“So ya sure this ain’t gonna backfire?”
It was early morning at Sweet Apple Acres, a fairly normal time for Applejack to be awake and in the fields. What wasn’t quite so ordinary was the presence of her friends, the other five elements of harmony. While the farm pony would usually be happy to have them around, this wasn’t one of those times.
“I’m certain, Applejack. I’ve done all the necessary calculations, and nothing can go wrong.” Twilight Sparkle was circling one of the apple trees, a stick floating behind her, scratching marks into the dry earth.
The earth pony herself was standing a few metres away, or a ‘safe distance’ as Twilight had called it, seriously reconsidering her agreement with this madness. She glanced to her side, where Pinkie Pie and Rarity stood. The former with wide, impatient eyes, and the latter looking downright bored. Fluttershy was another metre or so back, making a poor attempt to shield herself with her hair, her body positioned to run at a moment's notice. Judging from the extra ordinary Fluttershy like behaviour, it seemed she was as sceptical as Applejack about the safety of this spell. Spike was, understandably, back at the library, fast asleep. Not even the promise of new magic could have woken him from his lie in.
“Now that’s not to say that it will work.” Applejack realised Twilight was continuing and brought her attention back to her friend. “There’s always a certain amount of trial and error required. What I learn from this first, absolutely safe, practice run can be used to perfect the spell in the future.”
“So what yer sayin’ is that ya’ll will probably be here tomorrow mornin’, tryin’ the same darn spell?”
“Precisely.” Twilight beamed, Applejack’s not so subtle complaint passing right over her head.
It seemed Twilight’s enthusiasm had not died down overnight. She’d been like this for weeks, all because she had discovered the existence of some new branch of magic. Applejack had paid it no mind. Twilight was always going on about some new spell or book or whatever. No need to go fussing over things she didn’t understand. That was, until yesterday. Twilight had come racing up to Sweet Apple Acres, begging the confused cowpony to let her practice her spell on one of the apple trees. She had seemed too excited that Applejack hadn’t the heart to refuse her, no matter what reservations she had, or how little she had understood Twilight’s ramblings.
“Perhaps, if it’s possible, the next time the spell is done, it could be used on a tree outside Ponyville.” Fluttershy suggested diplomatically, to Applejack’s appreciation. The pegasus was nervously glancing between the marks on the ground, and the apple tree.
“Oh no, that won’t do.” Applejack’s hopes dropped. “The subject will need to be an apple tree each time, to keep the experiments fair,” Twilight explained, as if it was obvious. She finished the marks on the floor and looked back on her work. A large, intricate design stretched out around the plant, showing the past half an hour of Twilight’s efforts. “And Applejack’s trees were necessary. The visibility of the spells effects on the apples is far more telling than any other tree.”
Twilight, oblivious to Applejack’s sarcasm, trotted away from the tree and re-joined her friends. “Now, I’m sure I don’t have to say this, but I must insist that you all keep a safe distance from the circle. There’s no telling what this magic could do to a pony. If so much as-” She trailed off, eyelids sinking into an exasperated look Applejack was familiar with. Turning back to the tree, the unicorn raised her voice. “Rainbow! How many times do I have to tell you?”
A rustling in the leaves and a flash of cyan betrayed Rainbow Dash’s location. She poked her head out the branches, blinking sleep out of her eyes. “Huh? Oh…” Leaping out of the tree, she spread her wings, and slowly glided down next to Twilight. “Heh, sorry Twi. Not my fault you picked the perfect tree for napping in.”
Twilight rolled her eyes, and Dash gave her hair an affectionate ruffle with her wing. Giggling uncontrollably at her friend’s aggravated look, she didn’t even flinch when Twilight picked her up with her telekinesis, and unsympathetically dumped her on the ground next to the other ponies. Applejack let a small smile filter through her concerned appearance as she noticed the blush on Twilight’s face. Not allowing this display to break her formal act, the unicorn drew her head up in pride.
“Now, as I explained before, I have gathered you here to help me test my recent foray into time magic.”
