Ten Very Venturous Ponies
By: Neon Noble
Note: Wow, it’s been quite some time since I last even CONSIDERED writing fan-fiction of ANYTHING. I suspected even less that the next one would be based on My Little Pony—but I guess that’s what happens when inspiration strikes based on a picture I just drew. I hope I’ve still got my touch!
As far as Twilight Sparkle was concerned, it was a great day for reading—the sky was messily patched with dark slate clouds and a light but steady rain was falling. From her window in her room, nary a pony could be seen outside in the mud, unless an exception could be made for Pinkie Pie, who was giddily putting her multicolored umbrella hat to good use for the sake of it. At least it was only rain that was falling.
A page was flipped calmly. Satisfied in that she could take a day off from friend-related activities to read, Twilight sighed. With Spike napping in his own bed, she checked this afternoon off as just right.
The particular book that lay open in front of the unicorn was a particularly engaging novel about a horse’s dreams to sail the wide seas, titled “Seahorse”. Twilight’s purple eyes gleaned images and details from the pages at a leisurely pace, the pitter-patter of rain against the window softly breaking the silence.
Twilight sprang about a foot in the air when Spike suddenly awoke, jumped up, and belched out a swirl of green fire, a dazed look on his face. “EEP!” Twilight shrieked, momentarily jittery from the startle.
Twilight and Spike both wearily blinked at each other as a scroll of parchment floated down to the floor. Wide awake due to the mail call, Spike said, “Well, geez, what a way to get woken up!”
“Yeah, no kidding!” Twilight’s expression had transitioned from shock to light laughter, and the baby dragon groaned as he plucked the scroll from the ground.
“This had better be urgent…” Spike mumbled, casting a glance to the pony, who had stopped laughing, and opened the scroll to begin reading.
“‘Urgent message for Twilight Sparkle! (Wow, I guess I was right.) I’m sorry, my dear student, but I have an important task for you to attend to, and as soon as possible!’”
With an inquisitive eyebrow raised, Twilight cut in. “What could it be that Princess Celestia needs me to do that’s so urgent?”
“I was getting there!” Spike replied, casting a small glare at the unicorn before continuing.
“‘My sweet sister Luna has swiftly fallen ill with a strange sickness that none of my medical ponies can diagnose or cure, and even more of my aides have looked through every book available to try to find a possible answer and haven’t been able to come up with anything! I know you are very well-read, so I hope I can count on you to help me find a cure right away!’”
Spike paused reading and looked up at Twilight, a look of worry upon his scaled face. “She didn’t even sign it…You don’t think Princess Luna is in serious trouble, do you, Twilight?”
Twilight looked around at the bookshelves in her bedroom quickly and paused to answer. “I, uh, I don’t know, Spike. Is there a list of symptoms included in the letter?”
There was a second piece of parchment wrapped behind the first, and Spike produced this and gave it to Twilight. “What do you think?”
The unicorn quickly scanned through the list, the look on her face growing more worried with every word she read. “I don’t think this can be anything good…”
In mere moments, Twilight and Spike set to scouring the shelves for every medical book they could possibly find.
By the time the two had located and stacked about twelve books in the center of the Library, there came a loud knock on the door. Twilight poked her head down from a ladder and called, “Coming!”
She hopped over a pile of books in front of her and hurried to the front door, opening it quickly as she reached it.
Pinkie Pie flopped down on the floor, having missed her second knock, with a wet THUD.
Her umbrella hat falling off her head, Pinkie sprang up and said, “Hi, Twilight!” Her mane and tail were soggy and dripping, and her feet were covered in mud, but that didn’t prevent the pink pony from looking as bubbly as ever.
“I’m sorry Pinkie, but can you make this quick? I have some very, very important work to be doing for Princess Celestia right now!” Twilight pressed, spotting a bookshelf that had not yet been scoured and hurrying off to check the books on its shelves.
“Oh, I was just wondering if you’d let me in!” Pinkie replied, happily. A book labeled “Physics for Foals” soared over her head, but the pony didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she sprang over to the frantic unicorn, mud splattering over the floor wherever she landed.
“Whatcha doin’?” Pinkie asked, tilting her head at Twilight. The purple pony plucked up a book and tossed it aside, her eyes darting across the spines in front of her.
“No, no…” Twilight mumbled, before realizing that Pinkie had been speaking. “Oh, sorry, Pinkie, but it’s very important that I get this done as soon as possible!”
“But I wanna know what you’re doooooooing!” Pinkie Pie protested, watching Twilight hurry across the library to another bookshelf.
A book bounced off of Pinkie’s head as Twilight replied, “I’m trying to find all of the medical books! Oh, why isn’t this place better organized? Spike, when you can, write a note to remind me to sort these books later!”
Pinkie followed the frantically frisking filly around the library with several more muddy hops until the mud had completely been knocked off her hooves. “Why do you need a medical book? Is someone developing a scaaaary alien infection that is taking over their whole entire body, turning them green and--”
When Twilight had shoved the book into Pinkie’s mouth, she had reared up on her hind legs and was about to stomp around like some sort of monster. It was a good thing Twilight had stopped her.
“Pinkie! I need you to be quiet and listen carefully to me. Princess Luna is very sick with some mysterious sickness and Princess Celestia is urging me to try to find a cure! I can’t have you bothering me while I’m trying to help, so could you please leave?”
Pinkie looked nervously at the very concerned face Twilight was making. She instantly sprang back enthusiastically, asking, “Oh, can I help?”
