Trouble Comes in Threes: Chapter One
“Sis, what’s a ‘fillyfooler’?”
To her credit, Applejack did her best to keep balance mid-buck as her little sister posed the question as innocently as she could. Unfortunately, when combined with shock, her best left her sprawled on her stomach after completely missing any of the three apple trees within five feet of her. Fate and Comedy conspired to drop an apple on the mare’s head to punctuate her luck, but Physics vetoed the notion.
Applejack dragged herself to her feet while Applebloom, flanked on either side by Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, equally her closest friends and partners in crime, waited patiently for her older sister’s response. Foallike curiosity was plastered across the faces of all three fillies, oblivious to their faux pas. Applebloom especially had prepared her best Look. It is capitalized quite purposefully, for the Look has been long practiced and perfected, capable of melting the most frigid of hearts and convincing bookish, friendless unicorns to spend half a day eating apple pastries. It was a weapon most powerful, and perhaps most frightening of all, Applebloom could perform it at the drop of a hat. Applejack’s hat to be specific, which she was in the process of dusting off, before flinging it back to its usual perch on her head.
“Just what in tarnation are you using that kinda language for, young lady? Who taught you that word?” said Applejack, giving her sister a short glare, which quickly evaporated when met with the Look. Aw, crabapples. She’s getting good at that. “It was Dash, weren’t it? I thought I told that pony to stop teaching you them things! I’m gonna have a long talk with-“
Applebloom placated her sister by cranking the power of the Look up another notch, pouting as hard as she could. Sweetie Belle shuffled uncomfortably, while Scootaloo took a step back, anticipating waterworks.
“It wasn’t Rainbow, sis! And that was just the one time and I promised not to say it again and y’all said I could still hang out with her! It’s just that some of the other foals at school were saying stuff like ‘Applebloom’s big sis is a fillyfooler, nyah nyah!’” Applebloom said, mimicking her classmates with her two front hooves at her ears, prancing from side to side on her back legs. Applejack’s face contorted between bewilderment and outrage.
“I’m a WHAT!? Those little rat-eating brats, why I’m gonna… Err,” Applejack paused, catching sight of her little sister’s Look again, now threatening to reach critical mass and cause a meltdown. “W-what I mean to say is, well, uh,” trailing off, Applejack cursed her luck. Why couldn’t they have found Granny Smith or Big Mac first? She instantly banished that thought from her mind, replacing it with thoughts of all the catastrophic ways such scenarios could have gone wrong.
“Err, yeah, well… It’s a lil’ filly that likes another filly. A lot. That’s really all y’all need to know, just don’t go spreading that sort of language about, you hear? Keep it to yourselves!” Applejack nodded smartly, pleased with her answer. She quickly set about returning to her work, lining up with the tree she failed to buck in the first place.
After a short and hushed debate, the Cutie Mark Crusaders decided they were satisfied and ran off towards the Apple family home, no doubt enticed by the smell of one of Granny Smith’s famous apple pies being baked. “Thanks sis, see ya at home!”
Scootaloo galloped alongside Sweetie Belle, furrowing her brow while the Crusaders ran towards the sweet scent of apple pie. “Dude, doesn’t that mean she IS a fillyfooler? She’s got all kinds of friends, right?”
“Maybe it’s just for extra special best friends? Like, um… Miss Lyra and Miss Bon-Bon? Or Miss Twilight Sparkle and the Princess?” Sweetie Belle pondered.
“Or like us!” said Applebloom with a grin as she caught up with her friends.
“Yeah, totally! Man, it doesn’t seem so bad. Wonder why they were makin’ fun of your sister with it. That’s not worth getting detention over,” said Scootaloo.
“That darn Snails deserved to get his rump kicked! It ain’t my fault that Miss Cheerilee was watching!” said Applebloom in a huff.
It was late in the evening by the time Applejack had finished the latest harvest, and the Sun was beginning to dip below the horizon as Princess Celestia passed the torch off to her sister Luna. Applejack hauled her cart of apples into the barn of Sweet Apple Acres, tucking it next to four others, all filled to the brim. She would leave them for Big Mac to take stock of in the morning.
Big Macintosh gave the impression of a simple workpony, but the stallion had a head for numbers and consistently amazed Applejack with moments of brilliance that he exhibited. Applejack had no problem sticking to physical labor as long as she didn’t have to balance the books, which her brother gladly took care of. He would take care of the rest of the farm as well, if Applejack let him, but she was just as stubborn as he, and wouldn’t allow it. That darn colt needs a sensible mare to settle him down, I swear, she thought, exiting the barn and closing the door with a swift buck.