“Well, you only gathered Applejack.” Pinkie Pie interrupted, to Twilight’s obvious chagrin. It seemed the pink pony’s uncharacteristic silence while she was entranced by the actions before had to be broken eventually. “The rest of us are here because we love watching you make crazy science magic.”
“Yes, Pinkie, I know. I didn’t feel that nee-”
“Well, that’s not entirely true,” Rarity added. “I’m only here because this magic show is keeping Fluttershy and me from the spa.”
“Rarity!” Applejack snapped, Rarity having once again gotten under her skin. “Twilight’s gone and put all kinds’a effort into this spell of hers. At least try and show some support!”
“Oh, you have me wrong, darling,” Rarity hurriedly returned. “I’m fully supportive, and I’m very proud of her. Her magic is just dazzling in comparison to mine. But it’s been over three days since I’ve been to the spa, and I can just feel the grime in my coat.”
“Cry me a river, Rare.”
“Girls!” Twilight’s rise in volume caught Applejack’s attention, as it did the other four. “If you’re quite done… As I was saying, time magic. My intention is to increase the speed in which the apples grow in the trees.” Applejack opened her mouth to point out her opinion on the matter, but Twilight shot her a glare. “An intention that, I am fully aware, Applejack isn’t entirely behind, which is why I don’t plan on continuing the spell with all her trees.” She gave Applejack an understanding smile, and then continued under her breath. “Which is a waste of an opportunity, but never mind, they aren’t my trees.” So much for understanding.
A faint glow appeared in Twilight’s horn as she turned. “Now stay behind me, whatever you do.” Watching the glow spread to the tree, Applejack laughed at the notion. As if she had any plans to do so. Despite the bright morning weather, she could swear the sky began to darken as the tree, along with the markings, brightened with Twilight’s recognisable shade of pink. A deep rumbling could be heard, like a heavy bass behind a wall, threatening Applejack with a headache. If all this wasn’t convincing her that this was some serious magic, the sweat on Twilight’s face, and the buckling of her legs did the job. She considered stepping forward to check if the unicorn was okay, but the voice of common sense in her head kept her back. Twilight could probably do without the distraction. It was best to just sit back, and watch the light show. She could clean up the inevitable mess afterwards.
Then, out of the corner of Applejack’s eye, a flash of red. Apple Bloom, in all her curious, childlike naivety, came trotting over to the tree. No doubt the noise and lights had brought her out of the farmhouse, and over to investigate. In retrospect, Applejack’s next actions were a little overprotective, or downright stupid. But that’s how being a big sister goes.
“Apple Bloom!” she shouted, loud enough to get the filly’s attention. “Stay away from it!”
Twilight, who had not noticed the newest addition to the group, certainly heard the panicked cry in her ear. Flinching in surprise, her head twisted. This, evidently, was not supposed to happen.
Apple Bloom turned back, undoubtedly to question her older sister’s command, like any little sister would, but whatever was spoken was instantly drowned out. The apple tree, in a blinding flash, exploded, temporarily deafening all present.
Thrown backwards with the force of the explosion, Applejack curled into a ball, lessening the pain as she smacked into the hard soil. Taking less than a second to wince, she looked for where the tree once stood. Through the blur of her eyes and smoke in the air, the effects was still clearly visible. The spell was completely disregarding the markings Twilight had made, and the glow spread like ripples on a pond, radiating out from the blast crater. Wondering why she hadn’t aborted the spell, Applejack glanced over at Twilight, and received an immediate answer. She was no longer in control. Floating in mid-air, eyes glowing pure white, Twilight was an imposing sight. The other ponies were dotted around, also blown back by the failed spell. Fluttershy was in tears, clutching what could only be a broken leg. Apple Bloom was out cold. Dash, having been the first to act, was on her hooves. Blinking away her confused expression, she barked what looked like a command at Applejack, but the ringing hadn’t subsided, and the message was lost. The pegasi wasn’t waiting for a reply, however. She leaped up, spread her wings, and tackled Twilight in mid-air.
At first it looked like it worked. The pink glow died instantly, the darkened sky returned to normal, and the force of Dash’s leap brought Twilight crashing to the ground at Applejack’s hooves.
