin’ anypony ever be right?  How can bein’ so pointlessly cruel ever be right?  Ain’t that part of Hearth Warmin’ Eve?  That we can all get along just fine and that’s just the best way to go about it – if not fer ourselves, then fer everypony else’s sake?  Ah just don’t get it...




The farmer opened her eyes to see Fluttershy standing above her.  The caretaker’s face was riddled with concern.


“Are you okay?”


Applejack nodded.  “Sorry about that... ah shouldn’tve lost mahself in there.  Not in front of you.”


“Well, you were defending me, so it’s okay, I guess.”  Fluttershy plopped herself down next to the farmer, looking at her briefly before turning her gaze to the view of Ponyville before them.


“No, it wasn’t okay.”  Applejack sighed, getting herself up to her haunches.  “Ah was getting’ mad at the pony that knows better than ah do about almost anythin’, and ah decided that, even after goin’ to her fer help, that ah’d rather just curse at her.”  She shook her head in frustration.  “What she said still rubs me the wrong way though...”


Fluttershy turned to look at the farmer.  “Applejack...”


She shook her head again.  “Ah just... can’t understand how anypony could think like that.  That killin’ them would be the solution.”


Fluttershy nodded.  “Well... that would be pretty hard to accept.  I don’t think we’ve ever had to worry about anypony ever getting to hurt as to maybe die... except maybe when there was that hydra, or when dash had that accident and injured her wing...”


“Yer sayin’ ya agree with me?”  Applejack turned her head to her friend.


Fluttershy paused for a second, then shook her head.  “No, I don’t.”




“Applejack... just trying to understand somepony doesn’t mean anything more than that.  It means exactly what it says – that you want to understand them better.  The more you understand somepony, the better you can try to fix the situation or help them.”  Fluttershy turned her head to meet Applejack’s gaze.  “All Twilight wants to do is figure out what Aile was really trying to accomplish.  She didn’t agree with her or want her to keep trying or anything.  She just wanted to understand.”


“Understand, huh?”


Fluttershy nodded.  “Exactly.”  She stood up, and turned towards the library.  “Are you coming back?  I’m sure Twilight wouldn’t mind–”


Applejack stood up as well.  “Ah’ve been enough of a burden already.  She’ll keep ya safe, Fluttershy.”


Fluttershy looked to the library, then back at Applejack.  “Are you sure?  She has good magic, but what if Aile tries to fight her or–”


“Ah don’t think she’ll try that again.  Not anytime soon.”


“Well, if you think so.  I guess I’ll see you later?”


“Ah’ll probably be back home, so sure, ah guess.”


With that, Fluttershy returned to the library.  Applejack sighed, letting her back fall to the ground once again with a solid thud.  Is that really all Twilight was tryin’ to say?  Didn’t sound exactly like that to me... oh, forget about it AJ.  As selfish as it sounds, it isn’t yer problem anymore.  How about ya take some alone time on yer last day off?


Applejack nodded to nopony in particular.  “Now... what should ah do when ah feel like takin’ some time to mahself?”


Voicing her question gave light to an answer instantly.  “Ah buck apples.  Right.  ‘Cept ah don’t think anythin’s ready unless somethin’s changed in the last few days... so what else do ah do?”


She hoisted herself up again, this time deciding to get to all fours.  She looked to the path in front of her, recognizing it quickly.  Ah’m on mah way to the market... guess ah could ask Big Macintosh how everythin’s holdin’ up... maybe get somethin’ to eat.  It was then that her stomach growled, as if signifying that this was the only solution available.  “Well, that settles it!” She started an upbeat trot, following the path down to Ponyville square.




Nothing at the market seemed out of place to Applejack: stands were set up by various ponies, selling all kinds of foods, cookware, crafts, tools, and such things as was the normal daily affair.  She recognized a few, mostly the vegetable vendors, only because they tended to sell on the same days that the Apple Family did.  The day was perfect for shopping – clear skies and a temperature just warm enough for everypony to feel comfortable.  It was everything that Applejack felt like she had needed since the previous day to cheer her up.