“How can you not be as worried as I am about this?” Twilight asked, taking a moment from book searching to look at Pinkie Pie, who was currently hopping from side to side.
“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, so why wouldn’t I be happy! As long as we can get the princess fixed, we shouldn’t be all frowny-faced, right?”
“That’s just the thing, Pinkie Pie,” Spike said, walking over to the two. “We don’t know if we can get her feeling better!”
Pinkie froze mid-hop. The grimness of the situation finally dawned on her.
Pinkie screamed. It echoed out the front door that Twilight forgot to close. Outside, ponies began to poke their heads out of their homes, wondering what the fuss was all about.
“WHAT ARE WE GONNA DOOOOOOOOOOOO?” Pinkie shouted, running in circles around the library before darting out into the rain and out of earshot.
Twilight mentally scratched out the “just right” she had so prematurely labeled this afternoon.
By the time the rain had left Ponyville later that night, Twilight had just about read herself ragged. She and Spike had both collapsed into a pile of books: some were medical books scoured through multiple times to no avail; others were tomes tossed off the bookshelf. The various books they had collected lay sprawled all around the library, facing up or upside-down, their pages creasing from the weight.
A cool breeze stirred Twilight, and she blinked, her eyes opening to darkness. She groaned and shook “Supernaturals” off of her face before sitting up, blinking her eyes tiredly. The past few hours had been fruitless. Every last book failed to properly define any illness even close to that which Princess Luna had. The most important symptom had yet to fit in with the numerous other ones, and at whatever time it was when Twilight blinked out for an hour, she had realized that there was nothing that could possibly be written about this sickness.
Just when she thought she would find out the illness, the symptoms listed in the book would stop short of the most important one: an uncontrolled aura of magical energy. Princess Celestia had added some quick notes to the symptoms list, and this one had the most written up. The notes read, “My dear sister is plagued with a visible aura of magic around her. It is dark and uncontrollable—some of the medical ponies found themselves whisked away or transformed simply by standing too near to her! I’ve resumed control over the moon for now, but I worry that this strange aura will cause the moon to move on its own…”
This was what worried Twilight the most. The fact that Luna’s magic was acting of its own accord instead of to the Princess’ will resulted in the unicorn jumping to the conclusion that Nightmare Moon was breaking free of Luna’s body. However, Twilight let this idea stay further back in her mind instead of allow it to be most prominent in her thoughts. If Princess Celestia had decided that this was a possibility, she would’ve done something about it, anyway.
However, the thought of the moon being uncontrollable did cause Twilight to be uneasy. With the thoughts of the awful things that could happen racing through her minds, she searched the library for another medical book. The pony found that all of the related books had already been discovered, however, after a quick glance at the surrounding empty shelves, and sighed heavily.
Twilight remembered that she’d left her door wide open when she shivered as another breeze blew in, the freshness of the air after the rain calming to the unicorn’s nerves, even if momentarily. She began to saunter over to the door, head lowered in preparation to announce defeat, when a voice called out through the very door she was walking towards.
“Twi! Are you alright?”
Twilight looked up and blinked. Outside were Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash, all making their way across the damp roads to the library (except for Rainbow Dash, who was always flying, and Fluttershy, who simply felt like flying today). Applejack called Twilight’s name once more for the sake of it, and the unicorn smiled uneasily at them as they all came to a stop outside the tree-building.
“H-hey, girls. What are you all doing here?”
“We came as soon as we heard!” Rarity said. The other ponies cast dirty glances at her, and she sheepishly chuckled and added, “Well, as soon as the rain stopped and I could get my boots on…”
“We made sure to hurry over when we could after Pinkie told us, Sugar cube,” Applejack said, sharing a sympathetic look with the purple unicorn. “Do you want us to help?”
Twilight sighed. “I’m sorry, AJ, but Spike and I have already looked at every book we could find, and we couldn’t find anything about the sickness.”
“Oh dear…” Fluttershy said, her voice softer than normal. She even looked like she was about to cry.
“But you can’t give up like that, Twilight!” Rainbow Dash urged, gesticulating wildly with her front hooves. She circled around Twilight and into the library, continuing, “You’re the best at finding information ever! Would I give up on a race if it looked rough?”
“But, Dash, this isn’t a race we’re talking about!” Twilight protested. The remainder of the ponies filed into the library as Twilight followed after Rainbow Dash.
“Of course it is!” the multicolored Pegasus replied. “You’re trying to find the solution as fast as you can. How could that possibly be any different than a race?”
“The difference is that, unlike you, I actually know when I’ve been defeated…” Twilight sighed, looking away from the frowning pony hovering in the air.
“Don’t talk like that, Twilight!” Pinkie exclaimed, hopping up and down next to her. “All you gotta do is keep looking!”
“It’s not so easy when she’s already read through every book in here, sweetie.” Applejack said, casting a glance toward Pinkie.
“Oh, psssh, who said she had to keep looking in here? I bet somebody else might have a book she could use!” Pinkie replied, ceasing her hopping for a moment. “It’s not like these are the only books in Equestria!”
Twilight could only smile at her friend’s encouraging words. “You do have a good point, Pinkie Pie.”
A nearby pile of books stirred and a groan was heard. Fluttershy uttered a squeal and hid behind Rarity before realizing that it was simply Spike, buried in the books.
The baby dragon yawned and proceeded to make a statement. “I couldn’t help but overhear,” he began sarcastically, “but you guys are—yawn—forgetting that Princess Celestia and her aides have so many books available to them that it’s highly unlikely that any books around here wouldn’t be kept in their library—I mean, we used to live in one, didn’t we, Twilight?”