Applejack gave a relieved sigh and let her muscles loosen up now that the long work day was over. The sound of hooves clopping along a dirt trail alerted her to a pony approaching from the path to Ponyville, and Applejack’s mood instantly brightened when she caught sight of her good friend, Twilight Sparkle. The farm pony broke into a wide smile and trotted over to her guest, who at the moment was carrying two saddlebags filled to bursting with thick tomes. This was an ordinary sight, Twilight being Ponyville’s librarian. She preferred to keep her books in the library, however, so Applejack’s interest was piqued by the heavy load that Twilight brought out to the farm.
“Twilight! What’re you doing all the way out here, girl? Trying to sneak a peek or two at Big Mac working the orchard, eh?” said Applejack, giving Twilight a playful jab in the flank with her hoof.
“W-what? Of course not!” said Twilight as she stepped back defensively, flushing somewhat. Applejack cocked an eyebrow while Twilight composed herself. “I mean, Big Macintosh is a fine stallion, but he’s not really my type. Not that I have a type, I’m just saying, but I prefer someone with more… book smarts?” Twilight grinned sheepishly and stopped talking, hoping to avoid digging herself into a deeper hole. She didn’t want to offend Applejack by implying her brother was one wheel short of a wagon.
Applejack stifled a laugh and held her tongue. She was only teasing her friend, but thoughts of playing Cupid began to creep into her head. Electing not to let Twilight find out just how book smart Mac really was, Applejack violently pushed the idea from her mind. Besides, matchmaking was something Rarity was would do. Applejack didn’t cherish the thought of acting more like her fashionista friend.
“Aw, you know I’m just kidding you. So what brings you to the farm, Sugarcube?” said Applejack.
Twilight smiled. “Actually, I needed your help with a spell I was researching. It calls for an earth pony with a particularly high constitution as a focus for the spell, and you’re always working the fields so I figured you’d be perfect! It’s not dangerous at all, don’t worry, it’s just a simple enhancement of…” Applejack politely nodded along with Twilight’s explanation of her latest discovery as the two walked in the direction of the Apple family home under the approaching dusk. Twilight had a tendency to talk anypony’s ear off if the subject were magic or anything remotely related, but Applejack was patient enough to hear her friend out. She didn’t understand the more technical aspects of the spell that Twilight explained, but the farm pony knew she didn’t like the sound of “enhanced crop growth”. Applejack restrained her reaction to narrowing her eyes, however, suspicious of the credibility of her friend’s claim.
“… And that’s really all there is to it! So what do you say? We could try it on some of the trees right here in the orchard. Just think, double the bounty!” said Twilight with a hopeful grin on her face. The two ponies had stopped just in front of the door of the Apple household, and the pungent aroma of fresh apple pie was threatening to distract Applejack.
“Now hold on, Twilight. Sweet Apple Acres has a reputation for growing all-natural apples. We don’t use no magic ‘round here to alter our crop. All. Natural.” said Applejack, her voice dripping with righteous indignation, but it wasn’t enough to deter Twilight.
“But that’s just it, this IS natural! The spell draws all of its power from the connection of earth ponies and the land! That’s why it would use up so much of your energy! Oh, please just give it a try, Applejack! Even on one tree? It would really help my research.” Twilight’s eyes grew to saucers as she pouted, pleading with her friend as pitifully as she could.
Applejack shook her head at the weak attempt of the Look. She’s no Applebloom, that’s for sure, Applejack thought. She pondered for a moment, however, putting a hoof to her chin and rubbing it thoughtfully. “Well… I suppose if it’s as natural as you say, just one tree couldn’t hurt none. I just don’t want any of that magic spilling over to the rest of my orchard, you hear?” said Applejack. Twilight’s face lit up as if she had won the Ponyball jackpot.
“Oh thank you thank you thank you! I brought my spellbook, we can start right-“
A resounding crash from within the Apple family home interrupted Twilight. Angry shouting followed, combined with the yelping of three fillies. Twilight tilted her head, curious. Her spellbook levitated out her saddlebags, frozen in the air in front of her. Applejack’s reaction, however, was a groan of frustration.
“Aw, shoot, I forgot the Crusaders were here. I’ll have to take you up on your offer tomorrow, Twilight. Looks like I’ve got a busy night of varmint wrangling ahead of me,” said Applejack, her grimace fading into a weary smile. No sooner than had she closed her mouth, however, that the door behind her swung open, revealing the three Cutie Mark Crusaders themselves.
And then Applejack’s long day got even longer.
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADER FILLYFOOLERS, RUN AWAY!”
The foals took off down the road to Ponyville.
Granny Smith shouted obscenities at the foals from within the house.
Applejack’s face turned ghostly pale.
Twilight’s spellbook dropped to the ground. As did her jaw.