The farmer let her gaze wander around the market.  Though she was looking for something that might make a quick lunch, she also realized that she didn’t see the Apple stand anywhere.  That’s odd, we’re normally open for a few more hours... ah well.


After a few moments of fruitless searching, she realized she had made no progress as her stomach growled again.  Well, ah got some money to spare... guess ah could go to a restaurant... Deciding that her thoughts had some merit, she headed towards the nearest restaurant she could see.  Applejack recognized it instantly, due to being one of the oldest restaurants in the town that had been there since before her birth even.


While it was a real restaurant, the place had the feel of a casual diner.  The outside area was only around ten tables, roped off from the rest of the outside.  Each table was silver, shining metal, with low, metal chairs.  The building itself had a simple two-toned brown-painted wood exterior, the name of the business in large red lettering above the glass door entrance.  The farmer herself had never been inside, but she knew that some of her friends had eaten here before.


“Welcome to Bubba Rump’s,” spoke a voice from beside the mare.


“Wah!”  Applejack jumped forward in surprise, swiveling her head to find the source of the voice: an earth pony waiter.  “Sorry, didn’t see ya there.”


“Where would you prefer to be seated, ma’am?”  He asked, ignoring her reaction


“Uh, outside, if ya please.”


“Of course, right this way.”  The waiter led her to a table on the outer-most corner of the seating area, which the farmer felt was just fine.  Applejack seated herself and immediately decided to use the time to stare off into space, instead of looking at the menu he had placed in front of her.


It’s pretty nice to finally have some peace and quiet. She let her eyes fall onto the market again.  Her gaze went about on its own accord, following ponies as they went between stalls as they did what she figured was their usual business.  At least life for everypony else is okay... ah couldn’t do with worrin’ everypony out of their minds... after all, this might be nothin’, and when it’s all over, life’ll go back to normal.  Finally content with her situation, she decided to relax, taking her eyes off of the market place and leaning back in her chair, pulling her hat over her eyes.




Applejack lost her balance, almost falling backwards out of her chair.  She righted herself and quickly realized that the waiter had returned, clearly waiting for her order.  “Uh, what do ya got with apples?”


The earth pony raised an eye brow.  “A few things... but for a meal, we have a new item that’s a salad with several fried fruits strewn over it, a sweet vinaigrette–”


Applejack didn’t want to bother thinking about other possibilities.  “Yeah, that’ll do.”


“An excellent choice.”  He picked up the menu and left promptly.


Well, ah hope ah didn’t just get gulled into the most expensive thin’ they got... but given how much thought ah put into it, can’t blame anypony but mahself.  Applejack leaned back in her chair again, pulling her hat down over her face a second time.


And for a second time, a voice interrupted her calm from out of the blue.  “Hi!”


The energetic voice caused the apple pony to lose her balance once again, and this time she did fall back out of the chair.  Pulling herself away from the chair, and after massaging her back for a few moments, she opened her eyes to see a familiar pink pony standing in front of her, a wide grin on her face.


“You okay Applejack?  That kinda looked like it hurt.”


“Pinkie Pie!”


Applejack got to her hooves as quickly as she could and looked over the baker.  She appeared to be the regular Pinkie Pie that the farmer had gotten to know over the years – bubbly smile, bouncy hair, energetic personality.  Nothing indicated that Pinkie Pie still had any lingering feelings over what the two had talked about the previous day, or that the talk had even taken place.  Sometimes that girl is too good at hiding what she’s thinking... but then again most of the time she’s terrible at it.


The baker tilted her head.  “Are you staring at me?  Oh, are we having a staring contest?”


“No, Pinkie, ya just startled–” it was then Applejack remembered something vital and said in a panic, “Oh, Pinkie Pie!  Ah’m sorry ah didn’t come by this mornin’!  Ah was busy with Fluttershy and had to go see Twilight and–”


Pinkie Pie blew a raspberry, waving the issue off with a hoof.  “It’s alright, I had lotsa work to do today anyway.  The Cake’s got this big last minute order and they needed me to help until about half an hour ago!”  Her expression softened a bit as she continued, “Thanks for at least remembering, though...”