Gingerly getting off her victim, Dash shot Applejack a glare. “Or don’t catch her. Whatever.” Her voice was heavily muffled to Applejack’s ears.
“Sorry, RD. Couldn’t hear yah.” Her response was unfocused as her eyes scanned her friends. Pinkie Pie looked fine, and was helping the now conscious Apple Bloom to her hooves. Rarity, her hair slightly damp with blood, was using her limited knowledge of magic on Fluttershy’s ruined leg.
“Nothing can go wrong, my flank!” Dash appeared to be ranting. “What the hay was that, Twi!?”
She waited for a moment for an explanation that never came. Twilight was chillingly motionless. A cold fear washed over Applejack.
“Twi! Twi, c’mon! I’m not really angry!” Dash’s voice matched Applejack’s concerns. She was next to the unconscious pony, nuzzling her shoulder, her eyes wide with distress.
Applejack shakily took a step forward, reaching out to her friend. “Sugarcube?” In her peripherals, she could see the others diverting their attention to the downed mare. “Can… can yah hear me?” As Dash’s motions turned desperate, Applejack’s hoof neared Twilight’s horn. Something was telling her she needed to touch it. “Please get up.” Now inches from the tip of the horn, a soft, pink spark arched between the two ponies.
Twilight’s bright, white eyes snapped open.
With a heart stopping lurch, Applejack was pulled backwards. Or at least, that’s what it felt like. Her vision rushed away from her. She could see Twilight blinking, her eyes returning to normal; Dash frozen in shock, her expression mirroring the same confusion Applejack was feeling; Rarity running towards them in a panicked gallop. As her senses slipped away from her, she could swear a chorus of voices were shouting her name.
Then, like a candle snuffed out, there was nothing.
“Get up, mud pony.”
The deep voice was welcomed like a blaring alarm early in the morning. Applejack kept her eyes closed, refusing to open them until her head stopped spinning. It felt like the morning after a night of enjoying Sweet Apple cider, sickness and all.
She wasn’t dead then. It felt a little morbid that her first thought was that, but it was a fairly important position to rule out. This pain was an earthly one. That was for sure. Not many more conclusions could be made until she opened her eyes, which wasn’t happening any time soon.
“I said, get up!” This time the voice was joined with pain. A sharp blow to her stomach. So much for staying ignorant.
Carefully opening her eyes, letting in the bright sun, she gave her rude accoster a look. She was met with perhaps the most terrifying view of her life. Staring down at her was a pony, or at least she assumed it was one. It was entirely concealed in black armour, polished to a perfect finish. The face was covered by what looked like a modified gas mask, tinted glass hiding the eyes, and an emotionless circular grill where the mouth would be.
Jumping back, and to her hooves, she noticed the terrifying creature was flanked by two more, both identical. They were pegasi, she noticed. Wings were stiffly folded at their sides, covered in black material to match the armour. Their tails were presumably tucked in their disturbing shells. The only feature on them of note were two slim boxes strapped under each wing, with circular, hollow tubes protruding from them. All six of these, Applejack noted, were pointed directly at her.
“How the hell did you end up here?” the lead pony asked, mouth grill glowing slightly as he talked. The voice was no longer shouting, but it was dangerously low. Applejack realised he was waiting for her to say something wrong. “Ponyville District is strictly off limits to your kind. If you have a C-14 waiver form, it’d better be in front of my eyes before you say a bucking word.” The soldier, for lack of a better word, on the speaker’s left barked a rough laugh. Applejack didn’t get the joke.
“I… what?” Applejack eloquently replied. What was her kind? And why was Ponyville off limits? In her confusion she glanced around, taking in her surroundings. That’s when she realised how wrong everything was.
Giant glass buildings surrounded her, stretching high into the heavens. Between the buildings, the ground was an impeccable white marble. Ponies were milling around, paying Applejack and her three new friends little attention, all in fancy outfits Applejack would have expected to see adorning the mannequins in Rarity’s boutique. It took her a moment to realise they were all unicorns. Every single one. At the corners of the square she found herself in stood more soldiers. All pegasi. Overhead floated what looked like brightly coloured carriages, the likes of which had taken her to the Grand Galloping Gala. The only difference was the lack of ponies pulling, and the lack of wheels. But this made sense seeing as they were all floating. It made complete sense.