The unicorn and earth pony stood there for a moment in complete silence, sharing looks of confusion and sheer horror respectively. Twilight was the first to break the silence. “Did they just-“
“I gotta go.” Applejack rushed past Twilight in a full gallop, chasing after the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Twilight’s head slowly turned to watch a cloud of dust disappear in the distance.
“… See you tomorrow, then?”
Trouble Comes in Threes: Chapter Two
Carousel Boutique was not often visited by residents of Ponyville. This was due in part to the gaudy décor (though nopony would ever be so foolish or suicidally brave enough to suggest such a thing within miles of Rarity; that had happened once in the history of Ponyville, and once was enough for everypony to learn the lesson (It was also the only recorded instance of “Gaudy? I’ll show you gaudy!” being an issued threat in the history of ponykind)), but chiefly because the locals rarely had a need or desire to wear formal attire, or any attire at all. Most of Rarity’s business came from Canterlot, dress orders for the highest class of Equestrian society that came and left through the mail service. Thus, a visitor to the boutique was an event worth notice, especially when the sun had long since set.
Rarity had just finished making a fresh pot of tea and was about to sit back, relax, and delve into a trashy romance novel for the evening when she heard a loud rapping at her front door. She muttered something decidedly uncharacteristic and unwholesome under her breath. Setting the book down with telekinesis on the coffee table that also held her teapot and cup, Rarity trotted over to the door with death in her eyes. Her personal reading time was the one time of day when Rarity absolutely would not forgive interruptions.
Horribly written romance novels had become a hidden pleasure for Rarity back when she was still growing into a young mare. It was a carefully guarded secret of hers, for she dreaded showing weakness to her customers and friends. Nopony in Equestria knew her vice, save for Twilight Sparkle. Keeping your reading habits secret from a librarian was exceptionally difficult.
“Coming, coming,” said Rarity with only a hint of agitation. She peered through the peephole, but was startled backwards when the hard knocking came once more. Rarity grit her teeth with malicious intent, and her horn began to glow with a soft aura of magic. Carousel Boutique’s front door lit up with the same magic before it swung open violently. “Can I help y-“
Three colourful blurs of motion swept by the unicorn. Her rage quickly faded when she met eyes with Applejack, who stood in the doorway swaying on her hooves. Applejack looked as if she had just finished running a marathon, talked (or perhaps shouted) down a raging manticore, and hauled it kicking and screaming to Rarity’s front door, which was appropriate because that was more or less what had happened if you overlooked minor numerical and biological differences.
“Good heavens, Applejack! You look positively dreadful! What in Equestria happened?”
“Them,” was all Applejack said before turning and dragging herself down the road.
Rarity was speechless. She looked at Applejack, turned around to look at three fillies smiling up at her, and then looked back at Applejack.
“Oh dear,” said Rarity, shaking her head while the door magically closed. “Just what trouble did you girls cause this time?”
Applebloom and Scootaloo’s faces turned white. Sweetie Belle’s face stayed white. All three fillies lost their innocent smiles as they collectively remembered a punishment so horrible, so terrifying, so unspeakable that even thinking about it sent waves of regret resonating through the atmosphere. A young colt in Fillydelphia suddenly felt the overpowering urge to apologize for everything bad that had ever happened.
“We’re not supposed to talk about it, or else…” said Applebloom. All three fillies shuddered.
“The Claw,” they said in unison. Scootaloo’s wings twitched nervously.
Rarity sighed and shook her head once more, sending a lock of violet hair over her shoulder. “Well, it sounds as though you’ve been harshly disciplined,” she said. “I suppose I wouldn’t mind your friends sleeping over, Sweetie Belle, so long as you all behave yourselves.”
Glee instantly washed over the faces of the Cutie Mark Crusaders as their dispositions reversed. Applebloom and Scootaloo bounded off to the living room of the boutique, while Sweetie Belle went hunting for snacks in the kitchen. A sense of impending doom began to grow in Rarity’s stomach.
“Now girls, please, calm down,” said Rarity as she followed the two more troublesome fillies to the living area, knowing that her plans for a quiet evening of reading were now shattered. “Isn’t it nearly past your bedtimes? You wouldn’t want to be up all night and miss your beauty sleep.”
“Oh man, we should totally stay up all night,” said Scootaloo. “We can make a tent out of blankets and have s’mores and tell ghost stories- Oh! What if my special talent is telling spooky stories? I could have a totally awesome ghost for a cutie mark!”
I just had to open my big mouth, thought Rarity. With a sigh she reclaimed her reading chair, nestling into its lush fabric. She eyed her novel longingly; Rarity knew that any reading would have to wait until the fillies had gone to bed. She couldn’t take any chances. A soft glow and an unseen force moved an assortment of fashion magazines over the book, obscuring it from sight.