The farmer shook her head.  “No, ah shoulda come by anyway, to at least let ya know, but a lot of stuff happened...”


Applejack then explained all that had happened since she left Pinkie’s room the previous day: Fluttershy’s assault, Trixie’s healing magic, Applejack’s stay overnight at the caretaker’s and the second assault, and their meeting with Twilight and with Aile that morning.


“So after Fluttershy was done talkin’ to me... ah came here first thin’.  Ah...” the farmer sighed. “To be honest, ah really wanted some alone time, to think.  But now that yer here, ah feel kinda bad that ah didn’t see ya this mornin’, even to say that ah was busy... so, sorry.”


Pinkie’s face was, for the first time the farmer had ever seen in his life, one of deep thought, looking down with a hoof to her chin, her eyes darting around and the occasional frown and scrunched expression covered her lips.  Before Applejack could ask her what she thought, her food arrived, the waiter quickly dropping off the salad and walking off again.  Without the baker to start a conversation, she decided to take at least a few minutes to eat quietly. She’s definitely thinkin’, but ah can’t ever really recall her actin’ like... well, anypony who had so much to think about.  It’s a might disconcertin’ when she ain’t talkin’...


“You know what we should do Applejack?”  Pinkie spoke so suddenly that Applejack had to look up from her food to make sure she wasn’t hearing things.  She had an expectant, preparatory smile on her face.


“What?” Applejack asked.


“We should... throw Fluttershy a PARTY!” Pinkie Pie threw her forelegs up into the air.  “A party would be the perfect thing to cheer her up!  We could invite, like, all her animal friends and maybe Aile could make up for it and–”


“That’s, uh, a good idea Pinkie, but how about that waits until we figure out all of this, okay?”  Applejack set down her fork.  “Once we’re sure we’re safe, ah think ya could throw as many parties as ya wanted.”


“I can always throw parties, Applejack, but this would be like, a, uh, your-friends-will-always-be-there-for-you-and-to-protect-you party, just for her!”  She looked around for a moment, then back to the farmer, her face filled with only a hint of suspicion.  “Are you sure it wouldn’t be a good idea?”


Applejack nodded.  “Pretty sure.”


“Well... I guess you know more about what’s going on than I do, so I’ll wait.”


“Glad to hear ya listen to reason, Pinkie.”  Applejack took another bite out of her salad.


There was a distinct pause between the two earth ponies while Applejack ate her food.  Pinkie Pie seemed content in glancing around the dining area and occasionally at the orange mare, her smile never once wavering.  Why ain’t she talkin’?  Ah’m glad for some quiet, but Pinkie not talkin’ isn’t very Pinkie...


“So...” Pinkie asked her question abruptly, while Applejack was taking a bite of her salad. “What were you going to do the rest of the day, Applejack?”


“Not sure yet,” the farmer replied through her mouth full of food.  She swallowed it and added, “probably just go home and take a nap.”


Pinkie turned a sympathetic frown.  “Didn’t sleep well?”


“Not with everythin’ that was happenin’ to Fluttershy.”  The apple mare sighed.  “And whatever sleep ah got didn’t feel like much anyway.”


“Hmmm... I don’t want to keep you from sleeping...” Pinkie wondered out loud.


“Was there somethin’ ya needed, Pinkie Pie?”  The farmer asked.  Despite Pinkie’s hyperactive nature, Applejack found herself more and more surprised by how much the baker could hide from everypony else.


“I just figured since you’ve been so nice to me that maybe we could do something fun together!  Instead of, you know, you listening to me ramble on about everything wrong with me!”  Pinkie finished wearing a grin that threatened leave her head in two halves.


“Uh-huh...”  Applejack shrugged.  “Well, Pinkie, if ya wanna ask me somethin’, go ahead.  Yer mah friend, so ya shouldn’t worry about it.”