Twilight nodded solemnly. “I guess you’re right Spike. I--”
“You know who you should ask?” Rainbow cut in. “You should ask Zecora. I bet she might know a thing or two.”
The other ponies’ eyes lit up at the suggestion. “Well I’ll be, Dash! That’s a brilliant idea!” Applejack said.
Rainbow Dash grinned smugly, replying, “Yeah, well, it’s what I do.”
“I’d say a trip into the Everfree Forest would be worth it if Zecora could help us out,” Rarity added. “We’ve no time to dilly-dally; we should get moving right away!”
Even Fluttershy raised an eyebrow at Rarity, who laughed nervously at the others. “What? I can’t want to help just for the sake of helping?”
“Are you sure it’s not because you don’t want the moon to crash onto your dress shop or anything?” Raibow Dash inquired, hovering in front of the white unicorn’s face.
“…Oh my! Oh dear! I hadn’t even considered that!” Rarity said, her eyes shrinking in horror. “I just didn’t want all of my work for the Gala to be wasted!”
She turned and darted outside, shouting back to the others, “Quickly, quickly! We need to go now!”
The others exchanged confused looks inside the library before hurrying off after Rarity.
The streets of Ponyville were rather silent, save for the sounds of the six ponies and Spike racing through it. The moon in the night sky loomed overhead, its movement still under the control of Princess Celestia. The stars twinkled almost tentatively, as if a beautiful night sky would be undesirable in such circumstances. Still, the ponies (and Spike) traveled on.
They all stopped to catch their breath outside of the Everfree Forest.
“Well, we shouldn’t waste time,” Twilight said, looking around at her friends. “If there’s anything Zecora knows that can help, we’ll be one step closer to solving the problem.”
All of the ponies nodded silently in agreement before stepping into the forest.
The Everfree Forest was getting less and less scary with each passing venture inside, despite how creepy it was that it took care of itself. No Manticore or Cockatrice would be a problem with Fluttershy around. Poison Joke plants could be easily avoided at every turn. There was no Nightmare Moon around to cause problems. Traveling to Zecora’s hut and back was little more than a normal trip for the ponies now.
They walked carefully between the trees and bushes; every so often, vines and ivy had to be removed from the way, but it was seldom a difficult task. Every now and then, Fluttershy uttered a brief shriek, only to realize that she’d simply flown through a spider’s web or brushed against a tree branch. Rarity was coping much better with her muddy hooves then she normally should, simply whimpering to herself every now and then rather than screaming in pure terror.
Some strange howling sound echoed through the forest, and everpony had to shush Fluttershy before it attracted the group some unwanted attention. There seemed to be an awful lot of tension; it was nearly palpable.
A cool breeze rolled through the forest, spreading a light cloud of fog. Rainbow Dash silently dispersed it with her wings. No one felt the need to talk.
Zecora’s house was soon in view, despite the darkness of the night and the forest. There were no lights on, save for those few that were kept hanging from the tree of her hut, shaking ever so slightly from the wind. The bottles hanging from the branches clinked together with a mellow sound like chimes as the group made their way toward the wooden door.
Wordlessly, Twilight inched forward from the group to knock on the door. They were all nervous about waking up the zebra, and the consequences of doing so, despite being a friend, had Twilight hesitate briefly.
“Get on with it!” hissed Pinkie in an anxious whisper. The shrill sound echoed briefly around the group, and though Fluttershy was trembling, no pony else said anything.
Knock knock knock!
The very moment she finished the initial knocks on the door, Twilight scooted back into the group—if somepony was going to be angry for being awoken, it’d be best to share the blame with others.
They waited. A minute or two passed, and all that could be seen or heard were the bottles chiming in the tree.
“Maybe we should just go back…” Twilight whispered nervously.
“What, you’re scared? Come on, Twilight! If you were going to wimp out like this, we wouldn’t have even brought you!” Rainbow Dash whispered back, her voice cracking with frustration. “I’ll handle this, then!”
Rainbow Dash flew forward and wasted no time in hammering away on the door. With a proud look on her face and her front legs crossed triumphantly, she had started to mutter, “There, it wasn’t that hard,” before she was interrupted by a light flickering on inside the tree-hut and the sounds of hooves crossing the floor.
The door finally opened and the ponies outside winced when the light from inside hit them. As their eyes adjusted, they could see the silhouette of Zecora in the doorway, her mane and tail unkempt and messy from sleep.
“Who comes in the night so deep so as to interrupt my sleep?” As peculiar as it was for the zebra to speak in rhyme, the other ponies couldn’t help but feel a little pleased that she could keep it up with her eyes half closed and her voice drowned in sleepiness.
“We’re terribly sorry to wake you up, Zecora,” Twilight began, breaking the awkward silence, “but we desperately need your help.”
“My dear friends, I’ll gladly help you all. I only wish it is day when you call.” Zecora replied, smiling tiredly at the group before gesturing for them to enter.
They filed in steadily, their eyes once again accustomed to the light, and gathered around in the hut. Zecora, blinking tiredly, bumped into one of her decorative masks but once before locating some water and splashing it against her face.
“Ah, I feel so much better now that my face is wetter,” the zebra rhymed, turning to the ponies, “What is it that you wish to know? Speak it carefully so my mind has time to go.”
Twilight explained the case carefully, even going so far as to show the zebra the list of symptoms that had been sent to her. The rest of the group waited patiently, though Pinkie had taken to lightly humming her “Evil Enchantress” song.