“I dunno, that sounds awful strange for a cutie mark. Are you sure, Scoot?” asked Applebloom.
“Nah, there’s way weirder cutie marks out there. You seen that one stallion around Ponyville with the weird hourglass cutie mark? What’s that supposed to even mean?”
“Maybe it’s something about time? What if his special talent is making clocks?”
“Oh! Maybe he’s a time traveler! That would be awesome!”
“Y’all know there’s no such thing as time travel.”
“Yeah, I guess, but that would still be freaking cool.”
The clatter of pots and pans hitting the kitchen floor snapped Rarity’s attention away from the fillies’ conversation. She hurried to the kitchen, leaving Applebloom and Scootaloo to their own devices. When she arrived, she found an unholy mess of dishes, utensils, and flour strewn about. Sweetie Belle was sitting amongst the chaos wearing a cooking pot over her head and tears welling in her eyes.
“Goodness, Sweetie Belle! What happened here?” Rarity asked, privately calculating how long it would take to clean the mess.
“I was just trying to make a daisy sandwich,” said Sweetie Belle as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
Rarity stared incredulously at her sister. Sweetie Belle had already climbed back to her hooves, pulling a drawer from its shelf in search of Celestia knows what. Rarity quickly intervened, closing the drawer with a hoof.
“Oh, Sweetie, please allow me. I’ll make you and your friends all a quick snack, but then you have to settle down and get ready for bed, okay?” said Rarity. She looked around the ravaged kitchen. And then I’ll have to clean this disaster up, she noted.
“Thanks so much, sis. You’re the best!” Sweetie Belle wrapped her forelegs around her sister in a quick hug, and then disappeared off into the living room. Rarity smiled; her sister may be a klutz, but she was an adorable klutz.
“Yes, yes, I am. Now run along and go play with Scootaloo and Apple… bloom…” Rarity trailed off. She strained her ears and heard nothing. She strained them harder, and still heard nothing. Her eyes grew wide with panic.
Scootaloo and Applebloom were notorious troublemakers. If they were either together or quiet, odds were that they were up to no good. If they were quiet together, it was absolutely certain that they were up to no good.
Rarity rushed back to the fillies and saw what she had most feared. There stood Applebloom and Scootaloo, slack-jawed and entranced by Rarity’s loaned copy of Burning Passion in Manehattan. Applebloom had the book opened somewhere smack dab in the middle (where all the saucy bits were located, Rarity noted), and Scootaloo was leaning over her shoulder with her wings flared to their full length. Their eyes flickered to and fro, reading at what could have been a record pace for school-aged fillies. Applebloom quickly flicked the page over. Sweetie Belle trotted over to her friends, sneaking a peek at the book’s contents but, curiously, showing the same amount of interest in the book as one would have in a movie they already know the ending to.
“Oh, no no no no no.”
All three fillies looked up. Scootaloo blinked, Sweetie Belle shrugged, and Applebloom smiled disarmingly before snapping the book closed and sliding it back onto the coffee table. Applebloom wasn’t watching where she had her hooves, however, and managed to tip both the teacup and teapot over onto the paperback, soaking it completely. Rarity’s expression rapidly flickered between pain, terror, and a type of rage that lie somewhere between murderous and destructive.
Rarity righted the china as swiftly as she could, but the damage was done. There wasn’t a single page left in the book that wasn’t drenched in tea. Rarity felt her heart sink as she noticed the ink on the paper start to run. How could she explain this travesty to Twilight? The book was ruined. Her quiet evening was ruined. Rarity’s brow wrinkled in stress. Her eye twitched under heavy tension.
It was then that Applebloom made the poorest choice of words for the situation.
“Um,” she said.
Rarity did not glare at Applebloom. What she did defies the definition of the word ‘glare’, for Rarity’s stare bore the pure unbridled rage of every mare in the history of Equestria who had never had a lover and took sole comfort in the fact that romance novels were as easy to read as they were to write. Her eyes were twin globes of flame, burning hotter than Celestia’s sun and inspiring the same reverence. Anger rolled off her body in waves, filling the room and choking the Crusaders. If anypony had tried to light a match in the room at that moment, the match would politely decline, explaining that it refused to be held accountable for the deaths of hundreds who would be caught in the explosion.
“Bed.” Rarity demanded. Beds all across Ponyville shuddered in horror.
The Crusaders had already disappeared upstairs to Sweetie Belle’s room. Their minds couldn’t fathom ignoring Rarity’s order. There was only obey, or obey after a brief period of violence. Together they huddled underneath Sweetie Belle’s bed, cowering in fear at what may as well have been the second coming of Nightmare Moon, after she decided the first time wasn’t nearly as terrifying enough.
It was several minutes before anypony said anything. Sweetie Belle spoke first, her voice shaking at a barely audible whisper.