“If you say so!” Pinkie looked up to the farmer hopefully.  “You wanna come over to Sugar Cube Corner later tonight?”


The apple mare raised an eyebrow.  “Hang out?”


“Yeah!” The baker’s face shifted instantly from a smile to one of thought.  “Well, actually, that isn’t the right word.  What do you call it when you want to have a private evening with someone, maybe even share a meal?”


“A... meal?”  Applejack paused.  “Yer askin’ me over for dinner?”


“Yes!”  Pinkie nodded to match her words.


“Well, uh, call me crazy, but... Rarity’d call that a date.”


“Yeah, that’s the word!”  Pinkie’s face rushed up to meet the farmer’s, their noses bumping.  “A date!”  She pulled back and brought a hoof on top of her head.  “I totally forgot what the word was, but yes!  I’m asking you out on a date!”


Applejack blushed instantly.  “P-Pinkie!  Ya know that ya only ask somepony out on a date when ya think ya might like them... ya know that right?”


“Right!  And you’ve been so nice to me lately that I figured I could do something nice to you!”  Her mouth took the form of a large, toothy grin.


“No, Pinkie... a date is for somepony you think ya like like... like Mr. and Mrs. Cake.”


Pinkie rubbed her chin in thought, and in a sudden jump, her eyes went wide.  “OooooOOOOOOooooohhhh!  That’s what Rarity meant.”


Applejack smacked a hoof to her forehead.  Rarity tried to explain dates to her and she still didn’t get it?  Guess ah can’t be surprised...


Pinkie nodded to herself vigorously.  “Well... I think that still works!”


Applejack blinked.  “What?”


“You see, I’ve also been thinking about how much fun it was to spend time with you, like yesterday morning!”  Pinkie started motioning wildly with her hooves, clearly lost in her rambling.  “It was really fun, and I figured that we could do that again because I really like having friends over and stuff but I think what happened yesterday totally showed me that maybe we could spend even more private time together and I realized that I really wanted to spend time with just you and that the date would be a perfect way to do that!”


Applejack’s jaw dropped.  Pinkie continued again, not noticing the farmer’s frame of mind.  “I could even return the favor for yesterday!  It wouldn’t be fair if only I got to talk, so like, you could tell me what’s going on with you, cause you’ve gotta have a lot on your mind with everything that’s going on, right?”


Applejack felt like her mind stalled.  No no no... Pinkie... is she really askin’ me... out?  She thinks she likes me?  No, this can’t... “Pinkie, are... are ya sure of this?”


The baker tilted her head.  “What do you mean ‘am I sure?’”


“W-Well, ya know, ah’m a mare, Pinkie...”


“Oh, you’re worried about that?”  Pinkie gave a dismissive wave.  “I mean, I don’t care what gender you are, but I guess if you aren’t into that, that’s okay–”


Applejack shook her head vigorously.  “N-No, Pinkie, that isn’t what ah meant.”


The pink mare tilted her head.  “Then what did you mean?”


“Can...” Applejack swallowed her anxiety.  “Can ah have a second to think?  Ya don’t have to go or anythin’.”




Applejack looked up at Pinkie Pie, who seemed to be in that oblivious state again, looking at anything in her view that moved.  The apple mare suspected that if this were any of her other friends asking her out, that they might be sad, worried, or anxious.  She knew how much the rejection had hurt Rainbow Dash, as well as her argument with Applejack.  The farmer, though, didn’t see those emotions in Pinkie’s eyes.  Pinkie was just Pinkie – the same, silly, party pony that the orange mare had always known.  And she just asked Applejack on a date.  Ah guess she’s serious... but she’s just Pinkie.  Shouldn’t she be nervous or somethin’?  Askin’ somepony out isn’t just a little thing... well, maybe to her it is.  Maybe she still doesn’t get it, though ah’d hope she ain’t that dense...


