She drank before, and of course she had dealt with hangovers as well. This, however? This was a doozie of a hangover. Applejack groaned and pulled her pillow over her head, doing anything she could to block out the morning light. Something caught her ear, though - voices just outside her window, and she recognized them. "...Twi?"
The mare slowly sat up, rolling out of bed and grimacing as she promptly fell to the floor. She got up and peeked over the window sill, squinting in a vain effort to block out as much light as possible. From what little she could see, Big Macintosh and Twilight Sparkle were talking just below, and she quickly dove back into bed as she saw them both walk into the house. Even as she heard hoofsteps going up the steps and her own door opening, she tried her best to feign being asleep - given her status as the Element of Honesty, however, it wasn't exactly convincing.
"I know yer up, AJ. Miss Twilight's here ta see ya."
The stallion left without another word, most likely off to begin working in the orchards. Applejack sighed as she heard him left, no doubt still feeling the sting from the events of the previous night. She rolled over in bed to face the doorway, offering as big a smile as she could muster to her friend. "Hey there, sugarcube."
"Hey Applejack. How are you feeling?" Even after all the trouble Applejack had managed to cause, Twilight Sparkle's first thought was still of her friend's well-being. She didn't ask for an apology or an explanation - it was simply 'how are you'.
"Well, I've got a splittin' headache. No doubt from all that cider I was chuggin' last night." Applejack frowned at the mention of that, and buried part of her face into the pillow, the other part obscured by her mane. She blinked as Twilight brushed it aside, a friendly smile on the lavender unicorn's face. Looks like there was no hiding from it. "Look Twi, I'm awful sorry for th' way I've been actin' lately. I've jus' been-"
"-really stressed out? Don't worry, AJ, your brother told me the full story already. If we had known what was going on, we gladly would have helped you, Applejack. All you had to do was just ask."
Applejack sighed and rolled onto her back. All of this was starting to seem very similar to the applebucking incident from the previous year. She desperately needed help, and she had been overly stubborn instead. Here she was again, in need of a helping hoof - the situation was a bit more dire, of course, but she knew she needed the help. The mare sat up with a groan, rubbing her head as she eyed Twilight Sparkle again. "...I can see that grin on yer face, Twilight. What's goin' on?"
Twilight was trying her hardest to hide it, but it became evident she couldn't. She settled with a soft giggle and a simple shake of the head. "It's nothing, Applejack. I've just never seen you with bedhead is all."
"Huh?" Already, Applejack had forgotten that she was still in her bed. She gave a head shake of her own, her untied mane fanning out. "Oh... Right. That. Gimme a second, sugarcube, I ain't been up fer long." The orange mare was about to swing her legs out from under the sheets when she saw her brush float up and begin to run through her mane, and she couldn't help but sigh. "I can do this mahself, Twi."
"I know you can, Applejack. It's much easier when you've got magic, though." Twilight smiled and hummed to herself as she worked, and Applejack reluctantly admitted defeat. Her friend had a point, though - this was much faster than what she could manage. The unicorn had already finished with her mane, tying it up with a red band before quickly taking care of her tail. "There! See how easy that was?"
"Well shoot, Twilight. Guess ya were right about the magic thing, considerin' this always takes me quite a while."
"This isn't the only time I've been right about something magic-related, though." Twilight Sparkle leaned over towards her, grinning all the while.
Applejack rolled her eyes and hopped out of bed, grabbing her hat with her mouth and deftly tossing it onto her head. "Quite aware of that, sugarcube. Why are ya here anyways?"
"Oh, right!" Twilight ran over to some saddlebags she had left just outside the door, rummaging through them and quickly running back with a book. She threw it upon one of the tables in Applejack's room, the tome landing with a resounding thud. "After I heard about Granny Smith's health-"
"Wait, are ya here ta cure Granny Smith? Ya gotta have some sorta fancy spell or somethin', right?" Applejack was walking in circles around Twilight, and the lavender unicorn stuck out a hoof to stop her.
"No, Applejack. Magic can't cure illnesses, at least as far as I know. I wrote to Princess Celestia and asked for her advice, and she told me to check my books." She pointed a hoof at the cover: Supernaturals - Natural Cures That Are Simply Super.
Applejack had seen this book before, of course - it was the same one Twilight had overlooked when they had all contracted their ailments from the poison joke. "Ya managed to find a cure in that dusty ole' thing?"
The orange mare narrowed her eyes at her friend, an eyebrow raised. "What do ya mean 'sorta'? Is there a cure or not?"
"There is, but... contrary to the name of the book, it actually is supernatural." With her horn aglow, Twilight opened the book and rapidly flipped through the pages before arriving at the desired section. Inside was a sketch of an ancient-looking tree, yet it still appeared to be in-bloom and bearing fruit. "There's an old story that, somewhere within Equestria, is a tree of life. It's impossibly old, maybe even older than the Princesses, but it's still alive."
"I get th' feelin' there's a catch."