“I don’t know why she’s so mad, Tempting Lessons was way better than Burning Passion…”
Trouble Comes in Threes: Intermission
The long walk back to Sweet Apple Acres from Ponyville gave Applejack time to relax and compose her thoughts. Trying to make three fillies sit still and behave was an exhausting endeavor, and Applejack was thankful to have time to herself that wasn’t spent tending to apple trees.
By the time she had caught up with Applebloom and her friends, and Applejack was quite thankful that she had caught them at all, they were across the street from Rarity’s home. Dropping the Crusaders on Rarity on such sudden notice was wrong, Applejack knew, but after the stern reprimanding they had been given they wouldn’t dare step out of line for the rest of the night. She may have gone a bit overboard with the punishment, but it was the only way the foals would learn, Applejack thought. She still didn’t even know the name of the little brat who taught her sister the offending word, or where they had learned it themselves.
Applejack ground her teeth. Her hooffalls became heavier the more she thought about it. There was just no call for that sort of language in the schoolyard. Back in her parents’ day, any foal caught talking like that would end up trotting home with a bright red welt on their flank in place of a cutie mark. Applejack didn’t condone such punishment, but after tonight she was forced to admit that she understood where ponies in the old days had gotten the idea.
Apple trees began to appear along the side of the road, Applejack noted. She knew they were wild apples, however, and outside of Apple family property; she was only halfway between Ponyville and the farm. Still, food was food, and Applejack’s stomach had been leading an open revolt against her for the past half hour. She spotted an apple dangling just barely out of reach on a nearby tree, taunting her.
Applejack trotted over to the tree and craned her head up, snapping at the apple. Her teeth clacked together, giving her a bite of fresh air instead of the familiar sourness she expected.
The earth pony glared at the apple.
The apple ignored her, content with its perch.
It took three more failed attempts to bite the apple filled with all the stubborn pride she could muster for Applejack to remember she had a special talent specifically suited for this exact situation. She stomped the trunk of the apple tree with a foreleg experimentally.
“Just five more minutes,” said the tree.
Applejack frowned. She knew that voice. Turning around, she leaned on her front legs and bucked the apple tree as hard as she could. The tree responded by coughing up a sky blue pony and a cascade of apples, all of which landed in a succession of dull thuds on the ground.
“Ow, what the hay!” said the blue pegasus pony. Her rainbow coloured mane was cluttered with leaves that she began to violently shake out as she rose to her hooves. The specific apple that Applejack had her sights set on chose this moment to fall, landing square on the pegasi’s head and stunning her briefly. Fate, Comedy, and Physics collectively high-fived.
“What’s the big idea, Applejack?” said Rainbow Dash as she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes with a hoof. She looked around quizzically for a moment, then up at the evening sky. The stars were beginning to show themselves. “Hey, where’d the sun go?”
“You been sleepin’ the day away again, Dash? I honestly don’t know how you keep your job with the weather patrol, what with all the slackin’ off you do,” said Applejack. She nosed through the fallen apples, taking bites out of the firmest and juiciest ones.
“What can I say? I’ve got skills. Ooh, speaking of which, have you seen Fluttershy around? I’ve been practicing this new trick that’s gonna knock her off her hooves!”
“Wouldn’t be terribly hard with that tame lil’ thing…” said Applejack. “Besides, don’t you think it’s kinda late for that on a Sunday?” She raised a hoof to the moon, which illuminated the evening sky.
Rainbow Dash’s eyes drooped.
“Yeah, I guess- wait, Sunday?”
Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened.
“Aw, crud! I’m late for a big storm scheduled tonight! Sorry AJ, gotta jet!”
Applejack opened her mouth to respond but Dash had already bolted off, leaving a rainbow streak in her wake. She shrugged and took a bite out of another apple before taking to the road again, albeit at a much quicker pace than before. Dash could get overzealous when it came to thunderstorms, and Applejack would rather not have her hat shot off by an errant bolt of lightning. Again.
Dark billowing clouds were spreading in all directions from Ponyville when Applejack arrived home. She took a quick look around the barn, making sure the doors were sealed and the windows closed, and then made for the house, taking a quicker route through the orchard. A loud thunderclap announced her arrival before she was at the door.
Moments after collecting her hat and climbing down from an apple tree, Applejack spotted Twilight peeking her head from around the Apple family home, no doubt investigating the panicked yelp from the earth pony. The unicorn bore a nervous smile that resembled a foal who had been caught with its hooves in the cookie jar, or perhaps sneaking a peek at a book not quite suitable for its age.
“Twilight? You’re still here?” said Applejack, trotting up to her friend. Twilight responded by quickly wheeling around the corner and standing in front of the earth pony.
“Applejack! Yes, I, uh, am. What are you doing here?”