But can ah... date a mare?  The thought surprised the farmer, but then she came upon another realization.  She wasn’t disgusted, upset, or concerned with that thought.  The idea that Pinkie was a mare bore little weight in her mind, other than realizing that it wasn’t completely normal.  No, her thoughts were about the fact that it was Ponyville’s premier party pony asking her out, not that she was a mare.  Dating Pinkie... means seein’ her a lot.  Alone.  Am ah really somepony that... even wants to spend all that time alone with her? She’s a hyperactive, unpredictable baker and ah’m just a simple, down-to-earth farmer.  Applejack rubbed her temples with her forehooves.  Ah wonder if this is why ah never cared to see anypony before...


“Applejack?”  Pinkie asked.  Applejack looked up, realizing that she had been silent for a bit longer than she wanted.  “If you don’t wanna date a mare, I totally understand–”


“No, that isn’t it Pinkie.”  The baker stopped talking instantly, and Applejack sighed.  “It’s just... a strange feelin’.” Applejack smiled.  “Ah’m pretty confident that if ya asked me a few days ago, that ah’d have just said no.”


“Huh?”  She tilted her head.  Applejack was already starting to see that, if nothing else, spending time with Pinkie wouldn’t be boring.


“Before this whole fiasco... heck, ah probably wouldn’t have thought twice about sayin’ ‘sorry, not interested in mares,’ even though yer my friend.  Ah woulda figured ya understood that ah wasn’t that way.  Ah woulda figured that it ain’t no big deal.  But ya know what?”


“What?” Asked Pinkie, following up exactly on queue.


“It is a big deal.  Ah’d feel bad sayin’ no just because of somethin’ so stupid as yer gender, ‘specially after talkin’ to Dash so much.  Ah seen how much just that rejection for so little reason hurts.  So, ah am okay with it.  Ah don’t care if yer a stallion or a mare or whatever.  Yer mah friend, and that’s why ah’m gonna say that ah’d be glad to see ya tonight.”


“So you will!”


“Ah def–” The farmer was interrupted by the pink pony bringing her up in a powerful hug, lifting her out of her chair and into the air effortlessly.


“I promise that we’ll have tons of fun!  Oh, I’ll make us a nice meal and we can play games gossip and talk and we can have a sleepover and–”


“Whoa, a sleepover?!”  Applejack gently pushed the baker away.  “I don’t... know about that, Pinkie...”


Despite her pink fur, the mare somehow found a way to blush bright red.  “I-I don’t mean that!”  Her face scrunched up with surprise and disgust.  “Ewww...”


The farmer chuckled.  “Ah don’t mean nothin’ by it.”  Feeling that the conversation would be coming to a close, and that her exhaustion was catching up to her, Applejack got up from the table.  She placed several bits on the table, enough for both the bill and tip, even though the waiter hadn’t returned yet.  She left the restaurant at a comfortable walking pace, Pinkie Pie bouncing along beside her.  “Ah’m gonna go home and check on Big Mac and everypony else.  It’s been a while since ah’ve seen ‘em and ah never sent word about what ah was doin’.  Should ah just come over tonight?”


“I, uh, hadn’t thought that far ahead yet!”  Pinkie said, bouncing beside the farmer.  “Can I come over and get you at seven?  Is that okay?  We’ll probably have to spend most of the night in my room, since the bakery stays open until around ten.”


“That sounds good Pinkie.  It’s a date then.”  Applejack winked at her pink friend.  The action caused the baker to go into a giggle fit as she turned towards Sugar Cube Corner, starting her signature hopping-walk as she headed towards her home.


As Applejack watched her bounce off into the distance, then turned and started for home.  Ah’m glad she’s happy.  Ah get the feelin’ ah’m gonna be seein’ more of that happiness around here... soon this whole fiasco’ll be over and everythin’ can go back to normal. 


The farmer started to feel blissful, inspite of everything going on.  Is it right for me to be lookin’ forward to tonight when... when ah’m not sure ah’ll even like her?  With all of this goin’ on with Fluttershy and Aile?


