"Come on Rainbow! The wall's down!" Applejack glanced over her shoulder at her friend. "That means we're on the clock."
"I know what it means," grumbled Dash. She didn't make any moves towards the exit. "Sorry if I'm not eager to kill some pony like you are."
Applejack held back a groan. This really wasn't the time...."Hey, I'm not crazy about the idea either. But surely if it's between us and them, better for us to survive, right?"
"Why? What makes us any better than any other pony?" Dash asked despondently. Applejack was startled. She had never seen her friend like this before.
"What, apart from the whole embodying the elements of harmony and thus being Equestria's last line of defense against any threats?" Applejack retorted. "Why, nothing really."
"See, that's just it! We're meant to be defending Equestria, not killing other ponies!"
"Technically they're already dead..." Applejack interjected. Rainbow waved it aside with her hoof.
"It doesn't matter! The point is there would be ponies, and we would be hurting them."
"Well if that's what it costs to come back to life..."
"Then it's too much! I was fine with this back when the only thing we had to fight was Noise. Now they've gone too far, and I can't do it."
"Are you saying you don't want to come back to life?"
"I'm not saying that at all! I'm saying that I don't deserve a second chance any more than any other pony, so why should I deny them that chance? In fact, I probably deserve a second chance less than any pony else? What have I got to come back to? A job with the Weather Patrol, and an ever-decreasing chance to join the Wonderbolts. While the others, they still have family to come back to, ponies who care about them."
"Now listen here Rainbow Dash. You've got ponies who care about you. Four friends for one.... er, four. Do you think we won't care if you don't make it?"
"Well you won't. If I don't make it, you won't either."
Quick as a flash, Applejack slammed Dash against the tree. "Now listen here Rainbow. You may not think you've got anything to come back to, but me? I've got Granny Smith, Big Macintosh and Applebloom. I've got Sweet Apple Acres to tend to. So if you're not gonna do this for yourself, you gotta do it for me."
Dash tried unsuccessfully to wiggle out of Applejacks grip. "And if we're the only two that make it back, what then? If we have to fight our friends?"
"It won't come to that."
"You don't know that!"
"Rainbow, look at me when I tell you, it WON'T come to that." Applejack gave Dash the most imploring look she could muster. "Now are you going to help us get our lives back, or are you going to mope some more?"
"...Alright. Fine." Dash sounded defeated. "Not for you, but for your sister. After all, it would suck if you weren't there when she gets her cutie mark."
"Darn tootin'. Now come on, the timer's ticking."
As the pair passed through the barrier into a field, they heard a voice from the other side of the field. "They've sealed us in again! How rude!"
Applejack gulped. "Well, this is unfortunate." As they stepped closer, they could see it was indeed Rarity, with Fluttershy hiding behind her. "Howdy."
"It won't come to this huh?"
Rarity checked her hoof again. Fifty minutes left. They had wasted ten minutes on this fruitless hunt for a way out. Every wall had been checked five times, and there were no opening. "Well girls, I'm afraid it's time we face facts," she said. "Only two of us are getting out alive."
Applejack nodded. "I figured as much. So the question is, who?"
"Well, I should have hoped the answer would be obvious," said Rarity
"It is, I just didn't want to be the one to say it."
"It should be Fluttershy and I," Rarity said at the same time Applejack said "Rainbow and me." Rarity blinked. "I'm sorry dear, but I believe you misspoke. You OF COURSE were going to selflessly let Fluttershy and I proceed, weren't you?"
"Why the hay would I say that? Rainbow and I clearly have better reasons to win then you do."
"Oh please! What do you have to contribute to society anyway? Apples? You can get them from any market," Rarity said, waving a dismissive hoof. "Whereas not only do I have my own, unique vision to bring to the world of fashion, but I also have a sister to help raise."
"So do I! And those apples wouldn't get to the market without me there to buck them down."
"Oh." Rarity was momentarily taken back. "Well, be that as it may, what about Fluttershy? She has all her animals to get back to."
There was a tug at Rarity's mane. "Yes Fluttershy? I've told them how eager you are to get back to your animals."
Fluttershy shook her head. She pointed at Rainbow Dash and Applejack and nodded. It took a few seconds for Rarity to get what she was saying. "You want them to win? But what about your animals? What about my fashion? What about my sister?"