“I live here.” Applejack cocked an eyebrow. “How ‘bout you? What were you up to back there, Twi?”
Twilight froze. Applejack could have sworn she heard alarm bells going off, somewhere.
“Oh, well, I was just…” Twilight trailed off.
“Helpin’ me out ‘round back,” finished Big Macintosh, who appeared where Twilight had come from a moment ago. Applejack noted he was missing his trademark harness collar. “Ain’t nothing to worry ‘bout, Sis.”
Applejack raised her other eyebrow. The gears in her mind could be heard turning. She looked at Big Mac, then at Twilight, then back to Mac, and then Twilight again for good measure. Twilight was sweating buckets and looked like she might shatter into pieces if pushed the wrong way, while Big Macintosh was wearing his usual calm smile, although he did seem to be rather exhausted.
Applejack’s brain immediately pole vaulted to a conclusion. A flash of lightning in the distance illuminated the crown of her head, shortly accompanied by the slow rolling thunder. She blinked several times, attention focused on trying to fully process the information.
“Woooow.” Applejack shook her head roughly and made for the door. “I changed my mind, I don’t wanna know. You’re welcome to stay the night to avoid the storm, Twilight, but,” she paused in the doorway, looking at her brother and friend. “Just keep the noise down, y’hear?”
Applejack disappeared and the door closed itself. Twilight stared at open air for several seconds, her nervous grin dissolved into utter confusion. Big Macintosh kept his poker face, although there was a mischievous glint in his eye. Twilight looked up at him.
“Do you think she knows?”
“Nope,” said Mac.
Both ponies took a quick look behind the farmhouse, surveying the area.
There was a single massive apple tree right smack in the middle of the yard where a smaller tree had been only hours prior. Or at least it looked vaguely like an apple tree if all the leaves and apples were ripped off and glued to the base of the trunk and the branches were contorted into long knotted roots. A shallow hole was dug around the base of the tree, revealing leafy branches upon which the most delicious-looking apples hung, larger than anything produced by Sweet Apple Acres in its lifetime. Curiously, the apples hung up instead of down, threatening to fall into the sky at any moment. All the apples would easily double the bounty of any other tree on the entire farm, if only they had not needed to be dug out from the dirt.
The entire tree had been flipped upside down.
“If she knew, we’d be dead.”
Slowpoke’s Note: Thanks for being patient waiting for the next chapter, everypony. And thank you all for all the comments and constructive criticism I’ve gotten on the story so far. This chapter took a while for me to plan out and even longer to sit down and actually write the blasted thing, but it was fun and hopefully for you will be worth the wait. If you like anything, hate anything, or don’t feel too strongly one way or the other about anything, please feel free to let me know. The only way I’ll become a better writer is through taking constructive criticism. And now, without further ado...
Thanks to Specter Von Baren for a suggested revision.
Trouble Comes In Threes: Chapter Three
It was a dark and stormy night.
Now, the first bit wasn’t anything unusual. Finding a night that also happened to be dark wasn't exactly Equestria’s most difficult scavenger hunt. Historically, there hadn’t been a night without dark in over eighty years, which coincidentally also happened to be the exact amount of time that had passed since Celestia had her most recent stress-related psychotic break, the poor dear. Nevertheless, the night was certainly dark, and this surprised very few ponies.
The storm on the other hoof came somewhat out of left field. What was previously a cloudless sky filled with twinkling stars had transformed into a great crackling thunderstorm in ten seconds flat. The downpour began instantly, and ponies caught out in the rain would quickly learn that if the forecast was mistaken, it was not necessarily because the weatherponies had done some last minute rescheduling to create the perfect night for an evening stroll. The chaotic weather sent every drenched pony caught outside racing for cover.
Every pony but one. She raced for an entirely different reason; the fate of Ponyville, perhaps even Equestria, lay in her hooves.
Her curly pink mane bounced when she ran, and appeared to be only slightly damp. The rain was avoiding her, deciding that after the first time the soaked mass of hair sprang back to life, it was just not worth the effort to keep dousing.
Muddy puddles began to form on Ponyville’s main road, but Pinkie Pie sailed over them in her mad gallop. Sloshing about in puddles was fun, but there was no time for that. She caught sight of her destination in the distance, a fashion boutique decorated in the form of a carousel. Pinkie thought the decorations were a bit overdone, perhaps even gaudy, and had even told Rarity as such, once. After the neon orange dye had finally washed out of Pinkie’s mane and the polka dot boots had come unglued from her hooves, she decided that perhaps some opinions needed to be kept to herself.
Pinkie squinted and made out several lights on inside the boutique through the harsh rain. Almost every window in the building was lit.