“Hmmm…” Zecora said, her eyes closed in deep thought. Rarity raised an eyebrow after a minute had passed, hoping that the zebra hadn’t fallen asleep whilst racking her brain for an answer.
Eventually, she spoke up. “Familiar, this sounds to me. I might have a book somewhere—let’s see.”
She trotted over to a shelf and removed one of the books from it. Neither Twilight nor Spike recognized this one—the title written on the book’s cover wasn’t in a language they could read. Zecora flipped through the pages quickly, pausing every now and then to scan the page, only to continue on through the next several pages.
The wait was long and silent—if the ponies had been holding their breath in anticipation, not even Fluttershy would have been able to last. Luckily, the agonizing wait finally faded away as Zecora turned toward the ponies, gesturing to a page in the open book.
Rainbow Dash silently pumped her fist in victory.
“This text is very old, written by zebra folk very bold. In its pages I have found the answer you’ve been chasing around.”
“Go on…” Applejack urged. Pinkie looked like she might die of anticipation.
“It is called the Sickness of the Stars, a horrid condition rarely seen near or far. The only way to fall into this ailment is purely buy the stars’ alignment. It does not choose its foes; simply by chance will one feel these woes.”
The audience gasped loudly as Zecora went on.
“Hardly once in a decade this sickness will be possessed. Rarer still is the cure that is witnessed. Only two cases are outlined in the book; based on what I have read, there exists a grim outlook. Both ponies sadly passed away, their time limited to two weeks and a day. Legends, however, have stated that a cure may be located.”
A loud sigh escaped the mouths of the ponies.
“A cure? What do we have to do?” Twilight asked urgently.
“You must begin to prepare—and fast! Your only choice is by sail and mast. Across the Angry Sea is the only way, unless you wish to waste your days. The answers you seek are in another land; take note that the journey is grand. Vile weather will stop you most, but beware of sirens at the coast. A rare plant is what you need, and you can cure the princess with its seed, but long and rough the travel will be. You must be tough if you wish to cure this pony!”
The rhymes certainly had everypony’s minds going wild. Fluttershy shuddered at the sounds of the trip and Rainbow Dash began daydreaming of the glory that successfully completing the task would bring. Rarity was having a silent breakdown at how dirty and difficult it all sounded. Twilight shared a concerned look with Spike and then Zecora while Pinkie Pie was busily blabbering on about a sudden need for a pirate hat.
“So, let me get this straight,” Applejack spoke up, tired of being confused by the zebra’s almost cryptic manner of speaking. “You’re tellin’ us that Princess Luna just randomly got sick by chance and the only way to get her back on her hooves is by crossin’ some ocean Ah’ve never heard a salt-lickin’ thing about, just to find some flower so we can haul its seeds back in time to make the Princess better?” She said this almost all in one breath and rather quickly, and was now panting slightly.
“It does sound kind of far-fetched, Zecora,” Twilight added. “Are you sure that’s it?”
“With an illness so rare, the book’s explanation is fair.” Zecora replied, nodding. “The Sun’s flower is what you seek. Retrieving it is not for the meek.”
“Sunflower? You made it sound like it’d be hard!” Pinkie exclaimed. “Why, Applejack’s got tons of them around her farm, I bet!”
“I reckon that’s not what she’s talkin’ ‘bout, Pinkie.” Applejack replied.
“The Sun’s Flower is no simple crop: night and day it glows without stop. It is mentioned only rarely in ancient verse, but it is your only hope to keep this from getting worse.” Zecora bowed her head solemnly.
“Spike, I need you to send a message to Princess Celestia at once. You must tell her everything we’ve been told!” Twilight said, her face wrought with stress.
Spike borrowed a quill and some parchment from Zecora before hurriedly writing down all they’d been told—without the rhyme, of course.
“I need you to add that we are going to set sail as soon as we can. We have to get those seeds right away!”
The rest of the group seemed shocked. “N-now, Twi, Ah know you mean well, but… Well, uh, Ah don’t think it’d be such a good idea for the lot of us to go after that flower!” Applejack protested.
“Twilight…” Fluttershy added in, “It sounds so… very… dangerous…… We can’t possibly—I mean, I don’t think we—uh… I mean…”
Spike, pausing in the middle of writing, chimed in. “They’re right, Twilight. It sounds awfully dangerous, and no one has any idea where we’re even going! Why can’t you just have Princess Celestia send someone who knows what they’re doing?”
“Because, Spike,” Twilight said, stamping one of her front hooves and raising her voice, “I couldn’t possibly let Princess Celestia down! I would feel awful if I didn’t personally try to help! Somepony has to step up to the task and get it done, and if it’s only going to be me, then fine! I’ll go myself!”
“Now, dear, don’t get so worked up!” Rarity interjected. “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into!”
“I don’t care!” Twilight replied defiantly. “I’ve got some books on sailing! I’ll be perfectly fine on my own!”
The other ponies and Spike shared worried looks.
“Now you listen, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash started, “I know you think that books are going to help you with whatever you need, but sailing is hardly a one-pony job! And, besides, this sounds more like a mission for the bravest pony around—That’s why I’m going with you!”
“Dash! You can’t be serious!” Applejack stammered.
“Did I stutter?”
“Darling, neither of you would last out there!” Rarity argued. “What if you both are turned raving mad from the ocean? Why, we’d never see you again!”
“Rarity, I’m sure that we could handle ourselves--” Twilight began, but Applejack cut her off.