Applejack could feel her headache getting worse.
At the far end of the square stood the tallest building within sight. Its tip was dizzyingly high. But what was most disturbing were the words emblazoned on its side. Sweet Apple Banking Corporation. As Applejack tried to process this information, the soldier had clearly become impatient.
“I’m going to take your moronic confusion as a no. That means,” He cleared his throat. “You are under arrest for trespassing, as detailed in section 26, chapter 18 of Equestrian law. As an earth pony, you have no right to a trial, and will be detained at Ponyville District jail until further notice. If you attempt to resist arrest, you will be terminated. You have absolutely no rights to further speech, government approved or otherwise. If you do not understand, it is due to your own faults.”
No. This wasn’t Applejack’s fault that she didn’t understand. The world had just gone completely insane. Ignoring the rest of his absurd speech, the ‘earth pony’ comment was sticking out like a sore thumb. “What’s mah race suppo-”
She had barely started speaking when the lead soldier’s hoof shot upwards, cracking into the side of her head. “They never learn,” she heard the soldier grunt, as for the second time in what seemed like ten minutes, Applejack slipped away from reality.
How dare they!?
Applejack was furious. And her complete confusion wasn’t helping matters. Being mistreated, and having a justifiable reason for why it was unfair was one thing. Waking up in a cold, dark cell, with no idea where you were, or why you were there, was another. There was a horrible fear as well, but she didn’t have the courage to face that yet, so it was being smothered with rage. She didn’t even have a target for this darn rage aside from the solid metal wall she was bucking.
Her hat was missing too. She knew it shouldn’t be bothering her, but it was.
First thing’s first, there was the matter of location. The soldier had told her she was in Ponyville, but that wasn’t right at all. She was in some bizarre world where the buildings were larger than mountains, and crazy armoured pegasi wandered the street. It didn’t make any sense.
An easier question was how she got here. It must have been Twilight, somehow. She was sure Twi had no intention of whisking Applejack away to who knows where, but… confound it; she had assured them nothing would go wrong! In Applejack’s books, this was filed under ‘pretty darn wrong’. If Twilight was the only way she could get back, and Twilight was in Ponyville while Applejack was in alternate dimension-Ponyville, things weren’t looking hopeful. Had the others come with her? Would she never see any of them ever again?
There’s that horrible fear again. Change topic, change topic.
What could she do now? That was the last question on her mind. Well, slamming her hooves against this wall wasn’t helping. She sat down and gave the cell another look over. It was a solid cube, with a tiny window at the very top of the far wall, and a thick door at the other end, firmly locked with no handle. Her choices of activities was pretty limi-
Wait. Voices! She could hear muffled speech on the other side of the door.
Creeping over, she was nearly close enough to have her head taken off when the cell door swung open. Standing in the doorway were two of Applejack’s good friends, the faceless pegasi. Between them was a disgruntled earth filly. Before Applejack had time to react, the filly was thrown forward into the cell, and the door once again slammed shut.
“Bucking hell, they could have asked nicely!” The filly got to her hooves, and brushed herself down. Then, turning to Applejack like she was running into a stranger on the first day of school, she smiled. “Name’s Idared. You?”
“Applejack,” she replied, her mouth on auto-pilot. Her brain, on the other hand, had been shut down by the filly’s nonchalant attitude. Idared, as she had said, was a sharp red colour. Or at least Applejack assumed she was supposed to be, behind the filth covering her coat. Her short mane and tail, just as filthy, with the added benefit of being a tangled mess, were a dull yellow-green colour. Due to the state she was in, her cyan eyes were the brightest thing on her, and seemed to jump out at Applejack. She had yet to get her cutie mark, unless dirt was a special talent.
“Oh? Another Apple family member, huh? Small world.” Well, there was another question to add to the list. “So how’d you end up in the slammer?”
“I… don’t know?”