That’s funny, she thought. Rarity usually keeps the lights off, except when she’s working, but I guess she works late at night a lot so that’s normal, but the lights on the second floor are on too, and Rarity’s dressmaking equipment is all on the first floor, which means that maybe she has friends over, and oh my gosh what if she’s throwing a party without me, how could she even consider doing that, I mean I’m Ponyville’s resident party-pony, but maybe everypony was just feeling sorry for me, and that party they threw was one big lie, and they really hate all my parties, but…
Pinkie Pie slowed to a trot and paused.
I’m doing an internal monologue! Oh boy, I’ve always wanted to try this! Okay, um, let’s see, she started, before her thoughts quickly petered out again.
“Shoot. Okay, enough goofing around. Focus, Pinkie!” She said, slapping herself with her hooves before barreling off to Carousel Boutique.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders had, with a legendary show of bravery, apologized to Rarity for ruining her kitchen, tea, and novel (and coincidentally, love life), in that precise order.
It had been an hour since the incident, and Rarity’s anger had settled into a simmering frustration. The kitchen was spotless, the reading table wiped down, and a fresh pot of tea was made, though Rarity was left with only moderately soggy fashion magazines to entertain her literary itch. She wanted to stay angry at the three fillies, but Sweetie Belle was too adorable to stay angry at. Scootaloo and Applebloom were spared Rarity’s wrath by proxy.
Rarity lounged in her chair once more. She stared at the novel on the table and frowned. The book was completely ruined, there was no changing that. Even after removing the moisture with magic, the pages became brittle and the text had already run across the pages. The thought of returning the book in this state to Twilight Sparkle made Rarity shudder. Luna only knows what the wrath of a Librarian was like when one of their precious books was damaged.
“I shouldn’t put it off,” she said out loud. “Hiding such a travesty from Twilight would be wrong. And it’s not like I can keep it checked out forever.” Because I’m only allowed to loan one book at a time, she added, discarding her flawed plan. Ebony Gryphon’s new novel was being released next week, after all.
The unicorn sighed and gathered her resolve. A saddlebag floated across the room to her, magically gathering the ruined book and donning itself on Rarity’s back. It was followed by a heavy raincoat, and after one quick look outside, another heavy raincoat.
Rarity stopped in front of her front door, questioning her decision. She was about to trot halfway across Ponyville in the rain just to apologize for damaging a library book to her friend. On top of that, the town’s most notorious troublemakers were currently taking up residence in her home. Worse yet, her mane might even get wet.
On the other hoof, Sweetie Belle and her friends would not be leaving her room tonight again. Rarity had carefully seen to that. And perhaps the rain would help clear her head of the red haze that floated through it.
Rarity hummed to herself, weighing the options. A demonic cackle from upstairs (she recognized it as Scootaloo’s voice) broke her thoughts. That was all the push she needed to be out the door and down the street.
After being forgiven, albeit grumpily so, the Crusaders had returned to Sweetie Belle’s room and quickly set about rearranging the furniture. A patchy tent made out of bed sheets, blankets and pillows stood in the middle of the room now, and the bedroom looked more like a campsite. At Sweetie Belle’s insistence, the lights were all kept on.
Scootaloo was in the middle of a ghost story, taking advantage of the sudden thunderstorm’s effect on the mood. She could practically feel the tingling of her spooky story cutie mark appearing on her haunch.
The story was rather uninspiring, and need not be mentioned in length. Suffice to say, scaring ponies with stories was not going to happen (very often) in Scootaloo’s future.
“… And they say that the insane mare’s hatred was so strong, that her vengeance continues to this very day. In fact, it’s said that if you make the grave mistake of speaking her name three times in a storm just like this, in the pitch black, she’ll come back and drag you away, off to her lair, where you’ll have to listen to her maniacal laughter forever. But nopony who’s ever tried it has been heard from again, so who can say?” Scootaloo finished her tale with a Cheshire smile.
Applebloom looked unimpressed.
Sweetie Belle looked like a small, white, shivering ball.
“Aww, that’s a load of hooey. You can’t make a pony appear just by saying her name a bunch!” said Applebloom.
Scootaloo’s grin grew wider. She trotted across the room to the light switch. “If you’re so sure, Applebloom,” she said slowly, with a tinge of malice. “Then why don’t you put it to the test?”
The lights flickered off, and Sweetie Belle whimpered. Applebloom swallowed hard.
“F-fine, I’ll say her darned name. Then you’ll see there ain’t nothing scary about your story.” Applebloom looked to her right, and prodded Sweetie Belle with her hoof, who responded with a frightened whine. “You too, S-sweetie. Ain’t a darn thing to be frightened of, you hear? You’re making me nervous.”
“Quit stalling,” Scootaloo snapped. “Unless, of course, you’re too chicken.”