“You’d be doomed if y’all set out all by yourselves! Ah bet you aren’t even strong enough tah handle the riggin’s and whatnot!”
“A-and it would be ever so scary…” Fluttershy squeaked.
Pinkie Pie interjected suddenly, hopping up and down. “You guys are booooring! It would be like a party the entire time if I was there! There’s no time to be scared if you’re too busy having fun! And besides, we could pretend we’re pirates! AAAARRRRGH, me hearties! What say ye to swashbuckling good times and treasure? And the welcome-home celebration party when we return would be simply terrific! The Grand Galloping Gala would barely be able to match the amazing party-ness! I can’t wait to set sail!”
The high-pitched, quick words of the energetic pink pony took a little while to sink in.
“Pinky, dear…” Rarity said, chuckling nervously as she spoke, “You don’t mean to tell us that you’re going with them, are you?”
“Why not?” Pinkie said with a smile, “With me planning the trip, nothing could possibly go wrong!”
Rarity, Applejack, and Fluttershy exchanged glances that clearly said they begged to differ.
“Pinkie Pie, sugar, if you’re goin’ to go with them, Ah simply couldn’t stay here and let you go runnin’ around all reckless and whatnot!” Applejack replied. “And Ah’m so busy takin’ care of Sweet Apple Acres, it’d be a travesty if Ah left…”
“Nonsense, Applejack!” Pinkie laughed. “The harvest isn’t for several months! Why, I’d bet good old Big Macintosh would be fine taking care of the farm on his own!”
“Applejack, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to,” Twilight said, sighing. “Neither you, Rarity, nor you, Fluttershy. The three of us will be fine, I’m sure!”
Spike sighed impatiently. “Can I just send this letter now?” He tapped his foot on the floor and crossed his arms.
“Yes, Spike, go ahead. We must be hurrying back to Ponyville soon—the three of us have to prepare.” Twilight replied before turning to Zecora. “Thank you very much, Zecora. We wouldn’t have anything to go off of if it wasn’t for you!”
Spike reached out the window and sent off the letter in a burst of green, fiery breath.
“It is quite alright, my dear. I hope your travels are without fear.” Zecora replied, nodding. She let out a yawn. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get some sleep—I’m falling behind.”
Twilight smiled and rounded up her friends to leave. Those that had not said they would tag along walked with a loss of energy, feeling rather ashamed for not wanting to go. They trailed behind the three ahead, who now traveled with an extra spring in their gait.
The zebra watched the group exit her hut and set out to return to Ponyville. She sighed silently to herself before turning out her lights.
“Good hearts they hold. This tale will forever be told.”
With that, the zebra yawned and tiredly flopped back into her bed.
The three eager ponies had chattered away all the way back to Ponyville, devising a plan to get everything set up. Their plan included borrowing a boat from one of the residents of the town, Mr. Redmane, getting food supplies from the Apple family, and setting out the moment they could get it all together at once. It wouldn’t be very much of an easy feat to get it done in less than a day; at the very least, it would take about a day for a team of strong ponies to tow the boat out to the shore of the Angry Sea—that meant they would need to go either straight through the Everfree Forest or around it, according to Twilight’s maps.
The other ponies, however, were feeling very ashamed. Even Spike felt a little guilty, despite the fact that he didn’t usually have to go on expeditions with Twilight. Fluttershy sighed every few minutes, venting out her disappointment with herself, while Rarity and Applejack simply kept their mouths shut. All four of them hung their heads.
Stars still covered the sky above when they returned to the silent town. Dawn wouldn’t come for several more hours at least, and a chilling breeze stirred a light fog in the air. The group stopped at the library, where Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie stayed to discuss further plans and investigate maps. Spike also said goodbye to Rarity, Fluttershy, and Applejack before heading inside for some sleep.
The group of three was left to go home. Rarity went off to her workshop on her own, looking rather tired and defeated, while Applejack took the time to walk poor Fluttershy to her cottage.
“They… they’ll be okay… won’t they?” Fluttershy whispered in the night.
Applejack exhaled a small sigh that turned into a light fog in the coolness. “Sugar cube, they’ll be fine… problem is, Ah reckon they’ll need more help than they’ve got.”
Fluttershy was silent, thinking to herself for a moment.
“But if they’re set in their ways about this, there ain’t a thing Ah can do ‘bout it.” Applejack said. The two crossed over the bridge by Fluttershy’s home.
“If you say so…” Fluttershy squeaked, opening the door to her cottage.
“Now, y’all go and get some rest now. Ah’ll see you tomorrow, Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy nodded silently and entered her house while Applejack turned around to leave.
“Jus’ get some sleep. G’night.”
Applejack heard the door close after some kind of sound came from Fluttershy. She thought it was “good night”, but she wasn’t entirely sure. The orange pony set off through the night to Sweet Apple Acres at a leisurely canter, taking in all of the details of the trip and trying to come to a conclusion of how many apples and other assorted foods her friends would need on the voyage—a voyage she wouldn’t be going on.
She sighed heavily, mildly cursing at herself for being a bad friend. Rationalizing her choice with her family-related responsibilities, the pony stepped onto her family’s land and headed along the road to the barn-house. The farm was silent, as it was still too early for most creatures to be awake.
Just as Applejack was about to open one of the doors, she heard a voice.
Her brother wasn’t most creatures.
“It’s ‘bout time you got back, AJ.”
Applejack, who, at first, had been startled, turned to see her big brother, Big Macintosh, who had been waiting for her to return home since she left. “Oh, howdy…”
The large, red horse walked up to his sister. “Where were you this whole time?”