“Ah, the usual then. Wish I could say the same. But in my books, sneaking into Ponyville and stealing fresh apple pie is a victimless crime. Those bucking unicorns have more food than they know what to do with, know what I mean?”
Applejack did not.
Idared’s grin faded with Applejack’s confused silence. “I’m, uh… I’m getting the feeling this is your first time behind metaphorical bars. Where you from?”
“Ponyville,” was Applejack’s immediate reply. She quickly amended that. “Not this Ponyville though. A different one. I ain’t sure what ‘this Ponyville’ is, to be honest with ya’. I just kinda woke up here.”
Now it was Idared’s turn to look shocked. It quickly turned into excitement, as some realisation dawned on her. “You’re from outside the city! Oh Celestia, that’s amazing! I didn’t know there were any ponies out there anymore. How did you get in?”
“I’m not completely sure. Like I said, I just sorta woke up here. I reckon I am from outta the city though. Place I’m from’s as rural as ya can get.” The filly’s excitement was, strangely enough, calming down Applejack’s nerves, which had been on edge from the moment she had greeted Twilight that morning.
“Oh, that’s weird. Well, whatever. It’s still cool. I guess I should give you the proper introduction, if you’ve never heard of this place.” She coughed dramatically. “Welcome to Nova Equestria, the only free city between the zebra and griffon kingdoms.” She paused, and then corrected herself. “That, uh… that was sarcastic. I forgot you might not pick up on that. This city’s the damn opposite of free.” Applejack nodded, taking it in her stride. Idared continued, putting huge emphasis on the sarcasm. “Lead by our glorious leader, The Chancellor, the city is a haven for every kind of pony, protecting us against the harshness of a wilderness. Under the watchful eye of Canterlot and Cloudsdale, we are monitored daily for our own pro-”
“Hold on, hold on,” Applejack cut her off. “Canterlot? Cloudsdale?”
“Uh, yeah. Canterlot is the government’s seat of power in the city. The Chancellor’s palace is at the top of that mountain. Cloudsdale is the government’s floating fortress of sunshine and butterflies. Keeps our enemies away and its citizens in line.” She rolled her eyes. “Why? Heard of them?”
“Y- yeah. Somethin’ like that.” Applejack was feeling very out of depth here. Was this some kind of alternate universe? Or someplace she’d never heard of that just liked copying names?
“I’m not surprised.” Idared continued, not picking up on Applejack’s confusion. “They’re probably visible from miles and miles away from the city walls. Wouldn’t know, of course. Nopony is allowed in or out. They say it’s for our own protection, but then how do all those griffons and zebras get around without any harm, huh? It just makes no sense.” She finally noticed her companion’s lost expression and decided to change topics. “Anyway, like I said. The Chancellor is the undisputed leader. Charming old bitch. As the last remaining alicorn, she’s the one that built Nova Equestria, segregated the different pony races, and formed the government. It’s all really a façade though. She’s in control. Everypony knows that. Parliament members mysteriously go missing if they disagree with her. She seems nice, from when she makes formal appearances, but it’s all just propaganda.”
Applejack nodded along, her thoughts still filtering through Idared’s words, picking out what was important, and discarding the parts that made no sense at all. One of the filly’s earlier words struck her as quite odd, however. “Ya said ya were Apple family, right? Who’s in ya family?”
“Oh, right.” Idared began rattling off names, a touch of pride in her voice. “My dad was Sturmer Pippin. Stubborn old nutcase, but an awesome father. My mum was Pinova. She was, y’know, a little frail, but never let it stop her keeping up with dad. Only grandparent I knew was Knobbed Russet. Not all together in the head, but spoilt me far more than my parents liked. There’s uncle Zester too. He was never good with kids, so it was a good thing I’m good with adults.” Applejack recognised none of the names. Perhaps this was some distant side of the Apple family she hadn’t heard about. Or, giving the theory more fuel, an alternative universe version of the Apple family.
The use of past tense was noticeable though. Applejack didn’t want to say anything. Idared answered it for her, however. “All gone now. But the Apple family ain’t completely down for the count. Not while I’m still moving! And, I guess, you too. Never realised there was more Apple family out there.” She gave Applejack’s side a playful punch. Applejack could only give her a weak smile in return. For such a young pony, Idared was clearly independent. She didn’t need Applejack coddling her.