Applejack stopped walking for a second, and shook her head.  No, of course it’s fine.  I left her at Twilight’s for a reason.  She can handle it much better than ah can.  It can’t be healthy to be worryin’ about all of this for so long... ah gotta think of me for once.  The farmer blinked.  Wow, that sounded selfish.

But Pinkie... this date ain’t just a night of ‘hangin’ out’ as it were, and it sure ain’t just about me – it’s kinda serious.  She may not have said it outright, but ah think she thinks that she really likes me – she doesn’t just decide she likes somepony more very often, since everypony is her friend.  Goin’ on this date means that ah gotta think about if it’s okay that she does, and if ah can like her too.


Can ah really do that?  Can Pinkie be more than a friend?


The thought made her smile.




The sight of Sweet Apple Acres as Applejack crested a hill was more comforting than she could have imagined.  She had only been gone a day, though with all that had happened, it felt like forever.  The thought of seeing her brother, her sister, and her granny again gave her some sense of stability in the crazy world she had been living in the past few days.


She promptly walked past her house and looked to the apple orchard that expanded as far as the eye could see.  Nearly every tree had the delicious red fruit on their branches, and the view gave her a sense of peace.  At least the apples are the same...


“Applejack?”  The mare turned to see her brother standing just outside the door to their home.


“Big Macintosh.”  Applejack lowered her hat in greeting.


The red stallion walked over to her sister, matching her gaze as it glided over the orchard.  “Ya didn’t come home last night, and ya didn’t send any word.”


“Sorry ‘bout that, somethin’ came up.  Had to play body guard all night for Fluttershy.”


“Everythin’ all right?”


Applejack sighed.  “Not in a manner of speakin’, but there ain’t much to be done about it.”


A few minutes of silence passed between the two of them, though it wasn’t awkward to the farmer – she and her brother had long been used simply sharing each other’s company in total silence.  As rare as these moments were with her work and her friends, she savored these moments, since they were as relaxing to her as to somepony reading a book or taking a nap.  She let her mind wander, mostly finding thoughts of Pinkie Pie and what kind of things to expect later that day.


She then realized that it was the first time either of them had ever had a date.  Not wanting to keep the news to herself much longer, she said with an air of confidence, “ah have a date tonight.”


“That so?”  Big Mac turned his head to his sister, a building smile on his face.  “Mah ah ask who the lucky stallion is?”


“She ain’t no stallion Big Mac.”  Applejack took in a giant breath to gather her resolve.  “She’s Pinkie Pie.”


“Pinkie Pie?”  The red stallion looked up in thought for few moments before continuing.  “Are ya serious?”


“Why wouldn’t ah be serious about–”


“That’s twenty bits ah owe Braeburn now,” he said.  “Guess he’s got ya pegged better than ah did.”


Applejack blinked.  “Wait, ya, took a bet on... mah first date, or if ah liked mares?”


He nodded.  “The latter.  Oh well, ah’m happy for ya sis.  About time somepony in this family started seein’ somepony else anyway.”


The orange mare looked to her brother with raised eyebrows.  “So... ya don’t care that she’s a mare?”


“Don’t see why ah should.  Ya can date whoever ya want, yer a big girl.”  Big Mac stood up.  In his turning around, he noticed that Applejack let out a big yawn.  “Ya tired?”


“A might.  Ah’m gonna take a little nap.”


“When ya headin’ out tonight?”


Applejack started walking towards her home, going up to her brother and keeping pace.  “Pinkie said she’d come by around seven.”


“Ah’ll make sure ya don’t sleep in then.”


The orange mare paused at the entrance to her house and then turned to the Big Mac.  “Yer almost always worried about me.  When ah tried to get through Applebuck Season all on my own, when we went off to Canterlot to stop Discord, when–”


“A date ain’t somethin’ to get worked up over, sis.  Ah worry about ya, but ah also know that ya can handle yerself.”


She nodded.  “Thanks for worryin’ at least.”


“Eeyup.  Now go get some rest.  A night alone with Pinkie’s gonna take a lot of energy.”


Applejack frowned.  That better not mean what ah think it means...