“We just went down to visit Zecora,” Applejack replied, not feeling like making eye contact. “That’s all.”
“The Everfree Forest, at this time of night? What got into you all?” Big Macintosh asked, raising an eyebrow. Faintly, Applejack could see that he’d kept himself occupied with a piece of wheat in his mouth.
“Well, we had somethin’… We needed to ask her a little question, is all.”
“It was about the Princess, wasn’t it?” Apparently, Applejack wasn’t the only one listening to Pinkie’s frantic explanation that afternoon. The pony could only nod her head in silence.
Big Machintosh sighed heavily, his deep voice resonating lightly against the barn and the trees. “Come on in, AJ. You need to sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Having been up so late, Applejack could understand how quickly the day came after she’d gone to sleep. She woke up rather late past the usual time she got up to start chores, and was surprised to find that no one was giving her any lip for it—not even Granny Smith. Applejack sighed and got herself cleaned up before walking downstairs to get started on the day’s work. Big Macintosh had a clipboard and a pencil with him, writing down some figures here and there. He was up to math again.
“’Mornin’, Big Macintosh.”
The horse put down his pencil. “Oh, hello, AJ.”
“Whatcha up to?”
“Big order came in. Twilight Sparkle was here ‘bout an hour ago, askin’ us for some food supplies on their trip.”
Applejack laughed nervously. “Oh, yeah, that…”
“Well, she told me ‘bout it. Problem is, I don’t recall hearin’ ‘bout you goin’ along with her,” Big Macintosh gave Applejack a skeptical look. “You are goin’, aren’t you?”
“Er, well, Ah…” Applejack stammered, trying to think of something to say. She quickly realized that there wasn’t much to reply with, so she sighed and hung her head. “No. Ah figured y’all would need mah help ‘round here, so Ah couldn’t help but decline…”
Big Macintosh sighed. “Well, I can’t force you to do what you don’t want to, but if you’re gonna stay here an’ help, I’m gonna need you to help take care of the food those five need.”
“… Did y’all just say ‘five’?”
“Big Macintosh, Ah think y’all done got your math confused. ‘Twas only three: Twi, Rainbow Dash, an’ Pinkie Pie.” Applejack replied, giving her brother a confused look. “What do you mean, ‘five’?”
Big Macintosh picked up the clipboard and showed it to Applejack. Indeed, the figures were large enough to signify five people—as far as Applejack could tell, anyway—but clearly her brother had heard wrong.
“Your friend mentioned herself, Dash, Pinkie, Rar’ty, an’ Fluttershy. Five.”
Applejack’s jaw hung agape. “What the hay? I’ll be right back, Big Macintosh!”
Hat secured on top of her head, Applejack hurried off toward the town. Big Macintosh shrugged as he watched her hurry off before going back to his work.
There sure was some commotion in the town square this morning. Applejack could see that nearly everypony who lived there was crowded around the main square. Murmurs of anticipation and excitement could be heard as she neared the back of the crowd—and a thick crowd at that. Applejack had stopped at the back of the crowd and began jumping up to see into the center of the crowd. She was fairly certain she’d caught a glimpse of Rainbow Dash, but she was gonna need to make her way through the crowd to know for sure.
“’Scuse me. Pardon me. Whoop—sorry ‘bout that, ma’am!” Applejack pushed her way through the crowd, receiving some confused looks from the other ponies. Eventually they began to part for her, and Applejack found herself at the front of the circle.
She also found that Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Pinkie were also there, in the very center, talking to the mayor, who seemed to be rather excited. There was another horse nearby, with a gray coat and a peculiarly curly red mane and what looked like a beard. Applejack assumed that this was Redmane, the pony they were gonna borrow the boat from.
“Oh, hi Applejack!” Pinkie exclaimed, spotting the hat-wearing pony and springing up next to her. “Whatcha doin’ down he--”
“Just what the hay is goin’ on?” Applejack shouted. The crowd became silent, and her friends looked at her with confusion.
“What are you talking about, Applejack?” Rainbow Dash said, swooping next to her.
“Ah mean, what happened with Rarity and Fluttershy over there?” Applejack stomped her hoof. “Didn’t y’all say you weren’t goin’?”
“Oh, well, um…” Fluttershy stammered, shrinking away from Applejack, “I, um… I didn’t want to…” Her voice trailed away.
“What she means to say, dear, is that she didn’t want to leave her friends to go on their own!” Rarity broke in, nodding to the yellow Pegasus.
“A-and I didn’t want to… well, I didn’t want to miss out on the other c-creatures and plants we could see…” Fluttershy added, smiling softly at Applejack. “I hope you understand, Applejack…”
Applejack groaned, but couldn’t find it in herself to argue with Fluttershy. “Ah understand, but what about you, Rarity? Why would you want to go with them?”
“Well, like a proper friend, I realized I would have to go with them!” Rarity said in an accusatory tone. “Plus, I wanted to get some inspiration for a sea-bound line, and I’ll never be able to do that without experiencing it first-hoof!”
“B-but you, of all ponies, would never--” Applejack began, but she was cut off by a young, male voice.
“Wait, R-Rarity’s going with them?!”
Spike pushed his way through the crowd, running up to the ponies in the center. He stopped, trying to catch his breath, and added, “If she’s going, I’m going, too!”
Twilight giggled at the baby dragon. “Oh, Spike!”
“I’m serious, Twilight!” Spike replied, looking from her to Rarity and back again. “I can go, can’t I?”
“Well I don’t see why not…” Twilight pondered aloud.