"Sorry Rarity, but if Fluttershy doesn't want to fight, I guess that means Rainbow and I win by default," said Applejack.
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," said Dash. Applejack turned to look at her.
"Why not? Without a partner, Rarity won't be able to battle properly, so we'll win."
"Hey, I was only going along with this 'cause you said we wouldn't have to fight our friends. If we are, that changes things. And on top of everything else, we have to fight Fluttershy?" Dash looked distressed. "She's my oldest friend! I can't bring myself to hurt her. So you're down a partner as well."
There was silence. Eventually, Rarity broke the tension. "Well we can't all stop here. Fluttershy, are you sure you won't..."
"Well, looks like we got here in time," a voice interrupted Rarity. Stunned, all four ponies turned to see the speaker.
"Oriens? Sea Breeze?" Rarity said confused. "What are you two doing here? There was a wall..."
"Was there?" Oriens shrugged. "Well, now there's not. Just as well too. Seems I'm going to be able to pay off my debt now."
"Oh, are you admitting you're the one who owes the debt now Ori?" Sea Breeze teased.
"Pay off your debt? I'm afraid I don't understand..." said Rarity, worried she did understand."
"Well," Oriens said, "The way I see it you've either got to fight your friends, or fail the mission. And neither you or your friends can go through with the former, while none of you want the latter."
"What's he talking about a ladder for, and why do none of us want it?" Applejack whispered to Rainbow Dash.
"So," Oriens continued, louder, "if only you had another pair to fight instead, so you all have a chance to complete the mission." He tapped his chest with his hoof. "And so, Sea Breeze and I."
"But I just couldn't!" Rarity cried. "After all, Fluttershy and I saved you from those Noise. How could we then be the ones to erase you?"
"No, see, he and his partner are giving us a way to not fight each other because he owes Rarity a debt or something," Rainbow Dash was explaining to Applejack in a whisper.
"Ah, right. So where does the ladder come into it?"
Sea Breeze spoke up this time. "Well, the way we see it, neither of us would be here if you hadn't saved us back then. So since our existence is dependant on you, being erased by you wouldn't be so bad."
"Besides, how do you know it won't be us who erases you?" quipped Oriens.
"Well hold on now," Applejack spoke up. "I might not have the whole story here, but why can't RD and I here fight you instead. That way neither side will hold back or feel guilty."
"And how do you know that wasn't what we were counting on?" Oriens asked, grinning. "No, I don't mean that. Look, my debt is to Rarity, not you. Thus it's her and Fluttershy we have to fight, not you two. Make sense to me."
"And me," Rarity said. She nodded at Applejack. "You two go find some other ponies. We'll be fine here."
"But Rarity..." Applejack started, then cut herself off. "Okay. Don't you go dying on us." With that the two of them ran off past Sea Breeze and Oriens.
"Well then," Rarity said, turning to Fluttershy. "Are you ready?" Fluttershy nodded her consent. "Well then... shall we begin?"
"See Rainbow? I told you we wouldn't have to fight our friends," Applejack said to her partner as they ran through the park. "And I was right."
"Don't say that," said Dash. "We might still end up fighting Pinkie."
"Nah, by now I reckon Pinkie will have completed the mission." There was a flash of colour up ahead. "I think we found our fight." Standing before them was a pair of ponies, a unicorn and an earth pony, yellow and green. Applejack slowed down to avoid running into them. Dash on the other hoof, lived up to her name, and continued charging. She ran straight into the unicorn, knocking her to the ground.
Before Applejack could scold Rainbow, the area around them began to warp and change. Once it had calmed down, Applejack found herself opposite the other earth pony. "Er, howdy?" She called out. Her opponent made no response, instead charging at Applejack. Okay, no time for talk then. Applejack activated her Lasso pin, firing a line of barbed straight at the charging pony. The pony dodged to side at the last second, and continued bearing down on Applejack. Likewise, Applejack leapt out of the way of the charge at the last second, still keeping he in range of her hat attack. Her opponent spun around suddenly, creating a ring of energy, knocking Applejack back.