Still, she couldn’t help the “I’m sorry,” that escaped her lips. It sounded so weak as soon as it entered the bland room.
“Don’t worry about it.” Idared waved it off. “Gotta focus on the present. Speaking of-” She grinned wide, revealing her entire mouth, one silver tooth glinting in the weak light. With a fiddle of her tongue, the tooth seemed to pop out her mouth and into her waiting hoof. “The interesting thing about Ponyville jail is its lack of security. Y’see, for such a peaceful section of the city, no one ever thinks of recording conversations in the cells, or searching the prisoners before locking them up, or,” Idared leaned closer, a devilish glint in her eye. “And this is the important one. Checking the outside walls for cleverly hidden explosives.”
“I could get apple pie from easier places, AJ.”
Did she just say explosives?
“I chose Ponyville for a damn good reason.”
She did, didn’t she?
“This plan’s been in motion for a good month, and you’re here to see the grand finale. You lucky pony.”
With a casual flick, the silver tooth was thrown to the window. Passing through the bars, it caught the sun for a moment, a flash of light dancing on Applejack’s vision, before it disappeared.
There was a second of silence, like a spell had been cast on the small cell. Applejack dared not break it, fearing the repercussions.
“I like you. Trust you, in fact.” Idared had no such reservations, it seemed. “Stick close to me if you don’t want to die.”
As if on cue, all hell broke loose.
With no other option, Applejack had done exactly as Idared had suggested, and stuck close to her. The moment the walls had exploded inwards, showering the two ponies with plaster and metal, Idared ran. With her hearing, once again, gone, Applejack had galloped after her. She had been aware of a gash on her side, blood dribbling into her coat, but pushed through the pain. Around her, more prisoners, nearly all earth ponies, had been sprinting for freedom, all in various states of shock. As a sudden, blaring alarm cut through her ringing ears, she had followed Idared down a smaller street, around a few more corners, the sights of the buildings around her ignored, and straight into an open manhole. Idared had closed it behind them, and descended into the inky darkness.
That’s where she now walked, wading through knee deep sewer water, her tail raised for cleanliness. She gasped for breath, adrenaline rushing through her body. She had nearly died. If one piece of shrapnel had flown in the wrong direction, she could have lost a limb. As it was, the only injury she had was the one on her side. The bleeding wound was painful, but already closing.
Idared had motioned for silence, so that’s how their journey was going. Pushing past the smell, the pain, the confusion, Applejack made it her mission to just get through the day with her life intact. And, unless she was going to suffocate from holding her breath, that was proving fairly easy. They literally spent the next couple of hours in the cramped darkness, making their way through the underbelly of the city. It gave her time to think things through. The situation, while still absurd, was manageable. She had to just keep her wits about her. Don’t assume anything about this place, think on your hooves, find any clues on how to get home. The age old adventurer slogan, ‘trust nopony’, couldn’t really apply to the element of honesty. She’d probably go insane before following this one through to the bitter end. Idared seemed nice anyway, aside from the whole nearly blowing Applejack up part, so she had been nominated as the pony to trust.
Interrupting her thoughts, Applejack nearly walked into Idared, who had stopped directly under a ladder. She motioned upwards. “Up there is our destination. Are you sure you’re ready?” Her expression was solemn.
Applejack gulped. “I reckon I am. Why? Somethin’ yer not tellin’ me?”
“Well, nothing really. Only, this is sort of… the Equestrian Resistance’s main base. We’re sort of a freedom fighter group, or as the government calls us,” She rose on her back legs and made air quotes. “Terrorists.”
“…Yer a terrorist!” The signs had been there, but Applejack was still shocked by the news.