“Oh, Spike, sweetie, you don’t need to do this just because of little ol’ me!” Rarity added, grinning nervously. “I would never dream of making you go! You don’t have to, really!”
“But I want to!” Spike protested. “I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer!”
Fluttershy smiled. “Oh, I’m sure you can come, Spike! … If that’s okay with you, Twilight…”
“I don’t see why not!” Twilight said. “Sure, Spike, you can come!”
Applejack had had enough of this interrupting her argument and she opened her mouth again to speak—and speak she did. She spoke rather loudly, too.
“Now hold on just a hay-pickin’ minute! I thought y’all weren’t gonna go! Don’t y’all have any common sense, or is it just me?”
“Listen, Applejack,” Rainbow Dash replied, “You don’t have to come with us if you don’t want to, but the rest of us have decided it’s the best thing to do, regardless of what you say!”
“And we’ve thought this all through for a long time, Applejack!” Twilight added. “I know you’re just telling us the truth about what you’re thinking, but somepony needs to get Princess Luna cured, and we’re going to do it with or without you. I don’t mean to make you angry, but it has to be done.”
Applejack was silent for a while, facing the ground. The ponies both in the center and in the crowd looked at her anxiously. They could tell, by the way Applejack was looking around, that she was doing some serious thinking. So serious, in fact, that is seemed she’d muttered a word without knowing it.
“What was that?” Pinkie Pie asked, tilting her head.
“What about it?”
“…None of y’all are strong enough to handle the rigging.”
“Pssssh! So?” Pinkie Pie hopped around to Applejack’s other side.
“So? So it means that y’all won’t be able to get that there ship to sail! Y-y’all need somepony strong to take care of it!” Applejack stammered, looking up at her friends. She let out a heavy sigh.
“And Ah’m gonna have to go along to make sure y’all can get there and back safely.”
There was a loud rushing of air, as if everyone in the crowd had gasped at once. Someone in the back shouted “Muffins!” in the silence.
“Applejack… Does this mean you’re going to go with us?” Twilight asked, stepping toward the pony.
Applejack nodded, smiling up at her friends. “Yes, Twi, it means Ah’m goin’ along on this party boat. Ah’m sorry it took so long for me to agree.”
The crowd cheered.
Twilight gave Applejack a hug and exclaimed, “Excellent! We’ll be glad to have you aboard! Now, let’s go get these preparations all sorted out! We’ve got just about a day to get it all taken care of, and…”
As Twilight went on about the preparations, Applejack simply smiled in relief, knowing that she did the right thing. She also made a mental note to tell Big Macintosh that he’d have double chores for the next several days.
Applejack had returned to the farm to explain that they were going to need extra rations, as well as break the news to her brother that he would be doing more work while she was gone. He simply smiled softly, said, “Eyup,” and set to work making a list of what would be gathered.
That’s about the time when Apple Bloom showed up. “Big sis, yer not leavin’ to go on that there trip, are ya?”
The orange pony turned toward her little sister and smiled. “Of course Ah am! Ah’ve gotta help out my friends, don’t Ah?”
Apple Bloom shook her head, her pink bow flopping back and forth. “But I thought you didn’t wanna go with ‘em before?”
“Well, sugar cube, Ah realized Ah’d be doing my friends wrong if Ah didn’t go with them. They’re gonna need my help on that big ol’ boat, and Ah simply can’t let ‘em go without me.” Applejack replied. She looked into her big, bright orange eyes and saw that the little filly was beginning to get worked up. “Oh, sweetie, Ah promise Ah’ll be back in one piece! Do you really think there’s anythin’ out there that can stop a tough Apple family pony like me? One little adventure won’t take me down, ya hear?”
The little pony smiled up at her sister and nodded. Somewhere in her head, however, wheels were turning, and after Applejack gave her sister a pat on the head, Apple Bloom scurried off through the farm.
“Huh. What’s that pony up to?”
“Emergency meeting of the Cutie Mark Crusaders! Emergency meeting of the Cutie Mark Crusaders!” Apple Bloom shouted this as loud as she could outside the window of Rarity’s dressmaking shop. She had to shout it a second time when five minutes had passed and there had been no response. A story above, one of the windows slid open.
“What’s that? An emergency meeting?” Sweetie Belle called, her curled mane rustling in the breeze. She poked her head out the window to get a good look at Apple Bloom.
“I ain’t sayin’ there’s free cake, am I? Come ooooon! We need to get Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom shouted, stomping her hooves restlessly.
“Fine! I’ll be right there!” The window was quickly shut and Apple Bloom tapped her hoof on the ground while she waited for Sweetie Belle to get outside.
“Here I am!” Sweetie Belle called, trotting outside.
“Good, good. Now, we just need ScootalOOF!”
To be taken by surprise by somepony is one thing, but to be taken by surprise by somepony on a scooter is a completely different thing, as Apple Bloom quickly learned. The small, orange, purple-haired baby Pegasus had careened down the road, propelling herself with her small wings, on her scooter, and had evidently not seen her two friends up ahead. When she realized, it was far too late to say anything, and she slammed right into Apple Bloom, causing the two to flip and roll over for a few feet until they eventually crashed into a bush.
“What the hay? What just happened?” Sweetie Belle cried, bewilderedly looking all around. She eventually saw where her suddenly missing friend had wound up, and trotted over to the bush where a helmeted Scootaloo and Apple Bloom lay, dazed and dirty.
“Are you two okay?”
“Extreeeeeeeme…” Scootaloo mumbled.