Applebloom glared at her friend and puffed herself up. Scootaloo continued to wear her evil smile. Fate was seriously considering giving her a cutie mark for pushing a pony’s buttons.
Applebloom stood up in the darkness and took a deep breath. She held it for several seconds, and the only sound in the room was the hammering of raindrops against the window.
Then she spoke.
“Pinkamena, Pinkamena, Pinkamena.”
“Hey guys, what’cha doing?”
A flash of lightning illuminated all four ponies in the room.
Then there was silence. Then there was a clap of thunder. Then there was a thud. Then there was screaming.
Applebloom sprinted for the door, but tripped over the unconscious body of Scootaloo. Sweetie Belle remained frozen in her ball, shrieking like a banshee. Pinkie Pie shook herself roughly, shedding drops of water across the room. She looked back at the wet trail she left from the window into the middle of the room.
“Whoopsie, sorry about that! I forgot it was raining outside so I figured I’d just come in through the window since the lights were on and that usually means somepony’s home, except Mr. Cake sometimes says there’s nopony home in my head which is silly because nopony lives in my head, it’d be way too small for anypony to fit in, and why is the door barred from the other side?” Pinkie said without taking a breath. “Ooh, s’mores!”
Applebloom looked up over Scootaloo at the pink pony that was now devouring their supply of snacks. She groaned and pulled herself to her hooves, flicking the light switch back on.
“Celestia’s crabapples, Pinkie! Y’all nearly scared us to death,” said Applebloom as she trotted over to the tent. She stopped after four steps. “Wait, barred?”
“You fouldn’t yewf dat kinda wanguage,” said Pinkie around a mouth stuffed with chocolate and graham crackers, which she promptly swallowed whole. “And yeppers, barred. I had pinchy knee, wiggly eyebrow, and itchy tail pointing over here about ten minutes ago, and your door won’t open,” Pinkie hopped over to the door and wiggled the knob, pushing hard with no visible result. “Sooooo I figured that was where it came from!”
Scootaloo groaned, waking up. Sweetie Belle was also recovering, daring a look around the room, and standing up when she saw Applebloom talking to Pinkie. Applebloom was now trying to push open the door, which was in fact barricaded, barred, and completely secured from the opposite side.
“Um,” Sweetie Belle said. “Pinkie Pie, what exactly are you doing here?”
“Well that’s a silly question! Obviously I’m eating s’mores!” Pinkie Pie responded. Then she inhaled a bag of marshmallows.
“No, I mean, why are you up here? My big sister’s downstairs, she could have just let you in.”
Applebloom shoved on the door again. It didn’t budge.
“Oh, no, I saw her leaving just as I got here, so I said to myself, ‘Pinkie, you know Rarity wouldn’t want you to just walk in her front door when she’s not around’, so I climbed up here and came in through the window and then everybody started screaming!” Pinkie nodded matter-of-factly.
“Hey y’all, this door’s really stuck good.” Said Applebloom.
“She left?” Sweetie Belle asked, ignoring Applebloom. “In this weather? Did she say where she was going?”
“It’s blocked too, I think I can see something on the other side…” said Applebloom, looking down through the crack under the door.
“Noperoonie, but she probably didn’t say because I probably didn’t ask, I was just in such a rush, but it looked like she was heading to Twilight’s place, which is silly because Twilight isn’t home right now, she went to see if Applejack could help her with that new spell since when she tried it with me we just made a tree grow cupcakes, but then I had to go help the Doctor with-“ Pinkie froze mid-sentence. “Oh right! I almost forgot!”
“Where did Rarity even get an anvil?” Applebloom pondered.
“Forgot what? And why are you even here?” asked Scootaloo, who had rejoined the living.
“That’s what I forgot, silly! But I remembered, so now everything’s okay, except for why I came here because that’s not as okay. I need three rolls of bright pink dress fabric and a tube of toothpaste, stat!” Pinkie turned to a bewildered Sweetie Belle. “It’s urgent.”
“I think the hinges are welded shut,” Applebloom observed.
“Well,” Sweetie Belle started, “if it’s really that important, I don’t think Rarity would mind you borrowing some stuff, but I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this room and Pinkie Pie where did you go?”
Scootaloo peered out the window into the rain, and spotted a pink blur making for the edge of Ponyville with a cargo of pink fabric flailing behind her. Pinkie’s boisterous “Faaaaaank yoooouf,” was lost in the storm.
“How the heck,” said Scootaloo. She turned around and stared at Applebloom.
Applebloom stared at Sweetie Belle.
Sweetie Belle stared at the Pinkie Pie-shaped hole in the floor. She shuddered.
“I just want one last night of sleep before my sister kills me,” Sweetie Belle whimpered, before curling up in a blanket.