“No, no. Freedom fighter!” Idared waved her hooves, indicating Applejack to keep her voice down. “I mean, sure, it’s not as easy to say, but it doesn’t paint us as murderous psychopaths.” Her voice still held the same carefree tone she’d had since they first met. “Point is, you can come up with me now, or stay down here. Once you’ve seen the base, you’ll probably have to join us, or we’ll, uh, have to kill you. But you should totally join. We can be bunk mates!” To be honest, it wasn’t the most convincing reason Applejack had ever heard. “Your only other choice is to stay down here, I guess. The government does have little flying deadly robots down here. We’ve missed them so far, seeing I know the sewers like the back of my hoof. But you… yeah, not so much.”
Silence followed this, as Applejack debated the option of dying versus joining this resistance group. It didn’t take her long. “I suppose I ain’t got a choice. Lead the way.”
Idared’s grin returned, and she began her ascent up the ladder. “That’s the spirit. You’ll fit right in. You’re an earth pony, after all.” Yeah, that was another thing Applejack had to query. As soon as she had entered this city, her race had been the topic of most conversations.
Applejack began following, her dirty hooves slipping on the rusty metal rungs. “I still ain’t okay with all this terrorist talk though.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Idared’s assured her dismissively. Then, echoed by the pipe, Applejack heard her whisper. “Really shouldn’t have mentioned that part…” Idared’s position as the pony to trust was quickly fading.
Reaching the top of the ladder, where another manhole cover blocked their passage, Idared dexterously wiped her grimy hoof on her coat, and begin tapping some kind of tune on the metal disk. No wonder the filly looked like she needed a long bath. The tapping stopped, replaced by a soft hissing, and then the manhole cover swung open on its hinge with a squeal. Expecting to find herself outside again, Applejack was surprised as she emerged in a small underground room, the rough stone walls dripping with water. Idared trotted over to a tap jutting out of the wall, indicating Applejack to follow, and began washing the sewage off her. Now, Applejack wasn’t exactly on Rarity’s level of cleanliness, but even she realised it would take more than a trickle of cold water to wash the smell of sewage off her. Nonetheless, she kept her opinions to herself as Idared led her up a short flight of stairs, and down a featureless corridor. Doors lined the walls; all closed, but soft murmuring could be heard behind them. There was something unreal about the place. Something that put Applejack’s nerves on edge. Every building she had been in back home had character. Even the unwelcome home of Uncle and Aunt Orange’s place felt more alive than these cold, grey, metallic walls. There was, however, the door at the far end of corridor. Lit by the soft light in the ceiling, the wooden surface seemed welcoming. Almost like a familiar friend. She lingered there for a moment, reading the nameplate nailed slightly crookedly to its unpolished surface. Commander Firefly.
To her right, Idared coughed lightly. “That’s our leader’s room. New recruits don’t go through her. She can be a little,” Idared looked to the ceiling, trying to find the right words. “A little harsh. If you end up meeting her, don’t get put off if she doesn’t like you straight off the bat.” Suddenly the door seemed a lot less friendly.
Idared indicated a side passage Applejack had missed. This led to a spiral staircase, which give the impression of climbing at least three floors. The farm pony hadn’t realised how deep down they had been. Sounds of laughter, conversations, and hooves on wood reached her ears as they climbed. The cold lighting of the lower level surrendered to warmer tones, and as they reached the top, the sense of unease had been replaced entirely by an excited nervousness. A little of Rainbow Dash must have rubbed off on her. This wasn’t an exciting situation in the slightest!
Swinging the stairwell door open, Idared revealed the source of the noise. A large hall, modelled to look like a tavern, filled with earth ponies. Some were at the bar, collecting various alcohol; a few dotted around a huge notice board, discussing the messages; a couple at a bright screen, tapping things into a machine that wouldn’t look out of place in Twilight’s basement. Most, however, were seated around the tables, deep in either light-hearted, drunken conversations, or serious discussions. Only one or two turned to check who had entered the room, and none of them kept looking longer than a second.
“This is the main meeting hall,” Idared was saying, weaving through the tables. Applejack jumped forward to join her. “The door at the far end leads to the exit, the door on the right leads to the shooting range, this door here,” She stopped in front of the final door. “This is Glenlivet’s office. Second in command, leader of the resistance militia, and foster father of li’l old me.” As if to prove a point, Idared burst through to door without so much of a knock, dragging Applejack behind her. “Glen. I’m home!”