“I think I’m gonna need a box of bandages.” Apple Bloom said, rolling out of the bush and onto her back. Sweetie Belle walked over and sat on her haunches, lifting her front hooves in the air over Apple Bloom’s face.
“How many do you see?”
“I, uh… Since when were you able to fly, Sweetie Belle?”
“Don’t move! I’m gonna get you some ice!”
“Where in Equestria would I even move to?” Apple Bloom called after her white-coated friend, her voice heavy with dizziness and sarcasm.
“Note to self,” Scootaloo said slowly, “Get a horn for my scooter.”
Sweetie Belle returned to the two with a first-aid kit in her mouth and some ice in a saddlebag on her back. She sat Apple Bloom up and quickly set to work, wrapping gauze around the little pony. She tugged Scootaloo out of the bush and did the same.
Perhaps she used too much gauze. “Uh, Sweetie Belle, I don’t think I can move.”
“What? Oh no! I need to get you to--”
“No, I mean, I think you used too many bandages.”
“Oh. Whoops. Guess that means I’m not getting a first-aid Cutie Mark.” Sweetie Belle replied, removing most of the excess bandages.
“Maybe I got a stuntpony Cutie Mark?” Scootaloo asked, trying to turn and look. “Do you see anything?”
“All I can see from here is that you need to go slower.” Apple Bloom muttered, rolling over to her side. “Look, I have more important matters to discuss with y’all! I think I know a perfect way to try an’ get our Cutie Marks!”
Sweetie Belle must have dropped her first aid kit on Scootaloo, because Apple Bloom heard Scootaloo give out some sort of squeak while she was standing up. The bow-wearing pony trotted over to her friends to help Scootaloo up.
“We need to meet in our club house right away! Come on!”
“I don’t want to moooooove.”
“Darn it, Scootaloo! Sweetie Belle, help me get her onto her scooter.”
“Thanks again for letting us use your boat, Mister Redmane!” Twilight said. The older pony smiled back, his beard ruffling.
“I tell you, lass, this ship is me pride and joy! She’s named ‘Seabreeze’. I’d be out with ‘er right now if the missus didn’t think I was losing hold of me sea legs!” Redmane laughed, leading Twilight and the others around a large hill to his home.
Around the hill waited a large, brown, wooden vessel with a white-lined frame, its tall center mast standing resolute with its sail secured tightly around the horizontal beam. The headsail was also tied up around its own rigging at the front. Redmane’s entire ship was situated atop a large rig with wheels attached to it, and it was huge.
Twilight was vaguely aware of her jaw hanging open.
“I used to sail all me youth! I tell you, don’t let old age git t’ you like it did with me!” Redmane continued, directing Twilight to a ramp up onto the deck. “I’ve been keepin’ ‘er ship-shape ever since I had t’ stop—a shark nearly bit me tail off!”
Twilight followed him onto the deck. It glistened with the care of years, every board smooth and glossy. The bolts and glue at the visible joints were seamlessly placed and the paint job was as crisp as one could imagine. As Redmane rattled on about the time he chased a whale, Twilight inspected the cabin. It was fairly large on the inside, with a small kitchen and several cushioned seats. There were windows to either side of the aft-set room, and it looked as if it could easily hold six ponies—maybe even seven. The main deck below, on the other hand, would be used as a sort of storage for their food provisions.
She was taken up to the top of the cabin, where she was shown the steering wheel. They were fairly high off of the ground, given the ship’s size; it would take at least ten strong ponies to get it moving, and even then the entire rig would be slow. Twilight considered asking why the ship wasn’t in a dock, but she somehow found herself in the part of Redmane’s story that explained it.
“I couldn’t believe me eyes! The rough seas o’ the Angry Sea had torn the dock clean off of the shore! O’course it was a shabby thing, since I had t’ make it meself, but I nearly lost ‘er when she hit land! Oh, I sure scurried home to get some fellows to help me bring Seabreeze home to repair, but while I was repairin’ ‘er, I met me wife, and since then I couldn’t get back t’ sea.”
“Well, don’t you worry, Mr. Redmane! I’ve got plenty of books about sailing, and I promise we’ll take perfectly good care of your ship!” Twilight said, smiling at the gray and red horse. He gave a yellow old smile in return, laughing heartily.
“I know how you work with your books, lass! Why, if you let home without ‘em, I’d be worryin’ me tail off!”
“Girls, we’re lookin’ at a textbook adventure here! Applejack and Rarity are both goin’ on a big ship to find some sort of arty-fact on the other side of the sea!” Apple Bloom explained in the confines of the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ clubhouse.
“Wow! Just imagine all the kinds of ways we could get our Cutie Marks if we went on an adventure!” Scootaloo exclaimed. “Why, there could be one for sailing, or one for swimming, or one for escaping the Temple of Doom, or--”
“Don’t you go an’ get ahead of yerself, Scootaloo. We still need to get on that ship!”
“Why can’t we just ask our sisters if we can go with them?” Sweetie Belle asked, raising her hoof.
“Because I know my big sis ain’t gonna let me go with her, and your sister’s probably not gonna let you go with her, either!” Apple Bloom replied. “That’s why we gotta sneak onboard!”
The other two fillies gasped. “Apple Bloom, we could get into so much trouble!” Sweetie Belle protested.
“What’s worse? Gettin’ in trouble, or not havin’ a Cutie Mark?” Apple Bloom asked. Her fellow Crusaders exchanged a look silently. They couldn’t argue with that logic.
“Now, here’s what we’re gonna do…”