"Yep. Nopony has ever been able to claim the fruit from the tree. They've all been struck dead as soon as they touch it, and so ponies simply stopped all attempts to take the fruit. Because of that, nopony has been to the tree in countless years, and so the location is... sketchy, at best."
Applejack sighed and slowly shook her head. "How sketchy are we talkin', Twi? A couple o' miles?"
"...more like hundreds." Twilight Sparkle sighed and closed the tome. "This is the only thing I've been able to find that could potentially cure Granny Smith, but... I don't like the sounds of it. Fruit that kills anypony that touches it, and a location that could be almost anywhere in Equestria? It's a wild goose chase!"
Neither mare was quite sure what to do - this 'tree of life' was the only known way that they could potentially help Granny Smith, but there were so many things that could go wrong. They might go in the wrong direction, or get lost, or even killed. Assuming they did reach the right spot, they had no way of knowing if the tree would even still be there, or alive for that matter. Applejack sat upon the floor and rubbed her eyes. "Consarnit. I don' know what we should even do."
Twilight took a seat beside her. "We've got two choices, AJ. We either chase a rumor and hope it's true, or..."
"...or we don', an' hope for the best." She sighed and pulled her hat off her head, idly playing with it as she thought about it aloud. "But if we don' go after this an' Granny Smith doesn' get better... I dunno what we'd do without 'er. She's th' closest thing Apple Bloom has to a parent." Applejack went briefly silent at the mention of 'parent', continuing shortly afterwards. "You've always been real good with advice, Twilight. What do ya reckon we should do?"
"Well..." She drummed her hooves on the floor as she thought for a moment. "We've been friends for quite a while, Applejack - close friends, even. I'd say, knowing you... do what your heart tells you, and just go with it. You've always been pretty good with gut instincts and stuff, right?"
"Shoot, it was mah gut instinct that sorta lead ta all this. Th' night before Granny Smith got sick, I had this real awful naggin' feelin', like somethin' bad was gonna happen. Got up th' next mornin', an' Granny is sick." The orange mare was pacing the room, her friend watching on. "I've done nothin' but hope an' pray th' last few days, an' it's done nothin' ta help Granny Smith. I'm sick an' tired of bein' a prisoner ta fate - I say we go after this rumor!"
Twilight Sparkle smiled and clapped her hooves together. "Great! Let me go get my things packed, and then we can be off."
Applejack came to a screeching halt and nearly tumbled over her own hooves in the process. "I... what? Yer gonna come too?"
"Well why wouldn't I? I'm your friend, after all."
"I appreciate it, Twi, I really do. But this is somethin' I gotta do by mahself."
"Applejack." Twilight narrowed her eyes at her, staring. "You know what happened the last time you turned down help. You can't let your own pride and stubbornness get in the way of things."
"I ain't stubborn, and I sure won' drag mah own friends into somethin' I can handle mahself!"
There was a low cough, and both mares turned to look at the doorway - Big Macintosh, as stoic as always, was eying his younger sister. "AJ, I know yer a tough girl, and ya've always been real tough. No matter whatcha might think, though, ya need Miss Twilight's help. Ya sure ain't gonna find that tree without her an' her books."
Applejack stared at her brother, not sure what to make of things. "But... that jus' leaves you an' Apple Bloom here, an' Apple Bloom's got her schoolwork."
"Nnnnope. I went an' talked with Miss Cheerilee over at th' schoolhouse. She said it's quite alright fer Apple Bloom ta take some time off from school so she can help while yer gone. Now go ahead an' start packin' yer stuff, Applejack - ya ain't gonna cure Granny by jus' standin' there, now are ya?"
"Right, yeah... I guess I'll start packin'. Meet me back here tomorrow mornin', Twi, and we'll get goin'."
The lavender unicorn nodded and gathered up her things, quietly excusing herself and making her way for home. After she had departed, Applejack sighed and approached her brother. "Look, Big Mac, about last night-"
Big Macintosh waved a hoof dismissively, smiling warmly at her. "It ain't a big deal, AJ. Everypony's patience was jus' startin' to wear a bit thin, is all. Figured I had ta put a stop to it."
"...Thanks, Big Mac." She reared up and wrapped her forelegs around his neck, giving him a hug. "I mean it. I'd probably still be drinkin' mahself silly if ya hadn't stepped in."
The orange mare grinned and hopped back down, and Big Macintosh took his leave as his sister ran about her room, gathering various supplies that she might need and tossing them into her saddlebags. Rope, a sleeping bag and a tent, and of course, some apples. She would throw in other supplies of course, but to her, these were the bare essentials. Even in the midst of her supply-packing frenzy, Applejack took the time to glance out her bedroom window - it was already late-afternoon, and she found it hard to believe that time truly had gone by that fast. Still, somewhere out there was the cure to Granny Smith's illness, and one way or another, she was going to find it.
And that was a promise the Element of Honesty intended to keep.