The office was a mess. Paper was strewn about all over the place, covering all the surfaces available. Pinboards were covered in notes and newspaper clippings. The light overhead, three bulbs working six bulbs blown, hung above the large central table, barely holding up the stacks of books resting on its grubby surface. The far wall was made entirely of screens, all showing various locations and ponies that went unrecognised by Applejack. Only the briefest flash of a castle, perching on the side of a mountain, was familiar. The sound, however, seemed only to be coming from one individual screen at the centre. A large chair was facing away from the two ponies, silhouetted by the screens’ light.
“Keep it down, lass,” came a gruff voice from the chair. A hoof reached out and tapped a remote positioned on the armrest. The screens all changed, showing an enlarged picture of that one central screen. “This is important.”
Idared, looking extremely irritated, elected to keep a sulky silence. At a guess, she had been looking forward to showing off her close relationship with the second in command to her new friend. Applejack expertly quelled the chuckle threatening to escape her lips, reminded of how Apple Bloom can act around the other cutie mark crusaders.
She turned her attention back to the screen. A cream coloured unicorn wearing a bow tie was staring directly at Applejack. It was a little unnerving. “This pony is dangerous, armed or otherwise. Citizens of Nova Equestria are advised to approach with caution.” It took Applejack a moment to realise this wasn’t intended for her, or anypony in the room for that matter. It seemed a general announcement. “She is wanted alive. If killed, those responsible will be dealt with severely.” The technology in this world was incredible. Twilight had shown her some amazing things before, but nothing like this. “Capture of the pony, and anypony aiding her, will be rewarded generously.”
The image on the screen suddenly changed, and Applejack’s thought process came to a screeching stop. There, on the bright display, was a rotating image of none other than herself, stetson and all. The voice was continuing. “I repeat, she may be dangerous, so approach with caution. She is currently the most wanted individual in Nova Equestria. Last recorded location of the fugitive, who goes by the name Applejack, was in East Ponyville.” Fugitive? Most wanted? What had she done to deserve this? She glanced at Idared for an answer, but her hopes were dashed by the equally confused expression on the filly’s face.
“Well isn’t that something…” The voice in the chair had started talking again, as the unicorn continued to repeat the information. “Idared. New mission. I want you to find this pony,” The chair spun around, revealing its occupant. “And bring her he-” Predictably, his voice cut off in shock.
He was a large pony. Larger than Big Mac, if Applejack had to guess. His charcoal coat was littered with scars, one striking example running from his muzzle down to his shoulder. His auburn mane also looked about Big Mac’s length, but its volume and wild look gave it a much larger appearance. Getting up, his tail was revealed to be of similar style. “Good… good work. Your timing’s improving, lass.” He seemed to take Applejack’s arrival in his stride, with only the shadow of disbelief on his scarred face. Taking a moment to turn and ruffle the filly’s hair, Applejack got a look at his cutie mark. A thistle, framed in the horns of a deer.
“So, Applejack, aye?” The pony in question could only nod in mute silence. “As you can probably guess, I’ve got a few questions to ask you.” He really was taller than Big Mac. His deep brown eyes were turned down to stare at her, seemingly drilling through any resistance she thought of having. “So let’s start with the most obvious one. What’s got the entire city on full alert looking for your valuable flank?”
Dread crept up Applejack’s spine. Valuable. They were going to turn her over for the reward. This day was getting worse and worse. She opened her mouth, about to launch into why she was oblivious, and to beg for help, when the screen behind her made her stop.
The cycle of limited information on Applejack had finished. Now a picture of a violet alicorn filled the screens, a wide smile on her lips that didn’t reach her cold eyes. The unicorn’s voice droned on. “This special report was brought to you by her royal highness,” Applejack’s mouth tried to talk, but nothing came out. “Eternal head of state and government,” Idared tapped her in the side, while Glenlivet calmly lifted an eyebrow in confusion. “And protector of all ponies. High Chancellor Sparkle.”
Twilight Sparkle’s image stayed on the screen for a matter of seconds. Long enough to be perpetually burnt into Applejack’s memories.