What in tarnation? Applejack darted toward the earth pony, hat in mouth ready to attack with her own shockwave attack. Her opponent spun around again, creating the same energy ring, knocking AJ back again. Alright, so I need to hold you still. Applejack tried her Lasso pin again. This time the green earth pony was too close to dodge, so she was ensnared by the barbed wire. The other pony struggled against the wire, but she was helpless. Wasting no time, Applejack slashed at her several times with her hat. The wire was after all only a temporary solution, it couldn't hold her forever, and once it wore off...
Applejack felt herself being knocked back as she expected. She fired off another another Lasso attack, and prepared to start her assault again. This time however, the barbed wire veered off course. Applejack's eyes widened. The green earth pony appeared to be on fire! And she was getting closer to Applejack. Quickly AJ retreated, narrowly avoiding getting her tail singed. Before she could get too far away though, a park bench crashed down in front of her. Without thinking, Applejack leapt straight over it like she would a rodeo hurdle. She turned just in time to see another park bench flying towards her. This one she ducked under. She tried firing another length of barbed wire, but the other pony was too far away, and easily dodged it.
Deprived of any more park benches to levitate, the mare charged Applejack again. Staying calm, Applejack lined up another Lasso shot. When the other earth pony was only a short distance away, she tried firing. Nothing happened. Too late, Applejack glanced down to see the pin had turned grey, out of uses. She looked up again just as her opponent did her spin attack again. Applejack managed to dodge the brunt of the attack, but still took a hit. She whipped off her hat again, preparing a counterattack. Before she could land even a single blow however, her opponent was covered in fire again. Applejack had to divert her attack to the side, not wanting her hat damaged. Her opponent spun again, knocking Applejack back. Undeterred, Applejack reached out using her telekinesis, picking up one of the park benches her opponent, and clubbed the green pony to the ground. Her opponent got up shakily, clearly weakened by the blow. Blood trickled down her face.
"Give up now, and I won't have to do that again," Applejack suggested. Instead of replying, the mare tapped a pin on her sash. A green light surrounded her, bright enough to force Applejack to look away. When she looked back, the other mare looked stronger, and the blood on her face had vanished. She had been healed. "Oh now that's not fair." Applejack swung the bench again, but the other pony was on fire before it connected. She shrugged off the blow, no more hurt than if a bug had flown into her. She slowly advanced on Applejack, still on fire. Applejack backed away equally slowly. Her opponent smiled a lazy smile, still advancing. Suddenly, her fire barrier was down. Applejack prepared an attack...
WHAM! A sudden blow from behind sent Applejack flying towards her opponent. Smiling, her opponent reignited. Applejack collided with her, although it felt less like hitting a pony and more like hitting a brick wall. Except for the whole being on fire part. Applejack tried to scramble backwards before she caught fire, but it was too late. A smell she hadn't smelled since she first learnt how to bake wafted through the air. Her tail and mane were on fire! Acting on instinct, she dropped to the ground and rolled. After three rolls she was satisfied the fire was out, and started to stand up again. Just in time to see one of the park benches aimed straight at her face.
The blow knocked Applejack back into the barrier surrounding the fight area. Shakily, she tried to stand up. The other pony was approaching, smiling. She had won and she knew it. Applejack had nothing left. She closed her eyes, ready to accept her fate.
Except I do have something left, Applejack remembered. Opening her eyes again, she looked down at her pin sash. There was one pin she hadn't used, the one she got in her mission mail. On it was a cider mug, in danger of overflowing. Applejack had no idea what it did, but at this point, she had no better plan. She reached down and tapped it. Instantly Applejack felt strength returning to her legs, accompanied by a faint green light. She recognised it as the same light that had appeared when her opponent had healed itself. She looked up. The green pony continued towards her, seemingly not having noticed the healing.
Applejack gathered her strength, readying one last assault. She took aim as her foe came ever closer. Once Applejack deemed her close enough, she fired a shot from her lasso pin, entangling her opponent. Not wasting a second, she reached out towards the park bench with her telekinesis, and brought it crashing down on her opponent, again and again. She didn't let up, even when the entanglement had worn off. Finally, she stopped, her opponent lying in a puddle of blood, barely breathing.
"I'm sorry," Applejack whispered, and brought the bench down on her one last time, with a sickening crack. There was a brief flash of light, and her opponent's body was gone. Applejack sank to the ground, her eyes closed. "I did what I had to do," she whispered to herself. "It wasn't my fault. I did what I had to do...."